Every once in a while, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com
It amazes me to this day why Huey Lewis and The News do not get more respect in the music world. First of all, between 1982-1994, the band charted fifteen singles on the Top 40 charts in the U.S., along with several others on the Adult Contemporary Charts (AC Charts). They seem never to be considered to get into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame , where many acts that had little to no influence on music are put in immediately (another topic for another time is the Hall of Fame). Even the most causal fans can name at several of their hits, either from the Back to The Future soundtrack to songs that have been covered by acts like Garth Brooks. They were one of the top bands in the 1980s, next to Chicago and Hall and Oates, when it came to radio airplay. I was a drummer in local Youngstown, Ohio area bands, and although my favorite bands are The Beach Boys and Kiss, I always would’ve loved to had a band patterned like Huey Lewis and The News.
The band did not only write great pop hits, but they also experimented with soul, blues, and funk at times on their albums. In 1994, the band decided to visit the early rock and soul sound that created the groundwork of Rock and Roll with their album Four Chords and Several Years Ago, where three singles came off of the album , all hitting the AC charts, and getting plenty of airplay on stations.
Releasing an album of all covers was nothing new, but this release not only gave listeners another great album from the band, but also a history in rock music. Songs like “Shake Rattle and Roll,” a Big Joe Turner song before Bill Haley and The Comets made it there own (which many historians view as one of the earliest rock and roll songs), to the more original version of “(She’s) Some Kind Of Wonderful” (which some causal fans may not know wasn’t firstly done by Grand Funk Railroad), walk the listener through great songs where segregation may have been on the streets but not in the recording studio.
I remember loving the PBS special of the band’s concert promoting the album, with guests Sam Cooke and Lloy Price, shot mainly in black and white. I worn out a few copies of the VHS release as well.
Some of my favorites on this release is the remake of Price’s “Stagger Lee” (which I like this version better than the original, with its more powerful sound to it), “You Left The Water Running,” the Clifford Curry hit “She Shot A Hole In My Soul,” and “Searching For My Love,” a hit from Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces. Another gem on the CD is Ernie K Doe ‘s “Mother In Law,” featuring Dr. John with a nice piano groove to it. Most of the songs stay true to the originals, but since production values were slim back in those early days, Huey and The News give it more power to the songs with the horns and backing vocals. Although a few misses are on the CD in my opinion, like “Good Morning Little School Girl,” Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Cash,” and ” Surely I Love You,” with 17 tracks on here, there is a few songs that wear on me because many songs (although most of the songs have a short run time, it’s still 17 songs). Even though I personally may not like the songs, every track is filled with great musicianship and Lewis’ soulful voice fits wonderfully on every track.
The singles “(She’s) Some Kind Of Wonderful,” “Little Bitty Pretty One,” and “But It’s Alright” (The J.J. Jackson song, not the Curtis Mayfield song that the band also had a minor hit with) all gave the album a little push -“But It’s Alright” and “..Wonderful” both had airplay on my Youngstown, Ohio local stations, but the overall album did not chart as well, reaching only #55 in the U.S., but did well in Japan. Was it because most listeners did not care about early rock music? I don’t know, but I think 25 years later, the CD is still a fun listen. Since I grew up listening to these early rock songs, and having one of my favorite bands record these songs, was double excitement for me. If you want a good fun album , this is one that needs to be re-listened to.
Track Listing: 1. Shake, Rattle and Roll 2. Blue Monday 3. Searching For My Love 4.(She’s) Some Kind Of Wonderful 5. But It’s Alright 6. If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody 7. Mother In Law 8. Little Bitty Pretty One 9. Good Morning Little School Girl 10. Stagger Lee 11. She Shot A Hole In My Soul 12. Surely I Love You 13. You Left The Water Running 14. Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Trash 15. Function At The Junction 16. Better To Have And Not Need 17. Going Down Slow
Another unique cover album from 1994 was Barry Manilow’s Singing With The Big Bands, a salute to popular music before rock and roll came along. Manilow, like Huey Lewis and The News, mixed many genres into his music, but where rock and blues was Lewis’ influence, Manilow mixed jazz, orchestration , and big bands into his music; one of his first hits, “Could It Be Magic,” was based on a Chopin song. Singing With The Big Bands was not just a collection of the classic hits from the 1930s and 1940s, but Manilow got the actual orchestras to perform on the album, such as The Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington Orchestras, along with Les Brown and His Band Of Renown.
Manilow adds two original songs to the beginning and end of the album, first starting with the title track, a song where Manilow states he would’ve loved to time travel back and sing these songs with the bands if he could when it was fashionable to do so. Many critics of Manilow have stated that Manilow was dull and never in fashion with the times, but to me, that’s what made him as great as he was. Even his pop hits from the 1970s had a different style to them (as mentioned earlier, mixing more classical and big band/jazz mix to them). The ending song, “Where Does The Time Go,” written by Manilow and Bruce Sussman, talks about how fast time flies by. This song is relevant in 1994 (and today), and not just during a big band era.
Classic songs like “Sentimental Journey,” “And The Angels Sing,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” are sung perfectly for Manilow’s signature voice. Rosemary Clooney guest stars on “Green Eyes” with the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra, and Debra Byrd helps out with “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.” What’s a big band record without “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” or “I Can’t Get Started” or “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You?” Younger music fans who want to hear some romantic lyrics need to check out these songs, because lyrically they are better than anything that is released today.
The album sold well, reaching Gold Status (his last album to do so was four years earlier) and was produced by the legendary Phil Ramone. The success of this album made Manilow decide to start a series of cover albums. The following albums after this were Summer of ’76 (a cover of 1970s hits that is far better than The Greatest Songs of the Seventies he released years later), followed by a Frank Sinatra themed album. Some songs of the big band era have been brought back into the public’s attention thanks to the great Michael Bublé Manilow’s release here is a history lesson of a bygone time. Even though I was not originally a fan of this type of music in high school (I was a drummer and got kicked out of band for not being able to read music, so orchestras were not my thing), I always liked this album, and Manilow’s work. Manilow was one of the first people to kick off the American Songbook craze (which Rod Stewart and others have recorded) long before it was fashionable.
If you are a fan of Bublé, or just want soothing romantic songs, this is one album you must have in your collection.
Track Listing: 1. Singing With The Big Bands 2. Sentimental Journey 3. And The Angels Sing 4. Green Eyes (with Rosemary Clooney) 5. I Should Care 6. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore 7. I Can’t Get Started 8. Chattanooga Choo Choo 9. Moonlight Serenade 10. On The Sunny Side Of The Street 11. All Or Nothing At All 12. I’ll Never Smile Again 13. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You 14. Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (with Debra Byrd) 15. (I’lll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time 16. Where Does The Time Go?