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
Foxbase Alpha (48.22)*** P 1991
Fifteen years on, St Etienne are still an underestimated force, despite, or perhaps because of, their consistent chart appearances. Of course Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell are not only about commercial songs, but have constantly looked forwards and backwards in their music, one minute constructing mix albums of records to be found on the jukeboxes of sixties' greasy spoons, the next collaborating with To Rococo Rot or handing over their multi-tracks to the most avant remixers of the day.
Foxbase Alpha, their highly regarded 1991 debut, set a pattern, juxtaposing eclectic samples between songs that might be poppy, wistful, surreal or kitsch. They also used the CD booklet in a different and new way, here with an essay on London by Jon Savage and some iconic photographs.
In the early days, they lacked a regular singer and on their debut single as St Etienne in 1990 (included here) they borrowed the singer Moira Lambert (from Faith Over Reason) for their transformation of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a regular radio play to this day, and on its follow up, the non-album Let's Kiss And Make Up (originally by the Field Mice) enlisted Donna Savage from Dead Famous People. Once Sarah Cracknell appeared, however, they had found their perfect foil with her summery and evocative lightness of tone. She first appeared on the suitably titled single Nothing Can Stop Us Now, a minor hit in May 1991 that paved the way for this deceptively influential album a few months later, which is still such a joy to listen to.
(review filed 14 July 2005)
Casino Classics (77.09/68.37)*** P 1990-1996, P 1996
We Brits should be proud of having produced St Etienne, an utterly contemporary sounding group who regularly flitted up the charts in the nineties with their sure footed pop sensibilities and Sarah Cracknell's languid vocals. They could effortlessly draw from the music of previous decades, yet were not afraid to be avant-garde, and at the same time had one foot firmly in the dance camp.
This is evidenced here by the cutting edge remixers they commissioned for the numerous white labels and B-sides they released and some they didn't. Some of the best are gathered within these covers: The Chemical Brothers, Secret Knowledge (Kris Needs), The Aloof (Jagz Kooner), Andrew Weatherall, The Aphex Twin, David Holmes, Death In Vegas, Lionrock, Underworld and Broadcast, many of them still unknown names at the time.
The highly anthologised Weatherall "mix in two halves" of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart is present and correct as is the mighty 14 minute version of Cool Kids Of Death remixed by Underworld and the famous Trouser Assassin mix of Pale Movie.
Disc 1 begins and ends with versions of Like A Motorway, while Disc 2 bookends versions of a new song called Angel and features several other new songs and mixes, including the best track of all, a Monkey Mafia reworking of a 1991 B-side called Filthy, featuring the vocals of Q-Tee and a sample of Tone-Loc's Wild Thing
(review filed 19 November 2003)
Sam and Dave
I Thank You (35.34)** P 1968
I Thank You was Sam Moore and Dave Prater's fourth album for Stax/Atlantic and appeared three years after the first. Known as "Double Dynamite" the ex-gospel singers had an exciting stage act but on record benefited greatly from the galvanising presence of Booker T and the MGs and the Mar-Keys and the songwriting and arranging skills of Isaac Hayes with Dave Porter. A split between Stax and Atlantic later in 1968 meant that, deprived of that luxury, this was the last album before their split in 1970.
The title track had been a US Top Ten hit, with Wrap It Up rather thrown away on the flipside. Another two (less successful) singles on the album are Everybody's Got To Believe In Somebody and You Don't Know What You Mean To Me. There are also covers of Otis Redding's These Arms Of Mine and Homer Banks' Ain't That A Lot Of Love, alongside some fresh material, and the album closer is a strong rendition of That Lucky Old Sun.
This is a straight re-issue of the original album with the original liner notes but could do with a sonic overhaul and a longer running time by rounding up some stray B-sides and any unreleased gems from the period
(review filed 4 January 2004)
Aqua-Pet....You Make Me (42.27)** P 1996
Named from a fictitious novel cited in The Catcher In The Rye, the Secret Goldfish were a Glaswegian outfit who formed in 1995. Katy McCullars, the singer from the Fizzbombs, teamed up with new guitarist John Morose and formed the band with the rhythm section of C86 veterans the Mackenzies - G Lironex (Graham Lironi) and Paul Turnbull. They played a lively and infectious brand of indie rock, with crystal sharp vocals in a lush Scottish accent and loads of noisy electric guitar that had plenty of echo and reverb; somewhere in between the Shangri-Las, Smokey Robinson and the Jesus and Mary Chain.
Aqua Pet...You Make Me, produced by Stephen Lironi, came out in 1996 and included both the singles they'd already had out: Seasick and Come Ondone. From the album, Venus Bonding, Tartan Envy (in a re-recorded version) and Dandelion Milk Summer (1997 Festive Fifty no. 23) were also singles subsequently, and the band went on to make two more successful albums before escaping the bowl at the end of the decade
(review filed 20 December 2004)
Jet Streams (41.08)** P 1997
The second album from this Glasgow group grabs you warmly by the throat with their rampant version of the Nectarine Number Nine's This Arsehole's Been Burned Too Many Times Before and never lets go. Loads of indie guitar and Katy's crystalline vocals over infectious dance-friendly pop rhythms follow, including the singles Tartan Envy and Give Him A Great Big Kiss, their nineties update on the Shangri-Las classic, neatly exposing their pop sensibilities. They also give a Goldfish makeover to Nirvana's Come As You Are, and startlingly combine Velvet Underground's After Hours with Orange Juice's Intuition Told Me to close the album on a suitable note. Another highlight is their floor-filling Motown-A-Go-Go inspired Pink Drone, which featured on a Creeping Bent Singles Club release (and was later re-recorded as Punk Drone for a single A-side). Good clean disco fever.
Between the first album and the second Steven Seven had taken over on bass guitar from G Lironex, who had left to form Mongoose, and plays on the eight most recently recorded tracks. Some are over almost before they've begun, four tracks clocking in at under two minutes. Two of the shortest of these had already appeared on B-sides. In fact, altogether 9 of the 14 tracks also turn up on singles and EPs, including their E.K.O.K. EP from the previous year
(review filed 6 January 2005)
Will Anything Happen (38.21)*** P 1986, P 2008
How quickly the fickle finger of fame points away from posterity. The Shop Assistants had several claims to their fifteen minutes, but now even their exact line-up seems unsure. The Shop Assistants topped the indie charts with Safety Net, appeared on the highly influential NME C86 cassette, recorded three sessions for Radio One and featured in John Peel's Festive Fifty with double entries both in 1985 and 1986.
Their jangly indie pop sound fitted exactly with the times, and they were often likened to fellow Scots the Jesus and Mary Chain - honey-drenched wall-of-sound guitars and reverb over unexpectedly melodic tunes. Unlike the Reid brothers, however, the Shop Assistants were female, with the exception of guitarist and tunesmith David Keenan. The key ingredient that distinguished their sound was their principle lead singer, Alex Taylor, who had joined the band in 1985 after they had released one single as Buba and the Shop Assistants with another singer (called Aggi - not Buba as you might expect).
As well as Chain-esque songs such as the singles All Day Long, Safety Net and I Don't Want To Be Friends With You (also owing something to the Ramones), which characterised their sound, the album The Shop Assistants featured some softer songs, including the lovely Somewhere In China, where Alex's vocal sounds reminiscent of Bridget St John from some years earlier. It's a classic, at least in my home.
When this, their only album, was released in late 1986 such was the snobbery of the time that they were accused of selling out, since it appeared on Blue Guitar, regarded as a major label since it was a Chrysalis subsidiary. Three of the tracks, though, had previously appeared on their first two EPs, released on the tiny Subway Organisation and 53rd & 3rd labels, the latter run by David Keenan. A look at the producer credits in the small print further reveal that at least two of the other tracks date from sessions with John Ryan, as early as April 1985, and I doubt if their decriers could tell from listening which those were. They disbanded a little later, though there was a brief resurrection in 1990 with a somewhat altered line-up.
