Seeking a name to emphasise their New York origins, The Manhattan Transfer adopted the title of a 1925 novel written by John Dos Passos. Established in 1969, the still performing group really hit its stride during the late Seventies and early Eighties with their unique smart, sassy and sophisticated look back at nostalgia integrally mixed with music styles like boogie-woogie, doo-wop and vocalese blended into an irresistible modernistic whole. With the combined talents of Tim Hauser, Laurel Masse (replaced by Cheryl Bentyne in 1978), Alan Paul and Janis Siegel, the group’s albums and singles reached the Charts.
‘Coming Out’, released in early 1977 contains the original UK #1 single ‘Chanson D’Amour’ together with ‘Popsickle Toes’, ‘S.O.S.’, and ‘Poinciana’ amongst a collection of covers originally made famous by known or obscure artistes like The Kingston Trio, Polly Browne, Crystal Mansion, Roy Hamilton and Art & Dotty Todd with musicians Ringo Starr, Dave Frishberg and Dr. John present as part of the backing on some numbers. The album did much in launching the group’s discovery and success in the UK; reaching #12 in the album charts. A year later ‘Pastiche’ continued the run of chart success, reaching #10 with chart-busting extracted singles ‘On A Little Street In Singapore’ (#20), ‘Walk in Love’ (#12) amongst a number that did surprisingly well. However, ‘Four Brothers’ (Jon Hendrick’s lyrics to Woody Herman’s theme), a Nashville country styled treatment of ‘Love For Sale’, ‘In A Mellow Tone’ and the lively ‘Gal In Calico’ were amongst the album’s many other delights.
With UK tours including the long-gone Cornwall Coliseum where I was privileged to be on 2nd June 1981, ‘Live’ (#4 UK album charts) is a reminder of that occasion with the group’s on-stage performing abilities and humour well to the fore from a recording mix concerts undertaken in Manchester, Bristol and London’s Hammersmith Odeon in April/May 1978. The included repertoire adheres to many of their established hits including ‘Tuxedo Junction’ along with ‘Java Jive’, ‘Candy’ and ‘Operator’. On a separate disc, ‘Extensions’, issued in late 1979 reached #63 in the UK album charts with strongly featured ‘Birdland’, ‘Wacky Dust’, ‘Trickle Trickle’ and ‘Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone’ just four of the innovative tracks to explore and enjoy with the latter extracted song reaching #25 in the singles charts.
In many ways The Manhattan Transfer spearheaded the rise of such diverse groups as the eclectic Pink Martini and pop Scissor Sisters. UK release of the group’s later work has been somewhat spotty in recent years with their diversity less in evidence so I welcome these back-catalogue albums which sound even better now in their transfer to CD with fulsome notes/credits for both sets accompanied by the graphics which came with the original LPs.
During the 1970’s New Yorkers Manhattan Transfer were bigger here in the UK than in their homeland USA, notching up hit singles.
Recorded during the 1978 UK tour, the Live album includes five of their hits – Chanson D’Amour, Tuxedo Junction, On A Little Street In Singapore, Walk In Love and Je Voulais.
Studio recorded album Extensions was originally released in 1979, the standout track being the remarkable vocal harmony arrangement of Wealther Report’s Birdland.
These two albums are now available together on one budget-priced CD.