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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - 'The Birthday Party: Expanded Edition' [2CD]
Artist - The Idle Race

For those not in the know, The Idle Race were a British rock group from Birmingham in the late 1960s and early 1970s who had a cult following but never enjoyed mass commercial success.

In addition to being the springboard for Jeff Lynne, the band holds a place of significance in British Midlands' pop-rock history as a link between The Move, Electric Light Orchestra, the Steve Gibbons Band and Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders.

By the time the band signed to Liberty Records, the prodigiously-talented Lynne – several years younger than his new colleagues – had been promoted to front man status, blossoming as the band’s chief songwriter while also taking lead vocals.

After ‘Skeleton And The Roundabout’ had attracted much airplay but fallen just short of the charts, the band cut their debut album. Issued in October 1968, the idiosyncratic The Birthday Party gave notice of a major new talent on the British pop scene.

A dazzling creation that matched Beatle-ish melodic flair and witty, surreal vignettes with the heightened ambition of psych-era British studio pop, the set attracted rave reviews and the support of Radio One DJ's including Kenny Everett.

Sadly, however, The Birthday Party failed to sell in any great quantity after Liberty mysteriously chose not to issue a single in support of the release (‘I Like My Toys’ was scheduled to appear, but cancelled at the last minute), and the wider world wouldn’t notice Lynne until he joined The Move in early 1970.

Now acknowledged as a classic album of song-based British psychedelic pop, The Birthday Party finally gets the attention that it deserves with this definitive new 2-CD package (out now via Grapefruit Records / Cherry Red Records UK).

The original stereo album is joined by alternative versions, stand-alone singles and, most notably of all, the first-ever official CD release of the original, substantially different mono version of the LP, taken from the original masters.

CD 1: Mono
1. 'Skeleton and the Roundabout'
2. 'Happy Birthday'
3. 'The Birthday'
4. 'I Like My Toys'
5. 'Morning Sunshine'
6. 'Follow Me Follow'
7. 'Sitting in My Tree'
8. 'On with the Show'
9. 'Lucky Man'
10. 'Don't Put Your Boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward'
11. 'Pie in the Sky'
12. 'The Lady Who Said She Could Fly'
13. 'End of the Road'

Bonus Tracks:
14. '(Here We Go Round) the Lemon Tree'
15. 'My Father's Son'
16. 'Imposters of Life's Magazine'
17. 'Knocking Nails Into My House'
18. 'Lucky Man' (Alternative Version)
19. 'Follow Me Follow' (Alternative Version)
20. 'Days of the Broken Arrows'
21. 'Worn Red Carpet'
22. 'Days of the Broken Arrows' (Alternative Version)

CD 2: Stereo
1. 'Skeleton and the Roundabout'
2. 'Happy Birthday'
3. 'The Birthday'
4. 'I Like My Toys'
5. 'Morning Sunshine'
6. 'Follow Me Follow'
7. 'Sitting in My Tree'
8. 'On with the Show'
9. 'Lucky Man'
10. 'Don't Put Your Boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward'
11. 'Pie in the Sky'
12. 'The Lady Who Said She Could Fly'
13. 'End of the Road'
14. 'Sitting in My Tree' (Alternative Version) [Bonus Track]

The original 13 tracks, now inclusive of 9 bonus cuts, are an amazing piece of work to listen to today as I'm sure they were back then.

Totally original, clever, witty, anecdotal songs from the golden age of pop, they seamlessly capture every one of the threads that span through the English underground of the time.

From Edwardian storytelling to eclectic instrumentation, the timeless tale of fairground rivalry is certainly up there with any of the movement’s most sainted moments, from 'Skeleton And The Roundabout' on through to 'End Of The Road.'

But, and as much as I am a HUGE ELO fan, The Idle Race were not just Jeff Lynne and some guys. They were a solid four piece unit who's individual personalities and musical skills blended together to make some of the most uniquely fascinating tunes of all time.

Beatles-influenced but totally themselves, chock full of strange sound effects, buzzing mellotrons, tinkling harpsichords, great harmonies and the like, The Birthday Party gave us fans tracks like 'I Like My Toys,' 'Lucky Man,' and the simply heavenly brilliance of 'The Lady Who Said She Could Fly' to travel onward with; which we all have done.

From the joyously trippy, similar in tone to a few of the more "out there" '60s psych bands, but definitely more cultured, more formulated, Lynne's refreshing melodies and lyrics were fully developed very early and especially fully realized here.

Interestingly enough, the second disc (Stereo) ends with 'Sitting In My Tree' (alternative version), because the original stereo LP had the track as mono; as no stereo mix was ever made of the song.

This expanded edition has retained that presentation, but included a 1976 rechanneled version as the bonus cut.

Also, for those that will recall, the inside sleeve art included a mock birthday feast attended by many British celebrities, including most of the Radio 1 disc jockeys, the Beatles, the Duke of Windsor, actor Warren Mitchell (in his role as Alf Garnett), and group leader Jeff Lynne - as an eight-year-old schoolboy!

A digipak release, this essential set features a 24-page booklet containing numerous rare photos and memorabilia as well as a new essay on the album.

Official 2CD Purchase Link