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.


Keith said...

I've always been a big fan of Lee Hazlewood. His work with Nancy Sinatra was great. He definitely put the fire in her career.

Kevin Walsh said...

More on Lee