Simply Banshee

When Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” topped the charts here in Toronto I remember a buddy asking ‘Is that Carly Simon?’ No, it was red-head Mick Hucknall. The band’s first lp was Picture Book (1985), which at that time I had as cassette. I have that & Men and Women (1987), A New Flame (1989), Stars (1991) in my collection. 

The band was good, if unexceptional, the original songs were good, if unexceptional, the cover songs ditto. It was Hucknall’s voice that sold the work. The music progressed to a more commercial, slick sound & by Stars I lost interest – verging on bland, adult contemporary as opposed to top ten. 

Sinclair: Que justice soit faite! (1993), Au mépris du danger (1995): French fun with amazing engineering, & a great singer. Production was done by members of French techno wizards Cassius (whose cds I love). The music is funky, sexy & danceable with songs about love, politics & dancing. I bought these in Montreal when I used to visit in the mid 90’s as a part of learning French. I never really learned much except that lyrics are often irrelevant to enjoyment.

I made a cassette copy of of a friend’s Looking Glass (1987) lp by Siouxsie and the Banshees which I eventually downloaded as mp3. On it the band covers songs by Roxy Music, The Doors etc. They move from their Goth sound to a more alternative rock sensibility & I liked the song they chose to interpret. I’ve heard other lps but they didn’t grab me. I did eventually add Gold: a 2 cd compilation of their ‘hits’ & alternate takes. 

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Silver and Garfunkel

The now legendary Silver Apples were an American electronic rock group from New York. They are a pioneering fusion of rock and electronic music. Until 2008 when I picked up this cd of their first two lps all I heard of them was their reputation. Silver Apples (1968), Contact (1969) show where ELP & the British electronic movement sprung from. The first lp is spacey oscillators & drums with cosmic lyrics, the second is slightly more grounded with more emotion lyrics plus banjo (!) to give a sweet country turn. A group that was undone by a corporate lawsuit over cover art! 

Simon & Garfunkel were one of the best-selling music groups of the 1960s. I’ve had all their lps – some more than once as played them to grey. On the self is The Complete Studio albums: a 3 cd set of all the Columbia studio lps: Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. (1964); Sounds of Silence (1966); Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme 1966); [The Graduate (1967 Dave Grusin)];  Bookends (1968); Bridge Over Troubled Waters (1970).

Paul Simon, along with Bob Dylan were my two first poet idols. I later discover my influences were really their prime influencers: TS Eliot & Alan Ginsberg. In my high school note books I wrote ‘inspired’ imitations of both that were word salads as opposed to actual poetry but it was an excellent way to start. Nearly every ‘folk’ group in Cape Breton did their own versions of those early songs: Parsley, Sage; Homeward Bound; Sounds of Silence. 

The Graduate soundtrack is a separate release but represented a major jump for the the pair & works well as a soundtrack. Each release was a musically different as Simon mastered Top 10 songwriting. They incorporated spoken sections, sound manipulation without alienating their teen fans. Though I do skip some of it now, then I felt it was amazing.

I was also convinced they were lovers to sound so in harmony. With the last lp they had hit such a music peak fans were shocked & dismayed over the breakup of the group. The last lp is a sonic masterpiece with directions that Paul pursued successfully for most his solo career. (coming next week). Each lp has strong nostalgic emotional pull on me & take me back to my life as a teenager, as struggling queer boy trying to find an emotional anchor. I was disappointed to find neither of them was even bi.

I think of all their songs my favourite is For Emily, Where Ever I May Find Her. What is yours?

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Blue Cheer Seeds

The Seeds: psychedelic artistic statements The Seeds (1966), Web of Sound (1966), Future (1967), A Spoonful of Seedy Blues (Sky Saxon Blues Band) (1967) Raw & Alive in Concert at Merlin’s Music Box  (1968), Rare Seeds (1966-67). I remember The Seeds first & only big hit ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ with it’s garage band, pre-punk anger that captured teen-angst that few other songs did at the time. The sound quality was perfect for transistor radios. Who could resist a song about too much homework & parental expectations. 

There was nothing slick about the sound, the music or the pellmell rush off the guitar & lyrics. All I had was the memory. Several years ago, as I set out to reclaim my music memories I found these thanks to iTunes & couldn’t resist adding them to my collection. Web includes their ‘long song’ Up In Her Room in which they start to mellow out. Future is one of the sweetest flower power, sitar stoked lps you’ll ever hear. 

Another 60s one-hit wonder is Blue Cheer. A power trio that some consider the first heavymetal band. their first lp Vincebus Eruptum (1968) included the hit Summertime Blues, an excellent cover of Parchment Farm & solid originals. Their next Outsideinside (1968) (with hideous cover art) was more of the same, a bit more polished & trippy. I lost interest in them plus the local record store was mainly focused on top 20 lps so their next ones never made it to the east coast. 

I found New Improved! (1969) & Blue Cheer thanks to iTunes. Personnel changes also changed their sound which was still metal but not as heavy. By Blue Cheer (1969) they ran out of lp titles 🙂 & were also a quartet. By this lp they had lost their initially angry momentum & also, I think, they suffered from improved production. It was the raw energy & sound of the first lps that gave them ‘personality’ by this lp they were a band with groupie complaints, which I didn’t find very compelling. 

There are hits compilations by both bands that are fun & if you are a fan of that late 60’s rock both are worth adding to any collection. 

Do you have any favorite one-hit wonders from that era?

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Nyro Redux

I first heard a Laura Nyro (1947–1997) song without knowing it was hers. That was Stoned Soul Picnic performed by The Fifth Dimension – then When I Die by Blood Sweat & Tears. These were songs that stood out from the other work by these groups. In Cape Breton her lps weren’t easy find as she had no hits beyond these cover versions. I think my first lps of hers was Smile & Nested – amazing comforting music not as melodramatic as her earlier works.

I have either as mp3 or strand alone: The First Songs 1967, Eli & The 13th Confession 1968, New York Tendaberry 1969, Christmas & The Beads of Sweat 1970, Gonna Take A Miracle 1971, Smile 1976, Season of Lights live 1977, Nested 1978, Mother’s Spiritual 1984, Angel in the Dark 94-95, Essential 2000, Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro 2014.

She started as a powerhouse hits writer, but by her 1970 she was running out of stream & also wanted to move her music is more introspective direction. So there was five year break where she retrench, married, had children, divorced, moved out of New York city & returned to the studio for two of my favourites Smile & Nested – sweet gentle warm music that didn’t sell well. She lost interest in the music business. Settled down with the love of her life, another woman. I’ve blogged about Laura before & she was a music genius the music business couldn’t dictate to & like some others from the them (Janis Ian) she followed her own muse. The Essentials is a great place to start – or get the Fifth Dimensions Hit 🙂

The mp 3 collection also contains: Burl Ives: 20th Century Masters including – Ghost Riders In The Sky – a favourite of my Dad’s which I had to have. A couple by Ian & Sylvia: Nashville – Ballad of an Ugly Man, Full Circle – Women’s World. I loved these when I had them at vinyl. Two of the best Canadian lps you’ll ever have.

More Canadiana with Gordon Lightfoot’s first that included Ribbon of Darkness. Just for fun Donovan: The EP Collection. The Ep format was very popular in Europe – 4 to 6 songs on a small sized 33.3 – some never released on lips & some with different mixes. Finally Myke Mazzei’s Live At Amsterdam Bicycle Club, includes Nobody’s Saviour. This goes back some 10 years ago & it a sweet set by a talented Toronto singer/songwriter. 

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Nilsson Sparks Perth and the Frogs Beyond

Over a two cd mp3 collection if have Nilsson’s Aerial Pandemonium Ballet (1971) – reworking earlier material – “Without Her”; Nilsson Schmilsson (1971) “Without You” “Gotta Get Up”; Son of Schmilsson (1972) “You’re Breaking My Heart” “Joy”; A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night (1973) “Lazy Moon”. You might say I am a fan 🙂

Some of these I had as lp at the time, some were added later. He hit big with Everybody’s Talkin’ used in the film Midnight Cowboy. His songs run from ultra-romantic to hilariously bitter. His vocals on ‘Without You” are heartbreaking in a way Ed Sheeran can only dream about. Things apparently didn’t go well with her though, resulting in “You’re Breaking My Heart” – ‘so fuck you.’ On ‘Little Touch’ he does sublime work on classics while adding little touches of humour to them. A genius who got destroyed by booze, drugs & John Lennon.

‘Sparks’ Maels brothers group overflows with off kilter humour. Here I have Propaganda (1974) “Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her”; Indiscreet (1975) “Hospitality On Parade” “Tits.” Similar to the smart-ass 10 c.c. these guys are witty, musically gifted & relentless. The cover art on these is also amazing.

One of my mid60’s top-ten hit-parade loves was Crispian St. Peters’ ‘The Pied Piper’ the recorder was seductive & the engineering excellent. I may have had the 45 at the time. So a few years ago I tracked down his lps & here have The Pied Piper (1966) & Follow Me (1966). The 2nd has the radio mix  of “Pied Piper.” The earlier version is more sweetly folksy while the 2nd has more of a rock feel. His voice & other material is very Van Morrison Them period.

Alan Price made the Animals hit parade worthy & then departed the band. I have his lp with Georgie Fame and Alan Price: Together (1971); & the must have Oh Lucky Man soundtrack (1973). Fame is a British blues, r’n’b legend who never made it big in America; which is also true for Alan – except for the Lucky Man soundtrack. That lp was a must have thanks to the wild movie it is from. Price appears in the film – not seen it? Find it asap.

Barry McGuire: Anthology. If you are looking for a ‘lost’ Mamas & Papas lp his second is the one to find. Produced by John Philips & with all backing vocals by the M&P it is classic California flower power. The bulk of it is in this Anthology including the still relevant Eve of Destruction (by P.F. Sloan). After his initial pop splash he escaped rock evils into contemporary Christian music.

Another early 70’s must have Canada’s Perth County Conspiracy out of Stratford Ontario. I loved Does Not Exist (1970) & enjoyed Alive (1971). Sweet harmonies for a folk-rock commune when everybody wanted to love down on the farm & in a commune. Love songs, anti-war songs, amazing engineering. Free love overflows from these lps (now mp3s) though it was hetero love so the farms were safe for kids.

Not safe for kids was Jackie Shane: Live (1967) Jackie was a pioneer transgender performer who shook up the Toronto r.n.b scene. Think James Brown in drag (not be confused with Little Richard). Jackie became too popular & ended up deported back to the States. The music is solid soul with a fearless nod to queer lives. I have a collection of Jackie’s studios recording on another mp3 bonanza.

Finally is The Frogs: It’s Only Right & Natural (1989) gay garage band with cellos! Wildly funny, almost deconstructed pop with cellos! A clear influence on The Hidden Cameras. A track was posted on Tumblr & I had to have more. You want a slice of out queer music history this is for you.

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