Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Blue Things - Let the Blue Things Blow Your Mind

Along with the Remains, the Blue Things are serious contenders for the title of the Great Lost Mid-'60s American Band. The Kansas group was extremely popular in the Midwest and Texas, but remained unknown on a national level, despite a deal with RCA. Piloted by the songwriting of singer and guitarist Val Stecklein, the group often sounded like a cross between the Byrds and the Beau Brummels with their melodic, energetic, guitar-oriented folk-rock and haunting harmonies. The group's sole album (Listen & See, 1966) and several singles chart a rapid growth from British Invasion-like material with a heavy Searchers and Buddy Holly influence to full-blown psychedelic efforts with careening guitars, organ, and backward effects. Quite innovative for the time, these 1966 psychedelic singles met with no more than regional success. The group's impetus was derailed by the departure of Stecklein at the end of 1966, although they struggled on for a bit. Stecklein went to California and recorded a disappointing MOR folk album for Dot in the late '60s that reprised some of his Blue Things songs.

Hailing from Lawrence, Kansas, The Blue Things were to the mid-west what The Beatles were to England. Starting out in 1964, as The Blue Boys, they played a British Invasion type sound. Over their short lived career, they were to release a plethora of singles, that have become legendary for their innovation and originality. In 1966 The Blue Things changed their style to psychedelic and their sound was similar to The Beatles' sound on Revolver. This two cd set contains a career spanning 65 tracks with many previously unreleased recordings and stunning sound!

A 24 page booklet, details the complete career of the band and is rich in photos and recollections.

Let the Blue Things Blow Your Mind is easily the biggest single-release Blue Things collection ever (or likely to be) compiled. The two-disc set contains no less than 65 tracks spread across two-and-a-half hours, including 16 unreleased cuts and three radio ads (for the Blue Things, not by the Blue Things). Since this does have everything from their sole album and all of their non-LP A-sides and B-sides, one hesitates to point out some relatively minor problems, especially since the LP and 45s comprise some of the finest obscure mid-'60s American folk-rock and early psychedelia. Still, those flaws are the kind of things completists might want to know about. First, the unreleased versions of the outtakes "Desert Wind" and "Waiting for Changes" are distinctly inferior to the previously issued versions of these songs (which are not included on this anthology), missing some backup vocals in each case. While it's good for collectors to have the 45 version of "I Must Be Doing Something Wrong," with an oboe (missing from the LP version) that's alternately effective and irritating, ultimately it's not as good as the oboe-less one. The mix of "Now's the Time," a jangly folk-rock highlight of the group's LP, sounds oddly flat and unbalanced. And while all the previously unreleased material is a boon for Blue Things fans, much of it's devoted to relatively slightly different versions of songs that have already seen the light of day elsewhere, either on official mid-'60s Blue Things releases or reissues that dug up some unissued stuff. The previously unheard tracks do include a good straight-out rock & roll number from a 1964 session ("Punkin' Doodle") and a nice version of "I Can't Have Yesterday" with a significantly different folk-rock arrangement than the official LP rendition, but the hit covers from a December 1966 session are fairly uninteresting. And finally, though the 24-page booklet offers lengthy liner notes and lots of photos, it somehow fails to include songwriting credits anywhere. Do all these picky complaints mean you should avoid this release? Of course not; there's lots of fine music here that will appeal to both the general folk-rock/psychedelic/garage fan and the Blue Things devotee. Val Stecklein shines as one of the era's finest overlooked singers and songwriters throughout most of the program, and many listeners looking for something that crosses the Byrds, Beau Brummels, and early Beatles will be pleased and excited if they haven't yet come across the group. Still, the general fan's better off trying to find the 2001 CD reissue of their sole LP (on Rewind, with non-LP bonus tracks from mid-'60s singles). Additionally, the completist should also know for all this two-CD set's generous length, it doesn't quite have everything, a few outtakes remaining available only on some earlier Blue Things LP and CD collections on the Cicadelic label.

CD 1
The Blueboys, Damon Studios, Kansas City: September 1964 (1-2, 5), July 7 1964 (3-4, 6-7)
The Bluethings, First Single: Dec.1964 (8-9), Second Single, May 1965 (9-10)
Sullivan Studios - Oklahoma City: May 1965 (12-17), September 1965 (30), November 1965 (18-21,33)
Studio B - Nashville: August 1965 (23-29)
The Hi-Plains Singers (with Val Stecklein) Audio House, Lawrence, Kansas: 1963 (31-32).

CD 2
The Bluethings- Studio B: November 1965 (1-2, 4-7, 28), February 1966 (3, 8-9), September 1966 (15-17), March 1967 (18-20, 25-27)
Audio House: January 6, 1966 (29), December 1966 (21-24)
Val Stecklein  Audio House: April 3 1966 (10-13) August 1966 (14)

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