Ian Johnston brings us his latest round-up of vital releases from Ace Records, probably the best re-issue label in the world.
The Damned – Go! 45
Ace, with their customary astuteness, have decided to reissue The Damned’s classic Stiff, Chiswick, IRS and NEMS singles on one practical red vinyl package. This collection of vital and original Punk records, brimming with wit, wired energy and fun, replaces Ace’s 23-year-old compilation, Another Great Album From The Damned, with this sonically superior edition for a new generation.
Three of the gloriously roaring single A-sides here, ‘New Rose’ ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ and ‘Stretcher Case Baby’, featuring the original line up of vampire/gravedigger singer Dave Vanian, the berserk bassist/later lead guitarist Captain Sensible, rabid drummer Rat Scabies and guitarist/songwriter Brian James, helped kick start what became labelled ‘punk’ – whether people like it or not. Drawing upon The Stooges, The New York Dolls, MC5 and British Glam, Prog, Metal and Mod, The Damned blended all their influences into exhilaratingly fast, dynamic songs, which were surprisingly well arranged and played. Steering clear of any then fashionable overt political sloganeering, The Damned’s raging wall of noise was their message to the world.
Having been the first British punk band to issue a single, an album and tour America, The Damned promptly split up in 1978. The group reassembled the following year, with the Captain on lead guitar and former Saint Algy Ward on bass. The result was the classic Machine Gun Etiquette album and the storming 1979 Top 20 hit ‘Love Song’, the riotous ‘Smash It Up’, the mournful, post Thatcher election single ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ and the Christmas single ‘There Ain’t No Sanity Clause’ – all featured on Go! 45.
If you never owned these singles, or you did and had them lost/sold or stolen, this collection remedies that situation in fine style.
Young Jesse – Hit, Git & Split
An early classic 1982 Ace compilation album, featuring the wild 1950s R&B Modern Records recording by Obediah ‘Young’ Jesse, is now deservedly remastered and reissued on translucent grey vinyl. Within its grooves, the first LP to be comprised from Young Jesse’s prime single cuts, is some of the best black rock ‘n’ roll you’ll ever hear.
Originally compiled from the cavernous vaults of the Bihari Brothers by record collector/researcher Ray Topping and Ted Carroll, Hit, Git & Split reintroduced Young Jesse’s urgent, streetwise Los Angeles Rhythm & Blues to a generation who hadn’t been born when the tracks were cut. Jesse attended LA’s Jefferson High School with the great Richard ‘Louie, Louie’ Berry, where they formed a vocal group with their friends. Jo Bihari signed them to Flair, named them The Flairs and issued their first timeless disc, ‘I Had A Love’/’She Wants To Rock’ (featured on the 2013 Ace CD, Dust My Rhythm & Blues). Bihari altered the group name to The Hunters for their next record, ‘Rabbit On A Log’/’Down At Hayden’s’ (both included here). ‘Rabbit On A Log’ is a hip updating of an old folk song fashioned into fine R&B gospel, while the flipside, ‘Down At Hayden’s’ is an amusing tale of adultery with the wife of a nightclub owner, who badly beats up and throws out the narrator. Nevertheless, the singer swears that he’ll be back tomorrow night for more action with Mrs. Hayden.
In 1954, Richard Berry and Young Jesse went their separate ways, with Jesse’s first single released on the Modern label – a barnstorming cover of Big Mama Thornton’s follow up to ‘Hound Dog’, ‘I Smell A Rat, written by the renowned Leiber & Stoller (who possibly produced ‘Rabbit On A Log’). The B-side, ‘Lonesome Desert’, was a murder blues love ballad, penned by Jesse, evincing the singer/songwriter’s versatility. Jesse’s following singles are all killers. ‘Mary Lou’, arguably the singer’s most famous song is a cool, street smart song about a prodigious girl thief who robs the singer of his watch, chain, diamond ring, Cadillac car and then “clipped the judge just to pay her bail.” She’s bad and this LP’s title track is justly celebrated as a black rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece. Written by Jesse’s manager Buck Ram (under the nom de plume Lynn Paul), ‘Hit, Git And Split’ is a grooving Little Richard inspired rocker, featuring Mickey Baker on guitar and Sam “The Man” Taylor on tenor sax, and is worth the price of the album alone. The follow-up ‘Oochie Coochie’ and a version of Leiber & Stoller’s ‘Hot Dog’ (unissued until this album’s first release in 1982), later recorded in a different version by Elvis Presley for the Loving You soundtrack, are icing on the cake.
