Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 21. September 10, 1968
Mutations in recent pop LPs
In the late fifties there was a distinct difference in the recording standards of pop and classical LPs. In those days Decca, HMV, RCA, DGG and CBS were revolutionising the music world with stereo sound. Recordings were being made that still fare well in comparison with present-day achievements. However, all this development was focussed strictly on the classical catalogues. Pop LPs were always ignored and the standard was as low as the material—distortion, excessive sibilence, no balance between between bass and treble. All this was accepted because supposedly the buyers would play the records on their mechanical-shovel type picks ups.
Nowadays the story is completely different. Specialist pop producers have become a much more important commodity around the studios. Instead of using any old light-music hack the companies now realise that they must employ someone who will produce albums that will stand up to meticulous scrutineering from stereo-buffs. EMI's George Martin responsible for all the Beatle's recorded efforts, blues specialist Mike Vernon on Decca, the incomparable Lee Hazelwood on Reprise, and on the local scene, H.M.V.'s Nick Karavias and Howard Gable.
Although there are some good sounds coming out of America, the majority of outstanding recording come from English studios. Tom Jones: 13 Smash Hits" (Decca SKLM 4909 Stereo) supercedes any other recording of this nature; magnificent "alive" sound with dynamic clarity and inter-channel spread. Tom establishes his pre-eminence in the male vocalist field with fantastic renditions of well-know songs—"You Keep Me Hanging On" "Hold On I'm Coming", "I Was. Made To Love Her", "Keep on Runnine", "Yesterday" and seven others. Fans of Andy Williams, Jerry Vale and all the other "square" singers might resent the manner in which Jones wrestles with his songs, extracting the utmost out of each phrase. Occasionally he overdoes it and the result is a schmaltzy, drawn out 3 minutes 45 seconds of "Danny Boy". But his performance on the rest of the LP is so great that the most sceptical of listeners will be converted.
The musical arrangements by Charles Blackwell and Johnny Harris are excellent and the orchestral playing very good. Surely now that such quality musicians are playing such an important part in these recordings it is not too much to expect a listing of personnel on the sleeve?
Someone should buy Lee Grant a copy of Sher-oo (Parlophonc PCS 7041 Stereo). When Cilia Black first started out she had similar faults as Lee—pitch problems and excessive vibrato. The difference between the two singers is that Cilia has rid herself of these problems whereas Grant's latest LP shows that they are more evident that ever. Singing other artist's songs can be a tricky business but Cilia manages to put her own individual stamp on Pitney's "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart", the Tremelloes's "Suddenly You Love Me" and improves on Lulu's "Take Me In Your Arms and Love Me". "Follow Me" is one of the most whimsical final tracks I have heard—a tale of Boy Scout/Girl Guide days, full of sexual innuendo and flowing puns on "camping" and "doing your knots".
Round: Amen Corner" (Deram SMLM 1021 Stereo) requires quite a lot of concentrated listening. At first Andy Fairwearner Low's husky soul voice might grate but he has one of the best blues voices of all English group vocalists. The Amen Corner has only had mixed success with singles, they sing an unusual mixture of soul, rock, blues and commercial pop. Their seven piece line-up of vocals, lead and bass guitars, Hammond organ, tenor and baritone saxes and drums, gives them a big, gutsy sound well exploited by engineer Bill Price Practically every track is worthy of mention—their singles "Gin House Blues", and "Bend Me, Shape Me", a bouncy version of the Easybeat's composition "Good Times", plus two surprising revivals "Love Me Tender" and "Can't Get Used to Losing You".
Wear Your Love Like Heaven (Epic BN 26349 Stereo) is a good example of Donovan's stylish ballads of the sixties. The material harks back to Elizabethan times— "mad John's escape", "skip-a-long sam", "little boy in corduroy" and even Shakespeare's "Under the Greenwood Tree". The music is very simple—one or two melodic lines repeated, with a minimum of accompaniment. It is amazing how Donovan has turned out such quality, folksy material and still managed to retain his large "trendy" following.
The Mayalls must go through
During recent weeks a number of extremely good LPs have been released in the pop, blues and soul fields. Never before has the NZ record industry been so ambitious in selling overseas trends to the local buying public. This, coupled with the increased selectectivity of the listening public. has resulted in a number of alliums of outstanding appeal and quality.
Soul music is always electrifying and "live" soul has a quality all of its own. Atlantic have captured this driving sound on The Stax/Volt Revue—Live in London. It features six of the leading Negro soul sounds around: Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, The Markeys, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, and Booker T and The MGs—in a driving action packed concert in London at the start of their European tour earlier in the year Live recordings are often spoilt by over enthusiastic and over-amplified audience noise, however the spontaneity of the performance, and the recording skill of Tom Dowd, enhances rather than detracts from the total effect. The LP contains many soul "standards" such as "Knock On Wood" and "Hold On I'm Comin' ". Each track is revitalised and instilled with the fire that can only me achieved before a demanding and appreciative audience. This is an excellent party LP and one of the best of its kind. The tracks include; "Green Onions". "Philly Dog", "If I Had A Hammer", "Knock On Wood", "Shake", "Yesterday", "Baby", "I Take What I Want", "Hold On I'm Comin'" (Atlantic stereo.)
