Archive for the ‘1961’ Category

On The Nines

September 9, 2021

Well, it’s September 9, or 9/9, and the part of me that loves Games With Numbers can’t possibly ignore that. So we’re going to look at three near bottom-dwellers in three Billboard Hot 100s released on or near today’s date, each separated by nine years.

We’ll start in my lodestone year of 1970, the one year of my life when I listened, delighted and dutifully, to Top 40 music all year long, and then go back to 1961, when I had no idea that anything as cool at the Hot 100 existed. And we’ll complete our excursion with a look at 1979, a year when the Hot 100’s coolness quotient was – in my life, anyway – rapidly fading.

Along the way, as we customarily do with these follies, we’ll check out each chart’s top two records.

First, to 1970. Sitting at No. 99 in the Hot 100 released on September 12, 1970, is a record regarded by many as a classic and one that I’m sure has left many a listener baffled, perhaps, with its cryptic message and stunned with its beauty: “Alone Again Or” by the psychedelic group Love.

The version we find there – and it went no higher – is one we’ve tangled with a few times before. It’s longer than the single version that was released in 1968 after the album Forever Changes came out in 1967. (Both versions are shorter than the version on the album.) Yah Shure, my friend and patient guide to all things chart-related, wrote to me a few years ago, saying, “In my [Joel] Whitburn Pop Annual, the time listed for the 1970 re-do is 2:50. Under the ’68 single’s entry in my Whitburn Bubbling Under chart book, Joel refers to the 1970 #99 release as ‘an enhanced version,’ and that’s what it really is: embellished with additional instrumentation to pack more of a wallop over the airwaves. The difference between it and the original mix is quite apparent.”

Here is a version of the tune that has been labeled “mono single remix” with a seemingly appropriate running time. At discogs, the 1967 original release is said to have a running time of 2:49, while the 1970 rerelease – as Yah Shure noted – runs 2:50. (The 1967 album track runs 3:15.) Is this the right one? I dunno.

Sitting at Nos. 1 and 2 during the second week of September 1970 were, respectively, “War” by Edwin Starr and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross.

Hoping to leave bafflement behind, we head to 1961 and the Hot 100 that was released on September 11 of that year, There, parked at No. 99, we find “Signed, Sealed And Delivered” by Rusty Draper, a countryish waltz that has utterly nothing to do with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” from 1970.

Draper was a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Kirksville, Missouri (a burg where I’d often stop for a burger or gas during the 1980s as I made my way between Columbia, Missouri, and Monticello or St. Cloud in Minnesota). He had one country hit – “Gambler’s Guitar” went to No. 6 in 1953 – and eleven records that reached the Hot 100 (with another bubbling under). Best-performing of the bunch was “The Shifting, Whispering Sands,” which went to No. 3 in 1955.

The maudlin “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” went to No. 91 and was his next to last entry on the chart.

The records at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, during the second week of September 1961 were “Michael” by the Highwaymen and “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee.

And now to 1979, and the No. 99 record from the chart released on September 15 of that year: “Baby I Want You,” a piece of light R&B that was the only chart entry from the Funky Communication Committee, a short-lived group that managed to release two albums and three singles in 1979 and 1980.

“Baby I Want You” climbed the chart to No. 47 and did not get into the R&B Top 40. And that’s all I know.

Sitting at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, during the third week of September 1979, were “My Sharona” by the Knack and “After The Love Has Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Random In The Sixties

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 3, 2009.

The other day, when pondering the years between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival in the United States of the Beatles (1959-64), I wrote “ . . . it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be,” which is probably as good an example as you’ll ever find of praising with faint damns. That praise should have been louder.

(A confession: I borrowed that phrase – “praising with faint damns” – after recalling it this morning and then finding out it came from a 1980 headline in Time magazine, though I suppose it might have originated earlier. I only wish I were that clever.)

A reader dropped a note about those years, 1959 to 1964, reminding me of a genre I’d not mentioned: rock instrumentals, leading to surf instrumentals. He didn’t mention any performers’ names, but he didn’t have to; as I read his note, I thought instantly of the Ventures and of Dick Dale. And if I wanted to think a little harder, I could come up with many others. And in the course of thinking about that era over the past few days, I realized that I’d given short shrift – actually no shrift at all – to the wonderful era of American pop that sprang from the Brill Building and places like it. And that includes the early work of Phil Spector and his acolytes.

Add in the early stirrings of Motown and Stax, and it was a far better era than I often think it was.

