Cherry Red’s various imprints have become a go-to destination for compact, affordable complete album packages, and three recent releases are no exception.
Esoteric Recordings has gone the extra mile with a new package dedicated to the early recordings of Spirit. The Los Angeles rock evolved out of a band called The Red Roosters which included Randy California (real name: Randy Wolfe) on guitars and vocals, Mark Andes on bass, and Jay Ferguson on vocals and percussion. When California’s stepfather Ed Cassidy and John Locke joined on drums and keyboards, respectively, the group rechristened themselves Spirits Rebellious, and eventually, Spirit. It was this five-piece lineup that came to the attention of producer and impresario Lou Adler, who signed the band to his new Ode Records label.
It Shall Be: The Ode and Epic Recordings 1968-1972 collects five discs’ worth of material from Spirit’s first years, for a total of 108 tracks. Every one of the band’s albums from this period is here, including Spirit (1968) in both its stereo and mono mixes (with the mono mix new to CD); The Family That Plays Together (1968); Clear (1969); The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970); and Feedback (1972) plus the soundtrack to director Jacques Demy’s The Model Shop (recorded 1968, released 2005) and copious bonus material. Spirit blended straight-ahead rock with flourishes of pop, psychedelia, and jazz, with the deft string and horn arrangements for the first three albums and The Model Shop provided by the great Marty Paich (Sammy Davis, Jr., Mel Torme). Spirit’s big, expansive brand of rock was adventurous enough to inspire Led Zeppelin (though a lawsuit alleging that Zeppelin plagiarized the Spirit’s “Taurus” to create “Stairway to Heaven” was unsuccessful) and gain popularity on the underground radio circuit. Only “I Got a Line on You” made a big impression on the Hot 100, reaching No. 25 in 1968. Lou Adler (who co-wrote the lush pop ballad “Give a Life, Take a Life” with California for Clear) helmed the band’s first three albums, with Neil Young collaborator David Briggs taking the helm for the fourth and fifth LPs. The original band remained intact through The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. By the time of Feedback, Randy California, Jay Ferguson, and Mark Andes had all departed the band, leaving John Locke and Ed Cassidy to be joined by guitarist Chris Staehely and bassist/lead singer Al Staehely.
Esoteric’s comprehensive box features every one of the bonus tracks released on previous reissues as well as the 1991 compilation Time Circle except, oddly, for one. The blues-rocker “New York City,” included on Collectors’ Choice Music’s reissue of Feedback, is absent. These generous 29 bonus cuts include singles, session outtakes, and alternate mixes. Each of the five discs is housed in an original mini-sleeve, while a 20-page booklet features Malcolm Dome’s liner notes which provide a handy band history but don’t address the tracks in detail. (Alas, complete album artwork for the original LPs is absent). Ben Wiseman has remastered, and It Shall Be is housed in a clamshell box. This one-stop shopping set should go a long way in allowing the music of Spirit to see a reassessment.
The group Sailor is best remembered today for a pair of hit songs, “Glass of Champagne” and “Girls, Girls, Girls.” But there was more to the band, as evidenced by the 7Ts imprint’s release of The Albums 1974-78, a 5-CD clamshell box set, featuring Sailor’s first five LPs with bonus tracks for three of the albums.
The quartet, consisting of Georg Kajanus (also Sailor’s primary songwriter), Phil Pickett, Henry Marsh, and Grant Serpell, was signed by CBS’ Epic arm. The label was likely intrigued by both the band’s well-dressed, retro appearance and conceptual nature. The liner notes quote Kajanus speaking of the band’s 1974 debut Sailor: “I was obsessed with every detail, so the album would truly reflect my atmospheric fantasy world of lonely sailors on shore leave.” The studio was Sailor’s playground, but how would they capture their sound onstage? Kajanus devised “The Nickelodeon,” an invention made of two upright pianos, two synthesizers, mini-organs and glockenspiels, linked within a wooden frame. The unusual device worked, and Sailor was tapped to perform at CBS’ conventions in Los Angeles, Paris, and England. In early 1975, Sailor reached the Top 5 in Holland and yielded four Top Five singles. That summer, the band was ready to enter the studio again, and Epic paired them with the ace team of Jeffrey Lesser and Rupert Holmes.
Singer-songwriter Holmes, then on Epic, was expanding his production profile in 1975. That year alone, in which his own Rupert Holmes LP arrived, he and Lesser also helmed albums at CBS for Barbra Streisand and Orchestra Luna. The ever-creative duo of producer-engineer Lesser and associate producer Holmes proved the perfect team to bring Sailor’s ambitious visions to life. The resulting album, Trouble, introduced “Glass of Champagne” and “Girls, Girls, Girls.” The former made it all the way to No. 2 in the U.K., held off from the top spot only by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Girls, Girls, Girls” followed as a single in early 1976, and made it to No. 7, while the album was certified Gold throughout Europe. Lesser flew solo as producer of 1976’s The Third Step, including the hit single “One Drink Too Many.”
Phil Pickett left the group before 1977’s Checkpoint, which was produced by Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys and cult harmony-pop hero Curt Boettcher (The Millennium, Sagittarius). The album incorporated a disco flavor, and the band was largely unhappy with the results. Pickett was persuaded to rejoin the fold to record new songs for Greatest Hits Volume 1 (included among the bonus material here) and then the Hideaway LP, the final album on this box set. Sailor broke up in June 1978, but two years later, in 1980, Pickett and Marsh reformed the band. That iteration was short-lived, but over the decades, Sailor has continued to perform and record in various line-ups.
7Ts’ box set has been remastered by Alan Wilson. It includes a 16-page booklet with liner notes, photos and memorabilia. Each disc is housed in a replica sleeve recreating the original LP covers. The back covers reflect the current track listings, which include bonus tracks on Sailor, Checkpoint, and Hideaway.
Last but not least, Cherry Red has a three-disc box from pub-rocker Bram Tchaikovsky. Strange Men, Changed Men: The Complete Recordings 1978-1981 has all three albums from the power pop band fronted by “Bram Tchaikovsky,” a.k.a. Peter Bramall, formerly of The Motors. Guitarist-singer-songwriter Bram formed his eponymous trio in mid-1978 with bassist Micky Broadbent and drummer Keith Boyce. The single release of “Turn On the Light” b/w “Bloodline,” then expanded into a 12-inch single also featuring “Sarah Smiles,” introduced Bram and Micky’s tight harmony vocals which gave their recordings an atypical dimension. A reworking of the classic “Lullaby of Broadway” in a riff-heavy rock style followed on Criminal Records before the band signed to the Radar label for a full-length LP.
Strange Man, Changed Man arrived in 1979 on Radar in the U.K. and Polydor in the U.S. (and Warner Bros. in some international territories) with nods to the sounds of The Beatles, The Who, and The Byrds. The album (expanded here with six bonus tracks including the pre-album singles) introduced “Girl of My Dreams,” the band’s lone U.S. top 40 pop hit which featured Mike Oldfield on, what else, the tubular bells.
Before the band’s second album, Keith Boyce departed and was replaced by Keith Line; additionally, a second guitarist, Denis Forbes, was brought into the line-up. While not abandoning the band’s core melodic sensibility, The Russians Are Coming showcased a harsher, tougher sound. In the U.S., it was released by Polydor as Pressure with a reshuffled sequence, and failed to generate another hit single on the order of “Girl of My Dreams.” Seven single sides have been added here as bonus tracks. For their third and final album, 1981’s Funland, Bram Tchaikovsky moved to Clive Davis’ Arista Records for worldwide distribution. The mogul took a personal interest in the band, which by this point featured Bram, Denis Forbes, Lord Richard Itchington on bass, Derek Ballard on drums, and Andy McMaster and Nick Garvey of The Motors on background vocals. In addition to original songs, Funland featured a cover of Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer’s R&B oldie “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache,” best known in its recording by Johnny Johnson and The Bandwagon. The single version of “Shall We Dance” and one previously unreleased track, “Solid Ball of Rock,” have been appended to Funland. (The band Saxon went on to record “Solid Ball of Rock.”)
After the album failed to stir much commercial success, Bram retreated and opened his own studio. Though he sold the studio after five years and is now long retired from the music business, he still plays today for his own pleasure. The Complete Recordings 1978-1981 features each album in a mini-LP sleeve with original front cover artwork. All discs have been remastered by Fluid Mastering, and features liner notes by Alan Robinson. It’s been released with the full cooperation of Bram himself.
Look for all three of these Cherry Red collections at the links below!
Spirit, It Shall Be: The Epic and Ode Recordings 1968-1972: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Sailor, The Albums 1974-78: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Bram Tchaikovsky, Strange Men, Changed Men: The Complete Recordings 1978-1981: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada