When I first discovered an obscure album by a group called Wolfe on the Rare Earth label it was all the way back in 1998 and it was a somewhat worn promo copy. I bought it not for the rather average looking cover of a bunch of nails all standing up and forming the name "WOLFE" in all caps, but because it said it was recorded in England and looked intriguing.
Now some albums take a week, some take a month, some take more than a year or longer to really impress- this one took one play! DO NOT let the fact that some of the tracks are bubblegum and popular covers detract you- this album is really the 60s Mod pop psych group Peter And The Wolves on their one album release, an album that even in their native England was believed not to exist! When I played the record the beautiful harmonies and tough fuzz guitars blended together in a delicious way and boy do they work some magic up with "Funny Funny" by Sweet and "Dancing In The Moonlight" by King Harvest even!
The inevitable happened. I was laughed at for it by all the idiotic American dealer snobs, and it would take till Sweet Floral Albion wrote the album up for it to even catch on at all. Paul Major also wrote a rave of it in one of his last lists and I read it and told Paul that I had discovered this record before anybody else had! The thing with Wolfe is the same as most Rare Earth releases. It was an excellent label that gave us some real gems, but apart from the extraordinary Power Of Zeus nothing on the label gets much attention. Power Of Zeus even are laughed at by some. It may be the stupid lyrics to some of their songs, but I think it is the same as with all Rare Earth releases- the Amerikan dealers don't like records with a strong Anglo or European bent and Rare Earth had a lot of that.
Even looking at the cover of Wolfe it may not be the world's greatest cover, but it has that obscure charm about it and to get to the music this album is extraordinary. By Wolfe's belated release in 1972 things had changed a lot in England since the mid to late 1960s. Underground rock and progressive rock had come in- in fact they were the order of the day. Wolfe weren't specifically aiming at the still pop friendly charts, but taking pop psych to its next level in the early 70s. There are plenty of pop hooks that recall the heyday of The Hollies, Beatles, Honeybus, early Bee Gees (I'm thinking especially Horizontal) et all, but this album sounds more like what Honeybus were leaning towards, more mature. The Hollies were past their prime by 1972 with some excellent material, but also dabbling a bit too much in self indulgences and country rock. Wolfe sound like the Hollies if they had been able to consolidate their earlier brilliance in the early 1970s and turn it into something new, something more truly psychedelic.
Wolfe are a quintet with a very full sound and there are plenty of charming little references to the decade that had just passed like the freaky Moog led pop psych masterpiece "Bite It Deep" with an obvious nod to The Beatles ("If the Apple is sweet then bite it deep"). "Ballad Of The Unloved" which begins the album is much more sombre, much more resigned sounding. It's very psychedelic with a really weird underwater guitar sound whilst sticking to a melodic pop format. The lead voice of Robin Slater reminds me a bit of Russell Hitchcock in Air Supply, but a little less high pitched, maybe a bit of Robin Gibb in both of them (Russell especially) and drummer Mike Wade doubles on lead vocals with a voice that brings to mind Alan Clarke of the previously mentioned Hollies- what more could you ask for!
Wolfe are a band with a tight, disciplined sound yet there's enough looseness still to keep it from being too contrived sounding or stiff. The writers of much of the original material on this album will be of no secret to any British psych collector: John Pantry and Nick Ryan. They both worked with the likes of The Factory and a lot of other big British psych bands in the 60s, but Wolfe was their band. All five of Wolfe (John Pantry, Nick Ryan, Robin Slater, John Richmond, Mike Wade) had been at this game since at least 1967 and this album has a very mature sound to it. "Bite It Deep" is a great song, but perhaps the highlight for original material is "A Tale Of Two Cities" which thankfully has nothing to do with the French Revolution. Instead it's a rather sullen track with great melodies and harmonies about New York and London. The first half which is New York would have The Hollies kicking themselves that they didn't write it or record it. It also reminds me of Tin Tin and a band who keep popping up here when I listen- Kaleidoscope. Yes, Kaleidoscope were heading towards this album the further on they went (Fairfield Parlour)and Peter Daltrey would be proud of Wolfe. London follows New York and is about a subject written about quite a few times in these blogs- the Decline And Fall of England. Altogether, not a happy song and by London some of it is really emotive- dynamic stuff! There's a few tracks on here leaning towards that rural pastoral rock sound that was so popular in the early 70s and Wolfe handle that brilliantly.
