Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'66 -- Bob Dylan, Gary Lewis and the Playboys

Bob Dylan -- Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

I'll be frank -- I've never had much to do with drugs, and I'm speaking as someone who has been around people who have indulged in recreational drug use my whole life; I have embraced the pop music of the 1960s through the 1990s (the 2000s, not so much) knowing full well that without drugs of whatever type you like, very little of the most creative forms of pop music ever made, from jazz to country to rock & roll, would ever have been made; and fully admit that the main reason for my shunning of drugs is pure, unadulterated cowardice: fear of addiction, fear of not being able to afford a habit; fear of not having full control of my personality. If that's being a coward, I'm guilty as charged.

Despite all the drawbacks why do people get involved with substances and why do many of them abuse substances? Dylan summed it up nicely in "Rainy Day Women" which was the kickoff anthem on his 1966 offering Blonde on Blonde: "Well, I would not feel so all alone, everybody must get stoned." You do it because other people are doing it.

According to legend, when Dylan and studio musicians were working on this, a woman and her daughter came in to the building out of the rain, and the title of a rock classic was born. The numbers 12 and 35 are a little more conjectural; perhaps the mother was 35, and the daughter 12, but that wouldn't explain "women." Bob himself has likely forgotten an incident over 40 years ago. "Rainy Day Women" was recorded in one take with the help of a trombonist, Wayne Butler, who was hunted up just prior to the session.

Despite being a huge concert draw and album act for nearly 50 years, Dylan has never found consistent success on the singles chart (on his own, at least) and "Rainy Day Women" along with the earlier "Like a Rolling Stone" were his biggest hits, each making Number 2 Billboard. "Women" arrived at #2 just after Cher's "Bang Bang," appropriately enough, since Cher's first solo hit was Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do" in 1965.

"Rainy Day Women #12 & #35" ends our look at the #2 hits of 1966 -- that means we'll start on the #3 hits with...

Gary Lewis and the Playboys -- She's Just My Style

I couldn't find a live take of "She's Just My Style" but this lip-synch version, from possibly the Ed Sullivan Show or Hollywood Palace, shows Gary Lewis and his touring band from the mid-60s. As was the case for many groups from the Byrds to the Monkees in this era, the touring band was very often not the group that did the studio recordings. Lewis himself was not a guitarist but a drummer by trade, and John West is seen with his "cordovox" or electric accordion. The drummer never gets a closeup, I imagine partly because Lewis used a number of drummers in his tour group.

In the studio, Lewis (who, of course, is the son of Jerry) was backed by the sterling talents of Liberty Records producer Snuff Garrett, drummers Hal Blaine and Jim Keltner and keyboardist-songwriter Leon Russell, who would become a rock headliner himself in the early 1970s -- his breakout gig being none other than George Harrison's Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971. For a period of three years beginning in late 1964 they could do no wrong, with hit after infectious hit - quite possibly "Style" being your webmaster's favorite. Arranger/composer Al Capps is heard on the "dontcha know that she's" and "everything about her" bass vocal. Gary Lewis' touring band included, by late 1965, guitarist Tom Trippelhorn, father of actress Jeanne Trippelhorn of "Big Love" fame, and bassist Carl Radle (1942-1980), later of Derek and the Dominoes. Radle is standing to Lewis' immediate left in the linked video.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

'66 -- Beatles, Cher

The Beatles -- Yellow Submarine

Though it was by no means a trend -- some of their biggest hits such as "Hey Jude" and "Get Back" were yet to come -- the Beatles slumped ever so slightly in 1966, as only one of their three A-sides released that year, "Paperback Writer," hit Number One. The other two, "Yellow Submarine" and "Nowhere Man" stalled at #2 and #3 respectively on Billboard, though "Submarine" snagged #1 in the Record World chart. Over the years, though, Billboard has come to be the, er, gold standard.

"Submarine" was Ringo Starr's 2nd lead vocal on a Capitol Beatles 45 A-side, after "Matchbox" in 1964; he preceded George Harrison (though Capitol of Canada had already put a George lead, on "Roll Over Beethoven" on an A-side in 1964). George would have to wait until his "Something" in 1969, and even that was on a double-A side with John's "Come Together." "Submarine" was a pure Paul McCartney lark; his intention was to write a children's singalong tune that was easy to sing, and Ringo, with a game but limited range, was the natural choice to sing it. Donovan, enjoying peak popularity in 1966, contributed the line "sky of blue and sea of green." 

"Submarine" is one of the Beatles' most intricately produced songs, employing plenty of sound effects from the Abbey Road Studio library. The basic music and vocal track was laid down first (May 26, 1966) , and on June 1st, Abbey Road engineer Geoff Emerick added the distinctive additions: chains, ship's bell, whistles, hooters, wind and thunderstorm machines, and, though I can't make it out, the cash regsiter noise later used by Pink Floyd as the intro to "Money" (the Floyd also recorded at Abbey Road). Studio staff and visitors such as Brian Jones, Patti Harrison and Marianne Faithfull joined in the fun, while John Lennon sat in the studio's echo chamber and called out "Full speed ahead, Mister Captain" and echoed several of Ringo's vocal lines. 

"Submarine" exists in 4 official released versions: a mono version, a stereo version, a mono dubbed from the stereo version, and a special stereo version released in 1995 in association with The Beatles' Anthology CD collection and TV special. The main difference between the mono and stereo is that in the mono, John is heard repeating "a life of ease" after Ringo sings it, while it was mixed out in the stereo version. The 1995 version appeared as the B-side to "Real Love" and is worth seeking out, since it restores sound effects not previously heard, as well as a spoken intro by Ringo:

"And we will march to free the day to see them gathered there, from Land O' Groats to John O'Green, from Stepney to Utrecht, to see a yellow submarine... we love it!"

"Submarine" hit #2 on September 17, 1966, beaten out by The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love." The song has not been covered very often, though Maurice Chevalier did a version in French.

