John Fred wrote the song "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" partly as a parody/tribute to the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and partly as a commentary on the short-lived fad of young women wearing huge sunglasses that obscured the fact they weren't all that good looking. While Fred and his band originally considered the song a throwaway, it ended up being far and away their biggest hit, and their only single to make its way to the Top Ten (even knocking the Fab Four's "Hello Goodbye" off the top of the charts). On the basis of that single, John Fred earned a reputation as a goofy pop act that he was never able to shake, but the Louisiana-bred singer was actually a fine blue-eyed soul shouter who cut a handful of regional hits in the Deep South and earned up to $1,250 a night (in 1965 dollars) on the frat house circuit before "Judy in Disguise" spoiled his R&B cred forever. With Glasses: The Very Best of John Fred and His Playboy Band is an excellent collection that delivers 28 solid tracks from Fred's back catalog and offers a representative sampling of his early soul-influenced singles and his later forays into psychedelic-tinged pop that followed the success of "Judy in Disguise." Cuts like "Love Comes in Time," "Doin' the Best I Can," and "Make You Love Me" show Fred was a potent white soul singer who could give Eddie Brigati and Box Tops-era Alex Chilton a run for their money, and his Playboys were a top-notch show band with an excellent horn section. Fred's post-"Judy in Disguise" work was a good bit more polished and sometimes more adventurous than it needed to be, but "Sad Story" showed he hadn't lost his blues chops, "Little Dum Dum" is a tough bit of pop psychedelia with a vicious guitar solo, and "Agnes English" is a slyly wary tale of a mysterious proto-hippie. John Fred was a great rock and soul singer who may not have been as hip as he hoped to be, but was a lot hipper than you probably expect, and With Glasses is an excellent summary of his golden half-decade.
With Glasses: The Very Best of John Fred and His Playboy Band Review
by Mark Deming