Very few Americans have ever heard of The Move unless they found themselves bored enough to dig deep into the liner notes for one of the Electric Light Orchestra’s commercial successes and learned that Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan were ex-members. Lynne was a johnny-come-lately, however, and did not appear on Shazam, a forgotten masterwork originally designed to properly introduce this long-popular-in-the-mother-country British band to the colonies, courtesy of A&M Records.
Things didn’t work out as planned. A&M was out of its league when it came to promoting rock bands (the “A” stands for Herb Alpert, for christsake), and arranged a comically disastrous tour that required the band the lug their stuff around the USA in a U-Haul trailer. Creative and personal tensions between band members didn’t make things any easier. When the rubble had cleared, however, what survived was Shazam, one of the most fascinating rock recordings ever made.
The album has been buried for years, and I only vaguely remember hearing parts of it while growing up. I re-discovered accidentally while browsing through iTunes and tracked down an extraordinarily expensive import CD version for my collection. I fell in love with it on the first listen, knocked out by Bevan’s drumming, the sheer diversity captured in a mere six songs, the intense riffs, the gorgeous harmonies and the great good fun captured in random street interviews and band chatter.
The album explodes with the no-bullshit guitar and pounding drums of “Hello, Suzie,” the story of a ditzy British teenybopper featuring an introduction that almost forces you out of your seat. Roy Wood growls out the lead vocal with good humor and strong support in the form of a thrilling backdrop of harmonies that come together with a huge exclamation point at the end of the bridge. I keep praying that somewhere out there a band will cover this sucker and use it as an opening number for a gig, as I’d love to see this done live with the same great energy as the original.
After a short interview with some native Brits, Carl Wayne steps to the microphone for the lovely and bouncy string piece, “Beautiful Daughter,” delivered in a perfect combination of romantic sincerity tempered by a touch of tongue-in-cheek and supported by the energetic strings that would later characterize early ELO recordings.
Then . . . a door creaks . . . footsteps . . . the door closes . . . and we hear a diffident voice narrating the story of how he would up going off his HEAD!!! The band explodes with heavy bass, drums, the works! This is “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited,” a high-powe remake of one of their earlier songs, and a delightfully wacky remake it is. The heaviness fades into acoustic guitar playing Bach, no less, and ends with an over-the-edge falsetto picking up the tune and eventually blending into layers of perfectly executed harmonies.
Next comes the delightfully free-flowing “Fields of People,” spiced with chit chat with passers-by, plenty of laughter, more gorgeous harmonies and one of the great drum rolls in history. Bev Bevan knocks me out on every song, and whenever I hear ELO today, I generally tune out the band and ride out the song with Bev. The song is an unusual combination of great fun and well-executed shifts that makes for an entirely engaging listening experience.
The Move then go heavy-bluesy with their cover of “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” which gives Carl Wayne a great opportunity to apply his naturally melodic voice to something with more oomph. The tone of the guitar anticipates the heavier sound common in 70’s rock, and the bass and drums provide an unusually strong bottom for a Move song (pre-Shazam Move tended towards baroque pop). Despite the variation from the norm, this is a strong performance that makes you wish The Move had gotten their shit together and explored the new possibilities suggested by this piece. Alas, they opted for a re-build, and their follow-up album, Looking On, is a godawful mess (though I have always been rather fond of the song “Brontosaurus.”
Shazam ends with a long and again heavy cover of Tom Paxton’s (!) classic, “The Last Thing on My Mind.” The Move’s version is nothing like the mildly pleasant folk original, with big guitars and pounding rhythms leading the way. Wayne does a superb job with the vocals and Roy Wood’s harmonies are dead-on, providing a beautifully sweet wrap to end this most unusual album.
There’s something about Shazam that makes you feel good from start to finish. Sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you’ll want to dance and sometimes you just want shout out with the release that great rock can provide. This is a superb album from a band whose incredible potential was sadly diverted into the promise and eventual disappointment of both ELO and Roy Wood’s Wizzard.
But we’ll always have Bev Bevan’s drumming, which is as good as it gets no matter who’s up front.
Very nice review. I will never forget the first time I heard Shazam, which was shortly after its release. I was sitting in a high school friend’s bedroom and when he put down the needle on Hello, Suzie I was simply stunned and hooked for life. One of my great life regrets concerns the time I sat next to Tom Paxton on an airplane and failed to ask him for his thoughts on The Move’s version of The Last Thing On My Mind. (I don’t like to bother fellow passengers, especially celebrities, in flight.) As for the eventual disappointment of ELO and Wizzard, I don’t know; things change, and The Move’s career considered in retrospect was one of change after change. However, the first time I actually saw Roy perform, which was at a Bosnian orphan relief concert in New York City during the 1990s, fulfilled everything I hoped for in the man. You’re right, of course — we will always have Bev’s drumming, which is really marvelous. Curtis
Thank you! I would have loved to hear Paxton’s impression but I don’t like to bother people either! I’m still torn about an ELO review, so I’m not sure I’ll go there.
You should go ahead and write it. It’s a funny subject, I know. Mine would basically be that I thought the first album was wonderful, but a little problematic. The great parts are very adventurous and exciting, though. Then for me it’s pretty much all downhill except for the singles, which I file under Pleasure/Guilty Pleasure. It pained me to see Bev Bevan put in such a straitjacket, but I’m sure he was pleased for the band to have succeeded so grandly. As for Tom Paxton, I suspect he would have liked The Move’s version. The song is really exceptional and has been interpreted so variously; I assume Paxton would have appreciated the astonishing distances The Move transported it to. It was a funny flight. Sitting next to Paxton (across the aisle) was Noel “Paul” Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. They were performing as a duo then. I eavesdropped on their conversation, which concerned ecology — what else? That was funny. It was the first Boston-New York shuttle at 6 am on a Saturday morning. Julia Roberts was also on the flight. Everyone looked like hell, but hell looked worse on her, unfortunately. Last year I discovered that the Move’s version of Don’t Make My Baby Blue was inspired by The Shadows’ version, which is fun to listen to for comparison.
That’s a great story! It looks like we’re in sync on ELO, though I thought ELOII might have been better with a different producer. I do like the first one best. Sorry for the short replies but I’m on an iPhone and tapping gets dreary quick.
I hate iPhone tapping a lot and am not very good at it. I am a die-hard Roy Wood fan, less so a Jeff fan, although I think he’s a very talented man. You have an wonderful blog. I am very glad to have discovered it.
Thank you! Boulders is on my to-do list as one of my Unappreciated Gems, and I really want to do Message from the Country if only to write about “It Wasn’t My Idea to Dance.” I love Roy Wood!
It Wasn’t My IdeaTo Dance is also my favorite song from that extraordinary record. When the record was released, I was only a couple of years past the high school French course where we read Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Jeux Sont Fait. It Wasn’t My Idea always seemed to me like a comedy version of that grim story, although I doubt that was on Roy’s mind.
An excellent review of an amazing album! I bought this when it was first released after a rave review in Rolling Stone (when RS was relevant) and it just blew me away with it’s sheer brilliance. The musicianship, the imagination, the intricate and excellent vocals, and the incredible production made it one of my all-time favourite albums. This is in spite of having one of the cheesiest covers ever, right up there with The Kinks ‘Schooldays’!
And I agree with you totally about Bev Bevan’s drumming. I used to go to poorly-attended ELO gigs in the very early seventies and stare creepily at Bev- my second ever drumming hero! In this weird conglomeration of fragile-looking English guitarists, caped violinists and a sweaty balaclava-wearing cello player (must have been really hot), Bev pounded away looking like somebody had asked the bouncer to sit in on the drums.
Shazam was definitely their finest hour…
Thank you—for the comments and the vivid description of the ELO concert. I would love to get a recording of “Roll Over Beethoven” and “From the Sun to the World” with only the drum track.
A superb album that for me is The Move’s greatest moment… and that’s saying something since most of their work is bloody sublime. The strangest thing about this album is it appears the band members don’t seem to be fond of it, Roy Wood being it’s fiercest critic. In one way, I can understand why they think it’s not great since one side was all covers and on the originals side, only “Hello Suzie” was a new track. The magnificent “Beautiful Daughter” had been sitting in the can for about a year and of course the remaining track was a remake, albeit a very inspired one! So, I think the band members think it was a bit of a ragbag, but sod what they think… Move fans LOVE this album.
One thing I must point out here – it’s a bloody heavy album in places. Yep, Bev’s drumming sure hits the spot, but the maniac riffing and grungey sound, it’s The Move flirting with heavy metal. Now, what’s interesting about that is their heralding from Birmingham. The Brummie bands were rather close knit. So, at this time you had two Brummies, Bonham and Plant in Led Zeppelin and a newer band Black Sabbath starting to make inroads. Toss in The Move on this album, there was clearly some demented heavy rock thing going on between these Brummies!
Actually, I’ll be honest… on my version of this album, I chop off the whole classical noodly stuff on “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” – does nothing for me and it’s more potent without it.
My fave track is “Fields Of People” – amazing drumming and those distinctive harmonies on the chorus are bloody fantastic and unique. I actually prefer the harmonies of the Wood – Wayne and Price trio as opposed to the earlier frontline with Kefford and Burton.
Great review and great to find fans of the Move!!!!! I love your Kinks reviews too. You definitely should do a Message From The Country review, and add the in the singles they did at the end too – Do Ya, Tonight and California Man which were some of the best things they ever did. Interestingly enough, at the same time they were recording MFTC, they were recording the first ELO album. Wonder how they decided what songs would go on what album?!?!?! To my ears, besides the 10538 Overture, MFTC blows the first ELO album out of the water. I love Bev Bevan too, but Roy Wood!!! What a great songwriter and amazing musician!!!!! And if you get a chance, definitely track down Boulders. Great songs and great musicianship.
Thanks for the great site!!!!!
Thank you! I had both Boulders and Message from the Country (or Split Ends) on my to-do list before I decided to stop actively blogging but I am feeling that my library of reviews is incomplete . . . So we’ll see. The first ELO was on the list, too.
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Well, I don’t know about many Americans not having heard of The Move… you just have to choose the right circles to move in. I and just about all of my friends love them, and have since high school… and I’m 43, born the year the album was released. My first British pressing of “Shazam” on Regal Zonophone is a treasure. A tremendous album. The way “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” moves over levels of tension is reminiscent of a great classical suite. Thanks for highlighting this wonderful record.
You’re welcome. “Don’t Make My Baby Blue” came up on my iPod shuffle the other day and I just had to stop what I was doing and play the whole album. God, I love that record.
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