Monday, February 28, 2011

Skeeter Davis

Skeeter Davis When I was already a young adult my father brought me a small collection of 45s that he’d salvaged from a house he’d listed and sold. Apparently the erstwhile children had outgrown their record collection and I was to be lucky benefactor. What was a bit unsettling was that I knew the family; they had two kids, the oldest of whom was exactly my age.

It’s 30 years later, and I still haven’t outgrown those records.

What was in the pile. Well, I remember Early In The Morning by Vanity Fare. Maybe as I go through my collection more I’ll remember others. But I do remember the oddest one. It was a version of One Tin Soldier. Now, One Tin Soldier had been a hit for The Original Caste in 1969, and for a group called Coven a few years later (though I was unfamiliar with that one), but the record I got my hands on was by neither of those. The record I got my hands on was by Skeeter Davis, a singer whom I’d never heard of.

It eludes me to this day. It doesn’t seem as if Skeeter ever had a hit with that song, not pop nor country. Possibly it was a B side? But I would have noticed, I think.

Not surprising that I’d never heard of her though. She hadn’t had a record on the pop charts since 1964, and she wasn’t exactly popular on the flashback circuit. I found The Best Of Skeeter Davis at Value Village, it was a bit beat up but serviceable, and I paid exactly $1.00 for it. It was an old first-run RCA album, and it had every one of her top 100 hits on it.

Skeeter Davis:

The End Of The World – A totally over-the-top heartbreak ballad, and they don’t come any better. Herman’s Hermits did a version of this that I grew up with; it was on Herman’s Hermits On Tour. From the winter of 1963.
I Can’t Help You (I’m Falling Too) – An answer record of sorts to Please Help Me I’m Falling By Hank Locklin. From the fall of 1960.
I’m Saving My Love – A song of unrequited love, from the summer of 1963.
I Will – Not The Beatles song. Another heartbreak song. All she wants is for him to come back. In real life she’d throw his clothes in the street. This was a hit in 1965 for Dean Martin.
Something Precious – A song of loss, a bit cloying.
Now I Lay Me Down To Weep –A play on the prayer, obviously. She is sad here, no question. Her tale of sleeplessness and wanting to die verges on mood disorder territory.
Gonna Get Along Without You Now – A lot healthier than those weepy ones. From the spring of 1964, her last pop hit. Trini Lopez did this.
He Says The Same Things To Me – You can guess what this is. From the winter of 1964.
I Can’t Stay Mad At You – This song is definitely an underrated girl group classic, not bad for a country singer. From the fall of 1963.
I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know – Singing to her successor in “his” affections. Dylan covered this on Self Portrait, but I like Skeeter better.
My Last Date (With You) – The end of the relationship, not a happy situation. This was a big instrumental hit for Floyd Cramer (called just Last Date).From the winter of 1961.
Am I That Easy To Forget? – A hit for Debbie Reynolds, and later for Engelbert Humperdinck.
One Tin Soldier – A cover of the hit by Original Caste / Coven. A morality tale which never made all that much sense to me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ferrante & Teicher

Ferrante & Teicher There are two guys who play piano. You need one, you get two. So what we get ultimately is a lot of flourishes, a lot of cascading runs, many thunderous chords, and no shortage of bombast. Elevator music doesn’t get better than this. The orchestration is worthy of Gustav Mahler.

This collection is an assembly of two double albums, The Best Of Ferrante & Teicher, and 10th Anniversary Collection, and still it only manages to include five of the eleven songs they put on the charts.

Ferrante & Teicher:

Tonight – From West Side Story, one of their three top 10 hits. From the winter of 1961 / 1962.
The Windmills Of Your Mind – A hit for Dusty Springfield on this side of the Atlantic, for Noel Harrison on the other. Originally from The Thomas Crowne Affair. I’ve always loved this melody.
Tara’s Theme – From Gone With The Wind.
More – The theme from Mondo Cane, again. A hit for Kai Winding.and recorded my millions.
Oliver – Very chirpy, this one. From Oliver, obviously
The Impossible Dream – From Man Of La Mancha, a hit for Jack Jones.
Theme From “The Apartment” – Their first hit, from the fall of 1960. From the movie where Jack Lemmon played a nebbish, and Fred McMurray, everyone’s favourite good guy TV father, played the scoundrel. Shirley McLaine was the girl.
Aquarius – From Hair, and a hit for the Fifth Dimension
Lara’s Theme – aka Somewhere My Love, a hit for Ray Conniff, and originally from Dr. Zhivago.
What Now My Love – A 60s standard, and a hit for Mitch Ryder, for Sonny & Cher, and for Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, none of which version became standards.
Greensleeves – English folk music
Exodus – There’s so much drama in this song you’d think it was the original exodus. This was the theme from the movie, written by Elmer Bernstein, and hit also for Mantovani and for Eddie Harris. Apparently Pat Boone did a hit version, which I assume had the words, thought the only vocal version I’m aware of is the one by Sammy Davis Jr.
Alfie – From Alfie. A hit for Dionne Warwick, and a lesser hit for Cher, whose version graced the movie.
A Man And A Woman – Another movie theme, but this wasn’t a hit for anyone.
Clare de Lune – The boys go classical. This is Debussy, with orchestra added for good measure.
Spanish Eyes – A Bert Kaempfert composition. It was a hit for Al Martino. The pianos on this are surprisingly subdued, and there is some great percussion.
Yesterday – The Beatles’ hit of course. They do a surprisingly moving version, with a brief symphonic intro, slightly reminiscent of Beethoven’s 9th. Not what Paul had in mind perhaps, but he wasn’t consulted.
Moon River – They wouldn’t be true muzak impresarios if they didn’t have a crack at this. Originally a hit for composer Henry Mancini, and, though long forgotten, by Jerry Butler. It's from Breakfast At Tiffany's.
Those Were The Days – Mary Hopkins’ hit from 1968.
The Girl From Ipanema – The bossa nova classic, originally a hit for Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto. They lose the bossa nova.
Misty – A hit for Johnny Mathis, and Ray Stevens did a great country version.
Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 in G Major – This is actually an expert from the 2nd movement, known in the pop music world as “Elvira Madigan” after a movie in which it was featured. Surprise, this is not Mozart’s original orchestration, or piano arrangement.
Can’t Stop Loving You – The Tom Jones hit, not the Don Gibson song / Ray Charles hit.
El Condor Pasa – Simon & Garfunkel’s hit from 1970
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – The Hollies’ hit from 1970, and also a hit by Neil Diamond in the same year.
Midnight Cowboy – From the tale end of 1969. Midnight Cowboy was a novel by James Leo Herlihy and a movie with Dustan Hoffman and Jon Voigt, and it was a rare instance of the movie matching the novel for power. They used Harry Nilsson’s recording of Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talking as the theme music, and this song, written by John Barry, who did the soundtrack, was used in the background.
(They Long To Be) Close To You – Bacharach & David’s song floated around for a few years before The Carpenters chopped off the parenthetical section of the title and used the song to kick start an amazingly successful career.
MacArthur Park – Another version of Jimmy Webb’s hated song, a hit for Richard Harris in 1968.
Honey – Hearing their version of the Bobby Russell song / Bobby Goldsboro hit, one realizes two things: There isn’t all that much of a melody to it, and it’s better without the words.
Sunny – Bobby Hebb’s hit from 1966.
For Once In My Life – Stevie Wonder’s hit from 1968.
A Familiar Concerto – This is the section of Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebooks that was used by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell when they “wrote” it and handed it to The Toys, whose version went top 10 in 1965. It was called A Lover’s Concerto.
Lay Lady Lay – Bob Dylan’s hit from 1969. It was a hit by our boys in the spring of 1970, if you can call a song that reached number 99 on the top 100 a hit.
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head – From Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, and a hit for B. J. Thomas in 1970.
Something – George Harrison’s only number 1 hit with The Beatles. Sinatra even covered this. Ferrante & Teicher
Little Green Apples – Bobby Russell again. A hit for O. C. Smith and for Roger Miller.
Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet – Henry Mancini’s hit from 1969. Nice, but Hank had the last word.
Goin’ Out Of My Head – A hit for Little Anthony & The Imperials, and a 60s pop standard. Sinatra did this one too.
The Sounds Of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel’s hit from 1965.
Born Free – From the movie and another John Barry soundtrack. Roger Williams had the hit in 1966.
By The Time I Get To Phoenix – Another Jimmy Webb song, and a hit for Glen Campbell in 1968.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Joanie Sommers

Joanie Sommer There was this parade of girl singers hitting the pop charts one after the other during the years before The Beatles, all singing wistfully of love and romance and blissfully unaware of bodily fluids. In the 50s they barely existed. Instead we had adult singers like Jane Morgan and Gogi Grant. When Connie Francis came along she brought teen sensibility to the genre.

Annette may have been the real prototype, though she was a bit more chipper than most and her big screen presence made her unique. Later came Connie Stevens, Joanie Sommers (are heroine for today), Shelley Fabares, Little Peggy March, Marcie Blane.

Then when Dusty Springfield arrived in late 1963 she blew them all out of the water, but that’s a story for another day.

Joanie was a light hitmaker, having put 3 singles into the top 100, one in 1960, two in 1962.

Joanie Sommers:

One Boy – Ann-Margaret sang this in the movie version of Bye Bye Birdie, and Joanie’s hit version didn’t make it any higher on Billboard than 54. It’s a whimsical romantic song about specialness, not necessarily about quantity. From the summer of 1960. Bobby Vee had a crack at One Last Kiss.
Johnny Get Angry – We could do a dissertation on this one. The song really isn’t about anger; it’s about indifference, about caring enough to get angry when the situation warrants it. Stand up for me, says Joanie, stand up for yourself, stand up for us. Heavy stuff for a song about a boy names Johnny. From the summer of 1962.
Never Throw Your Dreams Away – I wrote down When The Boys Get Together on the label, but that’s not what I’m hearing. I can’t explain it. I must be subject to temporary blackouts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Valentine's Day, 2011

Ok I’m late, I’m sorry I’m sorry. It was a few days ago, Valentine’s Day, but I was otherwise occupied just around that time, not that, you know, this blog isn’t my first priority all the time.

I thought maybe the most ridiculous thing to do was a list of special love songs. I mean let’s get real. Probably 99% of all pop / rock / jazz / MOR / country songs are love songs.

So I’ll do something just slightly less ridiculous – breakup songs. This isn’t anything stupid like the 10 best or anything, forget that. This is just a list of some songs that I think are special, songs that for one reason or another have meant something to me at one time or another. It isn’t even my 10 favourite, I don’t think I have 10 favourite and if I do it would take me a long time to figure out what they were.

So let’s have some fun with heartbreak:

Jim Croce – Lover’s Cross: This comes from his last album, I’ve Got A Name, which I’ve owned since I was in high school. And every time I’ve heard this song, from then until now, it makes my heart ache. "I’ve come to my decision," he sings, "and it’s one of the painful kind." Painful, yes, it’s painful.
Jim Croce – One Less Set Of Footsteps: Two Croce songs, not fair. But who said life is fair? Isn’t that what this is all about in a way? This is strident where the former is wistful, but the truth is that there’s a lot of anger in both songs. "If that’s the way that you want it.." he sings. I guess it is.
Melanie – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right: This is Dylan’s of course, and nobody ever combined heartache and sarcasm quite this effectively. There are so many covers that it almost makes no sense to start listing them( though the one by The Wonder Who is in a class by itself). Melanie got a lot of flak for her cover, which cuts the tempo in half, and makes a dirge out of what was a rant, but I love the way she sings it (I love the way she sings generally) and if you can stop thinking about Dylan for a bit, this works its own magic.
Dolly Parton – I Will Always Love You: A song of incredible sadness and vulnerability and heartbreak. Warning: not for divas. [Note: you have to be careful with this one because she’s recorded it more than once; you have to hear the original.]
Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind: You knew he’d show up eventually didn’t you. Lightfoot sings of pulp fiction and old time movies, ghosts and heroes, and feelings that have died. And if you want lessons in how to use orchestration with acoustic music, this is a good place to start.
Neil Diamond – The Last Thing On My Mind: I agree that Diamond hasn ’t done anything worthwhile since Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I agree that not everything he did before that was stellar either. But when he was on he was on. And if anyone captures the pain of a breakup better than Diamond does with this Tom Paxton song I don’t know if I want to hear it.
Jackson Browne – Late For The Sky: Jackson Browne’s early LPs were masterpieces of heartland romance, and this, the title track of his 4th album, was probably the most powerful of all. Just about each line of this song could have been spun off into a song of its own, and the realness of that shattering time when you’re desperately trying to hold the pieces together and all the while they are spinning beyond your grasp, it’s hammered home by David Lindley’s guitar and the incredible melody and Jackson’s voice soaring into the stratosphere. Not for the meek.
Bob Dylan – Abandoned Love: This was from the Desire sessions but it wasn’t released until Biograph, 10 years later. Emmylou Harris sings harmony, Scarlet Rivera plays electric violin, and Dylan whacks and thrashes at the remains of a marriage, with violence and desperation and anger and sadness, “everyone is wearing a disguise,” he sings in what may be the most telling line of his career, “to hide what they have left behind their eyes.” Our hero hides nothing and everything.
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way: Maybe it’s the rhythm that coils like a spring during the verses and resolves itself on the chorus (kudos to Mick Fleetwood) or maybe it’s the pure anger that Lindsay Buckingham brings to the lyrics when he spits out the title lines, or maybe it’s his razor sharp guitar that slashes all sentiment to pieces, but if this isn’t the best breakup song ever, it’s certainly in the top 10. It was hearing this song that inspired this post, and I’ve got many more on the list that I just may get to next year.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Donnie Brooks

