Ace Records, as always, has delivered some of 2019's finest collections including Songwriter Series volumes dedicated to Eddie Hinton, Leonard Cohen and Merle Haggard, and celebrations of producer Mickie Most and musician Reggie Young. Today, we're taking a look at a pair of the label's other recent releases.
Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs present Three Day Week: When the Lights Went Out 1972-1975 (Ace CDCHD 1542) is another sublimely curated compilation focusing on a particular period of history following titles such as the acclaimed State of the Union: The American Dream in Crisis 1967-1973. Turning their attention from the U.S. to the U.K., the title derives from the eight-week period (from January 1 to March 7, 1974) in which the U.K. government limited commercial users of electricity to three specified days' consumption each week, and prohibited workers from working longer on those days. Television shut down at 10:30 p.m., and blackouts and power cuts spiked the sales of candles and torches. Stanley's liner notes also helpfully observe that the birth rate rose! While the Three-Day Week only lasted eight weeks, he offers, it was "the nadir of a four-year-long depression." How does music come into play? The 26-track CD answers that question by examining the various strains of rock and pop that addressed the "miserable" situation at home: "The songs on Three Day Week amplified the noise of a country still unable to forget the war, even as it watched the progressive post-war consensus disintegrating. We hear shrugs and cynicism, laughter through gritted teeth..."
Some musicians embraced the flamboyance of glam, looking to the future in their fashion and attitude. Others returned to the "simpler" times of the 1950s, bringing rootsy rock-and-roll and rockabilly back in style. Still others took an even more back-to-basics approach, their spare and jagged instrumentation and primitive sound reflecting the bleak realities of everyday life. All of these styles and more are reflected on Three Day Week with artists both familiar and largely unknown. The more familiar names include The Kinks, The Troggs, Hawkwind, Mungo Jerry, Adam Faith, and David Essex, but the selections here are mostly atypical. Faith's pained "In Your Life" is a far cry from his early '60s hit, much as Essex's movie theme "Stardust" didn't flinch from its somber mood. Mungo Jerry dropped their jug-band goodtime sound on "Open Up," urging the listener to "think about today." The Kinks, however, had long juxtaposed serious observations with ironically upbeat melodies, and their tale of what happens "When Work Is Over" is no different.
Hawkwind's "Urban Guerilla" was banned by the BBC, and its first-person lyrics bidding farewell to the era of peace and love ("I'm an urban guerrilla, I make bombs in my cellar/I'm a derelict dweller, I'm a potential killer") led the government to investigate the band. Mike McGear (a.k.a. Mike McCartney)'s brief but potent "Kill" was relegated to B-side status and didn't cause the same kind of uproar despite its nihilistic lyrics. The lyrics of the catchy, laconic "Mole on the Dole" from Climax Chicago - later to become The Climax Blues Band - also considered crime as one of the singer's potential lifestyle choices.
The tracks here are uniformly illuminating on both cultural and purely musical levels. The Sutherland Bros. Band's skeletal "Sailing" was reinvented by Rod Stewart in a glossy, anthemic production three years after this dirge-like original recording. British-born singer-songwriter Phil Cordell a.k.a. Dan the Banjo Man was an offbeat signing to Motown, with his records appearing on various labels including Tamla, Rare Earth, and Prodigal. Wiggs and Stanley have included a MoWest B-side, "Londonderry," a self-recorded rocker with a rather muddy Wall of Sound, rather far removed from the Motown template. Barclay James Harvest's Woolly Wolstenholme traded prog for glam when he recorded the swaggering instrumental "Breathless" under the name of Bombadil, and another pseudonymous track comes courtesy of The Strawbs' Richard Hudson and John Ford. As The Brothers, they recorded the folk-inspired sing-along "Part of the Union." While the hit version's lyrics were interpreted as pro-union, the spare demo version here leads one to the conclusion that Hudson and Ford might not have been entirely sympathetic to the union cause. The Edgar Broughton Band's snarling "Homes Fit for Heroes" dripped with irony as it observed a nation seemingly devoid of hope.
As an alternative history of the U.K.'s rock scene between 1972 and 1975, Three Day Week makes for fascinating listening. The mood isn't upbeat, but it's never less than compelling, and it's all wrapped together with Stanley's stylish, informative liner notes in the 24-page booklet. Nick Robbins has remastered. The collection is also available on vinyl. [The vinyl edition adds three bonus tracks: Marty Wilde's "She's a Mover," The Troll Brothers' "You Turn Me On," and Pheon Bear's "War Against War."]
A spiritual companion to Three Day Week might well be another recent Ace release at the crossroads of music and society. In this case, If You're Not Part of the Solution... addresses Soul, Politics and Spirituality in Jazz 1967-1975 (BGP CDBGPD 308). The title derives from the popular phrase "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," itself derived from a speech by early Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver. As compiler Dean Rudland explains in his introduction, "At the core of the African-American community, jazz and soul musicians were challenging the status quo, making references to the injustice and brutality which colored a society that was refusing to change for the better..." The ten tracks here (a low number due to the length of the recordings) exemplify the soul-jazz idiom, and were all recorded for independent labels Prestige, Milestone, and Muse (now all part of the Concord Music Group) during the period before jazz hit a commercial crossover peak with smooth and fusion styles. All demonstrate the power of music to express a political or cultural thought with no, or very few, words.
