Friday, April 16, 2021

The DeFranco Family Featuring Tony DeFranco - Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat and Save The Last Dance For Me



I hate to start off a post on a negative note, but I've got to get this off of my chest: 

I f**king HATE Tony DeFranco.

...Or to be more accurate, I hated him (past tense), once long ago, when I felt that he and his band, The DeFranco Family, directly and negatively affected my life. Let me elaborate:

As I've mentioned several times in previous posts, in the early Seventies, my family moved from Virginia to Wisconsin for my Navy-officer dad to attend graduate school in Madison, the state capital, for a couple of years. I'd spent my first couple of elementary school years in Virginia, and as such I don't think I stood out particularly. I had several friends there, mind you, and was always part of the schoolyard gang at recess, but I didn't consider myself particularly popular or noticeable.

That all changed once I got to Wisconsin. The small-town school I went to was full of mostly kids who had either lived there or on the surrounding farms for most of their entire lives, and as of yet hadn't seen much of the world. A big trip for them and their families was a day in Madison, just up the road; jaunts to more far-flung areas, such as Milwaukee or even Chicago, were almost unheard of. So when my siblings and I entered school that year (all told, there were six of us (including myself), ranging from kindergarten to 5th grade) as the "big city slickers from far away", we were instant novelties and semi-celebs in the classrooms. To my surprise, I found that I was "interesting" and popular - especially with the girls in my 4th grade class. As a youngster, I really hadn't taken that much notice or had that much interest in girls beforehand; most of them didn't like to play the rougher games that the boys used to engage in during recess. Now, during school breaks, they would race to the playground to wait for me to appear, so that one (or two) of them could link their arms with mine and spend that period walking around and being seen with me. It was all very wholesome and innocent for that time, but it was still thrilling for a young boy to get so much female attention. Not to toot my own horn, but I had it 'going on'! This situation lasted for the entire school year, much to my pleasure.

During the school break that summer, my family and I made several jaunts around the state, taking in tourist attractions of especial interest to kids, like The House On The Rock (with its amazing carousel and coin-operated automatic music machines), Baraboo (the old headquarters of the Ringling Brothers And Barnum & Bailey circus, with the town featuring several circus-related attractions) and Wisconsin Dells, where we spent a blazing afternoon sitting in the lakeside stands watching the old Tommy Bartlett water-skiing show (I looked up the weather records years later; that day was recorded as one of the hottest in state history).  We also traveled back to Virginia to see relatives for a few days, and I also got the chance to visit our old neighborhood and spend a happy day in the company of my best friend Ricky and a lot of the old gang there.

During our travels as the summer months passed, a new song appeared on the local AM stations and started getting heavy play, "Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat" by a new teenage pop group, The DeFranco Family.


The song spent the summer climbing the charts, and by the time school was about to reconvene that fall, it was a Top Five hit.  Its sound was generic kiddie pop from that period, and in hindsight the lyrics were mainly frothy nonsense... but of course all of the young people back then liked it, including myself.  But I didn't really pay that much attention to the group itself.

As the start of the new elementary school year approached that fall, I found myself looking forward to getting back to class, to once again resume my role as the area's #1 primary school paramour.  But soon after the start, I found that my star had been eclipsed - ALL the girls would talk about amongst themselves was about how "cute" and "talented" the new group's lead singer, Tony DeFranco, was.  They would whisper and giggle to one another about him, and during recess, instead of vying for my company, they would ogle pictures of him culled from the most recent teenybopper magazine.  Suddenly, I was yesterday's news - Tony was top dog now, and how could I compete with a genuine rock star?  Needless to say, I was consumed with preteen jealousy, and began to hate this little MF with a passion for stealing my mojo.  It seemed that he and his family band appeared out of nowhere, just to personally torment me!

The DeFranco Family were originally from the Niagara Falls, Canada area; specifically sleepy small Canadian towns like Port Colborne and Welland hard by the tourist/resort city, wedged on a strip of land between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  The siblings (consisting of older brother and lead guitarist Benny, sisters Marisa on keyboards and Merlina on drums, younger brother Nino on rhythm guitar and kid brother Tony as lead singer), children of Italian immigrants to Canada in the 1950s, started a band (The DeFranco Quintet) with their parents' encouragement in the late 1960s, and did the local circuit, playing instrumentals and pop standards at area weddings, bar mitzvahs, store openings, parades and the like.  They weren't exactly taking the music world by storm... and even in their out-of-the-way corner of the world, they weren't considered one of the top bands in the area.  

But fortunately for The DeFrancos, luck and fate intervened.  A local talent scout stumbled upon one of their gigs, taped it, and sent the recording (along with a picture of the band) along to Sharon Lee, editor of Tiger Beat magazine.  Ms. Lee liked what she saw and heard enough to forward the material on to the magazine's founder and publisher, Charles Laufer.  For Laufer, The DeFranco Family couldn't have come along at a more opportune time.

Tiger Beat was founded in 1965 as a fan magazine targeted towards teenage girls, with a heavy emphasis on pop idols and young movie actors who girls of the era found "dreamy" (Decades later, The Simpsons did a wicked - and accurate - send-up of Tiger Beat and similar teenybopper magazines with Lisa Simpson being an avid reader of Non-Threatening Boys magazine).  The magazine was essentially a publicity flack journal, featuring wholesome gossip, contests ("Win A Dream Date With...!") and information on the popular preteen entertainment crushes of the period: starting in the '60s with the likes of The Monkees, The Beatles, The Cowsills, Bobby Sherman, and Dino Desi & Billy, and on into the '70s with stars such as David Cassidy, Barry Williams and Chris Knight from The Brady Bunch, The Hudson Brothers, The Williams Brothers, Shawn Cassidy and Leif Garrett - and of course, the two top pop titans of the early 1970's, The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds -  to name but a few.

Despite being one of the main go-to sources for pop artist news, Laufer and Tiger Beat had no direct stake in any revenues generated by the artists they promoted.  In fact, much of the data and interviews contained in their monthly 'zine were paid for by the publisher, not offered for free by the artists' managers.  And yet Laufer was in no position to complain about this arrangement; any pushback or negative press on his part would lead to an immediate curtailing of access of that particular actor or singer.  Basically, the entertainment industry had Tiger Beat by the balls.  Laufer longed for an artist he could take into his orbit to supervise and exploit outside of the influence of these talent managers... and like magic, The DeFranco Family came into his sights as his golden goose.

In the fall of 1972, Lee flew the band out to Los Angeles for a full-fledged audition with Laufer, and he also liked what he heard.  The magazine publisher quickly signed the group to an exclusive deal with his company, Laufer Entertainment, financed a debut three-song demo, and helped secure for them a recording contract with 20th Century Records.  Laufer also began some early tub-thumping for The DeFrancos in the pages of his mag, with the very first mention of the group coming in the November 1972 issue, months before any DeFranco Family product had actually made it into the music store bins.

The DeFranco Family entered United Western Recorders studio in Hollywood (the same place where Pet Sounds and "California Dreamin'" were cut a few years earlier) in February 1973 to lay down tracks for their debut album, utilizing members of the legendary Wrecking Crew as their backing band. The debut single, "Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat" was released that May, a couple of weeks before the album of the same name hit the shelves, and immediately began climbing the charts.

The success of that single, both in the U.S and internationally, was boosted somewhat by content regulations in Canada (which mandated that stations there give maximum exposure and airplay to local artists), but was mostly due to relentless positive press for the band generated in the pages of Tiger Beat and picked up by other teen idol magazines of the period.  Hardly a month went by in 1973 where The DeFrancos, and Tony in particular, weren't featured as cover stars in Laufer's rag.  This created a groundswell of support that encouraged radio stations across the U.S. to play the song as much as possible... which simultaneously helped fill Laufer Entertainment's coffers. Laufer's investment in the group began to pay off handsomely.

It can also be argued that another huge factor in The DeFranco Family's success in 1973 came from filling the market void left by mistakes and misfires made by the two reigning "family" pop bands of the period, the aforementioned Jackson 5 and Osmonds.  After six hit albums in just three years, The Jackson 5 sound was getting a bit old and tired.  Plus, lead singer Michael's voice began changing in 1972, forcing Motown management and the band's songwriting team ("The Corporation") to find/craft songs to fit this vocal shift. The group was enormously dissatisfied with the songs chosen for their next album, and all of the brothers had begun writing their own material with the hope of having some of their songs included. But Motown actively prevented them from recording any of their own material.  The resulting album, Skywriter, containing nothing but label-mandated music, was released in March of 1973.  While it sold relatively well (2 million copies worldwide), it was the first Jackson 5 disc to miss the Top Ten, peaking at #44. The entire situation left the Jackson family extremely unhappy as to how they had been treated by the label. The Skywriter situation was one of a number of factors that led to The Jackson 5 leaving Motown two years later.

