Looking Back: 80 Mod, Freakbeat & Swinging London Nuggets
Ask many listeners to define mod rock, and they'll refer to bands like the Who, the Creation, and numerous others from the U.K. that merged guitar-driven pop
ock with edgy elements like distortion and outrage that anticipated aspects of psychedelia. Some of that's on this three-CD compilation, but in truth, the mod scene also encompassed soul, R&B-rock, reggae, jazzy R&B-pop-go-go music, and other bits and pieces. All of those styles are reflected on this ambitious anthology, which deliberately emphasizes the more obscure mid- to-late-'60s records falling under this umbrella. There are a few big names (though none as big as, say, the Who or Small Faces) here, and some fairly well-known second-line British Invasion bands (the Mojos, the Sorrows, John's Children, the post-Stevie Winwood Spencer Davis Group). But most of these acts had limited or no commercial success, and you'd be hard-pressed to find many collectors who already had most of this in their collections, even though some of these cuts have come out on specialist reissues. As a trawl through off-the-beaten path material from or related to the mod/freakbeat scene (the U.K. version, with a few Australian tracks thrown in), it's well packaged, with detailed liner notes and a few previously unissued cuts.
At the same time, this doesn't make for one of the better overall mod compilations, either as a starter anthology or for specialists dedicated to digging deeper. The selections are representative of points among the mod spectrum, yet for the most part rather average in quality, explaining to some degree why they have seldom or never been anthologized. It's also true that the standouts tend to be some of the cuts that have already done the rounds to deserved acclaim for years, like the Syndicats' tremendous rave-up "Crawdaddy Simone," and the early sides by John's Children (who, for all the derision directed at their supposed marginal talents, had a better eye for catchy songs than most of the competition here). A few rarities by big names aren't as exciting as you might hope, like the two early R&B-oriented Arthur Brown songs (credited to the Arthur Brown Set) from a French movie soundtrack, or the tracks from late in the Sorrows' career.
Is that too harsh? Probably, considering the compilers deliberately set out to provide stuff that would be relatively or wholly unfamiliar, and certainly succeeded in doing so. Depending on your taste, you'll probably find at least a few tracks that are nuggets in quality as well as rarity, strong contenders being the Quiet Five's nervous Merseybeat ("Tomorrow I'll Be Gone"); the Others' cover of Bo Diddley's "Oh Yeah!" (which could have been an inspiration for the Shadows of Knight's version); soulman J.J. Jackson's "Come See Me" (which he co-wrote and was more famously recorded as a Pretty Things single); the Alan Brown Set's "Jou de Massacre (The Killing Game)," another refugee from a French soundtrack (which zanily alternates between jazzy freakbeat and rather smooth soul balladeering); and Ray Singer's weirdly brooding "What's Done Has Been Done," which merges mod with Tom Jones and spy movie music. And it seems like almost everywhere you turn, there are obscure appearances by artists who became famous in other contexts, like Steve Howe in the In Crowd; T.S. McPhee in John Lee's Groundhogs; Lemmy in the Rockin' Vickers; Bon Scott in the Valentines (on a cover of Soft Machine's "Love Makes Sweet Music"), and future Deep Purple members Roger Glover and Ian Gillan in Episode Six.