Tunin' the motor, like a weekend boater
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Thursday, November 29, 2007
HALLOWEEN IS A STATE OF MIND
You know, I was going to post a selection of extraordinary, obscure horror movie clips for you in honour of All Hallows last month, but as it transpired I’d already put up one lame, video-based post a few days beforehand to make up for the fact I hadn’t bothered to write anything that week and… well, you know, I didn’t want to do two in a row and give the impression I was copping out on the whole writing thing, so Halloween went unmarked.
But anyway, I just had a look out of the window. The greasy, waning moon still hangs heavy in the chill air, the frost is still upon the ground, the bare limbs of trees still shake creepily in the wind, and it’s still really fucking cold and dark, and as fine an evening as any on which to dabble with the forces of unnameable evil, or else get frightened that somebody else might be.
Winter Solstice isn’t until December 21st, and all this Christmas baloney can'tr really hide the true nature of the season, so let’s get cracking!
First off, director Del Tenney's low budget assault on the conventions of early '60s beach movies, Horror Of Beach Party (1964) has been top of my must-see list ever since I read Michael Waldon's enthusiastic write-up of it in that invaluable reference work, the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. And once again, youtube provides! In this clip, we see Connecticut rock n' rollers The Del Aires teaching the kids on the beach how to do the 'Zombie Stomp' whilst a bathing beauty meets with a sticky end which is... pretty intense for this kind of movie. Astonishing stuff.
And here's the trailer for "Horror Of Beach Party", which makes it look even better; Cycle gangs! Fist-fights! Teenage slumber parties! Rock n' Roll! Ghoulish Atomic beasts from beyond the grave! Weird pop culture doesn't come much better than this.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to catch a cinema screening of the two and a half hour uncut version of Andrzej Zulawski's Possession (1981), and found it to be one of the most extraordinary, disturbing, intelligent and powerful films I have ever seen, horror or otherwise. It was proved such a headfuck that it saw me randomly wondering the streets for several hours after the screening, trying to collect my thoughts and make sense of what I had witnessed.
Last week I finally found a seller on Amazon who is offering Spanish release DVD copies of the uncut film (the original US/UK theatrical and VHS releases were butchered and recut on the basis of both objectionable content and excessive running time), and a copy is on its way to me as I write.
I can't wait to see it again.
Filmed in pre-unification East Berlin, one of the best things about 'Possession' is its complete rejection of horror movie conventions. For the first hour or so, it's more like watching a really fucked up, uncomfortable - and extremely well made - relationship drama with elements of a paranoid cold war thriller thrown in, with both Sam Neill (Mr. Jurassic Park himself) and the startlingly beautiful Isabelle Adjani giving feverishly OTT performances in the lead roles. Then, finally, when the supernatural elements of the story begin to make themselves known, you're not in "horror movie" headspace. You're anchored in the real world and involved in the grim and troubled lives of the characters, and as such, the effect is.... truly fucking horrifying.... at which point the director sets his camera to "KILL" and drags us down into screaming insanity and existential terror with no hope of return.
Unlike the trailer for the film I once saw on an old VHS for another movie, which boorishly threw in all of the film's most shocking moments out of context and laid bare all of the unnameable revelations of the storyline, the one I've linked to below is assembled pretty artfully, and gives you a fairly good feel of what this film is all about.
Now, the Indonesian witchcraft exploitation movie Mystics In Bali (1981) has long been a near obsessive fetish amongst weird cinema collectors of a certain stripe up until it's official US DVD release this year. Why? Well I guess because shit like THIS happens in it...
WARNING: this one is really, really not recommended for the easily freaked out.
As any student of American trash/exploitation cinema will well know, it was 1963 that saw the birth of the American gore movie, with the release of Hershall Gordon Lewis' "Bloodfeast", which, filmed on a miniscule budget with a single camera and sound overdubbed in post-production, nevertheless made a FORTUNE on the drive-in circuit, as the upstanding citizens of America flocked in to experience the good, clean fun of watching a demented Egyptian caterer tearing out women's tongues, eyes, internal organs etc. in queasy full colour. Miami-based building contractor and carnival huckster Richard S. Flink decided he wanted a piece of this action, and set out with similar budgetary constraints to make a movie that would blow Lewis' gore empire out of the water. And whilst the full version may be lost to the ages (which is perhaps for the best), the footage that remains from the resulting Love Goddesses Of Blood Island (1964) shows that he succeeded, and then some! Utter madness.... (more info on this movie here).
