Finally! A reason to remove Ace’s 2008 “Twist & Shout: The Bert Berns Story, Volume 1, 1960-1964” from my CD changer!
That formidable set covered Berns’ ascendancy to the forefront of Tin Pan Alley. “Mr Success: The Bert Berns Story, Volume 2, 1964-1967”, showcases the years when he bestrode New York’s studio scene like a colossus, running his own successful labels, punching the clock as a producer and penning classic tunes with a who’s-who of collaborators.
Nestled among 26 sterling tracks (eight debuting to CD) are classics by Berns stalwarts Garnet Mimms, Freddie Scott and Solomon Burke and rarities from icons Ben E King, Barbara Lewis, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles and Otis Redding.
Want hits? Try the McCoys’ ‘Hang On Sloopy’, complete with the seldom-heard third verse, or Van Morrison’s signature, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, in its original 45 radio edit, which protected our virginal 1967 sensibilities from that salacious “making love in the green grass” lyric. Few would disagree that Erma Franklin’s original ‘Piece Of My Heart’ should have been the hit. Tami Lynn’s classic eventual-hit ‘I’m Gonna Run Away From You’ sets the bar high as lead-off track.
Want stars? Well, here’s Tammy Montgomery’s final recording before she decamped to Motown as Tammi Terrell. A subdued Wilson Pickett offers a rarity from his pre-Wicked reign of terror and the Drifters break hearts with the aching ‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’. Little-known R&B journeyman Bobby Harris channels Sam Cooke on the title track.
Wanna dance? Opportunities abound as Kenny Hamber (abetted by the ubiquitous Sweet Inspirations) acts the funky drill sergeant on the sensational ‘Show Me Your Monkey’. And try not doing the Sloopy to Roy C’s should-have-been-huge ‘Gone Gone’.
Berns’ penchant for Latin rhythms is woven throughout the proceedings like a rose between the teeth, nowhere more irresistibly than on Larry Hale’s ‘In Front Of Her House’. The over-the-top ‘Run Mascara’ by Bert’s beloved Exciters feels like the soundtrack to a bullfight and, on one of several UK excursions, Berns managed to make Irish band Moses K and the Prophets sound like they were born on the baion.
The hallmark of any great compilation (and every Ace one) is that unfamiliar song that immediately enters your pantheon. Rest assured I’ll be wearing out ‘You May Be Holding My Baby’, a slice of stately soul by the Pussycats. But I suspect that listeners first encountering Lorraine Ellison’s impassioned ‘Heart Be Still’ will be astounded by the gospel-drenched majesty of this song, which appropriately provides the finale to this journey through the Bert Berns canon.
Berns’ son, Brett, and daughter, Cassie, diligent keepers of his flame, are currently readying a stage musical based on his songs, as well as a book. A recently completed documentary should surface this year and, if justice serves, nominee Berns will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
So enjoy “Mr. Success”, the perfect kick-off to what we expect to be the Year of Bert Berns.