Les McCann Plays The Hits
256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from Limelight LS 86041
Another of Les McCann's unabashed stabs at the mainstream market for Quincy Jones' Limelight during the mid-60s, Les McCann Plays The Hits is exactly what the title advertises. Although enjoyable on the whole, it's generally a luke-warm affair for the most part as Les sounds less eager to interpret these tunes than the liner notes would lead you to believe. While "Sunny" and "Sunshine Superman" certainly have sizzle, and McCann's jubilation during the gospel read of "River Deep, Mountain High" is palpable even in the bum notes, the remainder of the instrumentals come off as merely the work of a lounge band, albeit a highly competent one as the roster attests.
Original Billboard review from Nov. 19, 1966
Ironically, two of the top tracks are not only the sole original compositions, one by himself and one by friend Gene "Not Yet Eugene" McDaniels, they're also the only vocal tunes and seem somewhat tacked-on to the track listing. It could be the inclusion of "Sad Little Girl" and "Compared To What" was a concession on Limelight's part, especially when it comes to the latter song. That type of social commentary in pop soul lyrics, which would be Les' specialty by the time he moved to Atlantic, had not yet fully come into vogue on the hit parade. The Summer of Love was still almost a year off and the bubbling brew of aspirational middle-class America's angst and disillusionment was not quite potent enough to sanctify its clear reflection in the charts.
As noted a few years ago on Funky 16Corners, this seems to be the first recorded appearance of McDaniels' "Compared To What." It pre-dates any others involving McCann and was taped prior to any version recorded by McDaniels himself. I originally heard the track on Roberta Flack's First Take, a classic soul-jazz "perfect storm" that remains one of my most cherished albums. Although for me Flack's remains the definitive version (mostly due to Ron Carter's bass), this version feels closer to the style McDaniels' exhibited on his later albums, such as the 1971 masterpiece Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse.