Archive for the ‘Train Wreck Jukebox’ Category

Looking For Train Wrecks

May 6, 2022

Originally posted July 7, 2009

Last week, as I was digging through my dad’s records, I shared cover versions of three Beatles songs pulled from the 1968 Reader’s Digest box set Popular Music Hit Parade. I was sure that one of the three – versions of “Michelle,” “Yellow Submarine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Hank Levine Singers and Orchestra – would qualify as the fourth entrant in our Train Wreck Jukebox. (The fifth, if one counts the instrumental B-side of the Swingers’ Bay-Hay Bee Doll.) I invited comments from readers.

As it turned out, only two readers weighed in, but they were long-time visitors Yah Shure and Oldetymer (whose handle I misspelled the other day. Sorry!). And they were in agreement that Levine’s treatment of “Yellow Submarine” was, in fact, a train wreck. I concurred. As I told Yah Shure in a note, not even a dissent written by Antonin Scalia (the best writer on the U.S. Supreme Court, though I rarely agree with his views) would save the track.

I also listed a few of the other covers included in Popular Music Hit Parade, noting that, having never listened to the entire set, I had no idea how difficult they might be to hear. Oldetymer said he wouldn’t mind hearing a few. So we’re going to dig into some 1960s pop hits and the Reader’s Digest covers of them this morning. And we may find a train wreck or two.

The fourth Top 40 hit of Roger Miller’s career was the first one not tabbed a novelty hit by the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Miller’s previous entries in the Top 40 had been “Dang Me” (No. 7) and “Chug-A-Lug (No. 9) in 1964 and “Do-Wacka-Do” (No. 31) in 1965. I’m not entirely sure I’d classify “Dang Me” as a novelty hit; that seems a bit unfair to Miller and the record. In any event, his fourth hit, which reached the Top 40 in February of 1965, was the enduring “King of the Road,” with its wryly happy celebration of the hobo life.

“King of the Road” by Roger Miller, Smash 1965 [1965]

Our Reader’s Digest cover version sounded promising when I cued it up, but I’ll let you decide its fate:

“King of the Road” by Nashville Sounds & Jerry Reed (Guitar) [1968]

Next comes an odd record that was seemingly inescapable for a few weeks. In fact, for one evening, it was literally inescapable. Drawing for some reason on the style of Rudy Vallee’s hits in the 1920s, “Winchester Cathedral” jumped up the charts in November of 1966 and spent three weeks at No. 1. The song was credited to the New Vaudeville Band, which, according to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, didn’t truly exist until after the record went to No. 1. The record was essentially the creation of British songwriter and producer Geoff Stephens, who – after the record hit – scrambled to put together a group of musicians to be the New Vaudeville Band. It didn’t help. “Winchester Cathedral” was the group’s only hit.

And the evening when the record was inescapable? It was New Year’s Eve 1966. As was our custom at the time, Rick and I spent the evening at his place, playing pool and board games and just hanging around. At the same time, one of Rick’s sisters had friends over, as well, and from the record player in those precincts came the strains, repeatedly, of “Winchester Cathedral.”

“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band, Fontana 1562 [1966]

And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of the song:

“Winchester Cathedral” by Marty Paitch & His Orchestra & Chorus [1968]

One of the cheeriest-sounding pop hits of the mid-1960s was the Seekers’ “Georgy Girl,” with its whistling introduction. The tune was the title song from a film starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason, but one wonders from the first line of the film’s description at the Internet Movie Database just how cheery the movie is: “A homely but vivacious young woman dodges the amorous attentions of her father’s middle-aged employer while striving to capture some of the glamorous life of her swinging London roommate.” These days, that sounds like a lawsuit or an addiction – or perhaps both – waiting to happen.

Anyway, the song was quite cheery, and it entered the Top 40 during the last week of 1966, eventually reaching No. 2, the third and final hit for the Seekers. The first two, both in 1965, were “I’ll Never Find Another You,” which went to No. 4, and “A World Of Our Own,” which peaked at No. 19. (Then there was the group called the New Seekers, an offshoot, but that’s a topic for another time.)

