The Complete Ral Donner 1959-1962 UK Sequel NED CD 190 .Issued 1991.[CD now out of print] - review by Trevor Cajiao from issue no.107 (February 1992) of 'Now Dig This' - UK's premier Rock'n'Roll/Rockabilly magazine

At last someone's done Ral Donner justice. The back catalogue of this much-neglected artist (disregarded by many as an Elvis clone, despite that at the time - the early '60s - he was making better records - the kind of records Elvis should've been making) has been repackaged several times but mainly via a string of bootlegs. The only legal reissues of his classic Gone material have been the 1978 UK Pye LP 'You Don't Know What You've Got' and the US 'She's Everything' set on Murray Hill from ten years later (which vanished almost as soon as it appeared when the label closed down). Now, almost eight years after Donner's death (he succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 41 on April 6th 1984), Sequel Records in the UK have issued a double CD featuring his entire recordings from the 1959 - 1962 period. Mastered from the best available sources (23 of the 39 tracks featured are in stereo - some for the first time - and five previously unissued titles are included), it's the ultimate Ral Donner collection. TREVOR CAJIAO turns up his collar for a track-by-track examination...

CD 1

GIRL OF MY BEST FRIEND Ral hit No.19 in the US with his cover of this Elvis album track (from 'Elvis Is Back!') in early 1961. Moodier than The King's original, it picked up quite a bit of media coverage and many were convinced it was Elvis singing under an assumed name (Original issue: Gone 5102)

IT'S BEEN A LONG LONG TIME Unusual but very effective rocker issued as the flip of 'Girl Of My Best Friend'. No master could be located so for this CD it's had to be dubbed from disc. Although recorded along with 'Girl..' (at Fox Studios, Orlando around October 1960), it has a totally different feel to it (Original issue: Gone 5102)

I DIDN'T FIGURE ON HIM Magnificent! Should've been a No.1 (at least), and, coupled with the even more magnificent 'Please Don't Go', easily one of the greatest singles ever released in the history of mankind. I like it!!! (Original issue: Gone 5114)

STANDING HERE Another one from the top-drawer, and yet this lovely ballad remained unissued until 1978 (Original issue: Pye LP-28269)

TO LOVE Ral out-Presleys Presley! This superior, commanding love song was based on the Italian melody 'La Paloma'. Elvis recorded it as 'No More' for his 'Blue Hawaii' movie in March 1961; Ral cut it as 'To Love' in May 1961. But he couldn't have heard the Elvis version as it wasn't released until November '61. A pure coincidence. It was issued as the follow-up to 'Girl Of My Best Friend' but hastily withdrawn (it was thought to be "too weak" - bunkam!) in favour of 'You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It)', which was assigned the same catalogue number (Original issue: Gone 5108)

NINE TIMES OUT OF TEN and PLEASE DON'T TEASE Ral sings Cliff! Cliff Richard cut both songs at a March 1960 session and hit No.3 and No.1 with them respectively (in the UK). Ral cut them in May 1961, but only the former saw release at the time (on the 'Takin' Care Of Business' album). 'Please Don't Tease' remained unreleased until Murray Hill's 1988 compilation 'She's Everything' (Original issues: Gone LP-5012 / Murray Hill LP-000393)

SCHOOL OF HEARTBREAKERS This mid-tempo Pomus & Shuman ballad was recorded for the 'Takin' Care Of Business' album in May 1961. It was also issued as a single (Gone 5119) in November 1961. A second version was taped in the late summer of '61 but it remains unreleased (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'VE GOT (UNTIL YOU LOSE IT) His biggest hit (US: No.4 / UK: No.25) and a genuine classic - again thought by many to be Elvis singing under a pseudonym. It was written by Paul Hampton, himself no mean Elvis soundalike. For this release it's been mastered from the original multi-track tapes, marking it's first appearance in stereo (Original issue: Gone 5108)

LONELY STAR Supreme ballad from the Gone album. A second version remains unreleased (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

NITE OWL Not a particularly good song, but Ral's vocal elevates it to greatness. Recorded in May 1961, it remained unissued until the 1978 UK Pye LP (Original issue: Pye LP-28269)

YOU HAVEN'T LIVED UNTIL YOU'VE LOVED Previously unreleased until now. A pleasant enough ballad with a gentle shuffle beat to it (Original issue: Sequel NED CD 190)

SO CLOSE TO HEAVEN Beyond description. Sheer perfection (Original issue: Gone 5108)

LITTLE MISS HEARTBREAK Previously unreleased. A gem with Ral using a harder vocal approach on a moody/bluesy number (Original issue: Sequel NED CD 190)

TEARS OF MISERY Another previously unreleased title. This one's a mid-tempo ballad perfect for the market it was obviously intended for but never pitched at. Recorded in May 1961 (Original issue: Sequel NED CD 190)

CREAMPUFF A good bouncy rocker in the macho 'I'm A Man' vein; shame about the title and rather trite lyrics. Unissued until 1988 (Original issue: Murray Hill LP-000393)

SHE'S MY BABY Written by Steve Alaimo, co-producer of Ral's Gone album it appeared on (who later scored himself with 'Everyday I Have To Cry'). 'She's My Baby' is a great 'builder' with Ral in superb form offering a tortured vocal performance par exellence (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

