Neon Dionne

Even though I hope your week is going as good as mine, I know I am the luckier guy! You know how I know? Because last week I got a passel of vintage Dionne Warwick reissue from my good friends at Collector’s Choice and I’ve been having a helluva time going through these albums and enjoying the lite-soul contained herein. Sure, I love Stax and the real greasy kind of soul as much as the next soul fan but I really started to fall in love with Dionne’s voice listening to these albums. For the most part they kill!

But don’t believe me (even though I’ve never steered you wrong before), check this review out (which was also written by me – I win!):

Dionne Warwick – Presenting Dionne Warwick
Dionne Warwick – Here I Am
Dionne Warwick – Here Where There Is Love
Dionne Warwick – The Magic Of Believing
Dionne Warwick – On Stage And In The Movies
Dionne Warwick – In Paris
Dionne Warwick – The Sensitive Sound Of
Dionne Warwick – Anyone Who Had A Heart
Dionne Warwick – Love At First Sight
Dionne Warwick – Make Way For

As all things Bacharach are starting to get their long desreved notice, there is no better place to start appreciating the wonderful songwriting and production talents of one-time team Burt Bacharach and Hal David than listening to some classic Dionne Warwick albums. After all, it was Bacharach and David who first helped turned this pop and soft-soul thrush into the major star she became. Thanks to reissue label Collector’s Choice, the best of Warwick’s work on Scepter Records both with and without this legendary duo has just been re-released back into the beautiful sunlight of the marketplace where it should have always been, untouched and pristine and as pure as Warwick’s voice itself. With Bacharach’s eccentric melodies and David’s pithy and heartfelt lyrics at her seeming disposal, how could Warwick not have ended up a star?

The vocalist’s first album for Scepter, the aptly-titled Presenting Dionne Warwick (’63), was her initial foray with the team of Bacharach and David. She met them while singing backup on a Drifters’ song, Mexican Divorce, which Bacharach and David had written. At the time, Warwick was just getting her feet wet in the business while Bacharach and David were also trying to find not only their footing in the music busines, but also a perfect vehicle with which to interpret their distinctive songs. Immediately after hearing Dionne Warwick and noting her professional, yet eager, demeanor, they had found their muse and started to writing. In fact, they wrote so much after being inspired by Warwick’s voice, they wrote about three-fourths of this disc’s songs. Surprisingly for a first-time effort, they also were able to score some top hits: Don’t Make Me Over (which was initially rejected by the head of Scepter), Wishin’ & Hopin’ (also a huge hit for Dusty Springfield in Europe) and Make It Easy On Yourself.

The next disc, Anyone Who Had A Heart (’64), seems a little rushed, but still has plenty of Bacharach and David brilliance as well as the beautifully effortless tone of Warwick in her prime. Why does it seem rushed? Three songs from the previous album (Warwick’s debut) were seemingly tacked on just to flesh out the album. The label must have been desirous to take advantage of Warwick’s hits and wanted another album to ship out despite not having enough new songs in the can for an all-new release. Thus, a consumer buying this second album is really only getting an extended EP’s worth of material. While this was done often in the ’60’s, the reason it was done is obvious – to take advantage of an artist’s sudden surge of popularity. After scoring a handful of hits on her first album and having her songs slavishly covered overseas by the likes of Cilla Black and Dusty Springfield, Warwick was beyond being a hot property and was close to being what we now refer to as a mega-star. With her classic good looks and stellar voice, she was a veritable phenomenon. It is not a surprise the label wanted to get more product out on the market. Hits from this album include Don’t Make Me Over (the same version as her debut album – thrown in to spark sales) and Anyone Who Had A Heart (the title track), both solid songs that remained in Warwick’s repetoire for years.

Surprisingly, Warwick’s third album for Scepter, Make Way for Dionne Warwick (’64) also had one cut repeated from her debut but, thankfully, the rest of the album contained new material. This album became a milestone for Warwick as this was her first album to make the charts after previously only scoring several huge single hits. Pretty much staying true to the formula previously perfected on her earlier records, this album contains a bunch of Bacharach and David cuts which turned out to be huge hits and several songs from other songwriters that didn’t become hits. Go figure. Warwick ended up with three major hits from this album as well as recording a couple Bacharach and David songs which turned out later to be hits for other artists (Close To You which hit for The Carpenters and the repeat track Wishin’ and Hopin’ which Dusty Springfield took the the top of the charts in Europe). Warwick’s hits from this album were Wishin’ and Hopin’ (again, a repeat from her first album), the classic Walk On By, and You’ll Never Get To Heaven.

The first major break in Warwick’s hit making ways came with her next album for Scepter, The Sensitive Sound Of Dionne Warwick which was released in 1965. Though the album did not produce even one hit for the singer, the performances are of a piece with her earlier albums, making this one of the most overlooked and most revelatory albums for Warwick’s many fans. Once again, most of the best songs on the album come from the very talented Bacharach and David team while the rest are divvied up between a number of other songwriters. While it seems Scepter Records was trying to give Warwick a little room to experiment with other writers so she didn’t get “typecast”, all her hits continued to be penned by Bacharach and David, so it really didn’t help much and these other songs usually felt like filler. This is nonetheless a fine album, as Warwick’s sophisticated singing and thrilling interpretations of her material are engaging and heart-rending as was to be extected by this time.

Here I Am (’65), the singer’s fifth record for Scepter, was another smash success for the trio of Warwick, Bacharach, and David. Scoring yet another trio of hits, the formula (which began on her very first record) used by the three continued it’s winning ways on this CD. Once again Bacharach and David contributed the hits while several other songwriting teams were used to pad the album out. By now, some of you may be wondering why Warwick simply didn’t wait to record albums until Bacharach and David had enough material for a whole set of songs. For one reason, in the ’60’s, you simply had to put out two to three albums a year or the public would forget about you in all of the other musical activity going on. Even the biggest bands like The Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and Supremes had to hustle out as much product as they could. That’s why you see so many covers on albums from the British Invasion acts. Secondly, the labels knew this and made artists do it as more product simply meant more money. Thirdly, Scepter didn’t want Warwick to be perceived as being dependent on Bacharach and David even though she was and the label conversely undermined themselves as they promoted the Bacharach and David songs much more than the others. Hits off of this album include Are You There (With Another Girl), Window Wishing, and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. The song This Little Light even contains some solo piano playing from Warwick.

A killer version of A House Is Not A Home notwithstanding, the next album chronologically in Collectors Choice’s Warwick reissues on Scepter, Dionne Warwick In Paris (’66), is not really a must-have by any means. Sure, it’s a nicely recorded concert album and all but, for the most part, lacks any real fire and is pretty much just politely-sung live recordings of her hits. Better live showcases were to follow and those wanting to hear some really good live Warwick should search out her other in-concert recordings and leave this trifle alone. For completists only.

The next disc in Collector’s Choice’s Scepter Warwick reissues is Here Where There Is Love (’67) and it was a huge record for Warwick, and a great return to form after the lackadaisical stop-gap live set Dionne Warwick In Paris. Here Where There Is Love stayed true to the usual Bacharach, David, and Warwick formula and gave Warwick her customary three-hits-per-album result. On this album Bacharach and David once again provide at least one half of the album’s songs (which, as usual, contained the hits) while the rest of the material (i.e.: the non-hits) were provided by other songwriters. Bacharach also arranged and conducted several other songs on the album, lending his signature sound (if not his songwriting talents) to other’s material with the unfortunate result being the songs left to other arrangers sounding weird and out of place compared to the rest of the album. It sort of makes for a schizophrenic feel, but Warwick’s hits (like the song Alfie) make this album a definite keeper. Hits off of this album besides Alfie included What The World Needs Now, Trains and Boats and Planes, and I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and all are done as only consummate singer Warwick can.

Another sort-of stopgap album for Warwick followed, the nonetheless beautifully sung and arranged On Stage And In The Movies (’67). While containing no songs by her usual hitmaking team of Bacharach and David and yielding no hits, this album features the kind of songs Warwick has always sung best: well written and pliable to her trademark soft-soul sound. Warwick’s talents have always been best used to convey a mood just as much as sing a lyric and movie songs and showtunes are written with mood in mind. Hence, a “throwaway” album that should not be thrown away. If you want to pick up a Warwick album that doesn’t contain any hits, this is the album to get. Sublime performances from Warwick, who has never sounded better.

Though it could arguably be said that Warwick isn’t the right kind of singer to sing gospel songs, she does a great job here in singing gospel songs her way on the album The Magic Of Believing (’68). Warwick has always been more of a pure singer than anything else. In other words, you won’t find Warwick shouting, using too much melisma, or getting too riled up in general while singing a song. Warwick just gets up and sings a song the way old-schoolers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett always did and that’s by picking songs with strong melodies. Although all, including Warwick of course, have great voices, the main thrust of all these singers was to pick the best songs possible. Songs that didn’t need anything extra to help put the point across. Therefore, when consumers saw this album with Warwick singing gospel and religious songs, I am sure they did a double-take when thinking about the result of such an album. They needn’t have worried. Warwick can make the phone book sound as eloquent and melodic as the most well-written song. The prevailing opinion is that Bacharach and David made Warwick. I suggest it is the exact opposite and this album provides the proof.

Collector’s Choice picks up Warwick’s career again in 1977 and the Love At First Sight album. Her last album for Warner Brothers before she would enjoy a career renaissance at Arista, the album is Warwick’s only release out of her half-dozen on Warners that comes close to her halcyon days at Scepter. Featuring a song written by Hal David (Burt Bacharch’s former partner and with whom Bacharach wrote all of Warwick’s early hits) and produced by the hitmaking team of Michael Omartian and Steve Barri, the album was nonetheless a commercial disappointment for Warwick though an artristic triumph. By the time she landed at Arista, a new formula similar this album’s was in place and she began having hits again, though not on the scale of her early years. She also hosted several popular syndicated TV shows during her Arista tenure which raised her profile considerably, showing that although Bacharach and David have arguably contributed the most to her success, Warwick was and is a supremely talented and versatile performer capable of making a song her own, no matter what the origin or circumstance.

These re-issues should appeal to anyone interested in sophisticated pop music with a dollop of smooth soul thrown in. Though they won’t get the party started, these albums will do a fine job in helping smooth the edges of a rough, hangover-filled Sunday morning.

Dwight Makes Right

There’s too much good music out there to stop this pace now, so here’s another review of a recent music revelation!

Featuring one of the overlooked heroes of the power pop genre, this CD from Austrailia’s premeir reissue label Raven Records manages to salvage two mid-period albums from songwriter extraordinaire Dwight Twilley!

So, even though Twilley don’t mind, here goes:

Dwight Twilley – Twilley/Scuba Divers
Raven Records

Thanks to this Raven Records’ reissue, many fans of the oft-maligned subgenre of rock and roll known as power pop are finally seeing their musical dreams come true by having this reissue of one of the genre’s heroes brought back into the light of day from the proverbial dusty vault. Long a hero to people who worship Beatlesque melodies, Dwight Twilley has never really gotten his just due for being an influential icon to many bands of the ’80’s.

Enduring all of the myriad storied, almost cliched rock and roll problems, from record company indifference to flat-out being hustled by one of his labels, no doubt played a huge part in his close-but-no-cigar career. Thankfully, his handful of stellar albums keep his name alive in music circles. These are but two of his exquisite works of musical brilliance his fans keep bothering the labels about. If left to the suits, these two albums would be undoubtedly hidden forever.

And I know what you are going to say – so many worthy artists have the same troubled backstory. All I can say is Twilley’s had it way worse. Let me put it in perspective for you: the only difference between Twilley’s tale and what happened to the group Badfinger is the amount of dead bodies.

After years of neglect, two of Twilley’s most sought-after recordings are finally seeing the light of day after languishing in the dusty record company vaults!

While not worshipped quite as much as his first two albums on Shelter Records, these two albums nonetheless contain some of the most consistent of Twilley’s work and should have been huge if only the labels had put the proper effort into promotion. And, remember: up to the point of these two recordings, Twilley had suffered the kind of career neglect that would have ruined most other recording artists.

Starting his career on Shelter Records, Twilley and his longtime partner in power-pop crime Phil Seymour had a monster hit with the song I’m On Fire. Combining Twilley and Seymour’s two great musical loves, The Beatles and Sun Records-era rockabilly, that song (and more than a few of their other great tunes) benefitted greatly from a curious and ear-pleasing combination of modern pop craft and slapback echo which would both end up being bedrock elements of Twilley’s music.

Along with well-crafted pop songs, of course.

Despite the song’s massive success, problems at the label kept Twilley from following it up and a new album did not arrive until 18 months later! Soon a pattern would emerge: singles would come out and flop due to poor distribution and promotion and albums would finally come out long after these great singles would come and go, scuttling sales and keeping Twilley from getting the breakthrough he deserved.

Eventually, Seymour (who had been a part of Twilley’s musical career since they met in 1967) decided it would be best if the two of them split and followed their own career paths. One could hardly blame Seymour for leaving his friend. Twilley’s name was front and center and the albums weren’t selling anyway, despite scads of great songs and killer hooks.

So, Twilley embarked on his first solo album totally solo, except for his brilliant resident guitar player and band lynchpin Bill Pitcock IV. Pitcock had been an early member of Twilley’s band and decided it was still worth it to keep his scintillating guitar work in the Twilley fold. Even so, for the most part, Twilley was on his own.

Not that you could always tell.

Thanks to Twilley and Seymour stockpiling several hundred songs (it’s true – from the days from the early ’70’s when they called their musical partnership Oister up until they went their seperate ways the two had cranked out pop songs like a machine) the album “Twilley” reaped the benefit of several of these tracks. Once again, if only for a few songs, Seymour and Twilley were reunited and the use of the tracks bridged the sound gap between Twiley’s old band and Twilley solo.

Typically for Twilley’s career, the album tanked even though it sounds fantastic.

Jumping to EMI for Scuba Divers did Twilley little good. Once again, there were problems with the album and it came out in a vastly different form than Twilley originally wanted. While still a nice pop confection, it was Twilley’s weakest album to date. Stalwart guitarist Pitcock was still on board but a lot of the life had been drained out of Twilley by this point. Songs seemed re-hashed and Twilley’s formerly bright energy was absent. He would soon find his groove again with his next album Jungle and last-ever hit “Girls” (featuring fellow former Shelter artist Tom Petty on background vocals) but Scuba Divers sank like a rock.

Although Twilley still manages to put out the occasional album today (including a great live set last year) for the most part his chances at having a big hit single and big selling album are over. Music freaks will forever wonder how a talent such as his met with so many disheartening obstacles when success seemed so close. Whatever the case, we still have Twilley’s music to enjoy, and thanks to these reissues, we have just a little bit more than we had before.

Hopefully the scads and scads of demos Twilley recorded with Seymour (who died in the early ’90’s due to lymphoma) will eventually come out. The real pop genius of Twilley is probably in those long-unheard tracks. Until then, we’ll have to make do with this. We, if not Twilley himself, are the lucky ones.

Lucky indeed, as Twiller DOES keep rolling on, letting these misfortunes roll of his back like rain. One of the genuinely nicest and most upbeat men in rock and roll, Twilley deserves as much success as he can get and hopefully one day will see his contributions to music rightfully honored. Until then, pick up some Twilley and see how power pop should be done.

The Music Nerd Don’t Mind……….

Four Seasons In One Day Or Down In The Valli

Back again my friends to the blog that never ends!

I am sure that each one of you in blog land has your musical “guilty pleasures.” You know, the band or artist that you love that probably would make your friends laugh because they are out of style or or are involved in a particular genre of music which is not considered “cool.” I will bravely step out on a limb and give you two of mine: The Bee Gees and The Four Seasons. While talents all, they don’t really come up too often on top ten lists or when people are asked to give their favorite bands of all time. Still, at one time or another, both of these bands were very, very popular and no one can deny their careers or their talent.

Today, I am going to talk about some recent reissues of some of the best of the Four Seasons’ albums and we’ll just forget I mentioned the Bee Gees at all, okay? Thanks…..

Four Seasons – Folk Nanny/Born To Wander
Four Seasons – Working My Way Back To You/The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette
Four Seasons – Reunited Live
Four Seasons – Streetfighter/Hope and Glory
Four Seasons – Half and Half/Helicon
Collector’s Choice

When contemplating the best bands in rock and roll history with an acquaintance or two, you’ll get a lot of interesting choices – from the popular to the obscure. You’ll get the obligatory Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC etc. and then you’ll get the slightly weirder choices like Badfinger, Raspberries, Atomic Rooster – that kind of thing. I can guarantee you’ll never hear the name Four Seasons when taking that kind of poll, despite all of their hits. Unfortunately looked upon as lightweight and a throwback to the Vegas-like showmanship of vocal groups like The Four Lads and their ilk due to their polished style and effortless harmonies, they are often looked upon as the Englebert Humperdincks and Robert Goulet’s of rock and roll.

And that’s just wrong for so mnay reasons!

After listening to a great deal of their output due to the new reissues listed above from Collector’s Choice, I’ve figured out there is way more to this group than most realize. A hit-making act from the early ’60’s all the way to the early ’80’s (the band has had some “re-mix” hits since but we won’t count those) lead singer Frankie Valli and the rest of the Seasons (who wrote most of their own hits thanks to member Bob Gaudio) epitomize streetcorner cool. A real Italian tough guy who is brazen enough to hit the highest, most feminine notes and dare you to say something about it, Valli (like Dion and Brian Wilson – two other extraordinary vocalists not afraid to sing in a high register) can floor you just as fast with his voice as with his fists. His “gang” of buddies are also no slouches in the vocal department, either. Their harmonies are gorgeous and the instrumental work on the album is always geared for the song but never maudlin or sappy.

That being said, both the early albums Folk Nanny and Born To Wander sound really dated to my ears. Not only does the stodgy folk material not lend itself to great treatment by these glorified doo-woppers, but the songs they have picked are pretty cliched. As the era of the Four Lads and Hi-Los were coming to an end, making a way for doo-wop and rock and roll, these albums seem meant to bridge the gap and carry the group from one audience to another. Sadly, those interested in the exciting pop sounds of the band will find little to like here as these sides are very restrained and tame. Folk fans may be disappointed as well as the songs are not really direct and powerful, the way the best folk music should be. These two albums can be described as Vegas folk and are for the die-hard fan only.

