Monday, January 30, 2006

One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girls Group Sounds Lost & Found 4-CD box (Rhino)

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Melodrama gets a bad rap, but there are few emotional experiences that are as pure, as enervating. American teens in 1963 didn’t have opera (light or otherwise), pulp horror magazines or the Grand Guignol, and they couldn’t have cared less about their mother’s soaps, but they did have the radio. And in two minute increments, the radio fed out miniature urban operas packed with enough misery, longing, pain and conflict to satisfy their every vicarious desire.

Revisionist pop memory sometimes obscures just how ubiquitous Girl Group music was in the early sixties—the Beatles were even star struck over Ronnie Spector--but since many of the groups were interchangeable puppets fronting for producers and songwriters, albums were a rarity, and women’s voices get short shrift on oldies radio, relatively few of the acts are remembered by non-collectors. But as One Kiss makes immediately and forcefully clear, there was much more to the GG sounds than the Ronettes, Shangs and Supremes.

And what One Kiss is mostly is thrilling, pushing track after marvelous track of unknown, impassioned, instant teen pop into ears that too rarely find such a concentrated bounty. I’m personally most pleased to see the Goodees, the exquisitely tasteless Southern-fried Shangri-La’s, find a wider audience with their “Leader of the Pack” cop “Condition Red”—especially when the record sounds so great—but there are dozens of acts that deserve spotlight treatment. Like the mysterious Bitter Sweets, turning in a clinically hysterical Shangs’ routine penned by Brute Force… or the very fine (and finally gaining notice) Reparata and the Delrons… the Lovelites, authors of the most agonized “somebody ple-eeease” ever laid on tape… Dawn’s relentless, paranoid “I’m Afraid They’re All Talking About Me”… Toni Basil’s washed up lament “I’m 28”… and teen guitar goddess Char Vinnedge, whose Luv’d Ones were riot grrrls in 1966. Then there’s “Peanut Duck,” an utterly mad, irresistible slice of Philly Soul recorded by a nameless singer, discovered on an unlabeled acetate, and subject of a growing cult.

The set’s greatest strength is its lack of orthodoxy, so rather than a tour of the Brill Building and Spectorland (Phil’s ouput is conspicuously absent), the Girl Group definition is expanded out in distant ripples, not just to Memphis’ Goodees but to England for Andrew Oldham discovery P.P. Arnold’s lovely early recording of “The First Cut is the Deepest,” into the rockabilly raunch of Wanda Jackson, from soul to surf to and all around the pop bubble.

This is a gorgeous box, a worthy tribute to the women who are on it. The package’s conceit is that it’s a black and white striped, velvet-lined hat box with a cord handle. Inside, each CD mimics a different vintage compact, complete with a mirror and photo-realistic pat of powder. Each CD is a powder puff. But that’s where the soft and floppy metaphor ends, because these dolls are tough and artful, and they come bearing great gifts to all who have ears to hear. Essential.


Mike said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly, but would add that One Kiss also throws in fascinating rarities by those better-known acts. Once you've heard The Chiffons go psychedelic on "Nobody Knows What's Going On In My Mind But Me," you start to feel justifiably shortchanged by oldies radio for sticking to "My Boyfriend's Back."

Kim said...

You're right! (But I already raved about one Brute Force song in the review, and didn't want to seem like I was playing favorites... although with Brute, natch, I do.)