Monday, September 27, 2010

December, 1959

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Miss Toni Fisher

Miss Toni Fisher
There are plenty of artists who drop their surnames: Dion, Donovan, Luba, Madonna, Melanie. There aren’t so many who not only use their full names, but add a term of address to it. There was Mrs. Miller (her first name was Elva, but she didn’t use it in her billing). There was Mr. Aker Bilk. And there was Miss Toni Fisher.

Miss Toni had 3 records on the top 100; besides the ones that I have, she had How Deep Is The Ocean in the spring of 1960.

By the way, she was married...

Miss Toni Fisher:

The Big Hurt – The big hurt was very big indeed, if the sound of this record is any indication. And Toni’s voice was big to match. In the end, though, it’s just another heartbreak song. A hit as the 50s gave way to the 60s.
West Of The Wall – Quick, how many songs can you think of that were inspired by the cold war (U2 doesn’t count.)? How many were hits? And how many were unrepentant pop hits? From the summer of 1962, 14 years after the Berlin airlift.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Adam Faith

Adam FaithThe Beatles put England on the musical map. But The Beatles did not invent UK pop. In fact, prior to Love Me Do those royal isles were a hotbed of Bobby Vee wannabes. Cliff Richard was king, but there was also Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Emile Ford & The Checkmates, The Tornadoes, Dicke Valentine, Russ Hamilton etc etc. I would love to tell you that a treasure chest of unknown delight awaits he who ventures to explore this underappreciated genre, but I’d be lying. Most of it is pretty lame.

That’s where Adam Faith comes in – lame. Ok, maybe I’m being unfair. But maybe I’m not. The truth is that it took The Beatles to bring out the best in Faith; prior to that he was king of pizzicato and fey romance.

I got this collection from a Russian web site; I actually paid money for it. Not a lot, but money nonetheless. The title is A’s B’s and EP's, and I would assume that all his hits are on here, but I’d be wrong. Faith had 17 songs on the UK top 20 between 1959 and 1964, and only 13 are on this collection. Also missing are his 2 North American hits. Nobody can do anything right…

Adam Faith:

What Do You Want – Freud’s lament reduced to pop song status. His first hit, it reached number 1 in the fall of 1959.
Poor Me – This self-pity tale reached number 1 early in 1960.
Someone Else’s Baby – This tale of lost love was a hit in the spring of 1960.
When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again – I can’t say this isn’t strange…
Diamond Ring – A song of undying love.
Summertime – Faith attacks Gershwin. Gotta admire the effort, if not the result.
Greenfinger – Could be a sequel to Diamond Ring.
How About That – Not the Dee Clark song. From the summer of 1960.
Easy Going Me – From the spring of 1961.
Who Am I – The female chorus puts this squarely into the Bobby Vee rip-off category. From the winter of 1961.
Lonely Pup (In A Christmas Shop) – Gooey. And what, may I ask, exactly, is a Christmas shop? From the Xmas season of 1960.
Wonderful Time – Up there? No. Down here. It’s what you think it’s about.
As You Like It – Apologies to Shakespeare. From the fall of 1962.
A Help Each Other Romance – A bit of Elvis, a bit of Cliff, Adam’s abortive attempt to rock out.
The Time Has Come – An I’m-sorry song. He sings of love’s return, and things won’t be the same. How perceptive.
Face To Face – The frustration of not being able to contact someone. Just wait, he says, till you’re face to face with me. Never gonna happen pal…
Don’t That Beat All – Adam goes country. Can’t say he never tried.
Mix Me A Person – Yes Dr. Frankenstein…
The First Time – The Mersey sounds finally catch up with our hero. His style is transformed by whoever it was who was managing his career. Somewhat surprisingly the new style suits him. From the fall of 1963.
So Long Baby – Back to the old style…
We Are In Love – And back again…This is probably as good as much of what you’ll hear by, say, The Fourmost, The Merseybeats, Gerry & The Pacemakers, etc. From the winter of 1964.
Made For Me
A Message To Martha – A song of separation. This is a Bacharach / David song more famous by Dionne Warwick (Message To Michael). From the winter of 1964 / 1965.
It Sounds Good To Me – It sounds ok, “good” is pushing it.
It’s Alright – This isn’t on the CD. It was Faith’s North American breakthrough, or it would have been had it done better than #31. He had another record that reached #97, (Talk About Love) before disappearing forever

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Rock-a-teens

Woo Hoo The gentleman that ran Sound Exchange had a way of keeping a constant high quality inventory. The trick was that the prices of the records were so high that nobody ever bought them. I certainly never bought any LPs there. Well, no, that’s not true. I bought a Moby Grape LP. I think it was $20. Maybe a zero got left out by mistake.

Singles, though, where another thing. They had boxes and boxes of hard to find songs, dusty 45s in boxes. No prices. I learned the hard way, though, that these guys don’t suffer cheapskates gladly. How much are these, I said. And he’d price them one by one. Aghast, I said I need to find cheaper copies. And I’d bring more copies up to the counter. After a few times he lost patience with me. What kind of thing was this I was doing, trying to economize on collectors’ items. He and his wife, they double-teamed me. These are special, they’d have me know. We remember these, he said. Mm-hm. Picking up a single I’d placed there, The Rock-a-teens. We remember them.

In that case they are the only such people on the planet. Nobody remembers The Rock-a-teens. Not even The Rock-a-teens remember the Rock-a-teens. They have about 1 sentence in Wikipedia. They had one hit.

I bought it though, that single. The Rock-a-teens.

Man! The Rock-a-teens. Indeed.

The Rock-a-teens:

Woo Hoo – This is just pure rock and roll, the tune straight boogie woogie, identical more or less to Guitar Boogie Shuffle by The Virtues, with drum and strum interludes, disembodied voices singing the title over and over, and rhythm that won’t quit. If you can sit still to this then you’re dead. The group’s only hit, from the fall of 1959.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sonny Til & The Orioles

CHUM I got The CHUM Chart Book from a mail order catalogue. That was sometime around 1985. CHUM was a Toronto radio station, so what’s listed on their radio playlists reflects the pop charts with a Canadian twist. The Canadian music scene in the 60s was very regional, so it’s not to be taken as a reflection of Canada as a whole in every case, but it’s a window into the world of Canadian top 40 radio.

(The national Canadian chart was the RPM, equivalent roughly to USA’s Billboard, and Library and Archives Canada seems to have put some of them online, but it’s patchy.)

Now besides this, I have two versions of Whitburn (Billboard Top 100, 1955 – 1978, and Billboard Top 40, 1955 – 1983) and I have The Rock Almanac, which details top 20 records on Billboard from 1955 until 1973 and the equivalent UK listings. The Top 100 book lists Crying In The Chapel from the fall of 1953, which puzzles me, because the listings are supposed to start in 1955. But it’s the CHUM book that tells me that the song was reissued in 1959, and in Toronto, it reached the grand peak of #46. But it was there. And now, YouTube tells me that the song was rerecorded, not just reissued.

And so it is that Sonny Til & The Orioles take their rightful place as a group that hit the charts in the fall of 1959, however tenuous the claim.

The collection is called The Orioles Sing Their Greatest Hits, and indeed they do. It’s a CD I found at the downtown library, courtesy of the wonderful Province of Quebec.

Sonny Til & The Orioles

It’s Too Soon To Know – From 1948. They set the style here, very stark, almost no instrumentation (just a guitar it sounds like), Sonny’s lead vocal and humming by the group. Pat Boone covered this in 1958.
At Night
Tell Me So
It’s Gonna Be A Lonely Christmas
Forgive And Forget
What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve
I Miss You So – Later a hit for Paul Anka and for Little Anthony & The Imperials
Baby Please Don’t Go – They go a bit bluesy on this one. The song was by Joe Williams and it took on a life of its own, with versions by Muddy Waters etc. Bob Dylan recorded it but didn’t release it. Them did it, and it appeared on the A side of the single that was Gloria. The Amboy Dukes did a sledgehammer version.
Till Then – A hit for The Ink Spots, and in the rock era, by The Classics.
You Belong To Me – Recorded by Patti Page, and a hit for Jo Stafford. Later it was a hit by The Duprees, but my favourite is by Patsy Cline.
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me – There are a bucketful of versions of this, but the best is the 1965 hit by Mel Carter, hands down.
Sonny Til & The OriolesI Cover The Waterfront – A hit for The Ink Spots
Crying In The Chapel –Darrell Glen wrote this – he was a country singer. They were friends, Glen and Til, so I hear. Anyway this was their landmark hit, originally in the fall of 1953, then redone in the fall of 1959. A bit of religion never hurt. Elvis put this back on the chart in 1965, though he recorded it earlier, and Don McLean had a crack at it on one of his 70s albums.
In The Chapel In The Moonlight – The chapel theme carried over. This, though, isn’t about devotion; it’s a wedding, plain and simple. A hit for The Bachelors and for Dean Martin.
Crying In The Chapel – Again.. This is the 1959 version, which I found on Echoes Of A Rock Era. No bells on this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

November, 1959

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dickie Valentine

Dickie Valnetine Every so often at the library or at some second-hand store I’d find a cassette called Favourite Pop Hits Of The 60s or some such thing, and I wouldn’t recognize a single song. Upon further investigation I’d learn that all the songs had been hits over in the UK. It was on one of those collections that I found Dickie Valentine.

