Without question the most important female vocalist ever (and that means ever) to emerge from England, Dusty Springfield was the beehive-haired, panda eye-makeup-d fantasy dreamgirl of every teenaged lad on both sides of the Atlantic…

It’s All Too Beautiful
A five-DVD box set captures Dusty, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry & the Pacemakers and The Small Faces in full flower. The British Invasion begins anew.

By Billy Altman

To use an operative term from the Swingin' Sixties, it's quite a musical mixed bag inside the five-DVD box set of the new British Invasion series from Reelin' in the Years Productions, creators of such notable releases as The American Folk Blues Festival and Jazz Icon series. The box features individual discs devoted to Dusty Springfield, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits and the Small Faces (along with a bonus disc of material from all), and sports newly taped as well as archival interview footage supplementing scores of live and lip-synched performances from European and American TV and concert appearances by these acts during their '60s heyday. With long running times (roughly 90 to 120 minutes) for each volume, there's certainly no shortage of material to satisfy both aficionados of the era as well as casual fans interested in finding out more about any or all of these artists.

Dusty Springfield, ‘I Only Want To Be With You’

To wit:

Dusty Springfield—Once Upon A Time (1964-1969):  Without question the most important female vocalist ever (and that means ever) to emerge from England, Dusty Springfield was the beehive-haired, panda eye-makeup-d fantasy dreamgirl of every teenaged lad on both sides of the Atlantic from the minute they saw and heard her on her breakthrough Jan. '64 hit, "I Only Want To Be With You." (Watch her deftly timed little hip shakes at strategic moments of that song during a lip-synched performance on Dutch TV from early '64 and you'll quickly understand.) From then until her final Top 40 hit of the decade, '69's Gamble and Huff-penned "A Brand New Me," Springfield reigned supreme as the queen of blue-eyed soul, and this set captures the late singer in all her regal glory, as she nimbly combines New York girl group charm, Motown spirit, and international elegance. Augmented by commentary from the likes of longtime backup vocalist Madeline Bell and venerable writer/ producer Burt Bacharach, highlights here include a time-stopping "All Cried Out" from a 1965 Ed Sullivan Show, several frisky numbers from NME Reader's Poll Concerts of  '65 and '66 (including a sashaying take on Sam Cooke's "Shake"), and, of course, her spectacular, hear-her-breathe versions of Bacharach's "The Look of Love" and "Son Of A Preacher Man”—two of the sexiest vocals ever to appear on any recording. (Again, that means ever.)

Gerry & the Pacemakers, ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey,’ Top of the Pops, 1965: the lines [Gerry] jotted down in a half-hour for ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’—‘'cause this land's the place I love, and here I'll stay’—proved rather prophetic. He still lives in Liverpool.’

Gerry & The Pacemakers—It's Gonna Be All Right (1963-1965): It wasn't a particularly long hitmaking run for Liverpool's Gerry Marsden and his mates, especially in the States, where they were pretty much on and off the map within a year of their spring '64 debut U.S. smash, "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying." Still, their place in British rock history is fairly secure, since they were, technically, the first of Liverpool's "Beat" groups to top the U.K. charts via '63's Mitch Murray-authored "How Do You Do It?" after their mates the Beatles balked at recording a non-original for their debut release and shared producer George Martin gave it to the Pacemakers instead. Indeed, the band's first three singles all hit Number One in Great Britain, and as the ever-cheerful Marsden notes in his commentary, the friendly competition only served to inspire pals John Lennon and Paul McCartney to try harder—which, of course, they did, soon eclipsing not only the Pacemakers but all the other Liverpool bands that had come up together cutting their rock 'n' roll teeth at places like the Cavern Club. That's precisely where the new interview with Marsden was taped, and watching him evoke the sights, sounds and, above all, the dank smells of those young and innocent days is as good as watching him in footage from those days, performing still touching ballads like "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" and especially “Ferry Cross The Mersey." Those songs still hold special meaning to Marsden: After close to 50 years, he's still married to the girl he wrote "Catch You Crying" for, and the lines he jotted down in a half-hour for "Ferry Cross the Mersey"—“cause this land's the place I love, and here I'll stay"—proved rather prophetic. He still lives in Liverpool.

Herman’s Hermits, ‘No Milk Today’

Herman's Hermits—Listen People (1964-1969): No question their music was light as a feather, but between young lead singer Peter Noone's fresh-faced good looks and pronounced (in point of fact, as we learn here, deliberately over-pronounced) English accent, as well as the surprisingly underrated little combo behind him—and of, course, the luck of being precisely in the right place at the right time—Herman's Hermits were as representative of the good-time essence of the pop side of the British Invasion as any band of the era. While they leaned heavily, and literally, on English music hall/pub traditions through hits like "Leaning On A Lamp Post," "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter," and the ever-cheeky "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," they also drew from essential '50s American sources through Derek "Lek" Leckenby's Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry-echoing lead guitar runs and bassist Karl Green and rhythm guitarist Keith Hopwood's Everly Brothers-styled backing harmonies behind Noone. As new interviews with all but the late Leckenby reveal, credit for their neatly constructed sound and still terrific-sounding records rightfully goes to producer Mickie Most who, as Noone points out, usually heard finished singles in his head before they'd even get the tapes rolling. And it didn't hurt that, after a while, some of their backing tracks were arranged and at times played by young session players John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, who'd go on to that slightly successful group called Led Zeppelin. All together now: "Second verse, same as the first."

The Small Faces, ‘Itchycoo Park’

Small Faces—All Or Nothing (1965-1968): In the U.S., The Small Faces had a grand total of one Top Forty hit—the winter '67/'68 psychedelic anthem "Itchycoo Park." In the U.K., however, the physically pint-sized (hence their name) quartet were, along with the Who, the hugely popular "Faces" of England's Mod movement. Dressed in their sharpest Carnaby Street clothes, strutting singer/guitarist Steve Marriott and cohorts Ronnie Lane (bass), Ian McLagan (keyboards) and Kenney Jones (drums) filtered teenybopper-friendly shoutalongs ("Sha La La La Lee," "Hey Girl") through aggressive R&B-influenced rock sensibilities ("Talk To You," "All or Nothing") for a high-energy hybrid sound that proved ahead of its time. When the band broke up in early 1969 after the relative commercial failure of their druggy concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, Marriott and fellow mod-rocker Peter Frampton formed Humble Pie. Meanwhile, the remaining Faces recruited two ex-Jeff Beck group members to take Marriott's place: guitarist Ron Wood and vocalist Rod Stewart. By the early '70s, both bands were arena faves on both sides of the pond. Granted, neither of those bands are represented here, since this collection, by definition, focuses on the Small Faces and their second tier British Invasion story. But for those who are curious, the seeds are certainly evident, especially in the remarkable footage of an early date at London's fabled Marquee Club, with Marriott flailing about on the old blues classic "Baby Please Don't Go" with improvisations that sound an awful lot like the aforementioned Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love." And as noted in separate interviews by surviving members McLagan and Jones (Marriott died in 1991; Lane in 1997), the group's creative high point was probably '68's criminally U.S.-ignored "Tin Soldier," and on that number you can hear Marriott building the foundation for Humble Pie's "I Don't Need No Doctor." As McLagan says: "Stevie always sang his heart out." All or nothing, indeed.

British Invasion, a 5-CD box set featuring a bonus disc, is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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