Most of the album was home grown, but there were nods to their sixties pop sensibilities with two songs, The Train From Kansas City, originally by the Shangri-Las, and What A Way To Die, first recorded by the Detroit band the Pleasure Seekers, featuring Patti and Suzi Quatro. At some time the album acquired an alternative title, Will Anything Happen, presumably a reference to the Blondie song.
As well as Alex and David, the album credits Sarah Kneale on bass guitar and Laura McPhail (drums), their line-up at the time of release. However the EPs from which the earlier tracks derive also name Ann Donald as their second drummer, and as she played on their first John Peel session in October 1985 to promote the Safety Net EP, and seems only to have left a little after that to join the Fizzbombs, it seems likely she is to be heard on many of these tracks. A session for Janice Long from February 1986 records another second drummer, hiding under the mantle Joan Bride. Who she, and is she/he on the album? Two album tracks feature the trumpet playing of Jon Hunter, then a member of the June Brides, whose drummer was Martin Pink. Was it him? We'll probably never know, but should be told.
Whilst social historians of the future tie themselves up in knots trying to fathom all of this out, we can enjoy this exuberant and sometimes winsome antidote to glum Thatcherism. This reissue also includes two bonus tracks, originally appearing on the single of I Don't Want To Be Friends With You.
(review filed 2 February 2009)
Mantaray (41.00)*** P 2007
Over the years Siouxsie has spoken a number of wise words that have acted as a guiding light, a beacon through my perilous journey through life. Once she said that anyone who doesn't like cats, she doesn't like them. Not only does this seem a very sound principle that has yet to let me down, it is rather the way I feel about Siouxsie herself. So having declared an interest, it may come as little surprise to learn that I like this album, her first solo recording since her career began over thirty years ago. It also marks, I believe, the first time her name has appeared on a composer credit on its own, as it does on One Mile Below.
Of course there are other musicians on the record but unlike the democracy involved with the Creatures and Siouxsie and the Banshees, here their purpose is to support and realize Siouxsie's vision. To this end producers Steve Evans and Charlie Jones at Bath's Riverside Studios have supplied guitars, keyboards, programming, bass guitar and upright bass, anchored throughout by drummer extraordinaire Clive Deamer. All three had previously served time with Robert Plant, and Steve Jones co-produced his recent Mighty Rearranger album. Siouxsie has chosen to set out her stall by showcasing a variety of styles, mostly close to areas she has explored in the past but in fresher settings that highlight her irrepressible vocal gymnastic talents to excellent effect and show her as always moving forward.
On If It Doesn't Kill You she evokes the mood of a Bond movie, while Here Comes That Day is dramatically large in Big Spender Bassey-esque fashion. Several tracks have a chorus of other Siouxsies in the background. Other musicians have been used sparingly; a dulcimer here, some notable Egyptian percussion there, the occasional use of strings and a one man horn section in the form of Terry Edwards on the single Here Comes That Day and on Drone Zone.
Judging from the sound of it, Siouxsie clearly enjoyed the sessions, recorded over time in occasional short bursts, rather like her beloved B-sides sessions, each session involving a commute from her home in France. Sometimes the chemistry that can only come from a unit that regularly plays and performs together is not quite there, though as she has subsequently embarked on a tour with her new musical mates, this minor issue should be addressed on future releases. The album is lean, clocking in at just over 40 minutes, free of filler and sounding better with every play. It isn't the Banshees, it isn't the Creatures, but it is Siouxsie, and to be celebrated.
(review filed 3 January 2008)
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Downside Up (64.55/71.42/73.53/19.40)**** P 1978-1995, P 2004
This triple CD with a bonus CD EP collects all the B-sides released by Siouxsie and the Banshees in their illustrious career, excluding the extended remixes. Of those who witnessed Siouxsie reciting The Lord's Prayer at the 100 Club Punk Festival in 1976, who would have imagined the glories that lay ahead for the Chiselhurst punkette and her troupe of Banshees?
Siouxsie and the Banshees B-sides were always special, as they eschewed the practice of lifting a track off a current or recent album, or using a spare demo or radio broadcast. Occasionally, they were specially recorded cover versions (Twentieth Century Boy, Supernatural Thing) or songs recorded for an album but not used (Coal Mind), but usually they were specially conceived as B-sides and far from being throwaways were seen by the band as a chance to experiment, be spontaneous and creative, and to explore new musical avenues. Some of them explore the same themes as the A-side from a different angle. Pulled To Bits mirrors the scenario of Playground Twist, complete with sound effects; Eve White Eve Black concerns itself with two of Christine Sizemore's twenty-two multiple personalities, the subject of A-side Christine; and Red Over White continues the Christmas theme of Israel.
During the life of the covers album Through The Looking Glass, the flipsides of the singles from the album were the only way new songs could reach their public, hence Shooting Sun, Sleepwalking, She's Cuckoo and Something Blue. Siouxsie herself has often said how proud she is of these B-sides. Because they are quite different animals to the A-sides they back, they generally sound better played alongside each other in a collection such as this, than when alternated with the fully produced confections on the top sides.
As these tracks were exclusive to the singles, only those on disc three, which were released after the advent of the CD single, have previously been available in digital format (and some of these sound remixed), and this collection, first mooted in the eighties, has been long awaited.
Voices, the opening track, is a quite remarkably brave and ambitious piece for a debut single and hearing it without the vinyl crackle and distortion that previously accompanied it on my well-worn single was like hearing it for the first time. The magnificent journey through the set ends with the two B-sides from the first CD single of Stargazer, more polished and melodious, but equally distinctive. The double A-sided German single Mittageisen/Love In A Void is represented by Mittageisen, the German-language version of Metal Postcard, and, oddly, Love In A Void is not included (but can be found as a bonus track on the remastered Join Hands).
The bonus EP, The Thorn, making its highly anticipated CD debut, could have been squeezed onto the other three discs, at less than twenty minutes long, but having it as a stand-alone disc is an added plus. It features radically altered versions of songs from their past, newly realized in 1984 with sumptuous string arrangements.
Sometimes the digital remastering is flawed and annoying, such as the early fade on Coal Mind; at other times it is newly revealing, as on Slap Dash Snap. Either way, having these recordings finally available on CD is an achievement, and surprising that they should have surfaced before a comprehensive collection of all the A-sides and 12" singles, or of their many BBC radio sessions.
(review filed 22 September 2006)
and the Banshees
The Best Of Siouxsie And The Banshees (57.11/64.33)**** R 1978-1996, P 2004
This is more of a Greatest Hits than a Best Of since all of the previously released tracks were hit singles, and the more commercially successful of these have been selected, so no room for The Staircase (Mystery) or Song From The Edge Of The World, neither of which were from albums, the latter never have gained a CD release in its original form. All of the tracks here are also available on Once Upon A Time and Twice Upon A Time, with the exception of Stargazer and Dizzy, which had yet to be recorded, so this collection is intended as an introduction to the band for a newer audience. Dizzy, the most recent recording, was to be a single a year or so after The Rapture but was shelved when the band left Polydor and then disbanded. All of the tracks have been sonically spruced up by the band, who were responsible for the track listing and design, with The Killing Jar, Cities In Dust and Stargazer having quite a startling added clarity. This Wheel's On Fire is a surprise, half-a-minute longer than the album version, with a big finish. I'm guessing this was originally the 12" single version. Knowing it from Julie Driscoll's version, they nearly didn't go ahead with the recording when they discovered it was a Bob Dylan song. It isn't everyone's favourite, but I like their version a lot. Though this collection only presents one side of the band, what a side that is, with every track shimmering, beautiful and different.
