Off the shelf: Colours – Colours (1968)

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Purple haze?

Though spelt (sorry, spelled) ‘Colours’ with a ‘u‘, they’re an American band. Proudly boasting anglomaniacal attributes, Brits would be proud to claim origin, but be they British, American, or not even remotely occidental, Colours’ self-titled debut is excellent.

Beatlesque – adj.

1. of, relating to, or suggestive of the musical style or technique of the Beatles.

2. a lazy, cop-out of an explanation used to describe pop music that is principally melodic, up-beat, and indicates 1960s, Northern-British influence. 

On that note I’ll abstain from the phrase for the purposes of reviewing this album, which deserves a descriptive endorsement as a fine slice of transatlantic 60’s psychedelia.

Assembled for a studio project, Colours were Carl Radle, Chuck Blackwell, Gary Montgomery, Jack Dalton and Rob Edwards. Bassist Radle is perhaps best known for his work in Derek & the Dominoes and had become a prominent session player prior to the album. Released on the ill-prepared country and easy-listening label Dot in 1968, the record was poorly marketed and flopped commercially. A disappointing follow-up came in 1969’s Atmosphere, lacking the vibrancy of the debut, and Colours faded. Let’s get into the music they left behind.

Recorded over a few months in late 1967, this record is a sonic anomaly against its regional contemporaries. While a west coast outfit, Colours absorbed themselves less in Californian garage and guitar freak-outs, but championed melody, preferring to form bright and poppy arrangements around a strong tune.

Swinging in from the ether is the opening melodrama ‘Bad Day At Black Rock, Baby’, a capricious number that dances out of the speakers with symphonic embellishments, jumping between time signatures, with occasional unexpected interludes and musical turns. The lyrics tell of a hopeless, nothin’-to-lose hedonist – imagine Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Wednesday Morning 3AM’ turned sour. IMG_0433

‘Love Heals’ follows, bursting with energy and an unapologetic, gospel-tinged gait. The vocal performance is stunning and the melody positively euphoric, fitting for a hippy  anthem – ‘Do you love one another?‘.

McCartney’s influence is strongest on ‘Helping You Out’. By this point its abundantly clear that Colours have some vocal horsepower, the backing harmonies are sunny and sweet and add bags of character. ‘Where Is She’ might be a little too saccharine for some, but it’s not without substance and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

‘Rather Be Me’ carves out a unique sonic fingerprint with an affected vocal and unusual melody. The middle-8 throws the listener into dreamy territory before a tempo shift raises the intensity. Contrast this with the laid-back cool of ‘I’m Leaving’ which closes the side.

Side two brings the single, ‘Brother Lou’s Love Colony’, an ode to the hippy dream with an ontological undertone; ‘Love is the reason we’re here’. The final tracks on the second side return to poppier, melodic climbs, rounding off with the vaudevillian ‘Don’t You Realise’, perhaps inspired by ‘Mother’s Lament’ on Cream’s ‘Disraeli Gears’. 

In this way, it’s clear that Colours didn’t take themselves too seriously. The resulting record is a swift stroke of sunny psychedelia, infused with transatlantic influence, powerful pop melodies and fine performance. A worthy disc.

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New acquisition: Daughters of Albion (1968)

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Front cover

Beware of earworms ahead…

Daughters of Albion were a duo, Greg Dempsey and Kathy Yesse, who in 1968 along with producer Leon Russell fabricated a masterwork of infectious, zany and enigmatic music. No gap is left untouched by a stylistic flourish, no bar spared by a compulsion to hooky ornamentation, and crucially, no track is skippable on pain of death from the Gods of pop sensibility. Praise be.

Vinyl-wise, this is a first (and only) U.S. edition on the blue/green (turquoise?) Fontana label. Also released in the UK and the Netherlands, the UK copy likely provides the optimum listening experience. Sonically, the presentation is clear though a little deficient in bass. Alas, my copy suffers a piercing through all sleeves and the Fontana logo on the label, but is otherwise VG+. A Beatles For Sale-style gatefold completes a sleeve that provides little clue as to the music within. It’s unsurprising it crept under the radar in its day.

It’s hard to place this one. The social-historical context of this work is obvious only in the closing romp ‘1968’, as the preceding songs ooze elements of polished glam in their pomposity, and suggest modernity beyond their birth year in production style. This album has something of an identity crisis, whilst paradoxically clinging to a distinctive idiolect which makes for an enthralling listening experience.

They say of any psychedelic excursion, ‘set and setting is everything’ , and while the music here is less trippy and sedated and more cerebrally invigorating, the advice still applies. Ensure your state-of-mind is fit for listening to this album. If your mood can only been satiated by avant-garde jazz, you’ll ‘Frisbee’ this disc across the room. But if you’re adequately primed for lashings of exuberant, idiosyncratic pop (with a capital ‘P’), feet will tap, heads will bob and needles will be perpetually grooved.

If you listen to just one track to typify the music on this record, a crime though it would be, make it the opener, ‘I Love Her and She Loves My’, which gushes with ‘kitchen sink’ optimism. Immediately we’re treated to baroque strings, over-the-top backing vocals and contrasts of rhythm, texture and intensity before segueing into the curious ‘Still Care About You’. Here the verse melody is dark and intriguing but reveals a syrupy chorus and an inspired double-time middle section, signalling a change in tone as the track drives to its conclusion.

‘Yes, Our Love Is Growing’ is a highlight with a strong melody and an affirming chorus, providing a suitable foundation for some clever production. For the headphone freaks, there are flashes of studio chatter and a sneaky whispered backing vocal.

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U.S. Fontana label

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Back cover

‘Candle Song’ and ‘Ladyfingers’ bulk out the first side, though they hold their own. The former adds to the dreamy and plaintive quotient whilst successfully straddling the country genre in the occasional phrase of melodic decoration (slide guitar), while the latter struts along with a wonderfully pompous gait.

‘Sweet Susan Constantine’ ends the first side, a song of two halves (literally) – two lyrical verses are overlaid and sung together. Though fighting for space, Dempsey’s vocal performances are warm and inviting, only to  be outdone in charm by the outro with its ‘Who shot whom’ lyrics, drowning in blown-bubble sound effects. As we close the first side, it’s clear to see that anything goes, and most of it sticks. Hana Barberra doesn’t rhyme, you know.

We flip over to a more ordered track given its companions, but great moments are a-plenty. The crowning achievements of ‘Hat Off, Arms Out, Ronnie’ are the stereo-split vocals during the verses, one with the lead and one with a rhythmic counterpoint, and Dempsey’s intoxicated middle section. And why not leave in a vocal flub? ‘Good To Have You’ follows, plaintive, understated, supremely melodic, offering heaps of colour with its saxophone breaks.

Perhaps an odd choice for a single given the quality of hooky material on offer is ‘Well Wired’. The album mix sounds half-finished, but somehow it works. At times it’s as though someone’s playing with the studio dials and the record threatens to fall apart entirely before the joyous chorus line is coerced into place by the rhythm section and we’re in freak-pop heaven. For a (slightly) more straight-edged rendition, the mono single mix is worth tracking down.

‘Hey, You, Wait, Stay’ and ‘Story of Sad’ add weight to the third act of this album. A sentimental masterstroke and a more ordered and regular baroque-pop tune respectively.

The boss at the end of the level (or the icing on the cake, depending on your taste/preference/philosophy) is a mishmash of topical nonsense, exuberant jamming, sound effects, and singing bees (yep). There are cameo appearances from Messrs Lennon and Zimmerman and a jab at Lou Adler – though, perhaps its easier to list what isn’t in ‘1968/John Flip Lockup’. Pieces like this demonstrate the willingness (or obsessive compulsion) to say ‘Yes!’ that seems to predicate this whole record. An excitable optimism permeates every groove. The result is a record that is equally compelling, hilarious and baffling – all adjectives that snugly fit beneath the umbrella term ‘entertaining’.

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Gatefold sleeve

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Quick spin: Silver Apples – Silver Apples (1968)

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Front cover

Here we have a quick spin of an LP that helped to lay the groundwork for electro-alchemists to twiddle nobs, adjust faders and apply their neon brushstrokes to the canvas of a 4/4 pulse for the next half a century and more.

Silver Apples were a duo, formed in 1967 by drummer Dan Taylor and synth player Simeon. Simeon’s homemade instrument consisted of 12 oscillators and assorted electronic parts, cobbled together from radios, telegraphs and just about any electric component that could be liberated and tamed into the signal chain.

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Reproduction of the original label

The band produced three albums, the first of which, released in 1968 on KAPP records, is something of a unique psychedelic and early electronica masterpiece. The songs feature strong rhythmic foundations, built upon by strange synthetic sounds from the oscillators and melodic fragments from slight and unassuming vocals.

Every cut has a unique sonic fingerprint, but all share a primal pulse further propelled by bursts of alien sounds. Listen to ‘Oscillations’ for dissonant vocal harmonies or ‘Seagreen Serenades’ for its curious melody and cadence.

Original copies came with a shiny silver sleeve. This copy is a 2009 US reissue on the original label. Highly recommended as a historical record, the music will appeal to those interested in trippy psych, progressive folk, and electronica alike.

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Back cover

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Off the shelf: Kaleidoscope – Tangerine Dream (1967)

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Look directly into the kaleidoscope lens…

“Relax your eyes, for after all, we can but share these minutes…”

Much is known of Kaleidoscope and their expedition through the enigmatic late 1960s, interspersed by charming, archetypal British psychedelic albums, culminating in the splendid ‘From Home to Home’ as Fairfield Parlour in 1970. A worthy opponent, associate and sister to Pink Floyd’s ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, their maiden voyage Tangerine Dream demonstrates through its child-like wonder and prismatic imagery that Peter Daltrey and Syd Barrett were truly cut from the same paisley. Let’s dive into yesterday, and into Kaleidoscope’s Tangerine Dream.

Vinyl-wise, this is a mono bootleg copy, which visually resembles the original release and thankfully sounds decent. The bass is full and the pressing is flat and quiet. I’m unsure if what’s in the grooves is a needle-drop or from a digital source, in any case, I’m pleased with the sound for the price paid. Mono original issues can fetch 4 figures, though there is an official stereo reissue by Sunbeam.

Guitar harmonics underpin the above-quoted lysergic mantra, later revealing a bright and sunny pop song, ‘Kaleidoscope’ is uniquely prissy and English. Are we treated to a quote of the main melody to ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’  in the guitar break? This opening track is a startling and cerebral statement of intent, juxtaposed with the dainty ‘Please Excuse My Face’ that follows.

‘Dive Into Yesterday’ follows, picked electric guitar, just about tamed with compression, is proudly brought to the front of the mix in a capricious psychy rocker complete with suitably kaleidoscopic lyrics. That opening mantra is reprised in the latter stages of the track, providing a focused thematic quality to the record so far. The single, ‘Flight From Ashiya’ is the jewel of side one, rivalling ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’  in its propelling and unwavering rhythmic pulse, upon which the layered guitars, spacey production and descriptive lyrics present a dreamy snapshot-in-time of a tragic plane crash.

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A lovingly reproduced Fontana label, despite a few typeface discrepancies it’s pretty close to the original release.

Elsewhere we have the minimalist, brooding horror-song, ‘The Murder of Lewis Tollani’ with eerie eastern-sounding guitar effects. And is a mid-60’s psych record really complete without the obligatory ‘character song’? This albums’s ‘Mr. Small, the Watch Repairer Man’ is about a heroic salt-of-the-earth horologist. The hook is borrowed from a famous London timepiece and celebrated in a sing-along chorus.

A varied and entertaining album so far, but is there anything not to like? While there are no blatant weak points here, lovers of gut-bustin’ west coast U.S. psych rock may find this record limp. High-voltage freak outs are scarce, highlighting the transatlantic differences in approach. It seems that the British perspective is to idealise child-like whimsy, whilst across the pond, fuzzy guitars are throttled in a bid for their handlers to be taken seriously as adults. What you will find on this LP are charmingly crafted pop songs, very much of their time, injected with cerebral fantasy and honestly performed.

‘(Further Reflections) In the Room of Percussion’ presents a strangely appealing chorus that stumbles along in a delirious stupor. The verses lovingly describe Daltrey and (Eddy) Pumer’s writing space. ‘Dear Nellie Goodrich’ is a charming ode to the dear titular character, on the light-footed and prudish side of psych. It’s driving, exuberant chorus and urging verses, punctuated with horns and descriptive lyrics of the obligatory beach holiday make ‘Holidaymaker’ a pop-tastic stand-out track, well chosen to back up the ‘Flight From Ashiya’ 45.

‘A Lesson Perhaps’ marks a change of pace as we approach the end, its spoken-word medieval narrative sitting above a similarly archaic sounding solo guitar to form a serene lull that floats by as a prelude to the finale. ‘The Sky Children’ is a hypnotic, cyclical ballad with dreamy fantasy lyrics. One would be forgiven for losing their focus in the lyrical narrative in favour of the alluring melody and shifting intensity in the musical landscape. Daltrey’s reverberating vocals work their wonderful magic, managing to simultaneously present a plaintive and celebratory mood – a hauntingly beautiful song.

And so we swallow the final segment of Tangerine Dream, and how well we are nourished. An album of many great moments; the fleeting, canticle guitar break in the opening track, the Big Ben chiming chorus of ‘Watch Repairer Man’, or the macabre incantations of ‘Flight From Ashiya’. I adore this album – a gorgeous record that fully deserves its place as a top-tier piece of English psychedelia. And while it can be said that it’s exemplary of the genre, nothing quite sounds like Tangerine Dream.

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Peter Daltrey’s original sleeve notes.

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New acquisition: Fat Mattress – Fat Mattress (1969)

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 US first issue, made of heavy card stock. The UK sleeve unfolded into a poster.

Another new acquisition, a U.S. first issue of Fat Mattress’ debut. When I picked this up I noticed it was still in its original cellophane, though the record had been played. There’s something satisfying about being the first to open a gatefold sleeve since its production 48 years ago.

Much has been written about the history of Noel Redding’s side-project, so I’ll skip ahead to what’s in the grooves. The music is great psychedelic rock, neatly marrying facets of the British and American traditions of the genre, with a particular tendency toward spaced-out production. At times clarity is readily traded for the ethereal haze brought on by liberally applying reverb effects – you can almost see the smoke wafting through the studio’s control room.

We kick off with ‘All Night Drinker’, an exotically-flavoured up-tempo rocker augmented by virtuoso flute lines and half-time breaks toward dreamy territory. The rock influence is further stated in the second track, ‘I Don’t Mind’, which struts along with rhythm & blues intentions before floating into slower, tripped-out choruses with lashings of reverb.

‘Bright New Day’ introduces a prominent acoustic guitar in a bouncy folk song, and it’s clear that Fat Mattress’ musical palette is varied and engaging. Midway through the first side we’ve seen a range of styles and textures, some looking toward the past, with beat music recalling early British invasion groups, and some firmly in the enigmatic musical moment of the late 1960s.

Side one could benefit from some altered sequencing, as the final two songs are toward the more spaced-out end of the psychedelic spectrum, making this part of the disc a little lopsided. The tracks are excellent, though. ‘Petrol Pump Assistant’ is a triumphant pop-psych romp, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a superb chorus – a stand out track. ‘Mr. Moonshine’ furthers the mystical atmosphere with a thinly-veiled, druggy lyrical sentiment and a superb vocal performance.

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The ‘CTH’ signifies that this was pressed at Columbia Records Pressing Plan in Terre Haute.

