Posts Tagged ‘Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’

No. 50, Fifty Years Ago (September 1969)

September 18, 2019

Around here, we like our game of Symmetry. It gives us an excuse to dig into old Billboard charts and listen to old records (as if we ever lack for reasons to do either of those things anyway). So we’re going to lean on the idea again today, heading back to mid-September of 1969, fifty years ago.

It was the beginning of my junior year of high school, right around the time I got my first Beatles album in almost five years (Abbey Road, on a cassette my sister brought home from the mall), right around the time I began standing on the sidelines of the football field as a manager for the St. Cloud Tech Tigers, and right around the time I first noticed the new violinist in the high school orchestra (whose tale I told long ago).

The RCA radio newly installed in my bedroom was tuned during the early evening to WJON across the tracks and to Chicago’s WLS when I went to bed. And as I listened, I began to learn about music – and things about that music – that my peers had known for, oh, at least five years.

As always, we’ll stop first at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Here was the Top Ten as of September 20, 1969:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Jean” by Oliver
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations

Now, that’s forty minutes or so of radio bliss. The only one of those that doesn’t immediate play clearly in the radio of my head is the Tom Jones single, a re-release – as we discussed a little more than a month ago – of a 1967 single. The other nine make up a solid vein of AM gold for me.

And I am not at all surprised to find all nine of those records among the 3,900-some on the iPod and thus a part of my current playlist. I talk often about times that were formative for me; given my passion for music, those first months of Top 40 listening fifty years ago were just that.

But let’s go find our target for today, the single parked at No. 50 on the Hot 100 fifty years ago this week. And we come across a record by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles originally released as a B-side: “Here I Go Again.” It would peak at No. 37.

It’s a dreamy tune, perfect for a slow dance. And Smokey’s lyrics, well, as he did so many times, he knew exactly what so many of us were feeling in those days:

Saw you there and your laughter seemed to fill the air
A scent like perfume from your lovely hair
I said that I do adore

My heart said to me, don’t walk head on into misery
Hey, with your eyes wide open can’t you see?
A hurt’s in store just like before

Oh ho ho, but here I go again walking into love
Here I go again never thinking of
The danger that might exist
Disregarding all of this just for you

I ignore the detour sign
I won’t stop until you’re mine
I’m past the point of no return

Girl, you walk by and I said to me, myself and I
Now we’ve got to give it one more try
I know somehow the time is now, right now

Oh whoa, here I go again walking into love
Here I go again walking into love

Here I go, here I go
Here I go, here I go again

It’s probably just as well that I never heard the record fifty years ago.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1967, Vol. 2

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 23, 2008

Some quotations from 1967:

“There [in Haight-Ashbury], in a daily street-fair atmosphere, upwards of 15,000 unbonded girls and boys interact in a tribal love-seeking, free-winging, acid-based society, where if you are a hippie and you have a dime, you can put it in a parking meter and lie down in the street for an hour’s sunshine.” – Warren Hinckle, Social History of the Hippies

“‘An investigation into Sex’ is now offered at Dartmouth. ‘Analogues to the LSD Experience’ can now be studied at Penn. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ is being examined by DePauw students. Stanford undergraduates are studying ‘American Youth in Revolt,’ and ‘The Origins and Meaning of Black Power’ is a course at Brooklyn College. Has higher education finally caught up with the times?” – Ralph Keyes, “The Free Universities”

“Victory is just around the corner [in Vietnam].” – National Security Adviser Walt Rostow

“I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” – Muhammad Ali

“I have tried to show that contemporary society is a repressive society in all its aspects, that even the comfort and the prosperity, the alleged political and moral freedom, are utilized for repressive ends.” – Herbert Marcuse

I turned fourteen that year. I wasn’t reading Marcuse nor was I worrying one way or another about the current courses in college catalogs. I was aware of the war in Vietnam, but only as something far away that was on the news more nights than not and in the papers almost every day. I knew that the war was out there, like thunder beyond the horizon, and I thought that maybe it was wrong, but it hadn’t touched me yet.

I did think about the hippies, having seen some coverage on the television news and having read about them in the daily papers and in Time magazine. It looked like they were having fun, I thought. I would not have minded running through the grass with some sweet flower child. Small chance of that, though: I was horribly awkward in my dealings with that strange tribe called girls.

Let’s see . . . I went to band camp that summer at Bemidji State College, in the northern part of the state. My dad let my hair grow out a little, and I grew a few inches and slimmed down some, changing enough that at least a couple people didn’t recognize me when ninth grade started in the fall. The most painful episode of the year was having my tonsils out after a long series of sore throats, the last of which came in late January.

When I stayed home ill, I would take the brown radio from the kitchen and put it on my bedside table. I’d listen to news and such on WCCO and occasionally tune the radio to KDWB and listen to that for a while, even though Top 40 radio was not yet the place where my soul lived. So what did I hear that January during that final bout of tonsilitis?

Here are a few listings pulled from the KDWB “Big 6 Plus 30” for the week of January 21, 1967. The top five was:

“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Words of Love” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Coming Home Soldier” by Bobby Vinton
“Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville

A few other stops along the way were:

No. 10: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” by the Blues Magoos
No. 15: “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra
No. 20: “Tell It To The Rain” by the Four Seasons
No. 25: “Whispers” by Jackie Wilson
No. 30: “Standing in the Shadows of Love” by the Four Tops
No. 36: “Ballad of Water Wart” by Thorndike Pickledish Choir

I’d never seen this list before, and my jaw remains agape as I write this, looking at that No. 36 song. I’d never heard of it before. Whatever it is, it was in its fifth week on the KDWB survey, having gone as high as No. 21. It might have been a regional hit, as it’s not listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.

A quick Googling finds that KDWB’s list has the title misspelled; it should be “The Ballad of Walter Wart,” although a 2006 posting on the website of WFMU, the free-form station in New Jersey, notes that the label on its copy of the 45 is misspelled, too. From what I can tell it was a novelty record that didn’t quite make the Top 100 nationally. I wonder why it did so well on KDWB? It never showed up on the weekly surveys at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station.

Well, let’s Google on: It turns out that the creator of the record, whose real name is Robert O. Smith, has a blog of his own: All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! There’s an mp3 of the two sides of the single there. Odd, indeed.*

Anyway, that’s what radio sounded like, for the most part, as I sat in bed with a sore throat forty-one years ago. And here’s what 1967 sounds like when I start the RealPlayer these days:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1967, Vol. 2
“Eight Men, Four Women” by O. V. Wright, Backbeat single 580

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles from Magical Mystery Tour

“Ups & Downs” by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Columbia single 44018

“Landslide” by Tony Clark, Chess single 1979

“Everybody’s Wrong” by Buffalo Springfield from Buffalo Springfield

“Ye Old Toffee Shop” by the Hollies from Evolution

“I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Tamla single 54159

“Bessie Smith” by The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Blue Condition” by Cream from Disraeli Gears

“Hip Hug-Her” by Booker T & the MG’s, Stax single 211

“Twentieth Century Fox” by the Doors from The Doors

“San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag

“Break It Up” by Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger from Open

A few notes:

O.V. Wright came out of the gospel music circuit before going secular in the mid-1960s, eventually ending up in the 1970s with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. That’s probably where Wright did his best work, but his mid-1960s singles for Backbeat – “Eight Men, Four Women” is the most atmospheric – are worth seeking out.

I’ve seen numerous comments from historians and critics and others of similar background who state that the Beatles’ single “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” is the best double-sided single in the history of rock. It’s a good one, no doubt, but the best? The record was a harbinger of what was to come that summer when Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, and it sounded unlike anything we’d ever heard before. With the passage of time, however, the two singles suffer at least a little from the “throw in everything including the kitchen sink” production style that seemed so novel and revolutionary in 1967. And I can think of four other double-sided singles the Beatles themselves released that have more staying power than “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane.” Those would be “Come Together”/“Something,” “Hey Jude”/“Revolution,” “Paperback Writer”/“Rain” and – way back near the start – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”/“I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Hollies track is the most frothy and least consequential song from the Evolution album, which I think was the Hollies’ attempt to make something significant out of their version of psychedelic folk-pop. It’s not an awful album, and it has one good single (“Carrie-Anne”), but it’s not nearly as important as it is odd. The Hollies, in one critical way, remind me of the Grass Roots and Neil Diamond, among many others, in that they recorded good singles – sometimes even verging on great – but got lost when they tried to be significant. The middle section of “Ye Old Toffee Shop” reminds me of the single from the year before: “Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters.

On the other hand, great singles were Smokey Robinson’s business, and he knew it and stayed with it. “I Second That Emotion” might be his masterpiece – “Maybe you wanna give me kisses sweet, but only for one night with no repeat,” indeed! – but even if it’s not (I do lean toward “Tears of a Clown”), it’s a great single from the writing all the way through the production and the performance.

Most performers, when taking on Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” keep it up-tempo, an approach that likely started with Fuller himself (based on a listen to his performance of the song at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964). But Havens – as he often does – goes against type here, making the song more contemplative and measured, allowing the listener to take in the tale.

*Sadly, a check on the first page of All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! reveals that Robert O. Smith, creator of Walter Wart, crossed over in 2010. The blog is still there, but the link to the Walter Wart mp3s no longer works. Note added June 6, 2011.