Posts Tagged ‘Ray Charles’

A Baker’s Dozen From 1961

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 16, 2008

We watched the film The Good Shepherd the other evening, the Matt Damon/Angelina Jolie film about one man’s career in U.S. intelligence, from the OSS to the CIA, from 1940 or so to about 1962. Much of story took place in 1961, with Matt Damon’s character and others in the agency trying to find out who had leaked to the Communists – Russian or Cuban – the plans for a U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

While the film’s story is interesting – lots of historical detail done right, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (I am one of them) – and the acting is impeccable, especially Damon’s, what I found most fascinating was the movie’s portrayal of 1961, the details of a time that stands shrouded in mist at the edge of my memory. The look of the city buses, the household décor, the clothing – for men, women and children – all of it was familiar.

One of the film’s details that struck me was men wearing hats: snap-brim fedoras, panamas, trilbys. I remember watching my dad retrieve his hat from the closet shelf moments before heading out the door each morning. I’ve seen pictures of crowds, usually baseball games, during the 1950s and early 1960s, and nearly every man is wearing a hat. Not a cap, a hat. Modern lore has it that the end of the hat as an essential accessory for men began in 1961, when President John Kennedy delivered his Inaugural address outdoors, bare-headed in Washington’s January chill. The hat as an accessory hung on for a while after that, but – according to those who catalog such things – its remaining time was short.

So much of what I saw of 1961 in The Good Shepherd was familiar, but I really recall very little about the year, which was the year I turned eight. I do remember talk about the Berlin Wall going up in August. What else? Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April, and a month later, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space. In October, Roger Maris hits his 61st home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record by one.

To state the obvious, it was an incredibly different time, and the year’s pop culture reflected that just as much as the events of the year. The top-rated television shows for the season that began in the autumn of 1961 – and yes, there was such a thing as a television season – were:

Wagon Train
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
Hazel
Perry Mason
The Red Skelton Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Danny Thomas Show
Dr. Kildare
Candid Camera

According to Billboard, the year’s top five singles were:

“Tossin’ and Turnin” by Bobby Lewis
“I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline
“Michael” by the Highwaymen
“Cryin’” by Roy Orbison
“Runaway” by Del Shannon

That listing, in some ways, baffles me. The Lewis, Shannon and Highwaymen singles all went to No. 1 during the year, and Orbison’s single went to No. 2. But “I Fall To Pieces” went no higher than No. 12 on the chart during a ten-week stay. I imagine there’s some explanation, but the presence of the Cline record is especially baffling because the second-longest stay at No. 1 during 1961 was the five weeks by Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” which missed the top five. Any chart mavens out there know how that happens?

A few other songs that hit No. 1 for more than a week were: “Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk, “Pony Time” by Chubby Checker, “Surrender” by Elvis Presley, “Blue Moon” by the Marcels, “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson, “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Runaround Sue” by Dion and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens.

And here’s what 1961 sounds like when I listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1961

“Spoonful” by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, Chess single 1771

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit single 632

“Crying in the Rain” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5250

“Voodoo Voodoo” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2119

“One Mint Julep” by Ray Charles, Impulse! single 200

“Catfish Blues” by B.B. King from My Kind Of Blues

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens, RCA single 7954

“Too Much Monkey Business” by Elvis Presley, Flaming Star EP (RCA 128)

“Gypsy Woman” by the Impressions, ABC-Paramount single 10241

“Shake for Me” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1804

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614

“I Done Somebody Wrong” by Elmore James, Fire single 1031

“Honky Tonk, Part II” by Earl Palmer, Liberty single 55356

A few notes:

“Spoonful” came from the pen of Chess studio legend Willie Dixon and was first recorded and released as a single in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf. Five years after James and Fuqua released their version, the English trio Cream recorded it on Fresh Cream and it became a performance staple for the group, with live versions often going longer than fifteen minutes.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh writes: “‘It Will Stand’ was . . . a boldly defiant stroke. Asserting that rock and roll was great was one thing, but this song actually implied that rock would last because it had meaning. This was far from Danny & the Juniors’ declaration of three years earlier that ‘Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay’ because Danny and the boys explicitly declared that they didn’t know why. [Lead singer General] Johnson’s faith was deeper and his record is an anthem that will last as long as rock and roll is heard.” As to General Johnson, he showed up at least once in the Top 40 – “It Will Stand” went to No. 62 –as the lead singer for the Chairmen of the Board in 1970 when “Give Me Just A Little More Time” went to No. 3.

The Ray Charles single, “One Mint Julep” must have some kind of story behind it. It’s one of two regular singles – according to the generally accurate website Soulful Kinda Music – that Charles released on the Impulse! label, evidently between his stays at Atlantic and at ABC-Paramount. The flip side of “One Mint Julep” was “Let’s Go,” and the other single – also in 1961 – was Impulse! 2002, with “I’ve Got News For You”/“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.” In addition, there was a DJ promo release of “One Mint Julep.”

Latter-day listeners might be more familiar with other versions of at least two of the songs here. In 1970, Brian Hyland had a No. 3 hit with his cover of “Gypsy Woman.” And fans of blues artists John Hammond might recognize Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” from Hammond’s 1969 album Southern Fried. (Legend Duane Allman sat in on four tracks from Southern Fried, including “Shake For Me.”)

I’ve wondered for years as to whether Earl Palmer’s record is titled “Honky Tonk Part II” or “Honky Tonk Part 11,” as the letters on the record label sure like like a pair of 1’s to me. Or it could be “Honky Tonk Part 1” with a mistaken extra digit. I’ve gone with the Roman numeral here. It’s not something I’ve lost a lot of sleep about, but whenever I see the 45, I wonder. This is one of those 45s I’ve had likely since it came out, when my sister would occasionally come home from the record store with a bag of ten 45s for $1.25 or something like that.*

*The single is clearly “Honky Tonk Part II,” and I knew that. My comment was a lame attempt at typographical humor, as the title mistakently uses Arabic numerals and reads “Honky Tonk Part 11” instead of “Honky Tonk Part II.” Note added June 4, 2011.

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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 1984

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 19, 2007

Well, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984 here in Minnesota.

Oh, not George Orwell’s 1984, although I could chatter politics for some time and I do have my societal concerns. No, the 1984 I have in mind is Les Steckel’s 1984.

“Les Who?” I hear many of you mutter out there in the cyberworld. ”What record did he release? Did it make the Top 40?”

I’ve mentioned at times my passion for spectator sports. I follow most of the major sports fairly closely, with the exception of professional basketball. I watch a little of that, but not nearly with the regularity or interest with which I follow baseball, football and hockey. Of them all, my favorite sport and team – as measured by the emotional impact of the team’s performance – is professional football and the Minnesota Vikings. And as we sit just past the middle of September, with the autumnal equinox four days away, the NFL season is two games old, and it feels like 1984.

That was the year that Les Steckel took over for the retired Bud Grant as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and promptly led the Vikings to a 3-13 record. It wasn’t the worst season in the team’s history; in 1962, the team’s second season, was a hair worse at 2-11-1. And the uninspiring performance of the team in its first two games this season and the seeming disconnect from reality of the coaching staff (insisting on starting a second-year quarterback who is clearly not capable, right now, of playing that key position well enough to win) leaves me feeling like it’s 1984 all over again. I may be wrong, and I’d like to be wrong. But I think it’s going to be a long season here in the land of longboats and horns.

Luckily for me, in 1984, I was unable to see the vast majority of the Vikings’ games, as I was in graduate school in Missouri. That means that I watched the St. Louis Cardinals (still a few years from their flight to the Arizona desert), who were 9-7, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 8-8. The only Vikings game I saw all season was their 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay in early November when I was visiting some friends in northwestern Iowa.

Other than the Vikings’ performance, 1984 was a pretty good year. Grad school was fun and challenging, and I had a good nucleus of friends with whom to spend the free time I had. Nothing particularly stands out about the year, which is good, in retrospect. It was a quiet time. One thing I do recall is my stunned admiration in January when Apple announced the introduction of the Macintosh with a legendary commercial during the Super Bowl.

And here’s a Baker’s Dozen from a quiet year:

“Valotte” by Julian Lennon, Atlantic single 89609

“Countdown to Love” by Greg Phillinganes from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Crow Jane” by Sonny Terry from Whoopin’

“Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Columbia single 04715

“Jungle Sweep” by Jimmie Spheeris from Spheeris

“Daddy Said” by Nanci Griffith from Once In A Very Blue Moon

“We Belong” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 42826

“On the Wings of a Nightingale” by the Everly Brothers, Mercury single 880213

“Bobby Jean” by Bruce Springsteen from Born in the U.S.A.

“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan from Real Live

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141

“If This Is It” by Huey Lewis & the News, Chrysalis single 4283

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Julian Lennon single isn’t much of a record to me, even though it reached No. 9 on the charts; I preferred his “Much Too Late For Goodbye,” which went to No. 5 early in 1985. As far as Julian himself goes, I tend to agree with the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which notes that the younger Lennon should be “commended for daring even to whisper after the echo of his formidable father.”

