First Time in a Long Time (The Reprise Recordings) - Fanny
Rock & Pop - StudioRecording - 1, 4 CD(s) - Label: Rhino, Rhino Handmade - Distributor: F-Minor, RSK/Gem Logistics - Released: 29/03/2004 - 6034977734...
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Review of "First Time in a Long Time (The Reprise Recordings) - Fanny"
Before Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders, Joan Jett's Runaways, the Go-Gos, and the Bangles, there was FANNY.Fanny WHO, you say?
Well, they only held the distinction of being the first, genuine, self-founded, all-woman rock band to be signed to a major US label, and to gain international fame. They broke new ground for women rock musicians, and many who have followed in their wake owe them a huge debt, although I don't think that agenda was paramount in their minds at all.All the Millington sisters wanted to do was to play guitar and sing in the first all-female band, and boy, did they and their bandmates work hard at it. The strong negative reaction to 'girls' who proved that they could actually rock while playing their own damn fine music persisted long and widely enough to keep full-blown superstar status out of the band's reach.
[ Caveat lector: This is a rather long piece that discusses the band's background as well as all four albums in the CD anthology. You may want to read it in a few installments - that is, if you aren't bored to tears yet by the fifth paragraph! ]Background
Founded in the Sixties by Filipino-American sisters June and Jean Millington, who were born in Manila and grew up in Sacramento, California, the pre-Fanny all-girl group went through a series of membership changes, due mostly to difficulty in finding a permanent, good drummer. In 1969, the band's final roster consisted of June and Jean on guitar and bass, respectively, with Iowa native Alice de Buhr on drums, and Washington DC transplant Nicole 'Nickey' Barclay on keyboards.Reprise Records' producer Richard Perry signed them up after just one audition, thanks to Perry's secretary who alerted her boss to the girls' potential after hearing them at a 'Hoot Night' show. The band (formerly known as The Svelts, now called Wild Honey) had signed up for this show hoping that something would finally come out of their endless years of playing in clubs and such up and down the West Coast. If nothing came of it then, they'd all just 'go back to school,' as Alice put it.
Well, the rest is history ('herstory'?). Yes, it's a tale of success, but also of exploitation born of naïveté, and bad management. In the end the women of Fanny would get screwed over by their managers and the record company, all while the band members worked for four straight years, songwriting, singing, playing, practising, recording and touring (across the US and in the UK, the latter where they received a warmer welcome than on their home turf), all while denying themselves any personal lives. Alas, to their extreme disadvantage, they'd also paid little heed to the business aspect of their careers while working their behinds off. In the beginning, though, things looked pretty bright.The band finally decided to go with the name, 'Fanny', based on June's suggestion of assuming a girl's name. Richard Perry concurred, as his grandmother had the same name.
[***This sets the story straight as regards the totally false, widely published rumour that Beatle George Harrison gave them their monicker (and there's a randy joke in there that has to do with British slang!)***.]When 'Fanny', their debut album, came out in 1970, the girls had an average age of twenty, but you wouldn't know it from their professional-grade playing even then. After all, the Millingtons had been on the road since their mid-teens, and never stopped practising to hone their craft. Last addition to the group Nickey Barclay had been playing with Joe Cocker on his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour just before joining up.
'Charity Ball' would follow in 1971, then 'Fanny Hill' in 1972. Their final release with the same band line-up would come out in the Todd Rundgren-produced 'Mother's Pride' in 1973. And that, alas, would be the end of Fanny as I came to know and love them. (A truly final Fanny album would be produced in 1975 with only Jean Millington and Nickey Barclay left of the original members, and released under the Casablanca Records label.)When the CD began to show signs of replacing the LP as the preferred recorded music format, I wondered whether or not Fanny's four Reprise albums would ever see the light of day on this new digital medium. I really doubted if anyone remembered Fanny then, or if anyone had heard of this great band at all. In the meantime, I scoured eBay and second-hand shops for vinyl copies of all four Reprise albums which had been lost with the years of moving, and instances of loaning never-returned copies to friends.
Well, it's taken only twenty years for my wish to come true, but at last, thanks to Rhino Handmade Records (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers), all four Reprise recordings including never-before-released material, outtakes and live appearances, even a few promotional spots (93 cuts in all) were finally made available to the public in the fall of 2002, albeit at the fairly steep price of about £53/$80 for the 4-CD set (available at an even steeper price on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, too! See Ciao's links on upper right of page).The cuts from the four albums are presented in an order nearly identical to their sequence on the LPs, but the flow is broken up in places by the insertion of rarities, demo tapes and live performances. It can be a little disconcerting to a listener so used to the LPs. The copious liner notes (52 colourful pages in all, decorated with a wealth of rare photos) detail the beginnings and evolution of the band through interviews given by June, Jean and Alice (Nickey was not available) in 2001, and I learned certain facts on the band's history for the first time here. A lot of rare material found on the CDs was contributed by June Millington herself.
In my own estimation, Fanny's finest work can be found on the two middle releases, 'Charity Ball' and 'Fanny Hill', whose descriptions will form the bulk of this review.Anyone out there in the UK or elsewhere have heard of/heard/seen the band perform? Go visit the NEW official Fanny website and post your comments, upload pics, etc. (link below this article)!
Even on their first full-length release, the variety of styles that would consistently mark Fanny's music can already be seen here. 'Come and Hold Me' is a sunny tune by June and Jean that is very much vintage Sixties and has an irresistible sing-along chorus. The sisters' 'Candlelighter Man' runs in a similarly optimistic vein. Their bold and aggressive 'Seven Roads', penned with the help of Alice, incorporates a funk-rock sensibility to the album.Nickey would provide lots of clever, witty, often cynical John Lennonesque tunes to the Fanny repertoire, as in her 'Take a Message to the Captain'. Her self-explanatory 'Conversation With a Cop' refers to a true incident that happened to Nickey as she walked her Shelties, as recalled by Alice in the liner notes. Rockers like the dynamic 'Shade Me' and 'I Just Realized', in which her showman vocals betray her roots in deep rock music.
But it's the band's audacious, electric cover version of Cream's 'Badge' (also released as a single) that would receive the most attention. Listen to June's exhilarating electric guitar work here, which some have said rivals-or even outdoes-the Eric Clapton original. (June's licks differ little from Clapton's version, in fact.)
Charity Ball (1971)By the following year, Fanny was beginning to gain some measure of respect in the music world. Barbra Streisand, who already knew of the band from attending their gigs, had them as live session musicians on her 'Barbra Joan Streisand' album. Producer Perry (who worked with Streisand) also added them on overdubs for Streisand's earlier 'Stoney End' album. (You can play a game and guess which cuts feature Fanny on backup.)
For their second album release, Candice Bergen herself would do the photo shoot for their album cover, in which everyone wears frilly, white Victorian garb borrowed from the 'My Fair Lady' costume racks. (It was a 'cool' and fun shoot, says Alice.) The photograph is a lovely bit of faked antiquity, tinted with the brown patina of age. The accompanying music, however, reeks of nothing remotely 'old' at all. The album boasts many genuine rock tunes, with a few ballads and funky, soulful cuts thrown into the mix.There's the raw-sounding, fun-filled, high-spirited title track, with merrymaking obvious in the foursome's all-out vocal delivery, Nickey's honky-tonk piano and June's buzzing guitar. 'Charity Ball''s inspiration is recalled by Alice in the notes. The Millington/Millington/de Buhr-penned cut was also put out as a single, and there the vocal track sounds relatively more polished and spacious than on the album version (I'd never heard the single version till now). Nickey's 'What Kind of Lover' displays a similar excitement, with an attractive insolence in the delivery. 'Cat Fever' shows off Nickey's compelling storytelling talent, with Jean providing a wonderful basic rock 'n' roll rhythm on bass and June's guitar taking off in the instrumental part.
Yet, despite Fanny's growing recognition, the lyrics still hint at resistance to the young and all-female band, a novelty in the rock music world:'Well there's a new element around the neighbourhood
That the old ones don't approve
And so the word's been 'cepted and it's understood
That the young ones got to move
They got to keep their every inch or name
They're not allowing us to stake a claim
It isn't whether you can play the game, believe me
It's whether you shine your shoes! Ha! Yeah!
. . .
But now they're calling you a superstar
You're on the end no matter where they are
It isn't whether you can play guitar, believe me
It's whether you make the news!
Ah, yes it is.' *
Fanny would play mostly original material for their albums, covering only a couple of tunes here and there. On 'Charity Ball', it's Stephen Stills' 'Special Care' that gets that honour. The sustained thumping beat displays a rocking soul to the band that could clearly compete with the sound of the best males in the business. Listen to Nickey and Jean's raucous vocals and June's instrumental interlude, as June's extended guitar riffs combine with Nickey's earthshaking organ, culminating in a rousing drum roll and crashing cymbals from Alice.
A long-time favourite is the catchy, throwaway 'A Person Like You'. Nickey and Jean on vocals are backed by June's guitar and Nickey's piano on the final verses in this finely crafted song.
A crystalline duet of acoustic guitars by June and Jean form the sole instrumental support for Jean's short and sweet 'What's Wrong With Me', a moderately fast-paced ballad reflecting self-doubt in the singer. It features a great bridge of June and Jean on vocal. It's another of my personal faves, regardless of its unfinished character.Funk-rock appears on Nickey's 'Soul Child', given excellent bass support by Jean. Is Nickey talking to a spoiled child here?
'She'll bring you down at the wrong time
Well she says she won't but you know she will
'Cause she's going to school on her daddy's bill
And she knows she's cool 'cause she's on the pill
You better look out, girl
You've got to learn how to get along in this world
Look out, girl!' *
June's slower-paced, pop-balladesque 'Thinking of You' shows off her guitar work again, and I love her improvisational riffs in the latter part. Then listen carefully for June's riveting and zippy licks on Nickey's raucously propulsive 'A Place in the Country'. She practically rips the notes off her guitar near the end of each verse and in the stretched-out vocal on the word 'pla-a-a-ace'. Nickey's raspy vocal speaks of an urgency and desperation delivered with tongue in cheek in this fabulous track. Nickey simply wants to get away from it all to 'a place in the country,' since'…I'm caught in the current and I'm goin' down
Ain't got a will and I'm about to drown
Hope they can forward all my bags to town
Somebody wants to blow my mind
They're doing fine now. (Doing so fine)
All I need is some time to myself and a place in the country.' *
The album wraps things up with Nickey's solemn ballad, 'A Little While Later'. It features the keyboardist's distinct, conversational singing style, accompanied by piano and June's occasional guitar. Even with the hard-rock chorus, there's a nice sense of closure and calm after the storm by the time things draw to a close. Don't forget to turn up the volume immediately after the song ends, as Nickey adds a brief finale on a soft, gentle, tinkling harpsichord.~~~~~~~~~~
Fanny Hill (1972)Contrary to what one might think, the name of the third album had nothing to do with the controversial novel about a prostitute. 'Fanny Hill' was the name given by the band to their huge rental house located above Chateau Marmont on a hill on Marmont Lane near Sunset Boulevard, which is said to have once housed the likes of Hedy Lamarr. It's where the band lived and worked for some four years, and was a pretty popular hangout for a slew of musicians at the time (like Dave Mason and frequent visitor Little Feat). Everyone who dropped by accorded the girls respect on realizing that they could truly play and rock really hard. (Bonnie Raitt actually stayed at Fanny Hill when she first came to Hollywood.)
