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Back Tracks: Adam Ant

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It’s the statement few in the Internet age expected to type: today, Adam Ant releases his first album in nearly 20 years. Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunnar’s Daughter (try saying that three times fast) features brand-new original compositions by Ant with longtime collaborators/guitarists Marco Pirroni and Boz Boorer, and is the first album on his new label, the eponymous Blueblack Hussar Records.

Adam AntEarly critical notes indicate an album that’s weird and urgent – fair descriptors of the best of Ant’s work. The man born Stuart Leslie Goddard in London back in 1954 has had a long, unpredictable and at times erratic career (all of which he’s been incredibly candid about as the years have gone on), but the five (now six) albums he’s released have been occasionally brilliant and always catchy. And fortunately for music geeks, there has been plenty of attention to his catalogue, so fans old and new have plenty to collect.

Goddard’s serious musical career began in November 1975, when, as bassist for the pub rock band Bazooka Joe, he watched in amazement a set by the band’s support act: The Sex Pistols. It was their first gig; so taken was Goddard that he soon quit his own band and pursued the punk sound. It was around the same time that, following a depressive episode that left him in the hospital with a pill overdose, Goddard declared himself “dead,” instead naming himself Adam Ant.

Forming a band with guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Andy Warren and drummer David Barbarossa, Adam and The Ants secured a management deal with iconic Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

The rest, which is certainly history, is after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 22, 2013 at 13:04

Back Tracks, In Memoriam: Robin Gibb

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May 20, 2012: We’re deeply saddened to report that Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees passed away this morning in England at 10:47 a.m. (5:47 a.m. ET) at the age of 62.  Gibb’s passing comes following a brave battle with cancer, courageously fought in the public eye.  Robin Gibb will always be remembered for his great gift of song, with his angelic voice having provided comfort to so many of us in our saddest times and pure joy in our most upbeat moments.  Robin, we will miss you. 

In honor of this remarkable man, we offer Back Tracks: In Memoriam, originally published on April 27 as Gibb’s health had taken a turn for the better.    We hope you cue up “First of May,” “Juliet,” “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” “Stayin’ Alive” or “Too Much Heaven” and enjoy this look back at a man whose humanity was as deep as his love.

A lyric from what we believe to be Robin’s final recording, “Don’t Cry Alone” from this year’s Titanic Requiem, comes to mind as a source of comfort:

“I’ll be there for you forever/Don’t you ever cry/I’ll sweep away your tears and sorrow/And I’ll be with you close tomorrow/I’ll be with you/Don’t cry alone.”

Rest in peace, Robin.  Please share your memories of Robin Gibb below.

In the event of something happening to me, there is something I would like you all to see…it’s just a photograph of someone that I knew…

- Barry and Robin Gibb, “New York Mining Disaster 1941”

For many including yours truly, the best news to arrive on Record Store Day this past Saturday, April 21, wasn’t that of a great new vinyl acquisition or found treasure.  Rather, it was the news that Robin Gibb, vocalist, songwriter and Bee Gee, had emerged from a coma.  Gibb’s distinct voice has featured prominently on the Bee Gees’ most memorable hits, including their first song to be issued in the United States, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.”  His soaring vocals could hold their own or add contrast to brother Barry’s falsetto.  The road to Gibb’s recovery is still an uphill one, with the courageous artist facing advanced colorectal cancer and remaining in intensive care.  But Gibb’s physician, Dr. Andrew Thillainayagam, acknowledged that “it is testament to Robin’s extraordinary courage, iron will and deep reserves of physical strength that he has overcome quite incredible odds to get where he is now.”  Music played a central role in Gibb’s recovery, with Barry, wife Dwina, sons Robin-John and Spencer and daughter Melissa all having played music and serenaded Robin at his bedside.  Robin-John told the BBC on April 24, “They gave him an under 10% survival chance and he has beaten the odds… he really is something else,” adding that his father is “completely compos mentis [of sound mind] now.”

As we keep Robin Gibb, 62, in our hearts during this difficult time for him and his family, we’re celebrating the rarely-heard music he created as a solo artist between 1970 and 2012, and hoping that there’s much, much more to come from this singular musician.

Robin’s Reign
(Polydor, 1970)

Despite the beautiful harmony they created as vocalists and songwriters, The Bee Gees couldn’t shake familial tensions as 1968 turned into 1969.  Tension between brothers Barry and Robin grew more intense each day, reaching boiling point when producer Robert Stigwood selected Barry’s “First of May” over Robin’s “Lamplight” as the lead single off the group’s Odessa.  On March 19, 1969, Robin Gibb announced that he would turn his attention to solo recordings.  He began recording almost immediately, but contractual obligations prevented him from doing much in the ensuing months even as Barry and Robin’s twin brother Maurice soldiered on as a duo with the Cucumber Castle television film and album.  As autumn arrived, however, the air was somewhat cleared, and Robin concluded recording the album that became Robin’s Reign by October.  (In an ironic twist of fate, Maurice and Barry would declare The Bee Gees disbanded by year’s end.  Luckily for us, that turned out to be temporary.)

The first London session for Robin’s Reign yielded “Saved by the Bell,” which would become a No. 2 hit single in the U.K., as well as the album’s “Mother and Jack,” and two unreleased tunes, “Alexandria Good Time” and “Janice.”  Kenny Clayton provided orchestral arrangements, and Maurice contributed bass and piano.  Recording didn’t resume until September once Robin was extricated from his contract with Stigwood and signed with NEMS’ Vic Lewis.  In August he had named in the press eleven song titles for an album intended to be called My Own Work (including “Alexandria Good Time”) but none of them were present on Robin’s Reign.  The September and October sessions formed the basis of the eventual album, again employing orchestration (by Clayton and Zack Lawrence) not unlike that of The Bee Gees’ earliest U.K. albums.

The LP was released in February 1970 in the U.K. on Polydor and one month later in the U.S. via Atco.  Robin’s Reign sold so poorly that a second solo album already in progress was never issued, and the album has only appeared on CD in an extremely hard-to-find German pressing.  There’s much to admire here, though, and it’s long overdue for reissue.  In addition to the classic “Saved by the Bell” (which most recalls his work with his brothers), there’s the calypso-flavored “Mother and Jack,” the dark “Most of My Life” and bold “The Worst Girl in This Town.”  Other tracks such as the stately ballad “Down Came the Sun,” though not as distinct, offer strong vocals and sweeping arrangements.  Robin’s Reign is also thought to be one of the first albums to have employed (primitive) drum machines, which gives its sound a unique character.

Of course, The Bee Gees’ vocal blend is what’s missed most on Robin’s Reign, which beefs up the singer’s powerful tenor with multi-tracked vocals that are no substitute for his brothers’ harmonies.  And harmony ultimately won out over dissension.  On August 21, 1970, it was announced that the three Brothers Gibb would reunite.  How sympathetic were the brothers musically?  They reportedly wrote “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” at their very first reunion session.

After the jump, we’ll meet you quite a few years later…1983, in fact! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 20, 2012 at 20:14

Posted in Bee Gees, Features, Reissues, Robin Gibb

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Back Tracks: The Beastie Boys

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With the heartbreaking news of the passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch of The Beastie Boys, who’d been battling cancer for several years, we invite you to enjoy this Back Tracks special from October 27, 2010, in which we revisited the band’s discography and its reissues.

The slightly bizarre news that The Beastie Boys’ upcoming album Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, slated for release this coming spring, will feature virtually every track recorded for the delayed Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 1 is classic Beastie Boys. It’s a specifically off-kilter announcement that reflects the humor we’ve come to expect from the Brooklyn rap trio over the past quarter-century.

Naturally, news of a new album warrants a rediscovery of the band. Adam “MCA” Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-rock” Horovitz have been rhymin’ and stealin’ since the mid-’80s, after a brief stint as a hardcore punk outfit. Their fanbase has extended from urban white boys, to suburban white boys to anyone with a good appreciation for rap-rock stylings.

After the jump, take a look at the many releases, reissues and compilations of The Beastie Boys. It’ll sound so soothin’, we promise. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

May 4, 2012 at 13:14

Back Tracks: Men at Work

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The sudden, recent news of the passing of Greg Ham, saxophonist/flautist and founding member of Australian rock band Men at Work, comes at a strange and sad time. Yesterday in fact marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the band’s breakthrough debut, Business As Usual, in America. More importantly, though, it’s the sad loss of a figure who contributed a lot to early ’80s rock music.

Ham, who was 58, was the spice that set Men at Work’s hard driving, New Wave-inspired sounds apart from their international contemporaries. Scottish-born, Australian-raised vocalist Colin Hay had a keening tenor that recalled Sting in places, and guitarist Ron Strykert’s textures could really turn heads on some songs. But that extra magic on the band’s first two chart-topping singles, “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under,” was all Ham’s, who lent his talents to the saxophone riff of the former and the flute figure of the latter. In a statement, Hay praised the work of his bandmate and friend for 40 years. “The saxophone solo on “Who Can It Be Now” was the rehearsal take. We kept it, that was the one. He’s here forever.”

