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Record Reviews - Part 1

Author's note: Unless specified, the following record reviews were contributed to the "Vinyl Vulture" website (a now-defunct site for record-collecting obsessives) in the recent past. The first 3 volumes actually appeared in the main site. Then (unfortunately in my view) it was revamped, and reviewers had to submit their appraisals to the "forum", where other users could respond (of course, a whole lot of often-irrelevant rubbish was duly deposited as reaction to these reviews, but sadly that is the nature of such things). Anyway I soldiered on for a while before deciding it was more trouble than it was worth, but thought my work of enough interest to re-display in the manner for which it was originally intended. Hope you agree. One or two entries have had updates added, and some have been edited a little to fit the format (and I've modified/removed the more arcane references that only avid readers of the Vinyl Vulture site would understand), otherwise it's all here, usually including preamble of some sort, the first one whereby I introduced myself as "Gavvo the Groover"... 

Volume 01: October 2004

First of all, a few words about myself. I am of true middle-age definition (as Barry Cryer once said, how many 120-year men do YOU know). Once safely past the pubescent rite of trying to get into Purple, Sabbath, et al (a mercifully brief passage), my first true musical love was funky disco, which I still dig, although I confess to knowing far more about rock than is healthy (i.e. I could probably tell you all the 70’s Yes line-ups, even though I’ve never listened to one of their albums). I’ve always had a soft spot for easy/kitsch stuff, and started collecting when I moved to Manchester about 6 years ago. I also search for gear in London, the Midlands, and my native South, when opportunities arise. The following is stuff I have mostly picked up since discovering the VV website, which has stimulated me once again, after recent burn-out from seeing the “World of Mantovani” LP once too often at charity shops and car-boots.

1: Sweet Sensation "Sweet Sensation" LP 

More mature readers may remember “New Faces”, a naff 70’s precursor to the “pop idol” TV trash talent shows of today. A regular judge on said show was Tony Hatch, known as “the hatchet man” for his brutal/honest criticism of the threadbare acts usually on display. However, in a rare moment of enthusiasm, Tony was quite taken with this UK equivalent of the Drifters, and even produced their chart-topping 45 “Sad Sweet Dreamer”. Like the hit, the parent album is similarly insipid soul-lite. However, opening track “Mr Cool” is a real ear-opener, a sassy funk workout par excellence, with bubbling clavinet and sizzling hi-hats to the fore. N.B. this LP was co-produced by David Parton, best remembered for exploiting Stevie Wonder’s refusal to release a paean to his new-born baby as a single, and thus score a hit with a plodding retread of “Isn’t She Lovely”. Sadly, many naive listeners of the time (myself included, but I was very young then M’Lud) thought Mr P was singing about his “bird”.

2: Artists Unknown “Hammond and the Golden Hits” LP 

Going through the mythological checklist for this album was hypothetically a breeze: Hammond organ? Check! Percussion? Check! Groovy psych-style sleeve? Check! However, a listen reveals all is not what it seems: the organ is present (if not exactly correct), but the “percussion” consists merely of a drummer on auto pilot, as he and his equally dead-eyed colleagues wade through a selection of mainstream pop covers. A swizz, even at a cost of 5p. Even the groovier comps “A Man and a Woman” and “Music To Watch Girls By” are just music-by-numbers – the uncredited performers are obviously anxious to get the session over asap so they can nip off to the boozer! Particularly painful is “Eleanor Rigby” where aforementioned skin-beater, faced with a “spare prick at a wedding” scenario, elects to bash along in much the same manner as the clueless and much-lampooned “Ringo” puppet did in Spitting Image.

3: Juan Gonzales Latin Big Band “Latin Heat” LP

Some folks say the aroma of coffee and bacon is so much better than the taste. Well, you can also add 50’s latin albums to that list! The covers always titilate so much (and this one is no exception), with the premise of dusky latin lovelies gyrating to the frenzied rhythms of massed ranks of exotic percussion. However the reality is usually banal covers of latin standards like “the Peanut Vendor” (done here of course), more likely to be heard in “Come Dancing”, than downtown Havana. This is full of such unappetising fare, but is worth a spin for “Machito” a horn-laden driving beat that one could imagine being used for chase scenes in 50’s US cop shows like “Dragnet”.

4: Various “BBC Detective Themes” LP

In the Black Country, there is a regular car-booter/dealer who is (vainly) trying to sell a battered copy of Bullet's “The Hanged Man” LP for £40 “because it’s got the Two Ronnies Detectives music on it”. Now, if I were the gloating type, I could tell him that I recently acquired said theme on this album for a mere 20p. Not only that, but the album is chock-full of other 70’s goodies, such as the original version of “the Rockford Files”, Laurie Holloway’s cover of the least-known (and little-heard) “Starsky and Hutch” theme (written by X-Files man Mark Snow), and two funky gems I’ve not heard before: “Quiller”, mixing clavinet riffery with cocktail piano splashes, and “Gangsters”, featuring a full-throated vocal from Chris (“Out of Time”) Farlowe, a theremin-styled synth, and a blast on the mouth tube-guitar type thingy as made famous by Peter Frampton on “Show Me the Way”. To tie-in with the album’s crime theme, this was a steal.

5: Various “Easy Listening Orchestral Sounds" (Record One) LP 

This was salvaged from an immaculately packaged and preserved Readers Digest Box-set that sadly had to be binned, as such things are intrinsically worthless (tell me if you know otherwise). As I’m sure most of you are well aware, these LP’s were usually stuffed with bland easy fare churned out for the listening pleasure of the 60’s and 70’s equivalent of Dido fans (i.e. music for people who don’t like music very much). However, to my surprise I discovered amongst the dross a creditably funky (if you can imagine) version of  “the Pink Panther” theme, by Bullet head-honcho Alan Tew. Good string arrangement too.

6: Wilbert Longmire “With All My Love” LP 

Wilbert’s thing is tasteful (some would say tedious) fusion muzak, as effortlessly peddled by the likes of Dave Grusin and Bob James, the latter of whom produced this album. However, Wilb likes to stand out from the pack by presenting his work in unusual, even surreal LP sleeves. Past offerings have been dominated by strange objects not usually associated with jazz-funk, such as a fried egg (on “Sunny Side Up”), and some gooseberries*. By his standards, this one appears tame. However, open up the gatefold sleeve, and you’ll find that Wilbert has pulled out all the stops: inside is a MASSIVE full-spread pic of the rose he is holding on the front cover – well worth destroying the Amazonian rain forest for.

