Deejays – Coming On Strong: The Best of the Deejays (2018)

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As far as I know, there hasn’t been a legit reissue of England’s ’60s beat group the Deejays that’s been made widely available before this new one from RPM Records. There was a grey-market bootleg disc anthology titled Dimples ’65-‘66, released back in the early ’90s.

Like most British Invasion mid-’60s groups, and similar bands who came shortly thereafter, the Deejays cut their teeth on some very familiar early rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and blues covers like “Long Tall Shorty,” “I’m a Hog For You Baby,” “Bama-Lama-Lou,” “Dimples,” “In the Midnight Hour,” “Strong Love,” “Summertime Blues,” “I Can Tell” and “Farmer John,” all very faithfully and strongly performed in the Searchers / Mindbenders / Swinging Blue Jeans mode here. If I were given the choice of what tunes to use on Coming On Strong: The Best of the Deejays, I would’ve elbowed out a few of the more predictable covers and used some of the band’s other, better tunes – for example, the Deejays’ delightful version of the show tune, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

The Deejays do break the mold a bit by covering “I Just Can’t Go to Sleep,” a then-new and now-obscure early Kinks mid-tempo tune. Not a bad version. Knowing that the Deejays would end up as a small fish in an ocean of mid-’60s English groups back home, they set their sights for fame and fortune to Sweden and found chart success there as bigger fish in a smaller pond. The self-penned “Blackeyed Woman” is a high-octane cousin of the Who’s “Bald Headed Woman,” showing continued promise with the Deejays’ earnest originals.

I can’t do this review without mentioning the fact that RPM did not include 1968’s “Incrowd Hangout,” the band’s final and best single. For a best-of collection to ignore it is a major disappointment. Apparently, Universal Music – who licensed the 1965-67 material – wouldn’t allow RPM Records to include this last single as part of Coming On Strong: The Best of the Deejays because it’s owned by another label. Thanks, Universal! This rocking single is a big highlight of their brief career, and an excellent example of their foray into Freakbeat, which they did very well from 1967-68.

Even “Please Don’t Criticize,” the fine R&B / Freakbeat B-side from this ’68 single, would’ve been a welcome addition to this abbreviated collection. Had the Deejays continued onward in 1968 beyond this fine last single, they could’ve gone on in a more original material direction. They definitely had the ability.

If you can believe it, they even cover Them’s “Gloria” in a slightly faster but respectable version. (Not sure what the logic was behind covering this, given the fact that it had already been a big hit twice for both Them and then the Shadows of Knight in 1965 and 1966.) “Tobacco Road” shudders and stomps here, as if the Troggs had covered it with the Nashville Teens’ vocals. “Not That Girl,” from 1965, perfectly captures the mid-tempo Merseybeat excitement of the Searchers, Hollies and the Beatles. It’s the best tune on this collection. “You Must Be Joking,” also from ’65, shows some of those group’s influence but, with a dash of The Pretty Things / Outsiders (Dutch) in its halting stop/start rhythm.

With a wailing blues harp and chugging guitar riff, the rockin’ R&B title track could’ve been a strong early Kinks album number. “Hooked” is another tune in that same vein, and it works just as well. There are also some unlikely covers Coming On Strong: The Best of the Deejays, including “Surrender Your Love,” written by Ashford & Simpson; ‘It’s Gonna Working Out Fine,” as popularized by Ike & Tina Turner; and the lightweight “I’ll Never Get Over You,” originally by Freddie and the Dreamers.

The Deejays have a go with some middle-of-the-road and show tunes – for example, their faithful cover here of the old standard “Fever.” They dabble in psychedelia on “Without Love,” echoing the Hollies’ singles of 1967. The fab album-closing number, also from ’67, is the Freakbeat / Small Faces-infused band original “Striped Dreams Checked Fear.” Much like “Incrowd Hangout,” it pointed the most to the band’s then-unknown future.

RPM’s high-quality booklet shows many sleeve photos of the Deejays’ Swedish singles, and their two LPs. Shindig magazine’s Andy Morten well-written historical notes include a few quotes from band member Clive Sarstedt. All in all, these are the best these particular ‘65-’67 tunes have sounded, in newly remastered sound.

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott has written for Shindig, Twist and Shake, Garage & Beat and Ugly Things. A big fan of all things rock and roll - especially the British Invasion, garage rock, psychedelic, new wave, folk rock, surf and power pop - he was a consultant on Sundazed Music's reissue of 'The Best of Butch Engle & The Styx: No Matter What You Say' in 2000, and has also provided liner notes for Italy's Misty Lane Records. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Steve Elliott
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