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Friday, 31 July 2020

One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time

by Craig Brown


reviewed by Stuart Penney
Hardcover, 642 pages
Published April 2, 2020 by Fourth Estate: Harper Collins


“What brings Mr. Epstein here?”  That momentous line, uttered by George Harrison during Brian’s first visit to the Cavern Club on November 9, 1961 to check out the local group he’d heard so much about, tops and tails this remarkable book.  In-between is a kaleidoscopic mixture of history, etymology, diaries, autobiography, fan letters, essays, parallel lives, party lists, interviews, announcements, and fascinating side stories.  Over 150 chapters, One Two Three Four joyfully dissects the frenetic hurly-burly of pop music’s most important decade and the group who defined it  
A journalist and satirist by trade, writing for Private Eye, The Spectator, Tatler and other publications, Brown has achieved the impossible to come up with the most wickedly observed, (not to say exceedingly readable) take on the Fab Four legend I’ve encountered in a very long time – and I’ve read a lot of Beatles’ books. 
How he has accomplished this is both incredibly simple and yet devilishly clever at the same time.  One Two Three Four examines the oh-so familiar Beatles’ story roughly chronologically, but at each important juncture goes off-piste to examine, often at great length, a largely unexplored facet of the tale.  For example, John and Paul’s early, pre-fame, years are discussed via a present-day guided tour of their childhood homes, now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.  Weaving the history in with his own fandom and observing other Beatle tourists in Liverpool and Hamburg, Brown’s description of his encounters with the officials who conduct these tours is at once hilarious and slightly depressing.  Only in Britain could we take a visit to an inspirational pop culture location and turn it into something resembling a school trip where paying customers are singled out for ritual humiliation from the stern-faced tour guides.  “ARE YOU TAKING NOTES?” demands one proprietorial jobsworth indignantly, as Brown jots down a few salient facts for his book.  “The tour guides had ideas above their station”, Brown later mused in an interview.
The Beatles’ early meteoric rise to fame is explored with excursions into the lives of Helen Shapiro, who seems genuinely thrilled to have toured with them in 1963 and Cliff Richard, who still appears miffed to have been toppled as the top UK pop star by the Liverpool upstarts. 
Much conjecture surrounds the Spanish holiday Lennon took with Brian Epstein in April 1963, an event which led John to attack and hospitalise Cavern DJ Bob Wooler following a casual gay joke during Paul’s 21st birthday party.  Instead of adding to the speculation or passing judgement, Brown forensically compares the dozens of wildly varying accounts of the assault as documented in numerous Beatles books.  It’s a novel approach and far more entertaining than the usual “did they, didn’t they?” idle speculation.  
While courting actress Jane Asher in 1964/65 Paul lived in the Asher family home in London’s upmarket Wimpole Street where he was schooled in all manner of cultural pursuits a world away from his working-class Liverpool upbringing.  In a chapter devoted to the Ashers we learn (among many other things) that Jane’s doctor father Richard was the man who first named the factitious disorder Munchausen’s syndrome.  That’s the kind of factual nugget Beatles’ fans will be dining out on for years.  
Their appearance on the February 1964 Ed Sullivan Show receives the same kind of scrupulous examination with possibly the most amusingly detailed account yet written of Ed's wooden delivery and his “lizard smile”.  Coming only weeks after the JFK murder, you really get the impression the Beatles arrived just in time to lift America out of its post-assassination shock and depression. 
The famous tale of someone hacking off a lock of Ringo’s hair at a British Embassy party in Washington is given equally detailed analysis.  Many accounts are examined from dozens of Beatles’ biographies and, more than 50 years later, Brown seems to have discovered the truth.  But you’ll have to read the book to find out what really happened. 
Much space is devoted to the Beatles’ hair in general.  Their mop tops were publicly remarked upon by Field Marshal Montgomery and even discussed in the House of Commons.  Lord Mountbatten went so far as to request a set of Fab Four wigs for his nephews while some countries, Indonesia among them, actually outlawed Beatle haircuts.
During the chapter on Ringo we learn that post-Profumo affair, he had a liaison with Christine Keeler.  Christine’s pugnacious boyfriend apparently turned up unexpectedly the following morning but was so tongue-tied at the sight of Ringo he did nothing about it. 
We are told that temporary drummer Jimmie Nicol went rapidly downhill after his two-week spell as a stand-in Beatle.  His brief brush with fame on such a colossal scale quite probably destroyed his life, resulting in paranoia, divorce and bankruptcy.
The book is packed with odd essays, travelogues and reminiscences by fans, including a beautifully written account by Mary Killen (now famous as half of the comically starchy Giles and Mary from TV's Gogglebox). Like countless other teenage girls, the then-15 year-old doctor’s daughter from Northern Ireland daydreamed of marrying Paul. 
Then there’s the strange story of Eric Clague, the off-duty policeman who ran over and killed John’s mother Julia with his car in July 1958.  After leaving the police Clague became a postman.  With almost unbelievable happenstance, part of his round included Paul’s house in Forthlin Road where he delivered increasingly numerous sacks of fan mail in 1963/64. 
Brown pulls no punches when dealing with the more divisive protagonists of the story and the Maharishi, Magic Alex Mardas and even Yoko Ono feel the full force of the author’s waspish, sardonic wit.  In fact, one of many laugh-out-loud moments in the book comes in the chapter devoted to the avant-garde White Album track "Revolution #9" where Brown observes: "No slave to melody, Yoko regularly emits intermittent high-pitched hums, moans, howls and screeches, as well as the spoken words ‘You become naked’”.  Still with Mrs Lennon, one of many telling stories relates how every time Yoko visited the Apple offices with John, she would demand a staff member go out to buy a £60 jar of caviar for her.  At 1968 prices, that expensive snack equated to roughly five times the average weekly wage of the Apple gofer.  A working class hero is something to be, indeed. 
Lennon was especially in thrall to self-styled electronics guru Magic Alex and, after feeling guilty about forgetting his birthday, gifted him an exotic and expensive Iso Rivolta Fidia, then the fastest four door car in the world and said to be the only one in the UK at the time.  It’s estimated Mardas’s litany of failed “inventions” cost the Beatles three million pounds in today’s money.
A chapter devoted to Detective Sgt Norman Pilcher tells the story of the drug squad groupie and his strange obsession with busting rock stars.  Starting with Donovan, Pilcher worked his way up the pop pecking order to arrest Stones Mick and Keith before finally collecting the prize scalps of George and John.  It all came home to roost when Pilcher was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and, in 1973, sentenced to four years jail.
The hippie dream finally crumbled to dust at Apple when, in December 1968, the building was invaded by a troupe of American Hells Angels who were (according to an internal memo from George) "on the way to straighten out Czechoslovakia" (as you do). Harrison naively invited the Angels to stay and instructed Apple staff “don't fear them or up-tight them”. To absolutely no one's surprise (except, perhaps, George's) the Angels turned out to be a bunch of violent, belligerent, feral thugs who set up permanent camp at Savile Row, stole Apple property, abused and physically attacked the staff and visitors and generally behaved appallingly.  Eventually Harrison summoned up the courage to ask them to leave, which, to everyone’s astonishment and relief, they did without too much fuss.
*George´s memo to Apple staff re: Hells Angels arrival
There are some interesting “what if” chapters which explore what might have happened in a parallel universe had, for example, John and Paul never met.  It’s a fascinating idea which crops up in the early chapters but is not fully developed until the very end when Brown fantasies in great detail how different our lives might have been had Merseybeat rivals Gerry and the Pacemakers - and not the Beatles - become the biggest band the world has ever seen.  Now, there’s something to think about.  
Only one section smacked of sloppy research, perhaps because I was there at the time as a 12-year old schoolboy.  It concerns an April 1963 Beatles appearance in Sheffield, promoted by up-and-coming club owner Peter Stringfellow, who secured the band for the princely sum of £85.  The canny Stringfellow moved the show from his own Black Cat Club (basically just a church hall) to the larger Azena ballroom after ticket demand exploded.  Brown describes the Azena as “Sheffield’s flashiest dancehall” when in reality it was an insignificant, drab building, stuck way out of town on the fringes of suburbia, then bordered by farmland.  After years of disuse the Azena was eventually redeveloped as a Co-op supermarket and is still there today.
But that's a minor quibble. Overall, this smorgasbord of a book is a delight in every way.  Unlike most Beatles' biographies it doesn’t methodically reappraise their albums or their songs (although there is a sizable chapter dedicated to “Hey Jude”), it’s more about their relationships with the people who were part of their story.  And, as any Beatles' fan worthy of the name will freely tell you, it’s surely the Greatest Story Ever Told. 
I experienced  One Two Three Four as an audiobook via Audible and the highest praise must go to the three narrators, Kate Robbins (Paul’s real life first cousin, once removed!), Mark McGann and the author himself.  All three do a sterling job with actors Kate and Mark handling the full range of Liverpool accents (and more besides) with ease.  Kate’s portrayal of John’s Aunt Mimi is so well-observed it could be straight out of an Alan Bennett play.  She also does a wickedly accurate Yoko, too.

The Azena Ballroom, then and now. Perhaps not "Sheffield’s flashiest dancehall", after all








Friday, 24 July 2020

Fill Your Head With Rock! Part 2 - Harvest, Transatlantic & Decca


UK Sampler Albums 1968-1975
by Stuart Penney



CBS: Part 2 – Rockbusters

Following the success of the Rock Machine albums CBS came up with a trio of new samplers during 1970 and 1971.  First up in March 1970 was Fill Your Head With Rock.  Priced at 29s/11d (£1.50) and boldly subtitled “The Sound of the Seventies” it broke new ground by extending the format to a double album for the first time.  Resplendent on the cover, bare-chested with long hair flying, was a colourised image of Jerry Goodman, violinist with Chicago jazz rockers the Flock (but soon to join the Mahavishnu Orchestra).  The iconic photograph was the same one used on the back cover of the Flock’s self-titled CBS debut album, except much larger and in colour.  “The Sound of the Seventies” tag was used to advertise many CBS LPs during 1970.  
Compiler David Howells stated that while the earlier Rock Machine samplers were aimed at promoting specific full-price releases, this record was part of a major push to establish CBS as "the top label in contemporary music" in the UK.  Of the 23 tracks, 16 came from US artists, six were by UK acts and one (Amory Kane) was by an American living and recording in Britain with UK musicians.  There was nothing from Bob Dylan this time, but several artists, including Spirit, the Byrds, Leonard Cohen, Al Stewart, Taj Mahal, Blood Sweat & Tears and Laura Nyro had appeared on the earlier Rock Machine LPs.  New arrivals such as folk rock hopefuls Trees and prog debutants Black Widow and Skin Alley got a chance to rub shoulders with the big names.  Fill Your Head With Rock reached #19 in the Melody Maker LP charts in March 1970 and early copies included an eight-page booklet insert.

With its striking image of a pre-fame Arnold Schwarzenegger in full “Mr. Universe” pose taking up the entire gatefold sleeve (which opened vertically), Rockbuster surely has one of the most recognisable covers of all the CBS samplers.  Stylistically, though, the gaudy artwork left much to be desired and, Arnie notwithstanding, the frightful red and yellow striped design could have come straight from the fevered imagination of K-Tel or Ronco.  But perhaps that was the intention. 
Overseen by David Howells again, the Rockbuster double set saw the return of Bob Dylan with “Days of 49”, a track from the unloved (by the critics, if not the fans) Self Portrait album.  Elsewhere, the Byrds, Argent, Spirit, Trees, Black Widow, BS&T, Johnny Winter and Al Kooper were again represented.  New this time out were cuts by Miles Davis (continuing his foray into the jazz rock fusion world), Soft Machine, Gary Farr, Robert Wyatt and (fresh from his appearance on Zappa’s Hot Rats album) Shuggie Otis.  Of the 26 tracks on the double album, the US/UK split was 17/9 this time. 
The final CBS sampler from this period was Together, released in April 1971.  Although just a single LP, early UK copies were pressed on blue vinyl (a big deal back then) with an eight-page newspaper insert.  The usual suspects, including Laura Nyro, Spirit, Byrds, Trees, Argent and Johnny Winter were joined this time by Poco, Janis Joplin and the Chambers Brothers.  Mainland European pressings of Together substituted the Soft Machine track with one by Norwegian band Titanic who scored a big hit late in 1971 with the Santana influenced instrumental “Sultana”. 
FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK (CBS SPR 39/40) 1970


SIDE ONE:
1. Chicago - Listen
2. Santana - Savour (Savor)
3. Spirit - Give A Life, Take A Life
4. Steamhammer - Passing Through
5. Blood, Sweat & Tears - Smiling Phases
SIDE TWO:
1. Flock - Tired Of Waiting
2. Black Widow - Come To The Sabbat
3. Argent - Dance In The Smoke
4. Byrds - Gunga Din 
5. Skin Alley - Living In Sin
SIDE THREE:
1. Laura Nyro - Gibsom Street
2. Leonard Cohen - You Know Who I Am
3. Moondog - Stomping Ground
4. Amory Kane - The Inbetween Man
5. Trees - The Garden of Jane Delawney
6. Al Stewart - A Small Fruit Song
7. Tom Rush - Driving Wheel
SIDE FOUR:
1. Janis Joplin - Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
2. Al Kooper - One Room Country Shack
3. Taj Mahal - Six Days On The Road
4. Mike Bloomfield - Don't Think About It Baby
5. Pacific Gas & Electric - Bluesbuster
6. Johnny Winter - I Love Everybody
ROCKBUSTER (CBS PR48/49) 1970


SIDE ONE:
1. It's A Beautiful Day - Don & Dewey
2. Blood, Sweat & Tears - Something's Comin' On
3. Soft Machine - Excerpt from Out-Bloody-Rageous
4. Miles Davis - Miles Runs The Voodoo Down
5. Flock - Uranian Circus
6. Santana - Black Magic Woman
SIDE TWO:
1. Poco - You Better Think Twice
2. Mick Softley - Time Machine
3. The Byrds - All Things
4. Bob Dylan - Days of 49
5. Trees - Polly on the Shore
6. Gary Farr - In The Mud
SIDE THREE:
1. Argent - Where Are We Going Wrong
2. Rock Workshop - Primrose Hill
3. Spirit - Mr Skin
4. Black Widow - Mary Clarke
5. Skin Alley - The Queen of Bad Intentions
6. Robert Wyatt - To Mark Everywhere
SIDE FOUR:
1. Redbone - Crazy Cajun Cakewalk Band
2. Johnny Winter - Guess I'll Go Away
3. Shuggie Otis - Bootie Cooler 
4. New York Rock Ensemble - Don't Wait Too Long
5. Skid Row - An Awful Lot of Woman
6. Pacific Gas & Electric - Staggolee
7. Edgar Winter - Tobacco Road
8. Al Kooper - Country Road
TOGETHER (CBS SPR 52) 1971