Donnie BrooksDonnie Brooks had three hits in the top 100, all in 1960, and he was a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame; though Mission Bell, which is the only Donnie Brooks song that I know, doesn’t sound all that rockabilly.

Donnie Brooks

Mission Bell – This is not a religious song, the title notwithstanding. It’s just that mission bells are high, and it rhymes with “wishing well.” And Donnie has to tell us how high his love is. That’s unusual; love isn’t often (ever?) described as high – deep ok, strong yes, but high? But either way, this is an endearing song. The bells in the arrangement are a nice touch. From the fall of 1960.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bobby Curtola

Bobby Curtola Bobby Curtola was Canada’s Bobby. He was Canada’s teen heart throb who put 19 songs on Toronto’s CHUM chart between 1960 and 1965, and he even got two songs on Billboard, though neither got higher than 41.

He recorded for the Tartan label, pure Canadiana, and putting this collection together was a challenge, because for a long time reissues of his music were few and far between. I see that there is a 25 song CD collection available on his web site, and Amazon sports a pretty decent collection of 19 songs – not quite the exact same 19 songs that were on the chart but pretty close. But I got this stuff almost exclusively on singles that I picked up at more second hand stores than you can shake a stick at.

His stuff is a bit more MOR and a bit less teeny bopper cute than the typical Bobby Vee / Bobby Rydell / Frankie Avalon fare, but only a bit.

Bobby Curtola:

Hand In Hand With You – His first hit, from the summer of 1960.
I’ll Never Be Alone Again – From.the fall of 1961.
You Must Belong To Me – There’s that belonging thing again. From the spring of 1962.
Fortune Teller – Not the oft-coverd Benny Spellman song. From the spring of 1962. This one made number 41 on Billboard.
Alladin – Close your eyes and make a wish. From the fall of 1962. His second and last Billboard single; it reached 92.
Destination Love – It’s the journey that counts, not the destination. From the winter of 1963.
As Long As I’m Sure Of You – From the summer of 1964.
When I’m Away
Hitch-Hiker – A hitch-hiker on the road to love he says. What’s that mean, he’s not paying his way? From the winter of 61 / 62.
Little Girl Blue – This is not the classic made famous by Judy Garland et al. It’s a song about a girl in the audience. Cute, but The Statler Brothers wrote the book on that topic (Do You Know You Are My Sunshine). From the winter of 1964.
Johnny Take Your Time – Good advice. From the spring of 1962.
Three Rows Over – The inevitable new girl in school song. From the fall of 1963.
Indian Giver – This is not the Annette song, nor is it the 1910 Fruitgum Company song. The politically incorrect expression, however, bears the same meaning. I don’t suppose anyone has brought this to the attention of the CRTC… From the summer of 1963.
Mean Woman Blues – Done by Elvis and by Roy Orbison. Bobby didn’t stand a chance. Still, it managed to get as high as 23 on the CHUM chart, and that was in early 1965. It was Bobby’s last hit.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Ventures

The VenturesTake a trip through the 60s. On the main roads you see the expected: The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, James Brown, The Supremes. Take the back roads and you see the lesser known: the one hit and two hit and no hit wonders – James Carr, Every Mothers Son, The New York City Rock And Roll Ensemble, The Velvelettes.

But what happens on the side roads? I’m fairly certain that that’s where we’ll find The Ventures.

They did have a few hits – they bookended the decade with Walk Don’t Run in 1960 and Hawaii Five-O in 1969. And they had a few in between but that doesn’t reflect their essence. Really, The Ventures bear the same relationship to pop music that photographs bear to real life. And in the hands of an expert, photography takes on an independent meaning, something about real life distilled. The Ventures were expert musical photographers.

That’s not to say that their stuff isn’t kitch; indeed, it is uber kitch. They released 3 or 4 LPs a year, over 11 years, and each one is a representation of something going on in the real world: a country LP, a psychedelic LP, a surfing album, an ersatz collection of TV themes. The covers were cheesy (often transcendently so) the music was derivative, the marketing was often shameless, and the talent was extraordinary. The orginal group was Don Wilson, Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, and drummer Howie Johnson. Johnson was replaced early on by Mel Taylor. Over the years people came and went, Gerry MGhee became a semi-permanent member at some point, and when Mel Taylor died, he was replaced by his son Leon.

And ultimately, it’s fun. I had no end of amusement rifling through the city’s second hand stores looking for used, affordable and serviceable copies of old Ventures albums. I didn’t do too bad. Every discography you look at has a different list, and the fact that they had Japan-only releases, budget releases, retitled albums etc, doesn’t help much. The closest thing to a consesus , though, postulates just under 40 LP over 11 years. I have almost all of them; I have Twist Party Vol. 2 on MP3, (also their Play Guitar With The Ventures series); I got their Christmas album on an actual CD (though someone did me the favour of stealing back in the summer of 2003). Otherwise I have the original cover and original vinyl of all the main LPs they released up to 1970.

After 1970, still have a few LPs, and I have quite a bit of stuff on MP3. This collection, though, stops at 1970. I put it together from The Very Best Of The Ventures, Golden Greats and More Golden Greats, Billboard singles that weren’t included on any collection but which I have on their various LPs, and my personal favourites. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I have a lot of fun listening to it.

The Ventures:

Walk Don’t Run – Written by the near-anonymous Johnny Smith, the guys picked this up from a Chet Atkins album, got rid of the jazz inflections, and came up with their first hit, and an archetypal rock instrumental. From the summer of 1960.
Out Of Limits – A cover of The Marketts hit from 1964. The Ventures did it on an album of mosty original “space” oriented songs, which included The Twilight Zone.
Tequila – The Champs hit from the late 50s. Their version of this proves that they weren’t just a copy band.
Apache – Seems to be based on the Jorgen Ingman cover more than on the Shadows original.
Ram-Bunk-Shush – Their third hit and from their second album. From the winter of 1961.
Hawaii Five-O – Theme from the famous TV series starring Jack Lord as Police chief McGarratt. I used to watch it; it was on Friday nights. I could never work out whether this was a cover or the actual recording used on the show. From the spring of 1969.
Perfidia – The follow-up to Walk Don’t Run, also recorded by The Shadows. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Telstar – Pretty much a note for note copy of The Tornadoes original.
Rebel Rouser – They cover the Duane Eddy song with no sax, and it rocks out pretty decently anyway.
Wipe Out – Taking on The Surfaris, risky. They do themselves proud.
The Lonely Bull – They got someone to play trumpet on this Herb Alper’s Tijuana Brass cover. This is from the same LP as Telstar, which consisted entirely of covers, and which was the highest placing LP the group had. Golden Greats Indeed
Honky Tonk – A cover of the hit by Bill Dogget. They did this more than once.
Let’s Go – Another note for note copy, this time of The Routers.
Pipeline – The surfing classic by The Chantays, from an album called Surfin’. The Ventures, by the way, are often described as a “surf group.” They were not a surf group. They did one album of surf songs, they covered a few others (Wipe Out, Penetration) and they redid Walk Don’t Run in surf style, and released it as Walk Don’t Run ’64. Then they moved on.
Walk Don’t Run ’64 – As I was saying… this is Walk Don’t Run, surf style. From the summer of 1964, not long before the fad had run its course. This is the version of Walk Don’t Run that’s included on Golden Greats, though it’s not identified as such.
Memphis – The Lonnie Mack arrangement of the Chuck Berry song.
Slaughter On Tenth Avenue – The Ventures at their best. Listen to the bass run. From the fall of 1964, this song tends to be left off of the collections.
Secret Agent Man – An instrumental rendition of the Johnny Rivers hit, except for the cheesy female vocal chorus on the chorus. It’s a mystery why they decided to put this out as a single, but they did, and it reached number 54 on Billboard in the winter of 1966.
Theme From “A Summer Place” – Percy Faith’s original was huge in 1960. The Ventures cover, from the Hawaii Five-O album, was less so in the summer of 1969.
Lady Of Spain – I got this from the B side of Walk Don’t Run ’64; it was never on an album (although I think it got onto a CD compilation much later).
More Golden GreatsLolita Ya Ya – Amazing lyrics on this. It’s one of those sometimes Ventures tracks that has some kind of singing. From the fall of 1962.
The Locomotion – A lot of rhythm going on, though the vocals sound very frustrated. Little Eve did the original, and Grand Funk did the 70s version.
McArthur Park – Richard Harris did this Jimmy Webb song in 1968, and he’s been hated for it ever since. I’ve always liked it and I make no apologies. Donna Summer did a remake circa 1980. The Ventures cover comes from their 10th Anniversary Album, from 1970.
Classical Gas – They do a respectable version of this, and given that guitar is their thing, one would expect no less. But it doesn’t match the Mason Williams original. It only appeared on More Golden Greats.
A Taste Of Honey – A guitar arrangement of Herb Alpert’s trumpet arrangement.
Grazing In The Grass – A cover of the Hugh Masekela masterpiece, with trumpet and all.
Blue Moon – A fast arrangement, seemingly based on The Marcels doo-wop version. From the fall of 1961.
Diamond Head – A track from the Surfin’ LP that was released as a single and made the charts in the winter of 1965.
Lullaby Of The Leaves – A Walk Don’t Run – style instrumental, from the spring of 1961.
Underground Fire – The title track of a 1968 album which foisted The Ventures’ version of underground rock on the world.
(Theme From) Silver City – From a TV western I guess, this spent 3 weeks on Billboard in the fall of 1961. From an LP on which every song title had a colour in it (The Colorful Ventures).
Summertime – Everyone else did it and so did The Ventures. It’s from the Mashed Potatoes And Gravy album, which doesn’t make much sense, but that in itself makes sense.
Needles And Pins – Stop the presses here. The guitars on this are razor sharp, play it too loud and your speaker cones might tear. Even the goofy chorus sounds good. This recording would be the perfect theme song for an oldies radio show. From The Fabulous Ventures, it may be the best thing they ever did.
Flights Of Fantasy – Title track from Flights Of Fantasy, from 1967.
Swamp Rock – The last album from the 60s, and one where they broke free of the production tyranny of Joe Saraceno, who’d been doing their records since 1965.

... and check out...

Ventures In Cardboard

August, 1960

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brian Hyland

Brian Hyland This isn’t about Brian Hyland.

The first time I heard Brian Hyland, it was The Joker Went Wild in the summer of 1966, and it was on a white vacuum tube radio that was sitting on the kitchen counter in the beach cottage that my parents rented for us for the month of July. The radio had been transplanted, along with much else, from our home in the city. It was AM only in those days, and there was always a contest between adults and kids over radio station choice.

When I say adults, I mean mother. My father only came out on weekends, and my grandmother was there but oblivious to radio matters. We had no TV out there, so there was that much more at stake, and Mom would have it on the Adult Contemporary / Talk show station, and we would flip it to CKRC, the great top 40 station. For reason that I can only guess, Mom would usually let us have our way, and so we were serenaded by the marvelous music that the world gave us over that fresh-air summer of beach and water pumps on the corner and toys machines on the boardwalk: Pied Piper, Summer In The City, Sunshine Superman, Along Comes Mary, and The Joker Went Wild.

I think that the radio ended up in my room eventually, and the kitchen got a more modern one with FM, though stereo wouldn’t come for a while. And for a while I hid a black transistor radio under my pillow, but that story is for another post.

