Though Albert Einstein popularized a rather different equation, Now Sounds has revealed to us that Michael Crowley + Michael Clough + Linda Carey + Randy Sterling + Jim Keltner = MC Squared. The group released four singles on Reprise Records in the heady days of 1967 and 1968, the first of which was sandwiched between releases by Dino’s daughter Deana Martin and South African vocalist Miriam Makeba! Throughout MC Squared’s tenure at Reprise, the band was in good company; 1968’s “Smilin’” b/w “That’s the Word” arrived between 45s from Jimi Hendrix and Lee Hazlewood! But the group also recorded an entire album for Reprise that was shelved in 1968 and has remained unheard ever since. The groovy musical archaeologists at Now Sounds, however, have come to the rescue. Tantalizing Colours: The Reprise Recordings unveils a spellbinding lost classic.
MC Squared had its roots in the New Christy Minstrels’ sister group, Epic recording artists The Back Porch Majority. As with the Christies, Randy Sparks kept tight reins over the Majority, and those reins became stifling for two of its members, Michael Crowley and Michael Clough. The friends had developed a songwriting partnership, but there was no place for their original compositions with the Majority. Taking another member, the winsome Linda Carey, with them, the two Michaels impressed Reprise Records A&R man Lenny Waronker enough to receive a contract on Frank Sinatra’s label. (Waronker soon broke through himself with his productions for Harpers Bizarre.) Before long, the group had expanded to five members. First came Randy Sterling, who had already proven his considerable ability as an arranger on We Five’s “You Were on My Mind” (No. 3 Billboard, No. 1 Cashbox!) and would soon assume the producer’s role for the band. Jim Keltner rounded out the group. Then, Keltner was a talented drummer who had played for Gary Lewis and the Playboys; in time, he would become a legendary session man. Ultimately, MC Squared featured Crowley on lead guitar and vocals, Clough on guitar and vocals, Sterling on bass, Keltner on drums and percussion (what else?) and Carey, on vocals.
We’ll pick up after the jump!
Steve Stanley’s copious liner notes reveal some of MC Squared’s famous encounters with the likes of Les Baxter, Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby and Reprise’s Mo Ostin, but the music speaks for itself. The group’s piercing sound was as strong as other male/female mixed vocal groups like Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas and the Papas, and We Five. The material chosen for their shelved debut – most of it penned by Crowley and Clough – showed off their many sides. There’s harmony to savor via the wordless, shifting melody of album opener “Bornatzätt” (Randy Sterling has sequenced the twelve LP tracks specifically for this release), and MC Squared even recalls The Association on “Ghost of Man,” with its poignant cries of “More time…” hinting at the dark social and political tumult of the period. Though the title song is another haunting track (in Michael Clough’s words, “an acid trip in sound”) and “Don’t You Care” is a pleading question for a troubled time, Tantalizing Colours also boasts lighter moments. “Miss Abercrombie” is a whimsical confection which Sterling recalls was based on a true story about a larcenous librarian, while the breezy, bossa nova-flecked “You Are Lovely” is as attractive as its title. There’s also a Latin bent to the electric “Karneeval,” with its driving piano part, and touches of Santana and Mongo Santamaria. All of the songs on Tantalizing Colours are band originals, with the exception of two songs by troubadour Fred Neil: a passionate “Everybody’s Talkin’” delivered by Linda Carey, and a reading of “The Dolphins,” recorded by numerous other artists including Tim Buckley. (MC Squared didn’t tackle Neil’s oft-covered “The Other Side of This Life,” however!)
The twelve tracks intended for the original LP take their place alongside seven Reprise single sides (A-side “Everybody’s Talkin’” appears within the album sequence) and the previously unreleased “Time Will Equalize.” It was produced by Waronker, with whom the band parted ways after clashing over sound effects he overdubbed on “S.S.T.” You’ll hear that, too, along with its folk-psych flip “My Mind Goes High.” Also recorded by Nino and April (as “Little Child”) and The Poor, it also has a radio-friendly hook and a killer vocal arrangement somewhat redolent of the Mamas and the Papas. It’s no wonder this track was once selected to give its title to a Nuggets compilation! The exotic, Eastern-inspired “Smilin’” (the lone Sterling/Clough composition) is repeated in the bonus track section in its mono single mix. “That’s the Word” is similarly far-out.
We’ll never know what direction MC Squared would have taken. Following the band’s dissolution, Crowley and Clough teamed in the band Spider, Linda Carey (later Dillard) took to the background vocal biz on hits like “Copacabana,” and Sterling also had a successful career as a sideman; you can hear him as part of the trio of musicians on Neil Diamond’s Gold: Live at the Troubadour. Keltner, of course, began a career that still flourishes today playing drums for just about everybody. Thanks to Now Sounds, we can hear just how well the band’s debut album would have fit on the forward-thinking 1968 Reprise roster alongside the pop-psych of The West Coast Experimental Pop Art Band, The Holy Mackerel, The Electric Prunes and The First Edition. It’s a long-overdue discovery, but a major treat, nonetheless. Tantalizing Colours: The Lost Reprise Recordings, 1967-1968 is available now, from Now Sounds, and can be ordered below!
MC Squared, Tantalizing Colours: The Lost Reprise Recordings, 1967-1968 (Now Sounds CRNOW 34, 2012)
- Ghost of Man
- Do You Care
- Miss Abercrombie
- The Stoning of the Quiet Man
- Tantalizing Colours
- The Dolphins
- Adults Only
- Everybody’s Talkin’
- You Are Lovely
- Or Something (Mono 45) (Reprise single 5077, 1967)
- Or Something (Instrumental) (Reprise single 5077, 1967)
- S.S.T. (Reprise single 0627, 1967)
- My Mind Goes High (Reprise single 0627, 1967)
- Smilin’ (Mono 45) (Reprise single 0666, 1968)
- That’s the Word (Reprise single 0666, 1968)
- I Know You (Your Nature is Like Mine) (Reprise single 0783, 1968)
- Time Will Equalize (previously unreleased)
Tracks 1-12 scheduled for unreleased Reprise LP, 1968