by Bruce Eder
The Viscounts were one of those odd pop/rock & roll hybrid groups that were common to both America and England at the end of the 1950s and the start of the '60s, but which always seemed to do better in England. The trio coalesced out of an eight-piece outfit called Morton Fraser's Harmonica Gang based in London — they were a variety act that were popular on television, and did a few world tours during the second half of the '50s. Manchester-born Don Paul, who had won a few important talent competitions, including Opportunity Knocks on British television, joined the octet in 1956, and he soon met another newcomer, Ronnie Wells, winner of a recent harmonica competition, from Farnborough, Hampshire. And in 1958, Indian-born ... Read More...
Not the American outfit of that name, but the British trio of Gordon Mills, Don Paul, and Ronnie Wells are featured here, on 31 of their early-'60s recordings for Pye Records. The sound is a uniquely British/European adaptation of rock & roll, melding pop and traditional tunes with guitars and drums and a beat — picture a branch of teen pop spun out of the same sensibilities that yielded "Ain't She Sweet" and "My Bonnie" by the Beatles and Tony Sheridan from their Hamburg sessions. The Four Preps' "Money (Is the Root of All Evil)," which is covered here from 1961, is a long way from the Motown-generated "Money (That's What I Want)" as a notion or a song, but it represents what the Viscounts and their management aimed for as an audience — and as a warning, a lot of Americans (and Britishers too young to know) may really hate this sort of hybrid of rock & roll and the music hall represented here. The three singers seemed willing to do whatever would sell, and some of what's here did do that — "Shortnin' Bread" peaked at number 16 in England — but there were some decent rock & rollers present on many of these records, including British rockabilly guitarist Joe Brown (who played on their debut Pye single, "Rockin' Little Angel" b/w "That's All Right"), and the group did tour with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. They did do a decent cover of "Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp Bomp Bomp)," but it's juxtaposed with "Honey Come On, Dance With Me," a decided pop-style number that was theme to the Spin-A-Long TV show, hosted by DJ Alan Freeman, whose notions of pop-based rock & roll were perfectly represented by the Viscounts. These guys were hip enough to share a program with the Beatles early in the latter's national stardom, but not to survive what the Beatles and the acts they pulled onto the national U.K. charts did to rock & roll and pop music. Actually, the group's material here from 1962 onward is not bad, and is of a piece with the work of Helen Shapiro and other pre-Beatles pop/rockers, but be warned — the last half-dozen songs here were derived from their contribution to a trad jazz compilation album, and feature the Viscounts shoehorned into a 1920s repertoire that will only be appreciated by listeners familiar with that British offshoot of Dixieland jazz.
1. Shortnin' Bread 2. Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum 3. That's Alright 4. Rockin' Little Angel 5. Money (Is The Root Of All Evil) 6. One-Armed Bandit 7. Banned In Boston 8. Moonlight Promises 9. Joe Sweeney 10. Honey Come On, Dance With Me 11. Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) 12. What Am I Saying 13. Mama's Doin' The Twist 14. I'm Going - But I'll Be Back 15. One Of The Guys 16. Dear Mary Brown 17. Everybody's Got A Ya-Ya 18. A Lot Of Livin' To Do 19. That Stranger (Used To Be My Girl) 20. Silent Night 21. Don't Let Me Cross Over 22. I'm Coming Home 23. It's You 24. I'll Never Get Over You 25. Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue 26. Yes Sir, That's My Baby 27. Well I Ask You 28. I Wanna Be Loved By You 29. That's My Weakness Now 30. Ain't She Sweet 31. You'Ve Got To See Mama Every Night