Archived Reviews

The Beach Boys, In the Beginning: The Garage Tapes (bootleg) (Sea of Tunes). Even with the dozens of discs' worth of unreleased Beach Boys rarities that the Sea of Tunes label had issued prior to the appearance of this 2007 bootleg, yet more material continued to be  unearthed. This compilation features two CDs of recordings from 1960, 1962, and 1963, and if it's hardly the kind of thing that can be recommended to the general fan (or even the kind of thing that ranks among their more interesting unreleased stuff), it certainly has its fascination for the dedicated Beach Boys fan. Disc one is a very varied assortment of 1962 and 1963 studio outtakes, including some sessions at which they were backing producer/singer Gary Usher, Sharon Marie, and the Honeys. While some of the April 1962 sessions are rather corny early-'60s pop-rock tunes, Brian Wilson has a very endearing high vocal on "The Beginning of the End"; he also takes lead vocal on the nice if dated ballad "Visions," which he co-wrote with Usher (and was later recorded and released by Rachel & the Revolvers). It's hard to specify what the Beach Boys' involvement in Sharon Marie's "Summertime" was other than perhaps being part or all of the backing band, but it's a pretty dynamite gritty version of the standard. There are also a whole bunch of mid-to-late 1963 outtakes/alternates of officially released songs similar enough to the commonly available versions that they're mainly of interest for scholars of how their tracks evolved and were produced in the studio, though the instrumental "Rabbit Foot" would evolve into "Our Car Club," and "Good Humour Man" into "The Rocking Surfer."

The second disc is almost wholly devoted to home tapes, apparently from 1960 (at least that's the date given on the track listings), on which you can hear the boys routining rudimentary versions of "Surfin'," as well as doing a cappella harmonizing on the obscure doo wop song "Bermuda Shorts." The amount of horsing around and jostling that seems to be threatening to erupt into fights indicates that the occasional similar verbal sparring on subsequent officially issued Beach Boys comedy tracks wasn't wholly contrived. Some female friends seem to be informally helping out the lads on some other, mostly a cappella tracks (including, interestingly, "Sloop John B," which would be a huge Beach Boys hit about five years later), and while it's slightly lo-fi and slightly juvenile, the material seems to demonstrate the group's remarkable facility for vocal harmonies was nearly fully developed before they ever entered a recording studio. The very last track on this CD, "Murry Directs Brian at the Organ," is definitely a later studio recording, not a 1960 home one; you also hear Beach Boy dad Murry Wilson on a brief trivial recorded phone conversation, which stretches the boundaries of something that will interest even fans of the group, bootleg or no bootleg.

The fidelity on disc one of this compilation is at or nearly of official release standard, and while the sound quality on disc two is lower, it's not at all difficult to hear. The rather extreme marginalia of these tracks to the Beach Boys' core legacy makes it something that should only be investigated by completists, but accepted on those terms, they're valuable, illuminating, and sometimes even enjoyable finds.

The Beach Boys, Endless Bummer: The Very Worst of the Beach Boys
(bootleg) (Murry Wilson Ltd.). In the tradition of bootlegs trailblazed by the legendary Elvis' Greatest Shit, here we have a compilation of about 50 minutes of the Beach Boys' most embarrassing moments to have been captured on tape. It goes without saying that this is not only not for the average Beach Boys fan, but not even for many Beach Boys fans who collect the group's unreleased material. Instead, it's something only for the completist, or those with a somewhat masochistic sense of humor. But if you are intent on investigating the most disagreeable skeletons in the group's closet, many of them are here, including really drunk (and long post-prime) vocals on live versions of "Good Vibrations" and "You're So Beautiful"; shamefully exploitative Mike Love-sung ads; a Carl Wilson anti-drug radio spot; Brian Wilson's infamous solo rap song "Smart Girls"; a Spanish version of their unloved comeback hit "Kokomo"; the notorious mid-'60s outtakes in which Murry Wilson rips into his sons and the rest of the group at a recording session; a bad Bob Dylan imitation/parody by Mike Love; and various ragged rehearsal tapes/outtakes. Actually, this material is more interesting than many a mediocre group's best efforts, as a band this good couldn't help from letting some talent, ingenuity, and humor seep through even when they were at their most painfully inept. But relative to the standards of the Beach Boys' usual work -- and even relative to the standards of many Beach Boys bootlegs -- it's oft-painful listening, with some historical interest for those cataloguing the band's oft-dysfunctional history, but little entertainment value.