There isn't a bad track on here. "Time Is Money" by Robin Slater is another fantastic original song with a kind of Hollies meets McCartney vibe, crisp production, and fine lyrics. Another album that I'm flashing on is the British expatriate California based Jamme from some years earlier on Dunhill- another massively underrated record. Wolfe may be the very best pop record of the year of 1972, though. Certainly it is THE MOST OVERLOOKED. There isn't a dud on this album. Not even the Bev Bevan like ultra baritone vocal in their cover of "Mama Lion" by Judd detracts. In fact, placed next to the original this one wins hands down. "Us," another original composition manages to sound 60s in a 70s context. A more grown up approach, but with the innocence of 60s solid British pop intact. "Dancing In The Moonlight" and "Funny Funny" are so psyched it's unbelievable- trippy vocals, fuzz, phasing, effects all turn these into songs that are more psychedelic than they are bubblegum. What could have been throwaway covers turn into brilliance. Wolfe knew exactly the sound and exactly the album they wanted to record- I'd say they more than accomplished making an album that would be perfect 1972 music with still plenty of 1967 in it- just a little more grown up as I have said.
Now comes the annoying part for Wolfe and for me. They miraculously couldn't attract the attention of a British label and the album only came out in America on Rare Earth. This would seal the fate of both the album and the band as it was doomed not to sell one copy in the wasteland of early 70s America. As I have stated Rare Earth released some great records, but most of the bands that were not American had their albums released in England or nearly everywhere (see UFO, Toe Fat). Wolfe were clearly destined for exactly what they did not deserve- the bargain bin. This album is rare enough, quality enough to command a price tag of over $100 or at least $75, but it is still not really a discovered album. I'm giving Wolfe the praise they deserve. Peter And The Wolves had been around for a long time and they had grown as a band and as musicians when they made this album. I have not heard their previous output, but based on this record I'm sure it's very high quality British pop. Wolfe only getting a US release was a major blow in more ways than one. Had they been on Parlophone or another really collectable UK label years later in collecting circles this would command an exorbitant amount, but a one off release in the States means they'll probably never get past the narrow-minded and trite American dealers who don't like anything Anglo or lazy British dealers who only pay attention to an album released in England. That is really a shame. I'd say it's something I find unforgivable. Go out and find the record- and you'll have a lot of trouble running into a copy. In this lopsided situation, though, it shouldn't command more than $35 to $50 at most in price or maybe less, but try finding it. The fact of the matter is that even though this was released by a major label before getting a perfect sealed copy I'd only had two copies before that of this record. A more than educated guess would suggest that not very many copies came out of Wolfe.
Wolfe don't have to end with a sad bunch of bemoanings by me about how they should have been super huge and super famous, because that isn't the most important thing. The most important thing is the quality of the music and Wolfe have that over a whole lot of other more praised, more expensive bands. While Deram or EMI didn't release it who really should give a damn about that. I like having a few secrets and a few things that other people don't know about yet and Wolfe stand as my firm favourite. In 1972 there was perhaps more great music than any other year in the 1970s all over England and Europe, even some American albums from that year are astonishingly good, and Wolfe have that kind of maturity that was so prevalent then. The Beatles had split in 1970, but their spirit and their brilliance remained. There still was some hope and there still were dreams from earlier times left. Wolfe carried on these 60s dreams and they made them into something like a snug and beautiful patchwork quilt- all handmade and all from the heart. That may sound a bit corny to some of you, but I find it an apt analogy. While I wouldn't dispute that Wolfe were probably a studio band by this point, they made the album that is an album of my dreams- an album of warmth, sincerity, and brilliant melodies yet with enough toughness to save it from being twee. Find it and remember that if it ever becomes a big record I got there ahead of the rest.