Thursday, January 15, 2015

Donna Loren - Beach Blanket Bingo: The Very Best of Donna Loren

Donna Loren enjoyed a brief career as a pop/rock singer, doing girl group type material during the mid-'60s. Born Donna Zukor in Boston in 1947, she made her professional singing debut at age seven with a commercial jingle. From there, she moved on to other commercial work and a guest appearance on The Mickey Mouse Club. She made recordings intermittently for a variety of labels over the next eight years, but most of her success was as a vocalist for commercials, culminating in 1963 when she won a talent contest to become the official representative of Dr. Pepper. Known as the "Dr. Pepper Girl," she made regular appearances at record hops, concerts, and on television variety shows aimed at teenagers -- most notably American Bandstand -- on behalf of the soft drink.

Broadcast 9-16-64, this performance was Donna's first appearance on "Shindig !".

This led to her appearance in the first of the Beach Party movies, in what was supposed to be a little spot plugging the drink (whose makers had helped finance the movie). Instead, the producers gave Loren a song to do and she was featured in supporting roles in most of the subsequent films in the series, the most popular of which, Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), was so successful that a soundtrack featuring Loren was rushed out.

That LP, which was similar in nature to the work of such contemporary girl group singers as Diane Renay or Lesley Gore, didn't break any sales records, but Loren was well enough established to justify another year's worth of singles. She left the music business in the late '60s, making one attempt at success in a country music vein in the early '70s. She has also been a very successful clothes designer based in Hawaii.

True, this 26-song CD doesn't look at all like an authorized release. It's also true that 17 of the songs are on the official Beach Blanket Bingo: The Very Best of Donna Loren CD compilation, which has a couple of tracks ("Play Little Music Box Play" and "I Believe") that somehow didn't make it onto this anthology. Still, it does have nine cuts that aren't on Beach Blanket Bingo: The Very Best of Donna Loren, and if you hang out at specialist record stores, you'll probably be just as apt to find this CD as the other one. You might find it the preferable option, too, as there's more material and the sound's good (though one suspects it's not mastered from the original tapes), even if there's nothing in the way of liner notes except track listings and songwriting credits. As for the music, while Loren was a far better singer than most women (or men) playing bit parts in '60s teen beach movies, it's least-common-denominator '60s pop/rock. The production ambition is there, variously echoing the girl group sound, surf music, and late-period teen idol pop. What's missing? Really special songs, and a distinctive attitude on part of either the singer or her composers and producers. As for the tracks here not on the more high-profile, authorized Loren best-of, none are exceptional, and some are off-puttingly trivial ("I'm in Love with the Ticket Taker at the Bijou Movie," "On the Good Ship Lollipop"). But a few are, relatively speaking, among her better efforts, including the frivolous surf romp "Muscle Bustle" (co-written by Brian Wilson), the girl group tune "Johnny's Got Somethin'," and the more mature cuts "It's Such a Shame" and "As Long as I'm Holding You," which sound as though they date from later in the '60s than the rest of the package.

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