Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Chas & Dave: The Classic Albums & Beyond!
I first heard Chas & Dave back in ’78 when they had their first (minor) hit with ‘Strummin’. At the time I thought of them as being very similar to other cockney post-punk acts such as Ian Dury, Squeeze & The Street Band (remember ‘Toast’?); it was only a little later (after Courage started featuring their songs in TV ads) that they really got their more homely knees-up image. By 1981 (while still in my teens) I bought all of their original LPs, & eagerly awaited any new releases over the next few years.
Below I’ve attempted to review all of their original albums, though I’ve generally omitted (a) Compilations, (b) Live Albums (with one notable exception), & (c) Their many sing-a-long collections of medleys. I’ve included both albums made before they started calling themselves Chas & Dave though, as well as Chas’ recent albums without Dave.
Country Pie (1971)
I'm Coming Home / Grits Ain't Groceries / End Of The Road / Spell It Out For Me / Swinging Doors / I'll Sail My Ship Alone / Country Pie / They'll Never Take Her Love From Me / How Many Times / If You Wanna Be My Woman / Hillbilly Music / Right String Baby But The Wrong Yo Yo
A mostly Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired rock ‘n’ roll & country album, this was recorded in one afternoon for a budget label, & features just Chas, Dave & drummer Micky Burt – a line-up that would last for 38 years! Pretty much all the vocals are by Chas, & the many highlights include Jerry Lee’s ‘End Of The Road’, Hank Williams’ moving ‘They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me’, an Appalachian mountain arrangement of ‘Hillbilly Fever’, & Piano Red’s ‘Right String But The Wrong Yo-Yo’. A very enjoyable collection, but also a bit anonymous-sounding, hence the less than top marks: this was before Chas started singing with his own accent, so this album could be by pretty much any competent Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator. 3 / 5
Oily Rags (1974)
Come Up And See Me Anytime / Boiled Beef And Carrots / Time To Kill / Baby Doll / Holy Cow / Silver Dollar / Mailman Bring Me No More Blues / Barefoot Days / Jody And The Kid / Country Boy Picker
By now Chas (who again dominates this set) was almost using his own accent, though without the exaggerated cockney of later years. A mixture of original material & covers, this still barely sounds like the Chas & Dave of later years though: almost every song is performed very slow, with only the closing ‘Country Boy Picker’ reaching medium-pace, & guitars tend to dominate far more than piano. Perhaps most bizarre is ‘Boiled Beef And Carrots’, which instead of being the expected knees-up is performed as a slow country song complete with steel guitar! In fact the whole album is more feet-up than knees-up. Incidentally the name ‘Oily Rags’ derives from cockney rhyming slang for ‘fags’ (“but fags as in snout, not poofters” as Chas later put it!). 3 / 5
Country Pie & Oily Rags on CD
Both of these albums are available in their entirety on Country Pies, Black Claws, & Oily Rags (2007), a CD which also features two songs recorded in 1971 by Chas, Dave & friends under the name ‘Black Claw’ (boogie-blues-rock, far closer to Canned Heat than Chas & Dave) + two fascinating early Chas & Dave demos ‘Clive Of India’ & ‘Mama & Papa Jazz’ (more on those below) which are also featured on the CD re-issue of One Fing ‘n’ Annuver.
