The star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents 50-60%, ** is 60-70%, *** is 70-80%, **** is 80-90% and ***** is 90-99.9% (we're talking Pet Sounds or Forever Changes here). The retail price, actual price paid, packaging etc. are not relevant to the rating
You Gotta Believe It's... Sharon Tandy (78.12)*** R 1965-1969, P 2004
Sharon Tandy was on the legendary 1967 Hit The Road Stax UK tour and did a particularly blistering version of Hold On at Birmingham Town Hall, where she depped for Carla Thomas on her night off. Backed by Booker T and the MGs, recreating the magnificent recorded version on which she was backed by Les Fleur-de-Lys, down to the guitar break. She also performed a version of Eddie Floyd's Things Get Better. Her version, recorded with the MGs at Stax Studios in 1966, was unreleased until now.
Unavailable until 2001 when it was included on a Fleur-de-Lys compilation, Hold On is track 2 on this long-awaited CD. A mod classic now filed under "freakbeat" it was a much-loved B-side in our house when it came out, going on to become a hit in Europe and being re-released here the following year as an A-side. This meant unfortunately burying their other potential smash, the Julie Driscoll-ish Daughter Of The Sun as its flip, and to no avail as Hold On continued to uninspire the record-buying masses.
Although there are other recordings with the Fleur-de-Lys here, their reputed live onstage power and intensity is really only captured on those two tracks, though the other original side of Hold On, a version of Lorraine Ellison's smouldering Stay With Me (Baby) becomes her own through a distinctive arrangement and performance, stylistically unlike the original or its myriad covers, and actually "bubbled under" in the charts. There is also a sizzling version of Our Day Will Come, slowed down in true Vanilla Fudge style, but too often the band were subverted into creating "commercial" ballads.
When Sharon Tandy came over to England from her home town of Johannesburg, she was initially signed to Pye, who teamed her up with musical directors such as Charles Blackwell and pointed her towards the mainstream, the Brit girl pop department ruled at the time by Dusty, Sandie, Cilla and Lulu. Both sides of two singles from 1965 are included, and show her giving first class renditions of second class songs in the idiom of the time. One, Now That You've Gone, was a translation of a French power ballad written and originally recorded by Petula Clark.
In 1966 she became the first European to record at the Stax Studios, with producer Tom Dowd. She was signed to Stax in the States and spent 11 days in Memphis with Booker T and the MGs and the Memphis Horns, and with Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter on hand to write the songs. The results were sensational judging from the seven tracks included here, but only one British single resulted, a cover of Johnnie Taylor's Toe Hold, backed with a Steve Cropper song called I Can't Get Over It, although it did lead to her touring on the Stax-Volt tours.
This long overdue retrospective updates her career to 1969, after which she returned to South Africa, although sadly it omits her single of Beatle songs, A Fool On The Hill/For No One.
The tracks are presented non-chronological order which makes following the story a little difficult and adds to the confusion of the several styles she tackled throughout the sixties. I would suggest re-programming your CD player so that all the Stax material is heard together. Ultimately, it seems a story of bad luck and opportunities missed or not fully capitalised on, but at least we have this fulsome CD testament.
(review filed 7 April 2006)
Lost And Found - You've Got To Earn It (56.42)*** R 1962-1968, P 1999
The Lost And Found series has featured unreleased masters by the Four Tops (a complete debut album of standards in a wholly different style from their norm), Marvin Gaye, the Miracles and others, all demonstrating the same thing - that the Motown machine was a mighty force that threw up far more goodies than it could handle.
This Temptations collection is no exception to that rule. The period between 1962 and 1968 had them quickly rising to fame and fortune with the relatively stable line-up featuring Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and David Ruffin (who joined in 1963) as lead and harmony tenor vocalists, with Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin adding baritone and bass.
After a few plays, some of the tracks here already sound so much a part of the Temptations repertoire that is almost impossible to believe that they have languished in a vault unheard for all this time, and one cannot escape the suspicion that some of these would have made better album tracks than those that made the final track-list. Perhaps some internal politics came into play; producer pressure, or a ruling from Berry Gordy on high.
There are two versions of one song written and produced by Berry Gordy. Camouflage is first heard in a recording from February 1962, the earliest recording on the disc, and then in a supercharged version from March 1967. Three of the songs are familiar from other versions. You've Got To Earn It is known from Temptin' Temptations, but turns up here in an alternative fast version. Ain't Too Proud To Beg is one of their best known songs, a US Top Twenty hit in 1966, but minus the seductive but possibly inappropriate string section that fascinatingly adorns it here. Their magnificent signature tune, My Girl, closes the album in an on-stage version performed without ceremony just 10 days after its release as a single.
Maybe there is a parallel world where some of these tunes were singles and were part of the fabric of everyday life as they so easily could have been here
(review filed 15 December 2004)
Meet The Temptations/The Temptations Sing Smokey (63.13)**** P 1961-1965, P 2000
Meet The Temptations and The Temptations Sing Smokey were the first two albums to be released by the Temptations, and were released in April 1964 and February 1965 (both 1965 in the UK). Their first single as the Temptations had come out on Motown's Miracle label in 1961, but their first Top Twenty hit had been seventh single The Way You Do The Things You Do/Just Let Me Know early in 1964, presumably triggering the putting together of Meet The Temptations.
Meet The Temptations was entirely assembled from their previous singles. The earliest included was their second single for Miracle, Check Yourself/Your Wonderful Love back in 1961. Also included is third single Dream Come True/Isn't She Pretty (the first release on the new Gordy label in 1962, and their first minor R&B hit), fourth single Paradise/Slow Down Heart (1963), fifth single I Want A Love I Can See/The Further You Look The Less You See (1963) and sixth single May I Have This Dance?/Farewell My Love (1963). They also had another single out in 1962 under the pseudonym the Pirates, but that was not included.
It served as a good introduction to the band and showed their versatility, featuring lead vocals by either Paul Williams (baritone) or Eddie Kendricks (tenor), and the sublime bass and tenor harmonies of Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams and Elbridge 'Al' Bryant. Brian Holland also adds backing vocals to Check Yourself/Your Wonderful Love. Elbridge Bryant left the band after Christmas 1963 to be replaced by David Ruffin, who can be heard only on The Way You Do The Things You Do, although it is he who got the credits in the original liner notes.
There is a strong doo wop influence on several of these early sides, most of which were produced by Berry Gordy, but when the group were paired up with Smokey Robinson (first on Slow Down Heart in June 1962), considered Motown's hottest songwriter, they began to move forward into the soul ballad and dance sound for which we remember them in the mid-sixties. Smokey was an essential component in this and he produced, wrote or co-wrote three songs on the albums and also co-wrote The Further You Look The Less You See with Norman Whitfield, who produced it (though he was not credited as producer on the original album. Norman Whitfield probably also produced May I Have This Dance? which he co-wrote with Janie Bradford).
Recognizing this, Smokey was assigned as writer and producer for the next Temptations album, the essential classic The Temptations Sing Smokey, and one powerful reason for getting hold of this two-album pairing. Although Smokey Robinson also had his own group, the Miracles, he certainly didn't stint on the material he gave to the Temptations, and this includes of course My Girl, the song for which Smokey, the Temptations and possibly all of Motown is best remembered.
Both Eddie Kendricks and newcomer David Ruffin were ideally suited as vehicles for Smokey's compositional genius: My Girl, follow-up single and big favourite It's Growing and You'll Lose A Precious Love (led by David Ruffin); and The Way You Do The Things You Do and Baby Baby I Need You (led by Eddie Kendricks) all being new Smokey songs. Paul Williams' only lead on this album is on the re-working of Mary Wells' hit You Beat Me To The Punch.
The other songs are Smokey compositions previously known by other artists: Mary Wells' What Love Has Joined Together, and the Miracles' own Who's Lovin' You, What's So Good About Goodbye, Way Over There and its B-side (You Can) Depend On Me, and You've Really Got A Hold On Me (which, amazingly, was another Miracles' B-side). All the originals are unquestionably great, but the more sophisticated production and the Temptations' soaring vocals bring something special and new to each of them.
The addition of David Ruffin to the ranks had provided the missing vocal ingredient preventing greater success and he appears throughout this album, including five vocal leads, the one exception being Baby Baby I Need You. This was recorded in October 1963 when Al Bryant was still in the group.
The Temptations Sing Smokey opened with The Way You Do The Things You Do. Since this was also on Meet The Temptations it obviously did not need to be duplicated, but it is rather misleading for it to have removed from the track-listing of the repro of the album's rear sleeve, though look closely and it is listed on the front cover and mentioned in small print in Berry Gordy's original sleeve notes.
Oddly, the Temptations back catalogue is better represented than that of the Miracles, whose first six albums have either never been on CD, or have been unavailable for a decade or more.
Both albums are presented in pristine stereo mixes and are well mastered. There are no bonus tracks so you will have to look elsewhere for contemporary non-album singles such as Oh, Mother Of Mine/Romance Without Finance (their 1961 debut) and (Talkin' 'Bout) Nobody But My Baby (from 1964, an Eddie Holland/Norman Whitfield song, and the B-side of My Girl). No matter, why gild a lily?
(review filed 23 August 2007)
The Temptations Wish It Would Rain/In A Mellow Mood (72.01)** P 1967-1968, P 2000
According to the liner notes, the Temptations line-up for both these albums was David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Otis Williams (tenor vocals), Paul Williams (baritone vocal) and Melvin Franklin (bass vocal), but when The Temptations Wish It Would Rain had come out in August 1968, David Ruffin had left the group and gone solo to Motown the month before. Dennis Edwards had already taken his place on stage and may be present on some of the more recent of these recordings. Mostly produced by Norman Whitfield, the album was to yield four singles in the US, the UK or both, including the memorable I Wish It Would Rain, the first Motown single to include sound effects and a US Top Five hit. It came out in December 1967, preceding the album by nine months, and appears here at a four-second foreshortened 2.42.
Like its follow up, I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You), also with one of David Ruffin's most heartfelt vocals, the lyric to I Wish It Would Rain was written by Roger Penzabene, who was vividly experiencing the emotions he wrote about in his songs for the Temptations and Gladys Knight and the Pips (End Of Our Road) from this time, and who was to commit suicide before he could benefit from their success.
Former regular producer Smokey Robinson contributes two songs; Cindy, which could easily have been a single had Norman Whitfield allowed it, and the cheerier up-tempo Fan The Flame. Gonna Give Her All The Love I've Got is their version of the song Norman Whitfield had already given Jimmy Ruffin a hit with. He Who Picks A Rose was later covered by the Carstairs and Rare Earth, and by Edwin Starr on the B-side of his hit War. The Henry Cosby-produced I Truly Truly Believe was led by Melvin Franklyn and was an R&B hit in its own right after appearing as the B-side of I Wish It Would Rain. The album closer had a classic Motown sound and groove. No Man Can Love Her Like A Do had a rare composer credit for Eddie Kendricks and was co-written with Norman Whitfield and Motown-mainstay Eddie Holland.
This was to be the last album in the classic Temptations style as the next release debuted their new acid soul sound. This was even more startling given that the album that had preceded this one was a selection of Broadway standards.
Berry Gordy, the label boss, always had one business foot in the more sophisticated (i.e. square) adult (particularly white adult) mainstream market, and a number of his acts found themselves recording live albums at the Talk Of The Town or the Copa, or in the studio for a glitzy collection of jazzed-up standards, and the Temptations were no exception.
In A Mellow Mood is an odd coupling as it was full of show tunes like Hello, Young Lovers (from The King and I), Somewhere (from West Side Story), Try to Remember (from The Fantasticks) (perhaps inspiring Gladys Knight), Who Can I Turn To (from The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Roar Of The Crowd) and Ol' Man River (from Showboat).
On Ol' Man River, for which Melvin Franklyn sings a bass lead, they wisely use the less racist lyric revision by Paul Robeson, who originally sang it. The Frank Sinatra song book is raided for That's Life, For Once in My Life and The Impossible Dream (the latter from Man Of La Mancha), and Gilbert Bécaud's popular What Now My Love? is aired along with several others.
The oddest track is a reworking of the Holland-Dozier-Holland tune I'm Ready For Love, a hit for Martha and the Vandellas the year before. It retains its traditional bass line and tempo but a jazz element has been added. This sits uncomfortably at first both with memories of the original and with the rest of this album, but becomes addictive after a couple of listens and then seems far too short. The Motown house band does an absolutely fantastic job throughout, showing they can be play in any style with ease, whilst the Temptations show that they are equally adept in the harmony department, though one does wonder what these outings did for their credibility and positioning as spokesmen for the hip radical left
(review filed 13 January 2004)
Live At The Copa/The Temptations With A Lot O' Soul (72.15)** P 1967-1968, P 2000
The series of 2 Classic Albums 1CD has brought back into catalogue a lot of lost Motown gems, usually in state of the art mastering and at a reasonable price, and is to be applauded for that. In some cases, it falls short of the ideal, and this is the most striking example I have encountered thus far. To start with, there is the choice of pairing. Live At The Copa was the group's eighth album, from December 1968, and their second live album. With A Lot O' Soul preceded it by three album in August 1967. In between came The Temptations Wish It Would Rain and In A Mellow Mood, both of which share another pairing in the series. Go figure.
More crucially, both albums are incomplete. Two key songs are common to both original albums, (I Know) I'm Losing You and You're My Everything, both major hits for the group. (I Know) I'm Losing You is dropped from the end of Live At The Copa, as the applause from the preceding title is hastily and peremptorily faded. Apart from destroying the flow of the original conception of the album, it makes that track unavailable on CD. Secondly, the studio version of You're My Everything is criminally absent from With A Lot O' Soul. Although this track is available on a number of compilations, its censorship from its rightful original album placing is unforgivable. No reference is made to these cuts, although both titles are shown in the replica sleeves from the original albums as reproduced inside the booklet. As the CD has a playing time of 72:15, both could have been included.
