Argent were a quartet founded in 1969 by ex-Zombies keyboard player Rod Argent, with Russ Ballard on guitar and (most) lead vocals. Although Ballard was ostensibly the band’s frontman, Rod Argent sang too, and wrote two thirds of the material, mostly collaborating with their producer Chris White (also ex-Zombies), while Ballard wrote the rest of the songs alone.
From 1970-75 the band (completed by bassist Jim Rodford and drummer Bob Henrit) made seven studio albums of prog rock shaded with soul and blues. Late in ’74, Ballard left to begin a solo career (later having fame when his songs were covered, most famously, by Colin Blunstone and Rainbow). He was replaced by John Verity on albums six and seven, after which Argent disbanded and their namesake went solo himself, doing sessions (The Who, the Lloyd Webbers etc), production, and writing for TV and films.
There is a 10-song vinyl version of this collection but seek out the 28-track, two-CD version. After front-loading the atypical greatest hits/singalongs Hold Your Head Up (No.5 in ’72) and Ballard’s God Gave Rock & Roll To You (No.18 in ’73, and updated by Kiss in 1991), it eschews chronology and delivers a beguiling flavour of the six studio albums made for Epic Records – although there’s nothing from the least celebrated seventh, released by RCA.
Hammond organ throughout, along with turns on synthesisers and piano, showcase Rod Argent as an A-list player. Although unconfirmed, rumours suggest he was considered as the replacement when Rick Wakeman left Yes in 1975.
Argent (the band) languished in the shadows of Yes and keyboard-toting contemporaries Deep Purple, ELP, Uriah Heep et al, but often sounded like them in places. Tracks such as Love, Dance In The Smoke and Like Honey might have influenced Queen, and Kansas might have been listening to Lothlorien, Man For All Reasons and Highwire.
Argent reached their proggy peak on 1974’s Nexus album with a suite of three short instrumentals led by The Coming Of Kohoutek (inspired by a comet that had recently flown by Earth), yet sound equally comfortable channelling The Temptations on It’s Only Money (Part 1), going honkytonk for Keep On Rollin’ or essaying funk rock on Tragedy and The Jester. Tracks such as these, plus Liar (a hit for Badfinger and later covered by Graham Bonnet) and Christmas For The Free (incredibly, never released as a single) mark Argent as a band ripe for rediscovery.