One Fing ‘n’ Annuver (1975)
Ponders End Allotments Club / Better get Your Shoes On / Dry Party / Ballad Of The Rich / Deceived / One Fing 'N' Annuver / It's So Very Hard / Woortcha / I Am A Rocker / Old Time Song / Old Dog And Me
Their first album as Chas & Dave, they were now starting write songs about the places & experiences they knew best. Despite this, the album isn’t quite ‘rockney’ yet, that mix of early rock ‘n’ roll (particularly Fats Domino & Jerry Lee), boogie-woogie, country music & English music hall for which they’d soon be famous. Part of the problem is the instrumentation; instead of the sparse later recordings here we have several session players with brass, strings, guitars, dobro, etc, & even the drumming doesn’t sound like Micky on most songs (he was only featured as one of at least two session drummers on this album, not becoming Chas & Dave’s permanent drummer until two years later). There’s some excellent songs though, ‘Ponder’s End Allotments Club’, ‘I Am A Rocker’ (still occasionally performed today), ‘Better Get Your Shoes On’ (played here mid-tempo & backed by a string section), & most famously of all, ‘Woortcha’, an early version of ‘Gertcha’, though at this point it was performed at a far more sedate pace & featured dated ‘70’s wah-wah guitar. 3 / 5
One Fing ‘n’ Annuver on CD:
I have an earlier (1997) reissue, which features slightly different bonus tracks, but the most recent reissue (2003) features bonus tracks Scruffy Old Cow (an early B-side), Lazy Cow (another early B-side), Gambler (not originally released), If I Could Only Play Like That (demo), Mama & Papa Jazz (demo), Clive Of India (demo), Tacky Toppers (previously unreleased demo) & Strummin' (previously unreleased demo). ‘Scruffy Old Cow’ is a laid-back acoustic version, very different from the later live version; ‘Lazy Cow’ (as well as ‘I Can Make It’, only on the 1997 reissue) are big-production in-yer-face rock ‘n’ roll very reminiscent of what Roy Wood was doing with his group Wizzard at the time; 'Gambler' is laid-back country-rock; ‘If I Could Only Play Like That’ is an uptempo rag-time songs with amusing lyrics about Jerry Lee Lewis, & like the mid-paced ‘Mama & Papa Jazz’ are far more palatable than most of the original album with their stripped-down production; & the unique fast acoustic guitar song ‘Clive Of India’ remained unreleased at the time (according to Chas) simply because it didn’t fit with the other material. The demos of ‘Tacky Toppers’ & ‘Strummin’’ aren’t featured on the 1997 CD so they remain unheard by me.
That's What It's All About / Big Fat Rat / Strummin' / Love & Days Gone By / Punchy & The Willer Warbler / Massage Parlour / Billy Tyler / Edmonton Green / I'm In Trouble / Sling Your Hook
This is more like it…at last they’ve pretty much done away with all the excess instrumentation, & they’re now very much Chas AND Dave as Dave’s vocals are featured pretty much equally throughout. The songs were also getting stronger, in particular their first hit ‘Strummin’’, the fast rag-time ‘Big Fat Rat’, long-time live favourite ‘I’m In Trouble’, & ‘Massage Parlour’ whose melody would be used again (at least in part for) ‘Margate’ a few years later. Perhaps best of all though is ‘Edmonton Green’, a slow ballad backed by brass (which fits perfectly this time) which still moves me to tears every time I hear it. 4 / 5
Don’t Give A Monkeys (1979)
Gertcha / Rabbit / The Banging In Your Head / The Sideboard Song (Got My Beer In The Sideboard Here) / What A Miserable Saturday Night / Pay Up And Look Big / Lunatic Asylum / Who'd Ya Think You're Talking To? / Scruffy Old Cow / I'm A Rocker
They were now reaching their peak as songwriters, a peak that would last for the next few years. Part studio (first five songs) & part live, just look at those first four songs; ‘Gertcha’, ‘Rabbit’ & ‘The Sideboard Song’ are still amongst their most famous, and ‘Banging In Your Head’ is also still being performed today. The live songs (side two of the LP) were all recorded at London’s Abbey Road studios in front of an invited audience & capture Chas & Dave at their most exuberant. ‘Pay Up & Look Big’ is a pounding rocker, as are the live versions of ‘Scruffy Old Cow’ & ‘I’m A Rocker’, while ‘Lunatic Asylum’ & ‘Who'd Ya Think You're Talking To’ are amongst their most humorous songs. 5 / 5
Live At Abbey Road (1981)
I Am A Rocker / Gertcha / So Surprising / Scruffy Old Cow / Send Me Some Lovin' / Better Get Your Shoes On / Big Fat Rat / Breathless / Rufus Rastus / Shotgun Boogie / Sea Cruise
Two years after they were taped & after Chas & Dave had left the label to start their own ‘Rockney’ records, E.M.I. dusted off the tapes & released this album. Although repeating two songs from ‘Don’t Give A Monkeys’ this is a tremendous album that captured them just prior to hitting the big time. Curiously ‘Gertcha’ is still performed here at the slower pace though it’s much more powerful than the studio ‘Woortcha’; both ‘Better Get Your Shoes On’ & ‘Big Fat Rat’ are far rockier than the studio versions; & even old rock ‘n’ roll songs are by this point performed with a London accent. My only criticism is that the album tends to fizzle out slightly towards the end (not a problem with the expanded CD reissue), so I’ve just given it a little less than full marks. 4 / 5
It was during this period that ‘Courage’ beers first noticed them & started using their music in commercials, something that greatly helped to push the duo into the big league. For better or worse this led them to feature their musical talents in other projects, including commercially successful collaborations with Tottenham Hotspur football team (which are of little appeal to someone like myself who loathes football) & 1981’s ‘Christmas Jamboree Bag’, the first of many lucratively successful similar albums. I bought this album at the time, but apart from a few live tracks on side two I think I only played it once in it’s entirety.
