BLOG TO COMM: Flamin’ Groovies Re-dux

Amplify’d from black2com.blogspot.com

You hated the fanzine, now hate the blog!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

You’re gettin’ another ramble-on this week. Chalk it up to the economy drive (which I’ll get around somehow, so don’t worry Kyoko) and a general yawn-inspiring existence that’s typical of this 21st century miasma we’re now wallowing in. If you think that I’m a particularly slothful person the rest of the year you should see me now…I think it all has to do with the change in the weather and the impending lack of sunlight that gets those ol’ brain syntaxes snappin’, but I’ve been wrong before and could be again.

***

Since there ain’t been any new material scooting its way to my door thanks to the self-imposed depression here at BTC HQ, I’ve been digging further and further into the archives for tasty treats that I’ve somehow let slip to the back ot the bus. And considering the hefty Flamin’ Groovies homage paid last post I figured why not dig up a few more of their platters which I must admit to having ignored these past coupla years, rockism ingrate that I am. A shame too, since the Groovies were just as important to the early-seventies bubbling under the surface hotcha rock scene as the Stooges and Dolls, and the fact that most wonks out there don’t rank ’em up with those acts only goes to show you what short shrift the Groovies continue to get even from the kinda folk you thought would be front and center cheering on the lads like they did with every other outta the garage combo of the seventies and onwards! And hey, some of those groups weren’t even worthy of the slightest “rah” let alone their own cheerleading section, and that gets me blood boiling mad!

It’s as important to define the difference between the early Flamin’ Groovies and the latter variation just as much as it is to do the same regarding the Velvet Underground. The early Groovies were born of mid-sixties San Francisco at its best with a heavy influx of Detroit high energy and perhaps some Velvet Underground for good measure. The later group was a return to the British Invasion roots which yielded a number of highly entertaining albums which also made for wondrous late-seventies cut out consumption. And yeah, I guess we can argue from here to Odessa and back as to which version of the Groovies was the best’n all, but right now I’m concentratin’ on those early recordings where the Groovies were doing a three-way teeter between fifties homage, mid-sixties goodtimeyness and late-sixties high energy. Quite a combination to mix up there, and believe it or not but the Groovies were able to do it all with relative ease ‘stead of ending up looking like a doof cross between Sha Na Na and the Jefferson Airplane’r somethin’!

Although it may seem like heresy to some of you regular readers I absolutely positively did not cozy up to FLAMINGO when I first gave it a spin way back in that transitional in more ways’n one year of 1978. Looking back from a gulping thirty-two years it’s hard for me to understand why considering how this sleeper really said way more ’bout rock as an up-and-throbbing entity than anything hitting the airwaves but I gander it was my own nebbish nervousness combined with a lack of direction (after all, I was feeling out music of all sorts by myself on my lonesome w/o any sibling or peer guidance unlike the vast majority of you) which eventually led to a whole number of stupid gaffes and other goofs especially when it came to picking the right records to pick up at flea markets. Excuses aside I can’t see how FLAMINGO would fail to satisfy a great many rock & roll maniacs of the day who sorta got their teeth cut on old instrumental rock 45’s and came of age with the Stones and Byrds then got left in the dark with the hippoid upheaval of the late-sixties. Just what Doc Rock ordered stuff here with an overall mood that was pretty alien to the mode of the music changing to Melanie in the earlier portion of that decade. With a rockabilly base shuffled through the Stones and strained through the best that San Fran was offering. Served up on a Detroit-inspired platter too making me wonder how those legendary gigs with the Stooges, Alice and MC5 went over with the teen polloi of the day.

The Big Beat reish I’m spinning also has a flurry of bonus tracks including a take of “Walking the Dog”, “Louie Louie”, “Rockin’ Pneumonia” obviously laid down a few years prior to the United Artists waxing and even Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else”, a deed which seems pretty reactionary considering that this was recorded in ’70 and not even those Sha Na Na types’d think of covering anything as radical as that!

Seventy-one’s TEENAGE HEAD‘s the album that did it for me…still remember starin’ at the cover in the cutout bins of ’76 (which is, due to financial restraints, a place where I spent a whole lotta time) wond’rin’ what these guys with the teenybop name sounded like. That cover shot was the eventual selling point and probably thee single most important pic that relayed to my bean what punk rock was in look and overall snot teenage pout…that I do remember. I also remember being warned not to buy the thing because it was nothing but a load of primitive and puerile palpatations created by a buncha bozos who thought they could play their gear after one free lesson won on the local AM station. And if that wasn’t enough to get my juices flowing then NOTHING was!

The entire platter’s a winner natch and quite a surprise from a guy who had spent the previous few months spinning SHAKE SOME ACTION expectin’ the same thing. (At the time I was unaware of the early/later Groovies dichotomy mentioned above—hey, it wasn’t like I had every issue of ROCK SCENE at my disposal!). But hey, I loved this ‘un from the first spin on and continue to for many a reason, the nice crunchy feel amongst ’em. The loose atmosphere also helps and the fact that R. Meltzer himself post-Blue Oyster Cult/pre-Vom and pre-pre Smegma helped out on background vocals helped even more (I was looking for hooks regarding reasons to dig the music even back then!). And the fact that TEENAGE HEAD mixes and matches early-seventies underground rock ideals with fifties accomplishment filtered through mid-sixties attitude also made this a platter that, along with ELECTRIC WARRIOR, stands as one of the shiningest examples of what rock & roll could have aspired to in the sometimes doldrum year of ’71 back when all of the good gunch was being ignored and the best way one could up their status at school was by flaunting the Carole King, James Taylor and various CSN&Y platters in their possession.

Gee, if I really wanted to be on the outs maybe I shoulda picked up a Stooges album to parade through the grade school halls, that is if I could afford to buy one let alone knew who the Stooges were at the time!

The Big Beat version also includes a slew of additional tracks, some of which I believe ended up on the b-side to the STILL SHAKIN’ ’76 cash in as well as a number of Eva albums that came out in France in the eighties. Whatever, it’s nice hearin’ ’em in this context and I must admit that their version of “Rumble” is just as good as Kim Fowley’s and even Smegma’s, but then again who could ruin a cover of that Link Wray classic unless some lame amerindie band did it or maybe even a buncha hippies joking around after downing a bottle of Boone’s Farm?

***

Posted byChristopherRead more at black2com.blogspot.com

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VAMPIRA, Star Trek & SWAMP GIRL: LOULIE JEAN NORMAN

http://illfolks.blogspot.com/2010/10/vampira-star-trek-swamp-girl-loulie.html

THE BLOG OF LESS RENOWN, CELEBRATING UNDER-APPRECIATED UNUSUAL, UNIQUE, SICK OR STRANGE SINGERS, SONGWRITERS AND SONGS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2010

VAMPIRA, Star Trek & SWAMP GIRL: LOULIE JEAN NORMAN


Halloween is a few days away. ‘Tis the season when the average witless blogger takes his finger out of his nose and points it to the sky, crying: “I’ve got a great idea! How cool would it be to do an entire Multiupload file of Halloween songs? Gosh, I’ll bet nobody’s thought of THAT before! Hey gang, don’t buy “Monster Mash” or any of that stuff, I’ll give it to you free! Trick or Treat! Trick for the artists, treat for you! Har har, ahar!” 

Over here, Halloween only is a reminder that pumpkin heads (or people who have pumpkins for heads) are temporary and rot, and to paraphrase Dylan (no, the other one) Death does have dominion. And the Grim Reaper took his scythe to Loulie Jean Norman before this blog was even born. But at least she had a long life, and it’s time to celebrate this neglected and sexy spook– and delightful Southern belle.

I was a fan ever since I glommed the back cover of a Spike Jones record (because there was one; it wasn’t an mp3 file with no credits or album notes) and wanted to check who was voicing “Vampira” opposite Paul Frees’ “Dracula.” This was one of many wonderfully creepy supernatural assignments she took. She did the ethereal warbling as “Swamp Girl,” the clammy modern-day Chloe who humidly haunted Frankie Laine through muck and mire. A while later, she was back in the jungle, supplying the rather bizarre soprano wailing on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for The Tokens. 

Ms Norman voiced ghosts for Walt Disney’s “Haunted Mansion,” and should’ve become better known to Trekkies at least, for her vocalise work on the theme song for the original “Star Trek.” 

Loulie (March 12, 1913-August 2, 2005) left her native Alabama to become the voice of a huge parade of Hollywood stars, dubbing: Juliet Prowse (GI BLUES, 1958), Diahann Carroll (that’s Loulie singing the black blues “Summertime” in PORGY AND BESS, 1959) and Stella Stevens (TOO LATE BLUES, 1962) among others. Less important on her resume was her work as a member of the Ray Conniff Singers, and as one of the back-up singers on “Moonlight Swim,” which was on the soundtrack for Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii.” She was a friend of Gordon Jenkins, which naturally meant that she got the nod for back-up work for Frank Sinatra (notably “Trilogy”) and Mel Torme (“California Suite.”) 

Let’s simply consider her achievements with the hits “Swamp Girl,” the “Star Trek” theme and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” For this trio, Loulie Jean Norman should have a place in the Book of World Records…for instantly identifiable performances that didn’t have her name on them, and for achieving greatness without singing a single written word! 

Loulie is “Swamp Girl” Instant download or listen on line. No pop ups, porn ads or wait time. 

From the original vinyl, Loulie is “Vampira” going up and down the scale opposite Paul Frees as “Dracula” for “All of a Sudden My Heart Sings.” Instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads, Paypal donation pleas or wait time.

VAMPIRA, Star Trek & SWAMP GIRL: LOULIE JEAN NORMAN

http://illfolks.blogspot.com/2010/10/vampira-star-trek-swamp-girl-loulie.html

THE BLOG OF LESS RENOWN, CELEBRATING UNDER-APPRECIATED UNUSUAL, UNIQUE, SICK OR STRANGE SINGERS, SONGWRITERS AND SONGS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2010

VAMPIRA, Star Trek & SWAMP GIRL: LOULIE JEAN NORMAN


Halloween is a few days away. ‘Tis the season when the average witless blogger takes his finger out of his nose and points it to the sky, crying: “I’ve got a great idea! How cool would it be to do an entire Multiupload file of Halloween songs? Gosh, I’ll bet nobody’s thought of THAT before! Hey gang, don’t buy “Monster Mash” or any of that stuff, I’ll give it to you free! Trick or Treat! Trick for the artists, treat for you! Har har, ahar!” 

Over here, Halloween only is a reminder that pumpkin heads (or people who have pumpkins for heads) are temporary and rot, and to paraphrase Dylan (no, the other one) Death does have dominion. And the Grim Reaper took his scythe to Loulie Jean Norman before this blog was even born. But at least she had a long life, and it’s time to celebrate this neglected and sexy spook– and delightful Southern belle.

I was a fan ever since I glommed the back cover of a Spike Jones record (because there was one; it wasn’t an mp3 file with no credits or album notes) and wanted to check who was voicing “Vampira” opposite Paul Frees’ “Dracula.” This was one of many wonderfully creepy supernatural assignments she took. She did the ethereal warbling as “Swamp Girl,” the clammy modern-day Chloe who humidly haunted Frankie Laine through muck and mire. A while later, she was back in the jungle, supplying the rather bizarre soprano wailing on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for The Tokens. 

Ms Norman voiced ghosts for Walt Disney’s “Haunted Mansion,” and should’ve become better known to Trekkies at least, for her vocalise work on the theme song for the original “Star Trek.” 

Loulie (March 12, 1913-August 2, 2005) left her native Alabama to become the voice of a huge parade of Hollywood stars, dubbing: Juliet Prowse (GI BLUES, 1958), Diahann Carroll (that’s Loulie singing the black blues “Summertime” in PORGY AND BESS, 1959) and Stella Stevens (TOO LATE BLUES, 1962) among others. Less important on her resume was her work as a member of the Ray Conniff Singers, and as one of the back-up singers on “Moonlight Swim,” which was on the soundtrack for Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii.” She was a friend of Gordon Jenkins, which naturally meant that she got the nod for back-up work for Frank Sinatra (notably “Trilogy”) and Mel Torme (“California Suite.”) 

Let’s simply consider her achievements with the hits “Swamp Girl,” the “Star Trek” theme and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” For this trio, Loulie Jean Norman should have a place in the Book of World Records…for instantly identifiable performances that didn’t have her name on them, and for achieving greatness without singing a single written word! 

Loulie is “Swamp Girl” Instant download or listen on line. No pop ups, porn ads or wait time. 

From the original vinyl, Loulie is “Vampira” going up and down the scale opposite Paul Frees as “Dracula” for “All of a Sudden My Heart Sings.” Instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads, Paypal donation pleas or wait time.

Jay Epae: Putti Putti

http://www.sergent.com.au/music/jayepae.html

 

Jay Epae, real name Nicholas Epae, was a Maori pop vocalist from Manaia, Taranaki. Considering the number of singles he released, he is relatively unknown in New Zealand for his songs, but more remembered as the author of Maria Dallas‘s huge first hit, “Tumblin’ Down”.

His first single was released on the American Mercury label. It came out in 1960 and was “Hawaiian Melody”/”Putti Putti”. This was followed in 1961 with “Hula Cha”/”It’s Driving Me Wild”. 1962 saw “Wassa Matta You”/”Dance With Me Lulu” and “Hokey Pokey Hully Gully”/”Jungle Speaks”. A switch to the American Capitol label gave him two more singles in 1962, “Coffee Grind”/”My Girl” and “Surfin On Waikiki”/”Patu Patu”.

Jay went quiet on the recording front after that, until 1966 when he picked up a recording contract in New Zealand with Viking Records. With them he released a single “Hold On Tight”/”The Creep”, an EP and an LP called “Hold On Tight It’s Jay Epae”.

     

The liner notes on the album read as follows :-

Jay Epae is a young man going places in both the record and song writing worlds. Jay was born in New Zealand and left for the USA in 1957. His first break-through was the recording of ‘Putti Putti’ which sold over a quarter of a million copies in Scandinavia alone. Listening to these mighty tracks, one immediately senses the strong influence of New Orleans blending with the relaxed Polynesian feel. Jay’s own compositions, “Hold On Tight”, “Creep”, “Tumblin’ Down”, “What Can I Do”, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” and “Under The Palm Trees” show off his natural song writing ability. May you hear a lot more of Jay Epae.”

One last single was released on Viking in 1967 called “Your Tender Touch”/”You’ve Got What It Takes”.

In a period when cover versions were the overwhelmingly the norm, Jay Epae not only recorded his own material, the sublime “The Creep” being a good example, he wrote a massive 1966 chart hit for Maria Dallas. Viking Records’ Ron Dalton remembers the seeming ease with which Epae came up with the huge Dallas hit, “Tumblin’ Down”. Only one day after Dalton requested a song, Epae re-appeared with a tune, no guitar, no words on a sheet, the artist had written it in his head. He then sang it to Dalton, who promptly ushered Maria Dallas into the studio to record it, with Epae helping out with the arrangement.

The follow obituary appeared in the newspapers after his death on 29th July 1994, aged 61.

“Kiwi singing talent rediscovered too late”.

The man who wrote the Maria Dallas sixties hit “Tumblin’ Down” is more fondly remembered in Sweden than in New Zealand. Warren Barton reports on the sad end to Jay Epae’s burst of fame.

When producer Owe Eriksson decided earlier this year to make a television documentary about the pirate station that in the sixties liberated Swedish radio, he launched a hunt for the man who was its superstar.

His name was Jay Epae and Eriksson found him in New Zealand. Would he, asked Eriksson, return to Sweden and sing just once more the catchy little tune that 30 years ago propelled him to the top of the pops for an astonishing 41 weeks on Radio Nord. He said he would and got a haircut, but never showed for the television special.

What Jay Epae‘s disappointed middle-aged Swedish fans didn’t know was that the aging Maori entertainer had only a few weeks earlier been rediscovered by his own family, whom he hadn’t seen in 14 years. They had found him in the back streets of Brisbane, down and out and ill. That’s why they brought him home and why he couldn’t make the trip.

Instead he sang one night for nieces and nephews that he hardly knew and for strangers in a Wellington karaoke bar. They were to be his final, farewell performances.

The talented little man from Manaia died last week at the age of 61, better remembered at the other end of the earth than at home where his biggest claim to fame is writing “Tumblin’ Down” which won the Loxene Golden Disk Award for Maria Dallas in 1966.

In Sweden, Jay Epae is remembered for “Putti Putti”, which was on the flipside of a recording he made of “Hawaiian Melody” in 1960. The 45 sat around for months till suddenly it started getting air time on Radio Nord which for two years bombarded the mainland with pop music and commercials from the MS Bonjour, an old herring schooner anchored just outside the territorial limits.

The result was near hysteria, “Putti Putti” sold 50,000 copies and Epae toured Sweden. “He flared like a super nova” remembers Svante Liden, a reporter on Aftonbladet in Stockholm, “and disappeared as quickly”.

Apparently he went back to Australia where he worked for most of his career in clubs before dropping out of sight about 15 years ago. “We didn’t know where he was till someone saw him in Brisbane earlier this year” says his brother Roy, who now lives in Melbourne. “I went up to Queensland and found him”.

Roy brought him back to Wellington to be near his sister Tui and Hector, one of two brothers who also made a career in show business. Wes was an impersonator with the Maori Hi-Fives. He now lives in the United States and works the cruise liners, but Hector, who once played piano and sang with the Maori Volcanics, hasn’t performed in years. He was there when Jay grabbed the microphone and started to sing in the downtown karaoke bar. “It was beautiful,” he says. “Man , that voice of his…”.

It’s a voice, according to Svante Liden, that’s still being heard in Sweden. “As a matter of fact, ‘Putti Putti’ came on the radio just the other day and everyone in the office stopped to listen. When the Song had finished one of my younger colleagues said with a smile, “Things must have been a hell of a lot better in the old days, no?”. “Maybe they were, I said. At least for Jay Epae they were.”

 

New Zealand Music

 

via Bob at Dead Wax

Mercury Records (1960) Jay Epae – Putti Putti.mp3


 

Early Soft Machine (1966-68)

Amplify’d from www.headheritage.co.uk

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Early Soft Machine (1966-68)


AOTM #120, May 2010ce

Early Soft Machine (1966-68)

PHASE 1 – 1967

  1. I Should Have Known (7.29)
  2. Feelin’ Reelin’ Squealin’ (2.51)
  3. Memories (2.58)
  4. Love Makes Sweet Music (2.31)
  5. She’s Gone (2.27)
  6. We Know What You Mean (3.09)

PHASE 2 – 1968

  1. A Certain Kind (4.14)
  2. Why Am I So Short?/So Boot if at all (9.02)
  3. Lullabye Letter (4.42)
  4. We Did It Again (3.46)
  5. Plus Belle Qu’un Poubelle (1.01)
  6. Why Are We Sleeping? (5.32)

Note: This review is dedicated to my darling daughter Avalon – just turned 16 – whose higher appreciation for all things K. Ayers-related threw up the need for this Album of the Month.

Note 2: As a big fan of THE SOFT MACHINE debut LP, I was initially tempted to proffer that whole record as Album of the Month. Instead, however, I’ve picked only my very fave raves from the debut, inserting them all into ‘Phase 2 – 1968’. I’ve dedicated ‘Phase 1 – 1967’ to the band’s debut 45 (‘Love Makes Sweet Music’ b/w ‘Feelin’ Reelin’ Squealin’), interspersed with the quartet’s two most successful Giorgio Gomelsky demos (‘I Should Have Known’ and ‘Memories’) plus an unreleased B-side from ’67 (‘She’s Gone’) and one BBC Top Gear session from September ’67 (‘We Know What You Mean’). Ta muchly, JULIAN

Repping the Intuitive Non-Career Mover

Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Daevid Allen, 1967

Recorded in the seventeen short months between December ’66 and April ’68, the intensely psychedelic music contained within this Album of the Month displays such a rush & roar of Mithraic fire, such a manic intensity of youthful ardour, and such a burning desire to capture the spirit of Right Now that, despite having been recorded in umpteen different studios and with four very different (and highly successful) producers – Giorgio Gomelsky produced the Yardbirds’ hits, Chas Chandler produced Jimi Hendrix’s ARE YOU EXPERIENCED, Tom Wilson produced the Velvet Underground and the Mothers of Invention, Kim Fowley produced everyone – nevertheless, on these early recordings it is still only the extraordinary sound of the Soft Machine that ever shines through… that and the excellence of their self-written songs, of course. Back then, in the heaving & heady days of 1967, the Soft Machine’s forever-bare-chested singing drummer Robert Wyatt was a brazen & burning warrior elf with a dulcet tone like Dion Warwick and a splatter-clatter drumstyle unlike any outside the jazz scene, whilst the band’s leather-coated organist, the Norman six+ footer Mike Ratledge, evinced a keyboard sound close to the Animals’ Alan Price… but with wings. On guitar and several years older than the rest of them was the band’s mentor, the Australian beatnik poet (and future Gong founder) Daevid Allen, whose days in Paris had led him to novelist William S. Burroughs, from whose 1961 novel the Soft Machine took their name. But the band’s two high aces were undoubtedly their songwriters, singer/bassist Kevin Ayers and roadie Hugh Hopper, who’d played bass in Robert Wyatt’s earlier band The Wildeflowers. His hair receding by his early 20s, with buck-teeth and ugly as sin, Hugh Hopper nevertheless wrote poetic and desperately aching, lonely songs that the R&B obsessed Wyatt could deliver with heart-rending sincerity. In stark comparison to Hopper, the occasionally face-painted Kevin Ayers was a beautiful and beguiling psychedelicized Hans Christian Andersen figure, a Pie-eyed Piper with a flair for writing archetypally great Sandozian pop songs (check out ‘We Know What You Mean’ and ‘She’s Gone’ included herein), or intoning, nay, doxologizing lead vocals in a register deeper than Lee Marvin, and deploying – from his archaic-looking Gibson EB2 – a Molto-munting semi-acoustic bass sound even more radical than that of Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Cassady’s always-overloden (and equally archaic-looking [even to us back then, U-kiddies]) Epiphone semi-acoustic.

‘Love Makes Sweet Music’ 45

In September ’66, having followed Daevid Allen’s international beat connections from cloistered Canterbury up to London, the Soft Machine found themselves performing at one of the Marquee Club’s earliest Spontaneous Underground performances, soon afterwards being invited to share the stage of Tottenham Court Road’s UFO Club with Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. It was in this fertile and lysergic atmosphere of experimentation that the Soft Machine rose to the challenge of re-arranging and deconstructing all the best songs that Hugh Hopper and Kevin Ayers could heave at them. Producers flocked to produce the band’s debut 7” single, but it was sleazoid LA scumbag Kim Fowley who dragged them through the portals of CBS Studios and successfully transformed Kevin Ayers’ darkly monstrous and highly experimental ‘Feelin’ Reelin’ Squealin’’ – a real Ayers vocal and bass tour de force – into a veritable Boris-the-Spider-thon. Displaying typical Fowley overkill, the producer emphasized the doomy discord of Ayers’ lyrical bombinations by layering the super sweet choruses extra-saccharine harmony vocals from Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt, then undermining the entire song with an almost musique concrète approach to its bizarre instrumental section of piano-and-flute cut-ups, all achieved in a manner guaranteed totally to blow the band’s collective mind. Daevid Allen later commented:

