#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).

metros

#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.

andy starr

#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.”

joakim

#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.

household

#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.

schizo

#11 The Valves – For Adolfs Only (1977)

The Valves were an early punk group from Edinburgh, featuring the wonderfully-named “Dee Robot” (aka Dave Robertson) on vocals. In common with a number of artists from the 1976-77 period, (such as Joe Strummer, who scrapped The 101ers to form The Clash in 1977), The Valves climbed aboard the punk bandwagon, in a Road-to-Damascus fashion, having become inspired by the raw and revolutionary energy of punk music. They ditched their former high energy pub rock sound and incarnation as “Angel Easy”, (although they still  looked like Eddie and the Hot Rods-esque former pub rockers), and signed to Zoom Records as “The Valves”. The band, chronicled in Henrik Poulsen’s book,  77: The Year of Punk and New Wave, duly released three singles, and eventually broke up in 1979. They reformed for a one-off gig in Edinburgh on 21 December, 2014.

valves

This single, their debut, and indeed the debut recording of Zoom Records, (ZUM 1), was released in August 1977. It’s a bit of a minor punk classic. Both sides of the single are worthy of a listen, but it is the b-side, For Adolfs Only, which is the one that really grabs your attention. (The a-side is the comedic, but sinister, Robot Love). From the opening “Ein, zwei, drei, vier…” , this is a pounding, aggressive 1 min 46 secs of 1977 punk. It rips the piss out of Hitler, (hating Nazis, or comparing the powers-that-be to Nazis, being common themes of the time), and has a decent, spiky guitar solo in the middle. It’s not sophisticated music, but that’s not the point.

The band released their second single, Tarzan Of The Kings Road (ZUM 3), in December, 1977, but it had none of the punk energy of its predecessor, having a more watered-down R&B, surf sound. Their final, and third single, in 1979, It Don’t Mean Nothing At All, bombed. Nevertheless,  the Zoom singles notched up sales of over 22,000, with very little promotion.

#10 Huey Smith and His Clowns – Free, Single and Disengaged (1957)

Huey Pierce Smith, known as “Piano Smith”, was born in 1934 in Depression-era New Orleans, Louisiana. A rhythm and blues (R&B) pianist, whose sound epitomised the infectiously rollicking New Orleans, Professor Longhair-influenced R&B of the 1950s, he is considered to have been influential in the development of rock n roll. In 1957, he formed the band, Huey “Piano” Smith and His Clowns, with Bobby Marchan, signing a long-term contract with Ace Records. They had several chart hits in succession, including his most famous song, Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu, (a Top 5 R&B hit), and his biggest hit, Don’t You Just Know It / High Blood Pressure, (which reached the pop Top 10).  As a black musician from the Southern States, Smith’s career was nonetheless typically difficult and challenging. This included difficult tours of the segregated Southern States, and (the sadly common story of) unpaid royalties. In addition, his sound was probably too un-commercial to maintain a long, chart-successful music career, lacking the pop-crossover appeal of artists such as Fats Domino or The Coasters. The hits duly began to dry up, and when Marchan left the band in 1960, this signalled the beginning of the end of The Clowns. After a very brief period on Imperial Records, Smith returned for one, last hit on Ace, Pop Eye, in 1962. He spent the next few years touring with The Clowns, as well as the other groups that he formed, The Pitter Pats and The Hueys, but further success eluded him. He gave up the music industry after becoming a Jehova’s Witness.

huey

Free, Single and Disengaged is a typical, if less well-known, Smith song. It was the B-side to Just a Lonely Clown released on Ace Records in 1957. As well as being a great example of the New Orleans R&B sound of the time, marked by humour and nonsensical lyrics, an interesting thing to note is that it sounds very like an early Bo Diddley track, (e.g. the song, Bo Diddley), albeit with a significantly different arrangement. Was Bo listening to Huey’s songs prior to the release of his first album in 1958? Probably.

#9 Hasil Adkins – No More Hot Dogs (1955?)

There’s crazy, bat-shit-crazy, and then there’s Hasil Adkins. Hasil, pronounced “Hassel”, was born and raised in the Depression-struck state of West Virginia, USA, in 1937, and endured a childhood blighted by extreme poverty and lack of education. Nonetheless, he became a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, performing his hardcore, stripped-down rockabilly numbers, usually as a one-man band. One element of the Adkins mythology includes the alleged misunderstanding of the songs he heard on the radio while growing up. As his sister Irene explained, “He heard Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams on the radio, and he thought they was playing all those instruments themselves.” One of his earliest gigs included sharing the bill with The Collins Kids and Patsy Cline. He began recording  in the mid-1950s, exploring themes for his songs which included, zombies, peanut butter, sex, serial killers, and an obsessive love of poultry. In the mid-1960s, Adkins first official single, Chicken Walk / She’s Mine, was released in very small numbers through a tiny, local label, as were all his subsequent releases in this period.

However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that his songs began to become known outside of his home State, (although he was by no means successful in West Virginia), and he soon acquired a cult following as the outsider’s outsider. Legendary punk and rockabilly band, The Cramps, recorded a remake of Adkins’ song, She Said, which brought his music to a much wider audience in 1983, on their Smell of Female album. This led to the creation of the Norton Records record label, which was formed by former Cramps drummer Miriam Linna and her husband Billy Miller specifically to re-issue Adkins’ back catalogue. This included the release of Out To Hunch, a compilation of Adkins’ songs from 1955-65.

adkins

No More Hot Dogs comes from this compilation. Typical Adkins fare, this dainty rockabilly number is about decapitating a girlfriend, and then keeping her head as a wall-mount. (As you do). The opening 20 seconds of laughing-policeman madness lets you know you’re in for a wild ride, and as the song proceeds, Adkins tells his recently decapitated girlfriend that, in addition to not being able to talk anymore, she “can’t eat no more hot dogs”. Quite. It’s wild, it’s mental, it’s rock n roll. I love it.

Although Adkins cited Elvis Presley and Hank Williams as key influences, the music he produced had a much more primitive, and a verging-on-deranged quality, and was a key influence on the punk rock/rockabilly mash-up genre of the early 1980s, psychobilly. Robert Palmer of The New York Times called Adkins’ songs,  “some of the most enthusiastically demented records in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll.” By Adkins’ own reckoning, he wrote around 7,000 songs, his creative juices stimulated and fuelled by his alleged two-gallon-per-day coffee habit, and a diet composed entirely of (often raw) meat. It was also a tradition of his to post a copy of each album he released to the sitting President of the time. In 1970,  Richard Nixon took the time to write back, and said, “I am very pleased by your thoughtfulness in bringing these particular selections to my attention.” The Guardian newspaper said this of Adkins in an obituary for him in 2005:

“His primitive sound and eccentric behaviour pulled in rockabilly, punk and ‘outsider’ audiences, but he was indifferent to the fact that many fans considered him a freak show; having sent out tapes of his songs over the decades to little or no response he was happy to have an audience”

 

 

#8 Iron Virgin – Rebels Rule (1974)

Iron Virgin were a Scottish glam rock band from Edinburgh, formed in 1972. Nick Tauber, who produced Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town, had scoured Scotland for a new band for the Deram label, a spin-off of Decca, and “discovered” the band at a local gig. Tipped for fame, and with a classic glam image, (big hair, ludicrously high platform boots and chastity belts), the band, however, were not sucessful, and recorded only two singles before disbanding. What went wrong?

Bad management and badly-judged song choice dealt a severe blow to the band before they even got going. When they first went into the studio with Tauber, they indicated that they wanted to release a song of their own as their first release. They were, however, strongly encouraged to record instead a glammy cover of Jet, originally recorded in 1973 by Paul McCartney’s Wings, from the album, Band on the Run, as their first single. This single was duly recorded and ready for release in December, 1973, but Decca delayed its release until February, 1974. This was a poor decision, because although the band enjoyed some success with this cover version, the single gaining some momentum in terms of sales, it was eclipsed by Paul McCartney’s own, original version, which was released as a single that very same month.

If the failure of their first single was down to bad management and song choice, the failure of their second single, Rebels Rule, (their own composition), also released in 1974, was a mystery. The song has been described by Billboard as, “A brilliantly bombastic ode to teenage anarchy; the single’s commercial failure is one of the great mysteries of its era”. It’s a stomping, pounding, fist-pumping glam anthem, the sort of song that Slade would have scored a Number One hit with, and with a chorus that the Bay City Rollers and indeed, the Ramones, would have killed for. It is frankly bewildering that it flopped. More puzzling still, is the fact that a variation of the song called, Stand Up for Kenny Everett, was often played on the BBC by the DJ, and so the tune must have been reasonably well-known to the radio audience.

Like many other such acts of the mid-70s era, however, Iron Virgin faded into obscurity until relatively very recently. This is because a critical reassessment of this period in music has taken place from the 2000s onwards, and many records of this type, (i.e. forgotten and obscure glam rock songs released on minor record labels), dubbed “Junkshop Glam”, have become  collectable. I suppose that the popularity of 1977 punk as a collectable category has entailed that it has now become an overly-mined seam, with few surprises or “discoveries” left, and collectors are constantly looking out for “the next big thing”. In this context, Junkshop Glam, particularly in the context of tracing the pre-1977 punk timeline, has become suddenly popular. Indeed, Rebels Rule is the first track on the excellent Velvet Tinmine compilation of obscure glam released by RPM Records in 2003. Other compilations of faded glitter acts also appeared around the same time, such as Glitter from the Litter Bin (2003), Glitterbest: UK Glam with Attitude 1971-76 (2004), and the curiously entitled, Boobs: The Junkshop Glam Discotheque (2005). These are all well-worth a listen, (despite some crap on them, it has to be said), as a starting-point for the Junkshop Glam genre.

iron

Because of their relative scarcity, some Junkshop Glam records, including the Rebels Rule single, are very difficult to get a hold of in good condition, and fetch high prices on eBay and Discogs, amongst other online marketplaces. I, myself, paid over-the-odds for the French version of this single, (see above), an impulsive and overly-generous late bid on eBay. I would instead recommend readers that if they want to track down Iron Virgin records, that they buy a copy of Rave-Up records of Italy’s excellent 2007 compilation of Iron Virgin’s songs in 2007, called 1974 Scottish Glam Rock.

Stay tuned for a special Junkshop Glam article soon.

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