Thankfully, Obediah ‘Young’ Jesse is still performing and rockin’. If you only buy one album this summer, make it Hit, Git & Split. It is a record for the ages: as vital as breathing. Dig it loud and often.
Wynonie Harris – Don’t You Want To Rock? The King & DeLuxe Acetate Series
Wynonie Harris, arguably the very greatest and wildest jump R&B singer of them all, the man who effectively initiated what became termed ‘the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’ and helped give birth to rock ‘n’ roll music itself, is rightly honoured here with a sumptuous Ace double CD.
Disc One of this set, compiled and noted by Tony Rounce, includes all Harris’ remaining King label acetate recordings from 1947 until 1950. Harris’ twin obsessions with sex (red hot versions of his contemporary Roy Brown’s ‘I Want My Fanny Brown’ and ‘Lollipop Mama’, the swinging ‘I Love My Baby’s Pudding’ and his rollicking ‘All She Wants To Do Is Rock’, the biggest hit of career) and alcohol (a spirited version of Stick McGhee’s ‘Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee’ and the hypocritical ‘Baby, Shame On You’) are well represented. Illegal gambling (the jumping ‘Grandma Plays The Numbers’), escalating decrepitude (‘I Feel That Old Age Coming On’) and heartbreak (‘I Can’t Take It No More’, ‘Good Morning Mr. Blues’, Ruth Brown’s ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’ and Lionel Hampton’s ‘Love Is Like Rain’) are also addressed.
Disc Two covers The Alternative takes. Of particular interest must be three versions of Harris’ epochal cover of Roy Brown’s ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’. The making of music history is available to listen to here, as Harris and his excellent band record the song in 1947 that Elvis Presley would cover at Sun in 1954, forging rockabilly. Elvis had intently studied Harris when he had performed in Memphis during the early 50s, incorporating his pelvic thrusts, ecstatic arm gesturing and sneering lip posturing.
Tragically, the music revolution that the suave and decadent Wynonie Harris facilitated pushed him from the limelight by the mid 1950s. He died a largely forgotten figure on 14th June 1969. Though throat cancer was the official cause of his death, Wynonie Harris’ uninhibited ways with women, drinking and profligate spending had really finally done him in. When Harris realised that his death was near he called his remaining friends for a final rowdy, inebriated bash.
Don’t You Want To Rock? Of course you do. This is a compulsory purchase, as are Ace’s previous Wynonie Harris CDs – Women, Whiskey & Fish Tails and Lovin’ Machine. If you are eager for further information about Harris’ outrageous life and times, just read the section about the singer in Nick Tosches’ 1984 book, Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Birth Of Rock In The Wild Years Before Elvis. That and Tosches’ Jerry Lee Lewis biography Hellfire are pretty much the only rock ‘n’ roll books you’ll ever need to read.
- Wynonie Harris – Don’t You Want To Rock? The King & DeLuxe Acetate Series can be picked up from Ace Records on this link.
Joe Houston – Kicking Back
This fascinating reissue of the 1978 album by the gifted veteran R&B tenor/soprano saxophonist Joe Houston provides a reminder that the life of working musician never really follows a linear course. Then again, what does?
