The Backroom Boys:
The start of another of our intermittent series. This time round, we’ll be casting an eye over and bending an ear to some of the folks who operate behind the scenes: producers, writers and arrangers (often as not, all three in a single package).
Occasionally, some of them (Spector, Meek, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Lee Perry) achieved a level of recognition on a par with that of the acts they worked with, but the majority had to be content with the satisfaction of a job well done. (And the accompanying royalties, of course).
First out of the starting gate, someone whose name many won’t recognise but who created several absolute classics at least one of which most will: Ed Cobb.
A bit of a chancer who effortlessly cantered across any number of styles, Cobb could never be called a great thoroughbred, but he was a stayer, effortlessly adaptable and adept at knocking out convincing genre facsimiles without breaking sweat.
After initial mid 50s success as 25% of West Coast WASP harmony quartet The Four Preps, he struck out on his own in 1960, scoring instant success with a run of stone-age themed instrumentals built to cash-in on the popularity of The Flintstones cartoon show.
This was soon followed by, let’s be kind and say “homages” to Johnny & The Hurricanes (Mad Goose), Martin Denny (Marooned) and Ray Charles (Mr Big C), before creating his first bona-fide classic, the deep-soul evergreen Every Little Bit Hurts, originally recorded by Brenda Holloway and subsequently reworked by everyone from Cilla Black to The Clash and our pick here, The Small Faces.
His next move was into up-tempo big city pop & r’n’b out of which emerged Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love (Classic number 2, though it’d take over 15 years to be widely recognised as such).
After spending about a decade in comparative anonymity, Tainted was discovered by the mid-70’s Northern Soul scene before Soft Cell took the song into the stratosphere and Coil into the gutter; however, we’ve opted for Ruth Swann’s version from 1975.
In 1966, Ed took a successful punt on the emerging garage-rock scene, throwing open his stable doors to snarling San Jose punks The Chocolate Watchband and LA’s The Standells, and returned to the winner’s enclosure with the oft-covered Dirty Water and Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (Classics number 3 & 4), only to make another about face a year later when offered the opportunity to give Liberace a contemporary make-over.
Eventually, he semi-retired and devoted much of his time to becoming a champion horse breeder. Still, there was an occasional return to the studio where that ear for an inspired pastiche proved as keen as ever as per the country-rock-gospel of A Man Named Jesus and a tongue in cheek wink in the direction of The Eagles, Queen Of The Pizza Parlour.
Ed Cobb succumbed to leukaemia on Hawaii in 1999. His passing was noted more by the equestrian fraternity than the music community. After racking up 32 gold and platinum discs and numerous Grammy nominations, he deserves to be better known.
1 The Four Preps-Got A Girl
2 The Piltdown Men-Brontosaurus Stomp
3 The Beachcombers-Mad Goose
4 The Sound Breakers-Marooned
5 The Link Eddy Combo-Big Mr C
6 Little Ray-You Can’t Hurt Me
7 Ron Ellington-You Can Take Your Saturday Nights
8 Sandy Wynns-The Touch Of Venus
9 Brenda Holloway-I’ll Always Love You
10 The Small Faces-Every Little Bit Hurts
11 Ruth Swann-Tainted Love
12 Gloria Jones-Run One Flight Of Stairs
13 Ketty Lester-West Coast
14 Toni Basil-Breakaway
15 S.N & The Ct’s-The Pleasure Of Your Company
16 The Marvellous-Down In The City
17 The E Types-She Moves Me
18 The Standells-Have You Ever Spent A Night In Jail
19 The Senders-Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White
20 Billy Larkin & The Delegates-Dirty Water
21 The Triders-There’s A Storm Comin’
22 The Chocolate Watchband-Sweet Young Thing
23 Liberace-Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
24 Ray Pillow-A Man Named Jesus
25 100% Whole Wheat-Queen Of The Pizza Parlour