Reviews 2004


To paraphrase slightly, ace Goon Eccles once said, "It's good to be alive in 1955", and so it was . . . But it was even better the following year with a whole new, wonderful world of music exploding all around us - a rush of new names and sounds that we struggled to keep up with. Anything went, so records such as 'Transfusion' and 'Ape Call' by Nervous Norvus were as familiar to us as 'Be-Bop-A-Lula' and 'Blueberry Hill'. Who'd have thought that 48 years later I'd be recommending a further 31 Nervous tracks (many of them previously unreleased) contained on a small saucer-sized silver disc? Even old Nervous himself might have thought it unlikely. But then, maybe not!

Phil Milstein's super booklet tells the whole story along with priceless reproductions of sheet music and snaps of our hero. A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Nervous Norvus, whose real name was Jimmy Drake, was a truck driving songwriter and a big fan of trombonist Red Blanchard, who broadcast a sort of one-man Goon Show from San Francisco. Blanchard had developed a crazy jive talk language, which he called Zorch, and when he heard the demo of 'Transfusion' submitted by Drake/Norvus, he quickly recognized a weirdo musical genius. After working on the demo and adding the car smash effects from a 1936 ( ! ) record, he arranged for 'Transfusion' by Nervous Norvus to be released on the Dot label. The rest, as they say, is history.

If I were to go through this CD track by track we'd both end up barking, but I listened to in its entirety (and you can!) the whole thing makes wild, weird and wonderful sense! I mean, haven't you often wondered if Chinese chickens have pigtails?

'Transfusion', 'Ape Call' and 'Dig' are much loved favourites, but how about 'The Fang', who turns out to be a cool cat Martian with a solid gold key chain down to his knees, wearing real nervous pegs with a crazy crease, blue suede shoes and with a liking for earth girls and rock'n'roll. Priceless! Then there's the wonderful dance number, 'Bullfrog Hop'. Why weren't the kids doing this on American Bandstand?!?

Masochist weirdos will surely love 'The Blackout Song', a guide to self-inflicted fainting, which simply involves sticking your head in a garbage can and inhaling deeply and noisily. Hilarious! I wonder if it would work with a wheely bin?

There are a couple of tributes to mentor Red Blanchard, the best being 'I Listen To Red In Bed', which Norvus sings in a child's voice hoping that his daddy won't catch him listening to the radio hidden in his teddy bear. Then Norvus, as a man, takes over with the 'enemy' this time being his 'old lady'. "Here comes the old bat now. So long, cats!" There's also the tearful tale of a baby bird who prefers stew and mashed potato to worms and bugs, and even a song about Elvis in the army. The booklet tells us that while doing his army training, Elvis met up with a fellow Memphian named William Norvell, who he immediately renamed Nervous Norvell. So The King was a fan too!

I could go on about the many other delights on offer here but you'll be much better hearing the great Nervous Norvus and his "king-size uke" for yourself by way of this super CD. Be careful, though. I got some pretty strange looks from people in cars going in the opposite direction as I listened. 'Stone Age Woo' should be available on the NHS. In fact, it's even worth going private for! When can we expect the box-set, cats? Dig, dig, digaroonie!

(Eric 'Shoot the juice to me, Bruce' Dunsdon, Now Dig This magazine, September 2004)

Nervous Norvus 'Stone Age Woo: The Zorch Sounds Of Nervous Norvus' (Norton CED 303)

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When initially reviewing the song list for Ace's new 'Teenage Crush, Volume 4', my first reaction was, "Wow! The soundtrack of my youth!". . . As Ace Records note on their website, this "mixture of boppin' teen idols, smooth balladeers, harmony groups and suchlike; some of them household names, others verging on the obscure" represents a cross-section of 1950s-to-early-1960s American "teenage" music.

Upon brief reflection, two "second reactions" emerged. Despite the presence of Clyde McPhatter's most pop-oriented song (the gorgeous and timeless 'Treasure Of Love'), a little rockabilly, and a couple of super sides of swamp pop, this is one of the "whitest" collections I've heard: mostly innocent and sweet, mostly sung by teens or artists in their early 20s, and mostly guided by music biz pros who purported to "know what the kids want". So now I'm thinking, "Gee, was I really this much of a white guy back then?" Although by design this collection completely omits doo-wop and most R&B and harder country influences, which I listened to in equal quantities, my answer is at least partially "yes".

The other realization: many of these tracks, all being legitimate national charters and major hits in at least one US market, have been under-represented on oldies radio and on reissue albums. For example, Andy Rose's catchy 'Just Young' beat out a Paul Anka cover and was a major hit in New York. But it remains extremely difficult to find; was it because it was on obscure New York indie label Aamco, or perhaps due to its dangerously high "sugar" content? Even rarer and "sweeter", one listen to Denny Reed's 'A Teenager Feels It Too' (a Sill-Hazlewood product on Trey which started on MCI, the original label of Sanford Clark's 'The Fool') will send you to the dentist with an instant cavity! In fact, many of the album's high-charting performances, like 'Why' by Frankie Avalon, the Fleetwoods' 'Mr. Blue' and Pat Boone's 'Love Letters In The Sand' are also dangerously high in sucrose - a hallmark of mainstream "teenage" music - but are quality records that have also been under-exposed on reissues and on the radio.

Besides the sugar binge, this CD also presents young America striving to break out of 50s conformity. Ricky Nelson's TV family life on Ozzie & Harriet may have promoted an idealized world that "typical" teenage music represented, but you could often hear his soul break through the sweetness. Despite "teen idol" ballads like 'Never Be Anyone Else But You', included here, you always knew that Rick could really rock. Dion, himself a somewhat grittier version of teen idol, isn't on this album, but his influence shows up at least twice: in the driving beat of Dean Christie's 'Heartbreaker' and on Tommy Boyce's historically-interesting early effort 'I'll Remember Carol'. Bobby Darin brings energy and New York attitude to what could have been just another high-school crush song, 'Queen Of The Hop', and the Nashville-based Statues take the Clovers' doo-wop arrangement of Tony Bennett's 1951 hit 'Blue Velvet' and smooth the rough edges beautifully without losing its soul. Also on the ballad front, Ray Peterson's lush but passionate original version of 'The Wonder Of You' makes Elvis' cover, to these ears, sound like he phoned it in.

The album's swamp pop tracks also add a dose of grit to the proceedings. Dale & Grace's 'Stop And Think It Over' is a rare example of a follow-up as good as the original from which it copies its style. T K Hulin's 'I'm Not A Fool Anymore', one of the few tracks herein I never heard previously, nails the swamp-ballad style perfectly. And although not swamp-pop, Kris Jensen's 'Torture' also exudes honesty beneath its quiet veneer.

Special mention must be given to the CD's hidden jewel and rawest rockabilly song: Clyde Stacy's immortal 'So Young'. As Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart's excellent liner notes state, "Featuring a salacious guest appearance by an unnamed, yet unforgettable, female accomplice, 'So Young' was living proof that rock'n'roll was all about sex". It's amazing that 1950s radio played this nugget of audio carnal knowledge, but it graced the bottom half of the Top 100 on two separate occasions, and was a far bigger hit than that in several major US markets, and in Canada.

With 28 well-selected tracks, there's no space to comment on them all, and most listeners will find several they'll wish I'd mentioned, and at least one or two that they might have switched out for others. The CD gets extra credit for having one label scan of a 78 (Frank Pizani's obscure 'Angry', from 1957), but for my taste there are a few too many UK label scans of these American hits. On the other hand, most major American labels don't routinely do as fine a job on reissues as does UK-based Ace. Considering the great number of included songs that hit the target, the representation of under-exposed classics; the outstanding liner notes (scholarly and fun simultaneously); and the amazing photos, ads and label scans which are included, my hat is off to this soundtrack of a significant part of my musical youth.

(Country Paul Payton, September 2004)

'Teenage Crush, Volume 4' (Ace CDCHD 1015)

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Eric Records has just released on CD, for the first time in its entirety, the 1967 masterpiece 'The Paris Sisters Sing Everything Under The Sun' . . . and it's a treat not to be missed. From Greg Adams' in-depth notes describing the Sisters' often heartbreaking story as well as the individual tracks, to Albeth and Sherrell's moving tribute to recently deceased lead singer Priscilla, to the sound of the brilliantly remastered songs themselves, the package bursts with lavish details. Girl group fans would have been grateful to have had this rare LP (make that hideously rare if you're talking stereo) reissued under any circumstances. But being spoiled with a 16-page booklet popping with seldom-if-ever seen photos, along with a powerful stereo mix that blows the original one, muddy and narrow, out of the water, is, in the words of one of the songs' titles, 'Too Good To Be True'.

That song is one of four on the album written by Priscilla Paris that prefigure her first solo LP, released not long after this one, and show her to be a talented composer as well as a sensitive and versatile vocalist. In the hands of producers Jack Nitzsche and Jimmy Bowen (who also collaborated on the former's 'The Lonely Surfer' album), she really comes into her own on 'Everything Under The Sun', so it's no surprise that she split the group after this material was recorded.

As would be expected (and hoped), there is more than a passing similarity to the Spector sound on the tracks, recorded mainly as singles over a two-year period. That's appropriate both because it was Phil that found the sound that gave the Paris Sisters their first hits after years of releasing flops, and because Nitzsche's arrangements are defining elements of so many Spector smashes. There's even a nod to the girls' minor Spector-produced hit 'Be My Boy': the version of 'Sincerely' here begins exactly the same way, and ends with backing vocalists Sherrell and Albeth Paris cooing 'be my boy'.


This exclusive 1961 snapshot of the Paris Sisters with Phil Spector, from Sherrell Paris's personal collection, is just one of the 24 rare shots in the CD's deluxe booklet, which also features outtakes from the album cover photo sessions, scarce publicity pictures, obscure record sleeves, and more.


There's another Spector connection in the album's closer, 'Born To Be With You', the first cover version of the Chordettes' 1956 hit to sport a Wall Of Sound production treatment. In 1975, Dave Edmunds released another impressive rendition in the Spector style, giving Phil himself the final say that same year with his production of Dion's interpretation, which boasted a radically different arrangement.

My own particular favorite on the album has always been 'See That Boy', a retooling of Mann and Weil's 'See That Girl' as recorded by the Righteous Brothers and others. The brooding backing track is stupendous, beginning with a rumble that becomes downright ominous thanks to the efforts of the CD's sound producers, Tom Daly and Mark Mathews. But it's Priscilla's tour-de-force performance, full of heartfelt tragedy and drama, that sells the song. In less than two and a half minutes, she explores, without a hint of contrivance, the entire rich range of her vocal possibility; it's a breathtaking moment.

In the end, it's just one on an album chock full of breathtaking moments. Even at collector prices, this LP has always offered good value for the money; there's not a clinker to be found among the songs, and your favorite may well be different than mine. If you enjoy the girl group/Phil Spector sound, there's no way you will fail to fall in love with the album. Now that you have a chance to own it for $13.98 - with jaw-dropping upgrades in detail to the sounds, the words and the pictures - you really have no excuse not to.

(David A. Young, July 2004)

The Paris Sisters 'Sing Everything Under The Sun' (Eric CD 11523)

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Once I had a secret love . . . Back in my halcyon days, when my Watusi was the talk of teenage Baltimore and I couldn't get enough of James Brown, there was another, softer part of me that secretly adored singers like Doris Day, glamorous apple pie reminders of an earlier, pinker time. At a hop, or on TV, nothing moved me like the hottest sounds from the black part of town. But when my hip pals weren't around, and I was alone in the privacy of my rose-tinted room, few things thrilled me more than to lock the door, change into something floaty and wallow in the luxury of one of my dear Mom's Doris Day albums. She said I looked just like her. And I did (sigh).

The 'Love Him' LP was my absolute favourite. How I devoured, over and over, its every note, and each word printed on the cover and labels. Doris' previous album had been a collection of show tunes, but this was different, more contemporary, moodier, yet romantic and lush. The orchestral arrangements, masterminded by Tommy Oliver, were sumptuous. Sure, the whole world knew and loved 'A Fool Such As I' and 'Can't Help Falling In Love' by Elvis. Me too. But I preferred those songs by my beloved Miss Day. Still do. The album proved Doris had her hip side too. Gee, I memorized every single word of her opening monologue to Willie Nelson's 'Night Life', all one-and-a-half sophisticated minutes of it. They saved the best until last. I knew 'Love Her' by the everlovin' Everly Brothers and, later, I would worship the song by the Walker Brothers, but Doris' version touched me in a different place. For starters, she performed it as a bolero. I would practise falling backwards into a pile of scented satin pillows as the song reached its smouldering climax, my heart aflutter. I went to heaven in a cerise chiffon negligee. Sometimes, poppets, I think a part of me never came back.

