Back in 2011, Cherry Red’s Cherry Pop label gave the deluxe treatment to the two albums that established Billy Ocean’s chart supremacy in the 1980s: the Jive Records releases of Suddenly (1984) and Love Zone (1986). Now, the label has returned to the Trinidad-born, U.K.-raised singer’s catalogue with an expanded edition of 1988’s Tear Down These Walls.
Ocean had been recording since 1972, and scored memorable hits in his home of England with the No. 2s “Love Really Hurts Without You” and “Red Light Spells Danger.” But his true commercial breakthrough on the worldwide level didn’t come until 1984 and Suddenly. If his rise was far from sudden, the album’s success certainly was. It spawned three Top 5 U.S. hits via the title track, “Loverboy” and the No. 1 “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run).” He followed up the double platinum LP two years later with Love Zone, switching producers from Keith Diamond to the team of Barry J. Eastmond and Wayne Braithwaite. The title song reached the Top 10 of the Hot 100, and “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” did even better, hitting the peak position on the chart. Love Zone also featured “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” from the film Jewel of the Nile; it rewarded Ocean with a No. 2 smash. The album would become Ocean’s second to achieve double platinum certification. Both LPs went Gold in the U.K., as well, with the U.K. charts also favoring “Caribbean Queen,” “Suddenly” and “When the Going Gets Tough.”
Naturally, anticipation was high for Ocean’s third album with Jive. Producers Eastmond and Braithwaite returned, to be joined by Robert “Mutt” Lange and Teddy Riley. Lange had worked on both previous LPs and co-wrote “When the Going Gets Tough.” For the album entitled Tear Down These Walls, Lange co-wrote and produced three tracks (two with Riley) including the title song. One of his productions would become a signature song for Billy Ocean.
Ocean and Lange’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” (reportedly inspired by a lyric from The Sherman Brothers’ “You’re Sixteen,” a Top 10 hit for Johnny Burnette in 1960 and a No. 1 for Ringo Starr in 1974) was released on 45 in January 1988. Bolstered by a video in heavy rotation on MTV, the track ascended to No. 3 in the U.K. and No. 1 in seven countries including the U.S., of course.
Seven songs on Tear Down These Walls were produced and co-written by Barry J. Eastmond and his team including the ballad “The Colour of Love,” another U.S. Top 20 hit. Lange and Ocean had paid tribute to Ocean’s roots with “Calypso Crazy;” Eastmond and co. did the same with the calypso-flavored “Pleasure.” Other songs touched on bass-driven grooves (“Gun for Hire”), modern-day Motown (“Stand and Deliver”), and contemporary R&B (“Because of You”).
Hit the jump for more details including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »
Tell Me How You Like It: Harmless Reissues, Expands Philly Disco From John Davis and the Monster Orchestra
What makes for a Monster Orchestra? For Philadelphia composer-arranger-conductor John Davis, it was an array of the best musicians the city had to offer. Between 1976 and 1979, Davis led his Monster Orchestra for four disco LPs on the SAM Records label, plucking its members from the A-Team of Philadelphia International’s MFSB and Salsoul Records’ Salsoul Orchestra. Guitarists Bobby Eli and Roland Chambers, percussionist/conga player Larry Washington, drummer Charles Collins, bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, and string and horn leader Don Renaldo (plus stalwart backing vocalists Barbara Ingram, Yvette Benton and Carla Benson, a.k.a. The Sweethearts of Sigma) all joined John “The Monster” Davis (an alumnus of productions for Carol Douglas, Arthur Prysock, The Philly Devotions and William DeVaughn) for four of the most memorably musical albums in the disco canon. All four of those titles have recently been remastered and expanded on two 2-CD sets from Demon Music Group’s Harmless label and its Disco Recharge series.
