Though the A&M stands for (Herb) Alpert and (Jerry) Moss, A&M Records has meant a great many things to a great many people since its founding in 1962. Those who came of age in the 1980s may think of the famous logo adorning records by Sting, Janet Jackson or Bryan Adams. In the 1970s, the label was home to The Carpenters, Cat Stevens and Joe Cocker. In the 1960s, A&M was not only a label but a “sound.” That sound was a certain, beguiling style of sophisticated adult soft-pop epitomized by founder Herb Alpert as well as Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendes, Chris Montez and Roger Nichols. Though Alpert and Moss sold their label (at one point the largest and most successful independent record company in the world) to PolyGram in 1989 and it is now a unit of Universal Music Group, its classic artists and albums have never fallen out of favor.
Universal Music Japan has launched an A&M 50th Anniversary Collection as well as a series of releases under the Nick DeCaro Posthumous 20th Anniversary umbrella. A prolific arranger, composer and producer, DeCaro (1938-1992) was a mainstay of the early A&M era. Among the titles already released in the series are albums by The Sandpipers, Chris Montez, Tijuana Brass offshoot The Baja Marimba Band, and DeCaro himself. (Many of these titles are making their CD debuts.) One new compilation has emerged, though, that celebrates DeCaro as well as some legendary artists from the A&M roster and elsewhere.
Nick DeCaro: Works is a 23-track anthology of DeCaro’s output as a producer and arranger between 1967 and 1982, and if it proves anything, it’s just how eclectic and adaptable the man’s style was. Though he largely toiled behind the scenes in America, DeCaro became a star in Japan thanks to his 1974 solo effort Italian Graffiti, so it’s only fair that Japan is celebrating him with this diversely curated new release.
Mel Carter’s 1965 “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” on the Imperial label was Nick DeCaro’s first major hit as a producer and arranger, but it was the tip of the iceberg of his work at Imperial. He produced records for studio groups like The Sunset Strings and a pre-Philadelphia O’Jays, and befriended young staff songwriter Randy Newman, who would later enlist him to write arrangements for his Good Old Boys album in 1974. When he decamped for A&M, he became a primary architect of the label’s pop style, producing and/or arranging six albums for Claudine Longet, four for Chris Montez and six for the Sandpipers. His work with Longet naturally brought him to the attention of her husband, Columbia Records artist Andy Williams, for whom DeCaro produced and arranged three LPs. DeCaro also amazingly found time to arrange at Warner Bros. and Reprise, and he reunited with his old friend Newman writing charts for Harpers Bizarre’s renditions of Randy’s songs.
His own fitful solo career was less successful than his work for others, particularly when his 1969 solo debut Happy Heart went head-to-head with Andy Williams’ own version of its title song. Williams had wanted his friend DeCaro to produce and arrange his recording, but DeCaro demurred, and Williams created a successful record of the song without DeCaro’s participation. 1974’s Italian Graffiti earned him cult status in Japan, but DeCaro continued to make his biggest hits for others. Just a few of the names on the arranger’s client list reads like a “Who’s Who” of popular music: Gordon Lightfoot (If You Could Read My Mind, Sundown), James Taylor (Gorilla, In the Pocket), Little Feat (Time Loves a Hero), Neil Diamond (Beautiful Noise), Helen Reddy (I Don’t Know How to Love Him), Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were, Barbra Joan Streisand, Wet), Rickie Lee Jones (Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates), Dolly Parton (Here You Come Again). DeCaro was also in demand for his abilities on the accordion and concertina, adding the instrument to recordings by everyone from The Rolling Stones to renowned multi-instrumentalist Prince! Before his passing in 1992, DeCaro returned to solo recording in Japan, toured the country twice and produced Japanese artists, as well. But The Works focuses on some of his most renowned American work, with an emphasis on his productions during the golden years of A&M.
Hit the jump for the full run-down on Works, including the track listing with discography!
DeCaro’s affinity with the team of Paul Williams and Roger Nichols is very much in evidence on this new set, from The Roger Nichols’ Trio’s “Love Song, Love Song” to Nichols’ Small Circle of Friends’ “Love So Fine,” penned by the composer/leader with Tony Asher (Pet Sounds). Two songs by the Williams/Nichols team appear with The Sandpipers’ deliciously acerbic “To Put Up with You” and Harpers Bizarre’s yearning “The Drifter,” recorded for the Warner Bros. label. (If you’re reading this and you don’t own the expanded edition of Paul Williams’ Someday Man, featuring his own recordings of those songs, do yourself a favor and read up on this classic album now!)
The Sandpipers’ smooth vocals are also heard on a cover of Tim Hardin’s “Misty Roses,” while two of DeCaro’s other most famed charges, Claudine Longet and The Baja Marimba Band, also get two tracks apiece. Perhaps the oddest A&M track here is “Roselie.” It was written and sung by the duo of Seemon and Marijke, the two founding members of Dutch design collective The Fool, best-known for their work with The Beatles. Another lost treasure from the label’s vaults is Brewer and Shipley’s “Keeper of the Keys.” If you enjoy the taste of a pre-“One Toke Over the Line” sound from the duo, their entire A&M album has recently been reissued on Now Sounds.
Before finding success in Hollywood as a film composer, Randy Edelman was a singer/songwriter perhaps best known for writing “Weekend in New England,” a hit for Barry Manilow. Edelman is represented with “The Woman On Your Arm” from his 1974 Prime Cuts album. Among Works’ other rare finds are the 1982 B.J. Thomas single “But Love Me” penned by Kenny Nolan, and “Chances Are,” a 1972 song from Steve Miller collaborator Ben Sidran’s I Lead a Life album. (It isn’t the Johnny Mathis tune.) Ruby and the Romantics make an appearance with their early recording of “Hurting Each Other,” later a hit for Carpenters, and the smoldering soul ballad “Baby I Could Be So Good at Lovin’ You.”
The compilers have wisely licensed a few tracks from outside the A&M/Universal family. DeCaro’s tenure with Andy Williams is represented with the singer’s groovy cover of The Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and both James Taylor and his brother Livingston are heard with “I Was a Fool to Care” and “Going ‘Round One More Time,” respectively. DeCaro himself performs two tracks, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” from his A&M Happy Heart album, and Stephen Bishop’s “Under a Jamaican Moon” from Italian Graffiti.
As a Japanese import, Works isn’t inexpensive, but it’s a comprehensive look at an underrated talent who contributed to some of the most memorable pop music of our time. You can peruse the track listing just below, and we’ve linked to Amazon should you be interested in making the purchase! That said, Works and other A&M 50th titles are frequently available from reliable sellers on eBay as well. Nick DeCaro’s Works is available now from Universal Music Japan!
Nick DeCaro, Works (Universal Japan UICZ-1433, 2012)
- Love Song, Love Song (L. Marks & D. Tibbles) / Roger Nichols Trio -1967
- Love So Fine (Roger Nichols & Tony Asher) / Roger Nichols & The Small Circle Of Friends -1967
- To Put Up With You (Roger Nichols & Paul Williams) / The Sandpipers -1970
- Love Is Here To Stay (George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin) / Chris Montez -1968
- I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (Kenneth Gamble, Jerry Ross & Jerry Williams) / Nick De Caro & Orchestra – 1969
- I Love How You Love Me (Larry Kolber & Barry Mann) / Claudine Longet -1967
- Roselie (Seemon & Marijke) / Seemon & Marijke -1971
- Chances Are (Ben Sidran) / Ben Sidran -1972
- Under The Jamaican Moon (Stephen Bishop & Leah Kunkel) / Nick De Caro -1974
- The Woman On Your Arm (Randy Edelman) / Randy Edelman -1974
- Wait For Me (Billy Alessi & Bobby Alessi) / Alessi Brothers -1979
- But Love Me (Kenny Nolan) / B.J.Thomas -1982
- I Don’t Want To Walk Without You (Jule Styne & Frank Loesser) / Julius Wechter & The Baja Marimba Band -1969
- Flyin’ High (Jimmy Barden) / Julius Wechter & The Baja Marimba Band -1968
- Keeper Of The Keys (Michael Brewer & Tom Shipley) / Brewer & Shipley -1968
- The End Of The World (Sylvia Dee & Arthur Kent) / Claudine Longet -1967
- Misty Roses (Tim Hardin) / The Sandpipers -1967
- Hurting Each Other (Peter Udell & Gary Geld) / Ruby & The Romantics -1969
- Baby I Could Be So Good At Lovin’ You (Buzz Clifford) / Ruby & The Romantics -1969
- Going Round One More Time (Livington Taylor) / Livingston Taylor -1978
- Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio) / Andy Williams – 1967
- I Was A Fool To Care (James Taylor) / James Taylor -1975
- The Drifter (Roger Nichols & Paul Williams / Harpers Bizarre -1968
Track 1 from A&M single 830, 1967
Track 2 from Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends, A&M SP-4139, 1968
Track 3 from A&M single 1185, 1969
Track 4 from A&M single 958, 1967
Track 5 from Happy Heart, A&M SP-4176, 1969
Tracks 6 & 16 from The Look of Love, A&M SP-4129, 1967
Track 7 from Son of America, A&M AMLS-64309, 1971
Track 8 from Blue Thumb single BTA-223, 1972
Track 9 from Italian Graffiti, Blue Thumb BTS-6011, 1974
Track 10 from Prime Cuts, 20th Century Records BT-448, 1974
Track 11 from Words and Music, A&M SP-4776, 1979
Track 12 from MCA single 52023, 1982
Track 13 from A&M single 1078, 1969
Track 14 from Those Were the Days, A&M SP-4167, 1968
Track 15 from A&M SP-4154, 1968
Track 17 from Misty Roses, A&M SP-4135, 1967
Tracks 18-19 from A&M single 1042, 1969
Track 20 from 3-Way Mirror, Epic JE 35540, 1978
Track 21 from Love, Andy, Columbia CS 9566, 1967
Track 22 from Gorilla, Warner Bros. BS 2866, 1975
Track 23 from The Secret Life of Harpers Bizarre, Warner Bros. WS 1739, 1968