|MILESAGO - Recommended Listening|
So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star?
"Essential" is a oft-abused word (so is "legendary and we're as guilty as anyone of overusing them both!) but this 3-CD set is without doubt an essential purchase for anyone with a serious interest in Australian music of the '60s and '70s.
The original version was issued back in the mid-70s as a double LP set, put together by band manager, fanatical collector and rock brain Glenn A. Baker. It was the first album of its kind in Australia, breaking new ground in taking a comprehensive, serious look back at the music of that era, as represented by releases from the leading label of the time, and full credit is due to Glenn for his pioneering efforts in getting it all together. As the track listing indicates, it's a very extensive overview of the enormous range of Festival's pop-rock output from 1964 to around 1972, covering both the big hits and long-forgotten releases by lesser known acts, and it can scarcely be bettered. The sound quality ranges from fair to very good, and given the primitive technology available at the time, Festival have done a sterling job of polishing up the tracks for digital reissue. It's even more valuable in its CD recent incarnation as a 3-disc set, with an entire extra disc of music added.
Disc One covers 1964 to about 1968 and is my personal favourite of the three (although there are gems studded throughout). Hearing it for the first time will bring back many memories if you were in your teens or twenties in that era, but if you grew up a little later (as I did) you're in for a treat as you discover some of the very best sides cut in this country in the 60s, almost none of which have ever had any airplay since they were first released. It's not really possible to do justice to all these tracks in such a short space; some are brilliant, some simply average, others just plain silly odd or downright naff, so I'll only mention a few that I think are of special interest.
Some tracks are, of course, are well known and much anthologised, like Thorpie's breakthrough Poison Ivy, which has deserved pride of place as the opening track. There are other Beat Boom chartbusters like Ray Brown's galloping Pride, Normie Rowe's impassioned teen heartbreak anthem Tell Him I'm Not Home and Johnny Young's swinging Step Back (written for him by The Easybeats). But there are many lesser-known but still brilliant singles by acts who are barely remembered today, including the tragic Mike Furber's You Stole My Love (surely the template from which The Sunnyboys cut their signature tune Alone With You) and Ray Hoff & The Offbeats barnstorming party classic Let's Go. Also deserving of five-star ratings are Chris Hall & The Torquays proto-punk Don't Ask Me Why and The Purple Hearts' amazing psych-shanty Early In The Morning, one of the most extraordinary singles of the '60s, bar none. A real discovery for me was The Black Diamonds' shimmeringly brilliant See The Way, from their astounding debut single, which also featured their searing garage punk classic I Want, Need, Love You (antholgised on Ugly Things). Other tracks worth checking out include The Librettos' hot cover of Paul Revere & The Raiders' Kicks and Blues Rags-n-Hollers snarling take on I Just Wanna Make Love To You, which makes the Stones' version sound about as threatening as The Wiggles by comparison.
There are several tracks which would probably make their creators cringe these days, but despite some rather amateurish performances -- e.g. The A Sound's mushy Tomorrow I Meet You and The Rajahs' delightfully dizzy Kiss Me Now -- there's a lot of charm, even on the less compelling tracks.
On Disc Two we plunge into the swirling stylistic maelstrom of the late 60s and early 70s. The psychedelic genre is perhaps nowhere better represented than by The Dave Miller Set's masterpiece Mr Guy Fawkes, which remains a classic of the era and far surpasses the original by Irish band Eire Apparent. With its cinematic, ethereal feel, and its restrained, elegant arrangement it's the perfect counterpoint to Russell Morris' operatic, over-the-top epic The Real Thing. Other notable psychedelic tracks are The Valentines' faithful cover of The Easybeats Peculiar Hole In The Sky, Chain's elegiac Mr Time and Listen (aka Anthem) by much-hyped supergroup Procession. The stylistic changes during that time are well represented, with bubblegum the only notable absence. The selection ranges through oddities like the psych-schlock studio artefact Love Machine, the sentimental balladry of Can't Wait Til September and Lazy Life, the prototype progressive rock of King Fox's epic Unforgotten Dreams and Jeff St John & Copperwine's awesomely commanding prog-soul cover of The Temptations' Cloud 9 (recently reissued as part of that band's classic Joint Effort LP) and the first stirrings of the new Oz Rock of the '70s with The (New) Aztecs' Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, The Wild Cherries indelible, incredible Krome Plated Yabby and Mecca's pounding Black Sally.
Disc Three comprises the remainder of the tracks from the earlier LP, compilation plus another hour of additional material, and while it jumps back and forth across the era there are still plenty of gems here, including Clapham Junction's beguiling Emily On Sunday, The Iguanas' breezy California My Way, Cam-Pact's supercharged remake of Drawing Room and Flake's great cover of Dylan's This Wheel's On Fire.
The shadow of Pat Aulton looms large over this set. Pat was Festival's house producer from 1967-1973 and prior to that he worked as a freelance producer for associated labels like Ivan Dayman's Sunshine, for whom he produced most of the classic hits by Normie Rowe. Pat produced many other tracks on these three discs, and the music is a testament to his tireless efforts, his golden ears, his inventive mind and his relentless quest for to make better Australian music and better Australian records.
There are only two points which detract from this otherwise brilliant set. The first is the frankly awful cover illustration (which rates alongside Raven's Golden Miles as one of the worst I've seen), and the overally package design, which follows Festival's quite unappealing house reissue style. The vastly superior packaging for Festival's recent Spinning Around set is a far better example of what can be achieved with a little imagination and some good design. The other and far more more serious concern is the reproduction of Baker's excellent liner notes, which appear to have have been photo-reproduced from the LP but which have been reduced down to near-micrscopic size; compounding that error, they have been printed in colour on colour, rendering them even more illegible. It's a barely-amusing irony that as the rock generation gets older and our eyesight gets weaker, record covers get smaller and the writing ever harder to read.
But they are really the only things that detract from this otherwise exemplary set. It's a steal at a mere $40 for three jam-packed discs, and with well over four hours of music on board it's top-notch value that will provide endless hours of pleasure, whether you're revisiting old memories or discovering a bygone era. An invaluable addition to the catalogue.