The star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents 50-60%, ** is 60-70%, *** is 70-80%, **** is 80-90% and ***** is 90-99.9% (we're talking Pet Sounds or Forever Changes here). The retail price, actual price paid, packaging etc. are not relevant to the rating
The Best Of Jimmy McGriff - Pullin' Out The Stops! (67.17)** P 1962-1971, P 1994
Jimmy McGriff pretty much set out his stall with his first Sue label single, Ray Charles' I've Got A Woman, played on the infamous Hammond B-3 in full-on groovy bluesy soul-jazz style. It was a top 20 hit in 1962, a top 5 R&B hit and the title track of his first album, which also included the full version of follow-up single All About My Girl, included here, and perhaps his best known number. This collection is on Blue Note but was originally recorded for Jell, Sue, Veep, Solid State, Blue Note and Capitol, up to 1971; seven singles and 10 album tracks, all steeped in funk and fervour. Three of the tracks have audience noise and clapping but sound as if they may have originated as studio recordings as the music fades under the applause.
From a musical Philadelphia family (Harold Melvin was a cousin), Jimmy McGriff grew up with gospel but was inspired to learn Hammond organ after seeing Richard "Groove" Holmes, who later became a tutor, as were Jimmy Smith and others. After leaving Sue, he worked with producer Sonny Lester for all the other tracks collected here. The album includes the popular Kiko, which sounds like a re-write of I've Got A Woman, and although he explored electric jazz-funk for a while in the seventies he never strayed far from what he called blues organ music, which is what he played the best
(review filed 11 February 2004)
Back To The Front (55.44)*** P 2003
When Captain Beefheart hung up his microphone in 1982 and retired to an artist's easel in the desert, it was to some the day the music died, felt just as powerfully as when Buddy Holly or Elvis or John Lennon had left the building. Although Beefheart was the acknowledged driving creative force behind his musicians, the Magic Band, having been made to unlearn what they already knew and to jump through hoops of fire and walk across hot coals in the pursuit of his musical vision, each successive line-up had attained an appropriately magical level in their playing. Without their helmsman, the band inevitably dissolved and some of its members were entirely lost to music.
Fast forward twenty years and some key players have come "back to the front" as a kind of tribute band, and who better to keep his phenomenal catalogue alive than the musicians he worked with to create it in the first place? It seems that this reformation of the Magic Band was primarily intended to bring Captain Beefheart's repertoire to life on stage in live performance, an ambition highly to be applauded, and indeed this album is described in Matt Groening's notes as "live-to-tape rehearsals". It was made in Palmdale CA in February 2003 in preparation for their live shows, and made available on CD by the label All Tomorrow's Parties Recordings, a wing of the festival organizers at whose event in Camber Sands, England the Magic Band appeared two months later, led by John "Drumbo" French.
All the members of the re-formed Magic Band had recorded and toured with Captain Beeheart in versions of the Magic Band, but not at the same time. John French had joined the band as drummer in late 1966, having been the featured vocalist in a band called Blues In The Bottle, and left in 1971, though he was to continue to be involved with the band sporadically thereafter almost to its end. Mark Boston, aka Rockette Morton, first appeared on Trout Mask Replica and played on all the albums up to Unconditionally Guaranteed. He and John French also played together in the mid-seventies ex-Magic Band spin-off band Mallard. Gary Lucas was a later recruit, both managing Beefheart and appearing on the eighties' albums. Denny Walley (aka Feelers Reebo) came into the fold in 1975 for the Zappa/Beefheart Bongo Fury tour and the unreleased Bat Chain Puller sessions.
Without Beefheart's powerful vocals it was John French's task to acquire the techniques to belt out the vocals without destroying his larynx. "I'm not trying to take anybody's place," he said at All Tomorrow's Parties, "but I'm his biggest fan." He also provides some weirdly blueswailing harmonica on top of his propulsive drumming. Furthermore, these are not stale, slavish recreations of past glories, but living breathing entities of classic material, performed with gusto, precision and abandon. My Human Gets Me Blues, Abba Zaba and Steal Softly Thru Snow have been divested of their lyrics, showing them in a new light alongside instrumentals Alice In Blunderland and Hair Pie. Other songs, like Moonlight On Vermont and The Floppy Boot Stomp, appear in newly revised arrangements. Most chapters of their career with the Captain are represented, with tunes from Safe As Milk, Strictly Personal, The Spotlight Kid, Clear Spot, Trout Mask, Lick My Decals Off Baby and Bat Chain Puller/Shiny Beast bursting out of the speakers.
There is, of course, a ghost at the party, but one being celebrated and toasted, and if he gets to hear these "rehearsals" one imagines he will not be too displeased.
(review filed 12 June 2008)
Bachelor No. 2 Or The Last Remains Of The Dodo (53.52)*** P 1999
The best thing about the eighties band 'Til Tuesday, Aimee Mann has long been regarded as something of a best kept secret, an epithet not dispelled by the collapse of her first solo record label Imago after one 1993 album, and then, when the label that released her next album, I'm With Stupid (1995), Geffen, got taken over by the conglomerate Universal, who tried to force her new material in a more commercial direction, by her jumping ship.
Happily, although it took until 1999 before any new material surfaced, by launching her own label, Superego, Aimee Mann had the last laugh, buying back her album, taking creative control and achieving a far better royalty rate in the process.
The film Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, marked her return, featured nine original Aimee Mann songs, four of which resurface here, including her Oscar-nominated song Save Me (not in the US version). Not having the Magnolia soundtrack album I cannot tell you if all of these are all new recordings or whether there is some overlap, but the song Nothing Is Good Enough, an instrumental in Magnolia, has full lyrics on Bachelor No. 2.
Aimee Mann has had a number of Top Fifty singles in the UK, and has made a number of appearances on Later With Jools Holland, and is therefore known as a highly talented and incisive singer-songwriter, her sharp lyrical wit leavened by her sense of melody, and the creative freedom she clearly enjoys here resulted in her strongest album to date.
In some ways it was business as usual, as regular collaborators from the past, such as Julianna Hatfield, Glenn Tilbrook, Michael Hausman (from 'Til Tuesday), Jon Brion and Grant Lee Phillips appear on the record, and the song The Fall of the World's Own Optimist was written with Elvis Costello, with whom she had previously written The Other End of The Telescope for 'Til Tuesday, though the other musicians on the record, such as Michael Lockwood and John Sands, overall make a more valuable contribution. The acerbic Calling It Quits was also a single in the UK, and the British edition of this album includes the extra track Backfire
(review filed 28 October 2004)
Lost In Space (43.05)** P 2002
A mere three years after Bachelor No. 2, and again on her own SuperEgo label but without the celebrity guest names, this is a consummate collection of songs, fully realised by some very empathetic musicians, with the gorgeous tunes countered by the tellingly sweet and sour lyrics. Buffy watchers may recognise This Is How it Goes and the time-stopping Pavlov's Bell from the episode Sleeper
(review filed 8 November 2004)
The Very Best Of Manfred Mann (56.15)** P 1964-1966, P 1993
This budget 20-track collection first appeared on EMI's Music For Pleasure in 1993 and combines a generous selection of the band's many HMV hit singles with Paul Jones, with a sampling of six of the more typical jazz or rhythm and blues pieces that appeared on their first album in 1964, The Five Faces Of Manfred Mann presented in stereo, and four from the following year's Mann Made, perversely in mono.
5-4-3-2-1, famous as the theme tune for Ready Steady Go! and Hubble Bubble, their fourth single, both originals, are included, as are their two biggest number one hits, the Exciters' Do Wah Diddy Diddy, which also topped the American charts (unfortunately to the detriment of the Exciters' own version and subsequent career), and Pretty Flamingo.
I'm puzzled that they should have recorded Hi Lili Hi Lo, which Leslie Caron sang in the film Lili in 1953, and which the Alan Price Set also had out around the same time as a single. What is the song's appeal? They also try their hand at the Skyliner's Since I Don't Have You, a gorgeous doo wop tune not presented at its best.
They were always admired for their arrangements of then unfamiliar Bob Dylan material of which their excellent version of If You Gotta Go, Go Now was the first, and reached number two. Covers of Maxine Brown's Oh No Not My Baby and the Shirelles' Sha La La were also big hits. Manfred Mann's own keyboard work and Mike Hugg's vibes are featured to advantage on The Abominable Snowman, and there is a smattering of more of their own material throughout
(review filed 25 November 2003)
Bob Marley & the Wailers
Burnin' (49.03)*** P1973, P 2001
Rather like the Beatles, Bob Marley's best album is whichever one you happen to be listening to. Burnin' was the second album Bob Marley made for Chris Blackwell's Island label (in conjunction with Tuff Gong), which, like the first, came out in 1973. It's a well named album as it is incendiary from start to finish with both he and Peter Tosh at their most revolutionary. They were at home playing much of the material as they had previously recorded several of the songs in versions produced in recent years by Lee Perry, so the performances were relaxed, assured and deadly, and several feature Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, who were both soon to strike out on their own.
