Monday, May 31, 2010

Preston Epps

There are not too many rock / pop / R&B headliners who are percussionists. The only other one I can think of offhand is Mongo Santamaria.

I’m not referring to drummers here; I am referring to those who play all those instruments that you smack, but aren’t part of the drum kit. Epps’ specialty seems to have been bongos, but one thinks also of the tabla, tambourine, cowbell etc.

As for Preston Epps, I have both of his hits.

Preston Epps:

Bongo Rock – The use of bongo as a lead instrument is very rare. Much later Santana's use of percussion was a major part of their arrangements. But here it’s up front and centre. This is from the summer of 1959. Redone by The Incredible Bongo Band in 1973.
Bongo Bongo Bongo – More bongo. From the summer of 1960. I wouldn’t mind hearing Cowbell Cowbell Cowbell.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Flamingoes

The FlamingoesDid the group really perform entire concerts standing on one leg?

This collection, called The Best Of The Flamingoes, which I picked up at the Grande Bibliotheque, has 8 of their 11 hits. Missing are I Was Such A Fool (To Fall In Love With You) from 1960, The Boogaloo Party from 1966, by which time they had changed from End records to Phillips, and Buffalo Soldier, a Polydor release from 1970.

I Only Have Eyes For You appears on the Amercan Graffiti soundtrack.

The Flamingoes:

If I Can’t Have You – You listen to this and you can hear Frank Sinatra doing it, and then you realize then how much this group brings to this otherwise mundane romantic statement of exclusivity. The vocal swoop and sore, the lead is so idiosyncratic that he avoids all romantic clichés, the lyrics notwithstanding. Not the Yvonne Elliman song.
That’s My Desire – A hit for Frankie Laine, and covered by Dion & The Belmonts, this song transforms desire into something purely emotional. Or it tries to; I don’t really think that they’re fooling anyone.
Golden Teardrops – This one seems to inhabit some emotionally complex territory. It’s about how we treasure the sadness that someone feels on our account.
Jump Children – An old fashioned jump blues, new fashioned…
Dream Of A Lifetime – This one really goes all out with the romance.
Kokomo (I Love You So) – A hit for The Crew Cuts in 1955 and I have that version, a hit for Perry Como also in 1955 and I don’t have that version. But this was a remake, a hit in the spring of 1961, though it sounds much older. Not, needless to say, The Beach Boys song.
I’ll Be Home – Not the Randy Newman song. A hit for Pat Boone in 1956, and his version was ok you know, nice ballroom dance, but these guys put soul into it.
A Kiss From Your Lips – How a kiss changes everything – one kiss. The Everly Brothers did Till I Kissed You, The Drifters did This Magic Moment, same idea. It’s so silly, but the music and the singing is such that you believe every word. • The Vow – Marriage as the ultimate romance. “I believe,” he says, “true love never dies.”
The Ladder Of Love – This is really, in its own idiosyncratic way, a song about how we all have different needs. “Some want a little,” they say, “some want a lot, some folks are happy with what they’ve got,” in their best Pirkei Avot manner.
Lovers Never Say Goodbye – This song hit my head every time I tell someone “please wait.” For years I only knew the Sha Na Na version, which closed their The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll album, which I got in Fargo, ND, when I was about 15. And that year the Canadian dollar was actually worth more than the USD. Piece of trivia. But the song… Maybe the best ever about a reluctant parting. It’s not just a goodnight song, no. This is about a prolonged separation, and it’s sweet. “There’s no reason to cry.” This is from the winter of 1959. (We missed it, didn‘t we?)
Love Walked In – What you’d expect. From the fall of 1959.
I Only Have Eyes For You – Some song lyrics speak of how love brings heightened awareness of the world around; others, like this, do the opposite. The world disappears. From a therapeutic point of view, it’s totally not healthy. But unless you’re Jackson Browne, songs aren’t written from a therapeutic POV. From a let’s dance POV, it’s marvelous. This was their biggest and best know hit, and it’s from the summer of 1959. Art Garfunkel did a remake a few decades later.
Goodnight Sweetheart – Not to be confused with Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight (aka Goodnight Sweetheart It’s Time To Go) by The Spaniels, or Goodnight My Love my Jesse Belvin. And this isn’t as good as those other ones, but that’s stiff competition…
Mio Amore – They don’t do Italian like Dean Martin, that’s for sure. Actually this is in English, apart from the title. From the summer of 1960.
Nobody Loves Me Like You – And what do I get out of this relationship? From the summer of 1960.
Your Other Love – The Beatles took the theme, and did This Boy. In fact there are dozens of songs like this, Forget Him by Bobby Rydell is one of my favourites. It’s all useless, he can save his breath, she’ll do what she wants. From the winter of 1961.
Time Was – Not the Canned Heat song. This song about nostalgia was from the summer of 1961. Nobody, though, did nostalgia like The Statler Brothers.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Carl Dobkins, Jr.

