Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters

Hank Ballard For so long I knew Hank Ballard only by reputation. The first record I found of his was Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go, and later I got The Switcheroo. In the end I settled with 4 songs (the other two were The Twist / Teardrops On Your Letter). It was only I after I got there that I found Sex Ways, The Best Of Hank Ballard & The Midnighters at the central library, and my world is just a bit more complete.

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters

Get It – This is raw R & B, that’s all.
Work With Me Annie – One of the most famous songs of the 50s R & B underground. Plain and simple, a song about having sex. Georgia Gibbs covered it, but she called it Dance With Me Henry.
Sexy Ways – No mistaking the meaning here. He gets into a nice sexy rhythm, but you ain’t heard this song till you heard Jerry Lee do it.
Annie Had A Baby – How many songs are there about love and marriage? A trillion. How many songs are there about the effect that children have on love and marriage? One. This is it.
Annie’s Aunt Fannie – And this one is about family interference…
Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t Dance No More) – A not so subtle allusion to Georgia Gibb’s rendering of Work With Me Annie into Dance With Me Henry. Undoubtedly that’s the kind of dancing he’s referring to. They have a pill for that now…
It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day) – Ballard applies his slinky style to matters of the heart. “I need your love” he says, “to keep me gay.” It meant something different then.
Open Up The Back Door – Hank is having romantic difficulties, and tries to find a way around them. That “back door” thing, another common allusion in blues songs.
Tore Up Over You – Another song about a broken romance. The guitar solo in this brings up squarely into the modern era, as Henry’s voice soars, conveying a message very different from what’s in the lyrics.
Teardrops On Your Letter – The Midnighters’ debut top 100 single, a genuine ballad. It reached the top 80 in the winter of 1959; the flip side was The Twist which hit the top 30 a year and a half later.
The Twist – Here it is, the original. Chubby Checker covered this, at the urging of Dick Clark, and the rest is history. Chubby’s record reached number 1 in the fall of 1960, then again in the winter of 1962. Ballard’s record reached number 28 in the fall of 1960, and only on the strength Chubby’s record.
Sugaree – This is a term of endearment, though you may not know it. Fred Neil used it – Didn’t We Shake Sugaree. This may be where he got it. This is a Baby’s-coming-home song.
Never Knew – Different rhythm on this, Hank experimenting.
Look At Little Sister – Dance Little Sister Dance sang The Rolling Stones, but Hank got there first, so to speak. This is incest combined with pedophilia, not bad for one pop song.
Finger Poppin’ Time – This is where they reached the top 10, a song about snapping your fingers. But the song is really about “feeling good,” and that, of course, makes it all worthwhile. From the summer of 1960.
Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go – Yet another song about a great place to hang out. Stand in line behind 333, Sugar Shack, Down At Lulu’s etc. If this song is any indication, going there is as much fun as being there. Another top 10 single, this one from the fall of 1960.
Let’s Go Again (Where We Went Last Night) – You can read this in so many ways. A hit from the winter of 1961.
The Continental Walk – Speaking of continental things only makes sense if you’re English. From the spring of 1961.
The Switch-A-Roo – The song is, ostensibly, about a dance, but Hank is up to his old tricks. From the summer of 1961. This song about swinging (and I mean that in the dancingest possible sense) reached number 26 on Billboard.
Nothing But Good – Hank bids us farewell with this manic depiction of love in all its glory. From the fall of 1961.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chris Barber

A Chris Barber greatest hits collection would consist of one song, though he had quite a presence in the U.K. I obtained said “collection” from The Roots Of British Rock.

Chris Barber:

Petite Fleur – Small flower, in English. A bit of clarinet whimsy, somewhere between light jazz and MOR. Barber was a trombonist. The clarinet solo is by Monty Sunshine. From the winter of 1959.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Bell Notes

The Bell Notes were a real group, with singers and musicians. The actually had 3 records in the top 100, 2 in 1959 and 1 in 1960, including a version of Shortinin’ Bread, but only 1 made it anywhere near the top 40.

The Bell Notes:

I’ve Had It – This is a song about boundaries, about what happens when a relationship is stretched to the breaking point. It has kind of a quasi country rock feel, a decade before country rock existed. From the winter of 1959.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Charles Mingus

Mingus I told you that I was an ignoramus when it came to jazz...
The Charles Mingus collection I found doesn't seem to exist anymore. It doesn't seem ever to have existed. I never wrote these things down. I figured it was all in my brain. But those parts of my brain have atrophied.
No matter. I have this collection by Mingus. The music is cool, good diversionary entertainment. It fills a place between Fabian and Hank Ballard. I have no idea how representative it is of his repertoire. I told you, I'm an ignoramus.

Charles Mingus:

Ysabel’s Table Dance
Fables Of Faubus
The Shoes Of The Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers
Better Get It In Your Soul
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
New Now Know How
Gunslinging Bird

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Fabian Speaking of teen idols...

So how did that work? Well, you take a handsome guy, make sure he has an attractive voice, give him a few songs, and let him loose. Worked well enough with Frankie, whose voice was like velvet, with Bobby Vee, whose voice was artificially reminiscent of Buddy Holly, with Bobby Rydell, not the best singer but given a gem like Forget Him he could do wonders.
Fabian, though, is where the system breaks down. He was handsome enough. The problem with Fabian was that they forgot the voice part. Looks alone don’t do it.

In spite, though, of his rather nasty sounding vocal equipment, Fabian managed to rack up 10 hits on the top 100 (8 top 40); the girls must have been too busy salivating to listen.

