Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

JAMES BROWN AND THE MASHED POTATO – LITTLE EVA AND THE LOCO-MOTION – THE ORLONS AND THE WAH-WATUSI – DEE DEE SHARP – THE AMAZING ISLEY BROTHERS

by Robert Seoane

A new type of dance called the Twist swept the planet in 1960. It was the first touchless dance ever and was introduced to the world by the song of the same name. The original version of “The Twist” was written by Hank Ballard, recorded with his Midnighters in 1958 and released the following year to an indifferent public.

Two years later however, music entrepreneur Dick Clark took the song and recorded an identical version with sound-alike singer Chubby Checker. Thanks to the promotional help of Clark’s TV show American Bandstand, Chubby Checker’s “Twist” launched a dance craze that would spawn a tsunami of Sixties dances to come.

At first, befuddled parents shook their heads as they watched their teenaged children dancing in place opposite their partner without even holding each other’s hand, but the Twist fad soon spread throughout the world like wildfire. It was easy to do, even if you didn’t know how to dance, and anyone could do it regardless of age. Celebrities were seen twisting in posh clubs around the world. Teens twisted to every rock ‘n’ roll song on the radio. You could even twist by yourself at home.

Its popularity was buoyed by the steady stream of subsequent Twist singles that were released between 1960 and 1962. Checker released four more Twist singles in those two years: “Twistin’ U.S.A.”, ”Let’s Twist Again”, “Slow Twistin’”, and “Twistin’ ‘round the World”. Other classic Twist songs released during that time were Sam Cooke’s “Twisting the Night Away”, Joey Dee & The Starlighters’ “Peppermint Twist” and the Isley Brothers’ “Twist & Shout”, later recorded by the Beatles on February 11, 1963 as the closing number of their debut album “Please Please Me”.

Other dances were starting to evolve, all of them inspired by the Twist in that you could dance without having to hold your partner, like the Mashed Potato, the Watusi, the Loco-Motion, the Frug, the Swim, the Monkey, the Jerk, the Pony, the Alligator, the Fly, the Dog, Walking the Dog, the Chicken, the Funky Chicken, the Hitchhike, the Shake, the Yo-Yo …and on and on. Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances”, released in the summer of ‘63 listed many of these dance fads in its lyrics.

By 1962, two years after it first became a hit, the Twist still ruled as the mother of all dance fads. So much so that the Number One 1960 Chubby Checker hit made it to Number One a second time on January 13, 1962, and stayed there for two weeks, one week longer than its debut release. Other dance songs that became hits in 1962 were Little Eva’s “Loco-Motion”, “The Wah-Watusi” by a one hit wonder group called the Orlons and “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sharp.

THE MASHED POTATO

The Mashed Potato was a dance that had been around as long as the Twist, In fact, the first Mashed Potato songs had already been recorded before Sharp’s 1962 version by the man who invented the dance, one of the most influential R&B artists of the rock ‘n’ roll era, called the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, nicknamed “The Godfather of Soul”, Mr. James Joseph Brown.

 

JAMES BROWN


Mr. Dynamite, James Brown

“(In 1960), I received a call from James Brown while he was in Miami with his new backup band, the J.B.’s. He informed me he was having a problem with Syd Nathan at King Records. Syd refused to let Brown record with the J.B.’s. Always believing in Brown and standing by him, I suggested we record him and his backup band under a pseudonym. I had seen Brown at Ernie Busker’s Palms of Hallandale nightclub doing a dance he called “The James Brown Mashed Potatoes.” At Criteria the next day we decided to cut an instrumental track and title it “(Do The) Mashed Potatoes.”
One of the repeated lines was for someone to shout “Mashed Potatoes” and Brown volunteered. At the last minute, I decided it was too risky using Brown’s very recognizable voice and turned to him and said, ‘You can’t do that! I can’t use your voice on this record because Nathan will be on our ass. We have to leave your voice off and strictly make this an instrumental.’ I still liked the idea of someone shouting “Mashed Potatoes”, but I had to use someone else. Brown agreed, so I contacted one of Miami’s top black radio DJ personalities by the name of Carlton “King” Coleman and dubbed his voice on top of the recording. If you listen to the record very carefully, you can still hear Brown’s voice in the background. I released the song through my own Dade label under the name of Nat Kendrick and The Swans. Kendrick was Brown’s drummer at the time and the J.B.’s temporarily became The Swans. The single became a smash hit after peaking at #8 on the national R&B charts while reaching #84 on the Billboard Hot 100.” –Henry Stone, Dade Records owner source: (henrystonemusic.com)

“I would be telling a lie if I said I would be a world star without the help of men like Mr. Nathan. He was the first one willing to take a chance on me.” -James Brown


King Records owner, Syd Nathan

Syd Nathan did not like James Brown. He thought he was a terrible singer. In 1956, talent scout Ralph Bass signed Brown and his group the Famous Flames to Nathan’s Federal label, a subsidiary to his main label, King Records. Bass recorded James Brown and the Famous Flames’ debut single, “Please, Please, Please”. When Syd Nathan heard it, he reacted in his usual manner: yelling and screaming at Bass for being stupid enough to sign this group.

“That’s the worse piece of crap I’ve heard in my life. It’s someone stuttering on a record only saying one word …”. –Syd Nathan


James Brown and the Famous Flames debut studio album, “Please, Please, Please” (1959)

“Please, Please, Please” certainly didn’t sound like anything being heard on the radio at the time, but to Nathan’s surprise, the record found an audience, particularly because James Brown already had a fan following that went wild for his stage performances. During “Please, Please, Please”, he would suddenly get on his knees, engulfed in musical rapture. One of the Flames would then come to his side to pat him on the back and help him up, while another Flame draped a cape over him. Both of them would then attempt to escort Brown offstage, only to have Brown shrug off the cape in a resurgence of uncontrolled ecstasy, slowly return to the mic, screaming his heart out, and fall to his knees once again to repeat the process all over… as many as four more times.

“Please, Please, Please” only made it to Number 105 on the Billboard Pop chart but it reached Number Six in Billboard’s R&B chart. That gave Nathan brief pause, but he still didn’t think this James Brown fella would ever amount to anything, even after his next five single releases through Federal Records all made it into the charts, with one song “Try Me”, reaching Number 48 Billboard Pop, and Number One R&B, and “Think” breaking the Billboard Top Forty at Number 33 and climbing to Number Seven R&B.

James Brown and the Famous Flames also released their first two studio albums in 1959, each named after their first two singles. Curiously, the albums did not feature the group on the cover. Nathan chose instead to use white models, apparently to mask the color of the group so he could market the music to a more mainstream public.


James Brown and the Famous Flames’ second studio album “Try Me!” (1959), was a collection of singles b-sides and outtakes from their debut album.

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When Syd Nathan first formed King Records in 1943, he only released Country & Western music, but Nathan soon realized that African-American teenagers danced to their own, totally different soundtrack comprised of African-American artists. Nathan referred to the genre he discovered as race records.

“We saw a need. Why should we go into all those towns and only sell to the hillbilly accounts? Why can’t we sell a few more while we’re there? So we got in the race business.” –Syd Nathan

Nathan was as stubborn as a mule and ran his company in a dictatorial manner, but despite his total inability to recognize original talent like James Brown, he was unwittingly influential in the development of rock ‘n roll music by integrating C&W with R&B. Once he had a good number of both R&B and C&W musical artists signed to his labels, Nathan would give his country artists R&B songs to record and country songs for the R&B artists to record. This inadvertent cross-pollination of genres wasn’t as much a grand musical experiment of his as it was a way of maximizing the revenue of his song publishing.

When Nathan found out that Brown was recording for Dade, he wisely relented and moved Brown to the main label, King Records, allowing him to record more instrumentals like “(Do The) Mashed Potatoes” and gradually taking James Brown’s ability to sell records more seriously. In response, seeing that he hit a dance nerve with his fans, Brown recorded a sequel called “Mashed Potatoes USA.”

The lyrics to “Mashed Potatoes USA” were similar to an earlier single of Brown’s called “Night Train”, in that it was essentially a promotion of his current tour. In “Mashed Potatoes USA,” James Brown claims his intention to bring the dance to the entire country, with shout outs to the cities he would be performing in the rest of the year.

Here I am and I’m back again, I’m doing mashed potatoes, I’m gonna start by going to New York City with your number one, I’m going to Boston, ow… I’m going to Buffalo straight down the road, gonna stop in Cleveland, Ohio…” “Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.” – James Brown & the Famous Flames

It got to Number 82 Pop and barely missed the R&B Top Twenty at Number 21 in 1962, but by then it had fulfilled its purpose as the Mashed Potato dance fad spread around the world.

In Brown’s earlier single, “Night Train”, all he does is yell out cities up and down the Eastern Coast, from Miami to Washington, DC.

“And don’t forget New Orleans, the home of the Blues…” “Night Train” – James Brown

“Night Train” managed to crack the Billboard Pop Top Forty at Number 35 and was the Famous Flames’ biggest R&B hit of 1962, reaching Number Five. It’s a song with a history, originally recorded as a 12 bar instrumental standard in 1951 by Jimmy Forrest, who took the instrumental’s opening riff from Duke Ellington’s “Happy-go-Lucky Local” when Forrest played in the band. Brown took the song, added his lyrics and funked it up before anyone knew what funk even was.

Besides his success with the Mashed Potato dance and “Night Train”, James Brown’s musical output between 1960 and 1962 was on the rise both creatively and popularly, despite his continuing battles with Nathan. Once they had been moved to King Records, James Brown and the Famous Flames began recording their third studio album for Nathan. Neither Brown nor the group as a whole were showcased on this cover either. This time around, Nathan put a white baby on the cover in a pose that made the infant look like he was deep in thought.

Although most of the tracks on the Famous Flames’ first three albums were either written or co-written by Brown, for the most part, they were an assortment of Fifties-style compositions with strong similarities to Little Richard, along with a respectable collection of heartfelt blues wails. Brown’s passion was evident, especially when he was onstage, but he was still a few years away from developing the Funk R&B genre he invented. His singing style offered a rougher, more passionate version of the soul music that was first popularized by Sam Cooke’s contrasting smooth vocal. Brown’s unique voice would ultimately earn him the “Godfather of Soul” moniker.

His dancing style had developed much earlier. Original and totally his own, James Brown’s moves were like nothing ever seen before. Bathed in sweat and screaming his heart out is the epitome of Funk, and funnily enough, the word itself is derived from the strong odor one emanates after an intense performance.

The only other dancer of the rock ‘n’ roll era who could keep up with James Brown in dancing skills was Michael Jackson, who confessed more than once that James Brown was a deep influence in his dance style. You can see future Jackson moves in Brown’s performances.

THINK – JAMES BROWN

“Think” was the first single released from the 1960 “Think!” album in May of that year, and was also the first James Brown song that sounded like a true pre-cursor of the Funk that was to come. Coincidentally enough, Brown didn’t write it. The composition was originally recorded by the Five Royales in 1957. When comparing the two recordings, the difference is like day and night. Brown’s musical arrangement is totally different and much more dynamic, belting out the words with his own unique passion. The Royales’ version boasts a nice electric guitar and a brief sax solo but remains rooted in Fifties doo-wop.

James Brown released eight more singles with the Famous Flames after “Think” during 1960 and 1961. Five of those made it into the Billboard R&B Top Ten but none of them cracked the Pop Top Forty. Looking for a hit, Brown wanted to capture his live events on record, since it was his stage performances that were making him a star. He felt a studio recording wasn’t doing his work justice because he wasn’t getting the insane audience reaction he received when he was onstage. He approached Syd Nathan with the idea, and in his usual negative manner, Nathan steadfastly refused, claiming that live albums never made money. Stubborn as always when it came to his musical instincts, Brown decided to fund a recording of an upcoming event at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on October 15, 1962, with his own money. Nathan scoffed, saying that every track on the live recording had already been released as a studio single, but Brown persisted and Nathan finally relented. “Live at the Apollo” turned out to be the album that put James Brown on the map. Released the following June, it became a million seller and reached Number Two on the Billboard Top LP chart. In 1963, Brown’s career would take off.

 

DEE DEE SHARP

Also in 1962, sixteen-year-old Dione LaRue scored a Billboard Number Three Pop hit with Chubby Checker called “Slow Twistin’”, although she wasn’t credited. Thanks to that song’s success, LaRue was given the opportunity to record another single as a solo artist, so she changed her name to Dee Dee Sharp.

MASHED POTATO TIME – DEE DEE SHARP

“Mashed Potato Time”, based on James Brown’s dance, made it to the Number Two position on Billboard’s Pop chart on May 5, 1962. Part of its success, besides riding on the coattails of the dance fad, was the fact that it sounded a lot like an earlier Number One hit from a few months earlier, “Please Mr. Postman”, and Sharp sounded very much like the Marvellettes’ lead singer Gladys Horton. The song even alludes to the earlier Motown hit in its lyrics.

“Now everybody is doin’ fine, they dance alone or in a big boss line, and they discovered it’s the most, man the day they did it to Please Mr. Postman. Mashed Potato, wait a minute, wait a minute, Mashed Potato, deliver de letter…” Mashed Potato Time – Dee Dee Sharp

GRAVY (FOR MY MASHED POTATOES) – DEE DEE SHARP

Sharp’s next single would continue to ride the surf of the Mashed Potato’s popularity simply by adding gravy. Similar in style to her prior hit, “Gravy…” managed to crack the Billboard Pop Top Ten at Number Nine on July 14, 1962.

 

THE WATUSI

“Watusi” is the name of a 1959 adventure film that served as a sequel to a popular 1950 movie called “King Solomon’s Mines” and is also loosely based on the novel of the same name. In the film, the African tribe known as the Tutsi tribe, also called Watusis and known for their spectacular solo dances, are the backdrop for a Fifties action adventure film where two Americans travel to Africa in search of King Solomon’s treasure, killing African people and animal wildlife during the whole film in order to find it.

Two years after the movie’s release, the Watusi dance had its own record, thanks to a group called the Vibrations, who scored minor hits throughout their career in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Their version of “The Watusi” reached Number 25 Billboard Pop in 1961.

The most popular record of the Watusi, however, was recorded by a group called the Orlons called “The Wah-Watusi”. It reached Number Two on Billboard’s Pop chart during the summer of 1962, and was re-recorded the following year by groups such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Chubby Checker, Annette Funicello and the Isley Brothers.

The Watusi dance fad had nothing to do with any of the dances of the actual Watusi tribe. The name for the dance was chosen instead only because it was in the public consciousness thanks to the film. The dance was embraced by the Establishment because it was relatively tame, and was even showcased on an old fogey’s program of the time called the Lawrence Welk Show.

 

THE LOCO-MOTION

Eva Narcissus Boyd was Carole King and husband Gerry Goffin’s sixteen-year-old babysitter when they discovered her singing talent. They grew to like Eva very much, inquiring about her life and amused by the way she danced when listening to one of the many great pop songs on the radio at the time, some of whom her employers actually wrote. Inspired by her dancing, King and Goffin wrote a song that would become a Number One smash hit in 1962 and give birth to yet another Sixties dance fad.

King and Goffin’s boss Don Kirshner liked “The Loco-Motion” and released it. The single managed to sell over one million copies, reaching the Number One Billboard chart position on August 25, 1962.

Little Eva never had a bigger hit than “The Loco-Motion”, but she did have a singing career that spanned the rest of her life until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died in 2003 at age 59.

Twelve years later, a rock group called Grand Funk was struggling for a hit after they dropped “Railroad” from their name. They re-made “The Loco-Motion” and the song returned to the top of the Pop charts on May 2nd, 1974.

Despite the ever growing list of dance fads and their accompanying songs, the song that carries the distinction of being the most enduring twist song of all time as well as one of the most famous songs in rock ‘n’ roll history is “Twist and Shout”. It’s a song that’s mostly associated with the Beatles, but it was actually written in 1961 by two songwriters named Phil Medley and Bill Berns. From there, it was recorded by a group called the Top Notes, then by the Isley Brothers before the Beatles took it and made it their own.

 

TWIST AND SHOUT

The Top Notes played it much faster than the Isley Brothers did on their recording. The TN’s version was a frantic rock ‘n’ roll song with an equally frantic sax solo played by the legendary King Curtis. This first version of “Twist & Shout” was produced by Phil Spector on February 23, 1961, when he worked for Atlantic Records, years before he invented his “Wall of Sound” recording technique. The original recording is almost unrecognizable from the known version, arranged by the Isley Brothers and then copied almost exactly by the Beatles.

The Top Notes’ single didn’t break the Billboard charts but the Isley Brothers’ version did, reaching Number 17 Billboard Pop on August 11, 1962. When adapting the tune, the brothers used the same musical arrangement but slowed-down for their version of “Twist and Shout” that Ritchie Valens used in 1958 for his adaptation of a traditional Mexican mariachi tune called “La Bamba” into a rock ‘n’ roll song.

The Isley Brothers’ version replaces the Top Notes’ sax solo with a horn section that repeats as a rising crescendo of “aaahhhs” overtake it, then bringing it back to the main part. The Beatles’ version mimics the Isley Brothers intact, but they replace the horns for their guitars and deliver rock ‘n’ roll screams that are essentially a blueprint for myriad joyful rock ‘n’ roll screams to come.

Many people have always believed that the Beatles had written “Twist and Shout”. It closes their 1963 debut album “Please Please Me”, but that album was basically a recording of the Beatles’ setlist when they played at the Cavern Club in their hometown of Liverpool back then, along with Beatle-written songs peppered throughout the album.

The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” showcases John Lennon’s voice, by then hoarse from having recorded the entire album with the other three in one 13-hour period. It was a vocal style he would successfully emulate during their live performances, and it was this unique performance captured on record that takes the song to the heights of rock ‘n’ roll legend.

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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

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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.

(more…)

THE MIRACLES – MARY WELLS – MARVIN GAYE – THE TEMPTATIONS – THE SUPREMES – LITTLE STEVIE WONDER – THE MARVELLETTES – FOLK MUSIC AND THE BIRTH OF DYLAN

by Robert Seoane

MOTOWN

1961 was a formative year for Motown Records. Founder Berry Gordy spent much of his time in Detroit’s nightclubs and talent shows in search of young, up and coming musical artists to record. He saw his record label as a Hit Factory and called it such, where rookie artists would be transformed into pop superstars through classes covering everything from etiquette and poise to dancing and vocal training. They were all fitted in suits and gowns and made to look polished and cool. Once they underwent the transformation, they would record incredible songs written by Motown’s stable of brilliant songwriters, and backing up their releases with touring and TV appearances on programs like American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show, the only television outlets for rock ‘n’ roll at the time, and performing in synchronized dance moves, perfect harmonies and serious threads.


Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records

Gordy’s Hit Factory would prove to be just that. By 1966, Motown would have three to five singles in the Pop & R&B Top Ten for several weeks at a time and always had new singles climbing the charts getting ready to replace them. By the end of the decade, Motown was not only responsible for many of the most beautiful pop songs of all time, but also developed legendary musical stars that in time would become pop culture icons. Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, Michael Jackson… names that will forever be remembered as some of the best musical talent ever produced during the 20th Century.

 

THE MIRACLES

The record label was on sure footing as 1961 dawned, having just had their first Top Ten hit the previous year with The Miracles’ single “Shop Around”, reaching Number Two Pop. It proved to be so popular that it was re-released again in early ’61.

In June of ‘61, the Miracles released their first album, titled “Hi… We’re The Miracles”. It was also the first album ever released by Motown. It received good reviews and was a largely influential work to the formation of the nascent Sixties R&B/Pop Motown sound.

Four other singles were released in 1961 by the Miracles that would also be included in their second and third albums but none of them achieved very high chart success, with only a song called “What’s So Good About Goodbye” being the only one to crack the Top Forty that year, climbing to Number 35. Their best music was still to come.

Despite its lackluster chart success, “WSGAG” served as an inspirational muse to the Beatles, who wrote “Ask Me Why” for their 1963 debut album “Please Please Me”, patterning their composition to the Miracles song.

It was the Miracles’ lead singer Smokey Robinson who wrote “Shop Around” and would continue to write hits for his group throughout the Sixties like “Going to a Go-Go” “The Tracks Of My Tears” “Ooh Baby, Baby”, “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”, “I Second That Emotion” and “Tears of a Clown”, ultimately recording 26 Top Forty hits with the Miracles through the rest of the decade. As the Motown artist roster grew, Smokey wrote compositions for many of them, such as “My Guy” for Mary Wells, “My Girl”, “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “Get Ready” for The Temptations, “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar” for Marvin Gaye and many more. During most of the Sixties, Smokey Robinson was Motown’s main songwriter and would ultimately become the record label’s Vice-President. Berry Gordy’s legacy is inextricably intertwined with the talent of Smokey Robinson.

 

MARY WELLS


Mary Esther Wells

During one of Berry Gordy’s talent seeking forays through Detroit nightclubs, a 17-year-old girl named Mary Esther Wells was performing at the Twenty Grand Club when she spotted the young mogul. Mary was a fan of singer Jackie Wilson and she knew Berry Gordy had written songs for him, like one of Wilson’s biggest hits “Lonely Teardrops”. She also knew that Gordy was apt to drop into the Twenty Grand from time to time, so she had written a song for Wilson that she wanted to present to Gordy for whenever he came in. She must have blessed her luck when she saw him and built up the nerve to approach him and pitch her self-penned song, “Bye Bye Baby”. What she didn’t know was that Berry had severed his ties with Wilson’s manager in order to start his own label, so he no longer wrote for him. But Berry liked her singing, so he suggested that she record it herself for his subsidiary label, Tamla. Gordy was one of the first record moguls who came up with the idea of having more than one record label. DJs of the day would not play too many songs from the same label. To get around that, simply create a new label with another name.

Mary Wells was a smart, talented girl despite her struggle as a child. Born to an absentee father and a mother who worked as a cleaning lady, Mary contracted spinal meningitis when she was two years old and had to struggle with partial blindness, deafness in one ear and temporary paralysis. Once she recovered, she had to learn to walk again as her sight and hearing were gradually restored. By the time she was 12 years old, Mary joined her mother cleaning homes just to put food on the table.

“Misery is Detroit linoleum in January—with a half-froze bucket of Spic-and-Span.” –Mary Wells

Having graduated from Detroit’s Northwestern High School at age 17, Mary at first wanted to be a scientist, but music was really her first love. She sang in church choirs as a child and as soon as she graduated from high school, found work singing in local Detroit nightclubs like the Twenty Grand Club.

BYE BYE BABY – MARY WELLS

Berry Gordy recorded and produced Mary Wells’ first self-penned song in late 1960, releasing it in time for the Christmas season. He had her perform it in the studio over twenty-six times before he settled on a take he liked. There were only four lines of the lyric she had written so far when she walked into the studio so she expanded on the words as they recorded. It was released in December 1960 and peaked at Number Eight in Billboard’s R&B chart and Number 45 Pop. Being Motown’s first recorded release from a female singer, Wells was to become known as the Queen of Motown.

Her interpretation of “Bye Bye Baby” is a more full-throated performance than her subsequent records. You can practically hear Jackie Wilson blowing the roof off if he had ever recorded it. It’s a classically Sixties-produced rockin’ blues number that oozes feeling and soul. Wells is giving it her all, betraying a slightly rough, scratchy voice, obviously acquired after so many takes, that adds truthful grittiness to the song.

I DON’T WANT TO TAKE A CHANCE – MARY WELLS

Her second single, released in early 1961, did better than her debut, cracking the Top Forty Pop Billboard chart by climbing up to Number 33. Gordy apparently gave her voice a chance to rest this time because gone is the raspiness of “Bye Bye Baby”. It’s not as much of a soulful tune but still retains the authentic Motown sound being developed with each record release. Gordy wrote this one for her along with William “Mickey” Stevenson.

Mickey Stevenson had been with Gordy and Motown since 1959, only months after it was first founded. He headed the A&R Department during Motown’s biggest years until he left to work for MGM in 1967. Among his accomplishments while at Motown was forming an in-house studio band to provide back-up for recordings, dubbing the group of musicians the Funk Brothers. He co-wrote and produced classics such as “Dancing In The Street” for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” for Stevie Wonder, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” for Marvin Gaye and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” for Jimmy Ruffin.

STRANGE LOVE – MARY WELLS

Mary Wells’ third single was also co-written by Stevenson, this time with George Gordy, Berry’s brother. The song fell short of good, being just a slow, plaintive ballad with not a very memorable melody.

Released in mid-1961, it failed to enter the Top One Hundred, frustrating Berry Gordy’s ambitions to make her a star. Focusing on a Number One hit, Gordy asked Smokey to write something for her. They took the rest of 1961 to re-think, re-polish and re-introduce Mary to the public for 1962, with a trio of singles that would lift her into the Top Ten.


Hitsville USA is now the Motown Museum

Hitsville USA was the name of Motown headquarters, housing its administrative offices and recording studios. It was literally a converted house that Gordy bought in 1959, smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood at 2648 West Grand Boulevard. Within seven years, Gordy will have purchased seven more houses in the neighborhood for his record company.

Gordy and his family lived in the second floor while the first floor was abuzz with young, eager musicians either working or just hanging out in the hopes that they’d have an opportunity to audition or, better yet… record a single. It was opened 22 hours a day, closing from 8 to 10AM for maintenance. Martha Reeves was Motown’s receptionist in 1961. Outside Hitsville USA, in its neatly manicured lawn, artists would lounge around tossing a football, harmonizing or just getting to know one another.

In the meantime, other Motown artists were kept busy recording singles for release throughout 1961 such as Jimmy Ruffin, The Contours and Barrett Strong, who all released songs to middling success that year. Lesser artists were also being groomed that never really took off, with names like the Satintones, Littla Iva & her Band, Henry Lumpkin, Debbie Dean, The Golden Harmoneers, The Twistin’ Kings and Popcorn & the Mohawks. All of them attempted to swim but ultimately sunk into oblivion. There were however, a handful of other artists already being groomed in 1961 that would take Motown up to the highest reaches of success.

 

MARVIN GAYE

Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. to Alberta Gay (née Cooper), a mother who was a domestic worker and, Rev. Marvin Gay, Sr., a father who was a total asshole masquerading as a church minister. Being one of six children, Gaye suffered severe beatings from his father from age seven and well into his teen years. As he grew up, his father took to throwing the teenager out of the house, all for the most trivial of reasons. Marvin admitted in later years that he would have killed himself if it wasn’t for his mother’s consolation. Music was also a soothing balm for the boy, singing in the choir of his father’s church since he was three and developing a lasting love for music, ultimately mastering the piano and the drums as a child.

Gaye’s relationship with his father never fully evolved, even during his success as a pop singer. It tragically culminated on April 1st in 1984 when Marvin intervened in an argument between his mother and father. As Marvin consoled his mother, his father shot him to death at point blank range, once in the shoulder and once in the heart. Marvin Gaye would only get to live 44 years.

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After being discharged from the United Sates Air Force at age 17 for not following orders according to his sergeant, young Marvin set out to form a vocal quartet called the Marquees with his best friend Reese Palmer. Marvin didn’t like the military and later admitted to have faked mental illness to get out. Focusing on his love of music through his newly formed group, the Marquees enjoyed relative success working in local clubs throughout the D.C. area with Bo Diddley, ultimately recording their one and only single “Wyatt Earp” for Okeh Records, a fun doo-wop novelty song with all kinds of amusing vocalizations and a pretty tasty little guitar solo.

Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows heard “Wyatt Earp” and hired them based on that recording to replace his group, re-naming them the New Moonglows. They also received steady work as session singers, recording back-up on Chuck Berry classics such as “Back In The USA” and “Almost Grown”.

The group was short-lived however. They disbanded in 1960 and Marvin signed a solo contract with Fuqua. Together, they moved to Detroit where Fuqua was able to get him a job as a session musician at Tri-Phi Records. That December, Fuqua and Gaye were invited to a party at Motown’s Hitsville USA studios. Gaye was introduced to Gordy. As the evening wore on, Gaye loosened up and sat at the piano. Gordy was impressed at his prowess on the keys. Approaching Fuqua, he offered to buy Gaye’s contract from him. In the end, Fuqua astutely agreed to sell Gordy only part of his interest. By the dawn of 1961, Marvin added an ‘e’ to his surname, primarily to distance himself from his father, and signed with Motown’s subsidiary, Tamla.

Like all great artists, most of them stubbornly know what they want. Gaye had a distinct vision of how he wanted to be perceived that Berry Gordy did not share. Gaye wanted to be an adult alternative to the youthful market that Motown was catering to. It caused friction between artist and producer, the first of many future battles with the headstrong Marvin. Gaye wanted his debut to sound like a “Frank Sinatra-styled pop album”, pointing to his own heroes, Nat “King” Cole and Ray Charles as examples of pop artists with an adult oriented, mellow sound, but Gordy wanted him to record R&B. Ultimately, they compromised and produced “The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye” as the artist’s LP debut, with an assortment of Broadway and jazz tunes, plus three R&B songs tacked on to appease Gordy. It was released on June 8, 1961 and would be the second album to be ever released by Motown after The Miracles’ debut album just a few days before.

LET YOUR CONSCIENCE BE YOUR GUIDE – MARVIN GAYE

Marvin Gaye’s debut single was exactly the style the singer wanted to sing in and Berry Gordy was probably shaking his head in despair. It isn’t a very exciting debut for an artist who would go on to become a musical legend.

Rooted in gospel blues, “LYCBYG” gets under your skin after repeated play, until you realize how incredibly awesome this song really is. It’s a precursor to the Marvin Gaye that would record the smoldering seductions of “Let’s Get It On” and “Sexual Healing”.

The record was released on May 25, 1961, a few weeks before the release of the aforementioned album that contained it. It was a local hit in the Detroit area but it didn’t enter any of the U.S. Billboard charts. It would still be a year before Marvin Gaye would start recording the hit singles that would launch his career.

 

THE ORIGIN OF THE TEMPTATIONS

The origin of the five Temptations sprouted from two different vocal groups. All five members of the vocal quintet ultimately met in Detroit, but each of them were born in southern towns before moving to the Motor City at various times of their lives.

OTIS WILLIAMS AND THE SIBERIANS

Otis Miles, Jr
. was born in Texarkana, Kansas to Otis Miles and Hazel Louise Williams. His mother left for Detroit, Michigan to get married, leaving her son behind to be raised by both his grandmothers. When Otis was ten, Hazel asked for her son to come live with her and his stepfather in Detroit, which he unhesitatingly agreed to do. As he grew up there, Otis developed an interest in music and singing, until during his high school days he decided to form a musical group with himself as the lead singer. He took his mother’s maiden name for his stage name, enlisted his high school mates Elbridge “Al” Bryant and baritone Melvin Franklin and called his group Otis Williams and the Siberians. Together, they developed their act and sang at high school dances, talent shows and street corners.

OTIS WILLIAMS AND THE DISTANTS, THE PRIMES AND THE PRIMETTES

During one particular talent show they were competing in, after their manager Johnnie Mae Matthews changed their name to Otis Williams and the Distants, one of their competitors were a new musical trio that had recently arrived into Detroit from Birmingham, Alabama. They were Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and Kell Osborne, also known as the Primes. With them were Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diane Ross, who also went by Diana, as it was mistakenly written that way on her birth certificate. That trio would go on to become one of the biggest girl groups of all time as the Supremes. They had been discovered by Primes’ manager Milton Jenkins after having met them through Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, who both had met Ballard in 1958. Jenkins envisioned them as a sister group to the Primes so he called them the Primettes.

Otis Williams observed the Primes onstage that night and was blown away by Eddie’s tenor vocal and the precision dancing of Paul Williams and Kell Osborne as they sang back-up. Otis realized just by watching them that his own group could use more of the Primes’ professional polish.

The musical bug bit both Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks when they were fifteen and they formed a doo-wop quartet in 1955 called the Cavaliers with two other schoolmates, Kell Osborne and Willy Waller. Waller left the group in 1957, turning the Cavaliers into a trio. The three left Birmingham in 1958 for Cleveland, Ohio to make it in the music business. There, they met their future manager, Milton Jenkins, who convinced them to move to Detroit. Once they moved, Jenkins suggested they change their name to the Primes.

It was during one of those talent shows in Detroit when, freshly dropped by their manager Johnnie Mae Matthews, Otis Williams and the Distants got their golden opportunity. Both Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson were in attendance the night they performed. After the show, Otis managed to meet Gordy, who told him he had enjoyed their performance and agreed to hear them audition at Motown. Otis and Melvin Franklin were ecstatic, but two other members, Mooch Harrell and Richard Street, wanted to leave the group, particularly because when Matthews dropped them, she also kept their name, so they no longer had permission to use it. The two saw it as the end of their union and left Williams, Franklin and Al Bryant in need of some new members just before the Motown audition.

A stroke of luck towards the forming of a future super group occurred when the Primes broke up at around the same time Otis and his group were splintering. Kell Osborne had decided to pack it in and return to Birmingham. Eddie and Paul now found themselves a member short. Williams and Franklin heard of their break up and contacted Kendricks, asking him if he would like to join their still-unnamed group. Eddie agreed, but under the condition that Paul Williams could also join them. The newly formed group now consisted of Otis Williams, Al Bryant and Melvin Franklin, formerly of the Distants, with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, formerly of the Primes. Together, they renamed themselves the Elgins.

THE ELGINS

The Elgins’ audition was scheduled for March, 1961. The five had been rehearsing every day for that moment since they agreed to join forces, incorporating Paul Williams’ unique dance moves into their performance, complete with hand gestures to convey the lyrics. Their dancing style would become a precursor to the moves of many subsequent artists, and not just with Motown. In this classic style, the lead singer is up front and the two or three background vocalists are either to the lead’s right or left, doing a carefully choreographed set of moves as they sing background. Sometimes they all stood shoulder to shoulder, their hands crossed behind them, and suddenly go into a synchronized choreography. Their moves were thrilling, sexy, witty and precise.

THE TEMPTATIONS

After the audition, Gordy readily agreed to sign them to a record contract for one of his Motown labels, Miracle Records. There was one minor problem, however. Gordy had discovered that the name “Elgins” was already being used by another local group. They were told to come up with a new name, so the five sat down on the front porch steps of Hitsville USA to think up a new name for themselves. After a while, they got up and returned inside, going over to Gordy’s office to announce the name for their group, The Temptations.

OH. MOTHER OF MINE – THE TEMPTATIONS

The quintet’s debut single was written by Otis Williams and Motown songwriter Mickey Robinson. Otis agreed to give the song to Paul Williams to sing lead while tenor Eddie Kendricks handled the bridge. The back-up musicians were Motown’s session band, the Funk Brothers. The song showcased their vocal chops but not much more. It was released in the dead of summer, July 1961, and couldn’t manage to crack Billboard’s Hot 100.

CHECK YOURSELF – THE TEMPTATIONS

Their second single release didn’t do much better. This one was co-written by Berry Gordy with Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin and Al Bryant. The song starts like the “Ten Commandments of Love”, where one of the band members, in this case Franklin, speaks the line that Otis Williams echoes singing it. It then shifts into a a rumba-tinged pop beat with Paul Williams carrying the rest of the tune.

“Check Yourself” was released on November 7, 1961 and also suffered from poor sales. Gordy decided to dissolve the short-lived Miracle record label he had launched as a result. It seems that the public was confusing the name of the label with the group, the Miracles. Also, their slogan, “If it’s a hit, it’s a Miracle” didn’t help sales any.

By the end of 1961, Gordy will have founded another label imprint, Gordy Records, to release songs by the Temptations and other groups. Gordy’s knack for opening numerous subsidiary labels was a clever one indeed. It gave his groups an easier conduit into the public radio waves. By 1962, the Temptations would start to place records on the pop and R&B Top Forty charts, thanks largely to Gordy’s different labels. It was a positive step forward into their illustrious career.

The Temptations enjoyed moments of fame and success that not many people ever get to experience. But when you aim high, the fall also becomes much greater and the Temptations were not immune to this. The group splintered slowly over the years. Al Bryant quit in 1964, right before they got their first Top Ten hit, and was replaced with David Ruffin. Ruffin got too big for his britches, wanting lead billing over the rest of the Temptations, and was ultimately fired in 1968 for missing too many dates due to his growing drug addiction. He would later die of a cocaine overdose at age fifty in 1991. Paul Williams succumbed to alcoholism due to the depression he developed because of having sickle-cell anemia. His drinking ultimately led to his inability to perform. He was replaced by Richard Street in 1971 but still got paid his one-fifth share of the earnings. Two years later, he committed suicide at the age of thirty-four following an argument with his girlfriend, and was found with a shot to the head in his car parked in a back alley. Both Melvin Franklin and Eddie Kendricks died at the age of fifty-two; the former battled health problems most of his life until February 17, 1995, when he suffered a series of seizures that left him in a coma, only to die six days later. The latter had succumbed to cancer on October 5th, 1992.

As of the writing of this in 2016, 74-year-old Otis Williams remains the only surviving member of the original Temptations.

But at the pinnacle of their career, they left us with unforgettable music like “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, “(You Know) I’m Losing You”, “I Wish It Would Rain”, “Cloud Nine”, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” with the Supremes, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Can’t Get Next To You”, “Ball Of Confusion”, “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”; songs that will live on for decades, if not centuries to come, and video recordings of their TV performances that will forever serve as a historic glimpse into the sound of Sixties R&B, defined in large part by Motown.

THE SUPREMES

Florence Glenda Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ernestine Earle Ross, who went by the name Diane, the name her mother intended to give her at birth until a typo on her birth certificate changed that notion, all grew up together in the Brewster-Douglass public housing project in Detroit, owned by the city and built for “working poor” families, requiring at least one parent be employed in order to live there.

Each of the girls had good singing voices. Flo took vocal lessons while going to Northeastern High School. She met fellow schoolmate Mary, who had a lower vocal range than the other two, at the school’s talent show where they became good friends. Mary in turn knew Diane, who went to Cass Technical High School, a college preparatory charter school that specialized in design. Young Diane was all set on becoming a fashion designer after graduation, indifferent to her vocal talent, a voice that would stop Berry Gordy on his tracks when the trio came over to audition for Motown.

The career of the Supremes was closely intertwined with that of the Temptations during the beginning of their careers. They practically opened and closed the decade of the Sixties together with multiple hits as well. It all started in 1958 when fifteen-year-old Florence Ballard met Temptations’ members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams when they were still known as the Primes. The Primes’ manager Milton Jenkins had heard Flo and Paul Williams’ girlfriend, Betty McGlown, sing. It inspired him to form a sister band for the Primes. In 1959, Flo enlisted her friend Mary. Both Paul Williams and Mary knew Diane so she was also asked to join. Paul’s girlfriend Betty rounded out the group to a quartet and Jenkins dubbed them the Primettes.

The Primettes would perform Ray Charles and Drifters songs at talent shows and sock hops, all of them taking turns as lead singer, as well as joining the Primes for several numbers. Coincidentally enough, Diane had grown up next door to Smokey Robinson before moving to the projects, on Belmont Road in the North End section of Detroit near Highland Park. Diane approached Smokey for the Primettes and invited him to a talent show in Winslow, Ontario so he could hear them and then decide whether they should audition for Motown. Sure enough, after the performance Smokey arranged an audition with Gordy for the girls to sing a capella.

“All three girls had qualities so unique I’d often think: ‘If they could make us feel the way we do, what could they do to the world at large?’ –“To Be Loved”, Berry Gordy’s autobiography

Berry was impressed with their harmonies but most of all with Diane’s voice. On the day of their audition in early 1960, the girls were practicing while they waited for his arrival. Diane was singing lead on “There Goes My Baby” when Berry heard them. Her voice “stopped him on his tracks” as he put it. Gordy found Diane’s voice to have crossover potential. To make sure, he asked the girls to sing it again. After they finished, Gordy asked their age. Each of them were fifteen except for Betty who was two years older. Gordy didn’t like the idea of working with minors so he asked them to come back when they graduated high school.

TEARS OF SORROW/PRETTY BABY – THE PRIMETTES

Undaunted, they managed to record a single for a tiny, newly formed record label called Lupine Records in March 1960. Unfortunately, the single that contained “Tears of Sorrow” and “Pretty Baby” as its b-side went nowhere on the charts.

Released in August 1960, Diane takes the lead vocal duties on the A-side for the Primettes’ first and only record single. Flo takes over as lead vocalist for the b-side, “Pretty Baby”. The songs have nothing special about them, but Diane, Flo and Mary remained committed to succeed. Betty McGlown however, left the group after the single’s dismal debut, having broken up with Paul Williams and becoming engaged to someone else, looking forward to life as a housewife. She was soon replaced by Barbara Martin.

Determined to get Gordy to at least let them record background vocals or even hand claps for other artists’ recordings, the four girls would camp out every day after school on the lawn of Hitsville U.S.A. Eventually, they got in through the door and did background work for singles by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. The girls became endearing to Gordy, who appreciated not only their eagerness to record but also their lovely voices. On January 15, 1961, Gordy relented despite their young age and offered the girls a recording contract, but first he insisted that they change the name of their group. He gave Flo, the unofficial leader of the group, a list of names to choose from; names like the Darleens, the Sweet Ps and the Melodees. She chose the Supremes. Diane didn’t like the name at first because she thought it sounded too much like a moniker for a male singing group, but she ultimately agreed.

I WANT A GUY – THE SUPREMES

Recorded in December of 1960 and released on March 9th, 1961, the girls’ first single as the Supremes was written by Berry Gordy and Motown songwriters Freddie Gorman and Eddie Holland. Gorman was going to enjoy success as a songwriter with another single released later that year recorded by the Marvellettes called “Please Mr. Postman”. This song would also be the first of many singles written for the Supremes by Eddie Holland and his future songwriting team, his brother Brian and Lamont Dozier. Still going by the name Diane Ross, she once again takes over the lead vocals.

Much to their disappointment, this record also did not enter the Billboard chart. Just like their previous release as the Primettes, the song also has an old-fashioned doo-wop sound to it, rooted more in the Fifties than offering something different for the new decade.

BUTTERED POPCORN – THE SUPREMES

Gordy was willing to experiment with the group in order to find the formula that would take them over the top, so he took a few months to write the next song for them. Co-written with Motown songwriter Barney Ales, “Buttered Popcorn”, had a thinly disguised allusion to sex running through the lyrics

“And I asked him, ‘What was happenin’ in the world today?’ He said, “more butter, more butter, more butter, more”. My baby likes (buttered popcorn, buttered popcorn, buttered popcorn), oh yeah, oh he likes it salty (buttered popcorn, buttered popcorn) and greasy and sticky and gooey (Buttered popcorn, buttered popcorn, buttered popcorn)…” Buttered Popcorn – The Supremes

Berry Gordy would present all the recordings that were made each week by their various artists and run them through the Quality Control department. There, they would take a vote as to which songs they thought would be a success. “Buttered Popcorn” received a resounding thumbs-up from Quality Control, but Gordy wasn’t convinced, mainly because he felt that Florence Ballard, who sings the lead in this single for the first and only time in the trio’s history, had a voice that was too soulful for crossover appeal, unlike Diane’s voice, that couldn’t be pegged as coming from an African-American. Gordy wanted to release a song written by Smokey Robinson called “Who’s Loving You”, sung by Diane, as the A-side of the single instead.

 

 

“Who’s Loving You” had already been recorded by Robinson with his group the Miracles the previous year, and would also be recorded not only by the Supremes but also the Temptations and many more non-Motown artists over the years, from Terence Trent Darby to Michael Bublé to the Jackson Five who had the most success with it. Twelve-year-old singer Shaheen Jafargholi also performed the song at Michael Jackson’s public memorial service in July 2009. It’s a slow doo-wop ballad with a nice enough melody but didn’t necessarily have an unforgettable appeal. As Berry Gordy would ask in many Quality Control meetings when rating a new recording: “If you were on your last dollar, would you buy this record or a sandwich?” Personally, after listening to this song, I’ll go for a roast beef and swiss on whole wheat.

Berry Gordy was certainly correct about the appeal of Ross’ voice to the crossover public, namely the white folks. As for whether “Who’s Loving You” should have been the A-side of the single instead of “Buttered Popcorn” is a matter of taste. Personally, I side with the guys in Quality Control. Yes, Flo Ballard’s voice is distinctly African-American but it’s also a strong and soulfully melodic one, the melody is instantly catchy and the lyrics are wickedly fun. Soon, this resistance against anything non-white from the general (white) public would erode and disappear, but in 1961, music considered black, race or R&B still had a hard time finding wide national airplay. Popular culture was still years away from accepting a juggernaut voice like Aretha Franklin. Before rock ‘n’ roll there was Ella Fitzgerald who’s perfect voice could not be ignored, but that was pretty much about it when it came to black female pop singers, although the general public didn’t seem to mind male soul vocals as much with Louis Armstrong in the 20s and 30s, Nat “King” Cole in the 40s and 50s and the breakthrough appeal of Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” in 1955. But instead of waiting for society to come around, Gordy was smart enough to get in sneakily, not necessarily fooling the public but taking the potential discrimination out of the song by not calling attention to the ethnicity of the voice and focusing on the melody instead. In the long run, it worked.

In the end, Gordy and the QC Department agreed to release the Supremes’ second single as a double A side. What ensued was a disaster of confusing proportions that in the end was all for naught.

Local radio stations in Detroit played both sides of the single regularly, but upon listening to “Buttered Popcorn” on a little tinny AM transistor or car radio (state-of-the-art audio technology for 1961), it sounded muddy. They quickly withdrew the single and re-recorded “BP” only to re-release it. Fortunately, the radio stations continued giving it airplay in Detroit, but it wasn’t taking off nationally. Part of the problem was that the re-released, better recorded version of “Buttered Popcorn” wasn’t being promoted. Someone had pointed out the double entendre of the lyrics and Gordy used this as a reason to promote the b-side instead. In the end, the single never cracked any of the Billboard charts, despite it being a regional hit in various parts of the country.

Two failed singles were a major frustration for Gordy, who believed correctly that these girls had the potential to deliver mega-hits. He made some key changes, starting with Diane’s name. Gordy felt Diana, the name that was incorrectly written on her birth certificate, was a better stage name. He also made the decision to make her the lead singer and relegate the other three to back-up on single releases. This undoubtedly irked the other three, so Gordy promised them that they would have songs to sing lead on their record albums. They would also be given the opportunity to sing lead on a few tunes whenever they were performing a show live.

It would be two long years before they started to even crack the Top Forty. By December of 1961, they were recording tracks for their debut album “Meet The Supremes”, that wouldn’t be released until the end of ’62. Barbara Martin quit after they recorded their next single in early ‘62, leaving the group down to a trio for the rest of their career. It wouldn’t be until 1964 when they finally reached the coveted Number One Pop position with the timeless “Where Did Our Love Go”, which sold two million copies upon its release. Soon, they would be churning out incredible hit after incredible hit, “Baby Love”, Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “You Keep Me Hanging On”, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, “Someday We’ll Be Together”, all written by the songwriting partnership of Holland-Dozier-Holland. They had found their formula.

Today, they are considered the best girl group of all time. Girl groups poured out in the dozens over the decades after the Supremes, culminating with Destiny’s Child, the only other female vocal group worthy of their legacy. During the Sixties, the Supremes were the most popular group in the world after the Beatles and America’s favorite vocal group, with twelve Number One Pop singles, 33 singles in the Pop Top Forty, twelve Top Ten Pop and Five Number One albums. Once they hit Number One with “Where did Our Love Go”, they would go on to hit the top spot four more times in a row with each single release, a record for consecutive Number Ones by an American vocal group. This was an insurmountable feat in the wake of the British Invasion led by the Beatles, also occurring in ’64. The Supremes offered an alternative to British rock ‘n’ roll that fit a huge niche.

Berry Gordy always gave special attention to the Supremes throughout their career. Although they went through the Motown Process, receiving instructions in dance, etiquette and singing, they had already arrived into the Motown fold with their own outfits and dance moves, having been touring and singing as the Primettes already. Rumors abounded over the years suggesting a dalliance between Diana Ross and Berry Gordy, a notion that would never be acknowledged until 1994 in Gordy’s autobiography “To Be Loved”, where he first admits publicly that Ross’ eldest daughter Rhonda is his.

The Supremes remained the same trio until 1967, when Florence Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Flo, who started the trio, had become increasingly resentful at Gordy for having made Diana Ross the main star, and the last straw was when Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross & The Supremes. Ballard resorted to drink and her alcoholism ultimately overcame her, becoming increasingly unreliable, missing live performances or performing drunkenly. Her final appearance live with the Supremes occurred when she unbuttoned her outfit and exposed her stomach to the crowd. She was released by Motown in 1968, married her boyfriend and recorded several unsuccessful albums. On February 20, 1976, she entered the hospital complaining of numbness in her extremities. She died the next morning of coronary thrombosis. Florence Ballard was thirty-two years old.

Intent on making Diana Ross not just a musical artist but a film star as well, she eventually left the Supremes in 1970 and basically sounded the group’s death knell. Ross continued a very successful solo career that extended into the Eighties with hit single after hit single. She also made popular films like “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972), where she plays Billie Holliday, and “Mahogany” (1975), in which she sings the title song, taking the single to Number One and receiving an Academy Award nomination.

Mary Wilson continued with the Supremes with Birdsong and Ross’ replacement, Jean Terrell. They had managed to chart seven Top Forty singles and two Top Tens between 1970 and 1973 after Ross’ departure. Mary was now sharing lead vocals with Terrell on some of the songs sung by Diana. But the remaining two positions in the Supremes became a revolving door, with both Birdsong and Terrell leaving and Birdsong temporarily re-joining the group. Despite the group’s waning success, their tours still performed to large crowds, largely due to Mary Wilson being the only remaining original Supreme. Wilson left the group in 1977. After some deliberation about considering a replacement, the Supremes officially disbanded.

Mary Wilson and Diana Ross are still alive as of this writing in 2016, both of them 72 years old. Tragedy befell Wilson in 1994 when she was injured in a car accident where her 14-year-old son Rafael was killed.

Diana Ross continues touring. In 2016 she will be taking her In The Name Of Love tour through the United States and Canada. She received her first ever Grammy Award in 2012 for Lifetime Achievement.

 

LITTLE STEVIE WONDER

Lula Mae Hardaway’s baby wanted to be born already, even though he was still six weeks away from his expected delivery. Upon birth, he was immediately placed in an oxygen-rich incubator, but to the infant’s tragic detriment, the environment caused the retinas of both his eyes to detach. It was a condition known as retinopathy of pre-maturity, and it meant permanent blindness.

Being born blind and poor pretty much limits one’s options in life, and being black in 20th century America, Saginaw, Michigan to be exact, didn’t help either. Fortunately for Stevland Hardaway Judkins however, besides being born blind, he was also born a musical genius.

Stevie was raised in a loving family and a devoted mother who was wise enough to allow his son to pursue his musical abilities to its limits, teaching him to refuse to allow his blindness to be an obstacle from anything. It’s been said that Stevie’s musical genius has had much to do with his blindness because it forced him to develop keener aural abilities than the average person in order to help him hear his way through the world. That may have something to do with the music of his mind. It seems to come from a mental landscape of his inner world, filled with sounds and rhythms nobody else hears until he distills them into great songs. His hits are many, too numerous to only mention a few because not mentioning others would be an injustice.

When Stevland was four years old, his mother left his father, Calvin Judkins, and moved her six children to Detroit. Lulu detected a good voice in four-year-old Stevie and had him sing at church. As he grew up, he developed an interest and talent in the harmonica, drums and piano. Regardless of whether his blindness caused him to become more finely attuned to sound or not, it was evident to Lulu that little Stevie was a born musician. As a child, he would play his harmonica and sing on street corners with a friend named John.

One of 11-year-old Stevie’s other friends during that time in 1961 was a boy who lived in the neighborhood around his age named Gerald White. White would invite Stevie to his home where the wonder boy would play his harmonica to entertain Gerald and his siblings. Gerald’s uncle Ronnie White, who happened to be co-founder of the group the Miracles with Smokey Robinson, was around one evening when little Stevie was over. When Ronnie heard the kid blowing on his harp, he was blown away. Ronnie and Smokey used to sing together as 11-year-olds, so Ronnie related to children with musical abilities. Without giving it another thought, Ronnie set up a meeting with Berry Gordy for Stevie and his mother at Motown.

Also present at the audition with Gordy was Clarence Paul, a man who would not only become Stevie’s producer during his teenage years, but also the man who gave him his stage name. As Gordy beheld the boy’s voice and versatility on percussion, he appreciated the talent, but was not yet bowled over. But when Stevie whipped out his harmonica and started to wail on it, Gordy thought twice. He produced a recording contract to Motown subsidiary Tamla Records for him that very day. In the contract, they stipulated that they would hold all the earnings of future recordings in a trust until he became 21 years old. In the meantime, he and his mother Lulu’s living expenses would be paid in full until then. Stevie would also receive a weekly stipend of $2.50, which comes to just under twenty bucks in 2016.

Everyone that day agreed that little Stevie was a wonder. Clarence Paul picked up on that and suggested he should be billed from then on as Little Stevie Wonder.

 

THE MARVELETTES

“They never really respected us. Berry Gordy lost the Marvelette name in a gambling game once, that’s how much they cared about us. We were just nothing to them.” -Gladys Horton

As 1961, drew to a close, Motown had still not come out with a Number One Pop song, and it wasn’t because Gordy wasn’t hard at work trying to find the right sound for each of his labels’ acquisitions. He could never have realized back then that with just the signing of Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Supremes and Little Stevie Wonder, fame and fortune were around the corner, and so was the eternal legacy of timeless music Motown would deliver to the world. But in 1961, it was all still a big struggle. Motown was busy at work producing albums for the Supremes and little Stevie as well as trying to find the right songs for the Temptations and Gaye, among all their other lesser known artists. One of them was another girl group they had developed who surprised everyone at Motown as 1961 drew to a close by delivering the label’s second Number One single.

The first girl group to ever hit Number One in Billboard’s Pop chart were the Shirelles, who scored with Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” in January of 1961, so it’s rather fitting that Motown would deliver the second girl group to hit Number One in December, bookending the year with two classic songs, the latter of which was re-recorded by the Beatles, thereby legitimatizing the Motown sound as rock ‘n’ roll.

Like the Shirelles and the Supremes, the Marvellettes began as high school girls getting together to form a vocal group. The Shirelles met in Passaic High School in New Jersey, most of the Supremes formed at Northeastern High School in Detroit, and the Marvelletes all went to Inkster High School in Inkster, Michigan, a suburb just west of Detroit. Unlike the previous two girl group peers who never had more than four members initially, the Marvelletes began as a quintet.

Fifteen-year-old Gladys Horton was a member of Inkster High’s glee club in the fall of 1960 when she came up with the inspiration to form a girl group within the club. She approached four other members she had become friendly with, sixteen-year-olds Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart and recently graduated, seventeen-year-old Georgia Dobbins.

The first item on their agenda was to choose a name for themselves. After long deliberation and thought on the notion, they realized that first they needed to learn how to sing before worrying about a name, so they decided to call themselves the Casinyets because as they realized at the time, they can’t sing yet.

Fate intervened at the dawn of 1961 when Inkster High threw a talent show and the first three prizes were an audition at Motown Records. After having rehearsed their singing abilities for the last few month, the Casinyets mustered enough confidence to rename themselves the Marvels and signed up. They sang songs by the Chantels and the Shirelles and ultimately won, although there’s speculation as to where they placed. Gladys Horton insists they won first prize. Regardless, getting an audition at Motown was a big deal indeed.

“Anyway we won first prize, but until we got to Motown, it still hadn’t reached my mind how important it was. We met Berry Gordy and the Miracles, and it was then I realized the potential of this meeting. We began to picture ourselves like the Supremes, who were the company’s girl group.” -Gladys Horton

For some reason, the Marvellettes received short shrift from the record label since the get-go. On April 1961, they met with songwriters Brian Holland and Robert Bateman to sing some of their repertoire to them, including the Chantels’ “He’s Gone” and the Shirelles’ “I Met Him On A Sunday”. Holland and Bateman liked them enough to schedule a second audition with Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy. They were lauded for their vocal abilities, but Gordy told them they needed to come up with original material, which was a bit surprising since Motown had a stable of songwriters dedicated to doing just that for their other artists. Nevertheless, Georgia Dobbins in particular, dedicated herself to coming back with a hit song. She approached a songwriting friend by the name of William Garnett for help.

Garnett played her an unfinished blues song he was writing called “Please Mr. Postman”, about a forlorn lover waiting for the mail to come to see if his loved one had sent him a letter yet. Garnett gave Dobbins the song under the condition that his name appear on the credits should it be recorded. Dobbins, having never written a song before, took it and reworked it from blues to teenage doo-wop, then changed the lyrics from a male narrator to a female. Dobbins then presented fellow Marvellette Gladys Horton with a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

PLEASE MR. POSTMAN – THE MARVELETTES

Fate intervened once again when Dobbins dropped from the group due to family pressure. Her mother was ill and her father berated her for not being at her side, pursuing a silly career singing instead and urging her to quit. She caved in and left the group. Looking back to their fellow classmates, the girls contacted recent Inkster graduate Wanda Young, who became a permanent member of the band by the time they had to present their song to Motown.

Upon listening to the composition, Gordy accepted them into the Motown family but first changed their names from the Marvels to the Marvellettes. He then took the song and gave it to Brian Holland, Robert Bateman and Fred Gorman, who moonlighted as a mailman coincidentally enough, to re-work it yet again.

“I’ve been standin’ here waitin’ Mister Postman so patiently for just a card, or just a letter, sayin’ he’s returnin’ home to me… (Mister Postman) Mister Postman, look and see… (Oh yeah) if there’s a letter in your bag for me… (Please, Please Mister Postman) why’s it takin’ such a long time… (Oh yeah) for me to hear from that boy of mine –Please Mr. Postman – The Marvellettes

By the time they appeared in this TV segment in 1965, the Marvellettes had gone from a quintet to a girl group trio.

Gladys Horton sings lead on this song with the Motown band the Funk Brothers backing the trio and with Marvin Gaye on drums. It was recorded in July of 1961 and released on August 21st. By that December, they became Motown’s first artists to reach the coveted Number One Spot on the Billboard Pop and R&B charts.

Gordy was pleasantly surprised, not expecting the first single from this new group to make it all the way to the top. The Supremes especially took the Marvellettes’ success to heart because they were the girl group who were expected to come out with the hits. A rivalry soon emerged between them, but the Supremes needn’t had worried. Holland-Dozier-Holland had written “Baby Love” for the Marvellettes, but incredibly enough Gladys Horton turned it down, so the songwriting team gave their composition to the Supremes instead in 1964. It shot up the charts just like “Where Did Our Love Go” and became the girls’ second Number One single in a row, while the Marvellettes’ output throughout the rest of the Sixties was to pale in comparison.

“The first number one came too easy for us. We weren’t pretty city girls from the projects like Motown’s other girl group, the Supremes. We had no experience of life at all. We were naive little country girls, and we didn’t know how to handle the situation. We had no idea how to behave, we didn’t know what to wear. we didn’t even know how to put make up. We learnt as we went along, of course, but it was very hard at first.”   -Gladys Horton

The Beatles, still three years away from global success as the most influential rock band of all time, knew a good song when they heard one and dug into the Motown treasure chest of hits more than once to record for their second album. Besides “Please Mr. Postman”, the group also recorded Barrett Strong’s “Money” and Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” all for their second British release, “With The Beatles” in late 1963. Listening to them shows you how much muscle these R&B songs truly have and should prove once and for all that R&B is synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, like siblings, simply because they were both born from the blues.

The Marvellettes’ subsequent releases through the rest of the Sixties were hit or miss, mostly misses. Riding on the crest of their sudden success with their first and only Number One, they rush recorded the “Please Mr. Postman” album and released it on November 20th, 1961, but it didn’t even enter Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart. The cover was a drawing of a mailbox with cobwebs and a tiny mailman walking towards it. The Marvellettes were nowhere to be seen on the cover art simply because it wasn’t customary to showcase black rock ‘n’ roll artists until 1963. Next, Gordy decided to pair them up with the latest dance craze of the time, the Twist, so the follow-up single to “Please Mr. Postman” was “Twistin’ Postman”.

TWISTIN’ POSTMAN – THE MARVELLETTES

“Sitting by the window, feeling sad and blue, all because I haven’t heard from you , and then my mama said ‘Look! Look! Here comes the postman twistin’ down the avenue! He’s got a letter in his hand and I know it has to be for you.’ He’s got the mail sack twisted ’round his back ‘cause he’s a twistin’ postman…” Twistin’ Postman – The Marvellettes

The concept was a lame attempt to cash in on a dance craze, but the beat is what mattered in early rock ‘n’ roll, so one can forgive this really bad idea for a song as long as you can dance to it. That’s why we had disco.

Released on December 6, 1961, “Twistin’ Postman’s” danceable beat managed to propel it into the Top 40, landing at Number 34 Pop and Number 13 R&B; not a very exciting follow-up to a Number One song. As in PMP, Gladys Horton sang lead.

Aside from constant touring, which was where the real money was being made, the Marvellettes released two albums in 1962 but without chart success. They did manage two Top Twenty hits that year however; “Playboy” reaching Number Seven Pop and Four R&B, and “Beechwood 4-5789” rose up to Number 17 Pop and Seven R&B. The latter was written by Marvin Gaye, who also worked on the album as percussionist and producer along with Gordy, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Mickey Stevenson. Its title was derived from the fact that back in those days of rotary phones, every number had a telephone exchange name that corresponded with the first two letters of that name. In this case, Beechwood’s was BE, so the number dialed would be 234-5789.

The Marvellettes would not enter the Top Ten again for another five long years until they made a minor comeback in 1966 with Smokey Robinson’s “Don’t Mess With Bill”, reaching Number Seven Pop and Number Three R&B. Their line-up had changed to a trio by 1965. Juanita Clark could no longer handle the constant touring. Georgeanna Tillman developed leukemia and lupus.

“There was pressure on the group. Juanita had a nervous breakdown and had to leave. She had made a silly remark on Dick Clark’s show and everyone in the company was constantly teasing her about it. She really took it to heart and became very depressed. She was only 16. Georgeanna had to leave due to ill health. She was always very tired; there was something wrong with her and the doctor advised her to get off the road.” -Gladys Horton

Their sound had changed drastically in that time. Gone was the doo-wop of their early hits, replaced with a smoother soul resembling the output Motown was delivering at the time with the Supremes, Temptations and the Four Tops. It had a nice groove sung by Wanda Young, who had a more laid-back voice than Gladys Horton.

Although they still managed to score a couple more Top Twenty hits in 1967, the Marvellettes pretty much ended when lead singer and leader of the group Gladys Horton left to get married, replaced by Anne Bogan. They released a single in 1978 that didn’t crack the Top Forty and after a handful of other unnoticed releases up until 1971, faded away into pop obscurity. Georganna was the first to go at age 35 in 1980 when she finally succumbed to her illness, and Gladys died at age 65 in 2011 after a series of strokes and declining health. As of this writing in 2016, the other three original members, Katherine Anderson, Wanda Rogers and Juanita Cowart remain alive, as does Horton’s replacement Ann Bogan and the original writer of their biggest hit, Georgia Dobbins.