I find 'Fanny Hill to be the most accomplished album of the lot, a perfect blend of sophisticated sound with great driving rock, ballad, funk and pop tunes. It's the first time we hear June's prowess on slide guitar.Recording 'Fanny Hill' at the Beatles' Apple Studios on Abbey Road, London, the band attracted a lot of curious musician-visitors as they worked feverishly at laying down tracks. The Beatles' own engineer, Geoff Emerick, did much-appreciated work on the album. June recounts Geoff's support for her during the constant battle with Richard Perry over her guitar's sound (Perry would rudely, secretly turn down her amp all the way to one-and-a-half [thus hardly reaching the legendary 'eleven' of Spinal Tap, hey?!])
It opens with a driving cover of the Robinson-Rogers-Tarplin-Moore song, 'Ain't That Peculiar'. The intro draws you in with its tapping percussion, which sets up a sense of anticipation before June's guitar comes storming in. I doubt if you'll ever hanker for the relatively bland original once you've heard Fanny's exuberant version.Things hush down a bit with Jean's beautifully gutsy yet vulnerable rendition of Nickey's little tale of an illicit affair, 'Knock On My Door'. A short and magical bridge, June's ad-libbing guitar, and a killer hook on the chorus all make this a pretty special tune. Nickey's rhythmic repeats on piano, Jean's throbbing bass, June's sharp riffs and Alice's fine drum work all echo like knuckles rapping on a door.
Another all-time personal favourite rock tune comes in with 'Blind Alley'. It's a densely layered song, with a guitar intro slowly trudging its way in, growing louder as Nickey's electric piano comes in, finally joined by June's roaring guitar. Check out Nickey's wonderful, literary lyrics:'We're clearing the way for a new order
Old ways are losing their hold and we've opened our eyes
But what can I see 'cept blind-eyed history
The reaper grins at Saracens who cannot see the writing on the wall
Someone's gonna get burned!' *
[ see the band in action on 'Blind Alley', here:
Go first to: http://www.fannyrocks.com/html/
Then click on 'Gallery' on the left-side menu, where you'll find the framed video link to 'Blind Alley' on the next page, lower left. The actual video's html page link somehow gets garbled by the Ciao machine!]
An understated, touchingly sweet ballad was written by June at a time when such things were hardly talked about: single motherhood. In 'You've Got a Home', June describes simple, quotidian details that paint a picture of poignancy:'It's time for all good little boys to go to sleep
Let's say a prayer beg the Lord my soul to keep
And in the house I'll build a fire to keep you warm
Stay home from school thank God there's shelter from the storm
(Refrain) Someday I'll have to tell you the reason we live alone
You may not have a father, but you've got a home.' *
A soothing double rhythm is set up by June on guitar with bass assist by Jean, upon which June layers slide guitar to create an encompassing, hypnotic sound. (I recall a glowing, specific mention of this cut in a contemporaneous write-up in the old Stereo Review.) Especially lovely are the easy 'oooh's and 'ahh's on chorus and bridge, and Nickey and Jean's back-up harmony that shadows June's vocal in the verses.Jean's hooky pop tune 'Wonderful Feeling' (released as a single) is a lilting cut that goes down easily. I love June's backing slide guitar work in the chorus.
This leads into 'Borrowed Time', another hard boogie-rocker from Nickey. Piano, bass, guitar and drums roll in, and Perry adds some brasses to the mix, as Nickey sings (her subject seems to be the same young person she sang about in 'Charity Ball's 'Soul Child'),'You won't learn when you're raking in the highs
Tho' you try to get by unseen
Come your turn you'll be mirrored down to size
In the eyes of a cardboard queen
She'll call your name, I'll call your game
It's your go, your private three-ring show
It's been easy to please, but your own devotees have outgrown it
Have you blown it? Oh, you! Your time is through!' *
...at which point June cuts in with flaming licks on her guitar.Side Two on the vinyl record opens with Fanny's superb, rousing cover of a Lennon-McCartney tune, 'Hey, Bulldog'. Jean's thrumming bass opens the cut, while June's blistering guitar work ramps up the energy. There's a wonderful vocal blending by all, and funny dog-sounds thrown in for ornamentation.
June's funky side emerges on her medium-tempo, eco-friendly tune, 'Think About the Children', whose opening rhythmic guitar riffs still fascinate me. I doubt if too many other rock bands at the time even bothered to 'think about the future' as June does here.The next song, penned by everyone, would express in no uncertain terms the frustration and difficulties experienced by the band. Alice is given the mike, and her slightly off-tune, untrained vocal actually suits the song. Richard Perry adds nice touches of brass in just the right places.
(Chorus) 'Sittin' dreaming on a street corner
Wond'ring how to keep warm
I'm so darn broke, I'm down to my last toke'
I'm a child of the windy storm./
I took my story to a man who knew
Who told me 'I can make a star of you'
Took me for everything that I called mine
And now I'm stranded on the dotted line./
. . .
I keep on rolling like the stone of old
Through rain and fire and the freezing cold
I've been bitten by the rock 'n' roll disease
So won't you help me make a record, please?' *
June's pop side emerges on the upbeat and jangly 'Sound and Fury', which highlights delicious slide guitar in the background and instrumental, coupled with a terribly infectious chorus.Nickey's 'The First Time' (from which the CD anthology gets its name) makes for a fitting end to the album. It's another Beatles-influenced tune whose simple beginning yields to a multilayered, orchestral grandness and density with the bright and shiny trombones enhancing the group's lovely yet totally rocking vocal harmonies. By the time things die down and fade away at the end, there's a feeling of catharsis. (Don't know why this was done, but the song cuts off abruptly on the CD, instead of slowly - very slowly - fading out as on the vinyl original.)
~~~~~~~~~~Mother's Pride (1973)
By this time, the band had had enough of Richard Perry's alleged autocratic manner in the recording studio, and sought a different producer for their next album. Todd Rundgren was chosen for the task. For better or worse, Fanny's sound would turn more mellow and polished on this one, with fewer out-and-out rockers and more middle-of-the-road, folk and funky elements gaining prominence. I'm still less enamoured of this sweeter-sounding album than I am of the previous two, and perhaps Todd's dominant influence would account for that. Two covers make it into 'Mother's Pride', including Randy Newman's wry 'Last Night I Had a Dream', rendered with sparkling clarity by the band through Todd's filter, and David Skinner's soulful ballad, 'Old Hat'.Nickey and Jean's slow pop song, 'Beside Myself', would climb into the US Top 40 charts as a single. I recall reading in the LP's inner sleeve notes about Jean's claim that Air India's curry had somehow inspired this track.
A sarcastic ode to success comes in the guise of 'Solid Gold' (again with the self-deprecating Alice on vocal):'We're on our way to a life of luxury
Though the tax will bite, it's all right
'Cause we're making millions/
(Chorus) Solid gold, solid gold/
I tip my hat to you, captains of industry
You made us what we are
A once-unknown production
Is a household word today.' *
Could it also be wishful thinking on the band's part despite all appearances to the contrary? After Mother's Pride, June now verged on personal collapse after four years of complete devotion to the demands of the band, and she finally decided to leave Fanny. Her excellent, understated acoustic tune, 'Taking the Long Road Home', speaks here of sadness, frustration, and most of all, exhaustion.~~~~~~~~~~
June Millington had blazed the trail for virtually all other women rock guitarists who would follow Fanny, whether they would know (or knew) it or not. She taught herself guitar from the age of thirteen, starting just before leaving the Philippines, learning how to produce sounds from listening to records, going to a lot of shows and concerts and sitting up really close to study how others did it. Little Feat's Lowell George would become a close friend, and would teach June a great deal especially about playing blues guitar.With June's departure, Nickey and Jean Millington would be the last holdouts, and a final effort of a much-changed band still sporting the 'Fanny' label would come out not from Reprise Records, but from Casablanca. The supreme irony for Fanny is that the single 'Butter Boy' from 'Rock 'N' Roll Survivors' (1975) would be Fanny's highest-ranking chart-maker of all. The times, in my view, grew too weird for the direction (or lack of it) that the band took, to say the least. I recall few memorable tunes from that album, and much has been written on the discomfiting mix of June's substitute and lead guitar player Patti Quatro (Suzi's older sister) with the rest of the Fanny members at that time. Alice had decided to leave when Patti came on board. 'Rock 'N' Roll Survivors' would be the last gasp of the group that went by the name of 'Fanny.' And despite 'Butter Boy''s chart success, there was no more band to take Fanny's music on tour.
And thus things came to a sad pass for the first, super-rocking, all-female band in US history ever to gain transatlantic respect and fame.
Additional material on 'First Time in a Long Time'
This current reissue of Fanny's Reprise recordings on CD comes none too soon, especially for Fanny devotees who had despaired of ever getting their favourite female rock band's music on anything other than rare, old, scratch- and shatter-prone vinyl platters.Some nice, new surprises in the Rhino collection will warm the cockles of every Fanny fanatic's heart. There's the fantastic cover of 'Young and Dumb', featuring Jean Millington doing a Janis Joplinesque vocal that I'd never heard before, and simply took my breath away. 'Twas released only as a single, and doesn't show up on any of the albums. One is left to wonder: was its raw, passionate sound too much for a press and public unprepared for a hard-core rock tune from a young female band? Were the public and press willing to accept only a few women like Janis Joplin to take that road?
I also puzzle over the fate of Fanny's delightful and jaunty cover of Tret Fure's 'Old Milwaukee', which never made it to vinyl. There's an excellent potential in this tune, produced by Alice and recorded for the demo session tapes in London for the 'Mother's Pride' album. Another inexplicable omission from vinyl is June's quietly winning, folksy acoustic tune, 'Tomorrow', heard on the Fanny Hill session tapes at Apple Studios.
The anthology also includes a handful of promotional spots for the band. One spot mentions Frank Zappa, who in reality expressed a desire to produce the band, but whose offer to do so was actually turned down by Fanny!
For those new to the band, you can learn more about Fanny, view pictures, even see a couple of videos at the new and official Fanny website (see link following this article) put up by the original band members. You can also boot over to the Rhino website or amazon.com page (see amazon links at top right of Ciao page) and listen to snatches of the music via Quicktime.
Yes, the box set is rather expensive, and I hate that none of the band members are getting a single penny off this anthology (this from personal info), but it's about time the world at large paid some attention to this criminally underappreciated rock band. I can only hope that the albums themselves will see general release in future, with each CD offered at less extortionist prices. There's no question that every 'Fannytic' will want to own this unique, fabulous Rhino Handmade collection, though.So to anyone interested in the exceptional music put out by an overlooked landmark rock band, please lend an ear to Fanny-and see what you've been missing all these years!
(*All songs quoted here written by Fanny: June Millington / Jean Millington / Nickey Barclay / Alice de Buhr)~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
OFFICIAL FANNY WEBSITE by the original band members (Fanny the Band) is up at last:http://www.fannyrocks.com/
'Rocking the Boat' or 'Fanny Millington', etc.
Do a Google search for the Boston Globe article on three-member reunion (April 2007) using the terms (html underscoring in link ruins the final printed link on Ciao):
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Box set available at (please use Ciao's own links at upper right, or do your own search via the online website as any underscoring gets garbled by the Ciao machine!):
1 Rhino Handmade Records; $79.98:
(see link at top right of Ciao page)
3 amazon.com: $89.98:
Just for the information of the Plagiarism Police, a modified version of this review has been posted by the author elsewhere on the Internet.
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Product Information : First Time in a Long Time (The Reprise Recordings) - Fanny
Manufacturer's product descriptionRock & Pop - StudioRecording - 1, 4 CD(s) - Label: Rhino, Rhino Handmade - Distributor: F-Minor, RSK/Gem Logistics - Released: 29/03/2004 - 603497773428
Listed on Ciao since: 18/07/2011