Archive for the ‘1963’ Category

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.

On to YouTube!

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 11, 2009

Looking for a video of Rolf Harris perfoming “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” I found something that, to me, is astounding. It’s a recording – with no video, but that’s okay – of Harris singing his hit song with the Beatles, most likely in 1963. It’s a little ragged, but the best thing is that the lyrics have been changed to reflect the session. Give it a listen:

Here’s a television performance by Dave Dudley of “Six Days On The Road.” It’s from his appearance on the National Life Grand Old Opry on October 28, 1966.

And to close the video portion of today’s post, here’s George Harrison and Leon Russell performing “Beware of Darkness” at 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh:

Bonus Track
In yesterday’s post, I said of Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” that there were probably hundreds of songs in which the narrator realizes how good things were at home “but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s.” Frequent commenters Yah Shure and Oldetymer suggested several songs with similar themes, and Oldetymer added that Hazel Dickens’ “West Virginia My Home” might top Bare’s song for twang.

I don’t have a recording of Dickens performing the song on her own, but I have a version she recorded with her frequent partner, Alice Gerard, from the 1976 album Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard. And it’s pretty down-home.

When I made my comment, I was actually referring to the guitar figure that opened Bare’s record, but Oldetymer has done a service by reminding me of Dickens and her music, which is very much aligned with the sounds and places from which she, and country music, came. When you listen to Dickens, you’re hearing what a great deal of American music sounded like in 1927 when the Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter – made their ways from Maces Spring, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, for their first recording sessions, sessions that are said to have been the birthpoint of country music records.

There is, thus, an entirely different aesthetic to the music Dickens has recorded. (She turned seventy-four earlier this month.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sound of the past:

Summer Enrichment

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 10, 2009

Summertime in the early and mid-1960s wasn’t just for fun. There was school, too. Every summer, from the time I was six until I was, oh, fourteen, I went to summer school to learn about stuff I didn’t get a chance to learn about during the school year.

Sometimes that was okay, as those things went. I remember taking Spanish for a couple of summers. (The only thing that has stayed with me is “Hola, Paco! Que tal?” I think that translates loosely into “How goes it, Joe?” and is a fairly useless bit of knowledge.) I took a class in World War II history and a couple of drama workshops. Those came during the last few years of summer school, when I was in junior high school. My first summer school experiences came on the campus at St. Cloud State.

There was, at the time, an elementary school on campus, the Campus Laboratory School, which the School of Education used to help train teachers. Like the public schools, the Lab School’s academic year ended in spring, but the college had classes year-round. So in order to have elementary students for the college education students to teach, the Campus Lab ran summer school programs. And I was one of the laboratory subjects for a couple of summers very early during my elementary school days. I remember very little of the subjects we covered during those eight week-sessions. But I remember the oddness of being in a different school, with different types of furnishings than we had at Lincoln Elementary (which reflected, though I did not know this, a different and more experimental approach to education than was used in the public schools). The Campus Lab School seemed like an alien environment, fascinating but unsettling as well.

I also recall a portion of two summers spent in classes at Washington Elementary, on the city’s south side. These particular summer gatherings were called “enrichment” programs and took place, I think, during the summers after fourth and fifth grades, in 1963 and 1964. Just a few kids from each of the city’s elementary schools – those judged to have the most academic potential – were pulled into the program each summer. (Not being certain of current educational lingo, I imagine we’d be called “gifted” these days.) During one of those two summers, our class studied the state of Alaska: its history, culture, geography, the whole works. Among our projects during the summer was to build – with flexible wood strips for the frame, covered with white paper – an igloo.

There is, in one of the boxes of stuff I’ve carried with me over the years, a newspaper clipping with a picture of that summer school class posing by its igloo. There, at the right end of the front row, with brutally short hair and a pair of new black-rimmed glasses, is a little whiteray.

Fourth Grade Summer Enrichment Class at Washington Elementary, St. Cloud, Summer 1963.