*updated note: it's actually some grapes (the album's called "Champagne")

7: Ricardo Santos – “It’s Latin Time” LP 

At first this looked suspiciously like a Leo Muller production (see Vol. 7 for more info), but closer inspection revealed it to be a pseudonym for namesake (the more-likely Aryan than Latino) Werner Muller, part of the 60’s wave of Kraut easy-meisters (James Last, Kaempfert, etc). As to the title, “It’s Salsoul Time” would be a more accurate (if less saleable) description. Like Vince Montana’s crew, “Ricardo” and his amigos update classical tunes and other standards with the “Salsoul” sound (also covering the Salsoul Orch’s own “Nice n Naasty”), but alas, with nothing like the aplomb of the original recordings – and even they were beginning to show marked signs of the cheesy Disco disease. Definitely a case of much more naasty then nice. Oh yes – as the LP’s got “Latin” in the title, it has the mandatory version of “the Peanut Vendor”, this time a hideous attempt at funking it up – a nigh on impossible task methinks.

8: Al Caiola – “Tuff Guitar Tijuana Style” LP

There is a small town buried deep in the heart of the West Country that I usually make the effort to visit when in the area, as they have a couple of fine independent charity shops, the like of which you rarely see nowadays. Why is it whenever I go in the charity chain shops, I feel like I’m in “New Look” or somewhere like that? It’s all gone far too posh - all the extra money you now shell out for what were once bargains, pays for shopfitters' holidays in the Bahamas. Something should be done to reverse this alarming trend… Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest, there’s usually something of interest to be found in this town, and this is the pick of my last haul. Mr Caiola traded in a twangy guitar sound – the easy listening equivalent of Duane Eddy. Great for spy music (as evidenced by his contributions to the “Ultra Lounge” CD series), but not so good for clambering aboard the mid-60’s Tijuana bandwagon. One best avoided, although the sleeve is great for kitsch value.

9: Sweet Charity  “Memoir” LP 

It almost goes without saying that this autographed "Cabaret" LP i.e. self-financed and sold to impressed customers at gigs (or more likely, to ones too drunk to refuse) is pretty much utter dross (there is one original tune that may interest fans of ersatz prog, but not me). However, it has an endorsement on the back cover by none other than Manchester’s very own celebrated mirth-maker/racist ranter (delete as appropriate) Bernard Manning. The corpulent comic enthuses that "the lads are always a big attraction at my club”. In that case his punters must have cloth ears to match their cloth caps. You will of course be aware that the club in question is the self-styled “world famous” Embassy Club, somewhat strangely located in a particularly insalubrious part of Manchester, miles away from the City Centre.

10: Percy Edwards “The Story of Noah and The Ark” LP

In the burgeoning tradition of the vinyl-vulture charts, I’ve included this sonically-valueless “silly” record for no good reason, other than to stroll down Memory Lane. Older readers may remember Percy Edwards, a dapper gent of pensionable age who often appeared on the 70’s “Generation Game”, with his “incredible” ability to mimic birds and animals (and later, on a Kate Bush track “the Dreaming”, along with Rolf Harris!!). Not to be confused with equally-famous-at-the-time Percy Thrower, of burlier frame but just as venerable, who was the 70’s equivalent of Alan Titchmarsh. Library Music completists’ pulses may quicken when they learn that the LP was recorded at the KPM Studios - and as such, this LP is available for purchase ha ha….

Volume 02: November 2004

Forgive me readers, for I have a small confession to make. In my last chart intro, I gave an account of my musical development that was ever so slightly revisionistic, and I’ve been lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling with huge saucer eyes ever since. You see, between my pre-pubescent predilection for glam and discovering the funkier things in life, I was a devotee of those heads-down, no-nonsense merchants Status Quo. Yes, for a good two years in my early teens, I worshipped Francis, Rick and Co. Indeed, my first (non-compilation) LP purchase was a battered copy of the denim-clad quartet's “Hello”, costing 40p (a bargain in those days, but still a considerable chunk of my pocket money) from a pokey 2nd-hand odds and sods shop at the seedy end of town*. Anyway, the secret's out now, but at least I jumped the train well short of Metal Central, the usual final destination for budding Quo fans.

*updated note: Circa mid 70's, I well remember oft-rifling through the Quo albums in the racks when I visited the town's record shops, knowing it was the closest I was likely to get to owning them on my measly handouts (having to make do with buying the singles instead). However, whilst scouring the "Piledriver" sleeve I became aware of a printing aberration that troubled me somewhat: On the inner sleeve a track called "Roadhouse Blues" had a writing credit for somebody called Morrison, yet according to the back sleeve it was written by someone else called Doors. In my youthful ignorance I used to wonder "Why have two different people been credited for writing the same song?"...

1: Van McCoy “Disco Baby” LP

Back in school days, my chums and I made the ritual Saturday hike to our local vinyl emporia. Whilst perusing the LP racks, this always seemed to be a fixture. However, I can’t recall spying copies on recent boot/chazza jaunts until now: maybe they’ve been lurking in crates all along, assuming Klingon Cloaking Device-like abilities, or I was blinded by the dazzling naffness of disco monster “the Hustle”. Whatever, my reinvigorated craving for funky sounds made this an obvious contender for appraisal. So one has to ask: is Van “the Man”? The answer is: well no, not really. The album is littered with inferior “Hustle” rehashes, along with covers of two then-recent funk biggies. “Pick up the Pieces” could be considered good, were one not so well acquainted with the sublime original, but “Fire” is a damp squib. Mildly amusing footnote: veteran producers Hugo and Luigi give McCoy the sleeve credit “Producing your album was a trip”. Faaar out, middle-aged dudes. 

2: Various “Music of Mystery Mayhem and Murder” LP 

No doubt one of a plethora of 60’s budget albums released to cash in on the Bond phenomenon, this MFP disc contains several ok covers of 007 chestnuts from the Danny Davis Orchestra, as well as a couple of comparably favourable takes on Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” score (with nice extra girlie oohs and aahs) by the Ray Ellis Orchestra. However, the unexpected gems are the offerings from the Kenyon Hopkins Orch. (btw, none of these bandleaders are known to me), Probably only included as cheap filler, these are excellent smoky jazz mood pieces, garnished with sound effects such as heavy breathing (ooh er missus), monster noises, revving cars (in super-stereo pan), and most bizarre of all, the sound of rats gnawing. The sleeve features an analysis penned by one Blaise Machin, It would not surprise one were this a cool alter ego for that Sultan of Sleeve-notes, the altogether more mundane sounding Nigel Hunter.

3: Barney Kessel “Hair is Beautiful!” LP 

During the commercial jazz heyday of the 50’s, American guitar virtuoso Barney Kessel was much in demand, working with stars like Julie London and Ella Fitzgerald. However, by the fag end of the 60’s, the tide had turned. Strutting rock guitar gods like Hendrix, Clappo, and Pagey now ruled the roost, whilst poor old Barney was seemingly reduced to slumming it with anonymous British sessioneers such as Steve Gray and Barry Morgan. Of course we know better… Although the tracks are from the hippy musical “Hair”, even its most ardent fan would probably be hard-pressed to recognise them. This is a good example of transforming pop fare into quality jazz-lounge. The band experiment with a variety of rhythms, from bossa to go-go - it doesn’t always work, but at times the whole thing is cooking on gas. As you would expect, Barney’s soloing is exemplary, but is more than matched by the Hammond organ wizardry of Gray and Kenny Salmon.

4: Millie “Time Will Tell” LP

An oft-featured label on the VV charts, this is my first Trojan acquisition, and what a fabulously freaky cover. A virtually naked Millie (dig those sexy gold leaf panties baby) is paddling away, astride what appears to be a giant banana (but what cultural foodies would correctly identify as a plantain). The music contained within is lightweight ska/reggae that unfortunately does little for me, but there is one song of historical note: a plea for racial harmony with the bizarre punning title “Enoch Power”.

5: Alvin Stardust “The Untouchable” LP

In 1974 I was instantly transfixed by a new act on TOTP, a mean and moody leather-catsuited performer, with an unusual method of holding a microphone. I am of course referring to Glam-man Alvin Stardust, and his great brace of sound-alike singles “My Coo Ca Choo” and “Jealous Mind“. However, what really blew my socks off was the latter’s b-side “Guitar Star”, a chugging number featuring a guitarist effortlessly tossing out inventive licks that Clappo could only dream of. There’s even a wah-wah flailing away in there. So who was that mystery axe-man? I long-suspected Chris Spedding of “Motorbikin” fame. Info on this recently acquired surprisingly rare parent album gives fresh clues. Of the musicians credited, my money’s on “Big” Jim Sullivan - unless anyone knows better? By the way, the rest of the album is complete guff, as Alvin pays off an all-too obvious debt to “the King”.

6: Willie Henderson “Let’s Merengue” 45

I’m sure most readers of this site would associate merengue with the sticky lemon pie your Nan would serve up after the Sunday roast, but here on this 45 it’s a Latin dance rhythm. Except it’s not. Jive talking Willie and his chorus of slick chicks make plenty of references to going Latin, but the odd burst of timbales apart, the beat in fact a funky one, and quite a good one at that, with plenty of wah-wah action. So next time you come across a purple-to-pink Pye Label, check it on the off-chance it might be this, rather than the usual Brotherhood of Man tat.

7: Dorothy Ashby “Afro Harping” LP 

I briefly made an unwitting acquaintance with jazz harpist Dorothy about 25 years ago, when she was one of a cast of thousands credited on Earth Wind and Fire LPs. Somewhat unsurprisingly, that fact didn’t register when I recently clapped eyes on this. A tenner seemed a daunting price to pay for the unknown, but something about the album said “Buy me, you won’t regret it”. And I certainly haven’t. It’s an early bash at  fusion, with a bold mix of latin, afro, and boogaloo rhythms underpinning jazz and lounge arrangements. My only criticism is that the dense percussive element is at times a bit intrusive, but otherwise it’s most excellent.  One suspects that EWF supremo Maurice White (a Cadet label-mate at the time) is involved here, or at least gave a listen, as it signposts his more adventurous and exotic work in later years. Even if I had thought this album was rubbish, I discovered I could offload it for at least what I paid for it, so money well spent either way.

8: The Ladybirds “All the No.1 Hit Songs of 19??” LP

These not-so-young chicks often provided backing vocals for the MOR stars of the 60’s and 70’s, and frequently appeared on TV variety shows. In the time-honoured tradition of down-market radio quizzes, see if you can name the year in question, as the last 2 digits have been obscured by the “now only £1.95” price sticker. Tracks featured include: “Free”, “Chanson D’amour”, (as Rolf would say, have you guessed what it is yet?), “Yes Sir I Can Boogie”… Okay, I’ll put you out of your misery - the year in question is… 1977! Of course the music is low-grade copying of the originals, What is curious is that the album concept compels the all-female group to tackle songs made famous by male singers, so there’s plenty of gender-bending going on, and “Silver Lady” unwittingly assumes distinctly Sapphic connotations. A must-hear is their take on the Floaters “Float On”, where these nice middle-class home-counties ladies "rap" lines like “Capricorn, and my name is Maggie”. Priceless kitsch.

9: The Love Unlimited Orchestra “My Sweet Summer Suite” LP

About a decade ago, someone gave me a cassette recording of a slinky instrumental, rhythmically on the cusp of disco, with ace orchestral arrangements. Unfortunately though, he didn’t have a clue who it was: most frustrating to an obsessive like me. Anyway, I did little to solve the mystery other than conjecture that Barry White may have been involved, recently checking out several Walrus albums without success. This had just come into my clutches when I recalled a fellow digger's recent plea for more Bazza material to be reviewed in the VV charts. So I gave it a spin, and discovered the very track described above. Call it karma, synchronicity, or just plain coincidence, maybe it’s something along the lines of the Gary Player quote “The harder I practice, the luckier I get”. Anyway, I can now confirm the track is called “Strange Games and Things”, and in my opinion is probably the best thing Baz has ever done, certainly eons better than anything else on this album.

