Steve Harley / Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

The Best of Steve Harley [EMI Gold]

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This 16-song compilation brings together an unchallenging but almost uniformly excellent roundup of Steve Harley's 1970s output, opening (in chronological terms) with "Sebastian" from 1973's still epochal Human Menagerie LP and wrapping up with "Freedom's Prisoner," an unexpectedly joyful excerpt from his 1979 schedule. In between, it brushes all of the expected high points -- six further U.K. hit singles include the breakthrough "Judy Teen" and "Mr. Soft," the edgy "Mr. Raffles," the less palatable "Love's a Prima Donna" and "Here Comes the Sun," and, because no Harley collection would be complete without it, the chart-topping "Make Me Smile." The real meat, however, lies among the excerpted album cuts, as the compilers treat all seven original Harley/Cockney Rebel LPs with more or less equal respect -- many fans would have drawn a line after the first three. But "White White Dove," "Roll the Dice," and the like all deserve a fresh hearing, and The Cream of emerges with almost unruffled consistency, and an overall impact that is all the more satisfying for being so unexpected.

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