Blossom Toes, If Only for a Moment (Sunbeam). Brian Godding and Jim Cregan were still Blossom Toes' chief songwriters on their second album, but the LP stands in bold contrast to their debut in sound and attitude. Having scuttled the orchestras and developed their chops in the two-year interlude, the record bears the influence of heavy California psychedelia and Captain Beefheart with its intricate, interwoven guitar lines and occasional gruff dissonance. The more serious instrumental approach spills over to the lyrics, which are somber and at times even gloomy, occasionally reflecting the social turbulence of the late '60s, with their uncertain tenor and references to ominous "peace loving men" and "love bombs." Far less uplifting than their debut, the weighty approach is leavened by the close harmonies and sparkling guitar interplay. While not as memorable as the first album, it's above-average late-'60s psychedelia that almost acts as the downer flip side to the stoned, happy-face ambience of their early work. The 2007 Sunbeam reissue adds much value with the addition of lengthy, historical liner notes with many quotes from the band members, as well as seven bonus tracks. These include both sides of the non-LP single "Postcard"/"Everyone's Leaving Me Now," the B-side of which is a fine wistful jazz-pop number; a demo of a song from If Only for a Moment, "Peace Loving Man," that's considerably different from the version on the LP; demos of a couple Brian Godding originals, "Ever Since a Memory" and "Nobody But," that didn't make the band's official releases in any version, though they were worthy enough to have qualified; a live version of another song from If Only for a Moment, "Listen to the Silence"; and a final unreleased cut, "New Day" (with Julie Driscoll and Reggie King on backing vocals), that would have been their final single, but only made it to the test pressing stage (and was subsequently re-recorded by B.B. Blunder).

The Blue Things, Blow Your Mind (Cicadelic). Blow Your Mind is easily the biggest single-release Blue Things collection ever (or likely to be) compiled. The two-disc set contains no less than 65 tracks spread across two and a half hours, including sixteen unreleased cuts and three radio ads (for the Blue Things, not by the Blue Things). Since this does have everything from their sole album and all of their non-LP A-sides and B-sides, one hesitates to point out some relatively minor problems, especially since the LP and 45s comprise some of the finest obscure mid-'60s American folk-rock and early psychedelia. Still, those flaws are the kind of things completists might want to know out. First, the unreleased versions of the outtakes "Desert Wind" and "Waiting for Changes" are distinctly inferior to the previously issued versions of these songs (which are not included on this anthology), missing some backup vocals in each case. While it's good for collectors to have the 45 version of "I Must Be Doing Something Wrong," with an oboe (missing from the LP version) that's alternately effective and irritating, ultimately it's not as good as the oboe-less one. The mix of "Now's the Time," a jangly folk-rock highlight of the group's LP, sounds oddly flat and unbalanced. And while all the previously unreleased material is a boon for Blue Things fans, much of it's devoted to relatively slightly different versions of songs that have already seen the light of day elsewhere, either on official mid-'60s Blue Things releases or reissues that dug up some unissued stuff. The previously unheard tracks do include a good straight-out rock'n'roll number from a 1964 session ("Punkin' Doodle") and a nice version of "I Can't Have Yesterday" with a significantly different folk-rock arrangement than the official LP rendition, but the hit covers from a December 1966 session are fairly uninteresting. And finally, though the 24-page booklet offers lengthy liner notes and lots of photos, it somewhat doesn't include songwriting credits anywhere. Do all these picky complaints mean you should avoid this release? Of course not; there's lots of fine music here that will appeal to both the general folk-rock/psychedelic/garage fan and the Blue Things devotee. Val Stecklein shines as one of the era's finest overlooked singers and songwriters throughout most of the program, and many listeners looking for something that crosses the Byrds, Beau Brummels, and early Beatles will be pleased and excited if they haven't yet come across the group. Still, the general fan's better off trying to find the 2001 CD reissue of their sole LP (on Rewind, with non-LP bonus tracks from mid-'60s singles). Additionally, the completist should also know for all this two-CD set's generous length, it doesn't quite have everything, a few outtakes remaining available only on some earlier Blue Things LP and CD collections on the Cicadelic label.

