The Action were a George Martin-produced soul-pop band in mid-’60s England, musical brothers of the early Who, The Small Faces, and the Zombies. Despite their powerful connections, solid songwriting and excellent singer, they never charted a hit or cut an album. What remains of their legacy is a CD’s worth of single A- and B-sides and outtake recordings like the demos that make up Rolled Gold.
In the liner notes, Action guitarist Alan King writes, “the songs — all originals — were recorded as ‘demos’ for a forthcoming album that never came to fruition.” And Vernon Joynson, in his indispensable guide The Tapestry of Delights, remarks that the band recorded “lots of material” for famed music impresario and producer Giorgio Gomelsky between mid-1967 and mid-1968. This is most likely that material. It’s a mystery why Gomelsky and/or Parlophone (the label for which King recalls recording the demos) would have passed on this material. Even in its raw form these songs are as rich and vibrant as any comparable finished material of the era. Had they been recorded with full studio regalia and trimmed down into an album, it could have been a classic on the level of The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle (sic). Nonetheless, fans of ’60s freakbeat, soul-pop, psychedelic music and early hard rock can rejoice that this disc has been issued in all its raw glory.
The Action’s music on Rolled Gold is taut, soulful and inventive. The quartet of Reg King (vocals), Alan King (guitar), Michael Evans (bass), and Roger Powell (drums), was spruced up for these recordings with the addition of keyboardist and flautist Ian Whiteman and the uniformly excellent lead guitar of Martin Stone. Together they flesh out the songs with a raw but full treatment. Of special note are the soulful, psychedelic-tinged multi-tracked lead vocals of Reg King, and the sugary-sour squeak of the fuzzed-out guitar leads. But everyone contributes something. Whiteman’s flute playing has nothing in common with his contemporary Ian Anderson’s (of Jethro Tull) — his parts may have been sketches for larger arrangements. Whatever, the flute adds a novel dimension to the overall sound when it appears. And the rhythm section cuts a good tread throughout. The music seems to have been in more advanced stages of development than the vocals, with strategic breaks, solos, intros and tags diversifying some of the more samey numbers.
There’s a great album in these demos. Some of the material suffers from the undeveloped lyrics; as King states in the liner notes, “a fair number of tracks were barely more than ideas for songs.” In some cases, such as “Strange Roads” the initial idea is interesting enough, and designed in such a way that no development is needed, and the tune works as more that a sketch. But others, like “Look at the View”, might as well have been made up of nonsense syllables. Even though the music and arrangement is nicely plotted it can’t really fly as a finished song. But there’s enough great stuff here to pull a brilliant 30-minute album (no skimpier than other running times of the day) out of the 50 minutes of the CD. The rest of the material, due to the lyric sketches mainly, is relegated to bonus-track quality — some great sounds, rhythms, solos, and melodies, but falling short of song-hood.
The obvious album emerges (in no particular order) as the following, conveniently concentrated at the top of the disc:
1. Come Around (CD track 1)
2. Something to Say (CD track 2)
3. Love Is All (CD track 3)
4. Icarus (CD track 4)
5. Strange Roads (CD track 5)
6. Things You Cannot See (CD track 6)
7. Brain (CD track 7)
8. Really Doesn’t Matter (CD track 10)
9. I’m a Stranger (CD track 11)
It’s really the first seven that are indispensable, but the last two tracks have enough going for them that they enrich the other material, but other combinations are certainly possible. And if this nit-picky reduction of the CD seems to be a bit much, and I suppose it does, blame it on the quality of the material — it’s so good that it produces a compulsion to have it arranged for the most flattering presentation — to give it a revisionist placement with the other great albums of the era.