Since its inception in 2013, Cherry Red’s Croydon Municipal label has reliably shed light on some of the least illuminated corners of the pre-Beatles pop world. Two recent releases - Such a Much: R&B Girls of the ‘50s and ‘60s and TV is the Thing: Fifties and Sixties Television Themes – continue in this tradition.
Like many of Croydon’s releases, Such a Much features a blend of names both familiar (LaVern Baker, Little Esther, Etta James, Ruth Brown) and less familiar (Paula Grimes, Carrie Grant, Annie Laurie, Fay Simmons). What the 19 artists on these 20 tracks – LaVern Baker is represented twice – share is a propensity for tough R&B. As Stanley puts in his colorful liner notes, “Pussyfooting and coyness are not welcome here!” In other words, this collection is the real thing. Tracks have been derived from the catalogues of such great soul labels as Atlantic, Specialty and Excello, with songs from pens as diverse as Dave Bartholomew (Blanche Thomas’ nominal title track, “You Ain’t So Such a Much”), Berry Gordy and Harvey Fuqua (Etta James’ “Nobody Loves You Like Me”) and even Johnny Mercer (Fay Simmons’ version of Mercer and Ziggy Elman’s 1939 big-band chart-topper for Benny Goodman, “And the Angels Sing”). Ruth Brown's "Sure 'Nuff" is a Leiber and Stoller production, with King Curtis on saxophone and the young Phil Spector in the band!
A number of these trailblazing ladies of rhythm and blues also wrote their own songs, such as Doris Troy (“You Better Mind,” as Doris Payne), Wynona Carr, Carol Fran and the aforementioned Miss Baker. Such a Much makes for an ideal companion to Croydon’s volumes of “popcorn music,” a genre defined by its soulful, atmospheric, rhythmic drive. Bob Stanley provides the liner notes to this disc, and the booklet also features a handful of photographs and images of the 45s from which these tracks have been derived.
TV is the Thing takes it names from Dinah Washington’s 1953 assessment of the young technology: “TV is the thing this year/Radio is great, now it’s out of date!” Of course, Ms. Washington’s saucy entreaty “You can stay all night and play with my TV” was loaded with more than one meaning, but all these years later, TV is still the thing for many. The 24 jazzy, swinging and rare tracks on Croydon’s collection are drawn from pop versions of television themes from both sides of the Atlantic – and for the full television experience, compiler Stanley has also included vintage adverts for the likes of Eden Vale yogurt, Outspan oranges and Alka-Seltzer!
On the American front, TV is the Thing encompasses songs from westerns (Frankie Laine’s recording of “Champion the Wonder Horse” from the children’s show), courtroom shows (“Sam Benedict,” performed by Johnny Keating), detective shows (Pete Candoli’s “77 Sunset Strip Cha-Cha”), and dramas (John Gregory’s take on Nelson Riddle’s theme to the on-the-road adventure Route 66).
From the U.K., you’ll hear Malcolm Lockyer’s recording of his storming, brassy theme to 1961’s drama The Pursuers, Johnny Dankworth’s original theme to The Avengers, Alyn Ainsworth’s recording of Max Harris’ theme to Anthony Newley’s offbeat Gurney Slade, and Alan Swain’s version of Edwin Astley’s “Danger Man” theme. (When Danger Man’s second series made it to the U.S., P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri’s “Secret Agent Man” became its calling card.) The legendary John Barry is represented with his “Cutty Sark,” originally the theme to news program Deadline.
And those are just the tip of the iceberg. Stanley provides typically entertaining and informative liner notes in the attractive, retro-designed package, but full composer credits and source information would have been welcome additions to the booklet. Both of these releases are made possible through current U.K. public domain laws. Such a Much: R&B Girls of the ’50s and ‘60s and TV is the Thing: Fifties and Sixties Television Themes both put a fun new spin on nostalgia, and you can order them below!
Various Artists, Such a Much! R&B Girls of the ‘50s and ‘60s (Croydon Municipal CR 9011, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Come On and Love Me – Lucille Brown
- You Ain’t So Such a Much – Blanche Thomas
- Voodoo Voodoo – LaVern Baker
- That’s Why I Cry – Varetta Willard
- I Thought I Told You Not to Tell Them – Marie Knight
- Knock Knock – Carol Fran
- Nobody’s Gonna Hurt You – Annie Laurie
- You Move Me So – Paula Grimes
- Put On My Shoes – Mary Ann Fisher
- Mish Mash – Carrie Grant
- I’ve Got a Feelin’ – Big Maybelle
- Easy Easy Baby – Ann Cole
- If It’s News to You – Little Esther
- Please Mr. Jailer – Wynona Carr
- You Better Mind – Doris Payne
- Baby Please Don’t Go – JoAnn Henderson
- Nobody Loves You Like Me – Etta James
- Sure ‘Nuff – Ruth Brown
- Tiny Tim – LaVern Baker
- And the Angels Sing – Fay Simmons
Various Artists, TV is the Thing! Fifties and Sixties Television Themes (Croydon Municipal CR 9012, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- TV is the Thing – Dinah Washington
- The Pursuers - Malcolm Lockyer
- Route 66 – John Gregory
- Outbreak of Murder – Gordon Franks
- Sasha’s Theme – Sasha Distel
- Supercar – Charles Blackwell
- The Desperadoes – The Cambridge Strings
- Gurney Slade – Alyn Ainsworth
- The Beat Way (from Honey Hit Parade) – Ted Heath and His Orchestra
- Z Cars Cha Cha Cha – John Warren Orchestra
- 77 Sunset Strip Cha Cha – Pete Candoli and His Orchestra
- Lunchbox – Jerry Allen
- Las Vegas (from Animal Magic) – Laurie Johnson
- Sooty’s Party (Excerpt) – Harry Corbett
- Champion the Wonder Horse – Frankie Laine
- Cutty Sark (from Deadline) – The John Barry Seven
- Danger Man – Alan Swain
- The Avengers – Johnny Dankworth
- M Squad – John Gregory
- Man of Mystery (from The Edgar Wallace Mysteries) – Steve Stannard
- Sam Benedict – Johnny Keating
- Sid’s Theme (from Citizen James) – Gordon Franks
- Eggheads – Bryan Blackburn and Peter Evans
- Chick Shape – Craig Douglas
William Keats says
The responsible party for curating Croydon Municipal is of course Saint Etienne member *Bob* Stanley, not identified by his full name anywhere in this review.