Two of the bonus tracks are unreleased out-takes but Reincarnated Souls had been the B-side of Concrete Jungle (lifted from Catch A Fire). This 2001 edition has now been superceded by a 2CD version with the band (without Bunny) recorded live in Leeds on the second disc
(indexed 22 June 2003)
Martha and the Vandellas
Come And Get These Memories/Heatwave (70.40)** R 1962-1963, P 2002
The story goes that Martha Reeves was yanked from her secretarial chair to fill in when Motown needed a singer at short notice for a song intended for Mary Wells. As a result, she and her group, soon to be named the Vandellas (derived from Van Dyke Street in Detroit MI and the torch singer Della Reese) cut their first record, I'll Have To Let Him Go, in August 1962. In June they had backed Marvin Gaye on his single Stubborn Kind Of Fellow, and later sang back up on his album, and went on the road with him as Marvin Gaye and the Vandellas. On their solo spots they were able to preview the forthcoming single, Come And Get These Memories, which was finally released in March 1963 and reached the national Top Thirty in the US.
The success of this single, which launched a new Motown sound, prompted the rush creation of an album to capitalize on the sales potential, also named Come And Get These Memories. Both singles were included, along with Jealous Lover, a Holland-Dozier Holland song that had appeared on the B-side of the hit single. Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier were their principal producers, though Mickey Stevenson, who had discovered Martha in the first place, produced three tracks; and one stray track, Give Him Up, was written and produced by Smokey Robinson in December 1962. Recording of the album was completed in April and May 1963 and included hits of the day such as Can't Get Used To Losing You, a Pomus-Shuman song which, perhaps bizarrely, had been given to Andy Williams, and the Imperials' Tears On My Pillow; and new songs such as Holland-Dozier Holland's A Love Like Yours, whose hit potential was not spotted as it was consigned to being the flipside of Heatwave later in the year, but with Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound production became a big hit in the UK for Ike and Tina Turner in 1966. There He Is (At My Door) was an another important song in Martha and the Vandellas' personal history as it had been recorded the previous year by Martha's group, the Del-Phis, and released as by the Vels, with Gloria Williamson singing lead. The Vandellas version turned up again with a new vocal in 1964 as the flip of Dancing In The Street. The album concludes with their version of Mary Wells' Old Love (Let's Try Again), which was later re-used as the B-side of Live Wire.
The album was recorded to four-track at Hitsville Studio A and released only in mono, but has here thankfully been mixed in its entirety to stereo for the first time.
The next single, (Love Is Like A) Heatwave, featuring Thomas 'Beans' Bowles on sax, had been recorded in June, along with Ruby and the Romantics' Hey There Lonely Boy, even as the first LP was coming out. It was a massive US hit and went top five nationally in the autumn of 1963, as well as hitting number one in the R&B chart.
The album Heatwave was even more rushed than the first, according to Martha Reeves having been recorded in one long August night. I expect some instrumental tracks had been laid down beforehand, and there would have been further overdubbing to do, but even so it remains quite a feat. The result is a party record, with all but Heatwave being contemporary pop hits. Both albums feature the original Vandellas, Rosalind Ashford and Annette Sterling.
It seems strange now to hear the three girls sing Spector hits such as Then He Kissed Me and Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home; middle of the road standards like More and Danke Shoen; old school folk protest like the gospel-influenced If I Had A Hammer; current girl group hits like the Angels' My Boyfriends Back; and R&B in the form of Barbara Lewis' Hello Stranger and the Inez and Charlie Foxx favourite, Mockingbird. When it was released in September 1963 it was expected to be disposable, ephemeral pop, and the arrangements are rudimentary, but the performances stack up well. The US stereo version of the album has been adopted on this release (a modified tracklisting was used when the album was released in the UK eighteen months later).
Their next two, non-album singles, Quicksand and Live Wire are also included as bonus tracks. Both are in stereo mixes, Quicksand being different to those previously available, and there is a rare Norman Whitfield production, Undecided Lover, to close. The only mono track is My Baby Won't Come Back, the B-side of I'll Have To Let Him Go, which Martha wrote with collaboration from Mickey Stevenson.
This is a comprehensive airing of all of the original Martha and the Vandellas' output, up to Live Wire (which may have Betty Kelly instead of Annette Sterling), with only the B-side Darling I Hum Your Song unaccounted for, in definitively-mastered sound quality.
(review filed 25 January 2006)
Martha and the Vandellas
Dance Party/Watchout! (Promo)(73.04)*** R 1962-1966, P 2002
Dance Party kicks off with the timeless classic hit Dancing In The Street (turned down by Kim Weston) and also has Nowhere To Run and Wild One, along with their B-sides, both having already been big hit singles when the album came out in April 1965. One of these, There He Is (At My Door), dated from 1963, and was originally on the album Come And Get These Memories, but has a new vocal on this version. By 1965 Martha's Vandellas were Betty Kelly and Rosalind Ashford, both from Detroit.
Most of the album was co-produced by Mickey Stevenson, but three were Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier productions, including Nowhere To Run and their version of the Motown dance standard Mickey's Monkey, written for the Miracles. They had sung on Marvin Gaye's original version of Hitch Hike in September 1962, and their own version was held over from the same period. It completes the album in fine style, to make up a first rate dance party record in the true Motown idiom, full of finger-clicking rhythms, generous percussion and punchy horns and brass.
Watchout! was the follow-up album in 1966 and contains the hit songs Jimmy Mack (held over from 1964, it was to be remixed for single release in 1967) and I'm Ready For Love, which features the archetypal 1966 Motown sound with those great bass runs. What Am I Going To Do Without Your Love was also a single but had left the charts largely untroubled. On the other hand, Third Finger Left Hand, the B-side of Jimmy Mack and also rescued from a 1964 recording session, is a great Holland-Dozier-Holland song which went on to became a hit in its own right. It wasn't on the original album but is included on this double-length CD as a bonus track, along with two other previously unreleased stereo mixes. One Way Out is a true floor-filler and was to come out as a B-side the following year. There are more ballads than dance floor numbers on this record, including two songs written by Smokey Robinson. One is a total scorcher called No More Tearstained Make Up. This may have been considered as a single at one time as a longer alternative version appears as an extra track. Missing from this (and the other albums in the series) are the non-album singles from this period, In My Lonely Room/A Tear For The Girl (1964); You've Been In Love Too Long/Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)(1965); and My Baby Loves Me/Never Leave Your Baby's Side (1966).
Two essential Martha and the Vandellas albums on one good value all-stereo CD (note though that the mono mixes of some of these tracks were slightly longer).
(review filed 20 January 2004)
Martha and the Vandellas
Early Classics (46.14)** P 1962-1967, P 1996
Since the release of this compilation the Motown catalogue has been extensively revamped and in the UK all the original Martha (Reeves) and the Vandellas albums have become available, along with some non-album bonus tracks, in the excellent 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series. Several of the other artists featured in the Early Classics series of the mid-nineties have been afforded the same treatment.
The purpose of the series was to present early album tracks and B-sides alongside some more familiar singles, and so has to some extent been superceded by the more recent releases, though they still serve as a useful low-priced introduction, and still feature some extra titles.
10 of the tracks here are now duplicated on the stereo CDs featuring the albums Come And Get These Memories, Heatwave and Dance Party. There He Is (At My Door) is the later Dance Party version as found on the flip of Dancing In The Street. Hitch Hike is best known in the Marvin Gaye hit version, on which the Vandellas sang in 1962. Their own version was recorded during the same period but wasn't released until Dance Party (1965).
However, unlike the 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series, Jimmy Mack is the mono single remix version (1967), and its B-side Third Finger, Left Hand is the original 2.45 mono version. I'll Have To Let Him Go, their debut single, is also the mono single mix (not the longer stereo version found on Come And Get These Memories). Jennel Hawkins' Moments To Remember (also recorded by Irma Thomas), from Come And Get These Memories, is here in its original mono mix. Wild One (sounding great, incidentally, with the Andantes adding extra vocal depth) and Nowhere To Run are both stereo mixes of the single edits, slightly shorter than the album versions.
Never Leave Your Baby's Side was covered in the UK by the Tony Jackson Group, who presumably found it on the flip of My Baby Loves Me (1966). Neither of these sides has been added to any of the 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series, though the top side is now on the SoulSatisfaction 2 compilation. This appears to be the only place one can currently find Never Leave Your Baby's Side, one of my favourites of their B-sides, though an alternative version appeared in mono on Live Wire! 1962-1972 (1993). The original version here is also mono although a stereo mix of the song has been available on CD.
With a smattering of top singles such as the timeless Dancing In The Street, with its snow-chains percussion, and a choice selection of lesser known songs, this makes a great introduction to one of Motown's finest.
I would like to see a new budget series, though, that mopped up some of the stray A-sides and B-sides left out of the re-issue packages. In the Vandellas' case this would include My Baby Loves Me, Darling I Hum Our Song, You've Been In Love Too Long and Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things).
(review filed 17 March 2006)
Martha and the Vandellas
Spellbound: Lost And Found (63.22/66.14)***R 1962-1972, P 2005
Motown's valuable Lost And Found series has been handed over to Hip-O-Select, who have expanded the format to double-CD sets, in this case featuring the ten-year tenure with the Gordy label of the fabulous Martha and the Vandellas (latterly Martha Reeves and the Vandellas). An unfortunate side-effect of this for UK customers is that the releases are somewhat harder to find, especially since Hip-O-Select seem not to export directly to here, and often pricey. They are, however, well worth tracking down.
