Thursday, 27 August 2015

Poem: 'THE OLD MAN WHO FALLS DOWN'



THE OLD MAN 
WHO FALLS DOWN 


I’m the Old Man Who Falls Down,
today I fell down by the Mirfield towpath,
a passing postman helps me to my feet
a lady walking a Yorkshire Terrier
fusses helpfully with some tissues, she
assists me unsteadily to the ‘Pear Tree’,
the concerned landlord gets me a cup of tea,
I thank the postman for his generous help
I thank the lady with the Yorkshire Terrier,
I’m so grateful to the landlord of the ‘Pear Tree’,
what would I have done without their help?
he insists I go to A&E and Annabel will drive me,
she works mornings in the ‘Pear Tree’
because she has a three-year old son,
she smiles nicely, and helps me into her Peugeot,
I’m careful not to drop blood on her upholstery,
I thank Annabel for her kindness,
she says not to worry, it’s the least she can do,
I thank her as I go into A&E
where they check this and feel that, no,
nothing broken, is there pain when you do this?
I say I’m sorry to be a nuisance
and everybody has been so kind,
he says ‘don’t worry, it’s what we’re here for’
and its reassuring that ordinary folk are so helpful,
afterwards I catch the bus home…

last week I fell in Horbury High Street,
the people were so kind and helpful,
I couldn’t believe how generous ordinary folk can be…

next week I might fall in the Wakefield precinct
outside the Cathedral, beside the Ridings mall,
yes, that seems like a good place to fall,
because I’m the Old Man Who Falls Down…

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Interview: ROBYN HITCHCOCK



ROBYN HITCHCOCK 
 HA-HA-HA-HA-HA: 
THE MAN WHO 
INVENTED HIMSELF? 


Robyn Hitchcock is the Soft Boy who fell to Earth, 
the Soft Boy who never grew up, the Man Who Would Be Syd
 – the once and future Syd Barrett. Or a fruitcake. 
But with the patronage of REM and his strongest album yet – 
‘RESPECT’ (1993), he’s on the brink of even greater notoriety. 
Andrew Darlington watches him soundcheck, 
 discusses Axe Murderers, Tree Surgeons, and 
 the Food Blender Theory of Song Composition, 
 LSD, Mother Fixation, and the 
 (insensitive soul) behind the Freak Show… 

A satellite.

Hung on Derby’s South Orbital road, ‘Mickleover College Of Higher Education’ has the still calm ambience of deep space. The lawns are kept neatly clipped for an (apparently) absentee student body. Over the slow hill from the Car Park you can see Nissans and Fiestas shuttle dumbly like silent coloured beads up and down the M-way threads. We go across those lawns, down through the halls. Asphalt and grass to concrete and glass. Robyn Hitchcock lopes as if he’s in free fall. You can make up your own version of Robyn Hitchcock, ‘cos they’re all true.

Former Soft Boy, then front-person with the Egyptians, then Soft Boy again, he’s either ‘a flower in the field of English eccentricity’ (Dave Thomas, ‘New Musical Express’ 30 March 1985), or ‘a fruitcase’ (Paul Strange, ‘Melody Maker’ 23 March 1985). He lopes as if he’s lighter than air. Lopes as if he’s Eight Miles Higher on janglipop fantasia, scratch ‘n’ sniff guitars, and lyrics that take you for a loop. Lopes as if he’s attached to gravity and normality by the slenderest umbilical lifeline of physical necessity.

Is that the version you want? And how does it accord with Hitchcock’s own self-view?

Robyn, why is your band ‘The Egyptians’, and not – say, ‘The Italians’?

‘Do you feel particularly strongly that it SHOULD be ‘The Italians’?’

No. I just wondered why, out of all the races of the world, you chose the Egyptians.

‘How did YOU acquire YOUR name? Did YOU have any choice in the matter?’

No, but then you weren’t BORN ‘Egyptian’, it was the result of conscious choice.

‘Not quite, because I’M Robyn Hitchcock – THEY’RE the Egyptians!’

At soundcheck he’s speaking in tongues. A recitation. He’s stood at the mike while they find his sound-level, hands clasped in the Catholic attitude of prayer, reeling off this pious dramatic monologue heavily accented in pidgin Spanish. A young Catalan boy ees adrift at sea, wonders where hees Momma, where hees Poppa, the ocean swells, the clouds storm… then he hears the voices of Angels, and the Egyptians peal off acapella bell-tones around him as they’re miked up.

So far he’s playing the date for laughs, but underlying it all, this is serious ‘ting. Robyn and the band – including Softs Morris Windsor on drums, and Andy Metcalfe, bass/ keyboards, are now receiving much critical respiration, gaining media momentum through a series of manically inventive records and the resuscitation of what Margaret Thatcher deemed ‘the oxygen of publicity’. They have an extensive back-catalogue of oddly-titled albums to draw from. The most recent include the acoustic ‘Queen Elvis’ (1989), ‘Eye’ (1990) and last year’s thirty-eight-track ‘Soft Boys: 1976-‘81’, and ‘Respect’ – possibly his most perfectly-realised album yet, crammed with titles such as “When I Was Dead”, “The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee” and his Vera Lynne tribute “The Yip Song”.

Recorded in the kitchen and the living room of his Isle of Wight home, around the time of the Autumn Equinox, ‘Respect’ is further evidence, as if further evidence were REALLY needed, that Hitchcock is the most exhilaratingly deranged mind to operate within the tacky parameters of Pop since… um… Syd Barrett? The analogy is hard to avoid. Has been made with brain-numbing regularity in every print-piece he’s ever been subjected to. So once we’re sat face-to-face in interview-space, I try not to mention the ex-Pink Floyd acid casualty.

 

Instead, we talk about Robyn’s work with REM – who cover ‘Respect’s “Arms Of Love” on the ‘B’-side of “Man On The Moon”, while both Peter Buck and Michael Stipe guest on his ‘Perspex Island’ (1991) album. We talk about co-writing with Captain Sensible, and Hitchcock’s ‘Groovy Decay’ (1982) sessions produced by sometime Shamen collaborator Steve Hillage (‘I like him, but we don’t have the same metabolic rate at all’). And we talk about the current album, produced by John Leckie whose track-record includes the Fall, Verve and the Stone Roses… but it seems we’re predestined to the subject of Syd.

‘He was one of those rare things, the genuine article’ Robyn opines carefully. ‘Don’t forget, I’m quite old. I’m well over thirty. Barrett was very young when he started. And poor old Syd just believed it all, y’know. He also believed in GETTING FAMOUS – which is a dangerous thing to a kind of immature personality. He believed, literally, in what he did and said, whereas most people realize that whatever level you’re on, this is Show Business, this is a Performance. Bob Dylan believed in what HE was doing, and got completely fucked because of it. I’m not saying that it has to be a SHAM, but you have to KNOW that you are providing some form of entertainment for people. You are not an Axe Murderer. You are not a Tree Surgeon. You are not Bruce Forsyth. But you ARE providing something for people, an alternative world for them to watch. Anyone who wants to keep their head in Show Business has to realize this. You can be as near to your own personal self, or as far as you like. But poor old Syd just believed it all.’ A quirky Hitchcockian grin beneath a spray of black hair. ‘It was just the incredible unreality of LSD, the incredible unreality of fame, the incredible unreality of growing up – combined with a bit of Mother fixation, and you’re gone!’ A moment’s pause, then ‘but I never met him. I wasn’t in the Pink Floyd. It’s all just theory.’

Anyway, we should be ‘talking up’ the albums and the recent Soft Boys re-union tour, instead of hanging luster on the language of antique legend. And Robyn’s product deserves all the press inches it can garner. I mean, who but Hitchcock, like some latter-day tripped-out Lewis Carroll, could rhyme ‘Norwich’ with ‘porridge’ (on “Listening To The Higsons”), follow it with “When I Was Dead” – his own obituary spun out into the haunting script for Luis Buñuel’s next movie (‘the Devil asked me to supper, he said ‘Careful with the spoons’, and god said ‘oh ignore him, I’ve got all your albums’, I said ‘yes, but whose got all the tunes?’’), then crown it with a gloriously demented “Wafflehead” with cheese-grater instrumentation and lyrics worthy of a Govt Health Warning? That’s all PURE Hitchcock.

Writing? ‘The important thing is to DO it without being aware of yourself at all. It’s like speaking in tongues. TS Eliot, I think, said ‘You should concentrate on the words, on the technique of writing, and let the substance take care of itself.’ So it’s almost like automatic writing. You just have to, sort of, find a flow. As if it’s a kind of lava. Once the lava is streaming down the mountainside, you can do this to it, you can do that to it, and then it congeals, and then you’ve got this lump which is a song.’

Is there an internal logic to the apparently random elements in the lyrics? ‘I wouldn’t know. From my experience of me I would have thought there wasn’t much internal logic. There’s certainly no logic I can think of now. I mean, someone was once interviewing me and saying basically ‘how does your brain work?’ Y’know, as if I could lift it out and put it on the table in front of him and say ‘well, I think there’s a meridian here, unscrew this bit and see – would you like to try it? Shall we swap brains?’ You can’t. You can identify other people in the songs, you can see styles coming up, you can say ‘oh-oh, here come the Byrds again’. But I can’t tell you where songs come from. ‘Cos it’s just like probing a jellyfish, it can’t be done. Or it’s like trying to freeze a rainbow…’


--- 0 --- 

‘Ev’ry eve’nin, put on my dish-worker’s suit…’ voice slurred, distorted, nudged out of shape, moving octaves lower down into jazzy cadences. Hitchcock bends into the mic for a word-perfect run-through of “Yeh Yeh”. Neat little Roland synth masquerading as Hammond organ stitching in improvisationally around the exaggeratedly smooth vocals pouring down like silver. Then, as the last notes die in the unfocussed speakers, ‘is that alright?’

