Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Best It Ever Could Be For Popsike Future Heavies The World Of Oz And Their Lighthearted Deeply Moving 1968 Masterpiece

A few months ago, or rather more around a month ago I wrote up about a band called Rats who included David "Kubie" Kubinec in their ranks- a relatively heavy rocking band with also some brilliant introspective moments. Kubinec was the lead vocalist long before Rats in The World Of Oz- a very different sort of a band, but every bit as worthy. Kubie, if he is still with us and I certainly hope he is, may never have taken off into a hugely successful career despite a very unique and special voice to go with unique and special songs, but he should be proud of the two great bands he took part in.

                                      -The World Of Oz At A Glance-
    On listening to World Of Oz I am amazed at how advanced this sounds for a 1968 recording even on an American pressing. It simply is so perfect that it never would need remastering or a touch up of any kind to make it sound more vivid, more colourful, more full of the splendor of those days when anything and everything was possible. With each listening I begin to think this album may knock all the other competition to the ground. It's definitely on the light side for much of the album, but aside from their minor hit "The Muffin Man" it cuts pretty deep both musically and lyrically when you pay enough attention to the detail that goes into each song both musically and in regards to the great vocal sound. In my blog last night I described Rockin' Horse's brilliant YES IT IS as heavier popsike and also stripped down quite a bit on the production side. That was British pop/rock of the Neo Beatles school in the early 1970s when less and less bands wanted to be studio outfits. I would imagine that World Of Oz were a real and durable band who probably sounded a lot heavier than this live, but their self titled 1968 album is definitely an all out studio milked to beyond dry epic pop psych sound. Jonathan King unfortunately wrote the liner notes, but there is a strange similarity between World Of Oz and the debut album of the future superstar band that Jonathan King "discovered" that being Genesis. Thankfully, World Of Oz are every bit as good as Genesis in the songwriting department, but they also sound more comfortable with the strings, horns, and psychedelic effects that are present in nearly every track. At first this record may only strike some of you as "pleasant" but its a lot deeper than that you can be sure. Introspective ballads sit comfortably next to harder more overtly psychedelic numbers where fuzz guitars, phasing, and trippy vocals create both a rollicking and quaint olde English atmosphere. Now let's get to the main part of this rave I'm writing on this masterpiece- the songs.
                   -The World Of Oz From First Track "The Muffin Man" To Last "Willow's Harp"-
The World Of Oz formed in Birmingham sometime around 1967 I would think and they were lucky enough to have an almost instant minor hit in the whimsical toytown bubblegum popsike number "The Muffin Man." Released on Deram the song did well enough for the band to gain not just the opportunity to make an album of all original material, but to have their album issued in both England and America simultaneously. They went into the studio confident that the album was going to top the single for sales, that they would make it as big as the bands who influenced them The Bee Gees, The Moody Blues, and The Move, but typically their masterpiece was a commercial flop and only gained attention long after the disillusioned band had split up. Mike Hopkins future Jeff Lynne replacement in The Idle Race and later lead guitarist for hard rock band Quartz played some role in The World Of Oz, but the only band member I am sure was integral to the album and sang all the lead vocals on it is David "Kubie" Kubinec. This lack of information is largely because despite an auspicious start very little about the band is known as they broke up soon after the failure to make it big with an album. Looking at the album today it lacks the problem that many other similarly whimsical lighthearted albums and groups had which was mainly in America overproduction or misuse of a great opportunity to have a full orchestral backing done the right way. On roughly over half the album sped up strings, lavish orchestral backdrops, Beatles alike horn arrangements, and beautiful harmonies are the order of the day. Some tracks which I will get to soon in full detail are the band playing driving rhythms behind crisply recorded bass and drums with strong vocal harmonies on top whilst other tracks are very psychedelic affairs combining heavy fuzz toned guitars with lavish production from Wayne Bickerton.
