Category Archives: vinyl

47th Anniversary for King Crimson debut LP

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47 years ago today, King Crimson unleashed its debut album in the UK.

I can still recall that the “underground” FM radio stations in the Windsor/Detroit area were quick to jump on it. There seemed to be a great sense of anticipation for when the next airing of 21st Century Schizoid Man would jump out of the stereo speakers. The aggressive metronomic guitar slashes of Robert Fripp’s guitar coupled with the overdriven distorted vocals of Greg Lake seemed to create a tension which made even the previously aired strains of the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray seem suddenly somehow tame.

When playing the LP, it seemed like a shock to hear the quiet beauty of the following track – I Talk to the Wind. But, such was the mystery and awe inspiring monster that was King Crimson.

Throughout the rest of the album’s lengthy excursions, this balance of light and dark, loud and quiet, beauty and ugliness was exploited to its fullest extent.

The second most broadcast song was the title track. The use of Ian McDonald’s mellotron seemed to take the sound into the stratosphere. By the end, the listener would inevitably be attempting to put their dropped jaw back into proper facial alignment as well as catch their breath. It was a sound that would literally leave the listener gasping for air.

The sounds of thousands of albums have come since this record was released in 1969. However, extremely few have managed to create such a stunning impact upon first listen and then continue to do so over the years.

Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth

Hot on the heels of Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded comes another book which focuses on a specific year. David Hepworth’s new book is entitled Never a Dull Moment – 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded. Whereas both of these books share a similar format in that the months are used as the twelve chapter of the books, that is where much of the similarity ends.

Both writers present stories about music of the year within a framework consisting of the cultural, social and political climate of the time. However, Savage’s book is around 25% music and 75% social conditions contrasted with Hepworth’s 90% music and 10% cultural framework. (For a more in depth look at Jon Savage’s book, please check out my article elsewhere on this blog.)

For his book, Hepworth generally begins each chapter with an overview of the times. This is followed by several stories about artists, songs, albums, producers etc… on whom he focuses his direct attention.

He begins his journey into the year by relating the fact that it began with the official dissolution of The Beatles. So, 1971 was the first “post-Beatles” year after the conclusion of the ’60s.

Since Carole King’s Tapestry was one of the biggest breakouts of the year, he explores her place in the blossoming world of the singer/songwriters of the year. These include people like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. He also talks about one of the most enduring figures of the time who made little inroads in the way of popularity at the time – Nick Drake.

By way of the Rolling Stones, he relates stories about the release of Sticky Fingers as well as the band’s excursion to France to record the following year’s sprawling double album release – Exile on Main Street.

The state of music coming from the African American community is explored with tales of Motown label boss Berry Gordy Jr. and his stable of artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He also writes about Isaac Hayes as well as American TV host/producer Don Cornelius who brought Soul Train into the living rooms of the youth.

Producers like Ken Scott and Glyn Johns hook up with David Bowie and The Who respectively and breed the top albums Hunky Dory and Who’s Next. These were both milestones in the careers of the artists in 1971.

We also learn how producer Tom Dowd convinced the Allman Brothers Band to ditch the distracting horn section which was being used during their series of dates at the Fillmore East. This helped the band turn the corner and produce their double live LP set At Fillmore East which is still regarded as a classic today.

There are tales of Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music, Harry Nilsson, Don McLean, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath, The Beach Boys, T. Rex, Big Star, Rod Stewart, Carpenters and even a name-check for German Krautrock pioneers Can.

Festivals were also the order of the day in 1971 as the long-lived Glastonbury Festival got its start. There are also other tales of (much) less successful events such as the Weeley Festival and the disastrous Celebration of Life Festival in Louisiana.

1971 was also the year that the first rock concert charity event was organized by George Harrison. The ups and downs of this new type of venture venture are examined.

