One of my fave reissue labels, Collector’s Choice, has recently gotten their music-loving mitts on the whole Cameo-Parkway vault and plans to re-release a bunch of long-forgotten albums by the bands and artists who made the label the success it was in the ’60’s. This batch comprises the first wave of releases from the Cameo-Parkway vaults and those who were into music around that time will no doubt feel the wonderful wave of nostalgia as these albums get put on CD for the first time ever and those new to the music will have a chance to experience some of the finest pop from the early ’60’s.
Clint Eastwood – Cowboy Favorites
Sure, you may know our squinty-eyed bad boy hero as one of the best actors of all time, or maybe from his latter-day career as a talented director of movies such as The Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Older folks may even remember when he was an action hero on television westerns in the ’50’s, but suffice to say very few are aware of the scope of Eastwood’s career as a musical force. An accomplished pianist and jazz fan, Eastwood has not only been in charge of picking the music and songs featured in many of his pictures but has also written the scores for many of them, of which the subsequent albums are usually released on Eastwood’s boutique label Malpaso. This album, though, is a little-known gem (allmusic.com doesn’t even have a listing for it) recorded in 1959 and released on the Cameo label featuring traditional western songs such as Tumbling Tubleweeds, San Antonio Rose, Don’t Fence Me In, and Mexicali Rose among others. Recorded at the height of his television stardom during his tenure on the Western Rawhide, Eastwood and the label no doubt sought to parlay Eastwood’s fame as a western TV star into a career as a singing cowboy ala Tex Ritter or Roy Rogers. Unfortunately, despite his TV success, the album came and went and didn’t even hit the Top 100, which is surprising for a star of a popular TV show. That said, the low sales were probably deserved as the album will most likely be appreciated more for its’ kitsch value by being recorded by Eastwood than Eastwood’s performances themselves, which are not cringe inducing but are really not that good. Still, if you’re an Eastwood fan, this is worth owning and if you’re just interesting in offbeat performances, this might be right up your alley. Otherwse, stick with Rogers and Ritter.
Terry Knight – And The Pack/Reflections
One of the most interesting figures in the history of rock and roll, Knight started his career in music as a deejay before transitioning into a artist in his own right, and then later becoming a successful rock and roll manager and producer, helming the careers of Grand Funk Railroad and Bloodrock among others. Born and raised in Lapeer, Michigan, Knight became a deejay in Detroit in the early ’60’s where he became famous for his early support of The Rolling Stones and was even awarded the honorary title of “The Sixth Stone” at one point because of his allegiance to the band. By 1965 Knight had moved to Flint, Michigan, and started his own career as a songwriter and performer during which he scored many regional hits and a couple national ones, though Knight and his band never cracked the Top 40. This two-fer comprises the only two albums Terry Knight released with The Pack and includes most of the band’s “hits”. The first thing you will notice from listening to this CD is Knight’s lack of vocal presence. In fact, Knight’s voice is the worst thing on these albums. The musical aspects, on the other hand, are actually very credible, though it is easy to play spot the influences on these songs as most of Knight’s actual songwriting “talent” lay in his ability to copy other famous acts of the time, a skill he no doubt learned as a disc jockey having to pour over hundreds of singles in order to pick which to feature on his show. Bootlegs from the same period have attested to the fact the band rocked harder without Knight then with him and this CD doesn’t prove otherwise. All in all, subpar garage rock from a man whose greater fame was in putting two members of The Pack (guitarist Mark Farner and drummer Don Brewer) together with the bass player from ? and The Mysterians (Mel Schacter) to create Grand Funk Railroad.
Bobby Rydell – The Great Ones/Rydell at The Copa
Though not really remembered much, Rydell was one of the most versatile performers of his day. Rydell first became interested in a career in show business when his talents for mimicry and his ease at mastering the drum kit were noticed by his parents. By 1959, he had his first hit, Kissin’ Time, and became a teen idol associated with the likes of Frankie Avalon and Fabian, who were also boirn in Philadelphia and hit the charts at about the same time. Though fame was fleeting for Rydell, his vocals were always top notch though he eventually became victim of poor song choices by his producers and label, who strove to keep him a teen idol for too long. Unable to transition like Rick Nelson, Rydell simply became passe as his audience moved on to the groups of The British Invasion and, later, psychedelia and folk as Rydell stuck with the same formula and eventually became a nightclub and Vegas performer. These albums show the genesis of his later career. The Great Ones showcases Rydell’s attempt to update the swing sound for the ’60’s kids. Though his voice is in great shape and the orchestra is excellent, the album didn’t chart as swing was not what the kids wanted to hear from Rydell. Rydell at The Copa completes his career transformation from teenage heartthrob to a Bobby Darrin-esque lounge performer. Though Rydell lacked Darrin’s mystique (and Darrin’s respectable sales numbers), he has managed to carve out a respectable if lowkey career as a lounge act who performs to this day.
Chubby Checker – It’s Pony Time/Let’s Twist Again
Forever known for his hit (and dance craze) The Twist, Checker (whose stage name was a play on his hero Fats Domino’s) was actually an unending font of new dance moves which he (and his handlers) hoped would take hold of the national zeitgeist like the Twist had. Unfortunately, though he did rack up some sizable hits with songs (and moves) such as The Pony, The Hucklebuck and The Fly among others, these dance moves would become only fleeting fads while The Twist would forever remain as a symbol of the times. Though that one song is for what he is most remembered, let it be known Checker hit the charts 32 times before 1966 and had sporadic hits after that, hitting the charts last in 1988 when he teamed with The Fat Boys rap act to reprise The Twist. This two-fer sees Checker launch his only other number 1 hit, Pony Time, though the album itself didn’t sell well because even though the kids (who tended to buy singles) had moved to the Pony, the adults (album buyers) were still hooked on The Twist, making It’s Pony Time one of Checker’s least-popular albums though the single did extremely well. Eventually, Checker realized The Twist was his cross to bear forever (even though the song was first recorded by Hank Ballard) and resigned himself to recording a follow-up song, Let’s Twist Again, which also was a very popular song. This was in addition to the usuall twelve or thirteen other cuts which tended to be comprised of new dance routines. Though these albums are fun and Checker has a decent voice and personality, after a listen or two they become these annoying novelty songs that start to become boring. If you have The Twist, you have all the Chubby Checker you will ever need.
The Orlons – The Wah-Watusi/South Street
An admittedly minor vocal group comprised of three females and one male, the Orlons nonetheless put a handful of songs onto the charts during their brief hitmaking run in the early ’60’s. They thrived during the time between Elvis’ entrance into the armed services and the arrival of the Fab Four which most music historians refer to as the worst period in rock and roll history. Of course, if they were to listen to the radio today they might have another opinion. I mean, any era that gave us the Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Motown and Stax Records can’t he all bad, can it? Let’s face it – Keane, The Jonas Brothers and some idiot singing about fireflies dancing around his head have actually had hits within the past few years and some twelve year old by the unfortunate name of Justin Bieber is supposedly the next big thing so spare me the whining about all of the “problems” regarding rock music from 1960-1964. That stuff sounds pretty good to me, considering what I have to listen to on a daily business. But I digress. This stuff is music for dancing, pure and simple. While the vocal gymnastics do not challenge the Supremes or the Temptations and the music is forgettable, one must remember that for the time this was decent stuff if a little generic. But, they had some hits and a version of the group is still performing today, so take that Billy Squier (their probable modern-day equal – whoops, wait a minute, that would be Bananarama wouldn’t it?).
Check this out if you like vocal groups but don’t get your hopes up too high. It’s just okay.