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The Originals Vol. 42

June 29th, 2011 2 comments

In the 42nd instalment of The Originals we”ll revisit the originals of three huge hits, two US  #1s and one chart-topper in Britain, from the mid-“60s. Remember: if you are looking for particular songs that have been covered in this series, visit the index of The Originals.

Earl-Jean ““ I”m Into Something Good.mp3
Herman”s Hermits ““ I”m Into Something Good.mp3
Lady Lee – I”m Into Something Good.mp3

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, which featured before in this series as the original act to record The Beatles” Chains (see The Originals Vol. 25). We also met The Cookies as the first act to record On Broadway, though their version was not released (see The Originals Vol. 33).

As noted in the entry for On Broadway, The Cookies did much demo work for Carole King and Gerry Goffin at Aldon Music (which in the shorthand of music history tends to be conflated with the Brill Building down the road). They also did 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), Neil Sedaka”s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do and Mel Tormé”s Comin” Home Baby. 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. Fronted by Peter Noone, a Mancunian with an All-American smile, the other Hermits were allowed to play on some songs, while on others session musicians did the job. Nobody seems to agree about who played on I”m Into Something Good; it is possible that any, all or none of Nicky Hopkins (the Rolling Stones” keyboard man from 1967-76), Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (later of Led Zeppelin) played on it. Band member Barry Whitwam insists the band did the duties; Noone and Most said they didn”t (though possibly in a fit of pique over contractual wrangles).  It does seem that the song was arranged by Hermits guitarist Dereck Leckenby, which would suggest that he would have had the bandmembers perform on it.

Whoever played on it, 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.

Also in 1964, Billy Fury”s girlfriend Lady Lee, a character with a quite fascinating lifestory, recorded I”m Into Something Good. Later she and Fury split and in 1969 Lee married British DJ Kenny Everett.

Also recorded by: Lady Lee (1964), Don Devil and the Drifters  (1964), Sir Henry and His Butlers (1966) Donny Osmond (1971), The Machines (1982), Peter Noone (1988), The Stool Pigeons (1996), Dave Cloud (1999), The Langley Schools Music Project (2001), The Bird And The Bees (2010) a.o.

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Nella Dodds – Come See About Me (1964).mp3
The Supremes – Come See About Me (1964).mp3

This is one of those records where the earlier recording was released later (another instance of that, which I was made aware of only recently, concerns Ruby Don”t Take Your Love To Town; an edit and new file are now up on The Originals Vol. 24). In keeping with the methodology of this series, we go primarily by release date. And here, it seems, Nella Dodds narrowly scooped The Supremes.

Come See About Me was written by Motown”s hugely successful songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, and The Supremes recorded it on 13 July 1964, backed by The Funk Brothers. Somehow the song had come into the hands of the people at Wand Records in New York, who had their singer Nella Dodds record it. While The Supremes were still riding high in the charts with Baby Love, their second chart-topper in a row, Wand put out Dodds” version, a pleasant affair which nonetheless cannot compare to the exquisite vigor of the Supremes” version.

Although Dodds recorded for a New York label, she was a pioneer of Philadelphia soul ““ Kenneth Gamble, future Philly soul supremo, and Jimmy Bishop, who would discover many Philly soul acts, appeared on Dodds” Wand recordings. Gamble later co-wrote a hit which The Supemes would cover with The Temptations (and which will still feature in this series).

Motown were alarmed when they learned that Dodds” record had been issued, and rush-released The Supremes” recording. Dodds” version stalled at #74, and she would never have a breakthrough hit. For The Supremes, Come See About Me became the third in a golden run of five #1 hits.

Also recorded by: Choker Campbell  (1964), Gene Barge (1965), The Newbeats (1965), Barbara Mason (1965), Jr. Walker  (1967), Mitch Ryder (1968), Bonnie Pointer (1979), Tracy Nelson (1980), Neil Sedaka (1984), Shakin’ Stevens (1987), Afghan Whigs (1992), The Originals (1998), Freda Payne (2001), James Taylor Quartet (2007) a.o.

The Raindrops – Hanky Panky (1963).mp3
The Summits ““ Hanky Panky (1963).mp3
Tommy James and the Shondells ““ Hanky Panky (1966).mp3

Among the inhabitants of cubicles with pianos at the Brill Building in New York were Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry, who together wrote so many of the songs we now associate with Phil Spector”s girl groups. While writing music was their bread and butter, they also wanted to record. Greenwich had already done so in the late “50s, as Ellie Gaye, and while writing hits in the early “60s, she also sang on demos for Brill compositions.

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.

Also Recorded By: The Junior Mance Trio (1965), Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (1966), The Outsiders (1966), The Wallflower Complexion (1966), The Ventures (1966), Neil Diamond (1966), , Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (1981), Link Protrudi and the Jaymen (1987), Ellie Greenwich (1999), The Cramps (2004), The Freedoms (2004), Los Hitters (2005) a.o.

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In Memoriam 2009 Vol. 1

December 24th, 2009 13 comments

About the only reason why I still bother to watch awards shows is to catch the sequence of people who have died since the last show (and of late successive shows have contrived to fuck that up by going for “artistic” camera angles which don”t hep the TV viewer in identifying dead people). Here is my In Memoriam section, with mix-tapes, for 2009, including only musicians, in three parts. The second will run next week, and the third early in the new year to accommodate late entries. so please don”t shout at me for having failed to pick up that the little singer of the Jackson 5 has died; he”ll feature in the second instalment. Feel free, however, to shout at the Grammys for omitting many of the departed musicians I will highlight.