Working My Way Back To You is vintage Four Seasons. Containing the monster hit of the same name and several other hits, this album features the sound of the band as most remember it. Street corner tough guys working their modified doo-wop and blue-eyed R&B sound to perfection and scoring radio hits by the busload. This is one of their all-time classic albums and every fan of the band should definitely pick this one up. It is sure to provide a lot of trips down memory lane for people who were around in the ’60’s and listen to this.

In other words, sublime pop-soul music.

Paired with the album Working My Way Back To You is the weirdest album in the Four Seasons’ catalog and possibly one of the weirdest albums in all of pop music. At the time the concept album Genuine Imitation Life Gazette was recorded, psychedelic albums like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds among many others were popping out every day as many musicians started to stretch the boundaries of rock and roll. Not wanting to be left behind and seen as old fogeys, the band decided to get with a young, hip songwriter and do a concept album. Grabbing Jake Holmes (the original writer of Led Zep’s Dazed and Confused before Page and Plant “borrowed” the song and “forgot” to put Holmes’ name on the credits) from the Greenwich Village folk scene, the band immediately hired Holmes to craft a concept album. To hear Valli and the rest of the Four Seasons try to stick with their vocal group style while singing over a weird melange of piano playing, psyche-guitar doodlings and mellotron madness is interesting to say the least.

Though certainly not their best work, the band gives it a college try and doesn’t come off too badly. In some circles (weird ones) this album is looked upon as a classic. I say: proceed with caution. There’s no hits on here and it strays far from the Four Seasons you’re used to hearing on the radio.

The albums Half and Half and Helicon were recorded almost a decade later, in the mid-70’s, during a period when Valli was trying to exit the group for a solo career, though, as albums, they sound quite cohesive despite Helicon not having much Valli on it. Half and Half is actually what the title implies: an album featuring half Frankie Valli solo material and half featuring Valli with the Four Seasons. Since Valli was the main vocalist for the group, the album doesn’t sound all that much different from a totally Four Seasons album.

That was really the problem with Valli’s solo career attempts as a whole. When he did do solo stuff it wasn’t really all that indistinguishable from the Four Seasons anyway. All of Valli’s solo hits would sound pretty much the same if he would have included the group on them. As it is, Half and Half is a fine album despite not having anything in the way of a hit on it. The band’s next album Helicon is a little weirder as Valli only has one solo lead on the whole album. By this time, Valli knew he was leaving the band for an extended period of time.

As the Four Seasons were gearing up for a tour to follow the album, the band needed to focus on a new lead singer as Valli wouldn’t be performing with them on the tour. Hence, Valli is featured mostly in the background and, except for the one song stated previously, has to share his leads with the two new singers in the band. While the new singers are fine, they’re not Frankie Valli and their voices are somewhat indistinguished and without the singular personality Valli’s voice conveys.

The album Reunited Live is exactly what it the title says it is: a rousing live document of the tour that saw Valli forego his solo career once and for all and join back up with the group instead of hedging his bets as he had done for years. The fact that Valli was way too old for a solo career by that point was notwithstanding – he had a good run for a couple of years thanks to the movie Grease and felt vindicated by his solo success, saw new wave coming and decided to get back with the group he never should have left. That the band really never had another hit is secondary – after a twenty year span full of hits their time as hitmakers had simply come to an end – nothing to be ashamed of, just ask Bob Dylan.

As a live document, this album stands with Frampton Comes Alive, at least, from the sound of the worshipful crowd. The group does not disappoint, giving the audience full versions of at least half their hits and short, medley versions of another fifteen or so chart toppers.

The band’s next two albums Streetfighter and Hope and Glory, recorded during the ’80’s, are mostly vanity enterprises albeit above average ones. You can’t blame the band for trying to score some hits, but the reuniting of the band in 1980 along with the successful tour and album was a fairy-tale ending that should have maybe been left as the ending. That said, for synth pop done for the most part by artists over 40, there’s a generous helping of quality stuff here and Valli’s voice soaring over a bank of synths (Valli’s voice soaring over anything is a beautiful thing) is definitely not the worst thing in the world.

It helps that the synths are programmed and played sympathetically and are not machine-like. Any Four Seasons/Valli fans will love these albums and most listeners would be surprised at how well the band adapts to the changing musical landscape and soundscape.

Those who have forgotten how much they loved the Four Seasons or for those who simply knew their name but not their sound would do well to pick up a couple (if not all) of these CDs and be transported to a time when great vocals didn’t depend on Auto-tune and electronic gizmos and great songs were common place. More than some of you will be surprised at the greatness of their work but the best thing is just listening to Valli’s voice coming through the speakers as if he was singing about you and your girl. Great stuff.

Along with Dion, Valli’s voice is one of the few that make me swoon the instant I hear it. The man could sing the phone book and I would be happy. Great stuff all in all, and well worth picking up if you are into 60’s and 70’s pop music.

Hey, Hey, Heyman!

Hello all! Thought I would lead off this week with a little heads up about a new album from one of the best artists in all of power-pop and maybe music as a whole itself. Not only that, but a hell of a nice guy to boot. I recently had a chance to do an interview with Mr. Heyman and it was very fun talking about music with him. Not just his own, either, but his obscure desert-island faves as well.

Check out the review of his new album below and please pick his new disc up and give it a chance. Some of the best power pop around, in my humble opinion.

Anyways, here goes:

Richard X. Heyman – Actual Sighs
Turn-Up Records

A criminally overlooked melodic pop/rock auteur who usually only gains notice from the power pop underground, Heyman has had a much longer career than his cultish but impeccable reputation (creator of 5 of the greatest power pop CDs ever made, in my opinion) would suggest, a fact that comes into play in regards to this, Heyman’s latest CD release.

I’d like to say this is a new CD, and in a sense it is, but with a very interesting twist: for this CD Heyman has decided to resurrect his first 6-song EP Actual Size from 1986 and reissue it along with another fourteen songs recorded at the same time but unreleased until now. And, lest one think this is merely the twentieth anniversary celebration of that first EP, it is also in some ways a near 40 year anniversary celebration of his first musical forays.

A much sought-after drummer since his early teens in the mid-’60’s, Heyman began his career by playing for some of the hottest bands on the East Coast during that exciting decade (and beyond). Heyman also gained a wealth of valuable musical experience by backing up many musical legends as part of one of the most well-known backup bands on the East Coast. A CD comprised of stories about Heyman’s exploits with legendary musical figures would be a great buy at any price all on its’ own and maybe he will pursue that avenue sometime down the road. Heyman’s book “Boom Harangue” has some of these types of stories in it, but not enough for my taste. Time to write “Generation X. Heyman” as far as I am concerned. (Forward all royalites for the book title to my attorney, Richard!)

That he has managed to master a plethora of instruments in the intervening years and become a home-recording genius only adds to the immense musical shadow he manages to cast. By the late 70’s Heyman was plying his speedily improving guitar and songwriting technique in bands with fellow future stars like Tommy Keene. That it took almost another ten years for his first EP Actual Sighs shows Heyman’s devotion to his craft and not wanting any sub-par material to leak out.

Mixed back in the day by Ed Stasium, this EP-turned-epic-album has a cohesiveness which is more than just semi-surprising. Sure, all the songs were recorded at the same time so you expect a modicum of similar subject matter and musical ability, but all the cuts retain a brilliant freshness and a thematic parity that turns the album into more than just a cut-and-dried reissue project. It boggles my mind how undated these songs sound and how much they sound like some of the lo-fi pop that is all the rage today. All recorded in Heyman’s home studio, his living room. (And also the inspiration for another of Heyman’s great albums, titled ahem…..Living Room!)

I tried listening to the album before reading the liner notes just to test myself to see if I could pick out what was on the original release and what was left off. To my surprise, I couldn’t do it. I was sure I would be able to pick the wheat from the chaff but there is no chaff! What Heyman could have done (which would have rare and novel) would have been to let people listen to all the songs and compile six of their choosing for their own Actual Sighs EP. Though it would be criminal not to have all the songs, it would have more than illustrated the point that there is no filler on this album. Why he left any of these songs off of the orignal release is a mystery known only to Heyman, but thankfully he has corrected it and let these great tracks out into the sun after all these years.

Anyone into melodic pop on a par with Paul McCartney, Todd Rundgren and Emitt Rhodes will love this CD. Filled with sing-along melodies and hooks that burrow into your head like worms, this CD will no doubt become the CD you pop in your car stereo over the summer when you’re driving around looking cool. In fact, if I were to pick the first CD I’ve heard this year that could be classified as a great summer CD, this would be it. Pick it up and see for yourself.

Be My Mighty Baby

Yes, me again! Back so soon with real groovy tunes so grabs ya a spoon and start digging in!

Fans of ’60’s British garage pop and R&B have no doubt heard of the great band The Action (and if you haven’t, check them out now!!!) so those fans will no doubt be thrilled when they find out The Action morphed and became a totally different band at one point.

Below is a review of Sunbeam’s recent reissue of one of the best of The Action’s post-Action albums.

Mighty Baby – A Jug Of Love
Sunbeam Records

Thanks to the great, great Sunbeam label we can again enjoy the thrilling psychedelic sounds of one of the most overlooked psychedelic bands ever to arise out of England. I, for one, have been waiting for this album to be reissued for a mighty (baby) long time! This reissue of this underrated band’s second album from 1972 is like manna from the heavens for those searching for long-lost psyche.

For those looking for a little more backstory, Mighty Baby rose from the ashes of another great overlooked British band, The Action. For a while The Action had been tagged as the band most ready to take over from The Beatles, and unlikely as it seems today, if you listen to The Action’s early recordings you will wonder why they didn’t do just that.

No less than Fab Four producer George Martin thought so as well, as he signed them to their recording contract. Come to think of it, he signed wimp-rock band America too so maybe ol’ Georgy’s taste is suspect. But that’s another story. To Martin’s credit, The Action really did kick some major ass. Mixing equal parts of the Beatles’ (and the other Merseybeat bands) melodic savvy with the pure rock power of the Who and Kinks, The Action were a powerhouse band that nonetheless didn’t quite get the breaks necessary to really hit it big.

After a couple of personnel, managerial, label, and even name changes, the remnants of The Action signed with the same management team as Pink Floyd and T-Rex and started experimenting in the studio. Unlike most hard R&B bands who attempted to keep up with the times by embracing the mind-bending sounds of psychedelic rock, the sound seemed natural and not forced and the current line-up seemed adept at playing the new, groundbreaking sub-genre of rock music.

Christened Mighty Baby by the band’s new label in an attempt at a new start, the former Action came up with one of the stronger psychedelic albums of the period, an album that stands up with the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow as psychedelic rock blueprints.

Sadly, it went mostly unheard.

Dropped from their label, the band managed to hook up with Blue Horizon Records for this reissue, their second and final album. Though as good as their first record, at the time it still unfortunately succumbed to the same fate: little airplay and hardly any sales. The times had changed and most succesful bands were either playing soft rock like Crosby, Stills and Nash or a simpler form of boogie/blues-based hard rock like Led Zeppelin which would later sadly evolve into the ear-wrecking sounds of heavy metal. For a band more interested in melody, extended fluid guitar lines and thriling vocal harmonies, the time had definitely passed. But that doesn’t mean this album isn’t bliss personified.

A psychedelic fan’s dream with exquisite melodic playing and guitar work to make your heart soar to the heavens, this album makes me wish we could return to the ’60’s for just a little while. Energetic with none of the excessive noodling marring most psyche albums, it’s a perfect meld of garage and psyche that will stay on your turntable for weeks.

Fans of psyche will wet their pants over this one. Pick it up, turn on and tune out, babies. Get some of whatever stuff you smoke when your parents aren’t around and start a-hootin’ because this shit is THE shit. One of the most excellent psyche albums around from one of the most underrated bands ever. Get you some Action and some Mighty Baby as soon as you can. You will not be sorry, and I will guarantee it.

Feel The Flame

Hello kiddies! Day three of my renewed music media blitz on this great site. Rejuvenated, re-energized and regurgitating only the best information about bands you should already know about but probably don’t, I am here to light your flame about The Flame.
As you will be able to tell (especially if you find their albums and listen to them), they were one of the best Badfinger/Beatles inspired bands to ever come down the pike.

