Friday, October 30, 2009

Moe Koffman

I remember Bellavia by Chuck Mangione. That was before Feels So Good became a hit, and it was better than the Feels So Good album. It had this kind of musical Wurlitzer sound, and it was very appealing. I don’t have that album, and I haven’t heard it in probably 35 years.

That’s the album I thought of the first time I heard Best Of Moe Koffman. I don’t know if Koffman would have appreciated the comparison; heck, I don’t know if Mangione would either. Just some random aural association on my part.

Koffman was Canadian, and that’s not particularly relevant, except so am I, but I don’t play the flute.

I found The Best Of Moe Koffman somewhere, in some used record shop, and no, I don’t remember which one. It’s a GRT release, and it was obvious that the version of Swinging Shepherd Blues there was a remake, so I hunted down the original on the Jubilee single, and that’s what I have now – Best Of Moe Koffman with one track substituted, and one track added. All the LP tracks were recorded in the 70s, so this becomes an unbalanced collection, but it’s what I have.

His earlier stuff does not seem to be generally available.

Moe Koffman:

The Swingin' Shepherd Blues – Dancing in the meadow. This is classic. Credited to The Moe Koffman Quartette (with that spelling) and a hit in the winter of 1958.
Overture To Spring – Vivaldi, jazzed up.
Theme From “Orpheus” – Maybe this is the same one that Carlos Santana did and maybe it isn’t. I don’t know what “Orpheus” is but this is the theme from it. Maybe it’s from the opera, in which case I do know what “Orpheus” is.
Uranus – Still a planet as far as we know.
The Gig(ue) – Get it? I think this is Handel.
Two Bourées
Icicle Belle
Cavern Of The Mountain Trolls – In The Hall Of The Mountain King, Koffman style. So many modernizations of this classic by Grieg: by ELO,by The Who etc.
Mozart’s Ark – Eine Kleine Nachmusik, Koffman style. I guess he has a way with classics.
Neptune – Another planet.
Hambourg Bound – This is the flip of Swinging Shepherd Blues, just to keep things authentic. He trades in his flute here for a soprano sax. A better-than-average B side. According to a YouTube video, this was the Moe Koffman Septette. I can’t prove it isn’t. And I don’t know why the weird spelling of “Hambourg.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ben Webster

I know a jazz musician named Ben who plays the sax, and whose sound is kind of mellow. Ben Webster was a jazz musician named Ben who played the sax, and whose sound was sometimes mellow. The Ben I know, his name’s not Webster.

Just some trivia…

This is Jazz Masters 43.

Ben Webster:

Meet The Frog – Refers to his nickname, “Frog.”
That’s All – Wikipedia has a list of who did this. Nat King Cole was the first, and Rick Nelson put it in the top 50 in 1963. This version has a smoky tone to it; close your eyes and you’re in a night club, candles, smoke, atmosphere…
Come Rain Or Come Shine – A hit for Judy Garland.
Pennies From Heaven – Another old standard. I have a version of this by Al Hibbler.
Old Folks
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To – By Cole Porter. I used to have a version of this by Julie London, and Webster does with his sax what Julie does with her voice.
You’re Mine, You!
De Dar
Bye Bye Blackbird – “Pack up all my cares and woes…” I like Joe Cocker’s version of this.
Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me – Another standard done by Al Hibbler.
In A Mellow Tone – Didn’t we just hear this by The Mills Brothers? Didn’t we?
Chelsea Bridge

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Mills Brothers

I was 11 years old when Cab Driver was on the local top 40, and I had no idea that The Mills Brother were not just another vocal group, like The Sandpipers or The Vogues. Cab Driver, it happens, was to be the last hit for a group that had been around for about 30 years, starting out well before the rock and roll / rhythm & blues era.

This is a collection called The Best Of The Decca Years, with 3 more songs added. The Decca collection was from the Centennial Library, and Cab Driver was from the Cab Driver album, which mostly had remakes of their old repertoire. I got that at Sears. I’m not sure why I picked it up, but I did, and now I have the original Cab Driver. Lucky.

The Mills Brothers:

Paper Doll – The production is the definition of restraint. This song about the advantages of fantasy over reality was a number 1 hit for 12 weeks in 1943 – 1944.
Across The Alley From The Alamo – This historical footnote was a hit in 1947.
Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You) – A hit for Vaughn Monroe. The story, of course, is the familiar one: you’ll be sorry. Do we ever get the sequel?
Be My Life’s Companion – This is from 1951. Rosemary Clooney did it. Love as a preventative for aging. I always thought that it was having kids.
Lazy River – The style of this song comes as close as anything to defining the style of the group, title and all. This was originally recorded in the 30s for Brunswick, but I have every reason to believe that I have the rerecording they made for Decca
Glow Worm – More uptempo, with a fleshed-out jazzy arrangement. This was a number 1 hit in 1952.This joins that vast legion of pop songs about insects. • You Always Hurt The One You Love – A hit later for Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Another remake.
The Window Washer Man – I wonder if Van Morrison was listening to this when he came up with Cleaning Windows. This tribute to a man who makes the most of this life was recorded in 1952.
Daddy’s Little Girl – From a father to a daughter. A bit syrupy … ok, a lot syrupy. From 1950.
The Jones Boy – We learn about a rather dysfunctional individual, until the confession comes, it’s the singer, and he’s in love. Awww. This is from 1953, and, for the record, it’s with Sy Oliver & His Orchestra.
Till Then – A beautiful song of separation. The Decca recording was made in 1944. The Classics revived this in 1963.
In A Mellow Tone –This song is anything but. It’s one of the brassiest, jazziest songs on this collection. From 1955.
You Tell Me Your Dream, I’ll Tell You Mine – The song starts with a beautiful a capella verse. On the word mine we begin to hear the guitar strumming in the background, and the song floats on from there. Dreams in pop music are always so romantic; maybe it’s just daydreams they sing about. This is from 1949.
Opus One – This was originally by Tommy Dorsey. The Mills Brothers did it in 1952. It’s a swinging song about swinging. (Musical swinging – get your mind out of the gutter).
Yellow Bird – Here they are on Dot Records. This is from the winter of 1959. Thing is this. They’ve added a piano, they’ve removed the orchestra, and the style is very similar to what they were doing two decades earlier. But it doesn’t sound out of place among the top 40 songs from the late 50s. A wistful song of heartbreak.
Get A Job – This is a cover of The Silhouettes hit. They change “sha na na” to “sha la la,” and they leave out most of the lyrics. But it bounces along nicely. From the winter of 1958, more or less contemporary with the original.
Cab Driver – A pop classic from the late 60s. Our hero uses the cab metaphor to come to terms with a failed romance. “Better take me home” he says finally, after going up and down the street, round and round the block, reliving the whole affair from beginning to end. From the spring of 1968, this song represents my entire Mills Brothers history. It stands together with Tijuana Taxi and Harry Chapin’s Taxi as a subgenre all its own.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

John Zacherle

John Zacherle
John Zacherle, later known as John Zacherley, was more of a radio / TV personality than a recording artist; he specialized in horror. He did books also. Dinner With Drac was a fluke hit at the outset of his career, recorded for Cameo, with Dave Appel, and Dick Clark’s encouragement. The track shows up on Dr. Demento collections and the like. Happy Halloween…

John Zacherle:

Dinner With Drac – Another minor subgenre of pop / rock is born: horror music. This record is clearly meant to be funny, and, perversely, it is. The rhymes are outrageous, ("veins of a mummy named Betty / ...tasted very much like spaghetti"), and it features just the right amount of gruesomeness (“what a swimmer is dracula’s daughter, but the pool is more red than it oughter”). To follow was The Monster Mash, Spooky, Frankenstein (ok, ok, I’m pushing it). This was a hit in the winter of 1958.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jimmy McCracklin

McCracklin was apparently quite prolific, wrote and recorded thousands of songs, dozens of albums. He started back in the 40s, was still recording in the 90s, still performing in 2007.

Not much to show for it on the pop charts. Apparently he co-wrote Tramp, by Otis Redding & Carla Thomas. Apart from that he had 5 records on the top 100, the one here in the top 10, the others not placing higher than 64, and the songs spanned the years 1958 – 1966.

Jimmy McCracklin:

The Walk – We had the stroll, which was a hit by The Diamonds and a dance popularized by Chuck Willis, and now as we have the walk, and the rock and roll dance is taking on a life of its own. The rhythm of this isn’t exactly the kind of walk we do when go from the kitchen to the living room, or to post a letter, but with a bit of bounce and jive it works very well. A hit from the winter of 1958.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Champs

Well, The champs had 8 hits, 7 of which were instrumental, and I have 4 of them. These came from singles and from compilation albums. At some point, after Tequila, Seals and Crofts were in this band, and so was Glen Campbell.

What The Champs did was they kicked off a whole subgenre of group, called the “instrumental combo.” It seems that “combo” refers to an instrumental group, so the “instrumental” in the description is superfluous, but there you go. Included was The Shadows, The T-Bones, The Markettes, and, biggest of all, The Ventures. But The Champs were there first.

The Champs:

Tequila – An ode to the joys of inebriation, seems. An instrumental of course, one of the most celebrated in the rock and roll repertoire. But it doesn’t need words to get the message across (except, of course, for the refrain of “tequila!” at the end of every “verse.” The song reached number 1 in the winter of 1958. Covers abound of course, but none work all that well. The Ventures played with the chord structure, avoiding the melody entirely.
El Rancho Rock – They get a Mexican flavour in here, but don’t ask me how they do it. From the summer of 1958.
Too Much Tequila – I bet. The title plays on the success of their big hit of course, but they don’t really sound the same. Apart from being an instrumental with the same instruments by the same group. From the winter of 1960,
Limbo Rock – The limbo, a big thing after the twist. But it didn’t inspire a huge number of hit records. There were a few versions of this; this version, lyric-free, was a hit in the summer of 1962; Chubby Checker sang words and put into the top 10 in December of that year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Robert & Johnny

Robert & Johnny had 2 hits on the top 100; besides We Belong Together, they had a song called I Believe In You, which I assume is not the Neil Young song. That was in 1958.

Johnny was Johnny Mitchell, and Robert was Robert Carr, but he was not the Manitoba Queen’s Bench judge.

Robert & Johnny:

We Belong Together – Not just slow, but slow and languorous, is how I’d describe this declaration of endless love (literally “endless” – there’s an emphasis here on eternity). This is from the winter of 1958. It seems I have a version by The Fleetwoods also, but theirs did not make the chart.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

March, 1958

  • Who's Sorry Now - Connie Francis
  • Ballad Of A Teenage Queen - Johnny Cash
  • Are You Sincere - Andy Williams
  • "7-11" (Mambo No. 5) - Gone All Stars
  • Get A Job - The Mills Brothers
  • Been So Long - The Pastels
  • We Belong Together - Robert & Johnny
  • Oh Julie - Sammy Salvo
  • Movin' And Groovin' - Duane Eddy
  • Big River - Johnny Cash
  • Tequila - The Champs
  • The Walk - Jimmy McCracklin
  • A Wonderful Time Up There - Pat Boone
  • Good Golly Miss Molly - Little Richard
  • You Can Make It If You Try - Gene Allison
  • Tequila - Eddie Platt & Orchestra
  • Betty And Dupree - Chuck Willis
  • Slow Down - Larry Williams
  • Lollipop - The Chordettes
  • Breathless - Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay - Danny & The Juniors
  • Lazy Mary - Lou Monte
  • Dinner With Drac - John Zacherle
  • Lollipop - Ronald & Ruby
  • Lonely Island - Sam Cooke
  • He's Got The Whole World In His Hands - Laurie London
  • Maybe Baby - The Crickets
  • Little Blue Man - Billy Johnson
  • A Very Precious Love - The Ames Brothers
  • You Were Made For Me - Sam Cooke
  • Your Graduation Means Goodbye - The Cardigans

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Four Preps

They were a smarmy quartet, always sounding very smug about something. On their medleys (More Money For You And Me, The Big Draft) they became positively vindictive.

There is no excuse for me not having a good collection by this group; their Capital Collectors Series is available on Amazon for about $15.00. But I’ve never seen it in person, and it never made it to my list, so there you go. The songs I do have came mostly from Capital Records anthologies or various artists. I only have 4 of their 13hits.

The Four Preps:

26 Miles (Santa Catalina) – Santa Catalina is an island off the coast of California. Apart from this song, it has virtually no presence in popular culture. The Four Preps make of it the ultimate island paradise. I don’t know what to make of it at all. The tune, though, is as seductive as the geography described therein. This reached number 2 in the winter of 1958.
Big Man – The piano intro is worthy of a Tchaikovsky concerto. This tale of a masher getting mashed was a hit in the spring of 1958.
Down By The Station – I have to hand to these guys. They have so mastered the art of four part harmony, and their arranger creates a musical ambience that is so appealing, that this story of an emotionally superficial multi-timer is hard to resist. At the end they revert to the original children’s lyrics. From the winter of 1960.
More Money For You And Me – The group pokes fun of the pop groups of their day, from The Platters to The Hollywood Argyles. I would like to say that this is good natured, but it isn’t. It’s vindictive. And that nastiness kills whatever cleverness they are capable of. They have issues, they should deal with them. From the fall of 1961.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Playmates

That a group of guys could call themselves The Playmates is almost inconceivable. Even by 1958 Heffner was a fact of life, though perhaps the term “playmate” hadn’t achieved the ubiquitousness that would render its use all but useless for anything where raised eyebrows were inappropriate.

These guys were a vocal trio, and they had 10 songs in the top 100 between 1958 and 1962, 5 of them in the top 40. I have 4 songs, one of which was never a hit at all. I got them from here and there, as always. I remember that I had no idea when I picked up the single of A Rose And A Star whether the song had been a hit, but I took it on the off-chance. No great loss, I must say…

The Playmates:

Beep Beep – Maybelline revisted. This car chase story, complete with punch-line, is just plain dumb. A top 5 hit in the winter of 1958 / 1959.
Jo-Ann – This story of a rather typical pop song romance was a hit in the winter of 1958. The real story is told not in the lyrics, but in the stop-start singing, in the harmonies, in the soprano sax.
What Is Love? – “Sways with a wiggle when she walks” they sing off the top. Only hip hop gets away with that stuff now. The timeless philosophical question is answered here simply: love is five feet of heaven in a pony tail. That’s one long pony tail. From the summer of 1959. The Shirelles covered this, but they regendered it.
A Rose And A Star – A song about the ideal birthday present. The song doesn’t figure in their top 100 record, but the single dates from 1962

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Crescendos

The Crescendos did not last long. The got together in 1957, and by 1959 they were history. That was enough time to put one song on the top 10. I found that one song on the single.

The Crescendos:

Oh Julie – There is a faraway feel to this, this song of unrequited love, ethereal female vocals in the background. Like Paul Anka’s Diana, Julie is older than the narrator. A teenage dream, he says, that can’t come true. Yes, indeed. One Julie I knew was a social worker whose brain was missing, one Julie I knew was a well-meaning but inexperienced therapist. And one Julie I knew had green eyes, short dark hair, a beautiful smile, her heart on her sleeve, and walls around her 3 feet thick. This song was a hit in the winter of 1958.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Chantels

When Arlene Smith belts out “may-ay-ay-beee” at the start of this, she made the world safe for girl groups. But girl groups were not safe. You get sucked into that world, The Chantels, The Shirlelles, The Chiffons, The Vandellas, The Crystals, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, and you’re never the same…

The Chantels:

Maybe – Obviously there is more than one song called Maybe; there is one by Harry Nilsson; there is one by Janis Joplin. This is neither of those, though it’s not far in spirit from Janis. The song is a typical song of romantic longing, but it’s delivered with such passion, such emotion, such despair, that it stands alone in the annals of girl group records, kicking off the genre as a true vehicle of romantic angst as the existential human condition. Phil Spector was listening carefully. Arlene Smith sang lead on this. It was a hit in the winter of 1958.
Look In My Eyes – Much toned down here, Arlene was gone, replaced by Annette Smith (no relation), and with Arlene went the drama. This was a hit in the fall of 1961.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Royal Teens

The Royal Teens had a record called Harvey’s Got A Girl Friend. That was in 1958 and it was their follow-up to Short Shorts. I’ve never heard it. It’s not on YouTube (though check back in a month). Back in school, I knew two Harveys, and neither had a girlfriend at any time that I knew them. That someone would write a song about someone called Harvey is intriguing.

I have their other two hits. Short Shorts came from a K-Tel Loonie Tunes LP; the other I can’t remember. Al Kooper had some association with this band, and Bob Gaudio was a member; later he co-wrote many of The Four Seasons’ hits. All in all, the group is an early example of pop music marketing, the kind that’s normally associated with Bobby Vee, Backstreet Boys and that ilk.

The Royal Teens:

Short Shorts – Where rock and roll, such as it is, show what it is capable of. This deliberately brain-dead tribute to provocative clothing represents, for the most part, a road not taken, until the advent of hip hop. There is a totally suitable cover of this by Freddie & The Dreamers. From the winter of 1958.
Believe Me – A kind of bleached doo-wop ballad. It’s a nice record, if you can get past the banal lyrics and cloying delivery. From the winter of 1959 / 1960.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

February, 1958

  • Don't - Elvis Presley
  • I Beg Of You - Elvis Presley
  • Short Shorts - The Royal Teens
  • A Very Special Love - Johnny Nash
  • Listen To Me - Buddy Holly
  • Catch A Falling Star - Perry Como
  • Don't Let Go - Roy Hamilton
  • Maybe - The Chantels
  • You Are My Destiny - Paul Anka
  • Dede Dinah - Frankie Avalon
  • Swinging Shepherd Blues - Moe Koffman
  • Come To Me - Johnny Mathis
  • Belonging To Someone - Patti Page
  • At The Hop - Nick Todd
  • Oh Julie - The Crescendoes
  • Jo-Ann - The Playmates
  • This Little Girl Of Mine - The Everley Brothers
  • Should We Tell Him - The Everley Brothers
  • Click Clack - Dicky Dee & The Don'ts
  • 26 Miles (Santa Catalina) - The Four Preps
  • It's Too Soon To Know - Pat Boone
  • Witchcraft - Frank Sinatra
  • Sweet Little Sixteen - Chuck Berry
  • Angel Smile - Nat King Cole
  • Sing Boy Sing - Tommy Sands
  • She's Neat - Dale Wright
  • Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie - Eddie Cochran

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Silhouettes

The Rays did Silhouettes but The Silhouettes didn’t do Rays. Confusing. The Silhouettes were that most refined of 1 hit wonders, having had exactly 1 hit, and having that hit be number 1. They don’t even seem to have hit the R&B charts again. My copy of this goes back a long way; it’s another find from the Echoes Of A Rock Era collection.

The Silhouettes:

Get A Job – The Yakety Yak kid grows up. For some reason this song keeps playing in my head these days. Number 1 in the winter of 1958. The Mills Brothers did a cover, and Sha Na Na revived it, whence they derived their name.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Hollywood Flames

The group was actually from Watts, but they couldn’t call themselves The Watts Flames I suppose. Bobby Day was in this band; he would do Rockin’ Robin later. The Flames had one single on the top 100, but both sides charted. The other side was called “Crazy,” it reached number 95, and it was not the Patsy Cline song.

The Hollywood Flames:

Buzz Buzz Buzz – A song for jiving. Onomatopoeia set to music. From the winter of 57 / 58. Earl Nelson sings lead. He was half of Bob & Earl.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lee Allen & His Band

I was sitting in my office at 1311 Portage Avenue, and this was over 20 years ago, with a mail order catalogue in my hands. I wasn’t very busy in those days. But I had this catalogue. It had pages and pages of singles, all reissues of old hits, and not having endless sums of money, I had to pick 10. I think it was 10. It probably cost me $20 plus shipping.

I think I just started from A, figuring that over time I’d get through more of the list, but I really only ordered that once, and I can’t remember why that is. Maybe they never sent me another catalogue.

But A: I ordered Steve Alaimo, and this track, by Lee Allen, was on the other side. Whoever put these reissues out decided to turf the original B sides, and pair different artists on one single, or 2 hits by one artist, and that creates more value at the expense of authenticity, but it worked for me.

Lee Allen was a session man, he played sax on all those big hits by Little Richard, and he one hit on his own. So I have all his hits here…

Lee Allen & His Band:

Walkin’ With Mr. Lee – With the rock and roll instrumental still in its infancy, Lee Allen came out with this scorcher, which takes up where Raunchy left off. It tends to be, unfortunately, a rather underrecognized and underrated sax-based number, but dig that walking rhythm. It was in the top 50 in early 1958.

Friday, October 9, 2009

January, 1958

  • Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
  • Stood Up - Ricky Nelson
  • No Love (But Your Love) - Johnny Mathis
  • (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons - Sam Cooke
  • Little Sandy Sleighfoot - Jimmy Dean
  • Walkin' With Mr. Lee - Lee Allen & His Band
  • Waiting In School - Ricky Nelson
  • Dance To The Bop - Gene Vincent
  • The Stroll - The Diamonds
  • La Dee Dah - Billie & Lillie
  • Buzz Buzz Buzz - The Hollywood Flames
  • Sugartime - The McGuire Sisters
  • Magic Moments - Perry Como
  • A Very Special Love - Debbie Reynolds
  • I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone - Elvis Presley
  • Get A Job - The Silhouettes
  • Why Don't They Understand - George Hamilton IV
  • Sail Along Silvery Moon - Billy Vaughn
  • Should We Tell Him - The Everly Brothers
  • Love Me Forever - Marion Ryan

The Mello-Kings

Not to be confused with the Mello-Tones (who did Rosie Lee, which I don’t have). The drop-the-w trend didn’t seem to catch on, or else we’d be listening to Mello Yello and eating marshmallos. The is another track from The Doo-Wop Box.

The Mello-Kings:

Tonite, Tonite – Another one of those great end-of-prom songs. One (well, two, really) could dance all night to this. A minor hit in the fall of 1957.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Gladiolas

Maurice Williams was the lead singer of this group. Later he’d be lead singer of Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs, who did Stay. They only had one hit, The Gladiolas, and it wasn’t much of a hit. I found it on the Doo Wop Box.

The Gladiolas:

Little Darlin’ – The original version of the song made famous by The Diamonds. It’s generally conceded that the Diamonds did a better job. I don’t know, I guess The Diamonds are more campy. This version just missed the top 40; The Diamonds’ reached number 2. From the spring of 1957.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jimmy Dee & The Offbeats

Truly a rock and roll curiosity, little seems to be known about Jimmy Dee, let alone the Offbeats. A search on Amazon yields one CD called Time Life The Rock 'N' Roll Era Lost Treasures II, which has only the one track (by Jimmy Dee), which is Henrietta. I wish I remember where I picked this up…

Jimmy Dee & The Offbeats

Henrietta – Chugging sax, New Orleans rhythm, backwoods spirit, this is what happens when rock and roll goes over the top. Sounds like a sidways Lucille. A kind of hit in the winter of 1957 / 1958.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Jackie Wilson

This is the story of The Jackie Wilson Story.

The Jackie Wilson Story was originally a double album, 25 of Jackie Wilson’s “greatest hits,” spanning the years 1957 – 1972. Wilson had 54 songs, though, in the top 100, so there were obviously many missing songs, and some of the 25 were not taken from his top 54 100 hits, so that left even more missing songs. (You following this?)

The Jackie Wilson Story volume 2 partly corrected this, by adding 8 more songs to the mix (one was a long medley recorded live at the Copa). Out of those 8, 3 had been hits. So we are left with quite a few missing songs, the most serious of which is My Empty Arms, which was a top 10 hit in the winter of 1961.

None of this means much to me, really, because the only Jackie Wilson song I ever heard growing up was (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher. And out of the entire morass of what was Jackie Wilson’s career, that’s the song that seems to have survived. I guess you just never know when you’re gonna nail it…

Jackie Wilson:

Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want To Meet) – Jackie Wilson’s first hit was not only Jackie Wilson’s first hit, but it was also Berry Gordy’s debut, which happened to be in the role of songwriter. The lyrics on paper are silly. And a straight reading of this would be inane. But Wilson, on his first solo release, so profoundly transcends the actual words and tune that he creates his own language. The only other performer that comes to mind who even did anything close is Van Morrison, who fittingly sang his own tribute to Wilson in 1974. And for the record, I disagree with the pundits who say the arrangement is overblown; it isn’t, the horns swing; they’re the perfect counterpoint, challenging Wilson and bringing the whole experience to a rousing climax. From the fall of 1957.
To Be Loved – Strings replace the horns on this, an overwrought, ridiculous, melodramatic ballad that Wilson brings off with perfection that makes it all make perfect sense. From the spring of 1958.
Lonely Teardrops – More melodrama. Wilson’s voice is nothing short of amazing. It’s the vocal chorus here that will garner the most complaints, but not from me. From the winter of 1959.
That’s Why (I Love You So) – From the fall of 1959.
I’ll Be Satisfied – The anti-Mick Jagger song. From the summer of 1959.
Talk That Talk – A little bit of female worship never hurt anyone. From the winter of 1960.
Baby Workout – A dance song. There isn’t much of a melody to this, but it works somehow. From the spring of 1963.
Please Tell Me Why – Not the Dave Clark Five song, and not to be confused with You Tell Me Why by The Beau Brummels, or with about 100 songs called Tell Me Why. A bit of sobbing going on here. From the spring of 1961.
Doggin’ Around – About a relationship that’s not quite what it should be. From the spring of 1960. The B side of Night.
Passin’ Through – Jackie sings a blues, a parable for the transience of life and all that’s in it…
A Woman, A Lover, A Friend – Not to be confused with Friend, Lover, Woman, Wife by O. C. Smith, or My Woman My Woman My Wife by Marty Robbins. A song of longing. From the summer of 1960.
You Don’t Know What It Means – From the fall of 1961. The A side of this was Years From Now, which was a bigger hit, but I don’t have it. Extraodinary vocals on this.
Night – Wilson’s highest placing single, on which he does his operatic best, but loses some soul in the process. From the spring of 1960.
The Tear Of The Year – This sad tale of losing a loved one to someone else was a hit in the winter of 1961; its A side was My Empty Arms, a much bigger hit that Brunswick decided was not worth including on The Jackie Wilson Story.
You Better Know It – He does his best but all the life he puts into this doesn’t quite reach the heights of his best work; ultimately it’s the female chorus that defeats him here. The implosion of Reet Petite. From the fall of 1959.
I Just Can’t Help It – There’s a male chorus on this, and it works better. That chorus of “can’t help it, just can’t help it” sounds very familiar. From the summer of 1962.
I’m Coming On Back To You – From the summer of 1961.
Danny Boy – Danny Boy with blue notes. From the winter of 1965.
I Get The Sweetest Feeling – From the fall of 1968, this was part of Jackie Wilson’s latter career, his second wind, so to speak. The sound is definitely updated, the production is toned down, and the result is very appealing.
Tears Will Tell All – An album track from 1966.
Nothin’ But The Blues – Another LP track, this one from 1960.
Shake! Shake! Shake! – A jazzy dance song, not to be confused with Shake by Sam Cooke. From the summer of 1963.
Georgia On My Mind – Written by Hoagy Carmichael and given new life by Ray Charles. And so here is Jackie Wilson taking on the great brother Ray. An LP track from 1965.
Alone At Last – Such drama on this romantic ballad, similar to Night. His voice is great, but this is out of his comfort zone; he sound like a musical tourist. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Love Them All (Medley) Part 2 – (a) Danny Boy (b) Doggin’ Around (c) To Be Loved (d) Lonely Teardrops – A showstopper medley from his live album (at the Copa, no less), on which he traverses his range of styles: guitar, blues, violin.
I’ve Gotta Get Back – An LP track from 1965.
Am I The Man – The B Side of Alone At Last, more typical of his style. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Whispers (Gettin’ Louder) – Another latter day hit, this one from the winter of 1966 / 1967, the precursor to Higher And Higher.
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher – This record was the one-two punch that put Jackie Wilson back in the top 10 for the first time since 1963. Everything falls into place in the way that it hadn’t for Wilson for a long time, if ever. The arrangement swings, Wilson is confident, the pieces fit. The vindication of Jackie Wilson. From the fall of 1967, catching the tail end of the summer of love. Chicago used this as aan encore on their live album in 1999.
No Pity (In The Naked City) – A strange song for Wilson. This takes him out of his usual territory. Musically though, it’s fairly typical of what he was up to in his fallow period between the 1963 and 1966. From the summer of 1965.
She’s Alright
You Got Me Walking – This was his last hit, coming as it did in the winter of 1972. This kind of picks up where Higher And Higher left off, and slower rhythm, but similar musical integrity.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jane Morgan

Jane Morgan was a 50s diva who placed 5 songs in the Billboard top 100 between 1956 and 1959. I found her Greatest Hits album at the Centennial Library; it was an old original vinyl copy. It has 3 of the 5 songs on it.

