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Thursday, September 18, 2014

P.F. Sloan

Born Philip Gary Schlein exactly sixty-nine years ago today, September 18th 2014, P.F. Sloan was barely out of his teens when he had written (some co-written with Steve Barri) a number of top pop hits for the likes of The Turtles ("Let Me Be", "You Baby"); Herman's Hermits ("A Must to Avoid"); Barry McGuire ("Eve of Destruction"); Jan & Dean ("I Found a Girl"); The Fifth Dimension ("Another Day, Another Heartache"); The Searchers ("Take Me for What I'm Worth"); Johnny Rivers ("Secret Agent Man"), to name but a few.  On top of that, Sloan and Barri wrote and performed several Grass Roots songs - "Where Were You When I Needed You" among those - by themselves since an actual band called the Grass Roots didn't really exist at the time!
Then signed as a singer-songwriter type solo act to Lou Adler's Dunhill Records label in the mid-'60s, Sloan recorded a couple of fine Bob Dylan-inspired albums which went largely unnoticed at the time in spite of the wealth of top quality material contained there within.  The controversial "Sins of a Family" (1965) became a minor U.K. hit for him.

Around this time Sloan was first institutionalised for mental health issues and had started dabbling in hard-core drugs, to which he eventually became seriously addicted.  He lost the plot, so to speak...
Problems of contractual and financial nature (i.e. he wasn't getting paid and they wouldn't let him go) with Dunhill ensued.  Consequently Sloan entered his "Lost Weekend" - which lasted for nearly three decades.
To find out more about all this and more, one can pick up P.F. Sloan's new autobiography "What's Exactly the Matter With Me?" (With S.E. Feinberg, Jawbone Press, England, 2014) - it's well worth it.  A fascinating journey through a remarkable life.  Yes, it's bizarre at times and often you're not quite sure exactly what to believe.
In some aspects one can't help but to draw parallels between the lives of P.F. Sloan and Brian Wilson; two tremendously talented young men struggling to retain their sanity in a world diluted with fame, drugs and unscrupulous characters of questionable morals and integrity.  Both, inevitably, couldn't stand the heat and became victims of a notoriously inhumane industry.  But instead of being guided and helped in their times of trouble, they were just continually used and abused - even by those nearest and dearest to them.  What a shame, and what a bloody waste.  Thankfully though, scarred and burnt, both eventually made it back from the darkness and are at long last doing what they should have been doing all along - making music.
The Turtles recorded several Sloan (& Barri) tunes, among them the original version of what is arguably P.F. Sloan's best-known song, "Eve of Destruction".  However, "Is it Any Wonder" is a hidden gem.

And The Association recorded the positively gorgeous "On a Quiet Night", one of my favourite P.F. Sloan tunes back in 1967...

....And then in 1971 they took a crack at "P.F. Sloan", written by Sloan's old friend Jimmy Webb, reportedly without even knowing there was such a  person as "P.F. Sloan"!

P.F. Sloan, recommended listening:
P.F. Sloan/"Here's Where I Belong; The Best of the Dunhill Years, 1965 - 1967"  (CDWIKD 277, Big Beat/Ace Records, U.K., 2008)
Various Artists/"You Baby; Words and Music by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri" (CDTOP 1264, Ace Records, U.K., 2010)
Recommended reading:
P.F. Sloan and S.E. Feinberg/"What's Exactly the Matter With Me?" (Jawbone Press, 2014)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Less Obvious List: Girl Groups

The Girl Group era produced some of the greatest and most enduring pop music ever.  No doubt about that.  "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "The Leader of the Pack", "Be My Baby", "Tell Him", "The Loco-Motion", "It's My Party", I Only Want to be With You", "Da Doo Ron Ron", "Do Wah Diddy".  The list of classic pop songs in the genre is literally endless.  Nonetheless, in any era and genre, there always are a select few of the should've been kind.  And this here is my Girl Groups "Less Obvious" shortlist then. 
The Flirtations/"Nothing But a Heartache" (1968)  
Failed U.S. Girl Group The Flirtations emigrated to the U.K. in a desperate last ditch attempt at a commercial success.  And, after having met up with Scouse writing/production team Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington, formerly of the Pete Best Four and much later a successful songwriting duo behind the '70s success of The Rubettes, and brother-sister act Mac and Katie Kissoon, their "Sounds Like The Flirtations" LP was recorded and released to a lukewarm public response.  However, containing a classic of monumental portions in the single cut "Nothing But a Heartache", a semi-legendary status was assured...albeit 40 years later.  A soundtrack to a KFC TV advert in 2008 cemented just that.  Still, generally - in spite of that KFC thing, it's boggling just how little known this gem remains.