Read on:

The Flame – self titled
Fallout Records

Those who love the late, lamented, oft-troubled band known as Badfinger are hereby put on notice to check out Fallout Record’s 2006 reissue of the eponymously titled Stateside debut album of South African pop-rock band The Flame. Originally released by the band in 1970, the album has been a much-sought-after collector’s item for those into power pop and classic rock. Produced by Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys but not sounding at all like that band, this album is sure to turn the heads of many music fans who hate the suckery of today’s modern rock and wish it sounded like it used to when it used to…um….rock.

While it is easy as a reviewer to compare The Flame’s special brand of rock to the Beatles and the above mentioned Badfinger, there are many layers to the band’s sound, probably owing to the band’s South American origin. Sure, the material is above average melodic rock by a group of musicians who had no doubt paid attention to the templates laid down by the best of the English bands of the ’60s but that’s not all the band offers. It’s also got depth and soul, and it’s far from being just a Sgt. Pepper pastiche.

But, before I comment on the band itself too much, I would like to make a few comments about the reissue label, Fallout Records.

Fallout Records is a direct descendent of Radioactive Records, a controversial record label that recently had to shutter it’s doors thanks to some lawsuits won by the Jimi Hendrix estate. It seems the owner of Radioactive Records issued a slew of Hendrix live tapes brought to them by an outside party without permission from the Hendrix family, which is why they were ended up on Radioactive instead of the Hendrix estate’s own label. During the trial it became well known that Hendrix wasn’t the only artist being ripped off by the label. Radioactive Records specialized in issuing rare psyche albums from the 1968 to 1973 period but instead of licensing the albums from the previous labels or artists themselves, Radioactive would just sell “needle drops” of those rare albums.

For those who don’t know, a “needle drop” is a term for a CD recording made from a regular vinyl album and not a master. In other words, most Radioactive releases are bootlegs, albeit authentic looking bootlegs.

When Radioactive closed down, Fallout suddenly came to life and one can only think that Fallout is doing business the exact same way. So, just for your knowledge, whenever you purchase a Radioactive Records or Fallout Records release musicians are not being paid for their work and most often they will be “needle-drops” as is this release. I say this not to criticize the policies of this label, just to let people know so they can make an informed choice when and if they decide to spend money on this label’s merchandise.

Fortunately, for those interested in checking out The Flame’s album, the sound is excellent for such a process and is one of the better “needle-drops” I’ve heard from these kinds of labels.

Now, back to the music:

A four-piece started by Blondie Chaplin and the Fataar brothers (Steve, Ricky and Edries), the band released a couple of albums in its’ native South Africa and had even scored a couple hits there (most notably a cover of the evergreen soul ballad “For Your Precious Love”) but had trouble gaining a foothold in other markets with their R&B-based pop sound. Caught live by Wilson during a Beach Boys tour overseas, the band was invited to be a part of the Beach Boys’ label, Brother Records. While initial recordings were tentative and pedestrian, the Beach Boys’ organization owned their own studio and gave the band plenty of time to experiment with their compositions and flesh them out. Wilson obviously saw a lot of talent in the band, and rightfully so, as this album is one of the greatest pop delights ever released in the ’70’s, despite its’ low sales. Sunshine-filled pop rock of the highest order, the band’s top-flight musicianship give the songs more muscle than most bands recording the same type of music. Unfortunately, the album did not take off despite the backing of the Beach Boys and their team at Brother Records.

Thanks to the album’s low sales, a second stateside album was never released (although a follow-up was actually recorded – hopefully these tapes will surface one day) and two of the now-defunct band’s four members were drafted into the Beach Boys themselves, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin. The other two Fataar brothers left the music business entirely.

Chaplin and Fataar’s tenure as Beach Boys was short lived, however, and by 1975 they were out of the band and out doing solo projects. Fellow music geeks may notice their names as session players and singers on tons of albums with Fataar’s claim to fame being a member of The Rutles and Chaplin’s recent notoriety stemming from a long tenure as a sideman for the touring version of the Rolling Stones besides tossing out a solo album here and there.

This album will appeal to all fans of late ’60’s and late ’70’s rock as it mixes a bunch of elements ranging from British rock to folk to some psychedelic touches as well. After listening to an album like this one can only wonder what could have happened to the band should their album have been a success. Their songs compare favorably to anything by McCartney, Pete Ham or Emmitt Rhodes. Tempering the pure joy at checking out a discovery like this is the tinge of sadness when the realization hits that there could have been more music from this great band if only more poeple had been listening. Still, this is a mighty fantastic album by a band you should check out immediately.

There you have it. Another great band on which to spend your hard-earned dollars. Don’t fret, however, as this album is well worth your shekels. Buy it and turn it way up. You’ll thank me……

Hoehn-ing In On Some Great Pop

I am back yet again to write about the best music ever created, if I do say so myself….and I do! I wrote this review about a recent reissue of forgotten Memphis power-popper Tommy Hoehn’s best album. With a new album by Paul McCartney not too far away thanks to a label owned by the very same people who help get me awake in the morning, I figured it was a perfect time to write about one of Sir Paul’s best students. So, here t’is:

Tommy Hoehn – Losing You To Sleep
Air Mail Records

Memphis has always reminded me a lot of New Orleans. Not only are both world-class cities with their own rich histories of influencing almost every aspect of the world’s culture from cuisine to art, but they both have a similar way of closely guarding their own, almost to a fault. Take, for example, New Orleans: there are stars from New Orleans that are worshipped like kings but are unknown, or long-forgotten, in almost every other place in the world. There are also plenty of other musicians who are virtual prisoners – so addicted to the way of life they are used to that they cannot succeed anywhere else no matter how hard they try because they simply do not, or cannot, fit in with the rest of the world and end up living in obscurity, despite their abundance of talent.

It is the same way in Memphis.

Though filled to the brim with people with more musical talent than they have a right to possess, there are also tons of the musically walking wounded – artists who should have, could have, had-it-but-lost-it, close-but-no-cigar careers – who just couldn’t conquer the hold (or curse) Memphis has on them.

Probably the biggest rock band from Memphis who should have made it but didn’t is the band Big Star featuring Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (formerly of hit band The Box Tops who had a monster song called The Letter). Influential to a host of ’80’s rockers but whose own albums sold hardly anything, the band remained a footnote in the history of rock until bands like the Replacements started namechecking them and covering their songs. Following up not far behind that legendary band in the Memphis obscurity sweepstakes is Tommy Hoehn, who has himself sang backup with Big Star (on Sisters/Lovers), and had been a vital part of the mid-70’s Memphis pop scene.

A master at McCartney-esque pop filtered through a Southern point of view, Hoehn was poised to break through big time in the mid-70’s when he was signed to London Records after the label caught wind of his first album, the enigmatic, self-released Space Break. Soon, he was hustled to New York City and given free reign to record his melodic but quirky love songs. The result was Losing You To Sleep, a weird little pop record that has a ton of Beatles and Big Star influences right down to it’s production. In this Air Mail Records version (a Japanese import) it is also paired with the EP that followed, I Do Love The Light, which is also an intriguing example of mid-70’s pop. Anyone checking out these albums and looking for the huge hooks of the Raspberries or Badfinger will come off a little confused as Hoehn’s hooks and clever wordplay sneak up on you only after repeated listening. But, when you do put the time in, you will be rewarded with the benefits of one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated pop records of all time.

Encouragingly, Hoehn is still recording today, often recently as a duo with fellow Memphis pop also-ran Van Duren who has also seen a career resurgence with an all-new solo album and reissues of his own older, overlooked Memphis masterpieces.

For his part, Hoehn deftly continues to make masterful pop and is a definite survivor who should never be counted out. Even though the classless inbreds who run radio might never notice him, I often hear his best work played on some cool satellite radio shows, webcasts, and Pandora. A truly cagey singer or band could take any one of the smartly-written tunes on this reissue (and any of his other albums) and probably get the hit record Hoehn deserved.

Anyone interested in McCartney’s ’70’s work and Todd Rundgren will find plenty to like on this wonderful reissue as the songs are all top notch with plenty of great performances. Killer Memphis pop, in a nutshell.

So, there you have it. There is a lot more to the story and maybe I’ll hit you with some additional info in the future (in the meantime, find the two albums Hoehn and Duren have done as a team, Blue Orange being the best of those) but for now, check out as much of the work as you can of the names I’ve dropped and I am sure they will provide you with many hours of fantastic music.

The Story of Stories or Going for Baroque!!

Hold your applause, please. If you must show appreciation for The Music Nerd’s very brief re-appearance on this site I would prefer you throw money in my South Easterly direction. And if not money, grab your good-looking sister or your hot girlfriend, attach the required amount of stamps to her butt and mail her to Charlotte, North Kakalacki. I’ll take it from there.

But, seriously folks, I am actually here to give you the lowdown (so you can throwdown) about a band name Stories.

Featuring certified musical genius Michael Brown (he of the legendary Left Banke and writer of their classic hits “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina” and also of even more obscure pop band Montage and that band’s eponymously titled long-playing masterpiece)the band Stories evolved out of a solo project Brown was starting for the Kama Sutra label. The label had signed Brown in 1971 because the label wanted an instrumental album that would marry the contemporary rock at the time with Brown’s baroque classical influences, hopefully culminating in an album that would distill the best of The Left Banke and Montage together in one hopefully chart-busting album.

Little was produced save two songs for an obscure movie soundtrack until the talented Ian Lloyd was introduced into the mix, however. Lloyd, a masterful bassist, lyricist and singer, sparked Brown’s muse. Brown has always done his most incredible work as part of a collaborational process and Lloyd managed to fit the bill perfectly.

The new band Stories was quickly rounded out by two of Lloyd’s friends and an album was released by 1972. The eponymously named, self-produced album perfectly exhibited the label’s desired mix between a more modern rock sound mixed with shadows of Brown’s former bands. Featuring ten new Brown compositions, anyone interested in classic songwriting in the Beatles and Raspberried mode will no doubt cream their jeans when listening to this great album.

Though it wasn’t a hardy seller, the band was excited with all of the critical praise bestowed onj them and started work on their next album, hoping to finally score a decent hit.

Sadly, it would not quite work out the way the band had envisioned. About halfway through self-producing their second album noted producer/engineer Eddie Kramer was hired by the record company to oversee the rest of the album’s tracks. While Kramer’s talent in the producer’s chair is reknowned, the band (anbd especially Brown) balked at having their control taken away from them. With Kramer’s style being a little too hands-on for Brown’s taste, Brown soon quit the band.

Surprisingly, that second album “About Us,” is even better than the first Stories album. With a tad more modern rock tendencies, the band found the perfect recipe for it’s music. Brown’s baroque touches gave the album a different feel than most of the boogie/blooze on the charts at the time and, although he left the band by the time the album was released, he still appeared on most of the songs.

Surprisingly, the band’s classic hit “Brother Louie” originally did not appear on this album. Recorded as a stop-gap single, after the song became a worldwide smash it was added to subsequent pressings of the album. It’s actually a cover of a UK hit by the band Hot Chocolate, and the song eventually rose to near top of the charts in many countries and became Stories only hit record.

Splintered, the band only made one more album (a disappointing disc larded with attempts to remake “Brother Louie”) before calling it quits. Both Lloyd and Brown have kept very low-profile careers since, Lloyd releasing the occasional solo album and Brown only appearing on only two other albums, with a group called The Beckies in 1976 and singer Yvonne Vitale in 1994. Though it is rumored Brown has been finishing another album with a reconstitutued Left Banke, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it.

The Austrailian reissue label Raven has recently put the first two Stories albums together on one disc and any fans of Beatlesque pop with baroque leanings will fall in love with Stories’ work. It’s one incredible disc with all the best of the band on display. I can guarantee it won’t leave my CD player for a long time. Do yourself a favor and pick it up!!

Care to Meet Big Boy Pete?

Yeah, I know, I ain’t been here in a while. No excuses – been too busy listening to great music to crawl out and scrawl out about it.

Hopefully that will change. Here’s something I recently discovered. I think anyone into late ’60’s/early ’70’s rock will get a kick out of it just as much as I did. In fact, I still got a footprint shaped indentation in my ass that this album left.

Big Boy Pete – The Perennial Enigma
Angel Air
Just when you thought every scrap of great music had already been reissued along comes grade-A material by an artist who should have been famous but instead wound up helping many other artists and producers achieve the long-term success he could never attain. Though it’s doubtful you have ever heard of Big Boy Pete, it is almost a guarantee you have heard the work of some of the recording studio operators he has trained at his engineering school in California, the Audio Institute of America. While his own career has doubtlessly ended up being very rewarding and influential in a roundabout way, it is a far cry from what this one-time peer of the Beatles (he toured with them in the mid-60’s) and psychedelic rock pioneer (he released what is commonly referred to as the first psychedelic rock song Cold Turkey) should have been able to accomplish.