It was a year later, Christmastime 1964, that Mommy dearest bought me 'Latin For Lovers', a smoochy bossa nova fest. Ah, I remember it well. Thanks to my sponsorship deal with Mary Jane, I had a different outfit for every mood in those days. For this LP I would always change into puca-puca pants and my daintiest fluffy mules. After a little nip of Tia Maria, I'd gently lower the needle into the first groove. Taking tiny, tiny steps, I'd slowly click around the room, pausing only to turn the record over. My favourites were always the four lovely Jobim numbers, 'Quiet Night Of Quiet Stars', 'Meditation', 'How Insensitive' and 'Slightly Out Of Tune'. These days I prefer 'Our Day Will Come', performed very differently to Ruby and the Romantics' version, and equally gorgeous. In fact, the studio geniuses behind Ruby's chart-topper - Allen Stanton and Mort Garson - produced and arranged this entire album. Half an hour of Brazilian bliss, Doris Day-style.

Now, thanks to the lovely people at Columbia UK, who have released this pair of delicious long-players as one of their newfangled CD twofers, I can relive those memories. And I will, my angels, I will. And guess what, there are even two bonus tracks - 'A Whisper Away' and 'Moonlight Lover' - recorded as singles but never ever released. 'Moonlight Lover' is based on Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' and might just be the sexiest song Doris ever sang. Gee, I wish I still had that floaty pink chiffon number.

Truth be told, this CD isn't actually very new. In fact, looking at the small print, it seems to have been released in 1995. But what's a girl to do? When your official abode for the last heaven only knows how many years has been a Top Security Special Hospital, it ain't exactly easy to keep abreast of the latest doings. My mom smuggled this treasure in for me on her last visit. I love this CD, and I want my darling Spectropop friends to know it, goshdarnit! I wonder if Mommy could make it a James Brown CD next time? And some Tia Maria. Oh, and some hairspray.

(Amber, July 2004)

Doris Day 'Latin For Lovers'/'Love Him' (Columbia 481018 2)

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As the editor of a girl-pop web magazine . . . I get an awful lot of e-mails from record companies and PR firms assuring me that I'm just gonna love this hardcore band from Omaha, and can I please review the latest drum'n'bass compilation from DJ blah blah blah. I don't bother to reply, just as they don't bother to check if Cha Cha Charming is the kind of magazine suitable for a band called Pinhead Circus or Avail. But someone at a publishing company called Continuum Books clearly did their research when they sent over an e-mail with "ABBA book" in the subject.

One e-mail and a day later, ABBA Gold - The Book arrived. There's just something about short books - brief, compact, and readable in less than a day. Short books don't have the time or space to veer off the subject, so I knew that author Elisabeth Vincentelli was going dedicate each and every word to building her case for why 'ABBA Gold' should be considered a classic album. As I soon found out, this is just one in the Thirty Three And A Third series of short books dedicated to albums deemed classic or timeless. The Beatles' 'Let It Be', The Smiths' 'Meat Is Murder' and Neil Young's 'Harvest' are a few of the other titles.

But here's the deal - artists like the Beatles and the Smiths and Neil Young and Prince and their respective "classic" albums are obvious. They have been written about a thousand times over. 'ABBA Gold' is different because it was never really considered an album (it is a greatest hits compilation, although Elisabeth makes a great case for why it should be seen as an album). Also, it is more daring to bestow a "classic album" accolade upon a group that has rarely been taken seriously by music critics. No one needs to make a case for Neil Young or Led Zeppelin, but ABBA is a tough sell for those who see commercial pop as second rate to those "real" rock musicians.

With Elisabeth's personal anecdotes thrown into the mix of ABBA's history, quotes from contemporary critics and musicians, and analyses of the songs that make up 'ABBA Gold', it's hard not to read the entire book in one sitting. And for me personally, Elisabeth Vincentelli is the kind of writer I aspire to be - full of musical knowledge, yet passionate and personal about the subject she takes on.

(Sheila B, June 2004)

Reprinted from Cha Cha Charming:

'Abba Gold' Elisabeth Vincentelli (Continuum Books)

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The Rev-Lons are the most famous act on this CD . . . And how famous is that? Not very. Of the 26 tracks featured, only 8 have previously seen the light of day, released in the mid-'60s on tiny logos like Garpax, Big Ben, Gaiety, Ed-Nel and Star-Burst. The rest are previously unissued recordings. So if you want obscure, look no further. Ace Records have done a deal with maverick Hollywood-based producer Gary S. Paxton and are mid-way through a series of CDs compiled from his catalogue of masters. The Rev-Lons aside, his is not a name readily associated with the girl group sound. However, given access to the Paxton tape vaults, compiler Alec Palao has discovered enough titles to fill a whole disc.

'He's Hurtin' Me' by Beverly Williams is something of a holy grail to collectors of the genre. Calm down, that track isn't included here, but five other lovely offerings by the 14-year-old are, including a version of Carole King and Gerry Goffin's 'Road To Nowhere'. It turns out the singer was the stepdaughter of Paxton associate Kenneth Johnson. 'Would She Do That For You' by Mary Saenz is a northern soul favourite of long standing. Truth be told, it's a handclap-driven pure pop delight, much like a Lesley Gore cut. Elsewhere, Sandi Shore comes across like Joanie Sommers, Darlene McKinney sings a number that might have been written for the Marvelettes and tough voiced Beatrice Kay could have found employment as Tina Turner's stunt double.

The Rev-Lons, purveyors of the title song, get pride of place with 6 selections, including 'Whirlwind', a mock-Motown number with a Bo Diddley beat. Soul group the Fashionettes plough a similar furrow with 'Losin' Control'. Diana Dawn - visually, a biker's moll: aurally, a nun - is represented by three good songs, Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley's 'Back Street Girl' among them. Tracks by Doris Webb, Mary Saxton and Janice Paxton complete the bill (what, no Josephine Sunday?!). The 12-page booklet contains a detailed essay plus some nice pictures and label shots. Verdict: a must for hardcore girl group collectors or Paxton completists.

(Mick Patrick, June 2004)

'Boy Trouble: Garpax Girls' (Ace CDCHD 1005)

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Dollops of girl group angst with dramatic arrangements and pro-duction. Wonderful stuff. (Record Collector)

Sublime selection of Shangri-Las style also-rans. (Uncut)

Another compilation of '60s girlie sounds compiled by Mick Patrick! Well - that's a good start but what has this particular CD got to offer? It comprises 22 tracks from EMI's American archives, principally the Capitol, Liberty, Tower and United Artists labels, with a few rarities from obscure logos to make up the numbers. There is the customary mix of sub-genres, but a predominance of up-beat pop, with less "soul" than usual.

But some of the tracks by black artists are knockouts: 'Don't Worry Baby' by Darlene McCrea and 'Where's My Baby' by the Twilettes. Ex-Cookie/Raelett Darlene sounds exactly like her sister Earl-Jean on this Goffin/Titelman production. The Twilettes included Carolyn Willis, later in the Honey Cone. Their offering has an intensely soulful lead against a massed chorus and thumping base line: a real gem.

Two other outstanding tracks are better known: 'The One You Can't Have' by the Honeys presents Brian Wilson the producer at his best, and 'You Won 't Even Know Her Name' by Josephine Sunday is a great Ronettes pastiche - she even looked the part, the notes tell us.

Fans of the Shangri-Las will also find some sound-alikes: 'Daddy You Just Gotta Let Him In' by the Satisfactions, 'The Boy With The Way' by Jamie Carter, 'The Next Day' by Debbie Burton, and 'Chico's Girl' by the Girls. The latter is familiar to most girl group fans, but these four talented sisters deserved more success.

Two very good beat group-type offerings are featured: the Pandoras with 'Games', and the Starlets' 'You Don't Love Me'. It seems that no one knows the identity of latter group or whether, like the Pandoras and the Girls, they played their own instruments. They weren't either of the better-known acts of that name.

An all-time favourite of mine, 'Tar And Cement' by Verdelle Smith, is featured. Originally an Italian song, the various versions have been much discussed on Spectropop. This beautiful lament to the loss of treasured countryside to highway building sadly remains as topical today as it did in the '60s. This is a longer version than the original US 45, with a few more lines in the intro and elsewhere.

'Theme From Mission Impossible' by the Kane Triplets and 'The Silencers' by Patti Seymour are loud, brassy and aggressive, like the respective TV show and movie, I suppose. Sailor's girl Diane Renay's 'Dynamite' has some of that sound too.

The other tracks are pleasant, tuneful girl pop: 'So, Do The Zonk' by Donna Loren, 'Just A Face In The Crowd' by the Dynels, 'Tell Me In The Sunlight' by Margie Day and 'Someday' by Roberta Day. Three more in this vein deserve special mention. 'Run-Around Lover' by Sharon Marie is another Brian Wilson song and production. The Murmaids on 'Paper Sun' are unknown and not the 'Popsicles' girls. Best of these to me is the Victorians' 'You're Invited To A Party', with that irresistible swinging beat that characterizes their records - thanks to Marty Cooper and Perry Botkin Jr. Personally I prefer the flips of these last two records: future compilation, perhaps?

Which leaves the Tammys' riotous 'Egyptian Shumba', an alternative take to the two contained on RPM's Lou Christie & the Tammys CD. Why three plus takes for such a (deliberately) chaotic record? It sounds as though they just enjoyed it so much - ee-ee-ooh-aah-aah, indeed.

Which rather sums it up - 54 minutes of mainly good-time music, but with several breaks of mood and tempo. The sound quality is excellent, and we have Mick's informative insert notes with pictures of nine of the artists. (Ian Slater, March 2004)

'Girls Go Zonk!!' (RPM 274)

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The true nature of singles is the pursuit of the hit record . . . . Thus, it's fascinating to hear the pursuit of the hit as carried out by White Whale and B. T. Puppy, two successful singles-oriented independent labels featured on the first two installments of Rev-Ola's Phantom Jukebox compilations. The singles on these volumes represent these labels' output apart from their biggest chart records. (For a more chart-oriented view of White Whale, get the excellent companion CD 'Happy Together: The Very Best of White Whale Records', Varese Sarabande VSD-6035. The Tokens' B. T. Puppy hits can be found on Taragon TARCD-1040, and the Happenings are collected on Wounded Bird WOU 1004.) Although most of these 45s were not hits, the concise but detailed notes by the compiler, Spectropop's own Steve Stanley, give them context and relevance, and enhance the listening experience beyond that of the uninformed listener. Of course, each CD has its share of tracks that stand on their own, and some which cause one to wonder why they didn't chart.

One of the most interesting aspects of these packages is how they reveal the 'personalities' of the companies and the people behind them. California-based White Whale's owners were 'two young veterans of the music business' who were not producers themselves but had a good ear for hit singles. Although White Whale did release albums, they were either singles-driven or afterthoughts; the progressive rock band aspect of the '60s and '70s is largely absent on White Whale. One exception on this CD (and the only track duplicated from the Varese release) is Matthew Moore Plus Four's intense reworking of Buffy Sainte Marie's 'Codyne', the label's second 45 and a long-time personal favorite. But The Dillards - folk and bluegrass stars before and folk-rock luminaries after their White Whale outing - on 'One Too Many Mornings' seem shoehorned into a poppier style than their norm. The two Lyme and Cybelle sides included here are lightweight poppy tunes featuring a different 'Lyme' after Warren Zevon had left the duo; his composition, the duo's mid-charting 'Follow Me', has a more progressive sound, and is found on the Varese package.

Nino Tempo and April Stevens were an established act before coming to White Whale; two very nice lesser-known tracks are offered here. The sweet 'You'll Be Needing Me Baby', written by David Gates, has a slowed-down Chris Montez feeling, and 'The Habit of Loving You Baby' is a total 'righteous brother and sister' delight, one of those why-wasn't-it-a-hit records. One song that was a hit, but not in the included version, is Keith Colley's 1970 'Enamorado'. This Gary Usher production, originally released on Columbia in 1968, surrounds Colley with a denser texture than the hit version on Unical from 1963. The one you prefer will depend on your preference for fuller or sparer production of this song.

The CD contains other tasty discoveries: Triste Janero's 'Rene De Marie' is a gentle bossa nova a la Brasil '66; Dalton & Montgomery's 'All At Once' sounds like the Monkees with a horn section; Dobie Gray's social commentary, 'Do You Really Have A Heart' is an interesting period piece; and the Laughing Gravy (Dean Torrance and friends) do a faithful but fuller-sounding cover of the Beach Boys' 'Vegetables'. Another pleasant surprise is the first recording of 'We've Only Just Begun' by Freddie Allen, really the Parade's Smokey Roberds. Although I never personally took a liking to the Carpenters' smash version, I appreciate this more energized take.

Many of the writers, players and producers working behind the singers on this compilation have notable credentials, but in my opinion a number of the tracks were still a bit too light, cute, derivative or simply unmemorable to have found a home in the charts. That said, there's a wealth of musical history herein, worth at least one spin, with several songs deserving repeated listening.

Across the country, on the east coast, the owners and driving forces of B. T. Puppy, the Tokens, were less 'record guys' than musicians, and their label reflects their sound and taste. The Tokens had already had big hits with 'Tonight I Fell In Love', 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' and others, plus the Chiffons' 'He's So Fine', Randy & The Rainbows' 'Denise' and several more. 'Big dogs' in the New York and national scene, they sang, wrote, played and produced themselves, other artists and a series of successful commercial jingles via their Bright Tunes Productions. A record company, B. T.'s 'puppy', was the next logical step. Unlike White Whale, whose product came from many sources, the Tokens' hands were all over their label's releases, playing a major part is virtually every track. The major B. T. Puppy hits by the Tokens (including 'He's In Town' and the remarkable 'I Hear Trumpets Blow') and the Happenings ('I've Got Rhythm" and their uptempo remake of the Tempos' 'See You In September') aren't in this volume, but what is included is an interesting study.

B. T. Puppy's roster included many already established if not hitmaking bands, some of whom were quite good. There are four tracks included by the too-cutely-named Sundae Train (originally the Avantis from Sunbury, PA), the best being the CD's lead track, 'Love Affair Of Two Happy People'. The Steeple People (another too-cute name) have one of the better tracks, 'Oh, Kathy', and the most disappointing, a labored fuzzy version of 'Green Plant'. Both were written and originally recorded by the Tokens themselves. The Steeple's 'Kathy' towers above the original (couldn't resist the pun), but 'Green Plant' lacks the bounce of both the original and the jazz version by Shenny Brown, also on a B. T. Puppy 45 but not included here.

Another noteworthy artist on this CD is the Canterbury Music Festival. They twice released the beautiful pop-psych 'First Spring Rain', first as We Ugly Dogs, then as CMS. Their 'Poor Man' is another song originally recorded by the Tokens. CMS's lone album, now reissued by Rev-Ola, had an original B. T. Puppy pressing of only 150 copies. (One recently changed hands on the internet for $350.00.) Several other groups also appear on this CD, as well as solo artists Amanda Ambrose and Beverly Warren, whose 'So Glad' would be at home in any northern soul mix.

Although the Tokens' B. T. Puppy hits don't appear here, the CD does feature two songs by them. The better one is 'Mr. Snail', a nice progressive-rock-styled production, released on Warner Brothers under the group's individual last names, as if to divorce themselves from their pop/doo-wop past. It fits stylistically with the Beach Boys' 'Smiley Smile'. The Happenings are represented here by lead singer Bob Miranda's self-composed 'Girl On A Swing', a lush and appealing high point of this collection; Gerry and the Pacemakers also recorded it. One other previously-well-known group on this CD, Randy and the Rainbows, gives the same treatment to the evergreen 'I'll Be Seeing You' as the Happenings gave to 'I've Got Rhythm'. 'Seeing' got some airplay, but didn't chart.

The differences between these two companies make an interesting contrast. To my ears, the White Whale CD is more oriented to sunshine-pop and reflects the sunnier California sound of its home base. It makes few pretensions to experimentation, and aims right at the heart of the singles charts. B. T. Puppy was headquartered in New York, and the Tokens' roots were in doo-wop and pre-Beatles pop. Despite the experimental nature of many of these tracks, the roots show through, and the CD seems to be simultaneously more progressive and more traditional than its west coast counterpart. That dichotomy may have undermined the chart potential of some of these records.

