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.