Monday 28 January 2013

Lulu "Something To Shout About!" (1965)

“Like a beam from an X-ray machine you see right through me” “My friends said you used to love me, well if you do why don’t you show it?” “You’ll never find another love like this love of mine, not in this whole world, someone who’ll be true and love you like I do, not in this whole world, someone whose always there through your ups and downs, someone whose near when all of your good friends can’t seem to be found” “Don’t keep me on a string, if your sweet love is a one-time thing, tell me like it is ease my mind, tell me like it is, don’t be unkind, do you really love only me?, tell me like it is baby” “W-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ll, you know you make me wanna shout!” “I still remember when I used to be nine years old, ye-eah, I was loving you from the bottom of my soul, now that he’s old enough to know you are meeting me and want to love me so, I want you to know, I want you to know right now...” “You go to be a little patient baby, he’s nothing but a harmless flirtation baby, he’s something I don’t want to but I’ve got to see through” “As we stroll along together, holding hands walking all alone, so in love are we two that we don’t know what to do, so in love, in a world of our own” “Dream lover where are you, with a love oh so true? Every night I hope and pray a dream lover will come my way, I hold a hope in my arms, automatic of his charms, because I want a boy just to call my own, I want a dream lover so I don’t have to dream alone” “ “If I’m just a toy you’re going to play with, If I’m not the girl you’re going to stay with, then don’t take all my love, don’t let me take all your love, ‘cause I want you to leave a little love in my heart”


You Touch Me Baby/You’ll Never Leave Her/I’ll Come Running Over/Not In This Whole World/She Will Break Your Heart/Can I Get A Witness?/Tell Me Like It Is/Shout!//Try To Understand/Night Time Is The Right Time/Chocolate Ice/So In Love/The Only One/Dream Lover/He’s Sure The Boy I Love/Leave A Little Love

We-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ell, where to start this review? Named after and dominated by probably Lulu’s most famous song ‘Shout!’, nothing on the album quite matches its most famous moment and yet I can still quite honestly say that it’s the best album in my collection made by a girl who should still have been at school. The rock world had already seen so many ‘firsts’ between 1963 and 1964 that everyone just accepted that the latest must-have best-selling single was by a 15 year-old Scottish schoolgirl no one had heard of. After all, who’d have predicted the year before this that the musical world would be turned upside down by a lot of teenage and early 20s Scousers who couldn’t even read music! The world is different now, people thought to themselves, and nothing surprises us anymore. But looking back now, 49 years on, Lulu’s sudden career spike isn’t just unusual, it’s unheard of – everyone laughed on last week’s Graham Norton show when Conor Maynard admitted he was only 20 and that all that week’s other guests ‘had underwear older than that!’ But Lulu (born Marie McDonald Lawrie) was 15! That’s five whole years younger! Lulu was a schoolgirl, for goodness sake, unable to vote or officially leave school (there’s a story that Lulu’s school m- who were only too happy to get rid of her after putting up with years of her singing her way through lessons - forget to tell a truant officer who turned up at Lulu’s parents house asking where she was during the middle of her second performance on Top Of The Pops, causing her mum to remark ‘that’s her – on the telly right now. Do ye nae read the papers?!’) And when you’re 15 then 20 year olds might as well be from a whole new generation anyway so wide is the gulf in that half-decade. To be fair, there is a precedent in Little Millie, whose ‘My Boy Lollipop’ still crops up on ‘best 60s songs’ shows – but at least her song was about her young age ; ‘Lulu’ could have been performed by an adult and been no less remarkable in its size and power. Add to this the fact that Lulu had already been persuaded by her manager Marian Massey to leave her home for a chance at success in London (at a time when the teenage singer had rarely ventured out of her home city of Glasgow) and you have one of the biggest stories of the decade. Follow this up with the fact that, unlike today or indeed many singles back then, ‘Shout!’ was released with little fanfare and a limited budget and then Lulu’s breakthrough is simply one of the most astonishing events of a decade that really did see it all.

Play ‘Shout!’ today to someone who doesn’t know the song (quite a hard task given how famous it is even now) and ask them to guess the age of the singer. I can guarantee they won’t get it right and, like all audio as opposed to visual mediums, Lulu’s age couldn’t matter less. Lulu’s problems came firstly when she had to appear in person to promote the song, looking the ‘young’ end of her 15 years and put to an end the stories doing the rounds in the press (was ‘Lulu’ a pseudonym for an authentic blues singer, possibly black and certainly American? Or a talented 30 or 40 something singer who’d seen life pass them by?) They came secondly when Decca ushered Lulu into the studio to record some more singles and this, her first album. Frankly, they didn’t have a clue what to do with her. ‘Shout!’ was a rarity as a song, a punchy raw r and b song full of energy and pizzazz that still sounded natural coming from the lips of a schoolgirl, featuring all of Lulu’s biggest strengths (that awe-inspiring first note that’s held much longer than expected, a sultry middle eight taken at a lower tempo to show off Lulu’s range and a beaty backing faithful to 50s rock but still fresh and contemporary in 1964). Lulu herself was ‘squeaky-clean’ to quote Lulu’s autobiography and ‘protected’ from drinks, drugs and wild parties by her proud manager and substitute parent who’d made a solemn promise to Mr and Mrs Laurie to keep their daughter safe. But while it wasn’t about drugs or booze or sex (well, only in a teenager way) ‘Shout!’ wasn’t a safe song at all – the reason for its success was its untamed rawness and promise of wild times to come.

Faced with a hard choice to make, Decca came up with a compromise that in the end helped no one. If you only know Lulu from ‘Shout!’ or from her later, more MOR pop songs from the Mickie Most era then hearing ‘Something To Shout About’ (Lulu’s only album for Decca) is something of a shock. Many of the songs Lulu is called on to sing are plain wrong, either because they’re cast for world-weary singers who’ve seen the world and are soul giants (covers of ‘Can I Get A Witness’ and ‘I’ll Come Running Over’, although admittedly that last song is the next best on the album after ‘Shout!’) or because they’re twee empty pop songs without teeth, ones that seem to date from another era entirely. The best songs here by far are the attempts to groom Lulu as another Dusty Springfield or (not that anyone knows her name for a few more months yet) Cilla Black, complete with orchestra and backing singers – although even here the listener misses the raw screams of ‘Shout!’ Lulu has never been the most consistent of performers (every record she’s ever made is a mixture of perfection and piffle) but even compared to the rest ‘Something To Shout About’ is a sea-sick rollercoaster of moods, styles and talent, featuring material as good as any she’ll ever record nestling next to songs that have been forgotten for good reason.
To be fair, none of this is Lulu’s fault. The one thing you can rely on throughout this record is that Lulu will give it her all, whether on the r and b standards she loves, the Bacharach and David-soundalike mature romantic love songs or the twee retro pop left over from the 50s. On a purely singing point of view this might well be the best album Lulu ever made, her 15 and 16 year old self mixed thankfully loud and upfront in the mix and . Lulu admitted years later that much of the material she was given to sing in the 60s ‘was a mistake’, but it’s one that you can understand that she made: no one listens to you when you’re 16, especially if they’re an established adult with several years of recording experience and in their eyes you’re just a lucky kid with a big mouth. As we’ve mentioned on this site before, the part of Lulu’s career I lose patience with is in the late 60s and 70s, when Lulu has the age, the following and the belief to record the songs she really ought to be singing – and instead ends up singing the worst UK Eurovision entry Cliff Richard never sang, turning into an ‘all-round entertainer’ on her TV show with guests from the 40s and 50s instead of her contemporaries (by and large) or recording some of the twee songs she ended up recording for ATCO. Still that’s to come – back in 1964 Lulu possesses all the talent and the mistakes made on this album aren’t made by her and despite all the distractions and the pressure Lulu herself never puts a foot wrong on this album, she’s simply made to wear the wrong shoes from time to time.

Talking of pressure, fans forget today what an up-and-down career Lulu’s was. Decca delayed making this album until Lulu had become an established ‘star’, but despite releasing eight singles after ‘Shout!’ only one of them (‘Leave A Little Love’, also the last track on this album) was actually a ‘hit’ (making #8 a full 13 months after ‘Shout!’ had been released). ‘Something To Shout About’ was cobbled together an amazing 17 months after that initial hit and it speaks volumes about the way Lulu’s career was being run that the songs from early 1964 sound fresher than the songs from late 1965, during a time when music was changing at such a pace that even a week could make all the difference. Why Decca waited this long is unknown – singles were king over albums at this point and Lulu’s track record was arguably worse than it had been the year before; ‘Leave a Little Love’ in May 1965 had revived Lulu’s career a little but follow-up ‘Try To Understand’ released the month before the LP, though well received, was one of her worst sellers. It might be simply that Decca wanted an album by someone into the shops by Christmas that year (this album being released to an October deadline, perfect for parents shopping over yuletide) and Lulu was the biggest star available By the time of this album Lulu is already a recording veteran of sorts (recording half a dozen A sides and half a dozen B sides) and at age 16 is beginning to reach the point where Decca are threatening to drop her if she doesn’t deliver (oblivious to the fact that its the weak material Decca keep offering her that keeps pulling her down). Lulu left school with no qualifications, so desperate was she to be a star and after a taste of the way of life as a music star she must have been more desperate than ever not to go back to her old way of life – so the pressure was arguably on her shoulders throughout this period more than any other. In the end, this album missed the charts too and Lulu spent a whole year – 1966 – away from the charts before being sent a lifeline by Columbia/London the following year and kick-starting her career again with ‘The Boat That I Row’.

Much of the blame has been laid by fans at the door of arranger and producer Mike Leander, nominally in charge of these sessions and the closest thing Decca had to a ‘George Martin’, although to be fair at least he tried to send Lulu in the right direction. Leander – best known to music fans as the arranger on Beatles song ‘She’s Leaving Home’, recorded By McCartney in an inspired hurry when Martin was unavailable – was also a songwriter of some note and the song of his that Lulu covered for this album, ‘Chocolate Ice’, is the raunchiest thing Lulu ever recorded! In fact the song would raise eyebrows today, being a rather loose metaphor for the ‘nicer taste’ of those with dark-coloured skin (!) although sadly this sort of thing was fair game for most singers in mid 60s Britain. The odd thing is that the sound of this one song, if not the song itself, is clearly a step forward for Lulu and the sort of thing she should be moving towards. The fact that it was actually written by the producer who came up with so many cloying, schmaltzy arrangements seems especially odd and suggests that Leander’s hands were tied every bit as much as Lulu’s were (he was, after all, only 24 himself when this album was made – no doubt implausibly old when you’re a 16 year old schoolgirl but not exactly an established, respected figure who could over-rule decisions made higher up the Decca ladder). Leander had a new lease of life in the 1970s when he teamed up with Gary Glitter and co-wrote almost all of the glam rock star’s biggest hits. However its probably just as well Lulu had stopped working with him long before then (‘We-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ell, you know I’m the leader of the gang I am!’ Hmm, can’t hear it somehow...)

One sound this album does have working for it – again, sadly underused – is the use of a young Jimmy Page on guitar, who gives the three or four songs he appears on the contemporary grunt Lulu should have been using all the way through. The nasty, raw sound of his playing on songs like ‘I’ll Come Running Over’ combined with Lulu’s throaty vocal is clearly at one with the new sounds of the day like The Kinks and The Who and indeed it was Page’s similar work on this song that led to the rumour that he played the solo on ‘You Really Got Me’ instead of Dave Davies (he does play on the first Kinks album, but filling in for Ray not Dave and was never present on any of the Kinks’ singles). Lulu has a musical foil more or less her own age at last and the effect is brilliant, inspiring Lulu’s best vocal after ‘Shout!’ The sound of this song especially sounds like the future and it’s an awful shame that this album so quickly reverts to looking back to the past.

Given the rather scattershot way that ‘Something To Shout About’ was put together there’s very little cohesion to any of it. One thing I have picked up on is the very Beatles-ish way most of the songs (on side one at least) feature personal pronouns like ‘I’ll Come Running Over’ ‘She Will Break Your Heart’ ‘You Touch Me Baby’ and ‘He’s Sure The One I Love’. The Beatles have only just dropped the idea themselves after the run of singles from ‘Love Me Do’ through to ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a deliberate policy on someone’s part (having turned down the chance to sign the Beatles on New Year’s Day 1962 Decca are particularly open to ‘borrowing’ ideas from their competitors at EMI). The idea of being ‘personal’ (and that the singers are living rather than acting these songs) is in the end the most 60s thing about this album and it makes the lapse back into 1950s archetypal teenage blues on some of these songs all the stranger. Most of these songs are rather bland ideas of teenage life (most of them written by middle aged adults remembering their childhood from the inter-war years than any reflection of the youth of 1965) but there’s a surprising angst in some of them: ‘Tell Me Like It Is’ is not the sort of thing you imagine many 16 year olds having the nous to ask of their boy/girlfriends; the dismissive game-playing ‘You’ll Never Leave Her’ is surprisingly adult too while soul standard ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’ is about as close you can get to being banned in 1965 (Lulu’s ‘with the one I love’ ‘at night’ because ‘its the right time’ for...well...let’s just say Mick Jagger would have struggled to have got this song on the radio in 1964, though he was probably thinking it).

If only I had a time machine I could have made this a near-perfect LP. Surely the obvious thing to do if you have an unexpected hit is look again at the formula: ‘Shout!’, written by the Ilsey Brothers, is just one of their superb songs Lulu could have covered (‘Twist and Shout’ being another famous example). Never mind if The Beatles recorded it too – everyone sang ‘Twist and Shout’ in 1964 and The Beatles covered ‘Shout!’ for a TV special anyway (their version is much more faithful to the original than Lulu’s). Even better, I’d have fired the ‘Luvvers’ (Lulu’s off-on backing band who split shortly before the album’s release and who play on a handful of tracks) and got the Isley Brothers to back Lulu for an album (they were in dire financial straits in 1964 and might well have welcomed the chance; doubly neat as they were writing some of their best material in 1964 with songs like ‘Nobody But Me’ and ‘That Lady’ which Lulu would have done proud). Better still, why not get Lulu to record the song’s ‘predecessor’ and the song that inspired it – Jackie Wilson’s ‘Lonely Teardrops’. I’m the first to acknowledge that repeating yourself gets boring and that lightning doesn’t often strike twice – but better a failed attempt at lightning than some of the rather wet and foggy material on this LP. Even the period singles (especially the B sides) are tonnes better than most of the album, especially through 1966, any of which could point in a direction that could have been utilised by Decca earlier. Alas, though, the idea of giving a 15 year old schoolgirl songs written by black r and b soul stars (even though Lulu had scored her first international hit doing exactly that) seems to have been too strange to consider. A real shame, because we are robbed of what could have been the explosive debut album of the 60s and Lulu’s talent might have got the huge respect it so surely deserved. Smarter and more versatile than Cilla, more expressive than Dusty and more adult than Sandie Shaw, Lulu is my favourite of all the early to mid 60s singing female stars, possessing the power of the rock groups of the day whilst still having great technique and control for a singer so young. In fact, Lulu really was Britain’s Janis Joplin and had she come from a different background and had a different group of people around her might have eclipsed even ‘Pearl’ herself (or perhaps filled the void when she died in 1970). Alas we’ll never know as a series of misguided material – starting with this very album – drag her performances down, but if there’s one good thing to say about this album its that Lulu proves how much talent and promise there was inside her if only she’d met the right people or been old enough to work out her true calling for herself.

