Archive for the ‘1965’ 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.

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.

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]

In The Valley Of The Unplayed

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 24, 2009

We are in the valley of the unplayed (and to some degree, unloved as well) today.

Last evening, before we sat down to dinner, I asked the Texas Gal to survey three of the four crates on top of the bookcases and pull out six LPs. She did so, handing them to me without looking at them. She had a plan, at least after the first LP: The first one had a gray spine, but all the other jackets after that had an orange spine. So this is music with orange backbones.

(There was one change from the Texas Gal’s selections: The LP of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor was too hacked for me to be happy sharing anything from it. So I called the Texas Gal at work and asked her which orange-spined LP I should select to replace it. The sixteenth, she said. Since there were only six or so LPs left with even partly orange spines, I counted around and around until I came to sixteen. And I pulled the LP out and slid it into Bernstein’s spot. I think Lenny would have liked the song that replaced the fourth movement of the Brahms.)

A reminder: These are records that have been travelling with me for years, gained in bulk buys, odd gifts, garage sale pickings. In any case, these are records that generally haven’t interested me for one reason or another. Often, I’ll poke my way through one of the crates and see a particular record and think, “I need to listen to that soon.” And then I forget about it. Will I listen to the remainder of these records now that I’ve gotten at least one track down? Maybe.

First out of the crates is an LP that’s actually a replacement for a very poor copy I had earlier. I picked up the first copy in 1990 and replaced it in 1999, when I was bringing home albums at a rate of two a day, according to my LP log. And U2’s War got shuffled into the crates until today.

I’m of several minds about U2. I like most of the early stuff, up to and including Rattle and Hum. The group’s experiments in the 1990s were interesting but not very likeable; their work since then is likeable but not very interesting. Well, the song the group recently performed at the Grammy awards, “Get On Your Boots,” was interesting in a train-wreck sort of way. For a number of years, U2 was called the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, and for some of that time, that label might actually have been accurate. But accolades like that generally bring along unfortunate consequences: Back in the 1960s, when faced with that label, the Beatles became self-conscious. A few years later, the Rolling Stones became (even more) self-indulgent.

And U2 – especially Bono – became self-important. (My blogging colleague Any Major Dude examined Bono and the band last month and found U2 – and Bono especially – wanting. It’s a good read.)

Anyway, the first LP out of the crates was War, and here – using the selection system offered by Casey at The College Crowd Digs Me in honor of his dad’s long-ago system – is Track Four:

“Like A Song…” by U2 from War, 1983

I like several recordings by Seals and Crofts. The soft-rock duo had an intriguing sound from the time “Summer Breeze” hit the charts in 1972 until sometime in, maybe, 1974. And, along with “Summer Breeze,” there are two Seals and Crofts songs that pull me away to another time: “Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” remain among my favorite records from my college days.

But by 1978, when the duo released Takin’ It Easy (talk about truth in titling!), there was little to separate Seals and Crofts from any other band making softish pop rock, from Pablo Cruise through Firefall to the Little River Band. Their music had turned into audio wallpaper. Track Four on Takin’ It Easy, “You’re The Love,” still spent seven weeks in the Top 40 during the spring and summer of 1978, peaking at No. 18.

“You’re The Love” by Seals and Crofts from Takin’ It Easy, 1978 (Warner Bros. 8551)

The first time I saw Devo was on Saturday Night Live in 1978 or so. The woman of the house and I stared at the television set in amazed bafflement as the band performed “Jocko Homo,” with its chorus that echoed the title of the group’s debut album: “Are we not men? We are Devo.” Not sure if the whole thing was a put-on, we laughed, shaking our heads. And then forgot about it.

Of course, I’ve heard more Devo over the years, though I’ve never dug deeply into the group’s discography. But then New Wave – and Devo was, I think, a milepost for that genre – was never a style I looked into too deeply. (I think there is a copy of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! somewhere around here, but I’m not at all sure.) The third LP the Texas Gal pulled out of the crates last evening was Freedom of Choice, Devo’s third album, from 1980. And coming right after “Whip It” is Track Four, “Snowball.”

“Snowball” by Devo from Freedom of Choice, 1980

This is where the Bernstein should go, with the finale of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor. But, as I noted above, the record looked too battered to provide a clean rip. (A few pops and crackles are not unexpected, but this record was gouged; I may discard it.) And the LP I pulled from the crates to replace it one of those that I know I should have listened to long ago: Heartbeat City by the Cars.

