Monday, January 13, 2020

Random Record Reviews: Volume 2

More obscure ‘60s/’70s rock LPs: 

After the riproaring success of my first Random Record Review, I thought I’d do another – last year, that is. But at least I’m finally getting around to it. So, with another tip of my nonexistent hat to 00individual (who else thinks he should write a bio – and send me a review copy of his ‘60s counterculture compendium???), here a few more obscure rock LPs I think some of you might like.


1. Jacobs Creek: Jacobs Creek
Columbia, 1969

The group bio on discogs.com describes Jacobs Creek as “roughly in the realms of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane,” which is pretty accurate, though I'd toss in some late-period Beatles and probably some others I can't think of at the moment. Centered around brothers Derrek and Lon Van Eaton, the group apparently didn't get much notice at the time. I searched my Rolling Stone Cover to Cover CD-Rom and the only mention I found of Jacobs Creek was in the 1972 review of the Van Eatons LP Brother, released on Apple; just a minor mention that previously they'd been in the band Jacobs Creek. The LP seems very long for the era, six tracks per side, and two of them are over 6 minutes long. There's a lot of variety, from psychedelic rock (“Colors”) to Doorsy “theater rock” (“Anonymous Verdict”) to a sitar-banjo hoedown sort of thing (“The Circle”). In fact this variety might've been why the album didn't resonate at the time, as it's hard to pigeonhole the group. But the album is well produced, with a lot of different instruments in the mix.

Top Track: My favorite would have to be the psych rocker “Behind The Door,” which builds to an awesome fuzz bass raveup.


2. Jimmie Haskell: California ‘99
ABC Records, 1971

Haskell was a film composer who here did a “thematic fairytale” of a rock concept LP, set in the far-flung year of 1999. Possibly one of the more elaborate packages of the era, the sleeve folds out (and keeps folding out) into a big wall map of the United States of 1999, complete with a “marijuana insect corridor” in the midwest. The belabored backstory has it that the US has gone bankrupt and renamed itself “California,” with legal dope and etc, and the story concerns a young man who has been tasked by the Big Brother government to find three “lifemates” instead of performing his otherwise-mandatory military service. Groovy orchestral stuff that would sound at home on the Barbarella soundtrack trades off with spoken word passages (complete with cool sonic trickery), random moog freakouts, and the occasional rock song (including an arbitrary cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”). Guest list includes Joe Walsh, who sings and plays guitar on two tracks. 

Top Track: Would have to be one of those Walsh songs, “Jessica Stone,”  a nicely mellow psychedelic rocker with a little sitar in the mix. If only the entire album sounded like this!


3. Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint: Lo And Behold
Sire, 1972

The cumbersomely-named Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint was an offshoot of obscure British group McGuinness Flint, which was sort of the UK equivalent of The Band in that they played country-flavored rock. After two albums the group reformed itself, with lead singer Dennis Coulson now receiving billing in the name of the group and a new bassist with the last name of Dean joining the fray. This was their sole album, released initially in the UK and then the US, where it received a rave review in Rolling Stone. Despite this the album didn’t register and quickly sunk, which is a shame. Of all the records I’ve featured on these two Random Record Reviews, three of them I’d say should have become classics: Wilderness Road’s self-titled debut album, Neil Merryweather’s Space Rangers (both reviewed on the previous list), and this one. Seriously, Lo And Behold encapsulates everything that is great about classic rock, and many of the songs on this unsung album should’ve become FM radio staples. It features the novel conceit of covering Bob Dylan songs that hadn’t been released at the time – but have no fear. This isn’t a “Bob Dylan” sounding record at all.

Whereas the first two McGuinness Flint albums had been mostly country, Lo And Behold features all kinds of styles: the Velvet Underground vibe of the title track, the Stonesy swagger of “Gets Your Rock Off,” even a pitch-perfect recreation of the Byrds sound on “Eternal Circle.” In addition there’s an Indian raga, a gospel-tinged epic, and a jokey circus-sounding song. The four-man band nails each style perfectly, Coulson’s voice defines the classic rock sound, and the record features great production, sounding incredible on vinyl. It’s a mystery why this one slipped through the cracks. After its release Coulson went off to a solo career, releasing a single self-titled album (Elektra, 1973). It also went nowhere (I have it and it’s good, but nowhere as great as this album), after which he seems to have retired from the music biz. As for McGinnis, Dean, and Flint, they continued on without Coulson, but I’ve not heard any of their albums.

Top Track: My favorite song, “Let Me Die In My Footsteps” (the Indian raga tune), isn’t on Youtube for some reason. In fact, hardly any of the album is on Youtube! So I’ll just have to settle for “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,”  which was released as a single – and is one of the tracks that should’ve become a rock radio staple.


4. The Move: Split Ends
United Artists, 1972

If The Move is remembered at all today, it’s for being the group that became Electric Light Orchestra. Started by multi-instrumentalist Roy Wood, the Move released a few LPs that critics loved but didn’t do very well commercially, at least here in the US. Jeff Lynne joined for the heavy progressive rocker Looking On in 1970 (“heavy progressive rock” being different than “prog rock,” at least in my definition –more of a heavy psychedelic rock thing with little of the self-indulgent wankery prog rock would eventually become known for), after which Wood and Lynne came up with the idea for ELO. However they still had to release one more Move LP, and while working on the first ELO LP they released Message From The Country in 1971. Also at this time they released a slew of singles, like “California Man” and “Do Ya,” all of which were great but none of which were actually on the album.

Well, some executive at UA got this great idea: “Since Message From The Country didn’t do so well here in America, why don’t we cut out all the filler tracks and replace ‘em with those awesome singles, and release it as a pseudo-album sort of thing?” This they did, the resulting “album” being titled Split Ends for the American market. This one actually garnered a review in Rolling Stone (the Cover To Cover CD-ROM again coming to the rescue), by no less than Lester Bangs, who regaled “Do Ya” as the hit it should’ve been. Well, eventually it was – when Lynne re-recorded it with ELO a few years later.

As it is, Split Ends plays like a great album, and I certainly like it better than the cello-heavy first Electric Light Orchestra album, because this one rocks, and is basically the definition of early ‘70s heavy prog. Also worth noting: Split Ends has more copy than any LP I’ve seen, ever: four columns of small print on the back cover, and dense copy on both slides of the inner sleeve, all explaining the reasoning behind this compilation’s release and also providing a history of the band.

Top Track: Well, “Do Ya” of course is the hit single that never was, but I’ve always liked the proggy epic “The Words Of Aaron.”  Ironically, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first ELO album.


5. Rabbit: Dark Saloon
Island, 1974

John “Rabbit” Bundrick was an American keyboard player who went over to England in the early ‘70s and joined the group Free, appearing on their final two albums. After this he ventured into a solo career, this being the second of two albums he released. Whereas the first album is more of a rough, almost demo-like sort of thing, Dark Saloon is gloriously overblown coked-out ‘70s studio rock, covering the gamut from heavy rock to reggae(!). The sound textures are phenomenal; Rabbit plays a host of keyboards and synthesizers, employing a variety of sound effects to all the instruments. Super cool stuff, and very ‘70s (but I repeat myself). Once again we have a scenario where Rolling Stone gave a good review, but the record didn’t resonate. In fact I could barely find anything about Dark Saloon online, and I only discovered it after some random browsing on discogs.com. But man is it a great album…I’ve played my copy many, many times, and it’s a shame more people aren’t aware of it.

Top track: That reggae number is actually pretty cool (“43 Revolution”), sounding like something that might’ve been on John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges, but my favorite track is the funky, psych-tinged “Dig It Johnny Walker.”