He complained, Fabian , decades later, about lack of recognition. Never got his due, he says. I hear his picture is in the dictionary next to the expression “not clear on the concept.” I saw him at the free grandstand show at the Red River Exhibition one year; he was terrible. Peter Noone was on the bill, so was Felix Cavaliere.

This album is called Greatest Hits, it was released only in Canada on the Quality Label and follows the pattern of the other albums in the series which included Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, The Everly Brothers, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Lawrence Welk, Jimmie Rogers, The Chordettes, Jerry Lee Lewis etc. The pattern was 10 tracks, and the same cover design.

His surname, by the way, was Forté.


Turn Me Loose – Not a song to a girlfriend who’s stayed too long. No. It’s a let-me-at-em song. All well and good, but with a voice like that it sounds like he’s being let loose in quicksand. From the spring of 1959.
Tiger – A rather effeminate image, isn’t it? Fabian does his best to convince us. Rock and roll, in the worst Cameo-Parkway style from the summer of 1959.
Hound Dog Man – Comparing himself to Elvis wasn’t a good idea. From the winter of 1959 / 1960.
This Friendly World – Fabian does a ballad, and he’s no better at ballads than at rock and roll. The B side of Hound Dog Man and a hit at the same time.
Come On And Get Me – That’s some invitation he issuing here. From the fall of 1959.
I’m A Man – Our hero huffs and puffs but convinces no one. Even the pre-pubescent girls weren’t buying; it only went to number 31. From the winter of 1959. Not the Bo Diddley song and not the Spencer Davis Group song.
About This Thing Called Love – Fabian waxes philosophical – not profoundly so, but philosophical nonetheless. This has a kind “gypsy” feel to it. From the winter of 1960.
String Along – A hit also for Rick Nelson. The guitar vamp in this sounds ridiculous. I like Ricky. From the winter of 1960, the flip of About This Thing Called Love.
Got The Feeling – This hit from the fall of 1950 was the flip of Come On And Get Me. Line for the ages: “You got me burnin’ like a piece of toast.”
Kissin’ And Twistin’ – His last and lowest placing single was an attempt at humour if I’m not mistaken, about how you can’t kiss your girl while you’re dancing the twist. Good point, I suppose, but why would you want to? From the fall of 1960.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Annette Think of all those teen idols, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Tab Hunter, Tommy Sands, Bobby Vee, etc. They are all male. This was not a gender neutral phenomenon.

So were there any female teen idols? Well, I guess that depends on your definition. Dodie Stevens, though she was probably too young. Ok, Connie Stevens, Shelley Fabares, Little Peggy March, but it wasn’t the same. They didn’t appeal to guys the same way that the Bobby’s appealed to the girls. There is a PH.D.thesis waiting to be written. My best guess is that the guys did not fawn over these women; the girls were undoubtedly more interested in them then the guys were, and I am not alluding to any confusion regarding sexual preference.

Annette was probably the closest thing to the female version of teen idol. She was a movie star, started out as a mouseketeer, and ended up playing in dozens of Disney movies, beach blanket movies opposite Frankie Avalon. Her surname was Funicello, and they didn’t hide it exactly, but they didn’t use it up front and centre either. The unusual thing about Annette, though, was this: she couldn’t sing. On all her records she tended to sing noticeably off-key. I mean she tried, you can hear, but those notes just allude her.

She was less well known as a recording artist, though she had exactly 10 singles on the top 100 between over a 2 year period, starting in early 1959, all on the Vista label. (Actually Buena Vista, a subsidiary of Disney Records). The hits play out her persona; she sings of beach parties, surfing, pajama parties, California, having fun, being a girl, that kind of thing. The album I’ve got here was called The Best Of Annette, released on Rhino, bless its heart, back in the day when Rhino mattered. I picked it up at Records On Wheels. It was a picture disc, actually. The album had 4 of Annette’s 5 top 40 singles; none of the other singles were included. I have removed The Monkey’s Uncle, which I stuck onto a Beach Boys collection, and added Train Of Love, which I picked up somewhere else.


Tall Paul – He’s my all, she sings, in an exuberant expression of obsessivness. “With his king size arms,” she sings, “and his king-size charms” and the songwriters were busting a gut, hearing this on the radio. And what’s so great about tall guys, anyway? On the liner notes to the album, she specifically denied that it was about Paul Anka, who, she says, was not particularly tall. The size of his “charms” remains undocumented. From the winter of 1959.
Dreamin’ About You – This is the female equivalent of a Frankie Avalon. Smooth. Just slightly off key like usual, but still, great for dancing…
First Name Initial – She is singing of a pendant, a modicum of going steady. “I even wear it when I sleep” she says. No kidding. From the winter of 1960.
Indian Giver – Not the Bobby Curtola song, and not the 1910 Fruitgum Company song. It’s really amazing, isn’t it, how many songs there are with this title, and how unacceptable it would be now. The idea, of course, is you give something, then take it back. No idea where it came from “You said I’d be your pretty little squaw” she says off the top. Really. One of her worst vocals, too.
O Dio Mio – Literally translated as oh my God, Annette gets religion. Of course, it’s a prayer that her love will be requited, so all’s right with the world. From the spring of 1960.
Pajama Party – Singing about “the latest craze, having a party in your pjs,” “Grab your date” she says hidden away in all those lyrics. Wow. A mixed PJ party? Annette? Disney?
Jamaica Ska – What other kind is there. Give someone credit here. It was never a huge trend, but it surfaced here and there, think Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop. This may have set the whole thing rolling. It was a hop skip and jump from this to Bob Marley. And just think, Annette Funicello
Train Of Love – Not the Johnny Cash song. Replete with train sounds, and that chug chug rhythm. From the summer of 1960.
California Sun – Later (I assume) a hit for The Rivieras. Not a hit for Annette though. All the idealization of California neatly wrapped up in one song. Line to remember: “The boys are frisky in old ‘Frisco.”
Beach Party – A great time will be had by all, surfin’ all day and swinging all night. I bet. The mythology continues…
Pineapple Princess #2 – I don’t know why it’s #2. Presumably there was a number 1. This song, which was a hit in the fall of 1960 takes the beach theme all the way to Hawaii, but I don’t know if “pineapple princess” is a complement. She seems to think it is, but then, she seemed to be oblivious to the double entendres in Tall Paul.
Muscle Beach Party – We have the beach party, which is a fairly generic celebration of sanAnnetted and sun and surf and swimming, we have Bikini Beach, (keep listening) and here we have the muscle beach party, on which the emphasis is on brute strength and crassness. What kind of fascist stuff is this anyway? There was a movie like this, and Frankie Avalon did the title track, this song, and he was not, as far as I’m aware, any kind of muscle man.
I Dream About Frankie – Obviously the reference is Frankie Avalon, her partner in movies, but I don’t know whether she really dreamed about him. If the relationship is anything like her pitch on this song, it’s doomed.
Bikini Beach – “All the chicks are bikini clad” sings a male chorus. The irony, of course, is that Annette herself never appeared in any of her movies in a bikini; Walt Disney wouldn’t allow it. A celebration of thinness and near-nakedness.
Swingin’ And Surfin’ – Who needs Hotel California when you have it so simple right here?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

