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Spooky Tooth 'The Island Years (An Anthology) 1967-1974 (2015) review

The Ultimate Spooky Tooth Collection!
Spooky Tooth 'The Island Years (An Anthology) 1967-1974 (Universal-Island Records, Netherlands, 470 531-1, 2015)

While it may not be the complete works of Spooky Tooth issued by Island Records between 1967 and 1974, the 9 LP or 9 CD box set 'The Island Years' is by far the largest collection of the band's work ever made available.  So what is on offer here for a pleasantly affordable price?  The 9 LPs or CDs are each based around an album, beginning with 1967's 'Supernatural Fairy Tales' by the Spooky Tooth precursor band, Art, following with the 6 studio albums released by the band on their own, a 1969 album released by Spooky Tooth & Pierre Henry and a previously unreleased 1973 live recording from a gig in Oldenburg, Germany, in which the band reprised many of their best known songs.  

So, what does one find inside the slip cased box sex?  Disc One presents the 12 tracks from 'Supernatural Fairy Tales' in their original mono mixes.  The set opens with 'I Think I'm Going Weird' which would morph into the more familiar 'Weird' that appeared as the b-side of the band's debut single.  But that's jumping ahead too fast.  The version presented here features gorgeous vocals by Mike Harrison and the fuzzed out lead guitar of Luther Grosvenor.  With Harrison's trippy piano and Grosvenor's screaming lead guitar Art's version stands on its own.  The band also recorded an excellent cover of Buffalo Springfield's 'For What It's Worth' retitled 'What's That Sound' for the LP, also featuring Grosvenor's guitar prowess.  The album's title track features Grosvenor's roaring, thundering lead guitar and Mike Kellie's insistent drums locked tightly with the bass of Greg Ridley.  As bonus tracks, stereo mixes of 6 of the album's songs are presented here for the first time.

Disc Two contains the incredible 'It's All About' the 1968 debut LP of Spooky Tooth, the name the band chose when vocalist/keyboardist/songwriter Gary Wright joined the band.  His addition paid immediate dividends as he brought 'Sunshine Help Me' to the band, the song that would become Spooky Tooth's debut single in its mono edit, but is included on the album as well.  The album opens with a cover of Janis Ian's 'Society's Child' a social statement which featured organ and guitar interplay reminiscent of Deep Purple among other bands.  The album also features a Traffic vibe on tunes such as 'Too Much Of Nothin'' and 'Love Really Changed Me'.  The band also offers gritty rhythm and blues in their cover of J.D. Loudermilk's classic 'Tobacco Road'.  The albums 10 tracks are supplemented here by an additional 10 bonus tracks, single sides and BBC recordings.  The only obvious omission is the mono single edit of 'Sunshine Help Me' which is presented in its first mix, LP and BBC versions here so perhaps the compiler, Mark Powell, it would have been overkill to include the single version.  The single mix is available as a bonus track on Repertoire Records' 2005 reissue of 'It's All About' so if you have that compilation be sure to hold on to it.

Disc Three opens with what most consider Spooky Tooth's magnum opus 'Spooky Two' originally released in 1969.  Among the LPs tracks are 'Waitin' For The Wind' a radio friendly tune prominently featuring interplay between guitarist Grosvenor and organist Wright.  The heavy rockin' 'Evil Woman' contains not one but two solos by Grosvenor and stretches out to more than 9 minutes.  If only FM radio had been bigger!  Also among the album's cuts is a 5 minute psychedelic tour de force, 'Lost In My Dream' the title of the 2 CD 'Anthology' Powell compiled for Esoteric Records, UK in 2009.  The disc is filled out with 9 bonus tracks, including BBC recordings, first mixes of 3 tracks and a single side.

'Spooky Two' may well have marked the band's high water mark in the studio but it also marked the end of the band's original incarnation with bassist Greg Ridley leaving to join Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton in the newly formed Humble Pie.  Ridley was replaced by Andy Leigh who would contribute to the band's next album, written by Wright and French electronic music pioneer Pierre Henry, titled 'Ceremony:  An Electronic Mass' released in 1969.  The album, not unlike 'Mass In F Minor' and 'Release Of An Oath' by The Electric Prunes, was controversial due to its religious topic and despite the band making it clear that this was a Pierre Henry album on which Spooky Tooth played, music buyers expressed their opinions by not purchasing the LP.  In all fairness, the band does some excellent work as evidenced by tracks like 'Hosanna' but the album did not sell.  Disc Four gets a bit confusing here as 3 of the single mixes of songs from 'Spooky Two' are included as bonus tracks including 'That Was Only Yesterday' along with a first version and an unreleased song from the 'Ceremony' sessions.

Disc Five begins with the 7 tracks from 1970s 'The Last Puff' released after Gary Wright departed the band late in 1969.  The title was fitting for more than one reason.  First, it was to be the last Spooky Tooth album for 3 years and second it marked the departure of lead guitarist Luther Grosvenor.  'The Last Puff' opens with a 6 minute, 20 second cover of The Beatles' 'I Am The Walrus' featuring Grosvenor's guitar screaming and howling with Kellie's drums driving the beat.  The rest of the album is a mixture of cover versions of songs by such diverse artists as Joe Cocker, Mike Post, David Ackles, Elton John and Chris Stainton, the latter actually becoming a member of the band during this period and it is Stainton's instrumental that is the title track and closes the album and the book on Spooky Tooth until 1973.  Besides Stainton who played keyboards and guitar on the album, guitarist Henry McCullouch and bassist Alan Spenner, Stainton's band mates in The Grease Band who backed Joe Cocker among others.  Bonus tracks on this disc include four single sides such as the incredible 5:15 single edit of 'I Am The Walrus' and a remix of Robbie Robertson's 'The Weight' included on the US LP 'Tobacco Road'.

Disc Six has the 8 tracks which composed one of the best titled albums in rock history, 1973s 'You Broke My Heart So.....I Busted Your Jaw' which marked the return of Gary Wright who had recently disbanded his group Wonderwheel.  Along with Wright, the LP featured only Mike Harrison from days gone by as the band was rounded out by ex-Wonderwheel and future Foreigner lead guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Chris Stewart and drummer Bryson Graham.  Wright wrote or cowrote all the songs on the album, but despite highlights such as 'Wild Fire' with its heavy guitar riff and funky feel and 'Cotton Growing Man' with Jones' clean but fiery playing the album failed to sell and more personnel changes were quick to come.

Disc Seven has the 9 tracks that comprised 1973s 'Witness' by which time Wright, Harrison, Stewart and Jones had been rejoined by Mike Kellie on drums.  'Witness' like 'You Broke My Heart' before it is largely a Gary Wright album as he once again wrote or co wrote all the songs on the album.  The album mixes gentle mid-tempo numbers like 'As Long As The World Keeps Turning' and 'Wings On My Heart' with heavier tunes like 'Things Change' and 'Don't Ever Stray Away' which feature heavy riffs by Jones and some nice organ/guitar interplay.  Unfortunately, critics considered the album inconsistent and it did not sell well.

By the time of 1974's 'The Mirror' the curtain was about to fall on Spooky Tooth.  Mike Harrison and Mike Kellie both exited the band before the album leaving Wright the only original member remaining.  Jones and Graham stayed on joined by Val Burke on bass and Mike Patto on vocals, electric piano, drums, clavinet and organ.  With Eddie Kramer at the controls 'The Mirror' contained some strong material such as 'Hell Or High Water' and 'The Mirror' but the album met a cool reception and Gary Wright decided to return to the US effectively ending Spooky Tooth.  But what a run it had been.

The final disc in the set was recorded live in Oldenburg, Germany on 7 April 1973 and although it is not the original band, thus Mick Jones is on lead guitar rather than Luther Grosvenor, 3 original members of the band, Wright, Harrison and Kellie are joined by long time members Mick Jones and Chris Stewart and in just under an hour they run through 9 of Spooky Tooth's finest, including 'I Am The Walrus' 'Evil Woman' 'Tobacco Road' and 'Sunshine Help Me'.  The sound was captured by the Island Mobile unit and sounds wonderful.  

Alright, so there we have it.  9 CDs containing 114 tracks, or 9 LPs with 78 tracks.  The CDs are each in gatefold mini LP sleeves and the tracks, mastered by Ben Wiseman are sounding better than ever.  The 52 page booklet containing an essay by compiler, researcher Mark Powell as well as complete track annotations, many photos and other memorabilia.  Also included is a poster of 'What's That Sound' by Art.  All in all a wonderful package available at a reasonable price.  This may not be the place for novices to begin but for fans of Spooky Tooth this is one incredible collection!

Review made by Kevin Rathert/2015
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