I’m doing my first live performance in several months this Thursday, Halloween, at 11pm at Cinema Classics, 332 East 11th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues in New York City. It’s essentially Stretcher Case, but with the rhythm section replaced by a drum machine and some spooky noises. I’m also going to sing a little. Sounds awesome, right? Actually, it might just be good.
Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends: 'The complete' (CD; Polydor; 1967-1969)
Reissued in Japan in 1997, this 1968 vocal group album is simple and beautiful. At first glance, I could understand people wondering what all the fuss is about. The album (plus some extra outtakes, single and B-sides) contains a mix of original material (Roger Nichols wrote a lot of pop hits of the time, often alongside Paul Williams) alongside standards and pop tunes of the time, including a few Beatles numbers.
The lead track, 'don't take your time', is odd. I can't really decide how much I like it. It has an extremely memorable tune and a sweeping, fast-moving arrangement with piano and strings. But some days I just can't deal with it. Next up is a version of 'With a little help from my friends', which I can't really get into either.
However, after this, the album gets really interesting. The version of Bacharach's 'Don't go breaking my heart' is wonderful, with a gentle bossa nova backing, great warm strings and uncannily vivid vocal harmonies. This album was released on A&M at around the same time as Bacharach's solo instrumental LPs, so the orchestra used may be the same. 'I can see only you' is a beautiful, tender ballad, with acoustic guitar, strings, and soft group harmonic vocals. The string arrangements are breathtaking. 'Snow queen' (a Goffin-King composition) is in a similar mood.
'Love so fine' is a great sunny upbeat pop number, as is the equally brilliant 'Just beyond your smile'. 'Kinda wasted without you' is the same kind of bouncy 60s pop, but slightly less successful somehow. The version of 'I'll be back' is slow and delicate, with great harmonies and acoustic guitar playing.
'Cocoanut Grove' is pleasant, but doesn't completely hit home with me. 'Didn't want to have to do it' is a mournful, lazy and atmospheric track; the kind of thing the Beach Boys would sound really good singing.
The final track on the album is 'Can I go', which is very unusual sounding. It's upbeat, with a prominent bass and a nursery rhyme-style melody. The chorus is very catchy, with pleasant harmonies. There's then a discordant neoclassical string sequence, before the song gets going again.
The extra tracks include a very pleasant and sweet version of 'Our day will come', 'Love song, love song', which has the same evocative feel as 'love so fine'. 'Let's ride' and 'The Drifter' are a bit smoother sounding, but very pleasant, with great harmonies. Finally, 'Trust' is incredible, with harmonies that sound at times very like 1980s pop, although I think the recording is from 1968.
All in all, if you're at all interested in that warm late 1960s pop sound, I would recommend picking up this Japanese-issue CD. It's both sweet and melancholic, and while it doesn't fit the bill every day, it is undoubtedly high quality pop music.