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Still “Subtle as a Flying Mallet”: Dave Edmunds’ Wall of Sound Classic Returns in Expanded Edition

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Dave Edmunds - SubtleFrom the first notes of “Baby I Love You,” the opening track on Dave Edmunds’ 1975 album Subtle as a Flying Mallet, the listener is assaulted with a Wall of Sound – thunderous drums, sleigh bells, echo, et cetera.  But Spectorian pomp was just one tool in Edmunds’ box.  For Subtle as a Flying Mallet, Edmunds brought his stamp of originality to the songs of Phil Spector, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and The Everly Brothers.  Now, the album (which produced two U.K. Top 10 singles with “Baby I Love You” and “Born to Be with You”) is the recipient of a generously expanded edition from Cherry Red’s RPM label.

Welsh lad Edmunds first rose to prominence as one-third of Love Sculpture, championed by influential DJ John Peel for an audacious reworking of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” that cracked the U.K. Top 5 in 1968.    By 1970, Edmunds had successfully transitioned into producing, helming Shakin’ Stevens’ and the Sunsets’ A Legend, and scoring a hit for himself with a cover of Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knocking,” a No. 1 U.K./No. 4 U.S. hit.  It was included on Edmunds’ solo debut entitled Rockpile, on which he was joined by John Williams of Love Sculpture on bass.  The multi-instrumentalist Edmunds played nearly everything else himself, with Andy Fairweather-Low, B.J. Cole and Terry Williams making musical cameos.  Rolling stones gather no moss, and the restless Edmunds even took a stab at acting, accepting a role opposite David Essex, Adam Faith, Keith Moon and Larry Hagman in Michael Apted’s 1974 music-filled film Stardust.  That same year, Edmunds was enlisted to produce the band Brinsley Schwarz, and he formed a lasting relationship with Nick Lowe, who shared his revivalist sensibility.  Together, Lowe and Edmunds drove the folk-country-rockabilly group in a forward-thinking direction that foreshadowed what would be considered New Wave.  In 1976, the two men would also form their own on-again, off-again group by the (familiar) name of Rockpile.

There’s more after the jump, including the full track listing with discography, and an order link!

On 1975’s Subtle as a Flying Mallet, Edmunds again played all guitars along with bass, keyboards and drums, but he was joined by Lowe on bass, Pick Withers on drums and Bob Andrews on piano.  Two of the album’s tracks, live versions of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” and “No Money Down,” actually featured the Brinsley Schwarz line-up.  The studio tracks showed off Edmunds’ dense, multi-layered production style, influenced of course by Phil Spector’s groundbreaking work.  A number of the LP’s songs had already appeared as singles for the Rockfield label, so named for the studios Edmunds called home.  Rockfield single ROC 1 was “Baby I Love You” b/w a revival of The Chantels’ “Maybe,” produced in a similarly cavernous style.  ROC 2 followed with “Born to Be with You” b/w “Pick Axe Rag.”  A fascinating article reprinted in the booklet for RPM’s reissue describes Edmunds as “a one-man hit machine out to kill the Spector myth.”  The producer-singer-musician confirms that his take on The Chordettes’ “Born to Be with You” was built around “74 individual performances…eight piano tracks, 14 vocals, ten acoustic guitars, three maracas, two drums, it just goes on and on.”  He was rewarded with a Top 5 hit in 1973.  And in 1975, “Born to Be with You” would become the title track to a Dion DiMucci album produced by…Phil Spector.

Of those four single sides from ROC 1 and 2, only “Pick Axe Rag” wasn’t included on the original Subtle LP, but it’s been appended as a bonus track on RPM’s CD along with the B-side of ROC 6, “Some Other Guy.”  (The A-side was Edmunds’ recording of Webb Pierce’s “I Ain’t Never,” featured on the album.)  Subtle displayed Edmunds’ versatility; he was equally comfortable with the twangy country of “Leave My Woman Alone” and the retro Crystals style of “Da Doo Ron Ron.”  In addition to “Pick Axe Rag” and “Some Other Guy,” RPM’s reissue adds six selections from the U.K. Stardust soundtrack including an alternate mix of “Shot of Rhythm and Blues.” (“Shot” was issued as ROC 4, b/w “Let It Be Me,” with both songs appearing in Stardust and on Subtle.  Got that?)

In his fine new liner notes, Roger Dopson straightens out the album’s convoluted history: all told, Subtle included Edmunds’ four A-sides, one b-side (“Maybe”) and two tracks from Stardust (“Da Doo Ron Ron” – albeit in an alternate version presented here in the bonus section – and “Let It Be Me”).  Five “new” tracks rounded out the LP including the Brinsley Schwarz live songs and Nick Lowe’s “She’s My Baby.”  Thanks to RPM, Subtle has been expanded from twelve songs to twenty, bringing together most of the relevant songs recorded in the same time period as the core album.

Subtle as a Flying Mallet – so named for a favorite expression of Keith Moon’s – is available now, and can be ordered at the link below!

Dave Edmunds, Subtle as a Flying Mallet (Rockfield RRL 1, 1975 – reissued RPM CD 520, 2013)

  1. Baby I Love You (also ROC 1-A, 1972)
  2. Leave My Woman Alone
  3. Maybe (also ROC 1-B, 1972)
  4. Da Doo Ron Ron
  5. Let It Be Me
  6. No Money Down
  7. Shot of Rhythm and Blues
  8. Billy the Kid
  9. Born to Be with You (also ROC 2-A, 1973)
  10. She’s My Baby
  11. I Ain’t Never (also ROC 6-A, 1975)
  12. Let It Rock
  13. Some Other Guy (ROC 6-B, 1975)
  14. When Will I Be Loved (also ROC 4-B, 1974)
  15. Make Me Good
  16. You Kept Me Waiting
  17. C’mon Little Dixie
  18. Need a Shot of Rhythm and Blues (Alternate; also ROC 4-A, 1974)
  19. Da Doo Ron Ron – Dave Edmunds and the Electricians
  20. Pick Axe Rag – Dave Edmunds and Micky Gee (ROC 2-B, 1973)

Tracks 14-19 from Stardust: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Ronco RG 2009/2010, 1974

Written by Joe Marchese

March 26, 2013 at 10:04

Posted in Dave Edmunds, News, Reissues

2 Responses

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  1. I believe the Electricians were Brinsley Schwartz (the band).


    March 26, 2013 at 17:25

  2. Pick Withers later known as Dire Straits (“Sultans of Swing”, “Romeo & Juliet”, “Skateaway”

    mark schlesinger

    March 28, 2013 at 14:17

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