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.

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