SIDE ONE:
1. Johnny Winter - Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo
2. Ballin' Jack - Found A Child
3. Janis Joplin - Move Over
4. Santana - Se A Cabo
5. Argent - Cast Your Spell Uranus
6. Big Brother & the Holding Company - Mr. Natural
7. Dreams - New York City
8. Soft Machine - Teeth
SIDE TWO:
1. Poco - A Man Like Me
2. Tom Rush - Merrimac County
3. The Byrds - Lover Of The Bayou
4. Mick Softley - Waterfall
5. Trees - Fool
6. Spirit - Morning Will Come
7. Laura Nyro - Beads Of Sweat
8. The Chambers Brothers - Going To The Mill

Harvest – Life’s A Picnic
In the early 70s few record companies immersed themselves in the nascent underground rock movement more comprehensively than the Harvest label.  Formed in 1969 by EMI to compete with other major players in the prog rock scene such as Vertigo, Deram and Chris Blackwell’s independent Island label, Harvest was one of those rare companies where virtually every release in their catalogue was worthy of attention.  In its first year alone the label gave us records by Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Kevin Ayers, Edgar Broughton Band and Shirley & Dolly Collins, with albums by Roy Harper, The Move and ELO not far behind.  It really was a case of “All Killer, No Filler”. 
Retailing at 29s/11d (a shade under £1.50) the first Harvest sampler album, Picnic - A Breath Of Fresh Air, arrived in May 1970.  Clad in a distinctive Hipgnosis designed sleeve, the 19-track double album featured a wildly diverse mix of folk, rock, blues, prog and assorted obscurities by the likes of Quatermass, Bakerloo, Forest, Third Ear Band, Pete Brown & Piblokto and Syd Barrett.  
But the main drawcard was the otherwise unavailable Pink Floyd track “Embryo”.  Recorded in November 1968, the studio outtake appeared nowhere else until 1983 when it was included on Floyd’s Works oddities compilation.  Picnic sold well, especially for a double album, reaching #14 in the Melody Maker album charts in July 1970.
The Picnic - A Breath Of Fresh Air name reappeared in 2007 on a triple CD sub-titled A Harvest Records Anthology 1969–1974.  But while the title and artwork were similar, the CD shared only three tracks with the 1970 vinyl release (Pink Floyd, Panama Limited and Quatermass).
A second sampler The Harvest Bag arrived in November 1971.  Employing a tortuous visual pun on the “budget price album” theme, the cover photo showed what was presumably intended to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer standing outside number 11 Downing Street holding aloft his ceremonial briefcase or “bag” (complete with Harvest logo) containing, we assumed, the, ahem, Budget.  Despite some solid contributions from Roy Harper, the Grease Band, ELO, Edgar Broughton Band and others, The Harvest Bag flew under the radar and is now largely forgotten. 
Other excellent Harvest samplers, including Harvest Sweeties (1971) and A Good Harvest (1973), appeared in mainland Europe, but they were not released in the UK. 
PICNIC – A BREATH OF FRESH AIR (Harvest SHSS 1/2) 1970
SIDE ONE:
1. Deep Purple - Into The Fire
2. Barclay James Harvest - Mother Dear
3. Pink Floyd - Embryo
4. The Battered Ornaments - Twisted Track
5. Shirley & Dolly Collins - Glenlogie
SIDE TWO:
1. Pretty Things - The Good Mr. Square
2. Roy Harper - Song Of The Ages
3. Bakerloo - This Worried Feeling
4. Kevin Ayers - Eleanor's Cake Which Ate Her
5. The Greatest Show On Earth - Again And Again
SIDE THREE:
1. Third Ear Band - Water
2. Syd Barrett - Terrapin
3. Forest - A Glade Somewhere
4. Pete Brown & Piblokto! - Golden Country Kingdom
5. Panama Limited - Round & Round
SIDE FOUR:
1. Quatermass - Black Sheep Of The Family
2. Michael Chapman - Postcards Of Scarborough
3. Tea & Symphony - Maybe My Mind (With Egg)
4. Edgar Broughton Band - Old Gopher
THE HARVEST BAG (Harvest SHSS3) 1971
SIDE ONE:
1. Grease Band - Laughed At The Judge
2. Southern Comfort - River Woman
3. The Electric Light Orchestra - Queen Of The Hours
4. Climax Chicago - Shoot Her If She Runs
5. Barclay James Harvest - After The Day
SIDE TWO:
1. Edgar Broughton Band - Call Me A Liar
2. East Of Eden - Ain't Gonna Do You No Harm
3. Roy Harper - Living Here Alone
4. The Move - Ella James
5. Mark-Almond - The City - Part 1 (The Ghetto)


Transatlantic – Folk, Blues and Beyond!

