Saturday, December 10, 2011

Smoke - My Friend Jack

Regardless of who came up with the term "freakbeat" -- either Bam Caruso czar Phil Smee created it in the mid-'80s or Richard Allen came up with it as the name for his psych fanzine -- it's generally agreed that the Smoke were one of the best examples of the style (along with the Birds, the Creation, Les Fleur de Lys, and a few others) during the "swinging London" era of the mid-'60s. This 23-track comp of feedback-rich primeval psych-beat is highlighted by their finest moment right up front: "My Friend Jack" hit the U.K. Top 50 in 1967, despite the fact that it was banned by the BBC. (According to the excellent liner notes, the Beeb banned the song after the Bishop of Southwark -- who misconstrued it as a celebration of drug abuse -- contacted EMI head Sir Joseph Lockwood to complain about the song right in the midst of hysteria over a then-recent Rolling Stones drug bust, LSD, and "moral decline.") In fact, as the liner notes explain, "My Friend Jack" (included here in both the single and the sensational longer version) received airplay on pirate radio stations in the U.K. and shot to number one in Germany for an incredible seven weeks. Also included is their scorching version of Otis Redding's "She Put the Hurt on Me" and their Jeff Beck/Dave Mason-produced "Utterly Simple" (which had appeared on Traffic's Mr. Fantasy album). However, a few tracks are missing here from the Yorkshire group's outstanding oeuvre. The now out of print 1994 Repertoire CD included their 1967 album plus rare acetates and live tracks; their first single -- 1965's "Keep a Hold of What You Got" b/w "She's a Liar" -- is also sadly missing in action. Even so, Retroactive/Sin-Drome's compilation is a solid improvement on previously issued collections, due to clean remastering and a colorful booklet. Also, a track written by the band called "I Am Only Dreaming" -- falsely attributed to them as being recorded under the Chords Five alias on previous Smoke compilations -- has been removed, thanks in part to the diligence of archivist Smee.

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