Next time you’re at a cocktail party, just say to the nearest unoccupied party-goer: “Boy, I sure love those old songs by Jane Morgan.” And see where the evening takes you…

Jane Morgan:

Fascination – (By Jane Morgan & The Troubadors) One of those songs that seem always to have existed. It sounds to me like a jewellery commercial. Maybe it was one. Anyway it’s one of those songs, better known than the singer in this case, though she put it in the top 10, and that was in the fall of 1957.
My Favorite Things – From The Sound Of Music, which my favourite journalist described as a “charming musical romp through Nazi-occupied Austria“, and I can’t hear this without hearing Julie Andrews, of whom I am not a fan, but who does this better anyway. My favourite version, though, is the one by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, which they included on their 1968 Christmas album.
Till – Opens with the most beautiful solo violins. When she sings, she doesn’t totally destroy the effect. Damning with faint praise? Ok ok, it’s not bad really. This was a hit for Roger Williams, for Percy Faith, and, about 10 years later, for the Vogues.
Romantica – What you’d think. A bit Latin. Let’s leave it at that.
Scarlet Ribbons – This bit of supernatural whimsy was a hit for The Browns in 1959, but for me it’s Harry Belafonte that owns the song. No contest here.
The Day The Rains Came – A song of reawakening and a hit in the fall of 1958.
Fly Me To The Moon – Stiff competition on this, but she handles it. Oversings it a bit, but it’s not terrible.
Moon River – Everyone has to do Moon River, and so does Jane Morgan. By Henry Mancini, from Breakfast At Tiffany’s, as if you didn’t know.
Tammy – The Debbie Reynolds hit, and The Ames Brothers hit also.
It’s All In The Game – A song about love. The tune was written by Charles Dawes, who was vice-president of the US under Calvin Coolidge. Tommy Edwards hit with it twice, the last time in 1959, and it was a hit for Cliff Richard and for the Four Tops. Wikipedia has a decent listing of cover versions.
Two Different Worlds – (By Jane Morgan & Roger Williams) Originally by Don Rondo, whose version I don’t have. That’s good, because Jane Morgan’s version is the only version I know, so it doesn’t suffer by comparison with anything. This is about overcoming barriers in matters of the heart. It was a hit in the fall of 1956.
If Only I Could Live My Life Again – A song of regret, sure to liven up any party.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Cardigans

You may be forgiven for believing that The Cardigans are a Swedish group whose most recent release is Super Extra Gravity from 2005. Yeah well, that’s what they’d have us believe.

I’m here to tell you about the other Cardigans. Unfortunately, that’s difficult, because I don’t know much about them. I know this: 1. They recorded for Mercury in the 50s; 2. they were white (I can’t prove this, but they sure sound white, and they shared a label with The Diamonds and The Crew Cuts, 2 more white vocal quartets); 3. They had no hits on Billboard, I don’t know if they had hits on Cashbox; 4. They do not have an entry on Wikipedia, nor on

Sorry. I picked up what appears to have been their one and only single completely by chance, totally random. It looked authentic, and when I got it home, it sounded authentic. Apparently, it is authentic. The rest is a mystery.

The Cardigans:

Your Graduation Means Goodbye – Not to be confused with Graduation Day by The Four Freshmen, nor with What Good Is Graduation by The Graduates, this is the perfect high school prom record. It has everything: the high school specific heartbreak lyrics, the lilting melody, the harmonies in the background, the slow dance tempo. All I’m wondering about is this: why is *he* singing about *her* grad? Is he younger? Did he graduate and stay in town? It was out in the spring of 1958, just in time for graduation, but for reasons that elude me, it did not make the Billboard chart at all. It did, however, reach number 19 on Toronto’s CHUM charts, demonstrating, as if it proof were necessary, that Canadians are way cooler than Americans. And I mean that in the nicest possible way…
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