Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection

The Chicago label reflected the broad tastes of its husband-and-wife owners

Box Sets

Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection

(Shout! Factory)

"Definitive" is a loaded phrase, not necessarily suggesting completion but a representation of what made something notable. In Vee-Jay's case, the glaring omission is the Beatles, whose earliest American releases were on the first black-owned label that preceded Motown and outsold Chess until the 1960s. That aside, this comprehensive 4-CD collection isn't only definitive but thought-provoking and complex. Preserved through liner notes that offer rich bios of the chronological tracks, the Chicago label reflected the broad tastes of its husband-and-wife owners and the ears they trusted. At the top of Vee-Jay's classic roster were John Lee Hooker ("Dimples"), Jimmy Reed ("Big Boss Man"), Elmore James ("It Hurts Me Too"), the Dells ("Stay in My Corner"), Jerry Butler & the Impressions ("For Your Precious Love"), the Pips With Gladys Knight ("Every Beat of My Heart"), and Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons ("Sherry"). The Staple Singers, the Original 5 Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Swan Silvertones, and the Original Blind Boys of Alabama recorded alongside some of doo-wop's finest, including the Spaniels, Sonny Til's Orioles, the Moonglows, and the "5" Royales. Vee-Jay turned gorgeous one-hits with Gloria Jones' "Tainted Love" and Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away" and even the odd surf act like Aki Aleong & the Nobles. More gems came from Betty Everett ("You're No Good," "The Shoop Shoop Song") and Eddie Taylor ("Bad Boy," "Big Town Playboy"), but Vee-Jay collapsed from financial ruin in 1966, a generation or two before it might have launched funk and rap.

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