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Review: Roger Cook, “Running with the Rat Pack”

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Roger Cook - Running with the Rat PackThe rules of pop music were changing, and Roger Cook didn’t want to be behind the times.  The songwriter of such nuggets as “You’ve Got Your Troubles,” “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” “My Baby Loves Lovin’” and “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” had long balanced his work as a behind-the-scenes songwriter with a singing career.  As one-half of David and Jonathan (with co-writer Roger Greenaway) and a member of Blue Mink, Cook was a familiar vocalist, and as a background singer, he added to the distinct sound of Elton John’s earliest albums.

In summer 2011, RPM Records issued Cook’s complete solo tenure for EMI’s Columbia label via an expanded edition of Cook’s 1970 album Study.  The label has just continued the Roger Cook story with a new 2-CD anthology, Running with the Rat Pack (RPM RETRO D921).  The Rats in question aren’t Frank, Dean and Sammy, but rather the U.K. session crew that brought to life albums from Blue Mink, White Plains, The First Class, Edison Lighthouse and so many other groups both real and fictional.  Rat Pack brings together two of Cook’s released LPs (1972’s Meanwhile Back at the World and 1973’s Minstrel in Flight) and adds a previously unreleased album recorded by Cook and Blue Mink bassist/session stalwart Herbie Flowers.  Though these albums lack the pure pop that made Study one of the most delightful surprises of 2011, they show Cook heading into uncharted and often interesting territory as a songwriter and vocalist.

On Meanwhile Back at the World, Cook and Greenaway must have been determined to shake off any notion that they could only turn out three-minute pop songs.  The duo wrote every song, with co-writers on just a couple of them.  The title track opens the John Burgess-produced, Jimmy Horrowitz-arranged album, a 7+-minute opus with impressionistic lyrics (“I feel that you’re aware/I feel you’re there/Somewhere…” or “People are tryin’ to reach me/Then there’s people tryin’ to be where I am/Just as if it was something you could see…”) and a sprawling musical canvas that includes both simple acoustic instrumentation and ornate strings.  Those strings bring a sound reminiscent of prime Elton John, while Cook’s vocals have a slight Neil Young tinge.

Though a brief snippet of the title song is reprised to bring continuity to the LP at its mid-point, Meanwhile otherwise isn’t much of a concept album but rather a collection of songs with a similar feel.  The story song “Greta Oscawina,” about a fan’s connection to a far-away movie star with a surname that suspiciously sounds like “Oscar winner” (“Greta Oscawina, I’m in love with you and everything you are”), is enjoyably light, with smooth saxophone woven throughout the song.

“We Will Get By” (written by the “Cookaway” team with Jackie Rae) and “Warm Days, Warm Nights” are two more lengthy tracks, both of which build from gentle piano-driven declarations to full-blown anthems.  Their melodies might be too meandering to have made for successful singles, and the team hadn’t mastered the long-form pop song form as Jimmy Webb (“MacArthur Park”) or Paul McCartney (“Band on the Run”) had.  But Cook and Greenaway’s pop instincts never wholly let them down, and there are some strikingly lovely phrases in both songs.  “Warm Days” goes from that stark piano to intense gospel fervor within the framework of a love song.  Among the album’s choir of voices are Rosetta Hightower, Lesley Duncan and Tony Burrows.  Cook also made tentative steps towards country-and-western, a field in which he would later prosper once he relocated to America and specifically, Nashville, with “Oh Babe.”  The album’s closing song, an upbeat ode to “Sweet America” co-written with Bruce “Hey Baby” Channel, also has a twangy vibe.

Though Meanwhile Back at the World had its far-out moments, Cook planned an even more ambitious follow-up.  Join us after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 17, 2013 at 12:36

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Roger Cook

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He’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony): RPM Reissues Famed Songwriter Roger Cook’s “Study”

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Even if you don’t know the name of Roger Cook, chances are you do know his songs: “You’ve Got Your Troubles,” “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” just to name a few.  But like so many of his contemporaries, the songwriter harbored aspirations of a solo career, too.  This wasn’t so far-fetched; as half of the duo David and Jonathan (with Roger Greenaway, co-writer of all those aforementioned songs), Cook was already a bona fide hitmaker in front of the microphone.  Along with the ubiquitous Tony Burrows (Edison Lighthouse, White Plains, The Brotherhood of Man and The First Class), Cook was also a frequent session vocalist.  Between 1968 and 1971, Roger Cook recorded for EMI’s Columbia label, and his entire output for Columbia has been collected on RPM’s expansion of his 1970 album Study.  The title was apt, as many could have learned a thing or two studying Cook’s hit songs!  It was issued under the name of “Roger James Cooke” (“a load of old bull feathers,” confirms the man actually born Roger Frederick Cook) but the songs are pure Roger Cook.

Study was recorded concurrently with Cook’s work as a frontman in Blue Mink alongside fellow session vocalist Madeline Bell, not to mention his work with White Plains and other studio outfits.  His familiar voice is pleasingly expressive, often with a folk-ish lilt.  It might be surprising that all of the songs aren’t from Cook’s pen, but he had always had an ear for great material.  Cook was an early proponent of Elton John, and his first solo single was dedicated to Elton and Bernie Taupin’s “Skyline Pigeon.”  With a subtle arrangement from John Cameron (Donovan’s Sunshine Superman, the musical Les Miserables), “Skyline” was also included on Study.   The young Albert Hammond and his lyrical partner Mike Hazelwood wrote about the tantalizing, teasing “Teresa,” very much in the catchy Cook/Greenaway mode.  David and Jonathan had scored a major hit with The Beatles’ “Michelle,” and Cook returned to the Fabs’ catalogue with George Harrison’s oft-covered “Something.”

Seven of the album’s thirteen tracks came from the two Rogers.  These songs were drawn from their back catalogue other than the freshly-penned single, the frenetic “Stop.”  The big pop hook of “Not That It Matters Anymore” is quintessential Cook/Greenaway (or “Cookaway,” as their publishing company was called).  Though Radio One overlooked the song, it still has “hit” written all over it.  “Ain’t That a Wonderful Thing” is lower-key, though it still has a boisterous chorus; it’s also Cook’s favorite track on the LP per Kingsley Abbott’s new liner notes.  Cook also reveals that “Today I Killed a Man I Didn’t Know” is most reflective of where his style was circa 1970.  The song was also recorded by P.J. Proby and White Plains.  The most atypical of the Cook/Greenaway songs might be “3 Parnall Road, Fishponds, Bristol.”  The slice of autobiographical nostalgia from the Bristol-born Cook warmly recalls his formative days: “Clever boy, you’ve done so well since you were there/But you can still remember 3 Parnall Road, Fishponds, Bristol and all those family names, familiar still…”

What bonus tracks will you find?  Hit the jump for that, and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 9, 2012 at 09:55

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Roger Cook

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