december 2011


By David McGee

These are the girls of summer. Not the summer that follows spring, but the summer of memory, brighter still, sweeter to the taste, when their voices, honeyed, alluring, and arriving, as Keats wrote on a fair summer’s eve, “on wing of Poesy/Full often dropping a delicious tear,” summoning a world pulsing with love’s young dreams. In the summer of memory, “when some melodious sorrow spells mine eyes,” their sweet nothings come on wings of song. Our love endures.

Jody Miller
Real Gone Music
Available at

Arizona-born, Oklahoma-raised Jody Miller grew up a country girl but emerged professionally as a folk singer, working the clubs in Los Angeles before being discovered in 1964 by actor Dale Robertson, who put in a call to a friend at Capitol Records and got Miller a deal after he had been moved by her singing an a cappella version of “Scarlet Ribbons” for him in his office. She didn’t have to wait long for a hit: her second single, a feisty answer to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” titled “Queen of the House,” was a #5 country hit and #12 pop crossover hit as well, and won her a Grammy for Best Single, Country Female; her next single, “Home of the Brave,” written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, addressed issues relating to tolerance and nonconformity in something of a return to her folk roots. It didn’t do much, peaking at #25 pop and not even charting country. Her fortunes changed at the end of the '60s when she left Capitol for Epic. From late 1970 to the end of 1973 she had nine consecutive Top 20 singles, with five of those landing in the Top 10, most of them produced by Nashville Sound architect Billy Sherrill.

When she signed with Epic, Miller was 29 going on 30; she was not a girl, in the sense that the other female artists represented in this batch of reissues were girls. Miller’s voice had a weight about it, was past singing about post-pubescent dilemmas, and came from someone with experience and maturity. Which made its lighter moments all the more cheery. It wasn’t a dazzling thing, but it had dazzling aspects--in the course of a few bars of her first Top 20 Epic hit, 1970’s “If You Think I Love Now (I’ve Just Started)” (a co-write by Sherrill and Curly Putman), she sounds like Patsy Cline, Lynn Anderson and Tammy Wynette. These echoes permeate her Epic recordings.

Jody Miller on the Grand Ole Country TV show, April 27, 1977, ‘When the New Wear Off of Our Love’ and Bill Anderson’s ‘You Can Be Replaced’ (originally recorded by Tammy Wynette on her 1976 album ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own)

In 1971 Miller and Sherrill hit on a popular formula of having Miller cover pop hits with pop-country arrangements: in quick succession she landed in the Top 5 with both The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” and Barbara Lewis’s “Baby I’m Yours,” and at #15 with a sprightly take on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” In 1972 she had a hit with the Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is To Love Him”; in 1973 she barely cracked the Top 30 at #29 with a game but ineffectual reading of “House of the Rising Sun”; and in 1975 the formula petered out when her remake of the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Goffin-King) peaked at #69. You could dress up “He’s So Fine” with George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” guitar riff, a dobro and a steel guitar, but the problem was that you would not play any of Miller’s records instead of the originals. “He’s So Fine” and “Be My Baby” were novelties that caught on, but they may also have typecast her, so to speak, to her long-term detriment. One of her finest singles was 1972's gospel-influenced celebration with a robust-voiced Johnny Paycheck (who really should have cut a house wrecking gospel album in his time), “Let’s All Go Down to the River.” That single made it to #13, but after “House of the Rising Sun” Miller never returned to the Top 20; in fact, her singles rose above #50 only three times through 1979, with one of the best being 1976’s upbeat ode to enduring affection, “When the New Wears Off of Our Love.” A lot of good performances never got their just due, but the affecting “Darling, You Can Always Come Back Home,” at #5 in 1973, immediately preceding “House of the Rising Sun,” should have been a template for going forward. Complete Epic Hits is a chance to recognize the good work Miller did in the ‘70s and lament what might have been with more astute career direction. “Country Girl,” “Don’t Take It Away,” “The Best In Me” and others from that period collected on this disc deserved a better fate.

The good news is that Jody Miller herself has, by all accounts, no regrets. She left the business in the early ‘80s, retiring to her ranch in Oklahoma to be a wife to her husband, a mother to her daughter. In the ‘90s she returned to the active list as a Christian artist, and in ’99 was inducted into the Country Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Mother and daughter have recorded and toured together, and in recent years Miller has returned her secular hits to her concert repertoire. All’s well that ends well.

