Monday, November 28, 2011

Tony Orlando

One of those guys you love to hate. Seriously. How many people had murderous thoughts every time they heard Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around The Old Oak Tree, (for me it was Knock Three Times).

But Tony Orlando had a life before Dawn. In ’69 he was the lead vocalist of a one-shot studio-only group called Wind (Make Believe). And almost a decade before that, when he was still a teenager, he had a couple of more-than-respectable teen idol hits, which may have been, in their own way, better than anything he did in his more famous years.

Tony Orlando:

Bless You - The lyrics veer between sweet and over-the-top, but the tune (the song is by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill) never moves from glorious, the arrangement - female chipmunk chorus, matinee strings, Mahlerian tympani - is perfect teenage drama, and you can hear exactly where Phil Spector got so many of his ideas. Wonderful bobby sox artistry. From the fall of 1961.
Halfway To Paradise – When I was in school, we had a word (well, two words) for the type of girl he is singing about. But adolescence is such a confusing time. It gets so much easier in middle age. Oh wait, it doesn’t? From the summer of 1961. A hit in England for Billy Fury.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Regents

Another doo-wop group, late-blooming, after-the-fact, and short-lived, a group whose biggest hit is better known by someone else. What a fate.

The Regents:

Barbara Ann – I have it on good authority that women named “Barbara” are not the most reliable in the world. The good authority of which I speak is only that which is relevant at 9:50 on this Sunday morning. Be that as it may, the song here, which is the real point, is naught but a great excuse for singing along and dancing. The “ba ba ba” refrain is, of course, legendary. A hit in the summer of 1961 and much better known by The Beach Boys, who propelled the song almost to number 1 in the fall of 1965. It was also covered by Jan & Dean and The Who.
Runaround – As indignant as doo-wop gets. For my money this is as good as, maybe better than, their bigger song, to which this was the follow-up, less successful hit. Also from the summer of 1961, but later.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eddie Harris

Eddie Harris was one of those jazz dudes who pop up with such regularity in my collection, who do one song then split – except that in the case of Harris, the song was a hit. Harris’ career really took after after the one hit, as a jazz artist, not a top 100 guy, though he did have three more songs on the charts; that was later, 1968 – 1970.

Eddie Harris:

Exodus – Written by Ernest Gold, from the movie directed by Otto Preminger, based on the book by Leon Uris. The book may have been the most popular piece of propaganda claptrap of the 20th century. I never saw the movie. But the theme song had a life of its own. It won the Oscar, and it won a Grammy. It was the ultimate musical melodrama, what Gustav Mahler would have sounded like had he written TV commercials. Three competing hit version were on the charts at the same time: the string laden afternoon matinee version by Mantovani, the piano drama version by Ferrante & Teicher, and this one, which omits the drama altogether, and replaces it with some super-cool swing. If you really want to know what the theme from Exodus sounds like, listen to one of the others; but when you want to hear what good music it really is, this is the place to start. From the summer of 1961.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Billy Fury

Billy Fury It’s taken me a long time to write this post, longer than any post so far. That’s because when I started it I only had one track: Halfway To Paradise. But for some reason I got ambitious and I downloaded every song the Billy Fury had on the UK top 100. So that’s what took so long, finding, downloading, and listening to, each one of these songs. Now I have this entire collection.

Not bad, eh?

Billy Fury:

Maybe Tomorrow – He sets the style here: loon-call sax, angelic female chorus, barely discernable lyrics, wistful to the point of non-existence. Makes Frankie Avalon sound like heavy metal. Not the Jim Croce song, not the Jackson Five song. From the spring of 1959.
Margo – A slight (very slight) country feel on this not quite top 20 hit from 1959.
Colette – Slightly reminiscent of Claudette by Roy Orbison / The Everly Brothers, but the resemblance is not to be taken as qualitative. From The winter of 1960.
That’s Love – Near-genuine rockabilly, Eddie Cochran style. From the summer of 1960.
Wonderous Place – Here’s where he could have been a contender. The producers put so much echo on his voice that he actually sounds tough enough to live up to his name, and the arrangement is understated and effective. Figures that this song didn’t quite reach the top 20. Who knows what it’s about. From 1960.
A Thousand Stars – A cover of the Kathy Young & The Innocents hit and perfectly suitable. From 1960.
Halfway To Paradise – Maybe his best remembered record and the only track that’s been in my collection forever. A familiar tale of being stuck in “friend-zone.” A hit in the US for Tony Orlando. From the spring of 1961.
Jealousy – Billy takes on Frankie Laine and loses. From the fall of 1961.
I’d Never Find Another You – Not to be confused with I’ll Never Find Another You (though every single YouTube entry gets the title wrong), which is a much better song than this. From the winter of 61 / 62.
Letter Full Of Tears – The Marvelettes had this theme wrapped up with Please Mr. Postman, but this song was a strong contender in the original version by Gladys Knight & The Pips. Billy makes a noble effort. From the winter of 1962.
Last Night Was Made For Love – A once in a lifetime opportunity, down the tubes. Ah well, perhaps tonight will be made for beer. From the spring of 1962.
Once Upon A Dream – It’s always better in one’s head than in real life, not so? From the summer of 1962.
Because Of Love – As Elvis-like as he got. From the fall of 1962.
Like I’ve Never Been Gone – The Beatles swept the floor with all this competition when they All My Lovin’. From the winter of 1963.
When Will You Say I Love You – Romantic whining. From the spring of 1962.
In Summer – All the summer clichés except the music. From the summer of 1963.
Somebody Else’s Girl – Finding out that things aren’t what you think they are, when you thought they were good, is never good. From the autumn of 1963.
Do You Really Love Me Too (Fool’s Errand) – The Beatle influence is starting to show here (well ok, but compared to his stuff up to now…) From winter, 1964.
I Will – From the spring of 1964. Dean Martin covered it a year later.
It’s Only Make Believe – Billy takes on Conway Twitty. From the summer of 1964. I think The Hollies did a cover of this as well, and Glen Campbell put it back on the chart in 1970.
I’m Lost Without You – A profound air of tragedy hangs over this one, slightly reminiscent of I (Who Have Nothing). From the winter of 1965.
In Thoughts Of You – While his music wasn’t exactly hip, and didn’t give the great British Invasion bands anything to worry about, you can hear the progression here, and how his producers were doing their darndest to keep him up-to-date. A decent mid ’65 time capsule, from the summer of that great year.
Run To My Lovin’ Arms – Wasn’t there another song with this title? Maybe, but this isn’t it. Oh no, wait, it is! The Walker Brothers, I believe. From 1965.
I’ll Never Quite Get Over You – Billy was definitely coming of age here. From 1966.
Give Me Your Word – Another one from 1966, and he was sounding more like The Walker Brothers with each release.
Love Or Money – Fast forward to 1982, Fury finds himself back on the chart after a 17 year absence. He’s a bit louder, but otherwise pretty much the same as before.
Devil Or Angel – A slightly updated remake of the Bobby Vee remake of The Clovers hit. From 1982.
Forget Him – The orchestral arrangement works surprisingly well, and the electric piano isn’t as cloying as one would expect, and when the drums show up it’s a good reminder that this was, after all, the 80s, so it’s not a bad effort, just that Billy oversings it, just slightly, and the original Bobby Rydell recording was such a masterpiece that there’s no way anyway that this could be anything more than a distant second at best. Released posthumously in 1983, at 59 it was Billy’s lowest placing chart single.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

May, 1961

Sunday, October 16, 2011

B. Bumble & The Stingers

I had a friend and we were about 20. Said friend had a father who tried to impress us with his knowledge of classical music. “The music you guys listen to is crap,” he told us, and he’d put on Smetana, and explain the musical poetry to us.

