HOLLAND – The Beach Boys – Reprise/Brother Records K54008
One of pop music’s most durable groups are The Beach Boys. In recent years they have had their ups and downs, but they still emerge as one of the most universally appealing bands in the history of rock and roll. Pet Sounds is obviously their masterpiece, but if Holland is anything to go by, they will be making dazzling recordings for some time to come.
The most magical aspect of The Beach Boys is their ability to clearly convey the images they conjure up. You not only hear their music — you also feel it, experiencing all the sensations and emotions condensed into their records. The enthusiasm, stories and messages expressed in their songs are at times naive, but usually never stray far from reality, whatever that happens to mean to you.
Their last album, Surf’s Up, re-activated their popularity and reputation as significant music makers and a discerning public gave them the attention only the truly creative and original should enjoy. Holland, keeps all the promises their previous recording made, of heralding the beginning of an exciting new Beach Boys era, and demonstrates why they will remain part of pop’s establishment.
Their music, as ever, is made up from the ingredients one expects from them. The surf influence is still there, the songs about California’s climate, beauty and freedom reappear as usual and the stunning production and arrangements joyfully continue to astound. The opening track, Sail On Sailor, is another Brian Wilson classic. It leads you straight into the essence of the album – the wondrous order of life and nature, never-ending but glimpsing searches for identity, and humanity’s surprise at finding out we are only human. Feelings of openness and distance spring to mind. The sound is familiar, making it easy to settle down comfortably on the right level of consciousness to enioy what is to follow. Dennis Wilson’s Steamboat does in fact. A lazy, drifting, but thoroughly pleasing composition, that is an ideal cut to come after the anthem-like opener
Next comes the three part song cycle California Saga, chiefly composed and conceived by Mike Love and partially by Alan Jardine. An ambitious attempt at unifying several themes, but the end result is not entirely successful, owing to too many obvious weaknesses.
Side two takes off with The Trader. The lyrics are amongst the best heard on the album. The arrangements and singing seem so effortless and simple, until you start examining what has gone into producing the song. The other highpoint on this side is Leaving This Town. A brilliant cut, hauntingly simple in its basic construction, but incorporating so many complexities it begs to be replayed over and over again.
The record is called Holland because that’s where it was recorded. The words and music though are still, as always, drenched in Californian symbolism and lifestyles. Assessing Holland as a complete entity, I am left with no doubt that it will become one of the most buyable albums of ’73.
As an added bonus you get a seven inch 33⅓ rpm disc as well. Brian Wilson is responsible for the fantasy that takes up both sides of the record. It is titled Mount Vernon And Fairway.
Described as ‘A Fairy Tale’, it tells the story of a magic transistor radio. Fun for children of all ages.
JOE SIMON’S GREATEST HITS – Monument MNT 65419
Joe Simon’s Greatest Hits album should really have been called his ‘greatest hits so far.’ Perhaps he hasn’t broken through to a large audience in Great Britain yet, but he has had a string of successes in the States and is still producing hit parade material.
The only people to realise the extent of Joe Simon’s talent so far have been soul enthusiasts and the younger generation of our black population. They, at least, haven’t missed out on one of soul music’s most distinguished and sophisticated singers. Simon’s style takes in blues, jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues, and this combination of influences has enabled him to storm the US charts with songs such as The Chokin’ Kind, Message From Maria, Teenager’s Prayer and Hangin’ On, each of them destined to become contemporary soul classics.
Despite Joe Simon’s lack of recognition in this country, his Greatest Hits collection serves as an excellent introduction to a very special artist. It makes for ideal late-night listening too.
HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT – Gladys Knight and the Pips – Tamla Motown STML 11226
Unless Tamla Motown are planning further volumes of Gladys Knight’s ‘greatest hits’, this will probably be her last album on that label. She recently ended her long lasting relationship wjth Tamla to join Buddah records. It is a disappointment for the London staff of her former company, as Gladys has finally broken through to British record buyers with her version of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night, the title track of this album. Quite deservedly so too, as Gladys adds much to this already beautiful song, turning it into an immensely moving and earthy epic about love and emotion.
This collection is not a new set of recordings, for it is comprised of some of the better material from her past albums. The title track comes from her latest, Standing Ovation, whilst the others range from 1967 through to 1970. A fair proportion of the cuts are on her Greatest Hits package, so make sure you are not doubling up on too many tracks before laying out your cash for this full price record. There is a total of fourteen tracks, most of them perfect examples of Gladys Knight’s exceptionally soulful and funky range. Worth mentioning are Look Of Love, Letter Full Of Tears, It Should Have Been Me, and what for me is the best version of Smokey Robinson’s The Tracks Of My Tears.
