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Sunday, 8 August 2010

~Nippy Sweeties~#5: Reflections Of A Whiter Shade

A recent survey by the BBC revealed that the song with the most airplay hits ever is 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' by Procul Harum. Now what that means is not just plays on the radio, but plays on TV, in adverts, on pub jukeboxes, on compilation albums and on karaoke machines etc. They managed to outstrip Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Abba and The Paramedic Squad....quite an achievement when you think about it. 'AWSOP' is an instantly recognisable piece of music with it's melody 'tributing' Bach's Air On A G String and it's pseudo-pretentious gibberish lyrics. It's so recognisable of course that it is obviously NOT the subject of a Streetlamp article.

No, what we thought we'd look at is the myriad tracks that were obviously inspired by that song. A quick look at the the charts reveals that the number of songs that followed the 'AWSOP' blueprint that charted is....erm, none! come? Surely in such a musically cannibalistic decade there must have been MANY pale imitators....literally! Given that every time The Beatles sneezed, the rest of the music industry caught the cold, you would assume they would be queueing up to offer their take on such a memorable piece of music....and yet the charts say NO! But that doesn't mean they don't exist. The truth is there were MANY copyists, it's just that none ever even tickled the underbelly of the charts.
So, we're going to take a look at a couple of the better ones; 'Reputation' by The Shy Limbs and 'Reflections Of Charles Brown' by Rupert's People, both from late 1967.

First off then, Rupert's People. Now Rupert's People weren't even a proper band as such, they were an alias used by a band call Les Fleur De Lys. The strange thing is that even under the name Les Fleur De Lys they never charted why the alias? Les Fleur De Lys were actually very popular on the live circuit and did release a few records. My guess is that they knew 'Reflections....' was such a brazen imitation of 'AWSOP' that that's why they hid behind the false name.
'Reflections Of Charles Brown' even has the audacity to go one further than 'AWSOP' in that they actually use Bach's Air On A G String wholesale! No subtle tribute here. The track is beautifully produced with lots of space for the instruments to breathe; the drum sound is very clean and the guitar is very intricate and polished. And in Chris Andrews they have a very good vocalist indeed....his delivery on this track is quite exceptional. He adds a real ache and poignancy to a lyric that deals with a single(male) parent trying to scrape by to look after his kids who look upon him merely as the man who feeds them. Like most great 60s pop singles it is a beautiful snapshot of every day life, shot through with a little acid sparkle.
A fantastic single that deserved to be a massive hit, but like so many of the tracks we'll cover in Nippy Sweeties, it did absolutely nothing!

Warning: the next article contains traces of Greg Lake. A major rock star once remarked that there are three things you should always avoid on tour; toothache, headache and Greg Lake. In truth, we should actually be thankful to Greg Lake for if it hadn't been for Emerson Lake & Palmer then a bunch of teenagers wouldn't have been driven to pick up guitars and write 'White Riot', 'Anarchy In The UK' and 'New Rose' and Griff, Ray and I wouldn't be creating these Blogs....Hey, Thanks Greg!The Shy Limbs was one of Greg Lake's first bands and this truly amazing song was one of their only releases. Again benefiting greatly from an over dominant organ refrain, this song actually sounds completely deranged and constantly on the verge of collapsing in on itself. Before I started getting all properly enthusiastic about Psychedelic music, this is actually what I imagined all Psychedelic music sounded like....all phased whooshing noises, Blackpool Tower Ballroom keyboards and impassioned Steve Marriott-alike vocals.
We'll excuse the suspect slightly sexist lyrics about how he is going to be too much of a man for her to carry on with her 'Reputation' as a product of the times....'Blow Up' had only been in the cinemas the year before after all. It has always been believed that Greg Lake sang and played guitar on 'Reputation' but it is clearly not him singing. It IS his guitar though and he did provide the vocals for the flipside 'Love'. The vocalist on this track appears to be John Dickenson....and a fine vocal it is too. Sadly....once again the general public simply didn't feel inclined to take such a fine piece of music to their bosom. Too many James Last and Oinklebert Humperpig records out there to buy, eh? Nevermind.....

So, there we are....two fine slabs of Psychedelic Pop born from one of the most instantly recognisable tracks of all time. There were many more but I think we'll leave it here with these two....Hell, you wouldn't want us to get all populist and obvious on you now, would you?

~Keep Your Mind Open~


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