Things have been so tense around here.... I've sold off A LOT OF STUFF from my collection most of which I can live without, but some of which I would rather not have had to sell. And what do I get for my sacrifices? Don't even ask. You wouldn't even be able to contemplate. Let's just say I've had to keep my listening to fairly melodic stuff and have been easing off a bit on really hard heavy metal (but that doesn't include hard rock or AOR or Pomp Rock). It's summer and it's hot and ideal weather to go to the pool and cool off and relax before going back into The War Zone. So when I'm home and listening I've for instance recently closed out a night with Carole King's TAPESTRY which is a beat up copy I've had since I was 18. So have I gone over to soft rock you'll ask. You'll ask if I've crossed over completely to mellowed out rock and straight pop music. Well, not exactly, I'm just very eclectic.
-Happy Feeling- Sunshine Vibes From Calgary Alberta Canada Of All Places-
Calgary and Canada in general had a very interesting music scene in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and what you would hear from a Canadian band would really depend on where they were from. Happy Feeling came from nowhere land, the sticks, where they have rodeos and stampedes- Calgary. Later on Calgary would seriously soil its reputation with the sickest, most vicious and disturbing of all worthless heavy metal bands White Wolf, but White Wolf's horror movie antics were way far removed from Canada and not just Calgary. Who were they? Nobodies trying to cause a stir. Canada has never been good at metal. Stick to the softer stuff or the psychier stuff guys (and gals).
Happy Feeling were very much a pop/power pop band who I was shocked to learn when I got the Canadian original press last week came out in 1970. I was completely baffled. With it's mix of very British beat/pop Kinks and lighter acts styled 1966 type perfect pop and some power pop/soul rock thrown in I thought this happy friendly innocent little album was from 1968! It turns out that like Vanity Fare who I will discuss here, like White Plains, like lesser British acts of the time this was a kind of searching for a British Invasion revival. One can even hear the lightest of US groups like Lovin' Spoonful and a bit of that L.A breezy easy psych sound. With a name like Happy Feeling you'd probably expect all of the above, but what a hippy heavy looking bunch they are. I would rate this record really highly for straight forward unadulterated pop/power pop. I'm using that "power pop" adjective a lot as some of this does rock and convincingly too. All you have to do is listen to the energy of the performances even in the softest songs- they're sprightly and very very up. You won't hear comatose Sagittarius/Free Design rubbish here so don't expect sunshine pop.
The first song "Hey Little Man" is rather oddly written by George Tomsco of The Fireballs and is as far from The Fireballs as you can get- instead it sounds like 1966 period Kinks crossed with 1966 period Lovin' Spoonful. The tight playing of the group is all snappy and rhythmic and their harmonies are quality as you can be. It's one of only two songs not written by group members with the other outside composition "London Towne" sounding like Merseybeat meets Byrds-alike jangle rock! There are at least 3 major contributors to the songs on the originals which makes for subtle eclectic variety. Jim Aiello the lead vocalist he of the crystal clear lovable voice writes very flower powery melodic pop and he seems to be very into the Spoonful and California vibes. When he writes the organ is more prominent and this makes for a kind of mild poppsych that is for the most part very enjoyable. His best compositions are "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide" a quirky little pop number, "Do You See What I Mean?" which is really nice Beatles influenced pop, and the title track "Happy Feeling" which the record doesn't state, but was cowritten by a really good friend of mine Doran Beattie- he of the Perfect Voice and the lead vocalist/principal writer for Painter.
In just a few years down the line from Happy Feeling's release Painter signed out of the States on Elektra and made a revolutionary record. They were copied by the thousand and not credited. Clearly things had changed for a band who began as the poppsych/garage outfit 49th Parallel. So this tells us that Happy Feeling either were slow to evolution or just wanted to separate themselves from the heavier more progressive vibes coming in. 1970 was still a transitory year, but clearly Happy Feeling, Vanity Fare, and their ilk wanted nothing to do with what was coming in.
If you want anything that's even a semblance of 1970 then guitarist Danny Ferguson has it. On "Still Hill" he writes a solid power pop rocker perfect for 1970 radio at its best and on "Keep Pushin'" the sound is a hysterical attempt at a Motown/soul beat raver. Organist Gordon "Gordie" Moffatt
writes melodic and somewhat more up to date happy easy going pop rock and for an album with a nice mix of different styles of music you never feel like any of it is a thrown-together hodgepodge. I have my favourites on this album: "Walk With Life," "Do You See What I Mean," "Hey Little Man," "Still Hill," and the short brilliant closer "If There's A Thought," but this is a consistently high quality record. When interested picked up on the lighter side of poppsych/pop Happy Feeling was finally recognized not just as rare, but as rare and worthy of attention. It's gone up in value even more since then especially for the rarer Canadian copy. This is a great record. When I'm down and miserable it picks me up. When I start to feel like I'm at war with everything with Happy Feeling I find peace. It will pick you up. It is one of the best out there for what it is and is also kind of unique in its tackling of various past and present pop. I'd strongly recommend it.