10: The Wombles “20 Wombling Greats” LP 

I was actually mad/stupid enough to shell out £2 for this, just for the somewhat dubious pleasure of featuring it here. For those few not in the know, this was a 70’s kids animation prog about strange furry creatures with silly names like “Orinoco” and “Uncle Bulgaria”, and their jovial japes as they picked up litter on Wimbledon Common. As sadly often happens in the UK, pop novelty hits cashed in on its appeal. The most absurd thing about it all was that skilled and respected session muso’s (definitely including Chris Spedding this time) were required to don Womble costume and prance about on TOTP pretending to play guitars and suchlike, when any fool could have done it. Of course should anyone be pressed on the doubtful merits of their musical oeuvre, they should have to concur that the only half-decent tune was “Remember You’re a Womble”.

Volume 3: December 2004

The following is a familiar scenario to scholars of Popular Music. Acts spend several years in penniless obscurity, finely honing their repertoire, before they get lucky scoring a record deal, and a hit album. They then cobble together a second, with whatever material they have left over, plus a few hastily written observations on their new found success whilst relentlessly pushing the first one on tour. And then comes the “difficult” third album, where the pre-fame well has run dry, and the creative muse is stifled by heavy music biz commitments and imposed deadlines (not to mention the sycophancy of star-fuckers, drug suppliers and assorted hangers-on), whilst the recently acquired legions of fans impatiently bay for fresh quality product. Well I suppose I’m now at that “difficult third album” stage with my VV chart contributions. However, although it might get more demanding to unearth new material to review, I have a large “back-catalogue”, so to speak, of which I shall have no qualms delving into when needs must. Now, bring on the groupies, and dwarves bearing silver trays of coke strapped to their heads…

1: Barry White “I’ve Got So Much To Give” LP 

Thanks to one of my fellow reviewers, what was previously a barren Barry White zone has now become awash with Walrus. I think this was his first release, and the album that initiated his rep as the “Lurve” man. As is usual with his stuff, much of it tips over into syrupy cheese territory. Of the 5 marathon tracks (showing an obvious debt to “Black Moses” Isaac Hayes), “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” towers above the rest, its meaty drumming giving Bazza the ideal bed (if you’ll excuse the pun) to pleasure the lay-deez with erotic chit-chat, in his unfeasibly deep Hobson’s.

2: The London Philharmonic Orchestra “Space Odyssey” LP 

As I’ve learnt from the VV site, if it’s on the “Stereo Gold Award” Label, then the shadowy figure of Leo Muller must be involved. And so he is, with a tiny production credit as he goes for the space market, a mere 3 years after man landed on the moon. Unfortunately, the featured synthesizer effects are just addendum to the orchestral arrangements, with a few blips here, a squirty noise there, and some wind-like whooshing in the quiet bits. Of course thrifty old Leo could get away with covering stuff by Handel et al (the concept could only stretch to one side, so “earthbound images, none the less exciting” fill the other), as the copyrights had obviously run out. But what to do about Holst? Ah yes, get somebody called Wilford Holcombe to dash off a few cunning “Planet Suite” soundalikes, Was Neil Innes listening to this when he conceived the “Rutles”? For all the cynicism, it must be said that the “Venus” rip-off is rather beautiful in a dreamy sort of way.

3: Count Basie and His Orchestra “Basie Meets Bond” LP 

The Vulture is a mighty beast, devouring all manner of obscure vinyl and stashing it somewhere in its huge bowels. It wasn’t until I submitted my last chart that I discovered the MFP Bond LP lurking deep inside with a rather different overview to mine...even the greatest of minds don’t think alike all the time. Anyway, I’m sure I’m bringing something new to the table here, appraising Basie’s attempt to jump on the (wait for it…) “Bond”wagon. As you’d expect, Bill’s boys make short work of the easily-adaptable-to-swing tracks, as frenzied horn charts contrast with the Count’s trademark minimalist ivory tinkling. But other tunes like the driving “007” are less expertly handled, and who of sound mind would cover Monty Norman’s cod “Kingston Calypso”, when there’s so much great John Barry material to hand? So overall, hit and miss, as encapsulated in the “Bond” theme itself, which begins somewhat shakily, but by the end you’ve almost forgotten the original – no mean feat.

4: The Commodores “Greatest Hits” LP 

Before Lionel Richie passed into legend as the arch purveyor of stomach-curdling lurve songs, he and his Commodores cohorts were quite capable of getting funky when they put their minds to it. Apart from hit singles like “Machine Gun” and "Brick House", other tracks to check out include “Squeeze the Fruit” and “Slippery When Wet”, as featured on this album. I recall in the 70's Mr R being interviewed in “Blues and Soul” magazine, promising “One day we’ll make a whole album of funk”. Well Lionel, we’re still waiting... So who’s to blame for pointing the Jimmy Hill-chinned one in the direction of Cheese Central? Why, none other than our very own Leo Sayer! It seems Richie was so peeved at the pint-sized Brit’s dire “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” scooping “Best R and B Song” Grammy, he resolved “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. By the way, a friend of mine recently encountered Leo when visiting a Pizza Hut restaurant. I was most disappointed to hear that he wasn’t taking the orders.

5: Jack Hawkins and His Orchestra “Your Favourite TV Themes” LP 

Issued on Windmill, a budget label that makes MFP look like Blue Note. This is one of the many early 70’s cash-ins on the popularity of tube tunes. Like the rest, the cover features an illustrated montage of stars associated with the themes - did they all use the same designer? But unlike his peers, Mr Hawkins chose to tackle some less obvious material. “Bruce Forsythe and the Generation Game”? – I’m sure you won’t find that on any Geoff Love album. I was looking forward to hearing Jack’s attempt at the mighty “Shaft”, as well as the theme from “Kung Fu”, an old favourite of mine that I’d never come across on vinyl before. However, to my horror, the sleeve had the wrong album inside, and the correct one couldn’t be found, despite spending a good half hour rooting through the rest of the tatty albums, in a particularly time warped back-street charity shop I know of… However, I did come across the following:

6: Dora Hall “???” LP 

The inverse of the above, this is an album without a sleeve, It has no title either, but came out on the “Calamo” label, that looks like a real US local job (it has a Chicago address on it). Containing soul-like covers of mid-60’s pop monsters, such as “I Got You Babe”, and “Hang on Sloopy”, the interest here is that the label gives credit “arranged by HB Barnum”, who, as a certain strain of groovers will know, is not a circus owner, but the henchman of auspicious beats and breaks supplier David Axelrod. Personally, from what I’ve heard thus far, I think the Barnum/Axelrod axis is a bit over-rated, but then I’m not a fan of the B+B scene anyway - outlaw the dreaded sampler, I say! Most of the stuff here is competently done, if nothing to shout about, but there is a good brassy version of the Stones standard “Satisfaction”, which Ms Hall warbles in a carefree manner a million miles away from Jagger’s strutting sneer.

7: Kraftwerk “Neon Lights” 12" 

Like the property market, the price on any Kraftwerk product these days is escalating out of control, not least due to their recent tour, a rare and hugely oversubscribed event that I was fortunate to blag a ticket for (a mere 23 years after I’d last seen them). No doubt it will go down in legend for years to come, like the Beatles at the Cavern, or the ultimate Ziggy gig. Anyway, many years ago I owned a copy of this limited edition 12-incher in “luminous vinyl”, and when not enjoying the mensch maschine’s ground-breaking grooves, I put its unique properties to use by placing it inside my conveniently shaped bedroom lampshade at night! I later made the fatal error of lending it to a friend or somebody (we’ve all done it), so inevitably it did a “Lord Lucan” and disappeared without trace. Fortunately not that long ago I spotted another copy amongst the sea of china and glass at an Antique Collectors fair, and was able to blag it for a mere brace of beer vouchers.

8: Peter Knight “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” LP 

At the genesis of English pop (the start of the 60’s), God did begat a beat combo hailing from Albion’s northwest shores. Nourished by the fruits of Eden (their American rock 'n' roll influences), they did dwell for several years in the Lord’s fertile garden, nurturing a distinctly fab creation of their own, and as such, verily did oft coax the Almighty himself to tap a foot to their innovation in simple pleasure. Then one fateful day, whilst exploring a dark and fallow corner of this haven did they perchance upon the pop serpent (Bob Dylan), who bid of them to toke of his illicit wares (the forbidden fruit), and so were cast out of this paradise, henceforth to exist in the bitter and distinctly groove-free climes of the counter-culture with its despotic dominions: musical self-indulgence and posturing political cant. Sadly for Peter Knight, the above tragic tale occurred just prior to the Sgt Pepper album, and this orchestral “tribute” sounds as stiff and pompous as the original itself.

9: Carlo Peretti and His Latin Beat “Mambos and Cha Cha Chas” LP 

As you may have read previously, despite being aware that the contents usually stink, I’m a sucker for any 50’s and 60's latin albums with a sleeve featuring some bongos and an exotic young lady shaking her maracas (fnar fnar). So having picked this particular album up against my better judgement, I applied needle to vinyl without too much hope of Carlo (if it was true Latino, surely it would be Carlos?) and Co. delivering. But to my surprise, the first track “Mambo a la Puenti” is a marathon workout that would not shame “el Rey”, old Tito himself, with authentic percussion and some top-notch solos. The rest of the album never really reaches these heights, but it’s still well performed, cleanly produced for it’s age, and best of all, there’s no sign of the dreaded “Peanut Vendor”.

10: Yul Brynner “The Gypsy And I” LP 

Time to revive some unpleasant memories for older readers. Who remembers Telly Savalas, who played the slap-headed wise-cracking 70's ‘tec Kojak, sleep-talking his way to the top of the charts with a cringe-inducing version of the Bread ballad ”If”? Well, Tel wasn’t the first chrome-domed thespian to cash in on his appeal by making a record, you know. Yul Brynner got in on the act at least a decade earlier, highlighting his mysterious and exotic eastern-European roots with this tribute to the tinkers. Unlike the lollipop-sucker, Yul can actually sing after a fashion, but unless Romany ramblings are your bag, this really is nothing more than a novelty. Far better to remember him as the psychotic android cowboy in “Westworld”.

Volume 4: February 2005 

In the last VV charts, a fellow contributor mused on the “cut-off” point of Herbie Mann. “Past Their Sell-By Date” is a subject I have often pondered myself, and I hereby take the opportunity to devise an alternative 10 here. Others may beg to differ, but in my opinion the following pop icons spent several years not only cultivating critical acclaim, but courting popular success also, until that “car crash” moment (a.k.a. “jumping the shark”*), where they would have been better off dead or completely incapacitated, rather than proceed to throw it all away for one or more of the following reasons: 1 – going up their own backsides artistically. 2 – becoming a grotesque parody of themselves. 3 – their mansions becoming more important then their muse. 4 – their ever more desperate attempts to keep up with the current fad become ever more obvious… 

ARTIST

CAR CRASH MOMENT

REM

1993 (after “Automatic For The People”)

Madonna

1990 (after “Vogue”)

Michael Jackson

1987 (after “Bad”)

U2

1985 (after “the Unforgettable Fire”)

Simple Minds

1985 (after “Sparkle in the Rain”)

The Rolling Stones

1984 (after “Undercover”)

David Bowie

1981 (after “Scary Monsters”)

Marc Bolan

1974 (after “Twentieth Century Boy”) - 3 years before the actual one!

