The soundtrack to an evening in Soho, epicentre of british pop since the mid-50s. A few pints, good company and a great jukebox.
Ace have never previously put out any CDs featuring UK glam rock next to rockabilly and sweet soul: I’m sure not many people thought we ever would. But this is the soundtrack to an evening in a Soho boozer - an eclectic selection of great music across the pop oeuvre on an imaginary jukebox stationed in a (real) pub called the Dog And Duck. Bob Stanley and his Saint Etienne team-mates, Dog And Duck habitués, have picked their dream musical moments to accompany a night of serious drinking and pop philosophising.
The mood is set with a catchy early 60s pop instrumental by KPM regular John Scott, whose ‘Hi Flutin’ Boogie’ sounds like it came from a TV series that I know really well, but can’t for the life of me think which. It was produced by someone called George Martin apparently. This is followed by one of those great, quirky, UK pop numbers, though admittedly written by US citizen Randy Newman. It’s performed by London music biz veteran Duffy Power and comes complete with flugelhorns; quite a departure for an erstwhile rocker.
Now I knew that the Heavenly crowd had a soft spot for girl groups and the inclusion of the Darlettes’ ‘Lost’ is an expected treat, cunningly followed by Bettye’s ‘Make Me Yours’; clever, these guys could be DJs if the day job slows down. Next up is home territory for me, Herbert Hunter’s Nashville-created, Northern England-acclaimed dance number, ‘I Was Born To Love You’. Who said northerners ain’t got soul?
Then it’s back to the girls, though Claudine Clark’s husky tones don’t have the sweet allure of her backing vocalists. She was singing about a burial ground, so perhaps she had a fright. Texas rockers Elroy Dietzel & the Rhythm Bandits hit us with some good ole rock’n’roll swiftly followed up by Hal Harris’ hiccoughing rockabilly portrait of his ‘Jitterbop Baby’. That sounds like perfect pub music for a Saturday night tear-up to me. Rocker Little Richard gives us a later-career, soul-party stomper from his Vee-Jay era, neatly illustrated by a rare demo that was flown in all the way from our basement warehouse for scanning: thanks Simon. The song wasn’t officially released until 1970; these popsters sure know their onions.
I could have guessed they would have gone for some Zombies. ‘She Does Everything For Me’ is a great choice. Colin Blunstone’s unique vocals get me every time. It’s so clean. A Northern Soul ender is more of a shock, but the well-crafted song and superb production on Dan Folger’s ‘The Way Of The Crowd’ deserves to be appreciated across the genres.
Then there was Bill Oddie. Stranger things have happened, but not many. Who would have thought the ex-Goodie and bird-peeper would be appearing on Ace, especially as a serious artist? And he’s actually good at both the writing and performing end of this very different discipline; the song could have come straight out of the Brill. A shock of that magnitude needs to be followed by some solid ground and our Mary (Ms Love) and her evergreen soul staple ‘Lay This Burden Down’ is just that. Fellow Kent stable-mate Little Ann then provides the enigmatic ‘Sweep It Out In The Shed’, courtesy of Dave Hamilton’s Detroit master tapes and she is followed in turn by the prettily-voiced Barbara Lewis on ‘How Can I Tell You’. I must have missed out on that one first and second time around; it’s wonderful, but I’m not sure I should be getting soul lessons from indie rockers.
Barbara’s track does have a pop sensibility link, with Brian Hyland and Del Shannon having written it; the next musical leap to ex-Box Top Alex Chilton’s tender ‘The EMI Song’ is seamless. I still haven’t figured out what it’s about but I’m very glad to have been turned on to it. What’s not to like about Sniff’n’The Tears’ ‘Driver’s Seat’? Nothing: but now it’s on a hip compilation you’re allowed to hum it in public. From out of the left field comes an RAK B-side ‘Flight 2’ by Angelo & Eighteen which takes me back to the fascinating rhythms of John Kongos’ hit ‘Tokoloshe Man’. Glam-inspired Mustard used the approved super solid beat of the day by presumably using a couple of drummers and getting anyone passing the studio to come on in and clap and stomp; it’s infectious enough to kickstart a revival. Or perhaps it already was a revival, Gino with Johnny Greek’s ‘Hand Clappin’ Time’ was recorded a decade before, but sounds right in the same bag. Jump back another six years and Huey Smith was already ‘Having A Good Time’.
That’s three rave-ups in a row, so it’s time for a smoocher and it comes from the unlikely Ohio Players. Those cats were associated with spaced-out funk, but their paean to a lay-dee named Varee is in the classic soul lover ballad, complete with rap intro and some sweet shoop-shooping setting the mood behind a killer lead. That sort of quality didn’t happen overnight and we are shown the roots of slow dance in Robert & Johnny’s intense drama ‘We Belong Together’. There’s more lingering melody from the redoubtable Les Paul & Mary Ford with the now socially taboo ‘Smoke Rings’ which leads us neatly to the moody 70s smash ‘Pinball’ by Brian Protheroe. It’s OK, you can admit you like it too, it’s just passed its silver jubilee.
Eclectic, esoteric, inspired? I’m not sure which, but like Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, a lot of people are about to discover some very fine new music.
By Ady Croasdell