I only have 2 songs. According to the Rock Almanac he had 8 top 20 hits between 1955 and 1959, Wikipedia would give us 10 for the same period, a few more if we go back to 1953.

Dickie Valentine:

One More Sunrise – This is Morgen, the Ivo Robic hit, in English. I don’t know if it’s a direct translation or just a more-or-less. For what it’s worth, it turns out to be a song about having to wake up every morning to a painful reality. It was a hit in the UK in the fall of 1959.
Venus – This, according to Wikipedia was his last top 20 hit. Rock Almanac doesn’t list it. The song hit number 1 for Frankie Avalon; Dickie’s version just cracked the top 20. His arrangement was more MOR, but had a bit of space age stuff in it, in keeping with the planetary theme.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chet Atkins

Harry and Eli were partners. Harry was good natured but high-strung and somewhat neurotic; Eli was good natured but had a harder edge; though his personal style was more laid back. In his early adult days he was rumoured to have been a country music disc jockey in northern Manitoba. I worked for those guys from 1988 until 1991.

And so it was one day that I walked into work with a bag that obviously had a couple of LPs in it. What you got there, said Eli in a tone that just barely suggested “it can’t be anything good.” I pulled out two collections by Chet Atkins that I’d picked up at Red River Books that morning. “Oh,” he said, temporarily lost for words. Ok, he said. Not bad he said. Eli approved.

Atkins is one of those legend types. So while it’s not surprising that he only had 5 top 100 hits, the highest reaching only number 49, it’s quite surprising that since 1946 he only put 10 singles on the country charts. Don’t look at me; I can’t explain it. I have 2 double album collections here, the second of which is This Is Chet Atkins, and I still only have 2 of his 5 top 100 singles. I can’t explain that either…

Chet Atkins:

Main Street Breakdown
Sweet Bunch Of Daisies
Chinatown, My Chinatown
Oh! By Jingo, Oh! By Gee
Country Gentleman
Trambone – The Ventures covered this too.
Walk Don’t Run – Written by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith, and later the first hit for The Ventures. The Ventures thumped it out; Atkins version was more jazzy.
Slinkey – Not The Eric Clapton song
Boo Boo Stick Beat – I don’t know what a boo boo stick is, but it’s up front and centre in this piece. Atkins’ highest placing pop single, reaching number 49 in the fall of 1959.
Blue Steel Blues
Freight Train – A hit for Chas McDevitt Group featuring Nancy Whiskey, and for Rusty Draper.
Yakety Axe – Yakety Sax on the guitar. The original sax version was a hit for Boots Randolph in 1963; Chet’s version was a small hit in the summer of 1965.
The Bilbao Song – A hit for Andy Williams
Music To Watch Girls By – Also a hit for Andy Williams, but better know by The Bob Crewe Generation.
Blue Angel – This might be the Roy Orbison hit; it’s hard to tell.
Mrs. Robinson – The Simon & Garfunkel song.
Elusive Butterfly – The Bob Lind hit.
The Odd Folks Of Oraacoke
El Condor Pasa – The Simon & Garfunkel hit from 1970.
Snowbird – Written by Canadian songwriter Gene McLennan, a hit for Canadian singer Anne Murray. Her first real hit and to my ears her best. Chet’s version has the most beautiful use of strings-as-sweeteners that you’ll likely hear.
Black Mountain Rag
Knee Action
Three Little Words
Hawaiian Wedding Song – The only hit version of this was by Andy Williams, but there have been hundreds of recordings.
Lady Madonna – The Beatles' hit from 1968.
Copper Kettle – Some kind of a folk / country song about moonshining. Dylan did in on Self Portrait in 1970.
Lara’s Theme – AKA Somewhere My Love. The Theme from Dr. Zhivago. Very popular elevator song in the 60s, and a hit for The Ray Conniff Singers.
Both Sides Now – The Joni Mitchell song, a hit for Judy Collins in 1969. So many people did this, including Frank Sinatra, but it’s interesting to compare Chet’s version with the one done by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
Charlie Brown – The Coasters’ hit.
Django’s Castle
Ode To Billy Joe – Bobbie Gentry’s hit from 1967.
From Nashville With Love – I guess this could be the title of every song he ever did.
Yellow Bird – A hit for The Mills Brothers, and later for Arthur Lyman.
Windy And Warm – Taken from a Ventures album about surfing.
Galloping Guitar.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Miracles

