Archive for the ‘Vertigo’ Category

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Listen: Sergeant Fury / The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

Thank you Duane for emailing me tonight with a reminder of how great this band was.

If ever you saw them live, you’ll know, they owned a stage during their ’74 – ’75 heyday. Ok, a year or so later the handful of UK hits came. But even as that happened, their landmark album, NEXT, based around the Jacques Brel song of the same name, from just before they really took off, re-entered the UK charts and England was Sensational Alex Harvey Band mad. That meant we US Anglophiles were in total step.

US Mercury, parent company to the Vertigo imprint, managed to get the band a slot on THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, doing the whole Vambo routine, the main character from NEXT. Frustrating thing, and a possible label mistake: the two best tracks from that album were never released as singles and therefore got no radio airplay focus. I’m talking about ‘Giddy Up A Ding Dong’ and ‘Vambo Marble Eye’. This was indeed still the era of an album being a completely thought through project, so the full length benefitted. Pressed on vinyl meant the running time couldn’t exceed forty minutes or thereabouts. Not too long, not too short.

Once compact discs hit, there was suddenly seventy plus minutes to potentially fill. Problem became, most bands would proceed to do just that. Result: loads of weak albums, cluttered up by throwaway tracks. Plus, everyone had less time. As technology progressed there were so many more fun things to do than listen to your favorite band’s B level material when only a few short years prior, these crap songs were simply tossed onto the scrap heap.

Never mind, point being my favorite Sensational Alex Harvey Band single, ‘Sergeant Fury’, is not from NEXT, but instead their followup, THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM. Looking back, I recall my attraction it’s the English vaudeville dancehall element tremendously. The Kinks were swimming knee deep in the genre then too, as was Ian Dury with both Kilburn & The High Roads and a few years later, Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

Mercury brought the band to Syracuse, staging a free concert at the Landmark Theatre in order to film their live show. Why the label chose this town, and not New York or Los Angeles, God only knows. And I mention God, because clearly there is one to drop such a euphoric high into my lap.

What a day that was. We scoured the place from like 11am. Easily meeting the fellows, shocking both Alex himself by talking about his previous soul outfits; and his group, when asking for details about Tear Gas, their previous band. As a result, we were eating, drinking and drugging with them until the early hours.

What self proclaimed Anglophile could make a soft landing after that!

Thin Lizzy

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Listen: Whiskey In The Jar (Single Edit) / Thin Lizzy

First thing I’d ever heard by Thin Lizzy was ‘Whiskey In The Jar’. Wow. It sounded fantastic from that initial instant and has never waned. Was a big UK hit during winter ’73, reaching #6, and remained a staple, especially in pubs, through the summer. Couldn’t escape it, and who would want to?

Their following was already a growing multitude of the seriously possessed, and they played The Marquee a few times during my employment at the club that year. Never did speak with them, but even then, their live sound was incredibly different and hugely more powerful than the records. Took several years for the two factions to line up.

Meanwhile, both band leader Phil Lynott and Nick Tauber did the producing during their years with the Decca label in England, and sister outlet, London Records in the US.

Nick Tauber has a very signature, specific to the period, quality. It’s basically, by today’s standards, weedy, even smothering, heavily mid ranged and comes complete with a rather small dry drum sound. I for one, loved it. Attempts at success with harder rock and progressive bands from the early 70′s were as handicapped by these sonic limitations as were the glam acts he worked with. Despite what any English speaking reader might logically interpret from this description, I truly mean it all as a positive. I’m a Nick Tauber fan.

Listen: Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm (Single Edit) / Thin Lizzy

‘Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm’ was a very unsuspecting A side choice for a maxi single Decca released in ’78, after the band had left the label, were having UK/US success on Vertigo/Mercury and punk was completely youth culture’s musical pulse of the period. The song was originally released on the NEW DAY EP between album one and two, during August ’71.

In ’78, Decca released a compilation, THE CONTINUING SAGA OF THE AGEING ORPHANS, and according to it’s sleeve notes, “All the tracks were originally recorded between the years ’71– ’74. Remixes and alterations were recorded at Decca Studio 2, West Hampstead, during Christmas ’77″. So this version is clearly a result of that update. But as a song, it’s rather mundane and was perfectly complimented by a blanket over the speakers production/mix, which even after the ’77 enhancements, hadn’t changed much.

Not a hit, not a big seller, not a single that sold at all really, but I play it often and revel in it’s plainness. Is that a word?

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Listen: Devil’s Grip / The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
Devil's Grip / The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

If you’ve been reading these posts during the last few days, it’s obvious the July 4th weekend leaned prog rock. Our excursion into the depths of upstate New York had me driving randomly through small towns in search of the ultimate garage sale. Look and you shall find, or something like that. We stumbled on two with massive amounts of prog vinyl, about one hundred miles apart. Very unexpected and a bit baffling. At $1 each, it was hard to pass up stacks of valuables that included various Vertigo swirls and Harvest titles.

Forget all the lengthy album tracks that littered prog long players, even more bizarre are the 45′s from the genre, all attempting to make playable versions of non-songs into songs. Fun stuff.

The mid 60′s mod organ style, hugely influenced by both Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, was still evident on ‘Devil’s Grip’, the ’67 debut single from The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. The record tipped toward it’s followup, ‘Fire’, which despite it’s shrill sonic onslaught, became a massive worldwide hit in summer ’68.

Turns out Vincent Crane’s Hammond shaped the band as much as Arthur Brown’s voice and theatrics. Their sole album is a struggle to listen to often, if ever, these days. The sleeve was great, and live, the band were a blast, but being perfectly honest meant everyone I knew regretted having laid out the cash to buy it.

‘Devil’s Grip’ may not be the greatest song, but at times, the non-LP track swings more than any other on the album.

Listen: Give Him A Flower / The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
Give Him A Flower / The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

Way more importantly, B side ‘Give Him A Flower’ is a gem. Borrowing from vaudeville and I’m guessing, coincidentally from The Bonzo Dog Band, the track may be their one and only example of getting a little loose in the pub before heading to the studio, sense of humor in tact.