At the time Streets of Fire came out, I was writing occasional movie reviews for the Columbia Missourian, and I gave the film a pretty good review, based partly on the film itself and partly on the music. I looked at the movie a few years ago, and it has not aged well; it seems silly now. But the music is still pretty good, if maybe not to everyone’s taste. The Greg Phillinganes track, “Countdown to Love,” is a sprightly doo-woppy piece, while “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” was one of two bombastic Jim Steinman productions used in the movie, kind of a Great Wall of Sound production that featured, among others, Roy Bittan of the E Street Band on piano. Overblown, yes, but fun.

“Jungle Sweep” is from the album that Jimmie Spheeris completed work on hours before he was killed by a drunk driver on July 4, 1984. It was released by Sony in 2000 but was pulled back by the company shortly after that.

The Everly Brothers’ track was the single from their album EB ’84, a pretty good reunion album. The single was written and produced by Paul McCartney.

A Baker’s Dozen On Atlantic

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2007

I had an album ripped and ready to go this morning, but as I was researching it, I learned that it is no longer out of print; it’s been re-released on CD. That’s a boundary I try to keep, not posting entire albums that are in print, so I ditched the rip I had planned.

Then I sat there and looked at the pile of albums I have in my “To Rip” pile. I sneezed a few times, as there is some kind of pollen roaming around right now that does not like me. I looked at my list of household chores waiting for me. And I decided I’d move my Baker’s Dozen from Wednesday to today and let Wednesday worry about itself when we get there.

So, without any back story or anything else, here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while: A random Baker’s Dozen of singles on the Atlantic label. If I had more energy, I’d write about the Atlantic label, but I really don’t think I need to go into detail about the influence and importance of the label to American popular music. If you’re unfamiliar with the label and its history, there are any number of useful anthologies available with pretty good liner notes. (A note: In my filing system, if I have an entire album in the RealPlayer, then all songs from that album are listed under the album name, even those that were released as singles. So some favorites won’t have a chance to pop up.)

So let’s see what we get:

“It Tears Me Up” by Percy Sledge, Atlantic 2358, 1966

“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2909, 1972

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John, Atlantic 2846, 1972

“Since I Met You, Baby” by Ivory Joe Hunter, Atlantic 1111, 1956

“Whatcha Gonna Do” by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, Atlantic 1055, 1955

“I Don’t Care Anymore” by Phil Collins, Atlantic 89877, 1983

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris, Atlantic 3248, 1975

“Too Weak To Fight” by Clarence Carter, Atlantic 2569, 1969

“You’ll Never Change” by Bettye LaVette, Atlantic 2198, 1962

“Drown In My Own Tears” by Ray Charles, Atlantic 1085, 1956

“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals, Atlantic 2493, 1968

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA, Atlantic 3372, 1977

“See Saw” by Aretha Frankilin, Atlantic 2574, 1968

A few notes on the songs:

One surprise here is Wilson Pickett’s version of “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” the Randy Newman tune that Three Dog Night took to No. 1 in 1970, two years before Pickett recorded it. It seems an odd choice for Pickett, but keep in mind that he also recorded “Hey Jude” not long after the Beatles released it and nailed it.

Robert John’s version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” pales when compared to the Tokens’ 1961 version, which was itself a revision of a recording by the early folk group the Weavers. The Weavers, in turn, had gotten the song from a recording by African Artist Miriam Makeba. The song’s origins, according to Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul, date to the 1930s, and the chain from Makeba to Robert John is a modern version of the way folk music used to evolve from region to region and from era to era.

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” the Major Harris tune with its racy-for-the-times cooing and moaning ran here a while back in a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. But it’s too much fun not to run it again.

I won’t say it was the first time I ever heard the recording, but the first time I really paid any attention to Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You, Baby” was when I heard it in the soundtrack to the 1987 movie The Big Town. Set in a mythical late 1950s, the movie – starring Matt Dillon and Diane Lane – is a noir-ish tale of a young gambler come to the big city with all its perils. The soundtrack, which featured Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash, the Drifters, Little Willie John and a few others Fifties artists, was superb.

ABBA’s music is often derided as “just pop.” Well, it may be pop, but it’s great pop, and there are few moments in 1970s music as recognizable as the gorgeous piano glissando that kicks off “Dancing Queen”!