One of the most pleasant surprises on 2016's Record Store Day was the appearance of not just one, but two new releases from San Francisco rock legends, The Flamin' Groovies. Now celebrating their 50th anniversary -- yeah, you read that correctly -- this is a band that has been carrying the proud torch of rock and roll since their first gig (winning, if I'm not mistaken, a talent show) at The Cow Palace in 1966.
What's that? You never heard of The Flamin' Groovies before? Well, if you are even a little bit into power pop and vintage flavored rock 'n roll, you've probably heard their 1976 breakthrough single "Shake Some Action" and thought they were a British new wave band.
In actuality, they were a fertile part of the San Francisco music scene back in the late 60s and into the early 70s. Many (including, legend has it, Mick Jagger himself) feel that their remarkable 1971 album Teenage Head bested The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers for its updated take on raw blues-y rock 'n roll.
I concur, it IS that good!
A revised incarnation of the group emerged in 1976 in England just as the punk and (soon-to-be-branded) "new wave" movement was gaining traction. Wisely they were snapped up to the fledgling Sire Records label for three excellent albums of pure pop for now people (Shake Some Action, Flamin' Groovies Now and Jumpin' In The Night).
Fast forward, after many years of bouncing around to different record labels, issuing re-recordings of past glories and plundering the vaults for archival gems, the band is back, out in the clubs, on the road working hard and now enjoying a much deserved career renaissance. They have been aggressively touring with three of its original members (and occasional guest appearances by a fourth, original lead singer Roy Loney). There is a new movie on the group in the works (with a kickstarter type campaign helping to raise funds from fans). And they have been back in the studio with San Francisco Bay Area producer / engineer Joel Jaffe (Ringo Starr, Bonnie Raitt, Santana, etc.) with the promise of a new album to come being touted to fans via social media and such.
The first commercially released new material from the band came out around Record Store Day this year on the Burger Records label: a genuine, brand-spankin' new, 100-percent Made-in-the-U-S-of-A, 45 RPM, Flamin' Groovies single!
The A-side is called "Crazy Macy" and it is a chugging rocker with a catchy hook in the classic mid-70s Flamin' Groovies mold. This song falls somewhere between 1972's "Slow Death" -- which itself sounds like it a template for The New York Dolls -- and the more power pop flavored gems from the Sire years such as "Yeah My Baby." Add in a nod and wink to The Beatles' version of Larry William's "Slow Down" and you've got a great dose of vintage flavored rock 'n roll recorded with 21st Century zeal.
Technically, the record sounds pretty darn great sonics wise as rock 'n roll records go. So much so, I reached out to producer/engineer Joel Jaffe, owner of Studio D in Sausalito, California, where this was recorded and he underscored some of the factors contributing to this single's sonic kick:
"It was cut live in the big room to capture the excitement of the band's live energy! We cut the song with vintage mics and pre's digitally in ProTools at 24-bit, 96 kHz. We did the vocals on a Neuman U47. We used the live room sound for the drums capturing the room with two U67's mid-field and a stereo room mic 20 feet away. I've always liked real sounds for rock and roll. I also used a classic (Ampex) ATR 102 two-track for tape slap on the vocals for a classic sound as well."
Jaffe's attention to important production details rings true when you turn up the volume on this little rock 'n roll gem. Its a great sounding single!
And the cooler thing still is that more new Flamin' Groovies recordings are coming soon, Jaffe promised.
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Until then, you should pick up "Crazy Macy," which, by the way, is pressed on nice dark, quiet black vinyl and comes housed in a fun picture sleeve featuring the Groovies' near-trademark cartoon characters (which I think are always drawn by head Groovie Cyril Jordan). You can also find it as a download on Amazon and iTunes.
The B-Side is a new recording of a vintage Groovies tune from around 1973 called "Let Me Rock" and it, well, rocks! The original version was on a 1973 release on the Skydog Records label, recorded live to two-track in Cyril Jordan's apartment in San Francisco. And while that original has its lo fi indie rock charms, this new version now delivers the sonic punch we always knew the song could have.
"Crazy Macy" is a real great single and there is even a fun video for it which you can watch up on YouTube.
The other gem from Record Store Day was a complete surprise: part of the Rhino Records "Side By Side" series, a split-single featuring "Werewolves of London" as recorded by Warren Zevon AND by our Bay Area heroes, The Flamin' Groovies (taken from their 1979 Sire Records swan song Jumpin' In The Night). The picture on the disc is pretty groovy -- and it is quite good sounding as picture discs -- featuring a gnarly snarling Werewolf next to Big Ben in London on the Zevon side
On the Groovies' side, Mr. Wolf is lurking outside the iconic gates of Britain's Buckingham Palace.
God Save the Queen?
God Save The Flamin' Groovies!
We mean it, man.