Just A Chance – The Story of Wish You Were Here

by Rik Mercaldi on July 27, 2015

Badfinger WYWH CoverReleased in the spring of 1974, Badfinger’s sixth studio album Wish You Were Here is arguably their finest piece of work as a band, and as a complete record. The songwriting was inspired, with a world-weary, melancholic edge that can only come from real-life experiences, both good and bad. Some songs were collaborative efforts that pushed the material to greater heights and allowed the
individual band members, whose performances were truly exceptional, to shine. This was the last Badfinger album to feature all four members in their classic lineup.

Strangely enough, it’s a record that most people have never heard, or even heard of. It didn’t contain any of their famous singles, and by the time the album was finally released the band members were embroiled in conflicts with their manager, their record label, and with each other.

The story of a group of talented Beatles-loving musicians who realize their fantasies of recording on The Beatles’ Apple label and working with The Beatles themselves, sounds like a fairy tale come true. They played on George Harrison’s solo debut, All Things Must Pass, Lennon’s Imagine album, and appeared as part of the house band at Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the tale is a cautionary one filled with deceit, betrayal, and suicides in a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Badfinger evolved from an earlier group called The Iveys which was formed in Swansea, Wales in 1961 by guitarist/vocalist Pete Ham, bassist Ron Griffiths, guitarist Dai Jenkins and drummer Mike Gibbins. In 1966, while playing on the Swansea club circuit opening for bands like The Who and The Moody Blues, The Iveys caught the attention of Bill Collins who offered to manage them. The band decided to relocate to London and moved into Collin’s house at 7 Park Avenue in Golders Green. In 1967 Jenkins was replaced by Liverpudlian guitarist Tom Evans. Although Collins wasn’t the most business savvy of managers, he provided encouragement and was instrumental in getting them to start writing their own songs, which he saw as their route to success.

While in London, Collins met Mal Evans, The Beatles road manager, who immediately took a liking to The Iveys and brought the band to the attention of his employers. In 1969 they were signed to The Beatles label, Apple Records and released their first single, “Maybe Tomorrow”, a lushly orchestrated pop ballad written by Tom Evans and produced by Tony Visconti. While moderately successful in other European markets, the song failed to chart in the UK. The band continued working on material with Visconti and submitting songs to Apple, though they struggled to come up with anything that Apple deemed worthy of releasing.  An interview with bassist Ron Griffiths in Disc & Music Echo caught the attention of McCartney. When asked how the band was getting on at Apple, Griffiths responded, “We do feel a bit neglected. We keep writing songs for a new single and submitting them to Apple but The Beatles keep sending them back, saying they’re not good enough.”

Help came when Paul McCartney was contacted to supply three songs for an upcoming film called The Magic Christian, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.  McCartney, feeling that this would be a good opportunity to get The Iveys some much needed exposure, asked them to bring in two of their own songs to record for the film, and offered them a new composition he’d just written called “Come and Get It”. The Iveys submitted  “Carry on Till Tomorrow” penned by Ham/Evans and “Rock of All Ages” by Evans/Ham/Gibbons which along with “Come and Get It” were recorded and produced by McCartney at Abbey Road Studios in August of 1969.

The band felt that it would be a good time to change their name.  The Iveys sounded too dated and they felt that they needed a name that sounded more contemporary. John Lennon’s cheeky suggestion was The Prix (pronounced pree, but obviously meant to be mispronounced).  Mal Evans remembered a working title that Lennon and McCartney had used for the song “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It was called “Badfinger Boogie” as Lennon had injured his finger on the piano while they were composing the song. It wasn’t exactly a eureka moment, but tiring of the process and the fact that no one was coming up with anything better, they all agreed: The Iveys were now Badfinger.

Conflicts within the band forced the resignation of Ron Griffiths and the band set out to find a new bass player. When a suitable replacement couldn’t be found, Tom Evans agreed to switch to bass and they brought in another Liverpudlian, guitarist Joey Molland. The classic Badfinger lineup was now in place.

BF2The newly christened Badfinger released “Come And Get It” as a single in December of 1969. It was a worldwide top 10 hit, reaching #7 on the Billboard charts in the U.S and #4 on the Melody Maker chart in the U.K. To take advantage of this success, an album was hastily put together using the three McCartney produced tracks combined with songs produced by Visconti and Mal Evans. The album was named Magic Christian Music after the film and was in the shops a month later. Since the artwork for the record was being prepared before Molland was in the band (and, actually, all of the tracks were recorded when they were still The Iveys) only Ham, Evans, and Gibbons are shown on the record.

Subsequent albums No Dice and Straight Up yielded more successful singles including “Day After Day,” “No Matter What,” “Baby Blue,” and “Without You,” which was later covered by Harry Nilsson and became a global hit. “Without You,” written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans, has since gone on to become one of the most covered and beloved pop songs ever written.

In 1970, the band signed a management deal with an American businessman named Stan Polley. When their Apple contract ran out, Polley advised them to sign a deal with Warner Brothers for $3 million. As Polley handed the band the papers to sign, he told them “you’re all millionaires!”

Badfinger still had one more record to complete for Apple, and it was Tom Evans who came up with the idea for the cover art. A painting of a jackass wearing headphones staring up at a dangling carrot in the distance, it unapologetically revealed the underlying sense of skepticism and uncertainty that was in the air. The album, titled Ass, also contained a moving tribute by Pete Ham to their former label. The song, “Apple of My Eye,” would be the band’s final single for Apple.

While still completing tracks for their final album with Apple, the band was immediately thrust back into the studio to prepare songs for what would be their first album for Warner Brothers. Their proposed album title For Love Or Money, (thought to be a thinly veiled remark on their leaving Apple for Warner Brothers) was rejected by the label, and changed simply to Badfinger. Unfortunately, both Badfinger and Ass were released within a couple of months of each other, causing great confusion with the public. The pressure Polley put on the band to get their new Warner Brothers album together so quickly after just finishing up their last one resulted in a record that was simply not up to the band’s standards. Peaking at 161 on the Billboard charts, Badfinger, was their lowest charting album to date. Upon reappraisal, both records do contain some great music and have their admirers with Ass, generally considered the stronger of the two. Things were not getting off to a good startwith their new manager or with their new label.

While the band was being kept on a seemingly endless cycle of recording and touring, Polley was taking all of the band’s earnings and setting them up in various accounts only accessible to him. He kept the band on a wage that was barely livable, and created the illusion that they were all sacrificing larger salaries from profits generated through album sales and concerts to create a nest egg for their futures. When Pete Ham repeatedly tried contacting Polley in desperate need of cash for his family and house payments, Polley was elusive and almost always impossible to reach. There had been speculation for some time now amongst various band members that things weren’t quite right, but now even Ham, who had always been the most trusting of them all, was beginning to realize that something was very wrong.

An so in 1974, as the band began sessions for what would become Wish You Were Here, at Caribou Ranch Recording Studios in Colorado, to say that tension was in the air would be an understatement.

When it comes to creating art, extreme emotions and dark circumstances can often lead to inspiring work. The air of discontent, frustration and confusion that hung around the band like an ominous cloud would not only drive each of them more deeply into his own introspections, but seemed to bond them musically. This was clearly not just another album they were making, but a work of honest, artistic expression of the highest order.

The album leaps out of the gate with the explosive intro of  “Just A Chance,” a mourning, yet optimistic, plea written by Pete Ham. Absolutely brimming with energy, their shimmering vocal harmonies and signature chiming/chugging guitars, combine to make it not only one of the strongest tracks on the album, but a highlight in the band’s entire oeuvre, and an absolute Power Pop classic.

The next track “You’re So Fine,” is interesting in that is was written by the band’s drummer Mike Gibbins. He had contributed toand even had a couple of his songs recorded onprevious albums, but it’s evident here that he was becoming more accomplished as a songwriter. For this, the first of Gibbins’ two outstanding contributions to the record, the lead vocals were handed over to Joey Molland who puts in an inspired performance, reinforced again with the powerful harmonies of Ham & Evans.

When you listen to the next song, Molland’s darkly introspective “Got To Get Out Of Here,” its ambiguous lyrics leave you wondering what exactly he needs to run away from. Their manager?, a woman?, the band itself? The beautifully ethereal, church like organ that runs throughout lifts the song into an almost spiritual, elegiac declaration of longing.

Ham’s “Know One Knows” follows with a deliciously infectious refrain. Later in the song, over a brilliantly executed dual guitar harmony solo, singer Mika Kato (the wife of Chris Thomas, the album’s producer) recites Pete Ham’s lyrics in Japanese adding a unique dimension and international flair to an already stellar track.

A beautiful song of reassurance and hope, the dark minor chords which feature in the first section of the next song “Dennis” are opened up to an uplifting chorus of  “we love you,” only to reveal in the final section, a man filled with self doubt trying to convince others that everything will be all right. “There’s a way through, there’s a way to, take away blue… Hearing the song, even if one is oblivious to it’s actual subject matter, is quite a moving experience. Knowing now what Ham was going through at the time this was written makes it even more poignant.

Side two starts with “In The Meantime”/”Some Other Time” the first of two interesting song mash-ups found on the record. The first is another Gibbins track, followed by Molland’s. The two songs blend into each other as though they were conceived together. More interestingly is that as the band was coming into their own, moving away from the earlier Beatles comparisons, the compositional technique of two songwriters fusing separately realized ideas so seamlessly couldn’t help but remind one of how well Lennon and McCartney often did the same, to such great effect.

“Love Time” which follows is a richly layered acoustic-guitar-based ballad written and sung beautifully by Molland. Also worth noting is that it contains, for me, one of the album’s best guitar moments in the tastefully soulful solo section, complete with classic Badfinger guitar harmonies.

“King Of The Load (T),” Tom Evans sole songwriting contribution is a warm, inviting, electric piano led ballad about a wandering minstrel displaying characteristics not far removed from those of its author. Not the strongest song on the album, and considering some of his past work, maybe not even one of Evans’ best, but it actually works extremely well here in the context of the album. Changing the mood just enough to keep the flow of the record interesting, while also serving to accentuate the intensity of what comes next.

The album closes strong with one of Badfinger’s most powerful statements, both musically and lyrically. Once again, two separate songs blend seamlessly into one another. The song starts with Ham’s “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch” A unapologetic selfpurging of frustration that I have no doubt is directed towards manager Stan Polley. This morphs into Molland’s “Should I Smoke” which segues effortlessly, reinforcing the desperate angst of a group of men in turmoil, though still sounding defiant.

It’s also important to note that this record is a high water mark for Joey Molland as a songwriter. Although he regularly contributed many quality songs to each of their albums, and was responsible for the majority of the tunes on Ass, he unfairly fell under the shadow of Ham and Evans, especially after the huge success of “Without You.” Not unlike George Harrison’s role in The Beatles, interestingly enough. His songwriting contributions to this album are nothing less than stellar.

The album was released in November of 1974 and received some favorable reviews, most notably from Rolling Stone magazine. But there was a huge problem. Warner Brothers found a large sum of money missing from the band’s escrow account, and when no satisfactory explanation was given by their manager, a lawsuit was filed, and the album was pulled from the shelves, seven weeks after it’s release. A fabulous record and great press mean nothing if no one can find your album in the shops, which is precisely what happened. Wish You Were Here remained out of print.

Joey Molland left fracturing the band, but they did their best to soldier on. Pete Ham left, then rejoined to record another album that was again rejected due to ongoing litigation with Warner Brothers. Everything continued to spiral downhill.

In 1975, with the band stuck in limbo, a new family with a baby on the way, and mounting debt, Pete Ham was informed that he was broke.

Pete Ham & Tome EvansFinally, with their management unreachable for any explanation or help and unable to cope with all of these pressures, he hung himself in his garage, leaving a note expressing his love for his family and saying “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better” and adding “P.S Stan Polley is a soulless bastard, I will take him with me.” He was just 27 years old.  Tom Evans, who remained one of Pete’s closest friends, was absolutely devastated. He soldiered on putting together various Badfinger lineups, recording the Airwaves album with Joey Molland, and a final record, Say No More, neither of which was well received.

At the start of the 1980s, Evans found himself plagued by more misfortune. Several failed attempts to put together a touring band had resulted in Molland leaving and starting his own version of Badfinger. Evans’ version of the band, which now included Gibbins, all signed separate contracts with an agent to arrange another tour. They then found themselves stranded in the US with no gigs and no money. When Evans returned to the UK, he found that he was being sued for $5 million in damages resulting from an unfulfilled touring contract. This was followed by his former band members and original band manager Bill Collins threatening litigation over unpaid ASCAP royalties from the result of airplay of “Without You.” The band had agreed to split ASCAP royalties for all of the songs they recorded together. Evans had been collecting a small portion in order to survive but some publishing money was still tied up in litigation between Bill Collins and Apple Corp. Ltd.