Back in 1951, having played with Big Joe Turner and others, Houston, scored a bought in hit for Joe Bihari at Modern Records with his instrumental, ‘Blow Joe Blow’. Born in Austin, Texas in 1927, Houston moved to LA to pursue his career as a bandleader. Houston hit the big time in 1954 with his anthemic stomper ‘All Night Long’, bought by Modern president Jules Bihari in 1956 for an album called Blows All Night Long. For the next six years, as Dean Rudland relates in the liner notes for this reissue, Houston recorded a series of albums for the Bihari brothers Crown label.
Time past. Musical styles changed. Houston played the clubs through the 60s into the 70s. 1978. Jules Bihari records Houston and his ace band for his Big Town label. Although they bare the titles ‘Hawaiian Disco’ and ‘T Bone Disco’, Houston’s tunes here (credited as co-written by Jules Bihari under a pseudonym) sound more like revved up jump rhythm & blues, in a muscular 70s style.
There is even a vocal rendition of Jimmy Reed’s 1959 swampy blues hit, ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’. This track and much of the rest of the album definitely would not have sounded out of place on the soundtrack for Paul Schrader’s classic picture Blue Collar, released the same year as this album.
Even more electrifying are the tracks where Houston and his men really cut loose with some tracks that definitely don’t carry echoes of the 50s. ‘Mr Big “H”’ (what a title!) and ‘Kicking Back Part One & Two’ are thrilling deep funk, wah-wah guitar propelled grooves, aimed squarely at 70s dance floors and bars. Free and exhilarating, these funk cuts and ‘Trippin’ In’ are worth the price of this album alone.
Hopefully, Ace / BGP will eventually issue Kicking Back on vinyl. This underappreciated work, a blaxploitation score without a movie, certainly deserves the treatment.
Various Artists – Second Helpings – Sequels To The Songs That Left ‘Em Hungry For More!
Like the answer record, the sequel disc has long ceased to exist but during the 60s it certainly had its day in the sun within popular culture. As predetermined as the adage ‘where there’s a hit there’s a writ’, the sequel record was sure to follow an artist’s commercially successful recording. In an industry fuelled on filthy lucre, mangers and record companies were always eager to cajole their protégées into chasing down another hit – by the easiest route to the loot.
Complied and noted by Sam Szczepanski, Second Helpings illustrates that all genres of pop music were hip to the sequel record, although very few, artistically or commercially, ever reached the dizzying heights of the original smash recording. Yet there are some great tracks included on Second Helpings. On the rock ‘n’ roll front there is Buddy Holly With The Fireballs with ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ (the follow-up to ‘Peggy Sue’) and the Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson’s untamed ‘Man, We Had A Party’ (sequel to ‘Let’s Have A Party’). The R&B genre provides the rollicking Jennell Hawkins ‘More Money (That’s What I Want)’, the ahead of their time Booker T & The M.G.’s’ ‘Mo’ Onions’ and the mighty Slim Harpo’s development of ‘I’m A King Bee’, ‘Little Queen Bee (Got A Brand New King)’.
Country legend George Jones provides ‘Root Beer’, his sequel to his hit ‘White Lighting’ (that pokes fun at his burgeoning reputation for alcohol consumption), while fellow country artist Marty Robbins brings arguably the best track on Second Helpings – a melodramatic eight minute prequel and sequel to his hit ‘El Paso’, ‘Feleena (From El Paso)’. Then there is the pop splendour of The Angels’ ‘The Guy With The Black Eye’ (‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ preceded it), Paul Anka’s desperate ‘Remember Diana’ and the tragically underrated Claudine Clark’s ‘Walk Me Home (From The Party)’, the sequel to ‘Party Lights’.
The sequel record isn’t coming back any time soon, but Second Helpings is a fine and humorous overview of when it was a fixture within the pop industry.
- Various Artists – Second Helpings – Sequels To The Songs That Left ‘Em Hungry For More! can be picked up from Ace Records on this link.
All words by Ian Johnston. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.