Album cover for Ian Hunter's "All American Alien Boy".
Ian Hunter Patterson (a.k.a. Ian Hunter) was born on June 3, 1939 in Owestry, Shropshire, England. His father worked for the British intelligence service MI5; this kept the family on the move and by one account, Hunter had attended seventeen different schools by the age of eleven. Eventually, the family settled in Shrewsbury. There, Hunter was apprenticing for Sentinel/Rolls Royce when he and Colin York and Colin Broom, performing as a trio, won a talent competition performing “Blue Moon” on acoustic guitar. York and Broom were members of a Northampton-based rhythm and blues group called The Apex Group, and Hunter soon joined The Apex Group and moved to Northampton. Hunter left The Apex Group in 1958, and kicked around in a few local groups. Having fallen into debt, however, he opted to return to Shrewsbury. Once there, he got a job with McGowans fruit and vegetable company, and started dating Diane Coles. He also played in a harmonica duo with Tony Wardle. Hunter returned to Northampton and rejoined The Apex Group; Coles soon followed him there and the two married. Hunter pursued a musical career, forming Hurricane Harry and the Shriekers, a band that competed directly with The Apex Group (this resulted in his eventual dismissal from the latter band). When Hunter’s new band toured Germany with some success, he began to realize he might be able to support himself as a musician. In 1966, Hunter moved to London and joined The Scenery. By early 1968, that band had run its course and, with a family to support (Hunter had two children by now), Hunter resorted to taking day jobs, working as a journalist and road-digger.
Hunter never gave up the idea of working as a full-time musician, however, and in 1969, he auditioned for a band called Silence, which featured Mick Ralphs on guitar, Verden Allen on organ, Pete “Overend” Watts on bass, and Dale “Buffin” Griffin on drums. The band’s manager, Guy Stevens, felt that the band lacked an credible singer with stage presence and thus sought to recruit a new lead singer. Hunter auditioned for the band on a lark and got the job. The band signed with Island Records and released four critically acclaimed albums, and drew enthusiastic live audiences. But the albums were commercial failures, and by 1972, Mott the Hoople was ready to call it quits when David Bowie, a fan on the band, offered to write them a song. The band signed with Columbia Records, and the resulting song “All the Young Dudes”, and the album of the same name (produced by Bowie) were both hits, and the band was saved from a premature demise. Mick Ralphs left the band in 1973 to form Bad Company; Hunter assumed lead guitar duties, and for a time Mott the Hoople continued as a quartet. This lineup recorded “Mott” (1973), another successful album which contained “All the Way from Memphis”. Later that year, the band added Luther Grosvenor (a.k.a. Ariel Bender) on lead guitar and Morgan Fisher on keyboards. This lineup recorded “The Hoople” (1974) and “Live” (1974). Soon Bender was replaced by ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, but in December 1974, both Hunter and Ronson left Mott the Hoople. Hunter quickly launched a solo career, initially collaborating with Ronson, releasing his self-titled debut album in April 1975. For his second album, Hunter did not collaborate with Ronson, and opted for a jazzier sound than on his debut album, collaborating with saxophonist David Sanborn. “All American Alien Boy” was released in January 1976, and a U.K.-only single, “All American Alien Boy” b/w “Rape” was released in May 1976. This is today’s featured single.
The single version of “All American Alien Boy” is about three minutes shorter than the album version (clocking in at 4 minutes and 4 seconds), with slightly different lyrics. Stylistically, the song sounds similar to David Bowie during his Philly soul period, with a sax line that sounds like it’s been lifted from “Young Americans” (not to mention the backing vocals). Lyrically, the song is Hunter’s take on being an Englishman living in America (“reflections on being hit by America”, as Hunter himself said), with lines like “Just a whitey from blighty – heading out west/Got my little green card ’n my bulletproof vest/Goin’ to New York City – where the buzz is the best.” The idea of being an Englishman in the United States is a theme that Hunter has revisited several times in his music, most recently in “American Spy”, but “All American Alien Boy” is still unique in being one of his most convincing stabs at white-boy funk. Although both the single and album version are good, my preference is for the album version.
The B-side of the single, “Rape”, is one of the stand-out tracks from “All American Alien Boy”. The song opens with an excerpt from “Singing in the Rain” (an allusion to the rape scene in “A Clockwork Orange”?) Then, accompanied by backing vocals provided by Ann E. Sutton, Gail Kantor, and Erin Dickens, he tells a tale of injustice perpetrated against an unnamed female victim, while her assailant stands to go unpunished (“A knife full of life penetrated the bait/While he thinks ‘o the sister and the mother that he hates/And he thinks he’ll get off ‘cos he’s sick, and stoned”). This is one of the headier songs from this album, especially with the soaring, almost ethereal vocals at the end of the track, and represents a worthy addition to the Ian Hunter catalog.
