Friday, October 28, 2022

The Ballroom - Preparing For The Millennium (1966-70 us, gorgeous mix of psych pop, folk rock and pure joyous harmony)

Mention the name Curt Boettcher to fans of late 60s soft pop, and you'll get nods of reverence. Over the years, Boettcher has had a growing mystique, in large part because the wonderful bands he led didn't achieve even a modicum of popularity during their tenure, but also because he was such a talented writer and musician. His bands Sagittarius and The Millennium have been written about quite often in recent years, as their albums have been reissued on CD. Even though he passed away more than 10 years ago, Boettcher's name is constantly on the lips of many fans, and perhaps because of the intrigue surrounding his musical life everyone wants to fill in the missing pieces. One of those pieces has long been discussed in rather hushed tones although few knew much about it, and that was the unreleased album by The Ballroom, the band that Boettcher had circa 1966, before Sagittarius and The Millennium. 

Most collectors had given up on the possibility that this album would ever see the light of day, but fortunately people like Joe Foster of Revola Records was persistent in his quest to make it happen, and Revola has now released a disc called Preparing For The Millennium, which contains not only the Ballroom album, but outtakes from Ballroom and Millennium sessions as well as solo projects by Ballroom members. The end result was more than worth the wait, as the music within is beautiful, harmony filled pop that will easily satiate the appetite of any fan of late 60s pop music.

Curt Boettcher had many strengths as a musician and songwriter, but perhaps his greatest was his voice, which not only soared to the heavens but contained a childlike innocence not unlike that of Peter Pan. However, while his music was certainly pretty, whimsical and melodic, it was often tinged with enough psychedelic flourishes to conjure the image that perhaps our Peter was ingesting some funny, mind altering substances (which indeed Boettcher was at the time). Upon listening to The Ballroom CD, one can hear the germination of a fruitful period for Boettcher, and his bandmates Sandy Salisbury, Michelle O'Malley, and Jim Bell were able assistants, contributing tight musicianship, beautiful Association/Cowsills like harmonies, and sophisticated songwriting in the case of Salisbury. 

The album (actually, the tapes of 11 of the original 13 songs could be found) could almost serve as a soundtrack to a fairytale, albeit a slightly askew one, and Boettcher's Peter Pan persona is easily communicated on tracks like the delightful "Spinning, Spinning, Spinning," "Love's Fatal Way", and the Salisbury penned "Magic Time". The band could emerge from that mold as well, as the American Indian flavored "You Turn Me Around," (co-written by "Along Comes Mary" writer Tandyn Almer-Boettcher had produced the first Association album) the slow, intense, and mystical "It's A Sad World," the goofy, Vaudevillian, pot induced "Crazy Dreams," and the pop/psych workout of the traditional R&B "Baby Please Don't Go" would attest. The Ballroom album also has nascent renderings of "Would You Like To Go" and "Musty Dusty", which would appear in more ornate versions on Sagittarius' Present Tense and The Millennium's Begin albums, respectively. The Ballroom versions are slightly slower and sparer, and in that form perhaps more cogently illustrates the beauty of these songs. Although The Ballroom is considered to be a Boettcher-led project, perhaps the highlight of the album is the Salisbury penned "I'll Grow Stronger," which contains an amazing melody line, complimentary whispery lead vocals and exquisite harmonies. Truly an amazing aural experience!

The next 8 tracks on the CD are outtakes and demos from The Ballroom and The Millennium, many of which emerged on either the aforementioned Sagittarius or Millennium albums. These are all excellent, especially "Another Time", which is more acoustic based than the released version but greatly emphasizes the delicate, complex melody lines, and "I'm Not Living Here", which in this version is carried by a prominent, slightly distorted bass line (these outtakes contain some different lyrics than those versions which appeared on "Present Tense"). Some songs that had not previously seen the light of day in any form are the uptempo, slightly loungy "If You Only Knew," the slow, Indian tinged "Believe You", which could have easily fit on the Monkees' Head soundtrack, and the pretty, early Monkees-ish "Sunshine Today". The final three songs on the disc are the gypsy-ish "Milk And Honey", by a pre-Ballroom Boettcher project called Summer's Children, "All Really Have Is A Memory", a soft, romantic Salisbury solo track (credited to "Sandy" on the 45) that out Left Bankes the Left Banke in the refrain, and a delightful version of Nilsson's "Best Friend" by the Salisbury led group Puppet.

The packaging of Preparing For The Millennium is stellar as well, with cool photos, vintage press clippings, and the usual excellent liner notes and song annotations by the venerable Dawn Eden, which include insights from various members of The Ballroom and The Millennium. All in all, Preparing For The Millennium is a collection that should be considered the Holy Grail of soft pop.
by David Bash
1. Spinning, Spinning, Spinning (Curt Boettcher, Ruthann Friedman) - 2:42
2. You Turn Me Around (Tandyn Almer) - 2:45
3. Would You Like To Go (Curt Boettcher, Jules Alexander) - 2:41
4. Forever (Curt Boettcher, Lee Mallory) - 2:25
5. Loves Fatal Way (Curt Boettcher, Randy Naylor) - 2:57
6. It's A Sad World (Gene DiNovi, Mary Ann Maurer) - 3:53
7. Crazy Dreams (Michael P. Whalen) - 2:56
8. Magic Time (Sandy Salisbury) - 2:52
9. Musty Dusty (Curt Boettcher, Tandyn Almer) - 3:19
10.I'll Grow Stronger (Sandy Salisbury) - 3:05
11.Baby Please Don't Go (Traditional) - 3:12
12.Another Time (Curt Boettcher) - 3:37
13.If You Only Knew (Curt Boettcher) - 2:45
14.Keeper Of The Games (Curt Boettcher) - 1:53
15.The Island (Curt Boettcher) - 3:34
16.Believe You (Curt Boettcher) - 2:52
17.It's A Sad World (Gene DiNovi, Mary Ann Maurer) - 3:14
18.I'm Not Living Here (Curt Boettcher) - 3:19
19.Sunshine Today (Curt Boettcher) - 2:22
20.Milk And Honey (Curt Boettcher) - 2:28
21.All I Really Have Is A Memory (Sandy Salisbury) - 2:23
22.Best Friend (Harry Nilsson) - 2:23
Tracks 1-11 as The Ballroom
Tracks 12-19 as The Ballroom / The Millennium
Track 20 Summer's Children
Track 21 Sandy Salisbury
Track 22 Puppet

*Curt Boettcher - Guitar, Vocals, Producer 
*Mike Deasy - Guitar 
*Sandy Salisbury - Guitar, Vocals
*Ben Benay - Guitar 
*Lee Mallory - Guitar, Vocals
*Jerry Scheff - Bass
*Dottie Holmberg - Vocals
*Jim Bell - Vocals 
*Michele O'Malley - Vocals 
*Sharon Olsen - Vocals
*Butch Parker - Keyboards, Horns, Bass
*Mike Henderson - Keyboards, Horns
*Jim Bell - Oboe
*Jim Horn - Saxophone
*Jim Troxell - Drums
*Ron Edgar - Drums
*Toxie French - Drums, Vibraphone

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