Rock and Roll Dance Party ©2002JCMarion
A British company called Magnum Music Group has issued a CD that is hard to find in the U.S., but I did come across it at a local Borders Books and Music. It is a compilation of the Alan Freed CBS radio airchecks from his 1956 Rock and Roll Dance Party show which were issued some years ago on vinyl LP in 5 volumes on the WINS label. Although I have a problem with some of the included 27 tracks - why 4 songs by Bill Haley ?, Why a lame tune by Jimmy Cavello & The Houserockers ?, Why a less than rocking Hound Dog by Gene Vincent ? and certainly why a throwaway up tempo tune by the 5 Keys when a great version of "The Verdict" was from the same set ? Well you can't have everything I guess. At least this historic music is available on the CD format.
The Chuck Willis, Clyde McPhatter, Etta James, Chuck Berry, and LaVern Baker tunes are worthy, as is the lead offf instrumental blaster featuring the sax work of Sam "The Man" Taylor, "Big" Al Sears, and Haywood Henry. I could take Bill Haley & The Comets on "Rock Around The Clock" and "Hot Dog Buddy Buddy", but the other two cuts are forgettable. And now on to the vocal groups and their eleven cuts.
The previously mentioned 5 Keys cut and The Flairs "She Loves To Dance" are up tempo "B" side filler and should have been substituted for. The other nine cuts are definitely worth the price of the entire CD in my opinion. I have mentioned them before in other related articles but will discuss them again here. The Drifters do a ripping version of "Ruby Baby" with Johnny Moore on lead and a featured Big Al Sears stomping sax solo in the middle. I was never a fan of The Platters back in the day, but this version of "The Magic Touch" is the best I have ever heard from this top selling group. Tony Williams is perfect (as he is on "My Prayer" in this set), the group is evenly harmonic backing up, and the band playing a perfect shuffle rhythm behind them add to the effect. Listen especially to Sam Taylor's tenor sax behind Tony William's lead vocal. It doesn't get any better than that. Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers two tunes "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "I Promise To Remember" are both taken slightly slower than the studio versions and the background vocals come through much better which shows again what a great talent this group was. The intro to "I Promise" remains priceless.
Another great intro is on the Cadillacs rare live take on "Speedo". Listen to the classical piano arpeggio lead into LaVern Drake's bass step up to the tune and Earl carroll's lead vocal. A real rarity is The Jacks version of The Feathers "Why Don't You Write Me?" with Aaron Collins and the group giving a perfect reading of their hit single. The only negative aspect of this song is the slight over indulgence of the band this time. The Cleftones "Little Girl Of Mine" is turned into a sing-a-long on the bridge by what sounds like a thousand teenage girls, and it also features a typical sax blasting solo by Al Sears. Last but not least is a true rarity in the person of a live version of "Earth Angel" by The Penguins. Alan Freed nicely states in his intro of the group that this is the first rock 'n roll million seller and number one record. The Penguins revert to the Dootone version (rather than the Mercury redo in 1956), and even without the bombastic piano of the original, the magic is reproduced.
Hopefully there will be a volume 2 (don't count on it), but it is strange that a British outfit would see the value in this reissue rather than the usual Western European / Japanese rockabilly or the traditional R & B reprogramming. Whatever the case this is one worth searching for if you don't have the vinyl version. From the opening intro by Vern Bennett to the last note of music, this is a must have to relive what was then.
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