WARNING: Look, really; if utterly reprehensible, vile, sleazy and positively surreal gorefests are not your cup of tea, do the decent thing, and don't click play.
Surprisingly, there's been no real vampire action in this post so far, so time for some Jean Rollin! I won't bother to try and summarise Rollin's particular cinematic niche again here - do your own damn research. If anyone remembers my write-up of his masterpiece 'Les Frission Des Vampires'... well you'll know I'm a fan of the guy. Here for your enjoyment is a trailer for Requiem Pour Un Vampire, which should go some way toward demonstrating these films' appeal. We may be able to get gothic castles, heaving breasts and cascading blood from our British, American or Italian vampire flicks, but what of the clown car chases....? God bless the French, god bless Jean Rollin.
And finally, let's end on an all-time classic. It has come to my attention that certain of you remain unfamiliar with that masterpiece of British weird cinema, Psychomania(Don Sharp, 1971). Clearly this situation is unacceptable. I'm now lucky enough to own a DVD copy of the moive so... y'know, drop me a line.
The clip below presents the funeral and resurrection of Tom, aristocratic leader of the Living Dead biker gang, with musical accompaniment from Mr. Harvey Andrews.
That's all for now. Regular rock-write service to be resumed soon, and, in the words of the aforementioned Tom, just remember: it's not me that scares you baby, IT'S THE WORLD.
(Credit Where It's Due: "Mystics In Bali" and "...Blood Island" clips were brought to my attention by the World Weird Cinema weblog.)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Lords – This Ain’t A Hate Thing, It’s A Love Thing
(Gringo Records, 2006)
My appreciation of this album has been a long time coming. I think it may even be a 2005 release, I dunno, but let’s call it 2006. That’s no slur on the album anyway, more a diss on my own slow-witted listening habits. First time I heard the Lords record was on a car stereo on the way to All Tomorrow’s Parties, the last time I went to that (definitely ’06). Obviously I clocked that it rocked; y’know, good, heavy solid stuff, British band who really know their shit etc. Subsequently bought it, on sale in HMV no less, played it a couple of times through weedy computer speakers. Yeah, sounds alright. Thumbs up. But it wasn’t until about a month or so ago, muscling through crowds on East London streets on the first really cold weekend of the winter with the EQ on my mp3 player cranked, that it hit me how much this album ROCKS. Y’know, in capitals. Overenthusiastic website capsule review style! So let’s have a go at a proper review;
Drawn from the ranks of the Gringo Records centred British post-hardcore (for want of a better term?) scene, wherein men are men, and most of them like to spend their time dragging tormented, ear-splitting angularities from their instruments in the tradition of Fugazi /Shellac/Rodan et al, Lords bring to bear all of the full-blooded, muscular musicality such a background suggests, and then some. But crucially, Lords are doing things differently. Ditching the cold, cerebral feeling that can often make inventive, heavy guitar music such a punishing listen, Lords are digging deeper into their collective understanding of music and the things that make it good and… well to not put too fine a point on it, Lords are playing the blues. Not in the sense of dredging up some bunch of refried boogie clichés and half-assed generic signifiers, but just by harnessing their musical vocabulary to the cause of belting out thunderous, joyous odes to crazed, ugly life, with spirit and guts and all the rest of it.
Specifically, whether by accident or design, I reckon Lords are sailing close to a certain strain of ‘70s British outsider blues, somewhere between the wall of noise and blustering sincerity of the early Edgar Broughton Band through to the “just because we’re prog doesn’t mean we’re pussies” grandeur of The Groundhogs. Another inescapable reference point here is good ol’ Captain Beefheart, or rather The Magic Band, as spidery Zoot Horn Rollo guitar figures creep and crawl beneath the primary swing of the riffs and brutal, bebop-like stop/start dynamics keep the mama-heartbeat at bay. A touch of Beefheart-via-Broughton is identifiable in the vocals too, but thankfully not TOO much. With nobody in the band cut out to be a natural powerhouse blues splutterer, Lords singer exhibits a kind of strangulated, exhausted holler that’s more thrilling than any fetid, hat-wearing Tom Waits wannabe dingbat they could have called in to do the honours. I’d like to think that the band’s vocals carry the implicit suggestion that the stuff this music is essentially all about (booze and women and hardship and confusion, cacophonous guitar chords and rolling thunder drums) is as relevant to our lives as it ever has been, and there’s no need to hide behind some lame Louisiana-kitsch growly persona in order to express them. But maybe I’m just thinking too hard.
So anyway! What a great recording! Fucking hell – it sounds amazing! The guitars have got far less distortion on ‘em than is usual for this kind of heavy rock, sometimes even entirely clean-toned, yet they hit home with the kind of crisp, bass-heavy WHACK that speaks of the unmistakable application of VERY HIGH VOLUME. Grr! Faux-stoner Big Muff merchants beware, this is the sound that’ll cleave you in two on day. And the interplay between the players here! Gee whiz! For all that Lords foreground the colossal macho beatdowns, there are sections throughout the record where the bassless-and-proud guitar/guitar/drums line-up throws us headfirst into fiery passages of collapse-and-rebuild jazz dynamics that just plain slay. A fair bit of this might is down to the drummer I think, and boy, what a drummer! This guy is crazy superb! Initially he grabs your attention cos sometimes he sounds a bit out of place in a heavy rock context, filling his style with so many skittering half-sure hits and weird rim-shots you wonder whether or not he knows what he’s up to… only by the time you’ve finished filing that thought, you realise he’s just taken a few seconds of guitar downtime to drop some kinda blindingly odd kick-ass break that wouldn’t embarrass that guy who drummed for Mingus! You know, the really good one. (Danny Richmond, Wikipedia tells me, though I really should know already.) And then you’ve barely got the time to reflect that some dude in a contemporary rock band just threw out a drum break worthy of a Mingus record before the riff rollercoaster roars into action again and he’s THERE, beating down like he’s in Shellac. Wow.
And hey, what do you know, track four is entitled “Mingus Pts 1-3”. Score one for my music crit skills! For as much as I’ve built this album up as revolving around MEN playing ROCK in the best possible way, there’s more sonically ambitious stuff going on here than just a peerlessly great prog-punk-blues flattening session with additional jazzisms; the album opens with the wheeze of a slowly expiring accordion, and subsequent songs take the time to temper the rock-thunder with a mournful string quartet, some renegade brass band skronk invading the aforementioned “Mingus” and a heavenly female choir entering stage left for a beautiful vocal breakdown on “The Ballad Of The Sightless And Outstretched Hands”. The liner notes even make mention of “amplified Russian dancing”, but I’d be lying if I said I could hear any, so let’s not get carried away. Point is: all this stuff fits in perfectly and organically, and never seems like a gimmick. These guys have really put some thought into their music, and pulled out the stops to make a truly stupendous record that deserves to find favour beyond the realms of earnest 20-something males who spend too long debating the merits of different brands of amplifier.
So, it seems I’ve gone on a bit, and ended up talking about drummers and other things which are perhaps not of great interest to the casual reader, for which apologies, but basically all I’m trying to make clear is; ‘This Ain’t A Hate Thing, It’s A Love Thing’ is a fucking great album, and Lords are a band whose ability to get things done well shames us all.
Mp3 > Lords – Pint Of Wine
(Buy the album from Gringo.)
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The Wind Harp – Songs From the Hill (United Artists, 1972)
Now here’s a pretty unusual record that has come to my attention recently. Issued in 1972 as a double LP set, ‘Sounds From The Hill’ purports to represent the sounds produced by a gigantic ‘wind harp’ erected on some desolate hilltop by a hippy commune in Northern California, as illustrated by the rather beguiling and old fashioned (even for 1972) cover photograph reproduced above.
Now, given that this was released by a major label, presumably to take an early bite out of the post-hippy ‘new age’ market, you’d be forgiven for suspecting it might all just sound like a bunch of bloody wind-chimes or something. And who knows, perhaps such mellow meanderings were even what the harp’s creators were aiming for. But thankfully Mother Nature had other ideas, and ‘Songs From The Hill’ is actually a pretty remarkable document of dense, organic womb-drone, exhibiting the kind of chilling distance and remorseless tonal purity that music created by human hands is rarely able to replicate, however hard contemporary noise/ambient artistes might strive for it.
It is undoubtedly a spiritual sound, just not in a way that I suspect either the record company nor the hippies were anticipating. Certainly anyone sticking this on to accompany a meditation session or drug trip would get more than they bargained for; bummers, paranoia, bloody noses; all are possibilities. For however much we may be taught to view nature, and atmospheric conditions / weather systems in particular, as an entirely beautiful, harmonious system through which we can gain understanding of ourselves via an impression of dissolution within it’s patterns, it swiftly becomes clear upon dropping the needle that the sounds emerging from this here Wind Harp were REALLY FUCKING MALEVOLENT.
Most of the eleven tracks, arranged thematically according to seasons and the elements, begin with tones suggestive of the unsettling amplified silences developed by Alan Splet and David Lynch for use in the latter’s films. Over this float warped, low-end theremin type sounds and variations on the kind of ‘futuristic engine hum’ tones rendered ubiquitous by a thousand b-movie flying saucer / laboratory scenes, all darkened and elongated for a particularly woozy, nightmarish quality. Before long, tension seems to build, and a kind of full-spectrum aural sandpaper begins to accumulate, ebbing and flowing with the gusts of the winds, occasionally starting to resemble some creepy, organic Merzbow nastiness.
This is not the sound of the gentle, refreshing wind that weaves through orange groves on a lazy afternoon and blows through the hair of steadfast labourers and sullen hippie girls, that’s for sure. What’s tinkling the ivories here is the kind of wind that spreads bush fires, that blows through ribcages in Death Valley. Wind that freaks out timid kids who leave the windows open at night, that drags intrepid sailors toward their watery doom and…. well you’re connected to the same collective unconscious as I ma, you dig up the imagery to finish off this paragraph.
The Harp itself must have been quite a piece of workmanship to produce this variety of sinister sound, assuming the recordings presented here are honest representations of the wind doing it’s thing amid what looks to be a apparatus of metal strings and wooden sheets(?). I suppose it’s possible that someone might have been on hand to alter the arrangements of the harp on the fly to create variations in tone, although the singularly relentless quality of the drones presented here would tend to suggest otherwise. On the other hand though, it does seem that a degree of post-production has been applied to these recordings; occasionally we hear oddly incongruous sounds such as tolling bells and rustling grass which put me in mind of the kind of stuff that has a tendency to turn up on other, more dubious commercial ‘ambient’ records. It certainly seems likely that the more ‘effective’ (by whose criteria god only knows) sections of the master recordings have been blended and segued together, both to fit the record’s spurious seasons / elements track listing, and also perhaps to avoid the total monotony of listening to the wind blowing in the same direction at the same speed for hours on end.
Regardless of questions of authenticity though, The Wind Harp certainly makes for a hell of a listen, and comes recommended should you be feeling a little too comfortable in your life, and in need of a glimpse of the blind, chaotic and ultimately destructive natural forces at the mercy of whose temporary placidity we erect our fragile civilisations. It would also be just the ticket for soundtracking eerie, low budget horror movies and invoking lesser Cthulhoid deities. Or so I would imagine.
Mp3 > The Wind Harp – Cycle One: Seasons: Winterwhite
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Don't worry folks, I won't keep you long, but just wanted to draw your attention to a couple of things.
Firstly, there's a tiny little review of the EOTR festival written by me in the new Plan B. Which you should read anyway cos it's full of interesting stuff.
Secondly, in a last minute fit of madness, it appears my band will be making their debut public appearence this Saturday, opening for the great Milky Wimpshake.
I've never played music or sung songs in front of people in my life before, so wish us luck, we're gonna need it.
See the fourth act on the bill? - that's us that is.
