Archive for the ‘1955’ Category

Grab Bag No. 6

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 19, 2009

In the early 1930s, while knocking around Hollywood, a comedian and banjo player named Harry Edward Stewart knew that he needed a new act. Hollywood was jammed with comedians and banjo players. So Harry dipped into his Scandinavian heritage: He was born in the state of Washington in 1908 to Elise Skarbo and her Norwegian-born husband Hans. (He got the surname Stewart after he was given up for adoption after his mother’s death.) Then he added a bit of whimsy.

And he became Yogi Yorgesson, the Hindu mystic from Stockholm, Sweden. According to a biography of Stewart at yogiyorgesson.com, he would wear a turban while he “gazed into a small fish bowl turned upside down as his ‘crystal ball’ and would make statements such as, ‘I can see my face on da udder side.’ That was his line, but his skit also answered questions that were posed to him by listeners. Actually, the listeners’ questions were simply part of the script that he wrote. He used an exaggerated Swedish dialect to add to the humor.”

Through the 1930s and 1940s, Stewart worked numerous sides of the entertainment business in radio, in advertising, script-writing for radio, directing and more, as well as recording and touring as Yogi, who became more and more famous. In 1950, according to the biography at his website, Yorgesson went to Minnesota, where his records had been selling well. The folks there like his songs, but his swami act – with the turban and the upside-down fishbowl – went over less well. So Stewart remade Yogi as a “country ‘bumpkin,’ wearing a straw hat, dressed in rube clothes and chewing on a straw.”

It was in 1949 that Yogi recorded the songs for which most people remember him (thanks in large part to frequent airplay by odd record maven Dr. Demento): “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas/Yingle Bells.” But Yogi recorded and released plenty of other records (and Stewart also recorded as other ethnic characters, including the Japanese character Harry Kiri).

The record that came out of my mystery box this morning was Yogi Yorgesson’s answer to the Davy Crockett craze that swept across the U.S. in 1955. When Walt Disney produced and aired Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker, it sparked a merchandising mania likely unseen before; every kid in the U.S. wanted a Davy Crockett something. Part of that mania was the song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” with three different versions reaching the Billboard charts: Bill Hayes’ version was No. 1 for four weeks and No. 7 for the year; Tennessee Ernie Ford’s recording went to No. 4 on the country chart and No. 5 on the pop chart and was No. 37 for the year; and the version by Fess Parker, star of the television show, peaked at No. 6 on the weekly chart and was No. 31 for the year.

Seeing an opening, Harry Stewart wrote the “Ballad of Ole Svenson” and got it released on Capitol. It’s broad-based, gentle ethnic humor, and it provides a few chuckles. I can’t find any indication of how popular the record was, but it no doubt went over better in the Upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and the few other places where Scandinavian heritage is strongest. I may be wrong about that, though, as Stewart had toured for years all over the country as Yogi Yorgesson.

The B-Side features Yogi in his role as “Lonesome Loverboy” promoting in typical Yorgesson style a great new perfume for the ladies.

(The record is in pretty bad shape, and there are even a couple of skips on the A-Side. I’m posting it so readers can get an idea of Stewart’s gig as Yogi. If you want better quality or more of Stewart’s work, you’ll find an email link and a phone number at the Yogi Yorgesson website.)

Yogi Yorgesson
“Ballad of Ole Svenson/Lonesome Loverboy” [Capitol 3089, 1955]

The Dynamics were one of the many doo-wop groups who managed to get recording deals and put out a few records during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The website Doo-Wop has a few sketchy details about the group and lists four records, two for Arc and two for Decca.

One of the Decca records – a 1960 release – surfaced here this morning: “Seems Like Only Yesterday/How Should I Feel.” As there seems to be nothing on the ’Net beyond that sparse information at Doo-Wop, we’ll have to see what we can glean from the label.

Here’s a nugget: The last Grab Bag featured a record by the Toppers, with both sides “directed” by Jack Pleis (a function that I assume is equivalent to today’s producer). Pleis’ name shows up again today, as he directed both sides of the Dynamics’ record. He was – one would think – a house producer for Decca.

Let’s look at the writers: “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” which seems to be the A-Side, was written by committee, with credits going to Paul Nucilla (sic), Bill Jennings, Walter Price, Albert Price and Richard D. Lombardo. The B-Side, “How Should I Feel,” is credited to Tom DeCillis and Richard D. Lombardo. Hmm. The photo of the group at Doo-Wop shows six young men. Could these be their names? I’m not sure how likely it might have been for the group to have crafted its own material, so it could be we have the names of six staff writers for Decca. I really don’t know.

