The Human Menagerie

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The Human Menagerie
Humanmenageriecockneyrebel.jpg
Studio album by Cockney Rebel
Released November 1973
Recorded Air Studios, London - June and July 1973
Genre Glam rock[1][2]
Length 44:18
Label EMI
Producer Neil Harrison
Cockney Rebel chronology
The Human Menagerie
(1973)
The Psychomodo
(1974)

The Human Menagerie is the debut studio album by Cockney Rebel, released in 1973. It was produced by Neil Harrison.[3]

Background[edit]

After training as a journalist for three years, Steve Harley embarked on his musical career through "floor-spotting" within London folk clubs in 1971-72.[4] He also had a brief spell as rhythm guitarist and co-singer in the folk band Odin, where he met future Cockney Rebel violinist Jean-Paul Crocker. It was during this time that Harley began writing his own songs, including those which would appear on The Human Menagerie. Most were penned at a time when Harley was on the dole, having left his career in journalism. In 1972, he began busking with his songs in London, in subways and runways under such places as Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Harley would use busking to test his own songs on an audience, and to supplement his income from benefits.[5]

While in Odin, Harley felt he was not suited to the folk scene. He decided to form his own band Cockney Rebel in 1972, as a vehicle for his own songs.[4] With Crocker on board, the pair advertised and auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, and guitarist Nick Jones. One of the band's first gigs was at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London on 23 July 1972 supporting The Jeff Beck Group. Jones was soon replaced by Pete Newnham, however Harley felt the band did not need an electric guitar, particularly with the arrival of keyboardist Milton Reame-James. Therefore, the band settled on the combination of Crocker's electric violin and the Fender Rhodes piano of Reame-James.[6]

During 1972, representatives of the band began to send demo tapes to various labels. Mickie Most discovered the band at a London nightclub known as The Speakeasy Club, and offered the band their first contract with his RAK Publishing. In turn, this influenced the A&R personnel at EMI Records, who then offered the band a contract in late 1972.[5] The band signed to EMI after having only played five gigs together.[6] The three-album deal commenced with the recording of the band's debut album The Human Menagerie in 1973.[4] The album was recorded in June-July 1973 at Air Studios, London, which at the time was located in Oxford Street, above a department store. It was mastered at Capitol Studios.

EMI hired their staff producer and A&R man Neil Harrison as the album's producer, with Geoff Emerick as the engineer. Harrison suggested that some of the tracks, notably "Sebastian" and "Death Trip", should feature a large symphony orchestra and choir. Harley agreed, and Harrison was then successful in obtaining a bigger budget from EMI to accommodate the use of a 50-piece orchestra. Andrew Powell was put in charge of the orchestral arrangements.[5] In the liner notes of the BGO 2004 CD release of The Human Menagerie, Harley recalled:

"In the backyard of a Chelsea bistro, under a blue sky, late summer seventy-three, Neil Harrison and I were sharing a pot of coffee when he told me he would like to record an orchestra and choir onto "Sebastian" and "Death Trip". The album was being recorded at Air Studios. We were about three-parts through, I should say, so Neil, my producer, must have known his announcement that afternoon would bowl the young Steve over. And it did. But seeing them in there, fifty-plus classical musicians, mostly old enough to be my dad, was a real shocker. We were young and full of dangerous ideas and adventure; ready to experiment without consideration for the consequences or cost. And Joop Wisser, EMI's head of A & R and the man who discovered us, was a consistently kind ally to Neil and myself; otherwise there would have been no orchestra or choir!"[7]

In the liner notes of the 2012 compilation Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-1974, Harley further recalled:

"I do remember where the songs came from. They came from a young man's dream, where the blending of musical literature and mad, formless imaginings, could hang out together at the same folk club and present him with an entire raison d'etre. As we entered Air London Studios to begin work in the summer of 1973, the news that our engineer would be the nigh-immortal Geoff Emerick brought wide-eyes excitement to those of us who knew details of Beatles' albums' sleeve notes. Neil Harrison came in as Control, and was himself fearless as he allowed my imagination to run loose. It was Neil who suggested orchestra and choir for so much of "The Human Menagerie". And Andrew Powell was brought in to write the arrangements. Such a budget for a new signing is pretty close to unthinkable today. I'm still not sure how Neil persuaded the money-men to sign such crazy big cheques, but his nous and his charm helped turn those big tracks into epics and I'll forever be in his debt for that."[5]