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles I found the Temptations’ Anthology at Sam The Record Man. It was a triple LP with a classy white cover, cut at the corners, with nice pics, and a selection of tracks from their first major hit through the early 70s. I learned later that it was part of a series featuring all the major Motown artists, and over a few years I picked them up one by one. (Stevie Wonder’s entry was called Looking Back, presumably named for the lyrics in I Wish, but otherwise if fits the motif). Motown had a number of collection series over the decades, and I don’t know if the vinyl edition of the Anthology series is the best (there is a CD Anthology series, which is an outgrowth of the vinyl, but it’s not as cool), but it’s certainly the classiest.

Some were double LPs, some were triple, some had booklets. Not all Motown artists merited an Anthology; Mary Wells, The Isley Brothers, The Contours, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, Brenda Holloway, Edwin Starr – some who did not have the honour.

The Miracles’ Anthology (they were The Miracles until 1967, at which time they became Smokey Robinson & The Miracles; when Smokey left in 1973 they reverted to being The Miracles) is a good representation of their Smokey era career – all of the top 40 hits are present, as are a good sampling of the rest of their top 100 hits. I didn’t hear most of these songs growing up; for some reason Motown records didn’t get played as much as one would expect on our local top 40 station, though the songs showed up on the charts well enough; it was only from about 1967 on that they got fair play. I don’t know why that is.

I’ve made up for though, on my own time, since…

The Miracles:

Got A Job – An answer song to The Silhouettes’ Get A Job, it’s not bad, but, as Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein point out in The Book Of Rock Lists, it doesn’t capture the “marvelous incoherence” of the original. In the end it becomes a kind of Yackety Yak with the boss standing in as the parent. An inauspicious beginning.
Bad Girl – I suppose the concept of the “bad girl” isn’t all that current; Donna Summer revived it for a while but that was a whole different thing. Meanwhile Smokey is all over the map – she is not a bad girl because… she is a bad girl because… Life is sure complicated. The Miracles' first hit, if hit it can be called, and it would have been the first Tamla single to make the top 100, except that Berry Gordy licensed it to Chess. It was on the hit parade in the fall of 1959.
Way Over There – Echoes of The Impressions. This seems to have been recorded after Bad Girl, but it didn’t appear on a single until the fall of 1962.
(You Can) Depend On Me – This ballad echoes earlier R&B hits by The Moonglows and even The Harptones. The guys (and Claudette) are right up there.
Shop Around –Smokey’s ode to non-commitment (he blames his mother, but don’t we all), was Motown’s (Tamla’s really, but same difference) first record to reach the top 10. The rest is history. That was in the winter of 1961. It was a hit again for The Captain & Tennille in 1976.
Who’s Lovin’ You – This song about a relationship gone bad is irresistible, typical early Smokey, and it’s odd that it wasn’t on the top 100. The Jackson Five covered it on their first album.
What’s So Good About Goodbye – And how can farewell be fair? Here is where Smokey’s incredible wordplay starts. From the winter of 1962.
I’ll Try Something New – The harp at the beginning tells us that this is magic. And then Smokey starts singing about building towers to the moon, and the swirling strings tell us that it’s serious magic. But for all the magic that it is, it only just snuck into the top 40 in the summer of 1962.
I’ve Been Good To You – When being good isn’t enough …
You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me – What might be just another love song is really about dysfunction, about that kind of abusive relationship that you can’t let go of. “You treat me badly,” he sings, “I love you madly.” Go figure. This is so off centre that when the Beatles covered it on their second album, John and George sang harmony on the verses, Paul only joining them on the choruses. The Zombies covered this as well. So did Sonny & Cher. From the winter of 1963.
A Love She Can Count On – The opening chord sequence is almost You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me redux. Almost. We’re back in safe territory here, and it shows in the results. The former reached the top 10; this made number 31. That was the spring of 1961.
Mickey’s Monkey – The group gets into a dance groove. This was contemporary with The Monkey Time by Major Lance, fall of 1963.
I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying – Trying to bury the sorrow under celebration. Not likely to work, but certainly worth a try. From the winter of 1964.
I Like It Like That – Not the Chris Kenner song. From the summer of 1964.
That’s What Love Is Made Of – Smokey takes the nursery rhyme about boys and girls and snakes and snails and that kind of thing and made a record that was a top 40 hit in the fall of 1964. It’s that slinky rhythm that gets you.
Come On Do The Jerk – Back into the dance groove. A hit in the winter of 1965, it beat The Larks’ The Jerk by a few months.
Ooh Baby Baby – Here’s where Smokey gets heavy into ballad mode. The title is the epitome of meaningless, but that changes when you start listening. Linda Ronstadt put this back on the chart in the late 70s. From the spring of 1965.
The Tracks Of My Tears – A candidate for the best Miracles record ever, possibly for the best Smokey Robinson song. I remember the Johnny Rivers hit version from a few years later; it was only as an adult that I discovered the original, which is surprising, because the song was a hit in the summer of 1965, and I was fully tuned in by then. This record, whose stature in the history of rock and soul is huge, only went to number 16 on Billboard, which is as good an indication as any of the irrelevance of chart positions.
My Girl Has Gone – A heartbreak song in the form of a pep talk. “Don’t give up” he reminds himself, “hold your head up high.” From the fall of 1965.
Choosey Beggar – Describing oneself as a “beggar” for love isn’t going to endear you to anyone – unless you’re Smokey Robinson.
Going To A Go-Go – The drum lead in on this may be the most dramatic intro to any of their records, and it leads to a celebration of the 60s pre-hippie rock and roll dance culture. From the winter of 1966. The Stones covered this on Still Life.
(Come ‘Round Here) I’m The One You Need – “I may not be the one you want” he sings candidly, in what may be the least romantic come-on in all of pop music. The breathy spoken part is odd, but if it worked for Diana Ross on Love Is Here And Now You’ve Gone then why not. From the winter of 1966 / 1967.
Save Me – The idea of Love as Salvation wasn’t new, but nobody said it like Smokey.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles:

