Long before joining Roy Wood and Bev Bevan in The Move, a young hopeful named Jeff Lynne became a member of a Midlands beat group named The Nightriders. Soon after Lynne’s arrival, The Nightriders mutated into The Idle Race, a move reflecting a gradual shift from 60s beat group sounds to the burgeoning psychedelic scene. Despite releasing two albums and a handful of singles, The Idle Race failed to make much of a commercial impact in the 60s, but due to Jeff’s later megastar status as the leader of Electric Light Orchestra and part time Wilbury, their work has built a cult following.
1966 was very much a turning point for pop music. Many acts that were considered beat groups had started to branch out and to think beyond live performance. With orchestral tracks like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘For No One’ Paul McCartney pushed forth the idea of baroque pop. John Lennon, meanwhile, was experimenting with tape loops and early forms of electronica. His ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, closing The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece ‘Revolver’, is often considered to be at least partially responsible for the birth of true psychedelia. While it’s obvious Lennon’s sound collage took a massive leap towards the mind expanding sounds of ’67, many other bands were sowing the seeds for change a little earlier. As early as 1965, The Kinks pushed boundaries with their single ‘See My Friends’ – a mix of jangling sixties pop and raga music – while even the Dave Clarke Five had occasionally sounded a bit…out there for the era with an increased use of reverb. While the roots of psychedelia could be argued over almost indefinitely, The Yardbirds’ ‘Shapes of Things’ – a fuzzy mish-mash of beat-pop and soft druggy haze – pre-dates the release of ‘Revolver’ by several months and is very much in the mould that would come to be known as freakbeat. An important branch of the psychedelia family tree, freakbeat took the bones of the sixties sound, loaded it with fuzz and wasn’t shy in exploiting the left/right split for stereo head trips. In 1966, this was very much at the forefront of emerging alternative sounds.
With the release of ‘Killer’ in 1971, Alice Cooper – the band, as they were then and not just the man – had perfected a blend of hard rock, art rock and glam. Tracks like ‘Under My Wheels’ had – and continue to have – a destructive brilliance, while even the more throwaway material like ‘You Drive Me Nervous’ provided a great, rough hewn alternative to the closest British equivalent in the Sweet. Somewhere between, the dark artistry of ‘Halo of Flies’ and ‘Dead Babies’ transpired the horror schlock of the band’s notorious live show into the kind of audio nightmares that irked America’s moral guardians.
Perfection doesn’t come over night of course, and it had taken the band three albums to really hit their stride. Their 1969 debut ‘Pretties For You’ – aside from one obvious exception – bears absolutely no resemblance to their not too distant hit making future. The Alice Cooper of the late 60s were a chaotic art band and most of the music that filled their debut (released on Frank Zappa’s Straight Records in the summer of that year) is certainly closer to Mothers of Invention than the glam/proto-metal that would gain them worldwide acclaim.
This is a golden opportunity for those who love the nooks and crannies of British psych and pop-sike to explore various semi recent releases at bargain prices.
Between 2016-2018, Grapefruit Records released three excellent box sets exploring the nooks and crannies of the British psychedelia movement. The three anthologies featured in excess of over two hundred tracks and even included items which even the more devoted psych obsessive hadn’t heard before. Having almost exhausted that particular avenue, the same label’s ‘Come Join My Orchestra: The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-73′ from November 2018 provides an interesting side-step. In the wake of numbers like The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘For No One’ and the Stones’ ‘Lady Jane’, baroque pop became in vogue and all manner of artists – obscure or otherwise – turned to applying strings and flutes a-plenty. Not quite straight pop, but never as ostentatious as prog rock would make the orchestra, the seven year stretch bridging the two decades turned up all kinds of treats. While often favouring the singer songwriter over the pop bands, ‘Come Join My Orchestra’ is a great celebration of these sometimes forgotten musical experiments – and with seventy eight tracks ranging from the cult classic to genuinely obscure, there’s a lot here to take in.