Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sam Cooke

The album title was This Is Sam Cooke; it was a double album, part of the RCA “This Is So and So” series, which included Chet Atkins, Henry Mancini, Al Hirt, Eddie Arnold etc. I found it at the library, the downtown one I think. It was my introduction to Sam Cooke.

That’s amazing. I grew up without Sam Cooke’s voice. That’s not to say I grew up without Sam Cooke. I heard Cupid by Johnny Nash, Another Saturday Night by Cat Stevens, Bring It On Home To Me by The Animals (well, as a flashback, I’m not that old), Wonderful World by Art Garfunkel. But honest, I don’t remember hearing Sam Cooke. And yes, I know he was dead before I was 8, but so what? That’s what “oldies” are for.

So that’s what I had, This Is Sam Cooke. Later I got A Man And His Music. I bought it at some department store I believe. Thing about that album is that every track was written by Cooke. It’s amazing as a collection that way, but then you don’t get to hear him do Gershwin (Summertime) or Willy Dixon (Little Red Rooster). Better not to have to choose.

Some of these tracks, that weren’t included on either collection, were taken from a TV advertised collection, and I remember picking that up at Pyramid.

And so ladies and gentlemen, Sam Cooke. I will not say anything about his artistry, how he could sing absolutely anything and make it sound as natural as breathing, how he could write the corniest love song, the grooviest dance song, the most profound song about life’s changes and inequalities, and find exactly the right voice and the right mood for each. I won’t say anything about that. It’s been said already by others, better than I could say it. Let’s just listen, shall we?

Sam Cooke:

Touch The Hem Of His Garment – She is left, in the end, longing. If only, she says, I could touch the hem of his garment, I could be made whole. She doesn’t, though. She is there, in his presence, she sees him, he says touch me. But at the end of the song she has not gotten her wish, and we don’t know whether she will, and whether, if she does, whether she will, in fact, be “made whole.” This is Sam Cooke as leader of the gospel Soul Stirrers, doing an original, and this is ostensibly gospel, but there’s something very human going on here that belies the simple faith of your typical gospel record..
That’s Heaven To Me – More “gospel.” Heaven, to Cooke, is very earthly indeed.
I’ll Come Running Back To You – Total and complete self sacrifice, but in a secular romantic context, as it will be from now on. “I’ve got my pride” he sings, while he disproves that very notion throughout. A hit in the winter of 1958.
You Send Me –I don’t think we use that expression anymore. I think Olive Oil used it, though, in the old Popeye cartoon. “You send me,” she said, to Bluto… This was Cooke’s first hit, in the fall of 1957, and his only number 1.
Win Your Love For Me – Here is where it’s hopeless. We’re not told why, just that it would take “a miracle.” Man, if she hears him sing this, that’s all it should take. From the fall of 1958.
Just For You – It’s a nice romantic sentiment, just not very sustainable in the long run.
Chain Gang – Poor guys, incarcerated for who knows what, “working their lives away.” But wait, isn’t that all of us? Jim Croce covered this. From the fall of 1960.
When A Boy Falls In Love – A song about total and utter infatuation. Here is where we hear the difference between Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke. A hit in the summer of 1965. RCA was milking the legend.
Only Sixteen – An old timer of 17 looks back on an old love. Covered by Craig Douglas in England, and by Dr. Hook in the 70s. Listen to the melody. From the summer of 1959.
Wonderful World – Love will make you fail in school, sang Mickey to Sylvia. Oh Mickey, retorted Sylvia, school will make you fail in love. But the truth, for those of us who were there, was that school will make you popular, or school will make you miserable. And success with the ladies was far too often a function of success on some level, often academic. Ah, sang Sam Cooke here, if only it weren’t so. This song was revived by Herman’s Hermits in 1965, and by Art Garfunkel (with Paul Simon and James Taylor) in 1978. From the summer of 1960.
Cupid – Revived by Johnny Nash in 1969, and Johnny Rivers did it on one of his albums.. A song of desperate longing, for a girl “who doesn’t know I exist.” From the summer of 1961.
Nothing Can Change This Love – The idea that love is immutable is a popular one in pop songs. It’s also silly. From the fall of 1962.
Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day – Wait, sings Sam, wait, all comes to he who waits. But Sam can’t wait.
Love Will Find A Way – Sam goes slightly country on this sermon on the certainty of love.
A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam leaves all the confection behind on this mini-masterpiece. Indeed, he lets out all the stops. “I’m afraid to die” he sings, in this song that was released just after he was murdered. A hit for Cooke in the winter of 1965, the B side of Shake. There are many covers of this: Otis Redding, The Fifth Dimension, and Three Dog Night, on which Chuck Negron absolutely tears the roof off.
Everybody Likes To Cha Cha Cha – Well this is silly, sure. But really this is a tribute to the human spirit, and overcoming limitations. Seriously. A hit in the spring of 1959.
Another Saturday Night – All dressed up with no placed to go. I feel your pain, Sam, I feel your pain. A hit in the spring of 1963. Cat Stevens revived this in 1974.
Meet Me At Mary’s Place – A slow paced song about having fun fun fun. I assume that Mary’s Place is a night club of some sort, but it’s not all that clear…
Having A Party – Another song about having fun. “Having such a good time” he sings, but there’s a slight air of melancholy here that doesn’t quite jibe. From the summer of 1962.
Good Times – Let the good time [sic] roll, he sings. It seems that all his party songs are kind of slow, loping, tempered by a dose of something that isn’t exactly good times. Something about “feeling good” here that is specifically transient. From the summer of 1964, when Beatle music was rampant.
Twistin’ The Night Away – He picks up the tempo here, but it’s still not exactly twisting tempo. A tribute to the cross cultural nature of the twist phenomenon. From the winter of 1962. Rod Stewart covered this.
Shake – This was Otis Redding’s standard show opener. The Small Faces covered it also. From the winter of 1965. The A side of A Change Is Gonna Come. • Somebody Have Mercy – Sam laments his bad luck and his dysfunctional relationship. This was the flip side of Nothing Can Change This Love, and was a hit in the fall of 1962.
Sad Mood – Funny thing about Sam Cooke, he’s never entirely happy; a note of melancholy always creeps in. But he’s never entirely sad either, there’s a bounce here. From the winter of 1961.
Good News – Not the Muddy Waters song. This is some kind of reconciliation. Amazing how simple it always is. From the winter of 1964.
Bring It On Home To Me – A tour de force. Sends chills up the spine. Lou Rawls sings the responses (yeah!). This was a favourite for covers but it was The Animals who blew away the competition. From the summer of 1962.
Soothe Me – An odd expression for a love song. A hit for Sam & Dave in 1967.
That’s Where It’s At – Sam describes the ultimate romance. This was the B side of Cousin Of Mine, from the fall of 1964.
Frankie And Johnny – The perennial tale of jealousy and murder. Brook Benton had done this 2 years earlier, and Elvis revived it in 1966. This version was a hit in the fall of 1963.
Summertime – Well, everyone had a crack at this, and so did Sam Cooke. Sure he’s great, and sure he sings this better than 99.% of mortals, but the problem is that Billy Stewart came along in 1966 and blew everyone else out of the water. This was the B Side of You Send Me, and it reached number 81 in its own right in the fall of 1957.
Feel It – Singing to his girl. Don’t fight it, he says, feel it, and what he’s singing about it music, dancing. Sure. From the fall of 1961.
(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons – Cooke in direct competition with Nat King Cole on this one. He wins. From the winter of 1958.
That’s It - I Quit - I’m Moving On – What happens when you hit the wall. Sounds a bit glib, but the sentiment is genuine. From the spring of 1961.
Cousin Of Mine – This tongue-in-cheek comic opera was on the chart in the fall of 1964.
Send Me Some Lovin’ – Cooke in direct competition with Little Richard. Can’t declare a winner though; each is great in his own way. From the winter of 1963.
Little Red Rooster – In case we were wondering whether Sam Cooke could sing blues. Well, nobody would mistake him for Bobby Bland, but Cooke could sing anything. Written by Willy Dixon, recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, and even a UK hit by The Rolling Stones. From late 1963.
Sugar Dumpling – That he could make this as convincing as A Change Is Gonna Come is all the tribute you need. From the fall of 1965.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Will Glahé

YouTube is ruining my life.

Will Glahé was some kind of a German polka artist, famous for the Beer Barrel Polka. In late 1957 his Liechtensteiner Polka found itself on the Billboard chart, in one of those freak occurrences that used to happen.

I don’t remember where I got it. It was probably on some London Records compilation, “Instrumental Hits of the 50s” or something. And until now I’ve been very happy.

See, it’s an instrumental, apart from shouts of “jah jah jah” interspersed throughout. And I found it kind of amusing that Joel Whitburn listed it as “foreign,” given its limited lyrical content.

But I looked it up on YouTube. And lo and behold, it’s not an instrumental at all. It has words, and singing, all in German. So what do I have? I have no idea. It sounds pretty authentic, but it’s obviously not the hit version. How sad.

If not for YouTube, I’d have died happy. Now I’ll die knowing that I don’t have the hit version of Liechtensteiner Polka.

And how tragic is that…

Will Glahé

Liechtensteiner Polka – An accordion fan’s paradise. The original of this song, which sounds like it belongs in a Hollywood version of a Bavarian drinking establishment, spent 23 weeks in the top 100. That was in the fall of 1957. Long live diversity…

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Shepherd Sisters

The Shepherd Sisters have their own website, and it is tastefully done, with a decent discography, but not much in the way of dates. Wikipedia doesn’t help in that regard. So I don’t know how old they were when they hit the big time in 1957, but I’m guessing that they were younger than all those other sister groups who’d taken up singing rock and roll songs a few years earlier (McGuire Sisters, Fontane Sisters etc.) Anyway, the Shepherd Sisters were better at it (it helps I guess that they eschewed R & B covers), and seemed to have more in common musically with the groups that were to come (Shirelles, Chatays etc).

They only ever had one hit, so I guess I’ve got the whole collection…

The Shepherd Sisters:

Alone – Alone was the last track on Story, a classier than average non chronological greatest hits collection by The Four Seasons that I picked up at A & A Records in St. Vital Shopping Centre around 1980. I’d never heard the song before, though it had been a hit for the Seasons in 1964. It was a perfect album closer. I didn’t hear the original till quite a bit later, when I found the single at one of my habitual record hangouts (Pyramid? Argys?). And what strikes me is how similar the two versions are, and yet how each one perfectly captures the personality of the group performing it. And the original is a delightful record. A hit for the sisters in the fall of 1957.

Friday, September 25, 2009

December, 1957

  • Peggy Sue - Buddy Holly
  • All The Way - Frank Sinatra
  • I'll Never Say Never Again Again - Dinah Shore
  • Soft - Bill Doggett
  • Everyday - Buddy Holly
  • Great Balls Of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Kisses Sweeter Than Wine - Jimmie Rodgers
  • Put A Light In The Window - The Four Lads
  • The Story Of My Life - Marty Robbins
  • You Win Again - Jerry Lee Lewis
  • At The Hop - Danny & The Juniors
  • Liechtensteiner Polka - Will Glahé
  • Love Me Forever - The Four Esquires
  • Raunchy - Billy Vaughn
  • Wild Is The Wind - Johnny Mathis
  • Jack O' Diamonds - Lonnie Donegan
  • White Christmas - Bing Crosby
  • The Big Beat - Fats Domino
  • Henrietta - Jimmy Dee & The Offbeats

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Danny & The Juniors

It was 1970 and it was the Labour Day weekend. I was 13 years old and the local top 40 station, which was actually a top 30 station, and which was called CFRW, was having a Top 300 Of All Time weekend.

Well I’d had my ear glued to the radio since sometime in 1965 (I was 8 then, do the math) so I knew the stuff from the previous six years. I knew some older stuff too, Beatle songs, maybe Stones tracks that you’d hear as oldies (flashbacks, they were called then), but so many of those songs were new to me.

There was a contest – 100 free albums: you had to write down all 300 songs, title and artist, correctly, and send it in. Then they had to select it.

What a dream for a 13 year old kid with no allowance and a music addiction, 100 free LPs. But I didn’t win. For all I know they picked my entry, but I know that I wrote down Judy’s Turn To Cry as Judy Start To Cry. There’s an irony in that that I will not explain. I’m sure that I got others wrong as well, but that’s the one I remember.

After the fact, you know, they published the chart as a supplement to the weekly top 30. So that’s when I got to read the list. And down towards the bottom, there was a song that I’d written down as “At The Hop” by Danny & The Juniors. But what was written on the published chart was “At The Top.” Curious, I thought, that they sang “at the hop” but they called it “At The Top.”

They didn’t, or course, call it “At The Top” at all. But the typo won the day for me. For years I thought of the song as At The Top, and it was only later in my adult years that I’d realized that I’d been right the first time.

DJ: 1
Typo: 0.

When I first discovered Pyramid Records at the corner of Notre Dame and Princess, they had a rack of new records, mostly imported collections of old stuff, Rhino, Ace, SeeForMiles etc. I bought a few titles, but I couldn’t buy everything I wanted. So I had to pass on the collection by Danny & The Juniors. I didn’t realize at the time, but I’m sure it only had 3 of their hits, the ones on ABC Paramount.

Anyway, I never saw it again. I’ve thought about it since then, though, and I’ve only ever picked up their 2 biggest records. It seems that all their hits are available on Amazon on 2 different collections; the ABC Paramount recordings are available on Golden Classics Edition, and you can buy it for $110.72 USD. The Swan recordings are a bargain at $25.00, but you don’t know any of those songs anyway. So for now, I’ve got 2 songs…

Danny & The Juniors:

At The Hop – Rock and roll in excelsis. Sha Na Na made a career out of this song. They did it at Woodstock and they did it on Grease. It was Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids, though, who did it on American Graffiti. But it was Danny & The Juniors who had the number 1 hit in the winter of 1958. This has been a collection for a long long time.
Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay – A rather bold claim back in the winter of 1958 when this was a hit. It proved to be true, of course. This is At The Hop redux, but no matter. Sha Na Na appropriated for the title of their first album, in 1969. This is from the soundtrack to Stand By Me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bill Justis

Justis had two hits of his own, both in the late 50s on Phillips Records, and Phillips was not the European Company, it was Sam Phillips’ label, Sun’s corporate cousin. And so Justis belongs to that elite company that includes Elvis, Jerry Lee, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins etc.

But for most of his career he remained in the background: instrumentalist (sax), arranger, band leader etc. As fate would have it, he acted, as did Ernie Freeman, as arranger for a number of Dean Martin recordings. Those sides don’t have much in common with Raunchy. But I don’t suppose they would…

Bill Justis:

Raunchy – Said to be the first rock and roll instrumental, and maybe it was. Justis wrote the song, and his version went to number 2 in the fall of 1957. Competing versions by Ernie Freeman and Billy Vaughn went to number 4 and number 10, respectively. Freeman’s and Justis’ version are very similar, but I think Bill has the edge. The Ventures covered it, but they covered everything.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thurston Harris

Thurston is a funny name. Think Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. And the Thirsty character in Hi And Lois; his real name is Thurston.

But it was Thurston Harris’ name, and it didn’t hurt him. He wasn’t exactly a one hit wonder; he had 2 hits besides Little Bitty Pretty One, one of which was Over And Over, a hit for Bobby Day, and later for The Dave Clark Five, but neither of the 2 songs made it higher than 57 on Billboard.

My one song comes from the soundtrack to Stand By Me.

Thurston Harris:

Little Bitty Pretty One – Bobby Day wrote this. This is a gospel hymn; there’s no question. And yet the lyrics, a straightforward love song on the surface, are majorly unholy – “I’ve been watching you grow…” I bet. A top 10 hit in the fall of 1957. The Jackson Five’s remake in 1972 only made it to number 12.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Marion Ryan

The stuff I have amazes me. I never heard of Marion Ryan. Neither have you I bet. But here she is.

She was big in England in the 50s, though she only had two hits on the top 20. I have one, and I have no idea where I got it. I tended to pick up songs like this either on random K-Tel wannabe albums, or perhaps on cassettes that had actually been assembled in the UK.

Marion Ryan:

Love Me Forever – The idea of "forever" love is so romantic, and Ms. Ryan delivers her plea with such artlessness that one can't help but be moved. This is a teenage sounding love song in a style that became popular in the early 60s. Think Little Peggy March, Linda Scott etc. A UK hit in the winter of 1958.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Petula Clark

My wife and I, we both have our Pet Clark experiences. For me, Pet was part of my childhood, my cousin had a copy of Downtown and we borrowed it for a while, and from the age of 8 I lived with her singles on the radio. She was a regular. She had 21 top 100 records, 16 of which I actually remember hearing, plus one that I remember that wasn’t on the top 100 (Call Me). All of her stuff was chirpy and happy, even the sad songs were happy, which should tell you something. I got a greatest hits collection from the West Kildonan Library, that was a long time ago. It was a standard collection, Supersounds From The Superstar, and it was missing some key tracks, like Don’t Sleep In The Subway, but it had most of the big ones.

So I remember the hits, but I have no association with any of them, unlike other songs that I can place at various times and places.

My wife, she missed those radio years, but she grew up with a K-Tel collection, called 20 Fantastic Hits, and it had Don’t Sleep In The Subway. So between the two of us, we had an almost complete Petula Clark hits collection. Maybe that’s why we got married.

Pet Clark, by the way, was big in England at least 10 years before she was discovered in North America, and her early UK hits remain obscure. I only have three of them, myself. In 1965 she reinvented herself as a more up-to-date pop singer, helped along by the popularity of UK recording artists, and she was bigger than Dusty Springfield, who was better, and than Cilla Black, who was almost shutout in North America.

We saw her on TV a few years ago, and she’d gotten old, and the promotion said that she could sing as well as ever, but she couldn’t, she could barely reach the notes. And she was never a great artist to begin with. Let her legacy remain undisturbed…

Petula Clark:

The Little Shoemaker – The Gaylords, I think, did an earlier version of this. There is always something out there that we long for; if I had the right shoes, I would dance. Her voice here sounds very young, even compared to her 60s hits like Downtown.
Alone – Not The Sheppard Sisters song. Just another song about being alone, and she sounds a bit like Ann-Margaret. A UK hit in the fall of 1957.
Sailor – A hit in the winter of 1961 in the UK. The more famous version was sung in German by Lolita.
Downtown – Her signature song, number 1 in the winter of 1965, kicked off her North American career, and reinvented her as a would-be British invasion artist. The song is weirder than it sounds on the surface. Downtown as a kind of cure for despondency. Who needs anti-depressants when you can go downtown?
You’d Better Come Home – Heartbreak as ultimatum. From the summer of 1965. This is probably the first Pet Clark song that I heard, and I remember hearing it, but I have no association with that summer.
‘Round Every Corner – Starts a capella with a chorus of voices that is probably Pet overdubbed. A song about discovery, and the surprises that await us. It’s a bit too cute. From the fall of 1965.
The Cat In The Window (The Bird In The Sky) – A song of longing, limitations, freedom imagined. I don’t remember hearing this one. From the fall of 1967.
Two Rivers – A tribute to London and to Paris. A bit of autobiography; she was English, her husband was French.
A Sign Of The Times – From the spring of 1966. A bad relationship gone good. Sounds like there’s just a bit of denial going on here. And temporally, it’s a bit confused…
Colour My World – Not the Chicago song. Colour as emotional metaphor, like Love Is Blue, but happier. From the winter of 1967. I’ve seen the spelling both ways, but given that she was English, I assume that the original spelling had the “u.” • Who Am I – An identity crisis in song? An uptempo, chirpy song about depression. From the fall of 1966.
Call Me – A hit for Chris Montez, and recorded by many, including Frank Sinatra. It seems that this is the version that I remember, though it doesn’t seem to have been on the pop charts anywhere.
I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love – “Didn’t like you much when I first met you, but somehow I just couldn’t forget you.” Love those lines. Another dippy song, but there’s something about the descending melody here then works. From the summer of 1966.
You’re The One – A hit for the Vogues in 1965. Pet’s version is suitably upbeat.
• I Know A Place – Down At Lulu’s, Sugar Shack, 333, take your pick. From the spring of 1965, kind of sequel to Downtown.
Don’t Sleep In The Subway – This isn’t your run-of-the-mill love song. Norman, the guy she singing to, he sounds kind of dysfunctional. Her talk sounds like therapy talk. His name wasn’t really Norman, and I see homeless people sleeping in the subway quite frequently. Maybe they should play this song over the PA. A hit in the summer of 1967.
This Is My Song – From the spring of 1967, and I don’t remember this one. A celebration of life, which was also a hit for Goon Show star Harry Secombe – In England, anyway…
Kiss Me Goodbye – Let’s keep it friendly. These make-believe breakups are always so bogus. From the spring of 1968.
Winchester Cathedral – A not very convincing cover of the 1966 hit by The New Vaudeville Band.
American Boys – From the winter of 1968 / 1969. She’s not stereotyping or anything…
The Windmills Of Your Mind – Noel Harrison did this and it was used as the theme for The Thomas Crowne Affair, and it was hit in NA for Dusty Springfield. Pet’s recording is less then stellar; it’s serviceable.
Happy Heart – She and Andy Williams were on the chart at the same time with this song (spring of 1969); Andy hit the top 40, she didn’t. Andy owns this.
• What Now My Love – Another serviceable cover. I listen to various versions of this song listening for the hit that got away. This wasn’t it.
For All We Know – There are two songs with this title; this is the one that The Carpenters did. Better listen to Karen Carpenter.
Don’t Give Up – Pep talk. It’s always easy to tell someone else that things’ll be fine when things are fine for you. But maybe she’s talking to herself. Appropriately chirpy. From the summer of 1968.
The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener –This pop music sermon was in the top 40 during the winter of 1967 / 1968.
My Love – Not The Wings song. This paean to great romance was number 1 in the winter of 1966.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jimmy Reed

I borrowed The Very Best Of Jimmy Reed from a friend of mine, whom I shall call Sausages. He had more albums than I had.

Not the only guy like that. I knew a guy who had 35000 LPs in his basement, and he was 30 something and still lived with his parents. He had to, because he couldn’t rent an apartment big enough for his collections, and nobody would marry him and his records. Move away and leave the records behind? Don’t even suggest it.

Thing is, a guy with 35,000 records, it’s not for the music, not mainly, it’s an obsession, the collecting, it’s about first editions and original labels and limited editions and etc etc. (The grammar police will get me for that “and etc;” but that whole sentence is chaos.)

My friend though, he was into the music, big time. A jazz fan mostly, but his taste was eclectic and he had Springsteen next to Sonny Stitt (literally? No.)

So I borrowed Jimmy Reed. I also borrowed Phil Ochs. I also got some Van Morrison from him. And I used his CD player when mine AWOL.

So “Sausages”, here’s wishing you and your LP collection and your family all the best in health and happiness, and more health…

Jimmy Reed:

High And Lonesome – What is he singing about. I really don’t know, but the title is contradictory. Whatever it means, he sings it rather defiantly. “I’m high and lonesome,” he proclaims, “be on your merry way.” Odd.
Boogie In The Dark – Never mind what he is singing about; this one’s an instrumental. Jimmy Reed in excelsis.
You Don’t Have To Go – It doesn’t get more basic then this. But he is not asking her to stay with him. Rather he is offering to go and save her the trouble. He even gives her his money…
Take Out Some Insurance – A strange song title indeed, but in the end it’s just another way of saying I will die if you leave me. Tony Sheridan did this with either The Beatles or The Beat Brothers. It was on that Hamburg album they did…
Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby – A rock and roll staple, but not the Elvis Presley song. A hit for Bobby Bland, recorded by Taj Mahal, The Youngbloods etc etc.
You Got Me Dizzy – Well Little Willie John had fever, this guy is dizzy… love as illness.
Down In Virginia – It’s hard for me to understand a word he’s saying on this. From the summer of 1958.
Honest I Do – “You’re the sweetest little woman” proclaims Jimmy, “that I ever had.” And that’s right after saying “stop driving me mad.” OK. From the fall of 1957, and, at #32, the biggest hit he had. Covered by The Stones on their first LP. • Found Love – He does his best mumbling on this. From the summer of 1960.
Goin’ To New York – New York as some kind of promised land. Nilsson did a similar thing, lyrically at least, on I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City.
Baby What You Want Me To Do – The Yardbirds’ version is probably more famous, but the original has all the earthiness, the hidden desperation, you’ve got me doing this, you’ve got me doing that, what you want me to do. According to Dave Marsh, it’s his real life wife singing with him. From the winter of 1960.
I Ain’t Got You – Another original of a Yardbirds cover. The list of what he does have here is so comprehensive that one may be forgiven for thinking that he’s showing off. What’s it all worth, he asks, I ain’t got you. Still…
Big Boss Man – The little guy vs. the big boss. You ain’t so big, he sings, you just tall, that’s all. Meaning what? Elvis covered this, and it wasn’t his biggest hit, reaching only #38 in the fall of 1967, but that was higher than Reed placed it, #78 in the summer of 1961.
Tell The World I Do – Jimmy slows the tempo down, on this statement of undying love. And it’s all very romantic, in a bluesy kind of way, except that his voice sounds positively demented…
Bright Lights, Big City – So many covers of this, from Them to Sonny James. This tale of urban corruption was a sort of hit in the fall of 1961. 7g
Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth – And he means it in the nicest possible way. From the winter of 1962.
Laughin’ At The Blues – Maybe. This is a fast instrumental blues, and I don’t know if I’d characterize his guitar on this as laughing, but if you did then you wouldn’t be too far wrong…
Shame, Shame, Shame – Not the Shirley & Co song. The usual stuff, you don’t have to hear it to know what it’s about. This was his last chart placing, in the spring of 1963.
Red Light, The Stop Light – Traffic and driving images crop up now and again: 1-2-3 Red Light, Crosstown Traffic. On this one Jimmy Reed brings his trademark blues to an intersection near you…

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ernie Freeman

Freeman’s career was all over the map: jazz, pop, R & B, rock and roll. He was a member of B Bumble & The Stingers, and he arranged sessions for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He had 5 hits on the top 100, but apart from Raunchy, none made the top 40. 4 of them show up on a CD called Raunchy, which I don’t have, and the cheapest copy of which is $106 USD on Amazon (25 tracks). Very strange, that, considering that all his hits were on Imperial.

Ernie Freeman:

Raunchy – The late 50s was when rock and roll was finding itself, so for sure it had to establish itself as in a medium for instrumentals. And so it was that we remember the classic instrumentals: Rebel Rouser, Rumble, Teen Beat, Guitar Boogie Shuffle, Tequila, Wild Weekend. And Raunchy. Raunchy was the first. It was written by Bill Justis, whose version reached number 2, and was covered by Freeman, who claims a close second at number 4, and Billy Vaughn, whose version reached 10, all in the fall of 1957. And none of its purveyors were particularly closely identified with rock & roll.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

November, 1957

  • Little Bitty Pretty One - Thurston Harris
  • My Special Angel - Bobby Helms
  • Silhouettes - The Diamonds
  • Honest I Do - Jimmy Reed
  • Back To School Again - Jimmie "Oh Yeah" Rodgers
  • When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano - Pat Boone
  • Trying To Get To You - Elvis Presley
  • April Love - Pat Boone
  • Till - Roger Williams
  • I'll Remember Today - Patti Page
  • I Need You So Bad - BB King
  • Just Born - Perry Como
  • Alone - The Shepherd Sisters
  • Ça C'est L'amour - Tony Bennett
  • Wonderful, Wonderful - Stan Freberg
  • Could This Be Magic - The Dubs
  • Rock And Cry - Clyde McPhatter
  • Rock And Roll Music - Chuck Berry
  • Raunchy - Bill Justis
  • Raunchy - Ernie Freeman
  • I'm Available - Margie Rayburn
  • The Joker (That's What They Call Me) - The Hilltoppers
  • Swanee River Rock - Ray Charles
  • Hey Little Girl - The Techniques
  • Pretend You Don't See Her - Jerry Vale
  • Alone - Petula Clark

Monday, September 14, 2009

Little Joe & The Thrillers

Genuine one-hit wonders. One can only imagine how thrilling The Thrillers must have been. Perhaps Michael Jackson named his big album after them. Perhaps.

What does Carlos Santana have to do with this group?

I was looking, one afternoon, back around 2002, for The Swing Of Delight by Carlos Santana. I don’t remember why, or what about it I was exactly looking for. But what I found was a copy for downloading on a Russian web site called (Don’t look for it; it’s been taken offline by the vulture music publishers who claim that they were being cheated out of their royalties.) Apart from a few select titles, these were not free downloads. But they were very very cheap.

There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of titles. They added new stuff everyday. The downloading worked like a charm. You'd buy $5.00 or $10.00 or $20.00 of credit, and download until you'd used up your money.

When they went offline, I imagine that people got caught having credit they couldn't use. Fortunately I wasn't one of them; they owe me about 25 cents, but the lawyer I wanted to hire wanted 30 cents to do the case, so I demurred.

Over a number of years I acquired a number of interesting titles from the site. I found The Doo Wop Box there; in fact I found 2 Doo Wop Boxes, each with different titles. And so that’s where my Little Joe & The Thrillers “collection” comes from.

Little Joe & The Thrillers:

Peanuts – Little Joe (presumably) sings, in the most amazing falsetto, a love song to a girl named “Peanuts.” I know she’s a girl because he sings “girl. This is somewhere between doo wop and jump blues. From the fall of 1957. A hit again in 1963 (somewhat) for The Four Seasons. And there is a completely different song called Peanuts by a group whose name escapes me, and it doesn’t show up on, except in a cover by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. And no, I’ve never known a girl named Peanuts. Allergy sufferers beware…

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Rays

The Rays, who had one of the greatest doo-woop / slow prom dance hits of all time, don’t even get the honour of being one hit wonders. They had three more chart singles after Silhouttes, including its flip side, Daddy Cool. None of the 3 placed higher than 49, and I don’t have any of them.

My Rays collection, which consists of a single track, came from Echoes Of The Rock Era.

The Rays:

Silhouettes –For a long time I only knew the Herman’s Hermits cover of this song, then when I was about 13 I found the lyrics on the back of Sha Na Na’s first album. And they blew me away. No wonder. They reveale a tale of jealousy, insecurity, anger, and the relief that comes from waking up from a bad dream. And so many unanswered questions. Why was he walking past her house, was he stalking? Was it on his usual route? Why did he get confused? And what did she think when he “loved her like [he] never loved?” A tale for the ages.

The songs starts with a tap tap tap on the snare (knocking on her door?) followed by piano triplets and ahhs from the group, and we don’t have to use a lot of imagination to see our hero taking the walk past her house. A hit for The Rays in the fall of 1957. The original reached #3 on Billboard; a cover released almost immediately by The Diamonds only reached #10. And the world was seeing how the original R & B version could finally outperform the white cover. Let’s dance…

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bobby Helms

Figure this guy. He was more than anything a country singer, known best for 3 pop songs, all of which were hits bang bang bang during the last 3 months of 1957. He had 3 chart records in 1958, but none made the top 40 and they are all forgotten.

Bobby Helms:

Fraulein – In the fall of 1957, when this song was a hit, the Second World War was only 12 years over, and there were plenty of people around who’d fought the Germans, who’d been interred, who were Holocaust survivors. So I’m sure that a love song to this foreign miss must have stuck in the craw of a few. But beyond that, the foreign love has always been a favourite theme, bringing a touch of the exotic to an otherwise mundane romantic lyric. Helms’ voice, though, was not mundane. He was the perfect country singer to do rock and roll.
My Special Angel – Helms’ original became a favourite love song for the ages. A hit just about a month after Fraulein, late fall of 1957, and I don’t know why the two songs were released so close together. A hit again for the Vogues 11 years later.
Jingle Bell Rock – The marriage of rock and roll and Christmas starts here. It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it, because Jingle Bells isn’t, as far I can tell from the words, a Christmas song exactly. And neither is Jingle Bell Rock. But the association is cast in cement. Elvis did Blue Christmas a year earlier, but, amazingly, it wasn’t released as a single. From the winter of 1957 / 1958. Redone a few years later by Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

October, 1957

  • Lotta Lovin' - Gene Vincent
  • Wake Up Little Susie - The Everly Brothers
  • Black Slacks - Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones
  • Deep Purple - Billy Ward & The Dominoes
  • Peanuts - Little Joe & The Thrillers
  • Moonlight Swim - Tony Perkins
  • Dixie Darling - Lonnie Donegan
  • My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You - Ray Price
  • Keep A-Knockin' - Little Richard
  • Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley
  • Fraulein - Bobby Helms
  • My One Sin - The Four Coins
  • Lips Of Wine - Andy Williams
  • Be Bop Baby - Ricky Nelson
  • Just Between You And Me - The Chordettes
  • Remember You're Mine - Pat Boone
  • Treat Me Nice - Elvis Presley
  • Around The World - Bing Crosby
  • With You On My Mind - Nat King Cole
  • Wait And See - Fats Domino
  • You Send Me - Sam Cooke
  • Summertime - Sam Cooke
  • Melodie D'Amour - The Ames Brothers
  • Silhouettes - The Rays
  • Ivy Rose - Perry Como
  • I Love You Baby - Paul Anka
  • Idol With The Golden Head - The Coasters

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones

Who was Joe Bennett? Who were The Sparkletones?

Well we know that they had 2 chart singles in 1957. We know that they recorded for ABC Paramount. We know that both of their hits were about articles of clothing. And we know all that before even looking at Wikipedia.

After looking them up, we know that they were from South Carolina, that they were in their teens when they debuted, and that The Sparkletones were Wayne Arthur, Howard “Spanky” Childress, and Jimmy “Sticks” Denton.”

Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones:

Black Slacks – A tribute to a pair of trousers. Songs about clothes: Blue Suede Shoes, A White Sport Coat And A Pink Carnation, Pink Shoe Laces. In this case it wasn’t the item, it was the cut. Stylistically the song is a deliberate throwback, with its references to being a “cool daddy-o” it already sounded old in the fall of 1957. And the YouTube video is appropriately perverse; they are all wearing white slacks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Rock And Roll Trio

Ok, 1-2-3, what’s the most generic name we can come up with? Even in 1957, when rock and roll was a relatively new phenomenon, a name like Rock And Roll Trio didn’t exactly insinuate itself into your mind with its originality. Of course, this kind of thing can work by its very perversity (think of The Band) but that didn’t seem to happen with these guys. In fact, their very name is subject to a high level of uncertainty; they were known variously as The Rock And Roll Trio, The Johnny Burnette Trio, and The Johnny Burnette Rock And Roll Trio.

Burnette was the lead singer; he was accompanied on bass and sometimes vocal by his brother Dorsey Burnette, and on lead guitar by Paul Burlison. It was Burlison whose contribution has been most celebrated by subsequent generations. And there was always a drummer on hand, so it was never just the trio that one heard on the recordings.

Johnny Burnette, who died young (in 1964 at the age of 30), had a brief second career after the demise of the trio, as a teen idol (Dreamin’, You’re Sixteen). Dorsey had a brief career at the same time, but he never developed as clear an identity. Johnny’s death hit him hard; his career took a nose dive and it never really recovered. And Burlison, he retired from music in 1960, and stayed out until 1980, after which he embarked on various and sundry musical projects.

This was a double album that I rented from Red River Books. They had this system, you’d take an album, pay $1.00, and keep it for 2 days. I think it was 2 days. Anyway, it’s a pretty comprehensive collection.

