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Review: Frankie Avalon, “Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions”

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By the time of 1964’s Muscle Beach Party, Philadelphia-born Frankie Avalon had already racked up some 31 hits on the U.S. Billboard charts, including two at Number One, “Why” and “Venus.”  On the urging of his Chancellor Records mentor Bob Marcucci, Avalon had welcomed the 1960s by diversifying his talents into film, appearing opposite John Wayne in The Alamo and Walter Pidgeon in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  1963’s Beach Party, however, was something else altogether.  Directed by William Asher, later the creative force behind television’s Bewitched, the low-budget American-International picture spawned a virtual cottage industry.  Audiences flocked to see well-scrubbed Frankie and all-American Annette Funicello frolicking on the sun-kissed beaches of Southern California.  The teenage twosome would star in seven beach party movies together in less than three years, plus beach party movies of their own (in which the other half of the duo would cameo!)  Yes, Frankie Avalon had found a way to extend his teen idol years straight through the British Invasion, which brings us to Real Gone Music’s first-ever CD reissue of Avalon’s 1964 album for United Artists, Muscle Beach Party and Other Movie Songs, handily repackaged and expanded as Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions (RGM-0035, 2012).  This 20-track time capsule includes Avalon’s complete recordings for the UA label.

The musical history of the beach party films is far more complicated than any of the movies’ plots!  Due to Avalon and Funicello recording for different labels, both artists recorded their own renditions of the movie’s songs, and true soundtracks weren’t issued for most of the films.  (When La-La Land Records issued a soundtrack to Beach Blanket Bingo in 2010, it spotlighted Les Baxter’s score and the music-only tracks for the songs.  Frankie and Annette’s actual film vocals still couldn’t be released!)  “Competing” with Annette’s Buena Vista Records Muscle Beach Party was Avalon’s own United Artists LP.  The first side was dedicated to four of the Muscle Beach tunes and two reprises from the series’ first film Beach Party, while the second featured adult standards in supper-club arrangements.  Real Gone’s reissue proves that the first side, however, has aged better than the latter, and this is in no small part due to the contributions of one musical iconoclast by the name of Brian Wilson.

Roger Christian (“Don’t Worry Baby”) and Gary Usher (“In My Room”) co-wrote the score to 1963’s Beach Party and enlisted their pal, the erstwhile Beach Boys leader, to join them for the Muscle Beach Party song score.  Wilson, Usher and Christian wrote six songs for the film, three of which are heard here as performed by Avalon: the title song, “Surfer’s Holiday” and “Runnin’ Wild.”  (Dick Dale actually sang “Muscle Beach Party” in the movie, and Dale also performed “Surfin’ Woodie” and “My First Love.”  He joined Donna Loren for the onscreen “Muscle Bustle.”)

Wilson’s compositional stamp is evident.  “Surfer’s Holiday” is a bit reminiscent of “Sidewalk Surfin’” (coincidentally recorded by Funicello) which shares its melody with The Beach Boys’ “Catch a Wave.”  The rapid-fire “Running Wild” also recalls Wilson’s infectious, early Beach Boys work with the de facto guitar break.  “A Boy Needs a Girl” wasn’t written by the Wilson/Christian/Usher triumvirate but rather by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner, but it fits in well and even recalls Wilson in his dreamy romantic mode (think “The Surfer Moon”).  After this enjoyable compendium of Beach Party tunes, Avalon turns to a brace of film-related songs aimed at adult listeners.

Join Frankie after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 27, 2012 at 13:16

Hooked on a Feeling: Real Gone Readies Complete B.J. Thomas, Frankie Avalon, The Tubes, a “Rock Messiah” and More

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Raindrops might be falling on your head, but there’s one thing I know: the March slate of releases from Real Gone Music will assuredly keep those blues at bay!  Featuring both returning favorites from the old Collectors’ Choice label as well as artists and recordings new to the Real Gone family, there’s something for everyone!  Joining B.J. Thomas’ The Complete Scepter Singles on March 27 will be Frankie Avalon’s Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions, The Tubes’ Young & Rich/Now, Rick Springfield’s Beginnings . . ., David Axelrod’s Messiah, Wishbone Ash’s Live Dates II and Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites.

Billy Joe Thomas was born in Oklahoma in 1942, but his family moved to Texas when he was just a couple weeks of age.  And it was in Texas where the young musician made a name for himself first as a member of The Triumphs and then under the tutelage of Huey P. Meaux.  The Meaux empire included such future stars as Ronnie Milsap, Doug Sahm, Johnny Winter, Barbara Lynn and Freddy Fender, and an A&R man by the name of Steve Tyrell.  When B.J. Thomas’ 1964 single of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” on the small Pacemaker label began to attract national attention, Meaux turned the single over to Florence Greenberg’s Scepter Records.  Thomas and Scepter began a long and fruitful association and as of 1967, all of Thomas’ records began appearing exclusively on Scepter.  Steve Tyrell, too, would join Scepter and participate in the success of the label’s premier recordings by Dionne Warwick and the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who, in turn, would give B.J. Thomas his No. 1 pop breakthrough with 1969’s Academy Award-winning “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”  Various compilations of Thomas’ Scepter catalogue have proliferated, most notably Ace’s 2003 The Scepter Hits and More.  Gordon Anderson’s Collectors’ Choice label brought a number of Thomas’ Scepter LPs to CD for the very first time, and now Real Gone’s 44-track anthology The Complete Scepter Singles is the first to offer A- and B-sides of every one of Thomas’ Scepter singles, including his 19 hits. Many of the B-sides never appeared on an album, and these rare tracks are making their long overdue CD debuts. DJ/journalist Mike Ragogna penned the notes, which feature quotes from Thomas.

Predating Thomas’ career by a few years is that of Frankie Avalon, beach party king.  The recordings made by Avalon for the Chancellor label have been compiled numerous times in the past, but his United Artists recordings have languished in virtual obscurity.  That’s about to change with the release of Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions.  Offering 20 stereo tracks recorded in 1964 and 1965, the new compact disc offers the entire album Muscle Beach Party and Other Movie Songs, a tie-in to director William Asher’s 1964 film starring Frankie and Annette Funicello, for which The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson composed songs with Roger Christian and Gary Usher.  (Annette released a competing Muscle Beach Party album on the Disneyland label!)  Avalon also tackles songs from other famous films, including Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses.”  Appended to the original LP are rare singles plus tracks from the soundtrack of I’ll Take Sweden, a 1965 Bob Hope comedy in which he co-starred. The set features notes by Tom Pickles as well as photographs.

At the same time Frankie Avalon was enjoying his days at the beach, a young actor named Clint Eastwood was starring in the television western Rawhide (1959-1965).  A talented composer himself, Eastwood has always taken his music as seriously as his acting, and in 1963, he recorded the LP   Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites.  Although Collectors’ Choice Music already released the album on CD in 2010, Real Gone is resuscitating it for a first-time return to vinyl for a 180-gram pressing.  That CD is returning to print, too, from Real Gone.  Like the first time around, both sides of Eastwood’s 1962 single “Rowdy” b/w “Cowboy Wedding Song” will be included on the CD version.

Hit the jump for Wishbone Ash, The Tubes, David Axelrod, and track listings with discographical annotation for every title! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 16, 2012 at 13:43