Live At The Copa marked one of the first concert appearances of Dennis Edwards in place of David Ruffin, and took place at the Copacabana in New York at an unspecified date in 1968 (some further details would have been welcomed), and shows how quickly and successfully he integrated into the group. The set mixed familiar Motown material with Broadway standards popular with the sophisticates of the day, an audience being wooed by Berry Gordy, mostly taken from their In A Mellow Mood album. The recording is jinxed with technical shortcomings, mostly frequent microphone clickings and a badly distorting overload during I Wish It Would Rain, though there are also some very clumsy edits between songs, notably after The Impossible Dream. Whether the latter were on the original album, and so are excusable on grounds of historical accuracy, or are further examples of butchering by the re-issue compilers is unclear.
The Temptations With A Lot O' Soul is a classic Temptations album on many levels - the line-up, the producers and arrangers, the songs - and regarded as among their best of their "old style" releases. Although most of it was produced by Norman Whitfield, there are three Smokey Robinson productions of his own songs (recorded over the summer of 1966), including a cover of Marvin Gaye's Now That You've Won Me; one produced by Frank Wilson; one by Ivy Jo Hunter; and unusually one from the Holland/Dozier/Holland team, Just One Last Look. This is very much in the style of the Four Tops, who did also record an unreleased version in 1967. Two of the others are in arrangements reminiscent of the Four Tops, the single (Loneliness Made Me Realise) It's You That I Need (originally a single for Eddie Holland in 1963) and Sorry Is A Sorry Word, an Eddie Holland/Ivy Jo song consigned to the B-side of All I Need. The mastering of the studio album is very good, although All I Need does lose a few seconds from the original album version.
The range of the band is shown to excellent advantage and though David Ruffin is quite deservedly the most prominent lead vocalist, Paul William is given No More Water In The Well, Otis Williams leads Don't Me Send me Away (both Smokey songs), while Eddie Kendricks sings both Save My Love For A Rainy Day and Two Sides To Love. David and Eddie shared the spotlight on You're My Everything, had it been included.
I hope Motown continue to activate the catalogue with these priceless re-issues, but learn from the rather botched job they made of this important release, and perhaps prepare a corrected version.
(review filed 7 September 2006)
Cloud Nine/Puzzle People (78.46)*** P 1969-1970, P 2000
In their lengthy and varied career the Temptations had many lead vocalists and many producers but perhaps found their own individual niche most successfully with the producer Norman Whitfield. They had worked with him as early as 1964 as the co-writer of Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) and then on some of their other hit singles, and he logically became their sole producer from mid-1967 (although he continued to produce for other Motown acts).
However, it was through his work with the Temptations that he pioneered the concept of psychedelic soul, taking his lead from the rock fraternity's musical experimentations following in the wake of the Summer Of Love; from student campuses and parks where black and white students were developing a new revolutionary culture; and from peers like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. In the process he became the most audacious auteur producer since Phil Spector, as he concocted ever more complex and ambitious sounds and mould-breaking arrangements. Coupled with Barrett Strong's socially aware lyrics and the Temptations harmonies, featuring new recruit Dennis Edwards' distinctive lead vocals, a new blueprint was forged for soul throughout the 1970s, beginning in 1969 with the single Cloud Nine, targeting the subject of drug abuse, and possibly the first Motown record with a wah-wah guitar.
It was also the first track on the LP Cloud Nine, although the centre-piece was a nine-and-a-half minute acid-drenched epic, Run Away Child, Running Wild (also a single in a severely edited form).
Norman Whitfield was on a huge roll and Puzzle People followed just five months later, in February 1970, leading with I Can't Get Next To You, on which each of the group take turns to sing lead, and tackling consumer values (Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down) and black issues among its themes. Side one ended with Message From A Black Man, and side two with Slave, sending out clear signals of black consciousness, though the album also contains covers of Hey Jude and, curiously, Little Green Apples (a live album recorded at the Talk Of The Town came out shortly afterwards and was full of standards like The Impossible Dream and Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet, so the Temptations were straddling a very strange fence).
All though one could argue with the logic behind some of the album couplings in this series, and wish for more extensive notes, these are good value for money re-issues presented in well mastered stereo
(review filed 24 December 2003)
Psychedelic Shack/All Directions (71.28)*** P 1970-1972, P 2000
Psychedelic Shack came out in June 1970 featuring the psychobabblic Take A Stroll Through Your Mind, as well as War (the original version) and Friendship Train, which Norman Whitfield also produced on hits for Edwin Starr (1970) and Gladys Knight (1969). This new direction was all too much for original lead singer Eddie Kendricks who was shortly to leave the band. One of the songs, It's Summer, appeared as a single in newly re-recorded form by a changed line-up a year later.
The sound that Whitfield got from the phenomenal but uncredited session players the Funk Brothers had become honed and refined to an effortless-sounding and staggering efficiency.
All Directions came 3 albums later (after Sky's the Limit and Solid Rock) in 1972 and was well named since it veered between Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On and Ewan MacColl's First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. At its heart lay an astounding 12-minute masterpiece, Papa Was A Rollin' Stone, which began with a bravura instrumental overture which stripped away the instrumentation bit by bit in a way that almost prefigured dub reggae as it used the sonic palette in a manner that only the latest technology could have enabled.
(review filed 24 December 2003)
At Their Very Best (68.09/76.47)** P 1964-2000, P 2001
A 2CD retrospective of mostly singles, some in album-length versions, and for once nearly always in stereo. The mono tracks, from 1964-1969, are Ain't Too Proud To Beg, You're My Everything, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Since I Lost My Baby, Run Away Child, Running Wild (single version) and Please Return Your Love To Me, and as usual there is no indication of this for the prospective purchaser. This is especially frustrating since stereo versions of all of these have been available and most have turned up before in stereo on budget compilations.
The collection is drawn exclusively from Motown's Gordy-label recordings (they also made 2 albums for Atlantic in 1977-1978) and begins in 1964, after they had spent two struggling years on the label, with Eddie Kendricks mostly singing lead and Smokey Robinson writing and producing some of his best material. It might have been interesting to have heard something from their earlier work, unfamiliar to me, but perhaps it wasn't considered the Temptations at their very best.
After David Ruffin joined the group in 1963 he gradually began to take over the lead vocal duties, with hits such as the magnificent My Girl and I Wish It Would Rain, though Eddie Kendricks continued occasionally to front songs such as the beautiful Just My Imagination in 1971. David Ruffin too was supplanted, as he became more difficult to work with, by Dennis Edwards from the Contours, who led most of the Norman Whitfield-produced records of the turn of the decade, culminating in the masterpiece Papa Was A Rollin' Stone in 1972.
Disc 1 is drawn from this period with one exception, and includes three 1968 collaborations with Diana Ross and the Supremes, but there are altogether 11 tracks from between 1975 and 2000, including the funky and rather good Shakey Ground from 1975, but showing how hard it is to continually renew the spark that seemed to come so easily at other times, with shifting line ups and producers not helping.
A song like Don't Look Back, a 1965 B-side later covered by Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger, is infinitely superior to a later A-side such as the discofied, synthesizer-led, Rick James-produced Standing On The Top from 1982.
Stay, taken from the 1998 album Phoenix Rising, actually samples the bass-line and guitar riff from the original My Girl, but is a mediocre song by comparison. The removal of most of these latter day efforts would have left a stronger single CD or, if replaced with material from their glory days, a far better double, as they clearly do not on the whole represent them at their best.
