The names of Mickie Most and Reggie Young might not be among the most familiar except to diehard music aficionados, but the songs that benefited from their respective golden touches certainly are among the most well-known ever. Ace Records has recently paid tribute to both of these late talents with a pair of deluxe anthologies.
The Pop Genius of Mickie Most may be the most lavish single-disc package yet released by Ace, housed in a heavy slipcase also containing a squarebound 74-page biography of the producer-impresario. Most (1938-2003) made no bones about his tastes; biographer Rob Finnis shares a 1967 quote in which he asserted, “I don’t like any other music other than good, commercial pop. That’s what makes me successful. All other kinds of music must become rubbish. I don’t want to know about other kinds of music. I don’t want to taste what people call better music because I feel there isn’t any better.”
That confidence paid off, as confirmed by the illustrious hits featured on this package: The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” (No. 1 U.K. & U.S.), The Nashville Teens’ “Tobacco Road” (No. 6 U.K./No. 14 U.S.), Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” (No. 2 U.K./No. 1 U.S.) and “Mellow Yellow” (No. 8 U.K./No. 2 U.S.), Lulu’s “The Boat That I Row” (No. 6 U.K.) and “To Sir with Love” (No. 1 U.S.), and Herman’s Hermits’ “No Milk Today” (No. 7 U.K./No. 35 U.S.), just to name a few. Jeff Beck’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining” might be the most incongruous of all of Most’s hits. The “stupid song” (as Beck described it) was recorded – at Most’s insistence – with the guitarist on lead vocals, and his band’s lead singer Rod Stewart relegated to the background! Despite Beck’s misgivings, the Scott English/Larry Weiss pop confection made it all the way to No. 14 on the U.K. Singles Chart. Rod can be heard on Ace’s set, though, leading a high-octane 1969 rendition of “Jailhouse Rock.”
The Hampshire-born Most began his career as a performer, but found his true calling behind the scenes as an unfussy producer with a golden ear. He didn’t have one style as a producer, but rather would adapt to the needs of the artist – or more often, the song. The recordings on Pop Genius encompass pop, rock, folk, blues, and beyond. His imprimatur is felt across these 25 selections which don’t even comprise all of his hits; one would need nearly an entire disc’s worth just to address Herman’s Hermits’ pop classics made under his aegis. As per Ace custom, however, a number of hidden gems are equally happy additions. Most’s collaboration with American country-pop starlet Brenda Lee is represented with the beat-esque “Is It True,” a top 20 hit in 1964 on both sides of the Atlantic. A few non-charting entries are included, too, for a fuller portrait of Most’s deceptively simple artistry, among them Paul Williams and The Big Roll Band’s bluesy “Gin House,” Canadian duo Angelo and Eighteen’s offbeat, percussive “Flight 2,” and Arrows’ original version of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” later famously covered by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts.
Despite the singles market becoming secondary to albums, Most’s knack for a hit continued through the 1970s and into the early years of the following decade. He championed writers like Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman who continued in the Denmark Street/Brill Building tradition, and formed a label and management company, RAK, with Peter Grant (notoriously to manage Led Zeppelin). RAK yielded such varied successes as CCS’ brassy novelty “Walking” (No. 7 U.K., 1971, featuring Alexis Korner and written by Donovan), Duncan Browne’s McCartney-esque “Journey” (No. 23 U.K., 1972), Hot Chocolate’s moody and socially conscious “Brother Louie” (No. 7 U.K., 1973; the U.S. hit went to Stories’ cover), veteran studio drummer Cozy Powell’s rhythmic instrumental “Dance with the Devil” (No. 3 U.K./No. 49 U.S., 1973), Suzi Quatro’s glam, Chinn and Chapman-penned “48 Crash” (No. 3 U.K., 1973), and another C-C tune, Racey’s retro sing-along “Some Girls” (No. 2, 1978). Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” concludes this anthology on a high note; it reached No. 2 in the U.K. in 1981, and went top 30 in America, too.
Despite the success of Kim Wilde (and other acts not featured here, including Johnny Hates Jazz), Mickie Most realized that he had no affinity for the direction in which pop music was headed. He sold RAK in 1983, content to enjoy his retirement and let the younger generation steer the sound of music. But Mickie Most’s nearly two-decade run as a pop kingmaker wouldn’t be forgotten, as the songs on this collection amply prove. Ace’s deluxe set has been remastered by Nick Robbins and annotated by compilation producer Rob Finnis. It’s one of the most enjoyable entries in the label’s Producer series yet.
