Greatness in the grooves
Between The Lines: The Complete Jordan-Wilson Songbook ’71-’81 - The Flamin’ Groovies (Grown Up Wrong! Records)
I’ll Have a…Bucket of Brains! The Original 1972 Rockfield Recordings for UA - The Flamin’ Groovies (Grown Up Wrong! Records)
Keeping track of the Flamin’ Groovies discography used to be harder than Chinese arithmetic. Multiple line-ups on a slew of labels - major, independent or indecent, depending on who you believed - and a dizzying array of re-issues, compilations and live sets made it hard work.
Like everything else, the Interwebs changed that. Resources like Allmusic and Discogs allow you to thread your way - relatively coherently - though the back catalogue to make some sense of it.
“Between The Lines” is a clever concept: It compiles the original songs of the “second” Groovies from their salad pop days and strips out the covers.
The bulk of the songs are from the Groovies' three Sire Records albums ("Shake Some Action", "Now" and "Jumping' in the Night".) Six are from demo sessions and one from the truncated Gold Star session of 1981.
Ah, the covers. The Flamin’ Groovies played a lot of them. The band started life in San Francisco as a psych-garage trip, fronted by rocker Roy Loney (RIP), and evolved to stake out similar turf to the Stones. Loney departed after three great albums, and teenage Chris Wilson joined on guitar and vocals, striking up a songwriting partnership with guitarist Cyril Jordan.
The Groovies moved onto emergent label Sire with visions of the Beatles in their heads, recording under Dave Edmunds and popping out three albums, including the immortal “Shake Some Action”.
But back to the covers. It’s said that a publishing dispute with Sire promoted Cyril Jordan to overload the “Jumping In The Night” album with other people’s songs - in spite of Chris Wilson’s opposition. Eight covers in 13 tracks is a bit excessive. But the band was burned out, its sound falling on deaf ears. Their label had no idea what to do with them.
That might be true but you can see from this that the Groovies, no matter with what configuration, have always had a soft spot for a cover. It's understandable when you look at their history - it is typical of bands that grew out of the '60s - but the odd thing is that it escalated at a time when they a pair of great songwriters in their ranks. Wilson and Jordan were simply two of the best in the mid-'70s - a time when songwriting was shuffled to the bottom of the deck in the UK (where they based themselves) as punk's back-to-basics rage obsessed the hit making machines.
In a fairer world, "Between the Lines" would boast a string of worldwide hits in its 25-song track-listing.
Saying that "Shake Some Action" should have been one of them is both obvious and redundant. It is a stone classic slice of pop perfection. Chris Wilson delivers on of the best vocals of all-time. The trademark jangle guitars sit just right and the arrangement is pure genius. You get the Sire album version and the demo. But there was a lot more to the classic Jordan-Wilson Groovies than "Shake".
The jangle-pop urgency of "Please Please Girl" is also near perfect pop. The aching "You Tore Me Down", effortless shimmer and shake of "First Plane Home" or majestic delicacy of "Teenage Confidential" are the efforts of a band in a class of its own.
"Jumping in the Night" and "Yeah My Baby" take the band back to its rocking roots and while "So Much in Love" is such an obvious Beatles cop, it still sounds like the Groovies. It's excused.
Of course technology, in the shape of a CD burner, could enable you to assemble the tracks from various sources. They're not all easy to find - and you'd miss out on the incisive liners featuring contributions from compiler and fan-boy Dave Laing and Skydog Records' Mark Zermati.
Backtrack to 1972. The Groovies had parted ways with Roy Loney, recruited Chris Wilson and signed to United Artists. Their relocation to the UK found them ensconced at Rockfield Studios in Wales, with their hero Dave Edmunds behind the desk as producer. They're going to make an album...
All but three tracks on "I'll Have a...Bucket of Brains" are from that session. "Married Woman" and "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues" are from a return visit a month late and "Talahassie Lassie" was cut in London later that year.
The planned album never transpired and half the tracks ended up on singles that went nowhere upon release. UA let the band go. Just as they were up against Punk and the emerging New Wave a few years later, in the early part of the decade the Groovies were out of step with Glam. "Shake Some Action" (on this collection) had to wait four years to be the title track for the 1976 album.
"...Bucket" gives you alternative mixes of some tracks and a version of "Shake" is at its original release's speedy tempo. It's an eight-song compilation, taken from the original masters. The Jordan-Wilson partnership was just coming into its own and as these tracks show, the band was still in its Stones-y, rock groove.
In case you're wondering, both collections have been compiled with the blessing of the various labels and the current Flamin' Groovies management - so you know the due royalties are being paid. Which is more than can be said of some releases.
This was written the day the sad news of Roy Loney's passing broke. Chris Wilson and Cyril Jordan look to have gone their own ways (again) with the latter being the only "old" member of the 2019 Groovies. That's tragic, too, regardless of the reasons, but it doesn't make either of these discs less essential.
- Between The Lines
1/2 - I'll Have...a Bucket of Brains