Vol.1 - Am I Dreaming
The British girl group sound was a different animal than the American article: there was an equal emphasis on production craft, but there was a higher proportion of pop to soul, and a Europop influence in many of the melodies and arrangements. This 24-track compilation gathers rare non-hit singles from 1962 to 1970, and none of the singers will be familiar to U.S. listeners (indeed, most or all of them will be unfamiliar to British ones as well). It's decent but light girl group (or girl group-influenced) '60s pop that could often use more grit; some of it's fairly strong, but there are no melodies or performances that announce "classic" in neon lights. If you're a sucker for the girl group sound, it's an acceptable addition to the library, with some standouts, like Samantha Jones' "Don't Come Any Closer" (covered to greater effect in French by Françoise Hardy), Alma Cogan's "Snakes and Snails," and Carole Deene's goofy "Some People," with a train whistle bleating away in the background.
Vol.2 - Reflections
British girl singers did not comprise the healthiest subgenre of 1960s rock. And since this 22-track compilation of female-sung British pop/rock from 1962-1971 does not include any big names except for Cilla Black (represented by her 1968 B-side "Work Is a Four Letter Word") and Helen Shapiro (with her self-penned 1964 B-side "He Knows How to Love Me"), you might not ready yourself for a stunning experience. It isn't brilliant, but actually it's a pretty fair and fun collection of obscurities. Some other names might be faintly remembered (in the U.K., not the U.S.), such as Samantha Jones and Elkie Brooks, but for the most part these are no-names, working in a vein combining British Invasion sounds with American girl-group/soul-influenced production. Some of the more memorable outings include Jones' wispy "Somebody Else's Baby," Guillivers People's solid adaptation of Jackie DeShannon's "Splendour in the Grass," Linda Laine & the Sinners' wistful and folky "Don't Do It Baby," and Carol Elvin's "Don't Leave Me," which sounds instantly suitable for a British mid-'60s film soundtrack. As a change of pace there's also the folk-pop of the Levee Breakers' 1965 single "Babe I'm Leaving You," featuring the voice of Beverley, who would become a noted part of the 1970s folk-rock scene as part of a duo with her
Vol.3 - Backcomb'n'Beat
The third installment of this series devoted to British '60s girl group-like sounds is, like the genre itself, not a match for the best American girl group music. But like its predecessors, it's a fairly good compilation, if more notable for inventive orchestral pop production than for the talents of the singers. Julie Driscoll, represented by the early single "I Know You Love Me Not" (which sounds a little like an experimental Dusty Springfield), is the only fairly well-known name on this 22-track disc, though Twinkle had some success in Britain, and Glenda Collins and Samantha Jones have their enthusiasts. There are some real solid, ingratiating pop/rock cuts here, though, like the McKinleys' quite gutsy "Sweet and Tender Romance"; Dany Chandelle & the Ladybirds' "Lying Awake," a pretty reasonable facsimile of Phil Spector's Ronettes/Crystals arrangements; the Chantelles' exuberant "Gonna Get Burned"; Sylvan's odd "We Don't Belong," with its clattering descending melody and suicide allusions; the breathy sides by Samantha Juste, the future wife of Mickey Dolenz; the swirling torch pop of Cloda Rogers' "Lonely Room"; and the Drifters-influenced arrangement of Jan Panter's "Yours Sincerely." A real surprise contributor, if an indirect one, is Donovan, who co-wrote and played guitar on the McKinleys' 1965 pop-folk outing "Give Him My Love," a number he never recorded himself. Overall it's an above-average comp with good variety, not just of interest to die-hard specialists.
Vol.4 - Go Girl
Although volume four of RPM's Dream Babes series of 1960s British girl group sides gets further into obscure flops than its predecessors, there's barely any drop in the quality, which remains good, though hardly great. And as with most of the rest of the songs on this series, the production's better than the singers or the material. That's not to say there aren't some pretty good cuts on this 22-song anthology, some of them explicitly derivative of the American girl group sound (like the Chantelles' cracking "I Want That Boy," a cover of an obscure U.S. single by Sadina), others taking a pop-soul approach, others mixing in some British beat music. Some of these performers are famous, but not for their music: two sides of a 1967 Twiggy single are here, as are a couple of 1968 tracks by Linda Thorson (who played Tara King on The Avengers). Highlights include the Orchids' stomping, pining adolescent girl group "Mr. Scrooge" (produced and co-written by Who/Kinks producer Shel Talmy); the Chantelles' credible emulation of slickly lush American pop-soul on "I Think of You"; and the British Invasion-cum-Everly Brothers harmonies of the McKinley Sisters' pounding "When He Comes Along" (by Geoff Stephens, author of "The Crying Game"). Plenty of other names well-known to British Invasion fans were involved in some of these sides in some capacity, like John Carter and Ken Lewis (who wrote the McKinleys' nice ballad "That Lonely Feeling"); session guitar ace Big Jim Sullivan, who plays tone pedal guitar on that track, as he had on Dave Berry's "The Crying Game"; Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote Ross Hannaman's Marianne Faithfull-like 1967 single "Down Through Summer"; producer Mike Leander, who wrote the Breakaways' gloomy ballad "Sacred Love"; and Kenny Lynch, who wrote the Linda Thorson sides. Released for the first time here is Jacki Bond's 1967 recording of "Reviewing the Situation," cut a couple of years prior to Sandie Shaw's release of the same tune on her 1969 album of the same name.
Vol.5 - Folk Rock and Faithful
The word "folk-rock" seems to mean something different to everyone, and many fans might find Dream Babes, Vol. 5: Folk Rock and Faithfull, a compilation of 22 woman-sung 1965-1969 tracks to be more accurately pegged as "folk-rock-influenced pop/rock" than "folk-rock." Even if it's more featherweight than the Byrds (or for that matter the Mamas & the Papas), it's a pretty interesting and fun collection of rarities, most of them sung by British femmes and produced in the U.K. (though a couple of Australians sneak in, as does Jackie DeShannon's "Don't Turn Your Back on Me," recorded by the Californian in England). There's nothing here by Marianne Faithfull, despite the sly use of her name in the title. But the wispier and folkier tracks here certainly bear her influence, including those by Nico (her London-recorded cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Saying"), Vashti (represented by her rare 1966 single "Train Song"/"Love Song"), Gay Singleton's "In My Time of Sorrow" (a DeShannon-Jimmy Page composition also recorded by Faithfull, though Singleton's version is good too), Greta Ann's melodramatic "Sadness Hides the Sun," Gillian Hills's "Tomorrow Is Another Day" (the actress' only English-language release), and Trisha's 1965 single "The Darkness of My Night" (a Donovan composition that Donovan apparently never recorded himself, though it's not so hot). Some of these records opt for a far more elaborately arranged approach, though, with the Caravelles' 1967 single "Hey Mama You've Been on My Mind" sounding rather like Eric Andersen as sung by a girl group and produced by Phil Spector, and Gemini's "Sunshine River" (from Australia) pouring on the Byrds-y electric guitars. While some of these cuts are dull, there are other cool items as well, like "Bring It to Me" by Vashti pals Jennifer Lewis and Angela Strange; Judi Smith's gorgeous "Leaves That Come Tumbling Down," another Jackie DeShannon-Jimmy Page co-write; Australian Maggie Hammond's strong cover of "High Flying Bird," even if she does change the key lyric "I'm rooted like a tree" to the less effective "I'm tired as can be"; and Caroline Carter's "The Ballad of Possibilities (Come Along)," another obscure Jackie DeShannon song. The more traditional face of folk music even surfaces with Leonore Drewery's "Rue," probably better known under the title Pentangle used for the same tune, "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme." The folk-rock concept gets stretched pretty far to include Angelina's "Wishing My Life Away," which seems more influenced by Buddy Holly and Joe Meek. But if that's what it takes to get worthwhile rarities like those issued, why not?