The Byrds, Byrds Eye View (DVD bootleg) (Bad Wizard). Lasting about two hours, this bootleg DVD was the most thorough compilation of Byrds 1960s video clips yet assembled when it came out around late 2007. The major, overriding plus is that this is very close to the most extensive such anthology that could ever be assembled, even including their three live songs (filmed in October 1965) from the rare movie The Big TNT Show. It has to be noted, however, that there are some flaws to the disc, most of them unavoidable, that make this a less exciting view than big Byrds fans might anticipate. First, the sound and image quality range from excellent to rather shaky and poor, depending upon what source has been available, though generally it's good or better. Also, it's far from a chronologically balanced assortment of footage, with well over half the clips originating from the ten-month span between May 1965 and March 1966. Ten of the better-quality clips are officially available on the There Is a Season box set, and eagle-eyed Byrds collectors will note a minor omission here and there of some footage that's circulated. There's an unholy amount of multiple versions of numerous songs, including seven of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and six of "Turn, Turn, Turn." And most importantly, the Byrds, though unquestionably one of the greatest rock acts of the era, weren't the most exciting performing band, especially so on this disc considering that the substantial majority of the clips are mimed, not live. All those negatives notwithstanding, here you have the ultimate visual record of the group in their prime, including some clips that aren't common fare even among dedicated collectors, like "Chimes of Freedom" on Shindig and a couple live songs from the Newport Pop Festival in June 1969. Though there's less post-early-1966 Byrds than everyone would like, it does have the three clips from Gene Clark's brief re-entry into the band in late 1967, as well as their highly amusing and well-played spot on Playboy After Dark in late 1968. Also on the DVD, at the very end, are two clips of the Flying Burrito Brothers with ex-Byrds Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, and Michael Clarke, even if these are obviously lip-synced.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Big Sur Folk Festival September '69 (bootleg) (Mistral Music). There's a lot of good unissued live and studio material from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 1969-70 heyday. There's so much, in fact, that it makes this two-CD recording of their performance at the Big Sur Folk Festival in September 1969 relatively inessential, even for CSNY fans devoted enough to seek out stuff beyond their official catalog. That's mostly because the sound, though actually decent by 1969 live bootleg standards and not all problematic to listen to, is certainly by no means up to release standard. There are also few surprises as far as the songs presented at this concert, with the possible exception of an acoustic version (with background harmony) of Neil Young's "Birds." Nonetheless, for the devoted, it does have its value as a record of a notable event in their early performing careers, even if the Big Sur Folk Festival itself isn't nearly as well remembered (despite being documented on film) as the most celebrated such events of the era. Disc one is mostly acoustic, highlighted by Stephen Stills' "4 + 20" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," with the additional surprise of a couple songs by Dave Mason in what sounds like an unscheduled guest spot. Disc two is electric, including versions of "Wooden Ships," "Down By the River," "Long Time Gone," "Pre-Road Downs," and the less expected/famous "Bluebird Revisited" (later done by Stills on his second album) and Young's "Sea of Madness." During the acoustic set, you can also hear some surprisingly testy and acerbic chatter between the band and fans (and among the band), particularly as Stephen Stills goes after a heckler—a scenario not clear solely from listening to this audio, but shown in the Celebration at Big Sur film documentary.

Sandy Denny, Live at the BBC (Island Remasters). Sandy Denny performed on the BBC as a solo artist quite a bit between the years of 1966 and 1973, a span that saw her evolve from an obscure folk singer to Britain's finest folk-rock vocalist. Twenty tracks from the early 1970s were briefly available on the 1997 release The BBC Sessions 1971-73, but unfortunately that CD went out of print after its limited edition immediately sold out. A decade later, the four-disc box set Live at the BBC rectified that wrong and then some. It includes not only all of the material from The BBC Sessions 1971-73, but 23 additional cuts as well, along with a DVD disc containing footage of the only three surviving songs she performed on BBC television. There's also an interesting seven-minute interview from 1972, and Denny also provides insightful comments on her songs between the tracks taken from her 1973 session for the Sounds on Sunday program.

Unlike many other BBC collections, this particular one is essential for fans of the artist, even those who already own a lot of Sandy Denny. First and most importantly, the performances are uniformly fine and often superb, particularly in the vocal department. Second, it includes some songs that she did not put on her official releases, among them some traditional folk songs from 1966-68 sessions done in her pre-Fairport Convention days; covers of Tom Paxton's "Hold on to Me Babe" and Jackson Frank's "Blues Run the Game"; and the traditional song "Sweet Nightingale," done as a duet with Mick Groves of the Spinners on a 1971 television show. Also, and very significantly, the arrangements are usually stark, emphasizing her singing backed only by piano or guitar. These are quite different from many of the arrangements she elected to use for the same tunes on her studio releases, and those who feel her solo albums suffered from over-production will likely judge these BBC versions superior.

Of course, as with almost any such ambitious box set, there are minor criticisms, or at least aspects of which some non-completists might be wary. The sound, though often very good, is variable, as some of the tracks are obviously not first-generation (and, to their credit, the compilers have separated "off-air" recordings onto disc four and labeled it as such, though the fidelity on those really isn't so bad). Many of the songs are presented in multiple versions, which might frustrate less indulging fans, though these have been intelligently spaced out within the set to enhance listenability. The DVD, though it has all of the BBC television solo footage there is of Denny (in good-quality color, all from 1971), nevertheless doesn't have that much material overall. It does also offer excerpts of song lyrics and drawings from her diaries that will interest serious fans (though these will need to be viewed on a computer screen rather than a television screen to be comfortably read), as well as a photo gallery. But considering that the DVD (on disc three) has just three songs and that disc four only contains a little more than a half-hour of music, perhaps the list price could have adjusted downward a bit—as it is, it's a pretty expensive set.

And, finally, this doesn't contain Denny's BBC performances as part of bands, and though the ones she did as part of Fairport Convention are on Island's BBC box for that group, the ones she did as part of Fotheringay haven't been assembled for proper official release. There are also a couple of solo tracks (one each from 1972 and 1973) that couldn't be found, though the annotation readily acknowledges this. All this really is nitpicking, though, and only stated so that the hardcore fans likely to pick up this box are fully aware of its contents. On its own terms, it's a superb production that assembles everything possible from her BBC radio and television performances, packages it well, and makes an important part of her recorded legacy available that more fully rounds out our appreciation of this magnificent singer.