Beverley/"Happy New Year" (1966)
Beverley Kutner was an up-and-coming Brit songstress when she recorded this little ditty by then a little known U.S. songwriter named Randy Newman, backed by the likes of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.  Later on she married - and recorded with - John Martyn.  The stellar Brit-girl-pop of "Happy New Year" was the inaugural release on Decca's Deram subsidiary in 1966. 
Jackie DeShannon/"Backstreet Girl" (Officially unreleased demo, 1965)
The multi-talented Ms. DeShannon, along with her co-writer at the time Sharon Sheeley (Eddie Cochran's fiancée at the time of his death), wrote this for Carpax signee Diana Dawn, although, arguably, it is Jackie's original demo which remains the ultimate version...

Renarata & the Delrons/"Look in My Diary" (Recorded circa 1967/Released 1997) 
Probably best known in their native U.S. for the minor hit "Whenever a Teenager Cries" (1964), while in the U.K. they made the Top 20 in 1968 with "Captain of Your Ship".  All the while "Panic" (1968), as well as a seemingly tailor-made cover of the Four Seasons "Bye Bye Baby" (1965) should've hit big and hard, it is their inexplicably late release of "Look in My Diary" which is the winner in my book.

The Blossoms/"Stoney End" (1967)
Why The Blossoms never made it on their own is a mystery of gigantic proportions.  "That's When the Tears Start" (1965) should've made big waves, but instead it just made ripples.  The Blossoms had Darlene Love, and they had Gloria Jones.  At the same time!  But instead of hitting the big time on their own they "merely" sang back-up for the very best of them, from Elvis to Aretha, via Dionne, and Tom Jones.  And why their version of Laura Nyro's "Stoney End" is less well known than, say, Barbra Streisand's vast inferior interpretation, is the biggest mystery of them all. 

Madeline Bell/"Picture Me Gone" (1965)
U.S. born Madeline Bell arrived in the U.K. in the mid '60s and immediately became a sought-after backing vocalist for, most notably, Dusty Springfield.  It is, however, an enigma why her own solo recordings never found flavour with the record buying public since they invariably were of the highest quality.  One case in point is this Chip Taylor-penned and Dusty Springfield backed-up epic from her long playing solo debut, "Bell's a Poppin'".  Several years later though, Ms. Bell found long awaited and deserved fame with the "melting pot" of a group that was Blue Mink.

Recommended listening:
Reparata & the Delrons/"The Best of" (ACE CDCHD 1066) 2005 Ace Records.
Darlene Love and others/"So Much Love; The Darlene Love Anthology 1958 - 1998" (ACE CDCHD 1169)  2008 Ace Records.
Madeline Bell/"Bell's a Poppin'" (W/bonus tracks) (RPM 281)  2004 RPM Records.
The Flirtations/"Sounds Like The Flirtations" (W/bonus tracks) (RPM Retro 839)  2008 RPM Records.
Various Artists/"Break-A-Way; The Songs of Jackie DeShannon 1961 - 1967" (ACE CDCHD 1208)  2008 Ace Records.
Various Artists/"On Vine Street; The Early Songs of Randy Newman" ACE CDCHD 1186) 2008 Ace Records.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Less Obvious List: British Bubblegum

Needless to say, when it comes to British Bubblegum Tony Burrows is the undisputed king of the genre.  But for every "Yellow River", "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)", or even "Gimme Dat Ding", there inevitably is another gem or two of the undervalued and undiscovered kind.  Thus, although Burrows features heavily he isn't all-inclusive, let the countdown begin....

White Plains/"Carolina's Coming Home" (1971)
Previously - inferiorly - recorded by Vanity Fare ("Early in the Morning", "Hitchin' a Ride"), this Tony Hiller (Mr. Brotherhood of Man), Roger Cook & Roger Greenaway-penned pop confection is irresistible at every turn.  The White Plains' best known and loved moment, "My Baby Loves Lovin'" (1970) is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but "Carolina", in my book, is their crowning achievement.  Covered by U.S. teen idol Shaun Cassidy in the late '70s.
Butterscotch/"Don't You Know (She Said Hello)" (1970)

Another implausibly infectious pop-perfection.  I, however, know absolutely nothing about this act.  A one hit wonder, it appears, reaching #17 in the U.K. charts in the summer of 1970.  Should have been bigger, though.

Kincade/"Dreams Are Ten a Penny" (1973)
Written by British Bubblegum stalwarts and husband/wife team of John Carter and Gillian Shakespeare, this was a year later re-recorded by First Class ("Beach Baby"), but this non-hit version, albeit popular in Europe, is far superior to the latter Tony Burrows-led venture, which did though hit the lower regions of the U.S. Top 100 singles chart.
Flowerpot Men/"In a Moment of Madness" (1969)

A usually ever reliable Cook/Greenaway collaboration, for some reason this Tony Burrows-led venture fell flat chartwise.  Their "Let's Go to San Fransisco" (1967), of course, was a huge world wide hit, but perhaps their sound by the late '60s was out of time and place, but it's a bloody good effort all the same.
First Class/"Too Many Golden Oldies" (1977)
A quite remarkable production job, and a very worthy Johnny-come-lately follow-up to their amazing "Beach Baby" (1974) mega hit, this, another Carter/Shakespeare co-write is the ultimate lost-pop-classic in my book.  But, needless to add, it didn't chart and isn't very well known as a result.  Nonetheless, a stone cold classic! 
The Symbols/"Bye Bye Baby" (1967)

The Bay City Rollers modelled their 1975 U.K. hit (#1 for six weeks) on this 1967 cover version (#44 U.K. hit) of the Four Seasons' 1965 original.  'Nuff said... 
Recommended listening:
"Bubblegum Classics, Volume Five: The Voice of Tony Burrows"
(1996, Varese Sarabande Records. U.S.A.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Punk Rock Past. And Present.

Arguably a couple of the first, best and most important albums in the history of punk (and popular music in general), both "Never Mind the Bollocks...Here's the Sex Pistols" and "Damned, Damned, Damned" have been reissued countless of times over the years, although I do believe the reissues to end all reissues (perish the thought) were the 35th anniversary issues of both which were released a couple of years back.
The Pistols' one is a bit more lavish of the two containing three CD's of the original album, demos and live shows, a DVD, a massive "1977: The Bollocks Diaries" coffee table book, a replica of the infamous A&M 7" single "God Save the Queen" + reprinted lyrics, a poster and stickers.
The Damned one contains four CD's of the original album, demos, radio sessions, live shows and interviews, a book of reprinted lyrics, poster and badges.
Both - in spite of hefty price tags (70 quid for Pistols; 60 for the Damned) - come highly recommended.  Apart from their obvious and undisputed historic importance the music itself is timeless and sounds as fresh and vital as the day it was committed to tape.  That's something that can not be said about every piece of music recorded more than 35 years ago.  That said, I can hardly wait for the 40th anniversary editions...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

It came from Memphis....

Big Star being inarguably one of the most remarkable acts of the 1970s, it's not all that surprising then that their saga is almost equally riveting.  Musical brilliance, madness, substance abuse, suicide, not to mention a total and undeserved lack of commercial success - it has it all, and is told in fascinating detail in Rob Jovanovic's book "Big Star - The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band".
Also well worth checking out is the recent, award-winning documentary "Nothing Can Hurt Me".
But apart from all that, it is the music that counts.  During their all-too-short early to mid '70s heyday Big Star produced a trio of LP's, from "#1 Record" (1972) and "Radio City" (1973) to the flawed ramshackle of a masterpiece that is "Third/Sister Lovers" (Recorded during 1974/5 - released in 1978) - a "SMiLE" for the '70s - the music is, quite simply put, achingly beautiful and tortured.  Big Star is the ultimate cult band.
It's been four years since founding members Andy Hummel and Alex Chilton left this world.  It's been thirty six since Chris Bell did.  Only drummer Jody Stephens is still around.  Nonetheless, the legend of Big Star just continues to grow, and with a bloody good reason...

