Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Hope's To Understand Is To Love Underrated In The Extreme Until Now!

It's amazing how there still are some things out there that have a low level rep, but are actually miles better than a lot of hugely hyped and very expensive records. I find that with most American records the best ones are just really hard to locate and some of the most highly thought of ones not only does every nefarious or not-so-nefarious as the case may be record dealer have, but they just aren't any good. I was to find this out in a very revelatory way in 1994 when I grabbed for $5 a beat up copy of New Hope's only record TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE and was harangued by a bad dealer about it and later in the fall heard the hyped up overrated The Frederic which many dealers rave about and hated it with a passion. My hatred over the years of The Frederic's PHASES AND FACES except for one brief bounce in the wrong direction for about a week has never lowered its fury. I consider it about the worst that there can be and it is about time somebody said who that band were and what their album really is. Hyperbole from dealers and some collectors aside The Frederic isn't psych and isn't pop psych. They were a supper club/lounge/nightclub band from Grand Rapids Michigan and that's all they were. A square, smug, smarmy, phoney, and very basic-in-a-bad-way lounge pop/folk record is all their PHASES AND FACES is. So if you've heard that they sound like The Zombies and Chad And Jeremy take my word- you've been lied to. If you want a quaint pop/folk record that has some pop psych in it actually and is great and does sound like The Zombies or Chad And Jeremy (read Baroque Pop) then for a fraction of the cost of The Frederic buy the masterful The New Wave on the aptly named Canterbury label. You will find what I have said fact when also you find that The New Wave is a lot harder to track down than The Frederic.
      However, to get back to my original shock and the point of what I'm saying to the fore here I didn't know The New Wave or who they were in 1994. I also didn't know who New Hope were. Let's get onto that. Are you ready!?
       -The New Hope Of New Hope's TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE A Real Masterpiece-
      Go back in time to 1994. I was 18 years old and had been collecting psych and pop psych and other stuff from the 60s/early 70s era for a bit and I all too occasionally took the chance on something I knew nothing about for cheap and bought it. $5 wasn't the usual cheapest I'd go, but something about that bare and mysterious looking black and white cover roped me in. I'm glad I bought it. If you move ahead several months to the end of that year a friend was so knocked out by New Hope that he not only borrowed it from me- he stole it the little bastard! At the time there was no grudge and there isn't one now. I've had this album a few times over the years and funnily enough the best vinyl copy I've had and have hung onto only cost me 50 cents in (you guessed it) New Hope PA. So who were the New Hope your probably wondering? They were a band who had a minor hit when they were The Kit Kats with a brilliant song they wrote called "Won't Find Better Than Me" and were led by virtuoso vocalist Kit Stewart. Kit Stewart and Carl Von Hausman (keyboard virtuoso) reworked their hit into even more of a Left Banke/Four Seasons cross to make it a really stunning work on their next album TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE by their next band New Hope. New Hope came from Eastern Pennsylvania and comprised Kit Stewart, Carl Von Hausman, "Big" John Bradley, and Ron Shane. They had some fairly wide success in the NJ/PA area, but for no reason never broke out nationally. Their album is among the best records ever recorded by an American band and as far as pop with power pop, baroque, and progressive inclinations goes you can't find better than their record TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE. Recorded in Philadelphia and released by the small Jamie label they aren't hugely expensive yet, but they certainly are no longer around now. Maybe word has gotten out, but I kinda doubt it. This should be one of the most famous American albums and I was of that opinion when I first discovered it in 1994. If I've loved something that long and it hasn't worn off a bit on me then it really must be good although I must point out that I had really good taste even back then.
     TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE begins with "Won't Find Better Than Me" which can rank up there with the most genius moments of Brian Wilson and Michael Brown with great vocal harmonies and a great lead voice from Kit Stewart who isn't far off from The Left Banke's Steve Martin. There is also an obvious Four Seasons influence and since they are a great band too for what they did there is nothing wrong with that. The Four Seasons, however, belonged to a different time and different kind of world. The influence of their harmonies is a prominent one in many vocal oriented groups, but unlike the bands that adapted their influence to Baroque or power pop something had happened after the early shock of The Four Seasons and that was The British Invasion. New Hope adapted to the changing times, but they also here dabble in 50s rock and roll and early 60s mainstream pop in a very energetic experimental medley of "Won't Find Better Than Me" which comes right after their headlong leap into brilliant Baroque pop on their first new take on their classic. They must have known they'd really hit the right spot with "Won't Find Better Than me" and I like the medley a lot. "You're So Good To Me" is a Brian Wilson song and sounds very much like The Beach Boys with an added bonus- there is kind of a freaky big echo effect on this album like they recorded it inside an old church or something and the huge amount of sound that comes out really is stunning. "Distance" is one of the real high points of New Hope's album. It blows the lid of The Grass Roots and some of the early Turtles hits with soaring harmonies, strong piercing lead vocals and a clever juxtaposition between minor key verses and major key choruses. It could be an American Zombies at work- well in fact it is! There are no weak links on here, but definitely "Distance" is one of the best songs on the whole record. I think that New Hope really had a lot of credibility and certainly their talent as musicians can't be questioned so the small label and mysteriousness of the whole project is fun for collectors, but must have been anything but fun for them.
  The problem is addressed in the last 3 tracks on Side One all of which are really great. I am guessing this album is from 1970 rather than 1968 going by the out and out progressiveness of Side Two's stunning first track "Look Away" (no, not an early version of the Chicago catastrophe which is anything but progressive) and the last 3 tracks on Side One sound not even 1968 or 1969. "Let's Get Lost On A Country Road" goes through a lot of changes, but the summery happiness just sounds way more earlier than with the current program. "Breezy" and "You've Got To Know" also have so much joy and optimism that despite an attempt to move the harmony pop forward they sound even less forward than Vanity Fare or White Plains- two bands who owe much of their brilliance to overt American influences. I keep using the word "American" here, but New Hope are a lot more Anglo than The Frederic! 
     The Frederic is bluntly put and truthfully put a despicable record that never should have been made. It ranks as one of the worst and most obnoxious albums ever made with an ugly truth coming out of it when their most talentless member David Idema changed his name to David Geddes and had a hit with the as sick as Bloodrock disgusting and horrendous "Run Joey Run." I rest my case here. Actually, let me rub the salt in even more and turn it to a burning painfulness. American dealers oftentimes I have noticed have their head right up their ass. I said that The Frederic, Darius, Stone Harbor all were crap albums that a lot of dealers had and a lot of dealers hyped. I then said that the best American records may have been less money, but try finding them. I then after that said that imports, particularly British Imports, were going to skyrocket in value. I was right about all of it. With me never seeing more than one copy back 20 years ago of a major label album like SATURN RINGS by Michele which I hope to own this Saturday not only will I take it and be glad it really is rare and really is brilliant.
     I have sometimes heard so many bad records from America that I really scratch my head about our country, but damn it the 1960s hit in a big way here and that is very much stated not just in heavy or even just out and out psychedelic rock, but also in pop psych and straightforward pop records. A great case would be New Hope. While they definitely were never hippies that isn't a prerequisite. What New Hope are they are. They don't try to fake you into thinking they aren't just some really talented guys who love the more pop side of the British tuppence and American coins having a great time, but they really pull off something remarkable here. Side One is the side where the flowers are blooming and summer time can be yours even on the most depressing of winter evenings. It's the side where 1967 meets before that and it all sounds brilliant. However, on Side Two there is a real move towards a more progressive direction and no track is more a perfect hybrid of progressive arranging and pop hooks than the epic "Look Away." The lyrics are actually very meaningful here all about how you can't just hide from it when things in the world and your life are not right. Kit Stewart is really passionate and the combination of soaring piano and bagpipes takes this one up to the stars. Yes, there is a long bagpipe/Scottish section and a lot of Michael Brown like piano gone to where I would think Brown would have taken The Left Banke had the huge split between him and the rest of the group not happened. Michael Brown was too moody and too cantankerous maybe. He blew a great thing and went off into oblivion before reappearing in Stories who are awesome and "Look Away" isn't far from Stories when Mike was in the band. Unfortunately, like Stories a huge amount of ongoing success just didn't come for New Hope. Unlike Stories there wasn't a number one hit. I'm glad for that actually as I can not only live without "Brother Louie" I'd make a bet with Mike Brown that we both hate it equally! Brown was definitely hipper, more of an artiste than New Hope, but that isn't necessarily something that is a brilliant attribute. When you alienate everyone you work with you must be not playing all your cards right or living in the way you should.
   That someone as talented as Mike Brown and New Hope can both just vanish is really sad. It tells you a lot about the music business. For 5 minutes and 37 seconds New Hope tell you a whole lot and they make something that lasts longer than anything else- a perfect song. "Look Away" has not one note I would change. The whole song is just so brilliant that it makes a whole lot of what else was out there sound really sterile and uninteresting. Side Two moves into two very mature melodic pop tracks with "Find Someone" and "They Call It Love" which both combine East Coast techniques with a California 1965-1967 kind of Beach Boys alike hopefulness. There aren't any angry riot scenes and bomb blasts on this record. It isn't a reflection of the despair that had set in which makes it very different from something like Liverpool England's The Koobas who sang of riots and used bomb blasts in their brilliant epic "Barricades" in 1969. Again, I'm not sure of the year of New Hope, but I would guess they came out later than most other more fresh faced and love fueled melodic pop rock bands and albums. "The Money Game" however shows that these guys could get to a sort of Elvis meets Koobas masterpiece if you can even imagine something that bizarre and it comes complete with screaming fuzz guitar! The heavy fuzz tone on "The Money Game" is another clever little trick and the words are again progressive and true. They say they've had it with wealth and greed running everything. Well I have too. More tricks come on the last real track here "Rain" which is then followed by a Gregorian Chant called (of course) "Gregorian" of "Won't Find Better Than Me" as a rather dark end to the album. "Rain" combines progressive inclinations with perfect melodic pop only here the sound is a bit more leaning to some British influences which do come up on some tracks. New Hope go where The Beach Boys couldn't. You have to remember that as strong a presence as he is to the Beach Boys Brian Wilson always had Mike Love to knock him down. The reason why The Beach Boys couldn't move further is simple. They couldn't move to consistency because of square Bruce Johnston and asshole Mike Love. There are probably around 4 or 5 Beach Boys albums that are masterful all the way through, but there also are the albums like SURF'S UP that I'd rather just forget where Brian is off his rocker and Mike Love gets his evil way with "Student Demonstration Time."