Two of their lead singers, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, plus the tenor Paul Williams and Melvyn Franklin, their trademark bass and occasional lead vocalist, have all sadly passed on and by 1995 only tenor harmony singer Otis Williams was left from the original and early line ups of Motown's must successful group.
Mastering is pretty good with the exception of the most recent track, I'm Here, which has buzzy background distortion - ironically it comes from an album called Ear-Resistible - and My Girl is slightly truncated. All in all, a curate's egg but a brave attempt at an overview of an extensive career
(updated review filed 12 January 2004)
The Essential Collection (49.53)** R 1965-1968, P 2001
Although Thomasina Montgomery, better known as Tammi Terrell, was only 20 when Berry Gordy signed her to Motown in 1965, she had already been recording singles for five years at Scepter/Wand under the aegis of James Brown. At Motown She made one solo album, called Irresistible, and three singles, but went on to achieve more notable success in a musical partnership with Marvin Gaye, producing several hit singles and a couple of albums.
Tragically she died on 16 March 1970 of a brain tumour, having collapsed onstage in Virginia into Marvin Gaye's arms on 14 October 1968.
Thirty years later this first collection of solo recordings shows the extent of our loss. The entire Irresistible album is included, mostly produced by Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua, together with the complete singles, both sides, and some rare and previously unreleased tracks of no lesser quality. Two well known songs are This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You), recorded a year earlier by the Isley Brothers, and an early version of I Gotta Find A Way (To Get You Back), later recorded by the Temptations (her boyfriend was their lead singer David Ruffin). The album closes with her first single with Marvin Gaye, the transcendental Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
Not included are her solo versions of material recorded with Marvin Gaye, which have found a home as bonus tracks on the compilation The Complete Duets
(review filed 28 February 2004)
This Mortal Coil
Blood (76.24)** P 1991
Although the music of the eighties is best remembered for its over-produced bombast, beneath the mainstream was a diversity and creativity that should be envied by purveyors of today's roster. Four A.D. had a reputation for quality and distinction, and its founder Ivo Watts-Russell's project, This Mortal Coil, brought together some of the brightest talents from the label for their 45-minute debut album in 1984, It'll End In Tears. This brought together new versions of a number of hand-picked songs, beautifully performed and sung, and each linked by some newly-created instrumental passages. It was sufficiently successful for a follow-up, Filigree And Shadow, to be made two years later, promoted to double-album length. After a five year gap came a second double album, Blood.
Although the concept of This Mortal Coil remained the same after It'll End In Tears, the move to the double album format had the effect of extending the original instrumental material that interspersed the songs that were being reinterpreted. In my view, although they serve a valuable purpose in bridging and connecting themes and sounds, as full-length tracks some of them are more valuable as a source of revenue to Ivo, Simon Raymonde and John Fryer than as a necessary part of the artistic integrity of the record, and at worst have a bloating effect that can diminish the total effect of the music. There are also some newly composed songs that are more successful.
However, the choice of artists drafted in for the project and of the songs chosen to be covered on Blood remains outstanding, and proof of the taste and discrimination for which the project had earned a reputation, whilst the instrumentation, in particular the gorgeous use of chamber strings, is first class.
Caroline Crawley (from the underrated Shelleyan Orphan, on loan from Rough Trade) sounds sublime on the Apartment's Mr Somewhere, Mary Margaret O'Hara's Help Me lift You Up, where she is joined by Deirdre Rutkowski, and on a radical reworking of Syd Barrett's Late Night, one of my favourites from the set. Deirdre Rutkowski gets solo dibs on the Gene Clark song With Tomorrow, and Carolyn's Song, originally by Rain Parade, as well as on some of the new material. Four A.D. had some major American names on the payroll, as well as their English and Scottish artists, and Heidi Berry revives 'Til I Gain Control Again, written by Rodney Crowell for Emmylou Harris, while Tanya Donelly and Kim Deal are gloriously combined on the popular Big Star song You And Your Sister, later done to advantage by Whale. Dominic Appleton (from Breathless) covers another Chris Bell song, I Am The Cosmos. Spirit's Nature's Way, from Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus, is given to Alison Limerick, who had first appeared with them on Lonely Is An Eyesore in 1987 and adds vocal support to other tracks.
I Come And Stand At Every Door is an interesting setting of a twentieth century Turkish anti-war poem written by Nazim Hikmet. The Byrds adapted it from a version by Pete Seeger, who had borrowed the tune Great Selchie Of Shule Skerry, and around the same time the Misunderstood recorded another setting of the poem, with the title I Unseen. More recently it was taken up by the Fall, who also did an instrumental version on their album Levitate with the title Jap Kid. This Mortal Coil's rendition is sung by Louise & Deirdre Rutkowski and Tim Freeman, and segues evocatively into the moving piece Bitter, with additional vocals by Ikuko Kozu.
Perhaps slightly too much to take at a single 77 minute sitting (bearing in mind it was designed to be played on two records), this is nonetheless a rare and subtle pleasure.
(review filed 9 July 2006)
Watching The Dark (74.23/70.50/72.13)** P 1969-1992, P 1993
Although this emerged on Rykodisc's Hannibal label, it includes material first released on Island, Rhino, Capitol, Elixir, Chrysalis and Polydor, and spans the period 1969 to 1992, bringing it up to date at the point of its original release. This means that nothing has been unearthed from Richard Thompson's musical life prior to Fairport Convention (a couple of songs on the eponymous debut album were written during this period) or from Fairport's first, relatively underground couple of years, before they re-invented folk rock.
One major highlight is a long, previously unheard outtake of A Sailor's Life performed by the band alone, with Sandy Denny's wonderful vocal. The official Unhalfbricking version featured a guest appearance on fiddle from future band member Dave Swarbrick, and he is featured on lead vocal and fiddle on their 1970 non-album single Now Be Thankful, in a stereo mix. The other included Fairport track is Genesis Hall, originally the flip of Si Tu Dois Partir and readily available on Unhalfbricking and on compilations.
This pinpoints one of the flaws with this collection, in that it mixes previously unavailable or hard to find material with regular album tracks which Thompson followers are likely to already have. Over one hour 40 minutes, or approximately half of this box set is taken directly from albums, something that needs to be factored in when considering purchase.
Care has been taken to show Richard Thompson's considerable range, both in his songwriting and in his mastery of both acoustic and electric guitars. An explosive live version of Tear Stained Letter has some blistering, giddying guitar solos. He is also shown dabbling in a number of other instruments and, of course, exploring various musical styles. These are less successful when he moves towards the mainstream, as he does latterly in too much of this collection, and at their best when he utilises the fabulous interpretive skills of Linda Thompson, whose vocals on their joint seventies output is just matchless. Almost half of the 16 Richard and Linda Thompson tracks are not taken from their albums and make a strong argument in favour of this box set. Of course, if you are new to his work, and the price is right, there is no need to hesitate.
(review filed 12 January 2006)
Tom Tom Club
Tom Tom Club (39.32)*** P 1981-1982, P 1990
Beginning life as an off-shoot from Talking Heads while David Byrne worked on a solo project, Tom Tom Club has endured for over twenty-five years on and off, and this debut album has remained a strong seller, though its follow-up, Close To The Bone, remains mysteriously unavailable.
