DARTS – THE ALBUMS 1977-81 (4CD Box) reviewed

Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the U.S. charts very rarely embraced blatantly retro bands like the U.K. did. Sometimes, a band like The Stray Cats would defy the odds and connect with a large commercial audience in the States but that was a rarity. Bands like Sha Na Na were considered a novelty act by the critics and would generally be ignored. At that time in America, the ‘oldies’ were so in the past…

However, in the UK, nostalgia was warmly embraced by the masses. The charts were filled with Greatest Hits collections by Rock ‘n’ Roll greats such as Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley, among others. Inspired by the never-ending interest in all things Rock ‘n’ Rolly, the British clubs, pubs, and live venues were overflowing with retro bands who would recycle older hits and bring them bang-up-to-date with a modern twist. The whole Glam Rock scene was essentially American Rock ‘n’ Roll dressed up in glitter, feather boas, and platform shoes! Outside of Glam, there were artists like Alvin Stardust, who would use ‘50s Rock as a blueprint and then take it straight into outer space! Even the original Punk Rock acts of the late ‘70s had retro roots!

Speaking of Punk Rock, even though the genre knocked a lot of the pretentious Prog rockers off of their perches, nobody expected that the ‘retro’ artists were going to continue to survive and thrive. While they barely received any media attention over here, Darts, the good-time nine-piece British outfit were just getting started when Punk began infesting the charts… and they certainly held their own, often outselling the likes of Sex Pistols, The Clash, etc. If you missed them the first time around, then it’s time to get caught up with 7Ts/Cherry Red Records’ four CD box set DARTS: THE ALBUMS 1977-81.

Darts may have seemingly come from nowhere but most of the band’s members were already seasoned professionals. Griff Fender, Rita Ray, and Horatio Hornblower were former members of Rocky Sharpe and the Razors. Iain “Thump” Thomson, George Currie and John Dummer were previously part of the John Dummer’s Blues Band line-up. The remaining members of Darts included founder Den Hegarty, William “Hammy” Howell and Bob Fish (formerly of Mickey Jupp’s band). The band’s sound blended Doo Wop with ‘50s Rock, ‘40s Swing, and ‘60s Pop and Soul. With four lead vocalists, horns, and an infectious backbeat, Darts made a joyful noise. The band nearly signed with Stiff Records but chose to join the Magnet label instead. Perhaps, if they had signed with Stiff, they’d be remembered more fondly outside of the UK and Europe… But let me assure you, any band with a member that goes by the name Horatio Hornblower must not be ignored!

Their first two albums – DARTS (1977) and EVERYONE PLAYS DARTS (1978) – were produced by American Pop legend Tommy Boyce, best known as one half of Boyce & Hart, the songwriting/production team who penned big hits for The Monkees and other ‘60s pop bands. Perhaps Boyce’s involvement might explain the guitar lick on “Too Hot In The Kitchen” sounding suspiciously like “Last Train To Clarksville”’s legendary riff? Both albums are mostly comprised of obscure ‘50s and ‘60s nuggets although the band’s various members offer up some tasty originals. The albums are immense fun, laying the musical foundation – and inspiration – for bands like Madness, Bad Manners, Dexys Midnight Runners, and The Specials. Both albums were successful in the UK charts and the band scored a string of hit singles including three #2s in a row! Disc One features two bonus tracks while Disc Two contains six additional cuts.

1979’s DART ATTACK was produced by another Pop legend: Roy Wood (Wizzard/ELO/The Move). Mixing Roy’s love of Spector-esque production and Darts’ infectious charm resulted in an album that was even more lovable than their first two releases. While the band still operated in the ‘retro’ arena, they sounded a lot more contemporary (in 1979) than ever before. Boyce’s production on the first two albums was geared for AM radio speakers but DART ATTACK sounds more robust and full of life. Even a well-trodden oldie like “Duke Of Earl” sounded fresh and exciting. With more self-penned tracks on an album than the previous releases, this full-length was perhaps the best representation of what Darts was all about. The CD includes four bonus tracks including their #10 hit “Get It” and the Roy Wood-penned “Sing Out The Old, Bring In The New.”

DARTS ACROSS AMERICA (1981) was not a live album as the title might suggest. Instead, it was an album recorded for the American market. Mixing their classic sound with a slightly edgier sound – with some synths added to the mix – the album was closer in spirit to the band’s first two albums. This time, however, the band tackled some more popular covers (“Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “Let’s Hang On,” “Think”), some more obscure numbers, and a handful of originals. The 13 bonus tracks include some great non-album single sides as well as five tracks that were recorded for their unreleased FRANTIC ANTICS album. These previously unreleased tracks reveal the band were continuing the ‘contemporary retro’ sound of DART ATTACK before they abandoned the project.

After these four albums, the band released some indie singles over the next four years before quietly splitting. Thankfully, this four CD set will introduce – or reintroduce – you to a band that exemplified the innocence of Pop and Rock. Prepare to be dazzled!

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

THE ALBUMS 1977-81

(7Ts/Cherry Red Records)

Avaiable NOW!