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 It’s been superseded since.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.

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