Rockney / Don’t Give A Monkeys / Live At Abbey Road on CD:
All of these are available on the 2-CD set The Very Best Of Chas & Dave (The EMI Years) (2005), along with the following bonus tracks: ‘Sunday’ & ‘It’s Only The B-Side’ (both B-sides from 1979); ‘12th Street Rag’, ‘Our Old Lodger’, ‘Sunshine Of Your Smile’, ‘When My Dreamboat Comes Home’, ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ & ‘Strummin’’ (all live at Abbey Road); ‘The Sideboard Song’ (alternate take); & last & definitely least, truly awful recent dance remixes of both ‘The Sideboard Song’ & ‘Gertcha’.
Mustn’t Grumble (1982)
Poor Old Mr. Woogie / Bored Stiff / Don't Anyone Speak English? / Turn That Noise Down / Beer Belly / Behave Yourself / Ain’t No Pleasing You / I Miss Ya Girl / Lonnie D. / Wallop / Rabbit
The first Chas & Dave album that I bought as soon as it was in the shops, I played it constantly for months afterwards, & it still remains amongst my all-time favourite albums by anyone. ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’ remains their biggest hit of course, & most casual fans will be more than familiar with ‘Poor Old Mr Woogie’, ‘Wallop’, ‘Beer Belly’ & ‘Rabbit’ (here in a slightly faster re-recording). It’s amongst the lesser-known songs where the real brilliance of this album lie though: the cockney-funk of ‘Turn That Noise Down’; the strange boogie-woogie riff & time-signatures of ‘Behave Yourself’; the tongue-twisting tribute to Lonnie Donegan in ‘Lonnie D’; the light reggae rhythm of 'I Miss You Girl'; & the lamenting of Americanisms creeping into our language in ‘Don’t Anyone Speak English’. But every song on this album remains very memorable! 5 / 5
Job Lot (1983)
That Old Piano / That's What I Like / London Girls / Give It Some Stick, Mick / No-Body / Flying (instrumental) / Margate / Mustn't Grumble / Word From Anne / Stop Dreaming / Give It Gavotte / Wish I Could Write A Love Song
I’ve always thought that the previous album has a slight edge due to some of the more adventurous lesser-known songs, but this is probably a more commercial album & again is brilliant throughout. Amongst the most famous songs from this album are ‘Margate’; the best song Fats Domino never wrote ‘That Old Piano’ (& also recorded in fine style by Domino-clone Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry); ‘London Girls’, a sort of cockney answer to The Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls’; & ‘That’s What I Like’ with the mentions of Little Richard & (of course) Jerry Lee. Also on this album are some of their most tender ballads, in particular ‘Nobody’, the instrumental ‘Flying’ (later re-recorded with lyrics) & ‘Wish I Could Write A Love Song’. 5 / 5
Mustn’t Grumble & Job Lot on CD:
These are both available on the single-CD Mustn't Grumble / Job Lot re-issue (2005), sadly there’s no bonus tracks this time though.
