Various Artists

The London American Label, Year by Year: 1961

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The Ace label's reissue anthologies of singles that appeared on the London American imprint are pretty strange affairs, at least in the eyes of listeners outside of the U.K., where London American licensed a lot of material for British release. This CD collects 28 of its singles from 1961, and the only thing they have in common is having been issued by the same company in the U.K. There are big hits, small hits, and singles that missed the charts altogether in both the U.S. and U.K. There are absolute classic smashes (Roy Orbison's "Crying," Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem," the Drifters' "Sweets for My Sweet," Timi Yuro's "Hurt"); big hits that aren't so classic (Pat Boone's "Moody River," Bobby Darin's "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"); secondary efforts by major performers like Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Del Shannon, Duane Eddy, the Coasters, and Bill Haley that are generally good, but not a match for their best; and some above-average, but not incredibly memorable, instrumental rock and teen idol sides. Not all of it's rock & roll, either, with Al Caiola & His Orchestra contributing their memorable version of the theme to "The Magnificent Seven." It seems like the only possible appeal of such a compilation would be to British consumers nostalgic for the time they bought these particular songs on this particular label, which can't be that sizable a market -- though, considering Ace's commitment to make this an ongoing series, maybe that's a more viable market than you'd think. All this stated, it's actually not that bad a listen, with plenty of stylistic diversity and reasonable quality for the most part, though it's often on the tamer side of early-'60s rock. It's also annotated with the loving detail typical of Ace releases. As for the rarities, by far the most interesting is the non-charting, Brenda Lee-ish "Lonesome Road" by Mirriam Johnson, who'd become more famous when she changed her name to Jessi Colter and went into country music.