Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Friday, 25 November 2011


Welcome back after our brief intermission.
Hope you've had a chance to grab a beer, smoke a reefer and have some wild sex with a stranger you've just met in a bar.
Now its time to get back on your hog and back into the desert that is Hollywood biker movies.
We're going to take you to some pretty far-out places so better drop that acid now - you're gonna need it!

We're into 1969 and the biker craze is still going strong. However, while keeping the drinking, dangerous driving and rampant sex, most bikers are now the bad guys. No longer misunderstood misfits, by the end of the sixties, as the hippie dream started to fade with Altamont (real bikers no less!) and Manson (real sex mad crazies no less!) bikers are now out and out villains.

And what could make the point more starkly than this film?

A really nasty film in which bikers do little else other than rape and kill innocents, while riding through the desert this is probably as close to real exploitation this side of a snuff movie.
Starring, somewhat incredibly Russ Tamblyn from West Side Story this nasty piece of work was allegedly filmed at the Spahn Ranch in Simi Valley at the same time that the Manson Family were living there.
Its another soundtrack with a Mike Curb connection. This time yet another of his cohorts, Harley Hatcher is given the reins and he produces some of the lamest, softest, most pathetic music for any film, much less such a vicious and amoral biker movie.
The Nightriders are credited with some tracks, and Mr Hatcher takes credit for a few as well.
But it is the mysterious Paul Wibier who is the diamond in the rough here. His title theme is so preposterous that it tips over from parody into something truly dark and disturbing.

1969 also saw the release of Hell's Angels 69.
Renowned for starring Angels from the famous Oakland Chapter this film shows us that Sonny Barger, Terry the Tramp, Magoo, Winston and Preacher were better at being bad to the bone than they were at acting. My God, they were probably better at almost anything than acting!

The movie is a surreal mix of the bright lights of Las Vegas circa Fat Elvis and mean long-haired drug-addled Angels - two things that just shouldn't be put together.
The soundtrack by Tony Bruno is quite good.
As usual, I struggle to see Sonny and his mates putting in on the record player but if you like your music funky then there are a couple of cool tracks here.
The best of the bunch are Goofin and Chase of Death.
Needless to say the vocal numbers are very weak - including a track by the wonderfully named Stream of Consciousness.
One to pick up if you see it for cheap.
Here is Chase of Death - a great clip for the bike action as well:

A rather sad coda to the Arrow's involvement in Biker Movie Soundtracks - although not quiet the last fling for Davie Allan.
Its a rather sad shadow of the former Davie Allan glories - just as the film is more like Herschel Gordon Lewis's  She Devil's On Wheels than Wild Angels.
Davie produces an adequate title track and recycles an earlier tune as the Angry Mob.
After that its a very sedate affair.
It would be fun to imagine that Davy Jones and the Dolphins are somehow connected to the Monkees' Davy Jones. But alas no.
Somebody's Chyldren are best avoided.
The back of the sleeve advertises a novel based on the film. Would love to track down a copy!

Also released in 1969 was Run Angel Run.

My wife hates this cover!
The music is by the ever reliable Stu Philips so you can expect some goodies.

The Tammy Wynette title track,however, is confusing on so many levels that I can't really do it justice in words.
We have the usual made up band - this time the Windows
And as usual Phillips provides some slightly off-kilter interesting and funky tracks.
Its not quite what you would call THE funk but it makes for an interesting listen

The music for Wild Wheels is as confused as the movie itself. The film doesn't know if it wants to be a beach movie with dune buggies or a biker film.
The movie attempts an update of some of the beach movie cliches by adding some harder edged biker elements but never really gets away from those very cliches and, for me, remains too close to the beach side of things.
In some ways however, it does show the cross over from one form of exploitation movie to another and perhaps why surf type instrumental music was featured in so may biker films.
Harley Hatcher is again in charge and as usual turns in a very whitebread effort.
Terry Stafford also features and Carole Curb (a relation to Mike?) handles the linears.
There is a tune called Makin' Love which features an uncredited Davie Allan on guitar. It turns up on a number of earlier biker movies under other names but there's something about the innocence of the lyrics that tickles my fancy.

