Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Attractions - Mad About the Wrong Boy (1980)


Once again, here is an album I played like crazy during my teen years that a few others seem to know existed. The idea of an Attractions album without Elvis Costello might seem alien to some, but to me these songs are so familiar it's like they're in my blood. Here is some background on this release.

In 1980, Elvis Costello's backing group recorded an album without him. The sixteen-song effort didn't get much publicity other than a few mentions in new wave magazines. That was a shame, because it's a pretty good LP with a lot of tuneful '60s-influenced songs done up in a snappy new wave style.

Although there are some similarities with Costello's albums, that's mostly because of the arrangements, particularly keyboardist Steve Nieve's synth sounds -- which will be familiar to anyone who has heard Armed Forces. But this is not "Son of Elvis." If there's an overriding influence in songwriting, it's probably Ray Davies since some of the "character study" songs like "Lonesome Little Town," "Highrise Housewife," and "Straight Jacket" seem to take their cue from Village Green-era Kinks.

More influences from that time period abound. The album contains all sorts of psychedelic elements, such as segued songs (check songs 6-8), backwards tapes ("Arms Race"), sound effects ("On the Third Stroke"), sped-up vocals (the bridge of "Single Girl"), and deliberately bizarre fade-outs ("Damage," "Lonesome Little Town"). All of this should resonate with listeners now more than it did back in 1980 when a lot of uptight post-punk types considered anything '60s-related to be something of a Mortal Sin. The LP was produced by Roger Bechirian, who had engineered albums for Costello, Squeeze, and Ian Dury, among others.

After this album, Bechirian and Costello would co-produce a similar retro-oriented new wave album in Squeeze's East Side Story. It's to the Attractions' credit that their album compares favorably to that Squeeze album, which is generally considered the band's best.

Most of the songs here were written and sung by Steve Nieve. Some of them were credited to him under that name. But others, which he co-wrote with his then-girlfriend Fay Hart, were confusingly credited to Brain/Hart -- with Nieve taking the pseudonym "Norman Brain." To people not familiar with all this (i.e. everyone who wasn't in the band), it looked like those songs were written by an outside team.

Had I not asked the band about songwriting credits when I met them after a 1983 Costello concert, I'd probably have no idea who the Brain/Hart team were. What songwriter works under two different names on the same album, after all?

But all sixteen songs here are originals. Eleven were written or co-written by Nieve and the other five were composed by bassist Bruce Thomas along with drummer Pete Thomas.

Two singles were released, with both featuring songs from the album in their original versions without edits or remixes. The first was "Single Girl" backed with "Slow Patience." That was followed by "Arms Race" backed with "Lonesome Little Town." Neither charted, but both had neat picture sleeves. "Single Girl," with its breezy shuffle and airy Association-like chorus, sounds like it could have been a British hit at the time, but it wasn't.

The album went out of print shortly after its release. It was briefly issued on CD in the early 1990s, but copies of that release now seem harder to find than the actual album. The most commonly found edition of the album is probably the Canadian release that came out on Attic Records. It was a perennial "bargain bin" item in the USA in the early 1980s (which is ironic, because now you have to pay some decent money if you want a good copy).


Technical notes:

This is a new, super-clean vinyl rip from the original LP. That means it's from the British F-Beat Records edition, not the Attic Records pressing. I've owned both and think the F-Beat one sounds better.

There was a rip circulating at one point that ran too fast. This one runs at the proper speed. This rip also has a crystal clear sound with no scratches or pops. What you hear is what was on the record. That includes weird EQ changes on some of the fade-outs and eccentric spacing between songs, which varies from cut to cut.

Track list:
1. Arms Race
2. Damage
3. Little Misunderstanding 
4. Straight Jacket
5. Mad About the Wrong Boy
6. Motorworld
7. On the Third Stroke
8. Slow Patience 
9. La-La-La-La-La Loved You    
10. Single Girl
11. Lonesome Little Town   
12. Taste of Poison
13. Highrise Housewife  
14. Talk About Me
15. Sad About Girls   
16. Camera Camera

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Sidekicks - Featuring 'Fifi the Flea' (1966)


The Sidekicks were an American band from New Jersey who started out as a British Invasion copy band called the Redcoats. The Redcoats released a Herman's Hermits-inspired 45 on Laurie Records, "The Dum Dum Song." Their material can be heard on a 2001 Dionysus Records compilation called "Meet The Redcoats...Finally.”

When the Redcoats signed with RCA, they were made to change their name, which they weren't too happy about. Still, they managed to score two minor U.S. hits under their new moniker, the Sidekicks. The biggest one was the dramatic, complex "Suspicions," which got to #55 in June, 1966) and was penned by the group's drummer John Spirt and guitarist, Mike Burke. It's catchy as all-get-out but perhaps a bit too sophisticated for its time. Spirit, by the way, had been in a group called the Ran-Dells and co-composed their hit "Martian Hop" (#16, 1963).

The other Sidekicks hit was "Fifi the Flea," a cover of a Hollies album track the band composed under the name "L. Ransford." This single fared poorly, only getting to #115 on the Bubbling Under chart in October of 1966.

Both of those cuts were featured on the group's only album Featuring "Fifi the Flea." This is a clean rip of the stereo vinyl with scans. The album has never been on CD and considering the beyond-bad contract they signed (more on that below), it probably won't ever come out officially.

The album is a good-to-average mid-'60s pop release. Arranger Jimmy Wisner had session musicians play instead of the group, so it's got a somewhat stiff, professional feel. But there are four originals by Spirit and Burke, plus some really good other material like Wisner's "Sight and Sound." Then there's the closing novelty number, "Ollie Wong," which is either really funny or very offensive, depending on how politically correct you are.

After the LP came out, the group released two non-LP a-sides, "Miss Charlotte" from Jan. 1967 and "You Gave Me Someone to Love" from April of that year (the flips side of these were both on the LP). "Miss Charlotte" is a fantastic pop-rocker with amusing lyrics and a fantastic lead guitar line. It was featured on the downloadable compilation 60s Psych Pop Treasures - Vol. 9.

The group broke up when they learned they'd signed a bad contract with a mysterious wealthy Philadephia woman who'd backed them financially for their initial demos. That contract also caused several group members not to be able to sign with Elektra Records when they started a new band called Words of Wisdom.

For a detailed account of the Sidekicks' history, check out the essay at the '60s Garage Bands Web site written by the band's lead singer and guitarist Zack Bocelle:

(One final note: On some copies of this album, it was titled Suspicions on the label, and one such copy is pictured at But my label, the LP cover, and the actual listing in Discogs all call it Featuring 'Fifi the Flea.' So that's what I called it here. Anyone know anything about this title switcheroo?)

The group:
John Spirt: drums
Mike Burke: guitar
Zack Bocelle: guitar, vocals
Randy Bocelle: bass, vocals

Track list:
1. Suspicions
2. Up On The Roof
3. You're A Girl
4. More (Theme From “Mondo Cane”)
5. Not Now Written
6. Ask Your Friend
7. Fifi The Flea
8. Sight And Sound
9. Out Of The Dark
10. He’s My Friend
11. The Best Things
12. Ollie Wong (The Same)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The New Society - The Barock Sound of the New Society (1966)

I’ll admit it: I bought the sole album by the 1960s band The New Society for its cover alone, without hearing a note of the music beforehand.

Thumbing through a stack of LPs at a used record store, the front cover stopped me in my tracks. The photo offered up seven well-scrubbed collegiate types decked out in outlandish Renaissance Era outfits. It was like seeing your nerdy high school madrigal choir make the big time.

I flipped the album over. The liner notes were laughably pompous but intriguing. In between namedropping Keats, Beethoven and Bach, the (uncredited) writer promised this 1966 RCA release (LSP-3676) would blend rock’n’roll with baroque music -- hence its full title, The Barock Sound of The New Society.

The notes went on to cite the Beatles’ “Yesterday” as inspiration: “Instrumentally they have borrowed with discrimination from Elizabethan chambers and the cellars of Liverpool.” And the lyrics? “Not once does a word like `groovy’ or `boss’ betray the Society’s 20th century upbringing.”

I sensed, of course, a sonic disaster lurking within the grooves. But I was curious as to how the Sartorially-challenged ensemble Barock-ed out. Would they wring melancholia from harpsichords like The Left Banke? Or would they be brooding and go all “Lady Jane” on the listener? The price was $8; at least I wasn’t gonna go broke on Barock.

The LP turned out to be both fascinatingly idiosyncratic and maddeningly mediocre. The musical mélange isn’t as audacious as the liner notes infer, but there’s enough good stuff to make it a find.

Things start off strongly with “Dawn of Sorrow,” an ominous rocker that pits a wall of orchestral sound against the group’s multi-layered vocals. The mock Elizabethan period lyrics sound as if characters from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” got to make a record: “There’ll be a bright eternal glow, when true love comes thou shalt know, for only those forsaken know the dawn of sorrow.”

Unfortunately, the 16th century motif is discarded on the next tune, “Of You,” where electric guitar is juxtaposed with incongruous easy listening vocals. Think Spanky and Our Gang fronting the Byrds. The Monkees did a better version of this song with Mike Nesmith on lead vocals but it was left unreleased at the time (possibly because the New Society version got out first?). Their version eventually came out on the first Missing Links set.

Yet the LP’s most successful “Old World”-type tune comes next: The wry ballad “Me Thinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much.” Here, a harpsichord, triangle and witty lyrics set the mood for a breakup treatise that shows off the oh-so-elegant voices of the female singers.

“The Good Times,” which follows, sounds like an Association tune placed on the wrong record. But then an ominous piano riff introduces the haunting “Paradox of Love,” another dramatic excursion into the ghost of music’s past.

See the pattern? The group can’t decide if it wants to play it straight or go for baroque. This identity crisis is the album’s biggest failing. Coming in a close second is the inferior production by Randy Sparks of The New Christy Minstrels.

The LP’s mix is presented in “early Beatles stereo” (vocals on the right, backing tracks on the left), but unlike those Fab Four records, The New Society’s disc doesn’t exactly glisten with clarity. The instruments lack dynamics, the vocals come off distant and muddy, and the mix is marred with too much midrange and reverb.

Lincoln Mayorga, a 1960s Los Angeles studio scene veteran who arranged and conducted most of the tracks, sheds some light on the LP’s lack of a sound foundation.

“I thought it was very poorly engineered,” says Mayorga by phone from his New York home. “I never liked the sound they got at RCA. They never got a good balance for my tastes.”
Mayorga says he remembers several top-rated session musicians playing on the album. He’s doesn’t rate the group so highly, though.

“It was kind of white bread folk music – very happy, upbeat,” he says. “Very well-suited to Disneyland.”

Mayorga confirms the liner notes’ assertion that the group was Sparks’ idea (Sparks purportedly auditioned “hundreds” of singers). He also provides some history about the unconventional combo’s formation.

“(Randy) had a club near UCLA in Westwood, and he organized several different groups and had them all working in it,” Mayorga says. “I don’t know how many, but there was The Back Porch Majority and The New Society. Randy was quite an entrepreneur.”

The prefabricated origins of the group recall another ’60s band, The Monkees and, surprisingly, there is a connection between the two groups. Mike Nesmith sang with The New Society but left before the LP was recorded. Maybe he balked at the costumes.

The single released from the LP is a song called “(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love,” which was also recorded by The Monkees. Nesmith also supposedly performs on the single’s non-LP B-side, the country-flavored “Buttermilk.”

“Prithee” and "Of You" weres written by Michael Murphey, who penned other New Society and Monkees songs and went on to have a big hit in the 1970s with the ballad “Wildfire”. Monkees songwriters and buddies Bill and John Chadwick also have songs on the LP.

