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One of Cardiff's finest ever musical exports, Dave Edmunds's first claims to fame were as lead guitarist with Love Sculpture whose frantic instrumental, a reworking of Khachaturian's 'Sabre Dance', was a top five hit at Christmas 1968, and his solo debut 'I Hear You Knocking', a chart-topper two years later. He had a rather chequered solo career after that. 'Repeat When Necessary', which was released in 1979 when he was signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label, gave him two Top 20 singles and was his most successful album, charting for 12 weeks and peaking at No. 39.
In fact it was not strictly speaking a solo album. Edmunds on lead vocal, guitar and piano, and his bassist Nick Lowe, both recorded singles and albums about this time, credited to them as soloists, on which they fronted the four-piece band Rockpile. This is therefore actually a 'Dave Edmunds and Rockpile' album. Rockpile, who also comprised guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams, later with Dire Straits, released one album under their name in 1980, then fell out and disbanded.
Arguably there isn't a tremendous amount of variety in the eleven tracks on this record, but it really is one of the best of its kind, so that hardly matters. Moreover most of the songs are covers, apart from three; Edmunds rarely wrote his own songs, and even when he did they were generally thinly-disguised 12-bar rock'n'roll variations. But he is known as doing some of the most consistently magnificent cover versions ever, which are often even better than the originals. So that's two basic rules broken.
From the opening guitar chords, 'Girls Talk' positively sparkles. A well-deserved No. 4 hit, it boasts a wonderful guitar sound and solo, subtle use of piano and a rather inscrutable lyric by Elvis Costello. This is so damn infectious that you just have to love it. Costello's version, frankly, comes nowhere near. Hear this three or four times and you will be singing 'some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder' to yourself all week. By the way, this is one of several songs on the album - and in fact, at intervals throughout his career - where Edmunds employs that clever little trick of playing the lead break in a different musical key, and then going back to the original key in a second when he starts singing again. A very muso thing, but it all adds interest to the sound.
'Crawling From The Wreckage', the third single and only a lowly No. 59, is a powerhouse rocker written by Graham Parker (of GP and The Rumour fame). The lyrics are just plain weird, a kind of nightmare comedy about a car accident as the title might suggest - 'Crawling from the wreckage, crawling from the wreckage, Bits of me are scattered in the trees and in the hedges.' Taken at a thunderous pace, the guitar solo is so fierce it could probably strip paint at a hundred yards.
Then there's a timely change of pace on 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'. One of three songs credited to Billy Murray, actually Bremner under a pseudonym, this again has some strange lyrics, which sit rather well alongside the country rock setting. It's followed by 'Sweet Little Lisa' boasts a guitar solo from Albert Lee, a rather self-effacing character who never really received the recognition he deserved but has long been one of the most-respected country rock guitarists in the business. It's more classic rockabilly, just awesome.
The track which finished side one of the vinyl album, 'Dynamite', was written by Ian Samwell, who was briefly guitarist with The Shadows until Hank Marvin came along. It started life as a Cliff Richard hit in 1959 (look on YouTube and you will find a video of a pickup arm playing the original 78 r.p.m. 10-inch single), primitive but hard-driving early rock'n'roll at its best. Edmunds gets the semi-screamed title off pat too.
Next up is the other track you may recall as a single, 'Queen of Hearts', a No. 11 hit. Written by American country artist Hank De Vito, this is also grade one rockabilly, only three chords but enlivened as mentioned before by a neat little guitar solo in a different key. I also love the way the intro is mainly bass guitar, punctuated at perfect intervals by a guitar chord strummed briskly four times before the song kicks in. Oh so simple, but oh so effective. The song later became well-known in the US when country singer Juice Newton had a hit with an almost identical arrangement.
'Home in my Hand', originally recorded by Lowe's old band Brinsley Schwarz, is a little closer towards heavy rock with a slightly fiercer guitar riff. That's followed by another burst of rock'n'roll credited to Billy Murray, 'Goodbye Mr Good Guy'.
Next comes a song first recorded in the mid-1960s by the sadly little-known Evie Sands, 'Take Me For a Little While'. For various reasons the song just missed out on being a hit, but any tune which was later covered by the likes of Dusty Springfield and Vanilla Fudge can't be bad, and Edmunds' version is superb as well. An acoustic guitar intro suggests it's a ballad, but then about thirty seconds in it builds into a really big, big song. It's reminiscent of the Phil Spector-like wall of sound epics like 'Born To Be With You', on which Edmunds played every instrument and multi-tracked the vocals to have hits in the early 1970s.
'We Were Both Wrong' is the third song credited to Murray. More of the same as before, but when it's this good you don't begrudge what is basically just another little variation on the basic template.
Finally, 'Bad is Bad' is very very good. Written by and featuring the bluesy harmonica of Huey Lewis (credited here as Hughie Lewis), who later recorded it with his band The News, this could almost be Paul Jones and The Blues Band. It's a straightforward rollicking 12-bar blues, and when pub rock/blues is done with this finesse and enthusiasm, there's no limit to the number of times I can hear this sort of thing.
This is similar to the original vinyl release, with a couple of similar photos of the man and fairly basic personnel credits for the rest of the band and guests. Possibly a case of 'could have tried harder' for the reissue, but you can't have everything.
It's easy to criticise records like this as being predictable. OK, it does what it says on the tin, but you will be hard put to discover a better example of this genre. If you like your rock'n'roll and rockabilly with a bit of polish, played and sung with zeal in spades, and if you remember any of the hit singles, you'll love this album.
One very slight cavil. The original album, with eleven tracks which are all around the three-minute mark, only played for 34 minutes, and the CD adds no bonus tracks. So it's possibly not the best value for money if you're paying full price, unless you're prepared to settle for a secondhand bargain - and there must be plenty around. (You mean somebody has bought it and actually got tired of it? Shame on 'em!) But that apart, this record has 'Classic' written all over it. So I won't begrudge it five stars.
All right, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Dave Edmunds fan, and for me he has rarely put a foot wrong as a performer or producer. But take it from me, this was arguably his most consistent record in a career which has produced plenty of albums which are well deserving of four if not five stars.
Apologies (not) to anybody who saw the title and thought it was another beauty products review. One or two of you might be relieved it wasn't?
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]