Tommy Roe is another one of those sixties pop stars I like to resurrect.
He is, to the wider music public, occasionally derided, rarely discussed, often mistaken, largely forgotten, and greatly undervalued.
The mid to late-60s Tommy’s and Bobby’s are too hard to distinguish for contemporary audiences I suspect.
Tommy Roe, Tommy James, Tommy Boyce …
Bobby Hart, Bobby Sherman, Bobby Goldsboro …
Not to mention the non-Tommy/Bobby crew …
Brian Hyland, Billy Joe Royal, Len Barry, Ron Dante, B.J. Thomas, Lou Christie, Chris Montez, Keith …
And groups like Jay and the Americans, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap …
They all practiced AM Pop with touches of bubblegum pop, sunshine pop, blue eyed soul and rock n roll.
Their mentors were Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Gene Pitney, Del Shannon, Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, Tommy Sands, Ricky Nelson, Fabian, Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, and Elvis Presley.
Given that, it can’t be too bad …
But, when they talk about those guys they talk in terms of hit singles or how they did other things linked to other famous musicians: ie: Tommy Roe opened for the Beatles in 1964 (they also opened for him).
There is more than that here, but, the question remains … is this pop any more worthwhile than pop of the 70s, 80s, and beyond?
Putting aside the 70s I would say, definitely yes.
I’m not a teen of the 60s so I’m not using rose coloured glasses but the pop of the 60s was still testing the boundaries of where rock ‘n’ pop could go so there is quite a bit of experimentation and playfulness in the pop grooves.
Melodies hadn’t been exclusively replaced by beats, the narrative and lyric hadn’t been reduced to unrelated nonsensical words and the music was the result of organic multi person input.
This, all, appeals to me.
But, the subsequent rush to venerate the 60s (especially the mid to late-60s) as the thoughtful decade (maybe it was) meant that if you weren't Bob Dylan, The Beatles or serious in your intentions (album oriented) then your music was largely forgotten. But, like a lot of music in that golden age of rock ‘n’ pop, even something as pop as Tommy Roe has merits not often seen. In Roe’s case those merits are substantial. He is a consummate singer, a prolific song writer, and a strong musician.
The allmusic entry is short but hints at Roe’s hidden talents, “Widely perceived as one of the archetypal bubblegum artists of the late '60s, Tommy Roe cut some pretty decent rockers along the way, especially early in his career — many displaying some pretty prominent Buddy Holly roots. In fact, Roe's initial pop smash, 1962's chart-topping "Sheila," was quite reminiscent of Holly's "Peggy Sue," utilizing a very similar throbbing drumbeat and Roe's hiccuping vocal. The singer had previously cut the song for the smaller Judd label before remaking it in superior form for ABC-Paramount. The infectious "Everybody" — another hot item the next year — was waxed in Muscle Shoals at Rick Hall's Fame studios, normally an R&B-oriented facility (it's not widely known that Roe wrote songs for the Tams, a raw-edged soul group from his Atlanta hometown). Once Roe veered off on his squeaky-clean bubblegum tangent, he stuck with it for the rest of the decade. His lighthearted "Sweet Pea" and "Hooray for Hazel" burned up the charts in 1966, and he was still at it three years later when he waxed his biggest hit, "Dizzy," and "Jam Up Jelly Tight"”.
Roe was born May 9, 1942, in Atlanta, Georgia. When he was in high school he sang in the vocal group "The Satins" and they released a couple of records in 1960. In 1962, he went to ABC-Paramount Records and released "Sheila" (which had been a song released by The Satins). The song was a hit. During 1963 and 1964 he followed with some other chart toppers. In late 1964 and 1965 he served as an electrician in the U.S. Army reserves. Though his early work was in the soft rockabilly style he continue to explore pop and, when he returned to his music career in 1966 he realised he needed a change of style and moved to a more full pop style, and released the song "Sweet Pea" which re-established him on the charts. In 1969, he scored his biggest hit with "Dizzy" which went to #1. His chart visibility diminished in the 1970s though he released a number of albums. He still tours on oldies shows.
This album came on the back of the hit single “Sweet Pea” and is a bit of a hodge podge release, just like many records by Roe and his AM Pop contemporaries at the time … their songs were product and were packaged quickly on the back of a hot chart song or two. You have a hit single or two, record a couple of originals, stick in some covers of other people's recent hits, pad the rest out with non-album A or B sides, and voila …. instant album.
Here the hits are “Sweet Pea” and “Hooray for Hazel”, there are another couple of originals, the four recent covers are (mainly of) British Invasion songs (popular at the time and Roe lived in England for a while in the mid-60s), and the rest are old A sides.
The album does not hide the fact. The liner notes state, "This is an accumulation of only the highlights of Tommy's first four years in the entertainment field …"
Accordingly the first side is the hits and the new songs, and the second side are the old hits and singles and a couple of new songs
So, the album is a little schizophrenic. The first side is different to the second side, but, given we are only talking a couple or so years the stylistic shifts may not be noticed to non-anal types. Even then, Roe's voice holds everything together.
The Roe originals are catchy and clearly he knows the sound he is looking for. What I like is the way Roe then tackles the covers and subsumes them within his musical palette.
It was his fifth album, the first having come out three years earlier.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Hooray For Hazel – (Roe) – a new original. This is extremely catchy and reflects a lot of the tunes coming out of England. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hooray_for_Hazel
- Under My Thumb – (Jagger, Richards) – The great Rolling Stones song from 1966 (from the "Aftermath" album) which was not released as a single but was extremely popular. Del Shannon released a version in 1966 as did The Kingsmen. This is a great pop version of the song which softens the snarl in the lyric but doesn't diminish the implication. A hoot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_My_Thumb
- Pretty Flamingo – (Barkan) – a cover of Manfred Mann's #1 UK hit (#29US) from 1966. Another good version but it's another good song. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Flamingo
- Where Were You When I Needed You – (Sloan, Barri) – a cover of The Grass Roots #28 song from 1966. Early sunshine pop and well sung
- Wild Thing – (Chip Taylor) – a cover of the #1US (#2UK) hit for The Troggs in 1966. It doesn't have the spit and haphazardness of The Troggs version but it is quite good. The guitar break, all plucked notes is cool. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Thing_(The_Troggs_song)
- Sweet Pea – (Roe) – released as a single in December 1965. Roe wrote the song for the McCoys but they never got back to him. Great pop, and a bit of a throwback to the early 60s but with some great mid-60s organ.
- Party Girl – (Bouie, Jr Atkins) – released as a Roe single in 1964. The start is like something that escapes me at the moment (something by Bobby Darin perhaps?) and at times he sounds like a sweeter Sonny Bono. A great song.
- Everybody – (Roe) – released as a single by Roe in 1963 (he re-released it in 1973 and did another version (?) in 1976. A back gospel feel is introduced into this song. It is well written. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everybody_(Tommy_Roe_song)
- The Folk Singer – (Merle Kilgore) – released as a single in 1963 this was written by country song writer (and occasional singer) Kilgore (he co-wrote "Ring of Fire" with June Carter). This was first recorded by Roe. A strange one for Roe … it sounds more like something Johnny Cash would do.. A good song though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Folk_Singer_(Tommy_Roe_song)
- Pleasing You Pleases Me – (Roe, Bouie) – gentle mid-tempo pop.
- Kick Me Charlie – (Roe) – some R&B introduced here.
- Sheila – (Roe) – released as a single in 1960 by Roe and his vocal group The Satins and then by Roe solo in 1962 when he had a hit with it. The Beatles recorded it in 1962 at the Star Club in Hamburg. It sounds a lot like Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and doesn't fit with the newer songs but it is a great song. Jerry reed apparently played guitar on this.
Great and perfect for parties … I'm keeping it.
1962 Sheila #1
1963 Everybody #3
1963 The Folk Singer #84
1964 Party Girl #85
1966 Sweet Pea #8
1966 Hooray for Hazel #6
1962 Sheila #3
1963 Everybody #9
1963 The Folk Singer #4
Hooray For Hazel
Under My Thumb
Where Were You When I Needed You
The Folk Singer
Pleasing You Pleases Me
Kick Me Charlie
- produced by Steve Clark.