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…
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