Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wild Cherries - That's Life (1965-68)

While the Wild Cherries made just four singles in the 1960s, those 45s (all issued in 1967 and 1968) were enough to cement a permanent cult reputation for the group among '60s collectors, as well as establish them as one of the most creative Australian '60s groups. Fusing soul and early psychedelia with intimations of hard rock and progressive rock, their singles "Krome Plated Yabby," "That's Life," and "Gotta Stop Lying" were unpredictably structured songs full of unusual instrumental effects and shifts in tempo and mood, though anchored by a sullen rebellious attitude. the Wild Cherries, of course, were not the only bands in the world venturing into such territory at the time, nor the best. Others were as well; some of the early work of the MC5 is roughly comparable, though not as pop-oriented. the Wild Cherries were the only outfit doing such things on record in Australia, however, and it's unfortunate that they dissolved before having a chance to record more, including an LP.
the Wild Cherries (briefly known at their outset as the Black Cherries) were formed in late 1964 and early 1965 by keyboardist Les Gilbert with friends from Melbourne University's architecture school. Initially they were, like many mid-'60s British bands, heavily influenced by the R&B/rock of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. The 16 tracks they recorded (almost all of them covers) in the mold of British groups like the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Who, and early Manfred Mann were issued for the first time in 2007, and show them to be a good if derivative act in that style.
After several personnel changes, however, the Wild Cherries developed a more original and soul-influenced sound. The key additions were soulful singer Danny Robinson and (in January 1967) lead guitarist Lobby Loyde, formerly in the Brisbane band the Purple Hearts, who had already cut some admirably tough British R&B/rock-styled singles. Loyde not only generally added ferocity to the arrangements, but also wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on their singles. Another key change was Gilbert's decision to buy a Hammond organ, which also added power to the band's attack.

the Wild Cherries got a deal with Australia's Festival label in 1967, but their singles (whose flips featured more standard soul-rock songs than the more innovative tracks picked for the A-sides) didn't do well commercially, though "That's Life" made number 38 in the Melbourne charts. Feeling like the group's spark was dimming, in late 1968 Gilbert left the band he'd founded. Most of the other members exited almost immediately afterward, with drummer Keith Barber joining top New Zealand band the La De Das and Robinson joining the vocal trio the Virgil Brothers. Loyde briefly tried to keep the Wild Cherries going with other members, but was gone by the end of 1968, joining Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs. the Wild Cherries, with an entirely new lineup from the previous year, struggled onward until breaking up in April 1969, though Loyde briefly formed a Wild Cherries with other musicians in 1971 for one single, "I Am the Sea." Both sides of all four 1967-1968 Wild Cherries singles, along with 16 previously unreleased 1965-1966 tracks, were compiled for the 2007 CD compilation That's Life.

If you go just by the records they managed to release during the 1960s, there's not really enough to make a Wild Cherries album. This reissue, however, makes the most of out their slim recorded legacy, combining both sides of their four 1967-1968 singles with 16 previously unreleased 1965-1966 bonus tracks. It's the eight tracks (all written or co-written by guitarist Lobby Loyde) from the singles, though, that are the truly significant ones, since it was on these that the Wild Cherries laid down the music that was among the most innovative in '60s Australian rock. On the most notable of those 45s, the group fused psychedelia, early hard/progressive rock, and soul in a manner that no other Australian band of the time was doing on record, particularly on "Krome Plated Yabby," "That's Life," and "Gotta Stop Lying." These are somewhat similar to the rock being played by some Detroit outfits of the late '60s, and if they're certainly more pop-oriented than, say, the MC5, they do offer a pretty intriguing blend of creative ambition and muscular crunch. The other, far less well-known songs from the singles might surprise listeners who've heard the other tracks on compilations, as they're more straightforward soul-rock than you'd expect (adding some pop-oriented orchestration on "I Don't Care"), though they're fairly good as that style goes. The remaining 16 tracks -- taken from studio outtakes and home/live recordings -- capture the group at an earlier pre-Loyde stage at which they were much more an R&B/rock band along the lines of British bands like the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. In fact, just one of these songs (the quite admirably mean'n'lean "Get Out of My Life") is a group original; not only are all of the others covers, but most of them are covers of tunes that major British Invasion bands like the Yardbirds, the Who, and Manfred Mann put on their early recordings. This section of the CD isn't nearly as original as the Loyde-led material, then, and it's not as well recorded either, though the fidelity's satisfactory. Still, the Wild Cherries do sound like a good, tough, mid-'60s British R&B band at this stage in their development, and without those tracks...well, there wouldn't be enough for a CD. As is standard for the Half a Cow label, the packaging is superb, featuring a 36-page liner booklet jammed with photos.

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