Formerly Fat Harry, Goodbye for Good: The Lost Recordings 1969-1972 (Hux). Because Formerly Fat Harry did only one album, and because this CD contains just two songs from that LP (and even so, in different versions), this disc can be considered a missing second record of sorts for the band. "Of sorts" is an important qualification here: since the dozen tracks are taken from demos and live recordings not originally cut with the intention of release, and since they were done over quite a long period, it's not fair to judge this as a stand-alone album. Understandably given the sources and wide chronological range, it's erratic and lacks consistent direction, though there are the seeds of a decent record (or records) here. More often than not, however, this band of largely Californian expatriates based in England (including ex-Country Joe & the Fish bassist Bruce Barthol) wrote and played a mixture of fairly winning late-period psychedelia, folk-rock, and country-rock, though their styles were variant enough that this CD sometimes seems like the work of more than one band. A few of the songs are quite good, like the wistful folk-rock of "Girl on a Bicycle" (co-written by guitarist/keyboardist/singer Gary Peterson with notable British folk singer-songwriter Ralph McTell), "Corelia Correll" (which effectively mixes folk-rock with early keyboard-oriented Procol Harum-like prog rock), and another delicate folk-rock tune in "As the Rain Falls." There are also times in which the spacey vocals, minor-keyed melodies, and guitar reverbs can recall vintage Country Joe & the Fish, particularly in "Girl on a Bicycle," "Funky 8," and "Time Slips By," though that influence isn't wholly down to Barthol, since he didn't write either of those tunes (and in fact wrote very little of the material here). At other times, the band slip into pleasant but relatively pedestrian country-rock (a cover of "Wild Side of Life") and undistinguished bluesy psychedelic jamming, traits they share with many Californian bands of the time. Not everything here, then, was worthy of being enshrined on a proper album. But as a mop-up of largely interesting odds and ends, much of which is up to the standard of material that should have been considered for release, it's a worthy archival anthology, the liner notes giving an interesting summary of the band's highly unusual career.

Joy Unlimited, Joy Unlimited (Fallout). This 1970 album by the German group Joy Unlimited was, to the eternal confusion of discographers, issued under three separate titles. In Germany, it was called Overground; in the UK, Turbulence; and, in the US, simply Joy Unlimited. Although the band would later go in a more progressive direction, this LP was not all that progressive in nature, and not at all like the avant-art rock of the 1970s Krautrock movement. Instead, it was a competent amalgam of trends in American and British mainstream rock, pop, and soul, rather like the kind flashed by numerous bands emerging in neighboring Holland at the same time, like Shocking Blue. And, like Shocking Blue, Joy Unlimited sang entirely in English and were fronted by a woman singer (Joy Fleming); you wouldn't especially either identify them as a band from a non-English-speaking country, or be able to identify them as coming from any place in particular. There's nothing here as outstanding as, say, the best of Shocking Blue's stuff, but it's a fairly enjoyable set of very 1970-sounding material straddling the line of what was played on AM and FM radio in those days. Fleming has a good and gutsy (though not brilliant) voice, and the group's certainly versatile, whether it's the soul-pop of "Groove with What You've Got"; the powerful ballad "I Hold No Grudge" (which you could easily imagine fitting onto a record by Dusty Springfield or Lulu); the more Janis Joplin-like "Feelin';" the fairly catchy pop of "Have You Met Anyone Lately?" and "I Just Made Up My Mind"; the organ-guitar prog rock-tinged "Mr. Pseudonym" and "Helpless Child"; and the breezy "Mr. Slater," which takes its cues from observational storytelling late-'60s British pop-rock. And if you're looking for an oddball obscure Beatles cover, the heavy funk-rock take on "All Together Now" fills that bill and then some. The 2007 CD reissue on Fallout adds three bonus tracks from non-LP singles, including "Sunshine," which is more happy face pop-toned than anything on the album, and covers of Manfred Mann's "Each and Every Day" (which Joy Unlimited retitled "Daytime Nighttime") and the Beatles' "Oh! Darling." It's unfortunate, though, that a few of the tracks on that CD reissue suffer from obvious varispeed, as if they've been mastered from an LP playing on a system badly in need of a new turntable belt.