February, 1959

  • Hawaiian Wedding Song - Andy Williams
  • Taul Paul - Annette
  • I Cried A Tear - LaVerne Baker
  • Don't Take Your Guns To Town - Johnny Cash
  • The Lonely One - Duane Eddy
  • I'm A Man - Fabian
  • Blue Hawaii - Billy Vaughn
  • Children's Marching Song - Mitch Miller
  • The Little Space Girl - Jessie Lee Turner
  • I've Got A Wife - Mark IV
  • Try Me - James Brown
  • Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight - Lonnie Donegan
  • Petite Fleur - Chris Barber
  • Charlie Brown - The Coasters
  • There Must Be A Way - Joni James
  • The Story Of My Love - Conway Twitty
  • Nola - Billy Williams
  • Anthony Boy - Chuck Berry
  • I've Had It - The Bell Notes
  • Pretty Girls Everywhere - Eugene Church & The Fellows
  • Plane Jane - Bobby Darin
  • Apple Blossom Time - Tab Hunter
  • Raining In My Heart - Buddy Holly
  • Teardrops On Your Letter - Hank Ballard & The Midnighters

Neil Sedaka

Neil Sedaka Neil Sedaka gets no respect. In terms of 50s schlock meisters, Paul Anka gets better notices. I kind of get it.

Sedaka was like that guy in your class, every class has one, the guy who could play piano like nobody’s business, who got to work on all the school plays providing musical accompaniment. And he was a sucky kid. You know the type I mean. Gifted with talent, deprived of coolness.

Ok, I’m being a bit unfair. But just a bit. Because what Sedaka was missing was cool. He was handsome, he was an amazing songwriter and he put together amazing records with astounding vocal pyrotechnics and harmonies. But there was always something just a bit too chirpy about him, a bit too happy, a bit too high school.

Not everything he did was great. He had a great run of hits starting in 1959, and running through the early 60s. By about ’63 his style was starting to droop, and in 1966 The Answer To My Prayer was the last top 100 single he would have for 9 years. (If you count top 40 singles, go back to 1963.) Then in 1975 he had a comeback that put 2 singles at number 1, and reminded the world that Neil Sedaka was still a force to be reckoned with. But he couldn’t maintain it, and anyway, though he still had some musical smarts, the uniqueness of the old hits like Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do and Next Door To An Angel was a thing of the past.

Altogether Sedaka had 29 hits on the top 100. For this collection I took Oh Carol! And Other Hits, an RCA Camden reissue, and original old scratched copy of Neil Sedaka Sings His Greatest Hits, which I picked up at the Salvation Army store, a collection of his 70s hits which I got at Pyramid, and a semi-random collection of obscure 60 hits, and 70s studio albums that I used to hand-pick songs from the appropriate era. I didn’t do a bad job, 24 of his 29 hits.

Neil Sedaka:

Next Door To An Angel – The story is way over the top. His skinny pre-pubescent next door neighbour has grown up into an “angel.” He obviously doesn’t have much contact with his neighbours. And she is 16, I’d say they haven’t spoken for, what, 4 years? Now he thinks she’ll be interested. And how old is he, anyway? Ok, but if those doobe-bop-be-doo-bop-she-down-downs don’t melt her heart then she’s made of ice. Neil Sedaka was king of not-cool-enough-to-be-scatting nonsense syllables, and I’m sold. This was a top 10 hit in the fall of 1962.
King Of Clowns – Tears Of A Clown / Tracks Of My Tears / Two Faces Have I / The Great Pretender / etc. Neil Sedaka style. Neil gives a martial rhythm, as the show goes on. From the spring of 1962.
Stairway To Heaven – No this is not the Led Zeppelin song. And while we are at it, it is not the O’Jays song either. But it’s typically jubilant Sedaka, I’ll build a stairway to heaven, because heaven is where you are. Is she dead? Doesn’t sound like it. Must me that angel who lives next door. Top 10 in the spring of 1960.
Run Sampson Run – Ticka ticka ticka snare, then banjo, then Neil regales us of a story that took place “1000 years B.C.” Shame on him. BC indeed. Never mind. This is the biblical tale from the book of Judges, but hey, Tom Jones swept the floor with Sedaka’s version of the story. That, though, is from an entirely different universe. From the fall of 1960. The A side was You Mean Everything To Me.
Sweet Little You – Neil uses doo wop affectations, crazy falsetto, and a killer piano solo to proclaim his undying love. From the fall of 1961.
• You Mean Everything To Me – So here he is doing a ballad, and he throws in the female chorus up front and centre, the strings, the everything that she means to him. From the fall of 1960.
Oh! Carol – A good natured teasing song written for Carole King (note spelling) who was a Neil Sedakayoung song writer then, working in the Brill Building with Neil and her husband Gerry Goffin. There doesn’t seem to have been any reality to the feelings expressed here, but all’s fair in songwriting. And it is superb pop, His first top 10 hit, from the winter of ’59 / ’60.
Little Devil – One of Neil’s poppiest songs, the tune and arrangement and delivery totally take the sting out of the lyrics. A common theme (Devil In Disguise, Devil In Her Heart). From the summer of 1961.
Circulate – Advice to the lovelorn. Jazzy. Plenty of fish in the deep blue sea, he says, out shopping for a mate. It’s always so easy in pop music, isn’t it?
All The Way – We are talking here about emotional stuff. Of course we are, this is a respectable pop song after all. Sinatra did this.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – It is, breaking up is hard to do. Truer words were never spoken. Breaking up can kill you, or you think it can. You survive though, damaged a bit, but stronger. Don’t say that this is the end, he says. This may be the happiest sounding song about breaking up there is, but there is truth in it for all that, and it loses nothing for all the fantastic vocal pyrotechnics and harmonies. One of my favourites. A hit also for The Happenings and for The Partridge Family, and for Sedaka himself in a vastly rearranged version about a decade and a half later. The original is still the best. From the summer of 1962.
Calendar Girl – This is cute, dumb but cute. From the winter of 1961. Yeahya yeahya, my heart’s in a whirl…
Smile – This is the Charlie Chaplin. He does it pretty straight. There are probably a billion versions out there.
Everything Happens To Me – I’ve mortgaged all my castles in the air says Neil in this nightclub-worthy song about a poor no-luck sap. In the end it’s just another failed love song.
Sunny – Not the Bobby Hebb song. Cheerful as its title would imply. From the summer of ’64.
One Way Ticket To The Blues – A train song, Johnny Cash would be proud. In truth, it’s a bit dumb (choo choo train chuggin’ down the track?) But I like old Neil, so I don’t mind.
Let’s Go Steady Again – It’s that simple, isn’t it Neil? Answer: No it isn’t. There isn’t a hope in hell she’d say yes. This is from the fall of 1963, and, in truth, the formula was getting just a bit stale.
I Go Ape – Neil does his best Little Richard, but it’s not his strong suit. This was only his second hit, and it didn’t quite make the top 40. Maybe that’s why he didn’t pursue this style. From the spring of 1959.
Look To The Rainbow – The full MOR treatment on this. On records like this Neil Sedaka positions himself as an “adult contemporary” entertainer, presumably one to be taken seriously, but his voice is too idiosyncratic for this sort of thing to work.
The Girl For Me – Another one of those ‘the way you do this the way you do that’ songs. I like the line about the dimples, though.
You’re Knockin’ Me Out – And yet another…
The Diary – His debut. Not the Bread song. The idea of being able to go into someone’s heart and see what’s there is all too tempting in theory; in practice it’s less than ideal. But really that’s really not what he wants, he just wants to know if she fancies him. From the winter of 1959.
Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen – Sixteen is some kind of magic number. Just ask The Crests. But there is something cooking here, it’s the night, after all, that he’s waited for, because she is “not a baby anymore.” So what happens tonight, huh? He revisited the theme, more or less, on Next Door To An Angel. From the winter of 61 / 62.
Fallin’ – Neil wasn’t the first to play on the “falling” concept of falling in love, and he wasn’t the last. He wasn’t the best either.
Alice In Wonderland – Just a song about a girl named Alice, with a harp high up in the mix. From the winter of 1963. Chalk it up with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit as the top 2 songs based on Lewis Carroll. (We’ll talk about Donovan later)
Stupid Cupid – Brilliant rhyme. This was a hit for Connie Frances.
I Hope He Breaks Your Heart – He wants her back, that’s the whole premise behind this tale of revenge. Not likely, though, that she’d “come running back” like he hopes. Ah well, one can always hope…
The Immigrant – A song inspired by, dedicated to? John Lennon, and all his trials and tribulations trying to get an American visa. Into his second career, this is from the spring of 1975.
Standing On The Inside – A song about a breakthrough, joining the in-crowd, realizing one’s dreams. Not sure how he did it, or what it means, but there doesn’t seem to be any irony in this, so it sounds like something’s missing.
Love Will Keep Us Together – Not enough, pal, not enough. But let’s not go there. Neil wrote this, and recorded it obviously, but it was a hit for The Captain & Tenille.
Solitaire – A hit for The Carpenters. Neil does a decent performance of this song of solitude and loneliness.
The Other Side Of Me – “The times we talk, we never speak” says Neil in this study of how people hide themselves. The trick is managing all those different sides of your personality, and when it gets out of balance, that’s when the trouble starts. The song is about someone uncomfortable in his own skin, not a subject that gets a lot of attention in pop music. But even here he sings “only you can set me free,” the naïve idea that love can fix everything.
A Little Lovin - A throwback to his earlier style, a little heavier on the production. Not The Fourmost hit.
Lonely Night (Angel Face) – Another Captain & Tenille hit. This is Neil trying to stay current on the cusp of the disco era. That he didn’t isn’t because of any want of effort on his part.
Brighton – Happy memories of a beach resort. I don’t think, though, that this is Brighton in England.
(I’m A Song) Sing Me – Sort of like Bruce Johnson’s I Write The Songs, the song that everyone hates. This isn’t as offensive, but that’s not saying much.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – The slow version. You’ve got to admire the ambition, the whole idea of reinventing yourself so radically. Still, I prefer the original. Top 10, this one, in the winter of 1976. The original was number 1.
The Dreamer – The whole idea of sleeping, dreaming, fantasizing, Neil Sedaka style, from the summer of 1963.
Laughter In The Rain – The signature song from phase 2 of his career, number 1 in the winter of 1975. I was in grade 12, and it didn’t send me into raptures. But hearing it now, sure he’s talented, gets it all together, piano, sax, lilting melody, but I can’t help thinking about how he lost his edge.
Cardboard California – This is his Hotel California. Milder, but just as heartfelt.
Bad Blood – Ok men it’s time to groove. The beat is irresistible, and the song went to number 1 in the fall of 1975, and I was out of the country so I didn’t hear it until later. Elton John accompanies.
The Queen Of 1964 – A song about a has-been groupie. Surprisingly few songs about groupies – Jim Croce did Five Short Minutes, and Paul McCartney did Famous Groupies. But this is probably the best, with all due respect to the late Jim C.
The Hungry Years – It’s hard for successful people to sing about not being successful, or about not being successful yet. It’s especially hard when they try to convince you that being poor and struggling is better than being rich and successful. But you know, it’s music, the feelings are genuine, I suppose.
Betty Grable – A tribute to a fallen star. A little silly, but not without charm.
Beautiful You – Standard Love song fair. I listen to this, and I try to work out something unique or something notable, and it’s difficult. Let’s just say that it’s standard love song fair, and leave it at that.
That’s When The Music Takes Me – A song about music, definitely better than the Bruce Johnson song. Music, and how it salvages a crappy life situation. It could be my theme song, me and a billion others. From the summer of 1975. • Our Last Song Together – A super romantic, and bogus, breakup song. But it’s nice.
One More Mountain To Climb – A song about overcoming adversity. I liked the hit version by Dr. Music, that was c. 1971. It’s hard to find, the Dr. Music version, being a Canadian record and all. But here is the original, from an early 70s LP. • Steppin Out – The title track of one his 70s albums that was ubiquitous in second hand shops when I was frequented then back when. The song is a sociological analysis and an invitation.
Love In The Shadows – A song about illicit love, at the dark end of the street, apologies to James Carr. This was a hit in the spring of 1976. For my money, it’s too slick to convey the emotion of the lyrics.
A Song – Well, song titles don’t get much more generic than this, and here is Neil Sedaka singing about singing, and songs like this rarely work. This is no exception.
Medley – Oh! Carol/ Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen / Star-Crossed Lovers / Hey Little Devil / Breaking Up Is Hard To Do / Calendar Girl, all spun together in a live medley. Star-Crossed Lovers is the interesting one here, a song about intermarriage, (remember that show, Brigit Meets Bernie?). It doesn’t seem to have made the top 100 at all; it may have been on Cashbox. I remember it though, strangely, late 60s, heard it once or twice. I got the meaning right away, but later figure I got it wrong, learning that “star-crossed lovers” was just a term to describe people in love. But no, I was right the first time.
All You Need Is The Music – Was it inevitable, that Neil Sedaka would go disco? No it was not. But it happened, though it’s doubtful that this got played at Studio 54.
Should’ve Never Let You Go – In a page out of the Sinatra book, Neil sings a love song duet with has daughter Dara. In a weird way, this works.
Polonnainse In A Flat – A live performance. This is by Chopin. Sedaka plays the classics, just to prove that he can actua

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bobby Bare

Bobby Bare I only have this one Bobby Bare album, called The Best Of Bobby Bare, an old classic released in the mid 60s, that I picked up on the original vinyl at Into The Music, still on Osborne in those days. He had 8 top 100 singles, including a freak hit from 1974. Have I Stayed Away Too Long was a single that made the lower reaches of the chart in the spring of 64; apart from the ’74 track it’s the only one missing.

Listening to this album makes me wish I had more by Bare. That shouldn’t be too hard to arrange I guess. Bare knows what to do with a song – how to sing it, what to include, what to leave out. He has the right emotional range, you believe every word he says.

Bobby Bare:

Detroit City – The loping guitar figure, all by itself, conveys all the yearning for simplicity and familiarity and comfort and safety that this song represents. It was a favourite; Jan & Dean covered it, so did others. It was false, of course. There was no going back, there never is. From the summer of 1963.
It’s Alright – A song about wandering, about seeking something one never finds. This is a common theme; think I’m A Drifter by Bobby Goldsboro. And of course, when he finally comes home, it’s too late. It’s all in the harmonica. A country hit in 1965.
Four Strong Winds – Ian Tyson wrote this; it was recorded by Ian & Sylvia, and it was a hit for Neil Young in 1978. Another song about restlessness, about conflicting goals and values. From the fall of 1964. This was his last pop hit until Daddy What If was a fluke hit in 1974.
Miller’s Cave – The story of infidelity, jealousy, vengeance, murder, the emotional wilderness, all wrapped up in a cave in the side of the mountain. Hank Snow did this also. From the winter of 1964, contemporary with The Beatles’ invasion of America.
I’d Fight The World – A declaration of true love, in the face of opposition, with mariachi trumpet.
Times Are Getting’ Hard – Another country music hard-luck story. California is the mythical place where everything is better, but there’s no such place like that, and if the singer doesn’t get it, that harmonica does. Shades of Steinbeck. A country hit in 1965,
The All American Boy – A lame Elvis sendup, The story is that Bare recorded a demo for his friend Bill Parsons, and that’s whose named ended up on the record label. A hit in the winter of 1959.
Shame On Me – An I’m guilty song. It’s always so simple in these songs, even conflict is simple. I mean hey, he cheated on her, but it’s ok, he’s sorry. From the fall of 1962.
500 Miles Away From Home – Kind of a follow-up to Detroit City. Here is where he throws in the towel, doesn’t pack because he has nothing to pack, and heads back south, to a simpler time, a simpler place, a time and place that no longer exists, that never existed. And it’s a dream, at the end of the song he’s no closer that he was when he started out, still 500 miles away from home. There’s a chorus singing in the background, like there is in so many of his songs, and the whole was, for its time, a very modern country music sound, but today it sounds like music from the simpler time and place of which he sings; there’s a beauty in the sadness that can’t be described in words. The song, usually called 500 Miles, was a favourite among folk artists in the early 60s, Peter, Paul & Mary most famously; it was written by Hedy West, though Bare’s version features new lyrics and he gets a co-writing credit along with someone called Charlie Williams. A hit for Bare in the fall of 1963.
Dear Wastebasket – Mariachi trumpet up front and centre on this tale of a poor sod whose (ex) girlfriend just throws away his letters without reading them. If his letters are as good as his music, then she’s making a big mistake…
He Was A Friend Of Mine – Recorded by The Byrds as a tribute to John F. Kennedy, and Dylan had a crack at it though his version, recorded in the early 60s, did not turn up officially until The Bootleg Series was released in the late 90s. Here it stands as a simple tribute to a friend, the song as it was meant to be done.
When The Wind Blows (In Chicago) – That’s when he is lonely, get it? Recorded also by Roy Clark.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dee Clark

Dee Clark was a man. I say that because a number of years ago I read a book about women in rock, it was probably called Women In Rock but don’t quote me. It had an appendix, a comprehensive list of women in rock, and Dee Clark was on the list.

I think this was a new album, a VeeJay album called The Best Of Dee Clark, and, again, don’t quote me, but I have a vague recollection of buying this at the Unicity location of Sam The Record Man. 6 out of his 10 hits are on here.

I was working there, in Unicity. It was a shopping centre at the west end of the city. It was suffering, I don’t know why. But I was working in a office there and starving. I was there from September, 1991 until July, 1992. It was a ghost town. But there was a Sam The Record Man there, so I had a place to kill an hour now and then.

That’s the whole story…

Dee Clark:

Nobody But You – This loping R&B paean to the exclusivity of a relationship was Clark’s first hit, in the winter of 1959.
Hey Little Girl –This is pure pedophilia, to a Bo Diddley beat. From the fall of 1959.
Just Keep It Up – Your time is gonna come, that’s the message here. You kinda wanna say, well why don’t you just bail. But it’s not always that easy, is it. From the summer of 1959.
Portrait Of My Love – The song was a hit for Steve Lawrence, but I don’t have that version. I do have a version, unless I’m very much mistaken, by Gene McDaniel. This is one of those ballads. You know, one of *those* ballads…
How About That – Trilling flute accompanies our hero as he describes his “throbbing brain,” an unmistakable symptom of infatuation. From the winter of 1960.
Blues Get Off My Shoulders – Dee has a rather unusual voice for a smoky ballad like this. “Blues,” here, is blamed for ruining a “perfect love affair” and wreaking all manner of damage. If I didn’t know better I’d say that this was a song about depression.
Raindrops – Another heartbreak song, but the real subtext is the inner conflict that goes when “a man ain’t supposed to cry.” The Everly Brothers did their crying in the rain, and the Temptations wished it would rain. So many songs about tears and rain. This was his only top 10 hit, and it could be his best vocal performance, a bit lower than his usual register. From the summer of 1961.
Your Friends – A few years it was, before Dylan did Positively 4th Street, but same idea. From the winter of 1961.
If It Wasn’t For Love – This song wasn’t a hit, but it’s one on which Dee lets loose, belting out with that choked tenor of his, a song that is so over the top that you can’t help but believe every word.
You’re Looking Good – A Hey Little Girl rewrite, with all the salaciousness, but minus the cradle robbing. From the fall of 1960.
When I Call On You

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Crests

The CrestsI like The Crests. They emphasize the melody, the romance. They were a mixed-race group; their lead singer was Johnny Maestro who was Italian. After a few years with the group he went solo and had a few hits, and then he disappeared until 1969, when he reappeared as lead singer of Brooklyn Bridge, a kind extreme version of Gary Puckett & The Union Gap.

The collection here, just called The Crests as far as I remember, I found on a rather plain looking cassette, that was at Mr. Sound. I’ve seen similar collections by other artists, very obviously not legit, which makes me wonder how they could sell it in a legitimate commercial outlet like Mr. Sound. It’s impressive, the only song missing is Sweetest One which was released on the Joyce label (no I’ve never heard of it either) in 1957. All 9 of their top 100 Coed singles are here.

