Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Far out! A selection of obscure, classic, (mainly) '60s singles from the likes of France Gail, James Ray and Vashti Bunyan

Françoise Hardy
I've been off music for a while, but reading Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out by Gordon Thompson has reawakened my interest. It's a fascinating book if - like me - you're interested in the songwriting and recording process rather than lurid tales of sexual and chemical excess. The author is an American academic with a penchant for words like "semiotic" and a wearyingly humourless leftist obsession with the political motives of songwriters and performers such as Pete Townsend and Ray Davies (hint: they didn't have any until earnest cultural Marxist intellectuals told them that lyrics like "Get your kit off, baby, I'm horny" were a revolutionary, class-conscious, anti-establishment call to arms). But Thompson is train-spotterish when it comes to what happened in the recording studio, and that's exactly what I want. Recommended. Anyway, finding myself at a loose end last night, I went surfing...

... and ended up listening to far too many hits (or near-misses) from the Sixties - mainly one-hit wonders from the American charts, but encompassing one items from the '50s, as well as some British and Euro-pop.

Here, in no particular order, and with no particular theme, are some of my favourites from last night's trawl. Despite having little interest in World Music, I'll  start with Bembeya Jazz National's lovely "Armée guinéenne (Afriques Indépendantes)", an Afro-pop classic from Guinea (which is a genuine call to arms, in case Gordon Thompson ever reads this):

If World Music isn't my bag (man), then '60s French pop is even less so - and yet this 1964 Françoise Hardy number is a delight (helped by the fact that the camera captures her training for the French Olympics rowing team):

Okay, that's enough French (for now). I never really cottoned to the Texan P.J. Proby's Britpop hits, but he really did have a superb, rootsy voice, as he demonstrated in 1967 with the funky "Niki Hoeky":

Nowhere near as funky as the bibulous trouser-splitter was Lenny Dee, who scored a US hit in 1955 by doing entertaining things with his organ:

What's that you say - you want more pretty French girls? Oh, all right. Here's France Gail being cute in 1964 with "Laissez tomber les filles" (although I wish someone would smack the blond pillock) :

Ooh la la! Back to the States now, with Fred Hughes's utterly perfect 1965 urban soul hit, "Oh Wee Baby, I Love You",  which sounds like classic Motown, but was cut for VeeJay:

The Flirtations were a female American soul trio, but they recorded "Nothing but a Heartache" after decamping to England and signing for Deram Records. It was produced by an Englishman, Wayne Bickerton, and written by him and Tony Waddington:

Remember that riff from Deep Purple's "Black Night"? Well, they got it from the Blues Magoos' 1967 American hit "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" (as did Liverpool Five less memorably on "She's Mine"). The Blues Magoos stole it from Ricky Nelson's 1962 version of "Summertime":

Here's an oddity. Vashti Bunyan (no, really) is a Newcastle-born singer-songwriter, but her first release in 1965 was a Jagger-Richards composition, "Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind", which had already been recorded (drearily) by the US duo, Dick and Dee Dee, and was later released by the Rolling Stones themselves. None of the versions really work, but Ms Bunyan's has a certain ethereal charm:

There's nothing obscure about Henry Mancini's splendid 1964 theme tune for "A Shot in the Dark":

James Ray's terrific R&B waltz, "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody", was an American hit in 1961, when there seems to have been a vogue for country-inflected black music (Ray Charles recorded his Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music LP the following year). James Ray died of a drug overdose soon after the success of this great single. What a ridiculous waste:

The Eddie Harris Quintet's 1961 take on the endlessly-recorded theme for "Exodus" is pure Jazz Club, but I love it:


I'll end with a true musical abomination - a single which should have seen everyone connected with it hunted down, arrested, and sentenced to life, preferably in a Turkish prison. Unbelievably, the perpetrator was Don Everly (yes, that Don Everly), who conceived and produced "Pomp And Circumstance (The Graduation Song)" for his own record label in 1961. Much the the shame of the American public, a sufficient number of them bought it for it to reach No. 37 in the charts:

May God have mercy on Don's soul...


  1. What about "Ca plane pour moi" by the great Belgian Plastic Bertrand? Just because something is Belgian does not mean it is crap? Mostly.

    1. Thank you for reminding us all how very good Ça plane pour moi is.

      In view of the current burning summer temperatures, what about going back two years for a reprise of Voulez-vous brûlez avec moi ce soir?

  2. I assure you that "Ça plane pour moi" is one of my all-time favourite singles - but it's simply too well-known for this list.

    You may be surprised to hear that the chap who almost did himself a mischief pogoing around while performing the song in public - Roger Allen François Jouret - didn't sing on the record (or any of the first three Plastic Bertrand LPs), and only received 0.5% of the royalties. The man who sang on the record - and produced it - was the song's composer, whose name was (I am not making this up) Lou Deprijck, which may explain why it was released under a pseudonym.

  3. I wonder if Lou Deprijck is related to South African Wicketkeeper/Batsman Quinton deKock who gave rise to endless speculation about bowlers Broad and Anderson and who was going to get deKock out first?