Posts Tagged ‘Tokens’

Let’s Go To Town

May 19, 2015

Every once in a while, you just gotta go to town and find out what’s there for you.

So you need an invitation? Okay, you’ve got one from Joe Therrien & His Rockets, who recorded “Hey Baby Let’s Go Downtown” on the Brunswick label in 1957. The rockabilly invitation turned up a few years ago on That’ll Flat Git It, a massive (twenty-six volumes) collection of generally obscure country and rockabilly singles.

So, once we’re in town, we need to find out what’s going on. That means we need to listen to the “Small Town Talk” as offered by Rick Danko from his 1977 self-titled album. The tune, written by Danko and Bobby Charles, was first released on Charles’ 1972 self-titled album (which Danko co-produced with John Simon). It’s since been covered on occasion, most recently by Boz Scaggs on the album A Fool To Care, released in March.

If we’ve been gone a while, well, we might find it kind of hard to fit back in, even after several years. That’s what happened to Percy Mayfield (or at least he imagined it did) to inspire the song “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” There are a few versions of the tune out there, but the one that gets me going is Elvis Presley’s, recorded in Memphis in February 1969 and originally released on the 1970 album, Back In Memphis.

And of course, there might be some folks in town that we’re not all that happy to see, as the Tokens noted in “He’s In Town” in 1964. The record, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, made it to No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. If he’s back in town, and she’s thrilled about it, it might be kind of hard to stay.

We might stay anyway, but I have a sense that we’d be wandering the streets late at night, murmuring to ourselves about “Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” just like Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes were back in 1977. The track, written by Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt, was originally released on the album This Time It’s For Real.

But you know, if we get past all that and hang around town for a while, we might find ourselves in a place where we belong, and someone else might come along from somewhere else who needs what we have to offer. In that care, we’d be the “Home Town Man” that Terry Garthwaite and the rest of Joy Of Cooking were thinking about on their Castles album in 1972. And we’d be home.

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.

‘She Goes Walkin’ Past My Window . . .’

December 27, 2011

A couple of days ago, looking ahead to the first after-Christmas post here, I started digging around in the Billboard charts. One of the Hot 100 charts that came out on December 27 – today’s date – was in 1969. Here’s the Top Ten that week:

“Someday We’ll Be Together” by the Supremes
“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5
“Whole Lotta Love/Living Loving Maid” by Led Zeppelin
“Take A Letter Maria” by R.B. Greaves

Boy, there is nothing there that I would not want to hear coming out of my radio. I don’t know that I ever heard the B-side of the Zeppelin record back then, but the rest were – and still are – about as familiar as any music in any year. I don’t know, however, that I have much to say about the records at the top of the chart anymore.

So, as I frequently do, I dropped to the bottom of that Hot 100 to see if there was anything I missed forty-two years ago. And moving up through the Bubbling Under portion, I saw a title that seemed familiar sitting at No. 113: “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)” by Don Young. A quick check of the reference library told me that the record peaked at No. 104 in the first weeks of 1970. It turned out to be the only record that the Brooklyn-born Young ever got near the pop chart. Still, it’s pretty good.

I kept scanning the Bubbling Under section of that Hot 100, and just six spots higher, at No. 107, was Gene Pitney with the same title: “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning).” Pitney’s version went to No. 89 in early 1970 and has the distinction of being the last of thirty-one records that Pitney placed in or near the chart between 1961 and 1970.

I’d never heard either Young’s or Pitney’s version before. But the tune was familiar, as was the title. So I began digging and learned that two other versions of the same tune made the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. The best-performing of all the versions was by the Tokens, whose version of “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)” was sitting at No. 68 during that last week of 1969, on its way to a peak of No. 61.

And the version that fared the worst was a cover of the tune by Bobby Sherman, who released “Early In The Morning” in the spring of 1973. That version topped off at No. 113.

But none of that explained why the tune was familiar. So I checked on its writers: Paul Vance and Leon Carr, according to All-Music Guide. Various indices noted that the two had written several pop tunes, with one of the indices listing eight of them. But it didn’t list “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning),” so I figured it wasn’t complete. And I began wading through links on Google and elsewhere.

Vance, as it turns out, is someone whose name I should have known, a writer and producer whose co-writing credits include “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (No. 1 in 1960 for Brian Hyland), “Catch A Falling Star” (No. 1 in 1958 for Perry Como) and the parody “Leader of the Laundromat” (No. 19 in 1965 for the Detergents). A look at his page at Wikipedia is instructive.

Carr, who passed on in 1976, had a list of credits nearly as impressive, in both popular music and advertising. Those credits include, Wikipedia notes, the “Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut . . .” jingle for Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars as well as the “See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet” jingle made famous by Dinah Shore:

Having wandered far astray – and not being bothered by that one bit – I refocused on Vance and Carr’s tune, “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning).” I found a listing of tracks and writers for a greatest hits album by the Cuff Links, who had a No. 9 hit with “Tracy” in late 1969. There I saw a familiar title. For some reason, I have the entire Tracy album by the Cuff Links both on vinyl and in mp3 form, so I did a quick search. And among the blues, folk and pop tunes with the title “Early In The Morning” was a familiar album track by the Cuff Links:

I probably prefer Pitney’s version, but Ron Dante and his studio pals did a pretty decent job on a sweet pop song.

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.