#20 Del – Motorbike Annie (1973)

Motorbike Annie is a one-off single released in 1973 on UK Records under the moniker “Del”, by Derek Parrott, (although he released a few other records under his full name). There must have been something in the water around that time, because the UK in the early 70s seemed to produce a plethora of one-off, obscure, folk-tinged, beautifully-crafted pop singles like this, including by artists such as Hobbit, A & A North, Dog Rose, and Knocker Jungle, (amongst many others). All worth checking out. Motorbike Annie is a lovely acoustic guitar-led melody, nostalgic and winsome in tone, with understated mellotron, and obligatory 1970s motorbike sounds, before building up to a heavy psych-type finish. It’s exactly the sort of record that this blog intends to highlight – obscure and wonderful. It was compiled on the Bubblepop – 20 UK Pop Oddities CD compilation (RPM Records) from 2005, and also came out on a retrospective CD of Derek Parrott’s early releases Flashback – The Seventies Singles. Both these CD releases are almost as hard to get a hold of as the original Motorbike Annie single, which seems to be the only way to access the song on vinyl. (I got my copy from Discogs, for a not inconsiderable sum).

From North London, Parrott began his musical career as a folk musician in mid-60s London, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Donovan. It was Donovan in fact who suggested Parrott travel to Morocco, in order to “find himself” as a poet and musician. He duly did this at the start of the 70s, and honed his musical and song-writing abilities on the busker circuit there. On returning to the UK, it wasn’t too long before he managed, through a producer he was friendly with, to record Motorbike Annie. The song, despite some plays on the BBC, was not a hit. Nevertheless, Parrott had got the recording bug, and in 1977 he got the chance to record an album, as “Derek Parrott”, with quality session musicians, and a few soon-to-be-famous musicians, including Huey Lewis of The News (on harmonica), and Tony Robinson of reggae band, Aswad. It was even mastered at Abbey Road studios.

However, two weeks before the resulting album, Open Up, was due to be released, the record company changed their distributors, and the album was shelved. Worse was to follow, when it was found that the record company had lost the masters. Nevertheless, Derek had always had the A side on acetate, and discovered a friend had an original tape of the B side. The album eventually came out in 1999 (just 22 years late…) on his own “Parrotttracks” label. The cover artwork cleverly mimics the original intended cover for the album, with an older, 1999 Parrott in the same pose as the 1977 Parrott.

He became disillusioned by his Open Up experience, and dropped out of the recording business for some time, (starting a lawn care business amongst other ventures). Eventually, he began recording new material again in the 1990s, and released two albums, which though they were not successful, were undoubtedly of quality. He died in 2011, aged 63. His was a tale of “what might have been”, and like so many quality musicians who never “made it”, they were dogged by sheer bad luck.

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#19 Svensk – Dream Magazine (1967)

Roger Hopkins and Jason Paul of Svensk, (very glamorously compared to most bands), met through Roger’s career as a fashion photographer and Jason’s role as an in-demand model. (I kid you not). Hopkins was also a music journalist, and became acquainted with many of the 1960s rock stars, which provided him with very useful musical and management contacts, and plenty of encouragement.  Formed in Bournemouth in 1967, as part of the town’s burgeoning underground music scene, Svensk, (meaning “Swedish” in Swedish. Erm…) wrote a clutch of songs, but got their big break when they played this song, Dream Magazine, to Hopkins’ long time friend, the legendary Roy Orbison, (I told you he had good contacts), who lined them up with record boss and Troggs creator, Larry Page, at Page One Records. He signed them immediately. The song was recorded within days. One other song followed in the same year with Page One, (You / All I have to Do is Dream), before they seemed to have called it a day. The song is a psychedelic cult classic, in the vein of The Troggs or early Pink Floyd.

