Reviews 2002

"Gee Whiz" by Carla Thomas was the first Stax hit..... except, of course, the Stax label did not actually exist at the time. In fact, if the original plan of Carla's father had succeeded, the record would have been released two years earlier on Vee Jay and Stax might never have even been formed. According to Rob Bowman's book Soulsville, U.S.A., the story goes something like as follows . . .

Carla Thomas composed "Gee Whiz" in 1958 and had committed a version to tape, which Rufus Thomas had taken with him on his annual business trip to Chicago. Upon a return visit to the Windy City twelve months later he found that Vee Jay were still not showing any interest, so he brought the tape back home to Memphis.

In the meantime, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton had inaugurated their Satellite record label, on which they had released a handful of 45s. They had just settled into new premises when Rufus Thomas approached them with a number of demos; amongst which was a duet he had recorded with his teenaged daughter Carla. And so, in the summer of 1960, "Cause I Love You" by Carla & Rufus became the first track recorded at the tiny company's studio on McLemore Avenue in Memphis. The record was released as the seventh single on Satellite very soon after.

Unlike previous issues on the logo, sales on the record were very healthy. So healthy, in fact, that when the news reached Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records in New York, he decided to approach Satellite and propose a deal to lease it for national distribution.

Financially galvanised by this transaction, Jim Stewart elected to take Carla into the more sophisticated studios of nearby Hi Records to cut a solo track, "Gee Whiz". Unfortunately, the finished result was not to his liking and he was forced to record the song a second time at his own studio. He released the new slower version on Satellite. As soon as Jerry Wexler twigged to the fact that his leasing deal applied to "Gee Whiz", he exercised his option and released it nationally on Atlantic. Meanwhile, West Coast group the Innocents had charted with a totally different song entitled "Gee Whiz", so Atlantic amended the title of Carla's to "Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)" to avoid any confusion. By the end of March 1961, the record was in the national Top 10 and 18-year-old college freshman Carla Thomas was a star.

Some months later, at the request of another company called Satellite, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton took the first two letters from their respective surnames and re-branded their logo Stax, thus officially launching what was to become one of the most fabled record labels of all time.

An album was inevitable. Comprising almost entirely string-driven ballads - eight produced by Jim Stewart in Memphis and four overseen by Chips Moman in Nashville - Carla's "Gee Whiz" long-player remains a treasure. Highlights are the self-penned "A Love Of My Own", "It Ain't Me" and "For You", all of which display the influence of her heroine Baby Washington. A version of the Drifters' "Fools Fall In Love", cut in the style of Frankie Lymon, is also particularly effective, as is the Chips Moman-authored "Promises", an alternate double-voiced take of which is included as a bonus track. Beautifully recorded in the first place and now remastered in crystal clear stereo, the set has just made its CD debut, and at mid-price, thanks to a deal between Atlantic and Fantasy, the present owners of the Stax catalogue. (Mick Patrick, December 2002)

Carla Thomas "Gee Whiz" Stax SCD-8605-2 (ATL SD 8057)

More information:

Also highly recommended:
Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story Of Stax Records by Rob Bowman (Schirmer Books / Macmillan USA / Books With Attitude, 1997)


"Wallpaper Of Sound: The Songs Of Phil Spector And The Brill Building" (UK Sanctuary CMRCD 615)..... The latest entry in Sanctuary's "Songs of..." series, "Wallpaper" sticks with the established - and winning - formula, unearthing seldom-heard hits and misses recorded by British subjects roughly contemporary to the originals (there's nothing here from later than 1973), delivering the goods with a wink and a side of cheese.

The compilers wisely avoid the predictable, eschewing soundalike renditions in favor of ones that offer new ways to experience the generally well-known tunes. The closest we get to the Wall of Sound is on Mann-Weil's "The Coldest Night of the Year", originally a Nino Tempo and April Stevens flop. It's delivered here with the delicacy of an icicle courtesy of Twice as Much with Vashti via an evocatively restrained Andrew Loog Oldham production.

