It is a sad fact of life that a man from any walk of life – even the often preposterous world of music – will struggle to be taken seriously if he wanders about wearing a beard the size of Gibraltar, decorating his face with white stars and red war paint, growing his hair down to his waist, then dying it yellow on one side of the parting and blue on the other. So it is with Roy Wood, still best remembered for his terrifying dayglo clan chief appearance than the succession of superb pop songs he wrote for The Move, ELO, Wizzard and – perhaps most impressively – as a solo performer.
This retrospective – hand-picked and remastered by Wood himself – attempts to right that wrong, showcasing 36 of Wood’s songs over two CDs. Wood formed The Move in Birmingham in 1966 and the band had their first big hit in 1967 with “Night Of Fear” (absent from this set, along with much before 1970 bar “Fire Brigade” and a rearranged version of 1969’s Beatles-esque “Blackberry Way”).
Although deeply attached to Motown and 1950s rock and roll, Wood was an inventive arranger and composer from the start, incorporating classical elements to his songs that produced crackers like 1971’s wonderfully weird, Kinks-like “Chinatown” or the semi-metal stompathon “Brontosaurus”. When his pop side and his experimental side gelled, the results were fascinating but sometimes the differences were irreconcilable.
It was his desire for more flexibility than he could get with The Move that led to the formation of ELO (represented here by the instrumental “First Movement”), but Wood soon left them to form Wizzard, while continuing to record as a solo artist. It’s the latter – all from the early 1970s – that form the most revelatory aspect of this collection: “Forever” is a beautiful Motown ballad; “Dear Elaine” an experimental semi-classical pop song that recalls Pink Floyd and Queen; “Oh What A Shame” a delightful collision of The Beach Boys and Neil Sedaka; “Look Thru The Eyes Of A Fool” oozes girl band brilliance; while “Why Does Such A Pretty Girl (Sing These Sad Songs)” is a harmonic gem.
These are all gorgeous examples of the three-minute pop song, but there’s also experimentalism in the form of the Monty Python does Fairport Convention distorted oddity “Miss Clarke And The Computer”. The bulk of these are culled from Wood’s two solo albums, Bounders (1973) and Mustard (1975), the twin high points of his career: surprisingly Music Box has no space for other classics of this era like “You Sure Got It Now” and “Songs Of Praise”. Wood’s gifts as a songwriter were now noted by others – covers of The Move’s “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” and “Flowers In The Rain” are featured here, by Status Quo and Nancy Sinatra respectively.
Alongside these gems, Wood was becoming better know for the hard-edged good-time rock and roll he recorded with Wizzard, epitomised by rabble-rousing singles like the Slade-influenced bagpipe-rocker “R U Red E 2 Rock” and the belting glam rock of “See My Baby Jive” and “Ball Park Incident”, as well as the smash hit “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”.
But even with Wizzard, Wood was pushing boundaries. In 1974, he recorded what was intended to be a double album – one album of rock, the other of jazz-rock. The label, Jet Records, balked and the jazz-rock album was only released in 1999 as the bizarre but fascinating Main Street. There are two tracks from it on here – “French Perfume” and “Main Street” – both splendid.
If the album had been released as planned, Wood feels his career would have taken a different route and it was at this point that the desire for invention began to fade. Exhausted, his career began to wind down, although he continued to pound the pop-rock circuit and recorded more than decent synth-heavy 80s wannabe anthems like “Down To Zero”, “Lion’s Heart” and “Green Glass Windows”. And he can always be seen on a TV screen at least once a year, dressed like Braveheart and bellowing about Christmas.