Friday, February 19, 2016

Fanny - 1971 - Charity Ball

Charity Ball

01. Charity Ball    2:29
02. What Kind Of Lover    2:55
03. Cat Fever    3:22
04. A Person Like You    2:57
05. Special Care    4:24
06. What's Wrong With Me    1:43
07. Soul Child    3:48
08. You're The One    4:06
09. Thinking Of You    3:23
10. Place In The Country    4:03
11. A Little While Later    5:42

Bass, Vocals – Jean Millington
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Alice de Buhr
Guitar, Vocals – June Millington
Piano, Organ, Vocals – Nickey Barclay

FANNY’s second offering, 1971’s CHARITY BALL, received a much warmer reception from the rock press, with the LP even eliciting some predictions of superstardom. The title track hit the singles charts in the US, peaking at number 40 on the Billboard singles charts in November, and FANNY toured extensively to support the breakthrough. Thousands of punters on several continents came to laugh at what was expected to be a “freak show” and came away as true believers. The band was given further credibility through becoming the favored support act of a number of the biggest bands of the era, but at the same time they became headliners in their own right at large concert venues.

Prior to the arrival of Fanny, no all-female band in any genre of modern music, playing their own instruments and writing most all of their own material, had ever known true success; Fanny was the first. And in the music business – then as now – success breeds imitation. Other labels saw a new market niche to exploit and began promoting all-female bands. If one wishes to point to any one moment in time when the doors were truly kicked opened for female rock bands, one need look no further than the release of FANNY HILL, Fanny’s third LP in 1972.

In the Fall of 1971, the album and song “Charity Ball” came blasting threw AM radios across the country.  Fanny made an infamous appearance on the first season of the Sonny & Cher Show and the album cover portrait of Fanny was taken by Candice Bergen of “Murphy Brown” fame.

This album put Fanny into the spotlight and started making believers out of fans that women could rock.  The single “Charity Ball” charted at #40 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  The album would hold the 150th spot on the album charts for 7 weeks in late 1971.

Reprise RS6456, July 1971

Charity Ball (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
Fanny’s second album blasts off with the title track and major hit single! An infectious shuffle plays home to some Beatle-esque ‘Oohs!’, some real rock ‘n’ roll piano and a barrelful of energy. (See video in Gallery for a TV performance of this song.)

What Kind of Lover (Nickey Barclay)
This album contains some of Nickey’s most consistent writing and this track is a good starting point. Funky and playful, it cries out for some inventive playing from the band and boy does it get it. Everybody contributes and demonstrates a real musical progression since the debut album.

Cat Fever (Nickey Barclay)
Another consummate rocker from Nickey which powers along under the auspices of Alice’s machine gun drumming, Nickey’s own rocking piano and Jean’s riffing bass. There is some real excitement generated here which sounds more like a live take than a studio track.

A Person Like You (Nickey Barclay)
A bit of a Nickey specialty this one. It’s a sort of a funky ballad underpinned by some military drumming from Alice and containing some Elton John style piano from Nickey. A gliding slide guitar solo from June adds the cherry to the cake.

Special Care (Stephen Stills)
Fanny takes Buffalo Springfield’s rather tame version of this song and tramples all over it. Jean’s bass holds the stop-start rhythm together and she provides one of her characteristically gritty vocals. June’s minimalist solo and a thrilling instrumental jam at the play out complete this satisfying cover.

What’s Wrong With Me? (Jean Millington)
A short, delicate acoustic song from Jean showing off some inventive harmony singing in the chorus.

Soul Child (Nickey Barclay, June Millington, Jean Millington)
The atypical writing partnership of Millington, Millington and Barclay produces a rather bleak tale of life off the rails against a hard rocking backdrop. Inventive organ work from Nickey and more expert rhythm from June add to the taut atmosphere hinted at in the lyric.