As for The Osmonds, they were sort of in the same situation as The Jackson 5, having cranked out four albums in rapid succession (within two years) and also dealing with lead singer Donny's changing voice. But the difference between the two bands was that The Osmonds got more musically ambitious with each album, because their label made some allowances for them to include their own material.  Phase III, released in early 1972, retained a lot of the bubblegum pop sound that put them on the map in the first place, with hit songs like "Down By The Lazy River" and "Yo-Yo".  But it also included smatterings of genuine hard rock.  Their subsequent album, Crazy Horses, released in October of that year, their first with every song penned by a band member, all but completely dispensed with pop sounds - believe it or not, but it is truly one of the great early '70s hard rock albums. Listening to it nowadays, you can't BELIEVE that these five clean-cut boys from Utah recorded it - it's that raw, nasty and good. Both of The Osmonds' 1972 albums made the Billboard Top Twenty.

With that wave of critical and popular success behind them, The Osmonds then made a curious move. Being devout Mormons, some of the older band members were coming of the age to go off on year-long church missions, which would derail their entertainment careers. The band thought that, rather than placing the group on hiatus while on religious duties, they would be better served and reach more people through their music.  To this end, in June 1973 The Osmonds put out an ambitious album called The Plan, described as "a Mormon concept album with prog rock aspirations" (the album name is taken from The Plan Of Salvation, a key tenet of the Mormon faith).  All of the songs (recorded in a variety of genres) relate to aspects of Mormonism.  While some saw it as an sincere and ambitious attempt to celebrate their religion and expose it to the masses, many critics viewed it as straight-up proselytizing. The disc was significantly less successful than their two preceding releases (The Plan peaked at #58 on the Billboard 200, and two singles released from it both only reached #36), and in hindsight can be viewed as the end of The Osmonds' chart dominance. The band never put out another album that made the Top Fifty.

So for The DeFranco Family, in many ways the timing of their entry onto the market was almost perfect. Their 1973 was full of hit songs, sold-out concerts, TV appearances (they were on American Bandstand a record nine times) and widespread teen adulation. But it wouldn't last.

After "Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat" went Gold that fall (and subsequently Platinum by Christmas), the second debut album, "Abra-Ca-Dabra", also made the American Top Forty by the end of 1973.  This was enough to drag their Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat album up to a peak of #109 on the album charts.  While "Abra-Ca-Dabra" was still on the rise, the label pushed the group back into the studio to record their follow-up, another disc full of poppy, lightweight teenager love songs, along with a cover of the early '60s Drifters hit "Save The Last Dance For Me".  The resulting album, also titled Save The Last Dance For Me, failed to stimulate much excitement in the market, only peaking at #163, but the cover song itself was fairly successful, making it into the Top Twenty by May of 1974.

At this point, timing, which had worked to The DeFranco Family's advantage the year before, began to work against them. Family pop groups, both real (like the Jackson 5 and Osmonds) and fake (The Partridge Family and The Brady Kids) began to fall out of favor beginning in 1974, concurrent with the rise of disco.  The Jacksons were the only one of those groups to quickly adapt to the times and the new sound, reentering the Top Twenty album charts with their September 1974 disc Dancing Machine, with the album's title track becoming a smash hit (#2 Pop, #1 R&B) that touched off the "Robot" dance craze of the mid-70s. The DeFrancos weren't equipped musically to make that transition, hence the poor reception of their second album. But 20th Century Records failed to recognize this shift in the music market - instead blaming the failure of Save The Last Dance For Me on the producer of their two albums.  The label fired him and selected as his replacement longtime music industry insider (and future Lieutenant Governor of California) Mike Curb to oversee the group's career.

Seeing the success the band had with their last hit single, Curb began pressuring The DeFranco Family to rely solely on cover songs for their subsequent releases. The band strongly resisted, and after a couple of Curb-produced attempts to record them as such (with cover singles of "We Belong Together" in 1975 and "Venus" in 1976) that flopped, the DeFrancos terminated their recording relationship with 20th Century Records and their managerial relationship with Laufer and Laufer Entertainment.  Other labels weren't exactly lining up to re-sign them, so The DeFranco Family put together a touring show and went out on the road for a couple of years, playing county fairs and less-than-packed Vegas houses before finally throwing in the towel in 1978.

