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Archive for November 1st, 2012

Rip It Up! “The London American Label: 1956” Spotlights Rock and Roll from Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, More

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Did any label impact the taste of record-buyers in the United Kingdom in the early rock-and-roll era than that of London?  Ace Records has been chronicling the activities of the London American label on a series of definitive releases culling the best of the label’s 45s from one given year.  Previous volumes have covered every year between 1957 and 1963, and for the most recent addition to the series, Ace has turned the clock back to 1956.  In that year, London’s output included American singles first issued on Dot, Atlantic, Liberty, Imperial, Cadence, Sun, ABC-Paramount, Chess and Specialty, meaning that one label alone introduced the U.K. to classics from Little Richard, The Drifters, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Andy Williams.  All of those artists and many more are represented on The London American Label: Year by Year 1956.

Compilers Peter Gibbon and Tony Rounce have taken pains throughout this ongoing series to showcase every facet of the London American label.  For those readers not yet up-to-date on its story, The London label first appeared in America in 1934 representing British Decca’s operations in America. Back in Britain, the London logo made its debut in 1949 releasing material from its American counterpart, but also from early U.S. independent labels. It was in 1954 that a new prefix (HL) and numbering system (8001) was introduced, and it’s this series that is the focus of the Ace compilations. Some American hit records appeared on EMI’s Columbia, Parlophone and HMV labels, but the cream of the crop was usually on London.

In 1956, London American issued 139 singles, which the fine liner notes inform us was 33 more than in 1955 but far short of the 242 in 1958.  Of those 139 releases, 23 made the U.K. Top 40 and 10 made the Top 10, not a bad percentage at all!  Rock and roll and R&B were starting to take hold in 1956, and this volume opens with Little Richard’s searing admonishment to “Rip It Up.”  Then there’s Chuck Berry’s atypically haunting “Down Bound Train,” Carl Perkins’ Beatle-influencing “Honey Don’t,” and Bobby Charles’ original version of his rockin’ New Orleans sing-along, “See You Later, Alligator,” more famously recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets.  The “white R&B” of Pat Boone, later to prove controversial, was still going strong in 1956.  The compilers here have chosen a comparative rarity: Boone’s recording of the Five Keys’ “Gee, Whittakers.”  Boone actually scored London its very first chart-topper of the rock-and-roll age with his 45 of The Flamingos’ “I’ll Be Home,” also the best-selling record in the U.K. in all of 1956.  Both The Drifters and original lead singer Clyde McPhatter received their first U.K. releases in 1956 on London; the group is included here via “Soldier of Fortune” and McPhatter with “Seven Days,” both originally on Atlantic in the United States.  Blues great “Big” Joe Turner appears here with another Atlantic platter, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “The Chicken and the Hawk,” a song also covered by artists as unlikely as Steve Lawrence!

There’s plenty more after the jump, including a full track-listing and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 1, 2012 at 13:59

Reviews: Dion’s “Complete Laurie Singles,” David Cassidy’s “Romance”

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Today, we’re taking a look at two recent releases from Real Gone Music!

Dion DiMucci greeted the 1960s on his own, just 20 years old but already a chart veteran with soon-to-be-classics like “I Wonder Why” and “A Teenager in Love” under his belt.  Those songs, though, were recorded with his friends The Belmonts.  When Carlo Mastrangelo, Angelo D’Aleo and Fred Milano wanted to emphasize doo-wop harmonies and Dion wanted to rock and roll, Dion and the Belmonts split.  How would the Italian kid from the Bronx follow that amazing first act?  The results have been comprehensively chronicled for the very first time on Real Gone’s 2-CD The Complete Laurie Singles (RGM-0092) covering each of Dion’s solo 45s released on the New York indie between 1960 and 1969.

The heart and soul of The Complete Laurie Singles is the run of songs that cemented the Dion legend, forever immortalizing that cocky street corner kid.  The first of those songs was Dion’s first No. 1.  “Here’s my story, it’s sad but true…It’s about a girl that I once knew…”  The song started like any of the other maudlin ballads that Dion had recorded in his first year as a solo artist, with a chorus backing him sympathetically.  “She took my love then ran around…”  He stretched the word, dramatically.  “…with every single guy in town!”  And then the Del-Satins launched into their wordless backing vocals, snapping and stomping like on the street corner, while Dion wailed the warning to “keep away from Runaround Sue!”  Dion’s own composition with Ernie Maresca, “Runaround Sue” introduced a near-mythological character to the rock and roll pantheon.  Though intricately arranged by the singer, “Runaround Sue” has the sound and the spirit of the street corners on which Dion first sang, the same corner that the two-timing Sue doubtlessly prowled.  Much like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons epitomized blue-collar New Jersey, Dion was New York in the pre-Beatles era, and “Runaround Sue” could have been a barroom sing-along, with one misfit advising the crowd of small-time hoods and dreamers in song as he riffs and scats over the wail of a lonely saxophone.

Dion must have been particularly gratified that “Runaround Sue” made it to No. 4 on the R&B chart.  He had always been drawn to the blues, and to the sadder side of the pop spectrum.  But its B-side, “Runaway Girl,” typified the melancholy, sad songs he had been recording prior to the blast of energy provided by “Sue.”  His supremely sensitive vocals elevated many of these tracks, including the No. 12 hit “Lonely Teenager” and the ironically titled Pomus and Shuman tune “Havin’ Fun” (in which Dion is accompanied by a sad horn as he cries, “Friends keep on tellin’ me that I’m a fool to be so in love while you’re just havin’ fun…”), but “Runaround Sue” introduced a new persona, with the Del-Satins replacing the ubiquitous female backing vocals heard on many of the early singles.  “Runaway Girl” was immediately a relic of the past, although Dion would return to this sound as on “Little Girl” from the same writing team of Barbara Baer, Eliot Greenberg and Robert Schwartz.  Its tinkling piano recalls Johnny Mathis’ “Misty,” but Dion’s vocal roots it squarely in the streets.

“Runaround Sue” was followed by “The Majestic,” a dance number with a “Sue”-derivative melody, but its B-side soon eclipsed it.  Another story in song, Maresca’s “The Wanderer” was inspired by a real-life Bronx character observed by Dion.  “The Wanderer” built off of its “Kansas City”-esque shuffle and was, in many ways, a “Runaround Sue” in reverse: “I’m the type of guy who will never settle down/Where pretty girls are, well, you know that I’m around/I kiss ‘em and I love ‘em/’Cause to me they’re all the same!  I hug ‘em and I squeeze ‘em/They don’t even know my name!”  Many of the elements from “Sue” were amplified in the irresistible “Wanderer”: the prominent group backing vocals, the insinuating, bleating sax, the rawness and bravado.  The brash Dion scored another No. 2 hit, and memorably followed it up with the almost unbearably dark and pained “(I Was) Born to Cry” and its B-side, “Lovers Who Wander.”  Both echoed “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer,” but rather than seeming like pale imitations, all of these songs were truly of a piece, or variations on a theme.  “Born to Cry” was even referenced in the opening lines of the boisterous “Lovers Who Wander,” which boasted yet another infectious Dion vocal riff.

There’s plenty more on Mr. DiMucci following the jump.  Plus: David Cassidy’s Romance! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 1, 2012 at 08:01