Posts Tagged ‘New Vaudeville Band’

Elton, Roger & The New Vaudeville Band

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 9, 2009

Still feeling silly after yesterday’s post, I submerged myself in videos at YouTube. And there I found an old and somewhat visually deficient clip of Aretha Franklin performing “You and Me” on an episode of The Flip Wilson Show. The show ran from 1970 into 1974, but I think it’s a good bet that the episode in question comes from late 1970 or early 1971, right about the time “Border Song (Holy Moses/You and Me” showed up in the lower level of the Top 40 charts (No. 37).

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Here’s an interesting video set: Two performances of “King of the Road” by Roger Miller. One, says the person who posted the video, came from a 1969 lip-synch appearance on Music Scene, and the other, a 1964 performance, was on what the poster called “TNT.” British shows? Contrasting the two visuals is pretty entertaining, and in the 1969 clip, Miller does some nifty shuffling as he heads back down the blue road at the end of the tune.

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Readers might recall my noting Tuesday that when “Winchester Cathedral” became a hit in late 1966, originator Geoff Stephens had to put together a group to be the New Vaudeville Band. Well, here’s a look at the group he put together, lip-syching “Peek-A-Boo” and “Winchester Cathedral” on The Hollywood Palace. The YouTube poster says the clip is from 1966. “Peek-A-Boo” reached its peak position –No. 72 – on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of March of 1967.Whenever it was, the fellows look pretty bored with the proceedings. (And yes, I believe that is Kate Smith introducing the boys.)

That’s it for today. I’m not at all sure what’s going to be in this space tomorrow – I have several ideas, one of which may blossom – but there will be something here. Thanks for stopping by.

Looking For Train Wrecks

May 6, 2022

Originally posted July 7, 2009

Last week, as I was digging through my dad’s records, I shared cover versions of three Beatles songs pulled from the 1968 Reader’s Digest box set Popular Music Hit Parade. I was sure that one of the three – versions of “Michelle,” “Yellow Submarine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Hank Levine Singers and Orchestra – would qualify as the fourth entrant in our Train Wreck Jukebox. (The fifth, if one counts the instrumental B-side of the Swingers’ Bay-Hay Bee Doll.) I invited comments from readers.

As it turned out, only two readers weighed in, but they were long-time visitors Yah Shure and Oldetymer (whose handle I misspelled the other day. Sorry!). And they were in agreement that Levine’s treatment of “Yellow Submarine” was, in fact, a train wreck. I concurred. As I told Yah Shure in a note, not even a dissent written by Antonin Scalia (the best writer on the U.S. Supreme Court, though I rarely agree with his views) would save the track.

I also listed a few of the other covers included in Popular Music Hit Parade, noting that, having never listened to the entire set, I had no idea how difficult they might be to hear. Oldetymer said he wouldn’t mind hearing a few. So we’re going to dig into some 1960s pop hits and the Reader’s Digest covers of them this morning. And we may find a train wreck or two.

The fourth Top 40 hit of Roger Miller’s career was the first one not tabbed a novelty hit by the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Miller’s previous entries in the Top 40 had been “Dang Me” (No. 7) and “Chug-A-Lug (No. 9) in 1964 and “Do-Wacka-Do” (No. 31) in 1965. I’m not entirely sure I’d classify “Dang Me” as a novelty hit; that seems a bit unfair to Miller and the record. In any event, his fourth hit, which reached the Top 40 in February of 1965, was the enduring “King of the Road,” with its wryly happy celebration of the hobo life.