“The thing about Kim Fowley was, he was a complete codeine freak. So he never stopped talking. But secondly, he astonished everybody by taking the 8-track master tape and cutting; splicing the eight-track master tape, which nobody had ever seen done (laughs). It was really wild to make “Feelin’, Reelin’, Squealin’.” So [Fowley] made these huge massive splices right across all of the 8-track… if you fuck it up, that’s it, that’s the end of the master.”[1]

Believing Fowley’s recording of ‘Feelin’ Reelin’ Squealin’’ to be an excellent B-side but just too uncommercial for the single, the band next – just one month later – entered London’s Advision Studios with Jimi Hendrix’s producer Chas Chandler, who’d chosen for the prospective A-side another highly catchy Kevin Ayers song ‘Love Makes Sweet Music’, with Robert Wyatt as lead singer. This time the delightful results were picked up for a one-off record deal by Polydor Records, who released both tracks in February ’67, a full month before Pink Floyd’s own 45 debut ‘Arnold Layne’. Unfortunately, despite mucho airplay from John Peel and Radio Caroline, ‘Love Makes Sweet Music’ totally failed to chart. The band was nonplussed. To the fascinated media, the Soft Machine were – alongside Pink Floyd – considered to be co-heralds of the so-called Psychedelic Underground. And yet, with no long-term record deal forthcoming, no money could be made available to them for recording a debut LP. Refusing to appear discouraged, the band now entered London’s De Lane Lea Studios with Yardbirds producer Giorgio Gomelsky with the sole intention of creating a demo with which to sell themselves to a record company. Unfortunately, Gomelsky’s De Lane Lea sessions were haphazardly prepared and the results extremely patchy: the incredible clatter of R. Wyatt’s drums being lost in the colossal reverb of the studio, the sinewy Stylophonic Ratledge organ oft reduced to nowt but a distant chordal pad, Daevid Allen’s guitar too often merely perfunctory, and the molto-hefty Ayers bass merely dancing around the head of the listener, rarely landing a truly sonic KO. Inappropriately, time that should have been better spent on new songs by Kevin Ayers and Hugh Hopper was instead forfeited on a couple of Robert Wyatt’s oldest, most jazzy mid-60s songs (’You Don’t Remember’, ‘That’s How Much I Need You Now’), which here in Spring ’67now sounded merely anachronistic. Despite all of this, a wonderful version of H. Hopper’s magnificent ‘Memories’ was committed to tape replete with D. Allen’s moody signature blues lines, as was a stupendous 7-minute burn-up of Hopper’s “I Should’ve Known’, today perhaps the only recorded evidence of Daevid Allen’s guitar genius during his entire time in the band.

The trio in Dulwich Park, London, 1967

In late April, the Soft Machine joined the Move, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Flies, the Deviants and the Floyd at Alexandra Palace for the now-legendary all nighter THE 14-HOUR TECHNICOLOUR DREAM,[2] but their recordings with Gomelsky had clearly come to nothing. In June, two new recordings of Hugh Hopper’s songs ‘She’s Gone’ and ‘I Should’ve Known’ were recorded for a possible second Polydor single, but no offer was to be forthcoming. Without a record deal, the summer was spent jamming almost unpaid at various happenings throughout France. However, disaster struck on August 24th when, on returning to the UK, Daevid Allen was refused re-entry for having previously overstayed his visa stipulation. Continuing as a trio, Ayers, Ratledge & Wyatt made several European TV appearances throughout the autumn, also making their first trio studio recordings for the BBC’s Top Gear, before joining the Who, Eric Burdon, Tomorrow, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix at London’s Olympia for December 67’s CHRISTMAS ON EARTH RE-VISITED. And it was here that Jimi Hendrix’ managers, Chas Chandler and Mike Jeffrey, offered the flagging band a management contract plus the support slot on Jimi Hendrix’s forthcoming US tour. Touring with Hendrix throughout February and March ’68, the trio honed down their songs into such immaculately-performed jewels of turbo-charged performance that they (at last) secured a record deal with ABC Records, who booked the band recording time at New York’s Record Plant Studios, to be overseen by Velvets/Mothers of Invention producer Tom Wilson. At last, at long long last, the Soft Machine received their belated opportunity to create a worthy LP statement and the results were spectacular. Gone was the lumpen chord work which had pervaded the weaker performances of the original quartet, replaced instead by a sound of extraordinary economy. Where once both Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge had been content to punctuate the sound with stabs and sweating chords, now Ratledge entirely backed off, forfeiting his chordal organ washes for the sweet harmony vocals of Ayers and Wyatt. Where the quartet’s guitars and organ had previously drizzled sound across the entire rhythm section, now vast sonic spaces appeared that teased out every drum roll, every atonal freakout, every overdriven proto-Lemmy bass chord that Kevin Ayers thrummed out of his big semi-acoustic bass. More importantly, despite its re-write this self-titled trio album was a masterful exercise in jagged futuristic song experiments, songs such as the expansive & exhilarating ‘Lullabye Letter’ and ‘Why Are We Sleeping?’, radically confident garage soul songs quite unlike the cocktail jazz-tinged psychedelic R&B soul hybrid of just one year earlier. Despite its excellence, however, THE SOFT MACHINE was also far too little and far too late. Further held up until November ’68 for its US release, THE SOFT MACHINE would not even gain its own UK release until the 1970s. Exhausted by their seemingly endless US tour and unable to control his naturally hedonistic ways,[3] Kevin Ayers quit the band to pursue a solo career. Their psychedelic beginnings clearly over, roadie H. Hopper now laid to rest his years of superb songwriting and replaced Ayers on bass, joining Mike Ratledge on his curious quest to turn the Soft Machine into a pure jazz rock ensemble.

In Conclusion

Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt on Belgian TV, 1967

So listen now to this Album of the Month and think of what might have been.
With the plethora of hip producers already involved in creating the early Soft Machine canon, I’ve often fantasised how great the band’s debut LP could have been had strung-out soul visionary Guy Stevens been hired as their producer in late 1966. With their R&B and soul fixations, perhaps Messrs. Ayers, Allen, Ratledge & Wyatt would have followed the Hapshash & the Coloured Coat trajectory and delivered us a stylish & freeform psychedelic soul debut LP on the Minit Records label. I know it’s daydreaming, but let me daydream. Music this adventurous should make its listeners daydream. Furthermore, just take one final look at the sheer Visionary breadth of musical and songwriting talent (barely) contained within the ranks of the early Soft Machine and try NOT to gasp at the possibilities and potential of what more coulda been.

Footnotes:


  1. Daevid Allen interview with Richie Unterberger.
  2. Former anarchist and Deviants singer Mick Farren, commenting on the backstage arrangements at the legendary psychedelic event THE 14-HOUR TECHNICOLOUR DREAM that many of the members of even the supposedly most illuminated and experimental of bands exhibited a disturbing ‘brown ale consciousness’.
  3. In the same interview with Richie Unterberger, Daevid Allen remarked of Kevin Ayers: “I’ve never seen anybody take so much alcohol, so much damage. It would kill anybody else. I’ve never seen anyone drink like him. He’s got an extraordinary ability to drink, and an extraordinary ability to rejuvenate himself. He goes right to the edge, and then he goes swimming and runs around for a week and then comes out and starts again. I’ve never seen such an extraordinary level of ability to drink so much, and get away with it. He’s gotten away with amazing amounts of stimuli. He really put it away.”

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