The booklet that accompanies a new anthology from the Honeycombs begins by noting that they are “best remembered” for their 60s hit, “Have I the Right?” In fact, if you recall this British Invasion pop group at all, it is probably solely for that number, which in mid 1964 topped U.K. charts and made it to No. 5 in the U.S. They had only one more significant hit in England, 1965’s “That’s the Way”; in the States, the irresistible “Have I the Right?” proved to be their only foray into the Top 40.
That’s unfortunate, because the Honeycombs’ music—which often recalls the bouncy melodies and vocals-dominated sound of the Hollies—has much to recommend it, starting with its innovative production by Joe Meek, England’s answer to Phil Spector, who employed echo, speeded-up tracks, and other techniques to enhance his ear candy. (On “Have I the Right?” he supplemented the predominant drumming by having the group’s members stomp their feet on a wooden staircase in the studio.)
Their material—much of it either by Meek or the team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who composed “Have I the Right?”—tends to be lightweight and lyrically trite, but it’s also frequently quite catchy. On melodic numbers like “Leslie Anne” and “Colour Slide,” moreover, the quavering lead vocals by Denny D’ell are engaging. So is the instrumentation, which emphasizes percussion by Honey Lantree, one of rock’s first female drummers. (She was supplying the group’s insistent beat even before Maureen Tucker joined the Velvet Underground.)
Have I the Right? The Complete 60s Albums & Singles, which includes a booklet with extensive liner notes, delivers the full Honeycombs story on three CDs. Both of the group’s studio LPs are here in the original mono versions, along with non-LP B sides and assorted rarities such as the German-language rendition of “Have I the Right?”; the U.S.-only single version of the sax-spiced “I Can’t Stop,” which should have been a hit; and a half dozen post-breakup solo tracks by D’ell and guitarist Martin Murray. Also on the program: some singles released only in Japan, where the Honeycombs made a mark; and Live in Japan, which includes renditions of the group’s most memorable numbers plus covers of such songs as Little Richard’s “Lucille,” the Platters’ “My Prayer,” and Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say.”
If you have fond memories of this anthology’s title track—or of such similarly styled British Invasion outfits as the Mindbenders, the Fortunes, the Swingin’ Bluejeans, and the aforementioned Hollies—you’re not likely to regret picking up this collection.
Wild Rabbit Salad, Trouble in Town. One of the pleasures of reviewing new music is that you periodically get exposed to noteworthy artists you otherwise might never have encountered. I’d never heard of Wild Rabbit Salad until the duo’s fourth album arrived in the mail, but I won’t soon forget them. The Americana material here is a bit of a grab bag—some funny, some serious, some live, some from the studio, some sung by Bucky Goldberg, some by his partner Marietta Roebuck—and some tracks are better than others. But the best of them are good indeed. Among the standouts: covers of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die” and “Tecumseh Valley” as well as several of the Goldberg/Roebuck originals that fill the remainder of the program, including the beautifully sung “Lying” and the catchy “Mine Number Nine,” which reminds me a bit of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
The Lil Smokies, Tornillo. Banjo and fiddle figure prominently on the Montana-based Lil Smokies’ delightfully upbeat third album, which also features dobro, bass, guitar, and piano. The program incorporates a few tender ballads but most of the songs convey exuberance and take off like a freight train heading down the tracks at full throttle. You might be tempted to categorize the album as bluegrass, but it’s often as redolent of 1970s West Coast folk/rock as it is of Bill Monroe. Throughout, the quintet’s musicianship is first rate and so are their harmonies.
Bobby Hatfield, Stay with Me: The Richard Perry Sessions. “We’d really gotten the solo thing out of our systems,” Bill Medley told me when I interviewed him and Bobby Hatfield in 1975, two years after they’d reformed the Righteous Brothers. But in 1971, “the solo thing” was still their thing, and Hatfield (who died in 2003) was in the studio with famed producer Richard Perry. The results of those sessions remained unreleased until now, perhaps partly because they didn’t add up to enough material for an album: this disc is padded with arguably superfluous multiple takes of four of its tracks. The good news is that Hatfield’s tenor sounds every bit as remarkable here as it does on the Righteous Brothers’ classic pop/soul hits. Moreover, the program includes some excellent choices, such as Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night” and two George Harrison compositions: “What Is Life” and the relatively obscure “Sour Milk Sea,” which Harrison protégé Jackie Lomax first recorded.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.