One of Birmingham’s most renowned musical exports, Roy Wood trained listeners to expect the unexpected. The founder or co-founder of The Move, Electric Light Orchestra, and Wizzard, Wood hasn’t been among the most prolific artists of the rock era – with just four proper solo albums to his name – but he’s surely one of the most inventive. Late last year, Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint reissued Wood’s second solo LP, Mustard, as an expanded edition. Now, the label has returned to the oeuvre of this sonic auteur with expanded versions of two Wizzard albums.
1974’s Introducing Eddy and The Falcons, the second album from Wizzard, arrived in between Wood’s solo discs Boulders and Mustard. Whereas the band’s first LP, Wizzard Brew, filtered hard rock and a jazz improvisational sensibility through a glam filter, Eddy and the Falcons was a love letter to 1950s rock and roll performed by an imaginary band. Gill Thomas’ liner notes quote Wood at the time unabashedly owning up to its intention: “The idea of this album is to re-create some of the sounds of the old rock-and-roll stars – people like Paul Anka, Rick Nelson, Del Shannon, and Carl Perkins.” All of those artists were still performing and recording in the seventies, but had largely moved on from their original sounds which Wood sought to recreate.
Now, almost five decades on from Eddy and seven on from its point of inspiration, old-time rock-and-roll hasn’t lost any of its shake, rattle, and roll. Wizzard’s album – featuring songwriter-producer-singer and multi-instrumentalist Wood joined by Rick Price on bass, Nick Pentelow and Mike Burney on saxophones, Keith Smart on drums, Charlie Grima on percussion, and Bill Hunt and Bob Brady on piano – is affectionate, sometimes humorous, and able to be taken at face value. Wood wore his influences on his sleeve. The “Peter Gunn”-esque “Eddy’s Rock” bears Duane Eddy’s influence. While the urgent “Brand New 88” evokes Elvis in its vocals – as backed by honking saxophones and a driving rhythm – Wood is even more explicit on “Dun Lotsa Cryin’ Over You,” gently ribbing The King for his off-hand, mumbled vocals. “Everyday I Wonder” is thisclose to Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” though Wood couldn’t nearly emulate Shannon’s otherworldly vocals, and “Crazy Jeans” is an homage to Gene Vincent. “You Got Me Runnin'” has more sha-la-las than a Neil Sedaka record, while “Come Back Karen” is an upside-down rewrite of Sedaka’s 1958 hit “Oh Carol!”
Wood always had a flair for Spectorian production, and the Wall of Sound is faithfully replicated on “This Is the Story of My Life (Baby)” with its castanets a-clacking; there’s a more than a touch of Spector disciple Brian Wilson in the arrangement and harmonies, too. Other tracks, like “You Got Me Runnin'” and “We’re Gonna Rock and Roll Tonight,” are less specific but no less enjoyable, “merely” capturing the era with swagger, heart, and humor. The former would feel at home among the pastiche songs of the musical Grease, while the latter’s edgier sound betrays the album’s ’70s origins and Wizzard’s facility for glam.
Esoteric’s reissue, newly remastered by Paschal Byrne, features the same five bonus singles as the 1999 CD reissue, all originally released in 1974. While “Rock ‘n’ Roll Winter (Loony’s Tune)” and “Are You Ready to Rock” are in the same spirit as the album, the other tracks are more reflective of Wood and Wizzard’s eclectic nature. The instrumental B-sides with their various textures are particularly worth revisiting. A 16-page booklet contains credits and liner notes.
The second reissue in this mini-series, Main Street, is credited to Roy Wood and Wizzard. It was recorded in 1975-76 for an album to be called Wizzo, but ultimately remained unissued until 2000. (Some reports point to this material as first having been considered as half of a double album, with Eddy and The Falcons to have constituted the first half.) Despite the title of Wizzo, it wasn’t the work of the Wizzo Band which would release one album in 1977. Instead, personnel primarily consisted of the Wizzard line-up circa Eddy and The Falcons, minus Keith Smart and Bill Hunt (who ceded piano duties to Bill Brady). But Wizzo/Main Street shared the same goal as the Wizzo band: to indulge Wood’s desire to take his music in a jazz-rock direction with plenty of horns. The 2000 issue featured all of the originally recorded and sequenced songs other than the glam-ish “Human Cannonball” which was excised at Wood’s request; it appeared on a 2007 compilation and now is reunited with the rest of Main Street, albeit as a bonus track rather than within the sequence of the album proper.
Main Street may be one of the most schizophrenic expressions of Wood’s art, veering genre to genre on each successive track, and sometimes within the same song. The title cut “Main Street” is one of the strongest pieces here, once again evoking The Beach Boys in its beautiful vocals and loping feel. The instrumental “Saxmaniax” places Wood and the band in a more free-form milieu, very much within the experimental, adventurous spirit of the album.
The crunchy “The Fire in His Guitar” plays like a Hendrix tribute until the restless Wood throws in a relaxed swing section and brings in the smooth saxophone; that swing feel carries over into the tongue-in-cheek “French Perfume” on which Wood juxtaposes the cabaret mood with hard rock. It’s cabaret again for the ballad “Take My Hand,” sung by engineer Richard Plant, but Wood keeps things interesting with the cosmic arrangement. Charlie Grima takes the lead on “Don’t You Feel Better,” a straight-ahead rocker by Main Street standards. “I Should Have Known” might best epitomize the fusion of jazz and rock for which Wood was aiming, with its shifting melody, saxophone solos, and time signature shifts.
One track was released on a single by Jet Records. The galloping “Indiana Rainbow” showcases Wood’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach at this time, with its beguiling woodwinds, harmony vocals, and marching band drumming. It’s avant-pop, but was likely too unconventional to trouble the charts. (The B-side of the single, “The Thing Is This (This Is the Thing)” is sadly not appended here.)
It’s not hard to see why Jet would have rejected the ambitious and decidedly non-commercial Main Street; it never quite gels into a cohesive whole, perhaps as a result of the band coming apart at the seams. (Wood stated, “Wizzard as a working band had really ceased to exist. This was probably a last attempt to retain some sort of sanity.”) The 45 of “Indiana Rainbow” proved to be their final release. But even if the individual songs are greater than the sum of its parts, it’s a fascinating listen. Esoteric’s new edition has modified artwork, and a 16-page booklet with credits and John Gill’s notes. Paschal Byrne has again remastered, giving the 2000 version a clear sonic upgrade.
Both titles are available now at the links below!
- Eddy’s Back
- Brand New 88
- You Got Me Runnin’
- I Dun Lotsa Cryin’ Over You
- This Is the Story of My Love (Baby)
- Everyday I Wonder
- Crazy Jeans
- Come Back Karen
- We’re Gonna Rock ‘n’ Roll Tonight
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Winter (Loony’s Tune) (Warner Bros. (U.K.) single K 16357-A, 1974)
- Dream of Unwin (Warner Bros. (U.K.) single K 16357-B, 1974)
- Nixture (B-side of “This Is the Story of My Love (Baby)”) (Warner Bros. (U.K.) single K 16434-B, 1974)
- Are You Ready to Rock (Warner Bros. (U.K.) single K 16497-A, 1974)
- Marathon Man (Warner Bros. (U.K.) single K 16497-B, 1974)
- Main Street
- The Fire in His Guitar
- French Perfume
- Take My Hand
- Don’t You Feel Better
- Indiana Rainbow
- I Should Have Known
- Human Cannonball (first issued on Lookin’ Through the Eyes of Roy Wood, Castle CMQDD1300, 2007)