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BACKTRACKING

Pop oldies neither gone nor forgotten

London's Ace Records sees fit to honor American music with CDs of early artists.

July 11, 2007|Robert Hilburn | Special to The Times

From the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on, the British have been good at picking up on new, exciting strains in American pop music, and they can also be good at continuing to honor those vintage strains.

Consider Ted Howard and the rest of the team at London's Ace Records.

If you check the Ace website (www.acerecords.com), you'll find hundreds of CDs that deal with what we might call pop orphans. They're the sometimes major, sometimes minor artists who helped give character and nuance to American pop during the last half century but who aren't often the focus of big label retrospectives in this country.

Case in point: Doc Pomus.

With partner Mort Shuman, Pomus belongs on the list of outstanding American songwriting teams of rock's early years. Their credits include "Save the Last Dance for Me" (the Drifters), "Viva Las Vegas" and "Little Sister" (Elvis Presley) and "A Teenager in Love" (Dion and the Belmonts).

After reading "Lonely Avenue," Alex Halberstadt's fascinating new biography of Pomus, I checked some Web retailers for a collection of the old Pomus/Shuman hits. One of the only two I could find was "Till the Night Is Gone," a tribute to Pomus featuring versions by such notables as Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson and Los Lobos.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Ace Records executive: The Backtracking column in Wednesday's Calendar section about London's Ace Records identified label co-founder Ted Carroll as Ted Howard.

The other, thankfully, was Ace's recently released "The Pomus & Shuman Story: Double Trouble 1956-1967," which includes 26 of the original recordings. It's also a good entry point into the world of Ace and its affiliated labels, including Kent and Big Beat.

Various Artists

"The Pomus & Shuman Story: Double Trouble 1956-1967"

Ace

The back story: Stricken with polio as a youngster, Brooklyn-native Jerome Felder spent most of his life using crutches or a wheelchair, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his goal of, first, being a blues singer and, when that only carried him so far, a songwriter. He adopted the stage name Doc Pomus because he felt it sounded more appropriate for a blues singer.

Presley is represented by "Double Trouble," but the CD sidesteps Presley's famous versions of two other Pomus-Shuman hits so we can hear Del Shannon's raw treatment of "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame" and LaVern Baker's answer record ("Hey Memphis") to Presley's "Little Sister."

But the CD's centerpiece is the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me," a song made all the more poignant by the fact that the lyrics were written by someone who couldn't dance.

Pomus reportedly got the idea for the song watching his wife dance with guests at their wedding; his daughter later found the lyrics scribbled on a wedding invitation. Talk about inspiration for a song.

Various Artists

"Change Is Gonna Come:

The Voice of Black America 1963-1973"

Kent

The back story: Music was a central part in the civil rights movement, and this CD is a compelling guidebook to some of the famous and not-so-famous R&B or soul commentaries from the 1960s and '70s.

The collection begins with Otis Redding's interpretation of Sam Cooke's anthem-ish "A Change Is Gonna Come," then moves to two hits: the Impressions' "We're a Winner" and James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I'll Get It Myself)."

Among the selections that didn't find as wide an audience are the Staple Singers' "When Will We Be Paid" and Ray Scott's recitation Redd Foxx's eyebrow-raising "The Prayer."

The latter is a savage list of misfortunes wished upon Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a symbol of Southern segregation.

Various Artists

"Country & West Coast: The Birth of Country Rock"

Big Beat

The back story: Yes, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Clarence White and Poco are well represented, but the co-star of this imaginative package is a series of lost gems, including the Everly Brothers' "I'm on My Way Home Again" and the Corvettes' "Beware of Time," both recorded in 1969.

The centerpiece, however, is Parsons-Hillman's "Sin City," the quintessential West Coast country rock song, and Hillman is quoted at length in the liner notes about how the pair wrote the song one morning in a house in the San Fernando Valley.

"It was very tongue-in-cheek," Hillman explained about the statement of sin and salvation. "You could almost do a thesis on the song, with its funny images from the old Baptist hymns, the burning rain, etc. We both chuckled at all of that stuff, and we were having a good time with it, but there was never any doubts of our love of that music and taking it in that form."

Backtracking, a biweekly feature, highlights CD reissues and other historical pop music items.

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