Posts Tagged ‘Al Wilson’

Smoking With Jumbo

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 22, 2009

I went to summer camp three times during my childhood and youth. I spent one week each of the summers of 1965 and 1970 at a Boy Scout camp a little more than an hour north of St. Cloud. The second time I was there, the camp was formally called Parker Scout Reservation, but, informally, everyone still called it Camp Clyde in honor – as I understood it – of the stuffed moose head called Clyde that presided from the wall of the mess hall.

My other camping summer was in 1968, when I spent something like twelve days at Bible camp, swimming, boating, crafting and more at a camp called the Shores of St. Andrew near the town of New London about forty-five miles southwest of St. Cloud.  St. Andrew wasn’t near as rustic an experience as Camp Clyde had been: We slept on bunk beds in a cabin instead of in canvas tents, and everything was located within, oh, a hundred yards of the lakeshore instead of being sprinkled throughout the piney woods as it was for the Boy Scouts.

A few things stick out from my time at the Shores of St. Andrew:

First, it was during those twelve days that my voice changed. When Mom and Dad dropped me off on a Sunday afternoon, I was still singing something close to soprano when we all gathered for sing-alongs in the evenings. Within a few days, that started to change. I felt constantly as if I needed to clear my throat. It never helped. Another few days went by, and I was a tenor. My range diminished slightly as my voice deepened, and as I struggled with the new sound of me, my fellow campers joshed me gently. When I greeted Mom when she arrived to take me home after those twelve days, the first thing she said was “What happened to your voice?”

One of the girls in the little crowd that had gathered at the departure point giggled. “It changed,” she said simply. Mom looked at me, looked at Jill – and the fact that I recall my fellow camper’s name after forty-one years is a little surprising – and then back at me. She nodded, and then we put my stuff in the car, and I left my remaining camper friends behind.

Jill’s presence – and the presence of the other girls – is another thing that makes that time at camp memorable. Oh, there was no romance between us, although a few other couples among the older campers – the ages of campers ranged from about twelve to sixteen – paired up tentatively during our time there. But there were cross-gender friendships, which was kind of a new concept for a lot of us, I think, girls as well as boys. Those friendships were aided by a decrease in the number of campers after one week. Most of the kids who arrived the same Sunday I did had signed up for just one week; about a third of us – maybe twenty – had signed up for the twelve-day session. A few of the kids from the nearby city of Willmar who’d signed up for the single week extended their stays because we were all having so much fun, but the second portion of my time at camp still had a much smaller population, and I think that helped encourage the development of a wider range of friendships, including those that crossed the gender line.

But friendly or not, we were still boys and they were still girls. And one night after midnight, we boys decided to go visit the girls’ cabin. We didn’t go in, of course. We ran around the outside of the cabin and then banged on the windows, yelping and hollering. I was gratified to hear the sounds of laughter on the other side of the window where I stood, shouting what in effect were nonsense words. After about five minutes, we ran back to our cabin, where our counselors – who had not attempted to dissuade us from our plans – were waiting. Both Louie and Paul – More names! Amazing! – shrugged as we tumbled in, laughing. One of them said, “I hope it was fun, guys. You’ll pay for it tomorrow.”

And we did. After lunch, while the girls got to go outside and go swimming or do whatever they wished, we boys were issued buckets and scrub brushes and spent the afternoon cleaning the floor of the mess hall. That wasn’t all that bad; as we scrubbed, we talked and laughed.

I also recall the last night at camp. We had a dance in the craft room, which was on the upper floor of one of the buildings. The tables were folded and moved to the side, some basic decorations were installed and one of the counselors provided a radio. I might have danced once; I think I had a dance with Jill. But I spent a good chunk of the evening with a few other guys standing near the wall, watching the others dance. After a while, I slid along the wall to the door. Once outside, I made my way down the stairs.

I wasn’t the only one who’d gone outside. A guy whose real name I never knew – he was chunky and called himself “Jumbo” – was sitting atop one of the picnic tables smoking a cigarette. (Another thing I never knew was whether Jumbo truly chose that nickname for himself or accepted it with as much grace as he could when it was given to him.) “Dull dance,” I said as I approached and sat on the table top.

He shrugged and nodded. “But we can at least hear the music here,” he said, and we could. The front windows of the craft room were open, and the sound of the radio was clear.

Jumbo offered me a cigarette, my first. I took it and smoked it inexpertly, somehow not managing to inhale. (That, and the habit, would come to me during college.) And perched on top of a picnic table, we listened to the music and sat out the dance. As we did, I would guess we heard at least one of these records.

A Six-Pack from the charts (Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 27, 1968)
“The Look Of Love” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, A&M 924 [No. 16]
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, Dunhill 4134 [No. 23]
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals, Atlantic 2537 [No. 32]
“The Eyes Of A New York Woman” by B.J. Thomas, Scepter 12230 [46]
“The Snake” by Al Wilson, Soul City 767 [No. 110]
“This Wheel’s On Fire” by Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger and the Trinity, Atco 6593 [122]

“The Look Of Love,” the first hit for Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, was part of the soundtrack for the James Bond film Casino Royale. The title was the only one of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels to which producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli didn’t hold rights. Faced with the prospect of mounting a spy film without Sean Connery – secure in the role of the British spy in the Saltzman-Broccoli films – the producers of Casino Royale turned Fleming’s taut tale into a spoof and a shambles. According to the Internet Movie Database, the producers were Jerry Bresler and Charles K. Feldman; six people were listed as having directed portions of the film, and ten individuals were involved in the writing (six were officially credited, not including Fleming, who got the credit: “suggested by the novel Casino Royale”). The movie was a mess in which – according to my memory – actors David Niven and Peter Sellers were allowed to run amok. But it did have some good music, including “The Look Of Love.” The song went as high on the charts as No. 4 during an eleven-week run, and the group had two more Top 40 hits in 1968, both also done in a light and friendly Latin style.

I said the other day that “In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” is one of those records that one either loves like a first-born child or hates like mold. I imagine the same is true of “MacArthur Park,” the rambling and symphonic love song whose most famous line is “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” I happen to think that the combination of Jimmy Webb’s admittedly over-the-top songwriting with the astounding vocal range of Richard Harris makes “MacArthur Park” a great record. Top 50 of all time? Maybe, maybe not. But – using a measuring stick I used here at least once before – if I were selecting a hundred records for a classic rock and pop jukebox, I think “MacArthur Park” would be in it. The record – Harris’ only Top 40 hit – spent ten weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 2.

Here’s what Dave Marsh had to say about “People Got To Be Free” in his 1989 classic, The Heart of Rock & Soul: “Sung like a funky Italian boys choir, arranged like a cross between Dyke and the Blazers and the Buckinghams, written in the fullest immersion in the glorious naivete of the times. Does hearing Felix [Cavaliere] try to preach about ‘the train to freedom’ render ‘People Got To Be Free’ dated? Of course. But what a glorious date, and what a way of celebrating the part of it that’s eternal: ‘I can’t understand, it’s so simple to me / People everywhere just got to be free.’ Ask my opinion, my opinion will be: Dated but never out of date.”

The Rascals’ record was in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks and spent an astounding five weeks at No. 1.

For more than ten years, from 1966 into 1977, B.J. Thomas recorded reliably good singles, but all too often, when talk and thought turns to listing the great Top 40 performers, his name seems to get lost. I’m not sure why that’s so. The man had fourteen Top 40 hits, with two of them reaching No. 1: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in 1969 and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” in 1975. Three others – 1964’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” 1968’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and 1970’s “I Just Can’t Help Believing” – all reached the Top Ten. And I’d be amazed if at least one of those five songs doesn’t start running through your head as you read that list. (And no, Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling” does not count!) “The Eyes Of A New York Woman” didn’t quite reach the heights those five records did, peaking at No. 28, but it’s probably my favorite B.J. Thomas song. Why? I dunno. Some things just are.

Al Wilson’s “The Snake” was pulled from his Searching For The Dolphins album, which was released on Johnny Rivers’ Soul City label. Through the end of the summer and into the autumn of 1968, the sly and funny slice of R&B moved slowly up the chart, peaking at No. 27, where it sat for the first two weeks of October. It was Wilson’s first Top 40 hit; he’d reach the top spot five years later with “Show and Tell,” which spent a week at No. 1 during the autumn of 1973. Being a sucker for drums, I love the four-second riff that starts about six seconds into the song. Drummers on the album were Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon.

Julie Driscoll never had a Top 40 hit in the U.S., but her version of “This Wheel’s On Fire” (written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko of The Band), which she recorded with Brian Auger and the Trinity, went to No. 5 in her native Great Britain.  Shortly after that, Driscoll moved her career toward vocal improvisation and jazz, recording under her own name into the mid-1970s and in a variety of ensembles since then. In 1992, according to All-Music Guide, Driscoll re-recorded “This Wheel’s on Fire” as the theme to the smash BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.  

A Random Six-Pack

March 31, 2020

There are currently 79,000-plus tracks in the RealPlayer, most of them music. (I have about thirty familiar lines from movies in the stacks and some bits of interviews, too.) And today, we’re going to take a six-stop random tour through the stacks. We’ll sort the tracks by length; the shortest is 1.4 seconds of broadcaster Al Shaver exulting over a goal by the long-departed Minnesota North Stars – “He shoots, he scores!” – and the longest is the full album with bonus tracks of Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 release, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, clocking in at an hour and eighteen minutes.

We’re going to put the cursor in the middle of the stack and click six times and see what we get.

We land first on a track by Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers: “Memphis Queen” from the group’s 1989 album Rock & Real. At All Music, William Ruhlman notes, “Grushecky’s songs of tough urban life are made all the more compelling by his rough voice and the aggressive playing of his band.” The track in question, “Memphis Queen,” tells the tale of a Pittsburgh boy headed to New Orleans on the titular riverboat, stopping in St. Louis to search for the “brown-eyed handsome man” and meeting a girl named Little Marie, whose daddy is “down in the penitentiary.” I found the album at a blog somewhere when I was going through a Grushecky phase a few years ago. It’s a good way to start.

We jump from 1989 back to 1972 and a track from Mylon Lefevre. “He’s Not Just A Soldier” comes from Lefevre’s Over The Influence album. Originally recorded in 1961 by Little Richard, who wrote the song with William Pitt, the song reads on Lefevre’s album as an artifact from the Vietnam era, declaring that a young man in military service “is not just a soldier in a brown uniform, he’s one of God’s sons.” And there’s a surprise along the way, as Lefevre is joined on vocals by Little Richard himself. There’s also a great saxophone solo, but I don’t know by whom. (I saw a note on Wikipedia that said the album was a live performance, but I doubt that’s the case.)

Next up is a cover of a piece of movie music: “Lolita Ya-Ya” by the Ventures. The tune originated in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita. Penned by Nelson Riddle, the song is source music from a radio the first time that the movie’s protagonist, Humbert Humbert, sees the title character who will become his obsession. Sue Lyon, the actress who played Lolita, provided the vocals for the film version of the tune. The Ventures’ cover of the tune was released as a single, but got only to No. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100.

From there, we head to 1968 and Al Wilson’s first album, Searching For The Dolphins, recorded for Johnny Rivers’ Soul City Label. “I Stand Accused” was the fourth single from the album aimed at the Hot 100; the most successful of the four was “The Snake,” which went to No. 27. “I Stand Accused,” a good soul workout, bubbled under at No. 106. As usual with Rivers’ productions, the backing musicians were spectacular: Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon, Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborne, Jim Horn and James Burton. (A 2008 reissue of the album provided as bonus tracks eleven singles and B-sides recorded around the same time for the Soul City, Bell and Carousel labels.)

Lou Christie’s fame (and his appeal), as I see it, rests on five singles: “The Gypsy Cried” (1963), “Two Faces Have I” (1963), “Lightning Strikes” (1965), “Rhapsody In The Rain” (1966), and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” (1970). He shows up here today with “Wood Child,” a track from his 1971 album Paint America Love, released under his (almost) real name, Lou Christie Sacco. (He was born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, according to discogs.com.) I’m not sure what the song is about, except that its lyrics are evocative and include the recurring choruses, “You’ve got to save the wood child” and “Take a ticket and get on this boat.”

