Vigrass & Osbourne Queues LP (UNI, 1972)
Rule #328 in the Scott Soriano Guide to Record Hunting: Anything on UNI is worth a chance. The first UNI record I bought was probably a Strawberry Alarmclock 45. The first one that I am aware that I bought was the Mirettes' classic funk side Whirlpool (a real tuff soul sister funk burner with former Ikettes on vox). After that I made a point to pick up any UNI record I found. Of course, I have picked up plenty of duds, but the payoffs have been great. Vigrass & Osbourne is a good example.
One day, digging through 45s, I found a copy of Vigrass & Osbourne's Ballerina. Instinct would tell me to avoid records titled Ballerina done by a singer-songwriter team (the _____ & ______ is a giveaway), but the record was on UNI so I had to take a chance. I am VERY glad I did. Ballerina is one of the best produced, creepiest, most haunting songs I own. The song's texture is heavy but the heaviness is created by very little - a piano, moog, and bass. Simple notes fill the song's frame. The song is lush but not overdone. The production is remarkable. The topper is that the song is about a dying child!
Before I get back to the production I need to go off on the song's lyrical theme. A little girl named Emily wants to be a ballerina and like all would-be little girl ballerinas she wants to see a ballerina in real life. She has ballerina's in her dreams but not in real life. And then she dies. There is a little more than that but you get the idea. Set to music and the story is 100% Creepsville and I love it! Before you get on my ass for being a morbid SOB, please point your finger toward France and at Jacques Brel.
In 1961, Jacques Brel wrote a song called Le Moribund. It was about a guy saying bye bye to his girlfriend, his folks, and his pals, the young man's death quickly approaching thanks to some unnamed disease. The poet Rod McKuen translated it and it was soon recorded in English by one of the Kingston Trio and the Beach Boys. In 1974, fresh from the Poppy Family, Terry Jacks grabbed the song, fudge with the lyrics and recorded Seasons in the Sun. I was a kid when that song hit the radio and every day for nearly a year I heard it played. I think it was the first time I really listened to the lyrics of a song. I remember crying the first time I figured out it was about someone dying (and, no, that was not just last year). Later, lines like "too much wine and too much song" and "the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach" sent me to fits of laughter.
I don't know if Seasons in the Sun created a template, but I certainly became aware (and a fan) of songs about dying people. I am the only person I know that digs John Denver's Sunshine on My Shoulders and remember the movie, Sunshine, as well. I am certain I am the only one within shouting distance that knows the lyrics to Michael Murphey's, which isn't about a dying child or wife but a horse that freezes to death. I remember Love Story, both the theme and the movie. And who can forget Brian's Song, the only movie that Real Men are allowed to cry over (about the death of football player Brian Piccolo). The Seventies were full of great terminally ill themed pop art. If I had been aware of Vigrass & Osbourne's Ballerina back then, I would have cried my wussy head off while playing the record over and over. Nowadays, I play the record over and over and marvel over the production.
The man responsible for the music and the production is Jeff Wayne. Name does mean anything to you? Listen to the three tracks and think hard. There is the heavy, lush, darkness of Ballerina, done with minimal instrumentation. Forever Autumn, a cult hit among Sunshine pop fanatics, also has a dark undercurrent. The last entry, An Invitation should be a give away. Again the songs fills with little. Two things should yank at your memory: The bass and the beginning of the chorus. Puzzled? Yeah so was I. Then it clicked. I dug through the record collection and found that Jeff Wayne has produced David Essex's Rock On, one of the best singles and most underrated albums of the era (it is also very easy to find so there is nothing keeping you from tracking that one down). On Rock On, Wayne creates some of pop's darkest sounds. Dub, funk, & glam are all used and it is a combo that is pretty unique for the time. While Wayne doesn't screw with dub, funk, or glam here, he does create a similar dark dreamy feel. One constant in Wayne's early 70s production is Chris Spedding, the Brit guitarist who produced some Sex Pistols demos (what I first knew him for).
So there you go: The Mirettes, terminal illness, French tearjerkers, Seasons in the Sun, David Essex, lush minimalism, and Chris Spedding. The only thing I have to add is that the Ballerina 45 forced me to track down the album it came from, Queues. It was Vigrass & Osbourne's only full length. It produced no hits and V & O drifted back to their songwriter roots, sessioning on other people's stuff and working with Jeff Wayne on several other projects. Queues isn't easy to find but when you do come across it, you'll be able to get it for less than ten.
Reprise, Warner Brothers, even Capitol - it was a great era for all the West Coast labels.
I used to have a 45 by the Jeff Wayne Space Shuttle, doing a cover of Lalo Schifrin's "Ape Shuffle" theme from the Planet of the Apes TV show (I think). I traded it away to some kook in Sweden for a couple of heavy funk 45s.
Anyway, the big hit from "War of the Worlds" was Justin Hayward singing "Forever Autumn", which I always assumed was written for "War of the Worlds". Now I read your post, seeing Jeff Wayne's name and a 1972 song called "Forever Autumn". So, I'm guessing it's the same song. So I download it. Jeez -- not only is it the same song, but it is almost note-for-note THE SAME FREAKING PRODUCTION!
Now, for some reason, I want to hear "I Don't Want to Love You But You Got Me Anyway" by the Sutherland Brorthers & Quiver....