TERRY GROSS, host:
The years after the Beatles came to America were an exciting time for independent rock labels. Local scenes developed and flourished undetected by major music corporations. In the Detroit area, in the late '60s, the prime indie label to be on was A-Square founded by Jeep Holland. Music critic Milo Miles reviews a new anthology that collects songs Milo says have been unavailable almost since they were new.
(Soundbite of song "Time of the Season")
THE ZOMBIES: (Singing) It's the time of the season when love runs high, In this time, give it to me easy. And let me try with pleasured hands, To take you in the sun to promised land. To show you every one, it's the time of the season for loving.
MILO MILES: I knew the late Hugh Holland, known as "Jeep," when we worked at the Boston Phoenix in the early 1980s. He played many roles in the worlds of popular music and comic books, but I will always think of him as the ultimate fan. Fans power-up by becoming collectors. And Jeep was a totalist collector of comic books and music memorabilia, everything from posters to lunch boxes, to cardboard stand-up figures.
In the mid-1960s, he advanced from managing the local discount record store in Ann Arbor to managing bands and booking shows. The logical next step was to start his own label, called A-Square after a colloquial term for Ann Arbor. The new anthology called "A-Square (Of Course)" does not include any material by the label's headline act, The Rationales, because they have their own anthology coming out.
It does include Iggy Pop's first recorded vocal when he was a drummer for the Prime Movers, though it's merely a charming curiosity. More crucial are the many fine examples of the hard guitar, heavy rock associated with Detroit, such as the first single by the MC5, as raw and corrosive as anything they ever did.
(Soundbite of song "Looking At You")
MC5: (Singing) When it happened, something snapped inside. Made me want to hide all alone on my own, All alone on my own. I stood up on the stand with my eyes shut tight. Didn't want to see anybody feeling happy, Having a good time, now hey. Doing all right, doing all right, Doing all right, doing all right.
MILES: Unlike for instance, Sam Phillips' Sun Records, A-Square did not have a distinctive sound. But to the degree the highly-opinionated Jeep Holland could influence his bands, his sensibility peeks through. His ideal song was crisp, tight, clever, and tuneful, like the best British invasion and soul-band singles.
Jeep could also sniff out new material for his bands to play. And the "A-Square (Of Course)" collection is a fine example of the lost art of superb cover versions. Not only are there remakes of The Kinks, The Zombies, The Pretty Things, and others that stand up well to the originals, there's this number by the Scott Richard Case that outrocks the more famous treatment by Cream.
Unidentified Man: Amazing. Take 1A. You're on. Go.
(Soundbite of song "I'm So Glad")
THE SCOTT RICHARD CASE: (Singing) I'm so glad. I'm so glad, I'm glad. I'm glad. I'm glad, I'm so glad. I'm so glad. I'm glad. I'm glad. I'm glad, I'm so glad. I'm so glad. I'm glad. I'm glad. I'm glad, I'm so glad. I'm so glad. I'm glad. I'm glad. I'm glad, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do, I'm tired of weeping, I'm tired of moaning, I'm tired of crying for you, I'm so glad...
MILES: For all his attention to vinyl, I think for Jeep Holland, records were a means to an end, live shows. He had an uncanny ability to immediately recognize performers with so much vigor and showmanship, they fused with the audience. So people are not just watching the show but enveloped by it. Jeep was an early tastemaker for these acts whether it was The Who, the MC5, Bette Midler, or King Sunny Ade.
Jeep eventually returned to his first passion, comic books, working for Diamond Distributors in Baltimore. We lost touch and he passed away in 1998 when he was only 54. Jeep didn't talk about the old days very often. A-Square ran out of money and came to an abrupt end in 1970. It pained him that his recordings were impossible to find in the store racks. And more than that, he focused on the present and the future. The show you go to tonight, a performance which could be so uplifting and flawless that it redeems your life, maybe even save your soul, for a fan, that's heaven enough.
(Soundbite of song "Get The Picture")
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Well my mind was made up, you know that I couldn't stay. Well, that's all over now because my leavin' ain't true. Hey, I've got gold in my bag, baby. I'm going to make it out to you, yeah. I ain't gonna quit you, Get the picture? I ain't gonna quit you, Not now, anytime at all.
GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. The A-Square collection is on the Big Beat label. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new movie "Slumdog Millionaire" about a teenager from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." This is Fresh Air.