(A 2015 appreciation of the album by Bob Stanley for The Guardian said: “Yet another side of Christie emerged in 1971 when he cut his masterpiece, Paint America Love, a Polish/Italian/American take on What’s Going On. Orchestrated state-of-the-nation pieces (‘Look Out the Window,’ the extraordinary ‘Wood Child’) compete with majestic instrumentals (‘Campus Rest’) and childhood reminiscences (‘Chuckie Wagon,’ the Sesame Street-soundtracking ‘Paper Song’) in a gently lysergic whole. Online reviews compare it to Richard Ford and John Steinbeck: fans of Jimmy Webb are urged to seek it out.”)

I’m not sure where I got the album, probably a long-lost blog, but I suppose I should take Stanley’s advice and listen to it more closely.

And our six-pack this morning ends with “Long Line” from Peter Wolf, one-time member of the J. Geils Band. The title track from his 1996 album, the tune shifts from straight-ahead tasteful rock to a spoken interlude and back. It sounds a lot more like 1972 than 1996, with some nifty piano fills, which makes it a nice way to end our trek.

Saturday Singles Nos. 476 &477

December 19, 2015

A few years ago this week, I told the story here how two of my friends during my freshman year of college – 1971-72 – baffled me with a Christmas gift: A copy of Three Dog Night’s Naturally album. As I wrote in 2012:

I’d never paid much attention to Three Dog Night, and I doubted that I’d ever indicated to Dave or Wyoming Rick that I was looking for any of the group’s albums. I knew the group’s hit singles, of course, and had particularly liked “Eli’s Coming” and “Out in the Country.” I had one Three Dog Night LP, Captured Live at the Forum, and I suppose I might have dropped that 1969 album on the turntable when the two guys (and likely a few young women) had spent an evening hanging around in the basement rec room at my house.

Whatever their reasoning, I appreciated the gift, as the album turned out to be pretty good, one of the best in the (relatively) lengthy history of the group. The biggest hit from the record was “Joy to the World,” never one of my favorites, but the record also brought along “Liar” and “One Man Band,” which I liked pretty well. My favorite track on the record, however, was an album track: “Heavy Church,” written by Alan O’Day.

I also noted that some digging had told me that songwriter O’Day and soul/R&B singer Al Wilson had both recorded the song, and I wondered if I should toss some nickels in those directions.

Well, I did toss those nickels not too long after writing that, and the two records got here to the East Side, but the computer then living in the EITW studios was balky when it came to ripping records into mp3s, so only essential records made it out of the “to be ripped someday” pile. This autumn’s new computer is much more rip-friendly, and I took the two copies of “Heavy Church” in hand this week and gave them a listen.

Wilson’s came first. He released a promo of “Heavy Church” in 1972 on the Rocky Road label, with a stereo mix on one side and a slightly shorter mono mix on the other. From what I can see online, the record was never given a general release. I like the mono mix better than the stereo mix:

As for O’Day, who wrote the tune, he waited another year before getting around to his own version of the song. In 1973, O’Day put out a promo on the Viva label: “Heavy Church” b/w “The House On Sunrise Avenue.” As was the case with the Wilson version, I can find nothing that tells me that O’Day’s version of “Heavy Church” ever got a general release. Here’s the promo:

My call? Neither version of the tune comes close to the quality of the Three Dog Night take on the tune, but I’d go with Wilson’s mono mix over O’Day’s effort. (I did not make a video of Wilson’s stereo mix because, well, there’s only so much heavy church work a man can do.)

Anyway, whether they bring you pleasure, add context to your base of knowledge, or just plain help you pass some time, there are today’s Saturday Singles.

‘I’ve Been Searchin’ For The Dolphins . . .’

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 13, 2008

Al Wilson was a singer I’d never thought much about or looked too deeply into. He had four Top 40 hits, the largest of which, “Show And Tell,” went to No. 1 in the early weeks of 1974 and stayed at the top spot for one week.

That one single was all I ever really knew about Al Wilson, who died April 21 at the age of sixty-eight. As it turned out, I had to learn about “Show And Tell” after the fact: I was overseas the first part of 1974, living in a youth hostel, and no one back home sent us a tape of Wilson’s Show And Tell album. So it wasn’t until I was back in the States in May that I had a chance to hear “Show And Tell” (and a multitude of other songs that had been popular while I was gone but that I’d missed).