Night and Day/Up Jumped the Devil pairs Davis and the Monster Orchestra’s 1976 and 1977 platters, respectively. Night and Day put Davis’ group on the map, adding a dance backbeat and a resplendent, symphonic overlay to the Cole Porter songbook. One can only imagine what Porter, who died in 1964, would have thought of the Monster Orchestra’s approach, but surely the great composer-lyricist would have approved of seeing his classic songs speak to a new generation and “Night and Day” rise to the Top 5 on the Billboard Disco chart. Davis gave the lavish disco treatment to six evergreens from the eternally witty, often risqué Porter songbook, drawing on hits from stage (“I Get a Kick Out of You” from Anything Goes, “You Do Something to Me” from Fifty Million Frenchmen, “Night and Day” from Gay Divorce, “It’s De-Lovely” from Red, Hot and Blue) and screen (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from Born to Dance, “In the Still of the Night” from Rosalie) alike. Much as Vince Montana frequently did leading his iteration of The Salsoul Orchestra on various standards, Davis balanced a certain, inherent amount of camp with an unwavering dedication to impeccable musicianship. He rounded out the LP with a couple of original compositions which he co-wrote with Monster guitarist Craig Snyder, “Tell Me How You Like It” and “I Can’t Stop.” The lyrics weren’t quite Porter, but they certainly kept listeners on their feet!
Up Jumped the Devil aimed for a funkier sound than its predecessor, which it accomplished via cuts like Davis’ title track and the Davis/Snyder co-write “Got to Give It Up.” Davis’ breezy “We Can Fly” recalled the sweet soul side of the Philadelphia players – a style they practically invented – while the epic medley of “The Magic is You/You’re the One/Recapitulation” was designed for club play and melded funk, rock and symphonic soul. All seven tracks were originals written or co-written by Davis, and the album succeeded in taking The Monster Orchestra in a new direction without losing the elements – and musicians – that led to its success in the first place.
Night and Day has been expanded with five bonus tracks – the 7-inch single edits of the title track, “Tell Me How You Like It” and “I Can’t Stop,” plus the extended 12-inch versions of “I Can’t Stop,” “Night and Day” and “I Get a Kick (Out of You).” Up Jumped the Devil has six bonuses, including both the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of the title song and “You Gotta Give It Up,” as well as the 7-inch edits of “The Magic is You” and “You’re the One.”
After the jump: a look at Ain’t That Enough for You/The Monster Strikes Again, and complete track listings and order links! Read the rest of this entry »
“Eternal Flame,” “So Emotional,” “Like a Virgin,” “True Colors” – the songs of Billy Steinberg not only nearly defined the sound of eighties pop, but have endured to the present day. Yet before Steinberg joined with Tom Kelly to pen those songs and so many others, he was fronting a power pop/new wave quartet with the unlikely name of Billy Thermal – Billy for Steinberg, Thermal for the city in which his father’s vineyards were located. The group, consisting of Steinberg, guitarist Craig Hull, drummer Efren Espinosa and bassist (and future “Butterfly Kisses” hitmaker) Bob Carlisle, received a featured spot on a compilation of up-and-coming artists for Richard Perry’s Planet Records and subsequently self-released one EP, but no other music ever surfaced…until now. Omnivore Recordings has just unearthed the lone LP from Billy Thermal (OVCD-95), the shelved 1980 album from which the five-track EP was sourced. If this cool little record may not change your world, it just might rock it for 45 minutes or so.
Billy Thermal’s tight, energetic, three-minute-or-so power pop nuggets fit squarely into the new wave genre of the day with just enough variety in the tempi and arrangements to make the album a compelling listen. The lean, compact, take-home tunes on this fresh, fun time capsule sound as if they were composed to be played onstage at maximum volume by the crack, take-no-prisoners rhythm section, combining a smidgen of punk attitude with a heaping helping of pop know-how. Though he wrote all of the music and lyrics for Billy Thermal, Steinberg found his truest calling later as a lyricist, penning the words to Tom Kelly’s melodies which were of a much more sweeping nature than the compositions here.
In the liner notes, Steinberg describes the band’s songs as “intensely personal,” and indeed, many of the relationship songs here have intimacy and honesty despite being firmly rooted in pop territory. Some are less distinctive and less keenly-observed such as “I’m Your Baby” (“And I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your ooh!”) with its eighties-meets-Peter Gunn feel, but it’s clear that Steinberg the embryonic songwriter was well on his way.
