The Loved Ones – Magic Box

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If there was ever an Australian act in desperate need of reappraisal and deserving of a full deluxe reissue it’s The Loved Ones. Although they were around for a mere two years, their influence on the Oz music scene was considerable, so much so that today they are regarded as one of the most substantive groups of the late 1960’s, whose pioneering blend of pop, blues, jazz and R&B was as unique as it was original.

The band formed in Melbourne, in 1965. The three founding members Gerry Humphrys (vocals, harmonica), Kim Lynch (bass) and Ian Clyne (piano, organ) had all played in The Red Onion Jazz Band (no I’ve never heard of them either), a ‘trad’ jazz group who played that city’s Bohemian clubs and recorded one album before soon disbanding. Now a lot of young people nowadays might wonder what all the fuss was about, but back in the day, groups such as these were at the forefront of the newly emerging youth culture, and were an all important stepping stone to what would soon be known as the “counter culture”. The Loved Ones were in their time what The Sex Pistols were in theirs. It’s just that in the case of the latter, they had bigger amps and more public exposure.

Album opener “The Loved One” is perhaps better known amongst fans of INXS, who covered the song twice, first in 1981, and again in 1987. But for my money the original will always remain the superior version. Humphrys snarls his vocals like a Van Morrison with a piece of sandpaper lodged down his throat, while the rhythm section plays a deceptively simple beat (they were all jazz musicians after all). It’s a brilliant pop tune, and like many groups from that era, they don’t waste a second.

“Everlovin’ Man” was the band’s debut single, and in just over two minutes it packs a concise and powerful punch. It is also one of the best ‘kiss-off’ songs ever written. Humphrys’ singing style ranges from polite semi-baritone one moment to “quick, anyone got a straight jacket” the next. And when he sings “Oh everything you meant to me baby/My word is easy but I’ll leave you in your misery”, the primal urgency is palpable (check out YouTube if you don’t believe me). Not even Robert Plant could extemporise with such wild abandon as Hymphrys does on this recording. The song was a hit in Australia, and if only their record company had of had the ambition, I’m sure it would have also proved to be just as popular in the UK.

“Sad Dark Eyes” is almost a waltz, although a morbid one at that. Not quite Baroque ballad, not quite hard pop tune; one thing’s for sure, it’s certainly unique. This is obviously where the group’s jazz credentials came in handy, enabling them to write compositions whose arrangements were somewhat more sophisticated than your average three chord wonders who were beginning to crawl from out of garages around suburban Australia en mass.

“A Love Like Ours”, “This is Love”, and the title track “Magic Box” are the sort of pop tunes one would expect to hear around the mid 60’s, in other words, decent ditties but hardly worth repeating, except for “Love Song”, which has a melody that is simply irresistible. Yet as is the case with so many of their songs, there is always an element of underlying danger lurking beneath those tender elegiac sentiments.

The rest of the album consists of a few covers. Fats Dominoes’ classic ode to losing one’s virginity, “Blueberry Hill” (where Humphrys sounds like a black Eric Burdon); “Shake, Rattle & Roll, and Muddy Waters’ “I Want You to Love Me” (played in convincing fashion I might add). “The Loverly Car” is constructed around some pretty piano but has little else to recommend it composition wise (apart from the witty lyrics). The same goes with “(I’m No Good) Without You”, a rehearsal from heaven knows where, and will probably be of interest only to those who were there.

The album rounds out with three songs performed at Melbourne’s iconic Festival Hall on April 1967. The sound quality could be regarded as being of bootleg quality, but considering that most teenagers in those days heard music through relatively primitive transistor radios, helps give a sense of people’s expectations when it came to listening to their favourite music. And while we’re on the subject of sound quality, when this compilation was being prepared (back in 1985), apparently only the left hand channel of the original stereo mix was used, which means that almost the entire right channel is missing. So, one would think it’s about time that someone tracked down the master tapes and released a proper mix. Perhaps a 50th Anniversary edition might be in order?

The Loved Ones were one of the most musically accomplished and well-respected out of all the pop/rock groups in Oz at that time, whose short tenure left an indelible impression on the minds of those fortunate enough to have seen them live. Rock and Roll was still in its infancy in those days, and with the likes of Cream and Jimi Hendrix beginning to set the scene, it’s difficult to say how they might have adapted to the new world order had they not imploded so early on. But at least they had their moment in the sun, putting their own dent in an oft immalleable fabric of a small portion of the earth’s population, which at the end of the day, should be regarded as a remarkable achievement in itself.