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"I'm as old as I was born"

Class D

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Art Rock, Psychedelia
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years




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Spooky Tooth aren't really an absolutely necessary or inavoidable addition to your collection, but as a basic rock phenomenon they're worth some interest, and er, well, they actually wrote some good songs too. It's actually pretty hard to define what exactly Spooky Tooth brought into the rock world; not the least because due to constant personnel change and just as constant change of musical philosophy some of their albums sound nothing like each other. The fact that I categorize them under 'British roots-rock' only means that roots-rock (blues, folk, and R'n'B) was that main kernel upon which the band gradually stuck more and more layers, venturing into hard rock, avantgarde, artsiness, Goth, and funk depending on whatever member played a more prominent function in the band at the time.

In discussing Spooky Tooth, one often forgets that the band was actually mixed: most of its members were British, but the band's main songwriter, keyboardist and one of the two main lead singers, Gary Wright, was American, and both the national factor and Gary's profound knowledge of the "basics" ensured that Spooky Tooth always had a pretty 'authentic' sound, at least, as authentic as a white band that dared to dabble in R'n'B and soul could manage. On the other hand, neither Gary nor the other band members, most prominently Mike Harrison, Gary's singing partner, ever shunned away from experimentation and broadening their horizons. The story of Spooky Tooth is a true saga - direction changes, new ideas, disillusionments, member desertings... all this leading, for instance, to the fact that Spooky Tooth is one of the very few bands I know who actually had two albums released under the same band name but featuring NOT A SINGLE same member, and yet both albums are definitely 'Spooky Tooth-like' (the only other example that comes to mind immediately is Renaissance, but Renaissance had a radical revolutionary change, with one band dissolving and another one simply inheriting its name; no such thing happened in Spooky Tooth's case).

In the beginning the band were often compared to Traffic - and not just because the two bands shared a common producer (Jimmy Miller), but because both went in the promising direction of taking up on branches of roots-rock and crossing it with psychedelic and art-rock elements. And while Traffic ultimately beat Spooky Tooth in the songwriting department, the latter fought back with amazing gritty chops and a stunning stylistic diversity, best evidenced on the band's masterpiece Spooky Two. However as the years went by, the bands parted ways - Traffic went in for more art-rock and did that successfully, while Spooky Tooth first dabbled in a very questionable avantgarde-electronica project with Pierre Henry, lost most of their fanbase in the process, lost Gary Wright, released a pleasant but not too significant pure R'n'B record, and then reconvened later in the Seventies to become your average run-of-the-mill arena-rock band for two years before fizzling out with an unexpectedly cool hard/funk project. In short, one heck of a creative biography.

Like I said, the band was never a fantastic songwriting machine - Gary Wright could occasionally come up with a winner, or even a bunch of winners, but just as often they had to rely on covers, or contend themselves with pretty filthy filler. In the early 'classic' years the band actually compensated for that with sensational musicianship and performances; the vocal duels of Harrison and Wright alone were pretty unique, sometimes almost seeming to mock the traditional understanding of vocal harmonizing but never really overdoing the trick. Unfortunately, that only relates to the band's first two albums; approach the rest of their catalog with caution, as the second incarnation of Spooky Tooth can really be a burden - particularly if you're not a fan of Bad Company. (No, no, I'm not comparing Spooky Tooth to Bad Company, I promise! I just mentioned them so as to perk up your ears, my dear friend!). In any case, like I always say, the best roots-rock is the kind of roots-rock that tends to stray away from formula and work towards an untrivial solution, and Spooky Tooth certainly qualify in that respect - and how. Thus their rating of two stars is justified, quoth the Judger of Stars.

Lineup: Gary Wright - vocals, keyboards; Mike Harrison - vocals; Luther Grosvenor - guitar; Greg Ridley - bass; Mike Kellie - drums. Ridley quit, 1970, replaced by Andy Leigh. After the electronic disaster of Ceremony, Gary Wright left the band and it collapsed for the first time; Mike Harrison reunited Kellie and Grosvenor, however, adding Henry McCulloch on guitar, Chris Stainton on keyboards and Alan Spenner on bass from Cocker's Grease Band. This version of the band lasted less than a year and dispersed.

The second incarnation of Spooky Tooth (1973) consisted of Harrison, Wright, Mick Jones - lead guitar, vocals, Bryson Graham - drums, Chris Stewart - bass. Graham quit late 1973, replaced by Mike Kellie again. Band collapsed again, 1974, last incarnation had Gary Wright, Mick Jones, Bryson Graham, Mike Patto - vocals, electric piano, drums, Val Burke - bass, vocal. Wow. Fourteen different members for seven albums. Way to go.



(released by: ART)

Year Of Release: 1967

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Reflecting the spirit of 1967, but with certain original ideas too.

Best song: I THINK I'M GOING WEIRD, mainly because it's the first one, or SUPERNATURAL FAIRY TALE

Track listing: 1) I Think I'm Going Weird; 2) What's That Sound (For What It's Worth); 3) African Thing; 4) Room With A View; 5) Flying Anchors; 6) Supernatural Fairy Tale; 7) Love Is Real; 8) Come On Up; 9) Brothers Dads And Mothers; 10) Talkin' To Myself; 11) Alive Not Dead; 12) Rome Take Away Three.

THIS IS NOT SPOOKY TOOTH! AAARRGH! I actually should have created an appendix for this one or something. But see, what's in a name? The lack of Gary Wright. The witty American guru still had to come and steer the band in their soulful/rootsy direction. And before that? Before that, the band, fronted by Mike Harrison, was defiantly calling itself Art, and was swinging to the hot'n'excitin' sounds of the London psychedelia. It took Gary's serious efforts and songwriting talents to steer them away from that direction, yet the psychedelic vibe had only been entirely abandoned by the time of Spooky Two.

