Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1967-70)
- Tom Arena -- lead guitar
- Andy Cornelius -- drums, percussion
- Jim McMains -- vocals, keyboards, guitar
- Steve McMains -- rhythm guitar
- Arch Of Triumph
- Tom Arena (solo effort)
- The Beloved Ones
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: The Story of Baxter Williams
Country/State: Washington, DC
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: French pressing
Catalog ID: 5951
There's not a great deal of biographical information out there on this short-lived outfit and what material is available is scrambled up, or simply wrong. As an example, they were American, not French as some references have. They didn't start their careers in L.A. as The Beloved Ones and move to France, etc. So, for what it's worth here's my shot at getting it straight.
Lead guitarist Tom Arena, drummer Andy Cornelius, keyboardist Jim McMains, and his twin brother/rhythm guitarist Steve McMains met in 1967 while attending the American School of Paris. The four shared a passion for rock and roll and started out playing parties and school dances. A couple of comments submitted with YouTube clips recall the band playing in the school cafeteria.
I'm not sure how, but the quartet somehow managed to attract the attention of CBS records which signed them to a recording contract. The fact the four were still in their teens (I think they were 17 at the time), made the signing amazing enough, but it was even more impressive when you realized they were signed in at a time when most things American were being shunned by a large segment of the French population.
Teamed with producer John Naikce, the band debuted with the 1968 single 'My Year Is a Day' b/w She And I' (CBS catalog number 3330).
The 45 attracted enough attention for CBS management to give the go ahead for an album. Teamed with producer Jean Eckian (aka John Naikce), in an amazing move CBS management apparently let the four teenagers have complete creative control of the project. The result was 1968's "The Story of Baxter Williams" - one of those concept albums that's simply been lost in the midst of times. Arena and the McMains shared most of the writing credits with Frenchmen William Sheller contributed music to a couple of tracks. Even though the lyrics and performances were all in English, the liner notes were in French so much of the plotline was lost on me. That said, judging by the back panel animation, the plot seemed to be the usual boy falls for girl ('Baxter's First Step'); girl stomps on boy's heart ('Slave To Freedom'); crestfallen boy gives up all hope ('Fade Away') and with nothing to live for calls it quits ('Baxter's Last Step'). And then the plot became indecipherable to me ... Baxter's friends either learn a lesson from his death and start looking for love ('Gotta Find Another Girl), or maybe Baxter was just contemplating suicide and didn't follow-thru with it, in which case a new love saves him ('The Breakthrough'). Anyone out there with a better take on the storyline, drop me a line. Musically, commercial tracks like 'Baxter's First Step' and 'To Experience' made it pretty clear they'd been listening to plenty of Chad and Jeremy, Peter and Gordon, The Bee Gees and other mid-1960s British pop groups (yes I know the Gibbs were Australian). The performances were all pretty good, if occasionally a little lightweight.
of Baxter Williams" track listing:
1.) Baxter's First Step (Jim McMains - Steve McMains) - 2:05
'Baxter's First Step' opened the album with a slice of heavily orchestrated MOR pop that sounded like it might have been ripped from a Chard and Jeremy, or Peter and Gordon album. Harmless fun, though it must have already sounded dated in 1968 and certainly not something you'd remember for more than a couple of minutes. rating: ** stars
2.) Here She Comes (Jim McMains - Steve McMains) - 2:27
Dropping the faux-English feel found of the first selection, 'Here She Comes' was still pretty a pretty MOR-ish pop number. To its credit, the upbeat melody and nice McMains Jim keyboard solo kicked the performance up a notch on the quality meter. rating: *** stars
3.) Slave To Freedom (Jim McMains - Steve McMains) - 2:17
A big heavily orchestrated ballad, 'Slave To Freedom' recalled something the Gibb Brothers might have recorded, though it wasn't nearly as shrill, or fragile as much of The Bee Gees' catalog. Nice top-40ish melody. rating: *** stars
4.) My Year Is a Day (Tom Arena - William Sheller - (2:59
Another Bee Gees-influenced track, 'My Year Is a Day' sported the best melody and most impressive overall performance (explaining why it was picked as a single). While it was a great overlooked track, to my ears it really did sound dated - way more 1966/1967 than 1968. Here's a link to a nice YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yvDVnVPZhU. rating: **** stars
5.) Baxter's Blues (Steve McMains - Tom Arena) - 3:04
Opening up with a great blast of Tom Arena generated fuzz guitar (he turned in a blazing solo later in the song), the organ propelled 'Baxter's Blues' demonstrated these guys could churn out a decent slice of commercial rock. A nice bluesy rocker that's been included on a couple of compilation sets, Jim McMains didn't sound like he was handling lead vocals on this one. Probably my choice for standout performance and with a bit of promotion could have been a hit in the States. rating: ***** stars
5.) Fade Away (Tom Arena) - 2:11
Showcasing a nice Paul McCartney-styled bass pattern, 'Fade Away' was a slightly trippy, spare ballad. rating: **** stars
I've never quite figured out where the 'Baxter Williams' segment on non-conventionality fit into the plotline, but it had an enjoyable upbeat, pop-psych feel to it so it didn't really matter. rating: *** stars
2.) To Experience (Tom Arena) - 2:51
Showcasing Arena's fuzz guitar and Jim McMains' rollicking organ, 'To Experience' was another atypical garage rocker. The fact the performance included a slight psychedelic tinge made it all the better. Easily one of the album's standout performances ... rating: ***** stars
3.) Lands of Shadow (Jim McMains - William Sheller - Steve McMains) - 2:53
A dark, disturbing, and instantly arresting ballad, 'Lands of Shadow' had all the ingredients required to be a massive hit, which is probably why CBS tapped it as a 45.
1968's 'Lands of Shadow' b/w 'Sunshine and You' (CBS catalog number 3600)
Another track with some great bass parts, be sure to check out the YouTube link to see a promotional clip for this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c37rtczbvtE&feature=related rating: ***** stars
4.) Baxter's Last Step (Tom Arena) - 3:36
Another track that didn't sound like it was sung by Jim McMains, 'Baxter's Last Step' was written by Arena so it may well have showcased him on lead vocals. If so, his voice wasn't as likeable as McMains. A mid-tempo, moody ballad, this one was a little short in the melody department, but then it was apparently the section of the album where the main character jumped off a building ledge. rating: ** stars
5.) Gotta Find Another Girl (Tom Arena - Jim McMains) - 3:18
With an irresistible summer hook, 'Gotta Find Another Girl' was a breezy pop number that would have sounded great on AM top-40 stations. rating: **** stars
6.) The Breakthrough (Tom Arena) - 3:28
It took awhile for the song to shift into gear, but when Arena's fuzz guitar and McMains' organ 'kicked it 'The Breakthrough' became a decent slice of garage rock. Not nearly as good as either 'Baxter's Blues', or 'To Experience', but not a bad way to end the album. rating: ****
IYes, much of the album already sounded a little dated and there wasn't a great deal of originality in these grooves, but for a group of 17 years olds the results were pretty amazing, easily surpassing a host of better known pop-psych outfits. Well worth tracking down.
CBS Records released the first two singles in the UK, though in an obvious marketing move to increase their appeal to an English buying public they were credited to 'The Beloved Ones'.
- 1968's 'My Year Is a Day' b/w 'Baby I Need You Back Again' (CBS catalog number 2-1618)
- 1969's 'Lands of Shadow' b/w 'Sunshine and You' (CBS catalog number 2-1618)
For whatever reason the band never got a chance to record another album, but before calling it quits in 1971 they did release a string of seven singles.
Their first non-LP single came out of a project with French film director Pierre-Alain Jolivet. Hired to score some music for his film "Le Grand Cérémonial", CBS wasted no time releasing a single from the soundtrack:
- 1969's 'Dreams of Dolls' b/w 'The Fire / Le Grand Cérémonial' (instrumental) (CBS catalog number 3913)
Released over the next couple of years the other singles were:
- 1969's 'Why Try To Hide' b/w 'Things In Between' (CBS catalog number 4222)
- 1969's 'Girl I Loved You' b/w 'Universe of Love' (CBS catalog number 4515)
- 1970's 'Peace of Love' b/w 'My Love Is With Me Today' (CBS catalog number 5100)
- 1970's 'Baby I Need You Back Again' b/w 'The Lady of France' (CBS catalog number 7114)
- 1972's 'Christmas Bells Will Ring (Petit Papa Noël)' b/w 'Who Ever You May Be' (CBS catalog number 5361)
So here's where the biography really starts to get confusing. With their French career running out of steam the group packed up and returned to the States. Back home they decided on a name change; selecting the cute Arch of Triumph. Unfortunately they don't seem to have released anything under their new name.
Arena subsequently recorded at least one solo 45 for the French market:
- 1973's 'No More Thunder' b/w 'I Keep Moving Along' (CBS catalog number 1289)
The McMains brothers also reappeared with a late-1980s updated remake of The Irresistibles' debut single:
- 1988's 'My Day Is a Year' b/w 'Voluez-Vous?' (EPM Musique catalog number FDS 022)
Nice to have heard from one of the band members ...
Read your review of an album we did in the 60's. Pretty observant ! Almost like you know us.
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