The Vogues – At Co & Ce – The Complete Singles & More (review)

The Vogues – At Co & Ce – The Complete Singles & More (Omnivore Recordings)

Sonically superior sound and some b-sides making their digital debut 

The Vogues were one of the more interesting vocal groups to emerge in the mid-Sixties.  Their clever use of harmony and syncopation created some memorable singles that still stand up today.  Omnivore Recordings have just culled together all the band’s early singles, including rare b-sides, many of which have never been available in a digital platform.

The set opens with the Vogues’ cover of a Petula Clark song, “You’re the One.”  Jangly guitars and great harmonies build up to a big chorus.  It immediately made the Top Ten.  The single’s b-side, “Some Words,” is a pretty ballad with a nice sax solo.  Next, is the band’s signature song, “5 O’Clock World,” and it’s just fantastic. With a clever use of “hey” as the percussive background, the song resonates with anyone who’s sick of their job.  They’ve done fantastic work on the remastering, because the track just shimmers (many other versions on streaming sound terrible).  That track’s b-side, “Nothing to Offer You,” is a decent rewrite of the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You,” complete with a great Bill Burkette falsetto.

“Magic Town” is similar to the Drifters’ “On Broadway” in its theme of tough times in the entertainment business.  I’m surprised this wasn’t a bigger hit – it has a great chorus and piano solo.  The b-side, “Humpty Dumpty,” has a Bo Diddley beat and recalls “Hey Little Girl” by Dee Clark.  

Things started to get more sophisticated with “The Land of Milk and Honey” – dig the vocal percussion “chaaa” that repeats throughout the song.  I bet the Zombies were listening to this for their later hit, “Time of the Season.”  The b-side, “True Lovers,” features some fantastic falsetto and harmonies.  “Please Mr. Sun” is imbued with gorgeous harmonies, but the band began veering more toward the middle of the road, away from invention.

Their momentum began to stall with “That’s the Tune” – it really wasn’t the tune, it doesn’t really stand out like their other singles.  “Summer Afternoon” features a banjo, flute, and chimes, but is more of an atmospheric piece than memorable.  Their final single for Co & Ce was “Lovers of the World Unite” – a lukewarm attempt at a youth anthem.

After the several failed singles listed above, the band signed with the much-larger Warner Brothers records and managed to crank out quite a few more hits, including “My Special Angel,” “Turn Around, Look at Me,” and “Til,” but none of those featured any of the inventive elements that made songs like “5 O’Clock World” timeless, preferring instead to keep things safe.

The “& More” part of this collection consists of unreleased material during their tenure at the Co & Ce label.  Curious is “You Baby” – a song that has been done by everyone from the Mamas & Papas to the Turtles.  Not sure why this never came out, because they do a good job with it.  “Where Did We Go Wrong” has a Phil Spector feel in the production, while “Lonely Mixed-Up Girl” has an infectious, Fifties vibe.

The Vogues are certainly not among the most remembered vocal groups of the Sixties.  However, At Co & Ce – The Complete Singes & More shows that the band is deserving of another look.  —Tony Peters