And there lies the key word: “think.” I don’t remember that era, at least not musically. From the time the Beatles arrived here in the U.S. in early 1964, rock and pop surrounded me. As I’ve said before, I didn’t really listen to Top 40 at the time, but my sister, my peers and their siblings did. From 1964 onward, the sounds of pop and rock and soul and R&B were an inescapable portion of my environment, even if I didn’t pay much attention.

So when I think about, say, “This Diamond Ring” (which popped up in today’s random selection), I remember hearing it. I remember kids dancing to it at South Junior High. I recall who liked it and who didn’t. I was there. But when – to pull one out of the hat – the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (the No. 2 record for the entire year of 1961) shows up, it’s different. I know I’ve read a fair amount about the song: I think it’s a Gerry Goffin/Carole King song. (It is, but I had to grab a reference book to make sure of it, and to make certain I had his first name right.) I know that Dave Marsh wrote an interesting essay about the record in The Heart of Rock & Soul, which I probably would refer to if I wrote about the record. But I don’t know how it felt to hear it coming out of the radio as I hung out in Rick’s basement or in our kitchen or in my bedroom. I wasn’t there.

When I began digging into record collecting, I unintentionally set 1964 as my starting date for pop and rock, because that’s what I remembered. When I got interested in blues, I dug back through the early 1960s and into the 1950s and the years before that. Then I started digging into early rock & roll, the 1950s stuff that evolved from R&B and its cousin, the jump blues. And then I followed rock & roll along the evolutionary path as far as Buddy Holly and 1959. Most of what I have from the years from 1959 to 1964 is blues, deep R&B and instrumental pop, things that didn’t frequently make the Top 40.

The same thing happened when I got my first modern computer in early 2000 and began to collect mp3s. I was aware that I was ignoring much of the popular music from those five years as I borrowed CDs from the library and from friends and ripped them to put into my collection. As I began that collection, I had, of course, no inkling that I would eventually be writing a blog about (mostly) music from the 1960s and the 1970s. Would I have altered my collecting patterns had I known?

Maybe not. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly thirty months now, and I still don’t have a great deal of pop-rock and popular R&B from those years. I’ve got some, and I’ll likely get more. But I doubt if it’s ever going to be a time period whose Top 40 music I love the way I do the music of the years that follow it. And I doubt I’ll ever be as comfortable writing about the Top 40 music of those early years as I am writing about the sounds of the years that came after. I wasn’t there.

The numbers of mp3s I currently have from the years of the 1960s tell the tale a lot more succinctly:

1960: 205
1961: 150
1962: 276
1963: 362
1964: 647
1965: 754
1966: 891
1967: 1324
1968: 1886
1969: 2425

A Random Selection from the 1960s
1960: “Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown 1003
1961: “Spoonful” by Etta James & Harvey Fuqua, Chess 1771
1962: “In My Time of Dyin’” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan
1963: “Beyond the Surf” by Jack Nitzsche from The Lonely Surfer
1964: “Java Jones” by Donna Lynn, Capitol 5156
1965:  “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Liberty 55756
1966: “(I’m A) Road Runner” by Junior Walker & the All Stars, Soul 35015
1967: “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by the Hombres, Verve Forecast 5058
1968: “Try a Little Tenderness” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4177
1969: “Rag Mama Rag” (alternate vocal take) from The Band

“Bye Bye Baby” was obviously one of Mary Wells’ very early singles. It didn’t dent the Top 40, but in August of 1961, her single “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” [Motown 1011], went to No. 33. After that, she had eleven more singles in the Top 40, including the classic “My Guy,” which spent two weeks at No. 1 in 1964. “Bye Bye Baby” is a good single, especially in the last thirty seconds, when Wells takes off.

“Spoonful,” a cover of Willie Dixon’s great blues done so memorably by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 [Chess 1762], features a great performance by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, but listen to the backing track. It’s like 1950s R&B combined with the horns from an early 1960’s Frank Sinatra session. I find the horn arrangement to be very distracting. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the history of the R&B charts, so I don’t know how well the record did. It’s interesting, but man, those horns do bother me.

The Dylan track is from his first album, when he was still trying to be Woody Guthrie. Neither the record nor the jacket credited the songwriter, with the liner notes saying that the first time Dylan sang “In My Time of Dyin’” was during the recording session. The index at All-Music Guide generally lists the tune as “traditional,” although a CD titled Inside The Blues by Mare Edstrom lists Blind Willie Johnson as the songwriter. I’d be interested to know more about that. In any event, Dylan rapidly outgrew his Guthrie disguise, and Bob Dylan was Dylan’s last album of mostly covers until 1970’s odd Self Portrait.