The Motown vaults have been heavily plundered in recent years and it is now too well known that the quality of the hitherto unreleased material is unbelievably high to warrant expounding yet again. I would like to think there is another world at the edge of infinity where some of the material was released instead of Heatwave, Dancing In The Street or Jimmy Mack and enjoyed the same success. The standard is incredibly high on this set, with only the odd incomplete master (lacking overdubs) or trial run-through of a chestnut like Hold On I'm Coming or Since You've Been Gone sounding anything like throwaways. Recording dates are fully notated, the sleeve notes are helpful, and the timeline of albums for which titles may have been intended is helpful. Most of the tracks are mastered from mono mixes but there are eight stereo mixes across the two discs, including Earthquake, which had previously been released in the UK.
Time Changes Things kicks things off in high style, using the same backing track as the well known Supremes version, and is the earliest here, dating from 1962, followed by the Marvelettes' Someday, Someway. The early years pass by all too quickly with third album Dance Party having been finished with by track six, though seven tracks recorded or completed in 1965 appear not to have been intended for any album and include highlights such as Spellbound, I Got It Bad and I Can't Understand It. The Watch Out! sessions are represented by four songs, including Keep Stepping (Never Look Back)(a song which Carolyn Crawford also tried out and was finally heard on A Cellarful Of Motown Vol. 2) and You've Been On My Mind (a Shorty Long co-write which King Floyd later recorded), both excellent.
Most often the songs as well as the recordings were written off by the boffins at Quality Control, but there are exceptions. That's How Bad has Smokey Robinson returning to a song he'd first produced for Marv Johnson, whilst he later reworked You Neglect Me for the Miracles' Time Out album. Ivy Joe Hunter's song I Can't Help It (I Love You) featured on another Lost And Found in a version by Marvin Gaye, and was also recorded by the Isley Brothers, and there are several examples of a crossover of material between the Vandellas and the Four Tops.
There are no less than twelve recordings from the Ridin' High period sessions (which mark the name change to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas), and these straddle CD1 and CD2. They include their versions of For Once In My Life and Vikki Carr's 1967 hit It Must Be Him, both of which enter Shirley Bassey territory. Martha rises brilliantly to the vocal challenges, though I can't say either appeals to me, though plenty of the others rival those chosen for the album, and in the case of Sugar N' Spice frequently outshine them. Is There A Place In His Heart For Me? was later recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips and by the Supremes, but Martha's seems to be the original and its omission from the album seems bizarre. The songs from the Natural Resources period include one called Standing Ovation. Could this have been the "missing" title song of Gladys Knight's album of that name? Earthquake still sounds like a hit to me and follows in the tradition of Martha's natural disaster titles. A couple of the tracks on Black Magic were produced by Stevie Wonder and a harmonica that sounds familiar also appears on some of the earlier tracks. I had regarded the Vandellas' seventies output as somewhat patchier than in their heyday, but hearing the selections on this second disc I now think they were ill served by the record label's track selection process. They were good at updating their sound, too, and the most recent recording, which closes the album, Ain't My Stuff Good Enough, is a good example of this, and ends the set on a high. The title seems apposite, as Martha and the Vandellas were left behind when Motown relocated to Los Angeles, and Martha Reeves embarked on a solo career with another label, but on the evidence presented here, her stuff was plenty good enough.
(review filed 26 June 2008)
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
Ridin' High/Sugar N' Spice (76.16)* R 1966-1969, P 2004
These are the first two albums to be released following the name change at Motown's behest to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Both are usefully paired up on this 2 Classic Albums 1 CD, along with three bonus tracks.
Ridin' High reflected the changes happening within the group, at Motown and in the world. The album was one of their most popular and included the hit single Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone. This had been recorded in April 1967 with Vandellas Rosalind Ashford and Betty Kelly, but by the time the album came out in April 1968, Betty had been replaced by Martha's sister, Lois Reeves. Lois appeared on several other singles that preceded and followed up the album: Honey Chile (their last big Top Ten single), I Promise To Wait My Love, I Can't Dance To That Music You're Playing, Sweet Darlin' and (We've Got) Honey Love. However other songs recorded before Betty's exit include the storming Leave It In The Hands Of Love and I'm In Love (And I Know It).
Motown's sound had evolved as new musicians, producers and songwriters had come on board and most of the album was produced by newcomer Richard Morris from the Golden World label. Some of the songs reflected what was going on in Viet Nam, including I Promise To Wait My Love and Forget Me Not, and several were written especially for Martha by Sylvia Moy, who had also joined the company as a result of their acquisition of Golden World. New writers were needed as the Holland-Dozier-Holland team had left the label in spring 1967. They had worked extensively with Martha and the Vandellas in the past, as had Mickey Stevenson who had also left the company, and two of the Holland-Dozier productions from the early 1967 sessions with Rosalind Ashford and Betty Kelly that had produced Leave It In The Hands Of Love were held over for the next album, Sugar N' Spice, namely I Can't Get Along Without You and I Hope You Have Better Luck Than I Did.
Sugar N' Spice came out in October 1969, at a time when Martha Reeves was having a lot of personal problems as well as problems with Motown, and the record was largely assembled from material left in the can, the oldest being Heartless, recorded in May 1966. The opening track, Taking My Love (And Leaving Me) was initially recorded in 1967 when Betty and Rosalind were still in the band, but featured newer additional vocals from Rita Wright (aka Syreeta) and the Andantes. It was the only single taken from the album, with Heartless on the flip, and was not released in the UK, though You're The Loser Now was on the B-side of I Gotta Let You Go a year later.
The cover depicted Martha inside a huge spice jar with Lois Reeves and new member Sandra Tilley, who had replaced Rosalind during 1969, though all of the newer cuts on the album had been recorded with Rosalind, before Sandra joined. These include I'm A Winner and It Ain't Like That, the first songs Martha Reeves had recorded with another new team, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Two more Ashford/Simpson productions turn up on her next two albums, possibly all from the same sessions? It isn't such a consistently strong album as Ridin' High but certainly has its moments.
The bonus tracks raise the bar again and are the single I Can't Dance To That Music You're Playing, an alternative vocal version of the non-album single Sweet Darlin', and an alternative, longer mono mix of I Promise To Wait My Love.
(review filed 14 April 2007)
The Electric John Martyn (48.34)* P 1973-1980, P 1988
This album was originally released in 1982 by John Martyn's former record label, Island Records, and is comprised entirely of material originally released between 1973 and 1980. Eight of the tracks are simply album tracks, easily available elsewhere (3 from Sunday's Child, 3 from One World, 1 each from Inside Out and Solid Air) though those from One World are labeled as being the US mixes, and therefore presumably differ from those in other markets such as the UK.
The other two tracks originate from Grace And Danger, the last album John Martyn made for Island before he signed with WEA. One is a stereo mix of the single edit of Sweet Little Mystery, and the other is the 6:50 12" single mix of Johnny Too Bad, John Martyn's excellent and slithery version of the Slickers' reggae song, learned during an extended stay in Jamaica.
There are a number of other mixes of Johnny Too Bad, Dancing, Dealer and Big Muff that appeared on the singles of the time that could usefully be added to the next re-issue of this vinyl-length compilation, but as it stands it serves as an introduction to a classic seven-year period of his career that features three of his singles and a diversity of work from his albums.
(review filed 9 July 2008)
When You're Young And In Love (52.02)*** P 1961-1969, P 1994
Whereas some Motown artists were restricted to a flurry of single releases and never graduated to a full album, the Marvelettes, who hit no. 1 with their first single for Tamla in 1961, Please Mr Postman, seem to have had an album for virtually every year of their career. Unfortunately, few if any of these are in print and the only way of acquiring any of their catalogue on CD is through compilations, which naturally focus on their hit singles.
This strong 20-tracker comes from the German Soul label, a subsidiary of Charly, and tracks their career in singles from Please Mr Postman, with the gorgeously gravel-voiced Gladys Horton taking the lead, through to their Smokey Robinson period with the subtly sly vocals of Wanda Young, including such masterpieces as Don't Mess With Bill and My Baby Must Be A Magician, which are as good as any Motown records of the time. Along the way, hits such as Too Many Fish In The Sea and I'll Keep Holding On are included, along with two B-sides (Forever and Someday, Someway). Apart from the debut single, the album is stereo, but six of these appear to be electronically reprocessed from monaural sources
(review filed 21 October 2004)
The Best Of The Marvelettes (49.34)*** P 1961-1970, P 1999
According to the spine of this CD and the disc itself, the title of this album is The Best Of The Marvelettes, whereas the front and back cover and insert booklet call it The Essential Collection - The Marvelettes.
Either way it is an 18-track retrospective which duplicates little from other Marvelettes collections (it inevitably recycles three of their best known pieces - When You're Young And In Love, Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead and Please Mr Postman - in their mono single mixes).
The opening track is a rip-roaring romp, I Just Can't Let Him Down, a Smokey Robinson production from 1964 featuring Gladys Horton. It sounds like a hit single of the time but is previously unreleased, one of six recordings making their debut here, all of which provoke the cry: why?, as there is no sense of barrel-scraping whatsoever. I would like to know why they were left in the can and who the lead singers are. Most date from 1964-1965 but Sugar's Never Been As Sweet As You is a William Weatherspoon/Jimmy Dean production from 1969, around the time of the In Full Bloom sessons.
Five of the other tracks come from out of print albums which are welcome since Motown has not yet favoured the Marvelettes with any re-releases in their excellent 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series. All the other rarities make a fascinating listen. Your Cheating Ways was tucked away on the B-side of Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead, while The Boy From Crosstown is another song that sounds like a classic hit, but seems to have been buried on a Motown compilation from 1966. Norman Whitfield had also produced the same song the year before with the Velvelettes but it was never released in their lifetime. Similarly, Finders Keepers Losers Weepers is a lost Holland-Dozier-Holland classic from 1964, which may not have been released at the time, though it did come out over here on the other side of a Kim Weston single as an anniversary edition in 1980.
Perhaps most interestingly of all another Holland-Dozier-Holland song, Too Hurt To Cry, Too Much In Love To Say Goodbye came out as a single under the pseudonym of the Darnells on the Gordy label in 1963. It is very much a pastiche of the Spector sound of the time, the arrangement sounding exactly like a copy of the Crystals.
The Marvelettes deserve to be as well remembered as Martha and the Vandellas and the Four Tops.
(review filed 21 October 2004)
The Best Of The Marvelettes - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection (US Import)(28.42)*** P 1961-1967, P 2000
Although the Marvelettes were among Motown's more successful acts, and seem to have had an album for virtually every year of their career, few if any of these are in print or have been issued on CD. Instead, there are any number of compilations, either purely cherry-picking or also exhuming a taster of unreleased material from the vast Motown vaults. This collection from the 20th Century Masters series falls squarely into the former category, selecting eleven prime Tamla-label A-sides for its tracklist.
Included, of course, is the big hit that marked their 1961 debut, Please Mr Postman, as covered by the Beatles, and with Marvin Gaye on drums. It marked Motown's first US number one in the pop charts. Also found here are perhaps their best-known later hits, Don't Mess With Bill, written by Smokey Robinson, and When You're Young In Love, already a hit for Ruby and the Romantics.
The first three or four tracks feature the fabulous throaty vocals of Gladys Horton. Thereafter, their secret weapon, the sexily voiced Wanda Young gained frequent prominence. She became their regular lead vocalist when Smokey Robinson took an interest in the group. He was looking for a singer to replace Mary Wells, who had defected from the label, and concocted masterpieces for her colourful and playful inflections such as The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game and My Baby Must Be A Magician, remembered also for the bass vocal part contributed by Melvyn Franklin of the Temptations.
The good news is that all eleven tracks have been meticulously remastered in stereo. This marks the stereo debut of the single version of Please Mr Postman, brings back into catalogue two or three other stereo mixes and may be the first time I'll Keep Holding On has appeared in true stereo on CD. The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game is not the single, but a longer version completed a couple of months later with an extra verse, unreleased until Anthology in 1975, and previously unavailable on CD as far as I know. Many have covered this song, including Blondie and Smokey himself with the Miracles, but none have equaled the Marvelettes snappily joyous original. When You're Young In Love also appears in a rare alternative mix. Every track on here is a finely-honed gem and the CD is over far too soon.
The bad news is that one reason why the CD is over so quickly is that it has a scandalously short running time of 28:42. On any CD of new recordings this would be notably poor value; on a collection of re-issued material that has recouped its production costs many times over in the intervening forty years or more, it is simply unacceptable. The year before this compilation there was a Marvelettes CD released entitled The Ultimate Collection, which had 25 classic tracks on it, including all 11 titles found here. Therefore, I would have to recommend that in preference to this unless, like me, you need to have them all in stereo. Whichever you choose, though, choose one.
(review filed 27 February 2007)
Forever - The Complete Motown Albums Vol. 1 (78.39/73.59/72.17)*** P 1961-1965, P 2009
One aspect of Motown's brilliance was to capture in sound the exuberance, naivety and, not least, need to dance of the American teenager in the early sixties, often performed by artists who were teenagers themselves; and then to mirror with deadly accuracy their emotional, intellectual and musical maturity throughout the rest of the decade. The Marvelettes were a perfect example of this as they were initially a five piece from Inkster who were all at high school when they signed to Tamla, and still were five hit albums later.
The Marvelettes have been overlooked in the Motown reissue programme for far too long, with none of their original albums being in print prior to this very welcome box set, and as they are quite possibly my most preferred Motown artists I couldn't wait to get my hands on this, which tells the story up to early 1966 with the release of their Greatest Hits album. By then they had become a trio of just Wanda, Gladys and Catherine, but had the genius of Smokey Robinson as producer and writer, creating some of the most adroit and pithiest hits in Motown history.
Georgia, who was the primary writer of their first hit, Please Mr Postman, apparently dropped out just before they signed to the label, with Juanita leaving circa April 1962 and Georgeanna around two years later.
Forever - The Complete Motown Albums Vol. 1 contains their first five albums plus the compilation Greatest Hits and a further twenty-six extra tracks which were all B-sides, non-album singles, live recordings from mixed artists compilations and outtakes which were not released at the time. It really is complete in that every known official release is here in at least one form.
Disc One contains their first three albums: Please Mr Postman, The Marvelettes Sing (Smash Hits Of '62) and Playboy, released 1961-1962. On the early albums the gloriously hoarse and intense voice of Gladys Horton was featured on most of the hit singles although Wanda Young (who had stepped in to replace Georgia Dobbins when the band were signed) sings lead on over half of the Please Mr Postman album, and on four from The Marvelettes Sing. On that album sleeve all the girls were name checked apart from her, with Gladys solely credited as lead singer; Wanda was pregnant at the time and Tamla may have wanted to depict the group as it would appear on live appearances over the following few months. This probably also explains why she is only heard in the foreground on a couple of songs on Playboy. These include Forever, which later doubled as a B-side, and did well in the US R&B charts.
Motown was still finding its composers and trademark sound in those early years and the second album entirely consisted of covers of pop and R&B hits from 1962. Mashed Potato Time, a hit for Dee Dee Sharp, had actually been written by several Motown writers including Brian Holland, though it was to be 1963 before the familiar signature of Holland-Dozier-Holland was to appear on a Marvelettes record (Locking Up My Heart). Although Juanita Cowart had left by the time the Playboy album came out in July 1962, she can be heard on three of the older tracks on the record.
The Marvelous Marvelettes opens Disc Two. Released in February 1963, regular producers Mickey Stevenson and Brian Holland were joined on this album by Norman Whitfield, who was later to provide many of the girls' mid-sixties hits. It featured Locking Up My Heart and My Daddy knows Better, both singles, as well as the stage favourite Strange I Know, which had been out as a single the previous October.
Strange I Know also featured on their live souvenir The Marvelettes On Stage - Recorded Live, complete with spoken section, and is reprised in another live version they contributed to Recorded Live At The Apollo Vol. 1, and again on Recorded Live: The Motortown Revue Vol. 2 as part of a medley. The Marvelettes On Stage mostly featured their recorded repertoire with Motown's touring band, but does have a cover of Bobby Lewis' 1961 hit Tossin' And Turnin'.
The rest of Disc Two is taken up with Bonus Tracks - namely B-sides, tracks unreleased at the time and a single designed to sound like a Phil Spector production, in particular the Crystals. It came out under the name the Darnells, but the singer was clearly identified by radio listeners as Gladys Horton. As the Andantes were also involved on the single it's possible that the rest of the Marvelettes were not on it. The B-side, Come On Home, is a largely instrumental track borrowed from a Holland And Dozier session, with some vocal interjections from Gladys and Brian Holland near the end, and was also released in a version by Holland And Dozier.
After 1963's The Marvelous Marvelettes, they did not have another new studio album until March 1967, although their Greatest Hits compilation album, released in February 1966, contained five recent singles that had not appeared on an album. These were amongst their strongest releases to date. There was enough material in the can for an album but Motown was presumably too stretched promoting the Supremes to bother. Ironically, the "no-hits" Supremes had finally hit pay dirt with Where Did Our Love Go, a song that had been turned down by the Marvelettes for being too childish and dumb, opting instead for Too Many Fish In The Sea. It was probably a better record, and reached no. 21 in Cashbox, but was not the phenomenon that Where Did Our Love Go became.
The other non-album singles included were As Long As I Know He's Mine (1963), You're My Remedy (1964), Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead and Don't Mess With Bill (1965). All but the first of these feature Wanda, whose voice had matured into an altogether more sensuous and vibrant instrument, and had been developed by Smokey Robinson, following his regular work with the girls from 1963 onwards. The album was released in mono and stereo versions, and it is the stereo version that has been included here, at the start of Disc Three. It also affords the opportunity to hear the stereo versions of seven of the singles taken from previous albums. In the case of Please Mr Postman this is a completely different take to the mono single (I cannot say which version the mono edition of Greatest Hits used). These are the only stereo tracks on the box set.
The rest of Disc Three is titled Mono Singles & Rare Sides and features the mono single mixes of the four non-album singles on Greatest Hits, and their B-sides, the A-side He's A Good Guy (Yes He Is)(1964), the single I'll Keep Holding On/No Time For Tears (my personal favourite Marvelettes record, and their first release as a trio)(1965) and three excellent stockpiled tracks that were not released at the time, recorded between 1964-1965.
All that is missing from what has been released thus far is the stereo mix of the entire Playboy album that came out on CD in 1992, and the pin-sharp stereo mix of I'll Keep Holding On that first appeared on A Collection Of 16 Original Big Hits Vol. 5 in August 1966. I am hoping these have been earmarked for Volume Two.
This is an essential, unmissable slice of sixties Motown.
(review begun 12 July 2009)
Mary Lee's Corvette
Blood On The Tracks (55.41)** P 2002
First up, I loved Mary Lee Kortes' liner notes, about preparing for the great night at the Arlene Grocery, when she was invited at short notice to perform Blood On The Tracks with her band, at a Classic Album Night (the date is sadly unspecified, but was a Sunday night, some time in 2001 well before September 11). I loved the spirit with which she engaged on this act of folly and bravura, and the sense of fun and fear the whole project embodied, typified by the line, "On the Wednesday before the show I thought it might be time to learn the harmonica." Of course, that gave her plenty of time to learn to play better than Bob (only joking). She also explains how the existence of a record of the night, on this CD, also evolved in an almost accidental, ad hoc sort of a way.
As we know, pop will eat itself, and there is a worthy tradition of albums that recreate other albums in their entirety. Abbey Road alone has inspired several (Booker T & the MGs - McLemore Avenue, Mike Westbrook - Off Abbey Road, George Benson - The Other Side Of Abbey Road, etc.). On the subject of the Beatles, Laibach did Let it Be, Big Daddy did Sgt Pepper and Ramsey Lewis tackled the White Album. Aside from the moptops, there was, for example, Petra Haden's multi-tracked acappella version of The Who Sell Out; Philip Glass orchestrated "Heroes"; Charlie Hunter did a jazz quartet reworking of Natty Dread; Joe Gallant remade the Grateful Dead's Blues For Allah; Carla Bozulich paid homage to Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger; there was a multiple artist recreation of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours; and, getting back to Dylan, Robyn Hitchcock made an album of the "Albert Hall" concert bootleg.
This is a companion piece to the original Blood On The Tracks, it does not seek to replace it. I for one enjoyed hearing it a lot, and expect to be playing it alongside the original in the future. Bob Dylan liked it, too. He posted one of the songs onto his website.
Since the idea was to play someone else's album live, for fun, not too many liberties have been taken with the songs or their arrangements. Idiot Wind follows the angry album version rather than the earlier version on the Bootleg Series CD; alternative verses of Lily are not adopted, as they are not heard on the album. What we get is the body of the original album inhabited by another soul who is a gifted singer, and it is a purged soul, with warmth, spirit, anger and all the other emotions to be found in the songs. It is all we could ask of such an undertaking.
(review filed 24 January 2006)
Revolution (38.26)* P 2004
Their first single, Hey Gravity, a one-off for the Radiate label, made it to number 6 in the 2002 Festive Fifty, and its follow up, Live A Little, reached 35 in the same chart of listener's votes the following year. Both songs from this useful twin-guitar indie five-piece from Camden Town occur on this debut album, although Hey Gravity does not benefit for having been re-recorded for their current label, Tréma, and has a guitar segue from the previous track. Live A Little, formerly on both Mandita and Purr labels, seems to be the same version as here, as is their third single, Testify, which makes a powerful opening track. MASS seem to be an uncomplicated (in a good way) guitar band, led by their founder and singer Justine, and the album replicates their live sound with clarity and volume
(review filed 13 May 2005)
London Blues 1964-1969 (58.42/74.38)*** P 1964-1969, P 1992
John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers pretty much led the British rhythm and blues boom of the sixties and was a regular feature at the venues that were springing up to cater for fans of the music.
He had the knack of discovering talented musicians, especially guitarists, at one time hiring in succession relative unknowns Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. Other notable musicians employed here in an ever rotating line-up include John McVie, Aynsley Dunbar, Keef Hartley, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Tony Reeves and Henry Lowther. These were not merely hired hands, but integral members of the band, shaping and colouring the music within an expanding blues framework, under the guiding light and vision of John Mayall, himself no mean performer.
This 2CD retrospective picks liberally from this period in the latter half of the sixties including tracks from the key albums Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton, A Hard Road (featuring some of Peter Green's bluesiest work), Crusade, Bare Wires and Blues From Laurel Canyon, the latter three all featuring Mick Taylor, as well as the Mayall solo album The Blues Alone.
It is most valuable, however, for including some hard to find A-sides, B-sides and EP tracks, such as three of four recorded for the 1967 EP John Mayall's Bluesbreakers With Paul Butterfield. Although primarily taken from Decca recordings, space has been found to include 3 sides with Eric Clapton recorded for the Immediate and Purdah labels (I'm Your Witch Doctor, Telephone Blues, Bernard Jenkins). Since the original albums are all in print, I would have preferred to see more of the non-album tracks here, such as Lonely Years (for Purdah) and Little By Little (from the Paul Butterfield EP), but this is a well-chosen and representative selection
(review filed 27 September 2005)
John Mayall and the Blues Breakers
John Mayall Plays John Mayall (50.49)*** R 1964-1965 P 2006
This was the first album by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, whose ever-changing line up had temporarily stabilized as John Mayall (vocal, harmonica, guitar, 9-string guitar), Roger Dean (guitar), John McVie (bass) and Hughie Flint (drums), and it was recorded live. Klooks Kleek was at the Railway Hotel, next door to Decca's recording studios in West Hampstead. Apparently John Mayall's manager Rik Gunnell and his brother Johnny persuaded Decca's engineers to run cables from an open studio window into the club, enabling studio quality sound in an environment in which the band excelled, and so their gig of Monday 7 December 1964 was preserved for posterity. At the time, the band (with a different guitarist and drummer) had released only one single, Crawling Up A Hill, which opened the live set, and they also previewed Crocodile Walk, their second single, which came out in April 1965, shortly after the album was released.
For the live recording the band was augmented by Nigel Stanger on tenor sax, plus some appropriate novelty slide sax sounds on The Hoot Owl and Chicago Line. Both of these and most of the rest of the record are John Mayall songs not recorded elsewhere, mostly in Chicago and country blues styles, and there is also a strange mash up of Night Train and Lucille.
To the original album have been appended five bonus tracks. These are both sides of the two singles, all in their original mono (stereo mixes of both sides of the second single can be found on London Blues), plus My Baby Is Sweeter. This was recorded at the same session as the Crocodile Walk single but wasn't released until 1971, and is the only stereo track on this CD.
John Mayall was one of the most important figures of the whole blues movement, and had a big impact through the astute use of the musicians he developed in the Bluesbreakers over a number of years, and through his own musicianship, and this atmospheric recording shows from where it stemmed.
(review filed 1 July 2007)
John Mayall and the Blues Breakers
Live At The BBC (36.57)*** R 1965-1975 P 2007
Given the BBC's unique archiving policy in previous decades, it is a very welcome surprise to discover that these early John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers sessions still exist at all, let alone in such pristine quality as found here. A lot of early BBC sessions have only survived on World Service transcription discs of programmes, and so have disc-jockey voice-overs on them, but these are free of such irritations.
Ken Garner's invaluable book In Session Tonight gives the date the original band passed their audition as July 1964, and their first session as 30 October 1965, so it was a complete surprise to me to find that the first three tracks here come from a Saturday Club session dated 26 April 1965. The three tracks included from this session comprise re-workings of the band's first two singles, Crawling Up A Hill and Crocodile Walk, as well as an unrecorded version of Sonny Boy Williamson's Bye Bye Bird. The singles, from 1964, featured Roger Dean on guitar, but the line-up of the Bluesbreakers was frequently changing and by the time of this session he had been replaced by Eric Clapton, so this disc affords a unique opportunity to hear what he brought to these John Mayall songs. His previous band, the Yardbirds, featured a number of Sonny Boy Williamson songs and even backed him onstage, so the third number may well have been his choice.
The second session, here dated 25 October 1965, conversely, is thought to feature Jeff Kribit from Dr K's Blues Band on guitar, standing in for Clapton who was away in Greece, and included I'm Your Witchdoctor in a version without his witchy-woo guitar effects, and two otherwise unrecorded Mayall originals.
The two titles from the 14 March 1966 session included another unrecorded original and a unique version of Key To Love without the horn section that graced the Beano album version when it was recorded a month later.
By 23 January 1967 Eric Clapton had left, taking Jack Bruce with him. Peter Green and John McVie were of course to later follow the same path by forming Fleetwood Mac, but are here performing recent single Sitting In The Rain, Leaping Christine (from A Hard Road, where a horn section was again featured) and Ridin' On The L&N, which had featured on an EP that was a collaboration with harmonica player Paul Butterfield and sounds quite different here.
In Session Tonight then lists two sessions for John Peel's Top Gear show, each featuring Mick Taylor in place of Peter Green. Given the paltry playing time of 37 minutes on this CD, one can only presume that both of these sessions have been irredeemably lost, because the CD then jumps awkwardly to a very different band performing on Bob Harris's Old Grey Whistle Test programme on 21 October 1975 for the final two tracks. Despite Don "Sugarcane" Harris on violin and Dee McKinnie's lead vocals, it was a jump too far for this listener in this context. I do hope the intervening sessions turn up for a future re-issue, but in the meantime there is an excellent alternative history to be unearthed here.
(review filed 3 May 2007)
Motherland (Promo)(58.20)*** P 2001
Recording for this album finished in New York on 9 September 2001, two days before the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville PA attacks, and it is dedicated to all the victims. Some of the songs seem to allude to the event, especially the song Motherland, although obviously they could not without a very uncanny prescience. Perhaps it is the overall mood of wistful melancholia that captures something of the zeitgeist.
Motherland continues in the opulent style of its 1998 predecessor Ophelia, with an exemplary team of supporting musicians. The inimitable Mavis Staples helps out on the ironic gospel-flavoured St Judas and on the devil-banishing Build A Levee, while the beautiful song Henry Darger benefits from a full-scale orchestra, arranged and conducted by Stephen Barber
(review filed 17 December 2003)
Early Classics (48.51)*** P 1960-1965, P 1996
Apart from acting as a useful sampler to newcomers to early Motown, the Early Classics series also serves the useful purpose of putting back into catalogue some B-sides and album tracks that cannot otherwise be found on CD, despite the lumbering re-issue programme currently underway.
More than any other performing artist, Smokey Robinson was responsible for getting the Motown imprints off the ground with founder Berry Gordy, his administrative and business skills being matched by his talents as singer, writer, producer and arranger. All of these are clearly evidenced by the 18 tracks on offer here, including eight A-sides, though all of these are readily available elsewhere. The set begins with the timeless single Tracks Of My Tears and goes out with a bang on the fabulous Going To A Go-Go.
There are three non-album B-sides here: You Never Miss A Good Thing (B-side of I'll Try Something New), If Your Mother Only Knew (B-side of Way Over There) and Would I Love You (flip of That's What Love Is made Of). Would I Love You can be found on Lost And Found - Along Came Love in a longer mix, and in a new stereo mix on The Motown Box, but the others don't seem to be currently in catalogue. The other B-sides also appeared on albums, but not all of these are in print at the moment. Therefore this album affords a unique opportunity to hear tracks from Cookin' With The Miracles, I'll Try Something New, The Fabulous Miracles and The Miracles Doin' Mickey's Monkey. I had never heard Determination before, knowing it only in a later version by the Contours. I was especially pleased to hear the three dance tracks from The Miracles Doin' Mickey's Monkey, in stereo mixes, these being Major Lance's Monkey Time, the Orlons' The Wah-Watusi, featuring a rare lead vocal from Claudette Robinson, and the Holland-Dozier-Holland original I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying. Also in stereo are the five tracks from the album Going To A Go-Go, though this album is easy to obtain. Motown love their mono mixes and all the other tracks included are not in stereo.
The earlier tracks, both ballads and up-tempo rockers, have quite a raw quality, which is precisely what I like about them. They have a passion and a lack of inhibition that is far removed from the music Smokey and the Miracles were to make later in their careers. A recommended delve into a rich back catalogue, especially when available so inexpensively.
(review filed 3 October 2006)
Lost And Found - Along Came Love (55.05)*** R 1957-1964, P 1999
So much unreleased material has been retrieved from Motown's apparently infinite vaults that it seems to outweigh the official releases of the time - songs tried out by different artists, albums mixed and shelved, countless out-takes and forgotten songs. The Funk Brothers must have been cooking away in the Hitsville Studio practically twenty-four hours a day only to see some of their most potent grooves disappear into a back room, apparently to never see the light of day.
Thankfully, a great deal of this material has subsequently been made available. There have been artists' retrospectives and anthologies with previously unreleased tracks, collections of newly recovered masters such as A Cellarful Of Motown, and collected unreleased masters by specific artists such as this first rate Lost And Found series. This has so far included Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Temptations and the Miracles on the Motown label.
The Miracles' Along Came Love features recordings from 1957 to 1964 and unusually includes seven tracks that did come out, but which had been long unavailable, all but one drawn from the 1965 US double-album The Miracles Greatest Hits From The Beginning. Some of these have since reappeared on The Complete Motown Singles box sets.
The Miracles' association with Motown boss Berry Gordy predates Motown itself, having begun when they were still a doo-wop outfit recently known as the Matadors. Later Smokey was to become Berry Gordy's vice president and right-hand man at Motown: chef, main writer, producer and lead singer in the Miracles, but he began writing songs with Berry Gordy (who had already written songs for Jackie Wilson, Bobby Parker and others) almost as soon as they met in 1957.
Berry Gordy was involved in co-writing and/or producing all the early Miracles' singles, which were recorded, before the Hitsville Studio was established, in hired studios such as United Sound in Detroit and Olmstead Sound in New York, and released on small labels like Fury and End. Three of these raw sounding B-sides (but not their A-sides) are included here - My Mama Done Told Me; (I Need Some) Money and I Love Your Baby - plus an A-side that was licensed to Chess in late 1959, because of its better distribution channels, I Need A Change.
Another early Tamla B-side, issued as by Ron and Bill (Ronnie White and Bill "Smokey" Robinson), was modelled on the Everly Brothers in the hope of a hit. Don't Say Bye-Bye was not taken from Greatest Hits From The Beginning, but was the B-side of It in 1959.
The other two tracks from the compilation From The Beginning were the 1964 non-album B-side Would I Love You (also on Early Classics), a luscious ballad with sweeping strings, recorded in Chicago, and the atmospheric non-album single I Like It Like That, the only stereo recording on this CD. This stereo mix made its debut on From The Beginning and had a different lead vocal to the one on the single, as most easily identified by a falsetto "please" twenty-five seconds into the stereo mix. Newer longer stereo mixes of both these tracks can be found on Ooo Baby Baby.
That leaves the previously unreleased material, beginning with the confidently soulful I Think We Can Make It. It seems unlikely that something this strong would be shelved, but it was recorded the very same day as You've Really Got A Hold On Me, and even that was only thought worthy of a B-side release. The title track Along Came Love is a ballad that shows their doo-wop roots, and was probably considered for Cookin' With The Miracles. Marv Johnson's Come To Me was the first release on Tamla, recorded in December 1958, and the Miracles' more upbeat reworking comes from December 1959, during their Chess period. You've Got To Pay Bills, a song about placating the landlady, and Don't Think It's Me, were both recorded on 11 June 1964, but Smokey returned to Don't Think It's Me for a bigger production on the Make It Happen album in 1967, when Earl Van Dyke's tentative organ fills were replaced by full on strings.
If I Were A Bell (from Guys And Dolls), with second lead vocals from Claudette Rogers Robinson, and Easy Street, which has impressive Four Freshmen-style harmonies, were planned for an abandoned album of standards to be called The Miracles Sing Modern in 1962. It shows their versatility but isn't what I listen to the Miracles for. (Talkin' Bout) Nobody But My Baby definitely is though. It uses the same backing track prepared by Norman Whitfield for the Temptations, who added vocals on the same day as the Miracles, but it was the Temptations' version that was chosen over a year later in 1964 and came out on the back of My Girl (ironically a song that Smokey had written, about his wife Claudette), while Smokey's gospelly lead was consigned to history. Claudette gets a rare lead vocal on the excellent Mr Misery from 1962, the same year as Yes, No, Maybe So, which is a cover of Barrett Strong's 1960 single, written by Smokey and Berry.
I Need Somebody is a James Brownish blues, another recorded in Chicago for the strings, probably arranged by Riley Hampton; and Please Say You Love Me is a Smokey Robinson/Janie Bradford song, a begging soul-blues production, with what sounds like Earl Van Dyke on organ and Marv Tarplin guitar, but no details as to date, line-up or producer are given.
The album closes appropriately, as it was Motown's first million seller, with a live recording of Shop Around, backed by Richard "Popcorn" Wylie's band, from a road show appearance in Cincinatti a few months after the single came out. It was the climax of the show and the Miracles were joined onstage by a chorus including Mary Wells and Singin' Sammy Ward, the Contours and Chuck Jackson, with Smokey's voice all but shot by the end of a fervent performance.
Nothing here deserved to be abandoned and forgotten and Motown are to be applauded for bringing them back into circulation for our appraisal and enjoyment.
(review filed 25 June 2007)
Going To A Go-Go/Away We A Go-Go (68.08)*** R 1964-1966, P 2001
In the early to mid sixties the 45 rpm single held sway. Most families had a big pile of crinkly-sleeved singles and maybe half a dozen albums by their very favourite artists. There was a perception, probably shared by record company bosses, that albums consisted of a recent hit single or two and a lot of filler. I don't know if Berry Gordy shared this view but if so he must have been very disappointed by the consistently high quality of all the tracks coming out on his artists' albums, not least those of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
If you happened to be at Hitsville Studios on 19 May 1965, hearty congratulations. You witnessed one of the most moving moments in sixties music when Smokey sang the sublime Tracks Of My Tears into the mike (check out The Motown Box for the phenomenal full-length mix), one of four dazzling A-sides included on Going To A Go-Go. As four more were B-sides, next best in the pecking order, one would expect the other four to be fairly dispensable. Instead we get the soulful blues of In Case You Need Love, the original and best version of From Head To Toe (as covered by Chris Clark and Elvis Costello), the snappy Frank Wilson production My Baby Changes Like The Weather (the only song not self-produced) and more classic Smokey on Let Me Have Some, these last two featuring classy saxophone solos from one of the legendary, sadly unnamed Funk Brothers. Any of these four could have been A-sides and it seems crazy that beautiful songs like Choosey Beggar and A Fork In The Road (both amazingly also recorded on 19 May) should have been consigned to flipsides.
Tragically, Going To A Go-Go seems to be the earliest full Miracles album to be in catalogue at the time of writing, though they had recorded over half a dozen albums by this time, but is by far the best first choice of their available original albums.
However, this CD contains another treat: the follow-up album Away We A Go-Go in full. Although its title is clearly inspired by the monster dance hit that lent its title to the first album, the scope of this album is far wider, if slightly less brilliant in part.
Although it kicks of with a dance-floor stomper in Whole Lot Of Shakin' In My Heart (in a longer version than the single) and ends with the equally upbeat More, More, More Of Love, it also has two Bacharach-David ballads including I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself, probably inspired by Dusty Springfield rather than Tommy Hunt's original, as the album also features You Don't Have To Say You Love Me, virtually her signature tune though its origins were as an Italian ballad by Pino Donaggio. Both of these, along with Walk On By, were recorded by Mickey Gentile in New York on 15 July 1966, another notable Motown date, though there were many. I'm not sure that the other voices on these three tracks are those of the Miracles.
The other A-side on this album is the Holland-Dozier-Holland song (Come Round Here) I'm The One You Need, a complex and beautifully sophisticated arrangement that nonetheless reached the national British Top Twenty, though the vocals were re-recorded for the stereo version of the album as included here (you can find the original mono version on The Ultimate Collection). Save Me, Oh Be My Love and Swept For You Baby were B-sides, all Smokey Robinson originals, leaving seven rarer tracks exclusive to this release, of which one more comes from Smokey's pen, again with his trademark panache and rhyme. Most of the record was recorded during 1966 for the album, but Beauty Is Only Skin Deep was produced by Norman Whitfield only a fortnight after the Temptations' original in April 1964 and presumably held over when theirs was chosen for single release.
These two albums on a single disc arguably represent a more rounded picture and better value for money than some retrospective compilations of the group.
(review filed 17 May 2007)
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
The Tracks Of My Tears (56.56)** P 1960-1972, P 1997
Much bigger in America than over here, the Miracles (as they were still called in the UK until 1967, and on 11 of the tracks here), nevertheless had a few Top 20 UK hits in the 1960s and there is a fair smattering of these on this handy Spectrum/Tamla Motown 20 track budget-priced compilation.
The title track flopped when first issued here in 1965 but reached no. 9 when reissued in 1969, and Tears Of A Clown, a 3-year old album track first extracted as a single in 1970 by the British Tamla Motown label, reached number one here and subsequently in America (an earlier Spectrum compilation was called Tears Of A Clown, and that song is duplicated here in its mildly truncated and remixed US version).
A generous 15 of the titles here were A-sides, the remainder being album tracks. There are 3 non-album A-sides (of interest to collectors), including I Second That Emotion, but no non-album B-sides. It is not documented that 5 of the tracks are monaural versions, including at least 3 previously available in stereo elsewhere
(review filed 14 February 2004, revised 29 April 2004)
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Ooo Baby Baby: The Anthology (US Import) (80.06/76.35)**** P 1958-1972, P 2002
This generous 52-track compilation is a pretty definitive overview of the Miracles recording career in terms of singles releases, as all the A-sides are here (with the exception of a couple of early pre-Tamla, non-Top 100 sides), as well as 11 B-sides, one of which, Would I Love You? from 1964, although a radio favourite was not on any original album. Their early single, Got A Job, an answer record to the Silhouettes' Get A Job, was produced by Berry Gordy and its local success led to the eventual formation of the famous Motown hit factory, so its inclusion here (unfortunately in mono) is highly warranted. Three of the singles are in their slightly-longer LP versions - no bad thing at all, and I Like It Like That has a different vocal to the one on the single, but the inclusion of the 1963 live version of I've Been Good To You in preference to the version from I'll Try Something New that was the B-side of What's So Good About Goodbye is perhaps more questionable.
Although the first 8 tracks are in mono, the rest are in stereo and it is a delight to discover that tracks 9-24 on disc 1 appear in previously unreleased stereo mixes. To hear old classic favourites like You've Really Got A Hold On Me and Mickey's Monkey in stereophonic glory for the first time is like discovering them afresh. The separation of guitars, horns and voices adds so much to the sound picture.
The first disc, which is over 80 minutes long, is especially strong and causes one to want to dig out the original albums. The overall descent into schmaltz and blandness on the second disc is offset by some key returns to form, notably on Abraham Martin And John, The Tears Of A Clown (US Single Remix) and I Don't Blame You At All. Sadly, by the time of We've Come Too Far To End It Now, Smokey Robinson had come too far not to end it then
(review filed 6 August 2004)
Song To The Seagull (38.07)*** P 1968
Joni Mitchell was 25 when she first went into a recording studio to record the enviable inventory of songs that became Song To A Seagull. By this time she had been performing professionally for several years and her songs had already been recorded by some of folk's biggest names, notably Tom Rush and Judy Collins, whose orchestral version of Mountain From Mountains can be compared directly with the starker, simpler version heard here. The album was thematic with one side titled I Came To The City and the other Out Of The City And Down To The Seaside and comprised mainly Joni Mitchell accompanying herself on guitar and piano, with the occasional banshee and Stephen Stills on bass, thanks to David Crosby's sensitive production. This put the focus squarely on Joni's performance and the remarkable strength of her writing. Only a moderate success at the time it nevertheless set in motion the relentless trajectory of her fame, and still sounds fresh and perceptive, grating only when her voice enters the higher registers. In the UK, Night In The City was released as a single and raised her profile with some radio plays on programmes such as Top Gear
(review filed 29 April 2004)
Clouds (37.41)*** P 1969
By the time of this, her second album, Joni Mitchell was a buzz name. Fairport Convention and Judy Collins had recorded her songs to great effect, and she had appeared on Dick Cavett's talk show, sold out Carnegie Hall and met Bob Dylan on The Johnny Cash Show. She had a huge stockpile of songs, most of which any songwriter would sell their soul to have written. These include Chelsea Morning and Both Sides Now, published in 1967, which have now virtually become standards. The newer material showed new maturity and depth, such as the anti-war The Fiddle And The Drum, and her dissection of a relationship, The Gallery, which gives full reign to her acute perceptions, while her mastery of own accompaniment skills on both guitar and piano excelled.
This edition contains no bonus tracks but has been faithfully HDCD re-mastered.
(review filed 20 November 2003)
For The Roses (40.25)*** P 1972
It was perhaps inevitable that a gifted singer-songwriter in the sixties who began performing in clubs and bars using guitar and occasional piano would use the folk idiom as the vehicle for her art. With For The Roses for the first time showed that her musical language naturally spread far wider. By simply switching the emphasis from guitar to piano she was able to demonstrate her ease with blues, jazz and even a little tasteful rock on the throwaway single You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio. More popular in the UK than in the North American continent, judging by her album sales to this point, this album perversely reversed her fortunes, reaching no. 11 in the US but not charting over here, despite highlights like Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire, with James Burton's guitar, the evocative Five Easy Pieces world of Barandgrill, and her best piece to date, Woman Of Heart And Mind.
The non-album B-side Urge For Going, a previously unrecorded early song, performed acoustically, would have made an excellent bonus track for the HDCD re-issue, though it has subsequently turned up on two compilations. Perhaps next time
(review filed 29 April 2004)
Court And Spark (36.58)**** P 1974
The years immediately before punk were rather depressing musically, and 1974 was no exception. Elvis Presley was in terminal decline and Elvis Costello was still recording demos in his bedroom. Nick Drake was not to see the year out and Tim Buckley only had one year left. With the exception of a few bands such as Dr Feelgood, who were lumped in with the pub rockers, in the UK there was very little in the way of new artists to inspire us.
Fortunately, the international major players of the day seemed to be a roll. Bob Dylan had completed his Before The Flood tour and was recording Blood On The Tracks, Bob Marley was preparing Natty Dread with his new line-up and Joni Mitchell released Court And Spark. It was unlike any of her previous albums which had been predominantly solo affairs, acoustic and folksy.
