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Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Honeycombs - "All Systems GO!" CD, Mono, Japan (Parlophone) WPCR-16842 (Recorded in 1965, CD 2015)

First of all, ignore this cover.  This is from an early CD release.  The one I have is Japanese and it has 11 bonus tracks.  Re-released in 2015 and remastered at that time in Japan as well.  So, a classy package of the second Honeycombs album, produced by the legendary and great Joe Meek. 

The first album by the Honeycombs (same title as their name) is a masterpiece.   All the songs were written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who worked as a team and sometimes known as "Howard Blaikley."   The essence of The Honeycombs is Denny D'ell's vocals, which has traces of vintage Gene Pitney, but very much his own voice that conveys emotional breakdown and disappointed.  A British soul voice that doesn't adopt from the Black American, but from a crooner's fate in its own hell-hole.   Their drummer Honey Lantree, who besides being a female drummer (unique at that time in the early 60s) is also a good vocalist as well, when she takes a solo vocal time-to-time, and third, and perhaps most important is the contribution by the record producer, Joe Meek.

Listening to a Honeycombs recording from the early 60s is very much like listening to a band produced by Brian Eno in the 1970s.   Meek takes all the aural ingredients from the band and transforms the sound into something compressed and highly electronic.  The vocalist echo effect traces back to the croon via Phil Spector, but Meek makes it totally unique and of course, the sound is from outer space.  There is also the weird electronic keyboard that comes through their recordings which I believe is a Clavioline or Univox.

After the success of The Honeycombs' first single "Have I The Right," they pretty much toured the world, so the second album I imagine is what is left over from the first or material put together quite quickly.  "All Systems GO!" sounds very much like a second album.   Still, a fantastic album, that is not a masterpiece like the first, but it does show a band with a future (which, didn't happen).   One of the great beauty tracks on the album is "Emptiness" a song written by The Kinks' Ray Davies.   A beautiful song that is totally classic Ray.   There are classic performances here.  "Something I Got To Tell You" is a Honey lead vocal, and she is the classic British pop girl singer.  Why she didn't make recordings under her own name is a mystery of sorts, but nevertheless her work as a percussionist/drummer as well as occasional lead vocalist and back-up is always superb. 

"I Can't Stop" is a classic Honeycombs single.  It should have been a mega-hit, but alas, it didn't happen. There are five solo Joe Meek compositions on the album, and all are either great, or of interest.  Meek's work as a songwriter always has a yearning for a better romance or life - it's moving when you know his actual life and what he went through.   For me, I feel The Honeycombs was a perfect vehicle for Meek to do his magic.   The band itself is great, with a wonderful guitarist in Alan Ward, but even the throwaway b-sides that are on this album is enticing as well.   A great find for me in Japan. I bought this CD at Pet Sounds in Meguro Tokyo.