Christmas is just around the corner, and here at The Second Disc, we’re hoping that you’ll join us in celebrating the spirit of the season – heading home for the holidays, spending time with cherished family and friends, enjoying bounties of food, love, and music, and reflecting on the good times you shared in 2016.
Our year was, by and large, a wonderful one. We released six titles on our Second Disc Records imprint of the amazing Real Gone Music label, from a Bobby Darin anthology that began life as a Reissue Theory post right here on The Second Disc to a smoking soul set by The Isley Brothers and the first-ever CD release of Jack Jones’ beloved 1964 Christmas album. We were lucky enough to interview true luminaries, such as when Mike spoke with Crowded House’s Neil Finn, and were able to host a number of special giveaways. We continued to grow and build our readership and hopefully provide a source of news and views for a diverse crop of reissues and catalogue titles. None of this would have been possible without the support you give us day in and day out. As ever, we’re incredibly grateful that you choose to carve out a portion of your busy day to spend time with us.
We’ll be back on a regular posting schedule in the first full week of the New Year with even more news, reviews and special features just for you! And with The Second Disc’s seventh (yes, seventh!) birthday coming up in January, we promise that 2017 will bring even bigger and better things…and we’re not just talking about our first-time-on-CD reissue of the all-star soundtrack to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh! In the meantime, we hope you enjoy today’s Release Round-Up of one! Yes, these last couple of weeks of 2016 are generally light, release-wise, but our friends at Real Gone have one final title for the year that we know you’ll want to pick up! Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you!
– Joe, Mike, Randy and Ted
For a golden period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, few groups had as winning a streak as The 5th Dimension. Jimmy Webb wrote an entire album for the 5th, The Magic Garden, after having supplied the quintet with their first hit, the buoyant, five-time Grammy-winning “Up, Up and Away.” The 5th Dimension gave richly harmonized voice to the songs of Laura Nyro, as well, turning her brilliant and sometimes-idiosyncratic material like “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness” into powerful, ebullient radio gold. The group discovered Burt Bacharach and Hal David late in the game, yet recorded the definitive version of the team’s then-little-known song “One Less Bell to Answer,” which Keely Smith had debuted in 1967. Their 1970 recording hit No. 2 on the pop charts and is well-remembered today. The group took a mini-medley from the Broadway musical Hair all the way to the top when “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” spent 16 weeks on the chart, six of them at No. 1, and became the ultimate flower-power anthem in the process. Neil Sedaka, Ashford and Simpson and Tony Macaulay all benefitted from the group’s “champagne soul” stylings. Even Frank Sinatra sought them out to share a stage with him, as well as to appear on his well-regarded television special Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing. The music of The 5th Dimension remains as soulful, effervescent, sophisticated, passionate, and vibrant today as it did decades ago. Real Gone’s The Complete Soul City/Bell Singles 1966-1975 is the release that’s been on top of every collector’s wish list for years.
The 61 tracks featured on three CDs here reflect a true embarrassment of songwriting riches, not to mention stylish vocal and orchestral arrangements. But the true stars are the five individual singers whose distinctive blend was capable of both pure, bright pop and deep, impassioned soul, often on the very same track: Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, Lamont McLemore and Ron Townson.
All of the above-mentioned songs are included, of course. But you’ll also hear tracks such as the hit cover of The Mamas and The Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go,” great Neil Sedaka songs (“Puppet Man,” also recorded by Tom Jones, and “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing”) and Jimmy Webb perennials (“The Worst That Could Happen,” recorded before Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge, plus “Carpet Man,” “Paper Cup,” “The Girls’ Song” and “Orange Air”). There’s of course, plenty of Laura Nyro, who’s represented by songs both ubiquitous (“Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic”) and less familiar, though no less great (“Blowing Away”). The great Bones Howe, who went on to helm Tom Waits’ earliest LPs, was seated in the producer’s chair for every LP after the debut album, Up, Up and Away. (That album was produced by Johnny Rivers and Marc Gordon.) Howe created a smooth and instantly recognizable sound for the group, aided by the stellar arrangements of Bob Alcivar and others. The Wrecking Crew lent rock-solid support as the house band. The B-sides are as immaculately produced and sung as the A-sides, such as the evocative “Rosecrans Blvd.,” jazz-tinged “Dimension 5ive,” dramatic “This is Your Life,” and Latin-infused “Viva Tirado.”
This definitive singles anthology features every track in its original 45 RPM mix, meaning that every song except the final four tracks on CD 3 are in strikingly crisp, punchy mono. While the set is entitled The Complete Soul City/Bell Singles, the compilation has also made room for the super-rare debut single by the group in its incarnation as The Versatiles (“You’re Good Enough for Me” b/w “Bye Bye Baby”) plus The 5th Dimension’s lone single for Bell successor Arista (“No Love in the Room” b/w “I Don’t Know How to Look for Love”).
Grammy Award winner Mark Wilder has stunningly remastered all of these tracks, and Paul Grein has supplied a new essay with quotes from every living member of the group. The 28-page booklet contained in the handsome digipak also features numerous rare photographs and beautiful picture sleeves. Simply put, harmony-pop – or “California Soul,” if you will – never sounded so good. You’ll want to go up, up, and away with this indispensable, truly essential release.