The Cars were called a New Wave band, and maybe that’s accurate, but from where I listen now, the group’s work had a depth in songwriting and musicianship that wasn’t always found in the work of other bands in the genre. Maybe the other leading New Wave bands had those things and I just didn’t hear them. All I know is that I enjoyed what I heard from the Cars over the years enough that I bought the group’s greatest hits album long ago. (And along with my copy of Heartbeat City, I think there’s a copy of Candy-O in the unplayed stacks that I should pull out.) So when I cued up Track Four of Heartbeat City this morning, I was pleased to hear the beautiful and shimmering “Drive.” Sung by the late Benjamin Orr, the single went to No. 3 in the late summer of 1984.*

“Drive” by the Cars from Heartbeat City, 1984 (Elektra 69706)

My LP collection long ago ceased to be a reflection of my likes and dislikes. Somewhere in the 1990s, it became something more like an archive. It’s certainly not comprehensive; there are entire genres that are represented barely if at all. But among the nearly 3,000 LPs there are some, that I don’t care for very much, both on the shelves and in the crates where the unplayed LPs wait.

Whitney Houston can sing better than the vast majority of people who have ever tried. The lady has great pipes. She has a shining family legacy of gospel, soul and R&B. And she has sold an incredible number of records. From where I listen, however, she’s spent her career wasting her voice on soulless piffle. (I might exempt “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” from that, but I’ll have to think about it.) Here’s Track Four of her self-titled debut. The single went to No. 1 in 1984.

“Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston from Whitney Houston, 1985 (Arista 9381)

The last of the six orange-spined LPs was a 1980 reissue of a 1963 double-record set collecting the greatest performances of the late Patsy Cline. Released shortly after her death in a plane crash in March 1963, the twenty-four song package probably does a good a job of summing up her career for the casual fan. That pretty well describes me: I know a bit about Cline, and I understand her place in the popularization of country music in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

That popularization, which included the smoothing of the rough edges on country music of the time – the development of the so-called “countrypolitan” sound – put into motion trends in country music that have continued unabated to this day. The result is that, to note one egregious example, the music of Taylor Swift is marketed as country, when it seems to have no real connection at all to that historic genre.

Well, that wasn’t Patsy Cline’s fault. (It’s probably not Taylor Swift’s fault, for that matter.) No matter what the arrangement behind her was, when Patsy Cline began to sing, you knew she was a country artist. Here’s Track Four from The Patsy Cline Story.

“Strange” by Patsy Cline, recorded August 25, 1961 (Decca ED 2719)

I promised the Kiddie Corner Kid that I’d post something from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus album, a self-titled collection of the group’s work that I got in a box of records at a garage sale. (Willmar, as I’ve noted a couple of times, is a city of about 18,000 [according to Wikipedia] that sits about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud.) Looking at the record jacket and at the photos of the two accompanists and the director, using clothing and hair styles to gauge the year, I’m going to guess it’s from the period from 1965 to 1968.

And there was a little bit of a shock when I was looking at those three photos. You see, I knew the woman who was the group’s director. She and her husband – who worked at St. Cloud State – went to our church when I was in high school and college and I think she sang in the choir at the time, as I did. As I glanced over the photos the first time, I thought, “Gee, that looks like Mrs. O——-!” My eyes dropped to the identification beneath the photo, and that’s exactly who it was, identified – as was the custom of the time – as “Mrs. Robert O——-.”

I didn’t know her well: She was an adult and I was not. I don’t recall her first name, though I’m sure I’d recognize it if saw it or heard it. But I recognized her immediately. And I think it’s odd how little bits of our past fly up to touch us, sometimes from the strangest places.**

Anyway, the Willmar Boys’ Chorus put together a two-record set sometime during the 1960s, most likely as a souvenir for the kids and their families. (I have a few similar records sitting on the shelves recorded by groups in which I played.) And here’s Track Four:

“Doctor Foster” (after Handel) from Willmar Boys’ Chorus, about 1965.

*I am clearly not certain about the Cars. Several times during more than five years of blogging, I have called the Cars’ music “brittle and fussy.” (That’s a description I also frequently lay on Roxy Music.) In this piece, however, I note that I “I enjoyed what I heard from the Cars over the years enough that I bought the group’s greatest hits album long ago.” I suppose that all those two widely separated opinions mean is that there are times – and I think they are rare – when I enjoy the Cars’ music. (“Drive” is an exception, being a track I enjoy anytime it comes my way.) Note added June 20, 2012.

