Classic Albums Revisited: Out-A Space – The Spotnicks In London

The surf guitar spacemen from Sweden visit London for an incongruous collection of easy listening pop.

So, who is Sweden’s most successful band? Well, that’s easy – it’s obviously Abba. But who is the second most successful? That would be The Spotnicks, a mostly instrumental surf guitar band from the 1960s that most of you probably haven’t even heard of. Such are the vagaries of fame.

It’s hard now to imagine a time when a band could make a name for itself playing mostly instrumentals, but such bands were all the rage in the early Sixties in the wasteland between the first burst of rock ‘n’ roll and The Beatles, when all manner of new sounds were tried out, with a surprising number of gimmicky tunes and novelty records being issued. The Spotnicks certainly had a gimmick – the band originally took to the stage dressed as spacemen, the space race being the big thing of the era. Curiously though, much of the stuff on this album – recorded in one non-stop session in 1962 and not, as you might have thought, a live album – stays thoroughly earthbound; the band are more likely to knock out a bouncy rendition of High Flying Scotsman than anything with an outer space sound. A pity, really – it feels like an opportunity squandered.

But once you get past that disappointment, then there is a lot to enjoy here if you are a fan of surf guitar – and I would hope that you are. This is an LP packed with twangy, chirpy little numbers that make ideal summer listening – sitting out in the sun or cruising the highways listening to this is probably as good as it gets, especially in these trying times when we all need something to take our minds off the horrors of everyday life.

Admittedly, a lot of it might seem a little one-dimensional – you could probably run quite a few of the tracks into each other without noticing that one had ended and another had begun. A Spotnicks medley might well sound uncannily like any regular Spotnicks track, it has to be said. But there are certainly high spots amongst the mix of originals and covers – The Spotnicks Theme, Dark Eyes, the rare sci-fi themed The Rocket Man (space travel suggested by heavy echo and no, not the Elton John number) and a rare slow, bluesy number, No Yaga Daga Blues.

Ol’ Man River is given a Sixties pop makeover and comes complete with vocals from rhythm guitarist Bob Lander – it’s a rather too jaunty interpretation to really work; this ol’ man river seems in far too much of a hurry to be just rolling along. Another, even more incongruous vocal number is My Old Kentucky Home – as uncomfortable a hybrid of guitar instrumental, 60s Euro-pop and country music as you could imagine. Why the band thought that this was what the kids would be demanding is anyone’s guess, but as we said – the early 1960s was musically very weird. These oddities don’t seem entirely out of place, but they are certainly the low points of an otherwise excellent LP.

The most recent edition of this album comes packed to the gills with extra content – not less than fifteen additional tracks from various single A and B sides that were recorded between 1960 and 1962 and include a few crackers (The Old Spinning Wheel, Endless Walk) and some guitar instrumental standbys like Ghost Riders in the Sky, Johnny Guitar and – well, of course – Telstar. There are also two tracks from Spotnicks’ main man Bo Winberg’s previous project, The Feenades. Fantastic!



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