Archive for the ‘1967’ Category

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

“So Tired” by the Chambers Brothers from The Time Has Come [1967]
“Sick and Tired” by Chris Kenner, Imperial 5448 [1957]
“So Tired” by Eva from the Vanishing Point soundtrack [1971]
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand [1990]
“Things Get Better” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton [1970]
“Got To Get Better In A Little While” by Derek & The Dominos from Live at the Fillmore [1970 performance, 1994 release]

‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime . . .’

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 2, 2009

At this point – after digging for a few days – two of the few things I am sure of when I think about the original version of the blues tune “Somebody (Loan Me A Dime)” is that I don’t have it and don’t know how it sounds. (Almost five years later, neither of those two facts is true, as noted below.)

Like many of my generation, I first came across the tune through Boz Scaggs, who recorded a lengthy version of it for his self-titled debut album in 1969. One of the highlights of not just the album but of Scaggs’ long career, the twelve-and-a-half-minute track features some jaw-dropping extended solos from Duane Allman, backed by some of the best work ever done by the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the horns of Joe Arnold, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and James Mitchell.

As with many things in my musical life, I first heard Scaggs’ version of the tune during my stay in Denmark, and over the years, I heard the track again and again on my own stereo systems at home. But when I went to the record jackets – checking both the Duane Allman Anthology notes and then the Boz Scaggs jacket – all I could learn was that the tune was written by one Fenton Robinson. My interest during the 1970s in the song’s provenance was casual. Not recognizing Robinson’s name, I let the matter drop.

(At least by the time I looked, the name of the composer was correct. On early printings of Boz Scaggs, the song was credited to Scaggs himself. Whether that was Scaggs’ decision or the work of someone at Atlantic Records, I do not know. But by the time I bought my copy of the Allman anthology in late 1974, the song was credited to Robinson. A case could be made for Scaggs to take a half-credit along with Robinson, as Scaggs did modify the song’s structure: instead of the standard 4/4 rhythm, Scaggs started his version in a slow 6/8 time, shifting to 4/4 time about midway through and then closing the song with a manic section in 2/4 time. But no such split credit exists; the CD version of Boz Scaggs, first released in 1990, lists only Robinson as the composer.)

I’ve learned since that Robinson – who died in 1997 at the age of 62 – originally wrote and recorded the song for the Palos label in 1967. As is pretty standard with bluesmen, he re-recorded it several times after that, and those versions are the ones that are generally available these days. I haven’t dug too deeply in the past few weeks to see if I can find the version recorded for Palos; if I found it, I’d want to buy it, and the last thing I need to do right now is add another line to the want list.

(I have since found the Palos version, and here’s “Loan Me A Dime” as Robinson originally recorded it.)

The tune is indexed at All-Music Guide as both “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” and “Loan Me A Dime.” Scaggs’ name is among the most prominent of those who covered Robinson’s tune. Among the other names listed at All-Music Guide are Mike Bloomfield, Rick Derringer, J.B. Hutto, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson, Johnny Laws, Mighty Joe Young, Buster Benton, and the Disciples of Grace.

I have two recordings of the song by Robinson from the 1970s. The first is from a series of sessions Robinson did during the early Seventies for Sound Stage 7 Records in Nashville and Memphis (released on CD in 1993 as Mellow Fellow, Volume 41 of the Charly Blues Masterworks series). For some reason, according to AMG, the Sound Stage 7 producers took the guitar out of Robinson’s hands during the sessions in Nashville and let others play guitar. I don’t much care for the result, but I’ll post it anyway.

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson, Nashville [1970]

The second version by Robinson is the title track of a 1974 album on Alligator Records. On this one, Robinson plays guitar as well as sings, and the result, to my ears, is much better. (My thanks to The Roadhouse for this one.)

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson from Somebody Loan Me A Dime [1974]

And then, here’s Scaggs’ 1969 version from his self-titled debut album:

(Notes added May 25, 2014.)

More ‘More’ Than You’ve Ever Heard Before

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 26, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, here’s the original:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“More” by Vic Dana from More [1963]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Day, 2009

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 25, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Dance Into May!’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 1, 2009

It’s May Day again (and this year, I got the day right, at least.)