Ace has also recognized a consummate musician with a new release. Reggie Young: Session Guitar Star celebrates the legacy of the Memphis guitarist who sadly passed away in January 2019 at the age of 82. One of the “Memphis Boys” of American Studios, Young’s instrument graced six decades’ worth of recordings from music’s biggest stars. Ace previously addressed many beloved tunes (including Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and King Curtis’ “Memphis Soul Stew”) on 2012’s Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios, but as this compilation demonstrates, there was still plenty to go around.
Young’s career as a professional guitarist began in 1954, and Session Guitar Star begins its not-quite-chronological journey two years later with the rockabilly of Eddie Bond and His Stompers’ “Slip, Slip, Slippin’ In,” with Young leading the song and contributing two impressive solos. But Young wasn’t destined to remain a Stomper forever. While playing on the road with Johnny Horton, he was drafted into the U.S. military. Upon completion of his service, he chose to concentrate on session work, adapting to every style necessary. This set, compiled by Bob Dunham and Reggie himself, displays his versatility from the get-go. As a member of Bill Black’s Combo, Young aped Chuck Berry on Black’s cover of the superstar’s “Carol.” As one-half of Jerry and Reggie with drummer Jerry “Satch” Arnold, Young reinvented Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” in high-energy fashion. Supporting Bobby Bland in the studio, the guitarist brought more than “A Touch of the Blues” to Bland’s torrid track.
Young would, of course, be known for his southern soul sound which crystallized at Chips Moman’s American Studios. Young came to American following time at Hi Records’ Royal Studio, becoming one quarter of the original rhythm section with Tommy Cogbill (bass/guitar), Gene Chrisman (drums), and Bobby Emmons (keyboards). Numerous American treasures are featured here, including The Box Tops’ cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” (helmed by Dan Penn), Solomon Burke’s slow, thunderous “Meet Me in Church,” and King Curtis and The King Pins’ R&B groover “In the Pocket,” an instrumental showcasing the tight interplay between Young and his musical brothers as he answers the horn section and deftly supports Curtis’ lead saxophone. For sensuality and soul, few titles could compare with Dusty Springfield’s masterwork Dusty in Memphis, from which Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s cool, imploring “Don’t Forget About Me” (featuring Reggie on prominent electric guitar) has been culled. Jackie DeShannon’s Jackie was helmed by the same production team of Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler, and Arif Mardin; Jackie’s bright, earthy reinterpretation of Van Morrison’s “I Wanna Roo You” was a highlight of the 1972 album and remains so here.
Ace also has recognized the most high-profile artist to walk through the doors of American, one Elvis Aron Presley. “Stranger in My Own Home Town” wasn’t one of the hit singles from the Elvis sessions (i.e. “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain”) but it’s a superlative choice, with Young playing the same electric sitar he employed on tracks like B.J. Thomas’ “Hooked on a Feeling” and The Box Tops’ “Cry Like a Baby.” Young would be called to other studios, too; he joined the smoking band for James Carr’s impassioned “More Love,” a slice of deep-soul balladry recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio for the small yet mighty indie, Goldwax Records.
Not long after, pianist Bobby Wood and bassist Mike Leech joined the group. Young would remain in their ranks until 1972 when he relocated to Nashville’s Quadrafonic Sound Studios. By the end of the decade, Moman had opened a new studio there, and one by one, the “Memphis Boys” reunited in Music City. One of Young’s biggest Nashville hits came early in his stay there: Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” from 1973. His introduction to the song has become inextricably linked with it, re-played by countless imitators. (Bob Dunham helpfully points out in his notes that when Reggie revisited the song with its author, Mentor Williams, as artist, he completely altered his guitar parts.)
Ace captures the period in which Young’s supple, fluid lines graced many country-flavored recordings including “Rock n’ Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)” from Sonny Curtis who did give years to rock-and-roll as lead singer of the post-Buddy Holly Crickets, not to mention as author of “I Fought the Law” and “Walk Right Back,” just to name two. Delbert McClinton’s “Victim of Life’s Circumstances” and Billy Swan’s “Lover Please” found Young and his old cohorts in rollicking mode. One of the best cuts from this era is 1976’s “Morning Glory” from James and Bobby Purify, with Young complementing a Chicago-esque horn chart. One of the more atypical tracks is J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine,” famously covered by Cale friend and supporter Eric Clapton, with Young adding effectively spiky fills.
The 1980s saw Young playing on records from country royalty, like Merle Haggard’s chart-topping “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson’s rendition of Jimmy Webb’s cosmic opus “Highwayman,” the name of which the quartet adopted for their supergroup. A Jennings solo track has also been selected, 1987’s uptempo “Where Do We Go from Here,” featuring an extended instrumental jam. Reggie Young kept recording up until his death; from this decade, Session Guitar Star has pulled Natalie Merchant’s 2010 “Griselda” featuring Young, Bobby Emmons, Mike Leech, Bobby Wood, and Gene Chrisman doing their thing much as they did in the 1960s as only they could, creating a smoking backdrop for Merchant’s distinctive vocals and insinuating brass.
