Sunday, August 9, 2015
The Action-Action Packed (Compilation)
In my sophomore and junior years of college, I was on a tear listening to UK, mid-60s era Nuggets groups. I always have had an affinity for garage rock. The aggression, speed, and raw sound of white teenagers probably hits close enough to home for it to be the one genre I really "get" on a personal level. I have been these guys. Before you grow up. Before you care about sound quality. Before anything matters more than playing with as much grit and speed as possible, this is how you sound. The Small Faces, The Creation, The Smoke and others were constantly in rotation for me that year. While I also fell for The Action, it was their unreleased album Brain that hooked me (later released, and soon to be reviewed, in the Rolled Gold release). I didn't pick up Action Packed until several years later, and I can remember being disappointed. Not every group of this era could be The Who or The Pretty Things and graduate from superb garage-rock to lush, 60s psychedelic masterpieces. But Action Packed did not hit me. It showed none of the glory present on the famous, unreleased album. Sure, on the surface it had all the things I loved about Maximum R&B, but the performances just weren't there for me. Like Satta Massagana this is definitely an album I only have listened to once. But unlike that album, a fresh set of ears made me enjoy it much more the second time around. I can see why I was probably turned off by it upon first listen. Opening track, a cover of Chris Kenner's "Land of 1000 Dances" is just not that good. It reminds me a lot of the Shadows Of Knight's version of "Gloria." Slower and tamer than the original, and especially a song like Dances, with several superb versions, why would I ever reach for this one? Even through what is supposedly supposed to be their best early song, "I'll Keep Holding On", nothing on this compilation really stuck out to me. But once I reached "Hey Sah-Lo-Ney", what makes this band great clearly started being audible. The refrain of "Come On Children" made me think of The Small Faces song of the same name, but really, this group stands out from the pack from their peers. What makes The Action unique is probably two things: a two-guitar lineup that allows for more interesting leads than most of their peers, and a better sense of soul. I especially want to focus on this latter point. In all garage rock, the lead singer is more or less trying to emulate black soul musicians. Whether you are Robert Plant or Steve Marriott, that's just what is being done. Some do it well, some not. Some songs, like "For All That I Am" and "Bony Marony" by The Creation come off great, some, like so many Motown covers (I'm looking at you Mick Jaggar), including the one included here ("Since I Lost My Baby") don't come off well. However, most of the time, these singers seem to be going for the raw emotion of an Otis Redding-type when singing covers, or even their own songs! However, The Action's Reg King is just better than most at singing soulfully. He has a beautiful voice, and it's not masked by any forced roughness. The Action are influences and what they are going for aren't that different than so many of their peers, but they often do it better, and like Dusty Springfield or The Young Rascals, do a great job of mimicking the soul they are emulating. "Wasn't It You" has a great acoustic guitar clearly point the way to their next group of recording sessions, that would lead to the aborted Brain album. "Never Ever" is another great example of superb blue-eyed soul. What strikes me the most from this compilation is also how great of a drummer they have. In listening to Rolled Gold for all of these years, I always thought the drumming was weak and fell off in certain points. Now, hearing it again, on a good CD player, the drumming is on point and unique, and definitely gives the group character. The final song, "Shadows and Reflections" though with a cute harpsichord, is really not good. It sounds generic for the time, and Beatles-lite (unsurprising, considering the group's affiliation with George Martin). The band is at their best with a rough, garage rock-take on soul music. Many of the tracks here point the way to what should have been a masterpiece.