Reaction was set up as a … reaction … a temporary measure in 1966 by Australian impresario Robert Stigwood. It wasn’t Stigwood’s first venture into record labels. In 1964 he had been behind EMI’s attempt to compete in the Embassy / Top Six / Six Hits budget business with the Regal Zonophone Hot Six cover versions EPs.
Eric Clapton: Robert was an extraordinary character, a flamboyant Australian who liked to pass himself off as a wealthy Englishman. He would usually wear a blazer, with grey slacks, with a pale blue shirt and a smattering of gold, and was the epitome of a man of leisure.
Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton: The Autobiography, 2007
Stigwood was an agent as well as a manager. He wasn’t The Who’s manager, but shared office space with Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp who were The Who’s managers. Reaction was formed just after his company went bankrupt to the tune of £40,000. EMI had offered to bail him out, but instead he went to Polydor. His EMI contact, Roland Rennie, had just moved there. Polydor offered him better percentages and a major contribution to recording costs.
Note the R with S running through top right of the labels. When Polydor hit on the idea of funding and pressing “manager labels” Stigwood was one of the first they approached. Contractually, his main band The Bee Gees stayed on Polydor, with a Reaction production credit in small print.
The first record was The Who’s Substitute which came out in three different versions, with changing B-sides. In America the single was licensed in a one-off deal to Atlantic’s ATCO subsidiary.
So the label name was literally a “reaction” in a legal contest between Shel Talmy, then The Who’s producer, and the Who’s managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Stigwood had bought the rights to become The Who’s booking agent from them for £500. The three … Lambert, Stamp and Stigwood wanted to lure the band away from producer Talmy and the Brunswick label, with whom they had a five year contract. The band were fed up with Talmy too, and at the end of 1965 were £60,000 in debt … everyone involved was broke then. In Talmy’s defence he was the only producer in London then who valued the retention of rawness on record … as he showed with The Kinks and with The Who’s first three singles.
The Who had recorded Circles with Talmy as the follow-up to My Generation. Brunswick had scheduled it for February release. Then on 12 February, a front page story in Melody Maker announced that Circles had been abandoned, and the next Who record would be Substitute, backed with Circles.Talmy couldn’t stop them releasing Substitute but he took out an injunction to stop them releasing the B-side. So that was then swiftly changed to Instant Party. Now Instant Party was simply a re-recording of Circles with a different title (Some Who fans maintain the earlier Talmy version is better).
The last of three B-sides, Waltz for A Pig, was directed at Talmy, and was hastily performed by The Graham Bond Organization, masquerading as The Who Orchestra.
Brunswick also put out Circles as the B-side of A Legal Matter (their version got to #32). Out of spite, Talmy changed the B-side title to Instant Party, and so it was the media lawyer’s annual picnic with lobster and champagne on ice all round.
Drummer Keith Moon said in an interview which formed part of a VH1 bio:
I don’t remember playing ‘Substitute’ at all, I was too stoned, and when it came out, I accused the other members of the group of getting another drummer in!
The dark blue label Reaction version appears on most releases.Substitute came in those three versions then, all with the same catalogue number, 59001:
4 March 1966 … Substitute / Circles mid-blue, temporarily withdrawn (mint value £40)
4 March 1966 … Substitute / Instant Party dark-blue, temporarily withdrawn (mint vale £30)
14 March 1966 … Substitute / Waltz With A Pig light blue (mint value £25)
Labels gallery … click to enlarge
Substitute reached #1 in the New Musical Express but only #5 in Record Retailer. (see the section on The Charts.) The whole page advert on the back cover of the March 1966 NME wouldn’t have had anything to do with this?
Shel Talmy: My problems I don’t think were ever with the bands, or if they were they were never voiced there in the studio. My problems with the Who were with [their co-manager] Kit Lambert, who was out of his fucking mind–I think he was certifiably insane, if he hadn’t been in the music business, he would have been locked up. The problem with him was his giant-sized ego plus paranoia. He felt I was usurping his authority because I was producing these recordings. His partner, Chris Stamp, was hardly ever around. I always got along with Chris, I thought. But Chris never said a word … I had always felt that the so-called Who sound, on record at any event, was a good deal my creation. And I don’t think that’s an ego trip. All you have to do is listen to the record they did before I was with them, the High Numbers record [“I’m The Face”/”Zoot Suit”], and compare the difference. And I certainly felt that after I stopped recording them, they weren’t being recorded nearly as well. But I’m probably prejudiced (laughs).