Carl Dobkins, Jr. This guy had 4 hit records, 2 big, and 2 not so big. They all came out in 1959 and 1960. Wikipedia says that he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame but it doesn’t say why, and there is no obvious reason.

I got these 2 singles off of singles.

Carl Dobkins, Jr.

My Heart Is An Open Book – On the surface it’s a straightforward love song, but there’s tension here. “Don’t believe all those lies” says Carl, as he protests his honesty and openness. From the summer of 1959.
Lucky Devil – The religious imagery of heaven and hell, the devil and the angel, all shrunk down into an innocent love song. From the winter of 1960.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

James Darren

James Darren As a singer they say that James Darren was a good actor, but it could be that as an actor he was a good singer. I never saw his movies; he was in Gidget, among others, with Sandra Dee. The TV series came later; it starred Sally Fields.

This is a real cobbled together collection, singles, albums, you name it. Darren had a handful of hits between 1959 and 1962, then a fluke hit in 1967 and another in 1977.

Not to be confused with Bobby Darin.

James Darren:

Gidget – There’s always something alluring about teenage girls, and so these older guys like to sing about them. And remember, for most of this time period, in most places, you weren’t an adult until you were 21. Meanwhile our hero paints a fairly vivid portrait of his love, her clothes, her height, her character, it’s all here. Gidget was a TV show with Sally Field, before The Flying Nun, and before that it was a movie, a series of movies really, with Sandra Dee, and, who else, James Darren. This is Darren’s first hit, from the summer of 1959.
Valerie – Not The Monkees song. This was actually the A side of something, but it wasn’t a hit. The song speaks of how meaningless his relationships were, until he met Valerie. I wonder what his former loves would think of that.
Goodbye Cruel World – This cartoon cliché gets the best possible cartoon treatment. Jimmy is heartbroken, so he formulates a plan that will afford him the only possible cure, which includes getting shot out of a cannon. The circus trolliope (I made that word up) theme here was used again by Leo Sayer, then by Three Dog Night, in The Show Must Go On,. From the winter of 61 / 62.
Her Royal Majesty – Characterizing the one who breaks your heart as royalty is surely one way to cope. From the winter of 1962.
Conscience – The inner conflict between the desire to be selfish and the need to be thoughtful and caring. There’s a lot going on here under the silly exterior. From the winter of 1962.
All – An adult ballad, the closest he gets to the other Darin. From the winter of 1967.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ray Peterson

Ray Peterson Ray Peterson, that sounds like an accountant, not a pop singer. But a pop singer he was. He had a handful of hits in the early 60s, and I have his 3 biggest.

Ray Peterson:

The Wonder Of You – It happens sometimes in a real relationship, a healthy relationship, that we look at our partner, and we are amazed that at our luck, at the wonderfulness of the person we are looking at, at the comfort that he or she brings to our life. And plain and simple, that’s what this song is about. It was a hit for Peterson in the summer of 1959, but Elvis remade it as a live recording in 1970, and he swept the proverbial floor with old Ray.
Corinna, Corinna – Joe Turner did this as a fusion of mean jump blues and R & B, and it swings. Dylan did this as a folk based dirge. And Taj Mahal did it. And so did etc etc. Peterson does it as a kind of teen idol number. I’ll Take Big Joe. From the winter of 1961.
Tell Laura I Love Her – There was this TV special, some kind of rock concert, I was 13. I was watching it with various family members, and a girl from LA whose name was Barbara. She had lots to say about everything, Barbara did. Anyway I remember Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, and Sha Na Na. And when Sha Na Na broke into “Laura and Tommy were lovers,” our friend Barbara said “Tell Laura I Love Her!” I’d never heard the song. But I remember how they hammed it up, making up a steeple with their hands when they sang about the chapel. Very camp, but endearingly so. The song itself was a classic example of the strange death rock phenomenon of the early 60s, which was rock music’s first attempt to tackle “serious” subject matter. By any objective standard it failed miserably. But we don’t use objective standards to measure songs like this, so let’s just say that it’s very very silly, but transcendent in its own special way. This was from the summer of 1960.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Johnny & The Hurricanes

Johnny & The HurricanesImmortalized by The Kinks in One Of The Survivors, Johnny & The Hurricanes were an instrumental “combo” that put 9 records into the top 100 over a 3 year period, beginning in 1959.

I got 2 albums, collections. The second was not that exciting, but it was fairly comprehensive. It was called Juke Box Giants, which was a title used for a number of different collections by different groups, and the cover always looked the same. The only other one of the series I remember getting my hands on was by The Shirelles.

The other was just called The Best Of Johnny & The Hurricanes. I picked it up at Pyramid Records, way back when, in their first ever location. It was a budget reissue, on Birchmount, and the cover featured an attractive young woman, on her knees, sort of, holding a saxophone, and clad only in tin foil, and not much tin foil. Those types of budget reissues belong to such a remote era, now, it seems, that it’s difficult even to explain the marketing thinking behind them. So be it.

My collection is a merging of the 2 LPs. I have all their hits.

Johnny & The Hurricanes:

Red River Rock – A rocked up version of Red River Valley, which is where I was born and raised, though there is more than one Red River Valley, and I’m betting that this is about another one. From the fall of 1959, their biggest hit, and the hit for which they are best remembered.
You Are My Sunshine – They don’t take the chirpiness out of this, which is too bad. The song was written, and originally recorded, by Governor Jimmy Davis. A hit for Ray Charles, among others. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Ja-Da – This is one of those tunes you recognize, but you don’t know why or where from. Their last hit, from the winter of 1961.
Rockin’ Goose – Just to drive the point home there’s a honking sound throughout. From the fall of 1960
Revival – When The Saint Go Marching In. I don’t know why they changed the title. From the fall of 1960. The B side of Revival
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane – There are vocals on this – a female chorus singing the title over and over.
San Antonio Rose – A rocked up version of the country classic, originally performed by The Sons Of The Pioneers, and a hit later for Floyd Cramer, and recorded by dozens, nay, hundreds.
Like … Rock – Like… cool!
Teensville Tonight
Bye Bye Blackbird – An old standard. My favourite rendition is by Joe Cocker.
Buck Eye Johnny & The Hurricanes
High Voltage – This is Frankie And Johnny. It’s anyone’s guess as to why they changed the title.
Traffic Jam – Not the James Taylor song.
Come On Train
Reveille Rock – Rock and roll, and you can dance to it, based on a military wake-up call. I’d put this closer to Hendrix’s ripping to shreds of The Star Spangled Banner than to The Beach Boys doing Be True To Your School. From the winter of 1959 / 1960.
Down Yonder – From the summer of 1960.
Sheba – Presumably a place. I mean, you’ve heard of the queen of Sheba, right?
Time Bomb
Mr. Lonely – Not the Bobby Vinton song.
The Sheik Of Araby – An old standard. There are a few early recordings of The Beatles doing this.
Crossfire – From the summer of 1959, their first hit.
Beatnik Fly – The Blue Tail Fly, rock and roll. From the winter of 1960.
Storm Warning

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ronnie Hawkins

Ronnie HawkinsA wild man from Arkansas lost in the jungles of Toronto, a big fish in a small pond – that was Ronnie Hawkins, who built himself a rock and roll empire that few knew about outside TO the good.

He may be just as famous for giving the world The Band as he is for his own music. For someone with his legendary status, he didn’t figure all that prominently on the radio or on the charts; he only had one top 40 hit, and a couple more on the top 100. The Toronto chart shows 12 songs, which makes sense.

This is a Quality release called Greatest Hits, 10 tracks, plus Home From The Forest from a reissued single.

Ronnie Hawkins

Ruby Baby – A hit originally for The Drifters, and done more famously by Dion, Hawkins spits out basic R & B about unrequited love. I got a girl, he sings, but she don’t love me. Does he have her or not??
Odessa – If you see Odessa, Ronnie asks of some unnamed party, tell her I’m coming home. He can’t tell her himself? And why is her name Odessa, anyway? This song has nothing to do with The Bee Gees.
Forty Days – Chuck Berry rendered this as Thirty Days, but it’s the same song. From the summer of 1959.
Clara – I’ll dedicate this one to my father. Clara is my mother. Only song I know by that name, though Gilbert O’Sullivan did Claire. Not the same.
Bo Diddley – Confusing, I know, but this isn’t Bo Diddley at all, it’s Hey Bo Diddley. Meanwhile he does the Bo man proud. From the winter of 1963. • Mojo Man – The legend of the all powerful alpha male, he can control the weather, single handedly defeat armies, do all manner of magic, and even “make you fall in love with me.” That’s what it’s all about isn’t it.
Baby Jean
The Ballad Of Caryl Chessman – Here in Canada we abolished capital punishment eons ago. There was still a bit of controversy for a while but it faded away, and it’s a, forgive the pun, dead issue. The Americans may catch up in a century or so. This song, about the character portrayed so ably by Alan Alda in the movie, and the cause célèbre he inspired, makes a better plea for the abolishment of capital punishment than all the treatises you could read. “Let his soul be judged on judgment day” indeed. From the winter of 1960
Who Do You Love – Another Bo Diddley piece, and on this one the competition is fierce: Tom Rush, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Juicy Lucy, Jesus & Mary Chain. Hawkins himself does a standout version on The Last Waltz
Mary Lou – From the fall of 1960, a story about a car stealing woman.
Home From The Forest – Gordon Lightfoot’s tale of poverty and how it brings down the noble soul of man is done honour by Hawkins, who put an otherwise overlooked song into the Canadian top 40 in the winter of 67 / 68.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Freddy Cannon

This guy was part of the stable of artists from Philadelphia, though he wasn’t from Philly, who were in some way associated with Dick Clark. Most recorded for Cameo-Parkway (Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell) or Chancellor (Frankie Avalon), and Cannon recorded for Swan, which released some Beatle records before Capital got hold of them. The difference was that Cannon wasn’t wimpy, and he wasn’t derivative. He wasn’t, on the other hand, a great artist nor was he particularly innovative, but he sang his records with gusto, and you really couldn’t argue.