Don’t miss a thing – hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
Shine Her Light: “The Midnight Special” Box Set Arrives In September with Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, ELO, More
Between August 1972 and May 1981, late night television was a little more rockin’. Producer Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special followed Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on Friday evenings, welcoming viewers with Johnny Rivers’ rousing rendition of the traditional tune (a Top 20 hit for Rivers in 1965). Over the course of 450 episodes, The Midnight Special presented a staggering array of music’s top talent on network television with most songs performed live for the majority of its run. The program, featuring announcer Wolfman Jack and a variety of guest hosts, premiered as a one-off special in August 1972 but was promoted to full-time status in February 1973. It first arrived on DVD in 2006 with episodes available as mail order exclusives, heavily promoted via infomercials. On September 9, however, StarVista/Time Life will make The Midnight Special more widely available for the first time with 11-DVD, 6-DVD and 1-DVD releases. With the resurgence in many of the ‘70s’ greatest pop hits thanks to the hit Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack the time couldn’t be better! (Indeed, many of the Star Lord’s favorite songs were performed on The Midnight Special and will be included on these DVDs.)
The 11-disc Midnight Special Collectors’ Edition is now available to order exclusively online at MIDNIGHTSPECIALDVDS.COM for just under $100.00; while it’s expected that this set may eventually arrive to general retail (in the tradition of other StarVista sets for The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts), it will remain a website exclusive for the foreseeable future. This edition features roughly 10 hours of musical performances plus 5 hours of newly-produced bonus material and a 32-page booklet. The single-disc and 6-disc versions will be released on September 9 to stores everywhere. The Midnight Special played host to artists from the many genres that occupied the Top 40 slots on the Billboard Hot 100 during the 1970s, including Fleetwood Mac, The Bee Gees, Linda Ronstadt, The O’Jays, Dolly Parton, David Bowie (who broadcast his final television appearance as Ziggy Stardust on the program), Alice Cooper, Electric Light Orchestra, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, Alice Cooper, frequent host Helen Reddy, and countless others who are featured on StarVista’s new sets. The Midnight Special also gave the spotlight over to the era’s top comedians like Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin and Freddie Prinze.
After the jump: a look at what you can expect to find on these collections! Read the rest of this entry »
Cherry Red’s Robinsongs label, which has recently been responsible for reissues from jazz greats like Hank Crawford, Richard Tee and Ramsey Lewis, has turned its attention to producer-arranger-composer Bob James with the two-for-one release of his 1980 and 1981 albums, H and Sign of the Times. The electric piano master has been making records as a leader since 1963 – his most recent is 2013’s Quartette Humaine with saxophonist David Sanborn – and this pair comes from the early years of his own Tappan Zee label (formed in1977).
The Missouri-born, Berklee-trained Bob James’ first outing as a leader, 1963’s Bold Conceptions for the Mercury label, remained his only such recording until 1974. Instead of pursuing above-the-title stardom, James busied himself as a keyboardist and arranger, contributing an arrangement to Quincy Jones’ 1969 CTI record Walking in Space which first acquainted him with the Fender Rhodes electric piano. James never planned on becoming so closely identified with the instrument, but his mastery of the Rhodes contributed mightily to the sound of 1970s crossover and fusion jazz styles. James continued arranging and playing at Creed Taylor’s CTI, which spun off from its A&M Records roots into a true independent. At CTI, he made significant contributions to sets from Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, and outside of Taylor’s empire, James added color to recordings by Paul Simon and Neil Diamond and composed the wistful theme to television’s Taxi. But his key roles as arranger and sideman led to his artistic rebirth on the 1974 album One.
Each year between 1974 and 1977, James issued a numbered release, from One to BJ4, arranging, conducting and playing both his own tunes and choice cover versions. With 1977’s Heads, he parted ways with Taylor, establishing his own Tappan Zee banner under the aegis of Columbia Records. He was rewarded when the album became his first Jazz No. 1 LP. Also serving for a time in A&R at Columbia, James continued to turn out records like clockwork. He also took along the masters to his first four albums and saw to their reissue at Tappan Zee. H marked his first album of the 1980s.
Hit the jump for details on both albums included on this reissue, including track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »
Try To Forget Him: Ace Continues “The Jack Nitzsche Story” With The Righteous Brothers, Jackie DeShannon, Darlene Love
The credit “Arranged and conducted by Jack Nitzsche” should be familiar to any collector of those little black vinyl platters we used to call 45s. Such a credit – or a similar one – graced records by Frankie Laine and Doris Day, The Paris Sisters and The Righteous Brothers, The Tubes and The Crystals, Graham Parker and Bobby Vee. Jack “Specs” Nitzsche (1973-2000) made his mark across multiple genres and many decades, the common factor being the quality of his work. Nitzsche the orchestrator helped define Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound; Nitzsche the film composer picked up an Academy Award for writing “Up Where We Belong” for the film An Officer and a Gentleman; Nitzsche the producer played an integral role in the early days of Crazy Horse; Nitzsche the session sideman added keyboard textures to many of The Rolling Stones’ most memorable hits; Nitzsche the vocal arranger created the unforgettable choral sound of the latter band’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Ace Records documented much of this musical renaissance man’s astounding (and astoundingly diverse) career on two volumes of The Jack Nitzsche Story in 2005 and 2006. A most unexpected treat has just arrived from the label, however, in the form of a third installment in the series. Night Walker: The Jack Nitzsche Story Volume 3 presents another 26 stunning examples of the man’s diverse art.
Of course, the style most closely associated with the name “Jack Nitzsche” is that of the thunderous, echo-laden, era-defining Wall of Sound. Beginning with The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” Nitzsche arranged most of the recordings of Phil Spector’s golden age, including Darlene Love’s “A Long Way to Be Happy” (recorded in 1965 but unissued until 1976), The Crystals’ “Little Boy” and The Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get for Loving You?,” all of which are reprised here. (Most of the Philles recordings were previously unavailable for licensing on the first two volumes of this series.) All three songs are instantly recognizable from their first seconds, so distinctive was the sound created by Spector, Nitzsche and the hand-picked session men of the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew recording at Gold Star Studios. (In a nice touch, the Ace CD label bears the logo and colors of Gold Star.) Love, who had actually sung the lead on “Rebel” despite The Crystals’ credit, is commanding as she rides the urgent pulse of Nitzsche’s driving arrangement of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin “A Long Way to Be Happy.” La La Brooks handles the lead on The Crystals’ 1964 “Little Boy” from the Spector/Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich team, with Sonny Bono on the exciting, Latin-style percussion. Ronnie Spector was out front on the Goffin/King/Spector melodrama “Is This What I Get for Loving You,” another grandly moving production.
The Spector/Nitzsche magic doesn’t end there. Steve Douglas’ saxophone cuts loose on another Philles track here, “Puddin’ n’ Tain,” with Bobby Sheen (whose career has already been anthologized by Ace) handling its memorable falsetto. One Philles hit that Nitzsche famously didn’t arrange, however, was The Righteous Brothers’ immortal “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” (He did do the honors on its Top 10 follow-up, the stirring “Just Once in My Life.”) Though Gene Page spelled Nitzsche on “Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Specs” was no stranger to the Righteous Brothers. Ace has included a track arranged and conducted by Nitzsche from the duo’s pre-Philles Moonglow period. “I Still Love You” was written by Spector pal Nino Tempo, and if its breezy Latin flavor and more restrained delivery doesn’t recall the heights that were soon to be scaled, it’s a fascinating inclusion nonetheless.
The title of Night Walker is derived from the 1965 Reprise single which makes its CD debut here. The evocative Billy Strange tune might be the best proof of just how well Nitzsche knew the powers of the Wrecking Crew; the strengths of its busy, talented players are all evident on this sweeping two-minutes-and-change of musical electricity. Wrecking Crew guitarist Jerry Cole (already the subject of one Ace CD) enlisted Nitzsche to arrange his own singles for Capitol including the dramatic “Every Window in the City” which was produced by that famously honking saxophonist, Steve Douglas, and written by the “Under the Boardwalk” team of Artie Resnick and Kenny Young. The chiming track recalls Gene Pitney (think: “Looking Through the Eyes of Love”), but if Cole wasn’t as strong a vocalist as Pitney, the production and arrangement give his perfectly-good vocals a push into the realm of pop heaven. Another CD debut is The Fleetwoods’ hypnotic “Come Softly to Me,” a 1965 Nitzsche-guided remake of their 1959 hit.
If Nitzsche’s makeover of “Come Softly to Me” was subtly contemporary, his take on Richard Berry’s oft-recorded “Louie, Louie” was something else altogether. Nitzsche arranged the truly offbeat, murky treatment (“Louie, sock it to me!”) for Honey Ltd., a girl group recorded by producer Lee Hazlewood for his own LHI label. Nitzsche and Hazlewood blended woozy brass and aggressive electric guitar with the girls’ harmonies, shifting moods and feels to give the familiar song a completely fresh feel. Hazlewood was also the guiding force behind the earlier Eden Records label. The company only released six singles, but all bore Nitzsche’s imprimatur – including the choice cut here, Ramona King’s sublimely soulful spin on a girl-group record, “What About You.”
Nitzsche’s association with Neil Young was a famous and long one, taking in recordings by Young solo (including both the smash 1972 Harvest and its 1992 sequel Harvest Moon), Crazy Horse and The Buffalo Springfield. Night Walker features “Expecting to Fly” from the Springfield, on which Nitzsche fused a classical sensibility to psychedelia and folk-rock. Nitzsche’s haunting production of Young’s song remains an undisputed high point of the band’s small but influential catalogue.
There’s plenty more, including the track listing with discography and order links, after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
From Polynesia To Belgium: Cherry Red Goes Exotic! Plus: The Singing Nun! George Melly’s Hedonistic Fifties!
No slab of vintage vinyl is too obscure or too esoteric for the team at Cherry Red’s él label, as evidenced by a trio of its most recent offerings from Jeanine Deckers a.k.a. Sœur Sourire a.k.a. The Singing Nun, British critic and personality George Melly, and a whole host of masters of exotica.
The mini-box set Exotica Classics features five albums on two discs, each housed in its own paper sleeve within the slipcased set. The first features two complete LPs (Miriam Burton’s African Lament and Bob Romeo, His Flute and The Jungle Sextet’s Aphrodisia) and the first half of a third, The Buddy Collette Septet’s Polynesia. Miriam Burton’s African Lament (1961, Epic) featured the singer and actress (Porgy and Bess, Carmen Jones, House of Flowers) trading in Yma Sumac-style wordless vocal acrobatics over rhythmic, percussion-driven settings co-written, arranged and conducted by Patrick Williams. If the music was far from authentic, it was certainly striking. African Lament is joined by 1956’s Aphrodisia (subtitled Music for Delightfully Uninhibited Males and Females Only), with its stunning cover photo of Anita Ekberg – taken from a Martin and Lewis film, of all things. Its “journey of romantic sensations” led by flautist Romeo (with aid of “the persuasive rhythm of timbales and bongos”) bore a warning label: “The primitive rhythms in this album are basic and explosive! Those unaccustomed (or accustomed) to dealing with aroused emotions are urged to listen with care!” Where to go from there? Exotica Classics goes to Buddy Collette’s Polynesia, with screen dubbing legend Marni Nixon (My Fair Lady, West Side Story) providing the vocals, Robert Sorrels delivering a surreal monologue and bandleader Collette taking his cues from Paul Gauguin for a journey to the exotic sounds of Polynesia.
The second disc of the set concludes the Collette album and features in full Frank Hunter and His Orchestra’s White Goddess (1959, Kapp) and Ahmad Jamal’s Macanudo (Argo, 1963). Arranger-conductor Hunter’s exotica project featured largely his own compositions with evocative titles like “Ritual of the Torch” and “Mists of Gorongoza” along with covers including “Poinciana” and Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s “Lost in the Stars.” Pianist Jamal’s Macanudo paired him with composer-arranger-conductor Richard Evans on an Afro-Latin instrumental travelogue with stops in “Montevideo,” “Bogota,” “Buenos Aires” and elsewhere.
This collection of these rare, offbeat Exotica Classics is packaged with a color booklet containing the original liner notes and credits from each release. The paper sleeves replicate the cover art for all four titles. After the jump: él gets even more surreal! Read the rest of this entry »