Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bill Black's Combo

Bill Black's ComboI was going to write that this is an obscure album by an obscure group, but googling it and finding several references has convinced me otherwise. Apparently Bill Black’s Combo still lives (though I bet you’ve never heard of them) and so does the early 60s best of collection, called Bill Black’s Greatest Hits.

Bill Black played bass, and his was the ba-doop ba-doop ba-doop you heard on Elvis’ Sun recordings. He put together this group in the late 50s, and they put 18 records on the top 100. The last was in 1968, 3 years after Black died. The groups’s recordings are pretty similar, they all pretty much have the same chop chop rhythm, and they highlight sax, organ, and piano variously. Never guitar.

Bill Black's Combo

Do It - Rat Now – From the spring of 1963.
Josephine – From the summer of 1960.
Hearts Of Stone – The Jewels’ / Charms / Fontane Sisters / Blue Ridge Rangers hit. From the winter of 1961.
White Silver Sands – Their biggest hit, from the spring of 1960.
Blue Tango – A hit for Les Baxter. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Ole Buttermilk Sky – From the summer of 1961.
Royal Blue
Don’t Be Cruel – Black revisits the Elvis hit. From the fall of 1960.
Smokie – Part 2 – For some inexplicable reason, the group redid this song for their Greatest Hits album. It’s way faster than the original.
Smokie – Part 2 – The original. From early 1960.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

January, 1960

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Harry James

Harry JamesBefore we get hard core into the 60s, we take a brief break for some old time big band jazz, all recorded in the late 50s. It's a CD called Compact Jazz.

Harry James:

Get Off The Stand
Moanin’ Low
My Monday Date
In The Market For You
Harry Not Jesse
Sleepy Time Gal
Hot Pink
Spring Can Really Have You Up The Most
The Jazz Connoisseur
I’m Confessin’
Harry’s Delight
Weather Bird
I Cover The Waterfront
Rockin’ In Rhythm

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers were another group with a number of personalities and, in their case, more record labels than you can shake a stick at. Their first hit was on RCA, odd given that the major labels weren’t exactly heavy into R&B in the 50s. They switched over to Scepter (Wand really, but same difference) where they did Twist And Shout, and then to United Artists, where they had no hits, then to Motown (Tamla really, but same difference) where they had a handful of minor hits, plus This Old Heart Of Mine, and where they tried very hard to fit the Motown mold, and it wasn’t all that great a fit. Beginning in 1969 they recorded for their own T-Neck label, distributed first by Buddah, then by Epic, and they became a kind of psychedelic funk group, singing about free love and fighting the power.

Putting this collection together wasn’t simple…

The Isley Brothers:

Shout – Exuberance personified as R&B. This was actually two songs, Shout Part One, and Shout Part Two, and as Dave Marsh says, “Part One has the lyrics, but its ending is as truly anticlimactic as anything is Western art.” He puts Part Two into his Heart Of Rock And Soul, but it was Part One that was hit, anticlimactic ending and all. What is mystifiying about it is why it didn’t reach higher than number 47, especially given its iconic status . Their only hit on RCA, from late 1959. It was much bigger hit later for Joey Dee & The Starlighters, at which time RCA reissued the Brothers’ single, watching it reach the great heights of number 94. The song was also Lulu’s first hit (Lulu & The Luvvers) in 1964.
Twist And Shout – More shouting. The song was far more famous by The Beatles, (Dave Marsh again: The Brothers’ version “seem absolutely lame.” Sorry Dave, don’t agree.) The Isleys’ version is a lot more soulful, and works in its own way. From the summer of 1962.
Time After Time – I didn’t write this song down on the label, so I’m guessing the title. A ballad.
Twistin’ With Linda – I used to know a girl named Linda, but I didn’t twist with her. From the fall of 1962.
Take Me In Your Arms – The Isley Brothers on Motown. This was a cover of a song that was a hit my Kim Weston. Covered later by Charity Brown and by The Doobie Brothers. A let’s-have-one-last-hug song. Not gonna happen, pal.
Put Yourself In My Place – A musically awkward song about empathy.
This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) – The Isleys’ shining moment on Motown. The only top 40 hit they had on the label (it reached number 12 in the spring of 1966) it cuts a deep groove. Rod Stewart didn’t come close.
I Guess I’ll Always Love You – A good example of how the structured Motown approach didn’t work for the Isley Brothers. From the summer of 1966.
Behind A Painted Smile – Another Motown record, this one about emotional disingenuousness.
Love The One You’re With – Stephen Stills’ theme of amorality funkified. From the summer of 1971. I prefer Stills.
Lay Away – Love on the deferred payment plan. From the spring of 1972.
Freedom – Freedom in pop music is always so simple: you can do what you want to do, when you want to do it, however you want to do it. It’s never tempered with responsibility. This is not the Jimi Hendrix song. From the winter of 1971.
It’s Your Thing – This, more than any song, is the one that put The Isleys on the map. Their ode to free love and damn the consequences, a year before Stephen Stills’ Love The One Your With, works on the basis of its funkiness more than the lyrics. It’s the one Isley Brothers song I remember hearing on the radio. From the spring of 1969.
Get Into Something – And we know exactly what that “something” is. From the fall of 1970.
Work To Do – Most of the rock / pop / R & B songs about work are of the complaining type. This one complains too, but the other way. Leave me alone, our singer intones, I have work to do. From the winter of ’72 / 73.
Keep On Doin’
Spill The Wine – A cover the hit by Eric Burdon & War, and I don’t know why they bothered. Nobody could touch Burdon on this. From the fall of 1971.
Pop That Thang – Bang bang bang. From the fall of 1972.
Brother, Brother – An odd song, this one, it’s like he’s singing to an actual flesh and blood brother.
I Turned You On – “Now I can’t turn you off,” he seems to be complaining, but it’s not a complaint after all. This is the Isleys’ idea of a love song. From the summer of 1969, the summer of Woodstock. The follow-up to It’s Your Thing.
Vacuum Cleaner – My love is like a vacuum cleaner, sings our hero. Perhaps he means that it sucks. I’ll leave it there.
I Know Who You’ve Been Socking It To – Picks up where It’s Your Thing and Pop That Thang leave off. It’s just that I’m not quite sure where that is…
What’s That Lady – The original recording of this (later called That Lady), on United Artists. It was from about 1964.
That Lady (Part 1 & 2 ) – Listening to the two versions of the song is extraordinary. Doesn’t sound like the same group. Part 1 of this psychedelicized paean to a mystery lady was a hit in the fall of 1973.
Live It Up (Part 1 & 2) – Can’t argue with the sentiment. Part 1 was a hit in the fall of 1974.
Hope You Feel Better Love
Fight The Power – The revolution was wearing thin by the fall of 1975, when this was a hit.
For The Love Of You – The Isleys weren’t that great at love songs. From the winter of 75 / 76.
Hello It’s Me – A weird take on the Todd Rundgren hit.
(At Your Best) You Are Love – “You are a positive motivating force within my life,” sing the boys, in what is probably the most unpoetic love lyric ever written.
Summer Breeze – A weird take on the Seals & Crofts hit. From the spring of 1974.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Fireballs

The Fireballs
I’ve stopped going to the library these days. Well, that’s not true. I still go to the neighbourhood library to borrow books. I can’t get CDs there because they only let you keep them for a week, and I can’t go every week. It’s the neighbourhood library, just not my neighbourhood.

But I haven’t gone to the downtown library. That’s where all the CDs are. I’ve borrowed books there too but it’s tough because not more than 25% of the collection (I’m estimating) is English. So it’s just music mostly that I go for. And it’s gotten out of control. So I put it to rest for a while.

That’s neither here nor there. Let’s talk about The Fireballs. I’d never heard of them until Bottle Of Wine hit the top 40 in 1968. I thought it was pretty cool, a song about getting drunk. Later I discovered Sugar Shack, which didn’t even sound like the same group, and then even later I learned that in its original identity The Fireballs were an instrumental group. So we have the instrumental group of Torquay and Bulldog, the pop vocal group of Sugar Shack, and the faux hippie group of Bottle Of Wine. The fact they never quite figured out who they were didn’t help their legacy much. Some remember them only for the supposedly subpar instrumental support they provide on posthumously released Buddy Holly singles. Whatever.

This is an incredible collection that captures all the group’s various personas, and includes, amazingly, all of their top 100 hits (they had 11) . It’s called The Definitive Collection, and it’s subtitled Clovis Classics. Or perhaps it’s called Clovis Classics, and subtitled Definitive Collection. Clovis is where the tracks were recorded, same studio that Buddy Holly used.

The Fireballs:

Torquay – From the ting ting ting on the cymbal to the slinky guitar, this song set the style that was to mark the group’s instrumental oeuvre. Their first hit, from the fall / winter of 1959. I don’t know what the word means.
Long Long Ponytail – The intro is reminiscent of Move It by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. I don’t know who the vocalist is on this, but it’s easy to understand why they specialized in instrumentals.
Bulldog – A boss instrumental from the winter of 1960.
I Don’t Know – Neither do I. Another vocal track.
Vaquero (Cowboy) – Vaguely in the style of Ghost Riders In The Sky. From the fall of 1960.
Cry Baby – Not the Garnet Mimms hit (the one covered by Janis Joplin). Jimmy Gilmer apparently hadn’t appeared yet, but the group was heading into his pop territory on this.
Yacky Doo
Sugar Shack – What sounds like a clavinet shows up here, and what sounds like a tin whistle, and it changes the sound of the group rather dramatically. And then there’s Jimmy Gilmer, whose voice threw the group into an entirely new dimension. And then there’s the expresso [sic] coffee. This song joins the ranks of songs about wonderful hangouts, but it wasn’t just the place, it was the girl working there, and of course they married and they are living happily. This was number 1 in the fall of 1963.
Quite A Party – Back to the instrumentals. From the summer of 1961.
Gunshot – Junior Walker did Shotgun; this is Gunshot.
Daisy Petal Pickin’ – The follow-up to Sugar Shack used many of the same musical flourishes, but this tale of love’s uncertainty only reached number 15. That was early in 1964, just as The Beatles were making their impact.
Foot Patter
Dumbo – Maybe this is about the elephant but I can’t prove it because there aren’t any words.
Ain’t Gonna Tell Anybody – This was the last attempt to milk the success of Sugar Shack. It only reached number 53, and that was in the spring of 1964. Not hard to understand why; it’s just a bit too cute.
Fireball – Maybe this was meant to be their signature tune. It has a vaguely exotic air about it.
Say I Am (What I Am) - A hit for Tommy James & The Shondells.
Sweet Talk – Strings on this one, and whistling that gives it the air of something by Ennio Morricone. Sort of.
Hungry, Hungry, Hungry – Maybe this was inspired by Yummy Yummy Yummy. I hope not.
Mexican Fun – I guess it’s that mariachi trumpet that makes this Mexican.
Good Morning Shame – Boy I really tied one on, seems to be the message, but the delivery is so mild that it’s not all that convincing.
Find Me A Golden Street
Ain’t That Rain – From their latter-day period. This aims at a kind of mellow, and it’s not bad.
Clink Clink Classic
Bottle Of Wine – Their one hit that kicks butt. This is nothing more than a paean to alcoholism, written by Tom Paxton. It’s the Fireballs that I remember. From the winter of 1968.
Come On Home – Here’s where they are the purveyors of faceless pop.
Goin’ Away (The One Who Lives Inside Of Me)- A hippie era song about finding oneself. I’ll send for you, he says, when I find out who the heck I am.
Lucille – A lame rendition of the Little Richard song.
Come On React – The follow-up to Bottle Of Wine didn’t do nearly as well. Full of hippie jargon (“you’ve got your bag and I’ve got mine”). From the winter of ’68 / ’69.
Long Green – A song about money. Their swan song. A minor hit in the winter of 1969. Also done by The Kingsmen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Marty Wilde

At least one of these tracks is another entry from The Roots Of British Rock. The other comes from some obscure cassette collection.

So take a guy whose name is Smith and change it to Wilde and you’re guaranteed results. Wilde née Smith had 9 top 20 hits in the UK between 1958 and 1962, most of which were covers of American hits. And check out his cover of Jezebel. We’ll have more to say about it later…

Marty Wilde:

Bad Boy – The whole moral challenge thing encapsulated in a 2 ½ minute pop song. He’s not bad, insists Marty, just a good boy in love. I don’t see the connection. A UK number 1 in December of 1959. A few months later it reached number 45 on Billboard and was the closest Wilde had to having a North American hit, not counting his recording as Shannon in 1969, which I don’t know why it doesn’t count.
Rubber Ball – His cover of the Bobby Vee hit. A hit in the winter of 1961.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Emile Ford & The Checkmates

The Roots Of British Rock. Remember it? A various artists collection representing pre-Beatles UK rock / pop. We’re not done with it yet. That’s where my one and only track by West Indies born UK artist Emile Ford comes from. Besides this he had about a half dozen hits, all in 1959 – 1960.

The group is not to be confused with Sonny Charles & Checkmates Ltd.

Emile Ford & The Checkmates:

What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For – Don’t send mixed messages, says our hero. I agree. This song was a number 1 hit in the UK in December of 1959.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kid Ory & The Creole Jazz Band

Kid OryI don’t think Dixieland ever made the Hot 100. I could be wrong, and if I am, then let me know. But either way, it wasn’t something you were likely to hear on top 40 radio.

Occasionally you’d hear something like jazz: The Girl From Ipanema by Stan Getz, Cast Your Fate To The Wind by Vince Guaraldi, Take Five by Dave Brubeck, hits all. But Dixieland? Find me some.

So all the Dixieland that shows up here does so as sound bites, bits of music that break up the top 40 routine. I try to make them chronologically accurate, but then I would, wouldn’t I.

My one and only track by Kid Ory is from Best Of Dixieland on the Compact Jazz series.

Kid Ory & The Creole Jazz Band

Loveless Love - Dixieland

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Johnny Preston

Johnny Preston Johnny Preston was another artist honoured to be there at the cusp of the new decade. Altogether he had 5 records on the Hot 100, ending in 1961.

Johnny Preston:

Running Bear – A Romeo And Juliet tale written by The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson). They both die in the end, just so you know. The song reached number 1 in January, 1960. Sonny James put it back on the country charts, and The Guess Who did a rather idiosyncratic recording in the early 70s. I don’t think anyone would get away with this now.
Cradle Of Love – The idea of using nursery rhymes as the basis of pop songs isn’t all that great. This uses Rockabye Baby, which I guess is more of a lullaby than a nursery rhyme, but it doesn’t set the world on fire. From the spring of 1960.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Penny Candy

I love a good mystery. Well, that’s not true really. I never read mysteries, and I never watch them on TV, or at the cinema. But it’s a good intro – I love a good mystery.

Penny Candy is a mystery. No idea who she was, she never was on Billboard. But the song appears on YouTube so I know it’s real.

Penny Candy:

The Rockin Lady (From New Orleans) – Wasn’t a hit, just a random piece of rock and roll footnote trivia.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Larry Hall

The 60s. There’s so much been said and written and discussed about the 60s, the magical 60s. And we forget that it’s just arbitrary numbers on the calendar.

But let’s forget that arbitrariness and just go with it. Looking at the songs and the artists that were on the charts during the first weeks of the new decade gives us some kind of sense of something important beginning; we try to discern some meaning in it all. If we are honest, then we fail, because not only are year numbers arbitrary, so are song choices that go with them. But needn’t be honest; we can have fun.

I’m not having that fun today; I’m simply alluding to the fact that Larry Hall was one of those lucky few who had a hit on the charts and the decades changed over. It was his only hit.

Larry Hall:

Sandy – Not the Ronnie & The Daytonas song, not the Dion song, not the Bruce Springteen song (a hit for The Hollies), just another love song with a country flavour. From late 59 / early 60.
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