The Shadows

The Shadows at Abbey Road: The Collectors Edition

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Released, as its title suggests, within EMI's rightfully applauded At Abbey Road series of archive exhumations, this collection can also be regarded as the first truly essential Shadows compilation since 1976's Rarities package, in that it's the first since then to truly offer up something we've not already experienced a myriad times, in a mountain of forms, before. The cover blurb tells only part of the story -- 23 tracks, alternate versions, and previously unreleased recordings, after all, can constitute a multitude of sins, particularly when such ruthless perfectionists as the Shadows are at large. But onwards from the ragged mono version of "Gonzales" which opens the set, the inner workings of this most studio-secretive of acts are lain bare. Nothing leaps out as especially revelatory. Unissued versions of even the most familiar hits sound no less perfect than the ones we know; undubbed takes of others simply shine a new light in old corners. But the snatches of studio conversation which filter between numbers actually seem to say more than the meaningless babble which such interludes usually deliver, and there are occasional moments when one wonders whether the group's ceaseless search for ultimate impact somehow diluted their actual vision. "Guitar Tango" without its orchestral Spanish interludes, "Wonderful Land" with unaccustomed imperfections, and "Atlantis" shorn of the girlie vocal chorus may not improve on the hit versions, but are at least their equals. Elsewhere, "Scotch on the Rocks" is revealed as a somewhat peculiar hybrid of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" (the rhythm) and Pink Floyd's "Pow R Toc H" (the effects), while the latter half of the album's headlong rush towards the late '70s throws up some equally delightful discoveries -- a rendition of Richard Rodgers' "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" which punctures the long-standing belief that Mick Ronson recorded rock's only definitive version; an unedited epic take on "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," and, finally, the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," recorded in 1975, overdubbed in 1979, and then left to languish on a shelf for 25 years. It isn't the best thing the Shadows ever recorded by a long chalk, but it is one of the most informative. American fans with very long memories might well recall how the Shadows were once promoted in the U.S. as Britain's answer to the surfing craze. Now we know why.

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