Monday, January 14, 2013

This Functional Family

This is not the first time I've come late to the party and it certainly won't be the last. Whatever the Family discography has been offering since 1968 has eluded me until now, and the high praise from respected musicians and friends had been falling on deaf ears.

I do recall, though vaguely, having a brush with the band's 1971 release "Fearless," when one of my friends purchased it sometime in the late 70s, I'm guessing because John Wetton was on bass and vocals and my friend was a King Crimson fan. The only other memory of that time was none of us liking it very much.

My interest now comes in the form, once again, of a recently acquired complete collection on vinyl, aided by those aforementioned endorsements from people I like to listen to when it comes to their opinions on music. I guess now was the time and I'm all ears.

What I'm finding in Family's output is a wonderful element of surprise and spontaneity and a consistently high level of musicianship.  From their now legendary cult-fave debut "Music In A Doll's House" right on through the first three records leaders Roger Chapman and John Whitney released as Streetwalkers, the music never rests or gets comfortable.

The debut is full of psychedelic pop awash with phase, flange, trumpets and strings reminiscent of early Traffic or some psychedelic blues not unlike later Traffic. (I guess having Rick Grech in the band and Dave Mason producing the record explains some of that.) Then suddenly, the sounds will shift and you could be taken away in a wave of layered harmonies and theatrics not unlike 10cc's early work, or even early Genesis. This all before either 10cc or Genesis made their bones. Of course, there is some solid, riff heavy rock and roll, as well.

Check out "Never Like This" from the debut.

Something else I learned on this recent journey through Family's catalogue is that I will never again not mention John "Charlie" Whitney whenever a discussion of great guitar players happens to be taking place within earshot.

Ironically, the record that inspired me to write all this is "Fearless," the same record I just mentioned I recalled not liking. The entire record is below, courtesy of one of the many philanthropists on You Tube. "Fearless" is not necessarily the best place to start, though I do love it, and as I said, it's why this post exists. The debut "Music In A Doll's House" and the follow-up, "Entertainment" are both superior.

If any of this music hits you, start from the top and just keep going right through the Streetwalkers first few. I'm quite amazed by it all, actually.

(And when you are through here, go over to Burning Love? and put me in my place regarding the Grammy Awards.)


misospecial said...

hey, i had Fearless on its original release and really enjoyed it. thanks for the reminder, sal...

buzzbabyjesus said...

When everyone is discussing classic albums I've never heard like Bruce's first two, I often wonder what I was playing instead. Family is one answer. I'm such a geek that back in the day I picked up "Bandstand" because it shared the same engineer (George Chkiantz) as "Starless And Bible Black", the sound of which I adored.
And I thought one of the guys on the cover might be John Wetton.
Of course it didn't sound anything like King Crimson, but I liked it enough to eventually buy all their records.
I don't like "Music In A Doll's House" or "Entertainment" nearly as much as what came after, and I'm still biased toward the Wetton years. I think "Fearless" is wonderful (the album cover is crazy good), and the song "Sat'Dy Barfly" genius. "Anyway", the aforementioned "Bandstand", "It's Only A Movie" are all worth the time. "Sweet Desiree", the last single is almost too much fun.
And you're right to make room at the top of the heap for Charlie Whitney.

misospecial said...

pretty sure i bought Fearless because of the cover art—that was one of the great things about LPs and cheap vinyl: being able to check something out just because it *looked* intriguing. it was the covers that moved me to pony up $1.99 apiece for Runt and Ballad: curiosity about the human question mark with the quizzical expression on Runt and the (literally) gallows humor of the Ballad cover. oh lordy, look where it got me. you know what the pushers used to say: "try it, kid. the first one's [practically] free."

A walk in the woods said...

Wow, that's mighty Kinks-like!

I've never really been a fan of psychadelic pop, which is why I'm less enthused about much of The Hollies - I know you are pretty Hollies-centric, Sal. It's the psychadelic part I have a hard time with - when I hear psychadelic, I start envisioning a producer behind the glass twiddling knobs, instead of the band playing as is. I think that's my issue with that genre.

ge said...

'Dolls House' Ruleth in perpetuity!
[well the first few songs suite anyway]. What an atmosphere-- especially as conjured that very year of flanged stereo-headphoned marijuana & incense delectation
the music so sweet
the voice such a bleat
the mellotrons seething
harmonicas breathing
cellos wafting

dogbreath said...

Having just read a good article on Family in a two month old issue of Classic Rock mag, this piece is very timely - especially as the article made me gird up my loins & play some live Family and Roger Chapman solo stuff. And the first Streetwalkers album was never off my turntable when it originally came out. Classic, indeed!

Anonymous said...

I dunno. Checked them out on spotify. God, that guy has/had a grating voice. Yowch. But agree with misospecial that they had some cool cover art!

Bruce H.

Albert said...

Never Like This certainly catches my fancy..will have to investigate further..think I can get back my Streetwalkers' albums I traded-in to Titus Oaks?...didn't think so...crap....