There’s no good reason why Spooky Tooth didn’t make it big. This 5-man band played
rock, the kind you really listen to. Nothing was lacking. They had several fine vocalists,
expert guitar & keyboards, dynamic drums, good songs, & surprising arrangements. By
“surprising,” I mean that unexpected things happened. They didn’t sell oodles of records
but were a solid mainstay of the UK rock scene in the late 60s & early 70s.
Here’s the lineup:
Mike Harrison (piano & harpsichord, former member of the VIPs), Gary Wright
(organ, piano, guitar), 17-year-old Luther Grosvenor (lead guitar, formerly of the
Hellians), Greg Ridley (bass, former member of the Dakotas & the VIPs), & Mike Kellie
(drums, former member of the VIPs & Locomotive). Looking ahead, Wright (from New
Jersey, the sole American in the band) eventually went out on his own & had a huge hit
in 1975 w/ “Dream Weaver.” Grosvenor later joined up w/ Mott the Hoople & Stealers
Wheel. Ridley played bass for Humble Pie. It’s notable that keyboard wizard Keith
Emerson also played briefly w/ Spooky Tooth before going on to form The Nice &
Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. So much for the personnel.
I’m talking here about their first album, known as “It’s All About,” (1968). The
album is composed of ten songs, seven of which were written by various band members
& producer Jimmy Miller. The three covers are “Tobacco Road” by John Loudermilk, a
particularly dramatic version of Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” & a potent cover of Bob
Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing.” The seven originals contain plenty of variety. “It’s all
about a Roundabout” is light & bouncy, w/ a carefree, pop-tune, free-love message. Most
of their songs are upbeat. As you might expect, “Bubbles” is gentle, sounding lighter
than air. The band plays as a band, w/ very few show-off instrumentals on keyboard or
guitar. Each instrument sparkles & shines in the cracks, right where it belongs.
One of my favorites is “Here I Lived So Well,” which seems to be about a guy
who goes back to visit the home where he grew up. Only the house itself is gone,
replaced by a sign indicating that a seven-story parking lot will soon be erected on the
spot. Then, right at the end, it sounds like the guy himself might be a ghost. So we’ve
got a ghost visiting a house that’s gone. It’s a creepy thing to contemplate, emphasized
by the ghostly chorus of voices.
And speaking of voices—nowhere is it indicated who does any of the singing. But
every song includes at least two or three voices, one of which is kind of high-pitched &
scratchy, though not unpleasant to hear. It’s a real mix of vocals, allowing for plenty of
Another favorite is the album’s anchor piece, “Sunshine Help Me,” written by
Gary Wright. The song is sung in desperation-mode by, I’m guessing, Wright, since he
wrote it. The singer is about to just give up; but he doesn’t want to—he just wants a little
help to escape from the darkness he’s wrapped up in.
Spooky Tooth recorded one more album before the personnel changes started.
“It’s All About” is really worth a couple of good listens. The band has a unique sound,
due in part to the diverse vocals. Listen to it a couple of times & you’ll wonder why they
didn’t make it big.
Interesting article John. An all too typical story of some really good bands. Bad management, maybe. Ego problems. Who knows? Band dynamics were always a mysterious and often volatile thing. Still are, I imagine.
Thanks for the comment, Jim. So many bands have been transformed by personnel changes. The sound & attitude is altered, sometimes extensively, so the musical direction is changed. One can write about music endlessly–it is so deep & mysterious.