The kids around me from St. Cloud’s other schools were still no more than friendly strangers, but a couple of years ago, I looked at the picture for the first time in years, and I realized that almost all of those kids were the ones that populated my classes in high school, in the college prep program. We were our grade’s version, God help us, of the best and the brightest. That doesn’t alter the fact that I looked like a dork.

As I said, I think that was in either 1963 or 1964. So here are some tunes from early June in the first of those two years.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 15, 1963)
“It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72119 (No. 2)
“Come And Get These Memories” by Martha & the Vandellas, Gordy 7014 (No. 32)
“Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” by Rolf Harris, Epic 9596 (No. 58)
“Six Days On The Road” by Dave Dudley, Golden Wing 3020 (No. 75)
“Detroit City” by Bobby Bare, RCA 8183 (No. 87)
“Needles and Pins” by Jackie DeShannon, Liberty 55563 (No. 114)

One of these six was omnipresent enough for me to remember hearing it frequently, though I was not a pop-radio listener, and another of them was quirky enough for me to recall it. The single that was everywhere was, of course, Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which had spent the previous two weeks at No. 1. (Oddly enough, the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart.) How omnipresent was it? Well, my sister rarely bought current singles. When seventeen-year-old Lesley Gore’s first single hit, however, my sister went out and got herself a copy of it. But it wasn’t just our house: The record had such an amazingly simple and effective hook – “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.” – that it couldn’t help but insinuate itself into the broader grown-up culture that existed parallel to teen culture of the time. To put it more simply, even adults knew the record, and that was a rare thing at that time.

The other of these six that I recall hearing was the silly “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Aussie Rolf Harris. Being nine and unaware of Aussie usage, however, I struggled with the meaning of the title. Why did the singer want himself tied down? Like a kangaroo? As catchy as the song was, it didn’t make any sense to me. I just didn’t understand the song (and that was certainly not the last time that’s happened over the years). Harris’ record eventually climbed into the Top 40 and stayed there for nine weeks, peaking at No. 3. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, and that makes me wonder when the AC chart started. I’d always thought it was far more recent than that. (Someone out there knows the answer, I’m sure.)

“Come And Get These Memories” was the first hit for Martha Reeves and her girls, who ended up having twelve records reach the Top 40 between 1963 and 1967. During the second week of June, “Memories” was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 29 a week earlier. The record was well-done but sounded pretty much the same as a lot of girl group records, to my ears. That would change for Martha and the Vandellas with their next hit, as “Heat Wave” exploded out of the speakers and into the Top Ten in August.

I’ve shared Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” here before, but it was a year and a half ago, and that’s an eternity in blogtime. At that time, I decided that Dudley’s hit was likely the most influential record ever recorded in Minnesota, and nothing I’ve heard or read since then has changed that view. The record spent just four weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 32, but it went to No. 2 on the country chart and – as I noted in the earlier post – was the granddaddy of a whole lot of songs about truckers and their rigs. (Does that mean that without “Six Days,” there might have been no “Convoy” in 1975? I tend to think so.)

Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” which is about as country as they came in 1963, is another song that falls neatly into a genre. I imagine you could call it the “Wizard of Oz” or “There’s No Place Like Home” genre. In Bare’s song, it’s the story of the boy who left home for better things in the city and found out, sadly, that home is better. There are, I imagine, hundreds of such songs (nominations, anyone?), but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s. The song, written by Mel Tillis, was first titled “I Wanna Go Home,” and was a No. 18 hit on the country chart for Billy Grammer in early 1963. Bare’s retitled version went to No. 6 on the country chart and peaked at No. 16 on the pop chart.

“Needles and Pins” is far better known as a record by the Searchers (No. 13 in the spring of 1964), but Jackie DeShannon was – according to Wikipedia – the first to record the song, written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono. DeShannon’s version peaked at No. 84, but Wikipedia notes that it reached the top of the charts in English Canada, going to No. 1 on the chart issued by Toronto radio station CHUM. While the Searchers might have had the hit (as did Tom Petty with Stevie Nicks in 1986), I’ve always liked DeShannon’s version a little bit more, with its very obvious Wall of Sound influence.