Reading through this book reminds the reader about so many watershed moments that occurred in the music world at the beginning of the 1970s. To a generation accustomed to auditioning the latest sounds via the internet with the click of a mouse, these times music seem like some ancient distant land. Music fans used to find themselves reading about interesting music and, if they were lucky, being able to catch some of the sounds on an adventurous underground FM radio station. It was a time when people congregated at record stores and took in the artwork and liner notes of the LPs filling the bins.

I was there… and it was damn fun!

Classic Rock? In my day it was called New Releases! 

 

 

 

Keith Emerson 1944 – 2016

When the news hit that legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson had died, it was bad enough. However, when it was later reported that his death was an apparent suicide, it was all the more sad.

Back when the sounds of “underground FM radio” began on the airwaves out of Detroit in 1968, a whole new world of music was on offer to me. In the midst of all of the interesting new music there was a group from England called The Nice.

Keith Emerson was the keyboardist from this group along with Lee Jackson (bass, vocals), Brian Davison (drums) and initially Davy O’List (guitar). Emerson had already built up a reputation someone who was extremely accomplished at his craft but, also someone with a distinctive stage presence. As such, he was known to rock, kick, punch and inevitably stab his Hammond organ keyboard.

The sounds of The Nice were a staple of the FM airwaves and that continued when they broke up and he formed the trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

While their debut single – Lucky Man – was getting airplay on AM radio, other more adventurous tracks from their first LP were being aired on the FM dial. The band progressed with side-long concept works like Tarkus and also re-arranged classical composer Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

It was “progressive rock” at its zenith. It certainly wasn’t suited to everybody’s taste.

Keith Emerson was a masterful musician and one of the guiding lights transitioning from the ’60s to the ’70s. Many of his post-ELP projects involved music for films.

He will long be remembered by his fans as someone who helped fuse rock music with a classical attitude.

Keith Emerson with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. 

George Martin 1926 – 2016

Producer George Martin began his career at EMI Records in 1950 as the assistant to the boss of the Parlophone Records imprint. Initially, he recorded classical and soundtrack music. Towards the end of the 1950s, he worked on a number of novelty records which included people like Peter Sellers and Flanders & Swann. He would also work with the likes of British crooner Matt Munro.

Of course, Martin will always be remembered foremost as the producer of The Beatles. It was his work in the studio which helped the group to attain a crisp, clear vision of their sound… and to make it a hit.

As the ideas of the group began to blossom in the coming years, Martin was also able to help the group realize a much larger vision. This was a vision which regarded the studio itself as an instrument.

This was the concept that created the other-worldly sounds first heard on The Beatles’ 1966 LP Revolver is the shape of the song Tomorrow Never Knows. This hypnotic Indian influenced track featured backwards sounds along with tape loops of manipulated recordings. It marked a time when an abstract sound in the heads of the group could become a reality.

This work continued along to their 1967 classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band where Martin was able to guide them though the monumental orchestration of A Day in the Life.

As a producer, George Martin was a part of a musical revolution that began in the mid-’60s. After the break-up of The Beatles, Martin continued to work with some of the group members as well as other new groups on the music scene such as America.

George Martin will ultimately go down in history as one of the most successful producers of all time but, he should also be remembered as a sonic innovator, as well.

 

David Bowie – Stardust, Diamonds, Heroes and Ashes

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The clock radio went off at 5:30 AM and the lead-off new story is about David Bowie. His latest album – Blackstar – was released just three days ago and the news reveals that Bowie’s voice is now silenced. Apparently, a well kept secret regarding 18 months of suffering from cancer has now become public.

While I may have initially been exposed to Space Oddity or some tracks from The Man Who Sold the World, my first real exposure to Bowie came with the album Hunky Dory in 1971. Many tunes from that album were constantly on the FM airwaves in the Windsor / Detroit area at the time. It wasn’t just Changes and Life on Mars. It was also Queen Bitch, Andy Warhol and Oh You Pretty Things.

And then there was Ziggy. He was seemingly the man who fell to earth and changed the face of music and style. A flaming red-haired alien who rocked like nobody else at the time.

