Attention doo-wop addicts! If you can't get enough of Dion &
the Belmonts, the Elegants and the Mystics; if Laurie is one of
your favourite labels; if you are hip to the Roomates (spelled with
one "m"), then there is a new fix for your addiction!
The Roomates' 'Lost On Belmont Avenue' was released a few months
ago on S'pop member Ash Wells' label, Rare Rockin' Records of Australia,
and has just been reissued in the UK on Ace. It marks this durable
and successful group's 20th anniversary, and once again, they have
mixed in some unexpected covers with their own material.
Consistency is a hallmark of the album. Throughout, the Roomates'
harmonies are uniformly solid and tuneful, with lead vocals traded
among Steve Webb (truly England's successor to Dion Di Mucci), Nick
Kennedy, Glenn Brentnall and a couple of "guest" leads
by bass player Gary Powell. Ears trained to the "white doo
wop" sound will pick out the textural differences and hooks
of the groups which influence the Roomates quoted in their original
songs; less "educated" ears will just appreciate the overall
quality of the work. There are many fine original tracks aboard:
Steve Webb's 'Once In A While' benefits from guest bass singer Frankie
B., who fills out their already rich harmonies. 'There's A Reason'
features nice interplay with lead singer and composer Nick Kennedy
and the group. The CD's second track, the fine uptempo 'Searchin'
For That Girl', written by Steve, is led by Glenn Brentnall and
again amplified by Frankie B. on bass. The Steve-and-Glenn pairing
is in full force once more with 'The Girl That I Love', with a nice
cha-cha beat. On some of the group's own songs, you'll hear musical
quotes or allusions to some of their idols' more popular tracks,
which they then use as a basis for new melodies and lyrics. But
while knowing the "back story" of some of these selections
adds to their enjoyment, you don't need it to appreciate the musicianship
and quality of the Roomates' voices, both lead and background, as
well as their obvious passion for the music.
The cover songs reach farther afield than just the Bronx/Brooklyn/Staten
Island axis. The Del Satins' 'Remember' is a logical choice, as
is the obscure ballad 'Human Angel', discovered on an Elegants demo.
Another pretty ballad, 'Two Shadows', comes from west coast group
the Safaris ('Image Of A Girl'). The Choir's 'It's Cold Outside'
is an unexpected choice that gets a credible doo-wop treatment. 'Come
On', perhaps the most R&B-oriented track here, comes from Otis
& the Distants, better known later as the Temptations; the guys
do a great job on it featuring Glenn's soulful lead. Possibly the
most inspired cover is 'Wonderin'', from Neil Young's 'Shocking
Pinks' album, which the Roomates make their own with a refreshingly
It's a tribute to the group's talent that my favourite songs from
the album keep changing on each listening, but many of them are
cited above. You'll no doubt have several of your own when you get
your latest Roomates fix!
THE ROOMATES 'LOST ON BELMONT AVENUE' (ACE CDCHD
Available here: http://snipurl.com/3q0ha
(Special thanks to Ed Engel, Crystal Ball Records,
for help with research)
Lou Adler (his boss at Dunhill Records) once described Phil Sloan
as "a great mimic". And of course there are elements of
homage on 'Here's Where I Belong', the new collection of Sloan's
1960s Dunhill recordings just out on Big Beat. Bear in mind, barely
weeks before his Dunhill debut 'Sins Of A Family' was issued, Phil
and his buddy Steve Barri were releasing side after side of brash
surf-pop as the Fantastic Baggys. The way he moved so swiftly from
this to the heartfelt protest of the early solo numbers included
on this collection has to be admired for sheer audacity. But this
does Phil a great disservice; there might be occasional nods of
acknowledgement to his peers, but there's more to Sloan's protest-era
work than mere pastiche. There's real craft here, and real passion.
And in 1965, while the more - shall we say - "cerebral"
end of the folk-rock axis was alienating half its fan base, Sloan
was singing "You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'",
a lyric that could be appreciated by even the most wigged-out teenybopper.
Which was surely the point.
Watching P F Sloan play a storming set to a bare few dozen dedicated
folks at the Kilburn Luminaire last October was truly a joy, yet
simultaneously baffling. His songbook is filled with universally
loved and recognised classics; he should be selling out theatres
and receiving endless plaudits from the monthlies. Yet somehow his
standing in the pantheon of pop is not what it should be. Here he
was in a small club venue, backed by a pick-up rhythm section, bashing
out classic after classic to a select coterie of hardcore followers.
Even more surprisingly, 'Here's Where I Belong' marks the debut
appearance of much of this material on CD within the UK (and in
some cases worldwide). An appreciation of his catalogue is clearly
Covers came thick and fast off the back of 'Eve Of Destruction'.
