Friday , November 27 2020

Book & Music Reviews: A History of TV’s ‘Ready Steady Go!’ Plus Solomon Burke, Sensational Country Blues Wonders!, Paul Winter, Felix Hatfield

For a brief period in the mid-1960s, the London-based Ready Steady Go! was as important to the U.K. as American Bandstand was to the U.S. in the 1950s. Mick Jagger has called it “the best rock ‘n’ roll show of all time” and the Kinks’ Ray Davies  has said that “there was no other live showcase like it.” Pete Townshend, meanwhile, has noted that it reflected “the color and vivacity of the times better than almost any medium” and Eric Burdon has proclaimed it simply “the best music television show ever produced.”

Such raves would have seemed unlikely in the wake of the program’s Aug. 9, 1963, debut, which featured an underwhelming lineup that included some now-forgotten acts. Episode two, which aired a week later, also offered an unimpressive guest list and garnered a review that termed the show “a mess.”

But things began to change after that. The third week’s edition presented a Rolling Stones performance and an interview with Brian Jones; and Dusty Springfield and her then group, the Springfields, appeared on episode number four. Pretty soon, everybody who was anybody wanted to be included. Episode 11, for example, offered the Ronettes, Dion, Ray Charles, Brook Benton, Lesley Gore, Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potatoes,” a No. 2 hit), Jimmy Gilmer (the chart-topping “Sugar Shack”), and more—all in one fast-paced, 45-minute program.

By the time Ready Steady Go! ended in December 1966 after 173 shows, the list of artists who’d performed on it had grown to include a virtual who’s who of British Invasion acts and up-and-comers, among them the Dave Clark Five, the Beatles, the Hollies, Manfred Mann, Peter and Gordon, the Kinks, the Animals, Spencer Davis Group, Rod Stewart, and the Moody Blues. The series had also featured countless leading American performers, such as Del Shannon, Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, Gary U.S. Bonds, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, the Righteous Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and the Supremes.

The bad news is that only about 5 percent of the program’s filmed performances have survived. However, Andy Neill’s new LP-sized, 268-page hardcover book, called Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here, does about as good a job as any print publication could do of conjuring up this video phenomenon. It includes essays and comments from many of the artists and others involved with the program, plus hundreds of color and black-and-white photos of the musicians, the sets, and assorted memorabilia. There’s also a show-by-show guide that lists performers, songs, dancers, directors, and even regional broadcast times for each episode throughout the U.K. 

Also Noteworthy

Solomon BurkeThe King of Rock ‘N’ Soul – The Atlantic Recordings (1962–1968)Solomon Burke has been called the “most unfairly overlooked singer” in his genre. He never had a top 20 pop hit, though Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler—who worked with such giants as Ray Charles and Otis Redding—proclaimed him “the greatest male soul singer of all time.” 

Hear why on this three-CD set, which includes such superb recordings as “Cry to Me,” “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” and “If You Need Me.” Also on the program: covers of songs by everyone from Bob Dylan to Jimmy Webb that underscore the versatility of Burke’s tastes and talents. 

The Sensational Country Blues Wonders!The World Will Break Your Heart. The Sensational Country Blues Wonders! is the name of the band, and a fine one it is; but The World Will Break Your Heart nevertheless feels like a solo effort, since Gary Van Miert wrote all the material and dominates every track with his personality-drenched vocals.  His self-assured performances will leave you surprised to learn that this is his first album of original material. (He released a covers collection in 2012.) 

Like, say, Dwight Yoakam, Van Miert has one foot in traditional country and the Bakersfield Sound and the other in the work of rock and roll pioneers such as Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. His lyrics are relentlessly bleak, as you can tell from the names of the title track and such numbers as “Love Murders Your Heart,” “My Baby Stabbed Me with a Steak Knife,” and “I’m Afraid of Every Goddamn Thing.” But the music—which sounds more redolent of Memphis and Nashville than of Van Miert’s New Jersey home base—belies the words with upbeat melodies and addictive hooks. 

Paul WinterLight of the Sun. Paul Winter, a father of New Age music and one of its most noteworthy proponents, is not slowing down at age 81. This latest album from the seven-time Grammy winner echoes his past work in some ways, such as in its integration of elements from nature. (Winter even shares songwriting credits with a chirping wood thrush on one number and a howling wolf on another.) 

But the CD also represents a departure from form: for the first time in Winter’s 60-year recording career, he is the featured soloist throughout on his soprano sax. The songs are ethereal and as calming as titles like “Dolphin Morning,” “Quiet Now,” “Sweet Home,” and “Inner Peace” would suggest. Given the state of the world right now, they couldn’t come at a better time.

Felix HatfieldFalse GodFelix Hatfield limns an original worldview on the engrossing False God, whose 13 tracks variously convey melancholy and humor while flirting with rock, folk, and Dixieland jazz. 

The artist’s irreverent, absurdist compositions and rough-edged vocals sometimes recall Kinky Friedman, but Hatfield’s style is too distinctive for comparisons to other performers to be of much value. He can be surrealistic and likably silly, but this album also delivers several excellent bittersweet ballads, such as “That Kiss,” a duet with his friend Esme Patterson, and “Train to London.”

About Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains half a century's worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.

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