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
BLUES, SOUL AND ROOTS
But Officer! More Original Jamaican Sound System (54.01)***P 1947-1958, P 2004
There is no home grown Jamaican music on this collection, which explores the music played to exuberant crowds at Dances on massive bass-heavy sound systems in downtown Kingston in the 1950s. It will play havoc with your filing system, but on the other hand it shows exactly where the Jamaican ska and blu-beat movements got their R'n'B influences from. It also shows what great taste the DJs and their audience had, as gem follows rolling gem, be it the rock and roll of Amos Milburn and his Honeydrippers from 1947 or Oscar McLollie and Jeanette Baker from 1958, among the oldest and newest recordings here. Most are from the Aladdin and Imperial labels, but there are also representations from Roulette, Class and Modern.
Some of the songs later inspired their own Jamaican cover versions. Derrick and Patsy revived Let The Good Times Roll and Prince Buster did Going To The River, so these and other selections are particularly apposite and well chosen. I was puzzled by the inclusion of Louis Prima's live medley Robin Hood/Oh Babe! At five and a half minutes, too long to be a 78 rpm single (it is taken from the album The Wildest Show At Tahoe), so I wonder how it could have got an airing at the Dance?
If you like this, check out also volume one, Original Jamaican Sound System Style.
(review filed 29 November 2005)
The Story Of Vee-Jay (66.27/67.34)** P 1953-1965, P 2002
Two CDs full of wonderful gems from the 1950s and 1960s - gospel, soul, R&B, blues, pop, doo wop, they're all here on this Metro re-issue, in good quality sound, although a few of the tracks have been slightly truncated. A few old chestnuts share space with less familiar but welcome tracks from the El Dorados, Betty Everett, Little Richard with Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, Rosco Gordon and many others.
The original July 1958 recording of Hank Ballard and the Midnighter's historic The Twist was made in Miami FL for Vee-Jay but unreleased at the time, the song appearing instead on a November 1958 re-recording for Federal, originally as a B-side in 1960. The rarer Vee-Jay recording is listed here, complete with recording date and anecdotal information, but is actually the Federal/King hit recording, presumable due to some kind of licensing error.
(indexed 29 June 2003, revised 8 January 2004)
Hammond Heroes - Celebrating The B-3 Organ (73.04)** P 1965-1989, P 2000
A celebration of the Hammond organ, originally introduced in 1935 to reproduce the sound of the pipe organ without the weight or size, but confined to churches and ice-rinks until Jimmy Smith transformed its image in the 1950s by using it for his be-bop work outs. Soon soul-jazz exponents such as Brother Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff had switched to the Hammond B-3. Its fab and groovy sound is celebrated here with 17 great tracks by Brian Auger, the James Taylor Quartet, the Small Faces, Georgie Fame, Jimmy Smith of course, and others
(review filed 28 August 2003)
Doo Wop Classics (46.58)** P 1954-1961, P 2000
Doo Wop was much bigger over the pond than here in the UK and I don't remember hearing it very much on BBC radio at all at the time. Consequently, I have discovered most of it in retrospect, firstly through affectionate spoofs by people like Frank Zappa, who highlighted its sublime surrealism, and secondly because of re-issue compilations, and radio shows like Mark Lamarr's Shake, Rattle And Roll. This collection is well-named as most of its contents were big hits in the US - the Silhouettes, the Marcels, the El Dorados, the Spaniels, the Channels, the Dells, the Orioles. A whole new magical world begins to unfold
(indexed 24 July 2003)
Immediate Blitz Of Hitz (70.14/71.48)* P 1965-1969, P 2000
Subtitled The Immediate Singles Story Episode 1 - A 2CD Bookset, this is the first of a series of 4 2CD sets chronicling the history of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham's Immediate record label - "happy to be a part of the industry of human happiness" - which was launched in 1965 and came to its demise in 1970. Andrew Oldham's partner in the venture was Tony Calder, and he also had an agreement with Bert Berns to release his Bang Records product in the UK.
Disc 1 is a kind of overview of the whole project comprising both sides of the 11 singles that were Immediate's greatest hits between August 1965 and August 1969, including the McCoy's Hang On Sloopy, the label's first release, licensed from Bang, which reached number 5 and spent a total of 14 weeks in the UK charts. Also included are the most successful singles by Twice As Much, Chris Farlowe, PP Arnold, the Small Faces, the Nice, Fleetwood Mac, Amen Corner, and finally Humble Pie, Steve Marriott's new group, the label's final chart entry, which reached number 5 in September 1969. The only exception is Amen Corner who are represented by the Top Five hit Hello Susie, whereas (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice actually reached number one. 24 of Immediate's 83 single releases made the Top 50, a commendable hit rate for a small independent label, and though of their time, still stack up well today. The less familiar B-sides are of especial interest including such overlooked gems as PP Arnold's gorgeous Life Is But Nothing, her former backing band the Nice's Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon and Fleetwood Mac, led by Jeremy Spencer in tongue-in-cheek alter ego mode, as Earl Vince and the Valiants on Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight.
Disc 2 begins the series proper and covers both sides of all the singles released between August and October 1965 following the McCoys single featured on Disc 1, which, sadly, was the only one to chart. The first four of these contenders were all cover versions and included a duo called the Fifth Avenue on the Byrds version of The Bells Of Rhymney; Nico's debut, Gordon Lightfoot's I'm Not Sayin'; Gregory Phillips' gongoozler copy of Billy Joe Royal's Down In The Boondocks; and the Masterminds' take on Dylan's classic She Belongs To Me. The Poets were a Glaswegian group of whom Oldham had great hopes, both as performers and songwriters and Call Again was written by two of the band, Hume Paton and George Gallacher. The Strangeloves were a safer bit as they had already had a big US hit with I Want Candy, but Cara-Lin only scraped the Top Forty in the US and did nothing here. Unknowns like Van Lenton, the Factotums, the Golden Apples Of The Sun and the Mockingbirds (the source for two of 10cc) floundered upon release, and as the impetus faded away strong releases such as Barbara Lynn's You Can't Buy My Love and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers' superb I'm Your Witchdocter, which even featured Eric Clapton on voodoo guitar, failed to dent the charts. Glyn Johns and Mick Softley represent the label's excursions into the folk arena but both went on to greater things, Glyn Johns engineering for the Beatles and producing the Rolling Stones among others. Production credits on these singles include Jimmy Page, Shel Talmy, Tony Meehan and Oldham himself. Again there are several gems among the fascinating flops and throwaway B-sides and the extensive sleeve notes in the booklet are never less than frank and detailed, though a tracklisting in the correct running order somewhere on the actual cover would have been a boon.
Immediate's history is well captured in this series, of which this, with its cherry-picking overview, probably represents the best value. Presumably for authenticity, mono mixes have been used, except in three cases on disc 1 where the original singles were stereo
(review filed 7 July 2004)
Girls With Guitars (56.30)*** P 1963-1970, P 2004
Girls with guitars is surely what we need, especially if they are electric guitars, and they are not in short supply on this 24-track pheromone-fuelled collection from Ace. At first glance most of the names may seem unfamiliar but the copious notes in the fact-filled 20-page booklet show that there was some considerable pedigree amongst the producers, arrangers and writers if not the performers, and even here there are one or two familiar names, such as Darlene Love, Fanita James, Grazia Nitzsche, Genya "Goldie" Ravan and Pat Powdrill from the Ikettes. Goldie and the Gingerbreads were known in the UK for their Decca singles, but the four tracks here were recorded earlier for Scepter subsidiaries in the States and were unheard over here. The album description also mentions the appearance of Jackie DeShannon under a pseudonym, but there is no documentation of this on the record and I was unable to identify her. Actually, it doesn't matter how obscure these singles are, especially in the UK, where they were unlikely to be heard on the radio; as always, it's what's in the grooves that counts, and Ace, in the form of compiler Mick Patrick, has not let us down in this axe-filled female celebration of adolescent noise.
BLUES, SOUL AND ROOTS
Robert Johnson And Heroes Of The Delta Blues (56.02)** R 1930s-1940s, P 2001
I don't know what this Newsound 2000 compilation normally retails for, but as everything is out of copyright it is probably quite cheap, certainly at £3 it represents a considerable bargain. Information is scant beyond artists, titles and composer credits; there are no notes and no years of origin, so a little detective work is necessary, but this will bear out that this is a well chosen selection of seminal blues artists and songs from the American south. Aside from the 11 Robert Johnson recordings from 1936-1937, there are tracks from the 1930s and 1940s by Leadbelly (Rock Island Line), Lonnie Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell (Statesboro Blues), Barbeque Bob (Going Up The Country), Bukka White (Shake 'Em On Down), Brownie McGhee, Big Joe Turner and Champion Jack Dupree - an important part of American blues heritage, which I hope compilations such as these will lead new converts towards
(review filed 22 December 2003)
Balling The Jack - The Birth Of The Nu-Blues (67.52)* P 1947-2001, P 2002
To paraphrase Frank Zappa, the blues isn't dead, it just smells funny.
Since the big blues boom of the sixties, when every beat group had a few twelve-bar blues in their repertoire, the genre has been slowly and sadly sidelined, firstly by disco and dance culture, then by punk and everything else, until a point was reached when an admission for a fondness for the form was a short-cut to social pariah-hood. By way of self-preservation a sanitized form of the blues entered the mainstream, but politeness never suited it and corporate acceptance served only to further marginalize the genuine article.
Blues had been recorded from the start of the commercial recording industry in the nineteen-twenties and had been handed down in an oral history beginning in Africa countless generations beforehand, so there never could never be any doubt that in the long term it would endure.
Exactly what the blues is and the criteria required to authentically perform it has been endlessly speculated, most fervently during the blues beat boom (q.v. The Bonzo Dog Band - Can Blue Men Sing The Whites?), and the auteur compiler of this collection celebrating its re-invention, Joe Cushley, takes an especially eclectic view. Taking tracks that are not essentially blues songs by artists who are not essentially blues performers, such as Tom Waits, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Mary Margaret Hara and Gary Lucas, the Soft Boys and Billy Childish and his Famous Headcoats, and putting them in the context of a number of idiosyncratic blues and blues-influenced artists ranging from RL Burnside to Captain Beefheart, results in an illuminating and surprisingly coherent listen. The most successful are often those that take the largest liberties with what Joe Cushley calls the "hell-hound sound."
One inevitably speculates on other artists who might have been included in place of the few slightly weaker tracks on the disc, and perhaps excluded due to licensing limitations. The most obvious omissions are Jimi Hendrix who brilliantly revitalized everything he touched, and the pioneering Howlin' Wolf, but recent champions must include PJ Harvey, the White Stripes, Dr John and Little Axe, while honourable mentions should go to Dr Feelgood for keeping the spirit of the blues alive during the punk wars. I look forward to these and names yet unknown to us to inform the sequel
(review filed 19 August 2005)
History Of Country Music - The Forties (Vol.1) (50.12/48.55)* P 1930s-1949, P 1993
This 2CD from Kenwest Music seems to be unavailable at the time of writing and I could find no details about it, which seems a shame as it comprises the original versions of some of the country music in the 1940s that secured a placing in Billboard's Juke Box Folk chart, which ran from 8 January 1944. Highest chart positions are given as well as any Best Selling Pop Chart positions, though this chart only started in 1948. Most of the recordings date from between 1944 and 1949 although one perennial hit from Tex Ritter was recorded in the late 1930s. One or two tracks were obviously mastered from 78 rpm singles, but overall the sound quality is pretty good. Country music sprang in the rural Southern States from European immigrants who had settled there, but quickly spread with the advent of radio and shows like the Grand Ole Opry, featuring artists like Roy Acuff, Red Foley, Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold. Hollywood added the "western" to "country and western" by taking up the mantle with Singing Cowboys such as Tex Ritter and Gene Autry, as did Texas with the Western Swing of artists such as Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys (all of these are represented here), and by the 1940s country and western music was a coast-to-coast phenomenon. Hollywood also had artists like Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recording country songs like Pistol Packin' Mama, which closes disc 2 but is also featured on this set in an earlier version by Al Dexter. The only female solo artist here is Rosalie Allen who yodels her way through Patsy Montana's I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart. The original version of Riders In The Sky, by Vaughan Monroe in 1949, closes disc 1.
It is interesting that the tooth-rotting trilling chorus and pedal steel guitars that Billy Sherrill and others later used to create the mainstream Nashville sound that robbed it of its heart and soul can be heard on Ernest Tubb's Rainbow At Midnight, which entered the country chart as early as 1946, though most of the rest of this collection is thankfully far less saccharine
(review filed 30 January 2004)
The Early Blues Roots Of Bob Dylan (61.17)* P 1927-1940, P 2000
As well as being the dominant singer-songwriter in popular culture of the twentieth century, Bob Dylan was also a student of the indigenous music of that century - country, country blues, folk ballads, traditional songs, Americana generally. Many of these styles were reflected in Love And Theft, his synthesis of American music history, but he also regularly performed and recorded the originals as well, notably on his first few albums, and later, during his writer's block, on Good As I've Been To You and World Gone Wrong.
Some of the best examples of this source material can be found on this Catfish collection, including some rarities, which concentrates on the early country blues of the twenties and thirties and contains an explanatory booklet written by Robert Tilling, including mentions of some songs Dylan covered which are not included in the anthology.
Missing from the track listing are any details of the dates of the recordings so those I have managed to track down are listed here:
1. Broken Hearted, Ragged and Dirty Too - Sleepy John Estes (1929)
2. I've Got Blood in My Eyes for You - Mississippi Sheiks (1931)
3. Broke Down Engine - Blind Willie McTell (1930)
4. Stack O' Lee Blues - Mississippi John Hurt (1928)
5. Will the Circle Be Unbroken - Rev J C Burnett (1928)
6. Frankie and Albert - Mississippi John Hurt (1928)
7. Sitting on Top of the World - Mississippi Sheiks (1930)
8. Step It up and Go - Blind Boy Fuller (1940)
9. Corrina Corrina - Bo Carter (1930s)
10. Honey, Won't You Allow Me One More Chance? - Henry Thomas (1927)
11. Fixin' to Die Blues - Bukka White (1940)
12. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean - Blind Lemon Jefferson (1928)
13. Railroad Bill - Will Bennett (1929)
14. Motherless Children - Blind Willie Johnson (1927)
15. Grasshoppers in My Pillow - Leadbelly (1944)(aka Leavin' Blues)
16. Po' Lazarus - Booker T. Sapps (1930s ?)
17. Match Box Blues - Blind Lemon Jefferson (1927)
18. Candy Man Blues - Mississippi John Hurt (1928)
19. Po' Boy - Bukka White (1939)
20. Jesus Make up My Dying Bed - Blind Willie Johnson (1927)
(review filed 26 October 2004)
The Roots Of Chuck Berry (62.02)**P 1938-1951, P 2001
Chuck Berry has always been a hard man to pin down musically. While in the UK he was marketed under the banner of Rhythm and Blues, in America he was more labelled a Rock and Roller. Neither of these terms begin to cover the wide range of styles and influences encompassed in his unique blend of music.
There have been a number of releases in Catfish Records' and other labels' series of "Roots of..." collections, covering Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead and several others, but none has the wide range of sources on exhibition here. Chuck Berry was born in 1926 and so his formative years fell during the forties, the era of boogie, blues and big band swing, all much enjoyed by Chuck Berry, along with close harmony groups, Mexicali rhythms, Western swing and country music.
This sweep of influences not only gave Chuck Berry a rich palette with which to work, it also means that this collection of records from 1938 onwards has a particularly wide and satisfying range of sources and is frequently highly illuminating. For example, Joe Turner's Around The Clock Blues is clearly the inspiration for Chuck's time watching Reelin' And Rockin'. Songs such as Down The Road Apiece and Route 66 are so well known in Chuck's versions, and recycled in adaptations of his arrangements by successive generations, starting with the Rolling Stones who recorded both, that it becomes quite an eye opener to hear them in the more restrained original versions by the Will Bradley Trio and the Nat King Cole Trio.
Others of the series have sometimes lacked for information but on this release there are thorough notes by Fred Rothwell, clearly an expert on Chuck Berry, and full details of every track (apart from composer credits), down to ensemble line-ups and recording dates where known.
Chuck Berry has a genius for lyricism and musical innovation and this peek behind the scenes provides a valuable glimpse into what sparks ignited his art.
(review filed 24 August 2006)
The Roots Of Elvis Presley (60.40)** P 1929-1950, P 2001
When Elvis Presley recorded That's All Right Mama on 5 July 1954 he changed the face of music forever, though he couldn't know it at the time. Of course his music did not appear fully formed out of nowhere and he barely wrote a song in his life. That's All Right Mama had been recorded by its author Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup nearly ten years earlier in Chicago and is just one of 21 recordings that provided source material for the aspirant rock and roller to be found on this instructive collection. Elvis was equally at home with hillbilly, gospel and blues music, as well as mainstream pop, and it was his amalgamation and assimilation of these influences that led to the creation of rockabilly and to his incendiary success.
The earliest recording is the Jimmie Rodgers version of Frankie And Johnnie from 1929, which had been recorded by Mississippi John Hurt the year before for Harry Smith's Anthology Of American Folk Music, and the most recent included here, although he continued to cover contemporary material throughout his career, is from 1950, by Ivory Joe Hunter. He went on to become a friend of Elvis' and wrote several songs for him, such as My Wish Came True. Elvis's musical tastes were wide and while few would argue with the merits of Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys or Wynonie Harris, some might query his love of Old Shep by Red Foley.
One of his rare composer credits turns up on Love Me Tender, alongside that of Vera Matson, from the film of the same name about the American Civil War, starring Elvis, and so it was fascinating to discover that it had been adapted from a Civil War poem from 1861 which had been set to music as Aura Lee, and recorded by many artists including the Shelton Brothers in 1937.
Other CDs in this series have been sparse on information but, apart from a lack of composer credits, the sleeve notes here break down every track with pertinent details - and a couple of songs are written about that do not appear on the final version of the CD. No serious student of Elvis can afford to be without this thorough collection
(review filed 7 July 2004)
The Roots Of The Grateful Dead (53.32)** P 1928-1950, P 2001
There is some excellent and varied music here which should set the enquiring Dead enthusiasist down a rewarding path of musical exploration of country and blues, jug bands, yodellers and the fascinating cross-fertilising of all these fields.
As a scholarly treatise, though, it falls somewhat flat, partly due to the skimpy and under researched liner notes, but mainly because the Grateful Dead links to some of these recordings is somewhat tenuous, even allowing for the fuller album title that appears on the front cover, The Roots Of The Grateful Dead And Jerry Garcia. A number of the songs here have a connection only to Jerry Garcia.
The Dead's version of the first track, Sitting On Top Of The World, for example, owes far more to Bill Monroe's 1957 recording than to the Mississippi Sheiks and was originally learned from a version by Carl Perkins. Similarly, their It Hurts Me Too was based on the Elmore James revival, Good Morning Little School should be the version by Smokey Hogg, Walkin' Blues should be Robert Johnson, and so on. Most clangingly, the Dead's Casey Jones on Workingman's Dead was an original Garcia/Hunter song about the 1900 train crash involving John Luther "Casey" Jones and is not "a version of Kassie Jones" by Furry Lewis as the liner notes say.
The Stanley Brothers' The Fields Have Turned Brown, from 1950 the most recent recording in the collection, has not been recorded either by the Dead or by Jerry Garcia (though he did sing and play on a recording by Bluegrass Reunion in 1992).
Some recording details are given in the notes but often leave one guessing as to the year, or, as in the case of the Mississippi Sheiks or the Cannon's Jug Stompers, which version has been included. None of this detracts from the music, of course, but could have been so much more in the hands of a real Grateful Dead enthusiast
(review filed 29 November 2005)
Boppers And The Blues (73.30)* P 1941-1947, P 2003
If you have ever looked at those racks of absurdly cheap shrink-wrapped CDs in discount bookshop and stationary stores and wondered if there were bargains to be had, on the evidence of this, purchased at The Works in Swindon, it would seem that there are. Of course one has to beware of disclaimers such as "to ensure high quality tracks may have been re-recorded with at least one member of the original group", and carefully scrutinize label information and track listings to make sure all is at it seems, but if you are satisfied, the chances are the CD will be well-mastered and good quality.
Items recorded over 50 years ago are out of copyright and so are relatively inexpensive to release, so in many case the knowledgeable audiophile will have moved in to make available again some forgotten gem, though in some cases label information can be scant. In the case of ABM's Boppers And The Blues there are excellent sleeve notes by Neil Slaven documenting the link between bebop and the blues that the CD explores. Full band line-ups, recording dates and locations and original record numbers are given for all of the 25 tracks and show that among the musicians on these blues sides (by artists like Jay McShann, Big Bill Broonzy, Albinia Jones, Wynonie Harris, Estelle Edson, Wini Brown, Dinah Washington, Rubberlegs Williams and Ivory Joe Hunter) are legendary beboppers such as Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Be-baba-le-ba indeed
(review filed 12 August 2004)
The Chess EP Collection (76.29)*** P 1954-1965, P 1993
The See For Miles series of EP collections has usually focused on single artists such as Billy Fury, Gene Pitney, The Shadows or The Kinks, but has here broken ranks to put out this 25-track compilation drawn from the many excellent single and mixed artist EPs from the Chess catalogue that Pye imaginatively put together in the 1960s.
These include the complete Rhythm And Blues Showcase Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 EPs, all of Your Chess Requests EP, most of both The "In" Crowd EP and Tommy Tucker's Hi-heel Sneakers EP, a couple from Bo Diddley's Diddling EP and a lot of individual tracks from the likes of Dale Hawkins, Clarence Frogman Henry, Fontella Bass, Little Walter, Don and Bob, Larry Williams, Jimmy McCracklin, Jimmy Witherspoon, Tony Clarke, Billy Stewart, Mitty Collier, Little Milton, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Buddy Guy, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Willie Dixon, and the immortal blues greats Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. Some of the selections are well known but those that were new discoveries to me were all gems too.
Although the booklet modestly claims the entire CD to be mono, 10 tracks were actually in their full stereophonic glory
(review filed 21 February 2004)
Where The Girls Are (Vol. 3) - Chess Female Singers And Groups (66.03)*** P 1962-1969, P 2000
This is a thorough trawl through the singles archive between 1962 and 1969 for the Chess group of labels, with particular reference to Billy Davis, who guided many of the acts successfully through the changing marketplace, and also had a close relationship with Motown.
Most of the records were homegrown but some were bought in from small labels such as Barbara, Tuff, Katron and North Bay. Many of the tracks have never been available on CD and have sometimes been chosen in preference to better known examples. Jo Ann Garrett's A Whole New Plan, produced by husband Andre Williams, was chosen over the A-side Stay By My Side, and the Kolettes (thought to be the Soul Sisters moonlighting) are also represented by a B-side. Sugar Pie De Santo wrote She's Got Everything but the intended single release was pulled to give a clear run to the version by the Essex. It was unreleased until the 1989 out of print Down In The Basement compilation, but is here in an alternative double-tracked vocal version. She also wrote You Gave Me Soul, the first solo single by Minnie Riperton (under the name Andrea Davis), who also appears here singing lead on the Gems' He Makes Me Feel So Good; as a backing singer on Jackie Ross's You Really Know How To Hurt A Girl and probably also in the Starlets on My Baby's Real from 1967.
Of course Chess did not operate in vacuum and there are nods both to Spector and, especially, to Motown. The Lockets' Don't 'Cha know is so Spectorized I'm surprised it hasn't surfaced on one of Ace's Phil's Spectre compilations, while the Honey and the Bees with all the jingling bells and Christmas references sound as if they were auditioning for A Christmas Gift For You. Jean DuShon had previously been produced by a young Phil Spector but here covers a British single (on Pye) by Martha Smith. Tammy Montgomery, as we know, went on to be Tammi Terrell at Motown. Timiko (later better known as Tamiko Jones) was based in Detroit and Is It A Sin? was produced by the BrianBert team of Brian Holland and Robert Bateman, who of course did a lot of work at Motown. Tawney Williams' Pretty Little Words gives more than a passing nod to Please Mr Postman by the Marvelettes, who also seem to be the inspiration behind the Lovettes' A Love Of Mine. Geraldine Hunt had Motown's Dave Hamilton involved in her chosen single and both she and Jan Bradley owed more than a little to Mary Wells. Mary Dixon from Mary and the Desirables could probably be done for stalking, so closely does she sound like Diana Ross.
The Clickettes' resemblance to the Jaynetts, of Sally Go Round The Roses fame, could be explained by their being the same line-up, though this likelihood has not been confirmed.
Fontella Bass's highly successful tenure at Chess is well documented on the compilation Rescued but that omitted just one of her singles, perhaps because it was too reminiscent of Rescue Me, but that track, Safe And Sound, is included here.
From the opening track by Mitty Collier to the closer by the Starlets, every track has a very good reason to be included, and the expansive notes by Malcolm Baumgart and Mick Patrick make their case very comprehensively. A recommended purchase for R&B and girl group afficianados
(review filed 4 December 2005)
Birth Of Soul (Vol. 3) (74.49)**** P 1959-1964, P 2001
Charlie Gillett once remarked in the seventies, "It's always 1963 in my house", and three decades later it's becoming increasingly true in this house too. Dave Godin certainly knew how to put a compilation together and having now been introduced to volume 3 of the Birth Of Soul series I am increasingly keen to explore the rest, as well as his highly regarded Cellar Of Soul collections.
Demonstrating the evolution from "pure" R&B to "pure" soul in the first half of the sixties, this CD collects 28 prime examples of the hybrids that marked the changes. Drawing from black country and western, deep soul, Tex-Mex, Motown and doo-wop, this rich vein of music selected from thousands of 7" singles never fails to hit the spot, though many were overlooked at the time. Some of the bigger names featured include Garnet Mimms, Smokey Robinson, Richard Berry, Ike and Tina, Chuck Jackson and the Impressions, but they are matched in quality by those less encumbered by success, aided by producers and arrangers like Bert Berns, Jerry Ragovoy, Berry Gordy and Van McCoy.
As one expects from the good people at Ace, there is an illustrated booklet with full and copious notes for each selection, written by Dave Godin himself.
Highlights for me included Garnet Mimm's A Quiet Place, the unbelievably unreleased 1962 cut from the Blenders, Carolyn Crawford's follow up to her biggest hit, Big Sambo's original version of The Rains Came, which I only knew in a later version by the Sir Douglas Quintet, and the rare, full-length 5:45 version of Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford's I Need Your Loving. Captivating stuff.
(review filed 18 December 2009)
The UK Sue Label Story (Vol. 3): The Soul Of Sue (69.33)**** P 1959-1967, P 2004
Those who own either of the first two volumes of this series will have high expectations of this third release, which focuses on soul releases. The UK Sue label was run for Island Records as a subsidiary by Guy Stevens (1943-1981) and took its name from the US label run by Juggy Murray, whose records it released in the UK.
Guy, a club deejay with an obsessive love of rock and roll, R'n'B, ska, jazz and soul, used the label to put out obscure American singles not only from the US Sue group of labels, but from any number of tiny independent record companies and some of the bigger ones.
On this volume there are singles recorded for Marc, Orbit, Fury, Gateway, Ron, King, Barry, Modern, Impact, Backbeat, Carnival, Sims, Goldwax, Vee-Jay and Duke. All of these came out on the Sue imprint in the UK, to the displeasure of Juggy Murray who wanted the label exclusively for his own product, and led to him taking his business elsewhere.
Fortunately for the hipsters, mods and swingers who bought the records, Guy Stevens had impeccable taste and anything on the label was highly likely to be worth the few bob it cost to purchase. For their money they got James Brown (Night Train had been slightly speeded up on the single to make it more danceable, so it is on this CD mastering too), Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Jimmy McGriff, Ike and Tina Turner, James Carr, Bobby Bland and countless other worthies getting valuable exposure over here.
For many years it was rumoured that the black-sounding singer on Incense by the Anglos was actually UK Birmingham-born Stevie Winwood, who had used the name Steve Anglo elsewhere as a pseudonym. Hearing it at last on this CD it seems clear from the aural evidence that the singer, whilst stylistically similar, was not Stevie Winwood, and research has shown that he has gone in print declaring that indeed he has no connection with the recording. From the fulsome and fascinating booklet notes it seems likely that the vocals were by a New Jersey session singer named Joe Webster.
Am I A Fool In Love? turns out to be another remake of A Fool In Love, which Ike and Tina Turner recorded as their first single for Sue in 1960. They went on to record it again for Philles (1966), Pompeii (1968) and, in this instance, Kent (1964).
Had it not been for the passion and single-minded energy of Guy Stevens, many of these singles would probably have never got released in the UK, and here are 25 prime examples of what brought people from around the world to the New Scene Club in Ham Yard, gathered together on one tasty, readily available CD in pristine mono. It's almost too easy.
(review filed 21 January 2006)
This Is Soul (79.29)*** P 1966-1968, P 2007
This UK sampler compilation hit the shops in June 1969 to immediate acclaim and very strong sales, helped in no small part by its very reasonable price of 12/6d (62.5p). From the record label's point of view it was a way of promoting soul music in the absence of any regular mainstream radio exposure. For the punters it was a way to get hold of an awesome bunch of recent hits and some very credible looking lesser known tracks from the much respected Stax and Atlantic labels. Knock On Wood? Sweet Soul Music? When A Man Loves A Woman? All on the same record by the original artists and costing no more than the hopeless wooden recreations found on budget Top Of The Pops albums or Embassy label singles! This was almost unheard of at the time, though samplers like CBS's The Rock Machine Turns You On and Island's You Can All Join In were beginning to appear.
All twelve tracks are here in this replica reissue, the first time it has appeared on CD, book ended by two of Wilson Pickett's finest and featuring timeless classics by Otis and Carla, and Aretha's smoldering Atlantic debut, I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). Sam and Dave are represented by the excellent but long forgotten I Got Everything I Need, to be found on the B-side of the monster hit Hold On, I'm Coming. Each track sounds as fresh and vital as the day it was made.
All but one of the twelve tracks are in mono (Aretha Franklin is the exception), and though I am a stereo aficionado, I have to admit that Knock On Wood in mono packs a punch that the stereo mix lacks. The vinyl release of the album was stereo-playable-mono and may well have contained a number of mono versions.
To the original half-hour of vinyl Rhino have added a further forty-six minutes of matching items, every one a winner, all taken from the Stax/Volt/Atlantic/Atco cluster of labels.
It is sad to see how many of the names are no longer with us: Otis, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, Arthur Conley, Johnny Taylor, Dave Prater (of Sam and Dave), Joe Tex (here as one of the Soul Clan). Most tracks were recorded in Tennessee with Booker T and the MG's or in Alabama with the Muscle Shoals crew, and some were bigger hits than those on the original record. Of the lesser known, the Mad Lads' update of Lee Dorsey's Get Out Of My Life Woman stands out, as does Jeanne and the Darling's Soul Girl, a riposte or homage, take it as you will, of Sam and Dave's Soul Man. Again the grooves are predominantly mono, with just six stereo mixes, Aretha's Save Me and Barbara Lynn's majestic You're Losing Me among them.
Rhino have kept to the spirit of the original album and been generous with the bonus selections, making this a must have selection, complementing classic compilations like Sock It To 'Em Soul and Where It's At.
(review filed 13 June 2007)
Sock It To 'Em Soul (78.50)*** P 1963-1968, P 2004
Subtitled "60's club soul classics from the vaults of Atlantic, Atco, Loma, Reprise, Stax and Warner Bros Records 1963-1968", this 30-track collection gathers a sure-fire selection of tried and tested floor fillers, annotated by Richard Searling, who had a hand in the compilation. Well-known standards are mingled with harder to find obscurities that have found favour in the clubs, dance halls, discos and youth clubs long after their original shelf-life might have been supposed to be over. If you are over-familiar with tracks by Aretha Franklin or Booker T., you are still likely to be delighted by the post-Motown Mary Wells ballad or the Ramsey Lewis-like Googie Rene Combo instrumental.
The album is topped and tailed with the 1966 James Bond-inspired Sock It To 'Em JB, closing with Part 2, which formed the original flipside and was an instrumental version of the song treated electronically with reverb and echo and so forth; possibly the forerunner of the reggae dub versions and dance remixes of a decade later.
Much of the music inbetween was recorded at the Stax Studios in Memphis or the Atlantic Studios in New York, but some of it was made in Nashville, New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago, often using the top studio house bands. 18 of the 30 tracks are in mono. 79 minutes of top quality soul of all genres. You won't sit down.
(review filed 17 January 2006)
Solid Soul 6 - Every Little Bit Hurts (65.26)** P 1957-1971, P 2001
The Solid Soul mid-price series seems to be a collaboration between Disky and EMI, mining the extensive vaults of labels licensed to EMI who were active during the heyday of soul. The anonymous compilers seem to know their stuff and seem to have mixed in some little-known morsels among the more obvious fare from the likes of Chuck Jackson, Joe Tex, Bobby Womack and early Barry White, and there are signs of some thoughtful programming, although the absence of sleeve-notes leaves open the possibility of serendipity.
This particular collection delves into the catalogues of Musicor, Roulette, Wand/Scepter, DCP, Dial, Del-Fi, Atlantic, Cadence, Mustang/Bronco, United Artists and whatever label the Chimes were on at the time (their fine version of the Jive Five's What Time Is It is undated).
The Platters track is a Buck Ram song from 1966, and the Three Degrees rather stunning version of Maybe (with spoken intro) is the 1970 re-recording featuring Valerie Holiday. Little Anthony and the Imperials' offering is a 1965 Teddy Randazzo cut. The earliest track is the Metronomes variation on the Dear John letter, dating from 1957, while the two Womack tracks come from his 1971 album Communication. Marvin Preyer from 1968 covers a James Carr track, while Sam's brother LC Cooke is represented on a Dan Pann/Spooner Oldham song. The Drifters provide the original 1961 version of an early Burt Bacharach song that I only knew in the Joe Meek-produced cover by the Cryin' Shames.
There is a Burt Bacharach connection in the track that comes before it, Are You Lonely By Yourself, by the Isley Brothers, actually a version of his Make It Easy On Yourself, recorded prior to the familiar Jerry Butler single. At the session in the Bell Sound Studio, the band and Luther Dixon changed the lyric to "Are you lonely by yourself." When Bacharach came in and discovered the unauthorized change to Hal David's lyric he was furious and stormed out, refusing to let them use the recording, which remained unreleased until 1993. The Isleys, left with just 20 minutes of studio time, decided to concentrate on the B-side, a little throwaway entitled Twist And Shout.
This is where liner notes would have been invaluable as the title, given as Are You Lonely, coupled with the composer credits E Dixon/A Marks, give no clue as to why the song should be so similar to the Jerry Butler/Walker Brothers hit. For me, though, the most fascinating track is Brenda Holloway's Every Little Bit Hurts, about which I would also like to have been told more.
The song was her first single for Motown, after a spell with Del-Fi. Brenda had been put in touch with Berry Gordy by producer Hal Davis, and the story from Motown is that Brenda didn't like the song and was hassled so much by Davis at the Tamla album sessions in 1963 that she broke down in tears, giving the recording its much-loved soulful edge. Brenda's version of events is that she didn't want to do the song because she didn't like it and thought Barbara Wilson, producer Frank Wilson's wife, who had apparently recorded the demo of it, should make the record, but she had died.
However, the version here is sourced from Del-Fi, who first released it on their 1998 compilation Gee Baby Gee: The Del-Fi Girl Groups as a Bob Keane production. The song was written by Ed Cobb, who had produced Ketty Lester's Love Letters. This had featured Lincoln Mayorga's memorable piano. Lincoln Mayorga also played on some early Brenda Holloway sessions, perhaps including Every Little Bit Hurts.
Ed Cobb knew Hal Davis via Ketty Lester, for whom he had written Every Little Bit Hurts, but, according to Brenda Holloway, Ketty Lester had not liked the song. The Del-Fi version lacks chorus and strings, but in other respects the Tamla hit is so near to being an identical clone of this Del-Fi rendition, including Brenda's fabulous vocal, that one wonders if this and perhaps some other of the basic tracks on her first LP, Every Little Bit Hurts, were recorded before she signed to Tamla. So thanks to the compilers for opening the debate and providing such a stimulating selection of tracks.
(review filed 14 July 2005)
That's Soul 3 (38.21)* P 1967-1968, P 1968
Whereas there were plenty of black music radio stations in America playing soul music, in the UK there was precious little exposure for anything other than mainstream pop, and even that was curtailed by needletime restrictions, and so record companies adopted the tactic of compiling samplers, sold at an attractive price to encourage the punter to go back to buy albums by the artists they had been introduced to by these albums. Atlantic had a particular success with a cheap sampler called This Is Soul! and this led to the popular occasional series That's Soul, albeit at a somewhat higher price.
That's Soul 3 comprises 14 singles from 1967 by 1968 by big guns like Otis, Aretha and Sam and Dave, and stalwarts such as King Curtis, Wilson Pickett, the Bar-Kays, Percy Sledge and Joe Tex. It ends with the sole single by the Soul Clan (Arthur Conley, Ben E King, Solomon Burke, Don Covay and Joe Tex) and the Sweet Inspirations' Sweet Inspiration, featuring Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney.
Unlike singles at that time, all are in stereo,and the series has been re-issued unaltered, so are rather short by today's standards
(review filed 31 May 2004)
That's Soul 4 (34.34)* R 1964-1971, P 1973
Apparently appearing five years after That's Soul 3, if the publication date can be trusted, these 12 A-side selections from the Atlantic archives span a period between from the mid sixties to 1971. Besides the predictable major league players like Aretha and Sam and Dave there are a couple of more intriguing items licensed from minor labels, such as the catchy Northern Soul-ish I'm Gonna Run Away From You by Tami Lynn, which was first released in 1964 and picked up by Atlantic later on, and Betty Wright's funky Clean Up Woman, recorded for the Alston label in Florida, with Willie Hale laying down an evil guitar riff. Some of the covers are quite fascinating: Wilson Pickett on Free's Fire And Water, Percy Sledge reworking Love Me Tender, Solomon Burke retaining a country edge to Bobby Bare's Detroit City and the by now deceased Otis Redding's well known cover of the Tempations' My Girl. Other highlights include King Curtis' cool Soul Serenade and the Drifters' At The Club
(review filed 2 June 2004)
Uncut: The Roots Of Tommy (46.52)** P 1940-1969, P 2004
The most successful of Uncut's cover discs tend to be ones that are themed, not least because they offer respite from the endless inclusions of tracks by Ryan Adams and Paul Westerberg. The Roots Of Tommy examines the sources, influences and inspiration behind Pete Townshend's rock opera. It begins with SF Sorrow Is Born (in a stereo mix), from the Pretty Thing's groundbreaking SF Sorrow album, goes back to Sonny Boy Williamson's Eyesight To The Blind, a song featured in Tommy, and ends with Pete Townshend's original demo of Pinball Wizard. Along the way we hear the originals of songs the Who recorded and performed, such as Mose Allison's Young Man Blues, and contemporary bands operating in similar fields, such as Creation, the Kinks, Procol Harum and the singer Keith West (from Tomorrow), who was the singer on Mark Wirtz's A Teenage Opera project, exhibiting the Who's career trajectory in terms of musical stepping stones, and putting Tommy into the context of the times
(review filed 9 April 2004)
Uncut: Acid Daze (58.47)*** P 1966-1971, P 2003
Discs on the covers of monthly magazines can offer astounding value. Gone are the days when any old rag-bag of music content could be glued to the cover as a gimmick, now the compilers put a lot of thought and resources into what they include and add extensive helpful notes in the magazine itself. Roy Carr and Allan Jones put this collection of "psychedelic classics from the UK underground" together for Uncut and the magazine complemented the disc with related articles. Who could complain when the CD kicks off with Tomorrow's My White Bicycle in lysergic stereo, and includes Syd Barrett, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Kevin Ayers, Arthur Brown, Dantalian's Chariot and the Pink Fairies, and signs off with Donovan's Atlantis?
(indexed 25 May 2003)
Mojo: Instant Garage (Music Guide Vol. 1) (79.48)** P 1959-1975, P 2003
Another excellent cover disc, this time from Mojo who are rather sparing with their cover-mounted CDS but make up for it in terms of quality. This is rather promisingly subtitled 'Music Guide Vol. 1'. The 'garage' on offer here is not the nineties dance floor variety but the sort that was rehearsed in garages largely in the US by teenage hopefuls in the 1960s (although the earliest example here comes from 1959), like Iggy Pop. In some ways this is the US counterpart to Acid Daze as it includes the Electric Prunes, the Nazz and Love, although the Brits are represented also, via the Kinks' excellently raucous herd through Milk Cow Blues
(indexed 11 June 2003)
Mojo: Roots Of Hip Hop (Music Guide Vol. 2) (79.36)** P 1966-1981, P 2003
The roots of hip hop turn out to begin with a 1979 Fatback Band B-side that plucked the rapper King Tim III from the Harlem clubs and put him on record. Grandmaster Flash's Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel opens the set and another Sugar Hill act, Funky Four Plus One, closes it. In between we get the jazz-fusion, funk and soul that came before, chosen because they were all to be heavily sampled by the hip hoppers, as annotated in the sleeve notes. However, on another level, they work as a great funk compilation and among the heavyweights like James Brown and Al Green, Kool and the Gang and Parliament, it was good to be reminded of less well known acts like the Mad Lads (on Stax) and Flaming Ember (on Holland, Dozier & Holland's Hot Wax label)
(review filed 13 October 2003)
Mojo: Raw Soul (Music Guide Vol. 3) (42.21)** P 1953-1969, P 2004
Hard to answer the age-old conundrum "What is soul?" in 42 minutes, and while this selection is no way definitive, it would be hard to refute the credentials of any of the tracks on offer here. The oldest track is by one of the founding fathers of soul, Ray Charles, performing Mess Around in 1953, one of four from the Atlantic stable, the others being the jazz-flavoured Little Esther Phillips, the gospel-tinged Solomon Burke and, of course, the pure Southern soul of Otis Redding (These Arms Of Mine, his first single for Volt).
Seven come from the Kent/Ace labels including the opening track by the late Bobby Angelle and excellent sides from Felice Taylor, Little Ann (a Northern Soul scene discovery, unreleased at the time), Betty Bibbs, Mary Love and He's The One by Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes, taking the song to territory not included in the original Hank Ballard blueprint.
If you know If You Need Me from the Rolling Stones' 5 By 5 EP you'll be intrigued, as I was, to hear the earlier 1963 version Wilson Pickett recorded for Double L which may be the original (Solomon Burke recorded it the same year). Maxine Brown is best known for Oh No Not My Baby so it is good to hear something else by her, in this case Baby Cakes, from her Wand label output.
"BlueSoul" is represented by six minutes of Albert Washington with funky Cincinnati blues guitar; and getting funkier, the Isley Brothers perform It's Your Thing, a single also from 1969 but memorably included in David Holmes' 1998 soundtrack for the film Out Of Sight.
