Between 1967 and 1970, New York’s Mainstream label, a respected imprint known principally for its high quality jazz and soundtrack catalogue, recorded and released over two dozen full-length rock albums. “All Kinds Of Highs: A Mainstream Pop-Psych Compendium 1966-70” collects the best moments from these records, along with selected highlights from Mainstream’s singles inventory of the same period.
It was still an era where there was no guarantee that even a significant hit single would grant an artist the luxury of a long-playing disc. Yet, in an assiduous move, company president and A&R chief Bob Shad single-handedly traversed the nation to assemble a roster of unknown rock bands, have them quickly record LPs in the styles of the moment, and then throw it all up at the proverbial ceiling, to see what would stick. At the time, and for some years after, Shad’s rock’n’roll splurge was viewed, somewhat cynically, as emblematic of the industry’s gross exploitation of the baby-booming psychedelic milieu. As popular music got more self-consciously cerebral and the Rolling Stone mindset took over, the rock album had become a sacred totem, an instrument of the “serious” artist. Which no doubt precluded any of the Mainstream acts getting taken seriously.
I always did, however. Back in the 80s, a Mainstream album, when you were lucky enough to spot one in the vinyl hostelries of London, was a fascinating curio. Intriguingly cryptic names such as the Bohemian Vendetta or Tangerine Zoo, emblazoned upon garish pop-art sleeves, stood out in the racks. My friend Tom (later in Th’ Faith Healers and Quickspace Supersport) and I vied with each other to “collect the set”, as it were, but truthfully, at the time, the Mainstream psychedelic albums seemed too few and far between, and I was frankly too broke.
It wasn’t until I later moved to the US that I caught up on classics from the Tiffany Shade, Jelly Bean Bandits and Growing Concern and also started acquiring some of the numerous non-LP singles on Mainstream and its subsidiary Brent – many of which, by Fever Tree, Paraphernalia, the Country Gentlemen and suchlike, are true gems. It always struck me that Bob Shad was a kind of unwitting patron of pop-psychedelia, or at least a chronicler of American rock at a grass roots level. He had a knack for frequently choosing groups that had something a little out of the ordinary, whether it be in songwriting chops, instrumental abilities, or just a unique slant, that to revisionist ears is a most appealing aspect of the label’s rock legacy. Mainstream artists in this era touch equally on Anglophile pop, folk-rock, world music, country and vocal harmony, in often thrilling manner.
It also occurred to me as I collected Mainstream releases that, while each album had merit, there were always tracks that stood out. Using the “Nuggets” precept, it made sense to gather all these strongest moments together. Thus we have “All Kinds Of Highs”, which focuses squarely and unapologetically on the pop-psych end of the spectrum, eschewing the hard rock or horn rock stylings of later Mainstream acts such as Last Nikle, Josefus etc. That can be someone else’s compilation – in the meantime, revel in the glorious, groovy miscellany assembled here.
By Alec Palao