Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 30 (1959 charts and early Britrock)

Only one more volume of the Fabulous 50s to go, but if you're not so keen on the tracks which don't come straight from the fridge (like L7, Daddio, you dig?) maybe I could draw your attention to an inexpensive box set which focuses exclusively on British rock'n'roll from the initial 1956 explosion to the early sixties - and not a Ronnie Hilton or a David Whitfield in sight.

I bought it recently on a well known shopping website for 6.99 - the price has now gone up a bit but it's still very good value. If you have access to spotify, here is a link. Doublelick on the image below for a readable tracklisting:

In fact, if you are looking to buy just one cheapo box set which includes, in the sleevenote writer's words, "almost every area in British rock music's rise ... from Big Bands to the Beatles" then this may well be it.

Admittedly, not every single track on this 5 CD set of homegrown rock'n'roll will make the liver quiver, the knees freeze and the bladder splatter (Little Richard's infallible tripartite test for the real thing), but for the average listener - and especially at such a bargain price - this collection provides an excellent overview of the pre-Beatles British rock era, illuminating that time, from the mid fifties onwards, when the likes of Lionel Bart, penning ersatz rock'n'roll hits for the likes of Tommy Steele and Anthony Newley, started the ball rolling for the Fabs.

There are key hits from almost all the major figures, and the emphasis is firmly on rockin': Newley's Idle on Parade is selected, for example, rather than a ballad. Those who came to fame via the 2 I's coffee bar are well represented, of course - Wee Willie Harris's tribute to the place, Rockin' at the 2 I's is present and correct.

Given the number of public domain fifties compilations out there, including The Fabulous 50s, it's worth noting that this is issued by a major company, Universal, so sound quality is particularly good. It also comes with a handy booklet written by Dave McAleer giving a quick picture of the music scene of that period. Not exactly lavish but then you have to cut corners somewhere. You want Bear Family extras, you pay Bear Family prices.

And - probably to entice those who may have bought much of this before - there are a few comparative rarities and non-hits now of historical importance including early Tom Jones (Chills and Fever), pre-Who (the High Numbers' I'm the Face), a Joe Cocker Beatles cover which never made it (and isn't all that good: I'll Cry Instead), songwriter Mort Shuman's version of Turn Me Loose and young Rod Stewart's take on Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.

Maybe it's a pity that the compiler didn't stop with the emergence of the Beatles. While it's interesting to hear those early recordings by artists who made it big a little later in the sixties, there is more than enough pre-Fab Four rock to fill such a collection. And it might have been a neater division. But then again, at this price, who's complaining all that loudly?

Also of particular note in among the covers of American material is an authentic British rock classic, Shakin' All Over, by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, not to mention Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac. Even the Goons' Bloodnok's Rock'n'Roll Call is included, which suggests a degree of wit on the compiler's part (and unlike the Ying Tong Song it swings - sort of).

Among the inevitable covers, the Ted Heath Orchestra's take on the Champs' Tequila is not the equal of the original, but it is enjoyable. And in addition to a few inferior copies, you get the odd intriguing version of an American original, such as Marion Ryan's swinging take on Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Lord Rockingham's 11 were a group of jazzers sending up this new rock'n'roll fad - although such is the exhuberance of Hoots Mon! who really cares?

I notice, too, that Joe Brown is well represented, which is as it should be - he held his own when the Beatles were on the bill - and in fact the only major omission that I can think of is Sir Cliff's Move It, but that is easily available elsewhere - on The Fabulous 50s volume in the previous post, for one.

To sum up: in terms of price and range of music covered, very good as a single purchase for the non-specialist. If you are only interested in a particular genre or label, there are other compilations which will do the trick; the aim of this set, as sleevewriter Dave McAleer says, is to "include almost every area in British rock music's rise" even if that includes novelty numbers and "a few somewhat dated or carefully cloned covers" in among "outstanding original rock songs, instrumentals, teen beat/pop rock, early British R&B and Merseybeat."

And so to the last of the Fabulous 50s CDs. As the decade has worn on, Americans have increasingly begun to dominate the charts, although not to the exclusion of native acts.

So alongside the big US names even in 1959, a time when rock'n'roll was pretty much established, we still have artists on this compilation such as Ronnie Hilton, Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber (reflecting the trad jazz boom which inspired John Lennon to list his dislikes in one interview as "trad jazz and thick heads"), the wholesome Craig Douglas singing Only Sixteen, and Tommy Steele, now very much an all-round entertainer rather than the rock'n'roller he started out as, doing an execrable novelty number called Little White Bull which insinuates itself into your brain. Think I prefer Nairobi.

Interesting to see that the tracklist ends with Buddy Holly, as Adam Faith, in effect doing a hiccuping Buddy, is near the beginning. Faith, as might have been deduced from an early interview in the Face to Face series, had the nous to reinvent himself and enjoy a long career - even his final words had the ring of truth, as he opined that Channel 5 was "a load of cr*p" then promptly expired.

I notice that there are quite a few "proper" rock'n'roll tracks in this year's compilation, which presumably means they were all number ones or thereabouts - and when I crossreferenced the British Hit Parade CDs for 1959 there weren't that many extra rock'n'roll classics caught in their wider (whole of the top twenty) net.

Maybe Xtra/Delta will bring out a Sensational 60s series shortly (gotta have that alliteration), but I might give it a miss as I have more than enough of those CDs already. Anyway, here's the tracklist; I may add youtube links later. And yes, The Wonder of You is the same song: from Hillbilly Cat to Hilton in eleven years.

1. Theme From Peter Gunn Duane Eddy
2. What Do You Want? Adam Faith
3. The Battle Of New Orleans - Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group
4. What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For? Emile Ford & The
5. Travellin Light Cliff Richard & The Shadows
6. I Got Stung Elvis Presley
7. The Wonder Of You Ronnie Hilton
8. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes The Platters
9. I Need Your Love Tonight Elvis Presley
10. Side Saddle Russ Conway
11. Misty Johnny Mathis
12. Rawhide Frankie Laine
13. Petite Fleur Chris Barber s Jazz Band
14. Oh Carol Neil Sedaka
15. One Night Elvis Presley
16. Only Sixteen Craig Douglas
17. Mary's Boy Child Harry Belafonte
18. Mack The Knife Bobby Darin
19. Little White Bull Tommy Steele
20. Living Doll Cliff Richard & The Drifters
21. It Doesn t Matter Anymore Buddy Holly
22. Heartaches By The Number Guy Mitchell
23. Beyond The Sea Bobby Darin
24. Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On The Bedpost Overnight) Lonnie
Donegan & His Skiffle Group
25. Dream Lover Bobby Darin
26. A Fool Such As I Elvis Presley & The Jordanaires
27. El Paso Marty Robbins
28. He'll Have To Go Jim Reeves
29. Raining In My Heart Buddy Holly

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