In a 2013 interview with the Birmingham Post, Harley recalled of the first two Cockney Rebel albums:

"Those first two albums were heavily orchestrated. I was 22 years old, at Abbey Road with a full orchestra and a choir for songs like Sebastian. I'd busked with those songs for a year before Cockney Rebel signed to EMI, so to get all that was just... oh, it was magnificent for a young man."[8]

Preceding the album was the band's debut single "Sebastian", which was released at the end of August 1973. Despite later becoming one of Harley and the band's most popular songs, the song failed to failed to find success in the UK, and did not enter the UK Top 50. However, in continental Europe, the song performed much better and became a big hit in various countries.[9] In November 1973, The Human Menagerie was released, but like the single, it failed to make an impact in the UK, though it did gain critical acclaim and cult status. AllMusic later noted that the album was "one of the most widely acclaimed albums of the year".[10]

The failure of "Sebastian" in the UK led EMI to feel that Harley had yet to record a potential hit single. In response, Harley went away and re-worked an unrecorded song of his called "Judy Teen", which became a UK Top 5 hit for the band in June 1974.[11] During the same year, "Hideaway", from The Human Menagerie, was released as the album's second single, but in Denmark only.[12]

On 24 November 2012, the band performed the album live at the Birmingham Symphony Hall. At this concert, Harley and the band, supported by an orchestra and chamber choir, performed the band's first two albums in their entirety. The performance was released in 2013 as a CD album, and DVD release, under the title Birmingham (Live with Orchestra & Choir).[13]

Song information[edit]

Before the formation of Cockney Rebel, Harley would supplement his dole money through busking and cleaning floors. "What Ruthy Said" was written after Harley had polished a parquet floor for a famous model. He later commented: "She wore grey and looked quite severe and beautiful as the smart set of pre-war Germany would have looked, and I got "What Ruthy Said" from that day."[7]

The song "Mirror Freak" was written about Marc Bolan. When Bolan met Harley later in the 1970s, he asked if the song had been written about him. Harley later recalled in 2004: "He was Narcissus personified and would have been looking everywhere for signs of his impact and influence."[7]

"Death Trip" was described by Harley in 2004 as being "a more complicated piece" than "Sebastian". Harley had originally planned for the preceding minute-long track "Chameleon" to be a full-length song. However, both he and Harrison later decided the song worked best as a preface to "Death Trip".[7] Both songs were inspired after Harley attended an inquest into a friend's heroin overdose.[14]

Release[edit]

The album was released by EMI on vinyl across the world, including the UK, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United States. In Canada, the album was released by Capitol Records. During 1974, the album was released by EMI in Yugoslavia and Chile.[15] In 1975, it was also released in Portugal, with an exclusive sleeve design. This edition of the album was made for the Portuguese club 'El Circulo De Leitores', who would press their own records and books with the permission of the original labels.[16] Later in 1979 and 1990, the album was re-issued by EMI on vinyl in Greece.[17] On 28 September 2015, the album was re-issued across Europe on vinyl by Music on Vinyl.[18]

In 1990, the album received its first CD release through EMI, which featured two bonus tracks; the 1974 non-album single "Judy Teen" and "Rock and Roll Parade", which was the B-Side to "Sebastian".[19] A Japanese edition of the CD was issued in August 1992, and featured the same bonus tracks.[20] In 2004, BGO Records re-issued the album in the UK, again with the same bonus tracks.[21] In 2008, a digipack CD version of the album was released in Greece's Espresso newspaper.[15] On 13 May 2009, the album saw another CD release in Japan, as a remastered, limited edition version.[22]

In 2012, the album was also included in its entirety on the remastered four-disc box-set anthology compilation album Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-1974. This release also included previously unreleased 'early versions' of many of the debut album tracks, as well as B-Sides and live tracks from the period.[23]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Steve Harley.

No. Title Length
1. "Hideaway" 3:53
2. "What Ruthy Said" 2:33
3. "Loretta's Tale" 4:14
4. "Crazy Raver" 3:47
5. "Sebastian" 6:59
6. "Mirror Freak" 5:14
7. "My Only Vice" 2:15
8. "Muriel the Actor" 4:11
9. "Chameleon" 0:49
10. "Death Trip" 9:54

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[24]
Record Collector 4/5 stars[25]
Classic Rock (magazine) 5/5 stars[26]
Mojo (magazine) 1/5 stars[27]
The Westmorland Gazette favourable[28]
New Musical Express unfavourable[29]
The Ottawa Citizen unfavourable[30]
Billboard favourable[31]

In the 26 January 1974 issue of New Musical Express, Roy Carr reviewed The Human Menagerie, and wrote: "Judging from the mass of press coverage that Cockney Rebel are currently grabbing for themselves, it would appear that their verbose frontman Steve Harley is suffering from a chronic dose of verbal diarrhoea. Worse still, their debut album reveals an almost total lack of direction to substantiate these over-inflated claims. It's OK publicly slagging-off one's immediate competition, if, like Muhammad Ali, you put your money where your mouth is. On this all-important count both Harley and Cockney Rebel fail miserably. Songs like "What Ruthy Said", "Loretta's Tale", "Muriel the Actor" and "My Only Vice" smack of a bygone era when rock became pretentious and punch-drunk from an over-abuse of psychedelics. Such claptrap could be palmed off as being "surreal" if it were not for the colourless and tasteless musical stew these raw dumplings have been dropped in. All "The Human Menagerie" proves is that Cockney Rebel are a hype and a rather effete one at that."[29]

In the 4 May 1974 issue of the American magazine Billboard, the album was listed under the "Billboard's Recommended LP's" section. Describing the album as "very pleasant soft rock sparked by folky electric violin work and subtle percussion", the magazine believed "strong FM play action could come from this debut set."[31]

In the 22 May 1974 issue of the Canadian newspaper The Ottawa Citizen, a review of the album by Bill Provick stated: "The Human Menagerie has some rather interesting ideas, approaches and styles, but they are all scattered throughout the never-changing mush of play-acting. The music has a multitude of low-key gimmicks - like the grandiose horns in "Death Trip" - but no real soul to hang them on - plenty of tinsel but no tree. The David Bowie vocals seem programmed - even more so than the music - and have no edge. The instrumentation is cleverly diversified but comes out one dimensional and plastic - nice, colourful reproductions that lack the inner fire and conviction needed to make them glow with life. If Cockney Rebel wanted to imitate someone, they could at least have aimed for Jethro Tull - they accidentally come close sometimes. Decadent rock without passion was never so boring."[30]

In the July 2004 issue of Record Collector, Joe Matera wrote: "Cockney Rebel's debut has weathered well - for many it's now considered an art-glam masterpiece. But though Steve Harley's compositions are peppered with the glam influences of his day, (Bowie, Roxy Music), within its musical walls lie something closer to a dark cabaret that's laced with playful pop wit and subtle prog-folk tinges. With tracks such as "Sebastian", "My Only Vice" and "Death Trip", Harley demonstrated his masterful control of momentarily alluding to some serious lyricism before plunging into absolute lyrical nonsense."[25]

In the July 2004 issue of Mojo magazine, the reviewer wrote: "Steve Harley's fourth-form-poetry and mannered delivery enraged non-believers. He thought it was Ray Davies meets Bolan. But it's Marlene Dietrich meets Rambling Syd Rumpo. Hilarious."[27]

In the August 2004 issue of Classic Rock magazine, Geoff Barton reviewed the album, commenting: "It's remarkable to recall the impact that Cockney Rebel had when they arrived on the scene in 1973 with "The Human Menagerie". Wide-eyed British teenagers who had been too young to succumb to early Bolan 'n' Bowie had a hero of their own: Steve Harley. Cockney Rebel were a brand new thing in futuristic satin suits and twirly bow-ties - and they didn't even have a lead guitarist. Instead, Harley's highly mannered, nasal, twanging voice was augmented by violin player Jean-Paul Crocker. A mass of quirky, unfathomable, psychotic lyrics added to the attraction. It's about time "The Human Menagerie" was recognised as a classic." [26]

