Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Passions - Just to Be With You (1958-63; 1992 Collection)


I wish I could write some interesting factoids about the Passions, a Brooklyn, New York do wop vocal group that recorded from 1958 to 1963 and had a modest hit with the ballad "Just to Be With You" in 1959. It was a very modest hit: According to Joel Whitburn's Billboard book, it only got to #69.

The reason I don't know more about this group is because when I found this now-rare collection, it didn't have a front cover and therefore didn't contain liner notes. Boo! If anyone out there has them and feels like scanning them, let me know. But then I'd have to rewrite all this.

There is a short Wikipedia entry on the band. From that, I got that they were originally called the Sinceres and hailed from the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. More can be found here.

Here's a bit more info. According the the Billboard Bubbling Under chart book, the Passions also got to #113 in early 1960 with "I Only Want You," which is included here in two versions.

Now here is my own tidbit of info on the Passions, based totally on speculation. I wonder if the b-side of "I Only Want You," which was titled "This Was My Love" influenced the composition of a song of the same title recorded by Frank Sinatra. The Sinatra song was the b-side of his September, 1960 single "Nice and Easy" and came out nine months after the Passions' 45.  It's a stretch, but could the guy who penned the Sinatra song, Jim Harbert, have heard the Passions single?

Both songs are similar enough that upon hearing the Passions tune, I took the time to research whether it was a Sinatra cover with which they took major liberties. It wasn't and it turns out the Passions was released first.

According to one source, the Passions' "This Was My Love" went on to become a "vocal group standard." Sinatra's "This Was My Love" was later recorded by him as "This Is My Love" for his 1967 album The World We Knew. It was also recorded by Bob Dylan during the sessions for his 1983 album Infidels -- which either leads us way off-topic or means Dylan was very distantly influenced by the Passions.

Track list:
1. Just To Be With You
2. I Only Want You [Stereo]
3. Made For Lovers
4. Gloria
5. This Is My Love [Stereo]
6. One Look Is All It Took
7. Oh Melancholy Me
8. You Don't Love Me Anymore
9. Lonely Road [Stereo]
10. Aphrodite
11. Just To Be With You [Alternate Take]
12. Jungle Drums
13. I Gotta Know [Stereo]
14. This Is My Love [Outtake]
15. I Only Want You [Outtake]
16. Beautiful Dreamer

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Trout - The Trout (1968)


First off, this has nothing to do with Captain Beefheart. And, no, they did not record follow-up albums called "Mask" and "Replica," although it would have been funny if they had. To me, anyway.

The Trout was the late Tony Romeo's band before he made it big writing hit songs for the Partridge Family and Lou Christie. He formed this pop-psychedelic trio in the late '60s along with his brother, Frank Romeo, and a classically-trained female singer named Cassandra Morgan. Together, they released this lone album, which offers a good example of "post-Sgt. Pepper" pop. It's got orchestration, a melange of styles, and even some sound effects thrown in. (Translation: If you don't like it, blame the Cute Beatle.)

Romeo penned all of the album's songs. Since he's the guy responsible for the catchy hooks in hits like "I Think I Love You" and "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" (not to mention some great Partridge Family deep cuts), it's no surprise that this LP has some really great tunes. Some of the better ones include “November Song”, “Carnival Girl,” and “Sunrise Highway”.

Cassandra Morgan’s vocals especially stand out on songs like “Worse (SIC) Day I’ve Ever Been To.” You wish she'd sung a bit more here. Morgan would later record some sides with Tony and along with Frank and sing back-up on some Lou Christie tracks recorded in the early '70s. As for the Trout, it probably fell by the wayside when producer Wes Farrell tapped Tony Romeo to compose hits for the then-new TV show about a musical family. Or maybe they called it a day because they got tired of people making Beefheart jokes.

Track list:
1. The Beginning
2. Fresh Water
3. Crazy Billy
4. Carnival Girl
5. Teddy Bears’ Picnic
6. November Song
7. Arizona Two Thoughts: Cuddlin’ Warm/Here Besides You Now
8. Hushabye Wee Bobby
9. Yeah Yeah Yeah
10. Cuddlin’ Warm
11. Worse Day I’ve Been To
12. You Can’t Hang On
13. Understanding Who I Am
14. Sound Off
15. Sunrise Highway

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cristina - Cristina (Vinyl Edition, 1980)


If there's one thing I try to avoid on this blog it's continuity. I prefer my posts jump around from '60s soul to '80s new wave to hardcore punk to '50s vocal groups and so on.

But I'll make an exception for Cristina (aka Cristina Monet), about whom I posted yesterday. Not only do I think she's an artist worthy of much more interest than she's gotten, but commenter Iron Toad agrees with me that her legacy was not served well by the reissue CDs of her albums.

As with my last post, this vinyl rip seeks to correct that wrong. Unlike the CD version of this album, there is no compression, no altering of the original graphics, and no changing of the title. (When this LP was reissued it was inexplicably retitled Doll in the Box.) This is the way the album sounded and looked when it was released.

Anyway, enough complaining. Let's discuss the album. For her first full-length effort, Cristina joined up with August Darnell, who was just forming Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Darnell had scored a #1 dance hit a few years earlier with Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, so the folks at ZE Records might have though he'd bring a magic "hit record" touch to the proceedings here. He does bring a sort of magic, but he does so with his outlandish arrangements and lyrics which were not even close to being hit-bound in 1980.

Speaking of hits, Dr. Buzzard's big one was an eccentric number titled "Cherchez La Femme." With this album, Darnell wrote five songs in a somewhat similar vein and Cristina included a cover of a French song (part of her background), so the album is more related to the pasts of both of these artists than what they'd do in the future.

Here, Darnell and Cristina almost make like the Rutles of disco. Most of these songs satirize either disco as a musical genre (like the opening number, "Jungle Love," with its exaggerated cartoon sexuality) or disco culture itself ("Don't Be Greedy" and the closing track). Cristina sings as if she's playing old time comic movie roles, playfully using accents and/or exaggerated mannerisms whenever the occasion calls for such things. And sometimes when it doesn't.

Darnell adds in all sorts of percussion instruments and lots of over-the-top brass, which keeps these songs as lively as possible. He also an underrated lyricist. Some of his couplets are hilarious, such as "I won't share you with another mate/I'm not that liberal and you're not that great." All of these songs conjure such a distinct visual image that you start to think maybe this pair would have been better off making the album into an off-Broadway musical.

To my ears, all of this makes for entertaining listening and I consider this one of the great lost albums of all time. But when I posted some of the tracks on Facebook years ago, I got comments like "Are you insane?" and "What on earth is this?!" I also remember that back in the '90s when I played a cassette dub of this in the car, the reactions of my passengers were, to put it nicely, unenthusiastic. So it's safe to say this album isn't for everyone.

So what. Satirists like Frank Zappa and early 10cc (to whom I compared Cristina in my last post) also weren't everyone cup of tea. But the people who like 'em really liked 'em. And if you still don't like it, well, maybe you should just "Blame It On Disco."

Related: Cristina - Sleep It Off (1984)

Track list:
1. Jungle Love
2. Don't Be Greedy
3. Mama Mia
4. La Poupée Qui Fait Non
5. (Temporarily) Yours
6. Blame It On Disco

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cristina - Sleep It Off (Vinyl Edition, 1984)


The second album by New York City-based "no wave" artist Cristina was reissued on CD around a decade ago. But that CD looks to be out of print. Whatever the case, you don't want the CD edition of this for three reasons:

1). It's compressed to high heaven and it sounds awful.

2). The song order is re-arranged, which ruins the flow of the original LP.

3). The bonus tracks don't fit and detract from the impact of the work.

So here is a high-quality 320/48 rip of the vinyl, complete with scans and sounding exactly the way fans of this cult artist first heard it way back in the Reagan Era. If you've sought this out, odds are you know a bit about Cristina Monet and her music. But here's a bit of info anyway.

After landing at ZE (SIC) Records, Cristina recorded a disco parody single ("Disco Clone"), and in 1980 put out a self-titled album with August Darnell (aka Kid Creole) as writer and producer. It's an amusing debut record and I'd urge any fans of disco or satire (or both) to click on the above link and hear it.

Cristina brought a healthy dose of irony and black humor to whatever she did. On her second and final album she had a hand in writing most of the songs, so her personality is more pervasive than on her maiden effort. If you liked her song "Things Fall Apart" on ZE's A Christmas Record, odds are you'll also like this album.

Here, Cristina moves from the disco of her first album to an edgy new wave sound. Also as with "Things Fall Apart," Don Was of Was Not Was produces, and the results are sonically first-rate. Speaking of new wave, the late Knack frontman Doug Fieger co-wrote one track here, the bitter (but tuneful) kiss-off number "Ticket to the Tropics," which was released as a single.*

As that title suggests, a lot of the tunes are snapshots of high society decadence and decay. Listened to today, they simultaneously hearken back to the work of early Lou Reed while also predicting the celebutante culture of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians.

My pet topic on this blog seems to be busting on rock critics, and I'll continue that with this post. Critics compare Cristina with Madonna because they're both nice-looking female singers who were part of the early '80s New York City scene. That's a completely wrongheaded comparison.

Madonna almost always made music with mass appeal in mind. The music Cristina made was never geared towards the average person, but instead the kind of more intellectual pop fans who took to the social satire of early Mothers of Invention and/or the mocking of musical styles that was a hallmark of early 10cc.

As with the Mothers lead singer Ray Collins and 10cc's early lead vocalist Lol Creme, you often can't tell if Cristina is kidding or not. Her singing straddles the line between the silly and the serious. No one courts a wide audience his way and it's doubtful that was ever Cristina's goal.

Addendum: After viewing the rarely-seen video to "Ticket to the Tropics," which I had never seen before, I need to modify the above statement. There was, in fact, more of a commercial thrust to Cristina's presentation than I'd assumed, especially considering Cyndi Lauper had hit it big the year before with similarly eccentric music.

Moreover, Cristina's songs are often darkly comedic ("Don't Mutilate My Mink"), disturbingly bleak ("He Dines Out on Death"), or self-loathing ("What's a Girl To Do"). And she had no problem being outright disturbing, as her cover of  "Ballad of Immoral Earnings" shows.

In all, none of this was the road to commercial stardom and it's naive to think Cristina didn't know that on some level. She left the music business after this album, but it's a shame she did because she might have attracted a cult audience and/or found success in the 1990s, when America finally allowed humor and irony back into the Top 40. I'll bet the guys in Barenaked Ladies were familiar with her record.

Related posts:
Cristina - Cristina (Vinyl Edition, 1980)

Track list:
1. Don't Mutilate My Mink
2. Ticket to the Tropics
3. She Can't Say That Anymore
4. Quicksand Lovers
5. Rage and Fascination
6. Ballad of Immoral Earnings
7. What's a Girl To Do
8. The Lie of Love
9. Blue Money
10. He Dines Out on Death

* Note for Kid Creole and the Coconuts fans: This "Ticket to the Tropics" is not the same song that appeared on the Coconuts' 1983 album Don't Take My Coconuts, even though that song was written by Cristina and Kid Creole (August Darnell). They do share some lyrics and (obviously) a title, though, so it's likely Cristina took the idea she'd originally brought to Darnell and bounced it off Fieger for a new tune when they cut this album a year after the Coconuts release. I prefer Cristina's "Ticket to the Tropics," but here is a link to the Coconuts one, so everyone can judge for themselves

Monday, January 25, 2016

No Trend - Teen Love (12" EP, 1984)


I thought I was so smart and insightful as a teenager, discovering things like the cynical spoken-word hardcore punk anthem "Teen Love" by No Trend. I heard the song on alternative radio and liked to torment my hardcore-hating high school girlfriend with it.

Looking back now, if I'd been truly smart and insightful I'd have spent more time sexing up that hometown hottie and less time annoying her. I'd have had the sense to realize that the time to be young and wild only comes around once in life and you're better off having fun than making sociological issues out of everything.

Come to think of it, maybe the suburban Maryland guys who made up No Trend should have thought that too. The teen culture of the '80s might have deserved their satirical critique, but I'll bet that like most of us they grew up and found that adult culture is no prize either.

"Teen Love" was originally issued as a 7" single in 1983. This is a rip of the 12" EP that came out a year later and has two extra songs, "Die" and "Let's Go Crazy." I kept it all these years. I'd probably have been better off in life had I concentrated on keeping nice girls I dated around instead of nice vinyl. Live and learn.

Track list:
1. Mass Sterilization Caused By Venereal Disease   
2. Cancer   
3. Die   
4. Teen Love   
5. Let's Go Crazy

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Velvet Underground - Squeeze (1973)


This is not as much of an obscurity as most of the stuff I dig up. But I'm posting it anyway it for a couple of reasons.

1). You're not going to find a more sparkling, pristine rip than this one. I made this from a mint LP. I circulated it on other blogs, but felt like I should claim it here. Even if a CD comes out (which it won't), the sound won't be this precise.*

2). I like the idea of trying to justify this as a forgotten piece of High Art in order to annoy snotty rock critics and their equally annoying fanboy followers. I'm talking about the critics who purposely kept Doug Yule -- the man behind this LP -- out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though he sang lead on one of the Velvet Underground's most important songs, like "New Age." And then there's the critic who wrote liner notes for the so-called "complete" Velvets box set that didn't include this LP.

OK, granted, this isn't High Art or even high art without the pretentious capital letters. But it is a semi-decent rock album and not the atrocity people make it out to be.

For those who are new to all this: Squeeze is the final album by the Velvet Underground. Unfortunately, no original members played on it. It's an album recorded by Doug Yule, who was the replacement for founding member John Cale. Yule recorded it after the Velvets' lead singer and songwriter, Lou Reed, quit in 1970. At this point Yule was still touring with a version of the Velvets that included drummer Maureen Tucker, but she's not on here.

While it's not an innovative work of genius, it does have some good songs. And neither the LP or the artist behind it should have been written out of history, even if Yule's use of the name "Velvet Underground" was questionable.

As for the tunes: "Friends" is an excellent ballad that employs part of the chord progression of "Who Loves the Sun" (from Loaded) as a jumping off point. "Caroline" is a fine mid-tempo rocker rumored to be about the late rock groupie/singer Miss Christine of the GTOs.

Both "She'll Make You Cry" and "Crash" show a Beatles influence -- something not usually associated with the Velvets. The novelty elements of "Crash" (and its similarities to the Fabs' "Martha My Dear") make it the most idiosyncratic track here.

"Wordless," which closed the album's first side, is a country-influenced ballad with some real musical depth and lyrical hooks ("Did I make you happy?") and makes you wonder how Yule's writing would have evolved if he stayed in music (he retired by the end of the '70s).

"Louise," which ends the album, is a countryish story song that's catchy as hell. Granted, it has nothing to do with the Velvet Underground as people knew them, but still it's pretty good. Along with "Crash" and "Caroline," this song showed Yule had a definite style when it came to "character" songs.

I bought this LP in high school and found myself liking it even though Lou Reed wasn't on it. After all, I did have other artists in my collection who made albums without Reed on them. As the decades passed, I found I definitely remembered all the songs, which says something.

***

As I've grown older, I've begun to realize that a lot of how we assess music has a lot to do with our impressions of the artists who create it. I learned this when the New Kids on the Block came out with a terrific mock-reggae song on their Step By Step album. I found that if you played people the song and told them it was by a reggae artist, they loved it. But if you told 'em it was New Kids, they started sputtering about how they despised it. I could handle the sputtering. That's generally the way the geek-rock crowd communicates anyway. It's the hypocrisy that bothers me.

So it is with Squeeze. Doug Yule is viewed as a lightweight -- a young nobody who Reed plucked from obscurity to replace the musical mastermind John Cale. Yes, there's truth in that. But it's also true that Yule had enough talent for Reed to want to play with him in the first place and to let him sing lead on several songs. If someone had said the songs on Squeeze really were Loaded outtakes, odds are you'd have trendy critics (but I repeat myself) salivating over the LP's "subtleties" or Reed's "clever, deliberate use of bubblegum elements" or the "back-to-basics" flavor of this album.

But since it's Yule, the perception is that it's vapid tripe, which is not true. And, finally, if you don't agree with all that, well, hey, how about that sound quality?

* Yeah, I know a CD of this LP was once released. But it ain't legit and from what I've read, it was recorded from vinyl and has surface noise. Surface noise!!! Ew.

Related:
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground - Etc. (1979) 

Track list:
1. Little Jack
2. Crash
3. Caroline
4. Mean Old Man
5. Dopey Joe
6. Wordless
7. She'll Make You Cry
8. Friends
9. Send No Letter
10. Jack & Jane
11. Louise

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Superiors - Perfect Timing (1990)


Do you know what's really disheartening? Hearing a song you think will be a smash hit, then watching it evaporate from the radio and fall into total obscurity.

That's the experience I had with "Temptation," a gorgeous R&B ballad by a 1990s teen vocal quintet called the Superiors. When I first heard it on an R&B station in July of 1990, I was convinced it would be the ballad of the summer. 'Twas not to be. After a few plays I never heard it broadcast again.

Still, over a quarter century later, I still think it's a great song and the Superiors should have had a career as more than a footnote in pop history.

The Superiors, who are not to be confused with the '70s Motown act the Dynamic Superiors, were one of the teenybopper-oriented acts discovered and manager by Boston-based songwriter-producer Maurice Starr. Starr had mega-success with New Kids on the Block and some success with his son's group Perfect Gentlemen. But he had less luck when it came to his other artists like Ana, Homework, Rick Wes, and the Superiors. Despite that, Starr often wrote some great songs for these acts.

Like a lot of artists who write for the teen market, Starr is underrated as a composer. But anyone who has heard his compositions on the New Kids' albums knows he had an uncanny knack for writing catchy songs modeled on classic soul singles. What is the New Kids' "I'll Be Loving You Forever," after all, but a reworking of the Stylistics' sound?

With "Temptation," Starr revives the sound of (surprise!) the Temptations and their #1 hit from 1971, "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)." Specifically, the song uses part of the bridge from "Just My Imagination" as a melodic jumping-off point (it's the part that goes "But in reality, she doesn't even know me"). Since early '70s soul was enjoying a big revival twenty years later, you'd think "Temptation" would have been a natural hit. Nope. But while Starr never matched the original song success-wise, he came pretty damned close artistically.

"Temptation" is an elegant, melancholy ballad about lost love and regret. It's slow, stately tempo (which was perhaps too slow for a hit song) perfectly underscores its mood of suffocating sadness. As with "Just My Imagination," ghostly, disembodied strings provide a haunting counterpoint as they roll around the melody like tumbleweed. It's brilliantly sung, too, with just enough subtlety to be convincing.

As for the Superiors, Perfect Timing is the only album they ever made. It's a good-but-not-great effort similar to then-current releases by fellow teen R&B acts Hi-Five and Tracie Spencer. Today the Superiors are best known as the group who did the original version of "Step By Step," a Maurice Starr song that the New Kids took to the top of the charts in 1990. You can't really say whether the Superiors 1987 original was better, because the New Kids cut their vocals exactly the same way. Wait, maybe I just unwittingly said the Superiors' original was better.

Related posts:
Hi-Five - Hi-Five (1990)
Homework - Homework (1990) 

Track list:
1. Perfect Timing   
2. Temptation   
3. Flip-Flop   
4. I Remember Love   
5. Time   
6. My Kangol   
7. Checkin' You, Checkin' Me Out   
8. Love Can Make It Right   
9. The Boy's In Love

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Various Artists - 415 Music (1980)


In an effort to keep this blog as eclectic as possible (and a reflection of my personal tastes), I present to you some punk rock. Specifically, a high-quality rip of one of my favorite vinyl-only collections of West Coast punk.

The 415 Music compilation was the first LP release from the San Francisco-based 415 Records, which was later home to new wave/post punk acts Romeo Void, Wire Train, and Translator. The label was started in 1978 and had released a bunch of singles in the two years preceding this album. But since this album's serial number is A0001, we can assume it was their first LP.

And what a great album it is. Eleven now-unknown acts chip in with garage rock-inspired tunes that go heavy on both noise and melody. At the time, the label's most popular band was SVT, a group that featured former Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna bassist Jack Casady. Their "Always Come Back for More" is one of the highlights here.

But pretty much every song if good if not great. My favorite is probably Sudden Fun's party anthem "(I Can't Wait) For the Weekend Show." Music buffs should also make note of the VIP's "She's a Put On," which was written and sung by the late Jennifer Miro, who died in 2012. Miro was the lead singer and a founding member of the Nuns, a group that helped create the San Francisco punk scene to begin with.

***

I came to know about this album when I saw it advertised in an issue of Trouser Press magazine when I was in high school. I didn't buy it because I had limited money, plus my folks frowned on me bringing too many albums into the house. I'd have had to buy it by mail order, so they'd have known. Bummer.

But some thirteen years later I was able to get it. And get it cheap. I paid either a dollar or two dollars for it at a now-defunct Maryland record store called Vinyl Ink on Aug. 8, 1993. How do I know that? Because while I was doing the rips and scans for this album the receipt unexpectedly fell out of the jacket. I guess I had inadvertently kept it all these years. Looking at the receipt, it turns out this was one of three albums I bought that day.


A quick digression about the record store scene of the late '80s and early '90s:

Back then you could get mint records like this one on the cheap. Vinyl was the pariah of the music industry, a dinosaur whose time had supposedly come and gone. Only a few of us hardcore fans were still buying it. Trendy Yuppies were selling their entire record collections to used record stores and a small group of us made their loss our gain.

No one was better at accumulating the discarded LPs of the CD-snob crowd than the guy who ran Vinyl Ink, an eccentric music buff named George Gelestino who died in 2002. I first met George at one of the monthly record conventions they used to have out in Pikesville, a town in another part of Maryland. Someone had directed me to him because he had a Jonathan Richman album I'd been looking for. He always remembered me for that, and when I'd walk into Vinyl Ink he'd greet me by saying "Hey! Jonathan Richman!"

It's a shame George died before the vinyl revival because he'd have probably made out really well. Vinyl Ink -- in its original location in an upstairs loft on Georgia Avenue in the town of Silver Spring -- was like a madhouse/warehouse of every type of record you could imagine. I'd pop in for a quick visit and end up walking out hours later with albums running the gamut from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys to Joy Division. R.I.P. George. And thanks for selling me this for a buck or $1.99 or whatever it was.

***

This is my personal rip of this album at 320/48. I've seen a download of this floating around elsewhere and from what I remember it didn't sound so good, so I was inspired to do my own. This rip is so clean you could eat lunch off of it -- possibly even dinner. I've also included cover and label scans, plus scans of the 1980 review and advertisement than ran in Trouser Press. In all, I've probably put more thought into this than anyone has in years, but that's what documenting old music is all about, isn't it?

Track list:
1. The Readymades - 415 Music
2. Times 5 - Is Your Radio-active
3. The Mutants - Baby's No Good
4. 391 - Searching for a Thrill
5. Sudden Fun - (I Can't Wait For The) Weekend Show
6. The Donuts Featuring Lisa Bosch - Johnny, Johnny
7. SVT - Always Come Back for More
8. The Symptoms - Simple Sabotage
9. The VIPs - She's a Put On
10. Jo Allen And The Shapes - Shimmy, Shimmy
11. The Offs - I've Got the Handle

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Princeton University Tigerlilies - Femmes Fatales (1991)


Considering how much a cappella singing has grown in popularity since the release of the "Pitch Perfect" movies, I thought it was time to break out some of the old tapes I have of all-female a cappella groups from the early '90. This is one such tape, and it's among my favorites. It's by the early 1990s edition of one of Princeton University's female singing acts, the Tigerlilies, and it contains both studio and live recordings.

The release seems to have fallen into obscurity -- they don't even have info listed on the group's Web site. So I have no idea of how many other recordings the group released before this one. But according to information included as part of the cassette's liner, the group started in 1971 and was twenty years old when this recording came out in '91. So we can assume this wasn't their first release. Also, although the recording dates listed herein say 1990, World Catalog lists this as a 1991 release, so that's what I'm putting here.

The Tigerlilies were one of several women's singing groups at Princeton in the late '80s and early '90s. Others were the Wildcats and the Tigressions. This blog may soon be posting some old music by one of those groups as well. But I digress.

There's a lot to like about these recordings -- unless you're totally married to the idea that singing needs to be accompanied by instruments. Not only are the performances impressive, but so is the song selection. What drew me to this tape initially was their rendition of Laura Nyro's "Flim Flam Man," which I count as one of the best cover versions of any Nyro tune. As a longtime Nyro fanatic, that's saying something.

But what kept me listening were some of the more idiosyncratic and/or technically intricate renditions of songs. In the former category, there's the (live) opening number, "Don't Ever Call Your Sweetheart By His Name," which is a really amusing take on a comedic song by folk singer Christine Lavin. In the latter category, their arrangement of Basia's "Time and Tide" is pretty awe-inspiring. The complex, jazzy number is not an easy song to sing.

There are also some little touches that I'm pretty crazy about, too. For a good example, check out the upward-spiraling, ethereal vocal tag they add to Patti Page's "Old Cape Cod." Very clever. They also bring a certain gravitas to Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again," which is a song I never particularly liked until I heard it here.

As I mentioned earlier, the source for this is a cassette tape. For all I know, Femmes Fatales was never even released on CD since cassettes were often the listening medium of choice in 1990, especially when it came to college dorm rooms. To get the sound up to par, I employed a tad bit of noise reduction to remove some of the hiss from the cassette itself. But close listening will reveal that there's still some leftover hiss. That's not from the cassette. It's embedded in the actual recordings themselves and it's the way things sounded before people had portable digital recorders. How soon we forget...

The only negative thing I have to say about this tape is that they didn't include the comma when they wrote out the title "Goodbye, Columbus." Since they left it out, I had to do the same as well on the MP3 tags and in the track list (below) for the sake of accuracy. But as a writer, that drives me crazy. C'mon people! You were going to a top university! The least you could have done was gotten your commas right! So what if it's a quarter century after the fact? It still bugs me! Sheesh!

1. Don't Ever Call Your Sweetheart By His Name (Live)
2. My Funny Valentine
3. This Can't Be Love
4. Coming Around Again
5. Proud Mary
6. Old Cape Cod
7. Flim Flam Man
8. I've Loved These Days
9. This Is a Lovely Way to Spend an Evening
10. Time and Tide
11. Summertime (Live)
12. Goodbye Columbus
13. Only Yesterday
14. Always True to You (Darling in My Fashion)
15. Fascinatin' Rhythm
16. Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
17. One Fine Day
18. How High the Moon

Friday, January 15, 2016

The King Sisters - The Answer Is Love (1969)


Never released on CD and never put out online before, the King Sisters' The Answer Is Love is something that should thrill fans of obscure easy listening music and send rock fans screaming for the (metaphorical) exit from this blog. Which is too bad, because as this genre of music goes, this album is first-rate. Since the country's preeminent "beautiful music" radio station KAHM 102.1 FM has now stopped streaming online (boooo!), this music is quickly becoming lost to the ages.

But I digress. Let's talk about the King Sisters, especially since there's been far less written about them than lots of lesser rock artists.

The King Sisters were a vocal harmony group who started performing in the 1930s as the Four King Sisters. They sang in a style similar to their better-known contemporaries the Andrews Sisters. As the decades wore on and they fell out of fashion, they had the smart idea of expanding their group -- and their audience -- by bringing in their musical cousins and spouses and under the umbrella name The King Family Singers.

The King Family Singers appealed to a similar audience that listened to Lawrence Welk and the Anita Kerr Singers, specifically the moms 'n' pops of the 1960s who never quite got with the whole rock'n'roll thing. Eventually, the King Family Singers spawned an offshoot in the Four King Cousins -- not to be confused with our subject at hand, the King Sisters. The Four King Cousins are primarily remembered today because one of their members was actress Tina Cole of "My Three Sons" fame.

So where did that leave the original King Sisters? By the late 1960s, they had morphed into an easy listening act, like a lot of other singers who came of age in their era.

This album, which looks to be their tenth LP if you don't count private pressings or anthologies, offers a great example of their updated '60s-era sound. On it, they perform a bunch of tunes that recall standards from the '40s but are actually originals. They're arranged in the classic "beautiful music" style, with lots of sweet harmonies and flowery, easy-on-the-ears orchestration.

About those original songs...They're credited only to a mysterious "Ashton." No first name is given anywhere on the LP, and I can't find any info on Ashton, except that it was also the name of the company that published the songs.

But the songs are a big reason The Answer Is Love works. Since the tunes are all unfamiliar, the LP creates its own self-contained world without elements of the hip '60s suddenly jarring the mood. This is the opposite approach taken by the more celebrated Four King Cousins, who released their debut album around a year earlier. On that release, there are cover versions of Beatles and Beach Boys songs done up easy listening style. Re-arranging "If I Fell" and "God Only Knows" for the elevator music crowd comes off -- to put it politely -- uncomfortably, and in my opinion this album is the better of the two.

Even though The Answer Is Love is listed in various places online as having come out 1970, it's a 1969 release. How do we know? Because it was featured in Billboard magazine's June 7, 1969 issue under "New Releases."

Whatever the release date, though, this LP probably sounded like a relic even back then. This style of music pretty much died out within the next decade as rock music became standard listening for nearly everyone. So enjoy those throwback harmonies and old-fashioned love songs. To spout an old cliche: They really don't write 'em like that anymore.

Related posts:
Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours (1955; 1998 UK Remaster)
The Four Grads - From This Moment On (1956)
Eydie & Steve - Cozy (Mono Mix, 1961)

Track list:
1. Of Course
2. Ev'ryone But Me
3. Would You Mind
4. A Perfect Alibi
5. I Hate to See You Go Again
6. Magic in the Moon
7. It Takes You
8. A Summer's Love
9. Please Hurry Home
10. I'll Remember - Will You?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nino Tempo and April Stevens - All Strung Out (1967)


Nino Tempo and April Stevens are best known for their chart-topping 1963 cover of the 1933 standard "Deep Purple." The brother-sister duo was never able to recreate their early success, but went on to create some great music. This album is a good example of that. It's their seventh release and not only is the singing first-rate, but they composed several fine numbers, and Tempo's Phil Spector-like West Coast production still sounds inspired after all these decades.

If you enjoy the sound of mid-'60s Jan & Dean and Beach Boys albums, you're sure to love this one. Like those LPs, this features the playing of that group of sessions musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. I personally find them a bit too stiff and overly-precise, but that's just me.

As for this album, it came out on the White Whale label and housed two hits. The title song got to #26 in 1966 and "I Can't Go On Livin' Baby Without You" made it to #86 the next year.

The LP was reissued on CD but is now out of print and selling for super-high prices. Included as bonus tracks on that reissue are two (very) minor hits: "My Old Flame" topped out at #101 on the Bubbling Under chart in '67 and "Let It Be Me" got to #127 on  that chart in '68. The Japanese CD reissue offered an additional track that's not on the American release. It's the final number, "Boys Town (Where My Broken Hearted Buddies Go)," which the duo wrote themselves as is really good -- and really Spector-ish. Love those sleigh bells.

Track list:
1. You'll Be Needing Me Baby    
2. Help You To See    
3. All Strung Out    
4. Follow Me    
5. Little Child    
6. Alone Alone    
7. Sunny    
8. Out Of Nowhere    
9. Wings Of Love    
10. I Can't Go On Living (Without You Baby)    
11. Bye Bye Blues    
12. The Habit Of Lovin' You Baby    

Bonus tracks:
13. My Old Flame    
14. Let It Be Me    
15. Ooh Poo Pa Doo    
16. Please Help Me, I'm Falling
17. Boys Town (Where My Broken Hearted Buddies Go)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Valerie Carter - Wild Child (1978)


I couldn't figure out what angle to take when writing about Wild Child, the second album by Valerie Carter and her last for almost two decades. Then it occurred to me that Jackson Browne, for whom she'd sung backup vocals, wrote the song "That Girl Could Sing" about her, and maybe that's the reason this record appeals to me so much.

Valerie Carter could definitely sing. She makes it sound almost too easy. There's a carefree, laid-back quality to her voice. Maybe she was just too mellow and that's why her music never clicked with the general public. Ironically, she's written successful songs for others, notably "Cook With Honey," which was a #32 hit for Judy Collins in 1973. Her cover of the 5 Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child" was also featured in the critically-acclaimed 1979 cult movie "Over the Edge," which marked Matt Dillon's debut as an actor.

The only pop chart appearance Carter ever made under her name (as opposed to singing background) is on Eddie Money's minor hit "Let's Be Lovers Again," where she's credited as co-vocalist. It got to #65 in late 1980.

Getting back to Wild Child, it has a sort of "suburban jazz" quality that's similar to the late-'70s-era Steely Dan in some ways. Part of that is because of the songs, many of which have interesting and unusual melody lines and chord changes. The album-opening one-two punch of Carter's own "Crazy" and Andy Fairweather-Low "Da Doo Rendevous" present a good example of this.

But another big reason for the Steely Dan comparison is that the album features at least three musicians who played with that band: Drummer Jeff Porcaro, bassist Chuck Rainey, and keyboardist Victor Feldman.

Wild Child won't hit you over the head with any big hooks or lyrical "statements," but it's an album that should definitely creep up on you, especially if you love music for its own sake.

Related posts:
Valerie Carter - Just A Stone's Throw Away (1977)
The Joy - Toni Brown & Terry Garthwaite (1977)

Track list:
1. Crazy
2. Da Doo Rendezvous
3. What's Become Of Us
4. Taking The Long Way Home
5. Lady In The Dark
6. The Story Of Love
7. The Blue Side
8. Change In Luck
9. Trying To Get To You
10. Wild Child

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tony's Tygers - Little By Little (1968)


There is a blog called something like "Reissue Wishlist," that calls on today's record companies to put out old, out-of-print albums again. This album, Tony's Tygers' Little By Little, is on the list.

Would an official reissue serve this album any better than a high-quality rip? I'm not so sure. I think we're now past the point where should assume a CD reissue of an LP is a good thing.

Yes, a CD might make this Milwaukee cult band more accessible to more listeners and possibly earn its ex-members a few bucks. But on the downside, CDs usually don't capture the sound of vinyl very well, and that's something that a lot of people who do vinyl-to-MP3 rips seem to have mastered.

Then there's the issue of liner notes. From what I've observed, today's music blogs do better write-ups on vintage artists than rock critics. If we got a reissue, it would probably have to include liner notes by the usual smug writers who tend to waste pages upon pages on obvious cliches or false "received wisdom."

For example, the music of Tony's Tygers was a melange of jazzy pop and British Invasion-styled harmony. But since they were doing it in the late '60s, your typical rock writer would chest-thump about the band having no chance (affect deep, pretentious voice here) "in the era of hard rock." While 1968 did see the dawn of hard rock, there was also the massive popularity of jazzy pop acts like the Classics IV, Richard Harris, the 5th Dimension, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Critics tend to forget such things.

Tony's Tygers might have sat alongside these artists on the charts had they caught a break. But few critics would ever call it like that. Most writers like to put forth the notion that life is somehow fair and we could all be great "if only." But that's not reality. As Jimmy Carter once said, life in unfair. It's a crapshoot. Some success is based on skill and ambition, but sometimes things come down to sheer luck and/or being in the right place at the right time. As such, a lot of artists (or people, for that matter) don't have success just because.

As it stands, Tony's Tygers sort of caught a break when the title track from this LP became a regional hit. It was originally put out on the indie Teen Town label, and then got picked up by A&M Records. But sadly, a check of Joel Whitburn's Top 100 and Bubbling Under chart books reveal that the song never charted nationally, good as it was. Several other tracks on their lone LP could also have been hit-bound, but were not. That's life.

The group did leave behind a really good album, though. And it's especially impressive considering they were teenagers when it was written and recorded. Some of their harmonies might sound rough on the cover versions, but the level of composition on tracks like "Can't Believe," "Genesee Depot," and "Twilight" is pretty damned astounding considering their age.

Most of the songs were penned by band members Tony Dancy and Dennis Duchrow, but a few of the other musicians chime in too, which makes this all the more impressive. Had they kept pressing on, they just might have evolved into a jazz-rock ensemble like Chicago or the aforementioned BS&T.

Rather than drone on about a musical scene from a half-century ago I wasn't part of, I'll direct you to this link. It leads to a 2010 article at OnMilwaukee, where the band members talk about their history.

***

As for this rip, it's the full album in stereo as it sounded when it was released on the Teen Town label back in '68. I also appended two of the four singles this band released.  Their first single, "Little By Little" and its b-side, "Days and Nights" were songs that appeared on the LP in stereo but came out on the 45 in mono. The mono mixes are included here.

After that, the group altered its name to The Tygers and pulled "Can't Believe"/"I Still Love" her as a 45. I don't have that single and have never seen it on sale, so it's not here. Sorry!

The group continued to release its records as The Tygers and a non-LP single followed, "Debbie On My Mind/"I'll Know," also on Teen Town Records. That's included here. There is no date on this record, but since the serial number is only a two digits higher than their last 45 (which came out in June, 1968), it's probably from late 1968.

That single was followed by another Tygers single, "Sing It Altogether/"Resurrection," released on Jamie Records in June, 1969. Once again, I've never seen the single for sale and it's nowhere online, so it's not included here. If anyone has it, let me know. Dancy co-wrote both sides, and I'd love to hear these songs.

Track list:
1. Twilight
2. She's Not There
3. I Still Love Her
4. Under My Skin/She Loves You
5. Little By Little
6. Can't Believe
7. Genesee Depot
8. Days And Nights
9. I Seek The Night
10. Who's Kidding Who

Bonus Tracks:
11. Little By Little (Mono 45 Mix)
12. Days and Nights (Mono 45 Mix)
13. Debbie On My Mind (Non-LP A-Side)
14. I'll Know (Non-LP B-Side)

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Things - Coloured Heaven (1984)


Back in the mid-1980, I was the record reviewer for my college newspaper. The paper regularly received the newest releases from major labels, but I didn't think that was enough. I was a big fan of the indie music that was written about in alternative magazines like Trouser Press, so I made it a point to get on the mailing lists of independent record companies

I wasn't a snob when it came to commercial music. Then and now, I believe(d) Huey Lewis and the News, Wham!, and Hall and Oates all made great records. I just didn't see these acts as being what a college paper should be covering. And I still take that position all these years later. So there.

What should a college paper have been covering circa 1984? How about the crazy garage and psychedelic revival music that was being put out by the California-based Voxx Records label?

Luckily for me, Voxx (which was a subsidiary of Bomp Records) immediately placed me on their mailing list and started sending all sorts of great garage and psych stuff. I got to review records by bands like the Pandoras and the Wombats, plus their Battle of the Garages collections. And then there was the Things. I'm really glad they sent me their first record, which and has never come out on CD. I've kept it in pristine condition, though. It's presented here in a super-clean 320/48 rip which (I think) I made last year in response to a less-than-stellar rip that's been circulating.

The Things were a psychedelic pop band from Los Angeles that released three albums in the 1980s. Coloured Heaven was their debut. The record is a somewhat lo-fi affair (check the bad edits on their cover of the Rolling Stones' "Out of Time"). It's also meant to be reminiscent of the '60s bands they loved. And it works. The songwriting by bandleader Steven Crabtree is inspired and the musicianship by the rest of the band is really captures the vibe of the late '60s. Coloured Heaven is never less than an enjoyable record.