“King of the Road” by Roger Miller, Smash 1965 [1965]

Our Reader’s Digest cover version sounded promising when I cued it up, but I’ll let you decide its fate:

“King of the Road” by Nashville Sounds & Jerry Reed (Guitar) [1968]

Next comes an odd record that was seemingly inescapable for a few weeks. In fact, for one evening, it was literally inescapable. Drawing for some reason on the style of Rudy Vallee’s hits in the 1920s, “Winchester Cathedral” jumped up the charts in November of 1966 and spent three weeks at No. 1. The song was credited to the New Vaudeville Band, which, according to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, didn’t truly exist until after the record went to No. 1. The record was essentially the creation of British songwriter and producer Geoff Stephens, who – after the record hit – scrambled to put together a group of musicians to be the New Vaudeville Band. It didn’t help. “Winchester Cathedral” was the group’s only hit.

And the evening when the record was inescapable? It was New Year’s Eve 1966. As was our custom at the time, Rick and I spent the evening at his place, playing pool and board games and just hanging around. At the same time, one of Rick’s sisters had friends over, as well, and from the record player in those precincts came the strains, repeatedly, of “Winchester Cathedral.”

“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band, Fontana 1562 [1966]

And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of the song:

“Winchester Cathedral” by Marty Paitch & His Orchestra & Chorus [1968]

One of the cheeriest-sounding pop hits of the mid-1960s was the Seekers’ “Georgy Girl,” with its whistling introduction. The tune was the title song from a film starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason, but one wonders from the first line of the film’s description at the Internet Movie Database just how cheery the movie is: “A homely but vivacious young woman dodges the amorous attentions of her father’s middle-aged employer while striving to capture some of the glamorous life of her swinging London roommate.” These days, that sounds like a lawsuit or an addiction – or perhaps both – waiting to happen.

Anyway, the song was quite cheery, and it entered the Top 40 during the last week of 1966, eventually reaching No. 2, the third and final hit for the Seekers. The first two, both in 1965, were “I’ll Never Find Another You,” which went to No. 4, and “A World Of Our Own,” which peaked at No. 19. (Then there was the group called the New Seekers, an offshoot, but that’s a topic for another time.)

“Georgy Girl” by the Seekers, Capitol 5756 [1966]

And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover version with a familiar name in the credits:

“Georgy Girl” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

I’m not sure how frequently these things happen these days, but every once a while during the 1960s, a record that was clearly designed for the middle of the road would take off and find itself in the Top 40, or maybe even the Top 10. When it happened with a Frank Sinatra song – “Strangers In The Night” (No. 1, 1966), “That’s Life” (No. 4, 1966) and “Something Stupid” (No. 1, 1967, with his daughter, Nancy) were the biggest – that was understandable. But Ed Ames? He was the lead singer of the Ames Brothers, who had ten Top 40 hits between 1954 and 1960, with the biggest of them being “The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane,” which went to No. 3 in 1954. And in 1967, Ames had an unlikely No. 8 hit with a song from the off-Broadway musical I Do, I Do.

“My Cup Runneth Over” by Ed Ames, RCA Victor 9002 [1967]

And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of Ames’ hit:

“My Cup Runneth Over” by Bill Lee with Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra [1968]

So there we have them. Let me know if you think there are any train wrecks in here.

Chart Digging: June 17, 1967

June 17, 2011

Looking at the Billboard Top Ten from June 17, 1967 – forty-four years ago today – provides me with a sliver of a memory tied to music and a St. Cloud department store.

But first, that Top Ten:

“Groovin’” by the Young Rascals
“Respect” by Aretha Franklin
“She’d Rather Be With Me” by the Turtles
“Release Me (And Let Me Love Again)” by Engelbert Humperdinck
“Somebody To Love” by the Jefferson Airplane
“Little Bit O’ Soul” by the Music Explosion
“Windy” by the Association
“All I Need” by the Temptations
“I Got Rhythm” by the Happenings
“Mirage” by Tommy James & The Shondells

I’d listen to that radio show. Well, I might go get a sandwich when the Happenings’ tune started coming out of the speakers. I’ve never much cared for their take on the Gershwins’ classic song. The Tommy James tune isn’t as familiar as are others, but during a little bit of listening this morning, it sounded fine. And I imagine some folks might dis the Engelbert Humperdinck record. It’s true that it doesn’t fit in with the rest, but I remember liking it and hearing it more frequently than the others tunes in that list, which likely means it was getting airplay on stations that offered a more middle-of-the-road format.