Thanks to the electroclash movement Tom Tom Club sounds more contemporary now than it did a decade ago, and many of its hooks and beats have been sampled over and over. The best known tracks are the singles Genius Of Love and Wordy Rappinghood, though as they were initially signed by Chris Blackwell to the British Island label, Wordy Rappinghood was not released as a single in America at the time. It was a huge hit in Europe, though, and was revived not long ago by Chicks On Speed. The album works well as a whole, full of light and bounce and rhythm.
This UK CD of the 1981 album has been somewhat revised from the original vinyl release. Gone is the final track Booming And Zooming to be replaced by the non-album 1982 single Under The Boardwalk, a funky reworking of the old Drifters tune. That 12" single also contained remixes of two album tracks, On, On, On, On... and Lorelei. These were rather smoother and less quirky than the originals, and both of these have been used in place of the album versions on this CD.
The British version is available very cheaply, but should you wish to hear the original album and are prepared to pay a little more by buying the US version, you will be rewarded by getting the original album in full plus Under The Boardwalk and Lorelei (Remix), and also the excellent 12" remixes of Wordy Rappinghood and Genius Of Love.
(review filed 22 April 2008)
Morning Way (52.51)*** P 1969-1970, P 2000
When Judy Dyble left Fairport Convention way back in the 1960s, many distraught music fans kept an eagle eye out in the music press to see to what she would next turn her hand. She was clearly wondering herself as on 1 June 1968 she put a "Musician Wanted" ad in Melody Maker. When Peter Giles responded by telephone, the call was answered by boyfriend Ian McDonald. This led to both of them working with Giles, Giles and Fripp, the ensemble which was to mutate into King Crimson. But a month later Judy and Ian's relationship was over and she left once more.
Jackie McAuley had been organist and guitarist with Them during their rumbustious Angry Young Them period, and when Van Morrison had split the band some of them including Jackie and his drummer brother Pat had kept going, attracting the attention of Los Angeles producer Kim Fowley. He christened them the Belfast Gypsies and recorded with them a spirited rewrite of Gloria called Gloria's Dream, as well as the psych beat track People! Let's Freak Out which they released under the pseudonym the Freaks Of Nature. Then Jackie had briefly formed a band with Paul Brady in Dublin, called Cult, and travelled across Europe and Morocco, each widening his musical horizons.
This disparate duo forged an unlikely alliance in 1969 when they formed Trader Horne (the name of John Peel's nanny, apparently) and made some live performances. I was lucky enough to see them at Mother's Club in Birmingham.
A single was released called Sheena, with a Judy Dyble song on the flipside, Morning Way, which became the title track of this, their only album. It was quite unlike anything either had done before, ethereal and whimsical and imbued with childlike wonder, with Tolkeinesque lyrics that tell of the Children Of Oare and of Three Rings For Eleven Kings, and a soundscape fleshed out with flutes, harpsichords, auto-harps and celeste.
Assisting on the album are Ray Elliott, an ally from Them, on alto flute and bass clarinet, bass-guitarist John Godfrey who arranged much of the album, and from Twice As Much's band, Andy White on drums.
Most of the songs were written by Jackie McAuley, whose original intention had been to write a children's album, but Judy Dyble contributes both Morning Way and the beautiful Velvet To Atone, which she wrote with Martin Quittenton from Steamhammer. There is also a version of Bessie Smith's Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out (here titled Down And Out Blues), and all the tracks are knitted together with a recurring instrumental motif. Another single followed the album: Here Comes The Rain backed with Goodbye Mercy Kelly, and these are both included on this re-issue.
Trader Horne were due to be launched at a festival set up specifically for the purpose, the Hollywood Music Festival in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where I first experienced the Grateful Dead. Typically, though, Judy had broken up the band (in what she called a "tantrum") shortly before and went off to get married to Simon Stable. The festival launched Mungo Jerry instead.
She also toured the Netherlands with DC and the MBs (Judy Dyble, Lol Coxhill and Phil & Steve Miller) before settling down as a librarian. Trader Horne continued briefly with Saffron Summerfield, before Jackie McAuley embarked on a solo career.
It is hard to imagine an album like this being made today, though at the time it could have sat in your album rack alongside Donovan, Trees, Vashti Bunyan or Keith Relf's Renaissance. The song Morning Way was included on a retrospective anthology called Paisley Pop, an umbrella title for a genre unrecognised at the time. I'm told it now fits into the new genre of Weird Folk. Listen to this album and time travel to an unrecognisable world
(review filed 7 June 2004)
Pre-Millennium Tension (45.35)*** P 1996
I always remember hearing Tricky's first single Aftermath for the first time, playing in a record shop in Bath. It was quite unlike anything else I had ever heard.
Hearing it on the radio recently when the singer Martina Topley Bird was talking about her musical past, it still sounded more futuristic and imaginative than anything around today. The next few singles and the brilliant Maxinquaye album put Tricky at the forefront of the burgeoning trip-hop movement that stemmed from Bristol at the time.
Although I snapped up all the singles from this, the second album (Christiansands, Tricky Kid, the truly exceptional Makes Me Wanna Die) I somehow never acquired the album itself until now. Nine years on, it remains loaded with atmosphere and ambience, thanks in no small part to the exquisite and exceptional vocals of Martina, who in 2003 was nominated for a Mercury award for her first solo album (also recommended)
(review filed 1 October 2003, revised 22 March 2005)
A Ruff Guide (66.37)*** P 1993-1999, P 2002
How to buy Tricky? I consider Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension as the first stops, but as a sampler for the critical years between 1993 and 1999 this Ruff Guide makes a useful overview that will point you to your own preferences. The tricky kid did pretty well as a non-singer non-musician from the Knowle estates of Bristol, first with Massive Attack and then on his own (Overcome was a reworking of Massive Attack's Karmacoma), creating some of the most innovative and atmospheric music of the nineties.
Of course, in Martina he was fortunate to have discovered an incredibly gifted interpreter and singer whose contribution to his records cannot be overestimated. He also featured a pre-Goldfrapp Alison Goldfrapp, who made her name on the oddly titled 1995 hit single Pumpkin (it sampled the Smashing Pumpkins' Suffer). His knack of finding fruitful collaborators extended to better known names such as PJ Harvey (on Broken Homes), Terry Hall (on I Be The Prophet and Bubbles, both from the Nearly God project) and DJ Muggs (Wash My Soul and Scrappy Love, from 1999's Juxtapose).
With the exception of Singing The Blues (a cover of Mary McCreary's 1974 song, not Guy Mitchell or Tommy Steele, though I'd like to hear Tricky's version of that!) from Angels With Dirty Faces, and those already mentioned, all the track selections were singles, and, unfortunately, are generally presented in their shortened single edit formats, though Aftermath is the full five minutes of Version One (track 4 on the Aftermath CD single) and I Be The Prophet is the version with drums (track 3 on the Starving Souls CD single)
(review filed 22 November 2005)
Ike & Tina Turner
Golden Classics (US Import) (47.40)**** P 1960-1965, P 1994
Decades ago there used to be a great London label LP of some of Ike and Tina Turner's recordings for the Sue label in the early 1960s, and I also had an American promo single of Can't Chance A Break Up/Stagger Lee And Billy, which I had for a long time been anxious to find on CD.
