Album review: The Smoke – It’s Smoke Time (1967)

Source: album artwork

In a vast sea of psychedelic-pop creations from the year 1967, The Smoke stand tall and proud. As they should, since their sound is one that will surreptitiously stick itself to the eardrums of any unknowing listener. A good chunk of that stems from lead singer Mick Rowley’s enticing vocals, which were very unique for the time. Psychedelia is a key component of ‘It’s Smoke Time‘, as well as some appealing R&B thrown in for good measure.

Fortunes seemed to come very suddenly to the group, their first single “My Friend Jack” became a #2 hit in Germany, however, as it entered the UK charts it was quickly banned from being played on the radio due to suggestive lyrics about LSD. Regardless, it’s an overwhelmingly marvellous tune, filled with mind-expanding lyrics and vigorous guitar playing by lead guitarist Mal Luker. Like many of their songs, “My Friend Jack” has a bouncy feel to it, like jumping up and down on a rain cloud that won’t let you fall through it.

Unfortunately, it seems that “My Friend Jack” is the only song of theirs that could be regarded as remotely famous. However, tracks such as “Wake Up Cherylina” and “If The Weather’s Sunny” deserve to be listened to by anybody who is a fan of psychedelic music from the time. The former is an immensely catchy number with an infectious chorus The and a “lazy Sunday afternoon” type of feel. You know, the type of songs that The Young Rascals were famous for (“Groovin” and “A Beautiful Morning”) Both songs should have been commercially massive, yet like endless songs that were just as tremendous at the time, ended up not being so.

As previously mentioned, The Smoke didn’t just focus on psychedelic oriented material. They were also a very capable R&B band. Sure, it may have been more of a pop-soul hybrid, but R&B nonetheless. Look at a song like “Just Your Way of Lovin’”. It’s essentially on the same level as some of the best blue-eyed soul at the time, with Mick Rowley making a strong case to be looked upon as impressively as Felix Cavelerie (Young Rascals) or Steve Winwood (Spencer Davis Group). “Don’t Lead Me On” is no slouch either, with R&B oozing out all over the place. That bouncy feeling mentioned earlier is clearly evident on this one, which is supplementary to the overall sound.

As such for a lot of psychedelic pop bands, yelling was not a priority. Lead vocalist Mick Rowley did not need to, he had such an innocent sounding voice, that it would perhaps be not a suitable thing for him to yell on these songs. However, on “I Wanna Make It With You” he shouts so convincingly at times, that it makes you wonder if he could have been a lead singer of a heavy metal band. That being said, it’s hard to argue against such a pleasurable and friendly sounding voice being used for these pop oriented psychedelic tunes. Take a song like “High in a Room.” The backing track sounds like it’s been taken straight out of a fairy-tale, with woodland critters following a boy on his adventures. With a song like that, would you really want anybody else singing it? Mick Rowley fits better than a puzzle piece on this song.

As fate would have it, ‘It’s Smoke Time‘ would be the only studio album that The Smoke ever released. However, there are many non-album singles included on different compilations that are just as impressive as the songs on here. It would be a shame for a fan of this album not to hear those tunes as well, so if you enjoyed this, be sure to check out the compilation ‘My Friend Jack‘ that came out in 1999. Wonderful delights await!

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