March 15, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Prisoners

The Prisoners are perhaps the best mod band of the 1980s. That's saying a lot when you consider that on both sides of the Atlantic there were thriving mod scenes throughout the decade that spawned a number of great power pop, soul, and ska bands.

And still there are The Prisoners. Garage rock kings in many ways, but also purveyors of the melding of power pop with soul and R&B. And even though they often did it in a unique way, and did it first, they seemed to have missed getting much, or even any, credit for the trails they blazed.

The Prisoners were first and foremost a garage rock band, more so than any other mod revival band of the 70s or 80s. They had straight ahead rock and roll songs that they played loud and hard. Over the course of their four albums they grew into a more sophisticated and mature sort of mod garage band, one that featured the skillful Hammond B3 organ sound of James Taylor upfront and on top of the guitars. It was a twist that made them more listenable, while at the same time giving them arrangements that were more sophisticated than their mod colleagues of the day. Their musicianship was clearly head and shoulders above most of the whole rest of the 80s UK mod scene. Taylor of course went on to form the acid jazz pioneers James Taylor Quartet, while lead vocalist Graham Day has fronted two excellent bands in the days since then -- The Solarflares (with Prisoner Allan Crockford), and more recently Graham Day and the Gaolers.

This track,"Whenever I'm Gone" is taken from their The Last Fourfathers release, and is a Small Faces like R&B floorshaker. The vocals and the organ both compete for dominance, maybe not surprisingly considering the dueling between Day and Taylor throughout the band's history. Still, this is a downright souful bit of bluesy power pop that would have had any British invasion band beside itself with jealousy back in the day.

The Prisoners -- Whenever I'm Gone