Friday, January 8, 2010

Underrated, Underappreciated (#5 in a Series) - The Bobby Fuller Four

The Fantastic Mr. Fox, with its final scene use of "Let Her Dance" rivaling but not quite surpassing Rushmore's "Ooh La La" finale, reminded me that I hadn't listed to my copy of The Best of the Bobby Fuller Four in years. Produced by '60s indie mini-mogul Bob Keane, Fuller's records feature heroic scale reverb, doubled guitars (and, I think, vocals), and some unusual mixes (in "Never To Be Forgotten", the cymbal seems about twice as loud as the vocals, though maybe I just need to tweak my equalization). The result is a big, enveloping sound, like Buddy Holly updated from the Jet Age to the Space Age. In fact Fuller did more with the Holly template than anyone I can think of outside of The Beatles and Marshall Crenshaw (a Fuller connoisseur himself), developing one of the great Stratocaster sounds of all time. Unfortunately, Fuller also followed in his hero's footsteps by dying young - his death is one of rock'n'roll's strangest, most compelling mysteries, unsolved after more than 40 years.

The idea of the BF4 as "one hit wonders", encouraged by oldies radio's reduction of their career to "I Fought The Law", is easily countered by listening to the concise wonders of "Let Her Dance", "Another Sad and Lonely Night", or "Julie" (covered by Crenshaw on his excellent My Truck Is My Home live album). Although the guitar work is always the first thing to jump out at me from Fuller's records, he was also a fine singer - witness his thoroughly convincing, lovelorn crooning on "A New Shade of Blue", a masterful retro (even then) doo-wop-y slow dance number.

Although love and girl songs were his specialty, Fuller also had quite a few car songs (with titles like "Phantom Dragster") that I haven't heard yet (the older Best Of that I have skips them). There are also a couple of volumes of early Texas recordings that I'm interested in checking out. Despite having recorded one of the most instantly recognizable songs of the '60s, Bobby Fuller remains an underrated, too often overlooked figure in the history of rock'n'roll, with a surprisingly deep catalogue worthy of exploration.

Bonus Link

Fuller puts down the Strat and picks up a Vox (?) to back a midriff-baring Nancy Sinatra in this YouTube clip

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