Reviews 2006



by Phil Milstein

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 Can.

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.

(Marina MA 66)

(Marina MA 67)

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by Mick Patrick

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.


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by Leonard Tardier

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.


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by Martin Roberts

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.


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by Mike Edwards

"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 tracks.

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 in 1961.

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 pop music.

1961-1964' (ACE CDCHD 1137)

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by Phil Milstein

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 be-bopper").

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.


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by Country Paul Payton

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 voices.

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)

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by Frank M. Young

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 listener.

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)

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by Country Paul Payton

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 pop market.

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 radio play.

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)

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by Kingsley Abbott

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)
Editor-in-chief/Publisher: Brian Chidester. Founder/Co-Editor: Domenic Priore.

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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 lacked.

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)

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The Goodies


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
Maxine Brown


Toni Wine, Nanette Licari, Barbara Harris, Maxine Brown, Margaret Ross and
Lillian Walker


June Monteiro and Lala Brooks


The band, comprising members of the Losers Lounge Band and Uptown Horns


Arlene Smith


Sheryl Farber and Lillian Walker


Mary Weiss and Lenny Kaye


Lala Brooks, Maxine Brown and
Margaret Ross


Toni Wine




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,

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

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:
At Amazon:
NPR audio review:
Audio interview with Rhino's Sheryl Farber:

All event photos © Fernando Leon / Retna Ltd.


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