Cilla Black

1963-1973: The Abbey Road Decade

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Three CDs and 65 songs is probably more Cilla Black than most of us want to own. As it turns out, however, Black's output is far superior to the limited reputation the carries in the U.S., where she charted but a handful of songs. The material features all of Black's hits, all of her important B-sides, and album tracks; also, disc three is made up entirely of rarities, including some surprising demos like "Step Inside Love" from 1968 with Paul McCartney accompanying her on acoustic guitar -- it's almost good enough to have been released, which also proves that McCartney could have been a top session player if he hadn't made it in any other area. There's also Black's original rehearsal cut of "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues," a full-blown, Cavern-style Merseybeat performance with a band; a surviving Dick James Music acetate of Black's cover of "Fever," accompanied by Gerry & the Pacemakers; plus her unissued versions of "Heatwave" and "Shotgun," both among the best records she ever made, and closing with her mid-'70s cover of Phil Ochs' "Changes." All of the relevant tracks that weren't originally released in stereo have been remixed that way, and a good job was done of it, too. The surprise for most casual listeners will come from the non-hits -- even with her original vocal limitations, which she quickly overcame, Black had a distinctive sound that made her work eminently enjoyable and even impressive. Coupled with some good arrangements and George Martin's crisp production, her music holds up astonishingly well. And Black, as she gained confidence, displays a surprisingly soulful approach on songs such as "He Won't Ask Me" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling."

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