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Colourful advertising for other ATCO releases on the inner sleeve.

If there’s one downside, it’s that Fat Mattress seems to have had something of a musical identity crisis, failing to forge a sound unique among the plethora of groups that traversed the psych-ier paths of pop at the tail end of the decade. The opening track could easily be a Cream outtake, while the music across the LP twists and turns between dreamy anthemic ballads and r&b-infused rockers, rarely settling in between. In spite of not always sounding like the same group, the songs are strong. The overall mood is not serious enough to signal a grand artistic statement (unsurprising as this was a side project) but we have a varied and enjoyable collection of tracks that are worth a listen.

‘Magic Forest’, a number one single in the Netherlands, opens side two. A catchy verse precedes a catchier chorus along with slap-back handclaps and layered guitars with a clunky folk feel. ‘She Came In The Morning’ places us back into ethereal territory, enforced by distant timpani sounds and lyrics that speak of an angelic figure of femininity. The tempo picks up at the end as the intensity rises toward a jubilant finish. A key candidate for the jewel of side two.

‘Everything’s Blue’ and ‘Walking Through A Garden’ strike me as filler material, at least relatively so compared to the quality elsewhere on this disc. Garden’ is redeemed by the change of pace offered by a waltz rhythm, which works well alongside the child-like lyrics of wonder and exploration.

‘How Can I Live’ brings the record to a close in the same anthemic style as earlier cuts, this time with a gorgeous church organ accompaniment. Overall Fat Mattress is worthy of a listen by any fan of ’60s psychedelic rock, and while it doesn’t hold together as a great album, lacking a sense of intent and direction, it presents a fine collection of well-crafted songs, tastefully produced for our listening pleasure.

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Inner gatefold sleeve.

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New acquisition: Shape of the Rain – Riley, Riley, Wood and Waggett (1971)

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Simple and understated, not unlike the music within

The first ‘new acquisition’ post on this blog, and it’s something a little special. Shape of the Rain were a British 12-string guitar-led outfit, active from 1966 to sometime in the mid ’70s. Their sole LP release, titled after the band’s surnames, is a mid-ticket rarity on the Neon label – this copy is in near mint condition and a steal from eBay (UK) for under 3 figures.

The music is a tasteful blend of Byrdsy 12-string-led pop and psych/soft rock with British sensibilities. A country influence is evident in verby slide guitars and reserved production. The drums are dry, the guitars are wide, and the vocals are set back and unassuming.

The first cut on side one, ‘Woman’, signposts the importance of the 12-string chime from the outset before revealing a propulsive yet patient rock song with a vocal performance recalling McCartney and an overall impression that looks to early Badfinger. Despite a clear transatlantic influence, the feel is supremely British with a veiled psychedelic leaning evident in the occasional eastern-sounding melodic phrase or lyrical turn.

‘Patterns’ introduces a tasteful slide guitar, effected with reverb, expanding both the space and sonics of the presentation in a laid back groove before giving way to the moving and understated ‘Castles’, sparsely populated with acoustic 12-string guitars and vocal harmonies. A firm favourite on this disc.

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Side 1 label

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Side 2 label

Elsewhere on side one is ‘Yes’, a driving wash of guitars punctuated by an anthemic chorus. The song, while a little deficient in melody, meanders between choppy, psychedelic instrumental excursions, never quite virtuosic or self-indulgent, while retaining a trippy edge without falling into lysergic no man’s land.

Founded in Sheffield in ’66 by brothers Keith and Len Riley, Brian Wood and Ian Waggett,  the band adopted the names ‘Top Gear’ and ‘The Reaction’ before settling on Shape of the Rain. Keith Riley explains:

“If we couldn’t get gigs because they didn’t like us, we’d just change the name, If they liked us we’d stick with the same name”

Open to influence from all directions of the rock sphere, the band were exposed to the dizzy trajectories of some big acts, supporting the likes of Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Love during their time as the house band at Sheffield University. In spite of the Riley, Riley, Wood and Waggett album being the only music of theirs that saw official release, earlier recordings do exist, cataloguing their music from ’66-’73. An area for exploration at a later date.