“Georgy Girl” by the Seekers, Capitol 5756 [1966]

And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover version with a familiar name in the credits:

“Georgy Girl” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

I’m not sure how frequently these things happen these days, but every once a while during the 1960s, a record that was clearly designed for the middle of the road would take off and find itself in the Top 40, or maybe even the Top 10. When it happened with a Frank Sinatra song – “Strangers In The Night” (No. 1, 1966), “That’s Life” (No. 4, 1966) and “Something Stupid” (No. 1, 1967, with his daughter, Nancy) were the biggest – that was understandable. But Ed Ames? He was the lead singer of the Ames Brothers, who had ten Top 40 hits between 1954 and 1960, with the biggest of them being “The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane,” which went to No. 3 in 1954. And in 1967, Ames had an unlikely No. 8 hit with a song from the off-Broadway musical I Do, I Do.

“My Cup Runneth Over” by Ed Ames, RCA Victor 9002 [1967]

And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of Ames’ hit:

“My Cup Runneth Over” by Bill Lee with Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra [1968]

So there we have them. Let me know if you think there are any train wrecks in here.

Listen To The Train Wreck

June 1, 2012

Originally posted April 14, 2009

There were some requests following Saturday’s post for more information about my database of LPs. It’s a topic I’ve thought about before, but I thought it would be of little interest to others. Since Saturday, though, I’ve given the matter some thought, and I will write about it. But not yet. There is – one assumes – the third annual Vinyl Music Day coming along this summer, and that would be a good time to dig into how my database came to be. (As well as being a grand excuse to pull unique records from the shelf to rip odd mp3s.)

So those who are interested in the history of the database and my methods (the name Rube Goldberg comes to mind; if that name is unfamiliar to you, Google it, and you’ll understand a bit more about my methodology), you’ll have to wait a few months.

But that does not mean that there are not tales to tell now. In fact, Saturday brought me face to face with another extraordinary cover version of a well-known song.

To be honest, it was the comments about my database that got things started. For nearly six years, a box of odd records has been waiting for its contents to be entered into the database. Oh, I tagged the records when I got them, so I knew when they had been purchased. The box of stuff came from a garage sale the Texas Gal and I found somewhere in St. Cloud in May 2003. The folks who were running the sale were about to shut things down, and a box of records was still sitting there.

The price was fifty cents a record or something like that, and the box had some nice stuff in it, some of it in pretty good shape: about half of it was rock and pop mostly from the Seventies and Eighties, but that was stuff I already had (and my copies at home were in just as good a shape or better). The other half of the box was, well, interesting. I mentioned the other week that I have a double album of performances by the Willmar Boys’ Chorus (Willmar being a city about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud). I found it in this box. The same with Favorite Marches Featuring the Marches of John Philip Sousa by the Norwegian Military Band, and Russian Folk Musical Instruments Anthology (assuming I transliterated and translated correctly) on the Soviet-era Melodiya label.

So why did I buy the box of records if I already had the good half of what was in there, and the half I didn’t have was, well, different? A one-word answer: Commerce.

The folks running the garage sale were, as I said, about to close up, and they asked how much I’d pay for the whole box of records. I took one more quick look at the pop and rock stuff and said ten bucks. They were happy, and I took the box to the car. And the Texas Gal and I ended our Saturday excursion with a trip to the Electric Fetus downtown, where I got about $25 for the rock and pop albums in the box.

That was something I’d done many times during the years I lived in south Minneapolis: Buy a box of records at a garage sale and then make the rounds of the used record stores near my home. I’d generally take the remainder, the records I did not want, to the Salvation Army store about six blocks from my home. I had planned to do that with these St. Cloud garage sale records, but for some reason, I never did, and Saturday found me entering them into the database.

As I did, I had to play a few tracks here and there. I haven’t listened to anything by the Willmar Boys’ Chorus yet, but I have found some, well, interesting tracks. And that’s inspired me to start a new series here at Echoes In The Wind. Today’s mp3 will be the third in the series called Train Wreck Jukebox. (I’m granting ex-post-facto membership to both sides of the Swingers’ “Bay-Hay Bee Doll,” which I shared about a year ago and to Ray Conniff’s rendition of “Photograph,” which I shared two weeks ago.)

In 1968, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians decided it was time to get with it and clue in the grandpas and grandmas and old fogey uncles who bought their music. The new Lombardo album was titled The New Songs! The New Sounds!

The liner notes by Lee Gillette read, in part:

“More and more of the younger generation are becoming familiar with the sound of the Guy Lombardo orchestra . . . they are attending his concerts across the nation . . . the college set was prominently represented recently during the Royal Canadians, twice-yearly appearances at the Tropicana in Las Vegas . . . and they not only listened, but joined together on the dance floor each evening during the newly-inaugurated dance sessions there.

“The same nostalgic sound of the band is there, but something new has been added. Bobby Christian, one of the nation’s finest percussionists, was flown to the recording session in Las Vegas from Chicago to perform on vibes, Latin-percussion, harpsichord, tambourine, cymbals, drums, to name a few. In Las Vegas, guitarist Bob Morgan was added to the rhythm section with electric guitar and Brazilian type guitars to up-date the over-all sounds of the Royal Canadians. Songs like “Harper Valley P.T.A.” and “Gentle on My Mind” have a new Lombardo rhythmic beat that is now-a-days. Harmonica virtuoso Tommy Morgan was brought in to enhance “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Oh, there’s so much to chew on in that! But I guess I’ll just point to the use of “now-a-days,” which in any usage sounds so very much like 1930, at best. And we’ll ignore the odd diction and punctuation and get to the heart of this post, which is this week’s entry into the Train Wreck Jukebox:

“Folsom Prison Blues” by Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians
From The New Songs! The New Sounds! (1968)

Reposts
Cate Brothers by the Cate Brothers, 1975
Original post here.

In One Eye and Out The Other by the Cate Brothers, 1977
Original post here.

Steve Winwood by Steve Winwood, 1977
Original post here.

‘All I’ve Got Is A Photograph . . .’

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 31, 2009

Every once in a while, I find a cover version of a favorite song that absolutely demands attention. This week, the song is “Photograph,” the Ringo Starr tune I posted here last week. Ever since I first heard Ringo’s original version in 1973, it’s been on a long list of favorites; it’s not in my Top Ten or maybe even Top 50, but if I were to, say, program a juke box with a hundred records, I think it would show up.

But that’s the original recording, the one I posted last week. I heard “Photograph” in concert once, on the first All-Starr Band tour in 1989. As the band played the tune, and later, when I heard the version on the live album recorded at a different venue, I thought the performance was a bit lumbering and a bit drum-heavy. But should I have expected anything different? There were three drummers during that performance: Ringo, Jim Keltner and Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey. I did like Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solo, though.

There aren’t a lot of covers of the song, which was a George Harrison/Ringo Starr composition. All-Music Guide lists more than five hundred CDs with a song titled “Photograph,” but lots of those are different songs. Among the artists or groups that AMG lists as recording the Harrison/Starr song are: The BB Band, Camper Van Beethoven, David Hentschel, Engelbert Humperdinck (his name seems to show up on a lot of these lists of cover versions) and Ray Conniff.

Conniff, who died at the age of 85 in 2002, was a long-time veteran of the easy listening wars. In the 1960s, his role, and the role of his Ray Conniff Singers, was to take pop hits and rearrange them so the songs would be acceptable to the moms and dads and aunts and uncles who didn’t understand the newfangled music. Conniff’s music was pleasant, safe and often saccharine. He had one Top 40 hit: “Somewhere, My Love,” also known as “Lara’s Theme” from the film Dr. Zhivago, went to No. 9 during the late summer of 1966. (It was No. 1 for four weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.)

Our late-1960s record collection in the basement rec room had one Ray Conniff album: Invisible Tears, on which Ray and his singers take on the title tune, which was a country hit for Connie Smith, and eleven other songs of love. That album provided me with my first exposure to songs like “Singin’ the Blues” (Guy Mitchell’s No. 1 hit from 1956), “Oh Lonesome Me” (No. 1 on the country charts for Don Gibson in 1957 and as high as No. 7 on the split pop charts of the time) and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” (No. 1 on the country charts in 1956 and as high as No. 17 on the various pop charts). And I find that the sounds of that album today still bring pleasant memories and a sense of a time – as clichéd as this has to sound – when life was much less complicated.

That’s what I get when I listen to music by Ray Conniff that I’ve known for forty years. What happens when it’s new to me? Well, somewhere in blogworld the other day, I came across a rip of a 1974 album, The Way We Were, credited to Ray Conniff alone – no singers. Included were, along with the title tune, songs like “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),” “Top of the World,” “Loves Me Like A Rock” and, by golly, “Photograph.” Intrigued, I downloaded the album, and, to start, I clicked on “Photograph.”

I got no further, and I have no more to say.

“Photograph” by Ray Conniff from The Way We Were [1974]

Saturday Singles Nos. 67 & 68

June 24, 2011

Originally posted April 19, 2008

In anyone’s collection of anything, I imagine, odd little artifacts somehow creep in.

One such artifact in my music collection is a 45-rpm single that, until yesterday, was played maybe once. It’s a record by a group called the Swingers, and the A Side is a tune called “Bay-Hay Bee Doll.” The flip is an instrumental version of the same tune.

