Monday, April 25, 2011

The Smoke - My Friend Jack

1976 Intercord - INT 128.301 (stereo)
      Side 1

   1. My Friend Jack (3:04)
   2. Waterfall (2:37)
   3. You Can't Catch Me (3:13)
   4. High In A Room (2:56)
   5. Wake Up Cherylina (2:15)
   6. Don't Lead Me On (2:12)  
          Side 2

       1. We Can Take It (2:40)
       2. If The Weather's Sunny (2:50)
       3. I Wanna Make It With You (3:04)
       4. It's Getting Closer (2:37)
       5. It's Just Your Way Of Loving (2:23)
       6. I Would If I Could But I Can't (2:10)

        I know April is not quite over yet, but I'm going to go ahead and declare this record the official Thrift Store Record Report Find of the Month.

        Let me tell you, it has been a very slow month down at the thrift mines. Day after day of picking at the same stagnating (but always reshuffled) crates of junk LPs had taken its toll on me. I was losing faith in the system and began growing paranoid. The large as life, grimacing cover shots of Manilow and Streisand were mocking me. Tormented by thoughts of an inside man intercepting the good stuff before it could hit the floor, or of one of the local record dealers being tipped off about new arrivals, it was high time I take action to counter these threats to the supply chain ... yes, I'm sure they are all working against me now, and something needs to be done about it... but then, finally, before I had a chance to do anything drastic that could've ultimately caused the thrift store workers to speak of me in hushed tones (and possibly giggle) whenever I showed up, I caught a lucky break that ended the maddening dry spell...

        Immediately upon entering the store, cat-like senses on high alert, I detected a 
grocery bag full of records someone had just dropped off near the checkout counter. Now, being the first to root through an untouched, freshly donated batch of records is always an exciting prospect, full of wondrous possibilities, but when a bunch of Statler Brothers, a Kenny Rogers, and a battered John Philip Souza record were the first to come out, the excitement began to wane. Then, amazingly, this rather obscure, garage-psych-pop gem by The Smoke revealed itself—and in excellent condition! Although, appropriately enough, it does reek badly of (cigarette) smoke residue. Some other decent finds were LPs by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, The Ventures, a 1958 Elvis compilation, and a couple other interesting, oddball records that will be the subject of their own reports at a later date. It turned out to be a very strange mix of records in that bag.

        I had previously heard just two songs by this band: High in a Room, and My Friend Jack, but after reading an article on them in the March issue of Record Collector magazine a couple weeks ago, I started thinking about them again and wanted to hear more, so it was perfect timing finding this right now.

        The record has a Gull label, but note the Intercord
        catalog number. The back of the cover states:
        (c)(p)1966 Morgan Music Productions
        Manufactured by Intercord Ton GmbH from master
        recordings owned or controlled by Gull Records
        It is a German release from 1976, put out by Intercord Records, as part of their "Star Power" series of reissues and compilations. It has the same track listing as the band's first and only long player: ...It's Smoke Time (1967), which was a German-only pressing that wasn't distributed in the UK until the Gull label reissued it with a different cover in 1975. 

        Though hailing from Yorkshire, England, the band was most successful on the European mainland. My Friend Jack, their biggest single, reached the top 50, but stalled at number 45 in the UK charts. This was likely due, in no small part, to the lyrics about how friend Jack "eats sugar lumps" and "travels everywhere." These references to LSD earned the song some bad press and it was banned from BBC airwaves in the UK before it had a chance to ride the charts for very long. The single became a chart-topping hit in places like Germany, France, and Switzerland—securing the band an appearance alongside The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who on Germany's Beat-Club TV show, as well as a tour with The Beach Boys and The Small Faces. 

        I believe High in a Room and My Friend Jack are often considered to be the best songs by The Smoke, and they are indeed good ones, but my new favorites are: Waterfall, which is a beautifully dreamy, melancholy ballad that reminds me of something Peter & Gordon might have recorded, and Wake Up Cherylina, another slower, less acid-tinged, pop ballad. Both songs have more of a timeless quality about them than some of their others, and I don't think it would really be a stretch if they were mentioned in the same breath as songs by The Zombies or The Beatles.

