Georgie Fame’s back catalogue has been well served recently with 2015’s five-disc The Whole World’s Shaking: Complete Recordings 1963-1966 and last year’s Survival: A Career Anthology six-disc set. This latest addition, a more modest two-CD package, picks up where The Whole World’s Shaking left off to focus on Georgie’s first album for CBS, following a high-profile switch from Columbia, plus everything else he recorded during 1967.
The original The Two Faces of Fame, split between live and studio recordings, backed by a mix of big band sessions and his post-Blue Flames combo, is presented here in stereo and mono versions. Some folk might get the horn comparing the two, fill yer boots, I’ve no strong preference but what’s noticeable is both sound far punchier than the original LP. Yes, I know we’re all supposed to have a vinyl fetish – my penchant too – but it doesn’t always make the audio better.
As for the album, I’d always been lukewarm towards it. ‘Great Back Dollar Bill’ is a smart opener and ‘El Pussy Cat’ a fun instrumental but while the Harry South Big Band, rolling over from Fame’s previous Sound Venture, swing with a Who’s Who of British jazzers – Tubby Hayes, Dick Morrissey, Ronnie Scott, Pete King etc - Georgie tackling three Great American Songbook standards would then, and now, have many feeling underwhelmed. I can tolerate Bob Dylan’s recent attempts at crooning his way through these standards in his twilight years but Georgie was 23 years old. In ’67 Brian Auger had cannily teamed up with hip priestess Julie Driscoll, Zoot Money was running like a psychedelic madman in his kaftan with Dantalian’s Chariot and Graham Bond’s extreme nature was pushing the boundaries of tolerance for him and his music. Georgie Fame meanwhile was doing supper club jazz with ‘It Could Happen To You’ a hit for Bing Crosby in the 1940s. There’s a slight perversity I can appreciate now but it’s taken a long time. Listening repeatedly to The Two Faces of Fame again I’ve warmed to it. It’s not a classic but it’s better than I remember and helps I don’t expect everything to be ‘The Monkey Time’ anymore.
I wouldn’t unreservedly recommend purchasing the album on its own but this deluxe edition features an additional 24 tracks (seven previously unissued) and, as Nick Rossi suggests in his thorough liner notes, when taken as a whole, 1967 was as strong a year for Georgie as any and makes this a must-buy.
There’s so much to take in. A-sides, B-sides, EPs, storming instrumentals, swinging pop, up-tempo soul, sensitive ballads, a kitsch chart-topper (kitsch being polite, if I never hear ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ again it’ll be too soon), Italian translations and even an International Pop Song Festival entry released for the Brazilian market.
A few highlights: the improved audio quality gives a massive boost to the Georgie Fame EP which originally sounded flat but now brings ‘Knock On Wood’ and ‘Close The Door’ to soul stomping life; ‘Roadrunner’ (the Bo Diddley one) is everything you’d imagine and was new to me; ‘Because I Love You’ and the dreamy ‘Try My World’ were excellent singles; ‘A Waiting Time’ a planned but dropped 45 – leaning towards an increased MOR style yet showing it could be done gracefully – remained unreleased until Survival and deserves repeating here for a wider audience; ‘Celebration’ is pop competition fun; the seven unreleased tracks show Georgie’s quality was consistently high – the version of ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is gorgeous; ‘Jumpin’ The Gun’ is in a similar vein to the old Hammond and horns fave ‘Beware of the Dog’; and – the length of this list tells you something - ‘Respoken’ and ‘Conquistador’ are class new discoveries for everyone.
One new discovery to me is ‘No Thanks’, the flip to ‘Try My World’. I can hear many of you now scoffing incredulously, “What? You’ve never heard it before? They played it every week down the Purple Bubblegum Curiosity Shop club in Camden on Thursday nights in the 90s when we were wearing bootcut cords and buzzing off our tits on cheap speed and Mad Dog 20/20”. I’m sure you did and quite right too. It includes every club classic ingredient and lands perfectly in the swirly/soul crossover dancefloor dynamite box, much like the later ‘Somebody Stole My Thunder’ which you’d only have to step outside your front door to hear throughout the Brit-Pop years.
This reissue (although it’s much more than simply that) is well packaged and, thanks to the abundance of bonus tracks, is bursting with great music. In 1967 alone Georgie proved he had more than two faces and, whichever one he showed, he did so with style.
The Two Faces of Fame is out now on RPM/Cherry Red.
A heavily edited version of this review appears in latest issue of Shindig magazine.