Joanie Sommers
Real Gone Music
Available at

Few artists have been so undermined by their one big hit as Joanie Sommers was by her quintessential teen romance smash “Johnny Get Angry,” her #7 single from 1962. Not that the single was embarrassing in any way. It begins at a jog, with dark clouds gathering ‘round a rumbling bass ostinato before the pace accelerates slightly behind a bright guitar riff and then breaks into a full-on sprint when a piano enters with a pair of contrasting triplet figures before Joanie enters with a pouty but silky, “Johnny, I said we were through/just to see what you would do…” In a long, strong vocal line she continues, “You stood there, and hung your head/made me wish that I were dead,” her voice rising to an intense pitch on “I were dead,” as she hits the pleading chorus: “Johnny get angry/Johnny get mad/give me the biggest lecture I ever had/I want a brave man/I want a cave man/Johnny, show me that you care, really care for me…” At which point the arrangement settles into a brisk shuffle, with that repeating piano figure becoming the signature atmospheric device punctuating Joanie’s increasingly assertive reading. Slightly more than midway through the most surprising element of the arrangement surfaces in the form of an all-kazoo instrumental break, which remains the most famous deployment of this instrument in rock ‘n’ roll history, edging out Paul McCartney’s delightful kazoo romp on his buddy Ringo Starr’s chart topping 1974 cover of “You’re Sixteen.”

Introduced by Gary Lewis on Hullabaloo, Joanie Sommers sings ‘Before and After,’ September 20, 1965. Written by Van McCoy, the song was a hit single for Chad & Jeremy at the time of Sommers’s performance.

Two years after Connie Francis swooned over her beau in “Where the Boys Are”; the same year a fetching Shelley Fabares vowed fealty to “Johnny Angel,” even though “he doesn’t even know that I exist”; a year before vivacious Little Peggy March pledged eternal devotion in “I Will Follow Him”--the same year, in fact, when Lesley Gore announced her emancipation from a domineering boyfriend in “You Don’t Own Me” in the boldest of rock ‘n’ roll’s pre-feminist anthems--perky voiced Joanie Sommers upbraided the boy of her dreams for being overly courteous and worrisomely placid. Even as she turned up the heat on him, though, she assured him, “You know I love you, of course/let me know that you’re the boss”--singing “you know I love you, of course” in a warm, lilting tone as precious as it is priceless in the depth of affection it reveals. A lot of guys wished they had a girl who would say those words to them in the exact tone Joanie sang them.

With “Johnny Get Angry” Joanie Sommers came out of nowhere to take her place in the ranks of her era’s coolest rock ‘n’ roll girls, along with all the abovementioned icons plus Annette, and Patty Duke as well. Joanie and her label (Warner Bros.) were caught by surprise when the song became a big hit, given the non-charting status of her previous seven singles (beginning with 1959’s “Kookie’s Love Song,” a failed novelty effort to capitalize on actor Ed Byrnes’s teen appeal as the character Kookie in the hit ABC-TV detective show 77 Sunset Strip--Sommers’s “Kookie” song came off an album pairing Byrnes with fictional “girlfriends,” and produced a hit in a comical duet with Connie Stevens, but the Kookie well dried up after that). After “Johnny Get Angry” ran its course, Sommers returned with “When The Boys Get Together,” a sumptuous, string-enhanced ballad in which the singer wondered how her guy (named Johnny) talks about her when he’s alone with his mates. Its arrangement features a repeating piano figure similar to the catchy one on “Johnny Get Angry,” but in service to a temperate, coquettish performance. A beautiful single, it went nowhere.

Coming off “Johnny Get Angry,” Sommers found her next great success not as a recording artist but as the voice of Pepsi in two popular commercials. Yet her fame as “The Pepsi Girl” failed to translate to the pop arena: Sommers continued recording for Warner Bros. through 1968, before moving to Columbia for two more unproductive years, after which she left the music business to be a full-time mom. She resurfaced in the ‘80s (even cutting another Pepsi spot, for the diet version), and her occasional albums are real finds: A Fine Romance (a collection of Jerome Kern tunes released in 1992), Here, There and Everywhere and Sings Bossa Nova (now so rare it fetches three figures when it pops up on eBay); more recently a new collection, Look Out! It’s Joanie Sommers, comprised of 20 tracks recorded with Shelley Manne’s quintet and Bobby Troupe’s sextet at the height of her popularity, in 1962 and ’63, for a 15-minute radio program called The Navy Swings.

