Logo for Touch and Go Records
This week on Six of One (show #235): A retrospective on Touch and Go Records, the Chicago-based hardcore label that has been a force in the alternative rock world since 1981; a tribute to #66; a Kinks song parody; old time radio with an episode of Rod Serling’s “The Zero Hour”; the Hollywood Report with Harvey Milk (though I really don’t know what he has to do with Hollywood, or whether he even set foot in Los Angeles).
The show can be heard at 9 PM Eastern/ 8 PM Central on Thursdays.
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The Pretty Things' "Rosalyn" 45 RPM single (U.K. release).
Once upon a time there was a London band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, which consisted of Dick Taylor on guitar, Keith Richards (also on guitar), and Mick Jagger (vocals). When Brian Jones joined the band, Taylor switched from guitar to bass guitar and the band changed its name to the Rolling Stones in 1962. Taylor left the band to attend the London Central School of Art, where he met Phil May. Together they formed the Pretty Things, recruiting Brian Pendleton on guitar, John Stax on bass guitar, and Pete Kitley on drums. Kitley was later replaced by Viv Broughton, who in turn was replaced by Viv Price. The band soon made an impact in England, and although they never had a hit in the United States, they became a huge influence on garage bands such as the MC5s and The Seeds. Today’s featured single is their first ever single: “Rosalyn” b/w “Big Boss Man”.
“Rosalyn” starts with a simple riff accompanied by maracas, soon joined by the band’s rhythm section just before Phil May’s hoarse vocals make their first appearance. The lyrical content doesn’t match the brilliance of some of the early British Invasion gems like “Gloria”, “Where Have All The Good Time Gone”, or “Satisfaction” – and the song doesn’t rank in my mind as a classic, although it’s fun to listen to and worthy of being remembered. Whereas the other songs mentioned can be appreciated on many levels, “Rosalyn” is basically a simple love song, with lyrics like these: Hey Rosalyn, tell me where you’ve been/Hey Rosalyn, tell me where you’ve been/All the night and all the day/Hide and seek’s the game you play/Treat me as sure as sin/Oh Rosalyn, yeah Rosalyn”. Still, May comes off as sincere when he screams the ultimately unanswerable question: “Do you really love me?” The drums and other percussion play a large role in anchoring the sound; they are loud and constitute the more obvious portion of the rhythm section. The David Bowie version (on “Pin Ups”), by the way, is excellent, and for the most part remains faithful to the original.
“Big Boss Man” is the B-side of the single and is a cover version of a blues song written by Luther Dixon and Al Smith and originally recorded by Jimmy Reed in 1960. It’s a simple twelve bar blues song, and gives May the opportunity to play harmonica, which he does quite well. There is also some great laid-back guitar picking from Taylor. The song is an indictment against all bosses who have abused their authority: Yeah, you keep me working, boss man, a workin’ around the clock/I want a little drink of water, you won’t let me no drop/Big boss man, don’t you hear me when I call?/Well, you ain’t so big, kinda tall, that’s all”. Although any connection May has with the protagonist in the song may be more spiritual than actual, he sings the song with considerable energy. Again there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in this song, although the guitar solo about halfway through the song is entertaining enough.
The single (catalog #: TF 469) was issued on the Fontana label. I’m not sure what the label looked like, although it was probably the white Fontana label with the Fontana logo across the top and the band name and song title across the bottom.
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.
Off Broadway's "Stay In Time" 45 RPM single.
The power pop band Off Broadway was formed in 1977 in Oak Park, Illinois by Cliff Johnson (lead vocals), Rob Harding (guitar and backing vocals), John Ivan (guitar), John Pazdan (bass), and Ken Harck (drums, vocals). Cliff Johnson and John Pazdan were members of Pezband, another power pop band based in Oak Park. Pezband had been formed a few years earlier and enjoyed critical acclaim with such albums as “Pezband” (1977) and “Laughing in the Dark” (1978). Critical success did not translate to sales, however, and Johnson and Pazdan left to form Off Broadway. The band signed with Atlantic Records and released their first album, “On”, in 1979. The album also spawned their first single, “Stay In Time” b/w “Full Moon Turn My Head Around”. This is today’s featured single.
“Stay In Time” was Off Broadway’s biggest hits, and has all the earmarks of a great power pop song. Opening with a drum beat which is soon joined by Harding and Ivan’s guitars. Cliff Johnson’s vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, and are effective even when delivering such relatively lightweight sentiments as “[e]veryday when you turn away from your world boy/You’re ignoring your life an oh, what a shame boy”. The song has a relatively simple arrangement and a strong, catchy hook, as if the pop melodies of The Beatles have been wedded to the punchier rock of of the 1970s. “Stay In Time” was definitely Off Broadway’s moment in the sun, and peaked on the Billboard singles chart at #51.
The B-side of the single, is a more up-tempo rocker, and one of the stronger songs from their excellent debut album “On”. The lyrics aren’t any more ponderous than those of “Stay In Time” (with lines like “[w]hen I’m edgy and I feel a little crazy and I’m going wrong/Should I take a drink or should I try to think about a simple song”), but the overall the song packs more energy than the A-side, the perfect antidote to those who would dismiss the band as Cheap Trick-lite. While this song is not as catchy as “Stay In Time”, it could easily have been a hit in its own right.
The single (catalog #: 3647) was released on Atlantic Records in 1979. No picture sleeve was issued, although a sleeve with the company’s name (“The Altantic Group”) was issued. The label features the Atlantic logo featured on 45 RPM singles issued during this era. The album “On” reached #101 on the Billboard album chart and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The follow-up album, “Quick Turns” (1980), was significantly less successful. After a few years of touring, Off Broadway broke up in 1983. In 1996, Johnson, Harding and Harck, joined by Mike Gorman (guitar) and Mike Redmond (guitar), formed Black on Blond. After receiving numerous audience requests to play Off Broadway songs, they soon began playing concerts as Off Broadway. The new lineup released “Fallin’ In” (1997), Off Broadway’s first new studio album in 17 years. A live album, “Live at Fitzgerald’s” (1998), was subsequently released on Crash Records. Since then, Off Broadway has apparently become defunct once again, with former band members moving on to new projects; Cliff Johnson formed the band Cliff Johnson and the Happy Jacks.
The Black Crowes' "Thorn in My Pride" 45 RPM single
Today’s single brings us well into the 1990’s: 1992 to be exact. By then, I doubt that many people were actually buying and playing vinyl (I think it was in 1990 that the needle on my turntable broke, and I never bothered to replace it), but vinyl records were still being manufactured and imagine my surprise when I went on eBay and found today’s featured single: “Thorn in My Pride” b/w “Sting Me”.
Fans of music from that era will likely recognize those two tracks as being from the Black Crowes’ “Southern Harmony And Musical Companion” album. In 1992, The Black Crowes (Chris Robinson – vocals; Rich Robinson – guitars; Marc Ford – guitars; Johnny Colt – bass guitar; Eddie Harsch – keyboards; Steve Gorman – drums) were still basking in the afterglow of their successful debut album, “Shake Your Money Maker” (1990). Rather than rest on their laurels, the band released a follow-up effort that is probably their magnum opus, in which they took their blues-rock revival to new levels, and for anyone who enjoyed their Faces meets Humble Pie meets the Rolling Stones meets blues and soul act, the album was thoroughly enjoyable. But not only did they release one great album, they put two of the album’s best songs on one single.
“Thorn in My Pride” is a slow ballad, opening with an acoustic guitar, followed by Eddie Harsch’s organ, and the rhythm section of Colt and Gorman. The song really is a good example of the Black Crowes slowly building a wall of sound. Like many other bands, they understand the light-heavy dichotomy and the idea that tension can be built in a song by holding back, but unlike some of the songs reviewed here (e.g. The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”), there is no moment here where the dam bursts; instead, the music gradually builds, adding guitars, pianos, and eventually backing vocals, until the coda, where all this is stripped away, and we are left with Chris Robinson’s soulful vocals and and acoustic guitar, neatly creating a bookend for the song. And who could resist inscrutable lyrics like these: “Wake me when the day breaks/Show me how the sun shines/Tell me about your heartaches/Who could be so unkind?”. In the words of one reviewer, “The roots of Otis Redding and Humble Pie meet with a viable grace here…” This is classic Crowes all the way.
