June 27, 2023

This compilation shows that there was much more to the band than House Of The Rising Sun and that Frijid Pink’s real legacy ought to be the forgotten classic of their sophomore album, Defrosted. If you’ve not heard it before, now’s your chance. Don’t miss it.

Here’s a trick musical question: which band reached Number 4 in the UK charts and Number 7 in the US charts with the single House Of The Rising Sun? Most people would instinctively say The Animals without giving the question a second thought. The Animals did of course have a Top Ten hit with this song – reaching Number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic – but there were others who took a stab at the same traditional song, and that list includes Detroit rockers Frijid Pink whose version reached Number 4 and 7 respectively in the UK and USA charts in 1970.  That version may be all but forgotten now – perhaps a victim of its heavy psychedelic sound which was already on its way out of fashion at the time of its release – but it helped launch the career of Frijid Pink. The group’s first two albums were both released in 1970 on Decca’s Deram label and have been remastered here along with sundry singles to give a complete picture of the band’s earliest and most significant work, including of course House Of The Rising Sun.

While 1970 would be the breakthrough year for the group, they’d been around the Detroit scene since 1967 with a stable line-up of Tom Harris on bass, Rick Stevers on drums, and the song-writing duo of guitarist Gary Thompson and singer Kelly Green (usually credited as Tom Beaudry for reasons lost in the mist of time). These two albums also featured keyboard player, Larry Zelanka, although rather unfairly he wasn’t considered a formal band member. Two years of hard gigging around Michigan earned the group the reward of a recording contract and the band went into the studio at the end of 1969 to put together their self-titled debut album. It was released in January 1970 to little fanfare and might well have passed by unobserved were it not for the inclusion of House Of The Rising Sun. The story goes that the band had some spare time booked in the recording studio so put down the song to pass the time so to speak. Paul Cannon from Detroit rock station WKNR, who by chance was the father of Rick Stever’s girlfriend at the time, heard it and he insisted it be put out as a single. The rest, as they say, is history, as it reached the Top Ten in fourteen different countries. This version may sound odd to our modern ears but turning it into a psychedelic piece dominated by fuzzed guitar and a ponderous rhythm (the 6/8 time of The Animals was replaced by a straight 4/4 beat) was perfectly in tune with those very strange times!

On the back of House Of The Rising Sun, the album made Number 11 in the US charts. So, did lovers of that song get another eight songs in similar vein? Well, not really. True, the fuzzed guitar is nearly everywhere, and nearly always overdone it must be said, but musically the album veers from blues to heavy psychedelic rock through to straight forward rock’n’roll. There are to these ears two standout songs: God Gave Me You, a nicely restrained bluesy piece in the style of Free with a strong melody that could have generated a hit single (in fact, it was lined up for release before being replaced by House Of The Rising Sun); and the longest song on the album, I Want To Be Your Lover, which would have been a perfect six minute mid-paced stomping blues number even if it is slightly marred by the addition of a one-minute drum solo. Like many of the songs here, it had probably been honed on Michigan circuit and that drum solo was probably a breather in the live set that got unnecessarily transferred to the studio version.

Some of the other songs, such as the rockers End Of The Line and Tell Me Why, are potentially strong but ruined by layers of distorted guitars and some quite deranged drumming that doesn’t seem to fit at all. An attempt at 12-bar blues in Drivin’ Blues is fairly routine but enjoyable enough, while the closing attempt at the smoke-filled bar room type of blues in Boozin’ Blues so dreary that ……well, it might drive the listener to drink.    

Defrosted….maybe after coming out of the fridje?

In summary, the debut album was, to put it kindly, a mixed bag. There were some promising signs, but a lot of damage was done by poor arrangements or simply downright poor choice of material. Nevertheless, the strong sales of that debut album meant that the pressure was on the band to release a follow-up and they managed to get their sophomore album, Defrosted, out by June 1970, a mere five months after their first release. You would have expected such haste to result in an even more uneven album but remarkably Frijid Pink responded with an incredibly strong and mature set of songs. Eight songs to be precise, and every one of them is excellent. There are not many albums you can say about, especially back in 1970 when there was so much experimentation. 

Defrosted gets underway with the excellent heavy blues of Black Lace. What you sense immediately is the shedding of most of the group’s psychedelic traits in favour of a weightier proto heavy rock sound. The guitars and drums are both more restrained, and the bass is much higher in the mix, as are the vocals of Green. It’s as if the band had just heard the first two Led Zeppelin albums and realized that that this was the future of rock. Black Lace certainly has that Led Zeppelin sort of gravitas and it makes for riveting listening. Other fairly clear Zeppelin influences include Sing A Song Of Freedom that sounds distinctly like a reworking of Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love riff, although almost with a gospel feel to the vocals, and By Bye Blues which interleaves slow blues and mournful vocals with fierce riffing and a more aggressive singing in the style of Zeppelin’s Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.

One of the highlights is Pain In My Heart, an eight-minute blues piece built around a catchy guitar riff straight out of the Deep South and characterized by some fine guitar work from Thompson and very Plant-like moaning and groaning from Kelly.  Thompson does get a further chance to shine in his own guitar showcase, the instrumental Sloony, that basically consists of three minutes of Thompson improvising rather impressively over a fast jazzy rhythm. I know that description might sound like it could be a throwaway album-filler but believe me, it’s actually very good! In contrast, in the track I’ll Never Be Lonely, Thompson remains silent (apart from two tastefully restrained solos), leaving the floor to Zelanka who creates a stately organ-drenched sound that’s reminiscent of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade Of Pale. I’ll Never Be Lonely is probably the standout track on Defrosted and gives a tantalising glimpse into how these musicians might have developed if they had stayed together.

Frijid Pink also show they can do faster more commercial songs with I’m Movin, built around an irresistible riff and a catchy chorus line, and I Haven’t Got The Time that has an infectious Southern Rock feel to it and closes the album on a sunny and positive note. Unfortunately, sales were not so positive, and the album didn’t get past Number 147 on the US charts. Quite why the album flopped is a mystery. One can only guess that those who bought the first album did so mostly on the strength of the hit single and they were so unimpressed by the other material that they just weren’t interested in hearing any more when the second album came out.   

Frijid Pink did try to rediscover commercial success through to the end of 1971 with a series of singles, all included in this compilation, but their own self-penned attempts seem a little half-hearted and the covers (including Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel) failed to reproduce the magic of House Of The Rising Sun. The departure of Beaudry and Thompson meant that this was the end of the road for this iteration of the band, even if they struggled on under different line-ups for many years. This compilation shows that there was much more to the band than House Of The Rising Sun and that Frijid Pink’s real legacy ought to be the forgotten classic of their sophomore album, Defrosted. If you’ve not heard it before, now’s your chance. Don’t miss it.

The (very pink!) packaging, also including original liner notes