Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band-FRAMED CD (Vertigo UK, burned for me by Mike Snider)

If the Paley Brothers brought back memories of bygone bargain bin days, FRAMED brings back hearty recollections of the import section of most well-stocked Amerigan record shops! And lemme tell you readers (especially you furriners!) that there was a time when (to me) things like import albums were the closest one could come to owning a brick of gold...they were really exotic being made outside of the United States and all with their flimsy (yet laminated unlike the US of A ones) covers and plastic-lined innersleeves and at-times remarkably different from the domestic product artwork (and always confused me that something that was on Capitol or Sire here might be on Harvest there complete with totally different packaging, and who could forget the Import label which reissued loads of European prog goodies [and baddies] that the parent companies wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole!). I used to love gazing at all those unique imports; the Beatles and Rolling Stones collections and ANDY WARHOL'S VELVET UNDERGROUND FEATURING NICO with those pop art lips sucking the Coca-Cola seemed so unreal, and hey, it was in those very same import bins where I first laid eyes on records by such eventual favorites like Amon Duul (I & II), Can and the Deviants, all of 'em to make a LASTING IMPRESSION on me as time would tell.

Not to mention The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. I used to see FRAMED all over the import racks back then, mostly because Phonogram here in the USA thought it would be a stiff or something and wouldn't release it. Well, I guess in a world where the likes of John Denver and Melanie were calling the shots and every unwashed woods-dweller with an acoustic guitar was getting signed something like The Sensational Alex Harvey Band wouldn't exactly be entitled to any preferential treatment, but at least Alex's label wised up enough to release followups NEXT and THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM on these shores (and I think TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME as well...however, by the time LIVE came out Atco was handling the SAHB over here). And I gotta credit myself for picking up a cassette of THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM during the summer of 1975 merely on rock press points alone, and you can bet that one became a pretty hefty spin on my rockism-forming playlist, though by the time things like the Velvets and garage rock punkisms began encroaching into my tastes I began to see Harvey as an embarrassing shuck who was a mere remnant of just what was feh with most rock outside the intensely-underground scene. But maybe not enough, as I did list THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND as one of my top spins of December 1975 in the third issue of FUD (early BLACK TO COMM), which came out exactly ten years later.

So here, almost thirty years after the fact I get hold of this burnt CD-R of some album which I truly debated whether or not to buy so long ago, and guess what? I sure wish I bought it, mainly because if I had purchased FRAMED back in my impressionable early zitfarm days it would have made me a better rockism fanatic and helped hone my listening parameters more than Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods ever could, that's for sure! After all these years FRAMED comes off as such a sleek surprise, especially considering how THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM was more humorous, less serious, perhaps over-produced and maybe even lacking in intensity with only a fragment of FRAMED's true rock & roll vision.

If anything, FRAMED reminds me of what the early-seventies "proto-punk" thing that got a whole lotta collectors scouring British flea markets in the eighties was supposed to be about. It has a lot of the drive of Stackwaddy (and like Stackwaddy, this would have fit in well on the Stiff label only a few years later) and kinda sounds like what I thought Killing Floor were supposed to sound like, only I remember the Floor to have been less flexible than SAHB and perhaps more dour in their approach (I'll have to give 'em another spin one of these days...) Heck, I could even rank FRAMED up there with those classic British proto-punks the Deviants and Pink Fairies which wouldn't be that far off base, especially considering how Alex Harvey's whine comes remarkably close to Mick Farren's.

The title track (yes, it's THEE "Framed" and not some title-swipe) is a fine creepy-crawl with equal parts blues, heavy metal and punk (and slightly-changed lyrics), a trio which ya gotta admit makes up the bulk of this seemingly long-forgotten disc. Believe me, I'm not that big a fan of "da blooze" but I find the primitive crunch complete with at-times perverted keyboard playing mighty tasty in this day and age.

"Hammer Song" sounds like a rock take on some old Scottish folk song (y'know, the kinda things Scots-derived Appalacians would sing back in 1700, long before they inbred themselves into hillbillies) translated into seventies techno/taste modes. On par with the Sweet pretty much doing the same thing on "Tom Tom Turnaround" and much better'n Rod Stewart's attempt on that "You're in my heart/You're in my soul" thing that "oldies radio" plays into the ground anymore. Considering how the roots of a lotta Amerigan pop (and especially country) music had its origins in Scottish and Irish down-home hoot, "Hammer Song" is almost like a u-turn back to the source of it all with the past 300 years of knowledge and evolution fully in place!