       "The Muffin Man" the hit of course kicks off the album. That was flavour of the month order of the day back then. Usually, and this is no exception, the hit wasn't the best song. I like "The Muffin Man" it has a funny cheerful kind of charming naivete about it that is very 1967/1968. Just a year or so down the road no one would be writing such a ridiculous lyric and this song is overflowing with them! Yeah, it's almost on a Spinal Tap level of self-parody, but I think this may have been intentionally tongue in cheek. "Bring The Ring" is another matter. With Moody Blues progressive pop leanings, intelligently whimsical lyrics, and a haunting vibe "Bring The Ring" is right up there with the best songs ever written not just by 60s giants like Kaleidoscope (some very strong similarities) or Grapefruit it is a song that will live forever. If you hear this song and you have an open unclouded approach to your musical taste you will know as I know that this is an indication of just how imaginative and emotional music could be in 1968. I'm generally, and I'm warning you now about this, a sucker for any kind of Medieval or mystical "Quest For Perfection" lyrical themes, but "Bring The Ring" is more than just that. It is so beautiful, just a really lovely uplifting yet very mysterious sounding song.
    "Jackie" is a love song of the kind that worships and adores the object of affection with the utmost sincerity and again Kubinec shines with a beautiful vocal that combines the late Robin Gibb but much more interesting with Kaleidoscope's fantastic singer Peter Daltrey. Peter is a gentleman. He has gone off the rails in the liner notes to a recent Kaleidoscope singles anthology where he bitches and moans almost as obnoxiously as Pete Townsend or Roger Waters does, but I met the man through my brilliant dad 3 years ago the last time I was in England and I know who the real Peter Daltrey is. He is a kind, warm, funny, outgoing and good solid English Gentleman. I sure would love to meet David Kubinec. He would later go onto much harder rock material in Rats and even flirt with the punk movement, but that something as sincere and heartfelt as his vocals on The World Of Oz album could come from a later master of harder edged singing shows that he is really a very underrated overlooked vocalist and writer. "Jackie" ups things beyond The Bee Gees. Somehow I get a vibe from it like The Bee Gees meets something more concrete, but damned if I can name the band I think of every time I hear it. It could be Angel Pavement or Electric Light Orchestra, but when listening to "Jackie" I'm so engaged in the sound of every vocal line, harmony, and instrument that I go right deep into the heart of the song and bask in its brilliance.
  "Beside The Fire" follows "Jackie" and is about something I've felt a lot of lately- the pain of lost love. Rich organ backing, soaring strings, emotional beyond emotional vocals, and really depressed love lorn words create a very sad very moving atmosphere for a song about the tragedy of loving someone who no longer loves you at all. You are left with your memory of how happy it once was and it seems that your despair will be never ending. Go hug an off duty Guardsman and he might make you feel happier by hugging you back. I've tried it and amazingly it's worked in England! More than a few times in England I have found people to be more sympathetic, but people here have also helped me out of difficult times where I've felt completely alone. Do not play this song if you are in a depressed mood- it's a great song but it certainly will not make you feel any better!
  "The Hum-Gum Tree" comes next. Maybe you expect another bubblegum Music Hall inspired number like "The Muffin Man" and damn even that word "Gum" like bubblegum is in the title. No. This is The World Of Oz cleverly disguising a song about sex and lust with childhood reflections and quaint yet subtly very naughty lyrics! Huge strings and horns don't figure here. They are replaced by a single phased cello and hard rocking full band instrumentation of vocals, guitars, bass, and drums. This is the heavier side of The World Of Oz for the first time. Very much "The Wood" and "The Hum Gum Tree" could be cute ways of singing about the more sexually liberating times people lived in in the 1960s. The harmonies sound like a bunch of rowdy schoolboys and Kubinec's lead voice is very funny and uplifting- a little bit like Roy Wood. There aren't many tracks on this album where the more extensive use of the studio including lots of strings, horns, and vocal harmonies are the signature sound, but there are enough of them to keep this from sounding like one big studio orgy. Something a little different is tried for every song, but you have to give the songs full attention to notice how much more than just a great pop psych/Baroque pop record this is- it may be THE BEST EVER!
   "With A Little Help" follows "The Hum-Gum Tree" in the starker way that "Bring The Ring" follows "The Muffin Man" yet the pairing of these two is very different for the closing of side one than the beginning of side one. "The Hum-Gum Tree" is a song about sexuality and "With A Little Help" is an uplifting song stating that anything and everything is possible if we help each other out a little more. There is some nice use of fuzz guitars and a stately majestic arrangement as a backdrop for more of the exquisite vocals that are The World Of Oz's trademark. You could mention The Move or The Idle Race, but you'd have to say a little bit more of a kind of Moody Blues wistfulness to World Of Oz.
