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The Originals – 1960s Vol. 1

April 25th, 2019 8 comments

 

In this instalment of The Originals we look at some of the lesser-known first releases of songs that would become huge 1960s hits for others, starting with (what I will assume is) the innocence of My Boy Lollipop and ending with the national anthem of Orgasmia. There are 30 songs on the mix; I’m telling the story of 17 of them. Of the remaining 13, it may be noted that two were written by Laura Nyro, the one featured here in her first recording and the later Blood, Sweat & Tears hit And When I Die.

So, get a good cup of the hit beverage of your choice, settle in and enjoy the journey through the originals of 1960s classics.

 

My Boy Lollipop

Millie’s My Boy Lollipop, widely regarded as the first crossover ska hit which helped give reggae a mainstream audience. In its original version, My Boy Lollypop (note the original spelling) was a song recorded in 1956 by the white R&B singer Barbie Gaye, at 15 two years younger than Millie Small was when she had a hit with the cover in 1964.

As so often in pop history, the story of the song’s authorship is cloaked in controversy. By most accounts, it was written by Bobby Spencer of the doo wop band The Cadillacs, with the group’s manager, Johnny Roberts, getting co-writer credit. Barbie Gaye’s single became a very minor hit, championed by the legendary rock & roll DJ Alan Freed. It was Spencer’s misfortune to come into contact with the notorious mafia-connected record executive and music publisher Morris Levy, who implausibly claimed that he had in fact written My Boy Lollypop, using the moniker R Spencer as a pseudonym. The real Spencer was later reinstated on the credits which nonetheless still list Levy as a co-writer. Levy’s name is attached to other classics which he had no hand in writing, such as Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya, Frankie Lymon’s Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and The Rivieras’ California Sun. We’ll encounter him again in the story of the next song in this post.

My Boy Lollipop was revived in 1964 by Chris Blackwell, boss of the nascent Island Records label in England, which had recorded no big hit yet. He chose young Millicent Small to record it. As half of the duo Roy & Millie she had already enjoyed a hit with We’ll Meet in Jamaica. Her version changed Island’s fortunes: the song became a worldwide hit, reaching #2 in both US and UK. Island, of course, went on to become the label of Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Robert Palmer and U2.

Hanky Panky

Among the inhabitants of cubicles with pianos at the Brill Building in New York were Ellie Greenwich (who in her earlier singing had named herself Ellie Gaye in tribute to Barbie Gaye) and her husband Jeff Barry, who together wrote so many of the songs we now associate with Phil Spector’s girl groups. In 1963, Greenwich and Barry recorded a demo of a song called What A Guy. It was intended for a doo-wop group called The Sensations, but the band’s label, Jubilee, was so impressed with demo’s girl-band style (which was in fact Greenwich’s multi-tracked voice, with Barry providing bass voice) that they decided to release it, in the name of the songwriters’ band, The Raindrops.

Trouble was that Greenwich and Barry had no song for the flip-side, so they thrashed out Hanky Panky in the space of 20 minutes. They were not particularly satisfied with the song, and when a group called The Summits released it soon after as the b-side of He’s An Angel (or it might have been released before What A Guy came out; it’s unclear), it didn’t do brisk business either.

And yet, the song had become popular among garage rock live bands, including one called The Spinners (not the soul band), from whom the teenage musician Tommy Jackson heard it. He recorded it with his band, The Shondells, in 1964 at a radio station in Michigan. It was a local hit, but Tommy decided to break up his band and complete his schooling. The following year he was contacted by a Pittsburgh DJ who had discovered the record and now wanted Tommy and his Shondells to perform it on air. He hurriedly put together a new line-up of Shondells, and changed his name to Tommy James. He then sold the 1964 master to Roulette Records, which released it without remixing, never mind re-recording it. The single went to #1 in July 1966. James later explained in a Billboard interview: “I don’t think anybody can record a song that bad and make it sound good. It had to sound amateurish like that.”

There is a great story of how the small New York-based Roulette label got to release Hanky Panky. It seems that a whole gang of labels, some of them majors, wanted to buy the record. Suddenly, one after another, they withdrew their offers, much to Tommy James’ surprised dismay. In the end Jerry Wexler of Atlantic told the singer, still a teenager, what was going on: Roulette’s Morris Levy (on whom The Soprano’s Hesch Rabkin is based) had called all rival labels telling them that Hanky Panky belonged to him. Intimidated, the rivals bought the bluff, and James had to go with Levy.

Needles And Pins
Needles And Pins was written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nietzsche and first recorded by the vastly underrated Jackie DeShannon in 1963, crossing the Atlantic the same year in Petula Clark’s version before the Searchers finally scored a hit with it in 1964 (DeShannon’s version, while not a hit in the US, topped the Canadian charts). The story goes that The Searchers first heard Needles And Pins being performed by Cliff Bennett at the Star Club in Hamburg and immediately decided that the song should be their next single. It became the second of their three UK #1 hits. They did retain DeShannon’s pronunciation of “now-ah”, “begins-ah” and “pins-ah”.

 

I’m Into Something Good
In the late 1950s Ethel “Earl-Jean” McCrea was a member of the R&B girl group The Cookies, which was absorbed into Ray Charles’ backing band, The Raelettes. Only Earl-Jean didn’t join the backing singer gig, instead becoming part of a new incarnation of The Cookies, who recorded the original of The Beatles’ Chains.

The Cookies did much demo work for Carole King and Gerry Goffin at Aldon Music, doing backing vocals on pop songs such as Little Eva’s The Loco-motion (it was through Earl-Jean’s recommendation that King and Goffin employed Little Eva as a babysitter) and Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Along the way, they had a top ten hit with Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby.

Earl-Jean left The Cookies in 1964 to try for a solo career, and it was King and Goffin who wrote her first (and only) solo hit: I’m Into Something Good, released on Colpix Records. It did a creditable job, climbing to #38 in the Billboard charts. Alas, her follow-up single, Randy, didn’t do as well, and when in 1966 Colpix folded, her solo career was over.

In Britain, the record producer Mickey Most – fresh from discovering The Animals – had heard I’m Into Something Good, and decided it was a perfect vehicle for his new protéges, Herman’s Hermits. The single became a UK #1 hit in September 1964, and then went on to reach #13 in the US, ringing in a golden period for Herman’s Hermits, who remarkably became the best-selling act in the United States in 1965, ahead of even The Beatles

Galveston

Jimmy Webb sat on the beach of Galveston on the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico when he wrote this song, which might appear to be about the “Spanish-American War” (which we really should call the Cuban Independence War) but was just as applicable to the Vietnam War, which Read more…

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Any Major Churches

April 18th, 2019 2 comments

I had no plans to post anything special for Easter, since the Saved! series had run its course. But the fire in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, a place I’ve visited several times, moved me to make a mix of songs about churches. It is not a Saved! mix because the songs here don’t necessarily speak of religious faith. In some songs, such as California Dreaming or For Emily, the churches are just incidental in the narrative.

What has emerged is a remarkably eclectic mix which covers all sorts of things, from French chanson to hip hop, from funk to country, from blues to indie rock. Any Major Dude With Half A Heart is a broad church.

The mix kicks off with a song about Notre-Dame, and the Paris theme returns later with Tift Merrit’s song which references the church of St Sulpice, which also caught fire, though less destructive, this year.

The story of the Johnny Cash song is quite extraordinary: it was written by one of the inmate at Folsom Prison about the jail chapel, “a house of worship in this den of sin”. Apparently the inmate who wrote it, 32-year-old Glen Sherley, sat in the front-row at the Folsom Prison concert, not knowing that Cash would perform his song. Sherley, who was serving time for armed robbery, never caught the curve, despite Cash’s attempts at helping him. In 1978 he died of suicide.

As always, the ix is time to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-hallelujahed covers. PW in comments.

For those who believe, I wish you a Happy Easter. For those who don’t, Happy Feast of the Easter Bunny.

1. Edith Piaf – Notre-Dame de Paris (1952)
2. Ann Cole – In The Chapel (1956)
3. Johnny Rivers – Mountain Of Love (1964)
4. Honey Cone – Sunday Morning People (1971)
5. Box Tops – I Met Her In Church (1967)
6. Lyle Lovett – Church (1992)
7. Drive-By Truckers – Late For Church (1998)
8. Tift Merritt – Tender Branch (2008)
9. Eels – In The Yard, Behind The Church (2005)
10. Ben Harper and The Five Blind Boys of Alabama – Church House Steps (2004)
11. Outkast – Church (2003)
12. James Brown – Bodyheat (1976)
13. Lee Moses – California Dreaming (1971)
14. David Egan – Bourbon In My Cup (2008)
15. Robert Patterson Singers – Crying In The Chapel (1967)
16. Simon & Garfunkel – For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (1970)
17. Johnny Cash – Greystone Chapel (1969)
18. Porter Wagoner – I’ll Meet You In Church Sunday Morning (1964)
19. Ella Fitzgerald – The Church In The Wildwood (1967)
20. Frank Sinatra – Winchester Cathedral (1966)
21. The Willows – Church Bells Are Ringing (1956)
22. John Lee Hooker – Church Bell Tone (1959)