[Note from 2022: According to discogs.com, the Dynamics were Albert Price, Walter Price, Walter Popdora, Chester Popdora, Bill Jennings and Paul Nocilla, so four of the group’s members were involved in writing “Seems Like Only Yesterday” and none were involved in writing “How Should I Feel.” Note added May 15, 2022.]

And there’s not a lot of information out there. All-Music Guide has listings for a few groups of the same name, none of which seem to be the same group. Searches at AMG for the song titles come up with nothing for “How Should I Feel” and several hits for “Seems Like Only Yesterday” But none of them are the right song: Three of the hits are for a tune first recorded by Jesse Winchester in 1977, one is for a track from a 2007 release by a group called Undercurrent, and one is for a reissue of an album track recorded by the Four Seasons for a 1964 album. That sounds a little promising, but it’s a different song with different writers.

One thing I did learn, this from the website of Doo Wop Shoo Bop Records: The single was re-released in 1962 as Decca 31450, not that it seems to have received any notice. My copy, the 1960 release, has some noise on it, but it’s worth a listen. “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” once it gets going, has some nice Four Seasons-ish percussion in the background. “How Should I Feel” is less, well, dynamic.

(Both sides of the single – along with two other Dynamics’ recordings and a lot of others from the same era – are available on a CD titled He Digs Doo-Wop Volume #7. Just Google the title and you’ll find plenty of links, if you’re interested.)

The Dynamics
“Seems Like Only Yesterday/How Should I Feel” [Decca 31046, 1960]

The Miller Sisters, according to Mitch Rosalsky’s Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups, were the daughters – Jeanette, Maxine, Nina, Sandy and Vernel – of William Miller of Hull Records. Between 1955 and 1965, the sister released twenty singles on a variety of labels, including Hull. There’s no entry for the sisters in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, so they never made that chart, but I have no idea if they reached any of the other charts.

One of their singles was “Walk On/Oh Why,” released in 1962 on the Rayna label. The A-Side is a pretty good dance tune that name-checks a number of current dance crazes like the hully-gully, the twist and the mashed potato. The B-Side is a ballad with some thunderous percussion that’s a little reminiscent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

There’s no mention of the sisters at AMG. So all I have is the label on the record and Rosalsky’s encyclopedia. From the record, I know that the Miller Sisters’ father wrote at least some of their songs, as he’s credited with both sides of the single. Then, according to Rosalsky, the sisters “had a starring role in the first R&B motion picture, Fritz Pollard’s Rockin’ the Blues, in 1955.”

Miller Sisters
“Walk On/Oh Why” [Rayna 5004, 1962]

‘When’

January 25, 2018

So we return after a long break to Journalism 101, our exploration of tunes that include in their titles the five W’s and one H of reporting: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Today’s subject is “when,” and the RealPlayer brings us an initial harvest of 761 tracks.

We’ll winnow that down, of course. We lose a few tracks with “whenever” in their titles, and a 1998 track from the band When In Rome goes by the wayside. So do several albums (except for some title tracks) including Glenn Yarbrough’s For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, Trisha Yearwood’s The Song Remembers When, Rory Block’s When A Woman Gets The Blues, Snow Patrol’s When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, Traffic’s When The Eagle Flies, the Sutherland Brothers’ When The Night Comes Down, Carolina Story’s When The River Met The Sea, John Mellencamp’s Whenever We Wanted, and When Harry Met Sally by Harry Connick, Jr.

There’s plenty left, of course, and we’re going to do things a little differently today, picking one track from each of four decades of the 1900s, starting with the 1940s. (Just for the record, the earliest recorded track that popped up was “When a ’Gator Holler, Folks Say It’s A Sign Of Rain” recorded by Margaret Johnson with the Black & Blue Trio in 1926, while the most recent track offered by the RealPlayer was “When I Saw Your Face” from Soul Of A Woman, Sharon Jones’ final album with the Dap-Kings.

The mystically romantic “Where Or When” was introduced in the 1937 musical Babes In Arms, created by the team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart and quickly became a popular standard. The website Second Hand Songs lists 225 versions of the tune, and it’s apparent that there are more versions uncounted, as we’re listening today to the 1942 cover of the song by Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians, which SHS does not cite. Lombardo’s version of “Where Or When” is a little stiff, perhaps, but the buttery smooth reeds still sound nice, as does the similarly smooth trombone solo. The Decca release went to No. 19 in 1943, according to David A. Jasen’s book A Century Of American Popular Music.

So we move into the 1950s and find a charming gem: “When You Dance” by the Turbans, a black doo-wop group from Philadelphia. Released on the Herald label in 1955, the record went to No. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the magazine’s R&B chart. Six years later, the Turbans re-recorded the song for a release on the Parkway label, but the record only bubbled under at No. 114. The original version showed up in 2005 on the stellar two-CD set The Only Doo-Wop Collection You’ll Ever Need on the Shout Factory label.

If ever a No. 18 hit can be called a forgotten record, it might be “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)” by the Four Tops. The 1966 single has everything you might want in a Four Tops joint, from an arresting tale and a strong lead vocal to the work of Motown’s Funk Brothers. But I think it tends to get lost among the stellar singles the group released on either side: “I Can’t Help Myself” and “It’s The Same Old Song” charted in 1965, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” hit later in 1966, and 1967 brought “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette.” Small wonder that “Shake Me, Wake Me,” as good as it is, stands in shadows itself. As I noted, it peaked in the Hot 100 at No. 18, and it went to No. 5 on the R&B chart.

The short-lived British band McGuinness Flint managed one appearance in the Billboard Hot 100 when “When I’m Dead And Gone” went to No. 47 in early 1971, and as I listen today to that track and to “Malt and Barley Blues,” a 1971 Capitol promo single, I wish I had a lot more from the band on the digital shelves. I have Lo and Behold, a 1972 album by the group’s successor band, Coulson, Dean, McGuinness and Flint, and that’s fine, but I suppose I’m going to have to shell out some cash for the original group’s 1970 album. The group’s tangled history is best left to Wikipedia. (Oddly enough, I also have on the digital shelves a cover of “When I’m Dead And Gone” by an American artist named Bob Summers that pretty much copies the original arrangement, slows the song down just a titch, and misses the magic entirely.)

Saturday Single No. 498

May 28, 2016

Today was supposed to be the day to finish off the planting for this year’s gardening adventure. In the last couple weeks, the Texas Gal – with my help – has laid down weed-blocking cloth in the larger garden in our side yard and in the smaller plot we’ve claimed in the community garden just on the other side of the copse. And since then, she’s gotten most of the planting done.

There seem to be fewer gardeners from the adjacent apartment complex joining us in the community garden this year. Much of the space there has begun to devolve to weeds in the weeks since it was tilled. Our space did the same until this week when we finally fenced it, the Texas Gal cleared it, and we laid down the weed blocker. That’s where she’ll plant green beans – and perhaps wax beans – this year.

That means the tomatoes will be in the side yard this year, a change from garden seasons past. A malady called “blossom end rot” has taken perhaps forty percent of our tomatoes the past couple of years in the community garden. We got six tomato plants the other day, and they’re already in place; a space in the side-yard garden awaits about twelve more or so that the Texas Gal is growing from seed. Those are almost big enough to transplant into that space.

There, in the side-yard garden, the tomatoes will join cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, bok choy, celery, kohlrabi, red and green cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and a few peppers (with peas and onions in some nearby raised beds). But that will have to wait a while. It rained all day yesterday and the ground is too wet to transplant the tomatoes or to plant the beans.

And it’s supposed to resume raining at about five o’clock this afternoon and rain into the evening, making it unlikely that things will be dry enough for planting tomorrow. Well, Monday is supposed to be sunny, and there are worse ways to spend Memorial Day than planting tomatoes and beans.

But today, we’ll stay in and stay dry (except for, perhaps, an excursion to the local mall this afternoon to window-shop and people-watch). And, digging deep into the mp3 shelves, I found a suitable piece of music for the day. In the 1950s and 1960s, actor Jackie Gleason issued a series of orchestral albums that fit right into the easy listening trends of the time. Here, from his 1955 album Lonesome Echo, is “A Garden In The Rain,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Six At Random

November 4, 2014

We’re going to put the cursor about in the middle of the 78,829 mp3s in the RealPlayer and see where we go on a random six-track trip. Here we go!

First up is “When She Loves Me” from the 1977 album Mama Let Him Play by the Canadian musician Jerry Doucette. It’s a sweet tune, and I wouldn’t have known it or anything about Doucette without the help of my blogging pal jb, who hangs out at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. He asked me one morning if I had Doucette’s album, needing – I think – the title track. I didn’t, so I went and found it in the wilds of the Internet. It’s a decent late Seventies album, offering kind of a Canadian version of Pablo Cruise, and it got to No. 159 on the Billboard 200. I don’t often seek the album out, but when a track from it pops up on random, I hum along.

From there, we move back to 1957 and “Love Roller Coaster” by Big Joe Turner. “I ain’t never comin’ down to earth,” he sings. “I’m gonna stay up high, long as I’m up here with you.” The record wasn’t one of Turner’s greatest hits, and it came near the end of his charting days – it was the next-to-last record he placed in the R&B Top 40 – but it got to No. 12, and it sounds pretty much like a Big Joe Turner joint. In other words, you know what you’re gonna get when the record starts, and when it ends, you’re not disappointed.

Coldplay first came to my attention in 2001 when “Yellow” showed up on the playlist of Twin Cities radio station Cities 97. I remember looking askance at the radio the first time I heard it, wincing at some of the lyrics, which seemed not so much haunting (which I think was the goal) as vague. But “Yellow” brought Coldplay to my attention, which is good, as I’ve liked a fair amount of the band’s work since then. I know there are many who detest the band, and I don’t quite get that. But then, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t get, so I don’t spend much time worrying about Coldplay haters.

I paid no attention to T. Rex back in the day, except that there was no way anyone could ignore “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” during early 1972. But I missed out on everything else the band did, including “Jeepster” from 1971’s Electric Warrior album. The record went to No. 2 in the U.K. but was not released as a U.S. single. I’m not entirely sure what “Girl, I’m just a Jeepster for your love” means, but the track is catchy. And it’s very similar to Howlin’ Wolf’s 1962 single “You’ll Be Mine.” Wikipedia notes that T. Rex’s Marc Bolan acknowledged of “Jeepster” that he “lifted it from a Howlin’ Wolf song.” (Regular reader Yah Shure has since told me that “Jeepster” was in fact released as a single in the U.S., though it did not chart. My source for my statement was The Great Rock Discography, another volume that I have either misread or whose data I must now salt liberally.)

The late Larry Jon Wilson has showed up in these pages a few times, and I’m glad to see him pop up today as we wander randomly. “Loose Change” is a panhandler’s tale, the title track from Wilson’s 1977 album, and he tells the tale as he seemingly always does, with affection, with respect, and with an acute eye for detail. He released five albums – four in the 1970s and one in 2008 – and every one of them is a quiet gem. And as I write this morning, I feel as if I should listen to his music more than I do, because every time Wilson’s music pops up randomly, I’m drawn into it by his craft and his warm voice.

Among my musical idiosyncrasies is an affection for the music of Julie London, the 1950s and 1960s chanteuse who’s perhaps known for two things: her 1955 recording of “Cry Me A River” and her role as nurse Dixie McCall in the 1970s police drama Emergency! Today’s random jaunt brings up London’s performance of “I’m Glad There Is You” from her 1955 album Julie Is Her Name. It’s a quiet track, maybe not among her best, but if you want to know what the adults were listening to in 1955, it’s a pretty good example.

‘That Big Eight-Wheeler . . .’

May 15, 2014

So what other covers did I run across this week as I dug into Hank Snow’s 1950 classic song “I’m Movin’ On”? Well, using the list at Second Hand Songs and the list of performers available at BMI, I found a bunch that I thought were interesting and a couple that I really liked.

My favorite? Well, that can wait for a bit, but second place goes to the version that Leon Russell released in 1984 recording as his alter ego, Hank Wilson. Here’s that rollicking cover, from Hank Wilson Vol. II.

As I dug, I was particularly interested in giving a listen to the first cover listed at SHS, a performance by Hoagy Carmichael, but I think that’s an error, maybe a different song with the same (or a similar) title, as Carmichael is not included in the BMI list of performers who’ve recorded the song. Given that, it seems – and I’m not at all certain, as the BMI listings don’t include dates – that the first cover of “I’m Movin’ On” came in 1955 from Les Paul and Mary Ford.

In 1961, a rockabilly musician named Dick Hiorns – whose resume included a couple of daily performances during the early 1950s on WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin – recorded a version of Snow’s song for the Cuca Record Company of Sauk City, Wisconsin. A year later, Jerry Reed – at the time a session guitarist in Nashville – teamed up with some background singers who were called the Hully Girlies for a version of Snow’s tune, and a few years after that, in 1965, the Rolling Stones took on the tune and released it on the EP Got Live If You Want It!

Genius organist Jimmy Smith took a whack at the tune in 1967, and two years later, Elvis Presley included it on his From Elvis in Memphis album. In 1978, New Orleans’ Professor Longhair (aka Henry Byrd) took Snow’s song, altered the verses and made it into a Crescent City shuffle. It’s included on Big Chief, a 1993 Rhino album. (And I have no idea if the fourteen tracks on Big Chief were released during the intervening fifteen years).

There were others, of course: Versions that I didn’t track down or that didn’t grab me came from, among other, Del Reeves, Clyde McPhatter, Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Burl Ives, the Box Tops, Sammy Kershaw, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Mickey Gilley, Loggins & Messina and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

But after all of that, I think my favorite cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I found this week was actually a rediscovery. Rosanne Cash included the tune on her 2009 CD The List, an album of songs pulled from a list her famous father once gave her of essential American music. I’ve often thought that too many versions of the song – Snow’s included – have sounded almost celebratory. Not Cash’s. She pulls the tempo back, and amid a nest of atmospheric guitars and percussion, she makes the song something closer to a dirge, and that fits.

Peaking At No. 2 . . .

