On Vine Street: The Early Songs of Randy Newman
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Many Randy Newman fans are aware that before he began to focus on a solo recording career in the late 1960s, he'd worked as a jobbing songwriter for years, his compositions or co-compositions getting recorded by numerous other artists. Even fairly serious Newman fans, however, might be unaware of just how much such material he penned in his early years. Twenty-six Newman interpretations spanning 1962-1970 are on this superbly annotated compilation, and as much as it digs up -- much of it rare, one cut even previously unreleased -- it's just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the songs, and quite a few of the performers, are fairly well known: Alan Price had a British hit with Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear in 1967; {|Cilla Black|} had a U.K. Top 20 single with I've Been Wrong Before in 1965; {|Gene Pitney|} went all the way to number two in Britain with Nobody Needs Your Love in 1966; {|Nilsson|}'s So Long Dad is from his well-regarded 1970 Nilsson Sings Newman album; and {|Eric Burdon & the Animals|}' Mama Told Me Not to Come is the original 1967 version of a classic later recorded by Newman himself and made into a hit by {|Three Dog Night|}. There's also Old Kentucky Home, from {|the Beau Brummels|}' 1967 album Triangle, and {|Dusty Springfield|}'s reliably fine version of I Think It's Going to Rain Today. It might astound even collectors, however, to see just how many notable artists recorded Newman tunes in the '60s, including {|the O'Jays|}, {|Irma Thomas|}, {|Erma Franklin|}, {|Gene McDaniels|}, {|Frankie Laine|}, {|the Fleetwoods|}, {|Jackie DeShannon|}, {|Scott Walker|}, {|Van Dyke Parks|}, {|Rick Nelson|}, {|Fats Domino|}...the list goes on. Also thrown in are some generally worthy obscurities, like Happy New Year by Beverley, who later became known as {|John Martyn|}'s wife and musical partner, and {|Vic Dana|}'s Looking for Me, which sounds like a West Side Story outtake. Newman scholars will find this interesting for strong hints of his later fusions of Tin Pan Alley, R&B, and various strains of Americana in his more mature solo work. General fans of '60s rock, however, will find this surprisingly interesting and pleasing evidence that Randy Newman was adept at far more conventional music than what he'd become famous for under his own name, crafting quite catchy, if somewhat erratic, material with a much stronger popock and soul bent than in his later work. It's true that those familiar with this phase of Newman's career will find some favorites of theirs omitted. The decision to not feature more than one track by any one performer also limits the scope of the set, as some of the artists, such as Price and Nilsson, recorded quite a few notable Newman covers. Also, the existence of more than one decent version of specific songs, and the compilers' decision to choose no more than one version of any one tune, leads to some tough calls; Gene Pitney's version of Just One Smile is certainly more notable than the one included here (by {|the Tokens|}), for instance, though the Tokens were the first to put the song on 45. On the whole, however, Ace does an excellent job of representing the wide scope of both Newman's early songwriting and the performers who interpreted those compositions, without compromising the general level of musical quality. The obvious solution to the dilemmas in narrowing this body of work down to one disc would be to present several more volumes of such material -- a series that both Newman and fans of this important songwriter would richly deserve.


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