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Record Reviews - Part 2

Volume 6: July 2005 

Anything released by the “Lords of Lounge” has pretty much been snaffled up by the Vulture kingpins for their fabulous feature of that name. I thought I had stolen a march a while back, by snapping up an obscure John Gregory LP, but a belated check confirmed the winged marauders were somewhat inevitably way ahead of me. I’d spent ages drafting a suitable humourous yet informative review too – drat and double drat, as Dick Dastardly would say. So for better or worse, you may notice that this month’s offerings are somewhat dominated by platters of the soulful and funky variety. However, whatever your leanings, I trust your perusal to be no less enjoyable for that…
 

 1: Graham Central Station “Mirrors” LP 

For those unaware, Larry Graham has two claims to fame. 1 - he was a member of the average rock fan’s token funk outfit, (and in my opinion vastly over-rated) Sly & the Family Stone, 2 - has also claimed responsibility for bequeathing us the tarnished legacy that is slap-bass playing. On this album, he pushes his at-the-time groundbreaking technique to the fore, whilst, like his ex-employer, attempts to meld rock and funk, mainly without much success. It reminds me of the joke “With your looks and my brains, we’ll conceive…an ugly moron”. By the way, the group’s unwieldy name is an absolutely dreadful pun on the Big Apple’s main train terminus, which meant nothing to many of us on this side of the pond, perhaps a reason why Larry’s UK career (to continue the train analogies) was soon shunted into the sidings.

2: The Reddings “Remote Control” 45 

When Kool and the Gang recorded “Ladies Night”, they probably had no idea of the gorgon-like many-headed monster they were to unleash. It was no sooner a (late 70’s) hit, when it was joined by Al Hudson’s “You Can Do It”, featuring identical electric piano quaver stabs (I’m talking musical notation here, not crisps). But that wasn’t the end of it. Former boogaloo organ grinder Leon Haywood then got in on the act with “Don’t Push It, Don’t Force It”, his take on the riff featuring the now-despised crunching handclap. And within a year or so, Frenchman David Christie had mounted the bandwagon with “Saddle Up”. So, here’s a challenge to all you retro DJ’s out there – see if you can collect them all, and do your own megamix. It shouldn’t be too hard, as they were all top 20 hits in their day. But I’ll wager you’ll have trouble completing the set with this track by the Reddings, yet another riff-a-like, which to my knowledge only came out Stateside.

3: Quincy Jones “The Best” LP 

As far as the music industry is concerned, “Q” is probably the coolest dude who ever strolled the planet, what with his early prowess on the big band jazz scene, his soundtrack work, his paternal influence on the pre-wacko Michael Jackson, and his veneration as the Godfather of modern soul. However, when it comes to appreciation of the man’s work, I am inclined to agree with an acquaintance of mine, who mused that Quincy has a tendency to “over-egg the pudding” – a good example of this provided here with an OTT cover of “Superstition”, as well as the later disco tracks on this compilation. However, there is one good reason for getting hold of this LP: “I Heard That”, where Dave Grusin bursts free of his own bland jazz-fusion straitjacket to dazzle with synth sorcery over a (relatively simple) funk groove that even the slap-bass line (probably by Q’s protégé Louis Johnson of Brothers Johnson fame) can’t demean.

4: Rimshots “Who’s Got The Monster”/Whatnauts Band “Soul Walking” 45

Early 70’s label All Platinum was the brainchild of Sylvia Robinson, who’d previously recorded as Sylvia (not to be confused with her Swedish namesake, who tormented us with the diabolical “Y Viva Espana”), and later founded the Sugarhill rap empire. AP 45’s are always worth a listen, as they usually pitch-up somewhere between soul and funk. Label releases included the slinky “Girls” by the Moments (check out the chauvinistic lyrics: by jove, they don’t write ‘em like that anymore), as well as more collectable cuts like Calendar’s “Hypertension”. This one is a double-sided instrumental, 2 excellent grooves, with the hustle-like “Who’s Got The Monster” just edging the vote.  As one who hates the ethos of sampling, I shouldn’t be telling you this, but the AP 45 flips are usually instrumental versions of the a-side, with amusing titles like “More Girls” or “More Shame”…a (gangsta’s) paradise for rappers and the B+B crowd.

5: John and Ernest “Super Fly Meets Shaft" 45 

You are presumably aware that the (mainly black) hip-hop and rap brigade, in a flourish of post-modern irony, now refer to themselves and their compadres as “Niggaz”? Well, pardon my white-assed English middle-class ignorance here, but were I to subvert a racial slur to my own advantage, I’d pick the far cooler-sounding “Spades” (or should that be “Spaydz”?), as oft used in the blaxploitation era. Talking of which, when I first found this 45, I had visions of Black Moses in wah-wah summit with Curtis Mayfield. Then a little voice started saying: surely too good to be true? And of course it was. It’s an awful novelty record with supposedly humourous monologue, interspersed with snippets culled from various blaxploitation-related tracks. If you’re struggling to get the picture, check out the easily-found ”Renta Santa” by UK DJ Chris Hill that tragically had the nation chortling in the mid 70’s. Hill later became a big cheese on the 80’s Weekender scene, catering for the ”woh-oh!” cretinous chant contingent, something I’m relieved not to have experienced.

6: The Delegates “Convention 72" 45 

Like the above 45, the “A” side of this is another cut-and-paste musical soundbites into toe-curling commentary, this time relating to Henry Kissinger and various other US political hacks of the day. But my, the “B” side “Funky Butt” is a real corker. I don’t know if it was recorded as some kind of pastiche, but if so, it’s a bloody good one. A solid 12-bar groove, featuring a drummer easily as funky as Bernard Purdy, with a fantastic Hammond solo midway through. And it just keeps on going right to the run-out groove, with no “comedy” bits chucked in to ruin it all.

7: Afrique “Soul Makossa" 45 

Pye records did quite well in the 60’s (well, in the UK anyway) with their contribution to the pop scene, but they seemed to spend the 70’s in pop purgatory before finally going belly-up. However, if one roots about, one will find they left a fine (if somewhat unappreciated) legacy of funky disco sounds. Here’s a typical example: the “A” side here is a virtual note-for-note carbon copy (and utterly respectable) cover version of Manu Dibango’s afro-funk classic, but the real booty is the flip, entitled “Hot Mud”. Like the Delegates 45, it’s a 12-bar workout of the funkiest proportions. The Pye pop and easy back-catalog has since been repackaged and re-issued on CD to within an inch of its life by the current owners, and yet…they’ve still to exploit the funk/disco potential at their disposal. So come on Castle, put together the ultimate 70’s groove compilation – or better still, allow me to do it for you…

8: Manchester City F.C. “Funky City" 45

Locating a decent football record is akin to Sven-Goran Erikson’s quest for a quality left-sided midfielder i.e. nigh-on impossible. OK, so New Order's effort may be considered applicable, but by their standards it’s ordinary, and John Barnes’ rap gets ever more embarrassing with each listen. However this conundrum may be solved by this contribution to the genre, purportedly by the Rainy City’s “other” team. The b-side of yet another shout-a-long 45 by tone-deaf footballers, this is near-as-dammit as funky as implied, and will likely sell a dummy to anyone not knowing its origin. It’s odds-on that Bell, Lee, and Summerbee had sweet FA to do with this - credits show “ringers” were used: a less-legendary trio of Creme, Godley, and Gouldman (of 10cc). The label says “Recorded at Strawberry Studio, Manchester”, as if it were Boddy’s or something. And I thought it was based in Stockport, Cheshire. Now Sven, with regard to your  problem: I am naturally left-footed, possess a fearsome shot a la (current City boss) Stuart Pearce...and yes, I’m still available...

9: Uncredited Artists "Hot Hits 18" LP

Staying with the above topic: “Motty” may enthuse over the romance of the FA Cup and prospective giant-killings, but you know it’s improbable that the likes of Scunthorpe or Hartlepool will stretch the Gooners or United. However, occasionally it happens. In the same manner, you don’t expect made-on-a-shoestring covers to compete with the original hit recordings, but it’s happened here. Much as I love Deodato’s groundbreaking funky take on “Also Sprach Zarathrustra” (2001), I always felt his electric piano work somewhat tentative. The keyboard maestro featured here has no such qualms, attacking the ivories like a man possessed. And the rest is fantastic too – super funky, yet more vigorous than the original, probably due to the sessioneers’ relief at tackling something of more substance than the usual pop twaddle. “2001” fans might also like to know that there are at least 2 more cool versions of this tune out there somewhere: Salinas with their funky interpretation “Straussmania”, plus a samba version by Meirelle, on the “Blue Brazil 2” CD comp.

10: Bruton Music “Men of Brass” LP 

One of the few Library LP’s I’ve managed to pick up without recourse to handing over a King’s Ransom to unscrupulous dealers (quite frankly, I’d rather consume bodily fluids of my own making than consider that), and the first since inadvertently stumbling into VV territory. In my desperation to increase the size of my wretched Library vinyl collection without taking out a second mortgage, I paid not-a-lot for this, hoping against hope that it would contain at least one track featuring something akin to the tight-as-a-mackerel’s-bottom blowing of the fabled Tower of Power or Phoenix (EWF) horn sections, Alas, this is nowt (to use the vernacular) but wheezy and flatulent parping, the like of which were made familiar to millions by the less-than-sterling efforts of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band.

Volume 7: August 2005 

During the late-80’s heyday of pub trivia machines such as “Give Us A Break”, I quickly ascertained that the mekon-like head of useless knowledge I had acquired in my formative years could actually (literally) pay off. So for a good year or so, I used these machines as an alternative “hole in the wall” to substantially supplement my meagre salary. In fact I remember one particularly fruitful month when I my bank account was left to gather dust. Yes indeed, I thought I was the “man”…

Anyway, one evening I swiftly relieved one such machine of its £10 jackpot, but as I then struggled to break even, I became aware of an interested onlooker. So I was happy to step aside for him, and then watched in awe as he effortlessly extracted at least another £20. He then invited me to accompany him on a tour of local boozers, where he performed similar feats (as his “driver”, I was later rewarded with a curry, and an insight into his lucrative but somewhat bleak lifestyle). 

So, what I’m trying to say is: there is an obvious parallel with the VV chart scene here. Yes, I know more than the average bear, but by some contributor’s efforts I’m at best semi-pro. Therefore if you’re seeking the Holy Grail of vinyl, then you’re better off looking elsewhere, but if you own or know what is featured below, then you may at least appreciate (or not) my own thoughts on it…

1: Santana “Borboletta” LP 

Down in the musical wastelands of South Dorset, I first latched on to the Latin delights of Santana in my teens (the late 70’s, if you must ask). It wasn’t so much Carlos Santana's guitar histrionics that attracted me, as the (then astoundingly fresh to my ears) layers of rampant percussion, and the sound of the Hammond organ. Anyway, this is one of their lesser-known LPs I bring to your attention, that I’ve just rediscovered. Amongst the earnest po-faced jazz-rock fusion there’s a couple of goodies. Carlos ropes in Brazilian percussionist supreme Airto to concoct an exotic mood piece “Canto De Los Flores” that one can imagine charming the most reluctant serpent, and there’s even some funk of sorts too in the form of “One With The Sun”. On a relative note: I recently visited a small market town down that way for the first time in many years, and was amazed to pick up a Cal Tjader artifact – back in my youth you’d have had more chance of happening across Lord Lucan.

2: Uncredited Artists “Soul Hits” LP 

Great to see the long-lost “Labels of Love” back on the main VV site. As I’ve also just come across this Stereo Gold Award LP for the first time, I therefore take my own opportunity to examine the nefarious methods of label mastermind Leo Muller, the Col. Tom Parker of easy listening. This is a good example – lurking amongst the by-numbers rehashes of ballady stuff by Roberta Flack etc, are a couple of utterly incongruous instrumental 12-bar jams topped with Hendrix-style guitar wig-outs, "credited" to Leo just so he could make an extra buck. Of course post-modern ironists can now enjoy the likes of “Cyclone Blues” for kitsch value, but what went through the original punters’ minds when they heard it? My musically-challenged parents bought plenty of budget label guff in the 70’s, but none which contained anomalies like this. Perhaps readers have family members who recall listening to SGA product that sprung such surprises, and thinking “What the bloody hell is this?!?”

3: Strings For Pleasure “Play The Best Of Dylan” LP 

Arranger Denny Wright must have thought it was like Mission: Impossible when he was handed this assignment. After all, take away the rambling wordplay of the tuneless minstrel, and what do you have left? Not much else, in my view (and as far as I’m concerned, if lyrics are your bag, then don’t bother listening to music – just read poetry books). Unlike Peter Graves & Co, Denny may not have accomplished his objective, but he’s certainly done the best he can to eradicate the dismal spectre of Dylan’s scrawny vocals and wheezing harmonica. The strings are tastefully arranged, and it’s laced with interesting instrumentation such as pedal-steel guitar. Indeed, some tracks even have some congas bashing away. Despite all this, it’s a tall order to fulfill due to the paucity of the material on offer: the only tracks worth a spin at all are the briskly chugging “If Not For You”, and “The Mighty Quinn”, which features some nice electric piano noodling.

4: Associated Recordings Club “Your Introductory Record” LP 

When it comes to lounge stuff, there’s hardly any VV space given over to exotica. Maybe its because it was always a lot bigger stateside then here – I’ve only ever come across a couple of such LP’s on my travels (by Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman). Anyway, this early 60’s budget sampler (by Reader’s Digest rivals ARC), sought to allow us pasty and sun-deprived Brits a taste of (second division) jazz, latin, and other exotic musical delights emanating from the promised land that was the US of A at that time. Standout track for me is the very exotical “Koko Head” by Milt Raskin, although a previous owner of this disc didn’t share my opinion – this track had “pretty poor” pencilled next to it on the back cover – other scribbled comments included “quite pleasing” and “not bad rhythm”, but perhaps the most amusing judgement is reserved for Ted Nash’s own recording of a Peter Gunn-related tune written by his employer Henry Mancini: “pretty crap”.

5: Dickie Goodman “On Campus” 45 

In last month’s chart I featured a couple of those diabolical monologue-interspersed-with-snatches-of-music 45’s that were all the rage for a while in the early-to-mid 70’s. Well, here’s another by one by Dickie Goodman - some supposedly humourous drivel about that much maligned and oft-derided species, students. I didn’t bother to listen in its entirety - it was that predictable (and tiresome). However, the flipside (“Mombo Suzie” by Johnny Colon) is a completely unrelated classic latin/mambo/booglaloo workout. As such, keep a look out for it, but can anyone answer the question: why were such strange bedfellows lumped together?

6: Various “Moods Instrumental” LP 

I was well aware (and somewhat sneering) of the Percy Faith tune (and Radio 2 staple) “Theme From a Summer Place” in my formative years. However, when I got the lounge bug a while back, I picked up this compilation album expecting to be drenched in its familiar lush strings, but was somewhat taken-aback to hear a funked-up disco version. But, as my interest crossed into the funky side of easy, I found myself quite getting into it. I also later acquired it on a 45, that’s got an even funkier tune  “Chompin” on the b-side, that old Perce (by then well into pensionable age) wrote and arranged himself, shortly before departing to the great lounge in the sky. A fine swansong.

7: Victor Silvester “Up Up And Away” LP 

Old Vic was Percy Faith’s equivalent on this side of the pond – an orchestral easy listening bandleader of several decades standing. In Vic’s case, he was synonymous with the bland latin interpretations that epitomised the BBC’s ballroom prog “Come Dancing”. By the time of this early 70’s release, he’d practically become a brand name, with the man himself probably whiling away his dotage on the golf course, whilst henchmen did the actual work - as on this LP. Despite the trendy Concorde pic on the cover, most of this is old-hat quickstep-style standards, but bizarrely, they’ve tossed in a version of the ‘Tec theme “Ironside” (described on the back cover as “Modern Beat”) that is a real bongo-driven frenzy. So much so in fact, anyone who spins this on a vary-speed deck may find it advantageous to slow it down a touch.

8: Muriel Day “Nine Times Out Of Ten” 45 

My guess is that the little-known UK based (?) Soul Stop label specialised in re-releases of “Northern Soul classics”. This track may well be one of them for all I know, with an original pressing passing hands in exchange for great wads of cash, but to these ears, Muriel’s effort sounds scarily similar to that dire disco-drunks-shout-a-long anthem “Hi-Ho Silver Lining”. So, in my opinion disregard this, and turn your attention to the flip “Do the Skunk“ by Jimbo: a funky workout with a rocky edge, that is well worth keeping an eye out for.

9: Kool and the Gang “Spirit of the Boogie” 45 

The A-side is ok in the funk stakes (and like the above “Do the Skunk”, it has a “Yeah Yeah Yeah” chant), but my real interest is in the flip. (No) thanks to being done to death by that vastly overrated one-trick pony Quentin Tarantino, it will now be instantly familiar to millions as the backing track of “Jungle Boogie”, but here, Kool and Co. have let loose the US equivalent of Harold McNair to growl-flute (well, that's what I call the technique anyway) over this track, re-titled “Get Down with The Boogie”. P.s. I've since found this track on a CD compilation, but for some reason it's called "Jungle Jazz"...

10: Hot Butter “Popcorn” LP 

The moog-heavy title track (written by JJ Perrey collaborator Gershon Kingsley) was a hit in Blighty in the early 70’s, but I didn’t know there was a whole albums worth. As you’d expect, it’s moog-ified covers of hits of the day, Some speed-needling suggested it was all fairly lame, particularly “Amazing Grace” which is anything but amazing. However, because of the groovy cover I thought I should go back and give it another try, so I stuck it on as background noise whilst applying myself to the onerous task of cleaning the fridge. Suddenly half way through, the dirge-like “Day by Day” exploded into life with meaty drums, Flowers-like roving bass, and organ all a-go-go, before reverting sadly all-too-soon to funereal pace again. However, I suppose it proves that 5 seconds of listening doesn’t always necessary tell the whole story.

Volume 08: December 2005

Yes, after a lengthy break from VV chart-land I’m back - reasons for my recent absence explained thus: In my last contribution I made a correlation between pub trivia machines and the charts featured here. Well, here’s another one… 

After a lucrative year or so raking in cash from the machines, I then had the bright idea of keeping an account of what I won. So I kept a weekly record to that effect, which wasn’t too much hardship at first. Then I noticed that I was netting a particular weekly average, so resolved to keep it going. However, it meant I had set a standard which would prove harder and harder to meet, and after a few months, I found myself playing the machines even if I wasn’t in the mood, just to keep the weekly average going. And of course, the pressure to win on the last day of the week was immense. In fact it became so unbearable, that in order to keep my sanity I had to abandon the discipline after 6 months. So from then on, I only played the machines when I felt like it. 

Yes, you’ve probably guessed what’s coming…I now feel the same way about contributing monthly charts to VV. It’s not so much that I don’t have the records to feature, as continually coming up with something insightful or interesting about them – of course, I could just make up a list, but as far as I’m concerned, lists are what you make for doing the shopping at Asda. So from now on further contributions are likely to be sporadic…unless I get offered remuneration for my efforts – Ha! Ha!

 1. Quincy Jones “Body Heat” LP 

On my last visit to London, I thought I’d check out what the (loaded) citizens of Hampstead were wont to dispose of. Unfortunately, Charity Shops there are as thin on the ground as four-by-fours are plentiful – I could only find an Oxfam just off the main street. However it wasn’t quite an entirely wasted trip as I came across this pre-disco effort from the man deferentially referred to as Q…or at least I thought so on first listen. However, the more you play this, the more you realise something’s not quite right. Quincy may strive to use all the right ingredients (funk, fusion, etc) for his stew, but it's just not very tasty - it’s all too clinical and calculated. Even the most obvious attempt at getting lowdown and dirty with “Boogie Joe the Grinder” leaves my foot-tapping toe firmly stuck to the floor. Sorry Mr. Jones, but I’m afraid as far as I’m concerned, your reputation is still somewhat over-inflated.

2. Various Artists “The Age of Atlantic” LP 

In the late 60’s and early 70’s there was a glut of record label compilation albums championing bloated and over-rated rock superstars, and this is a typical example, featuring dinosaurs such as Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, et al (I can feel the bile rising in my throat even as I type this). However, almost submerged amongst the posturing dross is a spiky and brassy little number from Cold Blood called “I’m a Good Woman” that features a full throated diva and a roving bassist who gives Herbie Flowers a run for his money. The guitar solo is particularly satisfying, a rare occasion where for me it ends all too suddenly. This is the second version of this tune that I’ve heard recently, the other being a Latin-styled version by a lady called “El Chicano”, but in my opinion this one just gets the nod.

3. Various Artists “You Can All Join In” LP 

Like the above, this is another of those label sampler comps, this time put together by Island, which was supposed to be one of the more hip labels of the era. However, it didn’t stop them from filling their roster with stodgy acts like Free, Jethro Tull, and Fairport Convention. Good job I checked the whole album out though, as the last track is a pretty funky 12-bar instrumental called “Gasoline Alley” (no, nothing to so with gravel voiced big nosed pseudo Scottish rockers) by Wynder K. Frog,  and it gets particularly steamy when a Hammond solo is cranked out. Do any fans of the Frog consider this track representative, or is it a one-off? By the way, when I first scanned the awful pic on the cover comprised of all the participating acts, I thought the album title should read “You Can All Join In…Unless You’re Female”. Then I noticed what looks like a lady on the far right, but with all the longhairs around it’s still hard to tell.

4. Labi Siffre “Crying Laughing Loving Lying” LP 

I seem to recall Labi Siffre oft-appearing as the “musical relief” on 70’s comedy/entertainment shows, perched on a high stool, singing and strumming away in an earnest folky manner. So it comes as some surprise to be told by an acquaintance that an LP of his has a couple of funky grooves on it, one of which was recently mauled by some talentless rapper (aren’t they all?) or other. Which is why I decided to check this one out. Pop historians may note this album features “It Must Be Love” (as covered by Madness, one of their lesser efforts), but in the main it just sounds like the male equivalent of Joan Armatrading i.e. plodding and dreary. However, the Brian Bennett-propelled “Gimme Some More” is mildly funky, with some nice electric piano on it too, which makes it worth a listen.

5. David Gates “Goodbye Girl” LP 

After several years writing and singing all the hits for soft rock supergroup Bread, David Gates split for a solo career that barely leavened (sorry, but I had to get a bread pun in), despite his record company taking the desperate measure of stickering this album with the legend “David Gates of Bread”. It’s easy to tell that Gates was the head honcho of said group, as this album is full of his pleasant but somewhat bland style of AOR and countrified sounds (“it’s all major sevenths” a friend once dismissively asserted to me), even when he tackles something more ambitious like “Clouds Suite”. But there’s something of a departure on “Lorilee” where (dare I say it) Gates and his sessioneer sidekicks get just a little bit funky.  The elongated intro features a tasty organ solo, and the rhythmic workout on the extended fade reminds me a lot of early Steely Dan, who (as regular readers may be aware) are true heroes of mine.

6. Dave Davani Four “Top of the Pops” 45 

CCS’s “Whole Lotta Love” (the only time I’ll willingly listen to anything vaguely connected to Zeplin), Phil Lynott’s “Yellow Pearl”, Paul Hardcastle’s “The Wizard”…these were all used as theme tunes for the once mighty “Top of the Pops” on the telly. But until I came across this I had no idea that when the program started out in the mid sixties, it actually had a theme specially written for it. And this version of it (was it the actual recording used for the show, or an opportunist cover?) is pretty groovy too, with lots of Hammond organ grinding away, and a cool beat for the “kids” to dance to. It’s not quite on the money in the boogaloo stakes, but it comes pretty close. The b-side “Workin’ Out” is in a similar vein, akin to what the likes of Georgie Fame and Brian Auger were knocking out around that time.

7. Uncredited Artists “Hot Hits” LP 

This appears to be the first of budget label Music For Pleasure’s attempts to cash-in on the pop covers boom a la “Top of the Pops” LPs. I picked this up for 2 reasons: the dolly bird on the cover, and a curiously titled track I’d never heard of called “Vehicle”. It turns out to be quite a nice chunky track with a powerful horn section and a super-gruff vocal – an educated guess says it's old blues growler Alexis Korner. Having sadly retained a lot of useless pop knowledge from my youth in my head, I had already guessed at who the credited composer was, and later got confirmation it was the same geezer responsible for the 80’s AOR staple “Eye of the Tiger” – anyone else want to admit they know that (and name him)?

8. Heads Hands and Feet “Old Soldiers Never Die” LP 

I recently read an article about the Chas and Dave revival (!) and two things stood out: that they invented punk rock (so they claim) and that no-one knows which is which. I had Chas down as the shag-haired joanna-pounder, and recognised his boat-race whilst perusing the sleeve of this LP. However, he gets credited as bassist, which is rather confusing as there’s plenty of ivory tickling going on. As you probably already know, HH+F are semi-legendary in VV land due to their stint with Johnny Harris, and here JH returns the favour with a couple of string arrangements. However, those expecting “Movements”-like grooves will be disappointed. When not belting out raucous rockers, it seems these cockney fridge-freezers have a penchant for Americana, with plenty of Band-influenced material, and there’s even some country rock Burrito-style. However, things perk up at the death with “Another Useless Day” that’s sounds vaguely funky, and really takes off when a glorious Hammond solo kicks in.

9: Engelbert Humperdinck “A Man Without Love” LP

I feature this charity shop favourite on account of the aforementioned Johnny Harris. He contributed several tasteful arrangements to this cash-in on the Hump’s massive success with “Please Release Me”, one being a cover of an old standard called “From Here To Eternity”. The intro of said track will now be instantly recognisable to many as the sample used on “Slip Into Something More Comfortable” by chill-out crew Kinobe, which was featured in not one, but two high profile (and no doubt lucrative) ads. Being aware that Harris’ intro arrangement was never part of the original composition (in the same manner as Gene Kelly’s definitive version of  “Singing In The Rain”), I scanned the composer credits on the Kinobe CD, and was perturbed to see the sample only acknowledged the song’s original writers. Does that mean their estates (and not Harris) get the royalties, even though none of their lyrics or melody actually feature in the sample used? Perhaps someone out there who knows about these things can provide an answer – maybe even the man himself?

10: The Ramsey Lewis trio “More Sounds of Christmas” LP 

Yes, 'tis the season to be jolly (or gloomy in my case: I look forward to the day you can take a “hibernation” pill that puts you in stasis throughout Xmas/New Year), but as VV has just put up a nice feature on Yuletide albums, I thought I’d add to the topical festive theme. This mid-60’s release finds Ramsey and Co applying their distinctive bluesy jazz style to various Yuletide standards that (thankfully) renders them almost unrecognisible. “We Three Kings” becomes a jazz waltz, whilst “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” has a kinda latin feel. However, the best adaptation is an upbeat version of “Jingle Bells”, where bassist Eldee Young performs some pretty amazing George Benson-style scat and cello solos. A couple of originals feature: “Plum Puddin” (mercifully the only track to feature sleighbells) and “Egg Nog” (some bizarre US Xmas concoction), which starts with Ramsey tinkling a celeste, but soon evolves into a cool swinging 12-bar. Sometimes it gets a bit schmaltzy, but overall as the sleeve notes say, it “makes for year-round good listening”.

Volume 09: March 2006
 

 Earth Wind and Fire “Earth Wind and Fire” LP 

A shameless cash-in by budget label Pickwick, this early 70’s LP was picked up, repackaged, and re-released in the wake of EWF’s huge UK success a few years later. Only head honcho Maurice White and brother Verdine completed the journey from founder members to disco superstars, but even at this early stage the template is in place, with trademark horns and soaring vocal harmonies to the fore, and Maurice even plonks about on his beloved kalimba at one point. At least a couple of cuts have a strong funk groove, and this being the Blaxploitation era, wah wahs are in evidence as well. Standout track is the opener “Help Somebody”, with its clever mix of driving funk and mellow cha cha beats. This was one of those LP's I thought too pricey for a pound at a car boot, when I looked at it again later the price had dropped to 50p so bought it. It might seem ridiculous to those not hooked on this, but does 50p really make such a difference when it comes to buying a record?

Zap Pow “Nice Nice Time” 45 

I’ve never been a huge fan of reggae, although the odd track crops up from time to time that I find of some interest. This one’s attraction was boosted considerably by a wah wah guitar, which in recent times has had an irresistible pull to me in the way felines have to catnip. Unfortunately it’s marred by the presence of a particularly unappealing toaster, who comes over like some bizarre kind of Bingo caller. However, the backing track was sounding naggingly familiar, particularly the horn lines...yes, it’s a reggae version of Kool and the Gang’s instrumental funk workout “NT”. So who are the plagiarists here? I don’t know who gets credit for the Kool track, but Zap Pow claim this is all their own work. This reminds me: when the Fatback Band had a hit with “I Feel Lovin” in the mid-80's, it was closely followed into the charts by a copycat version with rewritten lyrics called “Mine All Mine” by some shameless chancers called Cashflow. Did the Fatback get back rightful royalties for such brazen pilfering?

Fausto Papetti “Il Disco D’Oro di Fausto Papetti” LP 

When I came across this, it initially seemed one of those albums that scream at you “Dreadful European covers of UK/US easy listening, probably bought back to Blighty by someone who went on holiday to Torramelinos circa 1975”. And yes, there are some covers on it by the likes of Neil Diamond and Gilbert O’Sullivan. But what caught my eye was a track entitled “Footprints On The Moon” - it couldn’t possibly be the Johnny Harris tune could it? But yes indeed it is, and an excellently funky take it is too, an earthier version (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun) led by the saxophone of Senor* Papetti. A listen to the rest of the album revealed an even greater find in “Sabatto Notte” a conga-heavy freakbeat workout where Fausto’s sax is eclipsed by a manic fuzz guitar solo. The inside gatefold sleeve reveals that the man has released 15 (yes, fifteen) more LP’s in Spain, so perhaps the next time you’re heading down that way they might be well worth keeping an eye out for.

The Hour Glass “The Hour Glass” LP 

When I drafted this review a while back, psych was the new funk (but has since apparently been superceded by Bulgarian minstrel music or similar nonsense). Anyway, as such I gave this album a spin on the basis of its cosmic sleeve and the band’s freaky threads (if you can, check out the long-haired bearded dude in top hat and dinner suit – far out, man). Second track in and I’m digging a groove that sounds funky in a 60’s pop kinda way, thinking: so just who were these guys? So I checked them out on the internet, and was aghast to discover they were an early incarnation of hairy southern rockers the Allman Brothers. Now burdened with this depressing knowledge (“Layla” immediately sprung to mind – aarrgghh!) I listened to snatches of the rest of the album, that turned out to be utterly devoid of any further interest. So was my listening experience soured by what I’d learnt? Maybe, but I’ll still stand by the one track I liked in the first place, “Nothing But Tears”.

The Wedding Present “Hit Parade 2” LP 

At the apogee of their brush with fame, Wedding Present big cheese David Gedge remarked that he only ate meat when he went out for a chicken curry, thus making him a “gedgetarian”. Yes, very mildly amusing I hear you think, but why does a bunch of indie guitar thrashers like this have any possible reason for inclusion in this chart? Well, because in 1992 they implemented the unusual strategy of releasing a single every month throughout the whole year, and each b-side was a cover version of an unlikely tune, one being the old VV favourite “Theme from Shaft” (also on this subsequent LP comp). Considering how far removed their usual stuff is, Dave and his chums have a pretty reasonable stab at this, with scratchy guitars replacing the horn and string lines. However, some (unintentional?) mirth ensues when the vocals kick in, as Gedge can’t decide to either stick with his own weedy underwhelming style or mimic Black Moses - a challenge to which he is as ill-suited as going 15 rounds with Mike Tyson at his peak.

The Soulmates “History of Soul” LP 

Following on from the previous review, I’ve recently got a bit obsessive about collecting versions of “Theme from Shaft” – I'm well into double figures now though no doubt still just scratching the surface. Anyway, on a recent trip to London I spotted it on this album, and also picked up a cheap ‘n’ nasty funk/soul compilation (most tracks are live or even worse, re-recordings) just because it also featured “Shaft”, this time credited to the Film Score Orchestra. When I got home, I played them and discovered the recordings were one and the same (a reasonable effort, but minus points for not correctly reproducing the line where Ike mumbles “I’m Talking About Shaft”). So does this mean that cheapo budget label stuff is now being re-licenced for CD release? I also recently bought a CD comp that features Big Jim H’s superior cover of “Jungle Fever”…yes, the same recording as that featured on the "Hammond Hits" LP. Does this mean Leo Muller’s legacy is up for grabs? If so, somebody please do whatever’s necessary to get the best SGA grooves out on CD…

Big Dave and the Tennessee Tailgaters “Hits For A Truck-Driving Man” LP 

Talking of the (infamous) Stereo Gold Award label, the last time I looked at VV’s “Labels Of Love” section this particular LP seemed to be missing. Maybe because its concept is just so goddamn awful: a cash-in on the short-lived (well in the UK anyway) craze for CB radio. And yes, most of it is excruciating, but if you come across it, you have to get hold of it just for “Diesel Smoke Sally” where there’s some extraordinary genre-crossing going on, featuring a sonic battle between two guitars: in the left corner, one’s picking away like Chet Atkins on speed, and in the other, one’s chuntering along with the wah wah controls set to maximum. Absolutely insane, but it somehow sort of works.

Mack Browne and The Brothers “Music From The Movie Shaft” LP 

Going back to the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks, I was poking about at a house-clearance dive where I came across a battered copy of this LP. When informed it would cost me £15, I don’t know who was more offended: me at the seller's cheek, or him at my derisory response to his absurd valuation. Anyway, I was stung into action, and within a week picked up a copy in much better nick from ebay for under a fiver – maybe I should go back and tell the rob-dog? With regard to this “tribute”, the theme is interestingly arranged, with the presence of some vibes and organ, but the wah wah sounds more like a jew’s harp - the Spaghetti Western version? I have to confess that I’m not familiar with the rest of the OST score (I do own a copy, but shamefully haven’t got around to listening to it yet), but to my ears the rest sounds reasonably authentic, and “Be Yourself” certainly has a foot-tapping groove.

Uncredited Artists “Great Film Themes Volume 4” CD 

Another day, another recording of “Theme From Shaft” found to add to my burgeoning collection (and yes, it’s a CD – I’m certainly no vinyl snob). The “feel” of this version is pretty good considering its probably been done by machines, and most impressively they’ve really nailed the bridge between the first and second parts (you know, where it goes “dud-a-luh, dud-a-luh, dud-a-luh, duuhhhhh”), unlike many covers I’ve heard where it all seems to go a bit awry at that point. That apart, the only other item of any interest at all on this budget job is an extremely cheesy funked-up version of the theme from "Star Trek: The Movie" (that was also recycled for use as the theme for the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation").

The Brighouse and Rastrick Band “The Floral Dance” LP 

A couple of years back I came across a single by this lot that unbelievably had “Theme From Shaft” on the b-side. Even so back then I wasn’t interested enough to give it a listen (or if I did, I can’t remember doing so). It’s funny how your focus seems to change as you delve further into arcane musical genres - I remember once coming across a copy of the “Toomorrow” LP (featuring a much-prized Hugo Montenegro moog workout) that I could have had dead cheap, but not being into Moogs at that time I passed on it (b*ll*x). So as I’ve now got this Shaft fixation, when I came across this LP the dark recesses of my memory dredged up the fact they had tackled said tune, so snapped it up. This one is a real novelty version that can only really be described as “So bad it’s good” and is strictly for completists, although the staccato horn riff at the end sounds quite good, as if the band have suddenly “clicked” as to what it’s all about – shame it took them so long.

* Despite the album being Spanish, one of my critics/detractors correctly pointed out that Fausto is actually Italian, so it should be Signor Papetti...

Volume 10: June 2008 

Note: the majority of the reviews below were originally drafted for the Vinyl Vulture forum (partially looking to make some use of the sniffy know-alls who seem to spend their lives logged onto it - having of course already acquired every half-decent record under the sun). However in the end I just couldn’t be bothered to post it, particularly as the main site had subsided. I'm showing them here (along with a few freshly-written entries) so I can rack up a “century” of reviews before bowing out. Of course, if any readers happen to know the answers to the queries posed, then please email me…
 

 1: Artist(s) Unknown “Disco Party Volume 1” LP 

This album is a disco cash-in that was probably so quickly executed, there isn’t even any artist credit given (but then again, part of the back sleeve has been ripped off, so maybe it’s there). This kind of divides itself into two sections: “Top Of The Pops” style note-for-note covers of early disco tracks (this came out in ’75), and original instrumental material with generic titles such as “Frisco Disco”. Rather exasperatingly, the latter suck rather badly, whereas in contrast faithful renditions of cuts like “TSOP” and “Express” are actually quite listenable in a cack-handed way. But the real treasure is an unexpected funk adaptation of the Beatles “Day Tripper”, which is right up there with the few other Fab-Four funkers I know: Dierdre Tabac Wilson’s “Get Back”, Chocolate Snow’s “A Day In The Life”, and the Brothers Johnson’s “Come Together” (much as I love Earth Wind and Fire, I can’t add their version of “Got To Get You Into My Life” to that list). Feel free to mention similar additions to the above, thanks.

2: Hot Butter “More Hot Butter” LP 

Destined to be remembered for their novelty hit “Popcorn” (however I always seem to get this lot mixed up with the Peppers and “Pepper Box”), this early 70's release was Hot Butter's second attempt at exploiting the then still-just-about-exotic sound of the moog synthesiser. This one’s an absolute one tracker of an album, but still well worth chasing up for “Space Walk”. Perhaps inspired by Pee Wee Ellis’ “Moon Walk”, this really is a funky mover. Unfortunately, just as it really starts to cook, it veers off into a weird (and in my opinion totally unnecessary) extended prog-style workout before returning to the original groove. Fortunately those armed with a digital editor like myself can be rid of this tiresome interlude by chopping it out, and then tweaking the pitch of a couple of beats, and voila, you’re left with 2 seamless minutes of prime fat-free cod-funk.

3: Hookfoot “Sweet Sweet Funky Music” 45 

I once noted a fellow collector being skeptical of tracks with the word “funk” in the title: well, I don’t have an issue with that as long as there’s some funk in the grooves as well, but in cases such as this when Caleb Quaye and his cronies blatantly dupe the funk enthusiast with a track that displays all the worst excesses of early 70’s rock (and is totally funk-free to boot), then I’m at the head of the lynch mob. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Caleb’s ex-boss Fat/Wiggy Reg pulled the same stunt with “Grow Some Funk Of Your Own” – another awful rock track to be avoided like the plague by funk aficionados. So when I played the flip I had little expectation of anything good, but on “The Opener”, the band really deliver with some pile-driving funk-rock marred only by a couple of bridges where the relentless guitar duelling sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd on a bad day. But of course armed with a trusty sound editor you can cut out those bouts of self-indulgence and still be left with 3 minutes of the good stuff.

4: The Goodies “Nothing To Do With Us!” LP 

A chum of mine who’s into “birdin” (as he calls it) told me he once went to a boozer with fellow twitcher Bill Oddie, who complained there was “no funk on the jukebox”. This explains why whenever he got the opportunity to make a record (with comedy trio The Goodies or solo), the now-Britain’s-favourite-cuddly-nature-enthusiast would have a crack at the genre. Of course the most famous example of aping the form is “The Funky Gibbon”, but there’s also a couple of cuts on “The World Of The Goodies” LP plus the solo 45 “Superspike”, that in my opinion are far from embarrassing and indeed very listenable funk pastiches. This particular album contains a great funk homage/parody too, in the form of “Photofit”. However, you have to look hard for it as it’s buried in the middle of a 13 minute-long opus “The Policeman’s Opera”. It also seques into an admittedly amusing call-and-response take-off of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that fortunately with the old sound editor you can chop off... or leave on for a chuckle.

5: Tunnie Smith “Finders Aren't Always Keepers” 45 

If a record company feels obliged to put a phonetic spelling of an artist’s name in brackets, then you can bet their chances of commercial success are pretty much doomed. Such was the case with one Wayne Logiudice, whose bracketed phonetic spelling of “Locka-Dee-Cee” meant we wouldn’t be confusing him with loaded dice (or furry dice). The same unhappy fate also befell Tunnie Smith, for whom it had to be pointed out her (I assume it’s a she) first name is pronounced “Too-Nee”. As for the music on this 45, the A side is a soul-meets-Laura-Nyro ditty that’s nothing to write home about, but the flip “Do That To Me” is a real laid-back funk gem, given a twist by Tunnie’s strange child-like vocals. An internet search reveals nothing more about this artist, but the label states the track was recorded at Fame Studios (home of the “Muscle Shoals Sound”), whose website describe themselves as “At the junction of soul and country”. An enquiring email sent there got delivered unreturned so I'm still in the dark on Ms Smith, therefore any further info gladly received.

6: The Glitter Band “Listen To The Band” LP 

A while back I was given a CD burn of funk tracks by “artists as far removed from funk as possible”. There was some bloody good stuff there, one track being an obscure b-side by the Glitter Band (at this point renamed the G-band in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the glam connections) called “Tuna Biscuit”, that seriously gives the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces” some competition in being the undisputed king of the white funk instrumental. So I started checking out any Glitter Band albums I stumbled across in the unlikely event that lightning might strike twice. And amazingly there’s more funk paydirt here in the form of “Makes You Blind” (ooh er, missus). Admittedly it’s a more disco-styled workout but the funk is still in evidence, which may not be as surprising as it seems, given that most of the band were either ex-sessioneers or Showband refugees…but anyway, who’d have thought that glam-rock would be such a rich source of things funky? Talking of which…

7: The Sweet “Funk It Up” 45 

Fellow glam rockers The Sweet (or is it just “Sweet”? - no-one seems sure) were one of several Chinnichap vehicles who were given a chance to stamp their own identity on the B-sides of their manufactured hit singles. In (The) Sweet’s case it usually meant showing anyone interested (probably not many were) that behind the fey glam image lurked a bunch of frustrated hard rockers a la Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, et al. However, here they’ve turned their hand to a funk pastiche (complete with punning title ho ho) that actually isn’t that bad, supposing that no-one’s going to compare them to the JB’s or their ilk. What gives them away as faux-funkers are the odd 7/8 time signature prog bits, and the rather muscular drumming. Sweet bassist Steve Priest may well have posthumously praised skin-beater Mick Tucker as “the best British rock drummer of all time”, but it’s pretty clear the latter didn’t spend his formative years listening to Clyde Stubblefield. Still, his efforts are more convincing than Bonzo’s on Zeplin’s own inept attempt at funk “The Crunge”.

8: Opus 88 “The Shape Of Strings To Come” LP 

In looks, this album absolutely smacks of cheap easy listening cash-in. And by and large, this applies to the content too, as a load of 70’s pop hits get the sickly string treatment. But there’s a st(r)ing in the tail, as the one original tune at the end of side 2 (shame there aren’t more) shakes listeners such as myself out of lethargy induced by what precedes it. The album’s eponymous track is a rather nice pseudo jazz-rock workout with a disco slant in the style of 70’s fiddle-scraping fusioneer Michal Urbaniak, set in the particularly attractive Lydian mode (that’s a major scale with a sharpened fourth, if that makes you any the wiser). And even better, there’s a section in the middle that heads deep into blaxploitation territory with its wah-wah guitar and busy hi hat work – you can manage to put together a couple of minutes of prime Shaft-style fodder with the good old sound editor at your disposal.

9: Urszula Dudziak "Midnight Rain" LP 

What characteristic do the following songbirds Mariah Carey, Deniece Williams, Yma Sumac, and Minnie Ripperton have in common? Well they all allegedly have (or had) at least a four-octave range (to put this into context, Sinatra had one and a half). Well, add Polish-born jazzer Urszula Dudziak to that list. On this hard-to find album (the only copy I’ve found was sans sleeve) Urszula flaunts her ability for vocal gymnastics in unerring manner whilst backed by her husband (the aforementioned Michal Urbaniak) and his band. Yes, a lot of the material here viewed from a contemporary viewpoint is vapid self-indulgent jazz-fusion noodling, but a couple of cuts still more than pass muster. One is the relatively restrained funk treatment of Rogers and Hart’s “Lover”, but the real standout is another standard, as the band provide a snaking sinewy backdrop for “Misty”, on top of which Urszula’s winsome vocals are the cream in a particularly aromatic cup of coffee, (and to complete the caffeine comparison) sugared by Urbaniak’s sublime shimmering electric violin.

10: Landscape "Worker’s Playtime" EP 

Those with long memories will remember Landscape for their early 80’s novelty electro-pop cash-in hit “Einstein A Go Go”, promoting it wearing specially-commissioned shiny space-age uniforms, in which most of the band (especially balding beanpole trombonist Peter Thoms) looked distinctly uncomfortable if not totally ridiculous. However, prior to their opportunist leap aboard the New Romantic/Futurist bandwagon, they were known in more esoteric circles as scruffy and earnest jazz-rock-fusion practitioners. Two of the three tracks on this self-financed EP display typical excessive traits associated with such music, but the third “Too Many Questions” is a useful addition to the white funk canon (of which there’s more than you think). Just use your old sound-editor to prune one or two more noodly bits, and sit back and sink into what is a slinky and most seductive groove.

Bonus review:

Greater Manchester Police Band "Police Themes From TV" LP 

'Ello 'ello 'ello, wot's all this then? Well it seems the Mancunian division of Her Majesty's Constabulary have been taking time out from the serious business of nabbing villains, tealeaves and other undesirables in order to indulge themselves making an album - no wonder Manchester's a hotbed of crime. And one has to report that it's a criminal record, as the covers of various cops 'n' robbers themes are less than arresting and hardly fit the bill when it comes to satisfying listening... so is barely worth paying coppers for! "Shaft" completists should keep their eyes peeled for this platter as the boys in blue have felt its collar, but the Brighouse and Rastrick Band's version gets away with murder in comparison, and the drummer's plodding beat is so distant and echo-ey it sounds like it was recorded in a holding cell. The same applies to their bash at Deodato-stylee "2001" that none but the obsessed would want to cop an earful of. Having now exhausted my punnet of police puns, it's time to say (in the immortal words of Dixon of Dock Green) "Goodnight all".

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