Interviewed by Richie Unterberger, richieunterberger.com
Shel Talmy was supported by his engineer, Glyn Johns, and engaged Quintin Hogg as his lawyer. Hogg, the former Lord Hailsham, had been a senior Conservative cabinet minister and was renowned as a litigator. Talmy said he knew they’d won the case when the judge failed to understand Hogg’s opening reference to The Who, which he assumed was the W.H.O. – the World Health Organization.
Dave Marsh quotes Peter Townsend in Before I Get Old: The Story of The Who.
(Talmy was telling the judge things like) … And then on bar thirty-six, I suggested to the lead guitarist that he play a diminuendo, forget the adagio, and play thirty-six bars modulating to the key of E Flat … which was total bullshit. He used to fall asleep at the desk. Glyn Johns used to do everything.
Marsh adds that such instructions would only have been understood by John Entwhistle as none of the others could read music. Whatever, they lost.
An aside … this site is about anecdotes and asides. I saw The Who around the time of the second hit, Anywhere, Anyhow, Anywhere. They were incredible, and My Generation and Substitute compete for me as ‘best Who track.’ But I’ve never wholly liked them since, and I’ll tell you why. Memory’s a swine. I thought this incident was late 1965. I also thought the song in question was Substitute. So one of the memories is wrong. It might be March 1966 then, which makes senses of Substitute. Or late 1965, in which case it was My Generation.
I was in the Hayloft coffee bar in Bournemouth. It was upstairs, long and narrow, fixed tables either side of the aisle. Serving counter at one end, juke box (a wall controller, not a huge thing) between the tables at the other end. I was at a table near the counter with a friend. At the far end was Keith Moon with his future wife, who was from Bournemouth. At the next table were two heavies, who were accompanying him. We’d seen him around before. They weren’t that famous. A guy went to the juke box and put on I Can’t Explain. Keith Moon said, ‘Don’t ever do that again!’ The record ended, and the guy walked up and selected Substitute (or if it was 1965, My Generation.) Moon said something to the heavies. Two of them held the guy’s arms behind his back while Moon smacked him round the face,. then started punching him in the stomach. One of the heavies eventually stopped him … he was totally out of control. The guy ran out. The rest of us just got up and walked out.
Years later someone told me that The Hayloft was a centre for trade in speed. I never knew at the time, but it might explain both his presence and anger. So Moon the Loon? A diamond geezer? To me he remains a cowardly, vicious psychopath. A different ethnicity and not a rock star and he’d have spent years behind bars. Ian MacLagen’s autobiography confirms that … Moon took out a contract on him.
But back to the music …
They released an EP, Ready Steady Who in November 1966 (taking its title from Ready Steady Go! on TV). The EP contains Disguises by Pete Townsend, snd Circles turns up yet again. The fun was side two: Batman, Jan and Dean’s Bucket-T and Barbara Ann as amended by The Beach Boys. Keith Moon was the surf music fan. The EP was never issued in the USA, which is why it’s so collectable. (£90 for a mint 1965 original).
The Who album on Reaction is A Quick One. Because they were out of money and still deeply in debt, they needed to swell the coffers a little. Kit Lambert signed them to Essex Music for a £500 advance each on condition they each write two songs. In retrospect, that’s not much money, but in that era dance hall favourites like The Alan Bown Set or Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band commanded a higher nightly fee than The Who.
This makes it an oddity, but an interesting one. Entwhistle’s Boris The Spider was to become a live favourite. By the time they’d all had a go, the album was still too short to release. Lambert suggested that Townsend should flesh out some ideas to create A Quick One (While He’s Away). Lambert announced that it was a mini-opera, thus setting Pete on a future path.
Dave Marsh: As an album A Quick One is obviously inferior to My Generation; it contains no single song as outstanding as My Generation, many of the non-Townsend contributions are inferior to those of the first LP … and “A Quick One” itself is at best a facile realization of a half-baked idea. Yet Townsend was correct in saying, “Now we’ve rehearsed carefully, are singing in harmony and unison, and there is a kind of orderly disorder.
