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 chrissake), 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 rediscovered it 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-power 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 make 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 rebuild, 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 to 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 upfront.