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here. I recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times.  How lively is the international labor movement these days, especially taking into account the sad state of the international economy? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered. As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that “[t]he earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.

Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 [1969]
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her [1967]
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card [1980]
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings [1970]
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web [1972]
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia [1998]

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

As to the songs themselves, how could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from the Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

“May Be A Price To Pay” is the opening track to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project Alan Parsons released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the group’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release one album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to All-Music Guide, “Julie Felix isn’t too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she’s been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hill of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.

Already On My Turntable

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 6, 2009

During my youth and early adulthood, it wasn’t often that I’d hear something playing on the radio and be able to say, “I have that record!”

Once I started listening to Top 40 radio in the late summer and early fall of 1969 – before that, I heard Top 40 all over the place but I never really listened – that happened occasionally. It was most frequent, of course, with the Beatles, especially once I made it my first mission in life to collect everything the Beatles had recorded for Capitol and Apple. I’d hear “Come Together” – or, as happened late one night when I woke up after leaving the radio on, the riff-glorious “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – and know, “That’s from Abbey Road. I have that!”

Beyond the Beatles, though, it wasn’t often that I’d hear a song on Top 40 radio that I had on record. If I did – and this held true for a lot of the Beatles’ catalog as well – it was generally records that the radio stations were playing as oldies. I was usually a few years behind in buying music. (I still am, and I know I’ll never catch up, given the musical riches that exist.)

And during my college years, especially after I came back from my year in Denmark, I didn’t listen to a lot of Top 40. At school, in the student union, we’d sometimes plug quarters into the jukebox and hear current singles, but that – and brief bits of driving – were my only exposure to current hits. At home, I listened to radio stations that played deeper tracks, either St. Cloud State’s KVSC or another St. Cloud station, long gone now, its call letters gone for years from my memory. And when I bought music, I was catching up on the catalogs of the Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, Joe Cocker and more, so when I listened to records at home, I’d never hear a song that was getting current radio play.

As time passed and radio stations changed or disappeared, I tuned my radio once more to more popular fare. But my buying habits remained fairly consistent. So I still rarely heard a song on the radio that I had on a record. That’s why I recall a morning in early March 1977 so very clearly. I was about to head to campus for the day (working on that minor in print journalism I mentioned in a recent post). I had the radio on, and as I headed to the desk to turn it off, there came, “Here come those tears again, just when I gettin’ over you . . .”

It was from The Pretender, the first Jackson Browne album I ever bought. And I stopped short, marveling – as I did every time I listened to the album – at how good the song was and marveling, too, at its being released as a single. I listened for a minute or two, then turned off the radio and headed downstairs, pleased with the knowledge that I could hear the song anytime I wanted to.

A Six-Pack of Tears
“Here Come Those Tears Again” by Jackson Brown, Asylum 45397 [1976]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Grover Washington, Jr., from All The King’s Horses [1972]
“96 Tears” by Big Maybelle Smith, Rojac 112 [1967]
“Drown In My Own Tears” by Richie Havens from Richie Havens’ Record [1968]
“River of Tears” by Eric Clapton from Pilgrim [1998]
“Trail of Tears” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers [1974]

“Here Comes Those Tears Again” was Jackson Browne’s second Top 40 single, following “Doctor My Eyes,” which went to No. 8 in 1972. “Tears” spent six weeks in the Top 40 starting in mid-February 1977 and peaked at No. 23. Browne had ten more Top 40 hits from then on, but I don’t know that any of them were better than “Here Come Those Tears Again.” Maybe “Running On Empty,” which came out about a year later. But “Tears,” which was pulled off the album The Pretender, is a great single, helped along by Bonnie Raitt’s work on background vocals and the sweet guitar solo by (surprisingly) John Hall of the band Orleans (who is now, maybe even more surprisingly, a U.S. Congressman from the state of New York).

Some time ago, I shared Roberta Flack’s 1973 version of “No Tears (In The End).” Since then, two other versions have come my way, each released in 1972. I’m not sure which of the two – by Grover Washington, Jr., and by the Friends of Distinction – came first, but they’re both nicely done. Of the two, I prefer Washington’s just a little, but that may come from my fondness for the sound of the saxophone (something I don’t think I’ve addressed specifically here, though it might have been implicit over these last two years). The album the track comes from, All The King’s Horses, does not seem to be available on CD, which is a shame.

Big Maybelle covers ? and the Mysterians? Yeah, blues belter Big Maybelle took on “96 Tears” and earned her final appearance on the R&B charts, though I’m not sure how high the record went.* It was pulled from the album Got a Brand New Bag, a record I would dearly love to hear some day, based on the track listing:

“96 Tears”
“Mellow Yellow”
“That’s Life”
“There Must Be A Word”
“Ellenor Rigby” (sic)
“Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing”
“I Can’t Control Myself”
“Cabaret”
“Black Is Black”
“Coming On Strong”
“The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”
“Turn The World Around The Other Way”

Contemplating Big Maybelle’s takes on some of those titles is like contemplating a – well, I can’t think right now of anything suitably bizarre. “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” undoubtedly the most odd track selection on an oddly programmed album, is a product of the mind of Norman Greenbaum (who reached No. 3 in 1970 with the great “Spirit In The Sky”).

I probably found the Richie Havens track on a blog somewhere; I don’t recall. It’s included on a compilation on the Rhino label called Resume: The Best of Richie Havens. If I’m correct in my conclusions about its origins, the track was originally recorded in 1965 or so and was placed in 1969 on an album called Richie Haven’s Record, which a producer created by adding electric instrumentation to some of Havens’ early acoustic demos without Havens’ input. That LP came out on the Douglas label, a division of Laurie Records. In his autobiography, Havens seems ambivalent about the Douglas album, but he has praise for the Rhino compilation. His performance of Ray Charles’ classic “Drown In My Own Tears” is a good one.

Reviews were decidedly mixed in 1998 when Eric Clapton released Pilgrim. “My Father’s Eyes,” though never officially released as a single, went to No. 16 as an album track. But I think a lot of critics and Clapton fans thought the album was a little lightweight. That was my reaction; there were lots of “nice” tracks on the record but nothing that had much substance. I still look askance at most of the CD, just more than ten years later. But I’ve come to like “River of Tears.”

The Talbot Brothers were the moving force behind the band Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country-rock band that released a clutch of albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (The best of those, but not by much, was likely Wanted!) “Trail of Tears,” a beautiful track, comes from the brothers’ first album after the break-up of Mason Proffitt. That album was either called The Talbot Brothers or Reborn. I’ve seen pictures of record jackets with both titles. Either way, the musicianship is sparkling and the content reflects the brothers’ shift to overtly Christian themes. In the years ahead, the Talbots would be a prime force in what has come to be called Contemporary Christian Music.

*Big Maybelle’s cover of “96 Tears” went to No. 23 on the R&B Chart. Note added March 16, 2012.

This Time With The Vocals

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 22, 2009

Oops!

In Friday’s post, I shared what I thought was my regular copy of the Platters’ “With This Ring.” It turns out I had mislabeled and misfiled what seems to be a karaoke version of the song: No vocals.

I have a few karaoke versions like that, and I keep them in another file. This one – through my carelessness – escaped and was mislabeled. I’m sorry.

Thanks to reader Magkfingrs for pointing out the problem. I’m uploading the correct song to that post, and to this brief Sunday post. (Sorry about the lower bitrate; I’m in the process of upgrading as many of the 128 kbps mp3s – ripped from CDs or vinyl long before I thought about blogging – as I can to 192 kbps, and I haven’t gotten to the Platters yet.)

“With This Ring” by the Platters [Musicor 1229, 1967]

A Six-Pack From Three Februarys

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 20, 2009

In February of 1967, my parents and doctor decided that the only was to halt my series of increasingly frequent sore throats was to take out my tonsils. I remember thinking perversely during the worst of the post-surgical pain, “Yeah, they did a fine job getting rid of my sore throat. I can’t even swallow ice cream!”

Of course, that passed, and sore throats have been a relative rarity in the more than forty years since then. As it’s mid-February and the forty-second anniversary of my tonsils’ liberation, my first thought for today was to dig into the chart from 1967 and see what I wasn’t listening to as I recovered. But I did a post from February 1967 just a week ago. I mean, I know I could find six pretty good additional singles, but I’d rather not double up that quickly.

So in yesterday’s post, I said I’d likely be looking at this week in 1977. I haven’t dug deeply into that year since last August. But when I looked at the February 19, 1977, chart, it didn’t seem to have any singles that grabbed me by the ears and said, “Listen to this, Buster!” So, dithering, I looked at the chart from February 21, 1970, a chart that falls right in the middle of the first great season of Top 40 for me. And there were many old friends there. So I continued to dither.

But when I got up this morning, it felt like pre-op 1967: I have a sore throat and don’t wanna decide anything this morning. (The Texas Gal has taken the day off, and I’m hoping to feel well enough this afternoon to take in the movie we’ve been planning to see.)

So here are some singles from 1967, 1970 and 1977:

A Six-Pack From Three February editions of the Billboard Hot 100
“My Cup Runneth Over” by Ed Ames, RCA Victor 9002 [No. 24, February 18, 1967]

“With This Ring” by the Platters, Musicor 1229 [No. 126, February 18, 1967]

“Always Something There To Remind Me” by R.B. Greaves, Atco 6726 [No. 33, February 21, 1970]

“Je T’Aime . . . Moi Non Plus” by Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, Fontana 1665 [No. 63, February 21, 1970]

“Living Next Door To Alice” by Smokie, RSO 860 [No. 27, February 19, 1977]

“What Can I Say” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 10440 [No. 98, February 19, 1977]

Ed Ames was better known in 1967 for playing the role of Mingo, a Native American, on the television series Daniel Boone. “My Cup Runneth Over,” from the Broadway musical I Do, I Do, is pure pop, of course, but people liked it: It went to No. 8.

“With This Ring” was the twenty-third – and last – Top 40 hit for the Platters, who first made the chart with “Only You (And You Alone)” in 1955. The group had seven Top Ten hits, and four made it to No. 1: “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer,” “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” “With This Ring” – which I’ve always thought was a nice bit of music – went to No. 14 in 1967.

When R.B. Greaves is thought about at all these days, it’s generally for “Take A Letter, Maria,” which went to No. 2 in November of 1969, blocked from the top spot by the 5th Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues.” While I liked “Maria,” I’ve always thought that Greaves did a better job on “Always Something There To Remind Me,” which stalled at No. 27 in the late winter of 1970. Thirteen years later, the English duo Naked Eyes sent their version, titled “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me,” to No. 8.

“Je T’Aime . . . Moi Non Plus” by Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, was quite the deal in its day. The matter-of-fact yet intimate tone of the melodic conversation (in French, no less) followed by Birkin’s moans of ecstasy kept, I believe, a lot of program directors in the U.S. from putting the single on the air. The single peaked at No. 58 during a ten-week stay in the Hot 100. Wikipedia has a good recap of the hoo-ha that followed the single’s release.

I only vaguely recall hearing “Living Next Door To Alice” when it was on the charts, but it’s a good, if not great single that has always sounded to me a lot like Dr Hook. (In fact, when I was wandering around the ’Net this morning digging up information, I saw that a lot of careless listeners have tagged the song as being Dr. Hook’s work.) The record, which went to No. 25, was the only U.S. hit for Smokie, whose members hailed from Yorkshire, England. The group was far more successful in its native country.

Lastly, I figure a guy can never go wrong when he takes advantage of a chance to post a Boz Scaggs record. “What Can I Say” was the third – I think – single from Scaggs’ marvelous Silk Degrees album, but it didn’t have the success that its predecessors had: “It’s Over” dented the Top 40, reaching No. 38 in the spring of 1976, and “Lowdown” went to No. 3 that summer. “What Can I Say,” which was just as good as those two, was in the Hot 100 for fourteen weeks but got only to No. 58. (Another single from Silk Degrees, “Lido Shuffle,” would follow “What Can I Say” and reach No. 11 in the spring of 1977.

Note:
The version of “With This Ring” I posted was – because of a filing error – the karaoke version. Sorry. I’ve uploaded the correct version.

It’s Too Good Not To Be True

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 17, 2009

Legend has it that one day in 1966, the members of the Buffalo Springfield met with the A&R (Artists & Repertoire) man from Atco, the group’s record label, to go over songs for the group’s first album.

For some time, the story goes, the man from Atco listened as Stephen Stills and Neil Young – and maybe Richie Furay, whose songs showed up on later Springfield albums but not on the first – shared their tunes with the A&R man and each other. As the meeting neared its end, the man from Atco asked if any of the musicians had anything else.

“I got one more,” said Stills, “for what it’s worth.” And he took up his guitar and began to sing the now-familiar words, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear . . .”

And that, children, is how “For What It’s Worth” got its title. I can’t vouch for the fact of the story, but, to me, it’s one of those stories that’s so right that it almost doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Legend drives out fact just as surely as bad money drives out good.*

The only other bit of history I’ve read about “For What It’s Worth” is that Atco scrambled to put the track on the Springfield’s first album after it became a hit single. If that’s the case, then there should be copies of the album out there without “For What It’s Worth,” as the album was released in 1966 and the single didn’t hit the Top 40 until February 1967. My copy of the first album has “For What It’s Worth” as the first track on Side One, but then, I bought that LP long after 1966. Does anyone out there know? Was there a version of Buffalo Springfield without “For What It’s Worth”?

Whatever the truth, “For What It’s Worth” was the group’s only hit, reaching No. 7 during an eleven-week stay in the Top 40, and pulling the Buffalo Springfield out of the running for the title of Best Group Ever Without A Top Ten Single. (My nomination for the title? The Band, whose best-performing single, “Up On Cripple Creek,” went to No. 25.)

There are 309 CDs in the listings at All-Music Guide that include a track titled “For What It’s Worth.” A number of those – maybe a quarter – are not the Stills tune. Take away the multiple listings for the Buffalo Springfield’s recording, and there are about two hundred covers. Some of the interesting names in the list are: Bonnie Bramlett, Cher (on her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway), Aynsley Dunbar, Bill Evans, Keb’ Mo’, King Curtis, Miriam Makeba, Melanie, the Muppets, Willie Nelson, Jeffrey Osborne, Ozzy Osbourne and Rush. Not on AMG’s list is the gospel choral group, the Voices Of East Harlem, whose 1970 version of the song is remarkable.

I’ve pulled three versions to share today, by Lou Rawls, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 and the Staple Singers. I’m not sure Rawls’ style fits the song very well, but the other two versions are good listens.

“For What It’s Worth” by Lou Rawls from Feelin’ Good, 1968

“For What It’s Worth” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 from Stillness, 1971

“For What It’s Worth” by the Staple Singers, Epic 10220, 1967

*That little epigram about money is called “Gresham’s Law,” and remembering it today means that I did learn something in economics class all those years ago.

Spoofing The Kennedys

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 13, 2009

American fascination with the Kennedy family is an on-going thing, as demonstrated by the recent kerfuffle about Caroline Kennedy and the seat in the U.S. Senate held most recently by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and occupied in the 1960s by Caroline’s uncle, Robert F. Kennedy.

That fascination may have started with Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, long before World War II. I don’t know. But I do know from my own memory that it burst into full bloom in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy as U.S. president. And that fascination meant media saturation, such as it was at the time: The Kennedys were the focal point of almost everything.

These days, the scrutiny given both public figures and private figures who happen to fall into the spotlight is more intense than ever. For some, the spotlight endures. For others, the light moves on, and the individuals so lighted can then move away from the public’s center of attention, most of them – I would guess – happy to do so.

But it seems that the Kennedys, having sought the nation’s attention long ago, have – as a family – never left that bright light. And, in the early years, some of the more frivolous things resulting from that bright light were a few records.

During John Kennedy’s last year as president, one of the best-selling records in the country was The First Family, a comedy record by Vaughn Meader, whose talents included the ability to do an uncanny impersonation of the president. The LP was released during the first week of December 1962, went to No. 1 in its second week, stayed atop the album chart for twelve weeks and won the Grammy for the Album of the Year. A second album went to No. 4.

