Posts Tagged ‘Ronettes’

Waiting In The Training Room

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 27, 2009

Come the spring of 1969, I was in demand as an athletic manager at St. Cloud Tech. The baseball coach asked if I was interested in helping out his team, and the track manager wondered if I wanted to work with his distance runners.

I was years away from becoming truly interested in baseball, and my sister’s high school boyfriend had run track. I’d enjoyed watching the meets, so I went with track as a manager for the distance runners.

It was a choice I regretted almost immediately. The coaches decided my role as manager that spring was to wait in the training room – tucked to the side of the varsity locker room – and maintain the primitive whirlpool tub for those runners who thought they needed it after finishing their distance runs. Every afternoon during what I remember as a beautiful spring, I sat in the training room and – most of the time – waited.

As the runners came back in, some would settle themselves in the whirlpool tub and others would gather in the training room, and they’d share jest and japes and ribald jokes. Sometimes they included me; sometimes not. I was, after all, only a sophomore.

I didn’t even get to go the meets, as there were always distance runners who were not varsity-level, and they did their practice runs around town as the meets went on. And I was required to have the whirlpool available for them when they finished their practice runs.

As I waited, I read. But sometimes, I’d tire of even that, and I’d sit there in the otherwise empty locker room and training room, wishing I were sitting in a dugout on a ball field somewhere. And I didn’t even have a radio.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, April 26, 1969)
“Do Your Thing” by the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Warner Bros. 7250 (No. 11)
“Hot Smoke and Sassafras” by the Bubble Puppy, Int’l. Artists 128 (No. 28)
“Grazing in the Grass” by the Friends of Distinction, RCA Victor 0107 (No. 36)
“Wishful, Sinful” by the Doors, Elektra 45656 (No. 44)
“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill/ABC 4187 (No. 66)
“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” by the Ronettes, A&M 1040 (No. 108)

The only one of these I recall hearing at the time is the Friends of Distinction record. Having posted Hugh Masekela’s instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass” a little more than a week ago, I couldn’t pass up the chance to offer the Friends’ vocal cover of the tune, which flies off into a much more rapid tempo. I still love the “I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it” bridge. I wonder how many takes it took to nail that? The record was on its way up the chart on April 26, having jumped to No. 36 from No. 65 the week before. It would peak at No. 3.

“Do Your Thing,” which hit its peak in the April 26 chart, is about as funky as Top 40 ever got, I think. Well, maybe Parliament/Funkadelic and James Brown, but “Do Your Thing” is certainly in the conversation. The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band was an eight-man group from the Watts section of Los Angeles brought together by Charles Wright, who hailed from Clarksdale, Mississippi. This was the first of three Top 40 singles for the group; the others – “Love Land” and “Express Yourself,” which went to No. 16 and No. 12, respectively, in 1970 – were credited to Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.

Bubble Puppy was a quartet from Houston, Texas, whose psychedelic garage-rocker “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” had peaked at No. 14 in March and was sliding its way back down the chart. Latter-day explorers into the music of 1969 might expect to find the record to be a slice of sunshine pop based on the group’s cutesy name. Nah. “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” rocks pretty well.

The Doors’ “Wishful, Sinful” is an intriguing listen from this distance, maybe better today than I recall it being. The follow-up to “Touch Me,” which had reached No. 3 in February 1969, “Wishful, Sinful” just missed the Top 40, sitting at No. 44 for two weeks. The next week it was at No. 45 and then it tumbled out of sight. I don’t know that I heard it during the spring of 1969; I recall it more clearly from my first year of college, when one of my friends played the Doors’ The Soft Parade at least daily in his dorm room.

Every once in a while, as the Grass Roots’ songs came out of the radio speakers, I’d wonder: Who are those guys? Even if I’d had the resources – and the inclination – to dig, it would have been hard to know, says All-Music Guide, “because there were at least three different groups involved in the making of the songs identified as being by ‘the Grass Roots.’” You can read at AMG the tangled history of P.F. Sloan, Steve Barri, the Bedouins, the 13th Floor and other musicians that fell in and out of the tale of the Grass Roots. What’s left behind is some of the best pop-rock of the Top 40 era, fourteen Top 40 hits from “Where Were You When I Needed You” (No. 28 in 1966) to “The Runaway” (No. 39 in 1972). The highest charting Grass Roots’ single was “Midnight Confession,” which went to No. 5 in 1968. “The River Is Wide,” which is one of my favorites, was one of the less-successful singles, only reaching No. 31.