Raw soul voices for novices and collectors alike due to its mix of standards and rarities
(review filed 17 March 2004)
Mojo: Blues Power (Music Guide Vol. 4) (44.04)** P 1944-1975, P 2004
As Phil Alexander writes in his introduction to this cover CD, Muddy Waters once remarked, "The blues had a baby and they named it rock'n'roll" and this collection celebrates the fact by concentrating on some of the titles that have been much covered, in a spectrum of styles, over the last half century of blues history. Indeed, two tracks are taken from a compilation called The Blues Had A Baby And It's Name Was Rock'n'Roll - a version of Leadbelly's Midnight Special by Odetta, and Leadbelly himself doing Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
Most of the tracks appear in their best mastered versions and sound great. John Lee Hooker's much anthologised Boom Boom from 1961 appears here in its lesser known stereo mix, taken from Charly's reissue of Burnin'. Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy, an adaptation of Bo Diddley's I'm A Man, is the psychedelic blues version produced by Marshall Chess for the formerly much maligned Electric Mud album, now seen as a classic. Fever is best known in versions derived from Peggy Lee's bowdlerised hit recording, so it is good to be reminded here of Little Willie John's raw original.
I wasn't personally aware of covers of Sonny Boy Williamson's Fattening Frogs For Snakes (great title) or Hound Dog Taylor's Let's Get Funky, but apparently they have been recorded by The Animals, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and others, and are both fine tracks so I won't quibble at their inclusion. Three quarters of an hour well spent in fine company, even if a couple of them were no strangers to the jailhouse in their time
(review filed 26 April 2004)
Mojo: 2003 - 18 Tracks From The Year's Best Albums (77.01)* P 1966-2003, P 2003
Only 8 of these 18 tracks were new in 2003, the rest being from re-issue compilations, adding fuel to the theory that old is the new new. Of the new tracks the best come from Joe Strummer's posthumously released Streetcore album, Nick Cave's Still In Love from Nocturama and Calexico's marvellous Feast Of Wire.
Some of the older material had surfaced for the first time during 2003 including the wilder early version of Won't Get Fooled Again which the Who recorded at the Record Plant in New York and discarded, and which was rescued from a skip years later, and added to a deluxe re-issue of Who's Next. Similarly, the extended disco mix of I'm Coming Out prepared by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers for the Chic Organisation did not meet with Diana Ross's approval and remained in the can, bootlegs notwithstanding, until being collected on a new expanded edition of the album Diana.
James Carr is represented both by a 1968 single and by the Flying Burrito Brothers' well known cover of Dark End Of The Street. Also from 1968 is Serge Gainsbourg's ode to Bonnie And Clyde, inspired by Sam Peckinpah's film, featuring Brigitte Bardot. Carla Whitney's poignant 1975 anti-Vietnam song War represents Ace's collection A Soldier's Sad Story: Vietnam Through The Eyes Of Black America 1966-73 and will surely ensure quite a few more sales of that imaginative compilation.
This collection has its share of emperor's new clothes, but has taken the trouble to look beyond the obvious and guide the prospective buyer towards some worthwhile offerings
(review filed 3 January 2004)
Uncut: In God's Country - The Music That Inspired The Joshua Tree (67.32)*** P 1935-1970, P 2003
You would not have to be an admirer of U2's music to find this collection to be of merit. All the bases are covered - country, rhythm and blues, folk, blues, gospel, soul, bluegrass - with some highlights including Johnnie Allan's great cajun version of Chuck Berry's The Promised Land; and, sticking with Chuck, Elvis's Louisiana Hayride performance of Maybelline; Billie Holiday's Stormy Weather; Mose Allison's Parchman Farm; William Bell's original Born Under A Bad Sign; Woody Guthrie; Robert Johnson; BB King; The Staple Singers; John Lee Hooker, and many others. In fact, with all this inspiration washing around, why wasn't The Joshua Tree a better album?
(indexed 20 October 2003)
The Wire: Wiretapper 10 (59.36/69.56)*** P 1999-2003, P 2003
The Wire is a long-established music magazine which covers the outer fringes of the music world - electronica, dub, avant-jazz, improv, hip hop, you name it. Looking at the national Top 40 and Album Charts, and the narrow range of heavily-promoted music in the chain stores it is quite amazing, and very reassuring, that there is enough of a market out there for it to have survived in the market place without compromise for well over twenty years, and that the quality of its writing is so high, especially given the high failure rate of other far more commercial weeklies and monthlies.
Subscribers are regularly treated to free cover CDs, championing the sort of music it features each month, but additionally there has been an occasional series of cover-mounted CDs available to purchasers at news-stands worldwide called The Wiretapper. The first of these appeared in The Wire 170, April 1998 and featured Alan Vega and Panasonic, Cornelius, Roedelius, Solex, Arto Lindsay, SchneiderTM and other household names, if you live in a fairly unusual household, that is.
Wiretappers 6, 9 and now 10 have each been 2CDs, and Wiretapper 10 continues the tradition of introducing lesser-known names worthy of our attention while bringing us more established experimental artists such as Kim Hiorthoy, Mice Parade, Four Tet, Rob Ellis, David Sylvian, Jah Wobble, Laibach, Ui and Satanicpornocultshop. The latter are a bunch of Japanese surrealists who, on the original track included here include someone murmuring the Velvet Underground's Candy Says. Elsewhere there is music from Iceland, Germany, Slovenia, Australia, Norway, the United States and Sweden. The album ends with disembodied voices and revving motorbikes. Hurrah!
(review filed 26 March 2004)
Warp 10+3 Remixes (78.53/74.58)** P 1994-1999, P 1999
For this 1999 double-CD the experimental and innovative label Warp Records commissioned a number of top remixers, including a number of their own artists, to newly remix items from the Warp back-catalogue for this collection. Thus Autechre get remixed by Plaid, Bogdan Raczynski and Jim O'Rourke; LFO gets remixed by Pram, Surgeon, Labradford and Spiritualized (the Spiritualized remix is the only previously released remix, and dates from 1994); Broadcast are remixed by Underdog on a version of the rare Hammer Without A Master and by Andy Votel (a lovely version of The Booklovers); Seefeel are remixed by Isan and Mira Calix; and so on.
The remixers include Autechre themselves, who remix Nightmares On Wax; Stereolab, who rework Boards Of Canada; Mogwai, who makeover Link; Jimi Tenor, who deconstructs Sweet Exorcist; and Oval, who tinkers with Squarepusher.
Quality control is high and reminds one that not all remixers switch on software, filters and click-tracks and go away for a cup of tea for ten minutes, then come back to switch it off and collect a load of dosh.
The CD booklet is a beautiful collection of treated photographic images with no text, while all the information is compressed on the rear-cover in a rather perverse and unclear but comprehensive manner
(review filed 22 December 2003)
500% Dynamite (42.47)*** P n/a, P 2001
I have to take issue with the Soul Jazz label for the very limited amount of label information on offer, which is pared to the minimum. What year did this track originally come out? What label was it on? What won it its inclusion on this selection? No answers to be found here, though it seems to scan a period from the 1960s to the present time. However, no quarrel with the musical contents; as it says on the jacket: "Super Funky Ska from Byron Lee, Dub from Augustus Pablo and Joe Gibbs, Calypso Style from Toots, Dancehall Kings and Queens Red Rat and Sister Charmaine, Roots classics from Freddie McGregor and Jacob Miller. Yes it's all here! This record is Dynamite!" And so it is
(indexed 5 July 2003)
Studio One Soul (60.31)* P 1967-1979, P 2001
Reggae wasn't only home grown. As this collection of Clement Dodd productions shows, the US had influence there, as it did pretty much everywhere. In the case of Jamaica, radio stations WNOE from New Orleans and WINZ in Florida were received loud and clear and the black music in particular that they broadcast led to regular visits from artists of the stature of Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin.
Studio One was modelled on the record labels that had their own crack studio house bands, labels and studios like Stax in Memphis, Motown in Detroit, Muscle Shoals in Alabama and Criteria in Florida, so it was natural that at Studio One versions of some of the most influential soul records would be reworked in a Jamaican idiom for playing on the powerful sound systems, sometimes with different titles and sometimes with different composer credits, too, and some of the very best are rounded up here.
And so we find studio band Sound Dimension's instrumental re-interpretations of Young-Holt Unlimited (Soulful Strut) and Booker T. (Time Is Tight) alongside the Jackie Mittoo's keyboard reading of Barry White's I'm Gonna Love You A Little More Baby (as Deeper And Deeper). Top singers like Leroy Sibbles transpose King Curtis (Groove Me), Charles Wright (Express Yourself) and the Temptations' political Message From A Black Man (with the Heptones) into the reggae idiom. Ken Boothe's Set Me Free is actually a gorgeously extended 12" mix of the Supremes' You Keep Me Hangin' On, while Willie Williams, best known for Armagideon Time, covers the McFadden and Whitehead 1979 disco hit Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now as No One Can Stop Us, and the Impressions' Minstrel And Queen is revived by Cornell Campbell and the Eternals as Queen Of The Minstrels.
As American black music became more politicized, militantly and sexually, through the music and messages of Sly Stone, the Temptations, Jimi Hendrix, Millie Jackson (I Don't Want To Be Right) and others, so Jamaican culture reflected this change in its music. Other examples here include Norma Fraser's adoption of Aretha's version of Respect, and Senior Soul's cover of Syl Johnson's Is It Because I'm Black, though there is still plenty of room for innocent dance tunes first recorded by the Detroit Spinners, the Delfonics and others.
There is an illustrated booklet with an essay by the compiler Mark Ainley which is full of helpful facts, though it does fall short of giving composer credits or publication dates of the included recordings
(review filed 23 December 2004)
This Is...The Front Line (72.55)** P 1976-1979, P 2002
Hard to believe now how adventurous the Virgin label was in the mid-seventies, signing up all those punk, reggae and other leftfield musical acts. Much righteous weed must have been imbibed on Richard Branson's money by the assembled reggae musicians in the creation of this wonderful selection of Rastafarian sounds, from Jamaican studios such as Dynamic Sounds and Channel One, for the Front Line label. Excellent home-grown acts such as Poet and the Roots (Linton Kwesi-Johnson) and Delroy Washington were also signed up to the cause. Althea and Donna were signed after the success of the Joe Gibbs single Up Town Top Ranking, and so the version here is an inferior remake, the only real disappointment on an album that includes mighty names like Ranking Trevor, Culture and U Roy, whose Natty Rebel is a toast of Bob Marley's Soul Rebel. Well Charged's Roof Top Dub, incidentally, is an instrumental version of the Mighty Diamonds' I Need A Roof.
This single CD has been cut-down from a 4CD box set, also worth investigating, but even so assembles an astonishing array of talent, many featuring the rhythm section of Sly and Robbie, and serves a similar purpose as the 12" vinyl sampler that was available at the time for 69p, though sadly this CD does not retail at quite the same price
(review filed 26 November 2005)
Trojan Mod Reggae Box Set (44.46/45.26/48.19)** P 1960-1970, P 2002
Reggae collectors have complained at the dominance of the Trojan label in the mainstream record stores, but when the music in the grooves is of this calibre, it seems churlish to criticise, especially when offered at such a reasonable price. These sixties tracks first appeared on labels such as Island, Blue Beat, Rio, Doctor Bird, Treasure Isle and Black Swan, and are gathered here because of their popularity in this country, both at the time and in subsequent revivals. Introduced by West Indians who had settled in areas like Brixton and Notting Hill, Ska and Rock Steady were quickly adopted by the Mods and played in their clubs as the music evolved into Reggae. Jamaica had an abundance of excellent jazz and dance hall musicians from the forties and fifties who were recruited into the new musical forms, explaining why the playing on bands such as the Skatalites, who feature in various guises on many of the tracks, was of such a high overall standard. Furthermore there was no shortage of street corner vocal groups and aspiring singers at the studio door.
Many classics are here, such as John Holt's Ali Baba, Baba Brooks' Guns Fever, Lee Perry's The Upsetter and the Crystalites' Stranger In Town. Most of it is original material but Rosco Gordon's No More Doggin' turns up (uncredited) as Owen Gray's Running Around; Lee Perry produces the Gaylettes on Brenda Lee's Here Comes That Feeling; Roland Alphonso covers Mongo Santamaria's El Pussy Cat in ska style; the unknown (to me) Syko and the Caribs revive Rufus Thomas' The Dog as Do The Dog (also uncredited, but possibly the source of the Specials' version using the same changed title a few years later) and Laurel Aitken and the Soulmen provide a version of the Mar-Keys' Last Night that arguably surpasses the original. Some are obscurities which were well worth rescuing from oblivion. The Zodiacs' Renegade (aka Little Renegade), written and produced by Duke Reid, only appeared here as the B-side of Baba Brooks' Duck Soup, and was their only ever appearance on vinyl, but is a minor classic. The proliferation of this music over such a short period in Jamaican history is quite astounding and as little masterpiece follows unknown gem one wonders how this tiny poverty-stricken island could have got it so right so consistently so uniquely
(review filed 25 October 2003)
Trojan Ska Box Set (Vol. 2)(43.22/41.30/48.49)*** P n/a, P 2000
Before reggae there was ska and rocksteady, indigenous musical forms that had evolved from the imported rhythm and blues and jazz styles prevalent in Jamaica from the fifties onwards. The Trojan Ska Box Set had gathered 50 representative tracks from the period up to 1966, including some very well known big sellers. A number of the leading artists appear again on Vol. 2: Don Drummond, Lee Perry, Lord Tanamo, Baba Brooks, the Skatalites, Owen Gray, Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Desmond Dekker, Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, the Maytals, Lyn Taitt and others, with well known and less well known examples of their art, including some appearing on CD for the first time. Occasionally they appear to have been mastered from less than pristine vinyl copies but if this is the best available, bring it on. Details are skimpy - many of the composer credits are listed as "unknown" and there are no dates for any of the recordings, which is an irritation, but as this is music to be danced and listened to rather than studied academically, we'll just have to live with it
(review filed 4 November 2003)
Trojan X-Rated Box Set (49.15/43.18/51.45)** P 1966-1975, P 2002
Claimed in the sleeve notes as "the biggest and best collection of Rude Jamaican sounds ever assembled on a single release" this features artists of the caliber of Lee Perry, Max Romeo, U-Roy and the Gaylads. Notably great tracks are Nora Dean's bizarre Barbwire, Phyllis Dillon's Don't Touch Me Tomato and the Lee Perry-produced Bleechers' Ram You Hard.
