Mariano and the Unbelievables
Listen – Mariano and the Unbelievables – Wack Wack – MP3
As promised, I have returned to you, to close out the week with the soundtrack for your next swinging, space age, bachelor pad soiree, in the person(s) of Mariano and the Unbelievables.
Any record collector worth his or her salt will tell you that they’ve spent many an idle moment mooning over the albums pictured on the inner sleeves of 60s and 70s LPs. There, on the advertising in which just about every record of the era was wrapped (especially major label stuff) were tons of little, lo-res pictures of the rest of a given label’s current releases.
These sleeves almost always yield something interesting, since alongside the big hits and top selling artists, were scores of back-benchers that never really made it.
In some cases, especially with soul and jazz labels, this can be a frustrating practice since there always seems to be something cool that has never manifested itself (to you, anyway) in actual record form, i.e. an elusive tease the label chose to include on the sleeve, but only ever pressed up and distributed a handful of copies.
Sometimes you get lucky and after seeing pictures of a record for years, you actually dig up a hard copy to add to your crates.
Late last year, while checking out a previously unexplored record store, I happened upon several crates of cheap stuff, which proved to be a goldmine of obscure 60s pop and rock. One of the records in the stack I took home was one of those inner-sleeve obscurities come to life.
Though the name ‘Mariano and the Unbelievables’ was known to me, I had literally no idea what they sounded like. I assumed – mainly via the covers I’d seen – that there was a pop component to their sound, but until I got my hands on one of their albums I was unaware that they were a high concept baroque pop act.
The 60s, vast, far reaching laboratory of musical experimentation and exploration, was packed from end to end with interesting (if not always artistically successful) ideas. Baroque pop was one of these.
It seems kind of foolish to suggest that Baroque Pop was actually a genre unto itself. It was more like a flavoring, applied in varying degrees to actual progressive rock music, Top 40 pop and Easy sounds. Usually – at least to record collector types – it takes only the sound of a harpsichord (acoustic or electric) to affix the “baroque” designation to a given record. If you listen to a band like the Left Banke, that added baroque touches to actual quality songcraft, the results suggest that it would not be a waste to spend some quality time exploring their music.
On the other hand, you have some of Vic Mizzy’s tongue in cheek efforts on the soundtrack to the Addams Family where the harpsichord was basically musical shorthand for a kind of old timey elegance (though it was hard to maintain this conceit when you’re watching Lurch playing the instrument).
The music of Mariano and the Unbelievables falls somewhere in between those two extremes.
Led by Argentinian harpsichordist Mariano Moreno, Mariano and the Unbeleivables were clearly a gimmick act (baroque sounds applied to covers of contemporary pop and rock material), with their powdered wigs and brocade waistcoats, but a listen to their records reveals said gimmick to have been an enjoyable and well executed one.
Unlike so many other exploito, cash-ins of the day, Mariano and the Unbelievables’ (who actually toured with Donovan at one point) records are well played, arranged and produced. There are moments where the sounds creep over into pure easy listening territory, but as you’ll hear the tune I bring you today, you’ll see that there were moments of inspiration as well.
‘Wack Wack’ is a cover of a cut by soul jazzers Young-Holt Unlimited, and it sounds like it was lifted from a swinging party scene in a TV show or movie. Aside from the odd string quartet ‘breakdown’, the Mariano version of ‘Wack Wack’ is supremely groovy, coming close at times to the vibe of the Soulful Strings.
I hope you dig the cut, and I’ll be back on Monday.