Led by Tony Rivers, this group started out doing R&B-based material in the early '60s. Originally signed to EMI's Columbia label, they covered songs by Jackie Wilson in their early days, and had a special penchant for recording songs from American artists, regardless of the idiom. As the decade progressed, they moved into more of a pop and harmony based sound, recording songs like "She" and, in 1966, a single of their version of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows." They jumped to Parlophone later that year, and then Immediate, where they stayed for one single, "Girl Don't Tell" b/w "Girl From Salt Lake City," then released a single through Polydor. They split up in 1968 when Rivers, with Ray Brown and Kenny Rowe, formed Harmony Grass, a more overtly psychedelic outfit.
This teams both sides of all seven Tony Rivers & the Castaways singles from 1963 to 1966, with 14 previously unreleased tracks from 1963 to 1967. (Both sides of the eighth and final Tony Rivers & the Castaways single from 1968 are on RPM's The Tony Rivers Collection Vol. 2, which is largely devoted to Rivers' subsequent group, Harmony Grass.) Rivers & the Castaways were not a major or extremely original group, and they were quite erratic. But they were enjoyable often enough to make this anthology worthwhile, even if it sounds rather like the work of three or four different artists, given the range of different pop-rock styles covered. Although Rivers' recordings are often noted for being unusually influenced (for a British band) by American harmony pop of the Beach Boys and Four Seasons variety, that's actually only true of about half of the material here. Many of the cuts from 1963 to 1964 are close to the standard Merseybeat mold, even getting into reasonably respectable R&B-pop/rock on "I Love the Way You Walk"; "She" is a very good cover of the Manfred Mann song that could have been a hit. Their knack for group harmonies became more pronounced after their first four singles, with "Come Back Baby" being a fair match for California vocal surf acts like Jan & Dean. On the other hand, their four Beach Boys covers are closely modeled on the originals, to the point of irrelevancy, given the clear superiority of the Beach Boys' versions. The unreleased material is similar to and not quite as good as the singles; "Come On and Love Me Too" is credited to "copyright control," perhaps because the author was ashamed to admit the wholesale rip-off of part of "Surf City"'s melody. Although the occasional Rivers compositions (especially the previously unreleased "Mr. Sun") demonstrate that he was able to emulate his American inspirations fairly convincingly, they aren't on the level of the Beach Boys or the best sunshine pop acts either.~by Richie Unterberger