BILL HALEY: STRICTLY INSTRUMENTAL (1959)
1) Joey's Song; 2) Music, Music, Music; 3) Mack The Knife; 4) In A Little Spanish Town; 5) Two Shadows; 6) Shaky; 7) Strictly Instrumental; 8) Skokiaan; 9) Puerto Rican Peddlar; 10) Drowsy Waters; 11) Chiquita Linda; 12) The Cat Walk.
Well, perhaps not really strictly — there are, after all, several bits of vocal harmonies scattered here and there, and, last time I heard, the Comets were still belting out CHIQUITA LINDA! CHIQUITA LINDA! like crazy on track no. 11. But that should not detract from the fact that Bill Haley ended his love affair with Decca in the usual consistent manner, with another «proto-conceptual» record, this time one on which he himself was nothing more than the least well heard bit player in the midst of seasoned instrumental professionals. (He is out there, though; there seems to be some documental proof — although, frankly, who'd care?).
If simple instrumental music for lightweight entertainment purposes, from those good old days when this meant having real bands set up a groove, rather than one DJ and a set of cables, means anything to you at all, Strictly Instrumental is as good a Comets album as any other one. How can any album that opens with such a deliciously unforgettable rendition of Joe Reisman's 'Joey's Song' not be good? If, after but one concentrated listen, you can easily get the theme out of your head, I'd be afraid to inherit your central nervous system. (Of course, for some people that might be a negative — way too annoyingly catchy! — but for me, that'd only be a problem if we had scientific proof for the jaded old theory that catchy pop music was invented by sneaky capitalists turning people away from the pressing issues of class struggle. Last time I heard, Chomsky was still working on that).
Anyway, 'Joey's Song' is a classic, as is the Comets' rendition of 'Skokiaan', which takes the Zimbabwean original and gives it, first time ever, a supertight foundation and a glossy modern sheen. The only problem with most of these covers is that none of them really pass for genuine rock and roll: I mean, 'Mack The Knife'? Beecher totally smokes with his little fills and whoops all over the place, but in between all the Kurt Weill and all the Mabel Wayne, we tend to get lost in Rockin' The Oldies territory all over again, and this time, the oldies aren't even «rocked» all that much. There's some sub-standard country ('Drowsy Blues'), some toothless cha-cha-cha ('Puerto Rican Peddlar'), and some tap dancing ('Music! Music! Music!') — all of them sounding inoffensively retro, but not representing the Comets at their best.
Thus, apart from 'Joey's Song' and 'Skokiaan', I would only advise paying closer attention to two Beecher/Williamson originals: 'Shaky', a proto-blues-rock groove that does, indeed, utilize «shaky» guitar tones throughout (about as far out as the original Comets ever ventured with experimental sonic textures), and 'The Catwalk', the grumbliest and «blackest»-sounding shuffle out here, the only song on which, perhaps, an Elmore James would not refuse to jam along. Other than that, it was an interesting, but rather modest, way to terminate the most important phase of the band's career.
PS. Actually, add 'Chiquita Linda' to that list — not because of the silly main theme, but because of the fabulous boogie solo that Beecher plays from 1:13 to 1:41. Say what you will, but that guy could really hit it when in the proper mood, no matter how inappropriate the setting.