Posts Tagged ‘Gene Pitney’

In The Light Of A Rainy Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 23, 2009

As I look out the window this morning, I’m consoled by the thought that it could be worse: The temperature could be fifteen degrees cooler and it could be snowing.

As it is, the rain is expected to hang around here all day. That makes the view from the study window distinctly unappealing. Luckily, I have no need to go out into the rain, save for a quick trip across the street to the mailbox sometime this afternoon. And as I sit here pondering the rain, I’m struck for some reason by the contrast between the brightly lighted interior and the gloom – bare black oaks against a gray sky – I see outside.

It puts me in mind of rainy days in elementary school, days when the fluorescent ceiling lights were reflected in the large window that lined one wall of our classroom at Lincoln School. The splash and streak of raindrops on the outside window would grip my attention more firmly than could arithmetic or social studies, and I’d get lost in the ever-changing pattern on the glass.

In the cloakroom, yellow slickers and black boots would shed water all morning, leaving puddles on the brown tile floor. On some very wet or bitterly cold days, I’d eat lunch at school, but most days, just before noon, I’d head home for lunch, walking in the winter and riding my Schwinn Typhoon in the autumn and the spring, even on days of light rain. Somewhere there is a picture of an eight-year old whiteray in his yellow slicker with the matching cap, about to head off to school. I wore that slicker – or another one like it – for several years, making my way to and from school amid the drizzle and the drops.

I don’t recall if I ever heard music playing from the radio in the kitchen at lunch time. I would have been far more interested in eating my Campbell’s Scotch Broth or my Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli and then heading back out in the damp for another few hours of school.

If there had been music during lunch, I would at best have heard two, maybe three, of the following songs:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 23, 1963)
“South Street” by the Orlons, Cameo 243 (No. 7)
“Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers, Vanguard 35017 (No. 22)
“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674 (No. 31)
“Hitch Hike” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54075 (No. 54)
“Mecca” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1028 (No. 81)
“Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 563 (No. 88)

The Orlons don’t seem to be much remembered these days, and I’m not sure why. The Philadelphia quartet managed five Top 40 singles between June 1962 and October 1963, which is a pretty good run. Three of those hit the Top Ten: “The Wah Watusi” (No. 2), “Don’t Hang Up” (No 4), and ‘South Street,” which peaked at No. 3. If any of those get any airplay on oldies stations these days, it’s “The Wah Watusi,” which is probably third-best of the three Top Ten hits.

The Rooftop Singers’ version of “Walk Right In” was on its way back down the chart in March 1963, having spent two weeks at No. 1 as January turned into February. The song has a long history, having first been recorded by Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1929. According to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, banjo player Erik Darling – who’d been a member of the Weavers, a legendary folk group – heard the Gus Cannon recording of the song, changed a line or two (the book says, for example, “a two way woman” became “a new way of walking”) and found a couple of friends to record the song with him. The hit “was a windfall” for Cannon, “who was living in a little house by the railroad tracks in Memphis.” Cannon had hocked his banjo for $20 worth of coal to keep from freezing the previous winter; after “Walk Right In” was a hit, Cannon not only earned royalties but gained a recording contract with Stax Records.

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” went to No. 2 in the spring of 1963, Andy William’s seventh Top Ten hit. He would wait another eight years for his eighth and last Top Ten single, “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” which went to No. 9 in early 1971. “Losing You” is sweet but, I think, insignificant. More appealing is the flipside, “The Days of Wine And Roses,” which also charted, making it to No. 26. That single, of course, was the theme song from the film that starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Williams did well with movie themes; he also charted in late 1964 with “Dear Heart” and in the spring of 1972 with “Love Theme from ‘The Godfather’ (Speak Softly Love).”

“Hitch Hike” is a nice slice of early 1960s R&B, drawing a little bit, I think, from Ray Charles. My blogging colleague, Any Major Dude, will appreciate the flute break that starts 1:15 into the song (with the flute recurring at moments after that). The single, which went to No. 30, is notable as Gaye’s first Top 40 hit. As nifty a single as “Hitch Hike” is, one wonders if anyone around Gaye could see the brilliance waiting to take wing.

“Mecca” is an odd single, with its Arabian/North African opening riff, its tale of seemingly forbidden love and its chorus of “Mecca (Mecca, Mecca).” I doubt if the song would get released these days, as the cultural uproar – valid or not – wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The single peaked at No. 12.

I’ve thrown singles by Ferrante & Teicher on the logpile a couple of times. The duo’s twin-piano sound was, to me, one of the defining sounds of the early 1960s. Ferrante & Teicher had only five Top 40 hits, but four of them – all from movies or musicals – came in 1960 and 1961, and I know heard them somewhere, and fairly frequently at that. (Their fifth hit, another movie theme, was “Midnight Cowboy” in late 1969 and early 1970.) The single offered here, “Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’,” bounced around in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 for twelve weeks, never getting any higher than No. 84.

(The songs that would have gotten airplay on any station we listened to on Kilian Boulevard? The Andy Williams, the Ferrante & Teicher, and maybe the Rooftop Singers.)

A Dose Of Voodoo From 1962

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 15, 2008

Some of the folks from Bookcrossing, our book club, stopped by last evening for a soup dinner. The five of us filled ourselves on a Mexican rice and beef soup and a cabbage/potato/sausage soup – both creations by the Texas Gal – as well as an assortment of chips, dips and so on. And we talked for a couple hours about books and other stuff.

As happens when we all get together at someone’s home, our visitors scanned our bookshelves. It’s a cliché – one based in some truth, I suppose – that one can get to know a person by a close examination of his or her books. Given the mélange of titles on our shelves, I would guess that the only things that can be deduced about the Texas Gal and me is that we’re interested in a wide range of topics, both fiction and nonfiction, and that we dearly love books. (Both true, of course.)

But as our friends scanned our shelves, I noticed a title that I thought might be of some interest, so I pulled from the shelves and handed to them Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, a 1961 volume by Mary Nash, reprinted in 1962 by the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club.

How many folks out there remember the Weekly Reader? I was surprised this morning to learn that it still exists. According to Wikipedia, the Reader was acquired in 2007 by The Reader’s Digest Association and continues publication. Wikipedia notes that the first edition of the Weekly Reader, for fourth-graders, came out in 1928, and by 1959, there were editions for kindergarten through grade six.

Wikipedia describes it thus: “The editions cover curriculum themes in the younger grades and news-based, current events and curriculum themed-issues in the older grades.” I recall seeing the Reader regularly during my days at Lincoln Elementary. I enjoyed it, I think, but then, I’ve always enjoyed reading almost anything.

And that includes the books I got through the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I probably still have ten I got through the club, some of which I remember quite well. One of those is Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians. The Mrs. Coverlet of the title is the housekeeper for the three young Malcolm children, and the reader learns that in an earlier title, while their father – evidently widowed – was out of the country on business, Mrs. Coverlet was also called away. Instead of staying with a neighbor as instructed, the children stayed in their own home, with some mild adventure ensuing.

In Magicians, the sequel, the Malcolms’ father is still away, and, after young Molly Malcolm secretly enters Mrs. Coverlet in a recipe contest, the housekeeper is offered a chance to compete in the contest finals in New York City. Determined that her charges be better supervised during her absence, Mrs. Coverlet arranges for spinster Eva Penalty to move into the Malcolm home.

All three children are stifled by the dour Miss Penalty, none more than the youngest, six-year-old Toad. Some time earlier, having found a comic book of horror stories, Toad had clipped a coupon and sent off for a book of magic spells. With Miss Penalty running the house rigidly, Toad devises what is basically a voodoo doll and confines Miss Penalty to her bed for the remainder of Mrs. Coverlet’s absence. Mishaps ensue, but things turn out well, of course. Scanning the book this morning, I remember enjoying the story. When I pulled the book off the shelf to show it to our friends last evening, however, one thing popped into my head:

How would parents react these days to a novel for children based on the ideas of magic spells and voodoo dolls? I would guess that there would be an effort to ban Weekly Reader and its book club from the classroom.

As far as I recall, no one blinked back in 1962.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1962, Vol. 2
“Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2162 (No. 120, “bubbling under” the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 13, 1962)

“409” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 4777 (No. 76)

“Leah” by Roy Orbison, Monument 467 (No. 74)

“Stormy Monday Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke 355 (No. 54)

“Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54065 (No. 32)

“Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 849 (No. 24)

“I Left My Heart In San Francisco” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 42332 (No. 23)

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” by Carole King, Dimension 2000 (No. 22)

“Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1022 (No. 13)

“If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. 5296 (No. 10)

“Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s, Stax 127 (No. 6)

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole, Capitol 4804 (No. 3)

“Sherry” by the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay 456 (No.1)

A few notes:

“Up On The Roof” was the third Top Ten hit for the Drifters (“There Goes My Baby” in 1959 and “Save The Last Dance For Me” in 1960 were the first two), but the first since Ben E. King left the group and was replaced by Rudy Lewis. “Up On The Roof” eventually went to No. 5.

Roy Orbison’s “Leah” is an odd record. With its other-worldly sound, I’m surprised it got into the charts at all. It’s simply spooky, and the fact that it went to No. 35 still startles me. I mean, I like it, but I wouldn’t have thought the record marketable.

While Bobby “Blue” Bland never had a major hit, “Stormy Monday Blues” was released in the middle of a period when his records were at least reaching the Top 40. “Turn On Your Love Light” had gone to No. 28 in January of 1962, and the double-sided single, “Call On Me/That’s The Way Love Is” would reach Nos. 22 and 33, respectively, in early 1963. “Stormy Monday Blues,” while a good record, wasn’t quite as good as those. “That’s The Way Love Is” is a great record, and I think it’s nearly forgotten. (“Stormy Monday Blues” is tagged as a 1961 record because that was the session date, but it was in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.)

Chubby Checker’s “Popeye the Hitchhiker” was another attempt to launch a dance craze, with the dance in question, I believe, based on extending one’s thumb and cocking one’s arm, as if hitching a ride. (Sadly, there seem to be no examples of the dance on YouTube.) “Popeye,” which went to No. 10, was the B-side to “Limbo Rock,” which I shared here in August.

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” was a pretty slight record, but it fit right in during 1962 and got as high as No. 22 on the charts. The artist, Carole King, showed up on the charts nine years later, of course, with “It’s Too Late” and was a presence on the charts into the 1980s.

I’ve always loved “Ramblin’ Rose” for some reason. It’s a pretty song, and of course, Nat King Cole had a great voice. This certainly wasn’t his best performance – that would have come on one or more of his jazz/R&B sides, but something about the song grabbed the nine-year-old whiteray in a way that none of the other records in this Baker’s Dozen ever has.