Lulu - Shout (The Complete Decca Recordings 1964-67)
Release Date June 23, 2009
Although Lulu's mid-'60s Decca recordings have been issued piecemeal on numerous anthologies, somehow no one executed the logical idea of putting them all together on one release until this 42-track, two-CD collection. All of her 1964-1967 sides for the label are included, serving as a comprehensive document to the first three years or so of her recording career. Particularly in the U.S. (where she really wasn't known until the 1967 chart-topper "To Sir with Love," not included here), this period has remained rather obscure, and certainly not as familiar to the general rock fan as her more commercially successful recordings of the late '60s. This is a shame, as this was undoubtedly the era -- in spite of her tender teenage years -- in which she laid down her most soulful, R&B-influenced, and raunchiest recordings by far. The 1964 British hit cover of "Shout!" is of course the most famous of these. But those who dismiss Lulu as a relative lightweight of the British Invasion might be surprised to find quite a few other first-rate combinations of soul and girl group pop here, like "Nothing Left to Do But Cry," "I'll Come Running Over," "After You," "Take Me as I Am," "Can't Hear You No More," and a rip-roaring "Heatwave." The completist nature of this project does mean you get a good number of mediocre songs that wouldn't have made the cut for a more selective single-disc Decca-era best-of. Too, some of the rarer numbers (including both sides of a German-language 45 and numerous non-LP tracks) just aren't in the same league with the more familiar tunes. But with comprehensive liner notes, this is a necessary acquisition for Lulu fans, and a pretty good one for more general British Invasion admirers.
Once the British pop boom took hold in the wake of the Beatles in 1962, Decca compensated for their Fab fumble by signing a lot of acts, including a bunch of female singers. Ace's 2016 compilation Love Hit Me! Decca Beat Girls 1962-1970 chronicles a lot of these signings, including such stars as Lulu, Marianne Faithfull, and Twinkle (the latter's "Golden Lights," later covered by the Smiths, is featured here), but the fun of the collection is how it rounds up singers who didn't enter the history books even if they happened to have hits at the time. There are some sonic constants -- big beats, blasts of brass, swirls of strings, tambourines out of Tamla, fuzz guitars, a transatlantic dilution of the Wall of Sound that remains potent -- so this holds together, but what's fun is digging out particular favorites. Beverley's "Where the Good Times Are" contains an insistent blissed-out R&B rush, the Orchids bring the Ronettes to Britain for "Love Hit Me," the Vernons Girls' "Dat's Love" is a bizarre sendup, and Sandra Barry & the Boys' "Really Gonna Shake" is an absolute raver, a single that's worth the price of admission. Other songs provide a similar kind of buzz, and the reason why Love Hit Me! is worth a listen is how the whole package provides a vivid flashback anchored by enduring pop 45s.
The Fenmen made just four rare singles under their own name in 1964-1966, but were notable players in the British Invasion on a couple of counts. At the beginning of their recording career, they operated as the backup group in Bern Elliot & the Fenmen, who had U.K. hits in 1963 and 1964 with covers of "Money" and "New Orleans." Not long after their final single, two of their members became key components of the psychedelic lineup of the Pretty Things. Their meager recording legacy as a self-contained outfit shows them to be a good vocal harmony group strongly influenced by American stars the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, though they didn't start to record original material until shortly before they broke up.
The Fenmen formed in early 1962 in a suburb in Kent, England, the act originally getting billed as Bern Elliot & the Fenmen. With Elliot as frontman, they had a number 14 British hit in late 1963 with the oft-covered "Money," and a smaller one with their follow-up, a version of Gary "U.S." Bonds' "New Orleans." They also did an EP and a couple live tracks on the compilation At the Cavern, their recorded repertoire dominated by covers of American rock and soul songs.
Elliot and the Fenmen separated in 1964, leaving the Fenmen to develop a different style heavily derivative of American pop/rock vocal harmony outfits. A couple flop Fenmen singles for Decca in 1964 and 1965 found the Four Seasons flavor especially strong, including a cover of the Seasons' smash "Rag Doll." The move to CBS for a couple of singles in 1966 was no more successful, including a cover of the Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'" and, more impressively, the Wally Waller composition "Rejected," which showed the emergence of a more original style building off the group's vocal harmony base.
The Fenmen ended, however, at the beginning of 1967, when rhythm guitarist/singer Waller reconnected with childhood friend Phil May, lead singer of the Pretty Things. After the two wrote "The Sun" together, May invited Waller to join the Pretty Things, with Fenmen drummer/singer John Povey also joining the Pretty Things lineup. "The Sun" would appear on the Pretties' 1967 album Emotions, and Waller and Povey would be an important part of the band's transition from an R&B-oriented group to a far more psychedelic one in the late '60s and early '70s. The Fenmen's two Decca singles can be found on the Bern Elliot & the Fenmen CD compilation The Beat Years, while three of the four tracks they released on CBS (as well as some BBC sessions and unreleased recordings) are on the Fenmen compilation Sunstroke.
Twenty-three songs from 1963-65, including everything Elliot and the Fenmen recorded for Decca, together or separately: the Bern Elliot & the Fenmen singles, their EP and compilation tracks, the sole Bern Elliot & the Klan single, the Elliot solo efforts from 1965, and the first two singles the Fenmen recorded without Elliot. It's quite impressive that See For Miles went to all the trouble to tie up the loose ends for a band that was so marginal, even in the eyes of British Invasion specialists. Elliot & the Fenmen were a good rockin' combo, but one without any songwriting ambitions whatsoever, which limits the interest of the material here considerably, as it consists entirely of well-worn R&B/rock covers. Mildly unusual in this context are Elliot & the Klan's "Good Times," awith a more-poppy-Animals feel, and the Fenmen's "I've Got Everything You Need Babe," an obscure number that Al Kooper co-wrote. Unfortunately this disc doesn't have the Fenmen's 1966 CBS single "Rejected," the best thing they did, either with Elliot or on their own.
Money by Bern Elliott & The Fenmen was written by Janie Bradford, Berry Gordy and was first released by Barrett Strong in 1959
"Money" was a staple of the set of most British Invasion bands. Oddly, the only group to have a U.K. hit single with the song was the obscure one-shot outfit Bern Elliot & the Fenmen. Elliot's version entered the British Top Twenty near the end of 1963; it wasn't a patch on the Beatles' rendition (which had been released at about the same time on their second LP), but it was actually a pretty decent, soulful interpretation. Elliot and his backup group played in a sort of tough Merseybeat style (although they weren't from the Mersey), and Bern was a pretty decent R&B-influenced singer, somewhat along the lines of the Dave Clark Five's Mike Smith. Elliot & the Fenmen made a few singles and an EP without any more notable success; their reliance upon old R&B/rock tunes for the entirety of their repertoire made them almost instantly passe, although the songs were executed pretty well. Elliot fell out with the Fenmen in 1964, and briefly teamed up with the Klan, as well as putting out some orchestrated pop solo singles in 1965. the Fenmen went on their own and made a few singles for Decca and CBS in a harmony pop/rock style, highlighted by the original minor-keyed tune "Rejected." After the demise of the Fenmen, members Wally Allen and John Povey joined the Pretty Things, in time for that group's psychedelic recordings.