I've talked about Len Barry and his former vocal band The Dovells both on this blog before.
I love vocal bands and vocalists.
At some time around 1962 the musical world changed forever and the age of the musician as, foremost, a writer, was ushered in regardless of the quality of the voice. This is despite the fact that those singer songwriter types themselves loved vocalists.
Sure there had been expressive (read gravel-like, growl-like, nasal-like, guttural) singers before but they were normally limited to folk, country and blues and not to pop and rock.
Music had to go somewhere and I have no problem with that though in pop and rock the rush towards the songwriter and increasing amplification meant the vocalist (and arrangements of vocalists) became less important and an important interpretative musical instrument (the voice) was denigrated .
Black soul, white blue eyed soul, and pure pop resisted this trend whilst, in a way, some of the new vanguard like the early Beatles and Beach Boys were a throw back to an earlier era where vocals and harmonies were just as important as the lyric. But, The Beatles discovered Dylan and perhaps abandoned that whilst The Beach Boys under Brian Wilson continued to explore vocal arrangements and became increasingly marginalised after 1966.
Eventually the vocalist returned in white pop rock though ultimately much of it was ruined by the sameness of the vocalists, by mass exposure on middlebrow mainstream television followed by, logically enough, vapid real life television like "The X Factor", "The Voice", "So you think you can Sing" etc.
Len Barry stands out amongst the blue eyed soul vocalists. He is a singer with a good voice and one who doesn't play any instrument (normally) but who co-writes a lot of his songs. (I'm not sure how or what portion of the songs he wrote – song writing was a messy business in those days with all sorts of credits going everywhere).
Barry may have loved the music but it was also his job and a means of escape from a potential life of digging ditches. The art in his music may have been important but the money it brought in was equally important…OK I natter on about this every now and then but music was a job not just a calling. I also note that it must have been hard playing this music to black audiences (he toured with James Brown apparently).
Wikipedia: "Len Barry (born Leonard Borisoff, June 12, 1942, West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States) is a retired American vocalist, songwriter and record producer … Born and raised in Philadelphia, Barry had little thought of a show business career while still in school. Instead, he aspired to become a professional baseball player upon his graduation. It was not until he entered military service and had occasion to sing with the U.S. Coast Guard band at Cape May, NJ, and was so encouraged by the response of his military audiences, that he decided to make music a career.
Upon his discharge from military service, Barry returned home to Philadelphia and joined the Dovells as their lead singer. His is the lead voice on their best selling records "Bristol Stomp", "Hully Gully Baby" and "You Can't Sit Down", among others. "Bristol Stomp" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Barry also made film appearances with the Dovells in films such as Don't Knock the Twist, as well as guest appearances on US television on The Dick Clark Show, Shindig, and Hullabaloo. Soon after leaving the group, Barry recorded his first solo single "Lip Sync".
As a predominately blue-eyed soul singer, he recorded two hits in 1965 for Decca Records in the US and released by Brunswick Records in the UK: "1-2-3", and "Like a Baby", both of which made the Top Ten of the UK Singles Chart".
Search for blue eyed soul definitions amongst my other listings but it's fair to say it is a much maligned genre of music. It's often referred to as a white version of Motown soul which is a little unfair. Motown soul was quite sweet and sugary. Blue Eyed soul may have lifted elements of black soul but it's white, quite rockin at times, and generally a lot more grittier.
It is also prone to bad imitation.
To this day.
Len Barry has a deeply expressive voice for this material. I don't know how far he could go into other styles but, here at least, he is a king.
On this, his first solo album he surrounds himself with some great collaborators. The album was producer (an largely co-written) by John Madara and David White. John Madara and David White had both worked with or had been in white 50s vocal group "Danny and the Juniors" (think the song "At the Hop"). And the album was arranged by Jimmy Wisner who was a pianist, arranger, songwriter, and producer of great ability.
Amongst the grit of blue eyed soul there is some rock, pop, black soul and throwbacks to the Bobby Vee/Rydell/Darin era of pop rock. It all hangs to well and shows that music isn't nurtured in a vacuum.
Tracks (best in italics)
- 1-2-3 – (David White, John Madara, Leonard Borisoff) – a magnificent song. One of the best blue eyed soul songs and one of the best singles of the 1960s. Barry sings the song perfectly. Motown sued over the songs similarity to "Ask any Girl" by The Supremes. They were suing everyone ion those days …though they did get some money. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1-2-3_(Len_Barry_song)
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow – (Carole King-Gerry Goffin) – The Shirelles magnificent Goffin and King song and #1 (US) hit from 1960. The fact that The Shirelles were an all girl vocal group doesn't effect this version of the song in the least.