Dave Marsh: Before I Get Old: The Story of The Who. 1983
Then it entered the album chart at #4. The Who had established themselves in the premier league. Marsh later mentions ‘the British bias against putting hit songs on albums.’ In this The Who were joining The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not bad models.
(Collectors note: £200 for a mint original. Personally I keep looking for one with a deep scratch and a perfect cover … I want to frame it for the Alan Aldridge artwork).
Stigwood was a great believer in full page New Musical Express adverts … the Bee Gees later got so many of them. So I’m A Boy got the full front page:
I’m A Boy and the next single, Happy Jack were both hits. Townsend described issues with Keith Moon. As a huge Beach Boys fan he had sung lead on Bucket-T on the Ready Steady Who EP. The recording of Bucket-T went to #1 in Sweden, and when they toured there, Keith got to sing it. This led him to demand that he sing lead on Happy Jack or if not backing vocal. He was relegated to the control room but kept escaping, hence the shout of I see ya! at the end.
US Decca retained The Who’s American rights (Brunswick was their UK outlet on British Decca) declined even to release Happy Jack in spite of its #3 UK chart placing … on Reaction.
Stigwood became the manager of Cream at the same time. The three musicians had assembled from two bands, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce) and The Graham Bond Organization (Ginger Baker).
Eric Clapton: Ginger wanted to bring in the manager of The Graham Bond Organisation to manage us, a suggestion which Jack Bruce railed against on the grounds that it would compromise our independence, and it would be better for us to manage ourselves. He was finally persuaded, and came with us to meet ‘Stigboot’ as Ginger called him … By the time we met, the Robert Stigwood Organisation had had some measure of success, but mainly with pop singers like John Leyton, Mike Berry and Mike Sarne.
Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton: The Autobiography, 2007
It was reputation that prompted Stigwood rather than personal choice. At their first gig, he had to whisper to the Melody Maker reporter, ‘Are they any good?’
Clapton described how keen Stigwood was to get a hit single, which they did right away with Wrapping Paper. They followed with I Feel Free recorded in September:
Because Stigwood saw this song as a potential single, he chose to leave it off our first album, Fresh Cream, and both were released simultaneously at the end of December.
Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton: The Autobiography, 2007
They had three chart hit singles, but their LPs were the real money-spinner for Reaction. Stigwood brokered a deal with Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic, so Cream were released in the USA on his ATCO sub-label.
Disraeli Gears gets the full front, rear and centre label images here because it is an icon of the era.
The new Cream album, Disraeli Gears, caused quite a shock wave of comments, from firstly the blues fans who were dissatisfied with the lack of obvious blues numbers, and secondly at the other end of the scale from some highly imaginitive hippies whose insatiable appetites demanded”further out” material.
Melody Maker, 30 November 1967
The band were getting irritated by Stigwood’s focus on singles. Melody Maker interviewed Eric Clapton in November 1967, and he announced that Cream didn’t want to record or issue ant more singles.
Eric Clapton: it’s not definite that we won’t ever release a single again. The main reason for not wanting to do them is we are very anti the whole commercial market. The whole nature of the single-making process as caused us a lot of grief in the studios. I’m a great believer in the theory that singles will become obsolete and LPs will take their place. They will be extended LPs at 16 rpm lasting two or three hours. Singles are an anachronism.
Interviewed by Melody Maker, 18 November 1967
The Who and Cream releases were two major successes for a small startup label. However, as Simon Napier-Bell points out about Stigwood:
Although his supergroup, The (sic) Cream were doing quite well, it wasn’t enough. Moreover, they weren’t easy to manage or manipulate; they were too old, too experienced. They wouldn’t allow him to use them as the lever he needed to prise himself back to the top.
Simon Napier-Bell, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, 1983. New edition 2005
The third main act was a flop. It had happened to Stigwood before in 1964, when he spent a fortune promoting a singer named Simon Scott. Stigwood was convinced of his star quality as “The next Cliff Richard.” So much so that his first record was called Move It Baby and on Parlophone. He got him on Ready Steady Go, and Juke Box Jury. Big Jim Sullivan and Chas Hodges did the session recording. Then he commissioned plaster busts of Scott’s head and sent them out to press, radio and TV. It was a bizarre move, and greeted with hilarity by the recipients. With massive promotion, he managed to get it to #37 in the chart.
Stigwood then recruited Paul Beuselinck, the son of the Who’s then lawyer as a singer. Beuselinck started his pop career aged fifteen as “Paul Dean” in Paul Dean and The Dreamers. Then he had been Screaming Lord Sutch’s pianist in The Savages, and was re-named “Oscar” (after Oscar Wilde? No, it was actually his middle name) for his Reaction recording career. He had already made a couple of singles (as Paul Dean) a year earlier.
The first Reaction single, Club of Lights, gained plenty of airplay without charting. The airplay was Radio London, and it made their “Fab Forty” chart … Stigwood had paid for four weeks airplay. It was written by Speedy Keen who wrote Something In The Air for Thunderclap Newman. A copy is rated at £60 mint in 2022.
The second was a Pete Townsend song that The Who hadn’t recorded, Join My Gang. That was publicized by giving a “controversial” interview to Disc:
I can’t stand the Stones. In fact, musically speaking, I hate them. Musically they’re a big mess. You could toss their records in the fire as far as I’m concerned … (Jagger’s) a bit dated by today’s standards. It’s not very hip to leap about like that, is it?
“Oscar, interview in Disc, 29 October 1966
The third was a topical song related to a rash of prison breakouts, Over The Wall We Go. It was written and produced by David Bowie (not then a name to conjure with). They really kept trying. The song was sung in exaggerated mock cockney as a knees-up, with a big brassy backing and a big brass band bass drum. Oscar performed it on the Ken Dodd Show as a duet with Doddy, with DJ David Hamilton providing the narrative, which David Bowie had done on the original. The chorus was All coppers are nanas, utilising the All coppers are bastards chant we knew and loved so well in 1967. (I’ll sing you a song, it won’t take long … all coppers are bastards).
So later ‘Oscar’ changed his name to Paul Nicholas and went on to star in stage musicals and films, as well as maintaining a Who connection. He had the lead role in Hair (produced by Stigwood), then in Jesus Christ Superstar, took the role of Cousin Kevin in the movie version of Tommy, and played Wagner against Roger Daltrey’s Liszt in Lizstomania. Stigwood signed him to RSO as a pop singer, where he had three Top 20 hits in 1976. He then co-starred in Stigwood’s greatest folly, the film of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band singing four songs. TV audiences knew him as Vince Pinner in John Sullivan’s sitcom Just Good Friends. He directed The Rocky Horror Show, co-adapted Saturday Night Fever for the stage and was co-producer of the 2008 stage version of Grease.
Paul Nicholas: Robert Stigwood was looking for another hit solo singer. He called me Oscar after my middle name and my dad. He knew The Who and gave me the Pete Townsend song to sing. He also had lots of little busts made of me, which he sent round to promote me. David Bowie was David Jones then and he was very intense, very serious, so it surprised me when he wrote this song about people breaking out of prison. There were a lot of jailbreaks at the time, and it was very funny. He did a bit of talking in the middle of the song, but it got banned by the BBC. I also did a song with the Bee Gees called Holiday. They wrote it and sang back-up vocals on it. I didn’t get the hit I wanted. By then I was 22 and ‘retired.’
Record Collector #531. May 2022 issue.
The Simon Scott “bust promo hadn’t put Stigwood off the idea then. And Join My Gang is rated at £40 mint.
Obviously Nicholas is an actor and singer of considerable talent, and his role at Reaction as “Oscar” was just too early for him. In retrospect, Stigwood overhyped him, causing the normal media reaction. A similar effort a few years later (flying journalists to a New York concert) stiffed the career of Brinsley Schwartz. Stigwood could never be accused of letting records slip out without notice, and several Reaction singles received full page adverts in New Musical Express.
The Birds were a Decca act, managed by Stigwood, featuring Ronnie Wood. They lost their name when the American The Byrds were a success.
After a volley of classy early singles, the band hit the headlines for the wrong reasons that August, ambushing The Byrds as they touched down at London Airport and serving their US namesakes with a writ over the contested avian monicker. Even now, Wood squirms a little, pinning the incident on Birds manager Leo De Clerck: “Oh, it was very embarrassing. But our manager got us on the front page of the Melody Maker for doing that. I’ve made up with Roger McGuinn, yeah.”
