The soundtrack of director Edgar Wright's recent film Last Night in Soho features two interpretations of Tony Hatch's classic pop hit "Downtown" performed by star Anya Taylor-Joy: one perky and uptempo, one haunting and downbeat. But the Soho soundtrack isn't the only way to hear "Downtown" as you likely haven't heard it before. The irresistible ode to that place where you can "forget all your troubles, forget all your cares" can be heard in Italian as sung by its originator, Petula Clark, as one of the 31 tracks on Ace International's delightful new 2-CD anthology Splendido! The Italian Singles Collection.
"Ciao Ciao," as the brassy anthem was adapted into the Italian language, is just one of the familiar songs here. Like many of her contemporaries, Petula recorded many of her hits in languages including French, Italian, Spanish, and German. While her French recordings are voluminous (see the excellent, nine-volume Anthologie series for an overview), her recordings in those other languages were collected on Bear Family's comprehensive The International Collection in 1999. All these years later, Splendido! reexamines the Italian tracks in a concise, beautifully-packaged collection. In addition to "Downtown," fans who don't necessarily know the language will savor Italian renditions of "Time for Love," "Heart," "Just Say Goodbye," "My Love," "Round Every Corner," "This Is My Song," "Kiss Me Goodbye," and "Happy Heart." Other treasures include "Chariot (Sul Mio Carro)" a.k.a. "I Will Follow Him," and "Quelli Che Hanno Un Cuore," a.k.a. "Anyone Who Had a Heart." The latter Burt Bacharach/Hal David song was also recorded by Petula in French and Spanish, but alas, not in English.
The 31 songs on Splendido! were recorded between 1962 and 1970 in studios around the world including Milan, Munich, London, and Hollywood. Italian multi-hyphenate Ezio Leoni - composer, conductor, arranger, producer, and record company A&R man - oversaw a great many of the recording sessions while Petula's key collaborator of the period, Tony Hatch, was also well-represented as arranger-conductor and producer even if most of his songs for Petula weren't cut in the Italian language ("Downtown," "Round Every Corner," and "My Love" being exceptions). Happily, many of Petula's own songs are featured on Splendido!, among them "Darling Cheri," "This Is Goodbye," "Forgetting You," "Time for Love," "Now That You've Gone," "Just Say Goodbye," "Heart," "Where Am I Going," "Some," and "For Love."
Splendido! is handsomely packaged as a six-panel digipak designed by Niall McCormack. Bob Stanley has interviewed Clark for the 32-page full-color booklet which also contains detailed track annotations with credits and discography. The collection has been produced by longtime Clark collaborator David Hadzis (A Valentine's Day Concert at the Royal Albert Hall) and mastered by Nick Robbins. Today, Petula is hardly resting on her laurels; following the show's long pause due to COVID-19, she's back on the West End entertaining audiences daily as The Bird Woman in Mary Poppins. It's a warm, beautiful, and altogether touching performance in a career that's been filled with them since the days of World War II. As Splendido! amply proves, Petula Clark is, now and always, an (inter)national treasure.
Producer-songwriter Norman Whitfield was Motown's foremost proponent of what came to be called Psychedelic Soul, so the subgenre makes for a fitting title to Ace's new collection of his productions, compiled and annotated by Bob Stanley. Whitfield (1940-2008) is best-known for his stunning run of eight albums with The Temptations, a period which yielded such hard-hitting classics as "Cloud Nine," "Ball of Confusion," "I Can't Get Next to You," and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," and for discovering and shepherding the career of The Undisputed Truth, the band which took the Tempts' "Smiling Faces Sometimes" to the Pop top five. Among the other bullet points in Whitfield's impressive C.V.: co-writing "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)," and "War," and founding his own Whitfield Records label (Rose Royce's "Car Wash") in 1975.
Like most of the anthologies in Ace's Producers Series, Psychedelic Soul: Produced by Norman Whitfield doesn't include all of Whitfield's hits; the atypically lovely 1971 chart-topper "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" (like so many of Whitfield's finest compositions, co-written with Barrett Strong) might be the most egregious omission. While it doesn't fit the "psychedelic" bill, it's nonetheless imbued with the authenticity and soul that defined a Norman Whitfield production.
His biggest post-Motown group, Rose Royce, has two songs here, neither of which is 1976's chart-topping "Car Wash." The disc is filled with treasures, though - both familiar (The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" and "Psychedelic Shack," Edwin Starr's epochal "War," The Undisputed Truth's disco hit "You + Me = Love") and hidden (Gladys Knight and the Pips' scorching cover of Bacharach and David's "The Look of Love," Rose Royce's "Ooh Boy," Mammatapee's "Good Lovin'," Masterpiece's "Love Is What You Make It"). Whitfield not only produced but wrote or co-wrote the lion's share of the tracks here, bringing his socially conscious sensibility and intense style to the Motown stable and beyond.
Stanley quotes the producer in a 1977 Blues and Soul interview: "My success was as a result of wanting to learn, to grow, and the knack of being able to serve up something that people weren't expecting." That last part is key. While Whitfield scored many hits on the Pop and R&B surveys, he frequently did so by stretching the boundaries of The Motown Sound into darker and funkier territory. At his own label, he embraced a changing soul landscape with artists such as Rose Royce and Stargard as well as a new lineup of The Undisputed Truth, and kept the old Motown practice of cutting songs on numerous artists alive. This set offers fellow ex-Motown veteran Junior Walker's Whitfield Records revival of Rose Royce's 1977 hit "Wishing on a Star" in that vein. Willie Hutch also followed Norman to Whitfield, and the singer-songwriter-producer is heard on Norman's "And All Hell Broke Loose." (Both Walker and Hutch would find their way back to Motown following their Whitfield records...and so did Norman himself.)
Psychedelic Soul: Produced by Norman Whitfield includes a 20-page booklet with track-by-track liner notes and numerous photos and memorabilia images. Duncan Cowell has remastered this fine sampler of the producer whose alluring brand of mind-altering soul still stands among the most innovative of his era, or any other.
Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls, compiled by Keith Hughes and Mick Patrick, is Ace's fourth Motown Girls compilation drawn from the label's vaults. Like the previous volumes, it concentrates on The Sound of Young America in its 1960s heyday and on the many, often-overlooked artists who were just one hit song away from stardom. It's telling that only six of the 25 tracks here are wholly previously unreleased; Motown has been emptying out its vaults via annual digital-only compilations for copyright reasons. So, the majority of songs here have been heard before but are happily making their physical debut.
The six never-before-released tracks are among the compilation's most choice. Keith Hughes' detailed liner notes tell us that Brenda Holloway's "Good Good Feeling" might well be the last of her over 100 recordings from Motown to see the light of day. The track is unfinished, with a planned string overdub never added, but even in skeletal form it's a toe-tapper sung with verve. Martha and The Vandellas' "This Love I've Got" is a rare co-composition from arranger extraordinaire Paul Riser; with The Funk Brothers in full force, the 1965 floor-filler is as irresistible as any of the group's big hits. Hattie Littles was considerably less lucky than Brenda or Martha; of her 40+ sides cut for Motown, most stayed in the vaults. Her "When I Was in School," from 1963, showcases her bluesy rasp. Barbara McNair had her biggest career successes outside of Motown, but her recordings for the label are consistently elegant and persuasive. McNair's Frank Wilson-produced take of Tom Baird's "Watching a Plane in the Sky" is classy adult pop-soul; so is "In the Neighborhood" from onetime big band "girl singer" Connie Haines. Her released output for Motown consisted of one single, but it wasn't for lack of trying. She gave her all to "In the Neighborhood," a big Motown showstopper by Mickey Stevenson and William Weatherspoon which was shopped around to Tommy Good, Jimmy Ruffin, Kim Weston, and Chris Clark (whew!). The Lewis Sisters wrote and performed the urgent "My World Is Crumbling," produced in 1966 by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier. Brenda Holloway made the sisters' song her own, but this original version is no less impressive.
The new-to-CD tracks are equally enjoyable. Debbie Dean's "I'm So Helpless (When I'm With You)," co-written and produced by Deke Richards, is youthful Motown bubblegum. Debbie's taut "Send Him to Me" (also co-written and helmed by Deke) circa 1966 from just a few months later finds the singer in a more mature mood. The Lewis Sisters teamed with Frank Wilson for "Can't Figure It Out," cut in Los Angeles but with trademark Motown rhythms and honking brass. Little Lisa, a.k.a. Kay Lewis' daughter, is precocious on Berry Gordy's "My Daddy Knows Best." While it was relegated to the vault like her other recordings save one single, Little Lisa didn't give up: that's her singing the sensual lead on Sergio Mendes' 1983 hit "Never Gonna Let You Go." The Lewises also recur as writers of the impassioned "Can't We Be Strangers Again" from Second Disc Records' own Blinky. The song, heard in solo form here, later appeared as a duet between Blinky and Edwin Starr on their 1969 LP Just We Two.
A handful of the choices here are curious: Ann Bogan's "Hold Me Oh My Darling" and Anita Knorl's "Don't Be Too Long" were both just released last year on the fifth volume of A Cellarful of Motown!, and The Velvelettes' urgent, shoulda-been-a-hit dancer "A Love So Deep Inside" has been available since 2004. But Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls is an indispensable addition to any Motown vault collection. A 16-page booklet has Keith Hughes' track-by-track notes which are an essential listening guide, and Nick Robbins has mastered.
CD 1 (1962-1965)
- Chariot (Sul Mio Carro) (I Will Follow Him) (Vogue/Jolly J 35016x45, 1962)
- Darling Cheri (Vogue/Jolly J 35016x45, 1962)
- Monsieur (Vogue/Jolly J 35031x45, 1963)
- Se Mi Vuolamare (Vogue/Jolly J 35031x45, 1963)
- La Nostra Storia (This Is Goodbye) (Vogue/Jolly J 35034x45, 1963)
- Sto Volwentieri Con Te (Dance On) (Vogue/Jolly J 35034x45, 1963)
- Quelli Che Hanno Un Cuore (Anyone Who Had a Heart) (Vogue/Jolly J 35045x45, 1964)
- E Finito Tutto (Forgetting You) (Vogue/Jolly J 35045x45, 1964)
- Pagherai (Torture) (Vogue/Jolly J 35057x45, 1964)
- La Frontiera (Vogue/Jolly J 35057x45, 1964)
- Invece No (Vogue/Jolly J 35059x45, 1965)
- Non Mi Guardi Mai (Time for Love) (Vogue/Jolly J 35059x45, 1965)
- Ciao Ciao (Downtown) (Vogue/Jolly J 35066x45, 1965)
- Se Te Ne Vai (Now That You've Gone) (Vogue/Jolly J 35066x45, 1965)
- Io Resto Qui (Just Say Goodbye) (Vogue/Jolly J 35079x45, 1965)
- Ma... (Heart) (Vogue/Jolly J 35079x45, 1965)
CD 2 (1966-1970)
- Gocce Di Mare (Round Every Corner) (Vogue/Jolly J 35088x45, 1966)
- Un Giorno Mi Hai Sorriso (Vogue/Jolly J 35088x45/J 35093x45, 1966)
- L'Amore E Il Vento (My Love) (Vogue/Jolly J 35093x45, 1966)
- Cara Felicita (This Is My Song) (Vogue/Jolly J 35129x45, 1967)
- Cosa Cerchi Nel Mondo (Where Am I Going) (Vogue/Jolly J 35129x45, 1967)
- Kiss Me Good-Bye (Vogue/Jolly J 35165x45, 1968)
- E Stato Il Vento (Vogue/Jolly J 35165x45, 1968)
- Il Sole Nel Cuore (Happy Heart) (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87003, 1969)
- La Dove Muore Il Sole (Some) (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87003, 1969)