The order of musicians does not run in the chronology of death, but is dictated randomly by the requirements of mix-tape sequencing “” and the total aptness of leading with the Jim Carroll song as the theme of the mix. The songs featured on the mix should remind us what a debt we owe to those who have gone, and in some cases how much we are going to miss them, or cause us regret that we did not get to know them better.

Rest in Peace, y”all.

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Jim Carroll, 60, post-punk musician and writer of The Basketball Diaries, on September 11.
The Jim Carroll Band – People Who Died (1980)

Willy DeVille, 58, punk musician, on August 6
Mink DeVille – Just To Walk That Little Girl Home (1980)

Al Martino, 82, crooner and actor (Johnny Fontane in The Godfather), on October 13
Al Martino – To The Door Of The Sun (1974)

Ellie Greenwich, 68, Brill Building songwriter and occasional singer, on August 26
Ellie Greenwich – I Can Hear Music (1973)

Rusty Wier, 65, country singer and songwriter, on October 9
Rusty Wier – High Road, Low Road (1976)

John Martyn, 60, singer-songwriter, on January 29
John Martyn – Ways To Cry (1973)

Jay Bennett, 45, multi-instrumentalist, engineer, ex-Wilco member, on May 25
Jay Bennett & Edward Burch – Forgiven (2002)

Taylor Mitchell, 19, Canadian singer-songwriter, killed by coyotes on October 28
Taylor Mitchell – Don’t Know How I Got Here (2009)

Mary Travers, 72, folk singer and a third of Peter, Paul & Mary, on September 16
Mary Travers – Five Hundred Miles (1973)

Gordon Waller, 64, half of “60s duo Peter & Gordon (represented here with a Lennon/McCartney composition), on July 17
Peter & Gordon – I Don’t Want To See You Again (1964)

Estelle Bennett, 67, member of The Ronettes and sister of Ronnie Spector, on February 11
The Ronettes – Silhouettes (1962)

Dewey Martin, 68, Buffalo Springfield drummer, on January 31
Buffalo Springfield – Sit Down, I Think I Love You (1966)

Billy Lee Riley, 75, rockabilly singer on Sun Records (sometimes backed by Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, as on this song), on August 2
Billy Riley – Pearly Lee (1957)

Gale Storm, 87, actress and singer born Josephine Owaissa Cottle, on June 27
Gale Storm – Dark Moon (1957)

Huey Long, 105, last surviving member of the Ink Spots (whom he joined in 1944), on June 10
Ink Spots – To Each His Own (1946)

Chris Connor, 81, jazz singer born Mary Coutsenhizer, on August 29
Chris Connor – They All Laughed (1957)

Kenny Rankin, 69, pop and jazz singer, on June 7
Kenny Rankin – Sunday Kind Of Love (1975)

Koko Taylor, 80, blues singer, on June 3
Koko Taylor – I Don’t Care No More (1985)

Johnny Carter, 75, R&B singer with The Flamingos and The Dells, on August 21
The Dells – The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind) (1971)

Leroy Smith, 56, founder and keyboardist of UK soul group Sweet Sensation, on January 15
Sweet Sensation – Sad Sweet Dreamer (1975)

Viola Wills, 69, soul singer who made a comeback as disco diva, on May 6
Viola Wills – Gonna Get Along Without You Now (1979)

Eddie Bo, 79, funky blues legend, on March 18
Eddie Bo – We’re Doing It (The Thang Pt1) (1970)

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\In Memoriam Vol. 1

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Gone to the chapel: R.I.P. Ellie Greenwich

August 26th, 2009 8 comments
Ellie Greenwhich in 1967

Ellie Greenwhich in 1967

The astute observer of popular culture may have noticed that 2009 has been a pretty bad year for celebrity deaths. But none gave me a cold shiver upon learning of somebody’s passing (well, MJ’s was a bit of a surprise), until I learnt of Ellie Greewich’s death today.

For those who need reminding, she co-wrote with ex-husband Jeff Barry or Phil Spector classics such as  Be My Baby, Da Doo Ron Ron, River Deep Mountain High, Going To The Chapel, Leader Of The Pack, Doo Wah Diddy (The Exciters’ original can be found here), Hanky Panky, Baby I Love You, And Then He Kissed Me and more.

She recorded some of these in 1973. Be My Baby, Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home (Darlene Love) and I Can Hear Music (the Ronettes and the Beach Boys)  sound like Carpenters songs. Maybe I Know was a hit for Lesley Gore. (Thanks to the Hep Kat for giving me those tracks a while ago) .

Ellie Greenwich – Be My Baby.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – River Deep Mountain High.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – I Can Hear Music.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – Da Doo Ron Ron.mp3
Ellie Greenwich – Maybe I Know.mp3

Greenwich also discovered Neil Diamond, whom she went on to co-produce (she did backing vocals on songs such as Cherry Cherry and Kentucky Woman). Read more about Greenwich on her wikipedia page.

A legend and by all accounts a great human being. R.I.P.

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