Madeline Bell was originally from the states but moved to the UK in the mid 60s to work as a background vocalist for Dusty Springfield, Kiki Dee, Donovan, The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Lesley Duncan. Up until 2004, any of her 60s solo work was only available on Dream Babes, Vol. 1: Am I Dreaming? which included her tune You Don't Love Me No More and a non-legit Marginal compilation with crappy sound quality. So it was good news when RPM reissued both her albums, Bell's a Poppin' and Doin' Things. Not only do these two discs have stellar sound quality, they also include a slew of bonus non-album single tracks which are where Madeline Bell really shines the most.
There are pluses and minuses to Madeline Bell's Doin' Things album. She was given the chance to work with a virtual who's who of British pop production, arrangement and musicianship, but this very unusual amount of variety is what adds to the hodge podge quality of the tracks that appear on the album.
The list is huge:
- Johnny Franz
(the producer, who also worked with Dusty Springfield, Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers)
- Arthur Greenslade
(an arranger for Dusty Springfield, early Cat Stevens, Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Françoise Hardy, Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Georgie Fame, early Genesis, and The Rolling Stones)
- Keith Mansfield
(producer and arranger for Dusty Springfield, The Walker Brothers, The Peddlers, and Georgie Fame)
- Ian Green
(eventually did work for Underworld, The Faint, Madonna, Lulu, Jennifer Lopez, Mylene Farmer, Justin Timberlake and Sandie Shaw)
- Keith Roberts
(arranger and composer behind the Birds 'n' Brass albums on the Rediffusion label which featured vocalist Barbara Moore; he also arranged four Scott Walker songs on Scott 4 and worked with ex-Walker Brother, John Walker on his solo work)
- Derek Wadsworth
(arranger for Dusty Springfield, Manfred Mann, Georgie Fame, Julie Driscoll, Colosseum, and the original Broadway and London cast versions of Hair)
- John Paul Jones
(the session bass guitarist who went onto be in Led Zeppelin; also worked here with Bell with some songwriting).
Madeline Bell was also given the chance to write some of her own material with some good and some bad results. All this adds up to reason enough why it took this long for this album not to have reissued on cd (legitimately), but also makes for interesting, varied listening, with some really fine gems buried here.
She shines the most on the soulful, Dusty Springfield styled tracks. There's also some Scott Walker orchestrated styled goodness here too which was a route she could've ventured down for some more fine results if she'd been given the chance - but not many people went as far as Scott Walker did, who was often in a league of his own.
Things start out strongly with Madeline Bell's version of Help Yourself (which was previously recorded by James & Bobby Purify) and a sweet candy coated soul sound.
Van McCoy was a songwriting dynamo in the 1960s (long before he hit it big in the mid 70s with The Hustle), and two really great highlights on this collection are the album track Doin' Things Together With You (originally recorded by The Dreamlovers in 1965) and the bonus non-LP single track, We're So Much in Love (also recorded by Tony & Lynn and Peaches & Herb) which was Bell's last single for Philips.
Doin' Things Together With You lopes along gracefully and really kicks in to high gear with the chorus and its backing vocals. We're So Much in Love was meant as a duet originally, but Madeline Bell does both parts perfectly. And there isn't that Motown duet sound which makes the Peaches & Herb version sound like a Marvin Gaye/duet wannabe. How Much Do I Love You is a solo Bell composition and the non-lp b-side to We're So Much in Love, but it sounds like the band didn't know what to do with it as it limps along with no excitement.
There are a handful of John Paul Jones related tracks including the John Paul Jones composed tune Hold It, along with Gotta Get Away From Here, Ain't Gonna Cry Any More and What'm I Supposed to Do which were all co-written by Bell and John Paul Jones. Ain't Gonna Cry Any More and What'm I Supposed to Do (which was the non-lp b-side to Hold It - and better than it) are the best, both with that soulful Dusty Springfield sound and groovy London orchestrated vibe.
One of the coolest tracks here is Go Ahead On, a Madeline Bell/Dusty Springfield co-composed tune that was the non-lp b-side to Picture Me Gone from the Bell's a Poppin' album. It's a special treat not only because it rocks but also Dusty sings backing vocals.
Thinkin' is another pre-lp single and it has an upbeat soundtrack vibe to it, and is much better than its more mellow b-side Don't Give Your Love Away.
Bell covers a couple of more popular songs with versions of Lulu's To Sir With Love (which was also covered by Lesley Gore around this time), and the Lennon/McCartney tune Step Inside Love (originally recorded by Cilla Black). Neither are very compelling, but the remastering is astounding to hear, as it is throughout the entire disc.