Blue Velvet 45 by Bobby Vinton

March 31, 2010

Today many people forget just how many hits Bobby Vinton has had during his long career. He placed 47 songs on THE BILLBOARD MAGAZINE top 100 pop charts from 1962 to 1980.

He began his career as the band leader for Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars during 1960. In 1962 he left the band and embarqued upon a solo career.

“Blue Velvet” may be his best known release. One can not even guess how many times this love ballad was played at proms and school dances during the sixties.

“Blue Velvet” has a long history. Tony Bennett had a hit with it during 1951 and the vocal group The Statues had a version that reached number 84 on The United States singles charts during 1960.

It is Bobby Vinton’s version that remains the definitive one. It remained in the number one position on the singles charts for three weeks during late summer of 1963. A perfect vocal and excellent arrangements all added up to one of the best make out songs in music history.

Love (Can Make You Happy) 45 by Mercy

March 31, 2010

“Love (Can Make You Happy)” was originally released as a part of the soundtrack for the film FIREBALL JUNGLE. Originally issued on the small Sundi label, it raced up THE BILLBOARD MAGAZINE top 100 pop charts finally peaking at number 2 for two weeks during April or 1969.

The group was quickly signed to the WB label and released an album with the same name as their big hit which reached number 38 on the album charts. They would produce one more small hit single release, “Forever,” which would stall at number 79. The group would then quickly fade from the scene.

Mercy was a six person group consisting of four men and two women. “Love (Can Make You Gappy)” was a smooth flowing ballad with gentle vocals.

Recently group leader Jack Sigler Jr. has a modern day Mercy out on the road again bringing back to life one of the better ballads of the late sixties.

For Sentimental Reasons by Linda Ronstadt

March 30, 2010

October of 1986 found a forty-year-old Linda Ronstadt issuing the final album in her trilogy of popular standards. While it would not be as commercially successful as the first two in the series, it would still sell in excess of one million copies.

There was one tragedy during the recording of the album as arranger Nelson Riddle passed away before its completion. Terry Woodson stepped in and arranged the last three tracks.

The album continued the tradition of the previous two releases as it concentrated heavily on pre-World War II traditional standards. By this time Ronstadt had perfected her style of interpreting this type of material. While her vocals retained their pop tone, she was able to move many of the songs over to light jazz.

The album begins with a memorable Disney classic. “When You Wish Upon A Star,” from the 1940 film, Pinocchio, finds her voice floating on top of a smooth arrangement. The phrasing is exact and the tone perfect.

Three songs from musicals written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart appear on the album. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” from 1940’s Pal Joey, the eternal “My Funny Valentine” from 1937’s Babes In Arms, and “Little Girl Blue” from 1935’s Jumbo all show her love for pre-World War II Broadway. The vocals and arrangements are true to the spirit and style of the originals as they slide easily by the senses.

She reaches back to 1929 for “Am I Blue,” which was a big hit for Ethel Waters. Ronstadt’s version moves it in a jazz direction. “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons” is my favorite track. She takes this huge number one hit for Nat King Cole, which has been recorded hundreds of times over, and gives a definitive performance.

She tackles a straight jazz song with “Round Midnight.” Artists such as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and others have made is a classic. And her vocal provides a new dimension for this old war horse.

For Sentimental Reasons closed yet another phase of Linda Ronstadt’s career. These albums remain as a testament to the vocal prowess and versatility of one of the great female artists of American music.

Lush Life by Linda Ronstadt

March 30, 2010

Linda Ronstadt turned 38 in 1984 and was far removed from her folk/rock goddess days. During November she issued Lush Life, which was the second in her trilogy of albums featuring pop and light jazz standards. It would quickly sell over one million copies and earn her a fourteenth platinum record award for sales.

She wisely continued her relationship with arranger/orchestra leader Nelson Riddle whose experience and talent kept her and the project true to the sound and style of the material. For his part, Riddle recruited such musicians as guitarist Bob Mann (who’d go on to play for Rod Stewart in his forays into the same type of material), drummer John Guerin, bassist Bob Magnusson, and pianist Don Grolnick, all of whom were veterans of the big band and lounge scene, making them perfect for this project.

Ronstadt’s choice of material was a little more varied than on 1983’s What’s New. It was a combination of slow and up-tempo plus she went a little further afield, throwing in some Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael material for good measure.

The best tracks primarily come from the American jazz songbook. “Skylark,” written by Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, is a difficult song to sing with the subtle tempo changes plus tone variations which are required to pull it off. Yet she renders one of the better vocal performances of her career on the track. The title song is a jazz standard written by Bill Strayhorn in 1930 and has been recorded by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, and Billy Eckstine among others. Her version strays a little from the original as the vocal pushes it toward a pop/jazz interpretation that makes it unique. “Sophisticated Lady” is a 1930’s jazz classic by Duke Ellington and her take is both creative and excellent. Songs such as these would enable the album to reach the top ten on the jazz album charts in the United States.

“When I Fall In Love” is a pop standard which has been recorded by hundreds of artists from Doris Day to Celine Dion. Very few, however, can claim to have matched Ronstadt’s emotional rendition. “Can We Still Be Friends” travels in a different direction as it is given a light swing interpretation.

Lush Life finds a mature artist confidently in charge of her career. While this release is far removed from the type of music which made Ronstadt a star, its lasting legacy is an album of style and beauty.

What’s New by Linda Ronstadt

March 30, 2010

Linda Ronstadt’s career had already taken one significant turn when she left her pop/folk roots behind and embraced rock ‘n’ roll, especially by including an album of new wave rock. Very few people were prepared, however, for the next period of her career when she made another abrupt turn and issued three consecutive albums of popular standards backed by an orchestra. It would’ve been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when she met with producer Peter Asher and the heads of her record label to explain her plans.

She wisely chose arranger/producer/orchestra leader Nelson Riddle as a partner. His pedigree included fourteen albums with Frank Sinatra, seven with Nat King Cole, five with Ella Fitzgerald plus projects with Dean Martin, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee. Riddle proved to be a perfect match for Ronstadt as their albums together sold millions of copies, reviving his career and helping her expand her fan base.

My only criticism of the album is its shortness as it contains only nine songs and clocks in at less than forty minutes.

As with her pop and rock material, she continued to select songs which were perfect for her voice. Songs by the Gershwins, Sammy Cahn, Irving Berlin, and Gordon Jenkins among others all succumbed to her sophisticated interpretive style.

Her take on the old standard “I’ve Got A Crush On You” is the album’s strongest track. Her voice has power, tone, and smoothness, all of which are just perfect for this traditional standard. Another highlight is a moody rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me.” When you add in “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You,” What’ll I Do,” and “Lover Man,” you have an album of note.

In many ways What’s New helped to return material of this type to the public eye. It remained on the album charts for well over a year and sold three million copies in the United States alone. Linda Ronstadt would travel in a number of musical directions, but her trilogy of standard pop albums with Nelson Riddle remains some of the highlights of her career.

It’s Up To You 45 by Rick Nelson

March 29, 2010

Eric Hillard Nelson was a television and rock star. He starred in his parents show, OZZIE & HARRIET, from 1949-1966.

The TV show gave him a great advantage in his music career. When he started producing records he would sing a song at the end of each show. No other early rock star had that advantage. It would enable him to become one of the original fifties teen idols.

From 1957 through 1973 he would place 54 songs of THE BILLBOARD MAGAZINE top 100 charts. In addition his albums would sell in the millions of copies. He would be inducted into THe Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame two years afer his death in 1987.

“It’s Up To You” reached number six on the National singles charts during December of 1962. It would find Nelson at the crossroads of his career as he was changing from a fifties rocker to a more pop oriented style. It can be sonsidered a mid-tempo ballad and Nelson delivers a smooth vocal.

He would contine to produce hits for another decade including some of the first to combine rock and country.

Shock Horror by The Waves

March 27, 2010

Shock Horror is the first album by the group that would become Katrina and The Waves — who’d go on to produce some excellent, if somewhat under-appreciated, music.

Songwriter, lead guitarist, and sometime vocalist Kimberley Rew is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band’s hit “Waking On Sunshine” by re-releasing three of its albums plus his own long-out-of-print solo release. Each album has been remastered and issued with previously unreleased bonus tracks.

Rew formed The Waves during 1975 with sidekick drummer Alex Cooper. In 1977 they disbanded when Rew left to join Robyn Hitchcock and The Soft Boys. That in turn left Cooper free to join Mama’s Cookin’ which featured Katrina Leskanich and bassist Vince De La Cruz. After the demise of The Soft Boys, Cooper invited Rew to join Mama’s Cookin.’ He agreed but convinced everyone to change the name to that of his former group, The Waves.

Shock Horror catches Rew and thus the group in a transition period. The sound is a cross between The Soft Boys and the smooth sophisticated rock which would soon follow. Also at this point, Rew and Leskanich shared lead vocal duties. This would change in the near future, however, as Rew would write material with Katrina in mind as the vocalist.

While the album was not commercially successful, its lead song, “Going Down To Liverpool,” was recorded by The Bangles, helping the girl group obtain a major label recording contract. The Waves’ rendition is more somber but is interesting to compare it to the better known pop/rock version.

The gem of this album (and a true, unexpected surprise for me) is “Saturday Week” with Leskanich on lead vocals. I would call it jump/rock although the percussion foundation is right out of big-band, swing jazz. This lost up-tempo number is one of the best tracks they would produce. Other highlights include Rew’s signature jingly guitar on “Strolling On Air” and the frenetic “Brown Eyed Son.”

Shock Horror catches The Waves on the verge of finding their classic sound. While the albums which followed would be more consistent, there are still a few gems to be mined on this one.

The Bible Of Bop by Kimberley Rew

March 27, 2010

I was pleasantly surprised recently to learn that two albums by the talented but under-appreciated Katrina and The Waves were being reissued complete with previously unreleased bonus tracks. I was doubly surprised to learn that one of the group’s mainstays, guitarist, songwriter, and sometimes vocalist Kimberley Rew, was also re-releasing two albums from prior to his Katrina days.

Kimberley Rew first came to the attention of the music world as a member of The Soft Boys from 1978-1980. His guitar play provided a good counterpoint to the group’s leader, Robyn Hitchcock.

The Bible Of Bop catches Rew in between his work with The Soft Boys and Katrina and The Waves and, as such, reflects the styles of both. His music did not have the gloss and sophistication that it would attain a couple of years later, but it was moving in that direction. Released in 1981, it would be his only solo release until the year 2000.

The Soft Boys, including Hitchcock, are the backing band for three of the album’s tracks. “Stomping All Over The World” features his unique jangling guitar and a nice vocal. “Nothing’s Going To Change” is very raw and has an almost unfinished feel.” And “Fighting Someone’s War” is very similar to the sound of The Soft Boys.

The album’s lead track, “The Nightmare,” features a vocal by Katrina Leskanich (of Katrina and The Waves). Rew is a very competent vocalist but Leskanich is a great one and even this early track shows how her vocals and his guitar and songwriting ability worked well together. Their other track together, “Hey War Pig,” is less successful as it never settles into the style which would attain in their future.

The last three tracks from the original release, on which he is backed by the db’s, are the least successful when taken as a whole. The best of these is the frenetic “My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long,” which features some more stinging guitar work.

On the other hand, the three bonus tracks are excellent. “Give Me Some Of That Love” and “I’m Amazed” are catchy power pop while “Animal Song” has a heavy percussion foundation and amusing lyrics. Why these were left off the original release I have no idea, but they would have made it much stronger and it’s nice to have them finally see the light of day.

Kimberley Rew is now over three decades into a career that has embraced several types of styles and not a little brilliance along the way. The Bible Of Bop catches him at the crossroads of his career and contains some interesting, very good music.

Smokin’ In The Boys Room 45 by Brownsville Station

March 26, 2010

Brownsville Station was a hard rocking band from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Guitarist/vocalist Cub Koda, bassist Michael Lutz, and drummer Henry Weck could rock with the best bands of the era as they produced a party type of rock ‘n’ roll.

The highlight of their career was “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” which resonated with every high school student who would sneak a cigaratette while the teachers weren’t looking. The song would reach number three on the National singles charts and sell over two million copies.

The would never match the success of their biggest hit but “I’m The Leader of The Gang” and “Kings Of The Party” would continue in the same vein and were excellent in their own right.

The group would break-up during 1979. Koda would go on to write a well known music column for years but would pass away in the year 2000 at the age of 51.

“Smokin’ In The Boys Room” remains one of the memorable rockers from the early seventies and is still a fun listen today.

Western Union 45 by The Five Americans

March 26, 2010

The Five Americans can best be described as a cross between a pop group and a sixties garage band. The origianl group members included singer Michael Rabon, guitarist Robert Rambo, keyboard player Leonard Goldsmith, bassist James Grant and drummer James Wright.

They placed six songs on THE BILLBOARD MAGAZINE top 100 singles charts between 1966 through 1968.

There only song to reach the top twenty was “Western Union” released in early 1957. It peaked at number five and brought the group fleeting fame. It had a repetitive dit dit dit which sounds worse than it sounds as the song was catchy.

They split is 1969. Rabon would join Gladstone and issue several successful solo albums. The rest of the drup would fade from the music industry and move on to other careers leaving behind one memorable slice of sixties pop/rock.