(A programming note: The sound quality through both CD's is excellent, but each has a couple of tracks which don't align with the playing order shown in the notes. Careful ears will hear them and quickly make the adjustment, but if these discs go to a second pressing, it would be nice to correct this glitch.)

While it's interesting to compare the output of these two independent companies, one can't really pick a clear winner between them; your individual taste will decide that. Neither is a 'greatest hits' collection from either label, but the serious collector and student of this exciting era in pop music will be well rewarded by Steve Stanley and Rev-Ola's excellent research and packaging, and by the music within. (Country Paul Payton, January 2004)

'Phantom Jukebox, Vol. I - In The Garden: The White Whale Story' (Rev-Ola CD REV 44)

'Phantom Jukebox, Vol. II - Night Time Music: The B.T. Puppy Story' (Rev-Ola CD REV 38)

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Parents, lock up your daughters -- Kim Fowley is back in town . . . . After a quiet decade or two, recent days have seen an outpouring of anthologies of his early productions, recordings both of himself and a myriad of other performers, under a veritable army of factual and fictional credits. Whatever the name on the label, though, you can bet that the more Fowley was involved the more likely the thing was to constitute a serious threat to the moral order.

'Impossible But True: The Kim Fowley Story', Ace's entry in this crowding field, appears (if judged at least by its subtitle) to be trying to situate itself as a definitive Fowley comp, but for an artist with such a long, varied and often inexplicable CV, such is hardly possible. Compiler Rob Finnis' approach has been to include a few well-worn retreads, such as 'Alley-Oop' and 'Popsicles And Icicles'; a few items, such as 'Nut Rocker', 'Like Long Hair' and 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow', that were hits at the time yet have somehow failed to make the short list of Official Classic Oldies; and a healthy run of superobscure yet vastly entertaining pop readymades. Although the nature of the readymade is to exploit an existing stylistic template, in almost every one of these cases Fowley was yards ahead of the trend, and covering his tracks most artfully.

His fangs are bared right off the bat here. The album's very first line, from his own 'Animal Man' (Imperial, 1968), is a howl of 'I'm ugly!' followed by the claim that 'I'm gonna butcher all the girls on the loving-room floor!' Further epiphanies drip off this thing like water off a serpent's spine:

  • The Rangers' (proto-Sunrays) raging version of 'Justine', channeling the sound of 1977 13 years before the fact (Challenge, 1964);

  • Spider's (P.J. Proby's hairdresser!) seductively woozy 'The Comedown Song' (Decca, 1966);

  • 'Satan's Holiday', a Grieg rewrite by The Lancasters, featuring Ritchie Blackmore (Titan, 1964);

  • A beautifully atmospheric 'Ski Storm' by The Snowmen (same group as The Rangers) (Challenge, 1963);
  • Buddy Rich's 13-year-old daughter Cathy, who takes 'Wild Thing' to places no 13-year-old girl should yet be going (and one wonders where she learned about such things) (World Pacific, 1967);

  • The Soft Machine's ominous 'Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin'' (Polydor, 1967);

  • The Freaks Of Nature's (post-Morrison Them) absurdly heavy and fechokte 'People! Let's Freak Out' (Island, 1966).

And lots more along them lines. Other strange bedfellows you'll encounter in 'Impossible But True' include Sky Saxon, Cat Stevens, Gene Vincent, Slade (in their early guise as The 'N Betweens), Danny Hutton, Danny Whitten and a middle-aged female guitar-slinger named Chiyo. Finnis' cogent and copious liner notes introduce a wad more, with impossible-but-true stories behind them all.

The fact that he was, either variously or simultaneously, a rock'n'roll anarchist, Dadaist, hustler, B.S. artist, Sybarite, namedropper and foole should not deter us from the realization that Kim Fowley was also one talented mofo. He could start and finish half a dozen sessions in the time it took Phil Spector to set up his drum mics, and the results would be nearly as fulfilling. And he'd still have time to screw your daughter before lunch.
(Phil Milstein, January 2004)

'Impossible But True: The Kim Fowley Story' (Ace CDCHD 888)

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