Tiger Beat never stopped trying to promote the DeFrancos (and milking every possible dollar they could out of the group) during the two years (1974-76) they were circling the drain; as late as the fall of 1976, more than two years after their last chart appearance, Tony DeFranco appeared as a magazine cover star.  But by that time, the group's brief months of glory and once vast and rabid fan base were far behind them. Too bad. Of course by then, I'd moved on from Wisconsin and elementary school, and the fortunes and fate of The DeFranco Family weren't high on my list of concerns. It was too far in the past and too far removed for me to feel any satisfaction at the comeuppance / downfall of a teen idol who seemingly stole my playground buzz a couple of years earlier.

After the end of their recording career, all of the DeFrancos settled in California and began various careers in film and television production, education and other endeavors.  Tony DeFranco is now a very successful high-end Southern California real estate agent with Sotheby's International Realty. All of the siblings are happy and settled in their lives, and remain close - which frankly is a refreshing thing to hear, after so many horror stories about former entertainers sliding into the abyss of poverty and self-destruction. Good on them. Tony, I hereby forgive you.

And here's something for me to give to YOU: both DeFranco Family albums put out by 20th Century Records at the periods indicated:

  • Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat, released in May 1973; and
  • Save The Last Dance For Me, released in the spring of 1974.

These discs were hard as heck to track down; to the best of my knowledge, the albums have been out of print since the mid-1970s, and neither of them were ever subsequently released on CD. 

This isn't burningly important or technologically innovative music, and I doubt you'll ever see it honored the Rock Hall of Fame anytime soon. But for those of us of a certain age, these DeFranco Family tunes will take us back to a time in our rapidly receding pasts when there was still seemingly enough innocence and wonder in the atmosphere to popularize lightweight poppy AM radio paeans of young love like these being offered. And if you're not old enough to recall those times, at least have a listen and get a chuckle as to what your parents and/or grandparents thought was 'hip' and 'cool' in the early Seventies. Either way, enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat: Send Email
Save The Last Dance For Me: Send Email

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Beatles - The Beatles EP Collection (Plus) (18 Discs)

 

In addition to the thousands of CDs I have in my possession, I also own a couple hundred extended plays (EPs).  Included in that group are some of the most important and celebrated EP releases by some great artists over the years: Flying Nun Records' legendary Dunedin Double EP; The Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch; The Clash's Cost Of Living; R.E.M.'s Chronic Town; U2's very first release, Three; An Ideal For Living by Joy Division; The Pixies' Come On Pilgrim - along with some personal favorites: Slates by The Fall; Pavement's Watery, Domestic; Mission Of Burma's Signals, Calls And Marches; The Raveonettes' Whip It On; Nirvana's Hormoaning; Stink by The Replacements; pretty much all of The Cocteau Twins and Stereolab's EPs... and many, many more, including some I've written about and posted here in the past, such as Ratcat's 'Tingles' EP, the S.F. Seals Baseball Trilogy and the vinyl B-52's remix EPs.

Based upon all of this relatively recent activity, you'll be forgiven if you thought (as I once did) that EPs were a fairly recent innovation to music sales. If so, than like me, you would be wrong. A combination of market factors and competition drove the development of extended play discs. What follows is an abbreviated history of record playing formats:

78 rpm records (discs made of shellac or vinyl. with a playing speed of 78 revolutions per minute) were generally the standard recording format from the beginning of the 20th century into the mid-1940s. These discs came in two sizes, 12" and 10", and due to its fast rotation speed and larger playing groove, contained a maximum sound duration of five and three minutes, respectively.

While since the early 1930s some companies had made half-hearted attempts to market longer playing records for home use (all of which failed for economic reasons, as the Great Depression was in full swing), it wasn't until 1941 that a recording concern (Columbia) made a concerted effort to extend the playing duration of discs. Although research was interrupted by World War II, in the summer of 1948 Columbia unveiled their new creation: a disc rotating at 33 revolutions per minute (less than half of that of a 78) with a finer groove, in two sizes identical to that of the reigning format: a 12" and 10". These new long players (otherwise known as LPs) had an original capacity of 22 minutes per side, a playback capacity that only increased with subsequent improvements in technology.

In response to this, RCA Victor released the 7" 45 rpm record in the spring of 1949, as a smaller, more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for the shellac 78s. To compete with the LP, boxed album sets of 45s were issued. But despite intense marketing efforts by RCA Victor, by the mid-50s, the 45 ultimately succeeded only in replacing the 78 as the preferred format for singles. While most of the unit volume in those days was in 45 rpm sales, in terms of dollar sales, LPs led singles by almost two-to-one.

Partly as another attempt to compete with Columbia's LP, RCA Victor introduced the first "Extended Play" 45s during 1952. Their narrower grooves, achieved by lowering the cutting levels and sound compression optionally, enabled them to hold up to 7 and a half minutes per side [Generally speaking, an EP is described as "a musical recording that contains more tracks than a single but less than a full album or LP" - a pretty vague description, all in all. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) officially defines an EP as containing three to five songs or under 30 minutes in length, which fits the original EP running time to a tee. While other recording organizations around the world have other varying descriptions of what an EP is in terms of track numbers and overall length, for the sake of time and argument, let's just use the RIAA's].

RCA issued more than two dozen Elvis Presley EPs during the decade after it signed him away from Sun Records, and they were fairly popular releases. But other than those Elvis discs, EPs were relatively uncommon and hard to find in the U.S. by the early 1960s, all but fading away here as the Album Era gained strength and popularity from the late Fifties onward.  In the UK, however, the EP format continued to be successful, with chart-topping releases throughout the decade from such artists as The Shadows and Cliff Richard.

But the undisputed kings of British EPs were, believe it or not, The Beatles. Their first EP, Twist And Shout, sold over two million copies, topped the UK EP charts for more than five months, and was on the charts for more than a year. This disc and the three #1 UK EPs that followed (The Beatles' Hits, The Beatles (No. 1) and All My Loving) all contained songs that had been included in previously released Beatles albums. It wasn't until the release of the Long Tall Sally EP in the summer of 1964 that some original content was included (although all of the songs on this disc would be released on albums before that summer was out).

All of the British Beatles EP were issued by EMI/Parlophone on the dates indicated below, and all except for the Magical Mystery Tour EP were released in mono format. In 1981, all fourteen of the UK releases were gathered into one box set, The Beatles EP Collection, along with a new disc, titled The Beatles, which compiled previously unavailable stereo mixes of four songs.   Here are some of the specifics on each disc in this set:

The Beatles' Hits EP (originally released September 6th, 1963)
  1. From Me To You
  2. Thank You Girl
  3. Please Please Me
  4. Love Me Do
 
Twist And Shout EP (originally released July 12th, 1963) 
  1. Twist And Shout
  2. A Taste Of Honey
  3. Do You Want To Know A Secret
  4. There's A Place
The Beatles (No. 1) EP (originally released November 1st, 1963)
  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. Misery
  3. Anna (Go To Him)
  4. Chains
All My Loving EP (originally released February 7th, 1964)
  1. All My Loving
  2. Ask Me Why
  3. Money
  4. P.S. I Love You

 

Long Tall Sally EP (originally released June 19th, 1964)
  1. Long Tall Sally
  2. I Call Your Name
  3. Slow Down
  4. Matchbox

 

Extracts From The Film A Hard Day's Night EP (originally released November 4th, 1964)
  1. I Should Have Known Better
  2. If I Fell
  3. Tell Me Why
  4. And I Love Her
Extracts From The Album A Hard Day's Night EP (originally released November 6th, 1964)
  1. Any Time At All
  2. I'll Cry Instead
  3. Things We Said Today
  4. When I Get Home
Beatles For Sale EP (originally released April 6th, 1965)
  1. No Reply
  2. I'm A Loser
  3. Rock And Roll Music
  4. Eight Days A Week

Beatles For Sale No. 2 EP (originally released June 4th, 1965)

  1. I'll Follow The Sun
  2. Baby's In Black
  3. Words Of Love
  4. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party
The Beatles' Million Sellers EP (originally released December 6th, 1965)
  1. She Loves You
  2. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  3. Can't Buy Me Love
  4. I Feel Fine
Yesterday EP (originally released March 4th, 1966)
  1. Yesterday
  2. Act Naturally
  3. You Like Me Too Much
  4. It's Only Love

 

Nowhere Man EP (originally released July 8th, 1966)
  1. Nowhere Man
  2. Drive My Car
  3. Michelle
  4. You Won't See Me

 

Magical Mystery Tour (Stereo Version) EP (originally released December 8th, 1967)
  1. Magical Mystery Tour
  2. Your Mother Should Know
  3. I Am The Walrus
  4. The Fool On The Hill
  5. Flying
  6. Blue Jay Way
Magical Mystery Tour (Mono Version) EP (originally released December 8th, 1967)
  1. Magical Mystery Tour
  2. Your Mother Should Know
  3. I Am The Walrus
  4. The Fool On The Hill
  5. Flying
  6. Blue Jay Way
The Beatles EP (originally released December 7th, 1981)
  1. The Inner Light
  2. Baby You're A Rich Man
  3. She's A Woman
  4. This Boy
 
[In my opinion, there should be one more Beatles disc that should have been released as 
an EP - Yellow Submarine, which contains only four new songs by the band, then pads the "album" out with songs from the film's orchestral soundtrack recorded and produced by George Martin.  Of all the Beatles albums, this one is truly viewed as a contractual obligation/crass money grab semi-effort by the band, as the four new songs were all but screaming for an EP release... But heck - we already broached this subject, didn't we?
]
 
In addition to the British EPs lcollected above, three Beatles EPs were released in America - the first being Souvenir Of Their Visit To America. EMI's US subsidiary Capitol Records consistently refused to put out any Beatles material in the States during 1963 and early 1964 - despite the success the band was having overseas, the label just didn't believe the Fabs could make it in America and had ZERO interest in them. So EMI worked out a licensing deal with small independent Vee-Jay Records for the American release of the group's 1963 singles and debut album Please Please Me (Vee-Jay was actually eager to acquire the license to another popular EMI recording at the time, "I Remember You" by Frank Ifield, and took on the Beatles material as a throw-in/favor to EMI). Vee-Jay had limited resources to promote the music properly, which initially led to poor sales of Beatles product over here.  Once the Beatles were signed in November 1963 to play on the popular and influential The Ed Sullivan Show, Capitol Records SUDDENLY saw the light and changed their minds, exercising their option to release Beatles music in the U.S.

However, as a condition of their earlier contract, Vee-Jay was permitted to market any Beatles material they had licensed for another year, through October 1964. Their subsequent mail order EP offering was a huge success, more than making up for those lackluster Beatles sales the year prior.

The other two U.S. EPs, Four By The Beatles and 4 By The Beatles (confusingly similar names, but different content), were both Capitol's belated attempt to hop on the Beatles gravy train. But due to coming out after Vee-Jay's more successful disc, better distribution of full Beatles albums in the States, and the relatively unpopularity of the EP format here, sales for these two discs were not what Capitol anticipated, and they were both quickly deleted from Capitol's catalogue by the end of 1965.

Here are the details on the U.S. EPs:
 
4 By The Beatles EP (originally released February 1st, 1965)
  1. Honey Don't
  2. I'm A Loser
  3. Mr. Moonlight
  4. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby
Four By The Beatles EP (originally released May 11th, 1964)
  1. All My Loving
  2. Please Mr. Postman
  3. Roll Over Beethoven
  4. This Boy

Souvenir Of Their Visit To America EP (originally released March 23rd, 1964)

  1. Misery
  2. A Taste Of Honey
  3. Ask Me Why
  4. Anna (Go To Him)

After the Beatles' EP heyday ended in the late 1960s, extended plays wouldn't become popular again until the rise of punk in the mid-1970s, when bands found it to be a more cost-efficient way to bring their music to the public's attention. This trend continued through the New Wave and alternative eras. While the use and sales of the EP have declined in the digital age, they are still being made, and are still out there ready for listeners to expand their musical horizons with. I, for one, hope the EP format never dies out.

...and, at least in the case of The Beatles, it lives on here! For your listening enjoyment, here is the entire slate of Fab Four EP releases:

  • The Beatles EP Collection, containing fourteen EPs originally released between 1963 and 1967 in the UK, plus a bonus disc of never-before released stereo material.  This set was initially put out on vinyl by EMI/Parlophone on December 7th, 1981, and subsequently on compact disc on May 26th, 1992; and
  • The three U.S. EPs, originally released by Vee-Jay and Capitol Records, respectively, in 1964 and 1965.

Enjoy these brief but extended blasts of Sixties rock goodness... and as always, let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

Send Email

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Fall - Sussex Morning


A continuation of my annual commemoration of the death of band leader, group stalwart and all-around indie music genius Mark E. Smith, who died three years ago today, on January 24th, 2018.  I know I have said this every year since that fatal day, but Smith and his band are still sorely missed, by myself and thousands of other rabid Fall fans.

By now, I've pretty much given up on seeing any 'new' Fall product hit the shelves... As I've mentioned before, in the wake of the demise of a band with such a broad and discerning fan base, usually labels will make every effort to scour their vaults for unreleased or alternative versions of songs to gather into "expanded editions" of existing albums or collections of heretofore unheard music. I mean, heck, look at what's happened with David Bowie's catalog over the past five years - they're still finding and putting out quality sets, like the fine Conversation Piece early-career compilation in 2019. Somehow, that hasn't been the case with The Fall.  Perhaps it may be due to their convoluted recording history across a multitude of labels (although that didn't seem to deter other career-spanning Fall compilations released before Smith's death)... but I'm beginning to suspect more and more that there just isn't that much studio-recorded stuff out there to cull from.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, needless to say, limited the activities of the post-Fall bands. Imperial Wax spent most of the spring and summer of 2020 hunkered down, but during the fall began work on their second album, a follow-up to 2018's Gastwerk Saboteurs. And it appears this band is gearing up in anticipation for the 2021 concert/festival season, assuming that it comes to pass. So good luck to them with those endeavors.

Brix & The Extricated have been silent all year (mercifully so, in my opinion), with no shows or releases in 2020. However, just today Brix announced a couple of new projects for 2021, including a solo album (her first standalone release since fronting The Adult Net more than thirty years ago) and a book about The Fall. We'll see how all of that turns out.

Probably the most significant Fall-related news over the past year was the June 6th death (at the age of seventy-two) of former band manager and Smith girlfriend Kay Carroll. The hard-nosed Carroll ran the business end of The Fall from 1977 until falling out/breaking up with Smith in the midst of a U.S. tour in the spring of 1983 (Mark rebounded swiftly, hooking up with Brix in Chicago little more than a month later). Kay remained in the States and ended up settling in Portland, Oregon, where she worked in nursing for several years and went through a couple of husbands. It's generally understood that the Fall song "An Older Lover" was written by Mark about her (she was eleven years Smith's senior). The Guardian carried an obituary a couple of weeks after her passing; here it is.

Anyway, like I said earlier, I don't think we're going to see any new Fall studio remainders put out anytime soon, if ever. And I believe on more than one occasion I've clearly expressed my low opinion for the various Fall live sets and soundboard recordings that have been released over the years. Receiver Records, Cog Sinister and Castle Music have clogged/saturated the market with sketchy, poorly-captured band gigs from locales worldwide, so much so that I have made little to no effort to collect many of them, finding them not worth my while. However, I will occasionally stumble across a live set that breaks that half-assed mold, and actually brings something to the table. My offering today is one of these.

This disc was the initial offering from a blogsite/poster named Hanleyfender, a site that was active off and on between 2009 and 2013, and specialized in making available live versions of Fall shows.  This recording covers some of the poster's favorite live Fall songs from various locations during the 2006-2007 timeframe; here's some additional information regarding tracks and participants:

1. Intro (Over Over loop. L.A.) 23.05.2006
2. Senior Twilight Stock Replacer. Brighton. 31.03.2007
3. MES Birthday 50 Year Old Man. Bilston. 05.03.2007
4. Over Over. Aberdeen. 15.03.2007
5. Fall Sound. Brick Lane London. 12.03.2006
6. Theme From Sparta F.C. Malaga. Spain. 21.01.2007
7. Hungry Freaks, Daddy. Edinburgh. 13.03.2007
8. My Door Is Never. Reading. 28.03.2007
9. Coach and Horses. Brick Lane. London. 11.09.2006
10. Mountain Energie. Los Angeles. CA. 23.05.2006
11. Reformation. Brighton. 31.03.2007
12. Palais Interlude. Hammersmith Palais. London. 01.04.2007
13. Scenario. Brick Lane. London. 12.03.2006
14. Systematic Abuse. Brick Lane. London. 12.03.2006
15. White Lightning. Brighton. 31.03.2007
16. Blindness. Bournemouth. 10.09.2006
17. Outro (Loop 41. L.A). 23.05.2006

The Fall:
Tim Presley (Guitar). Bab Borbato (Musicmaster Bass). Orpheo McCord (Drums).
Dave Spurr (Bass. He’s not a Yank). Mark E. Smith (Vocals). Elani Smith (Keyboards)

Additional Hanleyfender notes:

"Generally considered by me to be the greatest Fall live compilation ever. 'Mountain Energie' also considered by me to be the greatest ever audience recording ever captured by The Fall."

This recording was originally made into a limited edition (50 copies) of CDs sent out to friends of The Consortium, the music blogging group Hanleyfender was affiliated with. But since then it's become a little more widespread - but not by much. It's still an awful hard Fall comp to track down.

So here it is for you all to peruse: The Fall's Sussex Morning, a fan-assembled compilation of live tracks prepared and released in 2009. This assemblage is offered up both in tribute to and in memory of the great Mark E. Smith, and to keep alive the music he and his band made for over forty years for at least a little while longer. Enjoy, remember, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 In Memorium - #4: Millie Small (Born 1947)

Millie Small (1947 - 2020)

One of twelve children born to a sugar plantation overseer in Clarendon, Jamaica, Millicent Dolly May ("Millie") Small's rise to fame began in 1960 when she was twelve years old, with her participation and subsequent victory in the popular and influential Vere Johns Opportunity Knocks Hour talent contest on RJR radio, broadcast nationwide in Jamaica (a show that also launched the careers of Alton Ellis, Desmond Dekker, Laurel Aitken and The Wailers, among many, many other music giants). After her victory, she began working with acclaimed producer Coxsone Dodd, who paired her first with Owen Gray, then with Roy Panton, for a series of well-received Jamaican R&B/"bluebeat" singles. Producer Chris Blackwell, seeing her local success, began envisioning bringing Millie's music to a wider audience, and after stepping in to become her manager and legal guardian, brought her to London in late 1963 for further training in speech and dance in anticipation of an international launch.

Millie's initial recording for Blackwell in England, "Don't You Know", did nothing over there. Searching for a potential hit, Blackwell recalled a record he purchased in the States in 1959, a minor hit in 1956 for an obscure singer, Barbie Gaye, called "My Boy Lollypop".  He changed both the spelling (from "Lollypop" to "Lollipop") and arrangement (from an R&B "shuffle" style to a similar shuffling but modified bluebeat variation called "ska"), and had Millie's version  released in England by March 1964 (not on Island Records, but on Fontana, due to the strain the record would have put on the former record company's resources).  The song was a smash hit, reaching #2 in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, topping the charts in Ireland and selling over six million copies worldwide.  Cconsidered the first commercially successful international ska song, Small's version of "My Boy Lollipop" helped to launch Island Records into mainstream popular music. To this day, it remains one of the best-selling reggae/ska hits of all time.

 

For a brief moment in time, Millie was the toast of the music world. achieving international fame at the tender age of sixteen.  She appeared frequently on British television during that time, both in musical performances (she was a guest performer on the May 1964 TV special Around The Beatles, and had her own Ready! Steady! Go! special, "Millie In Jamaica" in early 1965) and dramatic performances (she was featured in ITV's Play Of The Week "The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown", airing during the 1964 holiday season).

In the immediate wake of "My Boy Lollipop", Millie Small followed up with a couple of smaller hits (her next release, "Sweet William", made the UK Top 30 and US Top 40). But her chart presence and attendant fame dwindled very quickly, with her last appearance in the British Top 50 occurring in late 1965, when her song "Bloodshot Eyes" reached #48. Her recording contracts with Island and Fontana ended in 1968. After a brief surge in her exposure in the late Sixties, coinciding with the emergence of reggae music, Small ended her recording career in 1971 and moved to Singapore for a couple of years. She returned to England in 1973, the same time a major compilation of her work was released, then all but fell off the map for several years.

In 1987, a British news service searching for her whereabouts for the past fifteen years discovered that Millie Small was destitute, living in a filthy hostel in London with her toddler daughter. A fund was established for her livelihood, and in that same year came the first of several awards and special recognition to her from the Jamaican government for her pioneering and groundbreaking music career. Millie continued to live in London until this past year, when she died of a stroke there on May 5th at the age of seventy-two.

"My Boy Lollipop" is a great song, a true classic. But to be frank, I seriously doubt that she could have sustained a long-term career... probably because a little bit of Millie Small goes a long way; her high-pitched vocals - described as sounding like "a dentist's drill" or "a chipmunk on helium" - were acceptable enough in small doses, but wearing on listeners over a full album.

But I'll let you determine that for yourself. In commemoration of her life, here's a definitive compilation of all of Millie Small's solo hits, My Boy Lollipop Plus 31 Others, released by Comb A Rama on October 20th, 2011. Have a listen and let me know your thoughts.

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