One of the best side-effects of the two music courses I took in 2005 was the infusion into my record collection of a vast amount of new music, much of it music that was unlikely to have been bought by me under normal circumstances.
One of these artists, purchased solely to give me some sense of the British pop scene before The Beatles broke through, was Adam Faith. I picked up a single CD set of his greatest hits expecting nothing much more than featherweight pop.
In fact, much of it is precisely that. But what unusual feathers. Before Faith changed his sound to that of Merseybeat after that scene broke through, he specialized in a series of mid or slow-tempo pop songs backed primarily by orchestra with a light pop rhythm. A recipe for unbearable schmaltz? On the surface, yes, but Faith’s musical arranger happened to be none other than John Barry, shortly to shoot to worldwide fame on the basis of the early James Bond movies.
Barry’s arrangements are truly subversive. Yes, there are twee pizzicato strings galore, but sometimes there is really hot electric guitar, a pointedly ‘country’-style fiddle, bass-harmonicas – the latter usually associated with Brian Wilson and The Beatles’ output from the mid-1960s – and other touches that move these songs right out of the conventional pop song style and into something both charming and captivating.
In many ways, when Faith toughened his sound to meet The Beatles (something he does very successfully in conjunction with The Roulettes), as much is lost as is gained. When, for example, you hear on “Poor Me” a chorus singing that undulating harmony that is much better known as the James Bond theme, you feel pop cultural markers being turned upside down and inside-out. That is worth a lot.