The Beatles

1966 (after “Rubber Soul”)

Elton John

1965 (before entering the music biz)

 *a reference to the (too) long-running US comedy “Happy Days”, whereby said absurd plot incident indicated to all but the series’ producers that things had gone belly-up…anyway, now on to the usual business…

 1: Alan Hawkshaw “Non-stop Hammond Hits” LP 

Yes, the legendary Hawk lands at Groover HQ! And with the “funky” trumpet of Ray Davies in tow as well…and yes, I’ve since discovered that, as usual, the Vulture Crew have got there before me on the lounge front, but I’m going to plough on regardless. Sadly, the album’s title dooms any aspirations of enjoying Alan’s own quality tunes, as he goes full tilt for the filthy lucre with medleys of the most appalling pop material of the day. Horrors like “Welcome Home” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” abound. Even a title like “Get Down” will merely give false hope of stumbling across a funky workout, as it is in fact a cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s paltry paean to his canine companion. The only saving grace is the Jackson 5’s “Skywriter”, a tune I’ve always quite liked. Here Al digs out his flanger to add extra pizzazz to his trusty organ sound, but it’s not so great that this album is worth buying, even for peanuts.

2: MFSB: “End of Phase 1" LP

If you like your funky grooves slick and spangly, then you could do worse than check out this LP by the Philly Int. house band - officially “Mother Father Sister Brother” but allegedly an acronym for something far cruder. This “Best Of”, features established floor-fillers “TSOP” and “Sexy” as well as a surprisingly gritty take on the O’Jays “Backstabbers” among the more disco-fied tracks. However, it’s not without its bloopers. The “Superfly” cover is horrid hustle-on-speed, and as for “Philadelphia Freedom” (presumably covered because of its title), I can’t say how much my intense dislike of Elton John dictates my view, but as a sage once said, “If you make a shit sauce, then put loads of spice in to make it more palatable, all you end up with is a shit spicy sauce”. Such is the case here. In contrast, the runout groove to this is excellent – what a shame they didn’t build a whole track around it, then Reg wouldn’t have copped undeserved royalties.

3: Blue Mink “Our World” LP 

In the late 70’s, pub-rockers-riding-the-punk-wave The Motors (of “Airport” fame) released an album with a cover featuring their less-than-classical countenances, that was hastily withdrawn from record shops and replaced with a fizzog-free sleeve design, allegedly after complaints from offended, even frightened, customers. However, Blue Mink committed a similar crime a decade earlier, as their somewhat alarming appearance on this sleeve more than suggests they should have remained the faceless session musicians they were before. As for the music, you’d have thought with all those legendary studio cats about (Parker, Flowers, Morgan etc), this would be a bit of a groove fest. However, the number of funky tracks here equates to the number of lookers in the band i.e. none. It’s just full of vapid and thinly produced MOR fare, no doubt closely supervised by pop-lite svengali Roger Cook.

4: Blue Mink “Only When I Laugh…” LP 

Four years on, and the rhythm section (now augmented by the Rock World’s token bongo basher Ray Cooper) seem to have had a bit more input into what is a fuller sounding album, although it’s still mostly barren pop territory. I recall being partial to the hit “Randy” as a callow youth, but it hasn’t aged well, and there’s a distinctly queasy quasi-reggae version of “You are the Sunshine of My Life”. But at least there are a couple of groovers to latch on to. “Harlem” is a Bill Withers cover that wouldn’t sound amiss in a blaxploitation film, but the best cut is “Daughter of Someone”, where Alan Parker cranks out his much-missed wah wah pedal, to counterbalance hippy-dippy lyrics like “Out of my head, spent all my bread”. They’ve also had the wisdom to leave their ugly mugs off the front cover this time (in fact, one of them has even gone AWOL from the soft-focus inner gatefold sleeve shot), although the cartoon mink is no great improvement.

5: Gladys Knight and The Pips “Claudine” OST LP

When I offered a dealer a pound for this, I was sure he’d suspect it worth more, but when he saw it was Gladys Knight, his scorn was almost tangible. “Oh, you can have THAT for a quid mate”. Like many, he’d made the fatal error of condemning Glad for schmaltz like “Midnight Train To Georgia”, and unlike me, wasn’t aware that the mastermind behind this was Curtis Mayfield. Although the film’s romantic nature indicates balladeering is prominent, a couple of cuts make up for it. “Claudine’s Theme” is an instrumental workout a la Love Unlimited Orchestra, but the real find is the wah-laden groover “On and On”, particularly pungent when Gladys and Co. make way for the guitar solo. BTW, with regard to the above, have you noticed these days most retailers’ deeply irritating habit of calling you “mate”? I often feel like retorting “I’m not your mate, I am your customer, and as such, if you must make address, then do so in a more appropriate and respectful manner”. But of course the ignorant bastards would then look at me as if I’d just escaped from the local loony bin.

6: Becker and Fagen “You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It” LP 

As far as I’m concerned, Donald Fagen is “the Don”. Be it with Steely Dan or solo, he’s hardly put a foot wrong in 30 years. Even if he takes a decade to release an album it’s worth the wait, because you know it’s going to ooze quality: more-prolific-but-less-consistent acts should take note. However this is one release that really should have stayed in the can. Originally used as a soundtrack for an obscure 1970 film, it was released in 1978 not as “a crass attempt to exploit their platinum status”, but “simply as an historical document” - so claim the sleeve notes. Pre-Dan Donald and sidekick Walter Becker were mere striplings at the time, and it shows. There’s some experimentation with echo effects and stereo panning, but the tunes are bland, and could have been recorded by anybody. The only interest to “Danoraks” is to compare this to the band’s later 70's works, and marvel with astonishment at how far they progressed in a few short years.

7: Brian Auger “The Best of Brian Auger” LP

To paraphrase the famous Dirty Harry speech: Uh-uh, I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t he do a plodding rendition of that Dylan dirge (a more apt word to describe anything by the Tuneless Minstrel cannot be imagined) “This Wheel’s on Fire”, with Julie Driscoll (and the Trinity, lest we forget). Well yes, he did, so I initially gave this album a very wide berth. However, I then heard someone else give it a spin, and I couldn’t believe how funky it was. Apparently, after his brief association with the British charts, he got quite big on the US jazz-fusion scene, hence this American compilation. The whole album is pretty much on the case, with a cover of Marvin’s “Inner City Blues”, as well as a stab at the boogaloo classic “Listen Here”, but for me the essential track is the driving funkiness of Mr A’s own “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend” where, like the Ambassador proffering Ferrero Roche, he spoils us with his Fender Rhodes dexterity, as well as impressive vocal range.