It’s interesting, then, that the band only had three studio albums to their credit, making for a pretty swift overview by way of reissues and compilations. Join us in paying tribute to Hay, Ham and the rest of Men at Work with this special Back Tracks trip down memory lane.

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Written by Mike Duquette

April 23, 2012 at 12:46

Posted in Compilations, Men at Work, News, Reissues

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Back Tracks: Whitney Houston

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Music was in both the bloodline and the spirit of Whitney Elizabeth Houston (1963-2012).  The native of Newark, New Jersey called Cissy Houston of The Sweet Inspirations her mom, while Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick were her beloved cousins.  Her godmother was none other than Aretha Franklin.  Following in her mother’s footsteps, she began performing at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, singing in the gospel choir as a featured soloist, and began to make inroads in the music business as a background vocalist, again echoing the path of some of her most famous relatives.  When Clive Davis saw the young, beautiful and effervescent Houston performing in New York City, he sensed that great things were in store.  The mogul appeared alongside the singer for her debut on television’s The Merv Griffin Show in 1983; she was off and running.

Over a career spanning nearly thirty years, Whitney Houston proved that there was nothing vocally she couldn’t do.  Though an undisputed legend of pop, soul and R&B, she was at equally home on the dance floor, could do justice to Rodgers and Hammerstein (Cinderella) and Stephen Schwartz (the Academy Award-winning “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt), and even dabbled in hip-hop.  2006’s “Family First” teamed Houston with Dionne and Cissy, and the key presence of family and faith was a source of strength in her often-troubled life.  One can only hope that Houston also found solace in the number of young individuals whose styles she influenced and whose careers she inspired.

Even as our thoughts reside with Whitney Houston’s family at this difficult time, Mike and I have chosen to remember the great singer in the best way we know how: through a tour of her music.  Though Houston wasn’t a prolific artist, the magnitude of her accomplishments looms large.  Put simply and at risk of cliché, we will always love you, Whitney Houston.

We start our guide to Whitney’s discography with 1985’s Whitney Houston after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 13, 2012 at 10:15

Back Tracks: Paul McCartney, Working Classical – From “Liverpool Oratorio” to “Ocean’s Kingdom”

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Tucked between album opener “Taxman” and “I’m Only Sleeping” on Side One of The Beatles’ 1966 LP Revolver, “Eleanor Rigby” heralded an explicit attempt by the pop giants at pushing the musical envelope, both with its despairing lyrics and classical-inspired arrangement for a string octet.  Primarily the composition of Paul McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby” defied the odds to hit the top spot on the British charts (a double A-side single with “Yellow Submarine”) and hit the No. 11 spot in the United States.  Beatles producer George Martin was inspired by the work of cinema legend Bernard Herrmann in crafting his arrangement, while McCartney’s choice of a string backing may have been influenced by the work of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the composer perhaps best known for the violin concertos The Four Seasons.  McCartney had, of course, previously employed strings for “Yesterday,” the 1965 Beatles song often recognized as the most recorded popular song of all time.

By the time 1991 rolled around, there were few heights that Paul McCartney hadn’t scaled, both as a Beatle and as a solo artist.  Although he had flirted with the orchestral medium via the score to the 1967 film The Family Way, his central theme composition was developed by George Martin.  It was perhaps inevitable that one of the world’s most renowned melodists would turn his attention to the classical realm and dive headfirst into it.  Beginning with that year’s Liverpool Oratorio, composed with Carl Davis, McCartney has released a steady stream of classical works.  The most recent of these projects, Ocean’s Kingdom, arrives in stores today!  Setting to music the tale of a clash between the worlds of sea and land, Ocean’s Kingdom provides the soundtrack to a ballet commissioned by the New York City Ballet. 

Longtime readers might recall our first Back Tracks column devoted to The Cute Beatle.  Today’s installment begins with our look at Ocean’s Kingdom before we revisit the complete full-length works of renaissance man Sir Paul McCartney, working classical!

Paul McCartney’s Ocean’s Kingdom (Hear Music/Concord/Universal/Telarc/Decca, 2011)

Many pundits can’t help but notice that Ocean’s Kingdom marks the first time a Beatle has headlined on the Decca label.  Decca, of course, famously rejected the Fab Four when the band auditioned for the venerable company in 1962.  Well, it’s at least fitting that McCartney’s proper Decca debut is of a landmark recording, his first ever ballet score.

Writing for a ballet presents its own set of challenges, as the composer must reflect both the onstage plot and the characters’ emotional states without resorting to dialogue or sung lyrics.  McCartney’s cinematic score largely succeeds on these counts.  Ocean’s Kingdom consists of four movements detailing love story between royalty above and below water.   Princess Honorata hails from the Ocean Kingdom and Prince Stone from the Earth Kingdom.  Unsurprisingly, the earthmen are the nominal heavies in McCartney’s oceanic fantasy which takes in a grand ball, love at first sight, an abduction and eventually a marriage.

The opening movement “Ocean’s Kingdom” is stately and majestic.  Strings wash over the listener in this movement, which is alternately atmospheric and indicative of action.  (McCartney arranged the ballet himself in collaboration with London Classical Orchestra conductor John Wilson; their work has been orchestrated by Andrew Cottee.)  McCartney brings the central string-based motif in the first movement to a grand, swelling conclusion.

Movement 2, “Hall of Dance,” begins jovially, with brass passages both humorously slinky and woozy.  There’s some lovely writing for woodwinds even as the movements becomes more frantic and fast-paced.  Despite its title, Movement 3, “Imprisonment,” doesn’t get too dark.  McCartney’s score is vivid in telegraphing the emotional through line.  Melancholy atmospherics pervade the score here, and some of the darker, ominous musical phrases recall the sweeping film music of film’s Golden Age.  McCartney, Wilson and Cottee supply enchanting orchestral colors, with flutes and celli making an impression. 

The climactic Movement 4, “Moonrise,” offers big, bold fanfares with a strong air of the fantastic.  It’s particularly in this movement that McCartney’s love of Disney animation and fairy tales shines through.  It’s surprising that McCartney still hasn’t scored a feature-length animated film, a medium to which he would be ideally suited. 

Ocean’s Kingdom is succinct, with a running time of less than one hour.  If it’s not easy to discern the action onstage in an audio recording, the mood is certainly conveyed.  The album is marked by McCartney’s typical playful touches and an abundance of melody, even if the format doesn’t allow one theme to take off and soar the way a compact song or even a stand-alone film music cue does.  But it’s not surprising that the self-admitted ballet novice, well, took to it like a fish to water.  If you’re a fan of McCartney when he evokes a pre-Beatles musical landscape, you’ll likely find Ocean’s Kingdom to be an enchanted kingdom.

Hit the jump to meet us in Liverpool, circa 1942, by way of 1991’s Liverpool Oratorio! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 4, 2011 at 14:16

Back Tracks: CHIC

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It’s a crime that when you talk about CHIC, many of the players who made up arguably the greatest band of the disco era aren’t alive to hear your words of praise. Bernard Edwards, CHIC’s bassist and co-producer, died in 1997; drummer Tony Thompson passed away in 2003. Nile Rodgers, guitarist, co-producer and keeper of the CHIC flame, could easily have met the same early fate had he not been lucky enough to discover the cancer that he’s been since late last year. (Rodgers, one of the best users of the Internet to connect with fans, has kept readers entertained and informed with his Walking on Planet C blog since the start of the year, and will release his memoir, Le Freak, in the fall.)

The other day at Second Disc HQ, we were reminded by our good friend Eric Luecking of Record Racks that another member of the CHIC Organization had passed away: Raymond Jones, who played piano and keyboards on “Le Freak,” “Good Times” and “We Are Family,” succumbed to pneumonia earlier this month at the too-young age of 52. (Jones also worked with the Tom Tom Club and Jeffrey Osbourne, writing “Stay with Me Tonight” for the latter.)

In honor of Jones and all the other members of the CHIC Organization who are not here to enjoy our expressions of love and respect for their music, today’s Back Tracks takes a look at the music of CHIC and the many reissues and compilations that have been released all over the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 20, 2011 at 17:43

Back Tracks: Sly and The Family Stone

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Today being the Fourth of July, there are few better reasons to give a spin to Sly and The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits, arguably one of the best single-artist compilations in pop history. Those danceable grooves will get you moving at any barbecue, family reunion, pool party or whatever you might be celebrating this holiday weekend.

But revisiting Sly has another purpose as of late: to get set up for one of the most unexpected comebacks in contemporary American music. Next month, Stone is slated to release I’m Back! Friends and Family on the Cleopatra Records label. The star-studded album will be his first in nearly three decades. But the track list of the record – mostly covers of Stone’s most famous early works, with a handful of new tracks and alternate mixes tacked on at the end – seems a tacit admission that he may never get higher than those great, early, party-starters for Epic Records in the 1960s and 1970s.

So, as our way of saying thank you to Sly Stone for more than 40 years of music to dance to, here’s a look back at the many releases and reissues of Sly and The Family Stone, Back Tracks-style. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 4, 2011 at 10:50

Back Tracks, In Memoriam: The Musical Legacy of Arthur Laurents

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The late Arthur Laurents wrote many of the most beloved musicals and films in entertainment history including West Side Story, Gypsy, The Way We Were and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.  He passed away on May 5, but today’s special Back Tracks celebrates this great writer’s legacy in music.

“If you have a good strong finish, they’ll forgive anything!”

So implores stage mother Madame Rose to her daughter Louise, the future Gypsy Rose Lee, in the 1959 musical Gypsy.  Rose’s bon mot was one of many priceless lines written by Arthur Laurents, and unsurprisingly, an incredibly true one.  Laurents, who died on May 5 at the age of 93, certainly had a good strong finish, directing the smash 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy and following it in 2009 with an equally-successful production of his 1957 musical West Side Story.  But Arthur Laurents had amazing first and second acts, too, making his mark in the worlds of film, literature and most especially theatre.

Arthur was a true American original.  He wrote the timeless screenplay to The Way We Were, and was among the first to discover its star, Barbra Streisand.  He penned Rope for director Alfred Hitchcock, and was an Academy Award nominee for The Turning Point.  Laurents was a passionate advocate of the truth, and stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) at the height of the blacklist.  He directed and guided the original Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles, recently revived to much success in New York.  His greatest legacies may be the books for two of the most significant musicals ever written: West Side Story, on which he collaborated with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and Gypsy, with Sondheim and Jule Styne.   A librettist of a Broadway musical may have the most thankless task of any member of the creative team; his job is to create the words that will inspire a song to take flight – and in most cases, replace that original dialogue.  And Arthur was second to none in creating the characters and situations that allowed Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and others’ melodies to soar.

Today’s special edition of Back Tracks looks at the musical world of Arthur Laurents through the original soundtracks and cast recordings of his the films and musicals he wrote.  (He also had success as a director; in addition to La Cage aux Folles, he was the original helmer of I Can Get It For You Wholesale, which introduced Barbra Streisand to the world in 1962.)  We’ll explore all of the many reissues of these timeless titles and let you know just where to find bonus tracks and additional material.  You can hit the jump below if you’d like to skip to that portion of our post, but in a break from tradition here at The Second Disc, I hope many of you will indulge me in a personal reminiscence about this most remarkable man and writer who was so mightily influential to me and many others.

Having grown up with many of the works mentioned above, your humble author found himself quite intimidated when first introduced to Arthur in the fall of 1999.  The occasion was the first day of rehearsals for the world premiere of Laurents’ revised version of Do I Hear a Waltz?  Arthur collaborated with Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim on this 1965 musical based on his own play The Time of the Cuckoo (which in turn was adapted into David Lean’s film Summertime, starring Katharine Hepburn).  The original production was an unhappy experience for many of its creators, but Arthur was in high spirits when we began rehearsals that crisp fall morning at George Street Playhouse under the direction of David Saint.  I was assisting David, for the first but not the last time, and any nerves quickly evaporated that very day. Arthur was passionately dedicated to making this musical sing anew, sharply focusing his own text and always at the ready with a new line or bit of staging that would just make a scene click.  It was simply a joy getting new pages to type for the cast!  He charismatically and generously imparted the experience gained over 50 years in the theatre to all in attendance.  Even when I must have seemed like the green kid asking another question about what it was like to work with Richard Rodgers or Alfred Hitchcock, I was never turned away.   Arthur was fiendishly clever and unfailingly honest, with the best theatrical instinct I’ve ever encountered.  I considered Arthur a teacher; David was among those he mentored, and David, in turn, remains a treasured mentor of mine.  Like his frequent collaborator David, Arthur always led by example.  Our company was proud to be working with him on this important reclamation of a lost musical.

I was lucky enough to work with him again in the ensuing years, including on a new play, the cheekily-titled and decidedly contemporary The Vibrator, and to see him with semi-regularity at opening nights and other occasions.  I remember Arthur engaging audience members in the George Street lobby, greeting complete strangers like old friends.  He was far from shy, and his candor is legendary.  I can hear his hearty congratulations on each opening and also his incisive, sharp criticism when something wasn’t right.   Yet most of all I think of the joy he took in collaboration, the big hugs and bigger smiles, and his refusal to ever remain stagnant.  Energetic beyond his years, he was writing up until the very end of his life, and constantly inspiring with sheer tenacity and limitless vivacity.  He continually looked with new, critical eyes at projects acclaimed long ago, never content to rest on his well-earned laurels.  I learned from Arthur the importance of considering those people and those works which came before me, while still looking forward.  Arthur made good on his beliefs.  He established The Laurents-Hatcher Award, a $150,000.00 prize distributed annually to deserving young playwrights and named for Arthur and his late partner of 52 years, Tom Hatcher.

Arthur’s work and reputation will live on, thanks to the innumerable theatres who will continue to celebrate his life and art, and especially his beloved George Street Playhouse.  Each day, somewhere in the world, there will be a pushy lady making her way down the aisle with a dog and a hatpin admonishing “Sing out, Louise!” or a Maria holding her beloved Tony in her arms, praying the violence will stop.  But much like his characters, Arthur Laurents was larger than life.  I’ll always be grateful and privileged to have known this great man over the past twelve years, and will long cherish those misty watercolor memories of the way he was.

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Written by Joe Marchese

May 9, 2011 at 13:29

Back Tracks: The Shirelles on Scepter

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Diana Ross, Martha Reeves and Mary Weiss – and even Joan Jett, Victoria Beckham and Nicole Scherzinger – all owe a debt to Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie Harris and Beverly Lee. That quartet doesn’t have the name recognition of those that followed them, but those four young women from Passaic, New Jersey ignited the girl group phenomenon when they joined forces as The Poquellos, soon to be renamed The Shirelles. Were The Shirelles the first girl group? Probably not. Were they the first to gain national prominence? Unquestionably.

The first major female group of the rock and roll era, The Shirelles claimed the first girl group No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Discovered in New Jersey by Florence Greenberg’s daughter Mary Jane, the group laid the cornerstone for Greenberg’s Scepter Records empire – later home to Dionne Warwick, B.J. Thomas, Chuck Jackson, Maxine Brown, Ronnie Milsap and The Kingsmen – and paved the way for the Motown revolution with their blend of uptown soul, pop, and street corner harmonies. This potent combination, of course, found them “crossing over” to the predominantly white audience and quietly breaking down barriers of gender and race with an intoxicating series of pop songs from some of the greatest songwriters of all time. Yet The Shirelles have unaccountably been overlooked as the years have passed despite induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The songs written for them by Luther Dixon, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Burt Bacharach and Hal David and others have endured, but the voices behind the songs have receded into the background.

The new Broadway musical Baby, It’s You!, named after the 1962 hit penned by Bacharach, Mack David and Barney Williams (actually Dixon, writing under his brother-in-law’s name), redresses this, giving The Shirelles some overdue attention. The Floyd Mutrux/Colin Escott musical (readers here may recognize Escott’s name from the innumerable CD liner notes he has penned) utilizes the Shirelles’ deep back catalogue and that of other period artists to illustrate the dramatic dual stories of Greenberg’s founding of Scepter Records and The Shirelles’ rise and fall. It may have taken fifty-odd years, but The Shirelles are back on Broadway, where their career began at Greenberg’s 1650 Broadway offices just seven blocks away from the musical’s home at the Broadhurst Theatre. Only Shirley Owens (now Shirley Alston-Reeves) and Beverly Lee are still alive to enjoy the accolades, but in celebration of the remarkable body of work recorded by The Shirelles, we offer today’s Back Tracks.

The Shirelles’ catalogue hasn’t been particularly well-served on CD, other than by numerous compilations. Sundazed reissued a small handful of the original albums almost twenty years ago as straight reissues with no bonus tracks; Ace has improved on these editions with a copiously-annotated series of two-on-one CDs containing bonuses where possible, and utilizing stereo mixes where they exist. Ace’s four-volume series now has collected the entire eight-album Scepter output of The Shirelles.

Whether you’ve seen the musical and are looking to find your favorite songs on CD, or you’re a longtime fan of the group hoping to fill some gaps in your collection, have we got a musical tour for you! Hit the jump to begin with 1960’s Tonight’s The Night. We’ll go through 1967’s Spontaneous Combustion and then take a detour to all of the key anthologies and rarities discs! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 11, 2011 at 13:45


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