One of the reliable axioms of commercial music is that every chart success will inspire a legion of derivatives. In no way is this meant as criticism. The pattern tends to get a lot of appreciation around here, the cycles of emulation and appropriation being one of pop music’s peculiar charms, especially when applied to the endless quantities of independently produced and created post-War American records.
The mid-’60s American garage band phenomenon? A textbook example. Thousands of local bands from the suburbs of southern California to the frozen hinterlands – inspired by the British Invasion and the success of the Beatles and company (and the wave of popular American bands like the Byrds and Paul Revere & the Raiders that followed shortly thereafter) – picked up guitars, compact organs and drums, and made some terrific music in the process.
A cumulative body of thousands of obscure, small-label 45s is their legacy, but, the occasional Nuggets compilation or indie movie soundtrack appearance aside, knowledge of these raw, sometimes brilliant and nearly always interesting recordings, especially the more obscure examples, is still largely consigned to the worlds of record collecting and fanatical music appreciation. And within that rarified world it’s generally the rawer, hormonal end of the garage band continuum – the fuzz-guitar-wrangling, drum-bashing, girl-putting-down bands, the bands emulating the harder British R&B-based groups like the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Animals, Them, etc. – that dominates discussion. (Which is not to discount the many American garage bands who produced unique and wildly inventive sides with no obvious antecedents.)
But this makes for a slightly skewed representation of what was actually going on. While local teenage bands were certainly covering the Kinks and the Yardbirds with zeal, in nearly equal measure they were playing Motown hits and R&B dances, square AM pop, Dylan songs and protest fare – even jazzy numbers like “Comin’ Home Baby” or “Summertime.” Anything, really, with some commercial antecedent or live performance potential – anything that lay within the musical reach of the average musician in their teens or early twenties, and that was a lot – might get the garage band treatment.
Which brings us to this week’s artists. Not everyone could be, or wanted to be, Mick Jagger. Inadvertently reflecting the flower-child innocence of West Coast sunshine pop, the harmony vocals, 12-string guitars and reflective, imagistic lyrics here favor sensitivity over the attitude and raunchy swagger that garage band collectors tend to cherish. The selections are vaguely redolent of British groups like the Hollies and the Searchers (and the Beatles, too, in their chimier moments) and American groups like the Byrds, the Merry-Go-Round, the Beau Brummels and even, dare I say it, the Monkees. And while their small label release, raw production qualities and teen combo aesthetic still conform to the typical garage band profile, these tracks lie at a poppier, prettier, more romantic end of the spectrum, and unapologetically so.
Lots of flowers, love and pretty things this week on Office Naps.
1. The Second Set, Picture Window (Raven OOS-2A)
I feel pretty confident in declaring this a Pittsburgh-area record. According to BMI publishing, the authors on both sides of the 45 are Alan Sirockman and Dennis Lash. The Second Set recorded and released “Picture Window” in 1967, but, alas, investigative efforts on this obscurity pretty much hit the wall there.
Regardless, the stunning “Picture Window” exudes an attractive melancholy that’s peculiar to all of this week’s selections. Additionally, its dramatically ringing guitar break stands out as one of the most effective non-solos, ever.
LD: A great thrill to hear recently from Alan Herod, one of the original authors (credited as A. Sirockman) and performers behind the long-mysterious “Picture Window” by the Second Set. Alan took some time to kindly provide much-needed background information.
The Second Set were in reality based in the northern West Virginia town of Clarksburg. The group originally formed in 1965 as the Mysterians, eventually changing their name to the Second Set to avoid confusion with Question Mark and the Mysterians, who were ascending the pop charts in 1966 with “96 Tears.”
A quartet, the Second Set’s original members included Dennis Losh (lead guitar and vocals), Dave Hood (rhythm guitar and vocals), Johnny Marra (drums) and Alan Herod himself playing bass and (occasionally) keyboards. Drummer Marra had left the group at the time of “Picture Window” and its flipside (“Walking Home,” another great original), replaced by Ron Marucca for the recording.
Befitting the lyrical introspection and musical ambitiousness that separates the Second Set’s 45 from the thousands of other mid-’60s garage band records, the group did play locally, but – accordingly to Herod – the bulk of the group’s material was original, and their following was correspondingly somewhat limited.
The group would record two other 45s, originals all – “Toward the Sea” and “Time,” along with “My Little Girl” – around the same time. These two 45s, issued under the Mysterians’ name, would also see release on Raven Records, a label owned and operated by Herod and local deejay Lee Rhoades. (The label, in its time, would also issue some other fine period rock ‘n’ roll, including 45s by local groups the Prodigals and the Esquires.)
Alan stills makes music, playing with his sons and several other musicians in the group Now & Then. Many thanks again to Alan for the update and for this sterling examplar of 1960s jangle-pop.
2. The Revelles, Little Girl (Jim-Ko B-106)
The Revelles were an excellent rock ‘n’ roll band from Chicago, a city whose suburbs already teemed with excellent garage bands in the ‘60s. Clearly no slouches, the Revelles managed steady gigs, radio airtime and a handful of 45s in 1965 and ’66, despite a brief existence and a flurry of line-up changes. (Their shifting roster reads like a who’s-who of late ‘60s Chicago-area rock, with future members of the Robbs, the Flock and the New Colony Six each doing time in the group.)
Their second 45 – 1965’s “You Don’t Love Me No More” – is well-known amongst garage collectors, and is pure mid-‘60s angst. In my opinion, though, “Little Girl” is their finest moment, its swirling harmonies, chiming guitar parts and moody aesthetic bearing some resemblance to Saturday’s Children, the Revelles’ Anglophilic compadres from Chicago’s northwestern suburbs. Written by the group’s lead guitarist and vocalist Bruce Mattey, the Revelles’ lineup at the time of “Little Girl” also seems to have included Bruce Gordon (bass and vocals, and another of the group’s mainstays) and Marty Pichinson (drums).
Released in 1966 on James Kolb’s Jim-Ko, a cool Chicago independent label whose short run included some local R&B, garage and psychedelic rock 45s, “Little Girl” would be the last of the Revelles’ four 45s. (Oddly enough, “Little Girl” was re-released a year later by the Los Angeles-based RPR Records, and attributed to the Shady Days.)
Bruce Mattey performs with a new version of the New Colony Six out of Chicago these days, his “Little Girl” occasionally working its way into their live repertoire.
3. The Plum Beach Incident, Pretty Thing (Orpheum 4503)
A Washington D.C.-area band, the Plum Beach Incident released this keen and gorgeous (again, unabashedly) gem in late 1968.
The group’s members included Art Morales (lead guitar and vocals), Dave Yarnell (guitar and vocals), Steve Crowson (bass and vocals), Johnny Smith (keyboards), Keith Edwards (drums) and twin sisters Karen and Sharon Theet (vocals).
Recorded in New York City, “Pretty Thing” was produced by veteran easy-listening arranger and composer Richard Wolfe, and released by Orpheum Records, a short-lived label operated by Bill Grauer, the founder of the great jazz label Riverside Records.
“Pretty Thing” itself was penned by the Brill Building songwriting team of Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz (whose best-known credits together include “Green Tambourine”). Incidentally, Gary Lewis & the Playboys turned in a decent – though more commercial, and not nearly so haunting – reading of “Pretty Thing” for their 1968 album Now!
This would be only 45 to the Plum Beach Incident’s name, unfortunately.