Still, it's a wonderful album in many respects, and well worth seeking out - maybe not exactly a 'forgotten gem' of the times like Odyssey And Oracle or Forever Changes or whatever, but then again that hierarchy is so damn fragile I'm afraid to pronounce a final judgement. The album possesses all that a good psychedelic album of the times should have possessed. A vague wavery shiny flowery Indian-influenced album cover; a pretentious trippy title (which, oddly enough, was later exploited by Rhino Records when they were issuing their notorious boxset on progressive rock - granted, Art never were progressive rock in my understanding, but could have been in Rhino's vast understanding); and, of course, the music, all awash in phasing, echoing, 'mystical' vocals and other gimmicks.

It could have been crap, but the songwriting is strong - it's a place where you can really tell the band could have gotten on with its own songs even without the assistance of Mr Wright. (That guy must have put a spell upon 'em or something). Many of the twelve songs on here sound seriously alike, with very similar hooks and melodies, but they're also short and never give the impression of a pointless show-off or stupid wanky experimentation. About the only 'questionable' moment in that department is the lengthy drum solo on 'African Thing', but it doesn't bother me much because it's an African solo - a crazy rave-up that I can't remember on ANY record at the time. Props, millions of props go to Mike Kellie if it's really him bashing out that crazy rhythm; unless I'm very much mistaken, this was actually one of the first such inclusions in the history of British rock - maybe in the history of all rock. Remember, it was still two years before Santana would make the big time and popularize Latin and African rhythms for rock audiences. Then again, maybe I'm just loony.

The actual songs are psycho-pop, or, actually, psycho-rock, I'd say, because many of them really rock: Luther Grosvenor doesn't go for half measures, and he puts just enough distortion and fuzz on his instrument so as to sound like a faithful follower of Hendrix, yet not actually overdo the trick. So for 1967, the album's pretty heavy, and pretty far out. 'Supernatural Fairy Tale' is a good example, although you could swear that there was just too much mixed inside that number. The otherworldly Mellotron in the background; Grosvenor's repetitive heavy riffage; constant phasing throughout; the rambling, 'swaying' mid-section where Mike Harrison almost sounds like a twin brother of Ian Anderson in Aqualung mood; the strange harpsichord notes that keep cropping up; the psychedelic guitar solo in the outro, and maybe I've forgotten something else. Best of all, though, might be the unnerving bass riff - the way it really pins the song down in its metronomic steed reminds me of Hawkwind, and I wish I had proof Hawkwind were influenced by this song...

Of course, it's not the only highlight. The very first number, 'I Think I'm Going Weird', announces the band's arrival with a bang, with Harrison's sneery-sounding '...think I'm going weeeeeeird' almost ridiculously overblown ('hey guys, we gotta make a song about weirdness now, or else it will be hard to pick up hip chicks on the streets'), but still a total gas. Remember, psychedelia is very much a theatrical genre, so you have to take it with all of its theatricality or leave it. 'Brothers, Dads And Mothers' is like SFT Part 2, with pretty much the same instrumentation but - the gods be blessed! - a different riff. No, definitely this is the heaviest British album of 1967 not counting the Hendrix ones. It's also pretty funny when they take fast jazzy tunes like 'Alive Not Dead' and make the listener forget the jazziness of the melody by adding a rumbling proto-metallic bass line and heavily sprinkling the song with whatever psychedelic trippings they have there in the background... Mellotron? electric piano? harpsichord? whatever.

Occasionally there are lighter and poppier songs, like the very much Spooky Tooth-like 'What's That Sound (For What It's Worth)' or the folksy 'Flying Anchors' - it's not like you have to concentrate on distortion ALL the time. Truly I do admire the songwriting - if there's anything to dock points for, it'd be typical 1967 excess which made people dump all of their arranging ideas in one big pot and come out with a mess. Because frankly speaking, the record's a mess. It certainly lacks individual vision - apart from the gimmicky drum solo, the sole point that holds the album together is this heaviness in sound which Spooky T..., er, Art embrace happily. It's a good thing, too, as it provides additional space for headbanging and all that. But I would certainly like it better if the guys had applied a Sgt Pepper approach here, namely, try out different moods and grooves instead of lumping every one of these nice melodies into a rigid stylistic pattern. Then again, if diversity is not your pet horse, YOU might not even find a single reason to criticize this record, so try to find it. It's been issued on CD, which is reason enough to hunt for it - here today, gone tomorrow, you know how it goes.



Year Of Release: 1968

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Heavy psychedelic soul music, somewhat samey but very interesting vocal-wise anyway.


Track listing: 1) Society's Child; 2) Love Really Changed Me; 3) Here I Lived So Well; 4) Too Much Of Nothing; 5) Sunshine Help Me; 6) It's All About A Roundabout; 7) Tobacco Road; 8) It Hurts You So; 9) Forget It I Got It; 10) Bubbles.

Good stuff! It's no AC/DC, sure, but Britain definitely hadn't seen a similar band at the time even if it already was 1968. Spooky Tooth begin on a humble note, stuffing about half of their debut album with covers, but then again, so did the Beatles. The Spooksters always followed their own style, not somebody else's, but at the same time were careful enough to look around, and It's All About is, as stupid as it sounds, actually a transitional album, even if it's their first. The album cover greets us with a typically psychedelic hazy blurry foreground, the band name is written in typically psychedelic shiny blossomy fashion, and the band members are walking through the field in typically psychedelic outfits, as if Pete Townshend had offered them his last year wardrobe for the photo sessions.

Yet the music is not really psychedelic, not much of it, at least. Okay, so the best song on the album, the one with the best riff and the most catchiness, 'Sunshine Help Me', a true classic of British art-pop, definitely recalls psychedelic experiences, what with the druggy harpsichord and everything. The Move liked the song so much they even made it their own live staple (you can find their version among the bonus tracks to the current CD edition of Shazam, formerly an independent live EP called Something Else). And the album closer 'Bubbles' is certainly one hundred percent psychedelic, in a way you'd recognize from hearing Cream's 'Anyone For Tennis' - a kiddie diddie with goofy, but charming vocal harmonies and actual BUBBLES. So I guess you can call the album a BUBBLE GUM product.

