Forgotten series: The Hi-Fi’s – Snakes And HiFis (2008)

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It’s amazing to me that, after all these decades, there are still unknown bands putting out great music. England’s Hi-Fi’s rest firmly in that category.

They eventually went to Germany, as several other like-minded British Invasion bands did back then, looking for greener pastures to hit it big in the mid-’60s. There, English bands were treated as special, even if they hadn’t made it back home. They could be big fish in a little pond, versus the reverse.

As for the sound quality of this CD from Wooden Hill, I did detect occasional distortion here and there so, I’m not sure if this album was taken directly from the original master tapes or not. Maybe it’s from a clean LP or an LP master tape? What you do get is the original German stereo 13-track LP, plus a generous 14 selections of bonus cuts.

The strong album opener “Tread Softly for the Sleepers” is a pretty damn good mid-tempo garage/punk song, boasting a cautionary tale (wink!, wink!) about not waking up early-morning folks. The stellar psych-pop song “What’s a bulb?” comes on like Manfred Mann and the Zombies meet the Beatles — with Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds flourishes. A hurdy-gurdy circus bounce propels this quirky, fuzzy, loopy organ tune, with a grab-your-attention-hook. This should’ve been released as a single. It would’ve been some kind of hit somewhere. Similar to the Zombies, the organ is the lead instrument of choice here, along with similar harmonies.

The sunny title track of sorts, “Snakes and Ladders,” was a No. 1 German hit single. Based in part on the kids game, you’ll definitely hear that Beach Boys ’65 sound in this warm tribute to the respected Californians. They cross into Bonzo Dog Band musical comedic territory on “Up and Over.” Add the catchy Hollies-like “Calorie Ann” to that category, too. The single “I’m a Box” probably wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on a Mike d’Abo-era Manfred Mann album. As can be surmised the title, “You’re Haunting Me” is a moody downtrodden love lost ballad done in the best Zombies/Beach Boys way.

A previously unknown Graham Gouldman composition, the rather ordinary “London Look,” is amongst the 14 bonus tunes included. Not exactly a hit or a great song, but it’s interesting to hear it none the less. One of the unusual moments, and a 180-degree turn in sound, is the Four Seasons-influenced “Here I Stand” — which very much recalls one of that New Jersey band’s ’65 singles. There are more Hollies Merseybeat sounds with “I’m Not Ready for You Yet,” an upbeat unreleased song. I also hear a little bit of a Searchers/Hollies/Tom Jones amalgam on another unreleased tune, “Heaven knows.”

The set is rounded out by not very good covers of “Mickey’s Monkey” (The Miracles) and “I Get Around” (The Beach Boys), plus a plain awful version of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” Only their version of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” is respectable, yet it remains unremarkable despite their cutesy sound effects. “In the Midnight Hour” (Wilson Pickett) is just a little out of the vocalist’s range to cover properly. A stripped-down “God Only Knows,” minus the Wall of Sound-like effects, ends up as a pretty good effort. You can hear that The Hi-Fi’s really love the Beach Boys on this cover.

Wooden Hill’s generous 27 tracks and excellent liner notes detailing the band’s whole story, along with unseen photos, make for a very attractive release. You also get the mono versions of both sides of their two singles from this album.

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Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott has written for Shindig, Twist and Shake, Garage & Beat and Ugly Things. A big fan of all things rock and roll - especially the British Invasion, garage rock, psychedelic, new wave, folk rock, surf and power pop - he was a consultant on Sundazed Music's reissue of 'The Best of Butch Engle & The Styx: No Matter What You Say' in 2000, and has also provided liner notes for Italy's Misty Lane Records. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Steve Elliott
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