365) Ray Brown & The Whispers — “Ain’t It Strange”
For a few bright shining years, Ray Brown & The Whispers were beat superstars in Australia. “Ain’t it Strange”, their seventh A-side (’66), is such a cool, hypnotic garage rocker with a guitar riff that gives me close to the satisfaction I get from Keith’s “Satisfaction” riff. While RBW had plenty of #1 hits in Australia, the authoritative Milesago (Australasian Music & Popular Culture: 1964-1975) says that it “barely ma[de] the Top 20 — which is a pity, since this powerhouse number certainly ranks as one of their best efforts.” (http://www.milesago.com/artists/raybrown.htm) Agreed!
Milesago gives a good summation of their story:
Ray Brown & the Whispers were in the vanguard of the first wave of Australian beat pop, from 1964-67, and during their brief career they were one of the most successful and celebrated bands in the country. Aided by his boyish good looks and considerable charm, singer Ray Brown [was] one of the most popular stars of the period, and The Whispers are now widely recognised as being one of its most accomplished bands. Although they enjoyed unprecedented success at the time, the group was short-lived, and their contribution to Australian music, both during and after the beat boom, is still sadly under-appreciated. . . . Probably the Whispers’ greatest love . . . was American soul and R&B, [of which] they were tireless champions . . . . Their first major break in came late in the 1964 when they secured the gig as resident band at Sydney’s Surf City and The Beach House . . . . Within a short time the Whispers were regularly pulling in 2000 punters per night on Fridays and Saturdays, and by the new year they were rivalling The Easybeats for popularity in Sydney. . . . Their rise to national fame was meteoric — in just six months they scored four Top 5 hits in a row in Sydney, including their record achievement — still unbroken — of three consecutive #1 hits from their first three releases! They were also among the most prolific recording outfits of the day, with a nine singles, ten EPs and five albums to their credit in in little more than two years. . . . They made regular appearances on all the major pop TV shows and were reputedly so popular that during a Queensland tour, some country towns were given a special holiday to mark their arrival. . . . [B]ehind the scenes, business problems were making things increasingly difficult for the band . . . . The team came unstuck mainly due to management hassles — Ray had been under 21 . . . at the time he signed his first contract, and had virtually no control over his career. It took more than a year for him to extricate himself from this predicament, and as a result Ray and the original Whispers split at the end of 1966 . . . .(http://www.milesago.com/artists/raybrown.htm)
While “Ain’t It Strange” was indeed “stunningly original” (https://nostalgiacentral.com/music/artists-l-to-z/artists-r/ray-brown-whispers/), it wasn’t a Whispers original. The song was written earlier that year — titled “Strange” — by the Uniques from Louisiana and released as a B-side. As Richie Unterberger describes:
Years before Joe Stampley began his ascent to country stardom, he fronted a Louisiana rock band, the Uniques, who were quite popular in the South, although national attention eluded them. The group were ironically named in light of their failure to establish a truly distinctive style. They were adept at blue-eyed soul [and] also capable of waxing good, original, Southern-flavored pop-rock . . . .
While the Uniques were good, it really took Ray Brown and the Whispers to make “Strange” larger than life.
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Here is a “live” on TV performance, a hoot with the crazy fish-out-of-water dancers:
Here are the Uniques:
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