THE BEACH BOYS – THE FOUR SEASONS – BOY SINGERS: GENE PITNEY – BOBBY VINTON – BRYAN HYLAND – GENE CHANDLER – GIRL GROUPS: THE CRYSTALS – ONE HIT WONDERS: BRUCE CHANNEL – SHELLEY FABARES

by Robert Seoane

Chuck Berry went to jail in February of 1962 and took Fifties rock ’n’ roll with him. Questionable allegations dogged the 33-year-old rock ‘n’ roll pioneer regarding whether he had sexual relations with a 14-year-old Apache waitress named Janice Escalante. But no evidence was found until he transported her across state lines to work as a hat check girl in his new club, violating the Mann Act. The Mann Act forbids transporting “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” This law was for people of all ages, resulting in being used at times to criminalize adults having consensual sex. The Mann Act was altered in 1986 to read “any person” over “woman or girl” and changed the wording to “any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense”. It’s still on the books today.

Berry stood trial for two weeks in March 1960 and was found guilty, facing a $5000 fine and a five-year stint in prison. Berry’s lawyers appealed and a second trial was set in May of ‘61. He was found guilty again, but this time was sentenced to three years in prison. After a second appeal failed, Berry started serving his time the following February. He was locked up for a year and a half.

By 1962, Rock ‘n’ Roll music had been tamed and silenced by the White Establishment who, as offensive as it sounds, believed that scary rock ‘n’ roll was an evil coming from the depths of “nigra”, “primitive”, or “jungle” music, with the sole purpose of perverting their children into doing all sorts of unimaginable interracial atrocities they could conjure in their minds. Little Richard was now a Reverend and preaching the gospel. Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was destroyed after he married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Elvis’ musical output, although still churning out slick hits, didn’t have the rough edges of his Fifties rock ‘n’ roll output, and Buddy Holly was dead.

Rock ‘n’ roll music in 1962 was as dull and neutered as a paper doll, having been transformed into bland pop by the White Establishment, and still two years away from a healthy dose of new blood that America was to receive from an island called Great Britain.


Mick and Keith, both holding photos, in September 1962

In 1962, many of the legendary British acts of the Sixties were at the starting line of their careers, still struggling and developing their talent.

The Beatles were already veterans in the club circuit with their almost daily performances of rock ‘n’ roll standards in Hamburg and Liverpool.
• 20-year-old Brian Jones, founder of a group he called The Rollin’ Stones, had put an ad in the paper looking for musicians to form a new band after having performed as Elmo Lewis in a group he formed called The Roosters. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards answered that ad.
• 16-year-old Jimmy Page was in a group called the Crusaders, still six years away from meeting Robert Plant to form Led Zeppelin.


Jimmy Page blending in with the background, 1962

The Who were called the Detours and were two years away from bringing drummer Keith Moon into the band.


Missing ingredient to the Who, drummer Keith Moon, with Mark Twain & The Strangers in 1962

The Kinks were called the Ray Davies Quintet, and had a 17-year-old Rod Stewart perform briefly with them as lead vocalist.
Pink Floyd was three years away from forming, with 16-year-old Syd Barrett in a band called Geoff Mott & the Mottoes, and childhood friend Roger Waters, three years his elder, coming by often to hear them play.


Syd Barrett , 1962

• Besides busking on the streets with his already amazing guitar prowess at age 16, Eric Clapton was performing in pubs with his friend Paul Jones,


Eric Clapton, 1962

• …and 15-year-old David Jones, not yet named David Bowie, was forming his first group, the Konrads, available for high school dance parties and weddings.


David Jones, the future David Bowie, 1962

In contrast, future American superstars of the Sixties hadn’t yet launched their musical careers, either still in school or serving the military and uninspired by the music of the moment. In many cases, it would take their British counterparts to come over to the USA and show them how it was done, as the Brits offered a totally new, matured, confident and joyful rock sound, derived from the American blues artists that were popularly being ignored in America for Elvis clones. To put it simply, rock ‘n’ roll was still two years away from puberty.


Bob Dylan, 1962

In 1962, the only three indications of what was to come could be found on records originating from three distinct places:

• New York, from a young man that went by the name of Bob Dylan,
• California, from a trio of brothers and their cousin along with a high school pal who had been called the Beach Boys,
• …and Detroit, from a new label called Motown who was developing much of the best R&B talent of the 20th Century.

But none of them sounded like the raw, untamed rock ‘n’ roll that originally sparked its popularity, even as the Beach Boys emulated the Everly Brothers’ pitch perfect melodies. Instead, they each pointed at three new, separate directions, catching fire from the spark of rock ‘n’ roll, with their own distinctive and unique voices and poised to produce music that would last to this day.

Other icons of rock ‘n’ roll were still years away from their own rightful places in rock.

 “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.” –Jimmy Hendrix in a letter to his father from the Army; Nov. 1962


Jimmy Hendrix, 1961-1962

“He has no interest whatsoever in the Army … It is my opinion that Private Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a soldier. I feel that the military service will benefit if he is discharged as soon as possible.” -Hendrix’ platoon sergeant, James C. Spears’ final report on Hendrix.

James Marshall Hendrix greeted 1962 enlisted in the army, and spending the time there trying to figure out how he could get the hell out. On June 29, 1962, Jimmy was granted an honorable discharge on the basis of unsuitability by Captain Gilbert Batchman.

Jim Morrison was studying at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Grateful Dead founders Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh met in 1962 at a bohemian party in San Francisco’s Menlo Park.
Simon and Garfunkel were one of the few with experience, having had a brief career in the Fifties as Tom & Jerry. But in 1962, Paul Simon was at Queens College City University of New York and Art Garfunkel was attending Columbia.

Besides the rising popularity of folk music due in large part to the Kingston Trio and Joan Baez, the pop songs on the radio in 1962 were a blend of doo-wop and sugary pop. Everybody sounded safe, especially the most popular new artists of that year.

 

THE BEACH BOYS


Below: Dennis Wilson; from left, clockwise: Al Jardine, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson

“I’m not a genius, I’m just a hardworking guy.” – Brian Wilson

The first big rock ‘n’ roll tsunami since Elvis came in the form of five white guys with angelic voices and a rock ‘n’ roll beat. The Everly Brothers plus three. With exquisite harmonies and leader Brian Wilson’s prolific songwriting ability that improved with every new single release, the Beach Boys would become the biggest rock ‘n’ roll group in the country by 1963, complementing the current twist dance craze with irresistible songs that sparked a surfing craze, then a hot-rod craze. The Beach Boys music epitomized the California teenager to the rest of the world, and they came around just when rock ‘n’ roll desperately needed a jolt of youthful exuberance.

The Beach Boys influence didn’t only just extend to the public with celebrations of the materials of youth, they also served as a profound influence on many of their fellow musicians of the time. Their landmark album and the peak of their recording creativity all came together in their 11th studio album “Pet Sounds” (1966). When Beatle Paul McCartney first heard that album, his competitive edge sharpened.

“It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life—I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs… Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” –Paul McCartney

****************

The Beach Boys welcomed 1962 playing on New Year’s Eve at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance Party in Long Beach, California, where they were paid $300 (approximately $2300 in 2016 dollars). Murry Wilson, their manager and father to Brian, Carl and Dennis, booked the gig for them, following Ike & Tina Turner at the show. Their debut single “Surfin”, released just a month before, was already a hit in Southern California, reaching Number Three on the local charts and even managed to enter the national Billboard Pop chart to climb to Number 75, having moved 40,000 copies around the country.

“(My father, Murry Wilson) deserves credit for getting us off the ground … he hounded us mercilessly … [but] also worked hard himself.” – Brian Wilson

Murry was certainly dedicated to the success of his sons’ band. Three days before the New Year’s Eve gig, he bought Brian an electric bass guitar and an amplifier, causing a reorganization within the group. Al Jardine was playing bass at the time, so he moved to rhythm guitar and let Brian play bass. Murry encouraged and believed in them, but his controlling nature got the best of him over the years. He was harboring a buried resentment that he was a failed musician and his children were about to reap the rewards of success and fame that he had always longed for. He was living vicariously through them and attempted to keep control of their careers through manipulation and criticism.


