The Kingsmen – Up and Away

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Although they once dominated the airwaves with their single “Louie, Louie,” by 1966 the Kingsmen were struggling to maintain relevancy in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of rock ‘n’ roll music. Numerous line-up changes combined with the waning popularity of garage rock forced The Kingsmen to venture beyond their garage rock style. Released in 1966 on Wand Records, Up and Away would be the Kingsmen’s final studio album. While this album definitely contains some strong garage rock numbers like those that fans of the group have come to cherish, the driving force behind the album is covers of rock, pop and R&B singles that were popular at the time. For example, two of the most well-known songs on the album are “If I Needed Someone” and “Under My Thumb,” songs written and recorded by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones respectively. While both covers are decent, neither does anything to really separate the covers from the originals. Unfortunately, this theme is a little too common on this album. The Kingsmen also recorded covers of “Wild Thing,” “Shake a Tail Feather” and “Mustang Sally,” all of which already had popular versions by other artists that were dominating the charts. Some critics have blamed new producers––Paul Tannen and Mark Wildey––for pushing the band toward these covers and toward a more pop rock sound all together. This theory seems very plausible as these covers lack any resemblance of that classic Kingsmen garage sound. Although these covers do make up most of the album, there are several hidden gems on the album including the opening track, “Trouble” and the hard-driving number, “Little Sally Tease.” Both songs are much more raw and genuine than most of the tracks on the album. Fans of early Kingsmen albums will definitely appreciate these tunes, and the album as a whole is still worth picking up for garage rock fans. As a whole package, the album is fairly decent. While not oozing with originality or surprises, the covers are solid and the original material is quite enjoyable. This album is typical of a great underground band on its last legs––perhaps it could be better, but at least it’s not worse.  B-

The Kingsmen – The Kingsmen on Campus

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Still soaking in their lingering success from their mega-hit single “Louie, Louie,” The Kingsmen quickly churned out their fourth studio album in just as many years. Released on Wand Records in 1965, The Kingsmen on Campus strays from the pure garage rock sound that dominated the band’s first three studio albums. Beginning with The Kingsmen in Person (reviewed in January 2013) and continuing through Volumes II (reviewed in May 2013) and III, The Kingsmen made a name for themselves with raw guitars, aggressive vocals and simple but driving rhythms. However, The Kingsmen on Campus deviates from this style by covering conventional rock ‘n’ roll hits like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Stand By Me.” While the band does put their own unique spin on both of these covers, they do not put a raw and heavy garage rock spin on them but rather perform jazzy sax-heavy renditions. With these jazzy covers, The Kingsmen are clearly way out of their element. Although many bands can successfully diversify their sound, The Kingsmen seem to solely be masters of attitude-filled garage rock. In this case, they should have stuck with what they knew. Despite the failed attempts at evolving their style, the album is not wholly a failure. In fact, there are several powerful tracks that harken back to the band’s amateurish rock ‘n’ roll style. Songs like “Rosalie,” “The Climb” and “Genevieve” match the rhythm and style of early Kingsmen songs. These songs are much heavier and faster than many of this album’s songs. They are full of the energy and emotion that is garage rock. Unfortunately these real garage rock tunes are not quite enough to overcome the pop-friendly covers littered throughout the album. While The Kingsmen’s pure, raw sound does find its way to the surface from time to time, overall, this album is a disappointing departure for one of the greatest garage rock bands of the 60s.  B-

The Best of Louie, Louie

ImageThis blog entry is a little different from the others in that I’m not reviewing a band but rather a song. The Best of Louie, Louie is a compilation album released on Rhino Records in 1983 containing various renditions of the classic garage rock song, “Louie, Louie.” I’m not usually a fan of compilations, best ofs, etc. but I thought that this one might be kind of fun. In fact, it is. The album explores various styles and variations of the classic song over a 30-year period from Richard Berry’s original in 1955 to 80s covers by bands like Black Flag and The Last. Of course, The Kingsmen’s 1963 version which would go on to make the song a super hit is included. There are five versions of the song that seem to naturally progress: Richard Berry to Rockin’ Robin Roberts to The Kingsmen to The Sonics to Black Flag. Richard Berry’s original version is more of a doo-wop song, reliant on soothing vocals and an easy Caribbean beat. Rockin’ Robin Roberts’s version adds that beautiful electric guitar solo and brings the doo-wop beat toward a Chuck Berry classic rock ‘n’ roll sound. Then the infamous Kingsmen cover distorts the lyrical sound, propelling the song into a whirlwind of controversy and success, ultimately cementing its status as a super hit. The Sonics’ version strips down the sound and gives it a protopunk feel. This version also strengthens the vocals by making them harsher and louder. Finally, Black Flag’s version is a full throttle hardcore punk variation. Black Flag’s version speeds up and strips down the sound even further. It also includes improvised and darker lyrics. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite of these five. They are all spectacular though for different reasons. In addition to these five mainstream editions, the album also contains a number of vastly different variations. For example, Rice University Marching Owl Band covers the song in an ensemble fashion. I enjoy this version a lot because of the zealous horn section. I don’t really care for other versions like The Sandpipers’ quiet, 60s easy listening style. The Last and Les Dantz and His Orchestra perform covers that are quintessentially 80s. The Last has a power rock/gothic rock sound reminiscent of The Cure. Les Dantz and His Orchestra uses way too much synthesizer for me. The album is wrapped up with an a cappella song called The Hallelouie Chorus by The Impossibles. It’s a little bizarre to me; I could definitely do without it. Overall, I like this album. I like the concept of dedicating an album to such a classic song. I can even appreciate that the album includes experimental variations of the song. I just wish they’d be experimental in a way I find pleasing. If you want something different and can find it pretty cheap, then I’d recommend picking it up.  B

The Kingsmen – The Kingsmen Volume II

ImageThe Kingsmen are back for their second appearance on this blog with The Kingsmen Volume II. This album, released in 1964 on Wand Records, is the follow-up to their successful The Kingsmen in Person. Like their debut, Volume II is also a live album packed with solid garage rock tunes. For starters, The Kingsmen perform quite a handful of garage rock standards, such as “Walking the Dog,” “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” and “Linda Lou.” Garage rock purists will love these renditions because in many ways The Kingsmen were the leaders of the pack. Some of these songs may not have gained such notoriety if The Kingsmen hadn’t covered them. The Kingsmen also attempt to broaden their appeal a little bit by performing garage rock covers of popular rock ‘n’ roll songs like “Do You Love Me,” “Come on Baby, Let the Good Times Roll,” and “Great Balls of Fire.” All three songs are top-notch performances, adding to the core of The Kingsmen Volume II. The Kingsmen prove that they can still bring the fast, free beats culminating in great hip-shaking vibes. For those who may grow tired of the ever-present sound of garage rock, The Kingsmen throw “David’s Mood” right in the middle of the album. This instrumental eases any potential feelings of being overwhelmed with that pure garage sound. While it’s not out-of-this-world amazing, it is interesting to see The Kingsmen flex their creative muscle a little bit. The album is also supported by minor hits like “New Orleans” and “Long Green.” Both songs remind you why simplicity is sometimes better. They are beautifully repetitious and full of energy. With these two songs you can clearly tell that The Kingsmen bring their all when they perform live. Perhaps my favorite song of the album is actually the very first song, “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” This song would renew The Kingsmen’s time on the Billboard chart and garner them more fame. Its Latin-inspired beat is fun and makes you want to do the mashed potato. Even the songs that I didn’t care too much for, like “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” and “Death of an Angel,” are decent enough tunes. While they don’t resonate with me very much, I can’t say that they are bad songs. All in all, for the garage rock purist, there are very few bands that can produce like The Kingsmen. Those who may favor blues or psychedelic rock might not find what they’re looking for, but those who dig that mid-60s beat will have to have their hands on this album. My only gripe is that I’m not convinced that the album is actually a live album. The audience applause seems extremely cohesive, almost robotic. I have a strong suspicion that it’s actually an applause track used to make listeners think it was recorded live. Also, no where on the album does it mention a day, time, or place that this supposed concert was supposed to have happened. Perhaps I’m being nitpicky. Bottom line: if you like garage rock, buy this album. If you don’t, there’s plenty of other good album reviews on this blog.  A-

The Kingsmen – The Kingsmen in Person

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For my next album review, I’ve decided to go with something that everyone probably knows but doesn’t fully know. Most everyone would recognize the song, “Louie, Louie,” but only a small number of people could actually name the band who performed it, and even fewer could name another song by that band. Thus, this 1963 album by The Kingsmen seemed like a great choice for this blog. The Kingsmen in Person, the group’s first album, is a live album released by Wand Records. The Kingsmen would go on to record several more albums in the mid-60s until fading into obscurity in the late 60s. An interesting thing about this album: Jack Ely, the lead singer on “Louie, Louie” quit the band after the song was recorded (A studio version of the song was released as a single before this album) but before this live album was recorded. Thus, Lynn Easton would lip-synch this song in live performances until a lawsuit put an end to that practice. This infamous song opens up the album. Of course it’s amazing. It was and remains a garage rock standard. Very fews band were as pure garage rock as The Kingsmen. The next song, “The Waiting” is also a spectacular garage rock song. “Mojo Workout” follows with a predominately instrumental sound that flows well in the album. The fourth song of the album, “Fever” is a love song with bluesy influence and a heavy keyboard. It’s just as strong as the previous tracks. Although it may espouse a slightly greedy sentiment, “Money” is straight to the roots of that garage sound. “Bent Scepter” closes side one of the album as an instrumental jam that helps round out all the other tracks thus far. Side one of this album is just truly amazing. Side two of this album opens with “Long Tall Texan.” This song is extremely interesting because it’s much more of a rockabilly number than a garage rock song. Although The Kingsmen very rarely strayed from that pure garage rock sound, this song proves that there is an exception to every rule. And it’s a very good exception. The next song, “You Can’t Sit Down” is an instrumental that does exactly as its name implies: it makes you want to dance. The song that was covered by every band in the early 60s, including The Beatles and The Who, “Twist & Shout” follows. Their version is quite similar to the popular version recorded by The Beatles; nonetheless, it’s a fun song. A song titled “J. A. J.” follows as an instrumental. It, too, is a solid track. The next song, “Night Train” is also an instrumental. It’s a little faster and a little more fun. The album closes with “Mashed Potatoes,” yet another instrumental. (I guess the band wasn’t much on vocals after Jack Ely quit.) This one, too, has a strong garage rock, danceable sound that does much to equate The Kingsmen with the garage rock movement. Overall, this album is fantastic. If you’re at all interested in garage rock, this album is a must. This album could stand as a model for other garage rock albums. Go buy it now.  A