Yesterday, we looked at Ace Records' recent anthology dedicated to West Coast producer Gary Usher. Today, we're heading east...
Stanley Robert Crewe of Newark, New Jersey studied architecture and tried his luck as a fashion model before turning full-time to music. Though the handsome young man was a teen idol-in-the-making, he found his truest calling behind-the-scenes. With writing partner Frank Slay, Crewe gifted "Silhouettes" to The Rays and "Tallahassee Lassie" to Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon. He formed his first record company, XYZ, in 1957, and by 1962 had launched arguably his most enduring creative partnership when he met fellow Jersey boy Bob Gaudio and took the reins to introduce Gaudio's band, The Four Seasons.
Renaissance man Crewe was credited on the Seasons' debut Sherry and 11 Others for production, arrangements, conducting the orchestra, and even designing the cover. Sherry also heralded the arrival of the Gaudio/Crewe writing team. With Crewe primarily supplying lyrics to Gaudio's melodies, the pair created a gutsy, new sound, grafting street-corner harmonies atop a vibrant, contemporary beat. But Crewe's success wasn't limited to Frankie Valli and company. Ace's Kent imprint has shone a spotlight on a different side of the writer-producer with a new entry in its Songwriters and Producers series, Whatever You Want: Bob Crewe's '60s Soul Sounds. Crewe was steeped in the sound of African-American rhythm and blues, and while those qualities are certainly in evidence throughout the Seasons' discography, these tracks make his influences even clearer.
Crewe's flair for the dramatic, which served him so well with The Four Seasons' heart-on-their-sleeve opuses, is obvious from the very first track of this collection: the stirring "An Angel Cried" (see The Castells' version on the Gary Usher collection!) from Hal Miller and The Rays, with strings and sound effects adding to its torrid mood. The African-American doo-wop group from Brooklyn who had already scored big with "Silhouettes" benefited from this early Gaudio composition, released just months before the Seasons' debut. The template for many Seasons successes was in place, with Crewe producing and Charlie Calello arranging and conducting in the big, bold fashion Crewe preferred.
Heavy hitters of the soul scene were drawn to Crewe's well-crafted songs and intricate productions; Jerry Butler, Ben E. King, Walter Jackson, and Chuck Jackson are all heard here. Crewe recycled the backing track for The Rays' "An Angel Cried" for Chuck, and Gaudio supplied a new lyric for it called "King of the Mountain," but compiler Ady Croasdell has instead selected "Another Day," another unusual production centered around Jackson's thunderous voice. Crewe was never afraid of taking a chance in the studio; his production of The High Keys' "Pistol-Packin' Mama" is a plush R&B novelty in the mold of The Coasters.
Tracey Dey's "Long Time, No See" is as much pop as soul but the New York girl singer championed by Crewe holds her own with Sid Bass' brassy arrangement. Even better is Dee Dee Sharp's Philly dancer "Deep Dark Secret," co-written by Crewe, Eddie Rambeau, and Bud Rehak. The same team penned another cut here, the catchy "My Own Two Feet." It was introduced by Hal Miller but is presented here in Kenny Lynch's U.K. cover arranged by Ivor Raymonde.
Crewe's knack for talent-spotting was evident when he began collaborating with songwriters Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer. They would go on to write such Four Seasons favorites as "Working My Way Back to You" and "Let's Hang On," the latter with Crewe. Barbara Lewis is commanding on the Linzer/Randell/Crewe team's "Pushin' a Good Thing Too Far" cut with producer Riley Hampton in 1964.
Another major Crewe collaborator represented here is composer Gary Knight whose credit appears on 8 of this set's 24 tracks, or one third. Knight (real name: Harold Temkin) co-wrote the beguiling likes of George 'n Sonny Sands' "Down by the Ocean," an evocative Crewe cut arranged to the hilt by Artie Schroeck which was probably too complex for radio; the typically rhythmic "You Get Your Kicks" from Crewe's white rock band Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels (he signed them to his New Voice Records); Lainie Hill's swaggering "Time Marches On;" and Kiki Dee's sublime cover of "I'm Going Out (The Same Way I Came In)" which had been recorded by Lesley Gore with Crewe. Knight even sings as one-half of Dey and Knight on "Sayin' Something," a Righteous Brothers-on-steroids blue-eyed-soul opus that made Phil Spector look subtle in comparison. Whatever You Want underscores Bob Crewe's versatility; his "Sock It to Me Baby" (co-written with L. Russell Brown and a No. 6 hit for Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels) inspired the faithful cover here by southern soul man James Carr.
Happily, Ace has found room for a couple of cuts from Frankie Valli. His solo "(You're Gonna) Hurt Yourself," co-written by Crewe and Calello, is mellow yet driving soul-pop with a shimmering Valli vocal. The Four Seasons' soaring "I'm Gonna Change" was never released as a single but stands tall with the group's better-known floor-fillers.
Bob Crewe never abandoned R&B and soul. He joined the staff at Motown, producing Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin and, inevitably, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. When a new musical revolution was on the horizon, Crewe had his finger on its pulse. Taking to disco like a fish to water, he and Kenny Nolan masterminded a Top 10 hit in February 1975 for Disco Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes on which flamboyant singing hairdresser Sir Monti Rock III urged listeners to "Get Dancin'." He Crewe took the advice to heart, notching further disco successes that year with the Sex-o-Lettes' follow-up "I Wanna Dance Wit' Choo (Doo Dat Dance)," Valli's No. 6 smash "Swearin' to God," and The Eleventh Hour's "Hollywood Hot," which spawned one of the earliest 12-inch disco singles. His biggest hit of 1975, though, belonged to Labelle. The trio took Crewe and Nolan's "Lady Marmalade"- originally recorded by The Eleventh Hour - to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on March 29. The song it displaced from pole position? Frankie Valli's recording of "My Eyes Adored You," from the same songwriters. Crewe and Nolan became only the third songwriting team in history with back-to-back No. 1s. The prolific producer even reactivated his own Bob Crewe Generation and recorded a well-received solo album at Elektra. His soulful solo '70s output was collected by Real Gone Music and Second Disc Records in 2015.
Ace's tribute to this singular creator includes a 16-page booklet with two essays including one by Ady Croasdell. (While the notes aren't in the helpful track-by-track format, Croasdell does touch upon each cut in chronological fashion.) Duncan Cowell has mastered the audio. Whatever You Want, this anthology of Bob Crewe's '60s Soul Sounds has got it. You'll find the track listing and order links below.
- An Angel Cried - Hal Miller and The Rays (Topix 6003, 1961)
- Whatever You Want - Jerry Butler (Vee-Jay 486, 1962)
- The Beginning of Time - Ben E. King (Atco 6267, 1963)
- Another Day - Chuck Jackson (from Wand LP 655, 1963)
- Pistol Packin' Mama - The High Keys (Atco 6276, 1963)
- Long Time, No See - Tracey Dey (Vee-Jay 506, 1963)
- (You Can) Count on That - Shirley Matthews and The Big Town Girls (Atlantic 2210, 1963)
- Deep Dark Secret - Dee Dee Sharp (Cameo 335, 1964)
- My Own Two Feet - Kenny Lynch (HMV POP 1367, 1964)
- Pushin' a Good Thing Too Far - Barbara Lewis (Atlantic 2255, 1964)
- A Blessing in Disguise - Hal Miller (Amy 920, 1965)
- Down by the Ocean - George 'n Sonny Sands (New Voice 819, 1966)
- Isn't It Just a Shame - Kenny Wells (New Voice 812, 1966)
- (You're Gonna) Hurt Yourself - Frankie Valli (Smash 2015, 1966)
- You Get Your Kicks - Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels (New Voice 814, 1966)
- Time Marches On - Lainie Hill (New Voice 809, 1966)
- Sayin' Something - Dey and Knight (Columbia 43693, 1966)
- I'm Gonna Change - Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (from Philips LP PHM-200-243, 1967)
- Stranger in My Arms - Lynne Randell (Epic 10147, 1967)
- Everything Under the Sun - Walter Jackson (Okeh 7305, 1967)
- Sock It to Me, Baby - James Carr (from Goldwax CD GWX 47776, 1999)
- I'm Going Out (The Same Way I Came In) - Kiki Dee (Fontana TF 792, 1967)
- You Need Me to Love You - Billie Dearborn (Bell 676, 1967)
- 3 Minutes Heavy - The Timekeepers (Generation 111, 1968)
All tracks mono