Monthly Archives: September 2006

Odd pop

They’re guys with guitars, organs, and drums, and they’re playing in a mid-1960s combo style. On paper, they’re garage bands. But it’s still easier to categorize these three groups by what they aren’t. They aren’t really the typical clanging noisemakers revered by fans of ’60s garage bands, for instance. No Mick Jagger-style posturing, or pounding drums, or fuzztone distortion, or wild R&B-inspired guitar breaks. This week’s selections work instead with drones, detuned chords, and unique song structures, succeeding finally with something that’s my favorite kind of experimental. The inadvertent kind.

1. The Beach-Niks, Last Night I Cried (Sea-Mist)
These Iowa teens evoke an eerie drama that ’80s UK neo-psychedelic groups like the Spacemen 3 worked hard to resurrect some twenty years later. There are no solos here. Just booming tremolo guitar, bass, tambourine, and the taped-down keys of a Farfisa compact organ. Basically everything you could possibly ask of an existential meltdown.

The Beach-Niks were inducted in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000. They recorded “Last Night I Cried” circa 1965. They had silver hair. Again, they were from Iowa. Close your eyes and imagine that, Andy Warhol.

2. The Early Rock, Sunshine Sorrow (A Shakey Production)
Pop music had officially gone psychedelic by 1967. It doesn’t seem like the Early Rock set out to be psychedelic, but they wound up sounding that way. Their vision traded drums for tambourine, and embraced bright harmonies and a muffled guitar sound, all of which comes through in some fantastically harmonic drones.

An entity unknown to me, the Early Rock recorded this in California in 1967 or 1968, I’d say.

3. The Young Tigers, I Have Nothing (Foto-Fi)
Recorded in Los Angeles, circa 1964, this unique gem is also the earliest of this week’s batch.

With their squeaky clean harmonies, the Young Tigers teeter dangerously on a that fence that divides ’60s pop from white doo-wop. But “I Have Nothing” is easily redeemed by memorable patterns of chiming guitar notes and lyrics that reach for breathtaking levels of despondency.

** Big thanks this week to Steve Wynn, who recently mentioned Office Naps in his tour diary. Wynn is one of my guitar idols (during my brief years as a rock ‘n’ roller, which some say never happened). His early Dream Syndicate recordings especially are a highlight of post-Velvet Underground rock ‘n’ roll. **

Posted in Garage Bands | 6 Comments

The Moog

The Moog synthesizer wasn’t the first electronic instrument to work its way into the context of post-War pop music. There was the theremin, for example – that white swan of electronic instruments, heard for a few spectral bars on certain space-themed exotica and soundtrack albums of the 1950’s & 1960’s. The Moog, on the other hand, jostled and squawked, calling attention to itself with loops and shrill blasts like some complicated, hyperactive kid. It was, unlike the theremin, a distinctly Pop art creature. I’ve found consequently that Moog synthesizers – or, at least, Moog synthesizer records – tend to alienate people. To be fair, the problem lay not so much with the technology but rather with the use of it; Moog pop records carried with them a heavy novelty factor. When they weren’t dishing up classical standards or making corny pop hits like “Aquarius” even cornier, they often wound up as vehicles for their own gadgetry, as if wacky electronic effects alone could sell records. Well, actually, wacky electronic effects did sell a lot of records.

Either way, below are three of the more listenable exceptions.

1. The Hip Sound, Far Out (Limelight)
It sprang from the mind of Pierre Henry, the French 20th century electronic composer and artist known to the serious music community for his role in the development of musique concrète. As with his similar and much-loved (and sampled) “Psyché Rock,” “Far Out” is a demonstration of Henry’s penchant for pop. Bending Moog and French go-go brio to the will of his own collagist aesthetic, “Far Out” finally became – clanking and buzzing and squelching – something akin to Pop art. Or it became at least its own futuristic form of discotheque music.

Recorded in the late 1960’s in France, this was released domestically on Limelight records, a subsidiary of Mercury which, in addition to its jazz releases, was home to some of the more experimental music of the 60’s.

2.
The Time Zone, Space Walker (White Whale)
Mort Garson was an arranger/composer type with a long track record in the Los Angeles studio world, and the mastermind behind some truly grandiose synthesizer albums of the late 60’s/early 70’s: kitschy concept albums with paranormal and astrological themes, and titles like The Unexplained: Ataraxia. Whatever increasingly occult shape his personal obsessions assumed in the 70’s, Garson’s most memorable recordings remained his (earlier) productions of the late 60′s, however. The psychedelic “Space Walker,” for example: a genuinely inventive construction forged from go-go drums, fuzz tone distortion, squawks, glissandos, finally zapped into life and sent hurtling towards the American record buying public in 1967 – where, promptly, it did nothing.

“Space Walker” also bears a passing resemblance to Garson’s equally wonderful Zodiac Cosmic Sounds LP (see Richie Unterberger’s feature on Zodiac Cosmic Sounds, a true Aquarian relic).

3.
Dick Hyman, Strobo (Command)
One of the names synonomous with the Moog, Dick Hyman – unlike other popular Moog advocates such as Jean-Jacques Perrey or Walter Carlos – came to the instrument not through a background in “serious” academic music but, rather, from many reliable years as a session pop and jazz musician. With a few exceptions (like his eight minute long “Minotaur”), Hyman’s late 60’s Moog records tend to give the sub-genre a bad name in my book, as they can come across a little too consciously wacky sometimes. “Strobo,” however – with its dense patter of mechanized rhythms (courtesy of the Maestro Rhythm Unit) and a series of shrill keyboard runs that could have been picked up on the moon – has its own futuristic charm. Easily the moogiest of this week’s bunch, its title in fact describes it perfectly.

This song only appeared on 45.

Posted in Now Sound | 14 Comments

Organ moods

Three measured doses of organ jazz ambience this week.  These selections may only bore you, or you may find something more subtle and exciting about these, something with the quality of a cinematic archetype.  Think “after hours nightclub scene.”

See also Sleeping Pills.

1. Gene Ludwig, Blue Flame (Jocida)
Atmosphere really falls into place beautifully on “Blue Flame,” a mood piece featuring Gene Ludwig’s soulful organ along with the arrangements and percussion of session musician Arthur Jenkins. (Jenkins co-authored this, along with obscure jazz composer and pianist Alonzo “Lonzo” Levister.)  The unusual vocalizations, so strangely reminiscent of a jug, deserve special mention here as well.

Gene Ludwig is a Pittsburgh-based organ player who plied the well-worn circuit of the Mid-Atlantic jazz clubs. He released a handful of high-quality soul jazz releases, mostly in 1960’s – and mostly on small indie record labels. His colorful “Blue Flame” comes to us courtesy of Johnny “I Can See Clearly Now” Nash’s record label, Jocida.

See the fabulous Funky 16 Corners for an interview with Gene Ludwig.

** A great honor this week to hear from Gene Ludwig himself! The guy is a legend, as well as a tireless proponent of jazz and Jazz Organ. Have a look at his website, too, where you can read an excellent bio – and check out photos, his calender, and his latest CD’s (and discography). A class act all the way. Thanks again, Gene. **

2. The Mark II, Dead (Charay)
The Mark II’s ghostly “Dead” was first released on the Charay record label, one of several record labels associated with Major Bill Smith, a Ft. Worth, Texas record producer, promoter, and manager who styled himself in spirit (and title) on Elvis Presley’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The “Maj,” in the tradition of the red-faced hustlers who once populated the independent record business, managed to tap dance around some of the finer points of copyright law; his entire working ethos, in fact, was based on a philosophy of cutting records and distributing them at breakneck speed. Old tracks would be recycled over and over again to fill the missing B-side of a record. New records would be rushed – still obviously unmastered – to the public.

The only problem with “Dead,” with its deep gospel flavor and unstoppable rhythm, is that it is a Major Bill production. Hastily and inexplicably faded out at the 1:48 mark, this track was, in typical Maj fashion, reused as the backing track for at least 3 different vocal releases (with different vocals overdubbed each time, of course), all on Charay Records.

“Dead” was co-written by Moses Dillard, a session guitarist and arranger.

3. Three J’s, Chalito (Part One) (Smogville)
It was the lot of the jazz musician in the 1960s to figure out how, exactly, to accommodate the ascendant rock music. Or whether to accommodate it at all, for that matter. The advent of psychedelia, with its air of experimentalism, must have intrigued at least a few young jazz musicians, of course. But, more than likely, most jazz musicians probably felt more isolated than ever from the younger intellectual audiences who, turning on now to the ear-shattering electricity of rock, might have once turned to jazz.

4. Three J’s, Chalito (Part Two) (Smogville)
Such was not quite the case with the Three J’s, however. An unknown West Coast trio, their sprawling, Latin-tinged “Chalito” smouldered with a spooky intensity and achieved, inadvertently or not, something akin to psychedelia. Or it at least successfully straddled that no man’s land where exotica simply became psychedelia.

I’d guess that “Chalito” was recorded in 1968. I believe, also, that the Smogville label was actually from Oakland, and not Los Angeles as you might suspect.

Posted in Jazz Obscura | 15 Comments

Great Britain

No clever themes unite this week’s 1960’s psychedelic pop selections. Beyond being unapologetically British, that is.

1. Phil Cordell, Red Lady (Janus)
Phil Cordell was a British folk-popster & songwriter who found greater (or, rather, relatively greater) fame in the 70’s with an idiosyncratic pop project called Springwater.

The effervescent “Red Lady,” remains, however, his crowning acheivement – a chugging tour de force of bohemian languor, sung with all the veiled drug references and quasi-mysticism appropriate for 1969. Fading out in a kaleidoscopic hum of sitar-like slide guitar (which Cordell, a multi-instrumentalist, is himself presumably playing), harp, cymbalum, and the obligatory “wailing forest maiden,” you, like me, may wonder whether there was a downside to all this narcotic bliss. Unless you count the bloodshot eyes, there wasn’t.

“Red Lady,” originally released on the Warner Brothers UK label, was released stateside on the Janus label (pictured here).

2. The Societie, Bird has Flown (Deram)
The Societie were a Scottish group, with the Hollies’ lead vocalist Allan Clarke handling production on this oddly loping pop chestnut from 1967. Further research reveals little else on who the Societie were, unfortunately. Further research reveals little else about subtleties of the lyrics of “Bird Has Flown,” too, as I inevitably seem to get derailed by all that cavernous echo. There are moments when I honestly can’t even tell whether the drums are running backwards or forwards. Really, who cares? It’s echo, for God’s sake.

3. Peter Sarstedt, Blagged! (World-Pacific)
Maybe it’s that British pop songwriter Sarstedt seems today to be regarded as a somewhat frivolous period relic. Maybe it’s the era’s general production philosophy that the more flanging, the better. (Flange is the distinct “phasing” effect heard on the drums). Maybe it’s the lush sound reminiscient of the early Bee Gees records. Well, whatever; I find this to be an endearing specimen of the British psychedelic baroque.

Though it’s more identifiably psychedelic, “Blagged!” also bears comparison to some of the seemier fare of the cult 60’s crooner Scott Walker. Sarstedt projects a similar, cynical kind of masculinity – a posture which his weary bravura rescues from being merely corny.

“Blagged!” was recorded in 1968. Like “Red Lady,” the 45 pictured here was the American issue of the record.

Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 16 Comments