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February 19, 2020

Between The Lines – The Complete Jordan/Wilson Songbook ’71-81

I’ll Have A…Bucket Of Brains

The Flamin’ Groovies

Grown Up Wrong! CDs

Now that Big Star are virtually mainstream the Groovies have inherited their mantle of “The Best Band You Never Heard Of (Unless You Are Jack White)”. The LPs Flamingo (1970) and Teenage Head (1971) showcased the initial songwriting partnership of guitarist Cyril Jordan and singer Roy Loney. These two Grown Up Wrong! CDs highlight the very different second phase from 1971 onwards when Roy Loney was replaced by singer/guitarist Chris Wilson. The Wilson/Jordan songwriting partnership lasted ten years and every song they wrote is contained on Between The Lines in chronological order.

First up is the lo-fi but totally committed Let Me Rock, later to be re-recorded in higher-fi in 2016. Dog Meat is in a similar vein, these tracks coming from San Francisco 1971. The third track from this session is a more thoughtful original entitled Blues From Phyllis: inspired guitar from Cyril underpinned a lyric about a guy in the terminal stages of VD. It would be remade in 1977 as Don’t Put Me On with lyrics changed to attack a music journalist, including a rare useage of the word poltroon.

Enter Dave Edmunds and Rockfield studios and a brace of total 100% classics in You Tore Me Down and the immortal Shake Some Action. Whilst they would appear sounding box-fresh on debut Sire LP in 1976, the tracks were actually recorded in 1972. What do they sound like ? A heady cocktail made from the Stones, Beatles and Byrds in variable proportions, coincidentally the ingredients from which the afore-mentioned Big Star created their magic. Good as these tracks were the next two songs were even better – a demo of Shake Some Action and When I Heard Your Name. Cut for Capitol in July 1973 they have a harder edge than the Edmunds tracks, with a Who-like dynamic on Shake Some Action and some cool mellotron over a Bo Diddley beat for When I Heard Your Name

The next five tracks come from the Shake Some Action LP, the highlight being tear-jerker Teenage Confidential. Follow up LP Now (1977) contributes six tracks, including the propulsive Between The Lines and a Brian Wilson homage in Take Me Back. Third and final Sire LP Jumpin’ In The Night (1979) was made without Edmunds, but Jordan’s production toughened up the sound on the title track and the closing In The U.S.A to deliver the hard, churning rhythm that Jimmy Miller achieved with prime-period Stones – the rock and the roll. Finally So Much In Love – the last Jordan / Wilson song recorded by the Groovies at their abortive Gold Star session in 1981. A bit flimsy compared to previous triumphs but good to have here.

Compiler David Laing has done a sterling job in focussing attention on the bands originals and eliminated the cover versions that cluttered the bands three Sire LPs Whilst at the time Jordan justified the number of cover versions as an homage to early Beatles and Stones LPs a more likely explanation is that he and Chris Wilson were just too slow at writing. Although an occasional gem is missed – I am particularly fond of the harpsichord-drenched I Saw Her, originally by the Charlatans – losing the covers lends more focus to what’s left. It could be renamed the Groovies Greatest Hits, if only they’d had one.

In addition to Jordan and Wilson much credit must be given to long-term bass-player George Alexander, guitarists James Farrell and Mike Wilhelm and drummer David Wright. The standard of musicianship is high throughout – not in the sense of “oh wow what a cosmic 18 minute guitar solo” but more in the sense of a band playing with economy, using lean arrangements to optimise their songs. A 28 page booklet contains Laing’s comprehensive history of the band and includes some mouth-watering Groovies ephemera. Clearly a labour of love.

As is its companion release I’ll Have… A Bucket Of Brains. This is a straight recreation of a CD put together in 1995 by veteran Groovies fan Jon Storey and contains the ground-breaking tracks the band recorded at Rockfield in 1972 . There is some duplication with Between The Lines but also essential tracks. Exhibit one: Little Queenie with Edmunds contributing some boogie-woogie piano a la Ian Stewart. Exhibit two: Slow Death, for me the finest and fiercest song in the Groovies canon. Although recorded by the Jordan/Wilson band it was actually written by Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney and thus was not eligible for inclusion on Between The Lines. Slow Death features a killer slide guitar from Farrell, and a passionate anti-drugs lyric that earnt it a ban from the BBC (doh). Also of note is an extended and different mix of Married Woman and Edmunds’ Shake Some Action at its correct (slower) speed. Once again the booklet is top notch with a note from Jon Storey, a reprint of Nick Kent’s article on the band from Friends in June 1972 – a total hoot – and Robin Wills fascinating speculation as to what tracks could have gone on a 1972 Groovies LP.

A band calling itself the Flamin’ Groovies continues to tour, although with George Alexander and Chris Wilson no longer in the line-up the current band is virtually a tribute to itself. Sadly Roy Loney and Mike Wilhelm have died in recent years leaving Cyril Jordan to fly the flag for Grooviedom on his own. There has been a movie about the Groovies in preparation for years with much footage shot: whether it will ever be released is uncertain. So for now these two CDs – together with Flamingo and Teenage Head – represent all that is best about a wonderful band that continually managed to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.

Is 2020 going to be the Year of the Groovies?


But there is some serious fun to be had with the music on these two fine CDs.


From → Music

One Comment
  1. Mike Baess permalink

    Nice review Simon. Unfortunately that’s it for the Groovies. They’ve had their day. The unluckiest band of all time or a band who were confounded
    by making their own bad luck? For me it’s the latter. Arrogance, addiction, drunkenness and cruelty made the band and ultimately undid them too.
    Theirs really was a slow death. Now it’s time to call the preacher.


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