Saturday Single No. 14

Originally posted June 2, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, when I posted Jim Croce’s first album, I used as a framework for my discussion the Righteous Brothers’ single from 1974, “Rock And Roll Heaven” As I discussed the effects of the deaths of the six musicians listed in the song – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce and Bobby Darin – I wondered why songwriters Alan O’Day and John Stevenson hadn’t used some of the other famous dead rockers in their song, specifically Buddy Holly. I also mentioned Duane Allman and King Curtis.

An hour or so later, I heard the little chime that tells me I have email in the account I use for the blog. The message was titled, “Hey from Alan O’Day.” It was one of three he sent me that week as he filled me in on the history of “Rock And Roll Heaven.”

“If memory serves me,” he wrote, “I believe one of my earlier verse drafts did mention Buddy, by way of his girl ‘Peggy Sue,’ as well as Ritchie Valens’ ‘Donna.’ But the producers of the Righteous Brothers’ hit actually re-wrote that verse. They wanted more current dead people.”

He went on to quote the verse that the Righteous Brothers’ producers – Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter – discarded in favor of their own verse mentioning Jim Croce and Bobby Darin. The original second verse was:

“Peggy Sue and Donna, our sweethearts from the past –
“They crystallized our lives on the radio.
“The ones who loved them most of all have left before their time,
“But they’ll all be back together when they meet in one big show.”

Alan said in his note that he’d actually tried to include Jim Croce in the original version of the song: “I remember trying to work him into a verse of the song at some point, but I stumbled on the sound of ‘Croce’ as a lyric, and I already had mentioned two other Jims, referencing Hendrix and Morrison.”

And it turns out that the Righteous Brothers’ version of the tune was not the first time the song was recorded. The early 1970s group Climax – who had a No. 3 hit with “Precious And Few” in early 1972 – released “Rock And Roll Heaven” as a single in 1973.

Climax’s lead singer was Sonny Geraci, who had also been the lead singer for the Outsiders when they had their No. 5 hit, “Time Won’t Let Me,” in 1966. But the recording of “Rock And Roll Heaven” didn’t do well in the charts. “I felt the engineering and production hurt his version,” wrote Alan, who noted that Geraci was “a nice guy.”

After the single stiffed, Alan said, “I thought our song was dead.” He was a staff writer at Warner Bros. Publishing at the time, though, and the company gave the song to Lambert and Potter, who rewrote the second verse and got the Righteous Brothers to record it. The single hit No. 3 in the summer of 1974, the first hit for the duo in eight years. Their album, Give It To The People, reached No. 27, and threw off two more Top 40 singles, “Give It To The People (No. 20) and “Dream On (No. 32).

Alan seems to have mixed feelings about the Righteous Brothers’ single. He notes that it revived the song, but he also notes that when Lambert and Potter rewrote the second verse they didn’t consult with him and Stevenson. On the other hand, Alan said, “to their credit, [they] never asked us for a portion of the writing royalties.”*

And Alan has hopes for the song still. “‘Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven’ is a song that probably will never be finished,” he told me. “I recently resurrected it as ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven 2007,’ trying for someone like Taylor Hicks or Travis Tritt to cut it.” There’s a link to the demo on Alan’s website. The site also has a link to a video for the 2007 version on YouTube as well as a recap of Alan’s career in the music business.

For my part, as soon as I learned that Climax had released “Rock And Roll Heaven” as a single, I clicked my way to Ebay. It took two weeks for the record to get here, which is why I didn’t write about it until today.

But here, as originally written by Alan O’Day and John Stevenson – who was a member of the band – is Climax’s version of “Rock And Roll Heaven,” today’s Saturday Single:

Climax – “Rock And Roll Heaven” [Rocky Road 30072, 1973]

*Alan O’Day later wrote me again and said that he has no complaints with Lambert or Potter or anyone connected with the Righteous Brothers’ version of “Rock And Roll Heaven.” Note added April 22, 2011.

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3 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 14”

  1. Correction « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] my post a few weeks ago about the song “Rock and Roll Heaven” and its two versions, I wrote – based on an exchange of emails with Alan O’Day, one of the […]

  2. Packing, Greetings & Gypsy « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] two most obvious are Bobby Jameson and Patti Dahlstrom. Then there was Alan O’Day, with whom I had an email conversation about “Rock & Roll Heaven,” which he co-wrote. But […]

  3. Chart Digging, September 21, 1974 « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] Brothers “Rock and Roll Heaven” (a record that once resulted in my having an exchange of emails with co-writer Alan O’Day) had gone to No. 3. In September, “Give It To The People” – the […]

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