You see this woman on a T.V. show
She's drippin' in diamonds from head to toe
They make you believe it's the status quo
You're runnin' with the devil it's touch and go
- Emerson, Lake, and Powell, "Touch and Go" (from their 1986 LP Emerson, Lake, and Powell)
Billy J. Kramer Listen...
Originally released in 1963, reissue September 2014
Billy J. Kramer bridges the gap between American Graffiti-style '50s pop and the edgier direction the Beatles would eventually take things in. Lennon and McCartney even wrote all of his biggest hits ("Bad to Me," "I'll Keep You Satisfied," "Do You Want to Know a Secret").
The cliche is that the Beatles' chief songwriters sang their best songs, gave the ones they didn't like as much to Ringo and George (who sang their version of "Secret"), and gave away what they didn't really like. While not classic Beatle material Kramer's hits prove that even early on the boys knew how to craft a song, even on what they considered their lesser material. Check out the creative chord progression and melody on "Bad to Me."
Kramer proves exactly how different the Beatles were from what came before them. Compare his cheesy, schmaltzy "Little Children" to "All My Loving" from the same year (1963). To call early Beatle stuff "oldies" is simply wrong. They revolutionized music as much before Rubber Soul/Revolver/Sgt. Pepper as they did after.
That's not to say that Kramer is bad. The transitional years between rocks big explosion and the Beatles were filled with interesting, if awkward, stuff like his. Jaunty "Pride" could have been an early Lennon-McCartney castoff, "I Know" and "Dance with Me" are Kramer at his balladeering best, and his covers of "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Great Balls of Fire" are fun enough.
After the Beatles' exploded onto the scene crooners like Billy J. Kramer became about as viable as a hair metal band post-Nirvana. But like that era there's still a lot of cool stuff from those who clung to their craft. The well-written, breezy pop of Listen... is a good example of this.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.