The Things were:
Steve Crabtree - vocals, guitar & keyboards
Roy McDonald - drums & other percussion instruments
Pete Rouch - bass guitar & vocals
Andre Garcia - guitar on "I Won't be There" & "All the Time"

Track list:
1. Eyes Of A Child    
2. I Won't Be There    
3. It's Not That Way    
4. She Came Out Of The Sky    
5. Out Of Time
6. Coloured Heaven    
7. It's Over    
8. Why Am I Waiting    
9. Mr. You're A Better Man Than I    
10. All The Time    
11. It Seems To Be Raining

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lindy Stevens - Pure Devotion (1972)



Never released on CD and never circulated on the Web until now, the lone album by Lindy Stevens, Pure Devotion, is a lost gem. The ten-song Decca release is a classic ’70s singer-songwriter album in the style of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Laura Nyro. And while it’s sometimes a bit too derivative of those artists, it has enough first-rate songs and performances to make it a standout effort.

Stevens is best known for her 1972 single “Pennygold.” The song is an upbeat, danceable number that became a Northern Soul favorite in England years after its release. It’s featured on several UK soul collections as well as Volume 214 of the Lost Jukebox series.

But Stevens wasn’t a blue-eyed soul artist, as that 45 might suggest. Her music fit in more with the type of mellow, acoustic performers in vogue back then on who recorded for Asylum and Columbia Records. Maybe if she’d been signed to one of those labels, she’d have found some success.

Stevens’ music also had a religious bent. This might seem a bit esoteric now, but back then the genre or “God Rock” was all the rage. God Rock hits included songs like George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Ocean’s “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day,” and Sister Janet Mead’s rock rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is forgotten now but became a U.S. Top 5 hit and an international smash in 1974. God Rock was also helped along by the mega-success of two 1971 musicals, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.”

With all that in mind, it stood to reason that the first single pulled from Stevens’ album was the gospel-derived power ballad “Help Me Jesus” and that her album led off with a song titled “Ask the Lord.”

But you don’t need to be religious to be drawn in by Stevens’ highly melodic songs and soaring, ethereal voice. According to the press release about her (a copy of which is included here), Stevens was just 21 when this LP was released. She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was a guitar player who only took to piano 18 months before the release of this album.

The album was produced by Bobby Torres, a conga player who has performed with countless acts, and Matthew Moore, a keyboard player. Session pro Dean Parks handles the guitar parts.

As nice as this disc is, it didn’t sell. Part of the problem was the lead-off single, “Help Me Jesus,” which is a terrific song, but not a great single (there is a difference). It might seem surprising that the super-catchy second single, “Pennygold,” didn’t find favor with the public in its day. But it looks like that was only ever issued in promotional copies, so if DJ's didn't play it, it's doubtful many people heard it back then.

A final, non-LP side that issued afterward the album’s release was also only ever issued as a promotional disc, so it's little surprise it failed to make the charts. “(Win Back Some) Respect)” is a number that starts out a bit too mellow but builds up to a great chorus. This single paired Stevens with different producers, Norman Kurban and David Campbell, who conducted and arranged the string section on Carole King’s Rhymes and Reasons album. Stevens seems to have left the music biz after this release..

About Lindy Stevens’ Singles

Pure Devotion runs just over thirty minutes, so it made sense to append Stevens’ singles sides to it as bonus tracks. Decca issued three singles by her, with the last two being promotional-only copies, as noted above.

Stevens’ first single, “Help Me Jesus,” is a 3:35 edit of the album track (listed at 6:05 on the LP label). The single edit lops off the 30-second introduction and the second verse. This single was issued in stereo. Its b-side, “Make Ends Meet,” is the stereo mix from the album, so it’s not included here.

“Pennygold,” Stevens’ second single, has a different mix from the LP version. Some elements were added, such as handclaps and an additional vocal, making the lead vocal double-tracked. The piano is either mixed way higher or a second piano track was added. It’s hard to tell, but either way, there’s more piano. The track is also far more compressed.

Finally, “(Win Back Some) Respect,” as mentioned, is not on the album. It was only ever issued as a disc jockey single with both stereo and mono mixes, so they’re both included here.

All of these rips were done from the actual singles, not taken from existing compilations, so if you ever wanted to hear a clean “Pennygold” 45, now is your chance.

None of Stevens' 45 records were reviewed in Billboard, so it's difficult to figure out exact release dates. However, approximate dates can be sussed out by searching for old Billboard magazine reviews of Decca 45s with serial numbers that came immediately before Stevens' own. Her singles releases are as follows, with designated a-sides listed first.

Help Me Jesus/Make Ends Meet - Decca 32936
This was probably issued in March 1972, because the Decca release two serial numbers prior (Jimmy Martin's “I'd Like to Be Sixteen Again;” Decca 32934) was reviewed in Billboard's March 11, 1972 issue.

Pennygold/Some More of Your Lovin' - Decca 32971
Most likely a June, 1972 release. The Decca single before this one, 32970, was reviewed in the June 10, 1972 Billboard. Decca 32970 was Carl Belew and Betty Jean Robinson's “You're the One.”

(Win Back Some) Respect (Stereo)/(Win Back Some) Respect (Mono) - Decca 33022
The probably came out in Nov. 1972. DECCA 33015 (Wynn Stewart's “Paint Me A Rainbow”) was reviewed in the Nov. 4, 1972 issue.

***

This rip was done from a near-mint copy of the album -- something not easily found. Headphone listeners will notice that the “stereo spread” is nearly non-existent and it sounds almost like a mono mix. That’s not a flaw in the ripping or editing process. This is the way the album actually sounds, and all three copies I’ve owned were like this. Was this album recorded on a four-track machine, even though it was 1972? Judging from the mix it sure sounds that way.

There are also some tiny imperfections in the mix, notably at least one bad edit and an odd “squeak” sound buried in the introduction of the eighth track, “Didn’t You Know.” These quirks show up on every pressing.

Track list:
1. Ask The Lord
2. Devotion
3. Walking By His Open Door
4. Golden Friend
5. Make Ends Meet
6. Pennygold
7. Some More Of Your Lovin'
8. Didn't You Know
9. It'll All Come Back To You
10. Help Me, Jesus

Bonus tracks:
11. Help Me Jesus (Single Edit)
12. Pennygold (Mono Single Mix)
13. Some More Of Your Lovin' (Mono Single Mix)
14. (Win Back Some) Respect (Stereo Mix)
15. (Win Back Some) Respect (Mono Mix)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Belmonts - Lost Treasures (1995)

 

The Belmonts without Dion? Why, that's like spaghetti without meatballs. Or oil without vinegar. Or maybe even stuffed shells without the, um, stuffing. Hey, I'm Italian-American like the Belmonts. When it comes to analogies, we love food. So sue us.

On a more musical note, this is not a reunion CD, but a rarities collection. So despite it being dated as being from 1995, all of the material here was cut in the early- to mid-1960s, during the period where Dion had split from his do-wop buddies in the Belmonts to pursue a solo career.

Those buddies included Fred Milano, Angelo D'Aleo, and Carlo Mastrangelo. Mastrangelo had some solo success himself under the name Carlo after the Belmonts themselves broke up and he hit the Bubbling Under chart in 1963 with the tune "Baby Doll."

Getting back to the Belmonts, after the split with Dion they placed seven records in the Top 100, the biggest of which was "Tell Me Why," which got to #18 in 1961. But the configuration of the group without Dion sort of faded into history as the years passed. So there's a lot of rarely-heard material by them. Pair that with the stuff they left unreleased and you get the contents of this collection.

There are some standouts here, notably the stomping rocker by Dion's songwriter Ernie Maresca "Lookout for Sandy" (later recut as "Lookout for Cindy" and also included). The group shows their stylistic diversity on the folk-oriented "Little Boat," which was put out under a different name, the Moonshiners, in order to sell the group to folkies who might have been skeptical of buying anything from a do-wop group. "That Background Sound" is done in the classic Dion style, but it's so infectious it works. And so on.

