The Drifters – The Very Best of the Drifters

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

When my son was young, he sometimes watched this cartoon show that, based on my limited attention, was Marvel’s Avengers except as young children (possibly The Super Hero Squad Show). There was a Valentine’s Day episode (I think) whereby the various cartoon child Avengers fell in love with each other by dint of some external force (which is a VERY odd conceit for child characters). At one point, a romantically-frustrated young Thor exclaims “This is NO kind of wonderful!” and I loved that throwaway reference to the Drifters’ song. Good job, writers for the Child Avengers!

What I Think of This Album

As the liner notes helpfully explain, the Drifters went through two distinct incarnations in the 1950s and 1960s, and even that summary is inadequate. This collection focuses on the more successful and well-known official version of the group – the one that ran from 1959 to the late ’60s.

I can think of two very good reasons to own this comp. One is that it contains perhaps the two best Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman songs in “This Magic Moment” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” The other is that you get to hear Ben E. King sing lead on several tracks, and he has a great voice. As a third reason, if you happen to need one, this is a pretty strong representation of Brill Building songwriting, with very good-to-excellent material from not only Pomus/Shuman but also Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and even Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard.

King sings lead on most of these tracks, with additional songs led by Rudy Lewis, as well as Johnny Moore (who takes an oddly Elvis-like approach on 1964’s “Saturday Night At the Movies”), and at least one other person. Lewis actually had a very nice voice, and does an outstanding job on “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and Moore fucking kills it on “Under the Boardwalk” – that swoop from “down by the” up to “sea” is spine-tingling.

The piano and percussion on “Sweets for My Sweet” is wonderful (later covered, in worse fashion, by the Searchers). Is there a more dramatic intro than the vocals on “Some Kind of Wonderful”? “I Count the Tears” is excellent and “Up On the Roof” is a solid track. Classic status has been appropriately bestowed on “Under the Boardwalk,” which, on top of the genius vocal, has an easily overlooked glassine guitar part, a just-right bassline, and a sweet guiro.

The highlights, of course, are the eminently romantic “This Magic Moment” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” Both are swoon-worthy. The violins on “Moment” are exquisite and King delivers a perfect vocal. The Latin sounds of “Save the Last Dance for Me” are irresistible; the polio-afflicted Pomus wrote the lyrics while watching his new bride dance at their wedding. There is some speculation that a young Phil Spector – apprentice to Leiber and Stoller at the time – had a hand in the production of this song.

I own an excellent book titled Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era, which I recommend to anyone even remotely interested in this period of rock history.

Some interesting facts:  Phil Spector plays guitar on “On Broadway” and the backing vocals on three songs included Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick, Doris Troy (who also sang on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon), and Cissy Houston.

The liner notes explaining the immoral, unscrupulous business arrangement at the heart of the Drifters – the name was owned by George Treadwell, who could basically hire and fire the group’s members at will, none of whom got any royalties – are truly shocking.

Ben E. King died in 2015.

The Best Thing About This Album

The pair of Pomus/Shuman numbers.

Release Date

1993

The Cover Art

Blah.

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