Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jeremy Spencer: “Jeremy Spencer” (1970/2015) CD Review

As great an album as Rumours is (and it is an excellent album), I’ve always preferred the early, more bluesy Fleetwood Mac material, before the girls joined the band. Then Play On might be my favorite of the band’s records. It came out in the fall of 1969. Early the following year, Jeremy Spencer’s self-titled debut solo album was released. But this is a solo album in nearly the same way that Bob Weir’s Ace is a solo album, for all of the Fleetwood Mac members play on it. And it has a little of that great bluesy rock, but also a lot of early rock and roll sounds. This is mostly original material, but Spencer does cover a couple of older rock and roll numbers here. While the intentions might not always be serious, I really love this album. As I said, this is essentially a Fleetwood Mac album, and one that has up until now not been available on CD. This CD issue contains a bonus track, as well as new liner notes by Richie Unterberger, including material from an interview he conducted with Jeremy Spencer.

This album opens with “Linda,” which has a definite and very strong Buddy Holly influence, heard both in the rhythm and in the vocals. Just listen to the way Jeremy sings the word “desire” in the lines “I know a girl called Linda/She’s my heart’s desire/This little girl called Linda/Sets my soul on fire.” This song was also released as a single. He follows that with a cover of an early rock and roll tune, “The Shape I’m In,” which was written by Lee Cathy and Otis Blackwell, and recorded by Kenny Lee Martin in 1958 and then by Johnny Restivo in 1959. Otis Blackwell also wrote “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” and “Breathless,” and co-wrote such great numbers as “Fever” and “Great Balls Of Fire.” Here is a taste of the lyrics to “The Shape I’m In”: “I can’t go, I can’t stay/It’s your fault I’m this way/I ain’t ever been in the shape I’m in.”

There is a goofy introduction at the beginning of “Mean Blues,” which goes on for like forty-five seconds, but once that’s over, the band then goes into that heavy blues rock that Fleetwood Mac was known for at the time. But here it’s presented with a sense of humor, heard in the vocal delivery and in lines like “I got a mean woman/She don’t do anything I tell her to/That’s the truth.” Jeremy Spencer then returns to early rock and roll with a cover of “String-a-Long,” written by Jimmy Duncan and Bobby Doyle, and recorded by artists like Fabian and Ricky Nelson (as “String Along”). Even though the band is clearly having fun, this rendition feels sincere and is actually really good. Peter Green plays banjo on this track.

“Here Comes Charlie (With His Dancing Shoes On)” is a bluesy tune that incorporates the Bo Diddley beat (think “Willie And The Hand Jive”), but also has a sense of humor about it, heard particularly in the backing vocals, which have a sort of falsetto at times. “He wears long black jeans that fit so tight/All the girls agree that he’s out of sight/He can give the girls most anything/That’s when they all begin to sing.”

Jeremy Spencer slows things down with “Teenage Love Affair,” a song which seems to poke fun at the very sound it’s employing – those serious early rock and roll songs about teenage heartache. Here he sings, “I’m feeling so mixed up/Sad and lonesome too/’Cause since that day you left me/Girl, I don’t know what to do.” And check out these lines: “It has been so long/Since I last saw your face/I feel so lost inside/And I just can’t think straight/My teacher thinks I’m a fool/So I’m working after school/I guess that’s just a part of a teenage love affair.” It has a fairly straight and earnest delivery. Likewise, “Jenny Lee” is about teenage romance and has a playful sense about it. “I asked you out the following night/You said, gee, it will be all right.” But even if they’re joking, the song is fun and works well, and you might find yourself bopping along to it.

But “Don’t Go Please Stay” is probably the best tune on this CD. It is a sort of mix of early rock and roll sounds with bluesy elements, and it’s great. Stephen Gregory plays saxophone on this track. And I love the vocals. “Please stay/Not just because I told you to/Just stay because you love me/I’ll do anything for you/Yeah.” That is followed by the final cover of the album, “You Made A Hit,” an early rock and roll tune that was recorded by folks like Charlie Rich, Ray Smith and Joe Fuller. It was written by Walter P. Maynard, Jr. Jeremy Spencer’s rendition is seriously good.

Things then get a little weirder with “Take A Look Around Mrs. Brown,” which begins with some belching and other goofiness, and then the line “You live in a semi-detached house.” It has a very loose, deliberately messy sound, with some direct references to The Beatles near the end. Then “Surfin’ Girl” is a playful take on the whole surfing music genre. The original album’s final track, “If I Could Swim The Mountain,” is also an odd one, kind of a mumbling goof on Elvis Presley’s vocal approach to some of his slower numbers.

The bonus track is “Teenage Darling,” which was originally released as the flip side to the single of “Linda.” It’s an original tune, another fun play on the 1950s doo-wop teen love songs. “Teenage darling/Please say you’ll be mine/Now and forever/Until the end of time.”

CD Track List
  1. Linda
  2. The Shape I’m In
  3. Mean Blues
  4. String-a-Long
  5. Here Comes Charlie (With His Dancing Shoes On)
  6. Teenage Love Affair
  7. Jenny Lee
  8. Don’t Go Please Stay
  9. You Made A Hit
  10. Take A Look Around Mrs. Brown
  11. Surfin’ Girl
  12. If I Could Swim The Mountain
  13. Teenage Darling 
Jeremy Spencer is scheduled to be released on CD on December 4, 2015 through Real Gone Music.

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