Fruits de Mer Records is a label that focuses on putting out 60s nuggets that I already have in cover versions recorded by bands that I would rather have releasing their own originals. Furthermore, the tracks are primarily released as vinyl singles, which makes it very expensive to buy in piecemeal fashion if you live outside the UK. The postage costs as much as the parcel, and with Brexit we will all be looking forward to adding taxes and fees to that…
Nevertheless, Fruits de Mer is quite honest with their 60s homage, and given that Cherry Red Records and their various sub-labels (Grapefruit, RPM, Esoteric, Lemon etc) have more or less cornered the market for original reissues, you have to give them a lot of respect for what they do. And, by the way, a lot of the Fruits de Mer releases are excellent!
For this reason, I perched my ears when Fruits the Mer last year released a full cover LP of the Action’s final blast of glory. We now mainly know it as ‘Rolled Gold’ although it first saw the light in 1995 as ‘Brain (The Lost Recordings 1967/68)’ and was never released back in the day. The cover album is called ‘Strange Roads’ and the group behind it is Long Beach power pop/mod trio Sidewalk Society.
Doing a start to finish cover version of an LP that doesn’t exist in the first place is such a bonkers idea that you simply have to love it.
And the result is awesome. Not only do the Sidewalk Society really nail the charm of these songs, they also seem fully at ease with studiously recreating a set that was as close to improvised 3 minute pop songs that you might get.
The original recordings were quick and dirty “lets get some demos together and try to get a record contract” tracks, never intended to go anywhere beyond the ears of jaded record company executives.
Which brings us to these hastily conceived originals themselves. They are now being reissued on Grapefruit as part of a complete The Action box set called ‘Shadows and Reflections’ that is curated by master pop archeologist David Wells.
If you don’t have any previous reissue, you desperately need to get this box. In fact, you need to get it anyway since you get basically everything else the Action did in their short career to go along with it.
The Action, by the way, were the other protégées of a certain George Martin. In case you didn’t know. They were the first band he signed after he left EMI to set up his own company, AIR Productions. But between 1965 and 1968 he only managed to produce five singles, issued on Parlophone. Not a lot of bang for the bongo.
The Action cut a bunch of demos at various studios through 1967 into early 1968 and presented them to George Martin, who picked a song called ‘In My Dreams’ as their potential 6th single and recorded it with them properly at De Lane Lea studios. But they never even got as far as recording a potential B-side before George Martin suddenly decided to drop them.
And to cut a short story even shorter, that was that. The Action tried to shop the ‘Rolled Gold’ acetate around but were turned down by everyone, including John Lennon and Paul McCartney, whom they knew.
In late 1960s London, everyone was obsessed with the perfect pop song. And many succeeded, but more often than not only as one-hit wonders.
‘Rolled Gold’ has no singles. But what it lacks in production and focus, it delivers in breath of creativity. Not only do these demos have a very strong sense of presence – they make you feel like you are there, listening as the magic spontaneously happens – but they also have an incredible lightness of being. You get the feeling that writing pop songs (in some case maybe only melody stubs) is effortless, or at least immediate.
The other band that gives you that impression is of course the Beatles.
In that sense, ‘Rolled Gold’ captures the essence rather than the execution of pop music. As a result, its reputation is greater today than ever – and that is why you have contemporary bands like the Sidewalk Society covering it from start to finish. Go for the original first. Then keep on going.