     Now The Beach Boys are reinventing themselves and making great music again thanks in no small part to Brian Wilson and his now it would seem to be permanent writing partner the unlikely Jim Peterik who masterminded one of the best AOR bands ever to exist Survivor. Survivor always cut way deeper than most. Now that Jim is working with Brian Wilson you can believe the guy really has something if you were stupid enough not to when he and Frankie Sullivan were writing all those great songs in Survivor. Yes, I'm getting to the fact that New Hope DIDN'T survive. That may be because you can tell they weren't exactly as young as most of the competition out there, but it may also be just as much because they were an East Coast band at a time when very heavy vibes were coming in everywhere and 60s melodic groups had an alarming fall out rate. Come mid to late 1970 things were changing in a big way. The progressive and hard rock influences from the West Coast, England, and Europe were coming in with sometimes brilliant sometimes painful results and the charts began filling up with schlock when it came to American bands/artists. The most easy to point out problem however must have been the small label. With a label that went under pretty much as soon as TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE came out and not enough promotion there is probably the reason for New Hope packing it in. I've heard a few things over the years to the effect that New Hope also never left Pennsylvania or New Jersey. That, true or not, also would hurt. Not getting national exposure and not getting a major label deal aren't always a recipe for a masterpiece, but with New Hope that's what you have- a perfect masterpiece and one of the best records ever made. Your collection isn't complete without New Hope. I said that when I was a lot younger than today and I'll be saying it when I'm older than today. And I know.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

An End Forever To Mail Order For Me + How Do You Tell Soft Pop From Sugary Sweet Ick? I know How.

The last 3 weeks of my life have been my own Trials Of Job. I have been violently ill with arthritic/paralyzing symptoms in my arms and hands brought on by stress and strain and when these horrible pains don't occur I suffer serious upset of the stomach also brought on by stress, strain, and nerves.  My life has become so full of stress, tension, and horrors that I find it hard to live. I've even had trouble listening to music I've been so sick and yet my one hope and my own thing to keep me alive has remained music and the fact that I am finally getting to go where I wanted to go to avoid the horrendous deal that just happened when I go to make amends and make a record transaction I can love on next Saturday in a PROPER STORE. This is over 3 weeks too late to have saved me from my sickness, but will be a welcome bright spot in a very black period for me. How did this all start? How did it all happen? With the worst goodwill gesture ever from me and the worst nightmare of a record deal I've ever been through. The dealer whom I am now wishing would be in as much pain as I am shall go nameless and so will any other details of the last fatal record nightmare. Let's just say that MOST mail order dealers are parasites who never could run a store because they'd go bankrupt in two seconds. Some of these people, like the one the latest nightmare happened with, are decent to good people who shouldn't be in this business. Honesty is the key and once the lying and conniving starts you're finished and over with. I would also appreciate someone telling me about why I've had to be miserable for such a long period of time with seemingly no end to it... I think I'd better cool down and relax as much as I can before I say something here I regret.
                    -Is There A Better Life Ahead For Me? I Hope So!-
     Music has gone through a lot of evolutions and so does life. I am hoping that out of the blackness will rise an Age Of Light And A Healing Of Body And Mind for me where I will become a healthier, happier, saner person. I've always been very emotional and always been, as you can tell from my previous entries, fairly hard about certain things and people. One thing that has been a constant since I was a teenager has been the hunger to hear just about everything there is out there worth hearing and that is fed by my ultra eclectic tastes in not just music, but everything. I have developed both a weakness for McCartneyesque or otherwise well written soft pop/soft rock and also for the harder, heavier kind of psychedelic and progressive rock.
                        -A Little Bit Of Variety And A Lot Of Emotion Make Life/Music Good-
    Some bands have lasted long enough to dabble in both art forms such as Jigsaw, but usually an eclectic release that is between heavy/hard and soft/calm is a one off release. I never figured that out, but there are an endless amount of bands and artists who have straddled both lines and not gone beyond one masterful or great yet a little flawed recording. I think to show the dark side is important, nigh on essential. So too must it be to make positive statements and not to encourage things like suicide or destruction in recorded form. Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest have been blamed for this when they were firmly singing and writing from the heart against it which shows what a sketchy subject it is. Having lost two really good friends to suicide I have only written one song lyric about it and placed on a more biblical level of someone who is a demon who kills himself and then goes to Hell. Easily it is my darkest lyric ever that I would actually put to vocal lines and music. I've lost a lot of interest in heavy metal although you'll find me listening to hard rock, AOR, Pomp Rock, and hard progressive underground rock/heavy psych and plenty of it.
                                      -Delving Even Deeper Getting Even Heavier-
      Asgard will always be a firm favourite, but their one album is a melodic heavy underground one with plenty of delicious British cosmic psychedelia thrown in. I suppose I couldn't call The Scorpions' masterpiece LONESOME CROW "melodic," but the fury has a structure to in on that album lacking in a lot of other hard heavy rock brain blasters that because of their lack of variety don't get half the time on my turntable as LONESOME CROW does. Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton not to mention Jimmy Page and a whole bunch of others began what was at that time a very novel and good thing. Then sometime later on other people took hard rock away from the blues base and turned it into heavy metal. That does not mean that classical influences don't work- they actually can be downright essential. It would be the preachy teachy or "Look At Me I'm Just Soo Sexy" stuff like Iron Maiden and Metallica in the former Guns & Roses in the latter category that there is absolutely no need for. Guns & Roses began life as a great hard rock band with an annoying lead singer, but Axl Rose got himself so twisted around that he turned their music into a joke. Many people start and end with the very first album. I never bought it after Mr. Axl Rose's racist and gay bashing lyrics and comments following LIES (their second effort) brought them down to the lowest level along with his good buddy Sebastian Bach who showed his evil true colours.
     When you make music out of hate you ain't making music. I was always more into the really good stuff like UFO or Diamond Head and I still love those bands. I also still have a lot of love for Grand Prix and Shy who are two of the most melodic of all hard rock/Pomp rock/AOR bands. Another great melodic band would be Magnum. That Magnum built an institution on a cult following and a few glimpses of major success is amazing. They began life as an out progressive rock band! Give plenty of credit to Tony Clarkin whose pen hasn't dried up or his guitar prowess and Bob Catley who is blessed with a majestic voice.
     There is the question of where music can go to now. I wonder about that a lot. For all the new advances in technology and the vast improvement of music over the last several years there still is an awful lot of trash out there. Most of it is filed under "Heavy Metal," but there are the huge selling commercial artists as there always will be even during a musical renaissance period. The one period where almost everything was exciting was the mid to late 1960s. Things fragmented in the early 70s, but undoubtedly there was a lot of brilliant music being made then that just didn't take off and sell in any quantity.

           -Soft Rock, Melodic Prog, Melodic Pop, Or Soft Slush, Wimp Prog, Icky Sweet-
     I used to find records that were worth trying and would form my musical flights of fancy in record stores and it will go back to that. I will be only dealing in stores with knowledgeable and helpful people who run them and nevermore with twisted mail order record vampires. That reminds me of one of the most strange and unnerving songs ever written "Still Hungry (Vampire Song)" by the Danish band Ache off their best album PICTURES FROM CYCLUS 7. That album is a melodic progressive gem with an edge to it. I got into soft pop after soft progressive, but be warned there is a lot out there you never should hear that is soft slush and icky sweet wimpy nothing. Wimpy or light isn't even necessarily what will destroy an album or band it is when it crosses the line into sickly sweet rubbish. I will always love Jigsaw, Wings, Camel, Kayak, Klaatu because these bands made really good music. Paul McCartney has done an incredible volume of work that has gone everywhere from the classiest melodic pop/rock around to the sweetest sappiest non-music, but he has never stopped creating. Give him a lot of credit. Give The Beatles the most credit of any band ever formed. You can put Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys up there too, but they have a sound harder to imitate without being too squeaky and icky and sugary. It takes a huge amount of talent to even come within a hair of Brian Wilson yet the writing teams of greatness like Greenaway/Cook and Jigsaw's Des Dyer/Clive Scott have made some real magic happen. Whilst Rogers Greenaway and Cook wrote lots of great songs for bands like White Plains that was also coming out of the beat boom of the 60s in England. I suppose that there isn't really any easy way of giving you the advice of how to tell if something is going to be a McCartney or a White Plains or Jigsaw or Ache or if it's gonna make you cringe. Usually, though, go by song titles and sometimes an album cover is the cue as to whether to jump on in or forget about it. A word of warning would be that Katch 22's IT'S SOFT ROCK AND ALL SORTS comes in a cover to die for, but the cover version songs on the back and the sappy titles give it away. There are glimpses of hope in some of the original material, but this one is way off the mark. On the other hand Angel Pavement never even got a record out at the time, but they may be The Best Of The Best. Just buy the now long out of print official anthology MAYBE TOMORROW and you will be blown out of your mind by how great their music is- a perfect mixture of Baroque Pop and melodic British flowery psych. For the loungier kinds of fun that are still solid good fun and for quality melodic rock and pop look no further than a lot of great Canadian and European bands like 25th Regiment's ECOLOGY Beatlesesque masterpiece and Abba- one only famous to collectors the other a worldwide phenomenon. Remember it's your taste and your choice. It doesn't matter what other people think about it. There lies the key to happiness- live for yourself and give to others, but don't give too much. I gave too much recently and got 1st degree burns. Do be careful who you deal with and a word of advice- stay away from mail order. Don't be lazy because it will cost you mightily. Heed that advice and up to a sweet Bedfordshire you go!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Stingray's 1979 US Release- Ultimate AOR/POMP From More Than Unlikely South Africa

South Africa is a country that I always have had some serious issues with. Even as a child in the 1980s I was aware of Apartheid through songs like "Biko" by Peter Gabriel and " I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City" which both were big songs on the radio then. To me nothing is worse than bigotry of any kind and I have no room for ill-founded judgement of other people because of their race, class background, Nationality (although I admit it's here that I too have some prejudices- I don't like Ireland or Israel, but I'm not vehemently hateful of people from these countries on a "Take One Person At A Time" basis) or any other reason. What I have overlooked is that not all South Africans were/are racists and perpetrators of genocide.
