Various Artists

Poison Ivy: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller

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Poison Ivy is an eccentric compilation indeed of compositions by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, one of the greatest songwriting teams of early rock & roll. Instead of being chock-full of the most familiar hit covers one might expect of a Leiber-Stoller compilation -- the hits they wrote for the Coasters, the Drifters, Elvis Presley, and Dion, for instance -- it's almost wholly devoted to non-hit interpretations by British artists of the '60s (though one track is from 1959 and two date from 1975). Most of the performers are quite minor ones virtually unknown to American audiences, with some notable exceptions; quite a few of them never even had hits in Britain. So it'll disappoint those looking for a summary of the best, or even some of the best, Leiber-Stoller covers. On the other hand, it's a pretty useful collection of some of the more obscure Leiber-Stoller interpretations, and in a few cases some of the most obscure Leiber-Stoller compositions, period. Petula Clark (whose "I [Who Have Nothing]" is unexpectedly strong and haunting), the Searchers (whose three songs here include their big American hit, "Love Potion No. 9"), and Lonnie Donegan are the only performers who might be instantly familiar to much of the American audience, and though Emile Ford, the Rockin' Berries, Joe Brown, and the Overlanders had some success in the U.K., you might have a hard time even finding British record collectors who know much about the Puppets, Erky Grant & the Earwigs, Gene & the Gents, or the Ferris Wheel.

Many of these are fun but rather unimaginative efforts that stick too close to the American originals, Jimmy Justice copying Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem" to a T, for instance. And it's hard to imagine anyone preferring the Ray Ellington Quartet's stiff, jazzy reading of "Charlie Brown" to the Coasters' classic hit rendition. But there are some eccentric rarities of note here, like the Rockin' Berries' bizarre impersonation of straw-sucking hayseeds on "Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt)," the Puppets' likable Merseybeat arrangement of "Poison Ivy," the Undertakers' soulful shot at "If You Don't Come Back," and Donegan's "Lorelei" and "Sorry, But I'm Gonna Have to Pass," which Leiber and Stoller themselves produced for Donegan in New York in 1960. Ultimately it's more interesting, oddly enough, to British Invasion collectors than the general Leiber and Stoller fan, but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile in a limited fashion.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:08
2 2:09
3 2:28
4 2:04
5 2:51
6 2:22
7 3:48
8 2:53
10 2:38
11 2:17
12 2:37
13 2:10
14 2:09
15 2:20
16 2:07
17 2:07
18 2:49
19 3:06
20 3:35
21 2:40
22 3:02
23 2:22
24 2:25
25 2:04
blue highlight denotes track pick