It wasn’t long after that I started listening to the classics myself, learning about the development from Bach to Haydn and Mozart to Beethoven and on to the romantics. And so I came back to father-guy, now armed with knowledge, appreciation, and understanding. “I’ve been listening,” I told him. “to Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto,” I said, “it amazes me.”

“I don’t like Beethoven so much,” was his answer. “I prefer Tchaikovsky.”

“Sure,” I thought, and I’m an outdoors enthusiast, but I don’t like fresh air so much…

B. Bumble & The Stingers weren’t so much a group as an idea. Various musicians played on the various recordings they made, most of whom were not(or none of whom were, I can’t figure it out) part of the touring band. The group didn’t last but the idea did, morphing into ELO incorporating Beethoven’s 5th into Roll Over Beethoven, Walter Murphy’s Big Apple Band rendering the same symphony as disco, and ELP energizing Mussorgsky into major label art rock. Go team…

B. Bumble & The Stingers:

Bumble Boogie – Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight Of The Bumble Bee. Sort of. The truth is that this appears in versions a lot more jazzed up than this. The oddest version, though, is probably the harmonica-only one by The Adler Trio. From the spring of 1961.
Nut Rocker – March from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. ELO covered this as an encore to Pictures At An Exhibition. From the spring of 1962.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gene McDaniels

Gene McDanielsTeen idols get a bad rap. Ok, I don’t know about Justin Beiber. I wouldn’t know him if he found his way into my living room and accompanied my dinner with strains of his latest musical offerings. He probably deserves his rap anyway.

Let’s think about the first crop. It is said to have been an attempt by record company moguls to tame the beast that was rock and roll, the beast that was a product of independent record companies (notwithstanding Elvis’ contract with RCA; he started at Sun, remember), and to fill the hole left by Elvis’ induction, Jerry Lee Lewis’ disgrace, Little Richard’s conversion, Buddy Holly’s demise, Chuck Berry’s incarceration. (Fats Domino was doing fine thank you, but it was a bit much for him to carry on on his own).

Some of the guys could sing (Frankie Avalon), some couldn’t (Fabian), few had musical talent. And I wouldn’t argue that every track on every Bobby Vee LP is a masterpiece. But when the voice and the song and the arrangement and the production came together, the results could be magnificent. And so we had Forget Him by Bobby Rydell, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes by Bobby Vee, Little Woman by Bobby Sherman, Togetherness by Frankie Avalon.

Notice – they were all white. All the teen idols, they were all white. One doesn’t have to be an expert in American sociology to understand that there were many reasons for that, and to imagine what they were. But it does raise the question of whether an African American singer could have been a teen idol, in the Bobby-Vee sense of the term. Kind of like asking whether white men can sing the blues, turned around (no not can blue men sing the whites, apologies to The Bonzo Dog Band).

Gene McDaniel may have been a contender. He worked in the context. He recorded for Liberty and his records were produced by Snuff Garrett, who worked wonders for Johnny Burnette and Bobby Vee, and later Gary Lewis. The songs would easily have fit the style of a lesser vocalist.

But Gene McDaniel was not a lesser vocalist. He was talented. He was a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter (he wrote Feel Like Makin’ Love by Roberta Flack). So we leave the question open.

My collection comes mostly from Hit After Hit, and album released by Liberty records in the early 60s. Had they titled it accurately, it would have been Hit After Hit after Non-hit After Hit after Non-hit…

Gene McDaniels passed away just over 2 months ago – July 29, 2011.

Gene McDaniels:

A Hundred Pounds Of Clay – The conceptualization of woman as Woman, the idealization of woman as Woman. Woman as plaything (“lots of lovin’ for a man.”) And let’s be honest, how many women weigh 100 lbs? This is dumb as dumb gets, but it works in the end because Snuff Garrett wins the day with the swooping strings and female chorus, and the fact that the tune gives the singer’s vocal range a workout doesn’t hurt either. From the spring of 1961.
Point Of No Return – The libidinous subtext is too obvious. Gene often sounded frantic and here is a good example. From the fall of 1962.
A Tear – Yet another song about crying, this one distills the process to its very essence. From the summer of 1961.
Tower Of Strength – The love song of a circus clown. This one maximized the caricature that McDaniel often portrayed, and turned A Hundred Pounds Of Clay on its head. From the fall of 1961. Coda: This was the first song I ever caught on cassette, as I was trying out my new wonder back when I was 12 years old. It was an oldie then, and it was the first time I’d heard it.
Send For Me – A hit for Nat King Cole, and this is what it sounds like with a bit of soul added.
It’s A Lonely Town – Sure it is, Heartbreak Hotel is around the corner. From the fall of 1963, his last appearance on the top 100.
Spanish Lace – It was a bit daring back then, I’d say, to mix up the minority groups like this. I’m sure there were people who were not happy. From the winter of 62/63.
It’s All In The Game – Honestly I have to admit that this isn’t my favourite song. It was a hit for Tommy Edwards and Cliff Richard and The Four Tops, and Van Morrison had a decent crack at it on Into The Music, though his version, single though it was, didn’t crack the charts. Neither did this one, though it probably wasn’t a single, but after all it may be the best of the bunch. Sorry Van.
Are You Sincere – Too many people playing too many games, you end up questioning everyone’s sincerity. A hit for Andy Williams and later for Trini Lopez.
Take Good Care Of Her – It was Adam Wade who did the hit version of this and did it well, taking the Bobby Vee idea and rendering it as a grownup would. Nothing wrong with McDaniels’ version either.
I Don’t Want To Cry – And for this he does Chuck Jackson. Chuck was great, but Gene was ok too.
Chip Chip – A lightweight pop song about infidelity and the how it ravages your life. That’s not to say it isn’t good. Only Garrett could pull this off. But seriously, can you “cheat a little bit?” From the winter of 1962.
Love Me Tender – I’ve always felt that Elvis’s version of this was underproduced; it sounds like a home demo, needs some meat. Percy Sledge put it back on the charts in 1967 and his was more on the money. But I prefer McDaniel’s vocals. A good one.
(There Was) A Tall Oak Tree – Theology mixed with ecology mixed with who knows what. The original was by Dorsey Burnette and this version isn’t any less dumb.
A Portrait Of My Love – And to close off, Gene does this mushy romantic love song, originally a hit for Steve Lawrence, and does it well. No surprise.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shep & The Limelites

Shep & The LimelitesWere The Limelites ever in the limelight? I don’t know really. Shep was the lead singer of The Heartbeats, then he was the lead singer of Shep & The Limelites. I don’t know if having his name up front made him happy.

