#28 Rocket Men – Rocket Man (1974)

I decided to post this because the name of the song is topical right now. “Rocket Man”. As in the insult that Donald Trump, the orange-tinted and crypto-fascist President of the US, recently used against Kim Jong-Un, the bat-shit-crazy and portly dictator of North Korea. Seems as good a reason as any. Rocket Men were also the same group as “Rockets”, “Rok-Etz” and “The Rocketerrs”, a French glam and space disco combo from Paris, who appear to have alternated between these names over the years. (In fact, as “The Rocketerrs”, they released a more rocky version of this single in the same year). This song, B-sided by the instrumental version, is a trashy, junkshop glam, electronic disco number, which has the feeling of a novelty record. Nevertheless, it’s a good ‘un. I first heard the record on the Killed by Glam – 14 Euro Glam Rock Gems compilation on Moon Boot Records, and it was the perfect way to kick-off the A-side. The song presaged the band’s most successful era, as “Rockets”, from 1977-1982.


#27 The Raindrops – Hanky Panky (1963)

The Raindrops were a 1960s pop group from New York, associated with the so-called “Brill Building” style of 60s pop. This term referred to pop song-writing which originated in the Brill Building in New York City, where numerous teams of professional songwriters penned material for 1960s pop groups. The term has also become a catch-all for the period in which those songwriting teams flourished.

The Raindrops existed from 1963 to 1965, and was made up of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, who were also both famous songwriters in the Brill Building mode. Barry and Greenwich wrote Hanky Panky when they were in the middle of a recording session for the Raindrops, and realised that they needed a B-side to the single, That Boy John. Legend has it that they penned this song, Hanky Panky, in 20 minutes. Some unkind souls might say that it sounds as though they had spent only that amount of time on it, because it is an unbelievably straightforward piece of music – but that’s kind of the point…It’s a lightweight, fun, smutty piece of candyfloss 60s pop, which gets people on the dancefloor. Job done. Even Barry and Greenwich themselves, however, were among those who didn’t rate the song, and deemed it inferior to the rest of their work. Barry commented to Billboard’s Fred Bronson that, “As far as I was concerned it was a terrible song. In my mind it wasn’t written to be a song, just a B-side.”  (The status of the B-Side has surely never been so cruelly dismissed!) Nevertheless, I love it, and I’m not the only one, because the song has been covered a few times, by the likes of Tommy James & Shondells, and the Summits, to name but two.


#26 La Düsseldorf – White Overalls (1978)

La Düsseldorf were a German Krautrock band, who released three albums in their lifetime. The band, which was made up of former Kraftwerk drummer and Neu! multi-instrumentalist, Klaus Dinger, and Neu! collaborators Thomas Dinger and Hans Lampe, came together after the break-up of the legendary Neu! in 1975.

This track, White Overalls, is taken from the band’s second album, Viva, released in 1978 on Teldec Records. A proto-punk sensibility had first begun to develop on Neu!’s Neu! 75 album, and White Overalls represents an interesting point in time, when Krautrock began to cross over more fully into New Wave, with washed-out synthesizer sounds combining with trademark Krautrock 4/4 Motorik rhythms. Indeed, there is an unmistakable Plastic Bertrand sound to the song, but there are also still influences from a previous era working away too – namely Roxy Music. (There seemed to be a mutual love-in at work, because Brian Eno considered the band to be influential on him). Great stuff.



#25 Disco Reggae Band & Black Slate ‎– Sticks Man (1977)

Black Slate was a roots reggae band formed in 1974, including musicians from England, Jamaica, and Anguilla. Having backed Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe on their UK tours, they had their own reggae-chart hit themselves in 1977, (teaming up with the Disco Reggae Band), with this anti-mugging song, Sticks Man. The record was a hit the Dutch and Belgian charts, (after becoming a surprising underground hit in Antwerp nightclubs). Listening to it now, you can hear the musical DNA of the soon-to-be Two Tone movement in the UK.

They toured the UK for the first time in 1978, and formed their own TCD label.  They also backed reggae legend, Dennis Brown when he played in the UK.  An album, Amigo, was released in 1980, followed by Sirens In The City in 1981, on Ensign. The band released two further albums in 1982 and 1985, but little was heard of them after that. However, a new album, World Citizen, was released in 2014 after the band reformed in 2013.


#24 T. Rex – Chariot Choogle (1972)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic death, at 29, of Marc Bolan in a car crash. There isn’t anything that I can say about Bolan and his band T. Rex that hasn’t been already written 100,000 times, but I just wanted to pay tribute to him on this significant date, by selecting a lesser-known T.Rex song, (if there is such a thing), and sharing it. It’s a track from their 4th album, The Slider, and demonstrates how far ahead of his time Bolan was as a songwriter, arranger, and musician. It still has a freshness to it, even in 2017. I got into T.Rex relatively late in the day, when my copy of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s heavily Bolan-influenced 1988  single, Sidewalking, sparked an interest in me to get to the DNA of the track. I’ve loved T.Rex ever since, and have often wondered what Bolan might have gone on to do had he lived. T. Rex’s final two albums, Futuristic Dragon (1976) and Dandy in the Underworld (1977), are still not really like any other albums I’ve ever heard, and indicate perhaps that he could have taken rock into wildly new and uncharted territory. Sadly, we shall never know. So much potential. Only 29.

RIP #Forever29trex

#23 Hüsker Dü – Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely (1986)

This blog post is intended as a tribute to Grant Hart, drummer of Hüsker Dü, whose death I have just heard about. The reason I chose this song, apart from the fact that I love it, is that it showcases Hart’s fast drumming style. I probably could have chosen better examples of his musicianship, but this is the song that came to mind – it was, after all, the first song I’d ever heard by Hüsker Dü – a joyous highlight of an awful time in my life.

Born Grantzberg Hart, March 18, 1961 in St. Paul, Minnesota, in addition to being drummer of Hüsker Dü, (meaning “Do you remember?” in Danish and Norwegian), he was also a  co-songwriter. Hart formed the band in 1979 with Bob Mould and his friend, Greg Norton. The band were initially  part of the American hardcore punk movement of the early 1980s, but their song-writing ability and musicianship marked them out as different from the majority of such bands, who usually sank into obscurity after one or two singles/EPs. In 1986, Hüsker Dü became the first significant band from the American indie scene to sign with a major label, (Warner Bros.).

However, this did not herald a new period of success for the band. In fact, tensions developed in the band after this time, largely because of issues surrounding Hart’s heroin addiction, (which he never really fully recovered from), and he even accused Mould of ensuring that he could not have more than 45% of the songs on each of the band’s albums. The band broke up acrimoniously in 1987 after releasing ten albums, Hart stating that Mould’s songs had become increasingly “square.” (See Michael Azerrad’s book,  Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991). After the band’s breakup in 1988, Hart formed the alternative rock trio Nova Mob, where he moved to vocals and guitar. Hart’s solo career became his main focus after the dissolution of Nova Mob in 1997.

There is a forthcoming 3-disc release of Hüsker Dü’ s earliest material, entitled Savage Young Du, which shows what prolific songwriters Hart and Mould were, and how influential they were on the American underground music scene in the 1990s. Indeed, the Chicago Tribune say that the band, “cast a wide shadow over American rock of the ’80s and ’90s and beyond, influencing untold thousands of fans and musicians, not least Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.” This was echoed by Hart himself only recently, when said of Savage Young Du: “Hearing this stuff for the first time in a couple of decades, I [was] realizing the historical significance of what we were doing at the time. Of course, at the time, we were a bunch of kids playing rock ‘n’ roll in the basement. But the potential that Hüsker had showed right out of the gate.” RIP.


#22 Bubblegum Splash! – Plastic Smile (1987)

Bubblegum Splash! were a short-lived indie band from Salisbury, England. The band featured Jim Harrison, Alan Harrison, Dave Todd, Marty Cummins, and Nikki Barr. The group disbanded in 1988. They recorded for indie label, the Subway Organisation, and their only release, (apart from an appearance on a split flexi-disc with the Darling Buds), was the 1987 EP “Splashdown”. Plastic Smile is taken from this EP.

The record showcases the typical sound, image and approach of the so-called post-post-punk “twee”, “shambling” “anorak” or “C86” movement, which churned out short, sweet and almost childlike pop melodies usually sung by girls, set against knowingly sloppy, fuzzed-out and feedback-seasoned guitars, and primitive drumming and tambourines. The sound had its roots in the Ramones’ minimalist three-chord structures, 60s girl group meldoies and harmonies, the buzzy punk-pop of the Buzzcocks, the DIY post-punk pop of Glasgow’s Postcard scene bands, (like Orange Juice), the Jesus and Mary Chain’s feedback-drenched melodies, and the melodic but raw sounds of early 80s bands like the Pastels and Television Personalities. The Scottishness of some of the key influences, (Postcard, Orange Juice, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Pastels), perhaps explains why a plethora of these bands came from Scotland – e.g. the Shop Assistants, Jesse Garon and the Desperados, the Clouds, the Soup Dragons, the Fizzbombs, Baby Lemonade, the Bachelor Pad, Rote Kapelle, to name but a few. Supported by a virtual industry of DIY pop fanzines and free flexi-discs, both the bands and fans tended towards a certain look – 60s-style bowl-cuts, anoraks or leather jackets (not the punk or biker kind), stripey t-shirts (essential), tight black trousers and winkle-pickers. This scene, which only really lasted a couple of years, and ran out of steam by around 1989, (being the key influence on the so-called “Shoe-gazing” scene of the early 90s), is catalogued in Sam Knee’s A Scene in Between book. I was very much part of it, back in the day, (complete with bowl-cut, etc, etc.), and had a great time following all these bands around with my goth girlfriend, (who moderated her black lacquered look at these gigs).

But what always annoys me is that there is no settled name for this musical movement, (a fact perhaps demonstrated by the prosaic title of Sam Knee’s book), and the various names that we do have are either pejorative or inaccurate. “Twee” and ”anorak”, make it sound like the scene was a long children’s birthday party, and ”shambling”, (a John Peel-coined description, celebrating the deliberately sloppy nature of the music), suggests the music was crap, which it certainly wasn’t. “C86” is a lazy and inaccurate title, given on the back of the C86 cassette compilation released by the British music magazine NME, featuring new bands licensed from British independent record labels of the time.  (The tape was a belated follow-up to C81, a collection of new bands’ songs released by the NME in 1981 in conjunction with Rough Trade). It is stupid, however, to apply this name to the scene described in this blog post, because the C86 tape had a track list made up of various bands with very different sounds and influences, and cannot be shoe-horned into one scene. Anyway, if anything, bands like Bubblegum Splash! belonged to the class of 1987. So, we need a name for this “Scene in Between”. Any suggestions?


#21 Can – Paperhouse (1971)

I’m posting this as a tribute to Holger Czukay, co-founder and bassist of Can, whose death at the age of 79 was announced today. Can were in the vanguard of a 1970s musical movement in Germany, rather pejoratively dubbed “Krautrock” by the Western musical press, (why have we never come up with a better name than this?), which melded atonal and repetitive rock rhythms with psychedelic, jazz and electronic compositions. Alongside bands including Amon Duul, Ash Ra Temple, Neu!, Faust and Tangerine Dream, Can ushered in a new and exciting period for German, and indeed world, music in the 70s. After a period of study under avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 1960s, Czukay played on nine of Can’s albums, including their highly-rated Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi albums, before leaving the band in 1977 to go solo. This track, Paperhouse, is from the 1971 Tago Mago album, and showcases krautrock’s musical style perfectly. RIP.


#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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