Everything else is hardly psychedelic, though. It's more like the band intentionally went for a very concise and definite version of R'n'B: heavier than usual, with gruff guitar riffs and fat organ lines backing it up, and also heavily dependent upon the unusual interaction of the two lead vocals. In the end, I guess your appreciation of the album will depend a lot upon whether you like the approach that Mike Harrison and Gary Wright have chosen for themselves. Occasionally, the guys may go overboard, and somewhere in the distant future I can already see a bloody battle between Spooky Tooth adepts and Spooky Tooth haters over the tricky issue called "How sincere is Mike Harrison and will Gary Wright be condemned to fifty thousand years of being slave to James Brown in hell, together with Joe Cocker?" But thank God, those times aren't around the corner as of yet, and I'll say this: I love the dueting of the guys. It's interesting, innovative, and definitely a positive improvement over monotonous harmonizing of some bands that try adding more power to the song but in the end render it more boring.

So I like pretty much every song on here; the problem is that not many of them are particularly memorable. I can memorize various little tidbits and snippets, but the only riff that really sticks in my head is that of 'Sunshine Help Me', and the vocal melodies, as pretty as they seem, strike you more in the emotional part of your brain than in the catchiness department. You know what I'm talking about. I love their cover of Janis Ian's 'Society's Child' dearly, for instance, but if you'd ask me to hum it, I'd only mumble 'I can't see you any more baby'. That's about it. You the unhappy reader who probably hasn't heard the album at all, do you understand that 'Society's Child' conveys a tragic heart-grippin' soul-bleedin' mind-devastatin' atmosphere? Ah shucks, if only I could know how to make a written impression of Gary Wright's croon... I'd need a white white white background for that anyway.

Okay then, this next paragraph is for you the happy reader who already heard this album and wants me to help you verbally formulate the particular reason for the attractive power of these songs. 'Love Really Changed Me': cool funny organ line (hook), Harrison's ascending vocal lines (mini-climax), the strange pompous riff in between the verses (I can't seem to get what instrument that is - organ? guitar? harp?). 'Here I Lived So Well': can be very boring if you don't prepare yourself mentally for something very boring, after which the subtle vocal melody reveals itself. The chorus is beautiful in its humbleness. Definitely likeable, anyway, if you can tolerate the early slow Byrdsey stuff. 'Too Much Of Nothing': average Dylan song from Basement Tapes => average cover, but at least it's pretty energetic. Worst track on the album anyway. 'Itr's All About A Roundabout': one more psychedelic leftover I forgot, nice, if a bit generic, music-hall influenced melody. Not a highlight, but also pretty short. 'Tobacco Road': MONSTER version, a definite highlight and one of the best ever examples of Harrison-Wright interaction, second only maybe to 'Evil Woman'. 'It Hurts You So': my organism battles with itself about whether the plaintive cries 'it hurts you so, it HURTS you SOOOOO' are cheesy or not. Fuck it, they aren't cheesy, they're beautiful. Say, doesn't the song actually remind you of some George Harrison complaints on Living In The Material World? You may be dang sure George learned a thing or two about wailing from Gary Wright. 'Forget It I Got It': pretty catchy pop song.

This next paragraph is for you the miserable reader who already heard this album and wants me to help you define the reason for the album's miserably parodic sound: GET A LIFE YOU BRAINLESS WANKER WHADDAYA KNOW OF SPOOKY TOOTH ANYWAY? GARY WRIGHT IS BUDDAH!

And this last paragraph is supposed to be a warning - all these other reviews below are going to be long, boring, and thoroughly uninformative. I take off any kind of entertainment responsibility, once and for all. This is Spooky Tooth for Chrissake, not Britney Spears.



Year Of Release: 1969

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

A rare find - British roots-rock that's not afraid of either softness, hardness, sincerity, or cheesiness!

Best song: EVIL WOMAN

Track listing: 1) Waitin' For The Wind; 2) Feelin' Bad; 3) I've Got Enough Heartaches; 4) Evil Woman; 5) Lost In My Dream; 6) That Was Only Yesterday; 7) Better By You Better Than Me; 8) Hangman Hang My Shell On A Tree.

Spooky Tooth's second album is a true masterpiece, unfortunately overlooked in favour of the 'biggies' of the epoch like Led Zeppelin. Too bad; it is perhaps the ultimate synthesis of all the good elements that British roots-rock had thereto assembled or developed on its own. The aim of Gary Wright and Mike Harrison was, undoubtedly, to try their hand at everything in reach, from folk to country to soul to blues to hard; a couple of songs even have 'progressive' elements about them, and, in fact, Spooky Two might as well have served as a major blueprint for all the 'hard-art' bands to follow (unfortunately, the best known hard-art band is Uriah Heep, and I guess it's also one of the best representatives of the genre, too; thank God Spooky Tooth had none of those guys' geekiness).

Gary Wright pens most of the songs on here, a few of them in co-authorship with drummer Mike Kelly; the only cover is also the best song on the album - 'Evil Woman', one of the band's better known songs and an absolute bluesy paradise, too. In fact, I guess Black Sabbath loved it so much that they borrowed the main descending riff for 'Sweet Leaf', the ending instrumental passage for 'Into The Void' and the title for, um, eh, 'Evil Woman'. Apart from the truly masterful riff, of course, the major part of the charm is provided by the Wright/Harrison vocal battle - the baritone of the one and the falsetto of the other complement each other perfectly, and then, as they merge together in the aggressive chorus, it's just a perfect climactic note that leaves you devastated. Don't laugh at slow plodding hard rock numbers, people, a speedy delivery would only have ruined this one. It's PERFECT, and same goes for the lengthy guitar solo.

