Sunday, January 20, 2008

The distant sound of New York

UPDATE: I thought the original title of this post was a bit lame - so I changed it!

Me and the better half and some good friends are off to New York in a couple of days time to do the sightseeing city break thing. In anticipation of the trip I felt it only right that I should feature something that emanated from New York.

The track here immediately came to mind due to its label for some reason being indelibly imprinted on my memory. Why would that be so, I wonder? I suppose I like the simplicity of it, a home made quality that is somehow incongruous sat in the middle of a 12” single. What’s in the grooves of this single also has a raw edge. You get the impression the whole venture was produced on a shoestring budget and came direct from the street to your turntable. (Incidentally I get the same buzz about so many of the Reggae 12” singles that emanated from London back in the Seventies). All other scans I’ve seen of this label show it as yellow – except for this one at Popsike which is a charming shade of purple!

Chain Reaction released “Dance Freak” in 1979. The label states that it is "promoted by Peter & Patricia Brown & Tony". Peter Brown was one of the P's in P&P Records, the other being Patrick Adams. Patricia Brown wasn't the only Patricia to be named as a producer on the P&P stable's output. I wonder were these Patricias in fact Patrick Adams? Also the dead wax has the magic letters F/W NYC HP scratched in. That, I suspect, will be Frankford/Wayne - Herb Powers, so you know the sound quality is assured. “Dance Freak” was soon followed by “Sweet Lady/Changes” an early example of a “Jellybean” Benitez mix that appeared on the Jam Sessions label. Another label design that I love, it has an all together more professional look but has a great motif and use of colour.

The dreaded syndrum makes some appearances on “Dance Freak”, on the intro and in mid track breakdown. But grit your teeth and wait for the blast of the horns to kick in and then let the whole mess of bass guitar, choppy rhythm guitar and percussion get into your brain and you are powerless to stop those feet moving.

A version of “Dance Freak” is included on Kenny Dope vs P&P Records. You can also listen to another re-edit of this over at Another Night On Earth. If you are particularly averse to syndrums you will be pleased to know this re-edit has banished them to the recycle bin. But somehow I can live with them on the original, they somehow help magnify the power and energy of everything else that is going on. They also clearly mark out this track as a period piece.

Chain Reaction – Dance Freak 1979

Sunday, January 13, 2008


In my previous post I featured the first vinyl album I ever bought. Except that I bought two at the same time so I had two ‘firsts’. Also I explained that technically they weren’t my first ever albums (you can refer to my previous post for the explanation on that point). With me so far? Hope so, because I am now going to feature the last vinyl album I ever bought. Except that again I am going to mange to feature two albums, with purchase dates about 16 years apart!

“What is he banging on about this time?” I can hear you saying. Let me attempt an explanation.

As the 80s wore on my passion for music subsided somewhat (reasons were the usual ones I suspect - marriage, kids, enough other things to spend money and time on). I didn’t stop buying altogether but didn’t buy much, really. CDs had become the format of convenience, but vinyl still got the juices flowing, so every now and then I would still buy an LP. By 1992 though CDs sort of took over completely, and the records got shifted upstairs, out of sight, and in all honesty, for some years at least, pretty much out of mind. At this stage then I would say my first age of buying vinyl came to an end. So some 21 years (or thereabouts) after I bought “Motown Chartbusters Vol Six” and “Electric Warrior” I wandered into Bristol’s Rival Records (that’s what the price sticker on the cover says) and bought my last ever vinyl LP – Ronny Jordan’s “The Antidote”.

The Antidote” was Ronny Jordan’s debut LP. Ronny was born in North London and started playing guitar at age four. Wes Montgomery was an inspiration, particularly “West Coast Blues”, and later George Benson would also be an influence. Ronny was very much at the forefront of the acid jazz scene, and is still a very active musician, touring, and has released another six albums since his debut. When I first heard a track off “The Antidote” I thought it sounded very cool. Now I think it sounds of its time. It’s a mix of jazz/rap tracks and straight ahead insrtumentals that I guess fall into the smooth jazz category, although I’m not sure that that term had been invented in 1992.

Back to my record buying habits. From 1992 vinyl abstinence lasted as much as 10 years I think. Then I discovered charity shops and ebay, and rediscovered second hand shops, and my vinyl preference was rekindled. The records I buy now are invariably not new releases and are mostly second hand. This new phase of vinyl buying I refer to as the ‘afterlife’, and in my mind is completely distinct from my ‘first age’ back in the 70s and 80s. In this ‘afterlife’ the last LP I bought is of course the most recent and that would be Otis Clay’s “I Can’t Take It”, which the postman left on the doorstep last week.

