Reviews 2003


'Chapel Of Love & Other Great Girl Group Gems' was probably one of the best value for money CD releases during 2002 . . . .

60 original cuts in pristine quality, for around £9. A lady name of Sam Szczepanski put that compilation together and she has done it again with 60 teen slanted songs from the early '60s, naming the 3-CD package, 'Midnight Cryin' Time: Teen Angst Classics From The Rock'n'Roll Era'. She has drawn material from the Swan, Phillips International, Red Bird and Vee Jay labels, among others. No, you won't find 'Sealed With A Kiss' or 'Go Away Little Girl', as these are, for the most part, very rare titles but all worth hearing.


The sleeve notes are by Sam and Roger Dopson and they do a great job essaying (in Roger's deadpan style) as many of these songs and artists as they can find information for. The titles list the composers, labels and release dates for each song, so you're not left on your own (as you are with gray area teen CDs). No more than half a dozen of the titles are available on other legitimate CDs and there are some strong cuts, making the package an excellent buy at £9, or less.

Favorites for girl-group collectors are Shelley Fabares' 'Lost Summer Love', Jamie Horton's 'Robot Man' (covered by Connie Francis), Marcie Blane's 'What Does A Girl Do' and (yet another) answer song to 'Runaround Sue', Ginger & the Snaps' 'I'm No Runaround'. Other titles worth acquiring this set for include: Link Wray's 'The Shadow Knows', Dee Clark's 'You're Telling Our Secrets' (Bacharach-David), the Trains' 'Fourteen Getting Older' (Pete Antell-John Linde), Mickey Lee Lane's 'She Cried To Me' (not originally issued but a nice Shangri-Las' soundalike) and Charlie Rich's 'There's Another Place I Can't Go'.

Following on the heels of 'Chapel Of Love', 'Midnight Cryin' Time' certainly makes us impatient for Ms Szczepanski's next triple CD compilation set.

(Mike Edwards, December 2003)

"Midnight Cryin' Time: Teen Angst Classics From The Rock'n'Roll Era" 3CD set (UK Castle Pulse 356)

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Clydie King's 'Missin' My Baby', Hale and the Hushabyes' 'Yes Sir, That's My Baby', Nino Tempo's 'Boys Town' and Carol Connors' 'My Baby Looks, But He Don't Touch' all in pristine sound on one friendly-priced disc? Pinch me . . . . There's no shortage of legendary tracks on this collection, hideously rare and priced accordingly when you can find them, known throughout collector circles by reputation but previously heard (or at least owned) by a lucky few. This fact alone will justify the purchase price of 'Phil's Spectre' for many.


Not content merely collecting Phil Spector records, I long ago began seeking out copycats as well, but 'Phil's Spectre' demonstrates that there's still more to be discovered, even by longtime hardcore fans like me. I was thrilled to find a handful of unfamiliar gems among the others -- most of which I have in other forms but have never sounded so good before. Many of the selections might be called second-tier Holy Grails, in some cases because they're simply lesser known but just as good, and in others because they don't come quite as close to hitting the mark.

Let it be said that 'A Wall Of Soundalikes' is a clever subtitle but, strictly speaking, a less-than-accurate description of some of the contents of this CD. Alongside selections that would cause the most advanced Spector student to do a double-take when examining label credits, there are others that bear a distinct influence but wouldn't likely be confused with the master's work. This point is not raised as a complaint, however. Indeed, the extent and durability of the impact of Phil's production techniques becomes even more apparent when looked at through this wider lens. Thus, as the first attempt to document on (legal) CD the ripple effect of The Wall of Sound, the disc succeeds at every level.

There's a sprinkling of bona fide hits as well, easily available elsewhere but sounding somehow different in the context of this CD, which can be approached simultaneously as academic treatise and as ear candy. Hear Jackie DeShannon's 'When You Walk In The Room', Nino and April's 'All Strung Out' and the Righteous Brothers' '(You're My) Soul And Inspiration' again -- for the first time. Two examples of hearing familiar material in this new framework: I had never noticed how the descending glockenspiel figure in Sonny and Cher's 'Just You' resembles the one in the Ronettes' 'Paradise', or the superhuman speed with which the piano triplets are banged out on the Supremes' 'Run Run Run'.

The large number of imitators spawned by the Righteous Brothers' success is recognized here through the inclusion of five derivative numbers, all of which failed to generate anywhere near the interest that Bill and Bobby's hits did. Each is noteworthy for its own reasons. P. J. Proby's 'I Can't Make It Alone' herein is the 'duet with himself' version previously available only on 45.

Special mention must also be made of the care shown in the sequencing of the songs. Rather than fatigue the ear with too much of any particular kind of good thing in a row, the compilers offer variety from track to track, balancing the male and female singers and the bombastic and atmospheric productions. Most appropriately, they add plenty of silence between the Proby track mentioned above, the final cut illustrating the theme of the album, and its successor, 'Please Phil Spector', which is really a humorous coda for, rather than a serious addition to, that theme.

It has to be acknowledged that different compilers would make different decisions about which cuts, even by a given artist in some cases, they would include on an album such as this. For instance, while on the one hand I'm grateful to have Gene Pitney's 'Tremblin'', I would have chosen his 'Don't Take Candy From A Stranger' or 'Ask Me How Much I Love You' as better evoking the Spector sound. Notwithstanding minor quibbles about repertoire, though, any Spector fan and wannabe compiler would surely admit that this package stunningly achieves (in words, pictures, and, most importantly, music) its goal of offering evidence of just how big an impression its subject has made on pop. Alone or as a companion piece to 'Wallpaper Of Sound', released a year ago focusing on the durable appeal of the Spector/Brill Building songs themselves, this volume, which turns its attention to production values, is indispensable.