Ronnie Wood interview, Classic Rock, 29 June 2015
They became Birds Birds for their 1966 Reaction single Say Those Magic Words / Daddy Daddy. Rare Record Guide rates an original Reaction 45 at £500 in mint condition, making it the most valuable Reaction release. (Having said that Discogs has a couple for sale at £25 … but I suspect they’re reissues).
Tony Munroe: It was Stigwood’s idea to change the name to Birds Birds. He wanted to lose the association with The Birds and with the American Byrds.
The Birds Ride Again, booklet, 45 single box set, 2022
It was a Doc Pomus / Mort Shuman song, which The McCoys had recorded in the USA. The B-side, Daddy Daddy, was a Tony Munroe / Ronnie Wood composition.
Ali MacKenzie: (Say Those Magic Words) was our best record in terms of production and execution. I was trying not to sound American to a degree.
The Birds Ride Again, booklet, 45 single box set, 2022
Say Those Magic Words / Daddy Daddy: Birds Birds, Reissue with new sleeve design in the 2022 box set The Birds Ride Again. Flood Gallery, licensed from UMG, 2022. £60 for four singles and an EP … a bargain given the values of their records.
Ronnie Wood: We were just going through a learning curve. Young boys, acting as if we were famous, y’know? The Birds were a good band to cut your teeth on. But we didn’t really have the staying power, members-wise. They weren’t all cut out to survive the course.”
Classic Rock, 29 June 2015
Their last recording, Granny Rides Again by Ronnie Wood, was recorded in December1966 and languished in the vaults till the 2022 box set.
Ronnie Wood: The Birds had reached saturation point. We’d play 17 gigs on the trot in England, have two days off, and go round again, and we just ran out of ideas.
The Birds Ride Again, booklet, 45 single box set, 2022
Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas had a whimsical last gasp with Town of Tuxley Toymaker in 1967, written by The Bee Gees.
Polydor was closely involved with Reaction, as they were with Lambert and Stamp’s subsequent label, Track. Polydor financed, manufactured, and distributed. The Bee Gees were straight to Polydor’s own label, but note “Produced by Reaction Records.” Even a couple of months after founding Reaction,. Stigwood was taking out a front page NME ad to advertise his new signing, The Marbles … on Polydor.
Stigwood went on to merge his company with Brian Epstein’s NEMS, and then to form RSO. Only eighteen singles, one EP (Ready, Steady Who) and three LPs were released by Reaction, all in 1966 and 1967.
The Ready Steady Who EP from 1966 (#592 001) was re-released by Polydor in a facsimile edition as (# WHO 7) in 1983. The former is worth more than four times as much, but both are valuable even if it later emerged in the 2010s for Record Store Day. The RS iconology rivals Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. The borders around the photos form the letters RS, representing both Ready Steady and Robert Stigwood.
|591001||The Who||Substitute / Circles||1966||5 or 1|
|591001||The Who||Substitute / Instant Party||1966||5 or 1|
|591001||The Who||Substitute / Waltz For A Pig||1966||5 or 1|
|591002||Paul Dean||She Can Build A Mountain||1966||–|
|591003||Oscar||Club Of Lights||1966||–|
|591004||The Who||I’m A Boy||1966||2|
|591005||Birds Birds||Say Those Magic Words||1966||–|
|591006||Oscar||Join My Gang||1966||–|
|591008||Lloyd Banks||We’ll Meet Again||1966||–|
|591009||The Maze||Hello Stranger||1966||–|
|591010||The Who||Happy Jack||1966||3|
|591011||Cream||I Feel Free||1966||11|
|591012||Oscar||Over The Wall We Go||1967||–|
|591013||West Point Supernatural||Time Will Tell||1967||–|
|591014||Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas||Town of Tuxley Toy Maker||1967||–|
|591018||Marian Montgomery||Love Makes Two People Swing||1967||–|
|592001||The Who||ReadySteady Who (EP)||1966||–|
In 2015, the Reaction Singles Box Set was issued with facsimile singles. The box set cover design (finally) introduced a Reaction company sleeve:
|593001||Cream||Fresh Cream||Dec 1966||6|
|593002||The Who||A Quick One||Dec 1966||4|
|593003||Cream||Disraeli Gears||Nov 1967||5|