THE HISTORY OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – 1961 – PART TWO

Posted: February 21, 2016 in Uncategorized
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THE TOKENS – ELVIS PRESLEY – BOBBY VEE – BARRY MANN & CYNTHIA WEIL

by Robert Seoane

 

SOLOMON LINDA AND
THE EVOLUTION OF THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT

Zulu music was all the rage in 1930’s Johannesburg, South Africa. One of the popular local groups at the time was the Evening Birds, headed by falsetto singer Solomon Ntsele, which he later changed to “Linda”, his clan name.


South African Postage Stamp honoring Solomon Linda, illustrated by Hendrik Gericke

In 1939, Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds were signed to the Gallo Record Company. Linda had already been working at Gallo packaging records when he and his group were discovered by the company’s talent scout, Griffith Motsieloa. Motsieloa took the group to record label owner, Italian immigrant Eric Gallo. At the time, Gallo’s recording studio was the only one in Sub-Sahara Africa. Gallo allowed them to record a few of their songs one particular day, produced by Motsieloa, and during their impromptu jams, Linda sang a very high sustained note that descended into a bed of male vocals rhythmically repeating “Uyembubeh”. Then, right before the recording fades out, Linda’s falsetto goes into an impromptu melody that would evolve thirty years later into “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, a 1961 hit record for a group called The Tokens.

Linda and the group called the impromptu recording “Mbube”, which means “lion” in Zulu. It may possibly be the first recording ever with a male falsetto as lead. Men didn’t sing falsetto then, leaving that task up to the female vocalist. But Solomon Linda’s tenor voice had the capacity to reach highs otherwise unheard of on record until then.

The Evening Birds were also groundbreakers in the use of four bass vocals, practically eliminating the need for musical instruments, singing the sounds that normally would come out of a musical instrument a capella.

“Mbube” was released by Gallo Records in 1939 and eventually went on to sell over 100,000 copies in South Africa. Linda and the Evening Birds continued their live appearances and dressed in fancy pin-striped suits during each performance in an effort to suggest a sophisticated air about them. Although they were successful in South Africa, Linda sold the rights to his music, including “Mbube”, to Gallo for a measly 10 shillings ($2 USD at the time), relinquishing all rights to his songs.

The Evening Birds stayed together until 1948 but Linda continued to record solo after that, having gained wide popularity in South Africa thanks to “Mbube”. Eventually, the song made it overseas in the early 1950s and into the hands of musicologist Alan Lomax who found the recording intriguing. He played the 78 rpm record to his friend Pete Seeger, he of the most popular folk group at the time in America, The Weavers. Seeger liked it and retitled it “Wimoweh” because that’s what he thought the “Uyembubeh” refrain was saying. They recorded their own version of it in 1952, without alerting Solomon Linda or anyone else who may have had the rights to the original tune should they be getting some deserved royalties for its success. “Wimoweh” became a Top Twenty hit in the USA in 1952 and from that point, it would slowly be added into the fabric of America’s popular music.

Right about halfway through the Weavers’ live recording, that melodic line that Linda had come up with before the fade out in “Mbube” and would later become the main melody in the Tokens’ version, is sung by Weavers’ tenor, Seeger.

In the Weavers original 1952 recording, Seeger starts by explaining their discovery of the song, admitting it came from South Africa. He incorrectly claims that the crux of the song was in the word “Wimoweh” instead of “Mbube” that meant “lion” in Zulu.

That same year in ’52, Jimmy Dorsey recorded a sped up, jazzed version of “Wimoweh”, with an amazing horn solo that feels the song from a whole different, danceable direction.

Three years later, the Weavers re-recorded a live version of “Wimoweh” in Carnegie Hall in 1955 and released it in 1957, making it even more popular in America. Judging by the audience response as the Weavers begin to sing the familiar melody, it had already become a well-known tune from a popular group of the time. When looking at the song credits on that album however, there is no songwriting credit. Instead of Solomon Linda’s name. it’s listed as “traditional”.

Over the ensuing years, it was covered internationally by artists such as Peruvian singer Yma Sumac who, with her deep-voiced and amazing falsetto-jazz, big band rendition, put Linda’s melody front and center.

Other artists who covered the compositions include South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba, whose cover is the most faithful to Solomon Linda’s original “Mbube” version, sung lovingly and proudly in Zulu.

The Kingston Trio recorded their own version of “Wimoweh” in 1959 and was faithful to the Weavers’ interpretation. It was the last track of Side One in their second album, “The Hungry I”, when the Trio’s popularity knew no bounds. In the live version of their recording, vocalist Dave Guard explains that in English, the Zulu lyrics were saying “the lion is sleeping, the lion is sleeping.”

As a result, everyone in the country had the “Wimoweh” melody ingrained in their brains, and as records were sold and an assortment of different versions were recorded, not a penny went to Linda, or Gallo who owned the rights.

Enter the Tokens, a record company musical group from Brooklyn, New York. The group was a result of an evolution of musicians that began in 1955 as the Linc-Tones. In the beginning, one of its original members was Neil Sedaka.

Lead vocalist Jay Siegel joined the Linc-Tones when original member Eddie Rabkin left the group. Along with Sedaka, Siegel and the rest of the group recorded their first single “While I Dream” in 1956. The following year, Sedaka and the other founding member Cynthia Zolotin left the group. The only two left were Siegel and the only remaining founding member of the Linc-Tones, Hank Medress.

Siegel and Medress decided to continue together, so they recruited two additional members and changed their name to the quite random “Darrell & The Oxfords”. The newly evolved group recorded and released “Picture In My Wallet” in 1957.

By 1960, after running through a gamut of band members and band names, they settled on the Tokens. They also had included a 13-year-old genius. Mitch Margo was a multi-instrumentalist and his older brother Phil, five years his senior, was a baritone.

Signed to Warwick Records, the Tokens released their first single, “Tonight I Fell In Love” in early 1961. It was a respectable debut, climbing up to Number 15 on the Billboard Pop chart that year. It gave them enough popularity and success to land a spot on television on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”. As a result, the Tokens suddenly became in demand and soon they were offered the opportunity to record a newly written song called ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.

It occurred to two RCA record producers, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, that no English language lyrics had ever been written for “Wimoweh”, so they hired Julliard trained lyricist and arranger George David Weiss to write a rough translation of the Zulu lyrics. Similar to Sumac’s version, Weiss highlighted the “in the jungle “musical line to become the melody of the song. The result was a set of compelling lyrics that has ever since replaced “Wimoweh” in the national consciousness.

“In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Near the village, the peaceful village, the lion sleeps tonight…
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Hush my darling, don’t fear my darling, the lion sleeps tonight…
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, Wimoweh…
– The Lion Sleeps Tonight – The Tokens

The result was stunning. A pop song that sounded totally different from anything else on the radio. It made it to Number One on December 12, 1961 and stayed there for three weeks where it went on to sell more than a million copies.

Solomon Linda was acutely aware of the phenomenon his song had become on the other side of the world and probably bristled at the fact that not only did he not own the song anymore, even if he had, those who had used it to much success were not even aware of his existence. By 1962, Linda was impoverished, without any money and suffering from a kidney insufficiency that would soon cost him his life. Indeed, on October 8, 1962, Solomon Linda died of renal failure at age 53. The family couldn’t afford to buy him a tombstone and one wasn’t constructed for 18 years.

But there was hope for the Linda family still, albeit a long wait to set things straight. Johannesburg, being colonized by the United Kingdom at the time of Linda’s birth, was under British law, which stated that after twenty-five years after the death of a composer who sold his music, that music would automatically revert back to the composer or the rightful heirs. His heirs however weren’t aware of this and by 1987 “Mbube” had spawned a small industry that had generated millions of dollars since its first recording in 1939.


