It is easy to forgot the old idiom “you can’t judge a book by its cover” in the process of record sifting. Unless the cover is a familiar image that has been burned into our head as a classic (let’s face it, Black Sabbath had some cheesy/uninteresting album covers that we have forgiven because of their content, “Master of Reality,” I’m looking in your direction), it is common for even passionate music fanatics to flip past a bunch of unheard LPs with uninspired artwork adorning the outer packaging under the assumption that, if the musical artist did not have a sense of visual aesthetic, they must not have a worthwhile sonic vision either.
That brings us to Andy Pratt’s 1973 self-titled release.
This image has been flying past me for the last few years when sifting and organizing through the record bins. I never gave the record a second thought, I had immediately chalked it up as some cheesy singer/songwriter 70s album that would be sub-par Harry Chapin or Cat Stevens, based on the lack of enthusiasm the album cover displayed.
One day recently, when organizing our new prog and psychedelic sections, we decided to give the LP a spin. Looking at the song titles, the first one was called “Avenging Annie.” Okay, that sounds a little different from “Father and Son” or “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Let’s see what we have here. The needle was dropped. After a couple moments of light rumbling percussion and bizarre yelping, a rapid-fire piano arpeggio burst forth from the speakers. Hey, this isn’t strummy sensitivity! A melody emerged from the piano, one that resembled Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” from The Dust Bowl Ballads. Then the vocals came in and confirmed it: this is a reworking of that exact song! Half of the song was sung in a Mercury/Mika-esque falsetto. This is not what we expected at all.
Moving further along into the LP revealed that it only got more interesting. The third song, “It’s All Behind You,” started off with a gut guitar groove and funky sitar played in no way like when those 60s cats were aping Ravi Shankar. The titular vocal refrain on this song has a Marc Bolan quality, and lots of spoken-word verses and sound effects, including high-pitched Chipmunk vocals in the middle. The plot thickens.
At this point, some research was required. It turns out that “Avenging Annie” was a minor national radio hit back in 1973, reaching around #80 on the Billboard charts (various sources report numbers slightly higher and lower). In 2006, Andy Pratt told the story of the song:
“I wrote “Avenging Annie” in the summer of 1972 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at my mother’s 1926 Steinway B Baby Grand piano. I had broken up with my first wife. I was stoned on marijuana. On my turntable was the The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, in particular the Woody Guthrie song “Pretty Boy Floyd.” You can clearly hear that the first part of “Avenging Annie” is an altered version of “Pretty Boy Floyd.”
I shut off the record and began playing “Pretty Boy Floyd.” I was going into a creative trance, and I altered Woody’s words, then out came a Bach-like piano riff which I liked, so I began singing to it in falsetto, taking the part of a woman I called Avenging Annie. A whole story came out, which was a fantasy version of my relationship with [my ex-wife], combined with the outlaw theme of the American West. I worked on the song for a few weeks and played for other people who liked it. I made a demo with Rick Shlosser and Bill Riseman, which became a hit at Brown University Radio WBRU.
This new fame led to me being whisked away by John Nagy of Earth Opera, Clive Davis of Columbia Records, and Nat Weiss of The Beatles, being wined and dined in New York City and given star treatment at the famous Black Rock on 6th Avenue. Once recorded and released on Columbia, “Avenging Annie” took on a life of its own, which has never really stopped. My version was given extensive radio play, became a number one single in New Orleans and Providence, and reached about number eighty-five in the national charts. I did a successful tour of the East Coast, where Jimmy Buffet opened for me at Max’s Kansas City, an Andy Pratt show was broadcast from Boston’s Jazz Workshop over WBCN radio, and many other wonderful things happened.”
The stories that are hiding in our record bins, right under our noses! I won’t go further into the tracks, this is an album that defies description. I would definitely call this LP a lost classic, despite having a song that reached the national charts 40 years ago. Pratt continues to write, record and perform to this day. I would say this is recommended if you like T. Rex, Queen, David Bowie, Todd Rundgren or Brian Eno.