(review filed 13 November 2003)
Trojan Rocksteady Rarities Box Set (48.18/45.25/45.40)*** P 1966-1968, P 2005
Sometimes seen merely as a prototype, inferior to reggae, rocksteady has its own integrity, and a stature and dignity lacking in some of Jamaica's subsequent musical forms. Borne out of ska in a particular sultry Jamaican summer when it was too hot to dance, the more laidback and melodic form which came to be known as rocksteady (after Alton Ellis' hit of the same name) ruled the waves between 1966 and 1968, a little over two years in all. The best selling singles and DJ cuts of the time have been well anthologized and given the size of the island one might imagine that three CDs of "rocksteady rarities" would have a low quality threshold. This is far from being the case and is yet another testament to the incredible fertility and creativity of the native singers, players, producers and engineers.
Disc One (Sock It To Me - Early Rocksteady, 1966 To 1967) covers its origins in 1966 as it grew out of ska and rude boy music and shows its development as a form in its own right. Highlights include The Rulers' Be Good; Henry III's version of the Troggs' With A Girl Like You; the Tartans' It's Not Right, which seems to owe a lot to the Rays' 1957 hit Silhouettes; and Diane Lawrence's I Won't Hang Around Like A Hound Dog, among many others.
Disc Two (Fun Galore - Classic Sounds From '67) has producers like Leslie Kong, Bunny lee, Derrick Harriott, JJ Johnson and Sonia Pottinger and key players like Bobby Ellis, Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook (both from the Skatalites), and ends with the Gladiators' very catchy The Train Is Coming Back.
Disc Three (Shake It Up - The Golden Years, 1967 To 1968) brings the set to conclusion with a further selection of vocal groups, duos and solo singers, and concludes with an Ike Bennett instrumental. It has a couple of interesting covers along with the homegrown material: Dawn Penn interprets To Sir With Love, a great song from the Sidney Poitier film with Lulu, who sang the original soundtrack version; Paulette and the Lovers revive the Drifters' Please Stay; and the Mighty Vikings, on the box set's only stereo offering, mightily cover Carlton and the Shoes' classic Love Me Forever.
With each disc playing for about three quarters of an hour, these 50 tracks show that rocksteady was a diverse and influential period of reggae history and was in too plentiful a supply to guarantee commercial success regardless of credentials and quality.
(review filed 15 July 2008)
Flashing Echo - Trojan In Dub 1970-1980 (68.32/74.33)**** P 1970-1980, P 2002
Since coming under the wing of the Sanctuary group, Trojan have gone from strength to strength, and this compilation is one of the strongest they have put out. Dub reggae was a particularly innovative and influential genre which created huge reputations for some of the best producers, engineers and musicians who created it. Laurence Cane-Honeysett has compiled the anthology in chronological order and the set rightly opens with Andy Capp's historic Pop-A-Top. From the notes I discovered that the inspiration behind this surreal injunction, for which the entire lyric is "Pop-a-top", came from a then-current Jamaican radio jingle for Canada Dry. Perhaps I wish I hadn't.
The great Lee Perry is represented by half a dozen tracks including the title track by Lee Graham and the Upsetters, and the Upsetters' own Dubbing In The Back Seat, a reworking of William DeVaughn's soul hit, Be Thankful For What You've Got.
Other producers and engineers here include Joe Gibbs, Bunny Lee, King Tubby, Niney the Observer, Duke Reid and Prince Jammy, who is at the controls for Jammin' For Survival, a version of Kingston 12 Toughie from 1979, which at 7 minutes is the longest on the album. John Holt's Ali Baba inspired two separate heavy dub versions that appear side by side on Disc One, and several Johnny Clarke hits are versioned by the Aggrovators.
Where tracks have appeared before on other Trojan collections the versions here are generally better quality and sometimes in stereo for the first time. In an overcrowded field this is one of those compilations that will become remembered as a classic in future years
(review filed 3 December 2003)
A Place Called Africa - Songs Of The Lost Tribe (54.32/74.07)*** P 1967-1983, P 2002
Although Rastafarianism was only practised by a minority of Jamaicans, it seems that all of those were in reggae bands in the 1970s. More to the point, they were highly creative and talented singers, musicians, producers and engineers who made more fantastic music than seems actually possible. The African heritage of Jamaicans had been brought to their attention by Marcus Garvey in the early twentieth century and his movement, though frowned on by the authorities, had risen steadily in popularity and led to the birth of Rastafari.
This sure-footed 2CD 40-track collection charts the development of the music that this culture created, picking up the story from 1967, with Al and the Vibrators' Going Back Home. Its actual birth is believed to have been with elements of African drumming that had been utilised from the late 1950s, and Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, who play on the Vibrators' track, were among its earliest practioners. Desmond Dekker, Clancy Eccles, Dennis Alcapone, Alton Ellis, Bob Marley, I-Roy, Dennis Brown, Horace Andy, Johnny Clarke and Sugar Minott are among the important artists featured, with the closing track coming from Dillinger in 1983. A well-chosen selection which puts the focus on a particular aspect of reggae to good effect
(review filed 24 August 2004)
Punky Reggae Party - New Wave Jamaica 1975-1980 (79.41/79.08)*** P 1976-1980, P 2002
This is one of Trojan/Sanctuary's most successful sets, compiled by Laurence Cane-Honeysett and with an essay by Jean-Jacques Burnel of the Stranglers by way of introduction. It charts the musical explosion of reggae and dub in the latter half of the seventies with both well-known pieces such as Dennis Brown's Money In My Pocket (with a toast from Prince Mohammed) and Bob Marley's Natural Mystic (in an early Lee Perry-produced version) to cult favourites such as those by Junior Delgado, Prince Far I, Linval Thompson and Prince Jammy. Bob Marley's Punky Reggae Party, oddly, is not included.
Trinity's highly influential Three Piece Suit And Thing, using the rhythm from Alton Ellis' classic Still In Love With You, is followed by the big hit Uptown Top Ranking which utilizes the same rhythm, in its superior original Joe Gibbs production (it was later remade for Front Line). Most if not all of the tracks were single A-sides, with half-a-dozen appearing in extended 12" mixes, such as The Congos magnificent Neckodemus, another Lee Perry production, in a different mix from that on their indispensable Heart Of The Congos album.
Thumbs up to this one
(review filed 13 September 2004)
Rough And Tough - The Story Of Ska 1960-1966 (70.23/70.43)*** P 1960-1966, P 2002
This is a classic 52-track trawl through Jamaica's ska period, the bedrock of all subsequent reggae forms, containing many key tracks and best-selling examples as well as some more obscure but equally representative examples. The Skatalites, the remarkable house band of varying line-ups, are well represented including some instrumental tracks released either under their own name or others such as Baba Brooks and his Recording Band. The tracks are fully documented, and compiled by Laurence Cane-Honeysett. As some of the recordings are scarce, a few are a bit hissy and scratchy but overall the sound is pretty good
(review filed 8 January 2005)
Tighten Up - Trojan Reggae Classics 1968-1974 (79.39/73.42)*** P 1968-1974, P 2002
Trojan's Tighten Up series of albums did a lot to popularize reggae in the 1960s. Each collected up a batch of recent Jamaican hits, some quite poppy and mainstream, others more sound system oriented, and made them available at the very reasonable price of 14/6d. Some of them clambered up the British charts, introducing the Top Of The Pops audience to Desmond Dekker, and to the Upsetters' Return To Django, a Top Five hit which funded Lee Perry's subsequent studio work as a producer and performer. Original material is mixed with covers such as Kansas City, A Place In The Sun, For What It's Worth (as Watch This Sound), Bridge Over Troubled Water, Al Green's Here I Am and the Staple Singer's If You're Ready (Come Go With Me).
There is no bad track on this collection, taken from Volumes One to Six, though the relaxed Jamaican archiving policy has meant that several of the tracks have been mastered from imperfect vinyl sources
(review filed 9 January 2005)
Trojan Jamaican R&B Box Set (49.42/42.00/45.57)** P 1960-1962, P 2002
If you have an interest in Jamaican musical forms such as ska, blue beat and reggae, you are bound to be intrigued by this collection of its antecedents. In the 1950s, Jamaican popular entertainment was largely driven by the mobile sound systems which pumped out American R&B records, discovered from the American radio stations that were picked up in Jamaica, notably those from Louisiana, to a dance-hungry public. Examples of the sort of records played can be found on Stateside's Original Jamaican Sound System and But Officer! compilations.
By 1958, American tastes were changing and it was harder to find the sorts of releases that the Jamaican audiences required. The response was to herd up some local musicians in a studio and produce some recordings for exclusive sound system play, as at this time few Jamaicans owned record players. Duke Reid was probably the first to do this, quickly rivalled by Sir Coxsone Dodd, Prince Buster, DE Dunkley, Simeon Smith and others, who mostly drew from the same pool of top-notch musicians, many of them veterans of the dance and jazz bands of the forties and fifties, eventually fronted by a new breed of vocalists: Laurel Aitken, Derrick Morgan, Owen Gray, Prince Buster.
Perhaps surprisingly, it seems that from the start the material they performed was home grown, though some of the songs bear close resemblances to existing songs such as Flip Flop And Fly and Let The Good Times Roll. Compiler Laurence Cane-Honeysett has rounded up a representative selection, many of which appear on CD for the first time. As Mike Atherton says in his extensive and valuable sleeve notes, "some are seeing their first-ever re-issue 40 years after they were recorded, and a few weren't released in Britain at all."
These exemplary recordings clearly show how ska came into being by 1962, in the first flush of Jamaican independence, and more importantly make a great listen in their own right
(review filed 13 September 2004)
Take A Girl Like You (69.22)* P 1951-2000, P 2001
Kingsley Amis' book Take A Girl Like You was adapted by Andrew Davies for a 4-part BBC series which aired from 26 November 2000. Apart from two pieces written by Rupert Gregson-Williams for the series the soundtrack is contemporary with the early 1960s, the period inhabited by its protagonist Jenny Bunn. The hip jazz of Dave Brubeck and Mose Allison is contrasted with the balladry of Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole, and the bluesy soul of Nina Simone and Dinah Washington
(review filed 24 August 2004)
Riot On Sunset Strip (55.59)* R 1965-1966, P 1993
The film Riot On Sunset Strip was a quickie cash-in on the Los Angeles teenage rampages of 1966, produced by Sam Katzman, who made Rock Around The Clock. The film included some footage of the Chocolate Watch Band and the Standells playing in the Pandara's Box nightclub (actually miming in a studio reconstruction to recordings purpose-made on the Paramount soundstage) which over time gave the film a cult status. Naturally a cheapo mono soundtrack LP on Tower Records came out promptly, featuring both bands (a third band, The Enemies, were excluded as they were contracted to MGM). The Standells perform the stand out title track and a song called Get Away From Here (minus its drum track here, due to a mastering error by the soundstage engineers), while the Chocolate Watch Band contribute Don't Need Your Lovin' from their live set (a re-write of Milk Cow Blues) and a hastily improvised Sitting There Standing, which tautological title disguises a close steal from Jeff Beck's The Nazz Are Blue - both great tracks, but available elsewhere in stereo mixes.
The rest of the original album was filler put together by Mike Curb and has nothing to do with the released film (apart from the song by Debra Travis which was quickly excised from the film after previews), including The Sunset Theme, despite its title, and one should note that these Mugwumps have nothing to do with Mama Cass's band of the same name.
Of more interest are the 11 previously unissued Standells outtakes. The earliest of these is It's All In Your Mind, recorded at Gold Star in 1965 before they signed to Tower, and one of six here that are in stereo. Their version of Batman, from the Dirty Water sessions, shows that they had other sides apart from the garage punk for which they are famous. Our Candidate was given to them by its writer, Smitty Smith of the Raiders. Similarly, School Girl was presented to the band by a visiting Graham Gouldman (the Mindbenders also recorded a version of the song). Try It has a different vocal to that of the familiar single, and Rari is the full unedited version of the flipside of Dirty Water
(review filed 9 July 2004)
Tamla Motown Connoisseurs (Vol. 2) (59.42)* R 1964-1985, P 2003
This 21-track collection of Motown floor-fillers is conceived and compiled by Richard Searling, presenter of Soul Sauce on Jazz FM, who explains in the extensive sleeve notes that it is intended 'to pay tribute to the true "underground" heritage of arguably the most important American soul label ever', and to this aim he has gathered up many rare and previously unreleased gems as well as some more well known pieces such as as Martha and the Vandellas' You've Been In Love Too Long and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's California Soul (actually Valerie Simpson depping for Tammi). From this collection it would seem that he favours the Northern Soul end of the Motown oeuvre.
As always one is amazed that so many top quality recordings have languished in a vault for so many decades and glad of the privilege to hear them now. There are some discrepancies between Richard Searling's annotations and the factual information listed beneath, which one can put down to his enthusiasm, though in the case of the Temptation's I Got Heaven Right Here On Earth, he seems to be correct as the listing that follows describes a completely different song (You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth). Stand out artists here include the Four Tops, the Velvelettes and the inimitable Brenda Holloway
(review filed 2 April 2004)
Northern Soul Connoisseurs (45.23)* R 1965-1975, P 2001
Although not strictly a Tamla Motown compilation, as 7 of the 17 tracks come from labels such as Chess, Mercury and other smaller labels, this collection comprises predominantly the Detroit groove that launched a whole new phenomenon in the North of England, a cult that led to the uncovering of many rare or previously unreleased gems that fitted the demanding criteria of the Northern Soul crowd. Many of these find their way onto this release, via the guiding hand of Richard Searling, including Motown tracks by Jimmy Ruffin, Frank Wilson (the classic Do I Love You), the Originals, and Diana Ross and the Supremes' version of Stormy, originally by the Classics IV.
Non-Motown artists featured include the undervalued Dee Dee Warwick (sister of Dionne), Terry Callier, Tony Clarke, Bobby Hebb and Jerry Butler, and the album concludes with the highly-infectious Don Covay hit It's Better To Have (And Don't Need)
(review filed 2 April 2004)
Mod Fave Raves (Vol. 1) (53.21)** P 1959-1967, P 2001/
Mod Fave Raves (Vol. 2) (55.09)** P 1963-1967, P 2001
It is a great testament to the skill of the musicians, singers, writers, arrangers and producers of forty years ago that these Detroit production line models of disposable pop should now be awarded classic status and be so much in demand. These two volumes, lovingly compiled for the English market, are each subtitled 20 Collectable Modernist Soul Classics and are the floor filling sounds that echoed and spinned inside the Mod clubs in the mid sixties, made by acts such as the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, the Contours, Eddie Holland, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, the Temptations, Chris Clark and many more. Northern Soul was something different, although there are overlaps. These are all highly contagious dance tracks, with clattery trebly beats, pumping bass rhythms and excited, passionate vocals, and some of the rarer items, such as Barbara McNair's You're Gonna Love My Baby, would have cost a small ransom to acquire. Incidentally, the version of Gladys Knight's classic Just Walk In My Shoes is the 2.46 mix found on the British mono version of the LP Everybody Needs Love in 1968, some twenty seconds longer than elsewhere. The compilations would make a good companion set for The Trojan Mod Reggae Box Set and any good original mod group anthology that contains the Who, the Small Faces, the Birds, the Kinks, Creation and others of their ilk.
