Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

August 25, 2020

Bobby Vee and the Strangers,”Look At Me Girl” (Liberty LP, 1966)

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In a recent post on The Gants,  I mentioned producer Dallas Smith at Liberty Records, and about a half hour after finishing that post, I put on an album to listen to while doing my job from home, and to my surprise….it was another album produced by Dallas Smith on Liberty Records! It had been at the top of my “next to play” pile for a day or two. I own a mono LP of this somewhere, but I listened to a CDR of a stereo album I downloaded from an MP3 blog maybe ten or fifteen years ago….and I listened on headphones.

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BOBBY VEE AND THE STRANGERS

“LOOK AT ME GIRL”   Liberty Records LP, 1966
A1 Look At Me Girl
A2 Sunny
A3 Growing Pains
A4 Like You’ve Never Known Before
A5 Summer In The City
A6 Turn Down Day
B1 Fly Away
B2 Sweet Pea
B3 That’s All In The Past
B4 He’s Not Your Friend
B5 Back In Town
B6 Lil’ Red Riding Hood

Liberty Records liked to have their artists record cover versions of other people’s hits, a practice I have no problem with because, after all, if I love a particular artist, wouldn’t I be very excited about hearing them cover a hit that I enjoy? On some occasions, a song I do not like in its original form, I DO like when it’s covered by an artist I admire. I’m one of those rare individuals whose favorite Standells albums are THE HOT ONES and IN PERSON AT PJ’s! And the latter was, of course, on the Liberty label!

When Del Shannon came to Liberty Records in 1966, Shannon–an amazing songwriter who’d written the majority of his hits and his b-sides and album tracks–was a bit taken aback when Liberty had him record two albums primarily of covers, but he did them SO well, and on some occasions he completely reinvented them and made them his own, such as his version of The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.”

With Bobby Vee, Liberty felt that they had an artist who could do it all—-they could pair him with other artists on the label, such as the Crickets or the Ventures, for recording projects, they could have him record “theme” albums, they could pair him with producers with a particular vision and a stable of songwriters, and they knew he would create a quality and commercial product. At the same time, he could use the label to promote his own compositions and his own pet projects (they released A LOT of Vee records in the 1960’s)–it was a win-win situation for both Vee and for the label.

The album under discussion here is built around a recent single, a cover of the Playboys of Edinburg’s jangly classic “Look At Me Girl,” which is tailor-made for Vee, along with a collection of Vee’s own tunes, recent hits by other artists, some lesser-known songs by songwriters on the make who were happy to have the mechanical royalties from an album by an artist like Vee whose releases would sell at minimum ten thousand copies, and of course copyrights held by Liberty’s music publishing arm. For me, it’s a winning combination. This is album screams 1966, which in hindsight is a wonderful thing, though as the 60’s progressed, Vee’s albums focused more on his own songwriting and on singer-songwriter-esque albums that were more studied and weighty.

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I’ve included two sample tracks here: first is the title track, a perfect westcoast 1966 jangle-rock single, and then Vee’s fine cover of the Cyrkle’s “Turn Down Day,” which in some ways I prefer to the original…..all in that distinctive Liberty Records almost-duophonic stereo and played by the cream of Los Angeles’ session musicians.

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You should have no problem finding the rest of this album online somewhere….Liberty’s present owners, Universal Music (who purchased EMI), tend to have a lot of their back catalog on streaming services and even on You Tube (I’ll be posting a certain Tower Records LP soon, which UM has posted on You Tube for free, though with commercials), in an attempt to monetize those sleeping assets in the vault. Let’s face it–there will never be a physical reissue of an album like LOOK AT ME GIRL by Bobby Vee, unless some specialist reissue label does it, and I don’t think this is high on Ace or Grapefruit’s to-do list, and UM is not likely to reissue it on CD, at least in the present environment (maybe if/when CD’s become “collectible” in future years the way that LP’s, or as they say now “vinyl,” are now it could happen, but I would not sit around waiting for that to happen.

Also, an album like this which is not in high demand can be gotten relatively cheap in its original form—-a stereo or mono copy can be gotten for $6.00 at Discogs.

I play my copy once or twice a year and would not think of selling it. Find it online and see what you think…..yes, it’s 1966 Liberty Records product capitalizing on Bobby Vee’s fame, but it’s from the heart of the magical L.A. music scene in a truly Golden Age….and Vee could have done anything (they could have had him do the Stephen Foster songbook!) and made it sound fresh and enjoyable. I’m going to listen to it AGAIN as soon as I finish typing this! Tracks from it would fit perfectly on an episode of Steve Stanley’s NOW SOUNDS radio show….in fact, I bet he’s played something from it!

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Bobby Vee was kind enough to sign a copy of the UK (where he was always popular) 3-CD set of his collected singles, A sides and B sides, for Mary Anne and me….

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And of course, every Dylan fan knows that at one time, before Dylan went to NYC, he played keyboards in Vee’s band for a few months, under the name Elston Gunnn (sic). It was beautiful to see them reunited in 2013, when Dylan invited his former employer to a show in St. Paul, MN, and played Vee’s first breakout hit “Suzie Baby” in concert (I mention this period in Vee’s career in my discussion of Mickie Most, elsewhere on this blog). These two Minnesota boys… About Vee, Dylan wrote in Chronicles, “I’d always thought of him as a brother.”

That night in 2013, Dylan said from the stage, “I lived here awhile back, and since that time I’ve played all over the world, with all kinds of people. Everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna and everybody in between,” said Dylan, usually a man of few words in concert. “But the most meaningful person I’ve ever been on the stage with was a man who’s here tonight, who used to sing a song called ‘Suzie Baby.’ ”

Here is that performance….it’s a bit ramshackle, but it brings tears to my eyes….

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