The only other truly 'heavy' number on the record is the catchy 'hit' 'Better By You Better Than Me' (which you probably know from the excellent Judas Priest cover); more wondrous riff-raffage plus a wondrous soulful chorus as the song suddenly shifts tonality and in a blink of an eye, by means of a weak wimpy acoustic passage, carries you from aggressive posturing to gloomy desperate pleading. Talk about an emotional palette! I guess the opening 'Waitin' For The Wind' qualifies as 'heavy' as well, although it's definitely the one song on the album I like the least - the opening drum pattern is about the best thing going for it, because all the other things are going "eh". The idea of basing the song on a three-chord organ riff and a two-note 'anthemic' chorus ain't bad per se... but then again, maybe it is, as I just understood the secret of the career of Uriah Heep. They all gathered round this album and listened to this opening song. Then they wrote 'Gypsy' on the spur of the moment. Then they ended up rewriting that song for the rest of their lives. Anyway, you may probably conclude I'm not too hot on that song, and it almost spoiled me the whole fun.

Fortunately, the fun is easily restored as the Spooksters move into softer territory. At times they sound suspiciously like Traffic; 'Feelin' Bad' doesn't just remind us of 'Feelin' Alright' because they both begin with the same word; they're also based on the same pattern of jangling guitars and loud pianos and upbeat bluesy harmonies with a whiff of subtle menace about them. Fortunately, the vocal melodies are different and different in a good way at that. Another 'Traffic-like' song is 'That Was Only Yesterday', which is poppier and kinda more optimistic and has kinda swell harmonica. Just the kind of song to get entertained and relaxed by after you've spent the other day installing a bunch of heavy bookshelves, like I have. Even if the title of the song looks pretty scary in that respect.

I've only got three more songs to describe, so take patience on me. Spooky Tooth didn't care much for long albums (in fact, I got Spooky Two and Last Puff packed together on one CD, pretty good deal when they're not cutting up songs and throwing out the fade-outs, of course). 'I've Got Enough Heartaches' is supposedly gospel, I guess. Don't care that much for gospel, but this one ain't bad because the chorus is catchy. (And no, the subject matter isn't religious at all, but who gives a damn? Since when was gospel about Jesus, actually? It's all about stupid black people sublimating their urges! 'I've Got Enough Heartaches' is pretty innocent in that respect. Of course, you're not entitled to treating that statement in a serious manner, but you're not entitled otherwise, either.) 'Lost In My Dream' is creepy, or at least tries to be creepy. They want some Goth attitude, with trembling shaking terrified vocals and that machine-gun riff that just goes to show you how it is totally impossible to escape your nightmares. Guess that's 'progressive'. Or 'artsy', at least. It's also good, pulled off in an entertaining manner, although I actually think it's more glammy in an Alice Cooper kind of way than 'proggish'. Feel free to disagree.

Feel free to disagree when I say that the chorus to 'Hangman Hang My Shell On A Tree' sucks ass, either. It's a nice folksy ditty by definition, but I HATE the chorus. It's catchy, for sure. It just sounds like it belongs to some ritualistic ethnic chant rather than a 'soulful folk anthem'. I can't stand it when in the verses some guy sings the melody in an emotional spirited kind of way, and the chorus then gets sung by some group harmonies totally devoid of feeling. It's like they kinda come in and spoil the picture. A troop of braindead idiots interrupting the intelligent feeling lead singer, and the lead singer easily giving up and giving his place to the braindead idiots. That's, well, braindead. If you sing 'cause my life's running out', you could at least sing it like your life were indeed running out, not like you were an accidental harmony chanter totally devoid of IQ. Minor complaint, that is.

Major complaints simply don't work with the album - it has very few original ideas, and maybe the guys still sound a bit more pretentious than they should have been allowed to, but there's no denying the enormous entertaining value that Spooky Two still offers us thirty years after its release. And, like I said, you know what? well, diversity is the key. Long live diversity! Aye, 'Feelin' Bad' sounds like Traffic, but would Traffic put anything like 'Evil Woman' next to it? Nadah. Stevie Winwood was a WUSS (a talented wuss, to be sure, but a wuss nevertheless). Gary Wright was DA MAN. Of course, in some time they both started sucking on that same collective ass, but let's judge people by their bestest of the bestest. Even wusses must be given a chance. Heck, I'm a wuss, and I just wrote a lengthy review for you! That certainly says something.



(released by: SPOOKY TOOTH with PIERRE HENRY)

Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Bizarre period piece, it is, but once you separate the bleats and bleeps from the music, it's BETTER THAN BACH! Well, maybe.

Best song: OFFERING

Track listing: 1) Confession; 2) Have Mercy; 3) Credo; 4) Offering; 5) Hosanna; 6) Prayer.

Subtitled 'An Electronic Mass' (and that definitely calls for a spelling error in the second word!). Featuring a bizarre twist in Spooky Tooth fate. Derided by fans and non-fans alike, treated as a joke/blasphemous insult/dated piece of bizarre crap, whatever you want. And besides that, featuring a really scary album cover. I swear, before I spotted that nail in the fellow's hand, I really thought that streak of a blood was coming from a vampire's tooth (add in the band's name, and you get the idea). And I hate vampires - my neck always gets itchy when I think of them. That's how sensitive I am.

Now of course this revelation goes nowhere. Just like this album. Apparently, it wasn't initially even suggested as a Spooky Tooth release. Avantgarde "musique concrete" composer Pierre Henry wanted to experiment with a pop album, so he selected Spooky Tooth (it could have been Badfinger for all I care!) and they were asked to write a set of conceptual songs for Monsieur Henry to vent it through his 'progressive' electronic treatment. Gary Wright liked the idea, so he penned a set of pseudo-religious tracks, the band recorded them almost overnight, and then the stuff was given to Henry. He recorded all these effects, and then bang! all of a sudden, the album was credited to Spooky Tooth. Fans of Spooky Two rushed to the stores, grabbed the new album from the guys that rewarded this world with 'Evil Woman', and... ugh, the very thought makes me sick.

