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Music Review: Gary Lewis & The Playboys – The Complete Liberty Singles

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Sometimes I can’t remember my wife’s birthday yet I can remember Gary Lewis & The Playboys playing “This Diamond Ring” on The Ed Sullivan Show way back in 1964.

Gary Lewis is the son of legendary comedian and actor Jerry Lewis and his group was discovered playing at Disneyland by producer Snuff Garrett. They would go on to create a string of hits that may not have been essential to the history of rock ‘n’ roll but they were extremely catchy and pleasant nonetheless; plus, they were tremendously popular, selling millions of copies. And they still put a smile on my face over forty years later.

Collector’s Choice has just released The Complete Liberty Singles by Gary Lewis & The Playboys. This two disc, 45-track set contains all of the group’s singles — both the A and B sides — plus a couple of unreleased songs.

While they would release a number of albums, they were at heart a singles band. Their LPs would basically contain a couple of their hits surrounded by a bunch of cover songs. They sold quite a few albums with this formula, but the singles remain their superior recordings.

Having Jerry Lewis as your father didn’t hurt as they were able to debut their first ever recording on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of tens of millions of people. The recorded version actually featured some of the best studio musicians of the day, including drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Leon Russell, who would become a fixture in the studio. Who played on the song didn’t necessarily matter, though, as "This Diamond Ring" hit Number One on the American charts and made stars of the group.

They would become mainstays on the charts, sharing radio time with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. Top twenty hits such as “Count Me In,” “Save Your Heart For Me,” “Everybody Loves A Clown,” “She’s Just My Style,” “Sure Gonna Miss Her,”  “Green Grass,” “(You Don’t Have To) Paint Me A Picture,” and “My Heart’s Symphony” still provide a nice if simple look at the innocent side of rock ‘n’ roll during the sixties.

I rarely remember the flip side of old singles unless they are excellent in themselves or memorable in some other way. While Gary Lewis had a couple of B sides that could have been hits, “Without A Word Of Warning” and particularly the 60’s surf and drag piece, “Little Miss Go-Go;” a number of these songs were so bad or so odd that they remain in my memory banks. “Tijuana Wedding” would appear a number of times but under different titles. Gary Lewis sang like his father on “Time Stands Still” and “Looking For The Stars” came complete with celebrity impersonations. And then there is the famous cut, “I Saw Elvis Presley Last Night.” One can only hope that they made some money for all concerned.

No Gary Lewis compilation would be complete without “Doin’ The Flake.” In 1965 Kellogg’s cereal issued an EP consisting of “This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In” and a new song recorded just for them entitled “Doin’ The Flake.” All you had to do was send two box tops and 25 cents to Battle Creek, Michigan and a couple of months later the record would arrive at your door. My copy still resides in my record collection.

Gary Lewis entered the service in 1967 and though he managed to record a few songs while on leave, by 1969 his hit-making career was finished. Today he tours on the oldies circuit.

Gary Lewis & The Playboys are a nice stop in the history of sixties pop fare and The Complete Liberty Singles cover the length and breadth of their career well. Their music may not be as sophisticated as brain surgery but it remains a lot of fun.

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About David Bowling

  • JANK

    Good assessment of Gary Lewis. Thanks.