Back in those pre-internet years, it was often difficult to hear really rare albums. There were a whole world of psych, jazz rock and proto-hard rock LPs that were regularly mentioned in Record Collector magazine that seemed shrouded in mystery. Often issued on the Philips, Deram, Major Minor and Vertigo labels, discs by Head Machine, Elias Hulk, The Open Mind and Second Hand – all now available on CD – were almost the vinyl collector’s equivalent of the Holy Grail.
Another such disc, the one and only album by Affinity, was another highly praised gem from the dawn of the 70s that, at one time, seemed destined to languish in the hazy, distant past. In the mid 90s, a decent vinyl pressing could fetch £40-£50; hardly an impulse purchase, should you stumble across one. A CD repressing from Repertoire Records in 1993 finally meant the album became accessible to an audience who missed the band during their brief lifetime, but a lack of UK release meant this disc was almost as elusive. It wasn’t until 2002 that the Affinity LP was given a long overdue CD release on home turf, but that eagerly awaited edition on Angel Air Records was sourced from under par materials.
According to music historian and author David Hepworth, 1971 is “rock’s most exciting year”. There are a lot of music fans of a certain age who would agree with that: those keen record buyers who still treasure well worn copies of Uriah Heep’s ‘Salisbury’, Caravan’s ‘In The Land of Grey & Pink’, Hawkwind’s ‘In Search of Space’ and Rory Gallagher’s ‘Deuce’; people who’d hit their early twenties in time to hear Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s ‘Tarkus’ with fresh ears when the sounds of those hugely indulgent arrangements sounded like the future; and certainly not forgetting those for whom the first three Black Sabbath albums heralded the arrival of a whole new genre, but arguably hit perfection in ’71. There’s a lot of further weight to be added to the argument that 1971 is musically significant, with lesser known albums by Samurai and Jade Warrior propping up the art-rock scene, The Zombies’ Colin Blunstone delivering an absolutely killer solo debut with ‘One Year’ and Phil Collins making his first major appearance with Genesis. All of that barely scratches the surface, of course, but it’s fair to say there was always far more to 1971 than Led Zeppelin’s monolithic fourth platter and ‘Who’s Next’.
Formed from the ashes of Dada, a huge jazz/blues rock band featuring guitarist Pete Gage, vocalist Elkie Brooks and (latterly) Robert Palmer, Vinegar Joe rode on the coattails of the British blues movement, releasing three albums in the early 70s. Over the years, their recordings haven’t been the easiest to track down, despite Lemon Records reissuing ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Gypsies’ (1972) and ‘Six Star General’ (1973) on CD in 2003, before giving the 1972 debut the same loving treatment somewhat belatedly in 2008. Bringing the Vinegar Joe legacy back to the masses once again, ‘Finer Things: The Island Recordings (1972-1973)’ rounds up absolutely everything the short-lived band ever recorded in the studio and issues it in one place for the first time. Although they never recorded what you’d call “a perfect album” they came pretty close on two occasions, and this set shows off a great band, even though the studio recordings supposedly never captured the fire of their live shows. There are enough great tracks scattered throughout the three discs to potentially attract a new generation of fans.
As a contrast to the ‘Progressive Pop Sounds’ sets from Cherry Red Records subsidiary label, Grapefruit, the ongoing ‘Underground Sounds’ series from Esoteric opts for something far more rock oriented. Early collections covering 1968 and ’69 resulted in fine, but unadventurous sets of tunes, and as the series moves into the 70s, fans can expect a similarly accessible approach. Although the four disc delve into 1970 doesn’t necessary dig too deep for obscurities, it still plays very well as a compilation in its own right. In a little over four hours, it serves up nostalgia, unfamiliar curiosities and enough genuine classics to give a solid overview of the year’s prog-leaning and guitar heavy sounds.
After leaving Yes in 1979 following the tour for their ‘Tormato’ album, Jon Anderson barely rested. Between 1980 and 1982, he split most of his creative time between his own solo projects and collaborations with Greek keyboard virtuoso Vangelis, which brought the vocalist some UK chart success with the commercial new age/synth pop singles ‘I Hear You Now’ and the much-loved ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’. By the summer of 1981 and with the second Jon & Vangelis album ‘The Friends of Mt. Cairo’ having barely hit record shop shelves, Anderson was back in the studio working on the material that was soon to become his third LP ‘Animation’.
Upon release in June 1982, ‘Animation’ was a cult hit among fans, but not especially a commercial success. It marked the first time since the 1960s that Anderson failed to break the top 40 of the UK albums chart, and yielded no hit singles – which might seem weird considering his recent success with Vangelis – but, in all fairness, ‘Animation’ is a really complex animal. On the surface, it’s shiny pop oriented sound and extensive use of the technologies of the era make it appear as if it should’ve been much better received, but closer inspection reveals a sometimes challenging album that often delights in being busy, sometimes for the sake of it, and very occasionally at the expense of obvious hooks. However, it’s one of those albums which, with enough time invested, will eventually present a lot of brilliant material. Some of it is about as singalong as the more excessive bits of ‘Topographic Oceans’, but as is often the case with solo Jon, there’s far more at stake cheeky pop tune.