Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How The Tages Beat Even The Zombies- STUDIO The Best Pop Psych Song Cycle Of Them All

Well, on a political note we finally did get a concession speech from bastard Mitt Romney and there was no way they could hide from the fact that Obama is again our president- re-elected thank God.
I stayed up really late listening to music last night and soaking in the vibes of a happier, safer future for our country even while my life is being decimated at home. No more on that note. Personal stuff stays private and certainly stays out of blogs.
     -Getting Into The Mood Of Prime Swedish Psych + I Also LOVE ABBA + EUROPE-
    The last album I played at 4 '0 Clock in the morning to close out was the magnificent, wonderful, amazing, and best most perfect record ever for melodic psychedelia STUDIO by The Tages who were Sweden's most successful band in their own country, but who would later make it for a brief time internationally when after constant arguments between the two group leaders Tommy Blom (Lead vocals, composer) and Goran Lagerberg (Lead vocals, backing vocals, bass guitar, main composer) the group split off into the Lagerberg fronted band Blond who scored an international hit with the hard rocker "Six White Horses." This would be huge for Sweden as finally the very talented and musically rich country was on the map. Several years down the road Swedish music was heading firmly towards the progressive sounds of bands as awesome as Panta Rei who I'll have soon, but even those bands owed a great deal to what The Tages and Blond had accomplished. There was a lot of talent in Scandinavia especially Sweden and soon some of the country's biggest stars collectively married each other and formed a supergroup. That band, as we all know is Abba. Abba had been around for about a zillion ages in other groups, but with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaues joining forces as writers they made it huge worldwide and are still considered by the good people with an open mind to be one of the best pop/progressive bands ever created. Abba followed after Blond for me. I was a huge fan of Blond and still am. Their one record THE LILAC YEARS begs us to ask the question why didn't Blond last for more than one pretty successful (but for the European pressings rare) album? Thankfully, with pop music going down the drain in America Abba got together with a little song called "Waterloo" which was clever as can be and soon became a smash here and everywhere else. Abba get knocked by a lot of people as a "Cute Swedish Pop Group" or summat bullshit like that, but that is WRONG! Abba practically are on the level of classical music and that classical tradition of symphonic influences in Swedish rock goes right back to The Tages and Blond. Songs such as "As Good As New," "Lay All Your Love On Me," "Knowing Me Knowing You," "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo," "Voulez Vous," "S.O.S," and the more experimental ones like "Soldiers" can make me smile and sometimes in the case of the very sad "Soldiers" or the really moving "Thank You For The Music" nearly make me cry . Abba's emotionally powerful songs would later find some very different musicians coming up with music that was led by strong melodies, but this time much harder rock in the form of the also much lambasted, but absolutely amazing band Europe. 
   Europe, the song and heavy guitar/keyboard based pomp hard rock band were formed by Joey Tempest and the best guitar player ever John Norum when the two were only about 15 years old. Their early masterpieces like "In The Future To Come," "Scream Of Anger" (which I kid you not sounds just like Diamond Head)," "Wings Of Tomorrow," "The King Will Return," "Stormwind," and "Lying Eyes" leaned heavily towards a very melodic epic metal sound, but later on pop symphonic influences took over with a worldwide smash in "The Final Countdown." Whilst the song's heavily keyboard oriented sound and Tempest's lavish vocals would lead to more brilliance in the Kee Marcello on guitar era "Superstitious" and "Ready or Not" Europe were making more enemies than friends in the metal press as they rapidly had moved away from heavy metal starting a whole new wave of bands out of Scandinavia based on their success. The metal magazines and really heavy metal fans have always had their head up their ass so I just ignore them. Bands that followed Europe tended to be even less heavy especially in the case of the brilliant Norway band Da Vinci who to me at least are a keyboard pop/rock band with over the top heavy guitar solos. A lot of the bands didn't have Tempest's fluent English, but the music world definitely had become open to successful European bands thanks to the likes of the earlier pop/symphonic rock of Abba and the just as symphonic melodic rock/pomp of Europe. For a time things were really good for heavenly melodic splendor.
    I will stand by Abba and Europe as two of the best of the best bands when it comes to lavishly arranged and performed rock, but it all began for Sweden as it all began for all of Europe/England back in the transitional era from beat to psychedelic rock from beat to Bach as I sometimes say.
                               -The Tages Before STUDIO In Brief-
Before The Tages recorded STUDIO they were a much less powerful force on their albums. Whilst some songs here and there would make enough for half of a great record and would be the original material written by Blom or Lagerberg bad and inept soul covers cluttered up way too many of their earlier albums. The Tages made their recording debut in 1965 and scored an instant Swedish smash with "Sleep Little Girl," but even with their original songs all making it to hit status horrible soul covers made up the majority of their earlier records. Always patchy affairs they had brilliant moments, but the covers had to go out the window or The Tages were not going to get very good as an albums group. The signs of change began showing with such experimental pop psych masterpieces as "Every Raindrop Means A Lot," and some better cover versions on CONTRASTS, but even that album contained two stupid obnoxious soul covers in "Sister's Got A Boyfriend" and "House On Soul Hill." Clearly, if you were looking for a full album to spin and be wowed by that would not happen till STUDIO changed everything.
