Posts Tagged ‘Mary Wells’

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.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1962

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 28, 2007

I’ve been staring at the songs included in today’s Baker’s Dozen for a few minutes now, trying to think of what to say about 1962. I have a few vague memories of the year, but the only thing I clearly remember was that President John Kennedy was scheduled to visit St. Cloud that October. His visit was planned in support of a local Democrat who was running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The president canceled. I recall being disappointed, but I don’t remember what forced the cancellation (although I do have vague memories of snow on the ground that day). I found an answer this morning. According to a page at the American Presidency Project, an archive at the University of California, Santa Barbara that has a seemingly extensive online presence, Kennedy’s October 7 trip to St. Cloud was canceled due to inclement weather. Instead, the president spoke by telephone from Minneapolis to a Democratic rally in St. Cloud.

As that’s not a lot to support any kind of discussion of 1962, let’s go the library and find out what people were listening to that year. Here’s a list of the No. 1 hits from the year:

“Peppermint Twist – Part 1” by Joey Dee & the Starliters
“Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler
“Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel
“Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” by Connie Francis
“Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares
“Good Luck Charm” by Elvis Presley
“Soldier Boy” by the Shirelles
“Stranger on the Shore” by Mr. Acker Bilk
“I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles
“The Stripper” by David Rose from the film The Stripper
“Roses Are Red (My Love)” by Bobby Vinton
“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” by Neil Sedaka
“The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva
“Sheila” by Tommy Roe
“Sherry” by the Four Seasons
“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers
“He’s A Rebel” by the Crystals
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons
“Telstar” by the Tornadoes

That’s not an entirely awful list. In fact, it’s a lot better than I thought it would be when I began paging through the year’s entries in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Still, any year in which Shelly Fabares, Connie Francis and Bobby Vinton can all reach the top of the chart . . . well, that’s not a very good year.

Leaving aside the novelty of “Monster Mash,” the oddest entry on the list has to be “Stranger on the Shore,” the lilting clarinet instrumental by Britain’s Mr. Acker Bilk. But then, the occasional odd instrumental – “The Stripper” falls there, too – is almost a tradition on the Top 40 chart. I think of 1972’s “Popcorn” by Hot Butter (No. 9), “Keem-O-Sabe” by the Electric Indian in 1969 (No. 16), 1962’s own “Midnight In Moscow” by Kenny Ball (No. 2) and Ferrante & Teicher’s 1969 release of the theme to the film Midnight Cowboy (No. 10). And those are just the ones that came quickly to mind.

That list of No. 1 songs make it very clear that 1962 was a far different musical world. But, even when keeping in mind that pop and rock music was still clearly a singles medium, the list of 1962’s top albums gives one pause:

Holiday Sing Along With Mitch by Mitch Miller & the Gang
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Henry Mancini
West Side Story soundtrack
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles
Peter, Paul & Mary by Peter, Paul & Mary
My Son, The Folksinger by Allan Sherman
The First Family by Vaughn Meader

If the singles from 1962 show a different world, then the albums – with the exception of the Ray Charles and, I guess, the Peter, Paul & Mary – show an entirely different universe. But two events that took place on September 15, 1962, however, showed that the universe was about to change:

On that day, the Billboard chart showed the first appearance on the Top 40 of the Beach Boys, with “Surfin’ Safari,” a single that peaked at No. 14. On the same day, the British label Parlophone signed to a recording contract a Liverpool quartet called the Beatles.

As to the world at large, there were also hints of changes to come. On July 10, AT&T’s Telstar, the first commercial communications satellite, went into orbit, and thirteen days later, it relayed the first live trans-Atlantic television signal.

And that’s where we’ll begin our songs from 1962, with “Telstar,” which turned out to be the last No. 1 single of the year.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1962
“Telstar” by the Tornadoes, London single 9561

“House of the Risin’ Sun” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan

“Oh, Lonesome Me” by Ray Charles from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Vol. Two)

“The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” by Bobby Vee, Liberty single 55521

“The One Who Really Loves You” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1024

“Stone Crazy” by Buddy Guy, Chess single 1812

“Smile” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists single 431

“You’ll Never Change” by Bettye LaVette, Atlantic single 2198

“Blue Guitar” by Earl Hooker, Age single 29106

“That’s No Way To Do” by Pink Anderson, from Carolina Medicine Show Hokum and Blues with Baby Tate

“What’s A Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You)” by Timi Yuro, Liberty single 55469

“I Found A Love” by the Falcons, LuPine single 1003

“The Stripper” by David Rose, MGM 13064, from the soundtrack to The Stripper

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

“Oh Lonesome Me” comes from the second of Ray Charles’ two volumes of country and western music. Backing country songs with horns, strings and a background choir that sounds pretty saccharine today was revolutionary in 1962, and – I think – was the beginning of a trend that today finds the difference between country and pop pretty well gone except for the occasional insertion of a fiddle break. Even without their historical significance, the two Modern Sounds . . . albums are worth finding simply for Brother Ray’s extraordinary vocals.

