‘60s British Invasion

The Singles Collection: As & Bs 1964-1969
The Zombies
Big Beat/Ace Records Ltd.

Absolutely the Best
Small Faces
Immediate/Feel 2000 Records

Live at Leeds (deluxe edition)
The Who
MCA Records

If you’re a fan of rock bands from the original British Invasion of the ‘60s, here are three relatively recent releases you might consider adding to your collection.

The Zombies never quite received the attention the band perhaps deserved. Immediately scoring a No. 1 hit in America in 1964 with member Rod Argent’s keyboard-driven “She’s Not There,” the group then struggled for several years to reclaim its chart status. It finally succeeded one more time (interestingly, right after it decided to break up) with the visceral yet “love, love, love” inspired “Time of the Season.”

In between, however, the group went its merry little hitless way, assembling singles and albums featuring great arrangements and performances. If The Zombies suffered from anything, it was that its lyrics tended to be slightly wimpy.

Regardless, this recent CD compilation assembles all of the group’s British singles, both A and B sides. You get the two hits mentioned above, as well as “Tell Her No,” plus some really great, somewhat obscure tracks like the deceptively bouncy “Friends of Mine,” wherein the narrator seemingly admires the successful relationships of his friends … until that damning “ehh” that ends the song.

Small Faces (no “The,” please!) was the quintessential “mod” band in ‘60s London, three-quarters of its lineup having actually emerged from the working class that produced the mod youth movement in the first place (a “small face,” in mod lingo, was a regular mod bloke: a competent dresser with average fashion sense; definitely not an “ace-face"—a king of the scene. Also, members Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan, the late Steve Marriott and the late Ronnie Lane were somewhat vertically challenged).

It wasn’t until 1967’s absolutely gorgeous “Itchycoo Park” exploded onto the airwaves that America discovered the group (and has there ever been another song that so perfectly captures adolescents yearning for a place where they can escape “the words of fools"?). Small Faces had no more big hits but went on to become as proficient and nearly as creative a studio band as The Beatles.

This recent CD compilation claims to contain “absolutely the best.” And it almost makes it. But the failure to include the delightfully Jamaican-influenced “Eddie’s Dreaming” taints the claim just a bit. Still, with “Here Comes the Nice,” “Tin Soldier,” “Afterglow” and much more among the disc’s 18 tracks, one can overlook the omission … mostly.

And last … what, what? Another remastered release of The Who‘s blistering 1970 live album Live at Leeds? Yeesh! Still, this has much to recommend it. For one, it is the first such “official” Who re-release (or in this case the first re-re-release) to have guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend’s direct involvement in the remastering process.

The results are telling. The sound is dynamic and clean (we record owners may remember the pops and crackles that adorned the original vinyl release, such that a warning that these noises were not your record-player’s fault was included on the disc’s label!). Also, of especial note, with this “deluxe” set you get a second disc containing Townshend’s “opera,” Tommy, also performed live at Leeds University that same evening but previously unavailable.

And it’s a pretty good performance. The live Tommy is so much more powerful than its studio incarnation that it is difficult even to compare this version to that. Although the band rushes things a bit toward the opera’s conclusion, getting just a tad sloppy (each member admitted at the time that they were sick of performing the thing), overall this is still a definitive recording of The Who live and at the height of its ability.