Action Time Vision
The Action: Rolled Gold. Reaction Records (REACT-CD-001)
I'm always interested in how people hear about things. How they discover the wonders that light up their world. Of course there are the chance meetings, the divine interventions that lead to the discovery of some previously unknown pleasure, but these tend to be much rarer than those discoveries that are made through connections made by other explorations, following in the footsteps of fellow adventurers, examining the signs left behind. For me, a lot of the best discoveries have been made through investigating the markers thrown up by Kevin Pearce.
Jeff Barrett has called Kevin Pearce 'a neglected genius', and that's a fair enough description. Certainly my cultural life would be a lot more barren if I'd never known his words and his insight. For a start, I'd probably not have heard about the Action until years after I did, and even then I'm sure it wouldn't have been with as much fervour.
Naturally Kevin will point out his own signposts for discovery, and I'd certainly like to know how he first came across the Action. My guess is that it was via Paul Weller and the Jam, and the whole Mod resurrection of the late '70s and early '80s, but I might be wrong. There was a lot of rubbish dredged up with that Mod resurgence and really most of it wasn't Modernist at all, but that's revivalism for you. The renewed interest in groups like The Action and The Creation however, was right on target, and don't forget that Johnny Rotten spun a Creation track 'Life Is Just Beginning' on that famed Capital Radio show.
The Action though were the best. Paul Weller thought so, and rightly championed them, penning the sleevenotes to the early '80s The Ultimate Action collection. Kevin Pearce championed them too, notably in his Something Beginning With O book that Jeff Barrett and Heavenly published. In the book The Action shared space with Kevin's other Holy Trinity of Weller/The Jam, Kevin Rowland/Dexys and Vic Godard/Subway Sect and as Kevin was apt to say, it all fitted. Of course he was right.
The Action made records in the mid '60s that managed to sound very much of the time and yet were also timeless. Maybe this was down to the quality of the songs they recorded; Wasn't It You? (Goffin / King), Just Once In My Life (Spector / Goffin / King), I Love You (Yeah) (Curtis Mayfield), In My Lonely Room (Holland / Dozier / Holland); maybe it was down to their awesome blue-eyed soul sound, and notably Reggie King's distinctive voice. King was surely the one of the greatest of the soul singers, irrespective of race or anything else. Robert Plant certainly agreed, and so did Phil Collins (who said that the Action were his 'all time favourite band' and the 'band that had the most effect' on him), although whether that impresses you or not is up to you. And incidentally, getting right up to date, have you heard the Coral's 'Dreaming Of You', with it's dramatic nod to 'In My Lonely Room', and a vocal that's not a million miles away from Reggie King's?
Ric Menck is a big fan of The Action too. Menck, in case you need reminding was a kind of mythic figure in '90s American Rock, from where it meets Pop, country and soul, which is to say the only place that matters. He was in the Springfields, and he was in the admirable Velvet Crush who will be treasured forever for giving us the In the Presence of Greatness album, and for later covering Gene Clark's exquisite 'Why Not Your Baby'. Menck also offered up a quote for the Hurrah! The Sound of Philadelphia compilation on Rev-Ola back in the '90s, and of course it was Kevin Pearce who added the liner notes to that particular collection.
Now Menck, in collaboration with Parasol label owner Geoff Merritt has started Reaction Records, and the first release is by The Action. Rolled Gold is a collection of demos that The Action recorded in early summer of 1968 as the basis of a planned album, and this release is a US issue of the version put out in '98 by UK label Dig The Fuzz. As Action guitarist Alan King notes in the sleeve notes to Rolled Gold, by 1968 The Action had naturally moved on from the 'pill-popping mods' of the George Martin produced AIR recordings found on The Ultimate Action, and the sound on many of Rolled Gold songs leaned more towards a nascent freakbeat psychedelia. There were spiralling, cascading guitars, heavenly sounding flutes and almost disembodied harmonies, although still with the distinctive soul voice of Reggie King on top of it all. The Action too still retained their great driving beat / rhythm sound on these demos, and listened to today they still mostly sound dynamic and stirring, particularly on opener 'Come Around' and the gorgeous 'Love is All'. Then there's 'Brain' which is all gyrating guitars escaping to the heavens, and King's pleading vocal over a sharp beat. It's wonderful stuff.
Certainly, as well as Menck and Merritt, there are others in the US scene who would agree with the lasting worth of these recordings. On the sleeve for Rolled Gold there are glowing words of praise from the likes of Andrew Sandoval (he's the man keeping the Monkees alive at Rhino records), Matthew Sweet and Beachwood Sparks' Brent Rademaker which ought to raise a few eyebrows. Rademaker notes how on Rolled Gold The Action made music that was 'psychedelic in nature and obviously rooted in soul and R&B' but was also 'able to transcend those tags as well as the geography of where the music was created', which sounds a lot like the blueprint for Beachwood Sparks' own approach to making their own 21st century take on Cosmic American Music.
On the Rolled Gold sessions, The Action laid down wonderful sketches for how music could move on from the '60s into the '70s, and if most ignored the direction, that was their loss. You can hear the reverberations from the sound laid down here in the likes of the Box Tops and then later Big Star, a group who seemed to make similar attempts to fuse soul, r&b and psychedelia, although of course Big Star were coming from the other end of the story, and the Action were unaware of how the tale was going to develop. That the Action never got the chance to fully develop their sound with Reggie King on board is a minor tragedy, but at least we have these recordings to illuminate just what was, and what might have been.
© Alistair Fitchett 2002