Dinah Lee, The Viking Recordings 1964-1967 (Canetoad). While this doesn't have every last track Dinah Lee released on the Viking label in New Zealand, it comes pretty close, cramming 34 songs from her 1964-67 45s and LPs onto one CD. It might not stand up to the best female British Invasion singers of the era, but if you've got a hankering for that sound, Lee's records were pretty close in sound those made by plenty of girls in the UK during the same period. Closest in style to Lulu from that school (if not as good), Lee took on a fairly wide variety of material, from 1950s rock'n'roll oldies to girl group, soul-pop, Merseybeat-style ravers, and even some ska. The main flaw is that there are too many covers of familiar American tunes; her passes at "Rock Around the Clock," "Kansas City," and hits by the likes of Jackie Wilson, Chuck Jackson, and Huey "Piano" Smith might have energy, but they're certainly not going to make anyone forget the originals. But there are a good number of songs here that come off better, like "You Don't Talk About Love," one of the most frenetic woman-sung Merseybeat-style recordings from anywhere in the globe; the 1965 #1 New Zealand hit "I'll Forgive You Then Forget You," which is quality British-style orchestrated girl group-soul-pop; a fine cover of Barbara Lewis' "Pushing a Good Thing Too Far" (a #3 hit in New Zealand); and a few songs ("That's Right, I Quit," "Too Many People") that could almost pass for mid-'60s Lulu outtakes. In fact, some of these songs were recorded by Lulu ("Not in This Whole World," "Chocolate Ice," "Try to Understand," "Too Many People," "He Don't Want Your Love Anymore") -- enough to make you suspect there were some conscious attempts to use Lulu as a model, though at least Lee could sing in the same room as Lulu and not embarrass herself. Though the 1964 B-side "Yeh Yeh We Love 'em All" is less impressive, it's an obscure must-have for those who collect shameless Beatles novelty discs. The 16-page booklet has detailed liner notes about Lee's 1960s career, an especially useful addition as the singer is virtually unknown outside of New Zealand and Australia, despite some attempts to break the US and UK markets.

The Rolling Stones, Time Trip Vol. 5 Surplus/Movin' North & More (bootleg) (Scorpio). Though the unwieldy title might lead you to believe this bootleg is a messy catch-all of unreleased/rare mid-'60s Rolling Stones, actually it has some very interesting items (all in very good studio sound), even if much of the disc is likely to already be owned by serious Stones collectors on other boots. The big finds here are the first three tracks, which seldom if ever showed up elsewhere prior to this CD's appearance. The first is a cover of Arthur Alexander's "Go Home Girl" from November 1963, done very much in the style the group brought to Alexander's "You Better Move On" around the same time, though "Go Home Girl" isn't quite as good a song or performance. The second is a November 1964 version of "Mercy Mercy" that predates the recording done for the 1965 album Out of Our Heads; this one is thinner and more threadbare, though hardly embarrassing. The third, also from November 1964, is an amble through the country blues "Key to the Highway," though it's done in such a low-key fashion that one wonders if it was ever seriously intended as a candidate for release. The rest of the CD goes into much more familiar (to Stones collectors, at any rate) territory with 1963-64 outtakes that had first been booted years before this release; the Italian version of "As Tears Go By"; and alternate mixes of some familiar mid-'60s classics, though one of these, of "19th Nervous Breakdown," has a distinctly different and more hesitant vocal than the one used on the hit single. The "Movin' North & More" component of the disc is a 40-minute compilation of footage from the group's 1965 Scandinavian tour, playable on home computers. You don't get much in the way of musical performances here; it's chiefly devoted to scenes of fan hysteria, airport landings, and backstage preparation, though there's one fairly extended interview sequence involving all five Rolling Stones. It's for fans only, but by those standards it's not bad, as the footage is in good condition, and the interview sequence in particular illustrates the nonchalant anti-establishment image for which the band were becoming renowned by 1965.

The Small Faces, Rollin' Over [DVD bootleg] (Bad Wizard). This bootleg DVD trumps all of its unauthorized predecessors in offering a lengthy compilation of Small Faces video footage, lasting 96 minutes and including no less than 35 clips. All of the phases of their brief 1960s heyday are represented, from their early mod hits through the psychedelic era. While the image quality is a little uneven, it's mostly very good (and sometimes in color), and in some cases a vast improvement over previous versions of the same clips that have circulated in the underground. The criticisms that can be offered are very small, though overall the compilers seem to have done almost well as they possibly could have with the material available. First, much of the material is mimed, not live. That's something you can say of many '60s rock clips, of course. But it's certainly frustrating considering that when the group did get the chance to play live on film, they proved they were an electrifying concert act, especially on the best clips here, in which they do four of their early hits on the German TV show Beat Beat Beat. Also, for some reason, not all of their Colour Me Pop appearance -- in which they played much of Ogdens Nut Gone Flake, complete with narration by the very man who does the same task on the album, Stanley Unwin -- is here, although at least the footage that makes it on is in good quality. Also, perhaps it would have been better to sequence the 35 clips in chronological order (as the same label, Bad Wizard, did on its similarly comprehensive Byrds compilation Byrds Eye View), though at least this disc is ordered so that the numerous multiple versions of songs don't follow each other too closely. Still, the Small Faces fan can hardly complain, especially when the selection includes items like a color version of "Tin Soldier" from Dutch TV (with P.P. Arnold also onstage), a performance of "Talk to You," and promo films of "Get Yourself Together" and "Hey Girl," none of which are exactly common fare even among devotees of the band.