Cher -- Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

Cherilyn Sarkisian's first big solo smash and first solo Top 5 hit, though she would have to wait until 1971's "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" for her first Number One, with or without Sonny Bono. Cher may have always been a vamp, but she's hardly camp -- despite her sometimes outrageous outfits, on stage and off, she is one of the great ladies of pop and her staying power may yet be exceeded only by Madonna. Beginning in 1965, Cher has had hits in five decades and counting, and has been an acclaimed movie actress, with poignant and/or hilarious turns in Moonstruck, for which she won a Best Actress Academy Award, Mask and Silkwood.

The Russian-flavored "Bang Bang," which features some fevered fiddling, was written by Sonny during a lull in the duo's fortunes; though Cher was initially reluctant to record it, it became her fastest-selling solo hit to date. It was soon covered by Nancy Sinatra in a version later used by Quentin Tarantino in the opening scenes of Kill Bill Volume 1; and her father, Frank, made it a staple of his concert appearances, also recording it twice. The song has also been covered by Stevie Wonder, Petula Clark, Vanilla Fudge in their signature slowed-down style, The Jam's Paul Weller, and Carla Bruni, the first lady of France. Cher has continued to perform it in nearly all her concert tours.

"Bang Bang" hit #2 April 23, 1966, exceeded on the Billboard chart only by the Righteous Brothers' ("You're My) Soul and Inspiration."

Friday, December 19, 2008

'66: Beach Boys, The Cyrkle

The Beach Boys -- Barbara Ann

Jack Benny, fresh from celebrating his 39th birthday, introduces Brian Wilson and the boys for their hit remake of Bronx doo-wop group The Regents' Top 20 hit from 1961. Dean Torrance, of Jan and Dean, doesn't appear with the Beach Boys here, but he was the lead voice on their hit radio version, which hit #2 for Capitol on January 29th. The recording was taken from The Beach Boys Party! album, released by Capitol during the 1965 holiday season as a stopgap; Brian was in the midst of preparing for his magnum opus of early 1966, Pet Sounds. Since the Beach Boys had already released a live album, Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!!) the "live -in-the studio" concept was used here, with impromptu takes on recent classics such as The Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away"and "Tell Me Why" as well as Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin." The laughter and studio noise was largely dubbed in later, though the studio chatter with guests like Jan and Dean was kept. Some alternate takes of "Barbara Ann" appeared on the 1990s Hawthorne, CA compilation.

The Cyrkle -- Red Rubber Ball

The Cyrkle carried on the mid-60s tradition of slightly misspelled words as band names, pioneered by The Beatles, The Byrds and The Monkees. Here on this clip from Hullabaloo they sport possibly the shortest haircuts of any post-1964 pop group. Easton, Pennsylvanians Don Danneman, Tom Dawes, Mike Loeskamp and Marty Fried scored big with a little luck from pop greats John Lennon and Paul Simon. After Dawes and Danneman's original band, the Rhondells, signed with Columbia Records on the strength of their east coast shows, Brian Epstein took notice of the group and championed them through their early successes. Legend has it that John Lennon was asked to submit a better name for the promising band and came up with "The Cyrkle." 

When Danneman was fulfilling a military obligation with the Coast Guard, Dawes joined the Simon and Garfunkel tour as a guitarist, and picked up two songs Paul Simon was working on, "Red Rubber Ball" and "Wish You Could Be Here." "Ball," a song Simon co-wrote with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers, is a triumphant song about recovering from a breakup.  It became The Cyrkle's biggest hit at #2 on July 9th.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

'66: Bobby Hebb, Mindbenders

Bobby Hebb -- Sunny

Bobby Hebb's only pop hit, ascending to #2 on August 20, 1966, was written as an elegy for his brother Hal, who was with him in a successful 1950s R&B singing group called The Marigolds. There are no overt references to death in the lyrics, which are couched in a romantic situation, except the repeated phrase "thank you." Even as a kid, I knew something was up when I heard it on the radio, and seeing that the song was often used at funerals I read about in the paper, my suspicions were confirmed when I researched the song for this post. 

Hebb never had another big hit, but his story is no less remarkable. Both his parents were blind; he preceded Charley Pride to the Grand Ole Opry stage, having struck up a friendship with Roy Acuff in his hometown of Nashville, TN. Hebb was teamed with singer Sylvia Shemwell (later of the Sweet Inspirations) for a time in the early 60s, then recorded for the Rich label, issuing songs like "You Broke My Heart and I Broke Your Jaw" and "Night Train to Memphis."

A subsequent tragedy inadvertently led to his greatest success. On November 23, 1963, the day after the assassination of JFK, Hal Hebb was killed in a fight outside a Nashville nightclub, and according to legend, the devastated Bobby Hebb wrote "Sunny" in response to both events. (Brian Wilson is said to have composed "The Warmth of the Sun" in response to JFK's death as well.) After a few labels passed on the song, Hebb set it aside,  but recorded it for Philips in 1966. Before long, he was touring with The Beatles. Later in 1966 he made the Top 40 again with an R&B arrangement of the country classic "A Satisfied Mind," and Lou Rawls hit in 1971 with Hebb's "A Natural Man." Bobby Hebb still occasionally records and appears in concert. "Sunny" did not make the Top 100 again as a cover version, but it has had dozens of covers, among them by James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Frank Sinatra, the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli, in two separate versions. Hebb himself did a disco remake in 1976.

Mindbenders -- A Groovy Kind of Love

"A Groovy Kind of Love" marked the first time that Eric Stewart's voice was heard on pop radio in the USA, but it wouldn't be the last -- he would hit with Hotlegs ("Neanderthal Man") in 1972, and twice with 10cc ("I'm Not in Love" and "The Things We Do For Love" in 1975 and 1977, respectively). Veteran songwriter Graham Gouldman would team up with Stewart in the Mindbenders in 1968, and the pair later were one-quarter of 10cc. Stewart had replaced founding 'Bender Wayne Fontana on lead vocal after he left the band in 1965; coincidentally, Mindbenders recordings continued to be issued on the Fontana label throughout their US chart career.

"Groovy" also marked the beginning of a long and successful career for songwriter/performer Carole Bayer Sager, who, with "Groovy" songwriting partner Toni Wine, were students at the NYC High School Music and Art; both were not yet out of their teens. She has gone on to win an Oscar,  Grammy and two Golden Globe awards with compositions such as "That's What Friends Are For," "Arthur's Theme" and many, many more with powerhouse collaborators such as former husband Bert Bacharach, Peter Allen and David Foster.

"Groovy" became a #1 hit in 1988 when Phil Collins took it to the top as part of the soundtrack to his feature film Buster, Collins appearing as one of the Great Train Robbers, Buster Edwards. Collins slowed down the song for a more adult, romantic vibe.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

'66: Lovin' Spoonful

Lovin' Spoonful: Daydream

Though they first broke through in the summer of '65 with "Do You Believe in Magic," 1966 was the Lovin' Spoonful's annus mirabilis, as the New York-based folk-rock group led by John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky were, perhaps, the hottest band in the world, enjoying five Top Ten hits including a #1, "Summer In The City " and the two #2 hits discussed in today's post. Indeed, no single they released after 1966 made the Top Ten again.

The song, which hit #2 April 9, is a gentle reverie in which Sebastian daydreams about his girlfriend and muses about what would happen if everyone did the same. The song started a sort of a nostalgia movement in pop, picked up on by the New Vaudeville Band ("Winchester Cathedral" in October) and inveterate nostalgist Paul McCartney grabbed the vibe for "Good Day Sunshine."

Lovin' Spoonful -- Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind

According to legend,  John Sebastian was at summer camp one year and met two sisters he was attracted to, and turned the experience into this #2 hit in June '66. Recorded the same year, The Monkees' "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" by Neil Diamond mines the same vein. Sebastian wrote the song in the back of a cab en route to the recording studio. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

'66: Rolling Stones, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

The Rolling Stones -- 19th Nervous Breakdown

Even when I was a kid, when this came on the radio I knew right away what gave Mick the idea for the title: those Excedrin pain reliever commercials that numbered and documented headaches: Number 39, Number 24 etc. That's my idea, anyway. Here's a couple of them on youtube. Recognize that voice? The unmistakable Dick Cavett. 

The Stones performed the song live on the Ed Sullivan Show, well before the boys had a falling out with the impresario over a lyric in "Let's Spend the Night Together" that Ed wanted changed and Mick obliged, changing the words to "some time together," lifting his eyes to the ceiling mockingly. "Breakdown" concerns one of Mick's girlfriends who was acting pompous and conceited. The lyrics mention a couple of things recently outdated in 1966 that might engender blank stares these days: "Your father's still perfecting ways of making sealing wax." Before envelopes were mass-produced with sealer, for centuries wax was used to keep a letter closed and, with an impression as from a seal, identified the sender. Some firms still produce it, but usage is now more for ceremony or effect. Sealing wax was previously mentioned in lyrics of Peter, Paul and Mary's 1963 smash "Puff The Magic Dragon" which also made #2 Billboard.

"Breakdown," at 3:57, is rather long for a single in 1966. Listen for Keith's "divebombing" licks as the song ends. The song peaked at #2 on March 19, 1966, not being able to get past Sergeant Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets."

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs -- Li'l Red Riding Hood

Domingo "Sam The Sham" Samudio and the Pharaohs had some trouble following up their 1965 #2 smash "Woolly Bully" -- "Ju Ju Hand," "Rang Dang Doo" and "Red Hot" had stiffed in late '65 and early '66 --  and they turned to the storybooks for songwriter Ronald Blackwell's "L'l Red Riding Hood" which did the trick, vaulting them to #2 once again. The followup, "The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin," was a taunt by the Three Little Pigs.

Fantasist Roald Dahl rewrote the "Riding Hood" story, telling it his way:

In Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, the wolf enters the grandmother's house and devours her before putting on her clothes in order to eat Little Red Riding Hood next. Riding Hood is not disturbed, however, and calmly pulls a pistol out of her knickers and shoots the wolf ("The small girl smiles/Her eyelid flickers/She whips a pistol from her knickers/She aims it at the creature's head and BANG! BANG! BANG! she shoots him... dead.") - yielding her a new wolfskin coat. --wikipedia

Thursday, November 27, 2008

'66: Donovan

Donovan -- Sunshine Superman

Finishing up the list of Number One hits of 1966, Donovan's "Sunshine Superman" was the first pop hit to mention the Man of Steel, though not the last: Herbie Man, the Ides of March, Dino, Desi and Billy, Donna Fargo and Five For Fighting would all follow on the Billboard Hot 100 with songs named "Superman", while yet another "Superman" showed up as the B-side of The Clique's Tommy James cover, "Sugar on Sunday" in 1969 (and that one turned up as a "hidden track" on REM's 1986 album "Lifes Rich Pageant.")

When "Sunshine Superman" hit in the fall of 1966, I'm reminded of how in the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin's father remarked one day "the world turned color in 1966." For me that statement was more or less correct: our family got its first color TV, a Philco, on Christmas of that year. As I recall about half of TV network programs were 'colorized' about that time, and soon after, networks went merrily kandy-koating TV shows with bright, garish costumes and backgrounds. "Sunshine Superman," to my knowledge the first "psychedelic" pop hit ("could've tripped out easy, but I've changed my ways") served notice that psychedelia was going to be a driving force in pop, as it was for the next couple of years. And, bear in mind that "Superman" was recorded a good seven months before it was released.

Donovan had been previously known as a Dylan-esque folk singer (but rather more wistful than Bob would ever allow himself to be); "Superman" was the beginning of a very successful 3-year collaboration between the Scotsman and British pop producer Mickie Most, which would see him through his most popular period in the USA on the Epic label. Future Yardbird and Zeppelin Jimmy Page can be heard on lead guitar,and arranger John Cameron played harpsichord. 

"Superman" has been covered by artists as diverse as Jewel, Hüsker Dü, Spirit of the West and yes, Mel Tormé, and made the Top 40 again in 1997 as a sample on Imani Coppola's "Legends of a Cowgirl" (though I remember reading at the time that Coppola didn't care for the original all that much).

Donovan -- Mellow Yellow

As it turns out, the Glaswegian also had the biggest Number Two hit in 1966, as his followup to "Superman" peaked in December 1966, stalling behind "Winchester Cathedral" and  "Good Vibrations." Donovan denies "Yellow" being about smoking banana peels (despite the phrase "electrical banana") but rather the relaxed, calm feeling after smoking pot; or a vibrator -- depending on what interview you read. "Yellow" employs future Zeppelin John Paul Jones supervising a horn arrangement that, at first, was a little to brassy for Donovan, who feared it came across too much like what would accompany a stripper. Applying mutes to the horns, Donovan got what he wanted. Rumor had it that Paul McCartney was whispering "quite rightly" throughout, but it later came out that that was Donovan himself (and I never thought it sounded like Paul, anyway).

The Coca-Cola company introduced a Mello Yello soft drink in 1979 to compete with Pepsi's Mountain Dew; Coca-Cola has by 2008 replaced it in most markets with Vault.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'66: Lou Christie, Frank Sinatra

Lou Christie -- Lightnin' Strikes

So, which pop falsetto is your favorite? I suppose the most successful in the genre was, of course, Frankie Valli, but there's also Eddie Holman ("Hey There Lonely Girl") Larry Henley of the Newbeats ("Bread and Butter"), any of the Bee Gees, and Robert John ("Sad Eyes"). But Lugee Sacco, of Glen Willard, Pennsylvania, used his like no other. He sang his songs in a normal register but as they built to a crescendo in the chorus, he'd soar into his trademark upper register.

You have to hand it to composers Lou and Twyla Herbert for demonstrating a lot of gall, unmitigated or otherwise, in the lyrics -- here we have a guy demanding of his girlfriend the right to play around until they get married. Till then, if someone comes along he's attracted to...lightnin' strikes! Lou met Twyla in Glen Willard in 1959, when he was 15 and she was about 30. They established a successful songwriting partnership that saw him through a decade-long pop charting career in which he appeared on nine different labels -- and he still regularly tours in the 2000s, recently appearing with Lesley Gore. "Lightnin' Strikes" was released on MGM in late 1965 and hit #1 in mid-February of the next year, though Lou has said in interviews that the president of MGM Records hated it so much when he heard it, he threw the tape away. It was wisely released anyway.

The backup singers, Jessica James and the Outlaws (Denise Ferri, Bernadette Carroll ("Party Girl") and Peggy Santiglia (who had been with The Angels), immortalized the nonsense backup phrase "buppy-ah-ooh" (do they make these up in the studio as they go along?) Other notable ones in the genre can be heard on Bobby Pickett's "Monster Mash": "innashoo-wah-oo" and even Adam Ant's "Stand and Deliver": "a-diddley-quah quah." Christie returned the favor, doing the backup honors on JJ and the Outlaws' 1966 release, "We'll Be Makin' Out."

Frank Sinatra -- Strangers In The Night

When Frank Sinatra returned to the #1 spot in 1966, 5 months after daughter Nancy helped pave the way for him with "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'", it was a vastly different pop landscape than it had been in early 1955, the last time Frank had been to the top of the pops with "Learnin' The Blues"; accompanying him in the Top Five that year were Mitch Miller, the McGuire Sisters, the Fontane Sisters, and Cuban bandleader Perez Prado. That year, Bill Haley and His Comets had the first #1 rock record ("Rock Around the Clock"), Elvis became a phenomenon the next year, and the classic pop purveyed by Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Bing Crosby started to take a back seat, sales-wise. When Sinatra returned to the top in 1966, he found The Beatles, The Cyrkle, The Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield in the top five with him.

"Strangers in the Night" was an instrumental composed by Hamburg, Germany bandleader Bert Kaempfert, who had previously enjoyed two US #1 hits in 1960 ("Wonderland by Night" and Joe Dowell's "Wooden Heart," introduced by Elvis in GI Blues). Kaempfert had also composed "Swingin' Safari," used as the theme song for the 1960s incarnation of TV's The Match Game, and recorded Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (the Beatles) in Hamburg in 1961. After Sinatra's label's public relations man Jimmy Bowen heard the instrumental, part of the soundtrack for the James Garner vehicle A Man Could Get Killed, he requested lyrics for the song, which he was sure Sinatra would record. By the time Sinatra had the song a few months later, the lyrics had already made the rounds of the recording industry and Bobby Darin and Jack Jones had already recorded it -- but radio picked up Frank's version and it rocketed to the top. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

'66: Nancy Sinatra, the Beach Boys, the Young Rascals

Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walkin'

You might think that Nancy Sinatra would have had, so to speak, a leg up on showbiz, since her father, Frank, was the #1 male singer of the 20th Century (and he wasn't done by 1966 by any means). Yet, it took Nancy a total of 16 single releases on her father's label, Reprise, by the time she clicked with "Boots," written and produced by mustachioed Oklahoman Lee Hazlewood (1929-2007). By 1966 Nancy was better known for her on-screen escapades with Elvis in Speedway and also in features like For Those Who Think Young and Get Yourself a College Girl

Hazlewood, for his part, had been active since the 1950s, mostly as producer for guitar legend Duane Eddy, he had written Sanford Clark's 1956 rockabilly hit "The Fool," and "Houston" for Frank's Rat Pack partner, Dean Martin. (The title of the song is a line in the Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin 1963 Western 4 For Texas.) Hazlewood encouraged Nancy to get in touch with her tougher side when recording "Boots": "I know there's garbage in there somewhere." After "Boots" clicked, Nancy and Lee teamed up for over a dozen more hits.

