This admirable series is so aptly named. Contrary to popular thought, if you had a bit of imagination and knew where to search, it really was a golden age, as any old relics (like me) who remember it will readily agree. We’re looking and feeling increasingly weird and marginalised these days, of course.
At a time when most music purveyors and consumers care little about history, context, who wrote a song, who played on it, who produced it, which region it burst from, what inspired it, which label it was released on, and other important sniff-snaff, I think we should all get down on our knees every so often and thank the great cosmic duck for the unswerving Ace Records and all who sail in her.
Disinterred, as usual, by the meticulous and inexhaustible Rob Finnis, this is the 12th volume of 45 rpm treasure. Thirty gems; no clinkers. Some familiar; some obscure. Stimulating examples not only of rock’n’roll (as advertised) but of R&B, teen-pop, country rock, Motown, surf, Spector, soul and other emerging strands. Magnificent sound; illuminating notes.
Back in the late 50s, one could dehydrate, wither up and die waiting for the useless, fusty, paternalistic BBC to play any (okay, practically any) of these records. Were it not for the legal payola of Radio Luxembourg we would have been lost – but thanks to their fluctuating long-reach signal, beamed towards war-torn, Conservative-governed, broke and busted, soot-encrusted Britain, we glimpsed the exotic wonder of America.
For many of us, worship of all things American had become an established religion. Everything seemed so much better over there ... girls, cars, clothes, gangsters, cowboys, songwriters, films, film stars, Negroes, trains, planes, juke boxes, jazz, climate, beaches, history, geographical features, place names, rivers, hair styles, radio, television, sport, street names, magazines, food, skyscrapers, athletes, boxers, confectionery, sunshine, comics, even their flag and their money. But at least we got our hands on some of their music – and that was the key, that’s what coloured up our drab world, changed the very nature of our existence.
As a result of hearing their records on Lux, the hippest kids of my generation – the Eric Burdons, the George Harrisons, the Mick Jaggers, the Guy Stevens, the Ian Samwells, the Roger Eagles – grew up idolising the likes of Larry Williams, Bo Diddley, James Ray, Slim Harpo, Charlie Gracie and Arthur Alexander.
They marvelled at the clang of the guitar solo on ‘Bad Motorcycle’, at the undulating riff of ‘Raunchy’, the teenage ingénue Gladys Horton pleading with the postman, the grisly imagery of ‘Dinner With Drac’, the falsetto braggadocio of Jimmy Jones, the open-hearted anguish of Jerry Butler.
They gurgled at lines like “I knew by the way he smoked, he was a bad motorcycle”, “I found to my shock, I was on the wrong block!” and “I used to lie, I used to cheat, and step on people’s feet – but now I’m stepping on to glory ... I’m saved!”
But few would have heard the fabulous “5” Royales cut or fleeting vocal groups the Velaires and the 3 Friends – showcased here in pristine quality.
Mesmerised by ‘Whole Lotta Woman’, Brian “Hank” Rankin changed his name to Marvin – while another young British guitarist, Jim Sullivan, unwittingly provided Conway Twitty with the arrangement for ‘Lonely Blue Boy’.
I still find this music endlessly fascinating – but, as my parents always predicted, I’m sure I’ll grow out of it one day.
By Pete Frame