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The Wild Story of the Move

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David Fricke Jan 19, 2009
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From 1966 to 1972, the Move were the greatest British band most Americans never heard. Formed in Birmingham in late 1965, the original five ”“ singer Carl Wayne, guitarist-singer Roy Wood, guitarist Trevor Burton, bassist Ace Kefford and drummer Bev Bevan ”“ were an explosive combination of white-R&B vocal firepower, beyond-the-Who stage theatrics and progressive-pop ambition. In Wood, the Move also had their own one-man Lennon-McCartney, a devilishly ingenious songwriter who mined his witty way with hooks and boy-girl stories with profound sadness (the singalong surrender of ”˜Blackberry Way’) and an eerie fascination with lunacy (the rubber-room delight ”˜Cherry Blossom Clinic’). Yet no other English group of the era was so wildly successful at home ”“ their first four UK singles were all Top Five hits ”“ while bombing so hard here.

The Move were as unstable as they were brilliant, changing and losing members with each of their four albums and touring America once, playing in three cities in 1969. Finally, Wood, Bevan and singer-guitarist Jeff Lynne, who joined in early 1970, dropped the name and became the Electric Light Orchestra. You know the rest of that story. But there is so much to the wild tale of the Move that it doesn’t fit on the recent generous-bonus-track reissues of those albums: 1968’s Move, 1970’s Shazam and Looking On (all Salvo/Fly), and 1971’s Message From the Country (EMI).

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Anthology 1966-1972 (Salvo/Fly), a new four-CD fanatic’s dream, goes deep right at the start, with previously unissued rave-ups from the Move’s first recording date and a ’66 radio session, then traces the band’s rapid evolution through eccentric power pop (”˜I Can Hear the Grass Grow,’ the originally shelved B side ”˜Vote for Me’), paisley cheer (”˜Flowers in the Rain’) and the heavy grandeur (”˜Brontosaurus,’ ”˜Feel Too Good’) that, with lots of strings and reeds, would become ELO. Rare mixes and outtakes abound, but the live action ”“ an entire disc of 1968 uproar from London’s Marquee Club and two tracks from a ’69 show at the Fillmore West ”“ is the greater revelation. The ’68 covers of Love’s ”˜Stephanie Knows Who’ and Spooky Tooth’s ”˜Sunshine Help Me’ (with Wood’s spiraling wah-wah guitar) are florid mayhem. And there is a full-circle thrill in hearing Todd Rundgren’s 1968 Move homage, Nazz’s ”˜Open My Eyes,’ hijacked by the Move a year later with suitelike fury. ”˜We’re not psychedelic,’ Wayne, who died in 2004, once said. “We’re showmen.” This is what he meant.

Titans of Power Pop

It is hard to resist the cheerful striving all over Titan: It’s All Pop! (Numero Group), a two-CD salute to a shoestring enterprise. Titan Records, an indie power-pop label in Kansas City, Missouri, released a sampler LP and a handful of singles at the turn of the Eighties, shelving as much as it put out. This set is pretty much Titan’s history in full, and the title is no lie. The quality of the next-Beatles and new-Raspberries aspirations of Gary Charlson, the Gems and Millionaire at Midnight (it’s a band) never dips, even if the fidelity isn’t quite Abbey Road.

2 + 2 = Rock!

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Sung with a Michigan-rock vengeance from the point of view of a soldier up to his helmet in a firefight, the Bob Seger System’s 1968 grenade ”˜2 + 2 = ?’ ”“ basically a searing fuzztone riff and hellish-chant chorus ”“ now sounds like great out-of-Iraq & roll. It’s also way too elusive on vinyl and CD, so Scott Morgan, one of Seger’s killer peers in the Sixties and Seventies, has cut the song with his band Powertrane for imminent release. While you wait to buy, play it loud at myspace.com/scottmorgandetroit.

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