Aaccidentally came across this unique Flamingos compilation on the UK-based Jasmine label when shopping at HMV in central London yesterday. If you're in America, t's also available to order online from the Jasmine Records website (details below).
This compilation is significant because it's the only one to date which includes all the recordings for Chance, Parrot and Chess plus a brief selection of recordings for End. And as far as I'm concerned, that's all you could ever need - although in the interests of balance I will discuss a few alternatives later.
The discovery was accidental because the CD had been put in HMV Picadilly's Easy Listening section - sort of understandable if it had been exclusively devoted to their End material, but although there are a few 1959 sides from that New York label to round things off, basically it's the group's entire Chicago output in chronological order.
So at last we no longer have to put up with the tantalising selection on the Rhino Best of, nor the fuller but still incomplete Chance/Parrot/Chess selections on a lesser-known Charly CD, nor the pile of Various Artists CDs previously needed in order to assemble a collection of their Chance and Parrot stuff. This is the first really comprehensive set, the only significant omission being the Decca material (like the Rhino set, this only includes Ladder of Love).
Even though the cut-off point of 1959 for the End sides is a matter of legality rather than aesthetic choice (in the UK, recordings over fifty years old are considered public domain) if you're not such a big fan of their later, luxuriantly string-laden recordings, the ruling works out just fine. Here's one of the best End sides, Lovers Never Say Goodbye, which is included:
And while we're at it, why not try one of my favourite Parrot sides - a Flamingo-ising of a 50s country song associated with Eddy Arnold, I Really Don't Want to Know. I think this is fantastic - and the musical backing sounds far more complex and interesting than the later string-laden stuff: there are so many details to pick out in later listenings. According to the Al Smith Discography website (run by Armin Büttner, Robert Campbell, and Robert Pruter), the lineup for this July 1954 session is given as "The Flamingos: Nate Nelson (lead); Johnny Carter (1st tenor, falsetto); Zeke Carey (2nd tenor); Paul Wilson (baritone); Jake Carey (bass); with Al Smith (b, ldr); Lucius "Little Wash" Washington or Cliff Davis (ts); poss. Willie Jones (celeste -1, p); Lefty Bates (eg); Paul Gusman (d)." In his book Chicago Doo Wop Robert Pruter says this performance drags and prefers the side it was originally coupled with, Get With It. Well, that is a rousing number, but I humbly submit that on this rare occasion Mr Pruter has got it wrong about I Really Don't Want to Know.
To get back to the subject of the End recordings, there's nothing wrong with those later sides, provided you know what you're getting - namely a high class form of undemanding MOR late-night listening. And if it helped the Flamingos survive at at time when other groups went to the wall, all to the good. But when I bought a twofer of Requestfully Yours and The Sound of the Flamingos a few years ago, foolishly expecting something approaching rhythm and blues, I felt particularly cheated by a version of Danny Boy which was essentially a sax solo with a tiny bit of singing tagged on at the end.
On that same twofer there were no traces of gospel-inflected singing on their version of It's Too Soon to Know, suggesting a parallel universe where doo wop never happened, and the Inkspots were never been usurped by the Orioles and their followers (there was even a spoken passage). Again, fine, if that's what you want, but it makes the Ravens' cover sound like hard gospel by comparison. (If you are in Europe and already have spotify, hear the Ravens's version of It's Too Soon to Know here and the Flamingos' retro take here.)
The new CD has been issued by Jasmine Records, one of several British labels who specialise in public domain recordings and have woken up to the fact that a lot of rock'n'roll is now open to them as well as jazz and nostalgia.. I have had variable results when purchasing from such companies, although Jasmine do have a good reputation, and have been cited on Russell Davies' radio programme. Not having heard this new CD yet, I can't comment on the audio quality, but judging purely by the selection, if you don't have a Flamingos comp already, this would seem an obvious purchase.
Find details about it, including the full tracklisting, on Jasmine's website here, where you can buy it directly, if you're not able or not prepared to crack HMV's musical category codes (in what may have been a straight swap, there was a CD of Hubert Gregg's favourite Hutch in the Rock'n'Roll section). And here is a basic Flamingos discography so you can check what's been included and omitted.
There will also be a complete tracklisting for every CD mentioned in this post in the next post.
