Fantastic Voyage let rip with a monumental double-header this month, once more reinforcing the diversity of the label’s ongoing quest to uncover and annotate rich seams of seminal music: Later Alligator heads deep into Louisiana for a rampant collection of rock ‘n’ roll gumbo, while Love Me Do charts the sounds which fed into the future Beatles’ adolescent creative influences.
Compiled with Wild Wax Show DJ “Jailhouse” John Alexander and annotated by Lucky Parker, Later Alligator: Louisiana Rock ‘N’ Roll presents a rare gumbo blend of Big Easy R&B, Cajun country, rampant blues-boogie and Bayou swing, served up over two discs brimming with lesser-heard originals and mouth-watering obscurities.
Bookending the collection with Jerry Lee Lewis, Louisiana’s most infamous son, is the first sign it means serious business, fellow rockers including ‘Suzie-Q’ titan Dale Hawkins, Bobby Charles, Rod Bernard, Clarence Garlow, Roy Brown, Frankie Ford, Bobby Marchan, Fats Domino, Chris Kenner, Tibby Edwards, Johnny Ray Harris, Roy Montrell, Mickey Gilley, Billy Blank, Ruckus Tyler, Lou Millet, Clarence “Bon Ton” Garlow and many more.
Several tracks are drawn from local independent labels including Goldband, Jin, Ace, Ram and Vin, introducing a fervently attractive streak for record collectors as some are on CD for the first time. As with all Fantastic Voyage expeditionary releases, the set’s allure is further hot-wired by oddities and curios, here including a 13-year-old Dolly Parton wailing ‘Puppy Love’ or the Cajun accordion swamp gas of Cleveland Crochet’s ‘Sugar Bee’. Strangest of all is Jay Chevalier, crooning about the Cuban missile crisis over guitar and bongos before a major explosion at the end.
There’s a tangible spirit and energy coursing through these tracks rarely found in today’s music which was even unique to the state of Louisiana back then; it’s own brand of spiced-up, cross-fertilising rock ‘n’ roll and country twang, all bathed in steamy swamp fever. To have so many towering examples gathered together on one set is cause for celebration.
Meanwhile, Love Me Do: 50 Songs That Shaped The Beatles celebrates half a century since the Beatles made their recorded debut by rounding up some of the wildly-diverse artists, songs and influences which invaded the childhood and teenage psyches of the individuals who turned into the biggest group the world has ever seen.
Apart from the expected rock ‘n’ roll and blues which provided life-changing epiphanies for any self-respecting artists coming up in the 1950s, the set also straddles the less likely outings which would manifest in Beatles songs after they had climbed to fame with their signature beat and ballad sound, including music hall, comedy, jazz, girl groups, country, musicals and novelty songs. Compiled by respected Beatlesologist Spencer Leigh (author of Tomorrow Never Knows and other tomes), the set also underlines the Fabs’ grounding in the classic Tin Pan Alley song writing craft.
Elvis, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins have to be here but are restricted to one (less obvious) track apiece. Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ is essential for the McCartney ‘Oooh’, but it’s the lesser-known rockers such as Vince Taylor who make the set a fascinating well-spring of insights into the Beatles’ early motivations and inspirations, stretching back to the Quarrymen with Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’. History itself is represented by the mighty Merseysippi Jazz Band, who opened the Cavern in 1957, while the influence of McCartney’s bandleader dad Jim is evident in the presence of Fats Waller, Fats Domino and other artists whose songs he’s covered, including Fred Astaire and Peggy Lee. Ringo’s early immersion in orchestral faves such as Doris Day’s ‘Sentimental Journey’ showed up later in his solo career. The presence of Lita Roza, Liverpool’s first singing star, is another nice touch, as is Lennon and Harrison’s much-loved George Formby and Peter Sellers, another childhood hero who had been produced by George Martin.
Other names to be found on this multi-faceted collection include the Vipers Skiffle Group, Eddie Cochran, Dickie Bishop & His Sidekicks, the Crickets, the Dell-Vikings, Bill Justis, the Quintet Of the Hot Club of France, Slim Whitman, Joe Brown, Tony Sheridan (backed by the fledgling Beatles), Barrett Strong, Billy Fury, Roy Young, the Drifters, Anthony Newley, the Marvelettes, the Shirelles, Cozy Cole, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, the Crew-Cuts, Nat “King” Cole, Dave Brubeck, Bruce Channel and the Everly Brothers.
As both insight into the Beatles’ influences and rollicking trip back into a lost world of musical fun, frolics and innocence, Love Me Do is a fine way to celebrate the Fab Four’s 50th in slightly more unusual fashion.
From Louisiana swamp to Liverpool cellar, the Fantastic Voyage continues…