I watched him on TV, on Where The Action Is, when I was young, about 8, and I barely remember, but I remember.

This album was a Rhino collection called 14 Booming Hits; I picked it up at Records On Wheels, and it was decent. It had all 8 of his top 40 records, and 4 more top 100 singles that didn’t make the top 40.

Freddy Cannon:

Tallahassee Lassie – “She has a hi fi chassis” says our hero of his lassie from Tallahassee, and I don’t know if he refers to something in her living room or some aspect of her anatomy, in which latter case I wonder if it’s something good or something less good. He does, I admit, sound highly enthused. I was in Florida when I was about 14, but I don’t think that we went through Tallahassee. I’d remember, because we always made a point of seeing state capital buildings. This tribute to a greal gal from FLA was Cannon’s debut hit, in the summer of 1959.
Palisades Park – The ultimate fantasy, some slightly post-adolescent lad goes to the amusement park, alone, meets the girl of his dreams, hangs out all evening with her, the ferris wheel, hot dogs, the works. Anything at all can happen in a pop song. From the summer of 1962. This song has the distinction of having been covered by both Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys, several decades apart. And I still don't know what a "shoop de shoop" is.
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans – The stuff of legend, cities of music: Nashville, Memphis, Detroit, Philadelphia, New Orleans. There may even be a bit of the Big Easy in the sound of this. And old song, recorded by Louis Armstrong et al. From the winter of 1959 / 1960.
Transistor Sister – My partner in music, someone to share all those groovy sounds with, someone totally in tune. Ok, I’m reading into it. Truth is, I’m not at all sure whether “sister” here is metaphorical or actual. You can read this song any way you want. Nobody today recognized the association between “transistor” and “radio” anyway. From the fall of 1961.
Jump Over – This is something akin to Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, the inappropriateness of over-analyzing, in this case, matters of the heart. No, I haven’t lost my mind, comparing … ok, maybe I have. From the summer of 1960.
Boston (My Home Town) – We’ve heard about Tallahassee and about New Orleans, why not Boston. They all begin to sound alike after a while. The Standells also sang about Boston (Dirty Water) and they were from LA.
Teen Queen Of The Week – Her moment of glory backfires on him. Her head gets too big. Not even Degrassi stooped this low. It was the winter of 1962, and this song just barely snuck into the top 100.
Action – A total party record, and the theme of the TV show Where The Action Is. I remember watching that, but man was I young, about 8. From the late summer of 1965.
Abigail Beecher – She’s the history teacher, and from the sound of it, the coolest teacher ever. What other teacher gets such a down and dirty Bo Diddley beat all to herself? From the winter of 1964.
Buzz Buzz A-Diddle-It – The Bo Diddley thing was no accident. This time they even got the lyrics to match. From the summer of 1961.
Beechwood City – Another song about the greatest city in the world. At least this time the name too is fictional. A Honda’s all you need to get around, says our hero, and he’s not referring to a Civic
Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy – An old country standard. Freddy put it back in the chart in the winter of 1960. I was in Chattanooga when I was about 14 but I don’t remember what I saw or what we did.
If You Were A Rock ‘N’ Roll Record – I know they’d sell a million of you, says our hero. Is that a good thing? Comparing your one and only to your favourite music, now that’s true love. From the winter of 62 / 63.
The Dedication Song – They used have the dedication hour, or five minutes, or something. Maybe they still do. Here we have the ups and downs and ins and outs of relationships, expressed as all manner of song dedications. His last hit, from the winter of 1966.

The Wailers

Nuggets The Waylors were Waylon Jennings’ backup band at some point, and of course The Wailers were Bob Marley’s band. These Wailers were neither.

These Wailers were from the northwest, Washington to be exact, where there was some kind of proto-garage band culture going on. The Kingsmen were probably the best know product of that environment. A few decades later we had Nirvana.

The Wailers were never like super-famous or anything. Tall Cool One was their most successful single, but it was atypical, being an instrumental. I don’t remember where I picked that one up; the other one came from a Rhino Nuggets collection.