There are many inexpensive Ike & Tina compilations on the market but they always date from a slightly later period than those from the Sue and Kent labels; recordings for Pompeii, Blue Thumb and so forth. Finally I discovered the existence of this Golden Classics collection on the Collectables label, unavailable in the UK.
It includes all the early singles including the first, A Fool In Love, recorded, so the story goes, as a result of the 17-year old Tina (Annie Mae) having jumped onstage on a dare from her sister to sing at an Ike Turner and his Kings Of Rhythm gig, and ended up joining his revue. It also has It's Gonna Work Out Fine, a call and response song on which Mickey "Guitar" Baker (not Ike, as I had always supposed) added his distinctive vocals. Alternative takes of I Idolize You and Poor Fool are additionally included.
Can't Chance A Break Up, unreleased in the UK, marked a change of direction, a far more up tempo and frenetic Northern Soul sound, and still sounds absolutely classic to me. It doesn't even warrant a mention in the sleeve notes so must have passed American record buyers by at the time; therefore they would sadly never have heard the soulful murderous story of Stagger Lee on the excellent flip, included here.
Though there have more recently been complete re-issues of Ike & Tina Turner albums and singles from this period (on the Stateside label in the UK), this remains a very useful overview of a potent period in their career
(indexed 5 September 2003, revised 22 March 2005)
Ike & Tina Turner
The Soul Of Ike And Tina Turner/Dynamite (54.35)*** P 1960-1963, P 2004
There are many inexpensive Ike & Tina compilations on the market but until recently they had always dated from a slightly later period than their Sue labels recordings, which Stateside have now released, almost in full, on this and its companion, Don't Play Me Cheap/It's Gonna Work Out Fine. Apart from a few singles, most are appearing on CD for the first time.
They start with the very first recording credited to Ike and Tina Turner, from 1959, A Fool In Love, which charted on both pop and R&B charts. The story had begun a couple of years earlier, when 17-year old Annie Mae (Tina) allegedly jumped onstage on a dare from her sister to sing at an Ike Turner and his Kings Of Rhythm gig, and ended up with the band, eventually recording a local single for Ike on Tune Town as Little Anne in 1958 (Boxtop/Calypso Love Cry).
Eventually she joined the revue and became pregnant by one of the band, who left St Louis and never came back. She and Ike became an item in 1959. The Soul Of Ike And Tina Turner, their first album, was recorded with the fabulous Ikettes while they were on tour with the revue, and comprised almost exclusively Ike Turner compositions. It included follow-up singles I Idolize You and I'm Jealous (the opening note of this track is slightly clipped on my copy of the CD), with its flipside You're My Baby featuring the Ikettes, with Ike on backing vocals.
All but three of the tracks also appeared on singles, the exclusive tracks being If, You Can't Love Two and I Had A Notion (Chances Are is a re-titled Puppy Love, a B-side), and there is remarkably little padding on the record.
The next album, Dynamite, duplicated many of the same tracks, tracks 13-17 being the only new ones. The original running order was You Shoulda Treated Me Right/It's Gonna Work Out Fine/A Fool In Love/Poor Fool/I Idolize You/Tra La La La La/Sleepless/I'm Jealous/Won't You Forgive Me/The Way You Love Me/I Dig You/Letter From Tina.
I Dig You was the only exclusive track, the other new tracks all appearing on singles, the A-sides being You Should've Treated Me Right, It's Gonna Work Out Fine (included on the companion disc), Poor Fool and Tra La La. Four non-album tracks from the period conclude the collection, including the A-side Mind In A Whirl. There is a rawness and earthiness in all these recordings that give them a potency and power that remains undimmed
(review filed 22 June 2005)
Ike & Tina Turner
Don't Play Me Cheap/It's Gonna Work Out Fine (65.40)*** P 1963, P 2004
There are many inexpensive Ike & Tina compilations on the market but until recently they had always dated from a slightly later period than their Sue labels recordings, which Stateside have now released, almost in full, on this and its companion, The Soul Of Ike And Tina Turner/Dynamite. Apart from a few singles, most are appearing on CD for the first time.
These two albums were released by Sue in 1963, by which time they had effectively left the label, having stockpiled a great deal of material over the previous two years, despite touring for 22 of the 24 months.
Don't Play Me Cheap, named after the only single taken from the album, has a sound that is distinct from the two earlier albums, with more prominent horns, flutes and strings. This suggests either that the tracks were recorded specifically for it, or that they were overdubbed in a manner consistent with their release as a collection.
Apart from Ike Turner's compositions there is a version of Ketty Lester's Love Letters. Wake Up was the title track's flipside, whilst I Made A Promise Up Above was to back up Dear John in 1965.
It's Gonna Work Out Fine was named after their hit single from 1961, a call and response song, unusually not written by Ike but by Rose Marie McCoy and Sylvia McKinney. It was brought to them by Mickey and Sylvia, who had recorded their own version but not released it. It is Mickey "Guitar" Baker who calls to Tina, much as he had to Sylvia Vanderpool on their Love Is Strange hit, while Sylvia plays guitar and Ike piano on this million selling record.
The other non-original on the album is a bluesy version of James Brown's Good Good Lovin'. Although there were no other singles from the album, there are a number of great tracks which could have been, including Mojo Queen, Foolish, This Man's Crazy and the could-have-been dance sensation the Tinaroo. I can just imagine the frantic routine with Tina and the Ikettes, who add so much to the sound of this album.
Having known Gonna Find Me A Substitute for years by the Pretty Things, I had never realised it was an Ike and Tina Turner original until this CD came along.
The collection is rounded off with a few stray singles. Can't Chance A Break Up from 1965, unreleased in the UK, marked a change of direction, a far more up tempo and frenetic Northern Soul sound, and still sounds absolutely classic to me, as does its other side, Stagger Lee And Billy. This is Ike's variation on the much mythologized classic tale, as retold by everyone from Mississippi John Hurt to Lloyd Price. There are a few singles omissions - Please Don't Hurt Me (1962), Tin Top House (1965) - but this places some very influential and important recordings back in catalogue at last
(review filed 22 June 2005)
Ike & Tina Turner
The Kent Years (62.59)** R 1964-1966, P 2000
Amongst the many labels that Ike Turner licensed his records to during his unbelievably busy mid-sixties period (managing and touring the Revue, playing guitar and piano, constantly writing and recording) after he left the Sue label, were the Bihari Brothers' Kent and Modern labels, and it is the bulk of these these that are collected here. Ike Turner had an association with the Biharis that dates back to at least 1951, when he played piano on the Howlin' Wolf's first single, Morning At Midnight.
During the period between 1964 and 1966 six singles appeared on Kent and Modern with varying degrees of commercial success (only two charted): I Can't Believe What You Say, Am I A Fool In Love, Goodbye So Long, Gonna Have Fun, Chicken Shack and, finally, Flee Flee Fla. The frenetic I Can't Believe What You Say (For Seeing What You Do) went on to become a club classic and the song has since been covered by Manfred Mann and Toots and the Maytals, among others. Seven of these twelve sides were collected on a Kent label LP in late 1966 along with five other tracks. The LP was titled The Soul Of Ike And Tina Turner (as an earlier Sue label album had been), and was later reissued on United Artists with a slightly amended track list. The Kent Years includes this LP almost in full (If I Can't Be The First is left off) and adds three of the other single tracks (omitted are Am I A Fool In Love? and its James Brown cover flip, Please, Please, Please).