Walt Disney’s “The Lion King” (1994)

Things began to turn around in the year 2000 when author Rian Malan wrote an article for Rolling Stone Magazine about Solomon Linda’s story. In the article, Malan pointed out that “The Lion Seeps Tonight” had earned $15 million USD just for being used in Walt Disney’s classic animated film “The Lion King” alone. Enough public interest was raised after the publication of the article to interest filmmaker Francois Verster. Verster and Malan cooperated in making a documentary called “A Lion’s Trail”, which aired on PBS in 2002. The doc laid out the entire injustice done to Solomon Linda with the international success of a song that was born from his impromptu melody.

The documentary had armed Solomon Linda’s heirs with enough irrefutable evidence to make their case to not only Gallo Records, who owned the song when Linda sold it for 10 shillings way back when, but also to the South African government. With their support, Linda’s heirs sued the Walt Disney Company for royalties due them for the use of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in “The Lion King” (1994) movie and stage musical still playing in 2016 on Broadway.

The Walt Disney Company cooperated and helped Linda’s heirs reach a settlement with Abilene Music, the company that owned worldwide rights for the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for an undisclosed sum in 2006. The settlement included all worldwide royalties owed to them retroactive to 1987 when the song should have been rightfully transferred to Linda’s heirs, as well as all future royalties for its worldwide use. From then on, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” will always be acknowledged as derived from “Mbube” and Solomon Linda will always be listed as co-composer on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, along with Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss and Albert Stanton.

A trust was formed to administer the copyright of “Mbube” and to receive payments due on their behalf from the worldwide use of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. At long last, sixty-seven years after it was first recorded, Solomon Linda was properly acknowledged.

Even today, the Tokens still tour as (original lead vocalist) Jay Siegel’s Tokens with their hit song as the centerpiece of their show. The group’s website has a list of upcoming booked dates for 2016 that goes into January 2017. Former founding member Jay Traynor was with the group up until his death on January 2, 2014 at age 70.

“Everyone knows “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. It doesn’t matter where we go, where we perform. From kids that are 3 years old to people who are 80 years old, they know the song. Dignitaries know the song, the Presidents of the United States… I think its one of the most recognizable melodies in the world, and its still hard for me to believe that a kid from Brooklyn made musical history.” – Jay Siegel, lead singer; The Tokens

 

ELVIS PRESLEY

On January 8, 1961, Elvis Presley kissed his rock ’n’ roll ass goodbye. He signed a five-picture deal with Hall Wallis, promising to star in one crummy movie musical a year for five years. And so he did, between extended bouts of indiscriminate partying with his growing collection of hangers-on that would soon be known as the Memphis Mafia.

His musical career was still going strong in 1961, although any aural semblance of the rock ‘n’ roll Elvis before his Army days was becoming increasingly rare. Looking back, 1961 would prove to become the last big year of the first phase of his career, as the big bang that begat the comet that was Elvis was commencing to implode. 1961 would also be the last year that Elvis would release a worthy output of quality singles, with each subsequent year proving less and less popular in terms of chart success for the King.

Elvis’ focus on making movies from that point on would mark the turning point of his inevitable slide into irrelevance. In the long run, although he spent the Sixties sidelined by the musical upheaval brought on by the British Invasion of rock & roll that would suddenly begin in 1964 when the Beatles took the charts over, Elvis’ fame and popularity would remain unaffected despite the mediocre output of movies and music throughout the rest of his career. His movies managed to all turn a profit at the box office and, despite the fact that he barely made a dent in the Pop charts during that period, he still had a loyal hardcore fan base that bought anything and everything he released.

A year after having left the Army, with critics poison-penning predictions that he would never regain the popularity he lost during his absence, the Elvis Presley of 1961 was at the peak of his fame. He was no longer a threat to the Establishment, or even a symbol of rebellion to his young peers. Presley manager Col. Tom Parker had successfully molded Elvis into a palatable product for the whole world to worship, and wholesome enough to be embraced even by adult society. Elvis Presley had traded his rock ‘n’ roll soul for the love of the world.

Other milestones that come to mark the end of this phase of his career also occurred in 1961. It would be the last year the King would perform on-stage until 1968 when he appeared in a comeback special on NBC, and it would also be the last year he would have a Number One single until his brief pop chart resurgence eight years later in 1969.

In January he had wrapped up the filming of his latest movie “Wild In The Country” and was presented a plaque on the 8th, his 26th birthday, that read “Happy Birthday, King Karate”, a reference to his growing interest in the martial art.

After “Wild In The Country” wrapped production, he returned to his home in Tupelo, Mississippi, not just to see his father but also to admire the Elvis Presley Youth Center in which he had invested $14,000 four years earlier. Upon his arrival on February 1, he discovered that the youth center did not exist and neither did the money he had invested. Three days later, his cousin Junior Smith died, overcome by alcohol addiction. Elvis’ return home was not what he had expected, so he must’ve been relieved when he got a call to return to re-shoot the ending of “Wild In The Country”. The movie’s original ending had fared poorly among a group of test audiences, so Elvis rushed back to his more comfortable celebrity lifestyle in Hollywood. He had outgrown his hometown.

 

SURRENDER – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis Presley released one of the biggest hits of his career on February 7, 1961, eventually becoming one of the best selling singles of all time. Indeed, “Surrender” was similar to his early work in quality and no reason to think that Presley’s music was going to lose its luster. The song was an adaptation of a 1902 Neapolitan ballad by Ernesto De Curtis called “Torna A Sorrento” (“Come Back to Sorrento”). The song was adapted for Presley by famed songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who had written many hits for several pop stars of the day during that period, including Dion’s hit “A Teenager In Love” and several songs for the Drifters such as “This Magic Moment” and “Save The Last Dance For Me”.

On September 12, 1995, Luciano Pavarotti joined rocker Meat Loaf on stage at an event to benefit the children of Bosnia, and together they melded the English and Italian lyrics of this classic composition in a nice tribute to the song and its modernized version.

Pomus and Shuman had already delivered a string of hits for the Drifters in the last two years before turning their attention to writing material for Elvis, ultimately composing 25 songs for him in all, including their adaptation of “Surrender”.

“Surrender” entered the Billboard Hot 100 Pop chart for the week ending February 20, 1961 at Number 24. Exactly one month later, it would be residing on the top spot and stay at Number One for two weeks.

On February 25, 1961, Elvis’ ego was further assuaged when Tennessee governor Buford Ellison declared Elvis Presley Day in Memphis. At the luncheon, RCA Records presented Elvis with a diamond gold watch for selling over 75 million records since he burst into the spotlight five short years before. Later that evening, he performed one of his final live concerts at a private event to an admiring throng in Memphis’ Ellis Auditorium. The whole event was moved to Graceland later that night with an after-party, one in a string of many that would become commonplace in his home.

 

I FEEL SO BAD – ELVIS PRESLEY

On March 12, 1961, Elvis entered the studio for the first time since the previous November to record songs for his next album, scheduled to be released in the summer. Among the tracks laid down was “I Feel So Bad”. It was originally set to be included in the album, but Elvis felt the song would make a good single, overruling his manager Col. Tom Parker’s white-bread suggestion to release the maudlin title song “Wild In The Country” from his upcoming movie.

Elvis began filming his ninth movie “Blue Hawaii” at the same time that “Surrender” made it to Number One on March 20th. Five days later, Elvis donned his famous gold lamé suit and walked onstage for the last time in seven years. It happened at Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Arena to help raise funds to complete a memorial for the USS Arizona, destroyed by bombs on December 7th, 1941. Col. Parker had suggested to Elvis that he perform there while filming in Hawaii. The raising of the funds to build the memorial had stalled in the last three years since the fundraising began and was falling short of the goal.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Colonel involved Elvis in a patriotic cause. In April of 1961, Parker wrote an official letter to his friend, then Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, offering Elvis Presley’s participation to any patriotic event.