Jessica Simpson had a Top 20 hit in 2005 with a remake on the soundtrack for The Dukes of Hazzard; she rewrote the lyrics to befit the personality of her character Daisy Duke. The song has been covered dozens of times by disparate artists such as the Supremes, Loretta Lynn, Billy Ray Cyrus and Boy George.

The Beach Boys -- Good Vibrations

Was Brian Wilson the first prog-rocker? The familiar 3-minutes and change "Good Vibrations" is actually distilled down from lengthy musical sections that added up to a full half hour -- more than the 23 minutes generally allotted to album sides in 1966. The original "Good Vibrations" sessions can be heard, in large part, on the Beach Boys' 1993 box set (of the same title) and others can be heard on their 2001 compilation, Hawthorne, CA. Brian Wilson's reputation as a studio perfectionist is fully heard on these, and also the Pet Sounds sessions. 

Working with the Beach Boys' 1960s studio group, the legendary Wrecking Crew, Brian Wilson produced what some call the world's first "pop symphony" with layers of overdubs and instrumentation, including some never before heard on a pop record, such as a theremin. Tony Asher's original lyrics were more explicitly "trippy," but Brian and Mike Love rewrote them for pop airplay. The song was originally going to be the centerpiece of the Beach Boy's Smile album, an experimental suite Wilson wrote with Van Dyke Parks, but Brian could never complete it and it was shelved until 2004, when he recorded it with a different group of musicians. The other 'Boys were never crazy about Smile; Mike Love admonished Wilson "don't f!@# with the formula." Indeed the Beach Boys didn't return to the top ten after "Good Vibrations" until 1975, and that was a remake of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music."

Brian was ahead of his time in one regard, though: in the next few years, album-side long conceptual pieces would become the rage in rock, with Jethro Tull's A Passion Play, Pink Floyd's "Echoes" and Dark Side of the Moon, most of what Yes recorded, and hundreds of others. Todd Rundgren had a hit version in 1976 that carefully tried to recreate the original note for note (as were all the songs on his Faithful LP that year).

Here's a live version from 1976.

Young Rascals -- Good Lovin'

Think AC/DC's Angus Young was the first rocker to go on stage in a schoolboy uniform? When the Young Rascals first began performing on stage in 1965, all four of them did. Fortunately that phase didn't last long. That year keyboardist/singer Felix Cavaliere, percussionist Eddie Brigati and guitar player Gene Cornish were coming off a stint with Joey Dee and the Starlighters (the trio arrived after "Peppermint Twist" hit in 1961, though Eddie's brother David had been with Dee at that time). Joining with drummer Dino Danelli, who had played in Lionel Hampton's band in New Orleans and in session work, the four worked on a repetiore of about 25 songs, many written by Cavaliere and Brigati, and made their debut in '65 New Jersey roadhouse called the Choo Choo Club and, gaining a following,  began a heavy tour schedule in the NY-NJ area and came to the attention of promoter Sid Bernstein, who had brought the Beatles to America, and signed with the Atlantic label, known for its R&B and soul acts.

Their first single, "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," charted but not highly. For their second 45 they turned to a song that had been a minor hit in early 1965 for the R&B group The Olympics ("Western Movies") and it was an immediate smash. Here's a live version from 1966.

"Good Lovin'" has been covered by The Who (their 1965 BBC Sessions version was probably picked up via The Olympics') and the Grateful Dead stretched it out to a lengthy jam in concert.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

'66 - ? and the Mysterians, Johnny Rivers

? and the Mysterians -- 96 Tears

Here's Rudy Martinez, the "?" in ? and the Mysterians, and the band playing "96 Tears" in 1999, sounding like they did 33 years before when they came out of nowhere exploiting the Tex Mex sound that Doug Sahm had pioneered with the Sir Douglas Quintet a few years before, organizing rock and roll in the process. Rudy, like Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter, has still never removed his sunglasses in all these years.

The original "96 Tears" was recorded in the Mysterians' manager Lilly Gonzalez's living room in Adrian, Michigan. Martinez and the rest of the group were born in Mexico but had all emigrated with their parents to the Saginaw Valley in the Wolverine State. "96 Tears," originally released on the Pa-Go-Go label, gained significant airplay and popularity in Flint, Bay City, and finally Detroit, where Cameo Records president Neil Bogart (later an executive at Buddah Records and the founder of the Casablanca and Boardwalk labels) heard it, purchased the master and released it nationwide; it hit #1 for a week on October 29th. According to legend, the original title was "69 Tears," but Martinez has never officially confirmed that. 

"96 Tears" has been covered most notably by Aretha Franklin, Big Maybelle (whose version hit #96), British bands The Stranglers and Inspiral Carpets (as you might expect from those two keyboard-heavy groups),  Joe "King" Carrasco, and Garland Jeffreys.

Johnny Rivers --Poor Side of Town

This was Brooklyn-born John Ramistella's biggest hit and his lone #1. John and his parents moved to Baton Rouge, LA when he was three and he became proficient on guitar and mandolin beginning at age eight. As a teenager he visited New York and Nashville to find work in recording studios and sat in with local bands. On one such visit he met legendary deejay Alan Freed, who liked what he heard and got him a contract with Gone Records, changing his name to Rivers in the process.  The single he put out on Gone didn't click and he went to Nashville, where he forged a friendship with Roger Miller and wrote "I'll Make Believe" for Ricky Nelson. 

After meeting Nelson in Los Angeles in 1958 Rivers found that he enjoyed the southern California lifestyle; by 1963 he was building up a following at Gazzara's on Sunset Strip and soon was headlining at a new club that would spawn the careers of many southern California superstars, the Whiskey a -Go-Go. Things fell into place quickly as producer Lou Adler signed him to a contract with Imperial Records, where he would join Nelson. His first few major hits ("Memphis," "Maybelline," Seventh Son" ) were recorded at the Whisky.

"Poor Side of Town," in which Rivers welcomes back a girlfriend who had strayed with a wealthy suitor, was Rivers' only major hit that he wrote himself. It hit #1 on November 12, 42 years to the day I am writing this.

