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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
From Motor City to Mod in Three Simple Steps
The Marvelettes, originators of the pop music phenomenon I like to call the Scrappy Girl Jam, are far and away my favorite early-'60s girl group. See, the other big Motown girl groups (Martha Reeves, Supremes, etc) are girl groups only in name-- they're not really girls so much as sexy, serious adult women (ew! gross!). But The Marvelettes are total kids; their hits (though jams of course) always have a "we're half-assing it", devil-may-care, laissez-faire semblance about them; like they don't really care either way if they are in a famous band or not, like singing songs is just another way to kill time between jump rope rhymes and shoplifting candy and sneaking contraband cigarettes while cutting class and all that other good stuff. 1965's I'll Keep Holding On is my favorite song by them, click to download. This track is a real single's single: slamming from start to finish, completely danceable, owning this 45 is probably the only reason why I've managed to garner any real esteem as a DJ.
I'll Keep Holding On was renamed I'll Keep On Holding On (for convenience's sake?) by English mod group The Action when they covered it in '66. The Action, signed to EMI by Beatles' producer George Martin in the mid-sixties, are the band that coulda woulda shoulda been the Small Faces (yet no single of theirs even charted;the world is a horrible place). Blue-eyed soul has never sounded so sweet as when it is sung by Action frontman Reg(gie) King. Here is their version of the Marvelettes' track; I personally couldn't choose one over the other, they both achieve and communicate such different things.
Sadly, the story of The Action is a Sad Tragedy. Their shoulda-been-a masterpiece, 1967's melancholic, contemplative Rolled Gold (seriously, just impulse-buy this album right now) is the Lost Classic of all Lost Classics. Inexplicably, this record was shelved and scrapped by EMI, apparently for not being psych-y enough, and went unheard until the demos were re-released on CD in 2002. Yes, it's true, this album is not psychedelic in the least, but whatever, psych totally sucks compared to Rolled Gold (this means a lot, you know, coming from me). This album is way too cerebral and subtle to require the fanciful crutch of psychedelia in any way: it is concerned with real, heavy-hearted emotion, not stupid faux-LSD musings, it is the only rock music I've ever heard that manages to truly connote real compassion (except for the obvious Beatles cuts, Julia, Strawberry Fields, etc). Every song on this album is brilliant and beautiful; one of those rare "all killer, no filler" records.
Because I want you to buy the album off Amazon.com this exact second, I will only tease you with two mp3s: first, the heartbreaking Come Around, one of the moodiest and most effective Track 1s in the history of the long-playing record. And second, here is Brain, commonly acknowledged as the standout, but it doesn't even matter, because they're all standouts. I adamantly recommend listening to this album on headphones while thinking about all the saddest things that have ever happened to you. Reggie King understands. But hey, don't cry too hard.
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