Given how thoroughly the Sixties has been mined for musical artefacts over the years, it sometimes seems odd to imagine that there is anything left to discover. But of course, that’s silly, given how many records – especially one-none-hit-wonders – must’ve been released during the decade that pop first exploded. What’s more surprising than the fact that there are still loads of tracks that have yet to make it to CD is how good some of them are. So this collection of ‘psych pop’ from the Capitol Records vaults is welcome indeed, as most of these tracks, released between 1966 and 1970, are making their digital debut here.
This 24 track collection shows just how pervasive both The Beatles and the San Francisco sounds had become by this time. These are not, on the whole, psychedelic or ‘hippy’ bands, just jobbing acts looking for a break by playing the ‘in’ sound of the day. And that’s what makes them interesting – they take elements of The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles and other British Invasion bands and come up with reasonable pastiches that now seem almost more interesting than the real thing, if only because of their novelty value.
Opener Catch the Love Parade, by The Staccatos is a fine example, vocal harmonies and the odd freak out moment in a single that is almost great, but somehow isn’t quite there. Similarly, The Tombstones’ Times Will Be Hard is possibly the best Monkees song that the Monkees never recorded, a chirpy little number that sounds like it belongs in a movie about the youth revolution made by middle-aged producers with no real idea about youth.
Laughing Wind get a couple of numbers – Don’t Take Very Much to See Tomorrow is a good, solid little pop song while Good to be Around is a rather dull vocal harmony ballad from a band notable mainly for featuring Michael Lloyd, who would go on to produce The Osmonds and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
These Vizitors hailed from Indiana, but sound like they’ve listened to a few Small Faces albums, stopping just short of English accents on the chirpy For Mary’s Sake. Chris and Craig, on the other hand, are very much in the West Coast folky tradition (though their photo in the accompanying booklet reveals them to be the most unlikely looking pair of would-be teen idols imaginable). I Can’t Go On is an oddity – almost tuneful, it badly loses its way in the chorus and ultimately suggests that singing was not the ideal career for these two.
Jesse Lee Kincaid’s Masquerade is an upbeat little number that has ‘hit’ written all over it – though clearly that wasn’t the case. The Knack are not the same band that had a hit in the late Seventies with My Sharona – their track Pretty Daisy is all over the place, with a chirpy pop song rather marred by inappropriate brass, unexpected psychedelic guitar breaks a singer who sounds like he belongs on a building site. I imagine there was cover version potential here.
Raw Edge sound more like the real deal. October Country (written by Michael Lloyd) could almost be The Left Banke, with the gentle vocals, keyboard led music and curious time shifts and orchestrations you’d associate with that band. This was probably too complicated to stand much chance of being a hit single, but it’s pretty good.
Ian Whitcomb’s Groovy Day is as English as any Sixties song you’ve ever heard, with its references to ‘beautiful people’ and curious sense of eccentricity. Whitcomb also gets The End included here, a strangely left-field number that cries out for a stronger production – the music sounds very subdued and Whitcomb’s voice isn’t really strong enough to be this upfront.
My personal favourite song on the album also channels faux Englishness. Portobello Road, written by the unlikely pairing of Cat Stevens and Kim Fowley, is a lively, pseudo folk pop number full of references to Sixties fashions like “Indian boots, yellow ties and old brown suits”, none of which I see on my regular wanders down Portobello Road. Singer Ellie Janov certainly has an interesting story – the daughter of Arthur Janov, who would become John Lennon’s primal scream therapist, she recorded this at fourteen, went on to appear in Disney films alongside Kurt Russell and eventually became a primal scream therapist herself before dying in a house fire aged 22. It’s a shame she didn’t make more music, based on this.
Michael Blodgett also went from pop ‘star’ to acting – he’s probably best known for his appearance in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and The Velvet Vampire. Fire Engine Sky is curious affair, clearly influenced by Sgt Pepper, that sort of works. Robbi Curtice’s When Diana Paints a Picture is another oddly baroque, literate song that now seems inconceivable as a pop record. The execution isn’t quite there – again, you wish this had perhaps been recorded by a better band – but it’s an interesting oddity.
Timothy Clover wasn’t actually a person, but a ‘concept’. Trolly Care Line is a chirpy little number, very much in the late Sixties pop style, referencing ‘real’ bands but definitely bubblegum at heart. Similarly, The Unforscene’s Little Toy is a poppy little number, but perhaps lacking in the hooks needed to stand out. Anonymous pop can still be decent pop, but it’s unsurprising that this didn’t lead to bigger things.
The Sugar Shoppe’s version of Donavan’s Skip-A-Long Sam is more MOR than psych pop, despite a few mod techniques, the mix of male and female vocals hinting at the band’s show tune leanings. It’s actually quite cute, but perhaps shows mostly how the sounds of psychedelia had been so thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream by 1968.
The Sidewalk Skipper Band’s Sidewalk Skipper Song gets no points for originality of title – or of music either, to be honest, with this serviceable but unexciting number. The Pink Cloud’s Midnight Sun sounds very much like what it later became, a commercial jingle – think of the 5th Dimension and you’ll get an idea of what to expect. Curiously, singer David Lucas later discovered Blue Oyster Cult.
James Flemming was a twelve-year veteran of the Danish rock scene by the time he recorded the rather dull Alone, Alone, which unsurprisingly failed to make him a star in America. The Tuneful Trolley were probably doomed by their terrible name, but Hello Love is a solid pop ballad that features incongruous fuzztone guitar breaks. A New Kick proved to be a kick no one needed with the somewhat average Song the City Sings, a rather too bland effort to make any impact.
Griffin sport an impressive selection of moustaches and matching shirt/waistcoat combos on their publicity shot, an interesting look for 1970, and Don’t Leave Me, penned by Harry Nilsson, seems similarly out of time, despite references to things being ‘groovy’. Once you accept that, this is a rather entertaining slice of lounge pop, closer to Tom Jones than Syd Barrett. Similarly eccentric is The Surf Symphony’s That Bluebird of Summer, which is pure easy listening mixed with the Beach Boys. It’s a bizarre piece to say the least, more novelty than anything – but I’m glad it’s here.
So musically, this collection is fairly hit and miss, but there’s nothing particularly terrible here – at worst, the songs are anonymous pop, and at best rather impressive pop. But taken as a whole, this is a great sampling of an era, and it’s nice to see these obscure, almost forgotten records dusted off and given a new lease of life. Fans of psych pop will find much to get their teeth into with this.