The Crests:

16 Candles – The wonderful idea of teenage romance in all its glory, with a birthday cake to boot. The singer is totally, completely, hopelessly infatuated. The title was borrowed for a movie a few decades later, and, you know, I liked the movie. Molly Ringwald was in it. The song, it was as hit in the early part of 1959.
A Year Ago Tonight – This came out a year later, clever. It is a sequel, but not a copy. Seems that his love was requited after all. This was, indeed, from the early part of 1960, though it did not quite make the top 40.
Six Nights A Week – A song, it seems, about withholding. The scenario is this: he can’t see her, except at the Saturday dance, every week. He is frustrated. But she, apparently, will have it no other way. Hard to get, maybe, too hard. From the spring of 1959.
The Angels Listened In – This one swoops and soars, appropriate for the heavenly subject matter. Johnny’s prayers worked wonders, and the angels answered his prayers. Gotta love it. From the fall of 1959.
Gee – This is not The Crows hit. They slow things down here, and it’s a syrupy, saccharine a bit even, but the strings come, subtle, and how can you resist…
Step By Step – A relationship reduced to a formula, but I don’t believe it. He’s making it up. From the spring of 1960.
Journey Of Love – Not an original idea so much, but not one you find much in pop music. A bit simple of course, as it’s presented, but what can you expect. From the fall of 1960.
Trouble In Paradise – Those same angels that listened in are now called to rescue an ailing relationship. From the summer of 1960.
Earth Angel – A not bad white-boy cover of The Penguins hit from 1955.
Flower Of Love – She loves me, she loves me not. From the summer of 1959.
Isn’t It Amazing – Another paean to the wonder of being in love. This was their last hit; it reached number 100 for 1 week. That was in the fall of 1960.
Pretty Little Angel – The last track on the collection is a bit more uptempo, a bit more R & B. Not to be confused with Pretty Little Angel Eyes by Curtis Lee.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens He was young, a kid. That’s the thing that everybody remarks about when Ritchie Valens comes up. Well sure he was young. My best guess is, and this is no knock, that dying with Buddy Holly made him more famous and better remembered than he would have been had he lived. By the evidence, he was a talented guitarist, and an ok songwriter. In his very short career he placed 5 songs on the top 100, and all 5 are on this collection, called Ritchie Valens’ Greatest Hits, which I picked up so long ago at Records On Wheels.

Ritchie Valens:

Donna – There was time that I was sharing office space with a denturist named Jim who had a technician named Donna and a secretary / receptionist named Donna, and I had, at the same time, a secretary named Donna. She was the only person I ever fired. Then there was Donna W, whom I barely knew way back when in childhood. And there was recently a Donna in my French class; she was older than me, at least 10 years, and shared my surname. The song, that’s what we’re here for, right? The song was as good a specimen of wimp rock as can be found; Air Supply eat your hearts out. It was big, and that was in the winter of 1959.
Come On Let’s Go – And this is party music. Valens’ debut, from the fall of 1958. A small and not much remembered hit for The McCoys, at least. This, not Donna, was probably Ritchie’s greatest moment.
Bony Maronie – Richie does Larry Williams. He won’t make you forget Williams any time soon, but give him E for effort.
We Belong Together – The Robert & Johnny hit.
Bluebirds Over The Mountain – A hit by Ersel Hickey. I don’t have it. But I have the hit version by The Beach Boys, which, come to think of it, wasn’t much of a hit.
In A Turkish Town – A touch of the exotic, it always adds something to what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill pop song. I don’t know what it adds exactly, but it adds *something.*
Cry, Cry, Cry – Not the Johnny Cash song, and not the Bobby Bland song.
• The Paddiwack Song – This Old Man, Ritchie Valens style. Mitch Miller recorded this song, but not like this…
Stay Beside Me – Stay with me, be with me, support me, believe in me. Donna redux, really.
La Bamba – Some kind of Mexican folk song, it was considered somewhat sacrilegious when Valens made a hit out of this. I grew up thinking that it was by Trini Lopez, who indeed did a moderately successful remake, but it was Valens who first put it on the chart. It was the B side of Donna, peaking on the charts slightly earlier.
That’s My Little Suzie – This is Bony Maronie redux. From the spring of 1959.
Ooh! My Head – A Little Richard rip-off (Ooh My Soul). Zeppelin ripped it off from Richie Valens, on Physical Graffiti, and got into a legal jam.
Hi-Tone – A song about finding the real person under the snobby exterior. Never judge a book by its cover
Hurry Up – Kind of a proactive Stood Up. Richie isn’t pleased…
Framed – I was walkin’ down the street, says Richie off the top, identifying himself as “Henry.” A Leiber – Stoller song. It was never a hit for anyone, but there are versions by The Coasters, by Bill Haley & His Comets, and by Burton Cummings.
Last Freight – An instrumental. Richie demonstrates his guitar virtuosity.
Little Girl – A ballad in the Buddy Holly style. It was the last hit that Richie had, from the summer of 1959.
Malaguena – In case Last Freight left any doubt in our minds…

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ray Anthony

Ray AnthonyRay Anthony had a long and distinguished career as a bandleader and arranger and conductor and composer. I think his most famous song was The Bunny Hop. He put 6 songs on the top 100 between 1955 and 1962, but for all that, I just have the one song. Shame on me…

Ray Anthony:

Peter Gunn – Spy theme extraordinaire. The original, of course, was written and performed by Henry Mancini, whose entire career as a soundtrack meister took off from there. But it was Ray Anthony who put it on the chart, and that was in the winter of 1959. ELP used this as a show closer, and I heard it live once performed in the park by Winnipeg jazz icon Ron Paley.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Harry Simeone Chorale

Harry Simeone Chorale I got this off of the original album, the one that came out in 1958, which I found in all its glory at Pyramid Records.

He / they only ever had one hit.

The Harry Simeone Chorale:

The Little Drummer Boy – I’m not familiar with the theology of all this, not being any kind of Christian or anything. I don’t know what drums have to do with Christmas. But as an outsider I have to say this: this song was a coup. This guy Harry Simeone, whoever he was, managed to write, or at least introduce the world to, depending on who you believe, a song that, not only became a Christmas staple, but, unlike, say, White Christmas by Irving Berlin, did so in a way that retains all the solemnity of a real hymn. It sounds like it was written in the middle ages. The original, though, appeared during the Christmas season of 1958, charted several more times, and has been covered by don’t even try to count how many recording artists.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

January, 1959

  • The Little Drummer Boy - Harry Simeone Chorale
  • Sixteen Candles - The Crests
  • C'mon Everybody - Eddie Cochran
  • Don't Pity Me - Dion & The Belmonts
  • Alright Okay You Win - Peggy Lee
  • Wiggle Wiggle - The Accents
  • Kiss Me Honey Honey Kiss Me - Shirley Bassey
  • Manhattan Spiritual - Reg Owen
  • Goodbye Baby - Jack Scott
  • Rocka Conga - Applejacks
  • Peek A Boo - The Cadillacs
  • Nobody But You - Dee Clark
  • Try Me - James Brown
  • All American Boy - Bill Parsons
  • Stagger Lee - Lloyd Price
  • Red River Rose - The Ames Brothers
  • Peter Gunn - Ray Anthony
  • The Children's Marching Song - Cyril Stapleton
  • La Bamba - Ritchie Valens
  • Heartbeat - Buddy Holly
  • With The Wind And The Rain In Your Hair / Good Rockin' Tonight - Pat Boone
  • May You Always - The McGuire Sisters
  • Diary - Neil Sedaka
  • (All Of A Sudden) My Heart Sings - Paul Anka
  • Lucky Ladybug - Billy & Lillie
  • Teasin' - The Quaker City Boys
  • Raspberries, Strawberries - The Kingston Trio

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Chipmunks

Greatest HitsThe Chipmunks deserve a place in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, surely. I’m not even sure why. Maybe it would just be an antidote to those who take it so darn seriously.

Novelty acts tended to have 1 hit. Think of Napolean XIV or The Hollywood Argyles who did what may be the quintessential novelty song, Alley Oop. The exception was The Archies, and they, like The Chipmunks before them, had a cartoon to back them up.
The Chipmunks had character, they were real, even if they weren’t real. And in their better records, that character came out, and it gave their records a charm that transcends their ostensible frivolousness.

The collection is simply called Greatest Hits; it has 5 of their 7 hits – missing is Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Alvin For President, and then it has 4 tracks from a collection of Beatle covers they did, suggesting that whoever put this together got lazy.

The Chipmunks:

The Chipmunk Song – “Me,” sings Alvin, “I want a hula hoop.” And that, for better or worse, is what Christmas is about for so many – toys. That includes adults, of course. The Little Drummer Boy was contemporary with this, so you had both sides. From the 1958 Christmas season, number 1, and it recharted during the next 4 years.
Alvin’s Harmonica – “Aw nuts!” says Alvin off the top, in a transcendent moment. He’s pretty good actually, a budding Stevie Wonder. And it’s amazing how the name at the end of the first line just happens to be “Veronica.” From the winter of 1959.
Ragtime Cowboy Joe – Childen and cowboys, an inevitable combination. But chipmunks and horses... From the summer of 1959. “Hi Ho Alvinnnnn…..
Alvin’s Orchestra – It’s all about music, isn’t it? That whole Chipmunk career thing. And when Alvin sabotages the works he does so by shooting his gun or turning a ballad into a cha cha. But here the battle morphs from music into money. Dave can’t very well complain about an orchestra otherwise, now can he? From the winter of 1960.
The Alvin Twist – Just to prove that everyone had to jump on the bandwagon. From the winter of 1962.
Whistle While You Work – Is this really from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. They do it straight – as straight as someone’s voice recorded in three part harmony and sped to sound like helium induced rodents can be.
All My Loving – Here is where The Beatle tunes start. All My Loving was from their second album, it was, if I’m not very much mistaken, the first song they played (The Beatles, not The Chipmunks) on their first appearance on Ed Sullivan. And there are not many covers of it.
A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles title track from their first movie and third album, and a number 1 single in 1964.
Can’t Buy Me Love – Ditto, except for being the title track.
I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles’ breakthrough hit in the US. It was a hit, also, for Arthur Fiedler And The Boston Pops.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Louis Prima & Keely Smith

I ought to have a collection by Louis Prima I suppose but I don’t. No excuses either; they are available. But I did come across a collection by Louis and his then wife, Keely Smith, but for reasons best left unstated, though they have to do with finances and the lack thereof, I only downloaded one track. So it goes…

Louis Prima & Keely Smith:

That Old Black Magic – Done up in their best Las Vegas style. From the winter of 1958 / 1959.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

If you like cool jazz, that’s cool. I’m thinking of Miles Davis, cool.

Art Blakey is cool, but not that kind of cool. He’s just plain cool. But the music isn’t cool jazz, it’s kick-butt jazz. Be warned, listen to enough of this and you’ll be rattled. But in a good way.

This collection called The History Of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers came from The Grande Bibliotheque. I found it there about 4 years ago.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers:

The Thin Man
• Quicksilver – drum solo, brief.
• Wee Dot
• Doodlin’
• Avila And Tequila
• Minor’s Holiday
• Lillie T.
Blues March
• Justice
Dat Dere
• Lester Left Town
A Night In Tunisia
• Ping Pong
• Arabia
• Three Blind Mice
• Up Jumped Spring
• Free For All
• When Love Is New
• The Egyptian
• Gertrude’s Bounce
• Jody
• A Wheel Within A Wheel
• Ms. B. C.
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