What does it sound like?:
I was intrigued by the release of these albums because Crabby Appleton was one of those bands that would be alluded to in early 70s rockzines like ZigZag and Dark Star. Others of this ilk were McKendree Spring, Sopwith Camel, Kaleidoscope and more. Bands that I never got to hear, but were aware of as having some part in (mainly) West Coast rock culture. Bands whose names nestled in my subconscious ready to be woken from slumber. And bands that might be worth listening to.
So I was more than happy to give this pair of albums a listen.
These two albums display the recklessness of a band “progressing” (in the vernacular of the time, when progressive meant something different to what it eventually became), but in retrospect and in reality what it shows is that they de-evolved. They show a band giving up on the qualities that could have took them somewhere, namely a nicely defined pop sensibility that was ditched in favour of a blues rock formula that was being adopted by a million other bands because it was seen to be the a move to produce real music that expressed a band’s real personality and connected with the zeitgeist while sticking up a raised middle finger to “the man” who wanted them to play catchy, commercial stuff.
The first album Crabby Appleton is a mix of a gamut of influences. The one that kept recurring to my ears was The Hollies. Whether this was deliberate or inadvertent I have no idea. The Hollies were never particularly hip, though a very successful pop band in the UK and to a lesser extent in the USA. I don’t know if they were respected in the US as purveyors of an educated, harmony based pop or dismissed as teeny-bopper fare. But there are plenty of other bands that I hear echoes of. Deep Purple (the original version, better known as the Hush Hit Makers), The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Santana (overall band sound rather than Carlos style guitar), The Doors and The Nice.
Rotten To The Core opens with a twelve bar blues and sticks to a blues-rock format throughout, other than digressions for a Joe Cocker styled soul number, a sort of bluegrass number and a country song that could have been a Sweetheart Of The Rodeo out-take. The guitarist had discovered how to play slide and he was going to show the world his chops.
There could be a counter-argument that the eponymous first album is too disparate in its influences and that Rotten To The Core has a much more coherent band sound. But I wholeheartedly reject that and I much prefer the variety of Crabby Appleton.
It opens with a blast of psychedelic pop. Go Back. This was apparently their one and only hit single and it’s a fine opener, pulling you in. As I mentioned the variety of styles is for me a strength.
Third track Catherine is pretty acoustic ballad, decorated in the latter parts by harpsichord then very low key organ.
Most tracks come in around the three minute mark, other than two longer jams. Peace By Peace and Hunger For Love (very Nice like with a touch of Bach and a mock classical ending), which are around double that, but don’t overstay their welcome.
Listening on headphones, as I have one for most of the time with these discs, I’m struck by the old fashioned stereo mix. Drums and bass in the middle of my head and guitar exclusively in one ear and keyboards in the other. I quite like this type of production compared to the homogenised mix of so much rock these days.
Crabby Appleton is a fine example of early 70s West Coast pop-rock, recorded with more regard to singing things as they thought they should be played. If you’re interested in the music from that time and place you’ll like this a lot.
Which sadly I can’t say for Rotten to The Core.
The title is clearly meant to be ironic, but it just seems a bit dim to open yourself up to criticism by presenting such an open goal. The cover art is pretty horrible too, showing the withering remains of an apple core that has turned an unpleasant shade of brown. Given that this album was originally on Elektra, this lapse in taste astounds me.
To be fair the album itself isn’t rotten to the core. It’s a middling example of blues-rock. It’s not dreadful, but it’s a long way short of brilliant and for me a profound disappointment after the varied delights of their first album.
The Byrds-alike Paper To Write On is my standout track and the Mad Dogs influenced Makes No Difference the other highlight. It is not the same song as The Band’s It Makes No Difference.
One More Time has a touch of bluegrass in its violin playing, with slide guitar coming in later. But it’s a really irritating song, with a clippers clop beat and falsetto vocal.
So that’s a big thumbs up for Crabby Appleton and a could have done so much better for Rotten To the Core.
What does it all *mean*?
Going progressive wasn’t necessarily progress
Goes well with…
The Hollies Greatest Hits and the The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack
Might suit people who like…
Early 70s psychedelic pop