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The World of Tommy Steele

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Album Review

For better or worse, Tommy Steele was Britain's first homegrown rock & roll star. Even at the time, and certainly with the passage of it, listeners might have been forgiven for wondering if he was truly a rock & roll singer in the first place, or just an all-around entertainer who happened to put a few ersatz rock & roll songs in the charts on his way to stage and screen success. As a document of his most notable efforts as a recording artist, however, The World of Tommy Steele has just about all of them. Concentrating exclusively on 1956-1963 recordings, the 21 songs include all of his Top 30 hits, among them his first chart single, 1956's "Rock with the Caveman" — a legitimate contender for the first ever British rock hit — and its follow-up cover of Guy Mitchell's "Singing the Blues," which topped the U.K. charts (as did the original!). Steele never rocked too hard on either these or his other most rock & roll-oriented hits (like his cover of Freddie Cannon's "Tallahassee Lassie," included here), and more often than not sounded far closer to a show tune or variety singer influenced by teen pop than he did to Cliff Richard, let alone Elvis Presley. It's understandable that historians these days would rather regard Richard's late-'50s recordings as the true starting point of British rock & roll; after all, some of these cuts feature musical-oriented material with no relationship to rock whatsoever. But Steele does sing with competence and oodles of good cheer on these tracks, if little raunch, even on his straightforward cover of Ritchie Valens' "Come on Let's Go." At least the 1962 track "Hit Record" (which wasn't one) shows a sense of humor about the industry crassness that launched talents such as himself to nearly instant stardom.


Born: 17 December 1936 in Bermondsey, London, England

Genre: Rock & Roll

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

You'd never know it to look at film of him today, but during the summer of 1956, Tommy Steele became England's first home-grown rock & roller. Or he wasn't a rock & roller at all. Some 43 years after he first charted a record, many pop music scholars still question whether Tommy Steele belongs on a list of rock & roll performers. But whatever he was, in 1956, England had never seen anything quite like him. He was born Tommy Hicks on December 17, 1936, in Bermondsey, South London, to a working-class...
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