The SAHB gets into an early-seventies funk-rock groove on "Midnight Moses," a pretty good groove mind you that almost reminds me of something the post-FUNHOUSE Stooges might have whipped up in 1971 only there's a bitta that "heaviness" that had sunk many a group here. Except that with Alex and crew it works mainly because it tones down the garishness of most of these "funky" attempts and leaves the bell bottoms and medallions behind in its attempt to reach HIGH ENERGY NIRVANA.

And as for "Isobel Goudie" (which I take is one of the first of Alex's prostitute paens), it has been suggested that this was Alex Harvey's attempt at the "progressive rock" market (remember, Alex's Vertigo label was also home to Gentle Giant and Jade Warrior not to mention hundreds of other European aerie types serious collectors will pay through the nose for). I can't really see that despite this being a "suite" of sorts. After all, the organ here is pure sixties garage drone. Oddly enough, the second part of the suite resembles this 1969 Plastic People of the Universe track that appears on the People's historical round-up. Heck, there's even a hint of Cale-period Velvets stress and strain here, maybe filtered through Alice Cooper's "Desperado" off the KILLER album which was about a year old when FRAMED was's no surprise that Alex and band opened for Alice on their (SAHB's) first US of A tour since there is a remarkable resemblance between the two acts, not only with their music but their all-out theatrical stage show.

Things do take a bit of a turndown on "Buff's Bar Blues," but perhaps that's because this one sounds close to what about 95% of every other "heavy" blues band was doing at the same time...even prog heavyweights would toss something like this on their albums as a goof take of sorts. The cover of "I Just Want to Make Love To You" at least succeeds with its Indian tom-tom rhythm which almost sounds like it's ready to morph itself into "Pablo Picasso"!

At least by "Hole in Her Stocking" Alex revs it up and doesn't come off like one of those mustachioed blues goombahs who seem to always come from Texas which is strange because Texans oughta know better! Think of it as how Loggins and Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance" would come off in that mirror dimesion where the bland and cheaply-calculated would sound brilliant and high energy.

"There's No Lights on the Christmas Tree Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight" is a great twenties/thirties Warner Brothers crime film on the Late Show-nostalgic track, or hopefully a spoof of all that late-sixties BONNIE AND CLYDEderived yowzah that was really big with the LAUGH IN crowd back then. And for a spoof it's a pretty good one reflecting the pop culture-conscious trend in Harvey's future endeavors. And better too, since I thought the similarly minded "Sergeant Fury" on THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (yes, it's about the famed Marvel Comics Universe character who's been fighting World War II for about forty years awlready!) was a bit of a failure with its strings and MGM musical approach. Funny title and great bo-de-oh-doh here!

Closing the thingie's "St. Anthony" and I wonder just how theological students would take to this mad-screech funk track dealing more with S&M than anything remotely religious (I think). Another hard one to describe, but I would call it a good early-seventies hard-funk scraper almost like the aforementioned "Midnight Moses" screeched out a little more in classic seventies last-track-let's-make-it-one-they'll-never-forget fashion. "St Anthony," for whatever its intentions, is a great closer to what's a much more powerful, knock you over album than I would have dared imagine either then or now.

Mighty fine record that I guess proves there's much more to Scotland than eating haggis. putting on bowler hats and marching through Catholic neighborhoods. Lindsay Hutton should sleep well tonight knowing that his heritage was in fine hands with men the calibre of Alex Harvey putting out albums like this while it seemed the rest of the British Isles were more content flying around stages like Peter Pan while mellotrons oozed an aural equivalent to tree sap. Alex Harvey was perhaps the bestest man to burst out of the land of Scot at least until Rowdy Roddy Piper, and I gotta thank Charles Shaar Murray and Tim Ellison for planting the seed of Harveymania into my brain...Murray with his intriguing piece reprinted in the SHOTS FROM THE HIP collection reviewed on this blog way back in May, and Ellison with his mention of Richard Meltzer's VOICE-piece on Harvey ca. '75 about a month back on his (Ellison's) blog. Talk about mind-&#^$ing! Thanks for it all Murray, Ellison and especially Mike Snider for having the common decency to offer a trade of this in exchange for the latest issue of BLACK TO COMM.

1 comment:

Lindsay Hutton said...

Hey Chris,

Just last week I was hanging out in a little German town called Kassel with one Cheetah Chrome who is a massive Harvey fan. I used to own a piece of the Vambo wall but my mother threw it away when I left home. I guess I always thought it would be there to go back to. The piece of polystyrene wall I mean... Harvey was way more punk rock than most all and any brit band that jumped on that creaking bandwagon. SAHB was our MC5 and I consider myself lucky to have seen them.