Every team needs a star player or two, but the legendary Vertigo records imprint had several. Black Sabbath for one. Status Quo for another. Let’s not forget Rod Stewart and his seminal solo albums, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down and Gasoline Alley. Hell, Vertigo even had Nirvana on their books for a while – albeit the Patrick Campbell-Lyons kind.
But star players are nothing without a strong supporting cast, and that’s where this Buyer’s Guide comes in. Vertigo might have built its reputation as the go-to progressive label of the late 60s and early 70s, with albums such as Sabbath’s debut and Paranoid, Quo’s Piledriver, Uriah Heep’s …Very ’Eavy …Very ’Umble, even. But Vertigo’s DNA was built on a dizzying array of what could be termed B-list bands. That’s not to denigrate these lower-tier acts in any way, shape of form. They might not have enjoyed the critical acclaim and hot-selling success of Vertigo’s album-chart-busting performers, but that doesn’t make them any the less worthwhile.
You also have to place this guide in the context of the musical environment of the time, when the pages of record companies’ chequebooks were looser than a circus clown’s trousers, and A&R stood for artists and repertoire, not attitude and rejection. Vertigo could sign unproven bands to four-album deals in the hope they might, one day, come good – a luxury that doesn’t exist today.
Who, in 2015, remembers the likes of Cressida, Gracious!, Ancient Grease, Daddy Longlegs, Catapilla or Frumpy? Determined eccentricity was the backbone of the label and gave it a cachet it still enjoys. If there’s one unifying theme behind this guide, it’s that no modern-day mainstream record company would dare touch any of these bands with a barge pole.
The role of album-sleeve designer Marcus Keef played its part too. Keef might be renowned for his work with Sabbath but he was also the mastermind behind many other Vertigo releases – check out the Beggars Opera, Colosseum and Warhorse albums featured here. Keef’s covers were always mysterious and attention-grabbing; he contributed considerably to the label’s look.
Here be the soft white underbelly of Vertigo; the connoisseurs’ choice, with the iconic swirl label – designed by Roger Dean – on the A-side. As well as describing the albums, we've also also included the highest first-pressing price each album has sold for on Discogs. Happy digging!
Patto - Hold Your Fire (1971) (opens in new tab)
Patto are billed as progressive jazz-rockers, thanks mainly to the late Ollie Halsall’s guitar noodlings. But that pigeonholes them unfairly. See You At The Dance Tonight is a Faces-style workout; the longing of Magic Door exerts a Reed Richards-like tug on your heartstrings.
The voice of mainman Mike Patto (who died in 1979 aged just 36, from throat cancer) was raspy and soulful, and his lyrics possessed a biting, cynical edge (check out the title track, a diatribe against brown-rice-munchin’ hippies). After this album, the band moved to Island and released the equally momentous Roll ’Em Smoke ’Em Put Another Line Out.
Discogs top price: $869.57
Buffalo - Volcanic Rock (1973) (opens in new tab)
If you know of Australia’s Buffalo at all, it’s likely because the late Pete Wells, who would gain fame as founder/slide guitarist of Rose Tattoo, played bass with them. But it was the unsung duo of vocalist Dave Tice and six-stringer John Baxter who gave this beast its rip-snorting, hoof-pounding USP.
Tice – who would later hook up with rowdy UK pub rockers the Count Bishops – howls and hollers over Baxter’s ear-perforating, proto-metal licks and the result is so feral and primitive, it hits you like a Cro-Magnon’s cudgel to the cranium. From the slothful, sprawling Freedom to the unrepentantly evil Shylock, Volcanic Rock is a neglected masterpiece.
Discogs top price: $445.21
Warhorse - Warhorse (1970) (opens in new tab)
Bassist Nick Simper had a point to prove after being dumped by Deep Purple. Forming Warhorse from the ashes of soul singer Marsha Hunt’s backing band, he even recruited Rick Wakeman to rival DP keysman Jon Lord. (Sadly, Rick was “fired due to unreliability” at the demo stage.)
Warhorse’s debut straddles Purple Mk I and II. Nowhere is this more evident than on Burning, with its menacing Mandrake Root vibe, while Ashley Holt’s screams are straight out of Ian Gillan’s songbook. Simper, meanwhile, drives the band like Andy Fraser drove Free. Plus you can’t beat an album that begins with a track titled Vulture Blood.
Discogs top price: $634.41
Colosseum - Valentyne Suite (1969) (opens in new tab)
It wasn’t Sabbath or Quo or Rod The Mod who held the coveted catalogue number VO1 – that honour went to superstar drummer John Hiseman’s band, Colosseum. Even today, the cover of Valentyne Suite – which depicts a sultry 60s ‘chick’ standing next to a candelabra – resonates. Even if you didn’t buy a copy, the image exerted a powerful presence in the record racks.
A potent mix of jazz rock, fusion and prog, and featuring an all-star cast including keysman Dave Greenslade and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, more than 45 years after its release, Valentyne Suite’s tour de force status remains undiminished.
Discogs top price: $215.04
Beggars Opera - Act One (1970) (opens in new tab)
Imagine a parallel universe where Deep Purple never recorded In Rock but instead continued in the same vein as Concerto For Group And Orchestra. Welcome to the bonkers world of Beggars Opera, where baroque, out-of-control keyboards rule the roost; where theatrical posturing is augmented by Sabre Dance-style guitars.
For a Scottish band they sound remarkably English – check out the clipped vocals on Passacaglia; very Video Killed The Radio Star. Strange to think they once demo’d a glam-rock opera, Diana Demon, with producer Tony Visconti. Stranger still, guitarist Ricky Gardiner went on to work with David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
Discogs top price: $277.11
Flied Egg - Good Bye (1972) (opens in new tab)
We bet this Japanese three-piece had smiles on their faces when they called themselves Flied Egg, in wry acknowledgment of their native inability to pronounce the letter ‘r’.
This, the band’s second and final album, features four loose’n’lethal live tracks, part Heep, part Hendrix; a trio of studio recordings that sound like The Hollies gone psychedelic; and epic, organ-fuelled closer 521 Seconds Schizophrenic Symphonic: all-out rawk with a Procol Harum bent. Strangely, there’s no sign of the Pythonesque humour of their debut, Dr Siegel’s Fried Egg Shooting Machine. Maybe they just wanted to get laid.
Discogs top price: $165.59
May Blitz - May Blitz (1970) (opens in new tab)
Listening to May Blitz’s ravaging sound, it’s no wonder they named themselves after the Luftwaffe bombardment that devastated Liverpool in 1941. Vertigo execs doubtless saw this Canadian/British power trio as the label’s answer to Cream, who’d split in late ’68; certainly this debut contains plenty of weighty, measured blues-rock in the Clapton/Bruce/Baker vein.
Unfortunately, all too often the songs become enveloped in a fuggy haze and end up as disjointed, dope-fuelled freakouts. The weirdly titled Squeet, meanwhile, includes the lyrics: ‘Squeet all over the wall/Let’s squeet away the night.’ Time to get the decorators in.
Discogs top price: $645.16
Jade Warrior - Released (1971) (opens in new tab)
Jade Warrior only signed to Vertigo because they shared management with the Osibisa-like Assagai. The label was desperate to jump on board the Afro-rock bandwagon, so it took on JW as a makeweight.
Based around the duo of Jon Field and Tony Duhig, this, the supernatural proggers’ second (of three) albums for Vertigo, is their most rock-oriented. On the highlight, the 15-minute Barazinbar, they prove themselves to be the missing link between Van der Graaf Generator and Santana. Duhig, who sadly died in 1990, chips in with killer power chords: his apeshit guitar burnout at the end of Minnamoto’s Dream has to be heard to be believed.
Discogs top price: $645.16
Juicy Lucy - Juicy Lucy (1969) (opens in new tab)
Juicy Lucy caused quite a stir when they, er, spurted on to the scene in ’69. The cover of their debut album depicted a raddled barmaid, naked except for a covering of overripe fruit.
The band’s flamboyant frontman, Ray Owen, sang like Jim Dandy uttering backwards Satanic messages. And mainman Glenn Ross Campbell was a demon on the twin-neck lap steel guitar, as anyone who saw the Lucy on TV playing their sole hit, Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?, will testify. This uneven venture features too many cover versions – but all that is forgiven as soon as you hear Just One Time: slow, brooding and almost Doors-like.
Discogs top price: $234.94
...and one to avoid listening to but definitely buy
Dr Strangely Strange - Heavy Petting (1970) (opens in new tab)
Many people’s first exposure to the dubious charms of Dr Strangely Strange was on the seminal Island Records compilation Nice Enough To Eat (1969) and the throwaway track Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal. A year later the Irish folksters cropped up on Vertigo for this oddly titled album.
The whiny vocals of Tim Booth are a major irritant, while many of the songs sound ill-conceived and under-baked, akin to an impromptu pub-rock bash-along involving fringe members of the Strawbs and McGuinness Flint. There’s some nifty stuff from their guest guitarist, a young Gary Moore, though.
Discogs top price: $1,032.26