Posts Tagged ‘Standells’

Tales From The Stage

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 8, 2009

As seventh grade entered its home stretch in early 1966, I tried out for the school play. I’m not sure what prompted me to do so, but I ended up with a role in a comedy titled No More Homework!

I recall almost nothing about the play’s plot. I do recall the names of a few of my fellow cast members. And I remember very clearly that I played the role of Faversham Lightly, Jr., a less-than-dedicated student whose main pleasure was sleep. In the play’s first act, Faversham goes into the supply closet in search of something, and a ruckus in the hallway draws the attention of the faculty, the staff and the audience. Some hilarity and mild suspense ensues.

Near the end of the third act, the suspense leads one of the faculty members to gingerly enter the supply closet. And she runs from the closet back into the office, screaming about a ghost. At which point, young Faversham emerges rubbing his eyes, having slept away the day (and the entire second act, if I am recalling this correctly). Faversham’s sleepy reappearance from the closet got the largest laugh each of the two nights we presented the play.

There’s nothing quite like drawing laughter and applause when one is being purposefully funny. It’s intoxicating and addictive. So through ninth grade, I was a regular on stage at South Junior High. I had a bit role in the next year’s production, a musical entitled Plenty of Money, and as a ninth-grader, I had the comedy lead in On With The Show, a musical that takes place in a circus. I made the local daily, as the St. Cloud Times ran a picture of me being terrified at the sight of Tina the Snake Charmer’s pet.

The production being a musical, I even had a song to perform solo. I still remember most of the words to “Let Me Live the Life of a Clown.” (There are those, I imagine, who would claim that I’ve met that goal, albeit not in the sense the song had in mind, with floppy shoes and a big red nose.)

And then, it was over. During high school, I moved my extracurricular efforts to the locker room as an athletic manager. About half-way through my senior year, encouraged by friends who were auditioning, I did try out for a role in a Woody Allen play, Don’t Drink the Water, and I was cast as the comedy lead. The director and the wrestling coach were both cooperative, each allowing me an occasional absence so I could take part in both activities at the same time. And I enjoyed the rehearsals and the two or three performances. But the rush wasn’t there.

And even though the roles I had as a senior and in ninth grade were larger and more challenging, I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a louder round of laughter and applause than I did when Faversham Lightly, Jr., stumbled sleepily back on stage in the spring of 1966.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, April 9, 1966)

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by Otis Redding, Volt 132 (No. 34)

“I Hear Trumpets Blow” by the Tokens, B.T. Puppy 518 (No. 36)

“The Rains Came” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe 8314 (No. 52)

“Rhapsody in the Rain” by Lou Christie, MGM 13473 (No. 55)

“Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” by Edwin Starr, Ric-Tic 109 (No. 62)

“Dirty Water” by the Standells, Tower 185 (No. 120)

By using horns in place of Keith Richards’ thick guitar lick, Otis Redding turns “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into an R&B anthem and almost steals the song away from the Rolling Stones. Redding’s version had peaked at No. 31 – his second Top 40 hit – and was heading back down the chart by the second week of April; he’d have eight more Top 40 hits, four of them coming after his death in a December 1967 plane crash.

“I Hear Trumpets Blow” is an odd single, one that I’d not been familiar with until recently. The Tokens had reached No. 1 in 1961 with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but the best they could do five years later with “Trumpets” was No. 30. It turned out to be the only hit the Tokens had on their own record label, B.T. Puppy. They returned to the Top 40 in the spring of 1967 with “Portrait of My Love,” which went to No. 36, and three of the four Tokens formed Cross Country and took a cover of “In The Midnight Hour” to No. 30 in 1973. (As long as I’m sort of on the topic, my blogging colleague Any Major Dude recently posted a fascinating account of the long and sometimes unsavory history of the “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Check it out.)

“The Rains Came” is another record that I’d not known until recently. The name of the Sir Douglas Quintet might have fooled a few listeners into thinking the group was part of the British Invasion, but – to a discriminating listener – the music is nothing but Tex-Mex, with that organ part chirping all the way through. Leader Doug Sahm and his pals took “The Rains Came” as high as No. 31, the group’s second of three hits. “She’s About A Mover” went to No. 13 a year earlier, and “Mendocino would reach No. 27 in the spring of 1969.

