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.


Joe hedio said...

Bobby Hebb has performed & lived here in the North Shore area of Boston. I've heard that he actually lived on Chestnut Street, which is the most historical and tony street in Salem at one time.

Andy Baum said...

I've heard that Lesley Gore was offered "Groovy Kind Of Love". But, reportedly her manager refused to let her sing a song with the word "groovy" in the lyric, fearing it was too racy for her squeaky-clean image.

Anonymous said...

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames did a pretty good version of Sunny too