Herman’s Hermits: Listen People – 1964-1969

Stellar documentary of endearing British Invasion hit-makers

Listen People 1964-1969 is one of four documentaries released as part of a five-DVD British Invasion box set by Reelin’ in the Years Productions. Like the other three, it’s a terrific collection, spanning twenty-two complete vintage performances, period promotional footage, television and stage performances, and contemporary interviews with Peter Noone, Karl Green (bass), Keith Hopwood (guitar) and Barry Whitwam (drums – sitting in front of his awesome gold-sparkle Slingerland drum set). Noone was – and is – one of the most charming front-men of the British Invasion, and the documentary reveals the band to be much more than a backing unit for their vocalist. Their hits were often the lightest of pop songs, but written, played and sung exceptionally, and the group was a charming live act.

The group’s hit singles were brought to them by producer Mickey Most, who had a golden ear for material and arrangements. Their first single, a 1964 cover of Earl-Jean’s “I’m Into Something Good,” was a worldwide smash and followed by a string of singles, some unreleased in the UK, some unreleased in the US, that kept the group at the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic well into 1967. The unusual release strategy left U.S. audiences with a different picture of the group than those in their home country; in particular, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” “Listen People,” “Leaning on the Lamp Post,” and “Dandy” were all stateside smashes that went unreleased as singles in the UK.

The documentaries’ interviews reveal the unorthodox story behind the recording and release of the music hall styled “Mrs. Brown,” and recollections of the band’s first NME Poll Winners Concert are born out by a winningly nervous performance. The group looks more comfortable with their up-tempo cover of Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World,” with the young Noone in his schoolboy suit playing the part of the song’s protagonist. It’s easy to see why he was the sort of heartthrob who induced Beatlemania hysterics in young girls. An early performance of “Fortune Teller” at the Cavern Club shows the group to have had a grittier R&B side that was mostly unused for their hits. The liner notes and commentary mention a hot version of Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” that unfortunately didn’t seem to make the final cut of the DVD.

The group’s hits rarely strayed from polite pop, failing to navigate many of the changes wrought by the latter half of the 1960s. Their recordings of songs by P.F. Sloan (“A Must to Avoid”), Ray Davies (“Dandy”) and Graham Gouldman (“No Milk Today”) took them towards folk-rock and more poetically crafted lyrics, but even as their clothes took on the fashions of 1966 and 1967 their singles remained “romantic, boy-next-door stuff.” They continued to record through the psychedelic era, having a Top 40 hit with Donovan’s “Museum” (not included here) and thickening their productions with strings and a hint of country twang on “My Sentimental Friend,” but the heavy sounds emanating from San Francisco and elsewhere spelled the end of their hit-making days.

Herman’s Hermits were a feel good band whose chipper music became anachronistic in the face of Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Their singles weren’t trendsetting (though Noone suggests his over-the-top English accent on “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” freed other British bands to abandon their faked Americana), but they were catchy, sold extremely well, and to this day remain memorable. In addition to the 78-minute documentary, the full individual performances can be viewed via DVD menu options, and bonuses include a 24-minute concert filmed for Australian television, a commentary track, and fifteen minutes of interviews that recollect the Hermits’ 1967 tour with the Who. This is a great documentary for both fans and those who only know a few of the group’s hits. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Herman’s Hermit’s Home Page
Herman’s Hermit’s UK Home Page
Peter Noone’s Home Page
Reelin’ in the Years’ Home Page

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