Al Wilson, Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More 1967-1971 (Kent). Though Searching for the Dolphins was the title of Al Wilson's first album (in 1968), and though the entire LP is included on this CD, it's something more than a reissued or expanded edition of that record. In fact, the eleven songs from the original Searching for the Dolphins album (presented as the first eleven tracks of this CD) make up only half of this disc, which is augmented by eleven cuts from 1967-71 non-LP singles. As such, it's the definitive document of the first phase of this minor but interesting soul star's career. The Searching for the Dolphins material is good but a little unnerving in its stylistic inconsistency, including rather lush Jimmy Webb/Johnny Rivers/Fred Neil covers, as well as a version of the MOR standard "This Guy's in Love with You." Yet it was the peculiar, fetching swamp rock-soul of "The Snake" that gave Wilson his first big hit, and a funky cover of jazzman Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Brother, Where Are You" also demonstrated the singer's harder edge. Though none of the non-LP singles were big hits, generally these too went into slightly eccentric pop-soul-rock territory, Wilson's delivery in particular showing more of a rootsy rock edge than most soul singers. His small hit cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Lodi" is a highlight, and also a general indication of the unusual non-soul influences Wilson admitted to his music, though these also included orchestrated pop, jazz, bluesy southern funk, and a even a bit of period psychedelia. The 1971 single "Sugar Cane Girl" is surprisingly close to a decent soul-shaded CCR imitation, in fact, and a track from the same year ("Falling in Love with You") verges on funky hard rock. In retrospect, it's easy to hear why Wilson didn't have much commercial success during this era, as both his material and stylistic approach was too erratic. However, those very qualities are also what, in retrospect, make this material rather interesting, as it's certainly not run-of-the-mill production line late-'60s/early-'70s soul.

Various Artists, Beat-Club: The Best of '66 (DVD) (Studio Hamburg/Radio Bremen). As part of a series of DVDs presenting footage from Germany's Beat-Club pop music television program, Beat-Club: The Best of '66 has 20 clips broadcast on the show in 1966. One feels that these certainly aren't the best 20 clips that could have been chosen, especially considering how many top British acts appeared on the program. Nonetheless, it does have its share of good, sometimes major artists and decent performances, most of them played live and not mimed. Among the highlights are the Hollies ("I Can't Let Go"), the Spencer Davis Group ("Keep on Running"), and relatively rare glimpses of the Denny Laine-fronted Moody Blues on "Bye Bye Bird" and the non-LP single "Really Haven't Got the Time." Also on hand are some German acts (the Lords' "Poor Boy" being the clear peak) and reasonably interesting second- and third-tier UK artists (Cliff Bennett & the Rebels doing their cover of the Beatles' "Got to Get You into My Life," girl-group-styled singer Twinkle doing the Small Faces' "Sha-La-La-La-Lee," the Remo Four with the instrumental "Peter Gun," and the Silkie with their one-shot hit cover of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"). Some of the other performers are mediocre; the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More," for reasons unexplained, cuts off in the middle of the song; and there's too much of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich & Tich (four clips). Still, the image and sound quality is good to excellent, making this a good document of footage rarely seen outside of Germany, even if much more of interest from the program's 1966 broadcasts is circulating unofficially.

Various Artists, The Bert Berns Story: Twist and Shout Vol. 1: 1960-1964 (Ace). Like other compilations on the Ace label devoted to great Brill Building songwriter producers (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Gerry Goffin and Carole King), this volume on Bert Berns is a welcome retrospective of an important figure. Like those other volumes, however, it should be cautioned that this might be more for serious fans/collectors than the general early pop-rock fan, since its mix of hits and rarities means the quality's more uneven than what one might expect from a best-of anthology, and not as comprehensive as one might expect from a box set. In this particular case, it seems care's been taken not to offer more than one song from any particular artist, which means that quite a few noteworthy items are missing from the Drifters, Solomon Burke, Garnet Mimms, the Isley Brothers, and Ben E. King. So don't take the CD as a compilation of Berns' very best work—a separate project that someone should really undertake, especially as a previous attempt (The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns) was woefully skimpy in that regard. Judging this disc for what it is rather than what it isn't, however, it does offer an interesting cross-section of his early work, including the big hits "Twist and Shout" (the Isley Brothers), "A Little Bit of Soap" (the Jarmels), "Cry to Me "(Solomon Burke), and "Killer Joe" (the Rocky Fellers). There are also some good not-so-big singles from fine '60s recording stars Gene Pitney ("If I Didn't Have a Dime (To Play the Jukebox)"), Garnet Mimms ("Look Away"), and Little Esther Phillips ("Mo Jo Hannah"). And there are also some rare or at least uncommon originals of some very noteworthy songs made into bigger hits by others, including the Mustangs' "Baby Let Me Take You Home" (covered on the Animals' first single); Lulu's eerie and not wholly successful version of "Here Comes the Night" (covered by Them); and the Vibrations' "My Girl Sloopy" (redone as "Hang on Sloopy" by the McCoys). On the other hand, there are a bunch of rather generic pop/R&B/Latin combinations that stick with too many similar chord progressions, though it's interesting to hear a lick crop up in one of these, Marv Johnson's "Come on and Stop," that would be recycled to much better use in Them's "Here Comes the Night." When he was at his best, however, Berns could make that pop/R&B/Latin combo work as well as anyone, as the finest selections on this CD demonstrate. As is the custom for Ace, excellent liner notes detail both Berns' early careers and these songs/recordings in particular.

