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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Action: The Ultimate Action

THE ULTIMATE ACTION (1965-1968; 1980)

1) I'll Keep On Holding On; 2) Harlem Shuffle; 3) Never Ever; 4) Twenty Fourth Hour; 5) Since I Lost My Baby; 6) In My Lonely Room; 7) Hey Sha-Lo-Ney; 8) Shadows And Reflections; 9) Something Has Hit Me; 10) The Place; 11) The Cissy; 12) Baby You've Got It; 13) I Love You (Yeah!); 14) Land Of A Thousand Dances.

The Action should probably hold the official title of "Best 60s Band To Never Release An Al­bum". However, an LP-worth of a few great singles and a ton of filler — which is almost certain­ly what an Action album would have looked like, judging by the value of Rolled Gold — can't really measure again such a solid collection of excellent singles as placed on this CD.

The Action were a band doomed for early death, because they couldn't properly establish them­selves as a songwriting act at an age when you either were a songwriter or you went back to your local manufacturing plant. Not that they were awful at songwriting: the few originals contained here, such as the funny kiddie song 'Never Ever' and the cheery singalong 'Twenty Forth Hour', are lovable and fit in well with the rest. But apparently, they just couldn't establish an individual style that they'd be better at than their cover art.

Because one would be hard pressed to find a better British interpreter of the melodic school of American R'n'B than The Action around 1966-67. Maybe the Beatles — and it's hardly a coinci­dence that The Action were signed to work with George Martin, of all people — but by 1966, the Beatles had already distanced themselves from other people's works, and thus missed the chance of applying the technical and musical innovations of the period to the same old rock'n'roll and Motown pop numbers they showed so much respect for from 1963 to 1965.

Not the Action, though. Taking these trusty Motown and Atlantic numbers, they would carefully extract the essence, discard the production excesses, clean up the flaws, rearrange them for strict power-pop, guitar-bass-drums consumption, and make songs that combined the melodicity and soulfulness of the originals with the straightforwardness and determined energy of Britpop. And, in all fairness, they made this material rock out far better than the Beatles.

For some reason, the public didn't appreciate that — maybe because in Britain, Motown was run­ning out of fashion, or else folks just wanted the original thing (can't blame them). The band's highest charting single, a cover of the Marvelettes' 'I'll Keep On Holding On', only reached some­thing like No. 47 on the charts, even though it blows the original away — the guitars never shim­mered that way on Motown records, and the bass was never so determined to have its own way, and the harmonies were never that well produced.

Likewise, they manage to put to shame Martha and the Vandellas ('In My Lonely Room'), Bob & Earl ('The Harlem Shuffle'), and even Chris Kenner (the best cover of 'Land Of 1000 Dances' I've ever heard). Sometimes the gloss that cover artists try to put over the originals squeezes all soul out of them, but believe me, this is not the case with the Action: they understand well just where the hook lies, and give it their all — it's only up to George Martin to brush off all remaining dust. Of course, if they wanted to do James Brown, that'd be a whole different thing, but they never did, because their schtick was melody, not rhythm.

Out of the 14 cuts on this collection, there is not one bad choice (I do think that Carole King's 'Just Once In My Life' is one of her schmaltzier and more overwrought tunes, but when you hear it without strings, it's actually good!). It's pretty predictable from the onset, and contains no great breakthroughs, but it's still a unique type of sound that no one except this band had in 1966 and that no one will almost certainly have ever after. Which is why, mentally and cordially, I have no doubts about keeping my thumbs up for this as long as I live.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I just noticed, something is up with your tracklisting. I am also in possession of a record called The Ultimate Action with the same tracks in the same order, except 3 extra tracks inserted inbetween 'Hey Sha-Lo Ney' and 'Shadows And Reflections'. Now normally I'd just assume I have a slighty different (and better!) version, but you do mention 'Just Once In My Life' in your review, which just happens to be one of the 3 extra songs on my version.
    So... what's up with that?

    Otherwise, great groovy sound on great groovy songs.