The Beatles exploded on the American music scene back in 1964. They launched a British Invasion of new English artists on the Billboard charts. Acts like Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and the Animals had hit records and triumphant tours of the continent. These groups were strongly influenced by American music and often recorded covers of songs by US artists such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and the Isley Brothers. Ironically, many British groups thought that sounding more American made them seem more authentic as rock and rollers and gave themselves names such as the Nashville Teens and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Meanwhile, the massive success of the British bands had American groups try to appear English, and they gave themselves names like the Sir Douglass Quintet (from Texas) and the Beau Brummels (from San Francisco).
Critics usually consider the Beau Brummels a footnote in the history of rock. The band had limited success. They had just one top ten hit (“Just a Little”, #8 in 1965) and two other top 40 sides (“Laugh, Laugh, #15, 1964) and “You Tell Me Why”, #38, 1965). Their first LP was the only one of their original five albums to reach the top 100 charts (Introducing the Beau Brummels, #28, 1965). The Beau Brummels had a sweet California sound, but they were not incredibly influential and did not seem distinctive from many other West Coast bands like the Byrds and the Turtles.
Cherry Red Records have released a Beau Brummels’ anthology called “The last word on an American classic”, Turn Around: The Complete Recordings (1964-1970). Long time Beau Brummels’ fan Alec Palao assembled and remastered the compilation’s 228 tracks, including 24 unreleased cuts with many titles new to CD and available for the first time in period mono or fresh stereo mixes. Palao also wrote detailed liner notes and collected the eight-disc set in replica sleeves with an informative 88-page booklet containing rare photos and memorabilia from the band members’ collections. It’s a beautifully packaged product that befits the label’s tagline. Turn Around does seem like the last word because it’s so complete.
The question thus becomes, does the world need everything the Beau Brummels ever recorded during their heyday? Eight CDs are a lot of music. Yet, this is a moot point. The collection exists in a lovingly compiled box set. On the one hand, there are no hidden gems here. The best music here was available to fans. The demos and alternate takes offer insights into how the Beau Brummels approached their music but would be of little interest to anyone outside of existing Beau Brummels’ aficionados.
On the other hand, this 228-track anthology proffers insights into the American music scene during one of its most productive and creative periods. The Beau Brummels went through many changes that epitomized what other acts went through and to which audiences responded. Just like the Beatles went from Introducing the Beatles to the much more inventive Abbey Road in five short years, this California band went from Introducing the Beau Brummels to the innovative country-rock of Bradley’s Barn in even less time. The 1960s were a time of significant changes in popular music, and the Beau Brummels were part of that imaginative era.
The first five discs in the box set feature the original five albums released by the group with many alternate mixes, demos, and unreleased cuts. The first two were originally on the small Autumn record label and produced by Sly Stone (although he reportedly did not contribute much). They contain all three of the band’s chart hits in an Americanized version of the British Invasion style. The Beau Brummels then signed with Warner Brothers and released an album of covers called Beau Brummels ’66, which flopped. The album included their renditions of popular hits singles such as Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, Herman’s Hermits’ “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, and the McCoys’ “Hang on Sloopy” as well as tracks by Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. The album holds up as a relic of the diverse pop charts of the times.
The fourth disc, Triangle, shows the Beau Brummels taking chances, going psychedelic and country, and recording a mix of original material and covers (including Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer” and Randy Newman’s “Old Kentucky Home”). The record received critical acclaim but did not sell well. Their fifth album featured them going full-on country on Bradley’s Barn, named after the studio where it was recorded in Nashville with top-notch session musicians, including guitarist Jerry Reed and drummer Kenny Buttrey. It’s a beautiful record with lovely folkish-style rural melodies, including “An Added Attraction (Come See About Me)”, “Deep Water”, and “Love Can Fall a Long Way Down”. The album again received significant critical praise, but the group broke up soon after the album’s release.
The next three discs are a hodgepodge of material. The sixth disc, The Autumn Demo Session, features the band at home in the studio in April 1965. The music has a pleasant vibe, but it is not particularly distinctive. The seventh album, Sal & Ron, highlights the two primary band members (vocalist Sal Valentino and songwriter Ron Elliott) doing acoustic numbers as scratch recordings for possible future releases. It offers plenty of quiet, pleasant moments.
But the eighth and final album provides the biggest bang as it collects all the Singles As & Bs in mixes not previously included. These mostly mono productions show the many changes the Beau Brummels made during a relatively brief time as they searched for artistic and financial success. The 28 songs range from the innocent pop of “Still in Love With You Baby” to the heavy Western vibe of “Gentle Wand’rin’ Ways” to the Revolver-like “Don’t Talk to Strangers” to the rococo rock of “Magic Hollow” to the bluesy “Long Walking Down to Misery” that sound like they could have been hits. Alas, it was not to be.
The Beau Brummels’ Turn Around: The Complete Recordings (1964-1970) presents the band in all of their glory. Fans of music from this era will find lots to enjoy. Rock historians will be able to search for evidence of the changes happening during the second half of that turbulent decade best known as the 1960s.