I don’t know a lot about “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” by the Ronettes. In the notes to Back to Mono, the 1991 Phil Spector box set, the single is listed as being recorded in February 1969. That’s the last mention of the Ronettes and the last month covered by the box set. (Two singles come after “You Came . . .” in the set: “Black Pearl” and “Love Is All I Have To Give” by Sonny Charles & the Checkmates, but they, too, are listed only as being recorded in February.) The April 26 chart was the fourth and final time that the record was listed in the “Bubbling Under the Hot 100,” and I’m wondering two things: Were the sessions that created the record the last time that Spector worked with the Ronettes? And was this the last appearance of the Ronettes on a Billboard chart? (I would guess caithiseach has the answers, if he’ll be kind enough to share.)*

*I still do not know if this was the last time the Ronettes worked with Phil Spector, but I do know that, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” was in fact the final chart appearance for the Ronettes. Note added June 20, 2012.

A Tale Of Shelves And A Saw

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 12, 2008

My dad, along with being an educator, was a craftsman. His undergraduate degree was in industrial arts, which he’d hoped to teach in a high school. Biding his time until there was a teaching position open somewhere near St. Cloud, he returned to the campus of St. Cloud Teachers College – now St. Cloud State University – after he graduated. (Family lore says it was the next day, but I’m not certain.) He took what was expected to be a temporary position and wound up retiring thirty-three years later from St. Cloud State as an assistant professor of learning resources. He never taught industrial arts.

But he put his industrial arts training and experience to good use, doing a lot of the maintenance on our home – painting, minor electrical work, some carpentry and more – when I was a kid and in the years after I was grown. One of his major projects was turning half the basement into a rec room when I was in junior high. Local contractors installed wall studs, electrical outlets and carpet, and Dad took it from there, wrestling paneling into place and nailing it to the studs, measuring and installing a hanging ceiling with its tiles, and all the rest, creating a room that was a haven for my sister and me and our friends during our teen years and later.

Along the way, Dad gathered together an immense collection of tools and equipment, and when we cleared out the place on Kilian after he died, some of it came my way: his Montgomery Wards tool chest – much larger and better stocked than the rudimentary toolbox with which I’ve been making do over the years – and some additional tools, including a power drill, a power sander and an electric sabre saw.

Power tools, for some reason, have always scared me – a lot. I’m not sure why. The only one I’d ever used was a borrowed power drill to install a set of mini-blinds about ten years ago, and even that small drill made me uneasy. I’ve never done a lot of carpentry or other work requiring tools, anyway. During the mid-1980s, I did design and build some simple bookcases, but that’s been about the limit of my work. And I did those jobs with handsaws and hand tools.

This week, as I was installing my well-traveled brick and board bookcase in the study, I realized I was going to put more records on it than ever before, so it would need more support, a column of bricks in the center of the shelves to match the columns at the ends of the shelves. I wandered around town yesterday and managed to find three additional large patio blocks that matched the ones I’d bought almost twenty years ago. (The sales agent at the masonry yard was disappointed I didn’t need more of them; he wanted to clear as many of the antiquated blocks from his storage as he could.) And the guys at the lumberyard gladly cut the additional pieces of wood plank I needed to put on my shelves under the new blocks to extend the blocks’ height so the shelves would accommodate LPs.

But I could not find one piece I required, another foot, as it were: a masonry piece to put on the floor, centered under the first shelf, that would match the height of the two thick masonry pieces that held up the ends of that first shelf. As I left the masonry yard and headed home with three bricks, six wood pieces to put under the bricks and more than six feet of extra wood, I realized that three thicknesses of that extra wood plank would equal the thickness of the two masonry pieces already serving as feet. All I had to do was saw off three pieces of the extra board I got at the lumberyard, and I could stack those pieces for the missing foot.

So after hauling everything inside, I took the extra board down to the rudimentary workbench left by earlier residents of the house, where I’d installed Dad’s toolbox and the other things that had been his. With the measuring tape, I marked off three lengths of five inches, and then I grabbed a saw and got to work. It went slowly, of course. And a third of the way into the first cut, I stopped. In a box on the shelf, I realized, was the sabre saw.

I shuddered a little, thinking of the mayhem a potential mishap could cause. Once I shooed the cats upstairs and closed the door, I got out the sabre saw and plugged it in. Wanting to get a sense of how it felt before I applied it to wood, I tentatively turned it on, then off. And then I got busy. A few minutes later, I had the three pieces of board I needed. I put the saw back in its box and the box back on the shelf, and I swept up the sawdust, honestly trembling a little.

A few hours later, the revamped shelves were up and loaded: three shelves of records topped by a shelf of books. The three inexpertly cut pieces of wood are hidden under the first shelf. I don’t know when I might next have an occasion to use the sabre saw. But now I know I can if I have to.

