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The Sound Of The Chicks (Sundazed)

The jumpers sisters Sue and Judy Donaldson are wearing on the cover of this album are part pop art, part chalet chic, part fun explosion of colour and pattern, and part just that little bit daggy. You like, you laugh, you want – in varying degrees.

Which is as good a summary of their songs, and your reaction to them, on their debut, a mid ‘60s burst of pop which apparently made them into bona fide pop stars in their home, New Zealand, and, at least for Sue, a solo career afterwards (as Suzanne Lynch whose influence was notable on a generation of young women in the ‘70s and ‘80s).

The Donaldsons were mid-teens in 1965 – Judy 16 and Sue 14 – and, having toured New Zealand with British R&B longhairs, The Pretty Things, were directed into the studio immediately. As far as I can tell, their neighbour who taught them to play guitar, a certain Kevin Borich – not yet burning stages with The La De Das, let alone his power trio The Express – did not play on their recording. Which is a shame for crate diggers and nerds.

In the ignoble tradition of middle-aged men who could count cash, cashing in on youth trends with some kids they could work to death and dispose of, the sisters were given a bunch of songs which try to hit as many ‘60s buttons as possible and told to make them work. And that they do valiantly.

There’s don’t scare the horses hokum such as Chubby Checker’s Hucklebuck (one of their first singles) and the slightly risqué The Birds And The Bees, alongside girl group favourites, such as The Butterflys’ Good Night Baby, and The Exciters’ I Want You To Be My Boy.

There’s sweet rhythm and blues, like Kim Weston’s Looking For The Right Guy, and beat group rhythm and blues like John D Loudermilk’s Tobacco Road (recorded by dozens of acts, from the Nashville Teens before them, to Bobbie Gentry after them).

And as well as sweet beat group fare ripped straight from the charts in Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat, which the toothy Herman’s Hermits were making a hit that same year, there’s the bold but also sensible – try making pop in 1965 without reference to them – move to cover three songs by The Beatles, two classics in Ticket To Ride and I Feel Fine, and the lesser album track, I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party.

Not surprisingly perhaps, The Chicks are at their most natural with the bouncy girl group numbers and You Don’t Talk About Love (which, though only recorded a year earlier by Daine Lee, already sounded like the day before yesterday’s sound), their youthful voices in sync with the style. And Looking For The Right Guy shows them in the best light: sweet but clear, and swinging easily.

But showing this was more than a tacky knock-off, there’s a little bit of almost garage punk attitude in those voices in Tobacco Road, and just the right amount of slouching into the melodies and nailing of the harmonies in the faithfully recreated arrangements (if tinnily recorded) of Ticket To Ride and I Feel Fine.

Knowing now that they went on to more than one of those six month explode/fade away careers – and I can recommend digging out on Youtube their 1969 performance of Miss You Baby for some fine turn-of-the-decade pop, with hilarious dancers - The Sound Of The Chicks would be a nice artefact.

But it turns out to be a lot of fun too – rug cutting, chalet-jumper wearing, pop fun baby!


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