            -From The Narrow Mind To An Open Door Looking At Stingray's Background-
     Whilst there hasn't been an amazing music scene out of South Africa they did have a very large music scene in the 1960s through to the mid to late 1980s and many of the bands were opposed to Apartheid. It was not the case with atrocious John Kongos, but it would definitely be the case with the part Black (Julian Laxton) part white Freedom's Children- maybe the only truly great South African psych band. Stingray, the band I'm writing about here, are produced by Julian Laxton and indeed he produced quite a few South African bands in the 70s. Also, Trevor Rabin came from South Africa and was opposed to Apartheid from the start- even attacking it during some of the worst times in the 80s when he was in the newly revitalized Yes. I've talked to South Africans who serve in the British Army years ago on the phone and none of them supported the racist beliefs of the South African government or the benighted people who were the supporters in the population. So I guess you can't prejudge anything or anybody.
    Stingray, who formed in the mid 1970s, are probably the peak of melodic AOR/pomp rock and came from South Africa. They made an album that came out in the States just named after themselves that I've known about since I had a book called The International Encyclopedia Of Hard Rock And Heavy Metal when I was just 13 years old. They were described as sounding a lot like Boston which is partially very true. Stingray had some huge success in their Native country, but unfortunately the US release didn't generate much of anything in terms of sales and it has gone on to be quite a rare record. I had heard it before I got it two years ago and overlooked the entire record- what a huge glaring error that was! After Stingray broke up their awesome lead vocalist/writer Dennis East had quite a successful solo career in South Africa, but his brilliance seems to be unheralded everywhere but in South Africa!!!! That is very unfortunate because this man had a great set of pipes and he could put to pen some killer AOR. Also, there is vast talent from the rest of the band with soaring guitars and keyboards which together with a powerful dexterous rhythm section  make this album essential for any collection of obscure 70s/80s bands. You can place this next to the other AOR/Pomp masterpiece records I've written up like Alliance, Painter, and Lionheart. I'm going straight into the music now.
Take hold and listen well.
            -Stingray From 1979 On The Usually Lame Carrere Label An Amazing Record-
   Stingray got at least one of their albums released in the States and worldwide on the usually horrendous Carrere label which only had one other great band I can think of on their roster- Saxon. Saxon played and now are playing again more melodically charged and lyrically interesting heavy metal and it's probably a good guess that whatever A&R man got Saxon their deal with the mainly worthless Carrere also signed Stingray. In the mid to late 70s early AOR bands like Boston, Styx, and Foreigner were making huge money and a lot of bands were signed in the wake of the success of such amazing bands. There is no resemblance to the bluesier Foreigner on this album, but Boston and Styx are good reference points for Stingray. However, that tells you less than half the story about what their brilliant 1979 international album just called STINGRAY sounds like.
       Stingray numbered six men with a whole lot of ability. Besides Dennis East on vocals (and he also was a huge part of the writing in the band penning or cowriting over half the material)
there is guitarist/vocalist Mike Pilot, organist Danny Anthill (from I believe Freedom's Children!), keyboard player Allan Goldswain, bass player Eddie Boyle, and drummer Shaun Wright. In a six piece band you'd expect there to be at least one guy in the band who isn't a musical maverick. That ain't so here. Right off I can tell you that both Goldswain and Anthill beat the living shit out of the horrible keyboard player Pat Leonard in the otherwise great band Trillion from the States. If Trillion's Leonard had learned not to masturbate with his synthesizers then Trillion would also be another good comparison just for how much positive energy is generated by the music made by Stingray. There aren't any songs on this album that are going to make you feel miserable. On the contrary you'll be feeling good when you hear Stingray.
        The first track "Better The Devil You Know..." is misleading. It's the longest track on the album and unlike the more laidback material on offer for much of the record is almost a melodic metal behemoth. Right from the beginning of the album Dennis East displays a superb range and a powerful voice to begin with which includes a lot of character. The relentless yet catchy guitars, soaring harmonies, and powerful keyboards are fantastic with a lot of energy and aggression. The lyrics are on the subject of cheating in a relationship of the kind of that he comes home and his wife is screwing another man, but they are clever enough to rise above the cliched subject matter. Mike Pilot unleashes some great guitar leads and also contributes excellent driving riffs. The rhythm section of Boyle and Wright is very strong and energetic with nothing coming up short. However, Stingray aren't a sort of more metallic Boston or Toto with pomp leanings so this track is more of a big overture and workout than indicative of the rest of the songs on the album.
     "Hard Headed Loner" is more what Stingray are about. Multitracked guitars that you can't believe are all one guitar player, catchy keyboards, and amazing vocals spur on a very melodic upbeat kind of AOR that sounds a little bit earlier than the release date and also perfect 1979 music with a very open sound. By that I mean what is the key to a lot of Stingray's music. They aren't just another band. The amount of melody in their music and their carefree vibe are most welcome when too many bands are either copying what's in the charts or too busy moaning and groaning to get anything done properly. Again, there is a compelling lyric to the song about an enigmatic female who needs no one else to satisfy her.  Most bands would bitch and slam a self-sufficient woman who doesn't need anything or anyone else. Instead Stingray leave you to your own interpretation.
  "Lucy" is another different sort of a track penned all by East with a keyboard heavy Pomp backing and wailing majestic vocals from this brilliant man. I can think of few singers who hold a candle to him. He appears to be coming from some other kind of background in most of the songs here than normal rock and roll singing largely because he is so down to earth and sounds like he would never be arrogant to anybody. He has the perfect AOR voice, but his lyrics and songwriting show a maturity seldom heard in a lot of rock music of all kinds. "Whole Lotta Fire" continues the soul influences of "Lucy" in a more upbeat way and drops the heavy mysterious approach of that song.  There's plenty of energy and fun with strong vocals and cool harmonies. Everything Stingray does is hyper professional. I get the impression that if anyone had auditioned for this band who was the least bit mediocre in some way or middling even they wouldn't have been part of the group. Big praise from finicky me. Also, there is the sense of fun. Stingray aren't gonna bring you down. They're really a polar opposite to the much too serious kind of music that clutters up so much of rock and like all great music from all eras an all-out professional carefree band like Stingray make one appreciate really meaningful melodies and songs a whole lot more.
    "Where Do We Go From Here?" is the first song to indicate the kind of direction much of this album, indeed the whole of Side Two, takes. It's highly melodic pop meets the rock foundation of the previous tracks with stellar vocal harmonies, nice acoustic/electric guitar combinations, and yeah there are a few similarities to Styx and Boston especially. Funny thing here is that I'd guess this was the work of an American band if I didn't know. It doesn't sound at all English, but I mean that as a compliment. "Where Do We Go From Here?" really is a fantastic track and Dennis East is amazing when his voice soars above the already up-in-the-heavens harmonies. A Pomp Rock masterpiece. If you like the songs of bands like Argent, Boston, Styx, and John Lawton era Uriah Heep this album belongs in your collection and your collection needs it if it isn't already there and on your regular playlist!
             It is the second side of the album from the first track "The Man In My Shoes" through to the beautiful closer "How Much?" that cements the brilliance of this record and makes it the best ever. I'm melodically oriented. As soon as songs fly out the window and become jack offs I lose all interest. The lack of melodic vocals and good songwriting is what kills bands like Judas Priest after the early stuff and just about all of Iron Maiden's music, but a lot of AOR/Pomp bands could have used a dose of the humour, craftsmanship, and songwriting prowess of Stingray. Frankly, compared to them a lot of other music is boring and does not get regular plays from me. That would be not just the AOR genre, but also I need there to be great songs and solid performances in any kind of the broad genre that rock is and Stingray are up there with the best. Oftentimes I'll go from a psych record or a progressive record or a pop record and plunge right into this one afterwards. That speaks highly of it.
    "The Man In My Shoes" has a really strong melody, smooth harmonies, excellent guitars, and soaring lead vocals from East in a song about a rock star who wants nothing more than to end his stardom to lead a normal happy sane life. You can't believe that kind of maturity on a first effort. It sounds more like what a band would close out with saying than begin by saying right away "You can have all the superstar nonsense I'm just a good singer and a good musician." How refreshing it is. The only other bands I can think of who are on the same level of melodic brilliance of Stingray are bands like Magnum whom I love, Sweet, Boston's 1st, Styx at their best, The Beatles, and some other ones that I've raved about here recently who are in a whole other genre closer to The Beatles and just post Beatles era.