In 1961, people paid between $3 and $100 for a live concert ticket. In 2016 USD, that translates to between $25 and $800. In the end, they concert raised $62,000, or just under half a million in 2016 USD. As a result, the Memorial, straddling the battleship’s sunken hull, was able to finally open to the public on Memorial Day the following year: May 30, 1962, thanks in large part to Elvis. Today, it still remains a popular Hawaiian attraction.

The summer of 1961 had already been completely planned out between Hollywood and his record company, RCA, to be the Summer of Elvis.

“I Feel So Bad” entered the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Chart at Number 43 on the week ending May 15, 1961 and made it to Number Five by June 1st. That same month, Elvis released his thirteenth studio album, “Something For Everybody”. And on June 15th, his ninth movie,“Wild In The Country” was released.

 

WILD IN THE COUNTRY (MOVIE) – ELVIS PRESLEY

Judging by the movie trailer, there’s nothing wild about Elvis or anything else in this sorry excuse for a movie. “Mild In The Country” would have been a more appropriate title, proven in the promo for the film when the narrator announces “Wild they called him; wild he sang…”, then they cut to Elvis and Hope Lange in a car cheerily singing “marching off to get married this husky, dusky day”. Elvis hated most of the songs he recorded for his movies, each set worse than the previous batch, but for some reason he never exerted his power as the biggest pop star since Sinatra to control his musical output.

“Wild In The Country”, although it had songs, was Elvis’ last attempt at being regarded a serious actor before he succumbed to the musical comedies that would dominate his filmic output throughout the rest of the Sixties. He might have had a better shot at being taken seriously had the dramatic scripts been any more interesting, but the story development on all his films, much like the dreadfully boring ballads, was mostly formulaic, general-audience friendly and ultimately unimaginative. The result was a bad movie with bad songs and a waste of Elvis Presley’s born talent.

Elvis had three leading ladies in “Wild In The Country”. There was a cute short-haired brunette named Millie Perkins, who made her acting debut at age 21 when she played Anne Frank in “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959). His second leading lady was Hope Lange, a wholesome girl-next-door type and popular actress of the time. His third and sexiest leading lady was blonde bombshell of the moment, 18-year-old Tuesday Weld. Weld owed the start of her career to rock ‘n’ roll, having starred in Alan Freed’s “Rock, Rock, Rock” back in 1956 at the age of 13.

It was only fitting that Weld would be Elvis’ leading lady on and off the movie set. They dated briefly, but the relationship was frowned upon by the good Colonel. He warned him that Weld’s youth and vivacity would be bad for his career. The obedient Presley then attempted to shift his focus on Lange, but she was in the midst of a divorce with her husband and not in any shape to take on a relationship, especially with the most desired sex symbol of the time.

 

SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY – ELVIS PRESLEY

The picture chosen for the cover of his latest studio album showed how much he had changed. Gone was the pompadour, or the singing wild child portrayed in his 1956 debut album, replaced by a neat, trimmed down, clean-cut young man. He had filled out physically as well, looking less like the skinny 21-year-old boy of 1956 and more like the self-assured, confident 26 year old he had become. The picture of his smiling visage chosen for the cover stood in direct contrast to the raw, open mouthed yell photo of that debut album, when the only thing on the cover besides his wailing self playing guitar was his name. This album cover looked as prepackaged as it gets.

“Something For Everybody” was a collection of instantly forgettable mediocrity. The entire first side of the vinyl 33 1/3 rpm record were slow ballads, as though RCA Records had forgotten that Elvis Presley was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The second side was more up-tempo, filled with re-hauled rock ‘n’ roll songs that mostly sound like earlier, bigger hits. None of them are really even worth mentioning. It should be noted however that this didn’t dissuade the public from buying the album and making it the Number One seller of the Summer of ’61.

Elvis had completed his second movie of the year before the end of the season. He would become accustomed to starring in approximately 3 movies every year. On July 6th, he traveled to Crystal River, Florida to film his next scheduled movie production, “Follow That Dream”.

 

MARIE’S THE NAME (HIS LATEST FLAME)/LITTLE SISTER – ELVIS PRESLEY

Songwriting duo Pomus and Shuman were in the thick of writing songs for Elvis when they churned out the King’s next single, “Marie’s the Name (His Latest Flame)”.

Recorded with a Bo Diddley beat, the single was released in August and had a peculiar run on Billboard’s Pop chart. Where the vast majority of singles competing for the top spot on the coveted Billboard Hot 100 chart took over four weeks to crack through the Top Forty, “MTN(HLF)” entered the Top Forty at Number 32 during the first week of September, jumped the following week to Number 22, then reached its peak the next week to Number Four. Just as quickly, the single tumbled from Four to Ten to 26 where it then sank away like stone. It was a flash in the pan, a manufactured victim of a market clamoring for Elvis product that was consuming his music faster he could make it.

“MTN (HLF)” was originally recorded by Del Shannon and had been released on his “Runaway” album that same year, but it was buried among the album’s tracks and forgotten about until Elvis recorded it.

Although “Little Sister”, also written by Pomus and Shuman, was intended to be the B-side of the aforementioned, it managed to enter the Top Forty a week earlier than it’s A-side and stayed on the charts longer, ultimately reaching Number Five on the Billboard chart then falling out of the Top Ten on the same week “MTN (HLF)” made it to Number Four.

On December 8, 1970, Elvis performed a medley with “Little Sister” and, in a nod to his rivals the Beatles, “Get Back”, during a midnight performance in Las Vegas.

While the two sides of his hit single were competing with each other on the charts, Elvis took the month of September off and spent it in Las Vegas, where he proceeded to make it his mission to bed as many Las Vegas showgirls as he could, sometimes more than one at a time, in lavish parties that he threw regularly with his Memphis Mafia pals.

Upon his return to Graceland in October, Presley picks himself up a pet chimp and calls him Scatter, letting him run rampant throughout the estate, making the King’s wide expanse of land Scatter’s home.

 

BLUE HAWAII (ALBUM) – ELVIS PRESLEY

On October 20, Elvis released his fourteenth studio album, the soundtrack to his movie “Blue Hawaii”, although the movie wasn’t to be released until one month later.

Astoundingly, given its weak collection of songs, “Blue Hawaii” is the second most successful album of the Sixties on the US Top Pop Albums chart after the soundtrack to West Side Story. It spent twenty weeks at Number One and 39 weeks in the US Pop Albums Top Forty chart. It was certified triple platinum on July 30, 2002 when it surpassed total sales of three million copies.

One of the reasons for the album’s incredible popularity is because it contains one of Elvis’ best loved ballads. The remaining tracks however, are mediocre at best, with the usual blend of ballads, retreads of older compositions and one weak attempt at a rock ‘n’ roll single. The album is sprinkled with Hawaiian themed tunes, and for some reason they chose to delve into the vaults for old compositions for Elvis to sing instead of composing all new material.

 

BLUE HAWAII (SONG) – ELVIS PRESLEY

The title song of the movie was taken from a 1937 Bing Crosby vehicle called “Waikiki Wedding”, written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, a Hollywood songwriting duo who composed, among other early 20th century hits, ”Thanks For The Memories” which later became the theme song for mid-twentieth century American comedian Bob Hope.

“Blue Hawaii” has been sung many times by singers such as Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams and Willie Nelson, but Elvis Presley’s version remains the most popular one. Due to its many recorded renditions and no doubt to the original movie as well, “Blue Hawaii” has become one of that state’s theme songs.

 

ALMOST ALWAYS TRUE – ELVIS PRESLEY

One of the oldest melodies on the album comes from a French-Canadian children’s song called “Alouette” written in 1878. Exported to France over the ensuing decades, it was picked up by American soldiers in World War I when they fought to defend the country, then brought it home and introduced it to their children. In “Blue Hawaii”, Elvis sings a supposedly witty tune sung to the melody of “Alouette”.