- Splendido (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87010, 1970)
- Piccolo Baby (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87010, 1970)
- Melody Man (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87016, 1970)
- Settembre Mi Riportera (I Think of You) (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87016, 1970)
- E Una Canzone Cosi (The Song of My Life) (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87019, 1970) (*)
- Amor (For Love) (Vogue/Ricordi VG 87019, 1970) (*)
Mono except (*) stereo
- I Heard It Through the Grapevine - Marvin Gaye (Tamla T 54176, 1968) (*)
- The Look of Love - Gladys Knight and The Pips (Soul LP SS 711, 1968)
- Psychedelic Shack - The Temptations (Gordy G 7096, 1969)
- I Saw You When You Met Her - The Undisputed Truth (Gordy G 7147F, 1975)
- War - Edwin Starr (Gordy G 7101, 1970)
- Ooh Boy - Rose Royce (Whitfield WHI 8491, 1977)
- It Should Have Been Me - Yvonne Fair (Motown M 1323F, 1974)
- Me and Rock and Roll (Are Here to Stay) - David Ruffin (Motown M 1327F, 1974)
- Papa Was a Rollin' Stone - The Temptations (Gordy G 7121F, 1972)
- Good Lovin' - Mammatapee (Whitfield LP WHK 3171, 1980)
- You + Me = Love - The Undisputed Truth (Whitfield WHI 8231, 1976)
- Love Is What You Make It - Masterpiece (Whitfield WHI 8709, 1978)
- I've Been Waitin' - Spyder Turner (Whitfield WHI 8526, 1978)
- And All Hell Broke Loose - Willie Hutch (Whitfield WHI 8615, 1978)
- Love Don't Live Here Anymore - Rose Royce (Whitfield WHI 8712, 1978)
- Wishing on a Star - Jr. Walker (Whitfield WHI 49052, 1979)
- Just One Love - Stargard (Warner Bros. LP BSK 3456, 1981)
- Come with Me - Rare Earth (Rare Earth R 5054F, 1973)
Stereo except (*) mono
- This Love I've Got - Martha and The Vandellas (*)
- Nothing But a Fool - Gladys Knight and the Pips
- I'm in Love (And I Know It) (Alternate Lead) - The Velvelettes
- Good, Good Feeling - Brenda Holloway (*)
- I'm So Helpless (When I'm with You) - Debbie Dean
- Can't Figure It Out - The Lewis Sisters
- A Love So Deep Inside - The Velvelettes (from The Motown Anthology, Motown CD 980 937-2, 2004)
- Show Me the Way - Gladys Knight and the Pips
- Hold Me, Oh My Darling - Ann Bogan (from A Cellarful of Motown Vol. 5, Caroline CAROLR090CD, 2020)
- Drop in the Bucket - Kim Weston (from The Complete Motown Anthology, MEI Digital DPSM 5200, 1997)
- Don't Be Too Long - Anita Knorl (from A Cellarful of Motown Vol. 5, Caroline CAROLR090CD, 2020)
- It's Hard to Walk Away - Martha and The Vandellas
- Stuck Up - Oma Heard
- My Daddy Knows Best - Little Lisa
- In Twenty Words or Less - LaBrenda Ben
- When I Was in School - Hattie Littles (*)
- Keep Me - Brenda Holloway
- Never Trust a Man - Chris Clark
- Watching a Plane in the Sky - Barbara McNair (*)
- In the Neighborhood - Connie Haines (*)
- My World Is Crumbling - The Lewis Sisters (*)
- Send Him to Me - Debbie Dean
- Can't We Be Strangers Again - Blinky
- All I Could Do Was Cry - Yvonne Fair
All tracks mono
(*) denotes unreleased track; except where noted, all other tracks are from the digital-only Motown Unreleased series