Brian Protheroe: Pinball (1974)

In recent years, I've enjoyed wading into relatively obscure 70s music being scavenged by reissue record labels and music bloggers; it seems there's a nearly endless supply of surprisingly decent music that either never made waves at the time or has been unjustly overlooked by classic rock radio in the decades since.  

One of my favorite discoveries is this gem by Brian Protheroe, who released a few albums in the mid-70s before taking up a long-running acting career (with intermittent returns to recording).  It's an odd little blend of mellow singer-songwriter folkish-pop, light jazz, and prog.  Think a weird mish-mash of Harry Nilsson, 10cc, Steely Dan, and Supertramp.

The title track is far and away the highlight, a simply delightful, understated jazzy pop track; it's entrancing and fascinating, the one song that leaves you wondering why it's not in regular rotation on oldies radio.  (It apparently did chart at the time, but I can't say I'd ever heard it before stumbling across the album fairly recently.)

Nothing else is quite as memorable, but there are a few other great numbers that make this much more than an oddball mid-70s curiosity.  "Money Love" is comparable to "Pinball," reminiscent of Supertramp, another one that has a distinctly 70s pop sound but is hard to pigeonhole.  "Goodbye Surprise" is a little more like 10cc, funky and haunting with some flashy horn parts; "Changing My Tune" is a more Burt Bacharach-like ballad, quite lovely, shades of where Elliott Smith would land on his later albums; while "Fly Now" is perky and fun, a nice little piano-based bop.

Some of the material is a bit too eccentric and/or rather dated, particularly some of the scat singing and goofiness, which sounds better suited to showtunes than pop/rock, but the fact that it's so hard to come up with obvious comparisons highlights the uniqueness of the music.

If you're feeling a little retro, but want something off the beaten track, give this a shot.  (If you can find it, I'd suggest hunting down the similarly-titled Pinball & Other Stories compilation, which cherry picks all of the above highlights as well as some later tunes.)

Here's an audio rip of "Pinball" set to video:
And while we're at it, here's a live version (from a few years back):
And here's an audio rip of "Fly Now":