From her 1964 bossa nova album with Laurindo Almeida, Softly, The Brazilian Sound, Joanie delivers a beautiful take on ‘Meditation’

As you might guess from some of these album titles, the fluke that was “Johnny Get Angry” gave Joanie Sommers an identity she had not sought. She was, after all, the former Joanie Drost of Buffalo, NY, who as a lass studied the recordings of Nat King Cole, June Christy and Mel Tormé, among other pop-jazz masters, and at the age of 10 won a radio show contest with her versions of Hank Williams’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Kay Starr’s “I’ll Never Be Free.” After her family relocated to southern California, Joanie joined her high school dance band and as a student at Santa Monica City College sang big band arrangements of popular rock ‘n’ roll tunes. An introduction to young producer/arranger Tommy Oliver led to a demo session, and through Oliver’s contacts, a contract with Warner Bros.

The Complete Warner Bros. Singles, collecting 36 tracks over two CDs (originally issued by Collectors Choice under the same title with additional tracks and commercial spots), is a splendid tribute to the artistry of this appealing, smart singer whose range is barely hinted at by “Johnny Get Angry.” First, check out the arrangers she worked with: in addition to Oliver, the list includes Sinatra favorite Neal Hefti, and the versatile (as in band leader, writer, arranger, producer) Stan Applebaum, whom Doc Pomus always cited as being under-acknowledged for his contributions to the great Drifters records of the ‘60s; as producers, she was blessed with the likes of Jimmie Haskell (the man responsible for steering most of Ricky Nelson’s classic hits), Barry Mann (as in Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil), Sonny Burke (another Sinatra favorite) and our man Applebaum.

Choosing from a wide range of song styles, Sommers proved herself credible in any context: on the Ellie Greenwich-Tony Powers sassy strut “A Little Bit of Everything” she plays with the rhythmic line, injects some Brenda Lee snarl into the mix and generally rocks her way through the track with infectious spirit; Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” is remade from its brash Broadway origins into a grinding soul workout with gospel overtones in the female background chorus’s righteous responses to Sommers’s bluesy swaggering; on Bobby Darin’s joyous “If You Love Him” she jets through a furious, driving arrangement featuring pounding percussion and a blistering horn chart; Mann-Weil’s “I’d Be So Good To You” (produced by Mann) is a glorious 1964 pop confection with Sommers’s engaging, sincere vocalizing double-tracked and surrounded by a thundering Wall of Sound arrangement worthy of Jack Nitzsche; from 1965, “Don’t Pity Me” (not the Dion and the Belmonts hit from 1959 but the same song that was a minor hit for Peter & Gordon the same year Sommers’s version was released) is blues- and R&B-inflected, with a “Be My Baby” intro presaging a majestic, string-enhanced production with full orchestra and a sturdy R&B background chorus, similar to what Barbara Lewis was doing at that time (in fact, the template for “Don’t Pity Me” might well have been Lewis’s great “Make Me Your Baby,” released the same year as Sommers’s single).

Joanie Sommers, 1999, ‘Johnny Get Angry’

All of the above songs are on Disc Two. Disc One’s fare is equally revealing, although its 1960-1962 focus features more dreamy teen ballads--beautiful ones, though, such as the dewy-eyed “One Boy,” from the Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie, complete with a gorgeous string arrangement by Don Ralke. But evidence of what Sommers could do is evident early on, in the third cut, “I’ll Never Be Free,” a Benny Benjamin-George David Weiss big band blues originally cut by Dinah Washington in 1950. On balance a contest between Joanie Sommers and Dinah Washington would hardly seem much of a contest at all, but Joanie more than acquits herself well, first with a cool, aching vocal over a blustery sax solo and at the end with a swinging, belting flight of a volume her fluffier material never requires; at the end, when she cries, “I’ll never be free!” she sounds appropriately worn out. One of the most affecting and loveliest performances she ever recorded was captured on the 1947 chestnut, “Serenade of the Bells,” which had been a hit three times that year for the orchestras of Sammy Kaye (a #3 single) and Kaye Kyser (#13); and, peaking at #6, for Gracie Fields (with Phil Green and His Orchestra); some years later it was blessed by a moving treatment from Jo Stafford, one of the 20th Century’s greatest vocalists. This love song--a story song, actually, about some broken church bells being restored for a night by the love of a couple about to be married in the mission below--is a moment of both wonder and tenderness, and Sommers, her voice articulating both feelings at once with gentle, restrained emotion, conveys this with heart tugging sweetness as bells peal evocatively throughout the arrangement.