“Sting Me”, on the other hand, is a rocker that exhibits much of the happy sloppiness that the Black Crowes often exemplified. The opening of the track has the sound effect of a tape machine starting up, launching into Rick Robinson’s lead guitar, followed about ten seconds in by someone clapping, followed by Harsch’s organ and Gorman’s drums; the vocals don’t start until forty-eight seconds into the track, as if either the Crowes want to give us a feel for the sound of the track before launching into it, or they want to provide a really big intro for DJs to talk over (which given Chris Robinson’s criticism of commercialization seems unlikely). About three minutes in, there’s a powerful Rick Robinson guitar solo. The rhythm section is here, providing a solid backbone for the Black Crowes’ sound. But on this track, as with “Thorn”, what’s really noticeable (especially in comparison to their first album) are the keyboards, both the organ and the piano, and the decision to recruit Eddie Harsch in 1991 seems to have paid serious dividends; the band went from being a very good blues-rock revival band to a band that has a fuller, more refined sound. And if they were aiming for something that sounded a bit more like the Faces, adding a keyboardist was a step in the right direction (I always considered Ian McLagan a key component of the Faces’ sound). The lyrics seem to be directed towards an unknown woman: the chorus of “[c]an you sting me?” is a sexual metaphor, and Robinson’s asking “[w]hat’s a wasp without her sting?” is a question that seems to answer itself. The rhyme structure of the song is interesting as well: we get two rhyming lines followed by a non-rhyming line: If you feel like a riot/Then don’t you deny it/Put your good foot forward/No need for heroics I just/want you to show it/Now’s the time to shine”. Note the third line doesn’t rhyme with the first and second lines; the sixth line doesn’t rhyme with the fourth and fifth line; they don’t rhyme with each other; nor do they rhyme with any other lines in the song.
This single was issued with the black Def American label, with a barcode on the left side and the Def American logo (a map of the continental U.S.) on the right side. And here’s something that’s rather cool: a lot of the songs reviewed in this blog had special “single edits” to make the songs more AM radio-friendly (e.g. “No Sugar Tonight” was cut down to about two minutes). But by 1992, AM Top 40 radio had pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur, so such considerations were not a factor. As a result, the single has the full album-length version of “Thorn in My Pride”. I’m not sure about “Sting Me”, but I’d imagine that would also be the full-length version. Even if it isn’t, this is still a damn good single.
Picture sleeve for the Renaissance single "Prologue".
Renaissance was formed in January 1969 by former Yardbirds members Keith Relf (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Jim McCarty (drums, vocals) as a new group devoted to experimentation between rock, folk and classical forms. To round out the lineup, they recruited Louis Cennamo (bass guitar), John Hawken (piano), and Relf’s sister Jane as an additional vocalist. The band began touring in May 1969, before recording for their first album had begun, and released their debut album, “Renaissance”, later that year on Island Records (former Yardbird bassist Paul Samwell-Smith produced the album). While the second album was being recorded, the original lineup split up; Jim McCarty was the first to leave the band, quitting just before a European tour because he hated to fly. Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo were next, leaving to form Armageddon. Hawken kept the band going by recruiting members of his former band, The Nashville Teens (guitarist Michael Dunford, bassist Neil Korner, singer Terry Crowe, and drummer Terry Slade). This lineup recorded one track (“Mr. Pine”) and played a few concerts in 1970; a final recording session reunited the original lineup minus Hawken, with Don Shin sitting in on keyboards. The resulting album, “Illusions” (1971), was released only in Germany initially (it was released in the U.K. in 1976). In the fall of 1970, Jane Relf left the band and was replaced by American folksinger Mary Louise “Binky” Collum. John Hawken, the last remaining member of the original lineup, also left and was replaced by John Tout.
