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Friday, 27 July 2018

The Coasters - 20 Great Originals

Note: Side 1, Tracks 1 - 3 by The Robins. All other tracks by The Coasters.

Side 1:
01. Riot In Cell Block Number 9
02. Smokey Joe's Cafe
03. Framed
04. Turtle Dovin'
05. Down In Mexico
06. Young Blood
07. Searchin'
08. Idol With The Golden Head
09. Yakety Yak - The Coasters
10. Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart

Side 2:
01. The Shadow Knows
02. Charlie Brown
03. Along Came Jones
04. Poison Ivy
05. What About Us
06. I'm A Hog For You Baby
07. Run Red Run
08. Shoppin' For Clothes
09. Little Egypt
10. Bad Blood

The Coasters were not only a major R&B act but also a best selling pop act. They had 6 entries in the top ten of The Billboard Hot 100, and a further 4 in the top forty. Their record sales helped Atlantic maintain its position as the pre-eminent R&B label of the late 1950s / early 1960s and were an important factor in the breakout of R&B into the pop mainstream. Although some of their hits had an air of teen novelty about them, most of their records were in fact works of sly hipness if not downright sleaze, thanks to the inventiveness of songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller, and also to the sax stylings of Gil Bernal and King Curtis ...

At last, an R&B act I can remember hearing on the radio! Four of the Coasters' records broke into the British charts in the late 1950's but I'm too young to remember that. What I do remember is that during the first half of the 1960's two of their hits, "Charlie Brown" and "Yakety Yak" were still being played frequently on the BBC, probably because they were seen as having appeal to children. That informed my later rather dismissive opinion of The Coasters as being merely a novelty group for the kids and, boy, was I wrong.

To be frank, this LP which I bought in the late 1970's didn't do much to change my opinion as it suffers from the problems of many mass market issues of that era. Twenty sides have been crammed on to the record with subsequent loss of sound quality. In addition some kind of electronically re-processed stereo was used on certain later tracks, rendering them pretty much unlistenable, so I've ripped the LP to mono in an attempt to remedy that. My advice is to treat this collection as a sampler and if you find yourself digging the cool sounds of The Coasters invest in one of the many compilations available to buy. Recommendations can be found towards the end of this post.

The tracks on this LP are arranged in chronological order, so we start with three tracks recorded for Los Angeles label Spark Records by The Robins, the group from which The Coasters split in 1955 when label owners, songwriters and producers Leiber and Stoller signed up with Atlantic, taking their Spark masters with them. The origins of The Robins were detailed in this post of their Savoy sides from 1949 - 1950, while this post of their Modern / RPM / Crown sides in the early 1950's takes their story up to the point of the birth of The Coasters.

The go-to site for the story of The Robins up to and beyond the point when The Coasters broke away from the parent group is of course Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks. His article on The Robins is here:

Marv's site doesn't have an article on The Coasters but there is a website devoted entirely to the group "The Coasters Web Site - Those Hoodlum Friends" - which you can find here:

The web site is vast with all kinds of goodies on it. You may lose hours of your life in there. The record session information in the "Fax on the Trax" section below has been gleaned from the hugely detailed recording sessions page of The Coasters Web Site.

The original singles release information is from The Coasters singles section is here:

Here's The Fax on those 20 Trax

As mentioned above, the session information comes from the recordings sessions page on The Coasters Web Site. I haven't attempted to use all the information available on these tracks. In particular I have mentioned only a few of the backing musicians and I have omitted the Coasters' own guitar players. My main motive in mentioning a few of the backing musicians was in order to make sure that Gil Bernal received credit for his tenor sax work on The Robins and early Coasters sides which were recorded in Los Angeles. The contribution of King Curtis to the sides recorded in New York is well known, but that of Gil Bernal doesn't get much attention.

The changing Coasters line ups have been inserted into the chronological sequence.

Riot in Cell Block #9, Smokey Joe's Cafe and Framed were recorded by The Robins in 1954 - 1955 for Spark Records in Los Angeles.

The Robins - Carl Gardner, Bobby Nunn, Grady Chapman, Terrell Leonard, Billy Richard and Roy Richard. Richard Berry on "Riot In Cell Block #9."

Backing musicians include Gil Bernal (tenor sax) and Barney Kessell (guitar).

"Riot In Cell Block #9" was recorded in the spring of 1954. Released on Spark 103 (b/w "Wrap It Up") in May 1954.

"Framed" was recorded in August 1954. Released on Spark 107 (b/w "Loop De Loop Mambo") in September 1954.

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" was recorded in July (or possibly January 1955). Released on Spark 122 in August 1955 (b/w "Just Like A Fool"). Re-released on Atco 6059 in October 1955.

All subsequent titles recorded by The Coasters.

The Coasters (October 1955 - 1957) - Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Bobby Nunn, Leon Hughes.

Turtle Dovin' and Down In Mexico recorded in Los Angeles on January 11th, 1956. Gil Bernal (tenor sax) and Barney Kessell (guitar) among backing musicians. "Down In Mexico" / "Turtle Dovin'" released on Atco 6064 in February 1957.

Young Blood and Searchin' recorded in Los Angeles in February 1957. Obe "Young" Jessie replaces Billy Hughes on "Searchin'." Backing musicians include Gil Bernal (tenor sax) and Barney Kessell (guitar). "Searchin'" / "Young Blood" released on Atco 6087 in March 1957.

Idol With The Golden Head recorded in Chicago on July 24th, 1957. Released in August 1957 on Atco 6098 as the B-Side of "(When She Wants Good Lovin') My Baby Comes To Me."

The Coasters (1958 - mid-1961) - Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Cornell Gunter, Will "Dub" Jones.

Yakety Yak and Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart recorded in New York on March 17th, 1958. King Curtis on tenor sax. "Yakety Yak" / "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart" released on Atco 6116 in April 1958.

The Shadow Knows recorded in New York on August 8th, 1958. Released on Atco 6126 (b/w "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass") in August 1958.

Charlie Brown recorded in New York on December 11th, 1958. Released on Atco 6132 (b/w "Three Cool Cats") in January 1959.

Along Came Jones recorded in New York on March 26th, 1959. Released on Atco 6141 (b/w "That Is Rock & Roll") in April 1959.

Poison Ivy and What About Us recorded in New York on July 16th, 1959. Backing musicians include Mickey Baker (guitar) and King Curtis (tenor sax). The versions on this LP are alternate takes of the versions originally released on single.

I'm A Hog For You Baby was recorded in New York on August 8th 1958 and re-edited on July 17th, 1959. The version on this LP differs from the single release (titled "I'm A Hog For You") in that it has a different and shorter sax fadeout.

Run Red Run  was recorded in New York on July 23rd, 1959. The version on this LP is a stereo take of the version originally released on single.

The single versions of the above four tracks were released as follows:

Poison Ivy / I'm A Hog For You released on Atco 6146 in August 1959.
Run Red Run / What About Us released on Atco 6153 in November 1959.

Shoppin' For Clothes was recorded in New York on July 29th, 1960. King Curtis on tenor sax. "Shoppin' For Clothes" / "The Snake And The Bookworm" released on Atco 6178 in September 1960. Some pressings retitled "Shoppin' For Clothes" to "Clothes Line (Wrap It Up)" which was the title of the original version of this song which was written by Kent Harris and recorded by him as Boogaloo And His Gallant Crew in 1956 (Crest  45-1030).

Little Egypt was recorded in New York on February 9th, 1961. King Curtis on tenor sax. "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)" / "Keep On Rolling" released on Atco 6192 in April 1961.

The Coasters (mid-1961 - 1967) - Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Will "Dub" Jones, Earl "Speedo" Carroll.

Bad Blood was recorded in New York on September 25th, 1961. Backing by The Upsetters. The version on this LP is an alternate take of the version released on single Atco 6210 (b/w "(Ain't That) Just Like Me") in October 1961.

The Coasters on CD

As a top selling pop act as well as a major R&B act, The Coasters' back catalogue has mostly remained in print in some form or another over the years. I have the following two CDs in my collection:

The Very Best Of The Coasters - Rhino / Atlantic. A modest 17 tracks in excellent sound quality. It includes "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass" which received major attention when it was used in a TV advert for Volkswagen Passat in the 1990s.

What Is The Secret Of Your Success? - Mr R&B RBD 102. A CD version of an LP issued on Jonas Bernholm's Mr R&B label. Published in 1980, this collection has 16 of the lesser known Coasters tracks. Also includes "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass." I wonder if this is where some advertising exec came across the track and pitched it to Volkswagen?

There's a lot of choice if you want to get a Coasters CD these days. Looks like this one might be the one in which to invest your hard earned cash:

A double CD on the Acrobat label. 56 tracks, including 12 Robins tracks from the Spark label. I've ordered a copy and will report back when I've listened to it.

Edit - The 2CD Coasters set has arrived. It has a 24 page booklet which includes full recording details of the tracks, sourced from the Coasters website I acknowledged earlier in this post. There is also an extensive essay by Paul Watts tracing the history of The Coasters from the foundation of The Robins in 1945. So 10/10 for presentation in this PD collection.

Disc One is especially good with its inclusion of the 12 Robins sides recorded for Spark. I listened to the whole of this disc in one session and it didn't pall at all! I must confess that when I started listening to Disc Two the following day, the going got tougher. There are still plenty of good sides on this disc, but perhaps the Coasters were getting a bit formulaic going into the early 1960s, or perhaps I'd just listened to too many tracks by the same group.

So all in all I can recommend this mid price collection. 56 tracks in all, including two LP only tracks. Presentation is excellent, sound quality is good but perhaps some of the tracks lack a bit of "life" as this is a PD compilation. Overall rating - 7.5/10.


heylee said...

Thank you for sharing all things, The Coasters.

Bob Mac said...

Thanks for this BW. I certainly remember hearing The Coasters on the radio when I was a kid, I also seem to recall seeing them perform in one of those early rock & roll movies that showed at the local cinema in the late 1950s.

The Subliminal Kid said...

Lucky me for being old enough to hear The Coasters (but not the Robins) on the radio as a kid—"Searchin'' was the first, during the summer of '57, and it remains at the top of my all-time Top 10. . . .

Paolo Meccano said...

Thanks for sharing.