Singles A's & B's

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For years, Roy Wood's post-Move/ELO catalog has been cluttered with budget-line compilations. The same tracks have been recycled over countless discs, usually distinguished by terrible fidelity and haphazard sequencing. Repertoire remedied the situation in 1999 by releasing two comprehensive compilations -- one focusing on Wood's solo recordings (Exotic Mixture: Best of Singles A's & B's), the other on Wizzard's singles (Singles A's & B's). This was a welcome development, since both were good-sounding, intelligently assembled compilations, yet it wasn't an entirely ideal situation, as most fans -- whether they're fanatics or curious listeners -- would like to have one, tight collection of highlights from Wood's and Wizzard's singles and early-'70s albums. Of course, many of the budget-line and cut-rate comps combined solo and Wizzard material, but they did so in a bewildering fashion; his catalog has long cried out for a logical, concise overview of his various projects, especially since his output was quite varied, to say the least. In lieu of that, Repertoire's compilations are very welcome indeed, particularly for fanatics who are accustomed to taking the brilliant with the dross. Of the two, the Wizzard compilation is weaker (though it does have the advantage of being more concise). That's because Wizzard peaked early, albeit brilliantly, and they didn't follow through on the promise of their dazzling, Spector/Beach Boys-tinted rock & roll on their B-sides. It's no coincidence that those B-sides were written by everybody else in the band but Wood, and that most of those were instrumentals. Some are amusing (the mild ELO send-up "Bend Over Beethoven") or interesting ("Marathon Man," "Rob Roy's Nightmare"), but they're all disposable, especially when compared to the A-sides, which are uniformly enchanting.

True, they're all a little similar -- the core is straight-ahead, old-fashioned rock & roll, sort of like Dave Edmunds, but it's graced with wildly ornate arrangements and vocal harmonies -- but "Ball Park Incident," "See My Baby Jive," "Angel Fingers," "Rock & Roll Winter," "This Is the Story of My Love (Baby)," and "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" (inexplicably saved until the end of the record, possibly to separate the holiday tune from the main discography, or maybe just to offer bait for listeners who might have turned off the B-sides) are all terrific, entertaining singles in their own right. The other three singles are a little more varied, with less of the Wall of Sound influence, largely due to the fact that they were all recorded when Wizzard was trucking as the rock & roll oldies outfit Eddy & the Falcons. The core remains the same, but the sound is a little different -- "You Got Me Running" has a bit of doo-wop that makes it sound like Grease; "Are You Ready to Rock" is a silly sock hop; and "Rattlesnake Roll" comes close to jump blues -- yet almost as fun as the classic Wizzard numbers. Given that there are nine A-sides, all quite good, it's easy to wish that they had been combined with Wood's solo A-sides, plus select moments from Boulders and Mustard, but that's not what happened. Instead, they are isolated from one other, which may be technically accurate since Wizzard existed separately from Wood, but it does mean that we're left with a frustrating compilation. It's much, much better and considerably more logical than many Wood/Wizzard compilations, and its comprehensiveness is nice for collectors, yet the inconsistent nature of the B-sides hurts the compilation, since they're of a different aesthetic than the A-sides. Still, Singles A's & B's is one of the better Wood compilations ever assembled, and Repertoire must be commended for that.

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