Vol.6 - Sassy and Stonefree
Where previous volumes of the worthy Dream Babes series focused on woman-sung British pop/rock of a slightly earlier (mid-'60s) vintage, Sassy and Stonefree: Dream Babes, Vol. 6 has a somewhat later timespan, featuring 22 recordings from 1966-1972 (three of them previously unreleased). Accordingly, there are more soul, heavy rock, and singer/songwriter influences to be heard, though it's still identifiably Brit-pop-based for the most part. Even if you think you know your '60s Brit-pop, you might not be well acquainted with many of the names here; it takes quite some digging to assemble a compilation of this sort in which the most famous names are Clodagh Rodgers (whose "Come Back and Shake Me," included here, made number three in the U.K. in 1969), Samantha Jones, and Lesley Duncan. It's shorter on highlights than other installments in the series, and not the kind of thing that would have given Dusty Springfield and Lulu much to worry about. There's some stuff to enjoy in what's a pretty pop-soul-oriented set, particularly on the production end. But there are no true standouts as far as the songs are concerned, and while the singers are okay, none are especially commanding (and some of the material would have probably been done better by the American artists the producers and vocalists sometimes seemed to be trying to emulate). Generally it's tastefully perky and upbeat, never more so than on Sandra Bryant's "Girl with Money," which is a little reminiscent of the kind of uptempo songs Neil Diamond wrote in his early solo career.
Vol.7 - Beat Chic
By the time of this 2007 release, the Dream Babes series had developed into a surprisingly extensive one, testifying to the existence of much more female-sung 1960s British pop/rock than even most British rock experts realized. Like any genre series that digs up a seemingly endless mountain of obscurities, it's more impressive for its quantity than its quality. Still, like its predecessors, Beat Chic: Dream Babes, Vol. 7 offers a wide assortment of material from the '60s (from 1962-1967 in this CD's case), drawing from the girl group, soul-pop, and pop/rock styles, only occasionally taking in influences from the guitar-oriented British Invasion sound. Certainly the 22 tracks aren't safe choices; Billie Davis and Goldie & the Gingerbreads are the only artists who will be fairly recognizable to collectors, and even those acts aren't exactly automatically familiar ones to most vintage rock fans. Fans of the mainstream mid-'60s British pop/rock sound will enjoy this material for the production values it typifies, but there's really not much in the way of gripping performances or songs. Some of the more notable items include Polly Perkins' energetic novelty "You Too Can Be a Beatle"; Goldie & the Gingerbreads' rather disappointingly mild "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat," which Herman's Hermits nabbed the hit with in the U.S.; and Dani Sheridan's quite good interpretation of "Guess I'm Dumb," co-written by Brian Wilson and originally recorded by Glen Campbell in the U.S. Honeybus fans will also want to note the inclusion of three previously unreleased Christine Holmes tracks co-written by Pete Dello and Ray Cane, the best of which ("Here Comes My Baby") is a competent American girl group-like effort with Beatlesque touches.
Vol.8 - Stockingtop Pop
In the mid-'60s through early '70s, the British pop music industry was a well-oiled machine, cranking out bright, tuneful melodies at a feverish pace, and RPM's eighth CD collection of rare U.K. pop singles from female vocalists demonstrates just how deep the well goes on this stuff. With the exception of Tina Charles' brassy but over the top cover of Melanie's "Bo Bo's Party" and the subtle but defiant "I Don't Ever Want to Be Kicked by You" by the Stockingtops, the mood on these tunes is upbeat and the craft is polished and professional, with the production slick and the arrangements full-bodied, suggesting the British equivalent of classic Brill Building pop with a characteristic dollop of music hall theatrics. Many of these singers supplemented their paychecks as solo acts by doing backing vocals on sessions by other artists (or by doing commercials -- a promotional recording for Bush audio equipment leads off this disc), and there's a certain uniformity to the performing styles of these artists. But a few of the tracks do stand out, such as the high-gloss soul stylings of Maxine Nightingale, the aggressively chirpy harmonies of the Cameos, the very American leanings of the Chanters, and the sweet, breathy confidence of the Paper Dolls. And even the lesser selections are fine examples of studiocraft at its height, from the days when the bigger the studio orchestra and the more audacious the arrangement, the better. While some might find a certain kitsch value in this stuff, Stockingtop Pop is good enough to be appreciated without irony, and Michael Robson's liner notes offer plenty of background data on these forgotten songbirds.
Many THANKS to Cor