Fact is, it ain't such a bad album. As far as music goes, at least, it's at least several steps above the similar, and far less listenable, Mass In F Minor project by the Electric Prunes. The big problem is that the music simply does not gel with all of Henry's stupid noises. It - Does - Not - Gel. ALL of the stuff that Monsieur Henry had overloaded over this poor bunch of songs just sucks. I have nothing against avantgarde when it's atmospheric, or when it's well constructed. But I can't help thinking about how randomly all the electronic effects on the album have been chosen. 'Confession' is almost entirely ruined by all these ear-destructive industrial noises, sounds of clinking hammers and tingling bells or something like that. 'Have Mercy' is equally ruined by idiotic effects that sound like some guy passionately chewing on a leg of beef while Mike Harrison is going out of his way singing 'Lord have mercy!'. Even worse, it is then followed by a series of clicks and clucks that now, in the CD age, probably make me jump out of my chair much more frequently then they would have in the age of LPs - these clucks sound exactly like my CDs sound when there's something wrong with them. The last straw, of course, was 'Credo', where right in the middle Pierre Henry catches on some dude feebly blabbering out 'ba ba ba b-ba b-ba' or something like that and loops it all over the world. After that I couldn't face playing the album in the presence of my family or they'd think I went completely gaga. So I had to put on my phones, and gaga I went twice as much.

Fortunately, I brought myself 'round to having a second listen, and a third one, and even a fourth one. The weirdness wore off, and I found... that some of the songs are actually well-written. I would now give everything in the world (except for my collection of Rod Stewart's Eighties albums, of course - how can a human being breathe, feed, and particularly copulate without a copy of Camouflage nearby?) for a Ceremony that'd be entirely Henry-devoid. I suspect there must be bootleg copies of it floating around... anyway, my imagination is strong enough to picture these songs without the electronic "treatment", and as such, they work on a certain level. There are some really really nifty hard-rockin' pieces floating around, actually, the best of these being 'Offering', a short three-and-a-half track where the electronic effects actually do work: the dark gothic riff merges perfectly with the paranoid vocals, and the panting noises and the murky diddly-diddling in the background actually add to the atmosphere, plus, it's kinda funny when they go 'Let us have salvation!'.

'Have Mercy' and 'Credo' are actually quite nice as well. 'Have Mercy' begins as a typically bluesy number that heavily abuses the bluesy cliche of the title but then proceeds to become another frantic hard rocker showcasing the professionalism of the guys - even if they knew they were doing a toss-off, they were still playing it with enough energy. As for 'Credo', its ending section is pretty moody as well, the most grim and ominous, could we even say desperately cruel, piece on the record, even if it is really undermined by the baaaaaaah-ing idiot. And 'Hosanna' has terrific guitar solos.

Anyway, one should understand that even without the stupid treatment, Ceremony would be no great shakes, but the hard rockers might be salvageable; it's the slower tracks like 'Confession' and 'Prayer' that really bog the record down and give it an air of unnecessary pretentiousness and gimmickry. Thus, it would probably be an overall 10 on my scale for the effort and essentially for being more or less able to convert the idea of a 'bizarre religious hard rock album' to reality (much more so than the Prunes, at least), but one point is deduced for the electronic crap. Well, what do you want? It didn't exactly lead to a big critical rave-up or commercial breakthrough back then, when this stuff was at least novel and 'innovative', so what would you expect now? In fact, Ceremony almost led to the band breaking up, with their reputation of solid British roots rockers destroyed and replaced by a reputation of pretentious pseudo-artsy weirdos. In the end, it led to Gary Wright quitting over this whole thing (he went to play with George Harrison, the nice boy that he was) and the band regrouping around Harrison (MIKE Harrison, that is. Say, do you think Mr Wright had a natural attraction to Harrisons?). Funny that the album is still available - if you see it, pick it up anyway, if only as a major historical curio. Bad as the effect is, it's still quite unique in its own way.



Year Of Release: 1970

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Relative throwaway... where's the vocal duet... how come they defile Beatles songs... lots of questions anyway.

Best song: I AM THE WALRUS

Track listing: 1) I'm The Walrus; 2) The Wrong Time; 3) Something To Say; 4) Nobody There At All; 5) Down River; 6) Son Of Your Father; 7) The Last Puff.

Spooky Tooth's only album without Gary Wright. Now come to think of it... this isn't really Spooky Tooth. It's "Spooky Tooth Featuring Mike Harrison", and I guess this doesn't JUST mean that this is Spooky Tooth, er, featuring, um, Mike Harrison. Well, any old fool KNOWS that Spooky Tooth features Mike Harrison, right? Where would Spooky Tooth be without Mike Harrison? Who would earn the poor guys their daily bread if it weren't for Mike Harrison? Spooky Tooth without Mike Harrison is like a building without a roof! A muskrat without musk! A hedgehog without a hedge! A Shakespeare without a spear! A Dickens without a... oh wait a moment.

Anyway, Gary Wright decided to play Jesus Christ - appropriately, after the subject matter of the last album - and crucified himself for the band's electronic sins by quitting the band and heading for a first outburst of solo career. Mike Harrison, however, thought the Spooky Song was far from over yet, so he held on to the other two guys and recruited extra help from Joe Cocker's Grease Band, with which Spooky Tooth apparently toured around the time. So it goes without saying that the record has a bit of a Cocker-ish feel to it, which is all right, because Joe Cocker and his band in the late Sixties/early Seventies was about the best that British R'n'B could offer. It also goes without saying that since Gary is gone, the band lacks its main creative force - and is forced to fall back on covers, ranging from soul writers I don't know at all to the Beatles, Cocker himself, and Elton John. The only "original" composition is the title track, and it's (a) an instrumental, (b) the shortest of the bunch, and (c) written by Chris Stainton at that, so it doesn't really count. It's pretty nice, by the way, done in that uplifting "Brit-piano" style, if you know what I mean, but of course, that's hardly enough to compensate for lack of original material.

