Friday, February 20, 2009

"66: Stevie Wonder, the T-Bones

Stevie Wonder -- Uptight

Here's a good live clip of 16-year-old Stevie Wonder doing two of his greatest from the Mike Douglas Show from late 1966. Douglas, who was about as square as square can be (his hit was "The Men in My Little Girl's Life," and was popular at the same time "Uptight" was in early 1966) would surprise you -- he frequently had R&B and pop stars on his afternoon show, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously guest hosted his show in the early 1970s for a week while Douglas was away (lovingly captured on a DVD set). You rarely hear Stevie talk about being blind, but Douglas got him to mention it, if not say too much. How about that set -- asterisks were very big in the mid-60s. They dominated the Dating Game set, too. 

After hitting it big with "Fingertips Part 2" in the summer of 1963 Stevie had had only modest success by his later standards on pop radio, so "Uptight," co-written with Motown label songwriter Sylvia Moy providing the lyrics, was not only a comeback for him but a springboard for a wave of hits that would see Wonder hitting the charts in an almost unbroken line for the next twenty years. "Uptight," an uptempo, horn-driven shouter, finds Stevie cast as a poor boy "from the wrong side of the tracks" who loves a rich girl. With "Purple Rain Drops" on the flip on Tamla, it went to #3 in early '66. 

T-Bones -- No Matter What Shape 

One of those out-of-left-field smashes the Swingin' Sixties are famous for. The T-Bones were four session musicians produced by Joe Saraceno, who had hit the charts himself in 1958 with "The Freeze" as half of the duo Tony and Joe; he later turned to production, attaining success with The Marketts ("Out of Limits") and the Ventures (Walk, Don't Run" and many other hits).  "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In) was produced by Saraceno for use in an Alka-Seltzer commercial you see here. The Ventures indeed covered the song soon after on their Where The Action Is LP. "Shape" was on the radio at the same time as "Uptight" in early 1966, and made it to #3 on the Liberty label.

After one more minor instrumental hit, "Sippin' 'n Chippin," in the spring of 1966, the T-Bones weren't heard from again -- until 1971, when Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds stormed the radio that summer with "Don't Pull Your Love." Dan Hamilton, Joe Frank Carillo, and Tommy Reynolds were all in the T-Bones.

Oh, yeah -- the version in the commercial isn't the T-Bones recording. This is.

Monday, February 16, 2009

'66 -- Simon and Garfunkel, The Happenings

Simon and Garfunkel -- I Am A Rock

Paul Simon paints a rather grim portrait here of a loner who has given up on life and love, living alone, without friends, with only his "books and my poetry to protect me." It's quite likely that Simon was writing completely ironically here, telling us that this isn't the way to go. It's also possible that he wrote it during a particularly bleak period and these were indeed his opinions at the time. (The same ambivalence can be seen in John Lennon's "Nowhere Man" from the same period -- is he writing about himself, or someone else?) 

The song was first recorded by Simon alone in a solo version that appeared only in the UK, on The Paul Simon Songbook. Simon had spent a couple of years in England in the early 1960s before reuniting with Art Garfunkel after returning to the USA. The rerecorded duo version is the closing track on Side Two of the Sounds of Silence LP. The B-side, "Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall" appeared on the follow-up LP, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  "Rock" has been covered most notably by The Hollies the same year, and by the Australian band The Church in 1981. 

I couldn't find a live take of the song, but I did find a video that shows the lads clambering on rocks in lower Manhattan by the FDR Drive and Brooklyn Bridge. 

The song was S&G's third consecutive Top Ten hit in 1966, but they hit something of a slump thereafter, reaching #1 again after a 2-year absence in 1968 with "Mrs. Robinson." "Rock" debuted in the Hot 100 on May 7, 1966 and spent a total of 11 weeks in the chart, topping off at #3.

The Happenings -- See You in September

The Happenings were a four-part vocal group from Paterson, NJ featuring Bob Miranda (lead), Tom Giuliano (tenor), Ralph DiVito (baritone) and Dave Libert (bass). All their hits were released on B.T. Puppy, the label founded by The Tokens' Hank Medress. For their debut recording, a song that was a hit in 1959 for another 4-man vocal group, the Tempos (from Pittsburgh, PA), "See You In September," composed by Sid Wayne and Sherman Edwards, was selected. The Happenings sped up the original cha-cha version somewhat and added a rock arrangement. "September" turned out to be The Happenings' biggest hit, entering the Hot 100 on July 9, 1966 and ascending to #3.

Bob Miranda talks about the Happenings' formation in this interview on