Spooky Tooth: The Island Years (An Anthology 1967–1974)

Retrospective box offers an overview of the rock-god contenders.

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Spooky Tooth were part of the UK rock scene’s circulatory system rather than key players at the centre of its beating heart. Though its members would variously go on to acts such as Humble Pie, Mott the Hoople and Foreigner, aside from a dalliance with the lower end of the US charts, commercial success eluded Spooky Tooth from their debut in 1968 to their 1974 breakup.

Gathering together eight studio albums plus a live set from ’73, various B-sides and radio sessions, this lavish box set argues that, far from being also-rans, Spooky Tooth were serious contenders who missed out on the breaks and thus the big time. Starting life as Art, their 1967 one-off release, Supernatural Fairy Tales is beat-combo infused psychedelia at which producer Guy Stevens throws everything but the multi-coloured kitchen sink, transforming heavyish pop songs into something more in keeping with the acid-saturated times, creating a truly glorious period piece.

_It’s All About _(1968) is the first Spooky Tooth album proper and the addition of keyboard/vocalist Gary Wright widens their range to encompass here, and on Spooky Two (1969),a more mellow approach as they feel their way to a direction that bears a passing nod to Island stablemates Traffic. Easily the most controversial part of their entire career is 1969’s Ceremony: An Electronic Mass. Undertaken at Island’s behest, their ‘collaboration’ with French avant-garde composer Pierre Henry was recorded entirely separately from one another. A head-on collision between a rock band and tape-generated musique concrète, Spooky detested the album, believing it damaged their promising reputation. Today, 46 years later, it stands out as the most ambitious, if admittedly uneven, album in this collection.

Spooky deserve more respect than they had in their lifetime.

Thereafter they embraced an often undistinguished off-the-peg rock, evoking The Band but with occasional forays into slo-mo heavy riffage. Of this later output, You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw (1973) shines brightest. Showcasing Gary Wright’s soulful songwriting, Holy Water is especially powerful, marshalling a gospel swell to uplifting effect. The impressionistic collage in Moriah also shows they were more than capable of convincing experimentation away from the well-ploughed rock furrow.

Spooky Tooth undoubtedly deserve more respect than they received in their lifetime. However, this admirable collection also highlights the inconsistencies that ultimately prevented them from leaving their status as underground scene cult heroes to mainstream stadium-strutting rock stars. For some of Spooky Tooth’s members all that would come later.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.