Posts Tagged ‘Billy Vaughn’

Peaking At No. 2 . . .

March 13, 2014

One of the quirkier books on my music reference shelf is the Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, a volume by Christopher G. Feldman that was published in 2000. It gathers together chart data and brief essays on the 400 or so records that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1999.*

The singles thus highlighted go from “Melody of Love” by Billy Vaughn & His Orchestra, which was No. 2 for one week in March 1955 and was blocked from the top spot by the McGuire Sister’s “Sincerely” all the way to “Back At One” by Brian McKnight (and boy, that’s an unsettling video), which was No. 2 for eight weeks in late 1999 and early 2000 but was blocked from No. 1 by the Santana/Rob Thomas single “Smooth.”

(The number “400” is an estimate; I was hoping that somewhere in the book Feldman would list the total, but if he did, I can’t spot it this morning. And yes, there’s been a lot of music out since 2000, and an update would be nice, but the book nevertheless covers the years in which I’m most interested.)

I wondered which years had the most records that peaked at No. 2, wondering as well if calculating that would show any sort of pattern. If there is a pattern, I imagine that finding it would take more time and analysis than I’ve going to devote to it this morning. But here are the years when there were more than ten records that peaked at No. 2.

1958: 12
1959: 13
1963: 11
1966: 13
1967: 13
1968: 14
1969: 16
1972: 12
1973: 12
1986: 11
1987: 11
1988: 11
1989: 14
1990: 14

I looked at the No. 1 records from 1969 to see if there were any juggernauts there, and there were: In the spring, the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” was No. 1 for six weeks, followed immediately by the Beatles’ “Get Back,” which was No. 1 for five weeks. And that summer, Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525” took over the top spot for six weeks. Those three records blocked six other singles from the top spot.

It might be interesting to carefully scan Feldman’s book to see which No. 1 hit blocked more records from the top spot than any other. I’m not going to take the time to do that, at least not today, but I played some hunches: In 1960, Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place” was No. 1 for nine weeks and blocked five other records from the top spot. In 1977, Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” was No. 1 for ten weeks and blocked four other records from the top spot. In 1981, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” and Diana Ross’ “Endless Love” were both No. 1 for nine weeks and both blocked three other records from No. 1. And in 1968, the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” was No. 1 for nine weeks and blocked three other singles from the top spot.

And as there are with most books of this ilk, there are lists in the back: Through 1999 (and these may have changed, of course), the artist with the most No. 2 hits was Madonna with six, and the honor of having the most No. 2 hits without ever reaching No. 1 went to Creedence Clearwater Revival, which hit No. 2 five times.

And three groups hit No. 2 with three consecutive records:

Blood, Sweat & Tears with “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.”

The Carpenters with “Rainy Days & Mondays,” “Superstar” and “Hurting Each Other.”

CCR with “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River.”

To end this, I thought I’d go to the middle of the book and find a No. 2 single to highlight. The book is 288 pages, and the first entry on Page 144 is Eddie Kendricks’ “Boogie Down,” which was No. 2 for two weeks in March 1974. In a horrible miscarriage of radio justice, Kendricks’ record was blocked from the top spot by Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun.”

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*At the time that the first twenty-nine entries in his book were charting, Feldman notes, Billboard issued a number of weekly charts; he used the Best Sellers in Stores chart for those entries, and for the entries from August 4, 1958 on, he used the Billboard Hot 100.

Sometimes It’s Not So Easy

March 4, 2014

On occasion, my fascination with easy listening music jumps out of the speakers and bites my ears.

I was puttering at the computer yesterday, posting a note or two on Facebook, checking email, keeping an eye on the news from Ukraine and scoping out the latest rumors about the Minnesota Vikings and the upcoming NFL draft. Keeping me company was the RealPlayer, chugging along on random and offering me some current Americana, some 1960s and 1970s pop, some 1950s R&B and the occasional bit of a film soundtrack.

And then came this:

I winced and then laughed at Ray Conniff’s pretty much clueless take on “Happy Days” (found on the 1976 album TV Themes), and then I took a look to see exactly how much music I have by Ray Conniff in the files. It turns out to be 227 mp3s. That means that Conniff should have been listed in the Top 20 artists I posted a few weeks ago, coming in at No. 15, just ahead of Richie Havens. Why wasn’t he? Because some of his albums were credited to just Ray Conniff, others to Ray Conniff & The Singers, others yet to Ray Conniff & His Orchestra and so on, and that inconsistency, along with my inattention to detail that day, kept Conniff off my chart.

