Has the inevitable evolution of pop music left you behind? Do Guns 'n' Roses, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Debbie, Tiffany, Michael and company leave you shivering? Are you even aware of their existence?
Well, believe it or not, '80s recordmakers haven't entirely forsaken those who look back fondly on the days of Peggy Sue and Johnny Rebel. Here, for example, are two new albums dishing out blasts from the past in very different ways:"ROCK, RHYTHM & BLUES;" By various artists, produced by Richard Perry; Warner Brothers. ***1/2
If it weren't for the bright splashes of color and the names of the stars emblazoned upon it, even the record jacket for the "Rock, Rhythm & Blues" might make you think you'd picked up a collection of pop hits pulled together by, say, '50s disc jockey-promoter Alan Freed or the early K-Tel. But these aren't the original golden oldies, they're brand spanking new remakes of such classics (and near-classics) as "This Magic Moment," "The Ten Commandments of Love" and "Goodnight My Love."
You almost have to wonder who this album is aimed for. None of the songs is a current hit . . . yet. The collection isn't being hyped by a movie, which seems to be principal way albums by various artists are presented these days. But the moguls at Warner Brothers must've had faith in producer Richard Perry's concept, for here it is - an eclectic set of songs, all basically originating in the late '50s, although several have been recorded multiple times since, and one or two have hit the Billboard charts five or six times over the past 30 years.
Perry is a fine record producer whose craftsmanship has helped boost many stars to the top of the charts over the past 20 years. Nilsson's "Without You"/"Schmilsson" period was a Perry collaboration. Ringo Starr's peak in the mid-'70s ("Only You," "You're Sixteen") was engineered in part by Perry. And the Pointer Sisters' sound throughout this decade owes a good deal to him. His records are sharp, crisp and lively and almost always include affectionate homages to yesterday's hits.
"Rock, Rhythm & Blues" surprised me. I put it on the turntable not expecting very much and was immediately caught up in the fun.
Elton John turns Fats Domino's "I'm Ready" into, well, an Elton John honky tonk rock 'n' roll song. Funky Rick James does a fine vocal job on "This Magic Moment/Dance With Me." And we have zippy performances by pop stars like Chaka Khan ("Fever"), the Pointer Sisters ("Mr. Lee") and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.
Howard Hewett and company do a great male takeoff on the sound of Gladys Knight and the Pips on "The Ten Commandments of Love," the '58 hit by Harvey and the Moon-glows. El DeBarge is stunning on the romantic "Goodnight My Love." And you should hear the baritone of country star Randy Travis drop way, way, way down in his version of Brook Benton's "It's Just A Matter of "RADIO CLASSICS OF THE '50s;" By various artists; Columbia Records. ***
This compilation is for those who don't particularly like surprises, who want a known quantity of a particular quality - like some of the really big non-rock-'n'-roll hits of the 1950s.
And that's what "Radio Classics of the '50s" is. Of the 14 songs here, eight hit No. 1 and three others topped out at No. 2.
Like other major labels of late, Columbia Records has delved into its vaults to remaster recordings that date into the early '50s and re-issue the clean-sounding versions on cassettes, albums and, particularly, CDs.
"Radio Classics" starts as early as Johnny Ray's anguished 1951 megahit "Cry" and Frankie Laine's "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)" from 1952, and continues into 1960 with"Greenfields" by the Brothers Four.
Also included are Tony Bennett's "Rags to Riches," Rosemary Clooney's "Hey There," Doris Day's
"Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" (popularized in part by Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much") and "Chances Are" by Johnny Mathis.
For variety, the album also includes Guy Mitchell's spritely smash "Singing the Blues," Louis Armstrong's '56 rendition of "Mack the Knife" and a country/folk sequence offering Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans," Marty Robbin's signature "El Paso," and "Marianne" by Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders.
Obviously, this set doesn't focus on the developing rock or r & b of the era. This is basically radio pop directly descended from the big band days, with a nod to the interest in folk music in the '50s, a movement that mushroomed as the '60s got under way.
Where other recent collections have been flawed because they tried to encompass too broad a field, from hard country to pelvis swiveling rock, "Radio Classics of the '50s" does work thematically because it takes a generally gentle middle-of-the-road approach. If that's what you're looking for, that's what you get here.