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Baby, It’s Burt: Cherry Red’s Él Label Collects Early Bacharach On “Long Ago Last Summer”

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Although Burt Bacharach had been composing songs at least since 1952, when he kicked off a long career with the instrumental “Once in a Blue Moon” for Nat “King” Cole, the Burt Bacharach “sound” didn’t truly crystallize until the early 1960s.  Prior to his reshaping of the sound of adult R&B, Bacharach teamed with a variety of lyricists to craft songs in virtually every genre imaginable: rock-and-roll, rockabilly, country, pop balladry, jazz, even the novelty song.  Naturally, the earliest period in Bacharach’s career has long taken a back seat to the post-1962 works.  That was the year that Bacharach and lyricist partner Hal David first recorded “Make It Easy on Yourself” for Jerry Butler and the year that Dionne Warwick recorded her first Bacharach/David song, “Don’t Make Me Over.”  Although not credited beyond an “Arranged by” on the label of “Make It Easy on Yourself,” Bacharach has often cited Butler’s recording as his first real production, including orchestration.  With that track, a style was born.

Cherry Red’s Él label (itself a venerable institution, founded by Mike Alway in the 1980s) first tackled the earliest years of Bacharach’s career in 2009 with The First Book of Songs (ACMEM166CD), covering the period between 1954 and 1958 over 28 songs.  (That set erroneously included Patti Page’s “Another Time, Another Place,” credited on the label to Bacharach and David but actually written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, also of publishing house Famous Music.)  The label has just released a belated sequel, Long Ago Last Summer: 1959-1961 which culminates in The Shirelles’ 1961 hit “Baby, It’s You,” written by Bacharach, Mack David and Barney Williams, a.k.a. Luther Dixon.  Although its whopping 33 songs don’t represent every song from Bacharach’s pen recorded during those years, it’s a true cross-section of both the best and the weirdest!  As such, it’s a must-own for collectors, premiering a number of long-lost tracks on CD.

Hit the jump to dig deep with Bacharach and the Él team, including a full track listing with discographical annotation for the new CD!

Long Ago Last Summer takes its title from the 1960 song of the same name, recorded by Diana Trask and originally intended as an “exploitation song” to promote the film version of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer before Famous Music thought better of it.  The compilation (made possible by current U.K. public domain law covering material over 50 years old) actually starts a year earlier with 1959’s “Dream Big,” a B-side for country singer Sonny James and Bacharach’s first collaboration with Paul Hampton.  Though the duo wrote a number of songs together, none became bona fide classics.  But two recorded in 1960 by Hampton himself on one single, and collected here, are delightful oddities: a morbid death disc in which Hampton rues his fateful “Two-Hour Honeymoon” over a languid saxophone, and its even odder B-side, “Creams.”  On this oddball track, Hampton again speaks rather than sings, and laments that a girl won’t share her chocolate creams with him!  It’s all set to a wacky French horn melody that could almost pass for a Casino Royale score outtake.  Another song heard here, The Four Aces’ “Paradise Island,” was actually written by the trio of Bacharach, Hampton and Hal David.

The first volume from Él included one of the first two songs written by Bacharach and David together, “Peggy’s in the Pantry,” which Bacharach has been trying to live down ever since.  In the “significant” category on this second volume falls one of the oddest tracks: Dick Van Dyke’s “Three Wheels on My Wagon,” co-written with Bob Hilliard.  (Its even stranger B-side, “One Part Dog, Two Parts Cat,” alas, isn’t included here.)  “Three Wheels” marked the very first time that Bacharach was credited as producer on both the label and sleeve, as in “Produced by Hilliard and Bacharach.”  The composer remembered the song for years later, joking that it was “a bomb.”  The song was written for Van Dyke, post-Bye Bye Birdie but pre-Dick Van Dyke Show, drawling in an exaggerated country-western voice over wild Indian whoops: “The Cherokees are chasin’ me, arrows fly right on by/But I’m singin’ a happy song” before launching into a the happy chant of “Higgity haggedy/Huggedy hi!”

More straightforward are Keely Smith’s “Close,” with lyrics by Sydney Shaw, and Rosemary June’s “Your Lips Are Warmer Than Your Heart,” co-written by Hal David.  Both appeared in 1960.  You’ll hear a faint glimmer of the future Bacharach style on the latter, as you will on Jack Jones’ relaxed “Make Room for the Joy,” in which the melody just veers a tiny bit away from the expected, and on The Shepherd Sisters’ “Deeply.”  With the Drifters-style baion beat and a Leiber and Stoller production, it’s a clear step towards R&B for Bacharach, this time writing with Norman Gimbel.  (Bacharach and Gimbel would team up again in the 1970s.)  Gene McDaniels convincingly croons “At Times Like These,” although the ballad doesn’t anticipate more adventurous songs like “Tower of Strength.”  That Top 5 hit from 1961 isn’t reprised here, but the compilers have instead opted to include Gloria Lynne’s soulful “answer record,” rewritten to order by Bacharach and Hilliard as “You Don’t Have to Be a Tower of Strength.”

Another Gloria, Ms. Lambert, extends a sultry invitation to an alien to “Make yourself at home, Moon Man” (!) while The Rangoons serve up the fun instrumental “Moon Guitar” on the 1961 song otherwise only notable for bearing the first-ever “Produced by Bacharach and David” credit.  (Too bad Buddy Clinton’s “Take Me To Your Ladder (I’ll See Your Leader Later)” was overlooked in favor of the its less interesting B-side “Joanie’s Forever.”  The vocalist tries to seduce some giant moon women in the former!)  Ever-versatile, sci-fi yields to Western for a song inspired by director Michael Curtiz’ 1959 film The Hangman.  The song might be more memorable than the movie, with singer John Ashley’s earnest declaration that “The Hangman wants to be loved by any other man…”  (Its B-side, “The Net,” is also included, and features an early, peculiar Bacharach arrangement for chorus, finger snaps and crackling guitar.)  Del Shannon’s “The Answer to Everything” might be recognizable from Nancy Sinatra’s later Reprise cover, and Perry Como’s “You’re Following Me” from a John Barry-arranged version recorded in the U.K. by Peter Gordeno.

Among the best of the unknown songs here might be The Wanderers’ lovely, doo-wop-flecked ballad “I Could Make You Mine,” and Connie Stevens’ “And This is Mine,” with a dramatic Neal Hefti arrangement.  Steve Lawrence’s “Loving is a Way of Living” is a light-hearted, smile-inducing track produced and arranged by Don Costa.  As Long Ago Last Summer delves into 1961, the songs become more familiar.  In his new liner notes, Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley astutely opines that Chuck Jackson’s “I Wake Up Crying” is the “very first song that you could say is recognizably Bacharachian, with its odd changes, rhythmic shifts and swells of gracefully muted orchestration.”  R&B legend Jackson also contributes the furious, frenetic “The Breaking Point.”  Stanley also makes a case for another fine track from the Wanderers, “Somebody Else’s Sweetheart”: “This is Burt Bacharach at his best – this is traumatic, beautiful, adult music.”  The same might be said for the melody of The Four Coins’ “The Miracle of St. Marie.”  While its lyric by Hilliard isn’t impressive on its own merits, the music soars as well as looks forward, with strings, bells and trumpet all in the equation.  Could Bacharach have known he was onto something?

Bob Stanley’s brief liner notes are entertaining and impassioned.  Unfortunately, there is no discographical information included.  We’ve tried to remedy that with the list following this text.  If you’re interested in the music made by Bacharach on the road to success, Long Ago Last Summer will be a major, truly essential release for you.  It’s available now from Él, and can be ordered at the link just below!

Burt Bacharach, Long Ago Last Summer: 1959-1961 (Él ACMEM 233CD, 2012)

  1. Sonny James – Dream Big (Capitol F-412, 1959)
  2. Steve Lawrence – Loving is a Way of Living (ABC-Paramount 10005, 1959)
  3. Jack Jones – Make Room for the Joy (Capitol F-4161, 1959)
  4. Four Aces – Paradise Island (Decca 30874, 1959)
  5. Gloria Lambert – Moon Man (Columbia 41402, 1959)
  6. John Ashley – The Hangman (Dot 15775, 1959)
  7. John Ashley – The Net (Dot 15775, 1959)
  8. Jane Morgan – With Open Arms (Kapp 284, 1959)
  9. Gene McDaniels – In Times Like These (Liberty 55231, 1959)
  10. Larry Hall – A Girl Like You (Strand 25013, 1960)
  11. Rosemary June – Your Lips are Warmer than Your Heart (United Artists 219, 1960)
  12. Paul Hampton – Two Hour Honeymoon (Dot 16084, 1960)
  13. Paul Hampton – Creams (Dot 16084, 1960)
  14. The Avons – We’re Only Young Once (Columbia U.K. 4461, 1960)
  15. Keely Smith – Close (Dot 16089, 1960)
  16. Diana Trask – Long Ago Last Summer (Columbia 41711, 1960)
  17. Everit Herter – Boys Were Made For Girls (Capitol 4383, 1960)
  18. The Wanderers – I Could Make You Mine (Cub 9075, 1960)
  19. Buddy Clinton – Joanie’s Forever (Monroe 114, 1960)
  20. Dick Van Dyke – Three Wheels on My Wagon (Jamie 1178, 1961)
  21. Connie Stevens – And This is Mine (Warner Bros. 5217, 1961)
  22. The Rangoons – Moon Guitar (Laurie 3096, 1961)
  23. Tommy Sands – Love in a Goldfish Bowl (Capitol 4580, 1961)
  24. Chuck Jackson – I Wake Up Crying (Wand 110, 1961)
  25. Del Shannon – The Answer to Everything (Big Top 3083, 1961)
  26. The Shepherd Sisters – Deeply (United Artists 350, 1961)
  27. Gloria Lynne – You Don’t Have to Be a Tower of Strength (Everest 19420, 1961)
  28. Perry Como – You’re Following Me (RCA Victor 47-7962, 1961)
  29. Chuck Jackson – The Breaking Point (Wand 115, 1961)
  30. The Four Coins – The Miracle of St. Marie (Jubilee 5411, 1961)
  31. The Wanderers – Somebody Else’s Sweetheart (Cub 9099, 1961)
  32. The Shirelles – Baby, It’s You (Scepter 1227, 1961)

Thanks to Serene Dominic’s indispensable book Burt Bacharach: Song by Song for verifying discographical information.  Any Bacharach collector will want to have this tome on the shelf!

Written by Joe Marchese

June 21, 2012 at 09:59

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