“The Night Has A Thousand Eyes,” which went to No. 3, is one of the better records by Bobby Vee, who reached the Top 40 fourteen times between 1960 and 1968. Vee’s career is intriguing for a couple of reasons. First, he got his first big break in February of 1959, after Buddy Holly’s plane crashed just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly’s place on the tour’s next stop – Fargo, North Dakota – was filled by what Wikipedia terms “a hastily-assembled band” called Bobby Vee and the Shadows. The other intriguing thing to me is Vee’s 1972 album, a pretty good singer-songwriter/folky release called Nothing Like A Sunny Day that he released under his birth name of Robert Velline. (As he lives in the St. Cloud area, I’ve been tempted for a while to look Vee up and see if he’ll autograph my copy for me.)

Ferrante & Teicher’s version of “Smile” barely reached the charts, hitting No. 93 in a two-week stay on the Cash Box charts. The song’s melody was written by Charlie Chaplin and used as the romance theme for his film Modern Times in 1936. (The film marked the last appearance of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character.) In 1954, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics to Chaplin’s composition and gave the song its title.

Earl Hooker was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1929 and was a cousin of blues legend John Lee Hooker. After “Blue Guitar” was released as a single by Age records in 1962, Muddy Waters used it as the backing for his recording of “You Shook Me,” making Earl Hooker the only slide guitarist besides Waters to ever appear on a Muddy Waters record. (Water’s record was released as Chess 1827.)

Carolina blues performer Pink Anderson is one-half of the answer to one of rock’s great trivia questions: How did Pink Floyd get its name? According to several sources, Syd Barrett noticed the names of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council in the liner notes of a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller album.

When you listen to “What’s A Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You),” pay attention to the drums. When the producer for Yuro’s session bailed for some reason, Phil Spector was brought in. And the drums sound like the work of Hal Blaine to me.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 25, 2007

Not long after I rose this morning, at about seven o’clock, someone in Clichy, France, a city of about 60,000 on the northwest edge of Paris, clicked on this blog. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon in Clichy, so it might have been someone just finishing lunch. I’ll never know.

But when that unknown resident of France clicked on the blog, it turned the counter here to 50,000. And I’d like to thank him or her as well as all of you who stop by here. I started the blog on a whim, creating a place to share music I love, and I am gratified that so many people out there – from Clichy, France, and Klagenfurt, Austria, to Yamagata, Japan, and Karachi, Pakistan, and on to Warwick, Rhode Island. and Madison, Wisconsin – seem to enjoy the same music I do and seem to enjoy reading my tales.

I’d like to thank all of you who stop by. Obviously, I know who only a very few of you are, but that’s fine. It really is enough to know that the music I love and the tales I tell are circling the world.

But I thought something a little more might be in order for that unknown resident of France. No, I’m not going to lapse into French here. (Years ago, my high school French served me fairly well during five days in Paris. Well, it did except for the time in a restaurant when the waiter asked if we wanted dessert and I told him we were going to die. Nous sommes fini, I told him, saying, “We are finished,” instead of the appropriate “We have finished.” His eyes got quite wide for a moment.) Rather, I thought I would find my favorite song in French – of the maybe fifty I have – as a start to a Baker’s Dozen. I hope my unknown visitor from Clichy likes the song as much as I do.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

“Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf, recorded in Paris November 10.

“Bye Bye Johnny” by Chuck Berry, Chess single 1754

“Late Last Night” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2171

“Ruby Baby” by Ronnie Hawkins, Roulette single 4249

“Sleepless Nights” by the Everly Brothers from It’s Everly Time

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport

“Lonesome Cabin” by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Checker single 956

“The Magnificent Seven” by Elmer Bernstein from The Magnificent Seven soundtrack

“Close To You” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke single 322

“Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1003

“Greenfields” by the Brothers Four, Columbia single 41571

“Spoonful” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1762

“North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41782

With a very few exceptions, I tend to dislike most of the music that ruled the Top 40 charts during the early 1960s, and the list here reflects that. Of the thirteen acts in the above list, only two – as far as I can tell; I may have missed something — reached the Top 40 during 1960: The Brothers Four’s version of “Greenfields” was No. 2 for four weeks in the spring, and Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” reached No. 4 in the autumn.

A few comments about some of the songs:

The Edith Piaf performance was evidently released several times not long after it was recorded, and my uncertain reading of Ebay’s French site indicates that the EP releases came about in 1961. But the notes for Éternelle, the Piaf compilation I have, say the song was recorded in 1960, so we’ll call it a 1960 song.

Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Ruby Baby” may be backed by at least some of the Hawks who went on to become The Band. The time is right, generally, and I swear I hear Richard Manuel’s voice among the background singers.

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” comes from the July 1960 appearance by Muddy Waters and his band at the Newport Jazz Festival. A four-minute performance of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” was so well received that after the song ended, Muddy and the band went back into it, creating the version heard here. Most blues fans think that Waters’ performance at Newport – available on a remastered CD – was among the finest of his long career.

For those of my vintage, who recall when there were commercials for cigarettes on television, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for The Magnificent Seven conjures visions of rugged cowboys herding cattle through valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The song was for much of the 1960s used in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes, and its genesis as the stirring theme of an iconic western movie was, alas, lost. From what I can tell, the theme wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. although there was a single released in the United Kingdom.

“North to Alaska” was one of the historical songs that Johnny Horton seemed to specialize in. He’d reached No. 1 for six weeks a year earlier with “The Battle of New Orleans.” (“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’. There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.”) And in the spring of 1960, his song “Sink the Bismarck,” inspired by – but not formally connected with – the identically titled film, went to No. 3.

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!