TURN BACK THE CLOCK Originally tried in May 1961 but rejected in favour of a re-recording two months later, this smouldering ballad was another track destined for the 'Takin' Care Of Business' album (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

WITH YOU NOW Great little ballad with Ral in fine form - again! (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

PLEASE DON'T GO The most wonderful example of over-the-topness ever! Ral at his best, although it only peaked at No.39 (US) when issued in late '61. Billy Fury recorded a far less superior UK cover. Noted writer Bill Millar described Ral's version thus: " boils over with that unashamedly familiar vocal technique, all hot-potato-in-the-mouth and ripe with teenage angst. If Presley ever listened to the radio he must have wept, torn his clothes or wondered when he'd recorded it" (Original issue: Gone 5114)

CD 2

PRAY FOR ME Boy, that voice! Outstanding beat ballad from the Gone LP. Excellent (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

I DON'T NEED YOU Oh boy... I've used "excellent", "magnificent", "superior", "supreme" etc already. I'm out of superlatives and I need one desperately to describe this cracking bluesy pounder from the Gone album. Simply orgasmic! (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

BELLS OF LOVE The flip of 'Loveless Life' and yet another angst-filled ballad delivered from his boots (Original issue: Gone 5129)

PUDDLE OF TEARS This was the third previously unreleased title to appear on the UK Pye LP. From the late summer of '61, the song's nothing special but, once again, Ral's vocal delivery lifts it no end (Original issue: Pye LP-28269)

FOR LOVE NOR MONEY Bouncy little rocker from the pen of the great Otis Blackwell. Love the "uh-huh-huh" chorus (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

YOUR SKIES OF BLUE Only Ral Donner could get away with such a vocal performance. It's Presley exaggerated out of all proportions and it's tremendous (Original issue: Gone LP-5012)

BECAUSE WE'RE YOUNG Flip of 'School Of Heartbreakers', then issued again as one of the three different flips used for 'She's Everything'. A touch on the schmaltzy side - not as impressive as most of Ral's ballads (Original issue: Gone 5119)

JUAREZ (QUAREZ) Previously unreleased, and it's not too difficult to see why. A calypso-styled number sounding like a candidate for the 'Fun In Acapulco' soundtrack. The opening line is: "No hot tamali was ever hotter than the girl that I love so" (Original issue: Sequel NED CD 190)

SWEETHEART This was coupled with an overdubbed version of 'To Love' for Ral's final Gone 45, issued after he'd left the label following a dispute over royalty payments in 1962. Another pretty ballad (Original issue: Gone 5133)

SILVER AND GOLD The fifth and final peviously unreleased track on the set, and it's a fairly nondescript up-tempo item from a session held at Bell Sound in New York in November 1961 (Original issue: Sequel NED CD 190)

HALF HEAVEN, HALF HEARTACHE Cut a full year before the Gene Pitney hit version, this Schroeder & Gold number remained unissued until the 1988 Murray Hill album. A great performance, far better than the Pitney version (Original issue: Murray Hill LP-000393)

(WHAT A SAD WAY) TO LOVE SOMEONE Beautiful ballad complete with talking bit in the middle, this peaked at No.74 (US) in late 1961. Apparently, when Ral met Elvis the following year, The King told him this number was his favourite Ral Donner song (Original issue: Gone 5121)

LOVELESS LIFE Superb mid-tempo shuffle number that peaked in the US at a very disappointing No.133 in mid-1962 (Original issue: Gone 5129)

SHE'S EVERYTHING Ral's fourth and final US Top 40 hit reached No.18 in early 1962 and had a rather confusing history. It was first released in November 1961 as Gone 5121 with two different flipsides - '(What A Sad Way) To Love Someone' and 'Because We're Young' - then again with the same catalogue number but with 'Will You Love Me In Heaven' on the reverse. A great record, nonetheless (Original issue: Gone 5121)

WILL YOU LOVE ME IN HEAVEN One of the three 'She's Everything' flips, this mid-tempo number bounces along nicely with effective use of the vocal chorus. It also saw release later (February '62) as the 'B'-side of '(What A Sad Way) To Love Someone' - Gone 5125 (Original issue: Gone 5121)

TELL ME WHY and THAT'S ALRIGHT WITH ME Ral's first recordings, cut in Memphis in 1959 (with Charlie Rich and Bill Black included in the backing band) and issued on Scottie. Ray Smith also cut 'That's Alright With Me' as the flip of his 'Rockin' Little Angel' on Judd. Although neither song did much business, both were reissued on a Crown LP ('Ral Donner, Ray Smith & Bobby Dale') in 1963. The sound quality on these two cuts is very below par and both have appeared in better quality on various Donner bootlegs over the years (Original issue: Scottie 1310)

AND THEN Originally released as the follow-up to 'Girl Of My Best Friend' but withdrawn (see 'To Love'), it was then reissued in 1963, with overdubbed backing, on Tau (Original issue: Gone 5108)

LONLINESS OF A STAR In the same vein as Rick Nelson's 'Teenage Idol', but not as effective. Recorded at the 'Girl Of My Best Friend' session in 1960 but only released, with overdubbed backing, on the small Tau label from Florida in June 1963 (Original issue: Tau 105)

Trevor Cajiao - February 1992