I remember getting the record during a summertime shopping trip to the Twin Cities. It was Mom, my sister and I heading down the highway about seventy miles to one of the major malls in the suburbs. A vague memory tells me that it was the mall north of St. Paul called Rosedale. (And an earworm pops up: “Traveling Riverside Blues” by Robert Johnson: “Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale, gon’ take my rider by my side . . .”)

The date on the record says it was 1966, which means I was preparing to go into eighth grade, and I think the summertime trip to the mall was aimed at supplying my sister and me with clothes enough for at least the first portion of the school year. Which means I spent a good portion of the shopping day trying to dissuade my mom and my sister from selecting for me the newest, coolest and hippest clothing the mall had for thirteen-year-old boys: Let me not stand out, I tried to tell them without actually saying so. If I could have found a way to go to school dressed as a bookcase, I would have.

Eventually, we made our way to J.C. Penney, an emporium that to this day supplies a large portion of my wardrobe. I don’t remember what we bought there – maybe those collarless shirts – one blue, one burgundy, both with white trim – that were called surfer shirts. (For a couple of years, everyone my age had to have something that had the adjective “surfer” attached to it; never mind that we were more than a thousand miles from the nearest surf.) But we bought something, and at the cash register, the clerk reached under the counter and handed me a copy of “Bay-Hay Bee Doll” by the Swingers.

I pondered the record and its jacket on the drive home. The front of the sleeve proclaimed, in typefaces that still clash like medieval armies, “The Swingers & BAY-HAY BEE DOLL.” Fine print said, “Words and music by Warren Parker, Copyright 1966, J.C. Penney Co., Inc.” The front also had a catalog number: JCP 100.

On the back was an ad, copy above and below one of those wonderful Sixties drawings of clean-cut boys playing guitar, drums, saxophone and banjo (?) while around them dance other clean-cut boys and very nicely dressed girls. The copy read: “Get into The Swingers, Penney’s color coordinated sportswear. Dig spring-summer’s cool color combos of Fortrel polyester ’n cotton from our 333 and Picket ’N Post collections . . . All to the sweetest sounds you’ll ever hear . . . Penney prices.”

I played the record when we got home. The A-side, with the vocals, was pretty bad, especially the parts where one of the singers goes into a off-key falsetto to sing “Bay-Hay Bee Doll.” He does so frequently enough that, in a home where the record got regular play, the repeating falsetto would drive adults mad. The B-side, the instrumental version of the A-side, was innocuous but nothing that grabbed me.

As I’ve noted before, I wasn’t truly plugged into rock and pop music until 1969, three years later than this. But the music was all around me, and I knew what the current sounds were. At a guess, let’s call it early August. Here’s the Billboard Top Five for the second week of August 1966:

“Summer in the City,” by the Lovin’ Spoonful
“Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
“They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa” by Napoleon XIV
“Wild Thing” by the Troggs
“The Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters

An interesting Top Five, at the least, but discounting the novelty of “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa,” there are some distinct sounds there, some pop-folkish sounds and a bit of real rock. And I knew that The Swingers and “Bay-Hay Bee Doll” didn’t fit into any one of those sounds.

(The very fact that Penney’s was still handing out records that touted its spring/summer wardrobe at a time when spring was a memory and summer was beginning its slow fade – I can’t imagine our going shopping for school clothes any earlier than August or maybe late July – tells me that the record was a promotional idea that didn’t work at all. It seems to have been one more example of adults trying – and failing – to be hip, cool, with it or whatever other term we used back then. I think marketing has gotten more savvy over the years, but I would bet that a lot of campaigns aimed at the younger sets still bring eye-rolls from them. Am I right, parents?)

So the record went back into the jacket and the jacket went on the shelf, and about fifteen years ago, I took out of my parents’ house a few remaining records of mine, including “Bay-Hay Bee Doll.” I stuck it into a carrying case for 45s that I bought at a garage sale and forgot about it. Something reminded me of it yesterday, and I did a little digging online. There’s still no indication of exactly who Warren Parker or the Swingers were, but they were likely just some studio musicians making a buck.

And it’s still not a very good record. In fact, one forum where I found a reference to it had nominated “Bay-Hay Bee Doll” as the worst record of 1966. In a year that includes “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa,” that’s quite a feat.

So here are both sides of “Bay-Hay Bee Doll,” today’s Saturday Singles.

The Swingers – “Bay-Hay Bee Doll” [1966]

The Swingers – “Bay-Hay Bee Doll” (Instrumental) [1966]