At the time, the plan was for former members Relf and McCarty to continue work with the band as non-performing members (Relf as a producer and McCarty as a songwriter). Both were present when singer Annie Haslam auditioned for the band; she would replace the departing Collum. McCarty would write several songs for the band but Relf’s involvement would be short-lived. In the meantime, new manager Miles Copeland decided to reorganize the band by focusing on its strengths, which he saw as Haslam’s voice and John Tout’s piano. Michael Dunford was recruited once again, although he was replaced in short order by Mick Parsons, who died shortly thereafter in a car accident; he in turn was replaced by Rob Hendry. This lineup was eventually rounded out by bassist Jon Camp (who joined after a succession of bass players whose tenure was short-lived) and drummer Terence Sullivan. This lineup recorded the album “Prologue” (1972), which contained the single “Prologue” b/w “Share Some Love”. This is today’s featured single.
The A-side of this single, “Prologue”, demonstrates that while Renaissance’s transition from a folk rock band to a progressive rock outfit was well underway, the transition was well underway. It also demonstrates that Copeland’s perception that Haslam’s vocals and Tout’s piano playing were the band’s main strengths was essentially correct, as they are the most distinctive features of this track. The track starts out with a piano intro, soon accompanied by Haslam’s falsetto vocals. The song has no lyrics, but it is not really an instrumental track. And it may not be what you would expect from a rock band, but in 1972, when progressive rock was starting to spread its wings, with bands like Yes, Genesis and Focus finding receptive audiences, the time had come for a band like Renaissance. And while they did not reach the lofty heights of those bands, Renaissance did have a sizeable following.
The B-side of this single, “Spare Some Love”, is an acoustic ballad reminiscent of the material from the Relf-McCarty era of the band. Hendry’s acoustic guitar opens the track, followed in short order by Haslam’s vocals: “Shadows, darkness follow quiet/Shadows, you walk besides a shadow/Strangers, people passing by/Strangers, you walk beside a stranger”. The first half of the song sounds more like a soft rock track that a band like Bread would perform, but in the second half of the song, the song starts to sound more like a prog rock tune, with a funky bass line that sounds like it could have been lifted from Yes, some nice drum rolls courtesy of Sullivan, and, of course Tout’s piano, which is conspicuously absent in the first half of the track. We also hear some great a cappella singing by Haslam, before the last verse of the song, which concludes with Sullivan’s drumming, unaccompanied by other instruments, and a fade out. “Spare Some Love” is a worthy addition to the Renaissance catalog.
This single (catalog #: 3487) was released in the U.S. on Capitol Records in 1972, the American division of Sovereign-EMI (the band’s label in the U.K.). A picture sleeve was issued with this single (shown above). Hendry left the band shortly after the album was released, and was replaced by Peter Finberg for the subsequent tour, and on a more permanent basis by Michael Dunford. This lineup would remain intact for the next six years, starting with the next album, “Ashes Are Burning” (1973). This became their first album to chart in the U.S., peaking at #171 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. They left Sovereign-EMI for BTM in 1974 (with Sire as their U.S. distributor), and released “Turn of the Cards” (1974), an album with more lush, orchestral sounds. The band was starting to gain momentum in the U.S., their next album “Scheherazade and Other Stories” (1975), peaked at #48 in the U.S. “Live at Carnegie Hall” (1976), their first live album, contained highlights from the previous four albums; “Novella” (1977) came next, its release delayed in the U.K. by the bankruptcy of their label, BTM. “A Song for All Seasons” was released the following year, this album contained “Northern Lights”, which was a Top Ten hit in the U.K. With the unionization of professional orchestra musicians that followed, it was no longer possible for the band to continue with its orchestral sound, and for the next album, “Azure d’Or” (1979), they reinvented themselves as a synthesizer-based band, which did not go over well with their fan base; the album only reached #125 in the U.S. Shortly after the tour supporting this album, John Tout left the band, as did Terrence Sullivan shortly thereafter. Subsequent albums “Camera Camera” (1981) and “Time-Line” (1983) did not garner much commercial success, with “Candid Camera” their last album that charted in the U.S. (#197). In 1985, Camp left, and Dunford and Haslam fronted an acoustic version of the band before deciding to call it quits in 1987. In the mid 1990s, both Dunford and Haslam formed bands called Renaissance with different lineups and released albums under the Renaissance name. Renaissance reformed in 1998 with four of the five members from the “classic” era (1973-79): Dunford, Haslam, Sullivan and Tout. They also recruited musicians such as Roy Wood and Mickey Simmonds to help record the album “Tuscany” (2001). A supporting tour soon followed, but the band soon became inactive. Haslam and Dunford reformed the band to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the band (the newly reformed band was called Renaissance 2009. Haslam and Dunford were the only returning members from the 1970s incarnation of the band, although several members returned from the 2001 lineup. A tour of eastern North America and Japan and the release of a three song EP followed in 2010.
"A Gallon of Gas" 45 RPM single
This blog has been overdue for a Kinks entry for awhile now, so I might as well do one today. As anyone who has followed the Kinks’ storied history knows, The Kinks have gone through several distinct phases, both commercially and artistically. First, there was the Era Of Initial Success (1964-66): The Kinks, starting with “You Really Got Me”, (and ending with “Sunny Afternoon”) had several hits in the U.S. Then there was what I call the Era Of Limited Commercial Success (1967-69): The Kinks failed to score a U.S. Top 40 hit, but they release a series of critically acclaimed concept albums. There was a brief “revival” period in the early 1970’s, when The Kinks, buoyed by the commercial success of “Lola” (peak U.S. chart position: #9) and “Celluloid Heroes” (U.K. Top 20), saw their commercial fortunes restored, but once they signed with RCA Records in 1973, they seemed to be doomed to once again releasing low-selling concept albums.
The band’s move to Arista Records in 1976 seemed to be a turning point. “Low Budget” (1979) was their third album for Arista and eventually became their best-selling album in the U.S. By now, the band lineup had changed somewhat from what it had been in the 1960’s. Ray Davies (lead vocals, guitars), Dave Davies (vocals, lead guitar), and Mick Avory (drums) remained from the original lineup (together, they constituted three-fourths of the original lineup), but in addition, Jim Rodford (bass guitar) and Ian Gibbons (keyboards) joined the band; both would remain until 1984, when the departure of Mick Avory helped signal the end of The Kinks’ salad days. It was not a concept album in the sense of being a rock opera, but most of the songs seem to be thematically linked, and the theme is that hard times have befallen us. Both sides of today’s featured single, “A Gallon of Gas” b/w “Low Budget” are related to this theme.
“A Gallon of Gas”, along with “Catch Me Now I’m Falling”, are the two tracks from the album that deal with the album’s subplot: hard times for America in the global economy, and the nation’s corresponding loss of prestige. The song is a simple blues melody; the keyboards are muted for this track, with the song driven primarily by the Davies brothers guitars, complemented well by Rodford and Avory. The lyrics – about a man who has bought a brand new Cadillac, but who can’t afford gas for it – puts a humorous spin on the gas crisis of the late 1970’s: “I went to my local dealer to see if he could set me straight/He said there’s a little gas going but I’d have to wait/But he offered some red hot speed and some really high grade hash/But a gallon of gas can’t be purchased anywhere for any amount of cash”. The song sounds a bit dated, but from a lyrical standpoint, it sounds as if it could have been written more recently. And here’s an extra verse, from the long version: “I love your body work, but you’re really no use/How can I drive you when I got no juice?/Because it’s stuck in neutral and my engine’s got no speed/And the highways are deserted and the air smells unnaturally clean”. As the liner notes for the CD point out, given the fact that Ray Davies dissected the carcass of British imperialism and class structure so viciously on such albums as “Arthur” and the “Preservation” albums, this is a surprisingly lighthearted (and perhaps even sympathetic) look at the Carter era United States.
The B-side, “Low Budget”, is such a good song that when I started researching this entry, I thought that “Low Budget” was the A-side and “A Gallon of Gas” was the B-side. Only when I checked a Kinks discography did I discover that it was the other way around. “Low Budget” starts with with a simple, mid-tempo Dave Davies melody; although some of the tracks on the album feature keyboards more prominently, that is not the case with this song. According to Dave Davies (in the liner notes of the “Low Budget” CD), the title track was recorded on the second take, with live drums and live guitars, and the song does have a “live in studio” feel to it, in keeping with the back-to-basics attitude of the album. The rhythm section of Rodford and Avory makes a difference here, giving the song a solid, punchy rock beat. And as Ray Davies noted, “I really got it to be a good dance record on the re-mix”; he felt it passed the test when he heard it in a Stockholm disco and “it knocked the balls off everything else.” Although the lyrics are about someone who has fallen on hard times, the plight of this man is described humorously: “Even my trousers are giving me pain/They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn’t complain/They squeeze so tight so I can’t take no more/They’re size 28 but I take 34”. And check out this extra lyric, cut from the final version of the song: “Quality costs, but quality wastes/So I’m giving up all of my expensive tastes/Caviar and champagne are definite no’s/I’m acquiring a taste for brown ale and cod roes”. This single did not chart in the U.S., but “Low Budget” became a staple of AOR stations for many years, and the song would become a staple of The Kinks’ live show. Unlike many of The Kinks’ singles from this era (which included picture sleeves), “A Gallon of Gas” was issued with a standard paper sleeve and the label has the standard Arista logo from the late 1970’s.
The Beserkley Records logo
Matthew “King” Kaufman got his start in the music industry as manager of the San Francisco-based rock band Earth Quake, whom he helped secure a two album contract with A&M Records. Frustrated at what he saw as A&M’s inability to promote a hard rock band, Kaufman founded Beserkley Records in 1973 with $3400 in working capital and signed Earth Quake to the label, as well as Jonathan Richman. For the first two years, Beserkley only issued singles; many of these early singles were collected on the “Beserkley Chartbusters, Volume One” album, released in 1975. By this time, Kaufman had added Greg Kihn, a singer-songwriter from Baltimore, and The Rubinoos, a power-pop band from the Berkeley, to the roster. Soon, the label enjoyed success: Earth Quake’s second album, “8.5” (1976), made the lower rungs of the Billboard album chart; Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers didn’t chart in the U.S., but both “Roadrunner” and “Egyptian Reggae” made the Top 20 in the U.K. The Rubinoos provided the label with its first charting single in 1977 with “I Think We’re Alone Now” (U.S. #45).
The label’s biggest success story, however, was Greg Kihn, who sang backup for Earth Quake and Jonathan Richman before starting his own band. “Next of Kihn” was the first Kihn album to chart and all subsequent Beserkley releases charted as well. “Rockihnroll” (1981), “Kihntinued” (1982), and “Kihnspiracy” (1983) all made the Top 40 of the U.S. album chart. “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” became Kihn’s first Top 40 single, and “Jeopardy” reached #2 in the U.S. and reached #1 in some countries. By 1980, Kihn was the only artist signed to the label.
When the next Greg Kihn Band album, “Kintagious” (1984), failed to get much traction (peaking at #121), Beserkley started to have money problems. Kaufman decided to dissolve the label, allowing Greg Kihn to sign with EMI (Kaufman would continue to act as Kihn’s producer). In 1986, the Beserkley catalog was licensed to Rhino Records.
Tonight on “Six of One” (9:00 PM EDT), I will devote the first portion of the show to a retrospective on Beserkley Records, featuring music from Earth Quake, Jonathan Richman, Greg Kihn, The Rubinoos, and Tyla Gang. Also featured in this week’s show will be a special Fourth of July OTR segment, and tributes to Peter Quaife and Bill Aucoin.