Related posts:
The Belmonts - The Best of the Belmonts (1962-63)
The Passions - Just to Be With You (1958-63; 1992 Collection)

Track list:
1. Searching For A New Love [Stereo]
2. So Wrong
3. Lookout For Cindy [Stereo]
4. Today My Love Has Gone Away [Stereo]
5. How About Me? [Stereo]
6. Loneliest Guy In The World
7. Bad Girl [Stereo]
8. Come Take A Walk With Me
9. Come On Little Angel          
10. Not Responsible[Stereo]
11. Broken Heart
12. I Need Someone (Dutch Version) [Stereo]
13. My Love Is Real
14. The Wedding Song
15. Dancin' Girl [Stereo]
16. Tell My Why [Stereo]        
17. Now It's All Over
18. Little Boat [Stereo]
19. Lookout For Sandy
20. Smoke From Your Cigarette
21. In My Baby's Eyes [Stereo]
22. That Background Sound
23. Let's Call It A Day
24. Am I Losing Your Love?
25. I'll Be Seeing You

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Debbie Gibson - The Alternate Electric Youth (1989)


Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth album turned 25 in January of 2014. Looking back, this sophomore album is definitely her best effort, since it combined the commercial smarts of her debut LP with the more creative, artsy side she showed on her next album, Anything Is Possible. It definitely deserves its status as her only album to ever top the charts.

In a belated celebration of Electric Youth's anniversary, I'm presenting it in an alternate version. The songs that Debbie Gibson wrote during this time period were so strong, in my opinion, that the familiar ones deserve to be heard in different versions and the unfamiliar ones deserve to be heard period. This collection is made up of remixes that have fallen into obscurity, demo tracks, forgotten soundtrack songs, and live recordings of songs that never made it onto official albums.

Before all you '60s fanatics click away from this page in disgust, I want to chime in with a word or thirty about Gibson. She's actually a far sharper composer (and better performer) than those who dismiss her as a mere bubblegum act would have you believe. Had she come along ten years later, she'd have been able to forge a major career from her initial dance hits the way Britney, Christina, Justin, and others did. But the '80s were not a kind era for teen pop stars. As in earlier eras, they got 18 months in the spotlight if they were lucky.

Gibson was able to place hits on the charts for around three years -- all songs she wrote herself, and some she self-produced. She didn't get much help from the music press, either. She rubbed critics the wrong way and they tended to be put off by her (deliberate) squeaky-clean image and therefore gave her compositions the short shrift. MTV also didn't help matters, once declaring the video for "Electric Youth" to be the worst of all time.

Phooey on them. This was typical MTV. By 1989, they'd only broadcast ridiculous elaborate bullshit videos. Then after artists commissioned expensive visual dreck to get on their crappy channel, they'd turn around and make fun of those very artists who kowtowed to their idiotic demands.

But I digress. The actual music on Electric Youth is fab. Ignore Gibson if you're so inclined, but you'll miss out on some great tunes. What follows is a rundown of what's what:

1. Who Loves Ya Baby (Demo)
A demo of the lead-off track of the original LP. Available on the Memory Lane CD, which was a collection of demos and is now impossible to find. If you have a copy, get in touch, please.

2. Lost In Your Eyes (Piano and Vocal Mix)
A stripped-down mix of The Gibber's second #1 single with the rhythm section mixed out. Available as the b-side of the "Lost In Your Eyes" German 12."

3. Silence Speaks (A Thousand Words) (Acoustic Mix)
Another stripped-down mix also featured on the same German 12" single as the above song. Additionally, it was the b-side to the European 7" of "Lost in Your Eyes."

4. Electric Youth (Alternative Latin Edit)
Available on the US "Electric Youth" CD single. This mix emphasizes the song's rhythm and takes it closer to the freestyle dance sound of many of the tracks on Gibson's first album, Out of the Blue.

5. No More Rhyme (Acoustic Version)
The b-side of the US "We Could Be Together" 7" single. Lacks the rhythm section of the familiar version.

6. Over The Wall (Dub)
An alternate mix available as the b-side of the "No More Rhyme" 45 in virtually all countries. It's not so much dub as more percussion-heavy and reverb-heavy.

7. We Could Be Together (Campfire Mix)
Another stripped-down mix, this time available on the flip side of the US "Electric Youth" 7" single as well as several European versions of this single.

8. Don't Flirt With Me (Live)
From "Live 'Round the World" VHS tape. Performed in 1989. My opinion: If this had no place on Electric Youth, she should have put it on her next album, where it would have fit right in alongside "It Must Have Been My Boy."

9. Til You Come Back Again (Demo)
Never recorded for an album but cut as a demo. Available on the first Memory Lane CD. This was definitely influenced by Gibson's background in musical theater -- an influence that would crop up on her next album in songs like "One Hand, One Heart."

10. Come Home (Wonder Years) (From "The Wonder Years" TV Show Soundtrack)
This short tune was cut for the soundtrack CD of the hit US TV show "The Wonder Years," which was on the air from 1988 to 1993. The soundtrack was came out in 1988. The full title of the song on the CD is "Come Home (Wonder Years)," and that last parenthetical is not reference to the soundtrack. Rather, it's part of the title.

11. Love Under My Pillow (Live)
Also from the "Live 'Round the World" VHS tape. Performed in 1989. A duet with band member Keith "Stepp" Stewart. My opinion: The same opinion I had on Track 8. This is another first-rate song. Why was it left to languish in obscurity?

Bonus Track:
12. We Could Be Together (Extended 7" Version)
From the US promo CD single. Although this says "extended," it's really the single mix, which had more reverb and louder backing singers and horns. But...it's the same length it was on the LP (5:30 and change) and not edited to 4:31 like the standard single mix.

Related posts (i.e. the largest collection of Debbie Gibson rarities online):
Debbie Gibson - 12-Inch Singles (1986-88)
Debbie Gibson - 'Out of the Blue'-Era 7-Inch Singles: A's and B's (1987-88)
Various Artists - The Songs Debbie Gibson Gave Away (1988-92) 
Debbie Gibson - The Alternate Electric Youth (1989)
Debbie Gibson - Rarities (1990-1999)
Debbie Gibson - Acoustic Live (1991) 
Chris Cuevas - Somehow, Someway (1991) 
Deborah Gibson - Memory Lane Volume 1 (2004)
Deborah Gibson - Memory Lane Volume 2 (2005)

Track list:
1. Who Loves Ya Baby (Demo)
2. Lost In Your Eyes (Piano and Vocal Mix)
3. Silence Speaks (A Thousand Words) (Acoustic Mix)
4. Electric Youth (Alternative Latin Edit)
5. No More Rhyme (Acoustic Version)
6. Over The Wall (Dub)
7. We Could Be Together (Campfire Mix)
8. Don't Flirt With Me (Live)
9. Til You Come Back Again (Demo)
10. Come Home (Wonder Years) (From "The Wonder Years" TV Show Soundtrack)
11. Love Under My Pillow (Live)
Bonus Track:
12. We Could Be Together (Extended 7" Version)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Chad & Jeremy - Yesterday's Gone (Mono Mix, 1964)


Forget music. Forget lyrics. Forget the British Invasion and/or the early '60s folk music trend. Forget all of that.

There's an element that's part of most great albums that's rarely spoken about. It's called atmosphere. The British folk duo Chad & Jeremy bring tons of it to their debut American album. On it, they conjure a vibe that's wistful, autumnal, and evocative of the long-lost past.

Yes, the songs are good and, yeah, they harmonize real well. But it's the overall mood of Chad & Jeremy's first American album that caught my attention when I bought it for the whopping price of $1 as a college junior. At the time, I was mostly into new wave and psychedelic music and would not have bought this LP had it been priced any higher. But it's a testament to how good it is that I've kept it all these years.

It's telling that the duo covered two songs also recorded by Frank Sinatra when he was with Capitol Records ("September in the Rain" and "Willow Weep for Me"). As with Frank at Capitol, Chad & Jeremy definitely know how to set a mood.

This is the mono mix of the LP, which has never been reissued. The songs themselves have come out on CD but in stereo and in that format, they have the feel of scads of other '60s tunes -- sweet, lightweight, and somewhat thin-sounding. The sound of the mono vinyl -- which I've tried to capture here as accurately as possible -- is thick as London fog.

Interestingly, this record was produced by Shel Talmy, who is mainly known for pioneering a sound far, far removed from this; namely, the hard rock of the early Kinks and Who. This must be one of his least-known productions, because it doesn't even show up in his Wikipedia entry. But it's definitely one of his better jobs, with some clever elements like the double-drumming (listen closely) in the instrumental "Only for the Young (Instrumental)"* and the lonesome-sounding harmonica on "Dirty Old Town."