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#18 Charlie Feathers – Can’t Hardly Stand It (1956)

 

Feathers was born in Mississippi in 1932, of Irish and Cherokee descent. Having started out as a session musician at Sun Studios, he eventually recorded a string of rockabilly singles on Sun Records, Flip, Holiday Inn, Meteor and King Records in the 1950s. (His best-known recordings were on Meteor and King). It has been said, (mainly by himself, admittedly), that his hiccuping vocal style was a direct influence on other contemporary vocalists, (although Buddy Holly would probably have disputed that claim). Feathers indeed talked big, and appeared to resent the fact that he was not more widely recognised as a rockabilly pioneer. He said of Buddy Holly, for example, that, “Buddy Holly would listen to me and he wanted to get on Sun, man. Then he went to Clovis, New Mexico and did `Peggy Sue’. A lot of people say we sound alike, but he heard me do the hiccup, so who copied who?” He once claimed also that he, “brought Elvis to Sun Records in 1953, man. Not only did I get him there, but I got him doing rockabilly. Bill Monroe had done `Blue Moon of Kentucky’ but I showed Elvis how to do it his way, so I arranged that record. I didn’t play on it but I was at the controls.” A bordering-on-scathing obituary of Feathers by The Independent upon his death in 1998 after a stroke-induced coma, compared his jealousy of Elvis’ success to that of Salieri’s jealousy of Mozart in the 18th Century, and that Feathers had grossly over-emphasised his role as an artist of influence. As they put it, “he [Feathers] was in Memphis at the crucial time, even if no one took much notice of him.” (Ouch)

Few of Feathers’ records were released in the UK, and none of his songs were picked up by the British beat groups of the early 1960s. He had been the victim of poor management, but was also reputed to be very difficult to work with. Sam Phillips of Sun Records, for example, claimed that Feathers could have been a major star were it not for his fractious personality.  It is undoubtedly the case, however, that Feathers was a direct influence on a later generation of musicians. Having been pretty much ignored until the 1970s, some neo-rockabilly fans in the UK rediscovered, (or should that be “discovered”?) him, creating a demand for his records. He became something of a cult hero of the rockabilly genre. The late lamented Lux Interior of the wonderful Cramps claimed, for example, that Feathers was an influence on his vocal style, and the band recorded cover versions of some of his songs. Other fans include Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. The Can’t Hardly Stand It  track, with its slightly menacing feel, and slower in tempo than a typical Feathers song, was recorded in 1956, and showcases his vocal style beautifully. One could easily imagine that the song had actually been penned and performed by The Cramps, and indeed, they recorded a cover version of it. It is startling, therefore, just how influential he actually turned out to be on a newer generation of performers, and this must be set against the unkind views of The Independent, and others. Eventually, there was a recognition of his pioneering contribution to the rockabilly genre when he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

 

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#17 Smith and Selway – 15.5 Remake (2000)

Straight-forward, ear-bludgeoning techno from the Swedish and American duo of Christian Smith-Solbakken and John Selway. Smith is a tech-house and techno DJ and producer, who began his house and techno label, Tronic, in 1994, then re-started it again in 2009, after a two-year hiatus. Selway has been heavily involved over a number of years since the 1990s in producing as a collaborator in many musical projects. It has been said of Selway that he, “has created and helped to create one of the most stylistically wide ranging bodies of work in the world of electronic dance music.” His first real success in the world of techno was as part of seminal New York duo, Disintegrator, but his most successful collaborations have been with Smith, as the duo “Smith & Selway”. Indeed, between 1999 and 2012, the duo have collaborated on 35 EPs and one album, which represents a pretty prolific volume of work. This one from 2000, 15.5 Remake, (superior to the more brutal 15.5 Edit on the other side), is a belter. It seems to encapsulate for me the sheer raw power, excitement, energy and threatening feel of well-produced techno. Like all techno, house, or disco, however, I implore you to listen to this at high volume on either a quality sound-system, (separates, powerful amps and speakers, etc. etc.),  or in the dome of privacy facilitated by high-quality headphones, (Sony MDRZX310 foldable ones should do the trick, fairly cheaply), otherwise it sounds tinny, repetitive and annoying.

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#16 The Metros – Since I Found My Baby (1967)

The Metros were a soul outfit from Detroit, and have been described as one of the least-known groups to have recorded on a major label – in their case, RCA Records. The group consisted of four members: Percy Williams (lead vocals), James Buckman, Robert Suttles, and Arthur Mitchell, and they released one album and three singles, in the 1966 to 1967 period. Their first single, Sweetest One (October 1966), was their most successful record, followed by this second, (superior, in my opinion), single, Since I Found My Baby, in March 1967. It’s a Northern Soul classic, with falsetto second tenor vocals, and showcases the genre’s heavy 4-4 beat and fast tempo, so ideally suited to the idiosyncratic flourishes of dancers on a well-sprung dance-floor. An original copy of this record would set you back at least £200.00, (have a look on Discogs), so thankfully, it appears on a plethora of Northern Soul compilations, and has come out as a vinyl reissue in 2011 on Outta Sight Records. (I got a copy of that one).

The Metros’ third RCA single, The Replacer b/w Let’s Groove, bombed, and ended the Metros time with RCA. A further two singles came out in 1967 and 1969 on Boss Records and 123 Records, (whose parent company was Capitol Records), respectively, but failed to make a significant impact, (even in Northern Soul circles).

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#15 Andy Starr and the Casinos – Just a Walkin’ (1960)

Known to his fans as ‘The Ultimate Rebel’, Andy Starr, born Franklin Delano Gulledge, in Arkansas in 1932, (named after the 32nd President of the USA, i.e. Roosevelt), was  a rockabilly musician. He was once described, unflatteringly perhaps, by Billboard as, “one of the more noteworthy Presley disciples.” (Gee, thanks Billboard). He had a colourful upbringing and adolescence, a childhood scarred by poverty culminating in his pulling a pistol out on a teacher, followed by a travelling, hobo lifestyle across the country, which he embarked on from the age of 14.  Starr eventually formed the Arkansas Plowboys with his brothers, Bob and Chuck, playing regularly in California until Starr headed for Dennison, Texas, where he got a slot at the KDSX radio station. The manager at KDSX advised him to seek out Joe Leonard, who owned the Lin record label in nearby Gainesville. Leonard was duly impressed, and a session recorded in early 1955 produced four songs. The first two Lin singles, Dig Them Squeaky Shoes“and Tell Me Why were credited to Frank Starr and his Rock-Away Boys. However, “Frank Starr” became “Andy Starr”, in order to avoid confusion with a country singer of the same name.

It was after sharing the stage with Elvis in Gainesville in April 1955 that Starr changed his style from honky-tonk to rockabilly. Joe Leonard saw a promising future for Starr, and tried to place him with a major label via a lease deal. He approached the influential Aberbach brothers, who took Starr to MGM. Eight songs came out on MGM in 1956 – the four Lin masters in August and another four in September. In spite of all the raw energy that these recordings evidenced, they were not successful, largely because of poor promotion. MGM had apparently wanted to nurture their own label’s version of Elvis, but didn’t want to pay the promotional and other costs involved, and sent out only 200 promo copies of each new release. In 1959 he single-handedly brought rock n roll to Alaska, with riotous live shows with his band, The Blue Notes. The owner of the Hi-Hat Club in Anchorage booked him for six months, but Starr, (now again calling himself “Frank Starr”), actually stayed there for five years in total. A strip act was apparently incorporated into his stage performance. Delightful.

The Just a Walkin’ single was issued on Valiant Records in 1960, (and re-issued by Norton Records in recent years). It displays the classic rock n roll-influenced rockabilly sound of the time – Duane Eddy guitars and simple, plaintive lyrics about sweethearts, dances, and so on. The record is well-produced, with the just right mixture of rawness and musical competence that is the hallmark of many a good song. I love it. (Play loud).