Torrance High School performance; Torrance, Ca., March, 1962

SURFIN’ SAFARI – THE BEACH BOYS

During the first month of the year, fellow Beach Boys Brian Wilson and cousin Mike Love worked laboriously on writing a follow-up single to “Surfin’”. The “Beach Boys” name was selected by the label Murry had signed them to, Candix Records, over their chosen name, the Pendletones. Wilson and Love stuck to keeping the “beach” theme incorporated into their songs in most of their early work, unwittingly inventing California rock as they wrote. Mike was primarily the lyricist, mostly because Brian wasn’t good at lyrics, his mind being constantly engaged in musical ideas that only he could hear.

The fruit of their labor was a song called “Surfin’ Safari”. On February 8th, 1962, and paying for it with their own coin, the Beach Boys recorded a demo version of the song at World-Pacific Studios along with other compositions, including one that Brian had penned alone the year before, loosely based on the Belmonts’ version of the Disney song from “Pinocchio”, “When You Wish Upon A Star”. That song was “Surfer Girl”.

“They’re anglin’ in Laguna in Cerro Azul, they’re kicking out in Dohini too. I tell you surfing’s runnin’ wild, it’s getting bigger every day from Hawaii to the shores of Peru.
Come on baby wait and see, yes I’m gonna take you surfin’, surfin’ safari with me. Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learning how, come on a safari with me…” Surfin’ Safari – The Beach Boys

Despite their initial local success with “Surfin’”, there was doubt within the group as to the odds that they could make a living being rock stars. A few days after the ”Surfin’ Safari” recording session, Al Jardine left the group, deciding to focus on his studies to become a dentist. But Jardine couldn’t stay away for long and he would occasionally join them in live performances. He was replaced primarily for recording sessions by the Wilsons’ childhood friend and next-door neighbor David Marks, who used to join the the boys in the sing-a-longs Brian would organize and record on his treasured reel-to-reel tape recorder that his dad had bought him for his sixteenth birthday. David would play with them during all of 1962 until Jardine returned to the group the following year, this time for good. Marks wasn’t completely forgotten though; he re-joined the Beach Boys in 1997 to tour with them for two years, and then again in 2012.

They went back into the studios on April 19th, this time with David Marks instead of Jardine, and recorded two new songs, “Lonely Sea” and “409”, as well as re-recording “Surfin’ Safari”, with Mike Love singing lead and Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson all singing backup.

THE LONELY SEA – THE BEACH BOYS

“The Lonely Sea” was written by Gary Usher and Brian Wilson. Usher was happening along the neighborhood one fine evening in 1962 when he heard the Beach Boys practicing in their garage. Brian and Gary soon became fast friends and wrote this song together. Brian insisted they drive to the beach to record the surf on his reel-to-reel tape recorder and incorporate it into the intro of the song.


Gary Usher

It’s a slow, haunting ballad that’s benefited by Brian Wilson’s dreamlike vocalization and the Beach Boys’ harmonies, and it carried elements of other transcendent Beach Boys ballads to come. This one however, with its short spoken monologue in the middle, just misses the mark. It was never released as a single, instead placed as one of the tracks on their second album, “Surfin’ USA” a year after it was recorded, on March 25th, 1963.

It was also showcased in a 1965 beach comedy movie called “The Girls On the Beach” where the Beach Boys perform the tune along with the title song of the movie and “Little Honda”. They were joined in the film with early Sixties pop star Lesley Gore, who’s big hit was “It’s My Party” (1963). Also in the movie were the Crickets, still attempting to exist six years after Buddy Holly’s demise.

Gary Usher and Brian Wilson were to write nine other songs together, including the beautiful “In My Room”, but father Murry didn’t like Usher and constantly harangued Brian, discouraging him from working with the boy and even attempting to persuade Brian to drop him as a friend.

409 – THE BEACH BOYS


1962 Bubbletop Chevy Impala with 409 block engine

Written by Brian Wilson, Gary Usher and Mike Love, “409” is a precursor to their 1964 hit “Fun, Fun, Fun”, with similarities in its structure. It was the B-side of the single release “Surfin’ Safari”, and was also one of the tracks in their debut album of the same name. Because hot-rod cars were synonymous with teenagers and the Southern California beach scene, the song neatly fit into the Beach Boys identity.

“409” sparked a brief hot-rod music craze that would later be picked up by copycat group Jan and Dean with songs like “Drag City” (1963), which sounds a lot like “409”, along with “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena”, both 1964 Top Ten hits. Ronny and the Daytonas also made it into the Pop Top Ten with “Little GTO”, reaching Number Four in 1964 on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart.

George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” (1973) was set in 1962. Teenagers then drove their hot rod cars on weekends cruising the scene, and doing the occasional chinese firedrills (getting out of the car at a red light and running around the car in front of you before the light turns green).

Cruising has dwindled over the decades. In 2016, the youth of America are driving less and waiting longer to get their driver’s license. Social media has replaced the need for cruising.

In May of 1962, Candix declared bankruptcy. The record label was having major cash flow problems that Murry didn’t know about. Infuriated, he set out to find another label for his kids’ group. He took the recordings they had done and set out to knock on doors. He went to Dot Records and got rejected. The same thing happened when he contacted Liberty Records. It was the third record label, Capitol, when Murry met a young man who was looking for a new sound.


Capitol Records’ Producer Nik Venet and some of the artists he produced (Bobby Darin’s name is misspelled)

“I signed them to Capitol Records. It was a master purchase. They brought the first record ready-made. They had a minor release earlier on an independent label, a local chart record, I think it was ‘Surfin’.’ The father had brought a master of the second record. He wanted to make a new deal. He wanted to sell the master and was asking $100, a small royalty. He didn’t want very much . . . a very humble man. –Nik Venet, Capitol Records

Young up-and-coming entrepreneur Nik Venet signed the Beach Boys to a seven-year contract with Capitol Records, and released the recordings the group had done on their own of “Surfin’ Safari” with “409” as its B-side on June 4th, 1962. That same week, Billboard wrote about the song and praised Mike Love’s vocals, announcing that the song had hit potential. It managed to crack the Pop Top Twenty, reaching Number 14 on Billboard’s national Pop chart. Because of this initial promising success, Capitol Records approved the recording of an entire album.

“We bought the master. Gave him $300 for it and made him a good royalty deal. He wanted to give us the publishing and I had to advise them to open a small company with the boys, with the group, split it between them and keep the publishing.” –Nik Venet

Nikolas Kostantinos Venetoulis started to work for Capitol Records in 1958 when he was 21 years old as Nik Venet. Besides discovering the Beach Boys, he’s either discovered or recorded many of the biggest artists of the 50s and 60s in a varied array of musical genres, including Nat “King” Cole, Stan Getz, Glen Campbell, Jim Croce, King Curtis, Bobby Darin, the Kingston Trio, The Lettermen, Fred Neil, Ricky Nelson, Lou Rawls, Linda Ronstadt, Sam Cooke, Wayne Newton, Gene Vincent, Bobby Womack and Frank Zappa. He was also Executive Producer of Mel Brooks’ and Carl Reiner’s “2000-Year-Old Man” recording.

SURFIN’ SAFARI – THE ALBUM

“The group is mainly comprised of people from Hawthorne, California, named Wilson … there’s Brian, Dennis, Carl, and their Dad, Murry Wilson, a long-time songwriter who acts as manager for the outfit. Then there’s the boys’ talented cousin, Mike Love … who sings both the lead tenor and deep bass parts in their unusual vocal arrangements. … [and] young David Marks, a neighbor of the Wilsons who plays a driving rhythm guitar. Brian, the oldest of the Wilson boys, is the group’s leader and vocal arranger. Carl is the very accomplished lead guitarist, while brother Dennis sings and plays the drums. None of them, incidentally, had any formal training, but they all grew up in an atmosphere where music was a regular part of their lives.” — excerpt taken from the album’s original liner notes

Beach music, created by the Beach Boys in 1962, quickly became the music teenagers wanted to dance to. It was a totally new sound, a perfect alternative from the doo-wop that had been commanding the airwaves since the mid-Fifties, and best of all, you could still twist to it. It was the soundtrack to many Sixties summers, heard on little transistor radios on the beach. They sounded fresh and exciting, even as the Beach Boys’ early songs also retained the spirit of early rock ‘n’ roll with their Chuck Berry-like guitar licks, sometimes outright stealing entire signatures from the Berry songbook, and their amazing Everly Brothers’ style harmonizing.