 

(more…)

THE BEATLES – LEE DORSEY – THE BEACH BOYS – KEITH MEETS MICK

by Robert Seoane

THE BEATLES


The Beatles in 1961; with Paul McCartney trying to look tough, John Lennon, Pete Best and George Harrison

 

BEING A SHORT DIVERSION ON THE DUBIOUS ORIGINS OF BEATLES

“Once upon a time there were three little boys called John, George and Paul, by name christened. They decided to get together because they were the getting together type. When they were together, they all wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they all grew guitars and formed a noise. Funnily enough, no one was interested, least of all the three little men. Soooo…. on discovering a fourth little even littler man called Stuart Sutcliffe running about them, they said, quote ‘Sonny get a bass guitar and you will be alright,’ and he did, but he wasn’t alright because he couldn’t play it. So they sat on him with comfort till he could play. Still there was no beat, and a kindly old, aged man said, quote, ‘thou hast not drums!’ We had no drums! they coffed. So a series of drums came and went and came. Suddenly, in Scotland, touring with Johnny Gentle, the group (called The Beatles called) discovered they had not a very nice sound – because they had no amplifiers. They got some. Many people ask what are Beatles? why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’. – Thank you, Mister Man, they said, thanking him.” – John Lennon, Mersey Beat

John Lennon wrote that rather fantastical explanation of the origin of his fledgling group for a local magazine called Mersey Beat. It appeared on Page Two of its first issue, a tongue-in-cheek work of witty prose that predated Lennon’s experimentation with words in his books of nonsense verse, “In His Own Write” (1964) and “A Spaniard in the Works” (1965), not to mention the evolution of his songwriting as a Beatle.

Mersey Beat Magazine was founded on July 6, 1961, by Bill Harry, one of John Lennon’s friends from Liverpool Art College. It was published every fortnight, just like today’s Rolling Stone Magazine, and it covered all the news of the local musical acts in town. They gave special preference to the Beatles not just because of his friendship with John, but because the group was quite popular, keeping very busy playing regularly in and around Liverpool throughout 1961 after coming back from Hamburg, Germany. Lennon was also a contributor to the rag, hence the above writing, one of several he wrote at the time.

Part of the reason for the need of a local musical newspaper was the sudden proliferation of British bands springing up not just in Liverpool but its neighboring areas as well. Over 350 groups were playing nightly at clubs and concert halls throughout Merseyside; competition was fierce. As a result, the circulation of Mersey Beat’s first issue reached 5,000, but by the time Harry dispatched photographers and journalists to nearby Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Newcastle to cover those town’s burgeoning rock ’n’ roll groups, its readership swelled to 75,000 pairs of eyes.

John Lennon’s involvement with the magazine was criticized when practically every issue had something to say about the Beatles, to the point that critics cracked it should be renamed Mersey Beatles instead. But for all intents and purposes, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best were working rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

“There would always be a bunch of groups on, maybe five, and we’d follow somebody and do our bit. They liked us because we were kind of rough and we’d had a lot of practice in Germany. They couldn’t believe it. There were all these acts going ‘dum de dum’ and suddenly, we’d come on jumping and stomping. Wild men in leather suits.” –George Harrison

Their musical chops had vastly improved during their three-month stay in Hamburg, but then George was deported for being underage and Paul and Pete were deported the following day for burning a condom onto the wall of their dressing room. John stayed in Hamburg by himself, playing with other groups of musicians, but he too decided to go home after 10 days. He arrived in Liverpool on December 10th, 1960 and spent the first week alone without contacting the other three.

“When I did get home, I was so fed up I didn’t bother to contact the others… I just withdrew to think whether it was worth going on with. You see part of me is a monk and part of me is a performing flea. Knowing when to stop is survival for me. Anyway, after a while, I got to thinking that we ought to cash in on the Liverpool beat scene. Things were really thriving and it seemed a pity to waste the experience we’d got, playing all those hours every night in Hamburg.” –John Lennon


Mona Best, Pete’s mother and owner of the Casbah Club

The group ultimately reunited, as we all know, and started to perform in various clubs and halls, including drummer Pete Best’s mother Mona’s Casbah Club and a Christmas Eve performance at the Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey, but it was their performance at the Litherland Town Hall on December 27th that cemented their reputation as a popular Liverpool band, playing to their largest audience ever. Much like the fateful night on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the audience went crazy at Litherland. It was one of the first moments of burgeoning Beatlemania. The evening’s promoter at Litherland, Brian Kelly, was so impressed by the audience reaction that he hired the group to perform in 36 different halls from that day through March 11th.

“We all wore black that we had picked up in Hamburg. All the Liverpool girls were saying ‘Are you from Germany?’” –Paul McCartney

“Suddenly, we were a wow. Mind you, 70% of the audience thought we were a German wow. They said ‘Christ, they speak good English!’ which we did, of course, being English.” –John Lennon

Because their bass guitarist Stu Sutcliffe had just recently quit the band to stay in Hamburg with his fiancée, Astrid Kirchherr, Paul McCartney became the band’s official bass player, beginning on the night when they appeared again in Litherland, January 5, 1961. In attendance watching the show was Richard Starkey, who went by the name Ringo Starr as a performer. Ringo and the Beatles had become friends the previous year, in 1960, when the group first played in Hamburg. He had just returned to Liverpool as well from playing in Hamburg with another Liverpudlian group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Ringo had sat in with the Beatles to play drums a few times when Pete wasn’t available for one reason or other. John, Paul, and George realized how much better a drummer Ringo was than Pete as soon as he sat down at the drum kit, but Starr was committed to the Hurricanes and there was no real pressing need to get rid of Best, except that not only was he not a very good drummer, he wasn’t as sociable as the other three either, having a tendency to keep to himself and skipping out on most photo opportunities and sessions.


From left, Paul, Ringo, Beatles’ roadie Neil Aspinall, George, and an unknown girl. The person standing, left, may very well be Stu because of the scarf he seems to be wearing.

“It was when they came back from Hamburg that the Beatles needed transport to get them to the Cavern and other places. They were using cabs at the time and all the money they were earning was going to the cab drivers. I had a van and needed the money so Pete told the others that I would drive them ‘round. I did that for £1 a night, which wasn’t bad.” –Neil Aspinall, President; Apple Records

“We’d play places and people would throw pennies at us. To disarm them we’d stop playing and pick up all the coins. We thought, ‘That’ll teach ‘em. They won’t keep throwing now.’ We had pockets full of pennies.” –Paul McCartney

The lads were paid a grand total of £7.50 that night, which is 165 Euros in 2016, or just about $185 USD. Backstage that night, 17-year-old music fan Dave Fershaw, another young entrepreneur who was putting on music events on and around town, liked them so much he booked them for several more shows in different venues, which they also played throughout the year. In January alone they played twenty bookings and on four different occasions played in two different locations on the same night.


from left, Stu Sutcliffe, John Lennon, an unknown friend, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Pete Best

Stu returned to Liverpool from Hamburg on January 20th. That night, he went to see the Beatles play in Lathom Hall. At the end of the night, John and Stu got into some kind of drunken scuffle with a group of other young drunks, perhaps for John shooting off his mouth as he was always prone to do and as depicted in the film “Backbeat” (1994). Legend has it that the rumble caused Stu Sutcliffe to get kicked in the head. Some, like Stu Sutcliffe’s sister, have suggested that it was John Lennon who kicked him in the head. Sutcliffe’s sister has claimed to have Stu’s diary where there is proof that this is so, but she has not herself backed her claim up with this or any other evidence.

In February, the Beatles started booking lunchtime and evening gigs in the Cavern. The Cavern’s attitude to them had changed drastically from the first time the group played there as the Quarrymen.

A man by the name of Al Sytner opened the Cavern in 1957 after he came back from Paris having been to several nightclubs there that were housed in cellars and old underground bombing shelters. Sytner went to look for a place just like that in Liverpool and found a cellar on 10 Mathew Street that would do quite nicely. He named it the Cavern and he made it a jazz club. When the Quarrymen played in 1958 before George and Pete, they were allowed to play skiffle, but not rock ‘n’ roll. Sytner felt that neither his crowd nor he could tolerate that kind of music. Of course, John Lennon wouldn’t have that and launched into Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” after playing a set of standard skiffle tunes. Sytner pushed his way to the front of the stage and handed Lennon a note with “Cut out the bloody rock & roll” scrawled on it.


The Beatles performing in the Cavern Club; 1961

Sytner sold the Cavern to Ray McFall in 1959. McFall broadened the Cavern audience by establishing beat nights in which rock & roll groups like Rory Storm and the Hurricanes could come and play. On February 9th, 1961, the Beatles played together as John, Paul, George and Pete for the first time.

“We used to play lunchtime dates. We’d get up and go down to the Cavern and play from noon ’til about two. It was very casual. We’d have our tea and sandwiches and cigarettes on stage, sing a couple of tunes and tell a few jokes.” –George Harrison

Stu Sutcliffe had left the Beatles not just to stay in Hamburg but primarily because his first love was art and painting, not music. Still, he maintained his close friendship with the group, particularly John. When he returned to Liverpool on January 20th, it was to nurse a case of tonsillitis. Once he got better, he planned to apply for an Art Teacher’s Diploma course at the Liverpool College of Art but was ultimately turned down, so he applied at the Hamburg College of Art where he was accepted.

Preparing to return to Hamburg and Astrid to begin his studies in June, Stu left for Germany on March 15, 1961. During that time before he began school, Stu and Astrid managed to get the Beatles a booking at the Top Ten Club for 30 nights straight starting April 1st. The owner of the club took it upon himself to work out the group’s deportation issues so they can return to Germany. On March 27th, John, Paul, George and Pete set off back to Hamburg.

“I’d become eighteen when we went (to Hamburg) the second time… When we went back we were playing at the Top Ten and living above the club, a really grubby little room with five bunk beds. In the next room was a little old lady known as Mutti. She was pretty stinky. She used to keep the toilets clean. They were really bad up there.” –George Harrison

“We tried our ‘Beatle’ hairstyle in Hamburg this time. It was all part of trying to pull people in. ‘Come in, we’re very good rock ‘n’ roll’.” –Paul McCartney

“That was the last time I cut anybody’s hair.” –John Lennon


Jürgen Vollmer

Upon their arrival, an acquaintance they made when they had played at the Kaiserkeller the previous October contacted them. His name was Jürgen Vollmer and he was a 21-year-old photography student. Looking to expand his photographic portfolio. Vollmer had walked the “backyards” of Hamburg for mysterious looking locations and found an interesting doorway at Jagerpassage 1, Wohlwillstrasse 2. “It would be great to have a rock ‘n’ roller in there,” he thought, so he contacted the Beatles and asked them if they’d be interested in having photos taken of them.

One day in April, Jürgen took the Beatles to that doorway and asked John, “you just lean there and look arrogant like you always do.” He then asked the other three Beatles to walk past him. Pete Best was unsurprisingly not in attendance but Stu Sutcliffe was there.


Stu Sutcliffe

In the famous photograph that later adorned the cover of John Lennon’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (1975) album, Paul, Stu and George were crossing as John leaned at the doorway. The three were purposely out of focus except for their shoes. In order to get that effect, Jürgen had them cross the frame a dozen times.

May Pang, John Lennon’s girlfriend at the time of his estrangement to Yoko Ono, contacted Vollmer one day in 1974, twelve years after those photos were taken. Vollmer by then had been working in New York as a magazine art director. She asked Vollmer to meet John with the photos. Vollmer went to the recording studio where John was cutting the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album with several enlargements of the photos he had taken that day in April. John chose the one he liked best and asked him to design the cover as a gatefold. John thought the finished design was “beautiful” as he put it, but the cover was redesigned just before the album’s release by Capitol Records’ Art Director Roy Kohara, who eliminated the gatefold idea and just made it a single sleeve, and enlarging the photo to exclude the other Beatles in-focus shoes, much to Vollmer’s disappointment.

The Top Ten Club was owned by Peter Eckhorn. Eckhorn paid each of The Beatles 35DM (£3) per day, which translates to about 66 Euros, or $74 USD in 2016. The group was required to play from 7PM until 2AM each weekday and until 3AM on weekends with a 15-minute break after each hour. They proved so popular that Eckhorn booked them for the month of May and then June as well, totaling a 92-night stretch, their longest residency at any musical venue to that date, and playing every single night without any days off.


The Top Ten Club

“(Our friends) Astrid (Kirscherr) and Klaus (Voorman) were very influential. I remember we went in the swimming baths once and my hair was down from the water and they said ‘No, leave it, it’s good.’ I didn’t have my Vaseline anyway and I was thinking, ‘Well, these people are cool, if they think it’s good, I’ll leave it like this.’ They gave me that confidence and when it dried off it dried naturally down, which later became ‘the look’.” – George Harrison

 

TONY SHERIDAN


Singer/Guitarist Tony Sheridan

“It was great playing with Tony Sheridan. I was there in 1962 backing him with Roy Young and Lou Walters on bass. It was all very exciting. Tony was really volatile. If anyone in the club was talking to his girl he’d be punching and kicking all over the place, while we’d just keep on jamming. Then he’d come back and join us, covered in blood if he’d lost. But he was a really good player.” –Ringo Starr


Ringo backing Tony Sheridan

Dozens of British musical artists traveled to Hamburg regularly to perform to an eager and growing fan base. Besides Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, there were vocalists like guitarist Tony Sheridan, a dark-haired British lad with a quick temper and a voice like Elvis. Sheridan played at the Kaiserkeller in late 1960 at the same time the Beatles performed there. When the group returned to play at the Top Ten Club the following year, they found that Sheridan had been booked there also.


Paul holding the mic for a guest singer who came from the audience

It was a loose environment among the fellow musicians at the Top Ten. Sheridan joined the Beatles on stage regularly to play guitar and sometimes sing lead. In return, the group would back Sheridan up during his own performances.


From left, George, John and Tony Sheridan

 

BERT KAEMPFERT


German songwriter and orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert

One Spring night in 1961, Berthold Heinrich Kaempfert ventured towards Hamburg’s notorious red light district, the Reeperbahn, and into to the Top Ten Club. He came in on a night Tony Sheridan was performing his act with John, Paul, George, and Pete backing him. He had heard there were many popular rock ‘n’ roll groups playing in that seedy area and he was looking for a group to record. Kaempfert was an ambitious orchestra leader and songwriter who just had a song at Number One in the US in January for three weeks called “Wonderland By Night”. He would go on to write a handful of other hits like “Strangers In The Night”, a 1966 Number One hit for Frank Sinatra, “Danke Schoen”, made well-known by Wayne Newton, and “L-O-V-E”, one of Nat King Cole’s signature recordings.

That night at the Top Ten, Kaempfert set his sights on Sheridan, not really paying much attention to the scruffy young boys playing behind him, and eventually signed him to a recording contract.


Tony Sheridan and Stu Sutcliffe; photo by Astrid Kirscherr

Kaempfert soon got to work and auditioned bands in the area to back his new artist for an upcoming recording session. Sheridan suggested the Beatles back him up, so Kaempfert agreed to audition them as well. In the end, the tracks that made up Tony Sheridan’s debut album included six with the Beatles backing him up and four with another group. Kaempfert didn’t like the Beatles’ name, so he decided to name Sheridan’s backing band as the Beat Brothers, regardless of which band had backed him.

“When that offer came we thought it would be easy. The Germans had such shitty records. Ours were bound to be better. We did five of our own numbers but they didn’t like them. They preferred thing like ‘My Bonnie’. It’s just Tony Sheridan singing with us banging in the background. It’s terrible, it could be anybody.” –John Lennon


Paul and John always trying to look their best

Two additional tracks that come closest to Beatle songs are “Ain’t She Sweet”, where John Lennon takes over the lead vocal, and “Cry For A Shadow”, a so-so instrumental and the only songwriting collaboration between John Lennon and George Harrison.

On June 22nd and 23rd, 1961, Sheridan and the Beatles went to Hamburg’s Friedrich-Ebert-Halle to record in the gymnasium with Tony Sheridan. The songs they recorded are listed below and are only those songs Sheridan recorded with the Beatles.


This photo was one Astrid Kirscherr took but with Stu Sutcliffe cropped out.

 

MY BONNIE – TONY SHERIDAN AND THE BEATLES

“Bert Kaempfert said ‘We gotta play something that the Germans know’, because the kids learned it at school, you know.” – Tony Sheridan

 


The first pressing of “My Bonnie”, October 23, 1961

The first track they laid down would prove to be the song that would launch the Beatles’ recording career because of the interest it generated by a handful of fans, three to be exact, who requested the record in a Liverpool record store. It was the lead single to be released from the batch of songs they recorded during these sessions, and it became a moderate German hit. For the first professional recording with the Beatles, it’s a glimpse at the group’s tight musical chops.

“My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” is a traditional Scottish folk song that was written sometime in the mid-Eighteenth century. Legend has it that it was a political song, written about Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, an heir to the British throne and a leader of the Jacobite movement to restore the Roman Catholic Stuart King James II, his father, and his heirs, to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1745, he led a failed uprising to take the throne of Great Britain and was forced to flee across the sea to Scotland. Charles Stuart was often referred to as The Young Pretender or The Young Chevalier (“The Young Knight”) but most of all as Bonnie Prince Charlie. So when the Bonnie Prince fled over the ocean to Scotland, Jacobites mourned his defeat and the end of the Jacobite movement with a mournful song.

“My bonnie lies over the ocean, my bonnie lies over the sea, my bonnie lies over the ocean, oh’, bring back my bonnie to me…” “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”

In time, the ballad became popular around the world, having become a children’s song by the 20th Century. The word “bonnie” can also be interpreted as a pretty girl, thus becoming a timeless love song of longing.

The first notable thing about this recording besides Tony Sheridan’s arrangement is its incredibly crisp stereophonic sound. The instruments and vocals are neatly and distinctly separated, cradled in a tight drum bed courtesy of Pete Best, who shows no evidence of not being able to carry a beat. There’s a wicked lead guitar solo delivered by 18-year-old George Harrison that boasts how much he had learned playing all that time in the Hamburg and Liverpool clubs. John Lennon played the rhythm guitar as usual and Paul McCartney having taken Stu Sutcliffe’s place, played bass. Sutcliffe was present at these recordings and was happy to relinquish the instrument over to Paul, especially because he never felt truly comfortable with it.

The song begins the way everyone recognizes the familiar tune, in A, as a soft slow, melody with Sheridan’s competent vocal over the Beatles’ baritone humming. Suddenly there’s a pause, then George peels off five quick licks before the tune begins in earnest. Sheridan delivers a solid vocal performance while the Beatles scream and clap their hands much like they would continue to do in the early catalog of music they would go on to record in 1964.

“My Bonnie” was first released only in Germany in October 1961. It peaked at Number 32 in the national chart published in Der Musikmarkt, Number 11 in the German jukebox charts, and Number Four in a local Hamburg chart. It was a truly good rock ‘n’ roll record, worthy of several listens, even today.

 

THE SAINTS – TONY SHERIDAN AND THE BEATLES

“When the Saints Go Marching In” is a traditional gospel church song that originates from “When the Saints Are Marching In”, composed in 1896 as a stately Christian hymn to be played during religious processions. It wasn’t until Louis Armstrong came around and modernized it for the 1930s that it turned into a classic jazz number closely identified with New Orleans.

Tony Sheridan and the Beatles’ version of “The Saints” credit Katharine Purvis and James Milton Black, composers of the 1896 song, as the songwriters. Updated to rock ‘n’ roll ears, Sheridan delivers the vocals to this version very much like Elvis, even beginning the tune with the “welluhelluhelluh…” Presley stutter. George’s guitar solo runs closely to Chuck Berry’s rock n’ roll style, but the most interesting part of the song is Paul’s bass in the intro.

McCartney’s bass can be appreciated during those first few seconds of “The Saints” because it’s out in the open and not buried under Best’s drumming, so you can listen to the melodic lick Paul chooses to play, a style that would become his contribution to the bass guitar in rock ‘n’ roll history. Instead of just accompanying the drums with a beat that mimics the percussion, McCartney chooses an always changing, always interesting musical line between the beats. McCartney’s unique use of the bass was a first, and it would open new musical directions that would blossom throughout rock music for the rest of the Sixties and beyond.

“The Saints” was released along with “My Bonnie” as the flipside of the record, and it gave the Beatles an opportunity to acquire a larger audience. German teenagers who had heard of them or had seen them play in those Hamburg clubs scooped up the single. Soon, it would find its way into Liverpool through word of mouth.

 

CRY FOR A SHADOW – THE BEATLES

“Cry For A Shadow” can be considered the very first recording with John, Paul and George if you don’t count those primitive tracks they laid down of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” and McCartney’s “In Spite of All The Danger” in 1958, when they had scraped together their money to go record by themselves. ‘CFAS’ is an instrumental composition and the only one written as a collaboration between John Lennon and George Harrison. George came up with the intro and the guitar line running throughout and John contributed the rhythm section.

The title “Cry For A Shadow”, as well as the instrumental itself, was an imitation of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll group of the day in Britain, the Shadows, who used to back British Fifties pop mega star Cliff Richard in those days. The Shadows’ lead guitarist Hank Marvin was known to have played guitar similarly, and George Harrison copied it in “Cry For A Shadow” with Lennon and McCartney’s yelling during portions of the song just like the Shadows’ bass guitarist Terence “Jet” Harris’. The original title of the song was going to be “Beatle Bop”, but due to the similarity in musical style to the Shadows, the group decided to credit the band they were imitating.

 

WHY (CAN’T YOU LOVE ME AGAIN) – TONY SHERIDAN AND THE BEATLES

“Why” was co-written by Tony Sheridan. It’s a decent melody with a great stereo sound, with the distinct and crisp separation that makes it a pleasure to listen to, particularly in headphones. It’s rather astonishing to hear how good an audio recording can be for 1961, far surpassing many other stereophonic releases of the day from the USA.

Sheridan’s vocal is assured and reminiscent of Elvis again, as is the whole song very much rooted in Fifties rock ‘n’ roll. What’s interesting is George’ Harrisons little guitar fills in the beginning between each lyrical line, sounding very much like future fills in “I’ll Follow the Sun” and “Here Comes The Sun”. It’s also funny to hear the Beatles vocalizing once again as background baritones, including their signature hand clapping they would do in many subsequent early Beatles recordings.

“Why” was meant to be released as the follow-up single to “My Bonnie”, backed by “Cry For A Shadow”, but it never came about. It would ultimately be released as part of an EP (Extended Play, usually containing a total of two songs per side) in 1963 with “My Bonnie” and “The Saints”, calling the record “Tony Sheridan with the Beatles”.

 

OTHER TRACKS FROM SHERIDAN AND THE BEATLES

The songs take a downward turn with Sheridan’s annoyingly persistent Elvis soundalike on “Nobody’s Child”, featuring the Beatles’ uninspired accompaniment. It almost sounds like they’ve all taken a tea break as George bravely sips and picks while Pete lazily drums along.

Same goes for “Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby”, despite a nice but brief guitar solo from George, with Sheridan continuing to insist on ripping off the Elvis sound. One notable mention is the use of the word ‘goddamn’ in “TOSIOMB”, probably a first for a rock ‘n’ roll song to use a curse word, predating John Lennon’s use of the word ‘fuck’ in “Working Class Hero” by nine years.

You’d think Tony Sheridan was auditioning for Elvis Presley’s job with his version of ”Sweet Georgie Brown”, made famous as the theme song for exhibition comedy basketball team The Harlem Globetrotters. The song is a jazz standard first written in 1925. The Beatles’ background vocals are the most distinctive here. Those who are familiar with their voices can actually pick out Paul, George, and John in various moments. As the song picks up the tempo, a snazzy piano is added to the mix and makes the song one of the highlights of the recording session.

A different, more fun version of “SGB” was re-recorded by Sheridan and the Beatles in 1963. In this one, at a time when the Beatles had become the biggest group in England, Sheridan references their long hair and rising popularity.

“In Liverpool, she even dared to criticize the Beatles’ hair, with their whole fan club standing there, meet Sweet Georgia Brown” –Tony Sheridan

 

AIN’T SHE SWEET – THE BEATLES

“Gene Vincent’s recording of ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ is very mellow and high-pitched and I used to do it like that, but the Germans said, ‘Harder, harder’ – they all wanted it a bit more like a march, so we ended up doing a harder version.” –John Lennon

The Beatles were allowed to record another song showcasing just themselves, and this time it was John Lennon’s turn to step up to the microphone.

“Ain’t She Sweet” was written in 1927 and was typical of the music of the decade known as the Roaring Twenties. The Beatles apparently chose it to record in the spirit of Kaempfert’s suggestion to play songs people know and then modernize them with a rock ‘n’ roll beat. The result is what can be considered the closest it can get to a Beatles record in 1961. The only difference was the drummer, as Ringo had still not replaced Pete Best.

John Lennon’s vocals are front and center and unmistakably his. The recording, however, would not surface again until after the group was known worldwide in 1964. Both John Lennon and Tony Sheridan have asserted at different times that the Beatles had recorded much more on their own during those two days then what ultimately surfaced, but there is no record of any other songs produced other than the aforementioned ones.

After their recording debut in Germany, the Beatles returned to their hometown of Liverpool, England on July 2nd, 1961, having completed their stay at the Top Ten Club and leaving their ex-bandmate Stu Sutcliffe to marry Astrid. If ever there existed a storybook romance, this was it. The couple was happy and in love. Stu however, started to suffer excruciating headaches ever since he had returned from Hamburg. At times he would even black out. Stu assumed it was due to his overwork and mostly ignored it.

Four days after the Beatles’ arrival home, the first issue of Mersey Beat appeared on the newsstands. The magazine would prove to be the catalyst that set them off into worldwide fame by spreading the word about them throughout Liverpool and its neighboring towns.


The Beatles and their fans at St. John’s Hall

Taking eleven days to catch their breaths, they resume playing in Liverpool venues on July 13th at St. John’s Hall and play practically every night through the rest of the year, alternating between Mona Best’s Casbah Coffee Club and the Cavern, sprinkled with appearances throughout Liverpool’s Halls, from Litherland to Holyoake and Blair.

In the book “The Outliers”, author Malcolm Gladwell points to the Beatles as an example of outliers. The book explains that you not only have to have exceptional talent to succeed; there are always other important factors that must come to play in order to achieve the type of fame the Beatles ultimately reached. In the group‘s case, one of their advantages were their thousands of hours performing almost every night, sometimes twice in a day, and in Hamburg, also nightly for eight hour stretches. In fact, from the time they first ventured to Hamburg in late 1960 through their worldwide popularity by 1964, they logged over ten thousand hours of playing, amounting to 416 days, the standard from which most “outliers” have practiced in their own craft before they achieved notoriety. In the book, Gladwell breaks down the times they performed In Hamburg between 1960 and 1962 and came to a very rational conclusion.

“All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.” – from “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell


“When we got back to Liverpool it was all ‘Eh, your hair’s gone funny.’ – ‘No, this is the new style.’” –Paul McCartney

 

BRIAN EPSTEIN

“On Saturday, 28th October 1961, I was asked by a young boy for a record by a group called The Beatles. It had always been our policy in records to look after whatever request was made. I wrote on a pad, ‘”My Bonnie”, The Beatles. Check on Monday.’

I had never given a thought to any of the Liverpool beat groups then up and coming in cellar clubs. They were not part of my life because I was out of the age group and also because I had been too busy. The name ‘Beatle’ meant nothing to me, though I vaguely recalled seeing it on a poster advertising a dance at New Brighton Tower and I remember thinking it was an odd and purposeless spelling.

Before I had time to check on Monday, two girls came in the store and they too asked for a disc by this group. This, contrary to legend, was the sum total of demand for the Beatles’ disc at this time in Liverpool. But I was sure there was something very significant in three queries for one unknown disc in two days.

I talked to contacts and found what I hadn’t realized, that The Beatles were, in fact, a Liverpool group, that they had just returned from playing clubs in the steamy, seedy end of Hamburg. A girl I know said, ‘The Beatles? They’re the greatest. They’re at the Cavern this week.’” –Brian Epstein

Bill Harry walked into NEMS with an armful of his newspaper, Mersey Beat. As the publisher of Liverpool’s first music rag, he wanted to have it visible in the city’s largest music store. The North End Music Store, NEMS, was that place.

Harry introduced himself to NEMS’ manager, Brian Samuel Epstein and proudly handed him a copy of the first issue of Mersey Beat. Epstein leafed through the magazine and briefly read on Page 2 the origin of the Beatles that John wrote. He had seen pictures of the group in posters around Liverpool and asked Harry about them. Harry replied that they were the most popular band in town and they played a few blocks away from his store at the Cavern Club, did he know it? Epstein nodded and promptly forgot them. Focusing on the “Mersey Beat” paper, he saw the potential it had to promote his store. By the end of their meeting, Epstein had agreed to display Mersey Beat at the front of his store, and starting with the next issue on August 3rd, 1961, began to write a column for the paper called “Stop the World – And Listen To Everything In It”. In return, he would place ads promoting NEMS.

Sometime later, on October 28th, 1961, teenage rock ‘n’ roll fan Raymond Jones walked into NEMS Record Store and asked for a copy of the single “My Bonnie” by the Beatles. Epstein instructed his assistant Alistair Taylor to put it on the list of records to order for sale in the store.

Taylor had a difficult time finding the record. There was no group of any kind called The Beatles that he could find. At one point, he did find a record called “My Bonnie” but it was published by the German division of Polydor. Not only that, the artists listed on the record was Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. He ordered copies anyway since it was the closest he got to finding a record with that name.

Epstein then asked Taylor to arrange for both of them to go see the Beatles play at the Cavern the following week. Taylor discovered that the Beatles performed during lunchtime as well as dinner. On November 9, 1961, Epstein and Taylor went to the Beatles’ lunchtime concert. Epstein beheld the queue of teenagers waiting to go in and glided past them, having been able to gain VIP access.

Once everyone was inside and settled, DJ Bob Wooler made a casual comment to the crowd about the VIPs that had come to visit that day.

“We have someone rather famous in the audience today. Mr. Brian Epstein, the owner of NEMS …”

Once the Beatles took the stage, Brian Epstein was mesmerized. On stage were four tough looking boys in black leather and jeans, sloppy during their performance, at times abruptly stopping a song they were playing to play one that someone in the crowd yelled out as a request.

“They were a scruffy crowd in leather, and they were not very tidy and not very clean. They smoked as they played and they ate and talked and pretended to hit each other.” –Brian Epstein

It should be noted here that Brian Epstein was a closeted homosexual. Like much of the rest of the world in 1961, homosexuality in the United Kingdom was seen as not only a mental issue, but also an illegal act.

Epstein agonized over his sexuality all his life as he indulged in his secretive world, resorting to public lavatories after hours and sometimes returning home beaten and bloodied. He would also cruise the London clubs dressed in a US Army officer’s suit. Although he went to the Army, he was never an officer. One night, he was arrested by the military police for impersonating an officer at the Army Navy Club located on Piccadilly. In order to avoid a court martial, Epstein agreed to see an army psychiatrist. It was there where his homosexuality was discovered. Ten months later, he was discharged from the Army for being emotionally and mentally unfit.”

It’s safe to assume that Epstein’s had more than just a platonic attraction to the young boys playing rock ‘n’ roll before him.

“I was immediately struck by their music, their beat and their sense of humour on stage – and, even afterward, when I met them, I was struck again by their personal charm. And it was there that, really, it all started” –Brian Epstein

After the Beatles’ set, Epstein and Taylor visited the group backstage in a dressing room that he later described “as big as a broom cupboard”. They all recognized him, having been to buy records at NEMS many times before.

“And what brings Mr. Epstein here?” George asked in his subtly sarcastic way.
“We just popped in to say hello,” replied Brian. “I enjoyed your performance,” he added and introduced Taylor to them as his assistant. After a few minor pleasantries, Epstein and Taylor left.

“At that age, we were very impressed by anyone in a suit or with a car. And Brian was impressed with us. He liked our sense of humour and our music and he liked our look… black leather.” –Paul McCartney

Later on, having lunch at Peacock’s restaurant in Hackins Hay, Epstein asked Taylor what he thought of what they just witnessed.

“I thought they were absolutely awful,” Taylor replied as he ate, but then admitted that there was something remarkable about him.

This made Brian smile. It wasn’t just he who felt it. It wasn’t just the teenage fans who acknowledged it. Even his assistant, who didn’t even like them, felt there was something there.

Brian ate quietly for most of his lunch. “I think they’re tremendous,” he finally said. “Do you think I should manage them?”

“He had wanted us to sign up. But I believe he came a number of times before he actually decided to be our manager.” –George Harrison

Over the next three weeks in November 1961, Brian Epstein went to the Cavern for lunch to watch the Beatles play. As he warmed up to their music and style, he did some inquiries and found out the group’s last manager was a man named Alan Williams. Epstein called Williams to ask if he still had any ties to the group. Williams responded that there were no longer any ties between the Beatles and himself, but advised Epstein “not to touch them with a fucking barge pole” because the group had refused to pay a percentage of their winnings to a club in Hamburg over a dispute. This didn’t deter Epstein and after one of their sets, he once again went backstage to ask the Beatles if they would like to meet with him at NEMS in the near future for a conversation about their music.

“He looked efficient and rich. That’s all I remember. He tried to manage us but he couldn’t get through to us. It lasted about a week. We said, ‘We’re not having you.’ ” –John Lennon

On December 3rd, 1961, John Lennon and George Harrison arrived at NEMS for the meeting. Pete Best was late and so was Paul McCartney, irking Epstein.

“He may be late, but he’ll be very clean,” George said, referring to Paul. John decided to bring Cavern DJ Bob Wooler with them to find out what the DJ thought of Epstein.
“This is me dad.” Said John to Brian as he introduced Wooler.

After Paul and Pete finally arrived, Brian asked the group if they had a manager. They shook their collectively shaggy heads no.

“It seems to me that with everything going on, someone ought to be looking after you”, Brian replied.

The meeting was short. Brian invited them to two more meetings on the 6th and then again on the 10th of December, where he presented them with a twelve-page document typed on lined paper. It was a detailed contract indicating his desire to manage the Beatles for the next five years, until 1967. Ironically, this is the year Epstein would die.


The Beatles’ signatures, along with Paul and George’s fathers’, on Brian Epstein’s contract

“So one evening we went down to the NEMS shop. It was very awe-inspiring, being led into this big record shop after hours with no one there. It felt like a cathedral. We went upstairs to Brian’s office to make the deal. I was talking to him, trying to beat him down, knowing the game. Trying to get the manager to take a low percentage. And the others tried as well, but he stuck at a figure of 25%. He told us ‘That’ll do. Now I’ll be your manager,’ and we agreed. With my Dad’s advice, I remember Dad had said to get a Jewish manager – it all fitted and Brian Epstein became our manager.” –Paul McCartney

Because Paul, George, and Pete were still under twenty years old, they needed approval from their parents to sign the contract. George’s parents were agreeable to the idea as well as Paul’s father, but with a warning from Jim McCartney to his son to always keep an eye on the finances. Pete’s mother Mona liked Brian, found him very professional and was impressed by his wealth. Lennon’s Aunt Mimi was totally against the idea, feeling that John was just wasting his time playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. But John was already 21 and of age, so he ignored her altogether.

“We were in a daydream ‘til he came along. We’d no idea what we were doing. Seeing our marching orders on paper made it all official.” =John Lennon

The Beatles wouldn’t sign that contract before the end of 1961 but Brian went to work anyway, traveling to London the following day to promote his new band to various large record companies; Columbia, Pye, Phillips, Oriole, and Decca. Because of his stature in the music business as an important retailer selling to a significant portion of Great Britain, all these record companies agreed to meet with him, and all of them passed on the group, thanking Mr. Epstein for coming. Only one person, Mike Smith of Decca Records, decided to go see the Beatles play live.

On December 13, 1961, Smith traveled to Liverpool and went to the Cavern Club with Epstein. After the performance, Smith agreed to hold an audition of the Beatles at Decca on the first day of the New Year. On New Year’s Eve 1961, Beatles roadie Neil Aspinall drove them and Brian to London. Neil lost his way and the trip took longer than ten hours. They arrived in London at 10PM on December 31st, “just in time to see the drunks jumping in the Trafalgar Square fountain”, as John Lennon remarked regarding the moment.

“We changed the hairstyles and clothes of the world, including America – they were a very square and sorry lot when we went over.” –John Lennon

Unbeknownst to the Beatles, Stu Sutcliffe had collapsed during a class at Hamburg Art College in late 1961 and was taken home. He went to school the next day and didn’t give it another thought. Astrid Kirscherr’s mother suggested he go see the doctor as his condition grew worse, suffering regular debilitating headaches and a sudden sensitivity to light. The doctor ran a series of tests but found nothing out of the ordinary.

 

 

LEE DORSEY


Lee Dorsey

Part of the reason the Beatles composed such timeless songs is because they loved rock ‘n’ roll music. Even while they played every night in Hamburg and clubs in and around Liverpool, they had their ears tuned to the radio, listening to all the biggest artists of the day. It’s that appreciation for their peers that made them so good at what they did.


John Lennon with 12-year old son Julian on Drums, playing a short “Ya-Ya”

Irving Lee Dorsey was one of those artists whom the Beatles emulated. Born in New Orleans, he was a childhood friend of Fats Domino until his family moved to Portland, Oregon when he was 10. After serving during World War II, he returned home to become a reasonably good lightweight boxer in the early Fifties named Kid Chocolate. Apparently tired of having his face bashed in, Dorsey retired from boxing in 1955 and returned to his hometown where he opened an auto repair business. But music was always deep in his heart and he had a reasonably good voice, so to satisfy his muse, Lee Dorsey would moonlight by singing in nightclubs. One night in 1960, A&R man Marshall Sehorn walked into one of the clubs Dorsey was singing in and liked what he heard enough to secure him a recording contract with Fury Records, owned by New York record producer Bobby Robinson.

 

YA-YA – LEE DORSEY

Socializing within the inner circle of New Orleans musicians, Dorsey met A&R man and record producer for Minit and Instant Records, Allen Toussaint at a party. Twenty-two-year-old Toussaint and thirty-seven-year-old Dorsey became fast friends and soon were recording music together. Dorsey had already recorded a string of unsuccessful singles since 1958 with Fury, until one day, he was inspired to write “Ya-Ya” with Clarence Lewis and Morgan Robinson after watching a group of children singing nursery rhymes. He took it to Toussaint and he recorded Dorsey’s first Top Ten Pop hit, reaching Number Seven on Billboard’s US Pop chart and Number One in the R&B chart.

“Ya-Ya” has been covered by many other artists over the years, most notably by John Lennon when he released his “Rock & Roll” (1975) album due to a contractual obligation to Morris Levy. Lennon had promised to record a bunch of old rock ‘n’ roll songs owned by Levy. “Ya-Ya” was one of them. Lennon played the song with a stronger, faster edge, while still acknowledging the playfulness of the lyrics with the musical arrangement.

 

DO-RE-MI – LEE DORSEY

After a follow-up single similar to “Ya-Ya called “Do-Re-Mi” that stalled at Number 27 Pop and Number 22 R&B, Dorsey released an LP titled “Ya-Ya” in 1962 that didn’t do very well either. He quickly fell from the charts for four years. During that interim, he returned to his auto repair business. In the meantime, Toussaint was drafted and served in the US Army from 1963 to 1965.

 

WORKING IN THE COAL MINE – LEE DORSEY

When Toussaint returned, he got Dorsey back into the music biz by asking him to record “Ride A Pony” in 1965. That and a couple of other recordings put Lee back in the charts during the mid-Sixties. He didn’t enter the Top Ten again until 1966 with “Working In the Coal Mine”, written and arranged by Toussaint for Dorsey.

“Working In the Coal Mine” is a song about suffering, not the type of blues lament for a lost love, but of a man breaking his back working down in a coal mine wondering how long his torture will last.

“Five o’clock in the mornin’, I’m already up and gone, Lord I am so tired, how long can this go on? That I’m workin’ in a coal mine, goin’ down, down, down, workin’ in a coal mine, whoops, about to slip down. ‘Cause I make all the money, hauling coal by the ton, but when Saturday goes around I’m too tired for havin’ fun…” Working in the Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey

Toussaint “…Coal Mine” has an instantly catchy beat, and Dorsey’s version climbed to Number Eight Pop and Number Five R&B. It was also his first single to enter the Top Ten in the UK, reaching Number Eight as well.

“WITCM” has also been covered by various artists, most notably by the pioneer industrial alternative rock group Devo, who released their own version in 1981 as part of the animated movie “Heavy Metal”. The single only made it up to Number 43 but its groundbreaking techno sound seems more appropriate for the song’s theme.

Just like before, Dorsey released a follow-up single also produced by Toussaint called “Holy Cow”. It only made it to Number 23. Dorsey also managed to release two LPs in 1966, “Ride Your Pony” and “The New Lee Dorsey”, then dropped from the charts once again, only appearing a few more times in 1967 and 1969 with songs in the bottom portion of the Hot 100.

 

YES WE CAN – LEE DORSEY

In 1970, Toussaint produced Dorsey’s next album “Yes We Can”, whose title song was a Number 11 Pop hit for the Pointer Sisters in 1973 as “Yes We Can Can”.

Among other covers include a version recorded by Toussaint himself in his later years.

Lee Dorsey recorded and performed sporadically after that, ultimately going on tour in the 1980s with James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1980, he toured the US, opening for the Clash.

On December 1st, 1986, Lee Dorsey succumbed to emphysema at age 61. His young mentor Toussaint went on to work on several musical projects well into the 21st century until he died a legend on November 10, 2015.

 

 

THE BEACH BOYS


The Beach Boys in 1961. From left, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Carl Wilson.

Murry Wilson was a bitter man. He was a songwriter and piano player who longed to be famous but never achieved the recognition he felt he deserved. Coming from a poor background, he struggled all his life, and when his first son Brian was born, he had to take a job at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to make ends meet. Things didn’t go well there. He lost an eye in an industrial accident to add to his struggle. For release, he turned to songwriting and achieved moderate success with a few songs he wrote, like “Two-Step Side-Step”, which was performed by Lawrence Welk’s orchestra on his radio show in 1952, and “I’ll Hide My Tears”, recorded by the doo-wop group the Jets at about the same time.

“[My father] had talent, he sure did. He was a talented man. He had some music in him … My favorite song of his was one called ‘His Little Darling and You’. It was a ballad.” –Brian Wilson

The Wilsons moved from their hometown of Inglewood, California to Hawthorne when Brian was two years old. Musical talent ran in the Wilson family. Little Brian was already developing a remarkable musical mind. As a baby, he could sing the lyrics to “When the Caissons Go Rolling Along” after Murry sang him the first two stanzas. Music touched Brian very deeply. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” deeply moved him when he first heard it as a child. Realizing he had a musical prodigy on his hands, Murry encouraged Brian to explore his talent and was given a toy accordion as a child. When Brian was seven, Murry placed him in a church choir, where he was soon chosen to sing lead using his gorgeous falsetto, a voice that could reach wonderful high notes that would become the soundtrack for many Sixties summers.


The Beach Boys (left); Murry Wilson (right).

A strict disciplinarian to his sons Brian, Carl and Dennis, Murry Wilson let his frustrations out on them in the form of physical punishment, often beating them for minor infractions of family rules. He mostly humiliated Carl verbally but took to beating Dennis and Brian for self-perceived infractions. As the story goes, Murry Wilson once took a 2×4 and hit Brian in the head with it. They say that blow caused greatly diminished hearing in Brian’s right ear, although others suggest the loss of hearing may have had another cause.

Always a sensitive child, his father’s treatment of him affected Brian deeply. It would contribute to mental breakdowns later in life. Murry didn’t stop being an asshole after his sons grew up either. Although he helped them land a recording contract and essentially launched the Beach Boys’ career, Murry Wilson commandeered the group instead of managed them, declaring himself their manager and expecting no resistance. As the group’s success grew, Murry began to harbor a deep resentment of Brian’s talent, to the point that in 1966, at the height of the Beach Boys’ success, Murry Wilson sold the rights to all their songs for $700,000 (about $5.2 million today) without consulting Brian, who had written them all.

Murry Wilson’s own words betray his incredible dickishness towards his son Brian by portraying himself as a victim and putting Brian down every chance he can get. In an excruciatingly long letter written by Murry to Brian on May 8, 1965, his jealousy and painfully cruel parental manipulation is evident in every paragraph, such as these two:

“…In other words, Brian, the whole concept of my teaching my sons honesty in business was to try to make good men out of all of you, and I can’t begin to remember the hundreds of times I was interfered with by my wife when I tried to make you all see the point I was trying to make; but I do know one thing, I can hold up my head in Hollywood and all over the world in the music as well as machinery business and you can’t. No matter how many hit songs you write or how many hundreds of thousands of dollars you may earn, you will find when you finish this short cycle of Beach Boy success that you didn’t do it honestly and for this reason, you are going to suffer remorse. I have been trying to fight you on every act of what I thought was not honest to protect you from yourself some five or seven years later; because I knew that when competition hit you between the eyes that you would not be able to cope with this vicious competition, regardless of how talented you are, because you got so much much too fast and the fact that you used your own father and then threw him away when you thought you didn’t need him will come back into your mind over and over again.

I didn’t mind so terribly much when you left our home to get an apartment, but the fact that you were ready to hit me in front of Gary Usher, when my wife and I were trying to get rid of Gary Usher and his evil influence on our family, did cause much hurt because you left fighting against your own family for the benefit of Mr. Usher and to his purposes and to your own selfish purposes and which you and Gary were scheming out. You may have forgotten how Gary told you I was a square and didn’t know what I was doing and that you didn’t have to listen to me, besides countless other derogatory remarks made by other people such as Bob Norman, Jan Berry, and the whole bunch. You would rather take the word of anyone against your father because you were taught to do this in your very early years as a young boy, hearing your mother tell me I was wrong in front of you, so I do understand what has caused some of your thinking.” –Murry Wilson

 

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

Brian, Carl, and Dennis spent many evenings harmonizing in the bedroom they shared together. Brian would break down the background harmonies of songs by vocal groups like The Four Freshmen and teach them to his brothers to sing along. He would also break down the songs note by note on the piano, which he played obsessively every day after school. Soon, he started to involve other family members to harmonize with him like his mother, his cousin Mike Love and his sister, as well as any friend of theirs who’d be around and wanted to join in. Like his father, Brian too taught himself to play the piano and write songs, so when he received a Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder on June 20, 1958, his sixteenth birthday, that’s all he needed to indulge in his insatiable musical curiosity. Among the songs he recorded harmonizing with assorted members of his family back then was “Sloop John B”, a traditional Bahamian folk song that the Beach Boys would record in 1966 and release as a single.

Soon, Brian and cousin Mike ventured out to the spotlight together and enlisted two high school friends to play at dances for Hawthorne High School. Brian at the time was a popular student; he played baseball, ran cross-country and was even quarterback of the Hawthorne High football team. There, he met fellow football player Al Jardine, who had already played guitar in a band called The Islanders. Al would watch Brian, Carl and Mike perform at all those high school dances.

In September 1960, Brian enrolled at El Camino College where Al was also attending. The two often got together and spent their time in the college’s music room working through harmonic ideas together. Al loved folk music, having mastered the guitar and banjo pretty well. Soon, the two spoke about forming a group together. Brian invited Al over to his home to discuss it with his two brothers and his cousin Mike Love. Al tried to get them to be a folk group but Brian and all the others preferred rock ‘n’ roll. Love suggested the name The Pendletones for the group, a combination of the word “pendleton” which was the name of a woolen shirt that was popular at the time, and “tone” a musical term, much like the Beatles had done with “beat” and “beetles”. The group unanimously agreed.

The next step was to write songs. Everyone looked at Brian for that, even though cousin Mike could also write, but they didn’t know what to write about. They wanted to sing about something other than all love songs. Dennis, the only surfer in the family, suggested the sport as a theme. They all agreed, knowing that surfing was big, especially in Southern California. Brian worked with Mike on writing the song that would start them off on their career. Together, they came up with “Surfin’, a mix of doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll sung with the harmonies that would soon make them famous.

The Wilson brothers’ parents, Murry and Audree had decided to spend a vacation in Mexico City over the Labor Day weekend in 1961 and left them with emergency money for the days they would be away. Having just finished writing “Surfin’”, Brian spent all that money on renting amplifiers, a microphone and a stand-up bass for Jardine to play. The fledgling group spent two days straight rehearsing the song so when his parents returned, they could audition the song to his father.

At first, Murry said nothing, berating Brian instead for having spent the emergency money on such nonsense. But after stewing and mulling over it a while, he realized his boys were good and was duly impressed at their songwriting talent as well as their entrepreneurship, although he would never admit to it. That’s when Murry proclaimed himself their manager and told them that if they wanted to have a real record, they should begin rehearsing in earnest while he finds them a record label. Brian set out to write in earnest. One of his first songs he ever wrote was a melody loosely based on “When You Wish Upon A Star”. It would be recorded two years later as one of the Beach Boys’ most beautiful tunes, a Number One song called “Surfer Girl”.

The Pendletones followed Murry Wilson’s instructions and soon Murry introduced the group to his own music publisher, Hite Morgan. In the fall of 1961, they auditioned for Morgan and played two songs. The first one was a ballad that had been sung by the Four Freshmen called “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring”. Morgan was duly unimpressed. The second song they performed for him was their original composition “Surfin’”. Although Morgan didn’t really like the sound, he recognized that the boys had hit on two very popular themes: rock ‘n’ roll and surfing. Morgan made some calls and soon arranged a recording session for them to release their song on Candix Records.

 

SURFIN’ – THE BEACH BOYS

“Now the dawn is breaking and we really gotta go, but we’ll be back here very soon that you better know, yeah my surfer knots are rising and my board is losing wax, but that won’t stop me, baby ‘cause you know I’m coming back…” Surfin’ – The Beach Boys

The Pendletones recorded two surfing songs at Keen Recording Studio in October 1961. Murry took the demos to Herb Newman, owner of Candix and Era Records. Upon listening to “Surfin” and the song that would become the record’s b-side, “Luau”, Murry Wilson was able to land for his children something he was never able to acquire for himself, a recording contract.

The group was signed to Candix Records on December 8, 1961, and they promptly recorded professional versions of the two songs. When the records were pressed and the first box was sent to the Pendletones, they eagerly ripped open the box to see their first record for themselves. Much to their surprise, their band name had been changed from the Pendletones to the Beach Boys. Someone in the record label had decided that the group’s name had little to do with what they were singing about and thought a name more closely associated with the theme would be more appropriate. Originally, the record label intended to change the group’s name to The Surfers, but Russ Regan, who worked for Era Records as a promoter, informed them there was already a group with that name. Regan, who would later go on to become President of 20th Century Fox Records, suggested the name change.

And thus, the Beach Boys were born.

 

 

KEITH MEETS MICK

“You know I was keen on Chuck Berry and I thought I was the only fan for miles, but one mornin’ on Dartford Stn…I was holding one of Chuck’s records when a guy I knew at primary school 7-11 yrs y’know came up to me… anyways the guy on the station, he is called Mick Jagger and…is the greatest R&B singer this side of the Atlantic and I don’t mean maybe. ” -18-year-old Keith Richards’ letter to his Aunt Patty


Keith Richards as a child

That pretty much sums up their first meeting, although it’s been largely told the other way around, that Mick was carrying blues records and Keith was carrying his guitar. The quote above is taken from a letter confirmed to be written by Keith Richards’, so I’m inclined to believe the evidence. The fact that Richards doesn’t mention if he was carrying a guitar or not doesn’t mean he didn’t, so I’m assuming he did, or else Mick wouldn’t have asked him to join his group.


A teenage Mick Jagger

Keith Richards was 17 when he met the 18-year-old Michael “Mick” Philip Jagger on the morning of October 17, 1961, at Dartford Station in Kent. Mick was on his way to the London School of Economics and Keith, carrying his Hofner cutaway electric guitar, was headed to Sidcup Art College when they recognized each other as having been classmates at Wentworth Primary School. As they boarded the train together, they spoke of the music they loved. Mick was indeed heavily into blues music and Keith was a rock ‘n’ roller. By the end of their trip, Keith had agreed to join Mick’s band, Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. That band was short-lived, gratefully, because that name had to go, but Mick and Keith remained friends, bound by their mutual love of music. They decided to work together in finding another band to play in. It would be the following year, 1962, when Mick answered an ad in Jazz News, a Soho club information sheet from another young musician by the name of Brian Jones who was inviting musicians to audition to form a new R&B group.


Brian Jones

 

…TO BE CONTINUED IN THE HISTORY OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL 1962

THE SHIRELLES – CAROLE KING – DEL SHANNON – THE MARCELS – ERNIE K. DOE – BOBBY LEWIS – THE REGENTS – BEN E. KING – GARY US BONDS – ETTA JAMES

by Robert Seoane

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed.”
–John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.

The first year of the decade began with a promise from a young President. His message was universal and timeless, despite the fact that his own time left on earth was close to ending. In his Inaugural Address lives too, the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll; a style of music invented by this new generation of Americans born in this century that Kennedy spoke about.

Rock ‘n’ roll at the dawn of 1961 was a watered down beat, still years away from a recharge that by now it so desperately needed. In 1961, this excitement for the future was embodied in the country’s young President and rock ‘n’ roll was just the soundtrack heard on everyone’s portable transistor or car AM radio, and in glorious monophonic sound no less. The music was becoming the foundation for a revolutionary youth movement, developing looser styles and delivering them to the older generation, ultimately to worldwide acceptance.

New dance crazes popped up soon after the Twist exploded into global consciousness just the year before. In 1961, an R&B group called the Vibrations recorded the first in a string of songs about the next dance craze, “The Watusi”.

Soon, rock ‘n’ roll artists of the day like Chubby Checker, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and the Isley Brothers recorded their own versions of “The Wah-Watusi”.

In 1961, rock ‘n’ roll was still establishing its sound, developing their groups and staking out new musical genres, still testing the shaky ground that would outrageously blossom in the years to come once the British Musical Invasion exploded in 1964. By ‘66, conventional wisdom dropped the “roll” and just called it rock. Rock music then continued to branch out further, into different sub-genres, led and demonstrated by the musical experimentation of the Beatles, the poetry of Bob Dylan and the uncensored funk of James Brown. The trunk and branches of the tree had grown strong. By 1970, the leaves would begin to sprout.

But I get ahead of myself.

 

THE SHIRELLES

“The Shirelles had a ‘sound’, a word that people from the Sixties vocal-group era use with a lot of reverence. Shirley Alston Reeves, who did most of the group’s lead vocals, wasn’t a gospel shouter like Arlene Smith of the Chantels. Shirley was more sentimental and street. When she said, ‘Baby, it’s you,’ you thought, ‘Baby, it is me.’” -Paul Schaffer; Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

Since 1955, the year when rock ‘n’ roll burst into the world scene, the new musical genre had been the realm of men only. That ended in 1961 when three young high school girls got together to form the basis for scores of girl groups to come.

The Shirelles hold the distinction of being the first successful all-girl group in rock ‘n’ roll history. There had been a handful of other lesser known variations before, but the Shirelles cemented their reputation in 1961 when their single “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” made it to Number One in Billboard’s Pop chart, the first rock ‘’n roll girl group to do so.

Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie Harris and Beverly Lee were high school friends at Passaic High in New Jersey when they won a talent show in 1957, calling themselves the Poquellos. Still minors, they were at first reluctant to sign on to any record label that would want them for an act, but by the following year, they relented. Their fellow classmate, Mary Jane Greenberg, who heard them at the talent show, was responsible for the launch of their career. Mary Jane’s mother Florence happened to own a record label named Tiara, and Mary Jane insisted that her mother listen to her three high school friends. She did, and immediately recognized their talent for blending their voices together and their penchant for doo-wop and pop.

Florence Greenberg believed in the quartet and became their manager for the long haul. Once under contract with Greenberg and touring on a regular basis, they changed their name to the Shirelles, coming up with it by taking the lead vocalist’s first name, Shirley, and adding an “elle” suffix, much like a lot of other popular groups at the time, such as the Chantels.


I MET HIM ON A SUNDAY – THE SHIRELLES

“They wrote their very first hit, ‘I Met Him on a Sunday,’ themselves, when they were still high school students in New Jersey. It was on this song that the group combined doo-wop with very accessible pop melodies.” -Paul Schaffer; Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

Their first single did well enough in the local area where the record was distributed in, so Tiara licensed it to Decca for national release. It made it up to Number 49 in Billboard’s Pop chart.

The Shirelles’ doo-wop sing-a-long in this tune, “Doo ronday ronday ronday papa doo…”, established their distinctive sound; a strong female lead vocal backed by three background vocals that harmonize the doo-wop hook. That formula soon became a blueprint for Sixties girl groups to come, such as the Chiffons, the Crystals, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Marvelletes, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes, the Supremes, right on down the alphabet to the Velvelettes.

“I Met Him On A Sunday” was written by all four Shirelles for the talent show at their high school in Passaic, New Jersey that got them a record contract. It’s ultimately just a simple, repetitive melody, similar to something children would sing while playing patty cake. Still, once they were signed to Greenberg, it was the first song they committed to vinyl and ultimately, it gave the Shirelles national footing by 1958, however small.

Tiara Records was sold to Decca that same year along with the Shirelles’ contract for $4,000 (approximately $32,500 in 2015 dollars) and Greenberg stayed on as their manager, consistently booking them to establish their name as they struggled for recognition. The meager success of their first single was helpful in getting them booked to bigger venues.

DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE – THE SHIRELLES

Their second single was a remake of a song recorded in 1957 by the 5 Royales. The Shirelles’ version didn’t do much better on the charts than the original upon its first release, not climbing any higher than Number 83 in Billboard’s Pop chart. Decca quickly gave up on them, labeled them a one-hit act, and returned their contract back to Greenberg. Certain that it was a hit, Greenberg re-released the song that same year through her new label, Scepter Records, but it again stalled, this time at Number 89. It would be another two years before it would be released again to make a serious dent in the charts.

TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT – THE SHIRELLES

Their third single did much better than the first two. Produced by “16 Candles” songwriter, Luther Dixon and co-written by him and Shirley Owens, “Tonight’s the Night” climbed to Number 39 in the Billboard Pop chart and Number 14 R&B. The song’s success, having cracked the coveted Pop Top Forty in late 1960, gave the Shirelles a bigger boost in their ability to draw a crowd, and Greenberg found she could start booking them as supporting acts for bigger names such as Little Richard and Etta James. Still barely out of their teens, the Shirelles’ parents consented to touring only if a designated person would oversee them. Both Etta James and Ruth Brown, legendary singers and older peers to the young quartet, saw to it that the young girls were chaperoned regularly while they were all on tour.

Like “I Met Him On A Sunday”, “Tonight’s the Night” holds the distinction of having been co-written by Shirley Owens, the lead performer of the group, something pretty much unheard of in the dawn of the Sixties by anyone, let alone a member of an all girl group.

The song’s lyrical content was controversial in that it spoke of a young’s woman’s excited expectancy of losing her virginity. Some radio stations went as far as to ban the playing of the record outright because of such a scandalous topic for 1961.

“You said you’re gonna make me feel all aglow, well I don’t know, well I don’t know right now, I might love you so, I might love you so much you may break my heart, I may want you so much and all my dream been torn apart.” Tonight’s the Night – The Shirelles

Laced with the Shirelles’ unmistakable doo-wop style, “Tonight’s the Night” got them that much closer to national recognition, but it would be the following single that not only would shoot them into stardom but also cement their position in rock ‘n’ roll history.

WILL YOU LOVE ME TOMORROW/BOYS – THE SHIRELLES

After Buddy Holly’s untimely and tragic demise, rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wop acts were mostly made up of artists who needed songs written for them by professional songwriters. As a result, these songwriters churned song after song out daily, like link sausages to an ocean of acts thirsting for material. The Shirelles would have their first Number One hit thanks to one of these songwriters.

Determined to make the act a success, Florence Greenberg contacted record producer Don Kirshner for assistance in selecting the next single for the Shirelles. Don Kirshner’s legacy for forming the sound of early Sixties rock ‘n’ roll looms large. Based in New York’s famed Brill Building, Kirshner ran a hit factory that included legendary songwriters who were just at the start of their brilliant musical careers. Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weill, Barry Mann, Burt Bacharach and Hal David all passed through the Brill Building in New York City, still standing on 49th Street and Broadway. Each of these future legendary composers was paired up in a room with a piano, churning out song after song to compete with the other composers in the adjacent rooms. At the end of the day, they would perform their compositions to Kirshner and he would select the one he liked best to present to a current recording artist in need of material.

Goffin and King, as well as Weill and Mann, were two teams who wrote together and eventually married; both couples becoming close friends at the same time that they were competitive rivals. When Kirshner approached them both to write a song for the Shirelles, King and Goffin’s “Tomorrow” was chosen to present to the group.

King auditioned the song for the Shirelles. The original version was slower than the final Shirelles recording, and she played it for them on piano, much like the version in Carole King’s landmark album “Tapestry” (1971). Upon first listen, Shirley Owens didn’t like it, saying it sounded too country to fit the Shirelles’ sound, so King and Goffin added a string arrangement to the melody and sped up the tempo. Owens gave it another listen and changed her mind. Lengthening the title to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, then later to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, the Shirelles finally had the first career hit they had coveted all these years. Ironically, the song’s lyrics also dealt with the subject of having sex, much like their previous single, “Tonight’s the Night”, and as a result also got banned from airplay at some radio stations, but it wouldn’t be enough to tamp down the song’s staying power, simply due to the sheer loveliness of the tune and sweetness of the words.

“Is this a lasting treasure or just a moment’s pleasure? Can I believe the magic of your sighs? Will you still love me tomorrow?” Will You Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” has a special place in rock ‘n’ roll history, especially after Carole King included it in “Tapestry” and returning it to its melancholy roots.

BOYS – THE SHIRELLES

“Ringo always used to do a song in the show. Back then he had ‘Boys’. It was a little embarrassing because it went, ‘I’m talking about boys – yeah, yeah – boys’. It was a Shirelles hit and they were girls singing it, but we never thought we should call it Girls, just because Ringo was a boy. We just sang it the way they’d sung it and never considered any implications.” –Paul McCartney; Beatles Anthology

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’s” B-side, “Boys”, also holds a special distinction. It was given the seal of Rock Royalty approval when the Beatles selected it for their debut album “Please Please Me” in 1963. It was the first song by the group to showcase drummer Ringo Starr as lead vocalist, a chore Ringo was usually given once per album. “Boys” was selected for Ringo’s lead vocal debut primarily because ex-Beatle drummer Pete Best also used to sing it during their live performances.

“Any one of us could hold the audience. Ringo would do ‘Boys’, which was a fan favourite with the crowd. And it was great — though if you think about it, here’s us doing a song and it was really a girls’ song. ‘I talk about boys now!’ Or it was a gay song. But we never even listened. It’s just a great song. I think that’s one of the things about youth — you just don’t give a shit. I love the innocence of those days.” –Paul McCartney; Rolling Stone

The Beatles’ version of the song replaces the Shirelles’ sax solo with George Harrison’s plucky guitar, introduced by a hearty “Alright, George” from Ringo. The song has much more urgency than the Shirelles’ version, with the British group turning a mid-tempo classic into a raucous rocker.

After the sudden success of their last single, Greenberg released “Dedicated To The One I Love” a third time and her long-time hunch was proven right. The song was a hit, climbing to Billboard’s Number Three Pop and Number Two R&B. The song was remade in 1967 by the Mamas and the Papas with Michelle Phillips singing lead vocal. It made it up to Billboard’s Number Two Pop, thanks to the group’s arrangement of the song, showcasing their harmonies and asserting the song’s reputation as a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

MAMA SAID – THE SHIRELLES

The Shirelles were at the height of their success when their next Top Ten single, “Mama Said”, was released. It’s a fun, catchy song with lyrics that became a colloquialism not long after the record’s release.

“And then she said someone will look at me like I’m looking at you one day, then I might find I don’t want it any old way, so I don’t worry ’cause…
…Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, my mama said.”
Mama Said – The Shirelles

Written by Luther Dixon and Willie Denson, “Mama Said” reached Number Four Billboard Pop in the Spring of 1962. Even today, you’ll hear it occasionally played on films, commercials and TV series, and not necessarily reminiscent of its time, but as a still potent commentary on life.


BABY IT’S YOU – THE SHIRELLES

The Shirelles’ next Top Ten single was written by future MOR Sixties composer, Burt Bacharach. It seems that Shirelles’ manager Florence Greenberg went back to the music factory that gave the group their first hit and asked Don “The Man With the Golden Ear” Kirschner for another nugget.

In 1957,Kirshner introduced composer Bacharach to Hal David, the young lyricist who would join Bacharach as songwriting partner for the rest of their mutual careers. Together, the duo went on to collect six Grammys. Bacharach also won an additional three Academy Awards, two of them for best score and best song from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) with Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Ironically enough, the lyrics of “Baby, It’s You” weren’t written by Hal David but by his brother Mack. It was one of the first compositions by Bacharach and a complete departure from the music he would later write. This was a torchy rock ‘n roll ballad.

“Many, many, many nights roll by. I sit alone at home and cry over you. What can I do? I can’t help myself. ‘Cause baby it’s you (sha-la-la-la la-ah). Baby it’s you…”
Baby, It’s You – The Shirelles

Luther Dixon produced the composition for the Shirelles and credited himself on the song as well, calling himself Barney Williams on the label along with Bacharach and David. It made Billboard Pop at Number Eight and got to Number Three in Billboard’s R&B chart in late 1961. The song was tailor-made for the Shirelles, particularly because of the doo-wop background vocals.

In early 1962, the Shirelles released their fourth album and called it “Baby, It’s You” to capitalize on the song’s popularity. The album did fairly well, rising only up to Number 59 in Billboard’s Album chart. It was the first of only two of their albums to even make a mark on the chart. A collection of songs that were mostly forgettable, it did contain two other songs that made the charts, “Big John (Ain’t You Gonna Marry Me)” and “Soldier Boy”.

In 1963, the Beatles recorded their debut album Please Please Me and chose “Baby, it’s You” to be one of the tracks. As they did with all the other songs the Beatles ever covered, they would either match it in quality or surpass it. In this case, the Beatles recorded the definitive version of the song, with John Lennon’s earnest vocals delivering the lyrics from the heart and Paul and George accompanying him in a very tongue-in-cheek manner with the ‘sha-la-las’.

SOLDIER BOY – THE SHIRELLES

Co-written by their favorite songwriter Luther Dixon and manager Florence Greenberg, “Soldier Boy” was the Shirelles’ second and final Number One hit, released in 1962.

By ’62, The United States had not seen armed conflict since the Korean War that ended nine years earlier. We weren’t at war with anyone, but there was beginning to be an involvement in Vietnam. Despite this lack of warfare, “Soldier Boy” still managed to become a hit. As a melody, the song is pleasant enough, although more evocative of an era than a stand-alone recording. The lyrics are exceedingly devotional, with an elementary corniness to it, and the organ playing in the background during the unimaginative guitar solo betrays its age. Yet it does have the quality of longing inherent in the recording that’s undeniable, not to mention the fact that there will always be someone who has lost a soldier boy and this song may provide some, if little, solace. For those two reasons, “Soldier Boy” is deserving of a niche in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

“Soldier boy, oh, my little soldier boy, I’ll be true to you. You were my first love and you’ll be my last love. I will never make you blue, I’ll be true to you…” Soldier Boy – The Shirelles

By 1962, the Shirelles were riding high on their success, appearing often as guests of famed DJ Murray the K on his “All Star Rock Shows” radio broadcast from WINS in New York City. In 1963, lead singer Shirley Owens and Doris Coley temporarily left the band due to a sudden epidemic of marriage. Then unknown singer, Dionne Warwick subbed for them during that time. Later that year, the original Shirelles sang in a hit comedy film of the era called “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.

In early 1963 they released the song that would prove to be their last Top Ten Single.

FOOLISH LITTLE GIRL – THE SHIRELLES

“Foolish Little Girl” miraculously made it to Number 4 Pop and Number Nine R&B. The song is mediocre at best, and sounded the death knell for the group’s life on the national music charts.

By 1961, most of the black artists that were considered dangerous by White Establishment were gone from the airwaves. Little Richard had given up the “devil rock ‘n’ roll” to become a preacher. Chuck Berry was in jail for three years, guilty of transporting an underage female across state lines, a violation of the Mann Act. Even white rock ‘n’ roll acts with black influence had been either eliminated or watered down considerably. Jerry Lee Lewis’ career went south fast when it was revealed that he was married to his thirteen-year-old cousin. Even Elvis had returned from the Army with a totally revamped, cleaned up image, and over a dozen sound-alikes and lookalikes had sprung up during his stay in the Army. The following handful of singles by artists who had a brief fling with the spotlight were some of the musical highlights of 1961.

 

DEL SHANNON

Charles Weedon Westover took his stage name, Del Shannon, from both a local wrestler and a shortened version of his favorite car, the Cadillac Coupe DeVille. He and keyboardist Max Crook, who had developed a precursor to the synthesizer that Crook called a Musitron, wrote a handful of songs together and recorded a demo that Crook played for Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Talent Records in Detroit, Michigan. One of those songs recorded that put Crook’s Musitron to good use, was a tune called “Little Runaway”.

Westover and Crook were signed to become recording artists and composer to the Bigtop record label in 1960. It was Balk who suggested changing Westover’s name to Del Shannon. On January 21, 1961, the day after President Kennedy was inaugurated, Shannon and Crook re-recorded “Runaway” using the Musitron as the lead instrument. It was released the following month. By April, it reached Number One in Billboard’s Pop chart.

Showcased in the film “American Grafitti”, “Runaway” has a more Fifties feel to it, despite having been recorded and released in 1961.

Del Shannon never duplicated that early success again in his career. In the Seventies, like many musicians, he battled alcoholism as his star faded. Suffering from depression, Shannon committed suicide on February 8, 1990, killing himself with a .22 caliber rifle in his home. He was 55 years old.

 

BLUE MOON – RICHARD RODGERS AND LORENZ HART

The song “Blue Moon” has a long and varied trajectory that began when it was first written in the 1930s and reached its peak three decades later when rock ‘n’ roll dug its claws into it and made it into one of its own.

Despite doo-wop’s inevitable decline after a very popular ride hitching onto the rock ‘n’ roll beat since its inception in 1955, it left not with a whimper but with a bang with a few choice tunes, such as the aforementioned “Runaway” by Del Shannon. The other shot across the bow of rock ‘n’ roll history however, was the Marcels’ “Blue Moon”.

The music for “Blue Moon” was originally written in 1934 by famed film and theater composers Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It premiered in the movie “Manhattan Melodrama” that same year as the title song, with stars of the day William Powell and Myrna Loy. Although the melody was the same, the lyrics were totally different.

After the film’s release, Jack Robbins, head of MGM Studios’ publishing company, heard the commercial potential of the theme music of the movie, but he felt it needed a new title and more romantic lyrics. Hart had already changed the lyrics to that song more than once before and was reluctant to tackle it again, but ultimately he did.

“Blue moon/you saw me standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own”. –Lorenz Hart

Hart chose the title “Blue Moon” because of the American term once in a blue moon, implying that the love he was singing about was a rare thing. In 1935, female singer Connie Boswell was the first to popularize it as a commercial record.

“Blue Moon” continued its journey through the American psyche when Billy Eckstine recorded it in 1949, peaking at Number 21 in March of that year.

It was Elvis Presley who pulled it into the rock ‘n’ roll genre when he recorded it for his debut album in 1956. His version was soft and spare, showcasing mainly Elvis’ vocal.

The Marcels’ took the famous doo-wop open of their version of “Blue Moon” from another song they performed in their act and sped it up, modernizing the tune for its day and making the composition their own with their thoroughly original take on it. Today, it’s another one of those tunes considered to be a typical Fifties song, even though it was recorded and released in 1961, proving that the pop music at that time hadn’t progressed much since the death of Buddy Holly two years earlier.

The Marcels’ “Blue Moon” made it to Number One for three weeks in the Billboard Pop chart and Number one R&B as well, sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold disc. It’s featured in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll”.

A version similar to the Marcels, but looser and sloppier sounding, was also released by a group called the Classics at around the same time, but that version stalled at Number 50 on the Billboard Pop chart.

Since its conception, “Blue Moon” has been performed and recorded by the likes of Benny Goodman, Julie London, Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, The Mavericks, Cowboy Junkies and many more. It’s been showcased in television and in films like Grease (1978) and Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” (1989).

The song has held its own in the 21st century as well. A rap version of “Blue Moon” plays during the opening credits of the abysmal film “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” (2002) with Eddie Murphy. Although this version copies The Marcels’, there’s a rap in the middle of the tune performed by Art Hodge and 40 Watt Hype, a one hit wonder whose career wasn’t helped much performing this song in a film considered to be one of the worst ever made.

The latest popular recording of “Blue Moon” occurred in 2011 when lead guitarist Noel Gallagher quit the group Oasis two years earlier, leaving the rest of the group, including his brother Liam, to continue the band without him. They renamed themselves Beady Eye and recorded “Blue Moon” as one of the tracks from their debut album. Their recording of the tune was meant as a tribute to Manchester City Football Club’s new 2011/2012 kit in England. It seems that Manchester City fans had been singing “Blue Moon” at matches for years during games, belting it out with gusto as if it were a heroic anthem. Gallagher sings it more like the Elvis recording.

“’Blue Moon’ is a top tune and has been City’s song for as long as I can remember. It’s been covered by loads of people but the only good one until now was the one Elvis did. I hope the fans buzz off our version and sing along to it at the stadium.” –Liam Gallagher

“Blue Moon” is one of those songs that will probably continue to be played, sung and remembered around the world for generations to come, largely because it has already been permanently woven into the pop culture fabric, with a helpful boost from Rock ‘n’ Roll.


MOTHER-IN-LAW – ERNIE K. DOE

Ernest Kador Jr.’s claim to rock ‘n’ roll history was this song, that made it to Number One for one week in the Billboard Pop on May 22, 1961. It’s a humorous look at the bane of every husband’s existence, the mother-in-law.

“Satan should be her name, to me they’re ‘bout the same. Every time I open my mouth, she steps in, tries to put me out, how could she stoop so low… mother in law…” Mother-in-Law –Ernie K. Doe

The comical demonization of the mother-in-law goes back to film and particularly television, when Fifties sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners used the idea of a visit from the mother-in-law as a fountain of comedic annoyance.

“Mother-In-Law” was written by Alan Toussaint, a legendary “behind the scenes” songwriter and record producer that wrote many hits in the Sixties and Seventies, including “I Like It Like That”, by the Beatles’ first copycat band the Dave Clark Five in 1965, “Working In The Coal Mine” (1966) recorded by Lee Dorsey and “Southern Nights” made popular by Glen Campbell in 1975. As producer, he worked with Dr. John on “Right Place, Wrong Time” (1973) and Patti Labelle on “Lady Marmalade” (1975). He played guitar in Paul McCartney’s “Venus & Mars” album that same year when the ex-Beatle produced his album in New Orleans, Toussaint’s hometown.

Toussaint was still touring at age 77 and was scheduled to play alongside old friend Paul Simon on December 8, 2015 at a benefit concert in New Orleans when he died of a heart attack in Madrid, Spain less than a month earlier, on November 10, following a performance that evening.

Like Toussaint, Kador was also born in New Orleans. In 1954, he changed his last name to the sound-alike moniker with an imaginary middle name “K.Doe” and became a member of the group the Blue Diamonds. A year later, he began to record solo albums, but it wouldn’t be until six years later that “Mother In Law” would become his one and only Number One Song.

It almost didn’t get recorded either. After take after unsuccessful take, writer Toussaint crumpled up the music and stormed out, giving up on the tune Doe was attempting to record. Fortunately, back-up singer Willie Hopper persuaded Doe to stay and try again, ultimately convincing him that it was a good song. Apparently, he was right.

 

TOSSIN’ & TURNIN’ – BOBBY LEWIS

“Tossin’ & Turnin” is one of those classic rock ‘n’ roll songs that define the genre. It can be found in probably every oldies compilation of that era, as it was also one of the biggest hits of all time in rock ‘n’ roll history. When it came out on April 24 1961, it climbed steadily but slowly for twelve weeks until it hit Number One in the Billboard chart on the Fourth of July. There it spent another seven weeks, one of only six songs released during the Sixties that stayed in that position for that length of time or longer. It was the soundtrack for the Spring and Summer of ’61. Billboard also named it the Number One song of that year, as well as the 27th biggest song of all time that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, having sold in excess of three million copies.

“Jumped outta bed, turned on the light, I pulled down the shade, went to the kitchen for a bite. Rolled up the shade, turned out the light, I jumped back into bed, it was the middle of the night.” Tossin’ & Turnin’ – Bobby Lewis

The artist who recorded the song, came upon it by happenstance. Bobby Lewis’ childhood was anything but normal. He was brought up in an orphanage in Indianapolis. By age six he was playing the piano. He moved to Detroit, Michigan and into a foster home at age 12, only to run away and back to Indianapolis two years later. There, he started working at carnivals. Soon, he took a gig singing with the Leo Hines Orchestra.

He went out on his own throughout the Fifties and did a lot of touring. He managed to cut a record called “Mumble Blues” and tour with big stars of the time like Jackie Wilson, making a name for himself at the same time. His career peak occurred in 1960 when he played at the Apollo in New York City. On the bill with him was a singer-songwriter named Ritchie Adams. Ritchie had written “Tossin’ & Turnin’” with another struggling singer/songwriter named Malou Rene. Adams was associated with a small, independent record label named Beltone. When Lewis went to visit the Beltone offices in Manhattan, they urged Lewis to record the song. Adams played guitar on the record.

Beltone put a Bobby Lewis album together quickly to ride on the coattails of “T&T’s” success. Lewis had one more Top Ten hit after that, also in 1961 and from that album, called “One Track Mind”, an unmemorable tune that climbed to Number Nine. After that, Bobby Lewis fell into obscurity. As of the writing of this in 2015, he is still alive and is 82 years old.

 

BARBARA ANN – THE REGENTS

The Regents were one of a shrinking handful of doo-wop groups touring in the late Fifties and early Sixties. One of its members, Fred Fassert, wrote “Barbara Ann” for his sister, Barbara Anne Fassert. They recorded it in 1958, but it wasn’t released for three years, until 1961, where it climbed to Number 13 on the Billboard Pop chart.

Its doo-wop style is more closely associated to the Fifties, so it remains a Fifties classic despite its 1961 release. What took it over the top however, was the Beach Boys’ remake of it. The Beach Boys recorded it four years later on September 23, 1965 for their “Beach Boys Party” album, where it was released as the lead single. The Beach Boys’ version made it to Number Two Billboard Pop.

Dean Torrance, half of the Beach Boys’ copycat band Jan & Dean, sang lead vocal along with Brian Wilson on this recording. They recorded it very loosely, and added party songs in the background to give it an overall “party animal” feel. The result is a great rock ‘n’ roll song.

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JOHNNY BURNETTE – MAURICE WILLIAMS AND THE ZODIACS – THE VENTURES – ROY ORBISON – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

By Robert Seoane

ONE HIT WONDERS

YOU’RE SIXTEEN – JOHNNY BURNETTE

“Well, you come on like a dream, peaches and cream, lips like strawberry wine, you’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine” You’re Sixteen – Johnny Burnette

“You’re Sixteen” is a rock ‘n’ roll classic written by two brothers known for composing Walt Disney songs. Richard and Robert Sherman began their career together in the early Fifties, They struggled to get heard until 1958 when they sold a song called “Tall Paul” to then-Mouseketeer of the TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club”, Annette Funicello. Annette was the most popular Mouseketeer on the show, particularly because she was the only pre-pubescent on the show sprouting boobs, much to the delight of fellow pre-pubescent male viewers.

The song was brought to the attention to the father of Mickey Mouse himself, Walt Disney. Disney wanted to develop Funicello as a star because of her popularity and was delighted to see the record climb into the Top Ten in 1958.

The doors opened up for the Sherman Brothers after the success of “Tall Paul”. Walt Disney started to hire them, but they were also able to write rock ‘n’ roll songs. In 1960, they sold one of their biggest hits, “You’re Sixteen” to rockabilly musician Johnny Burnette.

Johnny Burnette was a rockabilly musician who had a group with his brother Dorsey and a friend named Paul Burlison called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio. The group ultimately broke up but, just like the Sherman Brothers, the Dorsey Brothers also wrote songs that they peddled to the stars. Their first success at that arrived when they literally parked themselves in front of then mega pop star Ricky Nelson’s mansion and waited for him to come home so they could play him their songs. It worked. Nelson liked what he heard and wound up recording many of their songs. But it was a song written by another pair of brothers that would give Johnny Burnette a permanent footnote in rock ’n’ roll history.

You’re my baby, you’re my pet, we fell in love on the night we met, you touched my hand, my heart went pop, ooh, when we kissed, I could not stop.” You’re Sixteen – Johnny Burnette

It was the perfect song because it addressed the very market that listened to rock ‘n’ roll, the teenage girl and the teenage boy with a crush.

“You’re Sixteen” was Burnette’s seventh attempt at a hit single once he went solo. The record was released on October 8, 1960, and climbed to Number Eight on the Billboard Pop Chart and Number Three in the UK, earning him a gold record.

The authors of “YS”, Robert and Richard Sherman, went on to write classic movie songs for Walt Disney’s most acclaimed films of the Sixties and Seventies, including “Mary Poppins” (for which they won two Academy Awards), “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, “The Jungle Book”, “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Aristocats”. Johnny Burnette on the other hand, faded into obscurity, recording music that essentially went nowhere on the charts.

On August 14, 1964, Johnny Burnette drowned after his unlit fishing boat was struck in the middle of the night by a cabin cruiser that hadn’t seen it. He was 30 years old.

“You’re Sixteen” had a revival in the Seventies when George Lucas included the song on the soundtrack to his classic film, “American Graffiti” (1973). Ringo Starr also recorded it that year and took it to Number One in February of 1974. That’s Paul McCartney on that recording assisting with a vocal solo mixed with what sounds like a kazoo.

“You walked out of my dreams, into my car, now you’re my angel divine. You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.” “You’re Sixteen” – Ringo Starr

 

STAY – MAURICE WILLIAMS & THE ZODIACS

The doo-wop genre was still popular in 1960, even though it was destined to be fading into the mist of time within the next two years. When rock ‘n’ roll first exploded in 1956, doo-wop glommed itself onto the new musical movement and dominated the charts throughout much of the rest of the Fifties.

Maurice Williams is one of the earliest songwriters to blend doo-wop into rock ‘n’ roll when he wrote “Little Darlin’” in 1957. Although Williams recorded it with his group at the time, the Gladiolas, the single went nowhere. It was the version recorded by the Diamonds that cracked the Top Ten and made it up to Number Two that same year. Although it was the usual practice of the music industry at the time to have white musical artists record songs by African American talent, in this case, the Diamonds’ version is the better one, due largely to its production and arrangement in comparison to the Gladiolas’ version.

Williams and his band changed their name to the Zodiacs after coming across a car bearing that name. During a recording session of new releases, he dug up a song he wrote in 1953 at age 15. It was based on a time when he didn’t want a girl to go home one night. Maurice and the band never took the song seriously until a ten-year-old girl reacted to it positively when she heard their demo of the tune. The band’s producers played the demo to Al Silver of Herald Records, who wanted to re-record it with the group to improve the quality but also to replace the phrase “let’s have another smoke” to “have another dance”.

“Stay just a little bit longer… please, please tell me you’re going to… well, if your daddy don’t mind, and if your mommy don’t mind if we have another dance, yeah one more time…” Stay- Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs

The song’s instant appeal is what’s made it endure. Zodiac tenor Shane Gaston’s falsetto lifts the song to grand heights of melodic beauty. “Stay” is the shortest rock ‘n’ roll song ever to have reached the Number One Position on the Billboard Pop chart, clocking in just under two minutes. It stayed at Number One during the week of November 21, 1960, just two weeks after the United States had elected John F. Kennedy to the Presidency.

“Stay” was remade several times. It was one of the Hollies’ first singles, released in the UK in December of ’63 and was also redone by the Four Seasons and the Dave Clark Five the following year. A different version of “Stay” was recorded in 1977 by Jackson Browne when he closed his classic album “Running On Empty” with a live medley that started with Browne’s own “The Load Out” and segued into “Stay”, turning the song into a long farewell.

“Now the promoter don’t mind, and the roadies don’t mind, if we take a little time and we leave it all behind and sing one more song…” Stay – Jackson Browne

Aside from other covers by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper up to its latest recorded incarnation by Dreamhaus in 2014, it was also showcased in 1987’s” Dirty Dancing”, giving it a new boost on its popularity at the time.

 

WALK, DON’T RUN – THE VENTURES

The future of guitar based rock ‘n’ roll groups was in its infancy still, particularly after the death of Buddy Holly the year before. The Ventures was an instrumental rock ‘n’ roll guitar group who recorded one of the most familiar guitar licks in rock ‘n’ roll history, originally written by Jazz guitarist Johnny Smith In 1954. This guitar lick felt indicative of its time, besides happening to also be catchy as hell.

The Ventures certainly were successful, still holding the record today in 2015 as the best-selling instrumental band of all time, with over 100 million records sold. Their guitar twang was so distinctive of many rock songs that were yet to be written, that the Ventures has earned the nickname “The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands”. Curiously, they’re still revered in Japan, where they continue to perform regularly.

“Walk, Don’t Run” is essentially a contrafact, which is a jazz term that means laying an original melody on a familiar harmonic structure. In this case, the harmonic structure was that of a jazz standard called “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise”, a composition written by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II and recorded by many of the jazz greats of the 20th century. Upon listening to the two compositions one after the other, you can pick up the sound of that structure, yet still, the melodies of the two songs are really nothing alike.

The Ventures heard the Chet Atkins’ version of “Walk, Don’t Run”, released on his “Hi-Fi In Focus” (1957) album, and they knew they could turn that composition into a killer rock ‘n’ roll instrumental. And so they did. The resulting sound emanating from The Ventures’ electric guitars sounded so perfect and tailor made for those souped up musical instruments, that it practically weaponized the melody, thereby turning it into a rock ‘n’ roll classic overnight, as well as a springboard to literally thousands of rock ‘n’ roll songs to follow.

 

ROY ORBISON

“(Roy Orbison was) …a timid, shy kid who seemed to be rather befuddled by the whole music scene. I remember the way he sang then — softly, prettily but almost bashfully, as if someone might be disturbed by his efforts and reprimand him. – Boudleaux Bryant, songwriter; “Bye Bye Love”

Roy Kelton Orbison was a gentleman. Besides having an amazing voice, he was rock ‘n’ roll’s nicest guy, a true Southern gentleman in every sense of the word. He was never known to curse. When recording with the Traveling Wilburys in 1988 after repeatedly flubbing a lyric, the worst obscenity he could muster was “mercy”.

What set Roy Orbison apart from the rest of his rock ‘n’ roll peers was his vocal range. He could go from baritone to tenor, with musical scholars suggesting that he had up to a three- or four-octave range. His songs, unlike the rock ‘n’ rollers of the day, weren’t as much testosterone-laden screamfests as much as they were operatic vulnerability. His nicknames, “The Big O” and “The Caruso of Rock” didn’t really encompass his overall talents as a guitarist and songwriter. But his legacy loomed large, so much so that he became good friends with all the Beatles during their mutual 1964 tour and 14 years later, joined George Harrison in their 1988 supergroup with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne called The Travelling Wilburys.

Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas to two hard working parents who struggled mightily to put food on their table during the Great Depression. Although little Roy wanted a harmonica, his father, Orbie Lee Orbison, gave him a guitar when he was only six years old because he saw in his son a burgeoning musical talent. Little Roy learned quickly, picking up the classic country standards like “You Are My Sunshine”. He sang it to his parents’ friends during social gatherings at night so he could hang with the adults and not go to bed early.

Orbison’s biggest musical influence was country music. Within a few years, he was entering and winning amateur musical contests. By 1951, when the family moved to Wink, Texas, young Roy formed his own country band called the Wink Westerners. The WW’s were musically ambitious, and integrated big band music with their country fare, including classic Big Band standards such as Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” into their repertoire to great success. By the end of 1954, the Wink Westerners had become a proper band with steady gigs, even though Roy was still in high school.

It all changed for Roy Orbison, like so many other musical legends of the rock ‘n’ roll era before him, when he saw Elvis for the first time on stage in 1955. Soon after, the Wink Westerners had their own local thirty-minute TV show every Saturday at 4:30 PM on KOSA-TV in Odessa, Texas. Two of their guests on one show were none other than Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Cash and Orbison became friendly and suggested to the young kid to go see Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records and the man who discovered Presley and Cash along with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. among others. When Orbison contacted Phillips however, he was met with some disappointment.

“Johnny Cash doesn’t run my record company.” – Sam Phillips

Orbison and his fellow band mates decided to change the band’s name to “The Teen Kings” after seeing Elvis. It was their new direction towards playing rock ‘n’ roll music and away from country music standards.

OOBY DOOBY – ROY ORBISON AND THE TEEN KINGS

Local entrepreneur Weldon Rogers approached Roy to record him and his group for Rogers’ new record label Je-Wel, owned with Chester “C.C.” Oliver. Roy had two friends, Dick Penner and Wade Moore, who had written a song called “Ooby Dooby”. On March 4, 1956, Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings recorded this composition as well as the Clovers’ “Trying To Get To You” and released them as their first single on March 19.

Roy took a copy of the record that very first day to a well-known record dealer in Odessa he knew called Cecil “Poppa” Hollifield. Poppa liked the song and took it from him. A few days later he phoned Roy to tell him that he had played the song to his associate Sam Phillips and Sam indicated that he wanted The Teen Kings to come to Memphis and record for Sun Records.

On March 26, 1956, Orbison and the group arrived at Sun Records and recorded a handful of songs, including a new version of “Ooby Dooby”. “Ooby Dooby” is a by-the-numbers typical rock ‘n’ roll song. Phillips was a demanding sort and made many retakes until he was satisfied, much to Orbison’s annoyance.

“Ooby Dooby” made it to Number 59 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the summer of 1956. Roy and his group had soon acquired a manager and was booked on a short tour of movie drive-ins around the South where they played before the feature attraction.

TRYING TO GET TO YOU – ROY ORBISON/ELVIS PRESLEY

When listening to both versions of this song back to back, you realize the supremacy of Elvis Presley’s voice. Roy Orbison was still years away from reaching his creative peak, but Elvis had it on the first song he recorded.

ROY:

ELVIS:

“Trying To Get To You” was Ooby Dooby’s b-side, which was re-recorded at Sun Records under the direction of Sam Phillips. The following single didn’t chart however and Roy started to try his hand at songwriting. By the end of 1956, the Teen Kings will have broken up, leaving Orbison to stay in Memphis to launch his career as a solo artist. Just turned 21, Roy asked his 16-year-old girlfriend, Claudette Frady, to stay with him in Memphis. Her parents agreed under the condition that she have her own bedroom while they stayed together. I’m sure that worked out real well.

CLAUDETTE – THE EVERLY BROTHERS


Roy and Claudette Frady Orbison

Roy Orbison married Claudette Frady the following year in 1957. A beautiful girl, nobody believed that a shy, average-looking “Joe” like Roy could land such a woman. One of the first songs he ever wrote was a rockabilly love song named after his wife.

Roy left Sun Records in 1958. He spent eight months not recording for Sun prior to his leaving the label, and started to explore his songwriting abilities. His songwriting partner appeared to him one day when Joe Melson, an acquaintance of Orbison’s, tapped on his car window. Soon, Orbison and Melson began to write music together.

As Orbison’s reputation grew with Melson’s contribution as co-songwriter, they began to work for Acuff-Rose, a songwriting firm that focused on selling country music to recording artists. They were able to sell Orbison’s song “Claudette” to one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll acts of the time, The Everly Brothers. It was released as the b-side to the Brothers’ classic “All I Have to Do Is Dream” in the Spring of 1958. The A-Side made it to Billboard’s Hot 100 Top spot for three weeks and “Claudette” managed to get to Number 30. Orbison continued to churn out compositions for Acuff-Rose and was able to sell them to the likes of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rick Nelson.

Orbison’s own recordings weren’t faring too well during the Fifties. None of the other three released singles from Sun charted. Wesley Rose of the songwriting firm Roy worked for introduced Orbison to Fred Foster, a record producer who had just opened his own label called Monument Records. It was Fred Foster who would mold the Roy Orbison sound and simultaneously invent the rock ballad genre with him.

Roy Orbison’s his first three singles with them also went nowhere fast. His fourth single, “Uptown” finally managed to crack the Hot 100 at Number 72, which was interesting because the recording employed strings, as Orbison preferred, instead of the usual fiddle instrumentation that Nashville was used to.

It wasn’t until the dawn of the new decade when Roy Orbison finally recorded his first classic and shot up to the top echelons of rock ‘n’ roll.

ONLY THE LONELY – ROY ORBISON

“I liked the sound of [my voice]. I liked making it sing, making the voice ring, and I just kept doing it. And I think that somewhere between the time of ‘Ooby Dooby’ and ‘Only the Lonely’, it kind of turned into a good voice.” Roy Orbison

“Only The Lonely” was the first hit that came out of the songwriting collaboration between Roy Orbison and Joe Melson. It’s in this song where Roy Orbison first displays his incredibly unique vocal talent, a talent that immediately set him apart from all the other rock ‘n’ roll stars of the day. The composition was originally given to Elvis Presley to refuse, and when he did, Orbison and his producer went to work. Fred Foster’s production quality with its spare guitar, delicate piano and steady drum beat guiding it, sounds good still today, but it’s Orbison’s ability to reach those high notes that tug at your heartstrings, with background vocals that softly sing nonsense with a sweet, melancholy air. Orbison’s recording engineer Bill Porter tried a new approach to the recording and close-miked the background vocals, leaving them front and center with Orbison’s lead while the suave instrumentation faded into the background. It worked.

“Only the lonely (Dum dum dum, dumby doo wah) Know the way I feel tonight
(Ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah) Only the lonely (Dum dum dum, dumby doo wah)
Know this feeling ain’t right (Dum dum dum, dumby doo wah)” Only the Lonely – Roy Orbison

The song’s operatic style was unheard of for rock ‘n’ roll in 1960. Only Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never” released the same year rivaled it. But “Only The Lonely’s” laid-back rockabilly style and Orbison’s voice marks it as a milestone for being the first rock ballad ever recorded. The most operatic point of the song, when Orbison’s voice reaches a high point that delivers the hopeful hurt of the lyrics, comes in towards the last thirty seconds.

“Maybe tomorrow, a new romance, no more sorrow but that’s the chance, you’ve got to take, if your lonely heart breaks, only the lonely…” Only The Lonely – Roy Orbison

“Only The Lonely” shot up to Number Two in The Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in the late Spring of 1960 and also entered Billboard’s R&B chart at Number 14, a feat that only a handful of rock ‘n’ roll artists have accomplished, Elvis Presley being the first to do it. It did manage to hit Number One across the pond in the United Kingdom in October of 1960 where it stayed there for two weeks.

Bruce Springsteen pays tribute to Orbison in the lyrics of his 1975 classic, “Thunder Road”.

“The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways, like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays Roy Orbison singin’ for the lonely, hey that’s me and I want you only, don’t turn me home again I just can’t face myself alone again…” Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen

Orbison’s next two singles after “…Lonely” were less successful, probably because they mimicked the “OTL” style with similar operatic highs and lows and a different set of nonsense lyrics for the background vocals. It wouldn’t be until the following year, in the Spring of 1961, when Orbison would have his first Number One song. He continued to experiment with other rhythms and styles in his music but there was one constant: Orbison sang of longing and emotional pain.