The version of “Rhapsody in the Rain” offered here is the original version, the one that got parents and radio stations all heated up in the spring of 1966. Harry Young, who wrote the liner notes of Lou Christie’s greatest hits album, Enlightningment, says: “‘Rhapsody in the Rain’ . . . had the honor of being banned. Why? Because, as WLS Program Director Gene Taylor put it in Time magazine, ‘There was no question about what the lyrics and the beat implied – sexual intercourse in a car, making love to the rhythm of the windshield wipers.’” Young adds, “The lyrics only said ‘We were making out in the rain’ and ‘Our love went much too far.’ Nevertheless, the ‘dirty’ lyrics were changed to ‘We fell in love in the rain’ and ‘Our love came like a falling star.’” Young also noted that the bowdlerized version of the single was slower and lower-pitched. The record, which would become Christie’s fourth Top 40 hit, was heading up the chart in the second week of April and would eventually peak at No. 16.

“Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” didn’t quite get Edwin Starr into the Top 40; the record had peaked at No. 48 a couple of weeks earlier. Writer Dave Marsh called “Stop Her On Sight” “one of the best non-Motown Motown discs ever cut.” Marsh also says that even though Starr’s first hits came on Ric-Tic – a “minor league” Detroit label – “every inflection established that Motown was embedded in the grooves of [Starr’s] destiny.” In just a few years, Starr’s Motown work would hit the Top Ten, with “Twenty-Five Miles” reaching No. 6 in 1969 and “War” topping the chart for three weeks in 1970.

There are only a few things to note about the Standells’ “Dirty Water.” First, it had a long climb ahead of it, as it eventually reached No. 11. And then, it’s got one of the great – and sometimes overlooked – opening riffs in rock history, and it’s a great record beyond that riff. Finally, a record this good has to be in the running for the title of greatest one-hit wonder of all time. Maybe not the top spot – I’d have to think about it – but in the running.

On The High School Jukebox

April 20, 2010

The tale of the jukebox in the Multi-Purpose Room at St. Cloud Tech in the autumn of 1970 was told here once before: In a time when school schedules were becoming more flexible, the former cold lunch room was renamed, and in an effort to make it more attractive to students for those times when their classes were not meeting, the administration installed a jukebox.

That was a move that I think the authorities eventually regretted, certainly by the second time Dawn’s No. 1 hit “Knock Three Times” drew the attention of some student’s quarter late in the autumn. When Tony Orlando and his crew told us to “knock three times,” feet stomped on the floor and books slammed on the table.  “Twice on the pipe” drew the same reaction.

Not all songs – or very many – created the aural chaos that Dawn’s second hit did. (“Candida” had come around earlier.) But the jukebox made the Multi-Purpose room, obviously, much louder than it had been during its service as a lunchroom. I give that long-gone administration credit for simply closing the doors and letting the music roll. And I wonder if any members of that administration had second thoughts the following spring when various news agencies reported that some radio stations across the U.S. were removing from their playlists – because of its seeming drug references – the Brewer & Shipley hit “One Toke Over The Line.”

The record was popular down in the Multi-Purpose Room that spring, maybe as much because of its buoyant country rock arrangement as its winking and chuckling “toke” reference. As we listened, we often wondered how Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley thought they could get away with it, and we marveled at the fact that – for the most part – they had: The record went to No. 10 in the spring of 1971. And we marveled as well that no one from the Tech administration seemed inclined to call the juke box jobber and demand that the record be pulled from the machine.

The record, as it turned out, was one of those happy accidents that seem to wait to happen. Two quotes from a page about the record at the Brewer & Shipley website make that clear:

Michael Brewer: ‘We wrote that one night in the dressing room of a coffee house. We played there a lot.  We were real bored, sitting in the dressing room.  We were pretty much stoned and all and Tom says, ‘Man, I’m one toke over the line tonight.’ I liked the way that sounded and so I wrote a song around it.  We were literally just entertaining ourselves. The next day we got together to do some picking and said, ‘What was that we were messing with last night?’ We remembered it, and in about an hour, we’d written ‘One Toke Over the Line.’ Just making ourselves laugh, really. We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us.”

