When looking back at a year in pop, there’s a strong pull to pick out the gems, the keepers, the game-changers. All well and good, but such a focus ignores what the record buying public actually forked out for. Recall how The Beatles crowning achievement “Strawberry Fields” b/w “Penny Lane” was kept from the UK #1 spot by melodramatic hit “Release Me” by middle-of-the-road balladeer Engelbert Humperdink. The year was 1967. Today, as part of Vinyl Connection’s series on that fertile year, we look as a trio of LPs all rooted in the folk-pop tradition.
By the time Seen In Green was released, The Seekers had accumulated a string of hits across the globe. Formed in Melbourne in 1962, the quartet achieved great success in their home country as well as the UK and US—both vastly bigger markets. Ask anyone of a certain age throughout the English-speaking world and they’ll happily give you a verse or two of “Morningtown Ride” or the chorus of “Georgy Girl”.
Seen In Green was their last album before Judith Durham decided to seek a solo career (pause for groans) and the group disbanded (for a while). Despite having one of the best psychedelic covers of the entire year, Seen In Green was really a folk-pop record with a few nice orchestral touches here and there.
One song where this works really well is the Bruce Woodley/Tom Paxton penned “Angeline is always Friday” while “Chase a Rainbow (Follow your Dream)” (another Woodley song) has nicely scored “Penny Lane” brass. Elsewhere, the Paul Simon/Bruce Woodley song “Cloudy” (Bruce got around, didn’t he?) is a pleasant pop song, though not in the same class as “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” which The Seekers also cover on this LP. “Can’t Make Up My Mind” is a rather fine dream-pop confection with subtle strings and an arrangement that tips its boater towards psychedelia without ever getting all paisley or wild or anything. Overall, a pleasant slice of mid-60s folk pop…with a great cover.
Steven Demetre Georgiou was just seventeen years old when he released his first album in early 1967 under the first of his adopted names, Cat Stevens. Later that year, having turned eighteen but mired in legal wrangles and management discord, Cat recorded New Masters.
Despite having the writer’s terrific version of “The First Cut is the Deepest”—sold to PP Arnold for thirty pounds (!) and a massive hit for her and later, for Rod Stewart—New Masters is a pedestrian collection of pleasant pop songs with unspectacular arrangements. Highlights are the aforementioned “First Cut” (which really is a great song, no matter what you think of either Cat or Rod), bouncy opening number “Kitty”, and “Moonstone”. This last is much more robust than “Moonshadow” yet hints at where Cat Stevens was heading. Like David Bowie’s debut LP from the same year, this album is for serious fans and the sixties-obsessed only.
A brief aside before we more on. I’ve shared a little about the Australian World Record Club previously, noting how their in-house design team produced new covers for overseas releases. Vinyl Connection’s copy of New Masters is, in fact, the WRC version, seen here next to the original.
Just a couple of months younger than Steven Georgiou, Ian David McGeachy shared things other than year of birth and an early start on the London folk scene. He also changed his name for cosmetic reasons–to John Martyn–and released his first album around the time of his eighteenth birthday. An early signing on Island Records (and its first white solo artist) his debut was London Conversation, released in 1967 (though a number of sources list 1968).
London Conversation sees Martyn alone with his acoustic guitar, performing folk and blues influenced songs with an appealing naivety. Yet the voice—still unravaged by time and whiskey—is strong and textured. A sapling rather than a gnarled oak, but true and engaging none-the-less. Also clear are the young guitarist’s instrumental chops. His guitar playing shows blues and English folk influences; one can hear Bert Jansch in numbers like “Ballad of an elder woman” and the title track.
There are a number of originals, most of which are solid rather than exceptional. I like “Run Honey run” which has a certain minor key poignancy, and “London conversation” itself—a terrific song. Where we hear something of young John stretching out is in the only song boasting instrumentation other than voice and six-string. “Rolling home” has flute, dulcimer and a drone-like flow as the singer wanders towards his rest, perhaps with a generous volume of Taj Mahal Indian Lager under his belt.
“This time” is another original that drinks from the John Renbourn/Bert Jansch well to pleasing effect; I enjoy the changes of pace and rhythm in this one. A competent cover of Dylan’s “Don’t think twice” closes out the album.
London Conversation can be confidently recommended as a solid sixties folk album and though it would not be the place to launch John Martyn explorations (that would be Solid Air—a stone classic), it is deserves an honourable mention in the 1967 roll call.
The Seekers — Seen In Green Label: EMI Released: November 1967 Duration: 30:59
Cat Stevens — New Masters Label: Deram Released: December 1967 Duration: 30:13
John Martyn — London Conversation Label: Island Released: October 1967 Duration: 42:00