GET IT: https://rapidgator.net/file/8a5989d25f5b7f826a7c732182a0fb75/church.rar.html

Previous SAVED! mixes
Saved! Vol. 1 (Elvis Presley, Carter Family, LaVern Baker, Marvin Gaye…)
Saved! Vol. 2: Soul edition (Curtis Mayfield, The Supremes, The Trammps,  Jerry Butler…)
Saved! Vol. 3 (Prefab Sprout,  Wilco, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds…)
Saved! Vol. 4 (Sam Cooke, Dixie Hummingbirds, Dinah Washington, Jerry Lee Lewis…)
Saved! Vol. 5 (Donny Hathaway, Holmes Brothers,  Steve Earle, The Bar-Kays…)
Saved! Vol. 6: Angels edition (Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Rilo Kiley, Kris Kristofferson…¦)
Saved! Vol. 7: Soul edition (Earth, Wind & Fire, Billy Preston, Marlena Shaw, Al Green…)
Best of Saved!

Categories: God Grooves, Mix CD-Rs Tags:

Beatles Reunited 77 (1977)

April 11th, 2019 3 comments

 

In our alternate Beatleverse it’s 1977, and three years after 1974’s classic double album Photographs, the Fabs are finally releasing a follow-up.

By now John is concentrating on his home-life more than he does on The Beatles, and Ringo is enjoying his forays into the movies. Between them, they provide only three songs to the new album, and John.s are hold-overs from the Photographs sessions [real life aside: the featured Lennon tracks are from the Menlove Ave. album of outtakes from the Walls & Bridges sessions]. One might’ve thought that John’s Rock & Roll shtick was something of an anachronism, but by 1977 it was in line with the 1950s revival which a year later would find full expression with the film Grease.

Paul and George have been prolific, however, and their contributions to this LP are quite lovely. Remarkably, The Beatles have not yet succumbed to the influences of disco.

The album title, 77, is a bit lazy. Obviously it refers to the year of its release. One wonders whether it is also an oblique reference to the year being the tenth anniversary of the year in which Sgt Pepper.s was released. The plain red back cover and the font on the front-cover more than hints at that.

This series of alternate history mixes pay tribute Peter Lee’s commendable alternative-history novel The Life And Death of Mal Evans which is available in print or eBook from avonypublishing.com or from Amazon or Kobo.

The set fits on a standard CD-R and includes covers (and if you don’t like them, take it up with The Beatles’ arts department). PW in comments.

Side 1
1. Let ‘Em In (Paul)
2. Cracker Box Palace (George)
3. Silly Love Songs (Paul)
4. Rock And Roll People (John)
5. Beautiful Girl (George)

Side 2
6. This Song (George)
7. Lady Gaye (Ringo)
8. Girls’ School (Paul)
9. Old Dirt Road (John)
10. You (George)
11. Letting Go (Paul)

GET IT! or HERE!

Previous Beatles Reunited albums:
Everest (1971)
Live ’72 (1972)
Smile Away (1972)
Photographs (1974)

More Beatles stuff
More Mix-CD-Rs

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In Memoriam – March 2019

April 2nd, 2019 6 comments

March saw the fall of at least three stone-cold legends, and tragic death of an up-and-coming band.

The Great Baritone
The voice of an Engel has fallen silent with the death at 76 of the versatile Scott Walker. The obits have covered Walker’s life and career, and it needs no rehashing here. But it’s worth noting that few artists have had a career that spans teen idol pop, interpretative chanson, avant-garde and neo-classical music — and fewer still who could pull it off as Walker did (though, in some cases, I have to rely on critical consensus rather than my own judgment).

The Drummer of a Thousand Hits
He might have lived till he was 90 and not contributed anything to pop music in a long time, but to those who knew his role in music history will have grieved the death of Hal Blaine. The two mixes I put together of songs Blaine played on, as part of the Wrecking Crew, tell only a small part of his story. They are, of course, worth revisiting. Blaine was a total pro, knowing when to hold back, when to let go, and when to innovate (with snowchains on Bridge Over Troubled Water, in an elevator shaft on The Boxer, with a glass ashtray on Dean Martin’s Houston).  And he was a total gentleman; his acts of kindness and generosity are legendary. The world was richer with Hal Blaine in it. And look at his “farewell letter” (click to enlarge), Read more…

Categories: In Memoriam Tags: