Last week I went to see Roy Wood live, and was struck yet again by just how wonderful the Move’s hit singles were (I haven’t reviewed the gig, because Wood literally never deviates from the setlist, and very rarely deviates in his between-song talking either. This is not a criticism — while his shows are short, every song he plays is a classic — but it means that having reviewed a show in 2013 I don’t need to do the same again).
Last year, Eclectic Music put out four “deluxe” reissues, finally putting almost all the Move’s catalogue back into print (the band’s first three albums and the EP Something Else — the fourth and last album, Message From the Country, has remained in print from another label), and so after the gig I decided to buy the first two — a three-CD version of the band’s debut album, Move, and a double-CD version of their second, Shazam!.
Hearing these reissues did nothing to change my opinion that the Move were one of the most interesting bands of the 60s, as well as occasionally being one of the best. But they’re also odd beasts, for a variety of reasons.
First among these is the odd way in which the Move’s career progressed. They had a bunch of hits in 1966 and 67, but didn’t release their debut album until April 1968 — and then their next single was a flop that didn’t even make the top forty. They had another big hit in 1969, but then didn’t release their second album until 1970 — and their lead singer left right before it came out. They then released two more albums in 1970 and 71, but those weren’t really “Move” albums, having only Roy Wood and drummer Bev Bevan from the original lineup, and being done as contractual obligations while Wood, Bevan, and Jeff Lynne (who joined for those last two albums) were working on their new project, the Electric Light Orchestra.
This means that there are two parallel stories of the Move, with little overlap, if you compare their single and album releases. But even disregarding that, the musical conflicts *within* the band were almost as odd.
The Move, you see, were a Mod band, and they were a typical example of what must be the most interesting point in British 60s music, the precise point where Mod turned into psychedelia. But they had two different visions of what that meant.
The vision of Mod we see now in the media is based on how the scene started out — loud, speed-driven bands playing music that’s based on American soul records. But by about 1967, the Mod scene was starting to split into two different sets of reactions to the new psychedelia. On the one side were people like Cream, who went louder and simpler, doing extended jams showing off their instrumental prowess. On the other side were the artists on Immediate Records (people like the Small Faces, P.P. Arnold, and others) who kept to doing short, hook-filled, soul-influenced pop songs but incorporated phasing, baroque instrumentation, and a heavy dollop of influence from LA pop music like the Beach Boys.
And that split is one that goes right down the middle of the Move. When they started out as a covers band, they were doing the same soul-based repertoire as pretty much every other British band at the time, but with a neat line in harmonies (all five original members of the band sang, though the hits were mostly sung by Carl Wayne or Wood). However, they were a loud, raucous, band on stage, with a “bad boy” image, and lead singer Carl Wayne, rhythm guitarist Trevor Burton and bass player Ace Kefford all wanted to compete with friends like the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Songwriter/lead guitarist Roy Wood, though, was quietly putting together what amounted to a new vocabulary for songwriting, combining the influence of the Everly Brothers, Phil Spector, and 50s R&B, with the Beatles’ more psychedelic music and the LA pop songs of people like Brian Wilson, Arthur Lee, and Harry Nilsson. He was abetted in this by Tony Visconti, who would later become one of the great producers of the rock era but who at the time was a staff arranger helping Wood realise his ideas, and was pushing him to introduce more classical and baroque elements to the band’s sound.
And the first two albums reflect these two very different views of what a band should be. Move is a thirteen-track album, with ten tracks written by Wood, and only one track over three minutes long. And pretty much everything is a minor classic of baroque pop or powerpop.
By contrast, Shazam!, which is usually considered the band’s best album, consists of only six tracks, of which only one is a new Wood song, the rather gorgeous “Beautiful Daughter” (the other two Wood compositions are “Hello Suzie”, a remake of a hit song he’d written for the Immediate band Amen Corner, and “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited”, an extended version of a track from the previous album). While both Kefford and Burton had left the band by the second album, it’s very much in the loud, raucous, extended mode they would have preferred.
As an album, I simply have to prefer Move to Shazam!. The former has two of the greatest singles of all time on it — “Flowers in the Rain” and “Fire Brigade” — along with at least five other tracks of that standard which *could* have been huge hits too, and some interestingly quirky material like a cover of the old Judy Garland song “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart”. Shazam! unfortunately has nothing of that quality on it, and the most interesting thing about it (brief vox-pop interviews of people on the street between tracks) sounds like they were just copying the Bonzo Dog Band.
However, the reissued albums both expand wonderfully on the albums. Both add a dozen bonus tracks to the main album disc, a mix of non-album singles and alternate versions. In the case of Move the key tracks are “Night of Fear”, “Disturbance”, “I Can Hear the Grass Grow”, “Wave the Flag and Stop the Train”, and “Vote for Me”, while on Shazam! we have “Blackberry Way”, “Curly”, “Wild Tiger Woman” and “Omnibus”. (Move, which was released in mono, also has a disc of stereo mixes, which doesn’t have an equivalent for the stereo Shazam!).
But even more interesting, both albums come with a bonus disc of contemporary live radio sessions. Move‘s disc is mostly live versions of tracks from that album, along with a few cover versions of bands like Love and the Byrds. Shazam!, though, has a truly odd selection of cover versions among the originals — “Piece of My Heart”, “California Girls”, “Long Black Veil”, “Goin’ Back”, “The Christian Life”, “Goin’ Out of My Head”, “Open my Eyes”, “Sounds of Silence”, “Abraham Martin and John”… because at the same time they were being pushed to go “heavy” for the club gigs they were playing, the band were also playing gigs on the chicken-in-a-basket circuit and had to perform long sets with a variety of different song styles.
Those recordings are not necessarily ones a casual listener will want to listen to very often, but they’re absolutely invaluable as a historical record, both as a general idea of what kind of performance a jobbing working band in the 60s had to do, and specifically of the musical influences Wood was incorporating into his own, unique, style.
Anyone who loves 60s pop music should definitely own these albums — at the very least in the single-disc formats Esoteric also reissued last year, but given how cheap the “deluxe” versions are there’s very little reason not to get them. There are some minor issues with the booklets (I’d have liked a breakdown of who sang what on the first album, with its multiple vocalists, and there are a couple of factual errors like a mention of “Bach’s Ode to Joy”), but musically these are up there with the best that mid-sixties pop can offer, and I’ll definitely be getting hold of Esoteric’s other two Move reissues (a two-CD set of the heavy rock album Looking On and a release of the full concert from which the five-track live EP Something Else was taken) very soon.
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