Of the other eleven tracks, none were released at the time. Some appeared in 1987 on an album called The Ike And Tina Turner Sessions, the rest are previously unissued; probably stockpiled and gradually forgotten. A couple of these appear to be studio workouts in rehearsal for the live Revue, because the old Eddie Boyd blues Five Long Years begins with a spoken introduction from Tina, as if on stage, and their version of Etta James' All I Could Do Was Cry contains the lengthy monologue about Tina watching her man marry someone else, just as when performed live.
Virtually all tracks feature the wonderful Ikettes, horns are liberally sprinkled and Ike's distinctive guitar and piano are prominent. He also adds a few vocal moments on the ultra-fast Goodbye, So Long and on Something Came Over Me, a sort of sequel to their most famous hit, A Fool In Love, which it references musically throughout just as Hard Times harks back to It's Gonna Work Out Fine. From The Ike And Tina Turner Sessions, Makin' Plans Together has some rare soulful strings but suffers unfortunately from some wonky edits half-way through - a singular blemish on an otherwise well-presented round-up.
Tina Turner's vocal style at this time was a world away from that with which she dominated the world in the eighties and nineties, but was aimed at a wholly different audience with whom she was highly successful, and it is excellent news that the confusing clutter of releases from this era are gradually being made sense of and becoming available on compilations such as this one.
(review filed 21 June 2007)
Ike & Tina Turner
The Soul Anthology (57.40/67.52)** P 1963-1969, P 2006
My only gripe with this collection is that most, if not at all of the tracks have been digitally re-mastered from vinyl sources. This is especially noticeable on Disc Two where there is some very unwanted sibilance on the vocals and other give away extraneous noises, and I find it surprising that the compilers seemed unable to source master tapes for the albums represented here.
On the plus side, rather than scatter random tracks from disparate sources all over the collection as all too many past compilations have, this anthology has instead collected four complete original consecutive albums from the second half of the sixties. This is clearly a superior arrangement.
Disc One has the albums So Fine, from 1968, and Cussin', Cryin' & Carryin' On, from 1969. These were both originally released on the Pompeii label. Disc Two contains Outta Season and The Hunter, again from 1969, clearly a very busy year, but this time for Bob Krasnow's Blue Thumb label (and on Liberty and the progressive label Harvest in the UK). There are lengthy liner notes describing the careers of Ike and Tina Turner, and track information listing personnel and other details, though these are speculative and sometimes inaccurate.
So Fine included the singles (released originally on Pompeii or Innis) Bet'cha Can't Kiss Me (Just One Time), Too Hot To Hold, I Better Get Ta Steppin', Shake A Tail Feather, So Fine and We Need An Understanding/It Sho' Ain't Me. There is yet another version of their first hit, A Fool In Love, this time given a very updated arrangement. The song So Fine is actually by the Ikettes, who feature prominently on the album alongside Ike Turner's Kings Of Rhythm. To the possible personnel listed in the notes for this album I can add Bernard Purdie, drummer on at least some of the tracks, and Al McKay, who plays guitar on We Need An Understanding.
Cussin', Cryin' & Carryin' On is more of a revue album, featuring as it does three solo numbers from the Ikettes (including the A-side Beauty Is Just Skin Deep, and a version of Make 'Em Wait, previously recorded by Ike and Tina Turner on their album for Philles). I believe that the Ikettes on these tracks were probably Esther Burton, Claudia Lennear and Ethna Wood. There are also two instrumentals by Ike Turner with the Soul Seven, from Dallas TX. One of these, Thinking Black, was a single on the Sterling Awards label, and is a funkier number with wah-wah guitar. The final track, Funky Mule, also comes from the Soul Seven sessions but wasn't on either album, but rather from yet another 1969 album called Get It Together. This otherwise comprised previously released material. In fact almost that whole album can be recreated by programming tracks 5, 16, 18, 13, 17, Freedom Sound (not included), 1, 14, 12, 19, 3 and 22.
The strangest track is Poor Little Fool, which the notes say "might be the 1963 version". Judging from the scratchy, mono sound and the lead vocal I would say that it was, in which case it is a recording that originally came out on Sonja featuring Fontella Bass, with Tina Turner on back-up vocals. Disc One opens with the single River Deep - Mountain High, the big Phil Spector production from 1966, as re-issued in 1969 in stereo on an album on A&M. It really has no business being here, but who's going to complain at the inclusion of one of the great records of all time?
Kicking off Disc Two, Outta Season was credited as a Tina Turner/Bob Krasnow production and was a very stripped back production. The line-up included Aaron McNeil (keyboards) and Ulysses "Soko" Richardson (drums) and Ike Turner provides some sublimely fierce guitar figures. The Ikettes are noticeably absent and the songs are all old blues and soul numbers apart from one new instrumental (called Grumbling). I've Been Loving You Too Long, a regular feature of their stage act, was released as a single and Ike Turner can be heard in the background calling out the lines for Tina to sing. Sonny Boy Williamson II's Crazy 'Bout You Baby was also a single in the UK. One of the other highlights is Tina's rendition of the old gospel tune Motherless Child. It's a great album.
Outta Season was followed up by the stylistically similar The Hunter, named after the opening track. The song was written originally for Albert King in 1967 by Carl Wells, Booker T Jones and the M.G.'s. Ike and Tina Turner's version had already been cut down from its six and a half minutes album length to become a single in July 1969, but had only scraped the top 100. Bold Soul Sister, a wickedly funky original dance number in the style of James Brown, and on which the Ikettes make their sole reappearance for the album, fared rather better as a single the following year. The band line-up seems to be similar to that on Outta Season, but Albert Collins guests on guitar for Bobby Bland's I Smell Trouble. Again most of the material is drawn from past classics ranging from Louis Jordan and the Tympani Five's 1947 hit Early In The Morning to Barbara George's I Know (You Don't Love Me No More) from 1961 New Orleans. Willie Cobbs' similarly titled and much covered You Don't Love Me also surfaced in 1961 but in Memphis. This was the last pure blues and soul record that Ike and Tina Turner before changing direction towards the mainstream with the albums Come Together and Workin' Together.
During this same period, they also released singles and albums for the Minit, Loma and Warner labels, and possibly others, but there is plenty to enjoy here before seeking out those other avenues.
(review filed 22 July 2007)
My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair... But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brow (78.24)*** R 1968, P 2004
Where on Earth (or anywhere in the known multiverse for that matter) did this strangely mellifluous cacophony come from? It seemed unlike anything heard before and arrived fully formed onto the Peelian airwaves in the summer of 1968, hot on the heels of the astonishing single Debora (backed by Child Star, which was included on the album). And it was everywhere. You'd go to an outdoor free concert, or to a concert headlined by Fairport Convention, or Roy Harper, or the Edgar Broughton Band, or just about anyone, and there would be these pixies in support, sitting cross-legged on a colourful rug and declaiming a world of doors in oak trees, strange orchestras, Beethoven hair, wizards and wielders of words. Marc would be throwing back his mane and uttering throaty cries and bleats into the air, whilst confidently marshalling an army of sonic colours from his guitar, as Steve Peregrine-Took battled merrily on an array of Eastern-looking percussion instruments and added deft harmonies to Marc's lyrics as appropriate.