Meader wasn’t the only comedian to spoof John Kennedy. In my small collection of 45s, I have a record by Joel Langram titled “I Really Wanted To Be A ‘Singar’” (Rori 714) that gives JFK and his family an affectionate nudge in the ribs.

But the jokes were no longer funny, of course, after John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

(I’ve never bothered to find out if it’s true, but I’ve heard for years that caustic comedian Lenny Bruce opened his show on the evening of John Kennedy’s death with the words, “Poor Vaughn Meader!”)

After JFK’s death, the Kennedy fascination settled on his widow and his two brothers, and that eventually resulted in the artifact that spurred these thoughts. In 1967, Senator Robert Kennedy became the object of “Wild Thing,” a record that featured comedian Bill Minkin impersonating the senator. With nods to Kennedy’s brother, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy, and to his family, the single – credited to “Senator Bobby” – chronicles a the recording of a record aimed at making the senator more interesting to young people.

The record, of course, is a cover of the Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” which was a No. 1 hit in 1966. Senator Bobby’s version of “Wild Thing” peaked at No. 20 in early February of 1967 and was still at that spot a week later, forty-two years ago this week. The record was actually pretty funny at the time, and then – after RFK was assassinated in a little more than a year – not funny at all for quite some time. Those of us of a certain age, I would guess, hear it these days with a sad smile.

A Six-Pack From The Charts
(Billboard Hot 100, February 11, 1967)

“Wild Thing” by Senator Bobby, Parkway 127 (No. 20)

“Are You Lonely For Me” by Freddie Scott, Shout 207 (No. 45)

“The Dis-Adadvantages of You” by the Brass Ring featuring Phil Bodner, Dunhill 4065 (No. 64)

“California Nights” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72649 (No. 71)

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Mojo Men, Reprise 0539 (No. 80)

“Feel So Bad” by Little Milton, Checker 1162 (No. 91)

There may have been other records spoofing the Kennedys. Those mentioned are just the three in my collection. Additionally, I know that other, similar, records were issued poking fun at other presidents and their families.

“Are You Lonely For Me” was one of two records by Freddie Scott to make the Top 40 chart: In 1963, “Hey Girl” went to No. 10. “Are You Lonely For Me” reached No. 39 at the end of February. Scott’s muscular performance of a very good song did, however, top the R&B chart for four weeks.

There are plenty of examples of an advertising jingle or song being turned into a hit: One example that comes to mind in an instant is “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” a 1972 hit for the Hillside Singers and the New Seekers. That song began life in a television commercial for Coca-Cola. “The Dis-Advantages of You” started its life as the backing music for a series of commercials advertising a new and longer cigarette. The commercial showed such disadvantages as getting one’s cigarette caught in an elevator door and so on. The music proved so popular that “The Dis-Advantages of You” was released as a single and on an album of similar music. The single went to No. 36 and was the second Top 40 hit for the Brass Ring, which was basically a group of studio musicians pulled together by saxophonist Phil Bodnar. (The first hit was “The Phoenix Love Theme [Senza Fine]” from the film, The Flight of the Phoenix. That single went to No. 32 in 1966.)

“California Nights” was the last hit for Lesley Gore, whose Top 40 run started in 1963 with “It’s My Party” going to No. 1. “California Nights,” which to me sounds very much like the folk-pop/pop-rock of the Mamas & the Papas from the same time, went to No. 16, the eleventh and last Top 40 hit for Gore.

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” a cover of the Stephen Stills song recorded by the Buffalo Springfield, was the only Top 40 hit for the Mojo Men, a San Francisco group. The record went to No. 36 and came to some prominence again in 1972 when Elektra Records legend Jac Holzman and music historian Lenny Kay chose the single as one of twenty-seven tracks on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, a collection that’s been the model for many anthologies in the ensuing thirty-seven years.

Little Milton, a Mississippi native who recorded for Chess, Stax and several other labels during the course of a long career, made the Top 40 only once: In 1965, with “We’re Gonna Make It,” a record that went to No. 25 on the pop chart but topped the R&B chart for three weeks. “Feel So Bad” never went higher than No. 91, but it’s a heckuva record.