Finally, the album has a version of their biggest hit, "A Summer Song," which topped out at #7 in the fall of 1964. I've heard two version of this song -- one where vocals at the end of the first verse overlap the start of the second, and one where they don't. This is the one where they don't.

Perhaps some Chad & Jeremy expert can enlighten me as to whether this version is the single version and if the other one made it onto the stereo mix of this album. I'd track that mix down, but it probably wouldn't have the same atmosphere. And, as we all know, that's what matters to me the most.

* This is the full title of the song, not my own explanation for it. They actually put the word "Instrumental" in parenthesis as part of the title. Why? So kid listeners wouldn't think they simply forgot to mix in a vocal?

Track list:
1. A Summer Song
2. Now And Forever
3. Dirty Old Town
4. Like I Love You Today
5. September in the Rain
6. Yesterday's Gone
7. If She Was Mine
8. Willow Weep for Me
9. Only for the Young (Instrumental)
10. Too Soon My Love
11. The Truth Often Hurts The Heart
12. No Tears For Johnnie

Monday, January 4, 2016

Various Artists - Indie Soul of the '60s (2014)

 

If this collection looks familiar, that's because it just might be. I put it together in the summer of 2014 and spread it around on various music blogs (like the excellent Twilightzone) by placing links to it in the comments section. But now that I've started my own blog, I thought I'd post it an updated version of it for anyone who missed it. This new download has more info in the tags and better rips of a few of the tracks. (Addendum: A new update of the update has all of the graphics I thought I'd lost.)

Indie Soul of the '60s, as its title might imply, is a collection of a rare soul singles sides that came out on independent labels. Most have never appeared on other compilations. The songs run the gamut from early efforts by famous musicians (Allen Toussaint; writer-producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff) to unknowns (almost everyone else).

A few songs might be familiar. The Music Makers' "United (Part I)" was a minor hit, getting to #78 in late 1967. It's an instrumental version of the Intruders' Gamble and Huff-penned single "(We'll Be United)," which got to #76 the year before. In fact, it's the instrumental track of that record with the lead vocal replaced by an organ.

Karen Small's gorgeous ballad "Boys Are Made to Love" got to #123 on the Bubbling Under chart in June, 1966 and was also a #37 R&B hit. Judging from her two singles, Small might have become an important soul singer had she not been murdered just as her career was taking off (the case remains unsolved).

The Apollas' "Just Can't Get Enough Of You," which is listed as a Jan. 1966 release on 45CAT.com, was also done by Lesley Gore on her All About Love album, which Billboard advertised in its Jan. 1966 issue. So I guess neither version is a cover. Songwriters Ashford & Simpson (and Armstead) probably gave the demo to both.

Herb & Doris "Somebody Somewhere Needs You" uses the same backing track as Ty Karim's "Lighten Up Baby" from 1966. However, the Herb & Doris song is a cover of a Darrell Banks single. Wonder if Karim took their track and added her own melody? That seems to be the most logical explanation.

The back cover of this collection lists the artists followed by the indie labels these 45s came out on (in parenthesis). This is perhaps my favorite genre of music and it was (and continues to be) a big deal when I find a long lost single from this era that's mindblowing. I think a lot of tracks here fit that description and if you can get past the opening number without feeling compelled to play it dozens of times you're a better man (or woman) than I.

1. Allen Toussaint - Poor Boy, Got To Move
2. Moses Dillard and the Dynamic Showmen - Pretty As A Picture
3. Esther Grant - Let's Get The Most Out Of Love
4. The Wonderlettes - How Soon
5. The Music Makers - United (Part 1)
6. The Arcades - There's Got To Be A Loser
7. The Tomangoe's - I Really Love You
8. The Ascots - Anytime
9. Gambrell's - Jive Talk
10. The Apollas - Just Can't Get Enough Of You
11. Karen Small - Boys Are Made To Love
12. Jackey Beavers - Bring Me All Your Heartaches
13. Sandy Golden - Your Love Is Everything
14. Casuals On The Square - End Of Time
15. Dena Barnes - Who Am I (You Ought To Know)
16. Tee Fletcher - Thank You Baby
17. The Superlatives - I Don't Know How (To Say I Love You)
18. Joan Moody - Music To My Ears
19. The Intertains - I See The Light
20. Ronnie & Joyce - On The Stage Of Love
21. Herb & Doris - Somebody Somewhere Needs You
22. Chuck Holiday - Just Can't Trust Nobody
23. The Profiles - If I Didn't Love You
24. The New Yorkers - Don't Want To Be Your Fool
25. The Precisions - Instant Heartbreak (Just Add Tears)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Marcia Strassman - Complete Singles (1967-68)


Marcia Strassman (April 28, 1948 – October 25, 2014) was best known as Mr. Kotter's wife Julie on the '70s television sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter" and as the mom from the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" movies from the late '80s and early '90s.

But she first made her mark in the entertainment world as a 19-year-old singer who had three singles come out on the Uni label in 1967 and 1968. Her music has retroactively been derided in some quarters as fake psychedelia, but it's actually pretty endearing, if a bit campy. She released six songs in all. Now that she's passed, you wonder if someone, somewhere will dig out some demos, unreleased tracks, or alternate takes and put together a full CD of her music. But this is what we have for now.

Strassman's first single, "The Flower Children," was her only one to chart. It hit the Billboard Bubbling Under chart on 4/27/67 and got to #105, ultimately staying on the chart for nine weeks. It never quite made the Hot 100 but was a hit in several regional markets and even topped the chart at San Bernadino's KMEN. The song's lack of success might have been because of its somewhat overly dramatic tone, which can seem either too earnest or unintentionally comic, depending on your mood. But it's not a vocal performance you forget, and there's something to be said for that.

Almost as good was the b-side, "Out of the Picture," which was an excellent Spector-esque girl group number written by Jerry Goldstein, a member of the Strangeloves, who also co-wrote the hit "My Boyfriend's Back" for the Angels. Goldstein also had a hand in writing the a-side and produced both sides. This song might have had a chance at being a hit had it come out four years earlier.

Goldstein also produced Strassman's next single, which came out in July 1967 and consisted of "The Groovy World of Jack and Jill" on the a-side and "The Flower Shop" on the flip. This b-side is not to be confused with "The Flower Children," although it sounds bit like it.

The a-side, co-written by Goldstein, is a first-rate slice of popsike/sunshine pop similar to The Proposition's beloved obscurity "The Two-Faced Madonna." The b-side is a dirge that, well, sounds like a b-side. This is Strassman's only single to come with a picture sleeve. The release didn’t chart, even though the a-side’s upbeat, romantic vibe would have been a perfect fit for the Summer of Love.

Strassman's third and final Uni single saw her change up producers. Kim Fowley, who would later put together the all-girl act the Runaways, took the honors of overseeing "Self-Analysis"/"Star Gazer." Both sides were written and arranged by future record company executive Michael Lloyd, who was then a member of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

The record is as weird as that combination would suggest. The a-side, "Self-Analysis," is out-and-out psychedelia, with an off-kilter edge that's almost like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. In fact, the next year, Lloyd would cut a version of the song with his psychedelic studio band the Smoke. It fit right in on that album.

The flip side, "Star Gazer," is upbeat pop with a melancholy undercurrent that recalls some of Lloyd's efforts with the WCPAEB. “Self-Analysis” didn’t chart, and you have to wonder if anyone really expected it to be a hit. But had the single been flipped, “Star Gazer” might have had a shot.

In all, these three singles make for a good mini album that sits comfortably alongside similar efforts of the same era, like Penny Nichols’ Penny Arcade or Margo Guryan’s Take a Picture. “The Flower Children’s” over-the-top singing notwithstanding, Strassman’s vocal style is endearingly sincere. She was able to toggle between girl group cheeriness and singer-songwriter earnestness and if she’d stayed at it, might have found her niche in music -- if not an audience.

Track list:
1. The Flower Children
2. Out of the Picture
3. The Groovy World of Jack and Jill
4. The Flower Shop
5. Self-Analysis
6. Star Gazer