Listening to this collection, I remember what it was like for this admirer of British and American pop-psych, freakbeat, and psych-mod to first discover the tremendously fertile world of Australian music of the mid-to-late 60s. Somehow, the oceanic divide filtered out the dross of that era, leaving Oz's acts to emulate many of the acts who are most beloved of today's genre aficionados, like the Small Faces, the Who, and countless obscure artists. So it's no accident that Australia and New Zealand are where you'll find contemporaneous cover versions of American garage, psych, and folk-rock gems that were unknown in their own country.
Peculiar Hole In The Sky, as its name - taken from the title of an Easybeats original - implies, focuses on songs that were both written and performed by Australian acts (with a few notable exceptions that I'll get to in a moment). They come from the vaults of the formidable Australian indie Festival, which apparently took exceedingly good care of its tapes. It's a joy to hear so many choice tunes from one of the last great under-anthologized genres of the Sixties, many of which appear on CD for the first time.
The collection kicks off with a fascinating find: Peculiar Hole In The Sky, by the Valentines, with lead vocals by Bon Scott. While no one would confuse it for the missing link between the Easybeats and AC/DC (the Easys' own Watch Me Burn has my vote there), it's a highly-orchestrated version that shows Scott's admiration for his Aussie forebears.
Other highlights: Emily on Sunday by Clapham Junction borrows the Pink Floyd's favorite girl for a romp in Tomorrow territory. Jon's Upstairs, Downstairs is a wonderfully neurotic Bee Gees tune that features the Brothers Gibb themselves on backing vocals. Moving In A Circle by the Executives, one of the few familiar (to me) cuts, sports an appealingly fragile female vocal and a Curt Boettcher-like, reverb-soaked fade. Sitting By A Tree by the Escorts (no relation to the British group of the same name) is textbook toytown psychedelia, made even more fey by a vocal that lies squarely between Peter Noone and Davy Jones.
Of the non-Australian compositions, the most striking is one that can't really be considered a cover, since it's the first (and only?) recording of the song: Normie Rowe's version of Graham Gouldman's Going Home. Recorded in England and produced by Giorgio Giomelsky of Yardbirds fame, the song has that haunting, baroque feel characteristic of Gouldman's best work. The other compositions from outside Oz include the Dave Miller Set's version of Eire Apparent's Mr Guy Fawkes, and Marty Rhones' version of the Gentle Souls' Tell Me Love. In each case, the Australian act adds a high level of enthusiasm, as well as a kind of modesty that one doesn't always hear when listening to, say, American covers of British tunes. It's as though they felt greatly honoured to be recording a song by an American or British band - even if the original wasn't a hit!
By Dawn Eden
(Dawn Eden is a New York-based writer and pop music authority)