by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Like Del Shannon, Gary “U.S.” Bonds was a consistent hit maker in the early ‘60s, racking up seven Top 40 sides between 1960 and 1962, including the Number One hit and enduring party classic “Quarter to Three” and the Top Ten hits “School Is Out,” “New Orleans,” “Dear Lady Twist,” and “Twist, Twist Senora.” After 1962’s “Seven Day Weekend,” Bonds’ luck on the charts would run out (though he would score a hit behind the scenes as the co-writer of Freddie North’s 1971 hit “She’s All I Got”), but, to his credit, he never gave up and continued to tour the country, playing club gigs, and in the late ‘70s, at a particularly life-changing show in Red Bank, New Jersey, Bonds would invite a fan onstage to play with him. Completely unbeknownst to Bonds, this particular fan just happened to be one of the biggest new rock stars in the country and one who would frequently end his own concerts with a cover of “Quarter to Three,” a man by the name of Bruce Springsteen. A friendship was struck, and The Boss would volunteer to co-produce a comeback album for Bonds.
It would be several years before the two men could finally go into the studio together, but the delay would actually pay off: by then, Springsteen had amassed more material for The River than he could use, and some of those songs would be given to Bonds for his own album, which Bonds, Springsteen, and longtime E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, AKA “Little Steven,” would co-produce together.
The Springsteen-penned charming lead-off single “This Little Girl” shows just what a magical team Bonds and Springsteen were together; the single is equal parts Bonds’ “Quarter to Three” and Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” with that special instrumental magic only the E Street Band can provide, sax player Clarence Clemons in particular sounding as if he’s having a real blast playing alongside Bonds. The single gave Bonds’ career new life, stopping just one spot shy of the Top Ten, giving Bonds his first Top 40 hit as a performer in nineteen years, the rocker even getting widespread television exposure for the first time in decades, courtesy of appearances on shows such as Fridays, American Bandstand, and Solid Gold.
Other standouts include the Cajun standard “Jole Blon,” performed as a duet between Bonds and the Boss, the sunny, funky stomp of the Bonds original “Way Back When,” and the finger-snapping, sock-hop stylings of the Springsteen-penned title cut.
The album also sports some very interesting left-field choices of covers, from a soulful cover of the Beatles’ “It’s Only Love” to takes on Bob Dylan’s “From a Buick 6” and Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” while the disc fittingly sports several cameos from several other ‘50s and ‘60s pop greats, such as former Drifter Ben E. King (best known, of course, for his solo hit “Stand By Me”) and R&B crooner Chuck Jackson (“Any Day Now”), who both pop up on backing vocals on “Your Love,” and legendary Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich.
The cast of backing players also includes Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes member (and future Late Night with Conan O’Brien house band member) Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg on trombone and fellow Asbury Jukes Mike Spengler and Eddie Manion, so the disc should be a particular fun listen to fans of all things Springsteen-related, who should delight in all the Jersey-music-scene cameos to be found on the disc.
Springsteen (along with the E Street Band) and Bonds would record an additional – and almost equally excellent – album together, 1982’s On the Line (now available on CD as a two-fer with Dedication), which gave Bonds an additional Top 40 hit in the fun “Out of Work,” but Bonds’ profile would dim once again shortly after (in spite of having Little Steven produce 1984’s Standing in the Line of Fire), though he’s never stopped making music (his most recent studio album is 2009’s Let Them Talk) and would make a cameo in Blues Brothers 2000.