Donna Loren has a loyal cult following among fans of '60s pop largely for her appearances in several movies in American International Pictures' Beach Party series, in which she showed off (a) her skills as a vocalist, and (b) how good she looked in a swimsuit. Loren enjoyed a successful career as an actress and model, but she never scored a hit as a singer, and this overview of her two-year tenure at Capitol Records during the peak of her fame makes clear the problem was the material, not her skills as a performer. These Are the Good Times: The Complete Capitol Recordings features all ten tracks from Loren's sole album of the '60s, Beach Blanket Bingo, as well as the A- and B-sides from five stand-alone singles and eight unreleased numbers, and it's obvious that by the standards of a teen pop star of the era, Loren had an impressive voice and the intelligence to know what to do with it; there's a strength and maturity in her performances on tunes like "A Woman in Love (With You)," "Hold Your Head High," and "Leave Him to Me" that outstrips a significant majority of her peers -- all the more impressive considering she was just 18 when most of this was recorded. However, in many respects, that may be why she never hit the charts; Loren was at her best on songs that were more emotionally complex than the typical AM radio fodder of the mid-'60s, and when she tackled more radio-ready material, she tended to sound technically expert but less than fully engaged. (And given the low ebb of songs like "So, Do the Zonk" and "Drop the Drip," it's easy to see why.) Oddly enough, this is most evident on the ten tunes from the Beach Blanket Bingo LP, while some of the strongest material here didn't even earn a release until now (in particular "It's Gotta Be," in which she's backed by the Beau Brummels, and "You Can't Lose Something You Never Had"). Most of these tracks were produced by Steve Douglas, with arrangements from Jack Nitzsche and Billy Strange and accompaniment by the finest studio players of the day, and the best stuff here is delicious, beautifully crafted '60s West Coast pop, with a gifted and savvy vocalist front and center. If not everything on this collection is a slam-dunk, These Are the Good Times makes it clear Donna Loren was much, much more than just another pretty face, and if she and her crew didn't quite know how to climb the charts, they could sure make a fine record.
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