The star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents 50-60%, ** is 60-70%, *** is 70-80%, **** is 80-90% and ***** is 90-99.9% (we're talking Pet Sounds or Forever Changes here). The retail price, actual price paid, packaging etc. are not relevant to the rating
The Very Best Of Canned Heat (73.22)** P 1967-1970, P 2000
There was a lot of blues around at the time of the beat boom but by the time Canned Heat emerged it had mostly become supercharged by Cream and Hendrix, psychedelicised by the likes of Jefferson Airplane or bludgeoned into submission by high-volume bands like Blue Cheer. Consequently, they sounded slightly dated and overly purist at the time, especially since their music harked back to the more acoustic, less fashionable blues of Henry Thomas, Cleveland Crotchet and the Memphis Jug Band, to name just a few covered on this collection.
I only knew their singles, so was pleasantly surprised to discover the longer, more experimental pieces like the twenty-minute Parthenogenesis and the live favourite Fried Hockey Boogie. Furthermore, they now sound a lot less dated than many of their contemporaries, due to the sincerity and integrity of their approach to the blues
(review filed 9 September 2003)
Not The Tremblin' Kind (45.10)*** P 2000
Although Laura Cantrell comes from Nashville, she is as far removed musically from rhinestone cowboys and saccharin strings as she is geographically, based as she is in Brooklyn NY. This is no-frills Americana country music, following in the wake of the Byrds and Emmylou, and is a gem of a record.
Laura modestly includes only four of her own songs on the album, though two of them are the highlights of the album for me, Churches Off The Interstate and Queen Of The Coast (no. 42 in the John Peel 2000 Festive 50), the latter said to be about Bonnie Owens, the yodelling country star who married Merle Haggard and took to the sidelines as his career took off. This album is about the songs, and many were discovered by Laura through her WMFU show Radio Thrift Shop, which she has broadcast from Jersey City NJ since 1993, and from friends and neighbours who are performers. The record has provided a platform for relatively unknown singers and writers, much as Emmylou Harris records have.
Not The Tremblin' Kind was written by George Usher, who had been in the Ministers Of Sound and in an earlier Minneapolis band called Beat Rodeo in the mid-eighties. Another member of Beat Rodeo was Dan Prater, who wrote Do You Ever Think Of Me, and was to play on Laura's next album. Joe Flood, who wrote Pile Of Woe, was in Mumbo Gumbo, while Two Seconds was a cover of Michigan band the Volebeats, and written by their singer Bob McCreedy. Laura's version made no. 27 in the Festive 50 in 2000. The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter comes from a well-regarded album by Amy Allison, daughter of Mose Allison, and Somewhere, Some Night is the work of Carl Montgomery, brother of Melba and Earl "Peanut" Montgomery, and co-writer of Six Days On The Road - a song I'd like to hear Laura Cantrell tackle. The other two songs were written by producer Jay Sherman-Godfrey (from World Famous Blue Jays), one in conjunction with Laura's husband, Jeremy Tepper, who runs Diesel Only Records.
The lack of pretension of Not The Tremblin' Kind lays it open to critical scrutiny as it doesn't hide behind over-glossy production and obfuscating arrangements, but it passes with flying colours thanks to solid performances, top class songs and a sympathetic producer
(review filed 6 January 2004)
Caravan (74.05)*** P 1968-1970, P 2002
There was a burgeoning musical scene in Canterbury in the psychedelic era of the later sixties, much of which stemmed from a band called the Wilde Flowers. Groups to emerge from this original nucleus included Gong, Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers and the Whole World, Hatfield and the North and of course Caravan, now based in nearby Whitstable, who evolved out of the remaining members of Wilde Flowers during 1967 when they decided not to be a soul band anymore. They were signed to Verve Records in 1968 with a line-up comprising singer and principal writer Pye Hastings, the brothers Richard and David Sinclair and Richard Coughlan.
Their first album, Caravan, was released in October 1968, with the first two tracks, A Place Of My Own and Ride, extracted as a single the following January. It was in some ways a groundbreaking album that captured the whimsical and exploratory moods of the times with a sound that built on the changing styles of the contemporary underground and took them further.
Pye's brother Jimmy played on the dreamily evocative Love Song With Flute, never having heard the song and recording the flute solo on the first take. The following song, the stage favourite Cecil Rons (a disguised Cecil Rhodes?) is in contrast a rowdy powerful piece with a yelled chorus. Guitar and bass are swapped over on two songs so that Richard Sinclair can take over on lead vocal for his songs Grandma's Lawn and Policeman. The closing track was a complex nine-minute piece inspired in part by a melody written in Wilde Flowers days by then member Brian Hopper. Where But For Caravan Would I? was the precursor of the direction Caravan would take on future albums, alongside their other strengths.
On this edition both mono and stereo mixes of the album are included, and as a bonus track, the single version of 1970's Hello Hello, recorded for Decca as Verve/MGM had folded by this time, rounds off the CD
(review filed 5 June 2004)
In The Land Of Grey And Pink (74.47)* R 1970-1971, P 2002
Caravan's third album (their second for Decca/Deram) had two distinct sides, the second comprising one 22 minute suite conceived by keyboardist Dave Sinclair, Nine Feet Underground, with linking passages devised by the rest of the band. It would be wholly unfair to suggest it should have been renamed Six Feet Underground and quietly buried, but it is a less effective suite than, say, For Richard or The Love In Your Eye, although it became a concert favourite and is a good example of their instrumental dexterity, veering towards the more "progressive" end of their repertoire. The following year Dave Sinclair decamped to Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole, having played on his End Of An Ear solo album, making this the last album with the original line-up.
However, it is the four songs on side one that best stand the test of time. Pye Hastings' only song on the album, Love To Love You, was the first of the results of the album sessions to be granted a release as it came out on a single a month before the album was released. The other side of the single, Richard Sinclair's charming Golf Girl, was equally strong but at 5.02 must have been considered too long to be an A-side. Richard Sinclair also contributed the title song, complete with fabulous bubble blowing solo, and Winter Wine, which Pye Hastings generously describes as "probably the finest song Richard Sinclair has ever written" in the notes to the album. The liner notes also point out with some pride that the album has never gone out of catalogue since its release in 1971.
This re-issue comes bundled with a selection bonus tracks, starting with the out-take I Don't Know It's Name (Alias The Word) and an early version of Aristocracy, which turned up on Waterloo Lily. Work-in-progress versions of Winter Wine and Golf Girl follow, and finally an alternative mix of the last two sections of Nine Feet Underground
(review filed 3 January 2005)
Caravan And The New Symphonia (78.20)*** R 1973, P 2002
Caravan first worked with an orchestra when recording Pye Hasting's instrumental piece A Hunting We Shall Go for the album For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night in 1973. The conductor and arranger for the session was Martyn Ford, who had been working with Barclay James Harvest. He enjoyed the experience so much he proposed the idea of a live concert also featuring the New Symphonia Orchestra. The idea was in vogue at the time with artists as diverse as Procol Harum and Deep Purple recording albums with full orchestras on board, sometimes with overblown and pompous results, though this is happily not the case here, where the orchestration genuinely adds a new dimension to the music.
