By Mike Greenblatt
The great singer/songwriter Roger Miller (1936-1992) once wrote that “England Swings (Like A Pendulum Do).” He had it right. Great Britain has long been a bastion of great rock ’n’ roll, be it from its homegrown entities or preponderance of American reissues. Mark Rye and Steve Waters made a name for themselves across the pond when they ran their See For Miles label in the ’80s and ’90s that concentrated on reissues. Their RockHistory.co.uk series filmed British Invasion bands. Now, they’re making news again with their “Extended Play” series (highnote.co.uk/GVC.html).
These CDs — Dion & The Belmonts (at left); Buddy Holly & The Crickets; Jerry Lee Lewis & His Pumping Piano; The Coasters; Bill Haley & His Comets; “Hot Fingers: History Of American Guitar,” two double-disc doozies of various artists spanning 39 years of B.B. King, Les Paul, Guitar Slim, Lowell Fulson, Chet Atkins, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Eddie Cochran, Magic Sam and 90 (!) more between 1923 and 1962; Johnny & The Hurricanes; Gene Vincent; “Chicago Calling: The Roots Of The British Blues/R’n’B Boom” with Memphis Slim, James Cotton, Josh White, Cyril Davies, Big Bill Broonzy, Alexis Korner, Lonnie Donegan, Champion Jack Dupree and 46 more on two CDs; Connie Francis; and The Champs — all sound great, they pack 30 tracks or so a pop, many are doubles and the packaging comes complete with archival photos and solid liner notes.
We asked Mark Rye about this new British Invasion of classic music and he was more than happy to explain the what-for and how-to.
“The ‘Extended Play’ series is based on the British series of 7-inch releases that were popular in the ’50s and ’60s when for some people the new 12-inch album format was deemed to be too expensive,” he patiently explains to Collector’s Corner. “Thus, the British record companies took four tracks from the latest album and released them together at a higher price than a 7-inch but significantly cheaper than the album. These releases were normally released in a colored picture sleeve, whereas a single came in a plain paper bag-with-logo.
“Unlike in America,” he continues, “where the national music publishing agreements limit the number of tracks on an album, no such restriction exists in Europe, leading to many different track listings on either side of the Atlantic. The Beatles albums, for instance, were famously and frequently butchered by Capitol Records in the States. They varied considerably from their European release. With British artists, there was also a tendency to release four tracks of the artist’s most recent recordings, some of which did not eventually end up on the subsequent album, giving rise to these extremely rare tracks becoming highly collectible.
“Various British artists would also record local language versions of their hits for our European neighbors, and these tracks also would frequently not appear at all on subsequent albums that were available worldwide. As such, they’ve all become very desirable.
“The highly distinctive color sleeves also made these mini-album versions very sought after in collector markets. This series gathers together many of those rare tracks as well as the hits.”
Released as part of the Great Voices of the Century label, also run by Waters and Rye, these twofers, or long single discs, are a welcome entry into the backlog of classics by the pioneering forebears of rock ’n’ roll — and yes, that includes Connie Francis, but she deserves her own column.
This reporter is partial to The Champs because where else would you find such gems all together now as “Tequila,” “Alley Cat,” “Double Eagle Rock,” “Night Train,” “Limbo Rock,” “La Cucaracha” and 24 others that you probably never heard of but that sound absolutely delightful rescued from the dustbin of time.