The Listening Post: August 2010

The long, hot summer continues and I am escaping the swelter into the past of Mod/freakbeat-type stuff from a bygone era.

  • Friday On My MindThe Easybeats. It’s hard to tell with a lot of the records from this era whether the album is a genuine artistic statement from the band, or if it’s just a cobbled together collection of singles. That’s especially true with non-American bands since the American record labels frequently released bastardized collections of songs as albums. Either way, Friday On My Mind from Australia’s Easybeats is a winner. For starters, it has the classic title track which remains the single best waiting-for-the-weekend song in rock music, a song of such effervescent joy that it would make even the sternest curmudgeon sing along. But then when you add “Do You Have A Soul?” “Saturday Night,” “You Me We Love,” “Pretty Girl,” “Happy Is The Man,” “Who’ll Be The One,” “Made My Bed, Gonna Lie In It” and “Remember Sam” you start talking about an album that stands alongside the best albums of its type. If the caliber of the songwriting isn’t quite up to Lennon/McCartney or Jagger/Richards levels, there’s still no question that the team of Harry Vanda and George Young (older brother of AC/DC’s Malcolm and Angus) are still first-rate tunesmiths. There’s also a punky cover of the perennial ’60s standard, “River Deep, Mountain High,” a by-the-numbers Mod raveup called “Women (Make You Feel Alright)” and a throwaway tip of the hat to nascent psychedelia (“See Line Woman”). Whether Friday On My Mind is an artistic statement from the band, or a make-a-buck package from an American record company is, in the end, irrelevant. It’s a fine album, and much of it brushes the edges of brilliance.
    Grade: A
  • Rolled GoldThe Action. The Action was a middling R&B band out of North London that had the distinction of being signed to EMI by George Martin, the producer for, and man who signed, the Beatles. They played around for a few years doing the usual Sixties covers like “Land of 1000 Dances” and songs by Goffin and King. In 1967 they went into the studio and recorded a series of demos that showed the influences of bands like the the Small Faces and the Who, as well as the growing psychedelic scene. The record company hated the demos and refused to release the album, and the band broke up. In 2002, Rolled Gold was released and it’s a gem. The obvious touchstone for the album is The Small Faces, but it would be unfair to imply that The Action is strictly a second-rate copy of that great band. These are startlingly good songs, beautifully played and sung. Only the slow, acoustic-based “Things You Cannot See” is of a less than extremely high quality, and it’s not bad at all. Of the rest, “Come Around,” “Something To Say,” “Brain,” “Look At The View,” “I’m A Stranger,” “Little Boy,” “Follow Me” and “In My Dream” are as good as anything that came out of the London Mod scene in 1967 (and yes, that includes the Small Faces and the Who). The remaining songs are nearly as good. How this album never saw the light of day in 1967 is a mystery. Had it been released it would today be considered a cult classic along the lines of S.F. Sorrow or Something Else By The Kinks.
    Grade: A
  • No Way Out…PlusThe Chocolate Watchband. Things really were different in the 1960s, and some bands just couldn’t get any respect. The Chocolate Watchband was a rough and tumble garage rock band who scored with the brutal “Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?” a musical question that sounded like it was being posed by the Manson family, and not the Earth mothers who wore flowers in their hair. Once they went to the studio to record an album, however, the record label and their management started swapping out members and replacing them with session musicians. Even the lead singer was replaced for some songs. The end result of that is that this a band with no real identity since it’s nearly impossible to know who is playing what. Given that, this first album (in this expanded edition) is surprisingly good. The replacement players did their parts well, playing in the garage/punk style of the original band. There’s a fine, raw version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Hot Dusty Roads” and a somewhat psychedelicized take on Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” but the album is at its best on the punishing, fuzz-drenched rockers like “Love-In,” “Let’s Talk About Girls,” “Milk Cow Blues,” and “Sweet Young Thing.” The ballads “Misty Lane” and “She Weaves A Tender Trap” are also excellent and there’s a decent, but loose run-through of “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying.” Where the album falls apart are the faceless psychedelic instrumentals “Dark Side of the Mushroom,” and “Expo 2000,” and the dreadfully dull “Gossamer Wings.” No Way Out…Plus is a good collection with a few songs that should be pictured in the rock ‘n’ roll dictionary next to “garage rock.”
    Grade: B
  • Take A Vacation!The Young Veins. The two main songwriters from emo-weenies Panic At The Disco apparently ran out of mascara, so they split up that band in order to go all the way back in time to the mid-sixties. Everything from the Beach Boys-style cover art to the mid-Sixties production of the music mark Take A Vacation as an album strangely out of time. That said, this is a good collection of catchy songs. It’s far from a grand artistic statement and as an album it doesn’t stand up to the best albums of the decade for which they pine. This is not even close to being a Beatles or Stones album, and it’s a several steps below the second tier of mid-Sixties bands like the Hollies. The Young Veins have to settle for releasing a uniformly pleasant batch of very catchy, finger-snapping, toe-tapping songs that are in one ear and out the other. Yes, it’s a good way to listen to tunes for 29 minutes, but why would I want to go back and listen to this when I can listen to The Hollies’ Greatest Hits?
    Grade: C+
  • Love & DesperationSweet Apple. For those about to rock, Sweet Apple salutes you. Sweet Apple is apparently an indie rock supergroup, though the only name I’m familiar with is Dinosaur Jr.’s guitar genius J Mascis, who plays the drums on this collection. The album was the result of a gathering of friends in an attempt to help one of them, band leader John Petkovic deal with his grief after the death of his mother. The end result is twelve tunes that rock in a style unheard in decades. It’s not that this is the heaviest or fastest thing you’ve ever heard, it’s that it echoes 1975 in a more seamless manner than the Young Veins’ mimicry of 1965. Forget the cover art that shamelessly steals from Roxy Music’s Country Life. There are no pretensions to Roxy-style art rock. This is also not the arena rock of Queen or Bad Company. Sweet Apple is the unrepentant outdoor summer festival rock of Grand Funk Railroad, minus the shirtless poetry of Mark Farner, the bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher, and the competent drumming of Don Brewer. “Do You Remember” and “Somebody Else’s Problem” are great heavy rock, and “Blindfold” rides an asteroid-sized riff into your skull and climaxes with a corrosive guitar solo that will turn your brain to goo. Nothing else on the album rises quite to the level of these three songs, but all of the rest is pretty darn close. If you like your rock music heavy in that stadium boogie style, but played with an alt-rock edge, Sweet Apple hits the bulls-eye.
    Grade: B+