9 August 2017

The Germz/ Lit Candle - No Easy Way Down/ Boy Girl Love



Label: Cotique
Year of Release: 1967 and 1969

This is becoming something of a sought-after record for 60s garage collectors, in whatever guise it takes. The Germz were formed from the remains of a New York band called Terry and the Pirates, and consisted of Wendy Hirsch on vocals, Marty Green on keyboards, Bob Tobin on lead guitar, Jefferson Travis on rhythm guitar, Doug Smith on bass and Shelly Unger on drums. After a spell of local popularity, in early 1967 they inked a deal with the Roulette subsidiary label Vertigo and headed off to record these two tracks at Miramound Studios. 

It's the B-side which tends to get all the attention in the present day, being a piece of quirky, organ-driven garage pop with the most warped and wobbly sounding clarion calls you'll have heard since The Human League's "(Keep Feeling) Fascination". Propulsive, bouyant, and charmingly (rather than ineptly) loose sounding, it's a strange and sharp sounding recording which nags away at you long after the needle has left the run-out groove behind.

Amidst the more recent fuss, though, the A-side seems to have been overlooked or even dismissed by some, which is a deep pity. The Goffin-King composition "No Easy Way Down" has subsequently been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Carole King herself, and Scott Walker (quite drearily, actually, on his under-achieving "Stretch" LP) among others, but so far as I can ascertain this was the first released version. This might appear to have been a risky or eccentric decision on the songwriting duo's part, but I suspect the fact that the drummer Shelly Ungan was Gerry Goffin's cousin might not be a complete coincidence. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful version of the track, with Wendy's vocals sounding so youthful, spirited, spontaneous and powerful that it's hard to believe that it took the producer George Goldner twenty takes before he was satisfied with her performance. Amazingly, what we can hear is in fact the result of numerous takes of her performance being spliced together.

The resulting single hit number 48 in the local New York charts and number 35 in the Boston charts before disappearing altogether. Internal politics at the record company between Roulette bigwig Morris Levy and George Goldner caused the single to be scrapped after only 2,000 copies were released on to the marketplace, after which it did a big sod off forever. Even the master tapes were apparently wiped.

"Yes," you may well ask, "but what on Earth do The Germz have to do with The Lit Candle, whose single is pictured above?"

That's a fair enough question, but one that apparently even the group can't really answer. The Lit Candle single was issued in 1969 and is completely the same two recordings. The group were not informed of its release or their enforced name change, and suspect some corporate dodginess was afoot. Taking a less cynical view, it's possible that the growing popularity of other recorded versions of "No Easy Way Down" caused Cotique Records to take an interest in the original version, and it's also possible that they thought The Germz was too much of a garagey sounding group name for either 1969 or such a majestic ballad. Unless someone who was behind the decision to release the record gets in touch, however, we will probably never know why this pressing actually exists.

Whatever the facts, The so-called Lit Candle's "version" appears to have fared even less well than the original release, and seems to be the more scarce of the two pressings as a result. The group were no longer an active concern anyway, having disbanded shortly after the failure of the Vertigo issue. Wendy Hirsch and Marty Green went on to get a job together as songwriters at Screen Gems/ Columbia. After that career path failed, it proved to be the end of their professional relationship, but not their personal one - they got married and had a family not long afterwards.

I gleaned a lot of the above material from a moving YouTube video put together in the style of "Pop Up Video" by Wendy's son Matt to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. If only every garage group left such a simple and easy trail of information behind themselves...



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