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ULTIMATE SPINACH· Ultimate Spinach (MGM SE-451 B). Ian Bruce-Douglas (va, g, electr. p, hrpschrd, or, sit hea, wood f, theremin, c1st); Barbara Hudson (va, g, kazoo); Keith lahteinen (va, d, chimes, bells); Richard Nese (va, bass); Geoffrey Winthrop (va, lead g, silo Ego Trip; Sacrifice To The Moon; Plastic Raincoats/Hung-up Minds; Hip Death Goddess; Your Head /s Reeling; Dove In Hawk's Clothing; Baroque no. 1; Funny Freak Parade; Pamela.
ORPHEUS • Orpheus (MGM SE-4524). Bruce Arnold (va, lead g); Jock McKenes (va, g); John Eric Gulliksen (va, bass); Harry Sandler (d). Alan lorber (arr); unidentified orchestra. I've Never Seen Love Like This; Lesley's World; Congress Alley; Music Machine; Door Knob Song; I'll Stay With You; Can't Find The Time To Tell You; Never In My Life; The Dream.
BEACON STREET UNION· The Eyes of the Beacon Street Union (MGM SE-4517). Personnel and arranger not identified. Recitation; My Love Is; Beautiful Delilah; Sportin' Life; Four Hundred and Five; Mystic Mourning; Sadie Said No; Speed Kills; Blue Avenue; South End Incident; Green Destroys The Gold; The Prophet.
EDEN'S CHILDREN· Eden's Children (ABC-624). Richard (Sham) Schamach (va, g); larry Kiley (va, bass); Jimmy Sturman (d). Knocked Out; Goodbye Girl; If She's Right; I Wonder Why; Stone Fox; My Bad Habit; Just Let Go; Out Where The Light Fish Live; Don't Tell Me.
By now most of you have heard at least one of the four rock groups (Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union, and Eden's Children) who are said to have the "Boston Sound" and you realize that the sound doesn't exist except in the head of Alan Lorber, an MGM producer who claims to have discovered it (he also does Clairol commercials). I think that in order to understand why it was created in the first place and why it will probably not succeed, we should take a brief look at the music industry.
Recording companies have discovered that "freaky music" played by strange people is a very salable commodity and that the San Francisco sound has only begun to make money. The problem with San Francisco is that it's too far away from New York and some of the S.F. musicians are unwilling to be exploited. And besides, why wait for something to happen naturally, when you can create it and therefore have much more control over it. So Mr. Lorber sought and found a place close by where there were groups that would play his game. A good safe formula that should work, especially if you pump enough money into the promotional campaign.
There are several things wrong with this idea. First, no matter how you try, there will never be another San Francisco, or Liverpool for that matter, ever again. They were the result of several years of people creating music that was expressive of the community they were part of. The sound began as and still is basically a dance concert sound that is very difficult to reproduce on record. Secondly, most of the musicians who are part of that sound are more interested in making significant musical statements than they are in making money and becoming FABPOPSTARS, the Grateful Dead being perhaps the prime example.
The Boston musicians (please forgive the generalizations, obviously they don't apply automatically to everyone from Boston, and particularly not to Eden's Children) are more interested in their careers (this is not necessarily bad, after all the Beatles started out this way), and they recorded much too soon. They didn't wait until they had that essential experience that comes from many hours of playing, practice and concert.
I think it's fair to say that the public no longer has to allow a group to find itself by recording; this should be done in private before a record is produced. Finally, what is happening in Boston is not very unique. Most of the large cities in the U.S. have several good rock groups, even Philadelphia. The only difference between Boston and these cities is that no producer has packaged their "sound" yet.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this whole thing is the inability of record companies to see the changes that have occurred in pop music. Musicians want to be free of the mindless, exploitative grips of the managers, agents, producers and PR men, so that anything associated with a group can truly represent their creative output. All too frequently, they must overcome the "help" they receive from the industry. This is certainly true of the Boston groups, including those that Lorber didn't even produce. They want to move, the public, not hype them.
Record companies should realize that they are dealing with a public that is becoming increasingly more sophisticated and critical in its musical tastes. There is a widening chasm between Top-40 and album rock, and the same selling approach won't work for the two different audiences. If a group has something interesting to say, the public will listen: Big Brother and the Holding Company developed a huge following with no PR men. On the other hand, a group with no talent will have at best a temporary success with even the biggest ad program.
My remarks so far have not been directed to Boston music or to the people who play it, but to those members of the music business who don't know that Tin Pan Alley and the Hit Parade is dead.
Now let's pretend that the crap doesn't exist and talk about the music. At the writing of this article only four records have been released by Boston groups; more are sure to be forthcoming.
I shall begin with the group that has received the biggest push, Ultimate Spinach. Their sales disprove the old adage that you can't hype a bad record. Spinach's leader, Ian Bruce-Douglas, who spent 12 years studying music, has decided that his group's task is to change the face of contemporary music. He writes the songs, arranges them and even writes the liner notes. He's on a word trip and he feels compelled to explain the message of each song, as well as the importance of Spinach (the group, not the food). Perhaps this is a hold-over from those dreadful folknik days when the introductions were longer than the songs. His chief theme appears to be a simultaneous put-down of plastic America and one of the alternatives-hippies and flower children. He fails at this rather formidable task mainly because of a lack of humor and an overwhelming sense of importance. There aren't many people who could succeed, except of course Frank Zappa who can do anything.
Bruce-Douglas makes up in part for his lyrical ineptness with good strong melody lines in most of the songs; the best cut on the album is an instrumental, Sacrifice To The Moon. Unfortunately, the group is not up to playing the songs, and the rhythm section sounds like they learned to play by listening to old Bill Haley records: in the longest cut, Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess, their redundant patterns destroy the piece.
While the group's style is eclectic enough to prevent placing them in a neat bag, the Mothers and Country Joe and the Fish are a definite part of their approach. I recently heard Spinach in concert and they are certainly better live, although they fail to do much for me. Their biggest problem, apart from their lack of tightness, is their inflated self-image. If they are ever to survive the Spinach need to come off it.
Orpheus, on the other hand, have almost no pretensions. They are an ex-folk group who simply want to entertain and become successful, and right now they are a total creation of Lorber. The group was formed only a few months before they signed with MGM and had never played in public together, though they had played as folk musicians for several years. They are consciously attempting to reach several audiences at the same time -Top-40, easy listening, and album rock fans. Their material is good, their performances polished, so they might make it.
If you like the easy listening rock of the Association, then Orpheus will appeal. The only criticism I have of the album is that it tends to be over-orchestrated in parts, and occasionally the group becomes submerged in a too-full sound. If you have heard them in person you realize that Orpheus does not need this kind of assistance. They are quite able to come across alone.
While the Beacon Street Union is on MGM, they are not Lorber-produced. Yet they too suffer at the hands of their producer and engineer. They decided to play stereo games with the cuts (you remember those ping-pong effects that we all heard when stereo was new), switching the instruments and occasionally the voices as well from track to track. I suppose the idea has some merit and one of the better cuts, The Prophet, does employ it effectively. However, it interferes with the other arrangements and ends up being an overdone bore, especially after you have listened to the album a few times. B.S.U. is basically a hard rock, blues-oriented group who borrow from folk and jazz idioms.
Side one contains the less interesting cuts: some hard rock (My Love and Four Hundred and Five), two good-timey songs, Beautiful Delilah and Sportin' Life (an embarrassing imitation of the Lovin' Spoonful), and an acid-rock thing, Mystic Mourning, that is reminiscent of the 13th Floor Elevator. Or the second side they recover nicely; here the sound is strongly blues-influenced (Cream-Hendrix-B. B. King). The B.S.U. reach their apex with South End lncident not so much with the music but with lyrics and delivery. It tells the story of a man who witnesses violence, does nothing about it, and becomes consumed with guilt-a very Camus-like theme. I think that this song and the Spoonful's Summer in the City describe urban living in a way that nothing else has yet done.
I am impressed with the Beacon Street Union's first album. They demonstrate a great deal of potential, and if they rid themselves of the gimmicks their next effort should be worth waiting for.
Of all the Boston groups, Eden's Children is by far the best. Utilizing the trio form now becoming so popular among the bluesoriented groups, they have that gutsy sound that instantly grabs you. The lead singer and guitarist, Sham, has an incredible ability to borrow from blues, jazz, and old rock forms and still come up with his own style. If he continues to develop in the direction he's going now, Sham will become one of the best in pop music. The bassist, Larry Kiley, already ranks among the best in the business (unfortunately, he recently left the group); seldom do we get such bass work in rock. I'm not going to go into a lengthy discourse on each of the cuts; besides, Frank Kofsky's liner notes are very good (a plug). All I can say is that Eden's Children are one of the most exciting new groups this year. Go buy the record and listen.
Undoubtedly there will be more Boston groups who will record, and if the MGM pitch works, they will probably be promoted as having the "Boston Sound". It's a bad put-on, and eventually the public will know it. People tend to become negative when they discover that they have been conned. Unfortunately, it's the musicians who will suffer, not the record companies, because they can always drop one hype and invent another.
Since this was written Larry Kiley has rejoined the group.-Ed.