In addition to having arguably the worst band name ever (and one not at all indicative of their sound), the Flamin' Groovies were completely unlike any of their San Francisco contemporaries (Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, etc.). Instead, the band's loud, basic approach had more in common with The Sonics and The Stooges. Flamingo, the band's third studio set, was their most raucous and raunchy slab of hard charging rock 'n' roll yet. The album's primitive, demo-like sound captures the band bringing it live in the studio, and their impassioned performances and fantastic energy show that at least they believed in what they were doing, even if nobody else "got it" at the time but for a few cult fanatics. Though hardly diverse, the songwriting dips into enough genres - primarily '50s based rock n' roll and rockabilly, but also punky garage rockers, a slow acoustic song, a light and catchy vocal showcase, and even a moody, Lennon-esque listen - to keep things interesting. Sure, about half of these songs get by more on sweat and energy than inspired songwriting, but at their best ("Headin' For The Texas Border," "Keep A Knockin'," "Road House") the band's music, unlike many of their more popular contemporaries, sounds as fresh and exciting today as the day it was released.
Teenage Head (Buddha Records '71, '99) Rating: A-
This has one of the coolest album covers ever. The music matches the tough guy posing, too, with the band adopting a slower Stonesy style over the frenetic '50s-based rockers that highlighted much of Flamingo. It's fitting that the Stones themselves allegedly were big fans of this album, with Mick Jagger allegedly declaring it better than Sticky Fingers. Not by a longshot in my book, but this is still a very good, and, like Flamingo, surprisingly diverse album. For example, "City Limits" (a funny track about a hick in the big city) and "32-20" (a cover of an old Robert Johnson tune) are excellent country blues numbers, while "Evil Hearted Ada" is a dead on Elvis Presley impersonation, and "Doctor Boogie" is indeed a solid blues-based boogie. Elsewhere, the superb, easily singable opener "High Flyin’ Baby" is all Stonesy swagger, "Have You Seen My Baby?" turns up the amps and quickens the pace for a fun update of a Randy Newman song, "Yesterday's Numbers" is another really good bluesy mid-tempo rocker, and the terrific title track is all about its sleazy atmosphere and Nuggets-styled simplicity. Saving the best for last, the truly great "Whiskey Woman" is a pretty yet edgy tour-de-force that builds in intensity throughout, culminating with an exciting climax. Alas, singer-songwriter Roy Loney would leave the band after Teenage Head, and a drastically reconfigured version of the band led by guitarist-songwriter Cyril Jordan with new singer Chris Wilson would emerge five years later. Teenage Head was the high point of the Loney years, and, taken in tandem with Flamingo (both albums complement each other nicely), it makes a convincing case for the Flamin' Groovies as one of the early '70s most unsung bands. Note: Flamingo and Teenage Head were reissued with a slew of bonus tracks, most of which are oldies covers, in 1999.
Shake Some Action (Buddha Records '76, '99) Rating: B+
After Roy Loney and his bluesy Stones fixation left the band, Cyril Jordan retooled the Flamin’ Groovies so that he could indulge in his true twin passions: The Beatles and Chuck Berry. With a dash of Dave Edmunds, it should be added, since he produced this album and helped shape its sound. Truth be told, the reconstituted band spent their five years between albums well, producing at least two bonafide should’ve been classics in the title track, which is 4 1/2 minutes of power pop perfection, and “You Tore Me Down,” a song so gorgeous that not even Yo La Tengo could improve upon it (okay, they probably did, but only slightly). There are several other very good songs, too (the best of the rest includes “Yes It’s True,” “Please Please Girl,” “I’ll Cry Alone,” “I Saw Her,” and “I Can’t Hide”), though I far prefer their Beatles imitations to their generic Berry homages. After all, they have the Merseybeat guitar jangle and harmonies of the Fab Four down pat, though like everyone else they can’t hope to consistently compete with The Beatles songwriting-wise, putting them more in line with the also quite good but less magical likes of Badfinger than The Beatles. Similar to the early Beatles albums, almost half of the songs here are covers (including a Beatles and a Chuck Berry cover), though it’s their own originals that shine brightest. Shake Some Action was a strange record to be making in 1976, and once again the Flamin’ Groovies failed to find a significant audience, as making the right music at the wrong time seems to be their legacy above all else, which is pretty damn admirable if you think about it. Note: The generous 24-track compilation Groovies Greatest Grooves selects the best songs from Shake Some Action and its two less successful but still worthwhile follow ups, Now (1978) and Jumpin' in the Night (1979), while also including the earlier songs “Teenage Head,” the great anti-drug song “Slow Death” and ‘50s styled rocker “Tallahassee Lassie” (both recorded in 1972), and a later recording of Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High” (recorded in 1981).
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