**In the way these things go, I recalled the lady’s first name very soon after this post went up. It was Ruth. Note added June 20, 2012.

Just Like A Baseball Bat . . .

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 3, 2009

Every once in a while, as I follow sports, I come across an athlete talking about pulling a hamstring. “It was like being hit with a baseball bat in the back of my thigh” is a description I’ve read – or heard – many times. And I’ve thought two things:

First, that has to be overstatement. And second, even if it is overstatement, it can’t feel good.

Well, I learned late last evening that it’s not overstatement. And no, it doesn’t feel good.

I was helping the Texas Gal bring some things inside the house. As I turned to go up the short staircase that leads into the kitchen, something happened to my right leg. And it did in fact feel like I’d been hit with a baseball bat squarely in the back of my thigh. I grabbed at my thigh as I shouted and fell, my momentum leaving me sprawled on the kitchen floor with the cats backing away in alarm.

After a few minutes, it was obvious I’d done some severe damage, as I couldn’t straighten my leg without a lot of pain. The Texas Gal helped me get some shoes on, and we headed to the emergency room. Two hours later, we were on our way home, stopping at a pharmacy along the way.

The ER doctor told me that I managed somehow to put a good-sized tear in one of the muscles in the back of my thigh. The good news was that the tear came in the middle of the muscle, not where it attaches to the bone at either end. That, I’m sure, would have meant surgery. As it is, I’m on a regimen of pain killers, muscle relaxants and rest.

I can hobble around the house, and my thigh will heal. What with the pain killer, though, the world is in soft focus today, so I’m not going to write much more. We’ll let the following songs tell the tale.

A Six-Pack of Hurt
“Hurt So Bad” by Little Anthony & the Imperials, DCP 1128 [ 1965]

“It’s Gonna Hurt So Bad” by Doucette from Mama Let Him Play [1977]

“Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” by Linda Ronstadt from Hand Sown…Home Grown [1969]

“The Big Hurt” by the People’s Choice, TSOP 4769 (B-Side) [1975]

“It Hurts To Be In Love” by Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli & Lou Ann Barton from Dreams Come True [1990]

“It Hurts Me To My Heart” by the Soul Children from Genesis [1972]

The Little Anthony track is one of the classics of Brooklyn soul/R&B, with Anthony weeping and wailing above a maelstrom of strings and what sounds like tympani. The group’s fifth Top 40 hit in a string of seven hits that began in 1958, “Hurt So Bad” went to No. 10 in early 1965.

Doucette was a pop rock group from Quebec, Canada, that released a couple of decent albums in the late 1970s. Led by Jerry Doucette, the band is one I’d not heard about until a little bit ago when a fellow blogger mentioned it in an email. I went digging and found a rip of Mama Let Him Play and gave it a listen. To me, it falls into the Pablo Cruise/Little River Band category, with lots of smooth edges and tight harmonies. There are times when I prefer a few more rough edges, yes, but there are also days when Seventies smooth is quite nice.

“Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” came from Linda Ronstadt’s first album, during a time – says All-Music Guide – when Ronstadt began “to abandon the folk leanings of the Stone Poneys for a relaxed country-rock approach.” According to the liner notes for The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years (which gathers her first three albums and some extra tracks on two CDs), Ronstadt and producer Chip Douglas didn’t really find the country sounds Ronstadt was seeking. Nevertheless, she did a good job on “Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad,” a Randy Newman tune.

“The Big Hurt” by the People’s Choice was the B-Side to the group’s single, “Do It Any Way You Wanna,” which went to No. 11 in the summer of 1975. Produced by Leon Huff, “The Big Hurt” sounds to me more like Chicago or Memphis than Philadelphia. It’s still good, though.

“It Hurts To Be In Love” is a track from a glorious grouping of three bluesy women singers: Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton. The entire Dreams Come True album is worth checking out, as the three women still hew to the roots while displaying some remarkable harmonies, backed by a band led by Dr. John (and including Jimmy Vaughn). Lou Ann Barton’s music has showed up here (and some will be reposted this month), but if anything by either of the other two women has showed up here, it’s been only in passing. That’s likely going to change. (Thanks to azzul for this one!)

