Welcome to today’s first installment of our Ace Records Round-Up featuring a number of the label’s latest titles!
Helen Shapiro sang her way into the hearts of Britons as a teenager. Inspired by the success of Alma Cogan, Helen was just 14 when she scored a No. 3 hit on the U.K. Singles Chart with “Don’t Treat Me Like a Child.” The same year of 1961, she charted not one but two No. 1 singles, “You Don’t Know” and “Walkin’ Back to Happiness.” Soon, she was appearing in films and appearing with The Beatles on tour. (She headlined the tour, with the fledgling Fabs lower on the bill!) Her final top ten hit came all too quickly in 1962, but Helen continued to record in her pleasingly husky, distinctive voice. While her early years have been chronicled on numerous CDs, her later recordings had always been overlooked. Ace has rectified that with the recent release of Face the Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984, containing all of Helen’s 45s during that period for the Columbia, Pye, DJM, Arista, and Oval labels save for a couple released under pseudonyms (Ella Stone, Swing Thing).
The four Columbia (U.K.) sides here from 1967 represent the end of Helen’s association with the EMI imprint, all the more unfortunate because of their high quality. Roger Earl Okin’s barnstorming “Stop and You Will Become Aware” (a future Northern soul favorite), Chip Taylor and Billy Vera’s “Make Me Belong to You” (introduced by Barbara Lewis), Manfred Mann member Paul Jones’ “She Needs Company,” and Helen’s own “The Way of the World” (the latter with a sublime Ivor Raymonde chart) all deserved a better commercial fate than they were accorded.
Helen moved to Pye for five 45s released between 1968-1970 and helmed by the man who discovered her and championed her career, songwriter-producer John Schroeder. But Pye didn’t quite know what to do with the singer, as evidenced by the varied repertoire here including the intriguing “Today Has Been Cancelled,” the bubblegum-esque “You’ve Guessed,” driving Motown-styled “Take Me for a While,” and big, booming “On the Shores of Nowhere.” Schroeder wrote many of her Pye sides, usually with writing partner Anthony King, but ultimately his songs didn’t have the impact of Tony Hatch’s on Petula Clark or Chris Andrews’ on Sandie Shaw, to name two of Helen’s Pye labelmates. Ironically, it’s a B-side that was perhaps most effective: the low-key, slow-burning “A Glass of Wine.” (Much as Helen had worked with producer Norman “Hurricane” Smith at Columbia, she worked with another hitmaker-to-be at Pye. Keith Forsey, a key part of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s artistic stable, wrote the A-side “Take Down a Note, Miss Smith.”)
The sultry “A Glass of Wine” hinted at Helen’s future as a jazz singer, but she continued to pursue pop at DJM for a one-off collaboration with Chris Arnold, David Martin, and Geoff Arnold’s “You’re a Love Child” b/w “That’s the Reason I Love You” in 1975. The Arnold-Martin-Arnold songs moved Shapiro further into a seventies groove, the latter with a light dance feel. Her next label affiliation, the U.K. arm of Clive Davis’ Arista Records, heavily promoted Helen’s full-on immersion into contemporary pop-rock in 1977 with Russ Ballard’s happily insistent “Can’t Break the Habit” produced by Colin Frechter and Bill Kimber in an uptempo, Elton John-inspired style. The duo produced all four of Shapiro’s Arista single sides including the melodic “For All the Wrong Reasons” written by Helen and her brother Ronald; a persuasive cover of Brenda Holloway’s Ed Cobb-penned “Every Little Bit Hurts;” and another upbeat, disco-flavored offering, “Touchin’ Wood.”
Following Helen’s Arista tenure, she concentrated on another love – acting – and made West End appearances, including as Nancy in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! for producer Cameron Mackintosh. The final clutch of recordings on this collection comes from her next recordings, for Oval Records, for whom she recorded in 1983-1984. Irving Berlin’s “Let Yourself Go” and (Helen’s then-boyfriend and now-husband) John Judd and Paul Knight’s “Funny” were released on 45 from her first jazz vocal album, Straighten Up and Fly Right. But this wasn’t jazz for purists; “Let Yourself Go” – produced by Steve O’Donnell of disco group Cognac – juxtaposed cool, modern verses with brassy choruses in a fashion teetering on high camp. “Funny” is a biting ballad on which Shapiro showed her dramatic chops. The album attracted the attention of trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton who invited Helen to sing with his band, but before she committed fully to that experience, she released a final pop single on Oval. It closes this set: a down-and-dirty version of Allen Toussaint’s “Brickyard Blues” (a.k.a. “Play Something Sweet”) modeled after Maria Muldaur’s rendition, b/w the slick soft-rock of “Just Another Weekend.” As a bonus, a 1970 German-language single on Pye has been appended.
Compiler Tony Rounce has shared a new interview with Helen – retired from showbiz since 2002 but still active in her ministry – in the 20-page booklet, and Nick Robbins has mastered everything for typically superb sound. Helen Shapiro’s Face the Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984 shines a light on this beloved vocalist’s “lost years,” and is a worthwhile companion to the many collections of her earlier, EMI work.
- Stop and You Will Become Aware (Columbia DB 8256, 1967)
- She Needs Company (Columbia DB 8256, 1967)
- Make Me Belong to You (Columbia DB 8148, 1967)
- The Way of the World (Columbia DB 8148, 1967)
- You’ll Get Me Loving You (Pye 7N 17600, 1968)
- Silly Boy (I Love You) (Pye 7N 17600, 1968)
- Today Has Been Cancelled (Pye 7N 17714, 1969)
- Face the Music (Pye 7N 17714, 1969)
- You’ve Guessed (Pye 7N 17785, 1969)
- Take Me for a While (Pye 7N 17785, 1969)
- Take Down a Note, Miss Smith (Pye 7N 17893, 1969)
- Couldn’t You See (Pye 7N 17893, 1970)
- Waiting on the Shores of Nowhere (Pye 7N 17975, 1970)
- A Glass of Wine (Pye 7N 17975, 1970)
- You’re a Love Child (DJM DJS 363, 1975) (*)
- That’s the Reason I Love You (DJM DJS 363, 1975) (*)
- Can’t Break the Heart (Arista ARIST 131, 1977) (*)
- For All the Wrong Reasons (Arista ARIST 131, 1977) (*)
- Every Little Bit Hurts (Arista ARIST 178, 1978) (*)
- Touchin’ Wood (Arista ARIST 178, 1978) (*)
- Let Yourself Go (Oval HELEN 25, 1983) (*)
- Funny (Oval HELEN 25, 1983) (*)
- Brickyard Blues (Oval HELEN 26, 1984) (*)
- Just Another Weekend (Oval HELEN 26, 1984) (*)
- Das Ist Nicht Die Feine Englische Art (Pye DV 11005, 1970)
All tracks mono except (*) denotes stereo