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A-Square (Of Course): The Story of Michigan's Legendary A-Square Records

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★★★★½
(6 Reviews)

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  • This collection features 25 recording by about ten different artists recorded primarily in the years 1966 thru ‘68 on the Ann Arbor based A-Square record label.
    It opens appropriately with The Scott Richard Case featuring a locally charting rendition of Skip James’ “I’m So Glad”, a slightly different take than the version from the previously released Fresh Cream album. For many in the greater Detroit AM Radio market, it was to be the first exposure to both the tune and SRC. The next track by this group is a superb cover of The Pretty Things “Get the Picture” featuring a faithful rendition of Phil Mays unique and breathy soulful white-Brit voice. The group’s more muscular take of the Mays/Taylor “Midnight to Six Man” is more representative of a Detroit Style of music. In “Who Is That Girl” there is some foreshadowing of what was to become the signature psyche sound of SRC in the soon to follow Capital recordings but the laudable Qualkenbush guitar tone is barely evident in any these four cuts. Why any right-thinking group of musicians that did not include Keith Moon would choose to record “Cobwebs and Strange” is beyond my understanding. However this overlong ditty does feature as fine of Slide Flute work that could be found in Southeastern Michigan at the time.
    The MC5 were both underground and live legends when the originals “Looking at You” and “Borderline” were pressed. The first, a snazzy example of two-chord power rock and the latter serving up one of rock’s greatest-ever intro’s. If Jeep Holland had not been in such awe of John Sinclair, local activist and The `5’s spiritual guru, those of us who eagerly awaited this record may not have been so disappointed in the recording quality, poor mix, clipping and out-of-tune bass. A shame, really. Perhaps if John Sinclair had stayed out of the control room is a wishful metaphor for a large part of the MC5’s career.
    And so are presented the two largest acts to come off this fractionally complete A-Square collection., The above were amongst the biggest five in town at that time which also included The Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger and The Last Herd or Bob Seeger System and The Rationals. All having had relations with the label at one time-or-another.
    Lots of local groups performed the quirky “Back in the Jungle”. I always wondered where it came from and now the answer is known. And another by the Apostles is “Tired of Waiting for You” utilizing a B3 in place of the Davies guitars. “She is a Friend” (Rain) offer’s up some California styling and features a tambourine accompanied by some occassionally fine harmonies, an annoying bass tone and even a Roger McGuinnish guitar break.
    “Easy Way Out” by the Bossmen opens with an ominous guitar line and becomes remindful that it’s still the mid-Sixties shortly after the first four measures. Some Knickerbockers inspired harmonies in here too. If there are any doubts about the decade, we are reminded again with the tight “I Cannot Stop You” which could easily have been a hit for The Buckinghams.”Listen My Girl” gives us even more haunting guitar from one of Michigan’s Masters. And speaking of Dick Wagner, an early version of “Mystery Man” by the Frost is included with less flair or polish than the more known Vanguard issue.
    Odd’s are good that this reviewer heard The Thyme’s version of “Time of the Season” before the Zombie’s album received FM airplay. It’s a rhythmically complicated tune performed well with some semi-hollow body elec guitar pieces filling in for the lack of Rod Argent’s keyboard. You’d have to guess there was some thyme and takes spent in the studio on this one. Nearly a third of the cuts on this disc come from The Thyme. Personally, I was in no ways willing to spend my hard-earned cash on anything this group produced but interpretations like “I Found You” (Gene Clark) and “Window Song” still speak quality and are nicely representative of the times. Perhaps the D.C,B,A digression of “Somehow” (an original) hadn’t been used by every fledgling rock group at the time but somehow I doubt it. From the bolero start of “I Found a Love” (Cat Stevens) there is some suspicion this song could have been utilized by a Phil Spector girl group. “Very Last Day”, a throw-back to an even earlier time in the `60’s offers further proof that anything can be committed to tape for posterity. The never released “No Opportunity…No Experience” is a little reminiscent of its writer, Richie Havens. The opening is also remindful of the Amboy Duke’s anthem and includes some period style wah in the refrain. Pick it up, pick it up!
    Who was the original: Led Zep’s first album or “Get Down” by Half-Life? Who cares, 40 years ago I’d have happily plunked down a buck for this 45. This is a nice piece of work including the near-monotone vocal. What became of these guys?
    The Up were formed in 1967 but “Just Like an Aborigine” released late in the decade may have been their only “hit”. Driving percussion, a hollow body bass, two-chords and some punky vocals pretty much covered things.
    And so to close with the Grandad of Punk and “I’m a Man” which one supposes is included not because it’s fair enough cover but the not-to-be-confused with Keith Relf vocals of the soon-to-attain fame J. Osterberg.
    As collection of representative Michigan R&R music, there is some gold to be mined here. As a tribute to Jeep Holland and A2, this collection probably only scratches the surface of the person that most of us knew only as the guy that owned the label to which we aspired and was also responsible for booking so much local (and National) talent into our Teen Clubs and High Schools (for cryin’ out loud, The Who performed at Southfield High!) and later, the Ballrooms. Only those that knew him better were likely to understand what a complete asset he was to the overall health and state of the music community in general which, in Michigan, at that time, took a backseat to no other planet we knew.

    Posted on November 13, 2009