8: The Vast Majority “Move It!” LP 

On first glance, this album’s cover had all the hallmarks of a “Stereo Gold Award” presentation. But it turns out to be an American pressing, brought to you courtesy of the “D and M Sound” Label. That wouldn’t be producers Dave Miller and Marty Wilson would it? They try so hard to push the right buttons on this disco/salsoul/hustle cash-in, but it just doesn’t hang together convincingly, partly through feeble tunes, but mainly due to a lacklustre rhythm section, featuring a particularly mediocre conga player. A Spock-like eyebrow-raising scan of the credits reveals that Roy Budd (he of “Get Carter” fame?) has been roped in to provide a couple of arrangements, but even he can’t save it from sounding a mess. It must also be pointed out: with sleeve notes proclaiming “Disco Dynamite!” and titles like “Take It!”, they haven’t learnt prudent use of the exclamation mark to achieve maximum effect, as helpfully pointed out by comedian Frank Skinner in his autobiography.

9: Boz Scaggs “Silk Degrees” LP 

Yes I know, this one has started to pop up in Chazza Shops and Boots across the land, and no doubt has been conferred with “not to be touched with a bargepole” status by committed crate-carrions, due to its AOR hits “What Can I Say” and “The Lido Shuffle”. Most of the album is of similar ilk, but in case you’re not already aware, it also contains the superbly disciplined West-Coast funk that is “Lowdown”. Even Boz’s weedy pipes can’t stop this monster competing with the best of the Steely Dan grooves – no surprise here really, seeing as it’s underpinned by the rock-solid sticks work of regular Dan henchman Jeff Porcaro. So, in the manner of a recent Government public service ad much aired in-between segments of “Countdown”, I implore you: ”Go on, pick it up…it’s yours for 50p!”

10: Liberty Belle “Yankee Doodle Disco” LP 

Recently coming across a copy of this brings back memories. My oldest chum and I discovered a mutual liking for funky disco from the mid 70’s on. So his well-meaning but somewhat less well-informed mother gave him a copy of this album as an intended ideal birthday gift. When I turned up at his house that day for a spinning session, he held up the sleeve up for my attention with a pained and somewhat embarrassed expression…a (brief) listen confirmed it was as cringingly awful as its premise – crass disco beats under traditional American singsongs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. The recollection still creases me today. Many years later, when my friend moved house, his no less naïve Ma earnestly advised him “Now Dear, you’ve got the ideal opportunity to finally get rid of those old records you’ve had hanging about for years”. His response? “Mother, I’m actually moving to have more room to store them in”. They’ll never understand…

Volume 5: June 2005 

A while back, a friend and I indulged ourselves by listing our all-time top 100 tracks for each other’s interest. I recently revised this, with the idea of burning an MP3 compilation onto CD-R. I’m sure for the average rock fan of my generation this would have been a doddle, starting with “Stairway To Heaven”, then “Layla” and “Purple Haze”, and so on. However, in my case I had real difficulty shoehorning a representation of what I like down to a mere 100 tracks, and there were many notable casualties whose absence was deliberated over. Why am I telling you this? Because, as you may have noticed, I approach my VV chart contributions in much the same manner, taking much care and consideration over my prose, squeezing as much info in as I can into each entry of no more than 200 words – and as such, the editing is a nightmare akin to my “top 100” selection. This approach obviously contrasts with the more casual manner of other chart-contributors, now that that the field is open, so to speak. However I shall continue to plough on (in my own lonely furrow?) in the manner to which I am accustomed…

 1: Various Artists "TV Music Spectacular" LP Boxset

Here’s something as rare as hen’s teeth – a Reader’s Digest box set that’s actually worth owning. A must-have for any 70’s retro fetishist to place next to their lava lamp, with its faux Formica design. On the vinyl front, themes used in costume drama and suchlike may have their devotees, but I’m sure the only platter of interest to VV types is “The Thrillers”, featuring variable-quality covers of classic 70’s crime show themes, the pick being a wah-heavy take on "The Six Million Dollar Man” Theme. Talking of which, have you noticed us Brits (often incorrectly) tend to place emphasis on the last word of a phrase? Take for example, noted gay disco band of “YMCA” fame, The Village People (meaning: the people from the Village). In our diction, they become “The Village PEOPLE”. What, as opposed to the village shop, or the village idiot? So, next time you make reference to that Lee Majors 70’s sci-fi/action show, remember to pronounce it “The Six Million DOLLAR Man”.

2: The Stylistics “The Best Of The Stylistics Volume II” LP 

This album can be easily unearthed, although you’ve probably ignored it as the Stylistics are chiefly remembered for two things: their sickly ballads, and the Helium-aided vocals of Russell Thompkins Jr. However, it has reminded me that, just once, they threw their collective hats into the funk arena: “Funky Weekend” may score minus-points in some quarters for including the “fu*k” word in its title, but as the group weren’t exactly noted as hard-ass funkateers, I suppose they had to signpost it. On the positive side, they did make a reasonable stab at it, with clavinet riffola and a tight horn section present and correct. A pity that Russell’s credibility-destroying croon is let loose at one point, but still worth a groove to. Mildly amusing footnote:  I once mentioned another Stylistics track “16 Bars” to somebody, who asked in reply “Is that a song about pub-crawling?” Well, I thought it was funny anyway.

3: Chicory Tip “Son Of My Father” LP 

You may remember the early 70’s title track here becoming the first big UK hit to feature the great and then-unusual Moog. As such, when my minces alighted on this LP, I was rubbing my hands with glee in anticipation of a moog-feast. However, said track apart, the album is entirely moog-free, instead full of pop drivel, the like of which was churned out by Tony Macaulay and similar faceless composers of the era. Of more interest is the back cover, where the Tip pose with a hound then still called an Alsatian. This reminds me that: apparently it is now cool for school kids to taunt their peers (and teachers!) with the insult “Mong”. Short for Mongol, a somewhat pejorative term used for mentally-handicapped persons, until the p.c. revisionist brigade largely failed to convince anybody to adopt the reference Downs Syndrome instead. Well, the reason I bring all this up is I feel the same sorry fate has befallen the hapless German Shepherd Dog.*

4: The Laurie Johnson Orchestra “The Big New Sound Strikes Again” LP 

It has been said that Tony Hatch is the British Burt Bacharach. Well in that case, one could put forward an argument for his Pye label-mate Laurie being the English Henry Mancini. Like Hank, Laurie laces his own and other’s compositions with perky percussion and smooth strings, as he experiments in swing, Latin, and even cross-genre arrangements, such as “Squareville”, where a dance rhythm meets yee-hah hoedown – years before the Grid hit on the idea. But to be truthful, Laurie’s not really in Mancini’s league, but then, few people are. The standout track here is “The Shake” that you’ll know better as that embodiment of Swinging London, the “Avengers” theme. This fledgling version is less beaty and sans the big intro, but still worth getting hold of.

