“Yesterday’s Gone”: the song by folk-pop duo Chad and Jeremy opens the first of the six discs comprising Cherry Red and RPM’s new box set Fab Gear: The British Beat Explosion and Its Aftershocks 1963-1967. It’s a most appropriate opener, as yesterday really was gone for an entire generation of artists swiftly rendered obsolete by the emergence of The Beatles. As the box eloquently explains, the Fab Four “in name, song, band structure, image, defined this new Beat music…Until 1967, when The Beatles reinvented pop again with Sgt. Pepper’s, Beat music – in the broadest sense – was the basic template for aspiring young (mainly male) teenagers forming a band.” This 6-CD box collects 180 tracks chronicling this fertile period in British (and by extension) global music history, with an emphasis on new-to-CD cuts and the catalogue of Pye Records. Why Pye? Castle Music’s Beat Beat Beat series dug into the Pye vaults but was aborted before its intended conclusion; this box picks up where that series left off. The sixth disc here is even more collector-oriented, focusing on tracks that initially weren’t released.
As expected for such a large collection, there’s a blend of the famous and the not-so-famous. In the former category are lesser-known tracks from household names like The Kinks, David Bowie (with his early band The Lower Third), The Moody Blues, and The Searchers. Among the latter type are little-known bands whose personnel would become future members of Yes, Fleetwood Mac, Manfred Mann, Traffic, The Move, and Deep Purple, just to name a few. There are plenty of “A-ha!” moments and fascinating discoveries across these six discs. Connections abound between artists, bands, songwriters, and producers on this potpourri of Beat subgenres including rock-and-roll, pop, R&B, folk, and soul. The chronological approach works well, allowing listeners to trace the development of production styles as well as the growing confidence of bandmates to write their own songs rather than tap established songwriters.
Though The Beatles are naturally absent from this survey, there are Fab connections, such as Marilyn Powell’s groovy, spirited cover of “All My Loving,” one of the first Beatle covers by a female artist; The Tremeloes’ bright take on “Good Day Sunshine;” and The Hi-Fi’s “Baby’s in Black.” Though The Kinks do appear on Fab Gear with “Who’ll Be the Next in Line,” the band is also represented via numerous covers including one from The Doc Thomas Group. Their R&B-meets-country cover of “Just Can’t Go to Sleep” features none other than a pre-Mott the Hoople Ian Hunter. Ray Davies’ songs were so popular, and so evocative of their period, that this set also features interpretations from the Davies songbook by The Fingers (“I Go to Sleep”), The Thoughts (“All Night Stand”), Gates of Eden (“Too Much on My Mind”), The Attraction (“Party Line”), and Five’s Company (“Session Man”).
America happily adopted the British sound in the 1960s, but Britain enjoyed a cultural exchange too as American R&B and pop inspired countless U.K. artists. America’s answer to Denmark Street, The Brill Building, is represented by tunes here like Billie Davis’ “That Boy John” (penned by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry), Felders Orioles’ “Down Home Girl” (Jerry Leiber and Artie Butler), The Alan Price Set’s “Any Day Now” (Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard), The Syndicats’ “On the Horizon” (Leiber and Mike Stoller), and The Knack’s “Take Your Love” (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil). “Love Potion No. 9” was a particular Brill-born favorite. The tale of Madame Rue and her amour-inducing concoction is heard here in versions by Tony Jackson with The Vibrations, as well as The Baskervilles, though the U.S. hit by Liverpool’s The Searchers is absent.
Not too far from the Brill Building, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe were plying their song trade for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, among others. The duo’s “She Lied” got the beat ballad treatment from The Buckinghams (of London, not the U.S. group of “Don’t You Care” and “Kind of a Drag” fame). The California sound crossed oceans, too, as evidenced by Tony Rivers & The Castaways’ credible take on The Beach Boys’ driving “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” The Spectrum made David Gates’ Monkees hit “Saturday’s Child” their own, and The Montanas went freakbeat on “That’s When Happiness Began” from the California-by-way-of-Massachusetts songwriting team The Addrisi Brothers. Some of The Montanas’ most enduring A-sides were penned, in part, by Pye’s songwriter-producer-arranger-A&R man Tony Hatch. His compositions are among the most egregious omissions on this box, although that’s perhaps because his output is so well-represented elsewhere on CD. (Hatch’s behind-the-scenes influence is felt here, however.) Other top-tier U.K. writers are here, though, including Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, John Carter and Ken Lewis, and even the future Sir Tim Rice.
For those wishing to dig deeper, a number of the artists here have had full anthologies released on Cherry Red including The Bo Street Runners (“Bo Street Runner”), The Mike Cotton Sound (“Round and Round”), The Artwoods (“If I Ever Get My Hands on You”), Philip Goodhand-Tait and The Stormsville Shakers (“I’m Gonna Put Some Hurt on You”), The Spectrum (“Saturday’s Child”), and Katch 22 (“Makin’ My Mind Up’).
Fab Gear is a beautifully-designed set. It’s packaged in the style of a hardcover book, with each disc slotted in a page of its own. A 56-page, full-color booklet of liner notes from Nick Warburton and Bruce Welsh is worth the price of admission, with track-by-track annotations filling in the blanks on many of the artists who’ve fallen through the cracks over the years. It’s also copiously illustrated with records, sleeves, and artist photos. Simon Murphy has remastered, and the sound is strong throughout.
A treasure trove of enjoyable pop, Fab Gear is a testament to the endurance of the beat boom, not to mention its direct antecedents in rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues. Yeah, yeah, yeah!