4 Men With Beards
FLAMIN' GROOVIES - Shake Some Action LP
The Flamin' Groovies were a band out of time. Formed in 1965, they played lean, hard-driving boogie and had a sharp-cut, stylish image in a San Francisco scene that was more about free love, secondhand clothes, and 28-minute modal jams. That raucous, explosive version of the band lasted until 1972, when original vocalist Roy Loney left and guitarist Cyril Jordan took the reins, moving them to Britain. There, they hooked up with roots rocker Dave Edmunds, who produced a session for them that pointed toward a distinctly different path, one deeply indebted to the British Invasion sounds that everyone else had moved on from.
Amongst their Stones-influenced cuts lay two of the most exquisite power-pop tracks of the 70s, "You Tore Me Down" and "Shake Some Action", which gave its title to the album the band made in 1976 after a lengthy recording hiatus. Shake Some Action was in every sense both a comeback and a re-invention, and it's been rightly championed by collectors and critics extolling its effortless pop perfection. If it had been released in 1966, it could have been a smash and a popular landmark, but a decade later, the Spector-loving sound and Beatle-loving songcraft (they even covered "Misery") sank like a stone in the marketplace. It would be one thing if the record merely aped an era the band had spent playing other music, but the Groovies had the songs and nuanced understanding of the music needed to elevate themselves above pastiche.
"Shake Some Action" itself is a minor masterpiece of jangling, harmony-soaked guitar pop, an instantly memorable song that piles wave upon wave of hooks on a solid backbeat, all wrapped up in big, wet reverb. It's a classic in every way except one: Almost nobody's heard it. A shame, because it's just the tip of the iceberg on an album stuffed with great tunes. There are six covers amongst the 14 tracks, following the blueprint of the original British Invasion records, and with the exception of "Sometimes" and "Misery", the band uses these as their license to revisit their more raucous rootsötheir take on "St. Louis Blues" is especially good, though they're not as convincing on Chuck Berry's "Don't You Lie to Me"-- their version just doesn't have the angry bite it needs to succeed.
The band's other originals, mostly penned by Jordan and fellow singer/guitarist Chris Wilson, range from the majestic ballad "I Saw Her"-- a slow, spooky, even operatic track stuffed with the band's best harmonies and some truly knockout lead guitar-- to the speedy rocker "Please Please Girl" (one guess whose early singles it sounds like). "Teenage Confidential" is another magisterial ballad, though it harkens even further back, with the ring of 50s tear-jerkers and teen idol pop. "You Tore Me Down" and "I Can't Hide" are sweeping ear candy with to-die-for melodies and accomplished solos.
One thing that's striking, considering when the album was released, is its efficiency and brevity. In an era where five songs in 45 minutes wasn't uncommon, they jammed 14 into a 36-minute runtime, meaning that the album is a concentrated sugar bomb. This has lead to some revisionist positioning of the band as forebears of the punk explosion, but it's a specious claim at best, even if the Ramones did open for them on a tour of Europe. The Groovies were simply cut from a completely different cloth.
It's about time this album got a proper reissue treatment in the band's home country, and the DBK Works people have done a great job putting together an informative package, though don't come expecting any bonus material, because there is none-- in fact, it's thought that the extra tapes from the album sessions were destroyed. Remastering helps immensely, too, clearing up the sound a great deal over previous CD issues of the albumömy old copy was an Australian import that sounded like garbage. Remastering can't actually change the production of the record, though, and if there's any complaint to be had with Shake Some Action, it's that Edmunds' work at the boards is sometimes too hazyöhe was recording them like a harder rock band than they were at that point, and truthfully, a slicker sound would have helped.
The flawed production, however, does not dim the quality of the album. Shake Some Action is, quite simply, one of the best guitar pop albums ever made, and its lack of popular notoriety is more a symptom of its timing than anything else (it's tough not to think that the band's name made things a little harder, too). Hopefully, having a high-quality version of it readily available will help more people to hear it. The Groovies made only one more good album (Flamin' Groovies Now!), before embarking on a confusing series of relocations and reunions, but Shake Some Action stands as their crowning achievement.