Mitch Ryder's career is one of the great object lessons in why you should never let the manager and/or record company persuade the singer to go solo. Between 1965 and 1967, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels were one of the best, toughest, and most exciting blue-eyed soul acts to ever walk the earth. Ryder was a singer who could sound cool and swaggering while still finding room for abundant full-on soul shouting, and the Detroit Wheels were more than up to the challenge of backing him up, with the fierce guitar work of Jim McCarty and the ceaseless drive of drummer Johnny "Bee" Badanjek not just supporting the frontman but pushing him to greater heights. After a fistful of hit singles and three albums, Bob Crewe, who produced their recordings, wrote much of their material, ran their record label, and handled much of their business, decided that Ryder could be a bigger star without the Wheels, and finagled him into going out on his own. It was a disastrous move; Ryder's first two solo albums, What Now...My Love and The Detroit-Memphis Experiment, never come close to the success and excitement he enjoyed with the Wheels, and while he's had a long and impressive career as a journeyman rocker, he never again reached the same level of stardom in the United States.
Anyone who questions just how much of a difference the Detroit Wheels made in Ryder's music should listen to Sockin' It to You -- The Complete Dynovoice/New Voice Recordings, a three-CD set that collects everything Ryder & the Detroit Wheels cut during their association with Crewe, with the What Now...My Love album tacked on as a postscript. Ten of the twelve tunes on Take a Ride, released in March 1966, were R&B covers, sounding as if they were cut live in the studio, and it's the work of a group that had the talent and the energy to make the songs their own. Breakout...!!!, which appeared the following August, mixed more Bob Crewe originals into the set list, but the band had become even tighter and stronger, and it's as good as white R&B in the mid-'60s gets. While Sock It to Me!, issued in April 1967, suffered from too many Bob Crewe originals and a less aggressive attack, the group still had the strength to cut through it and deliver the goods. It was also the last Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels album, though this package includes October 1967's Mitch Ryder Sings the Hits, a curious set in which Crewe reworked 12 Detroit Wheels cuts with extensive remixing and overdubs, and What Now...My Love, Crewe's attempt to turn Ryder into a all-around pop entertainer in the manner of Bobby Darin. Ryder's voice is in fine shape on What Now, but the material is so clearly wrong for him that it's hard to listen to. Despite the presence of What Now, Sockin' It to You is a superb collection that sums up the career of a band that was all too short-lived, and it reveals how very little fat there was in their catalog. Imagine what could have been if Bob Crewe had known better.