In 2004, Andrew Thomas of The Westmorland Gazette reviewed the album, and wrote: "Cockney Rebel were big news in the early 1970s. Songwriter and lead singer Steve Harley's distinctive vocal delivery, the choice of electric violin rather than electric guitar and Milton Reame-James' inspired keyboards made for an inventive and new sound. "The Human Menagerie" was released in 1973 when glam and glitter rock was at its height. It includes two Harley epics - "Sebastian" and "Death Trip" - both of which feature a 50-plus piece orchestra alongside the band. One of the best things about Cockney Rebel songs is Harley's lyrics, which are often rather opaque but always intriguing. The album is real mixture of light and dark. "What Ruthy Said" and "Muriel the Actor" are bright pop songs, for example, while the epics' are loaded with hidden depths, both musically and emotionally."[28]

Dave Thompson of AllMusic retrospectively reviewed the album and wrote: "Indulging for the first time in Cockney Rebel's debut album is like waking up from a really weird dream, and discovering that reality is weirder still. A handful of Human Menagerie's songs are slight, even forced, and certainly indicative of the group's inexperience. But others - the labyrinthine "Sebastian," the loquacious "Death Trip" in particular - possess confidence, arrogance, and a doomed, decadent madness which astounds. Subject to ruthless dissection, Steve Harley's lyrics were essentially nonsense. But what could have been perceived as a weakness is actually their strength. Few of the songs are about anything in particular. But with the sub-orchestral production driving strings and things to unimaginable heights, and Cockney Rebel's own unique instrumentation - no lead guitar, but a killer violin - pursuing its own twisted journey, those images gel more solidly than the best constructed story. The Human Menagerie is a dark cabaret - the darkest."[24]

Personnel[edit]

Band

Production

  • Neil Harrison - producer
  • Geoff Emerick – engineer
  • Andrew Powell – orchestral arrangements
  • Pete & Denny - tapes
  • Wally Traugott - mastering

Sleeve

  • Peter Vernon – photography
  • Star Trek Enterprises – sleeve design

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thompson, David. "The Human Menagerie album review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-03-05. 
  2. ^ Buckley 2003, p. 211
  3. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 424–425. ISBN 1-84195-017-3. 
  4. ^ a b c "Official Steve Harley Website UK - Biography". Steveharley.com. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  5. ^ a b c d Booklet of 2012 compilation album Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-1974
  6. ^ a b Roberts, David (1998). Guinness Rockopedia (1st ed.). London: Guinness Publishing Ltd. p. 185. ISBN 0-85112-072-5. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  8. ^ Pell, Tom. "Steve Harley still has the engine to make us smile". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  9. ^ "ultratop.be - Cockney Rebel - Sebastian". ultratop.be. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  10. ^ Biography by Dave Thompson. "Cockney Rebel | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  11. ^ "Judy Teen by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Songfacts". songfacts.com. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  12. ^ "Cockney Rebel - Hideaway / Loretta's Tale - EMI - Denmark - 6C 006-05562". 45cat. 2011-10-12. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  13. ^ Emma Stevens. "Birmingham - Live With Orchestra & Choir by Steve Harley: Amazon.co.uk: Music". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  14. ^ http://www.uncut.co.uk/reviews/album/cockney-rebel-cavaliers
  15. ^ a b "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2014-07-20. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  16. ^ http://www.harleyfanzone.com/Discs/Green_Human2.htm
  17. ^ "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  18. ^ "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2015-09-28. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  19. ^ "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  20. ^ "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 1992-08-26. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  21. ^ "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  22. ^ "Cockney Rebel - The Human Menagerie (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2009-05-13. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  23. ^ "Cockney Rebel Featuring Steve Harley - Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-1974 (CD) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  24. ^ a b AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson. "The Human Menagerie - Cockney Rebel,Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  25. ^ a b Record Collector magazine - July 2004 issue - Album Reviews - Joe Matera
  26. ^ a b Classic Rock magazine - August 2004 issue - Album Reviews - Geoff Barton
  27. ^ a b Mojo magazine - July 2004 issue - Album Reviews
  28. ^ a b The Westmorland Gazette - 2004 - Album Reviews - Andrew Thomas
  29. ^ a b New Musical Express magazine - 26 January 1974 issue - Album Reviews - Roy Carr
  30. ^ a b https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2194&dat=19740522&id=ob0yAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZO0FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1135,3293951&hl=en
  31. ^ a b "Billboard - Google Books". Books.google.co.uk. 1974-05-04. Retrieved 2017-01-15.