Like the Motors, the Records were reborn pub-rockers, who made a giant leap into the present by leaving their history behind and starting afresh with finely honed pop craftsmanship and the full-scale record company support they had never previously enjoyed. While the Motors went for grandiose production numbers, the Records — led by ex-Kursaal Flyer drummer/songwriter Will Birch — made sharp, tuneful confections that offered maximum hooks-per-groove in a classic Anglo-pop style not unlike the Hollies, with similarly brilliant harmonies and ringing guitars.
Shades in Bed (resequenced, retitled The Records and dressed in a completely different cover for America) is a wonderful LP, featuring song after song of pure pop with clever lyrics and winning melodies. Almost every track could have been a single; “Starry Eyes” and “Teenarama” were actually released, which left “Girls That Don’t Exist,” “Affection Rejected” and “Girl” as untested chart material. The English album included a bonus 12-inch, High Heels (an untitled 7-inch in the US), of the Records doing four classic tracks, including the Kinks’ “See My Friends” and Spirit’s “1984.”
Crashes, produced mainly by Craig Leon, showcased a revised lineup. (Although young American Jude Cole took over Huw Gower’s guitar slot in time for the album cover and credits, he added only vocals to the recording. Barry Martin, who was also in the Kursaal Flyers and later in the Hamsters, was subsequently acknowledged as having played guitar on ten tracks.) Nothing here can match the first LP’s charm except for two tracks produced by Mick Glossop — “Man With a Girl Proof Heart,” written while Birch was still in the Kursaals and one of the two to include Gower’s guitar playing, and “Hearts in Her Eyes,” done better by the Searchers later that year. At best a weak rehash of the first LP, Crashes is passable, but hardly a great follow-up.
After a two-year recording gap, Music on Both Sides introduced a new five-piece lineup, with guitarist Dave Whelan and singer Chris Gent joining the surviving core of Birch, bassist Phil Brown and guitarist John Wicks. Birch produced this muddled but generally pleasant album, which sounds like Rubber Soul with a crappy rock singer. Not a great parting shot, although less annoyingly precious than their early work.
Two years after leaving the Records, Gower resurfaced a continent away in David Johansen’s band. His subsequent solo EP is pretty much in the Records’ vein: well-crafted, unprepossessing rock-pop, but without their often-cloying preciousness. An earnest enough performer, the left-handed guitarist is a limited songwriter and not much of a singer; the EP’s best track is a fascinating cover of Graeme Douglas’ brilliant “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” originally recorded by Eddie and the Hot Rods. (Illinois guitarist/singer Cole has also pursued a solo career; his albums of slickly commercial heartland rock display no vestiges of the Records’ joyful power pop.)
Unexpectedly, the late ’80s saw a sudden resurgence of Records records. (The original group even got back together long enough to cut a version of Brian Wilson’s “Darlin,” for 1990’s Smiles, Vibes, & Harmony tribute record.) A Sunny Afternoon in Waterloo — the fruits of a one-day ’78 songwriting demo session — finds the Records playing simple, hard-driving Rockpilish rock’n’roll, reportedly in the hopes of selling some songs Birch had written with Dr. Feelgood, then enjoying large UK success, in mind. Although the effort was commercially unsuccessful, the loss was all Dr. F’s, as the music is brilliant, a taut mixture of strong melodies and amusing lyrics about loving, drinking and driving.
Another set of demos — recorded during ’78 as preparation for the Records’ first album — comprise the bulk of the white-vinyl Paying for the Summer of Love. All but two of Shades in Bed‘s songs appear in raw — but perfectly presentable, and not drastically different — form here, alongside self-produced renditions of other early tracks (“Hearts in Her Eyes,” B-sides like “Wives and Mothers of Tomorrow” and “Held Up High,” and “If I Write Your Number in My Book,” written for — but unrecorded by — Rachel Sweet). A delightful companion piece.
Although by no means definitive, Smashes, Crashes and Near Misses is a carefully annotated 20-song compilation containing about half each of the first two albums, a modest three-song reminder of the third, a couple of B-sides (“Held Up High” and “Paint Her Face”) and previously unreleased outtakes of “I Don’t Remember Your Name” and “The Same Mistakes” (two songs that appear on Crashes). In a case of rarer isn’t necessarily better, the CD ends with a previously unreleased Mick Glossop-produced version of “Rock and Roll Love Letter” that isn’t nearly as good as the band’s 1979 single of the song.
Wicks’ solo album, recorded in bits and pieces with a rotating cast of sidemen over the course of 15 years, is a testament to the durable consistency of his voice, songwriting and pop mettle. Sounding very much like the Records, with a bonus bit of Shoes’ breathiness, the 11 originals (plus a cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out”) suffer from clattery drum sound and occasional bouts of lyrical repetition, but are otherwise sweet, thoughtful and entertaining. And if the five booklet panels of gratitude do go on, the generosity of sentiment (as well as the dedication of songs to Peter Green and Syd Barrett) is commendable.