The Drifters, The Good Life with the Drifters
What can be achieved when sympathetic genres mix
Songs from Broadway musicals and Tin Pan Alley often find sympathetic interpreters in unlikely places. Latin band leaders Tito Rodriquez and Tito Puente were both masters or the art and Sonny Rollins played a tour de force “If Ever I Would Leave You” alongside John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” and Miles Davis’s “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” But perhaps the most fortuitous alliance has come from this music’s partnership with doo-wop and R&B. Nowhere is that better evidenced than on The Good Life with the Drifters. By the time of its 1965 release, the group had gone through a number of iterations, its changing essential character changing depending on who was handling lead vocals. Here, it’s the smooth-as-silk Johnny Moore, who had handled the Latin-tinged “Under the Boardwalk” and “Sand in my Shoes.”
It would be hard to imagine anyone more capable of putting over the material. Although not as well-known as previous leads Clyde McPhatter and Ben E King, Moore was better suited to the less rough-hewn material being supplied by Brill Building songwriters like Arthur Resnick, Kenny Young and Carole King. Good Life is an example of what can be achieved when sympathetic genres mix, when great material from one category encounters peerless performers from another. “On the Street Where You Live” is a truly sublime track, nearly impossible to play just once through. If it is the standout here, it’s got a number of close rivals. “I Wish You Love” is warm and wistful, but never succumbs to sentimentality. “Quando, Quando, Quando” is rhythmically infectious, but its Latin beat not overemphasized; the Drifters never try to be anyone but who they are, which helps them deflate overwrought material like “Tonight” and make it better than it would otherwise be. As a kind of bonus, the album includes “Saturday Night at the Movies,” one of the all-time great “from the neighborhood” anthems — “The Good Life” indeed.