The Shadows

String of Hits

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Since their re-emergence in 1973, the Shadows had established themselves among the most tasteful guitar instrumental bands of the age. True, their greatest singles hits tended to be vocal numbers -- the Eurovision Song Contest smash "Let Me Be the One" paramount among them. But mention the Shadows to the average record buyer, and still the first thought that comes to mind was of seamless, sweet, and soaring guitar epics -- which was precisely the thinking behind this set. Despite a track listing which featured three of the band's most recent 45s, String of Hits was not titled for the band's own singles success. Rather, its contents drew, in the main, from the national Top 20 of the past year or so, to serve up tasteful revisions of some truly monster-selling recordings -- Blondie's "Heart of Glass," Gary Moore's "Parisienne Walkways," Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes," smashes from the plays Evita and Grease, the theme from The Deer Hunter, and so on. All were restyled to guitarist Hank Marvin's specifications -- gone were the days when the Shadows were an instrumental democracy, with drums and bass alike afforded their own moments in the sun. But, again, ask the average record buyer who the other Shads were -- or even what they played -- and you might as well be speaking Braille. So, smooth and stirring was the order of the day, oozing taste and virtuoso frills -- Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" turned from gray observation to classical gas; "Classical Gas" itself was rewired to such lofty complications that it's hard to believe one guitarist was responsible for it all; "Ghost Riders in the Sky" sounds exactly like you'd expect it to. This is not all necessarily a good thing. Exquisite though it is (and remarkably successful; the album topped the U.K. charts in late 1979), listening to String of Hits is akin to spending 45 minutes in an extremely trendy elevator. The music is so perfectly tailored that any trace of extraneous emotion or grit has been ruthlessly exterminated -- again, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is almost crystalline in its perfection, while "You're the One That I Want" simply twangs itself into unconsciousness. Even at its best -- "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," "Classical Gas," and, surprisingly, "Heart of Glass" -- String of Hits is extraordinarily unchallenging. But that works to its advantage, of course. The time for the Shadows to break down barriers had passed almost two decades earlier. Here it was time to build on their accomplishments, and String of Hits is the shiniest edifice of them all.

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