Posts Tagged ‘Junior Walker & The All Stars’

Random In The Sixties

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 3, 2009.

The other day, when pondering the years between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival in the United States of the Beatles (1959-64), I wrote “ . . . it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be,” which is probably as good an example as you’ll ever find of praising with faint damns. That praise should have been louder.

(A confession: I borrowed that phrase – “praising with faint damns” – after recalling it this morning and then finding out it came from a 1980 headline in Time magazine, though I suppose it might have originated earlier. I only wish I were that clever.)

A reader dropped a note about those years, 1959 to 1964, reminding me of a genre I’d not mentioned: rock instrumentals, leading to surf instrumentals. He didn’t mention any performers’ names, but he didn’t have to; as I read his note, I thought instantly of the Ventures and of Dick Dale. And if I wanted to think a little harder, I could come up with many others. And in the course of thinking about that era over the past few days, I realized that I’d given short shrift – actually no shrift at all – to the wonderful era of American pop that sprang from the Brill Building and places like it. And that includes the early work of Phil Spector and his acolytes.

Add in the early stirrings of Motown and Stax, and it was a far better era than I often think it was.

And there lies the key word: “think.” I don’t remember that era, at least not musically. From the time the Beatles arrived here in the U.S. in early 1964, rock and pop surrounded me. As I’ve said before, I didn’t really listen to Top 40 at the time, but my sister, my peers and their siblings did. From 1964 onward, the sounds of pop and rock and soul and R&B were an inescapable portion of my environment, even if I didn’t pay much attention.

So when I think about, say, “This Diamond Ring” (which popped up in today’s random selection), I remember hearing it. I remember kids dancing to it at South Junior High. I recall who liked it and who didn’t. I was there. But when – to pull one out of the hat – the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (the No. 2 record for the entire year of 1961) shows up, it’s different. I know I’ve read a fair amount about the song: I think it’s a Gerry Goffin/Carole King song. (It is, but I had to grab a reference book to make sure of it, and to make certain I had his first name right.) I know that Dave Marsh wrote an interesting essay about the record in The Heart of Rock & Soul, which I probably would refer to if I wrote about the record. But I don’t know how it felt to hear it coming out of the radio as I hung out in Rick’s basement or in our kitchen or in my bedroom. I wasn’t there.

When I began digging into record collecting, I unintentionally set 1964 as my starting date for pop and rock, because that’s what I remembered. When I got interested in blues, I dug back through the early 1960s and into the 1950s and the years before that. Then I started digging into early rock & roll, the 1950s stuff that evolved from R&B and its cousin, the jump blues. And then I followed rock & roll along the evolutionary path as far as Buddy Holly and 1959. Most of what I have from the years from 1959 to 1964 is blues, deep R&B and instrumental pop, things that didn’t frequently make the Top 40.

The same thing happened when I got my first modern computer in early 2000 and began to collect mp3s. I was aware that I was ignoring much of the popular music from those five years as I borrowed CDs from the library and from friends and ripped them to put into my collection. As I began that collection, I had, of course, no inkling that I would eventually be writing a blog about (mostly) music from the 1960s and the 1970s. Would I have altered my collecting patterns had I known?

Maybe not. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly thirty months now, and I still don’t have a great deal of pop-rock and popular R&B from those years. I’ve got some, and I’ll likely get more. But I doubt if it’s ever going to be a time period whose Top 40 music I love the way I do the music of the years that follow it. And I doubt I’ll ever be as comfortable writing about the Top 40 music of those early years as I am writing about the sounds of the years that came after. I wasn’t there.

