Watching PF Sloan play a storming set to a bare few dozen dedicated folks at the Kilburn Luminaire last October was truly a joy, yet simultaneously baffling. With a back catalogue as universally appreciated as his, he should be selling out theatres and receiving endless plaudits from the monthlies. Yet here he was in a small club venue, backed by a pick-up rhythm section, bashing out classic after classic to a select coterie of hardcore followers. The new Ace compilation of Sloan’s Dunhill recordings, “Here’s Where I Belong”, only emphasises the familiarity and importance of his back catalogue. This is to be expected. What’s more surprising is that this collection marks the first time Sloan’s catalogue has received a UK CD issue; indeed some of these recordings are making their worldwide debut appearance on CD. An appreciation of Sloan’s oeuvre is clearly long overdue.
“He’s a great mimic” is how Dunhill boss Lou Adler would later sum up his charge Phil “Flip” Sloan. And of course there are elements of homage: the way Sloan moved so swiftly between the brash surf pop of his early 60s combo the Fantastic Baggys and the heartfelt protest of the early solo sides included on this collection has to be admired for sheer audacity. But, while there are certainly nods of acknowledgement to his influences, this isn’t mere pastiche. There’s real craft here, and real passion. And in 1965, while the more -shall we say- “cerebral” end of the folk-rock axis was alienating half its fan base, Sloan was singing “You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’”, a lyric that could be appreciated by even the most wigged-out teenybopper. Which was surely the point.
Thanks to the success of Eve Of Destruction, Sloan and his sometime writing partner Steve Barri were on call for a string of worldwide mid-60s hits for the Searchers (Take Me For What I’m Worth), the Turtles (Let Me Be), Jan & Dean (I Found A Girl) and others too numerous to mention. Sloan’s takes on these treasures are included, although it’s unclear if some of these recordings were originally intended as demos. Certainly the instrumentation on his debut album - included here in its entirety - rarely extends beyond guitar and rhythm section, and for many numbers Phil is accompanied solely by his earnestly-strummed acoustic and obligatory blasts of harmonica. However, both song-craft and arrangements blossom the deeper one digs into his career, peaking with the heartbreaking baroque beauty of his final Dunhill 45 I Can’t Help But Wonder, Elizabeth.
In 1970, Jimmy Webb - who had also spent some time in the Dunhill stable - released his debut Reprise 45 PF Sloan, which told the tale of the decline in Phil’s career as an epitaph for the idealism of the 60s. Although Sloan had to all intents and purposes invented the concept of the self-contained singer-songwriter five years previously, he had become a forgotten figure by the time Webb was eulogising him in song. Thankfully these past few years have been kinder to Phil, with a well-received new LP in 2006 (“Sailover”), and a return to the live circuit. This lovingly executed trawl through his archives should help redress the balance even further.
By Harvey Williams