Tales From The Stage

Originally posted April 8, 2009

As seventh grade entered its home stretch in early 1966, I tried out for the school play. I’m not sure what prompted me to do so, but I ended up with a role in a comedy titled No More Homework!

I recall almost nothing about the play’s plot. I do recall the names of a few of my fellow cast members. And I remember very clearly that I played the role of Faversham Lightly, Jr., a less-than-dedicated student whose main pleasure was sleep. In the play’s first act, Faversham goes into the supply closet in search of something, and a ruckus in the hallway draws the attention of the faculty, the staff and the audience. Some hilarity and mild suspense ensues.

Near the end of the third act, the suspense leads one of the faculty members to gingerly enter the supply closet. And she runs from the closet back into the office, screaming about a ghost. At which point, young Faversham emerges rubbing his eyes, having slept away the day (and the entire second act, if I am recalling this correctly). Faversham’s sleepy reappearance from the closet got the largest laugh each of the two nights we presented the play.

There’s nothing quite like drawing laughter and applause when one is being purposefully funny. It’s intoxicating and addictive. So through ninth grade, I was a regular on stage at South Junior High. I had a bit role in the next year’s production, a musical entitled Plenty of Money, and as a ninth-grader, I had the comedy lead in On With The Show, a musical that takes place in a circus. I made the local daily, as the St. Cloud Times ran a picture of me being terrified at the sight of Tina the Snake Charmer’s pet.

The production being a musical, I even had a song to perform solo. I still remember most of the words to “Let Me Live the Life of a Clown.” (There are those, I imagine, who would claim that I’ve met that goal, albeit not in the sense the song had in mind, with floppy shoes and a big red nose.)

And then, it was over. During high school, I moved my extracurricular efforts to the locker room as an athletic manager. About half-way through my senior year, encouraged by friends who were auditioning, I did try out for a role in a Woody Allen play, Don’t Drink the Water, and I was cast as the comedy lead. The director and the wrestling coach were both cooperative, each allowing me an occasional absence so I could take part in both activities at the same time. And I enjoyed the rehearsals and the two or three performances. But the rush wasn’t there.

And even though the roles I had as a senior and in ninth grade were larger and more challenging, I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a louder round of laughter and applause than I did when Faversham Lightly, Jr., stumbled sleepily back on stage in the spring of 1966.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, April 9, 1966)

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by Otis Redding, Volt 132 (No. 34)

“I Hear Trumpets Blow” by the Tokens, B.T. Puppy 518 (No. 36)

“The Rains Came” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe 8314 (No. 52)

“Rhapsody in the Rain” by Lou Christie, MGM 13473 (No. 55)

“Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” by Edwin Starr, Ric-Tic 109 (No. 62)

“Dirty Water” by the Standells, Tower 185 (No. 120)

By using horns in place of Keith Richards’ thick guitar lick, Otis Redding turns “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into an R&B anthem and almost steals the song away from the Rolling Stones. Redding’s version had peaked at No. 31 – his second Top 40 hit – and was heading back down the chart by the second week of April; he’d have eight more Top 40 hits, four of them coming after his death in a December 1967 plane crash.

“I Hear Trumpets Blow” is an odd single, one that I’d not been familiar with until recently. The Tokens had reached No. 1 in 1961 with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but the best they could do five years later with “Trumpets” was No. 30. It turned out to be the only hit the Tokens had on their own record label, B.T. Puppy. They returned to the Top 40 in the spring of 1967 with “Portrait of My Love,” which went to No. 36, and three of the four Tokens formed Cross Country and took a cover of “In The Midnight Hour” to No. 30 in 1973. (As long as I’m sort of on the topic, my blogging colleague Any Major Dude recently posted a fascinating account of the long and sometimes unsavory history of the “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Check it out.)

“The Rains Came” is another record that I’d not known until recently. The name of the Sir Douglas Quintet might have fooled a few listeners into thinking the group was part of the British Invasion, but – to a discriminating listener – the music is nothing but Tex-Mex, with that organ part chirping all the way through. Leader Doug Sahm and his pals took “The Rains Came” as high as No. 31, the group’s second of three hits. “She’s About A Mover” went to No. 13 a year earlier, and “Mendocino would reach No. 27 in the spring of 1969.

The version of “Rhapsody in the Rain” offered here is the original version, the one that got parents and radio stations all heated up in the spring of 1966. Harry Young, who wrote the liner notes of Lou Christie’s greatest hits album, Enlightningment, says: “‘Rhapsody in the Rain’ . . . had the honor of being banned. Why? Because, as WLS Program Director Gene Taylor put it in Time magazine, ‘There was no question about what the lyrics and the beat implied – sexual intercourse in a car, making love to the rhythm of the windshield wipers.’” Young adds, “The lyrics only said ‘We were making out in the rain’ and ‘Our love went much too far.’ Nevertheless, the ‘dirty’ lyrics were changed to ‘We fell in love in the rain’ and ‘Our love came like a falling star.’” Young also noted that the bowdlerized version of the single was slower and lower-pitched. The record, which would become Christie’s fourth Top 40 hit, was heading up the chart in the second week of April and would eventually peak at No. 16.

“Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” didn’t quite get Edwin Starr into the Top 40; the record had peaked at No. 48 a couple of weeks earlier. Writer Dave Marsh called “Stop Her On Sight” “one of the best non-Motown Motown discs ever cut.” Marsh also says that even though Starr’s first hits came on Ric-Tic – a “minor league” Detroit label – “every inflection established that Motown was embedded in the grooves of [Starr’s] destiny.” In just a few years, Starr’s Motown work would hit the Top Ten, with “Twenty-Five Miles” reaching No. 6 in 1969 and “War” topping the chart for three weeks in 1970.

There are only a few things to note about the Standells’ “Dirty Water.” First, it had a long climb ahead of it, as it eventually reached No. 11. And then, it’s got one of the great – and sometimes overlooked – opening riffs in rock history, and it’s a great record beyond that riff. Finally, a record this good has to be in the running for the title of greatest one-hit wonder of all time. Maybe not the top spot – I’d have to think about it – but in the running.

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