Speaking of surf music, as I did above, “Beyond The Surf” is a superb track from Jack Nitzsche’s only solo album. I don’t know if the album’s jacket listed the credits, as I got this through an mp3 exchange, but I’d put good money on the drummer being Hal Blaine. Nitzsche, of course, was part of Phil Spector’s crew, and he worked as a session player, producer and general expert with multitudes of pop and rock musicians over the course of a forty-year career.

Until I ran into it a couple years ago at The Record Robot, I had no idea there had ever been a vocal version of Allen Toussaint’s tune “Java.” The tune was a Top 10 hit as an instrumental in early 1964 for Al Hirt; it went to No. 4. As for Donna Lynn, the only things I know about her, I learned when The Record Robot shared her album: “She was in a Broadway show with Maureen O’Hara called ‘Christine’, and was then, for some reason chosen to be the face, voice and name behind these novelty songs. All by the age of 14.”

Of the four singles that cover the years 1965-1968 in this list, probably the best is the Junior Walker, which went to No. 20, the fourth in a series of twelve Top 40 singles. “(I’m A) Road Runner” is good, but I’m not sure Walker ever did better than 1965’s “Shotgun,” his first hit.

Even discounting the memories of a junior high dance, “This Diamond Ring” still has a geeky charm. Being the son of Jerry Lewis without question eased the road for Gary Lewis on his way to a No. 1 hit. Forty-some years later, though, the record still sounds good coming out of a radio speaker once in a while. It can, however, be an earworm of the highest rank.

The Hombres’ record “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” has to be one of the oddest singles of an era that had many. It was the Memphis-based group’s only hit, going to No. 12 in the autumn of 1967. Still weird but also still fun.

There are likely Otis Redding fans who still cringe at the thought of Three Dog Night covering “Try A Little Tenderness.” I agree that Redding’s version is far superior. It also did a little better in the charts: Otis’ version went to No. 25 in 1967, while TDN’s version reached No. 29. My thought has always been: If hearing Three Dog Night’s version and some ensuing disparaging comments from R&B lovers got even one kid to go find Redding’s version – and I know that it did just that for at least one kid – then it’s okay. So just call TDN’s version a gateway record. (Incidentally, Redding’s version was a cover, too; the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the song was a No. 6 hit for Ted Lewis in 1933.)

The alternate version of “Rag Mama Rag” was included on an expanded CD edition of The Band. It’s kind of fun to hear something so familiar sound so different.

Peter, Gary, Chubby & Gladys

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 2, 2009.

Talking a walk around YouTube this morning, I found a few things of interest.

Here’s Peter Kaukonen with a nifty rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” from what looks to be a relatively recent performance at the B.B. King Blues Bar & Grill in New York City.

Here’s Gary U.S. Bonds in what appears to be a 1981 ( not 1989, as in the original post) television performance of the Bruce Springsteen-penned “This Little Girl Is Mine.”

I also found a video, evidently from 1961 (with subtitles added later), of Chubby Checker singing and dancing his way through “Let’s Twist Again.”

And finally, with a performance of “Every Beat Of My Heart” followed by “So Sad The Song,” here are Gladys Knight and the Pips during a 1977 performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

I think that tomorrow, we’ll pull one random song from every year of the 1960s, just as we’ve recently done for the 1970s and the 1980s. But we’ll see what might otherwise pop up between now and tomorrow morning.

‘From Nowhere Through A Caravan . . .’

November 18, 2020

I took a glance this morning at what I was likely hearing on the radio fifty years ago, checking out the “6+30” from the Twin Cities’ KDWB from November 23, 1970, and found no real surprises.

The No. 1 record was “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family, a record I suspected of having bubblegum tendencies at the time but which I now admire as being a great piece of craft (as well as being the trigger for several memories that have become far less bitter and far more sweet with the passage of half a century.)

Sitting at No. 2 was Brian Hyland’s “Gypsy Woman,” a record I remember well without putting any real heft on it, which means that no young lady danced around a campfire for me during that long ago November (or any other time, to be honest). It was an okay record:

Hyland’s record would go no higher at KDWB. In the Billboard Hot 100, it would get to No. 3. What I didn’t know at the time, of course, was that it was a cover of the Impressions’ 1961 original, a record that went to No. 20 on the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart. It was, also, a better version of the song:

The website Second Hand Songs lists thirty-four other versions of the song, ranging from a cover by Major Lance in 1964 to a 2017 version by the Isley Brothers and Santana on an album titled Power Of Peace. In between came versions by a lot of folks whose names I recognize as well as by folks unknown to me. I checked out versions by Ry Cooder, Bobby Womack, Santana, Bruce Springsteen and more and was unmoved.

