That other anglophile band from Memphis: Zuider Zee

Zuider Zee [vinyl 24-48]

One of my favourite 1970s pop albums is the sole, self-titled Zuider Zee album. Released in 1975 on Columbia by a band from Memphis, amazingly accomplished and beatlesque, it went nowhere and the band disappeared without trace. 

Personally, I only discovered it less than 10 years ago, when I stumbled across the somewhat uneven but nevertheless simply brilliant album ‘Big Orange Sun’ by Richard Orange. Turns out it was recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis and with increasing fascination I backtracked more than 30 years to Richard’s original band.

Now, Light In The Attic Records have suddenly released a collection of previously unheard Zuider Zee songs. Again, seemingly out of nowhere. And again, amazingly accomplished. These are not demos, what we have here comes across as a fully formed album. 

Recorded between 1972 and 1974, this collection is a precursor to that sole 1975 album. And indeed, ‘Zeenith’ plays like the ‘#1 Record’ to ‘Radio City’ by that other unknown-at-the-time anglophile Memphis band, Big Star; less complex yet every bit as engaging.

Both bands shared similar influences that led them to pre-empt the US power pop explosion by a few years, and as a result faced indifference from the public at the time. However, whereas Big Star posthumously achieved the fame implied by their name, Zuider Zee are totally forgotten to this day, although Richard Orange eventually found some fame as writer of the 1988 Cyndi Lauper hit ‘Hole In My Heart’.

Musically, Zuider Zee combined the quirk of 10CC with the glam of Cockney Rebel. And while Big Star had a broader inspirational background, Zuider Zee went hook, melody line and singer for Lennon-McCartney.

On ‘Old’, Richard even declares that “we are tired of your Beatles” but that must be simply because he had listened to nothing else for the past 10 years. In fact, when Zuider Zee at times sounds uncannily like Wings, it seems more like a logical progression than an influence.  

Not long after the original album’s release, bassist John Bonar was stabbed while protecting the band’s van from thieves, and Zuider Zee split shortly after the incident. This means that with ‘Zeenith’ and the original LP, we now probably have the works from this band.

But if the original Zuiderzee Works that protects the Netherlands from being swallowed by the sea has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the band inspired by that name should be given similar status – at least within the confines of US power pop!

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