The Holy Mackerel and Paul Williams (bottom)
New Breed – Live for Today (Canterbury)
Southwest FOB – Rock’n’roll Woman (Hip)
Beethoven Soul – Walking Through the Streets of My Mind (Dot)
Clique – Holiday (White Whale)
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – If I Were a Carpenter (Imperial)
Rotary Connection – Soul Man (Cadet)
New Vaudeville Band – There’s a Kind of Hush (Fontana)
Roger Nicholls and the Small Circle of Friends – Can I Go (A&M)
1910 Fruitgum Company – Blue Eyes and Orange Skies (Buddah)
Gary Walker & the Rain – The Sun Shines (Shanghai)
The Holy Mackerel – The Secret of Pleasure (Reprise)
The Association – Goodbye Forever (WB)
Nilsson – River Deep Mountain High (RCA)
The weekend is done, and I have returned with yet another edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip Podcast.
This time out we cast a rather broad net, pulling all manner of 60s sounds, the only connective tissue being the sound of pop.
There are a couple of true obscurities (working the Now Sound/Sunshine Pop side of the street), a few interesting, little heard cover tunes (something of a specialty of the house) and hopefully a number of pleasant surprises.
Over the last 40 years, with the rise of the “rock snob” ethos, the term pop has become both a pejorative, and at the fringes has seen itself redefined (or at least narrowed), becoming the purvey of specialists.
This edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip certainly addresses ‘pop’ in a positive sense, and takes a side trip or two down unusual avenues.
Things get started with one of my favorite tunes, by one of my favorite 60s groups, the Free Design. Formed in the mid-60s by Chris Dedrick, his brother Bruce and sisters Sandy and Ellen, the Free Design crafted some of the most delicate, complex, pure pop (as in the sound, not as in popular) music ever recorded. They had a knack for mixing intricate harmonies with exquisite hooks and sophisticated presentation, creating music that at first glance seems almost naïve, that after closer examination reveals itself to be much more. ‘Bubbles’ appeared on their 1970 LP ‘Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love’, and is a perfect, compact summary of all that was great about the group. They mix jazzy vocals, with a vaguely funky backdrop (those drums are actually quite snappy), laying an almost impossibly bright sound over bittersweet lyrics.
During the course of their five year career they only hit the charts once, in 1967, and then only the Adult Contemporary chart. Listening to them today, it’s a mystery why they weren’t more successful. This may have had something to do with the fact that almost all of their albums were recorded for Easy-meister Enoch Light’s Project 3 label (also home to later stuff by the Critters), and that they may have been too cute for their own good (though there were certainly any number of groups as twee that managed to occupy the charts during their existence).
The next cut is by an obscure California group called the New Breed. ‘Live For Today’ is from their rare album on the Canterbury label (also home to the Yellow Balloon and the Peanut Gallery), and is a nice bit of light, folky rock.
The Southwest F.O.B. have appeared in this space before with their best known track, a cover of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s ‘Smell of Incense’. The track in this mix is another cover, this time of the Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Rock’n’Roll Woman’. The tune appeared on their sole LP, recorded for the Stax subsidiary HIP Records. The group takes the tune a slightly heavier pace than the original, with some great backward taped drums, and a nice guitar rave up toward the end. Two members of the group went on to have a number of hits as England Dan and John Ford Coley.
Though I’ve had their album for more than 20 years, I’ve never been able to track down any information on the Beethoven Soul. Their stuff was a mix of lighter, bubblegumy pop, with occasional detours into bits of Sunset Strip pop-psyche. ‘Walking Down the Streets of My Mind’ is an example of the latter.
The Clique were best known for their original version of ‘Superman’, covered two decades later by none other than R.E.M.. Their cover of the Bee Gees ‘Holiday’ is a little lighter than the original (the Bee Gees had a real knack for creating incredibly sad sounding love songs), but still very interesting.
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich are best known for the many Freakbeat classics in their catalog. Their cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ was the highlight of their 1968 LP ‘Time to Take Off’. Though the LP included two of their biggest hits (‘Zabadak’ and ‘The Legend of Xanadu’), I find that it mostly pales in comparison to their harder material. The sole exception is their reading of ‘…Carpenter’, which takes the subdued vibe of the original and lays a few sticks of dynamite (and an orchestra) under it.
