Sunday, July 28, 2013

SPAZ reviews ROMAN HOLLIDAY's Cookin' On The Roof reissue on Cherry Pop!


(Expanded Edition)

I remember very vividly the first time I heard Roman Holliday.  I was at Camel Records in Huntington Beach looking through their new releases and I happened upon the imported (from the UK) 12" single for "Don't Try To Stop It".  Up to this point, the band had never even entered my radar.  But I was intrigued by the unique retro look of the band and I believe that I immediately thought of both Madness and JoBoxers. While I didn't know what to expect musically, I took a chance and bought the single.  And even though I had limited funds, taking chances on bands is what I always did in those days... and still do to a certain extent. When I got home after a few hours of record shopping, the first thing I threw on was "Don't Try To Stop It".  I was an immediate fan.  Their sound was energetic, fun, melodic, punchy and had a Swing vibe to it, which was certainly not the norm in 1983. (In fact, it would be another decade before a Swing revival would be in swing!) A month or two later, the song was in constant rotation at KROQ along with their other two singles "Stand By" and "Motormania", all three of which had been combined to create their self-titled debut American EP. 
     So, later that year, the band released their debut album, Cookin' On The Roof, and it was - and remains - one of the truly great Pop records of it's day.  While I don't know what went on behind the scenes, record-company wise, I have never felt that the band's image and music was contrived or manufactured during this period.  These guys were great musicians, knew how to write a snappy, catchy tune and they were fully aware of Pop music history.  Their love of what they were doing bleeds through on Cookin' On The Roof. Their musical angle at this point focused on Swing Jazz complete with a horn section.  Frontman Steve Lambert was a Pop vocalist who was more than able to hold his own in this musical setting, but it was also a bridge between the then-modern Pop scene and the Swing orientation of the band. Peter Collins' production is very busy and at times a little too confining for the seven piece band, but he does add his usual flair to the proceedings and the album is tight and to the point.  There is not one song that overstays it's welcome. Apart from the aforementioned singles, the original album also features eight additional gems including "I.O.U", "Serious Situation", "No Ball Games" and so many more.  A spirited and sprightly treat from beginning to end. 
     In a sense, its really hard to convey the 'feeling' that I have for this album.  Words can express my thoughts, but an album like this really meant something then and now.  It may not have offered solutions to life's mysteries or cured the ills of the world, but it sure made it far more tolerable... and blissful!  The innocence of the band's image and sound offered excitement and hope. Theirs was a happy sound without any sign of pretentiousness. Roman Holliday seemed to live and breathe their music. They reached back into the past and brought some great Swing and Jazz elements to the music while also keeping it Pop-oriented and accessible to a new generation of listeners who hadn't been exposed to much Swing before.  They were unique and fun, which was what really made them stand out in a sea of or bands content with following trends and making music that was dictated by whoever was in the Top Ten at the time.  The only other bands that were carving out their own niches at the time were Dexys Midnight Runners, JoBoxers and few others.  
     Sadly, it didn't last long. A year later, the band had dumped the horn section and re-fashioned themselves as Duran Duran-lite.  They lost their uniqueness, their innocence, their joy and their spirit. The album they released in '84, Fire Me Up, was not bad.  But it was an album that could have been made by anyone else at the time.  Cookin' On The Roof, on the other hand, was something entirely different and entirely wonderful.
     This remastered reissue is much better than the Japanese CD that was released and deleted more than a decade ago, so stop searching for that and buy this one.  Why?  Because this annotated reissue also contains six bonus tracks including two non-album b-sides ("Round And Round" and "Beat My Time") plus extended and acapella versions of "Don't Try To Stop It" and "Motor Mania".  If that isn't enough to make you run out to your local shop or order online, then perhaps you need to rethink your lot in life and find your 'happy place'.  Perhaps you should spend more time 'cookin' on the roof'!?  

Peace, love and pancakes, 
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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