I've always loved their 12" mixes and greatly enjoyed the second CD of nine long remixes. None of them are duplicated on the Downside Up box set, and have also been remixed from the previously released versions, some having been apparently truncated from their vinyl versions. I knew and loved the Lepidopteristic Mix of The Killing Jar from the CD single, but the version here is well over a minute longer. The Indian influence of Kiss Them For Me is beautifully developed on the Kathak #2 Mix, and Song From The Edge Of The World finally appears digitally in the extended Columbus Mix, which was my preferred version on the 12" single. Dazzle, missing from CD1 but available on Hyaena, is also here in its 12" version. As most of these mixes were long out of print, this bonus disc makes the 2CD version by far the better buy at the right price.
(review filed 29 October 2005)
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Voices On The Air - The Peel Sessions (69.58)*** R 1977-1986, P 2006
This very welcome package brings together all the sessions the Banshees recorded for the John Peel show, two before they had even signed a record deal, and all between 1977 and 1986. It once again demonstrates the small miracles regularly performed by the producers and studio engineers in the small radio studios at Maida Vale. Each session, usually comprising about four tracks, was recorded in a single day, generally as live with no more than a few minor overdubs, and often captures a sense of performance missing from the officially released versions.
Voodoo Dolly particularly benefits from this treatment, and like the other three titles from this February 1981 session, was recorded the month before they went into the studios to record them for Juju, giving the listeners a chance to preview a work in progress. But For Them, a showcase for Siouxsie and Budgie, is especially interesting as it was dropped uncompleted from Juju and instead turned up later on the debut EP by the Creatures, the Siouxsie and Budgie splinter group whose genesis this track had inspired.
I'm not so sure the Peel sessions should be singled out for this special treatment, when the band recorded sessions in the same studios for other Radio One shows, such as the Evening Session, and later in Manchester for Mark Radcliffe. They also recorded sessions around the world for other radio stations, not to mention a Capital Radio session in 1978 (Mirage and Metal Postcard).
In 2009 this collection has been complemented by a CD/DVD box set, At The BBC. It is considerably more expensive than this single CD; bad news for those of us that have already bought this one, but it does include everything on this CD plus the other missing Radio One sessions in full, as well as some live recordings broadcast on radio or TV.
(review filed 18 April 2009)
Sir Douglas Quintet
The Prime Of Sir Douglas Quintet (62.21/61.10)*** R 1964-1970, P 1998, 2004
She's About A Mover was one of the great singles in a year which had an embarrassment of great singles (Like A Rolling Stone, My Generation, Help!, Mr Tambourine Man, California Girls, I Got You Babe) and as this collection demonstrates the Sir Douglas Quintet were very much more than a fake British cash in. That they failed at impersonating the Mersey sound was inevitable being that they came from the Texas-Mexico borders, but in the attempt the band featuring Doug Sahm's earthy vocals and guitar and Augie Meyer's Vox Continental organ sound, created a unique and wonderful niche of their own.
A haze of confusion surrounds the albums of the Sir Douglas Quintet, most of which are unavailable in their original form, which this set, excellent as its contents are, does little to demist. Their first album, for example, which contained their three biggest hits, She's About A Mover, The Tracker and The Rains Came, was entitled The Best Of The Sir Douglas Quintet in the US, a name it soon had to share with several actual compilations.
There has also previously been a single CD compilation called The Prime Of Sir Douglas Quintet, but this is not exactly its expanded edition, despite sharing a very similar cover, as it has a different running order and lacks one of its 18 tracks (I Don't Want To Go Home) while adding a further 24. It seems instead to be a re-issue of a 1998 album entitled The Crazy Cajun Recordings. The contradictory subtitle that now adorns the cover, The Best Of The Tribe Recordings, is also rather misleading as this compilation includes additionally recordings made for Smash and, it would seem, Crazy Cajun; quite possibly other labels too as the liner note author seems to have been starved of such information, and furthermore hazards the opinion that some of the tracks are not by the Quintet at all, but were recorded by Doug Sahm as a solo artist. Composer credits are incomplete with those responsible unaware of who wrote One Too Many Mornings despite a name-check to "Bobby Dylan" during the song.
Admirers of their Tribe period, however, need not turn away as there is a comprehensive representation from that era. All the Tribe singles from their 1964 debut (Sugar Bee) to the last in 1966 (She Digs My Love) are represented, though the absence of the A-side The Story Of John Hardy and a B-side (Love Don't Treat Me Fair) render the set incomplete.
The original tracklisting of The Best Of Sir Douglas Quintet was: She's About A Mover/Beginning Of The End/The Tracker/You're Out Walking The Streets Tonight/In The Pines/In The Jailhouse Now/Quarter To Three/It's A Man Down There/The Rains Came/Please Just Say So/We'll Take Our Last Walk Tonight/Walking The Streets.
With the exception of the rearranged reprise of You're Out Walking The Streets Tonight at the end, it would appear that these are all included. It's A Man Down There is a version of the Sonny Boy Williamson/Elmore James standard better known as One Way Out, and the re-titling of the track here may indicate a later re-recording but a date of 1966 is given in the tracklisting.
The album was produced by Huey P Meaux, nicknamed Crazy Cajun and who ran a record label of that name. In 1977 he put out a Sir Douglas Quintet compilation called The Tracker which contained released and unreleased material from the 1965-1966 mono sessions: It's A Man Down There/You Got Me Hurtin'/She Digs My Love/In The Jailhouse Now/In The Pines/Beginning Of The End/The Tracker/Wolverton Mountain/ Hot Tomato Man/Image Of Me. All those titles are included on this set.
More recently BeatRocket (a subsidiary of Sundazed) put out The Sir Douglas Quintet Is Back!, another collection of singles, B-sides and outtakes from the 1965-66 sessions comprising Sugar Bee/Love Don't Treat Me Fair/You Got Me Hurtin'/We'll Never Tell/Oh, What a Mistake!/She Digs My Love/When I Sing the Blues/Story Of John Hardy/In Time/Old Bill Baetty/Isabella/Blues Pass Me By/Wine, Wine, Wine/She's Gotta Be Boss.
Titles omitted from the present compilation therefore are Love Don't Treat Me Fair, We'll Never Tell, Story Of John Hardy, Old Bill Baetty and Wine, Wine, Wine.
Of the remaining tracks Nuevo Laredo (also a single), Dallas Alice, T-Bone Shuffle, Son Of Bill Baety, Revolutionary Ways, Seguin and One Too Many Mornings/Got To Sing A Happy Song all appear from the tracklist to come from the 1970 reunion stereo album Together After Five, recorded for the Mercury subsidiary label Smash. Nothing is included from the previous Smash album, Mendocino.
The rest remain unaccounted before but may presumably be the Doug Sahm solo recordings for Crazy Cajun alluded to in the booklet. These are also stereo recordings (apart from Ain't Nothing Wrong With You Baby) and so may also belong to a later period. Just A Teeny Bit Of Your Love turns out to be Rosco Gordon's Just A Little Bit.
The Sir Douglas catalogue obviously needs sorting out and overhauling, but despite the sparsity of information this is the most comprehensive overview currently available
(review filed 6 September 2005)
From The Beginning (44.19)** R 1965-1967, P 1996
From The Beginning was released as a spoiler by Decca, the Small Faces' old label, to coincide with the release of their new album on the Immediate label entitled Small Faces (confusingly, the only album they made for Decca was also self-titled). The Small Faces did not especially appreciate the gesture, and made a point of specifically discouraging people from buying From The Beginning in the advertising for their new album.
From The Beginning contained all the hits they had had with Decca (What'cha Gonna Do About It, Sha-La-La-La-Lee, Hey Girl, All Or Nothing and My Mind's Eye), available on any number of compilations, alongside a number of previously unreleased recordings. These and are now the chief attraction of this CD re-issue.
