Richard Abberline is a DJ/Writer/Musician, based in Bristol, England, and this is where he comes to talk music, vinyl records, and anything that rocks (or irks) his world.
Richard Abberline is a DJ/Writer/Musician, based in Bristol, England, and this is where he comes to talk music, vinyl records, and anything that rocks (or irks) his world.
The last piece of note I wrote was for the online magazine Perfect Sound Forever, a eulogy to the late Lou Reed. As I was trying to summon my thoughts, i’d often listen to the music that doo wop music that had been one of Lou’s enduring musical loves. Just before, I’d stopped doing a radio show for a local community station (Radio Winchcombe) – where i’d occasionally pull together shows around themes, some clear (artists, producers, genres), some disparate (themes, connections, girl’s names). I’d mulled over the idea of creating a sort of “Doo Wop Requiem” for Lou to post online, but as personal matters intervened, I never got round to it.
But the idea percolated, and somehow redefined itself. I became fascinated with records that had a certain sort of sound – slow, dreamy downbeat records – mainly ballads. Most were cut in America in that period between the birth of “Rock N’ Roll” through to the arrival of The Beatles.(“The Golden Age Of American Rock N’ Roll” 1954-1963). Whilst the classic slowtempo doo wop ballad sound was some sort of template, I also found various rock n’ roll, rockabilly, pop, r&b, early soul and gospel records also fitted into the aesthetic. Some were recorded by major league artists on big labels with lavish arrangements, whilst others were recorded for tiny independent operations in primitive garage studio setups by hopeful amateurs. Everybody, in virtually every sub genre of 50s music – had at some point, cut something resembling a ballad. Quite often a 45 or 78 would consist of one uptempo track on one side and one slower number on the flip or vice versa – giving both sides of the record a chance to “hit”.
As I found myself more and more attracted to the stuff, at first thought I was going a bit soft. Even by my standards – I regarded some of this music as a bit twee. I’d sometimes find myself gliding around the kitchen to these songs in a state of utter rapture (sometimes with a partner). I’d find they’d help me drift off to sleep at night. When I’d listen to more contemporary groups like Low, Galaxie 500, Slowdive or Dirty Beaches I’d get a similar feeling – it was as if they too were trying to plug their mortal bodies into same dream world – a place unchanged as the years roll by and tastes change.
Extinquishing my guilt with a very loud spin of “White Light – White Heat” – I decided that I needed to coin a term to group these records, but that day was hit by a sudden lack of inspiration – so I plumped on “Ghost Pop”. It seemed to fit, not only because they music had this otherworldly quality, but because, culturally, it was had seemed to be elbowed out of existence. I didn’t know under the age of 50 who really dug this stuff. Occasionally, when I DJed, I’d end the night by playing a few of these songs as people were leaving. A few drunks would remained behind seemed to enjoy it, intoning their head into their hands. They didn’t leave in a hurry, anyhow.
I dreamt that one day I would be a regular DJ in basement dive playing this music, and that people would come and dance like zombies to this music all night long. I still hope this might, even for one night, come true.
As a record junkie, I’d find some titles very frequently (particularly if they’d hit on this side of the channel). Others were not so easy to come by, though not particularly in demand. I noticed that many of these tracks were not particularly sought after for themselves these days, except by the ever-greying echelons of “oldies” collectors and label completists (London American enthusiasts, I’m talking about you!), or if the flip side was particularly racy and in demand by DJs. Whilst the Doo Wop and Teen Idol market is waning with too few younger followers – the “Northern Soul“, “Popcorn” or “R&B” scenes are vibrant. they are essentially parasitical genres as opposed to completist (not a criticism) – the collectability and demand of a record is pretty much governed less by genre but more by tempo, freshness and danceability. Many of these “Ghostpoppers” are so slow that they’d struggle to find, let alone keep, a partner for the last dance.
