cream of the crate: album # 160 – ray brown and the whispers: hits & more 1965 – 1968
Ray Brown and the Whispers Hits More Cover

“One of Australia’s hottest bands of the mid-60’s.” (Album liner notes)
“With his good looks and boyish charm, Ray Brown was up there with Billy Thorpe and Normie Rowe as one of Australia’s top pop stars.
(100 Greatest Australian Singles of the ’60s – Pepperell & Talbot)

Ray-Brown-and-the-Whispers---Hits-&-More_Cover

This is album review number one hundred and sixty in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

Time for another wonderful Australian artist, and I dig deep into the 1960’s to bring out an album that never eventuated while the band existed, but is full of the hits and covers all their releases.

The group is Ray Brown And The Whispers and the album is titled Hits & More 1965 – 1968. This CD album was only released in 2012 on the Raven label and it has the identifying code of RVCD-350. It is another of the fantastic releases by Raven that capture the music of a period that was instrumental in Australian music formation. The album never existed before Raven produced it but it has all of the group’s hits, key tracks from albums, singles A & B sides and a rare EP cut. Altogether there are an impressive 29 tracks.

Ray-Brown-and-the-Whispers_Hits-&-More_CD-label

By the early to mid 1960’s, thanks to the British Invasion led by The Beatles, existing musicians started growing their hair, and existing bands started changing their names.The Mustangs became The Masters Apprentices, the Vibratones mutated into The Aztecs and shortly after, Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs and a Sydney group called the Nocturnes became Ray Brown and The Whispers.

Although having almost no experience before being taken into the Whispers, and then becoming their front man, the young Ray Brown had two things going for him. He had real stage presence and a fine tenor voice with a nasally twang that gave him, and thus the group, an instantly recognisable sound.

He also had a “boyish” look, that gave him the same appeal at the time as contemporaries such as Normie Rowe and Stevie Wright. By late 1964 Ray Brown and The Whispers had gained a gig as the resident band at the very popular Surf City, in Kings Cross. taking up the residency following the departure of Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs was a big ask, and other groups may not have filled such big shoes – but with weekend crowds of up to 2,000 teens, the sound and energy of the group soon made them immensely popular.

Despite the fact that The Whispers still fell back on their early stage act – that is doing their “Shadows – styled steps” on stage, Brown was having non of that and quickly established himself as an exciting front man.

By 1965 recording contracts came their way and they had at that time what we can call, their classic lineup, consisting of:

  • Ray Brown [Vocals]
  • Lawrie Barclay [Rhythm guitar]
  • Al Jackson [Lead guitar]
  • John Manners [Bass]
  • Pat Jeffery [Drums]
Inside CD Case label
Inside CD Case label

In that one year of 1965 they released four charting singles.
20 Miles (a cover of a Chubby Checker release) backed with Devoted To You, reached number1 In January.
– Brent Edward’s track Pride reached number 1 in April
Fool, Fool, Fool (released a year previously by Roosevelt Grier) reached the number 1 position in July, and,
– Midnight Hour ( made a hit by Wilson Pickett) came in at an incredibly respectable number 2 in october.

Not a bad start for any group and although all their hits were covers, Brown and the group had sufficient power and individuality to take those tracks and give them the Ray Brown and The Whispers sound. It was a sound that was very popular with audiences whether listening to the group live, or listening on records.

In fact their popularity and their reputation as hard workers saw them bring out three albums in the year 1965 – and that was something that big artists Billy Thorpe or The Easybeats were unable to do.

The album “Heading For The Top” featured some very good eclectic covers with tracks such as Dimples, by John Lee Hooker, to George Gershwin’sSummertime“, and even a very good original track penned by Aztec Tony Barber, called “That’s Evil“.

1966 saw visits to Melbourne and many, many TV appearances and a few more singles such as Tennessee Waltz Song, which came in at number 4 and was a period of consolidation. But nothing lasts forever and for one reason or another band members began to leave and in early 1967 Ray Brown had a ‘New Whispers’ on the road with Dave Russell from Ray Columbus and The Invaders, on guitar; Missing Links bassist, Ronnie Peel and Steve Hardy on drums.

Times were changing and music and styles were changing – rapidly, and the band began to fall out of favour and it was over as a lead singer fronting a live band, act! So Ray bought out an album called “Same Old Song – Brand New Beat“, which actually featured Max Merritt and The Meteors on four tracks. It also covered Ray’s final Sydney hit song – The Same Old Song, which climbed to number 6, and stalled.

At loose ends as 1967 came to an end, Ray Brown headed for the USA, had an unsuccessful dalliance with Capitol Records that resulted in a terrible album called “Just Ray Brown“. he played around with an eight piece jazz group but further success eluded him.

He was back in Australia in 1974 and he reformed the Whispers with Mick Liber on guitar, David Bentley on organ, Yuk Harrison on bass, Roger Felice-Andrew on drums and a young Wilbur Wilde on sax.