All 40 tracks are in club speaker friendly mono
(review filed 16 February 2004)
Motown Meets The Beatles (58.31)** P 1964-1976, P 2001
Cunningly recycling a batch of album tracks by some of Motown's most prominent artists, recorded over a period of dozen years, the compilers have come up with another winner with this clutch of Beatles songs, which plays through with surprising cohesiveness. The Beatles loved Motown, and here they return the favour.
Stevie Wonder's We Can Work It Out is probably the stand-out listen, with an exuberance that made it a natural choice for a single in 1971, and one can also detect his influence in then-partner Syreeta's definitive cover version of the usually over-treacled She's Leaving Home. The Temptations' Hey Jude, from Puzzle People, comes with a suitably distinctive Norman Whitfield production, and Marvin Gaye's Yesterday is also a highlight. The Four Tops are called upon to deliver cabaret versions of three Paul McCartney ballads though none have the classic hallmark Levi Stubbs touch, although Eleanor Rigby comes closest.
Both the original Supremes tracks come from a 1964 curio entitled A Little Bit Of Liverpool and ought to be great. They have lots of gusto and fire, and are great fun, but the sound is muddy and the production sounds hurried, leaving a sense of what might have been with a little more trouble and care. Diana Ross appears again on Let It Be's The Long And Winding Road. Come Together comes from the 1970 incarnation of the Supremes led by Jean Terrell and is an excellent Frank Wilson production.
George Harrison's Something is well handled by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (from Natural Resources) and Gladys Knight and the Pips' version of Let It Be is another stand-out, equaling Aretha's version of Paul McCartney's tribute to his mother Mary. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' And I Love Her is rescued from the rather overlooked album What Love Has Joined Together. It sounds just how you imagine.
The final three tracks are from the post-Beatle period. Diana Ross does a syrupy version of John Lennon's Imagine; Jr Walker blows a fine horn on Wings' My Love from 1976; and Edwin Starr gets gospelly on the rousing George Harrison classic My Sweet Lord, ending the album on an uplifting note
(review filed 3 January 2005)
Tamla Motown Big Hits & Hard To Find Classics (Vol. 4)(56.37)* R 1961-1969, P 2002
Spectrum have shown some enterprise with the Motown catalogue, and this series must have hit a winning formula to have reached Volume 4. The Big Hits make the releases sufficiently commercial to allow the inclusion of the Hard To Find Classics, which obviously appeal more to the collector.
This is the first of the series to have been compiled in the UK. Paul Nixon has been generous with the rarities, mostly unavailable or long deleted on CD prior to this collection, and has added valuable liner information. The Northern Soul fraternity has shown a preference for a certain kind of Motown sound and there are several prime examples here although its scope is thankfully wider.
Well known names include Marvin Gaye, whose cover of Motown-legend Frank Wilson lay in the vaults until 1979, and the Marvelettes, with an album track from 1969, but it is the more unsung heroes that flourish here. Barbara McNair, a former Playboy model and actress, smoulders wonderfully through Steal Away Tonight. The Elgins contribute It's Been A Long Long Time, a single that sounds so Motown-esque its origins as a Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne standard from the 1940s are completely buried. Eddie Holland (from Holland-Dozier-Holland) added a new vocal to a song assigned to Barrett Strong before he left the label, and had a Top Ten Billboard R&B hit with Jamie in 1961. A B-side by the forgotten ensemble Rick Robin And Him turns out to be a male/female duet, but as the writer is Richard Witte, I wonder if it is he who is Rick, and the track is actually by Rick, Robin and Him (whomsoever Him is). Barbara Randolph's classic I Got A Feeling gets a repeat airing (it was also on Volume 1) and the great Chris Clark closes the collection in fine style with a superb track from her first album, which makes one want the whole LP, Soul Sounds - and that's what these compilations are all about
(review filed 11 December 2003)
Motown Salutes Bacharach (62.56)* P 1966-1975, P 2002
Motown always had an eye on the lucrative cabaret market and most of their top acts recorded a few lushly-scored standards amongst the more teen dance-oriented fare. For this collection of previously-available material, Universal has swept through the Motown back-catalogue and come up with 18 Burt Bacharach/Hal David compositions.
The album kicks off with Gladys Knight's version of The Look Of Love, first recorded by Dionne Warwick, as with so many Bacharach songs, but best known by Dusty Springfield from the film Casino Royale. It ends with Stephanie Mills' 1975 funky revival of This Empty Place. Most of the selections are readily available, but a few are not in print elsewhere, such as the Marvelettes' great rendition of Message To Michael.
In most other cases, the songs are the stars, rather than the artists, and one can only marvel again at the talents of the songwriters.
Stevie Wonder's instrumental versions of Alfie and A House Is Not A Home are rather schmaltzy, but the least effective recording on this album is Do You Know The Way To San José, culled from a live TV special. It takes the combined forces of the Supremes and the Temptations to provide a snatch of the song which fizzles out after barely one minute.
This is Motown in a tux, not at its best but a fascinating stroll down its side roads.
(review filed 6 December 2004)
SoulSatisfaction 02 - The Motown Connection (70.11)** P 1962-1973, P 2001
The Soul Satisfaction series has been put together by club soul DJ from These Old Shoes, Jo Wallace, and, after the first multi-label compilation, has settled on the Motown group of labels for scrutiny, each providing a smorgasbord of often overlooked but always previously available tracks from the first decade or so of the label's history, presented in broadly chronological order.
On SoulSatisfaction 02 Motown is shown to progress from the early R&B of the Marvelettes and Carolyn Crawford, through the classic mid-to-late sixties heyday era of Martha and the Vandellas, the Miracles, Stevie Wonder and the Four Tops and onward to the more AOR sounds of the seventies with Edwin Starr, Eddie Kendricks and Marvin Gaye. This foot-tapping history lesson takes place over a generous 24 tracks and there is a liberal sprinkling of tracks not otherwise currently available on CD, or only to be found on expensive box sets. The Marvelettes' Goddess Of Love, for example, comes from their unavailable 1962 album Playboy, Carolyn Crawford's 1963 single, the (Detroit) Spinners 1967 B-side and several of the others are otherwise only found on the pricey Complete Motown Singles box sets.
A couple of tracks were recorded outside Motown for labels that were later bought up by Berry Gordy. Junior Walker's Good Rockin' was a single on Harvey Fuqua's Harvey label in 1963, and both sides of a single the Fantastic Four made for Ric-Tic in 1967 are included.
Earl Van Dyke and the Soul Brothers is a rare release for the legendary studio house band generally known as the Funk Brothers, and is a glorious instrumental stomp through Marvin Gaye's How Sweet It Is with James Jamerson on flat-stringed bass. Martha and the Vandellas' My Baby Loves Me (on which the Andantes stand in for the Vandellas and are augmented by the Four Tops) was a non-album hit single. Jimmy Ruffin's version of Everybody Needs Love came out on a B-side in 1968 after it had been a hit for Gladys Knight but had been in the can since 1965, though he had first recorded it before anyone else in 1964. Gladys Knight and the Pips are featured on two album tracks that may not be familiar to everyone, released in 1967 and 1973 (though the second could have been recorded far earlier).
This is a discerning collection that will appeal at least in part to all sectors of the Motown audience and introduces to CD a number of forgotten classics.
(review filed 6 January 2008)
A Cellarful Of Motown! (Vol. 2)(59.41/61.41)**** R 1962-1967, P 2005
When A Cellarful Of Motown appeared in 2002 the general consensus was that it was astonishing that so many tracks of such amazing quality could have remained languishing unheard in an archive, lost and undocumented for so many years. Even the compilers registered their surprise and doubted there would be enough fresh discoveries to warrant a sequel of previously unreleased material.
Motown was on a phenomenal roll throughout the sixties, with the Hitsville studio in Detroit augmented by a second studio in the Davison area, and further recording and talent spotting operations setting up in New York, Chicago and especially in Los Angeles, where the company eventually relocated. Hitsville seemed to operate around the clock, like a factory, with songs being tried out with various groups and singers in a highly competitive and creative ferment, and an extremely high discard rate.
A few tracks into Volume 2, three years later, having heard new classic cuts by Earl Van Dyke, Eddie Holland and Gladys Knight, any fears that quality control may have been lowered to fill another double-CD collection were blown away. How could any of these have been deemed unworthy of release at the time? Sometimes a recording remained in the can because the song was released by another artist (often using the same backing track), but often both song and recording were consigned to oblivion.
Here, for example is The Boy From Crosstown in its original 1965 version by the Marvelettes, featuring Gladys Horton. A re-recording appeared the following year on an obscure compilation called Year By Year, and the song turned up on Gladys Knight and the Pips' 1968 album Feelin' Bluesy, but was never the single it deserved to be despite two other attempts featuring the Velvelettes, also unreleased at the time. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' Hoping The Pause Is Helping The Cause could only have improved the Special Occasion album had it been included, and there are six other masterful Smokey songs, five of which have not been heard before, one co-written with his wife Claudette, her only known Jobete composer credit.
Chris Clark recently benefitted from a 2CD Anthology with a whole second disc of previously unheard recordings, yet another choice gem not included there, Sweet Lovin', surfaces on this collection. The same could be said of After The Rain by Kim Weston, and the closer Crying Time by Brenda Holloway.
There are new finds by artists legendary for not getting released as they deserved at the time - Carolyn Crawford, Patrice Holloway, Hattie Littles and Debbie Dean are just a few who appear once each here and just whet the appetite for more. Some go beyond obscure - the Beatle-influenced Dalton Boys song is a B-side that was replaced by a different track at the last moment, and so was unreleased, but here is an alternative version to that. There are too many highlights to cite individually, but it was intriguing to hear a Monitors recording (Words) with a female lead, presumably Sandra Fagin. There are some towering vocals from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas from 1967 and 1969, and a fresh version by Blinky of Rescue Me produced by Raynard Miner, who co-wrote and produced the Fontella Bass smash original. This was in stereo, as were seven others including a great Marvelettes track that was almost the follow-up to The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.
I now have every confidence that Volume 3 will contain further revelations.
(review filed 31 March 2006)
A Cellarful Of Motown! (Vol. 3)(60.58/64.36)*** R 1963-1984, P 2007
I recently heard Mark Lamarr (on his mind-blowing Alternative Sixties show) play four tracks in a row from this newest edition of A Cellarful Of Motown! and then comment that he thought there had been a massive drop in quality since the first two volumes. Just in case the compiler Paul Nixon was listening and felt disheartened enough to want to throw in the towel on the fourth volume he was preparing, I must hasten to disagree.
When A Cellarful Of Motown! first appeared in 2002 the general consensus was that it was astonishing that so many tracks of such amazing quality could have remained in the vaults for so many years. In the intervening years a great deal of archive Motown material has been unearthed and released for the first time, and the huge scale of what gems still await to be discovered has become apparent. Therefore, having raised the bar with the newly rescued releases so far, there is now a higher expectation that each fresh discovery will be of unsurpassable genius.
Amazingly, quite a few get fairly close to that. I spent another couple of hours replaying the set today, afraid that I had been listening through rose-tinted headphones, and only found I enjoyed all the tracks more than before, as they became more familiar.
A real effort has been made to cater for all kinds of Motown fans, be it particular producers and writers, Northern Soul, re-interpretations of Motown standards or girl group sounds, and although a preference for the period 1965-1966 is conceded, there are recordings from as early 1963 and as late as 1970, plus a one-off from 1984, the latter being a return to the label by the Four Tops, enjoying a pastiche of their sixties style as recreated by Deke Richards. The earliest track is by Marvin Gaye, recorded shortly before he cracked the charts with Pride And Joy and clear evidence of his vocal dexterity. Other big names get a look-in (The Temptations, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder), but it is those who were on lower rungs of the ladder and didn't get the promotional push that are most celebrated here: the fabulous Marvelettes (three wonderful tracks), Brenda Holloway, the Contours, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Spinners, Chris Clark, Carolyn Crawford, Shorty Long and many others. How frustrating it must have been to have put their all into a performance on a song they believed in, only to have the results stashed away unheard on a tape shelf.
I should mention the very helpful booklet annotations which give all available details about recording dates and assignments to other artists of the same song or band track as well as personal comments from the compiler.
Everyone will find their own personal favourites on here. For Mark Lamarr it was the Contours, the Originals, Dennis Edwards and Yvonne Fair. For me it is Brenda Holloway, Junior Walker, Stevie Wonder and the Marvelettes. At least it is today; but next time I play the set, qualities hidden deep in the grooves of perhaps the Carolyn Crawford or Ivy Jo Hunter tunes may hold sway. They are all new to my ears, and that is their joy. More power to Cellarfuls of Motown!
(review filed 1 February 2008)
This Is Northern Soul! The Motown Sound Volume 1 (66.51/66.01)*** R 1962-1967, P 2005
This attractively priced 2CD replaces two separately issued CDs that appeared on the Débutante label in 1997 and 1998. The title of this reissue is slightly confusing as the original releases were called This Is Northern Soul Volumes One and Two.
They were much heralded at the time as several of the items had never been officially released before, but were well known from the clubs, where scratchy acetates and treasured bootlegs had been played to Northern Soul fans. While the sound quality was obviously better on the CD releases, and the general availability much welcomed, some of the tracks had clearly been transferred from vinyl pressings and some of them were in reprocessed fake stereo.
For this reissue on the Motown label, through the Universal Music Group, only the original Detroit analogue masters have been used for the digital remastering. Reprocessed stereo has been quite rightly eliminated and there is thankfully no vinyl surface noise, representing a significant improvement for most of the tracks. The Temptations' previously unreleased Forever In My Heart was included in the speeded-up master used in the clubs before and is now restored to the proper speed, as found on their Lost And Found CD, and The Andantes' (Like A) Nightmare, which had surfaced briefly as a V.I.P. single in 1964, is ten second longer than before (but check out the extended stereo remix on The Motown Box). Carolyn Crawford's lovely single, written and produced by Smokey Robinson, also gains a couple of seconds and is now cleaner sounding. Frank Wilson's Do I Love You (Indeed Do) was in a great alternative stereo mix with a slightly different vocal to the familiar single, and remains so on this.
