APPRECIATION: More than fifty-three years in the making, the long awaited debut album by the beloved Bayonne, New Jersey quintet, the Ad Libs (originally intended for release on the legendary Blue Cat label) has finally seen the light of day, courtesy of Sun Records. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).


The Ad Libs (Sun)

In the early months of 1965, record industry trade publications and tip sheets were in the midst of a whirlwind of activity.

Without question, it was the most promising and productive era in musical history. A wealth of landmark albums made their debut during this period, including the Beach Boys' The Beach Boys Today, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Herman's Hermits' Introducing Herman's Hermits, Jan And Dean's Command Performance, the Supremes' More Hits By The Supremes, the Beau Brummels' Introducing The Beau Brummels, Otis Redding's The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, Johnny Cash's Orange Blossom Special, Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders' The Game Of Love, Buck Owens And The Buckaroos' I've Got A Tiger By The Tail, the Righteous Brothers' Just Once In My Life, Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs' Wooly Bully and Roger Miller's The Third Time Around, to name but a few.

Poised to join them was the highly anticipated debut album by the Bayonne, New Jersey quintet, the Ad Libs. The group was formed from the remnants of the Creators, who recorded three outstanding singles for T-Kay and Philips in 1962. Following the group's demise in 1963, tenors Hugh Harris and Danny Austin continued to work with producer John Taylor. By 1964, they had joined forces with bass vocalist David Allen Watt, baritone Norman Donegan and new lead vocalist Mary Ann Thomas, renaming themselves the Ad Libs in the process, in honor of the New York City night club of the same name.

By the end of 1964, the Ad Libs had signed with the vaunted composer/producer team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The veteran duo's ambitious Red Bird label had made a most promising debut that year with superb releases by the Dixie Cups, Jersey Red, the Shangri-Las, the Honeyman, the Jelly Beans, the Butterflies, the Rockaways, Barry Mann and Alvin Robinson. While there was no doubt that the Ad Libs' extraordinary collective vocal prowess was an ideal fit for the label, Leiber and Stoller opted instead to spotlight the Ad Libs as their flagship artists on Red Bird's affiliate Blue Cat label. 

Following an acclaimed cover of the Slim Willet / Perry Como classic, Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes by Jimmy Justice at year's end, Blue Cat was launched in earnest with the Ad Libs' formidable debut, The Boy From New York City.

Aesthetically and chronologically, the timing could not have been better. The Boy From New York City was not only a sublime combination of vocal virtuosity, high drama and supreme charisma at its finest, but its rapid assimilation into the mainstream in January 1965 placed it in most vaunted company. Along with such essential singles as the Rag Dolls' Dusty, Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger, the Temptations' My Girl, Ray Peterson's Across The Street, Norma Tracey's Leroy, Shirley Ellis' The Name Game, Gary Lewis And The Playboys' This Diamond Ring, J.J. Barnes' Poor Unfortunate Me, Ned Miller's Do What You Do, Do Well, Jimmy Witherspoon and Sam Fletcher's competing versions of You're Next, the Who's I Can't Explain, Mongo Santamaria's El Pussy Cat and Jewel Akens' The Birds And The Bees, the Ad Libs' Blue Cat debut was a key catalyst in putting 1965 on the fast track to being the best ever year in music. 

To their considerable credit, the Ad Libs even outdid themselves on that debut single. On the flip side is the track that is arguably their finest moment, the sublime and impassioned Kicked Around. With a soaring and urgent lead vocal by Mary Ann Thomas over a frantic and percussive backdrop, the remaining Ad Libs jump in during the bridge and bring the piece to a stunning conclusion with some of the most euphoric and ingenious examples of minor chord vocal harmony ever committed to record. Truly one of the genre's definitive masterpieces.

As Blue Cat's roster and legacy continued to grow exponentially in the coming months via world class singles by the great Evie Sands, the beloved Bessie Banks (the original version of Go Now, which the Moody Blues covered with considerable success) and the somewhat enigmatic and much missed Sam Hawkins, the Ad Libs followed their astounding debut in May 1965 with the masterful He Ain't No Angel. The response was immediate, with such highly influential visionaries as the legendary Robin Seymour aiding and abetting the Ad Libs' cause via repeat appearances on his groundbreaking Windsor, Ontario-based Swingin' Time television series.

All of which led to the announcement of an imminent album release for the group. Prominent retailers such as Ross Music and the vaunted Arlan's Department Store chain reported encouraging advance orders for the album, all of which was duly noted in the trades. 

However, despite ongoing major success throughout the remainder of 1965, the Red Bird and Blue Cat empire was going through well documented internal strife that eventually resulted in its premature demise in 1966. In the process, that highly anticipated Ad Libs album was shelved. The group nonetheless soldiered on for the label, releasing such utterly stupendous singles as Johnny My Boy (featuring one of the most gorgeous and pleading lead vocals ever committed to record) and On The Corner. Meanwhile, an unrelated, UK-based Ad Libs group (featuring bassist Steve Rance) curiously managed to release a single on Vee Jay's influential Interphon subsidiary (Neighbor, Neighbor) in May of that same year. 

Nonetheless, the Blue Cat Ad Libs pressed ahead with singles for Philips, Share and the late Ollie McLaughlin's Karen label throughout the remainder of the decade. The group underwent personnel changes in the process, but their commitment to absolute excellence in the studio continued unabated. The Ad Libs were still doing occasional live dates in the early 1980s, with the duly inspired virtuoso vocal quartet, Manhattan Transfer covering their signature single for Atlantic in 1981. Tragically, Ad Libs co-founder David Allen Watt passed away in December 2008.

And in tandem with 2018's semi-annual Record Store Day celebration, that long awaited Ad Libs album has finally seen the light of day. However, the honor of its release has now been overseen by the legendary Memphis, Tennessee Sun label, which was launched by Sam Phillips in the early 1950s and which has changed ownership on several occasions in the ensuing decades. Pressed on purple vinyl in an unnervingly limited edition of 1,500 copies, Presenting The Ad Libs is nonetheless a stunning example of an album that was worth the fifty-three year wait. 

However, Presenting The Ad Libs is not the first reissue of Ad Libs material of note. In 1996, the highly prolific Narberth, Pennsylvania-based Collectables label issued The Ad Libs And Friends, a most crucial eighteen track CD that combined ten selections by the Ad Libs (including a stereo mix of their debut single) with equally essential offerings by such Red Bird/Blue Cat labelmates as the Dixie Cups, the Butterflies and Roddie Joy. And while there is some overlap between the two collections, the pristine mastering by Infrasonic on the Sun album makes it a duly mandatory acquisition. 

Aside from all of the aforementioned Blue Cat sides, Presenting The Ad Libs features a wealth of material that irrefutably underscores the beloved quintet's place in the upper echelons of vocal group harmony. From John Taylor's gorgeous and otherworldly Oo Wee Oo Gee (originally titled Oo-Wee Oh Gee Oh My on the Blue Cat 45) to the flippant yet endearing The Slime (inspired by the Coasters' 1962 Atco label The Climb single, and retitled as so to not be confused with the April 1965 Wand label original of the same name by first generation garage rock pioneers, the Kingsmen), this is timeless and inspiring art of the highest order. A solid contender for Best Reissue of 2018.

The Countdown Five (Gear Fab)

Over the past two decades, Roger Maglio's Gear Fab Records has ranked among the premier companies which specialize in the reissue of rare and classic rock and roll material. To date, the label has nearly three hundred releases to its credit.

While much of the company's catalog focuses on the continued availability of extremely rare independent label releases from the post-Woodstock era, Gear Fab has nonetheless also continued to meet the insatiable demand among the more discerning musicologists and record collectors for the best in first generation garage rock. To that effect, offerings from the Bleu Forest (Ichiban Live At Jimmie's) and the label's ongoing Psychedelic Crown Jewels series have done much to placate the faithful.

Joining them in that respect is this remarkable two CD, forty-track collection by the Galveston, Texas based Countdown Five. Formed in mid-1962 as D And The Dominoes, the band played live extensively throughout the state over the next several years. They eventually settled on the line up of Malcolm "Mack" Hayes (vocals / keyboards), John Balzer (lead guitar), Steve Long (saxophone / keyboards), Tommy Murphy (bass) and Tommy Williams (drums), becoming the Countdown Five in the process. The band benefitted significantly from appearances on the Impact television series, and concurrently directed their attention in earnest towards studio work. 

Between 1965 and 1969, the Countdown Five recorded a wealth of original and cover material for a variety of companies (including Toucan, Cinema, Polar, Pic and Buddah's subsidiary Cobblestone label). In terms of the occasional outside material, their choices ranged from the familiar (the Johnny Otis Show's Willie And The Hand Jive, the Isley Brothers' Shout) to the remarkably astute (the legendary and beloved Ned Miller's late 1964 Fabor label signature single, Do What You Do, Do Well).

But it is with their original material that the Countdown Five proved to be in the forefront among their first generation garage rock colleagues. To wit, Mack Hayes' Shaka Shaka Na Na for the Polar label (and reissued in 1969 on Cobblestone, which was also the recording home of the Golden Haze, Billy Davis, the Night People and the Limited Cow) was a barnstorming rocker on par with concurrent releases by Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels and the Dave Clark Five. In turn, the unique Uncle Kirby (From Brazil) (which drew its inspiration in part from such divergent sources as Henry Mancini, Archie Bell And The Drells and Bill Deal And The Rhondels' Hey Bulldog, with recurring nods to the George Of The Jungle animated television series), Hayes' straight ahead psych/garage romp, Time To Spare and the ambitious group collaboratives Beneath My Rug and One Way Traffic reflect an inspiring commitment to genre diversity that served them well in a musical environment in which such attributes were decreasing in supply as decade's end approached. John Balzer and Tommy Murphy's Something's On Her Mind even earned an inspired cover by the Four Seasons as a Philips label 45 and as part of their groundbreaking The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette album.

Fittingly enough, the band opted to retire with their legacy intact in 1969. While they have yet to embark upon a second such journey, the forty tracks in this essential collection (augmented by Hayes' inspiring and detailed account in the accompanying sleeve notes) suggest that their commitment to excellence would continue unabated in such circumstances. Meanwhile, Complete Recordings offers a superb and essential look at a legacy that belies the self-depreciating assessment of one of their classic tracks, We're Just People. Indeed, people with a vision that amassed a legacy which is on par with the best of them.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience 
(Legacy Recordings)

Some observers have asserted that Jimi Hendrix may have missed his calling.

At the trio's stop at Detroit, Michigan's Cobo Hall during their 1968 tour in support of their just released Reprise label 2LP set, Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix Experience front man and guitarist James Marhsall "Jimi" Hendrix demonstrated his considerable acumen as a stand up comedian before an audience that may well not have been ready for such a multi-layered presentation, which inevitably confounded the expectations of some in attendance. Drawing from news and events of the day, he peppered his between song patter with ad lib observations that proved to be as amusing as his mastery of the guitar was captivating. 

To be certain, such attributes had availed themselves in other musical giants prior to that. Country music visionary Hank Williams was a master of comedic timing, and occasionally served as his own opening act, performing humorous skits and engaging in comedic banter with frequent tour colleague, Sarah Ophelia Colley "Minnie Pearl" Cannon. Likewise, the Monkees drew from the progressive humor of everyone from Stan Freberg and Lord Buckley to the Marx Brothers for their own live performances, and arguably remain the absolute masters of the genre. 

Such vision is of course a byproduct of the thinking outside of the box perspective, an attribute that served the Jimi Hendrix Experience well during their brief but immeasurably influential period in the spotlight. And true to form, that attribute provided a much needed and most welcome sense of relief in the face of growing self-absorption among many of his colleagues at the time of the release of this landmark album.

Musical diversity was a key component of veteran paratrooper Hendrix's mission statement from the onset. From early session work with the Isley Brothers, Wilson Pickett and Curtis Knight to later occasional collaborations with Gerry "Engelbert Humperdinck" Dorsey and a great working and personal relationship with fellow visionaries the Monkees, the Animals and others, Hendrix and bandmates Noel Redding (bass) and Riot Squad alumnus and avid musicologist and record collector Mitch Mitchell (drums) brought a much needed combination of technical proficiency, heart and humor to their work for the Reprise label. 

By the time the band released Electric Ladyland, the musical mainstream was showing increasing signs of acrimony. Unity (which had long dominated the musical landscape) was giving way to divisiveness, resulting in part in the great AM / FM wars and a protracted aesthetic slump that lasted well into the first few years of the 1970s. 

However, not every musician was on board with the lockstep mentality that demanded (at least among North American artists) that self-indulgence and professed solidarity with a peripheral socio/political issue become a central component of each artist's respective mission statement. Herein, the Jimi Hendrix Experience reasserted their right to record on their own terms, which covered a lot of ground in the process.

From the opening strains of And The Gods Made Love to the Impressions-like tight harmony of the title track, the original Electric Ladyland album soars from start to finish. Along the way, there are a number of highlights, from the straight ahead basic rock euphoria of Little Miss Strange (the demo of which is sublime first generation garage rock at its most inspiring) and Crosstown Traffic and the R&B bliss of Gypsy Eyes and Earl King's Come On to the high drama of Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, Voodoo Chile and House Burning Down. The collection at large is of course highlighted by the album's premier single, the Bob Dylan-penned monster classic, All Along The Watchtower.

As was the case with fellow visionary John Coltrane, there was much more to the proceedings at hand than that which made it to initial release. Like Coltrane (whose classic quartet is currently the subject of a highly anticipated collection of previously unreleased recordings from early 1963), the Hendrix catalog continues to produce pleasant surprises nearly a half century after his tragic and untimely passing in September 1970. And in this fiftieth anniversary deluxe reissue of Electric Ladyland, much of it makes its first time appearance.

Among the highlights are outtakes and demo versions of Angel, Cherokee Mist, Hear My Train A Comin' and the rarely heard Snowballs At My Window. Moreover, the deluxe edition is blessed with an extraordinary series of performances at the Hollywood Bowl, taken from the soundboard and recorded on 14 September 1968.

Despite its open air setting, the venue proved to be an ideal location for such a venture. The band was firing on all cylinders throughout a set that included The Star Spangled Banner, I Don't Live Today, Fire (which of course inspired acclaimed covers by the Pack and the Five By Five), their signature single Purple Haze and a memorable cover of Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love

The deluxe Electric Ladyland also comes with enough peripheral material to placate even the most discerning completist. Among the extras is a bonus book, which is rife with rarely seen band photos and facsimiles of handwritten lyrics. 

Most encouragingly, this essential commemorative edition (presented in glorious 5.1 stereo surround sound) at last acquiesces to Hendrix's wishes in terms of the cover. The original Reprise release featured a slightly out of focus head shot of Hendrix on the front cover, with a genial band photo and track listing on the reverse. Even more disconcertingly, the British release on Track Records (also the recording home of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, who concurrently graced the stage at Cobo Hall) featured a gatefold cover with a photo of various models, which very much met with the artist's disapproval. At last, the deluxe 50th anniversary edition resolves this long standing impasse with Hendrix's first choice, a cover shot by the late photo journalist Linda Eastman that depicts the band with children at the Alice In Wonderland statue in Central Park in New York City.

While the avalanche of half century commemorative reissues that have surfaced over the past few years (including John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, the Kinks' The Village Green Preservation Society and most recently the Beatles' so-called White Album) may seem a bit overwhelming to even the most demanding musicologist and record collector, on the other hand, such ventures ultimately prove to be a blessing to those who appreciated such works from the onset, as well as a commemoration of their standards of excellence for aspiring devotees. 

Or to perhaps slightly overstep (with all due respect) the observation made in this collection in 1983 (A Mermaid I Should Turn Out To Be), "It would be beyond the will and the grace of God" to deny the faithful such a moment. Those faithful would instead do well do engage in the Burning Of The Midnight Lamp and enjoy the results to the fullest, as they were intended to be.
Lee Hazelwood's Woodchucks 
(LHI / Light In The Attic)

Surf music is a genre that seems to consistently reinvent itself. 

Whereas much of modern day blues has often been given to cliché (advocates of '70s rock adhering to a twelve bar template that revolves around familiar themes in vain attempts to emulate the more discerning pioneers of the idiom), surf rock takes an even more seemingly limited framework and stretches it to its limits. While the basics remain, the key variables often become the responsibility of the lead guitarist of the project at hand.

In that respect, it was inevitable that pioneering composer, vocalist, producer, arranger, visionary, aspiring medical doctor and Mannford, Oklahoma native Barton Lee Hazelwood would apply his considerable musical acumen to the genre. With a curriculum vitae that includes the authorship of such monster classic singles as the Sanford Clark / Jamie Coe rocker, The Fool, Dino, Desi & Billy's first generation garage rock staple, Not The Lovin' Kind and Dean Martin's sublime Houston, as well as the oversight of his own LHI label (recording home of such greats as the Kitchen Cinq, Suzi Jane Hokom, Honey Limited, the Hamilton Streetcar, Ann Margret, and Lynne Castle With Last Friday's Fire) and an extraordinary legacy of duet recordings with Hokom, Margret and Nancy Sinatra, Hazelwood in the process covered a wide variety of genres.

Recorded at United Recorders in Los Angeles on 26 October 1964, the heretofore unreleased twelve tracks that comprise Cruisin' For Surf Bunnies are indeed deftly structured and impeccably executed examples of the genre. Three of the twelve selections herein were authored by bandleader and long time Capitol recording artist, Les Baxter, including Crickets Of Karachi, Bangkok Cock Fight and Quiet Village, the latter which became an instrumental staple via a 1958 rendition by Martin Denny on Liberty. 

The majority of the remaining tracks were composed by Hazelwood, highlighted by The Man, Movin' and Baja. A number of these compositions inspired covers by such greats as the Trashmen, the Challengers and the Surfaris, with Baja (featured here in two parts) finding its way onto a 1964 Parkway label 45 by future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. LHI recording artist Suzi Jane Hokom (who was also a member of LHI Records' staff and duet partner with Hazelwood on the MGM label original version of Summer Wine) contributed to the album's cover art via photos of her trio, the Surf Bunnies. 

While the prerequisite session data has since been lost, long time Hazelwood confidante Marty Cooper (who is interviewed at length in the accompanying essay by Hunter Lea) suggests that the participants were members of the vaunted Wrecking Crew, with renowned session guitarist Al Casey herein serving in that capacity. Whatever the case, Cruisin' For Surf Bunnies certainly holds its own amongst other releases in the genre. And while the master tapes remained unreleased for more than a half century, the results herein irrefutably demonstrate that the Wait And See perspective that Hazelwood espoused in his 1968 Love And Other Crimes album for Reprise ultimately reaped aesthetic dividends. 

Various Artists (Teensville)
Given the rich and diverse body of music that was released during the pinnacle period of creativity (the mid-1960s), there is still an abundance of opportunity for discovery and enjoyment more than a half century after the fact. 

However, certain factions among the perceived faithful have contributed to reducing the "thrill factor" to varying degrees (primarily via social media) by continuing to direct their attention towards a small yet prominent group of artists at the expense of others. While individual preferences in that respect may vary, it can safely be said that the lion's share of that attention continues to be directed towards a most prominent quartet whose origins were in the city of Liverpool.

