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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
The Very Best Of Billy J Kramer
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on 1 March 2009
This is the latest in EMI's series of 4-CD box sets devoted to the label's 1960's beat group's, and the set follows the same pattern as the "Gerry & The Pacemakers" box, in that it gives you the complete released recordings(+ unreleased material) in mono sound, a previously unreleased 1964 concert in remixed stereo, and a reasonable sampling of the group's stereo versions. The sound quality is excellent(unlike the Gerry & The Pacemakers set where the vocals on the mono mixes sounded shrill)

Stereo gained acceptance from UK consumers several years later than in North America, and so EMI/UK believes that UK consumers would prefer the mono versions. In this series of box sets, even for those artists where some or all of the multitracks exist, EMI have opted to present the already released recordings via original 1960's mixes, remixing only where it was neccessary in order to obtain previously unreleased material.

The group's live E.P. appears in the set via the original mono mix, but you also get a complete composite concert in remixed stereo, taken from the two 1964 California shows from which the E.P. was derived. Apparently, the group played the same 11 songs at both shows, so it was a matter of selecting the best performances and recordings of each song. Be cautioned that the group could be quite ragged live. Billy's live singing is erratic. He sings off-key on the hits, but sings well on album tracks. He is not helped by a recording fault which renders bassist Ray Jones inaudible on some songs. This, and the absence of George Martin's piano playing renders the group's instrumental sound thin. In fairness, the group may have had difficulty hearing themselves due to the screaming audience. Still, it's an interesting documentation of that era.

The Dakotas also had a side career releasing a few singles on their own, and you get these tracks too(some presented in both stereo & mono) and unreleased material. Despite what you would think, not all of these tracks are instrumental, and an unidentified member(probably Mike Maxfield) provides vocals on some.

As for the recordings with Billy, you get their lone album("Listen") in both its' mono & stereo versions, and all the hits, some of which were especially written by Lennon & McCartney(mostly by Lennon), including "I'll Keep You Satisfied", "Bad to Me","Do You Want to Know a Secret" & "From a Window". Amongst the rarities included are a rendition of Lennon/McCartney's "I'm in Love"(later a hit for "The Fourmost", which was previously released in 1991 on an American CD "The Definitive Collection"). Unlike most of the other box sets in this series, there's no sessionography, so it's not possible to say whether this set gives us every existing unreleased track, though the 132-track set claims 30 previously unreleased songs or mixes.(some of the previously unreleased tracks appear in both mono & stereo).

Much has been made of Billy's vocal limitations, though certainly George Martin's expert production concealed some of the shortcomings of Billy & bassist Ray Jones, and resulted in some memorable recordings. George Martin has made derogatory comments about Billy's singing abilities over the years, but in fairness, it should be noted that Billy was naturally a baritone, but either the Dakotas or George Martin were setting the keys uncomfortably high on many songs, to have Billy sing in a tenor range, where he sometimes had pitch problems. Still this resulted in hits.

Billy was able to have two hits("Trains & Boats & Planes" & "Little Children") without Lennon/McCartney songs, but like many Northern beat groups, Billy J.Kramer & the Dakotas had difficulty adapting to the times, and Billy also blames substance abuse problems for his commercial downfall. After becoming sober in the 1980's, he briefly recorded for both the EMI & RAK labels, and those singles are also included here, including the anti-nostalgia "You Can't Live on Memories", a rare co-write from Billy himself, who was previously not a songwriter. While still not a vocal powerhouse, he certainly didn't lose any vocal quality(at least not up to that point).

As for the decision to use only original mixes of the released recordings, it should be noted that EMI/Uk executives(for unknown reasons) disliked engineer Ron Furmanek's remixed stereo versions of 1960's EMI beat group recordings done for a series of 1991 EMI Records Group/North America CD's titled "The Definitive Collection", and so few of these mixes have ever been issued in the UK.

Billy was unable to achieve one satisfactory take of Lennon/McCartney's I'm in Love", but Furmanek was able to assemble a (quite acceptable) composite of two takes, whose release EMI/UK executives disapproved of. How curious that Furmanek's stereo composite version appears in this set, albeit summed down to mono with additional E.Q. & reverb.

Unlike two other sets in this series of 4-CD boxes, this set is entirely free from mastering gremlins, and sounds great. Whether you need this much Billy J.Kramer & The Dakotas depends on you. This is obviously for hardcore fans and completists. Others would likely be satisfied by one of the numerous hits compilations.

The packaging is attractive, but the booklet is the most minimal of any of the 4-CD boxes in this series. There's no sessionography, recording dates or info about where(and on what single or album each track was first release) Still, the previously unreleased studio material is consistently good.

Does this 4-CD render all previous Billy J.Kramer & The Dakotas CD's obsolete? No. You'll still need the American CD "The Definitive Collection" which has the only-ever stereo versions of "Do You Want to Know a Secret", "Bad to Me", I'm in Love" & "I'll Be on My Way".

