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ALBUM REVIEWS / POP

'El Monte' Recaptures '50s R&B : VARIOUS ARTISTS "Art Laboe's Memories of El Monte"; Original Sound (***)

November 06, 1996|ROBERT HILBURN

"I'm all alone, feeling so blue / Thinking about you and the love we once knew. / And each time I do, it brings back . . . / Those memories of El Monte."

Those are the opening lines of the Penguins' recording of "Memories of El Monte," a song that was co-written by Frank Zappa in the '60s as a salute to the legendary R&B/rock dances held at the El Monte Legion Stadium in the '50s.

In the song, which opens this CD, there are references to many of the R&B acts that performed at the dances, including the Penguins themselves, the Los Angeles vocal group best known for its dreamy "Earth Angel." That Penguins hit from the mid-'50s not only defines the spirit of this nostalgic collection, but also captures the raw innocence of the early, teen-oriented R&B scene in Los Angeles.

Memphis, New York and Chicago may have given us the best rockabilly, doo-wop and blues records, respectively, but Los Angeles produced a group of romantic ballads that were recorded so cheaply that the primitive sound of the records only added to the innocence of the themes.

Along with such records as the Shields' "You Cheated," Marvin and Johnny's "Cherry Pie," Sonny Knight's "Dedicated to You" and the Pentagons' "To Be Loved," this update of an album that was released on vinyl in the early '60s also features a pair of infectious instrumentals from the period: Chuck Higgins' "Pachuko Hop" and Handsome Jim Balcom's "Corrido Rock."

Pete Wingfield's "Eighteen With a Bullet" and other recordings from the '60s and '70s that have been added to the album for this edition are less appealing. They may have the "feel" of El Monte, as the liner notes suggest, but they don't have the soul of El Monte R&B.

If you program your CD player wisely, however, the highlights of this album will transport you to one of the most magical periods in L.A. pop history.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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