Monday, November 10, 2008

'66: Beatles, Petula, Monkees

The Beatles -- Paperback Writer

Prior to this hit, Paul McCartney's bass was hardly audible on most Beatles recordings, or certainly wasn't prominent. That all changed on "Paperback Writer," their second biggest hit in 1966 ("We Can Work It Out" was the biggest) and a return to #1 after "Nowhere Man" was a relative stiff, only hitting #3 Billboard. Paul usually used a Hofner but switched to a Rickenbacker for this session at Abbey Road Studios, and a loudspeaker was placed in front of the bass speaker. In that era, recording studios were loath to use a fat bass on waxings because needles often jumped when encountering it. EMI, the Beatles' British label, alleviated this with new technology called the ATOC -- Automatic Transient Overload Control. Paul's bass was almost played as a lead instrument on later Beatles recordings (re "Something").

McCartney's theme here is written in the form of a submission letter to a publishing house "Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?" It's possible he wrote it as a subtle jibe at John Lennon, who had already published two books of light humor (In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. American fans, by the way, may have missed the pun in the latter title, a takeoff on the British spanner, meaning wrench). Paul has said, though, he was inspired by reading an article in the Daily Mail (the newspaper is mentioned in the song) about an aspiring author.

John and George sneak in the words "Frere Jacques" ("Brother John") in the backing vocal on the second verse, but notice they come in a little late the second time around.

In England, "Paperback Writer" b/w "Rain" was promoted in trade publications with their infamous "butcher photo" in which the smirking Fab Four posed with broken baby dolls and cuts of freshly butchered meat. The photo made its way onto the cover of the Capitol compilation LP, The Beatles -- Yesterday and Today but Capitol quickly realized what a mistake this would have been -- The Beatles still had pretty much a squeaky-clean image in 1966 and this wouldn't have been the way to broaden people's perceptions -- and recalled the album, replacing it with a more innocuous group picture.

Petula Clark -- My Love

The rollicking "My Love" is probably my favorite Petula Clark hit, but when her chief writer, her husband Tony Hatch, first presented it to her after writing it on a transatlantic flight over the North Pole from London to Los Angeles, Petula despised the song and, even after duly recording it in LA, begged Warner Brothers to not release it. The label's instincts were right and it became Clark's second USA #1, and in so doing she became the first British woman to enjoy two chart toppers in the USA.

The Monkees - Last Train to Clarksville

The "Pre-Fab Four" 's first single hit the #1 mark in November, 1966, composed by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who play guitar on the recording. In fact the only Monkee on the record was Mickey Dolenz; as a rule, the Monkees did not play a big role in the instrumentation on their early smashes. That wasn't an exception for mid-Sixties pop acts, however; the Beach Boys and even the Byrds often brought in studio professionals to augment their sound, and in many cases, even replace the band in the studio. After a time, though, the Monkees thought themselves proficient enough to play everything on their recordings and did so, to a great degree, on their Headquarters album in 1967. The distinctive opening lick is played by ace studio guitarist Louie Shelton.

There's a poignancy in the Boyce and Hart lyric that is often glossed over after you've heard it a hundred times: a man is in a railroad station going off to war, telephoning his girlfriend hoping for one last meeting; he says, "And I don't know if I'm ever coming home." This was in 1966, before the country had largely turned against the war in Vietnam. Boyce and Hart did not specifically mean Clarksville, TN, Clarksville, AZ, Clarksville, MO, or Clarksville, IA, Clarksville, IN, or any other Clarksville; they were being deliberately vague.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

'66: Percy Sledge, Supremes, Tommy James

Percy Sledge -- When A Man Loves A Woman

Here's a live take of Percy Sledge's classic that he wrote during the time he was working as an orderly at Colbert County Hospital in Leighton, Alabama. Sledge was also a singer in a local group, the Esquires, and at his church, Galilee Baptist Church; he has said in interviews that he worked up the song on stage one night, miserable from a breakup, with bass player Cameron Lewis and organist Arthur Wright (who are credited on the 45 label due to Sledge's generosity). He auditioned the song for local producer Quin Ivy and recorded it with the renowned Rick Hall's FAME studio band in Muscle Shoals. Released on the Atlantic label, the song quickly ascended to #1 in May '66. 

"When a Man Loves a Woman" has also charted with versions by Esther Phillips and Bette Midler, and went to #1 again in 1991 in a version by Michael Bolton, who performs it here with Sledge. The song's title was used for a 1994 film starring Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan.

Supremes -- You Keep Me Hangin' On

Probably my favorite Supremes classic next to "Stop! In the Name of Love," this Holland, Dozier, Holland classic concerns an ex-boyfriend who won't leave, wishing to be "just friends", while Diana Ross is having none of it. Lamont Dozier inserted a "Morse code" guitar figure into the song after hearing a similar sound effect on a radio news report, and it became one of the Supremes' most rock-oriented hits. The Supremes recorded eight versions with Motown's The Funk Brothers before they had just the version H-D-H was satisfied with. 

It's one of the most-covered songs in the Motown songbook; Vanilla Fudge did it first, with their trademark lugubriously lengthy sound, followed by artists as diverse as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Tim Buckley, Rod Stewart (with Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice) , Kim Wilde (a #1 cover) and 2007 American Idol runnerup Blake Lewis.

Tommy James and the Shondells -- Hanky Panky

In late 1963 the Raindrops needed a B-side for their latest single "That Boy John," and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote and performed "Hanky Panky," then promptly forgot about it. The record went nowhere when JFK was assassinated on November 22, scotching any chance a record about a boy named John would be a hit, apparently. 

"Hanky Panky" did make an impression, though, on 15-year-old Tommy Jackson, who heard a local group, the Spinners (not the Spinners of "I'll Be Around" fame) doing the song at a club in South Bend, Indiana. Seeing the crowd response, he hastened to cut it (with improvised lyrics, as Jackson, by now Tommy James, had forgotten the original Barry/Greenwich words) with his own band, the Shondells (named for a guitarist Jackson admired named Troy Shondell). The song did well in the midwest, slipped off the charts there, and James finished high school.

