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Archive for April, 2011

The earth says hello!

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

News bulletin: Helsinki has some really decent record shops, starting with A.H. Records at Fredrikinkatu 12.  I’ve been to a lot of European records stores, and even by English standards, the soul and rock selection at A.H. has nothing to be ashamed of. There was even a good selection of 1EUR choices.  Amazing considering the city is at roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska.  Think about the distances involved!

Anyway, more news from there as I transfer my spoils.  For now let’s concentrate on an earlier acquisition.

The Sandpebbles are justifiably renowned in soul enthusiast circles for their dancefloor standards “Forget It” and “Love Power” (the latter later graced by a cover from Her Dustyness), and are among the most talented and accomplished (ex-Raelettes!) of all “obscure” soul groups.  But when they left Calla Records, the bastards up and replaced them with a doppelgangeress group – check out their THE COMPLETE CALLA RECORDINGS collection for the full scoop about the original group and the unknown replacements (and some maddening stereo mixes).

COMPLETE CALLA mentions later recordings produced by the inimitable Swamp Dogg*, who is quoted in the liner notes as saying the group could “sing their asses off.”  It does not, however, include the songs – issued on (Atlantic subsidiary) Cotillion under one of my favorite ever band names, “C & The Shells.”

Here is one such masterpiece, or near-masterpiece – you see, it’s a cover of a song from the “Hair” musical, and while it had some ridiculously awesome parts to it, it also had some hippy dippy crap parts stuck in it that reflected the song’s heritage.  Nothing nearly as bad as the warbling from the original off-Broadway and Broadway** soundtracks, mind you, but I felt like the structure was adhered to in a way that was slightly too reverent to the original song, even if the arrangement was reconfigured completely.

What can a guy with some time on his hands and editing software do?  Well, I can tell you that I enjoyed the challenge of re-editing the song to excise the hippies, but I’m not sure I’ve genuinely done it invisibly.  The goal was to make this into a dancefloor stomper that wouldn’t make people scratch their  heads or stop dancing at the hippie stuff.  I did leave one of the hippie parts in towards the beginning for variety’s sake, and I unfortunately had to lose a bridge that was not all bad but had been surrounded by stupid parts (because I couldn’t slot it back in seamlessly somewhere).   Let’s see if any of you enterprising readers who haven’t heard the original edit can find the tape splices.  I’ll post the original song too if anyone wants it.

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*AKA Jerry Williams, Jr. on the label copy, I guess his nickname came later.

**To spare you, dear listeners, I listened to them both for research purposes, and I HATE musicals.  You’re welcome!

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Categories: Edits, Funky

In honor of today’s happy Anglicans…the worst love song ever?

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The incredible Smokey Robinson, who has forgotten more about songwriting and production than most people will ever know, did have an off day at least once (at his zenith in 1970, even).  “Pet Names” is that off day – at the expense of poor Chuck Jackson.  I fully agree with the Stepfather Of Soul, who featured this track nearly two years ago, in saying that “…maybe this would’ve been a better Jackson Five side.”  However, even better than that would have been to shelve it and never let the tape see the light of day.

I’ll give you a sample verse:

Jelly Roll

that’s what I named her

when we were five years old

Apple Sauce

I’d later change that name

to Apple Sauce

just because*

I found I liked it better than Jelly Roll

To me it’s got more soul

And like Apple Sauce

she sure is boss

Ouch.

Musically, it’s also not the best ever cut.  I can see where he was going with the chart at least, because I love his “weird” song structures and chord changes in, for example, the Marvelettes’ “My Baby Must Be A Magician.”  And these are definitely weird!  Just not…great.  The lazy horn that blows occasionally at the stop time break seems to almost agree with me.

So bad it’s good?  Well….nearly.  I’m not throwing out the record.  But if I played it out I’d have to be sure the crowd understood irony – a high bar on royal wedding day.

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*pronounced be-caw-us, so it rhymes with sauce!

Categories: Funky

Vanilla Toad?

April 19, 2011 Leave a comment

At this point in my record buying career I am fairly comfortable with buying a few of the rarer than average items on eBay – but by the same token, there are things that are rare and in demand enough that only misspelling/seller incompetence might make them affordable on the ‘bay.  Like Tintern Abbey’s “Vacuum Cleaner” for instance – that sucker fetches a grand sterling, and I am not about to shell that out for any record*.  So I can keep hoping for a miracle find in a record store but online I mostly just concentrate on what IS affordable.

