Those who love the late, lamented, oft-troubled band known as Badfinger are hereby put on notice to check out Fallout Record’s 2006 reissue of the eponymously titled Stateside debut album of South African pop-rock band The Flame. Originally released by the band in 1970, the album has been a much-sought-after collector’s item for those into power pop and classic rock. Produced by Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys but not sounding at all like that band, the album is sure to turn the heads of many music fans who hate the suckery of today’s modern rock and wish it sounded like it used to when it used to…um….rock.
While it is easy as a reviewer to compare The Flame‘s special brand of rock to the Beatles and the above mentioned Badfinger, there are many layers to the band’s sound, probably owing to the band’s South African origin. Sure, the material is above average melodic rock by a group of musicians who had no doubt paid attention to the templates laid down by the best of the English bands of the ’60s but that’s not all the band offers. It’s also got depth and soul, and it’s far from being just a Sgt. Pepper pastiche. But, before I comment on the band itself too much, I would like to make a few comments about the reissue label, Fallout Records.
Fallout Records is a direct descendant of Radioactive Records, a controversial record label that recently had to shutter it’s doors thanks to some lawsuits won by the Jimi Hendrix estate. It seems the owner of Radioactive Records issued a slew of Hendrix live tapes brought to them by an outside party without permission from the Hendrix family, which is why they were released on Radioactive instead of the Hendrix estate’s own label. During the trial it became well known that Hendrix wasn’t the only artist being ripped off by the label. Radioactive Records specialized in rare psyche albums from the 1968 to 1973 period but instead of licensing the albums from the previous labels or artists themselves, Radioactive would just sell “needle drops” of those rare albums. For those who don’t know, a “needle drop” is a term for a CD recording made from a regular vinyl album and not a master. In other words, most Radioactive releases are bootlegs, albeit authentic looking bootlegs. When Radioactive closed down, Fallout suddenly came to life and one can only think that Fallout is doing business the exact same way. So, just for your knowledge, whenever you purchase a Radioactive Records or Fallout Records release musicians are not being paid for their work and most often they will be “needle-drops” as is this release. Fortunately, for those interested in checking out the band, the sound is excellent for such a process and is one of the better “needle-drops” I’ve heard from these labels.
Now, back to the music.
A four-piece started by Blondie Chaplin and the Fataar brothers (Steve, Ricky and Edries), the band released a couple of albums in its’ native South Africa and had even scored a couple hits there (most notably a cover of the evergreen soul ballad “For Your Precious Love”) but had trouble gaining a foothold in other markets with their R&B-based pop sound. Caught live by Wilson during a Beach Boys tour overseas, the band was invited to be a part of the Beach Boys’ label, Brother Records. While initial recordings were tentative and pedestrian, the Beach Boys’ organization owned their own studio and gave the band plenty of time to experiment with their compositions and flesh them out. Wilson obviously saw a lot of talent in the band, and rightfully so, as this album is one of the greatest pop delights ever released in the ’70’s, despite its’ low sales. Sunshine-filled pop rock of the highest order, the band’s top-flight musicianship gave the songs more muscle than most bands recording the same type of music. Unfortunately, the album did not take off despite the backing of the Beach Boys and their team at Brother Records.
Thanks to the album’s low sales, a second stateside album was never released (although one was recorded – hopefully these tapes will surface one day) and two of the now-defunct band’s four members were drafted into the Beach Boys themselves, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin. The other two Fataar brothers left the music business entirely. Chaplin and Fataar’s tenure as Beach Boys was short lived, however, and by 1975 they were out of the band and out doing solo projects. Music geeks may notice their names as session players and singers on tons of albums with Fataar’s claim to fame being a member of The Rutles and Chaplin’s recent notoriety stemming from a long tenure as a sideman for the touring version of the Rolling Stones besides tossing out a solo album here and there.
This album will appeal to all fans of late ’60’s and late ’70’s rock as it mixes a bunch of elements ranging from British rock to folk to some psychedelic touches as well. After listening to an album like this one can only wonder what could have happened to the band should their album have been a success. Their songs compare favorably to anything by McCartney, Pete Ham or Emmitt Rhodes. Tempering the pure joy at checking out a discovery like this is the tinge of sadness when the realization hits that there could have been more music from this great band if only more people had been listening. Still, this is a mighty fantastic album by a band you should check out immediately.