Starr also recorded for other labels, recording one single and two tracks for Kapp in 1957 that were shelved, amazingly, until 1995, and one single for Holiday in 1961. He also returned to Lin in 1963 with a remake of Lin’s biggest hit, Ken Copeland’s Pledge of Love, but by now the rockabilly style had been abandoned in favour of a poppy, produced sound. Returning from Alaska in 1965, Starr spent most of the next 20 years in a maelstrom of alcohol and drug abuse, lots of sex, (he once claimed to have slept with more than 5,000 women), and weird religion. However, he recorded a handful of records for his own Starr label during this period, including a live album at Idaho State Penitentiary, a religious LP and a, frankly, X-rated album. He was still performing in the 1990s, and his final recordings were made in Nashville in mid-2002. He died in 2002 of complications from pneumonia, at the age of 70. He was one of these guys who should’ve been a star(r), but because of bad luck and bad choices by record labels and by himself, he wasn’t. Shame.

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#14 Joakim – On the Beach (Superpitcher Remix) (2017)

 

Joakim Bouaziz is well-known figure on the French electronic music scene, although now based in New York. An artist in his own right, he is also a producer, DJ, and record label owner. His production history goes back to the early 2000s, with several releases on the Parisian label, Versatile Records. He launched his own Tigersushi imprint in 2002, and began putting out an array of new and reissued music from the likes of Cluster, Maurice Fulton and Metro Area. In 2013, he began the vinyl-only Crowdspacer imprint, from which this record is released. The record itself is an 11 minute-long Italo-disco, minimal cover version, somewhat incongruously perhaps, of the Neil Young song, On the Beach, from the 1974 album of the same name. Clinical, propulsive, machine-like, with a hint of Suicide’s first album thrown in, it’s the sort of track I bet that Gary Numan wishes he could have released, (assuming he did dance music, of course). It’s this very versatility and originality in approach that has marked Joakim out as one of the outstanding polymathic (is that a word?) performers on the current electronic music scene. Perhaps it’s best left to his website to sum him up: “Joakim has left his fingerprints on current electro, modernizing and hybridizing it, with no concern for schools and genres, taking his inspiration from new wave as well as krautrock, noise and disco, soul and pop, ambient and house.”

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#13 Product of Reason – Active Repetition (1980)

From the obscure Household Shocks compilation from 1980, comes this synth-heavy, Fall-like, post-punk blaster. This nine-track compilation of North of England bands was re-released in 2016 on Dark Entries records, preventing the need for one to fork out around £50 for a decent copy – which was previously one of only two ways to access this song, (the other being a CDr of their material entitled, A Cure for Insomniacs.) The band, with Richard Todd on vocals and guitar, (not the actor), didn’t seem to last long, and released only one single in 1983, Man of Your Dreams, on the superbly-named Tenuous Lynx records. Other than that, I can’t find much else about the band.

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#12. Schizophrenia – Schizophrenia (1995)

Schizophrenia by Schizophrenia was on a double A-side bonus, limited edition 12″ single, that came free with some copies of the Tresor 3 compilation. On NovaMute Records, and backed by Sun Electric’s Monolith, “Schizophrenia” was the alias of duo Moritz von Oswald, and Thomas Fehlmann.  A dub techno and ambient track, which samples krautrock legends Ash Ra Temple’s Sunrain, (taken from their New Age of Earth album (1977)), the song also makes more than just a nod to minimalist Steve Reich’s Music for a Large Ensemble. A real slow-burner, the song conveys a sense of nervous expectation and impending pleasure, which is amplified by the introduction of base about two minutes into the track. It remains ideal for playing at the start of a club techno night to build up the mood for the night ahead, and I must have heard it doing the rounds in Glasgow clubs in my early 1990s techno-house-head guise.  Although von Oswald is rightly feted as a pioneer of techno music, (and better-known as one half of both Basic Channel and Maurizio), Fehlmann’s contribution to this (very) short-lived project cannot be underestimated. As Fact Magazine put it, “‘Schizophrenia’ is a rare moment where he [Fehlmann]  allows himself to go headfirst into shimmering, trance-inducing long-form dub techno. Gorgeous.

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