Revised slightly and picture added March 30, 2015.

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.

‘You’re So Supreme . . .’

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 19, 2009

Over the course of more than two years of sharing music here, there have been some detours from the rock ’n’ roll highway. While I love rock and pop from most eras, I also love music from other genres and eras. And I’ve noticed that when I share songs from those disparate non-rock genres, the numbers of downloads drops precipitously. Folks come by here to find rock and pop, and generally the more familiar fare.

That’s fine. We like what we like.

But among my loves in music, as I’ve noted many times, is one Al Hirt, a New Orleans-born trumpet player who died in 1999 at the age of seventy-six. His music was what I listened to while I was learning to play cornet; in that sense, he was my first musical model and hero, getting in line way ahead of the Beatles and Bob Dylan and all the other musicians who came along to entertain and inspire me later.

The first of Al Hirt’s music I heard was almost certainly “Java,” a sprightly tune from his Honey In The Horn album; the album came out in 1963, and in 1964, “Java” went to No. 4, providing Hirt with his only Top Ten hit. (“Cotton Candy” went to No. 15 and “Sugar Lips” went to No. 30 later that year.) It was in 1964, as I’ve noted before, that I got my horn; I took lessons that summer between fifth and sixth grades and continued to play the horn through high school. And as I heard “Java” on the radio – all three of his hits got some play on Top Forty stations and plenty of play on the St. Cloud stations, which at that time did not play any rock – I wanted two things: I wanted the LP, and I wanted to play my horn that well.

I got the album for my birthday that September, and continued to think that “Java,” the second track on Side One, was fun. But the revelation was the first track on the record: “I Can’t Get Started.” I loved the sliding saxophones, the chorus (seeming corny now but so much a part of its time), the shifts in tempo, and above all, Al Hirt’s horn: weaving and darting in and around the arrangement, taking a breather or two and finally 2:08 into the song, taking off and flying, then leaving me hanging in mid-air.

The first time I heard Hirt’s take on “I Can’t Get Started,” I stared at the stereo as I sat on the floor in the living room. When the song ended, I lifted the needle and played it again. And again. I’d never heard anything like it.

What I didn’t know, of course, is that “I Can’t Get Started” is one of the great standards of American song. Written by Vernon Duke, with words by Ira Gershwin, it was first heard – says Wikipedia – in the theatrical production Ziegfield Follies of 1936. Since then, there have been numerous versions recorded; All-Music Guide lists 1,778 CDs with versions of “I Can’t Get Started.” The artists who’ve recorded the song include (and this is by necessity a brief and inadequate selection): Cannonball Adderly, Larry Adler, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Judy Collins, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Merle Haggard, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, Rickie Lee Jones, Gene Krupa, Enoch Light, Wynton Marsalis, Rod McKuen, Peter Nero, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Django Reinhardt, Buddy Rich, Doc Severinsen, Cybill Shepherd, Mel Tormé, Joe Utterback, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Lester Young and Dave Zoller. (No one whose last name begins with “Q” or “X” was listed.)

Some of those, I’d like to hear. Others, well, maybe not. The thought of the Cybill Shepherd version, frankly, scares me.

The one name I did not list there is the man whose version was listed most: Bunny Berigan. A trumpeter and vocalist at the time that Big Band music was separating itself from other forms of jazz, Berigan recorded the song in 1937 for Victor Records (a predecessor of RCA Victor). I learned a little about that – but just a little – by reading the notes on the back of Hirt’s Honey In The Horn.

“On one (recording) date,” writes Anne L. Freels, “Al was scheduled to do ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ a perennial that most knowledgeable musicians feel should be left alone after Bunny Berigan’s incomparable rendition. Especially wary was Louis Nunley, a member of the vocal chorus and a good trumpeter himself. When behemoth Hirt finished with that fine song, however, Nunley sat down and said ‘I’ll never pick up my horn again.’”

I’ll note three things about the anecdote: First: Plenty of musicians had recorded “I Can’t Get Started” at the time Freels was writing, so her comment that the song “should be left alone” is publicist’s overstatement. But over the years, I have read many times that Berigan’s version is considered the standard, and horn players do risk a comparison when they record it.

Second, I doubt that Nunley was serious about leaving his horn sit unplayed. I’m sure that if he actually made that statement about not playing again, it was hyperbole, uttered in amazement at a great performance.

Third: Even if the anecdote was overstated, it underlined to me at the age of eleven that someone besides me thought that Hirt’s version of “I Can’t Get Started” was special.

But I’ll let you judge for yourselves. Here are Bunny Berigan’s version from 1937 and Al Hirt’s version from 1963.

“I Can’t Get Started” by Bunny Berigan, Victor 37539 [1937]

“I Can’t Get Started” by Al Hirt from Honey In The Horn [1963]

In The Light Of A Rainy Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Tall And Tan And Young And Lovely . . .’

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 10, 2009

Ever since yesterday’s post went up, I’ve had “The Girl From Ipanema” running through my head. Well, okay, for a while, it was “Caroline” from Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night, but most of the time, it’s been “Ipanema.’

There are worse earworms to have, of course. (“Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede, anyone?)

So I went to All-Music Guide to see how many CDs in its listings have a rendition of “The Girl From Ipanema.” And I would guess it has to be one of the most covered songs in history: AMG lists 1,361 CDs with the song on it. Some of those are duplicate recordings, of course, but still, that’s a few hours of listening there. How many? Well, I have 940 mp3s from 1975 in the library, and they total just more than sixty-five hours of listening. So, allowing for about four hundred duplicates (which is just guesswork, of course), listening to all the versions of “The Girl From Ipanema” nonstop would take something like two to three days.

That’s a lot of samba. (Or maybe it’s bossa nova. I’m not sure.)

I didn’t bother to try to access AMG’s list of CD’s with “The Girl From Ipanema” on it, as I know from experience that trying to access a list that long almost always times out. So I went into my mp3s to see what covers I have of the song.

Along the way, I dug up the album-length version of the original. Yesterday, I posted the version with Astrid Gilberto’s English vocal. The album version has that but also has the original vocal – Portuguese, I would guess – by João Gilberto. So here’s that, and a couple of covers of the song.

“The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz & João & Astrid Gilberto
From Getz/Gilberto [1963]

“The Girl From Ipanema” by Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
From Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim [1967]

“The Girl From Ipanema” by Al Hirt
From Sugar Lips [1964]

Saturday Single No. 105

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 20, 2008

I believe I mentioned last year about this time that I don’t do a lot of Christmas music. I used to, and I’ve still got a fair number of Christmas LPs. Some I bought myself over the years, generally at garage sales. And some I got from my dad. When I was a kid, Dad would head out every December and get the annual holiday LPs that Goodyear and Firestone issued. When Dad’s records came to me, I got those, too.

But I don’t play them. I really can’t say why. I just don’t.

Maybe I’ve been over-holidayed over the years. The local oldies station, for several years now, has played Christmas music twenty-fours a day from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. That, I’ve long thought, is a bit much. And this autumn, I heard a Christmas carol – I’ve forgotten which one – used as background for a television commercial on November 1. Way, way too early.

It’s not like the Texas Gal and I are Scrooge and Scroogette. Over the years, we’ve shared celebrations with our families both in Minnesota and in Texas. We gather with friends during the busy time of December, trying in our small ways to create the spirit of peace called for by the season. We share gifts – both spiritual and tangible – with each other and our families. But sometimes it seems that the sheer mass of holiday busyness outside our doors overwhelms us, and we retreat from the madness when we are home.