This was an exceptionally good line up and they did the club circuit for a year before ray left to follow his passion for Aboriginal culture, and he did that by traveling throughout the outback.

Into the 1980’s he formed various line-ups of the Whispers, and in 1983 he had a particularly good year, and was put on a package tour with legends like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Herman’s Hermits.

Sadly, Ray passed away at the all too young age of fifty one, on the 16th August 1996, from a heart attack.

So let’s look at this album!

It does come with a full gloss booklet with six double sided pages that consists of a short discussion on the group, and short discussions on each track, accompanied by a few coloured plates and two sides of track lists and credits. The presentation is good, the information reasonable, so it is hard to be critical and I would rate it in the mid to mid-high range of quality/usability. Let’s give of a rating of 7.5/10!

Ray-Brown_Booklet-plate-2 Ray-Brown_Booklet-plate

Track Listing:
1. 20 MILES
2. DEVOTED TO YOU
3. PRIDE
4. SAY IT AGAIN
5. SHAKIN’ ALL OVER
6. FOOL, FOOL, FOOL
7. GO TO HIM
8. HE’LL NEVER LOVE YOU LIKE I DO
9. DIMPLES
10. HANDS OFF
11. THAT’S EVIL
12. AWAY FROM YOU
13. SUMMERTIME
14. SOMEBODY TO LOVE
15. IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR
16. NOW IS THE TIME
17. JUST A LITTLE BIT
18. LOVELY LADIES
19. NEIGHBOUR, NEIGHBOUR
20. TENNESSEE WALTZ SONG (Tennessee Waltz)
21. WOMAN
22. STICKS AND STONES
23. (Ain’t It) STRANGE
24. I CAN’T GET ENOUGH
25. TOO LATE TO COME HOME
26. RESPECT
27. THE SAME OLD SONG
28. IVOR THE ENGINE DRIVER
29. THAT’S IT – I QUIT – I’M MOVIN’ ON

Rear Cover
Rear Cover

With 29 tracks to choose from there is pretty much no logical way to pick a handful as being representative, so I’m going to take the first and last tracks, choose a “hit”, and two tracks which may have received little or no airplay, so that we might get some sort of idea of the breadth of his work.

Rear of Booklet
Rear of Booklet

Track 1, is 20 Miles and as mentioned previously was a cover of a Chubby Checker recording, but Ray did it better. It was also his first number 1 (making it in Sydney), but nationally it was still a very respectable number 11. It really does represent some very good playing by the group, but it showcases that nasality I spoke of, and while today it may be regarded as pretty basic, it really clicked with many people in the day, and was a great “calling card” for the group.

20 Miles

Both tracks number 3 and 6 charted very well and both reached the number 3 position nationally, that being the highest any Ray Brown and The Whispers track reached. Out of these two, I believe Pride (track 3) is the better. But I have to say, track 6Fool, Fool Fool is still a damn fine number – so I have featured it the video replay section of this retro-review.

Originally recorded by the British outfit Billy J. Kramer and the Dakota’s, while that original version forever remained obscure, when Ray and the Whispers got hold of it, they upped the tempo, put some swing into it, in fact the damn well energised the track, and the result was what can be argued was their best singles release, coming out late in 1965.

It peaked at number 1 in Sydney and Adelaide and charted well elsewhere. It certainly was a track where Ray effectively used his upper vocal register to amazing effect and along with some rockin’ guitar work, it became a favourite on radio and live. The track has 4 line verse and 3 line chorus which allows for some interesting guitar work, not complicated, but tasteful and effective.

Oh! when, you go out with, another guy, how it hurts my pride
Oh! you’ll never know how it, hurts me so, way down deep inside
I feel so bad, but, I don’t feel mad,
what can I do, I love only you~

and so I, swallowed up, swallowed, swallowed my pride
and kept it, yes, kept it inside, because I’ve heard~
that pride is such a little word

I took you out just the other night, to a movie show
Oh! right at the end you saw a friend and said you’d have to go~
you walked away and, left me alone,
what could I say, when he walked you home~

I had to, swallow up, swallow, swallow my pride
and kept it, yes, kept it inside, because I’ve heard~
that pride is such a little word

Oh! each night I pray for the, day you’ll say that you really care
Oh! I’m sure you’ll find that, we’ll love in time look around I’ll be there
The day will come, we’ll be as one, and I’ll go to her, but until then

I had to, swallow up, swallow, swallow my pride

and kept it, yes, kept it inside, because I’ve heard~
that pride is such a little word
[to fade]
pride is such a little word

The 2/4 rhythm pattern gives it a real galloping feel – and it works so well.

Pride

In 1966 the group released I Can’t Get Enough, which is a little strange in some ways. First it is, compared to earlier releases, a “rough and ready” release, it lacks polish, but, it does have a brass backing, and it does have female backing singers, and more than a half decent fuzzed guitar lead break.