Their harmonies were the group’s signature sound and can be directly attributed to Brian Wilson. Their pitch perfect vocals were perfected over the years whenever teenage Brian used his prize possession, his reel-to-reel tape recorder, to record himself with his brothers and other family members singing traditional songs, honing their talent and perfecting their harmonies. They had hit on a sound that would prove timelessly popular, to the point that Beach Boys music is now inextricably woven into American culture.


The photo session for the album cover was taken in Paradise Cove, north of Malibu, by in-house Capitol photographer Ken Veeder

The Beach Boys’ debut album “Surfin’ Safari” was released in October of 1962. Although Venet is credited as producer, Brian had a lot of input in the production, at times producing entire tracks mostly by himself. His contract had stipulated that he would be in charge of production, even though he doesn’t get the credit on the album. Brian was a perfectionist in every detail of production, even down to where it was recorded. Capitol Records recording studios were large and spacious because they were used to recording orchestras, but a small rock ensemble needed a smaller room. He convinced the label to let them record in an outside, smaller studio by saying they would pay for the production. They also gave Capitol all the rights to the songs. What they asked for in return was a higher royalty rate on their record sales. They got it.

The album “Surfin’ Safari” is a heaping helping of the first explosive strains of California rock ‘n’ roll. The surfing theme would snowball over the next three years with groups such as the aforementioned Jan and Dean, but by 1963, everyone was dancing and listening to the new sound coming from California in the form of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari” album. It was designed to be a dance party record, with nary a ballad to be heard anywhere, filled with nothing but rock ‘n’ roll dance tracks celebrating the life of a California teenager. It was meant to be heard on the beach while twisting on the sand with friends. The album peaked at Number 32 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart and would stay in the charts for 37 weeks, over eight months.

COUNTY FAIR – THE BEACH BOYS

Brian wrote nine of the twelve songs contained in the album and co-wrote some with Gary and Mike, venturing out of the beach theme for some of them. The second track of the album following “Surfin’ Safari” and the second song Gary and Brian wrote together, was “County Fair”, about a teenage couple going on a date to the fair, complete with a spoken monologue repeated twice in the song where the girl encourages her date at a fair to ring the bell on a high-striker game. It was similar in pace to the title track and would land on the b-side of their next single.

TEN LITTLE INDIANS – THE BEACH BOYS

“Ten Little Indians” is a rock ‘n roll variation of the old children’s song. The song opens with the stereotype war whoops that was perpetuated by countless “cowboys and Indians” Hollywood movies still popular in 1962, then settles into a familiar rock ‘n’ roll beat. The original “Ten Little Indians” can be traced all the way back to 1868, written by Septimus Winner for a minstrel show. The modernized Beach Boys version was written by Brian, Gary and Mike and released as the A-side of their follow-up single to ”Surfin’ Safari”, backed by the aforementioned “County Fair”. The single climbed up to Number 49 in the Billboard pop chart, but was more popular in the Midwest, reaching the Top 30 in Philadelphia, Chicago and Pittsburgh and making it into the Top Ten at Number Nine in Minneapolis.

CHUG A LUG – THE BEACH BOYS

The next track maintains the relentless dancing beat as they sing about chugging down root beer, a sly reference to alcohol while still retaining the teenage innocence that the times demanded be displayed to the general public. Naming the members of the band in the song, including Gary Usher, and double entendres abound in the lyrics.

Here a mug, there a mug, everybody chug-a-lug… Gary likes a girl’s tight black pants, Larry knows he doesn’t stand a chance, Carl says hurry up and order it quick, Dave gets out to chase that chick, Dennis wonders what’s under the hood, a big chrome tach and it sounds real good, I go down to the root beer stand and drink up all that I can…” Chug-a-Lug – The Beach Boys

LITTLE GIRL, (YOU’RE MY LITTLE MISS AMERICA) – THE BEACH BOYS

“Little Girl” is one of three songs from the album not written by any of the Beach Boys. It’s a doo-wop cover song written by Vincent Catalano and Herb Alpert. Sung sweetly by drummer Dennis Wilson, Brian played with the form of the original song quite a bit until he came up with a version that would carry the Beach Boys sound. It’s said that Brian completely produced this track without Venet’s help.

“409”, the b-side to the “Surfin’ Safari” single that the group had recorded on their own, closed the Side A and their very first single, “Surfin’” opened Side B. The next track, “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” was an attempt to write about the catch phrases of the day. Other tracks on the second side are “Cuckoo Clock”, a tune who’s refrain would go “cuckoo, cuckoo, go away silly bird”. At this point, it sounded like they were running out of things to write about. The remaining three songs on the album more than made up for it.

SUMMERTIME BLUES – THE BEACH BOYS

The Beach Boys’ version of Gene Vincent’s classic song is a faithful interpretation of the original, played with a good shot of California rock ‘n’ roll, but the next track is one of the highlights of the album.

MOON DAWG – THE BEACH BOYS

“Moon Dawg” is considered the first surf rock song ever recorded, just not by the Beach Boys. Written by singer-songwriter Derry Weaver, he recorded “Moon Dawg” in 1959 with his group the Gamblers. The song was produced by Venet when he worked at World Pacific Records and he recommended it to the Beach Boys to record. It’s only fitting that they did put this down on vinyl because it’s the first of its kind, and passes the torch from the Gamblers, who struggled from 1959 to 1961 trying in vain to enter the Billboard Top Pop 100, to the Beach Boys, the group that would define and popularize the surf guitar sound.

Starting with a steady drum roll courtesy of Dennis, it settles into a rock ‘n’ roll beat accompanied by Brian’s bass. Enter the background ahh-vocals, then a slick sounding Berry-like guitar lick with actual howling as background vocal… and you got yourself a classic, led by a Chuck Berry/Duane Eddy-like guitar twang.

THE SHIFT – THE BEACH BOYS


Famous Sixties super-model Twiggy in a typical Sixties shift dress

A shift was a one-piece, sleeveless woman’s dress without a waist seam, allowing the woman to “shift” around comfortably when wearing it. Still worn today, it originated in the 1920s with the flapper dress designed by Coco Chanel, then became popular again throughout the Sixties with new colorful patterns, evolving into the Sun dress in the Seventies. The Beach Boys’ last track on their first album was called “The Shift” and it celebrated how much they liked to see a girl wearing them.

“Check out the chick with the new dress on (Wearin’ a shift and it looks real fine)
They call it a shift and it comes on strong (Wearin’ a shift and it looks real fine)
When she’s got it on, well she can’t do no wrong (Wearin’ a shift, wearin’ a shift)
(Turns me on now) (get a shift now)” The Shift – The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys sound would grow and develop into more complex music as the Sixties progressed and they took their fans on their musical journey with them. By the end of the Sixties, they were the top selling American band for albums and singles according to Billboard and Nielsen/SoundScan. They’re also the American group with the most Top Forty Billboard Pop hits, having had 36 singles charting from 1962 through 1988, with “Kokomo”, their very last single to enter the Top Forty making it all the way to Number One. Although not written by Brian Wilson, but by John Phillips of the Mamas and the papas, Scott Mackenzie who had a hit with “San Francisco” in 1967, and Mike Love. It was a fitting final bow to America’s rock ‘n’ roll band.

 

BOY SINGERS


GE Transistor radio with top ring handle, Model P-850C, Circa 1962

While the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan were pointing towards two different directions in popular music, AM radio in 1962 sounded much the same as it had been since Elvis was drafted into the Army. Doo-wop was still king and so was the heartthrob of the moment. Boy singers were cropping up as fast as the record labels could put them on record and release them to cash in. Here are a few of the more memorable and popular in 1962.

 

GENE PITNEY


Gene Pitney

There was a new type of boy singer sprouting up in 1962. They followed the Roy Orbison vein of romantic pop ballads but with less rock ‘n’ roll and more orchestration. Gone was the rock ‘n’ roll Elvis look-alike, replaced by an old fashioned crooner with a young face. One of the most popular boy singers of that year was Gene Francis Alan Pitney. He charted four singles in the Billboard Pop Top Ten between 1962 and 1964. The torchy ballad “Town Without Pity” would be the song to launch his career. It was also the title song to a 1962 Hollywood movie of the same name with ‘A’ movie star of the day, Kirk Douglas. The song, written by Dimitri Tiomkin along with the rest of the film score, would go on to win a Golden Globe and earn an Academy Award nomination, where Pitney sang it during the 1962 broadcast. The song launched Pitney’s career, climbing up to Number 13 on Billboard’s Pop chart on January 27, 1962.

Pitney would go on to write songs like “Rubber Ball” and “Hello Mary Lou” for fellow boy singers Bobby Vee and Ricky Nelson, respectively, and “He’s A Rebel” for girl group The Crystals, all of them Top Ten hits. As a solo artist, he hit the Top Ten with the single that followed “TWP”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song named after another movie of the day with then-big stars James Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin as Valance. The Pitney song wouldn’t make it into the film because of a contractual dispute, but on June 16, 1962, it climbed to Number Four in the Billboard Pop Top Ten chart without any help from the movie. It’s a country-inflected cowboy song with a galloping tempo, telling the tale like the one in the film. A new sheriff is in town and he aims to stop that rascal Liberty Valance in his tracks, for the sake of all the womenfolk and all that’s good in this country. Catchy song, too.

His next single “Only Love Can Break A Heart” was also a Bacharach-David composition, and became Pitney’s highest charting song, reaching Number Two on November 3rd, 1962. It’s schmaltz-o-rama, sounding a lot like Bobby Vinton, another boy singer of the day that drowns his ballads with lush orchestration. This one is no different. Pitney hits the high notes with passion though, and the song does have a haunting melody that tends to hold one sway.

In 1963, Pitney got three more singles into the Top Twenty, including “24 Hours From Tulsa”, an insanely catchy Bacharach-David tune that should have charted much higher than Number 17 on December 7, 1963. Although it wasn’t a chart hit, Pitney is known most for “24HFT”.

He wouldn’t make it into the Top ten again until October 3rd, 1964 with his Number Four hit, “It Hurts To Be In Love” by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, who, like Bacharach and David, also hailed from the “Brlll Building” songwriting stable.

In this recording, Pitney’s musical backing drastically changed. Gone was the lush orchestration, replaced by a rock ‘n’ roll beat and distinct drums. Thanks to the sudden onslaught of new rock ‘n’ roll music ushered in by the Beatles in 1964, the boy crooner was practically gone from the charts. This was Pitney’s way of staying competitive. The song is alright too, complete with a catchy middle that transcends into a satisfying hook and carries the melody along.

Except for one more Top Ten song called “I’m Gonna Be Strong” that reached Number Nine on December 12, 1964, Pitney’s radio listening audience dwindled steadily until he regularly languished closer towards the bottom of the Top 100 for the rest of the Sixties. One of the reasons for his growing scarcity on the radio after 1964 can be found in this particular song. It’s a nice ballad in the Roy Orbison style, starting out spare and soft and ending in a huge crescendo.

Pitney did a lot better over at the UK, Europe and Australia, managing to chart well up until 1974. He continued touring throughout the rest of his career. For his musical contributions and his distinctive singing style, he was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

On April 5th, 1996, Pitney was found dead of a heart attack in his hotel room after his performance in St. David’s Hall in Cardiff, Wales. He was 66 years old.

 

BOBBY VINTON


Bobby Vinton

At the same time that Gene Pitney was charting with schmaltzy pop ballads, Stanley Robert “Bobby” Vinton was busy buying one thousand copies of his own debut single “Roses Are Red (My Love)”, from the label he was signed to, Epic Records, and then hiring a woman to deliver a copy of the song along with a dozen red roses to every Pop DJ in the area. It apparently worked because by the Summer of 1962, Bobby Vinton had become a pop star. The record made it to Billboard’s Number One on July 14th, as well as reaching Number One in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and The Philippines.

Vinton scored three more classic schmaltz ballads each subsequent year. In 1963, he released “Blue Velvet”, a song originally covered by Tony Bennett in 1951. Vinton’s version remains the most popular, having made it to Billboard Number One spot on September 21, 1963 and staying there for three weeks.

“Blue Velvet” was also the inspiration for David Lynch’s 1986 movie of the same name, and was showcased in the film in a very creepy way.

Bobby Vinton’s third and last Number One hit holds a special distinction. It made it to the top spot on January 4th, 1964 and stayed there for four weeks, only to be toppled by a song called “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by a four man group called the Beatles, newcomers from England, who would literally change and direct rock music through the rest of the Twentieth Century. It was a passing of the torch, from the Establishment-rooted pop heartthrob to a sound brimming with youthful excitement and optimism, complete with British accents.

Vinton’s last Number One was “Mr. Lonely”, reaching the top position on December 12th, 1964. It’s one of his signature songs, delivering the lyrics as if he was about to cry. Coincidentally enough, Gene Pitney also peaked on that same day with his final Top Ten, “I’m Gonna Be Strong”. It was almost as if once the year ends, the old would be ushered out to be replaced by the new.

Vinton had a totally of nine Top Ten Hits including his four Number Ones sporadically through the rest of the Sixties and Seventies along with several other records that managed to enter the Top Forty. He even managed to have a half-hour hit TV series on ABC from 1975 to 1978 called The Bobby Vinton Show. Since then he dabbled in an acting career on several TV dramas and movies, including two John Wayne films.

Bobby Vinton is 81 years old as of 2016 and still lives with his wife who he’s been married to since 1962. His son Robert, one of his five children, followed acting as well and plays his father Bobby in a small role in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990).

 

BRIAN HYLAND

The boy singer of the summer of 1962 was 18-year-old Brian Hyland, who was coming off a Number One song two summers earlier called “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini”. It was a dreadful novelty song, devoid of anything worthwhile to listen to more than once, if that long, but on August 12, 1960, it was the Number One Pop song of the land for a week.

Much of the success of the song has a lot to do with what Hyland is singing about. The bikini had been introduced fourteen years earlier in 1946 by French designer Louis Reard. Reard named his design after the Bikini atoll in the South Pacific’s Marshall Islands, where seven nuclear bomb tests were conducted between 1946 and 1958. By 1960, Reard’s bikini was using less fabric than ever before, and Hyland’s novelty song capitalized on the theme to incredulous success.

Hyland’s only other Top Ten Pop hit was a remake of a 1960 song by a group called the Four Voices. The song went nowhere so, liking the melody, Hyland gave it a try. “Sealed With A Kiss” peaked at Number Three Pop on July 28th, 1962 and remains a a truly pretty Sixties “bubble gum pop” classic.

“Though we gotta say goodbye for the summer, baby, I promise you this. I’ll send you all my love every day in a letter, sealed with a kiss.” Sealed With A Kiss – Brian Hyland

Fellow early Sixties boy singer Bobby Vinton recorded “Sealed With A Kiss’ exactly ten years later where it peaked at Number 19 on August 19th, 1972. The song endures today in its timeless melody, which goes to show that even if it comes from pop music knows as “bubble gum”, a genre derided as toothless and “not really rock ‘n’ roll”, then you can make the same argument over the Beatles’ “Yesterday” or the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and countless other ballads where the rock ‘n’ roll beat don’t necessarily dominate or even exist, but the heart of the song is deeply rooted in the spirit of innovation that rock ‘n’ roll forever carries.

 

THE DUKE OF EARL, GENE CHANDLER


Gene Chandler

Whenever they were booked to sing somewhere, the R&B group the Dukays would do vocal exercises to limber up their vocal chords, many times repeating “do, do, do…” Dukays member Eugene Dixon would incorporate fellow member Earl Edwards‘ first name as a joke during their exercises and would start to vocalize, “do, do, do, duke of earl…”

Soon, Dixon and Edwards got together and turned that into a full blown song with the assistance of their mentor Bernice Williams. They recorded it with the Dukays but their record label, Epic, passed on it, offering to release the song from their contract with them so Dixon could record it as a solo artist. Dixon took them up on that offer and launched his solo career after changing his name. Dixon’s favorite actor of the time was Jeff Chandler, so he took the actor’s name and shortened his own first name from Eugene to Gene.

The label released “Duke Of Earl” by Gene Chandler in late 1961, debuted in the Billboard Hot 100 on January 13, 1962 and quickly rose to Number One in the Pop and R&B charts by February 17th. “Duke Of Earl” stayed at Number One for three weeks in the USA and for fifteen weeks in the Top Forty.

Many cover versions of the song have been recorded since. “Duke Of Earl” has been selected by the Grammy and the Rock & Roll Hall of fame as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It would be one of the last doo-wop songs to make it to the Top spot on the national Pop charts, but it’s deeply rooted in Fifties rock ‘n’ roll and sung with a heartfelt earnest by Chandler. Although Chandler would continue to record and chart singles in the Hot 100, he never made it into the Top Ten or matched the success of his first song.

Gene Chandler would tour off that one song for decades, at one point calling himself after the song that landed him a niche in rock ‘n’ roll history, the Duke of Earl. &8 years old as of 2016, he occasionally still performs in Las Vegas, Chicago and Europe.

THE CRYSTALS


The Crystals: Barbara Alston, Dolores “Dee Dee” Kenniebrew, Myrna Giraud and Patricia “Patsy” Wright

Girl groups were starting to proliferate after the success of the Shirelles and the Marvelettes the year before. Each of them had scored Number One hits with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Please Mr. Postman” in January and December, 1961 respectively. The public liked the new sound of female vocals over a rock ‘n’ roll beat and wanted more. Motown, home to the Marvelettes, was still developing their own girl group talent like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the Supremes. As 1962 and ’63 progressed, more girl groups would pop up. The Shangri-Las, The Chiffons, The Ronettes, The Dixie Cups to name just a few, would all have Top Ten hits during those years.

The rise of the girl group occurred simultaneously with the rise of the feminist movement in America. Kicked off by the introduction of the birth control pill in 1960, the feminist movement allowed the woman to attain a louder voice and demand more fulfilling lives that included career and sexual liberation. The sudden popularity of girl groups during the same period may also be a side effect to the movement. In fact, the peak of their popularity occurred in 1963, at the same time Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique” was released. The book was a series of interviews with married housewives confessing their boredom of their lives and was instrumental in launching the Sixties Women’s Liberation movement.


The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan broke barriers and sparked the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s

Legendary record producer and crazy man Phil Spector, who is currently serving time for murder, walked into the Brill Building one March evening in 1961 and heard five girls rehearsing a song called “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”, written by Leroy Bates. Bates had adapted the old gospel melody “There’s No Other Like My Jesus”. The five girls, known collectively as the Crystals, had been hired by song publishers Hill & Range to record demos. Spector liked what he heard and suggested slowing the tempo of the song. He also replaced the lead singer with one of the background vocalists. The resulting product was the Crystals’ first single recording. Spector quickly signed them to his brand new Philles record label and added himself into the song’s credit along with Bates.


Engineer Larry Levine (seated) with Phil Spector

Philles Records was founded between Spector and Lester Sill, utilizing their shortened first names, ‘Phil’ and ‘Les’, to form the label name. Spector and Sill had met in 1959 when Spector’s group the Teddy Bears, who recorded the classic “To Know Him Is To Love Him”, signed with Sill’s Trey Records.

The Crystals would be thoughtlessly manipulated into being one of Phil Spector’s manufactured conduits for brilliant rock ‘n’ roll recordings. Although the group’s chart performance was brief, the songs Spector produced with them are some of the most timeless, classic songs in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Entrepreneur and former big band musician Benny Wells of Brooklyn, New York had decided to form a girl group in 1960. He figured that surely he could find five girls in Brooklyn with good pipes, so he asked his niece, 17-year old-Barbara Alston, who had a good voice herself, to help him find girl singers in return for letting her sing background vocals as part of the group. She came back with 17-year-olds Mary Thomas and Myrna Girard. Girard was to quickly drop out after a short while and was just as quickly replaced by La La Brooks, who Wells assigned as lead singer. Wells’ contact in P.S. 73 was teacher Kate Henry who brought in the group’s fifth singer, Delores (Dee Dee) Kennibrew. As of 2016, 71-year-old Kennibrew is the only original member of the Crystals still performing with two other new members in various engagements throughout the year.

Wells became his newly formed girl group’s manager and found Leroy Bates to write songs. “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” was one of them. Wells also landed them the gig that Phil Spector discovered them in. Bates and his wife had just been blessed with a baby when he met the group. The baby was named Crystal. Barbara Alston liked her name so much that she suggested to the rest of the group that they call themselves the Crystals.

“There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” debuted in November of 1961, at the same time the Marvellettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” was climbing to Number One. The Crystals made it to Number 20 on January 6, 1962, an encouraging sign for the fledgling label and the group. Not as catchy as the aforementioned Number One song, it’s a smoldering ballad of longing in the distinct Spector style of haunting background vocals and strings. The Beach Boys would record their own version of the song in 1965. Barbara Alston, Wells’ niece who was going to be allowed to sing background on the songs, was the lead vocalist and would sing lead on most of their hits. It was Spector who assigned Alston the position of lead vocalist, relegating La La Brooks to background.

UPTOWN – THE CRYSTALS

Their next single, “Uptown”, was written by Brill Building songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and would climb even higher, reaching Number 13 Pop. It was one of the first pop songs that spoke the realities of living as a 20th Century African-American. Mann and Weill were two of the first songwriters who pushed the envelope, where rock ‘n roll lyrics could become a vehicle to make a social statement within the parameters of a love song. In this case, the man in the singer’s life has it rough in working society.

“He gets up each morning and he goes downtown where everyone’s his boss and he’s lost in an angry land. He’s a little mad. But then he comes uptown each evenin’ to my tenement, uptown where folks don’t have to pay much rent and when he’s there with me, he can see that he’s everything, then he’s tall, he don’t crawl, he’s a king.” Uptown – The Crystals

The next single for the Crystals was a misfire, tanking badly and not even entering Billboard’s Hot 100. The title of the song “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”, written by other Brill Building songwriters and married couple Carole King and Gerry Goffin, is a good reason for the record’s dismal popularity.

“He hit me and it felt like a kiss, he hit me but it didn’t hurt me, he couldn’t stand to hear me say that I’d been with someone new and when I told him I had been untrue he hit me and it felt like a kiss (felt like a kiss). He hit me and I knew he loved me. If he didn’t care for me, I could have never made him mad. But he hit me and I was glad.” – He Hit Me (But It Felt Like A Kiss)

These lyrics for a radio pop song in 1962 are pretty taboo in its acceptance of domestic violence as a way of showing love. King and Goffin wrote the song after their baby sitter Eva confessed to them that she was a victim of domestic violence. Their baby sitter would become Little Eva and go on to release a hit song called “Loco-motion” later that year.

“HHMBIFLAK” was re-discovered in the Nineties by Courtney Love’s group Hole, who re-recorded it and played it live during their Unplugged performance on MTV in 1995. When Hole sings it, its true heart is revealed. Hole’s interpretation becomes a fictional story of a battered woman trying to rationalize the punishment inflicted on her. Love’s vocal delivery conveys it in the nuances of her voice that were completely missing from the Crystals’ version, very probably because none of the girls liked the song to begin with.

“It was a brutal song, as any attempt to justify such violence must be, and Spector’s arrangement only amplified its savagery, framing Barbara Alston’s lone vocal amid a sea of caustic strings and funereal drums, while the backing vocals almost trilled their own belief that the boy had done nothing wrong. In more ironic hands (and a more understanding age), ‘He Hit Me’ might have passed at least as satire. But Spector showed no sign of appreciating that, nor did he feel any need to. No less than the song’s writers, he was not preaching, he was merely documenting.”— Dave Thompson; Rock ‘n’ Roll music critic

HE’S A REBEL – THE CRYSTALS

Spector was looking for the Crystals’ next single to be a hit after the dismal result of their previous release. Boy singer Gene Pitney had written a song called “He’s A Rebel”, a paean to loving juvenile delinquents. Spector had heard it and liked it, and when he found out it had been turned down by the Shirelles because of the lyrics’ theme, he thought it would be perfect for the Crystals’ next release. But twenty-one-year-old singer Vicki Carr was already set to record it as her debut single for Liberty Records, so Spector decided to rush the recording and get it out as soon as possible. Unfortunately, he was in Los Angeles and the Crystals were in New York and they couldn’t get to the other side of the coast fast enough to suit Spector, so he set on recording the song with a local group and release it as a Crystals’ record.


Darlene Love and Phil Spector

Spector had recently discovered an L.A. girl group called the Blossoms who’s lead singer, Darlene Love, had a powerful voice. Spector quickly recorded “He’s A Rebel” with them and released it as the Crystals’ next single, knowing that the public wouldn’t be able to tell that it was a completely different group. Understandably, neither the actual Crystals nor the Blossoms were too happy. The Ronettes were also forced to not reveal the truth and performed the song during their live appearances, even though they had difficulty hitting the same notes, and the Blossoms were promised a proper recording career by Spector. The Crystals did record future hits under their own name, and the Blossoms eventually did appear as themselves starting in 1964 on a weekly TV show called “Shindig!”. They also recorded background vocals as the Blossoms for singers like the Ronettes and Marvin Gaye, and were the girls who sang backup in the 1963 Halloween anthem for all time, “The Monster Mash”. But “He’s A Rebel” was the only Number One they had, and because of Spector’s manipulations, the Blossoms never got credit for it.

“He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever be any good, he’s a rebel ’cause he never ever does what he should but just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does, that’s no reason why I can’t give him all my love…” He’s A Rebel – The Crystals

On November 3rd, 1962, “He’s A Rebel” reached the Number One spot on Billboard’s Pop chart, jumping from Number 47 the previous week in a sudden surge of popularity and radio airplay. Today, it remains a standard girl group song from the pre-British Invasion period of rock ‘n’ roll and stands the test of time as a masterpiece of pop music production.

Phil Spector’s production was flawless and this recording was one of his few releases without strings in the arrangement. Instead, it contains a nice piano riff that kicks the song off, courtesy of Al De Lory, one of the ubiquitous Sixties L.A. session musicians called the Wrecking Crew, and a saxophone solo from Steve Douglas, who went on to work as session musician for legendary artists like Elvis, Dylan, the Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin and the Ramones.

Darlene Love, born Darlene Wright, learned harmony as a child when she sang gospel in her church in Hawthorne, California where the Beach Boys also grew up. Spector discovered her at age twenty-one and “He’s A Rebel” was her anonymous debut recording. Her strong voice soon became sought after and she sang with and without the Blossoms in classic recordings like “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, Sixties cover artist Johnny Rivers’ “Tracks of My Tears”, “Poor Side of Town” and “Baby I Need Your Lovin’”, as part of a trio named Bobb B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans with their version of Walt Disney’s “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” from the 1946 movie “Song of the South”, and Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”. She would also sing with the real Crystals in a few of their future recordings, including their next single release, “He’s Sure The Boy I Love”, complete with a spoken intro, and again without receiving credit as the Blossoms.

HE’S SURE THE BOY I LOVE – THE CRYSTALS

Written once again by Mann and Weill, this happy song just missed the Pop Top Ten, peaking at Number 11 on February 16th, 1963. By now, the Crystals were beginning to wonder if they were ever going to record another single, or if they were just going to spend their career touring and performing songs credited to them that they didn’t record. They needn’t have worried. Their most remembered song was still to come. But their next single wasn’t it.

Spector manipulated the release of his singles to his greatest advantage, as he was clearly the real star behind the record and the singers were just another set of instruments for him to utilize. Realizing his grandesse, he began to feel uncomfortable with the agreement he had with co-songwriter and producer Lester Sill. The contract between them stipulated splitting royalties for a certain amount of records, so in order to play a joke on him at Sill’s expense, he wrote a song for the Crystals to record that was never released for sale. Only a few promotional copies marked ‘DJ copy – Not For Sale’ were distributed. Spector even mailed a copy to Sill’s Philles office marked special delivery.

It’s not clear whether the real Crystals or the Blossoms under the Crystals’ name recorded this song, but it didn’t matter either. The reason for the record was because Spector wanted to record a single that would technically be counted as complying with their agreement, even if there were no royalties to share with Sill. So he titled it the most risqué thing he could think of, inserted a monotone, bored male voice that hypnotically repeats “dance the screw” throughout the entire song and made the whole thing just under ten minutes long, having to turn it into a two-part record where the song changes tempo for the B-side of the single and then proceeds to fall apart. The A-side clocks in at five minutes, and radio never played any song over three. The title didn’t just have a sexual connotation either; it was also a disguised sly message directed at Sill. With this recording, Spector terminated his partnership with Sill and promised him to pay $60,000 that he never did pay.

DA DOO RON RON – THE CRYSTALS

By 1963, the Crystals were going to record some new singles again at last, but not without personnel changes. Mary Thomas left the group at the beginning of the year, frustrated at Spector’s manipulation of their name and to get married, leaving them a quartet. That didn’t bother Spector, and set off to write the Crystals’ next single. Back in New York, he got together one Monday morning in his office with songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich to pound out a song together. A friend of Spector, Bill Walsh, came to visit Phil that morning and his visit inspired the first line of the song.

“I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still … Somebody told me that his name was Bill”

They couldn’t think of a follow-up line for the hook they developed, so they just sang the nonsense syllables “da doo ron ron” and agreed to come back to that part with real lyrics. It didn’t take them long to realize that “da do ron ron” were the perfect lyrics.

Spector flew the Crystals with him to Los Angeles and recorded “Da Doo Ron Ron” at Gold Star studios in March with La La Brooks as lead singer. It was released in April and steadily climbed the charts to become the hit of the summer of 1963, reaching its peak at Number Three on June 8th.

Fourteen summers later, bubble gum pop singer Shaun Cassidy sent his version of “Da Doo Ron Ron” all the way to Number One from the Number 100 position it had been in the previous week. It cemented the tune’s popularity and remains a clasic rock ‘n’ roll song, especially the Crystals’ far superior original version.

That same March that he recorded “DDRR” with the Crystals, Phil Spector signed a new group to his Philles label called the Ronettes. Immediately infatuated with lead singer Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett, he started to focus more of his attention on them, making the Crystals even more uneasy about their relationship with him.

THEN HE KISSED ME – THE CRYSTALS

Feeling like he was on a roll, Spector wrote the next single for the Crystals once again with Barry and Greenwich. The resulting song, “Then He Kissed Me”, is one of the Crystals most remembered songs, a straightforward boy meets girl tuneful tale that once you hear, you’ll never forget.

“Well, he walked up to me and he asked me if I wanted to dance. He looked kinda nice and so I said, ‘I might take a chance’. When he danced, he held me tight and when he walked me home that night, all the stars were shinin’ bright and then he kissed me.” Then He Kissed Me – The Crystals

Spector’s sumptuous production, from the steady guitar intro as each percussion instrument is introduced, sounded like a blanket of music carrying the singer’s voice into musical heaven. Once again, La La Brooks took over as lead vocalist. Her voice was ideal for the “Wall Of Sound”, a musical formula Spector developed that gave the music a dense aesthetic that cut across mono AM radio of the day, which he utilized to perfection in all his early Sixties recordings. He developed the sound by using several of the same instruments in the studio, sometimes adding five or six guitars and four percussionists over each other, and usually lush orchestration that included woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion. Spector was one of the first pioneers in rock ‘n’ roll, after Buddy Holly, that incorporated other instruments into a song instead of just guitar and drums. Spector explained his style to be “a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids”. Others tried to imitate him by trying to get that dense sound electronically, but that only created distortion, which is why Spector’s records, though dense, had the sound of a distinct voice backed by a beautiful musical cacophony.

“Then He Kissed Me” was the last Top Ten song the Crystals would have in their career. Their relationship with Spector further deteriorated when, in his usual cavalier way, included four Ronettes tracks in their 1963 greatest hits album titled The Crystals Sing the Greatest Hits, Volume I. There wouldn’t be a Volume Two.

More personnel changes occurred in 1964, leaving the Crystals down to a trio when Barbara Alston, the girl who helped bring the group together, left the band. Their subsequent single releases charted miserably, where only two of the three released in 1964 barely entered the Hot 100 in the 90s positions. By 1967, the group disbanded, only to regroup in 1971 as live performers. Of the trio still performing today, Dee Dee Kennibrew is the only original member.

****************

 

ONE HIT WONDERS

1962 was a year of the search for the definitive sound of the new generation. Fifties music and the rock ‘n’ roll that infused it were now a thing of the past. It felt like a new decade, separate from the previous one that these pre-pubescent baby boomers were mostly born in. There was a new optimism and change was in the air, thanks in large part to the youthful aura of the future that JFK promised with his very existence. But there were also movements occurring concurrently that would be supported by the music of the day, both occurrences that formed ripples that would reverberate past the 20th and into the 21st Century.


Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, 1962 Civil Rights March

The Civil Rights movement was percolating in 1962, culminating in the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. on August 28th, 1963 led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and joined by celebrities of the day such as Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. Joan Baez brought Bob Dylan with her to sing folk songs to the crowd, linking “We Shall Overcome” forever to the Civil Right Movement.


Harry Belafonte brings Hollywood to the Civil Rights movement, among them are James Garner, Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston

African-Americans weren’t the only group struggling to exert their rights. Women in America were also beginning to exert their independence in tiny realizations, accompanied not coincidentally by a surge of female vocalists and girl groups in the Top Ten like the Marvelettes, the Shirelles, the Crystals, Little Eva, Shelley Fabares, Dee Dee Sharp, Mary Wells and Brenda Lee.

The new generation biggest craze in 1962 was surf music and the California beach scene along with girl groups and the still standard doo-wop. Everything else was harmless pop with no edge to them, while rock ‘n’ roll struggled to stay afloat amidst more generally accepted music.

1962’s One Hit Wonders was a grab bag of sounds, primarily because the year had no musical center, wandering aimlessly among genres in search of a unifying force. The only Fifties artists still on the charts had dwindled down to Elvis, who was focusing more on enjoying himself with starlets in silly movies and ignoring the quality of his musical output, and Ray Charles, who was taking the opposite track and expanding his musical universe with a landmark album that shaped the future of 20th Century R&B called “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music”.

 

HEY! BABY – BRUCE CHANNEL


Bruce Channel

One of the few remnants of rock ‘n’ roll left in 1962 was carried in One Hit Wonder Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby”, with an assist from legendary mouth organist Delbert McClinton. It’s a song deeply rooted in blues with a laid back groove that gets under your skin. Besides that, it also happens to be a damn good tune.

“Hey! Baby” holds the distinction of carrying a harmonica intro by McClinton that went on to inspire a handful of other classic early rock ‘n’ roll songs. The harmonica in the early Sixties was a commonly used and widely accepted instrument, closely associated to the basic guitar/drum combo due to its ease to play while strumming, since it can be attached to a contraption worn around the neck in order to conveniently play both instruments at once. Bob Dylan used the harmonica as his accompanying instrument to his acoustic guitar for years, first heard on record with the release of his eponymous debut album on March 19th, 1962.


John Lennon with Delbert McClinton and Bruce Channel

John Lennon also had been learning the mouth harp to play along with his guitar. Lennon met McClinton when he and Bruce Channel toured England in ‘62 and appeared with the Beatles several times that year, when the Fab Four were still mere months away from signing on to EMI Records. Legend has it that McClinton gave John Lennon some pointers on playing the harmonica, particularly regarding the extended note in the beginning of “Hey! Baby”. Lennon adapted the extended note idea in “Love Me Do” and “I Should Have Known Better”, and also used the harmonica on several of their early songs like “Please Please Me”. Other groups used the handy instrument as well, like the Four Seasons with “Sherry”, so it can reasonably be said that the harmonica’s starting point in rock ‘n’ roll began with “Hey! Baby”.

“Hey! Baby… I wanna know… will you be my girl?” – Hey! Baby – Bruce Channel

“Hey! Baby” entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on January 27th, 1962 and made it to Number One Pop on March 10th, staying there for three weeks. That was it for Bruce Channel’s chart history, except for four more singles that never broke the Top Fifty. “Hey! Baby” however, has stood the test of time and is widely recognizable to the public ear today.

The record was Delbert McClinton’s recording debut as well. He managed to carve out a moderately successful career over the years, mostly riding on that one song. In 2001, “H!B” was reintroduced into the public psyche when DJ Otzi remixed and produced a version sans harmonica that climbed to the Number One position in many countries around the world.

 

JOHNNY ANGEL – SHELLEY FABARES

TV actress Shelley Fabares was well-known as TV daughter Mary Stone on The Donna Reed Show, a popular sitcom of the day, and was another One Hit Wonder who managed to land a Number One hit on April 7th, 1962, following Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby”, with her debut record, “Johnny Angel”. The song premiered two months earlier to the whole country on February 1st in an episode called “Donna, Prima Donna”, giving it a gigantic promotional push since millions tuned in to The Donna Reed Show every week, by then in its fourth season of an eight season run. The debut of the song was woven into the plot line to get the teenage record buying market to flock to the stores for a copy.

“Johnny Angel” is a tolerable song, with a haunting other-worldly quality in its tale about a girl so in love with a boy who doesn’t know she exists, that she won’t go out with anybody else. Darlene Love and the Blossoms sang back up on the record. This being her first recording, Fabares was very nervous with the idea of singing lead over such incredible voices.

“Johnny Angel, how I love him, he’s got something that I can’t resist but he doesn’t even know that I-I-I exist. (I’m in heaven) I get carried away, I dream of him and me and how it’s gonna be. (Other fellas) call me up for a date but I just sit and wait, I’d rather concentrate on Johnny Angel…” “Johnny Angel – Shelley Fabares

 

THE FOUR SEASONS


The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy De Vito, Nick Massi

Competing with the Beach Boys as the most popular new group of 1962-1963 were the Four Seasons, thanks primarily to Frankie Valli’s soaring tenor lead, in par with the California quintet’s ability to hit the high notes. Just when doo-wop was about to become extinct, four Italian boys from Jersey with a fine talent for harmony bring back a souped-up doo-wop that allows Valli’s voice to soar, bestowing the grateful public ear with over a dozen insanely catchy songs between 1962 and 1967. Then, after an eight-year hiatus, they re-surfaced again with Valli solo singles along with Four Seasons releases that all entered the Top reaches of the pop charts in the mid-Seventies.

It all began one evening in 1951, when 18-year-old Francesco Stephen Castelluccio from Newark, New Jersey was heard singing by a local group known as the Variety Trio and was subsequently offered to perform with them as guest singer for one night. That night would launch his career. It was Frankie’s first public performance. He had wanted to be a singer since he was 7 years old, from the day his mother took him to see another Frankie… Sinatra, at the Paramount Theater in New York.

By the end of 1952, the Variety Trio had disbanded, but Frankie had made friends with one of its members, Tommy DeVito, and the two decided to join forces, forming a group called the Variatones in 1953. Their lucky break came three years later one day in 1956, when a sharp New York record man named Peter Paul heard a sound that caught his ear; it was the incredible vocal range coming from the background vocals, particularly Valli, behind the female singer that was auditioning at RCA Victor. Paul signed the Variatones to the label that very same day and became their manager.


