Cream Of The Crate: Billy Thorpe – Time Traveller

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cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller
Time Traveller Heading

cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller “Pick Me Up, and Play Me Loud” 

Cream of The Crate Collection – This review originally appeared in the Toorak Times in a series called Cream of the Crate in November 2012.  This is a revised retro-review of that album.

Cream of The Crate albums are albums, either vinyl or CD, in my collection that I believe were of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represented the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production.

This review features Billy Thorpe who while no longer with us, still commands the greatest respect and love from audiences and musicians alike.

This album is, Time Traveller by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and was released in 1980 on the ‘Blue Goose Label’ – MLF 2335. Made in Australia it is an original pressing in a gatefold format.

cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller
Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs – 1964

Now there is something in the vicinity of twenty seven vinyl and CD albums by Billy & The Aztecs and it could be said it takes a brave (or crazy) person to choose one as a favourite.

This album sits as one to be cherished in my collection because it is a musical anthology of much of Billy’s music up to 1980. In fact a close examination of the cover shows the evolution of Billy as his image changed over the years.

Considering there were 25 singles released from his first release in April 1964 “Blue Day” / “You Don’t Love Me” (Linda Lee LL-006), through to November 1975“It’s Almost Summer” / “Drive My Car” (Infinity K-6202), it is obviously highly desirable that any retro album that is in essence an anthology, should contain some of those classic singles tracks.

Time Traveller does just that. It contains his second single, which incidentally was his first hit – Poison Ivy (Charting at #1 in Sydney, Melbourne & Adelaide in 1964), along with those wonderful historical tracks, Mashed Potato and Sick and Tired.

cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller
Billy with Vince Maloney (2nd from right)

Now before going any further with the music it is time to reflect upon the fact that when we talk about Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, we are talking about one of seven, yes seven different line-ups.

The AZTECS

Version 1

Vince Maloney – Lead guitar
Colin Baygent – Drums
John (Bluey) Watson – Bass
Tony Barber – Rhythm guitar
Billy Thorpe – Vocals

Version 2

Colin Risby – Lead guitar
Johnny Dick – Drums
Teddy Toi – Bass
Mike Downes – Rhythm guitar
Billy Thorpe – Vocals

Version 3

Lobby Lloyd – Guitar
Jimmy Thompson – Drums
Paul Wheeler – Bass
Billy Thorpe – Vocals, guitar & harp

Version 4

Billy Thorpe – Vocals & guitar
Gil Mathews – Drums
Paul Wheeler – Bass
Warren Morgan – Electric piano

Version 5

Billy Thorpe – Vocals & guitar
Gil Mathews – Drums
Paul Wheeler – Bass
Bruce Howard – Electric piano

Version 6

Billy Thorpe – Vocals & guitar
Gil Mathews – Drums
Teddy Toi – Bass
Warren (Pig) Morgan – Electric piano

Version 7

Derek Griffith – Lead guitar
Gil Mathews – Drums
Billy Kristian – Bass
Billy Thorpe – Vocals & guitar
John LeVine – Keyboards

Any one of these line-ups would be considered strong and what they always did, was to provide a solid backing for Billy’s vocals. What becomes obvious is that from around group version #3 (circa 1972), Billy begins to play guitar and by version #4 (also around 1972) Billy had taken over as lead guitarist.

What I like about the selection of music on this album is that it represents (as of 1980), the incredible range of styles that Billy and his music went through.

There is Billy the ‘pop’ star with the tracks Poison Ivy and Sick and Tired. Not only did Billy capture the ears of his audiences ne captured (usually the females) hearts, with his handsome looks, sharp mod clothes and was very presentable when on TV.  

Sick and Tired

The album also shows a totally different side to Billy, this is Billy the incredible ‘balladeer’ with his timeless version of Over the Rainbow. It is hard to imagine that a man who could absolutely belt out power rock, could also drop down many notches in power and reach deep inside his soil to not just record musically a great rendition of this classic, but to do with such feeling.

By the time the 1970’s had hit, Boogie was becoming popular with Australian audiences. With groups such as Carson playing excellent boogie, it didn’t take Billy long to show he was as good as any of his contemporaries with the track Boogie Woogie.

 

Then there is the persona that most will remember him best for – the “hard-nosed rocker”. There are so many examples of his playing “rock” and really belting it out and on this album there is a brilliant example. 

Ooh Poo Pa Doo from the famous Sunbury Concert in 1972.

The track runs for over 11 minutes, so here is a 4 minute sample from which we gain not just an understanding Thorpies powerful voice, but the power he had over his audience – to say he had them in the palm of his hand would not be an understatement.

Ooh Poo Pah Doo

The album also contains the track I am the sea with Lobby Loyde on guitar. Interestingly this track was originally released as a ‘Wild Cherries’ track, but the line-up is obviously a Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs line-up and that comes through clearly as you listen.

What is great about this track is not only is it “unlike” much of Billy’s work it is a plea to be aware and take of the ecology.  Here we are over 40 years later still making a plea to people to care care of that which takes care of us – the planet.

There is much to like about this track including what may be some very early synthesised effects and the combination of Loyde and Thorpe on guitars is fantastic and certainly in many ways the track was ahead of its time – but by now Billy was always looking ahead.

I Am The Sea

The album also contains the unreleased studio track, Out in the street again, which was obtained from Gil Mathews archives. The track is in excess of ten minutes and builds up emotionally in a simply beautifully manner with some delightful keyboard generated string arrangements and so, I have included a short section of this track as well.

cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller
Billy at Sunbury


Time Traveller – Track Listing
(In alphabetic order)
“Bassballs” (Billy Kristian – Billy Thorpe)
“Be-Bop a-Lula” (Vincent – David)
“Boogie Woogie” (Billy Thorpe)
“Captain Straightman” (Billy Thorpe -Warren Morgan)
“Cigarettes & Whisky” (Traditional)
“Dawn Song” (Billy Thorpe – Warren Morgan)
“Funny Face” (T Crane)
“I Am The Sea” (Lobby Loyde)
“It’s Almost Summer” (Billy Thorpe)
“Love Letters” (Young – Hayman)
“Mashed Potato” (Rozier)
“Most People I Know” (Billy Thorpe)
“Movin’ On A Sound” (Billy Thorpe)
“Ooh Poo Pah Doo” (Jesse Hill)
“Out in the Street Again” (Lawrence Mekler) *
“Over the Rainbow” (Arlen – Harburg)
“Poison Ivy” (Jerry Leiber – Mike Stoller)
“Sick & Tired” (Kenner – Bartholomew)
“Time to Live” (Billy Thorpe – Warren Morgan)
Compiled by Gil “Rathead” Matthews

cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller

 

Frankly, the album represents Billy Thorpe not just as a man with a great voice, not just a great guitarist but as an entertainer extraordinaire.

I guess at this stage it’s probably pertinent to point out the only track I think is an obvious miss on this album, as it was in a style of its own, was the ‘space opera’ – Children of the sun. However, I guess there was a limit to how much you can fit on vinyl, albeit it a double album.

As history showed, Billy kept playing well after the release of this album in fact right until his most untimely passing on 27th February 2007.

Billy always lived for his music.

His final release, completed after his death, is the extraordinary CD release of Tangier, and this is an amazing piece of work that begins to show where Billy Thorpe was evolving with his music.

cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller

This is not meant to be a review on the life of Billy Thorpe, in fact Billy and his then wife Lynn have taken care of that in a series of books on Billy’s life.

Rather it is a retrospective review of an album that does justice to the music of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. I must mention, that the icing on the cake of this album is that the entire inside of the gatefold is taken up with the story of Billy and the various forms of the Aztecs by Gil Mathews, who makes a really good job of mixing facts and story so that it provides and informative and interesting read.

Oh! and the reference to “Pick me up and play me loud” that this retro-review started with, is that was the original working title to this album.

While I believe the title Time Traveller really does sum up the contents of the album, “Pick me up and play me loud”, is a directive that we should follow when we play this album.

cream of the crate: billy thorpe – time traveller

There are copies of this album on Ebay, priced at between $35 and $80.00, which probably reflects the various conditions of each album.

It is a great album to have in your collection, whether you collect vinyl, collect billy thorpe or just collect great Australian rock.


VIDEO CLIPS OF BILLY THORPE AND THE AZTECS