Helen Shapiro is remembered today by younger pop culture buffs as the slightly awkward actress/singer in Richard Lester's 1962 debut feature film, It's Trad, Dad. From 1961 until 1963, however, Shapiro was England's teenage pop music queen, at one point selling 40,000 copies daily of her biggest single, "Walking Back to Happiness," during a 19-week chart run. A deceptively young 14 when she was discovered, Shapiro had a rich, expressive voice properly sounding like the property of someone twice as old, and she matured into a seasoned professional very quickly.
Born John Barry Prendergast to a father who owned a cinema and a mother who played piano, all the elements were in place for John to develop his career as he did. Even when he had to do national service, he managed to secure a job as an army bandsman, so he managed to use that period to hone his craft. John first came to prominence via his recording of Hit and miss, which became the theme to the TV show Jukebox jury. Famous as his TV theme became, John's most famous hit is the James Bond theme. This particular compilation, as its title suggests, focuses on John's recordings for EMI. Many of these recordings date from the early to mid sixties, but there are a few from the nineties too. Most of the tracks are instrumentals, but there are also three Shirley Bassey tracks (Goldfinger, Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Diamonds are forever) and a Matt Monro track (Born free) in which John was involved. Two of the Shirley Bassey tracks are famous, but I'd not heard the other one before buying this CD. It was apparently intended as the theme for Thunderball but was dropped in favor of the Tom Jones song Thunderball. There are 25 tracks altogether and the CD comes with a nice booklet. By no means a definitive John Barry compilation, this does at least contain all those early sixties tracks that I particularly wanted and showcases John's versatility as a composer and arranger. Sadly, John died early in 2011 but his legacy in the history of cinematic music is assured.
Hootie & the Blowfish never were cut out to be superstars. They were meant to be the best band at the local bar. They were ordinary guys, and they played ordinary music, the kind that could be heard in any college town on the East Coast or Midwest during the early '90s when the local bar wasn't having grunge night. It was the ordinariness of the music on their 1994 debut, Cracked Rear View, that connected with millions of American listeners – they sounded like everybody's favorite local band. Once they were superstars, their bubble burst fairly quickly as the 1996 follow-up sold considerably fewer than the debut, and by the end of the decade, they had settled into a reliable routine of turning out modest records and touring steadily, without many people outside of their core fans noticing. Their popularity might have declined, but as the 2004 Atlantic/Rhino compilation The Best of Hootie & the Blowfish (1993 Thru 2003) illustrates, their music changed very little over the course of the decade, nor did the quality of their music decline.
Rosanna: The Very Best of Toto is a strange, hastily assembled, budget-priced box set that boasts three discs and 41 tracks, yet somehow manages to omit "Africa," which alongside "Rosanna" and "Hold the Line," ranks as one of the band's most recognizable hits. Kudos for including the excellent and underrated "Take My Hand" from the Dune soundtrack, though. Listeners would be much better off with 2009's ample Africa: The Best of Toto or its streamlined cousin Playlist: The Very Best of Toto.