All of this, combined with the fact that those close to him have said that he never got over the death of Pete Ham, led Evans to take his own life. He was found hanging from a willow tree in his back garden on the morning of November 19th, 1983. His wife Marianne recalled hearing him say, “I want to be where Pete is. It’s a better place than down here”.

In 2005, Mike Gibbins passed away from a brain aneurysm at the age of 56, leaving Joey Molland as the last surviving member. He continues to perform as Joey Molland’s Badfinger, keeping alive the memory of this great band whose epic struggles are now legendary, and stating in his own words “if I don’t do it, who will?”

Most fans would probably agree that Wish You Were Here was the band’s crowning achievement. A fragile beauty born from the ugliest of circumstances and a testament to towering artistic achievement in the face of adversity. They would never reap any rewards or enjoy the admiration they so longed for, and richly deserved, for creating a piece of art for the ages. That is the final tragedy of their story.

As the mid 1960s approached, the popularity of the hollow thinline electric guitar design began picking up steam. The line was first introduced by Gibson in the late 1950s with their ES series. The Beatles were playing Epiphone Casinos, Blues players like B.B and Freddie King played Gibsons, and even brands like Harmony and Guild were seeing their hollow body electrics being played by The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

In 1965 Hagstrom released their first hollow body electric model called the Viking I. It originally had a 6 on a side tuner configuration, which was later changed to 3 and 3. The Viking I was very similar to the recently issued Fender Coronado series, right down to the Fender trademarked headstock design. Not quite sure how they got away with that! Frank Zappa was often seen using a Viking in the early Mothers of Invention period, and was featured in several Hagstrom advertisements. The Viking Deluxe was introduced in 1967, the name was soon changed to the Viking II and only remained in production until in 1968. The Viking II was a fancier version of the Viking I with the addition of gold hardware, large block inlays, flame maple and spruce, and bound headstock and F-holes. Only 1350 are said to have been made, and it’s most famous user was a guy from Tupelo, Mississippi who didn’t actually own one… yet.

During the filming of the 1968 TV Special ‘Elvis’, which would later be referred to as the “Comeback Special”, the producer asked if anyone had a guitar that looked flashy to use for some of the segments. Guitarist Al Casey, who was playing on the show (Casey was part of the infamous group of session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew” who played on the recordings of artists such as Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys) looked through his instrument trunk to see if he might have something to fit the bill. He came across a cherry finished 1968 Hagstrom Viking II, and the rest as they say, is history. Elvis can be seen playing the guitar in the opening and closing segments of the show and in a stand up performance in front of a live audience. Elvis later purchased several more Vikings and a shot of him holding one made it’s way onto the cover of his “From Elvis in Memphis” album released in 1969.

As the 1960s approached the 1970s, the music got tougher and louder. The need for more traditional styling, a simpler more user friendly control layout, and a more powerful tone, pushed the company to refine their electric models to compete. The result was the HII (two pickup model) released in 1969. It was later replaced with the HIII/Scandi (three pickup model) in 1976. Both were offset, double cutaway, slab wood bodies. There was no plastic or vinyl on these, except for the pickguard, and they were equipped with more powerful humbucking pickups and a three way selector replacing the clumsy to use sliding switches of their earlier models. The development of the HII and HIIIs led to what became one of Hagstroms most popular models.

Zappa Nifty HagstromThe Swede was introduced in 1970 and sported a single cutaway, dual pickup design that had more than a passing resemblance to the iconic Gibson Les Paul, which was experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Featuring the familiar Les Paul control layout but with a bolt-on neck, the Swede was later upgraded to a glued in neck in 1979 and renamed the Swede De Luxe, also known as the Super Swede. Hagstrom succeeding in fulfilling the need for a fat, chunky guitar sound, a staple of Rock in the 1970s. The Super Swede could be seen in the hands of artists as diverse as Bjorn Ulvaeus of the Swedish band Abba, Frank Zappa, Detroit rocker Bob Seger, and Jazz/Fusion guitarist Larry Coryell. The Swedes were also used to house the electronics in the very first guitar/synthesizer hybrid, the Swede Patch 2000 which was introduced in 1976, and was in production until 1979. The Swede Patch 2000 was used by Bill Nelson from Be Bop Deluxe and…you guessed it, the dancing fool himself, Frank Zappa!

As the 1970s drew to a close Hagstrom was suffering. The brand had been outpriced by competitors, a lot of whom had started to shift their production to Japan in order to cut down on costs. Hagstrom had some prototypes manufactured in Japan as well, but unhappy with the quality, they were never put into production. In 1983 they officially closed up shop, putting an end to Hagstrom guitars made in Sweden. The brand was revived in 2004, but that’s a story for another day.

Do you own, or have owned an original Hagstrom guitar?

MonkeyWahIt all started in the 1930s, when trumpeter Clyde McCoy began making quite a name for himself after he created an almost vocal like “wah-wah” sound on several hits including “Sugar Blues”.

The effect was later mimicked by steel guitarists in the 1950s by quickly rolling off and back on the tone control. In 1961, Guitarist Chet Atkins used a home-made pedal on one of the earliest, if not the first, recorded examples of wah-wah guitar on a track called “Boo Boo Stick Beat”.  The effect was further pushed into the spotlight in the 1960s by players including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, who made the recently introduced Vox Cry Baby part of their tone arsenals. Incidentally, the first model Vox introduced was named the “The Clyde McCoy”.

The Cry Baby name was later used by the Dunlop company as it was not trademarked by Vox. The Cry Baby has become the best selling wah pedal of all time, and the name is widely used as a generic term for wah pedals.

ShaftYou’re probably thinking, what’s all this got to do with the Boomerang, baby? Shut your mouth! What is one of the most recognizable wah sounds on record? Is it the theme song from the film, Shaft? You’re damn right! The slinky, smooth, sexy quack that has become so instantly identifiable, was produced using a Maestro Boomerang. Played ever so soulfully by Stax Records session guitarist Charlie Pitts, the result is nothing less than iconic. Not only contributing to a stellar recording, but defining the sound of a genre, and arguably an era, of popular music.

The Boomerangs were manufactured by All Test Devices for the Maestro brand, which was a subsidiary of Gibson. The first model, the BG-1, was produced from 1969-1972 and later replaced by the BG-2, sometimes labeled as the Boomer 2, which stayed in production until 1976.

So for the uber pedal/musical electronics geeks out there, (I’m not making fun, I’m the nerd writing this, remember!) all Boomerang pedals use a 25K potentiometer and an El-Rad 500mH inductor. The inductor is a bit of a mystery and, to my knowledge, is not used in any other effects pedals or musical device that I know of. Could this be the key to the the elusive Boomerang tone? Possibly. That and the reactive combination between all of the specific parts, many of which are no longer manufactured, could be the key to the magical alchemy that is, the Maestro Boomerang.

It can be hard to imagine how a pedal with such a simple circuit can vary so much. I mean, it’s basically a foot controlled tone control, but these definitely have a unique sound that continues to keep tone freaks everywhere seeking them out. Can ya dig it? I think you can… What’s your favorite wah-wah guitar track?

MXR, And My Little Rock & Roll Christmas…

by Rik Mercaldi on December 23, 2014

It was Christmas morning, and I was 15 years old. My Dad said he had one more present for me. As I ripped off the shiny, metallic green wrapping paper I instantly recognized the yellow box with black lettering. An MXR Distortion Plus! I ran upstairs and grabbed my guitar, amp and some cables and started blasting away every riff and lick I could muster.

MXR PedalsMy family watched, a little confused, but seemingly happy (my Mother held her ears and smiled) as I joyfully embraced the sonic bliss that this wonderful little box had brought into my life. Now, the stuff that I had been diligently practicing for hours on end, sounded just like the record!  At least, it did to me. My Dad couldn’t understand why I wanted to make my recently purchased used Les Paul Custom sound so fuzzy and distorted, he thought I was nuts. Still, I realized I had a pretty cool Dad. How did he know that this was the holy grail of distortion pedals to me? And so began my love affair with MXR pedals.