The Small Faces had one line-up change while they were with Decca, when in October 1965 Jimmy Winston left and was replaced on keyboards by Ian McLagan. Although the Decca album Small Faces depicted Ian McLagan on the cover when it was released in May 1966, Jimmy Winston played on five or six of the tracks, recorded before his departure, and largely comprising their stage act of the time. Unfortunately, it seems not to be known when these outtakes were recorded but the stage favourite Baby, Don't You Do It (a Marvin Gaye cover) has Jimmy Winston on lead vocals and guitar so some others may well have been recorded before October 1965, possibly the bizarre but interesting version of Runaway and the excellent takes on Don Covay's Take This Hurt Off Me and the Miracles' You've Really Got A Hold On Me. Both of these demonstrate what a fine band they were, and what a great vocalist Steve Marriott was. Indeed one wonders why space could not be found for some of these recordings on their first album. After Ian McLagan joined, they began to put Booker T-style instrumentals on their B-side, so the cover of Plum Nellie here probably features him rather than Jimmy Winston on keyboards.
The album also included earlier versions of songs they re-recorded for Immediate, including My Way Of Giving, which they had handed over to Chris Farlowe for a single, and (Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Her, which they had similarly given to Apostolic Intervention.
For the CD five bonus tracks have been added. Besides some unreleased alternative takes and a BBC session Saturday Club recording are two variant versions of singles which apparently appeared on French EPs: My Mind's Eye (which sounds slightly speeded up) and Hey Girl.
This album is a fascinating insight into the workings of the band during their Decca days with a number of gems not found elsewhere.
(review filed 20 August 2006)
The Darlings Of Wapping Wharf Launderette (69.08/74.08)**** P 1967-1969, P 1999
Even more of a bargain than it appears since as well as plenty of A and B sides, including The Universal/Donkey Rides, A Penny A Glass (whose chart failure initiated the band's demise) and the rather wonderful non-PC non-album B-side of Afterglow (Of Your Love), Wham Bam, Thank You Mam, this compilation includes in their entirety their two UK albums for the Immediate label, The Small Faces and Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, plus all the new studio recordings from the Autumn Stone double-album collection that appeared after they had broken up, all in excellent remastered sound.
A similar collection of the UK Decca label period would be equally welcome.
(indexed 2 July 2003)
BBC Radio 1967-1971 (66.50/60.54)*** P 1967-1971, P 1996
Even six sessions for the Top Gear programme in three and a half years is not enough to demonstrate the speed of the musical developments of this band, who seem by contrast to have been falling into a black hole in subsequent years. Already, by the time of their first session in December 1967 they had changed labels and lost two guitarists (Larry Nolan and Daevid Allen) and become the classic line up of Kevin Ayers, Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt. That first session, produced by Bernie Andrews, caught them at a magic time when they were still song-based and psychedelic, and captured A Certain Kind, Hope For Happiness and Lullaby Letter in very different versions from the officially released counterparts on the LP The Soft Machine, plus two songs unrecorded by the band but later revived by Kevin Ayers and the Whole World: Clarence In Wonderland and We Know What You Mean (aka Soon Soon Soon).
Sadly the group recorded no session during the life of The Soft Machine Vol. 2 and by the time they did return to record for John Walters in November 1969, Kevin Ayers had left, and long, dazzling and intense instrumentals had become the order of the day, interspersed with Robert Wyatt's self-deprecating but pithy vocal interjections. The line-up expanded to include a brass section borrowed from Keith Tippett's band and the result was a jazz-rock fusion unlike any other. Pieces like Mousetrap (here in two versions) and Esther's Nose Job still invigorate, but shortly after the last session here, from June 1971, Robert Wyatt left, and when Mike Ratledge too left in 1976 there was no original member left. All the more reason to have these alternative readings of some of their best loved works
(review filed 7 July 2004)
Low Kick And Hard Bop (42.16)***P 2001
Solex is the nom de musique of the Amsterdam secondhand record shop owner Elisabeth Esselink, who in the nineties had been a member of indie pop act Sonetic Vet. At De C&D, her record store, the discount bins proved a valuable archaeological source of copyright free found sounds that could be plundered, deconstructed and rebuilt into Spectorised sound assaults, using her vintage eight-track sampler; impressive collages that form the basis of her delightfully surreal and exuberant stream-of-consciousness lyrics, multi-track vocals and left-field tunes. The results have little in common with other sample artists but have a quirkiness and humour that perhaps are closer to British plunderphonic artists such as People Like Us or Listen With Sarah.
By the time of this third album (the others being Solex Vs. The Hitmeister in 1998 and Pick Up in 1999, both recommended), Solex had honed her art and toured extensively with live musicians who had helped translate her found sound concoctions into the context of an onstage performance, so that this becomes a notable progression from the earlier albums, and features Geert De Groot on guitar and Robert Lagendijk on drums, whilst retaining the sense of fun and spontaneity that typifies her musical approach.
On her website Solex describes her found sounds as "Old vinyl, crappy un-sellable CD's (again), television (Wheel Of Fortune!), the 'better looking' talk show hosts (they seem to sound better as well), noisy deaf people, films, bootlegs (again), radio, street-noises and animals. The noisy deaf people were my favourites. They do know what they're talking about, but don't have a clue what they sound like (opposite to most musicians)."
In lesser hands, it couldn't work, but Solex has a real gift for creating works of art from these unlikely audio fossils, and is never less than engaging, providing here over 40 minutes of fresh musical weirdness.
(review filed 4 April 2007)
Sons and Daughters
Dance Me In (EP)(US Import) (13.42)*** R 2003-2005, P 2005
This 5-track EP (plus a video) from the States serves as an illustrative commentary of the recordings of this rambunctious Glaswegian four piece. All five tracks are unique to the various formats of Dance Me In but many make connections to other releases.
The first three tracks were produced by Edwyn Collins at his London studio in August 2004 and were released separately on a UK CD single. Dance Me In appears in a newer recording on the album The Repulsion Box produced by Victor Van Vugt, but this version is possibly the more commercial sounding. Come In Out Of The Rain is unusual for the band in that it is a fine cover version of a song first recorded by Parliament, not a band one would necessarily associate with Sons and Daughters, but the song is quite transformed in their hands. Blood is a return to a song that first turned up on their acclaimed 2003 mini-album Love The Cup, showing how it has evolved over two years of live performance.
The other two tracks are to be found on the second UK CD single and are fascinating examples of works in progress. Although the US EP's audio running time is just 13:42 that must have been considered just too much value for money in rip-off Britain by the powers that be, and so split into two releases. Drunk Medicine comes from the early demo sessions for The Repulsion Box album in Cologne, in January 2005, and turned up in a less acoustic form on the album under the title Medicine. Finally, Poor Company is another demo, this time from the sessions of Summer 2003 at Chem19 in Hamilton, Scotland that led to Love The Cup, though the song appears not to have been used. All in all, an entertaining and varied mini-collection that would make an excellent introduction to the band.
(review filed 3 October 2007)
Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes
Super Hits (38.55)* P 1976-1978, P 2001
This budget compilation's title is a bit of a misnomer as only 3 of its 10 tracks were released as singles, and none of those were chart hits. Then again, the stand-out track, The Fever, was originally buried as a B-side of their first single in 1976, not appearing as a proper single until over a year and two LPs later. The song was written by their former Asbury Park band-mate made good Bruce Springsteen, and was donated during a period when he was contractually unable to release records. He wrote three of the other songs on this collection, although their main writer was Sopranos sidekick Miami Steve Van Standt, who was also their producer, and played guitar on their first album prior to joining Springsteen's E-Street Band.
The remainder of the album is drawn from the first three albums, I Don't Want To Go Home, This Time It's For Real and Hearts Of Stone. Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes were a magnificent large ensemble with a phenomenal brass section, the Miami Horns. This collection is a missed opportunity, however, as it fails to show the band at their best and does not reveal their range and finesse.
Although it does not say so, You Mean So Much To Me, featuring the wonderful Ronnie Spector, is not the album version but was recorded live
(review filed 15 April 2004)
Eight Gigs A Week - The Steve Winwood Years (71.48/79.05)*** R 1964-1967, P 1995
The great thing about this mono 2CD set is that it contains virtually everything by the Spencer Davis Group during Stevie Winwood's tenure with the band. When they re-launched in 1967 with Time Seller they were essentially a different band.
None of the three albums released during this period ever made it to CD, so much of the material is on CD here for the first time. The first album was Their First Album, the second was The Second Album and the third was... Autumn '66. Apart from some uncredited backing vocals from Millie on the Ikettes' I'm Blue and a similarly anonymous chorus on Garnett Mimms and the Enchanters' Look Away, everything you hear on the albums is pretty much the band themselves.
They had nine singles, with some throwaway but highly atmospheric and indispensable non-album B-sides, and a 1965 EP of exclusive material, all nicely gathered up here. There are also two previously unreleased live-in-the-studio tracks (Kansas City and Oh, Pretty Woman - this is the Albert King blues, not the Roy Orbison hit), and Stevie's Groove, a very mod-friendly Hammond organ instrumental knocked up in five minutes and only to be found on a rare German B-side (the A-side, an atypical traditional beer-drinking song sung in its native German at the request of the citizens of Hamburg, is the only release not to be included, apart from the US rework of Gimme Some Lovin'). Their contribution to the film Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, an instrumental called Waltz To Caroline, turned up on an Island label "Best Of" in 1968, retitled Waltz To Lumumba, along with Back Into My Life Again, from their final Jimmy Miller sessions and unreleased because it was "too commercial" - well, this was the sixties.
Stevie was born in May 1948 and was therefore barely sixteen when they made their first record, but had been performing live since he was twelve and his voice had an extraordinary maturity and soulful quality. The influence of Ray Charles is quite clear and I'll Drown In My Own Tears and Georgia On My Mind, both superb renditions, were presumably learned from his versions.
Their choice of material, ranging from the Soul Sisters, Brenda Holloway, the Malibus, the Coasters, Prince La La, Ike and Tina Turner, Rufus Thomas, Little Richard, Jimmy Hughes, Roy Alvin, Bettye Lavette, Bobby Parker, Bessie Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Leadbelly, the Impressions, Ivory Joe Hunter, Elvis Presley, Elmore James, Percy Sledge and Don Covay, shows their immersion in then hard-to-find current and older American music, some of it brought to their attention by manager and producer Chris Blackwell and Scene club proprietor and UK Sue label supremo Guy Stevens. It is their own material (and songs tailor-made for them by Jackie Edwards) for singles, though, that tend to be the most polished productions. Keep On Running, Somebody Help Me and Gimme Some Lovin' were all number one hits in the UK, and their swansong I'm A Man, probably their finest single recording, was a top ten hit. Only their first single Dimples failed completely to chart in 1964 and that found itself in competition with John Lee Hooker's 1956 original, re-released while he was in the UK to promote it.
Although this collection begins in 1964 and all the most recent material is on the second disc, the running order is far from chronological, with the two 1966 albums spread over both CDs in seemingly haphazard fashion, so some listeners may care to re-program their CD players at least once for an authentic listening experience
(review filed 8 September 2005)
The Complete Works (Vol.1) (66.40/72.44)**** P 1990-1993, P 2003
More accurately The Complete Works Excluding Album Tracks And With Some Omissions this limited edition release is nonetheless a marvellous collection of rare singles, EPs, promo recordings, flexi-discs, fan club exclusives and a complete John Peel session, all in pristine CD quality (even when one track had to be mastered directly from a flexi-disc as the original acetate master had been destroyed). A few B-sides are missing - yet the 7 minute B-side version of Sway taking up valuable space turns out disappointingly to be identical to the readily-available LP version.
Nevertheless, it is a worthy endeavor to make the bulk of one's catalogue available on CD and the two discs have been sympathetically programmed
(review revised 21 November 2004)
Amazing Grace® (43.04)** P 2003
Amazing Grace® joins that ever-growing elite of albums named after a song title that does not appear on that album, in this case Spiritualized's version of the old hymn Amazing Grace, which had appeared in 2002 on the single of Do It All Over Again. That single was taken from the 2001 album Let It Come Down, an album that had been four years in the making and had been generally regarded as slightly bloated and over-achieving, with gospel choirs and 100-piece orchestras eventually detracting from the beautiful compositions that lay at the core of the album.
By contrast, the majority of this album was recorded over just three weeks at Rockfield, with a line-up comprising Spaceman, John Coxon, Doggen, Thighpaulsandra, Tom Edwards and drummer Johnny Aitken. Regular drummer Kevin Bales had been taken ill at the end of the preceding tour and could not play on most of the sessions.
The band played live, without overdubs, and generally with no more than one day being devoted to complete each song, so that Amazing Grace® became, according to Spaceman, "a document of a recording of what it was like on each day". The result is a fresher, more spontaneous energy infusing the results, with each track contrasting or complementing the one before.
In some ways it sounds like the follow-up to Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space that we never had, the more upbeat tracks such as the excellent Crystals-referencing title She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit) and its follow-up single Cheapster both recalling previous energy-bursts such as Electricity, while the slower numbers are held in check at four or five minutes in length.
Overdubs were added at the Roundhouse Studios and these included contributions from the British jazz alumni Evan Parker (sax) and Kenny Wheeler (trumpet). Spaceman and John Coxon had previously recorded with both as part of the Spring Heel Jack project Amassed. The instrumental The Power And The Glory has some of the best playing on the album, though perhaps as a result of the compressed recording time a couple of the songs and lyrics might strike the more fervent listener as Spiritualized-by-numbers.
(review filed 6 June 2005)
Squeeze (76.53/65.19)* P 1978-1998, P 2002
Benefiting from the close involvement of the band's writers Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, who also add nostalgic song-by-song liner notes, this Best Of offers "All the hits plus the B-side's story". The B-sides appear on the bonus disc of the limited edition double CD, many appearing on CD for the first time, and give a fuller picture of one of the eighties' more inventive bands. With over one hundred non-album titles to choose from quality control is high, though room is found for the joke medley Squabs On Forty Fab and the obscure Adam and the Ants parody, Trust, which was a US B-side. The non-hit 1979 single Christmas Day is also included on the second disc, and the album track Vanity Fair, from East Side Story.
Nevertheless it is the A-sides where Squeeze truly shone and these are presented in roughly chronological order, from their 1978 major-label debut Take Me I'm Yours (the song had appeared a year earlier on an indie label) to 1995's Heaven Knows. 1998's swansong album Domino for the Quixotic label is represented by the title track rather than their actual last single, Down in The Valley. All the tracks from their first retrospective, Singles - 45 And Under, a remarkable run of hits released at the time of their premature first split in 1982, are included
(review filed 14 April 2005)
The Gospel According To The Staple Singers (45.38)* P 1956-1964, P 1999
There is no information apart from the track listings on this budget-priced collection on the Metrodome/Dressed To Kill label, but they seem to stem from the Staple Singers' tenure with Vee-Jay between 1956 and 1964 as the set kicks off with their first single for the label, Uncloudy Day, from 1956. The family gospel quartet from Chicago IL was formed in 1951, when the magnificent lead vocals of Mavis Staples were supported by siblings Pervis and Cleotha, and founder and father Pops Staples added distinctive Delta blues-influenced electric guitar and further harmony vocals, creating a unique sound. The collection includes their influentual versions of two traditional songs: Ain't That Good News, which was secularised and turned into a hit record by Sam Cooke, and This May Be The Last Time, similarly the acknowledged inspiration behind the Jagger/Richard composition The Last Time, a best selling single by the Rolling Stones.
The Staple Singers were soon to take a more secular path themselves and went on to record many classics with Epic, Stax, Curtom and Warner Records, but this is a testament to the gospel roots which remained at the core of their music throughout
(review filed 5 October 2004)
Candi Staton (74.16)*** P 1969-1973, P 2003
Candi Staton is perhaps best known today for a couple of big disco tunes, Young Hearts Run Free and You Got The Love, but before those she had enjoyed a big run of southern soul hits, all recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals AL with producer Rick Hall. They have the classic gritty Muscle Shoals sound with big, fat lithe horns and female choruses, and dissect the seamier side of life with titles like I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man's Fool), Mr And Mrs Untrue and Another Man's Woman, Another Woman's Man.
Candi had grown up singing, first in the church choir as a schoolgirl, and in gospel groups from the age of eight onwards, later touring with Aretha, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and others, and had no difficulty whatsoever in switching to the rhythm and blues and country soul she recorded for Fame. Her naturally sweet voice was deliberately given a hoarser edge by Rick Hall through over singing to get the soulful effect he desired. Country music was as big in Alabama as soul so it was unsurprising that Candi should have hits with her heartfult interpretations of Stand By Your Man and In The Ghetto.
This collection gathers most of the best of the classic recordings she made with the Muscle Shoals crew between 1969 and 1973, and which had been overlooked for far too long. They are not presented in chronological order and the notes are very hazy as to what was recorded when, and which of them were singles and which were album cuts. Eight A-sides and nine B-sides are actually included, with all but one A-side (Love Chain, from 1973) and three B-sides (tracks 13, 19 and 26) also appearing on her first three albums.
In fact, the first two albums are present in full. I'm Just A Prisoner (1969) can be recreated by programming tracks 5, 3, 15, 2, 9, 10, 6, 1, 7 and 22, while Stand By Your Man (1971) comprised tracks 12, 17, 1 (again), 16, 14, 8, 9, 18, 20 and 23. Her third album, Candi Staton (1972) is represented by tracks 21, 4, 15 and 25.
(review filed 27 January 2006)
The Lark In The Morning (62.51/58.24)**** R 1970-1971, P 2003
I'm not sure that the cross-over success of All Around My Hat in 1975 did Steeleye Span or the folk-movement any long term favours. They never hit the charts again, and folk and folk-rock, both undergoing something of a renaissance, began their retreat underground, though there is no proven link between the two. The producers of Top Of The Pops may have relished the thought of the band in pixie-garb and tinkling bells skipping around a maypole, Pan's People style, but trivialising hundreds of years of folk heritage to the level of the Wombles couldn't ultimately enhance the movement's credibility. Although they succeeded in popularizing the music and bringing it into the mainstream for a while, something was lost in the process. In particular, it led to their earlier and finest work becoming overshadowed.
Hark! The Village Wait (1970) was a marvelous and groundbreaking album, to stand alongside classics like Liege And Lief, and featured the original line-up that included Gay and Terry Woods. Gay's vocals alongside Maddy Prior's gave the band a very special sound (see A Calling On Song and My Johnny Was A Shoemaker for the full accapella effect). The Woods introduced an element of Irish traditional music to the mix that founder member Ashley Hutchings had originally intended to be purely English, and this continued on the second album, Please To See The King (1971), even though Gay and Terry had left, leaving Maddy as the only girl in the group. In their place came the veritable Martin Carthy (who collected and brought to the band such songs as Cold, Haily, Windy Night; Boys Of Bedlam, based on an 18th century poem; and False Knight On The Road) and Peter Knight, a classically trained violinist. The difference in approach is demonstrated on the song The Blacksmith, a version of which appears on each album, both great, augmented by drums on the earlier arrangement. Please To See The King is an uncompromising, timeless album and both its line-up and style survived for their third LP, Ten Man Mop (1972). That they were not just a vocal-led band is demonstrated on three excellent instrumental medleys of jigs and reels found on Please To See The King and Ten Man Mop.
The Dark-Eyed Sailor is a folk club favourite and there are many wonderful records of it, featuring Carolyn Hester, June Tabor, Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts among many, but I think the stately rendition on Hark! The Village Wait, led by Gay Woods with Maddy Prior's harmonies bests them all. The accapella version of Buddy Holly's Rave On that started life as a bit of a joke also works really well. It is a rare American influence on the record and shows that a good song is a good song regardless.
The important thing to note about The Lark In The Morning - The Early Years is that it is not a compendium of the best of the first three albums; it is all three albums in their entirety, spread over 2 CDs, and therefore represents a considerable bargain. There is even a bonus track: General Taylor, another accapella tune, left over from the Ten Man Mop sessions. It found a place on a various artists compilation the following year.
File under: Essential Folk-Rock
(review filed 24 July 2008)
Oscillons From The Anti-Sun (50.51/56.07/57.57)**** P 1993-2001, P 2005
Stereolab have had a highly prolific career since their inception in 1990, putting out numerous singles and EPs on numerous labels, often in limited edition, in addition to their high-profile albums. Fortunately for collectors of music, rather than artefacts, they have been responsible enough to compile a number of collections of these extra-curricular activites onto CDs. The Switched On series, which launched in 1992, had reached volume three by 1998 with the release of the double-CD Aluminium Tunes, but things had subsequently quietened down.
Oscillons From The Anti-Sun catches up with all their regular EP releases from 1993 up to Captain Easychord in July 2001. The earliest included EP is Jenny Ondioline, the first on their own Duophonic UHF label in the UK (a 7" vinyl single had come out the previous year), and also the start of their lengthy association with Elektra in America. Tour singles such as The Underground Is Coming and Free Witch And No-Bra Queen are not included, but will doubtless appear one day on Switched On Vol. 4.
Although not in any chronological order, thankfully all the EPs represented are included in full, bypassing the frustration of wondering what missing tracks might sound like and why they were excluded - a lesson other compilers might care to learn.
The Noise Of Carpet was a lead track in the US instead of Cybele's Reverie, and is included here, though Percolator, which replaced Young Lungs from the same UK EP, is not. Both The Noise Of Carpet and Percolator are on the album Emperor Tomato Ketchup, though whether in the same versions I cannot confirm. Additionally there are alternative takes or mixes of Ping Pong and Jenny Ondioline, though these differ from the familiar versions only in the slightest respect.
Whereas the EPs seemed to be designed to higlight the range and display the diversity of the groop, as they are styled, the tracking order of the discs seems to favour like with like, so that each disc has a dominant mood or ambience. First pressings of the box set include facsimile glossy labels of the seven EP covers, either to ease the conscience of those selling their original artefacts or for the benefit of newcomers to the recordings. These are fractionally reduced in size from the original paper inserts.
Considering that there is an additional DVD disc with eight promos and three live TV appearances which is probably worth the asking price alone, this box set is remarkable value for money and gives a thorough and representative overview of this unique outfit.
(review filed 10 April 2006)
Where Did Our Love Go?/I Hear A Symphony (65.24)*** P 1963-1966, P 2000
Motown's series which puts two complete albums onto 1 CD is a winning idea and when they can be found discounted to a budget price make fantastic value. Generally, the versions on these CDs are the definitive versions in terms of mastering, compared to the licensed versions that appear on other labels such as Spectrum, when edited and/or mono versions can turn up.
Where Did Our Love Go was the Supremes' second album, hurriedly released in September 1964 to capitalise on the enormous success of the title song, a number one hit in America and their first taste of real chart success. It was mostly produced by Holland, Dozier and Holland who provide much of the material. Seven of the tracks had been previously released on singles, including Smokey Robinson's A Breath Taking Guy from July 1963, and three of these, including the song Where Did Our Love Go, had been on their first album, Meet The Supremes, released 7 months earlier. A further three turned up on future singles, leaving just two that are unique to the album. This includes one Smokey Robinson production that probably dates from the previous year. The upside of this is that the material is very strong throughout, the album also including Baby Love, Come See About Me (both subsequent number one hits) and the exuberant When The Lovelight Starts Shining In His Eyes, some of their very best records.
All the tracks on this first album are stereo and Diana Ross sings lead on all the tracks. She is marvellous, but it is a shame that even in the relatively early days Florence Ballard, the founder and original leader of the group, was not given the opportunity to be lead vocalist on one or two of the songs.
Five other albums separate Where Did Our Love Go from 1966's I Hear A Symphony, again named after a number one hit, and Motown really went to town on the title. Symphonic renditions of standards such as Stranger In Paradise, Unchained Melody, With A Song In My Heart and Without A Song are scattered throughout in true supper-club style. Even the Toys' big 1965 hit A Lovers Concerto, nicked from JS Bach, turns up, together with a suitably re-arranged Yesterday. Wonderful, Wonderful revives the Tymes' hit of a couple of years earlier. These rather clash stylistically with the more standard Motown fare on offer, such as My World Is Empty Without You and Everything Is Good About You (both sides of the then current single).
Although the LP I Hear A Symphony appeared in mono and stereo formats when first released, five of the tracks appear only in mono. Have they lost the stereo masters, and why is this information not made apparent on the box or in the notes?
(review filed 19 December 2003)
More Hits By The Supremes/The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland (64.26)*** P 1964-1967, P 2000
Although four albums separate 1965's More Hits By The Supremes and 1967's The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, these two albums make natural partners since both feature only the compositions of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland (abetted on I'll Turn To Stone track by R Dean Taylor), the songwriting team most associated with the Supremes during their heyday, and both albums were produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier. In the UK the second album was cautiously re-titled The Supremes Sing Motown in case the names were insufficiently familiar.
Some of the most halcyon Supremes hits are on this album - You Keep Me Hangin' On, Stop! In The Name of Love, Love is Here And Now You're Gone, Back In My Arms Again, Nothing But heartaches - and all the B-sides, almost equally good, and including Going Down For The Third Time, which could have been an A-side but turned up later in the year as the flip of Reflections.
Ask Any Girl is the oldest recording, having turned up as the B-side of Baby Love in 1964, and was also on their earlier Where Did Our Love Go? album in a slightly longer mix. Similarly, You're Gone But Always In My Heart had first seen service as the B-side of Come See About Me in 1964. Honey Boy, He Holds His own and Whisper You Love Me Boy had earlier been assigned to Mary Wells, while I Guess I'll Always Love You had been a hit for the Isley Brothers, Heatwave for Martha and the Vandellas and It's The Same Old Song for the Four Tops. They also had I'll Turn To Stone on a B-side but the Supremes' take on the song came out first.
Both stereo albums feature the classic Supremes line-up of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard and the top line of brilliant uncredited Motown musicians who contribute so much to this solid 65 minutes, which will be over more quickly than you could imagine. Put it on repeat play.
(review filed 5 July 2006)
Love Child/The Supremes A' Go-Go (63.35)** P 1966-1968, P 2000
Since a number of Supremes albums have long been unavailable on CD, re-issues such as can be found on the excellent 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series are to be warmly encouraged. This is a slightly unexpected pairing of albums, with Love Child the more recent of the two, from the time when they had become Diana Ross and the Supremes. The Supremes A' Go-Go dated from a couple of years earlier, and featuring the classic line-up of Diana, Flo and Mary.
Love Child followed the departure of Holland/Dozier/Holland from the fold and the policy at Motown of encouraging a new lyrical realism, addressing issues of the day, hence the downbeat album cover with Diana cast in the role of the "Love child" (you can tell by the T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Love child"), seemingly ostracized by Cindy and Mary. Some of the tracks were produced by rising stars Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, including the pre-album single Some Things You Never Get Used To and a new version of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin', with other production duties shared by The Clan, Frank Wilson, Deke Richards and other relatively new blood, and including Smokey Robinson on his song He's My Sunny Boy. All reflect Motown's new found sophistication and a move towards the mainstream, but there is diversity and funkiness throughout the grooves. Cindy and Mary do not appear on the singles Love Child or Some Things You Never Get Used To, and are augmented throughout the album by the Andantes, in preparation for Diana's solo career which was launched around eighteen months later. One song, I Can't Shake It Loose, had been learned from Pat Lewis, occasionally of the Andantes, as she'd had it out on a single for Golden World a couple of years earlier.
The Supremes A' Go-Go was hurriedly put together to capitalize on the runaway hits Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart and You Can't Hurry Love, and these classics are among the strongest tracks, as recycled runs-through of recent hits for other Motown acts the Four Tops, the Isley Brothers and the Temptations, though efficient and enjoyable, are filler and sound rushed; a number of the vocals were overdubbed in one day in Los Angeles. The album is further fleshed out with novelties such as a version of Nancy Sinatra's Boots, the McCoys' Hang On Sloopy, Martha and the Vandellas' Come And Get These Memories (featuring a rare Mary Wilson lead vocal) and a stomping version of the Barrett Strong hit Money, which had by then become a standard thanks to covers by the Beatles and the Stones amongst others. The Supremes had earlier released a whole album in tribute to the British invasion groups including the Beatles, with the geographically inaccurate name A Bit Of Liverpool.
Apart from the two A-sides, there are no original songs on the album, unless Put Yourself In My Place is included. The Supremes had been the first to record this back in 1964, but their attempt had been shelved and the song assigned to the Elgins. This later re-visit was also the flipside of You Can't Hurry Love and is one of the highlights of this unpretentious and lively party album.
(review filed 28 June 2006)
Diana Ross and the Supremes
Let The Sunshine In/Cream Of The Crop (69.10)** R 1966-1969, P 2000
Both these albums come from a period in Motown history that were the matter of some contention regarding Diana Ross and the Supremes, and show a degree of disregard on the part of Motown for their signings and also for their audience. Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier had jumped ship, Florence Ballard had been sacked from the Supremes, the name of the group had been changed by Berry Gordy to Diana Ross and the Supremes and it was becoming nakedly obvious that Diana Ross was being groomed for a solo career, as Mary Wilson and newcomer Cindy Birdsong were increasingly relegated to the sidelines on the records.
There must have been a lot of hustling behind the scenes as new producers and writers were brought in to plug the gap left by Holland-Dozier-Holland. The Clan, Johnny Bristol, Pam Sawyer and Billie-Jean Brown were just some of the new blood employed on these two records (Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are noticeably absent), and there were several new directions as a result, though these seemed to pull against each other, sometimes gritty, sometimes saccharine and show-biz. There was no shortage of hits as these albums contained I'm Living In Shame, The Composer, No Matter What Sign You Are, The Young Folks and Someday We'll Be Together, their last single with Diana Ross and a number one in the US. It is now common knowledge that Mary and Cindy did not appear on any of these singles, or on several of the other tracks recorded during 1968 or 1969, their places being taken by session singers, usually the Andantes.
Adding irony to irony, given its title, Someday We'll Be Together had been recorded as a Diana Ross solo record but at the last moment it was decided by Berry Gordy as being not up to par and put out as a Supremes swansong instead, where presumably it didn't matter. It features vocal interjections from producer Johnny Bristol, who had recorded the original of the song as Johnny and Jackey back in 1961 (with Jackey Beavers). On another track, The Beginning Of The End (previously a Chris Clark B-side), Diana Ross is backed by Syreeta Wright, who was being secretly groomed to be her replacement in the Supremes.
Four of the tracks actually date from 1966, when they were just the Supremes, Flo was still among their ranks, and quality control had for some reason found them wanting. What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted, recorded just as Jimmy Ruffin's original was soaring up the charts, includes the spoken-word intro that had been dropped from his version, and comes from the Supremes A' Go-Go sessions. The same sessions produced With A Child's Heart, a re-make of a recent Stevie Wonder B-side, and Blowin' In The Wind, a rare excursion into Dylan territory. Let The Music Play, a cover of the Drifters, was an outtake from The Supremes Sing Dozier-Holland-Dozier sessions, perhaps because it wasn't by Dozier-Holland-Dozier.