I still don’t have an official archive set up yet, but here’s links to the first three shows. The first show is available as a 48 kbps MP3; the other two are 64 kbps MP3s.
Six of One: 6-3-2010 (#101)
Six of One: 6-10-2010 (#102)
Six of One: 6-17-2010 (#103)
The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" single, on Verve Records
The Velvet Underground had its roots in a meeting between New York native Lou Reed and Welsh native John Cale in 1964. Lou Reed was a college student who played with garage bands and had worked as a songwriter for Pickwick Records. Cale had moved to the United States to study classical music, but was also interested in rock music. Reed and Cale formed a group called The Primitives, with Lou Reed as the guitarist and lead vocalist, and Cale playing other instruments and also providing vocals. Reed soon recruited college classmate Sterling Morrison, who played guitar, and the band added Angus MacLise to play percussion. The quartet called themselves The Warlocks, then the Falling Spikes, and they finally settled on the Velvet Underground. Angus MacLise, left the band when they decided to take a gig playing Summit High School in Summit, New Jersey in 1965 (for the princely sum of $75); he viewed this as a “sell out” and was replaced by Maureen “Mo” Tucker, the younger sister of a friend or Morrison’s. Andy Warhol became the band’s manager in 1965 and helped them secure a recording contract with MGM’s Verve Records. He also suggested that they record with the German-born model Nico, who sang on 3 songs on the Velvet Underground’s debut LP, “The Velvet Underground and Nico”, released in March 1967. The album was a modest commercial success, peaking at #171 on the U.S. Billboard chart, although sales were undoubtedly hurt as a result of the album being pulled from stores by MGM as a result of a legal dispute with “Chelsea Girls” cinematographer Eric Emerson (he claimed that a still from the movie had been used on the back cover of the album without his permission).
The Velvet Underground subsequently severed ties with Andy Warhol and Nico, and began work on their second LP. The album, “White Light/White Heat” was recorded in September 1967 and released on January 30, 1968, entering the Billboard chart at #199, and remaining there for 2 weeks before sliding off the album chart. The album showed Lou Reed and John Cale pulling the band in different directions, containing both Cale-inspired noisefests like “Sister Ray”, and shorter, more conventional, almost pop-ish numbers written by Lou Reed, like the title track. Although this album proved to be the last hurrah of the Reed-Cale collaboration (Cale would leave the band in September 1968 before work on their third album started, and was replaced by Doug Yule), it did contain today’s featured single: “White Light/White Heat” b/w “Here She Comes Now”.
“White Light/White Heat” demonstrates why when MGM president Mike Curb decided to purge MGM of all hippie/drug-related acts, the VU’s days on the label were numbered. “White Light/White Heat”, unlike some of the band’s other songs (e.g. “Heroin”), sounds like a commercial for amphetamines. The song features only a few chords (the verses only have 2 chords – A and D – and the chorus includes 4 chords – A, D, G, and F), but the chords are all downtuned a whole tone. The enthusiasm that Reed exudes as he sings suggests that speed was his drug of choice at the time: “Oh, I surely do love to watch that stuff drip itself in/Watch that side, watch that side/Don’t you know gonna be dead and dried”. And while he notes that it’s “messin’ up my mind”, it’s doubtful that he thinks this is an unwelcome side effect. There’s a great dissonant, droning guitar chord at the end (G), perhaps influenced by Cale. The song is relatively short (2 minutes and 45 seconds), but in concert it became a showcase for Reed’s guitar work, and, as a result, the version on “1969: The Velvet Underground Live” is three times as long. John Cale and Sterling Morrison sing backing vocals on this track (the “white light/white light/white heat/white light” backing chorus). Cale also plays a rollicking, barrelhouse-style piano on the track, not unlike he does on “I’m Waiting For The Man”. This song has had a major influence on glam rock and punk, and was covered by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, not to mention Reed himself, who resurrected it on his live LP “Rock and Roll Animal” (1974).