The Soul Children have popped up here a couple of times before. A two-man, two-woman vocal group, the Children recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A slow and moody ballad, “It Hurts Me To My Heart,” is pretty representative of the Genesis album, which to my ears was a bit more subdued than the rest of the group’s body of work.

Repost:
Here’s an album that several people have been anxious for me to offer again, Coming Back For More by William Bell. The original post is here.

Coming Back For More by William Bell (1977)

John, Maurice & Randy Again

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 12, 2009

Off to the movies!

Here’s a clip of the opening sequence to 1964’s Goldfinger, with Shirley Bassey singing the title tune. Released as a single, the song went to No. 8 in early 1965.

And since it was on the same page at YouTube, here’s the opening sequence for 1965’s Thunderball. John Barry’s score for Thunderball was good but not at the level, I think, of Goldfinger. The opening sequence of the film was better, though (and the use of evidently naked women as a motif in the sequence was quite racy in 1965). I’ve never thought much of the title song, but Tom Jones’ single went to No. 25 in early 1966.

<

Then, here’s the opening sequence for the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago, with Maurice Jarre’s main title track.

Finally, here’s the climactic scene from The Natural, released in 1984. The point I’m making here – if have to make a point; it’s a fun scene to watch no matter what – is to be aware of how Newman’s sonic cues heighten the tension and how his main themes and motifs then lead the viewer through the scene.

Note:
One of the seven tracks I posted yesterday – “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” from Goldfinger – disappeared pretty quickly. That soundtrack is again in print on CD and is available here. Five of the other six soundtracks from which I posted single tracks yesterday are also available online. The only one that seems to be out of print is the soundtrack to The Natural.

The Music Behind The Movies

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 11, 2009

My long-time fascination with film soundtracks began – as I shared here in the first few months of this blog – with Goldfinger, the third of the James Bond films. As I wrote, my parents were reluctant at the time – I was eleven – to let me either see the movie or read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. But the soundtrack to Goldfinger was available through our record club, and I spent hours listening to it.

By the time I saw the film, maybe a year later, I practically had the score memorized, and I was fascinated with the way the music enhanced the movie, highlighting passages and underlining transitions. I began to pay close attention to the music whenever I went to a movie.

And I have done so ever since. Sometimes I felt like the only one. “Did you notice the music during the scene when they’re taking the car to Syracuse?” I’d ask my friends over a post-film drink.

“What about it?” one might reply.

“It echoed the main theme and also brought in the theme the composer created for the girl from Jersey.”

“Oh. No, I didn’t really notice.”

I kept listening and buying the occasional soundtrack LP (and later on, CD). My library of them isn’t large – I’ve focused far more over the years on rock, pop and soul – but generally, it’s music I still find interesting. Some of the soundtracks haven’t aged well. I bought the soundtrack to Country, the 1984 film that starred Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley, just days after I saw the film. But the New Age music – the musicians on it recorded frequently for the Windham Hill label – hasn’t worn well, I don’t think. Some others have lasted. And I think those include the three soundtracks that I absolutely love.

The first of those is the first soundtrack I owned: Goldfinger. Written by John Barry, the score for the third of the James Bond films provides a lesson in contrasts, from the blare and rumble of the main title to the insistent music that accompanied the film’s dawn raid on Fort Knox, followed by the hushed background to the arrival of a nuclear weapon before the pounding countdown begins. Matching the music, which I knew well, to the action on the screen was like reading a primer in film-scoring.

(I dabbled with the idea of scoring and soundtrack work as a career, but nothing came of it except a deeper love for the craft.)

The second of my three favorite soundtracks is Bill Conti’s work for Rocky, the first in what became a ridiculous series of films. Conti’s use of repeated motifs, often identified with one character, remains astounding, as does the variety of moods and arrangements he finds for each motif. How much of my affection for the score is a result of the film’s ultra-romantic story of the man who was almost destined to be “just another bum from the neighborhood”? I don’t know. I have a suspicion that it might be just as accurate to say that my affection for the movie is the result of the score. Rocky might have the prefect symbiosis between story and score: Each enhances the other.