        Click here to see The Smoke perform My Friend Jack on Beat-Club

        Sunday, April 17, 2011

        Schubert - Symphonies No. 1 & 2

        Nonesuch Records H-71230 (stereo)
        Side One (31:14)

        SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN D, D. 82 
        1.  Adagio–Allegro vivace (10:36)
        2.  Andante (8:59)
        3.  Allegro (5:06)
        4.  Allegro vivace (6:20)

        Side Two (28:35) 

        SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN B FLAT, D. 125
        1.  Largo–Allegro vivace (11:08)
        2.  Andante (7:46)
        3.  Allegro vivace (3:31)
        4.  Presto (6:04)

        KARL RISTENPART, conductor 

        So, apart from sniffing their jackets like wine corks, exactly how does a discriminating connoisseur of fine music, such as myself, determine which thrift store classical records are worthy of my hard-earned pocket change? Simple... I grab the ones with really neat-o covers, of course! Seriously, the groovy, psychedelic artwork is mainly why I bought this particular classical LP, and its cover will be the primary focus of the following report. 

        I didn't yet own any Schubert records and had actually just started thinking how I'd like one when I spotted this LP. However, if not for the far-out cover I may have passed on it because I generally prefer solo piano, guitar, or violin pieces to symphonies, and I was really hoping to find some of his piano works. I'm glad I did pick it up or I might never have learned the interesting stories behind the Nonesuch record label, the cover art (and the artist who created it), or the unexpected connection to a birthday gift I received in the early '80s and still have stowed away in a trunk...

        I'm not sure when this LP was released, but the original owner
        wrote on the inner sleeve that it was purchased Dec. 21, 1975.
        Nonesuch Records was created in 1964 by Jac Holzman, who also founded Elektra Records fourteen years earlier. The initial idea behind Nonesuch was to release high quality, but low priced classical music. Holzman, recalling his student days, and how frustrated he always felt at having to pick just one of the much desired LPs he'd find at the record shop, wanted to make Nonesuch's releases available for about the price of a high quality paperback book—which was $2.50 in 1963-64. At the time, classical records were typically priced at twice that amount. Another part of the plan was to package the "unusual, baroque-oriented" selections he was licensing from European labels, with cover art and liner notes that would appeal to a younger generation of listeners. Sales income from the first year of Nonesuch releases turned out to be substantial enough to help fund the pop side of Elektra; allowing Holzman to sign now legendary bands such as The Doors and Love to that label. In 1967 Nonesuch launched their groundbreaking Explorer Series—which provided the first exposure many listeners would have to authentic, traditional music of other cultures. Holzman sold Nonesuch to Warner Communications in 1970 and the label continued to release an impressive and diverse range of music from jazz, to world music, to alternative and pop. Recent Nonesuch releases include recordings by Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson, David Byrne, Wilco, and The Magnetic Fields. 

        Artist Bob Pepper created the colorful cover art for this Schubert album. Even if you have not heard of Pepper, chances are, you have seen something he has created—such as the cover of the classic Forever Changes album by the aforementioned Los Angeles band Love, or maybe the art he did for a series of novels by acclaimed sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. An illustrator since 1962, Pepper's work also appears on a host of other sci-fi/fantasy book covers. Click here to view a very nice collection of Bob Pepper's art at the Fantastic Flipout art blog.

        Pepper has stated that two of the most rewarding projects he ever worked on were the Dragonmaster and Dark Tower games for Milton Bradley. While Dragonmaster was his favorite of the two projects (due to MB allowing him complete freedom in inventing the characters and style), it is his connection to Dark Tower that struck a chord with me.

        This Dark Tower commercial (starring Orson Welles!) worked its marketing magic and left me wanting the game. But alas, this sort of cutting-edge, electronic board game technology did not come cheap in 1981 and it was as financially out of my league as one of those fashionable Members Only jackets, or sneakers that didn't come from a big wire bin at the grocery store. That is, until one fateful day, while carrying out the happy task of selecting a birthday gift at a toy & hobby shop, when I suddenly found myself standing before a majestic Dark Tower box with an attached paper sign stating a deeply discounted price...

        Section of Dark Tower board and some of the game pieces
        Evidently, a lawsuit was filed by two designers who claimed Milton Bradley based Dark Tower on a game they had unsuccessfully tried selling to MB in the late 1970s. There is some controversy over the fairness of the final judgement, but the game giant was forced to pay out money to the plaintiffs, and as part of the settlement, they also had to pull Dark Tower off the market. It seems this lawsuit was behind the sudden, steep drop in price. This surely was bad news for Milton Bradley, but good news for young, cash-strapped nerds longing for a fantasy adventure born of electronic wizardry. Unfortunately, I had such a hard time keeping the tower furnished with costly batteries, that I was unable to play the game as much as I'd have liked. On the bright side, it's still in excellent condition from spending so much downtime safely sleeping inside the box.

        Illustration found along edge of Dark Tower box

        You may recall that this article began as a report on a record album of symphonies composed by Franz Schubert. Even though I warned there wouldn't be much written here about the actual music or recording, I think it might be a good idea to wrap things up with a few quick thoughts on the sounds... as I sit here listening to the record right now, I think the performance is very good, and the recording sounds decent, but perhaps somewhat dull or flat. 

        I most enjoy the more subdued, slower, instrumentally sparser moments found in both symphonies—but particularly in the first one (which Schubert finished when he was only 16). These parts sometimes remind me of the music you might find in a well produced, dramatic movie of the 1930s or 40s. At times, the music seems very familiar, but I am not sure if that's due to my hearing these exact pieces somewhere before or if it is because the young Schubert is employing ideas/motifs that are derivative of, and bringing to mind, earlier works by composers such as Beethoven and Mozart which I may have previously heard.

        Click here for more info on the Dark Tower game, and to read an interview with artist Bob Pepper at the great Well of Souls / Dark Tower fansite.

        Click here to read an excerpt from the book Follow the Music, where Jac Holzman himself tells the story about starting Nonesuch Records.

        Saturday, April 9, 2011


        Picked up a nice selection of classic 7" singles this week:
        1. The Contenders - The Clock / Look At Me (196? Java 101 /red label)
        2. The Box Tops - Cry Like A Baby / The Door You Closed To Me (1968 Mala 593)
        3. Cream - Sunshine Of Your Love / SWLABR (1968 Atco 6544)
        4. Deep Purple - Smoke On The Water (Edited Version) (1973 Warner Bros. 7710)
        5. The Stylistics - Betcha By Golly, Wow / Ebony Eyes (1972 Avco 4591)
        6. The Stylistics - You Are Everything / Country Living (1971 Avco 4581)
        7. The Chordettes - No Other Arms, No Other Lips / We Should Be Together (1959 Cadence 1361)
        8. The Bubble Puppy - Hot Smoke & Sasafrass / Lonely (1969 International Artists 128)
        9. The Orlons - South Street / Them Terrible Boots (1963 Cameo 243)
        10. Raspberries - Go All The Way / With You In My Life (1972 Capitol 3348)
        11. The Zombies - Time Of The Season - Friends Of Mine (1968 Date 1628)
        12. The Animals - The House Of The Rising Sun / Talkin' About You (1965 Parlophone 60230)
        13. The Angels - Til / A Moment Ago (1968 reissue - Eric 106 - originally released in 1961 on the Caprice label)
        14. The Angels - My Boyfriend's Back / (Love Me) Now (1963 Smash 1834)
        15. The Chantels - Maybe / I Can't Take It (19?? Roulette GG-22)
        16. 1910 Fruitgum Co. - Simon Says / Reflections From The Looking Glass (1968 Buddah 24)
        17. 1910 Fruitgum Co. - Special Delivery / No Good Annie (1969 Buddah 114)
        18. The Tremeloes - Here Comes My Baby / Gentleman Of Pleasure (1967 Epic 10139)
        19. Spiral Staircase - More Today Than Yesterday / Broken Hearted Man (1969 Columbia 44741)
        20. The Beatles - The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (1969 Apple 2531 original: w/small Capitol logo on bottom of B-side)
        21. Santana - Black Magic Woman / Hope You're Feeling Better (1970 Columbia 45270)
        22. Tommy James And The Shondells - Hanky Panky / Thunderbolt (1966 Roulette 4686)
        23. Tommy James And The Shondells - Mony Mony / One Two Three And I Fell (1968 Roulette 7008)
        24. The Paris Sisters - I Love How You Love Me / He Knows I Love Him Too Much (1968 reissue Eric 101 -songs originally released separately in 1961/1962 on the Gregmark label)
        25. The Arrows - Blue's Theme / Bongo Party (1967 Tower 295)
        26. Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode / Around & Around (1958 Chess 1691)
        27. Grand Funk Railroad - We're An American Band / Creepin' (1973 Capitol 3660, gold vinyl)
        28. Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue / Everyday (1957 Coral 61885, orange label)
        29. Blue Cheer - Summertime Blues / Out Of Focus (1968 Philips 40516)
        30. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Proud Mary / Born On The Bayou (1969 Fantasy 619)
        31. Shelley Fabares - Johnny Angel / Johnny Loves Me (1968 reissue, Eric 115 -songs originally released separately in 1962 0n Colpix label)
        Like most singles sourced from the thrift store, this batch looks thoroughly scuffed and in dire need of a good old-fashioned wash up at the kitchen sink. Despite initial outward appearances, I am often pleasantly surprised at how well these things will still play though, with much of the damage being superficial. Only the Chuck Berry one—with a deep gouge on the Johnny B. Goode side—looks too damaged to play properly. I don't plan on subjecting my stylus to that punishment for such a familiar song, but I wanted to buy the record anyway because it was an original on the Chess label, which is something I don't see every day and thought was pretty cool, and the flip-side looks fine. These records only set me back nineteen cents a piece, so at that price, if something looks interesting, I'm likely to just grab it without too much deliberation. 

        A few of the groups, such as The Contenders, The Arrows, and The Paris Sisters, are completely new to me and I'm really looking forward to checking them out. 

        Judging by what I've been reading, the record by The Arrows seems like it will be quite good...

        Credited with pushing guitar distortion to new extremes and innovating the ultra buzzy "fuzz guitar" sound, Arrows main man Davie Allan has been called "High priest of the fuzz guitar" and is known for his heavy and noisy, but focused and proficient guitar work that is said to be like the missing link between surf music and psychedelia.

        The music of Davie Allan & the Arrows has been used in over two dozen movie soundtracks. Apparently, a good deal of those films are of the late sixties outlaw biker B-movie variety, such as The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Nancy Sinatra, and Diane Ladd, The Glory Stompers, featuring Dennis Hopper, and Born Losers (with special guest star, Jane Russell). Click the film titles to view the trailers in all their depraved, unlawful glory at YouTube.

        I am surprised I never managed to hear of Davie Allan or The Arrows sooner. It seems likely I may have been exposed to his/their music in a movie or someplace else without realizing it though.

         What immediately attracted me to this record is that it is on the Tower label—which released the very first Pink Floyd records (of which I'm a big fan).

        I've heard the song South Street before, but I never knew who recorded it. Now that I know, I have to admit that I am not familiar with The Orlons name at all, but I am happy to have found this single and can't wait to hear the B-side song with the intriguing title of Them Terrible Boots. I think there must be a special story waiting to be heard there.

        They may be Homer Simpson's favorite band, but to be honest, I picked this single by Grand Funk Railroad, more for the fact that I couldn't resist the shiny, translucent, gold vinyl, than for the radio rockin' hit single contained therein.

        This one is extra beat-up—possibly from enduring much hard use at one too many acid parties—but I liked how Cream are credited here as "The Cream." I also never before found a Cream single, and since they are such a great band, I grabbed it. In case you are wondering, the letters that form the title of the B-side song "SWLABR" stand for: She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow. And with that, I leave you with these enigmatic words to reflect upon: "You've got that rainbow feel, but the rainbow has a beard"