I also recall “Windy,” and that’s not so much from hearing it on the radio as from a summertime bike ride: Rick and I headed across the Mississippi and into downtown one morning during the summer of 1967, most likely in June. We rode to what essentially was the west end of the shopping district and began to lock our bikes to the bike rack.

And as we did, he asked me, “So, what songs do you like these days?”

I remember hesitating. Not being very plugged into radio, there weren’t a lot of songs I knew, much less knew well enough to like. As I’ve written before, I certainly heard Top 40 radio all around me, but that didn’t mean I was paying much attention. But I could at least throw a title around. “Well, ‘Windy’ is nice,” I said. “I like that one.”

“You liked ‘Georgy Girl,’ didn’t you?” I nodded. I had liked the Seekers’ record when it was getting airplay (and going to No. 2) earlier that year. He said something about my liking songs with girls’ names in the titles, and we walked into the new Tempo department store.

I’m not sure what was there before, maybe a collection of buildings with small businesses. But sometime in the mid-1960s, everything on the block was demolished. And soon enough, construction began on a building that covered half the block. Three quarters or so of the new building was taken up by Tempo, which could be described as a little bit Sears and a little bit Kmart. The other portion of the building was devoted to a Red Owl grocery store.

I’ve always wondered at the combination of Tempo and Red Owl. I’d seen Red Owl stores before. Red Owl was one of two ubiquitous grocery chains in the area in those days. You could head into Lanesboro, into Thief River Falls, into Pipestone, into just about any small to medium-sized city in Minnesota, and there was either a Red Owl or a Super Valu. Maybe both, if the town was big enough or was a regional hub, as St. Cloud was.

And I wondered right from the time Tempo opened back in the mid-1960s why a Red Owl was sharing space with Tempo, a store I’d never heard about. I never knew why until this morning, when I was poking around Wikipedia and learned that  both store chains – Red Owl and Tempo – were owned by Gamble-Skogmo, a “conglomerate of retail chains and other businesses” that at one time was the fifteenth largest retailer in the United States. I’d forgotten about Gambles, which had a store in downtown St. Cloud when I was a kid. (St. Cloud was, in fact, the location of the first Gamble Auto Supply store in 1925, according to Wikipedia.) I don’t suppose Rick or I ever spent any time in Gambles. I don’t recall doing so, and this morning, neither my mom nor I could remember where in downtown the store was located.

But Rick and I headed on into Tempo that June day in 1967, probably just to check out the new store and see if there was anything fun for kids there. We ignored the Red Owl grocery store inside, and we found little to interest us in the Tempo portion of the store.

The building is gone now, as is Gamble-Skogmo, the parent company of Tempo and Red Owl and a good number of other retail chains. (The bare bones story at Wikipedia reads like the story of thousands of companies, with its arc of founding, development, over-reaching and eventual dissolution.) There are, Wikipedia says, two Red Owl grocery stores in existence today, one in LeRoy, Minnesota, and the other in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

A bank building occupies the block now, and though I stop by there regularly, nothing about the bank ever makes me think of “Windy” or “Georgy Girl.”

In The Lower Levels Of The Chart
I’d planned to possibly include “Windy” as one of the featured records in this post, and that would have been okay. But after glancing at the Top Ten, I followed my normal pattern and moved to the bottom of the chart, to see what intriguing things might lie there. And there were riches waiting. In the Bubbling Under section of that chart from June 17, 1967, I found six records that seemed worth of a listen, far more than usual. So I’ll pass on “Windy” in favor of the fun stuff that’s fascinatingly obscure.