The last of the three scores that sit atop my list is Randy Newman’s work for the 1984 film, The Natural. It’s true that the film’s story – especially its ending – bears only a passing resemblance to the Bernard Malamud novel from which it was adapted. (In the novel, given a chance at redemption, Malamud’s Roy Hobbs strikes out at the critical moment and his life and career unravel.) But given the producers’ decision to make Malamud’s cautionary tale into the Great American Fable, Newman came up with a score that was tragic, triumphant and Coplandesque.

So here is one selection from each of those soundtracks and four more from soundtracks that I enjoy, if not to the degree I love the first three:

A Six-Pack of Soundtrack Selections
“Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” by John Barry from Goldfinger [1964]
“Lara’s Theme” by Maurice Jarre from Dr. Zhivago [1965]
 “No Name Bar” by Isaac Hayes from Shaft [1971]
“Going The Distance” by Bill Conti from Rocky [1976]
“Blade Runner [End Titles]” by Vangelis from Blade Runner [1982]
“The Natural” by Randy Newman from The Natural [1984]
Bonus Track
“Hymn to Red October (Main Title)” by Basil Poledouris from The Hunt For Red October [1990]

And In This Corner . . .

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 9, 2009

The Texas Gal and I stopped by the St. Cloud Armory for a little while Saturday afternoon and took in the craft show; there’s one in the armory every three months or so. We spent a pleasant time looking at jewelry and needlework, sampling jams and candies and checking out the paintings, some of them on old barn wood.

I hadn’t been in the armory for years, maybe since a Boy Scout event in the early 1970s. And I recalled the first time I was there: For an evening of All-Star Wrestling sometime in early 1965, I think.

It was when I was about eleven that I began watching the wrestling matches on television, shown here in St. Cloud on WTCN, the Twin Cities television station where I would have my internship in the mid-1970s. Professional wrestling in those days was very unlike today’s massive attraction. There were no gaudy costumes, no huge arenas, no huge paydays. But there were similarities: There were good guys to cheer, bad guys to boo, results were seemingly predetermined and the crowds loved it.

The prime good guy here was Vern Gagne (who, sadly, has been in the news lately), and the bad guys were The Crusher and The Bruiser, with all of them well-known in the Upper Midwest. And most Saturday evenings for a year or so, I’d park myself in the living room and watch an hour of wrestling. There were plenty of other wrestlers on the weekly show, too, guys working their way up the ladder of the American Wrestling Association, which Gagne happened to own.

And one of the regulars on the show was a wrestler with the unlikely name of Robert Goulet. I have to think it’s his birth name; I can’t imagine that anyone in the early 1960s looking for a wrestling stage name would have purposefully selected the name of Robert Goulet. I dunno. Maybe. But anyway, I saw Goulet wrestle on television a few times and I thought he was okay. He won, and he wasn’t all that flashy. (Even back then, flashy stuff didn’t impress me; I wanted to see guys go out and do their jobs and then sit down. The fact that the matches themselves were stagecraft – and I think I knew that, even then – didn’t bother me. Stagecraft was performance; flash was, well, flash.)

And one evening, the announcer on television said that Goulet would be wrestling the next week in St. Cloud. I pestered Dad for a while, and he agreed to take me. So the next Saturday evening, Dad and I went to the St. Cloud Armory and sat in folding chairs to watch some wrestling. I’m not sure how many matches we saw, but folks cheered and booed as the wrestlers did their work. I don’t recall anymore if anyone got thrown out of the ring onto the concrete. But I know Goulet was there: Somewhere in my boxes of junk is an autographed scrap of paper. “Robert ‘Bob’ Goulet” is how he signed his name, perhaps to diminish any possible confusion with that other fellow by the name of Goulet.

I don’t suppose I watched televised wrestling more than a year or so before I moved on to other interests. But it was part of my life for a brief time. So for a moment Saturday afternoon, the St. Cloud Armory wasn’t filled with tables displaying necklaces, embroidered towels and home-made candles. Instead, there was a wrestling ring surrounded by rows of folding chairs. The folks sitting in the chairs were booing. And over by the wall, behind the last row of chairs, a small boy with glasses was offering a pen and a scrap of paper to a large, sweaty man.

And here’s a little bit of what else was happening in early 1965:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 6, 1965)
“Ask The Lonely” by the Four Tops, Motown 1073 (No. 27)
“New York’s A Lonely Town” by the Trade Winds, Red Bird 020 (No. 32)
“Paper Tiger” by Sue Thompson, Hickory 1284 (No. 41)
“If I Ruled The World” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 43220 (No. 56)
“When I’m Gone” by Brenda Holloway, Tamla 54111 (No. 74)
“Land of 1000 Dances” by Cannibal & the Headhunters, Rampart 642 (No. 97)

We have here, purposely, a rather odd mix: a few good pieces of R&B, a bit of surf music, a country-pop hit and one cover of a show tune.

“Ask The Lonely” was the second Top 40 hit for the Four Tops, it only went to No. 24, but it was the prelude to the Tops’ amazing run in the charts: In May, “I Can’t Help Myself” (known colloquially as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”) went to No. 1, the first of five Top Ten hits for the Tops in the next two years. (Included in that string is the remarkable consecutive trio of “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” a run of three singles that few groups or performers can match.) The Tops remained a frequent presence in the Top 40 chart into the early 1970s, and their last hit came in 1988 with “Indestructible,” a tune that went to No. 35 after being used by the NBC television network for its coverage of the summer Olympic Games.

“When I’m Gone” was the second of three Top 40 hits for Brenda Holloway. The first was “Every Little Bit Hurts,” which went to No. 13 in 1964. “When I’m Gone” went to No. 25. And Holloway might be best known for the song that was her last hit and went only to No. 39: Holloway wrote – along with Berry Gordy, Jr., Patrice Holloway and Frank Wilson – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” a song likely better known for the version recorded by Blood, Sweat & Tears on its second, self-titled album. (BST took the song to No. 2 in 1969.)

Cannibal & the Headhunters’ version of “Land of 1000 Dances” isn’t the best known. That would be the Wilson Pickett version that went to No. 6 in 1966. Cannibal’s version went to No. 30 a year earlier. According to writer Dave Marsh, Cannibal & the Headhunters were a Chicano quartet from East Los Angeles and learned the song after hearing it on a Rufus Thomas album; Thomas had gotten the song from the original single, written and recorded in 1963 by New Orleans musician Chris Kenner. (Kenner’s “I Like It Like That, Part 1” spent three weeks at No. 2 in 1961, but his “Land of 1000 Dances” did not make the charts.) With the live atmosphere of their recording, not to mention the odd shrieks in the background, Cannibal & the Headhunters, notes Marsh, earned a spot on the Beatles’ 1965 U.S. tour.

The Trade Winds have been in this space before. The duo of Vinnie Poncia and Pete Anders recorded a couple years later as the Innocence, and their single, “There’s Got To Be A Word” and its B-Side were the topic of a post in December. With “New York’s A Lonely Town,” Poncia and Anders – along with a group of top session players – managed to make a song about the East Coast into a (subdued) surfing anthem atop a Spector-ish background. The song edged into the Top 40, peaking at No. 32. (I’ve never been sure how to spell the group’s name. I’ve seen it as two words and as one. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has “Trade Winds,” so I’ll go with that.)

If the presence of “Paper Tiger” and “If I Ruled The World” prove anything, it’s that nearly any kind of music could make the Top 40 in 1965. Thompson’s country-pop record – written by J.D. Loudermilk – was her fifth and last Top 40 hit, reaching No. 23. (She reached the Top Ten Twice: In 1961, “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” went to No. 5, and “Norman” went to No. 3 in 1962.) “Paper Tiger” and its like aren’t something I’d want to hear on a regular basis, but when it pops up among Sharon Jones, Bruce Springsteen and the Police, it’s kind of cool.

“If I Ruled The World,” which came from the Broadway musical Pickwick, was Bennett’s thirteenth and last Top 40 hit. It’s not a great song, but Bennett can sing most anything and make it sound good. The song went to No. 34 and was pulled from an album titled If I Ruled the World: Songs for the Jet Set, which All-Music Guide says was a concept album about travel similar in theme to Frank Sinatra’s 1957 album, Come Fly With Me.

Bob Kuban, Knickerbockers & Blues

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 26, 2009

Well, what do we find in videoworld this morning?

First, here’s a longish piece by Anne-Marie Berger of St. Louis television station KETC, a look at the life and times of Bob Kuban – of Bob Kuban and the In-Men and “The Cheater” – for the station’s Living St. Louis feature. The piece originally aired April 10, 2006, and it’s pretty well done:

Here’s a grainy video of the Knickerbockers surrounding by dancing teens as they lip-synch their way through “Lies.” The YouTube information dates this one in November 1965, just before “Lies” entered the Billboard Hot 100 in the first week of December. One of the guys even fake-plays a saxophone, though I don’t think I’ve ever heard sax in the mix. Maybe that was the group’s way of pointing out to viewers that they weren’t really playing their instruments?

