By Richie Unterberger

When Collections was recorded, the Rascals had already established themselves as the top blue-eyed soul group in the United States with the 1966 #1 smash "Good Lovin'." Like their debut album, The Young Rascals (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), it was a solid seller, reaching #14 in early 1967, one notch above where its predecessor had peaked. Unlike all of the group's other first five LPs, however, it didn't contain a Top Ten single, although it had three hit 45s. The album captured the band in a transitional phase—still steeped in their R&B roots, yet also starting to explore more innovative directions, particularly in their original material. Yet they were still finding their way as songwriters, as evidenced by how only six of the eleven tracks were group compositions, though that was a dramatic increase in that department relative to The Young Rascals, which contained just one original number.

    The evolution toward a self-penned repertoire and a more expressive style was not just admirable, but necessary to keep pace with the British Invasion groups that had in part inspired the Rascals to form in the first place. "We hadn't even been formed and this big English thing was happening in the States with the Beatles and all the English groups," observed organist/singer Felix Cavaliere in Melody Maker in December 1966. "We got together four of the best guys on their instruments in the state and we thought: 'The English groups have got good images. They're professionals and they're thinking intelligently.' We decided that we'd show there were people in America whose musical intelligence was equivalent."

    Continued Cavaliere in the same piece, "We felt we wanted to show that we had the same sort of groups in the States. That was the reason behind us. Also for all the different ideas we wanted to put into our sound. The entire music tells the way you feel and the way you think. Ours is sensuous music. We want to say things to people and we'll be continuing as long as possible. Each of us has different musical backgrounds. Gene Cornish, our guitarist, comes from upstate New York [actually he'd been born in Ottawa, Canada] and listened to a lot of country music and blues. [Singer] Eddie [Brigati] and myself are more soul men. I shaped myself on Ray Charles. Dino Danelli was just the best drummer I had ever heard."

    It's also sometimes forgotten that at their outset, the group, a la other American bands such as Paul Revere & the Raiders, dressed themselves in uniforms that could have been interpreted as tongue-in-cheek satires of or rebuttals to those worn by British Invasion bands. In the Rascals' case, they were known for their knickers, first worn by Brigati in emulation of Italian men in his neighborhood who were their grandfathers' knickers. "We put them on as a joke," Gene Cornish told Rolling Stone in 1970. "We didn't want to wear suits because it was too stiff. And we didn't want to wear dungarees—it really wasn't being done except for the Stones and we didn't want that kind of image."

    With the development of their songwriting came more solidified roles for the quartet. Felix Cavaliere emerged as the group's principal composer, whether working alone or in collaboration with Brigati. Felix also took more of the lead vocals than anyone else, though Brigati took almost as many leads, and was important on even the tracks on which he didn't sing lead as a backup vocalist, handheld percussionist, and onstage frontman. Dino Danelli was both one of the most underrated rock drummers of the era, and one of the most flamboyant, as surviving film clips of him twirling sticks in mid-song demonstrate. Brushing his hair forward by the time of the cover photos for Collections accentuated his uncanny resemblance to Paul McCartney, one that was remarked upon by both press clippings and television hosts of the time. Cornish, it's sometimes forgotten, wrote and sang lead occasionally himself, and also filled in some bass parts in the studio, though onstage the group relied upon Cavaliere to supply the lower end. As Felix told Melody Maker, the huge role his organ played in their sound was one of the Rascals' chief distinguishing trademarks: "I use the organ differently to most groups. That is, we use it to throw a big blanket around the sound."

    For all their expanding creativity, it took a while for the Rascals to match the success of "Good Lovin'," and Collections was built around four tracks taken from their three follow-up singles to that monster. Oddly, their Top Twenty follow-up to "Good Lovin'," "You Better Run," was not included on Collections—it would show up on their third LP, Groovin'—but its B-side, the Cavaliere-Brigati-penned "Love Is a Beautiful Thing,"  was. With its startling ascending and descending riffs serving as the intro and links between verses, it showed them capable of writing a quality midtempo soul number in as natural a style as the African-American soul stars of the era. With Felix and Eddie sharing lead vocals, it was probably strong enough to have passed muster as an A-side, even generating a cover version by Wilson Pickett on his 1967 album The Sound of Wilson Pickett—fair play, as the Rascals had done the Wicked One's "In the Midnight Hour" on their debut LP.

    Also on Collections were both sides of their fourth 45, the A-side of which, "Come on Up," stalled at a disappointing 43 in Billboard—the Rascals' lowest-charting single in the 1960s, with the exception of their very first one. The Cavaliere composition was certainly a solid effort, however, featuring a more aggressive sound—particularly in Cornish's squalling, fuzzy guitar—than any of their previous 45s. The Cavaliere-Brigati-authored flip, "What Is the Reason," demonstrated the pair's rapidly flowering knack for classy romantic soul-pop songs. But it would take Felix's Motown-ish "Lonely Too Long"—built around a haunting four-note piano hook in the verses—to restore the Rascals to the Top Twenty.

    The other songs on Collections were more reflective of the Rascals' roots as an R&B-soaked club band, as well as their occasional appetite for pop balladry. The soul covers probably surprised no one, given the group's obvious affinity for the form. "Land of 1000 Dances" had first been cut by New Orleans soulster Chris Kenner, though it took Cannibal & the Headhunters' Top Thirty cover in 1965 to make it a national hit; Wilson Pickett's #6 hit cover of the same tune the following year, however, would have been the version with which the Rascals' audience was most familiar. "Too Many Fish in the Sea" had been a hit for the Marvelettes a couple of years earlier, and would be a hit just after the release of Collections for the Rascals' top rivals for the blue-eyed soul group crown, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. The Rascals also covered another Motown smash, the Miracles' "Mickey's Monkey" (in which Brigati changes the lyric to refer to himself by first name), putting it into a medley that segued into "Love Lights," here credited to the Sonics' Gerry Roslie, though it took inspiration from Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Turn on Your Lovelight."

    "Since I Fell for You"—the jazzy pop ballad written by Buddy Johnson in the mid-1940s, and taken to #4 by Lenny Welch in 1963—is not the sort of song one associates with the Rascals. But apparently Eddie Brigati, who sings lead, enjoyed these kind of numbers—not only did he sing it live with the band on The Mike Douglas Show, but he also took lead on a similar song on the other side of the LP, "More," which (as an instrumental) had been a Top Ten 1963 hit for jazz trombonist Kai Winding. The remaining two tracks on the album were both sung by Cornish, who wrote one of them—"No Love to Give," an orchestrated romantic ballad with little rock or soul influence—on his own. The other, "Nineteen Fifty-Six," was a 1950s-style rock'n'roller co-written by Danelli and Cornish, with a spiky guitar solo that couldn't fall to recall George Harrison's in the Beatles' cover of Little Richard's "Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!"

    By the time of their third album, 1967's Groovin', the Rascals had graduated to writing all but one of the songs themselves. Also including a couple of classic hit singles that restored them to the upper reaches of the charts, that LP  has also been reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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