In the early 1960's, when young British musicians were discovering the joys of African-American music like the blues, it seemed like popular music in America itself was turning its back on those very same influences. Indeed the charts were dominated by groups who sounded like their major influences were the crooners of the fifties and musicals. It was music that wouldn't make any waves or make anyone feel at all threatened – a far cry from the exciting music that had burst out of Sun Records in the 1950's. However, what it lacked in energy, it made up for with technical prowess as it was distinguished by polished arrangements and impeccable vocal harmonies.
Most of the bands of this era relied on other people's songs for material, and were at the mercy of their record labels as to what songs would be promoted and how. The majority of the bands weren't really bands either, but rather a group of four or five singers, either all male or all female but very rarely a mixture, who were supported by whatever session musicians were on hand when they were in the studio. With the only goal in mind as generating a hit single, record companies would devote the majority of a group's studio time to recording the one or two songs they thought might have the best chance of becoming a hit and then quickly recording enough material to fill out an album.
It was these circumstances that gave rise to producers – particularly Phil Spector – whose reputations grew as they generated more hits and the more of a genius they seemed regardless of who was used to record the songs. Nowadays if a band's lead singer quits it usually spells the end for them or at the very least will mean a significant change in their sound. However, with the producer in charge, controlling the sound and choosing the material, the members of the band were nearly irrelevant. Such goes a long way in explaining how there could have been two different "Jays" in Jay & The Americans from the time they released their first single, "Tonight" from Leonard Bernstein's musical West Side Story, until they broke up in 1970.
That's one of the things which makes listening to the new three-CD set, Jay & The Americans: The Complete United Artists Singles, just released by Collectors Choice Music, such a novel experience. Whether it's a negative or a positive is up to you to decide, but I couldn't tell the difference between the band which sang "Tonight" back in 1961 with John "Jay" Traynor and the one which sang "Come A Little Bit Closer" in 1964 with Jay Black. Once the band fell apart in 1970, Black continued on as Jay & The Americans until a judge ultimately revoked his right to use the name in bankruptcy court. The band has since reformed featuring two of the original 1961 band members, Sandy Deanne and Howie Kane, with a third Jay, Jay Reincke.