Various Artists

Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection
(Shout Factory)

There were a lot of great independent labels that flourished in the '50s and early '60s, and each owns a place in the stars — Chess, Sun, Atlantic, Motown, Stax. It was a movement, a golden age for music geared toward a new teen demographic. Maybe it's true that Vee-Jay Records, a mom-and-pop shop that started in Gary, Indiana and relocated a few miles west to Chicago, has been slightly overlooked a bit in the grand scheme, but a listen to this four-disc collection will surely remedy any oversight. John Lee Hooker worked there. The Duke Of Earl himself, Gene Chandler, worked there with his band The Dukays, and Jerry Butler, the Iceman (one of the great pop-soul crossover artists), scored at Vee-Jay, with and without The Impressions. It wasn't just blues and doo-wop and soul and gospel and jazz (not too much Vee-Jay jazz here), but it was top-drawer talent in all those categories. The best. Vee-Jay will forever be known as the label that first signed The Beatles, before Capitol Records swooped down and snatched them. The lads must have been excited to share a label with Jimmy Reed, Betty Everett, The Moonglows, and the Dells — this was the music they were listening to and admiring at the time. The Four Seasons started on Vee-Jay, too (no Beatles on the box, but one Four Seasons cut: "Sherry"), and amazing and insane Brit producer Joe Meek dropped his great Honeycombs track, "Have I the Right," at Vee-Jay's doorstep. While some of the talent on this collection may not be immediately familiar by name, there are the original versions of the songs "Tainted Love" and "You're No Good," and Elvis Costello once did a nice cover of Betty Everett's "Getting Mighty Crowded." There have been other Vee-Jay collections, and good ones at that, but this one is the biggest and best-sounding, and it ought to be played day and night until it draws an indelible tattoo of soul on your soul.

 
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