Sunday, November 4, 2012

Roland Kirk

I have a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for about 40 years. It’s called Woodstock 69 and it’s subtitled Summer Pop Festivals and it’s subsubtitled A Photo Review. It’s by Joseph J. Sia. I don’t remember where I got it but I know for sure it was cheap, maybe second hand.
It’s not just Woodstock; it’s also The Newport Jazz Festival, The Newport Folk Festival, and the Atlanta Pop Festival. The pictures are all black and white.

The first picture is a wild and crazy portrait of Robert Plant. He’s followed by Jeff Beck, David Clayton-Thomas and some audience people. Then Roland Kirk. He’s blowing a sax, wearing what appears to be a very loud shirt, wearing sun glasses. The background is dark.

For years everything I knew about Roland Kirk was that picture. That’s all he was to me, some cool jazz dude with a picture in a book I owned.

Then one fateful day I wandered into Sam The Record Man and picked up a copy of Jazz Masters 27 by Roland Kirk, and now the man had a sound. That’s how life goes…

Roland Kirk:

Three For The Festival
Blue Rol
Reeds And Deeds
Hip Chops
From Becket, Byas And Fats
Berkshire Blues
You Did It You Did It
A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square 
March On, Swan Lake 
The Haunted Melody
Meeting On Termini’s Corner
Black Diamond

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Flares

This group recorded a ridiculous number of singles for a ridiculous number of labels under a ridiculous number of names, with ridiculously varied personnel. They were actually The Flairs before they were The Flares. Someone should do a dissertation…

The Flares:

Foot Stompin’ Part 1 – A great dance song. No pretensions. No silly animal gimmicks. No imitation movements. Just get it out there and stomp. From the fall of 1961. Their only hit.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Duals

The Duals were only 2 guys. I don’t know if that’s why there were called The Duals. They both played guitar. I assume that either they got session men to help out, or they added band members. The story is not clear.

They didn’t do much aside from their one hit.

The Duals:

Stick Shift – Said to be the first hot rod song. Possibly. What they did here was this: they took an ordinary, serviceable but not stellar, instrumental, added car sounds, and gave it an automotive title. Voila. A hot rod record. From the fall of 1961. Their only hit.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

José Jiménez

José Jiménez was not the only fictitious character that reached the top 40. There was The Archies, Ernie, Max Frost & The Troopers. And don’t forget Milli Vanilli. Ha. But they all came later.

José was comedian Bill Dana. He (either way you want to read him) was a one hit wonder, though he was a popular TV comedian for a while.

José Jiménez:

The Astronaut – A comedy shtick, not very funny by today’s standards. I don’t know funny it was back in the fall of 1961, when it reached #21 on Billboard. This was later in the year when Alan Shephard became the first American in space, but before John Glenn's historic flight. It is politically incorrect, but Dana actually acknowledged that in 1970, when he retired the character amid much fanfare.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hayley Mills

Now there you go. I don’t know if she qualifies as a “teen idol,” (probably not) but her paucity of hit records is well explained by the fact that she was an actress, not a singer, and she made dozens of films, for Disney as a child / teen, then others as an adult.

She happened to have 2 hits.

Hayley Mills:

Let’s Get Together – Not to be confused with the Chet Powers song (aka Get Together). One listen to this and we know why she did not pursue a singing career. She makes Anette Funicello sound like Joan Sutherland. From the fall of 61. Trivia note: The artist credit on the single read “Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills,” presumably in reference to the double tracking of her voice.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Troy Shondell

I wonder how different my life would have been had my parents named me “Troy.” Come to think of it, I wonder how different Troy Shondell’s life would have been had his parents named him “Troy.” What they named him, in fact, was Gary.

Most of these teen idol types who only had one or two hits have the excuse that music was not their main career. They were movie stars. Think Tab Hunter. Shondell had no such excuse. He was not a movie star, and, good looks notwithstanding, he only had 2 records (3 songs) on the hot 100.

Troy Shondell:

This Time – A once-and-for-all breakup song. I hate to think of the real life drama going on behind the lyrics. “This time we’ve said way too much .” It would have happened at some point. From the fall of 1961.

Friday, October 5, 2012

October, 1961

  • This Time - Troy Shondel
  • Let's Get Together - Haley Mills
  • Ya Ya - Lee Dorsey
  • Bless You - Tony Orlando
  • The Astronaut - Jose Jimenez
  • The Way You Look Tonight - The Letternen
  • Stick Shift - The Duals
  • The Great Imposter - The Fleetwoods
  • Gonna Build Me A Mountain - Matt Monro
  • Human - Tommy Hunt
  • The Time Has Come - Adam Faith
  • Big Bad John / I Won't Go Huntin' With You Jake - Jimmy Dean
  • I Love How You Love Me - The Paris Sisters
  • Sad Movies - Sue Thompson
  • Runaround Sue - Dion
  • Footstompin' - The Flares
  • Candy Man - Roy Orbison
  • So Long Baby - Del Shannon
  • Water Boy - Don Shirly Trio
  • Under The Moon Of Love - Curtis Lee
  • The Fly - Chubby Checker
  • Sweets For My Sweet - The Drifters
  • Don't Blame Me - The Everly Brothers
  • Anybody But Me / Fool #1 - Brenda Lee
  • The Savage - The Shadows
  • He's My Dreamboat - Connie Francis
  • I Understand - The G-Clefs
  • Tower Of Strength - Gene McDaniels
  • Big John - The Shirelles
  • Tribute To Buddy Holly - Mike Berry
  • I'm A Moody Guy - Shane Fenton & The Fentones
  • You're The Reason - Bobby Edwards
  • Your Last Goodbye - Floyd Cramer
  • Young Boy Blues - Ben E King

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Helen Shapiro

I know that she toured with The Beatles, because I’ve seen her name on reproductions of their tour posters. She was the headline act.

I found her on The Roots Of British Rock. She had 11 songs on the UK top 50, and 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Helen Shapiro:

Walkin’ Back To Happiness – Chirpy. She recorded this at the age of 15, and it reached no. 1 on the UK chart in the fall of 1961. In the US it reached no. 100. It was her only US chart placing.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Dovells

The group was all about dancing. The jitterbug, the Bristol stomp, the hully gully, kind of a white group version of Chubby Checker. And they recorded for Cameo-Parkway.

This is one of those delightful Cameo-Parkway collections, called, in this case, The Best Of The Dovells 1961-1965. All the hits are here, and the last track on the collection, which I’m not including here, was lead singer Len Barry’s first solo hit, 1-2-3. Thanks to La Grande Bibliotheque.

The Dovells:

Bristol Stomp – This was apparently inspired by Bristol, Pennsylvania, not some beach town in England. The exact steps that comprise this regional variation of a somewhat forgotten dance must remain unknown. The group’s first hit was their biggest, in the autumn of 1961. 
No, No, No – From 1957, they actually released with a different name on the single. It was before they were The Dovells. A song about a man on a mission.
Foot Stompin’ – I’d probably like this better if I didn’t already know The Flares’ hit version. Great song though… 
Mope-itty- Mope – Near as I can tell, this is about a “chick from outer space.” Sheb Wooley needn’t have lost sleep.
Do The New Continental – I’m on the mailing list of a group that organizes dances a few times a year. And every time I go, one of the organizers leads everyone (by everyone, I mean everyone but me) in a round of “the continental.” It is the least fun thing I can think of. But maybe the new continental is more fun than the old continental. This is from the winter of 1962.
The Actor – This is what the group sounds like doing a ballad. It’s why they didn’t do many ballads…
Bristol Twistin’ Annie – The Bristol stomp, the twist, and a girl named Annie. How can you lose? From the summer of 1962.
Hully Gully Baby – The Olympics did (Baby) Hully Gully, a few years earlier. Here it’s updated (slightly). “All I want to do with you…” From the autumn of 1962.
Your Last Chance – It’s now or never, sang Elvis. This is kind of the same idea, but to a much better dance beat.
Kissin’ In The Kitchen – I guess you’d have to categorize this as a novelty number, though it’s hard to tell. Some kind of party going on, and they find the only unoccupied room. Or else it’s about some long-married couple seeking “variety.” Jeez, I hope not…
The Jitterbug – I guess everyone’s heard of this one. It’s fast, that’s good. I can dance around my kitchen to this anytime… From the winter of 1962 / 1963.
You Can’t Sit Down – A vocal version of The Phil Upchurch Combo hit. Pretty much sums up the group’s entire ouvre. From the summer of 1963.
Baby Workout – Len Barry was a good singer but Jackie Wilson was a better one, so I don’t know why he tried covering him…
Hey Beautiful – The masher’s theme…
Betty In Bermudas – Hot pants ok, but Bermudas? Must be something about that Betty… From the autumn of 1963.
Dance The Froog – I’ve heard of the frug, but the froog? An early version, undoubtedly, though he does mention “hippies” somewhere here…
Stop Monkeyin’ Around – An existential exercise here, where dancing and romancing coincide in unintentioned ways. From the autumn of 1963.
Don’t Come Back – The title is imperative, but the lyrics are conditional, “I don’t care if you don’t come back.” Either way, the dance rhythm doesn’t change.
Little White Houses – Not to be confused with White Houses by Eric Burdon & The Animals. But the group does get (just slightly) bluesy here…
Hearts Are Trump – Romance as a card game…

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Jarmels

Someone should write a book, if it hasn’t been done yet, about one-hit wonder R & B groups – like The Jarmels. Here is a group that has been around, it seems, in one form or another, since the early 60s, and they’ve only ever had one hit. Where I got it is anyone’s guess, probably on one of those various artist pre-recorded cassettes I used to pick up all the time. They recorded for Laurie Records, the same label that recorded Dion & The Belmonts and The Chiffons.

The Jarmels:

A Little Bit Of Soap – Music to shag to. Not clear to me why anyone would expect soap to wash away heartache, but maybe I’m poetry-challenged. From the fall of 1961, their only hit.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Wilburn Brothers

My “collection” by The Wilburn Brothers is another oddity that comes from that Decca collection, From The Vaults. The group had dozens of hits on the country charts between 1954 and 1981, but nothing on the pop charts.

The Wilburn Brothers:

Trouble’s Back In Town – I love it. To characterize a grownup as “trouble” that way, it’s priceless. The style of this song was antiquated even back in 1961 when it was a hit.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dick & Dee Dee

In the 50s there Johnnie & Joe, Mickey & Sylvia, The Kalin Twins, male-female duos all. In the 60s there was Sonny & Cher, Peaches & Herb, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood, even Johnny Cash & June Carter. They didn’t have much in common, but they all operated within certain musical and aesthetic limits.

That’s where Dick & Dee Dee differed. Their sound is so shrill, so ethereal, so out there, that one can’t help wonder what drugs they were on. Helium would be my first guess.

The duo, who were never married or anything, at least not to each other had 8 hits between 1961 and 1965.

Dick & Dee Dee:

All My Trials – The Minnie Mouse version of a college folk music standard. Typical of what Joan Baez was recording in those days. I don’t who thought this would work. It doesn’t. From the winter of 1964. 
Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right – This is not the strangest version of Dylan’s song; that honour would have to go to The Wonder Who. This may just be the most inappropriate. The song can be done any number of different ways, but some aspect of what’s going on has to come through. Here, it doesn’t. The flip side of All My Trials.
Young And In Love – Not the Ruby & The Romantics hit. I want to know what happens when you’re old and in love. From the spring of 1963.
Thou Shalt Not Steal – The 10 commandments in the service of romantic fidelity, or something. From the winter of ’64 / ‘65
The Mountain’s High – Their big hit, their moment in the sun. It is where the Dick & Dee Dee approach to music making pays off. Hard to say why exactly, the style is so outré that it does not lend itself to easy analysis. From the fall of 1961.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Blue Jays

Described on Wikipedia as a “short-lived doo wop group.” Indeed, they lasted about a year, long enough to have a single hit on the top 40.

The Blue Jays:

Lover’s Island – Not sure about the singular possessive in the title, is it only open to one at a time? The lyrics on this are so “romantic paradise” as to be virtually meaningless, and while the group is described as doo-wop, this is actually what R & B sounded like before doo-wop. From the fall of 1961.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


She was Kim in Bye Bye Birdie. Now what else do you want to know?
Her career was acting. She made recordings as a sideline. Her voice was sultry. I say “was” but she is still around. She is 71.


I Just Don’t Understand – Isn’t this what it all boils down to sometimes? Turn it over this way, that way, no way to make sense of it. There is a cover by The Beatles on their BBC Sessions, and another by Freddie & The Dreamers. From the fall of 1961.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Barry Mann

So who was Barry Mann? Let’s check Whitburn. Hm. Four entries. No notes. Couldn’t have been anyone significant. Of those four entries, only one made the top 10, the rest didn’t make it higher than 78. Each was on a different label, and they were chronologically spread out – 1961, 1964, 1970, 1976.

I would say it was typical of Whitburn, who puts little notes after listings by artists of significance, not to acknowledge songwriters, because he doesn’t say anything about Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich either, but then he does acknowledge Carole King. So let’s just forget about Joel Whitburn.

Actually Barry Mann was an architect of rock and roll, having co-written, mostly with his wife Cynthia Weil, the following: She Say (Oom Dooby Doom), I Love How You Love Me, Blame It On The Bossa Nova, He’s Sure The Boy I Love, Hungry, I Just Can’t Help Believing, I’m Gonna Be Strong, Kicks, Looking Through The Eyes Of Love, Magic Town, Make Your Own Kind Of Music, On Broadway, Only In America, Proud, Rock And Roll Lullaby, Shapes Of Things To Come, Uptown, Walking In The Rain, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, (You’re My) Soul And Inspiration, and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. That is, of course, a very partial list.

He married Cynthia in 1961. Apparently they are still married.

Barry Mann:

Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) – One of those self-referential songs, pop/rock about pop/rock. This is said to be satirical, but I think that through the humour and self-deprecation there is a lot of truth. As silly as some of those songs are on paper, hearing them, dancing to them, opens up worlds. And of course, the real joke is that it was Mann himself who put that bomp bomp bomp there in the first place. He wrote this one with Gerry Goffin, Carole King’s then (or soon to be) husband. It was Mann’s only real hit, in the fall of 1961.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Jive Five

The Jive Five had but one top 10 hit, 2 top 40, 5 top 100, and in one form or another they’ve been kicking around for 5 decades.

The Jive Five:

My True Story – Names have been changed, they sing, “to protect you and I.” It’s true. Anyway, we all have a story, at least one sad story in our repertoire. I know that this is a great classic hit and all, but to me it sounds a bit flat. It was late, anyway, for doo-wop when this was a hit, which was the fall of 1961. “Love will make you happy, love will make you cry.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ricky Valance

This guy was a UK teen idol. He was Welsh. UK teen idols were generally Cliff Richard Wannabes, and this guy was no exception, except that he was Welsh. He never had a hit in North America, and he only had one in the UK, but he also had a few in Australia and Scandinavia.

Ricky Valance:

Tell Laura I Love Her – A cover of the Ray Peterson hit, the teen dream expressed as death through martyrdom. Buying her flowers would have been easier and healthier. From the summer of 1961.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Eddie Hodges

I found the 45 in a pile in a box at Comic World and I brought it up to the front counter. It had no price on it. There’s no price on this, I said. I’ll give you a buck. Hey Doug! Yelled the clerk. I got a 45 no price! He looked at it. Read out the title as if it were some kind of poison: “Girls, Girls, Girls (Made To Love)”. After some “how much does he want to pay” discussion, he took my dollar, and away I went, one 45 richer.

Eddie Hodges:

I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door – At 14, Eddie Hodges barely even qualified as a teen idol. Here he is though, determined as ever, surrounded by some of the greatest, if rather unsophisticated, sound effects, ever. This is hard to resist. From the summer of 1961. 
Girls, Girls, Girls (Made To Love) – As bad as the former is good, this atrocious sexist objectification was a hit in the summer of 1962.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bob Moore

He was a cofounder of Monument Records, he played on sides by Elvis, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Moby Grape and Sammy Davis Jr. The bass you hear at the beginning of King Of The Road by Roger Miller is played by Bob Moore. But under his own name, he only had one hit. That’s the one-hit wonder for you

Bob Moore:

Mexico – An instrumental with a vaguely Latin flavour, Moore’s one and only hit reached the top 10 in the fall of 1961. Herb Alpert took the style and made an entire career out of it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

September, 1961

  • Crying - Roy Orbison
  • Little Sister / Marie's The Name (His Latest Flame) - Elvis Presley
  • Take Good Care Of My Baby - Bobby Vee
  • Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp Bomp Bomp) - Barry Mann
  • Without You - Johnny Tillotson
  • I Just Don't Understand - Ann-Margaret
  • Amor - Ben E King
  • Lovers Island - The Blue Jays
  • Transistor Sister - Freddie Cannon
  • Let Me Belong To You - Brian Hyland
  • Don't Cry Baby - Etta James
  • Michael - Lonnie Donegan
  • Someday - Kenny Ball
  • Baby You're Right - James Brown
  • Mountain's High - Dick & Dee Dee
  • When We Get Married - The Dreamlovers
  • A Little Bit Of Soap - The Jarmels
  • Frankie & Johnnie - Brook Benton
  • Years From Now - Jackie Wilson
  • Bright Lights Big City - Jimmy Reed
  • Silver City - The Ventures
  • One Track Mind - Bobby Lewis
  • It's Gonna Work Out Fine - Ike & Tina Turner
  • Big Cold Wind - Pat Boone
  • Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick Disolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green And Purple Pills - Ray Stevens
  • When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart - Cliff Richard
  • Hit The Road Jack - Ray Charles
  • You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby - Bobby Darin
  • Mexico - Bob Moore
  • Bristol Stomp - The Dovells
  • More Money For You And Me - The Four Preps
  • Take Five - Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • Missing You - Ray Peterson
  • Muskrat - The Everly Brothers
  • Walking Back To Happiness - Helen Shapiro
  • Hole In The Bucket - Harry Belafonte & Miriam Makeba

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Highwaymen

This is not the supergroup consisting of Wayon, Willie, Kris K, and Johnny Cash. No. These Highwaymen were what Wikipedia convincingly calls part of the “collegiate folk revival” of the early 60s. Taking their cue from The Kingston Trio, the group had 4 singles (5 songs) on the top 100 during 1961 and 1962, all hootenanny- friendly.

The Highwaymen:

Michael – A spiritual. It seems to me that the lyrics they use are a rather non-denominational subset, only hinting at the theological implications of the original. I do believe that this was done earlier by The Weavers; it seems that 90% of songs recorded by these groups were taken from The Weavers’ repertoire. This record reached #1 in the fall of 1961. 
Cotton Fields – Known to be by Leadbelly, but who knows for sure. Recorded and recorded and recorded again, the apotheosis of this song may be the version by CCR on their Willie And The Poor Boys LP. The Beach Boys also had a crack at this at the end of the decade. From the winter of 1962. 
Gypsy Rover – The B side of Cotton Fields, this one just missed the top 40 in its own right, in the winter of 1962. One of those minstrel-style songs about a roving vagabond who sang his way into the hearts of the ladies, and, you can be sure, lead them all astray.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Timi Yuro

This is a woman? So said my adult daughter as Timi Yuru played on my stereo this last weekend.
Yes it’s a woman. She had 11 top 100 hits between 1961 and 1965 but most people don’t remember who she was.

Timi Yuro:

Hurt – This is one of the most painful songs about pain ever. It was originally a hit for Roy Hamilton, and later it was a hit for Elvis, who wrenched every drop out of it. From the fall of 1961. 
What’s A Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You) – Revenge is sweet, like always. From the summer of 1962. 
Make The World Go Away – Usually identified with Eddy Arnold, Timi beat him by 2 years. Eddy’s version is a lush ballad, oozing resignation. Timi will not take it sitting down. From the fall of 1963. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

August, 1961

  • Hurt - Timi Yuro
  • School Is Out - Gary US Bonds
  • You Don't know What You Got - Ral Donner
  • Michael - The Highwaymen
  • I'm A-Telling You - Jerry Butler
  • Quite A Party - The Fireballs
  • A Tear - Gene McDaniels
  • What A Sweet Thing That Was / A Thing Of The Past - The Shirelles
  • Every Breath I Take - Gene Pitney
  • Don't Bet Money Honey - Linda Scott
  • Let The Four Winds Blow - Fats Domino
  • I Was Made For Dancin' - Frank Gari
  • Right Or Wrong - Wanda Jackson
  • As If I Didn't Know - Adam Wade
  • I Fall To Pieces - Patsy Cline
  • I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door - Eddie Hodges
  • I'll Never Smile Again - The Platters
  • I Don't Want To Take A Chance - Mary Wells
  • Tell Laura I Love Her - Ricky Valance
  • How Many Tears - Bobby Vee
  • Kon Tiki - The Shadows
  • Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight - Lonnie Donegan
  • My True Story - The Jive Five
  • Hillbilly Heaven - Tex Ritter
  • "Nag" - The Halos
  • I'll Never Be Alone Again - Bobby Curtola
  • I Wake Up Crying - Chuck Jackson
  • Jealousy - Billy Fury

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Joe Dowell

Before Elvis imitators became big business, there was a cottage industry for Elvis proxies. These were singers who released songs which were recorded by Elvis, but which were not hits. Terry Stafford comes to mind, as does Ral Donner.

Joe Dowell’s big moment was Elvis-related, and he followed that up with 2 more top 100 singles before he disappeared once and for all.

Joe Dowell:

Wooden Heart – It’s what he does not have. Partly sung in German, this polka had been a number 1 hit for Elvis in Europe, and Smash Records and Joe Dowell took advantage of RCA’s decision not to release it as a single in the US. Dowell’s version went to #1 in the fall of 1961. 
Little Red Rented Rowboat – This paean to humbleness (not humility, humbleness) was Dowell’s swansong, in the summer of 1962.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Curtis Lee

Not Peggy’s brother, nor Spike’s father, nor Bruce’s brother, Curtis Lee, who recorded for the Dunes label, was one of the first recipient’s of the genius of Phil Spector. That was always a mixed blessing; once Spector was out of the picture, Lee’s musical career was no more.

Both of his hits are on the Back To Mono collection.

Curtis Lee:

Pretty Little Angel Eyes – A doo wop revival hit from the summer of 1961. If angels are spiritual beings then they ought not to have eyes, pretty or otherwise. But we all know what he means...
Under The Moon Of Love – Is there a moon of hate? Of anger? Of heartbreak? How about Under The Moon Of Like? Almost made the top 40 in the fall of 1961.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Spinners

The Spinners were unarguably the signature sound of Philadelphia soul in the early 70s when Gamble and Huff (and, in the case of The Spinners, Thom Bell) ruled the airwaves.

The Spinners were also a Motown group. For all its amazing success, its ability to change the sound of R & B, the keep to world dancing, and to propel so many groups to superstardom, Motown’s inability (or unwillingness) to do anything with The Spinners is one of those mysteries of life, especially given the success the group had on Atlantic. The irony is that just about the time that the Motown sound was dissipating, the guys in Philadelphia were cementing a style that was just as monolithic, and just as popular, as what Motown had done during the previous decade, and The Spinners, for whom the Motown machine did not work, were the biggest recipients of its largesse.

Their Tri-Phi and Motown sides come from Superstar Series vol. 9, and their Atlantic sides come from The Best Of Spinners.

The Spinners:

It’s A Shame – This was their Motown breakthrough, such as it was, reaching number 14 on Billboard, rendering it a somewhat limited breakthough. The song was pure Motown, a style that was quickly disappearing as artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder declared their artistic independence. The song itself is an expression of frustration with someone who just doesn’t pay enough attention, and while the lyrics are resigned, the delivery is anything but. One of the best dance tracks the group ever did. From the fall of 1970. 
We’ll Have It Made – A song of romantic optimism. The group couldn’t capitalize on the popularity of Shame - not surprisingly, as this record doesn’t have anywhere near the spunk. From the winter of 1971.
Truly Yours – A troubled relationship, her written salutation notwithstanding. This is from 1966, and it was on the R&B charts, bubbled under the pop charts.
Together We Could Make Such Sweet Music – An afterthought. In the wake of the group’s success on Atlantic, Motown released this, and it snuck its way into the top 90. That was really all it deserved. That was in the spring of 1973.
What More Can A Boy Ask For – How about cash...
I’ll Always Love You – This reminds a bit, but just a bit, of The Isley Brothers. It was The Spinners’ first real success after Motown bought out the Tri-Phi label that they were signed to, reaching the top 40 in the summer of 1965.
For All We Know – Not The Carpenters song. This is an old Tin Pan Alley song (written by J. Fred Coots and Sam Lewis, if that helps) that was recorded by more artists than you can shake a stick at, best know by Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole, but if you want to hear it done right, listen to Billie Holiday.
In My Diary – The title of this track could refer to the entire oeuvre of Jackson Browne, in his better days. Here it’s more of a title than a reality.
Message From A Black Man – And the message is: We are just as capable of singing race-conscious songs as The Temptations or James Brown or Sly & The Family Stone or Edwin Starr. They weren’t though.
That’s What Girls Are Made For – The song that kicked off their career, a hit in the fall of 1961. Nobody sings songs about what people are “made for” anymore (outside of hip hop) and that’s probably a good thing. 
I’ll Be Around – On the surface this is some dude being the most selfless guy ever to get the brush off. Under the surface he’s still in there, hoping she’ll change her mind, especially once she gets a taste of that awesome selflessness. This is the song that kicked off their second career, and it did so in fine style. From the fall of 1972. 
How Could I Let You Get Away – From the fall of 1972, this was actually the A side of I’ll Be Around, but the DJs flipped the record, and this side didn’t quite make the big time.
One Of A Kind (Love Affair) – Don’t listen too closely and it’s a song about a fairy tale romance; listen though, pay attention, and it’s real messed up. In a way it could be another angle on I’ll Be Around. From the summer of 1973. 
Mighty Love – More straightforward, at least I think so, but it didn’t do as well. From the winter of 1974.
Ghetto Child – Social Conscience was always lurking somewhere around. The O’Jays did Backstabbers; this was The Spinners’ contribution. From the fall of 1973.
Sadie – A song about his mother. Just as well, “Sadie” is definitely a Mom name. From the spring of 1975.
Could It Be I’m Falling In Love – Thank goodness, a bona fide love song. Dave Marsh says that this is Phillipe Wynne; Wikipedia says Bobby Smith. I have no idea really, but whoever it is, Marsh is right that the background singers are not The Spinners, being female. From the winter of 1973. 
They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play) – The title is reminiscent of Joe South, but South presented musical sociology; The Spinners are singing about dysfunctional romance. From the fall of 1975.
The Rubberband Man – The group sings about dancing (actually about a Michael Jackson – type performer), while sitting on the disco fence. From the winter of ’76 / ’77.
Then Came You – The group’s only number 1 hit, and they had to enlist Dionne Warwick to get it (her only #1 also). From the fall of 1974. Good dance tune.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Slim Harpo

Not all blues is sad. Slim Harpo is blues and he’s not sad. I don’t know if I’d say he’s happy though. Intense, certainly. Lascivious, definitely.