Together with Topic records Transatlantic is probably the UK’s best-known and most-loved folk label.  Established in 1961 by Nat Joseph, Transatlantic soon resembled a British version of the US Elektra label, dabbling in comedy, spoken word, jazz and blues.  But most of all it became a byword for folk music of the highest quality. 
Between 1964 and 1974 Transatlantic released dozens of landmark LPs by Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Pentangle, Ralph McTell, the Dubliners, the Ian Campbell Folk Group and others, so it was inevitable they would join the other labels and release a range of budget sampler albums. 


 The Transatlantic samplers are so numerous and diverse they really deserve a lengthy article to themselves.  Almost alone among the UK labels Transatlantic pioneered the single artist sampler with a dedicated numbering series separating them from the full-price releases.  Between 1968 - 1977 the label issued over 40 LPs with the TRA SAM prefix (Transatlantic Sampler), of which at least 28 were devoted to one artist, either as an introduction to their work, or as a budget reissue of an earlier full-price album.  Only Decca records (see below) released more budget samplers in the UK.


Below is a list of the TRA SAM releases.  Starting in 1968 with a couple of various artist compilations Here’s To The Irish and Listen Here (A Transatlantic Sampler), the big sellers came the following year with two samplers each from Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Pentangle.  The early Transatlantic samplers retailed between 14s/11d (75p) and 15s/5d (77p) [hence the title of TRA SAM 3], rising to around £1 in the 70s. 





Transatlantic Samplers:
TRA SAM 1 - Various Artists - Here’s To The Irish (1968)
TRA SAM 2 - Various Artists - Listen Here (A Transatlantic Sampler) (1968)
TRA SAM 3 - Various Artists - 15/5 And All That Jazz - A Prestige Sampler (1968)
TRA SAM 4 - The Ian Campbell Group - The Ian Campbell Group Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 5 - Various Artists - The Mike Raven Blues Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 6 - Alex Campbell - The Alex Campbell Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 7 - Alexis Korner’s All Stars - Blues Incorporated (1969)
TRA SAM 8 - Matt McGinn - Matt McGinn Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 9 - Hamish Imlach - The Hamish Imlach Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 10 - Bert Jansch - The Bert Jansch Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 11 - Various Artists - Here’s To The Irish Vol II (1969)
TRA SAM 12 - The Ian Campbell Group - The Ian Campbell Group Sampler Volume 2 (1969)
TRA SAM 13 - The Young Tradition – The Young Tradition Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 14 - Various Artists - The Contemporary Guitar Sampler (1969)
TRA SAM 15 - Various Artists - The Contemporary Guitar Sampler Volume 2 (1970)
TRA SAM 16 - The Johnstons - The Johnstons Sampler (1970)
TRA SAM 17 - Various Artists – The Great Scots Sampler (1970)
TRA SAD 18 - Various Artists – Heads & Tails (2/LPs 1971)
TRA SAM 20 - John Renbourn - The John Renbourn Sampler (1971)
TRA SAM 21 - Various Artists – The Great Scots Sampler Volume 2 (1971)
TRA SAM 22 - Various Artists ‎– 5,227,706 Scotsmen Can't Be Wrong! (1971)
TRA SAM 23 - Pentangle – History Book (1972)
TRA SAM 24 - Various Artists - 20th Century Music Sampler (1972)
TRA SAM 25 - Various Artists - Blues For Your Pocket (1972)
TRA SAM 26 - Various Artists - Picture Rags (1972)
TRA SAM 27 - Bert Jansch - Box Of Love (The Bert Jansch Sampler Volume II) (1972)
TRA SAM 28 - John Renbourn - So Clear (The John Renbourn Sampler Volume 2) (1972) 
TRA SAM 29 - Pentangle - Pentangling (1973) 
TRA SAM 30 - The Young Tradition - Galleries Revisited (1973)
TRA SAM 31 - Hamish Imlach ‎- All Round Entertainer: Sampler Vol. 2 (1973)
TRA SAM 32 - Billy Connolly - Words And Music (1975)
TRA SAM 33 - Stray - Tracks (1975)
TRA SAM 34 - Ralph McTell - Streets Of London (1975)
TRA SAM 35 - Richard Digance - In Concert (1976)
TRA SAM 36 - Peter Bardens - Vintage ’69 (1976)
TRA SAM 37 - Sweeny’s Men – Sweeny’s Men 1968 (1976)
TRA SAM 38 - Billy Connolly - The Big Yin: More Words And Music From Billy Connolly (1976) 
TRA SAM 39 - Ralph McTell - The Ralph McTell Collection Volume Two (1976)
TRA SAM 40 - Sweeney's Men ‎– The Tracks Of Sweeney (1977)
TRA SAM 41 - Matt McGinn - Matt McGinn (1977)
TRA SAM 43 - Hamish Imlach - Hamish Imlach (1977)
TRA SAM 44 - Stray - Reflecting A Generation (1977)

Decca – From Bowie to Wowie Zowie!



