Archive for the ‘1962’ Category

‘No Letter Today’

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 2, 2009

We’ll see you tomorrow.

“No Letter Today” by Ray Charles from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2 [1962]

Just Some Stuff

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 21, 2009

Some this and that for a Friday morning:

After I wrote about Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut album and its song “Wooden Ships” the other day, frequent commenter Robert noted that I hadn’t answered my own question of how well the album held together as a unit these days.

Well, I did say that the album “still ranks pretty high on my all-time list,” but maybe I should have said more than that. It holds together well, with a laid-back vibe that was echoed, I think, by a lot of the work being done by the musicians who were part of the Lauren Canyon scene in the last years of the 1960s. (That vibe, in my view, laid down a framework for at least one generation of California rock that may have found its most clear expression, if not its peak, with the mid-1970s work of Fleetwood Mac.)

But beyond providing a template for future work, how does Crosby, Stills & Nash work today? I still think it’s one of the great albums, setting out a view of how life felt – at least for a portion of American youth – as the end of the 1960s was coming into view. Beyond the allegories of “Wooden Ships” and “Guinnevere” and the grief/hope duality of “Long Time Gone” (all three of which, interestingly enough, were written or co-written by David Crosby), the songs on Crosby, Stills & Nash are mostly concerned with the personal, not the political. The fences that need mending in “49 Bye-Byes” are on the singer’s own back porch. And, with one exception, the songs – including the three Crosby-penned songs mentioned above – work with each other and fit well against each other. My only quibble, forty years down the road, is the travelogue of “Marrakesh Express,” which doesn’t seem to match the quality or the themes of the other songs.

When one tries to listen with fresh ears, there’s always the chance that something that seemed excellent thirty or forty years ago will seem much less than that now. I’ve had that happen with other albums. But not with this one.

The Texas Gal pointed me to a fascinating website this week that has nothing to do with music. The operator of Forgotten Bookmarks explains:

“I work at a used and rare bookstore, and I buy books from people everyday. These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in those books.”

The bookmarks he or she finds – I can’t find a name on the blog and so have no idea of the gender of the blogger – are pieces of paper with notes on them, old photographs, tickets to events, postcards, actual bookmarks, even – in one case I saw – a letter ending a romance, and on and on. The blogger posts pictures of each bookmark and the book in which it was found, and transcribes any notes or writing from the bookmark. In some cases, the blogger provides some context, as in identifying more completely a politician whose campaign advertisement ended up in a book.

I found it a fascinating site, but then, I like to look at old photos in antique shops, wondering “Who are these people and what were their stories?” I get the same sense at Forgotten Bookmarks, a sense of random bits of life coming to the surface, the mundane becoming mysterious.

[Note from 2022: The website, though still on line, seems to have quit posting new material in September 2020. Note added May 15, 2022.]

I got a note from Blogger yesterday. There was a complaint about one of the songs I shared in my Vinyl Record Day post about my LP log, and the post was removed. I imagine anyone who wanted to read it has already done so, but just to get the post into the blog archives, I’m going to repost it Sunday, without linking to the twelve songs.

I thought about looking at the Billboard Hot 100 for this week in 1970 for today’s music, but I wanted to get the three items above into the blog, so I decided on something else instead. As happens to many folks, I’m certain, every so often I’ll realize that a song is running through my head for no apparent reason. I haven’t heard it on the radio, haven’t looked at the record jacket or the CD case, and haven’t read its title somewhere; it just popped up. When one of those stealth earworms – as I call them – popped up the other week, I jotted the title down, and I continue to do so as they show up. I haven’t caught them all over the past two weeks, but here’s a little bit of what I’ve been hearing in my head lately. (And no, there have been no voices telling me to do things.)

A Six-Pack Running Through My Head
“Smile” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 431 [1962]
“All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople from All the Young Dudes [1972]
“Hallelujah” by the Clique from The Clique [1969]
“It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” by Jim Croce from Life and Times [1973]
“Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” by Robin McNamara from Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me [1970]
“Buckets of Rain” by Bette Midler with Bob Dylan from Songs For the New Depression [1976]

The version of “Smile” I heard in my head wasn’t necessarily Ferrante & Teicher’s version, but that’s the best one I happen to have available. The song was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film, Modern Times. Ferrante and Teicher recorded it in December 1961; in early 1962, the single went to No. 18 on the Easy Listening chart and to No. 91 on the pop chart.

“All the Young Dudes,” written and produced by David Bowie, gave the British glitter-rocking Mott the Hoople its only Top 40 hit. The single – which may have been different than the album version offered here – went to No. 37 in late 1972. In the U.K., the single went to No. 3.

The Clique had recorded and released a number of singles (“Sugar on Sunday” went to No. 22 in the autumn of 1969) before the time came to put an album together, but All-Music Guide notes that the only member of the group to actually be on the album was singer Randy Shaw; producer Gary Zekley brought in studio musicians for everything else. The most interesting track on the album to me is “Hallelujah,” which AMG reviewer Stewart Mason dismisses as a “blatant Blood, Sweat & Tears rip-off.” That’s an apt comparison, I guess, especially as concerns the lead vocal, but the song gets my attention as the source for Sweathog’s 1971 cover, which went to No. 33. (Another cover of the song, which I’ve also posted here in the past, came from Chi Coltrane in 1973.)

Life and Times was Jim Croce’s second major label album, coming out on ABC in January 1973. “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” is the album’s closer, a December-themed song about wanting to give things another try. I’m not sure why the song popped into my head the other day; the earworm was more understandable in December 1974, shortly after I got the album, when I was headed to have a cup of coffee and conversation with a young woman I’d once known well. As it turned out, it did have to be that way, but I still like the song anyway.

The Robin McNamara track is the title track of what seems to be his only album. “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” was released as a single on Steed, the label owned by legendary songwriter and producer Jeff Barry, who co-wrote the song with McNamara and Jim Cretecos. The single went to No. 11 during the summer of 1970 and was the only hit for McNamara, who was a member of the original cast of the musical Hair. (His fellow cast members helped out, says AMG, evidently providing backing vocals.)

I imagine that the version of “Buckets of Rain” that ran through my head was based on the original, from Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. But I recently came across Midler’s version of the song, after looking for it sporadically for a few years – my thanks to Willard at Never Get Out Of The Boat – and its rarity seemed to make it a good choice for this slot. As is most often the case when Mr. Dylan shows up to sing along, it’s very apparent he’s in the room.

Yogi & The Miller Sisters

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 20, 2009

Given yesterday’s post of a Yogi Yorgesson single, I thought I’d see what I could find from Yogi at YouTube. Here’s a snippet from an episode of The Jack Benny Program from what appears to be the 1950s. Harry Stewart’s Yogi – acting here as Edgar Bergen’s servant –gives the audience a few lines of “Yingle Bells.”

Here’s a Yorgesson recording from 1950, “I’m Glad I’m A Nincompoop,” “Nincompoops Have All The Fun,” backed with some photos of Stewart and a few other visuals, as well as a few shots of the 78 rpm record as it plays.

Another find at YouTube: A record by the Miller Sisters that wasn’t included in the discography I looked at yesterday: “Your Love,” released as GMC 10003. The discography I found in Mitch Rosalsky’s Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups listed a 1965 release, GMC 10006, “I’m Telling It Like It Is/Until You Come Home, I’ll Walk Alone,” but not this record. Sounds like the same group, though, and “W. Miller” – the sisters’ father was William Miller, who wrote some of their songs – is listed as one of the writers. I’m thinking it’s the same group, probably from 1965 as well.

Video unavailable

And here’s another Miller Sisters’ tune, “Tell Him,” which is listed in Rosalsky’s discography as the B-Side of Riverside 4535, from 1962.

Tomorrow, I think I’ll dig into the Billboard chart for the week ending August 22, 1970, and see what might be found there.

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]

On Summers Gone

May 13, 2022

Originally posted July 31, 2009

I’ve been trying for an hour now to write something meaningful about how it felt to be a kid in summertime. And I’m not sure that what I remember is really how it felt. There is a tendency, a temptation, to put a nostalgic and meaningful glaze on all the memories and perceptions of childhood and youth (a temptation I frequently find difficult to resist), as if the only purpose of being a child in the 1960s was to provide memories for us in later life.

That’s not how it was, of course. We didn’t run through our summer days constantly thinking how fine our memories of those days would someday be. Oh, there were times, special days, when the thought came: I hope I remember this forever. And I do remember thinking that at times, but sadly and ironically, I don’t recall in any of those cases what it was that I hoped to remember.

I do remember games: We boys – with a few girls, now and then – would play workup baseball in the street during the day and into the late afternoon. After dinner, as the evening approached, all of us – boys and girls alike – would play games like “Kick the Can,” a hide-and-seek type game. We played across a territory that ranged widely around the neighborhood, with some yards in play and others – generally those of folks who had no kids – not in play. That would go on until the very last light of the day was fading and the streetlights came on. Then, in ones and twos, kids would make their ways home.

At other times, we – generally Rick and I – might make our way to the grocery store half a block away on Fifth Avenue. We’d dither over the best investment for our pennies and nickels, maybe buy some Dubble Bubble or Sour Grapes bubble gum. Or maybe we’d buy one of those balsa wood gliders that – with luck – flew loops in the backyard air without getting stuck in the trees.

We were unconcerned, for the most part, with the events and realities of life beyond Kilian Boulevard and the southeast side. I, being who I’ve always been, followed the news at least a little, but the accounts I read of the civil rights movement, and of war and unrest in a place called Vietnam, didn’t touch us. Not then, in the first half of the 1960s.

We got older, and one by one, the older kids quit playing the summer games we’d always played. And one summer, sometime in the latter half of the 1960s, Rick and I were the older kids, and the younger kids were playing their own games. With a figurative shrug, we went off and did something else.

Many things about those summertimes are hazy, with specific memories replaced by generalities. But one thing I know: As I made my way from being one of the little kids to being one of the older kids, I was aware of summertime music. I remember how it seemed like the volume was turned up during those three months. Even in the very early years, I heard music during summer that I evidently chose to ignore the rest of the year.

Some Summertime Hits From Motown
 “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas, Gordy 7022 (No. 4, 1963)
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 3, 1971)
“Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations, Gordy 7054 (No. 13, 1966)
“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54151 (No. 2, 1967)
“It’s the Same Old Song” by the Four Tops, Motown 1081 (No. 5, 1965)
 “I’ll Keep Holding On” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54116 (No. 34, 1965)
“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown 1032 (No. 9, 1962)
“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5, Motown 116 (No. 1, 1970)
“Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes, Motown 1051 (No. 1, 1964)
“The Tracks Of My Tears” by the Miracles, Tamla 54118 (No. 16, 1965)

When selecting from the massive Motown/Gordy/Tamla catalog, it’s comforting to have a few rules in place. Given my framework here of choosing only songs that entered the Top 40 in June, July or August, as well as choosing one song per performer/group, I thought I did pretty well.

Many of these, of course, came out in the years before I paid much attention to rock, pop or R&B, but Motown’s best work – like a lot of the great music of the time – was part of the environment. Wherever we went, there were radios, and wherever radios were, you heard the tunes of the time. I’m not saying I heard all of these when they were on the radio regularly, but I know I heard most of them, and for today, that’s close enough.

Toppers, Maxine Starr & The Inmates

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 27, 2009

Who were the Toppers? Who was Maxine Starr? And who were the Inmates?

Good questions all, because those are the artists on the three 45s that I pulled out of the mystery box this morning. Yes, it’s time for another Grab Bag!

The Toppers were a 1950s R&B vocal group. And either they or their producers – or perhaps both – had a penchant for risqué material, keeping in mind that what seems slightly risqué in 2009 could very likely have been near the acceptable edge in 1959 or earlier.

How do we know that? One of the songs that All Music Guide credits the Toppers with recording is “(I Love to Play Your Piano) Let Me Bang Your Box,” a ditty that shows up on two CD anthologies of bawdy R&B.

That penchant for naughtiness is one of the few bits of useful information about the Toppers at All-Music Guide. The names of the group members are not listed. There are a few credits from recordings currently included on CDs, and one of those CDs gives us a hint about the group’s origins. That CD is Mama Don’t Like It! 1950-1956, a collection of recordings by Smiley Lewis, a New Orleans artist. That’s not proof, but it’s a large hint that the Toppers were based in New Orleans as well.

That previously mentioned penchant for naughty titles also seems to account for the title of one of the sides I found in my mystery box: “It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was.” What was twice as big? Well, it isn’t what folks might think, but that’s the point of a risqué song title. The song itself is mild, and the mystery is solved in the final verse. The other side of the record – Decca 30297 – is a tidy little calypso tune called “Pots and Pans.”

“It Was Twice As Big . . .” was written by Tommie Connor and Jack Jordan, while “Pots and Pans” came from Diane Lampert and John Gluck, Jr. Both sides of the record were directed (produced, in today’s parlance, I imagine) by Jack Pleis. And that’s all the label can tell us.

So when was the record released? There’s no clear indication. One of the difficulties with 45s of this vintage – mid- to late 1950s or so – is that the labels rarely have copyright or issue dates on them. Those folks who are label design mavens could likely look at the records and know about when the record came out. But I am not one of those, so I have to rely on brute force and Google.

Just the name of the group and the title “It Was Twice As Big . . .” finds several copies of the record for sale. Adding “Jack Pleis” to the mix gets a few listings, but also begins to include the word “toppers” in the phrase “chart toppers.”

But Googling just “Decca 30297” by itself brings us some information. At a music forum at Mombu.com, we learn from a poster named Roger Ford that Decca 30297 “dates from 1957.”

Ford continues: “Doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in Billboard so here’s two clues
that help date it more accurately: Kitty Wells’ “Change Of Heart” on Decca 30288 was reviewed in [Billboard] May 6, 1957. And “Pots And Pans,” which was the “A” side, was released in England (with a different flip taken from an earlier Toppers record) in June 1957. I’d say it was an April 1957 release.”

So here you go:

“Pots and Pans” by the Toppers
“It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was” by the Toppers
Decca 30297 [1957]

Next up is Maxine Starr and her rock ’n’ roll version of “(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” backed by “Love Is” on New-Hits records. The record label was kind enough to include A- and B-side information on the label, but interestingly enough, a Web search brings up – among very little else – a U.K. based record shop called Rare Northern Soul that’s offering the record for sale based on the B-side, “Love Is.”

I’m guessing, simply from the sound and style, that the record was issued in the early 1960s. But throwing the catalog number into the Web search brings no more information. The record exists, the ’Net tells me, and is for sale a number of places. There’s nothing at All Music Guide. And a ’Net search for Maxine Starr alone brings up a great number of results; some of them might be the Maxine Starr on the record, but I don’t know.

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” was, of course, an old song by the time Maxine Starr recorded it. The best known version might have been the one recorded by the Andrews Sisters for Decca in 1940, and the song itself – written by Albert Von Tilzer and Neville Fleeson – dates to 1920, so Googling the title and writers won’t help us much with a record from what seems to be the early 1960s. But the B-side, “Love Is,” might not be as widely recorded a song, so we might glean something from Googling the song’s writers, Ralph Romano and Joe Burke. Well, we learn that the two men co-wrote the book Elbo Elf, but that’s all. And there’s no producer credit on the record label.

So we don’t know a lot about this one, not even a recording date. But I’m going to guess around 1962, just on a hunch. [A check at discogs.com, a site I did not know about when this piece was originally posted, verified that Starr’s record was in fact released in 1962.]

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” by Maxine Starr
“Love Is” by Maxine Starr
New-Hits 3009 [1962]

Our third 45 for today is of a more recent vintage. In fact, the label tells us all the basic information. A group called the Inmates released “(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” and “Show You My Way” on the Polydor label in 1980. So is there more information out there?

