Thursday , October 1 2020

Music Reviews: 1950s Pop/Rockers, Plus New Albums from Savoy Brown and Dan Penn

The Coed Records label served as home base for more than a few noteworthy pop and rock artists between 1958 and 1965. Much of their work has been rereleased on various labels over the years, but if you don’t already own such albums, you might be interested in a new CD reissue series from Omnivore Recordings that focuses on Coed’s four most important acts. Here’s a look at what’s being offered:

The Crests, The Best of the Crests Featuring Johnny Maestro: 16 Fabulous Hits. The Crests were Coed’s most successful signing, thanks to a steady stream of catchy tunes and the distinctive tenor of Johnny Maestro, who would go on to achieve more chart success as a soloist and as leader of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Crests scored five major doo-wop hits about teen romance between 1958 and 1960, including “16 Candles,” which reached No. 2, “Six Nights a Week,” “The Angels Listened In,” “Step by Step,” and “Trouble in Paradise.” 

All of those songs are here, along with such lesser-known singles as “Isn’t It Amazing” and “A Year Ago Tonight,” the latter a sequel to “16 Candles.” The album title notwithstanding, the collection also includes some excellent numbers that weren’t hits. It does omit “Model Girl” and “What a Surprise,” a pair of Crests-like 1961 chart entries credited solo to Johnny Maestro, but the package easily qualifies as a comprehensive summary of the group’s glory days.

The RivierasThe Coed SinglesThe New Jersey-based Rivieras (not to be confused with the West Coast outfit of the same name that scored with “California Sun” in 1964) never achieved the heights reached by the Crests; indeed, they never even broke into the Top 40. Nevertheless, consistently excellent vocal work characterized the quartet’s pop- and R&B-flavored doo-wop. This enjoyable 18-track collection of all of their Coed singles includes such minor hits as “Count Every Star,” “Since I Made You Cry,” and “Moonlight Serenade.” 

Adam WadeThe Coed Albums: And Then Came Adam/Adam and Evening. You can’t listen long to this release, which collects Wade’s 1960 and 1961 albums for Coed, without thinking of Johnny Mathis. The two sound a lot alike, and their work reflects a shared penchant for smooth, orchestrated pop ballads. This CD—which includes material from Cole Porter and such songwriting duos as Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein and Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne—should please fans of the genre. It does, however, omit Wade’s three hits, all of which came out in 1961 but did not appear on his Coed albums.

The DupreesThe Coed Albums: You Belong to Me/Have You Heard and The Coed SinglesThe Duprees, who specialized in remakes of pop hits from the early 1950s, had three Top 20 hits of their own in 1962 and 1963. Their biggest was “You Belong to Me,” which had been a chart topper for Jo Stafford in 1952; the others were “Have You Heard” and “My Own True Love.” All of these songs are on both of these anthologies, as are “Why Don’t You Believe Me,” a lesser hit from 1963, and doo-wop versions of such other standards as “September in the Rain,” “As Time Goes By,” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You).” 

The collections are excellent but as the above may suggest, they’re also largely redundant: the 26-track singles set contains only seven numbers that don’t also appear on the 24-song album anthology. In fact, one CD could have fit all of the LP tunes as well as all of the non-LP singles, so it’s difficult to see why the material isn’t being offered that way.

Also Noteworthy

Savoy BrownAin’t Done Yet. The blues-rocking Savoy Brown has now endured for 55 years and 41 albums. That’s quite an achievement, even considering that with the exception of Kim Simmonds, all the founding musicians are long gone. The group has had a zillion members over the decades, but with Simmonds in the driver’s seat, they have retained a remarkably consistent style. 

This hard-rocking follow-up to last year’s excellent City Night album finds the guitarist, vocalist, and harmonica player joined by drummer Garnet Grimm and bassist Pat DeSalvo, both of whom have played with Simmonds since 2009. You can sense the trio’s enthusiasm in their performances, which result in a record that’s as likable as anything Savoy Brown have ever done. That’s thanks largely to the engaging material, all by Simmonds, and to his guitar pyrotechnics, which include some head-turning slide work and cogent improvisational solos. Clearly, he ain’t done yet. 

Dan PennLiving on Mercy. If Dan Penn’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re one of those people who read songwriting credits, not because you’ve heard his previous albums. He has issued only a handful of them over his half-century career, but his moniker is on such classic songs as James Carr’s “Dark End of the Street” and Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (both written with Chips Moman) as well as James and Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet” and the Box Tops’ “Cry Like a Baby” (both with Spooner Oldham). 

As it turns out, Penn is every bit as good a singer as he is a composer, and he’s never been better than on the soulful Living on Mercy, his first album in decades. The 13-track program, all written by Penn, contains more than a few numbers that sound like old classics; and the performances are on a par with such stellar material as the Stax and Volt labels’ 1960s releases. It’s difficult to believe that someone this energized could be approaching his 80th birthday—or that a singer this talented could have spent the bulk of his career writing songs for others to deliver. 

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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