You’re the One (June Millington, Jean Millington)
This moderate rocker exhibits an unusual melody built around Jean’s loping bass riff and Alice’s rock solid drumming. As always, great ensemble playing building the song to one of June’s maximum distort solos.

Thinking of You (June Millington)
One of June’s most reflective and accomplished ballads full of plaintive major 7th chords and her own yearning vocal building to a fulfilling climax in the middle section and culminating with a well constructed solo. The lull before the storm going into…

Place in the Country (Nickey Barclay)
The album’s killer track – a must for any anthology. Built very simply around a two-chord harmony, this is a wonderful bluesey romp features some mega bass runs from Jean and master class rhythm playing from June. Edgy lyrics complete the slightly tense feeling to this track, which just bubbles with energy.

A Little While Later (Nickey Barclay)
The album ends with the sort of rock ballad that The Who excelled at. Nickey’s rhythmically complex song starts out simply but then just builds and builds to a mesmerizing climax capped by June’s howling solo and then cuts to a deceptively simple harpsichord play out.

Here's a trivia question you can win bar bets with: Who was the first all-female band (not counting vocal groups like the Supremes) to place a single on Billboard's Hot 100 chart? The answer is not the Go-Gos, the Bangles, the Runaways or the Shaggs. It's Fanny, with the title cut from this album. A pleasant little rock-and-roller that ended up peaking at #40 in the U.S., it's actually one of the album's lesser efforts. That's because Charity Ball contains some excellent rockers featuring some of the band's best ensemble playing. The best example of this is the cover of Buffalo Springfield's "Special Care". A tough-minded and slightly confrontational song, its first half is highlighted by Jean Millington's rough-edged vocal, but the second half is taken over by a fine trance-like jam featuring Nickey Barclay's organ washes and stuttering piano solo. Fanny's jamming skills also dominate the latter portion of Barclay's "Place in the Country". The lyrics' sketches of people caught in bad situations and needing some time to escape aren't nearly as compelling as they need to be, but Barclay's piano playing is fiery and guitarist June Millington's solo is punchy and piercing. I should also mention that drummer Alice de Buhr is rock solid throughout the album. No ten minute solos, just solid anchoring of the music (which is job number one for a drummer of any band).

The biggest highlight is the pulsating "Soul Child", the tale of a young cocktease featuring Jean Millington's slithering bass and gritty lead vocal. Not to mention Nickey Barclay's wailing organ solo. In fact, she just might be the star of the album. She wrote five of the eleven tracks and collaborated on "Soul Child" with the Millington sisters. Her bemused vocals on her composition "A Person Like You" is one of her most engaging performances. Not a ballad exactly, it tells the story of a male-female friendship (maybe platonic, maybe not). "A Little While Later", a chronicle of a love about to go bad, features some of Barclay's most pleasant singing. The song falls a bit short of the greatness it was clearly aiming for, but the baroque-flavored outro, played on what sounds like a toy harpsichord, is quite compelling.

The Millingtons combined to write the outstanding "You're the One". A stomper about wanting some good loving, it features some nice haromonizing by June and Jean,  and a lightly funky electric piano solo from Barclay. The sisters each contribute solo compositions, both of which are good but not great. Jean's soul searching, Beatlesque "What's Wrong with Me?" has a lovely melody, but sounds a little rushed (not to mention unfinished - it clocks in at 1:43). June's airy ballad "Thinking of You" has a memorable guitar riff, but has a frustrating lyrical lapse that makes the song significantly less enjoyable than it would otherwise be. At one point she sings "I need you more each day / In every way I do", but a few lines later she sings "I wonder how we met / As I forget your name / What can I do? / I need to love more than I need you".  Which is it?

All in all, though, Charity Ball's missteps are relatively few. This deserved much better than its #150 peak on Billboard (Fanny were also the first all-female band to put an album on that magazine's album chart). It's more than just a piece of history. It's a very enjoyable rock and roll album from perhaps the single most underrated rock and roll band ever.

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