Hot on the heels of their definitive "Blowing The Fuse" and "Sweet Soul Music" CD Series (15 volumes to each genre of R'n'B and Soul) comes Bear Family’s Vocal Group attack - 15 discs spanning 1939 to 1963. Volumes 1 to 10 hit the shops in batches of 5 (May and October 2012) and the last five in May 2013. And while critics will argue that Vocal Group music has already been done to death by Rhino (3 x 4CD Box Sets across the decades) and a mountain of other cheapo labels taking advantage of the 50-year copyright law - this is the first time someone reputable (other than Rhino) have had a go - and typically these German-issued Bear Family CDs are gorgeous in all the right places - presentation and audio. You get 34 tracks and a format-incredible total playing time of 83:23 minutes. Time for 'A Teenager In Love' to 'Wiggle Wiggle' as 'The Angels Listened In'...
Released May 2013 in Germany - "Street Corner Symphonies Volume 11: 1959" on Bear Family BCD 17289 AR (Barcode 5397102172892) breaks down as follows (I've provided American 7” single catalogue numbers on all tracks – those with two or more catalogue numbers are reissues in the same year – 83:23 minutes):
1. I Only Have Eyes For You – THE FLAMINGOS (End 1946, A)
2. Love Potion No. 9 – THE CLOVERS (United Artists 180, A)
3. This I Swear – THE SKYLINERS (Calico 106, A)
4. The Angels Listened In – THE CRESTS (Coed 515, A)
5. Island Of Love – THE SHEPPARDS (Apex 7750, A)
6. You're So Fine – THE FALCONS (Flick 001/Unart 2013, A)
7. Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home) – THE IMPALAS (Cub 9022, A)
8. My Love Will Never Die – THE CHANNELS (Fury 1021, A)
9. Wiggle, Wiggle – THE ACCENTS (Brunswick 55100, A)
10. Dedicated To The One I Love – THE SHIRELLES (Arranged & Directed by Stan Green) (Scepter 1203, A)
11. Senorita I Love You – THE IMPRESSIONS (Abner 1025, A)
12. A Teenager In Love – DION & THE BELMONTS (Laurie 3027, A)
13. Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko Bop – LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS (End 1060, A)
14. Hushabye – THE MYSTICS (Laurie 3028, A)
15. Moonlight Serenade – THE RIVIERAS (Orchestra Conducted by Al Semola) (Coed 508, A)
16. Who’s That Knocking – THE GENIES (Shad 5002, A)
17. Just To Be With You – THE PASSIONS (Arranged And Conducted by Paul Swain) (Audicon 102, A)
18. Charlie Brown – THE COASTERS (Atco 6132, A)
19. Dearest Darling (You're The One) – HUEY SMITH (and The Clowns) (Ace 571, A)
20. Dry Your Eyes – THE DELLS (Vee-Jay 324, A)
21. (Baby) Hully Gully – THE OLYMPICS (Arvee 562, A)
22. Puppy Love – LITTLE JIMMY & THE TOPS (V-Tone 102/Len 1011, A)
23. Rockin' In The Jungle – THE ETERNALS (Hollywood 68, A)
24. You Were Mine – THE FIREFLIES (Ribbon 6901, A)
25. Good News – THE FIESTAS (Old Town 1074, A)
26. Mope-itty Mope – THE BOSS-TONES (Boss 501/V-Tone 208, A)
27. Sea Of Love – PHIL PHILLIPS with The Twilights (Khoury’s 711/Mercury 71465, A)
28. Let It Please Be You – THE DESIRES (Hull 730, A)
29. There Goes My Love – THE FANTASTICS (RCA Victor 47-7572, A)
30. My Beloved (Without Strings) – THE SATINTONES (Motown 1000, A)
31. Oh Rose Marie – THE FASCINATORS (Orchestra Under The Direction Of Jesse Stone) (Capitol 4247, A)
32. This Broken Heart – THE SONICS (Harvard 801/Checker 922, A)
33. There Goes My Baby – THE DRIFTERS (Atlantic 2025, A)
34. Shout (Parts 1 & 2) – THE ISLEY BROTHERS (RCA Victor 47-7588, A)
The 84-page non-detachable booklet is a feast of indepth liner notes on each release by Grammy-winning writer and lifelong fan BILL DAHL. Let's put it this way - there's a 'Photo Captions' index on Page 82 that tells who's who in the black and white publicity shots that accompany most (not all) of the photos. It actually lists the singer's names - who else but Bear would do this? The text is peppered with pictures of those old American 45s on long-forgotten labels like Flick, Unart, Scepter, Boss, Ghoury’s, Harvard, Hull and Cub as well as bigger names like Atco, Mercury and even Motown. You get rare 7” picture sleeves for The Accents, The Crests and The Falcons. The CD repros the rare "I Only Have Eyes For You" by The Flamingos on End and the spine makes up a single photograph of the series name when you line up all 15 volumes alongside each other on a shelf. Long-standing and trusted names like Walter DeVenne, Nico Feuerbach, Victor Pearlin, Colin Escott and Billy Vera have been involved in the research - while Audio Engineer MARCUS HEUMANN did the superb mastering (Disc Transfers by Victor Pearlin and Lothar Blank). The sources (as you can imagine) differ wildly but to my ears the sound quality is improved on everything that I've heard before (including some of the Rhino box sets). The audio and presentation are top-class here (a norm for Bear Family)...