As to why they chose this melody for Elvis to sing with English language lyrics that has nothing to do with the original song is anybody’s guess.

 

ALOHA OE – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis joins his Hawaiian buddies on a kayak in the movie to sing what is probably the most closely associated melody to the islands, “Aloha Oe” (English translation: “Farewell to Thee”). Written by Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom, ”Aloha Oe” is a lament for the loss of her country when she was arrested and imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of the Iolani Palace in 1895 after the Counter Revolution failed to return Hawaii to her rule. Besides being monarch, Lili’uokalani was also a prolific songwriter, and was given only pencil and paper to entertain herself while incarcerated. She managed to have “Aloha Oe” and another handful of compositions smuggled to the United States, where it became a well-known song and forever linked to the future 50th state. Elvis pays brief homage to it in the movie.

 

NO MORE – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis continues his aural journey through cultures with the following track. This time, he sings English language lyrics to a popular Spanish song titled “La Paloma”, originally written in 1863, making it the oldest melody in the album. Again, one wonders why Elvis was recording songs from the 19th century when he’s supposed to be the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Despite that quandary, “No More” is a pretty melody, and Elvis sings it beautifully, displaying his vocal range by reaching the high notes of the song effortlessly.

“La Paloma” was originally written by a Spaniard named Sebastián Iradier who was inspired to write it after traveling to Cuba. He died in obscurity two years after he had written it, completely unaware that his composition will have been performed and recorded in many different languages and styles for the ensuing 150+ years. Besides taking root in Mexico, “La Paloma” was also very popular in Hawaii, among other parts of the world, hence the reason for the inclusion of this song in the movie. It seems that the producers of the film wanted to make “Blue Hawaii” a travelogue of the music and scenery of the location the movie was set in with Elvis as your genial host.

 

MOONLIGHT SWIM – ELVIS PRESLEY

Side One’s closing track is a remake of a 1957 record by actor Anthony Perkins that only made it to Number 24 in Billboard’s Pop chart that year. In the movie, Elvis is accompanied by female vocals. In the movie, he and five girls no less, travel down a long, lonely road singing the song.

 

KU-UI-PO – ELVIS PRESLEY

The second side of the album is mostly composed of material specifically written for the movie, except for the final track. It opens with “Ku-Ui-Po” (Hawaiian for “sweetheart”), an uninteresting ballad that sets the stage for another tedious journey through musical cultures and genres.

 

ITO EATS – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Ito Eats” is a calypso song, a popular genre at the time, and is placed in the movie to obviously capitalize on the craze begun by Harry Belafonte and “Day-O” back in 1957. There’s no other reason it should be in the movie, except for a brief “comic” routine about his friend Ito and his big appetite.

“Ito eats like teeth are out of style…” Ito Eats – Elvis Presley

 

SLICIN’ SAND – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Slicin’ Sand” is just one of only two of the fourteen tracks that can be called a rock ‘n’ roll song, albeit not a very good one. It’s a by-the-numbers composition, where songwriters Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett basically re-write Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”, a classic rock ‘n’ roll song that Elvis had recorded and was closely associated to. The choreography in the movie though, showcased Elvis’ talents as a dancer, something that had been a controversial element that had made him such a threat just five years earlier.

The next three tracks, as well as the previous two, were all written by Tepper and Bennett. These were the first five of forty-three songs the duo would write for Elvis, mostly for his movies. These three subsequent tracks were all derived from other songs. “Hawaiian Sunset”, complete with Hawaiian xylophone and slide guitar, is reminiscent of “Aloha Oe”.

“Beach Boy Blues” is written in standard blues form and is an album highlight, joining Elvis once again to the type of music he was born to sing.

“Island of Love” is yet another Hawaiian themed song. In the movie, Elvis sings them with his five girls again, not in a car this time but on horseback.

 

HAWAIIAN WEDDING SONG – ELVIS PRESLEY

The last song on the album and close of the movie, “Hawaii Wedding Song” is another creaker, dating way back to 1926. It was part of an operetta titled “Prince of Hawaii” written by Charles E King. The lyrics were written in English by composers Dick Manning and Al Hoffman, the latter whose most well known song is the nonsense tune “Mairsy Doats”.

Elvis sings this song at the end of the movie as he gets hitched Hawaiian-style, floating down a river in a raft with his bride and kissing her as the music crescendos and the credits roll. It was a happily-ever-after that was expected from an Elvis movie, but had no resemblance to rock ‘n’ roll.

 

CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE/ROCK-A-HULA BABY – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Can’t Help Falling In Love” is the biggest hit single that ever came out of an Elvis movie. It’s gone platinum, having sold well over a million singles since its debut on Billboard’s Pop chart on December 3, 1961, and has since been recorded by many artists, including UB40, who took the song once again to the top of the charts thirty-one years later in 1993.

It was written by the songwriting duo Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, known as “Hugo & Luigi” within the business, along with Julliard-trained songwriter George David Weiss. Hugo & Luigi had hired Weiss to write English-language lyrics and modernize the 1952 Weavers’ song “Wimoweh”, which was taken from the 1939 African song “Mbube”, written by Solomon Linda. Hugo & Luigi had it re-written and released it as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, given to record to a teen group called the Tokens. “Lion” rocketed to Number One in the Billboard chart in November 1961 despite the fact that it was originally supposed to be a B-side to another song designated to be the hit single. Apparently, as they all worked together on “Lion”, all three composed “Can’t Help Falling In Love” for Elvis and his movie. Hugo & Luigi had already written for Elvis earlier that year for his previous film “Wild In The Country”, composing the title tune.

Two of Elvis’ biggest hits in the Sixties had been been derived from Italian opera” “It’s Now Or Never” (“O, Sole Mio”) and “Surrender” (“Torna A Surriento”). For “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, they “borrowed” a French song that had been well-known since the 19th century. The melody is based on “Plaisir d’amour” (“The Pleasure Of Love”), a classical French love song written in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Egide Martini (1741–1816).

“Can’t Help Falling In Love” is probably Elvis Presley’s most famous, most beautiful ballad, having endured all these decades and still holding its own today, probably because the 230+ year old melody is obviously timeless. Updated versions have been showcased in TV shows and movies, most recently “Coyote Ugly” (2000) and “Lilo & Stitch” (2002).

Elvis knew the song was special, too. He usually sang it as the final song at most of his live appearances. Most notably, Elvis sang it at the end of his comeback NBC special in 1968 and in 1973 during the historic live global telecast “Aloha From Hawaii”.

On January 28, 1962 “Can’t Help Falling In Love” made it to its highest position on the Billboard National Pop chart at Number Two and stayed there for a week.

The B-side was a so-so rocker called “Rock A Hula Baby”. It attempted to mix Hawaiian folk with rock ‘n’ roll. Although the song falls short of Presley’s Fifties catalog, it was a lively jumpin’ song and a perfect alternative to the single’s A-Side, albeit derivative of his earlier recordings.

“Rock A Hula Baby” entered the Billboard Pop chart on November 28, 1961 and reached its peak at Number 23 on the first week of January 1962. The segment when Elvis sings the song in “Blue Hawaii” is a highlight of the movie as he swivels his hips and gives the viewer all the Elvis moves that made him famous.

The song was co-written by “The Mad Professor” as Elvis used to call him, Ben Weisman, who wrote more songs for Elvis than anyone else, with frequent collaborator Fred Wise along with Dolores Fuller. Fuller’s claim to dubious fame, besides having penned a few songs for the King, was her brief romance with the man considered to be the worst movie director of all time, Ed Wood. Tim Burton made a film about his life starring Johnny Depp in 1994 with Sarah Jessica Parker playing Dolores Fuller. Fuller also appeared in some of Wood’s classic turkeys like “Glen or Glenda” (1953), which also starred the cross-dressing Wood.

