❉ St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs round up an impeccable collection of cuts by middle-aged artists coming to terms with the late 60s.
“It’s all here – Vietnam, welfare, poverty, strained family relations, midlife crises, civil rights, green issues, and general existential angst. The collection of deep cuts here runs the gamut of what was eating America at the time, more so than any amount of pissed-off, revolution-fixated Jefferson Airplane or MC5 albums ever could”
The follow-up to the superb themed collections from Ace Records English Weather and Paris in the Spring, State of the Union plays arguably the biggest blinder of the lot. St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs round up an impeccable collection of cuts by a generation of older artists left behind by the sweeping social change of the late 60s.
Opening with the understated funk of overlooked Elvis Presley single Clean Up Your Own Back Yard, it opens a door to a forgotten America, a changing time that older performers from the days of Hollywood, showbiz revues, and early rock and roll struggled to adjust to. With moral and social certainties lying in tatters, the 24 tracks of State of the Union are often steely, sometimes sad, and sometimes just bewildered. Even the younger artists here “Surfing Doris Days” The Beach Boys, featured with their stirring Vietnam lament 4th of July (written by Dennis, sung by Carl, and unaccountably left off Surf’s Up in favour of the likes of Student Demonstration Time. Go figure) were ten years adrift from Surfin’. This wasn’t the American Dream any of these guys were promised.
As with Stanley and Wiggs’ previous efforts, there’s an embarrassment of riches to pick through. Frank Sinatra’s melancholy The Train from his much-maligned 1970 Watertown album is the work of a masterful interpreter that’s not entirely at home with songs by The Four Seasons, but runs with it. A rare positive voice is Della Reese, whose rousing take on Al Kooper’s Brand New Day bounces with joie de vivre.The aforementioned Four Seasons also appear in their own right with the sad, strange Saturday’s Father from their own state of the union album Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. It’s all here – Vietnam, welfare, poverty, strained family relations, midlife crises, civil rights, green issues, and general existential angst. The collection of deep cuts here runs the gamut of what was eating America at the time, more so than any amount of pissed-off, revolution-fixated Jefferson Airplane or MC5 albums ever could.
The Everly Brothers’ spooky southern gothic Lord of the Manor – with its ‘upstairs maid’, ‘wife of grey’, and allusions to flowers and seeds hints at something terrible under the surface of what’s essentially a tale of a rich bastard shagging the staff. The sorrow at the loss of the Kennedys and Dr King that informs Dion’s take on Abraham, Martin and John. Bobby Darin’s cynical, ecologically-minded (and oddly funky) Questions. The nimble, dirty old man groove of Eugene McDaniels’ Cherrystones. Roy Orbison’s startling, episodic seven minute car-crash suicide saga Southbound Jericho Parkway. Most visceral of all is Eartha Kitt’s Paint Me Black Angels, an angry, impassioned performance that’s every bit as proud, powerful and strange as the woman herself.
Even novelty MOR fare like Bing Crosby’s bewildered What Do We Do With The World and Mel Torme’s midlife crisis saga Take A Letter Maria fit well here. The former has an ageing wartime entertainer trying to get to grips with the swinging 60s, while Torme’s ‘69 song anticipates the permissive society of key parties and jaded suburbia to come. Perhaps the winner from this generation of swinging entertainers is Dean Martin, whose Do You Believe This Town is delivered with a mix of cool finger-popping assurance and cold anger.
State of the Union ends on a novelty – doo-wop group The Brothers Four’s soft focus (and Mao-reference-removing) easy listening take on The Beatles’ Revolution. It’s a tone deaf take on a song that in all honesty, is easy to misunderstand – but it’s a suitably uneasy sign-off. It’s also a harbinger of things to come, of the ‘laid-back’ 70s and the Watergate era. This music could only have come from one era. It’s fair to say that one of the great tragedies of our times is that in fifty years from now, crate diggers of the future will struggle to come up with anything to sum up the desolate narrative of Trump’s America that’s anywhere near as coherent as this.
God bless America, because she needs all the fucking help she can get.
❉ ‘Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present State Of The Union – The End Of The American Dream 1967-73′ was released 26 October 2018 by Ace Records on 24-track CD (£11.50) and 25-track 180g blue vinyl gatefold 2LP. Click here to buy.
❉ Martin Ruddock has written for ‘Doctor Who Magazine’, ‘Shindig!’, the ‘You And Who’ series, and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. Martin was a guest on Tim Worthington‘s podcast Looks Unfamiliar. You can find the episode here.