Record Review

17th June
written by Matt The Cat

Record Review:

Clyde McPhatter

Lover Please / The Complete MGM & Mercury Singles

CD Available at: Hip-o Select

I must begin this review by telling you right up-front that I am a huge fan of Clyde McPhatter’s legendary tenor.  He is as important to 1950s rhythm and blues and later rock n’ roll as Roy Hamilton, Jackie Wilson and even Ray Charles.  His early recordings with Billy Ward & His Dominoes set the standard for solid R&B vocal groups featuring a tenor lead.  His voice is pure, exciting and natural.  He wraps that beautiful tenor around each and every word and he doesn’t let it go until he’s finished saturating it with soul and feeling. 

In 1953, as soon as Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun heard that Clyde had left Billy Ward, he immediate found him and signed him to Atlantic.  As the lead singer of the “original” Drifters, Clyde hit the charts with “Money Honey,” “Honey Love,” “Such A Night” and “White Christmas.”  He had to leave the group in favor of the Army in 1954 and when he returned from service, he had one thing on his mind: a solo career.  Atlantic wasn’t pleased that Clyde wanted to be a solo star, but they went along with it.  He scored hits with “A Lover’s Question,” “Treasure Of Love,” “Without Love (There Is Nothing),” “Long Lonely Nights” and a few more, but he didn’t have the massive cross-over success that everyone was waiting and hoping for. 

When MGM records, with all of its money and distribution muscle came calling in 1959, Clyde was all ears.  He jumped from Atlantic to MGM seamlessly.  He had already begun recording more “pop” oriented songs and arrangements at Atlantic, so it wasn’t unusual when this trend continued on MGM.  It was thought that Clyde would have a better shot at the pop audience if he were on a pop label.  MGM was soaring high at the time, with big hits by Conway Twitty and Connie Francis.  McPhatter touched the pop charts right out of the gate.  His first MGM single, “I Told Myself A Lie,” was written by Otis Blackwell and Jimmy Williams and hit #70 on the Billboard Charts.  Not great, but pop radio stations were playing it.  Incidentally, the song didn’t even touch the R&B charts.

 His third MGM single, “Let’s Try Again” is a perfect pop “formula” song and it did quite well for Clyde, hitting #48 pop and #12 R&B.  It was his bestseller for the label.  After six singles, MGM let Clyde go and he immediately signed to Mercury Records.  Now for my money, Clyde’s Mercury sides capture an excitement, a feeling and a soul that I feel was missing on the MGM singles.

Right off the bat on Mercury, McPhatter scored a sizable hit with a song he wrote with Jimmy Oliver called “Ta Ta.”  It was released in June of 1960 and hit #23 pop and #7 R&B.  OK, now we’re cruising.  The biggest hit of Clyde’s solo career came in February of ’62 with the Mercury release of “Lover Please.”  It hit #7 on the pop charts and remains a staple on oldies radio stations to this day.

Clyde’s version of the classic, “Little Bitty Pretty One,” released in May of ’62 ranks up there as one of the best interpretations of the tune.  The record buying public thought so too, because they bought enough copies to get it up to #25 on the pop charts. 

There’s a real depth of feeling on many of Clyde’s Mercury sides.  I love the dramatic presentation, almost in a Roy Orbison style, that Clyde uses on “Your Second Choice” from 1961.  “The Best Man Cried” ranks right us there as well, so get your hankie out, because Clyde really delivers the tears. 

Social commentary was the news of the day in the early 1960s, with The Crystals giving us “Uptown,” The Coasters with “What About Us,” Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem” and The Drifters’ “Only In America.”  Clyde recorded some great tunes in this same social vein.  “Deep In The Heart Of Harlem” landed him back on the charts in 1963 and he released a great single that featured “Second Window, Second Floor” b/w “My Tenement” in 1964. 

In the summer of 1964, Clyde McPhatter recorded one of the greatest live albums of all-time at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY.  If you’ve never heard this live gem, go out and pick it up.  Mercury issued one single from that album, featuring a smoking version of his Drifters’ classic, “Lucille.”  His final single for Mercury was released in February of 1965, “Crying Won’t Help You” and it just barely touched the charts.  Clyde would go on to record a few well-respected sides for the Army label as well as many other smaller labels, but nothing substantial would come out before his untimely death on June 13, 1972. 

There is something special in Clyde McPhatter’s vocal power, control and phrasing that just pulls you in and makes you want to listen to his records.  His work with the Dominoes, The Drifters and as a solo artist on Atlantic has been well documented over the years, but his MGM and Mercury sides have always been largely ignored.  This is a shame and is finally corrected in this new, great 2 CD set from Universal Music’s Hip-O Select imprint. 

If you’ve ever counted yourself as a fan of the great Clyde McPhatter, you owe it yourself to complete your collection with this fantastic overview of his later material, covering every single released on him by the MGM and Mercury labels.  Essential listening, indeed. 

-Matt The Cat

17th February
written by Matt The Cat
Patsy Cline
Sweet Dreams – The Complete Decca Studio Masters 1960-1963

It’s a real shame that the March 5, 1963 plane crash that took the immensely talented and relatively young (she was only 30 years old) Patsy Cline isn’t remembered nearly as well as the February 3, 1959 crash that robbed us of Buddy Holly. They are more connected than you’d immediately think. Both Buddy and Patsy had a unique vulnerability in their vocal styles, both worked with producer Owen Bradley at Decca Records and both were on-top of their game and at the height of their success when their lives were tragically cut short. You may not know right off the bat that you’re about to hear a Patsy Cline song just by the clean, Nashville-sound intro. But after you hear her sing the very first note, you know. You know that no matter if it’s one of her many pop and country hits, a more obscure old album track or an interpretation of a classic standard, it will have that Patsy Cline stamp on it and it will be worth three minutes of your time. That’s what makes this new 2 CD set from Hip-O Select that chronicles every session Patsy had with Decca Records from 1960 to 1963 so worthwhile.

Let me begin by telling you what’s NOT on this new collection of Patsy Cline tunes. We don’t get any of her recordings for the Four Star label, which she was on from 1955 to 1959. Even though Four Star had a distribution deal with Decca Records, these songs weren’t technically recorded for Decca. Her true Decca period began in 1960 and last through her death in 1963. During this period she cut “A Church, A Courtroom And Then Goodbye,” “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” and the original HIT version of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” The version of “Midnight” on this collection is a re-recording from 1961. She recorded some fine material for Four Star, but it was a bad deal and according to producer Owen Bradley (a Nashville institution), those recordings only hinted at Patsy’s potential. That’s why when her contract with Bill McCall of Four Star was up, Bradley made it a point to get her signed to Decca. This provided Patsy with a much better business deal as well as much better material in general.

What we have on this collection is her entire output for Decca Records, beginning with “I Fall To Pieces” in 1961, which was a mega hit on both the Country and Pop Charts. I’ve always loved how the guitar lick accents the “pieces falling.”

All of these tracks were recorded at Owen Bradley’s studio in Nashville and they all have a common thread in both sound quality and content. Bradley’s productions are just so lush, full and fantastic. It is the “Nashville” sound at its best and it sounds amazing on this remastered set. I listed to this set in several long listening sessions and I really got the feeling like I was listening to an artist’s complete recorded statement. It is as if this is one very long LP. All the songs flow and fit together just perfectly. Nothing about it is disjointed in any way. Most of the tunes are mid-tempo, but I found the arrangements to be consistently interesting and engaging. Patsy’s voice shines through as the star of the show in every possible way. I love the little vocal sneer at the end of “Imagine That.” It gets me every time. This is music full of emotion and a human quality that many singers couldn’t dream of approaching. Patsy had it in spades.

