Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Ventures

The VenturesTake a trip through the 60s. On the main roads you see the expected: The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, James Brown, The Supremes. Take the back roads and you see the lesser known: the one hit and two hit and no hit wonders – James Carr, Every Mothers Son, The New York City Rock And Roll Ensemble, The Velvelettes.

But what happens on the side roads? I’m fairly certain that that’s where we’ll find The Ventures.

They did have a few hits – they bookended the decade with Walk Don’t Run in 1960 and Hawaii Five-O in 1969. And they had a few in between but that doesn’t reflect their essence. Really, The Ventures bear the same relationship to pop music that photographs bear to real life. And in the hands of an expert, photography takes on an independent meaning, something about real life distilled. The Ventures were expert musical photographers.

That’s not to say that their stuff isn’t kitch; indeed, it is uber kitch. They released 3 or 4 LPs a year, over 11 years, and each one is a representation of something going on in the real world: a country LP, a psychedelic LP, a surfing album, an ersatz collection of TV themes. The covers were cheesy (often transcendently so) the music was derivative, the marketing was often shameless, and the talent was extraordinary. The orginal group was Don Wilson, Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, and drummer Howie Johnson. Johnson was replaced early on by Mel Taylor. Over the years people came and went, Gerry MGhee became a semi-permanent member at some point, and when Mel Taylor died, he was replaced by his son Leon.

And ultimately, it’s fun. I had no end of amusement rifling through the city’s second hand stores looking for used, affordable and serviceable copies of old Ventures albums. I didn’t do too bad. Every discography you look at has a different list, and the fact that they had Japan-only releases, budget releases, retitled albums etc, doesn’t help much. The closest thing to a consesus , though, postulates just under 40 LP over 11 years. I have almost all of them; I have Twist Party Vol. 2 on MP3, (also their Play Guitar With The Ventures series); I got their Christmas album on an actual CD (though someone did me the favour of stealing back in the summer of 2003). Otherwise I have the original cover and original vinyl of all the main LPs they released up to 1970.

After 1970, still have a few LPs, and I have quite a bit of stuff on MP3. This collection, though, stops at 1970. I put it together from The Very Best Of The Ventures, Golden Greats and More Golden Greats, Billboard singles that weren’t included on any collection but which I have on their various LPs, and my personal favourites. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I have a lot of fun listening to it.

The Ventures:

Walk Don’t Run – Written by the near-anonymous Johnny Smith, the guys picked this up from a Chet Atkins album, got rid of the jazz inflections, and came up with their first hit, and an archetypal rock instrumental. From the summer of 1960.
Out Of Limits – A cover of The Marketts hit from 1964. The Ventures did it on an album of mosty original “space” oriented songs, which included The Twilight Zone.
Tequila – The Champs hit from the late 50s. Their version of this proves that they weren’t just a copy band.
Apache – Seems to be based on the Jorgen Ingman cover more than on the Shadows original.
Ram-Bunk-Shush – Their third hit and from their second album. From the winter of 1961.
Hawaii Five-O – Theme from the famous TV series starring Jack Lord as Police chief McGarratt. I used to watch it; it was on Friday nights. I could never work out whether this was a cover or the actual recording used on the show. From the spring of 1969.
Perfidia – The follow-up to Walk Don’t Run, also recorded by The Shadows. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Telstar – Pretty much a note for note copy of The Tornadoes original.
Rebel Rouser – They cover the Duane Eddy song with no sax, and it rocks out pretty decently anyway.
Wipe Out – Taking on The Surfaris, risky. They do themselves proud.
The Lonely Bull – They got someone to play trumpet on this Herb Alper’s Tijuana Brass cover. This is from the same LP as Telstar, which consisted entirely of covers, and which was the highest placing LP the group had. Golden Greats Indeed
Honky Tonk – A cover of the hit by Bill Dogget. They did this more than once.
Let’s Go – Another note for note copy, this time of The Routers.
Pipeline – The surfing classic by The Chantays, from an album called Surfin’. The Ventures, by the way, are often described as a “surf group.” They were not a surf group. They did one album of surf songs, they covered a few others (Wipe Out, Penetration) and they redid Walk Don’t Run in surf style, and released it as Walk Don’t Run ’64. Then they moved on.
Walk Don’t Run ’64 – As I was saying… this is Walk Don’t Run, surf style. From the summer of 1964, not long before the fad had run its course. This is the version of Walk Don’t Run that’s included on Golden Greats, though it’s not identified as such.
Memphis – The Lonnie Mack arrangement of the Chuck Berry song.
Slaughter On Tenth Avenue – The Ventures at their best. Listen to the bass run. From the fall of 1964, this song tends to be left off of the collections.
Secret Agent Man – An instrumental rendition of the Johnny Rivers hit, except for the cheesy female vocal chorus on the chorus. It’s a mystery why they decided to put this out as a single, but they did, and it reached number 54 on Billboard in the winter of 1966.
Theme From “A Summer Place” – Percy Faith’s original was huge in 1960. The Ventures cover, from the Hawaii Five-O album, was less so in the summer of 1969.
Lady Of Spain – I got this from the B side of Walk Don’t Run ’64; it was never on an album (although I think it got onto a CD compilation much later).
More Golden GreatsLolita Ya Ya – Amazing lyrics on this. It’s one of those sometimes Ventures tracks that has some kind of singing. From the fall of 1962.
The Locomotion – A lot of rhythm going on, though the vocals sound very frustrated. Little Eve did the original, and Grand Funk did the 70s version.
McArthur Park – Richard Harris did this Jimmy Webb song in 1968, and he’s been hated for it ever since. I’ve always liked it and I make no apologies. Donna Summer did a remake circa 1980. The Ventures cover comes from their 10th Anniversary Album, from 1970.
Classical Gas – They do a respectable version of this, and given that guitar is their thing, one would expect no less. But it doesn’t match the Mason Williams original. It only appeared on More Golden Greats.
A Taste Of Honey – A guitar arrangement of Herb Alpert’s trumpet arrangement.
Grazing In The Grass – A cover of the Hugh Masekela masterpiece, with trumpet and all.
Blue Moon – A fast arrangement, seemingly based on The Marcels doo-wop version. From the fall of 1961.
Diamond Head – A track from the Surfin’ LP that was released as a single and made the charts in the winter of 1965.
Lullaby Of The Leaves – A Walk Don’t Run – style instrumental, from the spring of 1961.
Underground Fire – The title track of a 1968 album which foisted The Ventures’ version of underground rock on the world.
(Theme From) Silver City – From a TV western I guess, this spent 3 weeks on Billboard in the fall of 1961. From an LP on which every song title had a colour in it (The Colorful Ventures).
Summertime – Everyone else did it and so did The Ventures. It’s from the Mashed Potatoes And Gravy album, which doesn’t make much sense, but that in itself makes sense.
Needles And Pins – Stop the presses here. The guitars on this are razor sharp, play it too loud and your speaker cones might tear. Even the goofy chorus sounds good. This recording would be the perfect theme song for an oldies radio show. From The Fabulous Ventures, it may be the best thing they ever did.
Flights Of Fantasy – Title track from Flights Of Fantasy, from 1967.
Swamp Rock – The last album from the 60s, and one where they broke free of the production tyranny of Joe Saraceno, who’d been doing their records since 1965.

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