The New Vaudeville Band – made up of studio musicians hired by songwriter Geoff Stephens – topped the chart for three weeks in late 1966 with the faux-1920s anthem “Winchester Cathedral.” When the record hit, Stephens put together a group to go on tour, with singer Alan Klein being billed – says Wikipedia – as “Tristam, Seventh Earl of Cricklewood.” Credited thus to “The New Vaudeville Band Featuring Tristam VII,” the single “Finchley Central” was sitting at No. 102. Another faux-1920s/music hall style piece, the record doesn’t quite have the charm of the earlier hit, and it went no higher.

A tale of bystanders ignoring a murder seems an unlikely topic for a single, but that’s the story that Jet Stream’s “All’s Quiet on West 23rd” tells:

Mrs. Applebee pulled down the shade
And retired to her cozy bed

Peter Dennings crossed the street,
Turned his back and just a-shook his head.
Officer Warner, ’round the corner
Sippin’ coffee and a-makin’ time
He never heard the sounds of violence
Emanating from the crime

All’s quiet on West 23rd
Nobody saw, nobody heard

April Stark was in the park
Conducting business from her usual spot
She was witness to what happened
But conveniently forgot
Monty Wheeler, he’s no squealer
He flipped his quarter high into the air
He saw their faces, but told detectives,
“I don’t know nothing, Jack, nor do I care”


Mary’s mother asks the question
“Didn’t anybody hear?
When my daughter cried out ‘Help me!’
Didn’t anybody care?”


Evidently inspired by the 1964 murder in New York City of Kitty Genovese, “All’s Quiet on West 23rd” was the work of Joey Levine, who would make happier tunes in the next few years with the Ohio Express (“Yummy Yummy Yummy”), the 1910 Fruitgum Co.(“Simon Says”), the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus (“Quick Joey Small [Run Joey Run]”) and Reunion (“Life Is A Rock But The Radio Rolled Me”). As gloomy as the topic of the record is, I like the result. The spare production and echoing vocals are effective and reminiscent of the Buffalo Springfield. (I’ve seen some pieces on ’Net claim wrongly that the vocalist is Stephen Stills and that Jet Stream is the Buffalo Springfield recording incognito.) I’m not sure what Levine’s motivation was, but if he was trying to bring attention to the phenomenon of urban indifference, he failed: The record, which was at No. 114 on June 17, 1967, peaked at No. 101.

Whether the record was good or bad, there was no way I could ignore a record by a group calling itself The Lamp of Childhood. As it turned out, “No More Running Around” is pretty good. Sitting at No. 116 in the middle of June, the record was the work of a group organized by musician and songwriter James Hendricks (his songwriting credits include, among many others, the Johnny Rivers’ hit “Summer Rain”), who was – according to the group’s history at Garagehangover – married to Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas. But having a good record wasn’t enough. The single, the last of several released by the band, went no higher.

When looking at a chart from the fabled Summer of Love, a record titled “Groovy Summertime” just begs to be heard. The record, by a studio group called the Love Generation, was sitting at No. 120 and as these things go, is not bad. A little exploitive of pop culture, a little lightweight, but fun. Oddly enough, “Groovy Summertime” did the best on the chart of the six records examined here: It got to No. 74.

Earlier in 1967, the Casinos had reached No. 6 with “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” a classic pop-styled tune (with undertones of doo-wop) that was entirely out of step with the tie-dyed hippie anthems and garage rock growls of the time. (The organ is sweet, though.) A follow-up, “It’s All Over Now,” went only to No. 65, and during mid-June, another follow-up was about to fail, as “How Long Has It Been” came into the chart at No. 121 and was gone a week later. And that’s too bad, as the record plays better to me than the group’s hit, with a tougher, almost Stax-like sound. (And listen once more to the organ in the background!)

Maybe the best of the six records I found digging around for the post was the lowest ranked in that chart of June 17, 1967. “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by the delightfully named Soul Brothers Six was at No. 125. The song is more familiar, no doubt, from the 1975 cover version by Grand Funk, which went to No. 3. But if I had to choose, I’d go with the original, which only got to No. 91: