The Shape Of Things – Ten 45s released between September 1969 and April ’70 that go some way to chart the developments made in forging music for a new decade
Ten 45s released between September 1969 and April ’70 that go some way to chart the developments made in forging music for a new decade… as psychedelia became floral, bubblegum splintered into hard-rock and glam, proto-punk sprung from garage, easy went weird and pop bands went prog
(DJM, UK, September 1969)
Neither the pre-Supertramp Roger Hodgson nor Elton John could’ve known that five years after cutting this one-off 45 for publisher Dick James’ DJM label they’d be among the biggest-selling artists in the world. With hot session guitarist and Elton’s future right-hand man Caleb Quaye and Plastic Penny/Elton drummer Nigel Olsson on board, and a pair of exquisite Hodgson songs (flipside ‘Imagine’ is equally as good) that simultaneously bid a nostalgic farewell to post-Pepper psychedelic pop and pointed towards the sophisticated early ’70s sound, ‘Mr Boyd’ bore all the hallmarks of a hit yet failed to make even the smallest splash.
THE LEFT BANKE
(Smash, US, November 1969)
Were it not for the success of the evergreen ‘Walk Away Renee’ in the summer of 1966 it’s unlikely the remnants of The Left Banke would still have been making records three years later. With Steve Martin delivering one of his most impassioned vocals and departed songwriter and reluctant driving force Michael Brown back in the fold, the pair fashioned this achingly beautiful swansong with Thomas Kaye (later to helm Gene Clark’s No Other) at the controls. Nobody was listening as it trickled out weeks before the end of the decade. Fifteen years later we adopted The Left Banke as our own.
IT’S ALL MEAT
(Columbia, Canada, November 1969)
This Torontonian band debuted in 1969 with this exceptional blast of proto-punk garage-rock. The old teenbeat tropes are in place, like singer Jed MacKay’s parping organ (the Gibson G101), but Rick Aston’s pounding bass, MacKay’s snarling sexualised vocal and Wayne Roworth’s searing fuzz rock solo, are closer in spirit to The Stooges, and even New York Dolls. This is the sound of garage band heading into the garbage of the filthy ’70s, but still embracing the original punk snot of an earlier time. Of course, this featured on Pebbles #9 just over a decade later and became the epitome of the punkiest edge of the garage band spectrum. Mono Man and The Lyres clearly paid close attention. This is non-vegan, red blooded and on fire. The ’60s may have come to a close, but the garage-punk sound kept on giving.
EARTH AND FIRE
(Polydor, Netherlands, December 1969)
Despite inevitable comparisons to the then earth-conquering Shocking Blue (E&F’s Jerney Kaagman proving another formidable female presence and sounding not unlike Mariska Veres) Earth And Fire – led by blond bearded brothers Chris and Gerard Koerts – were closer in spirit to Dutch brethren Golden Earring, whose George Kooymans penned and played on ‘Seasons’, the Hague quintet’s debut 45. Their accessible blend of progressive moves and pop hooks ensured instant success and ‘Seasons’ began an unbroken run of homeland hits that continued until the early ’80s, by which time glitzy pop had become the order of the day.
TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS
Gotta Get Back To You
(Roulette, USA, February 1970)
Only a year and a bit before this, pop sensation Tommy James’ massive hit ‘Mony Mony’ was one of the bubblegum era’s biggest hits. By ’70 the short-lived genre was becoming passé, its original audience having outgrown the pre-pubescent thrill of The Monkees, Archies and Lemon Fruitgum Expresses. James was there before, and after. ‘Gotta Back To You’ passed the flame of bubblegum into the rock era, with lyrics that mention junkies and hint at far more adult subject matter. The Osmonds would follow the template, taking groovy rock into the playground.
In The Land Of The Few
(Parlophone, UK, February 1970)
Having quickly outgrown their blues roots, Cardiff power trio Love Sculpture morphed into a progressive pop act with a penchant for deconstructing the classics that resulted in freak 1968 hit ‘Sabre Dance’. January ’70’s Forms And Feelings added Holst and Bizet to the brew but at its heart is a series of intelligent, commercial singles penned by ‘Fire’ hit-makers Mike Finesilver and Pete Ker including this densely-structured gem that positively overflows with twin guitar licks, rich vocal harmonies and more than a passing resemblance to JS Bach’s ‘Prelude & Fugue In G Minor’. Leader Dave Edmunds would end the year at #1 on the UK singles chart.
Shape Of Things To Come
Fontana (March 1970)
In the May of 1969, when their debut single ‘Genesis’ was released, they were Ambrose Slade. For their October follow-up ‘Wild Winds Are Blowing’ they were The Slade. And by March 1970, when they released their third single, a tough-as-nails cover of the ’68 Mann & Weil composition ‘Shape Of Things To Come’ (originally written for fictional band Max Frost & The Troopers in the movie Wild In the Streets), they’d simply become Slade, and were starting to make a proto-glam racket that would lead to a full-blown ’70s sonic riot, both for themselves and their fellow brothers-in-glam. The original may have been recorded in the ’60s, but Slade’s cover truly was the shape of things to come.
(Liberty, Germany, April 1970)
As a new decade loomed on the horizon, many of the key players in what we now think of as krautrock, a loose term that lumps together all manner of experimental extremists, were already unleashing severely singular sounds upon a German audience hungry for homegrown heroes who broke both from the past and the dominance of UK and US imports. ‘Soul Desert’ was the topside of the first 45 by The Can from Cologne (still in possession of the definite article at this stage), its tortured vocal, locked-in drums and bass, and slow, brooding menace placing it at least 10 years ahead of its time.
THE PRETTY THINGS
Blue Serge Blues
(Harvest, UK, April 1970)
“You left me now in your justice / and then you watch me burn,” howls Phil May in one of The Pretty Things’ angstiest, most oblique tunes. Recorded just after the Parachute sessions had wrapped and hidden away on the flip of ‘The Good Mr Square’, the stop-start ‘Blue Serge Blues’ is an orphaned oddity – 3:55 of burned melancholy that straddles the Pretties late psych and chest-out rock periods. Lost in its own inner hell it keeps coming back to an obsessively-repeating dirge of harpsichord and undead harmonies, decorated with switchblade intensity by new guitarist Pete Tolson’s scathing solos. Hippie horror music par excellence.
THE FREE DESIGN
(Project 3, USA, April 1970)
Harmony pop wasn’t a new thing, and ‘Bubbles’ was this band of brainy siblings 11th single. But this sound was new. The single’s lyrics touching on religion, mindfulness and nonsense, veering from sweet vocal jazz into yelped Tropicalia. The groove of the funky accompaniment working on the same wah-wah Clavichord sound that Stevie Wonder later made millions from in 1972 with ‘Superstition’. There’s also effective use of fuzztone and a driving bass and drum combination. Call it what you will, it still sounds utterly original. Happy mad. No wonder they giggle at the end.
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Contributors: Hugh Dellar, Jon ‘Mojo’ Mills, Andy Morten, Thomas Patterson, Martin Ruddock