Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ken Griffin

Ken Griffin This is way out of sync. Ken Griffin died in 1956.

Who was Ken Griffin? Yes, you may well ask who was Ken Griffin. It seems that Ken Griffin played organ. In fact, Ken Griffin played (almost) unaccompanied organ. There is something evocative about this. Every time I hear this music, I am 8 years old, on a shopping trip with my mother.

I don't remember where I picked this up but its purpose for me originally was to provide ambient mood music where I had space to fill; I used it like that but, being neurotic, I put it all back together eventually. In the process, a few tracks got lost.

Ladies and gentleman, Ken Griffin’s Greatest Hits:

Ken Griffin:

• Cruisin’ Down The River
• The Syncopated Clock – This is also on Percy Faith’s Greatest Hits.
• Love Letters In The Sand – Later a hit for Pat Boone
• My Happiness
• April In Portugal
Harbor Lights – The same one that The Platters did.
• Sleepy Time Gal
• The Anniversary Waltz

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ernie Fields

I got my one and only Ernie Fields track on a collection of rock and roll instrumentals on K-Tel. Or it might have been Ronco.

I got many songs this way. I’d find TV-advertised LPs in used record stores, often scratched to pieces but what can you do. Many of the songs I got were otherwise very difficult to find. So let’s stop and salute all those LPs of questionable quality and no status, without which my collection would be that much poorer…

Ernie Fields

In The Mood – Perhaps the signature tune of the swing era. Fields chops up the beat and renders into some kind of rock and roll, though what kind isn’t clear. Bette Midler had a minor hit with this, a follow-up to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. From the fall of 1959 and credited to Ernie Fields Orchestra.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paul Evans

Paul EvansPaul Evans is listed as Paul Evans & The Curls in Rock Almanac by Stephen Nugent and Charlie Gillett. That was the first book I got with chart listings. It lists all the records that were on the US and UK top 20 between 1955 and 1973. It also has LP listings, which is interesting. I won’t say that the book changed my life, though it did, because that would just make me too nerdy. Later I got Whitburn’s top 40, Whitburn’s top 100 book, and a book listing records on the CHUM charts.

What’s all this have to do with Paul Evans? Nothing. Nothing at all.

But that Almanac book listed him as Paul Evans & The Curls, though The Curls only appear on his first hit, and I’m guessing that they are the female vocal group. Beyond that, I never heard of Paul Evans until I got my hand on said book (true of many artists on these posts) and until now he was just a guy whose songs I found on Looney Tunes, or in some box full of old dusty singles at Sound Exchange. (You remember Sound Exchange, I wrote about it earlier, probably on the Somethin’ Smith & The Redheads post. Look it up.) After doing a bit of internet research, I now know that Evans is the guy that wrote Roses Are Red My Love by Bobby Vinton, and I Gotta Know by Elvis Presley, When by The Kalin Twins, and a bunch of others, mostly not as well known. And he had a comeback hit in the UK and Europe in 1979, called Hello This Is Joanie. It’s truly terrible.

Paul Evans:

Seven Little Girls (Sitting In The Back Seat) – Of all the strange songs to hit the top 40 this was one of them. Paul is driving, Fred is in the back with seven girls (how do they fit?) and there’s monkey business. Paul wants to know what’s going on. “Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead” they tell him. Sick. I’d make them walk. From the fall of 1959.
Midnight Special – A kind of whoop-de-do rendition of the folk standard. Joe Turner had a wonderful R & B version in the early 50s, Lonnie Donegan put it on the UK top 40, and Johnny Rivers had a US hit later on. The definitive version may be the one by CCR, on the Willie And The Poor Boys album. From the winter of 1960.
Happy-Go-Lucky Me – “I can laugh,” says Paul, “when things ain’t funny.” The lyrics seems straightforward, and the banjo is happy enough, but there is something just a bit too hysterical in this for us to take it at face value. From the spring of 1960.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wink Martindale

Wink Martindale Wink (Winston was his real name) was a TV and radio personality who happened to put 2 songs into the top 100. I think that I got this from a K-Tel country music collection.

Wink Martindale:

Deck Of Cards – The story of a soldier who gets nailed for playing cards in church. He gets out of it though, by making out that all the numbers and suits have holy associations – one is God, three is the trinity, the queen is the mother, the jack is the devil etc. Did you know that there are 365 spots on a deck of cards? I didn’t. It represents, according to our narrator, the number of days in the year. Indeed it does, but that’s hardly sacred, and if I were the provost listening to this, it’s where I’d start to wonder. That is if I bought the malarky in the first place. Good that he came up with this, though, because the provost-marshal threatened to punish him “more than any man has ever been punished.” That’s pretty scary, I mean it includes the Spanish Inquisition and all, and it kind of does away with the whole concept of due process. “I was that boy” says Wink, and we don’t actually find out what happened. I hope they threw the book at him. This claptrap was in the top 10 in the fall of 1959.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bobby Vee

Let’s have a word for Snuffy Garrett, the most underappreciated record producer in the business. Garrett made magic with teen idols like Gene McDaniel, Johnny Burnette, and with vocal underweights like Bobby Vee and Gary Lewis. Not to knock Phil Spector or Milt Gabler or Tom Dowd, but I’ll take Snuffy. So on to Bobby Vee…

Bobby Vee is the ur-Bobby.

Bobby Vinton was too wimpy, even for a Bobby. Bobby Curtola was Canada’s sweetheart, but mostly unknown otherwise. Bobby Sherman was late and his hit-making career was short-lived. Bobby Rydell was a candidate, but he was forgotten once he’d stopped having hits.

Bobby Vee maintained an active, albeit somewhat inconsistent, chart career for about 10 years, and his songs were in constant rotation as oldies. His songs covered all the teenage subjects and then some: going steady, getting two-timed and liking it, losing your girl to a rival, defending your girlfriend’s honour only to get detention and have her pick up with the guy you beat up, robbing the cradle – all that good stuff. Altogether he had 38 top 100 records in just over 10 years, 14 in the top 40. I have 28 of them in this collection, and couple more elsewhere.