Ok, now this is about Brian Hyland…

He was one of those recording artists, like Lou Christie, who’d come around, have a hit or two, disappear, come back after a few years, repeat. He kept changing labels, and that didn’t help any record company put together a decent greatest hits package for a long time, though there is one now, and I got one earlier which isn’t exactly the one you get now. Allin all I have 16 of the 24 top 100 singles that Brian had between 1960 and 1971.

Brian Hyland:

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini – There’s nothing so shocking about bikinis, is there? The heroine of this story was said to be about 3 years old, but there’s nothing in the story suggesting age, and it makes no more sense for a child to be afraid to come out of the towel / water / locker than it does for an adolescent or adult. But Brian got himself a niche here almost to himself; how many songs are there about swimwear in general, or bikinis in particular? Chick-a-boom comes to mind, but that was something altogether different. Another certified novelty, it was Hyland’s first hit and his biggest, reaching number 1 in the summer of 1960.
Let Me Belong To You – You Belong To Me, sang Patsy Cline (and The Duprees, and a few others) in a beautiful song, and Carly Simon did one also, but this is the mirror image, sort of. All that belonging … makes me wonder. “Make me behave,” he sings. Hmmm… From the fall of 1961. He had switched from Leader Records to ABC Paramount.
Ginny Come Lately – Another ballad, this one about a new love. From the spring of 1962.
Walk A Lonely Mile – This song shows up on the CHUM charts though not on Billboard. I guess there’s some satisfaction in the revenge thing; think Cry Me A River. The flip of Warmed Over Kisses (Left Over Love). From the fall of 1962.
Sealed With A Kiss – A classic summer separation song. It was a hit again in the late 60s for Gary Lewis & The Playboys and again in the early 70s for Bobby Vinton. Stands in good company: See You In September by The Tempos (and later The Happenings), Save Your Heart For Me by the aforesaid Lewis. The idea is pleasantly anachronistic; in today’s world there is no real separation. From the summer of ’62.
Warmed Over Kisses (Left Over Love) – Love on the rebound, from the other side. Not so great. Brian goes country. From the fall of 1962.
I’m Afraid To Go Home – Serious subject matter here – Brian sings the part of a civil war soldier coming home and imagining the worst. A noble effort, but I’d can the fake Confederate accent. From the summer of 1963, and I can’t imagine how cheerful this sounded on a hot summer day at the beach. Maybe that’s why it didn’t get higher than 63 on Billboard.
I May Not Live To See Tomorrow – Self pity songs have to be done really well or they suck. This is more of the “it sucks” variety but I’ll forgive him. From the winter of 1962 / 1963.
The Joker Went Wild – Brian popped back to life in the summer of 1966 (on Phillips now) with this tale of humour gone awry. Another popular topic in pop – Tears Of A Clown, Two Faces Have I, The Great Pretender, and Everybody Loves A Clown, to which our subject song was very close in style, a fact not lost on my older sibling who was a great fan of Gary Lewis, the purveyor of Clown, who would not remember this piece of arcane family trivia, but I do. Ha.
Run, Run Look And See – The follow-up to Joker, similar in style. It didn’t do nearly as well though, and frankly I don’t remember hearing it. From the winter of 1966 / 1967.
Hung Up In Your Eyes – The title does not mean “you think I’m hung up;” it should really be hung up on your eyes, but the “in” just makes it a bit more poetic. The song is too thin, though, to carry all that poetry. From the winter of ’67.
Holiday For Clowns – Smokey & The Miracles sang Tears Of A Clown, and Johnny Burnette sang Clown Shoes, and we already discussed Gary Lewis. From the summer of ’67. None of these songs after Run Run Look And See were huge hits.
Get The Message – From the later summer of 1967.
Tragedy – A cover of the Thomas Wayne ballad, perfectly suited to Brian’s style. From the winter of 1969. Released on Dot Records.
Stay And Love Me All Summer – The anti-Sealed With A Kiss. From the summer of ’69, and you’d think it’d be the perfect summer song, but it wasn’t – not nearly enough charm.
Gypsy Woman – Brian’s big comeback, again. This was a remake of The Impressions’ classic from 1962. Suitably updated with a pop arrangement that could only have been done in 1970. For the record, he was now on Uni Records.
Locations of visitors to this page