In the end, this ‘Shout!’ LP ends up little more than a whisper of Lulu’s career and only four or five of the generous helping of 16 songs truly point a way to where her career will go (and the r and b direction it could have gone in). Forgotten by many fans who skip straight to the ‘middle years’ with Mickie Most (where Lulu was an elderly veteran of 18), this album isn’t a long lost classic and at times sounds like exactly the sort of album you’d expect a talented 16 year old to make in this era, with very little control over what she sings or how she sings it. But there’s lots of period charm about this album and there are moments when this album shines so brightly – ‘Shout!’ is easily the best thing here by a country mile but Lulu’s recordings of ‘I’ll Come Running Over’ ‘Try To Understand’ and ‘Leave A Little Love’ aren’t all that far behind and deserve to be rescued from the rather unflattering surroundings they share on this LP. Better yet, if you’re a fan buy the very reasonably priced two CD set ‘Shout! – The Decca Recordings’ (out on MVP in 2009) and you can enjoy some of Lulu’s period singles too, many of which I’d been trying to track down for years. One of them, a forgotten B-side ‘Surprise Surprise’ is a bigger, well, surprise, than anything on this album – written by Jagger and Richards in the early days when the pair were too shy to give their songs to the Stones, it has a power and fizzle that just is the sound of 1965 in a way most of these rather out-of-step songs on this album fail to achieve and really point the way forward to the direction where Lulu could have gone. (The Stones recording, also made in 1965 but not released till the Decca outtakes set ‘Metamorphosis’ in 1975, is a pale shadow of Lulu’s distinctive performance).

‘You Touch Me Baby’ sums up the album’s strengths and weaknesses pretty handily. Lulu sings with the passion and swagger you’d expect and there’s a nice gritty beat to this song that sounds like a close relation of the boogie woogie surf instrumentals the Beach Boys were making in this period (‘Boogie Woodie’ particularly). However, compared to ‘Shout!’ this is pretty toothless stuff and Lulu doesn’t have the experience yet to really live the song which is moulded in the style of a Bo Diddley or a Solomon Burke. Interestingly it was written not by a hoary old blues singer or even a new up and coming teenager but by Sammy Fain, the composer behind several musicals including ‘Calamity Jane’ (although his best work was for Walt Disney on films like ‘The Rescuers’ and ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and is presumably an attempt by an old hands to sound like a youngster. Either way, the song itself sounds authentic but Lulu is the wrong singer for it (so much so that I doubt the song was written with her in mind), with too powerful a voice for a song that’s all about the hypnotic beat and the build-up of emotion that Burke or Bo would have given the song. It’s also flirting with danger in its lyrics (for a 15 year old in 1964 anyway), with the idea that the narrator was changed when her loved one ‘touched me’ in a ‘new way’ on the dance floor. It’s an odd chance to kick-start the record, being nothing like the Lulu singles before or after or like much of the album to come, but it is at least well written and features quite a catchy ‘one...two...three’ chorus that gives Lulu a chance to gabble away in a pretty good impersonation of Mick Jagger on the early Stones recordings.

‘You’ll Never Leave Her’ is an attempt to cast Lulu as a Cilla or a Dusty. It’s a more mature, adult-orientated ballad than the last track’s teenage slang and features a backing choir and an orchestra that are exactly the sort of sound singles like ‘Shout!’ were put on the planet to erase. Lulu sounds slightly higher pitched here than normal – it could be that the master tapes for the recording have deteriorated down the years (the backing sounds ropey too in comparison to the rest of the album) but I would guess that they sped Lulu’s vocal up slightly on this track, perhaps to make her powerful vocal chords more in keeping with the folky, Peter Paul and Mary feel of the song. Again, full credit to Lulu for pulling off such a technical challenge at such a tender age and outperforming all the older and experienced session musicians around her (even dropping her voice to a whisper for the chorus Lulu out-sings everyone here) but the song isn’t built for her to sing. Written by Mike Stoller (as in ‘Lieber and Stoller’) with his ‘other’ writing partner Bert Russell (best known for writing ‘Twist and Shout’ and co-writer of a few of Lulu’s other songs including recent single ‘Here Comes The Night’) and manages to sound like its on auto-pilot without being bad enough to be offensive, simply bland ‘filler’ of the sort Cilla and Dusty record in their sleep. There is much to admire about the arrangement here though: the use of mariachi horns in the background are an inventive touch by 1964 standards, the use of a folky acoustic guitar (presumably by Jimmy Page) is a neat touch and the powerful drumming (sadly from an un-credited session musician) just about pulls this song out of the 50s into the 60s.

‘I’ll Come Running Over’ eclipses almost everything on the album and is exactly ther sort of direction we talked about Lulu going in. The backing band (not the Luvvers, who’d already split by this time, but the same group of session musicians who rather differently on the rest of the LP) are on fiery form and make the most out of the one track on the album that sounds like contemporary Merseybeat, with more than a touch of The Kinks about Jimmy Page’s blistering guitar-work. The rhythm section really do make the most of the song’s simple rock and roll beat, making it sound alive and vibrant despite being a near-copy of every rock song ever made (perhaps out of relief after so many sessions playing slow orchestral ballads!) Lulu drops the ‘nicely brought up lass’ image she’s been cultivating ever since her second single a year before and switches between femme fatale victim and sultry aggressive power-woman. We won’t hear a performance quite this unhinged and raw apart from ‘Shout!’ and it’s a delight, Lulu finally sounding like a hip teenage talent rather than a prematurely middle aged woman from a different age. By most accounts the musicians had a great time making this song and pitched it time and again to Decca as the lead single from the album - instead they went with the more adult ‘Try To Understand’, possibly the biggest mistake of the whole of Lulu’s career at Decca. If only the rest of the album had rocked with this passion and energy then we’d still be talking about Lulu’s debut in the hushed tones we reserve for ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Definitely Maybe’: the song really is that good. It’s hard to imagine that this is by half the same songwriting duo as before (Bert Russell writing under his real name Bert Berns , along with Eileen Stuart) and it’s a real shame that Lulu doesn’t make more of this writing talent during her time at Decca (poor Berns dies from a heart attack in 1967 at the age of 37, oblivious of the lasting impact his songs have made on the 60s generation; Janis Joplin’s cover of ‘Piece Of My Heart’ in mid 1968 is in part a tribute to one of her favourite songwriters).

‘Not In This Whole World’ sinks the good mood like a stone. This song is a typical inter-war creation: it drifts along quite neatly and with a perfectly good tune but misses the drama, the energy and the sparkle of the 1960s. I can’t find any reference to this song or to its composers Troy Davis and Joe Simmons so it seems likely that only Lulu ever covered this rather drippy song, but it’s clearly not written for her and sounds more like a Dusty Springfield song. Lulu sounds nice here, with her vocals dropped to a whisper and gets the chance to show off her powers of subtlety, but it would have been nice if there’d been a middle eight of her power to break through the rather limited range of the song and give it a bit of variety. As for the song itself, it’s a simple plea from the narrator that her loved one won’t pass her by – and that’s it really, with no real resolution or anything to build on the title phrase. A bit of a lost opportunity.

‘She Will Break Your Heart’ is another curious choice for Lulu. A Curtis Mayfield song dating from the soul singer’s early period before he broke big in the 70s, it’s another rather pedestrian song that doesn’t really give the chance for Lulu to show off her power and skill (though she still does a good job adding some character to the song). At least ‘Heart’ benefits from a catchy chorus, however, and an intriguing drum pattern where the bass drum and cymbals play at different metres and only occasionally meet up on the same beat (it sounds like a difficult part to play and, presumably, was done without overdubbing). The lyrics are slightly more adult than some of the other songs on the album too, Lulu stabbing the title phrase like a musical prodding finger and thematically is ‘She Loves You’ in reverse, Lulu’s narrator breaking up a relationship because the one she loves is treated badly by his current partner. All that said, though, ‘Heart’ is another one of those tracks so bland that it rather passes the listener by and the choir and orchestra parts are so clichéd and old hat (even by 1964 that they really drag the song down. Frankly I was hoping for better from this song the first time I heard it and all the ingredients within it, but somehow, nothing quite gels into the delicious cake you were expecting by the end. An anonymous fadeout on the third straight repeat of the chorus rather says it all.

‘Can I Get A Witness?’ adds a bit of swagger back into the album and features a return of the boogie woogie lick we’ve heard already a couple of times throughout the album. The backing musicians are in their element again and Lulu does a good job at her vocal (complete with the musical ‘wink’ in her voice which is the Beatles equivalent of the shaking heads and ‘woooh!’s of the period). However, as we said before, the 15-year-old Lulu is slightly miscast on a song that was written by the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland to be a song for a much more adult and Motown sound (Marvin Gaye recorded the original) than a white schoolgirl and some middle aged white backing band can manage. At least when Mick Jagger tackled the song on his band’s debut album ‘Rolling Stones’ his mock-Americanisms and some fine playing meant that the song ended up sounding like a fair attempt to restyle the original. This version simply sounds like a diluted version, though as far as Lulu herself goes I reckon she gets more out of the song than even Jagger does and injects this recording with much of the swing missing from the backing track. As we said earlier, this is definitely the direction the album makers should have gone with – though preferably with a group of sympathetic musicians able to give Lulu the backing she deserved.

‘Tell Me Like It Is’ is back to the rather more old-fashioned songs elsewhere on the album, although arguably it’s the most successful of the various attempts to make Lulu sound older than her years. Indeed, this Al Kooper song (back when the keyboardist was still a session musician and not the founding member of Blood Sweat and Tears or the occasional collaborator with Stephen Stills) was chosen as the ‘single’ from the album, about a month so after the record came out, so someone must have liked it. Lulu’s way of holding a phrase with power and control, before ‘yawning’ back onto the next line in more muted style is the best evidence yet of what a fine natural gift she had as a singer and is still one of her best vocals on record even now, despite the fact that she was all of 16 when she recorded it. A rather drab middle eight, which modulates up a key in predictable style undoes much of the good work, but the purr in Lulu’s voice as she crashes back down to earth in the second verse more than makes up for it. Good work all round, with for once the orchestra and choirs sounding as if they’re a natural part of the arrangement, not some scared executive’s response to a genre he doesn’t quite understand.

‘Shout!’ itself seems oddly placed at the end of side one (with Lulu audibly younger and filling the place where traditionally in 1964 a ‘ballad’ would go), but is still clearly the best recording here by some miles (indeed, Lulu arguably only comes close to this performance on ‘Morning Dew’ from her Mickie Most years). Lulu had been singing this Isley Brothers song in her concerts (amazingly she started singing in clubs at the age of 13) for quite a time, ever since seeing fellow Glaswegian Alex Harvey (some ten years before forming his ‘Sensational’ band) wow the audience with his interpretation of i and she lives and breathes this song after so many years of ‘bonding’ with it (as opposed to many of the songs on this album which she barely learnt before recording). Lulu sang the song on stage the night Marian Massey saw her and asked to manage her and sensibly the pair decided it was the best song to do again for Decca at her audition, but was surprisingly disappointed when told it would be her first single (being a naive 14 year old she assumed that she would be able to ask The Beatles to write her something!) As it happens The Beatles had performed the song themselves down the years, although they were surprisingly late in performing it in concert (they only ever did one ‘recorded’ performance during their ‘Around The Beatles’ TV special the same month of April 1964; the soundtrack is available on ‘Anthology One’ from 1996; strangely they never re-recorded it for any of their BBC sessions). Perhaps recognising that Lulu has already stolen a march on them, they completely blitz the original arrangement, turning it into an interactive singalong, whereas Lulu’s arrangement is pretty close to the original (although her version doesn’t have the elongated slowed-down fade of the original, skipping instead straight to the ‘...and I feel al-al-al-al-al-al-al-al-alright!’ section instead).

The most inventive change, however, is that opening note of ‘We-e-e-e-e-e-e-ell’, which deservedly won a Danny Baker show phone-in competition for ‘greatest vocal performance of a single word’. By pitching the introduction of the song as one long cathartic wail, Lulu has already invested the song with more commitment and desperation than the rather more laidback original before she’s sung the second word! If the Isley Brothers wanted to ‘shout’ about their love because they were feeling good about a relationship then Lulu’s narrator positively needs this change in her life and her hollered ‘(I feel) alright!’ (which so impressed John Lennon he borrowed them for the hook in the Beatles song(s) ‘Revolution’) are clearly an understatement – this is a changed person going through the best time of their life, not a simple love song. That Lulu could invest the song with so much emotion at the age of 15 says much about what this song meant to her: to my ears at least, this is Lulu’s love song to singing and the escape from everyday life that it can bring and, being the song in particular that inspired her to take up singing as a career, is a timeless celebration of joy and optimism. (Lulu had much to escape from at the time; many other sites will give you the details but Lulu had an alcoholic dad and lived in near-poverty surroundings, the sort of setback that in pre-Beatles days Northern working class families could only escape by either football or music; however as Lulu points out in her autobiography it was no different for the friends and family she grew up with and she never considered it strange or difficult at the time).

‘Try To Understand’ is a song quite unlike ‘Shout!’ - it’s a heartbreaking song about love going wrong with a muted, understated feel that’s the epitome of full blown heartbreak. Despite being such a different sound (and possessing by far the most 60s-ish vibe on the record, thanks to a Phil Spector-ised chunky echo-drenched sound) it’s arguably the next most successful thing on the album. Released as a single two months before the album, it was a middling hit at #25 (after two singles that missed the chart all together) and was Lulu’s last hit for some 18 months. Arguably Lulu gives an even better performance on a recording that doesn’t fit her natural bouncy persona so well, outshining many similarly doom-laden lead vocals from the period by more experienced vocalists at the tender age of 16. By 1965 standards this is quite a complex songs by anyone’s standards however: the singer spends most of the song circling around the subject, Lulu cooing, cajoling, flirting and pleading on the verses to try and get her message across without hurting her lover. However its the sudden lurch of aggression as Lulu snaps to on the chorus (‘It’s something I don’t wanna but I gotta see through!’) that offers the real insight into her feelings and how badly she wants to say goodbye. Lulu can use all the flattery and ‘its not you, it’s me’ lines she wants, but the listener still feels well and truly dumped. Nothing about this record sounds quite right: Lulu’s pitch is higher than normal on this song, suggesting the record’s been sped up at some point and the heavy use of echo on the piano makes it sound threatening and alien, less a family sing-song round the old Joanna than an ice maiden offering judgement from an ice kingdom. For once the arrangement is subtle too, with a female chorus that really add rather than detract from the song and the sense that everyone in this song except Lulu is working at half speed, with the singer herself the only one in control of the situation as the dumped lover’s head spins in confusion and guilt. A clever, clever song and one of the four absolute gems of the record along with ‘Shout!’, ‘I’ll Come Running Over’ and ‘Leave A Little Love’. It deserved to do a lot better in the charts than #25 and is a song that’s absolutely begging out to be made into Lulu’s new direction; alas it was not to be.

Alas ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’ misses the whole point. A slowed down crawl of an r and b song, its best known for performances by James Brown and Lulu’s favourite singer Ray Charles and is exactly the sort of record Lulu loved to listen to (so may well have been a rare example of her bringing her own choice of song into the studio). If true, then someone should have told Lulu ‘no!’: to work successfully this type of song needs to be rattled off by a singer so in control of his own life and persona that he can afford to rattle it off slowly, recklessly (Mick Jagger would have done it well, for instance). Lulu’s still trying to holler her way through the song ‘Shout!’ style and it simply doesn’t work – the sound of an over-eager younger sister celebrating having found a new toy rather than an experienced seen-it-all elder brother passing on his infinite wisdom. Despite barely reaching the two minute mark, this song has such little variety and joi de vivre in its performance that it’s actually quite a slog getting to the end. One of the low points of the album.
‘Chocolate Ice’ is a real mystery. On the surface its exactly what Lulu should have been doing: raucous, dangerous r and b she can really – err – get her teeth into. Having been composed solely by musical director Mike Leander, it really should have been tailor-fitted to Lulu’s talents too. Yet there’s something deeply disturbing about this song, which is depending on how you listen to it either deeply childish (a 15 year old singing about ice creams) or deeply disturbing (‘chocolate ice’ meets ‘peaches and cream’, complete with a suggestive ‘you know what I mean!’ nicked from the Beatles’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ which borders on racism). I’m willing to bet most people were innocent of it all at the time (in 1964 most people listening missed the point) but this was a song written by someone working in a blues-r and b-rock genre who’d have been more than aware of how old legends used to subvert their lyrics with sexual references only likeminded souls could hear. Lulu’s vocal suggests she’s in on the joke too, singing much more gruffly than normal and as far away from the ‘girl next door’ image she cultivates over the next few years as its possible to get – even though I doubt very much she realised what the song was up to. In many ways its the opposite of Lulu’s later hit ‘I’m A Tiger’, in which a clearly adult predator does her best to sound like a ‘cute little girl’ – this is the sound of a cute little girl trying to sound like a sexual predator and the result is just wrong, wrong, wrong . Never has a simple list of food stuffs sounded so...suggestive. Not until Britney Spears will a 16 year old school girl sound this sexual again. Oh me, oh my indeed.

‘So In Love’ is back to the more normal Lulu, sounding like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and talking wistfully about innocent teenage love where walks hand in hand are as sexual as it ever gets. Lulu will sing lots of songs like this Cole Porter classic over the years, mainly unsuccessfully, although they kind of need to be there on the records – like ‘Til There Was You’ on ‘With The Beatles’ this was the song that was meant to encourage your parents that this rock and roll phase wasn’t the work of the devil and that these young musicians really could sing. They’re less necessary to the records nowadays, of course, and on a record already stretched by quality and style it’s perhaps a leap too far to think of Lulu as a 60s Judy Garland (in addition to a 60s Ray Charles, a 60s Ray Davies and even a 60s Madonna on the last song). However ‘So In Love’ is one of the better Porter songs around, successfully conjuring up a time that probably never existed but sounds fun to experience and Lulu copes with the song well. There are worse ways to spend two minutes, although there’s no getting away from the fact that this isn’t really the direction that shows Lulu at her best.
‘The Only One’ is the second Leander song on the record and is a much better fit for Lulu, even though it’s curiously backward-looking too. There’s a slight bossa nova feel about the song which dates it firmly to late 1964/early 1965 however (The Hollies’ ‘We’re Through’ is a good example of this style). The song is pleasant without being likely to win any awards: the tune is simple and the lyrics simpler, Lulu’s narrator announcing she’ll be ‘the only one’. A schlocky celesta accompaniment is a bad idea, although compared to some of the orchestra-and-choir mistakes we had on the album’s first side at least this arrangement is subtle and under-done. Again, Lulu is by far the best thing about the recording, belying her young age to get the most out of a song that doesn’t have much character (indeed, Lulu sounds too mature at times to be the love-struck youngster telling her husband-to-be that ‘we better get ready because we’ll be adults one day’).

