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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Billy Fury: We Want Billy!


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.

1 comment:

  1. Will you review Bob Dylan's new album?

    ReplyDelete