The Remo Four

Smile!, Peter Gunn...And More

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Contemporaries of the Beatles, along with other Liverpudlian rockers like Gerry & the Pacemakers and Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, the Remo Four were lost to the darkest corners of Merseybeat history, with only See for Miles' 1992 compilation The Best of Tommy Quickly, Johnny Sandon, Gregory Phillips & the Remo Four -- a disc featuring singers the group backed, along with a handful of their tracks -- being the only reissue to surface until Bear Family's 2010 Smile!, Peter Gunn…And More. Only one of the songs on that 1992 disc -- a cover of “Peter Gunn” -- is on this 2010 CD, which contains the entirety of their 1967 LP Smile!, released only in Germany, and singles surrounding the album. The Remo Four were in something of a time warp in 1966 and 1967. While their contemporaries were enjoying the fruits of swinging London, the quartet were stuck in Hamburg playing the Star Club, working off an enormous debt to their management company NEMS along with a tax bill. They were working hard, playing upwards of four times a night, delivering Merseybeat with a hard, jazzy R&B edge. In a sense, they hadn’t moved forward from the glory days of Merseybeat, relying on driving, crowd-pleasing, floor-filling covers, but the constant playing gave the group a deep, muscular groove and jazz chops credible enough that they could play Oscar Brown, Jr. “Brother Where Are You” and Cannonball Adderly's “Jive Samba” as convincingly as they could pound out Chuck Berry's “No Money Down” or stomp along with Stevie Wonder's “Nothin’s Too Good for My Baby.” This makes Smile! and its accompanying singles rather unique: ostensibly, this is generic British R&B, but the Remo Four swing with an authority that no other British Invasion band had, probably because they never would have had the chance to stretch out in the studio the way the group did here, cutting the entire LP in an afternoon between one of those never-ending club gigs. Add to that a really nifty gender-bending original in “Live Like a Lady” -- its growling guitar sweetened by organ -- and this is an unexpected delight, one of the better undiscovered British rock artifacts of the ‘60s.

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