(David A. Young, November 2003)

"Phil's Spectre: A Wall Of Soundalikes" (Ace CDCHD 978)

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Many readers of this review will know Jackie DeShannon best for her spellbinding pop music of the 1960s for Liberty and Imperial . . . . At the end of that period, Jackie was moving from pop towards rock, and she started the 1970s with an understated singer-songwriter style album for Capitol. And then 1972 saw a move to Atlantic, where Ms DeShannon was encouraged to bind her soulful vocals with the ultimate production techniques of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin. Jackie was given her choice of songs by contemporary writers and the opportunity to add a few of her own compositions, and the team were given the freedom of the American Sound Studios in Memphis. What a combination!


The resulting first album for Atlantic, 'Jackie', is something from heaven. It starts with a sublime rendition of John Prine's 'Paradise', taking DeShannon right back to her Kentucky roots. There's arguably the best ever version of Neil Young's 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', a heartbreakingly tender reading of Steve Goodman's 'Would You Like To Learn To Dance', and one of the sexiest vocals ever recorded, in my humble opinion, on Van Morrison's 'I Wanna Roo You'. Jackie adds four of her own compositions, including the gentle 'Peaceful In My Soul', a belting 'Anna Karina' (one of her many movie-influenced songs) and the freeform and enticing 'Laid Back Days'. And there's the original of 'Vanilla O'Lay', later covered by Marianne Faithfull and Twiggy, among others.

Rhino Handmade have chosen 2003 to re-release the 12 soulfully sung and brilliantly arranged tracks which comprise 'Jackie' in their entirety, and to give us all a great treat by adding a further dozen tracks, 10 of which have never previously been released. There are 7 tracks laid down in early 1973 with Tom Dowd in California, including Jackie's excellent take on 'Drift Away' (later to hit for Dobie Gray) and four DeShannon co-compositions with Jorge Calderon. And then there are four tracks produced by Van Morrison, with Jackie on ultra soulful form and The Man's influence clearly to be heard. These include the Morrison/DeShannon composition 'Santa Fe', and a beautiful 'Flamingos Fly'. The album is rounded off by Jackie's splendid performance of an out and out gospel number, 'Through The Gates Of Gold', with the likes of Cissy Houston and Judy Clay providing backing vocals and the impressive piano of Arthur Jenkins. This collection shows Jackie DeShannon as a supremely soulful vocalist, a songwriter par excellence, and an artist who can select other great songs and make them entirely her own. There's not a bad track on here. Jackie told me that her favourites on this album are 'Anna Karina', 'Peaceful In My Soul', 'Santa Fe', 'Laid Back Days', and the mindblowing 'Through The Gates Of Gold'. Who am I to argue with that.

'Jackie…… Plus' is only available via the Rhino website. Each CD is individually numbered, and there are excellent liner notes by Sheryl Farber. The front cover picture is pretty nice, too.

(Peter Lerner, November 2003)

Jackie DeShannon "Jackie… Plus" (Rhino Handmade RHM2 7832)

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If any singer ever embodied contradictions, Skeeter Davis did . . . . . She pioneered the Nashville countrypolitan sound, yet also recorded several prime examples of the girl group genre. She never consistently sold large amounts of records, yet her one major hit, 1962's 'The End Of The World', quickly became a timeless standard. She played her plaintive, twangy voice off of slick, sophisticated arrangements. Audiences found her simple sincerity extremely endearing, yet massive popularity eluded her. Her extremely large, varied ouvre - Davis recorded more than 20 LPs for RCA Victor over a 15-year period - reflects her personality as much as musical trends, and it's her personality that ultimately makes her output so appealing.


Born Mary Frances Penick in 1931, Davis started singing in high school as a means to overcome her shyness. Her duets with classmate and best friend Betty Jack Davis went over well locally, and the two formed an act - later named the Davis Sisters - and took it on the road. Talent show awards and television and radio appearances quickly followed, and their first demo sessions brought them to the attention of RCA Victor A&R man Steve Shoals. Their first RCA single, 'I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know', was a country & western smash in 1953. The future looked bright until, during a late-night drive between shows, Betty Jack was tragically killed in a car accident. Skeeter, who was in the back seat and seriously injured, retreated.

RCA came calling again in 1956, interested in signing Davis as a solo act. Producer Chet Atkins overheard Davis harmonizing with a tape of herself singing, and the two developed an instantly recognizable double-tracked vocal sound. Her first solo LP, 1957's 'I'll Sing You A Song And Harmonize Too', emphasized this approach and met some commercial success in the country market. When her subsequent singles began making notable dents in the pop charts, Atkins and Davis began recording more pop-oriented material.

It's the girl group-influenced recordings Davis made during the early '60s that most Spectropop readers are interested in, and this 24-track Taragon compilation fills a large gap in Davis's CD catalog by focusing squarely on this material. Davis hit the pop top ten with Goffin/King's 'I Can't Stay Mad At You', and four other songs written by the hitmaking pair are included: 'Keep Your Hands Off My Baby', 'Easy To Love (So Hard To Get', 'Let Me Get Close To You' and 'Don't Let Me Stand in Your Way'. Girl group buffs will also be familiar with the dreamy ballad 'What Am I Gonna Do With You'. Eschewing Lesley Gore's practically operatic approach - big production, big singing, big atmosphere - Davis takes the subtle route, bringing out the song's melancholic melody against a sparse arrangement.

