Tuesday, October 26, 2010

All we are saying is...Give GREASE A Chance!!

1974 Kama Sutra Records

The first thing you notice is the back cover credits that reads “Produced by Jack Douglas” and “Executive Producer: Bob Ezrin.” Wow! It HAS to be GREAT! Well, by Sha Na Na standards, it’s pretty darn good and uses both classic 1950’s rock & roll oldies and also compositions by the band members to prove it. Bowzer’s voice is instantly recognizable and Denny Greene’s original ballad “Dreams Come True” is an album highlight, as is "Maybe I'm Old Fashioned" which Greene also sings and was released as a single in 1974.

This album is definitely PRODUCED. Many of the songs are sweetened up with lavish string orchestrations (by Wade Marcus) and the arrangements are more concise and less raw rock and roll. However, the band’s original songs are among their best like the title track “Hot Sox” (sung by Bowzer and written by long time member Scott “Tony Santini” Powell) and “Stroll All Night.” The classic “Too Chubby To Boogie” is written and sung here by drummer Jocko although when it was used on the TV show a few years later, Lennie Baker was given the song to sing for obvious reasons. Oh yeah, Johnny turns in a top performance with “Easier Said Than Done,” which was originally done by The Essex.

This is guitarist Vinnie Taylor’s last album before his tragic death and just before the group would enjoy tremendous success thanks to their TV program. Don’t forget to check inside the cover for a special bonus, a super CHEAP cutout sheet with “trading cards” of the boys.

1975 Kama Sutra Records

Dirty Dan makes his entrance and the best known lineup of Sha Na Na begins. But that doesn’t mean this album won’t confuse the hell out of you if you’re a fan of the TV show and 50’s music. Not since “The Night Is Still Young” in 1972 has the focus been taken off of “oldies” in favor of originals and a contemporary pop sound. Tony Camillo produced the album (with Jimmy Ienner credited as Executive Producer) and future Ramones engineer Ed Stasium was at the board.

Most of the lead vocals on the album are by Johnny Contardo including a surprise Raspberries’ cover (“Don’t Want To Say Goodbye”) and a couple of turds like “The Only Light On My Horizon” and “Basement Party.” There’s also a disco instrumental (“Sha-Bumpin’”) and ANOTHER version of “(Just Like) Romeo And Juliet,” a song that had just appeared on their last album. The opening track "Shot Down In Denver" is good but sounds like it could be Bobby Sherman or another 70's pop singer.

There are a few oldies like Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway” but again the production is unfriendly to rockers and greasers alike. Maybe if you bought this album new in 1975 it might hold some good memories or a familiar melody. But for me, it’s the least interesting of the classic era Sha Na Na platters. Kind of like this band’s own “Strangers In The Wind” or “Unmasked.”