Were it not for a contract he signed with British music impresario Mickie Most—who brought the world Herman’s Hermits and Donovan—Terry Reid likely would have become the singer for Led Zeppelin. (This is the one fact that the label which issued this best-of compilation of Reid’s late ‘60s work would very much like you to know; hence the sleeve artwork’s rather unsubtle mimicry of the first Zeppelin album cover, right down to the photo treatment and typography.) Reid also had an opportunity to join Deep Purple as they shuffled their lineup in preparation to record In Rock. Perhaps we should be thankful that these things didn’t come to pass. Not that Reid wouldn’t have been a more than capable singer—of all the white blues-rock shouters to come out of England, he’s probably the most prodigiously talented—but who knows what sort of butterfly effect would have been set off. Zeppelin may have never made its Tolkien-steeped journey up the misty mountain, and Purple may never have broken up and reformed to record Perfect Strangers, and then the soundtrack for the first time I was ever really, really high would have been totally different.
Unfortunately for Reid, his failure to join either of the two most prominent hard-rock bands in history, combined with the garden-variety assortment of legal troubles and distribution snafus sent him directly to unwarranted semi-obscurity. But with the voracious maw of CD reissuers systematically regurgitating much of pop music’s past, it was inevitable that Reid would be rediscovered, but in this case we should be thankful rather than cynical toward the record company’s motives. Sounding like a cross between Robert Plant at his least shrill and Steve Marriott in his Humble Pie boogie-rock prime, Reid has the rare ability to shout in key and convey unrestrained emotion while maintaining impeccable vocal control (and without sounding histrionic or silly). The material here bears some resemblance to Rod Stewart’s albums with the Jeff Beck Group (not coincidentally produced by Mickie Most) but with a folksier feel, as might be expected when Donovan covers are part of the repertoire. It’s hard to imagine, for example, Robert Plant being a nimble enough singer to convincingly pull off the jaunty rendition of “Superlungs My Supergirl” or the spry, conga-driven “Sweater” (which Reid himself wrote). However, Reid’s slightly turgid and portentous covers of pop-radio fare such as Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang” and Gene Pitney’s “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” seem a template for the Vanilla Fudge’s bombastic Motown covers.
Indeed, many of the songs on this collection are familiar from other artists’ versions—aside the pop hits and Donovan’s “Superlungs” (from the Jeff Beck-powered Barabajagal LP—Mickie Most was careful to square every circle) is a impressive rendering of R&B belter Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me, Baby” and an idiosyncratic take on Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” But Reid wrote much of his own material, itself often covered: Among the tracks on this collection, “Tinker Taylor,” was recorded by the Yardbirds, “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace,” was covered by Cheap Trick on its debut album and “Without Expression” has been recorded by the Hollies, CSNY and John Mellencamp.
If you care at all about British blues rock, you probably already know you should have Terry Reid albums in your collection. But even if you couldn’t sit rapt through a 20-minute Cream jam, and you think of Fleetwood Mac as that band who recorded “Tusk” rather than “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Oh Well”, you still might be interested in this collection, which showcases the genre’s finest singer taking on an refreshingly eclectic set of songs—for every rote blues workout like “I’ve Got News for You” (which is still excellent, mind you, but not for the unconverted) there’s something accessible and hooky, like “Silver White Light” (which sounds like the Small Faces) or “Tinker Taylor”, or something contemplative and understated, like “May Fly”. And for all his show-stopping, throat-shredding acrobatics, none of these performances come off like staged exercises, calculated tours de force designed to cow you into stunned appreciation. The better part of Reid’s talent lies in how natural and inevitable he can make his vocal impossibilities sound; while hearing one of his interpretations, no matter how tortuous, it’s hard to imagine the song sounding any other way.