He isn’t terrible. That sounds like a backhanded compliment and maybe it is. But to my ears his records have a certain charm, even the hokiest is better than the best record by, say, Fabian. And the hokiest is pretty hokey.

The starting point for my Bobby Vee collection was a 20 track LP called The Bobby Vee Singles Album (there are different versions with different tracks), and I had his Golden Greats Vol. 2, so I added tracks from that. My Girl / Hey Girl came from a Quality Records VA collection that had 9 tracks ; it also had a version of Teen Beat by Sandy Nelson, Sure Gonna Miss Her by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, the full length version of Green-Eyed Lady by Sugarloaf, Lipstick Traces by The O’Jays. And one day in high school, we had some kind of sock hop, and at the end they kind of randomly gave away old singles, and I finagled a copy of Sharing You. It’s been superseded since.

Bobby Vee

Suzie Baby – Very folky, with the acoustic guitar (maybe even a Martin) up front and centre. He was 15 when he did this, and it sounds much like other songs written by yet-to-be-famous teenagers – Think Hey Schoolgirl by Tom & Jerry (Paul Simon), In Spite Of All The Danger (Lennon & Harrison). The song was apparently quite popular in the north Midwest, which makes sense given that his hometown is Fargo, not so far from my own hometown. The song reached the top 70 nationally, in the fall of 1959, and kicked off the career of the erstwhile Bobby Velline.
Devil Or Angel – After Suzie Baby, Bobby hit number 93 with a cover of Adam Faith’s What Do You Want, but it was Devil Or Angel, a cover of an R&B hit by The Clovers that put him in the top 10 for the first time. That was a year after Suzie, i.e. the autumn of 1960. The song describes the very human conundrum of fancying someone who appeals to us on so many levels, but who doesn’t necessarily treat us honourably. The original hit the right emotional tone; Bobby romanticises it a bit more than one would like, but I disagree with Dave Marsh, who said that Bobby “corrupted” the song. Sorry Dave.
Rubber Ball – while the chorus of girls sings “bouncy bouncy,” Bobby does his best faux Buddy Holly hiccupping, all the while singing of a love that can stand any amount of abuse. And you thought he was just a teen idol. From the winter of 1961. There’s a cover of this by Gary Lewis & The Playboys with some fake Wolfman Jack on it. It’s very strange.
Stayin’ In – Bobby defends his girl’s (of some girl’s) honour, punches his buddy in the nose, and the dean sees the punch. The dean? Is he in college? Anyway he gets detention, and the girl goes with the buddy, apparently oblivious of the compromises to her honour. Who says life is fair? From the summer of 1961.
More Than I Can Say – It was Leo Sayer who hit with this song in the late 70s, and it was a passenger in my taxi who told me that the original was by Bobby Vee. I was surprised. Really, I said. Yes he said. Bobby Vee. Of course he was right. Bobby’s tale of inarticulateness and doubt was the B side of Stayin’ In, but it hit a bit in
How Many Tears – This fast tempo song about heartache, with a Mickey Mouse chorus, is from the summer of 1961.
Everyday – Bobby always had a weird kind of symbiosis with Buddy Holly; of course it drives Buddy’s fans crazy, because Buddy Holly was an innovator and a gifted recording artist, and Bobby Vee was a singer who did what he was told. But it was Bobby who stepped into Buddy’s shoes at that infamous concert in Moorehead, Minnesota in February of 1959, and later Bobby recorded an LP with The Crickets, and an album of Buddy Holly songs, but Everyday appeared on the B side of Rubber Ball, and surprisingly, he didn’t recycle it for the Buddy Holly album. He didn’t have a hit with it, but neither did Buddy. Still, it’s taken on a life of its own. Why just the other day I was listening to Don McLean’s version… And by the way, the title should be Every Day.
Take Good Care Of My Baby – Probably the most notorious of the pop idol songs. Still, the tune is typically Carole King, and the Goffin lyrics are a bit dumb, but a bit touching for all that. The song hit number 1 in the fall of 1961.
Run To Him – Another take on the there’s-another-guy-in-the-picture song, although there doesn’t seem to be anyone specific. One wonders what’s behind it. From the winter of 1961 / 1962.
Walkin’ With My Angel – The B side of Run To Him reached number 18 in its own right.
Save A Love – This was the B side of Look At Me Girl, which is not on this collection, though I do have it elsewhere.
Cross My Heart – ...and hope to die. Why would you hope to die. I never got that. Phil Ochs sang “cross my heart and hope to live.” From the winter of 1965.
I’ll Make You Mine – Bobby gets feisty. The Beatles were doing I’ll Get You around then, same idea. From the winter of 1964.
Never Love A Robin – How do you know that someone is a robin, it staggers the imagination. This was from late 1963, the B side of Yesterday And You (Armen’s Theme)
Yesterday And You (Armen’s Theme) – I provide the full name here, though the album cover said Armen’s Theme only. That was Golden Greats volume 2. I don’t know who Armen was. This is from late 1963.
(There’ll Come A Day When) Ev’ry Little Bit Hurts – Not the Brenda Holloway song. A hit towards the end of 1964.
Hickory, Dick And Doc – The story of a chick who plays the field, and one of her dupes. From the summer of 1964.
Keep On Trying – From the spring of 1965. He is modernizing his sound here.
• A Girl I Used To Know – Bobby goes country. George Jones can rest easy.
Pretend You Don’t See Her– A hit for Jerry Vale in 1957. Bobby goes MOR. From late 1964. the B side of (There’ll Come A Day When) Ev’ry Little Bit Hurts
Be True To Yourself – If it wasn’t Bobby’s voice on this I’d swear it was a Dionne Warwick record. From the summer of 1963.
Please Don’t Ask About Barbara – A song about the inability to talk about what’s bothering us, masking our feelings. From the spring of 1962.
Sharing You – A girl with two guys. He’s ok with it too – well, not exactly ok, but he’ll tolerate it. From the summer of 1962.
Someday – With The Crickets. From the fall of 1962 and the B side of Punish Her.
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes – the human heart is a funny thing; it knows things that we don’t even know that it knows. And so it’s the night that has a thousand eyes, and we can hear it, hear the sound that eyes make, on the chorus, the way the drummer taps the middle of the cymbal, it’s all you need to know. The song spent 14 weeks in the top 100 in the winter of 1963. It’s one of my favourites.
Charms – I guess this is where it gets just a bit too cute. Still, I’m a sucker for it. From the spring of 1963.
A Letter From Betty – Another tale of unrequited love, he loves her, she likes him. Happens every day. Lobo did Don’t Expect Me To Be Your Friend, and Jim Croce did Thursday. She doesn’t make it any better when she says “Bobby he’s so much like you.” Of course he kicks himself for blowing it. From the summer of 1963 and the B side of Be True To Yourself.
Come Back When You Grow Up – I remember this, boy how I remember this. Another tale of robbing the cradle, like Robbing The Cradle by Tony Bellus, Young Girl by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Be Mad Little Girl by Bobby Darin. Raises all kinds of questions of age appropriateness. This isn’t exactly late 60s psychedelia or hard rock or anything, but Bobby’s style had matured. From the fall of 1967.
A Forever Kind Of Love – Well he was profligate in the past, he admits it, but he’s a changed man. Sure.
Punish Her – Something a bit sick about this. “Kill her with kindness” he says, in case there’s any doubt about what kind of punishment we’re dealing with. Still and all… from the fall of 1962.
Bobby Tomorrow – A relationship based on waiting, delaying, avoiding. But somehow or other it all worked out, and tomorrow they’re getting married. And her name is Suzie, so everything has come full circle.
My Girl / Hey Girl – This has the distinction of being the first version of My Girl that I ever heard. It was only later that I became aware of The Temptations’ original. So It’s always had a special place in my heart. Of course he has a formidable amount of competition: The Mamas & The Papas, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones. Hey Girl was a hit by Freddie Scott, and somehow he manages to mesh the two songs and make it make sense. From the spring of 1968.
Beautiful People – On this he was in competition with Kenny O’Dell. I wouldn’t want to choose between them on merits, but I like Bobby. Not to be confused with the Melanie song, this is just a love song, not a hippie anthem. But it’s a nice love song. From late 1967.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nina Simone