The only cover I heard that I really liked was the version by Santana and the Isleys, an atmospheric take on the song:

September Songs 2

September 23, 2020

We’re going to pick up where we left off earlier this month, exploring songs on the digital stacks with “September” in their titles. We got not quite halfway through the alphabet last time, ending with a tune titled “Lucy September” by the Dream Academy. On to the letter M and beyond!

Quite a ways beyond, in fact. We have to head into the letter S before we find the next tune, a 1965 single titled “Sad September” by Grady & Brady. “It’s gonna be a sad September” because the guy’s girl – who promised last spring to come back when school started – met someone else and has possibly left town. (The latter is not clear.) The sweet but unimaginative record, which showed clearly that the two had listened to a lot of Everly Brothers tunes, was the third for the duo, the first coming on the Dolton label credited to Grady & Brady Sneed and the other two on Planetary credited to just Grady & Brady. As far as I can see, they got no chart action at all.

Then we come onto two versions of “See You In September.” We have the Tempos’ original from 1959 (No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100), and the Happenings’ cover from 1966 (No. 3). The Tempos were from Pittsburgh, and their version is passable but a little stiff, and it has what a music professor colleague of mine from long ago called “an MGM ending,” which doesn’t seem to work. But maybe it doesn’t work because I remember the Happenings’ version from 1966, which at points could easily be mistaken for the work of the Four Seasons. Closer listening shows that’s not so, but still, there’s more excitement in the Happenings’ version of the tune. And the background chants of “Bye-bye! So long! Farewell!” rule.

There are twenty-one tracks on the digital shelves whose titles essentially start with the word “September.” I count six versions of “September Song,” five of “September In The Rain,” two of “The September Of My Years” (both of those – one live and one in the studio – by Frank Sinatra), and several single versions of tracks that name the month in their titles.

We’ll consider the five versions of “September In The Rain.” The earliest is a 1937 take on the tune by Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians, with vocals by Carmen Lombardo. As one might expect, it’s pretty and competent big band music. Twenty-four years later, Dinah Washington made the song the title track of a 1961 album. Her version is more rhythmic but still pretty standard pop jazz, except for the idiosyncratic quality of her voice. It went to No. 23 on the Hot 100 and to No. 5 on both the magazine’s R&B and Easy Listening charts, but it leaves me wanting something more.

In 1963, easy listening maestro Ray Charles took hold of the song, slowing it down a little too much and sanding the rough spots off entirely. The version by his Ray Charles Singers on the album Autumn Moods is a bit smooth and slick for even my easy listening-tolerant tastes. A year later, Chad & Jeremy did a tasteful version of the tune for their album Yesterday’s Gone, a take on the tune that I kind of like, maybe because of the harmonica solo.

And in 1971, a group called Aeroplane released a version of “September In The Rain” on singles in both France and West Germany, according to the website 45cat. Their take on the tune came my way in the Lost Jukebox project that showed up online some years ago (as did the single by Grady & Brady at the top of this piece), and the on-line discography for that venture indicates that the version I have is one of the two French releases on the Pink Elephant label. Aeroplane gives the tune a folk-rock setting that seems to work pretty well.

We’ll leave the rest of the September songs for another day in the next week and take a listen today to the only charting version of “September In The Rain,” Dinah Washington’s 1961 take on the tune:

Saturday Single No. 695

July 4, 2020

Well, it’s Independence Day, or as they may refer to it in Great Britain, Treason Day.

(Admission: I get mightily peeved in the weeks leading up to today’s holiday when folks who should know better – writers, reporters both print and broadcast, and editors – refer to the holiday as only July Fourth or the Fourth of July. That’s a date, folks. It’s an informal way of referring to the holiday, but the name of the holiday is Independence Day. Use it. Look, I know “independence” is a long word, but deal with it. Be pros. Get it right!)

Rant over.

I’ve long had in my collection of 45s an Everest release, “Independence Day Hora/Like A Young Man,” and I’ve wondered about it ever since it showed up in the early 1960s in one of those “thirteen records for a buck” bags that my sister used to buy at Dayton’s in downtown Minneapolis. I’ve never bothered to look it up until today.

Turns out that the songs come from a 1961 Broadway musical, Milk and Honey, the tales of two American widows touring Israel. The book and music were by Jerry Herman, and the musical earned several Tony nominations (but won none).

The tune on the A-side of the record, it turns out, is one that helps the characters in the musical celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. Given the perfidy of numerous Israeli actions in recent years, there’s a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth as I proceed, but the musical was set in 1961, so we’ll go on. After all, in 1961, neither Herman nor those involved in producing the musical nor the musicians who recorded the 45 in my collection had any idea how Israel would lose its way in the years to come. (Had that nation already lost its way in 1961? I don’t know.)

Beyond all that, it’s the musicians who recorded the Everest single that make it more interesting this morning: Wild Bill Davis, a pianist, organist and arranger; and trumpeter Charlie Shavers. Each has an impressive list of credits at discogs.com and Wikipedia. I imagine I should know more about the two of them than I do. Maybe I’ll take the time to do so, but I fear that like so many other musicians about whom I learn a trifle, their names will fade and I will forget.

The duo also released “Independence Day Hora” and “Like A Young Man” on the 1961 album The Music From Milk & Honey. From what I can tell with a fairly cursory search this morning, neither the album nor the single made any charts.

Anyway, leaving behind all the contradictions and questions, here’s “Independence Day Hora” by Wild Bill Davis and Charlie Shavers. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Teach Me Tonight’

November 6, 2019

The standard “Teach Me Tonight” had popped up here a few times over the years before the 1954 version by Dinah Washington became last Saturday’s featured single. Back in 2013, as I looked at records that sat at No. 22 on February 2 over the years, I wrote:

At No. 22 in that long-ago [1955] chart, we find the DeCastro Sisters with their first Hot 100 appearance and the first appearance in that chart of the classic “Teach Me Tonight,” a tune written in 1953 by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn. The DeCastro Sisters, who were born in Cuba, weren’t the first to record the song – jazz singer Janet Brace was – but the DeCastros’ version went to No. 2, making it the best-charting of the more than sixty recordings of the tune since the mid-1950s. (The most recent version of the song to chart came from Al Jarreau [No. 70] in 1982.)

And Phoebe Snow’s version of the tune from 1976 came up during as I reminisced about the jukebox that got many of my quarters during time spent in the snack bar at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center. (Snow’s version was released on a single but did not chart.)

But that’s about it. And Second Hand Songs tells me that there are at least 251 versions of the tune out there to explore. We’ll start that exploration today with the original version by Janet Brace.

And we start with some confusion. A note at Wikipedia mentions Brace’s recording of the song entering “the Billboard chart on October 23, 1954, and eventually reaching No. 23.” But neither Brace’s version nor Brace herself are listed in Joel Whitburn’s Pop Hits: Singles & Albums, 1940-1954. Two versions of the song are listed in the book: The above-mentioned No. 2 version by the DeCastro Sisters and Jo Stafford’s cover, which hit the magazine’s charts in November 1954 and peaked at No. 15.

Anyway, here’s Brace’s original version:

And, while we’ll dig into names familiar and not in upcoming posts, I thought I’d close this post with a foreign language version (since I tend to like those). So here’s one in Czech: “Vím už co to znamená” by Eva Pilarová (which offers the chorus in English). It was released – according to Second Hand Songs – in 1961.

Lost On Campus

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 29, 2009

I was seven or eight years old when I had my first great adventure on the campus of St. Cloud State College (as it was titled then). If I were eight at the time, then it took place in mid-summer of 1961, and from this long distance, that’s close enough for our purposes.

I wrote a little earlier this summer about attending summer classes at the Campus Lab School at St. Cloud State, spending mornings there so the college’s education students had someone to teach as they pursued their college degrees. If I recall correctly, on most days, my dad would be waiting when I left the school, and I’d ride home with him in his beloved ’52 Ford. Then came the day of the all-college picnic.

Think about this for a moment, as this is – at least for me – a quintessential 1960s event: A summertime picnic on the lawn, open to all students, all faculty and staff members, and all of their family members. The college was, of course, a much smaller place than is today’s sprawling institution, and then, summertime enrollment is always less than during other quarters. But still, a college-wide picnic! Barbecued chicken and beans and cole slaw for how many? Maybe five hundred people? It was a tradition that wouldn’t last much longer, as I don’t recall such picnics taking place during the summers I was a student on campus.

