If you ask me, the most exciting four words in the English language
other than "breakfast served all day" are "gimmick-laden
pop-jazz". With that as my standard, you can imagine my delight
with Marina Records' recent The In-Kraut series, which in
its two volumes has proven to all doubters that German musicians
of the 1960s bowed to no one in the GLPJ category.
Jointly compiled by Spectropopper Frank Jastfelder and graphic
designer Stefan Kassel, The In-Kraut's target, as defined
by the series subtitle, is "Hip Shaking Grooves Made In Germany,
1966-1974". It strokes that spot so ably and deftly that, despite
innumerable replays, my every listen has been as fresh and engrossing
as my first.
The music captured on The In-Kraut (a title pun so subtle
I had to have it explained to me) is awash with churning Hammonds,
skittering traps and blaring brass, kneaded into relentlessly groovy
waves, with such finishing touches as electric sitars, sound effects
and sprinklings of early Moog licking at its edges. We've all heard
the old saw that "there's no word in German for 'swing'",
but you sure couldn't tell that by the glorious jive presented here.
While the general ambiance of In-Kraut songs - for instance,
"This Is Soul", "Undergroovin'", "Marihuana
Mantra", "Molotow Cocktail Party" and "Swinging
London" - purport to a certain hipness, the fact is that most
of the musicians who played on these sessions had been working the
national circuit since shortly after D-Day, and so were hardly about
to challenge the likes of Deep Purple or Crosby, Stills & Nash
for the ear of the day's youth. But one man's ersatz is another
man's lampoon, and when the room is filled with The In-Kraut
one can practically smell the Old Spice and Naugahyde.
Although the tracks blend as seamlessly as ice in water, a few
do call for special attention. Hildegard Knef, a screen actress
so iconic her image now graces a German postage stamp, also cut
some records in her time, mostly in the Dietrichian Sprechgesang
mode. Her "From Here On It Got Rough" is an autobiographical
telling of her rise to stardom, and is so laden with ennui it makes
Nico sound like Brenda Lee. Countervailing such world-weariness
are the girlish chirps of France Gall, in whose "Hippie Hippie",
a delightful piece of froth highlighted by chimes and tubular bells,
are leveled such optimistic artifacts of period philosophy as "love
and flowers and peace and love and love and love." Peter Thomas,
a renowned film composer who Marina had earlier treated to the enjoyable
Moonflowers And Mini-Skirts retrospective, scores here with
an instro version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" so mired in
wah-wah that when Jimi Hendrix heard it he was said to have tossed
his stompbox into the Rhine in defeat.
Even dear old James Last, the middle-of-the-road bandleader who
ordinarily makes Lawrence Welk sound like Black Sabbath, has eaten
his Wheaties here, with a swingin' entry from '69 called "Soul
March" that features the steady sound (in wide-pan stereo,
no less) of jackboots tromping through gravel. It is not difficult
to picture Last directing his marchers to set their tempo at a fast
enough clip that no one might mistake them for goose-steppers.
Not many albums could accommodate such polar extremes as James
Last and Can and still make sense. Yet volume 2 of The In-Kraut
includes not only the aforementioned Last track but also "Kamera
Song" by The Inner Space, a stunning piece in which dreamy,
glockenspiel-accented grooves alternate with bursts of neurotic
dissonance. According to the liner notes, "Kamera Song"
was the Inner Space's only release before changing their name to
The aforementioned "Swinging London", by Hazy Osterwald
Jet Set, typifies In-Kraut music as much as any other track
here. Osterwald, a trumpeter, arranger and bandleader whose career
began in the late 1940s, was by this time so famous that he lorded
over a national chain of nightclubs known as Hazyland. His Jet Set
inject "Swinging London" with a vibrating beat, double-time
bridges, a hard, percolating bass-line, pounding bongos, a swirling
Hammond solo and a vocalized impression of Big Ben's chimes. Meanwhile,
the lyrics cheerily catalogue the charms of the British capital:
"Revolution, underground / Groupies, hippies, tramps around
/ King's Road fashions, Mary Quants / Discotheques and restaurants."
In its klutzy way, the song is every bit as cool as any self-consciously
hip habitué of the King's Road.
Yet "Swinging London" was released not in 1966 but in
1972, and I can't imagine anyone getting off on it - in 1972 or
1966 - who wasn't a dyed-in-the-wool, pipe-smoking, elbow-patch
wearing, round-bed sleeping subscriber to the Playboy Philosopher.
In other words, Berlin is a long way from London, 1972 is a long
way from 1966, and, as Huey Lewis taught us, sometimes it's altogether
hip to be square.
With The In-Kraut Jastfelder and Kassel have not only cracked
open a hitherto-unknown genre like a fresh egg, they have done so
with authority and style. Their selections are masterful, their
transfers sparkling, their liner notes crisp and informative, and
Kassel's package design, which includes a full-colour sleeve repro
for every track, establishes a new model for archival compilations.
Although the notes profess ultra-rare provenance for many of the
selections, that means bupkis to one (such as I) who approaches
the series with no prior knowledge of In-Kraut music. Each
song must sink or swim purely on its musical merits, but I'm happy
to report there will be no need to yell for David Hasselhoff today.
THE IN-KRAUT - HIP SHAKING
GROOVES MADE IN GERMANY, 1966-1974:
20 MINDBLOWING BEAT, NOW SOUND, SOUL & SOUNDTRACK NUGGETS
(Marina MA 66)
THE IN-KRAUT, VOL 2 -
HIP SHAKING GROOVES MADE IN GERMANY, 1967-1974:
20 MINDBLOWING BEAT, NOW SOUND, SOUL & SOUNDTRACK NUGGETS
(Marina MA 67)
It's a sign of his enduring popularity in the UK (he still tours
here most years) that Bobby Vee has been so well served by British
labels in recent times, what with BGO's ongoing series of twofers
and Liberty's great 'Essential & Collectable' double CD. Now,
comprising an incredible 95 immaculately mastered tracks, and selling
for less than £8 on Amazon, EMI UK's 3CD set 'The Singles
Collection' must rank as one of the greatest S'pop bargains currently
available. (Bear Family box-sets are all well and good, but not
all of us are rich, for Pete's sake!)
Commencing with his first record, 'Suzie Baby' (picked up by Liberty
from the small Soma label in 1959), and culminating with Goffin
& King's 'Sweet Sweetheart' of eleven years later, Bobby Vee
scored an incredible 38 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. They're
all here, along with their respective b-sides, each one in pristine
stereo, some for the first time ever. In fact, 'The Singles Collection'
contains both sides of every 45 Vee released on Liberty (and United
Artists) between that debut and his last, 'Well Alright' (1977),
including some that were cancelled, others that were issued as singles
only in the UK, and four ultra-rare Italian language cuts.
Sequenced chronologically, Disc 1 takes us from the self-penned
'Suzie Baby', recorded when he was barely 16, through to 'Bobby
Tomorrow' (1963), written by the Feldman/Goldstein/Gottehrer team
(aka the Strangeloves). This was Vee's most successful period with
producer Snuff Garrett and arranger Ernie Freeman, during which
he hit the Top 20 nine times, most famously with 'Take Good Care
Of My Baby', which spent three weeks at #1. That song is just one
of six by Gerry Goffin & Carole King on this disc alone, not
forgetting another couple written by Goffin with Jack Keller. Other
standouts include Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman's 'All You Got To
Do Is Touch Me', Burt Bacharach & Hal David's 'Anonymous Phone
Call' and Vee's cancelled Christmas single of 1962.
Disc 2 kicks off with 'A Letter From Betty' and the gorgeous 'Be
True To Yourself', again written by the F/G/G and Bacharach/David
teams, respectively, and concludes with 'Come Back When You Grow
Up', a Top 20 hit from four years later, Vee's first since 'Charms'
in 1963. Although big hits were thin on the ground during this time,
the quality of his recordings remained high: 'I'll Make You Mine'
and 'She's Sorry', both self-penned, found him recording in the
Merseybeat style (well, it was 1964, so who can blame him?); Van
McCoy's 'Keep On Trying' (recorded at Abbey Road) deserved to be
a smash; and as Vee himself writes in the booklet, the Jack Nitzsche-arranged
'Run Like The Devil' is one of his best ever records. Elsewhere,
his version of the Beach Boys' 'Here Today' is very credible, while
on '1963' he sounds uncannily like the 4 Seasons.