Mostly, however, the remastering and cleaning up has left the tracks slightly shorter than before. Brenda Holloway's previously unreleased Lonely Boy had been allowed to run until only the funky bass line was left in the mix - now it fades a full ten seconds earlier. Her other two tracks Think It Over and When I'm Gone both still appear in mono mixes in preference to the stereo versions on the subsequently released Motown Anthology set; this is also the case with the three Kim Weston tracks.
Conversely, the Velvelettes' Lonely Lonely Girl Am I and Bird In The Hand are in stereo mixes that do not appear on their Motown Anthology double CD. The Detroit Spinners' What More Could A Boy Ask For now clocks in at 2.29 whereas before it was 3.08. The Isley Brothers' Tell Me It's Just A Rumour Baby, recorded in 1966, is now a mono mix lasting 3.08 whereas before it was in stereo and of 2.50 duration.
The Marvelettes' classic I'll Keep Holding On, with a lead vocal from the great Wanda Rogers, is also the well-known original mono mix, though a stereo version turned up on The Millennium Collection. The Gladys Knight track No One Could Love You More dates from 1967-68, but was extracted from her 1971 album Standing Ovation for a UK B-side a couple of years later. Incidentally, the version of Just Walk In My Shoes is the 2.46 mix found on the British mono version of the LP Everybody Needs Love in 1968, some twenty seconds longer than elsewhere. She can sing just about anybody under the table and all her three tracks are wonderful. Junior Walker's I Ain't Going Nowhere was another popular UK B-side. The oldest recording in the collection is Linda Griner's Goodbye Cruel Love, recorded in June 1962 and a single for Motown in 1963.
Virgil Henry's You Ain't Sayin' Nothing New may be the most recent, but is a bit of an oddity, having been originally released for Jerry Ross's Colossus label as a flipside (Colossus 115), and the same single coupling appeared on Tamla 54212F in 1971, possibly remixed, while Jerry Ross was briefly Berry Gordy's New York A&R man. The mastertape was in less than perfect condition on the 1997 release and is not improved here. Some collectors believe it to have been recorded in New York with local musicians as early as 1966 and this is the publication date given here, though it sounds more recent.
As always, the music is of the highest order and fully recommended, and only the more avid collector, of which there are many, will be concerned with the specifics detailed above, which are not annotated in the sleeve notes.
(review filed 8 March 2006; revised 23 August 2007)
The Motown Box (58.11/61.00/60.01/34.16)*** R 1960-1967, P 2005
I have despaired for years at the proliferation of mono Motown CD re-issues when these days even the humblest CD/radio player has two built-in speakers and a stereo jack. Therefore I am delighted to see that this 72-track collection is one hundred per cent stereo. Furthermore, thirty of the tracks are brand new stereo mixes, a labour of love for Tom Moulton, who has really brought out the best in these songs and the Funk Brothers' unparalleled playing while retaining the feel of the mono originals. I especially relished those in previously unheard full-length mixes. Several of the previously released titles are still relatively hard to find, though of course this still leaves the set more attractive to newcomers to Motown, as long-term fans are likely to have most of the other 42 titles, even if not in such good sound and in stereo like these.
For me the most revelatory moment came with the full-length mix of The Tracks Of My Tears. You just haven't heard the song properly until you've heard this 3:58 version. It is quite extraordinary that after the massive success of the single, Motown left the full, glorious version in the vaults for 40 years, when they could have put it on the Going To A Go Go album or subsequent compilations.
In some cases these are the first time the well-known single versions of songs have been mixed into stereo, as previously available album versions may have had different vocals, overdubs or edits. Jimmy Mack, for example, first appeared at the end of 1966 on the stereo album Watch Out!, two and a half years after it was recorded, but was given a complete makeover before it became a hit single in 1967. The single version now appears in stereo for the first time and with an extra climactic 20 seconds or so before it fades.
Unusually, since it was recorded as early as August 1961, there was a stereo version of Please Mr Postman available, but it was a different take with some lyric changes that differ from the single (as famously covered by the Beatles). Again, this is the proper single, but allowed to run on for a further 35 seconds. That has to be a good thing. It was great also to hear My Girl sidling up to My Guy, both in new full-length versions, and, perhaps controversially, My Girl now has a distortion-free bass line at the start.
The first three discs are in a broadly chronological order and are generally programmed in a satisfying way. The set begins with Shop Around, recorded in 1960 and great to hear in stereo, and ends with the more experimental Reflections, completed in May 1967. I enjoyed hearing the two versions of Grapevine side by side on disc three, by which time I had consistently been surprised and thrilled to experience afresh and anew so many familiar tunes.
The fourth disc of "B-Sides And Rare Stuff" was a disappointment only because at 34 minutes it was far too short, and because Love's Gone Bad, a great favourite of mine, is neither a B-side or rare, and appears unchanged. Good to hear Flo Ballard singing lead on Let Me Go The Right Way, from Meet The Supremes (surely due for a CD release?), and a rare Gladys Knight B-side. As the set almost exclusively features the better known names, I was pleased to hear a track by the Andantes. They were mostly used as additional session singers and appear uncredited on kerzillions of Motown releases but are rarely heard under their own name.
Everyone will have their own choices of personal favourites that should have been included but few could argue with the worth of those that actually made the tracklist, and finally an enterprise such as this which helps revitalize a priceless catalogue can only be encouraged.
(review filed 4 November 2005)
The Complete Motown Singles (Vol. 5)(79.05/71.29/77.12/77.55/75.44/74.32)**** R 1962-1965, P 2006
The Complete Motown Singles is a highly ambitious series of box sets that aims to archive each and every single released on Berry Gordy's group of labels. From its humble origins in 1959, unlike other label-themed box sets such as the Stax-Volt collection, it does not limit itself to mostly A-sides, but includes all B-sides too. In fact, it goes the extra mile by also including every promo mixes and variant pressing. There are also some singles that didn't get released, and some novelty discs of interviews and so forth. Volume 1 covered the years from 1959 to 1961, but from 1962 through the rest of the sixties each set covers a single year, using varying number of discs that increased as the labels became more prolific.
I could have chosen any of the Volumes for review, but from a British perspective, 1965 is the year to go for because it was when the Tamla Motown label was launched here via EMI. There had been hits the year before for the Supremes, Mary Wells and Martha and the Vandellas, all on the Stateside label, but no context for them beyond the fact that they came from the other side of the Atlantic, no sense that they were connected. Tamla Motown's appearance meant that far more of the American releases got an airing here and for the first time it had its own identity. It was in March 1965 also that the Motown Revue came to England to tour and recorded an hour-long TV special for Ready Steady Go! For many people this was their first exposure to a new phenomenon. 1965 became the year that Motown both entered the mainstream in the US, battling racial barriers along the way, and went global.
In its infancy, Motown had not yet found its hallmark sound and mingling among the earthy R&B it did so well could be found country, jazz, balladeers, novelty pop and all-sorts, now best forgotten. Although by 1965 it had very much found its stride, it is surprising to discover that it was still releasing singles in all these genres and more: folk-rock, rockabilly, British invasion style pop, even a French ballad singer called Richard Anthony, who I remember but had no idea was linked to Motown. These were usually on smaller subsidiary labels, and very much cut into the flow of these CDs, especially since they are, by and large, terrible. I'm glad they are there, they are after all a part of the story, but am thankful for Program Play. Most of the rest, however, is classic Motown in its heyday, with a notable shortage of clunkers.
Motown was an in-house operation, based on the model of Detroit's car industry, with its own artist roster, writers, arrangers, producers and engineers, and with most personnel having more than one role. Smokey Robinson for example was not only Berry Gordy's right hand man, he was also lead singer for the Miracles, songwriter and producer for a number of Motown acts.
Motown also had its own publishing (Jobete), its own studio and, most importantly, its legendary house band. At the time their identities were jealously guarded but we now know that by 1965 their core members included bandleader and keyboard player Earl Van Dyke; guitarists Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina; Jack Ashford on vibes; the matchless James Jamerson on bass; and powerhouses Benny Benjamin, Pistol Allen or Uriel Jones on drums. In addition were loads of brass players and members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Between them they ran up thousands and thousands of studio hours at the magic snakepit in Hitsville Studio A, creating the phenomenal grooves that splatter this box set with unearthly goodness, and 1965 was a time when it was all working at its best.
The sixties was primarily a singles market, and major artists released far more singles in a year than is now the case. Consequently, if we bunch together all the tracks by, say, the Supremes, who were at their hottest, you get well over an album's worth of songs, and the same is true of the Four Tops, also mainly produced by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, who were at the top of their game.
There are also numerous classic sides by established names like the Temptations, the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder and the Contours; and a few equally strong sides from aspiring and upcoming acts such as Junior Walker and the All Stars, Kim Weston, the Marvelettes and the Velvelettes.
Amongst those making their first appearance on the label in 1965 are Barbara McNair, an actress with a slightly jazzier singing style, who became Playboy's first black centre-fold in 1968; and Tammi Terrell, who was destined to shine brightly with Marvin Gaye before coming to a tragically premature end.
Berry Gordy was extending his reach into other parts of the states and developing artists and facilities in Los Angeles, and recording the local talent either in Detroit or at studios in Los Angeles, using the Wrecking Crew (the same team who can be found on Beach Boys records and Phil Spector productions), and so we find Frank Wilson, whose withdrawn single Do I Love You (Yes I Do) became the most sought after and valuable piece of Motown vinyl, the Vows, the Lewis Sisters and the underrated Brenda Holloway, whose singles When I'm Gone, Operator and You Can Cry On My Shoulder, all came out in 1965. She lived there and recorded mostly with Los Angeles based producers Hal Davis and Marc Gordon. The Supremes also added vocals to existing band tracks there while in the area. Jimmy Webb began his association with Motown at this time, submitting his songs to Jobete and having a couple recorded in Los Angeles for a single by Danny Day. California native Chris Clark, a six-foot blue-eyed platinum blonde likened to Dusty Springfield, also sprang up from the city. A few years later, of course, Berry Gordy was to move the whole operation to the city of angels, with mixed results to say the least.
One of the most interesting rarities on the set is the Supremes' track Things Are Changing, originally a promo for the Advertising Council's Public Service Announcement for Equal Employment Opportunities Campaign, promoting racial and ethnic equality in the workplace, and produced by Phil Spector. Motown had aped the Spector sound in the past, but this seems to be the closest involvement with the man himself. Two other versions of the song, one by the Blossoms and one by Jay and the Americans, using the same backing, were also released for the campaign at the same time.
This box set tells a story that "greatest hits" and "best of..." collections simply cannot, and the detailed booklet notes and illustrations amply demonstrate what a mighty phenomenon Motown was around the world at that time.
(review filed 1 February 2010)
Sing A Song For You - Tribute To Tim Buckley (42.04/44.39)* R 1999-2000, P 2001
That Tim Buckley should have so gained in stature and become become a musical influence on a new generation of singers and musicians 25 years after his tragic death is a marvellous thing. He was a remarkable singer, songwriter and musician and if this album directs a new audience to his works it will have served an admirable purpose.
The songs are drawn from the albums Happy Sad (5 tracks), Goodbye And Hello (4), Blue Afternoon (4), Starsailor (2), Greetings From L.A. (1) and Sefronia (1).
It is clear from the notes in the accompanying booklet that all the artists quoted here are keen to acknowledge a debt to a great inspiration and one applauds the motivation behind this collection of songs. All tracks seem to have been especially made for this collection.
Not all artists who cite his name are equal to the challenge. Starsailor, who named themselves after one of his more experimental albums, for example, are absent from this set, perhaps because there is little evidence from their music that much has rubbed off. It is also noticeable that the more successful outings here are those that move furthest away from the original and try to make the song their own, rather than attempting to emulate the original and inevitably failing. Not wishing to further point fingers I will mention that some of the strongest tracks are by Shelleyan Orphan (who seem to have reformed especially for the project, and can we have more?), Moose, Cousteau, Dot Allison, who gives a psychedelic makeover to one of his funkier numbers, Geneva (their nine minute stretch through Pleasant Street deserves a special mention) and Tram, abetted by John Parish on guitar. Simon Raymonde and Anneli Drecker give Fairport Convention a run for their money on their update of Morning Glory. The Czars gave themselves the toughest challenge by tackling one of Tim Buckley's most legendary songs, Song To The Siren, of which This Mortal Coil's 1983 version remains the greatest recording of all time. It would have helped them to have a decent transcription of Larry Beckett's lyric, one which made sense, as well.
Perhaps this release will stir some record company into preparing CD releases of Tim Buckley's Blue Afternoon and Starsailor albums?
(review filed 30 September 2004)
Don't Fight It - The Original Versions Of The Songs That Inspired Tom Jones (52.22)* P 1956-1972, P 2000
I have no taste for the vocal stylings of Tom Jones, so regarded this well-researched collection of his better-known antecedents as something of an antidote.
It would seem that Tom's record collection favours soul balladeers and country music, especially from the sixties. Brook Benton, Chuck Jackson, Ben E King and Clyde McPhatter are among acknowledged influences that are included here. Naturally, Jerry Lee Lewis' version of Green Green Grass Of Home is here, and the Tom Jones stage favourite, Tupelo Mississippi Flash, Jerry Reed's tribute to Elvis Presley.
Most of the Tom Jones versions were recorded between 1965 and 1973 but the final three tracks on this collection were covered on the 1999 album of duets Reload, including the forgotten gem A Lot Of Love by Homer Banks. The album's cheesiest moment occurs on David Houston and Tammy Wynette's My Elusive Dreams
(review filed 3 March 2004)
John Lennon's Jukebox (55.20/52.33)*** R 1956-1973, P 2004
When John Lennon fled the marital nest in 1968 to fulfill his destiny with Yoko Ono, he left behind many of his possessions (imagine...). One of these was his Swiss KB Discomatic portable jukebox, lovingly stocked over time by Lennon since he bought it in 1965 with 40 of his all-time favourite singles. It went into storage at his old home of Kenwood in Weybridge and was was subsequently bought in 1989 for just £2,500 by the late Bristol music promoter John Midwinter at Christie's Beatles memorabilia sale, and painstakingly restored.
Its recent rediscovery inspired this double CD of its contents, which ranged from Gene Vincent and Little Richard in 1956, through lots of US rock and roll and rhythm and blues, including 3 of Larry Williams' Specialty recordings and 5 by the Miracles, up to the Lovin' Spoonful, whose Daydream, the sole item from 1966, is the most recent selection.
As the final Beatles concert took place in August 1966 and he was no longer on the road, he had probably then found it unnecessary to re-stock the jukebox, hence the lack of other selections from 1966 to 1968, in contrast to a dozen from 1965, including Dylan's magnificent non-album single Positively Fourth Street.
It is a predominantly male collection, with only one female singer represented, namely Fontella Bass, whose splendid Rescue Me is on the first disc, and, surprisingly, as far as we can tell, no girl groups, despite the Beatles having covered the Cookies, the Shirelles, the Marvelettes and others in the first half of their career.
There are 41 jukebox selections, drawn from 35 singles (6 are B-sides). There is very little extra information on the disc, one side of the four-page booklet being devoted entirely to the perils of making illegal copies, so we aren't told what the other five singles were, although after some detective work I have found they included Booker T and the MGs' Boot-leg/Outrage (1965); Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On/A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues (1961); Richie Barrett's original Some Other Guy/Tricky Dicky (1962); and another Miracles single, Ain't It Baby/The Only One I Love (1961), where he seems to have favoured the flipside. He seems to have chosen singles with particularly strong B-sides, to derive maximum benefit from the limit of 40 records, and either side of any of the above would have been welcome inclusions.
The presence of 6 B-sides reminds us that the selection has been drawn from a possible 80, not 40 titles. Whilst a concentration on topsides is undoubtedly the correct path on the part of the compilers it is worth remarking that other notable B-sides qualifying for inclusion include Fontella Bass' magnificent The Soul Of The Man, Otis Redding's take on Down In The Valley, Tommy Tucker's I Don't Want 'Cha, Jimmy McCracklin's I'm To Blame, Larry Williams' High School Dance, Bob Dylan's From A Buick 6, The Lovin' Spoonful's instrumental Night Owl Blues, plus On The Road Again, The Animals' glorious For Miss Caulker and Donovan's defining Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness).
There is mention of the "fascinating tracklist" in "Lennon's own handwriting", but this is not included in the minimal artwork except in token extracts.
A CD collection inspired by music from a jukebox raises a number of questions regarding authenticity. Presumably we don't object to the absence of the snap, pop, crackle and hiss of the original vinyl. All the singles would have played in mono, too, but 14 of the tracks here are in luxurious stereo mixes. Should this be the case? In my view, yes, since it presents the recordings in their best light sonically. Should they be the same recordings of the songs that were on the jukebox? Indubitably, yes, they must be.
Unfortunately, there is a discrepancy between the liner information, which describe correctly the tracks that ought to be on the CD, and the tracks that actually are included, in at least three cases:
Slippin' And Slidin' by Buddy Holly is not the version to be found on the UK B-side found on Lennon's jukebox, which had backing posthumously overdubbed by the Fireballs, but is actually the unadorned New York apartment demo that was unreleased at the time and has never been on a single.
Some Other Guy is not the Big Three's Decca A-side from 1963 which John so admired and copied for the Beatles' Easy Beat session that same year. It is a much later stereo recording with a different line-up and a totally inferior arrangement, and entirely misrepresents his choice. It probably comes from the 1973 re-union album Resurrection. Particularly unfortunately, this is the only British selection apart from the Animals' Bring It On Home To Me and Donovan's Turquoise (in turn, the only British song).The Miracles' I've Been Good To You is not the 1961 A-side, but comes from their 1963 live album The Miracles On Stage. It was never on a single and so could not have been on his jukebox. Additionally, if we are nit-picking, Little Richard's Ooh! My Soul from 1958 is at least longer than the version on the British single (to be found on Ace's The Original British Hit Singles). This probably would have been the version that Lennon had, as the BBC Beatles version of the song, aired on Pop Go The Beatles in 1963, was even shorter.
These serious slips impair an otherwise illustrative and entertaining collection that show Lennon's exemplary musical influences and inspirations, especially as the compilers clearly know what they should be and have made out that they are what they are not. If tracks could not be licensed, could they not have made some alternative selections from the jukebox rather than substituting incorrect versions? It's well worth having, but ultimately, a unique opportunity has been somewhat fudged.
If the label are worried about illegal copies, perhaps they should be more concerned about the door left open for bootleggers to do a better job. However, despite these shortcomings we are still left with 38 excellent and influential selections from John Lennon's jukebox, which by association become a special part of our cultural recent history.
(review filed 16 May 2004)
Some Guys Have All The Luck - The Original Versions Of The Songs That Inspired Rod Stewart (59.55)* P 1958-1983, P 2000
Rod Stewart is no mean songwriter and wrote or, more usually, co-wrote some of his and the Faces' biggest hits including Stay With Me, You Wear It Well and Gasoline Alley, as well as album tracks such as Mandolin Wind. Often his songs told stories about everyday people, as with Cindy Incidentally, Pool Hall Richard and most famously Maggie May, a song he modestly buried originally on the flipside of Reason To Believe, but which went on to establish him as a major star.
However, he has always had an acutely commercial ear and the greater part of his hit singles, particularly as a solo artist, have been interpretations of earlier successes by other artists, perhaps stemming from his days in soul revues such as Steampacket and Shotgun Express, perhaps due to being insufficiently prolific. Some might argue that some of high chart placings were due more to the astute choice of songs with memorable melody lines than to his vocal performances.
Having just listened to the Rod Stewart/Faces 2CD collection Changing Faces, I can testify that his tendency to holler impassionedly on every upbeat track got to be quite exhausting, and rather surprising, given that the lesson so clearly learned from these superb originals is that less is so often more. Singers like Marvin Gaye, David Ruffin and Curtis Mayfield sing with such effortless-sounding class and mastery, the album becomes an object lesson in quality and taste, and ranges from deep soul, country, rock and roll, Motown, British and American folk-rock, R&B, blues and balladry to the simply unclassifiable, as in Tom Waits. Though the quality is consistently high, some are more obscure than others. Those who imagined that Some Guys Have All The Luck was originally by Robert Palmer, whose version was a couple of years older than Rod's, will be impressed by the original Persuaders recording found here, and many will not know Jerry Lee Lewis's drinking song, which stalled at no. 94 in the US charts in 1968. It is good to hear Danny Whitten on the original but little known version by Crazy Horse, and Bobby Bland is sadly no longer such a household name as once it was, so It's Not The Spotlight makes a welcome close to the album.
Where available stereo mixes have been used, and this is especially welcome in the cases of Maxine Brown and Howlin' Wolf, though Motown have let the side down by once again providing mono mixes of all four the tracks they have licensed here.
You don't need to be a Rod Stewart fan to enjoy this album, and arguably, it might help if you are not.
(review filed 13 April 2005)
Phil's Spectre - A Wall Of Soundalikes (65.05)**** P 1963-1967, P 2003
Phil Spector was a millionaire at the age of 23, after producing 15 hits in a row, including classics by the Ronettes and the Crystals. He had his own record label, Philles, and was the creator of his trademark Wall Of Sound, usually manufactured at the Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, with a crack team of musicians including the Wrecking Crew and a host of session singers. As an auteur producer, probably the first of the breed, he was the acknowledged master, and his success engendered a whole genre of other groups and performers from New York to Los Angeles, like the Chiffons and the Shangri-Las, whose producers tried to emulate the sound and the success of the young svengali.
This collection brilliantly demonstrates some of the most notable efforts, with "many tracks reissued legally for the first time", as it says on the back. Spector wasn't easy to work with and the number of former acolytes who left the fold and set up in competition to try to beat him at his own game is almost a genre in itself: Sonny and Cher, the Righteous Brothers, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, Carol Connors and the writers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich are all included here.
Rival companies such as Motown weren't above experimenting with the Spector sound in the early days, and there are two examples, one by the Supremes and one featuring the great Gladys Horton, moonlighting from the Marvelettes. For some, emulating Spector was a form of homage and tribute, as with Brian Wilson, whose own style developed from studying Phil Spector. His girl group productions were often pastiche, while the Beach Boys' Spectorish version of Why Do Fools Fall In Love? was probably inspired by Ronnie of the Ronettes' (later Ronnie Spector) love of the Frankie Lymon original. The Walker Brothers also owed a debt to Spector for the sound on their British hits, of which the first, Love Her, chosen here, was arranged by one of Spector's right hand men, Jack Nitzsche.
The Chiffons appear in their extra Spector-like guise as the Four Pennies on the chart-storming, if non-PC, Barry/Greenwich song When The Boy's Happy (The Girl's Happy Too), and there is a wonderful Wall Of Sound transformation of the Falcon's You're So Fine by Dorothy Berry, the wife of Richard Berry, who went on to become one of Ray Charles' Raelettes. One of the groups included even call themselves The Wall Of Sound, whilst another proclaims itself A Spectra Production. Every track has earned its place on this fascinating glimpse at some of the impact Spector had on the music scene between 1963 and 1967
(review filed 25 November 2003)
Phil's Spectre II - Another Wall Of Soundalikes (63.32)*** R 1963-1969, P 2005
The concept is fairly clear from the title of this, a sequel to the earlier Wall Of Soundalikes compilation put together by those benign record obsessives at Ace. Phil Spector was the creator of the trademark Wall Of Sound, and had a huge influence on his peers. Some tried to emulate his sound and success, often hiring the same studio (Gold Star in Hollywood) and engineer (Larry Levine or Stan Ross) that he used, and employing musicians who included members of his Wrecking Crew mafia; others adapted some of his techniques and many innovations to their own hallmark sounds. On this second collection several of the tracks also show how many singers tried to sound like Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, the Righteous Brothers, and did a pretty good job of it. Nite Owl, the Righteous Brothers track chosen here, predates their spell on the Philles label and shows that they were no strangers to Gold Star or to the Spector Wall Of Sound themselves. Particular highlights include I'm Nobody's Baby Now by Reperata and the Delrons (the single of which Reperata is most proud) and Ruby and the Romantics' Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore, in its reverberating UK single edit mix.
Some of Spector's sidemen are involved in these productions and songs, including Nino Tempo, Jeff Barry, Jerry Riopelle, Pete Andreoli, Vincent Poncia, Jack Nitzsche and Leon Russell. Surprisingly, though, there are no examples of the songwriting teams of Greenwich/Barry, Mann/Weil or Goffin and King. The collection includes some of the artists found on Phil's Spectre: the Righteous Brothers, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, the Beach Boys, Clydie King and Kane and Abel (an earlier version of the same song as found on the first volume), as well as a further couple of instances of Motown borrowing from the Spector box of tricks, this time involving Mary Wells and the Four Tops. Neither the Beach Boys or Mary Wells tracks were released at the time, though not for reasons concerning quality control. However, overall, it seems reasonable to suppose from this that their may never be a Phil's Spectre III, though Ace are welcome to prove me wrong. I wonder if they might transfer some of their energies to licensing and releasing some of the many Phil Spector productions, including whole albums, never made available on CD?
There are some tantalising moments. The producer of the Bonnets' track says they were named after their lead singer, Bonnie, without revealing whether this could be Bonnie O'Hara, who sang the Spector-linked Home Of The Brave by Bonnie and the Treasures. We know Jack Nitzsche's wife Gracia sang in the Satisfactions (so named because he played piano on the Stones' song) but not whether hers is the lead vocal. There seem to be no line-up details available for several of the groups included, which is unfortunate as some pieces of several puzzles might have been found in the process.
As one of the tracks is produced by Abner Spector it is worth pointing out that he and Lona Spector from Tuff Records etcetera, and who produced the Jaynetts' Sally Go Round The Roses, have no connection with Phil Spector. Their appearance on composer credits without a first name has fooled some collectors and critics.
All the tracks are monaural apart from those by the Righteous Brothers, the Beach Boys, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, the Four Tops and Joe South. Unlike a previous reviewer I can detect no stereophony in the Clydie King track, though, as with all the tracks, the sound is crystal clear; also, worryingly, some of the tracks seem to be a few seconds shorter than on previous, other label re-issues.
Recommended if you loved the first Phil's Spectre.
(review filed 27 December 2005)
Phil's Spectre III - A Third Wall Of Soundalikes (67.56)*** R 1963-1969, P 2007
So Ace's Wall Of Soundalikes series has made it to a third volume of Spectoralikes. Some of the more elusive titles that could not be tracked down or licensed for the previous sets have finally been nailed, and further examples from a seemingly bottomless well have been drawn, five of which were previously unreleased, at least in the exact form in which they appear. All are fulsomely annotated in the accompanying fat booklet. Familiar names from the extended Phil Spector family are again in evidence: Bill Medley, Jack Nitzsche, Ellie Greenwich, Bobby Sheen, Darlene Love, Sonny Bono; as well as a slew of new names some of whom had jumped onto the bandwagon in the hope of making a few bucks from their approximation of the Spector sound.
Among the most fascinating are Lesley Gore's Look Of Love, a single considerably more Spectorized than the original album version; Alder Ray sounding uncannily like Darlene Love on 'Cause I Love Him, with Darlene herself leading the chorus; the Girlfriends' My One And Only, Jimmy Boy, a rip-roaring explosion of a song, my favourite on the album and one I didn't previously know, the Girlfriends being members of the Blossoms and Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans; a rare acetate of the Satisfactions featuring Gracia Nitzsche on the oldie Yes Sir, That's My Baby, with Brian Wilson among the backing singers; a new mix of Judy Henske's 1966 cover of Shirley and Lee's Let The Good Times Roll; Bonnie (of Bonnie and the Treasures) with Close Your Eyes, her follow-up to Home Of The Brave, a classic yet to be anthologized in this series or on any other readily-available release; Martha and the Vandellas' fabulous if well known In My Lonely Room; Sonny and Cher's It's The Little Things, though virtually anything by the duo would have served; and Daniel A Stone's previously unreleased rendition of the Doc Pomus/Phil Spector song Young Boy Blues.
Elsewhere, however, there are occasional signs that the barrel may shortly begin to make sounds of scraping, and I would recommend turning to this only after having exhausted the first two Walls Of Soundalikes. Even though much of it is first rate, there is more competent blue-eyed soul and less inspired girl group sound than would be my preference. The notes mention that the compilers have in the main purposely eschewed versions of actual compositions by Phil Spector, and it seems that anything on his own labels, albeit not produced by the man, have also been avoided. It may be sensible to relax both of these rules if there is to be a Phil's Spectre IV.
(review filed 3 October 2007)