Scholar put up the title track a few months ago and it blew me away. Research proved that it was never released as a single so I had to hunt down the LP. This LP was released in 1977 on the reactivated Cream/Hi label. The sound is classic Willie Mitchell. In 1977 As well as the Cream imprint, Cream were releasing LPs on the Hi imprint with two different number ranges HLP6000 and HLP8000. It seems that the 8000 range were all LPs of material previously available on Hi, whereas the 6000 range were new releases. “I Can’t Take It” is HI HLP6003 making it new at the time. Except for the Star Wars effects on "House Aint A Home" (which, amazingly, work - only Willie could pull that off) it sounds like the material could have been recorded earlier in the 70s and had just been lying around (criminally) unissued.

Of course by the time you read this I probably will have been buying again, so Otis Clay will no longer hold the joint title of ‘last ever vinyl album bought”!

Ronny Jordan – Get To Grips 1992
Ronny Jordan – Summer Smile 1992

Otis Clay – House Aint A Home (Without A Woman) 1977
Otis Clay – Keep On Loving Me 1977

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Back to now

I notched up 50 years on this planet on New Year’s Eve. It’s enough to bring on a bout of reminiscing.

1971 was the year I really got into music. Perfectly synchronised with entering my teens. Until then it had always been jumpers for goalposts, conkers, and dens. Then, all of a sudden, record tokens made an appearance on my Christmas and birthday lists. With those record tokens I went to Boots (who would have thought then that in 2007 they would be using an obscure Ernie K Doe track from the beginning of the 70s to advertise their wares) and bought my first two proper albums. I say proper albums because I think I already had three albums by then – The Most Of Lulu, The Move’s Fire Brigade, and the 1970 FA Cup Final Chelsea v Leeds commentary. But two of those were cheap price MFP albums and the other was spoken word, so I claim they don’t really count – I know I’m straying close to geek territory when I say that.

As I said I bought two albums at the same time so it’s not really possible to say which qualifies as being first. I suppose the album listed first on the original receipt from the transaction would qualify, but as far as I know I no longer have it so I cannot tell you which was first. (I could argue that as one of these albums is a compilation it also doesn’t really count as a ‘proper’ album, but then I would really have pitched camp in the geeks world, and I don’t want to go there).

The two albums I bought sometime over the Christmas school holidays in 1971 were T.Rex’s “Electric Warrior” and “Motown Chartbusters Vol Six” and, of course, I still have them.

“Motown Chartbusters Vol Six” is the one that sports an early example of Roger Dean’s artwork with the bug on the front cover. Doing a quick bit of research just now I have learnt that this was a development from the Fly logo that he designed for Fly records. And which label was “Electric Warrior” released on? Yes, you guessed it – Fly. Well what do you know? Spooky.

On the back cover of “Motown Chartbusters Vol Six” are the words “Motortown Review 2008”. Why 2008 I wonder? A possibility is that 2008 in fact means 20th August and that was the original release date in 1971 August (the Chartbusters series were UK only issues reflecting for the most part hits as they happened in the UK as opposed to the US). Alternatively it could be the year 2008 and they randomly chose a year sometime in the future to support the futuristic theme of the cover art.

I’m going with the latter theory - Motown wanted to make a statement that they were staying ahead of the game in 1971. Thirty seven years ahead of the game to be precise.

So here we are, we have now reached 2008 and the music in the grooves of “Motown Chartbusters Vol Six” can fairly be said to have reached classic status. People will talk about the Sixties being the decade defined by The Beatles, but Motown was also at the pinnacle of popular music in the Sixties. Into the Seventies Lennon and McCartney became distinct also rans in my book but in a pop music world that was becoming increasingly complex and competitive Motown continued to produce music of the highest quality.

Then and now the general consensus is, I think, that Volume Three was the best ever Motown Chartbusters album. That one was chock full of massive hits and possibly reflected Motown at the peak of their powers. It also had that fantastic silver cover. But Volume Six runs it mighty close and as it made up my first ever purchase of ‘proper’ albums it has to get my vote as the best in the series.

If you were too young to pick up on Motown first time round (even I joined the party at least half way through) you should really go and pick up these compilations now. They are dirt cheap and every track is a gem. Start with Volumes Three, Four, Five, and Six and you can’t go wrong. Hell, why not buy the Volumes 1-6 box set.

After 1971 Motown and Soul music in general only had a few of the golden years left. They don’t make them like this anymore (sorry, but I am 50 so I am allowed to say things like that!).

The Supremes – Nathan Jones 1971
Four Tops – Simple Game 1971

And for those of you in the southern hemisphere (the rest of us can dream!):

The Temptations – It’s Summer 1971