Onto the third disc, which includes 'Beautiful People', 'Maybe
Just Today', 'My Girl/Hey Girl', 'Do What You Gotta Do', 'I'm Into
Lookin' For Someone To Love Me', 'Let's Call It A Day Girl' and
'Sweet Sweetheart', all hits to some degree for Vee between 1967
and 1970. Then, after six years away from Liberty/UA, he was re-signed
and recorded a rocking version of Buddy Holly's 'Well Alright',
which was to be his last single for the label. Given his association
over the years with the Crickets, it was a fitting swansong. Tagged
on the end are Italian versions of 'Run To Him', 'She's Sorry',
'Charms' and 'Come Back When You Grow Up', all new to this listener.
The 16-page booklet contains an excellent essay by Bob Celli, a
page written by Bobby Vee himself and tons of memorabilia, all great
to see. It would have been good to have some more track annotation,
such as original catalogue numbers and producer/arranger credits,
but, at less than 10p per track, consider that a nerd's observation,
not a complaint. While obviously not recommended to those who like
their music in any way soulful or heavy (although even they would
dig some tracks from the latter half of Disc 3), for lovers of well-crafted,
clean-cut pop, this is one of the best reissues of 2006.
BOBBY VEE 'THE SINGLES
COLLECTION' (EMI 0946 3 67379 2 8)
Complete track list:
Brigitte Bardot's status as a legend of Gallic culture rests on
her work as an iconic actress. This DVD, however, focuses on BB
the singer, as seen on French television in the '60s. With a running
time of two hours, it comprises four complete TV shows, one of which
was never broadcast, all in pristine sound and vision.
Opening is Bonne Année Brigitte, a short black and
white programme first broadcast on New Year's Eve 1961, here bolstered
with two extra previously unseen songs. It's all beautifully shot
and choreographed, but very much a frothy 1920s-flavoured jazz/pop
period piece. (Given BB's subsequent militant animal welfare endeavours,
the sight of her chirping 'Stanislas' while wrapped in a fur coat
might raise some eyebrows.)
Again in stylish monochrome (and with yet more animal pelts adorning
BB, and the set), next up is A Vos Souhaits Brigitte - Nouvel
An, a ten-song show originally transmitted on January 1st 1963
- another bubbly cocktail, but a tad less retro. Franco-pop mavens
will lap up 'Je Me Donne A Qui Me Plait', 'La Belle Et Le Blues'
and 'L'Appareil A Sous' (an early venture into ye-ye land), all
written by Serge Gainsbourg.
With the entrée out of the way, onto the main course, the
legendary Brigitte Bardot Show, a colourful spectacular first
shown on New Year's Day 1968. As Lee Hazlewood was to Nancy Sinatra,
Serge Gainsbourg was to Bardot: built around six of his songs, this
show is a dream come true for BB and Gainsbourg buffs alike, with
the pair duetting on 'Bonnie And Clyde' (with Brigitte in leather
micro-dress and thigh-boots) and 'Comic Strip' (lilac body-stocking
and long black wig). Manitas De Plata and Sacha Distel also guest,
while elsewhere, sung in fractured Anglais, 'The Devil Is English'
is strangely compelling (imagine Anita Pallenberg sings Ray Davies),
a clutch of linking instrumental pieces penned by Francis Lai will
appeal to fans of Tony Hatch, and the previously unseen sitar-driven
(hey, it was 1967!) 'La Bise Aux Hippies', a psych-pop duet with
Sacha Distel, is a great added bonus track. The whole show is brilliantly
directed by Eddy Matalon.
Next up is Faces Of Paris (Images De Paris), an hour-long
film made for BBC Worldwide (but never broadcast), which documents
the making of The Brigitte Bardot Show. Closing the DVD is
'Le Soleil De Ma Vie' ('You Are The Sunshine Of My Life'), a duet
with Sacha Distel from 1973, one of BB's final recordings.
Divine BB isn't exactly a new release. In fact, it's nearly
three years old, but I've only just come across it. I'm glad I did.
£10 very well spent.
BRIGITTE BARDOT: 'DIVINE
BB' (UNIVERSAL MUSIC DVD 0602498178867)
Stephen J. McParland started his monthly fanzine, California
Music, back in 1979. He continued this respected publication
for almost 20 years, with the last issues being bi-annual and including
a CD. The reason his output slowed in later years wasn't that he
was taking it easy (far from it), but because he had also begun
writing a series of books on surf music and its related genres,
all published via his CMusic imprint. His continuing curiosity for
the details behind these recordings, but most of all his love for
the music, has led to Surf Music USA, arguably one of his
most important works.
The focus of his earlier books tended towards particular genres
and artists. His genre studies include encyclopaedias on Australian
surf music, surfing-related girl groups, beach movies and a companion
volume for bikers, while his artist profiles include a seminal tome
on the work and life of Gary Usher (originally in five volumes,
now reprinted as a deluxe library-styled hardback) and important
books on Jan & Dean, Brian Wilson (with and without the Beach
Boys), the Walker Brothers, Kim Fowley and P. F. Sloan. Neatly lined-up
on my shelves I can see 18 of his books, so you could say I'm a
bit of a fan, as are many S'poppers with an interest in the machinations
behind the hits.
Not many of you reading this will expect Surf Music USA
to be a written 'Greatest Surfin' Hits'-type collection, and it
isn't. The book offers far more than just details of early instrumental
radio hits by Dick Dale, the Belairs and the Gamblers, or later
vocal cuts by the likes of the Beach Boys, the Surf Bunnies and
the Fantastic Baggys. Rather it takes the early local and later
national and international popularity of these sides to record the
birth of instrumental surf music and the California Sound vocal
sides, via chart entries from national magazines, Billboard
and Cash Box, and Los Angeles radio stations, KRLA and KFWB.
McParland has conducted hundreds of interviews with those involved
in these recordings, many of whom - with the passing of time and,
perhaps, an interest in inflating their own importance - recall
events differently. He takes a firm stance on the accuracy of the
material, suggesting his own opinion and pointing out recordings
that sound uncannily like earlier tunes by other writers. It is
a challenging and detailed read. I don't have extensive knowledge
of the early instrumental sides and did find the opening chapters
quite tough going - a bit like reading one of Pete Frame's Family
Trees, but without the diagram! There is just so much information,
so many record labels and so many people named and interviewed,
many of whom seem to switch from one group/label to another at the
drop of a surfboard. But would I sacrifice the mass of info for
an easier read? Not on your Nellie!
The 20 chapters, each with its own two or three-page appendix, tell
a fascinating story. Aided and abetted by a thorough index, chart
positions and various discographies, the book serves as a superb
reference work, while its appearance - with colour cover and copious
illustrations - also makes it a rather cool asset to the coffee
table. There are numerous fine discographies and books on surf and
related types of music, and the artists and producers who created
them - many of them written or compiled by McParland - but for a
real understanding of the birth and progression of surf music in
all its facets, Surf Music USA is without peer.
SURF MUSIC USA:
ALL THE SURF, HOT-ROD, MOTORCYCLE & SKATEBOARD HITS 1960-1965
by STEPHEN J. MCPARLAND (CMUSIC BOOKS)
Spectropop also recommends:
Bikinis, Black Denim & Bitchen Sounds:
Sound Waves & Traction:
"We've heard it before, Tony" sing the Cookies backing
up Tony Orlando on one of his Epic label recordings from the early
'60s. Well, maybe we have, but not like this, as UK Ace have now
released a 27 track CD comprising all of Tony's Epic 45s and album
The CD features songs from not only Goffin & King, but also
others such as Bacharach & David, Pomus & Shuman and Sedaka
& Greenfield. Carole King's string arrangement opens the set
as we go into 'Halfway To Paradise', Tony's first hit from 1961.
'Bless You', his biggest hit from his Epic years, follows and his
career seemed to be on a roll. It wasn't to be and Tony had to wait
until the late '60s, when he reinvented himself as Wind and then
Dawn, to be back in the Top 40. But back to the early '60s and he
continued to release well-crafted pop songs and they're all here
on this CD. A previous Tony Orlando CD from Collectables omitted
the later Epic 45s, making this set from Ace the one to own.
'Talkin' About You' (yes, the one with the girls telling Tony that
they'd heard it before) was a Goffin-King song done in that brash
Barry Mann style. Coupled with 'My Baby's A Stranger', it inexplicably
failed to chart. The summer of 1962 brought us another wonderful
double-sider, 'Chills'/'At The Edge Of Tears'. Even so, 'Chills'
made it to only #109, but it did generate airplay in the UK - some
feat during those times of restricted airplay for recorded music.
A lot of Mersey bands were listening and Gerry & the Pacemakers
included the song on their first LP in 1963. And while we're on
Merseyside, Tony Rounce's excellent notes accompanying the CD inform
us that UK great, Billy Fury, dipped into the Orlando catalog for
'Halfway To Paradise', 'I'd Never Find Another You' and 'What Am
I Gonna Do', a Sedaka-Greenfield number that charted for Jimmy Clanton
I really like the atmospheric 'Joanie', a Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh
song and Tony's first in 1963. He made a nice revival of Bobby Darin's
'I'll Be There' the same year - as did Gerry & the Pacemakers,
who, with the full weight of the British Invasion behind them, made
it to the Top 20 in 1964. Tony Orlando was certainly recording top
quality contemporary material. The CD also features his versions
of 'She Doesn't Know It' (also recorded by Jay & the Americans)
and Bacharach-David's 'To Wait For Love (Is To Waste Your Life Away)'.
The latter was such a good song that it was tried by Tom Jones,
Jackie DeShannon and Jay & the Americans, but we had to wait
until Herb Alpert put it out as his follow-up to 'This Guy's In
Love With You' in 1968 before it became a hit. Tony issued another
Bacharach-David song as the b-side of his version, 'Accept It' -
another gem done in that sophisticated styling that was Bacharach-David.
It wouldn't have been out of place on the Casino Royale soundtrack.
'The Complete Epic Masters, 1961-1964' is the subtitle to this
long awaited CD and it comes with very thorough liner notes and
memorabilia, including label shots of Tony's 45s issued in the UK
on the Fontana label. It ranks up there with similar packages from
say Bobby Vee and Brian Hyland as a testament to the singers, writers,
arrangers and producers who brought us such wonderful early '60s
TONY ORLANDO: 'HALFWAY
TO PARADISE - THE COMPLETE EPIC MASTERS,
1961-1964' (ACE CDCHD 1137)
Find more info here:
The saga of Saxony Records is really two stories in one. The main
vein of the tiny Cincinnati-based label was established with the
release of a lucky 13 singles scattered across a five-year span
starting in 1962. But Saxony founders Paul Trefzger and Bud Reneau
recorded numerous other tracks during that time that wouldn't be
released until Paul, now on his own and based in San Francisco,
reactivated the label in 1993. This latter period, which continues
to this day, has seen the release of 45s comprised of reissues from
Saxony's original catalogue as well as unreleased masters cut during
that same period. More recently Trefzger has added CDs to Saxony's
catalogue, with the 2-CD 'Saxony Vaults' its flagship release.
Like most post-War indies Saxony recorded eclectically, flitting
from genre to genre in the hope of finding that elusive hit. Unlike
the businessmen behind many such labels, however, Trefzger and Reneau
were as motivated by the content of the music they released as by
its marketability, with the result being a collection that, notwithstanding
a few negligible cuts, sounds remarkably fresh all this time later.
Part of the charm of the Saxony sound(s) is that, with limited financial
resources, Reneau (the main in-studio force) and Trefzger had no
choice but to cut spare, streetwise tracks that omitted the sort
of frills that might've weighed the records down as they passed
through the years.
Saxony's biggest success was with the Teardrops, in particular
their dynamic, inventive 'Tears Come Tumbling' (most of the sales
of which were registered to Musicor, who'd picked it up after an
initial Saxony pressing). This talented group, which had only three
singles during Saxony's Phase 1 (plus a fourth released directly
on Musicor), is represented here with a dozen tracks (all but one
of them written by Trefzger), ranging from the teen-girl sound of
'I'm Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend' to the Barbara Lewis-esque 'Call
Me And I'll Be Happy'. As accomplished and as timeless as so much
of the music on 'Saxony Vaults' is, it was not by accident that
the Teardrops were the label's most important group. Even a song
as inconsequential as 'Bubblegummer' makes for sublime listening
in their hands (although, then again, he was "a whoop
As superb as virtually all of the Teardrops' tracks are, though,
their singular masterpiece is a song that Saxony itself had lost
all trace of until its appearance in 1999 on Ace's 'Where The Girls
Are, Vol 2'. Written by group members Linda Schroeder and Dorothy
Dyer, 'I Love You' starts out sounding like an outtake from 'Pet
Sounds', before breaking into a haunted, yearning piece of sophisticated
R&B pop that calls to mind (without ever quite sounding like)
such acts as the Royalettes, the Velvelettes and the Lewis Sisters.
Belying its banal title, 'I Love You' is an exquisite piece of music.
Saxony also has a 'Best Of The Teardrops' CD, which is entirely
musically redundant to 'Saxony Vaults' yet of value to those uninterested
in the label's other artists. The current version includes all 12
Teardrops tracks, but it was originally issued prior to Trefzger's
discovery of 'I Love You', and hence there is also a rare 11-song
edition kicking around.
One of the unanswered questions surrounding Saxony regards the
nature of its involvement with Jackie DeShannon. Gerri Diamond (pictured
above), the label's female belter and resident sex siren, tears
off a ripping version here of DeShannon and Sheeley's 'Break-A-Way'
(sic), which annotator (and Spectropop member) Rex Strother suggests
may have been the song's very first cut (although it too, alas,
would go unreleased until Phase 2). Diamond also recorded the only
known version of another DeShannon-Sheeley song, the brittle and
ballsy 'I'm Breaking The Law', a song that sounds right at home
with such other JDS switchblade rockers as 'There's Gonna Be A Fight'
and 'Backstreet Girl' (and which I sure would love to hear sung
by DeShannon herself). Was it mere coincidence that an obscure and
landlocked independent label was able to gain such privileged access
to two songs by a pair of Metric Music's prime staff writers, or
might the Kentucky-bred DeShannon have had some friends from back
home that helped make those placements? The fate of the continent
may well rest on this issue!
Apart from the Teardrops, Saxony's other notable artists included
Rollie Willis, a smooth tenor (formerly with Otis Williams &
the Charms) responsible for the debut release of Saxony Phase 1,
the Splendor In The Grass-inspired 'Whenever I Get Lonely';
the Charmaines, a terrific female trio who recorded prolifically
for Fraternity and other labels but whose Saxony sides would remain
unreleased until Phase 2; the Ditalians, an R&B group who turned
in the mid-tempo 'Philly Dog New Breed', perhaps hoping to double
the record's audience by appealing to fans of both dances;
the gritty street-corner harmonies of the Cabarets, whose 'Times
Is Tough' is a neat knockoff of 'A Certain Girl'; the versatile
Matadors, guitarist Reneau's instrumental quartet who acted as Saxony's
house band; and the Twi-Lighters, a vocal group modeled on the goombah
quartets of the Bronx and Queens, whose 'To Love In Vain' was a
pre-Saxony recording licensed to Fraternity.
'Saxony Vaults' is fitted out with a number of novelty and other
oddball sessions, including Matadors pianist Tom Dooley's two versions,
one in honky tonk style with the other a cute Liberace parody, of
his original instro 'Printer's Alley', along with the cool, Ray
Charles-styled 'Black Orchid'; local DJ Skipper Ryle, whose 'Wolf
Gal' is a Halloween perennial; a letter-from-Vietnam piece from
Frank Moe; and a pair of dead-on Dylan soundalikes - yet with anti-folkie
lyrics - by the Teddy Boys.
It should be clear by now that 'Saxony Vaults' has a wealth of
things to recommend it, but my praise is not without reservation.
