Perfect Sound Forever


by Mark S. Tucker

"This PSF column is named after my 50-issue samizdat from the '80's (some of which were issued as cassettes), titled for the actual camera obscura precursor to photography. I merely twisted the parlance to mean "focus on the obscure." At any rate, I'm starting with LP's that not much of anyone would argue are obscure (and if you're one of the those who would, write yer mother instead; she needs to hear from you, bubbaleh, and I could care less about your objections to my selections, yo)."

FORCE 10 - Force 10 (1981 / Warner Bros.)

A one-LP wonder but not dissimilar to Mr. Big (the late '70's combo, not the on-again-off-again late '80's "supergroup"), Pictures, City Boy, 10cc, Sparks, and other smart-arsed rock barstards, Force 10 was a truly rewarding effort teeming with flippancies, thematic catcalls, excellent rock-pop compositions, lyrics that'd do Ian Hunter, Alice Cooper, or Warren Zevon proud, and just about anything you'd want for an entertaining album. A quintet about which little to nothing is known, it's hard to decipher the back cover credits as to the lead singer in the group: everyone but drummer Jeff Swisstack warbled, so I'll guess the frontman was guitarist Tom Brighton, as his moniker appears at the top of the list - if so, his style echoes Mr. Big's Dicken (Jeff Pain) sans much of the hilarious snottiness Dicken exhibited.

On the other hand, Griff Stevens is listed last but the first entry to his credts is "singing," so maybe he's the chanteur. Whichever it is, the singer is more, oh, let's say 'civilized' in his approach, as was the case with City Boy, both riven with acid commentary and comedy-of-manners elements. The instrumental side of the band was meticulous, bouncy, rockin' and energetic. Not for them the ballad, no sir, but instead lots of power pop and straight-ahead rockin' 'n rollin'.

In many ways, Force 10 also had all the professional and compositional finesse of Cold Chisel, a more serious mainstream set of rockers who also never made it but should've. Both bands had the same catchy rhythms, forward propulsions, and myriad qualities. Not a cut on this LP but is dynamic, well engineered, mixed, and balanced to a fare-thee-well, but, sigh!, again: no credits worth a damn, so I can't say who was responsible for any of it. You'd think the auxiliary personnel would be killing God for some print space! Regardless, Brighton and mates were a top-notch outfit that would've made a killer second bill to any of the above-named groups. I dig the band so much that, when I found a cache of 'em realllllllly cheaply at a used record shop, I bought 'em all and started giving them to friends who dig great rock. Every single recipient thanked me warmly afterwards and put the wax in their permanent collections.

So, should you find yourself in need of music that'll put a grin on your face while supplying the rock boogie-woogie to your tap dancing feet in python boots, this is an excellent choice, and, last I checked, Amazon had a few CD copies for as low as $4. I'm not saying y'all should avail yourselves of that slaver sonuvabeech organization... but... I've used 'em 'cause all the local mom 'n pop brick and mortars went out of business years ago, and I'm damned if I'm going to spend all that gas and time travelling to and from Santa Monica (Record Surplus - great shop!) or Hollywood (Amoeba Records - much bigger and also a great shop) amid hordes of SoCal asshole drivers, especially when I've no guarantees the venues will even have what I'm looking for. No, no, no!, it's always better to bite the lip and bullet, deal with the exigencies of disaster capitalism, and cop great tunes. Just don't tell Karl Marx I said so.

BRIAN CADD - Brian Cadd (1973 / Chelsea / Bootleg), Parabrahm (1973 / Chelsea / Bootleg) Moonshine (1974 / Chelsea / Bootleg), The Magic of Brian Cadd (1975 / Chelsea / Bootleg), White on White (1976 / Capitol), Keep on Rockin' (1976 / J&B), Yesterdaydreams (1978 / Capitol)

Though largely unknown here in the States, Brian Cadd has enjoyed a half-century in music and been more successful than many, having been a member of The Groop, Axiom, and The Flying Burrito Bros. An Aussie, he'd written for a great obscure prog down-under band, The Master's Apprentices, and did his band gigs, wrote for John Farnham, The Little River Band, The Pointer Sisters, and others and also pursued a career in writing for film soundtracks.

Cadd turned out his first set of solo LP's from 1972 through 1978, and those are the items of interest here (he took a 7-year sabbatical, released a slab in '85, took a 13-year leave until 1998, and then released sporadically up to 2016), as they're the ones I got turned on to and that I still play quite a bit. Cadd's voice was one of those high-register throats that seemed on the verge of mild strangled dysphonia. Had he ascended into falsetto with a bit of quaver and tremble, and a LOT less country twang, he could've been David Surkamp (Pavlov's Dog).

His first four albums appeared on the L.A.-based Chelsea label, which went broke and got reissued by the Bootleg corporation. Capitol picked him up for a couple go's, but the LP's sold miserably in America. J&B gave him a try to similar results, and thus his first absenture from solo issuances, in the meanwhile working for others.