I liked “Show And Tell,” but it didn’t strike me any harder than any other R&B single of the time, and I never looked more deeply into Wilson, even during my record-buying spree of the late 1990s; my LP stacks go from Willie & The Bees to Jackie Wilson. Sometime after I got my computer eight years ago, I borrowed a CD from a friend or the library, and “Show And Tell” found its way into the collection. It was the only Al Wilson I had; I knew he’d had a few other hits, but I wasn’t going to go looking.

Then, shortly after Wilson crossed over last month, Jeff at AM, Then FM, told his tale of a crate-digging session that brought him a copy of Searching for the Dolphins, Wilson’s debut album from 1968. Jeff said his copy of the record was in pretty poor shape, with a lot of pops and some skips, but his assessment and the tracks he shared made it seem as if it was a good piece of work. What truly grabbed my attention, though, was that the record had been released on Soul City, the label owned by Johnny Rivers. Then Jeff pointed out the recent release in the United Kingdom of Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More, 1967-71, a CD package that supplements the Dolphins album with eleven of Wilson’s singles on three different labels from 1967 into 1971.

So I went shopping.

It’s a nice package. The Dolphins album is better than I expected, with some interesting covers: “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Poor Side of Town,” “Brother, Where Are You” and “Summer Rain” jumped out of the list at me. The last two were highlights of Rivers’ own 1968 record, Realization (admittedly one of my favorite albums of all time). Also on the album was Wilson’s first Top 40 hit, “The Snake,” a nifty piece of pop soul that went to No. 27 in the autumn of 1968.

The bonus tracks are good, too, but it’s the album that I find fascinating. Partly, it’s the material; I think the songs on the album – eight of its eleven tracks were released as singles – are stronger than the songs added as bonus tracks. I dunno. Maybe I’m hearing something that isn’t there. But Rivers produced the Dolphins album and in 1968, he was in the midst of that tremendous stretch of albums I’ve mentioned here before, albums that if not quite concept albums were pieces that at least had central themes. I’ll have to listen a few more times to the Wilson album as a whole to see if I discern any themes. But there is a unity to the album that I don’t hear in the supplementary singles, even those on Soul City.

One thing I do hear is top-notch musicians behind Wilson, and that’s one of the reasons I tend to seek out Soul City releases when I can: The album had Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon on drums and percussion, Joe Osborne on bass and guitar, James Burton on guitar, Larry Knechtel on keyboards and Jim Horn on flute and recorder.

Even before the CD arrived in the mail, the song I wanted to hear most was the first track, “The Dolphins,” a Fred Neil composition about isolation found in retreat from the world’s care and anguish. (The album is neatly bracketed with “The Dolphins” at the start and the closer of “Brother, Where Are You,” which examines the isolation of those who do not retreat.)

I’d heard “The Dolphins” a number of times, having versions by Linda Ronstadt, Gale Garnett & the Gentle Reign, Dion, Richie Havens, It’s A Beautiful Day and studio and live versions from composer Fred Neil. Of those, I prefer Neil’s stoic original although Havens’ version has its moments as well.

Others who have covered “The Dolphins” include Billy Bragg, Tim Buckley, Cyrus Faryar (his entry at All-Music Guide intrigues me; I will have to dig a little), Dave Graney, Beth Orton, Eddi Reader, Gove Scrivenor and the Soul Bossa Trio. There are no doubt others who have covered the song as well, but these were just the most obvious.

The best place to start remains with the original. So here are Neil’s version from his 1967 album Fred Neil and Wilson’s version from Searching For The Dolphins a year later. (Both recordings were released as singles, Neil’s as Capitol 5786 and Wilson’s as Soul City 771.)

Fred Neil – “The Dolphins” [1967]

Al Wilson – “The Dolphins” [1968]

Chart Digging: April 12, 1969

April 12, 2011

I wrote my first screenplay in the spring of 1969. For a final project in a mass media class, I chose to adapt one of my favorite science fiction stories – “One Love Have I” by Robert F. Young – into a screenplay.

The results were mixed: I learned a lot about narrative, pacing and the use of language as I worked with Young’s meditation on love, loss, sacrifice and the Theory of Relativity; but then, I had a lot to learn. I came across my work not quite three years ago, when the Texas Gal and I were packing for storage those things we wanted to keep but did not need to have at hand. As I glanced through it, I saw immediately that as I’d written, I’d invested little effort in thinking visually, a major deficit in a piece intended for a visual medium.

