Thursday, April 2, 2015

SPAZ reviews VANITY FARE and WHITE PLAINS reissues!

Known as ‘one hit wonders’ here in the U.S., England’s White Plains and Vanity Fare achieved more success in their homeland, although not as much as they deserved. Both bands certainly had more coulda-been-hits in them as these releases showcase. However, the ever changing line-ups and the public’s attention span ensured that they were already yesterday's news by the time they were able to enjoy their first taste of success. Critics often dismiss these bands and write them off, but there really is a lot of Pop to love on these two most excellent releases.


Vanity Fare, best known in the States for the uber-catchy “Hitchin’ A Ride,” was a band always on the move, musically.  Perhaps knowing that the record buyers were always fickle and moving on to the next popular thing, Vanity Fare attempted to stay one step ahead of them but wound up a step or two behind.  From their first UK hit, “I Live For The Sun” (a cover of The Sunrays’ U.S. hit) to their final bow roughly a decade later, Vanity Fare dabbled in Psychedelia, Glam, Funk, Bubblegum, Chamber Pop, Sunshine Pop, and just about any other brand of Pop that they fancied. This constant change didn’t encourage an audience to latch on to them since the band never settled on an definitive 'sound.'  However, if the band had remained the same from beginning to end, they probably would have worn out their welcome a lot sooner than they did (i.e.: there is just no pleasing anyone). In my opinion, this constant change was actually a plus since the band kept things interesting. There are so many musical twists and turns on this double CD release that you may want to wear a seatbelt to ensure your safety! Their hit version of “Early In The Morning” is pretty glorious Pop, the equal to “Hitchin’ A Ride,” which wasn’t released that much later. To their credit, there is no blatant rip off of their biggest U.S. hit here, which is commendable since it was a common occurrence for a band to revert to their hit’s formula in order to garner a second hit. Vanity Fare were not known for writing their own hits although they did pen some of their own material as well as record covers and songs by contemporary songwriters. It’s nice to hear their take on Ian & Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds” here, although my favorite version is Neil Young's '78 reading of the song. All of the band's releases are included here including a pre Vanity Fare single and a few solo sides - with hardly a duff track out of 47, this is a surprisingly strong collection for these so-called ‘one hit wonders.’


White Plains’ singles collection is another surprising revelation. Kicking off the set with their ‘hit’ “My Baby Loves Lovin’” – here in a different and slightly shorter mix than the version that has appeared on numerous ‘70s collections – is a delicious slab of ‘70s Pop that sounds joyful 45 years later.  Contrary to popular belief, vocalist Tony Burrows did NOT handle the lead vocals on this track, although he does help out with the choruses.  Instead, Ricky Wolff handled the lead, as he did on many of the tracks over the next year. Or did he?  The singles’ sleeves would often picture a completely different line-up of the band than the version that actually performed on the record.  If you thought turnover in Menudo was alarming…
Anyway, the line-up was ever-revolving but the quality of their commercial ‘70s pop stayed strong. That is more than likely because White Plains were essentially a vehicle for songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. There are a few tracks that mirror the “My Baby…” formula as well as the formula of any of the other ‘70s Pop gems that were penned by Cook & Greenaway. Other great tracks include “Gonna Miss Her Mississipi,” “Noises (In My Head)” “I Can’t Stop,” “Step Into A Dream” and the wonderful “A Simple Man’ with its proto-Power Pop guitar lick. White Plains' version of the Bobby Sherman charmer "Julie Do You Love Me?" is definitely punchier and a smidgen more likable than Bobby's. This single disc collection is a perfect intro to the band, the songwriters and catchy - and endearingly cheesy - ‘70s Pop. 

Peace, love and Pop,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee


The Time Machine said...

Love both of these groups. Good to see that their music is still getting the compilation treatment. :-)

Kelly Kinsley said...

Ricky Wolff sang lead on a total of 10 White Plains tracks. 11 if you count their cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” that they recorded at the BBC.