That brings me to The Chocolate Frog – or I guess I should say, The Fleur de Lys, in disguise (with glasses).  The Fleur de Lys were allegedly the first UK rock band Ahmet Ertegun signed to Atlantic – this after they had already issued a few classic singles (most famously a cover of The Who’s “Circles”) on Immediate and Polydor under their own name, as well as pseudonymously (the first Rupert’s People single most infamously).  It has been stated on the internets that they fulfilled a MG’s-like role as house band for Atlantic UK.  I feel like that might be overstating it slightly given the slim number of acts signed to Atlantic UK who might need backing, but have no way of checking, obviously.  Of course, as a committed Sharon Tandy collector I had already been aware of their stellar uncredited contributions to “Hold On” as well as their credit on Tony and Tandy’s “Two Can Make It Together” – both of which should have been enormous hits and propelled all participants to stardom.  (Sadly it was not to be.)

I eventually got curious about their other recordings, googled around and found some info for the Lys’ newly-back-in-print CD collection entitled REFLECTIONS.  Now, if you read through that info page, you’ll note that “Butchers and Bakers” is not meant to be any good.  However I saw an original Chocolate Frog single on eBay last year, purely by chance in a dealer catalog.  I thought if it went cheaply, I’d grab it – mostly because I know that the real (as opposed to repress/bootleg) versions of the Lys’ more famous tracks go for nearly as much as the Tintern Abbey.  Better to have a piece of the rock than none at all, I thought…

Well, I won it for a reasonable price (way less than here), and I don’t regret that at all, because it’s actually a really decent track that fits in well with the mod, rock and freakbeat of the era.  Yes the lyrics are trite, but that’s hardly a reason to dislike a 60’s pop song.  It’s catchy, it has a lot of energy and it puts the torque on the track, so to speak.  Wouldn’t hesitate to play it out – would have fit right in at the Irish wedding I attended this past weekend, said my girlfriend.  Why Atlantic UK didn’t get more traction out of it (and why it wasn’t issued under the Fleur de Lys name) I can only speculate; perhaps it was thought to be too commercial?  Decide for yourself.

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*All time record in total spend per one record: USD 70 in 2004-5 for a copy of The Stooges S/T original US Elektra.  And I used USD30 of trade-in CDs at the old Rockit Scientist on Carmine Street in NYC-WV to mitigate that cost.  At the time that was more money than I should have afforded, but now I’m glad I did because I haven’t seen another original in quite some time.  (My brush with an original FUN HOUSE is a sad story for another day.)

Categories: Rock

Two minutes of Wilson

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I haven’t ever been let down buying a Wilson Pickett single unheard.  The man was prolific and brilliant with any house band and/or production team – Stax, Muscle Shoals, Criteria, Gamble and Huff, or American Studios Memphis.  His most ultra-famous singles were recorded at Stax in 1965, and they are indeed some of the greatest recordings ever: “Ninety-Nine And A Half Won’t Do,” “In The Midnight Hour,”  and “634-5789.”  The next year, experiencing no decline in quality, he recorded “Land of 1000 Dances” at Muscle Shoals, which went Pop #6 despite it having been a top 30 hit for Cannibal and the Headhunters the year before.  “Mustang Sally” rounds out the most famous five Pickett tracks, but look at some examples from what shouldn’t be called a second tier: “Funky Broadway” (#1 R&B, #8 Pop), “I’m In Love,” “I’m A Midnight Mover,” “Hey Jude” (#16 pop not long after the original),  and today’s selection from 1971, “Don’t Knock My Love Part 1.”

According to Wikipedia, “Don’t Knock My Love” went to #1 R&B, #13 pop, and sold over a million copies.  Well, good show, should be easy to find for a buck, then!  But what a track.  Some notes: it’s proto-disco in contrast to the more famous tracks’ hard soul, and it has some chord change sequences at the end of each part of the chorus that remind me particularly of later disco tracks.  But this was in 1971, so even disco-haters can rest assured that it’s completely grounded in pre-cocaine reality.  Also notable, there is fuzz guitar and some seriously funky drum work (the cymbals and snare really come out in the single mix) – the fuzz guitar even returns to dominate the instrumental B-side, which ends up sounding a bit like the Temptations from their egregious “Psychedelic Shack” period.

I’d be remiss not to mention the chorus here as well: “If you don’t like it, don’t knock it/somebody else might want to rock it/if you don’t need it, don’t waste it/somebody else might want to taste it.”  The “rock it” thing sounds like one of my ex-girlfriends blogging about trucker hats circa 2005, and the second couplet is kind of filthy actually.  Nice work, Wilson, you were simultaneously futuristic and lurid in your language – kind of like if Chaucer had Biff Tannered a copy of this year’s OED (e.g. under such circumstances he surely would have invented the phrase “rock out with your cock out”).  But I digress.

Clocking in at just over two minutes, listening to this will actually take longer because you will hit repeat.

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Categories: Funky

Hot tip – The Creation

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In my imaginary audience are knowledgeable, hardcore record collectors who care about things like pressing differences, mastering, and source provenance.  I apologize in advance for tidbits like this because you, an actual reader, probably aren’t one.  Nevertheless I offer the following advice with hopes of furthering your imaginary record collections.

The Creation: they were a brilliant band but a commercial flop, and their singles fetch megabucks now, right?  Well, that’s partially true – except for the fact that they were huge in Germany!*  With the ironic exception of their most currently-famous song (“Making Time,” thanks Wes Anderson!), The Creation released many more singles (and their sole full length LP) in Germany than in the UK or the US.  Practically speaking, that means the German singles are considerably cheaper as more were originally bought.  While I ordinarily prefer to have the single from the country of band origin (which invariably skews 95% US-UK), that The Creation were so successful in Germany – and issued more product there – is a compelling argument for an exception.

So as you’re pondering making the big step into the world of Creation single purchases, let me offer the following advice:

1. Don’t buy the US version of “Painter Man” on Planet – it sounds like it was made from a bad (slow) tape copy or was done from a disc on a wobbly turntable.  Can’t yet speak to any other US Planet or Decca pressings.  (One would guess that the UK Planet and Polydor pressings are ok, but who can afford one to find out?)

2. German record stores are often insanely overpriced, meaning that even if you’re proximate enough to Germany to go shopping, the prices may not reflect reality.  Check eBay.de auction sales for a more grounded reality (Buy-It-Now listings suffer from the same delusions).

3. Make friends in Europe that don’t mind being your eBay.de banker – many German auctions do not allow Paypal payment, since bank to bank transfer is dead easy in Europe.

4. Decide early on whether you care about having the picture sleeves or whether you’ll except a company generic sleeve (see below-right) or a plain white bag.  Picture sleeves will cost you more unless they’re totally hashed (which, given the quality of paper they were printed on, seems to be often).

The “Painter Man” single is the most common by far.  I would recommend paying not more than 15EUR for this, not including shipping – if the sleeve is in nice shape that price might go higher.  Good bang for the buck, no pun intended, since the B-side is also great.

My other purchases so far are “Tom Tom” and “How Does It Feel To Feel” – both complete classics of freakbeat (the latter is presented below).  The latter is on HIT-TON in its original “UK” mix, e.g. without the guitar overdubs (see the 1998 Demon complilation OUR MUSIC IS RED…WITH PURPLE FLASHES for a comparison – and some uneven mastering).  You can expect to pay more for these, but if you decided to abandon pic sleeves, you could do them each for less than 20 euros easy.

The HIT-TON singles I am missing: “Cool Jerk” b/w “Life Is Just Beginning” “Midway Down” b/w “The Girls Are Naked”, “Bony Maronie” b/w “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “For All That I Am” b/w “Uncle Bert.”  Of those I think only the first and arguably the last could be categorized as important, but even they are not essential – their lower sales relative to “Painter Man” also makes them more difficult to track down.  Caveat emptor.  I’m trying not to pay more than 20eur apiece, and hopefully a lot less for “Bony Maronie.”

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*”Painter Man” specifically was a big hit and well enough known that when Boney M covered it in the late 70s, it wasn’t a total left field choice (like it must have been for everyone outside Germany).

Categories: Rock

Baby – Get It On

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

What can one say about Ike and Tina that the New York Post didn’t say when Ike died?  Greatest, cruelest headline in newspaper history – look it up, it’s brilliantly awful.

Um, and about this single rather than humanity’s dark side: the first copy I bought had a crack by the time I brought it back from the USA (see brief statement of June 4 2010).  This one, thankfully, survived the trip.

And as to the track – I don’t remember Ike sounding like that back in the Proud Mary days.  Was this his coked-up nadir?  I should ask Tina, she is (almost) my neighbor here in der Schweiz.  Or maybe I shouldn’t, would probably be rude to ask “so, was your ex-husband drugged-up and punching you at this session?” of a total stranger.  I guess it’s impossible to talk about Ike and Tina without wallowing in the mud.

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Categories: Funky

Mister Chand strikes again…

April 7, 2011 1 comment

Displaying all the hallmarks of a Gene Chandler production* (e.g. very prominent bass, sweet string arrangements), “Wanted Dead Or Alive” is a versatile track that could fit into a DJ set of funk, disco, or sister soul.  It is as dramatic as it is danceable – the beginning of the song sounds like it’s the end (specifically reminded me of the end of Beasties’ “Root Down” although it’s not musically that similar).  According to whomever wrote about them in the All Music Guide, “Wanted Dead Or Alive” was a small local hit in Chicago and was the only of the Krystals’ eight singles to make any impact.  Shame – but I’ll be searching the rest out for sure…

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*The “Simmons” listed as second producer is indeed Simtec, although his influence is harder to quantify – it doesn’t sound like “Tea Box” in other words, although the Krystals were part of the Simtec & Wylie roadshow according to AMG.

Categories: Funky, Gene Chandler