Friday, October 14, 2011

The Move's "Anthology 1966-1972"

The Move are a band I've never really stopped listening to since getting infatuated from reading about 'em in Nik Cohn's Rock From the Beginning when I was 13, although the Stateside scarcity of their records meant that it'd take years for me to hear everything he was talking about.

Initially, I let myself be talked out of purchasing Shazam! in favor of the first Led Zeppelin album by the slightly older, "hip" guys at the music store where I used to record-shop. Consequently, the first Move album I heard was Message From the Country, which was a long way from the scowling, gangster-suited, TV-smashing ruffians Cohn had described. Through '71 and '72, I bought and played the shit out of all their UA singles until a second-hand copy of "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" showed me the true Way and Light.

Their catalog has been compiled and reissued innumerable times, and while I passed on this 4CD box back in 2008 when it was new and expensive, Dallasite and Josh Alan Friedman familiar Kevin Kunreuther recently pulled my coat that it's now Amazon-available for around five bucks a disc, which makes it a worthwhile and damn-near-irresistible purchase if you're a fan like me.

About half of the 61 tracks are previously unreleased, and while a lot of those are alternate mixes and demos, the set is particularly valuable for three significant inclusions: 1) a five-track hometown radio session that predates their debut single; 2) the as-complete-as-possible Marquee Club recordings which, with re-recorded vox, yielded the 1968 Something Else by the Move EP, here with the 'riginal vocals painstakingly restored; and 3) two tracks from the frequently-bootlegged board tape of the 1969 Fillmore West show. To these feedback-scorched ears, it's the best comp of its kind since the Faces' indispensable Five Guys Walk Into a Bar.

In the fullness of time, the Move fit very comfortably in the song-driven '60s Brit rock pantheon alongside the Beatles, the Who, and the Kinks. Sure, they weren't as adept at making albums as any of the above, but Roy Wood was every bit as skillful a songsmith as Lennon/McCartney, Townshend, and Davies, and incidentally, his wah-infused raga-influenced ramblings on guitar, banjo, and sitar were a significant influence on your humble chronicler o' events when I was stumbling around the 'shed back in the early '70s. Roy's falsetto covered the high end of the Move's four-part harmonies, and he could sing lead in a gruff (if audibly forced) growl or his own naturally reedy voice.

But Roy was far from the Move's only musical asset. Chris "Ace" Kefford, immortalized by Cohn as the "Singing Skull," founded the Move with his buddy Trevor Burton after touring London muso David Jones (later Bowie) encouraged them to try their luck down in the Smoke. Ace sang in a soulful yelp not unlike his other teenage pal Stevie Winwood, best heard on the January '66 radio broadcast's "You're the One I Need," a feedback-laden slice of Mod R&B, penned by Wood but based on "Baby Please Don't Go."

The tracks from that session -- including a cover of the Isley Brothers' "Respectable," familiar to Anglophile music geeks via Five Live Yardbirds -- reveal the embryonic Move as a totally different band than they would become, but already boasting the strength of four singers who could sing in tune live. Ace also had a distinctive whistle that was used to good effect on debut single B-side "The Disturbance" as well as "Grass," and was the first of several bassists to play the monstrous bass lines that Wood used to color Move songs like cello sections, starting with the "1812 Overture"-derived "Night of Fear."

For his part, Trevor sang lead on the Eddie Cochran-style rockers (with a wiseguy smirk and a Brummer's idea of an American accent), as well as "Watch Your Step," the vehicle for frontman Carl Wayne's live TV-and-automotive-destruction antics. Roy wrote "The Girl Outside" on the first Move album to showcase Burton, who proved to be an exemplary utility muso, switching from rhythm guitar to bass when his acid-eating accomplice Ace freaked his way right out of the band in between the two live sessions that produced Something Else.

The wonders of digital audio processing allowed Anthology's engineers to boost the PA vocals from the audience track of those recordings and mix them with the better parts of the unusably distorted vocal track, and the resultant 39-minute live set (only missing a couple of songs where the vocals weren't salvageable) is a great testament to the original Move lineup's stagecraft.

It's instructive to remember that drummer Bev Bevan, whose thunderous solos with the Move and ELO come across as comedy relief more for the way they're recorded than his actual ability, was regarded as in the same league as fellow Brummer John Bonham, who declined the Move drum chair, and indeed, Bev once drummed in Black Sabbath for a season.

The real hero of the piece, though, is Carl Wayne, who died of esophageal cancer in 2004 -- a natural leader and businessman who kept his pre-Move band the Vikings (whose lineup included Ace and Bev) together when they were starving through brutal month-long gigs in Germany, and went on to a post-Move career as a radio personality, musical theater actor, in-demand jingle singer, and Allan Clarke's replacement in the Hollies.

Wayne had a classic crooner's voice, and was vilified by Wood for taking the Move into cabaret in a '71 Rolling Stone interview (while the truth, as Anthology's liner essay reveals, was more complex), but he was also notably magnanimous about sharing lead vocal duties with his bandmates, and his advocacy for the band long after their demise led to the latter day reissue program that culminated in Anthology's release (four years after his death).

It was Wayne who had the foresight to obtain a copy of the board tape of the Move's performance at the Fillmore West on their sole U.S. jaunt in 1969, when they were scarcely known here and had no album to promote (although several of the songs they were performing on that tour wound up getting recorded for Shazam!).

A bootleg of those shows was one of the items that disappeared from my iTunes when it took a dump a couple of years ago and sent most of my downloaded music to the widowmaker, but Anthology includes two songs from that tape: the Move's cover of the Nazz's "Open My Eyes," which reveals their inordinate fondness for the song's bridge, and a ten-minute-long "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" that meanders, Live At Leeds-like, through territory that includes "Born To Be Wild" and "Peter Gunn."

Looking On, the album recorded after Wayne split and was replaced by Jeff Lynne from Idle Race, is pretty uniformly lousy, marred by muddy sound and misguided experiments, but Message From the Country and the last run of singles still hold up, albeit in a very different manner from the earlier stuff. It's ironic that after spending so much time putting the Move to sleep and bringing Electric Light Orchestra to life, Wood was out of that band in less than a year, off to paint his face green and produce the string of perennial UK hits that, to these feedback-scorched ears, can't hold a candle to the Move's best work.

While I'm not going to throw the rest of my Move records out, it's nice to have all this stuff together in an eminently listenable form that gives me a new way to hear a band that I've loved for 40 years now.


Blogger lastangelman said...

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9:17 AM  

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