Cadd's first seven records should not be ignored, as they contain a lot of treasure. "Josie McGinty" (on Brian Cadd) is a rollicking folk-rock tale about Joe McGinty's tee-totalling daughter cuyping his copious whiskey stash and giving it all away before trotting him down to Alcoholics Anonymous (geez!, since when are daughters worse than wives??). "Pappy's Got the Blues" (also on Cadd) is a plaint about the woes of the world weighing on someone's ol' pap. Replete with orchestra, it's a great slice of MOR. "Fire at Shepherd's Flat" (Moonshine) is akin to Molkie Cole at their spunkiest, something even the Strawbs would be amused by, and, on the flip side, "Rich Man (Poor Man, Beggar Man)" carried a semi-chamber undertone, solemn but clever and pop-y, with an interesting clipped female backing vox section.

If the debut hadn't quite demonstrated why Cadd would be a Flying Burrito, Moonshine repaired that deficit, though I'd put its rock elements more in line with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Poco, the Eagles, and others; Moonshine was far more infused with rock 'n roll than the Burritos ever would be. It also had, as did Brian Cadd, quite a few cabaret inflections. White on White continued that, as all his solo work would in refrains that Chris DeBurgh later showed in his work, and "Little White Lies" and "Call back Later" are particular favorites of mine there.

If you dug Philip Goodhand-Tait, Tom Snow, Henry Gross, and gents of that ilk, Cadd does 'em all one betterm and his work stands up extremely well now, all these years later, and that's the true test. In fact, were those first 7 discs to be reissued and aired without anyone knowing who it was, they'd be much better received, I've no doubt, on these shores now.

UNICORN - Uphill All the Way (1971 / Transatlantic), Blue Pine Trees (1974 / Charisma / Capitol), Too Many Crooks (1976 / Harvest - released in America as 2 on Capitol), One More Tomorrow (1977 / Harvest / Capitol), Shed No Tear: The Shed Studio Sessions (2002 / Mad Dog)

In the '70's in Britain, there were quite a few country rock bands. Blues wasn't the only imported American craze, and thus we had ensembles like Brinsley Schwarz, Help Yourself, Heads Hands and Feet, and Unicorn. Unicorn actually got together in 1963 when co-founders Ken Baker and Pat Martin were teenagers. In various capacities with various members, they played local gigs as a covers band and so on, then managed, eight years later, to write their own stuff and catch the attention of Transatlantic Records, which issued Uphill All the Way, with the band soon finding itself opening for Lindisfarne and Stefan Grossman.

Playing for a wedding reception three years later, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour happened to be among the guests and dug Unicorn's sound, jamming with 'em on a version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." He got chummy with the band, and since Dark Side of the Moon's monies were coming in, he built a studio, invited the band for a free day in it, renewed his enamorment with their sound, and offered to produce the lads.

That partnership showed well on Blue Pine Trees but even better on Too Many Crooks (a.k.a. 2 in the States), from which Gilmour lifted Baker's "No Way Out of Here" for the Floyd. During that time, Capitol took an interest, underwrote a tour of America, and the band found themselves impressing Fleetwood Mac, Camel, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Climax Blues Band, and others they were supporting on various bills. Ah, but it wasn't just fellow Brits who dug the work but American audiences as well - Bozeman, Montana, of all places, the site for the best gig Unicorn ever put on, was indicative of Unicorn's capture of Americana.

One More Tomorrow saw the band desirous of shifting to a more charty commercial sound. Gilmour could only produce 2/3's of the LP, owing to previous commitments, so Muff Winwood, Stevie's older brother, took over the rest. The album kicked off with a mellifluous version of John Fogerty's (Creedence Clearwater Revival) "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and an equally cool "Slow Dancing" (Jack Tempchin;s immortal number) within a very good, and very MOR, collection of 12 songs total, now more Snail and Farragher Bros. oriented (but MUCH better than them), some with guitar work worthy of Lindsey Buckingham.

However, the upstart punk movement had erupted and was crushing everything in its path (prog especially). The blade descended with extraordinary swiftness, Unicorn's sound instantly became old hat, and their last concert was at Camden Town's Music Machine to a practically empty hall. The gig was cut short, and the ensemble folded its tent and went home, never to be seen again.

A quarter century later, Shed No Tear: The Shed Studio Sessions was released, a gatherum of old songs, not a reunion, and, not having heard it, I haven't anything to say, but, given the '70's records, it's got to be good stuff. And don't pay much attention either to the Transatlantic cover art or the paintings on the Capitol releases. Transatlantic hired Hipgnosis for the English version and, though Hip was a righteous company, their work for Unicorn seemed to indicate the band might be prog. Capitol replaced those with soupy unicorn/Tolkein artwork, also indicating proggy stuff, but the band was country rock through and through - granted, with progressive-ish flavors, half of folk, as time wound on but by no means progrock - and today well worth a re-listen or first discovery.

Also see Camera Obscura 1
Camera Obscura 2
Camera Obscura 3
Camera Obscura 4
Camera Obscura 5
Camera Obscura 6
Camera Obscura 7
Camera Obscura 9
Camera Obscura 10

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