One case in particular is “Honey Child” by Johnny Williams, an in demand “Popcorn” 45. It was released on a tiny texas based label called Cinema round ’65 (a bit out of my time period, but…) The flipside clearly fits the bill of “Ghost Pop”, so well, in fact, that’s is the de-facto “Do I Love You” of my genre. You can hear that song here on this fantastic website -
There are probably thousands more songs out there like this waiting to be discovered, unanthologised on CD or unavailable as rips on the internet. I’d LOVE to hear more – so if you think of anything fits the bill, please drop me a comment or post a link here.
Using what’s available to me on Spotify, i’ve put together a playlist of 50 tracks fit under this unwieldy epithet I’ve created. Most, but not all, were released on 45s. Some were huge sellers, some spilling over from their respective “Country” and “Rhythm & Blues” markets into the pop charts. Others were only regional hits, b-sides or album tracks. Some are well remembered still, particularly in the U.S., others have drifted into obscurity. If you want to discover more music of this period – I highly recommend Ace Records’ Golden Age Of American Rock N’ Roll Series.
Some Random Notes:
The Falcons’ I’ve Found A Love features Wilson Pickett on lead vocals and is considered to be one of the first “soul” records). “My Love Is“, finds Little Willie John, the guy who original recorded “Fever“, stealing Peggy Lee‘s distinctive arrangement of that song (which was a much bigger hit) and recycling it to good effect. Ben E. King‘s spooky version of “On The Horizon” was The B-Side of “Stand By Me”. Link Wray, everybody’s favourite fifties guitar shredder – is included here in sweetie mode – “Golden Strings” is an slinky arrangement of a Chopin tune – the same piece Serge Gainsbourg plundered for his notorious duet with his daughter Charlotte (“Lemon Incest”). In the same sessions, Wray also attacked Debussy’s Clair De Lune – which has to be heard to be believed.
As well as his monumental “For Your Precious Love” (cut with The Impressions) I’ve included Jerry Butlers‘ “Isle Of Sirens” is a sort of evocative odyssian number in the vein of “On The Horizon“, written and with guitar work from his buddy from The Impressions – a young Curtis Mayfield.
The Teddy Bears “To Know Him Is To Love Him” represents the first band and production by Phil Spector, who wrote the song inspired by the epitaph of his late father’s grave. Recorded at Los Angeles’ Gold Star Studios, where Spector would later perfect his “Wall Of Sound”. He made good use of the studios custom-built Echo Chambers. A song from The Teddy Bears only LP (“The Teddy Bears Sing”) is also included – “Oh Why“, which utilises the similar sound and style to their only hit. I’ve also included Phil’s first Philles single for The Crystals.
On the subject of mortality, Elvis’ “That’s Someone You Never Forget” – a gem from his actually very good mid 60s LP “Pot Luck”, was apparently inspired by the death of his mother, and is rumoured to be one of the only songs Elvis himself co-wrote.
Johnny Ace’s Pledging My Love is, by default, a Death Disc. It was released posthumously after Ace shot himself with his own gun whilst playing Russian Roulette. It was one of the first R&B records to break into the Pop charts, and therefore, deserves it’s nomination as one of the first rock n roll records. Imbued with a certain eerie ambience, listeners must’ve thought Ace had phoned in his performance from beyond the grave. Elvis himself would, almost prophetically, record the number before his own death. Note the similarity between “Pledging My Love” and John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas / War Is Over”.
This TV appearance of country guitarist Pete Drake performing “Forever” is one of the spookiest things you’ll ever see – and I wouldn’t be surprised if David Lynch based his whole cinematic vision on it. On a side note, both Ketty Lester and Bobby Vinton tracks here featured in his movie “Blue Velvet“.
Most of these records owe a debt to Les Paul, who made with his wife Mary Ford some of the most innovative recordings of the 1950s. As well as pioneering the modern electric guitar, Paul pretty much invented multi track recording, reverb and delay effects and close miking.
Yours truly has put together a radio show and thrown it up into the deepest reaches of that bearpit of sound that is Mixcloud. It follows the same sort of format as his old radio show for Radio Winchcombe 107.1.
If you missed this first time around – one of my favourite pieces.
Originally posted on mentionthebear:
We are hurtling through into the 21st Century, and as we do,we’re catching up on the late record producer Joe Meek. The beginning of the century ushered in an array of reissues, transposing his legacy from collector compiled cassettes into the modern age. In 2008, the film “Telstar” dramatised his life for the popcorn-crunching fraternity. Indie hipsters The Horrors raved about and covered his work. Currently there’s a kickstart-funded documentary in the works.
It was his birthday on Friday, and I decided to dedicate this week’s Hurly Burly Radio Hour to his legacy. Meek was a local character (Hailing from Newent in The Forest Of Dean), so it seemed even more worthy for community radio. Personal circumstances got in the way however, and in such tight time constraints I struggled to reflect his legacy. That’s why I’ve returned to the subject here. I’m also a bit miffed…
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In Autumn 1977, when NASA launched the Voyager probes to explore the mysterious reaches of Space, Scott Walker was presumably writing his contributions to The Walker Brother’s final LP, Nite Flights. Those songs would represent a drastic leap from the Pebble Mill MOR the Brothers had peddled for most of their seventies comeback, and re-establish Walker on the artistic path he’d trod (and abandoned) in the late sixties.
Virtually all of Scott’s work since, starting with those four songs he wrote for Nite Flights, sound like space itself – cold, dark, and virtually Impenetrable. In 36 years, with a total disregard to nostalgia and pop convention (are they any different?), he has only released four-full length albums and a handful of commissioned works. Around the time Voyager 1 had left the outer reaches of our solar system and entered interstellar space in August 2012, Walker was finishing up his latest offering Bish Bosch, which featured a song that suggested, in his mind at least, Scott had got there already.
The trajectory that Walker has travelled through the musical universe wouldn’t be so compelling and iconic without an understanding of where he started. The creator of Bish Bosch didn’t start his career like the classically-trained John Cale, who in 1963 was playing Satie’s Vexations for almost a day, but as a potential American teen idol . By the mid sixties, Scott was household name (in much of Europe and Japan) scoring enormous number one hits with The Walker Brothers, and even hosting his own television series for the BBC. It’s hard for the mind to fathom that the star who sang “Make It Easy On Yourself” in 1965 would be singing about a Brown Dwarf in 2012, but it’s this journey from the corridors of pop nurturedom to the outer limits of music itself that has made Scott one of the most respected artists in the realm of popular music today. Unlike so many of the elder statesmen and women in Pop, he has so vehemently avoided the nostalgia-chewing profitability of live performance or the guest-studded ‘comb back’ record. Those waiting for him to ‘give in’ are well advised to ‘give up’. The Voyager 1 of Pop is unlikely to return to Earth.
Yours truly has been a Scott fan for 15 years or so, after completing his Scott Walker vinyl collection with the acquisition of a copy of Climate Of Hunter this week, it seemed like a good time as any to start putting together a few vinyl mixes of his material. Setting aside the teen idol years (which I’ll come back to at some point, no doubt), which aren’t so important, I’ve devote the first part to the Walker Brother’s sixties recordings.
The Walker Brother’s are slowly sinking into the realms of footnote today. They pleasingly fill time on oldies radio, and have become the band that Scott Walker was in before he went ‘Solo’. They don’t have to cool enduring appeal that the The Beatles, The Stones and The Who do, because they are seen as, quite rightly so, more of a “pop” group, who didn’t write the majority of their material, and didn’t play on it either. Their flame is kept flickering by an ageing generation of fans who caught them first time round, and Scott Walker obsessives.
But in 1965, when these three exotic-looking long haired Americans hit the UK scene, they triggered a teenage earthquake on the scale of Beatlemania. Within just a couple of years, after two massive number one hits, the group went their own seperate ways, with Scott setting off on the solo career that today earns him such critical acclaim.
