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Geordie were a not especially glamorous four-piece act whose platform-booted heyday coincided with the glam rock era of 1972-74. Hailing from Tyneside, as the name suggested, they disbanded in 1980 when vocalist Brian Johnson was invited to replace the recently deceased Bon Scott in AC/DC, although the remaining members have reformed under the leadership of guitarist and main songwriter Vic Malcolm with additional personnel at intervals since then. They enjoyed four UK hit singles, though only one reached the Top 10.
Having been enjoying Brian's Thursday night 'Rockers and Rollers' show on Radio 2 last autumn, I was reminded of a CD which had sat untouched on my shelves for a few years. This package, with 59 minutes playing time, features their eight EMI singles (the first of which was on the venerable but shortly to be retired Regal Zonophone label), plus one Brian solo, and their respective B-sides, all in order. Two of the tracks are not originals - we will come to that in due course.
THE MUSIC: THE A-SIDES
Geordie were cut from more or less the same cloth as Slade. Although they were no doubt a force to be reckoned with live, they never came over on record at least with quite the same charisma as Slade, and lacked the songwriting skills which enabled the latter to make such listenable albums and singles which went beyond the 'put yer boots on and let's stomp' principle. I might add at this point that when Bon Scott died, Noddy Holder was initially offered the resulting vacancy in AC/DC as Slade had hit a quiet patch, but turned it down - so Brian got the job. (And Noddy similarly found a new career as a radio music presenter some years ago - although the list of former rock vocalists who have done likewise is an ever growing one).
The first two singles were among their best. 'Don't Do That', their 1972 debut (highest position No. 32), features some clever stereo channel-bouncing malarkey on the guitar intro, which sounds like part heavy rock riff and part jig. The title is about as subtle as the lyric, but as air-punching party fare it certainly presses the right buttons.
'All Because Of You' (No. 6), with an electronically speeded-up vocal intro, was their sole crack at the Top 10. With its 'Hey! Hey! Hey!' refrain, and punchy guitar/bass/drums onslaught behind Brian's semi-scream vocal, it's still a good oldie if not a classic.
They mined the same vein for follow-up 'Can You Do It' (No. 13), which, well, did it - if rather less spectacularly. By the way, contrary to what the booklet says, what we have on this record is not the original. This sounds like a 1980s remake, in very Whitesnakeish Anglo-American AOR-style. Though I'd hazard a guess that it is Brian on vocals, or a very good soundalike, it comes across as a very identikit soft-metal guitarist doing his stuff - and, horror of horrors, a drum machine instead of proper drums. Moreover, the first 90 seconds is all instrumental. Clever, maybe, but it's just not the real thing. Knowing that these 7ts/Cherry Red compilations are nearly always put together with great care, I'm assuming that their lack of attention to this detail (or even including a remake without mentioning it) is an oversight.
'Electric Lady' (No. 32), which deserved to chart higher, took the formula into more adventurous areas without sacrificing the commerciality, with a good guitar riff, some more subtle work on bass and a well-whacked tambourine. There's certainly no subtlety about the lyrics - was there ever in the case of most glam-rock era acts?. But although Radio 1 and Radio Luxembourg (in those days, still an influential radio station despite the iffy reception, when we were used to ropey broadcasting signal) were still generous with airplay, the heavier 'Black Cat Woman' at the beginning of 1974 failed to chart. As with 'Can You Do It', the version used on this CD is a very inferior re-recording, presumably from several years later. Once again, the booklet fails to tell us.
Three subsequent singles failed to reverse their slide in fortunes. Later in 1974 'She's A Teaser' added a brass section for further interest, and the song was OK but not spectacular. 'Ride On Baby' was more of the same - good if you hadn't heard it before, but the group simply failed to progress and they had already shot their bolt. Neither single flew out of the shops.
In the summer of 1975 'Goodbye Love', with a different guitar and bass sound which hinted at a nod towards disco and reggae, showed them changing their sound in an effort to keep up with prevailing trends. Had it been given some radio or TV exposure it might have brought them back into favour, but the world had simply lost interest. Bye bye Geordie.
A solo single from Brian, 'I Can't Forget You Now', released in late 1975, was a ballad. He handles it well, and with its subtle synth backing it makes quite a remarkable contrast to everything else on the record. But again, lack of exposure meant no interest.
THE MUSIC: THE B-SIDES
Several contemporary groups, such as Roxy Music, Slade (again) and Wizzard (again) used the B-sides of their singles to highlight a completely different, less commercial facet of the group, or allow other members in turn to write something in order to benefit from the royalties. Most of Geordie's B-sides were simply another, generally inferior song - thus rather a wasted opportunity.
There's nothing to be gained by describing each one in turn, though I can add a few observations. 'We're All Right Now' is quite catchy, built around a drum sound that seems to borrow from Gary Glitter's 'Rock'n'Roll Part 2' (all right, I know GG is the great unmentionable these days, but it was a good record all the same in its day), 'Geordie Stomp' with its energetic guitar riff and colourful rattling tambourine sound might have just fared OK as an A-side, and the traditional 'Geordie's Lost His Liggie' is a fun pub singalong, as you might have guessed from the title. I've no doubt they had fun recording it. Pride of place goes to 'Red Eyed Lady', a semi-acoustic, more folksy, even skiffle-type number with some superb harmonica that reminds me of my old favourites Mungo Jerry in similar mode. It might possibly have made a better A-side than 'Can You Do It' if they had had the guts to run with it.
The 12-page booklet contains a good selection of photos of the group plus European picture sleeves of singles and labels of the non-pic sleeve singles in their original die-cut record company custom bags, plus a useful biographical note about the group.
A poor man's Slade, as they were often tagged at the time? With no disrespect, I'm afraid they probably were. Geordie singles rarely seem to rub shoulders with those of Noddy Holder and the lads, T. Rex, Sweet, Wizzard and others when it comes to inclusion on glam compilation CDs nowadays, or even 'Greatest Hits of the 70s' packages, and frankly they haven't worn so well. Perhaps it's significant that none of their albums ever sold enough to reach the chart. In isolation the singles are all right and perfectly likeable, but much as I hate to say it, they do sound rather dated now. For AC/DC completists this record will fill in part of the jigsaw, but even for 70s nutters like me it's of limited value, and I very rarely listen to it these days. It's not really worth going out of your way to acquire, unless you can pick it up really cheaply. Two and a half stars might be nearer the mark, but I'll err on the side of generosity.
Recommended? Some of it, I suppose.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]