Nina SimoneI have two collections by Nina Simone. The other is part of the Jazz Masters series, and it’s more wide-ranging then this, but neither that one nor this one has any of her top 100 entries apart from I Loves You Porgy. She had 6 altogether (not counting the reissue of My Baby Just Cares For Me, described below), but none, apart from Porgy, reached higher than 78.

The album is called Greatest Hits and it’s disappeared from the earth’s surface – I certainly can’t find it online anywhere, not on eBay, not on, nowhere – and it’s too bad, because I didn’t write down all the song titles, and so I have no idea what two of the instrumentals are called. That’s what happens when you don’t write things down.

My colleague, a guy I work with, let’s call him The New Dave, he’s a guy in his mid 20s, a bit of a musician, I mention jazz to him, he says he’s not much into instrumental jazz, likes jazz singers, and mentions Nina Simone. There you go. Last time I was at a jazz club, place called Upstairs, located in the basement (of course) of a place on Crescent, in between live sets it was Nina Simone they were playing. The person I mentioned it to said “but that’s a guy.” And I said not last time I checked. True her voice is low, but it’s not masculine. What it is is expressive.

Nina Simone:

Mood Indigo – A song about despondency, performed in a rather jubilant manner. A jazz standard cowritten by Duke Ellington.
Don’t Smoke In Bed – Don’t look for me, she sings, over her somber piano. She leaves her wedding ring behind, leaves a note, and takes off. Sad stuff.
He Needs Me – A smoky rendition of the song from Oliver.
Little Girl Blue – Done famously by Judy Garland, and done infamously by Janis Joplin. Ms. Simone starts and finishes this with Good King Wenceslaus, played on the piano. I don’t know why. Great recording.
Love Me Or Leave Me – She does a fast, jazzy take on this.
My Baby Just Cares For Me – Wikipedia says that this is her signature song. It was written in the late 20s by Walter Donaldson and Gus Khan. Nina released it in 1958; then it was used in a TV commercial in 1987 (Chanel No. 5) after which it became a hit. A great recording, but you wouldn’t think it was top 10 material, especially in the 80, the decade of Phil Collins.
• ?
Plain Gold Ring
You’ll Never Walk Alone – Done as a piano instrumental. It couldn’t be more dramatic if it was by Liszt.
I Loves You Porgy – From the Gershwin “opera” Porgy And Bess. Written by Gershwin to be sung by an exclusively African-American cast; in those they were called “Negroes,” it seems to have been taken seriously as an opera, and notionally it’s an opera, but musically it’s more of a jazz operetta - heavy on tunes, light on arias. It’s Summertime that’s been extracted ad oblivion, so it’s refreshing to hear Nina doing this. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t use the patois. She sings “I love you Porgy,” straight. This was the only top 20 hit she ever had (the only top 40 hit in fact) not counting that other one I was talking about before, which was an anomaly. From the fall of 1959.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bobby Rydell

Bobby's Biggest Hits In a previous life I had a professional practice, in the context of which I had a visit from a fellow I’d run into before, though it took me quite a while to place him. “Hey!” I said, after working with the guy for a matter of weeks, “Aren’t you?...”

There was an article in the Winnipeg Free Press; some people were complaining about a window display that they found offensive. The window belonged to a record store called Roxy’s. What I found interesting about the whole thing was that I’d never been there. How did I miss it I don’t know. Normally I could smell vinyl miles away.

So I checked it out. They had a selection of used LPs, but not enough to be a quality second-hand shop; they had a selection of not used LPs’ but not enough to challenge Sam The Record Man. They had a few obvious collectors’ items, and a sign that told the customer that for $10 they’d tape any LP in the shop for you. This was c. 1989; the World Wide Web would not exist for another 5 years; there were no music downloads, and cassettes were still mainstream. And $10 to tape an LP was pretty steep.

So I made a deal with the guy. I have trade-ins I said. Ok he said. He took the trade-ins, a couple of LPs by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, LPs he was on the lookout for. I gave him a cassette. And I said tape this for me. It was Bobby's Biggeset Hits, by Bobby Rydell.

That was it, man. Bobby Rydell’s stuff was so hard to find. I had one single that I’d picked up at Pyramid, it was Butterfly Baby. The LP covered his stuff from the beginning (Kissing Time) until. Later I picked up a few more singles: I Wanna Thank You, Sway, I’ve Got Bonnie, and the transcendentally beautiful Forget Him.

Ok, back to Roxy’s. So I checked in a few days later, but no go. He hadn’t had time. Next time I came in and there was a woman at the counter. I told her what I was after. Who did you speak to she said. You know I said, that guy that’s always here, the manager. With a beard? She asked. Yes I said. Oh she said disdainfully, my clerk! Sure I said. The clerk. I’ll find out what’s going on she said, obviously not pleased with the aforesaid clerk.

Next time I came he handed me back the LPs and my tape. Can’t do it he said. No explanation. No matter. I returned later with the same tape and $10, and this time a real clerk was at the desk. And so I got Bobby Rydell.

Turns out that the “clerk” was the lady’s husband.

And the window display that people were complaining about? They had the bottom half of a number of female manikins, they’d dressed them in bikini bottoms (no place to put the tops obviously) and they’d stuck LP covers into the waistbands of the bikinis. It was truly appalling. I walked in there and complained right away. How can you leave those LPs in the window, I said. The sun will ruin them!

I’ve recently picked up the CD collection called The Best Of Bobby Rydell, 1959 – 1964, and I’ve supplemented it with a few leftover tracks from that original LP, the one I had taped, and some B sides, and some tracks from --- which collects Bobby’s entire Capital output. Somehow or other, I’ve never been able to find The Fish, his only top 40 hit that’s not in my collection.

And if you want to read more about my relationship with Bobby Rydell: Sappy And Proud Of It.

Bobby Rydell:

Please Don’t Be Mad – An early recording, in which Bobby was cast as doo-wop group, doing his best conflict resolution. The style turned out to be a dead-end experiment.
All I Want Is You – An MOR ballad, and another dead-end experiment but not quite. After he left Cameo-Parkway, Bobby signed with Capital and embarked on an unsuccessful career as a crooner.
We Got Love – This is the mirror image of Heartache By The Numbers. We got love by the numbers says our hero, and the songwriters have a bit of fun, using “for” for 4 and “to” for 2. A hit as 1959 rolled into 1960.
I Dig Girls – Bobby the stud. Gotta give him credit; he likes ‘em all – big, small, pretty, ugly, “short fat Fannie or as thin as a rail.” The B side of We Got Love, this song ended up just shy of the top 40 in late 1959.
Kissin’ Time – “Birds do it,” wrote Cole Porter, “bees do it, even educated fleas do it...” Indeed. The song was called Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love, and the theme of going along with the crowd is taken up here by Bobby, all of whose persuasive skills are employed convincing his girl of the moment that a bit of kissing, or whatever “kissing” really meant in this song, is in order. “They’re kissing in Cleveland,” he sings, beginning a geographical catalogue of activity that was to find an echo a few years in Martha & The Vandellas’ Dancing In The Streets, “they’re kissing on Bandstand,” he sings, paying simultaneous homage to the up and coming TV show and his mentor, Dick Clark, all the while anticipating her inevitable resistance, which he compares to the battle of New Orleans, which may have been playing on the radio at the exact moment that whomever wrote this song was writing it. This record kicked off Bobby’s career in grand style, in the fall of 1959. And I wonder about fleas, educated or otherwise…
You’ll Never Tame Me – Bobbie sox heroes like to cast themselves as tough guys; think Fabian doing Tiger. Nobody believed them. At least they had the decency to bury this on a B side (of Kissin’ Time).
Wild One – Not the Martha & The Vandellas hit. The Guess Who also did a song called Wild One, but theirs was way obscure. “I’m going to tame you down” he says, using rather odd syntax to tackle a semi-common subject in pop music, the taming of the wild would-be partner. This song reached number 2 in the winter of 1960, and was his highest placing single.
Ding-A-Ling – A term of endearment, but the record (pun intended) does not reveal its success. From the summer of 1960. The B side of Swingin’ School.
Swingin’ School – How uncool is this. The most famous rahrah song in the history of pop was undoubtedly Be True To Your School by The Beach Boys; this was a primer. From the summer of 1960, just as school was ending.
Little Bitty Girl – He searches the world. In I Dig Girls he didn’t care, but here size seems to be very important to Bobby. From the winter of 1960, the B side of Wild One.
Volare – Also known as Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu (Volare) and a hit for Domenico Modugno. Dean Martin provided the world with a hit version in English. Bobby’s version is a not-much-poppier version of Dean’s rendition. From the fall of 1960.
I’d Do It Again – The B side of Volare is a paean to being faithful in the face of the greatest temptations. He even tells of his move-stardom, and how he declined to kiss Brigitte Bardot. Maybe he was thinking of Anne Margaret.
Sway – Not The Rolling Stones song, obviously. Dino did this one too. It’s a dancing song about dancing. Anyone? You have to be careful with something like this, but Bobby nails it. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Groovy Tonight – This has to be one of the earliest recorded uses of the word “groovy,” and imagine – it was Bobby Rydell. This mild “let’s party” invitation was the B side of Sway, and it was a hit at the same time.
That Old Black Magic – Bobby was on a roll, doing standards. He doesn’t do much with this, to be honest. It was recorded by many, and was a hit not long before this for Louis Prima & Keely Smith. From the summer of 1961.
I Wanna Thank You – A trick song. He’s thanking the girl who put him down, because now he’s with someone cool. This could be the sequel, I guess, to If I Fell. From the autumn of 1961.
Butterfly Baby – Butterflies are always free. There was the movie with Goldie Hawn, there was the song by Elton John, there was Butterfly by Charlie Gracie / Andy Williams. This is the same idea. From the winter of 1963.
Good Time Baby – Doesn’t pull any punches. He could’ve called it Back Seat Baby. My copy of Whitburn lists it as Good Times Baby. Even the great Joel Whitburn makes mistakes. From the winter of 1961.
I’ve Got Bonnie – And I bet she lies over the ocean. From the winter of 1962.
I’ll Never Dance Again – I grew up listening to this song on a Herman’s Hermits album, but the original has all the real melodrama. It was The Drifters who made the request Save The Last Dance For Me, and who knows if she did (Damita Jo notwithstanding) but here we get the real goods. No last dance, not with him anyway. And yeah, I feel his pain, being 16 years old and watching the girl you imagine going with dancing her head off with some other dude. Ok, in the song, he wasn’t imagining, but let’s bring this down to reality. And speaking of reality, it’s BS, that he’ll never dance again. He’ll get over her. From the summer of 1962.
The Third House (In From The Right) – Let’s party! Slightly reminscient of A Quarter To Three, but only just.
Wildwood Days – Wild days really, I don’t know what Wildwood means, maybe it’s the name of a place, hard to tell. This ode to partying was a hit in the summer of 1963.
The Cha-Cha-Cha – You wouldn’t think a song with this title would be any good, but you’d be wrong. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Sam Cooke had the last word, but somehow Bobby manages to convey a lot of romance into the 2 step. From the fall of 1962.
Forget Him – The melody climbs, bit by bit, until Bobby proclaims that “he can’t give you love which isn’t there. “ It comes back down, and climbs again, and when he’s singing “Forget him and please come home to me” he’s soaring. This is transcendently beautiful, and not even those silly quacking noises at the beginning can ruin it. I grew up with this one too, on a Gary Lewis & The Playboys LP, but the original leaves old Gary in the dust. I never get tired of this one. It spent 16 weeks in the top 100, peaking in the early part of 1964.
A World Without Love – Suddenly faced with the British competition, Bobby goes head to head. Here he sings Lennon and McCartney, but the hit belonged to Peter & Gordon, and Bobby is the one who got left in the dust. He peaked at number 80 in the summer of ’64; P&G hit number 1. The TO chart saw this reach number 9.
Jingle Bell Rock – With Chubby Checker, and I have the song there too. From the 1961 Christmas season. Bobby Helms could rest easy.
A Message From Bobby – A spoken promo from a bonus single included on one of his albums.
Make Me Forget – Here is Bobby’s entry into what is an interesting sub-category of love song, the using-one-girl-to-forget-another song. One thinks of Help Me Rhonda, If I Fell, Yes It Is (sort of). It’s a real thing in the real world, not a good basis for a relationship, but a great basis for a love song. From the spring of 1964, just when his career was crashing and burning.
Diana – This was his one hit for Capital, and it wasn’t much of a hit; it was on the top 100 for exactly 1 week in February, 1965, at number 98. This is the Paul Anka song, rendered as a ballad, and it’s not half bad; I think it deserved to do better, but still there is no way to save a line like “I can feel you giving all your charms.” • Door To Paradise – One of those euphemisms that turn up again and again in the world of pop. Come right out and say it, man. The B side of I Wanna Thank You, from the fall of 1961.
Gee It’s Wonderful – This was the B side of I’ll Never Dance Again. In Toronto it was a hit alongside the A side. The tune is We Got Love redux.
Will You Be My Baby – This is a bit of a clinker. The B side of something but I “disremember” what.
Little Girl You’ve Had A Busy Day – Busy being traumatized by relationship issues, to hear him tell…
Lose Her – After all, she’s a loser. A song about a bad news chick. It’s a direct line from this to The Rolling Stones’ Stupid Girl, Under My Thumb etc, except Jagger lost the humour along the way. TO heard this one also, as the B Side of I’ve Got Bonnie.
Bobby Rydell Cherie – The tune is an exact replica of Little Darling by The Gladiolas / Diamonds. Not to be confused with Cherie I Love You by Pat Boone. This Cherie is an unabashed love song, very sweet. The B side of Good Time Baby, from the winter of 1961. This is for Sherry, the one that got away…
Don’t Be Afraid To Fall In Love – With all those people with commitment issues, both genders, this is a real concern. Didn’t make Billboard, but it was a Canadian hit in the spring of 1961. The B side of That Old Black Magic.
Teach Me To Twist – With Chubby Checker. Chubby wasn’t the greatest dancer in the world – he was no Jackie Wilson after all – but he had the rep, and this has the appropriate novelty value. This record didn’t make the top 100, but it was a Canadian hit in the spring of 1962.
I Just Can't Say Goodbye - Bobby's recordings for Capital were rather undistinguished, which is why, I suppose, he didn't have any hits there (Diana was it , and it wasn't much of a hit. )
The Joker - Not the Steve Miller song.
It Takes Two - Not the Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston Song
Roses In The Snow
Not You
You Gotta Enjoy Joy - And you gotta love love.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chubby Checker

Chubby CheckerYou often see cheap CDs near the checkout at Zeller’s or Wal-Mart, favourites by your favourite oldies groups, and if you look closely you’ll see a notice in small writing that says something like this: “This collection features stereo re-recordings by one or more of the original artists.” They mention stereo in the vain hope that you may think that point was improvement.

Really what they do is this. They take some old has been, or a group of has beens, and they may really have been, but they aren’t anymore, and they have them re-record their old hits. I got burned a few times before they started labeling these frauds. I picked up a handful: Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Brook Benton, The Tremeloes. Anybody familiar with the originals can spot them within a few seconds; usually no matter how hard they try, the sound is totally different. Sometimes they don’t even try. My favourite was a remake of Keep On Dancing by The Gentrys; There was no way at all for them to reproduce that transcendent tinnyness.

The Chubby Checker collection that I picked up at Pyramid Records back around 1983 challenged me. The tracks were, if I recall correctly, provided courtesy of K-Tel. There was no mention of the original label, which was Cameo-Parkway. But the recordings were authentic sounding, and so I was convinced. Wrongly. All these years I’ve been living with fraud, and I’ve been none the wiser. Whoever produced the tracks did an extraordinary job mimicking the originals.

But finally finally Cameo Parkway, or whoever owns it now, has begun to reissue collections by its stable: Dee Dee Sharp, The Orlons, Charlie Gracie, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker. The basis of this collection is the recently acquired Cameo Parkway CD, called The Best Of Chubby Checker 1959 - 1963 plus a few leftover tracks from the aforementioned fraudulent LP, plus Lazy Elsie Molly from the single.

