Splendid Journeys
July mix part two
I don’t know about you, but it always takes me a while to really get into the holiday swing. It takes a week or so to really switch school off in my brain, which is kind of a drag. Maybe this was why I insisted on sticking The Clique’s cover of the Gibb brothers’ ‘Holiday’ onto my July mix; so it could act as a means of preparing my head for the freedom that lay ahead. I guess it kind of worked too, as my head became increasingly unable to process pretty much any kind of work activity in the last few weeks of term. Now one of the things I really love about the ‘60s Pop scene is the way in which a variety of contemporaneous artists would each record the same song, with the result being that several versions could be in the charts at the same time. It is so fascinating to see the way that different groups would give a new slant to a song, and I’ve always felt that it’s something which would liven up Pop in the new Century. So The Clique did their version of the Bee Gee’s ‘Holiday’ for their eponymous Gary Zekley produced1969 set on White Whale, and a peach of a cover it is too. It’s a classy album all round in fact, complete with classic singles like ‘Sugar On Sunday’ and ‘Superman’ which was maybe made more famous for some by R.E.M. in the ‘80s. It’s thanks to the fine people at Rev-Ola (who else!) that this sees the light of day now, and whilst I could have sworn that the team had already put a different version of this out in the past, it seems that the other version I have was in fact on the Varese Sarabande label, so so much for my memory. The Rev-Ola reissue is way ahead though, with infinitely superior sleeve notes by the indefatigable Steve Stanley and an extra four tracks that take the total up to 21 perfect soft psych Pop classics. This is heartily recommended.
Rev-Ola in fact have a string of really brilliant reissues around at the moment, continuing to cement a worthy reputation as the finest band of sonic archaeologists around. Older heads amongst you will be familiar with some of the material I’m sure, but for younger adventurous souls I imagine that Rev-Ola is rightly viewed as some kind of mother lobe gold mine. And if it isn’t then sheesh, you people are missing out on some exceptional sounds. Like the sound of Turquoise. Listening to their Further Adventures Of Flossie Fillett (collected recordings 1966-1969) is a real delight, and in fact I’m sure that somewhere in the depths of my past I’ve had a couple of these songs on long lost compilation cassettes. In all probability they cropped up on some of the magical collections of great lost and obscure ’60s Pop that some of my hipster friends kept me supplied with through the mail in the late ’80s. The morning mail delivery in those days was like a cosmic intervention, keeping my existence in the midst of nowhere somehow connected to a special and sparkling network of underground sound and passion. Listening to the sound of Turquoise now reminds me of those feelings, and seeing the photos of the band remind me too of how I longed to be able to look that unfashionably cool, for in the ’80s backwater where I lived it was criminal to want to look like a character from Bronco Bullfrog. It would be tantamount to wearing a sign that said ‘drag me behind the electrical sub station and kill me’. And the casuals would have been more than happy to oblige. But Turquoise did look great, no question about it, like little switchblade carrying dandies in cuban heeled loafers. They sounded fabulous too, for all the world like the finer Power Pop moments of The Kinks, and you know that is some mighty, mighty recommendation. Indeed, they even had the wit to write a song called ‘Village Green’, and you know what? It’s not a million miles from being as fine as the Kinks’ one. Of course they were Muswell Hill neighbours to the Davies brothers, so maybe that's no surprise. Then there is ’53 Summer Street’ which I chose to grace my mix; as ravishing and flamboyant a Pop record you will never hear, and goodness knows why this never crashed into the top reaches of the charts. They had connections after all that linked out to the likes of the Rolling Stones, Spencer Davis Group, Kinks and The Who. Indeed, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon did some production work on a couple of the tracks included here. Naturally if you can you ought to be snapping up pretty much anything Rev-Ola puts out, but if necessity means you must make choices, then the Turquoise collection should be at the top of your list.
Similarly, the Temptation Eyes set should be right up there. It’s a collection of songs by hit songwriting duo of Michael Price and Dan Walsh, and it’s a confection of choice cuts to be sure. Probably best known for the song that gives the album its title (it was a big hit for The Grass Roots), the duo penned tunes for the likes of Cher, Lulu and the Temptations, taking in a host of influences from soft psych, folk rock and bubblegum Pop to concoct some truly beguiling moments. Much of the album is previously unreleased songwriter demos, and maybe it’s my love of sketchbooks that comes through here, but I really love hearing these loose, spacious early drafts. The songs shine through and they are fabulous of course. There is also a selection of tracks that Price and Walsh laid down in 1968 with Gark Zekley for an aborted psychedelic concept album, all of which are fascinating and should be heard. And anyway, you should always want to investigate anything that Zekley had a hand in. More in-depth sleeve notes by Steve Stanley and commentary by both Price and Walsh make this a treasure that, like the Turquoise set, really should be nestling neatly in your collection of sweet ’60s sounds.