*** THE 'SHAKE ARE BACK!! ***
Fortuna POP! & Spiral Scratch present
Saturday, 10th November, Doors 7:30pm
Milky Wimpshake + Horowitz + Electrophonvintage + The Give It Ups
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, SW2 5BZ
Tel: 020 8671 0700
£4 Advance / £5 Door
plus Spiral Scratch DJs till late
If you like your punk rock thrills laced with fuzzy pop melodies and
intelligent, funny lyrics then Newcastle's Milky Wimpshake are the
band for you. The spiritual godfathers of the North-East scene that
spawned The Futureheads, frontman Pete Dale was formerly überlord of
the now defunct indie label Slampt, responsible for launching a
thousand fanzines and nearly as many bands, Kenickie and The Yummy Fur
included. The 'Shake themselves are most often compared to the
Buzzcocks and The Undertones, with a dash of Billy Bragg's lyrical
gift for combining the personal and the political with a light-handed
Horowitz are a lo-fi indiepop band from Stoke whose interests include
drinking nice cups of tea, eating lots of Haribo, and listening to
twee pop music. Yay! In 2006 they put out a home recorded collection
called 'Frosty Cat Songs' with Kitchen Records (LP) and Glo-fi Records
(CD.) It is important to make pop music in your bedroom. To have fun
and create something you can share. It really is better to eat
twinkies with your friends. DON'T STOP INDIEPOP!
Established since 1999, Electrophonvintage play short wooden pop
songs influenced by The Go Betweens, The Hidden Cameras, French 60's
pop songs, Sarah Records and Felt. Two releases so far: I don't want
to stay 7" on Plastic Pancake in 2000 and We sang a yeye song on
Unique Records in 2005. A new album is recorded and waiting to be
mixed. It's called Play harp in your hair: coming soon... Welcome to
Jean-Louis (bass, keyboards), Christos (guitar, keyboards) and Alexis
THE GIVE IT UPS
The Give It Ups are one girl and three boys who play short, noisy pop
songs. They sing about cats and dinosaurs and are in favour of a four-
day working week. Sometimes they think they sound a bit like Beat
Happening. Doesn't everyone?
Monday, November 05, 2007
Girls With Guitars (Ace Records)
As part of the ongoing collectors quest to unearth the holy grail of a single female ‘60s rock band who played their own instruments, wrote their own songs and were actually GOOD, an outfit called Romulan Records have issued at least twelve(??) volumes of their Girls In The Garage series over the years, and having heard about half of them, I’m sad to report that they are a disappointing prospect on the whole, regardless of how enticing they look in the record racks. Half decent material is obviously in short supply, and quality control is near non-existent.
It’s a bad sign that the early volumes found room for outright atrocities like Althea & The Memories “The Worst Record in The World” (essentially Kim Fowley jabbering for three minutes whilst some teenagers giggle and yell in the background) and goofy, if enjoyable, trash like The Surfer Girls’ “Draggin’ Wagon” (a stolen Chuck Berry backing track with some session singers doing archetypal hotrod lyrics over the top), whilst later volumes lose the plot entirely, resorting to covering French Yé-Yé pop (which is obviously cool, but pretty damn far from the garage, and better served by other compilation series), and even ‘80s/’90s tracks by The Delmonas and Holly Golightly (which are great too of course, but c’mon). There are a fair few intriguing oddities and lost classics scattered throughout the ‘..Garage’ comps of course, and I respect the compilers for taking the time to put them together so we can hear this stuff, but the good bits are few and far between, and depessingly, nearly all of the artists featured sound like bottom drawer novelty groups and cash-in studio quickies rather than genuine bands.
The dream of a real life Carrie Nations lives on though, and hey, here come the ever-reliable Ace Records – home of enough quality 50s/60s reissues to last a life-time, including the great ‘Good Girls Gone Bad’ round-up of ‘50s female rockers – with their own Girls With Guitars. A single volume – sensible! Some of the tunes included cross over with Romulan’s comps, but still, compressed into a lean 24 tracks, could this finally be the motherlode of ‘60s girl garage that is actually worth listening to? Fingers crossed... let’s go!
1.The Girls - My Baby
Not a bad start – quite a nice, restrained bit of garage-rock with a half-decent dance-floor rhythm and a twangy lead guitar line. The vocals sound good n’ real too, kinda sweet. Could this be a genuine girl-rock-band…? I dunno, I mean what do you want me to do, google “the girls”?
2. The Tomboys - I'd Rather Fight Than Switch
Hey, this one’s pretty good too! Quite a rough, lively Beatles-y guitar pop number in which The Tomboys outline their intention to kick some ass in order to save their boyfriends from the attentions of rival chicks. Wow! I hope those young hoodlums realised what a swell bunch of gals they’d got themselves, and hey, they even play in a band too! Honestly fellas, what’s with all the fooling around?
3. The Angels - Get Away From Me
A really cheap sounding Motown-ish girl group / soul knock-off that more than gets by on charm and eccentricity I reckon, built as it is around the admirable sentiment of telling creepy, annoying boys to fuck off. The vocalists have got a great street kid snarl, making them sound a little like distant ancestors of Thee Headcoatees, plus there’s a totally weird solo played on what sounds like a fairground wurlitzer organ, and even some Standells-style back-talk at the end; “listen here buddy-boy, if you don’t back off, I’m gonna belt you in a minute!” No kidding!
4. Denise & Company - Boy, What'll You Do Then?
Great, tough bit of harmonica-driven dance party stomp with great, furious female vocals. Pretty straight-down-the-line good stuff, so I can’t think of much more to say about it. Musically robust and rockin’ enough to justify a place on any given ‘Pebbles’ or ‘Back From The Grave’ disc, which is more than can be said for a lot of the stuff on this comp.
5. Goldie & The Gingerbreads - Chew Chew Fee Fi Fum
Pretty lame-brained bit of cookie cutter teenybop junk, although it’s hard to hate music this innocent and positive, no matter how bad it is. Plus: redeemed by some awesome hand-clapping and a rockin’ sax solo!
6. The Beatle-Ettes – Only Seventeen
Obvious beatlemania cash-in, presumably intended as an answer record to the Beatles “Seventeen”. Oddly, it doesn’t sound very much like the Beatles at all, until they bust into a rip from “She Loves You” on the chorus. A fairly pleasant three chord pop readymade anyhow.
7. Sugar & The Spices - Do The Dog
Total ‘written in 10 seconds’ stoopid dance-craze song that’s not a patch on the other Sugar & The Spices tune on this album. A b-side possibly? Notable for the presence of a girl trying to imitate one of the tenor backing singers in male doo-wop groups, which is kinda sweet, and weird, ill thought-out lyrics like “c’mon and do the dog ‘till you want to die!”, which really isn’t.
8. Kathy Lynn & The Playboys - I Got a Guy
I wonder if this is the same Playboys of Gerry Lewis & The Playboys (lack of) fame? Oh, who cares frankly. Music is pretty basic Chuck Berry with some good guitar. Kathy’s got a guy who plays in a rock n’ roll band, and she’s gonna love him all she can. Can’t say fairer than that. “Take it baby!”, she says before the solo, and baby proceeds to do just that, providing the obvious highlight of this one minute and fifty-seven seconds of my life.
9. The Goodees - Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)
Oh YEAH!! Woo-hoo! Etc! Yes, it’s a female fronted version of The Swingin’ Medallions all-time frat party classic, and though a touch less rowdy than the original (no yelling or party noise), it’s still a good job for me they don’t bottle THIS stuff. The immortal organ hook is present and correct, although this version fucks with perfection slightly by burying the last three notes under a stax horn blast, but no matter, we get the point. Great drumming and nifty lead guitar licks too. The vocalist sounds a little unsure of herself, and no wonder, as lyrics which all seemed in good fun when hollered by an all-male chorus sound positively filthy with the gender pronouns reversed and delivered by a lone lady (“He loved so long, and he loved me so hard, I finally passed out in his front yard”?). Still, this one’s going straight to the top of my hypothetical party playlist, and if there’s a better record on this comp, I’ll eat my toga.
10. The Pandoras - (I Could Write a Book) About My Baby
Ooooh, wow, this one gets pretty close! Absolutely BEAUTIFUL handclap, xylophone and horn driven Specter-esque bubblegum girl-group magic of the highest order, but way more lightweight and fancy free than Phil’s sturm-und-drang walls of sound ever allowed for. Beautiful melody, beautiful vocals, and belts along with a brilliant, shimmering groove that’s just to die for. Chorus line: “I could write a book about my baby, and it would be a book that every girl would buy!” I think I just felt my eyes turn heart-shaped and go “boi-oi-oing”. Some contemporary indie-pop group really needs to dig out this song and cover it for all the Belle & Sebastian kids to get down to, if they haven’t already.
11. Pat Powdrill & Powerdrills - They Are the Lonely
What the hell is this?? Lurching several years and whole cultural world away from most of the proceeding tracks, this is a pretty inspid faux-psychedelia quickie with a keyboard intro lifted from “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, utterly shitty lyrics and Grace Slick type lead vocals. It is sad to reflect that this is approximately one-thousand times less rocking than a group christened “Pat Powdrill & The Powerdrills” properly should be.