Also included are six tracks from Davis' girl pop masterpiece, 'Singin' In The Summer Sun' (1966). A concept album dedicated to summer songs, it covers a wide variety of material - standards, girl group covers, originals - and gleams with a shimmery sheen provided by producer Felton Jarvis. John Loudermilk's 'Sunglasses' gave Davis a minor hit, and the covers of 'Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)', 'Please Don’t Talk To The Lifeguard' and 'Under The Boardwalk' feature surprising original flourishes.

Davis' follow-up LP, 'What Does It Take (To Keep a Man Like You Satisfied)' (1967), lacks the cohesion of 'Summer Sun', teetering between countrypolitan and full-fledged cutting-edge pop. This CD includes the standout pop track from that album, 'I Can't See Me Without You', heavy with guitar special effects, vocal harmonizing and an eerie atmosphere. Released as a single, it unbelievably saw no chart action.

Even more remarkable is the flipside of that single, 'Don't Anybody Need My Love'. Starting quietly with just Davis' voice, it blooms into uptempo jangly folk-rock, ebbing and flowing while defying easy categorization. As the opening verse melts seamlessly into the bridge, Davis defends her individuality while longing to belong, bravely baring her open heart while defiantly clinging to her vulnerability. If any song encapsulates Davis' appeal, this one does.

Despite the wonderful color cover photo and detailed track notations, the packaging slightly misses the mark. The microscopic liner notes primarily focus on the rise and tragic fall of the Davis Sisters, which is strange, considering there are no Davis Sisters tracks on the CD. Just a paragraph or two cover Davis' ventures into girl group territory. The remastering, however, is superbly done. All tracks are in stereo, and Taragon's engineers have faithfully captured RCA's vivid soundstaging.

(Jeffery Kennedy, October 2003)

Skeeter Davis "The Pop Hits Collection"
(Taragon Records/BMG Special Products TARCD-1102)

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The first volume of Ace Records' 'The Laurie Records Story' did good business. . . . . Now, with the seemingly bottomless pit of tracks awaiting re-release from this classic New York label comes 'Vol 2: The Ernie Maresca Years'. Since the late-1950s the work of Mr Maresca was intertwined with Laurie and their associated labels; first as a writer, then as performer, producer and talent scout. Today he is co-owner of Laurie's publishing company. That one man's compositions should produce a worthy summary of a record label with an output as diverse and interesting as Laurie is one of the reasons this compilation is so special. Many of Ernie's hits have already been used on earlier Ace CDs but despite the absence of tracks such as 'The Wanderer', 'Runaround Sue', 'Lovers Who Wander', 'Tra La La La Suzy' and 'Party Girl', this second volume more than holds its own.


The different styles of music that Laurie are famous for are well represented: the exciting doo-wop sounds of the Harps' 'Marie' and 'Candy Queen' by the Four Graduates; Carlo's street tough 'Brenda The Great Pretender'; the girl group angst of Bernadette Carroll's 'Try Your Luck' and the Chiffons' 'Up On The Bridge'; the soul of 'Happy Go Lucky' by Hoagy Lands and 'Seven Day Wonder' by Dean & Jean; novelty records like Ernie's own 'Please Don't Play Me A7' and 'What Is A Marine', and quality pop of the calibre of 'Let's Dance Close' by Jimmy Curtiss and Jimmy Clanton's 'Tell Me'.

The CD booklet, as you'd expect from Ace Records, is a delight, with rare group photos plus plenty of label scans - and very few labels look better than a Laurie demo. The excellent sleeve notes, by Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart, feature a brand new interview with Ernie, who supplies fresh insight and personal recollections on some very obscure artists from the '50s and '60s. Some of the tracks are not my usual listening pleasure and the CD does run out of steam a little with its closing tracks but, in rubbing shoulders with so many cast-iron greats, the magic rubs off onto these also. The end result is a very enjoyable hour that reinforces my respect for Laurie and Mr. Maresca.

(Martin Roberts, September 2003)

"The Laurie Records Story, Vol 2: The Ernie Maresca Years" (Ace CDCHD 883)

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Who knew? Rick Nelson singing doo-wop? Yes - and more. . . . . "The Lost '60s Recordings" of Rick Nelson, Jerry Fuller, Glen Campbell and Dave Burgess represent a fascinating find. These four friends - and others - were making music for fun as well as money, but with Nelson's solo career in high gear, Ozzie (his father and manager) feared that if his participation was known, it would dilute his Top 40 and "teen idol" success, so he contributed only background or disguised vocals as well as some instrumental work. The others were known on the music scene: Burgess from the Champs ("Tequila", 1958, and others), Fuller from some local and small national hits, and Campbell as one of the best studio guitarists in Los Angeles. From the liner notes, Jerry Fuller says of the foursome: "At times, we wanted to be doo-wop. At times we wanted to be Buddy Holly & The Crickets, and at times we wanted to be the Coasters." What they were were the Trophies and the Fleas, among other names. Despite Jerry Fuller's brother Bill on two tracks, these four created a couple of years of very interesting and listenable recordings for Challenge Records, owned by Gene Autry.


Chronologically first on this album (but not the first track), Dave Burgess' solo 1957 single, "I'm Available", was subsequently a hit for Margie Rayburn, whose version was a virtual note-for-note copy of this arrangement. Burgess' version is as sweet as hers. After the Champs' "Tequila", he became an in-house producer for Challenge, producing most of the tracks on the CD. The first two songs are by The Trophies, consisting of all four names on the cover. "Desire", a superb doo-wop, sounds like a grittier Diamonds' "Little Darlin'", with Glen Campbell doing a remarkable lead vocal, and probably Rick Nelson doing the spoken bass. "Doggone It", likely inspired by the Coasters, has an "is it really him?" bass vocal by Rick Nelson; it would make for a cool NRBQ song. Both were recorded in 1961. "Everlovin'" by Dave Burgess & The Chimes (1959) and "A Wonder Like You" by Jerry Fuller (previously unreleased) were later a two-sided hit for Rick Nelson. This arrangement of "Everlovin'" owes a lot to Buddy Holly; its backing vocals are by Seals and Crofts. Later in the CD, "Felicia" by the Trophies is a credible Marty Robbins "El Paso"-styled song from 1962, written by Burgess. The instrumental arrangement, played by The Champs, would be later used on Nelson's "Fools Rush In". Its flip side, the chestnut "That's All I Want From You" is a very fine slow doo-wop, much smoother than the Silva-Tones earlier hit version (called "Chi-Wa-Wa" for its background vocals) on Argo. "Scratchin'" and "Tears", credited to The Fleas, are the Trophies again under a name more appropriate to the subject matter; "Scratchin'" saw regional chart action in various areas, and is a cute novelty. Not everything the group did was stellar: "Peg of My Heart" is a misguided attempt at a Marcels "Blue Moon"-styled arrangement; and despite the Jimmie Haskell arrangement, I found "I Laughed So Hard I Cried" pleasant but forgettable.

There is also some solid solo work by Jerry Fuller on the CD. In addition to the tracks mentioned above, Fuller enjoyed three lower-charting ballad hits, the very pretty doo-wop ballad "Betty My Angel" (#90, 1959) and the pleasant "Shy Away" (#71, 1961) and "Guilty of Loving You" (#94, 1961). Also included are some alternate mixes of other Fuller singles and B-sides. The CD closes with a from-the-master dub of Glen Campbell's hit ballad "Turn Around, Look At Me" (Crest Records, 1961) in true stereo.

Even disregarding the obvious credentials of the four individual artists, I find much of the music on this CD to be well worth repeated listening. Add in the "hidden" star power, and "The Lost 60's Recordings" become even more interesting. If you enjoy the style of the Four Preps and other artists of the Southern California harmony pop genre, I'd suggest scoring a copy for your collection.

(Country Paul Payton, June 2003)

Rick Nelson, Jerry Fuller, Glen Campbell & Dave Burgess: "The Lost '60s Recordings" (Varese Vintage CD 302 066 447 2)

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Songwriters wrote a lot of quality songs in the 60s, more so than in any other decade.... yet there have been very few legitimate CDs that have focused on them.

Licensing has to be an issue and one can only shudder at the hoops that Rhino Records must have jumped through to get the rights to all the songs on their triple Burt Bacharach CD of a few years back. It is a great concept, though, and the UK's Sanctuary Records have risen to the occasion by releasing a double CD of Tony Hatch's work as a composer.


The music business in the early 60s was such that you had to put out 45s to make a living: the days when the album or the CD was the dominant format were still a long way off. Twelve 45s were not the same as twelve album/CD cuts: you needed twelve good songs for those 45s and Tony Hatch was among an elite group of writers who could deliver them.

Using the pseudonym Mark Anthony, Tony got off to a flying start in 1960 when at least six versions of his "Look For A Star" (from the drive-in film, Circus Of Horrors) were released in the US. Four versions were in the US top 30 for the week of July 25, 1960: Gary Miles, Garry Mills (the UK original), Deane Hawley and Billy Vaughn. Tony had pulled off a feat that put him in Lennon-McCartney territory and, as Kieron Tyler points out in his excellent sleeve notes, Tony was still only a part-timer at UK Top Rank Records! None of these versions are on this CD but we do get a fine rendition from the Brook Brothers who also treat us to "Tell Tale" from 1962. There are more goodies from Tony's early years: the Breakaways' "That Boy Of Mine", Danny Davis' "Tell All The World" and the Baker Twins' "He's No Good" being solid examples.

The beat boom beckoned and the Searchers hit #2 in the UK with Tony's "Sugar And Spice", a song that bounced back again when the Cryan' Shames took it to # 49 in the US in 1966. British music was still not moving in the US in 1963, but the US was looking at Tony: this CD includes Julie Grant's "Count On Me" and Mark Wynter's "Running To You", which were covered in the US by Tommy Roe and Jimmy Griffin, respectively. They were not the only ones, but the British versions were better, no doubt because Tony was in the control booth.

Cameo-Parkway Records, who licensed Pye material for the US, took advantage of Tony's talents when Bobby Rydell was in the UK to promote his film, Bye Bye Birdie. Good move - we got the best album Bobby Rydell ever made and probably the strongest in the whole Cameo-Parkway catalog. Tony did some arrangements and contributed some songs including the title track, "Forget Him" which was a world wide smash in 1963. Tony seemed to have an ability to connect with the US market and it showed in some of his titles: "Downtown", "Don't Sleep In The Subway" and "Henry Hannah's 42nd Street Parking Lot" (all on this CD) are more Webster's than the Oxford.

"Downtown" was so right for 1964. It was upbeat, lively and with a big production that made it so fresh sounding. Jackie Trent joined Tony as a songwriter at about this time and they kept Petula Clark high on the charts for 4 years with some of the best pop songs of the 60s. The compilers have wisely mixed in some alternate versions of Pet Clark's songs, so we get Two Of Each with "Colour My World", "You're The One" from the Cookies (not the Dimension group) and the Foundations with "Call Me". The last two tracks were big US (but not UK) hits for he Vogues and Chris Montez respectively.

This double CD is just chock full of titles from Tony's golden period and even if they weren't hits, they certainly sound as if they should have been. Tracks such as Yvonne Prenosilova's "Come On Home", the Montanas' "You've Got To Be Loved" (a #58 US hit), the Settlers' "Major To Minor", Sandra Barry's "The End Of The Line" and Moya Moray's "Just Wait Till Spring Is Here" will have you pressing that repeat button on your car CD player. Each one is a highly collectable 45 in its own right.

The set finishes with some items that Tony wrote for UK TV personalities such as Benny Hill (whose show was a staple on US Public Television long after it had ceased production in the UK). Those DJs looking to twin Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" with Benny Hill's "Harvest Of Love" can now do so, courtesy of this wonderful CD. A title such as "Hands Off, Stop Muckin' About" by Ken Cope, a former star of long-running UK soap Coronation Street, showed that Tony could come off that Transatlantic fence.

Tony Hatch did not just write cute pop songs. Everyone identifies with some of the emotions that are in his songs. "Don't Sleep In the Subway" was a great song pop song in 1967. Listening it to it 35 years later, it so exposes the stupidity of the arguments we have with our loved ones. If you get up each day and listen to a lyric that says "to question such good fortune, who am I?" you will not go far wrong in life. Tony has usurped Bing Crosby counting his blessings as he sings to Rosemary Clooney in "White Christmas".

This incredible set with top-notch graphics lists in the UK for £9.99. It is available in the US with some dealers carrying it for around $14. Somebody up there likes us!

(Mike Edwards, June 2003)

"Call Me: The Songs Of Tony Hatch" (Sanctuary CMDDD 536)

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Sweet on the Shangri Las? Then perhaps a double dose of the Pussycats is what you need . . . Hungry for the feminine side of soul? Surely the Opals and Sandi Sheldon will please. Whether you savor the sounds of vivacious teenage girls or prefer to hear a soulstress singing the blues, "Where The Girls Are, Volume 5: A Decade Of Columbia Femme Pop" most certainly has something for you.

For years, those aficionados Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart have been serving up compilations that run the gamut of the girl group sound. What makes the "Where The Girls Are" series so irresistible is that they don't discriminate. Yes, my friends, here you will find girls of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, singing songs by some of the best writers and producers the sixties had to offer.

This new volume pays special attention to the 'Brill Building' songwriters, whose first class compositions are surely the cream of the compilation. Husband and wife songwriting teams Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry and Gerry Goffin & Carole King are represented by the Orchids' debut single "That Boy Is Messing Up My Mind" and "The Harlem Tango". The third of the Brill couples, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, give Hollywood legend Doris Day her girl group moment with "Let The Little Girl Limbo" - a "Blame It On The Bossa Nova" clone with orchestral arrangement by Jack Nitzsche and a cameo appearance by Darlene Love!

The brightest moment on this compilation comes from the Washington DC-based trio the Sweet Things whose "You’re My Lovin' Baby" is made of the stuff we girl group fans dream about. Written and produced by former Scepter Records staffer Van McCoy, this 1966 release is awash in warm melodies and a dazzling chorus that recalls the best of the Spector sound. It'll have you asking that all too common question, "How could this not have been a hit?!!" If the Sweet Things aren't enough to satisfy your craving for thundering Spector productions, then April Young's "Gonna Make Him My Baby" will do the job. Handclaps, xylophones, and plenty of "doo ron day ron day rons" humming in the background make this Pete Anders & Vinnie Poncia gem a stunning one indeed.

For more sprightly pop, look no further than Bernadette Peters, Jan Tanzy, the Surfer Girls, Becky & the Lollipops, and Patty Michaels, whose tracks scream "teenage!" And in the soul category we have the queen, Aretha Franklin, her sister Erma, the Little Foxes and the Opals, whose vocal delivery on Curtis Mayfield's "You Can't Hurt Me No More" is nothing short of superb. Northern Soul favorite Sandi Sheldon also makes an appearance with the gorgeous Van McCoy track "Baby You're Mine".

Fans of David Lynch's dark soap opera Twin Peaks will be thrilled to find Peggy Lipton (who played waitress, Norma Jennings on the show) included on the compilation. "Wasn't It You", an orchestral ballad previously recorded by Petula Clark, is taken from Peggy's eponymous album from 1968. I wasn't even aware that this former Mod Squad star had a singing career, let alone an album!

As if an assortment of 26 shimmering girl group rarities isn't enough, Mick and Malcolm further treat us to detailed mini-biographies of each of the featured artists. Add that to the oodles of rare photos (check out the very cute Patty Michaels and the Orchids singing with Bobby Darin) and you've got yourself a compilation that has clearly set the standard for girl group compilations to come. And isn't the cover to die for? (Sheila Burgel, March 2003)


"Where The Girls Are, Vol. 5: A Decade Of Columbia Femme Pop" (Ace CDCHD 823)

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Jimmy Jones "Good Timin': The Anthology"...... 1960 was the year when Percy Faith and the Orchestra held down the #1 spot for nine weeks. It was the year of such memorable pop hits as "Poetry In Motion", "Cathy's Clown", "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Chain Gang" and "Sixteen Reasons". In the honor roll of the top 40 hits for the year, we find Elvis represented 3 times and Brenda Lee, Connie Francis and Jimmy Jones each with two entries. Jimmy Jones recently joined the ranks of the others in having his career documented on CD when UK Castle released "Good Timin': The Anthology", a 48 track item with material drawn from all of Jimmy's 60s labels – including Parkway (let's not ask).