Decca’s ubiquitous World Of budget LPs have been cluttering up second-hand bins, charity shops and car boot sales across the land for half a century.  The reason we encounter them so often is because there are just so many of the damn things.  Starting in 1968 with the less than promising The World Of Mantovani* (SPA 1), Decca went on to issue over 500 individual World Of titles.  These low-priced compilations, samplers and reissues were mostly drawn from the main Decca catalogue, with some originating from subsidiary labels such as Deram, Nova and Argo.  
Many styles of music were catered for, but the emphasis was on easy listening and classical, with a generous helping of spoken word, comedy, children's stories and even train sounds thrown into the mix.  Initially priced at 15 shillings (75p) each in 1968, they rose to 19s/11d (£1) by 1970, before the entire series ran out of steam (see what I did there?) around 1977.

Most World Of LPs need not detain us here, but with so many titles released (an average of more than 50 per year for a decade) it’s inevitable some would be of interest to rock, blues and folk fans.  Moving swiftly past the seemingly endless list of MOR, classical and easy listening titles (including the Bachelors and Val Doonican with no less than five volumes each!) there are some real gems to be had, with around 40 World Of LPs worthy of attention.  Listed below are what I consider to be the most interesting titles in the series.  Some of the comedy releases by the likes of Kenneth Williams, the Goodies, the Goons and Benny Hill are also worth checking out, but I’m sticking with the rock/pop/folk LPs here.

Important early releases included The World Of Blues Power, containing a previously unreleased Peter Green/John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers track “Greeny” among other interesting material by Ten Years After, Savoy Brown etc.  Due to a licensing agreement “All My Life”, a track lifted from a rare Decca EP by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Paul Butterfield, was removed from pressings of The World Of Blues Power sold outside the UK.

The World Of David Bowie contained ten tracks from his 1967 self-titled Deram debut album, plus three previously unreleased outtakes and one rejected Deram B-side.  The cover photo by Ian Dickson pictured Bowie around the time of the “Space Oddity” hit single in 1969 with his hair permed.  In 1973 Decca cynically revamped the LP with an updated Ziggy Stardust-era sleeve to cash in on Bowie’s new fame.  Considering all the songs on The World Of David Bowie dated from 1966-68, neither of the sleeve photos bore any direct relationship to the music within.  And, as if to prove that everything comes around again, the first version of The World Of David Bowie received a blue vinyl Record Store Day reissue in 2019.

The World Of The Zombies used the same cover photo as the band’s rare 1965 Decca LP Begin Here, but the two shared only six tracks.  The remaining half dozen were singles, B-sides, an EP track and a rare cut from the soundtrack of the film Bunny Lake Is Missing.


One of the few releases in the series not to use the World Of prefix was The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp.  This was a straight reissue of the 1968 Deram album of the same name.  Based on his royalty statements, Robert Fripp claims the original LP sold only 500 copies, but that’s unlikely to be the true sales figure.  Whatever the facts, the 1970 reissue was an affordable way to pick up an extremely rare record. 
*We may scoff at those easy listening Mantovani LPs today with their syrupy cascading strings, but both volumes of The World Of Mantovani (SPA 1 and SPA 36) reached the UK top ten during 1969, spending 50 weeks in the album charts between them.