 

BLUE HAWAII (THE FILM)

“Blue Hawaii” premiered on November 22, 1961. Despite mixed reviews from film critics, the movie managed to be the 10th most profitable film of the year. One of Elvis’ notable co-stars in the movie was the 35-year-old British actor Angela Lansbury, star of the TV show “Murder, She Wrote” from 1984 to 1996, who played his loud-mouthed countrified mother, comically transforming herself into the character. Lansbury got her start at age eighteen when she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in “Gaslight” (1944) where she portrayed a very sexy femme fatale.

“I was obviously awed by being in ‘The Presence’, but he was an awfully nice, young man in those days… very caring person. And she was such a funny character. The whole reaction to her son who didn’t understand at all. He loved it, he thought it was terribly funny.” –Angela Lansbury

“Blue Hawaii” would be the first of three Elvis movies filmed in Hawaii, the islands turning into one of his favorite destinations. He would return the following year to make “Girls, Girls, Girls” (1962) and then again for “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” in 1966. Actress Juliet Prowse, who was his leading lady in “GI Blues”, had been asked to appear with him again in “Blue Hawaii” but her demands were such that they passed her over for Joan Blackman, an actress who vanished from the radar soon after this movie.

When Elvis arrived to film the movie in March 1961, Hal Wallis had found him so pale that he ordered him to tan up as quickly as possible and got him a tanning lamp.

The movie had been originally called “Hawaii Beach Boy” before Wallis changed it to “Blue Hawaii”. After three weeks of shooting, they returned to Los Angeles and the Paramount studios to film interior scenes that didn’t require Hawaiian scenery. Between takes, Elvis displayed the karate techniques he was learning to an attentive cast and crew, sometimes ending up with swollen hands and fingers from his demonstrations. At night, he threw lavish parties and the actresses in the film were warned to stop attending because the following day they would come in looking like hell.

Elvis was already filming his next movie “Kid Galahad” in Idyllwild, California at the same time that “Blue Hawaii” was playing in the theaters. He wrapped up shooting “KG” on December 20, 1961 and decided to skip returning to Graceland for the holidays and flying to Las Vegas with his Memphis Mafia instead. He didn’t want to spend Christmas with his father Vernon’s new wife, Dee because he felt she was married to his father for the money. By December 28th, Vernon Presley moved out of Graceland with Dee and her three children to a new home in Memphis.

As 1961 came to a close, Elvis found himself surrounded by sycophants and starlets that all wanted a piece of him and he didn’t mind giving them a piece as long as he got one too. Although he was enjoying every minute of it and indulging on his fame and popularity, he always had Priscilla Beaulieu in the back of his mind. Although he had had little contact with the girl he met back in Germany during his stint in the Army, he regarded her as the girl waiting for him to come home. It would be another six or so months before they saw each other again, but even after that, being the most sought after sex symbol in the world, Elvis was still years away from asking for her hand in marriage.

BOBBY VEE

Bobby Vee’s musical career may have never gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly.

Fifteen-year-old Robert Thomas Velline was living in his hometown of Fargo, North Dakota when he read the news of the accident that killed Holly along with fellow headliners Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper as they were going to their next gig of the Winter Tour Dance Party. Like every other teenage rock ‘n’ roll fan in the world, the news shocked him. In his album “A Tribute to Buddy Holly”, Vee explains on the liner notes what happened next.

“The day he (Holly) was to arrive disaster struck, taking Buddy’s life along with the lives of two other fine singers, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The shocking news spread through Fargo very quickly. The local radio station broadcast a plea for local talent to entertain at the scheduled dance. About a week before this, I had just organized a vocal and instrumental group of five guys. Our style was modelled after Buddy’s approach and we had been rehearsing with Buddy’s hits in mind. When we heard the radio plea for talent, we went in and volunteered. We hadn’t even named the group up to that time, so we gave ourselves a name on the spot, calling ourselves “The Shadows”. We appeared at the dance and were grateful to be enthusiastically accepted. Soon afterwards, I made my first record. It was called “Suzie Baby” and I was pretty lucky with it; it was a fair-sized hit.” – Bobby Vee

As the Shadows became part of the tour, he met a young man who also played rock ‘n’ roll during some of those dates that called himself Elston Gunn. The young man’s real name was Robert Allen Zimmerman, and both he and Velline became long time friends, even after Zimmerman changed his name one last time to Bob Dylan. On July 10, 2013, Dylan gave tribute to his old friend in a concert in St. Paul Minnesota by playing Vee’s first hit, “Suzie Baby”.

“Thank you everyone, thank you friends. I left here a while back, and since that time, I’ve played all over the world, with all kinds of people. And uh, everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna. And uh, everybody in there in between. I’ve been on the stage with most of those people. But the most meaningful person I’ve ever been on the stage with, was a man who is here tonight, who used to sing a song called “Suzie Baby”. I want to say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So, we’re gonna try to do this song, like I’ve done it with him before once or twice.” –Bob Dylan

Bobby Vee is a pioneer of bubble gum rock and pop, a genre that came into its own from 1968 up until the mid-Seventies, with similar sounding young male vocalists singing frothy pop hits. It was almost like a completely opposite musical reaction of times that hosted the horror of American assassinations and war.

Artists and groups that followed in Vee’s footsteps include the 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and the animated pop group, The Archies. The Seventies brought forth sweet voiced white male singers and groups like Gary Puckett & The Union Gap (“Young Girl”), Andy Kim (“Rock Me Gently”), Terry Jacks (“Seasons In The Sun”), Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods (“Billy, Don’t Be A Hero”), ad nauseum.

 

SUZIE BABY – BOBBY VEE

Robert Velline soon changed his moniker by shortening his last name to just its initial and calling himself by his nickname. Ever the Buddy Holly fan, Bobby Vee’s “Suzie Baby” was a take off on Holly’s 1957, “Peggy Sue”. In the song, Vee even sounds a little like Holly in the recording. It’s a song of sweet sentiment, and it managed to get his career started, reaching Number 77 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop chart.

 

DEVIL OR ANGEL – BOBBY VEE

After releasing two more singles in 1960 that went nowhere, Bobby Vee finally cracked the Top Ten with “Devil Or Angel”, a remake of a song originally written by the Clovers in 1955. Still similar in voice to Buddy Holly, this song was deeply rooted in the Fifties sound.

 

RUBBER BALL – BOBBY VEE

The next single he released in late 1960 also cracked the Top Ten, climbing to Number Six just like its predecessor. “Rubber Ball” had a nice melody and was catchy, complete with his idol Holly’s hiccup vocal in parts of the song. This song however, didn’t sound as derivative. Bobby Vee was beginning to find his style.

He released four more singles in 1961 from his first three albums to a sudden lack of interest. None of them went higher than the bottom 40 of the Hot 100, with only a flipside eking its way up to Number 33. His albums weren’t selling too well either, with only the second of the three, titled “Bobby Vee”, entering the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart and climbing up to Number 18, thanks mostly to “Rubber Ball”. It wasn’t until the next song that entered the charts in August, 1961 when Bobby Vee finally made it to the top.

 

TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY BABY – BOBBY VEE

In 1961, Carole King worked for Aldon Music, owned by Al Nevins and Don Kirshner, writing songs for pop artists in one of the buildings near New York City’s famed Brill Building. The Brill Building, located on Broadway between 49th and 50th Streets, was known for housing record labels that released many hit songs during the early Sixties, and the buildings surrounding it also had songwriters churning out the tunes. King had teamed up with Gerry Goffin, her future husband, at Aldon and had already co-written successful records like The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, which was Number One in January of that year. At about the same time, Bobby Vee’s record company came knocking on Kirshner’s door for a hit song for their struggling artist.

