The Earls

Remember When?: All the Early and Rare Sides

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This disc is probably not where the casual listener should start with the Earls -- one might do better with Collectables records' Remember Then! But as a second Earls CD, or for collectors and completists, and general doo-wop enthusiasts, this 31-song compilation, covering the years 1961-1968, is a great value, and it shows how long the group remained artistically viable, advancing their sound with the times into white soul. The producers have raided the vaults to give a much better and fuller impression of the Earls' actual history and their potential which, sadly, was unrealized. The officially released material goes back to the group's first success, with their up-tempo rendition of "Life Is but a Dream" on the Rome records label -- not only with its original B-side "It's You" (which was removed shortly after release) but the replacement flip-side, "Without You." That's where things start to get really interesting, with a brace of unissued Rome Records singles and extended versions of other numbers that were only issued in cut form; additionally, we get two early outtakes of "Remember When" -- which subsequently evolved into their signature tune, "Remember Then" -- one running most of a minute longer than the other, though neither is as effective as the hit version; the longer version includes some interesting and entertaining vamps, however, along with material that was better off being jettisoned. The previously unissued slow version of "My Heart's Desire" is a gorgeous take on this ballad; a medium-tempo version, just as pretty but completely different in tone and texture, is also included, along with the original fast version, which offers yet another, totally different, hard-rocking take on the song, complete with chugging rhythm guitars. One of the more interesting discoveries that one can make on this CD is precisely how unlike other doo-wop groups the Earls were -- perhaps owing to the fact that they started late and their history ran up against the British Invasion and other mid-'60s phenomenon, they made much more (and more effective) use of a full-band backing than most of their contemporaries. They could do the Harptones-influenced slow harmony R&B, but also hard-rocking versions of songs like "Dreams Come True" (which also appears here in its finished, more playful rendition). Along with this array of outtakes and unedited masters, the disc includes a pair of Larry Chance solo numbers that are a little more pop-oriented in their arrangements but still eminently enjoyable teen pop/rock, and one true oddity, "(The Story Of) The In-Between Years," a two-sided single by James MacArthur on which the Earls performed -- it's a pure period piece with the actor (best remembered for his work on Hawaii Five-O) reciting around the group's singing, which is excellent; the whole thing plays like an audio version of the plots of the kind of teen movies that were in vogue around 1962-1963. Much more effective musically are "If I Could Do It Once Again" and "Daddy's Home," a pair of more recent, nostalgia-oriented songs credited to "Jimmy Cee with the Earls." Even better than those are "It's Been a Long Time Coming" and "In My Lonely, Lonely Room," outstanding examples of white soul, with Larry Chance sounding a lot like Ben E. King, from the group's brief 1968 stint on ABC records. The annotation is very thorough and the sound is generally excellent, but this disc can also be difficult to find; much of what's here also appears on the German-imported Dee Jay label's Rome Records And Beyond compilation.

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