Syndicate of Sound – Little Girl

ImageAfter winning a battle of the bands competition in San Jose, CA, Syndicate of Sound rocketed to regional and even (briefly) national fame with the release of several singles from their first and only album Little Girl released in 1966 on Bell Records. Although their tenure was very brief, Syndicate of Sound’s legacy on rock ‘n’ roll is tremendous. Known for their edgy sound, the band is considered one of the key links between garage rock and protopunk. The album flies out of the gate with the aggressive teenage anthem “Big Boss Man.” Loud, fast, obnoxious, rebellious and sarcastic––”Big Boss Man” is everything that protopunk would become. While coming out with roaring guitars is one thing, keeping them roaring is a whole different challenge: a challenge that Syndicate of Sound accepts head on. In addition to “Big Boss Man,” the band also edges closer to protopunk with songs like “Lookin’ for the Good Times” and a cover of The Sonics’ “The Witch.” While “Lookin’ for the Good Times” is more like a surf rock song on steroids, “The Witch” is pure punk sound with a touch of darkness. Besides being trumpeters for the protopunk sound, Syndicate of Sound is also still firmly rooted in mid-60s garage rock. This album is stacked with songs that are now considered garage rock classics, from “Almost Grown” to “Rumors” to the title track “Little Girl.” Every single one of these songs has that rhythm and edge that you can expect from a Syndicate of Sound song. “Little Girl” would become one of the most covered songs in the mid 60s and can be heard today in the one hit wonder section of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. And just when you think you’ve figured out the Syndicate of Sound, they display their dexterity with love songs such as “That Kind of a Man” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” These songs are successful because they avoid the cliché of 60s pop love song sound while also delivering emotions that are recognizable by many. Syndicate of Sound truly proves their versatility with the many styles of rock ‘n’ roll they’ve mastered. Although there are one or two songs that could use some more work, Little Girl is extremely rewarding as a whole. Ultimately the Syndicate of Sound was torn apart by the 60s––drugs and the draft––leaving listeners aching for what could have been. This album is a must for any fan of protopunk or garage rock. You will not be disappointed.  A-

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The Critters – Younger Girl

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Released on Kapp Records in 1966, Younger Girl is the debut album of the little known pop rock band from New Jersey––The Critters. Modeling their name off of other successful 60s bands (The Beatles, The Animals, The Turtles, etc.), The Critters hoped to rise to fame by combining pop harmonies with the developing rock ‘n’ roll style. Throughout the album the band moves from pop songs to surf/garage rock songs with varying degrees of success. While The Critters gained some mild success for their cover of John Sebastian’s “Younger Girl,” it’s hardly their best pop harmony on the album. “Children and Flowers” and “He’ll Make You Cry” stand out as songs that best capture the   band’s harmonic qualities. Both songs are catchy and sweet without becoming too much of a cliché 60s pop song. In fact “Children and Flowers” seems to foreshadow the psychedelic pop/bubblegum pop sounds of bands like The Box Tops. Besides being firmly rooted in the world of 60s radio-friendly pop, The Critters also dabble in garage rock with songs like “It Just Won’t Be That Way” and “Blow My Mind.” While both songs stand out as very good examples of mid-60s garage rock, “Blow My Mind” might do just that. It’s loud, obnoxious, stripped down and generally the exact opposite of “Younger Girl.” Fans of the heaviness of garage rock maybe even protopunk will  be amazed that this song even made it on the album. Although The Critters find success on both ends of the mid-60s spectrum, the album as a whole still leaves something to be desired. Where the band falls flat, they fall pretty hard. Songs like “I’ll Wear a Silly Grin” give the sense that the album was hurriedly thrown together with too much filler. Perhaps if they had spent a little more time in the studio or a little more time writing songs, this album could reach even higher points. Despite these unfortunate misgivings, the album is still worth getting a hold of. There are some pretty audacious songs, and 60s music lovers will be able to find something for them whether they are pop enthusiasts or garage rock addicts.  B

The Best of 2013

Since I’ve had the opportunity to review so many albums this year, I thought it might be fun to try and make a top ten list. This list represents the ten albums that have stuck with me the most this year––the ones that not only sound good on a first or second listen but also on a third, fourth or fifth listen. These are albums that I return to time and again, and I’ve done my best to narrow it down to ten.

 

10. Reflections by Terry Knight and the Pack –– This album is Bob Dylan meets psychedelic garage rock. Although it clearly rips of major bands of the mid-60s, Reflections is, in its own way, beautiful and innovative. [original review: January 2013]

9. Now and Then by Michael Rabon & the Five Americans –– This album is perfect for the 60s psychedelic rock enthusiast. They masterfully blend mainstream rock ‘n’ roll with the San Francisco subculture of the 60s. [original review: December 2012]

8. The Mugwumps by The Mugwumps –– A collaborative group of future rock gods including Grace Slick blends folk, pop and rock in a catchy and pleasing way. This album grows on you the more you listen to it. [original review: April 2013]

7. A Long Time Comin’ by The Electric Flag –– This albums seeps blues rock with every guitar riff. It is one of the most technically impressive albums reviewed on this blog; Mike Bloomfield may be one of the most underrated guitarists ever. [original review: July 2013]

6. The American Breed by The American Breed –– Despite their bizarre album cover, these jazz-influenced rockers bring style and surprise with every note. They even blend a bit of psychedelic rock with their jazz style. [original review: June 2013]

5. Competition Coupe by The Astronauts –– This album is the epitome of American hot rod music. Their up-tempo surf rock style is the foundation for garage rock and protopunk for years to come. [original review: December 2013]

4. Electric Comic Book by Blues Magoos –– This album is a blend of psychedelic rock and blues that could have only come from the 60s. It’s creative and smart and will leave you itching for more. [original review: December 2012]

3. Projections by The Blues Project –– As their name suggests, The Blues Project is deep with soulful blues numbers ranging from covers to originals. Either way, their sound is always fresh and always worthwhile. [original review: December 2012]

2. It Ain’t Me Babe by The Turtles –– This album is the quintessential folk pop album with covers from the great Bob Dylan and a couple originals thrown in as well. Everything is beautifully composed and leaves you aching for more. [original review: September 2013]

1. Back Door Men by The Shadows of Knight –– Everything about this album is perfect––from the song selection, to the guitars, to the tempo. This album is protopunk, garage rock and blues wrapped in the spirit of underground 60s music. [original review: March 2013]

The Astronauts – Competition Coupe

ImageThe Astronauts became a regional success in the early 60s as a Midwestern surf rock band. Despite their lack of surfing skills, the band fell into step with prominent West coast surf rock bands like The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. By the mid-60s such bands began to branch out from songs about surfing to songs about cars and girls, which is now referred to as hot rod music. Never ones to miss a trend, these boys from Boulder, Colorado quickly followed suit, releasing Competition Coupe on RCA Victor in late 1963. While it’s easy to rag on The Astronauts for capitalizing on the trend of the moment, there’s something to be said for adaptability. If you want true American hot rod music, this album delivers. Songs like “Little Ford Ragtop,” “’55 Bird” and “4:56 Stingray” epitomize vocal surf/hot rod rock with easy, pleasant harmonies, driving electric guitars and a relatively fast tempo compared to other forms of rock ‘n’ roll at the time. While the dominance of the electric guitars harkens back to the sounds of Chuck Berry and other electric guitar pioneers, the increased tempo paves the way for future forms of rock including garage rock and protopunk. Although The Astronauts prove themselves masters of the typical surf rock sound, they also prove their dexterity with instrumental numbers like the saxophone-heavy “Chevy Scarfer” and the Latin-infused “El Aguila (The Eagle).” Overall, this album is one of the preeminent hot rod albums of the early to mid-60s. For anyone who is interested in surf rock, garage rock or protopunk, this album is well worth picking up as it represents elements of all three. The album’s depth is also very surprising as there’s not really a bad song either side.  A