‘Great’ from the sound-mixer, adding irreverently ‘that’s the best one of your songs that you do.’ A Hitchcock grin, a pout of his lower lip in mock-Jaggeresque petulance, ‘that’s Georgie Fame, 1964 – one of HIS hits. Another was “Sitting In The Park”…’

…And another was “In The Meantime”. I’m watching the soundcheck from across an empty dance-hall that’s masquerading as an off-duty gymnasium. Small high oblong windows slant spots of dusty light across the scuffed parquet floor. A couple of Students Union Entertainment Officials hang around to view the proceedings, their attention spinning between the stage and a girl with tight faded Levi’s, a full T-shirt, and long blonde hair. She purposefully ignores them out of existence. And I’m watching the stage with a grin that’s difficult to suppress. Soundchecks are supposed to be boring affairs of repetitions up and down the fret. But not with Robyn Hitchcock it ain’t. ‘What do you want us to do now?’ enquires Robyn helpfully.

‘Oh, nothing in particular’ from the sound-desk. Hitchcock runs a reflective Blues line from his Fender, meandering this way and that, then tentatively sings ‘no – thing in par – tic-u-lar’ so it fits into the loose twelve-bar structure, tasting it for its line-length lyric quality. He repeats the guitar phrase, tagging ‘nothing in particular, that’s what my Baby said to me. Nothing in particular, that’s all she wants from me’ onto it. The bass picks up on the chord progression and feeds gently in behind him a second before the keyboard begins developing and shaping the idea. Hitchcock’s now in full flood, pulling a matching middle-eight spontaneously from the air, before returning lethally to what’s now become the chorus, the band powering it to a mock-dramatic crescendo, ‘I sometimes swear… I sometimes swear they know EXACTLY what I’m gonna play before I do’ he sings, as they taper down in perfect unison to a classic Blues finish. A complete four-minute song created out of a throw-away phrase, then forgotten.

No-one applauds. In the corner, by the disconnected Fantasy Gaming machine, a portable colour TV is tuned soundlessly to… I think… a Channel Four Rock Show. Moving masses of shapeless Heavy Metal hair, leather-bands of studs, bulging cod-pieces and Flying-V guitars in phallic poses. A group like that’d strive a month hewing out leaden riffs of a song not half as crafted ‘n’ concise as the one Hitchcock makes up and trashes on a whim and the spur of a moment.


--- 0 --- 

‘What I like is obvious in what I play’ Hitchcock concedes. ‘You’ll always find traces of my influences. That’s how it should be, unless you disintegrate into your component parts, like – say, Love’s Arthur Lee. Or even John Lennon, in some ways he disintegrated into his component parts. I think you never completely outgrow whatever your roots are, you don’t REALLY transcend them, but you DO develop them, you do tend to synthesise them. You get your own voice, it just takes a while. I remember Dylan saying ‘you’ve gotta listen to all these guys, Sonny Boy Williamson, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly,’ and he’d just reel out all these names. Then the Beatles would reel out THEIR names. And now I can reel out all of my people like Bob Dylan, Syd Barrett, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes (snigger)…! It’s like a Food Blender where at first the nuts haven’t been chopped up properly and you can still identify bits of mushroom and bits of red pepper. And then, in the end, it all ends up as a sort of purée. So I suppose you could say I’ve been through the blender, and…’ he pauses. Runs his fingers through his permanently disheveled hair. ‘I don’t know what your question was, but I’m sure that’s the answer.’

I resume – it’s like, in your song “The Man Who Invented Himself”, have you invented ‘Robyn Hitchcock’?

He looks bemused. ‘Oh, I’m not an invention. I’m the genuine article.’

But you are, on your own admission, in ‘Show Business’, a ‘Performer’. Surely there’s a temptation to exaggerate the Hitchcock persona into product – ‘near your own personal self’ perhaps, but also – to an extent, an invention?

But ‘no. People are invented by their parents. They give you the car and you just have to drive it. Inevitably, how you steer it once you’re given it is up to you. Maybe that’s what maturity is – knowing you can control it? In which case I’m still not particularly mature. But I mean, you’re handed the apparatus. I didn’t invent me, I’m simply steering him. I WILL have co-invented my children, and then they can shake THAT off!’

That’s evasion, surely? The wacky eccentric Hitchcock has got to be a deliberate creation, a conscious decision he assiduously (acid-uously) promotes? I remind him of a long-lost BBC-TV ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ appearance on which there’s a fifteen-second interview space he devotes to a dialogue on the wearing or not wearing of socks. He told a confused Richard Skinner that the Soft Boys had ‘a lot of problems because of the kind of socks we wore. But I don’t hold any grudges. I still wear the same socks,’ and so on and so forth.

‘Well, that’s as important as anything else’ he explains guilelessly. ‘In fifteen seconds what SHOULD you say? I am 6ft 2” and I think I’m god! I’m just about to bash my head through this wall? I have got fifteen seconds to say I disagree with American policy in Nicaragua? What IS the most important thing you can say… or do you just discuss socks?’

In a later Radio One ‘Saturday Live’ he was asked ‘why the lyrical bizzaro?’ On ‘Respect’ he sings ‘heartburn and chemistry and lung disease, make mincemeat of your passion on days like these… Good Morning Mr Seagrove, have you met my dead friend, Seth?’ (on “Driving Aloud”). So why the Lightbulb Heads, the Yodelling Hoover, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Toilets – why not Moon ‘n’ June lurve songs? To which came – perhaps bitter, ‘Saturday Live’ riposte, ‘I’ve written dozens of songs about falling in love, it’s just that nobody ever plays them. They always play the ones I write about Lightbulb Heads.’

How about that, then? ‘Ah, you mean that expectations are imposed on me?’ he grins, catching my drift. ‘You mean I’m having to act out a Freak Show while inside there’s a sensitive individual? Well, yeah – I know what you mean. Sometimes there is an insensitive… er, a SENSITIVE individual inside, sometimes there isn’t.’ He breaks up laughing over the mis(?)placed prefix. Then ‘no, I DID write quite a lot of love songs, that’s true. They’re lying around somewhere. The LP I did with Steve Hillage has got a few of that sort of stuff.’

But does Hitchcock ever resent the expectations imposed on him? The necessity to be forever brained-out? ‘Perhaps their view of me is accurate?’ he counters. ‘They’re probably right to see me that way, I can’t really comment. I know you have to have a certain profile. Think of pro snooker-payer Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis (the ‘Spitting Images’ caricature), he’s looking for something to ‘hype him up’, they say ‘but you’re so DULL, what CAN we call you?’, so he thinks a bit and says ‘alright (in gnarly accent), you can call me ‘Interesting’. So he becomes Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis.’ It’s anything for a certain amount of visibility. But you need to have no fear on my behalf, I’m not putting myself out at all to do any of this. I’m aware of what people think of me, but there’s no gross exaggeration at all.’

A reflective pause. Then Robyn ‘Interesting’ Hitchcock, the man who did (or perhaps didn’t) invent himself, confesses ‘I always wanted to enact this character on a public scale. Not a VAST public scale, but public enough to be able to live on. Just enough to exist on. Money just to live, or is it to live for money…? no, not to live FOR money! You know what I mean…?’

Well, yes, no, I dunno – I’m still not sure who’s zooming who, who’s inventing who, which came first, fact or fruitcake, chicken or omelette, but it’s sho nuff fun finding out.

Robyn Hitchcock: ‘Respect’ is overdue.


ROBYN HITCHCOCK: 
ORIGINAL STUDIO ALBUMS 

Black Snake Diamond Röle, 1981
Groovy Decay, 1982
I Often Dream of Trains, 1984
Fegmania!, 1985 (with the Egyptians)
Element of Light, 1986 (with the Egyptians)
Globe of Frogs, 1988 (with the Egyptians)
Queen Elvis, 1989 (with the Egyptians)
Eye, 1990
Perspex Island, 1991 (with the Egyptians)
Respect, 1993 (with the Egyptians)
Moss Elixir, 1996
Jewels for Sophia, 1999
Luxor, 2003
Spooked, 2004
Olé! Tarantula, 2006 (with the Venus 3)
Goodnight Oslo, 2009 (with the Venus 3)
Propellor Time, 2010 (with the Venus 3)
Tromsø, Kaptein, 2011
Love From London, 2013
The Man Upstairs, 2014

COMPILATIONS OF RARITIES, DEMOS, 
ALTERNATE TAKES AND OUT-TAKES 

Groovy Decoy (A re-worked version of Groovy Decay, featuring demo versions of many of that album’s songs), 1985

Invisible Hitchcock (Outtakes and rarities, 1980–1986), 1986

Gravy Deco (A compilation of the Groovy Decay and Groovy Decoy sessions), 1995

You And Oblivion (Outtakes and rarities, 1981–1987), 1995

Mossy Liquor (‘Outtakes and prototypes’ from Moss Elixir), 1996

A Star for Bram (Outtakes from Jewels for Sophia), 2000

A Middle-Class Hero (Italian-English authorised interview book written by Luca Ferrari with three outtakes CD included), 2000

Obliteration Pie (Japan-only collection of live tracks, rarities, and new studio re-recordings), 2005

I Wanna Go Backwards (Boxed set of reissued albums, with many previously unreleased outtakes and rarities), 2007

Shadow Cat (Outtakes and rarities, 1993–1999), 2008

Luminous Groove (Boxed set of reissued albums, with many previously unreleased live performances, outtakes and rarities), 2008

There Goes The Ice (Vinyl-only collection of rarities, most previously issued as digital-only tracks between 2010-2014), 2014

LIVE ALBUMS 

Gotta Let This Hen Out!, 1985 (with the Egyptians)

Give It To The Thoth Boys: Live Oddities, 1993 (Cassette only release sold on tour 1993) (with the Egyptians)

The Kershaw Sessions, 1994 (with the Egyptians)

Storefront Hitchcock, 1998 Storefront Hitchcock L.P., 1998

Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival, 1998 (with the Egyptians)

Robyn Sings, 2002 (Double live album of Bob Dylan cover songs)

This is the BBC, 2006

Sex, Food, Death... and Tarantulas (Live EP), 2007

I Often Dream of Trains in New York, (CD+DVD), 2009


BEST-OF COMPILATIONS 

Robyn Hitchcock, 1995 
Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Greatest Hits, 1996 (with the Egyptians)
Uncorrected Personality Traits (Rhino Records best-of compilation of solo material), 1997

COMPILATION APPEARANCES 

Time Between: A Tribute to The Byrds (Imaginary Records), 1989

Pave The Earth (A&M Records), 1990

More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album (Birdman Records), 1999

Ernie: Songs of Ernest Noyes Brookings (Gadfly Records), 2001

Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute to the Music of Paul McCartney (Oglio Records), 2001

Wig in a Box (Off Records), 2003 

Terry Edwards Presents Queer Street (Sartorial Records), 2004

Abbey Road Now! (Mojo Magazine Free CD), Oct 2009 – ‘I Want You (She's So Heavy)’

The Madcap Laughs Again! (Mojo Magazine Free CD), Mar 2010 ‘Dark Globe’

Son of Rogues Gallery (ANTI- Records), 2013 ‘Sam’s Gone Away’

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

SF: 'THE GREAT SHORT FICTION OF ALFRED BESTER'


‘THE PROBABLE MAN’: 
THE GREAT SHORT FICTION 
 OF ALFRED BESTER 

Alfred Bester – 
18 December 1913 to 30 September 1987



‘Explosion! Concussion! The vault doors burst open. And deep inside, the money is racked ready for pillage, rapine, loot. Who’s that? Who’s inside the vault? Oh God! The Man With No Face! Looking. Looming. Silent. Horrible. Run… Run…’ This is the way ‘The Demolished Man’ opens.

Yet ‘(I) am not at all glamorous’ ventures Alfred Bester in ‘Hell’s Cartographers’ (1975), ‘merely a working stiff.’ And his photo in his ‘New Worlds’ writer-profile (no.29, November 1954) almost fools you into believing it. He presents a clean 1950s TV-sitcom image, short disciplined dark hair, heavy tortoiseshell-rim spectacles, ignited by a cheesy smile. Suggesting the slick prose-style of a Madison Avenue ‘Mad Man’ advertising copywriter. And yes, he was very much a working writer, across several genres, quoting Galsworthy as an aspirational model. Nevertheless, the history and the greatest hits of this working stiff conveniently spans two short story collections – ‘The Light Fantastic’ (1977) and ‘Star Light, Star Bright’ (1978), forming a cosmic-bridge from 1941 to 1975. The Best of Bester. Published in Britain as companion volumes by Berkeley/ Putnam bracketed as ‘the great short fiction of Alfred Bester’, in the States they were available as a single omnibus edition from Nelson Doubleday through the SFBC. Bester himself confides ‘I always dismiss my past and concentrate on the present and future. As a result I don’t remember three-quarters of the things I’ve written, and certainly not the dates of anything.’ So, if a modicum of effort has gone into their compilation, the effort has been well worthwhile.


Although never over-prolific – with nineteen years between the publication of his novels ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ (1956) and ‘Extro’ (1975), this one-time scripter for the ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Captain Marvel’ comic-books and syndicated strips, the ‘Charlie Chan’ radio-detective slot, and ‘Fred Astaire’ TV-shows, has steadily produced an ornately impressive body of work glittering with hard bright images. Herewith the short story collections are interspersed with anecdotal accounts of his life and the incidents – when recalled, that sparked off the stories, rather after the style of Isaac Asimov’s interminable reminiscences. The second book also reprints the hefty chunk of autobiography “My Affair With Science Fiction” lifted intact from Brian Aldiss’ invaluable ‘Hell’s Cartographers’, in which a constellation of writers trace their careers back to their origins, and in which Harry Harrison calls Bester ‘one of the handful of writers who invented modern science fiction.’ Well, maybe.


Of his own beginnings – born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan in 1913 to liberal first-generation American parents of Austrian of Russian Jewish extraction, Bester was ‘raised and trained’ in what he terms the ‘American School of the Unexpected’. ‘I’ve loved it (SF) since its birth. I’ve read it all my life, off and on, with excitement, with joy, sometimes with sorrow.’ Among the tomes he devoured and digested were garish early issues of ‘Amazing Stories Quarterly’, alongside HG Wells, Stanley Weinbaum’s ‘A Martian Odyssey’ (1934), AE Van Vogt’s ‘Slan’ (1946) and Robert A Heinlein’s “Universe” (in ‘Astounding SF’, May 1941) – as well as ‘reading and annotating James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’’. All were influences, from which the tyro Bester evolved his own fiction style. In 1938 – aged just twenty-five and still a law student, he was contrived into winning a $50 amateur-SF contest, that resulted in his first sale, “The Broken Axion” to the lurid fifteen-cent ‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’ (April 1939), accompanied by an uncredited ‘Meet the Author’ blurb. Promptly turning professional, further sales to editor Mort Weisinger’s magazine rapidly follow, such as “The Voyage To Nowhere” (July 1940), and the ‘Startling Novelete’ “Slaves Of The Life-Ray” (February 1941). He soon expanded into Frederik Pohl’s ‘Astonishing Stories’ (February 1941), with his “The Pet Nebula” earning him cover status.


His eventual acceptance into John W Campell’s market-leading ‘Astounding SF’ came with “Adam And No Eve” (September 1941), which is collected into ‘Star Light, Star Bright’. ‘Alfie’ himself considers this to be ‘the first of my ‘quality’ science fiction stories. I put ‘quality’ in quotes because I think it’s rather jejune.’ Even selecting a word such as ‘jejune’ to describe its essential lack of originality demonstrates a certain stylish flair. And yes, eschewing the soon-come flood of Cold War post-apocalypse tales – this was still 1941 after all, the story does now appear melodramatic, overwrought and cliché-ridden. Steven Krane is so mesmerized by the beauty of the rocket-ship in which he intends to become first human to circle the Moon, that he ignores warnings about the hazards of the experimental fuel he’d using. As he blasts off – taking his dog Umber with him, it ignites a destructive chain-reaction, so that as they parachute back to Earth, it takes them into a dead world of ash and suffocating dust. Hallucinating conversations with his dead colleagues, forced to fight and kill a maddened Umber, this last man alive reaches a ‘terminal beach’ where he comes to a dread realization of ‘what had brought him back to the sea. There need be no Adam – no Eve. Only the sea, the great mother of life was needed. The sea had called him back to her depths that presently life might emerge once more…’ The organic matter of his dead body will kick-start a new evolution, with the implication that this extinction event is part of an eternally recurring cycle.

“Adam And No Eve” was included among the eleven 1941-1954 stories gathered into an earlier collection – ‘Starburst’ (Signet, 1958), some of them showing thematic or technical limitations. With regard to elaborating the finer detail of such stories, Bester’s comments are irritatingly vague, he instead prefers to conjur entertaining pastiches on the next phase of his career. From 1942 – after thirteen SF short story sales, he became heavily involved in the comics industry, and scripting for radio while simultaneously churning out workable scripts for TV’s juvenile ‘Tom Corbett: Space Cadet’. Arguably the tight formulaic discipline involved strengthened and encouraged his plotting dexterity. During this freelance sojourn he retained his Science Fiction links by doing book reviews, before returning to SF-proper through sales made predominantly to Tony Boucher’s ‘Magazine Of Fantasy & SF’. And the evolution is very much in evidence.


“Disappearing Act” from ‘Star SF Stories no.2’ in America and ‘New Worlds’ (no.29, November 1954) is an elaborate political metaphor on the manipulation of patriotism. Although set in the year 2112AD, it is as applicable to Vietnam as it is to the coalition’s intervention in Iraq. Editor John Carnell sets the theme within ‘the war to end all wars – the fight to preserve the ideals of Democracy; of poetry, dreams, music, art and culture.’ So what is the secret of Ward T in St Albans hospital? Are the supposedly-recuperating war-casualties time-travelling? No, they’re retreating into fantasy past-ages of their own creation. To Carnell ‘the participants became so specialized in the end, however, that it became difficult to find a poet or an artist or a musician. But dreamers…?’ Witty and sharply concentrated, the writing is slick and sophisticated, in a genre where most stories are neither.

From the tail-end of this phase comes another of his masterpieces – “Fondly Fahrenheit” (‘Magazine Of Fantasy & SF’, August 1954, much reprinted, including in ‘The Light Fantastic’). Breathlessly fast-paced, the stylistic invention in this story of a serial-killer android is particularly impressive for its period. The multiple-aptitude android has its ‘prime directive’, which is violently overridden in high temperatures, hence the story title. With Vandaleur, its owner who shares its complex ‘projection’ identity, they flee across the galaxy from world to world, starting on the rice-fields of Paragon III, until arriving at Earth for a showdown in frozen Scottish marshland. Their interlocking consciousness and overlapping identities legitimize startling mid-paragraph shifts in narrative perspective, from third singular, first plural, first singular, third plural – all within the span of fifteen words! A jolting displacement device both disconcertingly effective and perfectly explicable within its context. This dance of words is accelerated by using a nonsense-song ‘be fleet be fleet’ as a recurring motif, ‘so jeet your seat’ becomes as much a punctuation as the end-of-section temperature read-outs.

While anthologizing the story Robert Silverberg oozes superlatives for ‘how quick and supple the prose, how sparkling the dialog, how agile the leaps and pirouettes of the plot!’ adding ‘dazzle has always been Bester’s stock-in-trade’ (in ‘Robert Silverberg’s Worlds Of Wonder’, Victor Gollancz, 1988).


As Bester’s development continues, he writes intriguingly of his first encounter with the legendary John W Campbell Jrn. Under the pretext of discussing a Bester ‘Astounding SF’ contribution (the Freudian “Oddy And Id”), Campbell instead attempts to propagate his fad for L Ron Hubbard’s loony-tune ideas. In fact, it was Dianetics that prompted Bester to seek alternate editors. Such anecdotes are never less than fascinating, almost compensating for the occasional desire that Bester would slow down and concentrate on the actual details of crafting his stories.

Horace Gold, for example, was apparently instrumental in assembling the ideas that eventually went into his 1953 Hugo winning debut novel ‘The Demolished Man’ which Gold first serialized in three parts in ‘Galaxy’ (January, February and March 1952). Centering on twenty-fourth-century psi-enabled Espers operating within hugely powerful corporations and guilds, it is also a murder-mystery with psychic detective Lincoln Powell tracking criminal Ben Reich through a hard-edged labyrinth of mind-games. If the psychological edge to Powell’s obsessive drive is sharpened by Manhattan Freudian Analysis – ‘my habit is to look at characters from the Freudian point of view first’ admits Bester, it is also seamlessly embedded in pyrotechnical pacing, wielding an assured dexterity the envy not only of young wannabe pretenders, but of seasoned veterans.

Indeed, some genre academics have traced the novel’s experiments with typefaces and the juxtaposition of telepathic and non-telepathic dialogue, as a precursor to cyberpunk, although – as a critical Michael Moorcock points out about ‘Tiger, Tiger’ ‘for all its experimentation’ it ‘used a tried and trusty plot as a basis for the experiments.’ Maybe such an approach is an essential sweetener for groundbreaking innovation? For Bester certainly constitutes a bridge across the gulf between the old and New Wave styles of SF. Brian Aldiss is more generous in applauding Bester’s ‘sparkling and aphoristic’ writing that ‘lent courage to many who were rejecting the older mood of grey realism’ (introducing “Time Is The Traitor” in his ‘Space Odysseys’ anthology, 1974). It would also appear that many of the short stories of the time were spun-off from the novel’s core. But Bester himself does not elaborate.


The brilliant “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” for example (‘Magazine Of Fantasy & SF’, October 1958, and UK ‘Venture SF’, April 1964, then ‘The Light Fantastic’), is one of a number of Bester variations on the problems of Time Travel. The story is at once an extended joke, and a beautifully constructed piece of narrative. ‘He was running out of ammunition’ it reads, so ‘he opened a fresh box of cartridges, went back in time and massacred Christopher Columbus, Napoleon, Mohammed, and half-a-dozen other celebrities’! There’s something of the ‘Starburst’ ‘sadistic time-travellers out for cheap excitement’ about the passage, and the almost punchline-ending in which the temporal genocide preserves present-time unchanged but destroys the protagonist, is handled with perfectly understated humor.

Also in ‘The Demolished Man’ Bester writes that ‘when life gets tough, you tend to take refuge in the idea that it’s all make-believe’ – as in the title story of the ‘Star Light, Star Bright’ collection in which the children’s wishing rhyme takes on literal meaning. At one point he jokes about perhaps discovering some technique that future-people will refer to as ‘The Bester Effect’, or ‘Bester’s Syndrome’ or ‘Bester’s Law’. One of the problems involved in analyzing his work is that there is no ‘Bester Effect’, each tale works within its own continuum of logic. Dismissing the question by admitting ‘in all this dreaming, I feel at one with all of you. Can any of you deny it?’


There was a further break while he filed regular monthly features for ‘Holiday’, until the magazine folded in the 1970s. By now the book-jacket photos show him more acceptably bearded, a creator, a craftsman not just a ‘working stiff’. Meanwhile, these two volumes of stories spin out a career stretching across forty years – from the faltering early shots such as “Adam And No Eve’, through to the later stylistic experimentation that grew out of the ironic New York flash and wit of “Fondly Fahrenheit”, such as “The Four-Hour Fugue”. And as an added bonus there’s Bester as critic in ‘Star Light, Star Bright’, writing on ‘Ike’ Asimov, and then tracing the unusual contours of his own career. The history of Alfred Bester is the history of one of American Science Fiction’s most unique writers.

This is the way ‘The Demolished Man’ closes. ‘In the endless universe there has been nothing new, nothing different… this strange second in a life, that unusual event, those remarkable coincidences of environment, opportunity, and encounter… all of them have been reproduced over and over on the planet of a sun whose galaxy revolves once in two hundred million years and has revolved nine times already. There has been joy. There will be joy again.’



ALFRED BESTER: 
THE GREAT SHORT FICTION 

THE LIGHT FANTASTIC’ (Berkley-Putnam, April 1976, Gollancz, May 1977) with ‘5,271,009 (The Starcomber)’, Ms Found In A Champagne Bottle’, ‘Fondly Fahrenheit’ + ‘Comment Of Fondly Fahrenheit’ essay, ‘The Four-Hour Fugue’, ‘The Men Who Murdered Mohammed’, ‘Disappearing Act’, Hell Is Forever

STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT’ (Berkley-Putnam, July 1976, Gollancz, February 1978) with ‘Adam And No Eve’, ‘Time Is The Traitor’, ‘Oddy And Id’, ‘Hobson’s Choice’, ‘Star Light, Star Bright’, ‘They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To’, ‘Of Time And Third Avenue’, ‘Isaac Asimov’ (essay), ‘The Pi Man’, ‘Something Up There Likes Me’, ‘My Affair With Science Fiction’ (autobiography) 

STARLIGHT: THE GREAT SHORT FICTION OF ALFRED BESTER’ (Nelson Doubleday-SFBC, December 1976) omnibus of all titles separately published in the other two short story collection

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Poem: 'THE FIGHT IN THE CAVE OF THE MOON BUTCHERS'



THE FIGHT IN THE CAVE 
OF THE MOON BUTCHERS / 
THE MOONCALF PASTURES 


“so we poor terrestrial castaways, 
lost in that wild-growing moon jungle, 
 crawled in terror before the sounds 
that had come upon us… ”

 (‘THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON’ 
by H.G. Wells - 1901) 


pteradons glide my room
each morning before dawn,
I taste the audible smile
of their scales
through the hooks
beneath my flesh

I know such yearnings

my hands become claws as
fluid dissolves in soft curves
through the silence
of hall and landing,
I know the instinct to simpler forms
in the low cellular echoes
aching down the spinal staircase
towards phantom primeval suns

my room submerges, liquid,
ebbing memories of primal slime,
flakes of time float loose
leaving salt reptile aftertaste,
in such moments the urge
to devolve becomes real

through the barbs
beneath the cortex
I share their stillness

I pace slow,
leave web tracks
in the warm mud
across the rug
while lizards
slither & coil
in the moist stink
of rich decay,
beneath all that’s
rational and cold,
moving slow, pared down
to guiltless indolence,
they’re millennia-deep,
glimpsed in sharp echoes
at the pit of my eyes,
I remember the mindless reptile purity
that’s now resurfacing…

and all the while,
beyond the pteradon’s glide,
through the casement,
the silver ribs of mud-flats
leak away without end,
achingly soft
towards
extinction



Published in:
‘SF SPECTRUM no.7’ (UK - October 1985)
‘ONOMA no.5’ (Belgium - September 1988)
‘PURPLE PATCH no.44’ (UK - November 1990)
In anthologies:
‘RHYSLING ANTHOLOGY / BEST SF POETRY OF 1985’
(USA - September 1986)
‘POLY: NEW SPECULATIVE WRITING’
anthology Ocean View Books - June 1989 - USA
(this poem singled out for review and extensively quoted by
Steve Rasnic Tem in ‘BLOOMSBURY REVIEW’ Sept/Oct 1987)
‘DREAMERS ON THE SEA OF FATE:
AN ANTHOLOGY OF SF POETRY’
Sol Publications - edit Steve Sneyd (UK - Aug 1999)
And in personal collection:
‘EUROSHIMA MON AMOUR’ Hilltop Press
(UK- Oct 2000)


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL STORY


THAT SPOON, THAT SPOON, 
THAT LOVIN’ SPOONFUL 

 Album Review of: 
‘ORIGINAL ALBUM CLASSICS: 
THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ 
 by THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL 
(Sony Music, 2011) 

 THE MAGIC’S IN THE MUSIC, 
AND THE MUSIC’S IN ME’ 

In a coffee-house Sebastian sat, and after every number he’d pass the hat. There was music in the cafés at night, and revolution in the air. There’d been Folk music on the charts before. There’d even been what they called the Hootenanny fad. Traditional songs by the Kingston Trio and the Highwaymen once topped the Pop charts, and the Rooftop Singers took twelve-string guitar onto mainstream radio by adapting the 1929 Folk-Blues “Walk Right In”. But suddenly there are new possibilities. The English invasion shook the American music scene literally to its folk-roots.

What was to become the Spoonful came together in Greenwich Village in 1964. Centred around John Benson Sebastian. Born 17 March 1944, he was a local boy, son of a classical harmonica player who cut singles for Cadence in the 1950s. ‘You hear a cat practicing in the next room six hours a day, and you gotta pick up something.’ Neglecting NYU college work, John was soon backing Judy Collins or Jesse Colin Young on stage, or playing mouth-harp on sessions for Tim Hardin, Fred Neil, the Even Dozen Jug Band and others. He’s there on Tom Rush’s 1965 Elektra album. Through such studio connections, producer Erik Jacobsen encouraged John to put a group together to record his own songs. 

First link was to guitarist Zalman ‘Zally’ Yanofsky, a ‘tall Russian Jew’ born in Toronto (19 December 1944). Zal said he’d once lived in a Laundromat for seven months. In fact, he’d been one of the folky Halifax Three, and briefly with John Sebastian in the Mugwumps, alongside future Mamas & Papas Cass Elliott and Denny Doherty. John and Zal were there, in Cass’s front-room, to watch the Beatles US TV-debut on ‘Ed Sullivan’. A nudging prompt to them that to be a proper electric beat-group, they need a rhythm section. So they found a rhythm section.

Joseph Campbell ‘Joe’ Butler (born 16 September 1943 in Glen Cove, Long Island) was one of the few non-jazz drummers in the Village and Steve Boone (23 September 1943, North Carolina) – who claimed to be related to frontiersman Daniel Boone, was a rhythm guitarist in search of a group. His brother, Skip Boone played bass with Autosalvage, a unit who benefitted from Frank Zappa’s patronage. Steve and Joe were both versed in the rigours of Long Island dancehall bands, from the Sellouts to the Kingsmen. While John and Zal came out of Village Folknik sensibility. John and Zal were freer, looser, bluesier. Steve and Joe were harder, tighter, faster. Together, it made for a unique synergy.