Bowie seemed like a person who could single-handedly  both start and end an era. He had a vision that seemed unstoppable in an era of ever changing fads and fashions. Since nobody seemed to know what he would do next, there was an endless curiosity as to what would be his next revelation.

In the beginning, he played in short-lived bands who played R&B. By the time of his debut LP, he was planted firmly in a mode reflecting his admiration for popular singer Anthony Newley. But, it was his subsequent release of Space Oddity which would gain him more attention.

That led to his joining forces with guitarist Mick Ronson on the Tony Visconti produced The Man Who Sold the World. From there it was on to Hunky Dory and then the creation of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

After the “retirement” of Ziggy, Aladdin Sane took the stage. The dystopian world  of Diamond Dogs morphed into the plastic soul of Young Americans and then the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (and his appearance in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth).

It was his 1977 project with Brian Eno which changed the game once again. The album Low presented one side of rocking tunes with another side of spacey, avant-garde electronic explorations which would develop into what would become known as The Berlin Trilogy (along with “Heroes” and Lodger).

From there, Bowie jumped around into dance music, more rock and roll and drum & bass excursions. His restless creativity pushed and pulled him into whatever direction he considered interesting for many more years.

After a silence of nearly ten years, Bowie proved that he could still surprise and suddenly announced a new single and LP back in 2013. The Next Day was a stunning new effort which was kept under wraps until the last moment.

With the release of Blackstar last week, Bowie seemed to be aware of the fact that this would be his farewell gesture to his long-time fans. At least he lived to see its release.

I only got to see Bowie in concert one time. It was to become his final concert tour. The show on May 14, 2004 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario featured some 26 songs spanning his long career.

One other Bowie event that I was pleased to attend was the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over the course of a two hour trek through this show, one could get a close look at everything from stage costumes to hand-written lyrics to abandoned album cover designs.

David Bowie may no longer be with us but, his legacy will certainly continue for years to come. His life and work will become one of the benchmarks by which others in the performing arts will be measured.

David Bowie 1947 – 2016 

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Gong vs Charly Records – A Warning

If there’s one thing that I can’t abide, it’s record companies screwing around artists. Apparently, Charly Records are re-issuing the classic Radio Gnome trilogy without the consent of the surviving members.

Guitarist Steve Hillage recently made a post on Facebook outlining the details and I would like to pass them along as a warning to prospective purchasers. Please support the artists and heed Steve’s advice.

From Steve Hillage:

OFFICIAL GONG BAND MEMBERS STATEMENT

We, the surviving members of Gong, do not support BYG/Charly Records upcoming reissue of the Radio Gnome trilogy.

None of the surviving members of the lineups that created those recordings were ever signed to BYG or Charly Records.

The truth is that immediately before the making of Flying Teapot in January 1973, the band learned that Daevid Allen’s once record company – BYG Records (also known as Promodisc) – had gone bust, it’s Paris office stripped bare, no phones working. The band was abandoned at the Manor Studios at the start of recording the album. Virgin – at the time just a chain of record stores and The Manor studios – was about to launch their record label.

Faced with an unpaid recording bill, they decided to cut their losses and release Flying Teapot as the second release on the new Virgin Records label. That’s the true story.

The booklet advertised as accompanying the Charly/BYG Release is full of untruths, lies and falsehoods claiming to represent Charly and BYG Records as some sort of poor victim of Virgin’s wickedness. The truth is that none of the musicians on those recordings has ever received a penny of royalty payments for the Charly/BYG releases, or even a statement. This is understandable because we NEVER signed to BYG or Charly Records as Gong.

Meanwhile, forty years later, we still receive statements from Virgin and, for those of us who cleared our advances, royalty payments, even though Virgin has since been sold to EMI and now is owned by Universal Records.

We know and can confirm as 100% corroborated fact that the Original Masters of these albums reside in the Virgin Records Archive, and that Charly has never at any time been given access to them, so Charly’s claim to have used the Original Masters is false.

Charly has been brazenly abusing our rights as artists for decades. None of us are rich or powerful enough to sue them. All we can do is to let you, our lovely Gong fans, know that we do not support this release. We will be supporting a new boxed set to be released by Universal in a few months with our full collaboration.

DO NOT BUY THIS RELEASE

Your Questionable Questions Answered

As someone with an interest in a wide variety of musical forms, I am often asked questions about all types of musical trivia. The WfS mailbox has been overflowing with questions lately and I will attempt to address some of the queries now. Sorry if I do not get around to your question this time around.

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To George S. –

What you have discovered in your brother’s collection is an example of a mercifully short-lived genre of music called Strap – an abbreviation for Stuttering Rap. In the early days of rap, many folks tried to create a unique form of the genre. In this case, the concept may have been a bit too off-the-mark. With Strap, the stuttering and stammering of the vocalist over a steady percussion track created a beat that was not so much “break” as “broken”. The artists did not suffer any sort of speach impediment in real life. It was simply an affectation for their creative endevours. Luckily, the whole thing seemed to blow over rather quickly.

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To John C. –

What you have stumbled upon is the puzzling third album by the band. After two relatively successful releases, this drastic change in artistic direction had both fans and non-fans scratching their heads. After two LPs of relatively straight-forward rock, the release of an album of 1940s standards played on kazoo and Jew’s harp came as a bit of a shock. The press had a field day and their fans ran away in droves. The record company was not very happy, either. They pressed a huge number of copies in anticipation of a real big break-through in the market. The few copies that sold quickly made their way onto the shelves of charity shops while the rest hit the dollar bins. Even today, you can still find abandoned copies littering the bins.

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To Fenton Q. –

What you have is a unique album which was recorded when the band were utterly obsessed with President Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes scandal. It was certainly a questionable decision to record an entire LP’s worth of material using hidden microphones hidden in an office utilized as a make-shift studio. To call the results Lo-Fi is a bit of an understatement. Another nod to the Watergate tapes was the erasure of 18 minutes of the recordings. This lead to the entire second side of the LP being blank. Oddly enough, this album has gained quite a cult reputation in the ensuing years. DJs have been known to pay top dollar for a copy in order to incorporate the surface noise from the blank side into their dance club sets.

 

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To Peter S. –

What you have is a prime example of things going wrong. After three modestly successful releases, the band’s record company managed to convince them that it was time to refine their sound in an effort to break into a much larger market. So, they changed from a hybrid of metal and power pop to acoustic balladry focusing on sea shanties with a specific bent towards whaling songs. The band actually seemed fairly pleased during the recording process but, in the end they were not so thrilled. If fact, they had the mastering engineer etch their feelings into the text of the LP run-out grooves. The first side bore the inscription “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” and the second side said “Wake up, you bastards”.

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To Sheila T. –

What you have there is the first single that the band released on their own label before signing to the majors. It was recorded when they were still a three-piece as their second guitarist would not join until six months down the road. The original single was pressed in a very limited run of 99 copies and the band assembled the picture sleeve cover themselves in the kitchen of the bass player’s mother. For an original copy, you could name your own price. However, the coloured vinyl edition that you have is one of the many illicit pirate editions. This is particularly evident from the words “fake piece of shyte” inscribed in the deadwax. People have been known to pay fans to take copies off their hands.

 

Please note: Any resemblance to truly factual events is purely coincidental. Or is it? 

Dieter Moebius (Cluster): 1944 – 2015

Dieter Moebius was one of the founding members of the avant-garde experimental trio known as Kluster who formed in Berlin in the late ’60s. Along side fellow artists Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler, they produced a trio of records which were abstract sound collages.

After the departure of Schnitzler (who was also a founding member of Tangerine Dream), the remaining duo re-branded themselves as Cluster. In this incarnation, the duo produced several recordings of wonderful minimalist electronic soundscapes.

In the early 1970s, new music from German began filtering into the UK. The sounds of Cluster along with Can, Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream, Neu! and Kraftwerk began to make inroads outside of their native land.

