Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Britain's Brainiest Band"

Since All Hallow's Eve is quickly approaching, I thought an entry on the Zombies would be most appropriate! A truly magical group, the Zombies produced some of the most gorgeous, melancholic compositions of the British Beat era. Their popsike masterpiece, Odessey and Oracle, (sic) is one of the greatest albums of all time (in my opinion, and many others, too). If you have never heard it, get your hands on a copy as quickly as possible!

Formed in St. Albans in 1963, the Zombies consisted of Rod Argent on keyboards (his Hammond B3 work is the signature element of their sound), Colin Blunstone taking lead vocals, Chris White - bass, and Hugh Grundy - drums. On the strength of a demo tape, the band was quickly signed to Decca Records. The press quickly seized upon the fact that these lads were extremely intelligent, boasting more examination qualifications than any other British group, and saddled them with the label of "Britain's Brainiest Band."

The Zombies achieved success in the US, particularly with the hits "She's Not There," "Tell Her No," and the flower child anthem "Time of the Season," which was released to much acclaim after the group's untimely demise. Colin's angelic, evocative vocals, combined with the song writing talents of Rod and Chris, set the group apart from their contemporaries. John Lennon was so impressed that he expressed the desire to produce them himself!

If one is interested in a single disc collection of the Zombies' "greatest hits," I recommend the Audio Fidelity hybrid SACD. If one wishes to delve further, dive head first into the Zombie Heaven box set, lovingly compiled by expert Alec Palao. This 4 CD set contains every single, LP track, BBC performance and studio outtake available. It's love at first listen!

Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent have reunited in recent years, touring and performing together again. This past year, they performed Odessey and Oracle in it's entirety to enthusiastic crowds and have released a live CD from the tour.

(References: Zombie Heaven by Alec Palao; The Fab British Rock'N'Roll Invasion of 1964 by Dave McAleer)

Monday, October 13, 2008


For something a bit different this week, I bring you scans from a lovely volume compiling all the 1965 issues of BEAT, the newspaper of L.A.'s (then) fab radio station, KRLA. These articles and photos immediately transport the reader back to the first wave of the British Invasion, and allows us all to envision what it must have been like for teenagers living in a major U.S. city during that time. All the British acts' tours certainly had L.A. on their itineraries!

Click on the scans to enlarge them if you wish to read the articles. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Jangle Sound, "Preflyte"

The Searchers, one of Liverpool's finest groups, are noted for their impeccable harmonies, jangling guitar sounds (a major influence on the Byrds), and grasp of various musical styles. They were the fourth Merseyside band to find national success, but the first outside of Brian Epstein's stable of bands. In fact, Epstein's most famous act, the Beatles, often cited the Searchers as one of their favorite bands.

John McNally (rhythm guitarist) formed the Searchers in 1960, taking the name from the John Wayne Western playing in theatres at that time. McNally's school friends joined in: Chris Curtis on drums and Mike Pender on lead guitar. Bass and lead vocalist duties were taken on by a slightly older, well-known Liverpool personality, Tony Jackson. They quickly found residency at the Iron Door Club, eventually serving as a backing group for Johnny Sandon before the usual grueling stint at Hamburg's Star Club. Upon return from Hamburg, the Searchers were discovered by Pye's recording manager, Tony Hatch. Their first single, a distinctive treatment of the Drifter's "Sweets for My Sweet," shot to number one in the UK charts. Hatch composed a similar follow up single entitled "Sugar and Spice," which reached number two.

Nineteen Sixty-Four began as a banner year for the Searchers. Their recording of the Jack Nitzsche/Sonny Bono penned "Needles and Pins," which had been a stateside hit for songstress Jackie DeShannon, became the biggest hit of their career, selling over a million copies. The interesting and influential jangling guitar effects in this song were not achieved on a 12 string; in fact, the song features two overdubbed six string guitars. The Searchers did not use a 12 string until they recorded the single "When You Walk in the Room," which was released in Sept. 1964. Shortly after the success of "Needles and Pins," Tony Jackson acrimoniously parted ways with the group. Sadly, this amazing vocalist did not achieve the recognition he deserved. For more in depth information about the Searchers, please check out Merseybeat expert Spencer Leigh's homepage.

If one is looking for an excellent Searchers CD compilation, I recommend Audio Fidelity's hybrid SACD entitled The Searchers: A Collection (mastered by Steve Hoffman). For a more comprehensive collection, the 3 CD set The Searchers 30th Anniversary Collection on Sequel Records covers the singles, select LP and EP cuts, and rarities. I find both collections to be essential. (The above video clip of "Don't Throw Your Love Away" is from Big Beat '64: the NME Pollwinnners Concert.)

(References: Record Collector article by Peter Doggett, British Beat by May and Phillips, liner notes to the Searchers Collection, various other RC and Goldmine articles I've read.)