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.

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