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The Wheels

The mid-'60s Irish rock scene produced no bands that achieved international acclaim, with the major exception of Them. In fact, very few Irish bands from the time are internationally known whatsoever, even to avid collectors, in part because few got to record more than one or two singles. Aside from Them spinoff band the Belfast Gypsies, the biggest exception to this would be the Wheels. Like Them, they were from Belfast, and they had the good and bad fortune to bear a considerable sonic resemblance to Them. Good, because their first three singles sound so much like early Them sides that they can be confidently recommended to Them fans. Bad, because the similarity was so close, that the Wheels could not be said to have developed their own persona. Although they were a good band, they were not so good that they could out-Them Them, and they lacked Them's originality, particularly as found in Them's singer/songwriter genius Van Morrison.

The Wheels were part of the same Belfast scene that gave birth to Them, and in fact, Van Morrison sometimes sat in with the Wheels on sax. In 1964, they began making trips to the north of England to build up a following there, and in 1965, they were signed to Columbia in the U.K. The Wheels had a raw R&B-rock attack quite similar to that heard on Them's first records, down to the jagged guitar and sinister organ. Brian Rossi's vocals were also akin to Van Morrison's most aggressive ones, though Rossi was not as subtle or strong. It could not have helped dodge Them comparisons, however, to make their first single a cover of Them's "Gloria," backed by "Don't You Know," a Tommy Scott composition that Them also recorded.

The Wheels' second single, "Bad Little Woman"/"Road Block" (released in February 1966), featured original material from the quintet, though even then it was only a little less Them-like than their debut. "Bad Little Woman" was a minor-key takeoff on the "Gloria" rhythm, while "Road Block" was similar in mood and construction to Them's "Mystic Eyes." For what they were, though, they were good, raving tracks. Oddly, an alternate -- and better -- version of "Bad Little Woman" was issued in the U.S. on Aurora Records, with the band's name changed to the Wheel-A-Ways to avoid confusion with Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. This American version, with its creepy descending guitar slides and frenzied rave-up, in which the tempo nearly speeds off the highway as Rossi's vocals turn into screams, is one of the peak obscure treasures of mid-'60s British R&B. "Bad Little Woman" was covered for a small hit in the U.S. by the Shadows of Knight (who, of course, had also had a big hit with "Gloria," although they probably learned it from the Them version).

Brian Rossi left the Wheels after the second single, and keyboardist Eric Wrixon, who had been in Them for a while, joined. Their third and final single was a cover of Paul Revere's "Kicks," backed by yet another song Them had done, "Call My Name." Brian Rossi did rejoin for a while before the Wheels split in 1967; Wheels Herbie Armstrong and Rod Demick made a duo album in the '70s, and Armstrong would later play guitar with Van Morrison on albums in the late '70s and early '80s. The Wheels got some belated international exposure when several of their sides were included on reissues of obscure British R&B. All seven tracks from their singles (including the alternate version of "Bad Little Woman" done as the Wheel-A-Ways), and five previously unreleased outtakes, appear on Belfast Beat Maritime Blues, a compilation of mid-'60s tracks by Belfast bands. ~ Richie Unterberger
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Maximum Freakbeat - Remastered

x

Track List: Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond, 1964-1969

Disc 1

1. Making Time

3. I Can Hear The Grass Grow

4. My Friend Jack

6. I'll Keep On Holding On

8. Sorry

9. Imposters Of Life's Magazine

10. How Is The Air Up There?

11. Mud In Your Eye

13. Garden Of My Mind

14. Take A Heart

15. The Life I Live

16. Midnight To Six Man

17. I See The Rain

19. You Stole My Love

20. 1-2-5

21. My Mind's Eye

22. Going Nowhere

23. All Night Stand

24. Wars Or Hands Of Time

25. It's A Sin To Go Away

27. I Read You Like An Open Book

Disc 2

1. Children Of The Sun

2. Save My Soul

3. Desdemona

6. I Must Be Mad

7. Say Those Magic Words

8. Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad

9. Daddy Buy Me A Girl

10. Exit Stage Right

11. Gone Is The Sad Man

14. Reflections Of Charles Brown

15. Words Enough To Tell You

16. That's The Way It's Got To Be

18. Walking Through My Dreams

19. You Said

21. Shadows And Reflections

22. Friday On My Mind

25. Fire Brigade

27. Biff Bang Pow

Disc 3

3. Circles

6. Changing The Colors Of Life

8. Crawdaddy Simone

10. It's My Pride

11. Magic Potion

12. You're Driving Me Insane

13. Who Dat?

15. Listen To The Sky

17. Days Of The Broken Arrows

19. Path Through The Forest

20. Love Hate Revenge

21. Pictures Of Matchstick Men

22. The Train To Disaster

23. Sad

26. I Wish I Was Five

27. Glendora

Disc 4

1. Rosalyn

2. Come On

3. The Madman Running Through The Fields

4. How Does It Feel To Feel (US Version)

5. I'm Just A Mops

6. Why Don't You Smile Now

7. Nothin'

9. The Bitter Thoughts Of Little Jane

10. Touch

11. Vacuum Cleaner

12. My Life

13. Bad Little Woman

14. No Presents For Me

15. Bat Macumba

19. Kicks And Chicks

26. Here Comes The Nice

28. When The Alarm Clock Rings

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