Such are some of the pleasures this gifted singer bequeathed a world that wasn’t paying much attention to them when they were shiny and new. Joanie Sommers, great rock ‘n’ roll girl that she is, deserves a reassessment. She needs to know we love her, of course.

Shelby Flint
Real Gone Music
Available at

Joni Mitchell cites Shelby Flint--“a brassy little soprano with not much vibrato”--as her earliest vocal influence, which is high praise even if Shelby Flint was anything but brassy. The Flint style was light, airy and slightly higher than a little girl whisper; there was always an ethereal, slightly detached quality to her singing, as if the world were made of dreams, not the harsher stuff of reality. She wrote affecting folk songs and brought them to life, and approached outside material in a unique way--hardly anyone heard her 1965 rendition of “What’s New Pussycat,” what with Tom Jones’s belting version ruling the chart, but Flint’s understated treatment, backed by a fanciful arrangement replete with a calliope-like piano, trilling vibes, a booming bass drum, flittering flutes and silky strings, sounds suitable for a cabaret--a complete 180 from Jones’s version and irresistible in its own right.

Although her 1966 vocal version of Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” a hit instrumental for Guaraldi in 1963 and an even bigger hit, also as an instrumental, in 1965 for Sounds Orchestral, managed a decent chart showing at #61 (with a horn chart tinged with a south of the border flavor and in the verses subdued backing that enhanced the singer’s footloose aims), Shelby Flint lives on today for her 1960 single, “Angel On My Shoulder,” a sweet, innocent beauty of a performance that seemed a much bigger hit than its #26 chart peak would suggest. Written by Flint, the folk arrangement, with a decided southwestern flavor, is dominated by a soft acoustic guitar and discretely rising strings as Flint whispers her hopes of finding “a boy to love me true.”

Shelby Flint, ‘Angel On My Shoulder,’ December 29, 2009, at the Home For the Holidays concert at Mission Viejo Civic Center, Studio City, CA. George Karukas (piano), John Leftwich (bass) and Joel Taylor (drums) are backing the singer.

Originally signed to Cadence Records in 1958, for which she cut a dreamy original love song, “I Will Love You,” in Nashville backed by Music City’s A-team players (including Chet Atkins and the Jordanaires), her early years were spent on the Valiant label, launched by the man who had discovered Flint and produced her demos, singer-songwriter-producer-composer Barry DeVorzon (who had a #1 hit the year he found Flint with his song “Just Married,” recorded by Marty Robbins, and in 1960 would write “Dreamin’” for Johnny Burnette; he also managed Johnny’s brother Dorsey and co-wrote some of Dorsey’s hits; one of his early Valiant signings, besides Flint was The Association, whose first single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” DeVorzon produced). Working with DeVorzon and arranger Perry Botkin Jr., Flint cut some fine records for Valiant, but she would demonstrate greater vocal agility after she left the label and ventured deeper into jazz territory, working with the likes of Chick Corea and Al Jarreau, and striking up a fruitful partnership with producer/guitarist Tim Weston. The legendary jazz critic/historian Leonard Feather once extolled Flint as “technically a flawless performer with a pure sound and a wide range.” The flawless performer and pure sound are much in evidence on The Complete Valiant Singles, if not the range. If these aren’t transcendent performances, they are always interesting, occasionally surprising (see “What’s New, Pussycat?”), and utterly captivating.

Shelby Flint, her first single, ‘I Will Love,” self-penned and recorded for Cadence Records, was later re-recorded for the Valiant label, as heard here. Both versions are featured on Shelby Flint: The Complete Valiant Singles.

Naïve as it may sound today, Flint, in her own songs and those she chose to cover, believed in true love, and mined that vein for all it was worth, although she often found herself lamenting a lost love as much as she luxuriated in the comforts of a devoted partner. So the emotions are roiling, in a low-key way, throughout: in the lilting “Somebody”; in the Appalachian-tinged ballad “I Will Love You” (as re-recorded for Valiant); in the wistful “I Love a Wanderer,” in which her love for the man who left her high and dry remains strong, as it does in “Pipes for Keith,” with her emotional singing--stronger than usual on record--is supplemented by the evocative cry of bagpipes and the insistent marching rhythm of a snare drum; in the Addrissi Brothers’ “Lonely Cinderella,” a gentle number with a telling title and a chorus of young female voices shadowing Flint’s melancholy musings; and most alluringly in her beautiful, moody torch reading of Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady gem, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face,” in a piano-and-vocal arrangement of the sort she would gravitate to decades later on the jazz circuit but positively mesmerizing in this 1964 template.

Shelby Flint, ‘Cast Your Fate To The Wind,’ a 1966 single that peaked at #61 after having been a hit twice before in instrumental versions, first by its writer, Vince Guaraldi (1963), then by Sounds Orchestral (1965).

Some of Flint’s original albums are available from Collectors Choice and from Amazon, and the latter has one of her finest long players period in Shelby Flint Sings Folk (available as a download only, for $7.99). No brass, no strings, no background choruses here--it’s only Shelby’s beautiful voice and a restrained acoustic guitar (with the occasional flute for atmosphere) and a dozen sturdy, evocative folk tunes, including a pre-Animals “House of the Rising Sun,” along with a hard charging “Sinner Man,” a dark-hued “Black Is the Color,” a jaunty, singsong “I Love a Bonnie Lad,” a moving “I Know Where I’m Going” and others. Latter-day Shelby Flint is heard on her 1993 album with Tim Weston, Providence, on which she’s backed by a small electric and acoustic combo and effortlessly assays some clever, even challenging arrangements well suited to her ability to both tell a story and simply create an ambiance in which the musicians can go off on their own improvised conversations while she flutters and flits above the fray. More so than any of her previous long players, Providence shows Flint exercising the range that so impressed Leonard Feather. Even so, three decades-plus after we first heard her on “Angel On My Shoulder,” the Shelby Flint of ’93 vintage retained the kindly soul who was so captivating on her Valiant recordings and, like Joanie Sommers, a more compelling artist than her one big hit let on.

Connie Stevens
Real Gone Music
Available at

For pure star power, none of the other girls represented in this quintet of reissues approaches Connie Stevens. As Cricket Blake on the TV detective series Hawaiian Eye from 1959 to 1962 she became a teen heartthrob. After Jerry Lewis spotted her in a B movie and gave her a featured role in his Rock-A-Bye Baby film in 1958 she parlayed the connection into a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records (in fact, she was the first artist signed to the newly formed label). Her first hit was a novelty, playing the fawning girl begging breathlessly “Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb” opposite Ed Byrnes, Hawaiian Eye’s youthful hipster male swinger, on 1959’s “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb,” which vaulted all the way to #4 on the Billboard singles chart. Between 1958 and 1966 she appeared in eight movies, including 1963’s Palm Springs Weekend, a precursor to the Beach Party series. Between 1959 and 1981 she was rarely absent from the TV schedule, appearing on Hawaiian Eye, in Maverick, Wendy and Me (with George Burns), and The Littlest Angel in addition to doing a guest spot on a Muppet Show episode (1976) and having a part in the spicy TV miniseries Scruples. Along with Sandra Dee she was a cultural icon to kids growing up in the early ‘60s--so much so that she merited a reference in George Lucas’s American Graffiti (when the nerdy Toad is cruising town in Steve Bolander’s ’58 Chevy Impala, his fumbling attempt to pick up the platinum blonde babe Debbie Dunham portrayed by Candy Clark includes telling her she looks like Connie Stevens).

Connie Stevens, ‘Sixteen Reasons,’ her biggest hit, peaked at #3 in 1960 and spent 24 weeks in the Top 100.

