The Merseybeats—a rock group that formed in Liverpool, England, in the early 1960s—were very much a part of the scene that led to the British Invasion, but for whatever reason, they weren’t part of the Invasion itself. While such contemporaries as the Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Troggs, and of course the Beatles took America by storm, the Merseybeats’ music rarely even aired in the U.S., much less invaded.
Still, if you want to fully understand the Merseybeat scene (named for 1960s rock bands around Liverpool and the River Mersey), you need a taste of the outfit that actually bears that name. Like the Beatles and other well-known groups, the Merseybeats played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and scored multiple U.K. hits, such as 1963’s “It’s Love That Really Counts” and 1964’s “I Think of You,” both catchy pop numbers featuring excellent vocal harmony work that recalls Peter & Gordon and Chad & Jeremy. Later hits include “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” the same song that rode the charts stateside for Dusty Springfield; “Don’t Turn Around”; and “Mister Moonlight,” where they sound a lot like the early Beatles, who also covered that composition.
The group disbanded by the mid-60s but enjoyed a second life starting in 1966 when cofounders Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley reformed as a duo called the Merseys with backup that included Badfinger’s Joey Molland. Under that moniker, they’re best known for “Sorrow,” their hit version of an obscure track from the McCoys (who are themselves known for “Hang on Sloopy”). David Bowie included “Sorrow” on Pinups, his 1973 collection of 60s covers, and the Beatles slipped a line from it into “It’s All Too Much” on their Yellow Submarine soundtrack.
There’s a lot of noteworthy material in the Merseybeats and Merseys catalog beyond the hits. On Boudleaux Bryant’s “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and Irving Berlin’s “The Girl That I Marry,” for example, they deliver vocal harmonies that prove redolent of the Everly Brothers. Other winners include “I Stand Accused,” which Elvis Costello later covered; “Lavender Blue,” the 1959 Sammy Turner pop hit; and Pete Townshend’s “So Sad About Us.” (The Merseys had the same management team as the Who, and that group’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle lent a hand on a few of their tracks.)
The best place to catch up with all this music is the new I Stand Accused: The Complete Merseybeats and Merseys Sixties Recordings, which features a thick booklet with a 9,000-word essay on the history of both groups. As the title promises, this two-CD, 63-track, two-and-a-half-hour collection serves up all of their work from that decade—singles, album tracks, outtakes (including an alternate rendition of “Sorrow”), home recordings, even German-language versions of “It’s Love That Really Counts” and “I Think of You.” Also on the program are 13 tracks from spinoff artists, such as the Crackers, the Kinsleys, Johnny Gustafson (who went on to play with Roxy Music), Johnny and John, and the Quotations (not to be confused with the American doowop group of the same name).
Incidentally, while the Merseybeats may not have sold as many records as the Beatles, they sure have the Fab Four beat in the longevity department: they reformed and toured in the 1970s, and while they disbanded after that, Crane and Kinsley reassembled the outfit once again in 1993 and are still touring today as the Merseybeats, with U.K. shows scheduled for the fall of 2021. That’s a full 60 years after they first took the stage in Liverpool.
Diana Jones, Song to a Refugee. The worldwide refugee crisis is the subject of this poignant and timely album by folk singer/songwriter and acoustic guitarist Diana Jones. Her empathetic vignettes put human faces on the displaced thousands arriving at America’s southern border. The vast majority, Jones reminds us in these well-crafted original songs, are neither criminals nor freeloaders; they are voiceless victims, fleeing poverty, gang violence, and other dire circumstances.
The album’s debut single, “We Believe You,” features choruses sung by folk singers Peggy Seeger and the great Steve Earle as well as Richard Thompson, who plays guitar throughout the CD. “I believe the gang said they would kill you,” sings Earle on the single. “I believe you had no choice / I believe you had no voice,” adds Thompson. “We believe you walked till you could not walk, you carried your baby in your arms / They took her from you at the border,” sings Seeger.
David Mansfield (known for being a key member of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review) coproduced with Jones and contributes violin, mandolin, guitar, and dulcimer. Other players add bass guitar, piano, accordion, and harmony vocals.
Buy a copy of this CD for yourself—then consider buying a few more to send to your congressional representatives.
Eddie 9-Volt, Little Black Flies. You could mistake this 24-year-old, whose stage name is Eddie 9-Volt, for a straightlaced MBA student—until he starts singing and playing his guitar. Turns out the Atlanta-based artist has soaked up Memphis soul and Chicago blues and the music of such influences as Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, and Mike Bloomfield.
Backed by a hot band that features alto and tenor sax, bass, rhythm guitar, organ, harp, and drums, 9-Volt serves up a party-ready set that includes nine songs he wrote with his producer, bassist, and brother, Lane Kelly. Also on the program are “Miss James,” which Howlin’ Wolf has recorded; Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go”; and Albert King’s “Travelin’ Man.”
The album has a live-in-the-studio sound that recalls such recordings as Fleetwood Mac’s Blues Jam in Chicago. “All those great records [by artists I admire] were done live with their buddies and no overdubs,” says 9-Volt. “I wanted the playing to be spot-on—but even if we made a mistake, we kept going.”
You’re not likely to notice many mistakes on Little Black Flies, but you will sense a whole lot of spirit. Let’s hope this 9-Volt is rechargeable because you’re probably going to want to hear more.
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.