Ray with The Whisperers
Ray with The Whisperers

So while it isn’t as sophisticated (if that’s the right word for the music) as previous tracks, it has a decent groove, and at times has some jazz overtones. Ray’s delivery style is markedly different from previous releases and I guess its a personal taste thing as to whether you like it or not. It certainly is different and, surprisingly it reached into the top 40, peaking at number 38.

I Can’t Get Enough

Down to track number 27Same Old Song. A fantastic track by the Motown favs The Four Tops, it is worth reflecting upon in regard to Ray as it does show that he tried, and quite successfully, a range of styles and Motown was certainly in his repertoire.

In 1967 the group released the track and they upped the tempo and while it doesn’t have the same feel that the Four Tops did so well, I guess what the group did was to make it a good dance track while still keeping it recognisable. Yet to my ears, the very same high register nasality that resulted in some very fine pieces of singing in early tracks, doesn’t quite work in this track. But, check it out for yourself, you might just disagree with my beliefs.

Same Old Song

It is fitting to examine the last track, That’s It – I Quit – I’m Movin’ On. While not the last single released by Ray and the group, that goes to the track Don’t Fall In Love, in 1969, this track – That’s It . . . was released late in 1967, and was the B-Side to the track written by The WhoIvor The Engine Driver. Now the less said about that track the better. However the other side was That’s It I Quit. Now recorded with handclaps and “crowd” noises to give it the appearance of a live performance, it is a good track!

Mind you it probably needed a little “beefing up” with crowd sounds as by now the group had reduced down to just three members:
Ray Brown (vocals, guitar)
Ronnie Peel (bass)
Steve Hardy (drums)
This meant that except for Ray, by now there were no original members left in the group.

The track has a Motown feel about it and unlike Same Old Song it is in a better register for Ray and he handles the track well. The problem was, the end was in sight – the group including Ray really failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing musical styles and the demands from audiences. I guess they might have stayed around as a “novelty” club act, but thankfully they didn’t.

That’s It – I Quit – I’m Movin’ On

This CD album – Hits & More 1965 – 1968, is jammed packed full of tracks and represents great value for money while providing us not only with the best tracks Ray and the Whispers ever released, but tracks we may have forgotten and in some cases, never heard before.

One of the failings of the group was that they never wrote their own music, they were always was a cover band. Now for a while in the mid 1960’s, many of the covers were good, and best still the originals they covered were not all that well known, So it is fair to say that the group had talent and skill and Ray had a good voice and charisma and as a result popular, and that really sums up Ray Brown and The Whispers.

Ray-Brown-pic

There is no doubt they earned their right to be remembered, and fondly, and to have a place in the “history of Australian music of the 1960’s”. I know my opinion would be shared by many, and in a recent publication called “100 Greatest Australian Singles of the ’60s“, by David Pepperell (aka Dr. Pepper) and Colin Talbot, they certainly have agreed in as much as they have nominated both Fool, Fool, Fool and Pride among the 100. That really says a lot.

This CD album can be obtained from Raven Records for $24.99 or Sanity Records, for the same price or indeed, on eBay, but the price is higher. I believe if you have not got any Ray Brown and The Whispers in your collection, then this is the best album to represent them in your collection.

Ray-brown-and-the-Whispers---Hits-&-More_Front-cover_Vsml


VIDEOS – As Youtube provides us with some classic performances.

Fool Fool Fool

 

Midnight Hour

Gloria


If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

Vinyl_v-sml


If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD’s reviewed by me, just click here

CD-Rack-V_Sml


If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed by me, just click here

CDs-and-LPs_Sml


Past album Reviews – Numbers 151 onward:

Number 151 – The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World
tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5204-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-151-The-Shaggs-Philosophy-Of-The-World

Number 152 – The Animals: The Animals
tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5231-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-152-The-Animals-The-Animals

Number 153 – Omar Khorshid: Live in Australia 1981
http://tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5288-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-153-Omar-Khorshid-His-Group-Live-In-Australia-1981

Number 154 – Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)
http://www.tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5333-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-154-The-Alan-Parsons-Project-Tales-of-Mystery-and-Imagination-Edgar-Allan-Poe

Number 155 – Billy Thorpe: Tangier
http://tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5369-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-155-Billy-Thorpe-Tangier

Number 156 – Aretha Franklin: The Best Of
tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5397-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-156-Aretha-Franklin-The-Best-Of

Number 157 – Big Bill Broonzy: Big Bill Blues [His 23 Greatest Songs]
tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5439-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-157-Big-Bill-Broonzy-Big-Bill-s-Blues-(his-23-greatest-songs)

Number 158 – The Supremes: Where Did Our Love Go
tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5471-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-158-The-Supremes-Where-Did-Our-Love-Go

Number 159 – The Band: Stage Fright
tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/5499-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-159-The-Band-Stage-Fright