Sunday, August 25, 2013

Black Is Black - Los Bravos

Black Is Black
Los Bravos
Press Records PRS 83003

I first encountered Los Bravos on the very first album I bought, the 1960s compilation, "Get It Together" which featured their hit single "Black is Black."  I was not very impressed by it at first, but over the years it grew on me and eventually I bought the album it first appeared on.  The group was from Spain but their songs were in English and sung by a German, Mike Kogel.  Kogel has a striking voice, high yet powerful, like a cross between Gene Pitney and Tom Jones.  Kogel's booming vocals are the only real reason to listen to this group which did not write its own material and whose music is fairly generic mid-1960s beat-pop.  The band sounds a lot like English mainstream pop from the period which isn't much of a surprise given that the album was recorded in England by studio musicians and produced by Ivor Raymonde who produced Dusty Springfield and the Walker Brothers.  The title song is by far my favorite track and it is credited to Michelle Grainger, Tony Hayes and Steve Wadey.  It has a driving beat upon which are laid complementary riffs from the bass, guitar and organ with brass overdubs for extra oomph.  Kogel's anguished vocal conveys the heartbreak expressed by the lyrics with a lot of power.  Nothing on the album comes close to the excellence of "Black is Black."  Seven of the songs were written by Manolo Diaz who along with the album's associate producer Alain Milhaud (also the band's manager) was the driving force behind the formation of Los Bravos.  Diaz was a pop performer in his own right and had been the singer in a Spanish group called Los Sonor that had merged with another group to form Los Bravos.  None of his songs are bad, but none are particularly memorable either.  They tend to have a simple, bubblegum music type construction that I find boring, particularly since there are so many of them on the record.  I would say the best one is "You Wont Get Far" (co-written with Colin Butler) which has more of a rock sound to it, followed by the melodic "Baby Baby" (co-written with Raymonde) and the punchy "Stop That Girl" (also co-written with Butler.)  After "Black is Black" my favorite songs on the album are a pair of songs from Phil Coulter and Bill Martin who wrote "Puppet On a String" for Sandie Shaw and would later write some hits for the Bay City Rollers.  Their contributions "Trapped" and "I'm Cuttin' Out" have a lot of energy and give Kogel the opportunity to show off his vocal dynamism.  I also like "I Don't Care" by Ivor Raymonde and Tony Clarke who would later be the producer for the Moody Blues.  It is a very upbeat, poppy sounding tune that was released in England as a single with moderate success.  Perhaps the most curious song on the album is "She Believes in Me" by Vito Pallavicini and Alberto Baldan Bembo with English lyrics by Peter Callender.  The song was introduced by Gene Pitney at the 1966 Sanremo song festival and was released as a single by him under its Italian title "Lei mi aspetta."  Personally I prefer Pitney's version even if it is in Italian, Kogel's performance is too overblown for my taste.  I'm hesitant to fully endorse this album, the songwriting is just too pedestrian.  However if you dig mid-1960s British commercial pop music, particularly melodramatic vocalists like the Walker Brothers, this will probably be right in your wheelhouse.   Recommended to Gene Pitney fans who wish he had rocked out more. 

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