    "Gonna Keep My Head Together" has a title that speaks for itself. It's a fuck off statement without any whining, groaning, or "Oh How You Broke My Heart" jilted nonsense. He is the one who knows from the song's start that the relationship has gone bad, but his response is to move on and walk away from the annoying behaviors that have led to the end of the love affair or friendship. This song doesn't have any romantic or sexual implications so it really is an anthem for all of us who have been tricked and used by other people. You don't need that person. Don't freak over them just get rid of them. Again, Stingray have maturity. The harmonies would make even Brian Wilson blush! There are only two credited with vocals on the album (Dennis East on lead and Mike Pilot guitar/vocals), but on a lot of tracks it sounds like all six of them are harmonizing! The production job from Julian Laxton is very impressive and everyone gets to show their various strengths from the vocals right through to the impressive rock drumming. "Gonna Keep My Head Together" has a great solo from Pilot where he never once goes off the rails and stays really melodic. I'm usually unable to get through a solo and do that! I seem to always end up showing off on the guitar and I know that strong melodies are really hard to come up with especially in a solo. As much as I love Angel and Trillion even they start to sound a bit indulgent compared to Stingray! There is nothing that is better than this album for the genre.
  "Lovesaver" together with "How Much?" is my personal favourite track on the album. It begins with a happy little electric piano and then the knock-you-out A Capella harmonies come in sounding like Queen meets The Beatles meets Boston meets Styx!  Then the band come in full blast and take you into the stratosphere. Awesome! The lyrics are full of emotion and are about finding the perfect loving sympathetic person in a relationship who saves the protagonist and fills their life with bliss. You get that big upbeat feeling from the song like you do from the best of a band who have the unusual surname of Stingray's guitar player as their name- Pilot. I have forgotten Pilot up til now, but they'd be another great band who I could say a lot of kind things about. Blue,  from Scotland like Pilot, are also a band who made enduring and endearing music of the best quality. The reflective verses in "Lovesaver" remind me a bit of Blue's early work and The Beatles making the chorus even more impressive. Sweet Paradise as the lyrics say indeed.
     "Breakdown" is the most adventurous vocal arrangement of the album together with the previous track and when it's put together with the solid no nonsense melodic rock of the song that is Stingray's trademark. Intricate harmonies, clear and precise lead vocals, and soaring guitars combine with non stop rock excitement to make for a masterpiece of an album that is great to listen to. "Breakdown" like "Lovesaver" begins with strong harmonies, but this time the lyric is about a love affair that goes completely sour and he just says to the bad person "dish it out." The carefree vibes are really great because a lot of AOR and all love oriented lyrics in rock tend to be full of unnecessary angst and tantrum throwing. Some bands and singers can make that brilliant, but not many. I would say skip right over the second Trillion record CLEAR APPROACH- ONLY because it has the worst "Poor Jilted Broken Ruined Me" song ever written on it complete with inept masturbating bass, synthesizers, and guitars and may be even worse than Gentle Giant! The song I'm referring to is "I Know The Feeling." You do? Well then I can thankfully say that I DON'T. I have had many bad endings to relationships, but after feeling sorry for myself I usually realize that I'm better than the person I was trying to win over. Trillion sound like amateurs compared to Stingray and that is saying something as I love Trillion especially their amazing first album just called TRILLION which also benefited from a very gifted lead vocalist/writer Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen. Fergie was known as Dennis on Trillion's debut, but after that ever since joining the long lasting Louisiana band Le Roux then Toto for one album (the brilliant ISOLATION) he's been known as Fergie. If I were asked who had the most golden brilliant flowing silvery wonderful killer voice in AOR it would be Dennis East of Stingray and Fergie whilst his replacement in Trillion Thom Griffin is nearly up there. AOR is music and metal is mostly not. I find myself enjoying metal sometimes and thinking even some of it is really good music, but that's only the kind where it gets passionate. I think most metal is noise. Stingray are all about melody and great songs and they just happen to be virtuoso musicians. There isn't any showing off or upstaging of anybody on this record. Also, to get back to them being South Africans it sounds like they have great hearts and would never support Apartheid. Their working closely with a black producer is very indicative of that lack of bigotry and small minded thinking that was seriously damaging to all South Africans then.
    "How Much?" is a beautiful ballad of uncertainty. It is about someone who can't address the needs for a shared relationship where it isn't just taking it's also the giving to the singer of the lyrics. They need some time to work it out, but Dennis sings without straining and the lyrics are sophisticated and well-written. I love this song. It makes me feel better when I hear it. It has a soothing melody and beautiful harmonies. When I've gone through bad periods I've pulled this record out and "How Much?" and the whole record have given me the strength to go on with my life. Thank you Stingray, you may never have hit it huge here, but you're better than nearly any of the competition. Since Stingray are a great "Songs AND Chops" band you can listen to them with song bands as different from them as Honeybus whom I love and chops bands as brilliant as Yes. Stingray are amazing. Find this rare masterpiece and put it right on the turntable and bliss out like I do when I play it. Enough said.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

From The "West Coast" Of England One Of The Best Ever Made Little Big Horn

 There always has been a "grass is greener" complex between countries that are strong musically and culturally and are oceans apart. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s a lot of young people in America were heavily into and influenced by England with at some times the British looking right towards America for its powerful counterculture. In some ways I suppose this was a way of the British Invasion being paid back by how it led to the American bands trying to sound British and even adopting the "Mod" look. In 1964-1969 no places were hipper for music, lifestyles, image, and influence than England and America if you just gave a quick look at what was happening in both places. However, you can't overlook how much important and brilliant music was brought to us (I'm American myself with a huge Anglo/European side to my personality + musical tastes) by The Germans, Dutch, and Scandinavians. Most of these bands would only be cult bands for huge collectability later on when the interest in psych and progressive music surged, but they were there at the time making brilliant music.
                                  -A Little Prelude To Little Big Horn's Victorious Assault -
  As American influences came into play with British and European bands the most important thing if you were going to be influenced by the "West Coast Sound" was to put a firm British or European stamp on it and turn it into your own creation.. Little Big Horn from England were only released in Germany by Bellaphon in 1971 or 1972. This is incongruous that they weren't released in America only with the number of British bands who only came out here at the time when you look at how Anglo/American their sound is. I'm not saying that Little Big Horn were just copying the Americans, but the California and also the Southern Rock/Rural Rock influences are really a key component to the sound this amazing little band produced on their self titled lone release. Little Big Horn at times go for a very British late Mod into early 70s West Coast/Southern Rock sound that leads to a huge difference between Side One's Anglo ambitions and Side Two's all out Pastoral Americana/UK rural rock. It's in these pages that you'll find out just how successful this band are at their look towards both their native England and America.
           -They Came And Went As Fast As They Came Little Big Horn's Musical Ride-
    In a crazy steal I got a perfect original of Little Big Horn's rare and valuable one release for $25 from a German dealer for Christmas when before the copy I'd had and lost was $250 from an American dealer who is now someone I don't deal with nor ever will again not because of anything acrimonious just because we are two very different kinds of people with very different views. The expensive copy went to one of the worst fiends ever to have come into my life from the depths of Hell itself! He moaned and freaked about it sounding like "An American Major Label Record." So what!? Also, it DOES NOT sound like just some British band who are American obsessed. People will often not hear music properly and just completely miss the entire point of not just one song, but an entire album.
                     -Little Big Horn Take On Post Mod Psych And The American West-
      If you love Andwella's Dream (I do) from Northern Ireland and wish they'd carried on their psych sound when they went for Americana this album is compulsory- an absolutely brilliant work of musical genius. Then also if you love Dog That Bit People, Northwind, Fairfield Ski (their name is misspelled Fairfield Sky" on their only vinyl release from the mid 90s because the guy who did it was an idiot), Honeybus (I love all of the bands I'm mentioning) and other British melodic Pastoral rock this album will be your favourite for a long time to come. It's crazy how this amazing band only came out in Germany, but I firmly prefer them to some other UK only released in Europe bands such as I Drive who are horrendous. In collector's circles bands that only came out in a country that wasn't their own are both highly sought after and vastly overlooked. At the time they made almost no impression in their native land or else were just dealt an unkind blow by ignorance. Thankfully bands like Peter And The Wolves stirred up some interest in America and got released here (their masterpiece is credited to "Wolfe" on the Rare Earth label) whilst bands like Little Big Horn and the inferior yet still good Diabolus were only released in Germany. Diabolus had a German drummer and so did Light Of Darkness which makes sense, but Little Big Horn as far as I know had no German connection whatsoever.
      Comprised of keyboard player/vocalist/main writer Jim Turner, bass player/vocalist Barry Beasley, drummer Billy Slaney, lead vocalist Alan Davis, and guitarist/vocalist Danny Maidment England's Little Big Horn named themselves after one of the most powerful Native American legends who finally ended the appalling genocide of General Custer. With a name like that you can tell they were big into The American West. With a cover that shows cavalry on horses behind a psychedelic American flag you have an idea where this band were coming from. However, you only have a small idea.
      My guess is that Little Big Horn are from Northern England and their melodic yet very powerful approach is made even better by very intelligent and downright great lyrics to every song on their record bar the two cover versions which open the album. The covers are of Lovin' Spoonful's "Good Time Music" and a Jon Mark composition "Getting It Together." The rocked up wild ass guitar frenzy that starts the album with "Good Time Music" is exciting fun. "Getting It Together" is a really nice Pastoral rock song with great vocals and some unusual sounding electric piano. The best songs, however, follow the two covers and are all original compositions. "I Wish I Had The Words" and the rest of Side One leap head first into amazing later era British heavy psych complete with lots of trippiness, cranked fuzz and effects loaded guitars, and very appealing strong melodic vocals together with more unusual keyboard motifs that are unique to this record. "I Wish I Had The Words" is about the lack of communication that needs to be addressed by people everywhere and uses that as a springboard for other very important things that are constantly overlooked by most people. Alan Davis has a great voice on the whole record that is laid back and inviting. The harmonies are also great and the instrumental work of Little Big Horn is incredible. Give full marks to guitarist Maidment who is a really great musician and who also knows how to play in an emotional, tasteful way that takes nothing away from the songs. "Anything That Turns You On" comes next and is just as awesome as "I Wish I Had The Words." Despite the quality studio Sound Techniques the sound is very odd on this album and while that works to their benefit it also leads one to wonder if it was hastily recorded then run through again in marathon sessions for a week. No one will ever know and I don't think anyone in Little Big Horn went onto other bands. "Anything That Turns You On" indeed all of Side One's 4 tracks after the two covers are some of the best melodic heavy psych ever laid down anywhere. The lyrics are a really big reason why this whole album is so good. For once there is not a single trite pretentious hackneyed take on something of importance and the words to the songs are all very sympathetic, even downright savvy. Clearly Little Big Horn were looking at America AND England and wondering just what was going wrong with people. Also just as clearly they never mock, attack, or try to put others down. This record is beautiful at the same time that it rocks. The general feeling is that of an open door to a place where there is warm sunshine flowing out of it. You could probably say that about Honeybus and Northwind, but Little Big Horn at the same time as having some things in common with those bands sound really like no one else.
      If psych/heavy psych is your thing Side One is outstanding, but don't overlook the more country rock oriented second side of the album as it has just as much to offer. Everything changes from one side to the next in stellar contrast on this record. "Something Good" is the beautiful song that heralds in a change of pace with soft soaring harmonies, warm and honest music, and a very appealing take on melodic Pastoral pop/rock. "Ain't No Harm" is somewhere between Side One and what follows it on Side Two with some Rural/Country rock influences, strong vocals, and intelligent lyrics. "Isn't It Strange" is a melodic country-ish/hippie rock song with more intelligent lyrics, great vocals, and some nice olde time acoustic fingerstyle guitar. It is the last two tracks which are still very good, but for once become a bit far fetched. "Just Ain't Fair" is a great song, but I've heard this whole "Oh Look How Much The World Hates Me For My Long Hair And My Open Attitude" so much that even when done way better than average it sounds a bit pedestrian in comparison to the rest of the album. Everything is great in this song including a painful story line that speaks nothing but truth, Unfortunately, as I said I wish it was up to the higher level of what proceeded it. "Another Man's Song" is a kind of melodic Gospel Rock I would say song about Jesus and has a big string arrangement, soaring mutli vocals and the rest. I wonder though from the words to the song if Little Big Horn were having a bit of an identity crisis and that strange juxtaposition that's been going on for much of the album takes a turn towards big budget commercial early 70s radio rock here. It's a great song, but on this record it sounds a bit out of place. I hate to say that because it is a really good song, but I've heard too many songs about Jesus and having to live by his Word. So what you have on Little Big Horn's record is a mixture of the best in the world and nothing that goes beneath "pretty" to "really" good. This album is very hard to find and has always been a serious rarity. My running into it at such a low price I unfortunately have to tell you probably won't happen for you. The realistic value is around what my first copy cost, but this album is so obscure that it would probably turn up when you least expect it. Word should get around about what a great one this is- it certainly beats loads of hyper expensive rarities that are just as rare and not half as good.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In Memory Of Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker My Tribute To Sweet- One Of The Few Big Bands Who Deserved Huge Acclaim

   When Brian Connolly died I found out a year or two later- I think two years later after watching a special on "Glam Rock." I was devastated. Brian was and always will be one of my biggest heroes and someone I look up to not just for the unique voice he had or just for his brilliance as a writer, but for what an interesting and fun personality he was. With drummer unmatchable Mick Tucker dead in 2000 Sweet are half dead although Andy Scott has done everything he can over the years to keep the band alive. I applaud him for that. It's like Joey Molland keeping the music of Badfinger alive when he's the only surviving member of that grimly doomed four piece great band. If The Rolling Stones can survive into their 70s playing live and still exciting people it's a great thing and not a bad thing. I don't believe that Andy Scott, Joey Molland, or Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts are opportunistic. I don't believe Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney are now washed up hacks (The Beatles are a band that will live on forever and I need not even state that).  I believe what is fact and that is when you have something really special that not just you, but also other people love keeping it alive and still going is the best thing to do. When you consider how many artists go on way past their sale date and aren't even interesting it really speaks miles for the music of the great ones who stay great. I've been to concerts of 1960s/1970s bands and artists and been knocked out many times. I never got a chance to see Sweet. I owned a VHS when I was 16 of them on various TV shows in the UK and with interviews from all four at the end. There's a lot of grief that two of the key members of the group including wonderful Brian Connolly are dead not just for the two survivors (bass player Steve Priest and lead guitarist Andy Scott), but for someone such as myself who grew up loving them. Sweet are the most versatile group of the 70s as much as any name out and out progressive bands like Yes, Genesis. 10cc, or Emerson Lake And Palmer and they kept their music far more interesting than most especially godawful Mark II ugly screamer Ian Gillan fronted Deep Purple. I used to get into heated arguments with one of my best friends over Sweet and Deep Purple. I honestly don't know what people can see in somebody who was ugly, never washed himself once, and who did nothing but scream and the band he was in were made of great, but very misguided musicians. Sweet live on musically with a lot more power and resonance than anything Deep Purple or any number of "seriously heavy" bands do. I will put them with Queen, UFO, and Sparks as some of the only name bands I'll ever write about in detail here. That says a lot for them. I'm very finicky about who gets in here and who doesn't. In loving memory of Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker and huge support for the two surviving members this is my own personal loving write up of Sweet.
       -The Early Years From Bubblegum To "The Juicer" To Andy Scott And New Sounds-
   Formed at the end of the 60s under the monicker Sweetshop in Middlesex Sweet as they changed their name to comprised at first lead vocalist Brian Connolly, vocalist/bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Frank Torpey, and vocalist/drummer Mick Tucker. They were a heavy psychedelic rock band who were forced into recording outside material much of which was throwaway lightweight pop of the worst kind like the odious "Lollipop Man." However, early B sides revealed their heavy psychedelic brilliance with no song a better indication of how powerful they could be than "The Juicer." This monolithic hard rocking track with wild tough vocals from Connolly and blasting guitars would later translate into such hard rock/glam classics and "Hell Raiser," "Man From Mecca," and "Blockbuster." Already Brian Connolly had a very unique voice and his unbelievably perfect blond pageboy heavenly good looks would help him immensely too. Connolly, a native of Hamilton Scotland, would go through his entire career until he passed away the consummate professional pop/rock/hard rock vocalist. Even on the worst of the forced-down-their-throats early material he was special. However, Torpey was proving to be an unfit match for the rest of the band and soon the most notable line up of Sweet was born.
    Andy Scott on vocals/lead guitar replaced Frank Torpey and The Sweet as they were known then as a great band were born. Few other bands went through as many drastic changes in style, content, and image as Sweet. Almost none, in fact maybe none, could lay claim to as many classic songs and classic albums as The Sweet. When they met Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn their earlier bubblegum became a bit closer to quality pop psych, in fact much closer to it, on their first album FUNNY HOW SWEET CO CO CAN BE. The material did tend toward a kind of light psychedelic power pop, but the songs are all really good even the Ska meets bubblegum pop of "Co Co" and the rather harder to listen to "Poppa Joe." This last track appears uncredited as the last track of the Columbian pressing that I own a VG copy of so maybe it only appears on a pressing of the album in Columbia of all places! Andy Scott adds a considerably punchier sound to the group and the four part harmony vocals are superb. Brian Connolly shines throughout and where he and the group really shine for the pop psych songs is on their masterful Motown cover "Reflections." Brian's vocal is very emotional and already he was making that one of his trademarks. Later ultra passionate singers as unlike Connolly as David Coverdale and Kal Swan make for a nice change from the usual worthless overmasculine heavy metal rubbish vocals. Brian Connolly wasn't imitated by very many singers even in the beginning and that's because NO ONE CAN SOUND JUST LIKE HIM. I've heard some come very close, but nobody could ever equal or replace him.
             -From Bubblegum To The Masters Of Glam To The Split From Chinn/Chapman-
      The Sweet were scoring hits with songs like "Funny Funny" (great song) and "Co Co" (good song), but soon they wanted their heavier side to come to the fore. After several more power pop/glam hit singles with overtly sexual lyrics like "Little Willy" and "Wig Wam Bam" they would go onto glam rock superstardom and infamy. They still were mainly scoring hits with Chinn/Chapman material, but their own brilliance as writers was really coming through with songs like "Man From Mecca," "Heartbreak Today," "Sweet F.A" and many others. Signing to Capitol in the States after former label Bell went bankrupt (and Bell didn't do much for the bands on their roster except make their albums into obscurities) the first Sweet album I ever heard was the American version of DESOLATION BOULEVARD. This really should be seen as the ultimate glam rock/power pop album and I can't think of another album with such stellar songs and performances except some other albums by (you guessed it) Sweet. With outlandish outfits, a flamboyant often banned stage act, brilliant musicianship, and great vocals Sweet stressed some things that later ill-advised imitators like Motley Crue and Poison never had. Firstly it was total professionalism. Secondly it was very much a strong melody band that Sweet are. Thirdly and by no means last it was to really bond together as a band and do nothing but make music that would always be classy.