Shep & The Limelites:

Our Anniversary – A rather maudlin ballad, charming in its own 50s ballad group way, this was a minor hit in the winter of 1962.
Daddy’s Home – Never clear whether this is a song from a father to a child or whether “daddy” is just a term of endearment between lovers. It works either way and that’s part of the beauty of this. The other part is just plain old fashioned sentiment. It functions as a sequel to A Thousand Miles Away by The Heartbeats, on which James “Shep” Sheppard sings lead. And the group harmonies are special. From the summer of 1961. I first heard this by Jermaine Jackson who updated this a little over a decade later, and he did it proud.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Linda Scott

Linda Scott Whitburn says that Linda Scott was the sister of Jack Scott; interesting, because Jack was Canadian, born in Windsor and lived near Detroit; Linda was American, born in Queens and lived in Teaneck. I guess Whitburn is to be taken with a grain of salt sometimes.

In the early 60s it was ok for girl singers to be adolescent. Guys too, but not in quite the same way. Guys were kind of doe-eyed and mooning; girls were out-and-out dreamers. Popular culture grows up; you couldn’t do this kind of thing anymore. Even boy bands are different - annoying sure, but in a totally different way.

Linda Scott put 2 hits into the top 10 in 1961, then watched her star slowly sink, until her 11th chart single managed to hit number 100 for one week in January, 1964.

Linda Scott:

I’ve Told Every Little Star – I was shocked (okay I wasn’t shocked, but I was sure surprised) to learn that this song was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein for a 1932 musical. The recording by Linda is so early 60s adolescent pop that it sounds like a counterpart to Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, and Bobby Curtola all rolled into one. That’s not to say it’s bad; au contraire, this song of infatuation insecurity makes transcendental human drama out of teen angst. And unlike, say Rosie (of The Originals) or Cathy Jean (of The Roommates), there’s a strength to Linda’s singing that tempers the vulnerability of the lyrics; we know she’s going to come out of this ok. Dum da dum. From the spring of 1961.
Bermuda – The land of shorts and triangles and, apparently, lost love. She should check out the triangle. From the winter of 1962.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ernie K-Doe

Ernie K-Doe This guy was one bizarre dude.

He had five top 100 records in 1961 – 1962. One reached number 1. None of the others made the top 40.

Ernie K-Doe:

Mother-In-Law – Very few top 40 records deal with family relationships, and those that do are rarely as brutally honest as this one. It’s supposed to be funny, but thousands, nay millions, of sons and daughters-in-law will tell you that it isn’t. A number 1 hit in the spring of 1961. Written by Allan Toussaint, who performed here at The Jazz Festival recently.
A Certain Girl – I’ve got a crush, and I’m not gonna tell you who she is. Saving himself ridicule perhaps? The world can be cruel sometimes. From the winter of 1961 / 1962. Covered by The Yardbirds.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Freddie King

For me, Freddie King is a little piece of Minnesota.

Growing up in the Canadian prairies put us in close range of Minnesota; the twin cities were a day’s drive away. But it was in the town of Detroit Lakes that we spent a week’s holiday in the summer of 1987, a town from the past, a town that must have been a popular beach spot in my parents’ day, but which for one reason or another had let time pass it by. An hour’s drive east of Fargo ND, the town had a nice beach front, a small amusement park for kids, some decent green space, fresh air, and nothing that hadn't been built at least 40 years earlier.

I must have been off on my own looking for groceries or something when I happened on this little shop that sold LPs. I don’t remember anything about it, what it looked like, what stock it carried, the street it was on. But I know that it was a small shop, and that I picked up a copy of Cruisin’ 1961. (I also picked up a second-hand copy of Animilization by The Animals.) (Just so you know.)

Cruisin’ 1961 was part of the Cruisin series, each LP of which featured a variety of hits from a particular year interspersed with radio talk from the era, which may or may not have been genuine. It seems to me that there were two such series, and if so this was the second. The featured DJ on this LP was Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg, who happened to be the Arnie of Jan & Arnie, the Arnie who was replaced by Dean. Also on the LP were hits by Del Shannon, Freddie Cannon, Chuck Berry, The Marcels etc. And even if you didn’t like the music (I don’t know why you wouldn’t, but let's just say), the entire series was worth buying for the covers alone.

Freddie King:

Hideaway - King lurked about the music scene for a few decades, not to be confused with BB or Ben E or Albert. (He is listed in Whitburn as “Freddy,” but everywhere else he is “Freddie.”) Given his musical stature his chart history is underwhelming, with only four top 100 singles, all in 1961. Hideaway was the only one to make the top 40. Eric Clapton played his version as a member of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers on the one LP he did with them in 1966.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Paul Revere & The Raiders

Paul Revere & The Raiders These guys were funny. That’s what I remember thinking. They’d show up regularly on Where The Action Is, Dick Clark’s rock and roll TV show from the mid 60s, or American Bandstand, and they’d be funny. They’d perform in Revolutionary War uniforms (I assume that’s what they were) and they’d clown around while did their song. Like The Beatles, they all had names and personalities: Mark and Paul, and Drake and Smitty and Fang.

After a few years the members started to leave, and the band became more anonymous, and so did its style, its garage band grit giving way to highly commercialized soul-rock fusion. Their chart placings got lower the farther the spotlight moved away, and within five years the band became has-beens. Welcome to the 60s. I can’t think of a better example of how the lightning fast changes of musical style happening then affected the pop stars that couldn’t quite keep up.

This collection is mostly All-Time Greatest Hits, which I picked up at Sam The Record Man after a long until-then fruitless search, plus Like Long Hair and the b side of Just Like Me from the singles, Over You from a Rhino Nuggets collection, and Indian Reservation from I don’t remember where.

Paul Revere & The Raiders:

Like Long Hair – Funny to think that “long hair music” once referred to the classics, but the title here is an obvious reference to what were then recent hits by the likes of Kokomo and B. Bumble & The Stingers, records that took their themes from Grieg and Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. The Raiders’ initial foray into the top 40 was likewise an instrumental, but the musical theme was original, at least in detail if not in spirit. It was a one-off shot on the Gardena label, from the spring of 1961, following which they would not be heard from again for 4 years.
Louie Louie – The Raiders’ take on this frat rock anthem was epic making, and, in my book, beat out the better known and bigger selling hit version by The Kingsmen by a garage rock mile. It wasn’t a hit, but it seemed to have made its way onto radio playlists anyway. If you want to hear The Beatles’ best North American pre-Byrds competition, this is a good place to start.
Over You – This cover of Aaron Neville’s ode to abuse was an obscure single by the band, and in those days you could do a song like this without batting an eye.
Steppin’ Out – Righteous anger personified, deserved to be way higher than the 46 that it ultimately placed in the fall of 1965. The Raiders’ first hit for Columbia, it kicked off a series of kick-butt-no-nonsense singles that lasted through the early part of 1967.
Just Like Me – Musically a Louie Louie rewrite, lyrically a manic tribute to out-of-controlness. Helped along by their ubiquitous TV presence, the group finally makes the big time, just missing the top 10. From late 1965.
Kicks – Mann and Weill wrote this musical anti-drug lecture well before Haight-Ashbury was a fact, and the song would rocket up to number 4 in the summer of 1966. A bit preachy, but also a bit catchy. Covered by Del Shannon, and later by The Nazz.
B.F.D.R.F. Blues – The flip side of Just Like Me, never on an album, a generic blues, more or less, and I have no idea what the initials stand for.
Hungry – Mark Lindsay sings like a man possessed, and the band plays like its collective life depends on it. An ode to ambition on steroids, and that fact that it is diametrically out of whack with the counterculture that was taking over didn’t prevent this song from going top 10 in the summer of 1966.
The Great Airplane Strike – It amazes me that this song was top 20 in the fall of 1966, not because it’s bad or anything, but because I don’t remember hearing it. I probably had the radio off for a few months. Labour unrest was never this much fun.
Good Thing – Not that the group never did a love song, but they certainly weren’t given to romantic mush. Here’s what happens when they get “sentimental.” From the winter of 66 / 67.
Ups And Downs – And here’s what happens when they get philosophical. The group was starting to disintegrate, the original personalities were flying the coup, and the sound was becoming more generic. From the winter of 1967.
Him Or Me – What’s It Gonna Be – We’re not taking any guff here, no begging or pleading, just lay it out. At least he’s giving her the chance. They are transitioning here to the soul-rock band they’d become by the end of the decade, but this may be the last single they made with the original spirit still intact. From the summer of 67.
Legend Of Paul Revere – Musical autobiography. Not the only group to do this – Them did The Story Of Them and The Animals did the story of The Animals masquerading as Bo Diddley. On this one they don’t forget to mention Dick Clark about a million times (ok maybe once, but you get the idea). This was the flip side of Him Or Me.
I Had A Dream – Not the John Prine song, but same idea. Nothing to do with Martin Luther King, this is just a love song. From the fall of 1967.
Too Much Talk – Here is where the group wants to be part of “what’s happening.” In fact they launched a new TV show; it was called Happening ’68, but it wasn’t happening. The song did better. That was the winter of 1968.
Do Unto Others – A sermon delivered with enough groove to redeem it. The B side of Peace Of Mind.
Peace Of Mind – A few years later Loggins & Messina did a song called Peace Of Mind that was quite peaceful. This one isn’t. Paul and Mark and the boys deliver a plea for tranquility that uses hysteria to get the point across. One hopes that the irony was deliberate. From the late part of 1967.
Don’t Take It So Hard – The love words of a cad. This ode to insensitivity was a hit in the summer of 1967.
Just Seventeen – Boyd Bennett sang Seventeen, Chuck Berry sang about the girl who was “too cute to be a minute over seventeen,” and The Beatles added “and you know what I mean.” There was always a touch of salaciousness, but the touch here becomes a clobber, as the group comes as close as it ever did to heavy metal. From the winter of 1970.
Cinderella Sunshine – About a girl who disappears when the sun comes up. Isn’t it the guy who typically disappears? From the fall of 1968.
Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon – In the grand tradition of Please Mr. Sun, the boys plead with the elements themselves to do cupid’s bidding. From the spring of 1969.
We Gotta All Get Together – Getting into that Woodstock spirit, a grand singalong, from the fall of 1969.
Let Me – No question that there is something unsavoury about a song like this (I mean “no means no” after all, right?) but there is also something unsettlingly refreshing about the honesty, because after a bit, one gets the feeling that so many of the love songs one hears are really just saying this in the end. From the summer of ’69.
Indian Reservation – This song is a bit of an anomaly in the group’s career. It was their last major hit, reaching number 1 (the group’s only) in the summer of 1971, temporarily reversing what had been a long downhill skid. They were billed as “The Raiders,” leading some, me included, to guess that Paul Revere had absconded, though in fact he had not, and it was a clear message song, by a group whose repertoire consisted of songs of lust, macho posturing, and vague social sentiment. The song was written by John Loudermilk, (Sittin’ In The Balcony, Tobacco Road etc), and had been a hit of sorts of Don Fardon in 1968, whose version reached number 20 though few remember it (I certainly don’t). A few months later they hit the top 20 for the last time, with Joe South’s Birds Of A Feather.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Del Shannon

Del Shannon’s last hit came in the spring of 1966. It was a remake of Miss Toni Fisher’s The Big Hurt and it only made it up to 94 on Billboard. I have it, though not on this collection. I have it on a CD called This Is My Bag / Total Commitment, which pairs two of Shannon’s mid 60s LPs on one collection. And it’s great example of time passing someone by.

Shannon managed to stay afloat even as The Beatles and their British contemporaries took over the musical imagination of North America. But once The Beatles started to go further afield, getting into their Revolver / Sgt. Pepper period, and psychedelia became the new musical lingua franca, the erstwhile Charles Westover had no place to go. So he tried his best, covering popular hits of the day, doing a few originals, but the effort was doomed. And so the pop charts never saw Del Shannon again.

The musical landscape is like our personal experience. Not all friends are long-term friends and not all relationships are long term relationships. Not all recording artists are meant to stick around. For every Rolling Stones, there are hundreds, thousands more likely, of Del Shannons. And they serve their purpose, and they enrich our lives, and they go their way…

Del Shannon:

Runaway - While Mark Dinning and Ray Peterson and Dickie Lee and J. Frank Wilson were singing about death, Del Shannon took a slightly different tack in an apparent attempt to get the new music to tackle serious subject matter. If this song weren’t so brilliant, it would be totally ridiculous. It’s offspring that run away, not girlfriends, though I suppose someone’s girlfriend is someone else’s offspring. On the other hand, she may be in a women’s shelter, which would make this song more sinister than I care to believe. It’s all too complicated for me to figure out. Doesn’t matter, though, when you hear that whatever-it-is solo in the middle. It’s as spooky as it needs to get. Del kicked his career off with this song, which reached number 1 in the spring of 1961. He started at the top, and worked his way down…
Hats Off To Larry – Good old Larry. You ever know a Larry? I did. But he didn’t dump anyone that I’m aware of. “I know it may sound strange,” sings our hero, “I want you back, I think you’ll change.” He’s right, it does sound strange. This song of romantic revenge was a hit in the summer of 1961.
So Long Baby – Ah, this is what I like, no whining, just good riddance. From the fall of 1961.
Hey! Little Girl – You know this is a daydream. You’ve been hurt, I’ve been hurt, let’s make each other feel better. A daydream. From the winter of 1961 / 1962.
Little Town Flirt – There’s one in every town. There must be, because each one has her own song. From the winter of 1963.
Two Kinds Of Teardrops – Just two? From the spring of 1963.
The Swiss Maid – This is where the fantasy gets really flaky. Heidi anyone? From the fall of 62.
Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun) – Del and his girl are being pursued. By whom? Don’t know. Why? Don’t know. Dave Marsh has called Del Shannon rock’s greatest paranoiac, and this is why. And the more out there he gets, the better the music gets. Great stuff. From early 1965.
Cry Myself To Sleep – Routine sadness. Not The Four Seasons song. From the summer of 1962.
Two Silhouettes – A total ripoff of The Rays’ hit from the late 50s. And the original is better. This is just a bit too over the top, without the redeeming hysteria of his better hits.
Stranger In Town – “We run, yeah we run..” Del shrieks. They are running, apparently, from some unexplained “stranger.” One imagines a cloaked figure with a derby hat and sunglasses (at night yet), lurking just out of sight. The drama of this is over-the-top, but the music is superb. From the winter of 65, this followed Keep Searchin’, which makes total sense.
From Me To You – Ok let’s talk about this. Nobody in North America had heard of The Beatles. A few independent record companies (notably Vee Jay) had released some of their early records, and they sank. Del Shannon comes along, picks up one of their early gems, does a more than respectable rendition, and, in the summer of 1963, half a year before I Want To Hold Your Hand changes history forever, the song climbs to number 77 on Billboard, disappears, and is forgotten. But give him credit. He was the first to put a Beatle song on the North American pop charts, and that fact that this wasn’t a massive hit says more about the arbitrariness of pop success than anything about the record itself, which would do anyone proud.
Do You Want To Dance – Another version of Bobby Freeman’s ground breaker, to sit alongside versions by The Beach Boys, Cliff Richard, The Mamas And The Papas, Bette Midler et al. From the fall of 1964.
Handy Man – A Revival of The Jimmy Jones I-am-a-stud anthem, which was only 4 years old then. From the summer of 1964.
I Go To Pieces – A Del Shannon original that became a hit for Peter & Gordon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Monty Sunshine

Jazz, did I mention that it’s not my first love? So when I listen to something and find myself liking it, I have to wonder whether I really like it, or whether I just think I like it. I found myself liking In A Silent Way by Miles Davis recently, and it confused me. And I found myself disliking a Return To Forever album (it was called Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy) and not liking something convinced me that I really did like the Miles Davis. That does make sense on some existential level. Don’t ask me to explain it more than that.

Monty Sunshine’s real name was apparently Monty Sunshine. And with a name like that how could he not be a jazz musician. His most famous moment was playing clarinet on Petite Fleur by Chris Barber, but he had quite the career as a staple of the UK jazz scene – nice Jewish boy, too.

Monty Sunshine:

Saturday Night Function – Must have been a small town by the sound of it...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mary Wells

Mary Wells Into The Music sold used LPs; they probably had a small selection of new LPs from time to time but it wasn’t their main business by any means. But one day, for reasons that elude me, they procured a shipment of Motown Anthologies; this was back in the day when the vinyl copies still existed with the original cover art that was very different from what it would later be on CD. I picked up The Marvelettes, first time I’d seen it, and the last time I saw the vinyl copy.

And Mary Wells. But unlike the others, Mary Wells did not have an “anthology.” Mary Wells, who left Motown after she hit it big with My Guy, could do no better than the Greatest Hits album that Motown released in 1965 as part of its Greatest Hits series, all of which, like the Anthology series later, had the same cover design.

Mary Wells, who was Motown’s first (and only, until Diana Ross went solo in 1970) successful female solo artist, had 12 top 100 hits on Motown through 1965, and had another 10 on 20th Century, Jubilee, and Atco through 1968. The latter, only one of which made the top 40, are not in wide circulation and aren’t really all that well-remembered. Her glory lies with the former.

Mary Wells:

The One Who Really Loves You – Who’s to say who really loves whom? A song lyric borne of competition, it poses a challenge. But the one who really loves you isn’t necessarily what it’s all about. From the summer of 1962.
You Beat Me To The Punch – The dynamics of initiative. We children of the 70s remember the Charity Brown version of this, but here is the original in all its glory. From the fall of 1962.
Two Lovers – It was Mary MacGregor who (weakly, I admit) challenged the mores of the world with Torn Between Two Lovers in 1977, and here the predecessor Mary gives us an early take, but she bails at the end. She has a BF, as it happens, with a psychological illness. I kid you not. Certainly one of the most bizarre storylines to come out of a Motown record. From the summer of 1963.
Your Old Stand By – Told from the POV of an afterthought. These are not such simple I love you and you love me songs. Much credit to songwriter Smokey Robinson who had the courage to tackle complex emotional stuff in the context of top 40 radio, and this back in the early 60s when Jackson Browne was just a baby. From the summer of 1963.
What’s Easy For Two Is So Hard For One – One could go all kinds of places with a title like that, but let’s don’t. From the winter of 1964.
My Guy –Smokey Robinson may be the only male songwriter who could write so convincingly from the feminine side. Ok, nothing profound here, but colourful and cheerful and, it its own way, challenging. “No handsome face could ever take the place of my guy.” Think about it. And only Smokey could come up with a line like “I’m sticking to my guy like a stamp to a letter.” Her only number one hit, and her swansong for Motown. From the spring of 1964.
Laughing Boy – That we don’t always show how we feel is a common theme in pop music, but it’s almost always told from the perspective of he who is doing the hiding. Here we have an interested observer. From the winter of 1963.
What Love Has Joined Together
Oh Little Boy (What Did You Do To Me) - We often hear “little girl;” “little boy” almost never. That whole male pride thing is at stake. She picks up the tempo on this, it could be a girl group hit but for the fact that there are no background singers on this at all.
Old Love (Let’s Try Again) – Those old feelings don’t go away easily. Let’s try again, it works sometimes, not often.
You Lost The Sweetest Boy – Not the handsomest / best looking, not the most athletic, not the wealthiest, not the smartest. From the fall of 1963.
Bye Bye Love – Mary’s debut hit falsely places her as kind of a female Isley Brothers; it was a style she (or, more likely, Berry Gordy) abandoned quickly. But it suits her, and one wonders where her career would have gone had she followed up. From the spring of 1961.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gene Pitney

It was one random afternoon when I should have been working, and I was scrounging through the LPs at Comic World when I was delighted to find all three volumes of Gene Pitney’s Big 16. No, it did not take three LPs to encompass 16 songs. No. Each LP had 16 songs on its own. So one could argue that the series should have been entitled Gene Pitney’s Big 48. My best guess, though, is that nobody planned this out. So we have to live with the anomaly.

But my delight was real. I already had an LP called Gene Pitney’s 16 Greatest Hits, the 16 tracks of which corresponded to none of the Big 16 volumes exactly, and which, in fact, had one track that was on none, believe it or not, and I had some pre-recorded cassette that had Louisiana Mama, so now I had the makings of a stupendous collections. And that’s what I assembled, using a more or less random sequencing algorithm (I closed my eyes and pointed).

Three of his top 100 singles are missing here – one is I’ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night, a duet with George Jones, one is That Girl Belongs To Yesterday, an obscure Jagger-Richards composition, and the last is She Let’s Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning), a song better known by The Tokens. I’ve got all three somewhere else, just for the record. I should get to it around 2025.

