The Apollas were/are (they still occasionally perform on the oldies circuit) a soulful female trio who worked out of San Francisco’s Bay area. Eventually built around the considerable vocal talent of Leola Jiles, their work is revered by the obscurists on the Northern soul circuit but now with this wonderful Kent 25 track retrospective, lesser mortals can now enjoy their music.
The group grew out of the gospel circuit and, originally known as the Apollos, they made a decent living in the Bay Area clubs where their gospel-based shows drew rave reviews. They soon came to the attention of the influential Leiber and Stoller who signed the girls to their Tiger imprint. Renamed the Lovejoys, there were a couple of singles in ’63 and ’64 but no chart action so the girls moved to Warner Bros where their first efforts were released on the iconic Loma imprint. By now they’d almost reverted to their original name – just changing the final “o” to an “a” to emphasis their femininity – but despite that and the excellence of their work, real success evaded them.
Still, they created wonderful, authentic 60s soul and listening now it’s hard to explain why they never managed to join the major leagues. Their early Tiger recordings (four included here) are very much in that charming, rough-hewn mould of the Marvelettes ‘Please Mr. Postman’, while their Loma/Warner Bros recordings are all big, full productions – again very much aping the then Motown template. There are plenty of Northern style dancers – ‘Mr. Creator’, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough Of You’ and ‘Jive Cat’ amongst them. The ballads are all delightful with ‘All Sold Out’ outstanding. Elsewhere you can hear the influence of the Impressions on ‘Who Would Want Me Now’ and ‘Nobody’s Baby (Am I)’ while ‘Lock Me In Your Heart’ is big and jazzy. And if you’re ever looking for the perfect 60s girl group confection go straight to ‘My Soul Concerto’.
The album also includes previously unreleased solo tracks on lead singer Leola Jiles. Apparently the Warner Bros execs had earmarked her for solo stardom – but the label’s efforts were half-cocked and only one single – a version of Oscar Hammerstein’s show tune ‘Why Was I Born’ was ever released. Much, much better are the songs that were left in the can – ‘I’ve Got So Used To Loving You’, ‘Keep It Coming’ and ‘Insult To Injury’- all classic uptown, Brill Building style pop/soul ballads –very much in the Dusty Springfield/Dionne Warwick bag… but more soulful. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why Leola and the Apollas were ultimately unsuccessful. Maybe they were just too darn soulful, too “black”, and too “church” for general consumption.