The single (catalog #: CBS 4268) was released in the U.K. As far as I know, the single did not have a picture sleeve. “All American Alien Boy” was not as successful as the first album, and Hunter’s third solo album, “Overnight Angels” (1977), was not even released in the U.S. Hunter reunited with Mick Ronson for his fourth solo album, “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic” (1979), which was Hunter’s first album on Chrysalis some critics consider to be his best album. “Live: Welcome to the Club” (1980) and “Short Back ‘n’ Sides” (1981) sold well in spite of the lack of a hit single. Hunter switched back to Columbia for “All of the Good Ones Are Taken” (1983), on which Mick Ronson only played on one track. Hunter kept a low profile for the next six years, resurfacing in 1989 with “Yui Orta” on Polygram Records, on which Mick Ronson got equal billing. For the first half of the 1990s, Hunter once again dropped out of sight; in the meantime, his longtime collaborator, Mick Ronson, died of cancer in 1993. Hunter returned in 1995 with “Dirty Laundry”, released in the U.S. and Norway. “The Artful Dodger” followed in 1996, an album initially released in the U.K. only. “Rant” was released in 2001 on Repertoire Records, followed by “Shrunken Heads” (2007).
Album cover for Ducks Deluxe's debut LP.
Ducks Deluxe was formed in February 1972; the original lineup consisted of Martin Belmont (guitar), Sean Tyla (guitar), Ken Whaley (ex-Help Yourself, bass) and Michael Cousins (a.k.a. Magic Michael, drums). Cousins was soon replaced by Tim Roper and Nick Garvey also joined. Ducks Deluxe soon had a twice-weekly booking at the Tally Ho in Kentish Town, and a manager, Dai Davies. Whaley left and rejoined Help Yourself. Ducks Deluxe performed at Man’s Christmas party in December 1972, and one of the two tracks they recorded, “Boogaloo Babe”, was included on the two-record 10-inch budget LP “Christmas at the Patti”, which was their first appearance on a record. The band signed with RCA Records in 1973 and released their first single, “Coast to Coast” b/w “Bring Back That Packard Car”. A second single, “Fireball” b/w “Saratoga Suzie”, was released in 1974, along with a full-length album. The album did not generate much sales, even though the band secured a spot on tour opening for Lou Reed. Nick Garvey left the band and was replaced by Micky Groome (ex-Nashville Teens). The band’s next single, “Love’s Melody” b/w “Two Time Twister”, was released later that year. This is today’s featured single.
The A-side of the single, “Love’s Melody”, sounds more like power pop than much of the band’s other output. The song definitely has a catchy hook that screams of hit single potential, and appropriately sentimental lyrics (“For everyone who needs somebody/Love is gonna find a way”). There is a very brief instrumental break about 2 minutes and 9 seconds into the song, but the focus is really not on any one instrumentalist; rather, the overall sound is what impresses this listener, although the keyboards do seem to enhance the musical ambience (apparently played by Andy McMasters, who had just joined the band as keyboardist). In “Love’s Melody”, one gets a glimpse of why Ducks Deluxe became a favorite of John Peel and many critics, although they did not achieve the commercial success they deserved.
The B-side of the single, “Two Time Twister”, is a non-album track that lacks the sentimentality of “Love’s Melody”; rather, it is a great put-down song in which Tyla sings with undisguised contempt for his former significant other. Even so, he does not completely dismiss the possibility of reconciliation, or so it seems: “Well if you want me, you’ll have to come and get me/You’ll have to come crawling on your knees”. One is reminded of a similarly-themed song, “Don’t Shift a Gear”, which Tyla recorded with his next band, Tyla Gang, a few years later. One again the keyboards come through, although this time it’s a rollicking piano that adds to the musical texture. “Two Time Twister” is a great song, and while not one of Ducks Deluxe’s better-known songs, was a worthy addition to their catalog. Although this album did not appear on their next full length album, “Taxi to the Terminal Zone” (1975), but it was on the compilation album “Side Tracks and Smokers” (2010).
This single (catalog #: RCA 2477) was issued on RCA Records in 1974. As far as I know, no picture sleeve was issued. The band’s next studio album, “Taxi to the Terminal Zone”, was also a commercial flop, and in spite of the fact that Ducks Deluxe recorded a John Peel session in March 1975 (their second), RCA dropped them from the roster. Consequently, they were reduced to issuing an EP, “Jumpin'” (1975), on Skydog Records, a French label. Tim Roper subsequently left the band, so Brinsley Schwarz and Billy Rankin (both ex-Brinsley Schwarz) joined the band for their farewell tour, which ended with a concert at the 100 Club on July 1, 1975. The band was inactive for over thirty years until they reunited in 2007 for their thirty-fifth anniversary. The lineup for the first reunion was Martin Belmont, Sean Tyla, Micky Groome, and Billy Rankin. The permanent lineup (2008-present) is Belmont, Tyla, Kevin Foster (bass) and Jim Russell (drums). A six-song EP, “Box of Shorts”, was released in July 2009; a compilation album, “Side Tracks and Smokers” was released a year later.