RUNNING SCARED/LOVE HURTS – ROY ORBISON

“Running Scared” was Roy Orbison’s first Number One and the first of a steady string of Top Forty hits through 1964. He turned rock ‘n’ roll on its nose by using Ravel’s “Bolero” as the rhythm for his song, written by him and songwriting partner Melson. The song had no chorus. It slowly builds and centers around Orbison’s vocal abilities as his voice rises with the drama of the song, cementing his place as the pioneer in operatic ballads. From then on, Orbison’s compositions with Melson were to continue to be innovative compositions with a style that didn’t exist until they developed it.

“Just runnin’ scared, feelin’ low, runnin’ scared, you love him so, just runnin’ scared, afraid to lose, if he came back which one would you choose?” Running Scared – Roy Orbison

Orbison had trouble with the final high note of the song. Normally a soft-voiced singer, he was forced to deliver the ending louder than the booming orchestra behind him. He abandoned the attempt to end the song in a falsetto and delivered the ending in A instead, stunning those in the studio so much that even the orchestra stopped playing.

“Some fools dream of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness, some fools, fool themselves I guess but they’re not fooling me, I know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true, love is just a lie, made to make you blue, love hurts…” Love Hurts – Roy Orbison

Its b-side “Love Hurts” was written by Boudleaux Bryant and first recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1960. Roy Orbison’s version was released as a single in 1961. The song gained an entirely new popularity when it was recorded in 1975 by one hit wonder Nazareth, who took it to Number Eight in the Billboard charts. Nazareth’s was clearly the better version of the composition.

CRYING – ROY ORBISON

“(‘Crying’ is) …a rock bolero [with] blaring strings, hammered tympani, a ghostly chorus, the gentle strum of a guitar, [and] a hint of marimba.” –Rock critic Dave Marsh

“Crying” is easily one of the most beautiful and heartfelt rock ballads ever recorded. Orbison’s voice makes you feel the pain of the protagonist’s love with his soft, plaintive singing that steadily rises as the instrumentation builds and surrounds Orbison’s powerful final delivery until the entire song comes to a sudden halt with an echo that seals the experience forever in your heart.

“I was all right for a while, I could smile for a while, but I saw you last night, you held my hand so tight as you stopped to say hello, aww you wished me well, you couldn’t tell that I’d been cry-i-i-i-ng over you, cry-i-i-i-ng over you…” Crying – Roy Orbison

By now, Orbison and Melson were learning how to write tunes that would showcase Roy’s voice, and Fred Foster’s production had quickly become formula, while still allowing Orbison to push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll by continuing to record singles that were essentially mini-arias. “Crying” was released in the summer of 1961 and climbed to Number Two in the Billboard Hot 100 in October. Billboard Magazine listed “Crying” as the Number Four song of 1961.

In 1987, Orbison re-recorded “Crying” with k.d. lang for a motion picture titled “Hiding Out”. Its resulting music video captures a pair of well-matched singers delivering a beautiful song soulfully.

DREAM BABY – ROY ORBISON

Orbison returns to his rockabilly roots with “Dream Baby”. Although the musical style changed, its theme was along the same vein that ran through all his songs, the theme of unrequited love. A catchy classic, it made it to Number Four on Billboard’s Pop chart in 1962 and expanded his repertoire to remind fans that, despite his operatic style, he was still a rock ‘n’ roller at heart.

“I love you and I’m dreaming of you but that won’t do, dream baby, make me stop my dreamin’, you can make my dreams come true… sweet dream baby, how long must I dream…” Dream Baby – Roy Orbison

Orbison went through a few important milestones in his life in 1962 as he enjoyed the peak of his success. His second son was born that year. At the same time, his songwriting relationship with Joe Melson was beginning to deteriorate, primarily due to Melson’s chomping-at-the-bit desire to carve out a solo career of his own. Orbison toured Australia in 1962 as well. An Australian DJ introduced Orbison onstage calling him “The Big O”, referring to not only his last name but his grandiose musical finales. The nickname stuck for the rest of his career.

IN DREAMS – ROY ORBISON

“When you were trying to make a girl fall in love with you, it took roses, the Ferris wheel, and Roy Orbison.” -Tom Waits

By 1963, Roy Orbison was an international success. He released seven more singles after “Dream Baby”, five of them which entered the Top Forty and one, “In Dreams” that made it to Number Seven in Billboard’s Pop chart in February of 1963.

“In Dreams” would prove to be Orbison’s most personally important song because its success gave him an opportunity to tour England. Wesley Rose accepted an invitation for Roy to tour throughout the UK in 1963 with a then-unknown group who had suddenly become very popular across the pond called The Beatles. Orbison accepted the invitation and when he arrived in England, was stunned to see how popular this British group was. Once backstage, Orbison rhetorically asked, “What’s a Beatle, anyway?” John Lennon, who happened to be standing behind him, tapped his shoulder and said, “I am.”

Orbison and The Beatles got along extremely well, particularly with George Harrison, particularly because they greatly admired the southern gentleman’s musical abilities. Roy Orbison was so popular back then that, on the first night on the sold out tour, he had to perform fourteen encores before the Beatles were even allowed on stage. The four marveled at how Orbison could elicit such thunderous applause without having budged an inch on stage since he went on. Later that year he would go on to tour Australia with the Beach Boys and the still unknown Rolling Stones.

While the international acclaim turned him into a pop sensation, his marriage suffered. His wife Claudette had stayed behind in the tour through the UK and as a result had an affair with the contractor who built their home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Orbison remedied that soon enough by bringing her along for the rest of the tour.

It was also at about this time that Roy Orbison began to develop his own look. His style continued the tradition of Buddy Holly’s bespectacled hipness with thick corrective glasses that can only be labeled today as “geek chic”. This helped him to come out from the dark as his physical presence wasn’t anywhere to be seen in music pop fan magazines or even on his own singles. Besides the fact that Roy Orbison was not particularly photogenic, his shyness and the fact that he had no publicist, kept him away from the limelight. Then one night while on tour, Roy forgot his thick, black-rimmed glasses on an airplane and was forced to wear his prescription sunglasses onstage instead. Orbison liked wearing the sunglasses because it shaded him from the glaring lights and hid his shyness from the audience as well. At the same time, it gave him a persona in the sense that his nerdiness fit the woes of his music as the lonely outsider who nobody loves. His penchant for wearing sunglasses on stage made some people mistake him for blind. Soon, he also began to wear dark clothing onstage. This, along with his songs of desperation gave him a mysterious edge that ultimately became his image.

In 1986, “In Dreams” was included in the soundtrack of David Lynch’s macabre film “Blue Velvet”. In the movie, the song is lip-synced by actor Dean Stockwell as he holds a light shaped like a microphone to his face, giving him a sick glow that’s accentuated by the song’s surreal orchestral feel. The song’s inclusion in the film reignited Orbison’s career. He re-released “In Dreams’ in 1987. A few months later, old friend George Harrison asked Roy if he would like to become a member of a little group George was forming with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne called The Traveling Wilburys.

MEAN WOMAN BLUES/BLUE BAYOU – ROY ORBISON

“Mean Woman Blues” is a rock ‘n’ roll classic written by Claude Demetrius and first recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957 for his film, “Loving You”. It was also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and appeared on the flipside of his 1957 “Great Balls Of Fire”. Orbison delivers it well, in his own style, which is very much unlike the aforementioned two. Besides the fact that Orbison may have just wanted to record it, his ballads were becoming his standard fare. “Mean Woman Blues” did manage to make it all the way to Number Five in the summer of 1963, but the real gem was on the flipside.

“Blue Bayou” only made it to Number 29 in 1963, but its lack of popularity has nothing to do with its beauty. Soft and plaintive, he sang of a longing that only he could convey with his voice so well. “Blue Bayou” was the final songwriting collaboration between Roy Orbison and Joe Melson. Melson left for a solo career that would ultimately prove disappointing.

“I’m going back someday, come what may to blue bayou, where the folks are fun and the world is mine on blue bayou, where those fishing boats with their sails afloat if I could only see that familiar sunrise through sleepy eyes, how happy I’d be.” Blue Bayou – Roy Orbison

Linda Ronstadt remade the song and released it in 1977, where it climbed to Number Three in the Billboard Hot 100. It would become her signature song..

PRETTY PAPER – ROY ORBISON

Pretty Paper was a song written by Willie Nelson and recorded by Roy Orbison in 1963 as a Christmas release. Nelson had been signed to the same record label as Orbison in 1963, Monument Records. When he played his song to Fred Foster, Foster immediately thought of Roy. The song, about a street vendor who sold pencils and paper for the holidays, came about after Willie saw an actual vendor whose legs had been amputated, hawking the same wares as the song to the passers-by, continually repeating ‘pretty paper’. In 2013, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram identified the inspiration for that song to be a man by the name of Frank Brierton.

Orbison’s version of the song made it to Number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Willie Nelson recorded his own version a year later.

IT’S OVER – ROY ORBISON

Roy Orbison released his umpteenth rock ballad in the Spring of 1964 with “It’s Over”, written by Roy Orbison and his new songwriting partner, Rick Dees. Although it reached Number Nine on the Billboard Pop chart, it was not a good song, certainly not matching up with the classics he had already recorded. Still, he knew his formula and he had developed a niche in the rock ‘n’ roll legend with his operatic style, a style that would grow into the legendary ballads of rock from Led Zeppelin to the heavy metal hair bands of the 80s and their pumped-up power ballads.

OH, PRETTY WOMAN – ROY ORBISON

Despite a not very large portfolio of work, Roy Orbison’s early music has been covered by other artists to great success, sometimes to even greater success than the originals. Soit’s no wonder that Orbison’s biggest hit by far was also the breakout hit of a legendary rock band.

As legend has it, Orbison and Dees were working on a song together when Orbison’s wife Claudette walked in to announce that she was driving over to Nashville to do some shopping. Rpy asked her if she had enough money, to which Dees responded:

“Pretty woman never needs any money.”

The phrase ‘pretty woman’ stuck, and it happened to fit lyrically into a wicked little guitar lick they were developing. In less than an hour, “Oh, Pretty Woman” was recorded. The song made it to Number One in the August of 1964 for three weeks, in the midst of Beatlemania where every other tune on the radio was by a British band. In fact, Roy Orbison was the only American artist to have a Number One song during twenty-two month period from August 1963 through June 1964, not once but twice, with “It’s Over” and “Oh, Pretty Woman”.

“Pretty woman, walkin’ down the street, pretty woman the kind I like to meet, pretty woman… I don’t believe you, you’re not the truth, no one could look as good as you… mercy…” “Oh, Pretty Woman” – Roy Orbison

The word mercy in the song was a nod to Roy’s everyday way of speaking, as it was the worst curse word he ever uttered. The ad-libbed growl in the recording was taken from recalling a Bob Hope movie where he had heard the comic do it. But the driving source of the song and the thing that makes it such a great fucking record is, quite simply, the guitar lick.

The song got a massive rejuvenating jolt in 1982 with Van Halen’s version from their “Diver Down” album. Although their version just missed the Top Ten at Number 12, it cemented the reputation of the group, showcasing Eddie Van Halen’s incredible guitar, a sound that hadn’t been heard since Hendrix at the time, brother Alex Van Halen’s incessant spot-on drumming and David Lee Roth’s charmingly abrasive personality. The music video for Van Halen’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” was one of the first music videos to get airplay on the one-year-old MTV. It was a very cheaply made looking video involving a tied up woman and two dwarves, and the fledgling music television channel played it incessantly as it was only just a few of the music videos available at the time.

Orbison’s song was further cemented into global pop culture in 1990 with the release of the mutli-million dollar box office comedy “Pretty Woman” with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Orbison’s song was showcased in the film as its centerpiece as well as title. Directed by Garry Marshall of “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley”, “Pretty Woman” is one of the most financially successful romantic comedies of all time, having made up to $463 million.

DIFFICULT YEARS

Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” sold seven million records and would be not only the biggest hit of Orbison’s career but also his last. Just like that, none of his singles would ever make it to the top again, with his highest charting single not even able to crack the Top Twenty just a year later.

Personal misfortune dogged Orbison throughout the Sixties. He and Claudette divorced in 1964 due to her infidelity, only to remarry a few months later. However, on June 6, 1966, Claudette Orbison was killed in a motorcycle accident as she and Roy were riding back home in Bristol, Tennessee. It was a devastating blow to have lost his beautiful wife at only twenty-four years of age. Then, two years later in 1968, his home in Hendersonville burned down while he was on tour. His two eldest sons, aged ten and six, perished in the fire. Only his three-year-old survived after Orbison’s parents managed to take the infant out of the house.

32-year-old Orbison remarried on March 25, 1969, to another beautiful young German girl, 18-year-old Barbara Jakobs. They remained married the rest of his life and they had two children together.

Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, Orbison dedicated himself to touring and releasing unsuccessful recordings. On January 18, 1978, 42-year-old Roy Orbison underwent open heart surgery due to years of heavy smoking. After his recovery, his career seemed to come full circle by collaborating with current artists of the day. He was invited to play “Hotel California” onstage one night with the Eagles in 1980. Later that same year, he recorded the unmemorable “That Loving You Feeling Again” with Emmylou Harris. Despite its mediocrity and the poor showing on the charts, “That Loving You Feeling Again” went on to win a Grammy in 1981. Other than those two instances, Orbison’s career remained under the radar until the release of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet”.

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THE TWIST – HANK BALLARD & THE MIDNIGHTERS – CHUBBY CHECKER – JOEY DEE & THE STARLITERS – THE BEAT GENERATION – THE BEATNIK – FROM JOHNNY AND THE MOONDOGS TO THE BEATLES – FOLK MUSIC – THE KINGSTON TRIO – JOAN BAEZ

 

THE TWIST

“Come on baby, let’s do the twist, come on baby, let’s do the twist, take me by my little hand and go like this…” “The Twist” – Chubby Checker

It was the first touchless dance, the perfect move for the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era. All you had to do was shake. It didn’t matter what rock ‘n’ roll song was playing as long as it had a rhythm. You swiveled your hips back and forth, twisting your body at the waist while moving your arms left to right to the beat. You didn’t hold your partner or even take their hand, a concept that was unheard of in 1960. You just… twisted.

The Twist served in defining as well as bridging the Generation Gap, a gap that had been developing ever since Elvis swiveled his hips, by creating the first worldwide dance craze of the rock ‘n’ roll era. Parents shook their heads at the new dance style… then tried it out for themselves. It transcended age, spread around the world, and inspired future dances through the Sixties like the Frug, the Watusi, the Jerk, the Mashed Potato, the Swim, the Monkey and the Funky Chicken. The Twist is the granddaddy of them all, the dance craze responsible for literally shaking up civilized society.

 

HANK BALLARD & THE MIDNIGHTERS

John Henry Kendricks wrote and recorded “The Twist”, releasing it in 1959 as a B-side under his stage name Hank Ballard with his group the Midnighters. The Midnighters had choreographed a move they considered suitable for the song for their live performances, but it was a stylized dance, much like grooving to the music instead of dancing. Soon, the song became the high point of their show and their choreography morphed into the dance that shook the world.

“The dance was not originated by the Midnighters. The twist dance was originated by some women out there in the audience… so we just picked that up. The dance was created really by the people.” Lawson Smith – The Midnighters

The concept of the song came about during the time when Ballard, along with Midnighters’ guitarist Cal Green and the rest of the group, toured with gospel groups. One particular gospel member, Brother Joe Wallace of The Sensational Nightingales, explained to them the idea for the song. Because of its suggestiveness, Wallace couldn’t very well introduce it into the world of gospel music, so he passed the idea on to them. This got Ballad and Green to thinking. Having already written a song together called “Is Your Love For Real”, they decided to drop the lyrics and re-write new ones about the dance Wallace had described.

“My Daddy is sleepin’ and Mama ain’t around, yeah Daddy’s just sleepin’ and Mama ain’t around, we’re gonna twistin’, twistin’, twistin’, ’til we tear the house down…” – The Twist – Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

Ballard’s original version of The Twist only made it to Number 16 on Billboard’s R&B chart and Number 28 Pop in 1959. It was then quickly forgotten until Dick Clark heard it. Clark was the host of “American Bandstand”, the only rock ‘n’ roll variety show on TV at the time. Much speculation came about as to why Clark didn’t showcase Hank Ballard and the Midnighters on his show.

“He didn’t want to use the Hank Ballard record because he didn’t have control of (the song). He also felt Hank was too black. With Chubby, he had much lighter skin. He had the boy-next-door look. He was just a teenager.” Jim Dawson; “The Twist: The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the World, (1995).

Another reason given for HB&TM to have been overlooked by Clark was simply because Clark wasn’t able to book the group due to scheduling conflicts, although some members of the Midnighters’ say Clark just didn’t bother with them.

“He (Dick Clark) refused to let us be on his show… and he started promoting Chubby Checker.” -Lawson Smith, The Midnighters

“History was made the day Chubby Checker went on Bandstand with ‘The Twist’… and it was all because of Dick Clark.” – Ernest Evans aka Chubby Checker

 

CHUBBY CHECKER

Ernest Evans was a gifted singer and dancer. When he was eight years old, he sang on the street corners of South Philadelphia with a harmony group. As a teenager, he’d entertain the customers of the markets he worked for with his imitations of the rock ‘n’ roll artists of the day, including his personal favorite, Fats Domino. His boss at the Produce Market nicknamed him Chubby due to his portly countenance, and his other boss, Henry Colt at the Fresh Farm Poultry store, was impressed enough to talk to a connection about having Chubby meet Dick Clark.

“I was 16 years old when I first met Dick. It was about two years before we did ’The Twist.’ I was in the studio with him. He was doing a Christmas project, and I was at the piano doing a Fats Domino impression.” – Ernest Evans aka Chubby Checker

Dick Clark’s wife Barbara attended the recording and after listening to him, Barbara asked him his name.

“Well, my friends call me Chubby.” Evans said.

“As in Checker?” she asked jokingly, and inadvertently gave Evans his stage name: Chubby Checker as a ‘twist’ on Fats Domino.

It was Clark’s decision to have Chubby record the Twist, primarily due to his voice, which was similar to Ballard’s, so much so that when Hank Ballard first heard Checker’s version on the radio, he thought it was his own recording. Clark also genuinely liked Chubby, having had him appear on “AB” once before to perform his debut single, a novelty hit called “The Class”, so Clark offered Checker the opportunity to record ‘The Twist” as his second single. Checker danced the Twist like he invented it, and thanks to the power of television, Chubby Checker was the symbol for the dance and its instructor as well, teaching the world how to move, forever identifying himself with it, and turning the song into a worldwide smash.

On July 18, 1960, Chubby Checker introduced his version of the Twist at the Rainbow Club in Wildwood, New Jersey. Three weeks later on August 6, he made his worldwide television debut on “American Bandstand” and the dance craze that would kick off a tsunami of dance crazes was born.

The single was a certified smash hit. It made it to Number One on September 19, 1960 and stayed there for one week. But that wasn’t the end of the Twist once it fell off the top position. It only became more popular as the months wore on, becoming ubiquitous worldwide, heard regularly on the radio, in clubs, even in conversation, as a thing of shock and fun. Soon, it spread from the teen market to the parents, and not just in America but all over global civilized society, right on up to the elite, sophisticated class that included the celebrities of the day, who were delighted by the Twist as much as everyone else. The Twist had broken through barriers, just like Elvis.

LET’S TWIST AGAIN – CHUBBY CHECKER

Chubby Checker was compelled to record other Twist songs and released his second biggest hit after the original, called “Let’s Twist Again”, the following year in the summer of 1961. The song was as good as the original that spawned it. It reached Number Two in the UK and Number Eight in the US Pop and won a Grammy for Best Rock & Roll Recording in 1962.

“Come on, let’s twist again like we did last summer, yeah, let’s twist again like we did last year, do you remember when things were really hummin’? Yeah, let’s twist again, twistin’ time is here…” Let’s Twist Again – Chubby Checker

The growing momentum since Chubby Checker’s release of “The Twist” and the glut of Twist songs flooding the market convinced the record company to release the original song once again, sixteen months after its debut, on January 13, 1962, where it made it to Number One a second time, this time for two weeks. As of this writing, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker still holds the record for being the only single to be released twice and to hit Number One both times, except for Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” released twenty years earlier.

 

THE PEPPERMINT TWIST – JOEY DEE & THE STARLITERS

After Checker’s “Twist” in ’62 dropped from the Number One position, the need to fill the void of another Twist song was immediately fulfilled by Joey Dee and the Starliters when “The Peppermint Twist” replaced Checker’s “Twist” at the Number One Pop position on January 27, staying there for three weeks.

The name of the song was due to the fact that Joey Dee and the Starliters was the house band for the Peppermint Lounge, located on 128 West 45th Street in New York City. They already had a few minor hits since 1958, so they were originally booked to just do a weekend gig. That first night however, two celebrities of the day, actress Merle Oberon and Prince Serge Oblinski, were spotted by the press and written about in the next morning’s paper. The Peppermint Lounge became the hottest ticket, literally overnight. Lines were snaking around the block and celebrities such as John Wayne, Judy Garland, Nat “King” Cole, Shirley MacLaine, Liberace, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and even First Lady Jackie Kennedy made an appearance, cementing the Starliters’ stay at the club.

The Peppermint Lounge was also one of the pioneering nightclubs that employed go-go girls, dancers in simulated outfits and exotic situations, often wearing next to nothing and found in cages or dance pods around the club. A year into the group’s stay, Joey Dee wrote “The Peppermint Twist” with producer Henry Glover. The song ultimately sold a million copies.

TWISTING THE NIGHT AWAY – SAM COOKE

Sam Cooke saw the value in the popularity of the Twist so he wrote and recorded “Twisting The Night Away” on December 18, 1961 and released it while Chubby Checker’s “Twist” was reigning over the chart the second time around on January 9, 1962.

TWIST AND SHOUT

“Twist and Shout” was written in 1961 by Phil Medley (not Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers) and Bert Barnes (later credited as Bert Russell). It was originally called “Shake It Up, Baby”, and it was given to young up and coming record producer Phil Spector to record with a group called the Topnotes. Russell felt Spector ruined the song with his over the top production style so he gave it to the Isley Brothers to re-record it the way he heard it in his head.

The song’s title was changed to “Twist & Shout”, probably to jump on the dance craze bandwagon. It became the Isley Brothers’ first hit since ‘Shout’ in 1959, cracking the Top 20 at Number 17 on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Two on the R&B chart during the summer of 1962.

Several months later, on February 11, 1963, the Beatles recorded “Twist & Shout” as the last cut on their debut album “Please Please Me”. It had been a long recording session. The young group had laid down all eleven songs that were to be on the album over one ten hour night. John Lennon’s voice was hoarse by the time they got around to “Twist & Shout”, the last recording of the night, and his hoarseness is clearly heard on the recording, making it so much more of a rocker than the Isley Brothers’ version. ”Twist & Shout” is probably the Beatles’ biggest hit that wasn’t written by them, and a curious connection between the most influential band of the rock era and the most influential dance. Both broke barriers and both swung open the doors to a world of change for a world on the cusp of a social revolution.

On November 4th, 1963, The Beatles played the Royal Command Performance in London, England with the Queen and the entire Royal Family in attendance. Their last song was “Twist & Shout” and John Lennon introduced it with a now famous quote that made fun of the royalty in attendance.

“For our last number I’d like to ask your help. The people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.” – John Lennon

The Twist became the standard Sixties dance even after the Beatles came to American shores and a slew of dances followed. The “touchless” dance style would reign for the rest of the decade and wouldn’t be replaced by anything radically different until the disco craze of the Seventies.

 

THE BEAT

There have only been a handful of words and phrases that have encompassed the vastness of rock ‘n’ roll. The phrase “rollin’ stone” for example, has been around since Muddy Waters first recorded the classic blues song in 1950, then carried on in spirit a dozen years later when member British musician Brian Jones spotted the Muddy Waters record on the floor and quickly named his band “The Rollin’ Stones” when asked their name over the phone. The term was also used in Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rollin’ Stone” (1965), quite possibly one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written, and in the Temptations’ groundbreaking soul classic “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone” (1972). It even wound up being the banner of “Rolling Stone”, a prestigious rock ‘n’ roll magazine that’s been around since 1967 and is still going strong today. The term’s actual meaning of a rambler who never settles down is a large part of the rock ‘n’ roller’s romanticized image.

But there is also a word that has become equally synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, and it has roots in the Forties, born from a group of eccentric bohemian writers that literally laid down the blueprint for the sexual, social and cultural revolution of the Sixties. The word is, quite simply, also what the music is essentially comprised of: a beat.

 

THE BEAT GENERATION

The Beat Generation were a group of authors who published books during the 1950s that subversively shaped the culture of post World War II American society with precepts that became an integral part of the rock ‘n’ roll spirit; the quest for spirituality, the rejection of materialism, sexual orientation and experimentation and the use of psychedelic drugs.

These precepts were drawn from the esoteric books and magazine articles written by these eccentric few and went on to inspire a powerful cultural revolution that would spawn the Beatnik by 1960 as the natural progeny of the Beat Generation.

Jack Kerouak, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Boroughs, Herbert Huncke, John Clennon Holmes and Lucien Carr were young authors and poets who first met in 1944 as students in the campus of Columbia University in New York City. They were the refuse of society; closet homosexuals, ex-convicts, murderers and drug addicts who happened to also be brilliant writers. Jack Kerouak coined the phrase “Beat Generation” as a way of describing his non-conformist circle of peers. His meaning for the phrase had nothing to do with a rhythmic beat however. It was rather a slang that meant ‘downtrodden’, or members of the bottom rung of society.

“The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction.”– Jack Kerouac

 

THE BEATNIK

On April 2, 1958, Herb Caen coined the term “beatnik”, meant as a derogatory term, in an article he wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about the youth of the day and their lifestyle, which was mirrored in Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical and scandalous works of fiction. Caen picked up the “nik” suffix from the pages of world news and the steady stream of stories regarding the USSR’s Sputnik space program. Soon, the word ‘beatnik’ was picked up to describe the rebellious youth of the day who roamed the streets of Greenwich Village in distinct wardrobe that separated them from everyone else.

“Beat Generation” sold books, sold black turtleneck sweaters and bongos, berets and dark glasses, sold a way of life that seemed like dangerous fun—thus to be either condemned or imitated. Suburban couples could have beatnik parties on Saturday nights and drink too much and fondle each other’s wives.” –Joyce Johnson, “Minor Characters”

Madison Avenue picked up on the new trend and soon used it to sell records, mostly folk music.

“The term (beatnik) caught on because it could mean anything. It could even be exploited in the affluent wake of the decade’s extraordinary technological inventions. Almost immediately, for example, advertisements by “hip” record companies in New York used the idea of the Beat Generation to sell their new long playing vinyl records.” – Ann Charters, Jack Kerouac’s biographer

The demise of the Beatnik was brought about by the media’s manipulation of the stereotype, right down to the sandals and bongo drums. Half a decade later, the Beatnik would dissolve into history and give way to the hippie movement and the Sixties counterculture. Rock ‘n’ roll music changed to rock music by 1967 and the Beatnik vanished, but the term beat didn’t. Coincidentally, with no allusion to the Beat Generation at all, the word lived on to hang another suffix onto: Beatle.

 

FROM JOHNNY & THE MOONDOGS TO THE BEATLES


Stuart Ferguson Victor Sutcliffe
was a 19 year old, Scottish art student attending the Liverpool College of Art when he got evicted from his flat in early 1960 for not paying his rent. He moved in with his classmate Margaret Chapman into a larger place that had the nerve to call itself Hillary Mansions, located at 3 Gambier Terrace in Liverpool. It consisted of three rooms, three mattresses and three light bulbs. Since there was only two of them and they needed one more roommate to help with the rent, Stu’s close friend John Lennon moved in to occupy the third mattress.

John was more committed than ever to form a professional rock ‘n’ roll band. He found the perfect songwriting partner in Paul McCartney, who shared the same ambition, and Paul’s friend George Harrison complemented them well. George was the youngest of the three and underage, but he added a solid lead guitar to the songs they covered, and as they grew to know each other better and rehearse together steadily over the weeks that turned into months, they honed their talents into a nice, tight sound. Still, there were two things missing that without them, they couldn’t call themselves a proper rock ‘n’ roll band. Their first and foremost dilemma was that they still didn’t have a permanent drummer and it was difficult to get gigs without one. Paul used to explain to the club owners, “the rhythm’s in the guitars…” but it did no good. No drums. No gig.

They also hadn’t settled on a name for the band yet. The Quarrymen name suited John for his local Liverpool band, only because the original members were all students of Quarry Bank High School where John attended too. But now, John, Paul and George, the diehard members of the band, remained after all the others that passed through in the search for the right band mates fell off one by one. The trio had their sights set on becoming a legitimate rock ‘n’ roll band with the potential to tour outside Liverpool, maybe even all the way to London, and they needed a legitimate rock ‘n’ roll name.

“Stuart was in the band now. He wasn’t really a very good musician. In fact, he wasn’t a musician at all until we talked him into buying a bass.” – George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

Stu joined the still unnamed band at the end of 1959, despite the fact that he didn’t know how to play a musical instrument. Stu was an artist, and John was mighty impressed by his peer’s immense talent. Stu and John stayed up at night talking about art, and many times the conversation veered towards the fate of the band. Stu felt uncomfortable about playing, especially when the other three would start yelling at him every time he got it wrong. He was more of a painter than a musician, and sometimes he felt forced by John to play in the band and relented only out of friendship.

Tension existed between Paul and Stu as well. Being an annoying perfectionist even way back then, Paul realized the only reason Stu was in the band was because he was John’s friend. Paul already felt a little resentment that John liked to hang out with Stu more than with him, especially because they were starting to write songs together. He knew that if they really wanted to succeed, they would have to strive for perfection, and Stu wasn’t adding anything to the band musically, although his looks did attract a female following.

“Stuart and I once actually had a fight on stage. I thought I’d beat him hands down because he was littler than me. But he was strong and we got locked in a sort of death-grip, on stage during the set. It was terrible. We must have called each other something one too many times: ‘Oh, you…’ – ‘You calling me that?’ Then we were locked and neither of us wanted to go any further and all the others were shouting, ‘Stop it, you two!’ – ‘I’ll stop it if he will.’” – Paul McCartney

Stu’s brooding look and thin frame carried a smooth featured face, and his manner of “teddy boy” attitude was accentuated with a wardrobe of tight, straight legged black leather pants, leather jacket, t-shirt and sunglasses. It made him look cutting edge for the times. John, Paul and George also adopted this tough guy look, originally inspired by Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” (1952) and today more associated with gay culture than anything else. But back then, they were all trying to look tough and the only one who could pull it off well was John. The worst attempt at the teddy boy look was Paul, whose baby face betrayed his real “tea and crumpets” demeanor.

“We did have some arguments, me and Stu, but actually I just wanted us to be a really cracking band, and Stu – being a cracking artist – held us back a little bit, not too much. If ever it came to the push, when there was someone in there watching us I’d feel, ‘Oh, I hope Stu doesn’t blow it.’ I could trust the rest of us; that was it. Stuart would tend to turn away a little so as not to be too obvious about what key he was in, in case it wasn’t our key.” – Paul McCartney

As they struggled to find the right name, their lack of a drummer was a bigger problem, because it prevented them from getting good gigs like the upcoming Eddie Cochran concert at the Liverpool Stadium. But Cochran had to replaced at the last minute with Gene Vincent after being killed in a car accident on April 17, 1960. Vincent was also a passenger in that car but he had survived.


