I almost missed out on this Record Store Day release, a 10-inch EP of 1972 recordings by San Francisco’s own Flamin’ Groovies called I’ll Have A Bucket Of Brains. I hadn’t heard about it’s release and then when I saw it in one of the stores I went to I thought I’d probably had the recordings already somewhere. The Groovies’ catalog is notoriously erratic so I figured this was probably another one of those dubious releases on a questionable label delivering less than great quality recordings with fanboy gusto and enthusiasm.
Happily on this one I was wrong.
Again, when I finally had a copy of this in my hands I almost didn’t buy it. The cover art looked super dubious. But then I read on the back cover it was issued by Parlophone Records, originally an EMI Records imprint which is now controlled by Warner Music. So… I took the $20 risk. Maybe it’d be good.
I’m glad I got it.
Here we have real good quality versions of a fantastic series of recordings the band made with none other than Rockpile’s Dave Edmunds in 1972 at his Rockfield Studio in Wales. Some of these tracks were issued as singles in the UK and Europe in 1972 (but they didn’t do well at the time and are now rare collector’s items).
I don’t know if these are “best” quality definitive versions, but they are clearly made from a very clean sounding source. There are none of the typical tell-tale artifacts one might expect from one of those bootleg quality releases which populate the Flamin’ Groovies back catalog — tape hiss, too much compression, distortion, digital crunchiness, etc.
That said, if you are familiar with Dave Edmunds’ home brewed recordings he made at that time — he had a smash in 1970 with a cover of the 1955 Smiley Lewis hit “I Hear You Knockin’” — you know what to expect. There is a certain wonderfully claustrophobic charm to these recordings which are not muddy but pack a sort of mid-range punch which sounds real great when you play the music up loud. I’ll bet these would sound great out of a transistor radio speaker.
Manufactured in Germany, the ten-inch vinyl album pressing is excellent thick, dark black and well centered with fun (and different) picture labels of the band on each side. It even comes in a poly-lined inner sleeve, something you rarely get with a 10-incher! Clearly some care went into this record’s creation.
I do wish it had better cover art, knowing that head Groovie Cyril Jordan is a fantastic artist who probably could have made a better cover in his sleep with his eyes closed (its apparently based on a 1995 CD release, which riffs off the logo used on the original United Artists singles issued in the UK and Europe around 1972).
Ah well, its ultimately about the music and here that shines brightly.
There are some fantastic tunes here you’ll want to play loud including the original nearly five-minute original slower version of the Groovies’ later breakthrough hit “Shake Some Action.” Here they cover “Get A Shot Of Rhythm & Blues,” a song which The Beatles played in their early Cavern and Star Club days, in Liverpool and Hamburg respectively.
There is an absolutely killer version of “Slow Death” here and the version of “You Tore Me Down” is fantastic with Edmunds apparently playing the acoustic guitar that just lifts up the tune into Rubber Soul territory (this song would fit neatly into the U.S. version). These are probably the best versions of those songs I’ve heard. Great guitar and amplifier tones come through the speakers, here. If you want to get I’ll Have A Bucket Of Brains you’ll have to find it at one of your favorite stores or look for it on Discogs (its not on Amazon thus far, at least on vinyl)
What is tragic is that United Artists didn’t really get behind the music and left the band to hang on the fence after the singles stalled upon a limited issue (a pattern which plagued their career). You can read more about these sessions and how they came to be named “I’ll Have A Bucket Of Brains” at the wiki (click here). I’ll give you a clue: the reference is not as Zombie-grotesque as you might think.
Seriously, read the story there and you’ll get a sense of Cyril Jordan’s determination and belief in The Flamin’ Groovies’ music. He made journeys in 1972 from San Francisco to London to Wales to London to LA and back again. There were probably many more flights and much hard pounding of the pavement to try to secure label interest. Eventually they made a good connection and signed to Seymour Stein’s fledgling Sire Records label, issuing the proto-New Wave power pop classic album Shake Some Action in 1976.
I’m reminded about that old music business line: It takes ten years to make an overnight sensation.
But really for most folks it takes a lifetime of trying to catch the big break. I hope as things settle down once the pandemic is more under control we’ll get to see the band playing live again and putting out some new music. Their last album called Fantastic Plastic was fabulous (click here to read my review).
Long live The Flamin’ Groovies!