Side two comes and the quality remains consistent. ‘Dusty Road’ spotlights the country influence (as if you couldn’t guess from the title) in a melodic but sombre track complete with a beautiful harmonised verse. ‘Willowing Trees’ offers a stark contrast to the wistful ‘Dusty Road’, in which an eyebrow-raising melody accompanies springy guitars, escaping into a more driving minor-key break.

The subdued mood is returned to on ‘I’ll Be There’, a track that could snuggly fit somewhere on side two of Wishbone Ash’s Argus. The two-part rocker ‘Broken Man’ completes a set of songs that delightfully marries various contemporary musical styles to achieve an unassuming and understated record.

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Inner gatefold sleeve

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Off the shelf: The Four Seasons – Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1969)

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An early example of the ‘newspaper’ album cover, later employed by Jethro Tull on ‘Thick As A Brick’ and John Lennon on ‘Sometime In New York City’.

There are a number of records from the 1960s that have since transcended their initially lukewarm reception to become regarded not only as fine pieces of artistic work, but important ones at that. The unlikely ‘Genuine Imitation Life Gazette’ by the even more unlikely Four Seasons is one such record, an album that rivals The Village Green Preservation Society in sheer ambition, and stands alongside the likes of S.F. Sorrow and Tommy in historical significance as an early concept album.
With the group’s popularity waning in favour of more hard-edged rock acts toward the late 1960s, The Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio joined forces with singer-songwriter Jake Holmes (original writer of Dazed & Confused) to create a cycle of socially conscious songs, dealing with aspects of modern-day life such as divorce, youth, and the social/economical divisions in American society.
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‘American Crucifixion Resurrection’ opens the first side, a grandiose overture depicting a divided nation. A topical lyrical impression of late-60’s America accompanies chiming bells and doomy piano parts in an elliptical declaration: this won’t be a typical Four Seasons record.
‘Mrs. Stately’s Garden’ follows, a blurred and transitory snapshot of suburban American life complete with the sneering hearsay of nosy neighbours and a strong horn arrangement to boot. A change in pace is offered in ‘Look Up Look Over’, an ethereal and sentimental track notable for its gorgeous vocal harmonies and spoken-work interlude. The first side closes with ‘Saturday’s Father’, a heartbreaking take on the arms-length role of a father figure following the breakdown of a marriage.
Musically, the record enjoys a variety of influences, falling loosely into the ‘psych’ bracket, enhanced by hints of baroque instrumentation (à -la Van-Dyke Parks), studio effects, and the signature lush vocal harmonies of the group. The songs span a musical, textural and lyrical range on par with contemporary classics, while the overarching themes are tastefully interwoven, not losing focus or becoming tiresome.
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A comic from the inner gatefold sleeve referencing the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi scandal, documented in Lennon’s Sexy Sadie.
Side two opens with a hip and celebratory description of the various social groups of New York City in ‘Wall Street Village Day’ before giving way to the title track, the Jake Holmes original that was the catalyst to his and Gaudio’s working relationship when Gaudio saw Holmes performing in Greenwich Village.

 

The closing track, ‘Soul Of A Woman’ is an attractive assortment of musical segments, the most significant of which is a tender and nostalgic closing passage of intense instrumentation which offers a calming antidote to the unrest of the opening ‘American Crucifixion Resurrection’
While enjoyed by critics (and apparently John Lennon), the fans were less convinced by this record, resulting in a commercial flop. However, since its release The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette has slowly crept towards a cult classic status, sitting just below the ‘top tier’ albums of legendary status like ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Village Green’. This record, in all its determination to succintly chronicle late 1960s America, deserves to be hailed as an absorbing example of intricately orchestrated, socially-alert, psych pop – relentlessly of its time.
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Lyrics are embedded into news stories on the gatefold sleeve.

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