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The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1 - 1964-67 Original recording remastered
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The first of a three-volume set of double CDs which tells the story of Fame Records and its subsidiary labels from 1964 through until 1973. This first volume cover the 26 singles released by the label between 1964 and 1967. These bring us not just the very deepest of southern soul, but also attempts at pop-soul and garage rock by the local musicians who made up the studio's house bands. Included are some of the earliest recordings of Jimmy Hughes, Dan Penn and Clarence Carter, obscurities by June Conquest, the Villagers and Northern Soul classics by James Barnett and Art Freeman. 12 tracks are new to CD. FAME Studios was started in 1962 by Rick Hall. Rick has just received a Special Merit Award awarded at the Grammy's.
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The question about this collection becomes: Besides the Jimmy Hughes and Clarence Carter records, as well as Arthur Conley's pair of strong singles preceding his monster hit "Sweet Soul Music" (on Atco), are all the recordings by non-hitmakers and the B-sides worth it? The B-sides are a tricky proposition. As often occurs, some B-sides are as good, if not better, than some A-sides. Others are more typical true B-sides, and one is so awful it qualifies as a "C"-side, not to be played more than once under any circumstances. (Its title is "Lolly Pops, Lace and Lipstick," as they apparently really tried to make sure no deejay would want to cut into "Steal Away"'s action by flipping it over.) As far as the other artists are concerned, they all have at least one worthwhile side, and several are must-haves. These include the two singles (both sides) by Dan Penn (who wrote or co-wrote three of the songs) and his frequent writing partner, Fame keyboardist Spooner Oldham's "Wish You Didn't Have to Go," the future James & Bobby Purify follow-up record to "I'm Your Puppet" on the Bell label. (Oldham's record was credited to "Spooner & the Spoons.") Also, one-off recording artist on Fame, James Barnett, whom I would situate vocally somewhere between Jimmy Hughes and Arthur Conley, delivers the goods on the prototypical Oldham-Penn Deep Southern soul ballad "Take a Good Look," featuring a fantastic horn chart and stellar guitar work. But taking the cake in her sole Fame appearance is June Conquest's reading of the Donnie Fritts-Dan Penn composition "Almost Persuaded" (1964). In a surprise move, they composed this and it was produced and arranged in letter-perfect Brill Building girl-group style. June Conquest was one sweet-and-soulful-sounding pop/R&B chanteuse, and this record deserved top ten status in both realms. Startlingly, though, this is the only Fame record in these early years by a female lead artist. (Incidentally, this "Almost Persuaded" is not the same song as the number one country hit two years later by David Houston, although I suspect the title was "borrowed.")
A couple of acts here are white pop-rockers whose output is in tune with the mid-'60s sounds (one is a cover of the Beatles' "You're Gonna Lose That Girl"), but none of it is particularly distinctive.
This being an Ace Records [UK] compilation, the sound mastering from the original tapes is superb (all in glorious mono -- and Fame's Rick Hall is a sound freak to begin with!), and the accompanying booklet (24 pages!) contains photos of a half-dozen of the acts, as well as color repros of every A and B side label. The liner notes are informative and comprehensive, covering every track in order of appearance.
Volume 2 will pick up from where the Fame story resumes in 1969. The big star will be the still very active Candi Staton (finally, another woman on the label!).