Just when you think you'll never find another good thrift store record -- when you've waded through so many Christmas albums, faceless twelve-inches and complete works of Johnny Mathis that you never want to experience the feel of dusty, mold impregnated cardboard again, when you're absolutely fed up with fending off conversation with all the other middle-aged sociopaths who also seem to gravitate to the Salvation Army record stack when not at their low-paying jobs (if they even work at all) -- you run across the gem that thrills your imagination and fuels your expectation for another seven or eight gas tankfuls worth of crosstown forages. "Sound 73" by The Les Humphries Singers is just such an album.
I was initially attracted to this album on the strength of its back cover photo, plus the promise dangled but not delivered by other German Euro-medley monsters like Kai Warner, Max Greger and Hugo Strasser. But while this album is certainly aimed at the insatiable European hunger for strict-tempo ballroom dancing, the Les Humphries Singers come off more like a multi-cultural bubblegum gospel choir, accompanied by the Bay City Rollers and a full orchestra.
What strikes one about this record is the sheer relentlessness of its presentation. There is no real attempt to hide the jump edits -- songs careen freely from one to another without any real thematic cohesion other than beats per minute. The material runs the gamut from T Rex's "Children Of The Revolution" and Alice Cooper's "Elected" to Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Claire" and Elvis' "Burning Love." They also throw in some gospel ("Dem Bones") and even a couple instrumentals (Hot Butter's "Popcorn"). Humphries includes several of his own compositions as well, including the group's sub-literate smash, "Mama Loo."
British-born Humphries formed the singers in 1969 after spending a year playing keyboards for the progressive German rock combo Wonderland. Though LHS distinguished themselves initially with a series of gospel-styled singles, their taste for campy show-biz psychedelia placed them more in the Andrew Lloyd Webber camp than with more devout pop choirs like Up With People. The group went on to release a string of successful secular recordings before disbanding in 1976 when Les fled back to England to escape tax-related criminal charges in Germany. Many of the group's singers went on to solo careers, including Jürgen Drews, Liz Mitchell (who later joined Boney M) and John Lawton (Uriah Heep).
The group never did much damage over here in the states, so their records turn up with nowhere near the frequency of, say, James Last's. However, Amazon offers a few German compilations, and you can find a fabulous television performance of Mama Loo on YouTube, which features an excellent example of the group's exquisite mid-70s couture, as well as Lawton's hilarious lip-syncing. There is also a non-comprehensive section devoted to LHS on Lawton's site, and the Vinyl Preservation project is streaming the group's "Swinging Sound" album. But until Mr. Roy Black finds a way to include them over at Germans Under Cover, this is all we have.
More Les Humphries at Bostworld: