Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Billie Davis - Watcha Gonna Do? Singles,Rarities and Unreleased 1963-66





Carol Hedges was a 16-year-old aspiring singer when she was discovered as the result of a talent contest in 1962. Backed up in the competition by Cliff Bennett's support group, the Rebel Rousers, she won the contest and Bennett got her together with producer Joe Meek.

Hedges was recorded by Meek with his resident group, the Tornados, without achieving success. Luckily, a neophyte music talent manager named Robert Stigwood had also seen her and liked what he heard, and he ultimately took her away from Meek. He was impressed with Hedges' singing, a white soul sound similar to (though not as powerful as) Beryl Marsden's work, and also with the fact that her two musical inspirations were Billie Holiday and Sammy Davis Jr.. Stigwood renamed her Billie Davis and teamed her with Mike Sarne, another singer he had under contract, and the two scored a novelty hit in 1962 with "Will I What." For her solo debut, he gave her a song that he had heard on a visit to America. "Tell Him" had been recorded by the Exciters, but Davis' cover, released on English Decca, made the Top Ten in England in early 1963 despite the fact that the American original actually topped the U.K. charts at the same time. Davis recorded for both English Decca and Pye Records during the early and mid-'60s without ever duplicating "Tell Him"'s success — the closest she came to another hit was in 1968, with "I Want You to Be My Baby." Some of her work was reissued on compilation CDs, including her cover of Burt Bacharach's "The Last One to Be Loved," which appears on Sequel Records' Trains & Boats & Covers. Billie Davis is fondly remembered in England by her early pop/rock success in the pre-Beatles era.



01. Will I What (Intro)
02. Sweet Nothin's
03. Will You Love Me Tomorrow
04. Tell Him
05. It's So Funny I Could Cry
06. You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry
07. Bedtime Stories
08. You And I
09. That Boy John
10. Say Nothin' Don't Tell
11. School Is Over
12. Give Me Love
13. Whatcha Gonna Do
14. Everybody Knows
15. The Last One to Be Loved
16. You Don't Know
17. No Other Baby
18.Hands Off
19.When You Move You Lose
20.Tastes Sour Don't It
21.Heart and Soul
22. Don't Take All Night
23.You Don't Know Like I Know
24.Two Little People
25.That's Really Some Good
26.Swingin' Tight
27.Just Walk in My Shoes
28.Ev'ry Day

The split of Billie Davis' 1960s recordings between three different labels seems to have made it impossible to compile a truly definitive retrospective of her work, which would take two CDs if it were to be complete. Should you want everything she recorded between her two separate stints with Decca Records, however, this compilation is exemplary, even if its omission of that Decca material (which included all three of her British chart hits) means that this shouldn't be mistaken for a best-of. All of her 1963-1966 singles for Columbia and Piccadilly (including her duets as half of Keith & Billie) are on this 28-track anthology, along with five previously unreleased 1963 cuts (two studio outtakes and three live performances). These show Davis to be a singer worthy of attention by serious British Invasion fans, yet not one who was quite good enough to demand re-investigation by less intense specialists. Influenced by both girl group and soul, she had a perky, girlish, vibrato-heavy sound that wasn't far off the standards of, say, Lulu. Yet she was clearly not in the same league as Lulu either vocally or in terms of the quality of the material she recorded. Some of the tracks are dull or hindered with cheaper, more dated early-'60s British pop production than the likes of Dusty Springfield or Lulu ever had to overcome. Still, there are some very good songs here, like the sassy, swaggering "Whatcha Gonna Do" — the one track here you could peg as a should-have-been hit that never was — and its swinging, infectiously catchy girl group-ish B-side, "Everybody Knows." Other singles (like 1966's "Just Walk in My Shoes"/"Ev'ry Day") showed her gravitating toward credible blue-eyed soul, and "The Last One to Be Loved" is a good and sumptuously orchestrated cover of a Bacharach/David song that's highly reminiscent of Dionne Warwick's mid-'60s recordings — no real surprise, since Warwick herself recorded it too. The duets with Keith Powell (billed to Keith & Billie), however, were tame soul-pop tunes that undermined her strengths. The liner notes give a good account of Davis' career during this hitless period, and if you pick this up in conjunction with the compilation Tell Him: The Decca Years, you'll have everything you need to hear by the singer. ~  by Richie Unterberger
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