MXR was launched in Rochester, New York in 1972 by Keith Barr and Terry Sherwood. Their pedals were known for their sturdy, nearly indestructible metal boxes and their great sounds. The first pedal introduced was the Phase 90, a simple one knob phase shifter that immediately found it’s way into the arsenal of many guitarists.  It’s smooth liquid tone produced everything from slow swirling swells to wobbling leslie-like rotating speaker effects that quickly became a staple of many records produced in the 70s.

Les paul & MXR

The Phase 90 was followed by a simpler more subtle version, the Phase 45, and a more elaborate version with presets called the Phase 100. The original Phase 90s with the script logos have become very sought after and highly collectible, they continue to climb in value. A few of the more popular pedals produced, included the Analog Delay, Dyna Comp compressor, and the Blue Box, a sort of erratic, octave fuzz famously used by Jimmy Page for the guitar solo on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain”.

When I was a teenager almost every guitar player I admired had some kind of MXR pedal (or Electro Harmonix, but that’s for another blog). When I needed  more tonal flexibility, I got the MXR 6 Band Graphic EQ and when I thought a Flanger might be cool, I got MXR’s… you get the idea.

The original company went out of business in the mid 1980s, but in 1987 Jim Dunlop picked up the brand and started making reissues of some of the classic block logo models and has continued to expand the line to the present day. I still have my original Distortion Plus and it still sounds awesome! Have you owned or own an original MXR pedal and do you have a favorite?

In the late 1960s artists were pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in Pop music with experimental approaches and orchestral arrangements. The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s debut, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and The Moody Blues first concept record, Days of Future Passed, being a few key examples.

ZombiesBut, The Beatles and Pink Floyd weren’t the only groups recording tracks at Abbey Road Studios in 1967. Not possessing the looks and cheeky charm of The Beatles, the controversial persona of the Rolling Stones, the Mod endorsement and chaos of The Who, or the whimsical, psychedelic, underground appeal of The Floyd, The Zombies were a bit of an anomaly. Their sound, clearly indebted to the Pop and R&B leanings consistent with most other musical groups in England at the time, was nonetheless different.

The deep, breathy vocals of Colin Blunstone, combined with Rod Argent’s virtuosic keyboard skills, and their darker, minor key based melodies, stood out from the more Blues and guitar based riffing of their contemporaries. They also seemed to not be overly concerned with cultivating their image as much as other groups.

After several chart hits starting in 1964 with “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”, and one full length album, we’re going to fast forward a few years to 1967. The Zombies enter EMI’s Abbey Road Studios to begin laying down tracks for what would become their second album, eventually to be titled, Odessey and Oracle. (Interesting note: The band claimed that The mis-spelling of the title was intentional, covering up the fact that it was actually a mistake by the designer Terry Quirk who shared a flat with Zombies bass player Chris White.)

Looking at some of songs that make up the record, the range of styles, sounds, and subject matter is quite astounding, especially in the context of the period. In addition to the stellar songwriting, inspired arrangements, and immaculate performances across the entire album, several tracks had interesting lyrical approaches and instrumentation that were quite groundbreaking at the time and would later become very influential.

Zombies“Care of Cell 44”, which opens the LP, seems like yet another perfectly written and excellently performed pop song about romantic longing, until you realize that the main character is actually writing a letter to his girl who is in prison for an unexplained crime. His rose colored vision of their future together is both naive and touchingly sweet. Not exactly your typical love song. Blunstone’s vocals are absolutely riveting, especially in the chorus, where the sound explodes with an almost bombastic frenzy of multi layered backing vocals.

“Rose for Emily” which follows is a beautiful, melancholic, ballad ruminating on the passing of time, the sadness of being forgotten, and death. The meticulously arranged and stunningly performed vocal tracks combined with the delicate, ethereal piano, are gentle and moving. A sharp contrast to the sad, hopelessness of the song’s subject matter.

“Beechwood Park” is an exquisite, minor key rumination of the past, delicately performed with an almost autumnal quality that draws the listener into another world, and again, executed with precision and breathtaking dynamics.
As a side note to film buffs, located in the area which inspired the songs rich visual imagery, was Beechwood House, a girls boarding school near Markyate which was the actual location used in the film “The Dirty Dozen”.

“Brief Candles”, which follows, was a collection of stories, all sung by different band members in succession. Rod first, followed by Chris, and then Colin. The idea was partially inspired by a collection of short stories written by Aldous Huxley.

“Hung Up On a Dream” was one of the first tracks recorded with a newly acquired Mellotron. A primitive (predigital sampling) keyboard that contained tapes of prerecorded sounds of instruments that could be played on a standard piano/organ styled keyboard. It’s also interesting to note that although the imagery of the lyrics evokes an acid trip, the writer, Rod Argent, was vehemently opposed to mind altering drugs, as were the other band members. This was another characteristic that differentiated them from a lot of other musicians at the time.

By far, one of the strangest tracks on the album has to be “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”. Written and sung by Chris White (his only lead vocal on the album, apart from one verse in “Brief Candles”) the song is a disturbing portrait of war, as told by a soldier, a butcher by trade, and although it takes place during the First World War, a subject of great interest to its author, it was actually intended as metaphoric commentary on Vietnam. To the surprise of the band, the song was chosen by the record company as a single, probably for this reason, as protest songs were gaining popularity at the time.

Another feature that makes this song stand out, is the very unique instrumentation. The only musical instrument used on the track is an antique pedal organ found by Chris White in a junk store, and played by Rod Argent. Recorded by close miking the instrument as it was played, you can actually hear his fingernails hitting the keys. The sound effects were an example of “musique concrète”, an experimental technique of musical composition using recorded sounds as raw material, first developed in 1948 by French composer Pierre Schaeffer. It was created by reversing the tape of a recording by Pierre Boulez and then speeding it up. A very creative use of sampling, long before that term was ever used in a musical context.

The closing track, and probably their most famous song, is “Time Of The Season”. An infectious melody, with a cool call and response verse coupled with their trademark huge chorus of vocals, and topped off with the inventive and inspired electric piano stylings of Rod Argent. The song actually became one of the biggest selling records in the US when it was posthumously released as a single in 1969, after the band had already broken up. Long before the album was even close to completion, tensions were already building up within the group and creative differences were beginning to reveal themselves. By the time the album was released in the UK in April 1968, the band was no more. Even the runaway success of “Time of the Season” couldn’t bring them back as they were already working on new projects.

Despite the critical acclaim the album received much later (it’s often listed in the top albums of all time lists compiled by many music publications) it’s still a relative obscurity among the mainstream record buying public. It still remains a cult favorite whose legacy continues to spread through the word of mouth of its ever expanding group of admirers.

Space Age Bachelor Pad… Guitars! – Hagstrom Electric Guitars (Part 3)

February 20, 2014

In the1950’s, futuristic designs were being introduced into popular culture, gradually picking up steam in the later half of the decade and into the 1960’s. Influenced by the latest developments in space exploration and the popular science fiction craze, “Space Age” designs were popping up everywhere. Cars, furniture, and of course, guitars were heavily influenced […]

Read the full article →

Swedish/Spanish Castle Magic… – Hagstrom Electric Guitars (Part 2)

May 17, 2013

The  first series of Kent model solid bodies introduced by Hagstrom in 1962, gradually morphed into the numbered series. The Hagstrom I, II, and III, basically sported the same features as their earlier counterparts with some differences, a new slightly narrower neck and adjustable pickups. A version of the Hagstrom II model was also sold […]

Read the full article →

Ziggy played guitar… A Hagstrom, that is… – Hagstrom Electric Guitars (Part 1)

May 14, 2013

Mention, Music and Sweden, in the same sentence, and most people say Abba! Well, I say Hagstrom! Although I do love “Waterloo”… and Bjorn often played Hagstroms… But I digress… It all started  in 1921 when Albin Hagstrom of Alvdalen, Sweden began importing accordions. Fast forward to 1958 Hagstrom began building electric guitars and basses […]

Read the full article →

Bring it on home – before you bring that guitar home… (Part 2)

April 5, 2013

One of the things I like about used and vintage instruments is the fact that they’ve been played and don’t feel so… new. There’s just something about an instrument that’s been broken in that appeals to me. A lot of guitar manufacturers these days are making artificially worn guitars, so I’m not the only one […]

Read the full article →

Bring it on home – before you bring that guitar home… (Part 1)

February 3, 2013

So, you’ve found a guitar that speaks to you. Musically and aesthetically that is. If it’s actually saying things to you, you might want to talk to someone about it… Before you drop your hard earned cash, there are a few things you should check, starting with the neck. Does it look relatively straight, and […]

Read the full article →