Review by Dave Thompson
Before his time of Anglo teen dream stardom with Arrows, or the Vodka Collins phenomenon that helped blueprint Glam Rock, Alan Merrill was a teenaged idol in Japan — the first foreigner ever to merit that status; the first, in fact, to even claim success in a ferociously parochial domestic market. And this welcome reissue is where it all began, a solid blaze of distinctly Anglo-beat influenced pop songs that, above and beyond the expected Beatles/Badfinger/Move flavored stylisms, paint Merrill as an extraordinarily gifted songwriter.
His melodies grab you first, but the lyrics quickly follow. "Movies" foreshadows Ray Davies' later "Celluloid Heroes" so deftly that it almost makes the Kinks song redundant; and, if you can sometimes hear a bit too much Beatles in the eclecticism of the arrangements, still you can only applaud the fact that he pulls it off so successfully. Indeed, one wonders what he might have wrought, had he only remained on this particular course. But a second solo album was abandoned after just a handful of demos (two appear among this set's bonus tracks), and Merrill strode off instead to form Vodka Collins, a new direction for a new decade.
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I enjoyed this album very much. The style reminds me mostly of McCartney, and also of the Left Banke and Merry-Go-Round in parts. Recommended for fans of quality vintage pop.
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Album trivia- In 1972, recording artist Tiny Tim recorded a cover of Alan Merrill's composition from the Merrill 1 album "Movies" on Scepter records.
Different Strummers :
Some friends whose music I've followed for a while have new releases. I admit I'm totally biased, but these albums have nonetheless given me hours of pleasure:
Alan Merrill (with me on this page, scroll down) previously appeared in The Dawn Patrol as "our fave rave shang-a-lang Scheherazade" with his first-person stories of his audition for the Left Banke and his writing "I Love Rock N Roll [second entry down on that page]. The son of singer Helen Merrill and jazzman Aaron Sachs (a Benny Goodman protege), he has an illustrious history as a pure popmeister.
Alan's latest release is a reissue of his 1971 solo album Merrill 1, made while his star was ascending in the land of the rising sun. (Yes, as the saying goes, he really is big in Japan.) For years, he's been telling me about this, his "Emitt Rhodes" album” a self-penned, McCartneyesque work on which he plays all the guitars and bass (along with some other instruments) and sings all the vocals.
The Rhodes influence is indeed evident on Merrill 1, especially in the blissfully innocent, unaffected vocals and the charmingly miniaturist feel of its catchy three-minute tunes. But Alan's better at harmonizing with himself than Rhodes ever was at certain points, his vocal blend has a depth that compares favorably with the Hollies. And while some of the album's songs lack Rhodes' astoundingly perfect, near-baroque construction, Alan shows a wider range of influences, particularly Todd Rundgren's most pristine piano-fueled melancholia (think "Baby Let's Swing"), the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (his "Crazy Lady" recalls their "Caroline No"), and early Nilsson (including a brief, blatant homage to "Good Old Desk").
Give a listen to one of Merrill 1's standout tracks, "Everyday All Night Stand," at the CD Baby store. The tune's plugged into that perfect early-Seventies power-pop zeitgeist, with the same kind of gorgeous guitars run through a Hammond organ's Leslie speaker that Canadian superstar Pagliaro was doing at the same time. Not everything on Merrill 1 is that strong. At the tender age of 19, Alan had yet to mature as a songwriter but it's eminently listenable and filled with ear candy.
Dawn Eden / July 2006 / ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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This page was checked and updated on Feb 4, 2017. --
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