Posts Tagged ‘Lesley Gore’

Summer Enrichment

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 10, 2009

Summertime in the early and mid-1960s wasn’t just for fun. There was school, too. Every summer, from the time I was six until I was, oh, fourteen, I went to summer school to learn about stuff I didn’t get a chance to learn about during the school year.

Sometimes that was okay, as those things went. I remember taking Spanish for a couple of summers. (The only thing that has stayed with me is “Hola, Paco! Que tal?” I think that translates loosely into “How goes it, Joe?” and is a fairly useless bit of knowledge.) I took a class in World War II history and a couple of drama workshops. Those came during the last few years of summer school, when I was in junior high school. My first summer school experiences came on the campus at St. Cloud State.

There was, at the time, an elementary school on campus, the Campus Laboratory School, which the School of Education used to help train teachers. Like the public schools, the Lab School’s academic year ended in spring, but the college had classes year-round. So in order to have elementary students for the college education students to teach, the Campus Lab ran summer school programs. And I was one of the laboratory subjects for a couple of summers very early during my elementary school days. I remember very little of the subjects we covered during those eight week-sessions. But I remember the oddness of being in a different school, with different types of furnishings than we had at Lincoln Elementary (which reflected, though I did not know this, a different and more experimental approach to education than was used in the public schools). The Campus Lab School seemed like an alien environment, fascinating but unsettling as well.

I also recall a portion of two summers spent in classes at Washington Elementary, on the city’s south side. These particular summer gatherings were called “enrichment” programs and took place, I think, during the summers after fourth and fifth grades, in 1963 and 1964. Just a few kids from each of the city’s elementary schools – those judged to have the most academic potential – were pulled into the program each summer. (Not being certain of current educational lingo, I imagine we’d be called “gifted” these days.) During one of those two summers, our class studied the state of Alaska: its history, culture, geography, the whole works. Among our projects during the summer was to build – with flexible wood strips for the frame, covered with white paper – an igloo.

There is, in one of the boxes of stuff I’ve carried with me over the years, a newspaper clipping with a picture of that summer school class posing by its igloo. There, at the right end of the front row, with brutally short hair and a pair of new black-rimmed glasses, is a little whiteray.

Fourth Grade Summer Enrichment Class at Washington Elementary, St. Cloud, Summer 1963.

The kids around me from St. Cloud’s other schools were still no more than friendly strangers, but a couple of years ago, I looked at the picture for the first time in years, and I realized that almost all of those kids were the ones that populated my classes in high school, in the college prep program. We were our grade’s version, God help us, of the best and the brightest. That doesn’t alter the fact that I looked like a dork.

As I said, I think that was in either 1963 or 1964. So here are some tunes from early June in the first of those two years.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 15, 1963)
“It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72119 (No. 2)
“Come And Get These Memories” by Martha & the Vandellas, Gordy 7014 (No. 32)
“Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” by Rolf Harris, Epic 9596 (No. 58)
“Six Days On The Road” by Dave Dudley, Golden Wing 3020 (No. 75)
“Detroit City” by Bobby Bare, RCA 8183 (No. 87)
“Needles and Pins” by Jackie DeShannon, Liberty 55563 (No. 114)

One of these six was omnipresent enough for me to remember hearing it frequently, though I was not a pop-radio listener, and another of them was quirky enough for me to recall it. The single that was everywhere was, of course, Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which had spent the previous two weeks at No. 1. (Oddly enough, the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart.) How omnipresent was it? Well, my sister rarely bought current singles. When seventeen-year-old Lesley Gore’s first single hit, however, my sister went out and got herself a copy of it. But it wasn’t just our house: The record had such an amazingly simple and effective hook – “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.” – that it couldn’t help but insinuate itself into the broader grown-up culture that existed parallel to teen culture of the time. To put it more simply, even adults knew the record, and that was a rare thing at that time.

The other of these six that I recall hearing was the silly “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Aussie Rolf Harris. Being nine and unaware of Aussie usage, however, I struggled with the meaning of the title. Why did the singer want himself tied down? Like a kangaroo? As catchy as the song was, it didn’t make any sense to me. I just didn’t understand the song (and that was certainly not the last time that’s happened over the years). Harris’ record eventually climbed into the Top 40 and stayed there for nine weeks, peaking at No. 3. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, and that makes me wonder when the AC chart started. I’d always thought it was far more recent than that. (Someone out there knows the answer, I’m sure.)

“Come And Get These Memories” was the first hit for Martha Reeves and her girls, who ended up having twelve records reach the Top 40 between 1963 and 1967. During the second week of June, “Memories” was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 29 a week earlier. The record was well-done but sounded pretty much the same as a lot of girl group records, to my ears. That would change for Martha and the Vandellas with their next hit, as “Heat Wave” exploded out of the speakers and into the Top Ten in August.

I’ve shared Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” here before, but it was a year and a half ago, and that’s an eternity in blogtime. At that time, I decided that Dudley’s hit was likely the most influential record ever recorded in Minnesota, and nothing I’ve heard or read since then has changed that view. The record spent just four weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 32, but it went to No. 2 on the country chart and – as I noted in the earlier post – was the granddaddy of a whole lot of songs about truckers and their rigs. (Does that mean that without “Six Days,” there might have been no “Convoy” in 1975? I tend to think so.)

Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” which is about as country as they came in 1963, is another song that falls neatly into a genre. I imagine you could call it the “Wizard of Oz” or “There’s No Place Like Home” genre. In Bare’s song, it’s the story of the boy who left home for better things in the city and found out, sadly, that home is better. There are, I imagine, hundreds of such songs (nominations, anyone?), but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s. The song, written by Mel Tillis, was first titled “I Wanna Go Home,” and was a No. 18 hit on the country chart for Billy Grammer in early 1963. Bare’s retitled version went to No. 6 on the country chart and peaked at No. 16 on the pop chart.

“Needles and Pins” is far better known as a record by the Searchers (No. 13 in the spring of 1964), but Jackie DeShannon was – according to Wikipedia – the first to record the song, written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono. DeShannon’s version peaked at No. 84, but Wikipedia notes that it reached the top of the charts in English Canada, going to No. 1 on the chart issued by Toronto radio station CHUM. While the Searchers might have had the hit (as did Tom Petty with Stevie Nicks in 1986), I’ve always liked DeShannon’s version a little bit more, with its very obvious Wall of Sound influence.

Revised slightly and picture added March 30, 2015.

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Spoofing The Kennedys

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 13, 2009

American fascination with the Kennedy family is an on-going thing, as demonstrated by the recent kerfuffle about Caroline Kennedy and the seat in the U.S. Senate held most recently by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and occupied in the 1960s by Caroline’s uncle, Robert F. Kennedy.

That fascination may have started with Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, long before World War II. I don’t know. But I do know from my own memory that it burst into full bloom in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy as U.S. president. And that fascination meant media saturation, such as it was at the time: The Kennedys were the focal point of almost everything.

These days, the scrutiny given both public figures and private figures who happen to fall into the spotlight is more intense than ever. For some, the spotlight endures. For others, the light moves on, and the individuals so lighted can then move away from the public’s center of attention, most of them – I would guess – happy to do so.

But it seems that the Kennedys, having sought the nation’s attention long ago, have – as a family – never left that bright light. And, in the early years, some of the more frivolous things resulting from that bright light were a few records.

During John Kennedy’s last year as president, one of the best-selling records in the country was The First Family, a comedy record by Vaughn Meader, whose talents included the ability to do an uncanny impersonation of the president. The LP was released during the first week of December 1962, went to No. 1 in its second week, stayed atop the album chart for twelve weeks and won the Grammy for the Album of the Year. A second album went to No. 4.

Meader wasn’t the only comedian to spoof John Kennedy. In my small collection of 45s, I have a record by Joel Langram titled “I Really Wanted To Be A ‘Singar’” (Rori 714) that gives JFK and his family an affectionate nudge in the ribs.

But the jokes were no longer funny, of course, after John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

(I’ve never bothered to find out if it’s true, but I’ve heard for years that caustic comedian Lenny Bruce opened his show on the evening of John Kennedy’s death with the words, “Poor Vaughn Meader!”)

After JFK’s death, the Kennedy fascination settled on his widow and his two brothers, and that eventually resulted in the artifact that spurred these thoughts. In 1967, Senator Robert Kennedy became the object of “Wild Thing,” a record that featured comedian Bill Minkin impersonating the senator. With nods to Kennedy’s brother, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy, and to his family, the single – credited to “Senator Bobby” – chronicles a the recording of a record aimed at making the senator more interesting to young people.

The record, of course, is a cover of the Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” which was a No. 1 hit in 1966. Senator Bobby’s version of “Wild Thing” peaked at No. 20 in early February of 1967 and was still at that spot a week later, forty-two years ago this week. The record was actually pretty funny at the time, and then – after RFK was assassinated in a little more than a year – not funny at all for quite some time. Those of us of a certain age, I would guess, hear it these days with a sad smile.

A Six-Pack From The Charts
(Billboard Hot 100, February 11, 1967)

“Wild Thing” by Senator Bobby, Parkway 127 (No. 20)

“Are You Lonely For Me” by Freddie Scott, Shout 207 (No. 45)

“The Dis-Adadvantages of You” by the Brass Ring featuring Phil Bodner, Dunhill 4065 (No. 64)

“California Nights” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72649 (No. 71)

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Mojo Men, Reprise 0539 (No. 80)

“Feel So Bad” by Little Milton, Checker 1162 (No. 91)

There may have been other records spoofing the Kennedys. Those mentioned are just the three in my collection. Additionally, I know that other, similar, records were issued poking fun at other presidents and their families.

“Are You Lonely For Me” was one of two records by Freddie Scott to make the Top 40 chart: In 1963, “Hey Girl” went to No. 10. “Are You Lonely For Me” reached No. 39 at the end of February. Scott’s muscular performance of a very good song did, however, top the R&B chart for four weeks.

There are plenty of examples of an advertising jingle or song being turned into a hit: One example that comes to mind in an instant is “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” a 1972 hit for the Hillside Singers and the New Seekers. That song began life in a television commercial for Coca-Cola. “The Dis-Advantages of You” started its life as the backing music for a series of commercials advertising a new and longer cigarette. The commercial showed such disadvantages as getting one’s cigarette caught in an elevator door and so on. The music proved so popular that “The Dis-Advantages of You” was released as a single and on an album of similar music. The single went to No. 36 and was the second Top 40 hit for the Brass Ring, which was basically a group of studio musicians pulled together by saxophonist Phil Bodnar. (The first hit was “The Phoenix Love Theme [Senza Fine]” from the film, The Flight of the Phoenix. That single went to No. 32 in 1966.)

“California Nights” was the last hit for Lesley Gore, whose Top 40 run started in 1963 with “It’s My Party” going to No. 1. “California Nights,” which to me sounds very much like the folk-pop/pop-rock of the Mamas & the Papas from the same time, went to No. 16, the eleventh and last Top 40 hit for Gore.

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” a cover of the Stephen Stills song recorded by the Buffalo Springfield, was the only Top 40 hit for the Mojo Men, a San Francisco group. The record went to No. 36 and came to some prominence again in 1972 when Elektra Records legend Jac Holzman and music historian Lenny Kay chose the single as one of twenty-seven tracks on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, a collection that’s been the model for many anthologies in the ensuing thirty-seven years.

Little Milton, a Mississippi native who recorded for Chess, Stax and several other labels during the course of a long career, made the Top 40 only once: In 1965, with “We’re Gonna Make It,” a record that went to No. 25 on the pop chart but topped the R&B chart for three weeks. “Feel So Bad” never went higher than No. 91, but it’s a heckuva record.

Herman’s Hermits, Lesley & Isaac

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 14, 2008

A couple things showed up when I went digging at YouTube for video related to Tuesday’s Vinyl Record Day post. Here are Herman’s Hermits performing “My Reservation’s Been Confirmed” live in 1966 on what I think is – based on the very faint credits – Beat Beat Beat, a German television show:

I didn’t find any footage of Lesley Gore performing “That’s The Way Boys Are,” but I found some good TV footage of her performing “You Don’t Own Me.” I’d place the footage in early 1964, as “You Don’t Own Me” entered the Billboard Top Forty on January 11 that year, on its way to three weeks at No. 2.

And then, I went back to Monday’s post about Isaac Hayes and dug around YouTube for a bit. I found what appears to be footage from a documentary about Hayes’ work creating the soundtrack for Shaft, which came out in 1971. The clip shows Hayes and – I believe – the Bar-Kays running through “Cafe Regio’s” and then getting a brief bit of instruction from the movie’s director, Gordon Parks, before playing a portion of the movie’s main theme.

Video deleted.

Celebrating Vinyl At 45 RPM

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 12, 2008

I thought hard as this summer meandered, trying to decide how to mark Vinyl Record Day 2008, the 131st anniversary of the invention of the phonograph by old Tom Edison. (A reminder: You can find updates on all the posts in today’s blogswarm at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, whose proprietor, JB the DJ, organized the event this year and last. Thanks, JB!) The vast majority of my record collection is LPs, but I took an exhaustive (and likely exhausting, for many readers) tour through the albums last year, so finding a new hook for a post based on LPs seemed difficult at best.

Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re planning to move, and I anticipated that the LPs would be packed before August 12. (And so they have been, filling about sixty liquor boxes.)

