Reissues (December 5): Jon Savage, Come Join My Orchestra and The Staple Singers

Reissues (December 5): Jon Savage, Come Join My Orchestra and The Staple Singers
Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases, including Jon Savage, Come Join My Orchestra and The Staple Singers
Jon Savage’s 1968: The Year The World Burned
(Ace CDTOP 21536)
One of the best compilations of 2015 was Jon Savage's 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded, a sublime soundtrack to his book about what was a pivotal year in 20th century history. The album did so well that Savage followed up with a similarly-themed release packed with hits and rarities from 1967, then cast his net back to 1965, and now curates this beauty, a double disc delight packed with 48 recordings from 1968. As Savage reveals in the chunky, information-packed 28-page booklet that accompany this release, 1968 was a year of ‘convulsive political and social changes’ and ‘an inflammatory year’. It was also one in which there was a surfeit of excellent soul, funk, Americana, pop, psychedelia and hard-edged rock. Among the tracks most worthy of attention are The 5th Dimension’s version of Jimmy Webb’s bittersweet Carpet Man; The Kinks’ optimistic Wonderboy; Al Wilson’s classic Northern Soul tale of temptation, The Snake; Tommy James & The Shondells psychedelic confection Crimson & Clover; and Aretha Franklin’s gorgeous I Say A Little Prayer. More ‘woke’, to use current parlance, James Brown’s Say It Loud (I’m Black & I’m Proud) was recorded in the wake of racial unrest; The Rascals’ People Got To Be Free calls for equality; Sly & The Family Stone call for tolerance in Everyday People; and Love address issues of paranoia and withdrawal on Your Mind And We Belong Together. For the most part, however, it is just a collection of very good songs, and a splendid way to spend two hours and 24 minutes.    
Come Join My Orchestra: The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-1973
(Grapefruit CRSEGBOX 049)
A melodic form of pop with classical elements, the starting point for baroque pop was arguably The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby in 1966. It certainly kickstarted a movement which is now the subject of this impressive box set which contains 80 examples of the genre recorded between 1967 and 1973, and is accompanied by a sumptuous 40 page booklet. Ambitious orchestral arrangements, expansive and expensive, decorate most of the tracks here, many of which are making their CD debuts, two of which are previously unreleased in any format and only one of which made any impression on the chart, namely The Spencer Davis Group’s Time Seller, a majestic and very busy track with a rich, dense, rococo string arrangement. There are many more familiar artists here however, with The Zombies offering the pretty, piano-based A Rose For Emily; Donovan tendering the gentle, meandering Writer In The Sun; and Gilbert O’Sullivan  - trading then simply as Gilbert – with the quirky, almost musical hall style of Disappear (though I would have preferred the even more engaging Mr. Moody’s Garden, his baroque masterpiece). To inhabit the baroque pop arena, some acts travelled some distance from their usual musical style, not least Irish country crooner Johnny McEvoy, who performs the haunting Father Dickens, while The Searchers abandon their beat past for Popcorn, Double Feature, and Brummie folkies The Ian Campbell Group tell the psych-infused, Benefit Of Mr. Kite-like tale of Private Harold Harris. Songwriter Tony Hazzard’s uplifting Sound Of The Candyman’s Trumpet, West Country folk singer Al Jones’ flute-featuring title track and Muffin’s lilting Smokey Blues Away – based on Dvorak’s New World Symphony – also impress. Overall, it’s a remarkable and worthy salute to a tuneful diversion in the history of pop music.    
For What It’s Worth: The Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968
(SoulMusic SMCR 517BX)
Before signing to Stax and becoming a global phenomenon, The Staple Singers served out their apprenticeship at Epic, where they achieved widespread acclaim in the gospel field, increased support from R&B fans, and started to build a wider, pop audience. Between 1964 and 1968 they cut six albums for Epic - five studio releases and Freedom High, which was recorded live at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church. All six of those albums are now included on this 65-song triple CD box set, and provide an edifying and uplifting listen, whether your Staples preferences are Christian or secular. Although Mavis Staples (natch) takes centre stage and provides the soulful vocals for most tracks, it is the brooding presence of her father Pops Staples, whether as a writer, a guitarist or singer, that ties the albums together. Three of the albums herein are making their CD debut, and all are worth hearing. However, to best engage with the Staple Singers’ gospel roots, the live album is unbeatable, with impassioned and infectious versions of Help Me Jesus, When The Saints Go Marching In and civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome. The For The What It’s Worth album gives a glimpse of a more commercial side to the band, with excellent versions of If I Had A Hammer, the spiritual Jacob’s Ladder and the title track, which takes Stephen Stills’ song, written about a riot, and turns it into a soulful shuffle. Pops Staples’ own Why (Am I Treated So Bad) was inspired by the poor treatment of the first black children at a segregated school but once that is dealt with by Pops on the intro, it develops into a more general ‘done me wrong’ song, and deservedly won the Staple Singers their first ever Hot 100 entry, as well as spinning off three hit cover versions.  

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