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Monday, October 14, 2013

Brenda Lee: Sings Top Teen Hits

BRENDA LEE: SINGS TOP TEEN HITS (1965)

1) Dancing In The Streets; 2) The Crying Game; 3) Thanks A Lot; 4) Let It Be Me; 5) He Loves You; 6) Snap Your Fingers; 7) Wishin' & Hopin'; 8) Funny How Time Slips Away; 9) Is It True; 10) Can't Buy Me Love; 11) Always Something There To Remind Me; 12) When You Loved Me.

The most insulting thing about this album is its title. Granted, in February 1965 the world was still a few months away from ʽLike A Rolling Stoneʼ and ʽSatisfactionʼ, so Decca Records could still be somewhat justified in «wishin' & hopin'» that this new wave of rock'n'roll craziness would be over them as soon as this next bunch of teenagers starts getting serious about life. But the title is still condescending — as in, well, you know, our little lady usually sings mature, responsible material that treats human relationships from a healthy, adult perspective ("Tammy, Tammy, Tammy's in love!"), but sure, we understand the need to cater to this newfangled teen market as well, and we don't really want to let those silly kids feel too left out, so here, as an experiment, is Ms. Brenda Lee doing a couple of those weird «Beetles» songs for our dear, if a little misguided, offspring. Now run along, little boys and girls, and make way for some serious musicians that your parents endorse — like Tony Bennett.

Actually, both of the Beatles covers are among the highlights here — Brenda had not yet com­pletely forgotten what the rock'n'roll spirit was all about, and she nails the vocals on both with the good old abandon. Funny tidbit: even though the song is officially listed as ʽHe Loves Youʼ, Brenda sings the original lyrics without changing the pronoun — and understandably so, because the idiots at Decca failed to realize that the song involves three rather than two characters, and that turning it into ʽhe loves youʼ could have easily made the song into a gay rights anthem. Oh well, at least they bothered to preserve the electric guitar solo on ʽCan't Buy Me Loveʼ.

Most of the other songs, though... well, they were certainly hits, but it is somewhat questionable whether all of them were truly «teen» hits. ʽLet It Be Meʼ was covered by the Everleys, it is true, and there is plenty of Brill Building and Motown material on here, but the accent is very rarely on rock'n'roll even in its lightest form — most of the covers are lush ballads, soft-pop, or country with «crossover» appeal, and there is a nasty tendency to butcher some of the songs (for instance, ʽThe Crying Gameʼ was a very interesting song when recorded by Dave Berry, mainly due to Big Jim Sullivan's pioneering use of the wah-wah — here it is all replaced by the usual mushy strings). The Beatles covers are fun to hear, as is ʽDancing In The Streetsʼ — a song ideally sui­ted for all the raunch and fire that Brenda's voice can generate — and, at the very least, the con­cept allows her to devote some space to fluffy, but upbeat material like ʽSnap Your Fingersʼ and ʽThanks A Lotʼ: these aren't great songs, but in between all of them, they make Brenda Lee Sings Some Decca Executives Favorites They're Too Ashamed To Admit, So They Pose As Teens vastly preferable to Brenda Lee, By Request Of Some Other Decca Executives Who Do Not Pose As Teens But It's Not As If We Have To Respect Them For That.

The corniest moment on the record is saved for last: a teen idol-type candy piece called ʽWhen You Loved Meʼ, whose first verse goes "When you loved me / You took the stars / Down from the skies / Then you put them in my eyes" — I don't know about you, but my first reaction was "Oh man, that must have really hurt!" But this is actually a good sign, a crystal clear message from the industry that nothing has changed in a profound manner: the Beatles will come and go just the same way as Martha & The Vandellas or Dave Berry or Dusty Springfield, but Serious Good Taste by Responsible Adults will always prevail in the end. And it's always useful to be in the know, regardless of whether the news is pleasant or disappointing.


2 comments:

  1. George, I'm willing to concede that it's worth your spending your time reviewing the whole truckload of Brenda Lee albums if your assessments are this amusing! Decca, Decca . . . . it wasn't enough to opine that "guitar bands are on the way out." They really had to PROVE how much they didn't get what was going on.

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    1. It should be pointed out, however, that American and British Decca are not the same company. Sometime in the 1950's, there was a nasty divorce between the US & UK wings of the company. The result was that US Decca continued on as a separate, independent company (later renaming itself MCA), while British Decca established London Records as its American analog.

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