Back to some more hardcore biker fare with Naked Angels and one of the nastiest covers of any biker soundtrack - or possibly any soundtrack.
Jeff Simmons, who would later join the Mothers of Invention, together with Randy Sterling are responsible for this acid rock offering.
With loud drums over rock jams and dirty fuzzy guitars, this feels like the closest music to what bikers might actually listen to.
There's a loose feel to the music that epitomises the devil-may-care biker cliche.
And unlike many biker soundtracks its a pretty good listen all the way through

Angel Unchained was my first biker soundtrack which I picked up for cheap on the basis of the cover alone.
I should have read the linear notes first!
The music is by Randy Sparks (surely not his real name!) who according to  the notes composed to The Littlest Hobo, toured with Bob Hope and wrote for Disney and the Singing Nun. He also likes to sing about conservation and ecology. Oh dear!
And sure enough the music is soft enough to drip through the cracks in the pavement.
Let's just say that this one doesn't get on to the turntable much.

The Angels Die Hard soundtrack features a track by Fever Tree which seems to be why most people are interested in it.
The rest is largely taken up by a band called East-West Pipeline. Although I can't find anything about them they do sound like a real band and not a fictional group.
Their sound is west coast rock with some nice vocal harmonies.
There is also quite a fun version of Sly Stone's I Want to Take You Higher which is so bad is good.
The highlight for me is this track by Rabbit MacKay - again about whom I can find nothing


 CC & Company starred baseball player Joe Namath and Ann-Margret who is a long way from her Elvis days!

For reasons best known to himself, Lenny Stack (a name almost as good as Randy Sparks) chose to produce a big band funky soundtrack to a biker movie.
Sure he added some fuzzy guitar action but if you want some biker rock then look away now!
If however you have a fancy for orchestral funk then this is the record for you!

The wind was beginning to go out of the bike movie sales but the bandwagon had a little way to go before it completely ground to a halt.

Harley Hatcher is back for the Hard Ride and after his previous efforts you have to ask why.
The so-called smash single touted on the front is a sub-Tom Jones bash through the hymn that would embarrass a rural church choir.
As for the rest Harley turns in his usual soft and unremarkable work.
Davie Allan appears, again uncredited, on the Sounds of Harley track and this is the best of the bunch, again showing the links between surf exploitation and biker exploitation.

 The Outlaw Riders came out in 1971 and features music by Simon Stokes and the Nighthawks, apparently taken from his first album, although I've never heard it.
Stokes was a psych blues rock bandleader from LA and his music was actually listened to by bikers.
Its not hard to see why from these tracks. Anguished vocals, driving rhythm and searing guitars, these tracks are dirty and hard and are just what you think should be in a biker film.
Even the tracks that are not by Stokes are pretty good in a hard rocking kinda way.
Judging from the film stills on the back cover the movie was pretty dire but the album has a roughneck charm that I can't quite put my finger on. Good stuff!

A bit like the Sidehackers, On Any Sunday isn't really a biker movie, rather its a movie about people who ride bikes.
Anyway here it is - so sue me!
Funky big band action from Dominic Frontiere that is really great.
The movie, including Steve McQueen showing his Great Escape skills is supposedly a documentary.
The band features some of the LA Wrecking Crew, Larry Bunker, Emil Richards, Tommy Tedecso and Carole Kaye. Needless to say the band is tighter than a pair of concrete underpants.
Highly recommended.

We finish off with two horror biker cross-overs that have been resurrected by two of the best reissue labels in the world - Trunk Records and Finders Keepers.
Both are deep, heavy, Krautrock-esque, bass heavy monsters.
The films are stupid as hell but the music is serious. Track them down if you can.

There you have it. There are some great tracks on these records. Just don't go expecting a great play from begining to end!

There are some biker soundtracks that I haven't yet been able to lay my hands on, notably Cycle Savages and Stone. If/when I pick them up I'll add them in.

There are also loads of biker films that don't seem to have released their soundtracks such as The Mini Skirt Mob, the Black Angels, Devil Rider, Hell's Chosen Few, The Peacekiller, etc. etc.

