Alex Harvey

Simply Sensational Rarities

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There might be less likely bootlegs around than a three-CD set of Alex Harvey rarities, comprised mostly of 1960s recordings prior to his formation of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. There aren't many less likely bootlegs than this, however, and rest assured that it does exist, with pretty good artwork (albeit no label), though it's hard to envision more than a few hundred hardcore customers devoted enough to track it down. Harvey did do much interesting music in the 1960s, much of it virtually impossible to find, which makes it all the more a shame that this package is so careless. It's such a mess that it's hard to know where to start, actually, but here goes. For one thing, much of this has been reissued on the commercially available CDs Alex Harvey & His Soul Band and Teenage a Go Go with much better annotation and sound quality. Disc two of this bootleg, in fact, is nothing more than a straight copy of Bear Family's Alex Harvey & His Soul Band (comprised of mid-'60s R&B-oriented recordings), with a couple extra tracks from the early Harvey rarity compilation Teenage a Go Go. The disc's inclusion here is thus entirely pointless, other than to hike up the price.

Harvey fanatics who can put up with this insult will be far more interested in disc one, which has his rare 1965 soul single "Agent 00 Soul"/"Go Away Babe"; his less enjoyable 1967 psychedelic-soul single "The Sunday Song"/"Horizons"; two live 1964 recordings that show up on Teenage a Go Go; selections on which Harvey played guitar and sang lead vocals from the 1969 Hair Rave-Up album, recorded by the band of the London production of the play Hair (and which was legitimately reissued on CD in 2001); and material from Harvey's 1969 LP Roman Wall Blues. For the 1969 stuff, it's hard to figure out what comes from where, since the track listings on the back sleeve are so obviously wrong, with the last half totally out of sequence and some songs not listed at all. Even consulting the thorough discography in the bio The Sensational Alex Harvey won't make it clear what song's playing. It's quite galling, considering that the reason anyone's buying this to begin with is that the original LPs are so damnably rare that even dedicated fans haven't heard Roman Wall Blues before for the most part, and don't have the original sleeves for references. If you can manage to ignore these considerable impediments for the honor of at least being able to hear the recordings at all, the 1969 tracks are flawed but fairly interesting, linking his early British R&B-rock sound to a more personal, experimental, and satirical one. Even some of the covers are OK (the version of "All Along the Watchtower" is pretty groovy, actually), but some occasional hiccups and dead-air dropouts on the CDs make proper appreciation yet more of a challenge.

That leaves disc three, and again the news isn't all that good. Seven of the first ten songs -- described as "Alex Harvey and His Soul Band rare recordings, demos and outtakes," all from the '60s -- already appeared on Teenage a Go Go, in considerably better sound quality, even considering that they were taken off acetates. As rarities worthy of the designation, that leaves the pretty good British Invasion R&B shaker "Ain't That Just Too Bad" (though the liner notes don't make it clear whether it's the same version as the one on a rare 1965 45), "The Liverpool Scene," and "What's Wrong With Me," although these latter two tracks don't seem any different from the versions that show up on Alex Harvey & His Soul Band. The whole deal comes to a close with six unreleased live tracks by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, in fair but not sparkling sound, presumably from the 1970s (no date or source are listed), including such faves as "Gang Bang," "Last of the Teenage Idols," "Framed," and "Giddy Up a Ding Dong." There really is room for a good compilation, bootleg or otherwise, of the 1960s Harvey recordings that have escaped reissue, but this bumbling job lives up to the stereotypes of the worst bootleg ripoffs. And even with its three-disc length, this manages to miss some rare songs from his non-LP 1960s singles that would have been welcome inclusions.