So we don’t play a lot of holiday music at home, and I don’t post a lot of it here.

With that said, there are two Christmas records I still do love enough to post here, one today and the other next Thursday. I have no doubt that other blogs will also post them this season, but that’s okay. The more often these two songs are heard, the better.

The first is a single pulled from the 1963 album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. Here’s the Wall of Sound behind Darlene Love on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” today’s Saturday Single.

Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” [Philles 4005, 1963]

Odetta Holmes, 1930-2008

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 3, 2008

I saw Odetta in concert once, sometime around 1971. I vaguely knew her name, and I somehow knew that she’d played a role in the 1950s folk revival and the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

So I talked Rick into going along with me, and we sat in pretty good seats in Stewart Hall Auditorium at St. Cloud State. And we listened as a dignified, almost severe, African American woman sang songs we’d mostly never heard before, accompanied only by her spare guitar playing. The music of Odetta, who died in New York City Tuesday at the age of seventy-seven, was nothing like the music we were accustomed to hearing. But we listened, pulled into the performance by the clarity of her voice, the messages of the songs and the warm humanity of her performance.

I can’t say that hearing her in concert made me run out and buy her records. But I stored her name away as one of the important artists I’d seen and heard, mentally filing Odetta in the folder filled with the names of artists I’d someday learn more about. To be honest, I’ve never done that. I’ve heard a few things, taken some CDs out of the library in the past ten years, but I’ve never dug too deeply into her catalog.

I was aware, nevertheless, that Odetta was one of the major folk artists of the 1950s and early 1960s, lending her voice and her stature to the struggles of those times. I was unsurprised to read this morning that she was one of the artists who performed during the March on Washington in August 1963. The New York Times reports: “Her song that day was ‘O Freedom,’ dating to slavery days: ‘O freedom, O freedom, O freedom over me, And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord and be free.’”

There will no doubt be other blogs whose operators can write more knowingly than can I about Odetta, her music, and her influence on American music, culture and history, so I’ll defer to them and let Odetta’s music do the talking.

I’ve pulled together six of her recordings, two from the later portion of her classic folk period and four from recent years, when she was once again recording regularly. The credits at All-Music Guide for Blues Everywhere I Go list Dr. John and Seth Farber on piano, but on both tracks I’m offering here, it sounds like Dr. John. (Unfortunately, the AMG credits don’t identify who played guitar.) And sadly, I don’t have any credits for Looking For A Home, which was a tribute to the late folk-blues artists Leadbelly (but I’d swear I hear the good doctor on those tracks, too).

A Six-Pack of Odetta

“This Little Light Of Mine” from Odetta Sings Folk Songs, 1963

“Masters of War” from Odetta Sings Dylan, 1965

“W.P.A. Blues” from Blues Everywhere I Go, 1999

“Homeless Blues” from Blues Everywhere I Go, 1999

“Rock Island Line” from Looking For A Home, 2001

“Bourgeois Blues” from Looking For A Home, 2001

The Drifters, Roy, Nat & PP&M

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 16, 2008

Doing my customary Thursday wander at YouTube, I found what appears to be an early video with the Drifters lip-synching “Up On The Roof,” with a few pigeons co-starring:

Then I found a clip from the Black & White Night concert of Roy Orbison doing “Leah” with the help of some famous friends. Supporting Orbison during the television special – originally broadcast on January 3, 1988, on HBO – were Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, k.d.Lang, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Jennifer Warnes:

Then, here’s Nat King Cole in what appears to be a small club – a television studio, maybe? – leading his audience in a singalong on parts of “Ramblin’ Rose.” I’d guess it’s from about the time the song came out in 1962.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s a 1963 performance – most likely on television – by Peter, Paul & Mary, performing “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” *

*The Peter, Paul & Mary video originally included in this post had been deleted, but I found a similar video, likely from the same time period. Note added August 24, 20011.