23 February 2006

the honeycombs - "have i the right" (from the have i the right : the very best of the honeycombs lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : british invasion pop just as likely to blow your mind as to set your toes tapping.

joe meek, for the uninitiated, was like the british phil spector, if phil spector were really into science fiction. actually, w/ his flair for the melodramatic, he was probably more like a hybrid of spector and george "shadow" morton. his production of the telstars' "tornado" was the first single by a british act to to top the u.s. charts, effectively launching the first salvo in the british invasion. he was pioneering and accomplished like spector, but their personal lives, too, had unfortunate parallels. in 1967, when spector might have been in the productio booth pointing a pistol at some poor artist, meek had pointed a gun at himself, taking his own life at the age of 37.

but how does one segue out of that? perhaps by saying that such volatility, when sublimated, made for truly awesome works of art, like the honeycombs' "have i the right." the single is something of a missing link between del shannon and early slade singles, a conclusion that might make more sense after listening to the record. it's inspired weirdness, from the alien organ rolls to the muted pong emitted by the drums on the chorus. the most fascinating element of the song is the guitar : it doesn't sound so much like an instrument as an organic, living, breathing something, bouncing and slinking around the studio. a well-trained something, though, and that's something worth mentioning, for despite how bizarre it all is, there is a method behind it. for an example, just listen to the guitar and drum fills in the breaks between stanzas. it's as well-regulated as a spector session.

one might concur, then, that the honeycombs were a studio creation, under meek's thumb completely. that would, however, do grave injustice to vocalist dennis o'dell, who is far removed from the standard faceless studio hack. indeed, if meek is a bit, well, eccentric, o'dell is positively mad. against such a controlled setting, o'dell comes off like gene pitney w/ frankie valli's capacity for scenery-chewing. it is an inspired performance, his growl leading into the choruses rivalling even meek's guitar sound.

this may sound merely like a record collector's dream, a relic lost to the ages, but i hasten to add that this was a top 5 single. granted, all things british were in vogue, but it does the heart good to think how welcoming pop audiences can be, how they can take something so forward-thinking to heart, so long as a record is placed in the right context and given a proper introduction. (i can only hope i've done the same here : the legacy of joe meek deserves nothing less.)

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