Forty-five seconds into the album the sounds of the Tom Scott's LA Express subtly expand the soundscape and launch the new Joni with settings of as strong a set of new songs as one could ever hope for. The sublime Help Me gave Joni her highest US chart position, and was followed up with Free Man In Paris where she sang of "feeling unfettered and alive" and sounded it. People's Parties, Same Situation, Car On A Hill... there are almost too many good songs on this album. Having allowed the band in, she added a few name guests for good measure, such as José Feliciano, Wayne Perkins, Robbie Robertson (on the light-hearted single Raised On Robbery, which had preceded the album) and even Cheech and Chong on the humorously self-mocking cover of Annie Ross's Twisted - a song it would have been impossible to imagine her attempting even a year before, but which she inhabits with total ease. The production (uncredited, but probably Joni Mitchell with sound engineer Henry Lewy) is sophisticated but light and airy without becoming intrusive.
One of the most essential albums of the decade
(review filed 5 June 2004)
Miles Of Aisles (74.06)** P 1974, P 1993
Two albums into her Asylum contract came this double album recorded live in California in 1974. Treading water prior to her next studio album a full year later (The Hissing Of Summer Lawns), the album also usefully provided Asylum with shiny new versions of some of her Reprise back catalogue, at a time when her vocal style had matured. Some of these now sounded considerably different, having been rearranged to incorporate the LA Express, the band led by Tom Scott with whom Joni had been working since their involvement on the Court And Spark album released at the start of the year. Perversely though, the one song from that album, People's Parties, is performed live acoustically.
Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock, Carey, The Last Time I Saw Richard and Both Sides Now in particular appear in marked contrast to their studio counterparts, making them of some interest whether or not in the final analysis they are improvements. The album concludes with two previously unrecorded songs, Jericho (later to appear on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter) and Love Or Money.
Most of the concert was recorded over four August nights at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheater and mixed to create the atmosphere of a single live performance (though two of the tracks come from earlier concerts at different venues in March). However, much of this atmosphere has been sacrificed on this CD in an attempt to squeeze the albums onto to one disc. With the exception of Joni's amiable preamble to The Circle Game, all the between song chat and some of the applause has been crudely excised, with applause frequently being unceremoniously cut short by the clean start of a new track. As the running time is only 74 minutes, one hopes that any HDCD remastered edition will be able to restore this album to something approaching the whole, in line with the original production intentions
(review filed 21 July 2005)
Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (US Import) (59.51)*** P 1977, P 1990
Regarded at the time as a slightly over ambitious follow up to the much-loved Hejira, this is probably the most neglected album in Joni Mitchell's canon. Originally a double-album with each side a complete suite of songs (side 2 devotes exclusively to Paprika Plains), its one hour running time sits comfortably on a single CD, though maybe it wasn't intended to be heard in a single sitting. Judging from the lyric to the title track, and the pictorial and verbal allusions to American Indians, it would seem that the Don Juan of the title refers to the Yaqui Indian shaman of Carlos Castaneda, with Joni's self-image recast through childhood and dreams as a recurring motif in the songs.
Chaka Khan, Jaco Pastorius (on top form) and members from Weather Report (including Wayne Shorter), LA Express and the Eagles are among the main contributors but are all held very much in a supporting role to Joni's controlling vision. Jericho and the superb Dreamland were already familiar in other versions, but there had never been anything like Paprika Plains before - a 16-minute suite orchestrated by Michael Gibbs which begins as a conventional song but spirals into an impressionist painting in sound, with libretti not sung but printed in the accompanying booklet. The African drumming led by Airto, which informs Dreamland, also propels The Tenth World, the album's most unusual cut, on which Airto again plays surdo, Jaco Pastorius plays bongos and Manola Badrena plays congas and coffee cans and leads the wordless chorus consisting of Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan and percussionists Don Alias and Alejandro Acuna.
The album is equally effective on unadorned songs such as the beautiful, traditional sounding closer, Silky Veils Of Ardor, on which Joni is accompanied only by her own guitar.
That this album is not considered a masterpiece can only be because of the very strong competition offered by some of her other, more commercially successful albums
(review filed 21 July 2005)
Happy Songs For Happy People (41.49)**** P 2003
In a way this album exemplifies the musician's perennial problems of trying to square the circle by coming up with something different whilst staying the same. From the opening notes this is clearly identifiable as being Mogwai and as it progresses can be heard to equal the quality of its predecessors. The individuality of their musical identity creates unenviable inbuilt difficulties: if a piece resembles an earlier recording, the band is laid open to charges of stagnation, of simply having further stabs at basically recording the same album in a new guise; if it differs too much, they risk being accused of losing their identity, or even of selling out and becoming too commercial.
Perhaps tellingly, the two songs that featured in the top ten of the 2003 John Peel Festive Fifty, the only two to be placed, were Hunted By A Freak and the eight-minute epic Ratts Of The Capital, as these side-openers contain the most recognisably Mogwai trademark qualities: the sinister, slow building of the soundscape, the quiet/loud/quiet passages, the tortured guitar. However, elsewhere on the record there are several subtle indications that Mogwai have plenty left to say, musically speaking, and there is more of a democratic band feel than in some of their earlier guitar-led pieces. Four of the tracks are augmented by cello or violin, and a string quartet is employed to atmospheric effect on Killing All The Flies.
As always, the titles remain enigmatic and willfully ungrammatical (Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep; Moses? I Amn't), and in a mark of the new maturity and restraint shown throughout this extremely listenable record, most of the pieces are only three or four minutes long. This is not a record that gives away all its secrets on the first listen, but rewards repeated plays. This is in no small part due to the skilful engineering led by Tony Doogan at the CaVa studios in Glasgow, but also to the collaborative efforts and musical empathy of the band themselves.
(review filed 31 May 2007)
Beautiful Vision (45.08)* P 1982, P 1994
Van Morrison's Mercury catalogue was among the first to be re-issued in the CD format and suffered as many did by poor mastering and foreshortened endings designed to conceal tape-hiss and anomalies from the analogue masters, but these faults had been ironed out on this 1994 Polydor re-issue.
Buying a Van Morrison album in the 1980s was not exactly taking a leap into the unknown and true to form Beautiful Vision carries on where Common One left off, the songs often reminiscent of each other, at times so easy on the ear they become almost invisible, like high-quality muzak, with a metaphysical layer of Van's incantations on top.
The singles were Cleaning Windows, reminiscences of happy times in Belfast, with Mark Knopfler guesting on guitar, and Dweller On The Threshold, which, like Aryan Mist, takes a few leaves from the book of the theosophist Alice Bailey and blends them with the Tibetan Book Of The Dead; the piano-led instrumental Scandinavia turning up as a B-side. The album opener Celtic Ray set the tone and was one of two to feature the Uillean pipes of Sean Fulsom. It was later to be reworked with the Chieftains without the ubiquitous synthesizers on their collaboration Irish Heartbeat. When it all comes together, as on Vanlose Stairway, the results can become compelling
(review filed 6 January 2004)
What's Wrong With This Picture? (63.43)** P 2003
Van Morrison's first for the prestigious Blue Note label has him on good vocal form and clearly enjoying performing, despite the vitriolic nature of a few of the lyrics, and there is an enjoyable variety of styles throughout, with plenty of room for the excellent team of musicians to breathe and play. Van himself contributes alto sax on three of the tracks and acoustic guitar on several others. Acker Bilk brings some beautiful clarinet to Somerset, a tune he wrote with David Collett; and Pirates guitarist Mick Green turns up on Lightnin' Hopkins' Stop Drinking (with some additional lyrics from Van) and on the closing track, Get On With The Show. The only other cover on the album is Saint James Infirmary, a much recorded standard that dates back to Louis Armstrong, of which Van Morrison's version makes a worthwhile addition (for a very different interpretation, try Snakefarm's 1998 version on Songs For My Funeral). I wonder if he had in mind the sixties version by the Graham Bond Organisation? Most of the album was made at Bath's Wool Hall, with the odd excursion to Kilmurray House and Westland Studios, Dublin, and is all beautifully recorded
(review filed 16 November 2004)
Finally We Are No-one (56.12)**** P 2002
A lot of very interesting music comes out of Iceland aside from Björk, and Múm are a fine example, Icelanders now based in Reykjavik and Berlin. The album was apparently conceived in a lighthouse in north-west Iceland and recorded in Reykjavik at the studios of Sigur Ros. The overall sound suggests what Vespertine might have sounded like without Björk; perhaps partly because they shared the same studio engineer, Valgeir Sigurdsson, but also because the sense of magic and fragility, and a child-like sense of discovery is overwhelmingly present on both, if with sinister overtones.
From the album, Green Grass Of Tunnel was released as a single and was no. 48 in the 2002 John Peel Festive 50. Several other titles look like old Yoko Ono B-sides, for example Don't Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed, and I Can't Feel My Hand Any More, It's Alright, Sleep Still. The album culminates in a glorious 12-minute epic, The Land Between Solar Systems.
Múm were at this time classically-trained Gyöa Valtýsdóttir (vocal, xylophone, melodica) and sister Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir (vocal, cello, xylophone, melodica, keyboards), Gunnar Örn Tynes (keyboards, guitar), Örvar Fóreyjarson Smárason (keyboards, melodica, glockenspiel, guitar) and Samuli Koskinen (drums, percussion). Gyöa and Kristín can be seen on the cover of Belle and Sebastian's Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant album
(updated review filed 16 February 2004)