In 1988, this was a total fluke hit record. Coming in from nowhere, and sounding like absolutely nothing else on the airwaves either here or in the U.K., The First of a Million Kisses from Fairground Attraction was a burst of infectious musicianship and peppy tunes. The album, reissued this week in spectacular, expanded fashion from Cherry Red Records, holds up remarkably well and listening to it now one is still charmed immensely by these modest and unassuming numbers.
Of course, what started this whole thing rolling was the single "Perfect", which, as the liner notes explains, was pretty much a perfect second take that got released as a single. Eddi Reader's warm, playful vocals stride atop the music laid down by Mark Nevin, Simon Edwards, and Roy Dodds. Listened to now, one can even hear the barest hint of the near-rockabilly hooks Nevin would shortly bring to his compositions with Morrissey just a few years after this. Still, there's nothing Smiths-like about the stuff here, Fairground Attraction instead bridging the worlds of folk and country -- swing country -- to create something unique. "Find My Love" bounces with a sort of Spanish vibe, while the lullaby of "A Smile in a Whisper" shines with the kind of gentle lyricism few have been able to master since. What makes so much of The First of a Million Kisses work even now is that nothing was forced on this one. The players sound like they are having fun ("The Moon is Mine" with its faint skiffle beat), or simply running through the cuts for the sheer joy of it (the jazzy "Clare").
Most of Disc 1 is the original album version of The First of a Million Kisses with a few bonus cuts but it's Disc 2 of this fine set from Cherry Red that really offers up the treasures here for fans old and new. Chock full of demos and live cuts, Disc 2 is the reason you need to buy this set, even if that means that you're buying The First of a Million Kisses for the second time.
With 20 or so bonus cuts, this edition of The First of a Million Kisses is the definitive version of this record that fans needed. The second CD features a clutch of live cuts that showcase the chops of this act. Stuff like "Don't Be a Stranger" or "Goodbye to Songtown" sound remarkably like the cuts on the album proper which shows just what a flawless record The First of a Million Kisses was in the first place. The rare release that offered up something uncomplicated and about a million miles away from pretension, the debut from Fairground Attraction is expanded here with the bonus CD acting as a sort of perfect companion to the album proper. If the live cuts highlight the strengths of these players, the demos provide further evidence at the naturals they were. "I May Never Be Queen" is a demo that could have been a fine album cut with a little bit of polish, while the superb "Red Ribbon" trots out a near-swing hook that suits Eddi Reader's pipes perfectly. A fine cover of Patsy Cline standard "Waltzing After Midnight" closes out the second disc here.
Look, it's unlikely that a record company could do anything to duplicate the unaffected charms of this sort of album but it's worth recalling an era when a major label could get behind something like this in the first place. The First of a Million Kisses wasn't exactly a "cool" record, even in 1988, but it was a supremely listenable one. Joyous and full of heart, the players here made something special, something magic, something perfect. I'm so happy that The First of a Million Kisses is the subject of the sort of reissue it's deserved for so long.
The First of a Million Kisses by Fairground Attraction is out today via Cherry Red Records.