Rory Storm and the Hurricanes with drummer Ringo Starr

That show in Liverpool Stadium was promoted by Larry Parnes and Alan Williams. Parnes at the time was manager for a not very popular pop star called Johnny Gentle, who recorded two singles and an EP (Extended Play, consisting of only four songs) that didn’t go anywhere. The acts for that night besides Vincent were Gerry & The Pacemakers, and local Liverpool acts Cass & the Cassanovas and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Parnes and Williams met the still embryonic rock n roll group when they were auditioning local bands for the show. In the end, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes got the gig. Next to these scruffy beginners with the funny name, RS&H were a much more polished band, and it was particularly distinguished in having a rock steady drummer holding the beat.

“It was held in the stadium where Pete best’s dad, Johnny, used to promote boxing. Ringo was in that show with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. We weren’t big enough to play, we didn’t even have a drummer, and I remember thinking how we’d got to get our band together because the Hurricanes all had suits and dance steps; a proper routine. It was semi-professional. It looked impressive from where we were sitting.” – George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

As Stu and John busied themselves painting the walls of their flat yellow and black, they spent their evenings trying to find a good name for the band. They followed a trail of past band names and used Buddy Holly’s Crickets as a starting point. They liked the name of Holly’s group because the word ‘cricket’ had two meanings. Besides the chirpy insects, the name also had a musical connotation. It was Stu who suggested another insect: the beetle. John liked that (ironically enough, Buddy Holly had also considered ‘beetles’ as a possible name for his band before he ultimately decided on the Crickets).

But even at that point, they still weren’t sure of any name so they continued to try new ones on for size. When they appeared on Carroll Levis’ “TV Star Search”, a popular talent show in Britain, they billed themselves as Johnny & The Moondogs.

“The Spring of 1960, John and I went down to a pub in Reading… At the end of the week, we played at the pub as the Nerk Twins.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

One Saturday night, on April 23, 1960, John and Paul traveled to Reading, Berkshire and played live as a duo the only time in their lives. They called themselves The Nerk Twins on the spot, apparently not having given it much thought. The audience in the pub that drunken first night consisted of a grand total of three customers. They played country standards and rock ‘n’ roll songs like “Be-Bop-A-Lula” that night and reprised them the following afternoon for their lunch crowd, which didn’t have too much more clientele as the night before.

The two landed the gig because the wife of the pub’s landlord, Mike Robbins, was Paul’s cousin.

“It was the Easter school holidays and John and I had hitchhiked down from Liverpool to help out in the pub,’ Paul McCartney recalled. ‘We generally dossed around for a week and worked behind the bar. Then Mike said that me and John should play there on the Saturday night. So we made our own posters and put them up in the pub: ‘Saturday Night – Live Appearance – The Nerk Twins’. It was the smallest gig I’ve ever done. We were only playing to a roomful, a small, throbbing roomful.” Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

Although that week long ago proved uneventful then, it was actually an important lesson learned by Paul in the world of professional show business.

“My cousin (Mike Robbins) used to tread the boards – he was a bit showbizzy. He’d been an entertainments manager hosting talent contests at Butlins and he’d been on the radio. He asked us what song we were going to open with and we said Be Bop A Lula. He told us, ‘No, it’s too slow. This is a pub on a Saturday night, you need to open with something fast and instrumental. What else have you got?’ We said, ‘Well, we do The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise’ – I played the melody and John did the rhythm – so we played him that and he said, ‘Perfect, start with that, then do Be Bop A Lula.’ This was our introduction to showbiz wisdom here and I would remember his advice years later when we were organizing The Beatles’ shows.” –Paul McCartney

After John and Paul returned from the Nerk Twins’ simultaneous debut and farewell shows, they were able to land a spot in a show in a little club cellar that had been organized by musician/entrepreneur Brian Cass. In the meantime, Stu had recently suggested playing around with the word ‘beetles’ as a band name and changing it to ‘Beatals’ but it didn’t sit right with John. John came up with a different spelling that would also have a double meaning just like the Crickets; bugs with a beat.


Gambier Terrace-Liverpool, England

“One April evening in 1960, walking along Gambier Terrace, by Liverpool Cathedral John and Stuart announced, ‘Hey, we want to call the band The Beatles. We thought, ‘Hmmm… bit creepy isn’t it?” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

It was at the club Cass got them booked in where they first presented themselves as the Beatles. Cass hated the name. Since John was the founder and therefore leader of the group, Cass suggested, among other variations, Long John and the Pieces of Silver. An argument ensued.

“He said, ‘what’s your name?’ We had just thought of the Beatles so we thought we would try this out at the audition. Cass said, ‘Beatles? What’s that? It doesn’t mean anything.’ Everyone hated the name, fans and promoters alike. He asked John’s name. John, who was pretty much at that time the lead singer, said ‘John Lennon’. ‘Right, Big John… Long John… OK, Long John Silver’. So we compromised and had Long John and the Silver Beetles. We would do anything for a job, so that’s what we became.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

The Beatles were to drop the whole ‘Long John’ stuff and decided to just call themselves the Silver Beetles. During the summer of 1960, Parnes booked the Silver Beetles on a tour through Scotland backing the artist he managed, Johnny Gentle.

“I became Paul Ramon, which I thought was suitably exotic. I remember the Scottish girls saying, ‘Is that his real name?’… Stuart became Stuart De Stael after the painter, George became Carl Harrison after Carl Perkins (our big idol, who had written ‘Blue Suede Shoes’). John was Long John… So here we were, suddenly with the first of Larry’s untempestuous acts and a tour of Scotland, when I should have been doing my GCE exams.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

By the time they came back from the tour, John had once again tinkered with the name and changed the ‘e’ in ‘beetles’ to an ‘a’. By July, they were officially calling themselves the Silver Beatles.

It was during this time that Alan Williams became the Silver Beatles’ manager. Besides promoting rock ‘n’ roll shows, Williams owned a former watch repair shop on 21 Slater Street in Liverpool. He converted the shop into a coffee bar and called it the Jacaranda, after a flowering tree, opening the place on September 1958. John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe, then students of the Liverpool Art College, and Paul McCartney of the Liverpool Institute, were frequent customers, having already met him within the local gig circuit.

John approached Williams to get him to hire them to play in his club. He took a liking to him and hired John and Stu to paint a mural for the Ladies’ room instead. After a while, Williams relented and allowed the Beatles to play in the Jac. Soon, he was finding other venues for the group to play in. The problem was that they still had no drummer, but when Williams found out about a club in Hamburg, Germany looking for a rock ‘n’ roll group, it was time to get serious and find a permanent percussionist.

(more…)

by Robert Seoane

SAM COOKE – JIMMY JONES – THE HOLLYWOOD ARGYLES – ELMORE LEONARD

 

SAM COOKE

The first time that I saw Sam was at my dad’s church… and I just happened to look over my shoulder and went, ‘Oh, my God! Who is that?’” –Aretha Franklin, VH1 Behind The Music

While James Brown is known as the Godfather of Soul, Samuel Cooke was crowned King of Soul during his day. Both artists simultaneously pioneered the soul genre starting in the late Fifties but their styles couldn’t be more different. Sam Cooke is smooth and elegant while James Brown is raw and passionate. Sam’s laid-back, easy delivery oozes sensuality. James Brown’s vocalizations are more sexual than sensual, less seductive and more aggressive. Having invented the soul genre, then splitting it up into two opposite directions, both artists’ styles were profoundly influential throughout the rest of the 20th century. In Sam Cooke’s case, musicians who followed include Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Billy Preston and scores more.

Cooke’s family moved to Chicago from Mississippi when he was two. Cooke’s father, Reverend Charles Cook, was a Baptist minister. Sam added the ‘e’ at the end of his name once he began his career.

He grew up singing with his seven siblings, billed as The Singing Children, at churches. He and fellow gospel choir singer Lou Rawls were childhood friends. Rawls would go on to carve a solo career of his own in the Seventies, peaking during the disco heyday with the 1976 song, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”. He and Cooke would continue to cross paths often as they grew up into promising musical artists, with Rawls joining Cooke’s band whenever on tour.

“Sam was so outstanding. He was young, he was good looking, he dressed well, carried himself, presented himself with class and dignity and so, it was like, how do you compete with that?” – Lou Rawls, VH1 Behind The Music

Sam first became known once he joined a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers when he was 19. He replaced R.H. Harris, already a popular singer, and faced a lot of antipathy, that is, until he opened his mouth to sing. The Soul Stirrers enjoyed the biggest hit of their career with Cooke immediately after he joined, called “Jesus Gave Me Water”, a rousing, irresistible gospel tune, sure to exorcise your demons. Soon, the churches started to fill with a younger, mostly female flock wherever they sang.

“Sam changed the whole prospect of gospel music, ‘cause when Sam came in, all the teenagers started going to church, especially little girls because they wanted to see Sam.” –L.C. Cooke, brother, VH1 Behind The Music

“I never saw nothin’ like that, to this day I’m astonished the way that Sam Cooke would turn the church out. People got up, they’d shout and they’d pass out, and that ‘woo…’, nobody had ever done that.” – Lloyd Price, singer-songwriter, VH1 Behind The Music

It was a struggle for Cooke to transition from gospel to secular pop music. He felt he had hit a wall in terms of growing further within the gospel genre, but he received resistance from his label, Specialty Records, after he started writing pop songs, so he took “You Send Me” to label competitor Keen Records. It was released in late 1956 by Keen and became the biggest hit of his career, climbing up to the top spot in Billboard’s Hot 100 in the Winter of 1957. No other single he released in the Fifties even came close to the Top Ten after that.

Cooke had established himself as the King of Soul soon after the release of “You Send Me”. Over the years, as his success grew, Cooke managed to take control of his career. He didn’t allow himself to be pushed around. Bright, well-read and ambitious, he demanded respect and got it.

“Sam, he didn’t back down. You didn’t push him. Once he told the police in Memphis, (brother) Charles had run out of gas and the police come and told Sam to push the car over to the side of the street. Sam told him, ‘My name is Sam Cooke. If you haven’t heard of me, your wife know me… When you get off tonight, you ask your wife if she knows Sam Cooke… I don’t push no cars… you want to put a ticket on it, put a ticket on it, I’ll pay the fine… I’m not a pusher, I’m a singer.’ And he sat back in his car. The police went and left him alone.” – Brother, L.C. Cooke

Cooke was also an avid reader, with a keen interest and knowledge of African-American history. As a result, he wouldn’t tolerate segregation or prejudice, being one of the first black entertainers to demand an integrated audience.

“We got into Little Rock, we played in the military armory. And they said, ‘You’re going to have to do two shows. ‘ ‘Why?’ ‘You gotta do a show for the white audience and a show for the black audience.’ And Sam said no. We’ll do one show for both.” – Lou Rawls, VH1 Behind The Music

Sam was unhappy at Keen Records because of his lack of hits. In the three years he was signed to the label, none of his songs had entered the Billboard Top Ten since “You Send Me”, and only one other record made it into R&B’s Top Ten, so in 1959 he signed with RCA Records. Like most rock ‘n’ roll and pop artists of the day, Cooke focused more on his single releases rather than his albums, but his first single release through RCA in 1960, “Teenage Sonata”, was a bust, while the last single released by his old label Keen, is an enduring classic.

(WHAT A) WONDERFUL WORLD

His last single for Keen Records was recorded in an impromptu session in March 1959. “(What A) Wonderful World” was released over a year later in April 1960 to compete against his move to RCA. It became his highest charting single since “You Send Me”, just missing the Top Ten by two positions at Number 12.

The song is a sweet, simple tune sung from the point of view of a student who admits his limited scholastic capabilities as he declares his love for the object of his affection, who seems to be unaware of his feelings. It’s a timeless song, reminiscent of the teenage crush everyone has had at one point in their lives.

“Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology, don’t know much about a science book, don’t know much about the French I took. But I do know that I love you, and I know that if you love me, too, what a wonderful world this would be.” (What A) Wonderful World – Sam Cooke

Perhaps to appease the parents who still frowned on rock ‘n’ roll’s permissiveness, Cooke added a lyric alluding to the fact that the struggling love-struck student is at least open to getting good grades.

“Now, I don’t claim to be an ‘A’ student, but I’m tryin’ to be. For maybe by being an ‘A’ student, baby, I can win your love for me.” (What A) Wonderful World – Sam Cooke

The song was made popular once again in 1978 when it was showcased in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” in a scene where John Belushi “partakes” of the college cafeteria cuisine.

CHAIN GANG

RCA’s second Sam Cooke single release after the dreadful “Teenage Sonata”, was the hit he was looking for. “Chain Gang”, Cooke’s 1960 summer single, would become his second biggest hit, just behind “You Send Me”. Released on July 26, 1960, it made it to the second position in both Billboard’s Pop and R&B charts.

Legend has it that he came across an actual chain gang on the way to a live appearance during one of his tours, inspiring Cooke to write the song.

“It was in the South, and it’s hot. They had the windows open and the chain gang was out there working. And Sam wrote the song. ‘That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.’“ –Lou Rawls, VH1 Behind The Music

Cooke was not only a pioneer in soul music, he was also an astute businessman. He had final say over the mix of his songs, and his contract with RCA also stipulated his ownership of the rights to them after a certain period of time. He wasn’t happy with RCA’s final mix of “Chain Gang”, so he remixed it himself, bringing the ho…ha’s up to the fore.

The song sympathizes with the convicted felons, a first, humanizing them and bringing the invisible people of society into focus. One of the few other artists of the rock ‘n roll era to write to and about jailed prisoners was Johnny Cash, who veered away from rockabilly to country during the late Fifties and released his classic album “Live From Folsom Prison” in 1968.

Hmm, I’m goin’ home one of these days, I’m goin’ home, see my woman whom I love so dear, meanwhile I have to work right here…” “Chain Gang” – Sam Cooke

SAR RECORDS

In 1961, Cooke founded SAR Records with his manager Roy Crain and singer/songwriter J.W. Alexander. It was founded specifically to develop other burgeoning talent, while still recording his own singles and releasing them through RCA. Sam’s interests had expanded from singing and writing songs to producing records and discovering up and coming artists. By 1964, SAR Records’ stable of stars included Billy Preston, Mel Carter, Johnnie Taylor and The Valentinos, a group led by Seventies soul singer Bobby Womack.

CUPID

Cooke was asked to write a song for a female singer that had appeared on “The Perry Como Show”. He wrote “Cupid” for her, but she didn’t deliver the song to his liking, so he wound up recording it for himself. Besides his perfect delivery, the sound of an arrow hitting a target was also Cooke’s contribution.

Although. “Cupid”, released on May 12, 1961, only made it as high as Number 17 In the pop chart, this love cherub prayer endures today as a timeless classic.

“Cupid, please hear my cry, and let your arrow fly straight to my lover’s heart for me…” – Cupid – Sam Cooke

Towards the end of the disco era in 1980, the Spinners released a version of “Cupid” that was updated to the times. The song succeeds, particularly because the Spinners know how to deliver a flow with style and substance, and despite its dated disco sound, the production remains strong by its timeless melody. This version reached Number Four in Billboard’s Pop chart.

TWISTING THE NIGHT AWAY

Sam Cooke’s next Top Ten single was released on January 9, 1962 to ride the wave of the “twist” dance craze of the early Sixties. The Twist, a radical dance in its day, was the first in a wave of free-form “touchless” dancing that would cause teenagers’ parents to scratch their heads in wonder. The dance became popular after the release of a 1959 Hank Ballard song called “The Twist”, then re-recorded and released on September 16, 1960 by Chubby Checker. Checker’s version went to Number One, then it was released again two years later and made it to the Number One position again for two weeks starting on January 13, 1962, four days after the release of Cooke’s “Twistin’…”.

“Twistin’ The Night Away” was recorded with the aid of one of the most famous and prolific session musicians of the Sixties. The Wrecking Crew were comprised of various musicians in Los Angeles, California who were always the first call for any recording being done by the leading artists of the day. Names like Nat ‘King’ Cole, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel comprise just a few of the artists who had The Wrecking Crew back them in their classic recordings. Legendary producers such as Phil Spector relied on the Wrecking Crew for almost every recording session they had. The nickname for the revolving short list of top rate musicians came about from drummer Hal Blaine, the story being that at the time, the older generation felt that the youth of the day was going to wreck the music industry.

BRING IT ON HOME TO ME

“He would just sit up and listen to people, he said, ‘Man, listen to the people talk. And that’s where you get your hooks from.’” – Bobby Womack, Seventies soul artist and back up guitarist for Sam Cooke’s live performances, VH1 Behind The Music

Sam Cooke continued his string of hit singles with a song that harkened back to his days as a gospel singer, echoing the sounds of his old group The Soul Stirrers . “Bring It On Home To Me” is a re-working of a 1959 smolderingly slow, classic blues song called “I Want To Go Home” by Charles Brown.

“I wanna go home, ‘cause I feel, feel so all alone, I wanna go home, I wanna go home, oh yes, I wanna go home…” I Want To Go Home – Charles Brown

Cooke re-wrote the lyrics and gave the blues song a gospel feel by adding a call-and-response background vocal. He was deliberately taking a new musical direction to broaden his scope as a versatile singer by reaching back to his gospel beginnings in order to distance himself from the lighter melodies he had been recording since “You Send Me”. After this release, Cooke’s music began to veer a bit closer to James Brown’s style.

“If you ever change your mind about leaving, leaving me behind, oh bring it to me, bring your sweet lovin’, bring it on home to me…” Bring It On Home To Me – Sam Cooke

“Bring It On Home To Me” was released on May 8, 1962 and climbed up to Number 13 in the Billboard Pop chart and Number Two in the R&B chart. It’s one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

HAVIN’ A PARTY

“Havin’ A Party” was the flip-side of “Bring It On Home To Me”. The recording had a party atmosphere because guests had been invited to the session to sing along. Liquor flowed freely. Both songs are accompanied by an 18 piece backing section comprised of violins, violas, cellos, a sax, percussionists, bassists, guitarists and a piano.

After its release, “Havin’ A Party” become the song Cooke would perform as his encore at each live performance, inviting people up on stage to sing along and urging his audience to continue the party.

“The cokes are in the icebox, popcorn’s on the table, me and my baby, we’re out here on the floor… so Mister Mister DJ, keep those records playing, ‘cause I’m having such a good time dancing with my baby…” Havin’ A Party – Sam Cooke

“Havin’ A Party” was a hit separate from “BIOHTM” despite being on the flip side. It went up to Number 17 on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Four on the R&B chart.

SEND ME SOME LOVIN’

Sam Cooke’s next single, “Send Me Some Lovin’” charted exactly the same as “Bring It On Home To Me”, probably because of their slight melodic familiarity, proven when John Lennon recorded a medley of both those very songs for his own 1975 “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album.

Written by John Marascalso and Leo Price, “Send Me Some Lovin’” was making the rounds among artists in the late fifties and sixties, and was subsequently recorded by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, Brenda Lee, Hank Williams, Jr. and Otis Redding.

ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT

“Another Saturday Night” was Sam Cooke’s last Top Ten single, and it just made it in at Number Ten in the Spring of 1963. It did, however make it to Number One in the R&B chart. This was another one of those songs that boasts The Wrecking Crew as session musicians, including perpetual Wrecking Crew member, drummer Hal Blaine.

It was a catchy song, with a quasi-Caribbean beat and witty lyrics about a young man with a cashed paycheck in his pocket but nobody to spend it on. The song continued to showcase Cooke’s vocal talents as more than just a soul balladeer.

“Another fella told me he had a sister that looked so fine, instead of being my deliverance, she had a strong resemblance to a cat named Frankenstein ohhhh…. Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody, I have some money ’cause I just got paid, how I wish I had someone to talk to, I’m in awful way…” Another Saturday Night – Sam Cooke

A Seventies soft-rock pioneer who you wouldn’t associate with dance songs, Cat Stevens (now named Yusuf Islam), also had an unlikely hit with this song in late 1974, reaching Number Six in the Hot 100.

Cooke followed up “Another Saturday Night” with two more singles in 1963, “Frankie & Johnny” and “Little Red Rooster”. The former is a song originating from 1899, about the murder of a man by his jealous girlfriend. The latter is a Willie Dixon blues standard. Both singles had reasonable success, flirting under the Pop Top Ten and making it into the R&B Top Ten, but ultimately both of Cooke’s versions of the songs aren’t particularly definitive to the compositions.

Tragedy marred Sam Cooke’s success throughout his career. He survived a car accident that killed his chauffeur and put Lou Rawls in a coma for five days. Two months later, Sam’s wife was killed in another car accident. But in the Summer of 1963, the unthinkable happened. His eighteenth month old son Vincent drowned in his swimming pool. Cooke was devastated and those close to him have said he seemed so despondent that he didn’t want to continue living. Despite his depression, or perhaps because of it, he buried himself back into work and recorded an album filled with positive messages.

GOOD NEWS

Cooke released “Good News” on January 22nd, 1964, at the cusp of the musical revolution brought on by England’s Beatlemania. The first single off his thirteenth and final album was called “Ain’t That Good News”, and was released five weeks later on March 1st. Like many of his classic singles, it stalls just under the Top Ten at Number 11. “Good News” is a bouncy, catchy song with a gospel feel that Cooke delivers with his usual confidence and surprisingly strong voice.

IT’S ALL OVER NOW – BOBBY AND CECIL WOMACK

By 1964, Sam Cooke had been a pop star for eight years, and his style was unique enough to run parallel to the changing musical styles heralded by the Beatles that year. Although he continued to release singles, he was becoming more interested in developing new talent through his label, SAR. One of the groups signed to his label was the Valentinos, comprised of brothers Cecil and Bobby Womack, who wrote a rock ‘n’ roll standard made popular by the Rolling Stones that same year called “It’s All Over Now”.

At first, Bobby Womack didn’t want to give the Rolling Stones permission to record the song because he had not heard of the new band from England before. Although the Beatles were a big hit by then, the Stones were still struggling to be heard in America. It was only the Stones’ third single release and it climbed to Number 26 on Billboard’s Pop chart, but made it to Number One in the UK.

GOOD TIMES/TENNESSEE WALTZ – SAM COOKE

One of Sam Cooke’s last singles is also another one of his most memorable. Once again, it just missed entering the Top Ten Pop, peaking at Number 11.

The flipside, “Tennessee Waltz” was a remake of the 1946 country standard, but played in double time. It made it to Number 35 Pop in the Fall 1964. He sang it live on “Shindig” along with Bob Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind”, also sung in a faster tempo.

A CHANGE IS GONNA COME

By 1964, Sam Cooke was deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement, having been an avid follower of black history all his life. “Blowing In The Wind” resonated with him strongly, and he had added it to his tour repertoire. As a response to “Blowing…”, Cooke wrote his most important and beautiful song. With the struggle of the civil rights movement at the forefront of the national eye as well as his own conscience, Sam Cooke recorded “A Change Is Gonna Come” on January 22nd . It was a powerful song and he knew it. Cooke never released it while he was alive.

“He played that song and he asked me what did I think about it. And I told him, I said, ‘Man that song feels eerie, feels like death.” – Bobby Womack

 

THE BIZARRE DEATH OF SAM COOKE

“Sam knew about every after-hour joint in town. I don’t care how big or how small the town was. He would know where to go.” – Leroy Crume, The Soul Stirrers, VH1 Behind The Music

Cooke was out on the evening of December 11th, 1964 in the company of a young lady. Elisa Boyer had accompanied him that night to a local Los Angeles nightclub. According to her testimony, she had repeatedly asked Cooke to take her home after the nightclub, but Cooke took her to a motel instead. Once alone in a room at La Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, he forced her on the bed, then apparently stood up to go to the bathroom. It was at that moment when she escaped with his clothing and called the police from a telephone booth to accuse Cooke of kidnapping her.

Circumstantial evidence and other witnesses’ testimony have cast doubt over Boyer’s explanation of the evening. There is a plausibility that she could have willingly gone to the hotel with the intent of calling the police in order to frame him. But the subsequent events executed by Cooke as a reaction to being left in such a vulnerable situation makes him look responsible for his own unnecessary death.

Apparently under the influence of all the liquor he had consumed that night, Sam Cooke broke into hotel manager’s Bertha Franklin’s office-apartment in a rage once he discovered most of his clothes missing along with Boyer. According to Franklin, he was dressed in only a sports coat and one shoe. Cooke demanded to know where Boyer was, accusing Franklin to be in on the set-up. Franklin told him the girl wasn’t in the office and that she had no idea what he was talking about. Franklin had been on the phone with motel owner Evelyn Carr at the time. Carr confirmed the events as Franklin related it. Later on, Franklin and Carr were given a lie detector test and both passed.

Cooke didn’t accept her answer and assaulted her. Soon, a struggle ensued, with both of them falling to the floor. Freeing herself from his grip, Franklin scrambled for her gun and managed to shoot him in the torso. Cooke managed to say, “Lady, you shot me,” before collapsing. He was 33 years old.

One month after his death, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released as a posthumous single and has since become the anthem of the Sixties’ Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s no telling how far Sam Cooke’s career would have brought him had he lived, but the direction he was taking as a songwriter, singer and record producer indicates that we lost an artist that had still not reached his peak. Sadly, we’ll never know the direction he would have taken pop, soul and rock ‘n’ roll had he lived.

“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die, ’cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky, it’s been a long, a long time coming but I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will…” A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

As of this writing, a film is being produced about the life of Sam Cooke based on Peter Guralnik’s book “Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke”.

 

ONE HIT WONDERS

 

HANDY MAN – JIMMY JONES

With a high pitched “Come-a, come-a, come-a, come-a, come, come, come-a…”, James “Jimmy” Jones came and went, leaving us a bouncy, happy ditty in 1960 that’s been re-done enough times to warrant a nook in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. There is however, an uncertainty as to Jimmy Jones’ credit as co-writer.

Jones, a showman and performer who started his career tap dancing, is remembered primarily for this song. “Handy Man” made it to Number Three on the R&B Billboard chart and Number Two on the Pop chart in 1960, but other interpretations of this composition have been recorded. Critics and fans alike have argued over which is the best version of “Handy Man”.

The original “Handy Man”, released a year earlier in 1959, was quite different from Jimmy Jones’ pop version. Performed by a group called The Sparks of Rhythm, the record label credits the songwriting to Andrew Barksdale and Charles Merestein. Their version of “Handy Man” was a slow, bluesy tune with a sultry baritone delivery, with back up vocals that mimicked the protagonist’s moves as he describes himself in song. It sounds nothing like Jones’ version, but the lyrics are very similar and so is the structure of the composition.

“Well, hey girls why don’t you gather ‘round and pick up on what I’m putting down, I said hmm baby, can’t you understand, I’m your handy man…” “Handy Man” – The Sparks of Rhythm

Jimmy Jones was with The Sparks of Rhythm back in 1954 when they were still known as the Berliners. Supposedly, he co-wrote “Handy Man” in 1955, apparently with Barksdale and Merenstein although Jones’ name doesn’t appear in the credits. He left the group shortly thereafter. The re-named Sparks of Rhythm, recorded the song without Jones in 1956 and released it in 1959. Later that same year, Jones recorded his own version of the song with Otis Blackwell who reworked it and sped up the tempo, stripping it of its lurking sensuality and replacing it with a fast, bouncy beat that followed Jones’ falsetto, with intermittent whistles that sound like happy birds. Once released, Blackwell and Jones shared songwriting credits this time. The original composers, Barksdale and Merestein, were not given credit.

Del Shannon of “Runaway” fame made a feeble attempt at cashing in on Jimmy Jones’ version of “Handy Man” by recording an identical version of it in 1964, making it only to Number 22 in the Billboard pop chart.

The definitive version of “Handy Man” is believed to be James Taylor’s version, recorded in 1977 and released on his “JT” album. Taylor’s version is a laid back interpretation sung in the typical straightforward, clearly vocalized Taylor manner, and accompanied only by JT’s acoustic. It made it to Number Four in Billboard’s Pop chart and Number One in the Adult Contemporary Chart, earning Taylor his second Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Jimmy Jones died at age 75 in 2012.

(more…)

by Robert Seoane

 

THE SIXTIES

The Sixties was the decade with the most profound cultural upheaval of the 20th century, primarily because the children who grew up during those years, the so-called Baby Boomer Generation, were bored. Born between 1946 through 1964, the offspring of all those soldiers who came home after World War II were given a gift that no other prior generation truly had; they got everything they asked for.

The first turning point of the decade for the United States came on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The event left a vacuum in the morale and security of American society, particularly young America who had grown up in a bubble. The second turning point came on February 9, 1964 when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. During that moment, just ten weeks after the death of the country’s young leader, a new window of hope opened and the future rushed in.

Once the Beatles revitalized rock ‘n’ roll with their totally new sound, young America welcomed European culture to infiltrate their tastes and mores. As a result, music wasn’t the only art that got a sorely needed shot in the arm when the two cultures melded; movie content became more permissive, women’s skirts got shorter and men’s hair got longer.

“The Sixties was a good period, and in Europe at least it had a lot to do with the fact that we were the generation that hadn’t been in a war. We’d been born during the Second World War and as we grew up we became sick of hearing about it.” – George Harrison; Beatles Anthology

The United States during the Sixties was comprised mostly of a large, white, comfortable middle class. Almost everyone owned a house, a car or two, a TV set, a hi-fi and a telephone in every room. To afford all these modern creature comforts, only the patriarch of the family had to work.

But these material status symbols were taken for granted by the baby boomer kids simply because, unlike their parents, they’ve had it their entire lives and didn’t have a clue what it was like to go hungry. So they questioned everything, particularly after Kennedy and then even more once the Vietnam War started drafting their own. They saw their parents’ fight, work like dogs to buy things, grow old, then die. And as the Sixties wore on, death and assassination were becoming commonplace. The baby boomers, coddled in a troubled but affluent society, had the luxury of time to dream. They weren’t sure what they wanted, but after growing up, both enjoying the fruits of their parents’ hard-earned labor and suffering their mistakes as well, they sure as hell knew what they didn’t want.

Mr. Braddock: What’s the matter? The guests are all downstairs, Ben, waiting to see you.
Benjamin: Look, Dad, could you explain to them that I have to be alone for a while?
Mr. Braddock: These are all our good friends, Ben. Most of them have known you since, well, practically since you were born. What is it, Ben?
Benjamin: I’m just…
Mr. Braddock: Worried?
Benjamin: Well…
Mr. Braddock: About what?
Benjamin: I guess about my future.
Mr. Braddock: What about it?
Benjamin: I don’t know… I want it to be…
Mr. Braddock: To be what?
Benjamin: [looks at his father] … Different.
“The Graduate” (1967) – Opening conversation between Dustin Hoffman and Jeff Daniels

Music wasn’t the only element that veered considerably from the status quo in the Sixties, although many names from the decade still ring big in 2015 …The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison, James Brown, Stevie Wonder… It seemed that almost every field had their moment of profound change between 1960 and 1969. In politics and civil rights… John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, Cesar Chavez … in art… Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Peter Max …literature… Truman Capote, Ken Kesey, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe …cinema… Stanley Kubrick, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Sam Peckinpah …fashion… Mary Quant’s mini-skirt, the British Mods, Twiggy… the sky opened up in the Sixties as we ventured into outer space …Sam Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong… even in the world of sports, certain athletes and coaches set trends and cast long shadows …Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali), Vince Lombardi, Joe Namath, Sandy Koufax, Wilt Chamberlain… These figures either polarized or inspired, sometimes polarized and inspired. They either started or were a large part of a socio-political revolution that still reverberates today. No other decade in the 20th Century produced as many human beings who pointed to so many new directions at the same time.

So in 1960, the decade came in like a lamb, but the distant rumbling of the events that were about to ensue during the first few years of its trajectory would culminate on a sunny day in 1963 in Dallas, Texas. That day, six shots were fired that not only ended a life but caused a paradigm shift that was felt around the world. In the United States, it stripped Americans of their naïve belief of being above strife in the homeland and forced them to realize that there was something very, very wrong woven into the fabric of American society.

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

1960

1960 began innocuously enough. It was an election year, the country was not at war, everyone “knew their place”, ethnicities were duly segregated, rock ‘n’ roll music had been toned down and was no longer threatening anyone, movies were acceptable for the whole family, fashion was demure, men’s haircuts were trim and women were in the kitchen “where they belonged”.

There were, however, a few rumblings of social upheaval that didn’t go unnoticed in 1960. On January 2, Democratic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States. On March 6, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends 3,500 troops to Viet Nam. On May 9, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves birth control via an oral contraceptive that became known as “The Pill”. On August 6, Fidel Castro takes control of all American and foreign-owned property in Cuba. On November 15, the first nuclear-armed missile, called Polaris, is test launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On December 2, President Eisenhower authorizes one million dollars (almost eight million in 2015 dollars) to assist in the resettlement of Cuban refugees pouring into Miami, Florida, and on December 12, the United States Supreme Court deems Louisiana’s racial segregation unconstitutional.

But one month earlier, on November 8, an indication that America was on a bright new path, choosing a man young enough to have been born in the current century, John F. Kennedy is elected President of the United States, beating Republican candidate Richard Nixon by 112,827 votes. Dashing and blessed with the power of great oratory, JFK was the Elvis of the political world. Colorful pictures in all the national magazines like Time, Life, Look, and Newsweek all featured the young President’s beautiful, brilliant wife Jackie and sweet children Caroline and John, Jr., turning them into America’s beloved Royal Family. JFK was the second youngest President after Theodore Roosevelt and for the first time in American history, America’s youth felt represented. Nobody could have ever guessed in 1960 what would occur within its ten difficult, tragic, joyful, groundbreaking, trendsetting, heartbreaking, bloody, exploratory years.

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

THE SLOW, TRAGIC DESCENT OF ELVIS PRESLEY

“That’s what kills people like Presley and others of that ilk. The king is always killed by his courtiers, not by his enemies. The king is over-fed, over-drugged, over-indulged, anything to keep the king tied to his throne.” –John Lennon; Beatles Anthology

Elvis left the Army and along with it, his fourteen-year-old girlfriend Priscilla when he boarded the plane to Fort Dix, New Jersey from Germany. He would, however, keep in contact with her by telephone for the next fifteen months. But once back home, Elvis immediately resumed his relationship with his girlfriend since 1957, Anita Wood, while in the meantime over the next few years he would also be dating every known starlet in the world.

The 24-year-old King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had returned to claim his throne, and on March 2nd, 1960, the train route from New Jersey to Tennessee was lined with thousands of Elvis fans. Elvis’ train made intermittent stops along the way to please his adoring minions with brief appearances to wave hello at everyone. Elvis needn’t have worried that the world would forget him, and his image was now made even greater due to the hoopla of his entire Army stint and subsequent return, a brilliant feat of promotion courtesy of manager Col. Tom Parker that would have the effect of toning him down considerably as he spent year after year making silly musical comedies.

But in 1960, all was well in Elvis-land.

He looked better than ever and the musical world was looking forward to his new output of music. Not a single soul, not even Elvis himself, could tell that the Elvis that had entered the Army in 1958, was not the same Elvis of 1960. The only visible change was his lack of sideburns due to the Army’s code of short hair. The other change was more of a career adjustment that would greatly affect his musical output over most of the decade. He informed the public that he wanted to pursue a film career along with his musical one. Soon, as the years progressed, making movies would eclipse his desire to record good songs. Elvis too was unhappy with the quality of the songwriting he was receiving to record for these movies. Despite that, in 1960, the old Elvis continued to shine through in some of his songs.

STUCK ON YOU – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Stuck On You” was released on March 23rd, 1960, three days after it was recorded to satisfy the 1.4 million advanced orders it received as Elvis’ newest single. Its ascension into Billboard’s Number One spot was incredibly symbolic in that it declared that not only the King but that rock ‘n’ roll itself was back on top, because it toppled the previous Number One, a totally non-rock ‘n’ roll instrumental that held on to the Number One position for nine weeks, a movie song titled “The Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. The film had showcased young stars Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee in a lame attempt to appeal to the teenage market. Move over, Mom and Dad.

Elvis sang this classic rock ‘n’ roll song on television for the first time on a May 12 ABC television special called “Welcome Home, Elvis”, filmed in Miami and hosted by every parents’ favorite recording star, Frank Sinatra. The two generations were meeting, and although the Establishment allowed Elvis to sport his trademark pompadour hair and do some of his mad dance gyrations to the delight of his screaming fans, they dressed him up in a tuxedo. No more gold lamé outfits. No more rock star wardrobe. It looked like Elvis, sounded like Elvis and swiveled like Elvis, but there was something weird about seeing the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll move around in a penguin suit.

“You can shake an apple off an apple tree, shake, shake sugar but you’ll never shake me, uh uh uh no sir-ee, uh, uh, I’m gonna stick like glue, stick because I’m stuck on you.” – “Stuck On You” Elvis Presley

ELVIS IS BACK! – ELVIS PRESLEY

Armed with state-of-the-art recording equipment, Elvis recorded his eighth studio album in Nashville, Tennessee between March 20-21 and April 3-4 of 1960. Titled “Elvis Is Back!” it was speedily released upon its completion on April 8 and was the first Presley album released in stereophonic sound, although mono versions were also available. The album stopped short at Number Two in Billboard’s Top Album’s chart but reached the Number one position in the UK, receiving mixed reviews.

“Presley obviously finds it hard to record his old gusto … Perhaps [the recordings] are the first attempts to master new styles”. – Hi-Fidelity Magazine

“Presley’s voice was still strong and clear. He could belt out the blues one minute … and then sound sophisticated the next … without changing character.” -Steve Horowitz; Popmatters

“(Elvis Is Back!) shows a mature Elvis Presley [who] displayed the rich, deep vocalizing that would challenge critics’ expectations of Elvis Presley playing rhythm guitar throughout”. –Bruce Eder; Allmusic

Indeed, “Elvis Is Back!” had its moments, but not many.

MAKE ME KNOW IT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Joined by his background vocalists of his Fifties output The Jordanaires, the first track on the album was a derivative song called “Make Me Know It”, written by “Hound Dog” composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. It sounded like a typical Elvis song, rockin’ and rollin’ with the rockabilly style he made famous, but in the end is really not that great, especially for an album opener.

FEVER – ELVIS PRESLEY

The second song, “Fever” was a much better composition and worthy of the King’s vocal chords. A sultry, sexy tune written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, Elvis gives it all the justice it deserves, with sparse production that fits the mood just right and a vocal delivery that mimicked the popular interpretation, but was still unmistakably Elvis.

Elvis would include “Fever” as part of his repertoire when he filmed his “Aloha From Hawaii” tour.

“Captain Smith and Pocahontas had a very mad affair. When her daddy tried to kill him, she said ‘Daddy, oh don’t you dare, he give me fever’”… “Fever” – Elvis Presley

“Fever” was originally recorded and released by Little Willie John in 1956, reaching Number 24 on Billboard’s Pop chart, and became Peggy Lee’s signature song when she recorded and released it in 1958. Her version made it to Number Eight on Billboard’s Pop chart and won two Grammys in 1959 for Song Of The Year and Record of the Year, so when Elvis took it on, it had already been a hit twice.


Many other artists recorded “Fever” over the ensuing decades, including James Brown in 1967, The Cramps in 1980, Madonna, released in 1992’s “Erotica” album, Michael Buble’s big band rendition in 2003 and Bette Midler in 2005. Out of all these versions, Madonna’s is the most strikingly different.



THE GIRL OF MY BEST FRIEND – ELVIS PRESLEY

The third track on the album, “The Girl Of My Best Friend”, written by Sam Bobrick and Beverly Ross, is Elvis singing a cute bit of fluff. Originally recorded by Charlie Blackwell in 1959, the tune has a catchy melody but doesn’t compare to any of his pre-Army releases. It did, however, manage to reach Number Nine in the UK singles chart in 1960.


I WILL BE HOME AGAIN – ELVIS PRESLEY

Although the next track “I Will Be Home Again”, a 1945 composition recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet and written by Bennie Benjamin, Raymond Leveen and Lou Singer, fits the theme of his “Elvis Is Back!” album quite nicely, its standard fifties balladry and production makes the listener want to wish he stayed back in Germany. One wonders who was picking these old, creaky tunes for Elvis to sing.

DIRTY, DIRTY FEELING – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Dirty Dirty Feeling” was a brave attempt to bring Elvis back to his controversial roots as evidenced by the title. Written by the classic songwriting duo of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and filled with sarcastic humor in its lyrics, it was still one of their lesser compositions.

The song was showcased in Elvis’ 1958 movie “King Creole”, filmed right before he entered the Army to satisfy his fans. It didn’t make it to the film’s soundtrack album though, so it was added on to “Elvis Is Back!”

THRILL OF YOUR LOVE – ELVIS PRESLEY

The closing song on Side One, “Thrill Of Your Love”, written by Stan Kesler and released originally in 1958 by Carl McAvoy as “A Woman’s Love”, is not as thrilling as the title suggests, and by the time the tune ends, the listener wonders why Elvis is recording re-treads instead of more recent compositions as he had done in his pre-Army days. The album was the first of its kind to package Elvis as a pop star, not a rock ‘n’ roll star, and one wonders if some of these songs were selected just because they were readily available.

SOLDIER BOY – ELVIS PRESLEY

As one turns to Side Two and places the needle on the record with expectations to hear a great rock ‘n’ roll song, the listener gets instead a Fifties ballad called “Soldier Boy” a song obviously chosen because of its theme. This “Soldier Boy” is not the classic song recorded by the Shirelles in 1962. Instead, it’s a typical Fifties ballad complete with staccato piano playing indicative of the period.

SUCH A NIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Finally, after five so-so songs, Elvis sings a decent tune, played with tight, catchy musicianship by “The Nashville A-Team”. Just by Presley’s delivery along with the whole bouncy feel of it, you can tell he also is happy to be singing it. Although it was another remake, originally recorded by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters in 1953, it’s a worthy song sung with happy playfulness and improved upon by Elvis.


IT FEELS SO RIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

The following track is a blues number written by Fred Wise and Ben Weisman, the latter of which holds the record for having written more songs for Elvis than any other songwriter. Elvis used to call Weisman “The Mad Professor” because of his non-rock and roll, professorial style and his “mad” ability to write music. Weisman recalls the last time he ever saw the King.

“Elvis invited me to come to one of those wild parties, you know, the last evening of the season in crazy Vegas. I went upstairs and Elvis grabbed me, stood me up in front of the crowd and announced, ‘I want you all to meet Ben Weisman. The man who has written more songs for me than any other writer – 57! I want to hear it for this man.’ There was a big applause, then he took me over to the piano. It was just me and him. Elvis wasn’t looking too good. His eyes were puffy and he’d gotten very, very heavy. He said to me, ‘Ben, there’s a song I love called ‘Softly As I Leave You’. Indeed, I knew it well, one of those ballads that just about everyone had a crack at in the Sixties. After he sang his heart out Elvis said, ‘This is not a song about a man who’s leaving his girlfriend. It’s a song about a man who is going to die.’ I didn’t know what to say, but I knew there was trouble coming. As Elvis held my arm, I could feel his hand shaking. It made me feel as though mine was shaking, too. And that was the last time I saw him.” –Ben Weisman

“It Feels So Right” was included in the soundtrack of a 1965 Elvis movie called “Tickle Me”. It was the least expensive movie Elvis had ever made, and he made it specifically to pay the IRS for back taxes he owed. The film made $5 million in the box office ($37.6 million in 2015 dollars), a tidy sum during an era when Hollywood wasn’t used yet to making obscene amounts of money with every big star release. It was a typical Elvis romp, except that this time he won a Laurel award for Best Male Actor in a Musical Film. Besides being on “Elvis Is Back!”, “It Feels So Right” was released five years later in 1965 as a B-side single. The composition was not a copy of anything that had been written before. At the same time, one wants to like it just on the fact that it’s different and an original, written specifically for him, but the song falls short. Not even the King could fill his own shoes anymore. Ben Weisman recalls what it was like to write for Presley.

“I approached writing for Elvis differently than I did for any other artist. Elvis challenged my imagination. The songs had to have a combination of blues, country, rock and pop, sometimes gospel or swamp boogie, you name it. I lived my creative life walking in his musical shoes. And what shoes they were! Elvis had so much spirit. Beyond compare really. Elvis was a transformer, a rebel, like a meteorite, someone who only comes along once every few hundred years. He had that level of magnetism. Astonishing to be a part of it! And to write for him, to try and express what I knew his was going through as a man, throughout that whole journey. I feel very lucky.” – Ben Weisman

GIRL NEXT DOOR WENT A-WALKIN’ – ELVIS PRESLEY

Track 4 on Side 2, “The Girl Next Door Went A–Walkin’” was making the second side of the album shape up into something more enjoyable than the first. Easily one of the best tracks on the album along with “Fever” and “Such A Night”, it was written by Bill Rice and Thomas Wayne and originally recorded by Wayne, then released in 1959 through Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore’s short-lived record label, Fernwood.

LIKE A BABY – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Like A Baby” was written by Jess Stone, songwriter of the Drifters’ first single in 1953, “Money Honey”, which Elvis also recorded for his eponymous debut album in 1956 and turned into a major rock ‘n’ roll classic. “Like A Baby” was a good old-fashioned blues song and it rounded out the two different styles Elvis loved to sing in one album. Only gospel was missing.

Percolating with a smoldering rhythm that Elvis caressed with his smooth delivery, it was a competent song, just not a classic tune.

James Brown also recorded it as a single with his Famous Flames in 1963, and one-upped Elvis in pure soul, although the Godfather of Soul always spoke highly of the King.

RECONSIDER BABY – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis closes “Elvis Is Back!” with a classic blues standard first recorded and written by Lowell Fulson in 1954, a Number Three R&B chart hit. “Reconsider Baby” is registered in the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Besides Presley, it’s been recorded many times by artists such as Ike & Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Robin Trower and Gregg Allman among others. Elvis particularly liked the song as he had sung it during the Sun studio jam session back in December 1956 when he played with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins known as “The Million Dollar Quartet”.


Elvis goes for broke on this closer, backed by an amazing blues piano, pounding drums and wailing sax from the Nashville A-Team. It’s as though they poured their heart out on the last track.

The last two songs on the album gave a glimpse into Elvis’ love for the blues and that, along with a handful of other songs on the album, made it an acceptable, if a little disappointing return for Presley. Still, many critics, including Rolling Stone Magazine, hailed it as a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

 

THE FRANK SINATRA TIMEX SPECIAL – WELCOME HOME, ELVIS

The Establishment continued milking Presley’s return from the Army for all it was worth. On March 21, 1960, Elvis boarded a train headed for Miami. He stayed at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach for a week to rehearse and tape the show before a live audience for a later broadcast date. Those who tuned into the show were going to be quite disappointed.

Frank Sinatra had four specials lined up for national broadcast on the ABC television network in 1960. What better way to garner high ratings for one of them than to invite the world’s most popular star to welcome him home from the Army? It was The Establishment’s way of accepting Elvis into their world… but on their own terms.

Sinatra’s specials were all sponsored by Timex, a watch company that was promoting their newest invention: the waterproof watch. Its spokesperson was news commentator John Cameron Swayze (late actor Patrick Swayze’s father) and his Timex commercials became legendary. In each commercial, Swayze would find another ludicrous way to prove that the Timex waterproof watch can “take a lickin’ but keep on tickin’” as their slogan went.

During the entire hour, there were only two commercial breaks, something that would be unthinkable today. Aside from those four minutes of sponsored nonsense, Sinatra’s special was made up of further corny, Fifties-style mindless entertainment with very few moments of legitimate cool. Elvis was on for a total of eight minutes and didn’t really come on to say or do anything until thirty-six minutes into the show.

The special begins with Ol’ Blue Eyes coming out to sing “It’s Very Nice To Go Travelin’”, Soon, his daughter Nancy joins him, then Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr. and finally Elvis is introduced in Army uniform. After peals of excited screaming and a joke about his lack of sideburns, Elvis sings a stanza from the “Travelin’” song, and is then swiftly escorted away by Nancy Sinatra and would not be seen for most of the remainder of the show.

After a few songs from Sinatra, including the classic “Witchcraft” and other tedious bits from his guest stars, every teenager in America was probably rolling their collective eyes. Finally, thirty-six minutes into the 60-minute show, Sinatra introduces the King. The audience erupts once again in deafening squeals and Elvis comes out in a tux to sing the B-side of his latest hit, “Fame and Fortune”, a totally boring and perfectly acceptable song for the Establishment to approve. The teenage audience quiets down during the number simply because this isn’t the Elvis they know and love, but the squealing returns when Elvis sings his next song and the second and only other highlight of the show, “Stuck On You”. Finally, during those brief two and a half minutes, Elvis is permitted to be himself, much to the audience’s delight. But as soon as he’s done, Sinatra and Bishop come out to ruin the rest of Elvis’ appearance with more dumb scripted dialogue and a duet in which Ol’ Blue Eyes and the King sing each other’s songs. Elvis sings “Witchcraft”, alternating stanzas with Sinatra singing “Love Me Tender”, the only song Frank can probably handle at the time from the Elvis repertoire.

After another Timex commercial and the only other two minute commercial break in the hour, Nancy Sinatra comes out to replace Elvis and sing a lyrically different version of “You Make Me Feel So Young” with her father, and every teenager in the country is wondering where Elvis went off to. Just as the song ends and everyone hopes Elvis will return, Nancy Sinatra then does a dance number with the Tom Hansen Dancers. And that’s the show.

Frank ends it with him singing his thank you’s to everyone, including Elvis, who you get to see for another five seconds.

The show earned a 41.5 rating, which translated to 67.7% of the audience watching television at that moment were tuned into the show. Elvis was paid $125,000 (just under $1 million in 2015 dollars), an unprecedented amount at the time. Even Sinatra was grumbling about it because not even he was getting that much and it was his show. It was Col. Parker who insisted that Elvis sing only two songs for that price and for his appearance with Sinatra in the first place, in order to introduce Presley to an older market upon his return from the military.

Ed Sullivan criticized the Colonel’s large request of a payday for such little output.

“Col. Tom, using the logic of a farmer, is a firm believer in not giving a hungry horse a bale of hay”. – Ed Sullivan

In retrospect, keeping Elvis above it all probably did help his icon status, but it did no justice to his fans who wanted the pre-Army Elvis back, but Elvis did everything the fatherly Colonel said. When asked who his favorite singers were, Presley lied through his teeth and named Sinatra, Dean Martin and Patti Page. Please. Frank Sinatra on the other hand, already knew the fine art of hypocrisy and bit his tongue, smiling throughout as if he really loved rock ‘n’ roll.

“(Rock & Roll is) sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact, dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth … this rancid-smelling aphrodisiac I deplore.” – Frank Sinatra, 1957

“He has a right to his opinion, but I can’t see him knocking it for no good reason. I admire him as a performer and an actor but I think he’s badly mistaken about this. If I remember correctly, he was also part of a trend. I don’t see how he can call the youth of today immoral and delinquent.” – Elvis Presley upon hearing Sinatra’s comments, 1957

But on May 12, 1960, they were the best of chums. Their comments were a little nicer during their press conference before the show aired, although Sinatra still treated him like an outsider. In retrospect, Elvis should have stayed outside.

Only time will tell. They said I was a freak when I first hit, but I’m still around. Presley has no training at all. When he goes into something serious, a bigger kind of singing, we’ll find out if he is a singer. He has a natural, animalistic talent.” –Frank Sinatra, 1960

“I admire the man… He is a great success and a fine actor”. – Elvis Presley on Frank Sinatra, 1960

The only honest, albeit harsh, comment regarding the show came from a review of it in the New York Times.

“While he was in service, he lost his sideburns, drove a truck and apparently behaved in an acceptable military manner. But now he is free to perform in public again, as he did on last night’s “Frank Sinatra Show” over Channel 7… Although Elvis became a sergeant in the Army, as a singer he has never left the awkward squad. There was nothing morally reprehensible about his performance; it was merely awful.” – New York Times review.

Susan Doll, author of “Elvis For Dummies” astutely realized the good the special did to the Elvis persona, at the expense of his status of a rock ‘n’ roll star.

“(Elvis’ appearance on the show) clearly signaled that Elvis was courting a mainstream, adult audience… Appearing with Sinatra suggested that Elvis was following the same career path [as Sinatra] and was, therefore, the natural heir to the Voice”. – Susan Doll; “Elvis For Dummies”

Col. Tom Parker, therefore, with the unwitting aid of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, was effectively taming the “animalistic talent” that made his sole client who he was.

IT’S NOW OR NEVER – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis began filming his next movie, “G.I. Blues” on May 2nd, 1960. He had also finished recording his next single “It’s Now Or Never”, which was actually “O Sole Mio” with English language lyrics. Not very rock ‘n’ roll.

Interestingly enough, the inspiration for “It’s Now Or Never” isn’t “O Sole Mio” but another song called “There’s No Tomorrow”, sung by Tony Martin and released in 1949. “There’s No Tomorrow” was, in 1960, the second best-selling single of all time, so there was a deliberate reason that Elvis had for choosing the melody as his next single, having heard it while he was stationed in Germany.

“(Elvis) told the idea to his music publisher, Freddy Bienstock, who was visiting him in Germany… Mr. Bienstock, who many times found songwriters for Presley, returned to his New York office, where he found Mr. [Aaron] Schroeder and Wally Gold, the only people in that day. The two wrote lyrics in half an hour. Selling more than 20 million records, the song became number one in countries all around and was Presley’s best-selling single ever… a song [they] finished in 20 minutes to a half hour was the biggest song of [their] career.” -According to the New York Times quoting from the 1986 book “Behind The Hits”

One thing you have to admit about his interpretation of “It’s Now Or Never”. He sings it beautifully, with a sincere passion and affection resonating with every utterance of the words and a thrilling ending where he belts out the last lines worthy of a song derived from Italian opera. Upon listening to it, one has to wonder if he was thinking of Priscilla when he recorded it. The production of the song is truly well done as well, especially the accompanying piano. For a non-rock ‘n’ roll song, Elvis should be lauded for an excellent recording. The single was another successful notch in his belt, climbing to the top spot on Billboard and, also beloved by his African-American fans despite it not being and R&B song, entering the R&B Top Ten at Number Seven.

In 1977, the 42nd and last year of the King’s life, Elvis recorded “It’s Now Or Never” live. His voice wasn’t as full as before but it was still powerful, although he slurred some of the words. His sideburns were back, but he looked puffy and overweight, although judging by his fans’ reaction, nobody cared; they still loved him. Still, it was a sorrowful sight to see such a beloved and uniquely handsome icon facing the last days of his life through drug abuse and overeating because… well, who would ever dare say no to Elvis?

On May 6, Elvis called the girl he left behind, Priscilla, in the first of a series of phone calls he’d be making to her over the ensuing year. During the conversation, he admitted to Priscilla that he felt like a fish out of water with the songs he was recording, complaining about the terrible quality of compositions he had been given to sing for the soundtrack to “G.I. Blues”, and mentioning that the final release of “It’s Now Or Never” was a different mix than the one he approved. The Colonel defends Elvis on this and demands that the song get remixed to Elvis’ standards, much to his fans’ benefit, because the resulting record is wonderful.

Despite all his rumblings and creative troubles, Presley was enjoying his superstardom, visiting Vegas on May 28 with his entourage, now dubbed by the press as “The Memphis Mafia”, a group of hangers-on and yes-men whom Elvis considered his friends. This sycophantic Memphis Mafia would dog, follow, grovel and live off the King for the rest of his life.

In the summer of 1960, Elvis wraps the filming of “G.I. Blues”. On July 28, he receives his first-degree black belt in karate, a newfound hobby he picked up while he was in the Army. He would incorporate karate moves during his tour of the 1970s. Another milestone that occurred during that summer was the marriage of his father Vernon to Davada “Dee” Stanley. Elvis was opposed to the marriage, still profoundly affected by the death of his mother two years earlier, and didn’t attend the wedding. Vernon just one month later gives up all legal claim to Elvis’ Graceland to make sure his second wife will never inherit it.

Instead of focusing on making good records, Elvis immediately jumped from “G.I. Blues” to the production of his next movie “Flaming Star”. Although he didn’t see it at the time, the deteriorating quality of his recordings that he was beginning to complain about was very much his own fault. His desire to be a movie star would never be advanced past B-movie material because of mediocre scripts that would always showcase Presley as the leading man, capitalizing on the moment, and not looking out for his future in serious movies. Many actors who were serious about their careers at times had to take a supporting role in a good movie (i.e. Frank Sinatra in “From Here To Eternity” (1953) a Best Picture Oscar winner in which Sinatra also won for Best Supporting Actor). Col. Parker would never hear of such a thing, insisting that his “boy” should be the star of all his films. The result was a lot of movie vehicles designed to make him the center of attention, get all the girls, win all the fights and sing songs so they could be packaged and sold to his faithful fans.

G.I BLUES, THE MOVIE – ELVIS PRESLEY

Now, the movie industry was next in line to exploit the fact that Elvis had been in the Army. “G.I. Blues” was a musical comedy that premiered on August 18, 1960, in Dallas, Texas and the following November throughout the rest of the USA. The movie was directed by Norman Taurog, the man responsible for most of those awful but profitable Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis films released in the 1950s.

“G.I. Blues” was the second highest grossing musical comedy in 1960, an era when musicals were pretty common, and the 14th highest grossing film of the year, making $4.3 million ($34.3 million in 2015 dollars) in an era in which Hollywood wasn’t as greedy as it is today. If an ‘A’ list star in 2015 (and Elvis was certainly an A-list star then) makes this paltry sum at the box office, the movie would be considered a big flop.

“G.I. Blues” became a blueprint for the typical Elvis movie, where he’s the hero who gets the girl and has a fistfight or two in between songs. He still wanted to make serious movies, though, and his next two films showcased him in dramatic roles with very little singing, but their box office revenue in comparison to his musicals was poor. So instead of giving him better quality scripts in supporting roles where Elvis could have grown as an actor, Col. Tom Parker convinced him to do only musical comedies because those made money. He wasn’t wrong, indeed, Elvis’ musical comedies always made a profit upon release, but the quality of many of the songs in the films didn’t always hold up or was even worthy of his talent.

A good example of the depths Elvis was beginning to plumb in his movies was showcased in a song called “Pocketful of Rainbows”. Elvis and lead actress Juliet Prowse are in a lift and Elvis starts to croon as Prowse keeps singing the word “rainbows” in a voice that is so over-produced, the voice is rendered indistinguishable as to whether it’s hers or not.

In another song called “Wooden Heart”, which amazingly was Number One in the UK for six weeks, Elvis sings to a wooden puppet, and in “Big Boots” he serenades a baby to sleep. One wonders what that little baby, now around 55 years old, must think when he sees this scene.


In “Didja Ever”, a very catchy song based on military reveille, Elvis sings with a huge American flag behind him.

The only melodies that come close to any semblance of the rock ‘n’ roll music he pioneered include the movie’s theme song “G.I. Blues”, composed in a military motif.

“Frankfort Special” is another one, the movie’s musical highlight, a song he plays on a train where he suddenly stands up and seems to perform an electric guitar solo on an acoustic.

“Shoppin’ Around” is a happy song that has a more jazzy feel than rock ‘n’ roll.

In defense of the film, if you’re looking for a filmed entertainment that requires absolutely no engagement, watch an Elvis movie. They’re harmless, innocent pieces of fluff where you know he’s always going to get the girl in the end. To the more discriminating viewer, the only saving grace of all Elvis movies is Elvis himself.

Lastly, but definitely not least, is his unique singing voice. Nobody had ever sounded like that before. His style was so new that people were offended by his unrestrained moves. The release of Elvis’ “King Creole” in 1959 caused a riot in a Mexico City theater, which ultimately led the Mexican government to ban any further Elvis movies from ever playing in the country.

G.I. BLUES, THE ALBUM – ELVIS PRESLEY

The original soundtrack album for “G.I. Blues” was released in October, one month before the movie’s national premiere to saturate the market with the songs so each tune can act as a promotion for the upcoming film. It took three years for the album to be certified Gold (reaching $1 million in U.S. sales) in 1963 and thirty-two years to be certified Platinum (moving one million units in the U.S.) in 1992.

Highlights of the album was a newly recorded version of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”. The reason for this song’s inclusion is due to a scene where a soldier, sick of listening to “Tulsa”(the name of the character Elvis played in the film) sing a ballad called “Doin’ The Best I Can”, walks up to a jukebox and plays “BSS” by an artist assumed to be the real Elvis. This scene ends up in a fistfight in which Elvis teaches a lesson to the offending audience member and a brawl breaks out with “Blue Suede Shoes” playing in the background. The two versions sound almost identical, except that the original recording has an urgency in Presley’s voice lacking in the remake, where he sounds just a bit more laid back. The two guitar solos are also different.

The following year, in 1961, the soundtrack to “G.I. Blues” was nominated for three Grammys; Best Soundtrack Album, Best Male Vocal Performance, and Best Written Musical, but didn’t win in any of these categories.

ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis Presley’s last single release of the year after “It’s Now Or Never” was “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, a song written by Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926. The original version, recorded by a singer named Charles Hart in 1927, is truly laughable in its old-fashioned style, especially when you hear Hart roll his “r’s”.

Elvis’ version has the same melody, but a whole section of lyrics was dropped and replaced with Elvis speaking prose instead of singing.

The whole spoken portion of the song exudes with corniness, so much so that even Elvis has made fun of the song, turning it from a maudlin love tune to a very funny one.

FLAMING STAR, THE FILM – ELVIS PRESLEY

In an attempt to pursue the serious dramatic acting career he wanted, Elvis played a “mixed-blood” character in a film that touched on racism by “Dirty Harry” (1971, Clint Eastwood’s hit police drama) Director Don Siegel. Co-starring the beautiful Barbara Eden of future “I Dream Of Jeannie” fame, Presley got good reviews for his performance but the movie made little money. This movie and his next serious role in 1961’s “Wild In The Country” gave his manager Col. Parker enough ammunition to convince Elvis that the public didn’t want to see him in any serious roles. It was an underhanded thing to do that Presley took to heart. Elvis could have continued being in serious movies until his audience grew. It’s not like he needed the money since every song he was releasing was turning to gold.

There was originally four songs slated to be on the movie soundtrack but Elvis insisted that two of them be removed as he was trying to distance his acting career from his recording career.

ELVIS BY REQUEST – FLAMING STAR ELVIS EP

“Flaming Star” was a Western back when the Western was the most popular genre in the movies. Horse operas started to become less popular in the late Sixties after “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet Of The Apes” both released in 1968, replaced the frontier cowboy with the space cowboy. The song “Flaming Star” had an upbeat Western feel with Elvis’ voice in fine form. The film’s theme of racism was reminiscent of the John Ford classic “The Searchers” (1955).

The title song, along with the only other song in the movie, “A Cane and a High Starched Collar”, as well as one of the two songs Elvis removed, “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears” were included in the EP (Extended Play – too large to be a single with four songs instead of two, and too small to be an LP).


His two most recent hits, “It’s Now Or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” were also added onto the EP to encourage sales. The album peaked at Number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The fourth rejected song, “Britches” wouldn’t see the light of day until 1979 in a compilation LP called “Elvis: A Legendary Performer Volume 3”.

None of these songs were particularly notable, and Elvis once again would complain of the inferior quality of the song material he was given to sing in his movies.

“Flaming Star” was notable in that publicity stills from the movie were used by Andy Warhol years later to create silkscreens for some of Warhol’s works, one of them called “Double Elvis”.

As 1960 came to an end, Elvis completes his next serious movie “Wild In The Country” for a 1961 release, and calls Priscilla to ask if she could spend the Christmas holidays with him, inviting her family with her so that everything remain on the up and up since his future bride at the time was still only fifteen years old. It would be the second time Elvis would celebrate a Christmas without his beloved mother.