ALOHA FROM HAWAII VIA SATELLITE – Elvis Presley – DPS 2040
Elvis Presley seems to be churning out ‘live’ albums the way he used to bring out those mediocre to bad movies a few years ago. This latest offering was recorded at a concert in Hawaii and contains a selection of some of his best known material, with a few ‘standards’ and contemporary hit songs to fill out the programme.
The concert commences with the pretentious use of the opening passage from Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (Theme from ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’) to announce Elvis’s arrival on stage. He starts by rushing his middle-aged spread through an up-tempo version of See See Rider, then moves on to Burning Love, one of the best new songs Elvis includes in his current repertoire. As I said earlier, the rest of the songs can be sub-divided into two categories, golden oldies and new and old ‘standards’, the former always coming off the best, except for the extended version of Suspicious Minds.
This two-record set is modestly priced at £3.19 and is guaranteed to keep the hordes of Presley fans around the world happy, although it is unlikely to turn on younger generations and those who were only turned on by Elvis’s vintage ‘rockers’.
LEADERS OF THE PACK – Various Artists — Buddah 2318078.
Leaders of the Pack is a re-issue of a 99p budget compilation album released a couple of years ago. This time around it is full price, but it does contain four extra tracks. Most of the cuts were hit singles and originate from 1969 and 1970. They were recorded by groups mainly based in New York.
There are sixteen tracks on the record, three of them from the Shangri-Las, including Leader of the Pack and Remember (Walking In The Sand). They are not the original versions though, as I suspect is the case with The Token’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Of the other cuts, two are the best songs put out by the Dixie Cups. These are People Say and Chapel of Love. The latter has recently been covered by the rising New York ‘superstar’ Bette Midler. There are tracks from 1910 Fruitgum Co., (Simon Says), a couple from Lou Christie and two excellent contributions from Tommy James & The Shondells (Mirage and I Think We’re Alone Now). Obscure groups such as the Jelly Beans, the Ad-Libs, San Fransisco’s legendary, but now sadly vanished Sopwith Camel, are also represented, along with the Tradewinds (Mind Excursion) who complete the line-up of artistes.
Leaders of the Pack is an interesting, amusing album, especially for connoisseurs of pop music. My major complaint about it is the rather inflated price and the absence of any sleeve notes, which would have made this package of nostalgia a far more attractive investment.
THE MOTOWN SOUND (Volume One) – Various Artists – Tamla Motown – STML 11217
The Motown Sound (Vol. 1) is a collection of lesser known Tamla Motown recordings, most of them being unavailable in the UK before or else unobtainable owing to the companies policy of quickly deleting the majority of singles they issue.
The album is an essential buy for avid collectors of Motown and soul disco music enthusiasts. Amongst the fourteen tracks are songs by the Marvelettes, The Originals, The Miracles, Terry Johnson, and the Lollipops.
Although I try my hardest to disagree with self-congratulatory cover notes on album sleeves, I find I must accept that Motown’s sound is one of the most distinctive, creative and enjoyable ever produced by an independent record company. This album, despite the relative obscurity of many of the artists and songs, is a worthwhile attempt to clarify Motown’s unique position in the recording industry.
THROUGH THE EYES OF LOVE – Ray Charles – Probe SPB 1066
Ray Charles’s latest album, Through The Eyes Of Love, comes over as being rather pleasantly quaint. To start with the record’s cover reminds me of the jackets 10” LP’s used to come wrapped in. It portrays a pair of black shades on a violet velvety background, with the title and credits in camp, exaggerated serif type face. The musical content takes me back too, conjuring up memories of his ‘Modern Sounds In Country & Western’ ventures of a few years ago. That era, if your memory stretches back that far, produced such classics as I Can’t Stop Loving You, You Don’t Know Me and Georgia On My Mind.
If the slightly old-fashioned and restrained presentation of the material he uses doesn’t immediately make you lose interest, you may find that the combination of the highly romantic lyrics and sweeping strings is relaxing and entertainingly diverting. Charles’ decision to sing a selection of sophisticated/soulful ballads and modern love songs shows an exquisite, mature taste, and he interprets each number in his own inimitable way. Included are versions of George Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me, Paul Williams’ delightful A Perfect Love, a very sexy If You Wouldn’t Be My Lady and Tony Joe White’s Rainy Night In Georgia. Apparently Georgia is still on his mind.
Through the Eyes Of Love is very much a retrospective offering from Ray Charles, but it is likely to appeal to both old and new admirers of the man who more or less is responsible for the word ‘soul’ having the musical connotations it now possesses.
ODYSSEY – Mowest MWS 7002
Odyssey are a new band from America’s West Coast, and this is their initial album outing. The group is comprised of seven guys and one lady. Whilst the record as a whole is neither remarkable nor unpleasant, it does include one very exciting track entitled Georgia Song which hopefully is to be released soon as a single. This cut possesses all the ingredients a hit single should; a strong melody, perfect balance between instruments and voices, danceability and easy to catch, meaningful words.
Giving a plug to a forthcoming single is perhaps not the best way of reviewing an album, but compared to the rest of the material, Georgia Song is a masterpiece in a collection of easy listening mediocrity. But on the strength of this one number, I look forward to hearing future releases by this better than average middle-of-the-road band.
TROUBLE MAN – Marvin Gaye – Tamla Motown STML 11225.
Trouble Man is not the enthusiastically awaited follow up to Marvin Gaye’s classic album What’s Going On. It is the soundtrack to a movie of the same name and almost entirely consists of instrumentals, featuring only one song by Mr Gaye. But don’t let that put you off as this is a very ambitious piece of work.
The film from which the music is taken, features a predominantly black cast, and to venture a guess at its plot, it looks as if it is in the same vein as the ‘Superfly/Shaft’ movies that have preceeded it. The film is not scheduled for release yet, so I’ll have to wait until then to see if my assumptions are correct or not. Unlike the soundtracks of the movies mentioned, it is not comprised of contemporary soul sounds, but reflects the various devlopments in black music, and with the help of various arrangers and superb Motown engineering, it is a most adventurous extension of Marvin Gaye’s already considerable talents. Without wishing to get into comparisons, Trouble Man occasionally reminds me of Miles Davis’s earlier compositions, such as his ‘Sketches of Spain’ and ’Porgy & Bess’ recordings. Special credit should also be given to Trevor Lawrence, whose solo work on alto, tenor and baritone sax is featured throughout.
Trouble Man is not an easy album to immediately come to terms with, but it is well worth persevering with if modern music is more than just a background noise to you.
I REMEMBER BUDDY HOLLY – Bobby Vee – Sunset SLS 50318
Another recent re-issue is I Remember Buddy Holly, first released ten years ago. It was recorded by Bobby Vee at the height of his career and was a tribute to the singer who was his great idol as well as the main influence on his work.
All twelve tracks included are songs made famous by Buddy Holly, and Bobby Vee’s interpretation of them is remarkably original to the originals, as is the support from the harmony group and back-up musicians heard on record. Amongst the Holly classics revived on the recording are That’ll Be The Day, It’s So Easy, Oh Boy, Think It Over and Maybe Baby.
I’m not sure who will be attracted to this album despite its being reasonably priced at 99p. Nostalgia fiends like me perhaps, but I can’t see it reaching the ears or anyone who isn’t either a kitchy Bobby Vee fanatic or still an ardent Buddy Holly fan.
ALONE & TOGETHER – Salena Jones – RCA SF8335.
For lovers of the melancholic, smooth and sophisticated, this latest offering from Salena Jones is an essential part of a record collection. She glides her way through some of the finest arrangements I have ever heard of such classics as Bewitched and End of a Love Affair by way of Everything I have and I’ll Be Around.
It is seldom that one finds an album which contains no redundant tracks — no fillers but this is one without any doubt at all. Whilst without doubt some of the credit for this must go to RCA, it is largely a result of the efforts of Miss Jones – don’t believe me – go and buy the record and see for yourself.
JESUS WAS A CAPRICORN – Kris Kristofferson — Monument Records – MNT 65391
The essentially downbeat American mood singer, Kristofferson sings about the downs, the drugs, the ugliness and isolation of the cities and the pain of living in a horrific, hostile world in songs like Sugar Man. He is one of the new group of singers and actors, Jack Nicholson, is another, who through their roughness, their cynicism, their absolute pessimism, express the dull twang of pessimism in our souls.
This new album carries on where ‘Cisco Pike’ left off, with more mood numbers like It Sure Was Love, Enough For You, Give it Time To Be Tender, all executed in that unmistakeable Kristofferson style.
JACQUES BREL – Barclay/RCA 80740
I congratulate RCA’s initiative in releasing this selection of Jacques Brel’s best known songs. They have new arrangements and the sensitive touch of Gerard Jouannest on piano provides the best possible accompaniment for the eleven tracks. Brel’s greatly matured voice is very moving and warm, maybe more so than ten years ago, when he first recorded these songs. You will enjoy the particularly vivid emotion of Ne Me Quitte Pas, the gentle nostalgia of Les Prenoms de Paris, and the stirring melody of Quand On N’a Que L’Amour, which are amongst the best of these all-time song/poems. I personally regret the absence of Amsterdam, and it is a pity that a few of Brel’s more recent compositions are not included, but they could constitute a pleasant sequel to this album.
Anyway, it’s a very good sample of Brel’s lyricism. Listen to a very alive European poet, and be seduced.