The Land Of Sensations & Delights: the psych pop sounds of White Whale Records (White Whale)
The White Whale label in Los Angeles lasted half a decade, 1965-1970 – focused heavily on singles, and had only one genuine hit act (but what an act: The Turtles, the vocal and melody geniuses whose songs like Happy Together, She’d Rather Be With Me and Elenore, still feel like sunshine popping in your head), so we’re not talking Stax or A&M or Motown, or even Immediate.
In other words, unless you’re a nerd/afficionado of the times - like guitarist for The Knack, Berton Averre, who can rattle off underground hits of the ‘60s from around the world and yet not sound like Music Rainman - the chances are you’re not going to know any of these artists (at least not under the name used here) and will maybe recognise one song (later covered by R.E.M.) out of the 26 captured here.
Not least, it should be noted, because a number of these tracks were B-sides. So, yeah, niche.
A problem? Not really, if you have any fondness for the sounds of the mid-to-late ‘60s. And the plural is key as here like flicking through some ideal radio band you get garage rock, psych pop, bubblegum, British Invasion knock-offs, Turtles-alike, nascent trippiness, and what happens with people who’ve had a transistor permanently switched on as they hit the beach, the drive-in, the basement or the backroom of the Whisky A Go Go.
And in the main they’re not just worth hearing but worth repeated plays, no matter if your usual period preference is snotty guitars and basic rhythm, like Professor Morrison’s Lollipop’s You Got The Love, faux harpsichord and tremulous male vocals, as in the title track by J.K. & Co., meaningful and earnest jangle like Buster Brown’s Byrdsian The Proud One, or some groovy stomp by The Clique on Superman – the song recorded by R.E.M. nearly 20 years later.
Take for example the final song here, In The Garden, by Dallas band Triste Janero. They take Sergio Mendes’ easy percussive rhythm and even easier female vocal lines and blend it with a dash of middle of the road rock and a slight nod to jazz. Or the Herman’s Hermits-ish I Can’t Get Nowhere With You, by Kris Jensen, which sweetens very early Beatles, hints at English affectations and then slides in a bit of roughness.
The flute and trilling background vocals which turn into upbeat ba-ba-bas of Song #7 are so proto-Partridge Family you feel like it’s only a matter of time before Danny makes a wisecrack, though in theory Lyme & Cybell, which once featured Warren Zevon, long before his solo fame, were a duo.
And immediately following Song #7 (which is actually song #8 on the record, pop pickers) is a cover of Vegetables, the crunchy Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks quirk which had survived the aborted Beach Boys Smile sessions to appear on the album Smile. Here it’s done by The Laughing Gravy, which was Dean Torrance of surf pop duo, and Wilson pals, Jan & Dean. Nerd alert!
Elsewhere you might feel like you’ve picked up some promising LA folk rock band down the bill at a Love show (Cheyenne by Horses), a kind of Boyce & Hart on the brink (Dalton & Montgomery’s All At Once), maybe a hidden release by Normie Rowe & The Playboys (Little Girl, Little Boy, by The Odyssey) or Love themselves (the spot-on Mournin’ Do, by Summer Dream).
Everything and everyone here was small beer, and there’s no sense that an absolute classic has been hiding under the White Whale covers, though the right timing and the right backing could well have seen several of these songs become radio favourites.
But that’s ok. There’s no rubbish here, and as any crate digger/compilation search/music fan knows, there’s can be plenty to enjoy from the second or third tier.