The next batch of reissue action comes courtesy of Rev-Ola and their Cherry Red connected El partners. First up is Martin Denny from the Exotica Volume 3 set. Now I have always struggled a little with Denny. He was one of those names so widely venerated by the Lounge scenesters in the early ’90s, but like a lot of the sounds touted by those hipsters I always struggled to see beyond the veneer of chintzy schmaltz. I still do, regardless of the fact that I know his recordings are musically adventurous and make intriguing connections. But then, not being musical, maybe this is why I don’t really see the appeal. Still, at least I’ve grown to enjoy that chintzy schmaltz at face value, and now admit that tracks like ‘Harbor Lights’ are highly enjoyable summer evening listening fare.

Much more enjoyable for me though is the Astrud Gilberto and Walter Wanderley album A Certain Smile A Certain Sadness. This 1966 release is pure magic, blending Gilberto’s unmistakeable voice with Wanderley’s space age Bossa sound to perfection. The eleven tracks of the originally released album are all present and perfectly correct, but it’s one of the two bonus tracks that I’ve picked out for my mix. ‘The Sadness Of After’ is quite simply sublime, from the studio banter intro to the false start and the spacious, sparkling piano backed delivery. It reminds me of the kind of soft sadness I found so appealing in Tracey Thorn’s classic A Distant Shore, and that’s a heartfelt comparison that works both ways. As an introduction to the magic of Astrud Gilberto, you wont find better than this.
Over at El meanwhile, they continue to unearth some fascinating early Pop texts, none more engaging than the Chordettes Close Harmony collection. The best known of the all girl acappella babershop groups from the ’50s, The Chordettes are maybe best remembered for their 1954 smash ‘Mr Sandman’ which I could not resist sneaking onto my mix. The first of thirteen hit singles for the group over a period that lasted up to their 1961 demise, ‘Sandman’ topped the US chart for seven weeks and has for sure become one of those songs that evokes the idealised Americana of the ’50s that we know today. Certainly I always connect the song with the fabulous first instalment of the Back To The Future trilogy, and whilst the inequality and prejudices of that time are certainly not something we should aspire to admiring, there is a sense of naiveté and simple pleasure that surely one cannot help but be attracted to. Certainly contemporary groups like the fabulous Diskettes recognise this, and I only wish that more groups would see it too. Like Marty says after dragging ‘Johnny B Goode’ into the depths of Rock Hell at the end of the High School dance, although they might not have been ready for that in 1955, their kids would, sadly, love it. Of course with a hindsight that wasn’t really around in 1985, we know that the hipper kids of the time were rightly loving the Chordettes and the Four Freshmen (whose Blue World is also out soon on El), and that those influences would lead us famously to the Beach Boys, Mamas And Papas and The Association, but also less famously to the likes of The Tokens and a host of other acts who recorded for White Whale and others. And yes, I do dream of going back to those times (but not in a De Lorean) and of witnessing those treasures first hand, but then, don’t we all?