The Group has come together in California, all rock N’ roll Journeymen of sorts. Their two lead singers, (Noel) Scott (Engel) and John (Maus) had been active in the business since their teens, treading the boards of the teen-idol scene. Coalescing in 1964 as a r&b beat combo to play the clubs of Los Angeles, they met drummer Gary Leeds, who had been an early member of garage greats The Standells, who would eventually usurp the Walker’s original drummer, Al “Tiny” Schneider. Gary’s strength wasn’t in the drum department, but his sheer force of nature – he had the gift of the gab and access to capital. Gary had toured England with PJ Proby in 1964, and was amazed that a demo singer like Proby, who meant nothing back home, could become a sensation in a smaller pond like Blighty. He suggested the Walkers follow suit, and with his father providing the necessary capital, set off for the UK in February 1965.
The Walkers had already recorded two singles with Nik Venet (The early Beach Boys producer) for Mercury Records. The second of these, “Love Her”, supervised and arranged by Phil Spector’s right hand man Jack Nitzsche, became a shock top 20 hit in the UK that spring. Philips, the label who distributed Mercury Records in the U.K., took the Walker Brothers under their wing, setting them up with Dusty Springfield/Shirley Bassey producer Johnny Franz. The first fruits of the association, a version of Bacharach/David’s “Make It Easy On Yourself” (originally a hit in the U.S. for soul singer Jerry Butler) – hit the number one spot, and all of a sudden, The Walkers were huge – teenage girls (“Screamagers“, as Scott would call them) would turn their shows into near riots, their fan club subscriptions overtaking the Beatles.
School girls would debate their favourite – The goofy drummer who spent more time clowning around than playing drums (He didn’t play on the records either, but he was the Walker’s de facto publicist and peacekeeper), the sensual poseur John, or the rather uncomfortable, sensitive Scott, who would often hold his hand in front of his face to block out the world whilst singing. – Scott’s blue romantic croon and brooding demeanour did him no favours, for it just caused his female fans want him even more.
After the success of Make It Easy On Yourself, and the top 3 “My Ship Is Coming In”, Johnny Franz would refine the formula happened on by Venet (Who, when recording Love Her, put Scott’s beautiful baritone up front) with spectacular results. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”, was originally a minor hit for the Four Seasons’ Frankie Valli, but was transformed into one of the most enduring pop singles of all time. With a typically aching Scott lead, a cinematic arrangement from Ivor Raymonde and a sound so huge you could run a London Bus through it, it stormed to the Top Of The Pops in March 1966.
The 23 year old Scott’s artistic restlessness was already evident even then. He had developed a strong friendship with his producer Johnny Franz, and using the knowledge he picked up from hanging around studios for almost a decade, played a significant role in how these records sounded – an unusually forward role for a pop star. The Walker Brothers’ sound owes a serious debt to the huge ‘Wall Of Sound’ productions of Phil Spector – heavily orchestrated ballads interspersed with a few more soulful R&B numbers to vary the pace. Although the arrangements were to get more classical (at the hands of arranger Reg Guest), and occasionally slip into jazz, their sound as such was incredibly static. They were at unable to eclipse a record as perfect such as “Sun”, but they tried anyway. Maybe they weren’t trying hard enough, as b-sides and album tracks show that an incredible amount of work was being put into Scott’s artistic development as a songwriter.
Scott had been encouraged to write material by his label, because the publishing rights for b-sides and album tracks were particularly lucrative. As well as developing his own “voice”, he had clearly chose some of the material they recorded. “I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” (an early work by songwriter Randy Newman) and John Stewart’s “After The Light Goes Out”(which shows up on the b-side of “Sun”) are very much on a par with the songs that would find himself writing – kitchen sink melodramas and caricatures such as “Mrs Murphy”, “Orpheus” and “Genevieve”. No expense was spared at creating these works, they are arranged meticulously for large orchestral forces – an approach that Scott has continued into his now current work. “Archangel”, an oblique organ led Engel number that was tacked on a b-side, sounds unlike anything anyone has recorded since, except Scott Walker. The fact that they recorded the pipe organ in a Leicester Square Cinema shows that these creations were being made with considerable expense and effort.
The Walker Brothers released 3 albums for Phillips – which, in the infancy of the Album form, try to balance styles in a way that has dated badly. Their Debut, Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers, sounds rushed (to capitalise on their swift success) relying very much on the R&B soul repertoire the Walkers played live – even though they rarely sounded entirely convincing. Their second record, Portrait is probably the most thought and executed. “In My Room”, which opens the album with an hook lifted from a Bach fugue, would no doubt spend a long time spinning on Count Dracula’s record player, if he ever had to move into a bedsit. On the centrepiece of the album, an take on Gershwin’s “Summertime”, The Walkers and Reg Guest recusitates this worn out old chestnut to life. With an orchestral tension turning the humid air to running gunge, Scott and John harmonize like real brothers. All of a sudden, a jazz group breaks out of the basement, creating a sense of unease and confusion that are underlined by the songs powerful finale. It’s the nearest the Walkers got to psychedelia. Their last album Images is not bad at all. made as the group were belting in for their solo careers(In the case of Scott’s bizarre number “Experience”, into Lederhosen), but searching for a huge hit to bow out on (“Everything Under The Sun”, “Stand By Me”, “Just Say Goodbye”) The aforementioned Scott numbers “Orpheus” and “Genevieve”, would’ve not been out of place on Scott’s first solo record.
John Walker often played second fiddle to Scott on the Walkers’ biggest hits (he often provided the harmony vocal), but was ultimately frustrated to convincingly take front stage. A great song written by Maus, “The Saddest Night In The World” even gets sung by Scott. When in 1966 they released a Solo Scott/Solo John EP, the writing was on the wall. Scott was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with being a pop star, running off to monasteries to hide and deriding his records to the press. They’d also become seen as being old fashioned in the face of the much cooler beat groups. On one package tour they were supported by a young American guitarist called Jimi Hendrix, who ahem, stole their fire. The Walker Brothers didn’t play their own instruments – on the records, as their massive studio sessions were often recorded quickly in one take (minus the vocals or overdub), the guitar and bass was left in the more than capable hands of session musicians, who could get the parts right first time around(they ARE the unsung heroes of British pop). Live, the storms of kids who invaded the stage when they performed meant they were given a backing group pretty early on (with a drummer behind the curtain to cover the notoriously unsteady Gary). The band would split in march 1967. Scott and John would stay on Philips, using the same production team. They would reform in the 1970s when each of their careers were at a particularly low ebb, scoring an unexpected hit with Tom Rush’s “No Regrets” and at the very end, recording the paranoic post-punk sounding Nite Flights (to be covered in another post).
I limited myself to an hour to illustrate the Walker Brother story, but it’s not a “Greatest Hits”. I’ve put my emphasis more strongly on Scott’s development as an artistic force. Many of the singles sound formulaic, too much to take at once, and in my opinion, they trail off somewhat after the utterly epochal “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”. Most of Scott’s work as a writer are hidden on b-sides or albums, so they are well represented here. I’ve tried to create an engaging, especially for a younger neophyte, cause that’s primarily what I’m aiming for. Whilst I like a lot of the Walkers’ stuff, I must admit some of it will sound a bit old fashioned now. I hope Scott fans who haven’t checked this era out find something new they didn’t expect, Dusty Springfield fans should really enjoy the sound of these records : Scott Walker was her sort of male equivalent as a singer, and any similarities after all, aren’t coincidental : they shared the same label, producer and personnel.
I’ve taken all the recordings from original Philips releases – 45s, EPs and LPs. Virtually all are mono mixes (a lot of which are unavailable on CD) except a couple of selections on Images. Some of them are a bit crackly, and there were a few technical issues, but hopefully not too many for you to enjoy it.
* -There’s a false start to this, apologies…Was also meant to end with this – but I had enough technical difficulties I just had to leave it off!
Most of the 1960s material is served up on this budget 2 cd compilation, which also features unreleased studio tracks from the era. Each album was released by Mercury with bonus tracks in the 1990s, and these are very good if you can find them. There’s also a tacky looking boxset that gathers up everything including their 70s recordings. If you want ‘em on vinyl – most of the original Philips LPs, EPs and 45s can be gotten easily for peanuts due to (much) more supply in the market than demand (50p-£10).
The Saints – I’m Stranded(1976) Fatal Records (AUS) / Power Exchange PX 242 (UK)
I was in a hostel in Brisbane, Australia – worn out, feeling unloved and on the edge of despair after what felt like the worst week of my life. It didn’t help that Brisbane, once you’d got through the museums, was incredibly dull. I had two weeks left in Oz, and no remaining reason to stay there.
I was sitting in the computer room, trying to figure out how to get out of Brisbane, at least. I was listening to my iPod on shuffle to drown out the teenage pubcore yelling (Brisbane seemed to be a gap year holocaust of UK 18-30ers) when, all of a sudden, The Saints’ (I’m) Stranded burst out of nowhere, tearing me a third earlobe as it went:
“Like a snake calling on the phone
I’ve got no time to be alone
there is some one coming at me all the time
babe I think I’ll lose my mind
’cause I’m stranded on my own
stranded far from home”
A.Perfect.Summation.Of.My.Mind, huh? Even more perfect for the fact that the Saints came from that very hole I had found myself in – Brisbane. Never has a moment in my life felt so perfect, so true, so cruel, so hilarious. It tasted like Ecstatic Truth.
I originally thought that The Saints may have recorded the song in England (where they eventually decamped), but after going to Brisbane, I wasn’t too sure they could get so nostalgic about the place. It was actually recorded in a cheap studio in Brisbane in june 1976. After the group couldn’t find a label to release it, they pressed up 500 copies themselves (as Fatal Records). In the UK it was eventually released by an independent label Power Exchange Records & Tapes, who specialised in of all things, soul music.
While that might sound unusual to say the least, there was no “Punk” labels, or for that matter, “Punk” records (at least outside of The U.S.A.) when (I’m)Stranded was released. Sounds Magazine deemed it the “Single Of This And Every Week“, the week before The Damned released ‘New Rose’. Not only is (I’m) Stranded one of the earliest Punk Singles; It’s one of the best, delivered with so much sloppy petulance that it could make coachloads of pensioners quake with fear.
Whilst any excuse to bring up this fantastic record is justified, I’m primarily writing this to celebrate the power of the iPod Shuffle, even if I don’t particularly have any great love of Apple. By unexpectingly nailing the perfect song to my most inperfect moment it somehow put me in a peculiar secular state of grace. That Steve Jobs-inspired moment of divine intervention would mark the upturn of my Australian fortunes : The next thing I knew, I was out of Brisbane (due to act of unforseen hospitality),watching Bad Seed Conway Savage work his way through a sublime piano set (and a bottle of red wine) in a backgarden in Melbourne. Fine times. R.A.
Dedicated to, with fond memories, to A.M. & J.P.
Okay…I’ve moved in to this cheap room at the crowded tenement of net.thought that is wordpress.com. As you can see by the picture above, I need a bit of a tidy up; but if you are careful you can wander around. There’s some new and old content up, lurking in the menu bars, so do check this out if you have the time or inclination. I shall be winding down the mentionthebear site in due course.
I’ve just moved to Bristol, England. That’s the birthplace of Cary Grant & The Pop Group, folks. I’m not used to these bright lights, live entertainment on tap, but I’m liking it. I’m currently looking for opportunities to get some DJ work and (gulp) start playing shows again – hence the DJ FAQ and Performer sections in the menu. If anyone has any suggestions or connections that may help, please get in touch, or direct people here. Youtube freaks and list geeks find some fun to be had with the Cine101 and Bad Top Ten pages. There’s also a page where you can listen some of my old radio shows and dj mixtapes, or read articles on things such as ahem, ‘Clambake’ here. More content shall be coming soon, so do come back, though let me sort the record pile out first ;)