A Baker’s Dozen of Saws
“The Last Time I Saw Richard” by Joni Mitchell from Blue, 1971

“When I Saw You” by the Ronettes, Philles single 133, 1964

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic single 2864, 1972

“I Saw Her Again” by the Mamas & the Papas, Dunhill single 4031, 1966

“I Saw The Light” by Mason Proffit from Bare Back Rider, 1972

“Ride My See-Saw” by the Moody Blues from In Search of the Lost Chord, 1968

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” by the Neon Philharmonic from The Moth Confesses, 1969

“See Saw” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2574, 1968

“Jigsaw Puzzle of Life” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle, 1975

“Junior Saw It Happen” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future, 1968

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls, Bell single 1254 (UK?), 1972

“I Saw It On T.V.” by John Fogerty from Centerfield, 1985

“Crosscut Saw” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967

A few notes:

This is mostly a random selection. The only song I chose was the closer, Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” because it seemed appropriate.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was omnipresent during early 1972. Originally recorded for Flack’s First Take album in 1969, the song – written by British folksinger Ewan MacColl – was used as background music in Clint Eastwood’s film Play Misty For Me, which came out in late 1971. After that, Atlantic trimmed about a minute from the track and issued it as a single. The record entered the Top 40 in March and spent six weeks at No. 1, eventually earning Flack and MacColl Grammy awards for, respectively, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Bare Back Rider was the second and final major label release from Mason Proffit, one of the best bands never to make it big. In its review of Bare Back Rider, All-Music Guide notes: “You’d have thought that music this impressive could get a hearing, but Mason Proffit appeared at a time when music fans were more polarized than musicians, not only by music but by politics and culture. Despite the band’s evident affection for traditional country music, their left-wing political stance and status as hippie rock musicians meant they could never be accepted in Nashville. And their music was too overtly country for them to score a pop hit. Thus, they were doomed to appeal only on the country-rock-oriented Los Angeles club scene and to some music critics.”

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” is a nice bit of trippy pop from the Neon Philharmonic, better known for the same album’s “Morning Girl,” a sweet coming-of-age single that went to No. 17 in the spring and summer of 1969. The Neon Philharmonic, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a chamber-sized orchestra of Nashville City Orchestra musicians. Tupper Saussy did the writing and Don Gant handled the vocals. Bonus points for rhyming “restaurant” and “debutante.”

The McGarrigle sisters show up here now and then, and every time they do, especially when it’s a track from 1975’s Kate & Anna McGarrigle, I think back to the first time I read or heard about them, in the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide: “Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, they suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies can be dazzling.” Were/are they that good? Yes.

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls is a cover (from the United Kingdom, I believe; anyone know?) of the Ronettes’ version, which was released as a single on A&M in 1969. The Pearls’ version is not bad, but the echo on the record is a faint whisper of the echo in the Ronettes’ single, which itself was a faint whisper of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that made them famous.

The Ronettes, Muddy Waters & Aretha

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 26, 2008

Did some YouTubing and found a not-so-great video of the Ronettes’ “You Baby,” but I did find a pretty good video from 1965 of the gals on Shindig, peforming what I think is their best song of all (and one of the great singles in rock & roll history), “Be My Baby.”

This intrigues me because the backing obviously isn’t the same as on the record; does that mean it was the Shindogs playing and Ronnie Bennett was singing live? Then why don’t the other two girls have microphones? Anyone know how this all went down?

I dipped into the Muddy Waters stuff and found this performance of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” It was evidently televised, based on the bug in the upper right corner of the screen, and from the clothing and Waters’ appearance, I’d guess it was sometime in the Seventies. It’s a pretty good look at Waters.

Video deleted

And here’s Aretha Franklin doing “Baby, I Love You” in a clip that appears to have come from a television show about 1967, when the song was on the charts.

Video deleted

Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1964

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 12, 2007

As 1964 dawned, we were in a new world, one that we weren’t sure we liked very much. It had been just more than a month since President Kennedy was killed, and we were still getting used to seeing the somewhat stern visage of Lyndon Johnson, the new president, in places like the post office and other federal buildings. There had been a month of mourning for John Kennedy, a period that ended just before Christmas. I recall a sense of sadness, of course, but along with that, I recall among the grownups in my life what seemed to be a wariness, an uneasiness at what might come next, considering that something so unthinkable had already happened.

So 1964 felt like an alien land. In my fifth-grade classroom, we had the morning Minneapolis Tribune delivered, and I – already being a news junkie – tried to get into the classroom early enough each day to take a look at it. (At home, we subscribed to the Minneapolis Star, the evening paper from the same company that, sadly, was merged into the morning paper about twenty-five years ago.) One morning, the front page of the Trib showed a picture of a dignified woman, and the headline told me that she – Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine – had announced her intention of running for president. When the other kids came into the room, the headline caused such a commotion that the front page of the newspaper was ripped into several pieces. Unhappy with us, Mr. Lydeen stood by his desk at the back of the room and held the pieces of the paper up, then dropped the entire newspaper into the wastebasket. If it happened again, he said, the room would quit getting the paper.

Other things in the news in 1964 included the New York World’s Fair, which took place at a location with the giggle-inducing name of Flushing Meadows. (My pals and I were ten, okay?) Among the exhibits I recall wanting to see were the audioanimatronic dinosaurs – created by the Disney organization – in, I think, the Ford display, and the Pietà, the Michelangelo sculpture carefully shipped across the Atlantic from Vatican City for its own pavilion at the fair. (I finally saw the dinosaurs – or their electronic descendants – during a 1980s trip to Disneyland and was not impressed; on the other hand, when I saw the Pietà in its home in St. Peter’s Basilica, I was overwhelmed.)

The over-riding sense of the New York World’s Fair from a distance, as I recall, was the shining tomorrow that it promised to all the world, a promise that has not been well kept. We do have technological marvels aplenty in our portion of the world. But the future we have found is one that glitters far less than the one we were told would arrive. Forget about flying cars and elevated monorail service and automated kitchens. There are still too many people in the world – the United Nations says the total is more than a billion, according to Wikipedia – who lack safe drinking water.

It was in 1964 when President Johnson started what he called the War on Poverty, and it was that summer when three civil rights workers – Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman – were killed in Mississippi while doing field work for the Congress of Racial Equality. The first major protests against the Vietnam War took place in New York and San Francisco in May. I remember being baffled by all of it, not realizing that the world was beginning to baffle the grownups around me as well.

And then there was the music, which was going through changes of its own. As readers likely know, the Beatles came to the U.S. for the first time in February of that year, sparking what has come to be called the British Invasion. In April, the Beatles held the top five spots on Billboard’s Top 40 chart, a feat never seen before or since. (The songs were, in order, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.”) And by the end of the year, British acts dominated American pop charts.

There was still some fine music being recorded and performed here, of course, but it became increasingly difficult for it to dent the charts. For many blues and R&B performers, that increasing difficulty was simply a continuation of a trend that had started in the 1950s (although the success of acts on Motown and Stax and related labels was growing). So 1964 was a year of transition in the music world as well as in the world in general.

Here, then, is a Baker’s Dozen from that year:

“Smokestack Lightning” by Manfred Mann from The Manfred Mann Album

“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” by Jimmy Witherspoon from Blue Spoon

“Spanish Harlem Incident” by Bob Dylan from Another Side of Bob Dylan

“When You Walk In The Room” by the Searchers, Kapp single 618

“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” by the Yardbirds, Columbia single DB 7391 (UK)

“I Live the Life I Love” by John Hammond from Big City Blues

“(The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up” by the Ronettes, Philles single 120

“Sweet Home Chicago” by David “Honeyboy” Edwards, unreleased session

“Hold Me Tight” by the Treasures, Shirley single 500

“Slow Down” by the Beatles, Capitol single 5255

“The Girls On The Beach” by the Beach Boys from All Summer Long

“Airmobile” by Tim Hardin from Columbia sessions, unreleased.

“Maybelline” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66056

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Smokestack Lightning,” from the same album that included the marvelous “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” is not as nifty as one would like. Manfred Mann’s band was capable of doing some fine blues work, and did so elsewhere on the album. But “Smokestack Lightning” is too obviously based on Howlin’ Wolf’s extraordinary performance from 1956.

The album Another Side of Bob Dylan found Dylan in transition, shifting in his subject matter from public to personal concerns but still presenting the material as folk songs. The songs on the record – “Spanish Harlem Incident” in particular – would not sound out of place had they been recorded as rock songs and placed with the material Dylan would release in the next year on Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited.

The Honeyboy Edwards session was produced, I believe, by Pete Welding and leased to Sun Records, which chose not to release it. Edwards’ performance of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” is solid but not particularly revelatory. It becomes more interesting when one realizes that Edwards, born in 1915 and still alive today, is likely the only surviving person who performed with Johnson and also likely the only living person who was present that night at the Three Forks Store when Johnson was poisoned.

The Treasures were two Phil Spector associates, Vinnie Poncina and Peter Andreoli. After visiting England in 1963 and sharing a plane with the Beatles in February 1964 – according to All-Music Guide – Spector decided to cover one of the Fab Four’s songs. He chose “Hold Me Tight,” and came up with this wonderful mixture of British pop, doo-wop and the Wall of Sound.

