Blue Cat was a subsidiary of the Red Bird label started in 1964 by legendary Brill Building songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The parent label cashed in on the girl group craze with the Dixie Cups and Shangri-Las, but Blue Cat also cracked the Top 10 with the labelâ€™s second single, â€œThe Boy from New York City.â€ Written by saxophonist John T. Taylor, the song had a jazzy swing that gave the then-recently rechristened Ad Libs a distinct sound. The New Jersey quintet featured Mary Ann Thomas singing lead and a smooth male quartet providing backing vocals. A second single, â€œHe Ainâ€™t No Angel,â€ was penned by Red Birdâ€™s house team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (and previously waxed by the Lovejoys for Tiger), but label turmoil stalled the single on the bottom rungs of the Top 100. Two more singles, â€œOn the Cornerâ€ and â€œIâ€™m Just a Down Home Girl,â€ fared even worse and led to the groupâ€™s departure from Blue Cat.
Judging solely by the charts, the Ad Libs were a four-single, one-hit wonder; but as this twenty-three track collection shows, there was a lot more to their catalog than found broad public acclaim. In addition to the groupâ€™s four Aâ€™s and Bâ€™s, Real Goneâ€™s gathered a clutch of unreleased tracks, alternate versions and a cappella demos that give full testimony to the groupâ€™s vocal talent and their production teamâ€™s ability to craft memorable melodic and instrumental hooks. The B-sides are anything but throwaways, with â€œKicked Aroundâ€ sporting an incredible jazz bass line, sly organ bed and maddeningly memorable triangle figure behind Thomasâ€™ thirsty flower vocal. â€œAsk Anybodyâ€ is a dance tune touched by doo-wop, blues and gospel, and the male leads on â€œOo-Wee Oh Me Oh Myâ€ and â€œJohnny My Boyâ€ show the group had more than one vocalist capable of holding the spotlight.
The finished track â€œThe Slimeâ€ went unreleased, and, sadly, was deprived of the opportunity to ignite a worldwide dance craze based on melting like butter down in the gutter. The setâ€™s other unreleased master, â€œYouâ€™ll Always Be in Style,â€ adds a touch of Latin soul. The setâ€™s most arresting find, however, are seven mono a cappella demos that starkly highlight the groupâ€™s melding of doo-wop and vocal jazz. In addition to demos of singles sides (including a take on â€œThe Boy from New York Cityâ€ that shows the hit singleâ€™s more relaxed tempo to have been the right choice), four additional titles are featured, including the holiday-themed â€œSantaâ€™s on His Way.â€ The five alternate takes include a version of â€œThe Boy from New York Cityâ€ with a distractingly present trumpet riff, and the disc is filled out with seven tracking sessions that provide a rare peak inside the studio.
Reissue producer Ron Furmanek has re-mastered many of these tracks (1-4, 6-9, 18-30) in stereo from the original 3- and 4-track master session tapes. At times, particularly on the singles, the separation and clarity of the vocals and instruments is disconcerting to ears trained by original mono singles heard through AM radio. That said, even with handclaps and backing vocals panned hard left and right, the soundstage still hangs together reasonably well, even when individual elements (such as the honking saxophone on â€œHe Ainâ€™t No Angelâ€) stand a bit forward. The tracking sessions are interesting, but fresh re-masters of the original mono singles would have been a more long-lasting treat. Real Goneâ€™s four-panel slipcase includes a 12-page booklet with lengthy liner notes and an introduction by the Manhattan Transferâ€™s Tim Hauser. [Â©2012 hyperbolium dot com]