One person whose ears were opened to these sounds was Brian Eno. He subsequently recorded albums in collaboration with the Cluster duo.

Both Moebius and Roedelius recorded many solo albums over the years. They also continued to work together as well as joining Neu! guitarist Michael Rother as a trio called Harmonia.

The sounds made by Moebius and Roedelius not only made an impact on a new generation of electronic music artists in the 1970s but, continue to be felt to this day.

In the early 1980s, I was half of an electronic music duo called M104 along with Werner Albert. The greatest compliment that we received about our music was that we were the Canadian version of Cluster. Enough said.

Obituary at The Guardian website.

 

Chris Squire 1948 – 2015

Bassist Chris Squire was a founding member of the band Yes. He passed away in Phoenix, AZ after recently being diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia.

Yes have been a part of my musical listening experiences for close to 45 years. While I likely heard some music from their first couple of albums on Detroit and Windsor FM radio stations back in the day, it was their third LP – The Yes Album – that really grabbed my attention. Of course, I was not alone.

Squire’s contributions to the sound of the band can not be overstated. His rippling, rhythmic and melodic bass work not only grounded the music but, wove a unique sonic texture throughout the songs. I could never image their music with another bassist in his place.

In addition to his work with the band, he also released the solo album Fish Out of Water at the tail end of 1975. For me, this was the finest solo album to come out of the Yes camp. It’s an LP that I still spin on a regular basis. It still sounds as fresh to me today as it did forty years ago.

Here is a link to his obituary at Ultimate Classic Rock.

Chris Squire - A Fish Out of Water (Atlantic, CAnada)

 

 

Future Days by David Stubbs

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Subtitled “Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany” this book takes the reader on a journey through the heady days of the German experimental music scene from the late sixties into the seventies.

Stubbs begins with a lengthy prologue which traces the social developments of the country through the 20th century. This is done to provide a perspective on what was to come after the Second World War.

After he has established the state of the minds of the German youth through the sixties, he then relates the stories behind the major groups who began creating experimental music.

Full chapters are devoted to some of the best known bands in what was termed “Krautrock” such as Amon Duul, Can, Kraftwerk and Faust. He later explores the “scenes” happening in areas such as Berlin.

He finishes by discussing newer music as well as the influence of the German music on specific musicians (David Bowie) and musical scenes (post punk).

For those not intimately familiar with this music, it may serve as a good introduction to stir up some curiosity. For those of us who are already quite well-versed in the genre, there are still some facts that are revealed that may be new to us.

 

Bernard Stollman (1929 – 2015)

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Bernard Stollman passed away on April 20 at the age of 85. He was the founder of one of the most eclectic record labels that ever existed – ESP-disk.

The roster of artists who recorded for ESP in the 1960s reads like an encyclopedia of the avant-garde musical world. Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Patty Waters, Paul Bley, Burton Greene, Alan Silva, Don Cherry, The Fugs, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders… The list seems endless.

For me personally, if they had only released the Patty Waters album, I would have been more than happy. But, they released so many more interesting and influential records over the course of the years.

Here is a link to Bernard Stollman’s obituary in the New York Times.

ESP-disk website

The Mysterious Mystery of… Lois

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There was a time when you could find some interesting records at the thrift shop for a buck. The negligible investment made it possible to take a chance on things that just looked a bit odd or interesting. That is how I discovered a record that still remains a mystery to me.

Lois – Satin Doll showed up during one of my scavenges at a local thrift shop. It looked interesting enough to risk a dollar. So, I grabbed it.

Lois was apparently a regular fixture playing lounge style organ at a restaurant called The Charlesgate Restaurant in Williamsville, New York. This LP was recorded live there. It contains a mix of old chestnuts like the title track, Misty, Call Me etc… It also contains Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. The tunes are well played and her voice is very good on the numbers that she sings.

So, of course, I should be able to track down something about her on the interwebs. Right? Well… no.

The record is a private pressing manufactured by a company called Mark Custom Records in 1977. I have been able to find out that these folks are still around doing custom runs of CDs for people today. That’s where the trail runs cold.

Countless searches only turn up the odd listing on eBay which simply quote from the liner notes of the LP. So far, I have been unable to find out any information about the mysterious Lois herself.

If you have any information, I’d love to hear from you. Until then, Lois remains a mystery.

Lois - Satin Doll

 

Essential Sounds – Patty Waters

Back in the mid-’70s, I was listening to the radio (WABX, Detroit or CJOM, Windsor) when I heard a DJ talking about an record that he was about to play. He sounded very upset. He felt that this was a VERY special album and that in a perfect world everybody would own or at least hear it. He then played the piece which takes up the entire second side of the LP entitled Patty Waters Sings. I was so blown away by the sounds that I immediately went downtown and special ordered a copy of the record.

Recorded in December 1965 and released the following year on the wild and wonderful ESP record label, Patty Waters Sings is indeed an essential listening experience.

The first side consists of short songs with Patty on vocals and piano. The songs are minimalist works of art. Both the vocals and piano seem to hang suspended in space with a persistent mood of melancholy mixed with broken-hearted despair.

Every time that I have played this album for people, they would sit motionless and entranced by the sound. Jaws would drop.

And then there is the second side. Here, Patty is accompanied by Burton Greene (piano), Steve Tintweiss (bass) and Tom Price (percussion). The sole piece on this side is a radical reworking of Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.

During the course of this track, the band goes off into a manic level of improvisation while Patty seems possessed by a demon. She starts off quite traditionally but winds up sounding like she is running around the studio shrieking to the mass of angular sounds stabbing their way around her voice. It is a magnificent tour de force of both instrumental and vocal dexterity.

In a recent discussion on a music forum, the question was asked what one album you would save if you had to escape your home burning down. This was the album… and it didn’t take a great deal of thought to make the decision.

Patty released one more LP for ESP which was a live recording. But, her debut album is the one that really stands the test of time for its essential sounds.

PattyWaters-Sings

Essential Sounds – John Martyn

John Martyn (1948 – 2009) was one of the stand-out artists on the British folk / folk-rock scene for many years. Over that time, he produced a number of wonderful albums which varied from straight-ahead folk to folk infused with jazz elements.

He also pioneered the use of the acoustic guitar along with a number of electronic effects like delay and reverb which produced a unique sound.

For many people, Martyn’s 1973 LP entitled Solid Air is regarded as his classic release. The title track was written about his friend Nick Drake and its fluid bass and shimmering keyboards provide a superb backdrop to his acoustic guitar and sultry slurring vocal lines.

Martyn also has occasion to get a bit rocky with I’d Rather Be the Devil. It contrasts with more gentle folky numbers like Over the Hill and May You Never.

This is an album which I consider to be an essential addition to anybody’s record collection. It is currently available on vinyl via the Back to Black series.

Pictured below is a UK pressing of the album dating from around 1976.

JohnMartyn-SolidAir-Island-UK

 

Record Store Day 2015

Record Store Day started back in 2007 as a special day to promote music and independent record shops. It was originally a single even held in April but, it’s continued popularity spurred a second day coinciding with Black Friday (October) in the USA.

For RSD, many record labels issue special releases in limited quantities. The list of releases is usually quite staggering in length. However, your excitement level will likely be tempered somewhat if you don’t see anything that suits your particular tastes.

This year, I didn’t think that the list had a lot of interest for me. I did see a few things that piqued my interest and, as usual, headed down to my local vinyl enabler, Grooves.

As usual, when I arrived the line-up to check out ran completely around the store. I scanned the racks and wall displays not really knowing what I might find. It’s quite common for many stores to not receive all of the items which they have ordered.

Luckily, I found four of the items which were highest on my list. Tomorrow, Rainbow Ffolly, Jethro Tull and The Stooges. I also returned a couple of days later to still find copies of the first Hawkwind LP and Deep Purple’s The Book of Taliesyn re-issues.

Not a bad haul at all.

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Grooves Records (London, Ontario)