Another Atlantic soul offering is More Midnight Soul. A somewhat more subdued album than the previous one, it still has that exciting soul sound, the driving insistence of good soul. It contains many of the same artists as the first LP. Also featured are Arthur Conley, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, The Drifters, and Aretha Franklin. This album relies heavily on its rhythm and harmonies rather than the hard-driving R and B quality of the previous disc It still swings however in a restrained and slightly inhibited way and is a record best appreciated in the black velvet small hours. Tracks include "Love Is Beautiful". "Soul Sanction", "You Send Me", "Papp Was Too", "Double Or Nothing", "Use Me" and six others.
The much acclaimed "king of white blues" John Mayall has taken a tumble from his throne with a double LP entitled The Diary of a Band, Volumes 1 & 2 (Decca). After his superb Blues Alone album, these discs come as something of a disappointment. The albums are made up of selected "highspots from sixty hours of Bluesbreakers club recordings and again the spontaneity of the live performances with its improvisations is well done and worthy of note. However, the total effect is lost among a welter of semmingly unnecessary interviews and clowning between the group and the audience, Mayall's plea for serious blues appreciation seems totally mullified by the nonchalance of his own group. Musically, when they bother to play, these two discs have their highspots. Mick Tavlors guitar work is brilliant for one so young, and the addition of a brass section has greatly improved the overall sound. However it seems that Mayall has allowed. himself to become the property of the teenyboppers and deseended to the ranks of commercialism in this release despite his seemingly sincere "blues crusade". Tracks are "Blood In The Night". "I Can't Quit You Baby", "Anzio Annie". "Snowy Wood", "The Lesson". "My Own Fault", "The Train". Help) Me", "Blues in Bb", and "Soul Of A Short Fat Man". Rather than being a must for the blues enthusiast these stereo LPs are an interesting acquisition for the ardent Mayall fan.
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Record companies have suddenly realised that blues is a highly lucrative part of the recording industry due to its sudden popularity throughout the world in recent months and this has resulted in a spate of record releases—and with the good blues comes the imitation plastic stuff conveniently packaged under the title "Blues". A good example of these two extremes is, on the one hand, Fleetwood Mac by the group of the same name, and The Blues Project Live At Town Hall. The first is an extremely good offering from CBS by the group formed by May-all's breakaway lead-guitarist Peter Green (featured on Mayall's "A Hard Road".) This is white blues at its best. Peter Green has become a brilliant guitarist, his own individual style has matured and he must rank with Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield and Buddy Guy as one of the leading blues guitarists playing today. Complemented with such able musicians as John McVie (also ex-Bluesbreakers), Mick Fleetwood, and Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green will undoubtedly become as big as John Mayall in the very near future. This album is also another triumph for producer Mike Vernon whose technical genius is again apparent with the disc's expert stereo tracking. Both sides are equally good and it is hard to pick any particular highlights—"Shake Your Moneymaker"' would probably emerge a close first as the most outstanding track. Others include "My Heart Beats Lake A Hammer", "Got To Move", "Merry Go Round", "Long Grey Mare", "Hellbound", "No Place To Go", "My Baby's Good To Me", "Cold Black Might", and "The World Keeps Turning".
The other extreme is the Blues Project offering, Live At Town Hall. It is neither blues nor a genuine-sounding live recording. It verges on psychedelia and pop-corn in places and the attempts made by the group are labelled by the sleeve notes as "a movement towards healthy extroverted jazz", what ever that is.
The Blues Project has merely followed the trend towards experimentation and this has not come off very well at all. The only tracks of note are "I Can't Keep From Crying" and "No Time Like Now" which keep more strictly to convention and it seems that it is this sort of material that they are best at. Group member Al Kooper may be remembered by some from an Elektra LP called What's Shaking. His obvious talents seems wasted in the musical company he is keeping at present. The "live" sound does not ring true with fade-outs that give the impression that the applause is "canned" and there is no reciprocal effect of audience reaction on the band's playing. The main thing I have against this disc is the misrepresentation of its kind of music by the sleeve notes. We are lead to believe that this is the vanguard of a new wave of musical self-expression; in fact it is merely a slightly better type of rock as played by many one-hit nonentities of America's West Coast. Tracks include: Flute Thine", "Mean Old Southern", "Love Will Endure", "Where There Is Smoke There Is Fire", "Wake Me Shakes Me". (Verve Forecast stereo recording.)
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For fans of straight pop the television-smashing, semisatirical group the Move have smashed their way back with a new LP simply entitled Move. This is excellent music of its type a curious mixture of close harmony and gutsv rhvthm and blues. Unlike many of their contemooraries, the Move have made many advances musically and their vocal and instrumental prowess is obvious. As a further reminder of their ability, guitarist Roy Wood penned 11 of the 13 tracks. This has the effect of making the group sound at home within their music. The numbers Included In this Festival stereo recording "Yellow Rainbow", "Kilroy Was Here", "Lemon Tree", "Weekend Post", "Flowers In The Rain", "Hey Grandma", "Unless Information", "Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart", "The Girl Outside", "Fire Brigade", Mist On A Monday-Morning", and "Cherry Blossom Clinic".