The Rock And Roll Trio:

Tear It Up – Their first single. Johnny sings about dancing like his life depends on it. Typical of what’s to follow.
You’re Undecided – All the frustration of a non-commital partner, in 2 minutes of rockabilly
Oh Baby Babe – A variation of Let’s Play House, with the repeated refrain of “baby baby baby” sounding like some rockabilly version of speaking in tongues.
Midnight Train – Desolation, Memphis rock and roll style. Just from the first couplet we imagine the lonesome train station in the middle of the night, the rain pouring, the wind blowing, none of which happens to be in the actual lyrics. And only gets worse from there…
Shattered Dreams – With a full orchestra, here is where Johnny Burnette sounds like the guy who’d record You’re Sixteen a few years hence.
The Train Kept A Rollin’ – This music is so extreme that what on the surface is a straightforward love song becomes a kind of manic obsession. Burlison’s guitar on this track is legendary, supposedly the first deliberate use of feedback, but as often as I listen, I don’t hear it. Famously covered by The Yardbirds, and less famously by The Nazz.
Blues Stay Away From Me – There is so much energy here that the blues couldn’t get near in a million years. Harmony singing on this one.
All By Myself – Not the Eric Carmen song.
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee – A cover of the Stick McGhee song from 1949. Cf Jerry Lee Lewis’ version, which is a great example of how rockabilly versions of the same song can be radically different.
Chains Of Love – Not, apparently, the Pat Boone song, and definitely not The Cookies song, but the same idea as both. This one is decidedly blues.
Honey Hush – Originally by Joe Turner (Shake, Rattle & Roll), but it’s the Trio’s version that makes it one of the most covered of their songs; Paul McCartney recorded it solo on Run Devil Run. The song is no holds barred message to a woman who just can’t keep her mouth shut.
Lonesome Tears In My Eyes - The Beatles recorded it and it’s on their BBC album. This group did all these sad songs, but they were never sad. There was too much jubilation in their delivery
I Just Found Out – He got what he wanted and everything went to hell. What he found out was “you’ve been cheating.” A song about the world falling apart.
Please Don’t Leave Me – The Fats Domino song. The Fontane Sisters do this, but these guys leave them at the starting gate. Johnny sings oo oo oo like he’s reading it off a lyric sheet, but then he takes off with the lyrics proper and soars. If she leaves him after this, man, she must be deaf.
Rock Therapy – A great idea, we have cognitive therapy, art therapy, I’m sure there is music therapy, so why not rock therapy. Let’s do it! • Rockabilly Boogie – A kind of would-be anthem.
Lonesome Train (On A Lonesome Track) – Midnight Train redux, sort of…
Sweet Love On My Mind – Nothing sweet about this really, unless romping feel-good dance-your-head-off rockabilly is “sweet”…
My Love You’re A Stranger – Female chorus on this, very post Trio.
I Love You So – Another one with the chorus, tinkly piano, and laid back teenage pop approach.
Your Baby Blue Eyes – Back in the groove. Can’t resist…
Touch Me – Not The Doors song. One of the weirder ones in their canon. A lover’s touch invested with almost mystical powers, and it’s all in Johnny’s vocal.
If You Want It Enough – The song is about love, but you know it could apply to anything.
Butterfingers – A novelty song, more or less. A hit on the Canadian charts in the fall of 1957.
Eager Beaver Baby – A relationship needs the right balance of closeness and distance. This is a song about what happens when it goes off, though it all seems to come our okay in the end…

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Tune Weavers

Your classic one hit wonder, The Tune Weavers were a quartet, 2 male, 2 female. This “collection” comes from Echoes Of A Rock Era, the source of so many of these odds and ends.

The Tune Weavers:

Happy, Happy Birthday Baby – A birthday card from an ex, all sugar and sweetness. “Hope I didn’t spoil your birthday” she sings. Like hell. One of the first in a long line of rock / pop / R & B birthday songs. The group’s only hit, from the fall of 1957.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Underrated Beatles

So they finally remastered The Beatles’ albums, and they are scheduled for release some time this week, and I don’t think I’ll buy them, in fact I know I won’t buy them, partly because I’m unemployed and therefore broke, and partly because I can’t justify spending all that money, especially on music I already have, remastered or not. And I happen to be suspicious of the whole concept. Yeah, I know it sounds amazing, and I can’t really argue with that, but still it’s a kind of historical revisionism. This is not what The Beatles sounded like when they existed. But I will leave that discussion for another day…

So on this occasion, I thought I’d throw my 2 cents in here, and provide my own list, not of the best Beatle albums or the best Beatle songs, nor of the worst. This, rather, is my own revenge, an accounting of 10 of what I consider to be the most underrated of Beatle songs, the ones that get dismissed as inconsequential, second rate, not worth writing about etc etc, the ones that fall through the critical cracks. So let’s go…

1. Hey Bulldog –Yeah I love Eleanor Rigby and Yesterday and Julia, but man, The Beatles were a *rock* band. Hey Bulldog was hidden away on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, an album that itself fell through the cracks, and none of the critics that I’ve read seem to have noticed this track, or if they had, they just kind of waved it away. But it pounds and it stomps, and it sears through flesh. It is the epitome of Lennon as the paragon of cool. And in case we forget what a great musician McCartney really was…
2. Rain – Ditto for McCartney, but this is another Lennon track, and I’m not sure that it should be on this list, because I think it’s had some recognition, but I say not enough. The A side was Paperback Writer, and that’s what got all the attention, but this is where the brilliance is.
3. I’ll Follow The Sun – A folky acoustic track from Beatles ’65. The harmonies on the refrain (“And so the time has come…”) alone are worth whatever you pay for the CD.
4. I’ll Get You – Maybe by Paul, maybe a genuine collaboration between John and Paul, they did that in those days. This was the flip side of She Loves You, considered a second rate Beatle song by the pundits, but the combination of longing and optimism and determination is unmatched. And man, listen to the melody. Second rate?
5. I’m Down – Ok, Dave Marsh recognized this one in The Heart Of Rock And Soul. Sue me. And did I say Hey Bulldog was rock? Ok. Put the roll in. This reminds us that The Beatles were a rock and roll band. And that’s different.
6. If I Needed Someone – Let’s not forget George. Here he does his 12 string best. He knocked the Hollies’ cover, not very graciously or fairly I think, but we’ll leave that for today. This was from The Beatles Yesterday And Today, but if you buy the new CD it’ll be on Rubber Soul.
7. And Your Bird Can Sing – Another track from Yesterday And Today (look for it on Revolver). This soars, and I don’t know how anyone can hear what’s going on with the guitar on this and not be blown away. And the bass counterpoint…
8. You’re Gonna Lose That Girl – From the Help! soundtrack. Lennon again. This is what they were trying to say on She Loves You, but here they get it right.
9. Within You Without You – The most dissed track from Sgt. Pepper – George Martin himself described it as “rather dreary” – but, like, I guess I don’t agree. I think the juxtaposition of the Indian instruments and the strings is inspired. So there.
10. Two Of Us – The lead off track from the last Beatle album (hear me? Yes. The last Beatle album was Let It Be, not Abbey Road). John and Paul do their best Phil and Don, and capture a genuine folky feel in what is essentially a farewell song to the world.

Honourable Mention: I’ll Be On My Way – Lennon and McCartney wrote this way back when, and gave it to Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, who put it on the B side of one their hits (the A side was Do You Want To Know A Secret, also by The Beatles). Someone could have made a career out of this song. The Beatles themselves didn’t seem to have recorded it in the studio, but a recording finally surfaced on The Beatles At The BBC, and hey, you know, it’s not Beethoven’s 9th, ok, but neither is it a song to throw away. Well it’s good we finally have it anyway…

Friday, September 4, 2009

Della Reese

Della Reese and I have barely crossed paths. In all my travels I’ve never picked up a copy of her biggest record, which was Don’t You Know, from 1959. All I’ve got are these two singles, the first on Jubilee, the second on RCA. And I see, looking at Amazon, that collections by said artist are not to be had, apart from a collection of her Jubilee sides, only 2 of which were actual hits.

She strikes me, Della Reese does, as a couldhavebeen. She was better known as a live performer and as an actress than as a recording artist. She somehow got overshadowed by singers like Dionne Warwick, Aretha of course, even Nina Simone. Of course she has a legion of fans who will take me task...

Della Reese:

And That Reminds Me – A hit in the fall of 1957.Very Vegas. A song that sounds more like an MOR standard than it really was, but it still got covered a lot. The Four Seasons put it back on the chart in 1969, and, sacrilege though it may be, I prefer their version. Della herself re-recorded it for RCA. The original is on Jubilee. Don’t be fooled.
Not One Minute More – This song of undying love highlights the strange juxtaposition of Reese’s very R&B delivery sung against a total MOR arrangement. From the winter of 1960.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bobbettes

Enter the girl groups. One book I read labeled The Shirelles the first girl group. Another book said that it was The Chantels. Well, The Chantels were there first, but The Bobbettes were there before either.

Now, let’s not get confused. We’ve had plenty of girl groups: The Chordettes, The Fontane Sisters, The McGuire Sisters, The DeCastro Sisters, The Lennon Sisters. All those groups, though, were Andrews Sisters wannabes, and they belonged to a different generation.

The new generation came up through the New York and Detroit and Chicago independent labels, through Brill Building songwriters, though Phil Spector. The Bobbettes didn’t quite fit the mold, they were peppier, more direct R & B, but they were young, they were up-to-date, and they were girls.

Mr. Lee came off the Atlantic Rhythm And Blues, 1947 – 1974 compilation, and I Shot Mr. Lee was directly off the single. It happens that there is only one Bobbettes CD available on Amazon; it’s called Ultimate Collection, it was released on Titanic Records (!), there is no track listing, and there is no way to know whether the tracks are the original recordings, which, given that the grouip had hits on Atlantic, on Triple-X, and on Gone, is highly unlikely. Amazon doesn’t sell it; it is only available from resellers. Not much respect for the “first girl group.”

The Bobbettes:

Mr. Lee – This is silly. It’s a song that the members of The Bobbettes wrote about their high school principal. It’s the kind of thing that all students do in every high school, but these gals actually put their razzing on the charts. A top 10 hit in the fall of 1957.
I Shot Mr. Lee – Oh boy, this is where it turns sinister. This sequel to Mr. Lee was released about 3 years after the latter, by which time the group seems to have been turfed by Atlantic. Surely one of the few songs about murder to reach the top 100, and that was in the summer of 1960.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September, 1957

  • Mr. Lee - The Bobbettes
  • In The Middle Of An Island - Tony Bennett
  • And That Reminds Me - Della Reese
  • Fascination - Dinah Shore
  • June Night - Jimmy Dorsey
  • Fascination - Dick Jacobs & His Orchestra
  • Butterfingers - The Rock And Roll Trio
  • Fascination - Jane Morgan
  • Lasting Love - Sal Mineo
  • Long Lonely Nights - Clyde McPhatter
  • Chances Are - Johnny Mathis
  • Hula Love - Buddy Knox
  • You're My One And Only Love - Ricky Nelson
  • Happy Happy Birthday Baby - The Tune Weavers
  • Zip Zip - The Diamonds
  • An Affair To Remember - (Our Love Affair) - Vic Damone
  • In The Middle Of An Island - Tennessee Ernie Ford
  • Have I Told You Lately That I Love You - Ricky Nelson
  • Midnight Swim - Nick Noble
  • Reet Petite - Jackie Wilson
  • Tonite, Tonite - The Mello-Kings

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Russ Hamilton

Well, I’ve never found a “Best Of Russ Hamilton” or a “Russ Hamilton’s Greatest Hits,” so I had to put this together myself, and I must say that I did a splendid job, collecting every single one of his top 100 singles. Well, sure he only had one, but is that my fault? (Check out Amazon, there is one copy of one collection currently available.)

I took all these tracks (!) from The Roots Of British Rock.

Russ Hamilton:

Rainbow – His Liverpool accent comes through loud and clear on this song of unabashed romantic sentiment. This was a hit in the summer of 1957, at a time when hits by English artists were rare. Not the Marmalade song.
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