-Early In The Morning I'm Hitchin' A Ride With a Vanity Fare-
Vanity Fare is to my ears one of the most overlooked bands of all time. They weren't quite as square as people who hate pop make them out to be and you've gotta face the truth- the Brits beat the shit out of us with their pop versus our pop in the early 70s. Aside from Vanity Fare, White Plains, Edison Lighthouse, Brotherhood Of Man and other noteworthy British pop American chart music was shite in the early 70s. Right when American music was trying to grow into something exciting it came to a dead end street and smashed itself into fragments of complete garbage. The 60s had given us some great music, but in the 70s bands like Smoke Rise and Rain (On Project 3 Label not the other bands called Rain) ran into a brick wall when it came to selling records. Crowfoot would be another example of a quality band who would be ignored by everybody at the time as we had sick, disgusting, and pointlessly violent hackwork or innocent squeaky little rubbish like the Osmonds spreading like a plague. It was a bad time for the charts, man. What could we do but fall in love with a group like Vanity Fare? We had to fall in love with them. "Hitchin' a Ride" defines British power pop of the Pre Pilot era where Pilot from Edinburgh Scotland would redefine everything that the word "power" meant in pop. It became a huge selling hit, but we only got a compilation album and not the real deal. Thing is, EARLY IN THE MORNING is a perfect pop record. There isn't a thing I would change here. You also, though, have to hear the British versions of some of the songs and some outstanding material never released here on Coming Home- cheap to score, but tough to find. Vanity Fare may have turned into a cabaret act and that is a shame, but serious rock bands who flirted with pop such as The Marmalade And The Move either were dragged into the shlock market or chose to end up there in the case of The Marmalade. The Marmalade began with some high quality music and some not so good throwaway pop material. They then over the course of 3 records made 3 masterpiece records- REFLECTIONS OF THE MARMALADE, SONGS, and OUR HOUSE IS ROCKING. Where they ended up was without Dean Ford (real and much more impressive name Thomas MacAleese), who was the pivotal force, with a reformed rehashed line up they were trashy sleazy rubbishy Barry Manilow land. So Vanity Fare who wore pop on their sleeves were honest.
I am not quite sure where Vanity Fare really came from in England, but they definitely knew how to create a sound that was both British and American yet always somehow more British- tougher perhaps. They had a tight breezy sound that was contradicted by muscle and topped that with Trevor Brice's angelic vocals which are right there on par with Colin Blunstone's. If you hear "Mewgowd" they pull off heavy nasty dirty hard edged power pop like a storming Koobas. Incidentally, this is one of the few songs they wrote. "I Live For The Sun," "Summer Morning," "Manchild," "In My Lonely Room" would have Brian Wilson praising them highly if he heard them along with Roy Wood and "Early In The Morning" captures the essence of British Music Hall celebrating summer. For a band with a lot of material on their albums I can't think of a single track these boys couldn't pull off and make sound brilliant. They went way back to the beat boom and as much as they continued that there was something unique about them. It's love music and when I am bombarded with hate and prejudice and hung up with the world as we all get sometimes I can take on the world and all its stupidities a lot heavier with this than with some bullshit metal like Deep Purple Ian Gillan period, Iron Maiden, or Saxon. I suppose I will get called a "wimp" when I am in fact tougher than those faked out losers who cue up to have their ears filled with trite throwaway knock-off nothing music promoting hatred and prejudice. Few pop groups are racists, but aside from Kal Swan's Lion or Bad Moon Rising and a few others heavy metal is Proto Fascist hate music. There is hard rock and roll and I love that, but this thing called heavy metal isn't doing anything for me except for when you catch me listening to the more symphonic or more melodic pop influenced stuff. Yeah, I love Scorpions, Bonfire, Dedringer, Lionheart, Airrace, China's 1st album, UFO, early Black Sabbath, Angel at their heaviest, you name it, but that ain't really metal as it came to be known. Vanity Fare probably could beat Iron Maiden in a British football match as they certainly wipe the floor clean with them musically. Don't believe me? Check out the aforementioned "Megowd" and you'll be ashamed of yourself. There is something about this band that is really honest, really true, really original, and really spectacular. I don't quite know how to explain just what that is, but Vanity Fare are up there with the best bands in the world. I love them and I'll go on loving them for my whole life. Records come and records go. Bands come and bands go- these guys stay a firm favourite with me and that means they are way high quality and really fantastically good.