The Wailers:

Tall Cool One – Alcohol consumption was always up front and centre in country music, not so in rock and roll, though R & B had the occasional One Mint Julep and the like. Then there was the odd exception like The Fireballs’ Bottle Of Wine. And then there was Tall Cool One, which was an instrumental, so we don’t know what it was about. Could have been about the sax player’s girlfriend, or about the piano man himself, or about the tree outside the studio. This was a hit in the summer of 1959, and again in the summer of 1964, but it was never very big either time. I have a cover by The Ventures.
Hang Up – The singer delivers the lyrics with such intensity that it sounds like he may have apoplexy right then and there. Can’t understand much of what he says though.
You Weren’t Using Your Head – Just another song of heartbreak and revenge, with just slightly less rancour than Hang Up.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

June, 1959

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Fiestas

The FiestasAnother odd name for a group. They could have called themselves the Siestas and done an album of lullabies, or very boring songs. The Fiestas, that’s like the Celebrations or The Parties or The Happy Times.

I got their one and only hit from Echoes Of A Rock Era, which I’ve mentioned before, and will undoubtedly mention again. It was a kind of prototype for me, that collection, of a various-artist compilation featuring groups who didn’t necessarily merit a collection on their own. It was in my mind one day when I walked into Kelly’s and tried to describe such an item, and she directed me to The Searchers File Series, she being the clerk, and she had no idea what I wanted from her. Why would she? She was working in a music store and I was talking about music. She did not, however, ask if I wanted to work there, as did a clerk at HMV when I informed her that Little Anthony & The Imperials had done the original Tears On My Pillow, a recording of which was playing just them by Kylie Minogue.

The Fiestas:

So Fine – Every romantic cliché tied together with rhythm, harmony and exuberance. From the summer of 1959. There is a cover by The Fourmost. They use a choppy rhythm.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Johnny Horton

Johnny Horton He died young.

All of his 8 top 100 singles are on this collection, a double album on CBS Special Products.

Johnny Horton:

North To Alaska – The story of Sam McCord, and the goldrush of 1901. Something about this tale of discovery, of roughing on the frontier, of capitalist heroism appealed to the masses. The song went to number 4 in the winter of 1960 / 1961
When It’s Springtime In Alaska (It’s Forty Below) – Another one of those she’s-his-girl-but-he-didn’t-know-it tales is the backdrop for this climate report. I don’t think it’s really that cold there in the spring anyway. Here, though, it snows in May. A country hit from 1958.
Jim Bridger – Another history hero song. Bridger, apparently, was an expert on the “Indians,” advised Custer, who didn’t listen, and was wilder than Kit Carson. If not for Bridger, says Horton, we wouldn’t be here. He’s not clear on why that is.
Rock Island Line – A live version of the perennial tale of petty bribery. A hit for Lonnie Donegan, and recorded by Johnny Cash and Stan Freberg and Leadbelly way before any of them.
The Mansion You Stole – This song of a girl who married for money is heading into the 60s with the strings and chorus. A prescursor to the Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes.
The Battle Of New Orleans – The most danceable war ever to hit the top 10. There just weren’t that many songs about stuff you read in history books. Remember Rasputin by Boney M? The song was done later by Harpers Bizarre and by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but it was the original that went to number 1 in the summer of 1959.
Johnny Reb – Now it’s the civil war, and we’re on the side of the south. This was a hit 10 years before Robbie Robertson foisted The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down on the world, that was the fall of 1959.
All Grown Up – Pop music, and this song is far more pop than it is country, is rife with songs by guys who suddenly realize that the little girl next door is suddenly “a woman,” or, as here, “all grown up.” It strikes me that there’s just something a bit sick about it, though there’s nothing, you know, technically wrong. Maybe in this case it’s the pre-pubescent sounding chorus… A country hit in 1958.
I’m A One Woman Man – Well, what are we to expect otherwise? George Jones covered this. A country hit in 1956.
Sink The Bismark – Back to World War II, Horton’s hit from the spring of 1960 was a tale of unqualified heroism, just what the world needed as JFK was new in office.
Sal’s Got A Sugar Lip – I’m sure she does. A hit version of this was the B side of Johnny Reb, it hit in the fall of ’59. This is a live version; I don’t know if it’s the same as the single. Lonnie Donegan hit with this also.
I’ll Do It Every Time – There’s a tension between being agreeable, being understanding, being patient, and getting what you need and what you want. And that’s what this song is about. What does he do every time? Harass her, apparently. But he’s gentle, by his own admission.
Honky Tonk Man – He is singing about drinking, not about music, but maybe he’s singing about music too. This was his last hit, in the winter of 1962, by which time Johnny had been dead for over a year. It was originally released though, and was a country hit, in 1956.
Johnny Freedom – Patriotism run amok. No coincidence his name his Johnny. We heard about Johnny Reb, later we hear about Sleepy Eyed John. Surprising that we don’t hear Johnny One Time, or Johnny Get Angry. A country hit in 1960.
All For The Love Of A Girl – A ballad of longing, and a syrupy one at that.
I’m Coming Home – Always a cause for celebration, and we won’t think about The Cold Hard Facts Of Life by Porter Wagoner. There are many songs with this title but I haven’t heard this particular one by anyone else.
I Just Don’t Like This Kind Of Living – Hank Williams’ song about a relationship based on anger and resentment. “Why don’t you act a little bit older?” he asks. “Get that chip off of your shoulder?” Hank sings it with sadness but with his head held high; Johnny sounds like his head is hanging low.
Sleepy Eyed John – Let’s pick up the tempo and swing. Gotta love that harmonica. From the spring of 1961.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Martin Denny

Martin Denny Exotica was a cottage industry back in the day; that was music whose sound was meant to evoke a tropical paradise. Usually it was a lot of chirping sounds that did it. Les Baxter was one purveyor of said style, though his hits were straight MOR. Martin Denny was another, and he also did a mix of straight MOR and exotica, and his music was heard in elevators throughout the land.