Why so much Conniff? Because I do love – generally – easy listening music from the 1950s through the 1970s, probably in large part because the work of Conniff and his easy listening brethren reminds me of the years of Hula Hoops and Erector sets on through the years of madras shirts and eventually mood rings. So my love for the music is mostly nostalgia, but that’s a potent enough force as it is.

And then there’s the fact that some of the easy listening tunes in the stacks are pretty good music. In terms of execution, nostalgic weight and chart performance, it’s hard to beat “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith, which was No. 1 for nine weeks in 1960. There were many other decent easy listening pieces during the years of my youth; many of those are in my files; some, I have to assume, are not.

But it’s not at all difficult to find easy listening missteps like Conniff’s “Happy Days,” especially when the easy listening folks tried to translate pop-rock hits into instrumentals palatable for their audience (generally older folks, of course, as well as the unhip kids like me). And since pratfalls are often more fun than graceful success, I thought I’d wander through the collection and find some easy listening efforts that are not at all easy to listen to.

So here are a couple from 1969: A clueless take on Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” from Billy Vaughn’s Theme From Love Story and a flighty version of the Doors’ “Touch Me” from Enoch Light & The Brass Menagerie, Vol. 1.*

I could dig further for hard listening, but I won’t. Instead I’ll close with a couple of covers that are interesting takes on popular songs. On his 1970 album Doc Severinsen’s Closet, the Tonight Show band leader of the time took some chances by covering a number of intriguing titles (including a cover I once shared here of “Court of the Crimson King”). The one that caught my ear this morning was his cover of the Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time” (into which Severinsen incorporated a quote from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” from the group then called Chicago Transit Authority).

And as I dug around in the 121 tracks I have from dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher, I came across their cover of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” Ferrante & Teicher occasionally missed the sense of a song; there are some missteps in their work. But far more often than not, at least to the ears of this easy listening fan, they succeeded in translating pop songs into their own idiom. I think they did so with “The Sound of Silence,” which was on their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*I was going to make it a trio of missteps from 1969 by including Franck Pourcel’s version of Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525”, which seems to have first been issued on the Bolivian release En El Anno 2525, but after a couple of listens, I’m liking it.

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.

‘I Need To Make You See . . .’

January 29, 2013

In working on a post about the early part of 1966, I checked out the Billboard Hot 100 for January 29 of that year, forty-seven years ago today, and I noticed that four covers of the Beatles’ “Michelle” were in the chart:

By David & Jonathan at No. 36
By Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra at No. 78
By Bud Shank (with Chet Baker) at No. 82
By the Spokesmen, bubbling under at No. 106

Three of them are pretty disposable although the version by the Spokesmen, which went no higher, is interesting because it has – to my ears – a little bit of the sound of Sonny & Cher to it. The Spokesmen, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, were from Philadelphia and in 1965, had gone to No. 36 with “The Dawn of Correction,” an answer record to Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” One of the group’s members, David White, had been a member of Danny & The Juniors, and another Spokesman, Johnny Medora, wrote “At the Hop,” Danny & The Juniors’ No. 1 hit from 1958.

David & Jonathan, a duo from England, aren’t nearly as interesting. Both wound up producing the studio group White Plains, and along the way, Jonathan (Roger Cook) founded the group Blue Mink and David (Roger Greenaway) was a member of the Pipkins. Their cover of “Michelle” did get to No. 18. Two other singles, “Speak Her Name” in 1966 and a 1967 cover of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home,” bubbled under.

The very middle-of-the-road version by Billy Vaughn went one spot higher in the next week, peaking at No. 77. Vaughn’s “Michelle” is more notable for being the next-to-last of the forty records Vaughn got in or near the Hot 100 between 1954 and 1967; “Sweet Maria,” which bubbled under at No. 107 in 1967, was his last. Whitburn notes that Vaughn, a native of Kentucky, had more pop hits during the rock era than any other orchestra leader.

The best of the four “Michelle” covers was the version by saxophonist Bud Shank, with help from trumpeter Chet Baker. Pulled from Shank’s Michelle album, the record peaked at No. 65 and marked Shank’s only appearance in the Hot 100. It’s unique, it’s got saxophone, and it’s got trumpet, so my liking it should be no big surprise.

I’ll be back Thursday, with – I hope – that brief and puzzling tale from early 1966.