Big Boy Pete, nee Peter Miller, has seen all forms of success in music from the front lines and from behind the scenes, and one can only wonder what this talented artist thinks of his own career being shrouded in mystery. After doing plenty of recording in the ’60’s with his early band Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers and then solo, Miller spent his time in his studio crafting these pop masterpieces for himself, not only to keep his musical chops sharp but also to help himself learn the ins and outs of the recording studio process as he was soon to open his soon-to-be prestigious engineering school. It is the lessons he learned watching legendary British producer Joe Meek when Meek produced the Jaywalkers that Miller mixed with his own pop sensibilites and crafted these songs (and others soon to be released) that have helped a couple of generations of recording engineers begin influential careers of their own and delighted music fans just now enjoying these long-hidden works.

For his part, Miller’s music is definitely influenced by the Brit-psych he was in the midst of during his tenure as a rock heartthrob in Britain. Not only a peer of the Beatles and Stones, he was also in their circles of friends, and cut his teeth playing to the same hipsters and tastemakers the so-called big boys were playing to. Truth be told, Miller was as respected as anyone at that time and was groomed to become a leading hitmaker. Possessor of a killer guitar-playing style and capable of writing swirling, expansive yet immediate rock songs, Miller was considered to be the future of British rock. That he never did quite break through remains a mystery to anyone lucky enough to hear some of Miller’s work though at the tail end of his career there he started to be reluctant to tour, falling in love with the recording studio and even sending other singers out to impersonate him and sing his songs. The resulting confusion over who actually was “Big Boy Pete” no doubt detracted from his career and befuddled his possible fanbase, just one of the reasons this CD has such an apt title.

Nevertheless, this collection of “forgotten” tracks from back in the day show Miller’s instrumental and compositional talent in spades. Most of Miller’s legendary tracks come from a fertile period between ’66 and ’69, but these tracks are totally unknown, originating from his first few years in the US while he set up his Institute. Beginning from the first track “Demo”, which is quite possibly the best track on the album, Pete brings the rock but also manages to infuse it with a wonderful songcraft usually missing from other artists’ psychedelic efforts. His music is not just fuzz-tone sturm und drang but melodic, expressive art combined with piercing guitar work with an eye for the greater good – a song with the possibility of achieving immortality. In this album’s case, most of these are stripped-down rockers, with little of the layering Miller used in the past. Even so, Miller’s genius is evident and these songs sparkle in the light of the new day this album gives them.

As more of his work gets discovered (thanks to all the collectors who have suddenly started digging under every thing not nailed down for unreleased and rare psyche) and released Pete Miller may yet claim his crown as the king of British psychedelic rock.

C’mere ya Pretty Thing

While I am fairly sure most of the music experts frequenting this blog have heard of the fabulous British band The Pretty Things, I would like to devote this blog to a fairly rare album of theirs that blew my mind the minute I listened to it.

Now, before you start guessing – it is NOT one of the band’s classic ’60’s albums like S.F. Sorrow or even one of their ’70’s albums recorded when the band started leaning away from their punky/garage/dirty-bluesy beginnings and attempted some classic arena rock sounds. No, this album was recorded by the band wayyyyyy back in the good old days of 1999. The album I am talking about is the expertly titled latter-day masterpiece Rage Before Beauty (on Snapper Records), their first true album since 1980’s supposed swan-song Crosstalk

Note to sticklers: the Pretties did get together to record one new album about a year before Rage Before Beauty came out and the story behind it is really quite cool. The band had decided to regroup for a one-off webcast of their music and, putting their heads together for a concept, decided to record a live concert performing their old concept album SF Sorrow in it’s entirety for the first time since the album was released in 1968. Wanting to make the event extra special, the band enlisted two ringers: Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour to augment the band as only he and his guitar work can, and veteran English rocker Arthur Brown to add extra narration and cohesion to the storyline. Needless to say, the resulting album Resurrection is an absolute joy and should be searched out and acquired as soon as possible. Often found in a version that packages it with the original version of SF Sorrow, while not eclipsing the original, shows the band is more than capable of continuing their legend without showing the usual signs of age or obsolecense often all-too-present in the middle-age-rock set.

But, back to the reason I am writing this blog: Rage Before Beauty. Often when listening to a new album from a band or artist of this vintage it is hard to put their past out of your mind and accept a new work as a credible continuation of a band’s legacy. Most likely, the band’s new work suffers from comparison like, say, the Rolling Stones’ releases of the past twenty years or so. Though they may be fine albums and the band members may be better musicians technically, the new works never quite sound as good as our old favorites, do they? Well, believe me when I say this album by The Pretty Things will not suffer at all by comparison to the gritty, sleazy blues rock they belted out in their formative years. In fact, it sounds as if the band has lost nary a step. Gone are the arena rock posings of their middle years and reborn is the anger and hunger this band of hooligans were always known to flaunt like badges of honor. Phil May, Dick Taylor and the rest of the Pretties fly the flag of down-and-dirty rock once again!

From the first note of the urgent rocker Passion Of Love to their ode to their lost ex-bandmate Vivian Prince to my personal favorite of the album Everlasting Flame, the band plays as if their lives depend on it. Guitars twine and twist, the bassist and drummer bludgeon their respective axes as if in a race to oblivion and May does his vocal exorcises on all of his demons on this little shiny disc just for our enjoyment. They even do a version of the Stones’ song Play With Fire that obliterates the Stones’ version. Only an ill-advised cover of Mony Mony slows the proceedings down for a bit, but the band recovers nicely by the next song.

I was very surprised by how good this album sounds, not thin and brittle like the last few albums by the Stones and Paul McCartney but full-bodied and very tough. I recommend this album wholeheartedly and suggest you get re-acquainted with the band as the US label Zoho Records has a NEW album slated by The Pretty Things to come out in the now-great year of ’07. Needless to say, I will be the first in line to pick the album up and if anyone tries to stop me, well, their in for a fight.

So, quit being ugly and pick up a few PRETTY THINGS!

The Music Nerd knows……..