    It probably had not been the fault of The Tages that their earlier records hadn't enough original material on them as during the beat era most bands in every country relied too heavily on boring cover versions, but their lack of ability to make solid records finally ended in 1967 the same year as CONTRASTS when finally they firmly decided to become an ALBUMS GROUP. The Tages were sick of only making it with hit singles in Sweden. The Beatles comparisons that landed them with a contract with the Swedish and Danish wing of EMI Parlophone finally could be taken seriously when they made up their minds to devote an entire album to original, exciting, and unusually crafted psychedelic/symphonic pop. This would lead us to STUDIO- their last full length album in 1967 and their one start to finish masterstroke. Now, on to that album.
  -STUDIO: The Tages Make The Best Psych Record Of 1967 And One Of The Best Ever-
    STUDIO is the one Tages album that from start to finish is completely awespiring. There are no weak links and no filler tracks on this amazing record which represented an album that was a true album gatefold sleeve and all. With Blom and Lagerberg composing nearly the entire album and no more soul covers this would be the record that would put The Tages at the top of the pop psych heap for me. Even more clever and delicious than ODDESEY AND ORACLE by The Zombies not to mention a whole lot less morbid STUDIO draws on influences from SERGEANT PEPPER and 1967 era Beatles to the baroque pop brilliance of The Left Banke to their very unique own sound which utilized heavy classical and traditional Swedish influences. Sometimes they are as heavy and storming as The Koobas as in the extraordinary "It's My Life" and for much of the album the songs are characterized by strong vocals, inventive harmonies, and beautiful melodic songs that really bring out the Summer Of Love vibe with some very impressive social commentary on the first track "Have You Seen Your Brother Lately." This song deals with poverty i.e "While You're Having Worries With Your Tax Pay/He Is Having Worries How To Get His Food Today," but aside from that line none of the gloom and doom of ODDESEY AND ORACLE which this album blows the lid off of or The Bee Gees amazing, but again too morbid early material hinders the album.
    I thought ODDESEY AND ORACLE was the best album ever recorded for many years and it is a precious piece of work, a really brilliant and inventive record, but somehow it ends up coming a bit short of this one. I would say this is because not all of the songs are as perfect as the best ones and there even is a throwaway in the blood and guts stupid goriness of "Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)." I don't mean to sound like I'm knocking The Zombies, believe me I love them and I love Argent very much too, but The Zombies AND Argent had one huge problem- completely useless guitar players. Russ Ballard is a great singer and songwriter in Argent, but a worthless guitar player who plays great riffs and nothing solos if any at all. The late Paul Atkinson in The Zombies didn't even write making him completely questionable as to why even have a guitar player in such a group.
   Both The Zombies and Argent relied so heavily on keyboards that it would become monotonous over time. You'd get the big symphonic grandeur of Rod Argent's organ and Colin Blunstone's way tastefully beautifully evocative vocal contributions, but I want my psych with the guitar upfront or at least with some real variety of material. Here's where STUDIO and The Tages wipe the floor with any other psych album that also is a symphonic pop song cycle. There is not only some roaring blasting guitar work in the context of melodic songs, but so much variety on STUDIO that every song tries something a little different. There are the pop classics, short little comedies like "I Left My Shoes At Home" and the imaginative "It's In A Dream" and also there are such psychedelic mind melters as the previously mentioned "It's My Life" and "Seeing With Love." Abrupt tempo changes, ornate string arrangements, strong yet very gentle vocals, and a sense of optimism and fun make this a really wonderful, brilliant album. The Tages did not have a keyboard player and the two guitar instrumentation often brings to mind The Beatles more than The Zombies, but I do hear some of the best of ODDESEY AND ORACLE in here too.
   Some of the songs on STUDIO get pretty out of this world psychedelic such as the very interesting gay/transvestite themed "She's A Man" which was written for them and is one of the earliest songs to deal with homosexuality. There also is a nod to classical experimental psychedelic movie music in the record's instrumental closing epic "The Old Man Wafwer." Both of these songs sound like The Beatles on a heavy acid in the first case and classical meets "Strawberry Fields Forever" in the second case "The Old Man Wafwer" trip. Some other songs are straight upbeat ebullient melodic pop masterpieces like "What's The Time," "Like A Woman," and again a song I mentioned earlier "I Left My Shoes At Home." Blom's "People Without Faces" takes a swipe at conformity in an almost Ray Davies like manner. As you can see STUDIO is an album of SONGS. Eclectic as it may be there are no self indulgences or ego binges on the record with great melodies, beautiful arrangements, some out and out rockers, and a lot of wonderful pop psych to the fore on the whole album. I can think of no other record that tops this one. It represents the best of all pop psych and is the zenith for Scandinavian psych records including ALL SCANDINAVIAN COUNTRIES. Abba would follow this same path of adventurousness and then Europe much later on, but the band that eventually from a slow start went on to be the most brilliant of any group are The Tages and the 1969 one off THE LILAC YEARS by Blond which featured heavier, but just as brilliantly melodic songwriting and performing. Both STUDIO and THE LILAC YEARS go for a lot now and are heavy collectors items, but they are worth every cent of the investment. Psych never sounded as good as it does on STUDIO and you should track it down at your earliest convenience.

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