The concert happened on 28 October 1973 and was brilliantly captured on the Pye Mobile by Bill Price for an album, which was duly released in April 1974. Due to the space limitations of vinyl, only the main part of the concert was included, and the running order could not be maintained. It consisted of the lengthy Love In Your Eye (from Waterloo Lily), two hurriedly finished new songs, Mirror For The Day and Virgin On The Ridiculous, and their normal closing number, the suite For Richard.
For this remastered re-issue the entire concert appears for the first time, complete with Pye Hastings' between song banter. Three songs from the current album were performed before the orchestra came on, and for an encore the complete ensemble performed the piece that had kick-started the project, A Hunting We Shall Go. These make a valuable and very welcome addition to an already essential CD
(review filed 4 December 2003)
Anglicana (54.29)*** P 2002
Eliza Carthy boldly lays claim to a new genre with the inspired title of this beautiful album. It fits her music perfectly and needs no further explanation. Whereas she has in the past ironically sounded more dated when occasionally attempting more modern and experimental musical forms, her exploration of traditional material invariably sounds fresh and forward looking, and here she is again helped by a varied and fine collection of mostly acoustic musicians.
Her affecting version of the old favourite Just As The Tide Was Flowing, revived by Shirley Collins with the Albion Band and by the American group 10,000 Maniacs amongst others, takes on an altogether more sombre and elegant timbre in its new reinvention, whilst many of the songs have been drawn from collections and archives, some brought to her by her father Martin Carthy, or Dr MCMBE, as an instrumental piece dedicated to him and on which he plays guitar is titled. Worcester City and Pretty Plowboy are two other highlights which seem to define what Eliza Carthy is all about. Although one of the themes of the album is Englishness there are, as she says, no border controls and one of the songs, In London So Fair, comes from the Irish singer Mary Ann Carolan, while some of the album was recorded in Edinburgh.
In London So Fair was recorded on a Steinway, Eliza having switched from fiddle for the occasion, in a living room overlooking the sea, and you can almost hear the ocean in the atmosphere, so vivid is the recording (the sea being another of the main album themes). The lighthearted and jazz-tinted Willow Tree closes the album with a hint of new directions to come. A well balanced and mature album, and reassuring for the future of British folk music
(review filed 6 March 2005)
Johnny Cash And Friends (64.26)** P 1987-1991, P 2002
The five albums Johnny Cash made during his brief tenure at Mercury Records between 1987 and 1991 are not regarded as among his most essential as he and the label did not see eye to eye, so a compilation such as this is probably a good way of sampling them.
The bulk of the compilation is taken from Water From The Wells Of Home (1988), in fact 9 of its 10 tracks are included. It is a quirky album mostly comprising Cash sharing vocal duties with a bunch of stellar friends, including Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Roy Acuff and Tom T Hall, to mixed effect. Musical members of his family also appear, notably his wife June Carter who guests with the Carter Family, and their son John Carter Cash, on whom, sadly, little of the Carter Cash magic seems to have rubbed off. Rosanne Cash fares better on a re-make of the hit Ballad Of A Teenage Queen for which the Everly Brothers also provide their magic harmonies. The LP is produced by Cowboy Jack Clement, the writer of Ballad Of A Teenage Queen.
The Night Hank Williams Came to Town (one of two from Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town, 1987) opens the set, with Waylon Jennings helping out, and is followed thematically by a live tribute to Willie Nelson later on, A Backstage Pass, one of two from Boom Chicka Boom (1990). The Mystery Of Life (1991) provides five titles of which I particularly enjoyed I'm An Easy Rider, also a B-side. Two are new recordings of songs from previous labels, Dylan's Wanted Man and his own Angel And The Badman. He recorded a whole album of these in 1988 called Classic Cash, from which comes Don't Take Your Guns To Town.
One oddity is a collaboration with former band member and son-in-law Marty Stuart on I'm Doin' Time, a song from Cash's Sun period performed the way they used to do it live, which comes from a slightly more recent Marty Stuart album, from 1992.
It is entertaining to hear Johnny Cash hanging out with his buddies but there is little of importance on this distillation of an inessential period.
(review filed 26 December 2003)
His Greatest Hits (46.13/47.19)** P 1950-1971, P 1999
This collection is largely drawn from Ray Charles' ABC-Paramount and Tangerine period, favouring his fusions of soul and country and western, and most of the key tracks are here, from Georgia On My Mind and I Can't Stop Loving You to the earthier Hit The Road Jack, featuring Margie Hendrix and the Raelettes, and the comic Busted.
The earliest recording here is See See Rider, a 1950 single on Swingtime, and there are two Atlantic recordings, I've Got A Woman and What'd I Say, in its six minutes 28 second incarnation. All are A-sides apart from 6 B-sides, including the excellent I Don't Need No Doctor, and Makin' Whoopee, which comes from Ray Charles Live In Concert from 1964 and closes the album. All but the two earliest recordings are in stereo and the sound quality is good throughout
(review filed 15 June 2004)
All I Really Want To Do/The Sonny Side Of Chér (65.35)** P 1965-1966, P 2005
This CD presents the first 2 CDs by Chér, both produced by Sonny Bono following his estrangement from Phil Spector. Using the same Hollywood studio and engineers and as many of the same production techniques as he could approximate, Sonny Bono's attempts at replicating the sound of his erstwhile boss were rudimentary and low-budget, lacking, for example, strings, horns or even backing singers. Nevertheless, they and the contemporary recordings by Sonny and Chér (I Got You Babe was recorded towards the end of the sessions for Chér's first album) have considerable charm and achieved great commercial success, sparked by the success of the lead single, Bob Dylan's All I Really Want To Do, which outsold the rival version by the Byrds in America in 1965. In my opinion, Chér's best work was that which she did with Sonny in the sixties.
This should have provided a welcome opportunity for me to replace my much loved but long lost vinyl copies, but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it because so many of the tracks have been artlessly truncated by the re-mastering engineer, often losing between ten and twenty-five seconds. This is a reprehensible practice and quite needless since with a program time of 65:35 there remains almost fifteen minutes of capacity on the disc to accommodate full-length versions of every track. Unfortunately there is currently no CD alternative for acquiring these full albums, though all but three tracks (all dropped from the second album) appear on The Best Of Chér: The Imperial Recordings 1965-1968 2CD, which from the sleeve details appears to have consistently longer track times, so this would seem to be the better value purchase, unless you must own her covers of Ferlin Husky's Time, Edith Piaf's Milord or Charles Aznavour's A Young Girl.
(review filed 24 December 2007)
Chocolate Watch Band
No Way Out/The Inner Mystique (French Import)(53.48)** R 1966-1967, P 1985
This deleted French stereo CD presents the first 2 CDs by the Chocolate Watch Band in full and reproduces both sides of each original LP cover, but lacks any composer credits, so one has to play the CD to discover that Midnight Hour, for example, is actually a punk re-working of Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour.
The Chocolate Watch Band were one of the psychedelic garage bands to emerge from the San Jose/San Francisco area, best known for their version of Let's Talk About Girls, from No Way Out (their first album), which was included on Lenny Kaye's influential Nuggets compilation. They began life as a Rolling Stones covers band and their version of Come On appears on No Way Out. It is an obvious irony that it took the British Invasion of bands to expose the white American audience to their own blues performers such as Chuck Berry. The Chocolate Watch Band seem at their best when interpreting others' material and only one song on this CD was written by any of the band, though their producer, Ed Cobb, contributes several songs.
Two instrumentals were the work of session surf guitarist Richie Podolor, who co-engineered the album at his own studio in Hollywood, and allegedly created them without the involvement of anyone from the band. On several tracks Dave Aguilar, the band's vocalist (now a professor of astronomy) was replaced without their consent by Don Bennett, their arranger and songwriter. The album closes with Gossamer Wings, which takes the backing track of something they recorded under the nom-de-plume of the Hogs prior to their first single, with overdubbed freak-out vocals.
The group, who considered themselves primarily as a live band and said that they recorded only as a sideline, appeared in two films at this time, Riot On Sunset Strip and The Love-Ins, from which Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In) originates. By the time the album came out in September 1967, they had broken up.
The split, one of many, proved temporary and another LP, The Inner Mystique, full of Eastern influences, appeared just three months later. However, the band apparently did no new recordings for it. They did not play at all on the three tracks on side one, while side two consisted mainly of outtakes from the the first album. It included Hank Ballard and the Midnighter's Let's Go Let's Go Let's Go, We The People's In The Past and the Brogue's I Ain't No Miracle Worker. Dylan's It's All Over Now Baby Blue, the B-side of their debut single from 1966, is also included (renamed Baby Blue) to stretch the playing time to a minimal 27 minutes, and closely follows the arrangement by Them with the singer doing a fair Van The Man impersonation.
Although the album now seems to have more to do with Ed Cobb and the studio crew than the Chocolate Watch Band ultimately it's what's in the grooves that counts, so unless one is looking for an authentic document of what the band sounded like, the question is do the records succeed in their own terms, and they do, having become highly regarded examples of their time to collectors worldwide
(review filed 14 November 2003)
The Motown Anthology (77.35/78.27)*** R 1965-1969, P 2005
Apart from a couple of titles on anthologies, the recordings of the blonde blue-eyed soul sister Chris Clark have been out of print for so long that most record buyers now have probably never even heard of the lady. Those soul aficionados who had, and were aware how good she was, must have thought all their Chris-masses were coming at once when they heard about this double CD. Not only does it contain disc both of her albums in full, along with the singles and their B-sides, but also tracks from Motown's vaults that have never before seen the light of day. These two discs between them contain everything officially released during her career, and the bulk of what wasn't. So how do they stack up?
The first LP, Soul Sounds, was mostly recorded in August 1967 but includes previously released singles, including her first, Do Right Baby Do Right, from December 1965, with the Lewis Sisters on back-up vocals. These include her only hit, the wonderful Love's Gone Bad from 1966, and the divine and funky follow up, I Want To Go Back There Again.
These were the only two singles I had at the time and I was very curious to hear more, as they exemplified for me the classic Motown sound of that period. Never having seen a picture of her, I had no idea she was one of very few white female singers signed to Motown, decked out like a six-foot Dusty Springfield complete with big hair, but I certainly appreciated the glorious creamy voice and the Funk Brothers' bubbling grooves upon which she floated, and listened keenly to both flipsides, which included her slightly jazzier version of the Elgins' Put Yourself In My Place. The album is full of such gems including two later singles, her contagious version of the Miracles' From Head To Toe and finally, in the States only, Whisper You Love Me Boy, the Mary Wells single-that-wasn't, and is probably her finest hour. There are versions of the Four Tops' Until You Love Someone and a smouldering rendition of Frank Wilson's Sweeter As The Days Go By, though there are signs that she was being moved away from the traditional Motown approach into a more mainstream, poppier sound. The album is presented here in its stereo mix from the original master tapes. Hats off to the label for making this available, and for adding the three non-album B-sides from this period (Apart from I Love You, these are in mono).
The other LP on disc one is CC Rides Again, a concept album masterminded by Deke Richards in 1969, which is less successful. Its Motown origins are disguised in a somewhat misguided attempt to cross over to the hip Haight Ashbury audience, with Chris Clark disguised as "CC" (as if people knew who she was in the first place), and even issued on a newly devised underground-sounding label, Weed ("All Your Favourite Artists Are On.....Weed"!).
Chris Clark's singing is sublime, but, unlike Norman Whitfield's work that same year with the Temptations, this is very Hollywood hippie-lite, both in David Van DePitte's arrangements and in the choice of material, which veers into Fifth Dimension territory, and is far less experimental than that of other labels at the time such as Chess, Stax or Curtom. There are two original songs that work quite well, but the rest consists of show tunes from trendy musicals such as The Point and Hair, a couple of safe Beatles tunes, two Blood Sweat And Tears songs (one of which was originally by Motown's Brenda Holloway) and an Elvis cover, with snippets from Richard Strauss and Rossini opening each album side, and the love theme from Romeo And Juliet tacked on elsewhere.
At the time, the album sold about 200 copies.
Much more exciting is the second disc, subtitled Previously Unreleased, and containing 25 newly released masters recorded between 1965 and 1969, all stereo apart from tracks 14-17 and 19-23. Unreleased at the time but not included here are Sweet Lovin', which was held back for A Cellarful Of Motown Vol. 2, and her legendary versions of Frank Wilson's Do I Love You, one of which is on Tamla Motown Connoisseurs Vol. 1 and the other on the first Cellarful Of Motown.
Chris Clark is quoted as saying that they cut three times as much material as they needed, but it seems quite ludicrous that some of these were not considered suitable for release at the time, and one can only be glad that finally they have a chance to be heard.
Some of the Motown songs, and occasionally the actual backing tracks, are very familiar (Ask Any Girl, Everything Is Good About You, Try It Baby, I Like Everything You, Take Me In Your Arms, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday - her version pre-dating Stevie Wonder's, Your Wonderful Love, Mighty Good Lovin') but never sung quite like this.
