Sudden impact: Best of the label that brought us the Small Faces…and Jimmy Tarbuck.
“LIFE IS PREGNANT with promise and anticipation but is murdered by the hand of the inevitable.” Thus, somewhat obscurely, spake The Nice in 1968, concluding their hectic six-minute amalgamation of Dvorak’s New World Symphony and ‘America’ from West Side Story. Behind the acid-addled pretension, the group was protesting US actions in Vietnam, going as far as burning the stars-and-stripes onstage, a scandal which saw them and their unwieldy single banned from Yankee soil. Not something we’d see, say, Oasis doing these days. Pop music just isn’t that important any more.
Not that the music on this extravagant six-disc set is terribly important, either. The Immediate label, brainchild of The Rolling Stones’ manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, was the first pop independent in the UK — a deliberate attempt to wrest the initiative away from fumblingly unhip majors like EMI and Decca. Founded in 1965, Immediate staggered on until the last day of 1969, thereupon going into voluntary liquidation with debts amounting to what was then the handsome sum of £100,000, Between forming and folding, it had a dozen or so respectable local chart successes and put out some brisk-selling albums, including a UK Number One with the Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Here, the label’s story is told through its complete singles catalogue, A and B sides — something which Stax just about warranted on its similar sets and which Motown would certainly justify, but which stretches credibility and, indeed, patience well beyond breaking-point in the case of Oldham’s little outfit.
Immediate got lucky first time by licensing the McCoys’ three-chord shout-up ‘Hang On Sloopy’, with which this set begins. Then followed a year of permutations on the same theme by The McCoys, a series of feeble covers of American folk-rock hits, and some homegrown Mod psyche-pop from third-rate groups like The Poets and Les Fleurs-de-Lys, now much coveted by obscurity-buffs. However, by 1966-7, Immediate was reflecting the Swinging London ethos rather well, due mainly to covers of sharp Jagger-Richards songs from the Stones’ two pop albums of the time: Aftermath and Between The Buttons. Chris Farlowe’s anguished bellow became the label’s leading sound, soon to be joined by the similar throaty vibrato of PP Arnold and Oldham’s greatest coup, The Small Faces, stolen from under the nose of Decca.
The fourth of these discs becomes almost a Swinging London soundtrack, with Farlowe’s ‘Yesterday’s Papers’, Arnold’s ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ (written by the then all-conquering Cat Stevens), The Small Faces’ ‘Here Comes The Nice’ and ‘Itchycoo Park’, Murray Head’s ‘She Was Perfection’, and Marquis Of Kensington’s Kinks/New Vaudeville hybrid ‘Changing Of The Guard’. (Sitars, baroque strings, and tinkly harpsichord arpeggios abound.) In the ensuing years, The Nice and Amen Corner produced hit singles, while Rod Stewart and Fleetwood Mac briefly dropped in (the latter with ‘Man Of The World’). Production standards rose and recordings began to be less echo-heavy and not so frequently out of tune. But by late 1968 the album had replaced the single as the focus of creativity and Immediate didn’t adapt.
The essential stuff in this lavishly-documented box could have been fitted onto one disc. There are a few curios along the way (including some pre-Velvets sides by Nico) but only trainspotters and soundtrack-researchers are likely to consider this a worthwhile buy. Apart from The Small Faces’ singles, which Sixties fans will already own, the main interest lies in hollerin’ Chris Farlowe’s sequence of erratically styled but always full-hearted singles, especially 1967’s ballad, ‘Handbags And Gladrags’, still a classic with enduring relevance in its pained climactic chorus: “They told me you missed school today/So I suggest you just throw away/The handbags and the gladrags that your grandads had to sweat/So you could buy.” Still works, boys. Nice job.
© Ian MacDonald, Uncut, August 2000