BILLY FURY: WE WANT BILLY! (1963)
1) Sweet Little Sixteen; 2) Baby Come On; 3) That's All Right; 4) Wedding Bells; 5) Sticks And Stones; 6) Unchain My Heart; 7) I'm Moving On; 8) Just Because; 9) Halfway To Paradise; 10) I'd Never Find Another You; 11) Once Upon A Dream; 12) Last Night Was Made For Love; 13) Like I've Never Been Gone; 14) When Will You Say I Love You.
Well, this is a semi-interesting project at least — in that it allows Mr. Fury one last chance to showcase whatever little of the «fury» was still left. It may not sound exactly like a real live album from real early 1960s, but it is, in a way: recorded live at Decca Studio No. 3, in front of a small (but still annoyingly loud) audience — hence, We Want Billy! may be counted as the first live album by a UK pop-rock act of any importance. (As distinguished from «the first important live album by a UK pop-rock act», which may or may not be Five Live Yardbirds a year later — produced in worse quality, but in an actual club environment).
Backed by the semi-professional Tornadoes, whose skills at playing guitar and organ leads seem a little better developed than the skills of the rhythm sections, Billy cuts here through a long chains of rockabilly and R&B standards — then, two-thirds into the album, switches gears and gives us a long medley of his «sweeter» hits. The screaming girls are nowhere near as overwhelming as if this were Shea Stadium or Madison Square Garden, but it is not quite clear which situation is better: an evenly spread screaming background of tens of thousands, or singular howls and yelps of dozens that come and go. (The funniest of all is ʽWedding Bellsʼ, where all the major screaming fits are triggered by the chorus of "wedding bells are ringing in my ears..." — supposedly, were polygamy to be allowed, Billy could have walked right out of that studio prouder than a Turkish sultan).
Anyway, the rock'n'roll part is passable and sometimes even a little inventive: for instance, ʽThat's All Right (Mama)ʼ starts out as slow country, spiced up with organ flourishes, then gradually accelerates, turning only about halfway into the classic Elvis version: a somewhat banal way for us today, perhaps, to show the roots and sources of the rockabilly craze, but not quite so trivial back in 1963. ʽJust Becauseʼ develops, with a key change, out of a short «clap your hands» R&B baby-jam (curious, but unnecessary — Billy can do a passable Elvis, but he's no single-handed match for the Isley Brothers). The two Ray Charles tributes (ʽSticks And Stonesʼ and ʽUnchain My Heartʼ) are, as usual, emotionally charged and further prove that Mr. Fury was a big fan and promoter of Ray's, but, alas, you'd have to have an ego (and a throat) the size of an Eric Burdon or a Joe Cocker to do Ray any sort of true justice.
The balladeering part, unfortunately, is quite skippable: the only reason to listen to these songs in the first place is a willingness to take them in as «pop confections» — the strings, the harmonies, the meticulously rehearsed notes and modulations. In this «live» context, though, even a really good song like ʽHalfway To Paradiseʼ becomes limp and unconvincing (and the idea of recreating the five-note string motif with pseudo-martial drumming does not work), not to mention all the lesser ones, whose titles all speak for themselves.
Still, in the overall context of Billy's post-Sound Of Fury career, We Want Billy! is a relatively high point, and it can easily be understood how these tepid (especially to the modern ear), but sincerely delivered performances were, indeed, «the next best thing» for UK teenagers who could only dream of meeting their real idols in person. Even regardless of the disappointing ballad medley (disappointing for me, of course, not for the orgiastic girls in the audience), the whole impression is that of a modest — okay, condescending — thumbs up. It also helps that the only CD release of the record that I know of pairs it with Billy, which makes for a very seductive contrast.