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Charlie - Fantasy Girls (LP)

Charlie - Fantasy Girls (LP)

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Genre: rock
Rating: *** (3 stars)
Title:  Fantasy Girls
Company: Columbia
Catalog: PC-34081
Year: 1976
Country/State: London, UK
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: includes lyric insert; white label promo copy; timing strip on front cover (not shown in photo)
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 4769
Price: $9.00

It only took Charlie multiple line-up changes and three years to record their first single and an additional three years to record an album ... credit them with persistence and a sense of confidence for being willing to tough it out.

Originally know as Charlie Cuckoo (quickly modified to the abbreviated Charlie), the original band showcased the talents of bassist Ray Bulloch, drummer Nicco McBraine, guitarist Martin Smith, and former Magic Mixture singer/rhythm guitarist Terry Thomas. Within a matter of months both Bulloch and McBraine were gone, replaced by bassist John Anderson and drummer Steve Gadd. Several years on the club scene eventually caught the attention of Decca Records which signed them to a contract, eventually resulting in the release of their 1973 debut:

- 'I Need Your Love' b/w 'I'm so Happy' (Decca catalog number F 13451)

The single disappeared without a trace and even though the band recorded additional material for Decca, the label effectively dropped Charlie from its recording roster. Back splitting their time between conventional day jobs and the club circuit, in 1975 Polydor signed them to a contract, agreeing to finance an album. Columbia subsequently acquired US distribution rights, releasing the collection with different (but equally appalling) cover art and a modified track listing

Under the impression they would be working with producer Roy Thomas Baker, the band were surprised to discover Baker wasn't available for the project and his 19 year old studio engineer Mike Stone would be behind the mixing boards. Recorded in a week, 1976's "Fantasy Girls" served as a showcase for Thomas who wrote almost all of the material, handled lead vocals, and lead guitar. With those credentials Thomas was clearlly the band's main draw. Kind of flat, dry, and raspy, from a strictly technical standpoint Thomas didn't have the greatest voice you've ever heard, but it was instantly recognizable and to my ears a very interesting instrument. He also had a knack for penning highly commercial material that effortlessly straddled the line between top-40 pop and harder rocking FM rock. Being surrounded by a top notch band, including guitarist Martin Smith certainly didn't hurt the proceedings, nor did the band's ability to generate some of the sweetest harmony vocals I've ever heard. True, nothing here was particularly original, but Thomas-penned numbers like the title track, 'Prisoners' and 'Summer Romances' were enthusiastic and energetic which was more than could be said for much of the top-40 competition. In spite of Bill Imhoff's lackidasical cover art and slightly muddy sound (this was producer Stone's first project), it made for one of the better debut LPs I've come across.

- 'Fantasy Girls' stood as a classic example of Charlie's pop-rock sound. Kicked along by Thomas' instantly recognizable dry and craggy voice, the song featured a catchy guitar-powered melody that found a nice niche between pop commerciality and a harder FM rock sound. Add in the band's sterling backing vocals and one of those sly hooks that snuck into your head and you had the makes of a radio hit. 'Course even though it was tapped as a UK single, it did little commercially. I'm not a prude, but I suspect the porn-oriented lyric "I buy magazines o look a lewd scenes of girls in their teens ..."might have had something to do with radio's reluctance to embrace the track. rating: **** stars
- Upping the rock quotient, 'Don't Let Me Down' demonstrated Charlie could hold their own against conventional rockers. Almost funky, kudos to Martin Smith for providing some tasty slide guitar. Only complaint here was that the song faded out just as they were starting to shift into overdrive. rating: **** stars
- Occasionally disconcerting, Thomas had a penchant for stitching together up tempo rockers with slower segments and that was aptly displayed on 'TV Dreams'. rating: *** stars
- Exhibiting another Charlie tendency, 'Prisoners' started out as an atmospheric guitar powered ballad before abruptly shifting gears into an out-and-out rocker. Stark, but very enjoyable and when it shifted gears the song took no prisoners ... rating: **** stars
- Tapped as the leadoff single, 'First Class Traveller' was probably the album's most conventional and commercial pop song, but to my ears it was also one of the least interesting numbers. Cloaked in a bouncy melody with multi-tracked lead vocals, I'll admit the song had a catchy hook and Smith turned in some nice guitar, but the overall effect was just too cute for my tastes. rating: *** stars
- Exemplified by 'Greatcoat Guru' Steve Gadd (not the US sessions player), may have been the band's secret weapon. Not a particularly flashy drummer, Gadd nevertheless kept the rest of the band firmly grounded - check out the way he effortlessly switched gears on this one. No sure if it was Thomas or Anderson, but one of them contributed some fantastic rhythm guitar to the track. Sounded like some of the band's fans may have left a bad taste in Thomas' mouth. rating: *** stars
- 'Please Let Me Know' was the album's prettiest ballad with a wonderfully melodic Thomas guitar solo. Thomas vocal was also interesting in that for a brief second he sounded a bit like Pete Townshend. rating: **** stars
- I've always loved the full bodied sound Thomas got out of his guitar (anyone know what effects he used ?) and it was on full display in the rocker 'Miss Deluxe'. Maybe it was just me, but Thomas sounded a bit irked by the young lady ... rating: *** stars
- Another pretty ballad, 'It's Your Life' applied some interesting echo effects to Thomas voice. The song also sported some of the album's best guitar work. rating: **** stars
- The lone group composition, 'Summer Romances' was another album standout - a thumping rocker, with a catchy hook. Yeah, the lyric was a bit disturbing, but I guess many guys have similar tales of woe. rating: *** stars

As mentioned, the album was tapped for a pair of UK singles and a Japanese 45:

UK releases:
- 1976's 'First Class Traveller' b/w 'TV Dreams' (Polydor catalog number 205 8683)
- 1976's 'Fantasy Girls' b/w 'Miss DeLuxe' (Polydor catalog number ???)

Japanese release:
- 1976 'T.V. Dreams' b/w 'First Class Traveller' (Polydor catalog number DP 4019)

For its part Columbia didn't bother with a US single.

So, here's another one where I seem to be in the minority. To my ears it was a pretty impressive and enjoyable debut. I certainly wouldn't characterize it as soft rock (no I'll readily admit it ain't no Zeppelin), but at least half of the songs had staying power and overall it served as a nice introduction to a sound that would see them come very close to breakout success. That massive success never really happened ... but Charlie sure gave it a try.

"Fantasy Girls" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Fantasy Girls (Terry Thomas) - 4:31
2.) Don't Let Me Down (Terry Thomas) - 2:24
3.) T.V. Dreams (Terry Thomas) - 3:03
4.) Prisoners (Terry Thomas) - 5:56
5.) First Class Traveller (Terry Thomas) - 2:50

(side 2)
1.) Greatcoat Guru (Terry Thomas) - 5:09
2.) Please Let Me Know (Terry Thomas) - 4:00
3.) Miss Deluxe (Terry Thomas) - 3:57
4.) It's Your Life (Terry Thomas) - 5:50
5.) Summer Romances (Terry Thomas - John Anderson - Martin Smith - Steve Gadd) - 5:04
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