Still, I was only fifteen in the spring of 1969, and for a first try at what was essentially a new language, the screenplay wasn’t bad. And I did get an A on it.

What else was happening as April of 1969 unreeled? I know Rick and Rob and I played table-top hockey. (Rick’s Chicago Blackhawks brought him his second Stanley Cup.) I spent weekday afternoons – as I chronicled here once before – in the St. Cloud Tech training room, overseeing the whirlpool and making certain that none of the distance runners drowned there.

And I think that more and more, I was listening to Top 40 radio. I hadn’t yet moved Grandpa’s old RCA radio from the basement workbench to my room, but that shift – a key moment in my listening life – wasn’t many weeks away. Sometime that spring, I’d lay down cash in a Minneapolis department store for my first 45 of popular music, buying the record that headed the Top Ten on this day in 1969:

“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension
“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
“Galveston” by Glen Campbell
“Time of the Season” by the Zombies
“Only the Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler
“It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers
“Hair” by the Cowsills
“Run Away Child, Running Wild” by the Temptations
“Twenty-Five Miles” by Edwin Starr

With the exception of the Tommy Roe record, which I’ve never liked, that’s a fine set. Given the hoo-ha over the nude scene in the stage version of Hair, and given the family image of the Cowsills, my sister and I were a bit puzzled by the group’s recording of the musical’s title track. “I didn’t think they’d record a song like that,” my sister said to me one day as KDWB provided the soundtrack as we did the dishes. The song, of course, was benign, just as the brief nude scene would be for most folks these days, forty-two years later.

As usual, there were some interesting things in the chart that week, and we’ll start our exploration of the Billboard Hot 100 just beyond the edge of the Top 40.

I once spent an entire post dissecting my thoughts about the Doors, returning to an earlier conclusion that they were a fine singles band but an overrated album band. While making that judgment, I don’t know if I thought about “Wishful Sinful” from The Soft Parade. One of the lesser known Doors’ singles, it was sitting at No. 45 that week, and would move up only one more notch before heading back down the chart. With that, “Wishful Sinful” was the first of four straight singles by the band that would reach the Hot 100 but fall short of the Top 40. (The others? “Tell All The People” and “Runnin’ Blue” from The Soft Parade would peak at Nos. 57 and 64, respectively, and the double-sided “You Make Me Real/Roadhouse Blues” from Morrison Hotel would get to No. 50.) Pulled from the context of its album, “Wishful Sinful” is better than I recalled.

Earthquakes were the inspiration for the only Hot 100 single by a California band called Shango. The group’s reggae-styled single “Day After Day (It’s Slippin’ Away)” was at No. 57 on the chart released forty-two years ago today, and would move no higher. “Where can we go when there’s no San Francisco?” the group asked. “Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho.” A year later, Shango’s single, “Some Things A Man’s Gotta Do,” went to No. 107 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. Other than that, the only other thing I know about Shango – and this is courtesy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – is that Tommy Reynolds,  Shango’s lead singer, was later a member of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.

The Foundations are best-known for “Build Me Up Buttercup” (No. 3 in early 1969) and “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (No. 11 in 1968). In mid-April of 1969, their lesser-known “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)” was sitting at No. 64, heading to a peak position of No. 59. The English group would have one more record reach the Hot 100 – “My Little Chickadee” would get to No. 99 during the summer of 1969 – and their last mentioned record in Top Pop Singles was “Stoney Ground,” which bubbled at No. 113 for one week in February 1972. “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days” isn’t awful, but it’s not very good, either.

For some reason, obscure covers of Beatles records are among my favorite things to discover. And last evening, as I was beginning the digging for this post, I came across a Beatles cover that surprised me. Not only had I never heard it before, but until last evening, I’d had no clue that it existed. Here’s Chubby Checker taking on “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

The record was at No. 85 in the Billboard Hot 100 released on this date in 1969, the thirty-third record Checker had placed in the Hot 100 (along with two that bubbled under). “Back In The U.S.S.R.” wouldn’t go much higher, spending the last week of April and the first week of May at No. 82 before falling off the chart. It would be another thirteen years – 1982 – before Checker would show up in the charts again, when “Running” went to No. 91 and “Harder Than Diamond” got to No. 104. And in 1988, “The Twist (Yo, Twist!),” credited to “The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker,” went to No. 16 on the pop chart and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, Checker’s last appearance on the charts.

