Saturday, August 2, 2008

The UNi Records Story - Parts 1 and 2

Compilation (various artist)


The term "flower power" brings to mind images of beautiful hippie girls in mod skirts and go-go boots, gyrating wildly to a groovy backbeat as psychedelic lights flash and TV cameras zoom in and out. (Well it does for me, anyway!) But where did that groovy backbeat generally emanate from? Why Hollywood, of course! L.A. in '67 was undergoing a psychedelic revolution, and it needed a record label of its own solely devoted to ushering in the swingin' new sounds of the sixties. Thankfully, two young visionary record execs named Ned Tanen and Russ Regan took the bull by the horns and established UNi Records, a subsidiary of MCA.

UNi wasn't in the business of signing sappy lounge singers or Nashville bumpkins like Columbia, Capitol and their ilk. No, they were after the "hot" sounds. The sounds of "now". Groups were signed fast and furiously as the label scoured the countryside (or at least the Sunset Strip) in search of anything that would put them over the top and get them that hit. Naturally, bands that didn't produce were dropped just as fast.

The label's first mid-sized hit was provided by a Colorado outfit called the Rainy Daze. "That Acapulco Gold" rode its old-timey sound up the KHJ Boss 30 until the deejays got hip that the song's lyrics concerned smuggling bricks of hash across the border from Mexico. The powerful industry tip sheet the Gavin Report blacklisted the song and the band, and that was pretty much the end of the Rainy Daze. (The group did put out two more singles and an LP for UNi before leaving the label, all quite good. I will eventually get around to discussing these.)

After another charting single with Marcia Strassman's "The Flower People", the label finally hit paydirt with a group of teenagers from Glendale named Thee Sixpence. The young band provided plenty of their own material, but one song-- an instrumental called "the Happy Whistler"-- caught producer Frank Slay's ear. Tim Gilbert and John Carter of the Rainy Daze were brought in to write lyrics, and the lead vocal was cut by sixteen year old Greg Munford, who was simply a friend of the band brought in to do harmonies. The song was released as the b-side to a throwaway titled "Birdman of Alkatrash". The band changed their name to the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and when the record hit radio stations many DJs began to favor the now re-titled flip side, as it was obviously the superior track. It's often out of such unlikely scenarios that #1 records are born, and "Incense and Peppermints" would go on to achieve just that position. The Strawberry Alarm Clock, with an aggregate age of 17, were now the flagship artist of UNi Records.

The label would continue on for the rest of the decade, but their commercial fortunes mirrored that of the SAC to some degree. The Alarm Clock never again hit the Billboard Top 20, and despite a second #1 hit from the prestigious South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masakela titled "Grazing in the Grass", UNi would not find another rock band that could match the commercial success of the SAC. Thankfully they had better luck on the singer-songwriter circuit, signing Neil Diamond and later Elton John who would both go on to score numerous hits for the label. Their international division also did okay, producing a couple of big hits with the Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup" and Desmond Dekker's "The Israelites".

This is essentially all the information you'll find out there on UNi. The deeper, much more interesting story was revealed to me almost by accident. It started out with me coming across a few 45s and being captivated by the gorgeous psychedelic swirl pattern on the label. To this day it's still the coolest design I've ever seen for a label and sleeve. After buying a few more UNi singles for the collection, it began to occur to me that everything I was hearing from these guys sounded great, thirty some odd years after the original releases. Most of the artists were unknown to anyone aside from a few hardcore record collectors, but it almost didn't matter what the name on the label said, because I knew once I put needle to record that it was going to KICK ASS!


So what you've got here are more than 50 of the best UNi "A" sides (1967-1969) in my collection, sequenced in exact chronological order according to their matrix numbers. There are a few famous names mixed in here, but chances are you've never heard of more than a handful of these artists at best. Ignore that fact for a minute and take my advice: Sit back, put the music on, drink a cocktail or smoke a few bongloads, put away the track listing and just listen. UNi was a label with EXCEPTIONAL QUALITY CONTROL. Though they only scored a small smattering of hits in their pre-Elton John days, the important thing to the sophisticated music fan is that everything here was a POTENTIAL HIT just waiting to happen.

When you're done digging the sounds, you'll probably want to find out more about bands like the Lollipop Shoppe, the Giant Crab, the Fun & Games, the Yellow Payges and the Hook, just to name a few off the top of my head. Of course, all these bands have interesting stories in their own right, that we will get into at another time. But this set here is required listening for all you children of the Crystal Sphere.

Enjoy the UNi Records Story-- disc one and disc two-- and ask yourself the eternal question as posed by the Rainy Daze on track four, "is it better to wear a gray flannel suit or a paisley mind?"

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. I've been listening to this one a ton...super great. Thanks for all the work!

    The Uni Records Story

    DISC 1:

    1. Rainy Daze ~ That Acapulco Gold
    2. Factory ~ Smile, Let Your Life Begin
    3. Marcia Strassman ~ The Flower Children
    4. Rainy Daze ~ Good Morning, Mr. Smith
    5. Pleasure Fair ~ Morning Glory Days
    6. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Incense & Peppermints
    7. Rainy Daze ~ Blood Of Oblivion
    8. Emil Richards & The Factory ~ No Place I'd Rather Be
    9. Foundations ~ Baby, Now That I've Found You
    10. Alexander's Timeless Bloozband ~ Love So Strong
    11. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Tomorrow
    12. Lollipop Shoppe ~ You Must Be A Witch
    13. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Sit With The Guru
    14. Hook ~ Son Of Fantasy
    15. Fever Tree ~ San Francisco Girls
    16. Neil Diamond ~ Brooklyn Roads
    17. Hugh Masakela ~ Grazing In The Grass
    18. Yellow Payges ~ Judge Carter
    19. Rabbit MacKay ~ Candy
    20. Neil Diamond ~ Two-Bit Manchild
    21. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Barefoot In Baltimore
    22. Hook ~ Love Theme In E Major
    23. Pleasure Fair ~ I'm Gonna Have To Let You Go
    24. Neil Diamond ~ Sunday Sun
    25. Fun & Games ~ Elephant Candy
    26. Orange Colored Sky ~ Orange Colored Sky
    27. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Sea Shell

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    Replies
    1. This looks great!
      Is it possible to reup ?
      Thank you
      jp

      Delete
    2. This looks great!
      Is it possible it could be reupped?
      Thank you for your service
      jp

      Delete
  2. Any chance of the companion B Sides comp?