March 13, 2014

One of the quirkier books on my music reference shelf is the Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, a volume by Christopher G. Feldman that was published in 2000. It gathers together chart data and brief essays on the 400 or so records that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1999.*

The singles thus highlighted go from “Melody of Love” by Billy Vaughn & His Orchestra, which was No. 2 for one week in March 1955 and was blocked from the top spot by the McGuire Sister’s “Sincerely” all the way to “Back At One” by Brian McKnight (and boy, that’s an unsettling video), which was No. 2 for eight weeks in late 1999 and early 2000 but was blocked from No. 1 by the Santana/Rob Thomas single “Smooth.”

(The number “400” is an estimate; I was hoping that somewhere in the book Feldman would list the total, but if he did, I can’t spot it this morning. And yes, there’s been a lot of music out since 2000, and an update would be nice, but the book nevertheless covers the years in which I’m most interested.)

I wondered which years had the most records that peaked at No. 2, wondering as well if calculating that would show any sort of pattern. If there is a pattern, I imagine that finding it would take more time and analysis than I’ve going to devote to it this morning. But here are the years when there were more than ten records that peaked at No. 2.

1958: 12
1959: 13
1963: 11
1966: 13
1967: 13
1968: 14
1969: 16
1972: 12
1973: 12
1986: 11
1987: 11
1988: 11
1989: 14
1990: 14

I looked at the No. 1 records from 1969 to see if there were any juggernauts there, and there were: In the spring, the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” was No. 1 for six weeks, followed immediately by the Beatles’ “Get Back,” which was No. 1 for five weeks. And that summer, Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525” took over the top spot for six weeks. Those three records blocked six other singles from the top spot.

It might be interesting to carefully scan Feldman’s book to see which No. 1 hit blocked more records from the top spot than any other. I’m not going to take the time to do that, at least not today, but I played some hunches: In 1960, Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place” was No. 1 for nine weeks and blocked five other records from the top spot. In 1977, Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” was No. 1 for ten weeks and blocked four other records from the top spot. In 1981, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” and Diana Ross’ “Endless Love” were both No. 1 for nine weeks and both blocked three other records from No. 1. And in 1968, the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” was No. 1 for nine weeks and blocked three other singles from the top spot.

And as there are with most books of this ilk, there are lists in the back: Through 1999 (and these may have changed, of course), the artist with the most No. 2 hits was Madonna with six, and the honor of having the most No. 2 hits without ever reaching No. 1 went to Creedence Clearwater Revival, which hit No. 2 five times.

And three groups hit No. 2 with three consecutive records:

Blood, Sweat & Tears with “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.”

The Carpenters with “Rainy Days & Mondays,” “Superstar” and “Hurting Each Other.”

CCR with “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River.”

To end this, I thought I’d go to the middle of the book and find a No. 2 single to highlight. The book is 288 pages, and the first entry on Page 144 is Eddie Kendricks’ “Boogie Down,” which was No. 2 for two weeks in March 1974. In a horrible miscarriage of radio justice, Kendricks’ record was blocked from the top spot by Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun.”

)

*At the time that the first twenty-nine entries in his book were charting, Feldman notes, Billboard issued a number of weekly charts; he used the Best Sellers in Stores chart for those entries, and for the entries from August 4, 1958 on, he used the Billboard Hot 100.

Saturday Single No. 357

September 14, 2013

Sometimes these singles for a Saturday morning reflect an idea I’m already mulling as I scan the listings. Sometimes that scanning gives me an idea. And sometimes, especially when I’m checking recording dates, the title of one of the classic singles simply says “It’s my time!”

And so it is with a single from New Orleans recorded fifty-eight years ago today.

Seeking his first hit, Little Richard went into a session for Specialty Records on September 14, 1955, according to Wikipedia. The session brought together in Cosimo Matassa’s J & M Studio some folks whose names are now legendary: Producer Bumps Blackwell with Lee Allen and Alvin “Red” Tyler on saxophones, Frank Fields on guitar and Earl Palmer on drums.

But Wikipedia notes that “as the session wore on, Little Richard’s anarchic performance style was not being fully captured on tape. In frustration during a lunch break, he started pounding a piano and singing a ribald song that he had written and had been performing live for a few years.” He sang:

A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!! Tutti Frutti, good booty . . .

Blackwell called in songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie to clean up the song’s earthy lyrics*, and three takes of the song were laid down in about fifteen minutes that day. Released as Specialty 561, the record was No. 2 for six weeks on the Billboard R&B chart and went to No. 17 on the Billboard pop chart.

Wikipedia further notes:

In 2007, an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists voted “Tutti Frutti” number 1 on Mojo’s The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as “the sound of the birth of rock and roll.” In 2010, the US Library of Congress National Recording Registry added the recording to its registry, claiming the “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music.” In April 2012, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the song “still contains what has to be considered the most inspired rock lyric ever recorded: ‘A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!!’”

And all of that is why Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” is today’s Saturday Single.

*Wikipedia says: “In addition to Penniman and LaBostrie, a third name – Lubin – is credited as co-writer. Some sources considered this to be a pseudonym used by Specialty label owner Art Rupe to claim royalties on some of his label’s songs, but others refer to songwriter Joe Lubin. Songwriter LaBostrie was quoted as saying that ‘Little Richard didn’t write none of “Tutti Frutti”.’”

‘Red’

July 25, 2013

Having brought the March of the Integers through ten steps (and not seeing a search for ‘Eleven” offer much of a return), I’ve been pondering what other ways there might be to sort the nearly 69,000 tunes in the RealPlayer that would provide interesting cross-sections of what is a wide range of music.

And then I dropped Dark Side of the Moon into the upstairs CD player late one evening. As the heartbeat faded in to start the epic album’s first track, “Speak To Me,” I looked idly at the iconic album cover with its prism. And I thought, “The spectrum. Sort titles by color.”

So this is the first of nine planned posts in a series that my pals Odd and Pop insist on calling “Floyd’s Prism.” Nine? Yes, because we plan on covering the seven colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – and then adding black and white.

Here we go with “Red.”

Our search through the mp3 shelves brings up 1,878 files, most of which we’ll not be able to use. We discard immediately anything performed or conducted by anyone named “Alfred,” which eliminates the Philharmonia Slavonica performances of two symphonies by Robert Schumann (Alfred Scholz conducting),  Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won, the 1929 plaint by Blind Alfred Reed, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” (revived in recent years by Bruce Springsteen) and Alfred Lewis’ whooping and harmonica-honking take on “Mississippi Swamp Moan” from 1930.

Numerous other artists that pop up in the search are set aside (unless further search finds in their catalog a title with “red” in it): bluesman Tampa Red; Don Redman & His Orchestra (with the oddly titled 1931 single “Chant of the Weed’); Mississippi Fred McDowell (many tracks including the great soliloquy “I Do No Play No Rock ’N’ Roll”); an early 1970s band, Fred, that released, from what I’ve been able to tell, one self-titled album between 1971 and 1973; and Fred Astaire, Fred Hughes, Fred Hess, Fred Neil (who wrote “The Dolphins” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”); Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns; Freddie King, Freda Payne and a few more.

Albums take a hit, too. We lose most tracks off numerous albums, including Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to the 1990 movie, The Hunt for Red October, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road, Bob Dylan’s Under the Red Sky, Chris Rea’s Wired to the Moon, Chris Thomas King’s Red Mud, Dan Fogelberg’s Captured Angel, Jane Bunnett’s Red Dragonfly, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus and Jimmy McGriff’s Red Beans.

Individual titles go, too. Among them: “My Days Are Numbered” by the Bad Habits, “Blistered Heart” by Badly Drawn Boy, versions of “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles and Billy Preston, “Rip Her To Shreds” by Blondie, “Blues for Big Fred” by Richard “Groove” Holmes, “High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” by the Marvelettes, three versions of Dylan’s “Nothing Was Delivered,” five versions of the standard, “It Never Entered My Mind,” and – as we close this section to keep it somewhat under control – Keld Heick’s Danish tune, “Jeg Ringer På Fredag” (which translates to “I’ll Call You On Friday”) and a track titled “Es Redzeju Jurina” from the album Beyond The River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia.

There are, however, many recordings with “red” in their titles, and as we select six this morning, we’ll no doubt miss some good ones.

Before Muddy Waters found his way in 1947 to the Aristocrat and Chess labels in Chicago, he recorded for Columbia. The label, along with other major labels, was struggling with change, according to the notes in the British-issued box set Chicago Is Just That Way: “The major companies . . . retained such a hidebound attitude toward their product that younger artists coming forward, like Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters, seemed to be beyond their comprehension.” Waters recorded several sides for Columbia, mostly with only his slide guitar as accompaniment. But in 1946, he recorded “Mean Red Spider” with a band, and then Columbia for some reason released the record under the name of James “Sweet Lucy” Carter.

The entry for Billy “The Kid” Emerson at Wikipedia tells an interesting story: “William Robert Emerson, known during his recording career as Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson and more recently as Rev. William R. Emerson . . . is an African American preacher and former R&B and rock and roll singer and songwriter, best known for his 1955 song, ‘Red Hot’.”  We may dig into that story more in the future, but for today, “Red Hot” is where our interest lies. Emerson wrote the song after hearing a football cheer, “Our team is red hot . . .” and recorded it on May 31, 1955, at the Sun studios in Memphis. It was released as Sun 219 but it failed to chart. (The better-known version is probably the 1957 cover by Billy Lee Riley; versions by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and by Robert Gordon with Link Wray made the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and 1977, respectively.)

Teach a monkey to play poker, and you’re asking for trouble. That’s the surface moral in “Run Red Run” by the Coasters. The fanciful tale of a monkey who turns on its owner for cheating at cards came from the minds of songwriting geniuses Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s one of the Coasters’ lesser-known hits today, but it has everything a Coasters fan would need: A good if fanciful story, great vocals (including the classic “boogetty boogetty boogetty boogetty” behind the chorus) and two sax solos that are almost certainly by King Curtis. The 1959 record went to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 29 on the R&B chart. I especially like the mention in the final verse of the “brand new Stetson hat,” which has to be a clear reference to “Stagger Lee,” which Lloyd Price had taken to No. 1 in early 1959.

Another record that tends to get lost, I think, is “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond, overtaken by both the more popular hits in his vast catalog and by the two 1988 covers of the song by the English reggae group, UB40. The standard version by UB40 went to No. 34 in the U.S., and the version with a rap by Astro went to No. 1. There’s no doubt that UB40 reinvented the song memorably, and it’s true that Diamond’s original went only as high as No. 62. But Diamond’s 1968 version is worth a listen, too, either to examine the source of the later hit or just to hear a good record.

I have no idea who was in the group Kansas City, which released “Red Tower Road” as a single on the Trump label in 1970. I got the record as part of the Lost Jukebox series, and all I know from the barebones index I’ve found and from looking at the single’s label online is that the record was produced by the well-known and highly regarded Tommy Cogbill. (The video I found notes the involvement as well of Chips Moman, but a quick search this morning leaves me uncertain as to his ties to the record, although I could guess that it was recorded at Moman’s studio in Memphis.) According to one website, “Red Tower Road” was the B-side to “Linda Was A Lady,” but to my ears, it was good enough to be an A-side.

So what’s our last stop? “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” by Jesse Ed Davis” “Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie? “Rusty Red Armour” by Vinegar Joe? Well, having visited one keyboard genius earlier this week in Richard “Groove” Holmes, it only seems right that we pick up on a chance to listen to “Red Beans” by Jimmy McGriff. It’s the title track of the earlier mentioned 1976 album, and although there’s not as much keyboard in the track as one might like, it’s still a sweet workout for a Thursday.

‘And A Thousand Violins Begin To Play . . .’

July 23, 2013

The other afternoon, the Seventies music channel provided the background as I dozed for a while on the couch. I kept the volume low, but every once in a while, I’d wake up and listen for a moment, just to see how deeply into the decade the channel digs. (Not very deeply, generally.)

At one point, when I raised my awareness, I heard Roberta Flack: “The first time . . . ever I saw your face . . .” I went back to sleep, and as I did, a connection flickered between a movie and Flack’s record, which spent six weeks during the spring of 1972 at No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart (and went to No. 4 on the R&B chart). And as the song ended and the music shifted to something from 1979, I went back to sleep, remembering the connection.

The movie was Play Misty For Me, the tale of a late-night jazz disc jockey and a fan who regularly requests the classic Erroll Garner record “Misty.” Over the course of the movie, the fan goes from devoted listener to lover to demented slasher. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood – who plays the disc jockey – was the destination in late 1971 for the first date I had with my first college girlfriend. And it was the first time I’d ever heard of the classic tune “Misty.”

The tune was written by Garner (with lyrics added later by Johnny Burke) and was first recorded by the Erroll Garner Trio and released as a single in 1955:

Shortly after learning about the tune, I came across it in a guitar book I was using as a fake book for piano, and I began to put together my own arrangement. I tried several approaches, ranging from slow minimalism to a bouncy trip, sometimes decorating the tune with some added sixth and major seventh chords, but I never felt at home with the song, and quit playing it. It might have helped, I suppose, if I had ever sought out and listened to the numerous versions of the song that were available on record, but I never thought of that. And the next time I heard the song was a few years later when I heard what Doc Severinsen and Henry Mancini had done with “Misty” on their 1972 album Brass on Ivory.

That cover remains one of my favorites in a list that stretches back to a 1955 cover version by jazz pianist Johnny Costa. The list of covers offered at Second Hand Songs (not necessarily a complete list, but likely pretty good) starts there and goes on to the 2010 cover by the Sachal Studios Orchestra that includes traditional Indian instruments and a 2011 version by singer Michael Ball. Some of the more interesting names among the earlier instrumentals on that list are Toots Thielemans, King Curtis, Buddy Rich, Cal Tjader, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Stephane Grapelli.