The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage – A song about how infatuation doesn’t always lead to the real thing. From the spring of 1967.
More Love – A song of undying love as only Smokey can do.
I Second That Emotion – One of the most enduring of Smokey’s hits, bouncier than most, and as clever as he got. From the winter of 1967 / 1968.
If You Can Want – The bounce of I Second That Emotion but not so playful, and with a dark undercurrent provided by the horns. From the spring of 1968.
Yester Love – Not to take anything away from Smokey, but it was Stevie Wonder who took this idea and scored the goal, with Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday. This is from the spring of 1968.
Special Occasion – For Smokey, this was a bit of funk. For anyone else, it would have been Adult Contemporary. From the fall of 1968.
Baby Baby Don’t Cry – A ballad, no question. What happens when you pick the wrong guy. From the winter of 1969.
Doggone Right – From the summer of 1969.
Here I Go Again – The B side of Doggone Right, from the fall of 1969. This is what The Stylistics would sound like a few years hence.
Abraham, Martin, And John – This tribute to assassinated American heroes was a hit originally for Dion in the latter part of 1968. During the following year both Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Moms Mabley had a crack at it. For my money, I’ll take Dion. From the summer of 1969.
Darling Dear- From the spring of 1970. The definition of smooth soul. The B side of Point It Out.
Point It Out – From the winter of 1970
Who’s Gonna Take The Blame – A song of co-dependency. From the summer of 1970.
Tears Of A Clown – I didn’t like this song when I was 13 years old, and I didn’t hesitate to tell Sharon B. who sat in front of me, and with whom I was having a in-depth conversation about top 40 radio. Not only did she like Tears Of A Clown, but waxed eloquent over Be My Baby by Andy Kim. I was partial to Paranoid by Black Sabbath. Now I’m older.

This is the song that finally put Smokey and the boys at number 1. The lyrics are Tracks Of My Tears revisited, but it sounds fresh and new for all that. From the fall / winter of 1970.
I Don’t Blame You At All – A breakup song with a twist. From the spring of 1970.
Satisfaction – Not The Rolling Stones, but pretty much about the same subject, but from the opposite angle. (Too many buts, I know.) From late 1971.
We’ve Come Too Far To End It Now – Sure, so many years, so many kids, and boom! up in smoke. From the summer of 1972.
I Can’t Stand To See You Cry – This is how it ends, with a mighty whimper. From the winter of 1973.
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