The numbers of mp3s I currently have from the years of the 1960s tell the tale a lot more succinctly:

1960: 205
1961: 150
1962: 276
1963: 362
1964: 647
1965: 754
1966: 891
1967: 1324
1968: 1886
1969: 2425

A Random Selection from the 1960s
1960: “Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown 1003
1961: “Spoonful” by Etta James & Harvey Fuqua, Chess 1771
1962: “In My Time of Dyin’” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan
1963: “Beyond the Surf” by Jack Nitzsche from The Lonely Surfer
1964: “Java Jones” by Donna Lynn, Capitol 5156
1965:  “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Liberty 55756
1966: “(I’m A) Road Runner” by Junior Walker & the All Stars, Soul 35015
1967: “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by the Hombres, Verve Forecast 5058
1968: “Try a Little Tenderness” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4177
1969: “Rag Mama Rag” (alternate vocal take) from The Band

“Bye Bye Baby” was obviously one of Mary Wells’ very early singles. It didn’t dent the Top 40, but in August of 1961, her single “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” [Motown 1011], went to No. 33. After that, she had eleven more singles in the Top 40, including the classic “My Guy,” which spent two weeks at No. 1 in 1964. “Bye Bye Baby” is a good single, especially in the last thirty seconds, when Wells takes off.

“Spoonful,” a cover of Willie Dixon’s great blues done so memorably by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 [Chess 1762], features a great performance by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, but listen to the backing track. It’s like 1950s R&B combined with the horns from an early 1960’s Frank Sinatra session. I find the horn arrangement to be very distracting. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the history of the R&B charts, so I don’t know how well the record did. It’s interesting, but man, those horns do bother me.

The Dylan track is from his first album, when he was still trying to be Woody Guthrie. Neither the record nor the jacket credited the songwriter, with the liner notes saying that the first time Dylan sang “In My Time of Dyin’” was during the recording session. The index at All-Music Guide generally lists the tune as “traditional,” although a CD titled Inside The Blues by Mare Edstrom lists Blind Willie Johnson as the songwriter. I’d be interested to know more about that. In any event, Dylan rapidly outgrew his Guthrie disguise, and Bob Dylan was Dylan’s last album of mostly covers until 1970’s odd Self Portrait.

Speaking of surf music, as I did above, “Beyond The Surf” is a superb track from Jack Nitzsche’s only solo album. I don’t know if the album’s jacket listed the credits, as I got this through an mp3 exchange, but I’d put good money on the drummer being Hal Blaine. Nitzsche, of course, was part of Phil Spector’s crew, and he worked as a session player, producer and general expert with multitudes of pop and rock musicians over the course of a forty-year career.

Until I ran into it a couple years ago at The Record Robot, I had no idea there had ever been a vocal version of Allen Toussaint’s tune “Java.” The tune was a Top 10 hit as an instrumental in early 1964 for Al Hirt; it went to No. 4. As for Donna Lynn, the only things I know about her, I learned when The Record Robot shared her album: “She was in a Broadway show with Maureen O’Hara called ‘Christine’, and was then, for some reason chosen to be the face, voice and name behind these novelty songs. All by the age of 14.”

Of the four singles that cover the years 1965-1968 in this list, probably the best is the Junior Walker, which went to No. 20, the fourth in a series of twelve Top 40 singles. “(I’m A) Road Runner” is good, but I’m not sure Walker ever did better than 1965’s “Shotgun,” his first hit.

Even discounting the memories of a junior high dance, “This Diamond Ring” still has a geeky charm. Being the son of Jerry Lewis without question eased the road for Gary Lewis on his way to a No. 1 hit. Forty-some years later, though, the record still sounds good coming out of a radio speaker once in a while. It can, however, be an earworm of the highest rank.

The Hombres’ record “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” has to be one of the oddest singles of an era that had many. It was the Memphis-based group’s only hit, going to No. 12 in the autumn of 1967. Still weird but also still fun.

There are likely Otis Redding fans who still cringe at the thought of Three Dog Night covering “Try A Little Tenderness.” I agree that Redding’s version is far superior. It also did a little better in the charts: Otis’ version went to No. 25 in 1967, while TDN’s version reached No. 29. My thought has always been: If hearing Three Dog Night’s version and some ensuing disparaging comments from R&B lovers got even one kid to go find Redding’s version – and I know that it did just that for at least one kid – then it’s okay. So just call TDN’s version a gateway record. (Incidentally, Redding’s version was a cover, too; the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the song was a No. 6 hit for Ted Lewis in 1933.)

