MYSTIC MERLIN-SIXTY THRILLS A MINUTE.
MYSTIC MERLIN-SIXTY THRILLS A MINUTE.
When Mystic Merlin signed Capitol Records, it looked as if the New York based soul and funk group had a great future ahead of them. They were tipped to join funk’s elite, joining Parliament, Funkadelic, Brass Construction, B.T. Express. Charles Kipp had been hired to produce their debut album Mystic Merlin, which was released in April1980. However, after the lead single Burned To Learn failed to chart, Mystic Merlin’s debut album was dropped by Capitol Records. With neither promotion, nor radio play, Mystic Merlin disappeared without trace in the US. Over in the UK, Mystic Merlin acquired something of a cult following, enjoying minor chart success. Even that minor success couldn’t make up for the disappointment of Mystic Merlin being dropped in the US. A year later, in 1981, disappointed but not defeated, Mystic Merlin returned with their second album Sixty Thrills A Minute, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 30th July 2012. Would Sixty Thrills A Minute see Mystic Merlin make their commercial breakthrough?
For Sixty Thrills A Minute, Capitol Records thought a few changes were needed, the most important, was hiring a new producer. Capitol thought Los Angeles based Alan V. Abrahams would be the perfect fit for Mystic Merlin. He was steeped in music, having been part of Pig Iron, who released just one album Pig Iron. With Pig iron, Alan toured with Canned Heat, The Allman Brothers and B.B King. From there, Alan moved into A&R with at RCA, where he was partly responsible for signing Hall and Oates. Having dipped his toe into production, Alan produced artists as diverse as the Memphis Horns, Pure Prairie League and even David Cassidy. Mostly, however, Alan with his title of executive producer tired of being a desk jockey. So when Capitol Records offered Alan a position where he could get back into production, this was what he needed.
Now at Capitol and based in Los Angeles, Alan was asked to meet with Mystic Merlin. Both Mystic Merlin and Alan bonded, so Alan was hired to produce what would become Sixty Thrills A Minute. This meant Mystic Merlin had to relocate temporarily to Los Angeles, where their second album would be recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood.
Once Mystic Merlin had flown in from New York to their temporary new home in Los Angeles, Alan would start recording their second album. A total of nine tracks would be recorded, with Clyde Bullard co-writing five of these tracks, while producer Alan V. Abrahams cowrote Get It For Yourself. What became Sixty Thrills A Minute saw the five members of Mystic Merlin contribute towards the nine tracks. Alan V. Abrahams was determined to help Mystic Merlin make their commercial breakthrough. To do so, he brought in a number of guest artists. This included saxophonist Ernie Watts, percussionist Paulinho Da Costa and synth wizard Michael Boddicker. Gene Page was hired to arrange the strings on Searching For the Meaning of Love, with the horns on Goddess of the Boogie arranged by Barry Strutt. With Alan V. Abrahams having brought in such high profile session musicians and arrangers for recording of Sixty Thrills A Minute, would this pay of with a commercially successful album?
Got To Make It Better was chosen as the lead single from Sixty Thrills A Minute, and was released in February 1981. It gave Mystic Merlin their first chart success, reaching number eighty-two in the US R&B Charts. Then when Sixty Thrills A Minute was released in April 1981, history repeated itself, with the album failing to chart. When Sixty Thrills A Minute was released in May 1981, it reached number seventy-six in the US R&B Charts. Although this minor success was a small crumb of comfort, Mystic Merlin’s second album Sixty Thrills A Minute had failed to be a commercial success. However, should Sixty Thrills A Minute have fared better when it was released?
Opening Sixty Thrills A Minute was the title-track and the second single Sixty Thrills A Minute, a track with an Earth, Wind and Fire influence. Funk and dance music unite, with the rhythm section supplying the funk, along with infectious percussion that punctuates the arrangement. Then comes the joyous vocal, accompanied by punchy backing vocals and blazing horns. Sizzling guitars, synths and the funk laden rhythm section all play their part in creating an irresistible sounding arrangement, while uplifting vocal and growling horns supply Sixty Thrills A Minute.
The funk continues on Hideaway, breathy backing vocals and a hard driving, funky rhythm section combining. Backing vocals cascade, giving way to a soulful vocal. Bursts of synths join the guitars, rhythm section and tender backing vocals. Swathes of keyboards add to the drama, as the arrangement builds up, as Mystic Merlin fuse funk and soul while teasing and tantalizing listeners.
On their debut album Mystic Merlin often were at their best on the soulful tracks. Sign of the Times sees a return to this side of Mystic Merlin. Keith Gonzales delivers one of the most emotive, impassioned and heartfelt vocals. Haunting strings, a slow, sometimes dramatic rhythm section and guitars combine with tight, punchy backing vocals. They provide the perfect backdrop for Keith’s vocal, on what’s one of the real highlights of Sixty Thrills A Minute.
The first singles released from Sixty Thrills A Minute was Got To Make It Better. Again there’s a real Earth, Wind and Fire sound and feel to the track. Everything from the rhythm section, bursts of horns and backing vocals pay homage to one of the most successful bands of the seventies and eighties. Even Keith’s vocal has a Maurice White influence. Lush strings are added as Mystic Merlin provide an infectiously catchy, feel-good sound. Resistance is impossible. It’s best just to succumb to the charms and delights of Mystic Merlin and enjoy the magical journey. Given the sheer hook-laden, quality of the track, this deserved to fare much better upon its release as a single.
Monkey Love is very different from the previous tracks. Gone is the out and out soulful side of Mystic Merlin, gone also is the Earth, Wind and Fire influence. Instead, dramatic synths are added to Mystic Merlin’s funky rhythm section, before surprises aplenty are sprung. Still there’s a soulfulness to Keith’s vocal, as it’s accompanied by subtle harmonies. They quickly, grow in drama, matching the heavier, funkier sound of the arrangement. Later, animal sound effects are added, making it sound like there’s half of Los Angeles’ zoo in the studio. Having said that, it adds drama to the track.
Goodness of the Boogie sees percussionist Paulinho Da Costa accompanied by keyboards open the track. This is melodic and builds up the drama. You wonder what’s in store, are Mystic Merlin about to unleash a curveball. They are. The track bursts into life, revealing a track that’s catchy and funky. Key to the track are the rhythm section, especially Clyde Bullard’s pounding funky bass and Keith’s sassy vocal. Guitars, bursts of blazing horns and percussion combine with the heavy duty funk of Mystic Merlin, as they cast a funky spell, on a track that demonstrates just how talented and versatile a band they truly were.
Searching For the Meaning of Love sees just piano, percussion and lush strings combine with Keith’s heartfelt vocal. Producer Alan V. Abrahams gradually builds the arrangement. Subtle, chiming guitars, swirling string and beautiful backing vocals all are added. Drums add drama, while strings cascade and the piano is central to the success of the arrangement. The last vital ingredient is a rasping horn, which dramatically and emotively drifts above the arrangement. Again, Mystic Merlin demonstrate that when it comes to soulful ballads, they were peerless. Maybe this is a side they should’ve concentrated more on, rather than carrying on down the funky road.
Listening to Get It For Yourself, you wonder why it was only chosen as the B-side to Got To Make It Better. Given its quality, surely it deserved a better fate. Here, Mystic Merlin joyously fuse funk and soul. Mystic Merlin’s pounding rhythm section, driving guitars and keyboards provide the funk, while the vocal is impassioned and uplifting. Later, a horn solo blazes above the arrangement, setting up the vocal for one last hurrah. It takes over where the horn left of, as Mystic Merlin spread their joyous, uplifting message.
Closing Sixty Thrills A Minute is Haunting You (Crystal Ball). Chiming, driving guitars, stabs and flourishes of keyboards and swathes of cascading strings are added, to Mystic Merlin’s rhythm section. The emotive vocal is accompanied by bursts of atmospheric, dramatic effects. Key to the track is arrangement, with producer Alan V. Abrahams dropping in each of the instruments at just the right time. Pounding drums, haunting strings and a myriad of atmospheric, dramatic instruments and effects all are used to good effect, bringing Sixty Thrills A Minute to a thrilling conclusion.
After Sixty Thrills A Minute failed to chart, the five members of Mystic Merlin must have wondered what they’d have to do have an album chart? Their debut album Mystic Merlin had been dropped by Capitol Records a year earlier, and now Sixty Thrills A Minute had failed to chart. They must have feared for their futures. There was nothing wrong with the music on either album. On Sixty Thrills A Minute, the album was crammed full of quality music. Maybe one of the problems was Mystic Merlin’s focus on funk. When they revealed the much more soulful side of their music they excelled. Tracks like Sign of the Times and Searching For the Meaning of Love are two of the highlights of Sixty Thrills A Minute. Other tracks, including Sixty Thrills A Minute and Got To Make It Better see Mystic Merlin sound like Earth, Wind and Fire. Much as I enjoyed these tracks, maybe Mystic Merlin needed to find their own sound, rather than pay homage to a hugely successful group? Of the nine tracks on Sixty Thrills A Minute, only Monkey Love seems out of place. It isn’t a bad track, but just doesn’t sit well with the eight other tracks. Overall, the quality of music on Sixty Thrills A Minute is of the highest quality. New producer Alan V. Abrahams bringing out the best in Mystic Merlin, bringing out the potential and talent that was obviously there on Mystic Merlin. Sadly, Sixty Thrills A Minute wasn’t a commercial success. Maybe the problem wasn’t the music, but there wasn’t the appetite for Mystic Merlin’s brand of music. By the early eighties, music was changing and changing fast. Funk wasn’t as popular as it was in the seventies. The other problem was who were Mystic Merlin? Were they a funk or soul group, or somewhere in between? Maybe soul fans would enjoy their soulful songs, but there wasn’t enough of these songs for them? Whatever it was, there was nothing wrong with the music on Mystic Merlin’s second album Sixty Thrills A Minute, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 30th July 2012. The title to Mystic Merlin’s second album is indeed a fitting one. Mystic Merlin’s music truly is, Sixty Thrills A Minute. Standout Tracks: Sixty Thrills A Minute, Sign of the Times, Got To Make It Better and Searching For the Meaning of Love.