There are over 500 titles in Decca’s World Of series and, just so you don't have to, I’ve waded through every single one of them. Here's what I consider to be 43 of the best releases.  
Most early World Of releases were available in both mono (PA) and stereo (SPA).  Only stereo catalogue numbers are listed here.
Decca “World Of” Samplers – A Connoisseurs Selection
SPA 6 - Julie Felix - The World Of Julie Felix (1969)
SPA 7 - Various Artists - A Whiter Shade – The World Of Hits (1969)
SPA 8 - Lulu - The World Of Lulu (1969)
SPA-R 14 - Various Artists - The World Of Blues Power (April 1969)
SPA 17 - Marianne Faithfull - The World Of Marianne Faithfull (1969)
SPA 33 - Amen Corner - The World Of Amen Corner (1969)
SPA 34 - Various Artists - Wowie Zowie! The World Of Progressive Music (1969)
SPA 35 - Various Artists - The World Of Hits Vol.2 (1969)
SPA 44 - Josh White - The World Of Josh White (1969)
SPA 47 - John Mayall - The World Of John Mayall (February 1970)
SPA 49 - Various Artists - The World Of Hits Vol.3 (1970)
SPA 58 - David Bowie -The World Of David Bowie (1970) Updated with a new sleeve in 1973
SPA 63 - Various Artists - The World Of Blues Power Vol.2 (1970)
SPA 72 - Various Artists – Nova Sampler (1970 - Nova label)
SPA 76 - Julie Felix - The World Of Julie Felix Vol.2 (1970)
SPA 77 - Alan Price – The World Of Alan Price (1970)
SPA 83 - Various Artists - The World Of Hits Vol.4 (1970)
SPA 85 - The Zombies – The World Of The Zombies (1970)
SPA 86 - Them – The World Of Them (1970)
SPA 93 - Cat Stevens – The World Of Cat Stevens (1970)
SPA 94 - Lulu - The World Of Lulu Vol.2 (1970)
SPA-A 102 - Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger - The World Of Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger (1970 - Argo label)
SPA 124 - Various Artists – The World Of Soul (1971)
SPA 132 - Various Artists – The World Of Folk (1971)
SPA 138 - John Mayall - The World Of John Mayall Vol.2 (1971)
SPA 156 - Various Artists – The World Of Contemporary Folk (1971)
SPA 157 - East Of Eden – The World Of East Of Eden (1971 - Deram and Decca labels)
SPA 177 - Various Artists - The World Of Hits Vol.5 (1971)
SPA 188 - Billy Fury – The World Of Billy Fury (1972)
SPA-A-216 - Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger - The World Of Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger Vol.2: Songs From Radio Ballads (1972 - Argo label)
SPA 253 - The Tornados - The World Of The Tornados (1972)
SPA 258 - Various Artists - The World Of Hits Vol.6 (1972)
SPA 263 - Various Artists - The World Of Blues Power Vol.3 (1972)
SPA 307 - Various Artists – The World Of Folk Vol.2 (1973)
SPA 360 - Various Artists - The World Of Hits Vol.7 (1974)
SPA-U 361 - Ray Charles – The World Of Ray Charles (1974 - London/Crossover label)
SPA 364 – The New Vaudeville Band - The World Of The New Vaudeville Band (1974)
SPA 387 - Eric Clapton – The Blues World Of Eric Clapton (1975)
SPA-U 422 - Ray Charles – The World Of Ray Charles Vol.2 (1975 - London/Crossover label)
SPA 423 - Giles, Giles & Fripp - The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles and Fripp (1970 - Deram label)
SPA 470 - Marmalade – The World Of Marmalade (1974)
SPA 546 - Mary Hopkin - The Welsh World Of Mary Hopkin (1979)
SPA 575 - Billy Fury – The World Of Billy Fury Vol.2 (1980)


Track – The Revolution’s Here
Formed in 1966 by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, Track records is probably best known as the UK home of Jimi Hendrix and the Who.  But the label had other less illustrious signings such as John’s Children (featuring Marc Bolan), Golden Earring, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Marsha Hunt and Pete Townshend protégés Thunderclap Newman.

Track was late to the sampler market, but they soon made up for lost time, releasing around 20 budget compilations and reissues between 1969 and 1973.  First up in September 1969 was the excellent The House That Track Built offering genuinely rare tracks by Fairport Convention, The Who, John’s Children and Thunderclap Newman alongside more obvious fare from Hendrix and Arthur Brown.  The jewel in the crown was undoubtedly an unreleased studio version of The Who’s "Young Man Blues", as recorded during the Tommy sessions.  It’s a different take to the other studio version added to the expanded Odds and Sods compilation in 1998 and hard to find elsewhere.
The laminated gatefold sleeve was designed by David King who also worked on The Who Sell Out and Jimi’s Axis: Bold As Love sleeves, as well as the infamous Electric Ladyland UK “nude” cover and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.  In the 70s King designed posters and logos for the Anti-Nazi League, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Rock Against Racism.  An art historian with a special interest in Leon Trotsky, part of his huge collection of 250,000 Soviet graphics and photographs is housed in the Tate Modern, London.
But the most well-known Track samplers are undoubtedly the Backtrack series.  Comprising 14 volumes in total, they were all released during 1970, the first batch appearing in May of that year, with the rest following in November.  No record company today would dare release an LP showing a little kid smoking a fat joint on the cover.  But the first six Backtrack volumes did exactly that.  The picture was retained for the second batch in the series, albeit greatly reduced in size and relegated to a corner of the sleeve. 

The Backtrack series was part of Polydor’s budget price “99” series, introduced in 1970 and used across the entire family of labels (including Atlantic releases before 1972, see below).  Most releases carried the “99” logo in the top left corner of the sleeves denoting the 99p price, a year ahead of decimalisation in 1971. 
The Backtrack albums were superseded in 1973 by Allsorts, a series of four budget samplers individually titled Aniseed, Peppermint, Coconut and Liquorice.  The name comes from Liquorice Allsorts, a type of confectionery first produced in Sheffield by George Bassett & Co Ltd around 1900.


