SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell reviewing Frijid Pink: The Deram Recordings 1970-1971, 2CD Remastered Edition

FRIJID PINK       The Deram Recordings 1970-1971  (2CD)

I’ve been looking forward to this 2CD set from Esoteric Records containing the 2 albums they released on Decca’s ‘progressive’ offshoot label Deram back in 1970 & 1971. Both albums have been re-mastered sympathetically I’m pleased to say & sound great. The band from Detroit will always be known for their 1970 psychedelic rock re-working of traditional song ‘House of the Rising Sun’ using the template recorded by The Animals 5 years previously in 1964. By the time Frijid Pink released their version in early 1970 a lot had changed in the intervening years. Psychedelia had come & gone (almost),  R&B had evolved, Rock & Pop were splitting in different directions & Prog Rock was on the rise. In many ways Frijid Pink were late to the party with their blend of psyche rock & blues & in other ways were on trend with the way rock was evolving. Sadly,  they have long been written off as that ‘one hit wonder’ band with the fuzz driven ‘Sun’ single.  Detroit has always been known mainly for Motown, however it also had a thriving rock scene where ‘Pink’ would share the stage with the likes of The MC5 & The Amboy Dukes. Their self-titled debut album released in February 1970 which forms the first disc in this new set was never bettered by them in my opinion. Comprising 9 tracks, plus the addition of 2 bonus tracks for this release. It is a far more cohesive collection of psyche rock/blues than their subsequent albums. It kicks off in fine style with ‘God Gave Me You’ a melodic rocker that was to have been their debut single before being pulled in favour of issuing ‘Sun’ which although more commercial i think ‘GGMY’ would have probably fared well. Track 2 ‘Crying Shame’ heavilu features the fuzz toned overdriven guitar sound the band would become known for & rocks hard with some driving drums. Track 3 ‘I’m On Mt Way’ switches gears to deliver a fast driving blues number which doesn’t seem out of place or jar with the preceding tracks. Followed by Track 4 ‘Drivin’ Blues’ which continues the vibe in the same vein. Track 5 ‘Tell Me Why’ seamlessly switches back to the emphasis on a hard rocking fuzz laden mid tempo rocker which showcases their distinctive sound. Track 6 lands us back in a rock/blues mix, complete with some excellent drum work on ‘End of the Line’ Track 7 needs no introduction it’s their signature song & Top 10 version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Track 8 ‘I Want To Be Your Lover’ delivers more uptempo blues/rock with a fine lead vocal from Tom Beaudry (aka Kelly Green) & more fine drum work from Rick Stevers. The final Track 9 ‘Boozin Blues’ is a laid back number which wouldn’t sound out of place in a John Mayall set with some fine little blues licks tinged with a hint of fuzz & some nifty piano & closes the album in fine style. All in all a very satisfying album & thoroughly enjoyable. Then we come to the 2 ‘bonus tracks’. The final one, Track 11 ‘Music For The People’ which was released as a single the following year in March 1971 is really rather good with its Gospel choir backing, Hammond organ & fine central vocal performance on a mid tempo ballad. The problem for me comes with the preceding Track 10, where the band obviously hoping to repeat the success of ‘Sun’ picked another classic song to re-vamp, in this case ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. An unwise move, frankly it’s a mess, with its clunky mix of Jerry Lee Lewis piano, screaming vocal & overwrought guitar. Somebody should have stepped in & said let’s forget this, but that didn’t happen & I’m not the least surprised it sank without trace. I would love to say Disc2 in this new compilation lives up to Disc1 but in my estimation it just doesn’t. Released only 5 months after their debut album, which seems hasty to saythe least, ‘Defrosted’ featured here in this new release with it’s original 8 tracks plus an additional 4 bonus tracks lacks the cohesion that made the debut album a great listen. It kicks off with some promise with opener ‘Black Lace’ a heavy rock number, with a bluesy element that promises much but ultimately becomes, dare i say it, somewhat mundane. Track 2 ‘Sing A Song of Freedom’ , which although it doesn’t say so here, I’m fairly sure got a single release, is better & harks back to their superior material on Disc1. Track3 ‘I’ll Never Be Lonely’ sounds like the composer has been spending his time listening to ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ on repeat, let’s just say it’s derivative. The remaining 5 tracks are a hotch potch of numbers, none of which really hang together & do nothing to dispel the lack of any defined direction. I really wish i could be more enthusiastic but by the time i reached instrumental ‘Sloony’ I’m sad to say my interest had waned considerably. However, there is one shining moment that redeems Disc2 & that is the inclusion (as one of the bonus tracks) of ‘We’re Gonna Be There’. Now thereby hangs a tale. Back in 1971 when i was writing my ‘Top Sounds’ column for local newspaper the Hastings Observer i raved about this particular track in my column of Saturday July 10th 1971 when it was then titled ‘When Johnny Comes Marchin Home’ (the  famous old Civil War song). The band had taken the song & like ‘Sun’ put their unique spin on it to great effect. And if any of their single releases was ever going to repeat the success of ‘Sun’ this was the one. Years later i was looking for the track to play on a radio show only to find the band had re-christened it ‘We’re Gonna Be There’ a play on the original lyrics of ‘Johnny’. And cheekilly given themselves a writing credit! Not sure how they got away with that, however I’ve always loved it whatever! I’m thinking maybe I’ll record ‘Rule Brittania’ & call it ‘Rule the Waves’ & grab a writing credit….no probably best not!… In conclusion Frijid Pink have always ranked well in my estimation, especially, as discussed above, for that first album & how many bands can say that Led Zepplin opened for them in Detroit? Frijid Pink can! That & the psychedelic ‘Sun’ bestows everlasting immortality on them. Enjoy.

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Til next time….stay well….Colin

Lloyd Johnson… Great record!…

Alan Esdaile… Still sounds great.

Nick Bloomfield… Well, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard of this band and I absolutely love this cover!