In 1965 the song began to gain popularity again when local DJs in Pittsburgh, PA began to play it and it was bootlegged to play at dance parties around town (an estimated 80,000 nonlegal versions were sold this way). DJ Mad Mike Metro convinced James to come to town to promote "Hanky Panky." He had to hastily assemble another Shondells backing band -- a local group called the Raconteurs agreed to it, and so originated the Tommy James and the Shondells that hit the charts continuously till the end of the 1960s. James, meanwhile, sold the master recorded back in his hometown, Niles, MI, to Roulette Records, it got to radio nationwide, and became a Number One smash -- the sort of um, grass roots sort of star-making probably impossible today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

'66: Troggs, Four Tops, Stones

The Troggs, Wild Thing

The Troggs were 4 lads from Andover, England, who originally called themselves the Troglodytes, (as in cavemen) in 1965, with singer Reg Ball, who changed his name to Presley as a tribute to you-know-who when they signed with Fontana Records, which released "Wild Thing" at the same time an American label, Atco, put out the identical song on 45. With an unmistakable descending note at the start of the song, and an unusual ocarina solo on the middle 8 by Reg Presley, Wild Thing has a raw, intense vibe that still reverberates after over forty years. Chip Taylor wrote the song (he would also compose the gentle "Angel in the Morning" for Merrilee Rush a couple of years later. Taylor, whose real name is James Wesley Voight, is the brother of actor Jon Voight and uncle of actress Angelica Jolie. 

"Wild Thing" was originally recorded by Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones. It would also be a comedy hit in 1967 by Bill "Senator Bobby" Minkin and in 1974 for British group Fancy. Kim Fowley produced a version by Cathy Rich, the daughter of drummer Buddy Rich  ("Wild thing, my name is Cathy and I'm wild!") And, it was memorably used for the "Major League" films with Charlie Sheen in the 1980s.

Trog was the name of Joan Crawford's final feature film, playing an anthropologist who discovers an apeman. I saw this in 1970 at the old Dyker Theatre on 86th Street in Bay Ridge on a double feature with a Christopher Lee Dracula Hammer film.

Four Tops -- Reach Out, I'll Be There 

This was the Four Tops' biggest hit, peaking at Number One for two weeks and spending 15 weeks on the chart in late 1966; Levi Stubbs, Renaldo Benson, Lawrence Payton, and Abdul Fakir had spent 10 years together by then, racking up hits after signing with Motown in 1963 and acquiring the Holland, Dozier, Holland team as writers and producers. The song also went to #1 in England.

The first line of the song is "Well if you feel that you can't go on" and some mixes cut out the word "feel," making the line hard to understand. The line "just look over your shoulder!" was repeated by Michael Jackson in the Jackson 5's 1970 smash, the similarly named "I'll Be There." The song has been covered in numerous charting versions, including discs by Merrilee Rush and Michael Bolton, but no one is really able to get a Four Tops song across the way the late Levi Stubbs did.

The Rolling Stones -- Paint It, Black

This was the Stones' 7th Top Ten and third Number One. Throughout 1965 and into 1966, they would record and release in a fevered pace, putting out ten singles and b-sides during that time, hardly slowing down at all until 1969, when "Honky Tonk Women" would be their lone missive.  

Though George Harrison introduced the sitar to rock music on the Beatles' Rubber Soul LP in late 1965 on "Norwegian Wood," leave it to the Stones to be the first to use it on a major single release, played by Brian Jones. Jones was the multi-instrumentalist in the Stones; he was proficent with guitar, sitar, tamboura, dulcimer, organ, mellotron, recorder, harmonica, marimba and xylophone (think of "Under My Thumb.")

The comma in the title was added by London Records and doesn't make any sense grammatically.  Eric Burdon and War hit with a cover version in Holland in 1970,and it has been recut by many other acts, as seen on this wikipedia entry.

Monday, November 3, 2008

'66: Association, Supremes

The Association: Cherish

So, does your oldies station play the "long" version of "Cherish", the one with the extra "and I do ... cherish you" at the end? In the mid-sixties, radio stations were quite wary of songs that ran longer than three minutes due to allotted commercial times ("if you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit" sang Billy Joel in The Entertainer.) Thus, out went the extra "and I do" from "Cherish", which made a 3:25 recording come in at 3:13, and it listed as 3:00 on the 45 sleeve. 

When I was a kid, hearing it on AM radio, I always thought the lyrics went "I'm beginning to think that manners never found the words that could make you want me," when they actually go: "man has never found", but I think my way makes sense as well. Composer Terry Kirkman originally envisioned a slow number for the Righteous Brothers to sing. "Cherish", recorded in mid-tempo, replaced "Enter The Young" as the band's followup to "Along Comes Mary" and became their first #1 hit. The line "just the right sound" was used as the title of their 2002 retrospective on Rhino Records, for which my friend Dawn Eden conducted interviews and wrote liner notes.

The Supremes: You Can't Hurry Love

After a slight slump for Motown's biggest act (their previous two hits, "My World Is Empty Without You" and "Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart" had actually failed to hit Number One) Diana, Mary and Flo were back on top with a theme of motherly advice. Brian Holland's infectious, insistent rhythm has been heard on many pop records since, such as Katrina and the Waves' "Walking On Sunshine." 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

1966: Righteous Brothers, Mamas & The Papas, Beatles, Spoonful

Righteous Brothers -- (You're My) Soul and Inspiration

This was baritone Bill Medley and tenor Bobby Hatfield's final Top Ten  and the last one they would enjoy until 1974's "Rock and Roll Heaven." It was composed by Brill Building stalwarts Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil a couple of years before, when Medley and Hatfield were still under the tutelage of maestro Phil Spector. After Spector sold their contracts to MGM and its subsidiary Verve for $1 million in 1966, the Righteous Brothers wanted to make a solid impression right away and revisited the song, which was the right choice as it became all-time biggest hit. But the two never clicked again at MGM the way they had with Spector.

