The only thing I knew about this group was the producer, Peter Schekeryk, who was married to and produced Melanie.
Which also explains why Five Dollar Shoes were on Melanie's independent label, "Neighborhood Records".
Accordingly, I expected them to sound a little folky.
Melanie's wide eyed (urban) folk is nowhere to be found. This is all (mainly) straight ahead rock. I have no problem with that, of course, but you know what it's like when you expect something and have the exact opposite dropped on you.
There is very little information on-line about them and none of my reference books revealed anything of note.
Five dollar Shoes was: Mike Millius (harmonica, vocals), Gregg Diamond (drums, percussion, vocals), Tom Graves (keyboards, vocals), Jim Gregory (bass, vocals), and Scott Woody (guitar, vocals).
Singer Mike Milius started as a singer songwriter writing topical songs for Folkways Broadside Magazine and records. One of his topical songs "The Ballad of Martin Luther King" did quite well in folk circles which may have been the impetus for his being signed. He recorded a solo album in 1969 "Desperado" (Uni) which is in hard rock, singer songwriter, folk and oddball styles. It, and the Martin Luther King song may have been the impetus for the signing to Neighborhood records though the album here is quite different in style again.
The music is of its time. It is heavy post psych East Coast rock … like The Illusion, Vanilla Fudge, and Mountain with an emphasis on the beat. There are heavy glam rock tendencies but there are also some hedged bets with some rustic blues boogie country notes. Think the New York Dolls meet Cactus or The Allman Brothers Band… though there are hints of 1970-72 era Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones and The Kinks.
The music is unpretentious and straight ahead with enough thump to make it interesting. The singer Millius has a rasp in his voice … perhaps one of the raspiest voices I have heard. Some of the vocals sound positively strangled. And that is perhaps one of the problems (even though that type of vocal was not uncommon at the time). Millius wrote or co-wrote all of the tunes so he knows what he is doing (and looking for) but his voice (to my ears) only seems to fit the more "rustic" numbers, not the glam rock numbers. Those songs have to succeed on the strength of the song itself and they don't always. The production, also, is a little muddy.
Lyrically, the album dwells, despite the rustic numbers on the "mean" streets of New York. Every song is about the seediness of the big city (specifically NYC) or escaping it. The boy shining shoes on the front sleeve and the city backdrop in the inner sleeve reinforce "life in the city". Dion, Brill Building poppers and others had already shown the potential of such themes, and Bruce Springsteen would make those themes into an artistic song craft a couple of years down the track. Here the framework is up but the songs are a little unfinished … some of the songs sound like they need another verse to finish off the narrative.
This is fun music but a little of this goes a long way and the success of the song, especially when turned up to "11", depends on how catchy the song is.
There is more than meets the eye here even if, ultimately, the album falls short.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Love Song – (Diamond/Millius) – a thumper of a song and quite unsubtle. Fitting given it's an ode to a groupie and her skills. "Love song"… ha ha …excellent
- Can't Do That Anymore – (Diamond/Millius) – more of the same. And, this one, again, may be about a groupie or a "loose" chick picked up somewhere.
- Bare Mattress – (Graves/Millius/Woody) – shades of "Mott the Hoople" here.
- Rain Train – (Graves/Woody) – the first ballad, a rustic one, and a excellent song. Life is variously a train ride or a card gam. The melody , chorus and instrumentation make it a winner.
- Chemical Lover – (Diamond/Millius) – This one has a touch of the glam Bowie…and it works because its urban grit
- Bad Dream – (Graves/Millius/Woody) – squealin' guitars and obscure lyrics
- G.T.A. – (Elfassy/Millius) – a Stones "Let it Bleed" era power ballad. Very well done. One of the best songs the Rolling Stones never wrote!
- Mitzi – (Fraves/Millius/Wiley/Woody) – a mid tempo song about a prostitute. It's non judgemental.
- Louise – (Millus/Elfassy) – quite early 70s Kinks, loud guitar and even spoken verses done tongue in cheek and quite reminiscent of Ray Davies.
- Let's Leave Town – (Millius) – Very Dylan and quite effective though without a Dylan hook
A hard one. There are a couple of great tracks here. I think this album may grow on me even more. It's hard to say. I'll keep it …. for now..
- Apparently Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of KISS, (then in Wicked Lester), were the backing vocalists on the Five Dollar Shoes' studio sessions, but this has not been substantiated.
- Singer Mike Millius went on to work in the music industry in a variety of roles. He also "brought" karaoke to North America apparently! http://spudtootight.com/celebrity-interviews/blog/mike-millius-interview
- Beck sampled the vocals from Millius' song "Lookout for Lucy" from his solo album for his (Beck's) "Odelay" album. http://www.whosampled.com/sample/20536/Beck-Lord-Only-Knows-Mike-Millius-Lookout-for-Lucy/
- "Come out, come out (wherever you are)", composed by Don Thomas & Mike Millius was due to be recorded by Elvis in 1969. A backing track was recorded but Elvis never added his vocals (he was distracted by a passing fire truck).
- Gregg Diamond and Jim Gregory were members of Jobriath's backing band, The Creatures.
- Gregg Diamond then went on to form disco electronic band Bionic Boogie before releasing a number of disco electronic solo albums. http://www.discogs.com/artist/104914-Gregg-Diamond
- Guitarist Scott Woody ended up playing and writing with German, singer Klaus Nomi.
- Tom Graves had been in the "The Wild Ones" in the 1960s and then was in later Bullseye and Electra 5 and a band called Steetnoise.
- This album was nominated for a Grammy … for best packaging (in it's American packaging)
- The powers that be thought there was a market for this in Australia as this did get an Australian release.
- Apart from this album Five Dollar Shoes released two singles:
Love Song/ Rain Train (Neighborhood) 1972
Your Rock 'N' Roll Band b/w Antediluvian Movie Theme (Neighborhood) 1973