Various Artists, The Brit Girls (DVD bootleg) (Brit Records). Although this DVD looks professionally packaged, complete with bar code and Hollywood street address (which is actually the address of Capitol Records), it's certainly an unauthorized disc. That's made obvious by the lack of a standard commercial menu and the imperfect, though watchable-without-a-problem, image and sound quality. It's actually an hour-and-a-half compilation of episodes from The Brit Girls series of documentaries, which aired on British television in 1997. If the slightly below-par packaging doesn't bother you and you're interested in the general subject of 1960s British pop-rock singers, this is still recommended viewing, especially for US listeners who didn't have a chance to watch it when it was broadcast. Specific episodes are devoted to Marianne Faithfull, Lulu, and Sandie Shaw; another is a sort of survey of various British-based '60s singers who were only popular for a brief period, including Twinkle, Billie Davis, Millie Small, and P.P. Arnold. All of the singers were interviewed specifically for the program, accompanied by interviews with some of their friends and associates and high-profile British music critics and celebrities, as well as some fascinating (if often tantalizingly brief) excerpts of vintage '60s footage featuring the performers. The interviews seem pretty candid, occasionally offering some startling obscure anecdotes, like the report that Sandie Shaw couldn't get a green card to visit the United States due to criticizing the country's involvement in the Vietnam War. It would help to have a fair degree of familiarity with these singers' careers to get the most out of the program, since it's more a scan of highlights and retrospective memories than it is something that fully explains the trajectories of each artist's careers. Most viewers (particularly in the United States) will already be knowledgeable about such details, however, if they're interested enough in this subject to be interested by such a documentary series in the first place. Unfortunately, however, this DVD does not include the episodes in this series that were dedicated to Cilla Black and Helen Shapiro.

Various Artists, Garage Party! Best of the Sixties Garage Bands (DVD bootleg) (Cat's Meow). For something with such a generic title, Garage Party! Best of the Sixties Garage Bands turns out to be a lot more interesting and exotic than you'd anticipate. For this two-DVD, two-and-a-half-hour set features not the expected US '60s garage bands, but Australian '60s artists. (Actually a few from as late as the early 1970s creep in, but for the most part the clips are from the mid-to-late 1960s.) Especially outside of Australia, viewers will be stunned to see good-quality (albeit entirely black-and-white) performance clips of numerous of the Australian rock recordings that have the highest global profile among '60s collectors. Among them are the Loved Ones' "The Loved One," the Purple Hearts' "Early in the Morning," the Black Diamonds' "See the Way" and "I Want, Need, Love You," the Allusions' "The Dancer," Mike Furber's "You Stole My Love," the Sunsets' "When I Found You," the Masters Apprentices' "Elevator Driver," Running Jumping Standing Still's "Diddy Wah Diddy," and the Atlantics' "Come On." Those whose collections run even deeper will be surprised to see footage of the Valentines (with Bon Scott), Jeff Saint John & the Id, and even Python Lee Jackson (though not with Rod Stewart on lead vocals, of course). The downside -- and it's a considerable one -- is that every one of these clips is mimed, not live. As a result, it's somewhat of an artificial experience overall, especially as one would have to think it's certain that some of these groups could have smoked in a live performance situation. As some compensation, you do at least get to see and hear some songs that even many fans would massive collections might be unaware of, a few of which are quite decent, like the Mystics' "Don't You Go, I Need Your Love" and Phil Jones' "Pick a Bale of Cotton."

Various Artists, The Golden Age of Popular Music: The Folk Hits (Ace). Though Ace's Golden Age series of discs were initially devoted entirely to rock'n'roll, after numerous such volumes, it branched out with thematic installments covering other forms of music that experienced success on the US pop charts between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. The Golden Age of Popular Music: The Folk Hits is another such imaginative anthology, compiling 28 folk singles that reached the Billboard charts during the era. There are, as you'd expect, some of the biggest such smashes, including the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley," the Rooftop Singers' "Walk Right In," Peter, Paul & Mary's "If I Had a Hammer," Gale Garnett's "We'll Sing in the Sunshine," the Highwaymen's "Michael," the New Christy Minstrels' "Green, Green," the Springfields' "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," and the Brothers Four's "Greenfields." What makes this several cuts above the usual Time/Life sort of collection of this material, however, is the inclusion of quite a few low-charting (or even barely-charting) 45s that never get played on oldies radio, and give us a more rounded picture of the style than is commonly funneled through mainstream historical media. From well-known stars, for instance, there's Johnny Cash's cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe"; Joan Baez's "We Shall Overcome"; Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes" (his only chart single as a solo artist); and the Simon Sisters' "Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod" (featuring a young Carly Simon). There are also oddball items from less celebrated figures, like Bud & Travis' orchestrated, dramatic "Ballad of the Alamo"; Joe & Eddie's ridiculously exuberant "There's a Meetin' Here Tonite"; the Greenwoods' "Please Don't Sell My Daddy No More Wine," featuring C. Carson Parks, older brother of Van Dyke Parks; and the Shacklefords' "A Stranger in Your Town," co-written by group member Lee Hazlewood. If there are any grounds on which listeners might be mildly disappointed with this set, those would be that numerous major hits by the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul & Mary are missing (though to be fair each of those acts could easily fill an entire disc of hits on their own), and that there's a dated, cutesy pop-folk feel to much of the material. You certainly don't get earthy roots folk from the likes of Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, or a young Bob Dylan here, so it shouldn't be taken as a representative overview of the folk revival as a whole. But as far as providing a thorough single-disc compilation of the folk revival at its most commercially successful, it would be hard to beat, especially considering it's packaged with 32 pages of informative liner notes.

