Where do I begin a review of this little known masterpiece which I feel is the pinnacle of Jan’s prowess as an arranger and producer. To say it is highly underrated is an understatement to be sure. Sadly it is known only to a few loyal fans who have listened in awe to the hits of Jan & Dean as performed by an orchestra. There are twelve movements, each being a treasure in and to itself.
My personal favorite is The New Girl In School. This is a masterpiece of the unexpected, to say the least. The wonderful surprises in the arrangement are the use of the harpsichord and mandolin. The piece begins with the haunting harpsichord on the doo-wop "boppa do ron-de" and the melodious mandolin singing the verses. To each succeeding verse are added the strings and flutes which add the sparkle to this amazing arrangement of a little rock ‘n roll hit. To me this track, in itself, is worth the price of the album.
When I first became aware of this album, I was curious as to how two Jan & Dean hits would be treated. One being the smash hit, Dead Man’s Curve, with the haunting recitation and somber ending and the other was my all time favorite, Sidewalk Surfin’. I anxiously awaited the arrival of my vinyl LP and was in awe as I listened and had all doubts removed.
Jan and George Tipton's arrangement of Dead Man’s Curve is a powerful piece with the horns and timpani section mirroring the intro of the single release. The woodwinds with their mournful tones, sing the verses with the rest of the orchestra adding to the building choruses through out. The horn section takes up the verse and the piece continues to build to a crescendo before the clarinets perform the tragic tale of the recitation. Finally, the entire orchestra finishes the piece with the powerful string and horn sections taking the lead.
Although Sidewalk Surfin’ lacks some of the power of the driven tempo in the original hit, there is no doubt as to which J & D hit you’re listening to. The arrangement begins quietly with just the flutes on the verse with the horns kickin’ in on the "grab your board and go sidewalk surfin’ with me." But with each verse, more instrumentation and punch is added to the piece with a subtle but driving bass line and the high falsetto of the flutes adding a great deal of interest to the piece. The strings come in during later verses and add even more to the listening pleasure of those fortunate enough to know of the existence of this album and to own a copy.
The horn section opens Surf City with the famous "two girls for every boy." The highlight of this piece is the plucked strings that "sing" the verses of this Jan & Dean classic with the horns providing the underlying "Surf City here we come." The oriental theme of the bridge is built on the cymbal effect which underlies the chorus of the single and this adds an interesting and unexpected touch. The verse is then repeated again by the plucked strings and the final chorus builds to a powerful and stirring ending to this rock ‘n roll hit done classical style.
Although the Pop’s version of Drag City lacks the classic intro where you can almost smell the unburned hydrocarbons, this is one of the most complex arrangements on the album. It opens with the horn section for the"burn up that quarter mile" hook of this great hit. The strings again appear for the first verse. The woodwinds and horn sections are added during subsequent verses which add body and punch. The flutes then appear to the mix and then the last verse features only the flutes. Although the work is truly a masterpiece of arranging with many, many layers, I feel that it lacks some of the punch of the original hit and might even be thought to end on a whimper with none of the power of the hit single ending, "listen to ‘em whine."
Another example of Jan’s skill as arranger is the complex arrangement of the classic Little Old Lady from Pasadena. The most interesting aspect of this song is Jan’s choice of tempo, a Viennese waltz. Who besides an innovator such as Jan, would have selected a waltz tempo for this rocker hit. With a strong horn section introduction and the flutes coming in for good measure, the strings again take the lead on the verses with the choruses being more up tempo with a more powerful string section. The surprising tempo changes are just one of the high point in this wonderful treatment to the little old gal in her superstock Dodge.
Another high point in the album is Linda with all the parts of the orchestra taking their turn at the wonderful melody which is so upbeat and a true joy to listen to. I guarantee that you’ll be tapping your foot along with this one and smiling as you listen. And with each verse there are little surprises hidden away in it with surprising instrumentation to add the "smile" to this wonderful treasure.
Another favorite song of mine, Heart and Soul is included on this album. The Jan & Dean hit was so special with Jan’s wonderful lead and Dean’s marvelous high falsetto. Again the strings and then the flutes are used for the lead. There is a downside for me however, the piece lacks any of the doo-wop feel of the original which made it so special. One of the bright spots is the use of the harpsichord on one verse. It just lacks a little of the sparkle that is so evident in so many of the works on this album.
There are two other surprises in store for you here, one of course is the hit Baby Talk in which Jan chose to use cellos to open the piece with the doo-wop touch "ba ba ba undat undat" and the beautiful string section to "sing" the verses. The saxophone which was used in the bridge of the original hit, is replaced by the horn section with strings adding color and interest. The other pleasant surprise is Honolulu Lulu. Again the plucked strings appear throughout the entire work. The other instruments are added to succeeding verses with the plucked strings maintaining the happy, fun feel of the original hit.
I feel that the last two tracks, It’s a Shame to Say Goodbye and You Really Know How to Hurt a Guy are the weakest pieces on this awesome album. They are lovely and very enjoyable to listen to but I feel that they do not come up to the standards set by the other ten tracks.