Now who, in their right minds, would buy a CD like this?
In my case the answer is simple: this was one of the discs which always seemed to be there as you walked into Cheapo, entreating you to buy it: the musical equivalent of a lonely pup in a Christmas shop. I must have scanned the tracklisting on more than one occasion then replaced it. I mean ... Pat Boone? Why Do Fools Fall in Love by the Diamonds? I Count the Tears as a solo Ben E King track even though the Drifters are credited on Save the Last Dance for Me? The absence of an apostrophe on a Clyde McPhatter hit? I could go on ...
For anyone else tempted to to lay out a couple of quid on a well-known auction website permit me to offer a whistle-stop tour through the contents of this 2004 Newsound (no, me neither) compilation:
1 Coasters - Young Blood
A trebly live recording of a vintage unspecified - though it sounds comparatively recent. In the tiniest of print on the sleeve can be found the declaration that "For the benefit of the listener this product may have been compiled from a variety of sources, including where thought appropriate, live material." Don't like that punctuation but maybe that's for my benefit too.
2 Diamonds - Why Do Fools Fall In Love
This sounds like it might have come from the same concert. Very bright indeed.
3 Juniors - At The Hop
Same gig, it sounds like. No Danny, you'll note. Could this possibly be the Junior who took part in the Rock'n'Roll Graffiti programme?
4 Drifters - Save The Last Dance For Me
A rerecording - not live, this, but it sure sounds like they didn't want to miss their last bus. Such acceleration of the tempo calls to mind the Drifters' style when playing live gigs in the UK in the eighties, although that isn't Johnny Moore on lead. Then again, this probably wasn't one of the songs he essayed at such gigs ... though I can't be sure because the only time I saw the Drifters, in the mid-eighties in the UK, Ben E King was temporarily reunited with them.
5 Tommy Edwards - It's All In The Game
Confused now, because this sounds like the original record. Or hang on, weren't there two versions of this? Either way, it sounds familiar. Coincidentally, there is quite a nice album track version of this by Ben E King.
6 Frankie Valli - This Is Real
Not a track known to me. Sounds like electronically reprocessed stereo. Don't want to hear any more of it. Ah, hold on - is that a synthesiser? A horrible sound either way.
7 Ben E King - Spanish Harlem
Ah, now this is more like it. It's the original Atlantic recording. And none of that Rhino mono-only nonsense. Stereo, with King's voice on one channel and the backing singers on the other, like on the album released with an image from the jeans advert on the front.
8 Five Satins - In The Still Of The Night
This is the original too. Feels a bit more echoey, so maybe there has been some reprocessing for stereo here too. Not unpleasant - just feels like you're slightly drunk and you're in American Graffiti. (And that's gotta be good, right?)
9 Medallions - The Letter
Yep, it's the original. Again, maybe more echoey than usual.
10 Videos - Now That Summer Is Over
Not overly familiar with this but it sounds like the original.
11 Clyde McPhatter - A Lovers [sic] Question
Sounds like this might be live. Not unpleasant. In fact it ain't bad at all, as though the freedom of live performance, and his long association with the song, has allowed him to turn it from pop to soul. Oh, it faded out before any applause but there were enough small sounds in the background to make it fairly certain it was live. Jumping onto youtube, this seems to have come from his 1964 Mercury album Live at the Apollo. Well, at least that's one pleasant discovery I'd never have made without buying this album.
12 Angels - Till
Don't know much about the Angels but this is a lousy transfer if it is the original. Everything seems to be happening on one side, unless my headphones have gone funny.
13 Patti Labelle & The Bluebells - I Walked Right In
Don't know this one. It's definitely two channels, with the vocals firmly on one side and all the instruments on the other. As with those tracks at the start, not a lot of bottom, but not a bad performance. The same performance on youtube sounds a lot better: fuller, less squeaky.
14 Tommy Edwards - Please Love Me Forever
Sounds like a needledrop. A pleasant, evocative sound, but not really my cup of tea. The backing vocals really date it.
15 Ben E King - I Count The Tears
Hold on, this is the Drifters' recording. I know Ben E King sang lead, but it was the group. It sounds more or less like the recording on that Ben E King jeans cover compilation although the bass sounds unduly prominent. King is in the middle with the other Drifters in one channel.
16 Pat Boone - Mr Blue
Well, if you're having Pat Boone doing a cover this makes a lot more sense than Tutti Frutti. Sounds like it's closely modelled on the Fleetwoods with that colourless but strangely appealing male lead. It's stereo with nothing extreme about the balance of voices and instruments, so perhaps comparatively recently done?
17 Hearts - Lonely Night
Sounds like the original. Not to be confused with Long Lonely Nights by Lee Andrews and another group of Hearts, this is the one with that wonderful endearment: "You great ... big ... lump of sugar."
18 Coasters - Poison Ivy
Ah. We're back to that live concert at the beginning. Nuff said.
19 Tokens - The Lion Sleeps Tonight
20 Mellow Kings - Tonight Tonight
But the closing track is the original recording. Reminds me that I first heard it on an album on the Joy label (President Records) which was pretty lousy sound quality, so it's kind of reassuring to hear something which approximates to it. It also reminds me that Bob Dylan, playing Wilbert Harrison's Kansas City on his Theme Time Radio Hour, said that it always sounds good, and the same, whether you play it on a top of the range hifi or hear it on a crummy radio ... ah. Whoever mixed this track just faded out the track so we didn't get to hear the Mellow Kings' final harmonies. As Tommy Cooper would say, "That's nice." He ruined the ending, one of the loveliest parts in the whole piece.
Well, McPhatter apart, I was wise to spurn this little item over the years. And I must say that there were very, very few disappointments with what I did purchase in Cheapo over the years. There was one CD of soul remakes which I didn't spot before I bought it, and there was one occasion - one in who knows how many years? - when I opened the CD when I got home and found the wrong disc inside but that's about it.
Regular readers may be interested to know that I'm not planning to leave the topic of Cheapo for a while yet. I recently found the list I was sent of their remaining stock a year after the shop closed its doors and I'm going through that, seeing which titles evoke memories.
Those live tracks ... is there a kind of rule, or a scientifically recognised phenomenon, that the more emotionally distanced singers become from their material the more celebratory such material sounds?