Ghost Riders / Efficient Space – By Adam Turner

Words by the ever erudite Adam Turner.

Australian label Efficient Space, operating out of Melbourne, have a new compilation out, called Ghost Riders – seventeen nuggets (and I use the word knowing it’s Lenny Kaye heritage) from the USA, recorded in the period 1965 – 1974. Pulled together by Lausanne-based graphic designer, Ivan Leichti, the collection is billed as a ‘North American road trip… a coming-of-age garage soul narrative compilation’. Seventeen slices of psych-folk, teenage dreams, broken-hearted late-night tales, loners in Levi’s and fringed buckskin jackets, urban cowboys and country kids lost in the city. All those beautiful cliches of late `60s and early `70s counterculture, but these songs are where the essence of those cliches can be found. Many of the songs were B-sides – the treasure buried on the other side of the single – 7”s with £40 price tags on Discogs (or singles that have no price because Discogs have never had a copy listed for sale). The kind of thing you hope you’ll turn up at a boot sale or in a charity shop – but never do.

Most of the artists here are one shot efforts, the song compiled on the album one of the few (no more than two in many cases) they recorded to tape before reality bit, jobs and real life beckoned, and dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom remained dreams. The writers and musicians may well still be out there somewhere, retired now but occasionally telling the story of the time Grandad made a record. Many of the songs sound like they knew it wouldn’t happen, that they weren’t the next Beatles, Byrds ,or Stones. That they knew they weren’t even the next regularly gigging bar band. That they had just one afternoon to put it down. The production is smothered in `60s reverb. The panelled walls of suburban recording studios are audible. Young players find their way around Animals guitar parts and singers share their pain, voices wobbling and straining. Some highlights…

The compilation opens with an all-girl group, The Mod 4, and their song A Puppet eerie and layered in echo with a high pitched vocal and wheezy organ. A wracked and lysergic way to start the album.

The Yardley’s Just Remember – a 1967 flip-side released on their own label -follows with more organ, a tambourine right up close to the mic, and an untutored plea of unrequited love. It sounds like it was recorded in a booth for a few dollars during a lunchbreak somewhere in Arkansas. ‘Just remember you can call me, any time at all/ if the darkness should find you/ And the tears stream from your eyes/ Just remember there’s someone thinking of you/ He’s thinking of you all the time’. The lamenting “woah woahs” as the organ fades out add to the drama.

Newports` Feelin’ Low, another 1967 B-side, shimmers and shakes – a gorgeous guitar solo illuminating the middle section of the song as the drummer clicks along. ‘Feel so bad’, the singer croons lost and alone, ‘I got the blues in my basement’.

Still in `67, The Prisners Dream’s Autumn Days, is the sole single from a group of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, teenagers already so melancholic that they sound over before they’ve even begun. Their misspelled name reverberating down the decades.

Tresa Leigh’s Until Then is a glorious high school mope. A garage band plodding away behind her as she sings, ‘I’m just gonna sit here and cry/ I’m just gonna sit here and die’. While also sounding utterly bereft, bored with the whole affair.

I Will Go, by The Tempters, is a freaked out slice of sparse, spooked garage rock – the guitars wobbling through valve amps, and the drummer playing with a broken kit. Four minutes and fourteen seconds of 1966 B-side heaven. 

Jerry McGee’s Twilight Zone, is from 1965, and a very empty sounding studio in Pasadena Texas – vampy organ, horns and a crooning, reverb drenched vocal. It`s a strange soul/ psyche crossover.

The Common People’s tripped out, ghostly folk- psyche cover of The Beatles` Here, There And Everywhere, is unsettling. Singer Lyn Nowicki coming through the speakers like someone lost, coming down from a long dark night of the soul, looking for one more cigarette and one more coffee before crawling into bed.

Just before the finale, the melodrama of Toe Head’s Goodnight Jackie, is Summer’s Over, by Dennis Harte – a wracked and fragile, rolling song of loss from 1973, the sublime sound of the best summer ever gone, and autumn creeping in already, teenagers in the early `70s  pinning down the dewy-eyed pain of looking back. The band, members of The Left Banke, play like it’s only the second or third time they’ve run through the song. Everything wrapped in warm and hazy but brittle production. The guitar solo is fluffed. Dennis’ vocal is equally unrehearsed – the voice of a person genuinely bereft. It`s worth the price of admission alone.

Ghost Riders is released today, on the always excellent Efficient Space.

You can find more pukka prose from Adam Turner over at his own brilliant blog, The Bagging Area.

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