Star Spangled Banger was a progressive–rock outfit who released just one self-titled album in 1973 for the Havoc label based in Melbourne. Formed the previous year by John Brownrigg (vocals, guitar), Ron Walters (vocals, piano, organ) and Paul Doo (drums), it was decided, due to Brownriggs’ family commitments, that the band would remain a studio project only, however when Havoc shut up shop not long after the album’s release, it was soon deleted, never to be pressed again. In fact, listening to this LP through my headphones, it would seem that Aztec Music’s reissue of this most obscure of early ‘70s artefacts was mastered from the original vinyl, which must mean that the original tapes no longer exist.
Lead singer/guitarist Brownrigg originally earned his stripes while playing in numerous bands throughout the Merseybeat movement in London during the ‘60’s, giving the album an extremely English feel throughout. Fans of Roger Chapman (of Family) will no doubt notice a distinct similarity in Brownrigg’s own singing style. But don’t let that put you off. It merely proves that the man could really hold down a tune.
Opening with “Fear of the Night”, the first sounds one hears are those of a plane taking off before crashing through your speakers (or headphones in my case). It’s quite effective though will come across as superfluous to most modern listeners I’m sure. But effects aside, this fuzz guitar and percussion fueled composition is extremely enjoyable, if a little tentative at moments. “Question of the Country” is another one of those plaintive songs so common in the late ‘60s early ‘70’s, where Brownrigg’s idiosyncratic falsetto is on full display. It’s a lovely piece actually, with some delicate piano (by Walter), acoustic guitar along with an extremely memorable chorus. I’m sure if some Gen Y schmuck recorded a version of this today, he, or she, would probably have an immediate hit on their hands.
“Run (Move Away)” and the humorous “’Fancy Underpants” are both short enjoyable numbers, especially the latter with its references to a cross dresser: “See me in my fancy underpants… See me in my fancy lingerie”. “Suite 3” reminds me of early Guess Who, and makes you want to look out the window on a rainy day and reflect on life, love, or whether that last purchase you made on eBay will ever arrive. The trad-rock of “Protestor Man” is followed by the excellent “Sailing” (no, nothing to do with Rod Stewart), a brief proggy-jazz instrumental with some superb piano and drumming. It’s definitely one of the most memorable songs of the album. “Country Son (for BOT)” is pretty, but must have seemed terribly outdated even for 1973. On “Pull Together” Brownrigg imitates The Beatles too closely for my liking. Why not just cover “A Day in the Life” instead? The same applies to “One Out – Two In”, which is a subtle blend of Badfinger and solo George Harrison. Far superior is the bluesy “Continental”, on which Walter plays some mean and gritty guitar in a way that reminds me of Peter Green.
“Don’t You” is another one of those ‘message songs’ that were being written by the hundreds at the height of the whole hippie movement. To be sure, it has its moments, but is the sort of tune that was fast going out of fashion. By the time we get to “Thanks To You” I’m beginning to think that the record could have done with some culling. Because it’s getting late and I really do need my sleep as I’m getting older.
The album concludes with the title track, “Star Spangled Banger”, a weird, somewhat disjointed journey and one I’m not sure what to make of. Elements of Family and Jethro Tull abound throughout, I can hear that much, but otherwise it’s a bit of a mess, apart from the main guitar riff (and to think they chose to release it as a single?). While the nuclear explosion at the end I just don’t understand at all. Too much hash under the console, that’s all I can say. At least the cover is a hoot, and reminds me of a cartoon equivalent to Day of the Locust.
When this album was recorded, the age of protest songs was virtually at an end. Had it of been issued in the late ‘60s then it might have had a chance of reaching out to a wider audience. Still, Star Spangled Banger stands to this day as an eclectic mix of mostly quality compositions any lover of the era in which it was made should enjoy, and purchase without complaint.