VEE-JAY > The Definitive Collection

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Vee-Jay Records, founded with $500 in 1953, rose to become the most successful African American-owned label of its day, anticipating Motown during a time when small, independent record companies were proliferating throughout the U.S.  During its impressive 13-year run, the Chicago-based Vee-Jay produced an astonishing quantity of great music, issuing seminal recordings in the fields of blues, gospel, soul, rock, and jazz.  But sadly, just when it seemed poised for greater recognition (having released the first U.S.-distributed recordings of The Beatles), Vee-Jay folded, a victim of what are generally recalled as spendthrift financial habits. No doubt racism played a role as well: Having lost The Beatles to Capitol and the Four Seasons to Philips (Mercury), Vee-Jay was perhaps never given the chance to evolve into a big industry player.Label: SHOUT FACTORY
[RATING: 3.5]

Vee-Jay Records, founded with $500 in 1953, rose to become the most successful African American-owned label of its day, anticipating Motown during a time when small, independent record companies were proliferating throughout the U.S.  During its impressive 13-year run, the Chicago-based Vee-Jay produced an astonishing quantity of great music, issuing seminal recordings in the fields of blues, gospel, soul, rock, and jazz.  But sadly, just when it seemed poised for greater recognition (having released the first U.S.-distributed recordings of The Beatles), Vee-Jay folded, a victim of what are generally recalled as spendthrift financial habits. No doubt racism played a role as well: Having lost The Beatles to Capitol and the Four Seasons to Philips (Mercury), Vee-Jay was perhaps never given the chance to evolve into a big industry player.

This four-disc retrospective offers a wealth of great music-although not quite enough.  Easily, an extra two tracks could have been fitted onto each CD, while the attractive packaging offers little information about supporting personnel and musicians.  Missing are key tracks by artists such as The Raspberry Singers (with the remarkable falsetto vocals of Carl Hall), Marion Williams, and blues great Jimmy Reed. In fact, even Jerry Butler, the dean of Chicago soul and a primary force behind the transition of r&b into the pop mainstream, feels strangely underrepresented.  No single set, of course, can be expected to meet the hopes of every listener, but even a newcomer to the Vee-Jay canon might consider these offerings just a tad sparse.

That said, most of what is here remains glorious.  Disc one boasts scorching blues by the likes of Reed, Floyd Jones and Eddie Taylor (his immortal “Bad Boy”), along with some of the dreamiest doo-wop this side of the proverbial street-corner lamppost.  The second and third discs continue with inspiring flashes of gospel (“Uncloudy Day,” by The Staple Singers), more blues and doo-wop, and some exhilaratingly good-time r&b (Hank Ballard & The Midnighters).  Disc four makes for a somewhat disorienting aural experience, as heart-stopping gospel, teen rock, and novelty numbers switch off in rather chaotic fashion.  Still, it’s hard to quibble over tracks such as Betty Everett’s devastating “You’re No Good” and Little Richard’s deep-soul roof-raiser, “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me.”  Overall, this is a fine, enjoyable collection; but it’s hardly definitive.


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  1. With reference to the missing “key” tracks. Anybody who compiles a reissue is going to have different ideas from anybody else; that’s a given. You’d put things on that Michael Ribas didn’t; I’d put things on, maybe, that neither of you would. Big deal. Tough luck for us.

    As to Jerry Reed, Jerry Butler and the Staples, Shout! Factory concurrently released full albums by each. Nobody’s claiming the box to be comprehensive, but it’d be hard to deny that it gives a good broad view of the Vee Jay story, with plenty of hits for some folks, and a good number of obscurities for highly refined music aficionados such as ourselves.

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