Posts Tagged ‘Supremes’

On Summers Gone

May 13, 2022

Originally posted July 31, 2009

I’ve been trying for an hour now to write something meaningful about how it felt to be a kid in summertime. And I’m not sure that what I remember is really how it felt. There is a tendency, a temptation, to put a nostalgic and meaningful glaze on all the memories and perceptions of childhood and youth (a temptation I frequently find difficult to resist), as if the only purpose of being a child in the 1960s was to provide memories for us in later life.

That’s not how it was, of course. We didn’t run through our summer days constantly thinking how fine our memories of those days would someday be. Oh, there were times, special days, when the thought came: I hope I remember this forever. And I do remember thinking that at times, but sadly and ironically, I don’t recall in any of those cases what it was that I hoped to remember.

I do remember games: We boys – with a few girls, now and then – would play workup baseball in the street during the day and into the late afternoon. After dinner, as the evening approached, all of us – boys and girls alike – would play games like “Kick the Can,” a hide-and-seek type game. We played across a territory that ranged widely around the neighborhood, with some yards in play and others – generally those of folks who had no kids – not in play. That would go on until the very last light of the day was fading and the streetlights came on. Then, in ones and twos, kids would make their ways home.

At other times, we – generally Rick and I – might make our way to the grocery store half a block away on Fifth Avenue. We’d dither over the best investment for our pennies and nickels, maybe buy some Dubble Bubble or Sour Grapes bubble gum. Or maybe we’d buy one of those balsa wood gliders that – with luck – flew loops in the backyard air without getting stuck in the trees.

We were unconcerned, for the most part, with the events and realities of life beyond Kilian Boulevard and the southeast side. I, being who I’ve always been, followed the news at least a little, but the accounts I read of the civil rights movement, and of war and unrest in a place called Vietnam, didn’t touch us. Not then, in the first half of the 1960s.

We got older, and one by one, the older kids quit playing the summer games we’d always played. And one summer, sometime in the latter half of the 1960s, Rick and I were the older kids, and the younger kids were playing their own games. With a figurative shrug, we went off and did something else.

Many things about those summertimes are hazy, with specific memories replaced by generalities. But one thing I know: As I made my way from being one of the little kids to being one of the older kids, I was aware of summertime music. I remember how it seemed like the volume was turned up during those three months. Even in the very early years, I heard music during summer that I evidently chose to ignore the rest of the year.

Some Summertime Hits From Motown
 “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas, Gordy 7022 (No. 4, 1963)
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 3, 1971)
“Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations, Gordy 7054 (No. 13, 1966)
“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54151 (No. 2, 1967)
“It’s the Same Old Song” by the Four Tops, Motown 1081 (No. 5, 1965)
 “I’ll Keep Holding On” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54116 (No. 34, 1965)
“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown 1032 (No. 9, 1962)
“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5, Motown 116 (No. 1, 1970)
“Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes, Motown 1051 (No. 1, 1964)
“The Tracks Of My Tears” by the Miracles, Tamla 54118 (No. 16, 1965)

When selecting from the massive Motown/Gordy/Tamla catalog, it’s comforting to have a few rules in place. Given my framework here of choosing only songs that entered the Top 40 in June, July or August, as well as choosing one song per performer/group, I thought I did pretty well.

Many of these, of course, came out in the years before I paid much attention to rock, pop or R&B, but Motown’s best work – like a lot of the great music of the time – was part of the environment. Wherever we went, there were radios, and wherever radios were, you heard the tunes of the time. I’m not saying I heard all of these when they were on the radio regularly, but I know I heard most of them, and for today, that’s close enough.

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.