For all the space available in the package's 12-page booklet, none
of that real estate is devoted to any significant personnel credits
(not even songwriting info), our only glimpses of who did what coming
anecdotally from Strother's liner notes. Furthermore, the booklet
includes only a smattering of artist photos, the remaining illustrations
devoted to label scans, a good half of which are of Phase 2 releases
and of no special visual appeal. I emphasize, however, that these
shortcomings are limited to extra-musical matters; when it
comes to the It's What's In The Grooves That Counts department,
'Saxony Vaults' provides a substantial helping of excellent sounds
from a minor yet extremely worthwhile label.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'SAXONY VAULTS' (SAXONY CD 103)
Available from: http://www.saxonyrecordcompany.com/for-sale.html
More on Gerri Diamond: http://www.cincypost.com/2001/aug/14/wecker081401.html
the Charmaines: http://tinyurl.com/y3oouu
and the Teardrops: http://spectropop.com/go2/teardrops.html
Hank Medress of the Tokens calls it "an earworm" - one
of those songs that burrows into your head and won't let go. In
the case of the Roomates' 'There's No Moon Out Tonight', that earworm
is welcome to a permanent home in my brain.
Let's cover the obvious at the outset: these guys can sing - period.
(All four members share lead duties.) They choose to apply their
excellent voices to their love of the "white doo wop"
sound of groups like Dion & the Belmonts, the Earls, the Mystics,
the Duprees, the Capris, the Passions and dozens of others (including
the Tokens, I'm sure) who emerged, primarily from the New York area,
in the late '50s through the early '60s. Many were on labels like
Laurie, many were of Italian heritage (although the Tokens were
Jewish), and most featured a lead singer and (usually) three background
The big surprise is that the Roomates are English, working in a
genre misunderstood in their native land. They're not satirizing
or "nostalgizing" the music as do "Sha Na Na, Darts,
Rocky Sharpe, etc.," says primary lead singer Steve Webb. "[We're]
an English doo wop group trying to do it the way the original white
guys did it."
In my opinion, they succeed admirably. While I've never seen them
perform live, the Roomates' recorded music brings the same rare
ring of authenticity to white doo wop as the sadly-disbanded Little
Isidore and the Inquisitors brought to '50s R&B and early '60s
soul. There are no synthesizers. Both groups' production quality
feels authentic to their musical eras, yet each satisfies today's
expectations of high fidelity sound. If either group could have
released its records in its contemporaneous time, no doubt a fair
number would have been hits.
Also like Little Isidore and company, the Roomates split this album
between originals and (mostly) lesser-known covers; to their credit,
it's hard to tell which is which. My favourite so far, the Steve
Webb composition 'There's No Moon Out Tonight', contains a couple
of modulations probably not found until the mid-'60s, but the song
is completely captivating in the beauty and sincerity of its performance.
"That seems to be a fave of a lot of people when they first
hear the CD," says Steve. "I think it's also one of my
best written attempts over the years." Interestingly, they
also include a very credible version of the Capris' hit, 'There's
A Moon Out Tonight'; unlike the original, the Roomates' bass player
is actually hitting the bottom of the chords the group is singing.
While the Roomates' excellent choice of covers displays their great
knowledge and appreciation of their favourite genre, their originals
also compare favourably. Two of the best tracks channel the Earls:
the Steve Webb song 'On A Night Like This', and the Elvis classic
'Can't Help Falling In Love', which is transformed into a delightful
up-tempo arrangement. Among other standouts, 'Twinkle Lullaby' and
'I Don't Care', both Webb originals, recall the Mystics and the
Elegants respectively. Webb's 'He's Gotta Go Now' hints at the Visions'
'Teenager's Life'; that group's own 'Down In My Heart' is also covered
here. Trade Martin's undeservedly obscure 'Joanne' gets a Dion &
the Del Satins styling by the group, as does Roomate Nick Kennedy's
'Anna My Love'. There's a fine cover of Dion & the Belmonts'
version of the Five Satins' 'Wonderful Girl', as well as the rediscovery
of Tommy Fredericks' 'Prince Of Players', the first release on the
legendary Carlton label. There are so many more tracks worth mentioning,
but two songs have particularly interesting "stories behind
the story": 'I Want A Little Girl' covers a song from the original
Roommates from the US (who backed Cathy Jean on 'Please Love Me
Forever'), from whom this group "borrowed" its name; and
'Maureen' is a post-doo wop-era cover of what is itself a beautiful
post-doo wop-era original by Joel Katz & the Autumns from 1964.
There are even a couple of a cappella tracks for fans who want
that "down on the corner" sound proving, as if proof was
needed, that the Roomates can really sing! But don't just take my
word for it; endorsements for the group come from artists including
Dion DiMucci, John Gummoe (Cascades), Jay Traynor, Jim West (Innocents),
Phil Cracolici (Mystics), Steve Horn (Legends of Doo-wop) and Larry
Chance, plus a raft of knowledgeable radio and record folks.
So why hasn't the world heard more about this unusual group? Maybe
it's because they're honest, not flashy; or they live in the "wrong"
country at the wrong time for their style; or that this album has
not been released in the US, although it is available on the internet
at reasonable prices. Whatever the reason, the long silence ought
to end; there are several songs on this CD that have become instant
essentials in my music collection. If the groups mentioned in this
article touch your musical soul, leaving you wishing for more of
what they offered, 'The Classic Sound Of The Roomates' proves that
not only do they still make them like they used to, but on this
CD they often make them just as good!
Epilogue: Steve Webb reports that a new Roomates album is under
construction. If the past is truly a predictor of the future, it
should be great!
The Roomates: 'The Classic
Sound Of The Roomates' (Ace CDCHD 1024)
At long last, after many snags and delays, the second volume in
Ace's Leiber and Stoller series has arrived. This CD makes me wish
I weren't such a deep-dish collector/enthusiast. The majority of
these tracks are old friends to me. Having collected Leiber-Stoller
songs and productions for over a decade, I've got most of these
26 tracks, many rare by anyone's standards, drilled into my synapses.
I envy those who come upon this disc with little or no familiarity
to its comments. Compilers Mick Patrick and Tony Rounce have assembled
an appealing, well-programmed blend of chart hits and overlooked
recordings. As with the first volume, they've continued the series
trend of unearthing unfamiliar versions of well-known songs. They
have stressed the extreme breadth of L&S's work as songwriters
and producers. In this pivotal period, Jerry and Mike relocated
to New York and formed a long-lasting association with Atlantic
Records, the top-class R&B label that was the home to Ray Charles,
LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, the Drifters, Clovers, et al. Their services
as producers often precluded their cleffing prowess. Leiber and
Stoller produced a formidable amount of non-original material, for
as large a variety of labels. In this six-year stretch, L&S
also formed alliances with RCA, United Artists and Big Top - not
to mention one-shot deals for various other labels, major and minor.
Their productions embraced musical influences outside of R&B
and rock. Most famously, 1959's "There Goes My Baby" by
the Drifters imported symphonic string sections and Latin baion
rhythms. It's an understatement to say that this was one of the
most influential records of the later 20th century. Along with gifted
arranger Stanley Applebaum, L&S created a new template for black
musical expression with this swirling, passionate record.
The CD's title track, as spellbindingly sung by Ben E. King, is
one of Leiber-Stoller's supreme achievements. Here is their songcraft
at its most sophisticated and spare. Each word is carefully measured
and metered. Repetition adds to a hypnotic effect. Stoller's minor-keyed
melody, with its echoes of the Gershwins' "Summertime"
and "It Ain't Necessarily So", increases the mesmeric
vibe. Stan Applebaum's arrangement, with its harp glissandos, prescient
tympani, rich string section and various percussive decorations,
is chillingly perfect. Listening to this recording is like awakening
from a haunting dream.
In all, eight of the 26 tracks come from Atlantic-label material.
"You're The Boss", a show tune-worthy minor-key duet by
sassy LaVern Baker and sub-basement-voiced Jimmy Ricks, is newly
available in this dandy original 1961 version. These two performers
shouldn't sync up at all. Their voices have nothing in common. L&S
play this up to their advantage. The discrepancy in these two singers
becomes a slyly comical asset. I wish Ricks and Baker had cut an
entire LP of duets, Leiber-Stoller style. "Your Old Lady",
a B-side by the Isley Brothers, is an in-studio collaboration. Leiber,
Stoller, King Curtis and O'Kelly Isley cooked up this manic, lusty
gem on the fly. With a great Afro-Cuban arrangement, this overlooked
goodie hasn't been available in about a decade.
"Some Other Guy"' by Richie Barrett, from 1962, has also
appeared on the Ace/Kent soul/R&B comp "At The Club".
While I'd love to have its pell-mell prison-break narrative flip,
"Tricky Dicky", also on board, I'm happy to have this
dynamic track in wider circulation. This recording had an enormous
impact on the British beat scene. In a Beatles BBC cover version,
John Lennon amusingly imitates singer Barrett's whistlingly lisped
"s" sounds. I'm used to hearing this via a whipped old
45, so it's a delight to encounter in such crystal-clear audio beauty.
Lonnie Donegan's 1961 version of "'Sorry But I'm Gonna Have
To Pass"', recorded during a visit to New York, also anthologized
elsewhere, bears repeating. Though I love the Coasters' 1958 original
version, Donegan's less sly, almost straining interpretation works
best for me. He sells the song's complicated emotional story well.
The lyric is an outstanding example of Jerry Leiber's unique touch.
In the middle of confessing his ambivalence towards an old flame
who's called on him again, but doesn't know he's a "husband
and a father", he delivers these sublime words in the song's
bridge: "I don't mind sitting here, talking and a-drinking/I
like the beer, I like the beans and franks/But if you're thinking
what I think you're thinking/thanks, but no thanks..." What
other songwriter would mention beans and franks, in the midst of
this emotional chaos? Jerry Leiber excelled at capturing such human
moments, via subtle emotions. This song reminds me of Gerri Granger's
equally superb reading of "Just Tell Him Jane Said Hello"
(not contained here). Both compositions tackle unusual and awkward
emotional situations, and both leave a haunting resonance with the
Leiber and Stoller, in their New York years, sometimes collaborated
with other prominent songwriters. An outstanding piece of this type
is "Keep Tellin' Yourself", which they co-wrote with Ellie
Greenwich and Tony Powers. Marv Johnson's moody, soulful rendition,
in a dramatic, punchy L&S production, is a real show-stopper
on this disc. Another little-known Leiber-Stoller song (and production)
is Varetta Dillard's 1957 "Old Fashioned". This gospel-tinged
track is so obscure it wasn't issued anywhere 'til the late 1980s,
and then only briefly on a long-deleted Bear Family disc. Of the
two different versions cut, Ace have selected a take which combines
the talents of singer Dillard and the legendary singing group the
Cookies. Both versions are good, but who can resist the charms of
Dorothy Jones and Co.? Not this reporter!
Their golden touch as producers was so spot-on, by this time, that
it's often painful to hear other producers' renditions of their
songs. Such is the case on one of my least favorite tracks here,
"Lips"' by Roy Hamilton. It's a great song, and Hamilton
a capable singer, but record sorely lacks that certain something
that L&S brought to even their most modest productions. The
same is definitely not the case for the obscure original version
of "I'm A Woman". As recorded by Nashville R&B singer
Christine Kittrell for Vee Jay Records in '62, this non-L&S
production captures the sensual wit of the duo's best work. Kittrell
delivers the performance of her career, ably backed by a razor-sharp
R&B backing - itself reminiscent of Leiber & Stoller's productions
for their Spark Records label, circa 1954. Even if you're burned
out on Peggy Lee's hit version, you'll dig this little-known first
take of an L&S standard.
Alongside benchmarks such as "There Goes My Baby", the
Clovers' sublime "Love Potion No. 9", Ruth Brown's hyper-poppy
"Lucky Lips", "Bossa Nova Baby" by Tippie and
the Clovers and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' mucho-disturbed "Alligator
Wine", we also receive a handful of well-known songs in unusual
cover versions. My favorite among these is Buddy Holly and the Fireballs'
beyond-the-grave version of the Robins' "Smokey Joe's Café".
Holly taped his casual interpretation of the R&B classic in
his New York apartment, weeks before his February, 1959 death. One
decade later, producer Norman Petty had George Tomsco and the Fireballs
overdub their distinctive guitar sounds and vocal backings. The
results are oddly appealing, even tho' Holly is sketchy on the song's
actual lyrics. Cassius Clay's version of "Stand By Me"
offers an attractive faux-L&S production, uncertain vocal stylings
by the fleet-witted prize-fighter, and ends up endearing itself
to the listener, despite Ali's decidedly non-KO vocal chops.
The CD ends with the continental, sentimental instrumental stylings
of "Cafe Espresso", with its ''Third Man Theme" flavor.
This 1962 piece by the Leiber-Stoller Orchestra demonstrates how
far afield Jerry and Mike had explored in a decade of intense collaboration
and experimentation. Patrick's liner notes are intelligent, witty
and well-organized. Add to this some super photographs of Leiber
and Stoller in the studio, circa 1959, oodles of vintage 45s and
trade-mag ads, and the sum total is yet another ace from Ace. I
can't wait for Volume Three!
The Leiber & Stoller
Story, Volume 2: On The Horizon, 1956-1962
(Ace CDCHD 1116)
Ace Records (UK)'s CD series, "The Golden Age of American
Rock & Roll", would make a great core library for a stateside
'50s-and-'60s-rooted oldies station. Simply add the requisite performances
of the Beatles, Elvis, Motown, the Cameo-Parkway artists and some
choice others, and your station's musical core is up and running.
Then add some "spice": supplement the ten volumes of chart
items with this series' "special editions" featuring doo-wop,
novelty and country records which also scored well in the overall
And now there's a fourth "special edition": "Bubbling
Under" features 30 local and regional hits. Each was successful
in one or more areas of the country, enough to peak just beneath
the Billboard national Top 100, but never to attain that coveted
national breakout. However, many of these did receive attention
outside their strongest markets, and so may not be totally unfamiliar
to some listeners. A wide variety of styles are represented, befitting
an era when local tastes and regional artists mattered, before US
pop radio became homogenized and consulted into bland sameness.
While there's not room to mention every track in this review, many
are worth noting.
Southern records are well represented, in part because of the strength
and sales influence of powerhouse R&B stations in that region
as well as the potency of the New Orleans sound, still at its creative
peak. Previously unknown to me, Danny White's "Kiss Tomorrow
Goodbye" is a delicious Otis Redding-like soul ballad. Future
superstar Aaron Neville's first hit, "Over You", is a
funky piano-based rocker (produced by Allen Toussaint) that only
hints at where he was heading. Harmonica Fats' version of Hank Ballard's
"Tore Up" is a bouncy blues sung in a Louis Armstrong-like
tenor, and Ricky Lyons' "Shim Sham Shuffle" adds a Bob
Wills-style whoop to the R&B lexicon. Of special note is Joe
& Ann's "Gee, Baby", a deliciously slithery laid-back
NOLA R&B gem released on Mississippi's Ace Records; it "bubbled
under" the pop charts but rose to #14 on the R&B charts
while enjoying an unusually long sales life. Over on the Cajun side
of the south, Rod Bernard's bouncy "Colinda" was a one-take
wonder that turned a Cajun classic into a fine rocker; Freddie Fender's
early, spare and intense "Holy One" has one foot in the
swamp and the other on the Tex-Mex border; and Rusty & Doug
Kershaw's original "Louisiana Man", now virtually a country
standard, "bubbled under" the pop charts on the strength
of being a huge country hit.
A unique track deserves special mention: Ronnie Hawkins & the
Hawks' "Bo Diddley". Originally from Arkansas, Canadian
ex-pat Hawkins and the future Band (many of them also southerners)
created this first burst of a country/rock/electric blues fusion
(and its even more intense flip side, Bo Diddley's "Who Do
You Love") that was like nothing else on the radio at the time
- a two-sided forecast of the electric blues rock which would soon
be a major factor in rock and roll.
Late-period doo-wop, well-represented on this CD, was still a significant
factor in the early '60s, especially in the northeast and in the
Los Angeles area. Three gems and some lesser lights grace this disc.
The Robins' "White Cliffs of Dover" was a west-coast cooker
ignited by Bobby Sheen, the future "Mr. Soxx" in the empire
of Phil Spector, who is well represented by the Ducanes' only record,
a remake of the Teenchords' "I'm So Happy" which bubbled
under on the strength of its major hit status in New York. The third
jewel in this crown is "Need Your Love" by the Los Angeles-based
Metallics, a corpulent mid-30s lead singer with a blazing falsetto
backed by three teenage guys. (Special compliments to Ace's re-mastering
of this track; I never heard the bass player on the original 45,
but I hear him now.) Other doo-wop sides include the Emotions speeding
up the Nutmegs' "A Story Untold" into a Four Seasons-like
arrangement and the Earls revving up the Harptones' "Life Is
But A Dream", each group reaching for a big follow-up to their
earlier charting hits, but hitting mainly in New York. Like the
Emotions and Earls, Billy & the Essentials' uptempo "Maybe
You'll Be There" also covers an earlier ballad version, this
by fellow Philadelphia artists Lee Andrews & the Hearts; both
versions were hometown hits. The Jesters' anachronistic remake of
the Diablos' "The Wind" hardly changed a note and did
well in New York, where the group was an R&B mainstay. Though
not a cover song, the Del Vikings "Bring Back Your Heart"
sounds like a rewrite of the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby"
with an added dash of the Tams. And bridging doo-wop and pop, the
Delicates (Murray The K's original "dancing girls" at
his live shows, before the Ronettes came aboard), featuring future
Angel Peggy Santiglia, had a New York hit with "Ronnie Is My
Lover", a Fleetwoods-styled track; its flip, "Black &
White Thunderbird" (not included here), also got significant
In the pop realm, Barry Darvell hit it big in Washington, DC with
a very pretty but fatalistic teen lament, "How Will It End",
and Ral Donner's "I Got Burned" could have been an outtake
from an Elvis movie soundtrack. Future country star Bobby Bare's
LA-styled treatment from producer Barry (and the Tamerlanes) DeVorzon
yielded "Book of Love" (not the Monotones' song), but
Bare was still a couple of years away from "Detroit City",
his major breakthrough with his signature sound. Speaking of country,
my favorite new discovery on the CD is Doug Warren & the Rays'
"If The World Don't End Tomorrow". With great gospel-flavored
country harmony in the same style as Webb Pierce's giant country-to-pop
crossovers, "I Ain't Never" and "No Love Have I",
it even sounds like the same vocal group. (Unfamiliar with the sound?
Imagine the Fiestas' "So Fine" sung by a white group.)
Although not a major hit, several future major players in Nashville
were involved with this record, including writer (and later producer)
Billy Sherrill, Rick Hall and Bobby Russell; country star Carl Smith
covered it as well.
The second half of the pre-Beatle rock era was still the era of
instrumentals, often featuring a riff in a blues progression that
the artists hoped would become a memorable hook. The Tornadoes'
"Bustin' Surfboards" and Viceroys' "Seagreen"
fit that description well. The latter was originally called "Seagrams"
until the distiller complained, proving that sometimes the stories
behind the songs were better than the music itself. Another great
back story: Jack B Nimble & the Quicks' "Nut Rocker"
sounded like B Bumble & the Stingers' hit/cover version; it
should, since the groups shared some personnel - and the same arrangement!
Each of these songs has a story to tell, and co-compiler Rob Finnis'
well-researched liner notes continue the usual Ace standard with
interesting, fact-filled histories of each track, increasing my
appreciation even of those records that won't turn out to be my
favorites. In addition, the sound throughout the entire CD is as
good as modern engineering could make it, even on some tracks where
"lo-fi" would be a compliment. "Bubbling Under"
presents a collection of mainly noteworthy singles revealing regional
tastes and differences, featuring many that "coulda been a
contender". There is plenty here to like, and dozens more prime
"bubbling under" tracks waiting to be heard again. I hope
Ace is planning to include some of them in additional collections.
Oldies radio needs the kind of spice that this CD offers.
The Golden Age of American
Rock & Roll, Special Bubbling Under Edition
(Ace CDCHD 1050)
Opening the post as a writer/reviewer is always quite fun, but
there are mornings when something arrives that simply messes up
your day, even if it is in a very acceptable way. The All Summer
Long issue of Dumb Angel Gazette (all colour and designed this time)
is one such example of one's morning quickly disappearing down a
wandering black hole. To explain - Here in the UK we have always
been a little starved of back-up imagery and information for the
glories of West Coast music, and have had to make do over the years
with a handful of somewhat restrained publications and a few mags
like Teenset, Tigerbeat or even 16 to give a flavour of the printed
culture that went alongside the music.
All Summer Long goes a very
long way to plugging that gap with a sumptuous collection of photographic
treats on virtually every page. There's a full page of Jan Berry
working with Bones Howe, a close up live shot at the Baked Potato
club of Eddy, Blaine, Randi, Cooder, and saxman Douglas sharing
the same tiny stage, a picture of the Kustom Kings road band, and
a shot of the outside of The Rendezvous Ballroom. Each photo new
to me, and fascinating to see with all the background detail. There's
a fold-out Pete Frame family tree of the South Bay area Surf bands,
and for Beach Boys fans there are treats everywhere with rare photos
and memorabilia dotted around specific articles and the mag in general.
As you can tell, it scores supremely on visuals alone, but then
you turn to the written content: A Beach Boys sessionography for
'64-'65, a full Steve Douglas interview, Harvey Kubernick on the
LA Scene surrounding Phil Spector circa '64-'66, in the studio with
Jan Berry and a big Dick Dale piece. And there's more besides -
articles and assorted ephemera like a card from The Wich Stand,
the session sheet for "Dead Man's Curve", and oodles of
glorious label and cover shots from the Golden Era of Southern Californian
hipdom in the mid sixties.
Editorial statements at the start speak of some of the less-than-welcome
changes that have occurred in Los Angeles over the years, further
reinforcing the wonder of the years depicted here. It was an age
when the city and its surrounding cultural reference points offered
so much to the world; a time when the young LA music hotshots we
all know and love took over from the comparatively staid New York
worlds that had for so long claimed the musical crown; a time when
it must have been joyous to be young and hanging out on the Strip;
and a time and place that overseas fans can only dream of. This
DAG issue, coming a mere 17 years after the last one, uses its 148
pages to offer a representation of that world in a way that few
have managed. This publication - oh, there's Jack Nitzsche working
with Donna Loren - is absolutely essential for anyone with even
a casual interest in that time and place, and for hardcore fans
such as those likely to be reading within the bowels of Spectropop,
it is simply a case of selling granny to get hold of a copy. Quite
lovely to pick up, quite wonderful to flick through - I feel privileged
to have even seen it.
Find it, buy it, love it!
All Summer Long: Dumb Angel
No. 4 (Neptune's Kingdom Press)
Brian Chidester. Founder/Co-Editor: Domenic Priore.
THEY SAY THE NEON LIGHTS ARE BRIGHT
KEN EMERSON'S BRILL BUILDING EPIC
by Frank M. Young
Epic in its scope, thoroughly mature in its conception, Ken Emerson's
Always Magic In The Air: the Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill
Building Era is the first non-fiction work to take a vital chapter
of American popular music seriously. The author of a critically-admired
study of Stephen Foster (himself the original American pop songwriter),
Emerson displays an admirable ability to put an era of music, and
its makers, into sensible perspective. Emerson has taken the Brill
Building school of music, often derided in "official"
rock 'n' roll histories as harmless fodder, outside the margins
of nostalgia, fannish devotion and record-collector trivia.
Always Magic In The Air's story is a saga as complex and
rich as Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather. Like any good epic,
it has a large cast of characters. Some are peripheral, some vitally
important. All are rendered credibly, both as flawed human beings
and as creators. Emerson is blessed with extraordinary good fortune.
Most of the principal figures of his book are still alive and well.
He was able to access them, get their candid input and render their
stories with a frankness and reality that previous authors have
One of the book's central concepts is by way of Norman Mailer,
whose 1957 essay, The White Negro, laid bare a series of
societal changes. He pinpointed the movement of certain post-war,
young white American adults to shed their staid Caucasian status,
as they embraced tastes and attitudes of Afro-Americans. This, of
course, was the spark that fueled Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry
Lee Lewis and many of the pioneering rock 'n' rollers. Most significantly,
it was the clarion call for a pair of young Jewish-American songwriters
who met in Los Angeles - Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
In the story that unfolds, Leiber and Stoller are the unwitting
foundation of a new American music. From the start of their collaboration,
in 1950, they forced together two separate worlds of music and culture.
