Unlike today, the stars of the early 60s were contractually bound to be prolific and, in many instances, they recorded two albums each year as well as cutting new singles. The quality often suffered as artists might complete their commitments with bottom-drawer material or uninspired covers. Despite a life of continual touring, some artists rode above this and created substantial work. Johnny Tillotson is a good example who recorded eight albums for MGM between 1963 and 1967. The albums didn’t sell as they deserved his but they certainly merit being reissued by Ace. Ace have already paired “Talk Back Trembling Lips” / “The Tillotson Touch” (CDCHD331) and “She Understands Me” / “That’s My Style” (CDCHD 345), and now we have JOHNNY TILLOTSON SINGS (1965) and HERE I AM (1967) on the same CD.
Being a fan, I am very pleased to have a CD that does not contain the tracks that I know so well, such as Poetry In Motion and Talk Back Trembling Lips. I suspect that most of the performances will be new to UK listeners. There are no UK hit singles but there is the theme song from the TV series, Gidget, starring Sally Field. The reason for the slightly odd lyric in Angel is because it is from the Walt Disney film, Those Calloways, starring Brian Keith and Vera Miles, which was concerned with living on marshland and protecting wild geese.
Among the 24 tracks, there are the occasional standards (I’ll Be Seeing You, How High The Moon) and covers (Bobby Vee’s US hit, Come Back When You Grow Up, Wayne Newton’s Red Roses For A Blue Lady), but most of the time, he performs new material. How good it is to hear P F Sloan’s Cling To Me and Wayne Carson Thompson’s Deafening Roar Of Silence (now there’s a challenging title for a songwriter). There are several songs from one of the most underrated of the Brill Building writers, Paul Evans, who wrote When for the Kalin Twins. Among Tillotson’s own songs is the hopelessly optimistic Our World: “We’ll learn from all you’ve done wrong” – I don’t think so somehow.
Johnny Tillotson has a strong sense of humour. His amusing song about the hairstyles of the day, Long Hair Committee could have come from the Lovin’ Spoonful songbook, and you can tell he is about to burst with laughter while singing the TV theme, (Wait Til You See) My Gidget.
By 1967 the music world wanted the changes brought about by psychedelia and heavier forms of rock. Maybe Johnny Tillotson should have gone wholeheartedly into country music like Rick Nelson or Glen Campbell, but he didn’t. These albums are more than curios as they contain so many good performances. In addition, the tracks use some key session men and also feature Charles Callelo, the arranger of many of the 4 Seasons’ hits.
I saw Johnny Tillotson in October 2000 at the Grand Theatre, Leeds in a package show with Bobby Vee, Brian Hyland, Freddy Cannon and Little Eva. He was an excellent stage performer with very entertaining patter. He described how he had been touring the UK in 1963 with Del Shannon. “We were harmonising From Me To You on the coach, but it was Del who had the good sense to go back home and record it.”
By Spencer Leigh