When it comes to vocal covers, the list includes the performance that a lot of people might think is the essential version of “Misty,” the 1959 cover by Johnny Mathis that went to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the R&B chart. Other noted names who’ve done vocal covers include Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra, Marty Robbins, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Timi Yuro and more. Not being very conversant with current jazz, either instrumental of vocal, I don’t recognize a lot of the names post-1980.

As to charting versions on or near the Hot 100, they came from Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Lloyd Price, the Vibrations, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Ray Stevens. Of those versions, neither Vaughan’s standard 1959 vocal (No. 106 on the pop chart) nor Price’s 1963 big band version (No. 21 pop and No. 11 R&B) grab me much.

I didn’t care much for the twangy countrified version that came from Ray Stevens in 1975; I like it better now, but it’s never going to be my favorite version of the song. Other folks liked it well enough, though, as it went to No. 14 on the pop chart, No. 3 on the country chart and No. 8 on the AC chart.

The least familiar name among those that hit the charts with “Misty” is likely that of the Vibrations, a Los Angeles R&B group. I do like the classic R&B sound they brought to “Misty” in 1965 when their version went to No. 63 on the Hot 100 and to No. 26 on the R&B chart.

Next to Stevens’ version, jazz organist Holmes’ 1966 take on the classic tune did the best on the charts, going to No. 44 in the Hot 100, to No. 12 on the R&B chart and to No. 7 on the AC chart. Not long ago, I lucked into a collection of Holmes’ work, and I’ve been digging through that. While I won’t say that his take on “Misty” is my favorite – I tend to lean to Mathis’ classic performance – it’s awfully good.

Instrumental Digging: 1950-1999

May 29, 2013

We continue today seeking the answer to a question sparked by our digging into instrumental music the other week: Which instrumentals ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of the 1900s? I looked at the years 1900-1949 late last week. Today, we’ll return to Joel Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music and look at the more familiar music that came along during the years from 1950 to 1999.

1950s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1950s was the mambo “Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White” by Perez Prado, which was the No. 1 record for 1955. The highest ranking instrumental for the decade as a whole was The Third Man Theme” by Anton Karas, 1950’s No. 3 record, which was No. 6 for the decade. Perez Prado’s record fell in at No. 10 on the decade list.

1960s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1960s was “The Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith & His Orchestra, which was the No. 1 single for all of 1960. When the Sixties ended almost ten years later, Faith’s record was the top-ranked instrumental for the decade, ranking second among all records during the 1960s to only the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” (Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue,” which I featured last week, was the No. 3 record in 1968 and the No. 12 record for the overall decade.)

1970s: According Whitburn, the highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1970s is “Fly, Robin, Fly” by Silver Convention, the No. 2 record for all of 1975 (behind the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”). I might disagree with Whitburn’s classifying the record as an instrumental, as the record has words: “Fly, Robin, Fly/Up, up to the sky.” But given that the vocals are more of a chant than anything else (and that similar chant-like vocals show up in other records classified as instrumentals), I’d concede. As to the highest-ranking instrumental of the decade, I have to guess, as not one instrumental made the Top 40 records of the 1970s. My guess would be “Fly, Robin, Fly,” based on its three weeks at No. 1, a span of time no other instrumental matched during the decade. (Three instrumentals spent two weeks at No. 1 during the 1970s: “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees in 1974, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco in 1977, and “Rise” by Herb Alpert in 1979.)

1980s: The decade was a grim one for instrumental hits. Only three instrumentals were listed among the four hundred records that comprise the ten annual Top 40 listings for the 1980s. Of those three, the highest ranking was “Chariots of Fire – Titles” by Vangelis, which was the No. 15 record for 1982. (The other two ranked instrumental were from 1985: “Miami Vice Theme: by Jan Hammer and “Axel F” by Harold Faltenmyer, which came in at Nos. 24 and 37, respectively, in that year’s final listing.) And, as was the case with the 1970s, no instrumental made the list of the decade’s Top 40 records. One has to think, given the year-by-year rankings mentioned above, that “Chariots of Fire – Titles” was the decade’s highest-ranked instrumental.

1990s: If the 1980s were a dismal time for instrumentals in the charts, I have no words at all to describe the 1990s. Only one instrumental single made any of the ten year-end Top 40 listings: “Theme from Mission: Impossible” by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen of U2 ranked No. 39 for the year of 1996 and would, most likely, be the decade’s top instrumental. And that brings this exploration to a whimpering halt.

Note: The linked video for “Fly, Robin, Fly,” is of the album track; the single ran about two minutes shorter, but I don’t own the single, and the only good video of the single has some NSFW artwork. As to the other linked videos, I’m reasonably sure that the linked videos from the 1950s and 1960s feature the original singles, and I have no certainty at all about the music in the linked videos from the 1980 and 1990s.