The set opens with a title track provided by The Joe Henderson Quintet from the album also named If You're Not Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem - a pulsating, funky R&B-oriented outing driven by not only Henderson's powerful tenor sax but by Ron McClure's electric bass, Woody Shaw's trumpet, George Cable's electric piano, Lenny White's drums, and Tony Waters' congas. It was very much of the present, like Johnny Hammond Smith's "Black Feeling." The organist's band, including drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie and bassist Jimmy Lewis, conjured up an urban milieu with the slinky, winding, hip track. Flautist Harold Vick titled his cool, moody 1967 composition "H.N.I.C." ("Head N----r In Charge"), taking back the power of the vile epithet and making his own bold statement. The track, led by Vick's ethereal flute and Walter Bishop's tinkling piano, features vibes by Victor Feldman, whose C.V. includes everyone from Henry Mancini to Miles Davis. The latter's own rock-jazz hybrid "Bitches Brew" is covered here by vocalese veteran Eddie Jefferson, adding his own unconventional lyrics to the jagged, clattering, and hypnotic music.
The spiritual aspect of the compilation is fulfilled by cuts including Clifford Jordan's tribute to the late, great "John Coltrane" (written by Spike Lee's father Bill Lee), Johnny Lytle's "Tawhid," Gary Bartz Ntu Troop's "Africans Unite," and Catalyst's "Celestial Bodies." The four-piece Philadelphia jazz group was joined for this spacey 1973 session by no less a guitar eminence than Norman Harris of MFSB and later The Salsoul Orchestra.
The looming specter of the Vietnam War is addressed on the set's closing pair of tracks. Saxophonist Azar Lawrence's "Warriors of Peace" forcefully offered a rhythmic, percussive soundscape. The Indianapolis group Funk, Inc. delivered on its name with "Let's Make Peace, Stop the War," capturing a laid-back, reflective groove seemingly inspired by Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." Organist Bobby Watley sings the pleading lead vocals on the track.
Nick Robbins has again remastered, and the package includes a copiously-illustrated booklet with Dean Rudland's liner notes. If You're Not Part of the Solution... makes a strong case for the enduring power of music in the face of upheaval - and the ongoing relevance of these particular sounds today.
- Part of the Union - The Brothers (1972 demo rel. on A Taste of Strawbs, Witchwood Media WMBS 2036, 2006)
- Ordinary Boy - Small Wonder (Dawn DNS 1094, 1974)
- The Hertfordshire Rock - Ricky Wilde (U.K. 18, 1972) (*)
- When Work Is Over - The Kinks (from Soap Opera, RCA LP SF 8411, 1975)
- Sailing - The Sutherland Bros. Band (Island WIP-6136, 1972)
- In Your Life - Adam Faith (from I Survive, Warner Bros. LP K 56054, 1974)
- Londonderry - Phil Cordell (MoWest MW 3008, 1973)
- Cut Loose - Stud Leather (Dart ART 2024, 1973) (*)
- I'm on Fire - The Troggs (Pye 7N 45295, 1973)
- Kill - Mike McGear (Island WIP-6131, 1972)
- And the Fun Goes On - Lieutenant Pigeon (Decca F 13403, 1973)
- Open Up - Mungo Jerry (Dawn DNX 2514, 1970)
- Rod - Matchbox (RAK 113, 1971)
- Urban Guerilla - Hawkwind (United Artists UP 35566, 1973)
- Homes Fit for Heroes - Edgar Broughton Band (from In Side Out, Harvest LP SHTC 252, 1972)
- Breathless - Bombadil (Harvest HAR 5095, 1972)
- Why Am I Waiting - Robin Goodfellow (Pye 7N 45271, 1973)
- What Ruthy Said - Cockney Rebel (from The Human Menagerie, EMI LP EMA 759, 1972)
- Clocks - Paul Brett (Bradleys BRAD 305, 1973)
- Mole on the Dole - Climax Chicago (Harvest HAR 5065, 1972)
- I Feel So Down - Barracuda (EMI 2027, 1973) (*)
- Northern Soul Dancer - Wigan's Ovation (Spark SRL 1122, 1975)
- Don't Ride a Paula Pillion - Stavely Makepeace (Spark SRL 1081, 1972)
- Roly Pin - Roly (Logo GO 327, 1978)
- Stardust - David Essex (CBS 2828, 1974)
Stereo except (*) mono
- If You're Not Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem - Joe Henderson Quintet (Milestone LP MSP 9028, 1970)
- Black Feeling - Johnny "Hammond" Smith (Prestige LP PR 7736, 1970)
- Celestial Bodies - Catalyst (Muse LP MR 5025, 1973)
- John Coltrane - Clifford Jordan Quartet (Muse LP MR 5076, 1975)
- H.N.I.C. - Harold Vick (Muse LP MR 5054, 1974) (*)
- Tawhid - Johnny Lyle (Milestone LP MSP 9043, 1973)
- Bitches Brew - Eddie Jefferson (Muse LP MR 5043, 1974)
- Africans Unite - Gary Bartz NTU Troop (Prestige LP P 10057, 1973)
- Warriors of Peace - Azar Lawrence (Prestige LP P 10086, 1974)
- Let's Make Peace and Stop the War - Funk, Inc. (Prestige LP P 10043, 1972)
Stereo except (*) mono