September 2005

Various Artists - Cameo Parkway 1957-1967
ABKCO 18771-92232
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Songwriters Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann had their first number-one hit in December 1956 with "Butterfly" by singer Charlie Gracie. A few months later, Elvis Presley had a smash with another of their songs, "Teddy Bear." Presley was the far bigger star, but the first hit must have been sweeter. Lowe had produced it for his own label, Cameo Records. Over the next 11 years, recordings on the Philadelphia-based label and its subsidiaries, including Parkway Records, would show up on the singles charts more than 100 times.

Cameo-Parkway didn't have a specific musical vision or personality, as Atlantic Records or Motown did. Lowe and Mann wanted to move product, and if they did it with their songs, that was fine with them. It they did it with someone else's, that was OK, too. For that reason, Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 is a perfect snapshot series of AM pop radio at its prime. The four-disc set encompasses doo-wop, kitch pop, early rock'n'roll, soul music, and garage rock. There may be more Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker than you need (although some of Chubby’s stuff holds up pretty well), but this marks the first appearance on CD of "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians -- reason enough to own the set.

Bob Seger, arranger Thom Bell, and producer Leon Huff did their earliest work for Cameo-Parkway, and the Kinks’ first US release was on Cameo. The 115 tracks on Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 show what businessmen with a feel for music (as opposed to an MBA) can do. The informative liner notes are by Jeff Tamarkin and the mastering is up to the high standards set by ABKCO’s Rolling Stones, Animals, and Sam Cooke reissues.