In The Neighborhood, produced by Mickey Stevenson, with "hit" written all through it like a stick of rock, has been recorded by half a dozen Motown artistes but not released by any of them until now. I Just Can't Forget Him is an obvious attempt at a Burt Bacharach pastiche and dates surprisingly from her earliest sessions in 1965. Mr Maestro Play A Blue Sonata is another potential hit single. He's Got The Whole World In His Hands, with some fantastic guitar licks, is the only listenable version of that particular song. He's Good For Me was originally intended for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and you can still hear their background vocals on the track. If You Let Me Baby and Everything's Right Everything's Wrong are both new songs that were left off CC Rides Again to its detriment. I Just Wanna Be Lovin' You sounds like a Four Tops tune that got away.
And so on, until we reach the last track, a mighty eight-minute disco workout, written by Tom Baird and produced by Berry Gordy (who produced her first single). It is undated but would seem to be a sole survivor from the seventies (by which time she had mostly moved over into photography, film scriptwriting and editing), and would have done huge business in the clubs. It probably is at this very moment; it all comes around
(review filed 10 August 2005)
The Clash (UK Version) (35.20)*** P 1977, P 1999
The Clash were among the topmost important punk groups, having the power and the passion in spades, and a sincerely egalitarian ethos in the lyrics of Joe Strummer, who perhaps even more than John Lydon embodied the spirit of 1977. Their first album snarled into the shops in April 1977 in the UK and Canada, but was not available in America for over two years except on import, and was then released in a revised format, five tracks being replaced by various singles. For a while in the nineties, due to an oversight, only the US version was available on CD in the UK, but with the re-release of the original UK version in 1999, both versions have been in catalogue.
Called simply The Clash, the original album was produced by their regular sound man Mickey Foote and engineered by Simon Humphrey at CBS Studio 3 in Whitfield Street, London during February 1977. The regular Clash line-up of Joe Strummer (vocal, rhythm guitar), Mick Jones (lead guitar, vocal) and Paul Simonon (bass guitar) was augmented by Terry Chimes, yet to become a full-time member at the time of recording, on drums.
There are some classic Clash songs that were to remain in their repertoire throughout, and that stand up today. Indeed live versions of London's Burning, What's My Name and Career opportunities appear on the live album From Here To Eternity, recorded between 1978 and 1982. The one cover version, added at the end of the sessions, was their tribute to Lee Perry, the Junior Murvin single Police And Thieves, to which they bring their own inimitable style very successfully. It led to Lee Perry producing the band and Bob Marley name-checking them on Punky Reggae Party. Other Clash favourites included Remote Control (later extracted as the second UK single), Janie Jones, I'm So Bored With The USA, Garage Land, and, of course, White Riot.
The version of White Riot heard on The Clash is not the version released as their first UK single and is the sole track on the album not to have been recorded at Whitfield Street. Inspired by the Notting Hill Riots of 1976, it had been in their repertoire since September 1976, usually played considerably faster than either of the recorded versions, and had been demoed for Polydor in November before they signed with CBS. The LP version predates the single and was recorded in Beaconsfield at the National Film and Television School using some freebie time they'd wangled via Julian Temple in January 1977, with Mickey Foote making his debut in the producer's chair.
Early copies of the album came with a sticker that, when combined with vouchers from the NME, allowed one to send off for an EP. This contained Capital Radio (recorded during sessions for the album), an interview with Tony Parsons and an instrumental called Listen that sampled bits of the interview. Capital Radio can be found on Clash On Broadway and an edit of Listen (without the samples) is on Super Black Market Clash. As the album is only 35.20 long it is a pity room was not found on it for the EP as well.
The tracks that were not on the US version are White Riot (the single version was substituted), Deny, Cheat, Protex Blue (one of two Mick Jones' lead vocals and all about a brand of condoms) and 48 Hours. If you own the 3CD Clash overview Clash On Broadway then you already own four of these, and almost might as well get the US version, but all future compilations seem to have preferred the single version of White Riot, replete with police siren, smashing glass and alarm effects, so it appears the Beaconsfield version is only to be found on this CD.
The UK and US versions serve slightly different purposes, the US version being a useful collection of tunes whilst the UK version, apart from being an authentic album, is a snapshot statement of the band at that moment in history. Take your pick.
(review filed 26 August 2007)
The Clash (US Version) (43.35)*** P 1977-1979, P 1989
The Clash were among the topmost important punk groups, having the power and the passion in spades, and a sincerely egalitarian ethos in the lyrics of Joe Strummer, who perhaps even more than John Lydon embodied the spirit of 1977. Their first album snarled into the shops in April 1977 in the UK and Canada, but was not available in America for over two years except on import, and was then released in a revised format, five tracks being replaced by various singles.
Out went White Riot (the later single version was substituted, replete with police siren, smashing glass and alarm effects), Deny, Cheat, Protex Blue and 48 Hours. In their place were added the singles Clash City Rockers (1977), Complete Control (co-produced with mad reggae genius Lee Perry)(1977), (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (1978), I Fought The Law (1979) and Jail Guitar Doors (the B-side of Clash City Rockers), making it almost ten minutes longer than the original album. The tracking order was also completely re-sequenced.
I Fought The Law, an old Crickets number that the Clash had learned from the Bobby Fuller Four hit version found on a San Francisco jukebox, had just been released as the band's first US single, with (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais on the other side. If you own the 3CD Clash overview Clash On Broadway then you already own the four missing songs. Joe Strummer actually approved of the revised album, telling a music journalist some years later, "It makes a good collection. If you've never heard the group before, it's a good bunch of tunes."
The original album was produced by their regular sound man Mickey Foote and engineered by Simon Humphrey at CBS Studio 3 in Whitfield Street, London over three weekends during February 1977. The regular Clash line-up of Joe Strummer (vocal, rhythm guitar), Mick Jones (lead guitar, vocal) and Paul Simonon (bass guitar) was augmented by Terry Chimes, yet to become a full-time member at the time of recording, on drums. He had left the band by the time of Clash City Rockers and Nicky 'Topper' Headon plays on all the added US tracks apart from White Riot. The single White Riot (and its B-side, 1977) had been recorded at Whitfield Street on 28 January 1977.
There are some classic Clash songs that were to remain in their repertoire throughout, and that stand up today. Indeed live versions of London's Burning, What's My Name and Career opportunities appear on the live album From Here To Eternity, recorded between 1978 and 1982. It also has live versions of added songs Complete Control, Clash City Rockers, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, Capital Radio and I Fought The Law.
The original album's one cover version, added at the end of the sessions as a make-weight, was their tribute to Lee Perry, the Junior Murvin single Police And Thieves, to which they bring their own inimitable style very successfully. It led to the Lee Perry-produced single and to Bob Marley subsequently name-checking them on Punky Reggae Party. Other Clash favourites included Remote Control (later extracted as the second UK single), Janie Jones, I'm So Bored With The USA, Garageland, and, of course, White Riot.