Fewer than half of the 27 songs sport a Spector composer credit, and three of those are among those written for Ben E. King but not produced by him. Of the remaining 15 titles, five were treated to Spector productions and one to release on one of his subsidiary labels; most of the rest are from the pens of Brill icons and frequent collaborators Mann, Weil, Goffin, King, Greenwich and Barry but bear no direct connection to Phil. As with the other volumes in the "Songs of..." series, certain welcome and creative liberties are taken in determining eligibility for inclusion. Probably the most far-fetched example, and a particularly delightful one, is Petula Clark's take on "I'm Counting on You", a Johnny Nash B-side produced (sans label credit) by Spector in 1961.

Another welcome change from the predictable focus of a Spector tribute is the fact that both the catalog and the sound of Ben E. King (and, to a lesser extent, the post-King Drifters) figure prominently here. Not only are there covers of the three songs mentioned above, but several other selections pay obvious tribute to the influence of King's fabulous voice and the "uptown" sound in which it was so effectively presented. The sequencing on the disc is seamless, and especially sublime as it segues from The Migil 5's cover of King's "First Taste of Love" to Johnny Sandon's version of The Drifters' "Some Kinda Wonderful", on which he does his best Ben E. impersonation.

With liner notes by our own Mick Patrick (who, along with John Reed, compiled the collection) and loads of rare photos, it will come as no surprise that the booklet is as enjoyable and enlightening a ride as the disc. I assume that the pressure was on to select the track list from masters owned by the label; that's too bad, since the liners tantalizingly reveal that, for example, there exists a cover version of "He Knows I Love Him Too Much" by Maureen Evans in addition to the Glo Macari one appearing here for the third time (!) on a Patrick-compiled project. It could also be argued that The Searchers are over-represented (four songs, plus the one cited above by former frontman Johnny Sandon).

Given the copyright restraints, however, this is a marvelously realized project, and I'm grateful to benefit from the scholarly research and the opportunity to enjoy the many obscure versions of these timeless classics I might otherwise never have heard. Whether or not you are, like me, a collector of Spector cover versions, and no matter how many times you've heard the hit versions, this lovingly assembled package will afford you an opportunity to rediscover what "stars" the songs are on their own merits. Don't miss it! (David A. Young, December 2002)

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Sound Waves & Traction, Vols 1 & 2 by S. J. McParland..... Stephen McParland must hold the record as the most prolific and consistent music fanzine and book self-publisher in the history of pop. Starting around 25+ years ago with his California Music monthly mine of great interviews and info (yes, it was monthly for several years), he later introduced two bi-monthly mags: Gonna Hustle You for Jan & Dean fans, and Beach Boys Australia to complement others around the world. Being an Aussie meant he understood Beach culture well enough, but made Californian and European contacts a fair way off. Undaunted, Stephen managed to build a reputation as THE worldwide authority on West Coast 60s surf, drag and harmony pop.

It was always his intention to move towards book output to replace the energy sapping mag formats, but mainstream publishers proved wary. New technology proved the answer when modern photocopy printing allowed smaller print runs to be of a superior standard and economically viable. Stephen set to producing the range that now make up the CMusic Books range, most famous of which is his five-volume history of producer Gary Usher.

Others in the range include books on Beach Boys' Recording Sessions, Gidget, Jan & Dean (two volumes), Kim Fowley, P.F. Sloan and the soon to arrive history of the Walker Brothers. Each book is meticulously researched and full of first hand interviews with the people involved.

Stephen has now turned his attention to the many studio group creations that sprung up with the beach culture record successes of the early sixties.

The two volumes, called Sound Waves And Traction, tell the oft-repeated story of the company led demand for quick teen product that produced hectic recording activity from a small number of writer/producers. Their efforts helped define the teen sound for their generation, and have since proved to be some of the rarest and most collectible records around the world. Stephen has painstakingly unearthed those who made the music, and pieced together their stories so that almost certainly he knows their histories better than they do themselves!

Volume one covers Richie Podolor who worked extensively with Gary Usher, Anders & Poncia (Spector co-writers and the Tradewinds/Innocence), Carol Connors (loads of activity from the Teddy Bears onwards), the Frogmen, the Hondells (whose basic unit was responsible for many other names' recordings), the Honeys (Brian Wilson's then wife, sister-in-law with their cousin) and the ubiquitous Terry Melcher & Bruce Johnston whose aliases are extensive to say the least.

Volume two covers Gary Paxton with Buzz Cason and the Eligibles, producer Joe Saraceno (whose work included the Ventures, the T-Bones and the Sunshine Company), the Survivors (Brian Wilson's pals who did more than is usually realised), Mike Curb/Nick Venet/Davie Allen, and the Nashville axis of Ronny Dayton (aka Bucky Wilkin).

Each book contains complete stories with all the dusty corners illuminated, together with very full supporting discographies to satisfy the most fastidious. As with Stephen's other books, supporting visuals are not extensive, but what pictures are featured are often worth 1000 words or more. Each of these volumes have 8 page photo sections, including rare shots of Carol Connors dancing on a beach, Bobby 'Boris' Pickett being backed up by the Beach Boys, Joe Saraceno in the studio, Pete Anders with Doc Pomus and several more rare shots. Some label shots and associated ad material are also scattered throughout. These two volumes are worthy additions to the already extensive Surf 'n' Rock Reference Series of Stephen's books. Each of his publications represent a labour of love, and all provide correct information that you simply cannot get anywhere else. Go and check them out while they remain available.
(Kingsley Abbott, December 2002)

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"Ripples" avoids any characterisations other than good, harmonic pop….. says Kingsley Abbott in the liner notes of the latest of eight volumes in this Castle Music series. For the seven previous volumes the label "harmonic pop" would probably suffice, but with "Butterfly: Ripples, Volume 8" there is a twist.

The Ripples series has focused on American-style harmony pop and related cover versions as performed by British acts. That's not to say that great original bands (the Freshmen) or unknown harmony pop songs by big name bands (the Searchers) have gone unnoticed by the compilers. However, with "Butterfly", we are treated to a CD full of original songs, mostly by neglected or unknown UK bands. To strengthen its case, this volume breaks away, for a time, from the "harmony pop" label. Not to worry though, it doesn't veer far.

Nearly every track is a melodic, harmonic treat, so picking out a few highlights is not easy: the Blinkers "Dreams Secondhand" - killer soul-pop with an incredible hook and driving beat; the Freshmen "Close Your Eyes" - a great pop-psych song from the pen of Peter Lee Stirling; Val McKenna "Don't Hesitate" - minor key, girl-rock in the Jackie DeShannon tradition, cool; James Galt "With My Baby" - Lyle and Gallagher song sounding more than a little like the Impressions; Pinkerton's Colours "Mum & Dad" - beat-pop heaven, an incredibly catchy song and a British take on the "Wouldn't It Be Nice" theme.

This great comp also contains tracks by Floribunda Rose, the Blinkers, Episode Six, Britt, the Two Of Each, the New Faces, the Rainbow People, the Tremeloes, the Young Blood, Pussyfoot, the Montanas, the Onyx, Marmalade, Gary Aston, the Quiet World Of Lea & John, Linsey Moore, Anan, John Summers, the Candy Dates, John Christian Dee, Consortium, Strawberry Jam, Tuesday's Children, Ways & Means and the Bloomfields.

It'd be easy to neglect this ground-breaking (and seriously understated) series. After all, how many music fans knew there were eight full CDs worth of British bands doing American-style melodic pop? England, last I heard, has never been known as the land of sun, surf and sand! Get this CD... then get the rest. (Mark Frumento, November 2002)

"Butterfly: Ripples, Volume 8" (UK Castle Music, CMRCD554)

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Do you remember rock'n'roll radio? The Ramones did..... Punk rock burst onto the UK pop scene in 1976 with an energy and excitement that had been missing for too long. But, like a roman candle, the vitality that made the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash so essential soon fizzled out. In the US, no group epitomized the early punk attitude better than the Ramones. In 1979, it came as no real surprise to learn that they were working with a big name producer but a few eyebrows were raised when that producer was revealed as Phil Spector.

The union began with Spector's re-mix of the "Rock 'n' Roll High School" soundtrack song. I liked it and wondered what the LP would be like. "Baby I Love You" was the first track I heard playing on the radio, on its way into the UK Top 10. The Ramones with strings? Culture clash, or what? But it was the "End Of The Century" album opener "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Radio?" that really did it for me. It was so perfect! The static, the far-off drum, the oldies radio-style introduction before the track really got going with pounding drums, thrashing guitars, honking sax and great "been there, done that" lyrics. It even had an ending that made me want to play it again! The pride I felt - my musical history teacher, whose career had introduced me to so many genres of American music, had returned. Phil Spector was back

Now, 20-odd years after the dawn of new wave, the LP has been re-released. I'm very pleased to report the latest CD issue sounds better than ever, with all power intact and more clarity. To bolster the LP, there are seven bonus tracks: the Spector remix of "I Want You Around"; five previously unreleased demos, which give a chance to hear the difference Spector made, and a "hidden" Joey Ramone-voiced radio promo.

Harvey Kubernik has written the notes for the CD booklet, twenty pages of great pictures and tiny print that place the LP in its historical setting. Kubernik was present at the recording of some of the tracks - he even supplied handclaps on two - making him uniquely qualified to document the recording of the album, which he does via interviews conducted at the time and since.

The bonus tracks and booklet make this CD an essential purchase for Ramones and Spector buffs alike. Add it to your shopping list now. (Martin Roberts, November 2002)

The Ramones "End Of The Century"
Sire/Warner Bros/Rhino 8122-78155-2

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PETULA CLARK "En Vogue: Beat En Francais"…… Nearly all of pop great Petula Clark's high profile hits were recorded in multiple languages - German, Italian, French, English, Spanish - in most cases using the same backing tracks. This helps account for the fact that, in her more than half-century as a recording artist, she has racked up over a 1,000 sides - probably some sort of record. And Clark continues to make CDs, though not at quite the vertiginous rate of yore.

In addition to the British-born Clark's penchant for the multi-lingual, she and her team of arrangers and producers (Peter Knight, Tony Hatch, et al) searched multi-nationally to find some fairly recherché material - for example, Texan rhythm & blues performer Barbara Lynn's "Second Fiddle Girl" - for her to re-do for the French market. For in addition to her long-running popularity in her native England, Clark became a major star in the early 1960s in France. The British Sequel label has done an excellent job of making available Petula Clark's French recordings. Even in North America, where the CDs are easily findable at most chains and sell for less than many domestic issues.

Especially recommended is the company's "En Vogue" 2CD compilation with its strong emphasis on "Beat en Francais" - rock numbers sung by Clark in French. In addition to one previously unreleased cut - the terrific "Donne-Moi" - the discs include a number of interpretations of songs from the US, Britain, Italy and Australia. Among the multifarious, wide-ranging artists and titles she covered for the French market in the 1960s were Adam Faith's "What Do You Want", the Beach Boys' "No Go Showboat", Neil Sedaka's "Calendar Girl", the Drifters' "Save The Last Dance For Me", Ricky Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou", Lesley Gore's "She a Fool" and Jackie DeShannon's "Needles & Pins" (pre-Searchers!), not to mention the Kinks, the Shadows, the Beatles and Dionne Warwick, et al. Many of these were hits to equal their foreign counterparts, especially Pet's twistification of Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya".

Of the 50 tracks here, 33 comprise French-language covers not released by the singer in English, with a further handful being Gallic-only Clark originals like "Les James Dean" and "Pauvre Cherie". Most of the remainder consist of French translations of her international hits such as "I Know A Place", "A Sign Of The Times" and "My Love". Petula Clark the songwriter is represented via 19 of her own compositions.

The French translations tend not to be mere slavish carbon copies, but use the originals as a jumping off point, with Clark and company reworking them in a stylistically consistent manner with suds of echo, backbeat for miles, tympani for days, potent back-up vocals and ever-swirling heaven-bound strings. Resulting in Euro-pop that just won't stop! (Bill Reed, November 2002)

Petula Clark "En Vogue: Beat En Francais"
(UK Sequel/Castle CMDDD 214)

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JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS "Stop, Look & Listen: The Capitol Recordings"……Do you like Girl Groups? Do you like Bubblegum? Jackson 5-style Motown? Kids, you ain't lived until you've heard "Stop, Look & Listen", "The Handclapping Song" and "You've Come A Long Way Baby" by Josie & the Pussycats. Happily, thanks to the good people at Rhino Handmade, these three great tracks are now out on CD.

In 1970, following the colossal success of the Archies' 1969 #1 hit "Sugar Sugar", William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's animation team went back to the drawing board to spin off a Saturday morning TV series based around another cartoon pop group. This time, the Hanna-Barbera producer-directors decided to create a series which followed the adventures of an all-girl trio, Josie & the Pussycats.

Premiering in the fall of 1970 on CBS, the show became an immediate hit and spurred Capitol Records to release an album collecting 10 songs from the series. However, it was not TV voice actors who did the singing on the recordings but a trio of talented professional vocalists chosen by producer-songwriter Danny Janssen. They were Cathy Dougher, Cherie Moor (later to achieve fame as Cheryl Ladd) and Patrice Holloway (the sister of Motown star Brenda).

Later there were 4 Josie & the Pussycats singles - containing tracks not found on the album - made available to fans via mail order through Kellogg's breakfast cereals like Fruit Loops and Sugar Frosted Flakes. The group's entire output is included on Rhino's 28-tracker which also features 6 hitherto unissued recordings or mixes, not to mention a hidden bonus cut. Contained is a 20-page booklet, from which much of the above information is cribbed. One slight snag: the CD is available only from Rhino's website.
(Mick Patrick, October 2002)

JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS "Stop, Look And Listen:
The Capitol Recordings" Rhino Handmade RHM2 7783

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or visit the following Josie & the Pussycats webpage:

BACKCOMB 'N' BEAT: Dream Babes, Volume 3....Featuring the McKinleys, Dany Chandelle, Peanut, Judi Johnson & the Perfections, the Chantelles, Cheryl St. Clair, Sylvan, Glenda Collins, Samantha Jones, Twinkle, Perpetual Langley, Jacki Bond, Samantha Juste, Cloda Rogers, Jennifer Lewis & Angela Strange, Julie Driscoll and Jan Panter.

Unlike the girl group phenomenon across the water, solo girls predominated in the UK during the '60s. Happily, they were - as in the States - magnetically drawn to maverick producers. The third in RPM's "Dream Babes" series unearths Dany Chandelle's Spectorian "Lying Awake", a keening teen trauma which had Mark "Teenage Opera" Wirtz at the helm.

