Originally posted July 11, 2007
A quick look at the list of songs from 1965 that are on the RealPlayer puts me back in seventh grade art class at South Junior High. It was, I think, the first hour of the school day, and our teacher, Mrs. Villalta, allowed us to play the radio quietly on those days when we were actually working on art projects.
I sat at the table in the very front of the room, reserved for the folks whose last names begin with letters from the start of the alphabet. My table companions were Mark and Bernie on my right – strangers who had attended elementary school elsewhere in the city – and Brad on my left, another stranger, as he was a newcomer to town. But at least Brad rode the same bus as I did; he and his mom and brother lived in the mobile home park up the street from where I lived. It was Brad who would be my companion for the rest of the year in my pursuit of all things related to James Bond.
So we sat there at the front table, the four of us, none particularly gifted in art although Brad’s papier-mâché kangaroo was pretty good; it was one of the art works selected for display on a night when parents visited. But we were lucky in that we were closest to the radio and could thus hear everything, even the softer songs.
One of those was Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey,” a record that my sister happened to own and that I thus knew. Otherwise, on those days the radio played, I was in mostly foreign territory, at least until repetition made even previously unknown music incredibly familiar. Among the songs we heard were the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full Of Soul,” the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off Of My Cloud,” the Beatles’ “Michelle,” the Beau Brummels’ “Laugh Laugh,” and two songs by Roger Miller: “King of the Road” and “England Swings.”
Very little of it was stuff I listened to at home. Oh, I owned the Sonny & Cher album with “I Got You Babe” on it, and I had a Herman’s Hermits album that I’d gotten for my birthday. In addition, my sister and I shared custody of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol Records assembled by slicing a few tracks off of the group’s albums as they were released in the United Kingdom and then adding some EP and 45 tracks, creating a mish-mash of songs. My sister owned a few albums that I heard on occasion, as well.
So I was hearing a small amount pop and rock music at home, along with the Al Hirt and Herb Alpert instrumentals and the John Barry film scores I routinely listened to. I’m not sure I was all that fond of the rock and pop I heard as I fumbled my way through my art projects, but I do recall a moment one day when the four of us at the front table were concentrating on our art but also happened to hear Roger Miller’s whistling introduction to one of his hits. And we all sang along with Roger under our breath: “England swings like a pendulum do, bobbies on bicycles two by two . . .”
We all stopped – our singing and our work on our projects both – and stared at each other for a moment. Our laughter was loud enough to draw a look from Mrs. Villalta. And then we turned back to our art projects, our heads bobbing in time to Roger Miller’s music.
I was disappointed that “England Swings” didn’t come up on today’s random Baker’s Dozen from 1965.
“Paradise” by the Ronettes, unreleased, Gold Star Studios, Los Angeles, October
“She Belongs To Me” by Bob Dylan from Bringing It All Back Home
“Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 354
“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!
“I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, Atco single 6359
“I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits, MGM single 13367
“Midnight Special” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial special 66087
“She’s Better Than You” by James Carr, Goldwax single 119
“Stop! In The Name Of Love” by the Supremes, Motown single 1074
“It Only Costs A Dime” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5628
“See See Rider” by the Chambers Brothers at the Newport Folk Festival
“Mountain of Love” by Billy Stewart, Chess single 1948
“Sweet Mama” by Fred Neil, unreleased alternate take (Bleecker & MacDougal sessions)
Some notes on some of the songs:
I’m not sure why the Ronettes’ “Paradise” went unreleased. It’s a classic of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound genre. Perhaps with the advent of the Beatles and other bands of the various waves of the British Invasion, Spector decided to cut his losses. He did release the Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get For Loving You?” as a single in 1965, but it failed to make the Top 40. To my ears, “Paradise” is a better song and record.
“Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” was evidently the first single released by the Los Angeles band the Seeds. Listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits as a “psychedelic” band, the group’s sound here is more that of the garage than of an expanding cosmic consciousness. The Seeds would hit the lower level of the charts – No. 36 – with “Pushin’ Too Hard” in 1966.
Mercy!, the source of the Don Covay track “I’ll Be Satisfied,” was Covay’s first album, pushed out rapidly by Atlantic Records after the success of the single “Mercy, Mercy” on the charts. Credited to Don Covay & the Goodtimers, the single reached No. 35 on the pop chart. Even though the rest of the album was at least as good as the single had been, nothing else clicked, and Covay’s next pop chart success wouldn’t come until 1973, when “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In” reached No. 29. (Lack of pop chart success, of course, does not necessarily correlate with lack of quality; those in search of some good 1960s R&B could do lots worse than to check out Covay’s body of work.)
The late Sonny Bono learned his studio craft, of course, assisting Phil Spector, and when it came time for him to put what he’d learned to use on the records he made with Cher, Bono showed that he’d learned well. It’s not quite the Wall of Sound, but the production behind the vocals fills the empty spaces nicely. And Bono (as did Spector) had great taste in drummers: Listen to the fills throughout the record but especially near the end. According to the album credits, that’s either Frank Capp, Earl Palmer or Hal Blaine. But my money’s on Blaine.
Fred Neil is better known as the composer of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which was recorded by Harry Nilsson for his 1968 album Aerial Ballet. Nilsson then re-recorded the song for the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy.