Excellent representation of the Flamingos work. From the well known "I Only Have Eyes For You," to the "Dream of a Lifetime," and "Would I Be Crying" that many of us remember from the Alan Freed "Rock, Rock, Rock" movie from the 50's. VERY GOOD package!
Along with the Ravens and Sonny Til and the Orioles, Chicago's Flamingos occupy the highest echelon of doo-wop's greatest groups. (Naming your group after a bird was a fad of the early fifties, but in this case the elegant name is a perfect fit.) They were also among the genre's most prolific groups, recording for five different labels in the six years covered here. That makes compiling a best-of collection tricky at best, but this is the best Flamingos retrospective to date.
First up are the six singles the Flamingos recorded for Chance Records in 1953. All twelve sides are here, plus one rare recording from the same period. "Golden Teardrops" is the most famous of these. Although not a hit in its own time, it now often makes the top five in doo wop fan polls. One listen and you'll hear why. "If I Can't Have You" and "That's My Desire" are nearly as beautiful, while "Someday Someway" and "You Ain't Ready" show the Flamingos could also rock when they wanted to.
Next on tap are their three singles (and two then-unreleased recordings) on Parrot Records from 1954. The second of these, "I Really Don't Want to Know," is probably their rarest record, and was no picnic to find on CD either until now. That alone makes it a thrill for us collectors to have it included here, but it's also a lovely ballad in its own right. The even scarcer B-side, "Get With It," is a scorching sax-driven rocker and a revelation to those who know the Flamingos mostly for their ballads. But the real crown jewel of the Parrot recordings is "Dream of a Lifetime".
1955-56 found the Flamingos at Chess Records, and their recordings from those years reflect the harder rocking style of both the label and the era. Still, the classic from this period is once again a love song: the Korean War weeper "I'll Be Home". They recorded two versions of that one; both are included here. If you only know Pat Boone's version of that one, you haven't really heard the song yet. The uptempo "That's My Baby (Chick-a-Boom)" is more representative of their Chess catalogue as a whole, and it's one of their catchiest songs. Elsewhere, "Please Come Back Home" and "The Vow" are other classic examples of the Flamingos sound. This collection digs awfully deep on the Chess recordings, actually, featuring re-recordings of "Dream of a Lifetime," "If I Can't Have You" (now retitled "Nobody's Love"), "When" and "Get With It". I don't like the re-recordings very much, but at least they're here for completeness' sake. After Chess, the Flamingos recorded several singles for Decca in 1957-58. Inexplicably for an otherwise-thorough collection, only one Decca side is included here. That one song, "The Ladder of Love," is nice enough, in any case.
Last but not least are the first of their recordings for End Records, from 1959. "I Only Have Eyes for You" needs no introduction. The other seven End sides are just as well-crafted and timeless. I'm not sure why this collection stops when it does, as the Flamingos continued to record for End until 1963 (copyright issues?). But while a few later classics are missing, what we do get here is top notch. The Flamingos really are worth wanting every last recording that's out there. While this collection won't give you that, it's as comprehensive as anything available at this point. Highly recommended for all early rock and R&B fans!
Please note I haven't yet heard this CD so can't comment on its audio quality [now I have - see postscript]; my stars have been awarded solely on the basis of track selection. These are public domain recordings and there's always an element of risk in buying without hearing first.
Assuming the sound to be halfway decent, however, I feel compelled to draw your attention to this unique collection which assembles all the Flamingos' classic recordings for their first three Chicago-based record labels (Chance, Parrot and Chess), plus a brief selection of early sides for New York-based End Records.
The compilers had to stop at 1959 for legal rather than aesthetic reasons but if, like me, you're not such a big fan of the aural valium of their later, luxuriantly string-laden recordings for End Records, public domain restrictions work out just fine in this particular case: the final track on disc 2 is I Only Have Eyes For You, bringing matters to a neat conclusion.
Before now you'd have had to buy about four or five CDs to assemble this material, and other groups would have been part of the deal (the Parrot sides are currently available on a CD which also features the Crests, for example, and the Chance sides have previously been paired with the Moonglows' recordings for the same label). The only significant omission from this compilation of their fifties material is their time at Decca in 1957, hence the docking of one star; like Rhino's Best of the Flamingos only one track, Ladder of Love, is included.
If you are only familiar with I Only Have Eyes For You, the earlier Flamingos were closer to rhythm and blues, alternating jump tunes with sublime balladry (Golden Teardrops is widely regarded as one of the best doo wop records of all time). Their vocals have always been exceptionally polished but there's a looseness about the instrumental backing by jazz musicians on the Chance and Parrot sides which offers an additional pleasure.
Other buying options are available. For guaranteed good sound, you might consider The Complete Chess Masters (part of the Chess 50th Anniversary series) - I own it and the audio on almost all the tracks is superb. The Jasmine CD will have to go some way to match this.
Rhino's The Best of the Flamingos has good sound and some later cherrypicked End recordings as it's not hampered by public domain restrictions. But there are only eighteen tracks in all and half are from End, so although well chosen it's hardly comprehensive. A deleted Charly CD (on their budget label Instant) entitled I'll Be Home offers a wider selection of recordings for all three Chicago labels but the sound is so-so.
A more interesting purchase which allows you to hear the Flamingos' Parrot recordings in context - ie with other artists on this small Chicago label including the superb Orchids (Newly Wed) backed by the same musicians - might be the Relic CDs The Golden Era of Doo-Wops: Parrot Records Vol 1 & 2. Sound quality is good, although comparing the transfer of Get With It to the track on the Chess CD you can hear that Chess must have acquired some of the Parrot masters and retained the tapes. The two Relic CDs are deleted but still available, and there are some other Parrot compilations around.
To read about the Flamingos' early recordings I recommend Robert Pruter's Doowop: the Chicago Scene.
Having now listened to the Jasmine discs, I would say that overall the sound is reasonably good, especially when you consider all you're getting for such a modest outlay.
Good, that is, but not great: the official MCA-issued Complete Chess Masters CD is noticeably better for the Chess sides, though the Parrot sides are, I'd say, about on a par with the transfers found on the two deleted Golden Era of Doowops CDs issued by Donn Filetti's Relic Records.
The Chance sides are alright, although those which also feature on The Best of the Flamingos sound brighter and clearer on the Rhino CD and on a 1993 CD issue on the resurrected Vee-Jay label of a vinyl album entitled The Moonglows Meet the Flamingos on the Dusty Road of Hits, expanded to include all the Chance sides of both groups. I obtained this very recently and sound is excellent throughout. (Do not confuse this with a similar compilation on the UGGH label which is not recommended.)
In general on the Jasmine compilation, there seems to have been some top end filtering, but setting that against the difficulty of obtaining much of this material, let alone in such a handy two-disc form, my four star ranking still seems about right for the casual listener. Diehard fans who already know the worth of these recordings, however, are advised to explore some of the above alternatives. Prices vary wildly for these deleted CDs, so shop around (to quote another group with its roots in doo wop). To sum up: for top notch audio go with the Chess 50th Anniversary CD and the 1993 Vee-Jay CD. If there is a CD of comparable audio quality containing all the Parrot sides I haven't heard it. (Did Chess acquire everything the Flamingos recorded for the Parrot label?)
One minor goof: Get With It, the Parrot side acquired by Chess, crops up again on the second Jasmine disc as though it were a Chess remake; it's the same recording. The only alternate take that I know of on CD is on the Charly/Instant compilation referred to above.