Following close on their heels in terms of omnipresence (particularly in a social media setting) are such cornerstones of the mission statements of the self-proclaimed visionaries as the Stooges, the MC5 and the Velvet Underground. Their numbers are followed in close succession by those who sing the praises of the Zombies (particularly their Odessey And Oracle album), Love (and their third outing for Elektra, Forever Changes) and the artists who are the subject of the compilation CD at hand.

To be certain, there is nothing wrong or substandard with the works of the aforementioned artists themselves. It is the repeated focusing upon that very select body of works to the exclusion of others that can prompt the more discerning musicologist to grow weary of it all in the process.

To their considerable credit, Ash Wells and his team of visionaries at the Rare Rockin' Records and Teensville family of labels have taken that into consideration in their time tested and proven manner by putting a distinctive spin on the familiar. In this case, the subject in question is the original material from the vast catalog of the Hollies, as interpreted through the artistic vision of nearly thirty of their esteemed colleagues.

In the process, Wish You A Wish invigorates even further a catalog whose content already remains as vital as ever, even amidst the threat of overkill. Some of the selections herein are as readily familiar, due to their initial successes in their own right (Keith's Tell Me To My Face, also known as Tell It To Me, the Buckinghams' I've Been Wrong, the Everly Brothers' Signs That Will Never Change, the Twilights' What's Wrong With The Way I Live and the Sidekicks' Fifi The Flea). 

In turn, the Hollies' catalog is afforded a wealth of diverse interpretation here overall, via the efforts of such accomplished greats as Ronnie Burns (Too Many People), the Electric Prunes (I've Got A Way Of My Own), Kris Jensen (I Can't Get Nowhere With You), the Episode Six (Put Yourself In My Place), Dana Gillespie (Pay You Back With Interest), the Searchers (Have You Ever Loved Somebody) and Bobby Davis (High Classed). Great outings by Cathy Rich (Wish You A Wish), the Mirage (Go Away), the Up-Set (You Need Love), the What For? (So Lonely) and Deny e Dino (Pare Pare Pare) round out the proceedings sublimely.

Sadly, the Hollies themselves have been in the spotlight in recent weeks in a sad way, following the 05 January 2019 sudden passing of original bassist Eric John "Eric Haydock" Haddock at age 75. Nonetheless, as this compilation most assuredly reiterates, theirs is a catalog that will transcend any such limitations or tragedies and continue to impact the most discerning of musicologists and fellow musicians. Signs That Will Never Change indeed.

Various Artists (WJBK)

"Lack of critical thinking is hurting my brain".

So said one highly respected entertainment industry veteran recently in a spirited social media discussion about the current socio-political climate. Indeed, while invective has become increasingly commonplace in such settings, it can also be inferred that a seeming lack of critical discernment has likewise clouded the vision of many within the musicologist and record collector demographic.

To wit, there remain many who were instrumental in the critical backlash against the protracted aesthetic slump in which mainstream music at large found itself in the late 1960s and early 1970s. To their considerable credit, the faithful stood their ground and took above and beyond the call of duty action by either forming bands (resulting in the so-called punk/new wave revolution of the mid to late 1970s) or by becoming journalists, who picked up the slack in the mainstream and once again made certain that credit was given where credit was due. Indeed, Blitz Magazine was a part of that movement, and remains the lone still active survivor within the genre.

Most curiously, many of those same individuals who took such a groundbreaking stance more than four decades ago are now a regular presence in the aforementioned social media circles. Yet they now espouse a much more conciliatory and much less imaginative perspective on the very subject which had previously so moved them. For example, many within their ranks will post online various musical selections which are to their liking. Often these are tracks that are celebrated and well respected within their circles, and the artists behind them are routinely afforded the admiration, respect and attention that their work deserves.

But instead of singing the praises of that particular piece's merits, the posting is often accompanied by complaints from the one who posted it along the lines of, "I can't believe this never went any higher than number 92 on the national charts", "Why isn't this artist in the Hall?", or "I'm amazed. I didn't think this record would be any good. It was never a hit".

And therein lies the paradox. If the aesthetic merit of a given musical work is subject to its performance on a so called national chart, or whether or not some hall with no public mandate and no more authority to act in that respect aside from that which they have bestowed upon themselves has deemed them worthy of an autographed picture on their wall, then those making such observations have contradicted themselves. For it is often those same individuals who will champion the works of such beloved musical visionaries as the Pretty Things, Ronnie Self, the Chocolate Watchband, Charlie Feathers, the International Submarine Band and Johnny Powers, each of whom enjoyed only modest (at best) mainstream success.

So does the lack of commercial acclaim for those artists infer that the quality of their work is substandard? If that were the case, the ongoing demand that has kept their catalogs in print for more than a half century would not exist. But what is most disconcerting is that those who should know better remain so jaded by their early indoctrination into a system that drilled into them a "charts and radio" method of shaping their musical perspective (and again, this is supposedly a more discerning audience, not the rank and file peripheral "fan" for whom music was little more than background fodder for their personal revisionist history) continue to make such laments, as if they need the permission of the mainstream to proceed with their opinion of a given artist or recording. In other words, an inability to think for themselves. Or, as the astute entertainment industry veteran noted above, "a lack of critical thinking".

All of which makes the project at hand as much of a seeming incongruity as the limited perspective of those who once espoused the height of critical discernment.

From the onset, Blitz Magazine has acknowledged the impact of the legendary Dearborn, Michigan radio station, WKNR Keener 13 and its vaunted air staff (known as the Keener Key Men Of Music) as the single most impacting and enduring influence on our own work. Our ongoing series of salutes to the station's vaunted alumni (which to date has included lengthy dialogues with Jim Sanders and Frank "Swingin' " Sweeney) will resume soon, featuring long time station mastermind and resident visionary, Bob Green.

So, as a radio station with a 32 singles and four album weekly playlist, how could the likes of WKNR be cited as a catalyst for critical thinking? For the simple reason that each member of its air staff brought to the broadcast booth a thinking outside the box mission statement that Green subsequently (and somewhat infamously) referred to as "intelligent flexibility".

In other words, while a weekly WKNR Music Guide provided a template, it soon after their late October 1963 inception became a template without walls. On the spot creativity could prompt everything from the airing of such off the charts moments as Kenny Young and the English Muffins' Mrs. Green and Norma Tracey's The Skateboard Song to customized renditions of crucial classics (with Edwin Starr re-cutting his landmark 1966 Ric-Tic label Stop Her On Sight single as Scott's On Swingers, as well as first generation garage rock greats the Shy Guys reinventing their signature Palmer/Panik label single, We Gotta Go as The Burger Song as tributes to Keener Key Man Scott Regen, not to mention Keener's J. Michael Wilson himself overdubbing the New Vaudeville Band/Dana Rollin smash, Winchester Cathedral and the Underdogs' Love's Gone Bad with unique vocals by his on air "assistant", Rodney the Wonder Rodent).

Or as Sweeney and Green have both noted, the WKNR experience was a consummate one, not merely filler in between records. That is, the news segments (from their award-winning Contact News team), commercials and inventive (and often adlibbed) banter of the Keener Key Men Of Music was as much a part of the entertainment as the music itself. And instead of the time, temp and call letters soundbite common to much of their counterparts elsewhere (exacerbated exponentially by the rise of the Drake Format prior to decade's end), the Keener Key Men Of Music by example (if not design) articulated their case sublimely, leaving the listener to form their own perspective and draw their own conclusions.

WKNR did this so well, that theirs was the fastest ascent to the top spot in their respective market (Windsor/Detroit) in the history of the medium. By early 1964 (a mere three months after their change of call letters from WKMH, and in the wake of such potentially momentum derailing events as the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the on air meltdown of morning drive Keener Key Man Mort Crowley as a commentary of sorts against perceived injustices against the station by a local utility company), WKNR was a solid number one, both in its own market and within the industry at large. Throughout those most crucial years in the development of rock and roll (1964-1968), WKNR was one of two stations that routinely broke records nationally, with the rest of the nation's broadcasters following suit weeks (or in some cases, months) later.

While such developments bode well for the WKNR mission statement, it nonetheless came at the expense of others who were long established in the market. Among them was the suburban Southfield-based WXYZ 1270 AM, which at its pinnacle employed such giants of the industry as Dave Prince, Joey Reynolds, Joel Sebastian and Lee Alan (who went on to author an acclaimed book on the subject, Turn Your Radio On). WXYZ soldiered on bravely throughout 1966, finally switching formats to Easy Listening in January 1967.

In turn, the success of WKNR meant the imminent demise of the station that for all practical purposes was its forerunner in terms of that so-called "intelligent flexibility". That station, WJBK made its debut on 07 October 1925 on 1290 AM in nearby Ypsilanti, Michigan. WJBK relocated to Detroit in 1940, at which time it switched its broadcast frequency to 1490.

The station once again took a slight move to the right on the AM dial in 1954, when it ended up at 1500 AM. Two years later, WJBK increased its power to 50,000 watts and concurrently embraced a wide variety of music, with rock and roll in the forefront.

With such formidable and relatively free thinking on air talent as Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem, Marc Avery, Clark Reid, Robert E. Lee, Bob Edgington and future first generation garage rock giant Richard Terrance "Terry Knight" Knapp (as Jack The Bellboy), WJBK espoused its own version of consummate entertainment, only to be inevitably overshadowed by WKNR's undeniable mastery of the concept. WJBK conceded the race in 1964, persevering throughout the 1960s with a series of variations on the Easy Listening format before changing call letters to WDEE on 26 December 1969 and quickly taking over the reins of the country music demographic from the Royal Oak-based WEXL 1340 AM. Now known as WLQV, 1500 AM features a Christian talk format that includes regular broadcasts by such beloved and influential evangelists as John MacArthur and the late Adrian Rogers, as well as the magnificent John Vernon McGee's renowned five-year Thru The Bible series.

During its formidable run, WJBK also published a weekly Radio 15 Record Review survey, which embraced a much larger and diverse template of seventy-five singles. It is from those most ambitious weekly chronicles that the magnificent CD reissue series at hand takes its cue.

Compiled by sympathetic industry veterans with considerable research and painstaking attention to detail in terms of sonic and visual quality, the WJBK Hits series offers an average of twenty-nine to thirty-two tracks per disc, each taken from the weekly Radio 15 Record Review charts between 1956 and 1964. Every volume features a reproduction of a classic WJBK survey on the front cover, while the back cover chronicles title and artist, year of release, peak chart position on WJBK and whether each track is presented in stereo or monaural (with a most welcome generous helping of stereo whenever possible).

And therein is the key to the thinking outside the box mission statement championed by WJBK, WXYZ and WKNR, and reinforced with this remarkable reissue series. For example, consider the year 1963. While current revisionist history within sympathetic circles continues to summarize the year through a handful of familiar singles (including among others the Kingsmen's Louie, Louie, Steve Lawrence's Go Away Little Girl, Jan and Dean's Surf City, Lesley Gore's It's My Party, the Trashmen's Surfin' Bird, Marvin Gaye's Can I Get A Witness and Dion DiMucci's Donna, The Prima Donna), WJBK (and before year's end, WKNR) took a much broader perspective on the musical landscape, both then and as commemorated within this CD series.

For while those aforementioned singles were a key part of the WJBK canon, so were a wealth of releases that were as integral to their focus, yet which remain largely overlooked by the supposedly sympathetic demographic that curiously continues to defer to mainstream outlets to dictate their taste for them. WJBK Hits sets the record straight accordingly, including among the eight volumes such landmark 1963 releases as the late, great James Louis "Jimmy Soul" McCleese's tongue in cheek romp, Go 'Way Christina, the Temptations' pre-David Ruffin Farewell My Love, the Chordettes' vocal harmony rich True Love Goes On And On, Nina Simone's extraordinarily thinking outside of the box live rendition of Little Liza Jane (which was inspired in part by composer Stephen Foster's 1850 standard, Camptown Races and which was honed to perfection via its impassioned live duet performances by banjo virtuosos Louis "Grandpa" Jones and David "Stringbean" Akeman), Nancy Sinatra's commendable take on Peter, Paul And Mary's The Cruel War, beloved country rock pioneer Big Al Downing's Mister Hurt Walked In, veteran rocker Jimmy Clanton's ambitious Red Don't Go With Blue, Baby Jane and the Rockabyes' Bert Berns-produced exercise in vocal euphoria Hickory Dickory Dock, Preston Carnes' high drama ballad Someone, Herb Alpert's masterful vocal ballad (as Dore Alpert) Dina, the Pennsylvania-based Classmen's Limelight label upbeat rendition of Bobby Helms' My Special Angel, actress and vocalist Noreen Corcoran's essential Vee Jay label Love Kitten single, the great Vic Dana's unique take on Vernon Dalhart's The Prisoner's Song, visionary blues rocker T-Bone Walker's Cold, Cold Feeling, the Darlings' Mercury label mid-tempo tale of woe Two Time Loser, the Jaynettes' magnificent Keep An Eye On Her, the legendary Waylon Jennings' utterly stupendous A&M label ballad Love Denied, Boot Hog Pefferly's cover of Clyde McPhatter's I'm Not Going To Work Today, Danny Wayne's stupendously hard rocking Card label single You're Wrong, the O'Jays' magnificent Stand Tall, the Appalachians' variations on a theme by the Coasters (Over Yonder), and the late, great vocal virtuoso Dean Martin's sublime take on the Ray Peterson interpretation of Corrina, Corrina.

As if that poignant cross section of groundbreaking music from 1963 alone was not enough, WJBK Hits at large combs the station's playlists in depth to emphasize just how richly diverse was the musical landscape throughout their run at the top throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Among the many, many highlights are Ruth Brown's repertoire-expanding What Happened To You, the Four Aces' inventive rearrangement of Ace Brigode's 1925 standard Yes Sir That's My Baby, James Hugh "Sonny James" Loden's engaging cover of Hank Williams' Lovesick Blues, Rusty Draper's arguably definitive rendition of the Hollywood Flames' larger than life rocker Buzz Buzz Buzz, the Rev-Lons' wonderfully screwy After Last Night, the Tarriers' Kingston Trio-inspiring Pretty Boy, Hank Snow's uncharacteristic My Arms Are A House, the Delroys' brilliant Bermuda Shorts, the Adorables' euphoric Deep Freeze, Boyd Bennett's risk taking cover of Dickey Doo And The Don'ts' Swan label monster classic Click Clack (risk taking in that covering such a landmark record basically amounts to tackling absolute, utter perfection, which Bennett nonetheless did most admirably here), the Four Tunes' somewhat bizarre take on the Sons Of The Pioneers' Cool Water, the late vocal powerhouse David Whitfield's majestic rendition of I'll Find You from the motion picture Sea Wife (which the legendary Ron Goodwin also recorded as an instrumental for Capitol), the Rockaways' Red Bird label prototypical garage rock and surf rock hybrid Top Down Time, the Couplings' Josie label rendition of the rocking Young Doves Calling (which shared the spotlight with a determined take by the Mudlarks),the late Debbie Reynolds' dramatic I Saw A Country Boy, and the Surfaris' straight ahead hot rod rocker, Boss Barracuda. Others among the too numerous to mention essentials include worthwhile and less than obvious contributions by the Clovers, Del Vikings, Miles Stone, the Secrets, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Tony Williams, Bill Haley and the Comets, the Tymes, Bill Doggett, the Fiestas, JoAnn Campbell, Barbara and Brenda, the Dave Clark Five, the Darnells, Jackie DeShannon, Clairette Clementino, Diane Ray, the Cascades, Otis Williams and the Charms, Dee Edwards, Johnny Faire, the Society Girls, Billy Eckstine, Dotty and Kathy, Steve Lawrence, the Percells, La Brenda Ben, the Victorians, Count Basie with Joe Williams, O.C. and the Holidays, the Playmates, Henrietta, Jerri Adams, Kay Starr, the Darnells and the Prodigals.

"Some of the best music ever made", said CKLW veteran and renowned musicologist and music historian, Ric Allen. Allen was not a contributor to the WJBK Hits series, but nonetheless regularly chronicles the subject masterfully via such online sites as Michigan Music, as well as his own Facebook page.

"And some of the rarest, rather than the same 600 to 800 songs we currently get crammed down our throats".

While by its very nature the series is both a very limited pressing and available only in select outlets, WJBK Hits is nonetheless an inspiring and essential enough project to hopefully prompt some of the faithful to reassess their own self-imposed limitations and engage in a bit of that critical thinking necessary to both procure it and raise their own bar back to the high standards they have long professed to champion. Or, in the words of one of this series' most endearing tracks by first generation garage rockers, the Mojos, Everything's Alright.

POP YEARS 1966 - 1971 - 

Marty Wilde (Teensville) 

"Sunshine forever, lovely weather".

Such has been the predominant inspiration for veteran vocalist, composer and Blackheath, South London native Reginald Leonard Smith throughout his six decade career. Having adapted the professional name of Marty Wilde in 1957 while performing as Reg Patterson (in keeping with the practice espoused by manager Larry Parnes with his artist roster), Wilde maintained a regular presence in the spotlight well into the next decade, with that phase of his musical mission statement under development as time progressed.

Best known in the United States for his often covered 1959 original, Bad Boy (which was released here on Epic), Wilde recorded a series of acclaimed singles in the ensuing years, including Little Girl, Tomorrow's Clown and Ever Since You Said Goodbye.

Before the end of the 1960s, Wilde had joined forces with the prolific Philips label. In the process, he embarked upon a slight change of musical direction, which is chronicled magnificently in the twenty-nine tracks on this latest collection from Ash Wells' New South Wales-based Teensville label. 

A remarkably gifted songwriter, Wilde excelled in that capacity throughout his 1969 Diversions album, which comprises the first fourteen tracks in this collection. Rich in the relentless optimism that characterized like minded, concurrent releases by Johnny Farnham, Tommy Roe and Little Pattie, Diversions features Wilde's renditions of Jesamine and Ice In The Sun, which had been recorded with great success the previous year by the Casuals and Status Quo, respectively.

But the highlight of Diversions (and this collection) is of course the single that became his signature track. Released in mid-1969 in the United States on the late Jerry Ross' Heritage label (recording home at the time of the Show Stoppers, Bill Deal And The Rondels, the Cherry People and the Duprees) under the pseudonym Shannon, Abergavenny is a euphoric, pull out all the stops celebration of life itself that flew beautifully in the face of the increasing overall pessimism in the musical mainstream.

The remainder of this collection focuses primarily on Wilde's various singles from that period. The majority are originals, save for his memorable interpretations of Johnny Rivers' By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Jerry Wallace's Shutters And Boards (the latter which arguably outpaces the earlier rendition). Most memorable among them are the New Vaudeville Band-inspired No Trams To Lime Street, the country rocker Jump On The Train and the dramatic ballad, All The Love I Have.

As of this writing, Wilde is booked for live performances well into the next year. And while the earlier phase of his career has been well documented via various reissues, this is the first attempt at comprehensively chronicling this crucial phase of his work. A most welcome addition to the merchandise tables at his concert appearances, as well as to the archives of those who appreciate a cerebral and optimistic approach to their music. "Passing the time with paradise people, fine by me", indeed.