I look forward to more EMI box sets by artists of this era. With some speculating on how much longer the label may exist, now is the time to release the remaining vault material that they've got.
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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 December 2003
Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas were one of several Liverpool groups to achieve a measure of pop success in the early sixties. Like the Beatles, they were managed by Brian Epstein. The Dakotas really wanted to be an instrumental group, following the example of the Shadows in Britain and the Ventures in America. It was agreed that they would get to record their own music (included on this compilation) in return for backing Billy J Kramer. The lead guitarist of the Dakotas is the brother of Elkie Brooks, a singer who failed to make it in the sixties but eventually achieved success in the late seventies with Pearl's a singer and some other great songs. To be honest, the Dakotas' musicianship was better than Billy's singing, which was good but not great. However, it doesn't really matter – the songs and the music compensate for any limitation in the vocal department.
The first single by Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas was Do you want to know a secret, a song that the Beatles had already included on their debut album, Please please me. It made number two in the British charts. Next came two more Lennon-McCartney songs, Bad to me, which topped the UK chart, and I'll keep you satisfied, which made number four. Perhaps the best song they ever did was Little children, an American song that gave them their second and last British number one. This was recorded in preference to another Lennon-McCartney song (title unknown to me) that Brian Epstein and George Martin wanted to go with. However, they returned to the Lennon-McCartney songbook for From a window, which just made the UK top ten. After that there was only one more significant hit, a cover of the Bacharach-David classic, Trains and boats and planes, which didn't quite make the UK top ten – it peaked at twelve. It's gonna last forever and Neon city both failed to chart.
Without Billy J Kramer, the Dakotas had a minor UK hit with The cruel sea (titled The cruel surf in America). Two other singles, Magic carpet and Oyeh, missed the charts. One of the B-sides, My girl Josephine, features vocals from one of the Dakotas and is included here.
This collection includes all the hits and misses, several B-sides and album tracks and a few recordings from Billy's comeback attempts (without the Dakotas) in the seventies and eighties.
While not by any means the most essential Merseybeat group, they are worth a listen if you are into this kind of music. But go for Gerry and the pacemakers first if you haven't already got some of their music.
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on 16 October 2017
This is a good set for Billy j
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on 18 December 2010
A wonderful collection of sharp recordings and some unreleased tracks - a very good addition to EMI's sets - ie The Seekers,Herman's Hermits.
A set I will play quite often
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on 28 December 2002
When we talk about the British Invasion and the music of Merseybeat, then Billy J. Kramer (nee Billy Ashton) occupied the spot at the sedate end of the spectrum. In retrospect, it is clear his popularity was due to the fact that his manager was Brian Epstein who gave the singer several Lennon-McCartney songs to record. The most successful was his cover of "Do You Want to Know a Secret," which hit #2 on the British charts in 1963. The other Lennon-McCartney songs were "I'll Keep You Satisfied," "Bad to Me," "I'll Be on My Way," and "From a Window." Of course, all of these songs are included on this collection of "The Very Best of Billy J. Kramer." Kramer is not that great of a singer (evident on songs like "I Call Your Name") and once the Beatles kept everything they were writing for themselves, his career pretty much came to a halt ("Little Children" is probably the best of the rest). Still, Kramer was one of the more popular of the Merseybeat singers for a couple of years with his pop-rock offerings and even disregarding him there is the inherent historical interest in these "Beatles" songs. Yes, there are as bland as anything John and Paul ever wrote in the early years, which certainly explains why they were handed off to Kramer, but they are still Beatles songs and worth hearing at least once for that reason alone. Final Note: The Beatle's own version of "I'll Be On My Way" was released in 1994 from a BBC broadcast.
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on 9 May 2012
Similar in style to Merseybeat sounds spearheaded by the Beatles.

Features every known recording that EMI owns by this band.

Most of the early tracks are in Mono but this 4CD is digitally remastered.

Features all the known instrus by the Dakotas too.

All singles hit and miss and some albums

Superb VFM package.
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on 29 January 2014
Ever sinse I was abt 16 I have been
Interested in the music of the 60's
Especially the Beatles & all the other groups & singers that made the Mersey sound & the British Invasion so this
Particular collection is the ultimate &
Let's hope there are more like it to come.
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on 1 May 2015
Excellent product and delivery service. This deleted 1991 American release is the only way to hear this band's early [1963-4] Abbey Road recordings in true stereo. Why EMI has chosen not to make these sonically superior versions more widely available is beyond belief.
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on 25 February 2013
Billy j. could hold out better at the end of his EMI career than ,for example ,The swinging blue jeans, But of course it's those liverpool pop songs of the 60's that takes the price.
Now, that's "Pure pop for now people !" :-)
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on 1 March 2013
good delivery, good product but after the well known tracks I am a bit disappointed with some of the other tracks, (not the sellers fault) but there are too many of lesser quality tracks on this CD, if you just want it for the favourite tracks such as Little Children then its great
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