Unlike Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Little Walter, but in common with B. B. King, Jimmy Reed and Little Johnny Taylor, Harpo actually put songs into the top 100 (top 40 even).

This is The Best Of Slim Harpo.

Slim Harpo:

Rock Me – aka Rock Me Baby. Everyone did this, from B B King on down. It is signature blues, but somewhat atypical of Slim.
I Got Love If You Want It – Covered by, inter alia, The Kinks, and The Who, back when they were The High Numbers, though they wrote new lyrics and called it I’m The Face.
Baby Scratch My Back – Ok, how did this get on the radio? This was the winter of 1966, when songs about the big S didn’t get airplay. But then maybe he was, you know, just itchy. The most absurd thing here is the cover version by Dino, Desi & Billy.
I’m A King Bee – The bee theme, (buzzing, etc) got a lot of traction from Slim. This is his signature sound, with that looping bass (what trick of electronics did they use, one wonders). And, not to be a prude or anything, but this is downright dirty. Covered by The Stones on their first album.
Little Queen Bee (Got A Brand New King) – Why leave a good theme alone?
Shake Your Hips – He’s singing about dancing. Really! He is! The Stones covered this on Exile On Main Street, coming full circle…
Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu – Yeah, like Sting invented it…
Buzz Me Babe – I don’t think this is about the phone…
Buzzin’ – In case we didn’t get it the first time…
Rainin’ In My Heart – His other hit. Not the Buddy Holly song. It’s blue, the song, and it’s bluesy, but it’s not exactly blues. From the summer of 1961 and covered by The Pretty Things.
Still Rainin’ In My Heart
Last Last Night – He must have been buzzin…
Tip On In, Part 1 – A song about a cool place to hang out.
Bobby Sox Baby – Hey little girl in the high school sweater, Dee Clark move over…
Don’t Start Cryin’ Now – Tomorrow ok?
I Need Money (Keep Your Alibi) – A little off topic here, finally. I love the pronunciation of “alibi” as “al-o-bi.”
Strange Love – Isn’t it all?
Blues Hang Over – There is always a price to pay, Slim…

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gladys Knight & The Pips

There was no hint of adolescence about Gladys Knight & The Pips. All the stuff of infatuation, falling in love, seduction, breaking up, life’s ups and downs, broken dreams, when Gladys sings we don't have to suspend belief, she is in our hearts, reading our mail, living our lives, even as the details differ (I sure hope so), the emotional life behind it all is so real it’s scary. It is adult stuff.

Some things get better as we get older, and the Pips’ records are one of those things.

This comes from three separate collections: one of their Fury / Maxx recordings, the Motown Anthology, and a Buddah collection called The Best Of Gladys Knight & The Pips.

Gladys Knight & The Pips

Letter Full Of Tears – The post is the source of so much pop music anguish, what happens now that it barely exists?. From the winter of 1962.
Either Way I Lose – No good options here: stay and be second fiddle, go and be alone. We want to give her advice, only one way forward. But it’s a song, not therapy…
If I Should Ever Fall In Love – Poor man’s version of When I Fall In Love…
Daybreak – The song fools you. You keep waiting for the punch line. Surprise. No punch line. Everything’s good…
Every Beat Of My Heart – And here is where it all started. As good a slow dance as any, the Pips shine and Gladys doesn’t do too badly either. There were two versions of this (not counting the Motown recording from 1970), one on Vee-Jay which was a top 10 hit in the summer of 1961, and one on Fury, released the same time, which reached number 45. I don’t know which one I have, but I’m betting it’s the Fury version. Apparently they are almost indistinguishable, and the Vee-Jay record is credited to The Pips.
Maybe, Maybe Baby – Can’t beat the rhyme, anyway…
Giving Up – Here is really the first glimpse of the Gladys that took centre stage later on. How we try to hang on to what’s not there, even as reality stares us in the face. From the summer of 1964.
Stop And Get A Hold Of Myself
Lovers Always Forgive – Not true, but maybe saying makes doing it easier. From the fall of 1964.
Tell Her You’re Mine – Gladys looks on jealously, as her guy dances with some foxy chick…
Trust In Me – In which Gladys shows us how loud she can sing.
Operator – In which our heroine has a fairly long interaction with a telephone operator, whom she seems to use as a mediator. I don’t know why she has to get the operator to dial the guy’s number for her, even in (the spring of) 1962, when this was a hit, such a concept was obsolete. Do they even have operators anymore? Cue Jim Croce…
Just Walk In My Shoes – Here is where the Motown machine takes over. They give it all they’ve got, but it would be at least one more record before it all clicked.
Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me – This is what musical seduction is supposed to sound like. As frank as it gets, and as beautiful. Must be that celesta. From the spring of 1967, this song spent exactly 2 weeks in the top 100, and reached a grand plateau of 98, proving that the pop charts are no indication of quality. 
Everybody Needs Love – He does, doesn’t he. From the summer of 1967.
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Their big Motown breakthrough, this song has lived in the shadow of Marvin Gaye’s version since the latter was a hit a year post this. This version is faster, and harder, and judged on its own merits it doesn’t have to be in anyone’s shadow. From the winter of ’67 / 68.
The End Of Our Road – Another song they share with Marvin Gaye. But they beat Marvin by 2 years and plenty of chart points. From the winter of 1968.
It Should Have Been Me – There’s no point in being gracious, right? Give it all you got, scream it, stamp your foot. Get it out there. From the summer of 1968.
I Wish It Would Rain – Gladys takes on The Temptations. From the fall of 1968.
Didn’t You Know (You’d Have To Cry Sometime) – Well what did you expect, she says, and she says it with so much power and conviction that there is no arguing. From the spring of 1969.
The Nitty Gritty – Originally by Shirley Ellis, The Pips’ grittier version was a hit in the fall of 1969.
Friendship Train – The Utopian dream, complete with psychedelic guitar intro. Here’s where they got funky. From the tail end of 1969, this predated The O’Jays’ Love Train by 2 years.
The Tracks Of My Tears – Covering The Miracles.
You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You?) – “I can tell by the way you’re looking at me” she sings, and one feels that this isn’t a song about long term commitment. Smoky. From the spring of 1970.
Every Little Bit Hurts – And the endless recycling of Motown hits continues, this one originally a hit for Brenda Holloway in 1964. Both The Spencer Davis Group and The Small Faces covered this as well.
If I Were Your Woman – Everything is always so perfect when it’s not real. Doesn’t matter, we still believe every word she sings. Envy never sounded this good. From the winter of 1971. 
I Don’t Want To Do Wrong – The affair before it happens. From the summer of 1971.
Make Me The Woman That You Go Home To – “and not the one you leave behind,” sings Gladys here, in what may be the most unapologetic song of adultery ever heard. Kitty Wells sang shamefacedly about that Back Street Affair, and in the early 70s the radio seemed to be ablaze with cheating songs – Kiss And Say Goodbye, Me And Mrs. Jones, If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right) – but where this song differed was in the complete non-existence of any moral rectitude; Gladys sings like there’s no tomorrow, the band follows her heartbeat by heartbeat, and the Pips do her proud, pleading her case as if their very harmony could sway the heavens. The end result is a powerhouse of emotional persuasion, one of the truly great unrecognized performances. It only reached #27 on the pop charts, and that was early in 1972. 
Help Me Make It Through The Night – This Kristofferson song was originally a hit for Sammi Smith. The Pips are silent here as Gladys turns her talents to music from the folk / country world. From the spring of 1972.
For Once In My Life – Another solo record (though the record label still said “Gladys Knight & The Pips”), and she does it, as does everyone but Stevie Wonder himself, as a ballad.
Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye) – Another scary one in how it gets to the heart of the truth. “It’s sad to think we’re not gonna make it” she sings, and it’s unlikely that any song ever started with sadder words. From the spring of 1973. 
Daddy Could Swear, I Declare – Back into a bit of a funky groove here, and given the subject one can’t help thinking that they were jumping on The Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone bandwagon, just a bit. This was a hit about half a year after the Tempts’ powerhouse, that is the summer of 1973.
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me – It’s an old truism that it’s harder to sing (or write) happy songs, and just because it’s a truism that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Here’s the proof. This isn’t bad, but Gladys’ voice has so much sorrow in it that there’s something just a little off centre about this. We’re into her Buddah period here, from the spring of 1974.
I Feel A Song (In My Heart) – More happy stuff. From the winter of ‘74/75.
The Going Ups And The Coming Downs – A song about life. Not everything this group did was stellar.
Midnight Train To Georgia – Bob Babbit is the name of the guy who played bass on this record. He is the one, in other words, who propelled it into the musical stratosphere. The drummer was Andrew Smith, and I don’t know whether the drum intro was his idea, but the idea was pure genius. Let’s give someone credit. This song is, hands down, one of the best slow dances ever written or performed or recorded, and it’s not obvious, because it’s not as slow as the others that are currently on my top 3 (When A Man Loves A Woman, If I Fell), and there is enough rhythm to make you want to let go of your partner for a half a minute just to move your feet around, maybe just before the inimitable Pips give off their immortal “woo woo,” at which time you want to be as close to her ear as possible, and it’s not a love song in the same way that, say, Unchained Melody or Without You are love songs, because it’s got a story line about lost dreams and heartbreak and defeat, but how can “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine” be anything but a love song. There is magic here, and although the story is indescribably sad, the record is uplifting in the way that all great art is uplifting (and make no mistake, this is great art). From the fall the fall of 1973, and yes, it made #1. The charts aren’t always wrong. 
On And On - … and on and on and on… From the summer of 1974.
Where Peaceful Waters Flow – This follows the same theme as I Feel A Song and You’re The Best Thing, which isn’t necessarily the way Gladys ought to have gone. From the summer of 1973.
Every Beat Of My Heart – The Motown remake of their first hit.
I’ve Got To Use My Imagination – A stomper about a broken romance. She sounds a lot more defiant than the bare lyrics would have us believe. From the winter of 1974.
I Can See Clearly Now – If Gladys could sing without the Pips, then The Pips could sing without Gladys, and they do that very thing on this record. It is a cover of the immensely sunny hit by Johnny Nash, and while Johnny’s record was a Big Hit, this wasn’t. It wasn’t very good, either.
Try To Remember / The Way We Were – Taking on The Barbra was brave indeed, but to my ears it’s apples and oranges. The two singers don’t even occupy the same universe. I’ve never been a Streisand fan, so to me there is no contest here, but the real question is whether this works at all. The fit isn’t so perfect. This Pipless record was a hit in the summer of 1975.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Johnny Crawford

Back in the day there used to be these TV shows called “westerns.” They were all about stuff that allegedly went on in the American old west, and they were full of sheriffs and cowboys and “Indians” and girls with skirts. There were horses and wagons and old towns with names like Virginia City and Dodgewood and Sagebrush Central. The shows had names like Gunsmoke and Bat Masterson and Have Gun Will Travel. You had to be pretty rugged to be a character in a western.

The Whitburn entry for Johnny Crawford says that he played Michael McCain in The Rifleman, and no matter how hard I try to imagine what kind of character this guy might have played in a western, I come up blank. Maybe he played a water pump or something.

On record he was one of those teen idol types, but without the occasional redeeming feature of a Bobby Vee or Bobby Rydell or Frankie Avalon. He was better than Fabian though, so we haven’t hit rock bottom here.

This is a really old album, an old scratched up copy of  His Greatest Hits that I probably picked up at Comic World. He didn’t have enough hits at the time of its release to fill up an album, so it’s filled up with OPH’s (other people’s hits), as was the custom of the day. Though it’s not here, his last chart record hit right at the start of 1964; his chart career ended just as The Beatles’ started…

Johnny Crawford:

Proud – A confessional. If what he’s saying is true, he’s not just proud – he is seriously messed up. I’d say the sooner he gets into therapy the better. A bit of a sadistic streak going on, followed by not-quite-convincing breast beating afterward. A hit in the winter of 1963. 
Rumors – What we in the great white north call “rumours.” Our Johnny protesteth his innocence, with no real indication of why anyone would want to get him in deep six with his flame. Don’t believe them, he tells her, they have it in for me. Sure. I can sell her a bridge if she falls for it. From the winter of 1962 / 1963. 
Your Nose Is Gonna Grow – That whole Pinocchio thing is kind of unsettling. I mean seriously, what kind of subtext do we infer from body parts that occasionally change size. And if she’s really two-timing the guy, shouldn’t he be more serious that “the boogie man will get you?” I suppose each manages his own relationship. From the fall of 1962.
Cindy’s Birthday – I went to school with someone called Cindy. She was the only member of my graduating class who I never saw again. I don’t know when her birthday is. Johnny, though, is quite excited about this Cindy’s birthday, whoever she is, and he is pressed for time because he must write her (first verse) a symphony which is pared down to (second verse) a song. He ought to have started earlier. This was Johnny’s highest placing single and only top 10, from the summer of 1962. 
Debbie – Debbie was the name of the only girl I ever dated who asked me to take her home in the middle of the evening. She had, I later learned, a reputation for “weirdness,” though the details remain vague to this day. In other words, it wasn’t me. Johnny blew it with his Debbie too, though he is desperately trying to salvage the situation. It’s hopeless man, give it up.
Patti Ann – A marriage proposal on record. It’s been done better. From the spring of 1962.
Mr. Blue – The Fleetwoods’ original was wimpy and this is wimpy. But what the original had that this doesn’t is charm, and that makes All the difference…
Sittin’ And Watchin’ – Watching the hands of the clock because they (Johnny and his belle, not the clock hands) are “too young.” Maybe her parents have other concerns about him…
Moon River – The song can’t lose, the arrangement is fine, and Johnny’s voice isn’t terrible, but you’re not gonna forget Andy Williams any time soon…
We Belong Together – Robert & Johnny did the original. Johnny does a cover. ‘Nuff said.
Donna – This did not make Ritchie Valens happy, up there on the other side where he can’t even earn royalties…
Daydreams – His first hit, lighter on the arrangement, more emphasis on vocal double tracking. The song is one big sigh, and not a particularly inspiring one. From the summer of 1961.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gene And Wendell

This is what happens when you pick things up everywhere, including soundtracks. The music is authentic; the context is not.

No matter, it’s the music that I preserve, from one of the more obscure duos in my prodigious collection. They never had a hit, not on the pop charts anyway. I don’t know about the others.

The soundtrack, by the way, was Hairspray.

Gene And Wendell:

The Roach – One of the more bizarre dance concepts of its era, one apparently danced the roach, at least in part, by squishing phantom bugs on the floor. No stranger than YMCA I suppose…

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Roy Drusky

The internet has made the world better for everyone, me included.

I am thinking of all those oldies stations. The ones in your home town play “only the best oldies;” on the web you can find stations that play the second best, even the third best. This is true not just about pop music; country music has its fair share of proponents.

So I listen to Nashville Classics, Roots of Country, Classic Country etc. And I have yet to hear Roy Drusky.

This guy had a bucketful of hits on the country charts, one almost-hit on the pop charts. He obviously had fans, there are obviously people out there who remember him (ok I admit it, I don’t). But like so many others, he has fallen through the cracks of collective memory.

Maybe I’ll start my own station…

Roy Drusky:

White Lightning Express – Pure honky tonk. George Jones (care of composer The Big Bopper) was drinking the stuff; Roy was running it across the state line.
Pick Of The Week – About the transience of romance.
(From Now On All Of My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers – Done more famously by Merle Haggard.
All For The Love Of A Girl – This tale of romantic sacrifice bears more than a passing resemblance to Peace In The Valley.
Lonely Thing Called Me - :-(
Yesterday – Not The Beatles song. But same idea, more or less…
So Much Got Lost
Room Across The Hall
Three Hearts In A Tangle – This tale of infidelity was Drusky’s only stab at the pop charts, during the summer of 1961.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Mar-Keys

The Mar-Keys The only Mar-Keys collection available on Amazon is an import that sells for $49.95 USD – and that one is available only from a 3rd party reseller. And for your 50 dollars you get a whopping 21 tracks, which don’t even include all 4 of their top 100 singles (Pop-Eye Stroll is missing).

There must be a dozen collections by Booker T & The MGs. This isn’t something that I can explain easily.

My collection has all 4 singles, among 11 tacks taken from The Complete Stax Volt Singles, 1959-1968, which I found on that delightful, though totally corrupt, and no longer extant, Russian web site.

The Mar-Keys were a Stax group, laying down that groovy Memphis rhythm behind some of the great Stax artists, the house band, when the said Booker T and company weren’t being the house band (you figure it out, I can’t). And, like the MGs, they made a series of recordings of their own, and managed to put four of them, as I said, into the top 100. Not to be confused the Marketts (aka Mar-Kets) who did Surfers Stomp and Out Of Limits and the big hit cover of Batman, or the Bar-Kays, another 60 soul group very similar to the Mar-Keys who recorded for the same label. How could anybody keep it straight, I don’t know…

The Mar-Keys:

Last Night – The big one, from the summer of 1961. It doesn’t get simpler, and it doesn’t get into a deeper groove…
Morning After – The follow up, from the fall of 1961.
About Noon
Pop-Eye Stroll – There is a superficial resemblance to Popcorn by Hot Butter, with the emphasis remaining on “superficial.” From the winter / spring of 1962.
Whot’s Happening
Bush Bash
Grab This Thing (Part 1)
Philly Dog – Their 4th and final pop hit, from the spring of 1966.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bobbie Smith & The Dream Girls

Bobbie Smith & The Dream Girls The Truth about oldies lies with YouTube.

Bobbie Smith & The Dream Girls have about 20 videos. That represents about 10 songs. That doesn’t sound all that impressive.

But this is a group that did not have a single hit on the Billboard top 100. The bible according to Whitburn has its limits. They are not even on Wikipedia. Those of us who try to make sense of the world by looking at the records are doomed. (We need to look at the records instead.)

So here was a girl group from Detroit who had a series of singles between 1959 and 1965, who played the Apollo and had a faithful following, whose records were presumably played on local radio stations, and who, but for YouTube, would be relegated to historical non-existence.

My one track comes from some Rhino random song collection. This is as random as it gets.

Bobbie Smith & The Dream Girls:

Mr. Fine – The thing to aim for was cool. Handsome was ok, but what this guy was was fine – wears a white suit and Stetson hat, drives a Cadillac. Pretty obvious what’s going on here. From 1961.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chris Kenner

Chris KennerI’ve never been to New Orleans. As a kid I travelled a lot with my family, and we made it to the south west (LA), the southeast (Miami) but never due south.

So I have no firsthand experience that I can draw on here, none to explain what makes New Orleans music unique. I can’t tell what’s unique about it either – I can hear it, but I can’t describe it. The best thing I can tell you to do is listen: Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Allan Toussaint.

Chris Kenner.