Whether she’s singing old standards like Cole Porter’s “True Love,” Hank’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “You Belong To Me” and “That’s My Desire” or songs that she made famous like “I Fall To Pieces,” “Back In Baby’s Arms,” Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams (Of You)” and Bob Wills’ “Faded Love,” Patsy draws you in.

If you haven’t heard Patsy’s interpretation of “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home”, then you owe yourself a listen. She starts it off slow as if she’s begging for Bill Bailey to return, but then it turns into a joyous romp. By the end of the tune, you wonder if she’ll ever need Bill Bailey again. Her womanhood has triumphed over her need for a man.

There are no outtakes, alternative takes or rarities on this set, but “Sweet Dreams – The Complete Decca Studio Recordings 1960-1963” makes a solid attempt to show that Patsy Cline was not just a Country singer, but also a wonderfully expressive pop singer as well. Any fan of classic interpretive pop singing over a lush, musical soundscape, should have this collection on their shelf.

Click Here For The Complete Track Listing and More Info.


19th November
written by Matt The Cat
Buddy Holly
Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings And More

Release date: 11/24/09

Collectors rejoice! Buddy Holly FINALLY gets the box set treatment that he’s long deserved. Many sets have come out over the years, but each one either focused on the rare and previously unreleased tracks or the hit material. Hip-O Select, the reissue imprint of Universal Music, finally puts Buddy’s music to rest with a box set that spans everything he ever recorded from age 12 to 22 in Buddy Holly: Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings And More.

When I say “everything,” I of course mean nearly everything, as a stray alternate take might have escaped the compiling clutches of Andy McKaie. This box set is stunning and the look and feel of it will grab you before you even put one of the six CDs into your machine. It’s a replica of a hard bound yearbook, featuring 80 large pages of pictures, two essays and track by track annotations. The six CDs are housed at the back and each CD label replicates a Decca, Brunswick and Coral 45 rpm record label from the era. The six discs are packed with 203 Buddy Holly classics and yes, they are all classics.

We are SO LUCKY that the tape of a 12 year old Buddy Holly singing Hank Snow’s “My Two-Timin’ Woman” still exists so we can hear where it all began. As disc one progresses, we get a glimpse of Buddy’s musical inspiration and it’s no surprise that Buddy was motivated by the same musical forms that would fuse the forthcoming rock n’ roll; country and rhythm & blues. Remember, this is years before Elvis Presley and even Bill Haley, yet all three artists and many others would follow the same musical path toward rock n’ roll. It’s like there was a musical wind sweeping through America, inspiring all these young musicians who were looking for something new. Buddy was obviously a very talented artist from the beginning and we hear this in his early recordings with friend, Bob Montgomery, which were made at the Holley (Correct spelling of his name, Decca would spell it wrong on his first record and it stuck) Family Home in 1952-3. Buddy had the chops and inspiration, all he needed was a “spark.” That “spark” ignited when Buddy and Bob shared the bill with a young Elvis Presley in 1955. After seeing Elvis, Buddy’s musical direction changed as he moved further away from straight Country Music and more toward a new Rockabilly hybrid, infused with rhythm & blues. Most of these early Buddy and Bob recordings have been officially released (on Down The Line: Rarities, which I reviewed earlier this year here), BUT we do get a handful of previous unreleased goodies that Buddy and Bob cut in August of 1955 in their hometown of Lubbock, Texas. Sonny Curtis is even heard playing guitar and fiddle on a few of them. Sonny would soon join Buddy in his first Crickets group.

In early 1956, Buddy began his professional recording career with his first session for Decca Records. Owen Bradley was producing and even though Decca considered the first session a failure, some of Buddy’s best songs were recorded during this time. He cut “Midnight Shift,” “Blue Days, Black Nights” and “Don’t Come Back Knockin’” during this first session, while the first version of “That’ll Be The Day,” “Rock Around With Ollie Vee” and “Girl On My Mind” would be cut at his 2nd Decca session in July of 1956.