They weren't the first to try. White musicians had idolized black
music for decades prior. Emerson cites, as one example, the jazz
musician Mezz Mezzrow, whose riveting autobiography, Really The
Blues, exemplifies the life of the "white Negro" in
early 20th century America. Leiber and Stoller were the first "white
Negroes" in American pop music to truly stitch the disparate
worlds of race together. They understood it, spiritually and fundamentally.
Better yet, they knew how to convincingly package it and sell it
to everyone. Their collaborations with kindred spirit Elvis Presley
rolled out the red carpet for American youth music. In the mid-1950s,
for the very first time, teenagers and young adults' voices were
given credence in popular music. Teenagers no longer had to make
do with the flabby pleasantries of mainstream pop. Those who could
not relate to the still-underground sounds of black rhythm and blues
could get a grasp on Elvis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and other pioneer
white rockers. Leiber and Stoller's heroic journey, from Los Angeles
to New York and from Jewish teenagers to bona fide "white Negroes",
is the genesis of what we now call the Brill Building sound. Nearly
all the genre's major players were disciples of Leiber and Stoller,
with the exception of Jerome "Doc" Pomus.
Pomus is another key figure of Always Magic In The Air.
Stricken with polio as a child, Pomus emerged in young adulthood
as the ultimate American outsider. He emulated black singers, wrote
and performed his own hard-hitting blues songs, and successfully
mingled with black musicians, despite his extreme physical hardships.
Before Leiber and Stoller's migration to the Big Apple, Pomus had
placed songs with R&B innovator and icon Ray Charles. His haunting,
throbbing "Lonely Avenue", as starkly confessional as
a suicide note, paired the writer's personal sense of despair and
un-belonging to a seductive R&B beat. Emerson rightly cites
Ray Charles' 1956 recording of "Lonely Avenue" as a milestone
song in American music. His portrait of Pomus, as well, haunts the
reader. He's like a character out of Nelson Algren or Jerome Weidman
come to life. Yet he is neither Caucasian or Afro-American. Pomus'
blending of white and black culture made even Leiber and Stoller's
odyssey seem a bit ofay in comparison.
Rest assured, ample space is given to the lives and achievements
of the other major players. Emerson discusses in detail such fabled
duos as Gerry Goffin/Carole King, Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil, Jeff
Barry/Ellie Greenwich, Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield and Burt Bacharach/Hal
David. He also delves into the roles played by Don Kirshner, Al
Nevins, George Goldner, Florence Greenberg, Phil Spector, George
"Shadow" Morton, the Tokens, Jack Keller, Larry Kolber,
Helen Miller and many others. As well, he salutes some of the great
girl groups. The Cookies, Shangri-las and Shirelles are singled
out, as are solo vocalists like Connie Francis and Lesley Gore,
for their achievements as dynamic interpreters of the Brill Building
output. Emerson deeply and critically differentiates these songwriting
teams. He defines their strengths and weaknesses, their approach
to lyric and melody, their gifts and debits as musicians, and their
overall effectiveness, both as creators and as human beings. This
is light-years beyond what many authors have achieved. Emerson brings
to these songwriters a respectability that has long been owed them.
His portraits of the male-female songwriting teams are often devastating.
Goffin and King, perhaps the most gifted of all these duets, hooked
up as a pair of scared kids, unsure of their incipient adulthood.
Throughout the '60s, their relationship slowly, painfully unraveled,
even as their creative efforts flowered. Described by one of his
peers as a manic-depressive, Goffin's drug usage muddled his life
and creative efforts. It's genuinely painful to read of his slow
descent into deep inward depression and disconnection. The couple
starkly, brutally acknowledged the death of their emotions in the
horrifying 1966 song "A Road To Nowhere".
Similarly, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich's marriage barely spanned
three years. Despite a tremendous output of song, they couldn't
truly connect as a committed couple. Their relationship was all
about the creative spark between them. Again, it's painful to read
of their puppy-love beginnings as a couple falling apart under the
stresses of their work.
Emerson's portrait of Greenfield and Sedaka is the most compelling
and problematic in the book. He is respectful towards the openly
gay Greenfield, at once admiring and critical of his skills as a
lyricist. Sedaka is referred to as a "sissy" several times,
and his work is both criticized and lauded for its candy-colored,
nursery-rhyme content. In his assessment of Sedaka's work, Emerson
gets at the heart of the music's appeal. Banal, straightforward
and gauche, this was music that celebrated the joys of not being
an adult, of reveling in young love's first nervous tingle, of not
having to care about anything except boy meets girl, boy gets girl.
There are exceptions, of course. The subtle artistry of a Burt Bacharach,
or the lyrical brilliance of Jerry Leiber at his best, sits awkwardly
alongside the likes of "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Stupid
Cupid". But this is also what gives the music its undying appeal.
It's smart when you least expect it, and reassuringly dumb when
you need it to be.
Emerson details the backroom elements that were the ultimate undoing
of an era that celebrated innocence. His succinct, cutting analysis
of the payola scandals that ended Alan Freed's career is beautifully
achieved. The mob connections of Morris Levy, George Goldner, and
other figures, lends a sinister air to the saga, especially as it
travels deeper into the perilous waters of the later 1960s. Central
to this mood is the diminishment of Leiber and Stoller as vital,
active songwriters, especially after 1965. The pressures of the
business, and of George Goldner's connections to the mob, wearied
them. They stepped off the merry-go-round in 1967, with the sale
of Red Bird Records to Goldner, under conditions that would easily
fit into an episode of The Sopranos. Leiber and Stoller are
the tragicomic-heroic survivors of Always Magic. In Emerson's
eyes, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are the positive stars. Still
writing songs together over 40 years after their first collaboration,
Mann and Weil somehow flourished as every other Brill Building team
shipwrecked. They survived the turmoil of the later 1960s, and stayed
in the game. Though Mann and Weil's post-1960s output has been mostly,
in Emerson's words, "big bland ballads", he admires the
tenacity of their partnership.
Always Magic In The Air is a gem of research. As said, Emerson
had access to nearly every songwriter mentioned in the book, and
their candor adds to the drama and integrity of every word. That
said, I did spot a couple of minor gaffes. For example, Emerson
refers to country singer Eddy Arnold as "Eddie", a small
but obvious mistake amidst the author's painstaking text. Where
Emerson treads dangerous ground is in his blend of historical reportage
and musical criticism. He freely interjects his opinions about the
song output of these many teams, from Leiber and Stoller on down.
I disagreed with his take on many songs, both positive and negative.
I question, in fact, the validity of an author speaking historically
and critically in the same breath.
Always Magic is a still-new kind of non-fiction book. It
doesn't focus on one figure, as in a traditional biography. With
its large cast of characters, and its constantly shifting viewpoint,
the book is as compelling as a novel. It has a breathless, page-turning
pace. Emerson is able to relate the music of the Brill Building
era with American culture, as a whole, in the post-war years. This
makes his personal opinions more resonant than they might be otherwise.
You will no doubt take umbrage with some of his judgments, but the
authority of his voice, and the impeccable research he conducted,
gives the book the ring of truth from cover to cover.
If you care at all about the music of the Brill Building era, Always
Magic In The Air is essential reading. It will redefine how
you approach and appreciate this music. Thank you, Mr. Emerson,
for the gift of your insight.
Always Magic In The Air: the Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era
Ken Emerson (Viking Books, 2005)
Barbara Parritt and Barbara Harris
Nanette Licari, Toni Wine, Barbara Harris,
Margaret Ross and Lillian Walker
Maxine Brown and Russ Titelman
Paulette McKnight and Barbara Harris
Mary Weiss and Mary Aiese
Margaret Ross, Barbara Harris and
Toni Wine, Nanette Licari, Barbara Harris,
Maxine Brown, Margaret Ross and
June Monteiro and Lala Brooks
The band, comprising members of the Losers
Lounge Band and Uptown Horns
Sheryl Farber and Lillian Walker
Mary Weiss and Lenny Kaye
Lala Brooks, Maxine Brown and
PLEASE DON'T WAKE
RHINO'S GIRL GROUP SOUNDS
by David A. Young
Much praise has been lavished on Rhino's four-disc girl group anthology
"One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds - Lost &
Found", and justifiably so. Reviews published far and wide,
along with discussions in Spectropop's forum, have unanimously gushed
about every detail, from the track selection and sequencing to the
packaging and annotation. Not so much has been written about the
equally classy party Rhino threw on November 2, 2005, to celebrate
the release of the set, however. Sheryl Farber, who co-produced
the package, also pulled out all the stops in planning the event
and deserves kudos on both counts.
