* Prices may differ from that shown
The Love Affair
The Love Affair were a five-piece group formed around 1966 in North London who played soul and R'n'B music, rather like their contemporaries the Small Faces. Their brief chart career began with the No. 1 'Everlasting Love' in early 1968, and was the first of six Top 20 hits. They disbanded at the end of 1969, and reformed next year as LA with a new vocalist but then disappeared without trace. After a solo career, original singer Steve Ellis has played the nostalgia circuit fronting 'Steve Ellis's Love Affair' and issued the occasional CD of re-recordings, but this one is the real McCoy. Keyboard player Morgan Fisher was a member of Mott The Hoople during their heyday, and later played occasionally on stage with Queen.
This compilation has most of the 19 tracks in random order, so I'll write about them more or less chronologically as per their original release. 'Everlasting Love' is still much played as an oldie, and several cover versions have charted over the years, most recently by the cast of TV's 'General Hospital', but accept no substitute. It really is a classic pop tune and performance, opening with a thunderous attack on the drums, followed by soaring strings and a production with Steve's voice pitched against the full monty - orchestra, brass, flutes and backing vocals.
Ironically, it was in a sense their undoing. It had already been a minor hit for American singer Robert Knight, whose version is OK but nowhere near as powerful, and they were persuaded to record it and issue it quickly in Britain. They did, playing the instruments themselves - only to be told by management and record company that it sounded like an all-time flop. (How's that for creating confidence in your latest eager young signings?) Steve was told to put his vocals on to a backing track arranged and produced by Keith Mansfield, who was then one of the top session orchestra leaders. When the group (all aged between 16 and 19 at the time) were interviewed on TV, they admitted that none of them had even played on the record. Big deal - years later, Frankie Goes To Hollywood apparently didn't play on 'Relax' either. But The Love Affair's honesty did them few favours.
From then on, the die was cast. The A-sides of singles which appear on this CD were basically Steve Ellis plus an orchestra and session men, but that doesn't stop them still being good quality pop records. The second was the anthemic, slower 'Rainbow Valley', the third the faster 'A Day Without Love', very similar to the first hit, but every bit as good.
Both made the Top 10, though single No. 4, the slower and in my view equally magnificent 'One Road' fell short. As a heartfelt ballad, this one moves me in a special way that perhaps the faster ones don't, and Steve later commented that it was his favourite. Back to the Top 10 a final time for the more up-tempo 'Bringing Back The Good Times'. Single No. 6 was the bold, dramatic 'Baby I Know', which reminds me of Elvis's 'Suspicious Minds', a song that came out at the same time - huge arrangement and belting chorus. Sadly, it failed chartwise completely. By then Steve was fed up with trying to play to teenagers who just wanted the hits and were screaming so loudly that nobody heard a thing, so he quit.
In those days, groups like the Love Affair, Marmalade, and a couple of years later Sweet (before they insisted on having more input) didn't write the A-sides of their singles, and had minimal instrumental involvement with them. Record companies wanted hits as cheaply as possible. Lead vocalist plus backing track was more cost-effective and meant a more commercial product. These groups were allowed to write and play on the B-sides, which few people bothered to listen to. These songs, especially the harder, more funky 'I'm Happy' and 'Let Me Know', are a truer indication of what Love Affair wanted to be. The slower 'Someone Like Me', best described as a kind of waltz with basically just piano for backing, is pretty good as well.
A brace of cover versions provided a compromise - other people's songs, admittedly, but showing them more like they sounded on stage. 'Hush', recorded (though not written) by Deep Purple, has some red hot guitar and organ work, and shows why Steve was so highly regarded as a vocalist by the likes of The Who's Roger Daltrey. The same goes for the old soul classic '60 Minutes (Of Your Love)', a heartfelt 'The First Cut Is The Deepest', a bluesy 'Tobacco Road', taken at a slower pace than the stomping Nashvilleand a wonderful soulful version of 'Handbags and Gladrags', with Morgan Fisher playing harpsichord. This is one of those songs where almost every version - Chris Farlowe, Rod Stewart, more recently the Stereophonics - sounds superb. The Love Affair's recording is just as good.
Finally, there are three new tracks, both co-written by Steve. Whether they were recorded by the group at the time but never issued, or more recently, the notes don't say. They do however sound clearer, so I'd guess they are of more modern vintage. 'Little One' is a big rock ballad, with some powerful lead guitar work and colourful acoustic backing, while 'Step Inside' is part rock, part soul, with an almost funky backbeat. 'Jolly Jaunt', which lasts around 50 seconds, is a bit of spoken Cockney fooling-around, reminiscent of Stanley Unwin's Unwinese gobbledegook which appeared on the Small Faces' 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake'.
A twelve-side foldout, with a montage containing old photos of the band plus pieces of memorabilia (sheet music, old music press cuttings, etc.), and a brief note on the band by - I'm guessing - a long-term fan. Underneath the spider where the CD lives is a picture of a large orange plastic spider, one of those pieces we used to put in secondhand 45 r.p.m. singles where the centre had been punched out so they could be played on juke boxes.
This CD was released at budget price, so I can't fault it for value. I've always had massive affection for the best pop of the late 60s and early 70s, and I still enjoy this just as much as I did when I was at school. Suffice to say I was delighted to get hold of this as I never acquired all the vinyl singles at the time, and as far as I know at least three had never been issued in LP format.
The product page on Amazon.co.uk has a 'review samples' of each track facility, and the last time I checked, it was priced at just under £3. Quite honestly, sixties Britpop rarely got better than this, so I'll recommend this wholeheartedly. My copy is never far away from my CD player.
[Revised version of the review I originally posted on ciao]
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Bringing On Back The Good Times
3 Everlasting Love
4 A Day Without Love
5 Handbags & Gladrags
6 Rainbow Valley
7 So Sorry
8 The First Cut Is The Deepest
9 Let Me Know
10 Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday
11 Baby I Know
12 60 Minutes (Of Your Love)
13 Someone Like Me
14 One Road
15 I'm Happy
16 Tobacco Road
17 Jolly Jaunt
18 Little One
19 Step Inside