12. 2 Of Clubs – Heart
I don’t know quite what the deal is with this little record; it seems to be having a bit of a mid-60s identity crisis, sounding half girl-group and half folk-rock, with a crazy, rip roaring garage / r’n’b middle section that kicks things into gear slightly. The first half is pretty blah, but it definitely picks up a bit when some punk starts busting out some Animals style organ and everybody claps their hands gospel style. Still suffers from being essentially not very good though.
13. Daughters Of Eve - Help Me Boy
Another really dreary bit of kitschy soft-psyche that steals a few bits from “Icthycoo Park” and god knows what else besides. Soul-crushingly competent, instantly forgettable.
14. Goldie & The Gingerbreads - Skinny Vinnie
Totally goofy street girl doo-wop trash with a definite whiff of Kim Fowley about it; “he’s not much thicker than a fishing pole / he’s one half rock and the other half roll!” Fun!
15. The Percells - Hully Gully Guitar
Oh man, now THIS is a bad record. An attempt at a “listen to the guitar man” song in the vein of Dick Dale’s “King of the Surf Guitar”, the guitar man here unfortunately seems to be a surly, rock n’ roll hating studio hack who reluctantly spent a few minutes learning bits off Eddie Cochran records in exchange for beer money. Correspondingly, the singer sounds like she absolutely could not give a shit. The song is utterly mindless, the production values are non-existent and the playing is so sluggish and stilted it sounds like everyone in room could have been on a ketamine comedown. And they drag it out for nearly three fucking minutes. So horrid and joyless it’s actually quite creepy. Bad vibes all round – I’m gonna skip on to the next one if that’s ok.
16. Kathy Lynn & The Playboys - Rock City
More solid rockin’ fare from Kathy and her darling on the guitar. Hang on though, I think this is actually an instrumental…. where’s Kathy?? I mean, we’ve already established that she’s the singer and the band are guys, so what’s THIS doing taking up space on ‘Girls With Guitars’?
17. Lonnie Mack & The Charmaines - Sticks and Stones
Lonnie Mack’s not a girl either! What the hell is going on here? Presumably The Charmaines are girls though, and they sing some back-up on what’s essentially a jaunty though unremarkable little instrumental rock number.
18. Goldie & The Gingerbreads - Take My Hand
As far removed from the previous Goldie & The Gingerbreads tracks as can be imagined, this starts off as an attempt at sultry, dignified a-cappella gospel harmonising, before exploding into a passable Martha & The Vandellas pastiche. For some reason, The Amazing Criswell pops up towards the end to say “one more time!”
19. Sugar & The Spices - Boys Can Be Mean
This is more like it! Lovely bit of Southern-tinged, swingin’ pop… sounds a bit like Bobbie Gentry fronting the Carrie Nations. Only not quite THAT good, obviously. Killer song too, giving girls the low-down on us boys and our wicked ways. The day’s gonna come when we’re gonna have to do some prayin’, apparently.
20. Al Casey & The K-C-Ettes - Guitars, Guitars, Guitars
Another guy who’s not a girl! Heaven’s sake! Cool little song though, with smokin’ guitar and organ making for a great Booker T kinda sound. The K-C-Ettes sing about being kept awake by “guitars, groovin’ in the alley”, but thankfully they seem to appreciate the benefits of living in such a lively neighbourhood, so that’s just fine.
21. Goldie & The Gingerbreads – V.I.P.
Yet more Gingerbreads action for yer money. This is by far the best track by them on this album; a nice, dumb, danceable bit of feel-good soul-pop with a really swinging big band and good, punchy production. Alright.