I found out about the record-release party on October 26, exactly
one week before it was to take place. After five months of unemployment,
I was due to start a new job that next week, so I didn't think I
could go, even if I felt like I could afford it, which, really,
I couldn't. But the more I stared at the flyer for the party, the
more I realized I'd spend the rest of my life regretting a decision
not to attend, budget be damned. My new employer graciously postponed
my starting date, so I quickly pulled together lodging plans with
other pilgrims and made a one-day trip from Seattle to New York
for the occasion. I'm so glad I did, because it was an evening I'll
never forget, for many reasons.
While the main event was open to the public, it was preceded by
an invitation-only reception attended by performers and industry
insiders, all of whom had been given a copy of the box set. By the
time 8:00 rolled around, and even more by the time the doors actually
finally opened, the crush of people waiting to get in would constitute
a standing-room-only crowd once squeezed into the party room. (The
only tables and chairs to be had were already occupied by the VIPs
present for the pre-gig event.) Perhaps 15 or 20 minutes passed
after we were admitted - enough time to say a quick hello to friends,
order a martini, claim a square foot on which to stand, and play
spot the celebrity - and then it was show time. Imagine my surprise
and delight when I looked up and saw that the person pressed against
my right shoulder was the B-52s' Fred Schneider!
Master of ceremonies Lenny Kaye was every bit as pinching-himself
star-struck as anyone else there, clearly relishing his role and
doling out concise and respectful introductions and remarks that
could only have come from a true believer. First up were the 75%
reunited (for the first time in 30 years) Goodies, who performed
both sides of their sole single, "The Dum Dum Ditty" and
"Sophisticated Boom Boom". They were clearly having the
time of their lives and eating up the adulation that filled the
room. Chatting with them afterward, I learned that it had long ago
been incorrectly reported that Maureen was the lead singer of the
group. Mary Ann, who in reality took the lead mic that night and
on the record, was anxious to have me set the record straight, at
least among Spectropoppers, so here's a Spectroscoop! When I handed
my copy of their single to them for autographs, they stared at it
incredulously. Turns out they'd never seen a promo copy before (of
their own or anyone else's record), so the white label threw them.
Next up were the Toys. All three original members were at the club,
although recent throat surgery prevented June Monteiro from joining
Barbara Harris and Barbara Parritt onstage. Phil Chapman and I looked
at each other in ecstatic disbelief when the band struck up what
sounded like the intro to "May My Heart Be Cast Into Stone",
but too good to be true or not, that's exactly what they opened
with. Naturally they couldn't leave without treating us to "A
Lover's Concerto" as well, and lead singer Harris sounded exactly
the way she did forty years ago on both songs. Incidentally, she
has a new solo CD out, and I promised her I'd let the Spectropopulation
know about it; links to samples and purchasing information are at
her Web site, http://www.barbarastoys.net/
Crystals lead singer Lala Brooks, who wasn't advertised as a scheduled
performer, thrilled the throng by ripping into and tearing the hell
out of "Da Doo Ron Ron". She proved herself to be not
only in excellent voice but also in great physical condition, giving
Britney and Christina a run for their money in the bump 'n' grind
department (and raising a few eyebrows among her fellow performers
in the process). Afterward, she lamented how very few of her recordings
she has copies of herself. I got a list of the ones she doesn't
have that I do, and my New Year's resolution is to make her a CD
of them. Now if only she had the ones I don't, like her Austrian
CD from 1996, so we could trade!
Cookie/Cinderella Margaret Ross Williams took the stage and sang
"Baby Baby (I Still Love You)" and "I Never Dreamed",
the latter of which became the theme song for giddy attendees whose
wildest girl-group fantasies were being realized and surpassed all
night long. Russ Titelman, the composer of both those songs, was
in the audience, and I'm sure it felt good to be in a roomful of
people that not only recognized but revered his name. Spectropop
pin-up gal Toni Wine was there too, and treated the crowd to a soulful
rendition of her composition "A Groovy Kind Of Love",
as well as backing up various other singers, including Margaret's
performance of Toni's first published composition, "Only To
Other People". Though it's a fine record, I'd never thought
of it as a show-stopper before, but Ross reached deep inside and
brought an adult sensibility to lyrics I'd previously dismissed
as teenage, earning everyone's slack-jawed attention - as well as
a tremendous round of applause.
It must be noted that plenty of girl-group icons came just for
the party and concert but not to perform. Topping the list in the
"I can't believe I'm two feet from her" category was Shangri-La
Mary Weiss, despite the fact that I never managed so much as eye
contact with her. She was fun to watch all the same as she snapped
her fingers and danced in her seat, smiling broadly.
Others present as non-performing guests included Mary O'Leary (Reparata)
and Delron Nanette Licari; Arlene Smith of The Chantels (in a breathtakingly
stage-worthy outfit); Paulette McKnight, lead singer of The Butterflys;
and Genya Ravan, "Goldie" of Goldie and the Gingerbreads.
When I asked Ms. Smith to sign whichever side of her Phil Spector-produced
single she preferred, her ambivalence caught me off guard. As it
happens, she enjoyed the experience of working with him a great
deal, but felt like he was more interested in a hit at any cost,
regardless of how appropriate it was for her voice, than in approaching
her as an artist in her own right. At least her sense of humor's
intact: her signature, on the "He Knows I Love Him Too Much"
side, reads "Love, Love, Love, Arlene Smith".
Maxine Brown was next to command the stage - and the room - as
only she can. Her four-song set was the longest and most riveting
of the evening, and one couldn't help but marvel at the combination
of flawless looks, moves, vocal technique, and charisma that mark
a consummate, timeless pro. The audience went wild the entire time
she was on stage, and she wrung every ounce of emotion out of "All
In My Mind", "Oh No, Not My Baby", "Hold On,
I'm Comin'" and "Let The Good Times Roll". As charming,
unpretentious and beautiful as she is talented, she's as much a
joy off the stage as on, and she, too, has a new disc (and a very
good one at that) available. For further
details, click here http://www.maxinebrown.com/
The full ensemble jumped onstage for the finale, "Don't Say
Nothin' Bad (About My Baby)". Delirious applause followed,
as did an apparently impromptu encore: "Tell Him", featuring
a lead vocal by former Exciter Lillian Walker. With all hands on
deck, the mood in the room was excited indeed, and since we felt
like we'd been given a bonus on top of an already-perfect evening,
the reaction was predictably uproarious.
The party went on well after the formal entertainment was over,
and the luminaries (except for the obviously very shy Ms. Weiss)
were very gracious about visiting with adoring fans and signing
autographs. There was a palpable sense of wonder that, all these
years later, they were finally able to glimpse just how much their
music means to so many people, along with a sense of pride in having
been part of something that will live forever. The icing on the
cake was catching up with other friends (Paul, Joe, Mick and Phil)
who'd traveled for the event, as well as New York Spectropoppers
Sheila (who, of course, wrote the song-by-song essays in the Rhino
booklet) and Tony.
Could it have been any better? I suppose if Darlene Love, Ronnie
Spector and Ellie Greenwich had shown up too, and Marsha Gee had
taken their picture with Lala Brooks and me, that would've been
one way to improve upon perfection. But when I think of that evening
and look at the pictures, all I can do is smile, remembering one
of the happiest nights of my life, rather than fantasize about what
might have been even more fantastic. Thank you, Rhino, for the box
set and for the party. I'll be forever grateful that I made the
impulsive decision to take that one-day trip so loaded with once-in-a-lifetime
experiences and memories!
"One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds - Lost & Found"
(Rhino R2 74615)
More info at Rhino: http://tinyurl.com/bl2ws
At Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/96b3m
NPR audio review: http://tinyurl.com/c6nuc
Audio interview with Rhino's Sheryl Farber:
All event photos © Fernando Leon / Retna Ltd.
Spectropop text contents © copyright Spectropop unless
All rights in and to the contents of these documents, including each element embodied therein, is subject to copyright
protection under international copyright law. Any use, reuse, reproduction and/or adaptation without written permission of the owners is a violation of copyright law and is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.