Session Guitar Star, annotated by Bob Dunham and remastered by Duncan Cowell, is a remarkable testament to one of the most soulful musicians to ever have picked up a guitar. As such, it’s essential listening.
Both titles are available at the links below; as of this writing, The Pop Genius of Mickie Most is out of stock at Amazon U.S. but available at the U.K. and Canada stores.
- Motor Bikin’ – Chris Spedding (RAK 210, 1975)
- Tobacco Road – The Nashville Teens (Decca F 11930, 1964) (*)
- House of the Rising Sun – The Animals (Columbia DB 7301, 1964) (*)
- Hi-Ho Silver Lining -Jeff Beck (Columbia DB 8151, 1967) (*)
- Journey – Duncan Browne (RAK 135, 1972)
- Brother Louie – Hot Chocolate (RAK 149, 1973)
- Is It True – Brenda Lee (Brunswick 05915, 1964)
- Sunshine Superman – Donovan (Pye 7N 17241, 1966)
- Dance with the Devil – Cozy Powell (RAK 164, 1973)
- No Milk Today – Herman’s Hermits (Columbia DB 8012, 1966) (*)
- Walking – CCS (RAK 109, 1971)
- Little Games – The Yardbirds (Columbia DB 8165, 1967)
- Gin House – Paul Williams & The Big Roll Band (Columbia DB 7421, 1964) (*)
- The Boat That I Row – Lulu (Columbia DB 8169, 1967)
- Jailhouse Rock – The Jeff Beck Group feat. Rod Stewart (Columbia LP SCX 6351, 1969)
- 48 Crash – Suzi Quatro (RAK 158, 1973)
- Living Next Door to Alice – New World (RAK 142, 1972)
- I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll – Arrows (RAK 205, 1975)
- Mellow Yellow – Donovan (Pye 7N 17267, 1967) (*)
- Days of My Life – The Seekers feat. Judith Durham (Columbia DB 8407, 1968) (*)
- Bread and Butter – Barry St. John (Decca F 11975, 1964) (*)
- Flight 2 – Angelo and Eighteen (RAK 137, 1972)
- To Sir with Love – Lulu (Columbia DB 8221, 1967)
- Some Girls – Racey (RAK 291, 1978)
- Kids in America – Kim Wilde (RAK 327, 1981)
Stereo except (*) mono
- Slip, Slip, Slippin’ In – Eddie Bond & His Stompers (Mercury 70882, 1956) (*)
- Carol – Bill Black’s Combo (Hi LP HL 12017, 1964) (*)
- A Touch of the Blues – Bobby Bland (Duke 426, 1967) (*)
- Dream Baby – Jerry & Reggie (M.O.C. 656, 1964) (*)
- I’m Movin’ On – The Box Tops (Bell LP 6023, 1968)
- The Champion (Part I) – Willie Mitchell (Hi LP HL 12029, 1966) (*)
- Meet Me in Church – Solomon Burke (Atlantic 2527, 1968)
- Chicken Crazy – Joe Tex (Dial 4090, 1969) (*)
- In the Pocket – King Curtis & The King Pins (Atco 6526, 1967) (*)
- More Love – James Carr (Goldwax LP GW 3002,1968)
- Don’t Forget About Me – Dusty Springfield (Atlantic 2606, 1969)
- Stranger In My Own Home Town – Elvis Presley (RCA LP LSP 4429, 1969)
- I Wanna Roo You – Jackie DeShannon (Atlantic 2895, 1972)
- Drift Away – Dobie Gray (Decca 33057, 1973)
- Rock ‘n Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life) – Sonny Curtis (Mercury 73438, 1973)
- Victim of Life’s Circumstances – Delbert McClinton (ABC 12132, 1975)
- Lover Please – Billy Swan (Monument LP KZ 33239, 1974)
- Morning Glory – James & Bobby Purify (Mercury 73806, 1976)
- Cocaine – J.J. Cale (Shelter 62002, 1976)
- I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink – Merle Haggard (MCA LP MCA 5139, 1980)
- Highwayman – Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash & Kris Kristofferson (Columbia 38-04881, 1985)
- Griselda – Natalie Merchant (Nonesuch CD 522304-2, 2010)
- Whenever You Come Around – Little Milton (Malaco CD MCD 7513, 2002)
- Where Do We Go from Here – Waylon Jennings (MCA LP MCA 42038, 1987)
Stereo except (*) mono