None of this can have been too encouraging for Mary Wilson and, especially, Cindy Birdsong, though they did have a larger role to play in the re-launched Supremes when Jean Terrell joined. Diana Ross's vocals do demonstrate her versatility and fluidity and are on fine form throughout, and I have not intended to suggest that she was personally responsible for any of these circumstances.
Whilst these are not their most consistently strong albums, there are enough highlights to make this an enjoyable collection. A little more honesty as to what we are listening to would not have gone amiss.
(review filed 12 February 2008)
The Supremes (Box set) (69.40/64.10/67.26/70.53/36.17)**** R 1960-1976, P 2000
Available both as a 4CD box set and in a limited edition with a bonus 5th disc, this is a beautifully packaged collection, lovingly put together with the collector in mind, featuring a number of rare and unreleased tracks and mixes on each disc, many making their CD debut, with extensive essays, photos and track details.
Disc One begins with the single an early line-up made as the Primettes for the LuPine label before they signed to Motown. Although Florence Ballard was the group's founder and leader, Diane Ross (as she was in those days) takes the lead, with Mary Wilson leading on the flip where Flo does the intro vocal. Both sides are fairly scratchy dubbings but are real rarities. A previously unreleased version of the Miracles' After All represents their first Motown recording session in January 1961.
In their first years with the label they were known as the "no hits" Supremes though that all changed nine singles down the road, with the relentless foot-stomp march of Where Did Our Love Go to the top of the national charts, followed by four more consecutive number ones. These are all included, as are all eight of the earlier attempts (some in alternate or live versions), including When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, their first truly great record, which did get to number 23, and a version of Buttered Popcorn, which Flo sings. Another early recording, The Boy That Got Away, was dropped from their first album at the last moment and was still listed on the sleeve, but has been unheard until now. Two other potential singles that ended up in the vaults are Oowee Baby and It's All Your Fault, while People, from Funny Girl, is a Florence Ballard showcase that didn't see the light of day. Most interestingly Stop! In The Name Of Love is in an alternative version which uses the same foot-stomping effect that was found on Where Did Our Love Go, dropped on the eventual released version. Throughout the box set some singles are from the original mono single masters, while those presented in stereo are sourced from the masters for the album Diana Ross And The Supremes Greatest Hits (1967).
Disc Two covers the halcyon period of Diana, Florence and Mary from 1965 to 1967, up to the point when they became Diana Ross And The Supremes. It begins with four tracks from the album I Hear A Symphony, including two of the five A-sides on the disc, I Hear A Symphony and My World Is Empty Without You. Everything Is Good About You and Any Girl In Love were both in mono on the mostly stereo twofer Where Did Our Love Go/I Hear A Symphony CD (2000) and one wonders why the stereo masters found here were not used?
Rarities include two songs used in film soundtracks, Surfer Boy and Dr Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine (you had to be there). I don't know why they chose to record Mother Dear again as they had already released it on an album, but the second version, considered for two later albums but unused, is here. There is an unused version of My Guy and alternative versions of Love Is Here And Now You're Gone and The Happening (described as a demo, possibly the discarded Los Angeles attempt). Its non-album B-side, All I Know About You makes a first time stereo or CD appearance. The disc closes with a twelve and a half minute segment live at the Copacabana from May 1967, included some lengthy between song banter, at one of the very last appearances of Florence Ballard with the group, her fate having already been decided by Berry Gordy.
Disc Three opens with Reflections, the first single with the billing Diana Ross And The Supremes. It coincided with the announcement of Flo's departure though she was on the single, the follow-up In And Out Of Love and their older B-sides. Her place was taken by Cindy Birdsong (from Patti Labelle and her Blue Belles) who remained a member until long after Diana Ross had left, and can be heard on many of the tracks on Disc Three, although on several of the singles, recorded between 1968 and 1970, Diana was accompanied not by Mary and Cindy, but by the Andantes, as Diana prepared to launch her solo career. The disc also features selections from the albums Love Child (one of their most ambitious albums, reflecting the winds of change blowing through Motown), Let The Sunshine In, Cream Of The Crop; and from the two studio albums they made in collaboration with the Temptations.
Rarities include the unreleased The Beginning Of The End Of Love and Are You Sure Love Is The Name Of This Game?, alternative mixes of TCB (from the TV show and live album TCB), Stormy and No Matter What Sign You Are. It also has a version of Can't Take My Eyes Off You, released as a duet with the Temptations but here just the Supremes led beautifully by Mary Wilson. It closes with the somewhat ironically titled Someday We'll Be Together, their final single, but on which Diana is joined by producer Johnny Bristol and two session singers. It was a triumphant "farewell" though, as it was a final number one hit for Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Disc Four is given over to the newly re-launched Supremes, who swept away the tinsel and saccharine that had sometimes threatened to envelop the latter day group, with a more dance oriented and driving sound. The intention had been to replace Diana with Syreeta (who was to be heard on the B-side The Beginning Of The End on Disc Three), but when Berry Gordy stumbled on Jean Terrell singing in Miami Beach he promptly signed her to the label as the Supremes primary lead singer, though Mary Wilson was to share lead vocals on several of the singles and there was generally more of a group feel in the new line-up, with Cindy also getting some leads on albums.
A string of spell-binding hits followed: Up The Ladder To The Roof (the single version here has a different vocal to that on the album), Stoned Love (album version), Nathan Jones, Touch (a stereo mix of the single), Floy Joy (an extended mix of the mono single), Automatically Sunshine, Bad Weather and others. All the US singles up to the end of 1976 are included, many of them selling better than Diana Ross's solo singles. They also teamed up with the Four Tops for three joint albums, including The Magnificent Seven, represented by River Deep Mountain High (when released in a single edit this reached number 14, making it the biggest American hit of this Phil Spector original) and The Return Of The Magnificent Seven, featuring You've Gotta Have Love In Your Heart.
In addition to an outtake from the first album, Right On, there are two tracks from the undervalued album The Supremes Produced By Jim Webb which came out in 1972 and has never been on individual CD. By now Lynda Laurence had temporarily replaced Cindy Birdsong, who was on extended maternity leave, and by the time of the next album, after a lengthy hiatus caused by internal wrangling and contract disputes, Jean Terrell had left and the Supremes had a new co-lead singer in Scherrie Payne (sister of Freda Payne). She and Mary share leads with Cindy back in support on He's My Man, clearly aimed at the disco market, where it reached number one in the US Billboard Disco chart in 1975. More line-up changes heralded 1976's High Energy, with Susaye Greene added to the line-up, briefly making the band a quartet until Cindy quit during the making of the album. Susaye had been in Stevie Wonder's Wonderlove and before that in Ray Charles' Raelettes, and takes the lead on the song High Energy. Originally a single from the same album, I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking is collected here in an extended disco mix that was not released commercially until Funkology Volume 3 in 1996. The last two tracks originate from the Supremes' final album Mary, Scherrie And Susaye and were both on singles. Mary Wilson, the last original member, fittingly sings lead on the ballad You Are The Heart Of Me, which closes Disc Four.
A bonus fifth disc was included with initial copies of the box set, In Person - An Evening With The Supremes. It is well worth paying a little extra to get a copy with this cardboard-sleeved 36-minute extra if you can. It features unreleased live stereo recordings from 1964 to 1967, chronologically charting their development from Where Did Our Love Go live at the 20 Grand, to Reflections live at the Roostertail, all with Florence Ballard. These were mostly recorded in Detroit at the Fox or the Roostertail, apart from Back In My Arms Again and I Hear A Symphony, which come from the Copa in New York. The final track is Someday We'll Be Together, the last song from their last ever show, at the Frontier, Las Vegas on 14 January 1970, complete with closing dialogue, and is taken from the album Farewell.
(review filed 22 January 2008)