Finally on the reissue front there’s the Mah-Na-Mah-Na set by the Dave Pell Singers. This 1969 set by the famed West Coast jazz musician has been a highly sought after artefact of vocal mod psychedelia for some time, and it’s good to see it out on CD format at last. And it is as suitably strange as you would expect, with covers of songs such as ‘Sugar Sugar’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town’ and, quite bizarrely the title tune of Ken Tynan’s controversial musical Oh, Calcutta! Remarkably, it all works magnificently, and makes for a classy set of breezy, sensual soft psych that’s just the thing for summer.
Now in getting back to 2006 it seems logical that the next track should be from the Pipettes debut set for Memphis Industries. I’ve written a lot about the Pipettes in the past of course, and I have to admit to more than a little pride in knowing that I helped give the world their first release, but that already seems a lifetime away as polka dot fever hits the high streets and The Pipettes storm the Real charts. This is how Pop should be, after all: classy hooks and sassy looks, synchronised dance moves and handclaps, a backing band that looks like they should be playing at Arnolds. Heaven. Not that The Pipettes are some retro schmaltz. Oh no. The Pipettes are a thoroughly Modern confection, and songs like the super ‘Sex’ that I’ve slipped onto this mix prove the point magnificently. For The Pipettes might acknowledge the appeal of bubblegum Pop, but they also know how to slip in a neat lyric that is far from being all coy and stereotypical. For for all the references to ‘60s girl group sound, as equally a relevant nod might be to both Boy Meets Girl, or to Sperm Meets Egg, so what. And that’s McCarthy and Heavenly respectively, in case you need a little helping hand. We Are The Pipettes is for sure one of the most effortlessly complete and perfectly formed Pop albums of this, or any year, and if it’s impact is slightly lessened for my having lived with the majority of these songs in various sketch form for over a year already, then so be it. And if too I am jealous of those whose new summer romances will be fuelled by the sparkling euphoria of such a breathtakingly spectacular soundtrack, then so be that as well. Me, I’ll just continue to let it accompany my mind meanders and sub-conscious leaps of delight as I pedal through country lanes and sit amongst grape vines and honeysuckle, content and delighted.
Of course for many the Pipettes will always have been the line up of Rose, Riot Becky and Gwenno, but for some there remain thoughts of Julia and a wonder for what she did next… Well, the answer arrives in the shape of a spectacular 7” on the Sad Gnome label. With a cover that will surely irritate as many as it will delight in its obvious use of shock value imagery, the single itself is equally antagonistic and perfectly confrontational. For The Indelicates’ ‘We Hate The Kids’ is the kind of ready-made classic that groups must dream of writing. It perfectly captures the hypocritical nature of the music industry, damning the very roots of the system whilst simultaneously being desperate to belong. I love it to bits, not least because it has the guts and the wit to shamelessly reference Pulp’s ‘Common People’, itself surely one of the finest slabs of piercing irony that cloaked acidic spite behind an addictive sing-along anthem. ‘We Hate The Kids’ is every bit as good, though sadly unlikely to grace the charts or enter the collective psyche. But that’s the collective psyche’s loss. Lyrically it is as sublime as you could want and if I resist quoting at length here that’s mainly because it would be hard to know where to start, or stop. If you trawl the Net you’ll probably come across a sparser mix (that I actually prefer to the ‘finished’ version) and a fabulous Hard Trance remix that is as cheesy as it is brilliant, and reminds me of the awesomely vitriolic ‘Summer Of Hate’ by Baxendale. Who remembers that? And in fact the Baxendale reference crops up again with the Indelicates ace ‘Julia We Don’t Live In The ’60s’, whilst the widely downloaded ‘Waiting For Pete Doherty To Die’ is as classy and cutting an expose of the music industry as the single and is another utterly essential addition to your collection. Snap up a couple of copies pronto, for future eBay action surely awaits.

Having made a tangential reference to Heavenly earlier, it seems fitting then to end this July mix with a track from Tender Trap’s 6 Billion People album for Fortuna Pop. It’s easy to take a group like Tender Trap for granted, as I’m sad to say that I did with this record for a while. I guess we have gotten so used to having Amelia Fletcher’s distinctive voice and sublime Pop aesthetic around us over the years, and it’s at least as scary as it is comforting to realise that it has been nigh on twenty years since Talulah Gosh first pierced our hearts. I know we have all been on our journeys over those years. I know we have all explored new sounds and styles. Yet somehow the pure and simple appeal of Pop remains, and Tender Trap recognise that as much as The Pipettes, The Diskettes or The Chordettes. And 6 Billion People is a great record that does the great Pop thing with a natural slight of hand, a deceptively simple toss of a fringe and a coy knowing smile. With long-term friend Claudia Gonson (of Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes) roped in on drums and backing vocals it should also cross the tracks to the Merritt adoring hipsters, though they probably already know of Fletcher thanks to her involvement with the 6ths of course. So if, like me, you passed over 6 Billion People when it was released back in the Spring, do yourself a favour and pick it up. And if the name of Amelia Fletcher is one that you don’t already know and love, then take the treat of the trip down history’s path and dig up all you can. The Heavenly output is pretty much all available on the iTunes store, as are the previous Tender Trap and Marine Research releases, whilst The Talulah Gosh Backwash collection should also be easy to come by. It’ll be a splendid journey!

© 2006 Alistair Fitchett