Chubby Checker:

Dancing Party – Sums up Chubby Checker’s entire oeuvre, doesn’t it? What is life if not a dancing party? And what other kind of party is there? From the summer of 1962.
The Twist – This was huge. I read a book about the twist; I don’t know how many books have been written about specific dances. There are many contradictory reports about whether Hank Ballard really wrote this; there is no doubt, though, that Chubby’s recording is a note for note copy. It was the luck of promotion that landed Chubby the hit. It was number 1 in the fall of 1960 and again in the winter of 1962.
Toot – Beyond the juvenile humour (that makes My Ding-A-Ling sound like TS Elliot) this is a real attempt to define the undefinable.
The Class – The class is full of pop stars, with Ricky, Frankie and Fabian as The Chipmunks, and they all do Mary Had A Little Lamb. The humour here is rather feeble. His first hit, from the summer of 1959.
Twistin’ U.S.A. – This was on the B side of the second release of The Twist, and it reached number 68 in its own right. Unlike Surfin USA, in which surfing was by geographic necessity restricted to areas on the coast, Twistin’ was really all over, “from Boston to LA.”
The Hucklebuck – This hit from the fall of 1960 describes a dance that involves pushing your partner out, walking like a duck, moving your sacroiliac, and I don’t even know what a sacroiliac is.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Whole lotta twistin’ goin on he sings off the top. This rewrite of Jerry Lee Lewis’ hit was the B Side of The Hucklebuck and was a hit at the same time.
Pony Time – With the famous refrain of “boogedy boogedy boogedy shoe” this was a hit in the winter of 1961.
Dance The Mess Around – Okay okay okay, very funny. “If you’re gonna mess around,” he sings, “mess around with me,” after giving his belle permission to do various other dances with other men. The humour is so contrived that I can’t believe they released this, but release it they did. From the spring of 1961.
Good, Good Lovin’ – The twistmeister covers the godfather of soul. Covering Jerry Lee was one thing; covering James Brown was insane. This was the B side of Dance The Mess Around; it reached number 43 on Billboard.
Let’s Twist Again – The percussion sets out the rhythm at the outset, and Chubby takes off with the band and it soars. From the summer of 1961.

The Fly – The Pony was ok, but the fly? The steps are not all that well detailed here, and imagining a dance in which one acts like a fly, well it doesn’t bare thinking about. Accompanied by buzzing, in case we don’t get the point. From the fall of 1961.
Slow Twistin’ – The idea is intriguing, but this isn’t particularly slow, though it is kind of slinky. Dee Dee Sharp sings with him on this, lending it more class than his usual stuff. From the spring of 1962.
Popeye The Hitchhiker – Popeye was a sailor man, not a hitchhiker. From the fall of 1962.
Limbo Rock – A hit for Chubby Checker and for The Champs, but without the words. Duane Eddy also did this. Chubby caught the coattails of this one. From the winter of 1962 / 1963.
Let’s Limbo Some More – The follow-up to Limbo Rock was actually the B side of Twenty Miles. From the winter of 1963.
Hooka Tooka – A nursery rhyme, the B side of Loddy Lo, and a hit in the winter of 1964, by which time Chubby was competing with The Beatles and all those groups from the UK.
Loddy Lo – The title is the name of the girl whom he loves so. From the winter of 63 / 64.
Hey Bobba Needle – Another nursery rhyme. He was getting away from dance songs, though there was no shortage of new dances at the time – the monkey, the jerk, the twine. From the spring of 1964.
Birdland – There doesn’t seem to be much connection between this song and the famous jazz club. Birdland, rather, seems to be yet another dance. What next? Do the Empire State Building? From the summer of 1963.
Surf Party – Chubby Checker the surfer? Less likely than Bo Diddley. At least Bo has attitude. The B side of Twist It Up, from the summer of 1963.
Twist It Up – Another twist song. No major revelations, just a lot of energy. From the summer of 1963.
Twistin’ Round The World – He’d already twisted across the US, now he had to take it round the world. A bit of a novelty record, with Chubby singing in different languages. Musically the song was a pastiche of every song he’d ever done. .
Jingle Bell Rock – Chubby Checker & Bobby Rydell. A revival of Bobby Helms’ hit. From the 1961 season.
Let’s Do The Freddie – This song was a hit in the spring of 1965, the most direct response to the British invasion among Chubby’s hits. The Freddie was a dance (of sorts) popularized by Freddie Garrity of Freddie & The Dreamers, who did a different song called Do The Freddie. I prefer Chubby’s. This from the album of rerecordings.
Mary Ann Limbo – Personalizing the limbo a bit here.
Twenty Miles – A song about distance, and if physical distance can be overcome, so can other types. A hit from the spring of 1963. Another one I picked up off the album of alleged rerecordings. It still sounds authentic to me, but listening to the original on YouTube I can hear the difference.
Rosie – The last of the remakes. A surprisingly touching love song with a lilting melody and a fetching arrangement. The B side of Lazy Elsie Molly. A Canadian hit in the summer of 1964. Not the song from Bye Bye Birdie.
Lazy Elsie Molly – It's not clear whether her laziness is charming or annoying. From the summer of 1964.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Mormon Tabernacle Choir The great thing about top 40 radio back when it mattered was this: anything could be on there. Most of it was what you’d expect – pop, rock, rhythm & blues. There was quite a bit of MOR (Al Martino, Lawrence Welk, Andy Williams) and country (Tammy Wynette, Buck Owens, Marty Robbins Johnny Cash). There was even bona fide jazz (Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet reached number 25 in 1961, Desifando by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd reached number 15 in 1962).

Even in that context of (almost) anything goes, a top 40 hit by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a downright oddity. Their forte is classical, a genre which does not lend itself to the format (Miguel Rios nothwithstanding), and religious music (classical and otherwise), but they’ve done folk songs and patriotic songs also. I don’t know the story behind their one top 40 hit, but a story there must be. Enlightenment would be appreciated.