Oddities abound: Samantha Juste (Mrs Mickey Dolenz as was) coos the very dimpled "If Trees Could Talk", while even an unreleased Joe Meek production for Glenda Collins is outspooked by the mysterious Sylvan's "We Don't Belong", a suicide-pact stormer with a gloriously dense Barry Mason production. Added to this you get Jimmy Page's sterling work on the McKinley's "Sweet And Tender Romance", gorgeous artwork and notes from Kieron Tyler. The best comp of its kind since "Here Come The Girls" a dozen years ago.
(Bob Stanley, Mojo 100, March 2002)

BACKCOMB 'N' BEAT: Dream Babes, Volume 3, UK RPM 233

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EARL PALMER..... is the super session drummer who, along with Hal Blaine can be heard on most of Phil Spector's productions and also on such diverse (to put it mildly) classic tracks as "Tutti Frutti", all of Little Richard's and Fats Domino's hits, Sinatra's "Strangers In The Night", "Chanson d'Amour", Vic Damone's "On the Street Where You Live", "River Deep Mountain High", "Dead Man's Curve", "The Lonely Bull", Nino and April's "Deep Purple", "You Send Me", and let's face it, just about every third hit record to come out of the West Coast circa 1957 -1980. His (as-told-to Tony Sherman) bio, which was first published in cloth in 1999 by Smithsonian Institution Press, is now available in paper as well, from DaCapo. It presents, as you might imagine, an interesting and well-rounded picture of the West Coast studio scene of that era. But it is equally fascinating for its depiction of the final days of the black vaudeville circuit in the early 1930s.

Palmer was a kid tap dancer with blues singer Ida Cox' Darktown Scandals. Cox was not, he informs us, drunk all the time, "just frequently". It also contains a vivid and moving look at black New Orleans of the 1920s and, too, gives us a sense of what it was like being at the battle front in World War II with bombs AND racism going off all around.

"Backbeat" overflows with highly detailed, funny, alternately touching, memories about all of the above and so much more. Even though it only 152 pages long, it feels truly epic in scope. It is a hard book to put down. Palmer's droll, philosophical purchase on existence is hilariously captured in his dream date with widely known 60s radical Angela Davis. It went south quickly when she began lecturing Palmer (who at the time was making today's equivalent of half a million dollars a year) as a "mere" sideman, that he was being "exploited". "She said, 'Well, I can see there's no way of reaching you. You're just not prepared to hear what I have to say.' 'You're damn right,' I said, and got up and walked away"

Throughout the book Palmer comes off as quite the self-described "tush hog." but even HE was able to draw the line somewhere. The master percussionist and arranger ("Little Bitty Pretty One", etc.) pulls absolutely no punches, going so far as to reveal that he never knew the name of his father, that his beloved mother was a lesbian, and that he was the result of what he thinks might have been his mother's only dalliance in the groves of hetero. . . with a Norwegian sailor.

"Backbeat" is a testament not only to the extraordinary life Palmer has led, but to skills of author/editor Scherman. He has pulled the many hours of recorded interviews he conducted with Palmer into a higly readable, informative and literary musician bio. One would hope for at least one more installment; the next time based on some of the session notes kept by the drummer during that Golden Age of New Orleans and West Coast Recording.

Currently available at better cyber book sites everywhere.  (Bill Reed, June 2002)

Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story
by Tony Scherman - foreword by Wynton Marsalis
Smithsonian Institution Press

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THE VELVELETTES..... So good they made the Supremes' Diana spit feathers, slam doors and kick walls - imagine!

La Ross might have loathed them but top Motown girl group the Velvelettes are house favourites here at Spectropop Towers. To celebrate Cal, Bertha & Norma's 2002 visit to the UK, we have selected the fabulous "The Best Of The Velvelettes" CD to launch our new Spectropop Recommends section. "Needle In A Haystack", "He Was Really Saying Something", "A Bird In The Hand (Is Worth Two In The Bush)", "Lonely, Lonely Girl Am I", "These Things Will Keep Me Loving You" - yep, all these are included, along with fourteen other great tracks, four of which are exclusive to this CD. And all for less than six of our British pounds.
BOP BOP SOOKI DOO WAH!  (Mick Patrick, June 2002)

(UK Spectrum/Motown 544 467-2)
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