Madeline Bell's first album, Bell's a Poppin', was a much more consistent album than her second album, Doin' Things (reviewed last week), thanks mainly to the song selection and the fact that she stuck with only Johnny Franz (the producer who was working with Dusty Springfield, Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers around the same time) and Arthur Greenslade (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).
This RPM reissue of Bell's a Poppin' also includes every single and its b-side (but one) released prior to the Bell's a Poppin' album was released. The hodge podge of arrangement and song selection is not present, making for a much more consistent listen. But for one glaring omission of the track Go Ahead On (which was included on the Doin' Things reissue), the incredible non-lp b-side for the album opening Picture Me Gone, this is a nearly perfect disc. I guess RPM was giving us one more reason we had to pick up the Doin' Things reissue, too.
The earliest material is the singles added as bonus tracks, starting with Madeline Bell's version of What the World Needs Now Is Love. She's not the best interpreter of Bacharach/David tunes, and the backing is too blaring. She also tried her hand at the Bacharach/David Last One to Be Loved on the album, and while its better than her version of What the World Needs Now Is Love, there still seems to be a wandering style of vocal and a blase arrangement which leaves Bell's interpretation of Bacharach/David tunes wanting.
The b-side to this first single was the more substantial I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face, which has the same arrangement as the Dusty Springfield version (which was famously sampled on Saint Etienne's Nothing Can Stop Us) and was originally done by Aretha Franklin and Baby Washington. Her vocals may not be of Dusty's caliber yet, but this is still a super fine tune.
Things look up on her next single, a cover of the obscure Jean Wells' tune (from her Soul on Soul lp) Don't Come Running to Me which has a candid ebb and flow of Dusty-like emotion and tremendous build up in the chorus. The b-side is even better, with a Beatlesque piano stomping intro that leads into a gospel blast called I Really Got Carried Away (a tune co-written by singing friend Doris Troy).
Madeline was on a roll, and her version of Maxine Brown's One Step at a Time is a powerhouse of a song. The b-side is the equally unique cover of The Beatles' You Won't See Me, a laidback soulful take that includes an instrumental snippet from The Beatles' In My Life in the middle for good measure, which adds to its uniqueness.
For some reason, at this point (because of lack of sales really), the powers that be made Madeline record the horrid Climb Ev'ry Mountain (from The Sound of Music), not worth hearing, and the b-side It Makes No Difference Now (also done by The Walker Brothers) which sounded much better in the lads' hands.
For the Bell's a Poppin' album itself, and for her next single (the opening track on the disc), Madeline starts out with the super sweet soul blast cover of Evie Sands' Picture Me Gone, a heart stopping track which will win you over for sure. The single was released with the equally astounding Go Ahead On, sadly not included on this cd, the one side step RPM made with these reissues.
You Don't Love Me No More is up next, a re-recording of her Columbia single from 1964 (which can be heard on Dream Babes, Volume 1: Am I Dreaming?) which is a sweet carbon copy type of cover, with maybe a little less of the drama of the original.
Madeline does a tense take on the McCoys' jazzy Beat the Clock, where Madeline has help from Arthur Greenslade to add the much needed orchestrated touches.
Madeline's voice is perfectly suited to cover Shirley Ellis' Soul Time, although the song seems somewhat dated by the time Bell's a Poppin' was released. Again, Arthur Greenslade (and this time Madeline's friends on background vocal) really add to the groove.
The Gamble/Huff song I'm Gonna Make You Love Me has been covered by The Temptations, The Chi-Lites, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Nick DeCaro (on his Happy Heart album), The Lettermen (on their I Have Dreamed album), Enoch Light & the Brass Menagerie, and Dee Dee Warwick, but its Madeline Bell's version which really takes the cake as the ultimate version. It was also released as the last single from the album with the album track I'm Gonna Leave You (which was written by Madeline Bell, Dusty, and Lesley Duncan) asi its b-side, which is a buried treasure on here.
Wrapping up with less than perfect but certainly adequate covers of the Lovin' Spoonful's Didn't Want to Have to Do It and the Buckinghams' Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, this album set the stage for Madeline Bell's next phase, chronicled on Doin' Things (reviewed last week).