In 2008, Collector’s Choice put out a collection of Jan & Dean’s Liberty singles. More on that later.
As a listening experience, I doubt any comp has matched the old 2-record vinyl Anthology everybody had back in the day (and, yes, some of us still do), which looked like this:
That was one of the great album covers as well (designed by Dean Torrence himself if memory recalls)–the group, the scene and the era, all summed up in six panels and a color scheme.
There have been numerous “expanded” versions on the same theme in the CD era. I recall this one (which got away from me in the Great CD Selloff of 2002), being plenty good:
But the one I have now, the aforementioned Collector’s Choice set, is this one…
…which has its own lesson to teach.
Minus the energy of the weird doo-wopping, I-can-but-hope-these-are-parodies, “Jennie Lee” and “Baby Talk” (which were on Dore), and rendered in crystal clear remastered sound, the A and B sides of their first five Liberty singles seem to exist as proof that Jan Berry was the lamest singer of the entire rock and roll era–and no great shakes as a writer or producer either….it all culminated in this….which was actually a small step up from some of what they had been up to previously.
Be sure to make yourself listen to every second. Then imagine nine other tracks on that level or worse.
Then know that their very next record was this…conceived after a certain someone who was about to become King of L.A. gave them a half-written song to finish. Short of getting hold of the album yourself and listening all the way through (which experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone) there’s no way to convey the shock of the transition from all of that, to all of this:
Gee, it’s almost like Brian Wilson was some kind of transcendent genius or something.
Okay, that we all knew.
But what’s weird is that this particular interaction seems to have turned Jan Berry into Chuck Berry….because the rest of the first disc of the Collector’s Choice set rolls out “Honolulu Lulu,” “Drag City” “Schlock Rod” “Dead Man’s Curve” “The New Girl in School” and their all-time killer “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” in such short order it’s almost a relief that they throw in a couple of B-side mediocrities to let you catch your breath.
Clearly, there was some kind of trade-off. Whether Brian Wilson sprinkling pixie dust on Jan Berry in return for Jan introducing him to the Wrecking Crew (whom Dean Torrence has long credibly insisted were put together by Jan) was a fair trade is a matter to be adjudicated on the Last Day.
I just hope the vote is by secret ballot.
I wouldn’t want to give anything away. Especially then.
[NOTE: Brian Wilson lost interest in finishing “Surf City” (and gave it to Jan & Dean) because he was intent on another record called “Surfin” U.S.A.” which became his own band’s first top five record around the same time. Years later, one Chuck Berry successfully sued Wilson for copyrght infringement, claiming he lifted the melody for “Surfin’ U.S.A.” from “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Years after that, Chuck Berry’s piano man, Johnnie Johnson, sued Berry for a portion of his entire catalog—again successfully–for failing to give him a composer credit on virtually everything Berry had ever written. There’s some kind of karma operating there somewhere. That too, will be adjudicated on the Last Day,, no matter who gets paid for what under U.S. Copyright Law the meanwhile..]