Mamas and the Papas, Monday, Monday

At three weeks at Number One "Monday, Monday" was likewise this California quintet's biggest smash. John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Dougherty and Ellen "Mama Cass" Cohen had all previously performed in folk groups in Southern California and wound up together in the Virgin Islands; all this is given the Readers' Digest condensation treatment in a later smash, "Creeque Alley."  Oddly the Mamas and the Papas were the first equally sexually integrated pop group in the rock and roll era, with two men and two women.

Composed by John Phillips and with a lead by Denny, "Monday, Monday" is a general lament of the least-preferred day of the week; the topic would later be revisited by the Boomtown Rats in "I Don't Like Mondays." Phillips said in interviews that he had no idea what the song actually meant, though. It has one of the great false endings in pop, too.

The Beatles: We Can Work It Out

This was the Beatles' Christmas single in 1965, backed with "Day Tripper" which was a Top Ten charter itself; rare was the Beatles 45 that wasn't a hit on both sides of the disc. Rubber Soul came out the same day, so Christmas 1965 was a very good year for the lads, who were nearing the top of their game by then. 

Starting with this song, however, a pattern started that would persist, with some exceptions, till the Beatles broke up in 1970: a song sung by Paul would be the A, and a Lennon on the B. Eventually this would come to rankle John to no end, though the cracks in the lads' armor were nowhere near showing at this point. "We Can Work It Out" was composed equally by Paul, who did the optimistic verses "try to see it my way" and John, who did the middle eight "there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend." There is no lead guitar on this track, so George has not much to do except play the  tambourine, while John's harmonium is prominent throughout.

Lovin' Spoonful, Summer in the City

Pretty much no song evokes the hot, humid, blistering summer of New York City better than "Summer in the City," co-composed by Mark Sebastian, John Sebastian's brother. Released in July '66 "Summer" was the Spoonful's 5th single on the Kama Sutra label and their sole Number One. It boasts a more muscular production that their previous hits, as well as traffic and jackhammer sound effects. Singer John Sebastian and guitarist Zal Yanovsky ran in the same circles in the California clubs that members of the Mamas and the Papas did; Cass Elliott brought the two together. The band was formed in Greenwich Village, taking its name for a line in a song by bluesman Mississippi John Hurt. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Condensed Pop Starts Now

Hello and welcome to Condensed Pop. This is Kevin Walsh, webmaster of Forgotten New York. For the past ten years FNY has been pointing out the things in New York City that the guidebooks don't care about and most people don't notice. In January 2004 the process got started that turned FNY into a book, as I worked together with HarperCollins to publish a book in September 2006 that I'm very proud of and was reviewed generally favorably, and sold moderately well.

Condensed Pop is my bid for another one. For several decades, I've been fascinated with the pop music I grew up with, which I'll consider between the years of 1960 and 1992 -- the years I listened to the radio and discovered the hits I liked, as well as the ones I didn't. Since I've always been a list fanatic, I tuned into the various countdown shows on local stations like WMCA (the Good Guys) and WABC (the All Americans) and have always loved the buzz and energy that was produced by the deejays, who were as much into the music as the listerners were -- and if they weren't, they did a great job faking it. Later, I tuned into Casey Kasem's countdowns, and as slick as Casey could be, his shows were tremendously paced. On Kasem's shows, you heard the hits that New York Top 40 stations wouldn't touch, for one reason or another.

On Condensed Pop, I'll do a countdown myself -- I'll take a year and describe between one and five hits a day -- who wrote it, who performed it, and provide any observations I have about it, if any. I'll begin with the Number One hit of the year and count back to the lowest hit of the year. Should be fun and this project, along with Forgotten New York, will keep me out of trouble for the foreseeable future. If the site is successful enough, perhaps a second book will happen down the road somewhere.

Let's begin with ... say... 1966, shall we?

The #1 hit that year was...

Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler's The Ballad of the Green Berets 

Sadler was in the Special Forces himself and served in Vietnam and, after falling into a booby trap while on patrol, was recuperating in the States and wrote this song (along with songwriter/author Robin Moore) concerning a wife who is waiting to hear the fate of her Green Beret husband. Years later, Sadler died with his boots on: in 1988 he was shot in Guatemala while training anti-Communist guerrilla fighters and died from his injuries.

It's unthinkable that The Ballad of the Green Berets could have been a hit, say, two or three years later, as the mood of the country had shifted and public sentiment turned away from what was, by then, perceived as an unwinnable conflict. And, even in 1966, Sadler was in rather disparate company, as accompanying him in the Top Five the week in March that his hit rose to the top were Nancy Sinatra, Lou Christie, Herman's Hermits, and the Mamas and the Papas.

In school, our teacher marked the words of the song on the blackboard and had us memorize and sing the song. She wouldn't do that for Lightnin' Strikes.

New Vaudeville Band, Winchester Cathedral

There's a strain of 1960-70s music that looked back to the 1920s  and 1930s -- see Paul McCartney's Honey Pie or You Gave Me The Answer, or more eclectically, the Purple Gang's Granny Takes a Trip or H.P. Lovecraft's Time Machine. Winchester Cathedral looked back to the days when Rudy Vallee crooned into a megaphone wearing a raccoon coat. 

Geoff Stephens, a BBC songwriter in London, wrote the song after regarding a calendar featuring, that particular month, a picture of the Cathedral. The song itself seems to allude to the British story of Dick Whittington, a lad who after first failing to make his fortune in medieval-era London, is about to leave town when the Bow Bells call him back.

Stephens, who sang the song himself through a megaphone on the recording,  assembled the New Vaudeville Band when the song became a big hit, and toured on its strength for awhile. Years later, another Stephens composition, The Crying Game, was revived as the title of a 1992 film starring Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker and Jaye Davidson.