Among the first releases of 2012 from newbie label Real Gone Music is a two-on-one collection offering the compact disc debut of Bill Medley’s 100% and Soft and Soulful. But those titles are apt to describe the entire Real Gone line-up for January, as the young label has given 100% to make available a wide variety of music: soft and soulful, yes, but also jazzy, twangy, and folky. There’s something for everyone in this array of once-neglected titles.
As 1968 began, The Righteous Brothers were still an ongoing concern. But the split of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield couldn’t have seemed too far off, at least judging from the March release of their LP Standards. The LP was composed entirely of solo tracks, six by bass-baritone Medley and five by tenor Hatfield. Later that year, a live LP was entitled One for the Road, and the solo Righteous Brothers were off and running. Real Gone has brought together Medley’s first two solo albums for MGM Records, 100% and Soft and Soulful, on one CD (RGM-0016).
1968’s 100% marked a tentative beginning for the singer as a solo act, and he hadn't severed all ties to his former “brother,” even announcing on his recording of “Let the Good Times Roll” that “Bob Hatfield’s in town!” Always an accomplished producer, Medley took the controls himself, with arrangements provided by Bill Baker. The Medley/Baker team had previously taken the Righteous Brothers’ reins after the duo parted ways with Phil Spector, and even aped Spector’s Wagnerian style on the majestic “Soul and Inspiration.”
It’s odd, then, that Medley seemed a bit tentative about the musical direction he should pursue on 100%. There’s Bill Medley, the finger-snapping, supper-club swinger of “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” and “That’s Life.” There’s Bill Medley, the Broadway balladeer of “Who Can I Turn To” and the ubiquitous “The Impossible Dream.” Most familiar is Bill Medley, the blue-eyed soul man of George Fischoff and Tony Powers’ “Run to My Loving Arms,” the rocking “Show Me” and the full-throttle “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” The album’s strongest track is, ironically, “I Can’t Make It Alone,” a Carole King/Gerry Goffin collaboration also recorded by Bobby Hatfield in his first year of freedom. (Hatfield’s version is still unreleased to this day; paging Real Gone Music?) Medley’s vocal proves that he certainly could make it alone, though this terrific performance was outdone by the unlikeliest of performers, the trouser-splitting British star P.J. Proby! Though the song was specifically written for The Righteous Brothers, Proby cut the original in 1966, and tapped arranger Jack Nitzsche to repeat the magic he’d created on songs like the Spector-produced “Just Once in My Life.” Although Medley scored a small hit with his rendition, Proby out-Righteous’d the Brothers. A bigger hit for him was 100%'s "Brown-Eyed Woman." It was eritten by the same all-time great team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who had already penned the Righteous Brothers' two No. 1 hits ("Soul and Inspiration" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'").
Hit the jump to explore Medley's Soft and Soulful, plus new reissues from Jody Miller and The Tymes!
Soft and Soulful, from 1969, is more cohesive than its predecessor, with Medley and Baker emphasizing rock and soul. (The hat was only tipped once to Sinatra on this LP, with a take on “Softly, As I Leave You.”) The standout track is “Peace, Brother, Peace” an earnest plea by Mann (also its co-producer) and Weil. With its large choral arrangement and timely sentiment, it earned Medley his final solo hit for a decade. Medley wrote or co-wrote four songs himself, including another cry for racial peace, the oddly-titled “I’m Gonna Die Me” (“I’ve tried to so hard to feel my brother’s pain/But when you’re white, it’s just not the same” – forgive the forced “rhyme”!).
The cover material on Soft and Soulful is well-chosen, from chestnuts like John D. Loudermilk’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” and Jerry Butler’s “For Your Precious Love” to a languid, crooned “Any Day Now” from the Burt Bacharach songbook. Medley’s own “Something So Wrong” (“shouldn’t feel so right!”) has a big, brassy soul setting, and “When Something is Wrong with My Baby” makes the most of the classic Isaac Hayes/David Porter song. Mann and Weil’s second offering on the album is “Winter Won’t Come This Year,” an atypical, torchy song, with a warm arrangement and wistful piano accompaniment.
Real Gone Music has packaged this title in a large Japanese-style paper sleeve digipak, and the artwork looks beautiful in this increased size. Richie Unterberger has supplied the informative notes, and Mark Wilder has splendidly remastered in a rare non-Sony assignment. Two more MGM LPs followed for the singer, 1970’s Someone is Standing Outside and 1970’s Nobody Knows, reissued with one different track as Gone. A handful of unreleased tracks recorded by Medley is also known to exist; might any of these titles arrive next? Cross your fingers!
Philadelphia’s The Tymes stood at the crossroads of doo-wop and soul. The first of their three charting albums for the Parkway label, So Much in Love (RGM-0022), is subtitled The Story of a Summer Love, and is making its official CD debut. This early concept album, originally released on the Parkway label in 1963, has been expanded by five bonus tracks, and shows off the many sides of the Philadelphia vocal quintet. The album, of course, is titled after the group’s smash hit record “So Much in Love,” which counted George Williams of the Tymes among its writers, along with Roy Straigis and producer/arranger Billy Jackson. Who wouldn’t be seduced by the crashing of the waves and those iconic fingers-snaps of this pop gem? Though there’s a slight jazz flavor in some of the arrangements, Johnny Mathis is a clear touchstone. Not only did The Tymes’ “Wonderful! Wonderful!” best Mathis’ recording on the charts, but they also took a crack at his “The Twelfth of Never” here. Even the original “You Asked Me To Be Yours” is arranged in the style of the crooner’s “Chances Are,” complete with tinkling piano.
The gentle, romantic vibe continues on “My Summer Love,” co-written by Bob Hilliard (no relation to the group’s George) as Ruby and the Romantics’ follow-up to “Our Day Will Come.” The summer love theme is underlined by romantic spoken introductions between tracks, read by Billy Jackson (“We find ourselves in a world of our own…”). The Harold Arlen/ Johnny Mercer standard “That Old Black Magic” gets a smooth reading, while the Straigis/Jackson/Williams “Let’s Make Love Tonight” has a slight New York uptown soul feel redolent of The Drifters. “Goodnight, My Love,” on the other hand, is pure doo-wop street corner harmonizing, and it’s absolutely luscious!
The most atypical songs on the set are all bonus tracks. The Coasters-esque “Roscoe James McClain” sat on the flipside of “So Much in Love,” and Al “Ceasar” [sic] Berry growls appropriately throughout! A fun, offbeat “Surf City,” from the compilation album Everybody’s Goin’ Surfin’, finds the Tymes sticking largely to Jan and Dean’s original blueprint, bringing a little bit of California sun to the City of Brotherly Love! The single versions of “So Much in Love” and “Wonderful! Wonderful!,” plus its B-side, “Come with Me to the Sea,” round out the set. Joe Yannece has remastered, and Gene Sculatti has written the liner notes for the full-color booklet. You’ll fall so much in love with this classic slice of Philly vocal harmony.
The name of Jody Miller is arguably less familiar than that of Bill Medley or even The Tymes, whose “So Much In Love” remains an oldies radio staple today. But Real Gone’s Complete Epic Hits (RGM-0017) proves that Miller was much more than just the voice behind a famous answer record. That answer record, of course, was the Grammy-winning “Queen of the House,” responding to Roger (no relation) Miller’s “King of the Road.” As Jody’s version was recorded for Capitol in 1965, it’s not even included on this disc which covers the period between 1970 and 1979. In Bill Dahl’s fine liner notes to this release, Miller accurately describes her musical style as “too pop for country…too country for pop.” Miller never again scaled the heights of “Queen of the House,” but Complete Epic Hits contains all 25 of her charting country hits, sparklingly remastered by Maria Triana. In fact, the skill with which she performed both country and pop material may have kept her from becoming a superstar in either field. Miller scored a hit with the catchy “Look at Mine,” penned by the infallible team of Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, and also succeeded with a number of girl group and soul covers (“He’s So Fine,” a twangy “Be My Baby,” “Baby, I’m Yours,” “To Know Him Is To Love Him”). Carole King was one of the most prominent voices of the 1970s, and Miller brought her songbook over to the country side of town with the singles “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Natural Woman.” The inclusion of all of these tracks makes Complete Epic Hits an essential set for fans of great songwriting alone.
Billy Sherrill was Miller’s guiding light at Epic, and she was the recipient of his full countrypolitan sound. Sherrill also contributed some original songs heard here, and brought along some of Nashville’s finest to support her, including two names associated with Elvis Presley: background vocalists The Jordanaires and arranger Bergen White. Sherrill concocted some unique settings for Miller, including a cover of The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” rearranged to bear more than a passing resemblance to “My Sweet Lord” (itself inspired by “He’s So Fine”) in its guitar sound. Sherrill strips the song of its signature “Doo-langs” and the background voices are pure country, but the track still rocks!
A few other producers are represented, too, including Norro Wilson (who delivered the rootsy Country Girl LP for Miller), Jerry Crutchfield, Larry Butler and Glenn Sutton. Miller stayed true to her eclectic tastes, though, veering from explicitly country material (“When the New Wears Off Of Our Love,” the Johnny Paycheck duet “Let’s All Go Down to the River”) to the pure pop of the lilting “Spread a Little Love.” A remake of Gene Pitney’s “Love My Life Away” anticipates the 1980s with its glossy, hyper-charged production. In any genre, though, her distinct tone is clear and clean, at times with sweetness and spunk not unlike that of Reba McEntire.
Miller’s albums for Epic largely adhered to the same formula as these single A-sides, with covers of “Everything I Own,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and even “Don’t Be Cruel.” Yet Miller’s repertoire has largely eluded CD, and even Renaissance Records’ 1999 Anthology fetches high prices in the secondhand market. Real Gone’s Complete Epic Hits (also packaged in an oversized digipak) is a timely reminder of the country chart reign of the one-time “Queen of the House,” and hopefully not the last Real Gone release for the singer.
100%/Soft and Soulful and Complete Epic Hits are in stores now. So Much in Love streets next week, on January 31!
There’s even more on the way this month from Real Gone Music, including Glen Campbell’s Live in Japan; Maynard Ferguson’s Complete Cameo Recordings; two volumes of Dick’s Picks from The Grateful Dead; and Maggie and Terre Roche’s Seductive Reasoning!