What I have here is an edited version of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Album, which is 2 volumes of greatest hits repackaged; I edited out most of the religious content (The Lord’s Prayer, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Heavenly Father!, Come, Come Ye Saints, a few others), and I’m sure that such an action skews the content of this in a rather unrepresentative direction. It is, however, what it is.

Question for discussion: if not for the fact that they put a hit on the top 100, would I have this in my collection?

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

God Bless America – And why not? This is big and dramatic; all their stuff is big and dramatic. It’s the nature of the beast. Kate Smith, eat your heart out.
When Johnny Comes Marching Home – And the ants go marching two by two, same melody. They are much too big for this.
Bless This House
Battle Hymn Of The Republic – I’m not Christian and I’m not American, but this song, over-the-top-melodramatic as it is, always moves me. This record reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1959. I don’t know why. Elvis did it also, as part of the American Trilogy (with Dixie and All My Trials); it only made number 72. And Andy Williams, who sang it famously at the funeral of Bobby Kennedy, peaked at number 33.
This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie sang for the little guy, for labour unions, for human dignity in poverty. For the MTC to record his song is an anomaly of astronomical proportions. It doesn’t make any musical sense either.
Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring – Probably Bach’s most famous tune. I became aware of it in the version by Apollo 100, simply called Joy. Since then I’ve heard a million versions. It’s been co-opted by everyone and his brother, (The Byrds used it, The Beach Boys on Lady Lynda etc). This type of performance of Bach, the full modern orchestra, has fallen out of favour these days; people like original instruments now. But this works a good sight better then Woodie…
Hallelujah Chorus – This is from Handel, The Messiah. For some reason I became familiar with The Messiah at some point in my early adulthood, and when I hear bits of it now it reaches into some Proustian non-articulable memory-associations (not that Proust couldn’t articulate his memories…)
O Columbia Gem Of The Ocean – If they’re singing about Columbia, Ohio then I hate to tell them that there’s no ocean there…
Londonderry Air – This is Danny Boy with different words. I used to have it in my guitar book, but I never learned to play it.
This Is My Country – Not The Impressions song.
Beautiful Dreamer – This doesn’t belong here. They are way too big for a folk song like this.
Land Of Hope And Glory – When I was a kid we had singing class, and this is one of the songs we sang. Our teacher’s name was Mrs. Tole, (not the singing teacher) so when we got to the line “How shall we extol thee?” we sang “How shall we Mrs. Toll thee?” I still remember all the words. Later I figured out that it was one of Edgar’s Pomp And Circumstance Marches, and later still I learned that it’s used at graduations. They didn’t play it at my grad.
Dixie – They did the Battle Hymn, it’s only fair they do Dixie. Right?
He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands – A hit for Laurie London. It’s a simple singalong, and they do it a capella, but it still doesn’t work.
The Battle Cry Of Freedom – Nothing like a bit of jingoism to get the blood stirring.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

October, 1959

  • Battle Hymn Of The Republic - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
  • I Loves You Porgy - Nina Simone
  • First Love, First Tears / Some Kinda Earthquake - Duane Eddy
  • Bad Girl - The Miracles
  • A Lover's Prayer - Dion & The Belmonts
  • Deck Of Cards - Wink Martindale
  • Just As Much As Ever - Bob Beckham
  • Tucumcari - Jimmie Rodgers
  • You Better Know It - Jackie Wilson
  • Travellin' Light - Cliff Richard & The Shadows
  • Don't You Know - Della Reese
  • Worried Man - The Kingston Trio
  • Boo Boo Stick Beat - Chet Atkins
  • Somethin' Else - Eddie Chochran
  • In The Mood - Ernie Fields
  • Seven Little Girls (Sitting In The Back Seat) - Paul Evans & The Curls
  • Say Man - Bo Diddley
  • Torquay - The Fireballs
  • I Dig Girls - Bobby Rydell
  • One More Sunrise - Dickey Valentine

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sandy Nelson

Sandy Nelson I don’t know who did the first rock drum solo. Maybe it was Ron Bushy, Iron Butterfly’s drummer, on In-A-Gaada-Da-Vida. Later came Toad by Cream, Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin, Key by The Guess Who, TNUC by Grand Funk Railroad etc etc etc etc.

Superstar drummers didn’t exist until then. So I don’t know quite what to make of Sandy Nelson. He was a drummer, and he was the headliner. From 1959 until the mid 60’s he made a series of vaguely original albums, much like The Ventures, on which he showcased his drumming, actually or notionally. From the mid 60s on, he created a series of generic instrumental LPs covering hits of the day, again much like The Ventures. He managed to put 9 songs on the top 100 between 1959 and 1964.

Maybe I’m missing something (I usually am) but I hear a competent, professional, but not particularly outstanding drummer. I can only imagine that putting his name on the record label was somebody’s idea of marketing. And so Nelson’s career (and music) stands as a wonderful example of 60s schlock. It’s why we listen…

Sandy Nelson:

Teen Beat – Cozy Cole beat Sandy Nelson to the top 40 by about a year, but Cole was really a jazz drummer. What made Teen Beat a drum song was a. it was by Sandy Nelson who was a drummer and b. the drums were mixed up front. Plus it had rhythm, but so do most rock and roll records. From the fall of 1959.
Let There Be Drums – Teen Beat redux, with horns. From the winter of 1961 / 1962.
Drums Are My Beat – Teen Beat / Let There Be Drums redux, with piano. From the winter of 1962.
Birth Of The Beat – I took this off the album and it’s fairly long; I assume the single version (it was the B side of Drums Are My Beat and was a hit at the same time) was shorter. Really this is a species of progressive rock before that latter existed. What we hear is a basic rhythmic buildup on drums over a primeval earth-soup background, complete with dinosaurs.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Craig Douglas

Craig DouglasYou won’t find Craig Douglas in Whitburn, and you won’t likely have heard him growing up in North America, but he put 9 songs into the UK top 20 between 1959 and 1962, including covers of Dion & The Belmonts (Teenager In Love), Steve Lawrence (Pretty Blue Eyes), Gene McDaniels (A Hundred Pounds Of Clay), The Drifters (When My Little Girl Is Smiling), and Don Gibson (Oh Lonesome Me). I found this on The Roots Of British Rock.

Craig Douglas:

Only Sixteen – Too young to fall in love. 16? Maybe. Maybe not. The punch line, of course, is that the singer is looking back nostalgically at a relationhip that happened all of a year ago. This is the UK cover of the Sam Cooke hit, and it hit number 1 over there across the sea in the summer of 1959.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Homer & Jethro

Homer & Jethro Thank heaven for Homer & Jethro who remind us not to take it all so damn seriously. These guys take songs about heartbreak, about the difficulties of trying to keep your soul together, about the condition known as life, and tear it all to pieces with a joy that has this humble blogger laughing his head off.

Homer & Jethro:

The Battle Of Kookamonga – The Battle Of New Orleans retold as the story of a bunch of randy boys at summer camp trying to catch the girls who, in the end, are captured by U.S. marines. From the fall of 1959, the last of 3 hits they had on the pop charts.
Your Cold Cold Heart – This is the Hank Williams song, Homer & Jethro style. “Why don’t you sit on the stove,” they sing, “and melt your cold cold heart…”
Sixteen Tons – The problem with rendering a spoof of Sixteen Tons is that the original delivery by Tennessee Ernie Ford is rendered with a kind of irony. Still though, it’s good for a smile.
He’ll Have To Go – The Jim Reeves song. Reeves was all about putting his foot down, however gently he delivered the message. Jeanne Black sang He’ll Have To Stay, and put old Jim in his place. Homer & Jethro wiped the floor with both of the them.
Let Me Go Blubber – Obviously this is Let Me Go Lover, a hit primarily for Joan Weber, and it’s politically incorrect. There are many today, after all, who consider obesity beautiful…When they sing “turn me loose, please reduce your caboose” I am moved to tears…
(How Much Is) That Hound Dog In The Window – My original assumption was that was a knock at Elvis was proved false by the fact that this was a hit in 1953.
Hart-Brake Hotel – Ok so here’s the knock at Elvis…
Jam-Bowl_Liar (Jambalaya) – The second Hank Williams spoof on the collection. This one is just all over the map…
Baby It’s Cold Outside – Undoubtedly the funniest attempted seduction on record. June Carter sings on this. That was before she was married to Johnny Cash Haven’t they heard that no means no? A hit in 1949.
Mr. Sandman – When the dream turns to a nightmare. The Chordettes’ hit turned on its head…

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Fireflies

The FirefliesThese guys were around for a few years in the late 50s and early 60s but they weren’t hugely successful, perhaps because they named themselves after an insect. (Yes yes I know about The Crickets and The Beatles, but The Crickets had Buddy Holly and The Beatles were not exactly The Beetles). They only had one other minor hit besides You Were Mine.

The Fireflies:

You Were Mine – The weirdest thing about this record is the squeaky female voice making noise in the background. Otherwise it’s a fairly straightforward late 50s (fall, 1959) ballad proclaiming both pride of (former) ownership and an obvious sense of loss.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ivo Robic

Ivo Robic This guy was Croation. It seems he had quite an international career, but it old NA he only had 2 pop hits, and only one was in English.

Ivo Robic:

Morgen – Well this is foreign alright, German to be exact; “morgen” means morning. I have no idea what this song is about; I suppose I could look it up, but for reasons I am too lazy to explain, I won’t. Imagine a German (or any language other than English) song hitting the Billboard charts now. (Ok, forget Nena, that was, what? 1984?). This was from the fall of 1959.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

September, 1959

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Browns

The BrownsBefore Jim Ed Brown had a solo career he was big brother in The Browns. He was also kid brother in The Browns, who were a sister-brother-sister group, who had 7 hits in the top 100 between 1959 and 1961, inclusive. They are not all here, though this LP covers their career from 1954 until 1965.

Family groups are an interesting subset of pop music groups. There was The Carter Family with its revolving cast of Carters; The Everly Brothers, The Osmonds, The Jackson Five, The Simon Sisters, TV family The Partridge Family, and faux families The Walker Brothers and The Righteous Brothers and The Thompson Twins. Songs like a blog post to me…

I remember that I looked around for this album, or one like it, for quite a while before I found this second-hand copy. It’s the original RCA The Best Of The Browns.

The Browns:

The Three Bells – The life cycle in three minutes or less. You’re born, you get married, you die. What else is there? A number 1 hit in the fall of 1959..
You Can’t Grow Peaches On A Cherry Tree – So many songs about how “we belong together;” not so many about how we don’t. This is a touching song of incompatibility. From 1965.
The Old Lamplighter – Some complain about the dark, and some bring light. From the spring of 1960.
I Heard The Bluebirds Sing – Birds so often get into the act in love songs – songbirds particularly. It was Conway Twitty that asked is a blue bird blue… From 1957.
Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair) – The girl wished for ribbons and got them, by magic. All the stores, after all, were closed and shuttered. I like Belafonte’s version. From the winter of 1959/1960.
Then I’ll Stop Loving You – Oh, how love will last forever. A bit of whimsy here, and you know how often love doesn’t last, But sweet love songs like this keep us believing. From 1964.
Send Me The Pillow You Dream On – A hit for Johnny Tillotson, and for Dean Martin. Not, notice, the pillow you sleep on, but it’s dreaming that’s the focus. From the winter of 1960/1961.
Here Today And Gone Tomorrow – They bring out the fiddle on this, and steel guitar, to sing of love’s inconsistency from day to day. From 1955.
Looking Back To See – We hear Mr. B tell us how cute she was, and how sweetly dressed, and “how she was stacked.” Honest. A song about playing emotional footsie. One of the Ms. Browns takes a rare lead vocal. From 1954.
Shenandoah – An old American folk song, and a song of longing. They’re not bad, but I like the way Harry Belafonte does this
I Take The Chance – A song of illicit love. The chance they are taking here isn’t just the obvious, but they confront the reality of how being unfaithful renders your loyalty suspect even to your new lover. Ineresting… From 1956.
They Call The Wind Maria – This is from Paint Your Wagon, and it’s Maria with a long I. This gets the full cowboy-on-the-prairie treatment…
Locations of visitors to this page