In The Light Of A Rainy Day

Originally posted March 23, 2009

As I look out the window this morning, I’m consoled by the thought that it could be worse: The temperature could be fifteen degrees cooler and it could be snowing.

As it is, the rain is expected to hang around here all day. That makes the view from the study window distinctly unappealing. Luckily, I have no need to go out into the rain, save for a quick trip across the street to the mailbox sometime this afternoon. And as I sit here pondering the rain, I’m struck for some reason by the contrast between the brightly lighted interior and the gloom – bare black oaks against a gray sky – I see outside.

It puts me in mind of rainy days in elementary school, days when the fluorescent ceiling lights were reflected in the large window that lined one wall of our classroom at Lincoln School. The splash and streak of raindrops on the outside window would grip my attention more firmly than could arithmetic or social studies, and I’d get lost in the ever-changing pattern on the glass.

In the cloakroom, yellow slickers and black boots would shed water all morning, leaving puddles on the brown tile floor. On some very wet or bitterly cold days, I’d eat lunch at school, but most days, just before noon, I’d head home for lunch, walking in the winter and riding my Schwinn Typhoon in the autumn and the spring, even on days of light rain. Somewhere there is a picture of an eight-year old whiteray in his yellow slicker with the matching cap, about to head off to school. I wore that slicker – or another one like it – for several years, making my way to and from school amid the drizzle and the drops.

I don’t recall if I ever heard music playing from the radio in the kitchen at lunch time. I would have been far more interested in eating my Campbell’s Scotch Broth or my Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli and then heading back out in the damp for another few hours of school.

If there had been music during lunch, I would at best have heard two, maybe three, of the following songs:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 23, 1963)
“South Street” by the Orlons, Cameo 243 (No. 7)
“Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers, Vanguard 35017 (No. 22)
“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674 (No. 31)
“Hitch Hike” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54075 (No. 54)
“Mecca” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1028 (No. 81)
“Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 563 (No. 88)

The Orlons don’t seem to be much remembered these days, and I’m not sure why. The Philadelphia quartet managed five Top 40 singles between June 1962 and October 1963, which is a pretty good run. Three of those hit the Top Ten: “The Wah Watusi” (No. 2), “Don’t Hang Up” (No 4), and ‘South Street,” which peaked at No. 3. If any of those get any airplay on oldies stations these days, it’s “The Wah Watusi,” which is probably third-best of the three Top Ten hits.

The Rooftop Singers’ version of “Walk Right In” was on its way back down the chart in March 1963, having spent two weeks at No. 1 as January turned into February. The song has a long history, having first been recorded by Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1929. According to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, banjo player Erik Darling – who’d been a member of the Weavers, a legendary folk group – heard the Gus Cannon recording of the song, changed a line or two (the book says, for example, “a two way woman” became “a new way of walking”) and found a couple of friends to record the song with him. The hit “was a windfall” for Cannon, “who was living in a little house by the railroad tracks in Memphis.” Cannon had hocked his banjo for $20 worth of coal to keep from freezing the previous winter; after “Walk Right In” was a hit, Cannon not only earned royalties but gained a recording contract with Stax Records.

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” went to No. 2 in the spring of 1963, Andy William’s seventh Top Ten hit. He would wait another eight years for his eighth and last Top Ten single, “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” which went to No. 9 in early 1971. “Losing You” is sweet but, I think, insignificant. More appealing is the flipside, “The Days of Wine And Roses,” which also charted, making it to No. 26. That single, of course, was the theme song from the film that starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Williams did well with movie themes; he also charted in late 1964 with “Dear Heart” and in the spring of 1972 with “Love Theme from ‘The Godfather’ (Speak Softly Love).”

“Hitch Hike” is a nice slice of early 1960s R&B, drawing a little bit, I think, from Ray Charles. My blogging colleague, Any Major Dude, will appreciate the flute break that starts 1:15 into the song (with the flute recurring at moments after that). The single, which went to No. 30, is notable as Gaye’s first Top 40 hit. As nifty a single as “Hitch Hike” is, one wonders if anyone around Gaye could see the brilliance waiting to take wing.

“Mecca” is an odd single, with its Arabian/North African opening riff, its tale of seemingly forbidden love and its chorus of “Mecca (Mecca, Mecca).” I doubt if the song would get released these days, as the cultural uproar – valid or not – wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The single peaked at No. 12.

I’ve thrown singles by Ferrante & Teicher on the logpile a couple of times. The duo’s twin-piano sound was, to me, one of the defining sounds of the early 1960s. Ferrante & Teicher had only five Top 40 hits, but four of them – all from movies or musicals – came in 1960 and 1961, and I know heard them somewhere, and fairly frequently at that. (Their fifth hit, another movie theme, was “Midnight Cowboy” in late 1969 and early 1970.) The single offered here, “Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’,” bounced around in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 for twelve weeks, never getting any higher than No. 84.

(The songs that would have gotten airplay on any station we listened to on Kilian Boulevard? The Andy Williams, the Ferrante & Teicher, and maybe the Rooftop Singers.)

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