The other Phil Spector production here, the Ronettes’ “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up,” was the third Ronettes single to hit the Top 40, reaching No. 39 in May, just three months after the Beatles and the other Brits began to make chart life difficult for American pop artists. The Ronettes would have two more records on the charts in 1964 – reaching No. 34 with “Do I Love You?” and No. 23 with “Walking In The Rain” – but nothing in the Top 40 after that.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1965

April 25, 2011

Originally posted July 11, 2007

A quick look at the list of songs from 1965 that are on the RealPlayer puts me back in seventh grade art class at South Junior High. It was, I think, the first hour of the school day, and our teacher, Mrs. Villalta, allowed us to play the radio quietly on those days when we were actually working on art projects.

I sat at the table in the very front of the room, reserved for the folks whose last names begin with letters from the start of the alphabet. My table companions were Mark and Bernie on my right – strangers who had attended elementary school elsewhere in the city – and Brad on my left, another stranger, as he was a newcomer to town. But at least Brad rode the same bus as I did; he and his mom and brother lived in the mobile home park up the street from where I lived. It was Brad who would be my companion for the rest of the year in my pursuit of all things related to James Bond.

So we sat there at the front table, the four of us, none particularly gifted in art although Brad’s papier-mâché kangaroo was pretty good; it was one of the art works selected for display on a night when parents visited. But we were lucky in that we were closest to the radio and could thus hear everything, even the softer songs.

One of those was Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey,” a record that my sister happened to own and that I thus knew. Otherwise, on those days the radio played, I was in mostly foreign territory, at least until repetition made even previously unknown music incredibly familiar. Among the songs we heard were the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full Of Soul,” the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off Of My Cloud,” the Beatles’ “Michelle,” the Beau Brummels’ “Laugh Laugh,” and two songs by Roger Miller: “King of the Road” and “England Swings.”

Very little of it was stuff I listened to at home. Oh, I owned the Sonny & Cher album with “I Got You Babe” on it, and I had a Herman’s Hermits album that I’d gotten for my birthday. In addition, my sister and I shared custody of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol Records assembled by slicing a few tracks off of the group’s albums as they were released in the United Kingdom and then adding some EP and 45 tracks, creating a mish-mash of songs. My sister owned a few albums that I heard on occasion, as well.

So I was hearing a small amount pop and rock music at home, along with the Al Hirt and Herb Alpert instrumentals and the John Barry film scores I routinely listened to. I’m not sure I was all that fond of the rock and pop I heard as I fumbled my way through my art projects, but I do recall a moment one day when the four of us at the front table were concentrating on our art but also happened to hear Roger Miller’s whistling introduction to one of his hits. And we all sang along with Roger under our breath: “England swings like a pendulum do, bobbies on bicycles two by two . . .”

We all stopped – our singing and our work on our projects both – and stared at each other for a moment. Our laughter was loud enough to draw a look from Mrs. Villalta. And then we turned back to our art projects, our heads bobbing in time to Roger Miller’s music.

I was disappointed that “England Swings” didn’t come up on today’s random Baker’s Dozen from 1965.

“Paradise” by the Ronettes, unreleased, Gold Star Studios, Los Angeles, October

“She Belongs To Me” by Bob Dylan from Bringing It All Back Home

“Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 354

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!

“I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, Atco single 6359

“I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits, MGM single 13367

“Midnight Special” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial special 66087

“She’s Better Than You” by James Carr, Goldwax single 119

“Stop! In The Name Of Love” by the Supremes, Motown single 1074

“It Only Costs A Dime” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5628

“See See Rider” by the Chambers Brothers at the Newport Folk Festival

“Mountain of Love” by Billy Stewart, Chess single 1948

“Sweet Mama” by Fred Neil, unreleased alternate take (Bleecker & MacDougal sessions)

Some notes on some of the songs:

I’m not sure why the Ronettes’ “Paradise” went unreleased. It’s a classic of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound genre. Perhaps with the advent of the Beatles and other bands of the various waves of the British Invasion, Spector decided to cut his losses. He did release the Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get For Loving You?” as a single in 1965, but it failed to make the Top 40. To my ears, “Paradise” is a better song and record.

“Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” was evidently the first single released by the Los Angeles band the Seeds. Listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits as a “psychedelic” band, the group’s sound here is more that of the garage than of an expanding cosmic consciousness. The Seeds would hit the lower level of the charts – No. 36 – with “Pushin’ Too Hard” in 1966.

Mercy!, the source of the Don Covay track “I’ll Be Satisfied,” was Covay’s first album, pushed out rapidly by Atlantic Records after the success of the single “Mercy, Mercy” on the charts. Credited to Don Covay & the Goodtimers, the single reached No. 35 on the pop chart. Even though the rest of the album was at least as good as the single had been, nothing else clicked, and Covay’s next pop chart success wouldn’t come until 1973, when “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In” reached No. 29. (Lack of pop chart success, of course, does not necessarily correlate with lack of quality; those in search of some good 1960s R&B could do lots worse than to check out Covay’s body of work.)

The late Sonny Bono learned his studio craft, of course, assisting Phil Spector, and when it came time for him to put what he’d learned to use on the records he made with Cher, Bono showed that he’d learned well. It’s not quite the Wall of Sound, but the production behind the vocals fills the empty spaces nicely. And Bono (as did Spector) had great taste in drummers: Listen to the fills throughout the record but especially near the end. According to the album credits, that’s either Frank Capp, Earl Palmer or Hal Blaine. But my money’s on Blaine.

Fred Neil is better known as the composer of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which was recorded by Harry Nilsson for his 1968 album Aerial Ballet. Nilsson then re-recorded the song for the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy.

Chart Digging: Late October 1966

October 28, 2010

My ongoing tussle with a nasty sinus infection – eight weeks and counting with two different antibiotics – reminded me today of a couple of school years when I spent a fair amount of time home ill: During eighth grade, my tonsils kept telling the world that they were no longer fit company for me, burdening me with a series of sore throats that culminated in the sorest throat of all after they were removed. And during my junior year, I spent a fair number of days home complaining of ailments that – looking back honestly – were likely caused by nothing more than a desire to stay home from school.

Whatever the cause, radio was one of the comforts during sick days at home. In the earlier of the two academic years mentioned here, I’d bring our big brown Zenith up from the kitchen and – unhip creature that I was – leave it tuned to WCCO in Minneapolis. I’d listen to the morning shows – Boone & Erickson, Howard Viken – and turn the radio off in annoyance when Arthur Godfrey’s national show came on the air. I’d read in silence for an hour and then turn the radio back on when Godfrey was gone.

By the time of my junior year, there was no need to haul the radio upstairs. I had Grandpa’s old RCA sitting on my nightstand, but the only times it was tuned to WCCO were for Vikings football and North Stars hockey. (Though I followed the Minnesota Twins baseball team, I rarely listened to their games on the radio.) The rest of the time, the RCA was tuned to Top 40: KDWB in the Twin Cities during the day and either WJON right across the railroad tracks or WLS in Chicago during the evening.

I know pretty well what I would have heard had I spent a day home in late October 1969, my junior year. But I wondered what would have been on the menu had my increasingly unreliable tonsils acted up during the last week of October 1966. So I went to look.

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten for the last week of October 1966:

“96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians
“Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees
“Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops
“Poor Side of Town” by Johnny Rivers
“Walk Away Renee” by the Left Banke
“Dandy” by Herman’s Hermits
“What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” by Jimmy Ruffin
“Hooray for Hazel” by Tommy Roe
“Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow” by the Rolling Stones
“See See Rider” by Eric Burdon & The Animals

Even though I didn’t truly listen to pop music at the time, I remember all of these from those days, which is a sad thing in the cases of “Dandy” and “Hooray for Hazel,” two of my least-favorite songs from the time. All of the rest are pretty good, with a few deserving special mention: “96 Tears” was inescapable and a great record, as were the Four Tops’ record and “Walk Away Renee.” The Rolling Stones record was likely the loudest thing that group ever produced, as I was reminded a few years ago when I ripped my near-mint 45 to an mp3.

And, as always, there were some gems and some interesting records once one went beyond the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66’s “Mas Que Nada” was sitting at No. 47, up two spots from a week earlier. The group would eventually have three Top 40 hits in 1968, with two them – “The Look of Love” and “The Fool on the Hill” – making the Top Ten, and Mendes would reach the Top 40 in 1983 and 1984 under his own name. “Mas Que Nada” would spend another week at No. 47, then a week at No. 48 before falling out of the Hot 100.

The Sandpipers had reached the Top Ten earlier in the year with “Guantanamera,” which had peaked at No. 9, and in October, they reached the Top 40 again with another Latin-tinged record, a cover of the garage rock warhorse “Louie Louie” translated into Spanish. At first listen a tribute to cognitive dissonance, the record was at No. 59 during the last week of October and would peak at No. 30 during the last week of November.