Through 1965 and '66 the Searchers, Jan & Dean, the Turtles
and many more hit big with compositions from the pen of Sloan (occasionally
working again with Steve Barri). Phil's takes on these numbers ('Take
Me For What I'm Worth', 'I Found A Girl' and 'Let Me Be', respectively)
are included on the new Big Beat retrospective, but it's unclear
if these are work demos or finished masters. Certainly, the recordings
made for his debut LP 'Songs Of Our Times' - included here in its
entirety - rarely extend beyond beat-combo arrangements, and are
often pure folk, showcasing Phil's earnestly strummed acoustic and
breathlessly blasting harmonica. But they are all the better for
their simplicity, and the album as a whole works brilliantly as
a document of a writer and his craft. Arrangements open out the
further one delves into his career; much of Phil's second LP 'Twelve
More Times' - also included here shy of just two tracks - shows
a singer-songwriter at the peak of his powers, while the non-LP
45s released towards the end of Phil's tenure with Dunhill are truly
a clutch of buried treasure. The heartbreaking baroque beauty of
his final recording for the label, 'I Can't Help But Wonder, Elizabeth',
particularly stands out as a great lost gem.
By 1970 however, Sloan's star was on the wane; so much so in fact,
that Jimmy Webb's eulogy for the death of the optimism and ambition
of the sixties was entitled 'P F Sloan', drawing lyrical parallels
between the dawning of Nixon-era politics and the sad but inevitable
demise of songwriters such as Phil. Webb - another former Dunhill
staff songwriter - once said Sloan was "one of the first songwriters
to want to be a singer (too). There was definitely pressure for
me to behave myself and just be a songwriter; he was one of the
first guys to go up against that, and I look up to him". It
seems that the era of the singer-songwriter that Sloan had effectively
ushered in had all but killed his career.
Thankfully the past few years have been kinder to Phil, with a
well-received solo set released in 2007 ('Sailover'), and an intermittent
but artistically successful return to the live circuit. More importantly,
he's viewing life with renewed energy and confidence. This lovingly-executed
trawl through his archives should redress the balance even further.
P F SLOAN 'HERE'S WHERE I BELONG:
THE BEST OF THE
DUNHILL YEARS, 1965-1967' (BIG BEAT CDWIKD 277)
An impressive photographic book seemed to leap off the shelves
at Borders bookshop whilst Mick and I were picking up our tickets
at the Lincoln Centre for Darlene Love's Christmas show. I've always
been a lover and hopeful collector of classic 1960s black and white
8x10 photographs and this book has certainly indulged this passion
of mine. Who can fail but be impressed at these works of art produced
by the likes of James J. Kriegsmann and William "PoPsie"
Randolph in New York and Bruno of Hollywood?
PoPsie "scuffled for money" in a variety of jobs - towel
boy in a midtown bordello, a shoeshine boy and then as a manager
for bands, including Woody Herman and his idol, Benny Goodman, who
gave him his first camera as a present. After marriage, he became
a professional photographer in New York and was soon kept busy with
publicity photo sessions, parties, concerts and club dates. The
photographs selected for this book, chosen by his son Michael, certainly
reflect the fast lane in which he lived his life, as they are filled
with the vibrancy and pure joie de vivre of the big city music business.
PoPsie shot everybody who was anybody on the music scene and also
a lot of the minor celebrities and hopeful newcomers. He photographed
the jazz scene of the 1940s and stunning pictures are included of
Billie "Lady Day" Holliday, Glen Miller, Mary Lou Williams
and Louis Prima. He continued snapping the stars of entertainment
until his early retirement in the mid-1970s. His photographs for
recording studios and music magazines are unique and detail an era
of music that means so much to us all on Spectropop.
I was astounded to find out that PoPsie left behind 100,000 negatives
after his untimely death in 1978 and in this book we have a small
representation of this astounding body of work. He photographed
all the major music idols like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley when
he came to New York to record his first records for RCA, Bobby Darin
signing his contract for Atlantic Records and the king of the calypso
craze, Harry Belafonte. Then there were the teen idols, Frankie
Avalon, Fabian and Jimmy Clanton, and the British Invasion, led
by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the best female
singing export from Britain, Dusty Springfield. There are also stunning
images of the performers who played for Alan Freed at the Fox and
Paramount theatres in the '60s - Bill Haley and his Comets, the
Platters, the Cleftones and the Coasters. I was thrilled to see
Motown stars in their youth and prime - the Supremes on the mean
New York streets, the stunning Marvin Gaye in close up and also
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1968.
I could go on and on, naming all the big and lesser known artists
that I love, but I will instead limit myself to just two more, who
delighted crowds with their Christmas shows during that wonderful
weekend in December of 2007 - La La Brooks with the very young looking
Crystals and Ronnie Spector in the RCA Victor recording studios
with her fellow Ronettes, Estelle and Nedra, at the "I'm On
The Wagon" recording session. My two favourite New York girl
groups are together in one book.
You might have gathered by now that I'm a great admirer of this
very interesting photographic book and I would like to recommend
it wholeheartedly to fellow members of Spectropop. I'm already looking
forward to a second volume of PoPsie's wonderful work. My personal
choices for inclusion omitted in this volume are Connie Francis
and the first Queen of Motown, Mary Wells.
POPSIE: POPULAR MUSIC THROUGH THE LENS OF WILLIAM "POPSIE" RANDOLPH
Michael Randolph, with foreword by Quincy Jones (Hal Leonard Corporation)
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