It was a different era, of course, one of freshman beanies and letter sweaters, with the young men mostly wearing dress slacks or khakis and the young women almost always wearing dresses, kind of like Faber College in Animal House (without the fascists or the slobs). I recall during one of those annual picnics looking across the street at a battered wooden building. It housed the campus bookstore and a student hangout called the Chatterbox.

The Chatterbox, probably ca. 1960. (SCSU Archives)

I asked a family friend, one of my dad’s student workers, what it was like inside, and he said it was crowded and noisy. He said they sold burgers and fries and coffee and malts. It was an honest-to-god malt shop! Except for the coffee, it sounded pretty good to a preteen whiteray, and I asked him if he’d take me in there someday. He shook his head no. A few years later the Chatterbox was gone, razed to make way for the new student center.

Anyway, on the day of the all-college picnic in 1961, I was supposed to meet my mom outside the Campus Lab School and we’d walk the three or so blocks or so to the picnic. I went out the door where I usually found Dad in his car. No Mom. I waited a few minutes, wondering what to do. And when she hadn’t shown up in ten minutes, I set out across campus, heading for Dad’s office. I wasn’t at all sure of the campus’ geography, but I knew Dad’s office was in the basement of the library, and if I could find the library, then I was in good shape.

So every once in a while, I asked a passing student where the library was. The college men chuckled at me, and one asked if I were going to do research for a term paper. The college women told each other I was cute, and a couple of them wanted to know if I wanted them to take me to the library. No, I said, I could find it myself, as long as I had good directions. And I did find it. And I found the stairs down to Dad’s office. The door was locked and the dark basement corridor was a little spooky.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but sitting in a dark basement corridor was kind of scary, and it wasn’t getting me any chicken. I clambered up the stairs, and went to the picnic. And that’s where I found my folks, who were of course, quite worried. (Though perhaps not as worried as parents in similar circumstances might be today; although a good portion of today’s horrors also existed back then, they were not placed nearly so firmly on our minds’ center stage then as they are today.) My mom told me she’d waited at the front door of the lab school for a fair amount of time; I told her dad had been picking me up at the side door.

And after a few minutes more of discussion, we got in line and filled our plates.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 26, 1961)
“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1008 (No. 1)
“Every Beat of My Heart” by the Pips, Vee-Jay 386 (No. 8)
“Peanut Butter” by the Marathons, Arvee 5027 (No. 23)
“Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 824 (No. 62)
“Theme from ‘Goodbye Again’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 319 (No. 85)
“Rainin’ In My Heart” by Slim Harpo, Excello 2194 (No. 99)

A couple of these are pretty well known: “Quarter to Three” and “Let’s Twist Again” are staples on any self-respecting oldies radio station, and they deserve to be so (although Checker’s original “The Twist” is a better single than “Let’s Twist Again”). Both of them, at the right moments, can get you out on the dance floor, and thus, they remain among the best that not only 1961 had to offer, but the entire era post-Holly and pre-Beatles. “Quarter to Three” spent two weeks at No. 1, and “Let’s Twist Again” peaked at No. 8 later in the summer.

Speaking of that era of American pop, the one that began with the plane crash in Iowa and ended with the Beatles playing on Ed Sullivan’s show: I’ve seen that era written off entirely. Now, it’s true there was a lot of bad pop and faux R&B being played on radio and racked in the stores – Fabian, anyone? – but there was still more good music than a lot of post-Sixties critics have recalled over the years. Some of the other records on that week’s Hot 100, stuff that I could have shared, were: “Tossin’ and Turnin’” by Bobby Lewis, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “Hello Walls” by Faron Young, “Cupid” by San Cooke, “I Like It Like That (Part 1)” by Chris Kenner and “Mama Said” by the Shirelles. And that’s just a quick glance.

Now, there’s no doubt that pop music slumped a little in those years, but my point is that it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be.

There’s a riddle surrounding “Every Beat of My Heart.” It’s listed twice on the Hot 100 for this week: Vee-Jay has a release credited only to the Pips (before Gladys Knight got top billing) at No. 8, and it’s also listed at No. 60 as a release on Fury Records, credited to Gladys Knight and the Pips. From everything I know, I have the Vee-Jay release here, but if anyone out there knows any better, let me know, please. According to The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, the Vee-Jay version peaked at No. 6, while the Fury version failed to make the Top 40.

Regarding “Peanut Butter,” writer Dave Marsh notes the strange tale: The Olympics and their producers, Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith, sold the single to Argo, a subsidiary of Chicago’s Chess Records. But as the group was still under contract to Los Angeles-based Arvee, the record was credited to the Marathons, a not-too-subtle change from the Olympics. And the song had a strong resemblance to the Olympics’ 1960 hit, “(Baby) Hully Gully.” So, without too much ado, the record wound up on the Arvee label anyway, and went to No. 20. Now, the tale is told quite a bit differently by Joel Whitburn in The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Whitburn says that with the Olympics on tour, Arvee brought in the Vibrations to record “Peanut Butter.” But the Vibrations were under contract to Chess/Checker, which stopped the Arvee release and then had the Vibrations record a version of the song for Argo, the Chess subsidiary. At which point, Arvee brought in another group – evidently neither the Olympics nor the Vibrations – to record “Peanut Butter” yet again. That third release, I guess, is what is offered here. And none of that matters when the lead singer calls out “Scarf now!”

The Ferrante & Teicher record was in its third week in the Hot 100 this week. It would linger in the lower levels one more week before falling off the chart. And in August, the piano duo would have their first Top 40 hit with the “Theme from The Apartment,” which would peak at No. 10.

“Rainin’ In My Heart” would eventually rise from the depths of the Hot 100 to become one of two Top 40 hits by Slim Harpo, whose real name was James Moore. “Rainin’ In My Heart” would rise to No. 34, and five years later, his “Baby Scratch My Back” would go to No. 16. Those were Harpo’s only Top 40 hits, but he may be better known for two songs covered by the Rolling Stones: “I’m A King Bee,” which was on the album The Rolling Stones in 1964 (and was covered by many others as well, including Muddy Waters), and “Shake Your Hips,” which wound up on 1972’s Exile on Main St. (Oddly, the Exile on Main St. jacket listed the song as “Hip Shake,” but the label on the record had the correct title.)

What’s At No. 100? (1-30-1961)

January 30, 2019

We’ve been using this particular tool – “What’s At No. 100?” – a fair amount lately for practical reasons: It’s an easy topic to research, generally requiring only one trip to the bookcase across the room, which aids in my convalescence. (I wish there had been a way to configure my portion of the lower level of the condo so that my reference books were near the computer, but it didn’t work out that way.)

Anyway, today, we’re going to stretch our game back to the early days of 1961, a time when I had no idea there was such a thing as the Top 40. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from January 30, 1961, fifty-eight years ago today:

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles
“Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk & His Orchestra
“Exodus” by Ferrante & Teicher
“Wonderland By Night” by Bert Kaempfert
“Shop Around” by the Miracles
“Angel Baby” by Rosie & The Originals
“Calendar Girl” by Neil Sedaka
“Emotions” by Brenda Lee
“Rubber Ball” by Bobby Vee
“Are You Lonesome To-night?” by Elvis Presley

Having decided to venture back to this date in 1961, I wondered how many of the week’s Top Ten I would know. After some thought, I defined “know” as being able to identify the song’s title and the artists in, say, ten seconds. And I’d do better than I expected, being able to meet that benchmark on seven of the above ten.

I’d recognize “Calcutta,” but I’m not sure I’d be able to sort out its title in the required time. (If I got the title, I’d know it was Welk’s work.) I’d have no clue on “Angel Baby.” And I’d recognize Brenda Lee’s voice and be able to make a guess at the title simply from the lyric, but that would be pure luck, as I have no memory of ever hearing the record.

But how many of these would I have heard back in 1961, when I was seven and making my way through second grade? Maybe “Exodus,” as my family had seen the 1960 movie, and I was very aware of the film’s theme. And the Ferrante & Teicher single had gone to No. 2, so – even though it did not reach the Easy Listening chart – I think I could easily have heard it somewhere, perhaps even at home on WCCO. The other nine? I have no idea if I heard them back then.

The second thing we consider when we do these posts, of course, is whether I like these records now, measuring that by their inclusion among the 3,900 or so tracks in the iPod. And a search through the iPod turns up three of those records, the ones by the Shirelles, Ferrante & Teicher, and Bert Kaempfert. Out of the absent seven, I might go find “Calcutta” and “Shop Around.” The other five? Nah.

Now we turn to our other bit of business this morning: What’s at No. 100? And when we drop to the bottom of that long-ago Hot 100, we find one of the historically great R&B groups, the Coasters, with “Wait A Minute.”

The Coasters, of course, had been a reliable presence on both the Top 40 and the R&B chart during the second half of the 1950s. They’d continue to do well on the R&B chart, but as the decade shifted, their records generally peaked in the lower half of the Hot 100. “Wait A Minute” was an exception, peaking at No. 37. (In the spring and summer of 1961, “Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)” would go to No. 23, the last Coasters record to reach the Top 40.)

As to “Wait A Minute,” it’s a pretty good record, and that’s not surprising, given the talent that worked on it: The song was written by Bobby Darin and Don Kirshner, and the record was produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

‘Who’

July 13, 2017

After a couple of previews six months ago, we finally get around to beginning the project called Journalism 101. Today, we’ll be sorting the 95,000 tracks in the RealPlayer for titles that contain the word “who,” the first of the five W’s of reporting. (I doubt this needs stating, but those W’s are who, what, when, where, and why. And we’ll include “how” in the project as well.)

That sorting brings us 740 tracks, twenty-six more than we found when we announced the idea back in February. As is usual when we do these types of searches, many of the tracks aren’t suitable for our purposes. Tracks from the Who, the Guess Who, a late Seventies group called 100% Whole Wheat, the novelty project Dylan Hears A Who, and more go by the wayside, as do some albums, including Kate Rusby’s 2005 effort The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly and the Warner Brothers loss leader from 1972, The Whole Burbank Catalog. We also have to discard eighty-one tracks with the word “who’s” in the title and four tracks with titles that carry the word “whoever” (I thought there’d be more). But we still have enough to find four worthy titles.

Given the alphabetical nature of the player’s search, the first track that shows up is “Who To Believe” by the Allman Brothers Band. It’s from the 2003 album, Hittin’ The Note, which turned out to be the group’s last studio release. It’s also the first album not to include guitarist Dicky Betts (and the first to include guitarist Derek Trucks). I’ve had the CD since not long after it came out, but I’ve not listened to it very often, which is too bad. Many of the pieces I’ve read since the recent death of Gregg Allman said that Hittin’ The Note was good work, and “Who To Believe” sounds very much as if it could have been recorded in 1970.

The digital shelves here hold six versions of “Who Will The Next Fool Be,” ranging from the original 1961 release by Charlie Rich (who wrote the song) to versions from 1975 by the Amazing Rhythm Aces and from 2003 by Janiva Magness. Those are only a taste of the number of times that very good song has been recorded, of course. The website Second Hand Songs lists forty-five versions (though there are likely more), with the most recent being a 2013 take on the song by jazz singer Tina Ferris. And though the bluesy versions by Bland and Magness call to me this morning, I think I’ll stick with the song’s country roots and offer Rich’s original version.

Then we come to the melodramatic “I (Who Have Nothing),” which comes up twice in our listings: the 1963 version by Ben E. King and a 1972 cover by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. King’s release was the first English recording of the song, and it went to No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, to No. 16 in the magazine’s R&B chart, and to No. 10 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart. Based on the information at Second Hand Songs, the tune was first recorded in Italian in 1961 by Joe Sentieri; the English lyrics are credited to songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. I’m a little surprised that I don’t have more versions of the tune in the stacks, especially the 1970 version by Tom Jones, which went to No. 14 on the Hot 100 (as well as to No. 2 on the AC chart). I could go wandering for other versions as well, but we’ll stick with King’s version of “I (Who Have Nothing)” this morning.

And what would a trek through the digital shelves here be without some 1960s easy listening combined with a theme from a spy movie? I have four versions on the shelves of the theme from The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the 1965 movie based on the novel by John le Carré. I think I saw the movie when it came out. (That would have been on one of those Saturday nights out with my dad that remain a bit puzzling, as I wrote a few years ago.) Oddly, Sol Kaplan’s moody soundtrack is not on the shelves here, an absence that needs to be corrected. But the four versions I have of the disquieting theme are all pretty good (with that assessment coming, of course, from one who loves spy themes and mid-1960s easy listening), with the sources being the well-known trio of Billy Strange, Roland Shaw and Hugo Montenegro as well as the blandly named Jazz All-Stars. That last is a group of what I assume was studio musicians; they’re identified at Discogs as Bobby Crowe, Ernie Royal, J.J. Johnson, Joe Newman, Johnny Knapp, Larry Charles, Milt Hinton, Mundell Lowe and Sy Saltzberg, though I do not think all of those men played on the version of the theme I have. That version was included on Thunderball & Other Secret Agent Themes, a 1965 album on the Design label that came to me during my James Bond obsession.