Then, here’s a live performance of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” by the late Robert Lockwood, Jr. The 2004 performance took place at the Palace Theatre in Grapevine, Texas. Others on the bill that evening included Pinetop Perkins, Henry James Townsend and David “Honeyboy” Edwards. A CD of the night’s performances, Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas, went on to win a 2007 Grammy Award for best traditional blues album.

Tomorrow, I think I’ll find one reason or another to take a look at what we were listening to as February turned into March in 1976 and I walked across a stage to receive my college diploma.

We’ve Done Much But Still Have Much To Do

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 19, 2009

The two events on consecutive days are an opinion writer’s dream.

I’m talking, of course, about the unique juxtaposition of today’s national holiday commemorating the life and contributions of the Rev. Martin Luther King with tomorrow’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president. Some editorial writers and columnist may tell that we have achieved our goal and left division behind. Others will tell us we have made a good start. I lean toward the latter view. Still, there is no doubt that there is much to celebrate. After Mr. Obama takes the oath of office, we can all rejoice that we as a nation are so much closer than we were to keeping the promises made in our founding documents.

There is here a reluctance to write much about race relations in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter). Why? Because I stand on the wrong side of the divide to truly know what the state of those relations is and has been. I can read, I can listen, I can guess. But I can never know. What I have observed in my lifetime makes me hopeful, but when I try to write about the topic, I find myself stumbling around like a blindfolded man in a dark house: I have no assurance that I know what I am doing or where I am headed.

(I recall the tale of another man who stood on the same side of that divide as I do. In 1959, writer John Howard Griffin, who was white, darkened his skin with the help of a doctor and spent six weeks traveling as an African American man through Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. For anyone, but especially for those who see the 1950s and 1960s as distant history, if I could suggest one book that might provide a glimpse of what life was like in the segregated southern states in the U.S., it would be Black Like Me.)

As we celebrate and remember today and tomorrow, one of the things that I hope that we all keep in mind is that we have just begun to keep our promises. And those promises were sworn not only to those with darker skin colors but also to those with colder homes, emptier plates, fewer opportunities and far more challenges than most of us in this nation have to deal with. The racial divide still exists, of course, and those on both sides need to continue to keep faith. But the deeper divide, I think, is economic, and that divide – aggravated, no doubt, by the dismal economic news of recent months – leaves far too many of us in want. And I doubt whether those shackled by economic need are truly free.

This is certainly a darker piece than I intended to write. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I do not celebrate the vast progress we have made in the U.S. nor the remarkable achievement of this nation in electing Barack Obama as its president. I am pleased and encouraged both historically and in the moment. There is much yet to be done, and we need to remember that in the days, months and years to come. But we have come a long way, and that is worth celebrating.

Here’s some music to mark these moments:

“Chimes of Freedom” by the Byrds from Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965

“A Ray of Hope” by the Rascals from Freedom Suite, 1969

“We Shall Overcome” by Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions-American Land Edition, 2006

“I Want My Freedom” by Marie Queenie Lyons from Soul Forever, 1970

“Freedom Blues” by Little Richard, Reprise 0907, 1970

“We Shall Be Free” by Maria Muldaur, Odetta, Joan Baez & Holly Near from Yes We Can, 2008

Some of these are well known and obvious. Little Richard certainly isn’t among the lesser-known here, but his 1970s releases are. “Freedom Blues” was pulled from The Rill Thing, one of several albums Little Richard recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. (A few years ago, Rhino Handmade produced a limited CD reissue of those albums; copies currently run at about $150.)

I don’t know much about Marie Queenie Lyons. Soul Forever is the only album of hers listed at All-Music Guide. The recording comes from a post at My Blog Too. There’s some information about her and her connection to James Brown at Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven.*

Of the albums listed, my favorite is the final one, Yes We Can, on which Maria Muldaur draws together a bunch of friends and a great bunch of politically charged songs that serve as calls to action. One need not agree with the performers’ politics to enjoy the music.

*My Blog Too has been deleted since this piece was posted. Note added November 30, 2011.