As a Warner Bros. recording artist, Stevens amassed a voluminous catalogue, yet apart from the “Kookie, Kookie” single (which was really Byrnes’s single), the only Top 40 hit she had in seven years with the label (and the only Top 40 she’s ever had) was 1960’s swooning love songs, “Sixteen Reasons,” a litany of all the compelling qualities her beau possesses, sung with breathless sincerity and backed by lush strings and a sensitive background chorus. Though she was 22 at the time of “Sixteen Reasons”’s release, her silky voice had a girlish quality, and she could affect the innocent, idealistic pose of the day’s most persuasive teen queens, including those represented in this reissue series. (There are moments when Stevens sounds remarkably like Joanie Sommers.)

Going Spectorian: Connie Stevens, ‘A Girl Never Knows’ (1964)

No matter the lack of hits in her catalogue. Like Joanie Sommers, Stevens’s on-record persona was only partly defined by songs of young love and teen misery. This two-CD, 36-trck collection of her Warner Bros. singles is a first-rate overview of the broad range of material she tackled; most of the performances are credible, engaging and occasionally revealing of a deeper sensitivity and vocal acuity than her glitzy image would suggest. This latter attribute surfaces in an affecting performance on “And This Is Mine,” a string-rich, frothy teen love song with a beautiful arrangement and sharper lyrics than most--it was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Similarly, her sweet but plaintive tone and measured delivery makes the hope for a lovers' reunion in the somber “The Greenwood Tree," sung as it is over a subdued, folk-flavored arrangement blending orchestra and acoustic guitar, a true heart tugging moment you want to believe will come to fruition. Her utter sincerity in describing post-coital afterglow in “I Couldn’t Say No,” an obscure Goffin-King number Stevens recorded in 1962, defuses a touchy topic--the girl is at first feeling guilt over giving in to her beau’s charms, making it hard to listen to without thinking “date rape” as her misgivings unfold--and transforms the song into an ode to the first blush of new love. (A second Goffin-King number, “Why’d You Wanna Make Me Cry,” also from ’62, is a misfire--the arrangement has Spectorian aspirations but doesn’t quite reach that mountaintop, and its jittery rhythmic patterns seem to unnerve Stevens, finding her straining in her efforts to find her own pulse within the arrangement.)

Post-coital afterglow: Connie Stevens, ‘I Couldn’t Say No,’ from Gerry Goffin and Carole King, recorded in 1962

From the start Stevens and/or her producers sought material from the best songwriters across a span of genres. She cut an entire album of Hank Williams songs (The Hank Williams Song Book, 1962), and two of those--“Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Nobody’s Lonesome for Me”--lead off Disc 2. The brassy swing arrangement of the former--complete with jaunty, trebly guitar solo break--has a bracing, fresh energy in its exuberant sprint, and real joy in Stevens’s saucy vocal; turning the latter into a bluesy torch song with feathery strings, discrete woodwinds and a saloon piano heightens the melancholy of the singer’s wistful lament. From David Gates, fresh off a hit with the Murmaids’ “Popsicles and Icicles,” comes “Lost in Wonderland,” with its comforting strings, rushes of chimes and buoyant melody supporting a vocal infused with the wonder of new love; although it’s not the Beach Boys song, “In My Room” has the same theme of isolation and solitary reflection but its booming orchestral punctuations and anguished, blaring trumpets serve the lyrics’ account of abject loneliness in the wake of a marriage’s collapse. Written by Kenny Vance and Lee Pockriss (the latter’s impressive songwriting credits include “Johnny Angel”), the subject matter affords Stevens a chance to marshal her skill as an actress in expressing the severity of the protagonist’s psychic wounds. The prolific tandem of Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan, the songwriting factory that penned hits for Herman’s Hermits, The Mamas and Papas, the Turtles and others--and whose “Eve of Destruction” for Barry McGuire is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s great doomsday screeds--gave Stevens “A Girl Never Knows.” It turned into a full-blown Spector-style production, but unlike “Why’d You Wanna Make Me Cry,” this one hits the bullseye, with a raft of instruments bursting forth from the wall of sound, along with a galloping pulse and an aggressive Stevens vocal emphasizing how “a girl never knows what love is until she loses it.” Not least of all, she does a nice job with Tim Hardin’s “It’ll Never Happen Again,” delivering the story of a faded love affair with a touching blend of regret and reflection. While revealing no overlooked classics, this collection makes the case that music was hardly a secondary concern for Connie Stevens: she operated at a high level of artistry, left behind an admirable body of work and earned respect.

