Various Artists

Soundalike Kings Present Covers Hits

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In the 1960s, the Spar label put out lots of budget soundalike discs, tapping into the market for cover versions that were cheap to both buy and produce. According to the liner notes, some of these racked up respectable sales, and Ricky Page's version of Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA" was a hit in Australia, but it would be safe to assume that the lion's share have seldom been played since their purchase or sought since their release. Putting together a two-CD reissue of such recordings might seem absurd, given how disposable the "originals" were designed to be in the first place. Yet here it is: 48 tracks, most of them covers of familiar hits, sung here by artists you've never heard of. In fact, it turns out that a great deal of them were performed by just a handful of singers using different pseudonyms on different releases, with Bobby Russell, Buzz Cason, the soul-oriented Herbie Hunter, and Connie Landers in particular being responsible for many of the lead vocal chores. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, yet actually it's more interesting than you might guess, and more importantly, pretty listenable, if quite unoriginal. For one thing, these were pretty good songs, usually drawn from the poppier side of '60s pop/rock, including hits by Elvis Presley, the Four Seasons, Dion, the Supremes, the Impressions, and the like, down to less popular hitmakers like Brian Hyland, Skeeter Davis, and Jimmy Gilmer. These are of course no match for the originals, but the instrumentation is competent (though Bill Bailey's cover of Jay & the Americans' "She Cried" sounds like it's waiting for an orchestral overdub), and it's something of a kick to hear singers clearly inferior to the original artists trying their best to sound like Elvis, Neil Sedaka, the Righteous Brothers, or whomever.

More unexpectedly, disc two has quite a few songs which weren't big hits, or weren't hits at all. Quite what they're doing here is uncertain, but they're actually the most interesting stuff on the compilation. The goal with these non-hit tunes seems to have been to mimic sounds of some actual hit records, with some credible, though not earthshaking, facsimiles of the girl group sound; Gail Majors' "You're Slipping Away" sounds a good deal like Robin Ward or Little Peggy March circa 1963). Bobby Russell's performance of the same tune, in contrast, takes a Righteous Brothers approach. There are also some pastiches of country and gospel; a rather ridiculous (and somewhat fun for that reason) phonetic cover of Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki"; and some fair, stomping instrumental soul on "Heartbeat" by Bill Pursell (the one "name" artist here, who had a genuine instrumental hit in 1963 with "Our Winter Love"). Dubbed-from-disc surface noise is audible on some cuts, and overall the collection falls into the category of something to kill a couple hours with on a rainy day. But as such things go, it has its merits.