Jean Barry

Complete Recordings, 1959-1971

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Like the other not too legitimate looking compilations of Brill Building rarities on the Brill Tone label (for Carole King and Barry Mann), this highlights rare early recordings and demos by one of the greatest songwriters to be associated with the Brill Building sound. And, like those other compilations, just summarizing the basic details of what's on this anthology is such a complicated affair that it takes up the space usually allotted to a full critical review and then some. The phrases "Mr. Make Believe" and "Brill Building Stars" are also used in the title lettering of the sleeve to this two-CD, 59-song package, so you might see it identified with those words incorporated into the titles on discographies or sale lists. For a start, it gathers about a couple of dozen songs that were released between 1959 and 1971 (most from 1959-62) featuring Barry as a singer. Some of them came out as obscure Jeff Barry solo singles on a variety of labels, none of them being close to hits; some of them featured him as a singer, but were credited to the groups the Redwoods, the Spartans, and the Flairs. Then there are no less than 34 previously unreleased (1959-62) demos featuring Barry as singer, and usually, but not always, featuring the artist as composer or co-composer. A few, but not many, of these were eventually covered on official recordings by performers ranging from Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, and Ivory Joe Hunter to nonentities Frankie Sardo, Wendy Burton, and Bobby Adams. One of the tracks ("Love Lies"), though a Barry composition, is an unreleased 1960 demo sung by Mimi Roman. There's also a 1962 single credited as being performed by Bobby Brown -- no, not that Bobby Brown -- although the liner notes do not disclose whether that's a pseudonym for Barry. Yikes! As for the music, it's an extremely mixed bag that's of value to Brill Building scholars, but certainly not up to the level of the greatest songs Barry wrote and produced (whether with Ellie Greenwich, others, or by himself). It's a wildly disparate assortment of attempts, from the sound of things, to tailor songs for specific artists. Barry actually doesn't have a bad voice, and sometimes mimics the style of Roy Orbison, Johnny Mathis, teen idols, doo woppers, comic novelty artists ("It's Called Rock and Roll," itself a series of vocal impersonations, and the ridiculous "The Face From Outer Space"), and even New Orleans R&B singers, both in his vocal delivery and his writing. Yet the songs aren't that good, sounding like what might have amounted to LP filler, B-sides, or flop singles had they been released at the time, by this or other artists. Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley fans, though, might be interested to note the inclusion of unreleased Barry demos of songs covered by Cooke ("Teenage Sonata") and Presley ("I Feel That I've Known You Forever"). Further tangling matters, it should be noted that a few of these songs, such as "I Feel That I've Known You Forever," weren't penned or co-penned by the artist; he's just the demo singer. He even covers a Rod McKuen tune at one point. Another caution: although Barry is most remembered for his collaborations with Ellie Greenwich, just two of the songs, the 1965 Barry single "I'll Still Love You"/"Our Love Can Still Be Saved," are Barry-Greenwich compositions. (And there's nothing from the group the two sang in, the Raindrops.) There aren't any great, or particularly good, lost gems here, though "I'll Still Love You" is respectable mid-1960s New York pop-soul, and "Much Too Young" (from the 1969 soundtrack to Where It's At) reveals an unsuspected bent for swamp pop. As a nice bonus to this unwieldy, collectors-only release, there's an (uncredited) eight-page interview with Barry in the liner notes.