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.


Joe Hedio said...

Another great post Kevin. "When A Man Loves A Woman" is probably the only "deep soul" song to ever hit #1 in the pop charts. Another great song by Percy Sledge was "Take Time to Know Her", which was a hit in '68.

This past weekend, I went to a holiday fair at my church & found the following goodies for $1 buck:

1. The Ventures Play Telestar and the Lonely Bull LP (great condition, still in the shrink wrap & having a Radio Shack $3.98 price tag;
2. Surfin' Safari by the Beach Boys (original mono version); and
3. Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits (2 CD set)
Not a bad way to spend a buck, then

Kevin Walsh said...

I still have hundreds of LPs but admittedly, haven't played any since I moved. I will get around to it.

Frank Jump said...

And there ain't nothin' I can do about it...

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was a real great honor to play drums for The Great Percy Sledge. What a wonderfull man, amazing to talk to. His music will go on for years to come. I look forward tp playing drums once more for Percy Sledge. From a legendary drummer. I bet you rember me Percy Sledge. A very happy new year to you.