The album I have here is vintage early, original vinyl when I picked it up, that’s The Best Of Martin Denny, and of course they had to leave out one of his top 100 singles, though he only had 4, and we can’t blame chronology, because Martinique was a hit (sort of) in 1959, before The Enchanted Sea or A Taste Of Honey, both of which are here.

Martin Denny:

A Taste Of Honey – The Beatles did this famously on their first album, but the only real hit version was Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass’s manic rendition in 1965. Tony Bennett also put it on the chart. This is closer to the original intention. A small hit in the summer of 1962.
Scarlet Mist
More – The theme from Mondo Kane. I’ve written about this song before. It was a hit, in a very atypical arrangement, for Kai Winding. This is a languid version, you can smell the tropics.
Quiet Village – His only top 10 hit, very evocative. He uses tricks, like bird sounds and the like, but it works. From the summer of 1959.
Black Orchid – Not the Stevie Wonder song.
Cast Your Fate To The Wind – A hit for Sounds Orchestral and for the Vince Guaraldi Trio in 1965.
Little Bird – Not The Beach Boys song.
The Enchanted Sea – More of that tropical meringue. From the fall of 1959.
You’ll Never Walk Alone – An odd item in this collection. But it kind of works. He uses an odd tempo.
Hawaiian Tattoo
Call Me – A hit for Chris Montez in 1966.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

George Jones

George Jones I came late to George Jones. I came late to country music generally, but I already had Kitty, Patsy, both Hanks, Merle, Buck, and Eddy before I happened upon a cassette copy of The Best Of George Jones at Future Shop. It may have been the only recording I ever bought at Future Shop. Then I found The Essential George Jones: The Spirit Of Country, and some local library back home, and I merged the 2 here.

George Jones

Why Baby Why – Classic stuff. Well she’s done him wrong, we can hear that. But this isn’t just accusations; it’s the momentous question of the title. It’s rhetorical and not rhetorical, all at the same time. His debut single, this was a top 10 country hit in 1955.
Just One More – Get into that waltz mood, and have one more drink just to forget her. From 1956.
Color Of The Blues – Seeing sadness in everything. It’s that cry in his voice that makes it all so powerful. From 1958.
White Lightning – Written by The Big Bopper. This song about moonshine was Jones’ first pop hit, and his highest charting, reaching number 73 in the spring of 1959.
Who Shot Sam – A western drama, with a great rhythm. From the summer of 1959.
• The Window Up Above – A song about lost opportunities, and they are always much better and more solid in our imagination.
Tender Years – A woman’s choice of a partner (who isn’t George) ascribed to her youth. Anything but face the reality…From the winter of 1961.
Achy Breaky Heart – Years before Billy Ray Cyrus. “You think that hurtin’ me” says our hero, “will make me love you more.” Sometimes relationships just don’t make sense….
She Thinks I Still Care – Huge, this song. Can’t count the recordings. Off hand, though, I remember Cher, and someone just clued me in to Harry Connick, Jr. Ok. A song about the art of denial, how our true feelings get around regardless of what we think or say or do. George, of course, knows it all too well. In real life it’s not so up front. Hurray for country music.
A Girl I Used To Know – It’s true, someone who is up front and centre in your life can become nothing but background noise. Sad.
We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds – A duet with Melba Moore. About making the wrong choices. The road is so straight here: we split, hooked up with others, and both regretted our respective choices. Well okaaaayyy.
You Comb Her Hair – A silly song about parenthood.
• My Favourite Lies – Another song about denial. Not much room for the unconscious in country songs…
She’s Mine – One of those trick songs like 18 Yellow Roses. The girl he’s singing about, the one he pines for whose heart belongs to another, is his little girl, and she’s pining for her mother who “left this world.” I don’t have patience for this.
I’ll Share My World With You – Just a plain and simple statement of what good love is all about. If only…
The Race Is On – The whole metaphor thing about love losing and heartache winning, it’s cute. Really though, it’s silly. Jones, though, sings it with such conviction that he redeems the whole mess. This was a small hit for Jones in the winter of 1965, and a much bigger one for Jack Jones (no relation) in the spring of the same year.
Love Bug – Another silly song. This one is happy, and it’s not what Jones does best. Jack Jones took this one too, put it on the chart late in 1965, but he was better at this sort of thing.
I’m A People – Jones in a playful mood. Ok for a while, but please, bring on the heartache…
• Walk Through This World With Me – I’ll share my world with you, he said in earlier song. Here it’s not his world, it’s just the world, and it’s just a different way of looking at the same phenomenon.
If My Heart Had Windows – An interesting idea. We’d see a lot of blood…
A Good Year For The Roses – Dave Marsh writes about how chauvinistic a goodbye song this is, and surely he is correct, and how “the oaf stands there talking about his garden.” Sure he does, but that’s the point, isn’t it. Life is falling apart, but meanwhile life around us goes on, the grass grows and needs mowing, the roses are in bloom, maybe even the Canadiens won last night’s game. And of course the way he sings it, well, what more can I say.
We Can Make It – Just another song about facing down the odds…
The Ceremony – A wedding song, with Tammy Wynette. Very syrupy, but I love Tammy.
Loving You Could Never Be Better – …than it is today. But wait, what about tomorrow, George?
A Picture Of Me (Without You)
We’re Gonna Hold On – With Tammy Wynette.
Once You’ve Had The Best
The Door
Grand Tour – George takes on the subject of war, and puts his own distinct personal slant on it.
These Days (I Barely Get By)
Golden Ring
Her Name Is – A silly song about adultery.
Near You – A hit for Roger Williams, but this is the first time I heard the words.
Bartender Blues – James Taylor’s version of workingman blues.
Maybelline – Chuck Berry rock and roll, country style.
Two Story House – Another record with Tammy Wynette. The story of how the different parts of our dreams don’t seem to work in synch.
He Stopped Loving Her Today – Songs about death don’t usually work, but this on does. Great stuff, classic country. George Jones
I’m Not Ready Yet – A relationship that’s constantly on the brink. It’s a song about a very phenomenon, and when he’s ready, he’ll know it.
If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) – Nothing says “country” like drinking to forget a heartache. And nothing says “country” like it doesn’t work.
Still Doin’ Time
Same Ole Me
Yesterday’s Wine – George does Willy Nelson.
I Always Get Lucky With You – A great song about a long-lasting love. Cf Merle Haggard’s Let’s Chase Each Other Round The Room Tonight. • We Didn’t See A Thing
Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes – A tribute song.
I’m A One Woman Man – George does Johnny Horton.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wilbert Harrison

Wilbert Harrison I had, or someone else had, a K-Tel album, or probably a Syndicate Records album, Syndicate being the precursor of K-Tel, that had Kansas City on it, and it was credited to Wilbur Harrison. So to me, Wilbert Harrison was always Wilbur, and his real name took some getting used to. This is a collection I found recently, in this city, at the library, the one library that was in the paper recently, some letter writer complaining about the paucity of English books, and he’s probably right, there are probably 10 French books to every English one, but it’s a provincial library, and this is a French province. But the CD collection is what it is, and nobody tried to translate Wilbur, I mean Wilbert, Harrison into French. It’s called Kansas City: His Legendary Golden Classics. The CD is called that, not the library.

Harrison, no relation, by the way, to George, had 3 top 100 singles, 1 in 1959, 1 in 1969, and 1 (My Heart Is Yours, which is not here) in 1971.

Wilbert Harrison:

Kansas City – It’s funny how a song can take an ordinary city, and create some kind of extraordinary vision out of it. Kansas City has some claim to fame as a centre of jazz, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what’s going on here. This is just a simple tale of someone heading off to KC to get some loving, and why KC promises more or better loving that any place else must remain a mystery. The song was written by Leiber & Stoller, as KC Loving actually, and it’s been recorded ad infinitum. Little Richard rocked it up, and the Beatles covered Richard’s arrangement. But this was the biggest hit version, reaching #1 in the spring of 1959, and it’s ok, but I’ve never understood what the fuss was about.
Let’s Work Together (Parts 1 & 2) – The first half of this track was a hit in the winter of 1969 / 1970, the second half was presumably on the other side of the 45, and given my druthers, I’d take part 1, it’s all you need. Given the subject matter you could pass it off as a stale hippy anthem, but the truth here is not in the words, it’s in the groove, which couldn’t possibly cut any deeper without causing permanent damage. And that groove brings the truth out of those hippy sentiments. Canned Heat covered this as acid rock, and I like their version too.
Don’t Drop It – I’ll Let You Hold It Tight, says Wilbert, if you promise to hold it tight. Oh my. This is something about virtue.
Stagger Lee – A loping simmering version of this old classic tale, that had been a hit for Lloyd Price, and would be a hit for Wilson Picket.
C. C. Rider – A bit more muscle on this than Chuck Willis’ hit version, but the idea is the same.
Cheatin’ Baby – Blues New Orleans style. Not much more.
The Horse – I guess this is about a dance, though his desire to do it “all night long” is a bit suspicious. Not the Cliff Nobles & Co. hit.
Stand By Me – A rather leaden interpretation of the Ben E King hit.
Since I Fell For You – A rather leaden interpretation of the Lenny Welch hit.
Have Some Fun – You only live once, Wilbert tells us. Still, his delivery here isn’t all that much fun. I don’t think he believes a word he says.
My Love – Not the Petula Clark song and not the Wings song. Nuff said?
1960 – It’s Wilbert’s 21st birthday, and he has plans galore. He couldn’t have known the significance of the 1960 and all that “60s” stuff, could he?
Blue Monday – The Fats Domino hit, given his best one-man-band treatment.
Don’t Wreck My Life – A kind of slow dance, Wilbert Harrison style. The sentiment is fairly straightforward, I would say…
Why Did You Leave – Another ballad.
• Walking By The River – Another song about blues and heartache. We are meant, undoubtedly, to gather some significance from the fact that he is walking by the river. I’m clueless…
Da-De-Ya-Da – A song of dedication. Don’t look for any meaning in the title, it is just a series of meaningless syllables that he sings between lines.
Listen My Darling
Forgive Me
Pretty Little Women – Stepping on Bo Diddley’s toes…
Poison Ivy – Not The Coasters song, believe it or not. Rather violent, in fact.
A Woman In Trouble – I think the title should be A Woman Is Trouble, because that seems to reflect the content more accurately. A different way of looking at relationships, anyway.
It Took A Long Time – Just a blues about how time heals all wounds.
Messed Around And Felled In Love – New Orleans style
Goodbye Kansas City – The sequel. Wilbert found his love in KC and is off to New York. We can only wish him luck…

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Marv Johnson

Marv Johnson Marv Johnson recorded for Tamla, so technically he may have been the first Motown artist to make the charts, but Motown had no distribution mechanism back then, so they licensed his records to United Artists. There are copies of his recordings on the Tamla label extant, but he’s never appeared on any Motown anthologies, so his status as a Motown artist has never really been established.

I have all 4 of his top 40 hits, and he had another 5 that didn’t make the top 40, and he had them all between 1959 and 1961.

Marv Johnson:

Come To Me – Marv kicks off his short career with a song very much in the style that was becoming popular right about then, promoted by the likes of Jackie Wilson, Major Lance, Gene Chandler, et al. From the spring of 1959.
You’ve Got What It Takes – This has to be one of the strangest songs ever to hit the top 40. You’re ugly, he says, more or less, you have bad taste, you don’t earn much, your clothes are unflattering, you don’t have much going for you, but hey, you’re everything to me and I love you. What seems to be an attack on the superficial ends up defeating its very premise.. A hit in the winter of 1960, and revived by The Dave Clark Five in 1967, who beat the original by 3 chart points. Marv Johnson 45
(You’ve Got To) Move Two Mountains – This is a light-hearted and uptempo song about pain and anger. “My best was not enough for you” says the singer, getting his own back. Sure I’ll take you back, but man, you’re gonna pay. From the fall of 1960.
I Love The Way You Love – Music to shag by (right darlin’?). From the spring of 1960.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Edward Byrnes & Connie Stevens

45 Byrnes was an actor, know as Edd Byrnes, whose most famous role was in the TV show 77 Sunset Strip, the name of which I recall from my childhood, but which I don’t remember actually seeing ever. He had a follow-up to Kookie Kookie, called Like I Love You released a few months later, but beyond that he had no more hits. He did have something of a recording career, and it may be worth exploring.

Connie Stevens we will meet later.

Edward Byrnes & Connie Stevens:

Kookie Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb) – Connie begs for comb, relentlessly, while Ed indulges in what is unquestionably the best beatnik jargon ever spoken on record. He was the star, at the time, of 77 Sunset Strip, which I’ve never seen, but I imagine he is “singing” his character here. From the spring of 1959. “I’ve got smog in my noggin……” and who is playing percussion?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May, 1959

  • Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb) - Edward Byrnes & Connie Stevens
  • Take A Message To Mary - The Everly Brothers
  • Kansas City - Wilbert Harrison
  • Someone - Johnny Mathis
  • White Lightning - George Jones
  • Only You - Frank Pourcel
  • Dream Lover - Bobby Darin
  • Quiet Village - Martin Denny
  • The Wind And The Rain In Your Hair - Pat Boone
  • Forth Worth Jail - Lonnie Donegan
  • Endlessly - Brook Benton
  • Battle Of New Orleans - Johnny Horton
  • Lonely For You - Gary Stites
  • I've Come Of Age - Billy Storm
  • Dedicated To The One I Love - The Shirelles
  • Personality - Lloyd Price
  • So Fine - The Fiestas
  • Goodbye Jimmy Goodbye - Kathy Linden
  • Forty Days - Ronnie Hawkins
  • Lovey Dovey - Clyde McPhatter
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