Well, yes, a little bit. The band’s entry at All-Music Guide is a little slender, but we learn that the members of the British group were Bill Hurley, Ben Donnelly, Peter Gunn, Barry Masters, Tony Oliver and Jim Russell. And the tracks on the 45 in question – both written by Russell – show up on the group’s 1980 album, Shot in the Dark.

But the single didn’t go anywhere: The Inmates’ only presence on the charts was for a cover of the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” which went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. At the same time, the group’s first album, First Offence, went to No. 49 on the Billboard album chart. That first album was originally released in 1979 on Radar and later came out on Polydor, just as Shot in the Dark would be in 1980.

But even if the single didn’t get any attention when it came out, it’s a decent new wave/pub rock single.

“(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” by the Inmates
“Show You My Way” by the Inmates
Polydor 2152 [1980]

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.

More ‘More’ Than You’ve Ever Heard Before

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 26, 2009

The movie, an Italian flick, was supposed to be dark, depraved and disturbing. It might have been so in 1962. Now, forty-seven years later, it’s mostly slow and dull.

The title? Mondo Cane, which translates from the Italian as something like A Dog’s World.

Supposedly a documentary that detailed the oddities, cruelties and perversities of life, Mondo Cane was intended to be controversial, and some of its contents likely were shocking in 1962. I spent a couple hours looking at it over the holiday weekend, and it’s not very shocking at all from the vantage point of 2009.

The movie spent a lot of time in the Pacific, examining what might best be called non-industrial island cultures. While the film purported to be a true reflection of life in those societies, the winking narration – as when a cluster of bare-breasted island girls chase one young man around the island and into the sea, and in a few other instances – left me wondering about the truth of the visuals as well as the truth of the narration.

The broad-brush contrasts the film points out between so-called primitive cultures and Western culture were so ham-handed that I chuckled. Yeah, I know that in some areas of the world snakes and dogs are dinner; and in 1962, one could go to a restaurant in New York City and spend $20 for plate of fried ants, bug larvae and butterfly eggs. The film shows those young island women chasing men into the sea, and a little later shows a cadre of young Australian women running into the sea and pulling men back onto the sand (during lifeguard practice). After seeing footage of dogs in Asia waiting in cages to become dinner, the film takes us to a pet cemetery in southern California, showing the gravestones of pets owned by celebrities of the time, including Vivan Vance (Lucille Ball’s sidekick), Jack Warner, Jr., of Warner Brothers and Julie London.

I think I knew about Mondo Cane when it came out. I would have been nine, and – as I’ve noted before – was even then aware of current events and news that troubled adults. It’s quite likely, I realized this weekend, that my awareness of the film was helped along by parodies of its approach in MAD magazine, which was one of my favorites at the time. It’s not a significant film in any way, but it is interesting. There are, by current standards, several troubling images involving cruelty to animals, but beyond that, little is truly surprising. As a historical document of what Western culture found depraved in 1962, however, it’s an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

The movie did, however, provide one long-lasting piece of popular culture: Its theme, better known these days as “More (Theme to Mondo Cane).” The song, written by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero, was used in the movie as an instrumental under the title “Ti Guarderò Nel Cuore.” Italian lyrics were added by Marcello Ciorciolini, and later, the English lyrics were written by Norman Newell, giving us the song “More (Theme From Mondo Cane)” as we know it.

I would guess that “More” is one of the most covered songs of all time. All-Music Guide lists 1,325 CDs on which there is a recording of a song titled “More.” Some of those would be other compositions, but I’m certain that the vast majority of those recordings are of the song by Ortolani and Oliviero. So let’s take a walk though the garden of “More.”

First, here’s the original:

“Theme from Mondo Cane” by Riz Ortolani & Nino Oliviero [1962]

One version of the song made the Top 40 in the U.S., an instrumental version by a Kai Winding, a composer and bandleader who was born in Denmark but grew up in the U.S. His version of “More” went to No. 8 in the summer of 1963.

“More” by Kai Winding, Verve 10295 [1963]

And then came the flood (though not all covers were titled exactly the same):

“More” by Ferrante & Teicher from Concert for Lovers [1963]

“Theme from Mondo Cane (More)” by Jack Nitschze from The Lonely Surfer [1963]

“More” by John Gary from Catch A Rising Star [1963]

“More” by Vic Dana from More [1963]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Frank Sinatra & Count Basie from It Might As Well Be Swing [1964]

“More” by Billy Vaughn from Blue Velvet [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Liberace from Golden Themes From Hollywood [1964]

“More” by Mantovani from The Incomparable Mantovani and his Orchestra [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Nat King Cole from L-O-V-E [1965]

“More” by Julie London from Our Fair Lady [1965]

“More” by Steve Lawrence, Columbia 42795 [1963]

“More” by Roger Williams from I’ll Remember You [1967]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by the Ray Conniff Singers from Ray Conniff’s World Of Hits [1967]

“More” by Jerry Vale from The Impossible Dream [1967]

“More” by Andy Williams from The Academy Award Winning “Call Me Irresponsible” [1970]

“More” by Jackie Gleason from Today’s Romantic Hits – For Lovers Only [1963]

“More” by Harry Connick, Jr., from Only You [2004]

(I’ve pulled these from various sources; some are mine, some I found elsewhere. Of those I found elsewhere, I’m reasonably sure that the performers are identified correctly. And after spending several hours digging, I’m also reasonably sure that the original release album titles and dates are correct. I have a suspicion that the version by the Ray Conniff singers might have been released on an earlier album, but I can’t verify that.)

Edited slightly and Jackie Gleason release and date verified June 28, 2013. Steve Lawrence release and date verified March 5, 2014.

Memorial Day, 2009

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 25, 2009

It’s another Memorial Day, another day to reflect. We’ve been told that some of our soldiers will this year begin to come home. Let’s hope that’s true. We’ve also been told that more of our soldiers are required to fight elsewhere. Let’s hope that’s for a brief time. These are the same songs as last year and the year before; if that’s a disappointment, I’m sorry. These are the songs that remind me of those whom we are supposed to remember today.

“Requiem for the Masses” by the Association, Warner Bros. single 7074 [1967]

“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” by Phil Ochs from Rehearsals For Retirement [1969]

“War” by Edwin Starr, Gordy single 7101 [1970]

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Peter, Paul & Mary from Peter, Paul & Mary [1962]

“One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)” by Coven, Warner Bros. single 7509 [1971]

“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie from It’s My Way! [1964]

“Masters of War” by Bob Dylan from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan [1962]

“Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon), Apple single 1809 [1969]

“2+2=?” by the Bob Seger System from Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man [1968]

“Handsome Johnny” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag [1967]

“Bring The Boys Home” by Freda Payne, Invictus single 909 [1971]

“All The Young Women” by the Cuff Links from Tracy [1970]

“Bring ’Em Home” by Bruce Springsteen from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) [live, most likely in Detroit, 2006]

As I’ve noted the past two years, times have changed enough since Freda Payne, the Cuff Links and Peter, Paul & Mary recorded their songs that we now need to also bring the girls home, and we need to grieve as well with all the young men who have lost loved ones.

It’s Grab Bag Time!

October 3, 2012

Orignally posted May 15, 2009

A mid-May Friday seems like a good time to dig into the box of unsorted 45s and find some that aren’t too hacked up. So today’s a Grab Bag day.

In 1962, a singer named Tony Dale released “Bambinello,” a piece of standard pop with an annoying little organ part and an overmiked background chorus. He’s singing to an Italian girl, but in that case – and linguists, please weigh in here – shouldn’t it be “Bambinella”? There’s nothing really astounding about the record; it’s pretty standard pop for the time. The flip side, “Honey Bun,” is more of the same, but at least without the organ part.

Not a lot of information can be gleaned from the record label: “Bambinello” was written by a duo with the last names of Douglas and Laney and was published by Veronique Music. “Honey Bun” was written by Douglas and Laney with someone named Pastor and was published by Douglas Davilio Music.

There’s really nothing about the record out on the ’Net, just a few copies offered for sale and one entry in a discography. The record came out on the Rendezvous label, which, according to BSN Publications, was home to a band that included the great Earl Palmer on drums. Based on the description of the label’s logo, it’s the same record label, but there’s no mention of Tony Dale at BSN.

“Bambinello” and “Honey Bun” by Tony Dale, Rendezvous Records 184 [1962]

Another record that’s hard to find information about was recorded on the Hy Sign label by a singer named Marvin Kerry. “Sha-Marie” is a pretty nifty Cajun tune with some nice fiddle, and the flip side, “Beyond The Moon,” is pretty standard country with some nice weepy guitar and a vocal that’s pretty restrained. Hy Sign was located in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I did some digging at Rockin’ Country Style but couldn’t find much mention of the record beyond the fact that it’s been included on several anthologies released in the Netherlands and in England. Let’s see what the label tells us: “Sha-Marie” was written by B. Darnell and B. Hall and published by Central Songs, while “Beyond The Moon” came from the pen of Hap Martin and was published by La Dee Music. Both tracks were produced by Dee Marais.

A note at The Soul of the Net tells me that Hy Sign was a side project of Dee Marais’ in the early 1970s, when he was the owner of Murco Records, which seems to have focused on soul and R&B. I can find references to a few other releases on Hy Sign but nothing about Marvin Kerry’s single. My last shot, I figured, was to call the phone number for Hy Sign printed on the record label. As I expected, the number is no longer in service. At this point, I’m not even sure about the date of the record except for the one reference to the early 1970s. So I’m just tagging it “ca. 1970.”

“Sha-Marie” and “Beyond The Moon” by Marvin Kerry, Hy Sign 1111 [ca. 1970]

Things got a little easier after that. In 1968, trumpeter Harry James released an album titled Harry James & His Western Friends. Here’s the review from All-Music Guide:

“Big band leader Harry James dons chaps and a ten-gallon hat for this late ’60s foray into the world of country and western music. Other pop acts, including the Norman Luboff Choir and Arthur Fiedler, enjoyed success with choral and orchestral adaptations of western material, so James’ trumpet treatments didn’t come completely out of left field. Credited to Harry James and His Western Friends, the album jettisons James’ big band in favor of an ensemble consisting of the rhythm section from his band and some string players and guitarists. James and his trumpet riff on the melodies of western classics like ‘Cimarron’ and ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds,’ and straight country songs such as ‘Make the World Go Away,’ ‘He’ll Have to Go,’ and ‘Faded Love.’ ‘Mexicali Rose’ and ‘Vaya Con Dios’ add a Tex-Mex flavor, and ‘San Antonio Rose’ swings in the western way. James is a jazz artist, not an easy listening instrumentalist, so he doesn’t stick to the melody – he improvises and explores over the solid foundation of Jimmie Haskell’s workmanlike country-pop charts. The result is a hybrid between Nashville Sound-style country music and trumpet jazz, an intriguing experiment that shows James’ open-mindedness and willingness to stray from the beaten path.”

One of the singles released from the album had “San Antonio Rose” backed with “Cimarron.” I’m not sure which was the A Side, but both tracks are pleasant, falling – as I thought even before reading the AMG review – somewhere between jazz, country and easy listening.

“San Antonio Rose” and “Cimarron” by Harry James and His Western Friends, Dot 16944 [1968]

The fourth playable 45 I grabbed from the box this morning was a single pulled from a soundtrack. I don’t know how many soundtracks and film themes Henry Mancini wrote and recorded in his long career – the listing at All-Music Guide is longer than I want to count this morning – but many of them are memorable and instantly recognizable: “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Dear Heart” and many more.

Then there’s the record I pulled out of the box this morning, credited to Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus: “The Sweetheart Tree” and the “Pie-In-The-Face Polka,” both from the soundtrack to the 1965 film The Great Race. The former is pretty saccharine, even for a mid-1960s soundtrack, and the latter is just goofy. Well, it was a pretty goofy movie, from what I recall, so that fits. And they can’t all be “Moon River,” can they?

“The Sweetheart Tree” and “Pie-In-The-Face Polka” by Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus, from the soundtrack to The Great Race [1965]