Alvin Stardust

20 Of The Best

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To describe Alvin Stardust's hit-making career as deceptive is to do the man (and the music) a major disservice. He never pretended, after all, to be anything but an old time rocker reborn for the glam age; nor, once he and producer Pete Shelley had driven their first great idea into the ground, did he even threaten to return with anything so viscerally vibrant as his debut hit. But "My Coo Ca Choo" was more than a hypnotic guitar riff, a lyric steeped in lascivious sensuality and a really scary-looking singer who held his microphone upside down. It was forbidden sex and secret code, it was yowling subversion and evil intent, it was "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Be Bop a Lula" breathlessly updated and whipped into shape. And if Stardust had only followed through on all of that, there's no telling what he could have got away with next. The fantasy fell away swiftly, though. From his debut album, a stark, but very imaginative, rearrangement of Cliff Richard's "Move It" and the vampiric Bolan-blues-battered "Dressed in Black" both ooze that same original passion and, in a perfect world, would have been his follow-up singles. Instead, he went with "Jealous Mind," which was little more than coo-ca-choo II; "Red Dress" and "You You You," which served up further slavish soundalikes; and, "Tell Me Why" and "Good Love Can Never Die," by which time Stardust was so close to the middle of the road that he might as well have been painting the white lines while he sang. Twenty of the Best, then, is a subjective title, wholly dependent upon just how betrayed the listener feels by the retreat from "My Coo Ca Choo"'s frontiers. Culled entirely from Stardust's mid-1970s Magnet label albums, with the emphasis first on the hits, then on the covers, it shows off his versatility as much as his vitality, and in that respect cannot be faulted. Unlike the deeply retro likes of Showaddywaddy and "the Rubettes," Stardust performed every song as though he were really Gene Vincent, reducing the likes of "C'Mon Everybody," "Heartbeat," "Jailhouse Rock," and "Bony Maronie" to their lurching bare bones blues, then rebuilding from there. The widescreen reinvention of "Bye Bye Love" and the country hick novelty "Guitar Star," meantime, offer another side to the singer, one which would be more fruitfully aired during his early 1980s Stiff Records reinvention. But even at its foot-tapping finest, 20 of the Best is dwarfed by its opening cut, and the only compensation is...so were the rest of the mid-1970s.

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