A few slots lower, we find the Olympics, an R&B group from Compton, California, which reached the Top Ten in 1958 with “Western Movies” and the Top 40 in 1963 with “The Bounce.” (Recording as the Marathons in 1961, the same performers charted at No. 20 with “Peanut Butter” and its immortal command: “Scarf now!”) In October 1966, the group was at No. 63 with “Baby, Do The Philly Dog,” a lively workout that I’ve seen called a Northern Soul classic. “Baby, Do The Philly Dog” fell to No. 70 the next week and then dropped out of sight.

The Arbors were a vocal quartet from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who would reach the Top 40 in 1969, when their cover of the Box Tops’ “The Letter” would go to No. 20. In late October 1966, the group’s second single (the first went nowhere, says Wikipedia) was in the lower portions of the Hot 100 and moving up slowly. “A Symphony For Susan” would eventually peak at No. 51 during the last week of November and the first week of December, but during the last week of October, the record – a traditional vocal workout – was sitting at No. 80.

By the time October 1966 rolled around, the Ronettes, backed by Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, had registered seven hits in the Hot 100, with five of them reaching the Top 40 in 1963 and 1964. From what I can tell – and according to Wikipedia – the last week of October 1966 marked the last appearance of the Ronettes in the Billboard Hot 100: “I Can Hear Music” was at No. 100 and would be there for exactly one week. (It had been in the Bubbling Under section at No. 120 a week earlier; it would fall back to Bubbling Under at No. 113 during the first week of November and then disappear from the chart entirely.)

Finally, sitting in the Bubbling Under section, we find the original version of “Wedding Bell Blues,” which would be a No. 1 single for the 5th Dimension in 1969. Songwriter Laura Nyro’s version, however, would not make the Hot 100. In the last week of October 1966, Nyro’s version of “Wedding Bell Blues” was at No. 127 and in its second week of Bubbling Under. The record would rise to No. 107, where it would spend the last two weeks of November before falling off the chart entirely.

Maybe tomorrow, we’ll take apart a cover version and see how it ticks. If not, we’ll be here Saturday.

Diggin’ On Neil Diamond In The Basement

March 10, 2010

Wherever I might have looked for a history lesson in 1970, Rick’s turntable was a pretty unlikely choice. But one day or evening during the summer of that year, he and I were hanging out in his room. He’d taken over half the basement and turned it into what was essentially a crash pad: a  mattress on the floor, a stereo, brick-and-board shelves filled with LPs, posters on the walls and a lava lamp. We spent a lot of time down there during the last years of the 1960s and the early years of the 1970s, listening to tunes and making our minds up about the things that really mattered in life; those topics ranged from the importance of the then-burgeoning environmental movement to the likely identity of the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie during the next NHL season.

But as diverse as our topics were, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I heard when Rick played Neil Diamond’s Tap Root Manuscript. The fourth track on Side One, “Done Too Soon,” grabbed me and – at the same time – provided a little bit of a history lesson:

Jesus Christ, Fanny Brice.
Wolfie Mozart and Humphrey Bogart and
Genghis Khan and
On to H. G. Wells.


Ho Chi Minh, Gunga Din,

Henry Luce and John Wilkes Booth
And Alexanders
King and Graham Bell.


Rama Krishna, Mama Whistler,

Patrice Lumumba and Russ Columbo.
Karl and Chico Marx,
Albert Camus.

E. A. Poe, Henri Rousseau,
Sholom Aleichem and Caryl Chessman.
Alan Freed and
Buster Keaton too.

And each one these
Has one thing to share:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon.
For bein’ done too soon.


For bein’ done.

I was fascinated, and we listened to it again until I was certain I had all the names right. I knew all but two of them. I was unfamiliar with the name of American actor and singer Russ Columbo and with that of Alexander King. (There are two men by that name whom I think Diamond could have been referring to, one a writer, the other a scientist. I still have no idea which one he meant to name-check.)

I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely clear at the time why some of those men whom Diamond mentioned were prominent: For example, I knew Patrice Lumumba was African, but I didn’t know that he’d been the prime minister of the Republic of the Congo for a brief time in 1960 before being overthrown in a coup.

There were a few others where my data banks were slender as well: death row inmate Caryl Chessman, author Albert Camus and deejay Alan Freed were persons whose names I recognized without knowing why they were famous. And, of course, being a good sixteen-year-old Midwest Lutheran, I had no idea that Rama Krishna was, as Wikipedia notes, a famous Indian mystic of the nineteenth century.

I won’t say I ran out and began to find out about those men during that summer of 1970. But as time moved and on one occasion or another I learned why those men were famous, I’d make the connection to Diamond’s song and nod with a bit of private satisfaction.

And from that first hearing in Rick’s crash pad, “Done Too Soon” has been one of my favorites. Rick and I were fortunate enough at the end of that summer to hear Diamond perform the song in concert at the Minnesota State Fair. In fact, we heard it twice. We were in the open-air grandstand for Diamond’s first show of the evening, and then went back to wandering around the fair until it was time to meet my folks near the grandstand. We could hear Diamond performing his second show as we waited, and just before my folks showed up, we heard “Done Too Soon” one more time.

(The video above is pretty well done, but it requires some comment. When pulling a visual from the 1939 film, Gunga Din, the creator showed a still of the English characters played by Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., instead of Sam Jaffee’s Gunga Din, the title character created by Rudyard Kipling in his 1892 poem. And the video also showed a portrait of Alexander the Great instead of either the scientist or the writer named Alexander King.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 7
“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, Philles 116 [1963]
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton, Elektra 45687 [1970]
“Done Too Soon” by Neil Diamond from Tap Root Manuscript [1970]
“She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette [1973]
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus, ABC 11427 [1974]
“Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert from Jackrabbit Slim [1979]

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to separate Phil Spector’s brilliant work in the 1960s and 1970s from the events of recent years that culminated in murder. It’s difficult to do. But Spector’s Wall of Sound needed to be somewhere in this collection, so I went back to what I think what his most typical production, if not his greatest. The Crystals’ “Uptown” and “He’s A Rebel” might be better records by a little bit, but they don’t grab me at any moment like “Be My Baby” does with its introduction and then with Hal Blaine’s drum fills. So maybe this one – which went to No. 2 in the autumn of 1963 – makes the list more for Blaine’s work than for any other reason.

Continuing with uncertainty, I’m not sure I can relate what it is that qualifies Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back” for the Ultimate Jukebox. When it came blasting out of the radio speakers during the summer of 1970, it sounded about as tough as anything in the Top 40 at the time. (Glancing at the Billboard Top 40 for the last week of June 1970, I should acknowledge that Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” had some edge to it, as did CCR’s “Up Around the Bend.”) Add to that, I guess, that “Go Back” was a song I heard rarely on oldies radio over the years. That made it seem fresh when I came across Crabby Appleton’s first album during my early wanderings through music blogs. It wasn’t a huge hit: It went to No. 36. But it still sounds pretty good coming out of the speakers.

I still recall the first time I heard Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone.” It was spring break in 1975, and I was working with another student for St. Cloud State’s Learning Resources Services, wandering around campus and finding audiovisual equipment (as it was called in those days). We’d paint a black stripe over the large yellow letters that read “SCS LRS” and then, when the black paint dried, spray smaller white letters that read “SCS LRS.” My dad said the director of Learning Resources had never liked the yellow paint. Anyway, on one of those nine or so days, my co-painter and I grabbed some fast food and then went to his apartment for lunch. While we chowed, he dropped an LP on the stereo and cued up “She’s Gone.” I long ago forgot the guy’s name, which is too bad, because I still love the record and I’d like to say thanks. A single edit went to No. 60 in 1974 and then, on re-release, went to No. 7 in 1976. The only YouTube video I found of the album version when I originally created this post used the song behind, for some reason, visuals of Pam Grier in her roles as, evidently, Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown and Sheba. But a newer, more rational video now allows me to present “She’s Gone” in a form I prefer.

The story is that Stevie Wonder stopped by for a visit one day when Rufus was in the studio. While more or less messing around, he wrote “Tell Me Something Good” on the spot and handed it over to the group, whose lead singer, Chaka Khan, did a hell of a job on the record. It’s a slinky, snaky, sexy record that provides a public service along the way: If you’re not twitching or at least moving a little bit as the record plays, get yourself to a doctor because you might be dead. The record, Rufus’ first hit, went to No. 3 during the summer of 1974.

I’ve said something like this before, but one of the worst things that can happen to any performer or act is to be tagged the next something. During the 1960s and 1970s, the bargain record bins were filled with LPs by folks who had been dubbed the new Beatles, the new Dylan, the new Baez, the new Cream and on and on. Very few performers or groups, it seems to me, can recover from that kind of promotional linkage. When Steve Forbert showed up in 1978 with his debut album, Alive on Arrival, some called him the new Dylan. He soldiered on, and although he never came close to living up to the weight of that tag – who could? – he’s put together a decent career that continues to this day. (He released his thirteenth studio album, The Place and the Time just about a year ago.)  He’s reached the Top 40 only once, in 1979, when the jaunty “Romeo’s Tune” went to No. 11. Why is it here? Partly because, as I’ve also said before, I’m a sucker for a descending bass line but also because – beyond that – I think it’s a great record.

(Edited slightly on January 24, 2014.)