22. The Hairem – Come On Along
‘Hairem’?? Christ, what an awful name. The first time I listened to this, I thought it was so appalling I had to skip it after about 40 seconds, but having another go for the sake of writing this review, I think I was being very, very foolish, because this is actually rather wonderful, and perhaps unique. Firstly, they’re definitely playing their own instruments, as I can’t possibly imagine any session-men could play in such a weird and shaky fashion, even if they wanted to. And whilst the playing and production are appallingly sloppy by conventional ‘60s pop standards, Hairem sound way more like a genuine, self-defined teenage girl garage band than anyone else on this disc, and have a great, innocent energy about them that’s really lovely. There’s a sort of dignified wallflower shyness to the band’s performance here and a refusal to engage with macho rock band clichés that puts me in mind of The Marine Girls. Obviously this is still a heartfelt take at a rock n’ roll song though, so perhaps think The Marine Girls quietly trying to be Buddy Holly in their parents’ basement somewhere in California. Yeah, don’t worry, I swooned too. The lead vocalist actually has a pretty strong voice, but the harmonies from the other are just so hesitant and sweet…. arg! Damn, these girls sound like they’re having so much fun though. “It’s Piper’s turn now!”, the singer shouts, and Piper proceeds to play a swell, surfy Hank Marvin style riff/solo that continues through the rest of the song. By the standards of 99% of the world’s music listeners, this is probably not a great record, but I… I.. I’m speechless in the face of such beauty.
23. The Girls - My Love
More moody and dramatic than the Girls track that opened the album, this is nonetheless pretty generic post-Beatles American teen fare, but it’s also pretty raw and gutsy, and again sounds like these could well be genuine girls with guitars, so… good.
24. She - Outta Reach
Opening and closing with a bunch of saucy “uh!”s and “yeeeeah”s, ‘She’ almost sounds like a young Patti Smith in places. Her band meanwhile play total trashola organ-driven garage slop. Pretty spirited stuff and not half bad, although I fear it suffers from being conceived / written / recorded in about ten minutes.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED:
Look, let’s just face facts: there was no female equivalent of The Chocolate Watch Band, no matter how much we might want one. Despite the teenage cultural emancipation of the ‘50s, American society in the ‘60s was still deeply sexist and conservative, and the music industry doubly so. (For one random example, just look at the way Grace Slick was sidelined in the Jefferson Airplane, only allowed a couple of tracks on each album to do her thing, despite being obviously the best singer in the band and the writer of both of their hit singles.) Even the basic idea of girls playing guitars, acoustic ones even, and writing songs only made it’s way into public consciousness thanks to the likes of Joni and Carly in the early ‘70s, despite the earlier trailblazing efforts of cult faves like Odetta or Wanda Jackson.
And chances are, even any girls who did break with cultural norms by learning to play rock n’ roll would have been given a pretty hard time in the course of trying to get a half-decent record made; ridiculed or neglected by record companies, sold as novelty / throwaway acts, forced to work with manipulative producers who’d try to push them toward a more ‘feminine’ (read: crappy) sound... all are likely possibilities.
But if we leave aside concerns about authenticity for a while and stop dreaming of the non-existent bad-ass garage chicks who didn’t play the Whisky A-Go-Go in '66, Ace have really pulled out all the stops to put together a fun-packed compilation of the best ‘60s American girl stuff that DOES exist; the vast majority of the tracks here are real enjoyable, and there are at least 4 or 5 bona fide classics included, which is more than can be boasted of by most second-division male garage comps. So well worth checking out if you appreciate a good bit of obscure, sugary teen trash jollity, with at least a few songs worthy of being checked out by everybody with a pulse, some of which below.
TOP THREE SONGS:
1. The Goodees - Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)
2. The Pandoras - (I Could Write a Book) About My Baby
3. The Hairem – Come On Along
(To buy Girls With Guitars, clicketh here.)
Some further info on The Hairem, courtesy of All Music Guide:
One of the few all-female garage bands of their time to play their own instruments and write their own material, the Hairem did not release any recordings, though they did evolve into the more psychedelic- and hard-rock-influenced She in the late 1960s, which put out one single in 1970. The Hairem got together in the mid-1960s when guitarist and primary songwriter Nancy Ross formed a teen band (with her younger sister Sally on organ) in Sacramento, California. Originally known as the Id, they changed their name to the Hairem and did attract some label interest. The Hairem did not officially release anything in the 1960s, but five songs that they recorded did come out on the She CD compilation Wants a Piece of You (which also has 14 songs from several years later by She) in 1999. These cuts, though not as crude as the Shaggs, were nonetheless quite raw and basic, in the manner of many US garage bands of the period. Indeed they're pretty generic, or sub-generic, the chief distinction being that there were extremely few all-female groups playing such music circa 1966, especially with the raunchy attitude evident on cuts such as "Like a Snake."
I still reckon the Hairem track is way better than the She one, but such is life.
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