I have deliberately not included Easy Rider as it is not a film about bikers but rather a film about hippies on bikes.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


I've always had a strange fascination with biker movie soundtracks. Partly because most biker movies are terrible and the music is pretty terrible too.
What did bikers listen to? Whatever it was that was of no interest to the people who made the films or the music.
Most biker soundtracks are pure exploitation. Wrapped in the dangerous mystique of nihilistic outlaws the records promised wild unfettered angry music. Instead what was usually presented was very tame.
Rather like the soundtracks to other exploitation pictures of the day the music was supposed to evoke the feelings of being wild and carefree, of being young and dangerous, of having nothing to loose except your virginity!
However, these records cover a wide range of different musics - jazz, rock, funk, easy, country, surf - sometimes it seems as though anything was worthy of being in a biker film.
Biker soundtracks usually include a title theme which is often the most rocking track. They often have a theme for the main character, which is slower and intended to indicate that he is thoughtful and above the animalistic bikers. They have a theme for the lady of the film, a 'freak-out' track and, weirdly often something with a country element. This may have something to do with bikers being depicted as essentially modern cowboys.
The movies started with bikers as, basically, misunderstood individualists, existential heroes who just wanted to be left alone to do their own thing. However, by the end of the biker fad they had become wild, savage beasts who raped and murdered their way through any unsuspecting squares who were unlucky enough to meet them.

Follow me for a mad dash across the desert of biker soundtracks, picking up some of the best tracks along the way.
It all started with Marlon in the Wild One. To my mind one of the most improbable biker leaders ever, he definitely set the tone for the wilder sixties screen bikers.
For the soundtrack Leith Stevens was brought on board. Stevens had written soundtracks previously, although mainly in television.
It was his use of jazz that was the deciding factor in hiring him. In 1953, jazz was the baddest music around. Rock had yet to take over as outlaw music and jazz still had all the connotations of sex, drugs and even a little bit of race!
The record on the left is a four track 45 EP recorded by Shorty Rogers of the main tracks from the movie.
He's accompanied by other West Coast luminaries such as Bill Perkins and Bud Shank.
For reasons that don't seem very clear, Decca brought out another version of the soundtrack.

This time its credited to the Leith Stevens All Stars. The All Stars included Shorty Rogers (for some reason called Roger Short on the sleeve), Bud Shank, Jim Guiffre, Shelly Mann (or Manny Shell as he is called on the sleeve), Maynard Ferguson and Russ Freeman.
Much less 'wild' than the EP this is great stuff nonetheless.
However, as with the majority of biker soundtracks I struggle to believe that the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would really have been listening to this kind of thing.
Decca released a further LP with some extra tracks from the soundtrack but I don't have that!

It wouldn't be until 1966 that bikers returned to the screen. This time in the American International Pictures' Wild Angels.
Starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra and the amazing Bruce Dern this is one of the classics of the genre.

For the soundtrack AIP supremo Roger Corman turned to Mike Curb. Curb, who would go on to prominence in the Republican party after releasing a slew of cheap records on the world, turned to Davie Allan.
Curb and Allan had worked together previously on a film called Skaterdater - about a skate board gang!
Allan is to exploitation movies what Dashiel Hammett is to hard-boiled detective books. In a word he is the 'boss'.
Coming from the world of surf guitars, Allan would add a ton of wild, crazed fuzz action. It was raw, it was loud, it was the sound of a Harley on the open road.

However, the soundtrack album also introduced all of the other elements to biker soundtrack LPs. On a short LP there is a lot of filler.
As well as Blue's Theme for the Fonda character Heavenly Blues, there was a party/freakout track and there were tracks by imaginary bands. Everything was played by Allan and the Arrows, whatever the names on the back cover said.

Mike Curb was completely unprepared for the success of the Wild Angels.
But not for long! He got Davie Allan back into the studio and before long they had knocked out another 35 minutes.
To be honest, if you've got the original soundtrack there isn't much reason to get Volume II.
By now however, Allan and his Arrows were relegated to a footnote on the record sleeve and Curb took full credit for writing all the music - a situation that would continue much to the detriment of Davie Allan - although he would stick with Curb for quite a while.

Wild Angels had been made for next to nothing and had been a huge box office success. Everyone involved in making it wanted to repeat the magic.
The result was Devil's Angels released in 1967.

 This time though Curb teamed Davie Allan's phenomenal fuzz with the Wrecking Crew, particularly Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye.
It was a winning combination and the music on this record is, to my mind, some of the best the Allan committed to vinyl.
In true exploitation style most of the best tracks reappear on other records, most notably Cycle-delic Sounds. But don't let that put you off finding a copy.
As usual there is a track by a fictional group, in this case Jerry and the Portraits, which is terrible. There is a theme for the main character, Cody and a psych-out number as well.
The Devil's Angels soundtrack is consistent and rocking in a way that few others would be. The rhythm section really pushes Allan to produce some of his best, most freaked out, guitar lines and at little over half and hour it never outstays its welcome.

The onslaught did not let up and in 1967 Born Losers was also released.
This again came from the Corman stable and again featured music by Davie Allan, but this time masquerading as the Sidewalk Sounds (Curb's production company being called Sidewalk Productions).
The film introduced the character Billy Jack who would later star in his own movies and it is a reasonably fun film.
It also featured Jack Starrett who would go on to direct his own B Movies eventually making Ride With The Devil amongst others.
The music is good but repeated the same formula as the other Curb soundtracks.
Overall not as consistent as the earlier efforts, perhaps reflecting the pressure the Allan must have been under to produce the music.
Allan's guitar playing is as superb as always but the quality of some of the songs is not very high.
Also featuring on here is Terry Stafford, another member of the Tower Records roster. His contribution is best described as weak but that didn't stop him cropping up on other Curb soundtracks.

1967 was a very busy year for cinematic bikers as AIP released The Glory Stompers.
Suffering from the same problems as the Born Losers soundtrack there are far too many fillers here.
Max Frost and the Troopers, Eddie and the Stompers and Cassey Kasem all put in below par appearances.
The Sidewalk Sounds (Mr Allan of course) also seem to be sleepwalking through what, by now, had become biker record cliches.
The cover, however, is one of my favourites.

In 1967 Hells Angels of Wheels came out and introduced another name that will be familiar to soundtrack collectors, Stu Phillips.
Phillips was involved in a number of biker films, not all of which saw the release of his music - although some tracks have recently been released on CD.
His music tends to be less rocky and more funky than Allan's as well as more varied.
There are some great tracks on Hells Angles on Wheels, and as its not that hard to track down, I recommend it to everyone.
The only fly in the ointment is the track by the Poor, which is just that - poor.

The Savage Seven Soundtrack makes an effort to include music that real bikers might have listened to.
Cream provide Anyone for Tennis, a typically hard rocking instrumental and Iron Butterfly contribute two tracks, The Iron Butterfly Theme and Unconscious Power, both good examples of West Coast heaviness.
The rest of the record however, is given over to none other the Mike Curb and true to form we have two tracks by Barbara Kelly and the Morning Good - both of which are terrible and some instrumental tracks which sound very much like Davie Allan on an off day.

Released on Tower Records the Angels from Hell soundtrack is a real corker.
This is what biker soundtracks from the sixties should really be all about. For once some real bands were brought on board to provide some original material.
The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and the Lollipop Shoppe did better stuff elsewhere but their contributions here are still pretty good examples of West Coast psych.
The rest of the music is from Stu Phillips who mixes some funky tunes with some great faux hippy vibes and some great titles.
If you only get one biker soundtrack, get this one!

Hell's Belles is another great little soundtrack.
Released on Sidewalk records (its Mike Curb again) this is entirely given over to music composed by exotica-master Les Baxter and is surprisingly funky.
Almost every track has great drums pushed up in the mix and it has some wonderful orchestral funk moments.
I have to admit that my copy is the re-issue/boot
Hot Wind is a very funky little number!