‘Dream Lover’ is the old Bobby Darin song that sounds extremely close to the original (but with Lulu singing the lead vocal, obviously). As you’d expect for a song that was six years old, it doesn’t really fit the feel of most of the record (at least the inter-war stuff sounds like a memory in a way that a recently old song never can) and Lulu sounds unusually at sea on the vocal here, struggling with both the song and what sounds like the start of a cold in her voice. There’s a cheesy modulation of key near the end which kick-starts the whole thing over again from the beginning too just as it was already outstaying its welcome, pitching poor Lulu into an even higher and more unsuitable pitch for her. Not one of the album’s better ideas, although perhaps Lulu might have done the song more justice had she not been so audibly below-parr on this recording.

‘He’s Sure The Boy I Love’ is a Mann/Weill soing of the sort the pair wrote for The Monkees as the decade gets into full swing and is a fairly early song for the pair (who only began writing songs in earnest in 1962). The song is another of those cutesy songs that don’t really fit Lulu’s harder, more aggressive voice and she again sounds a little at oddsa with the song (the whole recording is taken at such a quick pace it might be that she’s simply having problems keeping up). Is it just me or does the song owe more than a little to both ‘Calendar Girls’ and ‘Palisades Park’, two 1950s songs that use the same sort of slightly off-set waddle? At least the arrangers seem to have been paying close attention to ‘Shout!’, though, allowing Lulu to start the song in epic fashion with a held ‘oh ye-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ah!’ that shows off her vocals at their best. There’s quite a sweet story going on in the lyrics too, about an old fashioned romance where the boy the narrator loves might not be the best looking or the sort of type her friends go – but she loves him for who he is and wouldn’t change him for the world.

‘Leave A Little Love’ rounds off the album in fine style. Lulu’s second most successful single of her Decca period, it came close to outperforming ‘Shout!’ at #8 in the charts. It’s a classy, adult little ballad that gives Lulu plenty of space to show off her heartbreak-induced vocals, full of characteristic swoops and glides, although it’s arguably not as good a fit for Lulu as some of her other songs (it would be easier to hear Cilla or Dusty singing this for instance). Lulu’s vocal is remarkably impressive though (she’s still 16 at this point) and hits every emotional note in the song, putting a clever contrast in between the ‘fluffy’ purring verses and the strident, more hopeful choruses. The backing track sadly lets her down againb, being a little anonymous (just think what Phil Spector or George Martin would have done with this track and all that space to use!) but does at least have a second use of that distinctive echo-laden piano effect that at least makes the song sound huge and exotic. Personally I don’t think this song should have done as well in the charts as some of Lulu’s other singles (‘Try To Understand’ and ‘Here Comes The Night’ especially), but at least Lulu’s being given some good material to sing here and she more than does it justice.

Overall, then, what an up-and-down record ‘Something To Shout About’ is! The makers of this set clearly didn’t know whether to groom Lulu as an all-round entertainer, mature balladeer or r and b soul sister. In the end giving us a little of all three styles only shows up how little anyone at Decca really understood all three approaches, thinking they could get away with using the same backing singers, musicians and ‘over-produced’ styles with all of them. Certainly, Lulu’s first record isn’t accomplished as some others she’ll make during the next two decades (and again in the 1990s), although I think it’s probably fair to say that Lulu was never truly given the belief and direction she deserved. It’s easy to sit here being rude nearly 50 years on about some of the mistakes made on this record (why would teenyboppers buy pre-war material? Why would anyone make a 15 year old white schoolgirl sound like a lecherous old man?) but the nagging problem with this album is that oh so casually gets things spot on from time to time. ‘Shout!’ is something of a given, a ready made present already well rehearsed and drilled and perfected by Lulu before she even met her future record label. But some of the other things on this record, recorded much later, are fabulous: ‘I’ll Come Running Over’ is the best single rock performance by a female star on record till Janis Joplin comes along (barring ‘Shout!’) and played with a band clearly revelling in what they’re playing. Elsewhere ‘Leave A Little Love’ and ‘Try To Understand’ show off what a remarkably subtle and delicate range of voice and emotions Lulu could pull off and they’re proper ‘adult’ songs crying out for a singer this mature to pull them off. If only similar material could have been found, one direction decided on and stuck to and of everyone involved had stopped trying to treat Lulu as an inexperienced 15 year old schoolgirl who knew nothing and as one of the best singers of her generation then, well, I wouldn’t need to be writing this review telling you what a star the young Lulu was because everyone would already know. Decca left it woefully late to make a full-blown record, some 18 months after that first hit, as if they were waiting to see what direction to go in. Surely the direction is obvious: decent, mature, quality adult songs with lots of songs like ‘Shout!’ to break up the tempo. Ah well, on a record generous enough to give us 16 different Lulus at least we get value for money and even if only a quarter of those songs really make an impact, that’s still better odds than we had a right to expect from a 15 year old schoolgirl and a record label that clearly didn’t know what to do with her! Overall rating: 4/10

Other Lulu album reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:

'I'm A Tiger' (singles compilation 1966-68, released 1988)

'Lulu's Album' (1969)

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