What does it sound like?:
Atomic Rooster were formed when Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer left The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in 1969. Between the recording of their debut album “Atomic Rooster” in 1970 and the single “Tell Your Story, Sing Your Song” in 1974 the group underwent a bewildering array of lineup changes, with Crane as the only constant band member.
This 4 disc box set gathers together everything the band recorded between 1970 and 1974 – four albums, plus non-UK single cuts and album tracks and demos.
Their debut album, Atomic Rooster, opens disc 1, and showcases their progressive/underground roots. Crane’s organ leads the way, propelled by Palmer’s sometimes frenetic drumming (yes, there is a drum solo….). Nick Graham’s rather stentorian vocals are perhaps the weak point (his yelps of “save me!” on the single Friday 13th a case in point) – by the time the album was released both he and Palmer had gone, ushering in the revolving door era of Rooster line-ups. After a brief stint by Ric “Mick Shrimpton” Parnell, Paul Hammond took over the drum seat while guitarist John Du Cann became the new vocalist. This is the lineup that recorded second album Death Walks Behind You, for me their best and most interesting album. Du Cann’s guitar adds new layers to the group’s sound, making DWBY their heaviest record by far. Standouts include the title track, with Crane’s menacing, doom-laden piano signature, and Seven Streets, an uptempo rocker with Crane and Du Cann trading organ and guitar licks.
On to disc 3, and album number 3 (“In Hearing Of…”), and lineup number 3. Du Cann was out, sacked by Crane after recruiting new vocalist Paul French, formerly lead singer with stoner rock monsters Leaf Hound (Du Cann’s guitar duties were taken over by Steve Bolton). Also gone was drummer Paul Hammond, his place taken by the returning Ric Parnell. Less heavy than its predecessor, Crane’s organ dominates (oo-er etc etc) throughout (Du Cann’s already recorded guitar parts either mixed low or removed altogether). Crane’s funk and soul leanings begin to make themselves heard, particularly on instrumental The Rock.
These influences came well and truly to the forefront by the time it came to record their fourth album “Made In England”. French was out, to be replaced by third division R&B shouter and pound shop Van Morrison Chris Farlowe. Gone is the heavy prog of the earlier recordings, replaced by a lighter, funkier more soulful feel, heard particularly on single “Stand By Me”, replete with wah wah guitar, “Don’t Know What Went Wrong” and instrumental “Breathless”.
This approach continues on the final album included in this collection, 1973’s Nice ‘n’ Greasy. Farlowe remained as vocalist, as did Parnell on drums. The most notable track on this disc is “Save Me”, a funky reworking of “Friday the 13th” from the first album. Overall though there is a tiredness to the songs on disc 4, a sense that paths were being re-trod and returns decidedly diminished. There isn’t much to recommend on here, other than “Save Me”. Farlowe’s vocals too often default to gruff blues on most tracks. The end was not far off – the group were dropped by their record company and Farlow, Parnell and guitarist Johnny Mandala (not his real name, I suspect) left the group, leaving Crane to tour with a pick-up band. In 1975 he officially disbanded Atomic Rooster.
What does it all *mean*?
Despite my initial misgivings about the Rooster – to me they always had a distinct whiff of patchouli oil, free gigs on flatbed trucks with Edgar Broughton , and loons snapping in a stiff Glastonbury breeze – I was pleasantly surprised by the material on these discs. When they wanted to be they could be the heaviest of heavy friends (Death Walks Behind You), but Crane’s heart was in more soulful, funky material, and its here where they display a deftness, a lightness of touch and some inventive playing.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
ELP, headbands, Hammond organs