Remember the days when a certain type of music filled the dancefloor and the dances that came with it? On The Dancefloor With is a new series of compilations from Bear Family Records, which shine a light on the music that made us dance. The subject for this first entry is the legendary early 1960s house band of Manhatten’s Peppermint Lounge, Joey Dee & The Starliters.
Firstly, let me admit that I hadn’t heard of Joey Dee & The Starliters before writing this review, or even the Peppermint Lounge for that matter! However, I was more than aware of The Peppermint Twist, given its various cover versions over the years. Capitalising on the success of Chubby Checker’s cover of Hank Ballard’s The Twist, Joey Dee and Henry Glover’s composition hit the charts hard in 1961. Parts one and two are included in this album, but it isn’t the whole story.
The compilation features twenty-nine tracks, recorded between 1958 and 1962 for Little Records, Scepter Records and Roulette.
- The two pre-Peppermint Lounge tracks, Lorraine and The Girl I Walk To School, are drenched in Doo-Wop goodness.
- Mother Goose Twist, a rewrite of Chuck Berry’s Reelin’ and Rockin’, performed by Teddy Randazzo for Dee’s Hey, Let’s Twist! movie.
- Joey and his group demonstrate a mix of RnB, Gospel and vocal harmony in their interpretation of Ray Charles’ Leave My Woman Alone.
- The funky guitar parts on their cover of Chuck Willis’ C.C. Rider.
- The organ on Everytime (I Think About You). I also appreciate the energy required for the increased tempo towards the end of the performance.
- The groovy instrumentation, and reverb-soaked minimalist vocal, on Wing Ding.
- Dee’s frantic live version of The Isley Brothers’ Shout.
- The groove on Hello Josephine. I’ve heard many covers of this song, but few manage to blend so many genre influences into one.
- Joey’s Pop ballad crooning on his take of Johnny Nash’s I Lost My Baby. The string section is luscious and would sound great on late-night oldies radio.
- The other twist-themed track, Hey! Let’s Twist.
As is to be expected from releases of this nature, the quality differs from track to track. There is a clear difference in sound quality between the studio and live tracks. Most of the tracks recorded at Bell Sound Studio have an ear-pleasing cleanness that, by 1960s standards, is top-notch. A few, such as the two 1958 singles, feel as though they’re sourced from less-than-ideal formats but are still perfectly pretty rockin’! The tracks performed live at the Peppermint Lounge, on the other hand, have a rough sound that occasionally veers into short bursts of distortion. This is explained in the booklet, they only used one microphone hanging from the ceiling! Despite the quality, the live performances contain energy that put you right in the middle of the Peppermint Louge circa 1961, regardless of sound quality. Hearing the band vibe off the crowd in their versions of Kansas City and Honky Tonk are two examples.
A Little Something Extra…
Being a new series of compilations, it is clear there is a distinct design format for future releases. The usage of two colours, one bold and one white, makes the cover stand out. The CD is presented in a nicely printed digipak, featuring clean photographs. There is a 38-page booklet, compiled by Nico Feuerbach, featuring extensive liner notes written by Bill Dahl. The text is based on a recent interview with Joey Dee, and it is very entertaining. Also included alongside the text are a range of rare photographs and artwork; Finished off with a comprehensive discography.
- Fanny Mae
- Peppermint Twist – Part I
- Mother Goose Twist
- Shimmy Baby – Part I
- Speak Up Mambo
- Leave My Woman Alone
- Slippin’ And Slidin’
- Crazy Love
- C.C. Rider
- Everytime (I Think About You) – Part I
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow
- Goin’ Back To My Home Town
- Just Walking In The Rain
- Wing Ding
- Shout – Part I
- What Kind Of Love Is This
- Hot Pastrami And Mashed Potatoes
- Roly Poly
- Hello Josephine
- Honky Tonk
- I Lost My Baby
- Hey! Let’s Twist
- The Girl I Walk To School
- Baby, You’re Driving Me Crazy
- Ya Ya
- This Boat
- Kansas City
- Peppermint Twist – Part II
Joey Dee and the Starliters may only be remembered for one huge hit, but they gave much more. This album shows off their strengths as a live and studio act. The energy and enthusiasm contained within the live performances are like a time capsule! The sound quality may not always be the cleanest, but it is clear Bear Family Records have taken the care to restore these recordings.
Hearing all sides of the band, including different vocalists and styles, definitely gives a round image of their work. This album isn’t a comprehensive collection, there are more recordings out there, but I think it does the job of introducing their work. As for the series, I look forward to seeing where it goes next.