Various: Timeless Memories from the 50s and 60s (EMI)

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Helen Shapiro: Don't Treat Me Like A Child
Various: Timeless Memories from the 50s and 60s (EMI)

For some of us, many of these 50 tracks will be embedded somewhere in the subconscious from that period before the Beatles broke through and people like Helen Shapiro (whom the Beatles supported on one of their first UK tours) and Lesley Gore were all over radio.

Here is ample evidence that the songs were soft and dreary before guitar bands swept everything away: The Four Aces with Three Coins in the Fountain, the Platters and the Mills Brothers, Jo Stafford's Shrimp Boats, Cliff with Living Doll, the whole white-people folk thing (New Christy Minstrels, the Kingston Trio) and so on.

But scattered throughout are some real gems, and some strange stuff like Doris Day with the salacious ("I wanna be") Teacher's Pet. If Britney sung this there would be outrage, it's the flip of the Police's Don't Stand So Close to Me.

Then there are the Springfields with Island of Dreams and the latent power in that girl singer would within two years emerge as Dusty Springfield (see clip below); the eerie The Big Hurt by Miss Toni Fisher from 1959 (and you thought the Small Faces were the first to use phasing?); Lesley Gore with the deliciously vicious Judy's Turn to Cry ("because Johnny's coming back to me"); Helen Shapiro with the proto-feminist Don't Treat Me Like A Child; the Everly Brothers with Problems; illicit love on Jimmie Rodgers' Secretly; Sarah Vaughan with the suggestive Make Yourself Comfortable which sounds like she's singing from the bedroom; Elvis with His Latest Flame; Fats Domino with Be My Guest . . .

There are elements of country scattered about (Marty Robbins), white-bread doo wop (the Crewcuts), light orchestra (Billy Vaughan), soft rock'n'roll (Craig Douglas with the much-covered Only Sixteen and Jim Lowe with Green Door) and much more.

You cannot deny that -- even if you don't like what they sing -- the likes of Andy Williams, Cathy Carr and other MOR artists had great voices.

And here's another thought: yes, the Beatles and Stones etc all embraced Motown soul, blues and r'n'b, but when they were kids (as George Harrison noted in The Anthology) they were listening avidly to radio in those formative years before television. This was the kind of stufff they were hearing. McCartney didn't get to be a great songsmith by listening only to Little Richard.

This double disc collection is soppy, sentimental and schlock in places, but also includes some great songs, forgotten voices and seminal music.

Pick'n'mix . . . but be ready with the fast-forward. 

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