Despite the talent involved, “The Barock Sound” did not inspire the idolatry of millions. Maybe they balked at the costumes! While audiences have embraced costumed acts over the years (Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Village People), the (let’s admit it) geeky get-up of The New Society probably proved too extreme for the mainstream. The LP and single never charted and the LP has never been issued on CD.

While not brilliant, the disc is fun, and definitely a one-of-a-kind affair. The lack of groove (and guitar) will surely alienate rock fans. But pop aficionados may be put off too because the bombastic vocals keep The New Society from sounding like agreeable Sunshine Company-styled pop. Still, admirers of eccentric sounds should find a lot to like here.

Credit Sparks for dreaming up a wacky idea and getting it released on a major label. Even the LP’s flawed sound is of nostalgic interest since technical imperfections are all but missing in today’s music.

But what might be most appealing is the way singers Carol Stromme, Del Ramos (brother of Association member Larry Ramos), Ted Anderson, Gary Miller, Carol Kimzey, Alan Parker, and Larry Hickman take a velvet-clad song and make it better. They lift every larynx with the sincerity of, well, the old high school madrigal gang performing at a really important assembly.

And come to think of it, weren’t even the most cynical among us impressed upon hearing all those voices soaring in the school auditorium?


This is a vinyl rip. What you hear here is an exact representation of what was on the LP -- no extra compression was added and the EQ setting was not tweaked.

Track list:
1. Dawn Of Sorrow
2. Of You
3. Methinks Thou Doth Protests Too Much
4. The Good Times
5. Paradox Of Love
6. Child Of Summer
7. Love Thee Till I Die (All The King’s Horses)
8. Long Live Our Love
9. Words Of A Fool
10. Jamie
11. (I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love
12. We Have So Little Time

Friday, December 25, 2015

Various Artists - ZE Christmas Record Reloaded (2004)

I was on the fence about posting this one until I saw how high a price this CD was selling for at That let me know it had to be out-of-print, so here it is.

But what is it, exactly?

This is the third and (so far) final edition of the album A Christmas Record, which was first put out by the New York "no wave" label ZE Records in 1981. The original LP, which is now a rarity, featured a bunch of artists who were little-known then and are even less known now. But it achieved a sort of immortality because it featured a song that became a holiday evergreen in the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" (which is here on the third edition as well).

In 1982, ZE Records put out a second edition of the album with a different track lineup and some of the songs remixed or remade. This version is easier to come by. I have a mint copy. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to do a vinyl rip before the holiday season came up.

So...that leaves us with the retitled ZE Christmas Record Reloaded, which came out on CD a little over a decade ago. It's an expanded version of the second edition of the album with a bunch of new songs added and a completely different song order. Oh, and it doesn't reinstate any of the lost songs from that first edition. They're still missing.

As for the new tracks, the standout is probably Miss OD & Gentleman League's version of the Beach Boys' "Bells of Christmas." It's a song the California quintet had slated for their unreleased '70s-era holiday album. When that didn't come to pass, they rewrote it as "Belles of Paris" for their M.I.U. Album. Not only does Miss OD's rendition do the song justice, it's actually much better, with the soft, subtle female vocal bringing out the true beauty of Brian Wilson's melody.

As for the older songs, I always thought the best ones were the bleak "Things Fall Apart" by Cristina, the funky "Christmas on Riverside Drive" by August Darnell (aka Kid Creole), and the sentimental (and humorous) "It's A Big Country" by Davitt Sigerson, who would go on to produce the Bangles. "Christmas Time in the Motor City" by Was (Not Was) is also a favorite of mine, mainly because of the spoken word section, which I always felt was a clever audio evocation of the bleak scene featured in Edward Hopper's classic painting "Nighthawks."

That's the good news. The bad news (to loosely paraphrase Lynyrd Skynyrd) is: "Ew, that sound!" It's beyond compressed. The audio is scrunched into an overly loud block and all the airy spaciousness of the original sound is lost. There is little dynamic range and the drums sound way too big. But that's the way the music industry was doing things until audiophiles started complaining about "loudness" and "brickwalling."

The CD also doesn't do justice to the EQ of that second edition. But since I'm apparently the only one who notices such things, I'll just zip it. Just as there are none so blind as those who will not see, so there are none so deaf as those who can't tell when the sound of a high-hat has been altered. Yes, the bible said exactly that.

Maybe by next year I'll have a pristine rip of that second edition. Or maybe I'll put it out on a hot July day, just to honor the irreverent spirit of the album itself.

Track list:
1. Lisi - My Silent Night
2. Alan Vega - No More Christmas Blues
3. Cristina - Things Fall Apart
4. Miss OD & the Gentlemen League - Bells of Christmas
5. The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
6. Lio, Helena Noguerra and Marie France - Sleigh Ride
7. Charlélie Couture - Christmas Fever
8. Davitt Sigerson - It's A Big Country
9. August Darnell - Christmas On Riverside Drive
10. Material with Nona Hendryx - It's A Holiday
11. Was (Not Was) Christmas Time In The Motor City
12. James Chance - Christmas With Satan
13. Suicide - Hey Lord

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lesley Gore - My Town, My Guy and Me (Mono Mix, 1965)

Lesley Gore's fifth album is arguably her best, even though it only yielded one minor hit single. That was the title track, which reached #32 in late 1965.

Unlike most of her albums, almost all of the tracks on My Town, My Guy and Me are specific to the album, not cover versions of old tunes or songs that other artists cut. You can listen to this album all the way through and not think about what other artists did which tunes.

There are a few exceptions. She covers standard "The Things We Did Last Summer" and does a rendition of the girl group favorite "Baby That's Me," a song recorded a year earlier by the Fashions and two years later by the Cake.

She also does a version of Van McCoy's "Before and After," which had been a hit for Chad and Jeremy in May of '65. (Since My Town, My Guy and Me was reviewed in the Oct. 2, 1965 issue of Billboard, it probably had a September release, which dates it as after rather than before the Chad and Jeremy version of this song.) Anyway, Gore does a good enough job on all these numbers and the Quincy Jones arrangements suit her voice so well that these might just end up your favorite versions.

Speaking of her singing, Gore shows new maturity here. She comes off assured and engaged, especially on the more difficult material, which runs the gamut from Spectoresque to soulful. The album also features a standout tune written by Gore herself, "A Girl In Love." Gore had written a song a piece on each of her previous two albums, but this uptown pop-soul number was by far her best to date and definitely holds its own against the other songs.

The mono mix of this album has never come out on CD.

Most of the mono mixes sound about the same as their stereo counterparts. The one that's markedly different is "What Am I Gonna Do With You," which is featured in a mix with far less echo than the stereo version. Plus, the mono mix has a double-tracked vocal. This is not the same mix as the alternate one on the It's My Party box set, which is in stereo.

Gore's double-tracking is also a little less emphasized on the verses of "You Didn't Look 'Round" and there's also a bit less reverb on her vocal on "Let Me Dream." And finally, there's less bass on her voice on "The Things We Did Last Summer," so the punch-they did on the line "Like promises we made" is a lot less obvious here. Was I the only one who ever heard that very obvious error?

1. My Town, My Guy And Me
2. What's A Girl Supposed To Do
3. What Am I Gonna Do With You
4. You Didn't Look 'Round
5. I Don't Care
6. No Matter What You Do
7. The Things We Did Last Summer
8. A Girl In Love
9. Baby That's Me
10. Just Another Fool
11. Let Me Dream
12. Before And After

Monday, December 21, 2015

Toni Brown - Toni Brown (1979)

There is music that I like, music that I dislike, and music that I really, really, really love. Toni Brown's music falls into this last category.

Brown -- who is not to be confused with the former Relix magazine editor-turned-musician of the same name -- was the main songwriter for the early '70s folk-rock band Joy of Cooking. Joy of Cooking was one of the first major label rock bands to be led by women. They scored a modest hit in 1971 with the bouncy "Brownsville," a cover of a tune by bluesman Furry Lewis that wasn't really representative of their work

Their best material came in the form of Brown's thoughtful country-goes-to-college songs that were a precursor to artists like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Trisha Yearwood. (For the most comprehensive retelling of this band's story, check this Perfect Sound Forever article from ten years ago.)

After Joy of Cooking split up, Brown recorded two solo albums and then left the music industry. Both LPs are long out of print and neither has come out on CD. The first, Good For You, Too, from 1974, is a countrified effort. I'd love to present a rip of that, but the only copies I can find are too scratchy. Oh well. Update: I found a mint copy at a record show, and here's my rip of it.

Brown's second and final album was her self-titled release from 1979. It finds her pursuing a more jazzy and pop-oriented sound, something she said she took piano lessons to explore. This style suits her high-pitched voice well. And it brings an extra helping of sophistication to her compositions.

There are a lot of highlights here, like the opening "Knockin'" with its jangly chorus, and the lilting Michael Franks-like ballad "Listen to the Rain." Both "I Get Crazy" and "Wakiki, Why Not (Huma Huma Nuka Nuka)" show Brown displaying a humorous side she'd hadn't exhibited in her earlier work.

But best of all is a song that I consider the highlight of Brown's career. Hell, I consider it a highlight of all the music I've ever heard, and that's a lotta tunes. It's the song "Angel of Love," which was released as the album's 45 and sadly failed to chart. "Angel" boasts a positively brilliant melody and chord progression married to a totally convincing (and sometimes startlingly frank) lyric about urban alienation.

Needless to say, this makes for some potent listening. For me, this is one of those songs that I could play over and over, even if the male backing vocalists who pop up in the coda now sound a bit silly and dated (shades of Melanie's "Brand New Key"). Brown's former Joy of Cooking bandmate Terry Garthwaite cut a version of this song that's equally as good if not better. The two of them were also performing it live as early as 1974 with the band. People make lots of claims about songs being too ahead of their time to be hits, but this one definitely fits that bill and then some.

As for this album, if you've been reading this blog you know the drill. Clean rip; mint vinyl; scans of the covers and liners. Enjoy it because Toni Brown didn't put out all that much material in her time and there won't be another singer-songwriter like her coming 'round anytime soon.

Related post: Toni Brown - Good For You, Too (1974)

Track list:
1. Knockin'
2. Wakiki, Why Not (Huma Huma Nuka Nuka)
3. Stop the Night
4. Listen to the Rain
5. Dance Me
6. Way Down Deep
7. Angel of Love
8. Love Is Strange
9. I Get Crazy
10. Two of a Kind
11. Evening Lullaby

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sylvain Sylvain - Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops (1981)

It's one thing to become familiar with an unknown LP from the past. But it's a strange feeling when an album you know well from own past turns out to be obscure to everyone else.

That's the case with the second solo album put out by New York Dolls guitarist Syl Sylvain, Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops. It's a record I bought when I was 16. But, apparently, few other people did the same.

I discovered this album -- and Syl Sylvain, for that matter -- when my local alternative station, WHFS, started playing songs from it in the summer of 1981. The closing track, "No Dancin'" was something of a turntable hit for them. They also used in for promotional spots or for one of their "homegrown" advertisements. Whatever the case, they played this song a lot and that's the reason I sought out the album.

I wasn't disappointed. It's a pop gem, with almost every song catchy as heck. Even though the record doesn't have any New York Dolls-styled grittiness, it's marinated in New York flavor in both its lyrics (especially the opening number, "Crowded Love") and its music. To stretch the food analogy even further, what you have here is an ethnic musical stew. There are shades of everything from suburban '60s pop to hillbilly rock'n'roll to reggae to Calypso. Having grown up in New York City, I'd say that all of this is a pretty good representation of what you'd absorb while walking the city's streets back then.

The Teardrops were a short-lived band that apparently only existed for this album. But boy could they play. They also co-wrote several of the LP's songs. The group featured drummer Rosie Rex (who was also Syl's girlfriend at the time) and bassist Danny (Tubby) Reid. That's not me being sarcastic; that's the way he's credited on the album's back cover.

Some high points: The Beatleseque "I Can't Forget Tomorrow," which is a retro pure pop song without a trace of irony -- something that's not easy to pull off. The rockabilly-styled "Formidable" takes an anti-abortion stance that's humanistic and realistic, not preachy. "It's Love" is a cover of a little-known B-Side of a 1959 Addrisi Brothers' single (the A-Side, "Back to the Old Salt Mine," is also pretty much unknown). Sylvain, who produced this album himself, does a particularly clever job with this song, giving it an amusing early Beatles-styled mix with vocals panned to the right channel and instruments on the left.

Best of all is "No Dancin,'" one of those rare dance tunes that has lyrics that match its groove. It also holds its own with the early rock and soul classics that clearly inspired it (think "If You Wanna Be Happy" or "Charlie Brown"). Standout couplet: "When we went out on a date last week/You didn't wanna dance you just wanted to eat!"

The album didn't not find a place with American audiences in 1981, which was a time when AOR ruled the FM airwaves. Had it been released two years later, maybe Syl could have piggybacked on the wave of nostalgia that fellow New Yorkers the Stray Cats dragged in by way of MTV.

The album did come our briefly on CD. But the sound was beyond awful, with more compression than an air conditioner at a huge office suite. If you value your ears, the Dolls, Syl Sylvain, and perhaps even New York City itself, you owe it to yourself to hear the vinyl or an accurate rip.

This is a rip from the original album. Not just any original album, but the one I kept in near-mint condition from high school. No alterations whatsoever have been done with the sound, except a bit of clean-up on the tiny pops and clicks that mar most any vinyl.

Also included are label scans and a then-current reviews from Trouser Press magazine. I hope this appeals to everyone the way it did to the 16-year-old me. I'd hate to be alone in thinking I like something no one else did. But then, it wouldn't be the first time.

Track list:
1. Crowded Love
2. Lorell
3. I Can't Forget Tomorrow
4. Medicine Man
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Formidable
7. Teardrops
8. Just One Kiss
9. It's Love
10. No Dancin'

Friday, December 18, 2015

Brenton Wood - Rarities (1963-70)

If you're taking the time to read this, you probably already know that Brenton Wood (born Alfred Jesse Smith) had two major hits in 1967: "The Oogum Boogum Song" (#34 pop; #19 R&B) and "Gimme Little Sign" (#9 pop; #19 R&B).

He also had two lesser-known hits with "Baby You Got It" and the non-LP "Lovey Dovey Kinda Lovin'" and came out with two albums in 1967 that are cult favorites among aficianados of '60s soul. Both albums are very worth seeking out. They're filled with originals (credited under Wood's real surname, Smith) and they reveal a distinct musical vision. Wood's hallmark was using bittersweet major-seventh-to minor-seventh chord progressions to underscore witty-but-mostly-sad tales of romance.
But what people might not know about Wood is that he cut a lot of sides that didn't appear on those two 1967 albums -- or any album, for that matter.

Some of those sides were included on a recent rarities collection. Oddly, that collection rounded up some of his lesser tunes. So this is an effort to bring together his best obscurities that still aren't officially in print.

Included is Wood's excellent debut single "Hide-A-Way" and its equally fantastic flip side "Mr. Schemer." There's also the elusive minor 1968 hit "Lovey Dovey Kinda Lovin'"(a #99 pop hit that did not make the R&B chart), and some other A-Sides that didn't make the Top Pop 100 but really should be heard, like "Sweet Molly Malone" and "Great Big Bundle of Love."

This collection also includes an alternate longer edit of "The Oogum Boogum Song" that came out in the late '80s on the reissue label Collectibles Records. It contains an extra line, "My my my baby's casting spells on me," that was apparently edited out of both the original single and LP release. Wonder if they just wanted to shorten the length of that single or if someone felt that line could potentially be offensive? Maybe they didn't want to alienate any potential Wiccan listeners.

Several of Wood's songs appeared in mono or in "constricted" stereo mixes on his original LPs. As the years have passed, these have come out in clearer "wide stereo" mixes on various compilation CDs. They're included here along with the mono single mix of "Baby You Got It"(#34 pop; #30 R&B). More details inside and in the MP3 tags.

Track list:
1. Mr. Schemer
2. Hide-A-Way
3. Sweet Molly Malone
4. Great Big Bundle of Love
5. Lovey Dovey Kinda Lovin'
6. Can You Dig It
7. Whoop It On me
8. I Want Love
9. Cross the Bridge
10. Where Were You
11. Sad Little Song
12. The Oogum Boogum Song (Longer Edit)
13. I Like the Way You Love Me (Stereo Mix)
14. I Think You've Got Your Fools Mixed Up (Stereo Mix)
15. I'm the One Who Knows (Wide Stereo Mix)
16. Catch You on the Rebound (Wide Stereo Mix)
17. Baby You Got It (Mono Mix)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Brent Mydland - Unreleased Solo Album (1982)

Having just written about the Keith & Donna album a few days ago, I was going to wait a while before I wrote another Grateful Dead-related post. However, a recent article on the background of the late Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland's unreleased solo album has sparked interest in it.

Here is some background on how Mydland's solo album came about.

Brent Mydland's first recorded compositions were on the lone album by the '70s country rock group he was in, Silver. They had a Top Twenty hit with "Wham Bam" (aka "Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang") in 1976. He didn't write that, but he did write two other songs for Silver's album. These include the lead-off cut, "Musician (It's Not an Easy Life)," and the melodic "Climbing," which sounds (to me, anyway) like it had hit potential.

So Mydland was always a songwriter. When Mydland joined the Dead, they were extremely democratic when it came to letting him write songs, unlike some other big-time rock groups who rarely allowed anyone but the band's leaders to get songwriting credit. Mydland placed two songs on the first Dead album on which he played, the 1980 effort Go to Heaven.

Unfortunately for him, the Dead didn't focus on making albums for a while after that one, so that left him with a bunch of songs and nowhere to go with them. Hence, a solo album. It was recorded by his then-girlfriend, recording engineer Betty Jackson-Cantor, who had worked with the Dead both on the road and in the studio.

Mydland's unreleased album showcases the same sort of rock-meets-soul compositions that he'd become known for in Deadland. If you like tracks like "Far From Me" or "I Will Take You Home," you're sure to like the songs on this one. None of the Dead played on these tracks, so Mydland and Cantor-Jackson are the only connections to the band here.

It's probably pointless to speculate on why this album never saw the light of day in its time or afterwards. The simple fact that Mydland spent much of his time on the road with the Dead might have had something to do with him not having enough time or energy to see this project to fruition.

But we can hear it now. The book "Grateful Dead FAQ" critically assesses this album in its chapter on Dead bootlegs:

"Mydland rocks out with abandon on 'Maybe You Know,' which comes close to the blues rock-cum-metal Pat Travers was doing at the time. Eddie Money guitarist and David Lee Roth collaborator Monty Byron reportedly plays a crunchy guitar part on 'Tons of Steel,' making it much heavier than the Dead’s version. The song arguably works better in this style. 'Long Way to Go' is a power ballad that showcases the toppermost part of Mydland’s vocal range."

As bonus tracks, this album includes five original compositions Mydland performed live with the Dead but never placed on their albums. Brent Mydland's voice and musical style are acquired tastes for a lot of Deadheads, so this isn't for everyone. But while Mydland might not have composed in the style of Jerry Garcia, he was definitely someone who could write songs. And as for his singing, well, that was always first-rate.

Related posts:
Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions - Live at the Top of the Tangent (1964)
Keith & Donna - Keith & Donna (1975)
Diga Rhythm Band - Diga (1976)
Robert Hunter - Jack O' Roses (1980)  
Tom Constanten - Grateful Dreams (2000) 

Track list:
1. Inlay It In Your Heart
2. Tons Of Steel
3. Dreams
4. Maybe You Know
5. Nobody's
6. See The Other Side
7. Long Way To Go
8. Take One

Bonus tracks:
9. Maybe You Know (4/15/83 War Memorial Auditorium - Rochester, NY)
10. Only a Fool (4/23/84, Veterans' Memorial Coliseum - New Haven, CT)
11. Don't Need Love (7/15/84, Greek Theater, University Of California - Berkeley, CA)
12. Revolutionary Hamstrung Blues (3/27/86 Cumberland County Civic Center - Portland, ME)
13. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines (7/31/88 Laguna Seca Recreation Area - Monterey, PA)

For more details about this album and other Dead obscurities, check out the book "Grateful Dead FAQ," available in stores and at For more, see the comments section, Deadheads.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Various Artists - Long Lost '60s Christmas (2015)

This is a seasonal selection of obscurities from the 1960s I put together.

Like a lot of other recent holiday-related anthologies, this one has a twist: It contains no "standards" or songs typically heard during that Yuletide time of year. All the songs here are Christmas tunes that never caught on or got lost in the shuffle for whatever reason. So, if you're tired of hearing the same old group of songs this time of year, then this should really ring your (jingle) bells, because pretty much nothing here will be familiar to most people.

That doesn't mean they're bad songs, though. They're mostly just...eccentric or a bit too quirky for mass consumption. Two were unreleased in their day: Robyn Alvarez's “That’s What I Want For Christmas,” was performed live on the TV show “Australian Bandstand,” while the closing track sung by the two late members of Badfinger, Pete Ham and Tom Evans, is a demo of a song by Ham.

Most of the artists here won't be familiar to the general public. But oldies fans should recognize such names as Jan Bradley (“Mama Didn’t Lie”), Sammy Turner (“Lavender Blue”), Johnny Tillotson (“Poetry in Motion”), Dee Irwin (“Swingin’ on a Star”), and the Flirtations (“Nothing But a Heartache”). You won’t exactly be hearing these songs on your local oldies station anytime soon, but if you’d ever wondered whether any lesser-known artists from way back when recorded holiday songs, well, here’s your answer.

Track list:
1. The Holidays – A Very Merry Christmas
2. Jimmy Charles – Christmasville, U.S.A.
3. Adam Faith – Lonely Pup (In A Christmas Shop)
4. Danny and the Juniors – Candy Cane Sugary Plum
5. The Bookends – Christmas Kisses
6. Harvie June Van – Dasher
7. Pepper-Pots – Christmas-Day
8. Yolanda White – My Brother Wants a Doll for Christmas
9. The Shells – (It’s A) Happy Holiday
10. Jan Bradley – Christmas Time
11. Robyn Alvarez – That’s What I Want For Christmas
12. The Orchids – Christmas Is the Time to Be With Your Baby
13. The Drifters – I Remember Christmas
14. Lord Douglas Byron – Surfin’ Santa
15. Dora Hall – Give Me Your Heart for Xmas
16. Dusty Springfield –  O Holy Child
17. Sammy Turner – A Child Was Born (The Prince of Peace)
18. Johnny Tillotson – Christmas Country Style
19. Dee Irwin & Mamie Galore – All I Want For Christmas Is Your Love
20. The Flirtations – Christmas Time Is Here Again
21. Jackie DeShannon – Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?
22. Pete Ham & Tom Evans – John Forgot To Sing 

"Songs are sung for a while. Then they go out of style." -- Pepper-Pots.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Keith & Donna - Keith & Donna (1975)

This is the first and only album by Keith & Donna Godchaux, the husband-and-wife duo that joined the Grateful Dead in the early 1970s. She sang; he played keyboards and also sang some. Most Deadheads are very familiar with them because the time period they were in the Dead is generally considered the band's best era.

That's the good part. The bad part is that in the world of the Grateful Dead, singer Donna Godchaux is generally not well liked, at least in the musical sense. The reason for this is that her on-stage vocals were often off-key, which marred a lot of tapes of their otherwise-blissful '70s stage shows.

But Godchaux's vocal issues came about because she was really a studio session singer who didn't quite adapt to live performances, especially since the Dead's '70s-era set-up didn't always allow her to hear herself properly. This album shows that given the right environment, she really could sing.

The only problem is the songs. You're not exactly getting Jerry Garcia-Robert Hunter level compositions here. Very few of these original melodies will stick in your head. Still, it's nice to hear Donna and Keith (who died five years after this release) get into a groove on their own.

Plus, the sound here captures the feel of a long-lost era. This was recorded in the couple's living room, with longtime Dead recording engineer Bob Matthews setting up a makeshift recording studio and hauling in a gigantic Steinway piano for Keith. Also, Garcia sings and plays on the entire record, including the a cappella "Who Was John," where you can clearly hear his voice.

The album was originally released on the Dead's own Round Record label, which they set up to issue solo records by band members, even though that wasn't always the case. Round Records released a total of ten albums and the most popular of the lot have been issued on CD. This release is unlikely to ever go back in print, be it on CD, LP, or otherwise. This rip is from near-mint vinyl found at Joe's Record Paradise, now located in Silver Spring, MD.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Donna, Round Records, or about some of the Dead's more obscure releases, I'd recommend the book "Grateful Dead FAQ," which can be bought on sale at

Track list:
1. River Deep, Mountain High
2. Sweet Baby
3. Woman Makes You
4. When You Start To Move
5. Showboat
6. My Love For You
7. Farewell Jack
8. Who Was John
9. Every Song I Sing

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Astrud Gilberto - Rarities (1966-72)

Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto needs no introduction, so I won't bother to introduce her. I will say a couple of things on behalf of the woman who helped bring bossa nova music to North America, though:

1). The criticism she's attracted for her so-called "dispassionate" style of singing is unwarranted. The negativity, I've noticed, has mostly come from American writers and I think the reason for that is Americans don't understand subtlety. They take better to bombast, whether its the arena rock of U2, the screaming of Kurt Cobain, or the "anthems" of Katy Perry and other corporate singers.

2). Every one of her albums is good, if not great. You'd think a singer who is primarily known for one song might just coast along on that success and do variations on it. But you'd be wrong. Her LPs show she's more of an album artist anyway, since virtually all of them have a distinct tone -- mostly due to her working with a specific collaborator on each project.

I especially like the dreamy atmospheric vibe of her sophomore effort The Shadow of Your Smile, and the surprisingly catchy, well-written self-penned numbers she contributed to 1971's Astrud Gilberto Now (she hadn't written many songs previously). But even her 1977 "disco album" That Girl From Ipanema has its charms, as do her lesser-known efforts like Windy, September 17, 1969, and  Gilberto With Turrentine. 

This selection of hard-to-find, out-of-print songs, which I put together, runs the gamut from movie themes to obscure singles, to even more obscure b-sides. Some are sung in Spanish. One is in Italian. Details on where the songs are from are included. In all, this is a really good way to hear some new old Astrud.

Track list:
1. Who Needs Forever
2. Wish Me a Rainbow
3. Don't Go Breaking My Heart
4. Come Softly to Me/Hushabye
5. Lillies By Monet
6. A Time For Us
7. The Thought of Loving You
8. (Where Do I Begin) Love Story
9. If Not For You
10. Ti Mangerei
11. Argomenti
12. Una Donna Che Ti Ama
13. Acercandome a Ti
14. En Tu Piel


Friday, December 11, 2015

The Moog Machine - Christmas Becomes Electric (1969)

Considering what synthesizers can do now, the Moog renditions of traditional carols on this record are painfully primitive and sometimes unintentionally funny. That said, there is a rinky-dink charm to the sounds here that evoke a sort of childlike Christmas spirit. Of course, that child would have to be living circa 1969.

But Why a Moog Christmas album, you ask?

This album was released the year after Walter (aka Wendy) Carlos' big-selling, influential synth classic Switched-On Bach album and was definitely influenced by it. Both LPs were on the Columbia label, so you have to assume some record executive at the label thought "If we can do with Christmas what we did with Bach, we'll have a surefire hit!"

It didn't quite work out that way, since this album didn't click with the public and fell into obscurity soon after. Part of the problem is the tonality of the sounds. They're just not as rich and varied as on Carlos' album. The arrangements also sound a bit boilerplate and rushed.

While this album won't be taking its place next to the classic holiday albums anytime soon, it's still a fun period piece. Also, it definitely creates its own unique atmosphere; you're unlikely to hear much else that sounds like it these days.

Works great as background music for wrapping presents or driving around to see Christmas lights too.

Track list:
1. Jingle Bells
2. Little Town Of Bethlehem
3. We Three Kings
4. Deck The Halls
5. Silent Night
6. Joy To The World
7. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
8. O Come, All Ye Faithful
9. Carol Of The Bells
10. The Little Drummer Boy
11. O Holy Night
12. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
13. Patapan
14. The First Noel
15. We Wish You A Merry Christmas
16. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
17. Twelve Days Of Christmas

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Marty Gold Children's Chorus - Songs From 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' and Other Children's Christmas Songs (1973)

This one has sentimental value to me since it was an album my mother bought when we were kids. We used to play it while we decorated our Christmas tree.

As Christmas records go, this budget line cash-in album doesn't exactly hold the status of efforts by Phil Spector or Frank Sinatra. And yet its whimsical, ramshackle vibe seems to capture the spirit of the season better in some ways than those professional, well-groomed efforts.

It's not just me who feels this way either. While doing research on this record (and finding precious little information on it, no matter where I looked), I noticed that CNN writer Ann Hoevel referenced it in a piece she wrote in 2012. Since I used to write for, that makes to writers from news networks who are still diggin' its Christmas cheer.

Here's about as much background as I've been able to unearth.