       Side Two comprises some of the best pop psych ever recorded every bit as good as Side One. They begin to experiment a bit more. The songs develop a more obvious edge and the first track is a perfect example of this. "We've All Seen The Queen" is a rocker, an out and out one too with great harmonies thrown in and some prime Beatles influences. I'm thinking now every time it hits this track that The World Of Oz were criminally overlooked. If their music had been given a chance, if promotion had been stronger than it was for "The Muffin Man" instead of ignoring them they would have reached a much wider audience. Unfortunately, their album was lambasted and savaged by critics for years although I should point out they were and are always the kind of stupid critics who hate anything remotely pop especially if it's British even though they may be British. "We've All Seen The Queen" clearly proves them wrong. It rocks. It has power. It has a forceful driving sound to it and the lyrics are very, very clever.
   "King Croesus" again is a very intelligent song and unlike anything else on the record it goes for a Procol Harum meets Beatles sound with lovely harmonies atop magical weaving classical organ. The World Of Oz were not just your average flower power cash in group. No, they were something truly unique and amazing and anyone who doubts this must surely be somebody who does not understand music correctly. Furthermore, this is more than just a musical history lesson. Recently bands such as Elbow, Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire, and a few others have been playing melodically inventive music again with great vocals that thank God have been bringing some emotion back into rock. I personally think that if we give it time music is not only going to get even better again,  but it already is. Songs are coming back, but I'm leading up to something that only could have been done in the wonderful time of the 60s "Mandy Ann." I love this song so very much! Joyous harmonies, high spirited whimsical lyrics, brilliant melodies, and great lead vocals from Kubinec make this pop psych at an absolute zenith! Toytown and Swinging London fans like me will not be able to get enough of this!    
     "Jack" manages to be even sillier than "The Muffin Man" however and there are too many references to swings and jellybeans. I like it, but it is by far the least interesting track on the album lyrically. However, if you pay close attention to the melodies and the arrangement musically it is a good try at the lightest side of British pop psych. Thankfully the inventiveness and intelligence of the rest of Side Two in particular and the album as a whole come back for two momentous final tracks "Like A Tear" and "Willow's Harp." Both tracks are the most musically adventurous on the album with "Like A Tear" a darker, more haunting beauty that also manages to retain the uplifting spirit of the best pop psych in the world. There's a lot of fuzz guitar weaving around on this track and making a lot of patterns all over your mind and here is where there is proof that you don't need any drugs at all to get higher. Drugs will do one thing and one thing only- destroy you. Music when it is bad and mean and nasty has the power to destroy, but when it is not sick, when it is good and brilliant and made for the right reasons it has the power to elevate you and to heal. Listening to The World Of Oz whilst I try to fight off nightmares and depression is an uplifting experience and all of the album's most adventuresome, highly inventive, joyous, exulting, haunting, and very deeply moving brilliance are there in full regalia on "Willow's Harp" the closing track. Buy this album as soon as you get a chance. This is something that every collection needs or it is incomplete without.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How Heavy Metal Is Just Childish Sludge And Rockin' Horse And The Beatles Rock- Some Key Observations

I have recently had two really obnoxious comments thrown at me by the same bastard on YouTube which have permanently cemented my hatred of heavy metal fans or as they are called "Metal Heads" (they certainly don't have a brain inside their heads and that term "Metal Head" should tell you that) and most heavy metal bands- even going back as far as the band this whole fight has been over- Black Sabbath. Now I will admit that I'm never gonna go against a band as awesome as Sabbath were with Ozzy and even some of the Dio and Tony Martin stuff I think is cool, but it just doesn't do it for me.
If I had to choose even between an original UK Vertigo Swirl copy of a brilliant early Sabbath masterpiece like PARANOID or their remarkable first album and a UK Parlophone first pressing of RUBBER SOUL, REVOLVER, or any number of records I could name by The Beatles I would throw the Sabbath record back in the racks and buy the Beatles record in two seconds. Ozzy Osbourne, bless him, himself has said that he never would have gone into music if it hadn't been for The Beatles and before Black Sabbath you must remember that Birmingham had many bands that were even more exciting than that amazing foursome who made music history. There were not just the more progressive or folksier bands from Traffic to Fairport Convention to Spooky Tooth to Led Zeppelin to most of the original nucleus of The Moody Blues there also was The Move, The Idle Race, and a magnificent band called World Of Oz or simply Oz- I've never figured that one out.
                     -The Beatles Live On Forever Even When Music Becomes Fragmented-
       England was losing its empire and its political world power in the mid to late 60s and early 70s with fatal errors like going into Northern Ireland and poor financial investments, but it wasn't losing any of its power as a musical World Power to rival almost anywhere else- certainly they and the Germans/Dutch creamed us in the 70s as I've so often said! Rockin' Horse came from the city that spawned the greatest band ever formed, the band that made everything and that means everything possible The Beatles. After watching Magical Mystery Tour on Blue Ray last weekend I'm even more adamant about melodically engaging music leveling boring, plodding, preening, macho, sick-in-the-head heavy metal rubbish. I don't even own any Black Sabbath records. I'd rather have spent my hard earned money on something like the band I will be dealing with shortly named Rockin' Horse who came from Liverpool long after most people had written the city off as sinking back into a depraved working class community that had past its prime than with any number of heavy metal rubbish bands coming from fertile communities in the UK when it came to noise with nothing else added in. During The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal there were a lot of exciting bands who added that missing ingredient to their hardcore power rocking- melodies. Diamond Head came along with a very melodic and very dramatic sound and with just a little more luck they could have been heavy metal's Beatles, but sadly for them and many great bands it just wasn't to be. By the mid 70s Liverpool was really being overshadowed by other Northern cities like the recently tragically hard hit York and Leeds in Yorkshire and so when a band came from Liverpool it no longer had that magic ring that the name of the city had back when The Beatles ruled everything. What has been forgotten is that The Beatles will always have the majestic and magical power that no other band can have and that will last as long as there is a World or even after there is some New Earth like talked about by one of the best metal bands Denmark's Pretty Maids. Pretty Maids combined strong melodies, classical influences, power rock guitars, and some savage vocals into a few really great songs, but proof of the long standing Beatles influence in rock would lie with the melodic powerful sound of fellow Danes Skagarack or Austria-of-all-places' Opus. Either way you want to look at it with the obvious Beatles and harmony rock influenced bands or heavy acts who actually had great songs any band who came after The Beatles owed a huge amount of their viability to them or else they were worthless.
                              -Yes It Is Rocking Time For Rockin' Horse-
  Rockin' Horse came out of Liverpool when the city still had the freshness of The Beatles reverberating from it and their careers before Rockin' Horse go back to the days of Merseybeat madness. I had heard Rockin' Horse's masterpiece YES IT IS a little over 7 years ago and not quite got it, but with the acquisition of a mint real copy (my old one was a blank label test press) this record is up there with the band I rave the most about here and who also came from brilliant Liverpool- The Koobas. Described by some as a "Power Pop Classic" YES IT IS is in fact not power pop at all. To a lot of people "Power Pop" means post Beatles rock and to me it means something harder, something more like an even more high volume Move like The Sweet (one of the best bands ever formed) or 80s bands like Journey, Drive She Said, Skagarack, Treat. Well I suppose for me the line between "Power Pop" and "AOR" is a bit more vague than to most people. Listening to Rockin' Horse quite frequently and loving their YES IT IS album, the only one they ever made, more with each spin I've come to think that this album is The Koobas if they'd continued, the 1960s Swinging London and Mod vibe if it had gone more sober, and at the same time Honeybus and Tin Tin with some heavier moments thrown in. However, what amazes me the most about YES IT IS is that this album covers the full ground from the beginnings of The British Invasion right through to The Beatles' psychedelic period to the end of their career on ABBEY ROAD. A 5 piece band led by Bass guitarist/vocalist Billy Kinsley and mainly by the late (I believe) rhythm guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Campbell they also included super great performances from lead guitarist Bobby Falloon, keyboard player Mike Snow, and their Ringo like drummer Stan Gorman. Nearly all the songs are written by Jimmy Campbell with 3 or 4 contributions from also brilliant Billy Kinsley and in his past musical career Campbell had always come up a bit short- sounding like Lennon without the inspiration much of the time at best or at worst like some Godawful Cat Stevens or MOR Cliff Richard wannabe on his horrendous Vertigo release HALF BAKED. He had apparently made one of the best psychedelic Mod singles of the 60s as part of 23rd Turnoff, but YES IT IS clearly is his finest hour- this is Jimmy Campbell how he should be thought of, cherished, and remembered.
   Every track on this album tries something a little bit different from the early rock and roll meets early Beatles greatness and nostalgia of "Biggest Gossip In Town" to a song that combines 1967 period music with 1964 and 1970 period pop/rock in the song that immediately follows it "Oh Carol, I'm So Sad." There are heavy pop psych numbers like the amazing title track, the closing almost heavy progressive pop psych of Kinsley's "Julian The Hooligan," "Don't You Ever Think I Cry?" and the Badfinger meets Koobas meets Honeybus brilliance of "Delicate Situation" to softer more pastoral moments like "I'm Trying To Forget You," "Son, Son," "Baby Walk Out With Your Darlin' Man" (horrible title I know, but a great song), and the somewhat pastoral yet very psychedelic "You're Spending All My Money" which will completely blow the mind of anyone who has got half a brain.
          -A Rousing Sound To A Quiet Melancholic One With Meaningful Words-
    The musical sound of Rockin' Horse is a mix of joyous and reflective, but the lyrics to their songs are anything but upbeat. I've recently gone through a horrendous falling out and so I've been listening to a lot of "Break Up" music and that's what this album clearly and obviously is. The lyrics are almost all about horrible endings to relationships, unrepressed sorrow, and a real sense of longing for happier, better times that are now long in the past. There isn't the same amount of despair that there is in Badfinger's almost handwritten epitaphs which started to come about even at their beginning, but this is not an album of sunshine, flowers, and the Summer Of Love when it comes to the words. There are no heavy orchestrations. There are no hugely obvious production wonders like backwards tapes or songs covered in phasing and other trappings of the psychedelic era, but if your idea like mine of the perfect post 1968/1969 pop psych record is one that has the fuzz guitar meltdowns, trippy overtones, and inventive songwriting of prime period Beatles moving into the Honeybus and early (although I will admit I love EVERYTHING they did) Blue era than this album is a masterpiece and the best it ever got. Jimmy Campbell and Billy Kinsley can both sound amazingly like the best of John Lennon during his most inspired periods when he and McCartney were writing incredible song after incredible song and instead of ripping Lennon and McCartney off they have learned from them and apply that to their very impressive songwriting. Sometimes such as in "Golden Opportunity, "Son, Son," "I'm Trying To Forget You," and "You're Spending All My Money" Campbell sounds a lot like Pete Dello and Ray Cane in Honeybus and that as I have said is another good comparison for some of the songs on the one and only Rockin' Horse record. 1971's YES IT IS is Honeybus or The Beatles gone into a downtrodden lyrical frame of mind with the high spirit and exuberance of the best times of the 1960s in England and I would say that a companion LP if you want something to counteract the unrestrained sadness in the lyrics would be another record I got in the same deal the brilliant P.C Kent UPSTAIRS COMING DOWN on British RCA from 1970 or Shape Of The Rain's masterpiece from 1971 on the RCA Neon imprint RILEY RILEY WOOD AND WAGGETT. What I can also tell you about YES IT IS is that though the production of every song is like that of a finely honed understated beautiful painting the heavier psychedelic guitar flourishes and tripping out harmonies/vocals of prime REVOLVER through to MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR period Lennon are here in abundance just contrasted with some painstakingly crafted introverted soft rock tracks. Even progressive fans will have to appreciate the workout the heavily distorted electric piano gets on "Julian The Hooligan" which in its original version on this record wipes the floor with the more polished up remake by Kinsley some years later on the pretty good Liverpool Express album. YES IT IS is also a very important and very special, very impressive album because it is not just a one off, but a once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece. This is The Beatles if they had lasted or if they had regrouped. If they had settled their differences and gone back into the studio together this is most certainly how they would have sounded. John and George would have been proud of this album. McCartney And Ringo would rate this as high as I do if they heard it. They wouldn't feel like their music was ripped off from them or this was an imitation they would find it rewarding and refreshing. I think that's the best way to sum Rockin' Horse and YES IT IS up. Give me this and a nice dose of Queen for my heavier mood any day over any wank off selfish self indulgent noise-for-the-sake-of-noise nonsensical rubbish and I'll be feeling much better in the face of any adversity life has to throw at me. I can make it with just a little help and encouragement and a lot of great music and YES IT IS is some of the best music ever made.