With a huge 34 tracks and a format-packed playing time of 83:23 minutes – you certainly can't accuse this CD of scrimping it. Sounding gorgeous and virtually defining Vocal Group bliss – 1959's Volume 11 opens with a genuine masterpiece that I would put close to the top of my Desert Island disc selection – the beautiful "I Only Have Eyes For You" by The Flamingos. What a song – never fails to send me. It may look like Turpentine and taste like India Ink - but "Love Portion No. 9" seems to be doing the babe-pulling business for The Clovers - that is until one of them kisses a cop at 34th and Vine. Strings arrive with "This I Swear" by the white-boys-n'-gal combo of The Skyliners where our hero promises to never make her cry (he even sounds sincere folks).
Things go Dion & The Belmonts pop with The Crests on "The Angels Listened In" where our hero is convinced of heavenly intervention every time he looks at his girl. "Island Of Love" is an excellent slow-dancer as is the decidedly low-fi but emotion-packed "You're So Fine". A great smoocher and a genuinely clever inclusion is "My Love Will Never Die" by The Channels with soaring vocals from Lead Tenor Earl Lewis – as lovely as The Flamingos opener. Coming on like a companion rhythm to "Itty Bitty Pretty One" things gets bop-a-long with the infectious "Wiggle, Wiggle" by The Accents where Lead Vocalist James Jackson advises his lady on what to do with her rather fine posterior (but in a nice way you understand). By the time we reach The Shirelles with "Dedicated To The One I Love" and "A Teenager In Love" by Dion & The Belmonts – you can already feel the racy free-love of the 60ts beckoning.
Although it was huge on the charts - the almost African rhythms of "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko Bop" by Little Anthony & The Imperials sits a little uncomfortably here. The squeaky clean "Hushabye" by The Mystics (written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman) sounds incredible audiowise. “Moonlight Serenade” feels a little too syrupy for its own good – better is the bopping “Who’s That Knocking” by The Genies which sounds a little like "Rama Lama Ding Dong". The pretty "Just To Be With You" by The Passions impresses but it's kicked into touch by the witty crowd-pleasing R&B of "Charlie Brown" by The Coasters (what a winner). Before they embarked on a staggering 40-year career in R&B and sophisticated 60ts Soul – The Dells gave us the lovely "Dry Your Eyes". Novelty time with "Hully Gully", the organ-driven seaside feel to "Puppy Love" and silly jungle noises for "Rockin' In The Jungle". Far better is the Otis Blackwell written "Good Times" by The Fiestas – a really great shuffling beat that's clearly going after the dancefloor crowd. "Sea Of Love" by Phil Phillips even had an Al Pacino/Ellen Barkin film named after it. "There Goes My Baby" indicates at the Soul to come. And on it goes to musical history with "My Beloved" by The Satintones – a long forgotten single but one that enjoyed the (now) astonishing catalogue number of Motown 1000 – the very first Vocal Group on the label...
To sum up – as 1959 plays you can feel the heyday of Vocal Groups as we've known and loved them already on the wane (and there's four more volumes to go No. 15) – but that doesn't mean that the song quality has gone out the window. I know many of these crossover R&B hits from other compilations – but their clarity here is stunning. You could argue the merits of having the manic Jackie Wilson crowd-pleasing vocal pyrotechnics of The Isley Brothers ending the compilation with both parts of the fabulous "Shout" – but I for one am glad it's here...
Niggles - they're too expensive as singles discs and perhaps they should have been doubles because real collectors will have more than a few titles on offer here. But Bear Family will argue '...not in this sound quality or looking this good...' - and they'd have a point.
Presented to us with love and affection by an independent record company that cares about forgotten voices that shouldn’t be forgotten. What a sweetheart of a compilation and another gold standard from Bear...