   Despite Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn writing some great singles for them Sweet wanted to produce, write, and record their own material completely. The critics and at first the public thought Sweet wouldn't last two seconds, but "Fox On The Run" put an end to that. With the best glam rock anthem ever Sweet became even more hugely successful both as a star band and as a band who could actually have big hit singles that were great songs. The split was not acrimonious and the band with a really massive hit now could have complete artistic freedom. This is where it gets really, really good,
             -From Brilliant To Even More Brilliant From Glam Rock To Hard Rock To Progressive Pop
              The Best Times For Sweet From 1974 to 1979-
       When I first heard the American version of DESOLATION BOULEVARD right through to the brilliance of "Action" and GIVE US A WINK to my discovery of how great a progressive pop group they could be on LEVEL HEADED Sweet have the best albums of any glam or glam affiliated (as they would turn out to be) or Any Band for that matter from the 70s. Unfortunately, their best years also would take a huge toll on Brian Connolly and put the band under enormous pressure. Brian was no longer a best kept secret he was a pin up boy, a star, and probably a lot of other things that didn't sit too well with him. Sweet now could care less about those aspects of their career.
     They may have been four very cute to very good looking guys, but the music came first from now on. Democratic bands usually suffer quite a bit and don't make for great ones. Sweet are a true exception. Unlike Slade who were another great band who were entirely based around the songs of Noddy Holder and Jim Lea or David Bowie or Roy Wood's glam period Sweet were actually a band where all 4 of them would write, record, and produce together. The production sound of their records is astonishing. There aren't any other bands that are more professional without sounding too polished for their own good. A big difference between Sweet and 10cc was that Sweet didn't suffer from two very different visions of what their music should be.
    Like if Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman had made 10cc a melodic pop group all the way through Sweet played melodic hard rock with pop hooks thrown in for great measure all the way from DESOLATION BOULEVARD to OFF THE RECORD. During this period Sweet were a top of the line live and studio band where you got live what you got in the studio and you got in the studio what you got live, but even better. The emergence of flamboyant bands like Freddie Mercury/Brian May led Queen and by no means to a lesser degree of any kind the wonderful Mael brothers Ron And Russell led Sparks meant there was a lot of room for experimentation in the studio even more so than onstage.
     By the time of GIVE US A WINK Sweet were branching out. They had gotten even way heavier, but also even stronger with their melodies. 4 of the best singers and musicians in the world they came up with an album where melodic heavy power pop/hard rock, progressive influences, loud upfront abrasive passages, and soaring vocals would yield an album's worth of classics. I would say that for the entire duration of their career once Andy Scott came in and things really took off Sweet exemplified British Rock. As British As Can Be they are a band who stressed tight discipline, soaring harmonies, and some tricks learned from the masters The Beatles. GIVE US A WINK captured Sweet at their most sexually outrageous not stopping with the gimmick cover ("Winking Instructions First Pull Up Then Push Down") and funny masturbation jokes on the sleeve. "Action," however, showed the most aggressive side of Sweet with a perfect amalgam of Led Zeppelin, Queen, and the already tried and tested classic Sweet sound. "Action" is mainly a put down song full of clever deadpan British humour whilst "Yesterday's Rain" is the most sexually explicit song I can think of. Even the best later bands like Sweden's greatest Treat it's time for you to step up and admit it- You Heard Sweet. There are also progressive songs like the amazing epic "The Healer" where Connolly goes from Brian Connolly trademark to Ozzy to Bowie back to Brian Connolly trademark. When Brian shouted and roared occasionally for effect he never sounded idiotic like Ian Gillan's screaming or the macho obnoxious side of Roger Daltrey. A melodic singer from beginning to end Brian Connolly had more class than anyone else I can think of. Soon he'd get a chance and Sweet would get a chance to stress that even more.
      GIVE US A WINK is Sweet's heaviest record, but soon after that crowning achievement some changes were afoot. The album had sold really well, but Sweet were getting a little tired of playing a repertoire of what sometimes was almost proto metal (I don't mean that as an insult). The changes would come gradually at first, but they would come. OFF THE RECORD is a much more power pop than hard rock record except for some songs like "Windy City," "Live For Today," and "Hard Times" or the last stab at sexual overload "She Gimme Lovin'." The lead off track "Fever Of Love" has everything- confident and classy vocals from Brian Connolly, great harmonies, Andy Scott's soaring melodic guitar work, and upfront driving rhythms where the softer moments of the song are dealt with effortlessly along with the rocking out sections. There is a clever allusion to The Beach Boys if you listen to the second verse. "Laura Lee" was Sweet's best ballad as of then with beautiful harmonies and great lead vocals from Brian. Some songs tried for other things. Sweet didn't entirely approve of David Bowie's smooth soul crossover from glam rock master and made a little bit of a piss take on him with "Funk It Up (David's Song)." I can't say I disagree! If Bowie was going to keep reinventing himself why couldn't Sweet!? They sure as Hell could. OFF THE RECORD had a smoother production and Andy Scott had been experimenting a lot with synthesizers over the 1974 to 1977 period. Sweet were about to go through an enormous change in image and direction. That would transpire on LEVEL HEADED.
       LEVEL HEADED would prove to tragically be Sweet's last record with Brian Connolly. Arguments and blow ups were beginning to flare in the group and the rift between Brian and Andy Scott was beginning to make it difficult to keep the band together. The pressures of enormous success were also causing their fair share of strife and irritation as Brian's drinking problem got worse and worse and worse. LEVEL HEADED however is a real artistic triumph. Throwing any affiliations with glam rock out the window Sweet were now a smooth progressive pop group. I can't choose a favourite Sweet record, but this one always comes close. Despite the drastic change in style it works beautifully. The first track "California Nights" features Steve Priest on lead vocals and Brian singing a lot of harmonies with the other 3. It's a stab at Eagles meets Sweet and what may seem impossible is actually a pretty good song. Where pretty good becomes amazing is on "Silverbird" the next track. One of the most emotional songs ever written Brain Connolly sings his heartfelt lyrics with unrestrained passion and everything in this song goes beyond the skies and beyond the heavens. It gives you a feeling of riveting bliss like the best of Abba and the best of The Beatles, but it's Sweet all the way just a very different side shown to Sweet. "Dream On" is a mellow and again very emotional ballad sung by Andy Scott. Sweet could all sing great and after Brian Connolly left the group they'd still be able to sound really good with Andy Scott and Steve Priest trading off on lead vocals. Their best moment with all four of them for their new progressive pop sound would be the Godlike "Love Is Like Oxygen." This song, mainly completely written by Andy Scott, may be Sweet's crowning achievement. Whilst LEVEL HEADED is all very emotional this dark love song is Sweet at the highest peak of emotion ever performed, written, and recorded by a band. Every time I watch Brian singing this song he looks like he's crying and it is pretty sad. Love does get you high, though, and "Love Is Like Oxygen" blew me away when I first heard it. If anybody could listen to this or the ultra sophisticated second half of the album and doubt that Sweet had progressed to progressive they surely must be the same kind of fools drooling for tickets to either a bad prog wank off show or a Slayer concert. Sweet get put down and trashed by stupid people all the time, but a Sweet lover like me knows that there are more of us than the idiotic ones! "Love Is Like Oxygen" is an epic with classical (nylon string) guitar passages and lots of electric piano, but on "Lady Of The Lake (Anthem #1)" which is the first song on Side Two a full baroque orchestration is brought in. Like the rest of the album this is a wrenching, emotional song sung and written by Brian about love tragically ended by death with only the belief in an afterlife consolation. It could have been Brian writing his own epitaph, but here it's about a soldier who dies not an alcoholic.
        LEVEL HEADED is an amazing record, a masterpiece, but during recording sessions for their next album all of the problems and frustrations came to a head and Brian Connolly was out of the group. I'm not going to say that I blame anyone in particular, but Andy Scott tends to blame himself the most for things going wrong with Brian. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons why Brian was gone from the group was that he had gone off the rails with his drinking problem. That would be what would kill him and after several heart attacks throughout the 80s, aborted attempts to get the band going again with the name Brian Connolly's Sweet, and a too late to help mending of their relationship Connolly's last heart attack happened in 1997 and he died from it. He had been off the bottle, but not long enough. Throughout the 70s and much of the 80s his drinking abuse was his downfall and his tragedy. His health was rapidly becoming a serious issue during the last years of his life and he had done himself in. I knew he wasn't all there anymore, but still his tragic end is hard for me to deal with. I can only say this- Brian if there is a Heaven is there. He was a great singer and an honest, caring, talented, emotional man who had beneath the good looks and charisma a great heart. The music will live on forever. Sweet you have earned your place at the highest level of the best bands ever to come out of anywhere, but especially the great music filled UK.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Spectrum (Britain) A Band That Time Forgot Now Revealed

As anybody who has paid attention to the music scene knows it is a bitch of a business and one of the most cut-throat in the world. People could ask me "Why Don't You Write About A Band MOST PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT, Ben?" and I'd reply without any jive "Because they made it. It actually worked out for them and that isn't to say I don't love them it's just more fun to write about bands and artists that the industry was unkind to. The only bands that have come close to making it or who have made it big I'd write about would be bands like Sweet, Queen which I've already done, UFO, and Sparks. Sparks are a brilliant band that may never have had the huge hits they deserved, but a great band who have a huge cult following. Those are my kind of bands- even the "Name" bands I'd contemplate get a lot of slamming like Survivor or Foreigner or would have something they were or are up against." That's the truth. I've contemplated writing about the rise and fall musically of Judas Priest too, but since I don't own a single Priest album and just know their music well someone else has probably done it. Maybe not as good as I could do it, but they've probably done it.
                          -A Bit Of A Word Of Introduction About The Spectrum-
    A band like The Spectrum, the band you are about to hear about, spent their career in the constant shadow of bigger bands in England. Whilst they were easily as talented and musically good as similar great bands The Small Faces and The Nice they only hit the #1 position in Spain and Germany and everything planned for them in the UK backfired. They only had one small bit of success in the UK when for a brief period in 1967 or 1968 their song "Portobello Road" got some much deserved airplay without ever being a real hit. The Spectrum are said to have been Britain's answer to The Monkees, a commercially conceived fake band or ploy to make it who were put together and sank without trace. I would have to disagree with such a harsh judgement as sometimes has been made. Listening to the band's one album, typically a compilation of sorts to commemorate their career, this band had a whole lot more to offer than what has been said about them by some music writers who don't know what music is.
