The British Are Coming …BACK

“No more Beatles! No more Stones! We just want the Viletones!” went the cry of true teen angst ‘round my Toronto neighborhood circa the Summer of Hate, 1977. And, memories of my favorite punk-rock combo from a misspent youth notwithstanding, I do find myself feeling very much the same these thirty-three-and-a-third revolutions later as big Beatle box sets and Rolling Stone re-issues continue to dominate our collective, sonic rear-view.

Of course I can still thrill to a remastered (mono!) “She Loves You” as much as the next boomer, and glimpsing Hendrix backstage inside that Get Yer Ya-Ya’s anniversary bundle will always raise a grin or two. But surely, surely there must have been something going on during those scant weeks between 1963 and 1969 when Lennon, McCartney, Jagger and/or Richard compositions weren’t sitting atop the world’s hit parades.

Surely!

Well, finally, someone – namely those utterly fab folk over at Reelin’ In The Years – have seen fit to shed light upon some of the other mop-tops whose sounds and styles filled our six-transistors and Sunday evening Ed Sullivan shows. Yes, the first four editions of what’s promised to be an entire British Invasion series of DVD’s are, you bet, here at last, spotlighting Dusty Springfield, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Small Faces.

And what audio/visual treats these discs are! Meticulously researched and packaged, expertly restored and annotated and whenever possible hosted by many of the actual participants themselves, the songs and stories flow in never less than quick, LOUD frenzies so perfectly reminiscent of those once-Swinging Sixties themselves.

So, wherever to start then? How about Gerry Marsden fondly recalling the very birth of the Liverpool Sound in the kind of detailed – sometimes most candidly so – way no Beatles Anthology would ever dare to. Or a self-admittedly “numb” Dusty Springfield deplaning into Australia only to be accused of being “kooky” and a spokesperson for “the hippie philosophy”?

Elsewhere, not at all coincidentally perhaps, we discover the hitherto-unknown connection between comedian/philosopher Lord Buckley’s spiritual Nazz and the Small Faces’ ritual Methedrine, plus learn that it was in fact Peter Noone’s seemingly innocent rhythm section who schooled Keith Moon in the fine art of Holiday Inn “redecorating”: why, watch closely and you’ll even spot actual Super 8 footage of pool-side, long underwear-festooned Who/Hermits hi-jinks deep within the Bonus Footage!

Such meaty beaty Bacchanalian moments aside however, this is one British Invasion which truly concentrates, as all such documentaries should but seldom do, on the MUSIC. And there are literally hours of vintage performance clips filling these discs, immaculately reproduced and shown complete and uncut, with nary a single word of needless graphic or narration dubbed over the guitar solos for once. Plus, not just the usual stream of oft-recycled Shindig and Sullivan snips either: The producers have obviously gone to incredible lengths to scour the globe in search of seldom, if ever seen footage of, for example, Herman’s Hermits on Norwegian television or Gerry’s Pacemakers in Liverpool’s Cavern shooting their very own Ferry Cross The Mersey (…now, when does THAT film finally appear on DVD?!!)

Interestingly though, from the wealth of treasures spread across these discs, I was most pleasantly shocked to witness downright incendiary footage of the Small Faces’ Marquee Club debut, March of 1966. While for all the world looking, dressing, and acting like little more than a Cockney Monkees with cooler hair, trapped from the get-go inside these lads was apparently a solid, fighting-tough beat ‘n’ soul combo whose only Caucasian rivals at the time would have been those Young Rascals themselves. Who knew? (and then stay closely tuned for an extensive Colour Me Pop performance of their masterwork Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake complete with “Happiness” Stanley Unwin’s narration, I kid you not).

“None of us knew how good and how ahead of our time we were,” Small Face Kenney Jones admits herein, and that statement could rightfully serve as the modus operandi behind this entire series. Because, you see, The British Invasion, for the very first time ever, delves so very deeply into the hitherto-unexplored “second tier” of mid-Sixties U.K. talent, and in doing so paints most vividly an indelible picture of the era’s myriad musical and social upheavals. And in a way you just won’t get from any existing thumbnail study or PBS pledge special, needless to say.

Dusty Springfield: Once Upon a Time, Herman’s Hermits: Listen People, Gerry and the Pacemakers: It’s Gonna Be All Right and Small Faces: All Or Nothing are available separately or, even better, housed together with two and a half full hours of additional Bonus Disc interview and performance footage as a five-DVD collector’s set. Either way you take them, each deserve to be seen and heard repeatedly by any Merseybeating fan or serious student of rock ‘n’ roll …or even for someone who just needs to know the correct way to toss a cherry bomb down a Holiday Inn toilet.

It’s all here.

Neon Dionne

Even though I hope your week is going as good as mine, I know I am the luckier guy! You know how I know? Because last week I got a passel of vintage Dionne Warwick reissue from my good friends at Collector’s Choice and I’ve been having a helluva time going through these albums and enjoying the lite-soul contained herein. Sure, I love Stax and the real greasy kind of soul as much as the next soul fan but I really started to fall in love with Dionne’s voice listening to these albums. For the most part they kill!

But don’t believe me (even though I’ve never steered you wrong before), check this review out (which was also written by me – I win!):

Dionne Warwick – Presenting Dionne Warwick
Dionne Warwick – Here I Am
Dionne Warwick – Here Where There Is Love
Dionne Warwick – The Magic Of Believing
Dionne Warwick – On Stage And In The Movies
Dionne Warwick – In Paris
Dionne Warwick – The Sensitive Sound Of
Dionne Warwick – Anyone Who Had A Heart
Dionne Warwick – Love At First Sight
Dionne Warwick – Make Way For

As all things Bacharach are starting to get their long desreved notice, there is no better place to start appreciating the wonderful songwriting and production talents of one-time team Burt Bacharach and Hal David than listening to some classic Dionne Warwick albums. After all, it was Bacharach and David who first helped turned this pop and soft-soul thrush into the major star she became. Thanks to reissue label Collector’s Choice, the best of Warwick’s work on Scepter Records both with and without this legendary duo has just been re-released back into the beautiful sunlight of the marketplace where it should have always been, untouched and pristine and as pure as Warwick’s voice itself. With Bacharach’s eccentric melodies and David’s pithy and heartfelt lyrics at her seeming disposal, how could Warwick not have ended up a star?

The vocalist’s first album for Scepter, the aptly-titled Presenting Dionne Warwick (’63), was her initial foray with the team of Bacharach and David. She met them while singing backup on a Drifters’ song, Mexican Divorce, which Bacharach and David had written. At the time, Warwick was just getting her feet wet in the business while Bacharach and David were also trying to find not only their footing in the music busines, but also a perfect vehicle with which to interpret their distinctive songs. Immediately after hearing Dionne Warwick and noting her professional, yet eager, demeanor, they had found their muse and started to writing. In fact, they wrote so much after being inspired by Warwick’s voice, they wrote about three-fourths of this disc’s songs. Surprisingly for a first-time effort, they also were able to score some top hits: Don’t Make Me Over (which was initially rejected by the head of Scepter), Wishin’ & Hopin’ (also a huge hit for Dusty Springfield in Europe) and Make It Easy On Yourself.

The next disc, Anyone Who Had A Heart (’64), seems a little rushed, but still has plenty of Bacharach and David brilliance as well as the beautifully effortless tone of Warwick in her prime. Why does it seem rushed? Three songs from the previous album (Warwick’s debut) were seemingly tacked on just to flesh out the album. The label must have been desirous to take advantage of Warwick’s hits and wanted another album to ship out despite not having enough new songs in the can for an all-new release. Thus, a consumer buying this second album is really only getting an extended EP’s worth of material. While this was done often in the ’60’s, the reason it was done is obvious – to take advantage of an artist’s sudden surge of popularity. After scoring a handful of hits on her first album and having her songs slavishly covered overseas by the likes of Cilla Black and Dusty Springfield, Warwick was beyond being a hot property and was close to being what we now refer to as a mega-star. With her classic good looks and stellar voice, she was a veritable phenomenon. It is not a surprise the label wanted to get more product out on the market. Hits from this album include Don’t Make Me Over (the same version as her debut album – thrown in to spark sales) and Anyone Who Had A Heart (the title track), both solid songs that remained in Warwick’s repetoire for years.

