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John's Children

Because Marc Bolan -- soon to become T. Rex -- was briefly a member, John's Children are perhaps accorded more reverence by '60s collectors and aficionados than they deserve. Still, they were an interesting, if minor, blip on the British mod and psychedelic scene during their relatively brief existence (1965-1968), although they were perhaps more notable for their flamboyant image and antics than their music. Yardbirds manager Simon Napier-Bell recalled that they were "positively the worst group I'd ever seen" when he chanced upon them in France in 1966, yet he was conned into taking them on as clients. Not proficient enough to be trusted to play on their own records, their first single, "Smashed Blocked"/"Strange Affair," was recorded with sessionmen in late 1966. This disorienting piece of musical mayhem, opening with a crescendo of swirling organs and an otherworldly over-reverbed vocal, was one of the first overtly psychedelic singles. Their improbable saga was launched when the single actually reached the bottom depths of the U.S. Top 100, cracking the Top Ten in some Florida and California markets. The group's U.S. company, White Whale, requested an album, which they shelved when it was received -- an LP with the then-unthinkable title of Orgasm. The actual album consisted of mediocre studio material smothered in audience screams lifted from the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack, and was, bizarrely, actually released in 1971 (and reissued a decade later). Their second single, "Just What You Want -- Just What You'll Get"/"But You're Mine," reached the British Top 40 and featured a guitar solo by recently departed Yardbird Jeff Beck on the B-side. A brief German tour followed, during which they managed to upstage the headliners, the Who (with their theatrics, not their music). At this point, Marc Bolan joined the group for a time as their principal singer and songwriter; details are hazy, but he recorded at least one single with the group, "Desdemona" (which was banned by the BBC for the line "lift up your skirt and fly"), as well as several unreleased cuts that have surfaced on reissues. Bolan departed in a squabble with Napier-Bell, and the group released a couple more flop singles before disbanding in 1968. Their half-dozen singles rank among the most collectible British '60s rock artifacts, and the group -- who managed some decent modish power pop once they learned their way around their instruments a bit -- were acclaimed as pre-glam rockers of sorts by historians. Andy Ellison (the group's lead singer except during Bolan's brief tenure) recorded some decent pop singles at the end of the '60s, and members of John's Children were involved with the obscure British groups Jook, Jet, and Radio Stars in the '70s.
© Richie Unterberger /TiVo


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