Wednesday, 21 June 2017

"On Vine Street: The Early Songs Of Randy Newman" by VARIOUS (March 2008 Ace Records CD - Duncan Cowell and Rob Shread Remasters)

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Begun in 1975 London - England's Ace Records have been at this reissue malarkey as long as most us have had dental appointments for a sweet tooth. For more than forty years now they've compiled out likes and dislikes on vinyl and CD and nine-times out of ten their superb reissues regularly elicit four and five stars - almost as a norm. But sometimes they just utterly nail it - and with a subject matter that deserves our attention and rediscovery. Even half way through "On Vine Street: The Early Songs Of Randy Newman" - you can 'feel' the class seeping off track-after track on this 2008 CD compilation.

As the risk of sounding trite here (and I don't mean to be) - the reason is Randy Newman's writing. Many (not all) of these Sixties artists couldn't pen a song of their own and would have been at the mercy of 'other' suppliers - the Brill building Pop machine that fed them by-the-numbers hits – another bopper in tune with the latest fad sweeping the dance floors of the nation. But even in cover versions that throwaway sensibility isn't present. You can literally hear these interpretations be sung with genuine soul and passion because the artists singing them 'know' a real song when they sing it.

Split into his two most recognisable styles - wry acidic humour on the one hand sat alongside piano-led pain on the other - most of the best songs on here are ballads actually. And even though there's simplicity to Newman's melodies - his words are deceptively deep - not just a boy and a girl sat in a Chevy on a Saturday night at the Drive-In - all fumbling thumbs and chewing-gum nerves. When you put hurting odes like "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" into the hands of masters like Dusty Springfield or "I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore" into the lungs of Scott Walker - something magical happens.

I’ve played this compilation from start to finish on more than one occasion (even if I don’t dig everything on here) and on each new listen – my admiration for this classy songsmith only grows. Here are the dancing details...

UK released 31 March 2008 (7 April 2008 in the USA) - "On Vine Street: The Early Songs Of Randy Newman" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Ace Records CDCHD 1186 (Barcode 029667032629) is a 26-song CD compilation covering 1962 to 1970 that plays out as follows (68:57 minutes):

1. The Biggest Night Of Her Life - HARPERS BIZARRE (from their 1967 US Stereo album "Anything Goes" on Warner Brothers WS 1716)
2. Simon Smith And The Amazing Dance - ALAN PRICE SET (February 1967 UK 7" single on Decca F 12570, A-side)
3. Mama Told Me Not To Come - ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS (from their 1967 US Stereo album "Eric Is Here" on MGM Records SE 4433)
4. Have You Seen My Baby - FATS DOMINO (from the 1969 US album "Fats Is Back" on Reprise RS 6304, also February 1970 US 7" single on Reprise 0891, A-side)
5. Old Kentucky Home – THE BEAU BRUMMELS (from their 1967 US Stereo LP "Triangle" on Warner Brothers WS 1692)
6. So Long Dad - NILSSON (from the January 1970 US LP "Nilsson Sings Newman" on RCA Victor LSP-4269, an entire album of RN covers)
7. Love Story - RICKY NELSON (from his 1968 US Stereo LP "Perspective" on Decca DL 75014)
8. (Intro: Black Jack David)/Vine Street - VAN DYKE PARKS (from the 1967 US Stereo LP "Song Cycle" on Warner Brothers WS 1727)
9. I'll Be Home - LORRAINE ELLISON (1970 recording first issued 1995 on the CD album "Stay With Me/The Best Of..." on Ichiban SCL 2016)
10. I Think It's Gonna Rain Today - DUSTY SPRINGFIELD (from the 1968 UK Stereo LP "Dusty...Definitely" on Philips SBL 7864)
11. I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore - WALKER BROTHERS/SCOTT WALKER (from their 1965 debut UK Stereo LP "Take It Easy With..." on Philips SBL 7691 - called "Introducing The Walker Brothers" in the USA. Same recording also issued as a SCOTT WALKER solo 7" single in the USA in April 1968 on Smash S-2156, A-side)
12. I've Been Wrong Before - CILLA BLACK (April 1965 UK 7" single on Parlophone R 5269, US 7" single on Capitol 5414, Produced George Martin)
13. Take Me Away - JACKIE DeSHANNON (from her 1965 UK Stereo LP "This Is Jackie DeShannon" on Liberty SLBY 3063)
14. Happy New Year - BEVERLEY [later Beverley Martyn, wife of John Martyn] (September 1966 UK 7" single on Deram DM 101, A-side. Features Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin on Guitar and Bass with Nicky Hopkins on Piano)
15. Baby, Don't Look Down - BILLY STORM (September 1964 US 7" single on Loma 2001, A-side)
16. Friday Night - THE O'JAYS (August 1966 US 7" single on Imperial 66197, B-side of "Stand In For Love")
17. Big Brother - CALVIN GRAYSON (October 1964 US 7" single on Capitol 5308, B-side of "Where Do I Belong", produced by David Axelrod)
18. Nobody Needs Your Love - GENE PITNEY (June 1966 UK 7" single on Stateside SS 518, A-side)
19. Just One Smile - THE TOKENS (August 1965 US 7" single on B.T. Puppy Records 45-513, B-side of "The Bells Of St. Mary")
20. I Can't Remember Ever Loving You - TAMMY GRIMES (Previous unissued 1966 session - arrangements Jack Nitzsche)
21. While The City Sleeps - IRMA THOMAS (from the 1964 US Stereo LP "Wish Someone Would Care" on Imperial LP-12266)
22. Take Her - FRANKIE LAINE (September 1963 US 7" single on Columbia 4-42884, B-side of "I'm Gonna Be Strong", arranged by Jack Nitzsche, produced by Terry Melcher)
23. Love Is Blind - IRMA FRANKLIN (August 1963 US 7" single on Epic 5-9610, B-side of "Abracadabra")
24. Somebody's Waiting - GENE McDANIELS (December 1962 UK 7" single on Liberty LIB 55510, B-side of "Spanish Lace")
25. Looking For Me - VIC DANA (January 1963 UK 7" single on Liberty LIB 64, B-side of "A Very Good Year For Girls")
26. They Tell Me It's Summer - THE FLEETWOODS (July 1962 US 7" single on Dolton 62, B-side of "Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day")
Tracks 9, 14, 15, 19, 20, 23 and 25 are in MONO - the remainder in STEREO

The 20-page booklet is a feast of photos and in-depth info provided by the frighteningly well-informed MICK PATRICK - a man (like me) who clearly needs to get out more. You wouldn't know it by looking at its rare Deram DM 101 label - but Beverley's lone UK seven-inch single entry here features Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin on Guitar and Bass while Nicky Hopkins adds the keyboards. Patrick informs the collectors in us all of this kind of info (I’d add that in a few years time the gorgeous Londoner would meet and marry a young Ian David McGeachy from Scotland who would then change his name to John Martyn and they would of course become John and Beverley Martyn on Island Records). Patrick also mentions stuff like the Eric Burdon & The Animals earlier take on "Mama Told Me Not To Come" was produced by Tony Wilson who was closely associated with The Velvet Underground and that the EB version was what Three Dog Night based their cover on - a song that gave them a No. 1 in the USA and a lot of other places too. The photos of rare album covers for Irma Thomas, Jackie DeShannon, The Beau Brummels and Rick Nelson and more spice up the text - while DUNCAN COWELL and ROB SHREAD have done their usual bang up job with the mastering and audio restoration - so many in glorious and ballsy Stereo. To the music...

At first the Harpers Bizarre vaudeville pop of "The Biggest Night Of Her Life" seems slightly throwaway but then the depth of the words hit you - Suzie attending her 16th birthday party where her neat-haired boyfriend might get his crew-cut ruffled. The wit continues with a huge hit for both Newman and ex-Animals main-man Alan Price - "Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear". It's not a tune I've ever particularly warmed too but it does have great audio here. Things really start to cook with the shimmering "Mama Told Me Not To Come" by Eric Burdon. Sure his earlier version is more heavy-handed than the brilliant and frankly better Three Dog Night version that would top charts everywhere in 1970 - but it's a truly fascinating listen. Virtually unheard nowadays - Fats Domino lays down a typically swaying and piano-storming version of "Have You Seen My Baby"  - for many people a genuine discovery on here. "Old Kentucky Home" suits The Beau Brummels to a tee.

Things heat up with the impossibly pretty and forlorn "So Long Dad" from the 1970 "Nilsson Sings Newman" album - a record I've reviewed as a separate entity because I think it's a forgotten masterpiece. The Rick Nelson track is from his equally ignored "Perspective" LP from 1968 where each track is linked with natural sounds (here it's slurping water at the beginning of the song). The bizarre Van Dyke Parks track "Vine Street" is made all the more difficult by having 'Black Jack David' lead it in before strings and his strange voice take over. Recorded in 1970 - the Lorraine Ellison track is a sweetheart too but its firmly trounced by both Dusty Springfield and Scott Walker who nail "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" and "I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore" with fabulous arrangements. The Beverley Martyn track is superb too - a bit of a Rocker with jobbing-musicians Jimmy Page and John-Paul Jones giving it some in the background while the Soul Boys and Gals bring up "Friday Night" (O'Jays), "I Can't Remember Ever Loving You" (Tammy Grimes) and and a wonderful Northern Soul and Phil Spector feel to "Somebody's Waiting" (Gene McDaniels).

Odd - musical - and yet somehow thoroughly satisfying – 2008’s "On Vine Street: The Early Songs Of Randy Newman" is a very cool CD. Hats off to Ace and its compiler crew once again...

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