- Treat Her Right – (Roy Head)- Roy Head was a crazed rockabilly and blue eyed soul singer from Texas who had a #2 (US) hit with this in 1965. Barry tones it down a little but the song is still magical. It has been covered many times.
- I.O.U – (David White, John Madara, Len Barry)- a good song and a re-write of "1-2-3".
- Would I Love You – (William Robinson)- The Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song from 1964 or thereabouts.
- Lip Sync (To the Tongue Twisters) – (David White, John Madara, Leonard Borisoff)- a novelty song but one with it's own independent dance groove.
- You Baby – (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector)- The Ronettes 1964 song and another girls group cover. The Lovin Spoonful also covered it in 1965.
- Like A Baby – (David White, John Madara, Len Barry)- another great song and not dissimilar to "1-2-3", again.
- Bullseye – (David White, John Madara, Leon Huff, Leonard Borisoff) – a variation on the Motown theme….and a co-write with Leon Huff, Philadelphia soul legend.
- At The Hop '65 – (Arthur Singer, David White, John Madara)- An updating of Danny and the Juniors #1 hit from 1958….a pure dance song.
- Don't Throw Your Love Away – (Billy Jackson, Jim Wisner)- A cover of a B-side by R&B group The Orlons from 1963.
- Happiness (Is A Girl Like You) – (David White, John Madara, Leonard Borisoff)- Catchy but it sounds like an outtake from an Elvis film. Is that a bad thing? No!
A good album and one to get you dancing in a 1965 kind of way …. I'm keeping it.
1965 Lip Sync (To The Tongue Twisters) The Billboard Hot 100 #84
1965 1-2-3 The Billboard Hot 100 #2
1965 1-2-3 R&B Singles #11
1966 Like A Baby The Billboard Hot 100 #27
1965 1-2-3 #3
1966 Like A Baby #10
and mp3 attached
- "In an interview with Forgotten Hits, Madara explained: "In 1965, with '1-2-3' being the #1 record in the country, we were sued by Motown during the period when Berry Gordy was suing anyone whose records sounded like a Motown record. We were sued, saying that '1-2-3' was taken from a B-Side of a Supremes record called 'Ask Any Girl.' The only similarity between the two songs are the first three notes where the Supremes sang 'Ask Any Girl' and Lenny sang '1-2-3.' After that, there were no similarities, but their lawsuit said that our goal was to copy the Motown sound. Well, needless to say, Motown kept us in court, tying up all of our writers' royalties, production royalties and publishing royalties, and threatened to sue us on the follow-up to '1-2-3,' which was 'Like A Baby.' So after battling with them for two years and having a ton of legal bills, we made a settlement with Motown, giving them 15% of the writers' and publishers' share. … We never heard 'Ask Any Girl.' The only influence for making '1-2-3' was to make a ballad with a beat. And the sound of '1-2-3' was definitely the sound of the era. Listen to 'The In-Crowd' – that's not the Motown Sound, that's the sound of the era – and '1-2-3' definitely had a beat! Motown was suing a lot of people at the time." http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=4937
- "In 1969 Len, along with brilliant arranger-musician Tommy Sellers, created the Philadelphia disco sound with the first disco hit record, “Keem-O-Sabe,” by a studio group Len named The Electric Indian. Most of the musicians who played on that session went on to become the Gamble-Huff studio players who eventually became known as MFSB, AKA, The Philadelphia Funk Brothers, (a play on the famous Motown studio players of an earlier era). By the mid 1970’s Len had tired of the road and turned his attention to writing and producing for others. Artists such as Lola Falana, Blue Magic, Major Harris, Bobby Rydell, Sylvester and Impact, (new group from Damon Harris), all benefited from the Len Barry touch….. Considered absolute classics in Europe, Slick’s “Space Bass” and “Zoom” by Fat Larry’s Band were both written and produced by Len Barry". http://www.lenbarry.com/
- He has also written a novel …. http://www.amazon.com/BLACK-LIKE-ME-Len-Barry/dp/1904408346/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1212474864&sr=8-1
- The album was released through Festival in Australia