Gene Pitney:

Billy You’re My Friend – Not any more, apparently. She’s A Heartbreaker, which was a hit in the summer of 1968, was Pitney’s last stab at top 40 success. This was his follow up, and bears the mark of its time, replete with tempo changes, a middle eight with a piano credenza worthy of Franz Liszt, and an arrangement that’s an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of Richard Harris’ McArthur Park, one of the most despised records of all time. All that was missing was believable human drama. This tale of romantic betrayal by one’s “best friend” was sadly juvenile for all the effort that went into this. From the fall of 1968.
Yesterday’s Hero – The intro sounds like he’s declaring war on his own ego. Behind it is the tale of psychological insecurity, adequacy by association. It’s all too familiar, but sooner or later it would catch up with him, one way or another. From the spring of 1964.
Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa – This may be the most over-the-top tale of infidelity in all of pop music, and that’s some accomplishment. Not only does a one-night stand turn into a lifetime commitment, but Gene walks away from a perfectly good (we have no reason to believe otherwise) relationship, for some floozy he met in a roadside diner. “One day away from your arms,” he sings. How many days from her legs? From the fall of 1963.
Only Love Can Break A Heart – I have heard that the best way to cure a hangover is to have more of what caused it. That’s kind of the message here, though transposed to a romantic context. Indeed, “only love can mend it again.” There’s much to be said for time, but this isn’t the place for self-help books. This syrupy ballad was Pitney’s highest placing single, reaching number 2 in the fall of 1962.
Not Responsible – There is something vaguely threatening about this I-can’t-control-myself declaration. But Gene’s take sounds positively tame compared to Tom Jones’.
Teardrop By Teardrop – Heartbreak and tears, they go together like peanut butter and jam…
Donna Means Heartbreak – How to depersonalize the disintegration of a relationship.
Aladdin’s Lamp – Aladdin himself is there in the background. Listen Gene, wishful thinking will never replace action. Get on or something…
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Over the top frontier drama, this was the theme from the movie, but Pitney’s vocal’s were not used. It’s the fiddle that gives it just a touch of authenticity, and he pulls this off surprisingly well, considering how unsuited his voice is for westerns. From the summer of 1962.
Keep Telling Yourself – A song about self-delusion.
Mecca – They live on opposite sides of the street, but she may as well be in Mecca. I don’t know, even then they had commercial flights to Mecca, no? A song about obstacles. The mid-eastern touches are kitschy and utterly charming. From the spring of 1963.
Town Without Pity – Here he’s encroaching on Del Shannon territory, just a touch of paranoia. One wonders what everyone is so up in arms about. From the winter of 1962.
Tower Tall – A song about promises. Good luck.
Cry Your Eyes Out – A revenge song, and not the song by Les Emmerson.
True Love Never Runs Smooth – No it doesn’t, but he is willing to go the limit. It’s worth “the heartache and the pain we share” he says, but the heartache and the pain isn’t what you share, it’s what you endure alone. Still, at least he isn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses. From the summer of 1963.
Take Me Tonight – Considering the title and the subject matter, this is quite lame. Unbridled lust isn’t what Gene does best I guess.
Half Heaven, Half Heartache – He’s got the girl he wants, but she is still hung up on the other guy. I feel your pain Gene, but give it time, and if things don’t get better, give her the heave-ho. The pain in his voice as he soars on the chorus is the embodiment of how it feels not to be able to change things. From the winter of 1963.
I Wanna Love My Life Away – Sounds like a plan. No need for mortgages, job interviews, hospital visits, summer camp, in-laws, etc. Just love love love. Go for it. This one-man-band performance was Gene’s first hit. It barely cracked the top 40 in the winter of 1961.
If I Didn’t Have A Dime – A song about serendipity. There she was, the girl of his dreams, “ruby lips and golden hair, beside the jukebox.” Sounds a bit sleazy to me but it’s not my trip. Wistful stuff. From the fall of 1962, the flip side of Only Love Can Break A Heart.
It Hurts To Be In Love – Another song about pain and unrequited love. A great drummer and a marching rhythm help it along. From the fall of 1964.
Oh Annie Oh – Gene goes folk. Light that bonfire…
Today’s Teardrops – This is chirpy; Paul Anka couldn’t have done it better.
Fool Killer – Not The Mose Allison song. It’s supposed to have a moral I suppose but the concept falls apart with the concept of “fool.”
Laurie – Not the Dickie Lee song, but, oddly, both songs are about a dead girl. This is meant to be wistful, but it’s just a bit morbid.
Backstage (I’m Lonely) – Another song about the lonely life of the pop star. This one is a bit mundane, Gene merely pining for his girl, with the added attraction of acknowledgement of his star status. I wonder if the crowds in real life were as big as they were in the song. From the fall of 1966.
She’s A Heartbreaker – Gene updated. The sound is modernized, bringing our hero into the late 60s, even giving him a bit of a soul edge, but the lyrics are typical evil woman stuff. From the summer of 1968.
Little Betty Falling Star – Romance meets astronomy, and they both lose.
Brandy Is My True Love’s Name – And Brandy is a heck of a drink. Gene brings all the folk authenticity one can possibly stand to this ode to alcohol.
I’m Gonna Be Strong – Because showing that you care, showing that you’re sad, showing that this is hard for you, that’s all evidence of weakness. Clearly. From the winter of 1964/65.
Hello Mary Lou – His best records were written by others, while his songs were best recorded by others. Hello Mary Lou was probably the best remembered song by Ricky Nelson, and Loggins & Messina and The Statler Brothers had their various cracks at it as well.
I Love You More Today – A slight country flavour informs this tale of love that gets better every day. So yesterday wasn’t so hot?
Half The Laughter, Twice The Tears – And here we find Gene trying hard to get into that slight-soulful mid 60s groove, and not quite getting there...
Lyda Sue – A humorous look at self destruction. Ha ha ha.
Every Breath I Take – Phil Spector produced this, just before he launched his own record company, and I wonder if anyone else could have made such a massive monument out of a song this slight – vocal chorus that sounds like the Vienna Mens’ Chorus with sock hop fever, a string section that could be the strings of the NY Philharmonic after they had a few too many, and a drummer (probably Hal Blaine) to remind us of how serious this is – Pitney never made another record like this and neither did Spector, and thank goodness, the world couldn’t stand it. Make no mistake though, this is pure genius. It was too much for most people though; it didn’t get higher than number 42 on Billboard, just before Pitney hit the big time with Town Without Pity. From the fall of 1961.
I Laughed So Hard I Cried – Yet another take on the crying clown theme.
I Must Be Seeing Things – Yet another betrayed-by-a-best-friend drama, this may be the strangest of all. He spots his girl with his BFF (of course), manages to catch every word of their bizarre conversation, while they don’t see him. He is, of course, eating his heart out. From the winter of 1965.
Just One Smile – As Gene struggles with the reality of a broken relationship, he still hopes for that bandaid that will salvage it. The emotion is all too real, and so is the hopelessness that’s just under the surface. BST covered this on their first album, the one with Al Kooper. From the winter of 1967.
Rags To Riches – Gene’s rocked up arrangement of this Tony Bennett hit works surprisingly well.
Born To Lose – Known by Tennessee Ernie Ford and by Ray Charles, Gene’s recording of this works better than I’d expect. Much of the credit goes to tasteful arrangement, which starts with muted acoustic guitar, bass, and drum, and which the piano then the chorus then electric guitar enter one by one...
Last Chance To Turn Around – This one has Gene screaming and yelling about how he’ll show her. Meanwhile I wonder why he won’t have another chance to turn around. Is he driving into the ocean? From the summer of ’65.
Amor Mio – Gene sings love to a Mexican beauty - a song that cops the rhythm and chord structure straight from La Bamba.
Looking Through The Eyes Of Love – In the eyes of the world he’s a useless loser; in the eyes of his lover he’s the greatest hero. Ok. I’ll buy that. But what is he in his own eyes? That image, looking through the eyes of love, played out very strangely in my 8 year old mind when this was a hit in the summer of 1965.
Remind Her Of Me – I think of her all the time. I want her to think of me, remember how happy we were. How the heck does he know she isn’t?
I Can’t Stop Loving You – Written and originally recorded by Don Gibson, and a major hit for Ray Charles, Gene’s version is unlike either.
I’m Afraid To Go Home – A real song that tackles the real trauma of the ravages of war. It is specifically about the Civil War but the message is universal. With this one Gene proves once and for all that he’s a contender.
Stay – Not the Maurice Williams song. Don’t go…
On The Street Where You Live – Originally from My Fair Lady and a hit for Vic Damone, if this weren’t so hokey it might be one of the best songs about falling in love. Alas…
There’s No Livin’ Without Your Lovin’ – A journeyman love song, and a minor hit later for Peter & Gordon.
Princess In Rags – One of those minor subcategory of pop song – the poor girl rich boy saga (or vice versa). The Four Seasons had a good time with it (Rag Doll, Dawn) and so did Billy Joe Royal (Down In The Boondocks) and so did Roy Orbison (Working For The Man), and so even did Jay & The Americans (Only In America). This is somewhat unusual in that there doesn’t seem to be any opposition to the union. Go Gene. From the winter of ’65 / 66.
Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers had presumably not yet gotten hold of this when Gene did his take, and his take is unlike any other, with orchestration reminiscent of Ravel himself, with special kudos to the harpist. I still prefer the totally syrupy but irresistible original by Les Baxter, and this doesn't have the sheer drama of the Spector production, but this is ok.
Close To My Heart – Another journeyman trip.
I Really Don’t Want To Know – Oh yes you do Gene, yes you do. I must have 2 dozen versions of this in my collections, and there are hundreds out there. The hit versions were by Les Paul & Mary Ford, Tommy Edwards, Ronnie Dove, and Elvis Presley. The rest is commentary. Go forth and learn…
All The Way – Frank Sinatra recorded this, as did Neil Sedaka and many other respectable performers, and so the potential lewdness in the title / lyrics gets swept away. Gene doesn’t bring it back out.
Louisiana Mama – This ode to a Cajun beauty was Gene’s follow-up to his debut, but it managed to avoid the charts altogether. Admittedly, it’s dippy…

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Johnny Maestro

What happened to Johnny Maestro between 1961 and 1968? The Best Of Johnny Maestro, where my collection comes from, has only 3 tracks he recorded as a solo artist, all three from 1961, and all 3 chart hits. Before that he sang bel canto doo-wop with The Crests, and in the late 60s / early 70s he was lead singer of Brooklyn Bridge, Buddah Records’ answer to Gary Puckett & The Union Gap (as if an answer were required). And those missing years? No idea, nothing comes up in the usual sources, and I can’t find any unusual sources.

And whatever happened to him, it’s too bad, because he was good. He held his own among the best of the teen idols of his day, and for the most part he could sing circles around Bobby Vee or Bobby Rydell. So I’ll keep checking Amazon for Johnny Maestro: The Missing Years, but I’m not holding my breath…

Johnny Maestro:

Model Girl – Model as in Christie Brinkley? Model as in plastic glue-it-yourself airplane? More like model as in “role model.” She can’t possibly live up to the hype, but while those strings are playing and his voice is soaring the fantasy is just too real. From the spring of 1961. “When I saw you walking down the street…”
What A Surprise – This is as silly as Model Girl is fanciful, but when I hear Johnny sing I forgive him everything. I have to wonder what would have happened had he just given up and gone home… From the summer of 1961.
Mr. Happiness – We’re getting a bit mundane here and it showed in the results; the song didn’t get higher than number 57 on Billboard, and it was his last hit before he resurfaced with The Brooklyn Bridge. From the summer of 1961, a bit later than What A Surprise.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Kokomo The fact that Kokomo was Jimmy Wisner, and that Jimmy Wisner had a successful career as an all-around music guy (jazz musician, songwriter, producer, arranger, etc.) seems strangely irrelevant. His alter-ego is what lives on in the hearts and minds of anyone who became enamoured of his irreverent take on the classics that’s embodied on his one and only hit.


Asia Minor – Cute title, but the song has nought to do with Asia. It is a rock and roll adaptation of the main theme of the first movement of Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor (get it?). This kind of thing was a minor (no pun intended) subgenre of pop music for a while (B. Bumble & The Stingers etc), and it somehow seems to take all the pomp out of those 70s progressive rock groups like Yes and ELP and even Exception who made a career of merging (or attempting to merge, depending on one’s opinion of their success) rock music with classical forms, and sometimes with classical music itself. ELP spent an entire LP torturing Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, but here this guy had it all figured out in 3 minutes. From the spring of 1961.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Echoes

Another group with no biographical information whatsoever. The Wikipedia entry is about a different group entirely. I have to admit, it’s not easy to google “Echoes” and come up with anything useful. The group actually had a follow-up to Baby Blue, but it didn’t get past number 88 and that was it.

The Echoes:

Baby Blue – For all its adolescent gloss, this isn’t just a straightforward love song. Here we have the phenomenon of characterization, our hero establishing his loved one’s identity with the epithet described by the song title. No other name will do. Can you say “pigeonhole?” From the spring of 1961.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cathy Jean & The Roommates

Cathy Jean & The Roommates have the distinction of having no Wikipedia entry. They do have an entry in, but there is no biographical information there. I had to resort to to find out that Cathy Jean’s surname was Giordano. She was 15 when she recorded her one and only hit with The Roommates, and they weren’t much older. The article says that the parts were recorded separately, so the she never actually met the group, but the photos say otherwise. It is fairly certain, thought, that they were not actually roommates at any time…

Cathy Jean & The Roommates:

Please Love Me Forever – Listen to the adolescent inflection on the vowels of “forever.” This is archetypal adolescent turnaround-chord-pattern music, with a helium voiced singer singing of story-book love. From the spring of ’61, their only hit, though The Roommates (sans Cathy) scored small time with Glory Of Love. It was a hit later for Bobby Vinton.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Marcels

The Marcels I admit it. I got a lot of my rock and roll education from a Sha Na Na album. The LP was called The Golden Age Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, and I picked it up in Fargo, ND. I was about 15, and I was unfamiliar with the majority of the songs on the 4 sides. Over the years, I got to know the originals, one by one.

What became obvious after a while was how the group took so many songs from (slightly) different time periods, of different styles, and rendered them all in the same Sha Na Na style, using the same common denominator. Hearing the originals meant hearing the song without the layer of camp with which the group covered everything.

Blue Moon was the exception. It was the one song that the group did not have to do anything with, because all the camp was there to begin with. The Marcels were not the first doo-wop “comedy” group – The Coasters beat them to it by almost a decade – but they were certainly the first nationally famous group that poked fun at the genre as a genre. And they did it by taking Tin Pan Alley favourites and arranging them in a style that represents doo-wop in excelsis.

The Marcels:

Blue Moon – By Rogers & Hart, the song is almost sacred in its place in American popular culture. The Marcels ripped the sacredness to shreds and got themselves a number 1 hit. Elvis Presley’s cover, recorded for Sun Records at the dawn of his career, was a lot more subtle in its sacrilege, and Bob Dylan’s recording on Self Portrait was almost totally straight. The Cowboy Junkies’ version on The Trinity Sessions has a sanctity of its own. From the spring of 1961.
Heartaches – “Here we go again!” they yell off the top, and indeed they do. Still, the novelty was wearing off; but, even so, this cover of a 1931 Tin Pan Alley standard was top 10 fare. I have versions by The Ames Brothers and Patsy Cline. From the winter of 61 / 62.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Carla Thomas

“You are near the end of your life!” So said my 24 year old co-worker, in all innocence. Thanks.

Well I hope he’s wrong. But to him I guess I’m old. And the thing about getting older is that there are parts of our personality that change, that mature, that get wiser. But the trick is to balance that with a perpetual sense of youthfulness where such is needed; we don’t want to become old fogies. We want to retain a sense of adventure, a sense of delight, a sense of humour, those characteristics that some of us lose as we get older, and others of us work very hard to maintain.

Carla Thomas was a soul singer who had 15 hits on the pop charts (20 if you count duets) between 1961 and 1969. She recorded for Stax and had an incredibly powerful voice the tone of which sat in a kind of odd place between the adolescent fantasy of Cathy Jean (of the Roommates) or Kathy Young (of the Innocents) and, say, Aretha or Etta James – not quite adolescent, not quite adult. It’s that odd emotional tone of hers that may have prevented her from being a bigger star; only four of the aforesaid 20 hits made the top 40, and 2 of those were with Otis Redding.

This collection consists of all the Carla Thomas tracks, and all the Carla & Rufus tracks, from The Complete Singles 1959 - 1968, a collection of recordings released on Stax – Volt, which is odd because not all her hits are here. Some of the tracks included were actually released on Atlantic. I can’t make head or tail of it.

Rufus, by the way, was her father, Rufus Thomas, who was a Memphis DJ and recording artist, best known perhaps for Walking The Dog and Do The Funky Chicken.

“How old are you?” he asked after considering the matter. “54” I told him and he, well, he conceded. “That’s not too old.” Thanks. I’ll just go listen to some Carla Thomas now…

Carla Thomas:

‘Cause I Love You – Rufus & Carla. Just some sporting give and take to get her career off the ground. This is more Rufus than Carla and it’s all she can do to keep up with her rough sounding father.
Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes) – Her consummate performance. She puts on that adolescent fantasy voice and runs with it, and this is the perfect vehicle. Nobody, of course, could stand on the pedestal she creates here (“he has everything a girl could want;” now what would that be exactly?) but so what? We are entitled to this type of thing once in a while, so long as we don’t make a lifetime habit of it. Her first and biggest record, from the spring of 1961.
A Love Of My Own – Gee Whiz redux, but there’s no guy. Trying to put yourself in the context of the world, mountains and streams and that kind of thing. It’s a bit of a stretch; maybe that’s why it wasn’t a hit.
(Mama, Mama) Wish Me Good Luck – “Remember the boy back home?” she asks, “All he ever did was make me moan.” Well, that could mean all sorts of things. But it’s not good in Carla’s world. Put this in that list of Mother-daughter songs (Mama Said etc.) where the bond is a healthy one.
I Kinda Think He Does – Carla’s ballad style applied to a something that’s somewhere between infatuation and wishful thinking, with just a pinch of denial.
I’ll Bring It On Home To You – An answer song to Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me, in which our heroine dismisses his declarations of self-sacrifice as being entirely unnecessary. From the fall of 1962.
What A Fool I’ve Been – She wants her man back and she’s willing to eat dust. Not clear here exactly what makes her a “fool;” we suspect nothing. From the summer of 1963.
Gee Whiz It’s Christmas – Stax’s contribution to the season. Carla writes a letter to her loved one. All in the spirit.
That’s Really Some Good – Rufus & Carla. More of that sniping. She really came into her own when she went head to head with Otis Redding. From the summer of 1964.
Night Time Is The Right Time – Rufus & Carla. Up to now I’ve held my peace, but the father and daughter team getting down and dirty, well, there’s something not right. A cover of the Ray Charles song. From the summer of 1964, the flip of That’s Really Some Good.
How Do You Quit (Someone You Love) – It looks easy from the outside. But walking away isn’t just about the person from whom you are walking away. It’s about leaving your life, your routine, your place of comfort (emotional if not physical), your future, your dreams. The whole shape of your life changes radically. And here she is into that zone where reality is too hard to deal with, even though his infidelity is staring her in the face. There is too much truth in this for 3 minute R&B song that didn’t even make the pop charts…
Stop! Look What You’re Doin’ – It was The Supremes that took this concept to number 1. Carla’s version didn’t get past 92, but it was the more real of the two. From the summer of 1965.
When You Move You Lose – Rufus & Carla. Finally Carla gets the upper hand. And we finally here that Stax funk kickin’ in…
Comfort Me – So many songs about thrills, and excitement, and the rush of new love, but here we have another side of the equation.
Birds And Bees – Rufus & Carla. A cover a The Birds And The Bees by Jewel Akens.
Let Me Be Good To You – It’s not about what you can do for me, it’s about what I can do for you. From the spring of 1966.
B-A-B-Y – This wasn’t among Carla’s most powerful performances, but for some reason this was her mid-60s hit. From the fall of 1966.
The Complete SinglesAll I Want For Christmas Is You – An old theme, and the style his lets up on the Stax sound that’s come to dominate her records, but it doesn’t quite scale back as far as her early 60s ballads. And I don’t know how the guy could resist… http
Something Good (Is Going To Happen To You) – This song about good karma was a hit in the winter of 1967.
When Tomorrow Comes – An update of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. I think that the protagonists are a bit older. A minor hit in the spring of 1967.
I’ll Always Have Faith In You – The secularization of pure gospel. From the summer of 1967.
Pick Up The Pieces – How much damage can you do before the relationship becomes unsalvageable? From the summer of 1967. Not the AWB song.
A Dime A Dozen – “Don’t hold my love cheap.” A song about self-esteem.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adam Wade

I was listening to that Myrtle Beach station again, and I knew that I’d be posting this so I requested Adam Wade, but I don’t know if they played it because I was on my lunch for an hour of the 2 hour request show.

But I think I’m starting the get it, the whole “beach music” thing. As I sit and listen to it all day, it becomes its own world, a world that is as much about what it excludes as what it includes, it’s a mind-set, and it’s certainly not something that I can explain more than that.

There’s no question that Adam Wade fits right in. Wikipeida compares his style to Johnny Mathis but don’t believe it; he had a heck of a lot more soul than that. I doubt they play Mathis in Myrtle Beach.

The man had 11 hits on the pop charts, all but one during 1960 and 1961 (a cover of Crying In The Chapel turned up in 1965) and I don’t have a very good collection, with only one of his hits and a couple other random tracks.

Adam Wade:

Rain From The Sky – Where else would rain come from? Another song about crying.
Take Good Care Of Her – Pop music is rife with songs of jealousy that pretends not to be jealousy. Well, wait, no it’s not exactly jealousy; it’s beyond, it’s out and out resentment, but it masquerades as generosity of spirit. You won her, I lost her, I wish you the best, take care of her. There is an arrogance in the sentiment, a sense of proprietorship, misplaced magnanimity, that gives the lie to the whole thing. From the spring of 1961.
Around The World – A cover of the 50s hit by everybody.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

April, 1961

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