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The Rocker

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Album Review

Billy Fury was one of England's top rock & rollers of the pre-Beatles era, as well as the first rock & roll star ever to emerge from Liverpool, but it isn't always easy to isolate his rock & roll sides — apart from the unique rockabilly-flavored Sound of Fury album, most of his LPs followed the pattern of the time, and were "balanced" efforts, divided between rock & roll and the softer, romantic ballad sound that most producers and managers assumed artists such as Fury were growing into. This compilation draws from Fury's whole history with Decca Records, pulling together A-sides, B-sides, album tracks, and EP sides across six years that qualify as hard rockers, based on their tempo, singing, or wattage, with various backing bands. The best of the stuff is from around 1960, with Joe Brown, a rockabilly specialist from London, playing behind him on numbers such as "Turn My Back on You" (a track worthy of the Stray Cats) and "My Advice." This includes a surprising number of originals by Fury that aren't bad, among them the brooding "Don't Jump" and Everly Brothers-like "Colette." He also nicely covers some familiar songs, including "Bumble Bee," "Nothin' Shakin' (But the Leaves on the Trees)," and "Kansas City," and doesn't do badly with his version of the Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over." Fury always sounded a lot like Elvis Presley, but he's at his most extraordinary when he manages to emulate Elvis' sound from his Sun recordings, which could scarcely have been well known in England in the early '60s (a few stray songs issued by way of RCA to fill out early LPs and EPs would have been as far as they got in the U.K.) — on "My Advice" and a handful of other cuts, he sounds like the Elvis of 1954, not 1957. The producers have even reached out to Fury's live album We Want Billy!, cut with the Tornados of "Telstar" fame, for the last five tracks — Fury's renditions of "I'm Moving On," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Sticks and Stones," "Just Because," and "That's All Right" show the efforts that he and the better pre-Beatles rockers made to generate an exciting sound on-stage, within the limits of the available musical talent surrounding them. The Tornados were a first-rate band, and their guitar/bass/organ-dominated sound had a lot of vitality and credibility on-stage through 1963, but it's also clear that breathing down their necks in 1963 were the younger, freer, wilder players (with more guitar-focused sounds) such as the Beatles, the Hollies, et al.; the seams and the weak points were starting to show in what should have been a plain exciting performance.


Born: 17 April 1940 in Liverpool, England

Genre: Pop

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

In the early days of British rock & roll, there were dozens of contenders for stardom: Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, and Marty Wilde were among the players who rose to the challenge for at least a few years. Billy Fury, by contrast, was the real article from day one, and never really surrendered the title. He was also the most prodigiously talented of his generation of British rock 'n roll singers, a songwriter of considerable ability, and a decent actor as well. He was born Ronald Wycherley, in...
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