Joel Goldenberg: Today's Super Greats

Mouth and MacNeal

While K-Tel's Canadian Mint various artists collection was the first album I ever heard, that was on cassette. To my best recollection, the first LP I ever heard was a three-record set and another K-Tel entry, Today's Super Greats.

To this day, I cringe when I see the album cover. It seems to indicate that the contents will include the blandest of bland songs. Far from it — there's a healthy mix of pop and classic rock. And some bland too.

Today's Super Greats was significant for another reason— it was probably one of the first K-Tel albums to contain full-length versions of songs. Many crammed 20-22 songs on one LP, sacrificing sound quality and resulting in us hearing single edits (good) and very early fadeouts (bad).

My initial impression of Today's Super Greats was that the sound was kind of muddy, notwithstanding the wider groove space to accommodate all the songs on three records. But there was a reason for that, as I'll explain in my track-by-track evaluation of the songs.

Here we go:

• Ocean: Put Your Hand in the Hand: Since K-Tel was created in Canada, it seems suitable that this collection would kick off with a Canadian song, this one a fairly rousing gospel-like song that was part of the "God-rock" genre of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I far prefer something more earthy, like Oh Happy Day by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, but it's not bad. And Elvis Presley covered it.

• Melanie-Brand New Key: For years, I thought this song was literally about having a key to activate a roller skate, and kind of had me pining to roller skate, which I did to Patsy Gallant's Sugar Daddy at the old Recreatheque multi-activity complex in Chomedey, Laval (north of Montreal for those readers outside of Quebec). Then I heard about the double entendres and, never mind...

• Mouth and MacNeal- How Do You Do: One of the more cutesy songs of the "Dutch Invasion," with a cartoonish-sounding male singer and a very cute-sounding (and looking) female duet partner. Check out a particular YouTube video of the song for a very risqué surprise.

• Donny Osmond-Go Away Little Girl: Rock critics hated the Osmonds, but I always liked their songs, particularly Donny's hits on another early cassette my family had, K-Tel's Donny Osmond Superstar. And I like Donny's version far more than the Steve Lawrence original, which is way too multi-tracked and might sound a bit creepy these days as sung by an adult.

• 1910 Fruitgum Company — Simon Says: One of the key entries in the bubblegum pop genre. This one has a very weird stereo mix, with the vocal off to the side. A cute song, but this contributed to my perception of this album sounding muddy.

• Brian Hyland-Gypsy Woman: Speaking of muddy... I absolutely adore this version of the Impressions hit, more so than the original. There's a particular exotic atmosphere that producer Del Shannon captured. And here's the "but"... the song is presented here in quite dull sounding fake stereo. For some reason, notwithstanding recent attempts at Digitally Extracted Stereo from mono sources, there was never a true stereo version of this song.

• Cher— Gypsys, Tramps And Thieves: My favourite of all Cher songs. I love the urgency of it throughout.

• Sammy Davis Jr. — Candy Man: Here's another one of those songs that hip music types hate. But I have a soft spot for it, for three reasons. 1. The movie where it was originally sung (not by Davis), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is my second favourite movie (after Godfathers I and II — I consider them one film); the lyrics always made me crave sweets; and one of my new Twitter friends was among those singing backup on the song.

• The Stampeders— Sweet City Woman: Another Canadian entry, and a quintessential early 1970s pop-rock hit. I always loved this one, although Wild Eyes is my favourite Stampeders song.

Wadsworth Mansion— Sweet Mary: This is an interesting one. The version released on the album was the stereo LP take, but the Rhino Have A Nice Day CD series contained the much more exciting (and less muddy sounding) single version, which is also a completely different performance. And the latter is all that you hear on 1970s compilations these days, complete with surface noise, unfortunately.

• Dawn-Candida: My absolute favourite of all the songs the Tony Orlando-led group recorded during their hit era — the sound evoked the Latin-tinged mid-1960s songs recorded by one of my favourite vocal groups, the Drifters.

Olivia Newton-John-If Not For You: This entry, a Bob Dylan original, was the start of my admiration for Olivia and her 1970s hits, and I was shattered that my musical Bible, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, slagged her.

• Derek & The Dominos — Layla: My first exposure to classic rock, but it took me years to like it. Not because it isn't a classic and pained Eric Clapton song (it is), but because it really shouldn't have been on a pop-dominated K-Tel album. At least the full-length version was featured.

•Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds— Don't Pull Your Love: I really love the punchy sound of this song.

Gary Glitter—  Rock 'N Roll Part 2: Next!

• Tee-Set— Ma Belle Amie: Another cute Dutch Invasion  entry, featuring French, heavily accented English and a cartoony vocal. Very charming.

• Shocking Blue —  Venus: Another Dutch song of a more rocking nature, and another fake stereo mix. This one was more palatable, as the mix mainly featured echo in one channel, which was the method used by Mercury Records.

• Dawn — Knock Three Times: My second favourite Dawn song, for the same reason as my Candida entry.

• Freda Payne—  Band Of Gold: A stupendously good soul vocalist, and my entry into the wonderful world of the Hot Wax and Invictus labels of the 1970s. My favourite Payne song, though, is the lengthy I'm Not Getting Any Better.

• Dennis Coffey— Scorpio: A very funky instrumental that makes you feel like you're in a classic 1970s blaxploitation flick.

• Bells— Stay Awhile: Another Canadian entry, this one from Montreal. Cute, but I far prefer their Fly, Little White Dove, Fly.

Gallery— I Believe In Music: Very hippie dippy.

Rod Stewart — Maggie May: A classic, but I've heard it just too many times.

• Chairmen Of The Board — Gimme Just A Little More Time: Two Hot Wax-Invictus songs on one album. Heaven!

• Five Man Electrical Band — Signs: Canadian again, and a great story song about peace and love. Ringo Starr would approve. Very narrow stereo sound.

• Honey Cone— Want Ads: Very funky song, and this is the third Hot Wax-Invictus song on this album. Ecstasy!

• Austin Roberts — Something's Wrong With Me: Kinda sounds like the group Bread.Which is good.

• Dusk — I Hear Those Church Bells Ringing: Another cute entry which I like better than in the 1970s.

• Jud Strunk — Daisy A Day: Sentimental and not bad. Quite the unique name.

• Brewer And Shipley — One Toke Over The Line: I didn't have any idea at the time.

• Lobo — Me And You And A Dog Named Boo: Nice early 1970s pop groove.

• Frank Mills — Love Me Love Me Love: I could listen to this one over and over again. Also from Canada, and kudos to the harmonica player.

• Joey Gregorash— Jodie: Very infectious and tightly played Canadian pop.

• The New Seekers — Pinball Wizard / See Me, Feel Me: I caught grief on the New Seekers Facebook page for calling this group bland. But I still love their version of the Who's song, especially the drumming. So there's that.

• The Osmonds—  Down By The Lazy River: The Osmonds get funky, and Donny has an absolutely wonderful wailing background vocal.

• Black & Ward — Goin' Down (On The Road To L.A.): Not bad, but drags a bit.

• King Harvest— Dancing In The Moonlight: Another great pop hit that I can listen to over and over again.

• Wayne Newton— Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast: If you like the overly sentimental genre of early 1970s songs, here's its pinnacle.

• Teegarden & Van Winkle —God, Love Rock 'N Roll: Not a bad God-rock entry.

• Steam— Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye: Do the Montreal Canadiens and other sports teams pay the songwriters royalties? They should.

Next time: The Kinks—Lola, Percy & The Apemen Come Face To Face With The Village Green Preservation Society... Something Else.

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