Vertiginous Musings - Part Five
And so we reach the final part of my Vertigo "swirly" reappraisal. It has been fun revisiting these albums, most of which had not been played in many years, and some gems have been rediscovered, as well as some real clunkers. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Warhorse - Red Sea
Not difficult, but an improvement on the first album, but still sounds both dreadfully dated and derivative, the title track being a complete lift from the Purps version of Hush, for example. Elsewhere the riffage still plods wearily, more like an asthmatic pit pony than a warhorse.
Jackson Heights - Fifth Avenue Bus
Having been uncermoniously dumped by Keith Emerson, it's no surprise that Lee Jackson's next band would turn away from the overwrought classical bombast of his former leader in The Nice. I'd not played this album in years before writing this, which is a shame as it contains some nice loose-limbed West Coast flavoured pop featuring intricate arrangements and harmonies. Mike Giles occupies the drum stool.
Magna Carta - In Concert
My one and only contribution to the vertigoswirl website, I came across an Indian release of this otherwise nondescript folk album from the steadfastly uninteresting Magna Carta.
Gordon - Gordon
Rumoured to be the lowest selling swirly, and justifiably so, as this is very dull singer-songwriter fare performed by the lesser known half of Peter & Gordon. There is absolutely no reason to own this poor waste of resources unless you've been bitten by the collecting bug. Sometimes old records sold next to no copies for good reason. I'll give it a mark for turning up...
Gentle Giant - Three Friends
After the stunning Acquiring The Taste it is unsurprising that such lofty heights were not quite attained for the follow up, a loose concept album on the development of friendship. Peel The Paint contains Gary Green's greatest exhibition of plank spanking for the group, and this album while not a "10/10" is still stonkingly good!
Black Sabbath - Vol. 4
vertigoswirl.com say this is the "best Sabbath album on Vertigo". No it isn't, obviously that was Paranoid. To my uncouth ears, this is too slick by half, and the innocent Mary Jane of Sweet Leaf has been replaced by the cynical superstar marching powder of Snowblind. All a tad too smooth, but it still rocks like a beast. The penultimate great Sabs album.
Freedom - Freedom Is More Than A Word
More varied instrumentation, better tuneage and less plodding boogie make this a far better album than the debut. Still not much to write home about.
Beggars Opera - Pathfinder
The third album from the Scottish proggers shows that the small advances made on the previous release were as good as it was going to get, which was slightly below average. This is another distinctly unremarkable album, replete with a rather pointless cover of MacArthur Park, a supremely daft piece of nonsense in the place!
Another lavish six-panel cover showcasing Peter Goodfellow's fantastical painting of a spaceman astride a rabid horse in a futuristic scene. This is the album's only redeeming feature.
Catapilla - Changes
The Gothic psychedelic jazz-rock band return with a second and if anything, even starker album. Anna Meek is on fine form, her sometimes wordless vocals conjuring dystopian images as the rest of the band do their bare bones swamp jazz thang. Play this loud with the lights out! Great lurid die-cut cover from Roger Dean's brother Martyn tops it off.
6360 075 - assigned to Paul Jones' unfinished second album
Ian Carr - Belladonna
Karl Jenkins and John Marshall have departed for Soft Machine, and Jeff Clyne's bass has been picked up by another future-Soft, Roy Babbington. With all these changes Carr has ditched the Nucleus name and taken over most of the composing duties. There's a thirteen-minute long riff in one key and one tempo on this record, and that's the opening and title track. In lesser skilled hands than these it would degenerate into a dirge, but this thing is hypnotic. Also features one Allan Holdsworth on surprisingly low-key guitar. Marvellous!
Jackson Heights - Ragamuffin's Fool
Second album from Lee Jackson's band seems to indicate that they were running out of gas. The first side is full of great prog-pop, but the second is an aimless affair, and even includes a cover of a Nice song. It's never a good idea to go back, in any area of life.
Tastefully embossed single cover, with a poster. The only UK Vertigo swirly in a single cover, the Atlantis album (see the last entry in this list) being a Vertigo Germany release originally.
6360 078 - Various artists compilation "Superheavy Vol 2" released in Peru
Jade Warrior - Last Autumn's Dream
Now up to their third album, the formula has been perfected. Soon to de-camp for Island where they became far more meditative, toning down the Hendrix guitar flourishes. I much prefer their raucous Vertigo period.
Gentle Giant - Octopus
Could the Giant get back to the peaks of musical achievement attained on Acquiring The Taste? Yes, with knobs on! Now with the "classic" line up, John Weathers having taken over the drum stool, nothing is left to chance. Rhythmically mind-boggling, tight as a nut, and boundlessly energetic Octopus is another prog rock golden nugget from this most eclectic of bands, crammed with classics of the genre. If you consider yourself a prog rock fan, you already have this in your collection, surely? A great Roger Dean cover too, that for some reason was not used on the USA version.
It may be even better than Acquiring The Taste, but this isn't Spinal Tap, I'm not about to give a score of 11!!
Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed
One of a handful of really well known albums on the label, this was the LP that thrust Alex Harvey's bunch of Glasgae hard cases into the spotlight. As hard as nails, the "Are ye starin' at me pint?" threatening air is established right from the opening blast of 12-bar aggro that is the title track. Fabbo!
Status Quo - Piledriver
Gu-dunga-dunga-dunga, before it became boring. Includes the hit single Paper Plane.
John Dummer's Oobleedooblee Band - Oobleedooblee Jubilee
One of only two releases on the soon to be shelved UK version of the the Vertigo swirly label design in 1973, and the only UK-originated release, so therefore the it has the honour of being The Last Official UK Swirly.
This somewhat prosaic country rock/R&B band features the guitar of Dave Kelly, and his skill on the instrument is the only thing that lifts this album above "entirely forgettable". John Dummer is, fittingly enough, the drummer, and the keyboard player is one Kingsley Ward, presumably he of Rockfield studios fame?
...and there ends any logical sequence of chronological catalogue numbers. What follows is a seemingly random selection of numbers assigned to other releases on the "swirl" Vertigo label:
Rod Stewart - Gasoline Alley
Rod's second solo album is every bit as classy as the first. This time around the backing band is The Faces and no-one else, and the end result has that familiar classic about to fall apart effortless boozy rock'n'roll swagger synonymous with the leery lads. It helps that Rod has picked some classic tunes to cover too.
6499 407/408 (6657 001)
Various Artists - Vertigo Annual 1970
If you only search out one Vertigo compilation, this is the one to go for. Not a bad track on its two LPs, and a great introduction to the label. The iconic Keef cover tops it off. Marvellous!
Lighthouse - One Fine Morning
Guess who designed that cover? That apart, this is a mostly failed experiment in the large ensemble mould. An 11-member band consisting of rock instruments, brass and string sections, with poorly arranged multiple vocalists sounds like a mess on paper and that's what it is on record. Some of the tunes show promise and some of the brass/sax solos are good, but it's not an album I play often, if at all. In fact before writing this I couldn't recall anything about it!
Thomas F. Browne - Wednesday's Child
Who he? I have no idea, but he has some names in his backing band - Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson, Gary Wright (I assume it's the Spooky Tooth keyboard player) who, despite their pedigree cannot lift these dull songs out of their slough of despond. A singer/songwriter cash-in by the label that fails to realise that it helps to have at least some half-decent songs as a starting point.
Lighthouse - Thoughts Of Movin' On
Less than a year after the debut comes Lighthouse's second album. The tunes are more consistent, but it's somehow less involving. The sprawling mess of the debut now seems to be a plus point!
6333 500/501 (6673 001)
Aphrodite's Child - 666
Every self-respecting prog or psych fan knows this record. A trail blazing acid concept album about the apocalypse, including screaming orgasms. Demis Roussos soon left all this behind to become the suburban housewives' favourite, as immortalised in the withering Mike Leigh play Abigail's Party, and Vangelis became a one-man musical industry. Neither surpassed this marvellous double album. The spiky acid-fried guitar of Silver Koulouris is the star, leading these anti-Beatles compositions down the Styx. A true classic!
Jim Croce - You Don't Mess Around With Jim
Pretty nondescript country rock from American singer songwriter backed by a competent bunch of session musos. Not a lot more to be said, really.
Jim Croce - Life And Times
THIS IS BLOODY ANNOYING! Last time I looked at vertigoswirl.com before writing this series was a few years ago, and back then this was only credited as a rumoured release on swirl, but it now appears to be a bona fide ultra-rarity, and therefore means that my collection now falls not one but two short of the total. Dang!
Musically, this is a big improvement on the previous rather undynamic album and is quite fun. Includes the Sinatra-covered Big, Bad Leroy Brown, royally ripped off and camped up...err, adapted...by Queen for their Bring Back That Leroy Brown.
6499 268/269 (6641 077)
Kraftwerk - Kraftwerk
A genuine musical landmark, in two parts. The first two Krafwerk albums, released separately in Germany on Philips as Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2, and here put out as a budget double album for the princely sum of £3 are landmark releases in the formative years of Krautrock, and far more interesting and utterly different from the band's later trademark "robot" music, if somewhat less musical.
1 features the motorik drums of Klaus Dinger and much flute and primitive elctronics, lending it a hypnotic air. The music has hints of the scale repitition honed to perfection with the introduction of synths a few years down the line. By 2 Dinger's services had been dispensed with, and the visceral organic nature if the debut is replaced by a far less rhythmic and more disparate and experimental sound, epitomised by Atem, which consists of three minutes of treated breathing.
This album gets a high mark more for its importance in an emerging sound culture than for its content, if I'm honest. However, it is definintely worth a listen.
Atlantis - Atlantis
The rump (heheh) of the Big Brother-blusey German rock band formerly known as Frumpy re-convene as Atlantis, with a rockier and frankly less exciting sound. "An average band with outstanding vocals" says vertigoswirl.com, and this time they're dead right. Inga Rumpf provides the full-throated Joplinesque singing, and it's the only thing that makes this record vaguely interesting.
Thw dullness is compounded by the disappointingly simple single cover. A direct lift from the German Vertigo run of releases, possibly in the hope that a UK release would spark interest. It didn't.
Well, that's your lot. All that remains now is to give thanks to that invaluable resource tool vertigoswirl.com, the best label-dedicated site I know of. How better to finish off than an interview with the founder of Vertigo Records, Olav Wyper, published in July last year in thevinylpress.com