This review is reproduced by kind permission of Shaun Mather from the exceptional web pages maintained by himself and Phil Davies. I recommend them to all - just click here to be transported.
|BILLY FURY - ACE OF
Earlier this year (2000 - HW) saw the fortieth anniversary of the release of the highly acclaimed, Billy Fury masterpiece, The Sound Of Fury. Considered by virtually everyone who's heard it to be the best, authentic rock'n'roll album to come out of Britain, it has justifiably received all the plaudits when his career has been discussed. For one thing, all the tunes were self-written which was rare for any artist, not just a Brit, and for another it had an American sound and feel, which no other British artist had previously managed to capture.
November 1960 saw Billy's second long player of the year hit the stores, simply named Billy Fury. In it's way it was even more significant to the long-term career of Billy than its predecessor. It was a crossroads album, with the introduction of some American covers and more of an emphasis on the big ballad that would soon become his trademark. The album essentially comprised of earlier singles together with the a-side of his current single, the glorious Wondrous Place which was at the time of release was enjoying a spell in the top 30.
On its release, forty years ago this month, it amazingly failed to dent the charts. When you take a look at the tracks individually, it is hard to explain, especially when you consider that at the time Billy was constantly in the public eye, appearing on TV programmes like Wham! and Boy Meets Girl. After a couple of years of wild stage shows, the public were now being introduced to a milder performer, trying to clean up his act, and the new album was designed to emphasise the point, with seven of the ten songs being ballads.
Maybe Tomorrow - cut at the Decca Studio in London on November 26th 1958, under the watchful eye of musical director Harry Robinson, this was Billy Fury's first session. This self-written gem shows both his vocal prowess and a surprising maturity as a songwriter. After a brief three week chart appearance during the following February, it returned in March for a further six weeks, peaking at number 18. It was an auspicious start to his career and manager Larry Parnes wasted no time in arranging a singing part in the TV show Strictly For Sparrows.
Gonna Type A Letter - Originally attempted at the same November session as Maybe Tomorrow, it was returned to on the last day of '58 and boy did they nail it this time! An exiting, pop rocker with sax, guitar and type-writer drums, it was a catchy, bouncy number which went onto the flip of Maybe... The first single beautifully reflected the Billy Fury of the late fifties, a real deal rocker with the best ballads this side of the Atlantic. The credits show the writers as Fury and Robinson, but the level of Robinson's involvement is not known, but he probably used as much ink as Sam Phillips did on the joint(!) penning of Junior Parkers' Mystery Train.
Margo - By the time this second single came out, Billy had appeared on the likes of Cool For Cats and Saturday Club as well as making a name for himself with some storming performances on the landmark show, Oh Boy. Released on the fifteenth of May 1959, it defied all logic by spending just one week in the charts, reaching 28. It was a pleading ballad with yearning vocals, guitar support and a girlie backing vocals which didn't over intrude. Perhaps the second single should have had the rocker on the top side instead of being tucked away on the back.
Don't Knock Upon My Door - This driving rocker was on the flip of Margo and its probably as savage as Billy got in the studio. Again self-written, it echoed all that had been great about the early days of rock'n'roll but was now starting to be passed by in favour of syrup. Cut at the same April 8th session as Margo, it had everything you could want of a potential hit record except airplay and sales.
Time Has Come - Recorded on 24th August 1959 and issued on 11th September on the wrong side of Angel Face, it is probably the weakest track on the album. Written by Fury, its a sugary ballad with strings creeping into the mix and suffering from annoying backing vocals.
Angel Face - Cut the same day as Time Has Come its another ballad with the strings becoming worryingly upfront, it does have some charming phrasing from our kid. Significantly, it was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and was the first sign that the cleansing process was beginning. The press were still attacking him for some of his antics and even Jack Good who often acted as his producer had had a dig in his regular Disc article, lambasting "Billy annoys me. His stagecraft is superb, but he uses it for such horrible effects. I have seldom seen such a revolting sight as Fury rolling in a frenzy on the floor with his microphone. He has a good voice, and writes very good songs. He looks good on stage. Off stage he is charming. I wish he would change his act." The public didn't appear impressed either and when this and a Christmas single both failed to chart, Parnes and Decca began to wonder if Billy's tug boat days were about to recommence.
Colette - When the youth of 1960 flipped their new purchase over, they were treated to another self-written tune. Colette was given an Everly Brothers feel courtesy of one of the Vernon Girls dueting. On a productive day in London with the New Year only six days old, the track features some nice guitar underpinning the faultless vocals. The career was re-ignited and Billy deservedly spent the spring months climbing into the top ten, peaking at the number 9 spot.
Baby How I Cried - This was a marvellous piece of balladry, sounding like some of Elvis's finer, less famous moments like Don't Leave Me Now or Playing For Keeps. It has all the hallmarks that made Ral Donner so good, it has the Elvis feel but doesn't sound like a copy. On top of that, they could both strut their stuff, mixing playfulness with emotion. The bass heavy backing adds a moody touch and his mixture of pleading and snarling show a man totally aware of his ever growing vocal prowess. He knew he was good and he was getting even better.
Last Kiss - This November '59 ballad was again self-written and Billy gives it a sterling, heartfelt performance. The song had great potential for a ballad in the Sound Of Fury vain, but instead is somewhat smothered in strings. Issued a few weeks later, in time for the Christmas market, it amazingly failed to chart despite the topside, My Christmas Prayer, being a brilliant festive offering.
Wondrous Place - To me this is the greatest single to ever come out of Britain. The song, written by newcomers Jeff Lewis and Bill Giant, had been done Stateside by Jimmy Jones, but hadn't charted in spite of Jones' recent successes. Jack Good had been more impressed than the American teens and was keen to get Billy to cover it. On 24th June Billy more than covered it, he adopted it. He would cut it five times during his lifetime but never like this first one. It's enchanting atmosphere is captured the moment the haunting drum begins and when Billy joins in, full of moody swagger, he echoes the smouldering melody with his best exotic vocal. It became a show stopper of his life shows with Dave Berry reminiscing in Now Dig This how Billy did Wondrous Place "using a tight, white spot and holding a cigarette. In the breaks, he tapped the cigarette and the ash fell on the floor. He looked great in that white spotlight". As fabulous a performance as Billy had made, it still only climbed to a disappointing 25th spot in the UK charts during its nine week autumn run in late 1960. An absolute classic and a perfect way to round off the album.
So it was, in late 1960, with Billy Fury still hanging around the lower regions of the charts, getting criticism for his flamboyant live act. He could have been on the verge of disappearing from the public eye and becoming just another footnote in the history of British rocks early days. After all, Decca had only seen fit to issue the album on its' budget label, Ace Of Clubs. As it was, he chose the path of recording mainly covers versions of pop ballads and established himself as the most successful artist of the early sixties. This new path had been hinted at within the ten tracks of BILLY FURY and for that alone, the album's importance cannot be overstated. And besides that, there's so really classy stuff on the wax.
I found a place full of charms.