The version of White Riot heard on the UK version of The Clash is not the version released as their first UK single and is the sole track on the album not to have been recorded at Whitfield Street. Inspired by the Notting Hill Riots of 1976, it had been in their repertoire since September 1976, usually played considerably faster than either of the recorded versions, and had been demoed for Polydor in November before they signed with CBS. The LP version predates the single and was recorded in Beaconsfield at the National Film and Television School using some freebie time they'd wangled via Julian Temple in January 1977, with Mickey Foote making his debut in the producer's chair. The US album and all future compilations seem to have preferred the single version of White Riot, so it appears the Beaconsfield version is only to be found on the original The Clash album.
Early copies of the US album came with a free single containing Groovy Times and Gates Of The West. Along with I Fought The Law and a new recording of Capital Radio, these had comprised the UK release in May 1979 of The Cost Of Living EP. It would have been a nice touch if the three tracks not on the US album had been added as bonus tracks, but all three can be found on Super Black Market Clash, and the freebie single is on Clash On Broadway.
The UK and US versions serve slightly different purposes, the US version being a useful collection of tunes whilst the UK version is the authentic original album, a snapshot statement of the band conceived at a crucial moment in their history. Take your pick.
(review filed 27 August 2007)
London Calling/The Vanilla Tapes (65.07/67.35)**** R 1979, P 2004
The Clash were perhaps the very embodiment of true punk, with a far higher level of musical versatility than may have been evident to the casual observer at the time. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones made a formidable songwriting partnership, with both immediacy and depth, and assimilated a huge range of musical influences. They were one of the few collection of musicians without Jamaican origins who could successfully play reggae, or their own punkish re-modelling of reggae, without sounding like an insipid imitation. As well as their own reggae or rasta-inspired Rudie Can't Fail and Jimmy Jazz, its influence is throughout and there are two reggae tunes, Danny Ray's Get Up (as Revolution Rock) and the Rulers' Wrong 'Em Boyo, which begins with a snatch of Johnny Otis' Staggerlee And Billy, just as the Rulers version did. They also cover Vince Taylor's rockabilly classic Brand New Cadillac.
When Joe Strummer later sang with the Pogues in place of the ailing Shane MacGowan, it made perfect sense because of the impassioned folk-a-billy sensibilities also inherent in the Clash's music.
The name London Calling comes from the call sign of the BBC's 2LO radio news bulletin, dating from 1922, and is apposite as the band send their own front-line bulletins around the globe half-a-century later. The call sign was retained by the World Service, for whom Joe Strummer was later to present record programmes right up to his untimely death.
The title song was a single in the UK, though in the USA it became the flip of Train In Vain (Stand By Me). Astonishingly, the dazzling Train In Vain was originally written and recorded to be a free cover-mounted single for the New Musical Express, and appeared on the album as a last-minute undocumented extra track when that didn't happen.
The double-album London Calling is an enduring masterpiece, though some of its sonic subtleties were lost in the original vinyl mastering, and far from being locked in a seventies time warp, the record sounds valid and meaningful today.
The original re-mastered CD rectified many of the vinyl shortcomings, bringing out parts of the musical palette that had previously sounded dull, and this new re-master is at least its equal, and often superior. It also sounds leaner, as the 3-second pauses between the tracks have been excised, hence the abbreviated running time.
The Vanilla tapes are demos recorded at a rehearsal studio in Pimlico, made in the final month before album recording proper got underway at Wessex in July 1979. Believed lost for many years they acquired legendary status, partly because Joe Strummer had at one time intimated that the demos might actually become the album, though this was mostly gamesmanship with the record label, as the sound quality is not of a releasable quality for that purpose. It is a fascinating document of a series of songs in development, though; valuable to those with a serious interest in the band. I imagine it is disc one that will find its way back to my CD tray most frequently, though it is of course nice to have, along with the booklet, a facsimile of the original album insert and a bonus DVD, in a well presented package
(review filed 7 November 2004)
Twelve Of His Biggest Hits/Never To Be Forgotten (50.53)*** R 1957-1962, P 2001
This Capitol CD comprises two original Eddie Cochran albums. 12 Of His Biggest Hits was released in May 1960, almost immediately after his untimely death. He had been a passenger in a fatal car crash in Chippenham after a gig in Bristol, and died the following day in Bath hospital. The speed of the album's release suggests that it must have been in the pipeline before the accident happened. Never To Be Forgotten came out two years later. Both were compilations, primarily of previously released material.
12 Of His Biggest Hits doesn't quite live up to its title as three of the tracks were not singles, taken from his only LP, Singin' To My Baby, whilst three of his actual singles (Mean When I'm Mad, Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie and Pretty Girl) are excluded. Nevertheless it is a strong collection, with all his biggest hits and a good cross-section of his repertoire.
Never To Be Forgotten is a slightly odder beast, opening with his posthumous single Weekend (a bigger hit in the UK than it was in the States) and also including its B-side Cherished Memories plus another posthumous hit, Sweetie Pie. Twenty Flight Rock and Boll Weevil Song were both previously released on singles, whilst Nervous Breakdown had surfaced on a British EP.
The rest of the album was new in that it had been freshly overdubbed for the album from masters dating back to 1956 (Long Tall Sally, Blue Suede Shoes) by Snuff Garrett, though a couple (Lonely, Little Angel) had been released after his death in their original form on B-sides. Generally, quality control seems good, though I don't have the undubbed versions with which to compare them.
This budget release unfortunately contains no liner notes or information beyond basic track details, so I hope the summary here is of some help.
(review updated 2 December 2009)
Victorialand (32.55)** P 1986
The Cocteaus were my favourite band throughout their lifetime. Their CDs are currently re-appearing in newly re-mastered versions which according to Robin Guthrie, their guitarist and producer, are finally how he wanted them to sound all along. My memory of Victorialand did not do it justice, though I was surprised how the melodies and sounds had stayed in my head so strongly in the 15-odd years since I had last heard it
(indexed 29 June 2003)
Lullabies To Violaine (Vol. 1)(68.15/55.41)*** P 1982-1990, P 2006
Lullabies was the Cocteau Twins first EP, released in Autumn 1982 a couple of months after their debut album Garlands, and Violaine marked the final release by the band in the summer of 1996. Now that the lavish 4CD box set has sold out, the discs have been made available in two double-CD sets, of which the first represents their 8 year association with Four AD, and the second their period with Fontana. This distinction is less marked in America, where albums from Blue Bell Knoll onward were all on Capitol.
Volume One largely replaces the lavish and extremely expensive CD box set of singles and EPs that appeared in 1991, which marked the debut of most of the tracks on CD, as all their singles and EPs prior to Iceblink Luck had been vinyl releases only, and only a few of the lead tracks had appeared on albums. Most of the discs from the set were then released individually, though an exclusive four-track disc of rarities was not.
