Decca Originals - The UK Blues Scene
From the archives of Decca Records U.K. comes the Blues Scene (1999). This 25-track anthology covers the label's copious contributions to the 1960s renaissance of rhythm & blues-influenced rock. The movement would ultimately seed heavy metal supergroups such as Cream, Led Zeppelin and the seminal incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. Fittingly, the revolving-door personnel of John Mayall's assorted Bluesbreakers are particularly worthy of note. They not only commence and conclude this compilation, but more importantly, Mayall also provided an entrée for a host of promising young talent such as Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Eric Clapton, and Aynsley Dunbar all of whom would eventually become internationally recognized icons. Among the Bluesbreaker's offerings presented here are the powerful instrumental "Curly," as well as "The Supernatural," which boasts the distinctive fretwork of Peter Green, "Steppin' Out" featuring Eric Clapton, and an incendiary early live take of "I Need Your Love." Another interesting facet is the wide spectrum of American legends whose association with Deccabrought their music to new generations and audiences. Selections from Eddie Boyd ("Key to the Highway," "Blue Coat Man," and "Dust My Broom"), Otis Spann ("Pretty Girls Everywhere"), as well as Champion Jack Dupree ("24 Hours," "Barrel House Women," and "Third Degree") are among the highlights. In the case of the latter title, Dupree had a little help from both Mayall and Clapton on this 1966 recording. The label also heralded artists such as Alexis Korner ("Early in the Morning" and "Night Time Is the Right Time") and Savoy Brown ("Taste & Try Before You Buy," "Train to Nowhere," and "Train to Nowhere") who would have a much stronger impact in Europe than in the States. As such, Blues Scene (1999) is a worthwhile assessment of Decca's vaults, and a valuable primer for the novice. Interested parties should also note the other entries in this series -- including the R&B Scene (1999) and the Northern Soul Scene (1999).
Decca Originals - The Northern Soul Scene
The Northern Soul off-shoot of the British mod movement became the U.K. equivalent of the stateside Motor City- and Memphis-based R&B factions, thriving in clubs and discotheques across England. Over two dozen representative selections are gathered here, demonstrating the scene's unmistakable fusion of beat-based rock & roll with rhythm and blues. The vast majority of these musicians didn't garner significant international recognition, however, thanks to Decca Records' assorted sub-genre defining 'Scene' related titles, selections including Frankie & Johnny's optimistic affirmation "I'll Hold You" or the sexy proto-Philly score heard on Sonny Childe's "Giving Up on Love" are finally getting their due. The Motown sound was an obvious influence on Elkie Brooks' reading of "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "My Smile Is Just a Frown (Turned Upside Down)" from Truly Smith and "Ask the Lonely" by the Fantastics. Interestingly, the latter combo originated in the United States as the Velours prior to touring Europe as the Drifters. Clyde McPhatter -- another musical ex-patriot and ironically the co-founder of the real Drifters -- became a sizable solo artist in England during the mid- to late-'60s, recording right up until his untimely passing in 1972. The workout "Baby You Got It" is a perfect example of the funky style he ultimately became associated with. Similarly, Tom Jones ("Stop Breaking My Heart") and David Essex' ("So-Called Loving") would gain similar notoriety for their occasional blue-eyed soul leanings, such as those on this package. Mickey Moonshine's aggressive and slightly trippy "Name It, You Got It," Jon Gunn's darkly baroque "I Just Made Up My Mind," as well as Tony Newman's propulsive "Let the Good Times Roll" are among the adventurous excursions, allowing for a much more comprehensive summation of the Northern Soul Scene.
This installment in Decca Records archival Scene-related CDs explores the sizable contributions of the fairer sex to pop music during the 1960s. While these ladies may have made a significant impact in their native U.K., the vast majority remained virtual unknowns on other shores. The Girls' Scene (2000) contains over two-dozen cuts, representing some of the best female vocal groups of the era. Much like their Stateside colleagues, songs were often derived from veteran contemporary composers. This collection offers up distinguished reworkings from performers whose names might not be instantly recognizable, although the melodies should be. The Motown-sound is represented by "Two Lovers" from Louise Cordet, as well as Beryl Marsden's spot-on reading of "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Thru' His Eyes." The Brill Building pop scene spawned the Gerry Goffin/Carole King compositions "The Boy From Chelsea" -- sung here by Truly Smith -- an inspired take of "Hey Boy" by Barry St. John, and along with Phil Spector, Marianne Faithfull's "Is This What I Get For Loving You?" Faithfull is one of the more prominent figures to have emerged from Andrew Loog Oldham's notable stable of talent. In many ways, Oldham was the English equivalent to Spector, as both were multi-talented moguls who were best known for their work behind the scenes with others. From his coterie are Adrienne Poster and Vashti -- each respectively cover Keith Richard and Mick Jagger tunes "Shang a Doo Lang" and "Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind." Lorraine Child goes even closer to the source on the Oldham-penned "You." Olivia Newton-John is certainly a name that stands out, as does her unmistakable Aussie warble on the otherwise hard-hitting attack of Jackie DeShannon's "Till You Say You'll Be Mine." Parties interested in Girls' Scene should also note the other entries in this series, including the Rock 'N' Roll Scene (1999), Blues Scene (1999), Freakbeat Scene (1999), Psychedelic Scene (1998), and two volumes from the wonderful world of the Mod Scene (1998).
Decca Originals - Psychedelic Scene
The 25 tracks on this single-CD title have been derived from the mid-'60s archives of U.K.-based Decca Records and associated subsidiaries, such as their progressive and psych-intensive offshoot, Deram. The Psychedelic Scene (1998) is a key entry in the label's critically respected and listener-lauded "scene"-related releases. This installment thematically links harder-to-find cuts from a variety of groups, many of whom issued only a handful (if that many) of 45s. In some cases, the artists left more in the vaults than ever made it to store racks. In fact, all but the most scholarly enthusiast probably won't be familiar with the vast majority of the featured names. However, what is lacking in instant recognition is more than compensated for by the consistently clever and sonically stimulating sides. Producers likewise chose to highlight exceedingly obscure songs from the "name" acts as well. The Moody Blues' trippy pop fare "Love & Beauty" dates prior to the band's virtual re-invention on Days of Future Passed (1967). "Turn Into Earth" is one of singer/songwriter Al Stewart's earliest efforts, although it would be a decade before he garnered success stateside with "Year of the Cat." While the mournful waltz was not really a precursor to his more lucrative direction, Stewart's ethereal voice is unmistakable. "That Man" is a "lost classic" in the sense that while the Small Faces may not have been fundamental contributors to the British psych movement, the strength of material such as this demonstrates the combo's uncanny versatility. "14 Hour Technicolour Dream" is from the short-lived Syn, whose personnel at one time or another included future Yes men Peter Banks (guitar) and Chris Squire (bass). Among the other appealing platters are the Accent's proto-punk-ish "Red Sky at Night," the Poets' "In Your Tower," Virgin Sleep's soulful and catchy "Secret," and the Societie's (sp) "Bird Has Flown." Interestingly, the latter band was discovered by the Hollies' Allan Clarke. Although some may find the 12-page liner booklet a bit sparse on discographical and biographical information, there are plenty of photos and vintage graphics amid the text. The Psychedelic Scene is recommended for inclined parties and is likewise a copious and worthwhile primer.
Decca Originals - R&B Scene
Having infamously turned down the Beatles after auditioning them in 1962, and then grabbing the Rolling Stones the following year as a consolation prize, Decca spent much of the next couple years snapping up a bevy of R&B-oriented U.K. rock acts. Many of them (though not the Stones) are represented on this 25-track compilation, which serves as a pretty broad snapshot of this aspect of the British Invasion as a whole. The good part is that you get to hear a lot of decent to excellent non-hits that will be unfamiliar to the average British Invasion fan, from the grittiest and jazziest of the lot to pop stars who occasionally got into an R&B bag (like Dave Berry and Lulu).The not-so-good part is that a fair number of mediocrities are mixed in with the more exciting stuff. Too, even the fine obscurities here have mostly been easily available on other CD anthologies or single-artist collections, and many British Invasion collectors interested in this kind of material are likely to already have much of the best of it elsewhere. But there's no denying that the best half or so is dynamite, whether it's early British R&B-rock at its most feral (the Fairies' "Anytime at All" and Cops'n Robbers' "Gotta Be a Reason," both strongly reminiscent of the early Pretty Things); Lulu at her most raunchily soulful ( "I'll Come Running Over" ); an early example of a folk song being rocked up, though it falls short of being folk-rock (the Plebs' "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"); David John & the Mood's "To Catch That Man" (sometimes rumored to have been led by a very young David Bowie, though that's not the case); and the Hipster Image's "Can't Let Her Go" (the original version of a song subsequently covered by the Alan Bown Set), one of the best little-known midpoints between British R&B/mod rock and jazz. There are also plenty of efforts by stars-in-the-making that are cool or at least historically interesting, like the Birds (with Ron Wood), the Graham Bond Organisation (with a pre-Cream Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker), Davie Jones & the King Bees (led by the future David Bowie), Rod Stewart, and John Mayall (whose 1964 pre-Eric Clapton debut single, "Crawling Up a Hill," is pretty terrific).
Decca Originals - The Beat Scene
These 25 tracks have been culled from a host of mid-'60s artists on the U.K.-based Decca Records label as part of their critically and enthusiastically lauded "Decca Originals" series. Each thematic entry gathers hard-to-locate tunes by a variety of lesser-known acts. The Beat Scene (1998) concentrates on groups stylistically akin to the early- to mid- '60s British Invasion beat bands. However, unlike the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, or any of their other internationally renowned contemporaries, many of the acts featured here had comparatively nominal, if any, success outside of Europe. In the case of the Poets — whose longing rocker "I Love Her Still" is found on this volume — they created music broad enough in scope to have covered the freakbeat and psychedelic subgenres as well. Almost by definition, one of the more obvious components of the Beat Scene is the hearty backbeat that drives the Game's "Gonna Get Me Someone," the Mockingbirds' "One by One," and Joe Cocker's seminal remake of the Fab Four's "I'll Cry Instead." The latter is a fascinating glimpse into Cocker's primordial sound, blending the essence of American rockabilly with a hint of skiffle tucked into the rhythm. Another notable name is Lulu, who takes the Luvvers through the Mick Jagger/Keith Richard composition "Surprise Surprise." Although pop music fans might remember the name Pete Best as the pre-Ringo Starr percussionist for the Beatles, he lends his name to a combo covering Eddie Hodges' "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door," a one-off single circa 1964. Other Beat-era trademarks include compact arrangements, as displayed by the tight syncopation heard on Rick & Sandy's "Lost My Girl," the Warriors' "Don't Make Me Blue," and the Beat Chics' lively "Now I Know." A direct contrast is the Andrew Oldham Orchestra's faux Wall of Sound rendition of "Da Doo Run Run," with uncredited vocals from Mick Jagger. Parties interested in this edition should check out the other erstwhile installments: Mod Scene (1998) and Mod Scene, Vol. 2, Psychedelic Scene (1998), Rock N' Roll Scene (1998), and Blues Scene (1999).
Decca Originals - The FreakBeat Scene
The Freakbeat Scene (1998) is another entry in Decca Records' lauded archival "Scene" series. Each respective title has proven to be as much a treat for the hardcore fan as for the curious neophyte. The focus of this 25-track anthology is the mid- to late-'60s mod, soul, rock, garage, and psychedelia-influenced British bands that created a distinctive synthesis of sounds that have become collectively referred to as freakbeat. However, as explained in the liner booklet blurb, that exact phrase wasn't turned until the subgenre resurfaced as retro-chic during the 1980s. The vast majority of these platters may not be familiar to all but the most academic of freakbeat enthusiasts, which is partially due to their relative unavailability for over two decades. In some cases, for example the Score's aggressive and attitude-laden cover of the Beatles' "Please Please Me," is practically all that exists. The same can be said of the edgy proto-punk reading of "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" from the Flies, which deflates the Monkees' sugary farfisa organ with stinging electric guitar leads and a heavily pulsating backbeat. While Keith Shield's echoplex-soaked revision of Donovan's "Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)" lies closer to the Animals' frenzied reworking of the tune, it likewise boasts a rhythmic agitation notably absent from either of the higher profile takes. Among the better-known acts are the Small Faces, whose "Understanding" exemplifies the soulful nature of freakbeat, highlighted by Marriott's blistering fretwork and vocals. There is also an early original from future T. Rex figurehead, Marc Bolan. "The Third Degree" is an apt demonstration of Bolan's penchant for catchy and mod-ish melodies. Although that barely scratches the surface, it is safe to say that interested parties will not be disappointed in the Freakbeat Scene. Like-minded listeners should check out the Psychedelic Scene (1998), Rock 'n' Roll Scene (1998), and the pair of Mod Scene (1999) volumes as well.
Decca Originals - The Mod Scene
This 25-song CD is much more than just an excursion into the farther reaches of English Decca Records' vaults — it's also a de facto tour of the playlists of some of England's hottest mod clubs of the mid-/late '60s; hardly a sound on this collection ever made it anywhere near a chart listing, anywhere in the U.K. (much less the U.S.A.), but a lot of what is here did get picked up locally in London among the mods that made up the audiences of most of these bands.
Considering how badly England's Decca Records fared in the middle-late 1960's (apart from the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, and the Moody Blues) in signing really solid acts, this is an astonishingly good collection of soul-influenced, mod-oriented singles from the company's vaults.
A few of the acts included, such as the Small Faces, Tom Jones, St. Louis Union, Chris Farlowe, and the Amen Corner, made some kind of splash on the charts, but most of the musicians here got their chance on these single sides, failed to find success, and disappeared into the mist of musical history.
The CD jumps headfirst into the kind of hard-rocking, intense soul numbers that were played to death in London' mod clubs, even if they never scraped even the lower reaches of the charts. The sound on these singles tells you right away why most of these groups were never going to make it as world-class recording acts, being too raw and direct — without the distinctive hooks to get more than a listen from any radio deejays. By themselves, the Ronnie Jones track, coupled with those by Tom Jones, Steve Aldo, Graham Gouldman, Poets, the Eyes of Blue, and the Quik, justify the cost of this $20 import.
The sound is excellent throughout, and it's also reassuring on some level to learn from the notes that Decca is digging so deeply into its vaults that these acts are nearly as obscure to the people producing this compilation as they are to us.
Decca Originals - The Rock 'n'Roll Scene
This is a fascinating and delightful CD, but it takes a little listening time and patience to get at why. For 14 years, from 1956 through 1970, England's Decca Records was one of the big two British record labels, in competition with giant conglomerate EMI (and smaller rival Pye Records bringing up the rear). This 25-song compilation celebrates the early years of the label's involvement in rock & roll from the May 1956 recording of "Downbound Train" by Ken Colyer's Skiffle Group through such uniquely British phenomenons as Screaming Lord Sutch (the best thing here) and Wee Willie Harris to genuine stars like Billy Fury and early-'60s also-rans like Russ Saintly and Danny Rivers to such lost figures as Freddie Starr from the spring of 1963. There are about a dozen tracks that are going to surprise any American (and even a lot of Brits) who buy this disc, in terms of how hard they rock and how well the singers and the bands understand what they're doing. On the other hand, about half of what's here wouldn't rate alongside the American article, and the majority of U.S. listeners will find most of this material rather tame and predictable -- but the exceptions are worth the price of admission, once one gets to them. The compilers decided to make this disc representative of the label's output, rather than uniformly good, so there's some adenoidal teen pop next to the good stuff. The CD is entertaining and informative, and contains a revelation or two, but it's also funny to realize that within a few weeks of the latest recordings featured here, Decca Records signed the Rolling Stones, followed in short order by the original (that is, R&B-era) Moody Blues and the Small Faces, all making sounds that would sweep this relatively innocent, freewheeling early era aside.