Some of the cooler Record Store Day finds this year were really reasonably priced considering that they are European pressings which would normally cost quite a bit more if you could find them. That the albums sound good is a bonus. That the music contained within them is also really good too makes them a win win for those who were able to get copies.
One of these albums is by a band I honestly had never heard about until I got in line — a number of people there were buzzing about the reissue of an obscure album by an obscure band on an obscure subsidiary-of-a-subsidiary label (Parlophone’s Major Minor Records) called simply, July. Their eponymous album (according to information on the Wiki) came out in 1968 amidst the post Summer of Love psychedelic movement and by 1969 they were gone. Little is known about the band apparently as their singles didn’t do much back in the day. But, as is the case with many groups, you can hear their influence across the ages. They sound like the sort of band that would have fit well on a bill alongside Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd.
There in lies some of the likely reason the album didn’t do so well when it came out in 1968 — by the time this was released, a lot of the hipper bands were already making music that was much heavier sounding. Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and Cream’s Wheels of Fire were out in 1968. Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly were rocking hard and heavy by then. Even The Beatles were going post-psychedelic bluesy and hard rockin’ on The White Album (“Yer Blues,” “Helter Skelter,” etc.). Music was changing super rapidly so it is quite possible that July was just a bit too twee for the times, just a year too late.
That said, nearly 50 years hence, July is a really fun album with some killer tracks like “My Clown” and — my personal fave thus far — “Jolly Mary.” Again, this all sounds very much like it could have been recorded in a studio tucked away between Donovan, Syd’s Pink Floyd, The Small Faces and The Who (pre Tommy). If you like bands like Australia’s Tame Impala and Sweden’s Dungen and some of The Flaming Lips more recent trip-out tunes, you may well dig July.
So, I learned something new on Record Store Day this year. How cool is that? Oh, and did I tell you that the July album comes pressed on gorgeous clear gold and splatter red vinyl, pressed in Europe and housed in an audiophile worthy plastic lined sleeve? Yup! Way cool.
Now the other release I originally set out to get on Record Store Day is also on the Parlophone label. It came out in 1967 and has been reissued on similarly patterned colored vinyl: The Yardbirds’ Little Games. Fans of the band usually have mixed feelings about this album as it is a bit of a miss mash and a change up of the sound the Yardbirds had with prior guitarists Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. That change was of course due to future Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page’s presence. In many ways, Little Games IS a precursor to Zeppelin, containing early versions of numerous riffs and melodies that appeared later in the heavy metal pioneer’s oeuvre (“White Summer”, “Tinker Tailer Soldier Tailor” etc.). This Record Store Day release is really sweet, a dead quiet splatter colored — yellow! red! purple! — vinyl pressing that is near perfectly centered and sounds awesome (sorry to those of you who believe that only black vinyl can sound good, this one is a beauty).
Little Games is a very interesting album in retrospect. While it does have some of the obligatory sounds of psychedelia — Sitars!! — this music has some of the propulsive sound found on the first Cream album (1966’s Fresh Cream, which is curious if you stop and think about the fact that Eric Clapton was once a Yardbird). Not really copying Cream at all, clearly The Yardbirds saw the writing on the wall that music was changing and changing fast, so they were trying to keep pace with the times, getting heavier (“Drinking Muddy Water”) while maintaining some singles sensibility (Mickie Most had been brought in as a producer).
One of the most curious tracks on Little Games is a cover of the old 1920s jug band / folk standard “Stealing,” done very much in a style employed by another band that (I have read or been told) were very much liked by Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant: Kaleidoscope (from Los Angeles, featuring David Lindley on guitar). Indeed this song would fit neatly next to tracks from Kaleidoscopes’ 1967 debut, such as “Hesitation Blues” and Cab Calloway’s “Minnie The Moocher.” Curiouser still, The Grateful Dead’s first single (issued in 1966 on a regional label) was based on this same song, “Stealin’,” albeit in a different arrangement.
The world was getting smaller by the minute back then. It is a small world, after all…