This review is for: 12" Mixes Shakatak (2CD - Secret Records)
Shakatak's music is not easy to come by. I've had to buy expensive Japanese imports to track down some albums and particularly the 12" mixes. Now for such a low price comes this amazing value collection of 25 12" versions on one double CD which includes all 14 of their Top 75 chart singles. I particularly like the striking sleeve design which looks stylish and gives the collection a modern feel. I also like that the discs look like old vinyl record labels. The booklet is good, but I do feel the inclusion of photos of the original 12" record sleeves would have made it just that bit better.
On the whole the sound quality here is excellent, however there are a couple of problem tracks ("Killing Time" and "Streetwalkin'" - see below for details).
Here is what is on the CD's:
"Steppin'". Similar in style to Rodney Franklin's "The Groove". This is the original 12" version which is a studio recording and was included on the CD edition of Shakatak's "Drivin' Hard". The vinyl LP featured a live version.
"Killing Time" is the 12" B-Side of "Steppin'". This track has dreadful sound quality. The booklet informs that some tracks on this CD have been restored from vinyl. I have no objection to that when it is done well and the original master no longer exists. However, neither is the case here. There is an original master because it was included on the Japanese reissue of "Drivin' Hard" as a bonus track and sounded fine there. So even taking it from that CD would have sounded better than what we have here. There is no excuse for substandard sound quality when a decent sounding master still exists. People buy CD's for better sound quality. The difference here is like listening to the track on CD or an old cassette.
"Feels Like The Right Time". This is the original 12" single version. This track was not included on any of Shakatak's original albums.
"Living In The UK". This is the original 12" single version. It is about 30 seconds longer than the album version.
"Espirrito" is the 12" B-Side of "Living In The UK". This track was not included on any of Shakatak's original albums. It is particularly beautiful and criminal that it hasn't reached a wider audience before now. It is easily up to the standard of other album tracks.
"Brazilian Dawn". This is the original 12" single version. It is about 30 seconds longer than the album version.
"Easier Said Than Done". This was Shakatak's first big hit single, narrowly missing out on the Top 10 in the UK singles chart, peaking at No. 12. The 12" Version is the same as the album version.
"Night Birds". This was Shakatak's first Top 10 hit, peaking at No. 9. The 12" Version is the same as the album version.
"Streetwalkin'". A minor hit just scraping into the UK Top 40 singles chart at No. 38. This is a great track with vocals by "I Believe In Dreams" vocalist; Jackie Rawe. This 12" version is the same as the original album version. It is mastered with far too much bass on this CD though which causes some distortion. I compared to the same version on the "Night Birds" album on CD which sounds fine. So the problem here is with the mastering. It's not horrendous though, just not as good as it could have been.
"Go For It". This is another non-album track. This was the 12" B-Side of "Streetwalkin'". It is easily up to the standard of other album tracks.
"Invitations". 12" Version. This single reached a respectable No. 24 to make this 4 Top 40 hits in a row, which is an unprecedented achievement for a Jazz Funk band.
"Stranger". This single narrowly missed out on a Top 40 placing (No. 43), possibly due to similarity to previous hits. But this is as good as the hits. The 12" Version is the same as the album version.
"Dark Is The Night". Another Top 10 hit, reaching a peak of No. 9. Now this is a very welcome surprise! This is a different mix from the original 12" single. It is extended to 6:27 with a totally different intro. I've never heard this mix before, but it's brilliant.
"I Lose Myself (Remix)". 12" B-Side of "Dark Is The Night". It's not much different from the version on the "Invitations" album. The main difference is some added trumpet.
"If You Could See Me Now". This single halted the string of hits, narrowly missing the Top 40, stalling at No. 49. It's a great track and certainly wasn't a mistake to release this as a single.
"Fly The Wind (Remix)". Originally a track from the "Night Birds" album, this was remixed for the B-Side of "If You Could See Me Now" and included on the flip-side of both the 7" & 12".
"Out Of This World (Extended Version)". This single flopped completely, but this is a good example of how chart positions don't necessarily reflect quality, because this is an excellent track with superb vocals, a strong beat and a great bassline. All the elements are there for a hit record, but maybe this one was a little too refined.
"Down On The Street (Dance Mix)". This version was remixed by one of the hottest remix teams of the day; John Morales & Sergio Munzibai (M&M) for the 12" A-Side. These guys were names mentioned in the same breath as John `Jellybean' Benitez and Shep Pettibone, so just mentioning "M&M mix" virtually guaranteed a seal of approval. However, the mix is not one of their best and is a bit flowery for my tastes. Personally I prefer Nigel Wright's original extended version which was on the B-Side.
By now tastes were rapidly changing and the jazz funk and soul grooves of the early eighties were being pushed aside as a new more electronic and synthesised sound was emerging on dance floors and in the charts. Shakatak were suddenly out of step with what was happening and therefore had to try to adapt their style to stay relevant, hence the addition of more synthesisers and harder beats on some of the tracks. As a result, even following a Top 10 hit, the next single "Don't Blame It On Love" failed to make the Top 40, stalling at No. 55. In fact, Shakatak's singles chart career was over as they never had another hit. "Watching You" although being a great song wasn't quite right for a single and failed to chart. The only other minor flutters at the bottom of the chart were "Day By Day (with the wonderful Al Jarreau)" (No. 53) and "Mr. Manic And Sister Cool" (No. 56). If you like "Mr. Manic And Sister Cool" you may be interested to know that the CD "Grand 12-Inches Vol.7" also claims to include the "Cool Mix" but actually includes a different remix with a funkier "Roadblock"-style beat and James Brown samples, which is excellent and well worth getting.
"If You Want My Love (Come And Get It)" is worth highlighting here. It is another non-album track and again one that is good enough to be included on an album. Most artists struggle to come up with A-Sides as good as this. To have songs of this quality not making the album shows the high standard of Shakatak's output. It was the 12" B-Side of "Don't Blame It On Love", but personally I feel this was even stronger than the A-Side and would have made a great single in its own right.
By 1987 Stock Aitken & Waterman acts were dominating the charts. "Something Special" is clearly influenced by their production sound and was a forerunner to Nigel Wright's similar productions for Sonia. But unfortunately by 1987 Shakatak were considered yesterday's news so this single received absolutely no attention, which is a pity as it's actually very good and reminiscent of Five Star who were very successful at this time.
Shakatak have had an enormously successful career in Japan and still tour and release albums to this day. Nigel Wright has gone on to produce a string of successful artists (including Take That) and is currently the musical director on "The X Factor".
Although there are sound quality issues with 2 tracks, that aside I would recommend this CD as an excellent compilation of the bulk of Shakatak's 12" mixes, including B-Sides and first time on CD tracks. It represents incredible value for money.