He would have three sessions for Decca in all, but no one seemed very impressed with the results, even Buddy, who was not thrilled with how Decca had handled him. He actually made an attempt to get the rights to his songs, so he could shop them around to another record company. I think this fact speaks volumes as to where Buddy’s head was at this time. He knew he deserved better than what Decca was giving him and he wanted to go elsewhere. Buddy was told that Decca owned all the songs that he had cut for them and they were not going to turn them over to him. We end 1956 with a few previously unreleased gems that were recorded in Buddy’s Lubbock garage. These are some of the greatest musical moments on the entire box set as Buddy has never sounded more energetic and joyful as he covers the rock n’ roll classics of the day.

1957 is Buddy’s breakthrough year and it kicks off with a bang, as the Crickets head out to Clovis, New Mexico to record with producer Norman Petty. The #1 hit “That’ll Be The Day” and top 10 hits, “Peggy Sue” and “Oh Boy” were recorded in 1957 as well as “Maybe Baby,” “Not Fade Away,” “Everyday” and “Words Of Love.” What a year! I counted fifteen different recording sessions that were held during 1957, showing what kind of a workaholic Buddy Holly was.

1958 was another marathon year of recording for Buddy and the Crickets. The last recording session with the Crickets was help on September 10, 1958 in Clovis, NM. By October 21st, Buddy was a solo artist, back in New York City and recording with an orchestra. “True Love Ways,” “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Raining In My Heart” and “Moondreams” were cut during this session and remain some of Buddy’s most inspired and beautiful songs. Thankfully, this box set contains both the stereo and superior mono mixes all four of songs.

Many songs on the set contain alternate versions. Some are alternate takes, like in the case of “Peggy Sue” and “Not Fade Away”. However, on a few songs, we get to hear the evolution and progression as Buddy worked on the tunes. The two slow versions and one fast version of “Slippin’ And Slidin’” really stand out as do the three progressive versions of “Think It Over” and four versions of Bo Diddley’s “Mona”.

Weeks before Buddy’s tragic death, he recorded quite a few demos on a reel to reel deck in his New York apartment. These recordings have long been called “The Apartment Tapes” and collectors have gathered what they could over the years. Finally, we have them all in one place, sounding better than I’ve ever heard them before. If you’ve ever wanted to be in a room with Buddy Holly, this is your chance. They are so intimate and I swear you can hear the joy in his voice as he plays these demos with his new wife Maria Elena looking and listening on. These apartment tapes are Buddy’s final recordings and they were made just before he headed out on the fateful Winter Dance Party Tour. Many of the “Apartment Tapes” would see release throughout the 1960s as producer Norman Petty added overdubs and Coral and MCA continued to release Buddy Holly LPs. Some people have issues with these overdubs as Petty brought in the Fireballs to add musical accompaniment to Buddy’s original demos. In most cases, the original demos are better, but you can’t deny that the Fireballs really make tracks like “Holly Hop” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” come a

All of these overdubbed recordings have never been so completely compiled as they are here, so neatly on Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings And More. If you don’t have the original 1959 Coral single or 1960 LP, The Buddy Holly Story, Vol: 2, try finding nuggets like the versions of “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” with the Ray Charles Singers on background vocals. These tunes have been out-of-print for a long time and it’s great to finally hear them on CD.

Is there anything that this set is missing? Well, if you push me, I’ll say that a DVD with rare video footage would have been a nice addition, BUT this is a musical journey, so I can see why they kept it nice and simple. Bill Dahl wrote some stunning liner notes and you can hear the love and respect that was put into the compiling of this fantastic set. Hip-O Select is the only American reissue label that still reissues music from the 50s and 60s in exciting and complete packages. Stop by and look at their amazing reissue catalog.

Buddy Holly created more amazing and influential music in the short span of 3 years than nearly anyone else in history and finally, we have a giant box set that proves this point and closes the book at the same time. Rave on!

-Matt The Cat