Big Star, recommended listening:
"Keep an Eye on the Sky" (4CD Box) (2009, Ardent/Rhino)
Big Star, recommended reading:
"Big Star - The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band" by Rob Jovanovic (Revised & updated edition, 2013 Outline Press/Jawbone Press - although the innumerable typo's are a pain in the rear).
Big Star, recommended viewing:
"Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me" (2012, September Films/Ardent) 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Glen Matlock in Iceland.

,,Sid [Vicious] was a good singer, he was a great front man", pre-show Glen Matlock matter-of-factly informs a somewhat sceptical and puzzled yours truly about his clearly musically-challenged, albeit more (in)famous successor, in, arguably, the greatest Punk band of them all, the Sex Pistols.  Understandably though, he isn't quite so kind when it comes to discussing Sid's bass-playing abilities, or lack thereof; Matlock, in spite of having left the Pistols, played bass on their seminal, sole masterpiece, "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols" - without receiving the credit for doing so at the time.  All the while - briefly - Vicious took the glory and the fame and became the face of Punk before succumbing to the life and, ultimately, death of a sad and pathetic heroin addict-cum-(most likely)murderer.
But that's an entirely different story altogether.


Spot, Kópavogur, Iceland, Thursday May 8th, 2014.

In between typically zealous sets from two locally-legendary Icelandic Punk acts Q4U and Fræbbblarnir, Glen Matlock, formerly of the Sex Pistols, and the Rich Kids, takes the stage delivering an impassioned acoustic gig to an overall indifferent and under appreciative audience, most of which clearly doesn't realize it is being treated to a performance by a living bloody legend.  IMHO.
Taking in all the major signposts of his career, from the Pistols to some of his latter-day solo stuff, Matlock's repertoire is a diverse beast, to say the least.
From the underrated Rich Kids, the massively misunderstood Power Pop band he formed after he left the Pistols - featuring, amongst others, former Slik and future Ultravox singer Midge Ure - both "Burning Sounds" and the powerful title track of their only LP "The Ghosts of Princess in Towers" (Quite possibly the coolest album title of all time!) get an airing.   And so does "Ambition", a song that was demoed by Rich Kids, but eventually recorded by Iggy Pop for his "Soldier" album in 1980, which featured Matlock as well.

A section of old faves and influences, including the Small Faces' "All or Nothing", The Kinks' "Dead End Street", and the Monkees'/Paul Revere & the Raiders' "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" (The latter was covered by the Sex Pistols) follow suit.
The audience momentarily shows life signs during solo song "Yeah, Right".  Matlock's 1996 Creation Records solo set "Who's He Think He is When He's at Home?" (Quite possibly not the coolest album title of all time!), all simultaneously wall of noise, melody and guitars, is a lost treasure indeed.
A couple of the biggest canons from the Pistols arsenal - "God Save the Queen" and "Pretty Vacant" - get the crowd kinda going as well.

As someone who was famously kicked out of the Pistols because he liked The Beatles (or so John Lydon maintains although Matlock himself insists he left the band), Glen Matlock is nonetheless a vital part of the Pistols' history and, therefore, legacy.  Obviously, he had a hand in writing all of their key tracks.  And let's just face it, after he left/was kicked out, they were pretty much over and done with...Never mind Malcolm McLaren.  Plus the fact that Glen Matlock has been asked to join in all subsequent Sex Pistols reunions should lay the leather jacket wearing ghost of Sid Vicious to rest once and for all. 

