Beyond The Pale Horizon – The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1972

Why, in the age of streaming, should you even bother buying a CD box set? As far as I am concerned, Grapefruit Records have found the answer. It is all about the accompanying booklet. 

Whereas analogue LPs might be bought on the grounds of the cover art and the (questionable) quality experience of having to turn sides after 20 minutes, a digital CD might not improve much on a lossless stream from Tidal or (soon) Apple Music. But with Grapefruit label owner David Well’s incredibly well-researched and insightful liner notes in your hands, the listening experience turns into a kaleidoscopic discovery journey. Yes, they really are that good. And the stories here constantly point you to side quests, prompting you to discover music way beyond the box set itself.

For me, this time round, the major discovery was the track ‘Once Upon A Dream’ by Rusty. I have long had their 1972 acetate test press on my Discogs wish list but have not come across a copy. Not only is the song included here a fabulous late 60s sounding Beatlesque psychedelic pop song, but  it turns out that Cherry Red have made the whole album available for streaming as well, and to my surprise, it is a fully realised pop album in the same vein: some of the tracks are all the way up there with the nugget included here. The streamed album is a straight vinyl rip, vinyl clicks and all, and the first track is even full of digital jitter and transfer errors, so let us hope that Grapefruit eventually gets around to issuing a properly treated CD release!

Although I have a tendency to go down a rabbit hole, I should point out that this box set is not only for nerds. It caters expertly to listeners who are interested in getting an idea of what was going on not only in the charts of 1972 but also beyond them.

Many of the big names of the day are here, such as Thin Lizzy, The Moody Blues, Slade, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, even Yes.  And, importantly, reading about them sheds new light on their music. Take Barclay James Harvest for example. Did you know that they released a single under the pseudonym Bombadil? Read all about it here.

Still, it is the lesser known contributions that draw me in. Some of them are totally new to me, such as the fabulous Ray Davis-penned ‘Nobody’s Fool’ by Cold Turkey or the wonderful soft psychedelia of ‘Birds Must Learn To Fly’ by the strangely named Rocky Cabbage or the magical ‘I Am… I Think’ by the even more strangely named group Grobbert & Duff. Fantastic stuff!

Then there are some thankful additions to my collection, such as the single that Rockin’ Horse made under the Atlantis pseudonym. I already had the A-side ‘I Ain’t Got Time’ on another compilation but was very happy to finally get to hear the Campbell rocker on the B-side, ‘Teddy Boyd’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Show’.

Another true highlight is the McCartneyesque ‘Maybe I’m Lost Without You’ by Neil Harrison. While I have this lost gem on the original single, the sound here is better, indicating the possibility that it might come from a recovered master tape. That idea in itself is a tantalising proposition: Neil recorded more songs during his time with Southern Music, and might this lead to a chance that they tapes still exist??

However, it seems that even David Wells can get his facts wrong at rare occasions, as he writes that Neil Harrison was involved in the 1977 Jabberwock single ’Sneakin’ Snaky’, which is not true. I contacted Neil, who wasn’t even aware of the realease of this compilation, to double check, and he says: “It must have been some other Neil Harrison.”

I could ramble on forever about this compilation, but I will not distract you any longer from going out to buy it now!

Misophone compilation avoids repeated sounds

When putting on And So Sinks The Sun On A Broken Sea, my immediate reaction was: “Wow, Misophone haven’t really changed much since I first heard them a long long time ago!” But then I realised that this is a compilation, and the first track on there is indeed from a long long time ago, more exactly from their 2007 debut album, released on the Swedish Kning Disk label. A great record I must say, that bookends this compilation while pointing to the titular water theme.

Amazingly, although featuring songs from across their career, this compilation works incredibly well as an album. In fact, it has prompted me to seek out and buy all of this intriguing English duo’s original albums – and I can’t give you a better recommendation than that! (Unfortunately, physical copies of their two albums released on Japanese label Inpartmaint still elude me…)

In case you didn’t know, misophonia is a disorder of decreased tolerance to certain sounds, such as repeated clicking or for example chewing. Hence, Misophone present their music tentatively, as if trying to caress your ears and avoid triggering sudden reactions. The result is a very personal sort of introverted bedroom folk that combines a slow-burning knack for pop melody with a steampunky mix of timeless found sounds and Victorian music hall atmospherics. 

But as if even such soft treading can in itself become repetitive and trigger misophonia, they also suddenly change gear, as on “Ghost of right wing America”, probably my favourite track here, with its discordant circus comp.

Paul, Ram On!

Paul & Linda McCartney’s album ‘Ram’ was released on May 17th, 1971.  At that time I was 9 years old and more or less the only real pop song single I had was by a fake group, the Monkees. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the Monkees to this day.) My dad’s classical music influence was still shielding me off from the Beatles – and I was happily unaware of the abuse music journalists were heaping on Paul McCartney for his second solo album. Paul was to blame for everything that had gone wrong with the Beatles, and on top of that he was a wussy whereas John Lennon was a cool dude. And how dared he make such silly pop music!

Three years later I was equally unaware of how, as a result of all the critical scorn and abuse, McCartney had turned his back on the album and moved on. Around that time, I spent increasingly much time at the home of a school friend where lax circumstances allowed us – and my school friend’s older brother – to do pretty much anything we pleased. 

The older brother was into hard rock. I remember albums from Nazareth, Kiss, Led Zeppelin and Blue Öyster Cult. We were not allowed to put on his records when he wasn’t there as he said we’d damage them. However, he had a couple of albums that were too soft for him to bother about anymore, so we could play those. One of them was ‘Ram’ by Paul and Linda McCartney. We played that ever so often in the background while hanging about in the almost cave-like room in the cellar where the record player was. This was an exciting room to be in back then, because there where cigarettes lying about, and also quite often bottles of beer or wine that my friend’s older brother had left there.

But eventually, I did start noticing the music of ‘Ram’. And at some point, it became a more important reason for me to want to spend time in that cellar than the forbidden smell of tobacco. Obviously, I had listened to a lot of other pop music before then, but it mainly was singles and hit song oriented radio programs. I had an album by the New Seekers of Eurovison Song Contest fame, and even ‘Headquarters’ by the Monkees, but ‘Ram’ was the first album that I truly got hooked on.

And boy, did I get hooked.

We spent most afternoons in my friend’s place – and I insisted on wanting to play the album all the time. Soon, everyone refused to let me put it on agan, and the older brother let me take it home and listen instead, since he didn’t care about the LP anyway. I still have that battered copy and I love it as much to this day. Together with ‘How Dare You’ by the 10cc, it became the measure of all other records. While I have added a couple of more albums (including an album or two by that other group Paul McCartney used to be in, the Beatles) to that list of essential cornerstones since then, ‘Ram’ remains very much at the centre.

While my appreciation of ‘Ram’ hasn’t changed one bit over the year, the way the rest of the world thinks of it has. It is no longer an ugly duckling, but instead a full-fledged swan, viewed by many critics as Macca’s best post-Beatles album. And while it was accused of not having any good tunes (for example by Ringo) back then, now it is hailed for the beautiful melodies it has always had. And while it was scorned for being simplistic (such as John Lennon comparing it to muzak), these days it is praised not only for its ambitious compositions, but also for its overall sophistication – particularly by those who actually listen to it and realise that while the cover art depicts life on the farm in Scotland, this is in fact not an amateur home recording like the 1970 ‘McCartney’ album was, but instead was recorded with session musicians in New York (including guitarist David Spinozza who would then ironically be hired by Lennon to play on his ‘Mind games’ album). The album also had orchestral scores by George Martin recorded by the New York Philharmonic with Paul conducting, and was meticulously mixed by Eirik Wangberg, who among working with everyone else of note also co-produced the Beach Boys ‘Smile’ sessions as well as the ‘Smiley Smile’ album.

That is not to say that ‘Ram’ isn’t full of silliness, because as every great pop album of course it is. 

The title track, or maybe more correctly title ditty, isn’t called ‘Ram’ but instead ‘Ram On’ as in Macca’s one-time stage name with the Silver Beatles, Paul Ramon. And he also recorded the full album in a cheesy orchestral easy-listening version, although it wasn’t to see the light until six years later, as ‘Thrillington’.

Still – and most likely due to the incredibly low status it was initially given by all the cool people in the industry – McCartney has avoided it like the plague when it comes to live performances. It has instead been up to other artists to honour the album on the stage. More specifically, Tim Christensen and Mike Viola played ‘Ram’ in full from start to finish as a one-off tribute concert at Vega in Copenhagen to celebrate Macca’s on the very day he turned 70th. It was released as ‘Pure McCartney’ a year later. I remember interviewing Tim about that concert and he said that Sir Paul McCartney had indeed been invited to the party, although he for some reason had not shown up…

And now, it has become time to celebrate the 50th birthday of ‘Ram’. Certified Beatles superfan, and well-known and all-round LA musical scenester Frank Perdomo together with original ‘Ram’ album session drummer (who went on to play on ‘Wings Wild Life’ and ‘Red Rose Speedway’) have recreated ‘Ram’ in full, from start to finish as a studio album, with help from a lot of artists. David Spinozza plays all his original guitar parts, and Marvin Stamm reprises his flugelhorn on ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’. Other guests include Brian Wilson’s daughter Carnie Wilson, Joe Santiago from the Pixies, Dave Depper from Death Cab For Cutie and a host of others. Fittingly, this tribute album is adopts the longer title, ‘Ram On’.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be a 50th anniversary without a 50th anniversary edition, so just in case you still actually do not own a copy of this essential album, you can pick up a half-speed mastered vinyl edition a few days before the actual birthday party starts. I know I will be celebrating on May 17th – and maybe, finally, Paul will too!