We’re taking a look at three of the latest pop-rock rarities from the crate-diggers at Real Gone Music, including two albums from bands with a Todd Rundgren connection!
Fanny, Fanny (RGM-0118)
Maybe the tongue-in-cheek cover didn’t do the band a great service. The band was called Fanny, and the album cover showed the all-female band’s four members, their backs to the camera, their fannies for all to see. For good measure, Alice De Buhr grabbed June Millington’s fanny. But beyond the goofy cover, the eleven tracks on the 1970 Reprise Records debut album Fanny show a band that was maybe a bit ahead of its time, and could really, well, play. Real Gone Music has just reissued Fanny in its first stand-alone CD edition following the 2003 box set from Rhino Handmade which contained all of the band’s Reprise recordings on four CDs.
De Buhr (drums/percussion/vocals), Millington (guitar/vocals), her sister Jean (bass/vocals) and Nicoel Barclay (piano/organ/vocals) were a tight four-piece ensemble that, when signed by then-young producer Richard Perry to Reprise, became one of the very first all-female rock bands on a major label. Fanny was born from the ashes of previous girl groups dotting the regional scene from California to Iowa (!) and was a self-contained unit, not calling on the services of the L.A. Wrecking Crew or anybody else to craft their debut. Even more impressively, each song other than two covers was written by one or more members of the band.
Fanny still sounds remarkably fresh and varied today and not at all like a curio. Harmonies cascade on June and Jean Millington’s effervescent, melodic opener “Come and Hold Me.” Musically, it would sound at home with the glossiest of Fleetwood Mac’s hit productions just a few years later; lyrically, it’s a simple poem of devotion and pastoral imagery set to music. It’s pure, sunny California folk-rock, with no horns or strings sweetening it, and just the slightest hint of a Latin groove. (That feel is explored more prominently on Nickie Barclay’s funk-infused “Shade Me.”) “Bitter Wine” is also very much in this vein with its textured vocal arrangement. It showcases every member to fine advantage, incorporating harsh guitar licks and AM-friendly piano into a distinct and cohesive blend. What impresses most, throughout the album, is the interplay between band members.
The Millingtons’ funky, soulful “Candlelighter Man” is another opportunity for each member to show off, particularly Barclay on organ. Her own piano ballad “Conversation with a Cop” is a quirky little piece (“Do I have to have a license to be lonely? It’s a warm night and I couldn’t get to sleep…yet you worry that I might disturb the peace”) that demonstrates her versatility. Fanny has frequently been cited as a “hard rock” band, and that side is very much in evidence, too. The shrieking vocals on “I Just Realized” seem to predate Heart’s style, and June’s guitar is appropriately tough. The raw, ferocious “Seven Roads,” the album’s closer, is far-removed from the sun-kissed “Come and Hold Me.” The two cover songs, too, were well-selected by the band. The take on Cream’s “Badge” shows off the band’s chops. Barclay’s piano brings a nice new color to the song even as June’s guitar channels Clapton. The other cover, Booker T. Jones and Alvertis Isbell’s “It Takes a Lot of Good Lovin’,” adds edgy rock to the smokin’ R&B of the original. Barclay’s boogie-woogie piano, tight guitar and bass interaction, insistent drumming, and proto-punk energy surge through the song.
Richard Perry went on to produce two of Fanny’s next three albums; the fourth, 1973’s Mother’s Pride, was helmed by Todd Rundgren. Perry also enlisted the band to play on sessions for Barbra Streisand’s first foray into the rock genre, Barbra Joan Streisand. Along the way, Fanny also won the affection of one David Bowie, who counted himself as a fan of the band. Real Gone’s reissue happily includes a lengthy reminiscence from June Millington and shorter ones from Jean Millington and Alice De Buhr, as well as the original gatefold artwork from the 1970 LP. The sound quality is strong, though no remastering engineer is credited on the reissue. There are no bonus tracks present, although an alternate version of the first album does exist (with different takes as well as wholly different songs) and would have made for a fine bonus or even a stand-alone release itself.
Why didn’t Fanny’s commercial fortunes soar? Perhaps the band was too AM for FM, but too FM for AM? The lack of a clear-cut hit single might have accounted for the group’s lack of widespread fame; producer Perry wished to show off every side of these versatile musicians and singers and so Fanny’s musical identity might have been lost on some. But thankfully, Real Gone has rediscovered a real gem.
After the jump: we look at The Hello People’s Fusion and Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys’ Jimi Hendrix production!
The Hello People, Fusion (RGM-0218)
Who were The Hello People? New York-based producer Lou Futterman assembled the first (only?) mime-rock band when he brought together six musicians as The Hello People: W.S. “Sonny” Tongue (a.k.a. Country), Greg Geddes (Smoothie), Bobby Sedita (Goodfellow), Larry Tassi (Much More), Michael Sagarese (Wry One) and Ronnie Blake (Thump Thump). The conceit was a simple one, that the makeup-clad band members would enact mime routines in between songs during their live performances. The mime element hardly plays into the group’s albums, on which The Hello People sang and played. Real Gone’s first-time reissue of the group’s second album (with Paul Weston having replaced Sonny Tongue) is a snapshot of the various musical styles dominating the charts in 1968.
Fusion, as the album was called, may not only refer to the fusion of mime and rock, but to the overall genre fusion at play. It’s actually a stretch to call Fusion a rock album. As produced by Futterman and engineered by future honorary Eagle Bill Szymczyk, it’s more explicitly an amalgam of prevailing musical styles into a surprisingly enjoyable whole that encompasses baroque to bubblegum. What all of its songs share is a sometimes-surprising muscularity to the music, a quality that no doubt attracted Todd Rundgren when he later appropriated the Hello People to serve as his backing band.
That solid musicianship is on display in the sinuous “Jelly Jam,” with flute and alto saxophone leading an instrumental exercise far removed from any conventions of rock, with just a hint of darkness. Flute and soft percussion lend a jazzy, bossa nova air to the long and winding “Come and See Me” with its cryptic lyrical excursions (“Come see me in the shining afternoon/Come see me in the cavern of my tomb/Come see me in the velvet of the evening…”). In his fine liner notes, Gene Sculatti astutely notes some of the lines’ similarities to those written by Bob Dylan in “Queen Jane, Approximately,” but melodically, a wistful “No Fair at All” (The Association) vibe also occasionally pokes through, for an odd but effective amalgam.
The ramshackle folk-rock, with wailing harmonica, of W.S. Tongue’s “How Does It Feel to Be Free” also recalls Dylan in its opaque lyrics questioning the establishment, but adds a funky R&B varnish. Much lighter in tone is the catchy pop of “If I Should Sing Too Softly,” which will quite likely lodge itself in your brain. The honking, vaudeville-esque “Pray for Rain” invokes the good-time music of Lovin’ Spoonful (“When I’m sad, I always pray for rain,” Paul Weston sings ironically) as does the sunny “Everything’s Better”: “Everything’s better when we’re together and I’m proud to say that you’re mine, girl!”
Weston wasn’t a one-trick pony, though; the vocal on his spare, somber ballad “A Dream of Tomorrow” (“And what does tomorrow mean to you? Do you care if the sky is gray or blue?”) is a strong one in another vein, accompanied by moody, atmospheric flute and piano. The album’s most stirring track, though, might be Tongue’s simply-titled “Anthem.” The country-flecked composition provides the album’s most sober moments (“I’m goin’ to prison/For what I believe/I’m goin’ to prison/So I can be free!”)
If The Hello People weren’t distinct enough to sustain fame, and their “mime-rock” gimmick perhaps too precious for popular consumption, this reissue will certainly make you glad that they dropped the mime act long enough to make this record, and a handful of others – all fair game for the Real Gone treatment.
Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, The Street Giveth…and the Street Taketh Away (RGM-0129)
“Good Old Rock ‘n’ Roll” wasn’t exactly the music for which Jimi Hendrix became famous. The incendiary guitarist practically invented a new vocabulary for the electric guitar, steeped in blues and sanctified soul. Yet Hendrix was one of the producers of “Good Old Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a No. 21 pop hit from the debut album by Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, The Street Giveth…and the Street Taketh Away. Hendrix co-produced the album and single with the New York City band, and although he wasn’t tempted to sit in on guitar, The Street – recently reissued by Real Gone Music – reveals another side of the man. Real Gone’s reissue makes a perfect companion to Legacy and Experience Hendrix’s People, Hell and Angels, released just last week, which also opens a window into Hendrix’s work with other artists including the Ghetto Fighters and Lonnie Youngblood.
Cat Mother’s hit rock-and-roll medley included such oldies as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Party Doll,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Chantilly Lace,” with those songs stitched together by a new group composition. But it isn’t truly reflective of Cat Mother’s style. Roy Michaels (bass/guitar/vocals), Michael Equine (drums/guitars/vocals), Larry Packer (guitar/violin/mandolin/vocals), Bob Smith (electric piano/organ/drums/vocals) and Charlie Chin (rhythm guitar, banjo and vocals) were touring with The Jimi Hendrix Experience when the young star ushered them into New York’s Record Plant. The resulting album became the first U.S. LP to bear the Polydor Records logo, and finds the band taking in a variety of musical styles under Hendrix’s direction.
Over the course of three subsequent albums, Cat Mother would hone a country-rock sound, but The Street is filled instead with hard rock energy, pop sensibility and a healthy dollop of experimentation. These adventurous flourishes distinguish the album’s most enduring songs. Over the crunchy riff of the group-written song “Favors,” solo verses are juxtaposed with group harmonies; driving percussion, fuzzy guitar and echo combine for a memorable, and memorably odd, song. It’s followed by “Charlie’s Waltz,” rock-and-roll waltzes hardly being dime-a-dozen. The song stands out for its Procol Harum-esque organ and violin, creating its distinct sonic texture. Cat Mother looked beyond the guitars-bass-drums format, much to the songs’ advantage. The rollicking piano of “Marie” certainly offsets the sad little story song written by Smith, Packer and Chin. And Roy Michaels’ “Bramble Bush” is another interesting “hybrid” track, deftly grafting country-esque flourishes and mandolin with a prog-style organ on a pretty pop melody.
Bob Smith contributed three songs as a solo writer to the album, with “How I Spent My Summer” the best of them. It builds on a base of blues and funk, with an organ riff that sounds a little bit like a darker spin on “The Little Girl I Once Knew” or “Come On, Get Happy.” Alas, all of the songs aren’t up to the quality of the best tracks here. Smith’s “Probably Won’t” rambles and never quite gets around to making much of an impression in its five minutes, while his “Can You Dance to It?” invokes “Long Tall Sally” and “The Hully Gully” (“If you feel all right, you know you wanna dance, dance all night”) over a slow and sludgy groove. “Bad News” is a typical R&B workout, and the martial “Boston Burglar” is simply rather bizarre.
Finally, there’s a nearly ten-minute jam, “Track in ‘A’.” Oh, why didn’t Hendrix feel the need to jump in? The group’s stellar musicianship is on display here as is the producer’s influence, though the guitars never get too heavy. Still, funky and hypnotic organ drives it while the drums occasionally recall a ticking alarm, or perhaps even a bomb. The varied jam has moments of tension and moments of rowdy glee with its slinky bass and jagged guitar.
Real Gone’s new reissue has no mastering credit, but sound is good and the album’s nicely pronounced stereo mix is ideal for listening via headphones. The Street Giveth may be just a footnote in Jimi Hendrix’s career, but it’s one of the more intriguing footnotes from an artist who left behind so much music in so very little time.