Glen Matlock recommended listening:
Sex Pistols/"Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols" (LP, Virgin Records, 1977)
Rich Kids/"Ghosts of Princes in Towers" (LP, EMI, 1978)
Glen Matlock/"Who's He Think He is When He's at Home?" (CD, Creation, 1996)
Recommended reading:
Glen Matlock with Peter Silverton/"I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol" (Rocket 88, 2012)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Darlene Love

After appearing as one of the subjects in the Oscar-winning documentary "Twenty Feet from Stardom", the name Darlene Love isn't likely to be forgotten any time soon.  Again, that is.  After having spent five decades in someone else's shadow, Ms. Love's time, seemingly, has finally come.  And although said shadows belonged to some fairly famous folks such as Elvis Presley, Cher, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, and Dionne Warwick, Ms. Love was just always somehow destined to become a star in her own right.

Once a member of the girl group The Blossoms, preacher's daughter Darlene Wright was spotted and singled-out by the incomparable Phil Spector in the early '60s.  He renamed her Darlene Love.  Soon thereafter she scored big hits with early Wall of Sound classics like "He's a Rebel", "He's Sure the Boy I Love" and "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah".  Except they weren't issued under her own new-found name.  Instead Spector, apparently already the insufferable megalomaniac whom we've love to loathe, put them out under the names of already established girl group The Crystals, who were reportedly touring at the time, and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the latter of which comprised of Darlene along with fellow Blossom Fanita James and singer Bobby James (No relation).

After a couple of more mostly artistically unsatisfactory and frustrating years working for Spector, The Blossoms struck out on their own and quickly became known as the backing singers for hire on the U.S. West Coast, appearing regularly on T.V. shows such as Shindig as well.  From Doris Day to Marvin Gaye; if a trio of superb backing singers was needed The Blossoms were more than likely contenders.  Along the way, though, were the occasional one-off single releases under their own moniker, such as Laura Nyro's "Stoney End", which was issued on Lou Adler's Ode Records in 1967.  Arguably, it's their crowning achivement but it was sabotaged by both poor distribution and no promotion - not to mention Barbra Streisand's abominable cover hit version a couple of years later.

Spells working for the kings of Las Vegas, Elvis Presley, and Tom Jones, yet financially lucrative - momentarily at least - did little to further The Blossoms' career outside the back-up singing circuit.  Volatile relations within the group didn't help matters much and they had broken up by the early '70s, by which time Darlene had begun dating Righteous Brother Bill Medley, although that match made in music heaven didn't last.
The '70s Darlene spent mostly in the employment of diva Dionne Warwick, but an unexpected and needless to add, unwanted reunion with Phil Spector was imminent once he bought out her solo deal with Philly soul impresarios Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in the mid '70s.  Back to square one, then.
By the early '80s Darlene Love had, perhaps understandably, all but given up on the music business and was making an honest living cleaning houses in Hollywood.  However, following steady gigs appearing on cruise ships, a mid-'80s Girl Group revival was ignited once the musical "Leader of the Pack - The Ellie Greenwich Story", in which Darlene Love had a starring role, briefly ran on Broadway and in return helped to properly re-launch her career.

Darlene's old pal from the '60s Cher quickly came calling for her expertise services, and all of a sudden things were looking up once more.  Further steady work came in the guise of Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, and others.  Also, annual appearances on the David Letterman Show performing what has become her signature song, the Wall of Sound chestnut "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time, have helped to keep her name afloat for a couple of decades now.  And let us not forget her acting role as Danny Glover's wife in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise!
So it really didn't come as a big surprise when somebody got the bright idea to make a documentary focusing on those unsung - excuse the poor pun! - heroes of the music business; backing singers.  And of course it didn't take a nuclear scientist to see that Darlene Love fitted the job description to a T...

Recommended listening:

"So Much Love - A Darlene Love Anthology 1958 - 1998" (Ace Records, U.K.  2008)
"Back to Mono, 1958 - 1969"/Various Artists (Phil Spector-produced) (ABKCO, 1991)

Recommended reading:

"My Name is Love".  Darlene Love with Rob Hoerburger (1998/2013)

Recommended viewing:

"Twenty Feet from Stardom".  Written & directed by Morgan Neville (2013)
"Girl Groups - The Story of a Sound".  A 1983 documentary based on the Alan Betrock book.