The album that goes by the unwieldy title of Songs From 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' and Other Children's Christmas Songs is not that soundtrack to the 1966 animated TV version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Rather, it's an LP put together some seven years later. The TV special had been run annually each December and had developed a cult following as the years passed. So someone, somewhere must have figured a new audience existed for this music.

That someone was likely the man behind this record, New York composer-arranger-pianist Marty Gold. Gold died only recently, back in 2011. It's a shame I didn't think to look him up while he was alive, because he could have shed more light on this disc. Oh well.

But even without researching Gold's background, you'd know this record was a New York effort because of the accents of the kids who sing. No other region of the country produces voices like the ones you hear soloing on "The Kitty Ate the Tinsel On The Christmas Tree" or "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

The RCA-Camden label originally issued this album. It was then reissued by Pickwick Records. I have the Pickwick reissue (which I found for a few bucks in 1999 or 2000) and for their back cover it looks like they (poorly) photocopied the original and slapped it together.

The album itself is a mixed bag. For one thing, it's very short -- the nine songs here comprise the whole thing. This is not an abridged reissue, as I had assumed. I checked on Discogs and countless for-sale copies on eBay and there were only ever nine songs.

Depending on your point-of-view, the singing of the children's chorus will either be annoyingly imprecise or charmingly amateur. I find it amusing, because the under-rehearsed vibe gives it an air of authenticity and enthusiasm. These sound like real children enjoying themselves. If we wanted robo-kids from Hollywood, we could just tune into the children's music of today, couldn't we?

As for the songs, some of the best are the ones not from the TV special. These tunes might not have caught on as carols, but they're surprisingly catchy. The best is probably the aforementioned track about the kitten with a tinsel-eating fixation, but there's also a tearjerker that tells of a poor kid who sells Christmas trees in the cold ("Rags") and the elegiac closing track, which also has some unforgettably weepy orchestration.

I've seen this rereleased on CD but didn't buy it. You have to figure the master tapes are long gone and if someone (ahem) did a clean 320/48 rip complete with high-quality scans of the artwork, that would probably make for a better holiday present. So here you go.

Track list:
1. Trim Up The Tree
2. Welcome Christmas
3. You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch
4. The Kitty Ate The Tinsel On The Christmas Tree
5. Roaring Sam, The Snowmobile
6. Elmer Elf
7. The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)
8. Rags
9. Lullaby For Christmas Eve

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Marti Jones - Unsophisticated Time (1985)

If you happened to be listening to college radio during the summer of 1985, you'd have heard Marti Jones. Specifically, you'd have heard cuts from her debut album, Unsophisticated Time, a melodic melange of new wave, roots music, and would-be commercial pop.

I say "would-be" because Jones never really caught on with the general public and faded from sight after making a few more records. She had first come on the scene with her group Color Me Gone, and had made some noise on college radio and since her solo albums were better than that group's one release (an EP in 1984), you'd have figured she'd be a runaway success soon after. But that didn't quite happen. Details about Jones' career and life can be found elsewhere. I don't like to repeat things here that are general knowledge or can be found with two mouse clicks.

Anyway, despite its popularity at the time, Unsophisticated Time has never been released on CD. This has caused a lot of consternation among pop music fans. Some have complained. Some have cried. One even threatened to throw himself out a window.

OK, I might be making that last one up. Anyway, even if I am it doesn't matter because word is he lived in a first-floor apartment.

Still, the fact is that someone needed to step up and solve this problem of the ages, so I took it upon myself to create a super-clean rip of this album. It ain't a CD, but it is a 320/48 rip from mint vinyl I procured a while back at the Princeton Record Exchange. The price? $1. I picked it up in summer '99, during the days when no one else seemed to want anything vinyl-related. Hopefully, this will still sound as good to y'all as it does to me.

Related posts:
Color Me Gone - Color Me Gone (1984)
Marshall Crenshaw - U.S. Remix (1984)
Tommy Keene - Places That Are Gone (1984)

Track list:
1. Lonely Is (As Lonely Does)
2. If I Could Walk Away
3. Show and Tell
4. Rhythm of Shallow Breathing
5. Follow You All Over the World
6. Neverland
7. Hiding the Boy
8. Talk to Me
9. The Element Within Her
10. (untitled)
11. What Is Real
12. We'll All Be Gone

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Orlons - Soulful Sides (1963-67)

The (now-defunct) music blog called The Harlem Shuffle recently posted about The Orlons, the great early '60s Philly R&B vocal group that recorded as part of the Cameo-Parkway stable.

Most pop fans know know the group from their early dance hits like "South Street," "Don't Hang Up," and "Cross Fire!" But what people might not know is that after that initial run of hits and after they stopped making albums, the group grew into a first-rate vocal soul group on their 45s.

This happened gradually, starting when the Orlons started to do some numbers outside the scope of the typical Cameo-Parkway sound as B-Sides. It also happened somewhat out of the public's eye, because few of these records sold very many copies.

So I put together this collection, which brings together the best of their non-LP cuts, some of which have never made it to CD. If nothing else, it presents a really good case that the group's lead vocalist, the late Rosetta Hightower, was among the finest singers of her generation. That lead vocal on "Spinnin' Top" is among the best I've ever heard. (Hell, that record itself is one of the best things I've ever heard.)

A few notes: "Don't Throw Your Love Away" was covered by the Searchers a year later and became a moderate American hit and a #1 UK smash. "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" is not the Little Eva tune the Beatles covered, but a melodic Dionne Warwick-styled number written by Billy Jackson and Jimmy Wisner. And "Envy (In My Eyes)" is said to be the inspiration for Laura Nyro's "Blowin' Away," which was a hit for the 5th Dimension.

Track list:
1. I Ain't Coming Back
2. No Love But Your Love
3. Spinnin' Top
4. I Can't Take It
5. Envy (In My Eyes)
6. Goin' Places
7. Don't Throw Your Love Away
8. Don't You Want My Lovin'
9. Everything
10. Keep Your Hands Off My Baby
11. Once Upon A Time