Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Those Awesome OSMONDS! SPAZ reviews their catalog on 7Ts/Cherry Red!


THE OSMONDS

Their '70s albums On CD

In the past, The Osmonds' recorded output has been poorly represented by a slew of collections.  Thankfully, 7Ts/Cherry Red Records has rectified this situation by releasing the band's eight albums on four separate 2fers.  They are available NOW!


By Stephen SPAZ Schnee


Regardless of what you may think of The Osmonds' music, they were (and are) a cultural phenomenon. Even if you can't remember all the lyrics, chances are you can name at least one Osmonds song off the top of your head right now.  And "I'm A Little Bit Country, I'm A Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll" only partially counts (that was a Donny & Marie song, not a bonafide Osmonds recording).  It's been over 30 years since their heyday, yet they have become part of Pop music history.

For a few golden years in the '70s, The Osmonds were one of the most popular musical groups on the planet.  Not only did the five brothers release a slew of singles and albums, but Donny had a successful solo career that ran concurrently with The Osmonds' golden years.  Later on, sister Marie chalked up some solo success, as did little brother Jimmy, but when Donny & Marie began performing as a duo, everyone else took a backseat as their radio hits translated into a hit TV show and a movie, Goin' Coconuts in 1978.  By the time the '80s rolled around, the Osmond family remained active in the entertainment industry but they never again achieved the amazing popularity they experienced in the early part of the '70s. And that is a little depressing...

It all began in the early '60s when Merril, Alan, Jay and Wayne performed as a barbershop quartet.  While they achieved a respectable amount of fame during this period (due to TV appearances on The Andy Williams Show and other variety programs), it wasn't until Donny joined a few years later that people began to take notice.  The boys insistence that they become a Rock band fell upon deaf ears for the latter part of the '60s, but by 1970, the quintet had released their self-titled debut Pop album and Osmondmania began to take shape...  

NOTE: Since Donny was being groomed for solo success, most of the lead vocals on The Osmonds' albums were handled by Merrill, although all the brothers were involved in backing vocals, co-lead vocals and arrangements. The various solo albums from Donny, Jimmy and Donny & Marie are also available through 7Ts/Cherry Red but this feature focuses on the original Osmonds albums of the '70s.



The brothers' potential was enormous, but which Pop road should they travel?  Since commercial success was not guaranteed, the label sprinkled their debut album with a variety of styles, hoping that one of them would stick.  "One Bad Apple", with it's soulful, Jackson 5-like Soul groove, was the song that put The Osmonds on the map. Were the Osmonds being groomed as a 'white' version of the J5?  That may be the initial consesus, but this album shows that they were more than "One Bad Apple".  There's Country, Gospel, Rock, Easy Listening and many more styles rubbing shoulders with the Soul-lite vibes of "One Bad Apple". Their "Motown Special" medley avoids sounding anything like the J5, surprisingly enough. "Sweet And Innocent" was, oddly enough, a Donny solo single that was shoehorned onto the album, which was a brilliant move.  One of the poppiest and most delectable tracks on the album, it is every much "... Apple"'s equal even though it doesn't travel the same musical ground.  "Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em" veers towards heavy, Gospel and Blues-inflected Rock that they would eventually be perfected two albums later. The album's closer, "Flirtin'", is the album's sole mis-step with it's blatant retread of the "One Bad Apple" blueprint.  Otherwise, The Osmonds is a fine introduction to a group of talented young lads who were soon going to take over the world...








While Homemade may have sold quite well, the album is essentially a complete rewrite/retread of their self-titled debut. If you love that album, you'll either love this or be frustrated that the brothers were not able to stretch out a bit more and show how versatile they were.  There are some high-points, such as the breezy "Carrie", their delicious trademark harmonies on "Chilly Winds", the Country vibe of "The Promised Land" and the lighthearted early '70s groove of "She Makes Me Warm".  Album closer "Sho' Would Be Nice" is an emotionally moving end to an album that is still a worthy addition to your collection, but, to be honest, its a half-hearted and unimaginative duplication of their self-titled album. To be fair, the music business is notorious for playing it safe and 'giving the people what they want'.  I just wish that labels realized that we don't want the same thing over and over. Some things never change...






Phase III is when The Osmonds took control of their production, added more self-penned material and transformed from a good Pop band to a great one. While the single "Yo Yo" remained from an earlier recording session, the rest of Phase III was Osmond-controlled and this was the album that should have earned them a huge dose of critical respect. Instead, the critics treated it like just another Osmonds album. While, on the surface, that might have been the case, Phase III was a Rock album made by a a group of talented musicians and vocalists who were already pigeonholed as a cheesy Pop act. Almost any other band in 1971 would have killed to have an album opener like "Down By The Lazy River". Even when the band adds a little Funk into the mix like on "Business", it clicks and never sounds awkward. "Love Is" is a touching Beatle-esque ballad that could have fit right in with the Fab Four's late '60s recordings. "He's The Light Of The World" is a religious rocker that is as catchy as anything the devil released that year. "Yo Yo" is delectable, funky, catchy and joyous. "My Drum" is a riff-heavy rocker that Deep Purple could have cut in the '60s. While the tapes have not held up well over the years, the album still sounds raw and energetic where it wants to, yet not entirely removed from their earlier bubblegum recordings. As good as Phase III is, their best studio album was yet to come with Crazy Horses...

 





Let's be honest: I'm not a fan of live albums... period.  I have Elvis live albums because he is Elvis, but I have to say that I don't own many live albums at all. With that being said, listening to The Osmonds Live some 40 years after the last time I heard it brought back some memories.  As the story goes, most of the boys had a cold during the show but they went ahead and recorded it anyway.  They went back into the studio when they were feeling better and added vocals on top of many of the recorded performances, which makes the lead vocals sound double-tracked... which they are!  The energy of the performance is still there and they perform some covers that are not found on any of the studio releases, so that makes it a worthwhile purchase.  But its a live album and I'll leave it at that...






Crazy Horses was the first truly great Osmonds album and remains one of the finest Pop/Rock albums of the early '70s, although you probably won't find it on many critics' lists, then or now. From the opening Rock strut of "Hold Her Tight" to the CCR-like groove of "Utah", the solo McCartney-esque "Girl" and the legendary Hard Rock crunch of the title track, Crazy Horses is one hell of an album. It's such a shame that the band were already pegged as a teeny bopper band because Phase III and Crazy Horses proved that they were so much more than that.  "What Could It Be" could have been a Hudson Brothers hit ala "So You Are A Star". The bluesy rock of "Life Is Hard Without Goodbyes" is actually quite beautiful with Merrill's passionate vocals. The whole album rocks from beginning to end.  In fact, the band adds a snippet of "One Bad Apple" into "Big Finish" in order to remind you that this is the very same band. If anything, this is the album that the teenage girl would have been able to share with her brother or boyfriend without them feeling embarrassed.  But then again, I have never felt embarrassed about loving The Osmonds! And if you want to hear what you've been purposely missing for 40 years, then give this one a spin! Crazy Horses is not just a great Osmonds album, it's a great album period!






The Osmonds had gone from strength to strength, building up a catalog of hit albums, each of them better and more successful than the last.  By this time, they weren't just massive in the U.S., they were international superstars!  Because of their strong Mormon faith, the band felt it necessary to focus their creativity on an album that celebrated the journey of life.  They weaved in elements of their beliefs and The Plan was born.  Unfortunately, their teen audiences weren't prepared for a concept album such as The Plan.  Wrongly accused of being an album about Mormonism, The Plan is still a fine album but it finds the brothers stepping away from their crazy Rock shenanigans of '71 and '72.  That's not to say that The Plan doesn't rock... because it does - but only in certain places. Obviously a labor of love, The Plan found the Osmonds giving back to the teachings that had kept them centered and focused during the good and bad times. The boys' harmonies have never sounded better and, while the material may not be up to the standards of the last few albums, The Osmonds were forging a path of their own. The boys took a gamble that unfortunately did not pay off commercially and it was their first real 'flop'.  The album does include some great tracks like "Let Me In", "Movie Man", "One Way Ticket To Anywhere" and others, but the focus was more on the message than the music. On The Plan, the Osmonds grew up, but their fans didn't. 






After The Plan, The Osmonds' musical focus began to change.  While the album cover may have promised a visit into Philly Soul territory, that was only a small part of where the boys were heading on this album.  A return to form in many ways, the first half of Love Me For A Reason was more of a Rock album than the hit title track would lead you to believe.  "We're Having A Party", "The Girl I Love", "Ballin' The Jack" and a few other tracks would not have sounded out of place on Phase III. The second half of the album focuses on their more soulful side. "Peace" is a funky Disco offering that still retains the brothers' Pop harmonies. "Fever", "I Can't Get Next To You" and "Sun Sun Sun" are credible Funk workouts that really capture the versatility of the band. The album is a real treat, although not as focused as their previous albums.  With this album, they weren't sure which direction to follow so they just did what they wanted and split it pretty much down the middle.  The high-point of the album is, of course, "Love Me For A Reason", their finest ballad to date.  The harmonies on the chorus are heart-melting and the song is warm and lovely.  If this song was the only thing The Osmonds ever recorded, they'd still be as fondly remembered as they are now.  A stunner. 







Released as The Proud One in the U.S. and I'm Still Gonna Need You in the UK. While the Love Me For A Reason album only toyed with their Philly Soul influences, this is the album where it would come to the fore.  Gone were all the Rock moves of their Phase III/Crazy Horses period, replaced here with a light Philly Soul sound mixed with a laid back Pop sound that focused on their vocals.   It's definitely an Osmonds album, but far more mellow than before.  But don't let that stop you from giving it a spin because it is quite a lovely piece of work.  The songs are almost on par with "Love Me For A Reason", especially "I'm Still Gonna Need You" (one of my favorite Osmonds songs ever).  But maybe that was the plan... since "Love Me... " had been such a big hit, why not go in that direction!  And guess what?  It works.  There are no big hits here, but there are plenty of delicious Pop songs that will soothe your aching soul.   They really sound focused on this album and their harmonies are top notch... but I think I already said that. In short, its a real beauty.  Perhaps a Crazy Horses II would have been preferred, but there is really nothing to fault on this album.  It deserves a big hug and a sloppy kiss.




Peace, love and Osmonds,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee


AVAILABLE NOW!








4 comments:

Tom Roach said...

Good article! Unless you are an Osmond fan or an music historian, many people do not realize what incredible artist The Osmonds are and the impact they have made in the music world culture. With over 100 MILLION Records sold, 60 Gold and Platinum Record Awards, numerous Peoples Choice, Bravo, Grammy Award nominations, etc.... The Osmonds continue to record and tour around the world. The gentlemen who started it all, Alan, Wayne, Merrill & Jay Osmond a.k.a. The Osmond Brothers plowed a path for the remaining siblings. Due to health issues Alan & Wayne have retired but continue to cheer on the other performing Osmonds. The voice and the heartbeat of The Osmonds, Merrill & Jay are currently recording a new CD full of classic rock tunes. Donny Osmond recently completed a very successful UK Tour selling out 15,000 seat arenas and is now back with sister Marie Osmond headlining The Flamingo in Las Vegas. What started out as an 8 week gig at The Flamingo is now in it's eighth year. Youngest brother Jimmy Osmond is owner/manager of the incredible Moon River Theater in Branson, Mo. since the passing of music legend Andy Williams and has recorded an exceptional album in honor of Andy. One last thing, while some people still smirk if you mention The Osmonds, it just goes to show their ignorance. Some of biggest hard rock bands are now performing some of The Osmonds rock hits from the 70's including "Crazy Horses" and "Hold Her Tight". Jay Osmond who was named one of the top drummers in the world in the 70's is still an incredible drummer and incredible singer. The "Voice" of The Osmonds, Merrill Osmond can still rock with the best of them hitting insane rock notes down to deep tones only the best of the biz can carry. The Osmonds clearly deserve to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Think about it: 100 Million + records sold, 60 Gold and Platinum Record Awards, over 55 years in the business and they are still touring and performing in front of sold out crowds around the world. How many other bands can you name who have achieved these stats? Still think they don't deserve to be in The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame? Then you haven't been listening. Tom Roach - Host of "The Osmond Family Hour". A monthly radio show heard around the world from Baltimore station WBNR-DB Fredericksburg, Va - Baltiore, MD, Ocean City, NJ and around the world on www.myBNR.com

Mary Bridges said...

Awesome article and awesome comment by Tom Roach!!!

Stephen SPAZ Schnee said...

Thank you Tom and Mary

I appreciate your time and dedication to the first family of music. I'm right there with you!

RebTN said...

So glad you posted this article. My sentiments exactly! You just don't hear harmonies like that anymore let alone the many other talents that go along with it. So what can be done to get them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?!! How does the process work to get them nominated? They've accomplished way too much to not be recognized.