The alternate version of “Rag Mama Rag” was included on an expanded CD edition of The Band. It’s kind of fun to hear something so familiar sound so different.

‘And At No. 53 . . .’

May 3, 2012

May has suddenly turned busy for me and the Texas Gal. She’ll be hitting the books as her online courses approach midterm, and I’ll be putting a shine on the house as we have my family coming for lunch Sunday for an early Mother’s Day celebration.

So I have less time than I would like this morning to ponder music and write. Given that, I returned to 1972. On Tuesday, I dug a little bit into the Top Ten albums during the first week of May that year. Two days later, it’s May 3 (or 5/3), and I thought I would see – for good or groans – what was sitting at No. 53 in the Billboard Hot 100 during this week forty years ago.

And as I do love me some saxophone – as I noted recently – it seems we get very lucky. Sitting at No. 53 during the week ending May 6, 1972, was “Walk In The Night” by Junior Walker & The All Stars. An atmospheric journey, the single on the Soul label went to No. 46 (No. 10 on the R&B chart).

Chart Digging: Mid-January 1972

January 12, 2012

January of 1972 is mostly a blank spot. I know I’d just started my second quarter at St. Cloud State. I recall two of the classes I took: Music Theory 1 and a one-credit practicum at KVSC, the campus radio station; as a result of the latter, I began to spend a lot of time hanging around the station’s offices. I recall that I wasn’t dating anyone and that I was still palling around with Dave and Chisago Rick and the other guys I met during orientation the summer before.

But nothing much happened, as far as I remember. I was just there. And looking at the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1972, I get the same kind of sense. Nothing all that interesting was going on.

Well, maybe that’s not fair to Don McLean, whose “American Pie” hit No. 1 that week; it would stay there for four weeks. At the time, McLean’s coded history of rock ’n’ roll was – as I’ve noted before – the fodder for lengthy discussions: What did this line mean? Who was the jester? But after many listenings, many interpretations and forty years, the record has lost its power. I mean, I still sing along when it pops up on the car radio, but the record no longer amazes me the way it did during that long-ago January.

Sitting below McLean’s opus in the Top Ten were some good records, but I don’t see much else that made me say “Wow” back then or would do so today:

“Brand New Key” by Melanie
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
“Family Affair” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band
“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by the New Seekers
“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson
“Hey Girl/I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond
“Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright

I know some folks who loved “Scorpio” (and still do), but I don’t recall hearing it all that much. I guess the best of that bunch for me was “Let’s Stay Together,” which I still like today. The rest of those records didn’t move me much then and still don’t.

That disenchantment (if that’s not too strong a word) was paired with the album rock ethos I discovered early in 1972 at KVSC. The station still played classical music during the daytime, but we shifted to rock in the evenings, and the only person in the studios and office who ever listened to the classical music going on the air was the disc jockey on duty in the main booth. For the rest of us, one or another of the other turntables in the studio was used to play albums that the evening and night-time jocks had brought in from their own collections.

So I wasn’t all that thrilled with what I heard on the radio in the car or when I was hanging around with Dave and Chisago Rick and the others. But as I dig into the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 from January 15, 1972, I find a number of records that I think I would have liked to hear coming out of the radio speakers.

Four of the six records below are by R&B acts that I’m rather familiar with today (though that would not have been the case forty years ago). The other two are by acts I’d not heard of until I began digging through that distant Hot 100, one a pop group and the other an R&B singer.

Little Johnny Taylor was a blues singer who passed on in 2002 and who spent much of his performing life not being Johnnie Taylor, the R&B singer who had memorable hits with “Who’s Making Love” and “Disco Lady.”  Little Johnny Taylor’s only Top 40 hit came in 1963, when “Part Time Love” went to No. 19 (and to No. 1 on the R&B chart). In mid-January 1972, the bluesy “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing, Pt. 1” was sitting at its peak of No. 60. It would be the last of seven Johnny Taylor records to reach or bubble under the Hot 100; six of his records reached the R&B Top 40. (The video I’m linking to includes both sides of the 45 – Part 1 and Part 2.)

I’m pretty sure I knew about Junior Walker & The All Stars in early 1972, if for no other reasons than the two No. 4 singles the group scored: “Shotgun” in 1965 and “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” in 1969. But I had no clue that “Way Back Home” was in the chart that January. The song can be filed with other tunes that catalog the desire to go back to one’s southern roots; “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South and “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips come quickly to mind although there are many others. As mid-January rolled past, “Way Back Home” was at No. 68. It went only to No. 52 for some reason; it sounds to me as if it should have done much better.

On the other end of the familiarity scale, I found N.F. Porter and his “Keep On Keeping On” sitting at No. 77. I know next to nothing about Porter, just that he was an R&B singer who also recorded as Nolan Porter and just plain Nolan, which meant he had a different billing for all three records he got into the lower portions of the Hot 100 (and into the R&B Top 40) between 1971 and 1973. “Keep On Keeping On” was the second of the three, and No. 77 was as high as it would climb. (The first record, “I Like What You Give,” went to No. 70, and the third, “If I Could Only Be Sure,” peaked at No. 88.) “Keep On . . .” is a good record, but maybe the coolest thing about it is that – like its predecessor – it was released on the Lizard label.

The Detroit Emeralds have shown up in this space twice before when I’ve dug into the charts, and, as I research these posts, I find myself perking up whenever I see the group’s name. This time, “You Want It, You Got It” was the title I saw, and the record didn’t disappoint. It turns out to have been the first of two Top 40 hits for the group, peaking at No. 36 (and at No. 5 on the R&B chart). The only record that did better for the Emeralds – who were actually from Little Rock, Arkansas – was “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms,)” which went to No. 24 (No. 4 R&B) in the spring of 1972.

We’ll take a break from blues and R&B for a moment with a rather odd, almost psychedelic version of the folk song “Five Hundred Miles” as recorded by a group billed as Heaven Bound with Tony Scotti. At the time the single was released, Scotti – according to All-Music Guide – had produced albums for Petula Clark and Joey Heatherton and would go on to produce for Jim Stafford and the Bellamy Brothers. (Three of the members of Heaven Bound – Joan Medora, Eddie Medora and Tommy Oliver – have significant writing credits listed at AMG; I suspect the same would be true for Michael Lloyd if I could find the correct Michael Lloyd.) “Five Hundred Miles” was the second of three singles by Heaven Bound to reach or bubble under the Hot 100, and it peaked at No. 79, the highest any of the three singles went. (When you click on the player, be prepared to think for a few moments that you’re hearing a cover of the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine.”)

The difficulty of being “the other man” is the topic of the last record in today’s digging: “If I Could See The Light” by the Detroit group 8th Day. While perhaps not as good as the group’s “She’s Not Just Another Woman,” which went to No. 11 in 1971, “If I Could See The Light” rolls along in an infectious up-tempo R&B groove. It was sitting at No. 89 during mid-January 1972, heading toward its peak of No. 79. It’s an energetic – if ethically dubious – way to close today’s digging.

Junior Walker & ‘These Eyes’

July 28, 2011

We’re on Chapter Two of Eyework today: The Texas Gal had the lens replaced in her left eye early this morning. It all went well, and having been through this just three weeks ago, we know that – barring the unforeseen – this is no big deal.

But we were both up early to get to the eye center on time, so I’m going to pass on writing anything substantial today and instead just share a sweet cover from 1969 of a Guess Who tune whose title (if not the lyric) fits today’s events. I hope to be here tomorrow with a look at some cover versions of a familiar tune.

Have a good Thursday!