Music

Various Artists: A-Square (Of Course)

Unavailable for 40 years, the legendary catalog of Michigan's A-Square Records has finally been reissued -- and lives up to its exalted reputation.


Various Artists

A-Square (Of Course)

Subtitle: The Story of Michigan's Legendary A-Square Records
Label: Big Beat
US Release Date: 2008-05-26
UK Release Date: 2008-05-26
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Between the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and the generational struggles between teens who wanted to rock and parents who’d had enough excitement with World War II, the societal upheaval of 1960s America produced a garage band explosion that almost literally shook the nation. From Mansfield, Ohio, to Ft. Worth, Texas, from San Francisco to Seattle, from Minneapolis to Plattsburgh, New York, it seemed that every city had a scene -- with thousands of aspiring combos committing their songs to tape and vinyl. But perhaps no groundswell was as exciting culturally and artistically as the one rumbling in Michigan, mostly in Detroit.

The Motor City obviously had Motown and established jazz and blues scenes, but its late ’60s white rock ’n’ roll was every bit as impressive. Bob Seger, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and the Amboy Dukes scaled the national charts, while the MC5 and the Stooges laid down a enduring legacy manifested in punk rock rebels for generations to come. And even when one peels away the layers of the notables, Michigan’s obscurities reveal a further embarrassment of riches still being uncovered by collectors today.

A-Square (Of Course) documents the legacy of one of the scene’s catalysts, Jeep Holland, who recruited bands throughout the state before producing, promoting, and above all releasing many of the best acts on his A-Square label. Holland (who died in 1998) was right there at the beginning with the MC5, Iggy Pop, the Rationals, cult faves the Scott Richard Case (SRC), Dick Wagner, and various forgotten bands who could have also found fame under the right circumstances.

Despite numerous overtures, Holland’s tape archives were virtually impassable for years -- as the original records shot up to ridiculous values and the imagination ran wild about what else was stashed away. While producer Alec Palao’s liner notes reveal that tapes of pivotal combos (the Children, the Gang, and Jagged Edge) are sadly lost, the liberation of the A-Square vaults is every bit the momentous occasion one would expect.

Forever linked to the MC5 thanks to the A-Square 45 pairing of the red-on-the-meter original versions of “Looking at You” and “Borderline”, which reappear here, Holland was actually just as inclined toward melodic and/or R&B-driven combos (and in fact didn’t get along with legendary MC5 manager John Sinclair at all). The A-Square catalog represents the breadth of ’60s rock ’n’ roll as viewed through a Michigan prism, including the blue-eyed soul of the Rationals (soon to get their own their own Big Beat comp), the proto-psychedelia of the Scott Richard Case, and the pop sensibilities of the Thyme.

The Case’s best moments with Holland were undoubtedly on their singles, including a sneering remake of the Pretty Things’ “Get the Picture” and an original called “Who Is That Girl” (dig the sneaky organ riff), but youthful covers of the Who (“Cobwebs and Strange”) and another Pretties tune (“Midnight to Six Man”) are worthy vault finds for garage enthusiasts. Similarly, the Thyme covered Neil Diamond so brilliantly on 1967’s “Love to Love” that Holland landed it on a major (Bang Records), had a local hit with an interesting rearrangement of “Time of the Season” before the Zombies’ original belatedly climbed the charts, and did a nice minor-key original titled “Someday”. However, the vaults underscore their forgotten legacy with another original called “Window Song” -- plus a very cool garage cover of an obscure (and great) Gene Clark solo track, “I Found You”.

Though none of their six singles were on A-Square, the Bossmen -- Dick Wagner’s first band -- are also represented by three previously unreleased cuts, most notably an early version of “I Cannot Stop You” -- which Wagner cohorts the Cherry Slush revamped into a killer pop-punk groover in 1967. Equally impressive is an unreleased 1968 demo of Dick Wagner and the Frost’s “Mystery Man”, which is surprising -- to this author, anyway -- given how lackluster the Frost’s three Vanguard albums are. (In fairness to Wagner, however, there’s much to like on his later work with Ursa Major, Lou Reed, and Alice Cooper.)

Wagner got heavy with those three, and so so does Half-Life on the best vault find of all, “Get Down” -- an explosion of power chords and dirty fuzz that fits nicely beside inclusions by the MC5, the Up, the Apostles (a punky, pre-New York Dolls cover of “Stranded in the Jungle”), and the legacy of Iggy. While it certainly isn’t the Stooges or even anything more than ordinary musically, the Prime Movers’ previously unreleased 1966 cover of “I’m a Man” (Yardbirds arrangement done at Bo Diddley tempo) is undeniably historic: James Osterberg (a.k.a., Iggy Pop) drums and gets perhaps his first recorded vocal. (Iggy didn’t sing with his first band, the Iguanas.)

History is what A-Square (Of Course) mainly represents. But there’s also a lot of fine music.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image