By Dave Thompson
History has always looked back on the British Invasion as a primarily 45-RPM revolution. Driven by singles, dominated by single songs, nobody has ever got rich from compiling an anthology of Invasion album tracks, and with the exception of the Beatles and Stones (and possibly the Who and the Kinks), none of the LPs released by the pond-hopping hordes get talked about much today.
Which, of course, is an absolute travesty. The Invasion era, 1963-1966, saw some terrific discs delivered. The Dave Clark Five, the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Gerry and the Pacemakers … next time you’re looking for some gaps to plug in your collection, that’s where you should start.
And if you really want to shock prejudice into silence, hop over to your local reissue retailer and request… nay, demand!… the latest from the Sundazed label. Five (count them) classic Manfred Mann albums that (if you haven’t heard them before) so completely rewire our understanding of the Invasion that it’s no wonder the band went onto become one of the key components in the later prog boom.
“The Manfred Mann Album,” “The Five Faces of Manfred Mann,” “My Little Red Book of Winners,” “Mann Made” and “Pretty Flamingo” all pile up beside the turntable, all resplendent in those so distinctively colorful original jackets, and all positively bristling with highlights. We don’t even need to mention the hits here; they’re hotwired into your brain already. But the first album’s revision of sundry blues classics (“I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” ”Smokestack Lightning” and “I Got My Mojo Working” among them) already demonstrate just how far from the Invasion norm the Manfreds were looking, and they stepped even further afield with their sophomore set.
Paul Jones was now emerging as a fabulous songwriter; his bandmates were catching up fast. But the stand-out here has to be Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” — not the group’s first nod towards their jazzier instincts, but certainly the most pronounced. So far.
The third album, the book of winners, is contrarily probably the least thrilling of the five, at least beyond the partial title track (“My Little Red Book”) and Jones’s “The One In The Middle.” The band would certainly turn in better Dylan covers in the future than “With God on our Side.” But Mann Made is back on track, with “The Abominable Snowman,” “LSD” and “I Really Do Believe” leading off the self-composed jewels, and “Stormy Monday Blues” blasting out every gray day you’ve ever suffered.
Finally, “Pretty Flamingo” is more or less flawless from start to finish, but lend a special ear to “Tired Of Trying, Bored With Living, Scared of Dying” and “Machines,” plus an era-best cover of “I Put A Spell On You.”
It’s all in best ever sound, too. CDs of the early Manfreds were so brutally compressed that anyone who already owned the original stereo LPs has probably stuck with the vinyl all along. Well, finally it’s time to replace it. Analog mastering keeps the original soundscape exquisitely intact, the sleeves and heavyweight vinyl are all that they should be, and if there is one complaint to be had, this is it. Sometimes, you’ve had an album so long, and played it so often, that any scratches, clicks and pops have become absorbed into the music itself. Hearing it again without those embellishments is going to take a lot of getting used to.
Sticking with the Invasion, although chronology and geography defy such a label, the Turtles also have a pair of vinyl reissues on the shelves right now (Manifesto/FloEdCo). The first releases by the most British-sounding of all American bands of the era, a deliberate policy that clung to a lot of frontmen Mark Vollman and Howard Kaylan’s subsequent activities, “The Turtles” and “Happy Together” are time capsules targeted straight at 1965 to 1967, anticipating psych and flower power on the one hand, worshipping at the altar of the Beatles et al on the other.
Three Dylan covers on the debut are delightful, and a version of “Eve of Destruction” is an absolute treasure, too. But it was the band’s own songwriting that really marked the Turtles out for special attention, and if “Wanderin’ Kind,” “Let The Cold Winds Blow” and “A Walk In The Sun” are highlights of “The Turtles,” and “Ruggs of Woods and Flowers” and “I Think I’ll Run Away” are among the best of “Happy Together,” then that just confirms how much more there was to the Turtles than the hits we best recall.
Two of which (“Happy Together” and “She’d Rather Be With Me”) just happen to close Side One and open Side Two of the second album with more joyous aplomb than pretty much any other album of the year. The sequencing of an album’s tracks is very much a lost art today, with most bands content simply to put the best songs at the start of the disc and let it dribble into dismal static from there. “Happy Together,” on the other hand, is an example of the art at its very best, “Happy Together” demanding that you turn the disc over immediately, and “She’d Rather Be With Me” ensuring you are very glad you did.
From brilliant sixties gems to buried seventies treasure, and a couple of newly reissued Captain Beyond albums (Cleopatra). You will remember the band, of course, former members of Deep Purple (Rod Evans), Johnny Winter (Bobby Caldwell) and Iron Butterfly (Larry Reinhardt, Lee Dorman) coming together in a lineup that still sounds stunning today — a blinding eponymous debut album that took the best of the members’ past careers and transformed it into something even more far-sighted, and the follow-up Sufficiently Breathless that maybe wasn’t quite as adventurous, but is guaranteed to thrill regardless. Red vinyl and that fabulous gatefold sleeve only add to the excitement!
Contemporaries of the original Beyond, but reactivated for the modern age, Nektar, too, are back on the racks, both with a succession of vinyl and CD reissues of their classic core catalog, but also a brand-new album, sensibly titled “Time Machine” (Cleopatra).
Faithfully recounting all that made the original band so special, with Side One packing three tracks that all exceed 8 minutes, and Side Two closing on a 10-minute epic, “Time Machine” has already proven its worth in concert — on the road around the U.S. in recent months, new material slid effortlessly into place alongside the classics, but Time Machine is no retro “let’s do it all again” display.
The new material is hallmarked by the past but like the rest of us, it has moved on — developed — and it demands to be heard in the same way as “Remember the Future” (a U.S. Top 20 album in 1975) and “Recycled” grabbed your attention the first time you heard them. And the fact that so much of the back catalog has joined the new set on the vinyl shelves only furthers the sense of glorious continuity. If you remember Nektar from the first time around, and you should, you owe it to your ears to renew the friendship. On vinyl. GM