Various Artists, The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll: The Follow-Up Hits (Ace). Having run through a few hundred genuine classic hits from rock'n'roll's first decade in its previous volumes, the series The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll was starting to concentrate on thematic compilations by the time of this 2008 release. This one has 30 "follow-up hits," or singles released immediately or soon after a big smash 45 by the same artist. Most follow-up hits, of course, didn't so as well as what they were following up, usually because the songs sounded too much like their predecessors and/or weren't as strong. That's true of most of the cuts here, actually, but that doesn't mean this doesn't have some good (and usually low-charting) rock'n'roll chart hits from 1956-63. A good number of these were almost as good, and almost as popular, as the more famous songs they were following up, including Danny & the Juniors' "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay"; Bobby Freeman's "Betty Lou Got a New Pair of Shoes"; Shirley & Lee's "I Feel Good"; Chuck Willis' "Betty and Dupree"; Chris Montez's "Some Kinda Fun"; and Dion & the Belmonts' "No One Knows." There are also some solid entries from a few bona fide rock'n'roll greats, even if those don't qualify as among their best recordings, like Gene Vincent's "Dance to the Bop" and Ritchie Valens' "That's My Little Suzie." You also, alas, get some numbers that were basically inferior attempts to replicate the mood of the big hit, like Mickey & Sylvia's 'There Oughta Be a Law" (following "Love Is Strange"), Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones' "Penny Loafers and Bobby Socks" (following "Black Slacks"), and Bobby Day's "The Bluebird, The Buzzard and the Oriole" (following "Rock-In Robin"). Some other selections are fairly unmemorable by any standard, and only occasionally do you get items that are genuinely fine overlooked obscurities (the Cascades' harmony pop-rock ballad "Shy Girl" and Joe Jones' original version of "California Sun," later covered for a hit by the Rivieras). And some cuts are pretty derivative of other artists, as the Velvets' "Laugh" is of the Drifters, though that song does have the curiosity value of being co-written by Roy Orbison. The strong thematic core, however, makes this CD a more interesting compilation than most other anthologies of lesser-known rock'n'roll hits from the era, with excellent liner notes summarizing the backgrounds of the songs and performers.

Various Artists, The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll Vol. 11 (Ace). The eleventh volume of this venerated series is split about half between out-and-out classics from rock'n'roll's first decade, and considerably lesser known (and usually much lower-charting) items from the same period. The benefit of this approach is that this makes available quite a few tracks that rarely get reissued, or at least rarely anthologized on all-purpose rock'n'roll oldies collections, while putting in enough familiar staples to avoid being tagged as a rarities collection. The drawback, of course, is that those relatively little-known singles -- all Top 100 Billboard hits to some degree or another, though seldom played on oldies stations today -- simply aren't nearly as good or memorable as the big hits with which they share space on this CD. The collectors might get frustrated by all the big hits that they already have in their collection several times over; the more general fans will find the quality of the disc erratic, owing to the presence of all those obscurities. Still, there's no arguing with the first-rate status of many of the big hits here, including great smashes by LaVern Baker ("Jim Dandy"), Dion ("Ruby Baby"), Mickey & Sylvia ("Love Is Strange"), Shirley & Lee ("Let the Good Times Roll"), Jimmy Bowen ("I'm Stickin' with You"), Hank Ballard ("Finger Poppin' Time"), and Nervous Norvus ("Transfusion," a novelty so gruesome it still remains astonishing it made the Top Ten in 1956). Among the less celebrated selections, there are a few standouts that are in or almost in the same league, like the Robins' wonderful "Smokey Joe's Cafe," Ruth Brown's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'," Carl Mann's late-'50s Sun Records rockabilly cut "Pretend," and Cookie & His Cupcakes' swamp pop standard "Mathilda." Much of the rest of the anthology is of a decidedly lower level, though they do include early efforts by some artists who went on to much bigger fame in different contexts,  like the 1956 doo wop single "(You're the) Apple of My Eye" by the Four Lovers (later to become the Four Seasons) and "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes" by Bobby Pedrick Jr. (later to have hits as Robert John). Rob Finnis' liner notes give excellent background information about each track, and cite one of the more obscure cuts, Jimmy Dee's 1957 Top 50 hit "Henrietta," as the first record Bob Dylan ever bought.


Archived Reviews

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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