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Cherry Red has become the archival label, in my humble opinion. In conjunction with Grapefruit Records, this fantastic compendium spanning four hours and eighty tracks has arrived. All manner of sounds inhabit the three disks, anticipating the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love and chronicling a tumultuous 12 month period of music in the British Isles. Psychedelic pop emerged from the underground clubs and infiltrated the home-grown music scene mainstream, with the vast majority following The Beatles in surrendering to the new genre. This set encompasses everything from artists such as The Move and Procol Harum to the likes of mondo obscuro West Country quintet T. J. Assembly, who pressed a mere 25 copies of their self-penned November 1967 album as a strictly personal memento of their time together.
So here we have it, a dizzying array of sonic riches, and where to begin? As with other box set reviews, I shall focus here on some highlights, things that stood out to me or reminded me of other music I love dearly. The opening song “Toyland” gives the box set its name, and is offered up by The Alan Bown. It is a fair representation of the genre, with woodwinds and sweetly rendered melodies. The backing vocals are whimsical and echo earlier 60s styles. I dare you to get this song out of your head once it’s stuck there, and as repeated listens have proven, it is nigh on impossible. This group was previously a soul revue and they quickly jumped on the psych bandwagon, buying up caftans and re-emerging as a flower power group.
Follow-on tune “Magic In the Air” from The Attack could have been penned by The Who, due to similar sounding guitars and a mod outlook. Episode 6 offer up the sunny “I Can See Through You” and feature two future members of Deep Purple. It is laced with all the flowery stereotypes one can imagine, but strong musicianship and a sharp melody make it a cool cut. Dantalion’s Chariot has the honor of sounding like a tripped out Spirit on “The Madman Running Through the Fields”, with all the studio trickery tacked on for good measure. Totally fun! The wonderful “Dear Delilah” from George Alexander (elder brother of Easybeats guitarist George Young and AC/DC stalwart Angus Young) hits all its marks and is a marvelous collision of The Hollies and Bee Gees. “Lazy Man” from The Mirage is an obvious homage to the Fab Four and veers very close to “Rain”, but in such a nice way that nobody minds that it’s a blatant ripoff. “Give Him a Flower” from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is a fun time and will have you singing along and swinging your hips in no time. The funny “My House is Burning” from The Good Thing Brigade has clever lyrics, a somewhat cheesy organ, and is a fun distraction. I really dig “Sanity Inspector” from The Spencer Davis Group, an unlikely outing sans Stevie Winwood and featuring merry go round organ and accordion.
On to Disk Two, starting off with the fast moving “Flames” from R&B group “Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera”. The tune has hints of mod and psych and some bluesy riffs charging it up, and it became an oft covered tune by such bands as Led Zeppelin. “Defecting Grey” from The Pretty Things is a psych-infused gem, and the extended version rocks out past the five minute park. You can hear glimmers of the glam movement that would follow in the 70s, and the roots of S.F. Sorrow are clearly in evidence. “Desdemona” from John’s Children features naughty lyrics from none other than Marc Bolan, who departed the band for T. Rex a short time later. The Doves offer up a song The Monkees would have killed for, the marvelously sung “Smokeytime Springtime”. “Something to Write About” from Circus gives a nod to The Small Faces and has strong lyrics and interesting melodic twists. “Village Green” from The Brood is a companion piece to anything on The Kinks classic album of the same name. It has the same small town characters and jaunty, nostalgic feel. Another winner is “Mr. Sun” from Tony Rivers and The Castaways, treating the listener to a memorable melody and some nice vocals. Given the current hostile political climate, The Move’s sarcastic “Vote For Me” seems especially prescient. Murray Head’s gorgeous “She Was Perfection” is a perfect reflection of the times, reining in the bombast and offering up a lovely baroque pop tune. “Crazy Dreams” from *The Searchers” is a cool, boppin’ piece with fun lyrics that will have you tapping your feet.
And finally (whew!), what a long, strange trip it’s been to get to Disk 3. Hearing all manner of craziness and over the top songs, we have the superb “Someone Turned the Light Out” from The Plastic Dream, who channel bands like The Electric Prunes on this buzzing psych fest. I also like “Finding it Rough” from Hat and Tie, a song that is probably known because it was recorded by The Everly Brothers. It has the requisite fuzzy guitars and a mod sounding vocal. Cool! “Fashion Conscious” from The Fresh Windows has guitars that sure remind me of The Who, while the leering vocals could be anyone from that period. “The Addicted Man” from teenage band The Game is crammed with mod guitars and faintly scandalous lyrics, and the title alone is enough to make me listen repeatedly. Great fun. “Delighted to See You” from The Honeybus is another fun track, with great harmonies and what sounds like a kazoo but might be a type of flute. “A Walk In the Sky” from The Flower Pot Men is a wonderful pop tune, with vocals reminiscent of The Beach Boys the requisite dayglo imagery. “Schizoid Revolution” from Skip Bifferty is a swingin’ tune that is a hoot, with the piano driving things at times. “Granny Takes a Trip” from The Purple Gang is a novelty tune with kazoo, music hall piano, and a scratchy beat. You can imagine the lyrics, and the almost out of tune harmonica that wafts through at times. Probably a staple on the Dr. Demento Show! “Busker Bill” from The Truth is gorgeous baroque pop not unlike The Zombies or The Left Banke, and has wonderful vocals and really pretty backing instrumentation. “Again” from The Symbols has fabulous vocal harmonies, but the song failed to chart. “Laughing Man” from The Marmalade is a blatant Beatles ripoff, but damn, what a good ripoff it is. These guys can sing, and I even hear hints of Dylan in the mix.
Regular performers at the famous Marquee Club, the not so famous Sands close out the box with the mod by way of Move inflected “Listen to the Sky”, complete with air raid sirens. Groovy!
In short, this box is both for collectors and for people like me who love late 60s psych pop, and there is something for everyone here. It’s fun to see how many famous people played on some of these obscuro recordings, including David Bowie and members of Deep Purple. Run, don’t walk to your nearest emporium that carries cool music, or hit up the Cherry Red web site for more information.
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