Surprisingly, Warwick’s third album for Scepter, Make Way for Dionne Warwick (’64) also had one cut repeated from her debut but, thankfully, the rest of the album contained new material. This album became a milestone for Warwick as this was her first album to make the charts after previously only scoring several huge single hits. Pretty much staying true to the formula previously perfected on her earlier records, this album contains a bunch of Bacharach and David cuts which turned out to be huge hits and several songs from other songwriters that didn’t become hits. Go figure. Warwick ended up with three major hits from this album as well as recording a couple Bacharach and David songs which turned out later to be hits for other artists (Close To You which hit for The Carpenters and the repeat track Wishin’ and Hopin’ which Dusty Springfield took the the top of the charts in Europe). Warwick’s hits from this album were Wishin’ and Hopin’ (again, a repeat from her first album), the classic Walk On By, and You’ll Never Get To Heaven.

The first major break in Warwick’s hit making ways came with her next album for Scepter, The Sensitive Sound Of Dionne Warwick which was released in 1965. Though the album did not produce even one hit for the singer, the performances are of a piece with her earlier albums, making this one of the most overlooked and most revelatory albums for Warwick’s many fans. Once again, most of the best songs on the album come from the very talented Bacharach and David team while the rest are divvied up between a number of other songwriters. While it seems Scepter Records was trying to give Warwick a little room to experiment with other writers so she didn’t get “typecast”, all her hits continued to be penned by Bacharach and David, so it really didn’t help much and these other songs usually felt like filler. This is nonetheless a fine album, as Warwick’s sophisticated singing and thrilling interpretations of her material are engaging and heart-rending as was to be extected by this time.

Here I Am (’65), the singer’s fifth record for Scepter, was another smash success for the trio of Warwick, Bacharach, and David. Scoring yet another trio of hits, the formula (which began on her very first record) used by the three continued it’s winning ways on this CD. Once again Bacharach and David contributed the hits while several other songwriting teams were used to pad the album out. By now, some of you may be wondering why Warwick simply didn’t wait to record albums until Bacharach and David had enough material for a whole set of songs. For one reason, in the ’60’s, you simply had to put out two to three albums a year or the public would forget about you in all of the other musical activity going on. Even the biggest bands like The Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and Supremes had to hustle out as much product as they could. That’s why you see so many covers on albums from the British Invasion acts. Secondly, the labels knew this and made artists do it as more product simply meant more money. Thirdly, Scepter didn’t want Warwick to be perceived as being dependent on Bacharach and David even though she was and the label conversely undermined themselves as they promoted the Bacharach and David songs much more than the others. Hits off of this album include Are You There (With Another Girl), Window Wishing, and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. The song This Little Light even contains some solo piano playing from Warwick.

A killer version of A House Is Not A Home notwithstanding, the next album chronologically in Collectors Choice’s Warwick reissues on Scepter, Dionne Warwick In Paris (’66), is not really a must-have by any means. Sure, it’s a nicely recorded concert album and all but, for the most part, lacks any real fire and is pretty much just politely-sung live recordings of her hits. Better live showcases were to follow and those wanting to hear some really good live Warwick should search out her other in-concert recordings and leave this trifle alone. For completists only.

The next disc in Collector’s Choice’s Scepter Warwick reissues is Here Where There Is Love (’67) and it was a huge record for Warwick, and a great return to form after the lackadaisical stop-gap live set Dionne Warwick In Paris. Here Where There Is Love stayed true to the usual Bacharach, David, and Warwick formula and gave Warwick her customary three-hits-per-album result. On this album Bacharach and David once again provide at least one half of the album’s songs (which, as usual, contained the hits) while the rest of the material (i.e.: the non-hits) were provided by other songwriters. Bacharach also arranged and conducted several other songs on the album, lending his signature sound (if not his songwriting talents) to other’s material with the unfortunate result being the songs left to other arrangers sounding weird and out of place compared to the rest of the album. It sort of makes for a schizophrenic feel, but Warwick’s hits (like the song Alfie) make this album a definite keeper. Hits off of this album besides Alfie included What The World Needs Now, Trains and Boats and Planes, and I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and all are done as only consummate singer Warwick can.

Another sort-of stopgap album for Warwick followed, the nonetheless beautifully sung and arranged On Stage And In The Movies (’67). While containing no songs by her usual hitmaking team of Bacharach and David and yielding no hits, this album features the kind of songs Warwick has always sung best: well written and pliable to her trademark soft-soul sound. Warwick’s talents have always been best used to convey a mood just as much as sing a lyric and movie songs and showtunes are written with mood in mind. Hence, a “throwaway” album that should not be thrown away. If you want to pick up a Warwick album that doesn’t contain any hits, this is the album to get. Sublime performances from Warwick, who has never sounded better.

Though it could arguably be said that Warwick isn’t the right kind of singer to sing gospel songs, she does a great job here in singing gospel songs her way on the album The Magic Of Believing (’68). Warwick has always been more of a pure singer than anything else. In other words, you won’t find Warwick shouting, using too much melisma, or getting too riled up in general while singing a song. Warwick just gets up and sings a song the way old-schoolers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett always did and that’s by picking songs with strong melodies. Although all, including Warwick of course, have great voices, the main thrust of all these singers was to pick the best songs possible. Songs that didn’t need anything extra to help put the point across. Therefore, when consumers saw this album with Warwick singing gospel and religious songs, I am sure they did a double-take when thinking about the result of such an album. They needn’t have worried. Warwick can make the phone book sound as eloquent and melodic as the most well-written song. The prevailing opinion is that Bacharach and David made Warwick. I suggest it is the exact opposite and this album provides the proof.

Collector’s Choice picks up Warwick’s career again in 1977 and the Love At First Sight album. Her last album for Warner Brothers before she would enjoy a career renaissance at Arista, the album is Warwick’s only release out of her half-dozen on Warners that comes close to her halcyon days at Scepter. Featuring a song written by Hal David (Burt Bacharch’s former partner and with whom Bacharach wrote all of Warwick’s early hits) and produced by the hitmaking team of Michael Omartian and Steve Barri, the album was nonetheless a commercial disappointment for Warwick though an artristic triumph. By the time she landed at Arista, a new formula similar this album’s was in place and she began having hits again, though not on the scale of her early years. She also hosted several popular syndicated TV shows during her Arista tenure which raised her profile considerably, showing that although Bacharach and David have arguably contributed the most to her success, Warwick was and is a supremely talented and versatile performer capable of making a song her own, no matter what the origin or circumstance.

These re-issues should appeal to anyone interested in sophisticated pop music with a dollop of smooth soul thrown in. Though they won’t get the party started, these albums will do a fine job in helping smooth the edges of a rough, hangover-filled Sunday morning.

Shangri-La Mary Weiss is back and still sassy

Over on the Norton Records site (but without a direct link) is a great interview with their latest signing, Mary Weiss, the exquisitely cool lead vocalist of the Shangri-Las. She’ll be backed by the Reigning Sound on her first solo disk, coming soon.

For now, enjoy her unfiltered ruminations on matters pop, hair, fashion and cool.

MW: I did purchase a gun once, a little Derringer. I bought a gun after somebody tried to break into my hotel room. There were these glass panels on the side of the door and all of a sudden I see this arm coming through. Not only was I scared to death, but there were large amounts of money in the room. You’re on the road with no protection. But, I was a little kid. I didn’t know. Back then, you could walk in anywhere and buy a gun. But the FBI came to my mother’s house and said, "Will you please tell your daughter she’ll be arrested if she gets off the plane with her gun?" We just finished a tour in Florida and I turned it in at the police station down there.