    The Uni Records Story

    DISC 2:

    1. Giant Crab ~ Hi Ho Silver Lining
    2. Fun & Games ~ Grooviest Girl In The World
    3. Betty Everett ~ There'll Come A Time
    4. Foundations ~ Build Me Up Buttercup
    5. Giant Crab ~ Believe It Or Not
    6. East Side Kids ~ Is My Love Strong
    7. Yellow Payges ~ The Two Of Us
    8. Neil Diamond ~ Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
    9. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ [You Put Me On] Standby
    10. Foundations ~ In The Bad Old Days
    11. Betty Everett ~ Better Tomorrow Than Today
    12. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Good Morning Starshine
    13. Dino, Desi & Billy ~ Thru Spray Colored Glasses
    14. Desmond Dekker & The Aces ~ The Israelites
    15. Neil Diamond ~ Sweet Caroline
    16. Foundations ~ My Little Chickadee
    17. Zodiac ~ X-Rated
    18. Cascades ~ Maybe The Rain Will Fall
    19. Yellow Payges ~ Vanilla On My Mind
    20. Giant Crab ~ ESP
    21. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Desiree
    22. Cascades ~ Floatin' Down The River
    23. Fever Tree ~ Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
    24. Neil Diamond ~ Holly Holy
    25. Lovelites ~ How Can I Tell My Mom And Dad
    26. Strawberry Alarm Clock ~ Starting Out The Day

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  3. Hey, thanks for taking the time to post the track listing A. Nony Mous! B-sides collection is a great idea for a future comp. In a lot of cases, the flip sides of these singles present a totally different sound than the chart sides. It would make for a cool comparison study if nothing else!

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  4. A few tidbits that may be of interest to some:

    · The Factory was Lowell George's band before he hooked up with the Mothers and later Little Feat.

    · Marcia Strassman is probably best known today as having played Kotter's wife on "Welcome Back Kotter"

    · The Hook were Bobby Arlin's band following the Leaves. They were originally the New Leaves until John Beck quit unexpectedly. Their bassist Lee "Buddy" Sklar went on to become a famous session player in the 70s and 80s.

    · The Fun & Games were a Texas band produced by legendary Sunshine Pop guru Gary Zekley.

    · "How Can I Tell My Mom and Dad" by the Lovelites was a big local hit in Chicago where the group was from, but was unable to garner much national airplay due to its controversial lyrics.

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  5. Wow, it took me over a year to find this-so I'm grateful that the files are still up!
    This is f**kin' awesome to have-thanks so much for sharing!!
    Checking out this discog:
    www.globaldogproductions.info/u/uni.html,
    the only discrepancy is Vol. 2 # 22 The Cascades-Floatin' down the river. The discog lists an 'Indian River."
    But...I'm nit-picking. This is an astounding
    gift you've given us.
    Big Thanks! Tom Tom Brown

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  6. Bobby
    The year was 1969 in Los Angeles. I am the lead singer with the Cascades. You came in the studio and played marvelously on "Maybe The Rain Will Fall" album. I wrote Floatin' Down River, Indian Rivier and others.
    I also played keyboard on that record. You are such a talent and inspiration. I would like to see you and talk with you again sometime.
    Gabe Lapano (The Cascades)

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  7. Hi Gabe, thanks for dropping by!

    Are you looking for Bobby Arlin? He's not affiliated with this blog, but we are big fans of his.

    Love your work with the Cascades! Those three songs you mention are all stone classics.

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  8. Thank you for this great gift from a french fan of good 60's psych gems. I already knew Lollipope shop, Rainy Daze, Strawbery (of course) and Yellow pages (have their records),but really appreciate the comp and the notes.
    10.0000 thanks for this one and the whole blog.

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  9. No problem Hector. Hope you find everything else to your liking!

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  10. This will make for great summer listening. Thanks very much! As you said, there are many unfamiliar tracks here.

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  11. Happy to provide you with your summertime soundtrack. Enjoy and come back often!

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  12. Holy fudge. I was psyched about L.A. Gemstones, but I think I'm even more psyched about this.

    A thousand thanks, as they say in Italian.

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  13. And as they say here in the States... "You da man!" Come back often!

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  14. any man, any chance of a re-up of disc 1? cheers

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  15. Any chance of a repost on this? I can get disc two, but sendspace says disc one has been deleted
    Thanks!
    Don in Oregon
    Have a GREAT 2012!

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  16. Hi.
    I just found this and I would LOVE to hear it, but the links are dead. Any chance of re-upping? Please?....Pretty Please? :-)
    Don from Oregon

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  17. Hi!
    I would still like to be able to get disc 1. Disc two link works, but would it be possible to re-load the link for Disc 1?

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  18. Here you go folks, enjoy the re-up! All links active and working now.

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  19. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Don from Oregon!

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  20. Even tho Im late to the party, just discovered yer blog; I like the way ya think. great sampler/posts.

    ReplyDelete