Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gary Lewis and the Playboys -- The Complete Liberty Singles

The first record I ever bought (as opposed to the Disney soundtracks my parents bought for me) was a 45 RPM single of Gary Lewis and The Playboys' "Save Your Heart For Me." It was the summer of 1965, and I was mooning over 10-year-old Cindy Bechtel, a vision in pigtails and her Catholic school uniform:

Walk along the lake with someone new
Have yourself a summer fling or two
But remember I'm in love
with you and
Save your heart for me

Gary was the son of comedian Jerry Lewis, big in France, but largely despised in the U.S., and he is now widely disdained by arrogant music critics. I don't care. His music was part of my introduction to the wider world of rock 'n roll, and I will always maintain a soft spot for his many hit singles. Collectors Choice is about to issue more Gary Lewis music than anyone rightfully needs. I'll probably pick it up anyway.



‘60s band’s golden era included “This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In,” “Save Your Heart for Me,” “Everybody Loves a Clown,” “Sure Gonna Miss Her,” “Green Grass” and more. The hit team included Snuff Garrett, Al Kooper, Leon Russell, Hal Blaine and Jim Keltner.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — In the tradition of Collectors’ Choice Music’s hits collections from Jan & Dean and Tommy James & the Shondells, the label will issue Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ The Complete Liberty Singles collection, featuring 55 songs — many for the first time on CD and all in their original mono mixes. The collection, due out on May 26, 2009, features such hits as “This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In,” “Save Your Heart for Me,” “Everybody Loves a Clown,” “She's Just My Style," "Sure Gonna Miss Her,” “Green Grass,” “My Heart's Symphony” “Jill,” “Rhythm of the Rain,” “Loser (With a Broken Heart),” "Sealed With A Kiss" and many more, including B-sides, "Doin' The Flake" (from a cereal box-top offer), and the promo-only rarity, “Way Way Out.”

The set, annotated by Ed Osborne, is enhanced by interviews with Lewis as well as producer Snuff Garrett, arranger Leon Russell, drummers Hal Blaine and Jim Keltner, and others who comprised the Gary Lewis & the Playboys creative team.

Gary Lewis & the Playboys were discovered by producer Snuff Garrett through a tip from Lou Brown, a friend of Gary’s father Jerry Lewis. Garrett had heard a demo of a song called “This Diamond Ring” co-written by Al Kooper and thought Lewis would be perfect to record it. In November 1964, the band — Lewis, drums and vocals; Allan Lawson Ramsey, lead guitar; Dave Costell, rhythm guitar; and Cordovox player John West — found themselves in the studio with Garrett’s arranger, Leon Russell. To the band’s initial dismay, the famed Wrecking Crew session musicians played the instruments, with Lewis promoted to lead singer and session singer Ron Hicklin (of The Eligibles) brought in to bolster Lewis’ voice. Liberty Records president Al Bennett reportedly “despised” the song initially, possibly because Garrett had left an A&R position at the label to go independent. But after the band debuted it on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 6, 1964, it roared to Billboard’s #1 position, bumping the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” out of the top spot and burying Sammy Ambrose's R&B version of "Diamond Ring" along the way.

After returning to the studio to record their #2 single “Count Me In” (originally written for Herman’s Hermits), the Playboys recorded a song exclusively for Kellogg’s cereal (“Doin’ the Flake”), which accompanied a special pressing of “This Diamond Ring” and Little Miss Go-Go" in a free box top offer. Next came the Top 3 summertime hit “Save Your Heart for Me,” the #4 “Everybody Loves a Clown,” “Green Grass” – which reached the #8 spot - and the Beach Boys-influenced “She's Just My Style.” And the hits just kept on coming.

That is, until New Year's Day of 1967 — a month after the band had recorded “The Loser” — when Lewis was drafted into the U.S. Army and eventually sent to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam. Fortunately he’d banked a few recordings before he left, including “Girls in Love,” penned for him by Alan Gordon and Gary Bonner, the team that wrote the Turtles’ smashes. Unfortunately, Lewis’ attorneys had chosen that time to sue the label for back royalties, leaving the label with little incentive to promote the singles. Plus, the singer could no longer tour to keep up his visibility. “Has She Got the Nicest Eyes” — penned by Russ Titelman, Jack Nietzche and Lowell George — failed to chart at all.

While Lewis was overseas, Liberty Records released an earlier recording from the vault, “Sealed With a Kiss,” (originally cut by Brian Hyland and with Garrett back at the helm). It dented the Top 20, but Lewis never liked the production. After “Rhythm of the Rain,” which made it to #63, and “Hayride,” which went nowhere, Garrett told Lewis: “There is no more market for Gary Lewis & the Playboys.” Gary self-produced two more singles and then called it quits. “It was a terrible time,” recalls Lewis. Yet today he looks back with no regrets: “I was thrilled to be doing that. It was really so much fun.”

And fun, in turn, to roll back the clock to the halcyon age of ‘60s AM radio with the definitive Gary Lewis & the Playboys singles collection. The Collectors’ Choice package (list price $27.98) presents all the hits, B-sides and two rarities in glorious mono, remastered from the original tapes, along with extensive liner notes, picture sleeve artwork, and photos.


Joann said...

Andy, It's Joann H. from the 17th Ave. community. I found your blog on a Google search for "Fish House Band." I'm trying to contact you, but can't find an email link. .. Joann

Anonymous said...

It's a terrific collection with all the singles in mono from the original masters. The hits are great, but the B-sides are a revelation. In addition to the typical B-side fodder, there are some tremendously well-crafted pop songs that never saw the charts (or previous CD reissue).