The Girls From Petticoat Junction
Real Gone Music
Available at

By far the slightest of this distaff quintet of releases, the Petticoat Junctions girls’ Sixties Sounds is little more than a component of a marketing concept designed to promote a TV show. It can’t be judged alongside work from the likes of Jody Miller and Joanie Sommers. Although the Girls’ producer, veteran Joe Saraceno (who had worked with The Ventures and the Sunshine Company) thought the trio of Meredith MacRae, Linda Key Henning and Lori Saunders had potential, and so enlisted the formidable backing of Los Angeles’ fabled Wrecking Crew studio band to insure a polished, dynamic soundscape, the sessions didn’t quite pan out as hoped. Though the trio recorded an album’s worth of material, only two Girls singles were ever released. When those failed to excite any interest at all, everything else was shelved. Until now.

The Girls From Petticoat Junction, ‘I’m So Glad That You Found Me,’ written by Buzz Clifford, was the A side of the Girls’ first single

The Girls from Petticoat Junction perform Jimmy Webb’s ‘Up, Up & Away’ on an episode of Petticoat Junction. Their recorded version, previously unreleased until it was included on Sixties Sounds, preceded the 5th Dimension’s classic hit and featured the backing of the Sunshine Company, the group responsible for the original version of the '60s classic.

This is not a bad record. The Girls all had serviceable voices that were framed by thoughtful arrangements and empathetic music--the Wrecking Crew was playing it down the middle, nothing too flowery and absent any striking individuality. The finest moment here is a brisk, joyous celebration of “Wheeling, West Virginia,” with a driving, country-tinged arrangement spiced with a frisky banjo, in one of the more unlikely concoctions from the team of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. Each of the Girls has a solo turn, with MacRae arguably standing apart for her subdued sayonara, “Goodbye Love,” written by Buzz Clifford. Henning’s treatment of Don Ciccone’s “There’s Got To Be A Word” (he was in the Critters at this time and would join the Four Seasons lineup in the ‘70s in time for “Oh, What a Night”) floats along the surface of the song as you wait for it to dive deeper; Sanders takes on Lennon-McCartney’s “Rain,” and the smart move here was in reimagining the Beatles’ intense, roiling (thanks to the Byrds-like guitars), sludgy (thanks to prominence of McCartney’s melodic but heavy bass lines) arrangement and inscrutable lyrics (is it about cowardice, or a communication breakdown?) as a mellow folk ballad better suited to her light, lilting voice and allowing her to stay in her comfort zone. The big problem is that a mellow “Rain” is no “Rain” at all--it needs to be as it was described in Philip Norman’s Shout! The Beatles In Their Generation, to wit: “rich, druggy and tired.” The same mistakes that dogged Jody Miller are evident here--an over-reliance on cover versions of songs done definitively in their original versions to which nothing special is added in trying them out in other styles. Jimmy Webb’s wonderful “Up, Up & Away” has none of the lift, if you will, and sheer life affirming joy of the 5th Dimension’s classic hit, which, ironically, featured some of the same Wrecking Crew players as are heard on the Girls’ track but also had the services of Johnny Rivers and Marc Gordon as producers, Jimmy Webb as arranger and conductor and a Sinatra favorite, Marty Paich, arranging strings and horns (for good measure, Bones Howe was the engineer on the 5D record). (Maybe this is not a fair criticism: the Girls’ “Up, Up and Away” was actually cut before 5D’s and featured the backing of the Sunshine Company, the group that had first recorded the song. Maybe the Girls’ version even inspired Webb to fashion a more dynamic arrangement for the 5D version.) As well, Sanders’s “Get Together” is pleasant but lacking the conviction of the Kingston Trio’s original version or the urgency that vaulted the Youngbloods’ later version into generational anthem stature. In the end, the Imperial label’s decision to take a Pasadena on releasing an entire album of the Girls’ game efforts was a solid business decision. The long player was not going to go anywhere, and after all, Imperial was in the music business (emphasis on business).

Hooray for all the girls, though. Joanie Sommers cannot be reissued too often; Shelby Flint deserves a more serious hearing; Jody Miller had a lot going for her, no matter her misfires; Connie Stevens was/is a real trouper who made the most of and worked at her musical gifts; and the Girls of Petticoat Junction (the show at least thrust the delightful Meredith MacRea into the cultural mainstream and she went on to do some fine work on other shows) were always good company. Love never ends.

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