I used to spend a lot of time volunteering at WFMU, America’s finest radio station, as a call screener on one of their chat shows, and I got to spend a great deal of time in their record library. As one could imagine, it’s an impressive library, filled with tons of vinyl and CDs, much of it rare. I was particularly drawn to their new release bin, which collected the last two months’ worth of new releases of note into one place for the DJs to pick and sample from. This being WFMU, the selection was a bit more esoteric than most, but for any music fan it’s a dream come true, a one-stop shop for any and all of the new music and hot new re-issues and imports making their way into the marketplace. For about two years my “payment”, since FMU is completely volunteer run (even the DJs don’t get paid), was the opportunity to burn most any CD I could as the show was progressing and on a good week I would leave there with about 10 new CDs. In most cases I had no idea what I would be getting myself into, since this was as much of a lesson in music than anything else, and I would often pick CDs based on their look or style of music than do any kind of research on the artist. Sure, there were some CDs that I burned that I took one listen to and never dared to tune in again, but many of my all-time favorite CDs have come out of this experience, and if anything I owe this opportunity my thanks for introducing me to one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard, Rolled Gold by The Action.
While The Action’s music wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me, having heard two of their songs (“Shadows and Reflections” and “I’ll Keep on Holding On”) on Nuggets II, the name simply didn’t register with me. I looked at the cover, figured it was late 60s psych rock/mod Brit pop and just put it on the pile. This ended up being one of those albums that got to me in almost instantly. I can recall that by the second listen there was one song that I quickly took a liking to and it just snowballed from there. In early ’03, Rolled Gold and I spent a lot of quality time together. Each song has a power of its own, certainly inspired by much of the great music of its era (the album was recorded in ’67) but it could stand very much on its own. That it never was given an opportunity to do so was and is one of rock’s greatest injustices, in my opinion. One of the things that make this album so enticing is the history of it, the fact that it took over 30 years for any of it to ever gain a release. The Action’s story is that, like many bands of the era, they started out recording singles (mainly cover songs) with Beatles producer George Martin, and then recorded demos for their first full album of original material. However, lead singer Reg King (an absolutely brilliant vocalist) left to record a solo album, the rest of the band members formed another band and the demos, intricate and very polished, never saw the light of day. Despite such artist as Phil Collins and Paul Weller sighting the band as a major influence, The Action’s reputation never branched out among Brit pop aficionados and music journalist. There was finally a limited edition release in 1998, but it wasn’t until late 2002, when the album was reissued on Parasol in the U.K., that it finally made its way across the Atlantic, then into the FMU new release bin and eventually, into my heart. And it’s been there ever since.
What’s always impressed me about Rolled Gold is that even though it sounds like an album from the late 60s, it doesn’t sound much like the other albums of its time. You can certainly hear a Beatles influence and a bit of The Who, but had this album come out when it was supposed to it could have easily go on to be massively influential. The Action seemed to know how to write solid pop songs with more complex arrangements and thoughtful lyrics that stand up all these years later. I think the key to this is in The Action’s early singles, which can be heard on the stellar compilation Action Packed! on Edsel Records. Those songs were heavily soul influenced (they included excellent covers of “In My Lonely Room” and “Baby You Got It”) but The Action made them their own, so much so that I prefer many of The Action’s versions to the originals. Lead singer Reg King had this incredible voice that could do anything – rock, pop, you name it – but it was soul music that seemed to be his calling. Why he, like the rest of the group, never went on to have a great career must be a story in itself, but the songs on Rolled Gold would mean nothing without him. My favorite track, without a doubt, is “Look At the View”, a song so full of life and passion that it was what made me begin to worship the entire album. It’s not so much that it’s got this great message (it’s basically a love song) but it has everything you want in a great rock anthem and deserves to be a classic. Other great tracks include “Strange Roads”, “Something to Say”, and “Little Boy”, but the entire album is one standout after another in my eyes.
And so, in summation, buy or download this album. Like you couldn't guess that already.