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The Blue Things

05-14-2023 | By Robert Pincus | Issue 127

I love forgotten bands and forgotten albums. Part of it is the pleasure of knowing something that other people don't know, and the other part is knowing about obscure rock bands that made really good music. Having said this, I don't like cult bands. Cult bands are usually overrated, and their appeal is usually traceable to something trivial in pop culture, like a scene from a movie or a recurring TV commercial. A perfect example of a cult band is Big Star, and a forgotten band that deserves cult band notoriety is The Blue Things.

The Blue Things were originally The Blueboys, and the band was formed at Fort Hays State College in Hays Kansas. They recorded a few singles before and after they made their only album, Blue Things (RCA LSP 3603) in 1966. The album was produced by Felton Jarvis, who was mostly known for his work with Elvis, but he also produced people like Willie Nelson, Jerry Reed, and Charlie Pride.

I play seven cuts on Blue Things, and four are so good they stir my soul. The album opens with one of the most soul-stirring cuts on the entire album and it's called "High Life." It's an original composition by lead singer Val Stoecklein (1941 - 1993) and the first time I heard it was in a record store. I was stunned by music that sounded like it was custom made for me. The Blue Thing's music is slightly edgy, folky, and a little dark, and this is a perfect description of this opening cut, and much of the album. Their music is clearly influenced by Bob Dylan and the Byrds, but the Blue Things carved their own special niche and it's quite addicting.

Side one cut two is a rock and roll reworking of Dylan's "Girl From The North Country." This craggy folk song needed a rock band to cover it, and The Blue Things turned it into something very tasty. Dylan fans love cool Dylan covers and Stoecklein sings it with a British accent, a popular trend in the 60s, which in this case works fabulously. The third cut, "Doll House," was one of the band's most requested cuts, and it's another one of the album's most incredible moments. This is a dark song about the world's oldest profession, and to my ears it's rock and roll perfection. Stoecklein is front and center with his awesome voice and his acoustic guitar. The band provides a backup chorus with great harmonization, and Mike Chapman's electric lead guitar adds fantastic colors. Like a Beatles song, this music directly feeds the pleasure portal of my mind. You can hear the superb mono mix on YouTube.  

Side one cut four is a reworking of the rockabilly song "La Do Da Da" by Dale Hawkins. Hawkins, famous for "Susie Q," also had a minor hit with "La Do Da Da." The 1958 original is a high octane rockabilly record with two screaming guitar breaks. It's a good example of the deep-south rockabilly sound which made Hawkins famous. Hawkins had a fine voice and I'm guessing that the guitar solos were played by future studio legend James Burton. The Blue Things add additional magic to "La Do Da" by transforming it into a straight ahead rocker, more in line with The Byrds and The Beatles. Also, unlike the original, which Hawkins performed with a single lead vocal (He also received a little help from some barely-heard female vocals.), the Blue Things sing the lyrics in Yardbirds-flavored four part harmony, thus creating a sense of massive power. However, what really sets their version apart from Hawkins is Mike Chapman's fabulous lead guitar. As great as the guitar playing is on the original version, Chapman's playing is in another league. For this song he channels Dave Davies of the Kinks, and the result is amazing.

Side two opens with a good cover of Jimmy Reed's "Ain't that Loving You Baby." I say it's "good" because The Beau Brummels do it much better. Cut three is a thought-provoking Stoecklein original called "Now's The Time." It's a haunting love song from a singer whose voice I've grown to love, and on this cut his acoustic guitar sounds like it was tuned by Joni Mitchell. This is the kind of song that deserves a good cover, but, sadly, the only person who covered it was Leonard Nimoy, and his version is, as you'd expect, highly illogical. "Now's The Time'' is followed by an irresistible cut that will play in your head long after you file the LP away. It's called "The Man On The Street," and it was written by Wayne Carson Thompson, the man who gave "The Letter'' and "Neon Rainbow'' to The Boxtops. It's further proof that Thompson wrote really good songs, and that The Blue Things were experts at bringing good songs to life. 

The Blue Things are quite possibly the greatest what-if band of all time, and the ever-important sound of their LP is also good, and at times it's very good. You probably won't be demoing your stereo with this LP, although I'm crazy enough to do it. The LP doesn't sound as good as Tres Hombres or Crime Of The Century, but those are 16 track albums recorded on 2" tape. This is a 60s album recorded on 4-track 1/2" tape. If you like the sound of albums from The Doors, The Association, and The Youngbloods, you'll find the sound of this LP comforting.

The only LP copy of Blue Things that I own is a modern reissue from Scorpio. Scorpio albums  usually sound inferior to original pressings, but some of them sound very good. Original copies of Blue Things are too expensive for my budget. I tried the 2001 CD and it sounded dismal. I honestly don't know what the source for this LP reissue is, and mastering engineer David Cheppa may have cut it from a digital file, but whatever the source is, it's a lot better than the source used to make the BMG CD. The Scorpio LP is tonally right, and sonically it doesn't leave me wishing for an original pressing, although the collector in me is always curious. YouTube features some of the mono mixes and the few I sampled sounded surprisingly good. I'd love to hear if any of that magic exists on the original mono LPs, so wish me some luck so I might find one.

If my review inspires one of PF's well-connected readers to reissue the album, I implore that person to contact me, as I'm one of the few audiophiles who even knows this album, and I know a thing or two about making great sounding LPs from old tapes. And, hey, if you bump into me, and you own an original copy of the LP, one that I can hear on my audio system, lunch is on me!