We Five - Topic

There Stands the Door: The Best of We Five Play

Though "You Were on My Mind" was one of the first and best big folk-rock hits, We Five's reputation as early folk-rock pioneers has suffered from the abundance of weak and ill-suited pop material on the spotty two LPs recorded by the original lineup. It's no exaggeration to hail the 22-track There Stands the Door as a major rehabilitation of the group's legacy. That's due both to the wise selection of their best and most folk-rock-oriented material, and to the inclusion of eight previously unissued cuts (and one non-LP A-side) that do much to fill out a fairer portrait of the group's strengths. Instead of sounding like a wildly erratic outfit prone to interpreting too many pop standards and show tunes, this cherry-picked anthology shows them more as a highly worthwhile, if a little lightweight, early folk-rock group who helped innovate the male-female harmonies characteristic of early San Francisco folk-rock in particular. The CD focuses both on the group's best original material (often penned by John Stewart's brother Mike Stewart) and their most appropriate choices of folky songs to cover, including several compositions by John Stewart and an obscure tune (the previously unissued "What'cha Gonna Do") co-written by Bob Gibson, Shel Silverstein, and Fred Neil. All but a couple of the tracks were recorded prior to the first lineup's dissolution in spring 1967, and Beverly Bivens' vocals in particular anticipate aspects of the San Francisco folk-rock singing heard in early Jefferson Airplane recordings, particularly on the 1966 single "You Let a Love Burn Out." From the same year, the non-LP single "There Stands the Door" hints at some more musically and lyrically adventurous directions that went unexplored, even if its adventurousness is fairly mild compared to that of the Airplane. True, "You Were on My Mind" remains the best track they ever did by some distance. But much more than their original LPs, There Stands the Door stands as their true best-of, and if its concentration on folk-rock gives a somewhat incomplete document of their eclectic repertoire, it does indisputably focus on the best of that repertoire. Note that a couple of the unissued tracks (judiciously placed at the end of the CD) are actually taken from recordings they made for Coke commercials; while they're hardly emblematic of the group at their best, they certainly are rare and thus to be welcomed by hardcore collectors. A more significant bonus is Alec Palao's extensive annotation, in which first-hand interviews with surviving bandmembers do much to flesh out the history of this ill-documented group. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi

You Were on My Mind/Make Someone Happy Play

Although often overshadowed by the Los Angeles and New York folk-rock scenes, San Francisco also contributed several notable bands. Among them are We Five, featuring Mike Stewart (vocals/guitar/banjo) -- brother of Kingston Trio member John Stewart -- Peter Fullerton (vocals/bass), Beverly Bivens (vocals), Bob Jones (guitar/vocals), and Jerry Bergan (guitar/vocals). The quintet was among the first Bay Area groups to have chart success merging acoustic-based folk music with electric instrumentation. This single CD, from mail-order archivists Collector's Choice Music, contains the quintet's first two long-players: You Were on My Mind and Make Someone Happy. Both titles are similar in style and content, charting the linear progression of pop music and its fusion with folk, rock & roll, and post-bop jazz. We Five shared this trait with more than a few of their regional contemporaries, including the pre-psychedelic Jefferson Airplane. The two even shared material -- most notably covers of "High Flying Bird" and "Let's Get Together" -- the band's final Top 40 hit. The song's author, Chet Powers (aka Jesse Oris Farrow, aka Dino Valente) also had direct ties to the Northern California folk scene as a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service. The band's infectious pop renderings also include several show tunes as well. "Somewhere" (West Side Story) and "My Favorite Things" (The Sound of Music), as well as the up-tempo and freewheeling "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" (Porgy and Bess) are among the exceptional adaptations from the stage and screen. Equally impressive are Bivens harmony lead vocals on an achingly haunting "Inchworm" (Hans Christian Andersen). The velveteen melody dances within Bivens voice with childlike awe and wisdom. A more subtle influence heard throughout is rooted in pop-jazz -- such as the Jobim-influenced samba heard on the title track from Make Someone Happy. The percussive rhythms and opaque sonic terrain make a perfect contrast for the light and chirpy vocals that are most reminiscent of Signe Anderson's tenure with the folky Jefferson Airplane before the acid had kicked in. Another successful fusion of jazz and pop is the cover of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." The easygoing melody is perfectly suited to We Five's nimble delivery style and stands as one of the least-dated-sounding pieces on this two-fer. In light of the strength in the lesser-known material, the band's one big hit, "You Were on My Mind," quite frankly pales by contrast. However, it stands as a prime example of the genre-bending sound of We Five. This incipient version of the combo actually disbanded almost a year before the release of Make Someone Happy in early 1968. However, legalities kept the name alive well into the 21st century, despite only Jerry Burgan remaining from the incarnation of We Five heard on these recordings. ~ Lindsay Planer, Rovi
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