Tot Taylor is a Brit-popper who loves Tin Pan Alley. After EMI adjudged his band Advertising (pop-rock plus punky perspiration) to be a non-starter, Taylor convinced another commercial powerhouse to take him on but, after three 45s, GTO decided it had been a big mistake. By then, he’d discovered Mari Wilson (who’d also signed to GTO) and Virna Lindt; when he and Mari were dumped, Taylor launched his own empire, the Compact Organization.
Tot had recorded Playtime for GTO, and arranged to take all sixteen tracks of it with him. The usual rhythm section (including the odd bit of dribbly synth) is frequently augmented by horns and strings. What saves Taylor from seeming an insufferable twit for presuming to emulate Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Kern, etc. is his cleverly unassuming and self-parodic wordplay. Sometimes he spouts gloriously goofy rock (“I Wanna Play the Drums Tonight” — Kevin Ayers meets Sparks), but he also slips in observations on the grayness of the modern day-to-day — “Living in Legoland” — for effective commentary.
The Inside Story (which Taylor pretty much plays all himself) is another delightful grab-bag; less playing time than Playtime, but otherwise nearly its equal. Taylor’s flaky charm is even equal to his choice of Porter’s “All of You” as an album-closer, in a treatment which sounds sincere and true to the original song.
Tot next composed a whole instrumental LP, The Suburbia Suite, for the Sound Barrier, and penned Slim Gaillard’s number (plus some incidental music) for the film Absolute Beginners. Then he cut three new albums in two years! Regrettably, none of them are up to his first two. Sometimes he tries too hard to be witty; other times, songs or arrangements go on too long.
Box Office Poison might appear more impressive if it not for its illustrious predecessors. In fact its musical execution is, if anything, more facile. “Arise, Sir Tot” gently deflates his own delusions of grandeur; “Australia” is a longing toast to a place we haven’t destroyed — yet; “Spoil Her” is romantic strategy that’s only partly tongue-in-cheek. (The Arise EP is a 12-inch with four of the LP tracks on it.)
Recorded with lots of instrumental assistants, My Blue Period is Tot’s jazz record; Aluminum Pan Alley. The aptly named “The Wrong Idea,” a strained attempt at cleverness, gets things off on the wrong foot. “The Compromising Life” is a much better notion, and its swell mute trumpet work is a well-executed example of the LP’s stylistic intentions. Additionally, “A Girl Did This” ranks with his best, but Period just isn’t consistent.
On Menswear, Tot went to the other extreme for a DIY approach in his modest home studio. Lyrically and arrangement-wise, he regains top form (sixteen tight little vignettes) but, melodically, his catchiness quotient is still not one hundred percent. When he’s on, however, the LP ranges from good (“Trouble in Store,” as in department store) to brilliant (“Waiting for My Egg,” a procrastination anthem).
Jumble Soul is a fourteen-cut best-of, collecting some of the first three LPs plus some unalbumized 45s (including the two non-LP GTO A-sides), the title track of The Girl with Everything (the 7-inch EP also contains “Modern Wife” from Playtime and instrumental soundtrack music looking for a film). Scrapbook is a limited-edition boxed set for the true Totfan: two albums, a 10-inch EP of previously unreleased tracks, a four-song 7-inch of new tunes, a cassette of radio interviews and more. Whew!