Music In A Doll’s House

by Patrick Little.
archived from Song For Me website.

The first Family LP was a critical and financial success, possibly due to the time the band spent gigging before the album, and due to the eclectic mixtures on the album. In a Sixties style it draws upon subtle jazz and classical styles, mostly through instrumentation. Another interesting feature is the way tracks blend into each other. In a few cases short segments, called “variations” on the album, serve as interludes. I did not list these in the tracking, but will include them below.

As for the album, I would certainly call it memorable, but I’m not sure if it’s the classic some purport it to be. Some might be able to cite Beatles influences/references, as almost all new UK groups had them at the time. Many regard it is a gem from the period, and unfortunately, Family’s later works would always be in the shadow of this album. It’s curious that those of us who came to know Family later (especially Americans) prefer the later stuff, while we see this as an awkward album. But it sure has grown on me.

It’s is noteworthy that just recently “Me My Friend” made it into the “Essential 100 Psychedelic Songs of All-Time” compiled into a book and exhibit by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. And back in 1974 the album made no. 44 in the New Musical Express Writers All-Time Top 100, buffered by the likes of Traffic, Captain Beefheart, Stevie Wonder and the Doors.

It’s surprising at how keyboard-based it is, and no one is credited with keyboard on the album. Possibly Nicky Hopkins, preferred keyboard-cat of the London studio scene? I think so, because they give him thanks on FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT. Most songs have amplified piano, and a lot have organ mixed in too.

Recently Chappo has said:

Instrument-wise, I think Dave [Mason] may have played a little piano on the album and, I hasten to say, “not much”. Otherwise he just produced it, and very good he was too, all while he was a member of Traffic.

  1. “The Chase” – Now this is the way to start a debut album…dissonant screams causing your hair to stand up. The Sixties sound is strong on this track: a heavy string section, some mellotron, some vari-speed effects. But Chapman’s voice stands out as one of a kind, and the changing musical phrases take no time to rest. A song about the hunt of love and obsession. The tension builds as the song wraps up, and it goes cuts into…
  2. “Mellowing Grey” – Nice and peaceful, this showed how Family was acoustic at such an early stage. Slight melancholy, with a lush background of strings. Nice poetic imagery, which seems a little odd to hear in Chapman’s voice, using the same vibrato technique as the first song.
  3. “Never Like This” – Cool harmonica riff kicks off this song, which sounds to me, most like the sixties pop sound. Some background organ, basic drums and psychedelic imagery all contribute to a sound not unlike Syd-era Pink Floyd. Oh yes, this was the Dave Mason song! I wonder if he wrote this FOR Family, or gave it to them afterwards… Any Dave Mason fans recognize the style? The “girl with the far-away look in her eyes” seems to be a winking quote of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. And what strange lumps she serves up! From Ask Chappo!, Roger sez:

    … the Dave Mason song wasn’t especially written for that album, I think it was just one he had there. In fact I complained bitterly about it, I hated it and thought it [was] a crap song that had nothing to do with us or our ideas. I also think that Traffic thought the same way, hence “the-ode-of-the-left-over-song”. But of course, managers being managers!!!!!

  4. “Me My Friend” – The heaviness returns with this song. The beginning is slightly unsettling… a phased-drums and bass sound, with horns on top. Ric Grech sings the intro, before Chapman rips into the song with his phased-out manic lines. During Chapman’s verses the whole production is put through a flanger or a rotary speaker, giving it a startling tone. The juxtaposition of the two sounds makes for a very dynamic song. All in all, cheesy but heavy!!! This changes to short “Variations on a theme: Hey Mr. Policeman” which is a hard blues-with-harp jam.
  5. “Winter” – Strong piano chords start of this tune, then sliding violin and drum rolls. Chapman laments about the season, as echoed and reverbed voices back him up. Some horns helps out with the ensembled sound. Wind effects finish the tune.
  6. “Old Songs New Songs” – I love this song because it has two different styles slammed together…the hard blues of the verses and the Gothic feel of the chorus, sung in falsetto by Jim King. Not sure what it all means, and the chorus seems entirely out of place. Verses seem to describe a misunderstood man who is pursued for his crimes. The song begins with lush horns, then another good harp riff and wah-guitar. There’s a jam between sax and guitar which gradually speeds up, as all jam contests do. This tune features a backing horn section by the Tubby Hayes Quintet, a British trad-jazz group. The end brings “Variations on a theme: the Breeze”, which is a steady drum fill, with light slide guitar and organ.
  7. “Hey Mr. Policeman” – Guitar and violin carry the odd opening riff of this shuffling tune. Chapman’s pleading to the cops is nice and easy in this melodic blues. Some good Hammond organ in the back, and slide guitar riffs form the solo section. Townsend’s shuffle on the drums is a real asset to songs like this. This cuts into backward tracks, and then…
  8. “See Through Windows” – The 12-string electric guitar takes on an Indian feel with the main riff here, which is then doubled by harmonica. I love the imagery in this; very psychedelic. Also, the quiet bass riff in the first verse is very nice. Never thought much of Ric Grech as a bassist, but he had his moments. Sparse singing with an echo in the other channel, then chord changes which always throw me. Very 60’s. Again, could have come from Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates…”. The bridge has a string section playing some Indian scales. My favorite part is after the harp takes the riff alone, then the band comes in heavy with two chords… BAH BAH! Hard rock, Family-style. “Variations on a theme: Me My Friend” follows, using a REAL sitar to play an unrecognizable melody.
  9. “Peace of Mind” – I forgot that this is another favorite of mine. Again, Family hard rock. Really stressed-out setting, I assume to portray the serenity of city life. Bashing chords which mute quickly, and a steady violin line on top. This opening reminds me of the song “Strange Band” which appeared a couple of years later. Jim King’s falsetto sings the title phrase while a gruff Chapman delivers the guts of this tune. Some “For Your Love” ah-ahhhs are included, then manic bashing before an abrupt pause…
  10. “Voyage” – Before I watched the CD tracking, I thought this was part of the previous song because it cuts right in. I was hoping that it was a tune of epic length and contrast; but I was wrong, it’s just a weird tune. Chapman comes in lightly with sliding violin, and the voice in one channel seems lower in pitch; very strange. Then that cool phaser effect on the chorus; a very brutal Family moment. Some sound effects (supposedly backwards violin, but makes me think of screeching traffic… cars, not the band) and phrasing variation, complete with mellotron. This has all the ingredients of progressive rock of the “future”; too bad it wasn’t twenty minutes long.
  11. “The Breeze” – Metronome clicking and pizzicato violin back this gentle tune, another drifter to complement the rockers. A hipster account of the surroundings, possibly under the effect of ???
  12. “3 x Time” – Acoustic guitar gives this another ballady feel, but the sax is pretty sharp on top. A sweet tune of remembrance. Things get a little heavier as the song goes along, and drum rolls kick off part featuring raunchy sax and kazoo. Some howls from Chapman and Jim King intervene, then the sax and kazoo return with old-saloon piano and ragged pub singing. This breaks, and the album closes with a chaotic band version of “God Save the Queen”. The recording (10 seconds?) sounds like a live clip.

One response to “Music In A Doll’s House”

  1. Clive Marks Avatar
    Clive Marks

    Re 6. A short line to promote the great Tubby Hayes and British jazz from the 60’s. He wasn’t a trad-jazz i.e. a Dixieland player but an adventurous tenor man who left an excellent suite of albums. He died too young at only 38.

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