The Five Americans – The Best Of

Every region probably could claim one. Dallas’, via southeastern Oklahoma, the Five Americans could be thought of as a real life Wonders, not in being “one hit wonders” but in the wake of the Beatles being scooped up by a regional record man looking for some of that action.

Their That Thing You Do was 1967’s Top 5 hit Western Union. Admittedly I hardly had any familiarity with any of their other tunes. (In my childhood I owned a set of those Philco mini flexi-discs called Hip Pocket Records that included a disc with two hits combined, Western Union b/w Sound Of Love.)

They actually had four tunes that made it into the Top 40, the others being the marching Garage-Rocker with roughhewn vocals I See The Light and the attempt to recapture the W.U. magic Zip Code, which has its own catchy charm and much smoother, mellifluous vocals.

The recordings here cover a period from 1965 to 1969 and were produced by Dale Hawkins, of Susie-Q fame, for the Abnak organisation, mostly done in Texas. But the earliest number, the heavily, early Beatles influenced Show Me was recorded in Nashville and released via the ABC-Paramount label.

Unfortunately the booklet notes, by my pal Jud Cost, skips over the who, what, where and why of the existence of this single. And as I have repeatedly said before, the good people at Sundazed did not arrange these tracks (25 of them) in chronological order so the evolution of the band is obscured, which I think is of a particular loss here.

The bulk of the material comes from ‘66 & ’67, their first two albums and affiliated singles. Like the title track of their debut album, I See The Light, much of the tunes therein were of a rawer, Garage-Rock nature, though The Losing Game was a pretty little acoustic ballad.

By the first of what would be off and on sessions starting in the last quarter of ‘66 and continuing into the Spring of ‘67 for what would mostly make up the second album, Western Union/Sound Of Love, the band’s sound had become much cleaner and purer, particularly their vocal harmonies, i.e. the title tracks and the lovely, once again Beatlesque, cantering rocker If I Could.

As they went on things got prettier. From the Fall of ‘67 is the beautifully wistful, Folk-Rock influenced Stop Light (with, funnily enough, verses with a passing melodic similarity to Leaving On A Jet not to be heard for two more years), and the orchestrated Pop — and now ‘67-period Beatles influenced — of 7:30 Guided Tour.

The last recording found here, She’s Too Good To Me, from the Summer of ‘69 — and from an altered band by that time — is even more heavily orchestrated, but is just an exquisite Pop tune.

Truth be told this album is packed with them, even the two previously unreleased finds: the harmony infused, mid-tempo You Just Can’t Win and the jangly, soaring Letter, Pictures, Melodies (which has appended to it a radio advertisement for the final album, the kind-of “odds & sods” Now And Then).

[Released by Sundazed 2003]

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