Taking their collective name from a Bluesman John had backed onstage – a Mississippi John Hurt lyric from “Coffee Blues”, all four Spoonfuls share an extrovert sense of zany humour, and what ‘Village Voice’ journalist Richard Goldstein calls ‘longhaired striped shirt roundglasshiphugger dirty-booted uniforms.’ Together, they take elements of traditional Folk and a smattering of Blues with a streamlined jug-band sound melded into cohesion by pouring on what ‘Melody Maker’ termed an updated ‘heavy blood-bucket Rock ‘n’ Roll’ topping. What they produce got termed ‘Good-time Music’, an East Coast riposte to California’s vibrant Folk-Rock scene.

At the time it seemed everyone else in the States was doing the Beatles thing, while the Spoonful were among the first few to devise a genuine American variant to the English invasion. They inhabit a big goofy Gosh-Wow cartoon image that’s never allowed to impede their musical interactivity. Yielding seven successive American Top Ten singles plus three more in the Top Forty between 1965-67. In the UK there were only two Top Ten hits – “Daydream” at no.2 and “Summer In The City” three months later at no.8. “Nashville Cats” never got higher than no.26 while “Darling Be Home Soon” stalls at no.44, but their visibility was always greater than this suggests.

Never as glacially cool as the Byrds, or as menacing as the Stones, to me, at the time – with the Byrds and The Mamas And The Papas, they were easily part of a trinity of American groups who were turning the world around on its axis. Disarmingly sweet, fox-footed lyrics eliding with delightful summery harmonies, joyful jangles and tingling tambourine, ‘brandywarm, doghonest, moonpure’ (Goldstein again). And that’s surely enough? John Sebastian might never have been at the poetic-intellectual edge of Paul Simon or Dylan, but he was a supreme Pop craftsman and an unashamed homespun romantic. At his best when mood-capturing – the sweat-sweltering compression and urban tension of “Summer In The City” – their only American no.1, or the sweet rural idyll of “Rain On The Roof”, onomatopoeic guitars shimmering sympathetically like speed-filmed opening flower-petals as strolling lovers sit out the summer rain-shower in a convenient barn.


SOMETHING’S HAPPENING AND IT’S 
GETTING CLEARER EVERY DAY - 
STIFFNESS IS DISSOLVING’ 
 (Peter Stampfel liner-notes to ‘Do You Believe In Magic’) 

Lillian Roxon, a journalist who wrote up the burgeoning music scene for the ‘New York Sunday News’ drafted a detailed account of the group’s formative earliest days in her ‘Rock Encyclopedia’ (Grosset & Dunlap, 1971). For her, ‘the Lovin’ Spoonful was Liverpool – in Manhattan. Our own little moptops, born, bred and raised right here in the streets we walked each day, hanging around outside the coffee shops, playing in the basket houses, making a nuisance of themselves in Izzy Young’s ‘Folklore Centre’.’

They play the Greenwich Village ‘Night Owl Cafe’ situated on the corner of 118 MacDougal and West Third Streets, just down from ‘The Café Wha?’ and ‘The Gaslight Café’. A venue celebrated in their instrumental “Night Owl Blues”, entered through the marquee into a 75x20ft concert room with a stage so miniscule Joe has to play his drums on the floor. But it wasn’t always good. Initially they go down so poorly with the finger-poppin hipster folk-purist audience that club-owner Joe Marra takes them aside and tells them to go practice.

Zal and Joe happen to be sharing a room at the Albert Hotel – a few blocks north of Washington Square, where they also stash their instruments, getting sweet-talking Denny Doherty to distract assistant manager Miss Feldman when they’re unable to scrabble the rent together. When they strike up rehearsing there, Miss Feldman complains that angry residents are upset, but helpfully suggests they use the hotel-basement instead. So they take the freight elevator all the way down. Which is where they locate the magic, there was Voodoo in that basement, despite the cockroaches and seeping drip-drip-drip of toxic water. Volume screwed so high they were shaking plaster from the ceiling.

The group’s first recordings – from 1965, were issued by Elektra as part of their pioneering ‘What’s Shakin’’ compilation album, designed to expand the label’s previously elitist catalogue into the more experimental end of the new Rock wave. There were four Spoonful tracks, a curious version of the Coasters “Searchin’” – already covered in the UK by the Hollies, Chuck Berry’s “Almost Grown”, plus two Sebastian originals, “Don’t Bank On It Baby” and the virtual group manifesto “Good Time Music”. Set to a kind of ‘Hi-Heeled Sneakers’ twang, John autobiographs about how ‘I’ve been listening to my radio, for two or three years’ and the music’s so doggone bad it’s offendin’ to his ears, until ‘them kids come over from the Mersey river’ and make him ‘think about the Blues, and start all over again.’ Its energetic ‘all I want is a guitar, a harp and drum, just to set my soul on fire’ was quickly lifted by folk-rockers the Beau Brummels, to became a ‘Billboard’ no.97 hit as the group’s fifth single.

After Jac Holzman’s near-miss at signing them to Elektra – the Spoonful came out of the deal with new amps, they ink to Kama Sutra, a distinctive label launched in mid-1965 by Artie Ripp and distributed through MGM. One-time member of the Folkie Plum Creek Boys, Erik Jacobsen had cut two albums for Mercury as banjo-player with the Knoblick Upper 10,000 trio, before switching his attentions to production and management. He soon succeeded in launching the first two Tim Hardin albums. John adds Blues harmonica to “Ain’t Gonna Do Without” on the first, another playful joke on “Hi Heel Sneakers”. While ‘Tim Hardin 2’ was produced by Charlie Koppelman and Don Rubin, the same duo now developing the electric Folk group that Jacobsen had helped build around Sebastian. It was Jacobsen who stumped up the money for their first 45rpm record – his last $790, which was more than well-compensated by the success of “Do You Believe In Magic”. For the group’s publishing was signed to Jacobsen’s ‘Faithful Virtue Music’.


John later illustrates how he took and playfully accelerates the three-chord play-in to Martha & The Vandellas “Heatwave” to arrive at the “Do You Believe In Magic” intro – but he used that as a basis to transform and transfigure it into a joyful eulogy to the appeal and power of Pop Music which ‘makes you feel happy, like an old-time movie’. But more than that, ‘don’t bother to choose, if it’s Jug-Band music or Rhythm and Blues’, it’s about the mystery and magic of explaining that intangible-lure to someone whose never experienced it, ‘like trying to tell a stranger ‘bout Rock ‘n’ Roll’. As Pete Frame perceptively observes in his ‘Melody Maker Rock Giants’ essay, ‘Zal’s guitar, beginning in mellow tones under the second verse, moves into a basic solo which somehow manages to catch fire in a final ripple that just curls your toes up’ (2 February 1974). Do you believe like I believe…? Faced with the Spoonful’s contagious energy-rush, a spectral fountain of notes pouring in golden luminosity, it’s impossible not to believe…

There’s a monochrome concert-movie – ‘The Big TNT Show 1965’ (AIP, Director Larry Peerce) filmed to an enthusiastic audience at the LA ‘Moulin Rouge’ club, consisting of a live series of brief sets with the Spoonful slotted in between a limpid Petula Clark and an electrifying Bo Diddley at his most awesome. There’s a false drum-start as they play in to “Do You Believe In Magic”. As the song falls apart, Zal clown-dances around joyfully, rubberfacing, running on the spot, apparently enjoying the embarrassment, while covering the awkwardness, until they pull back together and start again. Owl-eyed bespectacled John plays autoharp, leaning in close to the mike. The two front-men play off each other with obvious chemistry. They follow it with a note-perfect “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”, acquitting the group as both humanly fallible, and effectively targeted. Later in the film the Byrds do “Turn Turn Turn”, already promoting their second American chart-topper, McGuinn getting higher, but that’s what he was aiming at.


The success of the single obviously prompts a tie-in album. And the debut Spoonful LP – ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ (November 1965), features six of John’s songs, one of them a four-way collaboration (“Night Owl Blues”). But stacked up against that are five traditional adaptations – a slap-happy Lightnin’ Hopkins variant “Blues In A Bottle” (‘don’t want no woman, who goes around sniffin’ glue…’), the slow bluesy living-wrong “Sportin’ Life” with John’s cutting harmonica-blowing, “My Gal” (‘my gal she’s drinking old shoe polish, she’ll get drunk just the same’), “Fishin’ Blues” – lifted from the Holy Modal Rounders, and “Wild About My Lovin’”. Then “On The Road Again” tips its hat at Jack Kerouac. Plus one by Fred Neil (“Other Side Of This Life”, later done in a heavier live version by Jefferson Airplane) and a sweetly harmonic “You Baby” from the Mann-Weil-Spector team. First done by the Ronettes in 1964, it’s not the same “You Baby” recorded by the Turtles and The Mamas And The Papas, which is a PF Sloan-Steve Barri song. For a debut album, this covers-to-originals ratio was not unusual, and reflects the balance on the first Beatles albums.

While each of the originals is a gem. “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” – written in the taxi on their way to the studio, was lifted as a single in its own right as late as April 1966 when it reaches no.2 on ‘Billboard’. The humorous storyline finds the narrator torn between his girlfriend with ‘deep blue eyes, cute as a bunny, with hair down to here and plenty of money’ and ‘some mousy little girl’ who’s stolen his heart. The drop-in deep-voice line spoken by her father ‘better go home, son, and make up your mind’ is a device referencing back to Eddie Cochran on “Summertime Blues”.

The album also spun off covers. An opportunistic British version of the title song by the Pack siphons off some of the Spoonful’s Pirate Radio airplay and confuses sales, so that neither record actually makes the UK charts. But “Younger Girl” fares better. Although it’s adapted from a 1930 “Prison Wall Blues” it becomes very much Sebastian’s creation with its aching adolescent yearnings verging on the statutory, ‘should I hang around, acting like her brother? in a few more years, they’d call us right for each other’, with its anguished ‘if I wait I’ll just die.’ Covered by the New Jersey-based Critters its easy-rolling wistfulness takes the song into the UK chart and up to no.38 in June 1966. While Surf-group the Hondells do the same across the Atlantic, taking it into the American hundred as high as no.42.

