Monday, November 7, 2011

Ugliest Band In History Nomination

A few weeks ago, Tom was telling us about the journey of Quinn the Eskimo from the basement of 2188 Stoll Road in West Saugerties, New York, around the world. YouTube is packed with Quinn covers, including the 1910 Fruitgum Company (surprisingly good and garage-y), and the Beatles doodling around on “I Got A Feeling” and slipping into a few Eskimo chords. But as Tom pointed out, it was Manfred Mann who took it top ten in the U.S. (No. 1 in the U.K.), introducing impressionable youngsters to the idea that you could like your sugar sweet and still be discerning about what, or who, was your preferred cup of meat.

All of which sent me back to Lo and Behold, a Manfred Mann-produced 1973 one-off collection of then-unreleased Dylan songs from a bunch of Brits who may well have the distinction of being the ugliest band in rock history, or at least the ugliest good band in rock history. Tom McGuinness played bass and guitar for Manfred Mann; Hughie Flint played drums for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers when their guitarist was still Eric Clapton. Together they formed McGuinness-Flint with singer-keyboardist Dennis Coulson and two songwriters, Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, who had been in-house at Apple (and who can also claim to have written the title track for Art Garfunkel’s 1975 solo album, Breakaway). McGuinness-Flint had a U.K. Christmas No. 2 with their first single, a bouncy mandolin-driven thing with some Christmas-y kazoo and the not very Christmas-y title “When I’m Dead and Gone.” (Even less Christmas-y: a Wikipedia contributor deduces it’s about Robert Johnson from the line “Hey there, ladies, Johnson’s free.” Said case is not bolstered by said Wikipedia contributor transcribing the line incorrectly.)

Anyway: Coulson Dean McGuiness Flint. Excellent album! Cowbell, glammed-up guitar, country honks, polyphonic New Orleans horn marches, sitars, and English girls trying to be gospel singers. Plus their version of “Odds and Ends” cops the guitar lick of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” for an outro, a neat way of playing up all ghosts of ‘50s rock that danced around Robbie Robertson’s guitar strings.

But just look at them! It’s as though Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem have been joined by a guy auditioning to play Lemmy in a Motorhead cover band. Never have leather and denim been so misused, abused, confused and wrongly accused. On the right, McGuinness and Flint are doing their best to project the aloof cool of guys who’ve had a few hit singles, but come off like a would-be hipster high-school teacher and biker who’s never ridden a motorcycle; on the left, Coulson and Dean look like drunk guys who’ve just hatched a plan to steal 50 pounds of cotton candy from a local fair. (They will later find out it has no resale value.) Today, when even bearded yabos like My Morning Jacket have access to a stylist and a groomer, does any band look this slovenly and goofy on their album cover?


  1. This version of Odds and Ends does not do it for me, although it does seem to presage the generic blecch of, say, Traveling Wilburys.

    Also, as pickup lines go, “Hey there, ladies, Johnson’s free” has never worked for me.

    I do agree with you on the ugly thng, though. And nice to see someone besides that Nawrocki fellow posting here...

  2. I was wondering what the songwriting team of Gallagher and Lyle could contribute to an album of Dylan covers, but it turns out they left the group before Lo and Behold, in favor of bassist Dean. Gallagher and Lyle are key figures in the Garfunkel oeuvre, writing not just "Breakaway" but "A Heart in New York."

    Anyway, great post! Makes me want to hear the whole record.