Kenner is know more by his songs (3 of them, to be specific) than by his recordings. But this collection is one of the best party albums I can recommend, if your party is about dancing. (You’ll have to look elsewhere for slow dances though; the ones on here you wouldn’t want to dance to). He has a foggy NO voice and a rhythm that can define the entire genre. This is a collection called I Like It Like That. All his hits are here (all two of them).

Chris Kenner:

I Like It Like That – His big hit. The title refers to a cool place you can go to and dance (with a name like that it has to be cool). This is one of a long series of songs about cool places, from The Drifters’ 333 to Ohio Express’ Down At Lulu’s. A hit in the summer of 1961 and covered to great success by The Dave Clark Five in the summer of 1965.
Anybody Here Seen My Baby – The tale of an abuser. No? Then why did she disappear without a trace?
Shoo-Rah – Not The Fats Domino song, though it can’t be a coincidence that they both did a song with this title. The rhythm here is more Bo Diddley, and the chord changes are non-existent. This must be where James Brown got the idea.
Johnny Little – This tale of a compulsive gambler sounds like a cross between Hully Gully and The Gong Gong Song.
Gonna Getcha Baby – I hope so, because he can’t dance to this all alone.
Never Reach Perfection – So when he does a ballad, it’s not romantic, it’s gospel.
Something You Got – He didn’t put this on the chart, but if there’s any justice he could retire on the royalties. So many covers of this. My favourite is Them.
That’s My Girl – And he sure is proud of her, tight jeans and all.
Land Of A Thousand Dances – “You gotta know how to pony.” Another iconic song, though Kenner’s version didn’t make it higher than number 74, and that was in the spring of 1963. It was Cannibal & The Headhunters that put it in the top 40, and who invented the na na-na-na na refrain, which was picked up later by Wilson Pickett. “Get down on your knees, do the sweet peas.” And don’t forget the slop, and chicken in the pot.
She Can Dance – In the context of this collection, that’s great praise indeed, though no surprise.
Come Back And See – I wouldn’t if I were her, but that jagged rhythm may be irresistible.
How Far – Love as distance, not the physical kind.
Time – Back to gospel, complete with church chorus.
All Night Rambler – Anticipates Mick and the boys by the better part of a decade, with a guitar that would do Keith proud.
Packing Up – Land Of A Thousand Dances redux, in the context of emotional severance.
(I Found) Peace – This could be romantic, or this could be religious, but either way this is noisy peace…

Sunday, January 22, 2012

July, 1961

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Phil Upchurch Combo

Phil Upchurch During his active career (he still plays), Phil Upchurch was a session musician who played guitar and bass for everyone from B.B. King to Mose Allison to Jimmy Smith. His active and prolific career is belied by his one-hit-wonder status. I guess he wasn’t that fond of the spotlight.

Near as I can tell, the “combo” was short-lived. And I don’t know who was in it.

Phil Upchurch Combo:

You Can’t Sit Down – True to its title, this digs a deep groove. It's one of those part 1 part 2 records, and apparently it was part 2 that was the hit. That was a hit in the summer of 1961, and then again, with lyrics added, it was a hit for the Dovells in 1963, but the original is superior. Covers abound.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Cleftones

The CleftonesAnother group who put out at least two dozen singles, but who remain known for one hit, which itself comes down through the ages courtesy of American Graffiti.

The Cleftones:

Heart And Soul – Lots of competition here, but the only other notable hit version in the so-called rock and roll era was the one by Jan & Dean, which was more doo-wop than this slick but soulful arrangement by an actual doo-wop group. The song was by Hoagy Carmichael (Georgia On My Mind, Stardust etc) and Frank Loesser, an old Tin Pan Alley standard. From the summer of 1961.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Little Caesar & The Romans

Little Caesar & The Romans Not to be confused with Little Caesar & The Consuls, though the none other than Joel Whitburn himself does so confuse them. The Romans were American, the Consuls Canadian, just so we’re clear.

They’ve had warnings on re-recordings for a while now; sometimes the warnings sound positively glowing. This is where some recording artist (or group, though not likely the original group) rerecords some old hit, and they make a collection of these, and release it on some budget priced CD. And it sounds like crap. But of course the recording techniques are more modern and the sound itself is probably superior (at least technically, not necessarily atmospherically) to the original. And so the warning, telling us that we are not getting what we may think we are getting, often lauds the improved sound quality, and downplays the inauthenticity of the experience.

But that’s all material for reflection. It didn’t used to be like that. And back in the day I got burned once or twice. I remember buying a double album that positively brimmed with great 60s oldies, but as luck would have it they were almost all bogus. One of the exceptions (out of a maximum of three, I can’t remember now) was the one hit by Little Caesar & The Romans. The sound on it is so primitive that it’s a giveaway. A lesson learned.

Little Caesar & The Romans:

Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me Of You) – This was a hit in the summer of 1961, so I don’t know how old the oldies were, though one could go back to Palestrina if one wants, I suppose. And Little Caesar (I assume that’s him singing, though apparently at least 2 members of the group each claimed to be him) repeatedly commits one of the great grammatical gaffes of pop music when he keeps singing how “those oldies but goodies reminds me of you.” But beyond all the silliness, there is something truly profound about the songs that comprise the soundtrack of one’s life. Just ask me. “Yes dear, they’re playing OUR song…”

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bobby Lewis

Not to be confused with Jerry Lewis or Jerry Lee Lewis, Shari Lewis or Rudy Lewis or Ramsey Lewis, Bobby Lewis had 2 top 10 hits, and two more that didn’t make it higher than number 77, but I only have one of them anyway, and I got that from the Sock Hoppin' Sixties volume of Baby Boomer Classics.

Bobby Lewis:

Tossin’ And Turnin’ – The all-too-real phenomenon of staying awake all night stressing about things (romantic things of course) over which we have virtually no control. It wasn’t anything for Lewis to sing about the milkman showing up early, either. I knew this first because The Guess Who covered it in the summer of 1965, back when they were Chad Allen & The Expressions. Lewis’ original was a number one hit in the summer of 1961, and was Billboard song of the year. Note: apparently the version on the single did not have the “baby baby” intro, but reissues show up variously with and without.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Edsels

The EdselsA group named after what must have been the biggest marketing disaster in history. (I’m sure “new Coke” was the second biggest). Thing is, though, that at the time nobody knew that yet.

They recorded a lot during the 50s and early 60s, but they only had one hit. Butwhat a hit it was…

The Edsels:

Rama Lama Ding Dong – Recorded or originally during the waning years of doo-wop (1957 to be exact), the song languished until the doo-wop revival of the early 60s. Pulled out of retirement to become a hit in the summer of 1961, the song is complete and utter and delightful nonsense, everything that a good rock and roll record should be.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

June, 1961

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