THAT'S LIFE - The Wild Cherries (Half a Cow)
If this review was to say that the Wild Cherries' recorded legacy fell well short of their live reputation and that, on balance, they weren't the innovative pioneers a smattering of Aussie rock critics would later hold them up to be, would you say I'd lost the plot? Hear me out.
Firstly, the case can be put that these Melbourne-based R & B fanatics with jazz overtones were mildly rather than wildy (and widely) influential. Their sole hit (from whence this disc derives its title) is a stone cold classic, but at the time it made ripples rather than waves. Although they spent ample time in Sydney, the Cherries never really toured nationally over their lifetime (1965-68.) Of course this and their limited recorded legacy was not entirely their fault, but much of their focus was clearly inward and their ambitions limited.
That recorded output was just three singles (compiled onto an EP and re-released in the '80s by Raven), half of which was direct and rocking R & B, the other half tasty and fully realised soul ballads. The A sides show more than a glimmer of what would be pigeonholed by a generation of collector scum as "freakbeat". While "Chrome Plated Yabby" might figure in the record books in the Wackiest Song Name section for Aussie bands of the '60s, "That's Life" is the superior tune and it's the cut you most need to hear if you haven't already. Just the fact that their songs weren't slavish cover versions of beat tunes sets the band apart from Australian contemporaries. Tellingly, it's hard to find a critical mention of the band in the years since their demise that doesn't focus on Lobby Loyde's presence. In fact, the band had been going a while before he signed on - and by any measure, his real groundbreaking work was still to come.
Their widely unacknowledged driver was bassist and later organist, Les Gilbert. He formed the band and gave it its original direction. Were the Cherries
innovators? Vocalist Dan Robinson opines in the liners (most of which are reprised from an excellent Ugly Things article): "There seems to be this feeling that we were musically important, but at the time we didn't seem to be a hell of a lot more than just a Melbourne club band."
Anyway, I come to praise the Wild Cherries, not to bury them. It's just a matter of perspective and the sad fact is that there's no real measure of their greatness or otherwise unless you were there. Fortunately, this compile includes 15 previously unheard live (and Loyde-less) work-outs of fantastic quality that advance the case that the band was at least different from the rest of the derivative pack. I wanted to hear the band in its latter, reputedly revolutionary period. I won't but I'm not complaining about these previously undiscovered gems.
Lobby Loyde died the weekend before this collection came out but I'm sure he would have played up the Cherries as a sum of their parts and a band still feeling their way when they ran out of steam. There's no doubt they'd cocked a collective ear in the direction of the Yardbirds and were influenced thus in the middle of a scene otherwise besotted with beat (although Robinson's proclivity for soul forced a move in that direction on the Loyde-penned B sides.)
Compiler Ben Whitten hasn't mucked around with the vinyl and tarted it up; it sounds true to the original mono. The new material is a mix of covers and band tunes and comes from soundchecks and shows. It's the equivalent of desktape quality and sounds vibrant.
For the uninitiated , the Cherries ARE worth a fuss, and those familiar with their catalogue will want this, as much for the impossibly rare singles as the intruiging live material. – The Barman
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