Though less lavish, this attractive package contains the vast majority of the contents of The Singles Collection, on two discs averaging an hour apiece. All tracks have been mastered by Robin Guthrie with Walter Coelho at Masterpiece and where they sound dissimilar to the previous CD versions, they are in my view improved, with greater clarity in the detail.
There are no previously released rarities from vinyl and cassette compilations, including those from The Singles Collection four-track disc.
The one exception to this is Orange Appled, which began life on a Melody Maker give-away 7" vinyl EP in 1986. It was added in 1990 to the new CD version of Love's Easy Tears and retains its position here. I imagine a disc that did collect those odds and ends and added items like the NME version of Ivo and the In Our Angelhood demo from the Pleasantly Surprised cassette would be snapped up pretty pronto.
Contrarily, the extended 12" mix of Peppermint Pig (the version broadcast by John Peel in the 1983 Festive Fifty, where it was voted to no. 28 by listeners) was added to the CD EP release but is not included here.
Furthermore, two of the tracks are included in previously unreleased alternative versions. Aikea-Guinea appears in slightly different mixes everytime it is released, as the beautiful counter-melody sung in the background by Elizabeth Fraser becomes more extensive and further forward in the mix, quite subtly on The Pink Opaque, more noticeably on Stars And Topsoil, and here competing for dominance with the main vocal. Secondly, the annoying fade-in start has been abandoned - a big improvement as far as I am concerned.
Both versions of Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops, the 7" and 12" mixes, have been dropped in favour of a new mix which most closely resembles the 12" version but without the tinkly-bells and vocals at the start, and remixed particularly to feature a previously buried guitar part. Again, I like the new mix but it does mean that the definitive 12" mix (as also played by Peel in 1984 when it made no. 2 in that year's Festive Fifty) is unavailable now that the CD EP is out of print.
Strongly recommended, though, especially if you only have the albums. A different mix of Sugar Hiccups had appeared on Head Over Heels, and Iceblink Luck was also on Heaven Or Las Vegas. All the others were single or EP releases only, though some have since been included on compilations.
(review filed 4 April 2006)
Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd
The Moon And The Melodies (37.24)** P 1986, 1999
On this year's Summer Solstice I had the pleasure of driving down the Fosse Way towards Wiltshire, as the midsummer sun gradually set on the beautiful Cotswold landscapes. I was listening to The Moon And The Melodies on the car music system, and it proved to be the perfect soundtrack to the scenes unfolding around me. Elizabeth Fraser's gorgeously abstract vocals illuminated half of the tunes and completed an encompassing sound picture. The ubiquitous drum machine set the recording solidly in the eighties, but in other respects the music is timeless, other-worldly, other-everythingly in fact, and serene. Of the songs on which Elizabeth Fraser appears (Sea, Swallow Me; Eyes Are Mosaics; She Will Destroy You; Ooze Out And Away, Onehow), Sea, Swallow Me is perhaps the most closely recognizably Cocteau Twins in style and intent, though I don't believe it or any of the other tracks have been released on singles or their compilations.
This album may have been a little unfairly overlooked as it falls slightly outside the Cocteau Twins' main body of work. It was a largely instrumental and wordless collaboration with the keyboard player Harold Budd, fresh from his collaborations with Brian Eno, who co-wrote and co-produced all of the eight tracks, and served as his introduction to Four AD, the label they shared. His own album, Lovely Thunder, released later that year, contains a different mix of one of the same pieces, Memory Gongs, retitled as Flowered Knife Shadows.
Richard Thomas from Dif Juz, who had been working with the Cocteaus during the period that Simon Raymonde had been absent due to illness, contributes the occasional saxophone and plays drums on Bloody And Blunt. The album came out in November 1986, just a few months after Victorialand, but was to be the last Cocteau Twin-related release until the magisterial Blue Bell Knoll in September 1988
(review filed 22 June 2009)
Cole and the Commotions
Rattlesnakes (35.51/57.19)**** R 1983-1985
With its debonair lyrics and cool arrangements this is the first Lloyd Cole album to listen to. Perfect Skin, Forest Fire and Rattlesnakes made a classic debut set of superb singles, and Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? could easily have been a fourth (an earlier version nearly became their first single and is included on the second disc). Much is made of the cinematic and literary references, but far from being pretentious this seems an accurate reflection of the kinds of allusions made in normal conversations of the time. According to the illuminating sleeve notes to which all the band contribute, Julie Burchill remarked in her album review that she had no use for a country and western Velvet Underground, showing that she was as off-target regarding the Commotions as she was on everything else.
Although the album has been re-issued before with B-sides as bonus tracks, this time the original album is the sole incumbent of disc one and so there is a natural close at the album's end, enabling it to be enjoyed as an entity.
The second disc gathers together all the B-sides from the 7" and 12" versions of the three singles: The Sea And The Sand/You Will Never Be No Good from Perfect Skin; Andy's Babies (about Warhol's Factory acolytes) and Glory (a Television cover) from Forest Fire. Sweetness was thought by the band to be too good to be a B-side but at the time was hurriedly recorded in Wales while they were touring, when they needed something to back the Rattlesnakes single (the single's third track, Four Flights Up, was taken from the album). Jesus Said was recorded in Islington in early 1985 with Paul Hardiman, who produced the first album, and so belongs here, but it didn't get released until 1987 when it became the flip of My Bag (although Lloyd Cole prefers it to anything on the second album, Easy Pieces). One live favourite, Beautiful City, was left off the album but the outtake is included here (as well as a live version).
The only released track missing is the lovely 12" version of Forest Fire (about 45 precious seconds longer than the album version), though a shorter one-take Maida Vale session version from Radio One's Evening Session is included. Two other tracks from the same session add Jocelyn Pook and Audrey Riley on violin and cello, and there is a live-to-air performance of Patience for Saturday Live, from Broadcasting House's sub basement S2 studio (I think Lloyd Cole's comments for Forest Fire in the notes actually refer to this earlier session). Also previously unreleased are the demo for Perfect Skin and five live recordings from 1984 and 1985. These were recorded at Nightmoves, the Marquee and Glasgow's Barrowlands, some for radio broadcast.
