FANNY - First Time In A Long Time: The Reprise Recordings (2002)
Upon signing hard rock combo Fanny in 1970, Warner Bros. claimed their new acquisition was the first all-female rock band -- a statement far from the truth, of course, but as one of the first self-contained female groups to land on a major label, they were an important harbinger of things to come. Fanny formed in California under the name Wild Honey, teaming singer/guitarist June Millington, her bassist sister Jean, keyboardist Nickey Barclay, and drummer Alice de Buhr. (The Millingtons and de Buhr had previously played in a Sacramento garage band called the Svelts.) With Wild Honey signing to Reprise, the new name Fanny was sested to producer Richard Perry by no less than ex-Beatle George Harrison; though a relatively innocuous term in the band's native United States, its more scandalous meaning overseas was only known to the group much later on.
Fanny's self-titled debut LP appeared in 1970, earning radio airplay for its cover of the Cream favorite "Badge." The title track from their 1971 follow-up Charity Ball was the group's first Billboard chart hit, although they enjoyed greater commercial success in the U.K., touring in support of Jethro Tull and Humble Pie. (They were also banned from performing at the London Palladium on the grounds they were "too sexy.") After contributing as session players on Barbra Streisand's self-titled 1971 album, Fanny issued Fanny Hill a year later, but following 1973's Todd Rundgren-produced Mother's Pride, June Millington and de Buhr left the group. Millington was replaced by guitarist Patti Quatro, formerly of the Pleasure Seekers and sister of another pioneering female rocker, Suzi Quatro. De Buhr's spot was first taken by Brie Howard, who had also played in the Millingtons' pre-Wild Honey band, although she was soon replaced by Cam Davis. The reconstituted lineup landed with Casablanca for a disappointing final album, 1974's Rock'n'Roll Survivors, before dissolving. The Millington sisters later recorded as solo artists before reuniting as the Slammin' Babes, while Barclay later toured as part of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen troupe and in 1976 issued a solo LP, Diamond in a Junkyard. De Buhr, meanwhile, also remained in the music industry, at one time working as a retail marketing coordinator for A&M -- where she was assigned to promote the Go-Go's, one of the bands for whom Fanny clearly paved the way.
It's amazing that this four-CD box set exists in the first place, considering not only that Fanny never had a Top 100 album, but that they've never had a particularly big cult following either. But here it is, albeit in a limited edition of 5,000 (sold in North America only). And all the stops were certainly pulled to assemble material, including not only all four of their early-'70s Reprise albums, but dozens of extras, many of them unreleased. Non-LP singles, single-only versions, home and studio demos (the earliest of them dating from July 1969, when they were still known as Wild Honey), alternate versions, outtakes: they're all here. Plus there's more: the tracks on the Canadian version of their debut album (which included three alternate versions never released elsewhere, as well as some cuts that only came out in the U.S. as non-LP singles) that didn't make it onto the U.S. configuration; seven songs from an April 1973 Philadelphia concert; four tracks from a live April 1972 Cleveland performance; six cuts from a demo session for the Mother's Pride album; even four Reprise radio commercials. Not to mention a 52-page booklet with extensive interview quotes from June Millington, Jean Millington, and Alice de Buhr. By definition any serious fan of any act is going to be pleased with such thoroughness. But all the bells and whistles don't act as convincing evidence that Fanny were any more than an ordinary, at times mundane, early-'70s rock band, leaving aside their pioneering status as an all-woman group on a major label that played their own instruments and wrote most of their material. The loads of non-LP and unreleased material aren't all that different than from what ended up on the four proper albums, though sometimes they show a more explicitly soul direction, as on the cover of Maxine Brown's "One Step at a Time" and the unreleased take of the Supremes' "Back in My Arms Again." The live recordings do prove that the band could rock convincingly and tightly on stage, and the fidelity on those is decent, though on the Cleveland cuts in particular it probably wouldn't have been judged up to release standard. Some of the demos are a mite folkier and more singer/songwriter-oriented than the albums, though that might be due more to the more basic arrangements than the material. Note that this doesn't include absolutely everything Fanny did; there's nothing from their post-Reprise album for Casablanca, and an archival live album of 1972 stuff done in Cleveland contains music not on this box.
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