Iron Leg Digital Trip #29 – How To Pop!!!!
Candymen – Ways (ABC)
Turtles – Sound Asleep (White Whale)
Lee Mallory – Many Are the Times (Valiant)
Love Generation – The Love In Me (Imperial)
Merry Go Round – Early In the Morning (A&M)
Mark Eric – Night of the Lions (45edit)(Revue)
The Robbs – Bittersweet (Mercury)
Clique – Hallelujah (White Whale)
Hardy Boys – I Can Hear the Grass Singin’ (RCA)
Holy Mackerel – Scorpio Red (Reprise)
Nilsson – Daddy’s Song (APB edit) (RCA)
Klowns – Yellow Sunglasses (RCA)
Racket Squad – That’s How Much I Love My Baby ()
Wildweeds – Someday Morning (Chess)
Beethoven Soul – Dreams (Dot)
New Colony 6 – Treat Her Groovy (Mercury)
Orpheus – Congress Alley (MGM)
Byzantine Empire – You (Amy/Dunwich)
Peanut Gallery – Summer’s Over (Canterbury)
Moods – Gotta Figure Out (Bang)
Southwest FOB – On My Mind (Hip)
I hope the new week finds you all well.
The mix I bring you today is an assemblage of a wide variety of mid-to-late 60s pop, hailing from an area of the pop spectrum that is not (ironically) all that wide. Though there are contributions here from genuine, accepted past masters of the pop world (i.e. messrs Nilsson, Rhodes y los Turtles), many of the artists here (and I use the term loosely, to be explained forthwith) fall so far from what might be described as musical legitimacy as to be artificial (if not fraudulent).
As discussed in this space previously, concepts of artistic ‘realness’, especially in the 60s were especially flexible. Where many of the bands/performers included in this mix were ‘serious’, if marginalized by their obscurity, some are considered less so because they were presented as teen idol fodder (which should not necessarily tarnish the music they made), and others were little more than studio fabrications, the sounds they made produced by faceless professionals, their songs provided by equally faceless craftsmen/women.
The purpose of this mix – aside from obvious the obvious musical pleasures therein – is to illustrate how easily those lines are blurred with 40 years of time. To many people, a look at the playlist above will produce little or no recognition. To aficionados of lesser known pop, some of the names will ring more bells than others, but that doesn’t matter much either because when you ‘drill down’ below the surface of a lot of this stuff you discover that while some of the records are truly obscure (i.e. written, performed and produced by people lost to the ages), many of the others bear the marks of the involvement of names that are, or should be familiar.
Once you start deconstructing some of these records and drawing tangents between them you start to realize that a lot of those barriers we music snobs throw up between artists are as artificial as the lines on an old map, and the more you learn the more the lines need to be moved, or in some cases, erased.
The connective tissue in Iron Leg Digital Trip #29 is good pop songs. The vast majority of this stuff (just like most of what you hear any day on Iron Leg) comes from between 1966 and 1970, maybe the greatest era of pop music (in America or anywhere else) in which the sounds, no matter how crassly commercial showed the influence of the headiest artistic pretensions.
This little bouillabaisse de pop, in addition to the obvious and inescapable influence of the Beatles, has threads of psychedelia, soul running through it accented by bits of Tin Pan Alley fillagree.
The first tune in the mix is the flipside of one of the biggest hits of 1969, ‘Sugar Sugar’ by the Archies. If you didn’t already know, the Archies were literally a cartoon, starting in comic books and ending up animated on Saturday morning. The music on their records was created by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, and sung by Ron Dante. ‘Melody Hill’ has a uncharacteristic roughness (though ‘rough’ might be overstating the case a bit), highlighted by a fuzzed out guitar solo.
The Candymen were a Georgia group with connections to the people behind the Classics IV. Their albums are hit and miss, but did have their moments. One of those, on the poppier end of the scale was ‘Ways’, with a great reverbed piano opening.
The Turtles of course were one of the great 60s pop bands. They were one of those bands that managed to mix a ‘good time’ pop vibe with just enough serious artistic weight that their music holds up quite nicely 40 years on. ‘Sound Asleep’ was a Top 40 hit in 1968 and shifts gears from sunshine pop to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ psychedelia and then back again.
Lee Mallory was part of the Curt Boettcher ‘galaxy of stars’, performing with, and being produced by him through the second half of the 60s. ‘Many Are the Times’ hails from one of his two Boettcher-produced 45s for the Valiant label.
The Love Generation were another sunshine pop group (featured here recently) that combined Free Design-like harmonies with pop hooks on their albums. ‘The Love In Me’ is packed with tight harmonies and baroque touches.
The Merry Go Round are best known as the first taste of manstream fame for singer/songwriter Emitt Rhodes (not counting his time with the Palace Guard). Their 1967 A&M LP is a wonderful taste of Sunset Strip pop on the wane. The band was poppy, yet always managed to keep it real with folk rock and country touches, even edging up to (if not committing to) psychedelia. They seem to have been marketed mainly to teenage girls, but their music was much better than that.
Mark Eric – and I’ll feature more of his music soon – is utterly obscure (outside of hardcore Beach Boys/sunshine pop nuts) yet his 1969 ‘Midsummer’s Day Dream’ album for Revue is truly a lost work of pop genius. To make a long, involved story short, when the rest of the world was letting their hair get long and greasy, plugging in and turning on, Mark Eric was writing and recording music that was perhaps the greatest tribute to 1965/66 era-Brian Wilson ever laid down. When I first read about him, he sounded interesting in theory, but when I finally got my hands on, and listened to his album, I was blown away. It was nothing less than a work of devotion, doomed to obscurity by the fact that it was so ‘not of its time’. ‘Night of the Lions’ is probably the ‘rockiest’ track on the album and is presented here in its slightly different 45 mix.
The Clique are best known as having recorded the original version of ‘Superman’, later made famous by REM. Their 1968 LP for the White Whale label is packed with sunshiney pop, from which ‘Hallelujah’ is a blue-eyed soul departure.
The Hardy Boys were another studio creation, set up to provide the music for the imaginary Saturday morning cartoon version of the old Franklin W. Dixon characters. Though they were portrayed by actual humans on their album covers, as far as I know there is no correlation between those models and the actual people on the records, though I’ve seen a reference that suggests that there may have actually been a touring version of the ‘Hardy Boys’. Their records are once again connected to the Jeff Barry hit factory, and ‘I Can Hear the Grass Singin’ – despite any lysergic suggestions in the title – is actually a very nice bit of sunshine pop.
The Holy Mackerel were Paul Williams’ first band, and their one album for Reprise is really quite good (it has been reissued). ’Scorpio Red’ is one of their more psyched out numbers.
Harry Nilsson was, of course, a true genius of pop music. Gifted with the voice of an angel and the ability to write brilliant pop songs, Nilsson was beloved by the Beatles (and his music shows that love to have been requited). The version of ‘Daddy’s Song’ presented here is the remix from the ‘Aerial Pandemonium Ballet’ album and is one of my faves.
Now, when it comes to ‘manufactured’ bands, they don’t get any krazier than the Klowns. A real Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey tie-in, with music by the Jeff Barry hit factory, the Klowns were created out of whole cloth, appeared on a 1970 TV special and are rumored to have included both Barry Bostwick and John Bennett Perry in their ranks (you can actually see Perry – father of none other than Matthew Perry – on the record cover). They wore clown makeup and mod-ified clown outfits, and their music was pure AM pop. ‘Yellow Sunglasses’ is a really cool pop-rocker, and is about as heavy as the Klowns got.
I know little about the Racket Squad. They appear to have roots in a Pittsburgh, PA band called the Fenways, and recorded two LPs for the Jubilee label in the late 60s. ‘That’s How Much I Love My Baby’ is a great slice of pop.
The Wildweeds were a Connecticut band that recorded a number of 45s for the Chess label in 1967, and featured the singing, guitar and songwriting of Al Anderson who went on to join NRBQ. ‘Someday Morning’ is my fave Wildweeds tune, with just a taste of soul, and a musical shout out to Bach.
The Beethoven Soul are another largely anonymous band that made an interesting pop album for the Dot label in 1968. Their album was produced by James Griffin, who went on to join David Gates in Bread.
Chicago’s New Colony 6 are an example of a group that had the talent to be much bigger than they were. Starting out with a sound that was a garagey take on the British Invasion, moving on to bubblegum and then sophisticated AM pop (where they had their biggest successes), they recorded a lot of good music in their time. If the title didn’t tip you off, ‘Treat Her Groovy’ was one of their more bubblegummy efforts.
Orpheus were a Massachusetts band that recorded a number albums for MGM in the late 60s/early 70s. I featured my fave Orpheus track ‘Lesley’s World’ in an early Iron Leg mix, and ‘Congress Alley’ is another taste of their jazzy sophistication.
The Byzantine Empire are best known (at least around here) for recording an early version of Tandyn Almer’s ‘Shadows and Reflections’ more famous in a version by the Action. ‘You’ is the flipside of that very 45 and has touches of the Association.
The Peanut Gallery recorded one 45 for the Canterbury label. The A-side ’Out of Breath’ is a mind-bending slice of Sunset Strip garage mania. The flip ‘Summer’s Over’ is a much poppier number that bears the influence of the poppier side of the British Invasion.
The Moods are a band that I picked up back in the day when I was grabbing everything I could on the Bang label. ‘Gotta Figure Out’ is a gritty number with shades of the Rascals.
This edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip closes out with an album cut from the Southwest FOB. The Texas band, best known for their cover of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s ‘Smell of Incense’ recorded their sole album for the Stax subsidiary Hip records.
I hope you dig the mix, and I’ll be back next week with some cool stuff.