This week, we run the rule over releases from Billy Ocean and new compilations like Horn Rock & Funky Guitar Grooves plus 60 Classic Hits From When Life Was Easy
Remixes And Rarities (Cherry Pop CRPOPD 210)
In 1957, Tommy Facenda recorded 29 different versions of High School U.S.A. – one celebrating high schools from around The USA, the other 28 including only local references, with editions for New York, Los Angeles, Texas & Nashville among others . He was rewarded with his only hit. Billy Ocean did something along the same lines in a much smaller way in 1984, when his smash Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run) was simultaneously released in African Queen and European Queen variants. While Caribbean Queen has been easy to find, neither African Queen nor European Queen were in catalogue on CD, so it is nice to report that they are included on this, the latest release in Cherry Popo’s occasional Remixes And Rarities series. The seventh release in the label’s Billy Ocean catalogue, it is a 23 track, 2 CD set, which includes extended, special, alternative, dub, 12-inch and instrumental versions of Ocean’s oeuvre, which includes hits like When The Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going), Love Really Hurts Without You and Get Outta My Dreams Get Into My Car. All tracks are pleasingly remastered from the original master tapes, and the package includes a 16 page booklet, featuring extensive liner notes and illustrations.
Horn Rock & Funky Guitar Grooves 1968-1974 (BGP CDBGPD 311)
Traditionally a term associated with acts like Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and The Ides Of March, who operated on the fringes of rock and jazz with a modified big band sound, ‘horn rock’ takes on many forms on this CD, with the liner notes settling for the simple explanation ‘American rock gets back to its soulful roots’. It is a brief which is certainly fulfilled by the 17 acts and their songs herein. Some were influenced by R&B, others by jazz, but all turn in blistering performances, most of which rarely get an outing. Originally released between 1968 and 1974 – apart from two contemporaneous recordings by Donnie Brooks and Black Magic, which are previously unreleased - they make for an exciting and edifying listening experience. Among the highlights are It’s Been A Long Time Coming from Delaney & Bonnie, who were critical darlings for a while, and certainly delivered on this rollickingly good track that they co-authored with the estimable Jackie DeShannon; Aunt Marie, a rousing celebration of the titular relative, in a muscular, midpaced confection bueatifully executed by the rather obscure American Sound Limited; and One Fine Day, a busy, bustling and irresistibly funky but melodic workout from Lighthouse, that is the only bona fide hit here, reaching No.2 in their native Canada and No.24 in The USA.
The Easy Way: 60 Classic Hits From When Life Was Easy (UMOD 5387819)
Not exactly groundbreaking but this is a welcome addition to the massed ranks of easy listening compilations, and takes a few risks by including The Velvet Underground’s Sunday Morning, Fairport Convention’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes and Wayne Newton’s Danke Schoen – none of which charted. Rat Pack credentials are satisfied by the inclusion of Dean Martin’s Sway and That’s Amore, Frank Sinatra’s It Was A Very Good Year and Sammy Davis Jr.’s interpretation of Mr. Bojangles. Of the 60 songs that are included on this 3 CD/190 minute set, the vast majority are from the 1960s and 1970s, with no fewer than 14 from the pens of easy listening’s most revered writers – Burt Bacharach and Hal David. If, like me, you are a fan of their work as interpreted by Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin et al, that’s a bonus – but if you don’t care for their songs, it would be best to sidestep this compilation. Overall, it is an excellent collection but there is an awful version of Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart, which is attributed to Gene Pitney but is unrecognisable. Apart from anything else, it runs for more than five minutes, whereas his 1967 hit version was about 3m 37s and his subsequent Marc Almond remake, with added histrionics, was about 4m 40s.