6. Neil Merryweather: Kryptonite
Mercury, 1975

A year after Space Rangers (reviewed on the previous list) came out, Neil Merryweather got his Space Rangers band back together, only with a new guitarist this time – due to behind the scenes nonsense, the main guitarist on Space Rangers, Timo Laine, went uncredited on that album. By the time the LP released, Laine was gone and new guitarist Michael “Jeep” Willis had taken his place, and he received credit on Space Rangers, even though he only provided a few licks to some tracks. Thus there is a different vibe to Kryptonite, and not just so far as the guitar goes; whereas Space Rangers had a sprawling, heavy progressive vibe, with long tracks merging into one another, Kryptonite sticks to shorter, more focused songs. But it’s still heavy, and Willis’s guitar work is just as good. However I’d be lying if I said I preferred Kryptonite to the previous album. I’m listing it here because it is still a great record, just not as great as its predecessor – and I was very fortunate to acquire a still-sealed copy. (I ripped that sucker open without a moment’s hesitation!)

Top Track: Closing songs “You Know Where I’d Rather Be” and “Let Us Be The Dawn” are great because they sound like something off Space Rangers, but I think “Star Rider”  best represents this album, and possibly Merryweather’s entire Space Rangers output (this sadly being the last of the albums he put out with the group, which disbanded). It also encapsulates the cosmic vibe of ‘70s Marvel Comics, and juding from the cover art, courtesy Captain America artist Don Rico, I’m assuming Merryweather himself was a Marvel reader. Plus it features one of the greatest opening lines in sci-fi space rock: “Been saling the spaceways it seems like forever/I can’t count the miles, my mind is blown.” You could see countless long-haired ‘70s teens firing up their bongs to those words…too bad no one bought the damn record!


7. The Pretty Things: Real Pretty
Rare Earth, 1976

The Pretty Things were like the UK equivalent of Spirt: a trendsetting group that should’ve been huge, but the stars just never aligned for them. Thus, like Spirit, the Pretty Things are unknown to the average music fan, but beloved by hardcore rock fanatics. In 1967 they holed up in Abbey Road studios and spent apparently the whole year recording what is now considered one of the greatest psychedelic rock albums of all time: S.F. Sorrow. But upon its release in 1968, the other trendsetting acts (ie the Stones, the Beatles, etc) were moving into more of a “organic” direction, or at least in a mostly non-psych direction, so the album sounded outdated. Also it seems that the LP was given a muddled release, and ultimately went nowhere. The Pretty Things reshuffled their lineup a bit and, undeterred by the failure of S.F. Sorrow, they again holed up in Abbey Road in 1969, again working with producer Norman Smith (Pink Floyd, etc), and in 1970 turned out an album that I think is even better: Parachute. This album basically picks up where Abbey Road left off (side 1 is a long suite in the manner of side 2 of the Beatles record), and I think it had an even greater right for instant Rock Legend status. But it too failed upon release, picking up its reputation along with S.F. Sorrow over the decades.

There’s an internet rumor that Parachute was ranked “Album Of The Year” by Rolling Stone in 1970, but I’ve searched my Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD-ROM, which has every page of every issue from the first one up through 2007, and the Pretty Things aren’t even mentioned until the release of Silk Torpedo, in 1974. I do know there was a British version of Rolling Stone in the early ‘70s, so maybe that’s where Parachute was listed as Album of the Year. No one really seems to know.

Anyway, both S.F. Sorrow and Parachute are now considered classics, and original pressings go for high dollars. Even modern pressings are overpriced. But then there’s this budget-priced two-fer, released for the American market in 1976, which no one seems to know about. Because folks it features S.F. Sorrow on the first disc and Parachute on the second! It’s a great pressing, too, not to mention all analog, unlike the sourced-from-digital stuff that’s passed off as records today. I got my copy for five dollars, friends. Five dollars! In near mint condition to boot! Plus you get a nice writeup about the Pretty Things and their history.

Top Track: For S.F. Sorrow I’d have to go with the Black Sabbath-sounding “Old Man Going.” For Parachute, the “Good Mr. Square/She Was Tall, She Was High” medley from the first side’s suite is my favorite. The bass on this sounds huge on vinyl!

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