Next up is possible the weirdest cover of a soul tune I’ve ever heard. The Rotary Connection were one of the most interesting groups of the 60s, mixing soul, pop and psychedelia on several albums for the Cadet label. Featuring the vocals of both Minnie Ripperton and Sidney Barnes (a frequent collaborator with George Clinton), they took a baroque and often iconoclastic approach to cover material. Their version of Sam and Dave’s ‘Soul Man’ is almost unrecognizable, presented as a moog-ed out madrigal, and is so far out that it ends up making a kind of twisted sense.
The New Vaudeville Band was one of the more successful novelty acts of the late 60s with the huge hit ‘Winchester Cathedral’. I had their album on a shelf for years before I pulled it out and saw that alongside their various trad-jazz styled tunes, they had done (what I thought was) a cover of Herman’s Hermits ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’. Oddly enough, when I looked deeper, it appears that they may have recorded the song first. The tune’s composer, Geoff Stephens was the mastermind behind the NVB, and they recorded a couple of songs that would later turn up on HH LPs. ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’ has been a favorite song of mine since I was a little kid and my father had the sheet music (with a pic of HH) in the piano bench.
Roger Nichols and a Small Circle of Friends are one of the more interesting stories in the world of Sunshine Pop. Nichols spent much of the mid-60s working as a songwriter and producer of smooth, “easy” pop like the Sandpipers. He formed Small Circle of Friends and recorded a rare LP for A&M. That self-titled LP is much like a lighter version of what happened with Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher in Sagittarius. Nichols brought together a number of LA heavy hitters (including Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks) to create an album that is an unusual cross between light, easy pop and more progressive sounds. The finest example of that mixture is the vaguely psyche-y ‘Can I Go’. Not long after he recorded this LP, Nichols paired up with none other than Paul Williams (who appears later in this mix) to write a number of big hits, including ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ for the Carpenters. The Nichols-Williams collaboration also produced what I consider to be one of the great lost pop albums, Williams’ 1971 ‘Someday Man’. The album was written entirely by Williams and Nichols, and includes a version of another favorite song of mine ‘Trust’, also recorded by the Peppermint Trolley Company.
Next up is a very unusual tune by the 1910 Fruitgum Company. ‘Blue Eyes and Orange Skies’ manages to namecheck songs by Jimi Hendrix, Love and the Doors in a bit of psyche-pop that sounds out of place (but very cool) next to songs like ‘1-2-3 Red Light’ and ‘Simon Says’.
Gary Walker is best remembered as the drummer for the Walker Brothers. During the waning years of that group, he formed his own band, Gary Walker and the Rain, recording a few singles and one truly amazing (and incredibly rare) album of psychedelia. ‘The Sun Shines’ is probably the least psychedelic song on ‘Album No. 1’. Rain member Joey Molland went on to join Badfinger.
The Holy Mackerel – if they’re remembered at all – are known as the first group to include Paul Williams. They recorded one excellent – and largely forgotten – LP for the Reprise label in 1968. ‘The Holy Mackerel’ is a wonderful example of the mixture of pop, folk rock, country and psychedelia that was all over Los Angeles toward the end of the 60s. ‘The Secret of Pleasure’ is one of the trippier cuts from the album, which has been reissued as a budget CD.
The Association are an interesting case of a group that had a fairly large amount of popular success, yet never really got the respect the deserved. The last decade or so has seen quite a bit of revision in this regard, thanks in large part to appreciations of the group by modern fans. ‘Goodbye Forever’ was originally composed as the theme for the film ‘Goodbye Columbus’. When it was turned down, the group retitled the tune and included it on their self-titled 1969 LP.
This edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip closes out with a great version of Ike & Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep Mountain High’, as recorded by none other than Harry Nilsson. Nilsson originally recorded the tune for his 1967 debut ‘Pandemonium Shadow Show’. This version of the song come from what may very well be the first ‘remix’ album ever released, Nilsson’s 1971 ‘Aerial Pandemonium Ballet’, which took material from his first two RCA albums and reworked it to varying degrees. Here Nilsson takes the Wall of Sound vibe and adds his own unique vibe. I think it’s brilliant.
I hope you dig the mix, and I’ll see you all next week.