I'm cheating slightly by including The Sidehackers soundtrack as its not really a film about bike gangs, more about psychotic people who race bikes with sidecars.
I have no idea who The New Life were although there is a picture of some moody looking guys on the back.
Its another Curb product and this time he's brought his friend Jerry Styner along for help.
As with most Curb productions the majority of the songs are pretty weak.
The exceptions are Ha Lese (Le Di Khanna) and the shockingly titled Psychedelic Rape which is the best freakout track on any biker soundtrack.

Come back for Part II where we'll run through more hairy biker soundtracks such as Satan's Sadists, Hell's Angels 69 and Psychomania.
See you later.

Friday, 11 November 2011


Apologies in advance to anyone who has stumbled upon this page in the hope of finding some cogent discussion on Bird and bop.
I haven't really got anything original to say about Bird's playing, nor about the radical musical innovations he pioneered.
All I can really say is that some sixty years later some of the music sounds as abrasive and hard to comprehend as it must have done to those listening at the time.
I bought this record when I was still at school. It is the first jazz record I ever owned. When I bought it I had no idea that I would find jazz a life-long interest. Nor, indeed that jazz music contained so much variety, interest and intelligence.
I've been trying to remember why I decided I needed a jazz record in my life. I must have been about 15 and I can vividly remember going into Soho with the intention of buying some jazz. As I was young and didn't know much about anything I ended up in the Virgin Megastore which as I write this, is currently a hole in the ground.
If I had known anything, I could have chosen from any number of great record shops, most of which are sadly now closed.
However, I've lost track of the number of times I wished I'd known then what I know now - and sometime wished I know now what I knew then!
So I flicked through the racks of jazz records in the Virgin Megastore. I might as well have been looking at records of ancient Egyptian funeral music for all I knew about the musicians and the type of music that they made.
I've asked myself why I wanted a jazz record. Unfortunately I can't really remember! At the time I was sure that there was a lot more to music than the chart stuff I had been listening to. I liked the Eurythmics well enough but I realised that there had to be more.
At the time I was a voracious reader of comics and many of them had musical references. I bought a copy of Howlin' Wolf's rocking chair album as I'd read about it in an otherwise unremarkable comic called Scout.
Looking back it might have been Hunt Emerson's fault. I had been reading his Comix stuff. If you can find some it you must buy it - totally off the wall, wild and crazy stuff, beautifully drawn and from the mind of a real original. One of his strips is called Max Zillion and is about a permanently put upon jazz saxophonist and his sidekick Alto who is, you've guessed it, an alto sax.
Charlie Parker is, of course, one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time. But why did I not come home with a Coltrane, Davis or Gillespie record?
Parker also stands for rebellion. Not only was he a musical maverick who changed the course of jazz but he also lived a wild, drug fuelled life. My 15 year old self would have given his eye teeth for a little sex and drugs!
In most ways Parker was wilder and more rebellious than any supposedly wild pop star. For a start he was a musical genius but also, for many at the time and later, he wrote the rule book on how to behave if you want to reject the system. He seemed to be playing by his own rules and not by those of the establishment. His life story makes that of someone like Keith Richards seem risible. Not only did Parker suffer at the hands of a racist system that denied he could be a musician of genius simply because he was black, a system that repeatedly locked him up and subjected him to horrific so-called treatments for his addiction, a system that tried to ensure that the majority of the money he made went to white club owners, record label owners or management, he tried to create his own musical world in which the ideas that he had, could flourish and be accepted.  He wasn't just fighting against something but fighting for something and that's what makes his life story (tragic and wasteful as it is) kind of inspiring.
How could I have known any of this what I was 15? Indeed did I have a clue about Parker, about the place of jazz in the history of American culture, about the story of resistance to cultural norms or about the horrors of drug addiction. No, of course not.
I got home and put the record on. It starts with the mellifluous tones of Symphony Sid saying something like 'If you haven't come down to Birdland you haven't lived'. I waited with bated breath for the musical anarchy I knew would follow. However, Bird's playing was so fast, so wild, so difficult and unlike anything I had ever hear before, I took the record off before the first side had finished. Putting it back in its sleeve I breathed a sigh of relief. "If THAT'S jazz, then maybe I don't like jazz," I told myself.
Its rather like trying to read the Wasteland and saying "If that's poetry I don't like poetry".
Every once in a while I would play it and be confirmed that it was too much for me.
But every time I played it some of his music would rub off on me. Something would stick in my mind and start to grow,  like a piece of coral under the skin, and eventually it had taken over and I was a fully fledged jazz fan.
Nowadays there is no need to buy records to find out about music. You can hear almost anything on-line before you buy it and there are countless sources suggesting music to you - if you like X you might like Y.
In that world I would never have found Parker. Sometime, as I've come to understand about Parker and his music, you need to take a chance and explore difference.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Exploito # 11 - John Bunyan's Progressive Pilgrims - Apricot Brandy and Albatross

Times move on, even in the world of exploitation records.
By 1969 Beatles, Stones and soul rip-offs weren't going to cut it anymore (although that didn't stop a lot of records in that vein being released!).
As the title of this group indicated, 'progessive' was where the music was going.
A Whiter Shade of Pale (itself much covered), Beck's Bolero, Rondo and America by the Nice, Soft Machine and Jethro Tull - it was this kind of music that was making the charts.
Organs were becoming more prominent, classical allusions were suddenly acceptable, songs were becoming longer. The kids were 'freaking out'. Although the mop-topped band playing to mini-skirted go-go dancers was a typically 'square' choice of cover image.
And somehow, the guys at Alshire were able to catch some of that on this record.
Against all the odds, this is good, with some really great moments that lift it far above the usual exploito slop. But, compared to any of the bands listed above it suffers from poor production, a certain lack of polish no doubt the result of a lack of money for extra takes, and a strange choice of songs. But when its good, its really good.
There's no point trying to figure out who was in the band. As with the majority of the Alshire catalogue I would guess the identity of the band has been lost. Although if you know,  please tell us! There is part of me that would like this to be a Jerry Cole/ Paul 'Mustang' Griffin collaboration.
Proceedings kick off well with a cover of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross. It stays reasonably close to the original and does nothing to upset.
The same could be said for the cover of Rhinoceros's Apricot Brandy. Is there something about Rhinoceros's success in California that I don't know? Why cover a song that only just made it into the US top 40? Again, if anyone can shed any light I'd be grateful.
Next up we have the Sabre Dance by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Its been covered by many rock and jazz bands over the years. I always file it as being slightly in the exotica camp myself, no doubt because of Les Baxter's version. Here it gets the full crazed organ work out which reminds me of The Nice's America. Truly wild stuff, particularly from an exploito record. Cheekily the credits on the record say 'Arr. Al Sherman'. More money in the pocket of exploito king Sherman!
But for the really wild, over the top, in a world of its own, organ mayhem you have to listen to the next track, Mozart's Dilemma. Guaranteed to get your parents hot under the collar, this is exceptional stuff. If I have one criticism it is that the track starts wild, gets wilder and then has nowhere left to go. Great stuff nonetheless. The writing credit on the record for this track attributes it to Martin Huckridge who produced Astro Sounds, as well as a large number of other 101 Strings records.
After that Spaced Out starts in a slightly familiar way. Where have I heard that fazing before? Could it be on the Astro Sounds Beyond the Year 2000 record? I guess Martin brought some of his old tricks with him. This track does just what it says on the tin and sounds like a guitar firing into space.
Side 2 starts of with Hot Shot which is a pedestrian organ, guitar work out which could happily sit alongside any number of early 60s tracks on any number of exploito records, until the guitar solo which is distorted in a wonderfully aggressive way. Shame the backing track isn't better.
Summertime Blues is pretty woeful, so I suggest you don't spend too much time there.
Winter Draws On is a kind of blues thing that, I think, would love to be something along the lines of A Whiter Shade of Pale but just can't. There are some very nice and weird noises in the background, no doubt from Mr Huckridge.
Song Without Words seems familiar somehow. Can anyone help me out?
Finally Peccadillo follows in the footsteps on its predecessor to close the record with some organ guitar bluesy workout action.
As far as exploito records go, this is one of the best and that's not hype!