At No. 91, we find Dusty Springfield’s sultry “Breakfast in Bed.” The B-side of her “Don’t Forget About Me” single (which went to No. 64), “Breakfast in Bed” would go no higher. To my ears, it deserved much more, being at least on a par with “Son Of A Preacher Man,” which had gone to No. 10 earlier in 1969. All three of those tracks – along with Springfield’s next charting single, “The Windmills of Your Mind/I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” (Nos. 31 and 105) – came from the sessions that resulted in the glorious Dusty In Memphis album, which had been released that March.

Finally, dipping into the Bubbling Under section of the April 12, 1969, chart, we find Al Wilson, whose “I Stand Accused” was perched at No. 107. In early 1968, Wilson’s “Do What You Gotta Do” had gotten to No. 102, and then two of his singles had climbed into the Hot 100 – “The Snake” went to No. 27 in 1968, and “Poor Side of Town” had reached No. 75 earlier in 1969. “I Stand Accused” would, however, climb only one spot more before disappearing. Not quite five years later, of course, Wilson’s brilliant “Show and Tell” would spend a week at No. 1.

‘Lookin’ For A Soul Brother . . .”

February 10, 2011

Sometime in the late 1950s, musician and civil rights activist Oscar Brown, Jr., sat down and worked out a tune titled “Brother Where Are You,” a song of despair that was also a quiet call to action and its listeners’ self-reflection:

A small boy walked down a city street
And hope was in his eyes
As he searched the faces of the people he’d meet
For one he could recognize

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

The eyes of the people who passed him by
Were cold and hard as stone
The poor boy whimpered and began to cry
Because he was all alone

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

Now there are many
Who will swear that it’s true
That brothers are we all
Yet it seems there are very few
Who will answer a brother’s call

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

“Brother Where Are You” first showed up on record, as far as I can tell, on Abbey Is Blue, a 1959 album by jazz singer Abbey Lincoln. (A year later, Lincoln would team with Brown, Coleman Hawkins and other jazz luminaries for the album We Insist! – Freedom Now, a civil rights-themed project released in anticipation of the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963.)

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

I have no way to know where Rivers found the song, but there were several versions of it out there. (Tracking the song on indices can be difficult, as some listings have a comma after “Brother” and some don’t. Additionally, some include a question mark at the end of the title while others don’t. The number of possible permutations means I no doubt missed some covers while digging.) Among the more notable versions I found were several early soul/R&B versions of the song, one by a group called Thee Midniters from 1965 and another by a singer named Richard Simmons (not the exercise dweeb) in 1966. I also found a live 1965 performance by the composer himself, later released on the album Mr. Oscar Brown, Jr. Goes to Washington.

One of the more interesting covers of the tune is by the Remo Four, a Liverpool group from the mid-Sixties that released some good records and worked with, among others, Beatle George Harrison. Among its members were Tony Ashton and Roy Dyke, who with Kim Gardner, later scored a one-hit wonder – “Resurrection Shuffle” – in the U.S. as Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. In 1967, the Remo Four’s version of “Brother Where Are You” was included on Smile, an album released in Germany. (It’s now available on CD anywhere.)

One of the most indelible parts of River’s recording of the song on Realization is the chant of the background singers: “Lookin’ for a soul brother all around me.” I’m not at all sure where that originated, but it’s included as well on the version Al Wilson used to close his 1968 album Searching For The Dolphins. As Rivers produced Wilson’s album, which was then released on Rivers’ Soul City label, I’d really like to know which of the two, Rivers or Wilson, was the first to record the song.

There have been other covers of the tune over the years, of course. A combined total of the listings at All-Music Guide shows about eighty CDs on the market that include the song. Subtract – as a guesstimate – half for duplication and other songs with the same title, and there are still about forty artists and groups that have covered the song. And it continues to attract attention. A 2008 version by a group called Masters of Space And Time caught my attention this morning at Amazon. But as is the case with many tunes, I still hold the familiar close. So the version I first heard, Rivers’ take on the tune, is the one I turn to.