(review filed 11 May 2006)
Chicken Skin Music (39.59)*** P 1976
The rediscovery of a rich indigenous American musical history didn't begin with O Brother Where Art Thou, though it gave a timely boost to an undervalued genre. Somehow the blues and folk archives of Alan Lomax and Harry Smith, and music handed down through families over generations and kept alive, needed to be woven into a whole that was both true to a tradition and yet contemporary. Among the honourable few who attempted such a synthesis were the Band, Neil Young and Ry Cooder. Ry Cooder toured his Chicken Skin Music band after making this album and if you saw it you probably will remember a Whistle Test concert for UK television in 1977. Ry Cooder had assembled an extraordinary orchestra, uniquely combining the Tex-Mex accordion mastery of Flaco Jiminez with the Hawaiian slack key guitar maestros Gabby Pahinui and Atta Isaacs to perform traditional minstrel and gospel songs, soul ballads, Leadbelly and Ray Charles covers and standards such as the wonderful He'll Have To Go, and Chloe. The result is a skilful blend that is not dry or academic but designed for dance and entertainment
(indexed 4 October 2003)
Handcream For A Generation (60.52)*** P 2002
Can it really be a decade since Brimful Of Asha put Cornershop on Top Of The Pops? And it is a full six years since this, still their most recent album, appeared, though reports would suggest they still possess the people power in the disco hour. Certainly, this album is a bubbling bangle of beats from a band that clearly knows what it's about, and follows a consistent spindly-thread from the opener Heavy Soup, with a guest vocal from funky soul singer Otis Clay, to the bonus track, called Bonus Track. The full versions of the singles Staging and Lessons Learned From Rocky I To Rocky III are here, and possibly the best track is the extended workout Spectral Mornings, which has extra colouration from Noel Gallagher's guitar and sitar from Sheema Mukherjee (from The Imagined Village). This has elements of raga, but elsewhere they touch down on almost every genre making this quite a global excursion, though their punk origins are never far from the surface. The Oasis connection continues with Guigsy's bass on Lessons Learned From Rocky I To Rocky III , which also features strings, a kids' chorus and Doreen Edwards from Distant Cousins. File under: eclectic.
(review filed 31 May 2008)
Mercy!/See-Saw (63.08)*** P 1965-1966, P 2000
By the time Don Covay signed to Atlantic, he was already known as a recording artist and a songwriter. Now one of the decade's greatest soul singers, he had sung in gospel and doo-wop groups, chauffeured for Little Richard, played and recorded with the Little Richard Revue, and written songs that were hits for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Wanda Jackson, Hank Ballard, Chubby Checker, Solomon Burke, Tommy Tucker and others.
His breakthrough came in 1964 on the Rosemart label when Mercy, Mercy hit the Billboard pop charts. Recorded in May with his band the Goodtimers, augmented by Bernard Purdie on drums and Jimi Hendrix on guitar (he also appeared on the flipside, Can't Stay Away, recorded a week later), it paved the way for a string of chart successes and led to Rosemart's distributor, Atlantic Records, buying out his contract and releasing an album later in the year.
Mercy! included both sides of the single; the follow-up Take This Hurt Off Me/Please Let Me Know; You're Good For Me, which had come out on the Landa label; and other unreleased recordings from the same New York October 1964 sessions with the Goodtimers, led by producer Horace Ott. Stylistically varied and accomplished, it was a hugely influential album and immediately inspired a number of the British beat groups of the time, his songs being seized by the Small Faces, the Spencer Davis Group, Georgie Fame, the Rolling Stones and a whole crowd more, as well as closer to home compatriots such as Booker T and the MG's and his former mentor Little Richard (I Don't Know What You Got But It's Got Me also featured Jimi Hendrix).
This two-on-one CD from Koch Records is not only beautifully mastered in panoramic stereo, but adds the complete follow-up album (although only 11 of the 12 tracks comprise the second half of this CD, the twelfth track was merely a repeat of Mercy, Mercy, which opens side one).
See-Saw included the singles The Boomerang (Don had a penchant for dance craze numbers), Please Do Something/A Woman's Love, See-Saw/I Never Get Enough Of Your Love, Iron Out The Rough Spots and Sookie-Sookie and four new tracks. Most of it was recorded in New York with the Goodtimers, some of it at the October 1964 sessions which formed the bulk of Mercy!, but also marvelously features some songs recorded at the Stax Studios in June 1965 with Booker T and the MG's and the Memphis Horns. These are See-Saw, I Never Get Enough Of Your Love, Iron Out The Rough Spots, Please Do Something, A Woman's Love and Sookie-Sookie. The album easily equaled Mercy! and gave him more big hits, See-Saw being revived to great effect by Aretha Franklin three years later (she also won a Grammy with his Chain Of Fools).
Don Covay remained successful and influential throughout the sixties and disco-hungry seventies, but this important chapter in his career is fully illustrated on these exemplary albums.
(review filed 17 August 2006)
Making Time (Vol. 1) (60.04)* R 1966-1968, P 1998
The Creation never had the sort of commercial success that came to the likes of the Kinks and the Who, two bands whose most exciting and energetic moments were also captured by Shel Talmy, the Creation's producer. They also adopted the art-rock pop-art mod image of their peers and their guitarist Eddie Phillips pioneered the violin-bow techniques that distinguished their sound on groundbreaking singles like Making Time and Painter Man, which appeared on Shel Talmy's Planet label. Perhaps the lack of major label backing or a string of line up changes hindered their chances of fame.
At any rate, their exciting stage act was not to blame. During live performances of Painter Man, which reached no. 2 in Germany, for example, singer Kenny Pickett took to creating a spray painting, the finished canvas being slashed to pieces by violin bow or set on fire at the end of the show, to huge acclaim.
The band never released an album in their lifetime though there have been some compilations, The Complete Collection being the most comprehensive. It is split into 2 separately available CDs, Making Time and Biff Bang Pow! Both feature singles from the period 1966 and 1968, as well as unreleased tracks, alternative and stereo mixes, live performances and the like. Vol. 1 has the A-sides Making Time, How Does It Feel To Feel and If I Stay Too Long, with B-sides, while Vol. 2 features Painter Man, Life Is Just Beginning and Midway Down, with their B-sides. Well worth exploring
(review filed 24 November 2004)
Hai! (Promo) (50.24)*** P 2003
The Creatures came about in March 1981 when Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded a piece called But Not Them for their next album which turned out only to involve Siouxsie and Budgie. This accidental pairing soon turned into a side project and instead of appearing on JuJu, the remixed track turned up in September 1981 on the Wild Things EP by the newly christened offshoot the Creatures. An exotic album recorded in Hawaii called Feast followed in 1983, then in 1989, Boomerang, recorded in Cadiz. Anima Animus came after a ten year gap on their own Sioux label, by which time the pair were married and living in France.
