By Ian McFarlane.
“Classics one and all, the incredible thing about these double CD reissues is that, under the banner of Expanded Edition, each is packed to the gunwales with bonus material.”
JO JO ZEP AND THE FALCONS – Screaming Targets (Mushroom, 1979) / Expanded Edition CD Reissue (Festival/Warner, 2014)
THE SPORTS – Reckless (Mushroom, 1978) / Expanded Edition CD Reissue (Festival/Warner, 2014)
THE SPORTS – Don’t Throw Stones (Mushroom, 1979) / Expanded Edition CD Reissue (Festival/Warner, 2014)
I’ve examined the extraordinary double CD collection from Warner Music, (When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton elsewhere on this illustrious website. Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Sports and members thereof feature heavily on that release so it seems entirely appropriate to turn my attention to their early albums, also now reissued by Warner.
Classics one and all, the incredible thing about these double CD reissues is that, under the banner of Expanded Edition, each is packed to the gunwales with bonus material – non-LP single sides, live tracks, demos… and it’s all quality material. These were hard working and prolific bands so it’s no surprise really that curator David Laing (creative A&R head at Warner) has been able to secure so much extra material.
When Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons released Screaming Targets in late 1979 it pushed them into the premier league. They’d already established themselves as one of the greatest pub-rocking acts of the day, having slogged around the touring circuit for over three years. Unfortunately, their first two albums hadn’t sold very well but they finally made a chart impact when the 1978 single ‘So Young’ hit the Top 30. The perfect break-through act (to use some kind of industry parlance) was just about to hit the crest of the music wave.
And Screaming Targets did not disappoint – it was exceedingly accomplished, with a tough but accessible production sound courtesy of English producer Pete Solley and full of absolutely first-rate songs. The band’s funky and energetic mix of R&B and soul had already done the job but it was when singer Joe Camilleri infused the music with a large dose of reggae rhythms that the hit singles arrived: ‘Hit And Run’ and ‘Shape I’m In’. The album also caught the New Wave mood of the times with such outstanding album tracks as ‘Don’t Wanna Come Down’, ‘Close To The Bone’, ‘Thin Line’ and Paul Kelly’s ‘Only The Lonely Hearted’. Elvis Costello would have killed to have written some of those riffs; in fact he must have been listening closely because he went on to record a version of ‘So Young’.
The initial pressing of the album came with a bonus, limited edition live album of material recorded in Melbourne during April 1979. This was the band playing at the top of its game, featuring swampy and rockin’ covers of ‘Security’, ‘Not A Woman, Not A Child’ and ‘Mona’, matched by ‘So Young’ and the 10-minute progressive rock epic ‘The Cthulhu’. All are present and correct on Disc One of this collection.
I’d often been puzzled in the past when occasionally Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons would be compared to the Rolling Stones. After listening to Disc One non-stop for a couple of days… I get it now! Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons were out-Stonesing the Stones by a mile at the time. Man, these guys could rock – and of course the rhythm section of bassist John Power and drummer Gary Young was one of the tightest in the land. Add the high-tensile, interlocking guitar riffs of Jeff Burstin and Tony Faehse and the wailing sax lines of Camilleri and brother-in-crime Wilbur Wilde and you have an iconic band up there with the best throughout the history of Aussie rock.
Disc Two (entitled The Rhythm & Blues) keeps up the pace but not surprisingly it ranges all over the place, mixing previously unreleased demos (from 1976 up to the 2003 Ricochet album) with a whole raft of live cuts. It is staggering to consider that such incredible tracks as ‘The Rhythm & Blues’ (the band sounding like Rose Tattoo!), ‘Rock It’, ‘Fix It Up’, ‘Hard Luck Story’ and ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ have never seen the light of day before.
Another rarity here is ‘Glad I’m Living Here’, taken from the original movie soundtrack to Oz: A Rock ’n’ Roll Road Movie (1976). Which begs the question: where is the only other Mushroom rarity, the cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Run, Rudolph, Run’ (and its B-side for that matter, ‘Guess Who’) produced by Ross Wilson, issued as a single in 1975 and credited to Jo Jo Zep and His Little Helpers? David Laing described ‘Run, Rudolph, Run’ as “only a novelty song” but I see it as a missed opportunity on an otherwise fabulous release.
Like Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Sports were a classic case of “right band at the right time”. Almost from the outset, The Sports earned a reputation as the hottest R&B / soul / rockabilly group on the Melbourne inner-city pub circuit. The fact they featured one of the most charismatic front men of the day in Stephen Cummings was a bonus. Cummings’ breathy, lispy delivery was certainly unique at the time. The band’s early live set was brimming with punchy covers such as ‘Nothin’ Shakin’’ (Eddie Fontaine), ‘Red Hot’ (Billy Emerson), ‘Chain Of Fools’ (Don Covay), ‘Now I’m Together’ (Company Caine) and ‘White Honey’ (Graham Parker) filled out by feisty originals by Cummings and guitarist Ed Bates such as ‘In Trouble With The Girls’ and ‘Cruisin’ In A Citroën’.
I’ve always thought that the Joe Camilleri-produced debut album Reckless displayed plenty of charm but somehow failed to capture the atmosphere of the band’s sweaty live shows. With the benefit of 36 years hindsight I will admit that this album stands up remarkably well as an almost perfect encapsulation of a sound, a time and a place when music like this really mattered. It was R&B colliding successfully with a mod revival frame of mind where love was always hot and city living was a gamble.
‘Boys! (What Did The Detective Say?)’ remains a ripper of a tune; I’ll reuse a description I’ve used elsewhere (’cause it hits the mark I reckon) – Speedy, witty and punctuated by Stephen Cummins’ exhortations of “Boys!”, this was another snapshot of inner-city interaction but delivered with humour and minus the paranoia.
What has surprised me is how incredibly strong ‘Amazon’, ‘I Put The Light On’, ‘Mailed It To Your Sister’, ‘Rockabilly Billy’, the chiming cover of Jackie DeShannon’s ‘When You Walk In the Room’ and in particular the gorgeous soul ballad ‘Reckless’ still sound. A good song will always be a good song. As with Screaming Targets, Disc One of Reckless is filled out with exceptional bonus tracks. The great little 4-track Fair Game EP (1977) saw the band nailing a funky kind of Rolling Stones / Little Feat hybrid with astonishing ease. And the 7-song Nightmoves Live portion of the programme is impressive in its intensity; I seriously doubt that any band, from the Stones to The Clash could have delivered ‘Live Work & Play’ at such a rapid-fire and unfaltering tempo.
Disc Two kicks off with a boisterous 10-track live-to-air concert from August 1978. Recorded live at Storey Hall, RMIT, by 3RMT-FM (now 3RRR 102.7 FM) it was previously only available on the Raven Records LP Missin’ Your Kissin’. The remaining 12 tracks are demos, recorded circa 1977 / 1978, and highlighted by the likes of ‘Tired Of Me’, ‘Step By Step’, covers of ‘Ju Ju Man’ (as also done by Dave Edmunds) and ‘Let’s Talk About Us’ plus a superb rendition of Company Caine’s unheralded ‘Don’t Hold Back That Feeling’.
Not long after the original release of Reckless, Ed Bates had been edged out to make way for Martin Armiger. Cummings had moved ahead with Armiger because he wanted to take the band in a more commercially-orientated direction. By the time The Sports came to record second album Don’t Throw Stones they’d made the transition from contenders to genuine flag bearers. Armiger was the right man for the job to be sure. With production by Pete Solley and featuring Cummings in great voice, Armiger nevertheless stamps his authority all over the album with his songs ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘Hit Single’ (brought across from his time with The Bleeding Hearts) and ‘Terror Hits’. The other classic tracks are Stephen Cummings / Andrew Pendlebury co-writes: ‘Live Work & Play’, ‘Don’t Throw Stones’ and ‘Who Listens To The Radio’. All up Don’t Throw Stones is a genuinely excellent example of New Wave infused pop-rock.
By that time The Sports had toured Australia and the UK with Graham Parker and The Rumour and come to the attention of Stiff Records. In many ways, The Sports’ sound was well suited to British ears and the UK-recorded EP O.K, U.K! is highlighted by a re-recording of ‘Live Work & Play’ and a dynamite cover of The Easybeats’ ‘Wedding Ring’. The band also recorded a new version of Don’t Throw Stones because the guys at Stiff didn’t like the production of the Australian edition so much. In the fall-out with Stiff the full new recording remained unreleased, so it makes up half of Disc Two here. As compiler David Laing says “this stuff is in some ways the most powerful sounding Sports material we have”.
Most of the rest of Disc Two comprises more live material (culled from Bombay Rock and a 3RRR live-to-air). The real gem of this particular disc is the original 45-RPM version of ‘Who Listens To The Radio’ (also on the Carlton comp) which boasts a piano-pumping arrangement (courtesy of Jim Niven) whereas the more familiar, re-recorded album version has the emphasis on the guitars.