The days are long gone when American record companies cared about what was in their vaults. But there is still a convenient way of obtaining vintage rock 'n' roll (or "oldies," as the hucksters call it) without having to pay a small fortune.
Television record packages are often simply thrown together, but sometimes they can be very well-conceived. Consider the thoughtful conceptualization behind the work of Warner Special Products (WSP), which designs TV packages for various mailorder businesses.
Besides the standard contemporary fare ("'70s Gold"), WSP has created anthologies of bubble-gum music ("Super Bubble") and girl-group recording ("Super Girls"), even once going so far as to package a three-record set of songs with women's names in the title ("My Girl"). Last year, they constructed a hilarious masterwork, "Alphabet Rock" (TeeVee/Warner Special Products OP 2517), containing 30 of rock's most nonsensical tunes (such as "Woo-Hoo," "Sh-Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong").
Profit does not appear to be the governing principle behind WSP's projects. If anything, the company's primary goal is simply to strike a responsive chord in our over-aged teen-age psyches -- and three of its most recent creations offer the ultimate proof of this sincerity.
Designed for Cindy Lou's mail order in Nashville, "Teen Idols" (OP 2522) is a charming musical abridgement of the years 1959-62, when rock left the streets and entered the studios. Buddy Holly was dead, Elvis was in the Army, and Jerry Lee Lewis, as usual, had been banned from the hearts and minds of the Moral Majority.
Rock's originality became smothered by the marketing strategies of the recording industry's elder statesmen. The Philadelphia sound, in particular, epitomized the period's clean-cut nonchalance and kissypoo pubescence, bestowing upon the world Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Frankie Avalon and his inimitable highness, Dick Clark.
Nevertheless, by not concentrating too much on the ersatz gleam of the prefabricated teen, "Teen Idols" makes this dull epoch seem like dream date. In fact, nearly half of the tunes are by major artists (Dion, Del Shannon, the Everly Brothers) who should never be regarded as products of the idol makers. By stretching the definition of idolatry, a playable and immensely romantic collection has been produced.
On Beach Beat Records (and available in many of the area's record shops), "Ocean Drive" (OP 2520) is an excellent introduction to a very misunderstood phenomenon, the Southeast's Beach Music.
This ill-defined genre encompasses groups as diverse as the Drifters, Archie Bell and the Drells and the B-52s. Its essential elements are R&B songs (especially if obscure and about the beach), summer, sand, wild parties and a dance called the shag. Surf music is taboo. Some of the finest moments of this increasingly popular musical style are Mary Wells'' "Dear Lover," Lenny O'Henry's "Across the Street" and Willie Tee's "Teasin' You" -- all of which are available on this astounding 24-cut exploration of an exotic and timeless scene.
But Warner Special Products' crowning achievement to date may be the new "Wild Thing" double-album (OP 2521), concocted for LakeShore Music. This collection compiles the crude recordings of America's favorite garage bands (or protopunks), primitive groups who, 15 years before the English punk explosion, nurtured a raw sound built upon only three chords. These bands were not concerned with nihilism; their revolution was a simple one -- turn the amps up loud and blow mom and dad away!
For example, the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" is punk incarnate, a drunken brawl with bodies and cymbals crashing. The record is so sloppy that, after the guitar break, the vocalist interrupts too early, nearly throwing everybody off the beat into a tumbling heap. This instant of brash carelessness defines American punk rock.
The punk of the '60s is the most impudent style in rock history: As the Standells' "Dirty Water" fades out, the lead singer proclaims that he's the Boston Strangler; or consider the vehemence of the fuzztone on rabid classics like the Leaves' "Hey Joe," Music Machine's "Talk Talk" and Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction."
"Wild Thing" contains 30 such chaotic tunes (including the aforementioned hits) -- from frat-house romps (the Swingin' Medallions' "Double Shot") to psycho stomps (Balloon Farm's "A Question of Temperature"). Not since 1972's "Nuggets/Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era" has there been a better assessment of the much-aligned punk genre.