            -The Light Is Dark Enough A Classic Brought Back To Me With Love And Care-
       Thanks must go to our wonderful next door neighbors Doreen , Chris, and I'll include their cats Casamier and Luke and their two young girls Bronwyn and Johanna. Doreen has been a friend of the family along with her husband Chris for a very long time and she ordered a M- copy of The Spectrum's one album THE LIGHT IS DARK ENOUGH from England for me for Christmas as her present and I thank her every time I hear The Spectrum. That is one of the nicest things anyone has done for me in a long time. Now it was 13 years ago that I had a clean copy and lost it to a record dealer who is referred to around here by one blunt insult only "The Bastard." I'm not telling you what anything else about him because it would give this disgusting pervert away and he may look at this and do something crazy. I wouldn't put it past him. Since then I lost out on this record twice and then had a beat up copy with an only VG- cover and VG disc. Now thanks to Doreen I have a perfect copy, but a word of warning: The Spectrum came out on the RCA budget line International Camden in the UK and like all RCA pressings from anywhere in the world even in England the sound quality is none too great because of the poor manufacturing of their records. You can have a flawless looking copy like my own and the sound will be a bit murky, but since the music on this album is a bit gloomy/murky that may add to its appeal. The Spectrum started off playing other writer's material. Their album begins with a cover of the popular McCartney standard "O Bla Di O Bla Da" which is given a pretty good treatment with Colin Forsey's raspy voice and some funny harmonies and a high spiritedness far removed from what the band had progressed to on much of the rest of the album- progressive pop psych. By the time of their album the group had gone through significant line up changes with only Tony Atkins, Colin Forsey, and brother Keith Forsey holding the band together. Atkins had switched to bass from lead guitar with Colin on rhythm/very occasional lead guitar and new super organist Peter Wood.
      The Spectrum's one record THE LIGHT IS DARK ENOUGH comes in an appropriately dark looking front cover and not much more than some biographical information on the back. It is clear from looking at it that RCA didn't care very much about the band. The direction The Spectrum were heading in was a very promising one and in fact tracks like "Mr. Jenkins' Brand New Boots," "Mandy," and "Nodnol" ("London" spelled backwards) are pretty damned impressive heavy organ dominated ominous pop psych with definite progressive leanings. The Monkees? Not at all!
   After "O Bla Di O Bla Da" comes "Mr. Jenkins' Brand New Boots" which sounds like The Koobas or Small Faces in an uncharacteristically depressed state of mind. The lyrics are about a rich man who becomes a hobo and this very Dickensian tale is full of sarcastic scorn for English upper class society. The march like tempos in the verses are mixed together with murky organ and Bowie esque vocals for a fascinating story and a fascinating song. Peter Wood's organ is heavy and dark sounding, but he also plays piano and some harpsichord in the song and on the album too. Colin Forsey's voice is very impressive and very, very, very English! In fact, this is one of those records where even if you like it if you aren't English and/or don't have a wide understanding of British culture you probably won't get the point of most of the selections. The fact that two beautiful pastoral rock/pop rock tracks are thrown in at the end of each side together with all the other disparate material won't help you much either. "Nodnol" is about the End Of The Empire/England. The city of London is where the rot sets in and everything crumbles apart and is destroyed at the end of the song. It's not a nice lyric to listen to if you've had a bad day, but the whimsical megaphone voice of "Pearly King Pearly Queen Was The Jovial Scene From A Year Ago" helps with a good contrast.
    This album has always been a big collectable in England, but it really seems that even in England The Spectrum and their one record aren't given the respect they deserve. Labelled with that deadly
"2nd Rate" and not easy to hear for yourself with it a fairly rare and somewhat pricey 60 to 80 quid on it things did not work out so well for The Spectrum. At the same time that they were ending a horrible band just called "Spectrum" were beginning in musically awful Australia. This band, led by the talentless Mike Rudd, should be avoided at all costs and so should all of their equally obnoxious spin offs. Typically, the Australian band get all the praise! I can't help but think that The Spectrum who made THE LIGHT IS DARK ENOUGH which is a minor masterpiece were also a victim of the changing times and the move towards more indulgent heavier sounds. There's a song with some very of-the-era Satanic lyrics called "Jacqueline" which is full of really rocking keyboards, some scorching fuzz guitar, and strong vocals from Colin which together with tracks like "Mr. Jenkins' Brand New Boots" and the spooky eerie to beautiful and soothing story song "Mandy" would make me call this album a kind of dark version of The Koobas/Swinging London heading right into the early 70s organ dominated progressive pop of some interesting and rewarding bands on both sides of the Atlantic as well as Europe. Music was changing and The Spectrum were changing. They were going from a pop outfit here represented by great "Portobello Road" and the one awful track "Headin' For A Heatwave" (bad soul/pop/lounge rock with horns) into a really creative band with their own identity and their own strong ideas. Even the two songs on here written for them are brilliant if you give them time especially the haunting almost spiritual title track. Had time been more kind to The Spectrum they would have ended up sharing the bill with great bands like Uriah Heep and Genesis and the really great pop rock bands of early 70s England, but sadly 1970 was more of an end for them than a beginning. That really is unfortunate. "Glory" which closes Side One is catchy pastoral pop rock with some Gospel influences and good heartfelt uplifting lyrics and it would have on any other label been hugely promoted and given them a hit.
   The same way that Shy and Grand Prix were left to rot by RCA or American bands would be ignored by that label later on nothing was different in the 60s. For a worldwide mega record company RCA should be ashamed of themselves for what they did. Not only was their promotion campaign for bands ill-advised or non existent they used the cheapest vinyl of any major label in the world. Only a scant few bands would benefit from RCA and the one great band who made it on that label Sweet inked a deal with Capitol in the States and that was a wise decision. Sweet are one of the best bands ever. The Spectrum could have gone onto a career like formerly "The" Sweet, but like the poor job done early on with Sweet by the label made worse they had already been done in by RCA with the "Fuck You" to them of not even putting this record out on the proper label! RCA later wrecked everything for bands like Shape Of The Rain on their progressive imprint Neon and the band Hooky were doomed from the instant they signed to the label and no band ever even filed a lawsuit that I know of against RCA's skullduggery. In the 80s Shy had no luck when they should have been huge and that was typical of RCA. Going back to the 60s they hadn't a clue. One could ask the question why did they even bother to call themselves a professional organization.
         The Spectrum can't lay all the blame on RCA International, though. Maybe they were too dark, too serious to make it at a time when the charts in England had mainly cheerful songs as the top hits. I also do not think that the depressed almost nihilistic Spectrum could have fared too well with their view of crumbling England with The Troubles already getting really nasty in Northern Ireland. "The Light Is Dark Enough" the title track is all choral harmonies and beautiful vocals from Colin Forsey, but its sentiment of darkness being brighter than light can hardly have been a good soundtrack for a British soldier who would have been over there. People needed to be cheered up and not told their Empire and country were doomed. However, most progressive and hard rock bands used the concrete truth of how England was in a Decline and Fall as a whole reason for their lyrical existence. The Spectrum it seems were a band who were firmly late pop psych musically, but more progressive with the organ in their music and their lyrics. "Mandy" begins with a girl going to sleep and is very ominous sounding at the start and then just as the intensity reaches fever pitch it turns into a beautiful song about Mandy riding a perfect white horse across the skies in the dawn and how your most beautiful dream can be a reality. That's what I like to hear. Amongst all the depression some much needed hope. This is a great record. For me it avoids "2nd Rate" and is instead a kind of somewhat flawed masterpiece, but many a 200 pound album isn't as good as this one. Give The Spectrum a chance and give them the praise they deserve. They worked hard for it at the time and made a great record even if it is a compilation/overview of what their career could have turned into had they not been on dreadful RCA. I give this record a pretty high rating and I suggest it over dire progressive albums like Dear Mr. Time's horrible GRANDFATHER and Deep Feeling the less said about them the better! Really dreadful! These bands were just gloom, blood, and doom. That is avoided except for the gloom part by The Spectrum and singing about the decline of your country as an empire is actually a very true and very noble statement. If you can back up the loss of what Victorian and earlier/somewhat later England promised with music that has a lot of heart you've done well.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Kak- The Band That Started It All In The Beginning + Now Getting To The End

Record dealing is always such a pain in the arse. I've been doing it for some 21 years and compared to the moderation for the beginning what it has turned into I completely hate. I spend a long time accumulating records and many of them have appeared in these pages before. Then I keep getting less and less of what I need to get another batch and they fly out the door. Most of the time they are something I cared about or unfortunately still do care about, but I'm determined that after the deal at hand right now is over that my 21 years of record dealing are over. I'll go back to how it was in the beginning and that was a happier time for me anyway. Kak opened the door to rare records when it was the first major label album I'd known of 21 years ago to fetch the what now seems like a bargain price of $100. Kak have been famous in collectors circles for absolute ages and there is a good reason for that, but there's just as good a reason now to go back to when the buying and trading were something that happened irregularly and with none of the pain or anguish which has become synonymous with the whole thing.