Well Pleased (1984)
There In Your Eyes / They Kept On Rocking / Did I Feel A Fool / Snakes Eyes Bert / Where Am I Gonna Find Ya? / I Wonder In Whose Arms / Jumpin' The Lights / I'm Going Back / Harry Was A Champion / One O' Them Days / Brother-in-Law
A slight change of direction on this album, with New Orleans-type brass added to several songs, & a slight downplay of the cockney word play of the last few albums. ‘There In Your Eyes’ is another Domino-esque ballad, this type with great brass (Chas & Dave actually toured with a brass section for a while during the mid-late ‘80’s); ‘They Kept On Rockin’’ is (as expected) a rock ‘n’ roll song, mentioning Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry & Gene Vincent amongst others; & the superb ‘I Wonder In Whose Arms’ is probably as close as Chas & Dave have got to writing a standard (The Crickets, Joe Brown & Jerry Lee’s sister Linda Gail Lewis are amongst those who’ve recorded it). Also memorable are ‘Where Am I Gonna Find Ya’ (I could almost imagine Laurel & Hardy singing this), ‘Jumpin’ The Lights’ (with Chas singing from a woman’s point of view) & the epic ‘Snake Eyes Bert’. Only a couple of less memorable songs earn this album a little less than full marks. 4 / 5
England / Punchinello / Sunday / Darlin' I Don't Care / The Diddlum Song / Flying / Exhibition Rag / I Can Get Along Without You / That Telephone Thing / Back In The Soul Days / Miss You All The Time
I must confess that I’d never even heard this album until very recently when I was searching online for CD reissues to replace my worn-out vinyl. I’m not sure why I missed it the first time round: perhaps it was because my interest was waning slightly due to all the sing-a-longs over-shadowing their own material, or maybe I saw the title & assumed that it was a compilation of previously issued material (also I moved from London to Herne Bay in 1985, so it’s possible that I just didn’t see it in record shops). Anyway, it’s mostly yet again excellent! Biggest surprise is the opening ‘England’ with its calypso beat & steel drums (& it works too!), though there’re several other highlights: ‘Sunday’ is a superior re-cut of an old B-side, this time with sympathetic brass, ‘Punchinello’ is about a mythical historical character (later ‘Punch’ as in ‘Punch & Judy’); ‘Flying’ is a beautiful vocal version of an older song; ‘I Can Get Along Without You’ is another Laurel & Hardy-type song; & ‘The Diddlum Song’ is a catchy number that’s still performed today. 4 / 5
Well Pleased & Flying on CD:
All the songs from these albums are featured on the From Tottenham To Tennessee double-CD (2006). In addition (as well as most of their usual hits) there’s a few other songs that weren’t featured on any of their original albums: ‘In Sickness & In Health’ (1985 A-side), ‘Halley's Comet’, ‘Snooker Loopy’ (both 1986 A-sides), ‘When Days Were Long (But Far Too Short)’ & ‘Yesterday’s News’ (both sides of their final single to feature new material, 1991).
Sadly, ‘Flying’ was Chas & Dave’s final album of new self-composed material, though honourable mention should be given to a couple of other albums. Never Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll (2000) is an album I came across on amazon.co.uk whilst searching for Chas & Dave CD reissues. Strangely not mentioned on either their official website or Wikipedia, this appears to be a US-only release, & features mostly old ‘50’s rock ‘n’ roll covers. Also recommended is the 2005 Greatest Hits collection, which (despite it’s title) actually features seven new recordings made at Abbey Road studios in August of that year. Just check out the musicianship on ‘Somebody Stole My Girl’, ‘12th Street Rag’ & the re-cuts of ‘Poor Old Mr Woogie’ & ‘I Wonder In Whose Arms’, three of the greatest musicians on the planet at the top of their game (what a shame that a full album wasn’t made at this time & with this sound!).
Chas & J.I. (2008)
Lover Please / Here In My Heart / Darlin’ C’mon / Before I Grow Too Old / Lotta Lovin ‘ / Billy Tyler / I Don’t Mind / Honolulu Baby / Tell Me How / Real Wild Child / Till I Waltz Again With You / One Mint Julep / She Belongs To Me / Wear My Ring
Although Dave only dropped out of touring (following the sad death of his wife Sue) in July of this year & officially announced his retirement last week, my guess is that his enthusiasm has been diminishing for some time. Chas has (occasionally) been performing with his own trio for several years now; has written a book on Chas & Dave; and released two interesting albums without his partner, of which this is the first. The “J.I.” in the title is actually the legendary drummer from The Crickets Jerry (Ivan) Allison, though in effect this is a Chas Hodges solo album as J.I. only sings lead vocals during part of one song. This is a fine album though, made with a very homely “organic” feel that perfectly suits the material. Highlights include the ‘50’s rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Darlin’ C’mon’, ‘Real Wild Child’ (which also features J.I. on lead vocals), Bob Dylan’s ‘She Belongs To Me’, Buddy Holly’s ‘Tell Me How’, Gene Vincent’s ‘Lotta Lovin’’, & a revival of Chas & Dave’s own ‘Billy Tyler’. 4 / 5
Chas Hodges (2009)
Didn't Wanna Do It In The First Place / No Set List / I'm Outta Here / The Ghost Is Laid / In Among The Sweet Things / Skinny Cats / Don't Want No Truck / Poor Man Down / Hungarian Rhapsody Rock / Making Up For Lost Time / Nobody's Gonna Pine / She's Turnin' Monkey On Me / Last Kiss
This curiously low-key album actually sounds like a collection of home-recorded demos rather than a finished album, with often very rudimentary backing, in particular the bass & drums. Maybe Chas went out of his way to prevent this from sounding like Chas & Dave? There’re a handful of excellent new songs though: ‘Nobody’s Gonna Pine’ & ‘No Set List’ (with it’s mandolin) are great skiffle tracks that Lonnie D would’ve been proud of; ‘She’s Turnin’ Monkey On Me’ sounds like a lost early Chas & Dave classic; & ‘Hungarian Rhapsody Rock’ is the studio version of a recent live favourite (surely that is not Micky Burt on drums though?). I’m very curious to hear what any future solo albums will be like, but this is a slightly disappointing debut. 3 / 5
As a postscript I saw Chas (without Dave) a couple of weeks ago at The Winter Gardens in Margate, a great evening despite the fact that I was actually working (I’m a doorman there). He played two very entertaining & energetic sets, the 1st featuring mostly Jerry Lee Lewis songs (including less obvious numbers such as ‘I’ll Make It All Up To You’ & ‘What’s Made Milwaukee Famous') whilst telling anecdotes about Jerry Lee over the years, & the 2nd set featuring mostly Chas & Dave classics. Some worked better without Dave than others; songs like ‘That Old Piano’, ‘I Wonder In Whose Arms You Are Tonight’ & ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’ sounded as passionate as always, but other songs (in particular ‘London Girls’) really needed some harmonies (the new guy Darren whilst an excellent bass player remains almost silent vocally), & anthems like ‘Gertcha’, ‘Rabbit’ & ‘The Sideboard Song’ were played much too fast though Chas coped extremely well singing these all by himself.
Briefly before the show & for a little longer afterwards I chatted to Chas (though I’d also met him both with & without Dave a couple of times previously back in the ‘80’s & ‘90’s). During his ‘Jerry Lee’ set that night he mentioned how he’d backed Jerry while with ‘The Outlaws’ back in 1963; for forty years there were thought to be no surviving recordings from that tour, but then a few years back I managed to find someone who had 3 songs from a Paris ’63 radio broadcast, so I sent a copy to mine & Chas’ mutual friend Terry Adams. Chas was very surprised when it turned out that the doorman he was chatting to had supplied this tape! A great guy, long may he continue to entertain us.
Chas 'n' Pete: backstage at The N.E.C. in Birmingham, 6th December 1992.
Click here for my Chas and Dave DVD list!