Some people don’t understand the sixties. Even some people who were there, and should know better, don’t understand the sixties. It was more than just catchy Pop songs, dance crazes, groovy fashions and vinyl records with brightly-coloured labels. It was the meltdown from the stultifyingly repressive conformity of the fifties towards the kind of liberal freedoms we now take for granted. It was the start of all the loosening-up liberational anti-racist, gender discrimination-challenging, tolerant pro-Green issues. Not that the Spoonful were ever explicitly political. They never issued a record denouncing anything or taking a stance on anything. But they were part of it. In their cool relaxed informality and open friendly inclusiveness they were ahead of the social game. To be within the cartoon Spoonful world was to be in a kind of post-Beatnik proto-hippie idyll.

Next, “Daydream” – the lazy-paced eulogy to grooving on a summer’s day, became their biggest UK hit, utilising the same descending bass-line and relaxed vibe as the Kinks “Sunny Afternoon” – no.1 in July following the Spoonful’s no.2 in May. The two records also advocate a shared directionless, Ray Davies adding the political class ingredient of stately home and taxman, while John Sebastian is just a feckless day-dreamin’ boy, and ‘even if time ain’t really on my side, its one of those days for takin’ a walk outside, I’m blowin’ the day to take a walk in the sun, and fall on my face on somebody’s new-mowed lawn.’ Of course, attuned to the time, there were drug-connotations teased around the nature of John’s ‘bundle of joy’, but chances are he and Ray were both just lazing on that same sunny afternoon. The other comparison to be drawn must be the beautiful coincidence of “California Dreaming”, like “Daydream”, being written during bleak East Coast winter in thoughts of better times and good climes.

Again there’s a tie-in album – ‘Daydream’ (March 1966), and again, like the first, it carries the tag-line ‘The Good Time Music Of The Lovin’ Spoonful’. Although it’s tighter than its predecessor in that ten of the tracks are Sebastian originals (one with Zal, two with Joe, two with Steve), there’s still ample diversity. As “Night Owl Blues” had closed the first album, so group-composed instrumental “Big Noise From Speonk” closes this one, punningly referencing Gene Krupa’s “Big Noise From Winnetka” and a hamlet in New York’s Suffolk County. For the sole cover Zal takes lead vocal on a raucous retread of Dr Feelgood’s “Bald Headed Lena”, with a laughter-break and gargling solo!

For “Butchie’s Tune” Joe sings smooth lead. “There She Is” is strong guitar-driven Monkees-sharp pop, while there are the sweet harmonies of “It’s Not Time Now” (John and Zal) and “Warm Baby” (much later the UK ‘B’-side of “Rain On The Roof”). The fifties-slanted “Let The Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll” lyrically references ‘Johnny B Goode’. But in many ways the comic highlight has the Doctor prescribing “Jug Band Music” for a number of ailments, with the final verse sending-up Sebastian’s own geeky persona by getting totaled by a Beach Boy while out floating on the ocean. The muscled hunk drags him ‘like a child’s toy’ to the beach where as ‘everybody knows that the very last line’ is to supply that rejuvenating elixir of Jug Band Music. Like “Younger Girl”, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” is a delicate yearning paean to teenage love, deservedly a hit too (its understated lyric settling for ‘I would’ve liked you’ rather than ‘loved’ you anyway).


By now, like soft fall-out, the Spoonful influence was reaching out to touch others, including the Beatles whose “Good Day Sunshine” catches the same carefree Spoonful good-time attitude. But by 1967 they’d begun to dissipate their energies by producing other things. At this point, it was almost de riguer for smart film-makers to use Rock music to add a contemporary edge to their soundtrack. Mike Nicholls’ ‘The Graduate’ (December 1967) uses Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Fonda uses a pick ‘n’ mix of definitive counter-culture statements from the Byrds to Steppenwolf for ‘Easy Rider’ (July 1969). Antonioni had the Yardbirds onstage live for ‘Blow Up’ (December 1966), and a Spoonful song playing in the background. And the Spoonful contribute to Woody Allen’s playful cut-up ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily?’ (April 1966), with the gloriously ragged “Pow!”. Then Francis Ford Coppola commissions Sebastian’s uneven score for his ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’ (December 1966). Adapted from a David Benedictus novel Coppola, who had previously worked on low-budget quickies with Roger Corman, adds coming-of-age counterculture elements to give it a currency-value that results in his first mainstream critical box-office success.

The soundtrack albums – with both films later issued on the same CD, consist mainly of scene-setting instrumentals, lit by orchestral touches, but the original songs are still stand-out. The strongest being the aching separation of “Darlin’ Be Home Soon”. It begins acoustically, deceptively simple, with striking lines about ‘now, a quarter of my life is almost passed,’ and ‘I feel myself in bloom,’ before soaring into one of the few examples of an enhancing orchestration that really works. Tumbling out of the bridge into exhortations to ‘beat your crazy head against the sky, try to see beyond the houses in your eyes’ because ‘it’s OK to shoot the moon.’ Closing with the effectively stilted ‘the great relief of having you to talk to…’

The Henry Ditz photo-sleeve for ‘Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful’ (November 1966) catches a visual taste of the group’s appeal. 4-Eyed John beaming owlishly in sideburns and steel-rim glasses, Zal plucking banjo on the reverse, or wearing cowboy hat – an example of his extravagant headwear often matched to bear-like knee-length furs. Contra-fashion, with no attempt to catch trendy Mod-gear. This, their third full studio album – its title alluding to AA Milne’s 1930 ‘The Hums Of Pooh’, is their first made up of eleven all-originals, and also the last to feature the full original line-up. And it spun off some of their most enduring hits. “Summer In The City” peaked at no.7 on the ‘New Musical Express’ chart – 20 August 1966, the same week the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” took the no.1 slot, with the Beach Boys “God Only Knows” climbing to no.3 beneath it. I was watching the promo-clip on TV, the shimmering New York urban street-heat coming up from the black-and-white film format that preceded video, John’s Hohner Pianet keyboard figure and Steve’s Vox Continental organ overlaid with the sound of car horns – a taped VW Beetle, leading into the jackhammer of Zal riding away on a powerful motorcycle. For the Spoonful, it’s an uncharacteristically powerful track with the energies screwed down claustrophobically tension-tight. John’s writing assisted by Steve Boone, and by brother Mark Sebastian.

Their ornery folksy roots are given free rein to cavort on the album’s first side, referencing ‘Bes’ Friends’ and ‘Darlin’ Companions’ rather than lovers, with Jews harp and Zal’s slide-whistle on hoedown “Henry Thomas”. Zal takes vocal for the thinly-disguised Howlin’ Wolf swampy-riffing “Voodoo In My Basement” and Joe for “Full Measure”. For scratch the boho city veneer, and it’s a country mile from rural down-home. But flip the vinyl and it runs the range of classic Folk-Pop Rock with a Brill Building sensibility, and the clarity of Roy Halee engineering (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). Refusing to stand still long enough to be classified. “Summer In The City” was not also followed by pristine acoustic hits “Rain On The Roof” and “Nashville Cats”, but by Bobby Darin taking his cover of “Darlin’ Companion” into the Top 40 (later covered again by Johnny Cash), with John’s lyric ‘as long as I’ve got legs to stand on, I’m gonna run to you.’

Some later argued that the Spoonful failed to ‘progress’. But that’s very much an of-its-time accusation. Just because the Beatles and Dylan evolved album-by-album, charting new pathways others were expected to follow. A principle that doesn’t necessarily apply during other music phases. Instead, each Spoonful album negotiates a collection of songs, nearly always Sebastian’s, or re-workings of traditional songs, with good humour and practiced ease, from which hit single after perfect hit single could be lifted. John Phillips cheerfully admits that the Mamas & The Papas albums didn’t ‘progress’ either, because they’d started out at such an elevated plane, they didn’t have the scope to take it that much further.

But there are undeniable upgrades. Like “Do You Believe In Magic”, “Nashville Cats” is a jumpy paean to the seductive power of music. ‘Those yellow Sun records’ actually came from Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis, but thanking the maternal parents of those guitar-pickers who ‘play clean as country water’ enables John Sebastian ‘a chance to say a word about’ those ‘mothers from Nashville’, slyly infiltrating that most verboten of expletives. But after their early easy Folk-Rockin’ style, the later less-celebrated tracks – “Six O’Clock” and “She’s Still A Mystery” are more mature works of considerable power. A friendly toss of the head at those who would soon be wearing flowers in their hair.


IT’S REALLY TRUE, HOW NOTHIN’ 
MATTERS NO MAD MAD WORLD, 
AND NO MAD HATTERS’ 
                    (“Coconut Grove”) 

The group break-up was precipitated by a non-musical narcotic event. An August 1967 drug bust in San Francisco results in Zal’s arrest, he was caught in a trap, under threat of deportation – he was still technically a Canadian national, it was lose either way, so he does a trade-off deal snitching on others involved in the city’s drug scene. You don’t do that. You don’t rat on community to the narcs. The rest of the group only caught up through a newspaper report minutes before going onstage for a New York show. It was to be Zal’s last Spoonful gig. With the group ostracized by their Rock peers, he was forced to exit the group anyway, sucking some of the magic away with him. Zal was promptly replaced by Jerry Yester, ex-member of the Modern Folk Quartet, and producer for the Association and Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye And Hello’ (Elektra, August 1967). He was part of the original musician’s pool the Spoonful had condensed out of. He recalled working on an early demo of “Warm Baby” with John and Jesse Colin Young. He was about as good as you could get, but the group was never quite the same again.

The cover-art cartoon for ‘Everything Playing’ (September 1967) shows the group on the beach cavorting with various strange green and blue-meanie creatures. By contrast the reverse-photo is primped and fan-mag pretty, hair combed in neat fringes in ways that the earlier line-up never was. Even John wears sensible spectacles. Yet the two lead singles are stand-out, with the wistful “She Is Still A Mystery” catching the haunting feminine mystique with ‘the more I see, the more I see there is to see,’ while the sharp electric chimes of “Six O’Clock” – ‘one of the best intros in the history of rock and roll’ according to ‘NME’s Charles Shaar Murray, defines the restlessness and remorse of lost opportunity, leading into a ‘Summer In The City’ fade.

Elsewhere, Zal’s presence is replaced by more elaborate 16-track arrangements, soul-girl voices on “Try A Little Bit” and a phased-voice sequence to “Only Pretty, What A Pity”. And it’s not a good trade-off. Again there are eleven originals, Steve writes “Forever” – an expansive widescreen MOR soundtrack-style instrumental, Joe writes a patronising “Old Folks” and collaborates with Jerry for “Only Pretty, What A Pity”. John writes the rest, sharing credits with Jerry for closer “Close Your Eyes”. “Money” – a spin-off single, casts a hayseed eye on the group’s ramshackle finances (‘now a piece of paper from me, won’t seem half as flimsy’), set to banjo and tap-tap-tap typewriter clacking. “Younger Generation” explores John’s serio-comic trepidations about impending parenthood – ‘I must be permissive and understanding… all I’ve learned my kid assumes, and all my deepest worries must be his cartoons.’ He would carry this over into his ‘Woodstock’ solo set, where its gushy sentimentality puts it at odds with the hard-rock extremism of the Who, Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane. Times were a-changing. Maybe the hotel “Boredom” hints at John’s disillusionment with touring, ‘I feel about a local as a fish in a tree’? With the line ‘and the ‘Late Late Show’ died long ago, with a few words from a Priest’ recalling a time before cable and 24-hour rolling-TV. Whatever, he hung up his folk-rock spoon and quits the group in June 1968 after ‘two glorious years and a tedious one.’


The Spoonful briefly continue as a trio. With ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (1969) sleeve-billed as ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful Featuring Joe Butler,’ Steve and Jerry Yester’s participation taken on the nod. Joe writes the liner-notes and also features on the front cover-photo running naked alongside a naked woman – her nipples coyly airbrushed out and a strategically-placed lion eclipsing their naughty groinal bits. As a shot at catching the new liberation (think Hendrix 1968 ‘Electric Ladyland’ sleeve), one glance at this cop-out makes it immediately suspect.

Is this still Good Time Music? There’s little trace of the Spoonful’s inspired simplicity. Steve had only ever sung lead on one Spoonful track (“Priscilla Millionaira”), but in the same way that each Beatles album found space for a token Ringo song, Joe’s blander vocals were highlighted on “Butchie’s Tune”, “Old Folks” and the attractive “Full Measure”. Now he’s featured vocalist. Joe writes or co-writes a couple of the numbers with producer Bob Finiz, “The Prophet” and the title-track, but other credits are out-sourced to Turtles-writers Garry Bonner & Alan Gordon, or Ralph Dino & John Sembello – who wrote “Pearl’s A Singer” for Elkie Brooks, and who contribute “Jug Of Wine”, the most Spoonful-sounding track. To the ‘New Musical Express’ reviewer ‘gone are the days of light pleasant songs, now it’s all ‘yea, man, valid statement, take a trip, do your thing’ and, frankly, I don’t like it.’ The writer goes on to call “War Games” ‘a mess of dogs barking, babies crying, guns firing and kids playing,’ it’s a 7:03-minute failed-“Revolution no.9” audio-collage set to a heartbeat pulse and climaxing in full-on nuke apocalypse! But the best-received song is by country-singer John Stewart (who wrote “Daydream Believer” for the Monkees), his “Never Going Back” is the closest thing the set came to producing a hit, peaking at no.73. Afterwards, the group tactfully split.

Erik Jacobsen continued to break new ground with Kama Sutra, a fascinating project with the Charlatans, chart hits with Sopwith Camel (“Hello Hello”), plus the Tradewinds (“Mind Excursion”) and the Innocence (“There’s Got To Be A Word”) – both guises for the Anders & Poncia duo. But after the Spoonful’s demise the label slid into decline, and in 1970 was dumped by MGM to become a Buddah subsidiary. While Jacobsen lifted Norman Greenbaum from playing the ‘Troubadour’ to trans-Atlantic no.1 with the enduring “Spirit In The Sky”.


John Sebastian could have been a Crosby Stills & Nash. He’s there on ‘Déjà Vu’ (March 1970), adding keening harmonica to David Crosby’s title song. As a part of the extended collective they return the favour as the cast of his debut solo album indicates – the credits to ‘John B Sebastian’ (January 1970) lists Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Dallas Taylor, Harvey Brooks (bass), Buzzy Linhart (vibraphone), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel) and others. Paul Rothchild, responsible for Doors and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band albums for Elektra, quit to produce the album. It spun-off a charming hit single in “She’s A Lady” – a brief 1.47-minutes, recalling incidents from John’s Village ‘scuffing days’. Then he made a kind-of comeback in 1970 when he takes the stage impromptu in sunburst tie-dye at the ‘Woodstock Festival’ during a storm – ‘a mind-fucker’ he calls it, and for a couple of years his records sell well and his live appearances draw the crowds, though largely on the strength of his Spoonful back-catalogue. His new material struggles to be as good, rather more like his newly adopted stage persona, it’s too hippie-dippy cloyingly sentimental. Bizarrely he scored a novelty one-off solo no.1 in 1976 by writing and performing the title-song of popular ABC-TV sit-com ‘Welcome Back Kotter’, featuring a young John Travolta.

Zal did one bizarre solo album, ‘Alive And Well In Argentina’ (Buddah, 1968) – the title apparently referencing runaway Nazis! which was co-produced by Jerry. He’d gone on to work with Judy Henske on cult ‘Farewell Aldebaran’ (1969) – on which Zal plays bass, issued on Frank Zappa’s Straight label. Zal toured with Kris Kristofferson, then returned to Canada to set up a restaurant in Ontario. Meanwhile, Joe had joined the Broadway cast of ‘Hair’. The full Lovin’ Spoonful line-up did eventually reunite to cameo in Paul Simon’s underrated movie ‘One-Trick Pony’ (1980), following Sam & Dave on stage in a ‘Salute To The Sixties’ sequence, announced as ‘one of the best-loved bands of all time.’ They do “Do You Believe In Magic” with the unmistakable spark between John and a bearded Zal rekindled.

It’s all a long way from Zal, Denny and Sebastian sat – at the ‘Night Owl’, when after every number they’d pass the hat. For by then, the venue had converted into a poster and button shop, then into ‘Bleeker Bob’s Records’.



LOVIN’ SPOONFUL: 
SPOON BY SPOON 

January 1964 – ‘EVEN DOZEN JUG BAND’ (Elektra EKS-7246) only album they ever issued, with Stefan Grossman and Peter Siegel plus Steve Katz, Josh(ua) Rifkin, Fred Weisz, Pete Jacobson and John Sebastian (as ‘John Benson’). Leading John into subsequent session work, producer Paul Rothchild proved a useful connection (he’d go on to work with the Doors)

18 September 1965 – “Do You Believe In Magic” c/w “On The Road Again” (US Kama Sutra 201) US no.9, in UK on Pye it was selected ‘Spin Of The Week’ by ‘Music Echo’. Collected onto 1977 compilation LP ‘Golden Hour Of Simon Says’ (GH862) alongside ‘Rain On The Roof’, ‘Nashville Cats’ and ‘Darlin’ Companion’ plus Lemon Pipers and 1910 Fruitgum Company. Covered in the UK by The Pack (Columbia DB7702), and revived in 1977 by Keith Barbour (Private Stock PVT125)


November 1965 – ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8050) with side one: (1) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, (2) ‘Blues In The Bottle’, (3) ‘Sportin’ Life’, (4) ‘My Gal’, (5) ‘You Baby’, (6) ‘Fishin’ Blues’. Side two: (1) ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’, (2) ‘Wild About My Lovin’’, (3) ‘Other Side Of This Life’, (4) ‘Younger Girl’, (5) ‘On The Road Again’, (6) ‘Night Owl Blues’ with liner-notes by Peter Stampfel and Antonia. Reaches no.32 on ‘Billboard’ LP chart. CD bonus tracks are ‘Alley Oop’ (the Hollywood Argyles no.1 hit written by Dallas Frazier, with Kim Fowley producer credits), ‘Younger Girl (demo)’, ‘Blues In The Bottle (alt)’, ‘Wild About My Lovin’ (alt)’, ‘Other Side Of This Life (instrumental)’. Fred Neil who wrote Nilsson’s hit ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ wrote ‘Other Side Of This Life’ for his August 1965 debut LP ‘Bleecker And MacDougal’ (Elektra/ Sundazed 5107) on which John Sebastian plays harmonica. Jefferson Airplane do their version of the song on the 1969 live LP ‘Bless It’s Pointed Little Head’. ‘Younger Girl’ is a US no.42 hit for the Hondells, and a UK no.38 hit for the Critters (London HL 10047)

12 November 1965 – “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” c/w “My Gal” (US Kama Sutra 205) US no.10. Covered in UK in 1968 by Glass Menagerie (Pye 7N 17568), later collected onto 1988 ‘Rubble Vol.7: Pictures In The Sky’ (Bam Caruso KIRI 083)


12 March 1966 – “Daydream” c/w “Night Owl Blues” (US Kama Sutra 208) US no.2. In the UK as Pye International 7N 25361 it reached no.2, 12 May 1966, below Manfred Mann’s ‘Pretty Flamingo’

14 May 1966 – “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” c/w “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It” (US Kama Sutra 209) US no.2. Song featured on the soundtrack of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie ‘Blow Up’

March 1966 – ‘DAYDREAM’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8051, reissued in 1990 as Castle CLACD194) with side one: (1) ‘Daydream’, (2) ‘There She Is’, (3) ‘It’s Not Time Now’, (4) ‘Warm Baby’, (5) ‘Day Blues’, (6) ‘Let The Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Side two (1) ‘Jug Band Music’, (2) ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, (3) ‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, (4) ‘Bald Headed Lena’, (5) ‘Butchie’s Tune’, (6) ‘Big Noise From Speonk’. Reaches US no.10, in the UK issued as Pye NPL 28078 it reached no.8 on the album chart during May 1966. CD bonus tracks include ‘Fishin’ Blues’, ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, ‘Jug Band Music’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘Night Owl Blues’. ‘Jug Band Music’ and ‘Summer In The City’ later featured on 1970 compilation ‘Buddah In Mind’ alongside Lemon Pipers, Captain Beefheart, and Melanie

