Scattered throughout the minefield of modern music, albums of covers have been recorded by musicians and non musicians for infinite reasons – influence (Ramones), homage (Bowie), lack of ideas (Metallica), career destruction (Kevin Rowland), insanity (William Shatner), celebrity egotism (many culprits) – and probably very many more for no good reason whatsoever. They tend to be either vanity projects or brazen styrofoam to fill gaps in contractual obligation. For a band built on exceptional songwriting, it’s probably curious that the Radiators From Space would choose to indulge in a project of this nature. Some may even be of opinion that they should be making up for lost time and expanding their oeuvre rather than bingeing on the mildew of bygone days, not that I imagine the band cares very much for such opinions… But SOUND CITY BEAT is not an obvious delve into the garage days of the Radiators by way of unnecessarily reheating material penned by the Ramones, Alice Cooper, Flamin’ Groovies, the Velvet Underground and others. Those songs served their purpose as flesh to an under stocked set in formative times but are respectfully left soaking in formaldehyde. This is an album that seizes the opportunity of hindsight, studiously curating gems from what is generally (and mistakenly) considered to be a sepia era of Irish music, inhabited only by Dickie Rock, Irish dancing and some crumpled old raisin with uilleann pipes. Furthermore, what seems at first glance to be a disparate sweep through obscure Irish psych and beat bands 1964 to 1971 transpires to be a painstakingly shaped album, with material chosen for it’s part in a thematic bond, recounting the toils of these bands and the period in which they existed.
Although The Movement’s HEAD FOR THE SUN (composed by a young Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels) seized the Sunrays – Loving Spoonful – Beach Boys formula unashamedly, the heavy fuzz tones of original guaranteed it obscurity, having more in common with those who blended 60’s pop and loud guitars a generation later. It’s here that The Radiators take their cue: a dedication to 3 minutes of harmony, vocal stacked choruses, hand claps and a definite nod in the direction of the Ramones.
An excellent and fairly radical reworking of Taste’s IT’S HAPPENED BEFORE, IT’LL HAPPEN AGAIN is significant in that it almost explains this album by itself. Rory Gallagher’s jazzy blues meander is discarded in favour of the upbeat crisp 60’s garage sound that the Radiators used to great effect on TROUBLE PILGRIM. With a great deal of artistic license, the closing “…stop messing with the kids ” refrain plays on both 60’s mod sloganeering rhetoric and something far more parochial and sinister. Interestingly, this was the sort of song that would have spawned a million boring pub blues bands at a time when the Radiators were attempting a national exorcism of those trappings.
Slim Harpo’s I’M A KING BEE finds it’s way into the sound city beat via Ditch Cassidy’s Kingbees. This is one of two covers of covers included on the album based entirely on performance. In this case, the raw blues stomp sounds like it was purpose written for Steve Rapid’s proto punk vocals.
The Hootenannys 6.10 SPECIAL was a local piece of Ventures/Hank Marvin worship from 1964, the oldest reference point on this album, and while those early strat instrumentals can now sound anodyne, this is given more of a fraught surf vibe. It also serves as a reminder of who the heroes of aspiring teenage guitarists were in the days before Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix.
Eire Apparent’s wigged out psychedelia was mainlined into the feverish pulse of the times and even secured them tour support with Hendrix (who also produced and guested on their SUNRISE album). The Radiators do the mighty YES, I NEED SOMEONE proud and Henry McCullough even drops some fret board scorching into the mix. It’s all the affirmation the track needs. This is one of the album’s standout tracks.
Andwella’s Dream (later truncated to Andwella) traded in psychedelic folk-rock fractals, but when it came to addressing the unhappy isolation and necessity of being exiled in London in order to ply their trade, a more pastoral approach was required. BEHIND THE PAINTED SCREEN’s sentiments are translated effortlessly from a piano-centric ballad into something which reminds me of Gene Clark… another definite album highlight.
Peter Adler is a name that often crops up in histories of Irish music, generally tagged with words like “legendary”. The legacy beyond the legend however is a mere couple of solo singles for Decca in London. The Radiators deliver the brass-punctuated soul of I’M GONNA TURN MY LIFE AROUND without such big band frills, opting for the economic clash of a twin guitar beat band.
Mitch Mahon and the Editions’ YOU GOT WHAT I NEED is another old tainted gem smeared with the trappings of the era – a great song weighed down by indecision and elements of showband décor. The Radiators serve it the complete rescue package and it’s interesting that the end result sounds remarkably like an original Pete Holidai composition.
Greg Shaw’s liner notes for the first PEBBLES compilation album stated, “ It’s been said about the punk bands of the ’60s that they could transform any song into “Louie Louie “, and in terms of entry level guitar jams, the Van Morrison penned GLORIA more than proved itself of equal significance as a callus builder. This track was a key part of the infant Radiators repertoire and in many ways has been the raw garage gene that consistently juxtaposed more sublime moments of the band’s recorded output. Steve Rapid’s sneering delivery could as well have been lifted off a reel-to-reel tape from their earliest recordings.
Of all the compositions chosen for SOUND CITY BEAT, one that has an eerie sense of lyrical custom fit is Thin Lizzy’s DUBLIN, lamenting a social repetition that affected both Lizzy and the Radiators (and countless others, before and after) in the early stages of their musical adventures. There’s a distinct cod-emotion in much of early Lizzy that only Philip Lynott could pull off, so this works by being a bare bones focus on the song’s biographical aspects rather than any sort of emulation of Lizzy’s distinct personality in their brief but wonderful Decca years. The old guard is also represented here by Eamon Carr’s brittle poetic recitation at the start – Somewhat paradoxically, the celtic flavours of Horslips seemed to afford them halcyon days in Ireland when everyone else was on the ferry.
THE LADY WRESTLER is apparently a faux holy grail for Horslips crate diggers. I’m guessing from the sleeve notes that this is due to some clown photoshopping up a non existent DERAM release for whatever purpose. This was an unpublished track inherited by way of a cassette tape and is of significance in that it was originally destined, along with a restrictive record deal, to be their first single. Things may have been very different for Horslips had they not wisely chosen the autonomy of their own OATS label and the glorious JOHNNY’S WEDDING as their debut. It’s hard to imagine that THE LADY WRESTLER would have had the same cultural impact.
The Creatures were a Beatles inspired reinvention of The Hootenannys, complete with some serious mop-top action. TURN OUT THE LIGHT was short, sweet, and apparently banned from RTE Radio for suggesting intimacy, which was not allowed in Ireland in 1966. The great commercial hope of the Dublin Beat scene is presented here as a Pete Holidai pop song, again sounding eerily like his own songwriting.
The second cover of a cover is Sugar Shack’s MORNING DEW featuring a youthful Brian Downey on drums. Their 1968 version of a well-worn standard is much more beat than blues and it is this treatment of the song that the Radiators zone in on.
In 1966, Waterford showband The Blue Aces randomly threw out THAT’S ALL RIGHT, an upbeat Atlantic soul/60’s mod style single with a distinct edge to it. Whether by accident or intention, this put them on the stage in London’s Marquee club, an infinitely hipper experience than holding the house record for attendance at the Atlantic ballroom in Tramore. With another distinctive Steve Rapid vocal and an upbeat pace, the interpretive result is a 60’s garage punk band doing Solomon Burke.
Granny’s Intentions wonderful version of NEVER AN EVERYDAY THING was a Chris Farlowe styled slice of pop soul and somewhat of an isolated commercial aspiration amid the blues and pschedelia of their humble catalogue. Overzealous songwriters whored this song around so much in its time that I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t been revived more over the years. The Radiators strip it down – no brass, strings or huge eurovision choruses – just jangling guitars and gutsy, respectful presentation as the beat classic it deserves to be remembered as. Phil Chevron’s slightly exerted vocal crescendo on the chorus is in contrast to the rounded baritone pomp of pretty much every other version, removing the song’s sentiment away from the clutches of showbiz and placing it in the real world.
Orange Machine’s DR CRIPPEN’S WAITING ROOM was another isolated psychedelic nugget from the b side of one of their 2 singles for Pye. The warbled guitar lead signals a faithful rendition of a fine track that was unfortunately their only original material committed to vinyl.
Skid Row’s finely crafted piece of urban balladry, NEW PLACES, OLD FACES is scrubbed up and revived in style – a treatment worthy of this important fragment of Dublin’s musical landscape. Although charming, the original suffered from a very young Phil Lynott’s unsure vocals and what sounded like a 6-year-old practising recorder in the background.
It’s kind of fitting on an album full of tales of lost talent, musical struggle, heartbreak and ultimate failure, that things should be rounded off by YOU TURN ME ON (THE TURN-ON SONG), Ian Whitcomb’s frivolous and disposable falsetto afterthought which reached number 8 in the billboard charts in 1965. Alas, the farcical legions of screaming girls are absent in the Radiators ragtime wind down of the album… it’s the sound of a band quietly bowing out after those youthful dreams of stardom somehow evaporate.
As much of this music was previously unfamiliar to me, there was an opportunity to approach this sonically as an album of new material, spinning it in it’s entirety several times before opening the booklet to investigate the sources. It was curious to hear how a collection of songs written by others might be molded into a Radiators album, not just a covers album performed by the band. Given the stylistic leanings of their last studio album, the re-evaluation works exceptionally well and is of considerable benefit to the delivery of the bittersweet narrative under the surface. This is all explained at length in the excellent liner notes, with historic retrospection by Ted Carroll and immaculate detailing by Philip Chevron. As to the question of whether it all serves as a history lesson or new material… It’s a lot of both and more. It has the distinction of being identifiably and creatively the Radiators as well as an excellent education on the beat generation of Irish music. There’s also an interesting juxtaposition in the cover photograph (taken at the same location as one of their first ever band shots) – While the rest are scrubbed up enough to masquerade as a semi respectable showband, ready to appease or subvert, there’s something in the positioning centre stage of Philip Chevron’s vaudeville snake-oil dealer/seedy band manager/Joycean Mr. Punch character that suggests a lot about the fate of the bands of SOUND CITY BEAT.