The first three LPs were general rock compilations while Liquorice Allsorts was devoted specifically to R&B/Soul artists, just as Backtrack 6 had been.  Curiously, alongside the familiar Track artists on Aniseed, Peppermint and Coconut Allsorts were three cuts each by Joe Cocker, the Move and Procol Harum.  All three artists were signed to David Platz’s Essex Music and had recorded for the recently defunct Regal Zonophone label before transferring to Fly Records around 1971, which in turn became the Cube label.  Presumably, the nine Essex Music tracks were part of a one-off licencing agreement just for the Track Allsorts samplers. 
The track titles were embossed in braille on the back cover of each LP, an innovation Track also used on the Who’s 1974 Odds & Sods album sleeve.  This became a trend for a while, with braille messages appearing on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book (1972) and Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway (1973). 
THE HOUSE THAT TRACK BUILT (Track 613016) 1969

SIDE ONE:
1. The Who - Magic Bus
2. Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along The Watchtower
3. The Sand Pebbles - Love Power
4. The Who - Young Man Blues
5. Precisions - If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely)
6. Thunderclap Newman - Wilhelmina
7. John's Children - Desdemona
SIDE TWO:
1. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - Fire
2. Jimi Hendrix Experience - Purple Haze
3. The Parliaments - (I Wanna) Testify
4. Fairport Convention - If I Had A Ribbon Bow
5. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - Devil's Grip
6. The Who - A Quick One While He's Away
Track Backtrack Samplers (1970)
2407 001 - Various Artists - Backtrack 1
2407 002 - Various Artists - Backtrack 2
2407 003 - The Who and Jimi Hendrix - Backtrack 3
2407 004 - The Who and Jimi Hendrix - Backtrack 4
2407 005 - The Who and Jimi Hendrix - Backtrack 5
2407 006 - Various Artists - Backtrack 6 - Soul compilation 
2407 007 - Various Artists - Backtrack 7: Mixed Bag - Rock & Soul compilation
2407 008 - The Who - Backtrack 8 (Mono Version of A Quick One)
2407 009 - The Who - Backtrack 9 (Stereo Version of Who Sell Out)
2407 010 - Jimi Hendrix - Backtrack 10 (Stereo Version of Are You Experienced)
2407 011 - Jimi Hendrix - Backtrack 11 (Stereo Version of Axis: Bold As Love)
2407 012 - Arthur Brown - Backtrack 12 (Stereo Version of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
2407 013 - Murray Roman - Backtrack 13 (Stereo version of You Can’t Beat People Up And Have Them Say I Love You
2407 014 - The Who - The Ox - Backtrack 14 (John Entwistle songs recorded by The Who)
Track Allsorts Samplers (1973)
2409 205 - Various Artists - Aniseed Allsorts 
2409 206 - Various Artists - Peppermint Allsorts
2409 207 - Various Artists - Coconut Allsorts
2409 208 - Various Artists - Liquorice Allsorts


Marmalade – The Sound That Spreads
Created in 1966 by former Rolling Stones and Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky, the independent Marmalade label lasted only a couple of years before folding in 1969, leaving behind just 14 LPs and around 20 singles.  Despite (or perhaps due to) a wildly eclectic artist roster which included Blossom Toes, Chris Barber, Sonny Boy Williamson and John McLaughlin, sales were disappointing and only one single, "This Wheel's on Fire" by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity entered the UK charts, reaching #5 in late 1967.

Released in 1969, Marmalade 100° Proof (wittily subtitled A Taste Of Marmalade - The Sound That Spreads) was the only UK sampler LP on the label (although at least one other title appeared in Europe).  All the label’s big names were represented, plus rare tracks by French guitarist Robert Lelievre [billed as “Le Lievre (The Hare)”] and future 10cc members Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley.  
MARMALADE 100° PROOF (Marmalade 643314) 1969

SIDE ONE:
1. Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity - Let The Sunshine In
2. Blossom Toes - Kiss Of Confusion
3. Gordon Jackson - The Journey
4. Ottilie Patterson - Bitterness Of Death
5. Chris Barber - Battersea Rain Dance
SIDE TWO:
1. Brian Auger & the Trinity - Tropic Of Capricorn
2. John McLaughlin - Pete The Poet
3. Julie Driscoll - A Word About Colour
4. Le Lievre (The Hare) - Dis-Toi-Bien
5. Graham Gouldman - The Late Mr Late
6. Kevin Godley - To Fly Away

Coming soon in Part 3, more legendary sampler albums from the Pye, Dawn, Marble Arch and Island labels.

Zappa - The Documentary

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