June 1966 – ‘WHAT’S SHAKIN’’ (Elektra ELK4002/ EUK 250) earliest recordings by Lovin’ Spoonful from 1965, John Sebastian’s ‘Good Time Music’ and ‘Don’t Bank On It Baby’ plus Chuck Berry’s ‘Almost Grown’, and Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller’s ‘Searchin’’. Other tracks by Paul Butterfield Blues Band (including Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’), and Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse. Re-issued March 1994 as Elektra 7559-61343-2, and as Edsel ED249

1966 – “Jug Band Music” c/w “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It” (Kama Sutra KA-301X) Canada no.2


23 July 1966 – “Summer In The City” c/w “Butchie’s Tune” (US Kama Sutra 211) US no.1. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 200 it reached no.8 in July 1966. ‘Summer In The City’ revived in July 1977 by girl-group April (EMI Int 535), then as a September 1978 Disco 12” by Evolution (EMI 2849) and as an August 1989 single by Fiction-label alt-Indie band Eat

September 1966 – ‘WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY?’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8053) with side one: (1) ‘Introduction To Flick’, (2) ‘Pow’, (3) ‘Gray Prison Blues’, (4) ‘Pow Revisited, (5) ‘Unconscious Minuet, (6) ‘Fishin’ Blues’. Side two (1) ‘Respoken’, (2) ‘Cool Million’, (3) ‘Speakin’ Of Spoken’, (4) ‘Lookin’ To Spy’, (5) ‘Phil’s Love Theme’, (6) ‘End Title’, reaches no.126 on ‘Billboard’ LP chart. Combined with full ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’ LP for 1991 ‘A Spoonful Of Soundtracks’ CD (Repertoire REP4115, and Sequel NEX CD176)

22 October 1966 – “Rain On The Roof” c/w “Pow” (US Kama Sutra 216) US no.10

November 1966 – ‘HUMS OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8054, reissued in 1990 as Castle CLACD193) with side one: (1) ‘Lovin’ You’, (2) ‘Bes’ Friends’, (3) ‘Voodoo In My Basement’, (4) ‘Darlin’ Companion’, (5) ‘Henry Thomas’, (6) ‘Full Measure’. Side two (1) ‘Rain On The Roof’, (2) ‘Coconut Grove’, (3) ‘Nashville Cats’, (4) ‘4 Eyes’, (5) ‘Summer In The City’. Reaches US no.14. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘this album – a big Stateside seller already, shows the Lovin’ Spoonful to be a humorous, good-time group with very strong roots in country blues, which no doubt stems from leader John Sebastian, an old-hand at the blues.’ ‘Darlin Companion’ is covered by Johnny Cash & June Carter on 1969 ‘Live At San Quentin’ LP. ‘Coconut Grove’ covered by Vertigo-label Jazz-Rock band Affinity on their debut 1970 LP. By the late-1980s ‘Lovin’ You’ was used by a Swedish TV condom advert

31 December 1966 – “Nashville Cats” c/w “Full Measure” (US Kama Sutra 219) US no.8, and ‘B’-side US no.87. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 204 it reached no.26 in January 1967

25 February 1967 – “Darling Be Home Soon” c/w “Darlin’ Companion” (US Kama Sutra 220) US no.15. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 207 in reached no.44 in March 1967. Their fourth and final UK hit. Orchestration arranged by Artie Schroeck

May 1967 – ‘YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8058) with side one: (1) ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’, (2) ‘Lonely (Amy’s Theme)’, (3) ‘Wash Her Away (From The Discotheque)’, (4) ‘Kite Chase’, (5) ‘Try And Be Happy’, (6) ‘Peep Show Percussion’, (7) ‘Girl, Beautiful Girl (Barbara’s Theme)’. Side two (1) ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, (2) ‘Dixieland Big Boy, (3) ‘Letter To Barbara’, (4) ‘Barbara’s Theme (From The Discotheque’, (5) ‘Miss Thing’s Thang’, (6) ‘March’, (7) ‘Finale’. Reaches US no.160. ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ later covered on ‘Joe Cocker’ 1969, Joe’s second album, and on Slade’s ‘Slade Alive’ March 1972


20 May 1967 – “Six O’Clock” c/w “You’re A Big Boy Now (Finale)” (US Kama Sutra 225) US no.18

September 1967 – ‘EVERYTHING PLAYING’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8061) with side one: (1) ‘She Is Still A Mystery’, (2) ‘Priscilla Millionaira’, (3) ‘Boredom’, (4) ‘Six O’Clock’, (5) ‘Forever’, (6) ‘Younger Generation’. Side two: (1) ‘Money’, (2) ‘Old Folks’, (3) ‘Only Pretty, What A Pity’, (4) ‘Try A Little Bit’, (5) ‘Close Your Eyes’. Reaches US no.118. CD bonus tracks are ‘She Is Still A Mystery’ (alt), ‘Only Pretty, What A Pity’ (alt) and ‘Try A Little Bit’ (alt)

1967 – ‘THE BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra, reissued Marble Arch MAL 1115) with side one: (1) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, (2) ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’, (3) ‘Butchie’s Tune’, (4) ‘Jug Band Music’, (5) ‘Night Owl Blues’, (6) ‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’. Side two: (1) ‘Daydream’, (2) ‘Blues In The Bottle’, (3) ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, (4) ‘Wild About My Lovin’’, (5) ‘Younger Girl’, (6) ‘Summer In The City’. An amusingly tepid ‘New Musical Express’ review commends this ‘popular American group’, and says ‘it’s easy on he ears, tuneful, folksy music, with a good-time air about it’

11 November 1967 – “She Is Still A Mystery” c/w “Only Pretty, What A Pity” (US Kama Sutra 239) US no.27

1968 – “Money” c/w “Close Your Eyes” (Kama Sutra 241) US no.48

1968 – ‘THE BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL Volume 2’ (Kama Sutra, reissued Marble Arch MAL 1116) with side one: (1) ‘Six O’Clock’, (2) ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, (3) ‘Lovin’ You’, (4) ‘Boredom’, (5) ‘Full Measure’, (6) ‘Nashville Cats’. Side two: (1) ‘She Is Still A Mystery’, (2) ‘Rain On The Roof’, (3) ‘Old Folks’, (4) ‘Darlin’ Companion’, (5) ‘Money’, (6) ‘Younger Generation’

1968 – “Never Goin’ Back (To Nashville)” c/w “Forever” (Kama Sutra 250) US no.73

1968 – “(Til I) Run With You” c/w “Revelation Revolution ‘69” (Kama Sutra 251)

1969 – ‘REVELATION: REVOLUTION ‘69’ (Kama Sutra KLPS-8073) with Joe Butler (drums, vocals), Steve Boone (bass) and Jerry Yester (guitar, vocals, keyboard). Side one: (1) ‘Amazing Air’, (2) ‘Never Going Back’, (3) ‘The Prophet’, (4) ‘Only Yesterday’, (5) ‘War Games’. Side two: (1) ‘(Till I) Run With You’, (2) ‘Jug Of Wine’, (3) ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’, (4) ‘Me About You’, ‘Words’ with CD bonus tracks ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (single edit), ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (vocal mix), ‘Me About You’ (single edit). ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘a pleasant, mostly beat-ballad collection, well-produced with some catchy songs’

1969 – “Me About You” c/w “Amazing Air” (Kama Sutra 255) US no.91

1970 – “Younger Generation” c/w “Boredom” (Kama Sutra 505)

1970 – ‘THE VERY BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra KSBS 2013) twelve tracks, first of various compilations, including ‘Greatest Hits’ (Kama Sutra, 1981), ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Greatest Hits’ (Buddah, 1985), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: The EP Collection’ (1988, See For Miles), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: Anthology’ twenty-six tracks (1990, Rhino), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: Gold Greatest Hits’ (1996, Gold 204) and many others


January 1970 – ‘JOHN B SEBASTIAN’ (Reprise RS 6379/ MGM SE-4654) Billboard no.20. Includes single “She’s A Lady” c/w “The Room Nobody Lives In” US Cashbox no.62. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘this new album, although slightly flawed, is still full of that whimsical joie-de-vivre which always marked the Spoonful’s best work.’ His subsequent solo albums deserve a separate feature. While his list of collaborations is extensive. He guests on the Doors track ‘Roadhouse Blues’ (on ‘Morrison Hotel’ LP) as ‘G Pulese’, and on Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ LP (1971) tracks ‘It’s Alright’ (guitar) and ‘Saturday Clothes’ (autoharp). He contributes to the ‘Aztec Two Step’ debut LP (1972, Elektra K42118), wrote the title track for the Everly Brothers ‘Stories We Could Tell’ (1972, RCA) and plays guitar and hormonica on it, he also plays harmonica on David Bromberg’s ‘Long Tall Mama’ on 1989 album ‘Sideman Serenade’ (Rounder Records 3110)

1976 – “Welcome Back” c/w “Warm Baby” (Reprise 1349) US no.1. Theme song to TV series ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’. The tie-in LP ‘Welcome Back’ was the last studio John Sebastian album until 1993’s ‘Tar Beach’

1998 – ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN OUTTAKES?’ (Tenderolar TDR-049) twenty previously unreleased and rare Spoonful tracks, (1-2) ‘Do You Believe In Magic Takes 17-23’ and ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, Bell Sounds Studio NYC 1966-67, (3-6) ‘Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘There She Is’ live on ‘Hullabaloo’ 1965-66, (7-8) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ and ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’ live on ‘Shindig’ 1965, (9-10) Do You Believe In Magic’ and ‘You Didn’t Have To Be Si Nice’ live on TNT Show, (11-15) ‘Nashville Cats’, ‘All The Stories’, ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, ‘Darlin Be Home Soon’ and ‘She’s A Lady’ John live in California 1973, (16-18) ‘Respoken’, ‘Wash Her Away’ and ‘Girl Beautiful Girl’ alternate soundtrack versions, (19) ‘As Long As You’re Trying’ Zal solo single, (20) ‘Amazing Air’ final Spoonful single

2011 – ‘ORIGINAL ALBUM CLASSICS: THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Sony Music) full five albums – excluding soundtrack LPs, with reproduction original sleeves, plus bonus tracks in CD slipcase