                                      -The Good Days And Good Times-
     Of course much has changed since my golden days of 1992-1995 and then again from 1998-2002. The two most serious changes were one for the better which was in the beginning and one for the worst which occurred later.  In the disgusting decade known as the 1990s nothing except perhaps glam (read tolerable, melodic) metal was hated and detested more than the music of the 1960s. Whilst the collector's scene was turning on and I was part of it the general opinion of most kids my age or a little older or younger then was that anything to do with peace, love, flowers, and melody was bullshit. How fucking stupid can you get!? The 90s were all about hate and the few of us who dared to be different paid a high price for it. I do not like the word "rebel" because I associate it with the maniacal faction of the Northern Irish population that has always been making misery, but if "rebel" were to be turned on its head to mean fighting against conformity and standing up for a good cause I was one. I dressed in flowery psychedelic clothes and had very long hair, but I was both hippy and warrior combined. Kak were one of many bands who defined my personality. Their message was my message. I never had a messianic complex thankfully and neither did they, but I did see myself as something a bit larger than I really was and that would all crash down several years later in my bad period after high school where I became an obese and unpleasant cynic who hated everything.
    In the 90s everybody believed that technology was the thing, modern was the thing, whatever was  a day earlier was past and useless. This led to a huge abundance of rare records that were common records at the time for cheap and the collector's scene was just beginning to take off. I could score an album for anywhere between 50 cents to $15 and make a big profit on it with someone you may know and who may be reading this entry as I write it- Paul Major. I haven't been in touch with good old Paul for ages, but I still think of him fondly. Paul was my first mail order contact. Paul was a teacher to me about music. Paul was a gentle person. I could, even before Paul, have a huge amount of knowledge from my really good mate Bill Pacquin and he taught me so much I don't think I can overvalue him. It was Bill who told me all about Kak. I was going to record stores everywhere and there was so much around that I would ignore things I'd pounce on now. Everybody was dumping their records to get compact discs or just to get rid of them. Back in those days you could find stuff in Antique and Salvation Army stores. It was a blissful time for collecting, but also full of foolish mistakes on my part. I can't hold too much against me now, though. I was very young at only 16 to 19 years old and you can't know everything when you are at that perilous age of a million and one changes hitting you all the time. I don't think I knew much until I learned that if you don't take a chance you aren't ever gonna know much about anything and that isn't just music.
                      -The Last Gasp And The Beginning Of The End-
   1998 was right before the change over to the bad present times and the rot that would set in would happen. Blame it all on The Internet. It has made everyone, myself included, complacent, lazy, and a slave to the technological evils we should smash up and throw in the garbage along with the rest of the downward slide that people are in where consideration and courtesy are thrown out the window for rudeness and ignorance. In high school I heavily identified with and today I still heavily identify with soldiers because its always been an uphill fight for me and you need strength and determination to get on in life when it keeps becoming a battle. I have spent a lot of time wishing I could somehow change the entire course of how my life has been so far, but I think I'm beginning to see that music is the way out and music is the key component that has brought me happiness all through my life.
                -Kak A Lucky Accident Leads To Much Needed Joyfulness-
  The Bay Area has always tended to produce the LEAST interesting bands and that goes all the way back to the 1960s. Kak were a true exception. LA and Southern California in general gave us The Byrds, Love, Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, The Beach Boys, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention, and many obscure to semi obscure brilliant musical outfits that would help define a whole era. However, the "West Coast Sound" was both San Francisco style psychedelia and LA style folkrock/psychedelia and it is interesting to note how few bands took advantage of both distinctly opposite forms of the same kind of music and put them all together. Kak was a band that did that and more. Kak who numbered vocalist/main writer/rhythm and acoustic guitarist Gary Yoder, lead guitarist extraordinaire Dehner C. Patten, bass player/multi-instrumentalist Joseph Damrell, and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Christopher Lockheed are something truly special. As enigmatic as their name they were the right band in the right place at the right time, but somehow success cruelly eluded them and their time together proved short lived with the band breaking up at the end of the year they recorded their one album for Epic Records in 1968. A year previously Love had recorded the seminal and ultimate FOREVER CHANGES- an album that will live as long as the earth will live or beyond that. Kak's lone self-titled album is another classic from that era when anything and everything was possible. There is a recent CD out called KAK-OLA with a bunch of unreleased bonus tracks and I am both curious to hear it and not curious to hear it. I, for a ridiculously low price, got an original copy of their now $500 + record as a Christmas present and this still resonates with the same hope, the same despair, and then the same hope again as the album concludes beautifully with the psychedelic folk-rock classic "Lemonaide Kid" as it did when I first heard it. Gary Yoder would go onto Blue Cheer right after Kak, but he would also sacrifice his vision for a more commercial sound as he would continue for about 3 more years and 3 more albums to pursue the success that had so inexplicably evaded him in Kak. A victim of poor promotion Kak also were very ahead of their time. When I first heard them on the official Epic/Sony CD which I still own I flashed on a much later vocalist when I heard Gary Yoder's brilliantly clear and strong voice- Phil Mogg of UFO. UFO are a very California sounding at the same time that they are very British sounding group and that kind of power generated by them during their golden days is present in Kak's Take-On-Everybody-Take-No-Prisoners mentality. With a sound both commercial and very intellectually oriented they created music that is both full of powerful heavy psych and beautiful melodic California rock.
   My only complaint about this album is a line in the impossible to write up the title of short first track: "It's very commercial just record the record/Over There In England." I don't know if they really are slamming British bands, but for such a British oriented at times record it seems a bit obnoxious. However the impossible to spell first track is otherwise really good. "Everything's Changing" is a song very much about 1968. A promo video was shot for the song and is pretty dark. Lyrically there are echoes of the sentiments of both FOREVER CHANGES period Arthur Lee and Ray Davis:
  "The World Would Be A Better Place If Left Undone/The Changes That Have Taken Place Are All The Wrong Ones."
 How true. Dehner C. Patten's brilliant guitar makes heavy use of a wah-wah pedal, fuzztone, and a clean Quicksilver Messenger Service like sound as Kak bridge together the San Francisco, LA, and British kind of psychedelic rock. The ornate arrangements of FOREVER CHANGES are not used, but on gentler numbers like "Flowing By," "I've Got Time," and "Lemonaide Kid" there are acoustic guitars, sitars, steel guitar passages, harpsichords, and a wonderful laid aback resting by the sea kind of a sound that are the polar opposite of the loud electric psych of much of this album. "Electric Sailor" somehow manages to incorporate Mod drumming with a driving and taking-it-past-the-galaxy hard psychedelic rock sound that could be described as "The Kak Style." Since no one else sang like Gary Yoder and no one else played guitar like Dehner C. Patten Kak were one of of the most unique bands around and they easily could have been huge. They didn't promote themselves enough and Epic are often said to have ignored them and both of those unfortunate circumstances led to the dissolution of a band who could have owned the late 60s. For some of us, like me, they DO own the late 60s. I've heard people complain about this album whilst the rest of us love it, well I could care less about people who have stupid opinions. There simply isn't anything you can mock here, but boy did we get shit for loving the 60s back in the 90s. I would hang out with kids who were seeking the same kind of lifestyle as the young people of that era, but they'd get it all wrong and screw themselves up on drugs. I never did. "Acid Rock" doesn't require you to drop acid to play it. When I knew a certain kid was completely idiotic it was when I tried to introduce him to Kak through what may be the darkest, heaviest psych epic ever "Trieulogy" and he immediately slammed it and refused to listen to it. This mighty 3 part suite is so forward, so ahead, and full of really ominous imagery in the opening first part "Golgotha" which is all about someone who knows he is going to die long before his time. He resigns himself to death only to be reborn in the hard hitting 2nd part "Mirage" with Eastern overtones. If you think there is a psychedelic hard rock/west coast album that beats this one you're probably really wrong.
    Kak had something truly unique and special about them and I still can after a million ages seem to have passed listen to their album and it has all the freshness it did when I first heard it. Having said that, it was something of a shock in a good way. I was knocked out. All my mates and I were knocked out when we listened to it together. I had heard impressive 60s music, but here was an album that had sold really poorly and gone on to collectors' status that had all the brilliance of FOREVER CHANGES period Love and The Beatles. I couldn't and still have a hard time believing that this album just completely went by with no one taking any note of it except Lester Bangs who said that "In 1969 there was nothing else quite like Kak." Very true. "Disbelieving," a hard rocker on Side One, would come to define how I feel about most people. It's all about being lied to by someone you trusted and being taken for a ride for your honesty and generosity. Yoder's pissed off angry scathing at times vocals could be likened to Lou Reed, but they are in fact much closer to Bob Dylan had he ever done a hard rock record. Dylan's wisdom is there in Yoder too, but unlike Bob Dylan Gary Yoder would not be able to maintain a career that was much of anything after his one moment of brilliance. I am not meaning to put down his work with Blue Cheer I just would in no way be able to say it's anywhere near as good. The inspiration seemed to have dried up and was replaced by a rather more commercial sound that was like Kak with all the good stuff taken out. That is probably because although Gary Yoder led Kak everyone in the band chipped in with brilliant co-writing credits and arrangements. It was a group effort if ever there was one.
     Yoder would later vanish as would all of them. I never could contact anyone from Kak. How unfortunate. In 1968 America was being turned on its head and just a year later The Troubles began in Northern Ireland. Bad times have stayed bad and where are those good days when life was fun? I can remember them when I play brilliant Kak, but I close this blog with a quote from Brian Wilson who for once said something lyrically of note in the line I am about to end with: "I Guess I Just Wasn't Made For These Times." I would have to agree, but in a much different way than Brian Wilson meant it. I have always been an outsider and that is no fun. I would have been happier at a time when the world was a more giving and less selfish rat race world and I would definitely have been happier at a time of great art and creation. A period with much of that to offer was the 1960s. The 60s that gave us PET SOUNDS, FOREVER CHANGES, ABBEY ROAD, all the great music. I'd come right out and say that right up there with The Beach Boys' California sound is Kak's mainly California sound- catch those rays and remember those days. They were better times and I missed out on the best things that could be in life. All through being the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time just like a polar opposite to Kak. That may mean I eventually go somewhere, though. Don't give up. Tune into good vibes and try to be happy. You may be a lot more so listening to Kak.