5: Various Artists “Swinging London” LP 

Talking of which, here is a whole album devoted to those halcyon days of Carnaby Street, dolly birds, Mini’s (cars and skirts), and Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet Trophy aloft. However the premise of the sleeve is betrayed by the sounds within – the only track that remotely comes close to grooviness is “Young Man Seeks Interesting Job” that features a Farfisa organ solo that is all too fleeting. Otherwise, several lacklustre Fab Four covers mingle with what sound like rejects from “Hair”. Its ersatz feel (it was actually recorded in the early 70’s) reminds me of David Bowie’s somewhat hapless (and unsuccessful) attempts to gatecrash this particular party when recording for Pye and Deram in the 60’s – even diehard Dame devotees would be hard pressed to defend his efforts in those days.

6: “The Dudley Moore Trio” LP

I am sure that you’ve had the misfortune to encounter types so arrogant, they would have you believe that black is white, though you know otherwise. One such person I (thankfully) briefly knew, strode into a certain Manchester record shop with the usual charity shop fodder, left it with the shop owner (an acquaintance) for ages before finally returning expecting remuneration, and was indignant when none was offered. Had she been more self-effacing, I might have informed her that I had prised this reasonably rare LP from her junk, and she‘d have got a few readies for her pains. However, when I pointed out that the only other stuff of any value whatsoever had actually previously been GIVEN her by said proprietor, she insisted this was not the case, and so I kept my own counsel. Rarer Moore-related artifacts exist, but this is quite a steal - literally in this case. It’s also (dreadful pun alert) no dud either, with our man proving mo(o)re than just foil to over-rated comedian Peter Cook.

7: Johnny Johnson and his Bandwagon “Mr Tambourine Man” 45 

The a-side of this early 70’s 45 is the dreadful Dylan dirge re-invented as a soul screamer. All to no avail I’m afraid, as the words “polish” and “turd” readily spring to mind.  However the flip side “Soul Sahara” is certainly no musical desert, even if we’re not quite supping at the funk oasis. So imagine my surprise when I checked out the credits, and discovered the producer was one Tony Macaulay. What, the same Tony Macaulay responsible for churning out pop poop for the likes of Brotherhood of Man and David Soul? Had the usual producer gone missing on a bender somewhere? Was Tony himself on drugs that day? Whatever the reason, despite above criticism, it turns out the man had other strings to his bow – a pity he didn’t use them more often.

8: Mr Pepper’s Jet Piano “Drops” LP 

Despite his numerous entries in the VV Lords of Lounge feature, John Schroeder seems an incredibly hard artist to acquire – he’s only ever featured in my own vinyl collection as producer for Sounds Orchestral (unless you count my adolescent penchant for Status Quo). I thought I’d stumbled across him on this, but as it’s on the Polydor label, the Schroeder credited as a writer here is probably someone else. Whoever it is though, this is bleeding awful. Heaping new-fangled effects such as flangers onto the ivories doesn’t disguise the fact that this sounds not-so-much Jet Piano as Pub Joanna. Combined with the atrocious hackneyed backing arrangements, this wouldn’t sound out-of-place in a Chas and Dave knees-up session, but falls miles short of the mark when it comes to trying to be hip on the lounge front in the late-60’s.

9: City of Westminster String Band “Home Lovin’ Hits” LP

Hardly had I drafted the above review, then this bona-fide Schroeder-connected album popped up. Yes, I know this is already featured in the “Lords of Lounge”, so check it out there for its musical merits or otherwise (updated note: it's in fact a "1-tracker" job) . It’s included here as a comment on the fickle barometer of the Lounge revival scene - not that this bothers me: if anything, I get more pleasure out of swimming against the tide. On a recent visit to the “Smoke”, I discovered this in a rare non-chain chazza shop north of the river, and was asked to pay the princely sum of 10p for it. So: was I just incredibly fortunate, or have the capital’s colonels of cool now decreed that Lounge is no longer hip, and not to be touched with a bargepole…after all, this LP bears the sticker of a well-known chain of second-hand record shops, with a price of £5 on it – presumably that was what it was sold for, not that long ago?

10: The Pride of London Big Band “Gee Whiz!” LP 

The VV feature on Big Band Funk has been newly-restored to the main site, but when I checked, I couldn’t find this particular LP even though it falls slap-bang in the middle of this rather odd genre. About half the album is based on straight-time grooves rather than traditional big band swing rhythms, and although it won’t give the likes of James Brown sleepless nights, by big band standards it gets pretty funky at times. Vying as the pick of the bunch are “Blue Angels” and “G’s Jump”, the latter written by one of several Teutonic names credited as composers. Indeed, although most participants appear to be English (including arrangers John Fiddy and Barry Forgie), the album was also made in Germany – presumably, big band was a far bigger thing in the Fatherland than elsewhere during the 70’s, much the same way as David “Baywatch” Hasselhoff’s inexplicable singing success was there, a few years later.

* I never usually responded to any comments made about my reviews on the forum (in order to maintain the illusion it was still on the main site, which had been far preferential), but this entry caused such a stir I felt no option but to justify my scribblings. I was accused of being detrimental to the disabled - in my defence I said that my review was observation, not opinion, but if I was having a dig at anyone it was loony-left do-gooder types whose misguided idealism often makes things worse than they are already. Fortunately, someone cast some levity on the debate by pointing out that when the Spastics Society charity shops rebranded themselves as Scope, so school playground putdowns changed from "Spaz" to "Scoper"!

To read more reviews, click here for Part 2

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