As was Kirshner’s modus operandi, he went to his stable of artists, which in those days included another future husband and wife duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, as well as Carole King’s old high school boyfriend, Neil Sedaka, and asked them to each write a song for Vee. At the end of the day as usual, Kirshner would choose which song he considered best and allow the songwriters to present it to the artist. It was a daily, steady competition among an amazing group of young talent, a formula that successfully produced many classic pop hits.

“Take Good Care Of My Baby” had more than a passing resemblance to Neil Sedaka’s “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen”, released not long after. The probable reason for this is because it was common during those daily songwriting marathons to hear the other songwriter composing in the next room, banging on a piano and belting out the tune he or she was forming, so one song influencing the structure of another in those days was practically inevitable.

Bobby Vee recorded “Take Good Care Of My Baby” as his next single. It entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on August 1st, 1961 and made it to Number One on September 12, where it stayed there for three weeks. Neil Sedaka released “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” not long after, on November 13, where it climbed to its highest position at Number Six on December 31st, 1961 and stayed there for the first three weeks of 1962.

 

RUN TO HIM – BOBBY VEE

Vee’s follow-up single, “Run To Him” entered the Hot 100 on November 7, 1961, where it made it as high as Number Two during Christmas of that year. It had been written by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller, who was also adept at writing theme songs for TV shows, such as the one he wrote for the Sixties TV sitcom about a housewife who also happened to be a witch with magical powers, “Bewitched” (1964-1971).

“Run To Him” is a nice enough love ballad filled with lush strings and teen pop idol schmaltz. The fact that it followed his Number One hit to the second position shows how popular Bobby Vee was by the end of 1961.

Vee’s recording career continued throughout the Sixties, but he only reached the Top Five two other times.

 

THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES – BOBBY VEE

Vee released four more singles in 1962, but none of them made it into Billboard’s Top Ten except for the fifth one in December. “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on December 8, 1962 and climbed up to Number Three during the first weeks of ’63.

The original music video of “TNHATE” can be traced back to France in 1960, when short 16mm films of popular songs were made by a company called Scopitone to play on then state-of-the-art jukeboxes. Bobby Vee filmed a Scopitone short of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” in 1966, so it can be said that Bobby Vee was also a music video pioneer.

 

COME BACK WHEN YOU GROW UP – BOBBY VEE

Bobby Vee made it into the Top Ten one last time on July 16, 1967 with “Come Back When You Grow Up”, reaching Number Three on September 3rd.

1967 was a breakthrough year for rock ‘n’ roll. Not only did the Beatles release what’s arguably considered the best rock album of all time (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”), it was also the year of The Doors and Jimi Hendrix’ debut albums. ”Come Back When You Grow Up” stood in stark contrast to this new direction in music, and despite its unlikely climb to Number Three, stands as an outdated song that helped to hasten the end of Vee’s chart history.

Bobby Vee continued to record and release singles and albums into the early Seventies, but none of them had any meaningful chart activity. From then on and for the rest of his life, Bobby Vee toured and appeared countless times in pop revivals and many other events.

On April 29, 2012, Vee announced that he was retiring from touring due to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. As of this writing in 2016, Bobby Vee at age 72 remains alive but away from the spotlight.

 

BARRY MANN

Barry Mann is one of those unknown songwriters that deserves far more public recognition than he’s ever gotten. In his lifetime, his catalog lists him as writer or co-writer of 635 songs. Of those, 98 were US hits and 53 of them were hits in the UK. Many of them today are considered pop classics.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Barry Imberman wrote his first successful song when he was 19 with Mike Anthony. “She Say (Oom Dooby Doom)” was an insanely catchy doo-wop tune and a Top Twenty hit recorded in 1959 by the Diamonds.

Shortly after the success of his first single, he was hired by Don Kirshner and Al Nevins to work for Aldon Records. Mann always enjoyed co-writing and his first singles were all collaborations with different people. After his first success, he was assigned to write for Steve Lawrence. In 1960, Lawrence landed at Number Seven with “Footsteps”, a bouncy, happy song about breaking up, written by Mann and Hank Hunter.

Barry Mann had a knack for writing clever lyrics and imagining different perspectives in his words, then marrying it to catchy melodies. In “Footsteps”, he does the opposite of what you’d expect from a break-up song; he composes a happy melody. In the lyrics, he uses the sound of a person’s footsteps leaving as the description of the break-up, instead of just writing a plain song about a girl leaving a boy.

“Why did you say goodbye to me, now I’m as lonely as could be and as I feel a teardrop fall, I hear your footsteps down the hall walkin’ away from me” Footsteps – Steve Lawrence

Throughout his career, Barry Mann would offer original perspectives of life with his lyrics and stitched them together with unforgettable melodies.

Mann started to write for himself after having composed two more singles for Lawrence that didn’t chart. His first two solo recordings didn’t chart either, however. But the third one entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on August 7, 1961 and climbed to Number Seven on September 19th. It was Barry Mann’s first… and last… solo hit.

 

WHO PUT THE BOMP (IN THE BOMP BOMP BOMP) – BARRY MANN

This was the first song Mann wrote with his pal Gerry Goffin, who also worked for Aldon Records. Goffin had been married to Carole King since 1959 and had been co-writers with his wife ever since, usually focusing on the lyrics and King focusing on the melody.

“Who Put The Bomp” was a song that parodied all the recent doo wop hits of the time, inspiring a whole new genre of songs parodying other songs. The lyrics mention famous doo wop lines from the recently revamped “Blue Moon” (bomp bomp ba bomp and dip dip de dip) by the Marcels; the Edsels’ “Rama Lama Ding Dong” and Chubby Checker’s “Pony Time” (boogidy shoo). The spoken portion of the record is meant to make fun of the Diamonds’ narrated part in “Little Darlin’”.

Soon after Mann began at Aldon Records, he met Cynthia Weil, a fellow composer working there as well. By 1961, they were married. What followed was a long and successful musical collaboration that has produced some of the biggest hits in rock ‘n’ roll history. The couple also became close friends with Goffin and King.

Mann and Weill wrote their first song together in 1961 called “Bless You” for a very young Tony Orlando. It didn’t quite make it into the Top Ten, reaching as high as Number 15.

The same year, Mann wrote three more songs, only one of which entered the Top Ten at Number 5 called “I Love How You Love Me” by the Paris Sisters. He landed in the Top Ten in 1962 with three more singles that today are as equally forgotten as the Paris Sisters.

It wasn’t until 1963 that Mann and Weil wrote their first classic hit. Although it only climbed up to Number Nine, it remains an enduring standard.

 

BARRY MANN & CYNTHIA WEIL

 

ON BROADWAY

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “On Broadway” has had an interesting trajectory throughout its life. It was originally written and recorded by a group called the Cookies but in a different rhythm that had a shuffle feel. Its lyrics were slightly different as well.

Phil Spector then took his turn producing “On Broadway” for the Crystals. The lyrics were the same as the Cookies’ version, but Spector lays down some sexy sax riffs and his usual dollop of violins.

One day in 1962, composer Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller contacted Aldon Music to inform them that they had booked one extra day of a recording session than needed for the group they were currently writing for, The Drifters, and did anyone have some songs they could let them record? Mann and Weil forwarded the music sheet with “On Broadway” to them. Lieber & Stoller liked the song, but they changed the lyrics somewhat and rearranged the music, giving it a more contemporary, laid back feel.

The Drifters’ version of “On Broadway” remained the definitive version of the song until 1978. Although it only reached up to Number Nine in 1963, its melody endures, ingrained in American culture as a celebration of one of the most famous streets in the world, a street that was just outside their Mann and Weil’s window.

In 1978, George Benson released his album “Weekend In L.A.” which included his version of “On Broadway”. Benson gave it a smooth jazz feel and made it his own with his amazing dexterity on guitar, delivering a fluid solo that takes the song to new heights. He won a Grammy Award that year for Best R&B Vocal Performance, and indeed, his singalong scat as he played blended perfectly into the tune.

The song was further cemented in the world psyche a year later when film Director Bob Fosse showcased George Benson’s version of the song in the beginning of his movie “All That Jazz” (1979).

 

YOU’VE LOST THAT LOVIN’ FEELING

“The room was filled with this amazing sound, I had no idea what it was, but it was the most incredible thing I’d ever heard. I’d never heard a recorded track so emotionally giving or empowering.” -Andrew Oldham, Rolling Stones’ manager, after listening to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” for the first time.

1964 and 1965 were the years of the Beatles and the subsequent British invasion of long haired British rockers. It was very competitive in the charts during those years, unlike any other time in rock ‘n’ roll history. Even Elvis couldn’t get a song on the charts in those days, so it’s a distinction indeed to have been able to have written an enduring classic that made it to the top of the Pop chart during one of the most prolific times in rock ‘n’ roll history. That however, was only the first distinction of many more to come.

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector. It was also produced by Spector and sung by the Righteous Brothers, and is regarded today as one of the best records ever made, due in large part to Spector’s production, which was dubbed “The Wall Of Sound” by the Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Oldham. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is said to have called Mann and Weil to praise the song, telling them it had inspired him to continue his own songwriting.

Nobody thought the song would be a hit or that they would even play it on the radio because of its length. It clocked in past four minutes during a time when the radio never played any song longer than two minutes and a half. That slowly began to change after the release of the record, proving to radio that if the song is good, people will listen.

The record entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on December 6, 1964, when the Top Ten was populated with the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine”, the Rolling Stones” “Time Is On My Side” and the Kinks “You Really Got Me”. Motown was also occupying positions in the upper echelon with the Supremes and Marvin Gaye. After being stuck at Number Two for two weeks in January 1965, “YLTLF” replaced British singer Petula Clark’s “Downtown” from the Top and made it to the Number One spot on January 24th, where it stayed for two weeks. By the end of 1965, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was the fifth best selling song of the year.

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) ranked this song as the most played record of the Twentieth Century on radio and television, having played 8 million times from 1964 to 1999, and 7 million more by 2011. The RIAA has chosen the song as one of their Songs of the Century. The single was also inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

This record is special, folks.

Indeed, listening to this song is like drifting into an otherworldly aural landscape. It was Spector’s interest in the Righteous Brothers, two white boys who sounded black, that got them connected to the song. Spector signed Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley as the Righteous Brothers to his Philles record label after listening to them perform one night in San Francisco.

The composition was born after Spector turned to Aldon Records and commissioned Mann and Weil to write him a song for his new acquisition. He brought the couple out to L.A. to write it there in the opulence of the Chateau Marmont hotel. Having been recently inspired by the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Lovin’”, Mann and Weil sought out to write a similar type of love ballad.

“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips…”

Barry Mann wrote the first lyric, recalling the first lyric to the song he wrote for the Paris Sisters, “I Love How You Love Me”.

“I love how your eyes close whenever you kiss me…”

Mann takes the listener to the other side of the break-up coin by connecting these two songs with the beginning and the ending of a relationship. The production defines the mood with it’s lonely, haunting sound, brought on by Bill Medley’s baritone that begins the song a cappella. Fellow Righteous Brother Hatfield was none too happy for being excluded from the beginning of the song, but Spector had made the correct decision. Many times, egos have to be ignored when trying to create something.

Weil and Mann managed to complete the first two verses and title rather quickly. Ironically enough, the famous title was only meant to be a placeholder for a better one, which never materialized. Spector added the ‘gone, gone, gone’ and ‘whoa, whoa, whoa’ the Brothers’ sing between the lyrics, much to Weil’s dislike, but the songwriting duo was stuck for an ending, so they turned to the Producer for help. Spector ultimately assisted in the bridge and the ending of the song, as it built up to his famous Wall of Sound crescendo.

The recording is truly a fine work. Each instrument is laid down in layers, until the entire sonic landscape is filled with instruments that together, take you into a special dimension of perfect musical production. It’s since been recorded by Cilla Black, Dionne Warwick, Robert Flack with Donny Hathaway and Hall & Oates, but Phil Spector’s production of the Righteous Brothers version makes that record the definitive one, and a worthy interpretation of a flawless song.

 

WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE

The highest charted Mann/Weil song beside ‘YLTLF” in 1965 was the Animals recording of “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. It didn’t make it into Billboard’s Top Ten, having stalled at 13 in September, but it endures as a great song, perfectly suited for the harder edge of the Animals than all of the duo’s previous acts they’ve written for. Ironically enough, the song was never intended for the Animals. At first, Mann and Weil wrote it for the Righteous Brothers’ next single. When they rejected it, Mann decided that he was going to record it for himself and release it through his own Redbird record label. But Mickie Most, the Animals’ manager, had already requested some songs from the “Brill Building writers” and had heard “WGGOOTP”, so he quickly gave it to the Animals to record before Mann ever did.

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” became the unofficial anthem of the United States Armed Forces, who were stuck in the mire of the Vietnam War when the song was released. It was also a popular song at high school proms and graduation parties. It was one of the first in a series of songs that moved away from writing about love and veering towards more social themes. Bruce Springsteen points to this song as a major influence. When listening to the lyrics, you can hear Springsteen’s voice.

“In this dirty old part of the city, where the sun refuse to shine, people tell me there ain’t no use in trying… Now my girl you’re so young and pretty and one thing I know is true, you’ll be dead before your time is due…” – We Gotta Get Out Of This Place – Barry Mann

 

(YOU’RE MY) SOUL & INSPIRATION

The relationship between the Righteous Brothers and producer Phil Spector soured a year after “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, although they were still releasing other subsequent records in 1965, written by other songwriters, all of them produced by Spector for his Philles Record label. But in 1966, the Righteous Brothers decided to sign with, another label, Verve/MGM Records, leading Spector to file a lawsuit against them.

Meanwhile, Medley and Hatfield were looking for a single as strong as their first #1 to debut with their new record label. They recalled that Mann and Weil had written a song along the vein of “…Lovin’ Felling” that Spector had rejected precisely because of the similarity. Medley decided to call the songwriting duo and asked them about it. It turned out that they had never finished it, so he asked them to complete it. The result was “(You’re My) Soul & Inspiration”.

The record’s production is very similar to Spector’s ”Wall of Sound” style. Medley took hand in the record’s sound and produced it with imitation in mind. Apparently, the public wanted a song like “YLTLF” because this record was even more popular than its predecessor. It was released on February 26, 1966 and it made it to Billboard’s Number One spot for three weeks, one week more than ”…Lovin’ Feeling”. It would be the Brothers’ last Number One song in their career and their last Top Ten hit for eight years. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, however, were on a roll.

 

KICKS

Much like Mann and Weil’s previous songs that turned out hits and became classics, “Kicks” was also rejected by the group it was written for, In this case it was the Animals, the same group that had just recorded another one of their rejected songs. Eric Burdon’s group had released the songwriting duo’s “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place” to much success. It landed at Number Two and was the group’s second biggest hit after “House of the Rising Sun”. But evidently, Burdon felt that “Kicks” was a little too poppy and turned it down.

“Kicks’ is probably rock ‘n’ roll’s first anti-drug song. Mann and Weil wrote it for their good friend Gerry Goffin, who was undergoing drug problems at th time and as a result was putting a strain on his marriage to Carole King. In the lyrics however, they disguised the subject’s gender to a female.

“Girl, you thought you found the answer on that magic carpet ride last night, but when you wake up in the mornin’, the world still gets you uptight… Well, there’s nothin’ that you ain’t tried to fill the emptiness inside, when you come back down, girl, you still ain’t feelin’ right…” Kicks – Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

“Kicks” is a solid rock song, heavily influenced by the British rock sound of the time like the Yardbirds and the Kinks, with a great melody and a mean lead guitar lick reminiscent of the Beatles’ sound in 1966. The lyrics are first of its kind in terms of subject matter for a pop song, but it was sending the right message to a youth culture that was just discovering the world of mind-altering substances.

“No, you don’t need kicks to help you face the world each day. That road goes nowhere. I’m gonna help you find yourself another way.” Kicks – Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

After struggling as a group for six years, releasing record after unsuccessful record, Paul Revere & the Raiders, led by keyboardist Paul Revere Dick and lead vocalist Mark Lindsay, finally tasted life in Billboard’s Top Ten with “Kicks”, reaching Number Four in May of 1966.

Despite its chart success, the song was perceived to go against what seemed to be the promotion of drug use in rock lyrics of the time. Songs that were also being released in 1966 included The Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper”, The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and The Association’s “Along Comes Mary”, followed the next year with Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, The Beatles “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and Jimi Hendrix’ “Are You Experienced”, among various others. All of these songs, if not celebrated the use of psychedelic enhancements, described its hallucinatory elements and commented on the experiences without judgement. “Kicks” was a staunchly anti-drug song and the only Sixties record with this theme to have been so popular, thanks in large part to the kick-ass melody, and maybe even also due to the fact that the title was originally interpreted to have meant a glorification of substance abuse.

 

HUNGRY

Knowing a good thing when they hear one, Paul Revere and the Raiders’ single after “Kicks’ was also a Mann/Weil penned song called “Hungry”. Not as catchy as “Kicks”, it still had that similar British rock sound and landed them once again in the Top Ten on July 24, 1966 at Number Six.

1966 turned out to be Mann & Weil’s most successful year on the charts. While this may not be too impressive when compared to musical juggernauts of the time like the Beatles who didn’t know how not to write a hit song, it’s a great achievement to have composed songs that still sounds fresh and vibrant fifty years later. Ironically enough, their ability to write hits was to become sporadic. They would just make it into the Top Ten again three years later in 1969 at Number Nine with a song called “I Just Can’t Help Believing”, recorded by B.J. Thomas. After that, although they still lived in both the US and UK charts in ensuing years, they didn’t have another big hit for almost ten years until they worked with Dolly Parton.

 

HERE YOU COME AGAIN

Dolly Parton was already enjoying a successful career in country music during the Seventies, hovering within the Top Ten and Twenty US Country chart since her debut in 1967, but she wanted to have a crossover hit. She had only had two albums that ever made it into the Top 200 Pop Albums chart. Her 1971 album “Joshua” barely made it in at Number 198. But in 1977, she was mightily encouraged when she saw that her album “New Harvest… First Gathering” had reached Number 71, so she set out to record her next album with a more pop feel.

Mann and Weill had originally written “Here You Come Again” in 1975 for Brenda Lee, but it ultimately was first recorded by B.J. Thomas, who had already recorded Mann and Weil compositions to chart success with the aforementioned 1969 Number Nine hit “I Just Can’t Help Believing” and “Rock & Roll Lullaby” in 1972. Dolly Parton’s producer, Gary Klein, had heard Thomas’ version of the song and suggested it for Parton. Parton liked it enough to not only make it her first single off the album, she named her album after the song.

The “Here You Come Again” single was released in September of 1977 and the album of the same name followed a month later. The single reached Number Three in the Top Ten Pop chart and the album just made it into the Top Twenty Albums at Number 20. The single and album both made it to Number One Country.

Parton had successfully crossed over into pop and still managed to retain her “country-ness”. After recording the Mann/Weil composition, Parton was uneasy over the pop sound it had, as if just her voice didn’t make it sound country enough, so she begged Klein to add a steel guitar to the record.

“She wanted people to be able to hear the steel guitar, so if someone said it isn’t country, she could say it and prove it. She was so relieved (when I added the steel guitar). It was like her life sentence was reprieved.” Gary Klein – Producer, “Here You Come Again”

Besides chart success, the album sold over six million copies in the US and another five million in the UK. The single won Parton a Grammy for Best female Country Vocal in 1979.

 

SOMEWHERE OUT THERE

“Somewhere Out There” was written for an animated feature produced by Steven Spielberg called “An American Tail” (1986). The song was sung by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, and written by Mann, Weil and Jack Horner. It reached Number Two in Billboard’s Pop chart in March 1987 and welcomed the return of Seventies pop star Ronstadt to the charts after a long hiatus.

“Somewhere Out There” won two Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television, and was nominated for Best Song in the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards for 1987, losing both times to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun (1986) with Tom Cruise. The Mann/Weill songwriting “factory” was still going strong after twenty-five years.

 

I WILL COME TO YOU

The last Top Ten hit the team of Mann & Weil produced was in 1997 for then insanely popular boy group and flash in the pan, Hanson. This song made it to Number Nine in Billboard’s pop chart in November of that year.

 

SOMETIMES WHEN WE TOUCH

Both Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil also enjoyed a handful of Top Ten hits with songs written separately from each other. In 1977, Mann wrote the music to “Sometimes When We Touch” with Dan Hill’s lyrics and made it to Number Three in April 1978.

 

HE’S SO SHY – CYNTHIA WEIL

It would be Mann’s only other Top Ten hit not written with his wife. Weil however, would enjoy hitting the Top Ten three more times with other songwriters throughout her career. In 1980, she did it with “The Pointer Sisters’ “He’s So Shy”, co-written with Tom Snow. It was originally intended for Leo Sayer and titled “She’s So Shy”, but when it was pitched to Producer Richard Perry, he was no longer working with Sayer at the time but with the Pointer Sisters. The result turned out to be the Sisters’ second Top Ten hit and one of their biggest overall, reaching Number Three in October 1980. A happy, immediately catchy song, its melody is reminiscent of the early Sixties girl group sound Weil knew so well, with its title evocative of the Chiffon’s 1963 “He’s So Fine”. Although the melody is entirely different, the spirit of that early sound permeates.

Weil also had the opportunity to work with Lionel Richie. In 1983, Richie co-wrote “Running With The Night” with Weil from his platinum selling album “Can’t Slow Down”, having won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1985 and ultimately selling over 20 million albums. “Running With the Night” was the second single off that album, peaking at Number Seven towards the beginning of 1984. It was a solid song with a very Eighties production and a killer guitar solo by Steve Lukather, then lead guitarist for the group Toto.

Weil did it again in 1986 when she co-wrote “Love Will Conquer All” with Richie for his follow-up LP, “Dancing On the Ceiling”, that just made it into the Top Ten at Number Nine in the fall of ’85.

The only other Top Ten song Weil wrote in the Eighties was “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again”, written with Tom Snow and Michael Masser for Peabo Bryson, that landed them at Number Ten in the Summer of ’84.

After 55 years in the music business, 77-year-old Barry Mann and 70-year-old Cynthia Weil are still married. Besides the songs mentioned here, they have written many others that have received similar accolades despite them not being Top Ten hits. They have so far amassed 112 pop, country and R&B awards from BMI. They’ve also received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters, The Clooney Foundation’s Award for Legendary Song Composition, BMI’s Robert Burton Award for the most performed country song of 1977 (Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again), induction into the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame and the 2003 Heroes Award from the New York Chapter of NARAS. In 2010 Mann and Weil were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In the 21st century, Mann and Weill have ventured into theater. In 2004, they both starred on Broadway in “They Wrote That?” a collection of their greatest hits. In 2006, Weil wrote a TV movie with Judy Skelton called “The Stranger Game” which aired on Lifetime. In 2008, Mann and Weill co-wrote the rock musical “Mask” based on the 1988 movie with Cher. It premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse. Currently they are being portrayed on Broadway by actors in “Beautiful: the Story of Carole King”, which is also now in pre-production to be made as a film. On the side, Mann takes photographs and has had his work exhibited in California four times. Weil has currently completed two children’s books. The vibrant duo show no sign of a respite and the world of entertainment is a better one for it.

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