Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Caravelles - Complete 1963-1968

A female duo consisting of Lois Wilkinson and Andrea Simpson from London, England, whose peak recording period was from 1963 to 1968. They were co-workers who entertained at office parties and amateur shows. Encouraged by co-workers to cut a record, they did a demo of "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry," a tune they discovered on the back of Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons." They named themselves the Caravelles after the French airliner. A local company, BPR Records, liked the demo and redid the song in a professional studio. It became a big hit in the United Kingdom and was picked up by Smash Records for North American distribution, and nearly aced Billboard before nesting at number three on December 21, 1963.

Smash released a succession of clones but found few takers. On "Lovin' Just My Style," the Caravelles developed a tougher sound; it sounds like a tune from a D-rated movie, tough biker girls yelling over a noisy rhythm section with an exaggerated rock guitarist imploding all over the place. Then came "Don't Blow Your Cool," sung in their traditional breathy harmony style. The sales were still disappointing, thus another style switch to rock/folk on "Hey Mama, You've Been on My Mind." A nice approach but there still was no demand for the Caravelles' product. Lois Wilkinson left to go solo, recorded as Lois Lane, married, and appeared on BBC's programs singing pop hits. Andrea Simpson carried on with the Caravelles until the '80s, recording but not hitting; with replacements, Simpson still does the occasional gig.

The Caravelles - You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry 
Complete Caravelis 1963-1968

Everything from the nine 45s and sole LP the Caravelles issued in the U.K. from 1963-1968 is on this 31-track compilation, which also includes two tracks that only surfaced on a French EP, and even four German-language recordings. As the first official anthology of their work, it does a marvelous job, including a 16-page booklet with plenty of illustrations and first-hand quotes from the group's Lois Wilkinson. Known almost exclusively for their 1963 hit "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry," it proves they were a little more interesting than the one-shot novelty act they're sometimes tagged as, though their relationship to pop/rock was usually only casual. In truth, their most widely heard songs were more throwbacks to the pre-rock era in their obviously Patience & Prudence-inspired harmonies (that duo's two hits were both covered on the Caravelles' LP). Yet the spare, almost ghostly arrangements did have a hint of pre-Beatles U.K. rock, and their close, almost whispery harmonies both carry some charm and testify to a definite and somewhat offbeat talent. The material, often drawn from or influenced by pop standards, lets the duo down as much as it benefits them. They would have been well-advised to record more of their own songs, since some of their infrequent attempts at songwriting -- relegated to LP filler and B-sides -- were actually pretty good, especially the haunting "Forever." Some of their post-1963 singles found them moving closer, if usually not that close, to pop/rock in both content and production, with "You Are Here" and "I Depend on You" making for fair Phil Spector-girl group-influenced tunes; the originals "How Can I Be Sure?" and "I Like a Man" sounding quite close to Merseybeat. They weren't quite part of the girl group scene, also veering into jazz-pop with another original, "Georgia Boy," and even rather lushly produced folk-rock on the 1967 45 "Hey Mama You've Been on My Mind." All this versatility didn't help get them another hit, of course. But taken together, they add up to a legacy that's more interesting than many historians, and even British Invasion collectors, realize, though there's some mediocrity to be waded through on an anthology this size.

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