BILLY FURY: THE SOUND OF FURY (1960)
1) That's Love; 2) My Advice; 3) Phone Call; 4) You Don't Know; 5) Turn My Back On You; 6) Don't Say It's Over; 7) Since You've Been Gone; 8) It's You I Need; 9) Alright, Goodbye; 10) Don't Leave Me This Way.
Billy Fury. Was this guy just a cheap plastic imitation of American rock'n'roll, temporarily acting as a local substitute on UK soil before «the real thing», like the Beatles and the Stones, came along? Or was he the real thing all along? It's a tough question, not unlike the one that is often asked about the Monkees on the other side of the ocean. Furthermore, is there a single solitary reason, real thing or not, to listen to his recordings today?
I think the key factor here is that — unlike quite a few of the supposedly more «authentic» British Invasion acts that came in the guy's wake — Ronald Wycherley, a.k.a. Billy Fury, wrote all of his material himself. Yes, he idolized American pop music and rockabilly, and had no idea whatsoever about going out there and making something different; but he crafted his own melodies and constructed his own lyrics, and when you are doing this in the genre of light entertainment, you either fall flat on your face or you come up with something interesting. Given Billy's tremendous popularity from 1960 to 1963, he must have come up with something interesting, you'd think. And when you take a listen to The Sound Of Fury, his first and best record, just a quick couple of listens might convince you that he really did.
Yes, he likes all of them whitebread rockers, and alternately writes and sings in the style of Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, the Burnette brothers, and/or Elvis — all of whom he had to be at once for the hungry British crowds. But the simplest thing to do would be to simply appropriate their melodies and add new lyrics, and I do not recognize direct rip-offs. Each time a song starts off exactly like some other classic, it quickly shifts into its own territory — like ʽIt's You I Needʼ, for instance, starts off just like ʽThat's Alright (Mama)ʼ, then gets its own brief poppy chorus. A trifle, of course, and one might seriously argue that all these cosmetic changes were mainly designed as safe guarantee against lawsuits while all the royalties could be kept for the artist. But I hope there was more to it than just financial reasons — that Billy Fury really liked writing songs in the manner of his idols.
Of course, The Sound Of Fury is quite a misleading title, and anyone looking for the album in hopes of uncovering a long-lost classic of kick-ass early rock'n'roll must immediately lower the pulsating expectations. Even something like ʽShakin' All Overʼ, also recorded in the UK that same year by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, blows Fury's «fury» out of the water — not to mention most of the major American rock stars of the 1950s. The «wildest» track on here is ʽTurn My Back On Youʼ, an echoey, suggestive, bass-heavy rockabilly romp in the vein of Gene Vincent and Johnny Burnette, but altogether about four years late to seem in any way «dangerous» to anybody but the most killingly conservative grandparents (not that there weren't still quite a lot of them in 1960, of course). Everything else is even more tame, with a poppy or a country underlining to it. Heck, even such a little-known wussy band as The Silver Beetles, who once refused to become a backing band for Billy because he wanted them to fire their bass player (Stuart Sutcliffe at the time, not Paul McCartney, so I sort of understand), was «heavier» than Fury's ensemble. So take the album title with a grain of salt.
On the other hand, Billy did have himself a nice playing outfit — including a young and ambitious guitarist called Joe Brown (yes, the Joe Brown who went on to many different things, including befriending George Harrison, becoming the father of Sam Brown, and writing some good music in between), helping him out with original riffs (he doesn't solo all that much), and Reg Guest on piano, playing much in the style of such American greats as Amos Milburn and Johnny Johnson (meaning that he mostly favors the boogie pattern).
If anything, The Sound Of Fury does sound like a perfectly professional endeavor — it just seems a little bit out of date for 1960, what with all the echo and reverb and bass slapping and a near-total lack of drums (at least loud ones; extra bit of trivia — Andy White, later to play on the Beatles' recording of ʽLove Me Doʼ, is the drummer here). You'd almost think the radio didn't work and it took these guys four years for a steamship to deliver The Sun Sessions to their doorstep. (The story also goes that, while doing the bass slapping, they had to have two bassists — one to pick the notes and one to actually do the slapping. Hey, but it works!).
But they made their own Sun Sessions, and they do sound somewhat like the real thing. As a singer, Billy never had a unique voice, but it was capable of many things: he can have it all glottalic and hiccupy and rockabillish on ʽTurn My Backʼ, or he can have it slyly sweet with a hillbilly whiff à la Buddy Holly on ʽThat's Loveʼ, or he can do tender sentimental pleading on ʽAlright, Goodbyeʼ (although the from-the-bottom-of-my-heart crooning style on ʽYou Don't Knowʼ is one time where he seems to severely overcook it: his frail lungs simply cannot handle the ambition). So, looking back on this stuff from more than a half-century distance, I wouldn't call this «empty posing». The guy really dug whatever he was doing here. Thumbs up.
That said, the best track on the current CD issue is to be found not on the album itself, but on one of the accompanying bonusy B-sides: ʽDon't Jumpʼ is a terrific pop-rock exercise in the style of post-army Elvis (think something like ʽLittle Sisterʼ), but with heavy emphasis on Duane Eddy-ish twangy guitar and an independently invented «heartbreaking» story of a teenage suicide set to Billy's own lyrics. Just a juicy, seductive example of one of those «light somber moods», set to a steady pop rhythms, that were produced so frequently in the early Sixties and then vanished almost completely, replaced by genuinely depressing heavy somberness.