“Texas” Jean Valli

One of Frankie’s favorite female singers was a girl named “Texas” Jean Valli. He liked the last name so much that he took it for himself, but first he changed the spelling of the last name to “Valley”. In 1953, he recorded a song called “My Mother’s Eyes” as Frankie Valley on Corona Records. An attempt at a smoldering ballad to one’s mother with a bad middle spoken verse, Frankie’s voice and the composition itself are good, but its production quality isn’t. Upon release, it received little public fanfare, climbing only up to Number 62 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in April 1956.

When the group signed to RCA Victor three years later, the Variatones changed their name to the Four Lovers, and Frankie decided to stick with the original spelling of the Jean Valli surname. From ’56 to ‘58, the Four Lovers released seven singles and one album, with only one record making it to Billlboard’s Hot 100 called “You’re the Apple of My Eye”, also reaching Number 62. They made their national television debut that same year when they performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, a popular variety show of the day that showcased selections of current popular acts and celebrities from various fields of entertainment every Sunday evening for sixty minutes on the CBS TV network.

But all that exposure wasn’t enough to sustain the band. RCA Victor dropped the Four Lovers in 1957 due to their dismal chart performance. Soon after that, the group signed to Epic Records, but there, they were dropped even faster after their very first single failed to chart. The future looked shaky, so the group disbanded. Frankie and Tommy stuck together though and re-formed the Four Lovers with all new members, making a living as session musicians and providing back-up vocals under various solo and group names, from Frankie Tyler to Frankie Valley and the Romans.


Bob Crewe

One day in 1958, they were booked to provide background vocals for another singer when lightning struck a second time. Just like at RCA, it was record producer Bob Crewe’s ear that caught their sound this time, and pretty quickly signed them to a three-year contract. Various personnel changes followed until they hit on the group combination that would ultimately become the Four Seasons. Along with Frankie Valli and Tony DeVito, Nick Massi became the bassist, and Bob Gaudio, the group member who would write all of the Four Seasons’ biggest hits, played keyboards and rhythm guitar.

The Four Lovers met Gaudio in Baltimore in 1959 while on tour. At the time, Gaudio was with a group called the Royal Teens. The Teens were riding off the success of a song that Gaudio wrote for them called “Short Shorts”, a saxophone jam with the title lyric repeated throughout, which landed at Number Three on Billboard’s pop chart that same year.

Valli and Tommy DeVito invited Gaudio to join the band, and together they struggled to book gigs while Gaudio worked to craft songs for themselves. One evening in 1960, they failed an audition for a cocktail lounge at Union Township in a Union County, New Jersey bowling alley. Disappointed but undeterred, the boys liked the name of the lounge.

“We figured we’ll come out of this with something. So we took the name of the bowling alley. It was called the Four Seasons.” – Bob Gaudio

Their new name was less direct and open to wider interpretation than their previous “Four Lovers” moniker, and also gave them the opportunity to start anew. Valli realized that Gaudio’s songwriting abilities would free the newly named Four Seasons from having to rely on people outside the group to write songs for them, so the two founded an organization on a handshake, calling it the Four Seasons Partnership. Together, they agreed to split the profits of the act and all its future assets fifty–fifty.

By now, Bob Crewe had signed the Four Seasons to his production company. He had various record labels, among them were Topix, Perri and Gone Records. The group’s first single recording under their new name, produced by Crewe, was “Bermuda”, backed with “Spanish Lace” as single’s B-side. It was released in 1961 through Gone Records, but went nowhere on the pop charts, particularly because Valli’s voice wasn’t being showcased yet. Interested in keeping them busy as they worked on their next single release, Crewe had them providing background vocals over the next year for various artists signed to his labels.

During all this time, Bob Gaudio had been mulling over a melody he developed after listening to Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby” playing on the radio ubiquitously during the Spring and Summer of ’62. Like many other Americans back then, Gaudio was greatly inspired by the election of the young John F. Kennedy to the United States Presidency, so when writing lyrics to the melody he had come up with, he called it “Jackie Baby” in honor of America’s First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. Gaudio wrote it in fifteen minutes, then presented it to Crewe to record. Crewe liked it indeed, but didn’t get around to record it until the following year.

In the middle of the summer one hot July in 1962, the Four Seasons walked into the studio again. They were booked to record around a dozen songs for an upcoming debut album under their new name. One of the songs that would be in the album would be Gaudio’s “Jackie Baby”, but Valli and Crewe didn’t like the title. Crewe suggested they change it to “Perri Baby”, after one of his record labels. That was quickly discarded as too commercial and changed the name to “Terry Baby”. They all agreed, and were settled on the new title, that is, until Gaudio mentioned that the wife of his best friend, New York DJ Jack Spector, just had a baby and they named her Sherry.

SHERRY BABY – THE FOUR SEASONS

Once “Sherry Baby” was recorded, Crewe set out to find a record label to pick up the song for national distribution. Valli rang up a friend of his, Randy Wood, who happened to be West Coast manager for Vee-Jay Records. Vee-Jay only hired black artists, but after hearing “Sherry Baby”, they decided to give the Four Seasons a try and signed them to their label.

Released in August 1962, “Sherry Baby” made it to Number One Billboard Pop on September 15th, staying there for five straight weeks. The Four Seasons’ career had taken off.

The success of “Sherry Baby” lies squarely on Frankie Valli’s soaring tenor, reaching heights of doo-wop never heard before in a rock ‘n’ roll song. The title as sung by Valli has become a well-known refrain thanks to his unique phrasing, especially when he extends the word “baby” to the often imitated “bayaybee”. From then on, when he first sings the title, Valli owns the listener for the rest of the record.

The rest of the Four Seasons lend a steady background vocal, accompanied by spare instrumentation and bringing Frankie’s voice to the fore to carry the whole tune. The recording double backed Valli’s voice, giving it that much more power, designed to cut through the frequency noise when heard on the AM mono radio of the time. In stereo, the way it’s meant to be heard, you can appreciate the melody that much more. “Sherry Baby”, an immediate classic song unto itself, would be the kick-off to a string of singles that all still carry the same joy they bring when listening to them, even today in 2016.

On a side note, after signing the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay Records signed another non R&B group a few months later in early 1963, after the Beatles recorded their first album for EMI in London. EMI was shopping for an American distributor and Vee Jay was willing to try them out. The label re-packaged the album and changed the title from “Please Please Me” to “Introducing the Beatles”.

“Introducing the Beatles” went nowhere in 1963, primarily because Vee-Jay barely promoted it. It would take another year, by January of 1964, after the release of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” from Capitol Records and their appearance a month and a half later on the Ed Sullivan Show, before Beatlemania gained them worldwide fame.

The Four Seasons’ debut album, “Sherry & 11 Others” was released in September, 1962 both in mono and stereo. The opening track on the album turned out to also be their second single release.

BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY – THE FOUR SEASONS

The Four Seasons had become so popular with the success of “Sherry Baby” that on November 12, 1962, their next single, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, also landed in the Number One Billboard Pop position and also stayed there for five weeks straight. This was the first time a group in the rock ‘n’ roll era would land two Number One singles in a row upon their debut on the Hot 100.

Bob Crewe got the idea for the title for a song one day when he was dozing off, watching an old black & white movie called “Slightly Scarlet” (1956) on TV. In the movie, the hero John Payne slaps the girl, played by Rhonda Fleming, and then utters “big girls don’t cry.” Crewe scribbled the phrase on a piece of paper and went back to sleep. The next day, he phoned Bob Gaudio and together, they wrote the song.

“BGDC” is similar to “SB” in that it’s also sung in falsetto, giving it that quasi doo-wop sound that managed to bridge their music from the Fifties into a new, updated Sixties sound. After its initial chart debut, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” would be played in movies and on TV shows over the decades staying in the public ear often enough to have been heard even today, the song is instantly recognizable to most of the civilized Western World.

The rest of the “Sherry & 11 Others” album was filled with filler, taking old songs and giving them a doo-wop touch that sounded a little creaky by 1962. The Four Seasons were not an album band, but were capable enough to write single songs over the next few years that would place them consistently in the Top Ten. Even during the British Invasion of 1964, the Four Seasons, along with the Beach Boys and the Motown stable of artists, were one of the few groups who still remained popular in the face of a brand new sound that would change the sound of rock ‘n’ roll forever.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s