The B-side of the single, “Here She Comes Now”, seems even more minimalistic than “White Light/White Heat”. It is possible to replicate the entire lyrics in this posting, because there are only 9 lines in the song: “Here she ever comes now now/She ever comes now now/She ever comes now” (repeated several times) and “Oh oh, it look so good/Shes made out of wood/Just look and see”. The lyrical content is mysterious; the song is credited to Morrison, Cale and Reed, and they claim that it is “a 7-line thesis on the possibility that a girl might come.” It works for me. The song consists of 3 chords (D/C/B5), and although it’s a rather simple song, the piano playing of Cale and the light touch of Mo Tucker on the drums (not to mention the melodious dissonance of Reed on guitar) impart a unique sound to the track. Whereas Reed sounds passionate on “White Light/White Heat”, on this track he sounds indifferent and impassive, a vocal styling that he would hone to perfection during his solo career and that one suspects was an influence on many artists (David Bowie comes immediately to mind, but undoubtedly there are others). The song was originally intended to be sung by Nico, who did sing it live several times. A demo was recorded with Lou Reed singing vocals; this version had two additional verses and was released on the 1995 box set “Peel Slowly and See”. By the time the Velvet Underground recorded the LP “White Light/White Heat”, their collaboration with Nico had come to an end, and “Here She Comes Now” was again recorded with Reed supplying the vocals. The song clocks in at 2 minutes and 4 seconds, making it the shortest song on “White Light/White Heat”. Incidentally, Nirvana apparently did a cover version of this song, released in 1991 as part of a split single with The Melvins.
The single (catalog #: VK10560) was released by Verve Records, and was the last Velvet Underground single released by Verve Records (subsequent singles would be released on the parent label, MGM). No picture sleeve was issued with the single. The label is blue, with the Verve Records logo across the top, the band’s name on the left side, and the track name on the right side. I’ve profiled quite a few singles in this blog, and this does seem to be one of the more unusual labels. The band would be active for a few more years, but commercial success still eluded them. “The Velvet Underground”, the band’s third album and first with Doug Yule, was issued in March 1969 but failed to make the Billboard album chart. They spent much of 1969 on the road (which yielded the abovementioned live LP, released by Mercury Records in 1974), and recorded a number of studio tracks, many of which went unreleased for many years due to disputes with MGM. Finally, in 1969, MGM president Mike Curb decided to drop all hippie/drug-related acts from the label and the VU were unceremoniously dropped from MGM. They were snapped up by Atlantic Records, who issued their fourth album, “Loaded”, on their Cotillion subsidiary in August 1970. The album contained 2 of their most radio-friendly tracks – “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll”, which garnered considerable airplay – but Reed became disillusioned with the band while recording the album and left the band. Doug Yule became the new singer/lead guitarist, and Walter Powers was recruited to replace Yule on bass. Sterling Morrison left the band in 1971 to pursue an academic career, and was replaced by keyboardist Willie Alexander. This lineup was touring the U.K. in 1972 when their manager secured a contract with Polydor Records; Yule sent the band back to the United States and recorded the fifth Velvet Underground LP, “Squeeze” (1973), essentially by himself. A new lineup was assembled to tour in support of the album (which was released only in Europe), but when the brief tour ended in December 1972, Yule pulled the plug on the band. Yule assembled a new band, called it the Velvet Underground, and toured the New England bar circuit in the spring of 1973, but other than Yule, this band had no connection to the old Velvet Underground, although they did play VU covers. The band has essentially been defunct since 1972, although Reed and Cale have reunited on several occasions, and the classic lineup of Reed-Cale-Morrison-Tucker finally reunited in 1992. The band toured Europe in 1993, but before long, Reed and Cale had a falling-out and the VU were in limbo again. The death of Morrison in 1995 seemed to put an end to any talk of a reunion, although Reed and Cale put aside their differences to perform (along with Tucker) at their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 1996.
External links – I couldn’t find any footage of the VU performing – does any such footage exist? Well, here’s 2 links anyway:
Lou Reed and Pete Townsend performing White Light/White Heat
White Light/White Heat “video”