Crazy Mixed-Up Kid: The Complete Pye/Piccadilly Recordings

by: Joe Brown

There were extensive compilations of Joe Brown's early output prior to this release, but this three-CD, 82-track box is certainly the biggest one likely to be produced. Everything he released on the Pye and Piccadilly labels between 1961 and 1967 is here, including not only everything from his singles, EPs, and LPs, but also the entirety of the obscure 1964 soundtrack album What a Crazy World (on which Brown sang or co-sang the majority, but not all, of the numbers). As with any such retrospective of an artist whose output was uneven and whose significance wasn't monumental, such completeness of packaging is a mixed blessing. Brown was at his best when he leaned toward a mild country-rockabilly-influenced rock & roll sound, and on the best tracks -- "A Picture of You," "Your Tender Look," "Sally Ann," "Everybody Calls Me Joe," "You Can't Lie to a Liar" -- you can hear why he was admired by early-'60s British rock & roll fans and musicians, including George Harrison (who sang on a couple of Brown covers the Beatles played live in the early '60s, "A Picture of You" and "What a Crazy World We're Living In"). The problem is, you also get an abundance -- some would say an excess -- of vaudevillian tunes playing up Brown's Cockneyism, at times sounding like a somewhat more rock-oriented take on the most music hall-ish side of Lonnie Donegan's repertoire. There are also quite a few slight early-'60s pop/rock songs and ballads, along with standards and instrumentals (and even a faithful 1967 cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends," which made the British Top 40) that testified to his versatility, but often don't make for very satisfying listening. The music hall-like cuts in particular won't translate well to the relatively few American listeners likely to seek out Brown reissues (and it's virtually impossible to imagine how the Beatles would have performed "What a Crazy World We're Living In" on-stage), though "I'm Henery the Eighth I Am" at least demonstrates that Herman's Hermits weren't the first British rockers to come up with the idea of updating that song. The What a Crazy World soundtrack material is only of interest to rabid completists, being far more oriented toward dippy theatrical musical fare than rock & roll, and it should be noted that Brown doesn't even sing on a few of those tracks. If you want to get even pickier, if this box were to be a truly complete survey of Brown's early output, it should have licensed the six tracks he issued on three 1959-1960 Decca singles, as a prior anthology (Sequel's two-CD The Joe Brown Story) did. A much more selective and shorter Brown anthology, then, is advised for listeners who want to focus on only the most noteworthy records he cut. For those who want to immerse themselves in virtually all of Brown's early material, however, it's well-packaged, with detailed historical liner notes. ~ Richie Unterberger

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