"Handy Man" is the opener of this great sounding set. Lucky for Jimmy, he had a hand in writing this one (with Otis Blackwell) as it stood the test of time with revivals by Del Shannon (1964) and James Taylor (1977) among others. For his second outing on the MGM subsidiary, Cub, Jimmy pulled out a plum from the folio of ace songwriters, Clint Ballard Jr. and Fred Tobias, "Good Timin'". Featuring Jimmy's distinctive tenor, it followed "Handy Man" into the Top 3 and made it to #1 in the UK. For me, "Good Timin'" is the stronger of Jimmy's two big hits with a strong melody, chorus and the right level of vocal gimmickry. This CD boasts a stereo as well as a mono version of this fabulous song. The UK went their own way with the b-side treating their buyers to another Otis Blackwell song, "Too Long Will Be Too Late", making it one of the great double-sided classics from the rock era – at least as far as the UK is concerned. The song was also recorded by Wade Flemons and appeared on his self-titled 1960 album for Vee Jay, but Jimmy's is the best version having a greater sense of urgency. US buyers picked it up as one of the tracks on Jimmy's 1960 MGM album, "Good Timin'", all the tracks from which are included in this Castle double CD, which is good because we then get to hear a pristine sounding version of "A Wondrous Place" (from the pen of Bill Giant). Jimmy's falsetto on this song is just ethereal and his is the strongest version of a song that had legs: Joe Costa put it out on WB in 1963 and Rod Lauren on RCA in 1962. In the UK, Billy Fury (who could pick out beat ballads to record with laser accuracy) recorded the song 5 times!

The detailed sleeve notes accompanying this CD set (by Laurence Cane-Honeysett) include feedback from a recent interview with Jimmy and top quality graphics with 45 labels, sheet music and trade clippings in abundance. The notes take us through his declining chart fortunes which had to have been disappointing given such strong material as the double sided "That's When I Cried"/"I Just Go For You". The song set and the notes take us on to the period when Jimmy produced his own songs and licensed the finished product to the record companies. A Feldman-Gottehrer-Goldstein song, "No Insurance" appeared on Vee Jay in 1963 but Jimmy clearly wasn't getting the best of that formidable writing team's output. The flip, "Mr. Fix-It" was a weak attempt to recreate Jimmy's 1960 successes.

It was another two years before Jimmy put out another 45. Roulette cut a Big Dee Erwin/Bobby Spencer track on him, "Pardon Me", with another Bobby Spencer title, "I Depend On You", on the flip. Both sides of this nice soul double-sider are here (I doubt we would ever see them on 45!) as is Jimmy's 1967 revival of the Showmen's 1963 beach music classic, "39-21-40 Shape". The quality of these 45s makes you wonder why a career as a soul singer wasn't forthcoming.

These tracks are all here and there are 48 in total making it outstanding value for money. If you like pre-Beatles rock, you need this CD. If this period is not your prime focus it is still worth acquiring to have some classic oldies on your CD rack. The highs on this wonderful set are in a very superior class. (Mike Edwards, March 2003)

Jimmy Jones "Good Timin': The Anthology"
(Castle CMEDD 336)

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BANANA FANNA FO! . . . Knuckled under by the inevitable oversimplifications of the mass market, conventional history has relegated Shirley Ellis to its slagheap of one-hit wonders, where she is remembered for naught but her deathless playground anthem, "The Name Game".

It is most fortunate, then, that not everyone is content to leave history to such drastic conditions, and that there are some devoted souls out there willing to roll up their sleeves and poke around in its embers, searching for the sources of the flame. With that in mind, those habitual sparkies Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart have recently come up with "Shirley Ellis: The Complete Congress Recordings", released by the British label Connoisseur Collection.

The CD presents the finest work of a blazing talent, who deserves to be known for far more than that one mere ditty. Abetted for most of her career by her musical (but not, as the liner notes clarify, personal) partner Lincoln Chase, Ellis was a most versatile performer, capable of taking authoritative turns at Caribbean modes (a natural, given her island heritage), the streetcorner R&B canon, jazz-pop standards, adultified nursery rhymes and a plethora of sweet novelties delivered with indomitable gusto. Although it is Ellis' grace at the mic that puts her material across so convincingly, it is the eccentric lyrics and rhythm-track brilliance that elevates "The Complete Congress Recordings" well above the output of more orthodox stars. (Note that while such pros as Charlie Calello and Hutch Davie are credited with having produced many of these sessions, Lincoln Chase does receive an intriguing "directed by" credit on a solid handful of them, and should probably be recognized as the auteur behind Ellis' Congress recordings.) The tracks percolate like nobody's business, shooting a vibrancy and joie de vivre throughout the four corners of the collection.

Much of the charm of Chase's (the principal lyricist) peculiar point-of-view is expressed in the opening lines to "Give Me A List", the flip of Ellis' 1963 hit "The Nitty Gritty": "Give me a list of what's not to be done, and I'll start doing it today". He embodies a strain of healthy, upright contrarianism and independence, which is then set to the handclappiest beat ever heard. Alas, not all of the handclaps serve to underpin Ellis' singing. Many of the cuts gathered here were culled from her faux-live debut LP, "In Action", and retain its dubbed-in applause and other audience sounds. While these intros and outros are intrusive at first, tripping over the music like a chatty DJ, after a few listens they thankfully recede into the background.

Among the memorable tracks on this set are a couple, "Whisper To Me Wind" and "Shy One", that'll have you reaching for your reference books in an attempt to identify the sources of what seem like neglected '30s standards. You won't find 'em there, however, as they are both Chase originals (the latter co-written with Shirley herself, and both with Tony Hornedo) of contemporary vintage. Also included is a stupendous version of Chase's stomper "Such A Night", first intoned by Clyde McPhatter (and later by Johnnie Ray and E-man Presley), which Shirley turns on a tambourine dime. Another Chase specialty is the message song, a mode highlighted by "You Better Be Good, World", an ominous 1965 Christmas song cum nuclear warning, which may cause you to rethink the term "silent night".

For all the range on display here, Ellis' musical adventurousness shines most brightly on her 1966 version of "Stardust". Had you described for me a mid-tempo "Stardust" set over a racing bongo beat, I'm sure I'd have replied, "It'll never fly, Orville," but, with producer Hutch Davie, Ellis tried it nonetheless, and fly it does. It is an astounding achievement, and one of my very favorite versions of the Hoagy Carmichael classic.

There is much to chew on here. Fortunately the swallowing is made easy by the panoramic clarity and stunning frequency range with which nearly all of the tracks on this album have been delivered. Were it not for the fact Connoisseur Collection is a budget line, I'd snipe a bit about the dearth of photos of Ellis and Chase, but I think we can all agree that it's the real nitty-gritty in the grooves that ultimately counts, and "Shirley Ellis: The Complete Congress Recordings" will leave you clapping for more, and then more again. Now let's do Chuck. (Phil Milstein, February 2003)


Shirley Ellis "The Complete Congress Recordings" (Connoisseur Collection VSOP CD 340)

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Stu Who...... I eagerly awaited the publication of this book having seen the announcements on the Spectropop web site. James Darren's "Conscience" was one of the first records I bought back in 1962 and the label read, Produced by Stu Phillips. Forty years later, having sent along my cash through paypal, this book arrives at my home with a nice inscription by that same producer.

Stu goes back longer than I do, the young man is now 72 and in Stu Who? he presents us with a very enjoyable account of both his career and his personal life. Stu got his musical education at what is now The LaGuardia School Of Performing Arts in New York and The Eastman School Conservatory Of Music in Rochester, New York. Not for him those subway rides to Juilliard in Manhattan! The education completed, he moves to Hollywood looking for work as an arranger but settles for performing in piano bars as a means of getting his career started and paying the rent. Stu takes us on a lively romp through his part of the 1950s, which culminates in what record fans are looking for in this book, his appointment in 1960 as head of A&R at Colpix Records in New York. Stu Phillips is one of the few 60s record business executives to have written an autobiography so his account of these times is totally fascinating.

There are sections on Nina Simone, the Marcels, the Ronettes, James Darren, Shelley Fabares and others as Stu gives us the inside scoop on how for an 18 month period he was one of the most successful A&R men in the world. He has some great quotes, such as Ronnie Spector’s comment that "Stu Phillips just didn't know what rock and roll was". From Colpix, it was on to Capitol, where he put together the Hollyridge Strings, and then to Epic. I appreciated him taking time here to describe Tammy Wynette's recording of his song "Run Angel Run" for the biker flick of the same name. Then it is "Goodbye records…Hello movies."

Stu composed the music for 25 feature films and over 300 television shows with the theme from Battlestar Galactica (1978) being the one that has given him the greatest satisfaction. Still the names keep coming. There's Nancy Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Russ Meyer (Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls), Glen Larson, Robert Wagner and more. Stu tells it as it was regarding his relationships with the then Mr. Bigs of the film and record worlds for more fascinating reading.

So what about Ronnie's quote? There are some tell tale signs in the book. He was disappointed in not grabbing Midnight In Moscow for his label (it went to Kapp), he feels his best output with James Darren was the collection of standards, "Love Among The Young" and his contribution to the beat boom appears to have been the Hollyridge Strings' "Beatles Song Book" in 1964. It comes as a surprise to him that Carol and Cheryl's "Go, Go, GTO" is now listed at $150 in record collectors' price guides. He offers no explanation as to what went in to making the Marcels' "Blue Moon", one of the most distinctive 45s ever.


Stu does not reflect on why his Colpix records stopped selling and makes no comment on the impact of the Beatles and the British Invasion on his craft. But maybe he was astute enough to get the joke about the British Invasion, take his piece of it with the Hollyridge Strings and move on to ground he was familiar with. These omissions are understandable when you consider the length and depth of Stu's career: one book can only cover so much. You will not put this great book down as you read page after page of Stu Phillips' forty-year involvement with the music and film business. It is that good a book and I thank Stu for sharing his reminiscences with all us. (Mike Edwards, February 2003)

Stu Phillips: Stu Who? Forty Years of Navigating the Minefields of the Music Business (Cisun Press, 2002)

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It must have been quite frustrating to be Brian Wilson in the first half of the 60s...... While The Beach Boys were happily churning out up to four top 10 LPs in a year, the creativity he invested in writing and producing the series of 45s collected here went largely unnoticed by the listening public. It's hard to understand why.

Long-awaited by Wilson aficionados, "Pet Projects" is the first collection of Brian's productions to be released in the UK since the "Capitol Years" vinyl box set from the early 80s, and this set expands substantially on that issue. Its thunder has been stolen somewhat by a similar (though inferior) compilation released by Capitol in Japan last year, and a not-quite-definitive Honeys anthology from Collector's Choice, also issued last year. Brian's extracurricular activity is perhaps too deep & wide to be collected on a single disc, and unfortunately some of this work couldn't be cleared for reissue. Even so, this collection marks the first ever official UK release for many of these recordings.

And what of the recordings? Dating from 1962-73, and ranging from dense Spector homages - Sharon Marie's "Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby" - to homespun warmth - American Spring's boundlessly charming "Shyin' Away" - via tentative sonic experiments - The Survivors' "After The Game" - country-pop - Gary Usher's somewhat pedestrian "Sacramento" - and cute cash-ins on current dance crazes - Rachel & The Revolvers' "The Revo-lution" - there's plenty here for fans of all facets of 60s pop. Some can be seen a test-runs for future Beach Boys activity, either specifically (the aforementioned Sharon Marie number later mutated into 1967's "Darlin'") or more nebulously (Glen Campbell's "Guess I'm Dumb" is very much a harbinger of "Pet Sounds", both in musical mood and lyrical introspection). Others are simply Brian having fun helping out old friends (Jan & Dean's cover of "Vegetables", although it's incorrectly billed here as being the version by J&D spin-off act The Laughing Gravy), or trying in vain to produce a hit for the future Mrs Marilyn Wilson (the fantastic run of Honeys/American Spring sides contained herein).

Most, if not all, of these tracks have appeared on bootleg CDs before, mastered from original 45s. However, this time round every track has been remastered from original master tapes; thus audio fidelity is simply outstanding; the best I've heard this material. The packaging is exemplary too, featuring plenty of photos of the genius at work and his stable of artists; there's also a gorgeous portrait of Brian with Marilyn circa 1966. Informed and opinionated sleeve notes from Rob Finnis give some context of the bigger picture on the early 60s LA studio scene and beyond, interviewing Mike Love and Capitol staff producer Nick Venet exclusively for the project.

What's most odd is that, even though the Beach Boys were at their commercial peak when the lion's share of this compilation was originally issued, Brian's outside productions were met with complete indifference by the public. And in spite of the commercial appeal and high quality of most of these 45s, not a single recording in this wonderful compilation so much as sniffed the US hot 100. Baffling indeed. (Harvey Williams, February 2003)

Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions (Ace CDCHD 851)

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Lee Hazlewood "These Boots Are Made For Walking" ..... At the tender age of 73, Lee Hazlewood has been enjoying a fairly spectacular cult renaissance, lauded by the likes of Primal Scream, Nick Cave, Pulp and Sonic Youth. His recent performance at London's Royal Festival Hall found him backed by members of Stereolab and the High Llamas and a recent tribute album had the indie fraternity falling over themselves to pay their respects. To long time devotees, the only surprise is that it took so long. One of pop's genuine originals, Hazlewood is both a brilliant and endlessly versatile songwriter and a visionary producer, equally at home with pop, twangin' rock'n'roll, country, psychedelia, folk, easy listening, burlesque, or blues. As a performer, he came blessed with one of the all-time great voices - a thrillingly expressive bass drawl perfectly suited to his lyrical tales of low-rent heartache, self-deprecating comedy and picturesque nostalgia.

Hazlewood signed to MGM in 1966, and in the next three years recorded three LPs and several singles. It's a chapter of his career that existed in parallel with some of his greatest successes with Nancy Sinatra, yet one that met with curiously little acclaim, despite involving the same studio personnel (arranger Billy Strange and engineer Eddie Brackett), musicians and even the same songs as his work with Nancy.

The first disc here comprises the first two of these LPs, "The very special world of Lee Hazlewood" (1966) and "Lee Hazlewoodism, its cause and cure" (1967). Highlights are the gorgeously bittersweet and anthemic "I move around", the blissfully wistful "My autumn's done come", the happy-go-lucky pop of "The girls of Paris", and the affably leering roguishness of "My baby cries all night long". Variety is the key, and the styles veer from Mariachi on "José", a corny-as-hell, yet curiously affecting vignette about an altruistic matador star, to the preposterous vaudeville swing of "Suzi-Jane's back in town" (one of a number of duets with then-girlfriend Suzi-Jane Hokum) in which Lee tells of a good-time bad girl, a wild contrast to Nancy's groovy sophisticate. There's even a cheekily self-referential version of "Boots".

The second disc is a completist's dream, containing the long overdue CD release of 1968's "Something Special" LP, along with three pleasantly inconsequential instrumentals credited to Lee Hazlewood's Woodchucks (two of which "Muchacho" and "Frenesi" were released on a 1966 single, while a third "Batman" is previously unavailable). Shelved before release "Something special" only received a vinyl release some twenty years later, although some tracks did crop up on an MGM compilation "These boots are made for walking" later in 1968. It's one of Lee's most personal and introspective works, full of languid country-blues a million miles from the high camp of "Boots", and proof that for all his pop glamour, he was still the oil driller's son from Oklahoma.
(Robert McTaggart, January 2003)

Lee Hazlewood "These Boots Are Made For Walking - The Complete MGM Recordings"
(Ace CDCHM2 860)

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