Forgotten series: The Sons of Champlin – Fat City (1999)

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Hailing from Mill Valley, located north of San Francisco right across the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sons of Champlin became one of the region’s most visible and inspiring bands.

Known for their stimulating improvisational skills, the group actually began life as a different animal. Here on a compilation called Fat City (Big Beat Records), we’re introduced to the goods this band concocted prior to setting Bay Area clubs and ballrooms aflame with their enthralling workouts.

1966 was the year the Sons of Champlin entered the studio, with plans to assemble a full-length album. Unfortunately, such a project failed to materialize. However, a single, pressed on the Verve label in 1967, was released, which of course appears on this collection.

Basking in a radiant glow of silky smooth harmonies, “Sing Me A Rainbow” is so beautifully structured and textured, that in spite of the lovesick lyrics, it truly does produce rays of color and light. Splashed with a dash of soul, the honey-kissed pop rocker sounds like a Motown version of the Association.

The flipside of the disc, “Fat City” is just as stunning. Plastered with funky grooves, the tune sizzles and shakes to a dancing beat captained by whistling organ drills and swinging rhythms. Had the record reached more ears, there is little debate the Sons of Champlin would have had a surefire hit on their hands.

[SOMETHING ELSE INTERVIEW: Bill Champlin remembers his time in the Sons of Champlin, while making an impassioned defense for the David Foster-era of Chicago.]

Complementing the band’s tight and professional performances was the fact they were ace songwriters. The Sons of Champlin had their fingers on the pulse of the rich and varied styles orbiting around them, and were able to transmit their own bright ideas into their music.

Wired with fuzz guitars, cool choruses and a digging break, “Green Monday” steps in as another keeper on “Fat City,” along with the moody but mighty “It’s Gonna Rain,” which aims to recall the jazzy pop instincts of the Zombies. Then there’s the bopping “Don’t Stop” and the big and brassy “One Of These Days” that both pay heavy homage to James Brown.

While it can’t be argued the Sons of Champlin’s original efforts are the strongest of the lot, they also sported a knack for rendering other people’s compositions. As an example, the band’s version of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “Shades Of Grey,” which was later recorded by the Monkees, is simply gorgeous, with its emotive delivery and classy orchestrated format. A solid gold cover of the Beau Brummels’ jingling jangling “Don’t Talk To Strangers” and the delicate folk frequencies of Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley’s “I Wish You Could Be Here” that was put to wax by the Cyrkle, additionally cement the album.

A sense of sophistication, maturity and cutting edge tactics may have wheeled the Son’s of Champlin’s ventures, yet their energy was earnest and youthful. Jammed with genre-juggling nuggets, that nonetheless remain cohesive, Fat City does indeed contain a parade of high calorie treats – the kind that stick to your ears, not your waistline that is…

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Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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