It is almost as mysterious now as it was then, although their influence can be heard in contemporary performers such as Devendra Banhart, and there were few clues to be had from Marc Bolan's previous work. This consisted of the two Decca singles The Wizard and The Third Degree and a single for Parlophone called Hippy Gumbo, all of which were relatively conventional moddish beat group ventures; followed by a four month stint in early 1967 with proto punk extremist mod-art band John's Children, for whom he provided lyrics and regularly beat up his highly amplified Gibson guitar with a heavy metal chain onstage, in a stage act which featured mock fights with fake blood - a far cry from Kingsley Mole.
When speaking of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Marc claimed to have been inspired by Ravi Shankar, which explains a little of the eastern influence though Ravi Shankar recordings seldom had the histrionic vocalise which featured on My People Were Fair...
As booklet note writer Mark Paytress observes, rock and roll was nearer the surface, especially on side openers Hot Rod Mama and Mustang Ford, both borrowing from the American surf and hot rod crazes of the early sixties, and The Wizard of course became re-invented as a live Tyrannosaurus Rex staple before being recorded in a third incarnation for the album T Rex.
This edition presents the album in both mono and stereo full versions. Marc Bolan was said to prefer the mono version because of mixing problems which had resulted in a thinness in the stereo version, but these problems seem to have largely overcome on this re-master so I find myself preferring the stereo half, presented as bonus tracks. These seem to be mixes of the same takes, although Dwarfish Trumpet Blues has an extra section, but the notes mention that four of the bonus tracks date from demo sessions recorded for Joe Boyd at Sound Techniques in late 1967.
The other bonus tracks consist of the single Debora (mono), which unlike the album was recorded at Advision, along with an alternate mono take of the song; and early versions of Child Star (mono) and Chateau In Virginia Waters (stereo).
Marc Bolan went on to refine and improve the style he had introduced on this album, but no future albums could have the freshness and impact of this fearsome debut
(review filed 18 December 2005)
Prophets Seers And Sages, The Angels Of The Ages (59.49)***R 1968, P 2004
If proof were needed that the times were less corporate and centralised in the sixties than now, one need only note that this second album by the not obviously commercial duo Tyrannosaurus Rex was released a mere three months after their snappily titled debut, My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair... But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brow. That totals 26 songs, plus a couple of stray singles, plucked from Marc Bolan's school notebook, all appearing in 1968, with plenty more lyrics saved for future use.
Unsurprisingly, it sold less well than the first to an audience anyway only recently weaned from singles onto albums, but remained a firm favourite over the years, and has been re-issued on CD several times since its first digital release in 1985, surely exceeding the expectations of its makers.
Their first single, Debora, had not appeared on My People Were Fair, which had followed it, as that was the practice of the time, but having been a surprise hit and still fresh in people's minds, was included in a completely newly recorded version which loops in on itself one minute and forty seconds through and plays out backwards through the second half, hence its new palindromic title, Deboraarobed.
One Inch Rock, the follow up single and a slightly bigger hit, was also not included on the new album (though was re-recorded in an electric version for the album T Rex), but has been added here as a bonus track in mono (it can be found in stereo on Essential Collection) along with an alternative, slower stereo version.
To Bolan's multi-tracked vocals, whistling and acoustic guitars have been added Steve Peregrine Took's complementary harmony vocals and percussion on a variety of exotic instruments including talking drums, chinese gong, kazoo and pixiephone, while the strong sense of melody, however strange-seeming at first listen it may seem, remains as memorable and haunting as on the first, and together with the extraordinary lyrics, seem to inhabit a world other than our own, but which would be eminently suitable for an extended picnic. The exclusive use of real instruments, most if not all unamplified, gives the album a timelessness which serves it well on reissue.
Whereas the first album was reissued containing both mono and stereo mixes, the careful engineering of the stereo mix of the album by Malcolm Toft, and the production of Tony Visconti, has made that unnecessary for this release. This has allowed room instead for 14 bonus tracks. Most of these are alternative takes of songs from the album, although there is one song which was dropped, Nickelodeon (Take 1)(mono).
The take numbers are given for the bonus tracks, but not for those of the final masters, so Conesuala (Take 9), for example, could be earlier or later than the released version. Most of the alternative takes are stereo but Salamanda Palaganda, Our Wonderful Brownskin Man, Eastern Spell, The Travelling Tragition and Juniper Suction are mono. Whether these are demos recorded in a mono studio or simply not mixed for stereo is not explained.
This album and My People Were Fair form very much of a pair, with recording for this album commencing even before the first had been released. Tyrannosaurus Rex's sound was to develop over two more albums before transmuting into T Rex, but this was the bedrock from which they sprang, and has material to match anything they subsequently did.
(review filed 28 November 2005)
Unicorn (73.43)***R 1968-1969, P 2004
Unicorn was the third of four albums by Tyrannosaurus Rex and the last with Steve Peregrine Took. Released in May 1969, it followed the failure of their third single, Pewtor Suitor, in January. This had followed in the mould of the first two singles and albums by largely replicating the acoustic sound the band created onstage over the last year or so. The same could be said of the B-side, Warlord of The Royal Crocodiles, recorded near the start of the sessions for the album in December 1968.
Given that the duo had released two albums within the last twelve months, all written by Marc Bolan, the quality of the songs on Unicorn was remarkably strong, showing his considerable development as a writer, lyrically and musically, and fully utilising the flexible creativity of his musical partner Steve Took. Not anyway given to self-doubt, Marc Bolan must have been particularly confident at the outset of the sessions, and was therefore severely challenged by the commercial failure of Pewtor Suitor.
He met the challenge during the sessions, which lasted until 2nd February 1969, by experimenting with more instruments and multi-track overdubs, with the help of regular producer Tony Visconti and engineers Malcolm Toft and Rob Cabel, to create a much more complex panoply of chromatic sounds that incorporated Spectorish reverb and percussion. If not exactly a Wall Of Sound, they brilliantly complemented the beautiful idiosyncrasy of the songs. Marc added harmonium, lip organ and fonofidels to his repertoire, while Steve additionally supplied bass guitar, piano, drumkit and pixiepipe. Tony Visconti added some piano to Catblack. The result was a worthy 16-track successor to My People and Prophets and reversed their commercial decline by making a very healthy showing in the album charts.
The bonus tracks begin with Pewtor Suitor (in stereo) and show the way forward with the next single, not taken from Unicorn but freshly recorded in April 1969: King Of The Rumbling Spires/Do You Remember. This represented a quantum leap with electric guitars, Woolworth's organ and full drums in evidence. The remaining tracks are early takes of the songs from Unicorn and an early version of Do You Remember featuring as far as I know the only lead vocal that Steve Took recorded with Tyrannosaurus Rex. His enunciation is clearer than Marc's and allays a worry I have had for 35 years about one of the words in the lyric when he sings "Her face was like a coat to me".
(review filed 30th November 2006)