So I turned to the poor stepchildren of my record collection: my 45s. My singles are split into three groups: There are the four singles by the Beatles whose B-sides weren’t released on the original albums by the Fab Four on Capitol/Apple (a state of events I discussed during the celebration of last year’s Vinyl Record Day). There are about fifteen other singles that I prize for various reasons; they include a Danish 45, my copy of the Mystics’ 1969 regional hit, “Pain,” and some other stuff that rarely gets played but has sentimental value. And then there are the two carrying cases.

Those metal cases, eight-inch cubes with handles on top, are home to about a hundred singles. Some are remnants of my sister’s small collection in the early 1960s. Some of them were gifts from Leo Rau, the jukebox operator who lived across the alley when I was a kid. Some of them I got at a south Minneapolis garage sale during the 1990s when I bought one of the two carrying cases; I bought the case for a quarter and got about twenty 45s that were still inside. And some I got in one of those sequences that sometimes happen to collectors.

While I was working for the Eden Prairie newspaper during the early 1990s, I was assigned to write a story about a local organization called Bridging Inc. Its founder, a retired fellow named Fran Heitzman, showed me around a warehouse filled with furniture, household goods, clothing and more. The idea, he told me, was to provide a figurative bridge between folks in the generally well-off southwest suburbs who had things to donate and organizations elsewhere in the Twin Cities that served folks who needed things. Donations came into Bridging for a number of reasons: from people who redecorated and had used but good furniture to give away, from people who moved and had to downsize their household holdings, and – frequently – from sons and daughters whose parents had passed on and whose households were being dissolved.

The way it worked, Fran told me, was that an organization, maybe the Salvation Army in north Minneapolis, might need a double bed and two twin beds help to re-house a family. Workers at the Salvation Army would call Bridging, and Bridging would check its warehouse and – more often than not – be able to fill those needs. Fran had started Bridging on his own, and I marveled as we walked through the warehouse at the good work that one determined person can do. (In the fifteen or so years since then, the organization has grown, as one can see at its website.)

As we walked, I noticed several boxes of records, mostly LPs but some 45s. “People send you records?” I asked.

“Sometimes people clean out entire houses,” he said, “and we get everything they’ve got, including records. We can’t use them, of course.” I must have looked at him with a question on my face because he explained: “Well, the Salvation Army never calls us and says, ‘We have a family that needs some records.’”

“So what happens to them?”

He shrugged. “We throw them out.” I tried not to wince. I was there on assignment, after all. But Fran noticed. “You want them?”

I nodded, told him I was a collector, and he said that anytime Bridging got records in, he’d call me at my office. And for about four years – until shortly after I left the Eden Prairie paper and Fran cut back his hours at Bridging – I’d get a call every couple of months and stop by Bridging and pick up a box or two of records.

Mostly, it was LPs. Generally, about one-third of the records I got were things that I wanted for the collection, a third I already had, and a third didn’t really interest me. I’d pull out the stuff I wanted, sell a few things at Cheapo’s and then donate the remaining records to the Salvation Army store near my home. And along the way, I ended up with another metal carrying case and some 45s that came with it.

So, for this year’s celebration of Vinyl Record Day, I thought I’d dig through those two cases of 45s and see what might be interesting. As it turned out, some of the most interesting records are so hacked up that they’re unplayable: They include a four-song EP by Chuck Berry released on the Chess label in 1958 and a Fats Domino EP on Dot from 1957. But as I sorted through the boxes, I did find some stuff that was interesting. Some of it pleased the ear, and some of it brought winces.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen of 45s, all ripped from vinyl, of course. There will be some noise here and there, but I think it’s worth it.

I have quite a few Herman’s Hermits’ singles in the boxes, most likely from the records I got from Leo Rau. I like a few of the band’s singles when they’re mixed in with other oldies, but Herman’s Hermits always seemed kind of lightweight. And then I flipped over one of the most lightweight singles the band ever did, “Dandy.” And I was pleasantly surprised. Speed on!

“My Reservation’s Been Confirmed” by Herman’s Hermits, MGM 13603, 1966

Another Rau record was one of those traditional pop numbers that sometimes showed up in the mid-1960s, this one squeezing its way onto the charts to No. 10, where it sat between Martha & the Vandellas and Gerry & the Pacemakers.

“Red Roses For A Blue Lady” by Vic Dana, Dolton 304, 1965

One of the silliest records in my collection – which I ripped some time ago when I moved it from the carrying case to the “sentimental favorites” shelf – was one my sister owned, having found it in one of those “ten 45s for $1.29” deals in 1963 or so. It spent two weeks at No. 2.

“Limbo Rock” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 849, 1962

And as long as we’re talking silly, here are the two of the numerous records by the Royal Guardsmen that were inspired by Snoopy the beagle, one of the central characters in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, which was quite likely the most popular comic strip in the world in the mid-1960s. The first was No. 2 for four weeks and the second reached No. 15.

“Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie 3366, 1966

“The Return of The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie 3379, 1967

Here’s another pair, two sides of a Beach Boys’ 45. The sound on these is not all that good, but I couldn’t resist sharing them anyway, as this might be the worst pair of songs ever released by a major band on one record. “Wild Honey” was the A-side and went to No. 31.

“Wild Honey” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 2028, 1967

“Wind Chimes” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 2028, 1967

I know it’s been released on CD, but I’m not sure that the B-side of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was ever released on an LP. (This was a Leo Rau record; sorry about the noise near the end.)

“Lime Street Blues” by Procol Harum, Deram 7507, 1967

With the remarkable exception of “You Don’t Own Me,” Lesley Gore spent a lot of time in the early 1960s trying to please boys, especially that rat Johnny, who made her cry at her own party and then dropped Judy to slink back to Lesley once she had a hit record. Here’s Lesley’s utterly non-feminist manifesto on how to excuse boys’ bad behavior. It went to No. 12.

“That’s The Way Boys Are” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72259, 1964

The oldest single I found in those two cases was the most unhip and the most shameful. When rock ’n’ roll hit big in the mid-1950s, too many record companies had their white artists cover songs originally released by artists with darker skins. In this case, it didn’t work entirely: Pat Boone’s version of “Long Tall Sally” went to No. 8 on the fragmented charts of the time, but Little Richard’s original went to No. 6.

“Long Tall Sally” by Pat Boone, Dot 15457, 1956

The Four Aces had used their sweet pop harmonies to score seven hits between 1954 and 1956 on those same fragmented charts. They tried again in 1958, this time using the magic words “rock and roll” in an attempt to be unsquare. It didn’t work; the record did not chart.

“Rock and Roll Rhapsody” by the Four Aces, Decca 30575, 1958

The best record I found in the metal cases – even with a little bit of noise – was a B-side:

“Daddy Cool” by the Rays, Cameo 117, 1957

After I ripped it to vinyl, I noticed something I’d not seen the few other times I’d handled it. There was a name and address stamped on the record: “Clifford J——, 9145 Meadow View Road, Bloomington 20, Minnesota.”

The last name was not a common one. In fact, as I used an online search, I learned that there are only twenty folks listed with that name in Minnesota. One of those listed was Clifford, in the exurban city of Mound, west of Minneapolis. I dithered for a few days, then called Friday evening and left a message.

Saturday noon, I called again and left a more detailed message, explaining that I had a 45 with Clifford’s name on it. Within fifteen minutes the phone rang, and I found myself talking to Lloyd J. He told me Clifford had been his father, gone since 2004, but the record had been Lloyd’s.

“My dad had a stamp with his name and address,” Lloyd said, “and I used to stamp my records before parties and so on.”

I’d done some digging through the other 45s since I’d seen the stamped record, so I asked Lloyd, “Did your sister, Julie, mark hers with her name written on adhesive tape?” He laughed and said she had in fact done so, and I told him I’d found a couple of her records in my collection, too.

He said, “Julie was the one who cleaned out the house in Bloomington when Dad moved out, and I imagine she just gave everything away.”

“To Bridging?” I asked.

“Yes, to Fran Heitzman. He’s a long-time friend of the family.”

I thought to myself, “How circles sometimes close!” And then I asked Lloyd about records and rock ’n’ roll.

“I think between us,” he said, “we had seventy-five to a hundred records. That was when Elvis was big, and I remember the Crew Cuts, but they were a little earlier. I graduated from high school in 1960, and the records were [from when I was in] junior high school and high school, sock hops and so on.”

Now 66, Lloyd has spent his career in banking and stays involved in banks in Mound and in Delano, a small town west of Mound. “It gives me a place to pick up the mail,” he said with a laugh. And he still listens to music.

“I listen to the Fifties on my XM radio,” he said. “It’s still my favorite music. There was a piece on the news the other night about how music brings back memories more than anything, even pictures. And music does jog the memories.”

So what song remains Lloyd’s favorite from the Fifties?

“I don’t recall the title, but it was about the fellow out for a walk and the shades pulled down and he sees the couple inside . . .”

I nodded, and flipped over the 45 that Lloyd had stamped more than fifty years ago. “That’s the A-side of the record of yours that I have,” I told him.

“It’s still my favorite,” he said.

And here it is for you, Lloyd:

“Silhouettes” by the Rays, Cameo 117, 1957

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011; YouTube videos, which are not my rips, added February 26, 2014.