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Briefly one of the most anarchic bands of the late 1960s, alongside The Who (thanks largely to some heavy image-building), by 1970 The Move were about to morph into the Electric Light Orchestra. One year later they were down to a trio consisting of Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan, now devoting most of their creative energies to the more experimental first ELO album. In order to finance this, EMI had them under contract to keep the hits coming under what was already the proven big-selling brand name of The Move, even if they had put an end to live shows, only really existing on record and TV appearances. As a result, their final album was recorded at the same time as ELO's debut. Ironically, in the view of many a fan - myself included - it was their best.
The original vinyl album, released in 1971, had ten tracks. This reissue adds another eight, including A- and B-sides of singles, and three alternate previously unissued session tracks.
Let's take Roy Wood's songs first.
THE ORIGINAL ALBUM
Whereas Roy Wood had previously been the main writer in the band, greater democracy was at work here. Of the ten tracks, he and Jeff Lynne wrote four each, collaborated on one (admittedly the least noteworthy), and Bev Bevan wrote one.
Opinions vary as to whose songs are the best, though my personal favourites tend to be those written by Wood. 'Ella James', which was very briefly released as a single (and withdrawn after a few days when they came up with a more commercial track), is not a million miles removed in feel from the Beatles' 'Get Back' and the Stones' 'Brown Sugar', with a couple of breaks on piano and saxophone. Equally wonderful is the full-tilt bluesy rocker Until Your Mama's Gone'. Opening with a couple of bars of acoustic guitar on its own, it builds up with multi-tracked saxes, fuzz-box guitar, boogieing piano, and some superb bass guitar. Remember the way the Stranglers' early singles had that gritty upfront bass? The general feel here is quite similar. Also it sounds rather like a forerunner of the first two Wizzard singles in tempo and general approach, though the sound on this is a good deal cleaner than the massive Phil Spector wall of sound wash, add everything but the kitchen sink and crank it up to the max distortion that was part of Wizzard's stock-in-trade.
Slightly more of an acquired taste is 'It Wasn't My Idea To Dance', a mid-tempo number, with the main riff played mostly on clarinet and oboe, that has overtones of jazz-rock. One reviewer at the time compared it approvingly with the kind of music Frank Zappa was making at the time. A little less brilliant is 'Ben Crawley Steel Company', a lighthearted country song which sounds like a Johnny Cash spoof, with Bevan making a rare vocal appearance. He was always a better drummer than singer, though the likes of Tom Waits and the late Captain Beefheart built careers partly on an oddball 'singing' style not so dissimilar.
That this album was being recorded at the same time as ELO's first is fairly evident from the title track of 'Message From The Country', the first of Lynne's four songs, as it is more than a little like '10538 Overture'in feel, minus the cellos but with some superb guitar work and vocal harmonies. The latter also add colour to the gentle 'No Time', reminiscent of the Beatles' 'Because' on 'Abbey Road'. In fact, Lynne wears his Fab Four influences on his sleeve throughout, as it's easy to detect a common thread running between his song 'The Minister' and his heroes' hit of some five years earlier, 'Paperback Writer', though 'The Minister' takes things a step further by ending with a frantic break on guitar and (I think) clarinet. Then the dreamy 'Words of Aaron' sounds in places a little like 'Strawberry Fields Forever', though relying more on guitars and recorders, and without the cellos.
Bevan's contribution, 'Don't Mess Me Up', is an unashamed attempt to capture the old mid-1950s rock'n'roll sound. As a spoof of Elvis Presley and the Jordanaires, it could hardly have been bettered.
The final track on the original album, 'My Marge', credited to Wood and Lynne, is a short, sweet and mildly silly but harmless singalong around the piano. Nothing special.
The three A-sides of their last three singles, again all written by Wood, and the B-sides, come next. 'Tonight' is a delightful piece with crisp acoustic guitar, given a fairly high-pitched ringing sound which I suspect is the result of having a capo some way up on the fretboard, and slide guitar that sounds close to what George Harrison was doing at the time, while 'Chinatown' with its Chinese gong sounds appropriately oriental. 'California Man' really is the killer track, one of the finest pieces of rock'n'roll ever recorded on this side of the Atlantic. Wood and Lynne alternate on verses, sounding like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard respectively, hammering the ivories and blowing the saxes as if their lives depend on it - it really is nothing sort of glorious.
The remaining B-sides, written by Lynne, are 'Down On The Bay', another thunderous rock'n'roll epic which sounds part like Elvis, part like the Beatles' 'Revolution' with its distorted guitar, and even in touches rather like what Status Quo were doing at the time. Finally, there's 'Do Ya', using as its foundation a series of stabbing bar chords on guitar. Taking up the slack are an early, mainly accapella version of 'Don't Mess Me Up', which emphasises their vocal harmonies, a slightly longer version of 'Words Of Aaron' with additional woodwind, and a BBC session version of 'Do Ya'.
PACKAGING AND ALTERNATE RELEASE
Included is a magnificently researched and laid out 20-page booklet with full notes on the background and tracks, integrating photos and memorabilia such as reviews from the old music weeklies, foreign picture sleeves, and studio track sheets. Even the front cover design was a collaboration, drawn and painted by Wood from an idea by Lynne.
It was also reissued by Beat Goes On in the mid-1990s, but as far as I know with only the original ten tracks, and long since been deleted. If you're buying online, make sure the BGO one is not the one you are being offered instead of this Harvest/EMI item.
For me, this was the finest of the four Move albums. Their songwriting was at their peak, even though they were working on the first ELO album simultaneously (and I haven't even mentioned the fact that Wood's first, classic, solo album 'Boulders' was taking up part of his time as well), the playing is tight, crisp and often adventurous, the vocal harmonies are spot-on. Moreover the songs are much more focused, with no lengthy improvisation or jamming as there was on their second and third albums, and only two break the 5-minute barrier by a small margin. Interestingly, Bevan says in the booklet that it is his least favourite of their albums, though he concedes it does exude a sense of fun for him. Wood however says it is his favourite. I can't disagree with the latter.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]