Other collections are available. None is as comprehensive, but some are worth considering. And there's also the audio quality issue. As a brief introduction Rhino's Best of the Flamingos covers all the labels, and as it's not restricted to public domain recordings is free to include 1960's Nobody Loves Me Like You, penned by Sam Cooke (although not, in my view, a masterpiece). Sound quality is excellent throughout, as you'd expect. Here's a review I wrote in 2005:
The story of the Flamingos span several decades; this compilation covers all the key recording periods: earliest days on Chance Records, including Golden Teardrops, arguably the finest example of doo wop ever recorded, complete with the tremulous, inimitable lead of Sollie McElroy.
Later days on Chess yielded a number of hits with a different lead (Nate Nelson) and the time on End, heavy on the strings, included the spectacular arrangement of I Only Have Eyes for You, covered note-for-note by Art Garfunkel.
With each move to a different label the group became more polished; I prefer the rougher, earliest sides and would have liked a greater concentration on them but others may differ. The key thing is that the collection covers all the labels and there is even a rarity - Ladder of Love - from what was apparently an unfulfilling period with Decca.
As Jay Warner says, for sheer consistency the Flamingos are difficult to beat, but what a pity that there isn't at present a legitimate release of all their Parrot/Chance sides.
If you are already a Flamingos nut, then perhaps all you need to know is that most of these sides are in the best quality ever. Parrot sides bought by Chess, like Get With It, sound as though they're from first generation tapes and are far better than on the (perfectly decent) Relic V/A CDs of Parrot material.
I'd say, hoever, that a 1976 LP (Chess ACRR-702, above) with many of these sides is better sequenced; the more obviously pop tunes on this CD issue do wear less well. And you only get a few Parrot sides (were Chess selective in what they bought or does the CD only represent what was issued?). For a wider selection of Flamingos sides on Chance, Parrot and Chess (not Decca or End), seek out the deleted CD on Charly's budget label Instant, entitled I'll Be Home, although sound quality is less stunning. That is the only CD I know of to cover all three labels in reasonable depth - the Rhino Best of, good though it is, simply has less space to cover what many consider the Flamingos' golden age on their three earliest labels.
That LP was, I think, a European-only issue. Very good sound. I didn't write a formal review of the Charly/Instant CD (above), which I bought recently via ebay. Charly CDs are often disappointing: sound quality may not be terrible, but it often seems slightly fuzzy - to these ears, anyway. From a collector's point of view, however, there is an alternate take of Get With It which may well have been included by accident, although it doesn't really add much to the more familiar version. So if the Jasmine set is halfway decent it should make the Charly/Instant CD redundant.
While it's true that the Parrot recordings included in that Chess compilation are stunning in their audio quality, the two Relic CDs of the Parrot and Blue Lake labels in Relic's label-by-label "Golden Era of Doo Wops" series are still worth consideration, as they put the Flamingos' recordings in context. You also get the superb Orchids' recordings (see my earlier piece about an Orchids side here) plus a range of high quality doo wop and rhythm and blues, linked in many cases by the use of the same backing musicians. These CDs have been deleted but are still possible to obtain, and I have recently seen other Parrot Records compilations. I'm not sure whether there is currently a Flamingos/Moonglows complete Chance recordings CD on the market.
According to the Al Smith discography website (run by Robert Pruter and others) here, the UGGH 501 CD of the Moonglows' and Flamingos' Chance recordings is a bootleg from 1998. I have it, and sound quality is genearlly fairly good, although Golden Teardrops is terrible - which rather undoes the point of buying a CD whose cover proclaims "original session tapes." That track has been horribly overprocessed, which makes me think the original source material for the other recordings may have included the overdubbed Vee-Jay version of Golden Teardrops and the compilers therefore had to find another, inferior source for that side. So even though you get a couple of Moonglows recordings predating Chance thrown in at the start, I wouldn't recommend this CD, whatever its provenance.
If the Rhino Best of has whetted your appetite for strings and you want to sample a wider range of End material without yet commiting to buying the original albums, then this single CD is the most painless option. Tracklisting is here. Sound is good. Note that it includes some remakes of earlier hits.
Well, that's it for Flamingos CD suggestions. There is also an odd coupling available of the Flamingos' Parrot sides and hits by the Crests available, but I haven't heard it. A compilation linking the Flamingos with their Parrot labelmates the Orchids would have made more sense, but there you go. I haven't discussed the music itself in detail because if you have found this website the odds are that you will know about it already. If you haven't, now you have a range of purchase options.
If you are new to this website, here are links to Doo Wop Dialog[ue] entries which discuss the group in more detail. See the next post for complete tracklist details for all the compilations mentioned here.
The recording session for Golden Teardrops
On first hearing Golden Teardrops
Pam talks about the Flamingos in live performance
"a religious experience"