So? Can a toothless Spooky with Mike Harrison at the wheel rip it up on the other six covers? Well, yes, funny enough they can. I miss a lot here, of course - I misss the great keyboards and most of all I miss the fascinating 'vocal interplay', but Harrison is an intelligent chap and he can really make it on his own. Whoever would have thought that the band in this stage could actually take something as tricky as the Beatles' 'I Am The Walrus' (my fav song! of all time!) and actually get away with it. Certainly not me. Yet it's a terrific cover, reinventing 'Walrus' as kind of a sympathetic soul anthem based on the usual thick organ lines and gruff distorted guitar riffs - the only thing Mike Harrison does not do is he can't bring himself to actually chanting 'goo goo goo joob'. The hickory dickory dick that he is, the snob! Anyway, the cover is excellently done, with an extra guitar solo and the original vocal melody actually preserved.

If there is a problem, it's that the covers I can identify are all inferior to the originals. Okay, so it's probably hard to beat the Beatles at their game, but then there's Cocker's 'Something To Say' which he himself recorded a couple years later and sang it in a more soulful and moving way than Mike here did. And 'Son Of Your Father'? Mmm... maybe Joe and Elton just have more distinctive vocals, I dunno. There was a certain sharpness and acuteness to their versions which The Last Puff just seems to lack. But maybe that's subjective - the songs are good, and the covers eventually do them justice.

The other songs whose originals I'm not aware of are pretty nice as well - there's just not a tremendous amount of purpose to them. Without Wright, Harrison alone isn't able to reach that kind of acute emotional uplift as on the band's first two albums, and there's not enough rockin' energy in the tracks to compensate - in the end, all the songs just reach the level of "mildly pleasant entertainment". Is the music on? Don't turn it off, please. 'The Wrong Time' has a pretty sticky joint acoustic-electric riff and cute percussionwork and chorale vocals in the chorus and everything; 'Nobody There At All' sounds just like one more Joe Cocker original even if it isn't - same kind of cheerio uplifting attitude, whiteboy soul at its if not best, then at least satisfying. And 'Down River' is the one true Harrison showcase of the record. No distinct vocal hook, but you know a singer is worth merit when he can get away without a single distinct hook and still trap you by the gradual development of the vocal melody. The transfer from "quiet, soft, humble" to "loud, pompous" is smooth as butter.

But in any case, The Last Puff is essentially what the title is about - more like a souvenir from the weak dissolving Spooky Tooth to its fans. No historical importance whatsoever, and absolutely nothing that hasn't been done better earlier by Joe Cocker, Free or, well, Spooky Tooth. So it's only natural that the band collapsed soon afterwards - the unnatural thing is that it actually decided to get back after a while. See, that's the basic problem with second-rate rock bands over there: they say everything they have to say in one or two records and then are forced to drag on for decades retelling the same things over and over. Unlike first-rate rock bands who actually grow. Okay then, Spooky Tooth tried to grow as well.

But hey, how can a second-rate rock band actually grow and be well? You know you won't knock me down off this bias so easily.



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Generic arena-rock diluted with some mild hooks and a few soulful pastiches... tolerable, but not for long.


Track listing: 1) Cotton Growing Man; 2) Old As Was Born; 3) This Time Around; 4) Holy Water; 5) Wildfire; 6) Self Seeking Man; 7) Times Have Changed; 8) Moriah.

Violent title for sure, but the resulting product is nowhere near as violent. This rejuvenated version of Spooky Tooth does feature Mike Harrison and Gary Wright, to be certain - a recuperated Gary returns to lead his band to world domination. But this isn't his band at all! All the other players are gone, replaced by an entirely different set of guitarist, bassist, and drummer. And painful as it is for me to say that, but the class is gone with the discarding of the rest of the band. Now, in 1973, Spooky Tooth are essentially just another run-of-the-mill outfit in an endless, interminable series of hairy hard rock and glammy bands.

Thankfully, Wright's songwriting is still pretty strong, but the production on the album is Godawful. Heaviness is the word of the day, but it's not the kind of Sabbath heaviness or the kind of Zep heaviness; it's called "generic heavy sludge", thick monstrous riffs that don't rock hard in order to establish a truly evil or menacing atmosphere, they rock in order to establish a visibility of Spooky Tooth's "up-to-date progressive sound". Besides, the riffs just aren't interesting - I can't essentially see what makes the roar and the thumping of 'Cotton Growing Man' any better than any selected Kiss rocker. The singing is equally undistinctive; apparently, Gary thought that the baritone/falsetto duet should have been forever left in the band's hippie past, and the guys' harmonies suffer from utter blandness as a result. And none of the instrumental work is truly inspiring.

So what does this get a nine for? Well, first of all, there's novelty value - I'm really amused at how the boys managed to re-qualify as a ponderous hard rock outfit and hastily update their sound for the Seventies. The joke would get thoroughly sour second time around, but at least when you listen to that stuff in chronological sequence (and you should listen to all your albums in chronological sequence! That will ensure you never getting around to Oasis!), You Broke My Heart sounds so startingly surprising it takes you some time to realize how miserably derivative this is of the general Seventies' styles.

Second, there are some good songs here, and some nice vocal melodies which I, for one, should certainly have placed in a different environment, but who am I to doubt the impeccable genius of Mr Wright. I, for one, particularly welcome the refreshing balladeering of 'Holy Water' and 'Times Have Changed' - Gary brings in his gospel influences for those two, and does that with enough conviction, for me, at least. On 'Holy Water', in particular, is where the heavy booming production really helps, what with all the backing vocals placed perfectly and the sound never thinning itself to a feeble near-parodic extent, even if the song has little but an actual strings-and-piano background to hold on to. Sounds not unlike something David Bowie would have favoured in about a year's time, actually. (I am, of course, referring to The Great Rock Chameleon's better soulful stuff like 'Who Can I Be Now', not the fillerish clay on Young Americans). And I'm quite partial to the vocal melody of 'Times Have Changed'; if you have a passion for sappy, but not overbearing, solo piano stuff from McCartney or Elton John, you'll probably be able to identify with my feelings.

As for the "heavy" tracks, well... they're alright. Some of the riffs are good. None are really memorable. Some of the material is really really dumb, like the "funky" slow number 'Wildfire', which seems like they were wanting to do something HOT in the Sly vein, but if you wanna act like Sly, one good advice would be to at least hire a more adventurous backing band and make sure that, like, something, you know, actually goes on in the song, instead of stupidly chanting 'Wildfire is in my mind, my desire is waiting to unwind' for ages without changing a note. Some is really pretentious, like the album closer 'Moriah', where Wright indulges in fantasy lyrics forgetting even to come up with a satisfactory riff. But at least 'Cotton Growing Man' is LOUD enough not to put you to sleep, and 'This Time Around' is moderately catchy, with a riff recycled from that one song on Last Puff you know what I'm talking about.

Aw shucks, I just don't like this record. The hooks just stink, provided that something that doesn't actually exist can actually stink. That should give you enough metaphysical pain in the ass while I just relax for a moment and take the time to inform you that this album is totally unavailable on CD (I'm not sure if it's ever been released in that form) and that I more or less understand the reason behind it - were I Gary Wright and had I the w-right to all of my albums, I'd probably make sure it existed only in bootleg form. Ha! So how come I have it? Ha! Courtesy of the magical Russian pirates who actually encoded it from an LP and put it on CD! Ha! Within thirty years, this album will cost a FORTUNE! Then I'll sell it and donate the money to the Generic Spooky Tooth Eradication Clinic.

Mind you, I don't hate this record. I don't even give it an eight, although I'm tempted to. Fans of generic Seventies' stuff will probably be fightin' all over the world just to earn the right to worship at the shrine of 'Wildfire'. Let 'em do it; I understand, but I'd rather have my Spooky Tooth experimental and defiant, like in the good old years of 1968-70. Yup, Ceremony is better than this, too.



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Basically volume two, just a bit more gloomy than before.


Track listing: 1) Ocean Of Power; 2) Wings On My Heart; 3) As Long As The World Keeps Turning; 4) Don't Ever Stray Away; 5) Things Change; 6) All Sewn Up; 7) Dream Me A Mountain; 8) Sunlight Of My Mind; 9) Pyramids.

Fuck, is this boring. Me no be kidding you gentlemen, this is bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-oring. Ever heard Bad Company? Foreigner? Oh Lord does this all fall in the same category. Pseudo-heavy mid-tempo soulful sludge, all courtesy of the by now completely generic brain of Mr Gary Wright. At least You Broke My Heart set a trend for Spooky Tooth; Witness simply follows in its footsteps. Unsurprisingly, this album is also unavailable on CD, and the Spooksters themselves don't seem to really like it all that much - and I sure can empathize.

So why a higher rating than before? A matter of convenience. It definitely is not worse than its predecessor, and hmm, when I consider the number of songs I'd like to save in my little notepad for that sulky little alien to discover five million years from now, Witness unexpectedly provides me with more of them. So I guess yeah, this record - which sees the return of the one and only Mike Kellie on drums - is better as far as actual hooks go. There's been more work pressed into the creation of these arena-rock monsters than before. But not much, not enough for me to fall flat on my face or any other bodypart.

Me, I just wish Gary Wright would wright more of those cheesy pathetic soulful ballads. I admit, 'Wings On My Heart' might be purely dreadful from a power ballad perspective, but it's intelligently crafted and actually finds a small chord within me that hasn't yet been abused, spat on, thoroughly mistreated by some abysmal Aerosmith schlock. When Gary (is that Gary or Mike? By now, they kinda neutralized together if you know what I mean) wails 'I GOT WINGS ON MY HEART', I cringe, but when he later counteracts it with 'I got love in my mind...', I kinda smile - somehow, the emotional attack succeeds. I'd need somebody to back me up on that one, of course, but since the somebody would have to dig in a used bin to disclose an old dusty scratched LP in order to satisfy a dumb reviewer's spontaneous urge, I'm not issuing a proclamation or anything.

No more ballads! Mainly rockin'/poppin'/soulin' grooves that sometimes have hooks, sometimes don't, but altogether join in a single murky mood piece - at least, that's how this album seemed to work out for one of the fathers of web reviewing, but it doesn't really work that way for me: too much obnoxious mediocrity. Or maybe just really awful, really generic Seventies' production. Ah, where's Jimmy Miller when we needed him so? SAVE US!

'Ocean Of Power' is unk-funk, I guess. You can easily use the tune in one of those moments when you're feeling insecure and lonely just to make yourself feel even more insecure and lonely, but then again, there's always the Swans for that purpose. 'As Long As The World Keeps Turning' is one of the tracks I don't even notice most of the time, but when I do notice them I actively hate them - who needs this kind of universalist-sounding repetitive loudmouth anthem when it hasn't got a single positive/innovative thing going for it? Urrrgh... 'Don't Ever Stray Away' begins fantastically, with a real metallic crunch that would bury Bad Company deep underground had it actually gone on like that, but then the riff goes away and almost, you know, dissolves in a sea of pedestrian major key sludge. To think that at one time Gary Wright used to write excellent material... 'Sunshine Help Me' this generic bore definitely is not.

'Things Change' are definitely better, even if it makes me wonder what the hell prompted Wright to make up a tune with such a name after 'Times Have Changed' on the previous album. At least it would be more understandable had he changed the two tracks round. Bummer. Oh, for the record, it ALSO is based on a slightly funky and totally repetitive slow sluggish riff, but it sets exactly the same "put your head in your hands and think how much life sucks" mood as 'Ocean Of Power', so it has some utilitarian potential I guess. Not a bad song.

Things pick up steam afterwards, though, a bit. 'All Sewn Up' probably means that the band had been listening to too much Free in their Free time - the same power chord based riff as the jne used in 'All Right Now', some dumb entertaining potential, yeah well, at least it kicks a little ass. Even better is 'Dream Me A Mountain', which finally adds some mystique and mystery and mystification to the record, with its dark basslines and gloomy piano lines and twisted lyrics. 'Sunlight Of My Mind' is certainly no 'Sunshine Of Your Love', but it's probably the only true "heavy classic" on the album, where the heavy gruff riff coupled with the ominous organ pattern actually carries you forward into the world of something utterly dark and, for once, really engaging. You don't need to get into a mood for the song, it will get you itself. Or maybe it won't, but I sure wonder why it was so difficult to obtain a perfect organ/guitar match on the other tracks. Finally, 'Pyramids' closes the album on another quasi-depressive half-boring note, and boy am I glad to have dutifully dutified my duty. I suppose it's probably a nine after all, but I'll be generous and say that 'Pyramids' so perfectly encapsulates the general feeling received from listening to the album that I'm ready to raise the rating a bit.

That feeling? 'Gee, this stuff is so dang depressing... especially if you're a reviewer who needs to listen to it THRICE in a row.'



Year Of Release: 1974

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Excellent last-minute rebound with some ADRENALINE for a change.


Track listing: 1) Fantasy Satisfier; 2) Two Time Love; 3) Kyle; 4) Woman And Gold; 5) Higher Circles; 6) Hell Or High Water; 7) I'm Alive; 8) The Mirror; 9) The Hoofer.

Wow! Who'd have thought that Mike Harrison was a ROCK! A ten thousand pound rock, no less, and as Wright and the guys finally got that weight off their shoulders, they felt themselves so much at ease and so rejuvenated they easily picked up some of that much-needed steam. Okay, it probably wasn't happening that way, but that's about the best hypothesis I can come up to explain this radical change of style.

The band's last album could be a disaster - instead, it's one of their best. Yes, they are still indulging in arena-rock cliches, and the photo of the dark-clothed longhair potheads on the back cover is so rrreallly typically Seventies it hurts. They look like the Alice Cooper band or like Mott The Hoople at their glam peak or like AC/DC in the early years or whatever. And actually, that new vocalist, Mike Patto, does have AC/DCesque intonations in his voice as well... at times. But the music itself isn't so obvious.

Thing number one: this stuff rocks. As in, the good meaning of the word 'rocks'. Not the 'it's all so heavy and ponderous it gives me a headache' thing, rather the 'it's so groovy and catchy it makes me wanna dance and stomp' thing. 'Fantasy Satisfier' opens the record with a mean and lean funky riff which isn't exactly the fastest riff ever played, but it's far, far faster and punchier than anything on the last two records. And a catchy chorus! And experimentation! They got phasing! Okay, I understand phasing wasn't exactly the latest fashion in 1974, but at least it's some kind of gimmick that ornates the atmosphere. And a guitar solo! Mick Jones can actually play a stinging guitar solo when he wants to - I sure didn't know that, me.

Then you go into 'Two Time Love' which greets you with moody sleazy organ and an unnerving bassline to die for, and then there's that Brian Johnson-like vocal delivery I already mentioned. Goes without saying it's just as good as your favourite slow plodding AC/DC blues rocker. What do you mean, 'which favourite slow plodding AC/DC blues rocker'? You mean they had more than one? Then just as you're ready to say "This is a hard rock sellout; these guys stooped to the lowest common denominator and I'm outa here before they begin singing about dicks", up pops 'Kyle' , which is a perfectly nice and pleasant piano-based ballad in the best traditions of You Broke My Heart and actually even earlier. Naturally, I like it because I like Gary Wright's ballads. What's not to like about them, except the lack of melody? And the drastic oversinging? And the pompous overproduction? And the pretentious lyrics? And the faux soul intonations? Now you know how much the song actually rules. It's gorgeous.

An absolute favourite of mine, though, would be 'Hell Or High Water'. God damn the title, it's one of the earliest examples of people experimenting with a 'talkbox' I'm aware of (see Pink Floyd's 'Pigs (Three Different Ones)' for further reference if you need any). It also seamlessly goes from gloomy menacing rocker to arena pop in the chorus and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth till you're totally whacked out of your rocker and rocked out of your whacker. Gary Wright is a hoot all right. Mind you that the song - and the album - sounds DUMB, but it's a perfectly tolerable dumbness. It doesn't strike you in the face; in fact, it took me a few listens to realize the dumbness of the experience, and by then it was kinda late - I was hooked. Gotta love the talkbox anyway.

Only one track actually brings us back to the "slow monotonous depressive" recipe of the past, and also justifies the spooky [tooth] imagery of the album sleeve (the cover I pilfered from some site doesn't do justice to mine - I actually have all these fishes and bats and spiders and what-not on the cover as if they missed Spooky Tooth and gave me a Sepultura cover or something, or at least a, yuck, Uriah Heep half-sleeve). That's the title track, and this time around it justifies its moody and 'stable' atmosphere with an excellent creative arrangement. There's a majestic apocalyptic bassline carrying the song forward, there are creepy synth outbursts all over the place, there are Gothic vocal harmonies, and there's a pretty despairing guitar pattern ringing in your brain that almost hints at how you're actually never gonna leave this place, whatever it is. Fortunately, they decide to have mercy on the listener and finish the album on a cheery note instead, with 'The Hoofer', a half-comic ditty from Mr Patto who offers us a pretty little ditty with sneezy sarcastic vocal deliveries and a refrain that seems to say 'at no time will my feet leave my ankles' or something like that. It's pretty classy. It's funky. It's not Funkadelic by any means but it is funky.

I probably missed a couple highlights (or lowlights or midweight champions or whatever) but that's not really important. What is important is that unlike the previous two records, The Mirror has actually been released on CD - and if you get the hint and have any interest in Spooky Tooth, you might pick it up. It's nowhere near THAT Spooky Tooth of the golden era, but still, Gary Wright is Gary Wright, and the marriage of roots-rock with artsy ambitions still goes on. It's also just about the only Spooky Tooth album you could dance the night away to - not that I'm offering you to do that, but just to let you know more facts on the diversity of the band. And creativity. Come to think of it, these guys invented creativity at the dawn of ages!

Well no, I guess that's a bit of an exaggeration. But if Spooky Tooth didn't invent creativity, who did? Pat Benatar?


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