[A version of this article originally appeared at the Amoeblog]
JOHN’S CHILDREN – ORGASM (recorded 1967, released 1971)
Today the band John’s Children, when remembered at all, are best remembered for two things: one, for having briefly included within their ranks a pre-T. Rex Marc Bolan and two, for their calculatedly outrageousness and provocative live performances. Both overshadow the fact that they also made some quite enjoyable music, including a sole LP recorded before Bolan joined but released long after he’d left.
The story of John’s Children begins in 1965 in Great Bookham, where drummer Chris Townson, guitarist Geoff McClelland, harmonica-player Andy Ellison, and singer Louis Grooner played in a band called The Clockwork Onions. With changing times and line-ups came changing names and The Clockwork Onions became The Few. After the departure of keyboardist Chris Dawsett The Few became The Silence. The Silence were described by Yardbirds manager Simon Napier-Bell as “positively the worst group I’d ever seen” and not surprisingly he insisted on becoming their manager.
Napier-Bell changed The Silence’s name to John’s Children. The band — actually a group of session musicians — recorded John’s Children’s first single, “The Love I Thought I’d Found” b/w “Strange Affair,” which was released in 1966. The original title of the A-side was “Smashed Blocked” but a name change was necessitated at home because it was deemed offensive. Far from Surrey the single found a receptive audience (where it was released with its original name) in Florida and California — two American states both known for their production and appreciation of weird, unpolished garage rock.
In 1967, John’s Children released their second single, “Just What You Want – Just What You’ll Get” b/w “But You’re Mine” was also recorded by session musicians — something which was back then still somewhat common practice even for bands composed of technically talented but commercially unproven instrumentalists. The single fared better than its predecessor and after the release of a “lost” third single, “Not the Sort of Girl (You’d Like to Take to Bed),” their American label, White Whale Records, requested a full-length album.
John’s Children recorded Orgasm. The album kicks off with the shrill screams of young female fans. After someone pleads with the audience to stop screaming, which doesn’t stop them, the band launch into “Killer Ben,” which only elicits louder screaming. The album was, in fact, recorded in a studio and the audience screams were nicked from the soundtrack to The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. Toward the end of “You’re a Nothing,” it sounds like additional crowd noise has been lifted from a football match.
Just how the Daughters of the American Revolution heard about the planned release of such an obscure album isn’t clear to me but they apparently delayed Orgasm‘s release until 1970. You have to wonder if it wasn’t all part of another publicity stunt. Orgasm has been re-released multiple times sense, by multiple labels, on multiple formats and often bookended by additional material.
Shortly after the Orgasm was shelved, in March of 1967, a young Marc Bolan replaced McClelland. Bolan had approached Napier-Bell in 1965, informing him that he was going to be a star but needed proper assistance. After recording some unreleased demos in 1966, rather than plug him into The Yardbirds, Napier-Bell stuck Bolan into his other band and Bolan wrote John’s Children’s next single, “Desdemona” b/w “Remember Thomas A Becket” which was banned from the airwaves for the A-side’s shocking lyric, “Lift up your skirt and fly.”
John’s Children opened for The Who on their 1967 tour of Germany until they were kicked off, apparently for upstaging the headliners. Four months after joining, Bolan split quit John’s Children and formed Tyrannosaurus Rex. The rest of the band soldiered on without him, recording several Bolan compositions before returning to Germany and ultimately disbanding in 1968.
The story didn’t really end there, however, and Ellison and Townson next joined David O’List (formerly of The Attack, The Nice, The Misunderstood, and Roxy Music), Martin Gordon, Peter Oxendale, and Trevor White (who’d played in the power-pop band, The Jook, with Townson) in another one-album-wonder, Jet, who released a rather nice Sparks-ish record (titled Jet) in 1975. After Jet, Ellison, Gordon, and White went on to play in the new wave band, Radio Stars.
In the 1990s, a new line-up of John’s Children reformed with Gordon on bass and longtime Morrissey collaborator Boz Boorer on guitar. In 2001 this line-up performed at the Steve Marriott Memorial Event. A line-up of Ellison, Hewlett, Townson, and White began performing in 2006 and ended in 2008, when Townson died.
For the John’s Children fan, obtaining Orgasm is understandably the primary goal. However, of the several compilations available, Cherry Red‘s two-disc anthology, A Strange Affair: The Sixties Anthology, is the most comprehensive.