Various Artists

Vee-Jay: Celebrating 40 Years of Classic Hits 1953-1993

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Most conversations about Vee-Jay Records will usually be limited to a few salient facts: that they put out great, influential blues and R&B records during the '50s and '60s. That they became the most successful African-American-owned record company in the United States, breaking into the pop field with hits by Gene Chandler, Dee Clark, and the early sides by the Four Seasons. That they were the first American company to have the Beatles. And that, with all that success, they went bankrupt by 1966. But the Vee-Jay Records story is, for all its twists and turns, a true American success story that went sour. Admittedly, this three-disc retrospective does leave out some important chunks of the company's history due to licensing restrictions; the Four Seasons' masters aren't aboard, as their original appearance on the label was a lease deal. What is here are all the important sides, 75 of them, that moved Vee-Jay from a Gary, IN, storefront to a major corporation. Much of Vee-Jay's reputation rests as much on the records that weren't hits and many of them are here. Disc one takes us back to the beginning of the label, with the label's first two artists, the Spaniels and bluesman Jimmy Reed. Disc two starts in blues and soul land, and brings aboard Dee Clark -- the label's first African-American artist to cross over consistently into the pop field -- and Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, and the Impressions. The third disc runs the hits and classics from 1961 to the label's impending demise in 1965, including quite a few pop-chart successes and even some great jazz sides. Producer/compiler/annotator Billy Vera deserves special mention for a job well done, given the size constraints and licensing restrictions. An important chunk of American musical history served up classy.

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
blue highlight denotes track pick