Hai! (meaning 'Yes!') came about because the Creatures had a chance to work with legendary ex-Kodo drummer Leonard Eto in Tokyo. The spontaneous drum-duet improvisations were recorded in one Anglo-Japanese marathon at Gok Sound Studios on 19 August 2002 in a "spiritual symbiosis" between Budgie and Eto's Taiko rhythms. Budgie's contributions include marimba, yueh ch'in, percussion and synthétiques, some of it added back at Maison Néko in France whilst the piece was being edited down to the fifty minutes on the finished album, along with Siouxsie's swooping vocal melodies and words, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes playfully theatrical, as on Godzilla! The result is a minor minimalist triumph: "No more maybe, no more could be, say yes!" - Siouxsie
(review filed 4 January 2004)
The Best Of The Crystals (48.37)**** P 1961-1964, P 1992
In a perfect world the three albums the Crystals made for Phil Spector and the four extra A-sides would all be available on CD. They would probably all fit onto one disc as the second album, He's A Rebel, was a disguised re-issue of Uptown Twist, the first, but with three new tracks replacing two from the first; while the third, The Crystals Sing Their Greatest Hits (Vol. 1), recycled yet again some of their older hits as you would expect, but added 5 previously unreleased covers of recent dance hits including the Chantels' Look In My Eyes.
Instead we have the next best thing, The Best Of The Crystals, compiled by Phil Spector in 1992, which collects the A-sides and B-sides they recorded for Philles Records, beginning with the dreamy There's No Other Like My Baby and the socially conscious second single Uptown, and adds 3 album tracks and 2 tracks unreleased at the time. It includes the original version of I Wonder (later recorded by the Ronettes), which was a single only in the UK, coupled with Little Boy, but unfortunately excludes the withdrawn two-part single (Let's Dance) The Screw.
It was through the Crystals, initially led by Barbara Alston, that Spector made his mark and created the famous Wall Of Sound, when He's A Rebel hit number 1 in America. Ironically, none of the Crystals sang on their first big hit, as the Gene Pitney song was recorded in haste in Hollywood to beat a rival version by Vikki Carr, and none of the Crystals was able to fly from New York for the sessions. Instead a session group led by the unknown Darlene Love (then Darlene Wright) and called the Blossoms were hired to be the Crystals for a day, and they soon became Spector regulars. Indeed Darlene Love also sang lead on the Crystals' follow-up, He's Sure The Boy I Love, and at the same time was enlisted into Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans. She also led on the next single, Da Doo Ron Ron, although on that one Spector had La La Brooks from the Crystals overdub the lead vocal before it came out, and watched it became a Top Three hit. La La sang lead instead of Barbara or Darlene from then on, including the next released singles Then He Kissed Me and Little Boy, but by this time Phil Spector was already losing interest in the Crystals and was developing his unique sound further with the Ronettes featuring Veronica, who was even drafted in to sing lead on some of the third Crystals album.
These recordings show not only their own and Phil Spector's development, but also that of the Brill Building writers that Spector drew from: Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and not forgetting Gerry Goffin and Carole King whose He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss) and Please Hurt Me might suggest some turbulence in their personal lives at the time. He Hit Me was a controversial song, allegedly inspired by the experiences of their baby-sitter, Little Eva, for whom they wrote The Loco-Motion. It was revived more recently by Hole.
Their last single for Philles was All Grown Up, basically a Spectorized rewrite of Chuck Berry's Almost Grown. It was one of their best but barely scraped the Top 100 in America. The Crystals left the label shortly thereafter for United Artists and all but disappeared from history, leaving behind these wonderful and essential classic recordings from a key period in pop history
(review filed 31 January 2004, revised 5 June 2004)
Ultimate Collection (77.25)**** P 1961-1966 (?), P 1997
The historic recordings that Phil Spector produced in the sixties have been sadly neglected by the CD format. Only one or two albums such as River Deep Mountain High and A Christmas Gift For You are available in full, and even compilations are thin on the ground. Darlene Love, the Ronettes and the Crystals had "Best Ofs" released through Phil Spector Inc./ABKCO in the early 1990s, but putting aside any considerations about the mastering quality, they were far from comprehensive, and many other Philles artists are not represented on CD at all.
In a perfect world the three albums the Crystals made for Phil Spector and the four extra A-sides would all be available on CD. They would probably all fit onto one disc as the second album, He's A Rebel, was a disguised re-issue of Uptown Twist, the first, but with three new tracks replacing two from the first; while the third, The Crystals Sing Their Greatest Hits (Vol. 1), recycled yet again some of their older hits, as you would expect, but added 5 previously unreleased covers of recent dance hits, including an excellent version of the Chantels' Look In My Eyes.
The Best Of The Crystals, compiled by Phil Spector in 1992, is still the best generally available Crystals anthology, but this 29-track compilation on the hard to find Belgian Marginal label from five years later has every track that was on The Best Of The Crystals and a further ten tracks. The monaural sound is generally crisper and clearer than on the Best Of, though there are still some shortcomings, and some of the tracks have been slightly shortened, notably I Wonder, which loses nearly ten seconds.
Lead vocal duties are shared between Barbara Alston, La La Brooks, Pat Wright (on Oh Yeah Maybe Baby) and guest singers Darlene Love and the incomparable Ronnie Spector (on Mashed Potato Time).
The ten additional tracks include their three contrbutions to A Christmas Gift For You. Frankenstein Twist and On Broadway appeared on both Uptown Twist and He's A Rebel. On Broadway is especially interesting as it was the first recorded version of the song and had some lyric revisions before it was recorded by the Cookies and, most famously, the Drifters. The infamous (Let's Dance) The Screw has never been on CD before. It appeared only on DJ copies of the single before being withdrawn, and shortly afterwards Da Doo Ron Ron was released. The single consisted of Parts 1 and 2 and the version here clocks in at 4.32.
The other three tracks appear to date from after their tenure at Philles and were not produced by Phil Spector. Are You Trying To Get Rid Of Me Baby? was their second single for United Artists in 1966, and was an early Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson song that had been recorded the year before by Candy and the Kisses. In The Morning and a cover of the Shirelles' When The Right Boy Comes Along sound more recent and have previously appeared on the EMI America label but I have no more information about them. All three clearly feature the wonderful vocals of La La Brooks.
Unfortunately this leaves just one track from Twist Uptown unavailable, their version of Carla Thomas's Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes), though the second album, He's A Rebel, can be re-created by programming tracks 1, 3, 19, 17, 2, 5, 10, 22, 13, 14, 12 and 15.
The Crystals Sing Their Greatest Hits (Vol. 1) is missing Hot Pastrami, The Wah Watusi, The Twist and Gee Whiz. It is a pity room could not have been found for these four tracks, perhaps instead of the Christmas Gift tracks, as that album is readily available in its own right, or the non-Spector recordings, thus making all releases from their contemporary Philles catalogue available on CD.
Also, a few unreleased Crystals recordings surfaced on vinyl in the seventies. Of these only Heartbreaker, which was also on The Best Of The Crystals, is included. It would have been nice to hear the alternative version of All Grown Up and the version of Girls Can Tell with Ronnie Spector (Veronica) singing lead.
However, Marginal Records have shown that is possible to license Spector productions from ABKCO, giving hope that other overdue re-releases may one day appear.
(review filed 27 July 2006)