What would it have sounded like if Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour had produced the Eagles? One possible answer comes via his work with the British band Unicorn. Despite the patronage of the psychedelic rocker, Unicorn took many of its cues from the American West Coast. Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint is remastering and expanding two albums from Unicorn, 1976’s Too Many Crooks, and 1977’s One More Tomorrow. Both titles are due this Friday, March 31, in the United Kingdom, and one week later in the United States.
The laid-back sound of Too Many Crooks, Unicorn’s debut on the progressive-oriented Harvest label (and Capitol in the U.S.), wouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who had followed the band. Unicorn’s debut LP, Uphill All the Way, featured songs by Jimmy Webb, Neil Young, and James Taylor. Other influences included Crosby Stills and Nash, The Byrds, and The Band. David Gilmour entered the picture as producer of Unicorn’s sophomore set, the 1974 Charisma Records release Blue Pine Trees. That album solidified the line-up of Ken Baker (on lead vocals, Telecaster, and Hammond organ), drummer Pete Perryer, bassist Pat Martin, and guitarist Kevin Smith.
Trees emphasized an American country sound even more than its follow-up would, yet twangy guitars, Laurel Canyon harmonies, and easygoing melodic rock all still abound on Too Many Crooks. Some cuts – such as the title track, featuring pedal steel provided by Gilmour – share a dark, impressionistic quality with Gilmour’s famous band, but chief songwriter Ken Baker’s melodies have a strong pop leaning. There are also Beatles flourishes throughout, particularly in the harmonies and in the finely-arranged production primarily played by the band but also incorporating strings on the evocative “Disco Dancer.”
Esoteric’s reissue of Too Many Crooks has one previously released outtake (“So Far Away” – not the Carole King song – which first appeared on a 2006 Japanese CD reissue) plus four live cuts recorded in 1976 for radio promotional use, and the single mix of “Disco Dancer,” which despite the title, retains the album’s loose country-rock vibe.
Alas, 1977’s One More Tomorrow proved to be the final Unicorn album. Capitol Records issued it first in the U.S., before Harvest brought it home to the U.K. in early 1978. While David Gilmour returned to helm the album, the record label also brought in Muff Winwood. Muff had played with his younger brother Steve in the Spencer Davis Group before transitioning into an A&R role at the Island and CBS labels. Winwood was enlisted by EMI (parent of Harvest and Capitol) to add a commercial sheen to the album. (The cover, a departure from the Hipgnosis-designed sleeve for Crooks reflected this as well.) Winwood recorded four tracks with the band which would supplement the Gilmour sessions, and in fact, his quartet of productions was selected to lead off the LP.
Hoping for a hit, Winwood brought along a pair of songs from outside writers – the first time Unicorn had recorded non-original material since the band’s debut. Covering John Fogerty’s CCR (“Have You Ever Seen the Rain”) and Eagles pal Jack Tempchin (“Slow Dancing,” a contemporary hit for Johnny Rivers in 1977), Unicorn nonetheless sounded comfortable. Muff also helmed two Ken Baker songs – the catchy, upbeat “New Shoes” and smooth, ironic “Get Along Fine.” Surprisingly, Winwood’s productions fit snugly on the album with Gilmour’s; “The Night,” like “Get Along Fine,” would reside comfortably on a so-called “yacht rock” playlist. The SoCal-inspired country-rock of Crooks wasn’t abandoned entirely, cropping up on songs like “Eric,” “The Way It Goes” and the jaunty, breezy “British Rail Romance.” The Byrds’ influence is keenly felt on title track “One More Tomorrow,” with Baker adopting a natural drawl for his rueful lyrics. Baker’s bandmate Kevin Smith teamed with Roy St. John to pen the atmospheric “Magnolia Avenue.” One More Tomorrow was elegantly-crafted soft rock with impeccable musicianship guided, in large part, by David Gilmour’s deft and organic production touch, but like its predecessor, it failed to make a chart impact. After a brief parting of the ways between Baker and his bandmates, resulting in a handful of singles, Unicorn quietly broke up. The bandmates went their separate ways, though all remained involved in music, in one capacity or another.
This edition adds the non-LP B-sides “Give and Take” and “Nothing I Wouldn’t Do” plus three demos, and two performances from the same December 1975 radio session. Both of Esoteric’s reissues boast thick full-color booklets with full lyrics, photos and memorabilia, and informative new liner notes by David DiSanzo. Ben Wiseman has newly remastered all tracks.
If there was ever any doubt that Unicorn deserved to be more than a footnote in the Pink Floyd story, these two expanded releases should dispel those notions. Both titles will be available on March 31 from Esoteric Recordings in the U.K., and April 7 in the U.S.!
- Ferry Boat
- He’s Got Pride
- Keep On Going
- Too Many Crooks
- Bullseye Bill
- Disco Dancer
- No Way Out of Here
- In the Mood
- So Far Away (Outtake, first released on Air Mail Archive AIRAC-1190, 2006)
- Weekend (Live – December 23, 1975 recorded for radio promotional use)
- Ferry Boat (Live – December 23, 1975 recorded for radio promotional use)
- He’s Got Pride (Live – December 23, 1975 recorded for radio promotional use)
- No Way Out of Here (Live – December 23, 1975 recorded for radio promotional use)
- Disco Dancer (Single Version) (Harvest HAR 5105, 1976)
- Have You Ever Seen The Rain
- New Shoes
- Slow Dancing
- Get Along Fine
- British Rail Romance
- One More Tomorrow
- So Hard to Get Through
- I’m Alright (When I’m with You)
- The Night
- The Way It Goes
- Magnolia Avenue
- Give and Take (Harvest single HAR 5126-B, 1977)
- Nothing I Wouldn’t Do (Harvest single HAR 5131-B, 1977)
- In the Mood (Live – December 23, 1975 recorded for radio promotional use)
- Keep On Going (Live – December 23, 1975 recorded for radio promotional use)
- Rio De Janeiro (Demo – recorded at Easy Street Studio, 1977)
- Don’t Tell Me I Know (Demo – recorded at David Gilmour’s home studio, 1979)
- All Crazy People (Demo – recorded at David Gilmour’s home studio, 1973)