Cover of Blue Ash's "No More, No Less" LP.
Blue Ash was formed in Youngstown, Ohio in the summer of 1969 by teenagers Frank Secich (bass) and Jim Kendzor (vocals). Bill Yendrek (guitar) and David Evans (drums) were recruited later that summer. Legend has it that the band members were expelled from high school because of their long hair; they subsequently used their free time to practice. They played their first live performance at “The Freak Out” in Youngstown on October 3, 1969. They gained a loyal following by playing an endless stream of one-nighters over the next year. In October 1970, Bill Yendrek was replaced by guitarist/songwriter Bill “Cupid” Bartolin. Secich and Bartolin would become the band’s main songwriting tandem.
Blue Ash continued playing 250-300 dates a year throughout Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia, while the Secich-Bartolin songwriting team accumulated an enormous amount of original material. In June 1972, Blue Ash signed a production contract with Peppermint Productions of Youngstown and started recording and sending out demos. In late 1972, the band was signed to Mercury Records. Mercury released their debut album, “No More, No Less” on May 2, 1973, and released their debut single, “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)” b/w “Dusty Old Fairgrounds” about two weeks later. This is today’s featured single.
“Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)” became Blue Ash’s signature tune and gained significant radio airplay, thus exposing it to a far larger audience than those who scored a copy of the first album, whether in its original pressing or on cassette or CD-R (at least before Collector’s Choice Music reissued the album on CD in 2008). The track has all the earmarks of a great rock anthem, starting off with David Evans’ drum beat, followed by a catchy riff by Bartolin. While Blue Ash is generally considered a power pop band, “Abracadabra” sounds more like hard rock in the tradition of such bands as The Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Regardless, the song screams hit single potential which makes it somewhat disappointing that this single did not chart.
The B-side of the single, “Dusty Old Fairgrounds”, is a Bob Dylan cover that is redone as a 1970s rocker. The evocative lyrics (“Well, it’s all up from Florida at the start of the spring/The trucks and the trailers will be winding/Like a bullet we’ll shoot for the carnival route/We’re following them dusty old fairgrounds a-calling”) are well-complemented by Bartolin’s Hendrix-esque guitar playing. The band runs through the song as if on speed, and the two minutes and 49 seconds of the song pass quickly. “Dusty Old Fairgrounds” is a worthy addition to Blue Ash’s body of work.
The single (catalog # is unknown) was released on Mercury Records in May 1973. “No More, No Less” would sell 19,500 copies of 20,000 copies pressed. That the album didn’t fare better can partially be attributed to the fact that around the time “No More, No Less” was being released, Mercury was also releasing albums by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the New York Dolls, and Rod Stewart. Mercury decided that their biggest priority was promoting Rod Stewart’s album, with BTO being a close second. The rest would go to the New York Dolls and Blue Ash, and the label apparently decided that a New York-based band was a safer bet for getting a decent return on their investment, and the Blue Ash release got very little promotion. Mercury released two more singles by Blue Ash before dropping them from the label in 1974. That year, David Evans left the band and was replaced by Jeff Rozniata. It would be another three years before they were signed to a label: Playboy Records, a division of Playboy International. They released a single, “Look At You Now” b/w “Singing and Dancing”, in May 1977; the song became a regional hit in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as Pennsylvania and Ohio. As a result, Playboy decided to release a full-length album. Blue Ash’s second album, “Front Page News”, was released in October 1977, and did relatively well, selling about 55,000 copies. With “Front Page News” generating decent sales and “Look At You Now” hitting #1 in some markets, Playboy was going to allocate $25,000 to fund a tour of Texas. Plans for the Texas tour were being solidified when Playboy International pulled the plug on Playboy Records in 1978. The band forged ahead for a time, even expanding to a quintet with the addition of Brian Wingrove on keyboards and recording some new material. But by 1979 they had called it quits, the band slowly fizzling out as band members concentrated on their day jobs instead. The “No More No Less” era lineup of Kendzor, Secich, Bartolin and Evans reunited in 2003, and there was enough interest in the band to bring about the release of “Around Again” (2004), a 2-CD compilation of previously unreleased material. Bartolin died of complications from cancer in on October 3, 2009 (40 years to the day after Blue Ash played their first gig), seemingly putting an end to the latest Blue Ash incarnation.