Tom Shipley: “‘One Toke’ wasn’t meant to make it to record. We were opening for Melanie at Carnegie Hall, and we played two encores. We really didn’t have anything else to sing to them. So we played ‘One Toke,’’ and the audience gave us a standing ovation. The record company president was there, and he said ‘Record it!’”

On the same page at the website, Brewer goes on to note: “The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, named us personally as a subversive to American youth, but at exactly the same time Lawrence Welk performed the crazy thing . . . That shows how absurd it really is. Of course, we got more publicity than we could have paid for.”

For all of that, and for the fact that just hearing the introduction still brings a smile to my face, “One Toke Over The Line” has a spot in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 13
“Dirty Water” by the Standells, Tower 185 [1966]
“Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic 10555 [1970]
“One Toke Over The Line” by Brewer & Shipley, Kama Sutra 516 [1971]
“How Long” by Ace, Anchor 21000 [1975]
“Mainstreet” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4422 [1977]
“(I’ve Had The) Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes, RCA 5224 [1987]

“Dirty Water” is, of course, a crunchy piece of great garage rock celebrating Boston as the home of lovers, muggers, thieves and those mysterious – to the twelve-year-old whiteray during the summer of 1966 – “frustrated women.” The record went to No. 11 during that summer forty-four years ago, and that single guitar introduction – with the fellows lip-synching here – still grabs hold of a listener and says, “Pay attention! We’re talking about Boston here!”

Having first heard Sly & the Family Stone as the group behind the frenetic “Dance To The Music,”  the winking “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and the funky “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” I wasn’t prepared in the autumn of 1970 when I heard the B-Side of that last record on WJON one evening. Sweet, melodic, a little bittersweet and even a little inspirational, “Everybody Is A Star” wasn’t something I would have expected from Sly Stewart and his pals. The record got airplay as the flipside of the No. 1 hit “Thank You,” although the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits doesn’t give it a ranking of its own. In my own book, though, sweet often outranks funky (not always, but often enough that I recognize the pattern), and “Everybody Is A Star” thus finds its place in the Ultimate Jukebox.

The pulsing bass introduction that kicks off Ace’s “How Long” sounds more foreboding than the song actually is, although a tune in which the narrator quizzes his gal on her infidelity isn’t going to be a chorus of hoots and giggles. The record – which went to No. 3 in the spring of 1975 – was the only hit for the group from Sheffield, England, although the group’s lead singer, Paul Carrack, later reached the charts four times in the 1980s as a member of Mike & The Mechanics. (Ignore, if you can, the video’s picture of Ace Frehley of Kiss.)

I spent a few days the other week reading Late Edition: A Love Story, Bob Greene’s Valentine and eulogy to the newspaper business, framed through his work during his mid-1960s high school and college years for two newspapers in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It’s a good read, and I might write about the book itself one of these days, but what made it come to mind this morning was Greene’s tale about a nightspot where he and his pals would sometimes stop. A band of scuffling folks about the same age regularly came down from Detroit to play there, and Greene notes that when the band took its breaks, he often had a chance to talk to the band’s lead singer, a young Bob Seger. The odds of either one of them making it big in their chosen professions were so slender, and Greene’s tale makes me wonder about the odds of both of them succeeding to the degrees they have. “Mainstreet” is the second Seger selection in these lists – after “Night Moves” – and to my ears is the better record, although “Night Moves” packs a stronger emotional wallop. “Mainstreet” also came from the 1976 album Night Moves, and it went to No. 24 in the spring of 1977.

I’m not quite sure what to say about “(I’ve Had The) Time Of My Life,” which came – as most readers likely know – from the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing. A ladyfriend and I saw the movie the first weekend it was released in the autumn of that year. As soon as the movie was over, we wanted the soundtrack and tried to get to any of the several record shops in St. Cloud before they closed for the evening. As it happened, we had to wait until the next day, when we had planned a shopping trip to the Twin Cities. And the record – a ballad that turns into a dance number with hints of gospel (musically if not lyrically) – remains a touchstone for me for the seasons that preceded the film’s release.