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Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - Do You Want To Know A Secret (1963-1983)

Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - Do You Want To Know A Secret (1963-1983)



      Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas 
Do You Want To Know A Secret (The EMI Years 1963-1983)

One of the most popular Merseybeat singers, Billy J. Kramer (born Billy Ashton) was one of the most mild-mannered rockers of the entire British Invasion. He wasn't that noteworthy a singer, either, and more likely than not would have never been heard outside of northern England if he hadn't been fortunate enough to become a client of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Even more crucially, he was gifted with several Lennon-McCartney songs in 1963 and 1964, several of which the Beatles never ended up recording. That gave him his entrance into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, but Kramer couldn't sustain his success after the supply of Lennon-McCartney tunes dried up. Significant? No. Enjoyable? Yes. Even tossing aside the considerable value of hearing otherwise unavailable Lennon-McCartney compositions, his best singles were enjoyably wimpy, melodic pop/rock, offering a guilty pleasure comparable to taking a break from Faulkner and diving into some superhero comics.

It's been reported that George Martin was reluctant to produce Kramer because of the latter's vocal deficiencies, making sure to hide the cracks in his upper register with loud piano notes in Billy's cover of "Do You Want to Know a Secret." No matter -- the song made it to number two in the U.K. in mid-1963, followed by another Lennon-McCartney effort, "Bad to Me." "I'll Keep You Satisfied" and "From a Window" were other gifts from the Beatles camp that gave Kramer solid hits; one Beatles reject, "I'll Be on My Way," was even relegated to a B-side (the Beatles' own BBC version was finally released in 1994). All these tunes, it should be noted, represented Lennon-McCartney at their lightest and most facile, which to a large degree explains why they didn't record the numbers for their own releases, deeming them more suitable for Kramer's fairly bland approach.

Billy J. actually landed his biggest hit, the corny pop ballad "Little Children," without assistance from his benefactors; the single also broke him, briefly, as a star in the United States, where it and its flip side ("Bad to Me") both made the Top Ten. He appeared in the legendary 1964 The T.A.M.I. Show rockumentary film, and the Dakotas recorded some instrumental rock on their own, getting a Top 20 British hit with the Ventures-ish "The Cruel Sea." Early British guitar hero Mick Green, formerly with Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, was even a Dakota briefly. But after 1965's cover of Bacharach-David's "Trains and Boats and Planes," the hits ceased, as the Beatles and Epstein's attention was lost. Kramer continued recording throughout the '60s, even briefly venturing into hard psychedelic-tinged rock, without much success, and subsequently toured often on the oldies circuit.


 The Dakotas were most closely associated with Liverpool-born singer Billy J. Kramer. They had a history before that, however, as well as a striking lineup on their own, separate from the developments in Kramer's career. The original group hailed from Manchester, and were put together as a backing band for Pete MacLaine. At that time, from 1962 through January of 1963, they were comprised of Mike Maxfield (lead guitar), Robin MacDonald (rhythm guitar), Tony Mansfield (drums), and Ray Jones (bass). In early 1963, just as the Beatles were finished with their second single, "Please Please Me," their manager, Brian Epstein, was looking for a backing band for his newest discovery, Billy J. Kramer. He had been playing and singing part-time with a band called the Coasters, but wanted to turn professional, at Epstein's insistence. The Coasters declined to follow him, and a new band was needed. Enter the Dakotas, who parted company with Pete MacLaine to sign with Epstein. He was not yet renowned as a world-beating success, but he did have two bands, the Beatles and Gerry & the Pacemakers, cutting records for Parlophone, one of which, "Love Me Do," had already charted modestly. It was an attractive offer, and they became Kramer's band. They were a very solid group, well able to adapt to the requisite Merseybeat sound not only as it had existed up to early 1963 but as the Beatles were altering it with their records and their success -- rock & roll balladry, with room for smooth vocals and even harmonies, became obligatory, along with a band sound that left room for some elegance as well as a good attack. Kramer hit with his first five singles, and in the process of becoming a star, the Dakotas also got their chance in the spotlight. They scored a success with their instrumental version of "The Cruel Sea," and also saw some action on "Magic Carpet." In July of 1964, the first major lineup change took place, as Ray Jones was pushed out on bass. Robin MacDonald, who had been playing rhythm guitar, shifted over to bass, and the Dakotas added a second lead guitarist in Mick Green. Green was a musician in a unique situation -- he had never inaugurated a band's sound, tending to come into lineups that already existed; when he did so, however, as in the case of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, he inevitably boosted their sound by many decibels and punched up the virtuosity. He was among the first of a new generation of hot rocking British guitarists, separate from blues virtuosos like Eric Clapton, and able to attack his instrument with distinctive riffs and variations in several different idioms, all of which came out well in the studio and even better in concert. His arrival in the Dakotas' lineup gave the group a unique double-lead guitar configuration that made them a power to contend with on-stage, although ironically, he only played on one hit with Kramer, "Trains and Boats and Planes." Kramer's string of hits ended in mid-1965, but he and the Dakotas were still a major live act, in England and even more so in America, where "Trains and Boats and Planes" made the Top Ten. In August of 1966, Tony Mansfield left the band, and ex-Pirate Frank Farley joined on drums, lasting until September of 1967 playing the cabaret circuit after concert work disappeared. By that time, Kramer's star had faded, and the Dakotas split in late 1967. Robin MacDonald and Mick Green became part of Engelbert Humperdinck's backing band, while Kramer kept on working for a time with the Remo Four, a perennial replacement band, having succeeded the Searchers as Johnny Sandon's backing band. In the mid-'70s, Green and Farley became the core of a re-formed Pirates, who continued to perform and record into the '90s. 

Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - Do You Want To Know A Secret (1963-1983)


Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas - Little Children & I'll Keep You Satisfied (1964)

Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas - Little Children & I'll Keep You Satisfied (1964)



This Collectables reissue features two albums released in 1964 on the Imperial label by British invasion band Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Although their reign on the pop charts would be extremely short, they managed to score a few memorable hits. The albums Little Children (also the title of their first hit single in the U.S.) and I'll Keep You Satisfied include several Lennon/McCartney-penned songs: "Bad to Me" (another hit), "Do You Want to Know a Secret," and "I Call Your Name," along with cover versions of "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Great Balls of Fire," and "The Twelfth of Never." While this is a fine reissue, The Best of Billy J. Kramer on EMI would probably be a better purchase for anyone but the most ardent Merseybeat fan.


Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas - Little Children & I'll Keep You Satisfied (1964)
Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas - Little Children & I'll Keep You Satisfied (1964)

Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas - Little Children & I'll Keep You Satisfied (1964)

Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas- Do You Want To Know A Secret \The EMI Years 1963-1983\ 4 CD Box

Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas- Do You Want To Know A Secret \The EMI Years 1963-1983\  4 CD Box




2009 four CD set from one of the most popular bands to emerge from the '60s British Invasion movement that the Beatles kickstarted. Early in 1963, the merging of the Liverpool vocalist, Billy J. Kramer, with the Manchester group, the Dakotas, was among Brian Epstein's most inspired moves. It led to a succession of hit records, including three #1s, and several songs that have become golden oldies and are as familiar today as there were in the 1960s. This mammoth collection of over 120 tracks features their EMI recordings in those crucial years, and includes all the singles, all the album tracks (both UK and U.S.), and many unreleased performances. The unearthed gems include an excellent version of Randy Newman's 'Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad', which equals any of the hit singles. EMI. 
*****
Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas- Do You Want To Know A Secret \The EMI Years 1963-1983\  4 CD Box


Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - The EP Collection


 The CDs in See for Miles' The EP Collection series are odd hybrids that don't often quite function as either greatest-hits collections (though they usually have quite a few hits) or rarities anthologies (since they include too many hits). Billy J. Kramer's entry into the series is no exception. All 25 of the tracks were used on EP releases from the mid-'60s, and they do include all half-dozen of his major chart hits, as well as his Lennon-McCartney B-side covers of "I'll Be on My Way" and "I'll Call Your Name." However, the other songs miss some of his better other tracks of the period, especially "Pride (Is Such a Little Word)," a pretty good Merseybeat rocker from his first LP. As for the non-hits on the disc, they include some passable Merseybeat ("I Know," co-written by George Martin and Merseyside rock compere Bob Wooler, and "They Remind Me of You"), but also too many dull oldies covers. As for rarities, there are a few hard to obtain elsewhere, though since they're way in the minority on the track list, you should be a committed Kramer/Merseybeat fan before shelling out the full price for the CD. "Take My Hand" (used primarily as a 1966 B-side) isn't too easy to come by, although it's not a very good effort, with a folk-pop-orchestrated feel. The live tracks from early 1965's Billy J. Plays the States are better, both because these aren't too easy to find, and as they have some fairly hot playing, especially on "Irresistible You." And finally, there are four instrumental tracks from the 1963 U.K. EP by Kramer's backup band the Dakotas that have no contributions from Billy J., but are decent Shadows-style performances. Yet despite the inclusion of all the hits and good value as a 25-track single disc, if you want just one Kramer collection, you're still far better off with The Best of Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas.

Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - The EP Collection



The Dakotas - Meet The Dakotas




****

 
The Dakotas' four-track 1963 EP Meet the Dakotas combined the A-sides and B-sides of their first two singles, "The Cruel Sea"/"The Millionaire" and "Magic Carpet"/"Humdinger." All of the tracks (unlike the Merseybeat ones they cut as the backup group to Billy J. Kramer) show them to be a very accomplished instrumental group in the style of the Shadows, with perhaps some Ventures influence, too. Easily the best of the four is the taut and eerie "The Cruel Sea," which made number 18 on the British charts, though American listeners might be more familiar with it via the Ventures' cover version. Though The Dakotas did release five singles in the U.K., they never put out an album, making this rare EP, oddly, the lengthiest Dakotas release. The four tracks, fortunately, were all included on the Billy J. Kramer compilation The EP Collection, which otherwise features material from Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas that appeared on mid-'60s EPs.

Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas – From a window 1964)Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - Do You Want To Know A Secret (1963-1983) Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas - Little Children & I'll Keep You Satisfied (1964)Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas- Do You Want To Know A Secret \The EMI Years 1963-1983\  4 CD Box Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - The EP Collection The Dakotas - Meet The Dakotas

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