Sitting Near The Bottom

July 31st, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, Odd, Pop and I spent some time looking at records that over the years on July 8 had perched at No. 100 in the Billboard Hot 100 and at the bottom of the magazine’s Bubbling Under section. The exercise brought our attention back to the music of B.W. Stevenson, which provided two CDs’ worth of new listening and fodder for a few posts in this space.

I don’t expect anything quite as cool as that to come out of a similar exploration for three charts released on July 31 in the 1960s and 1970s, but we’ll see what we find.

We’ll start in 1961, when the No. 100 record was a lugubrious bit of wedding bell doo-wop by a New York-based R&B group called the Van Dykes. “The Bells Are Ringing” had been released in 1958 on the King label and went nowhere; this release, on the Deluxe label, would climb one more spot, to No. 99, before disappearing. (Earlier in 1961, “Gift Of Love,” a re-release on the Guardian Angel label of a recording that had been released on the Spring label in 1960, had done a little better, climbing to No. 91.)

Parked at No. 120, the bottom of the Bubbling Under section on July 31, 1961, was “Johnny Willow” by Fred Darian, the ludicrous tale of a World War II infantryman who, if I hear the record correctly, helped hold off the enemy while holding a letter to his girl in his left hand and his rifle in his right hand. The record, which accelerates alarmingly to an almost tongue-twisting speed, eventually spent one week in the Hot 100, making it to No. 96. It was Darian’s second low-charting record based on things military; the Detroit native saw his spoken word “Battle of Gettysburg” spend one week at No. 100 in February 1961. (Darian was also a co-writer of “Mr. Custer,” Larry Verne’s No. 1 hit from 1960.)

And we’re off to 1965, when the No. 100 record on July 31 was a single recorded live that in ten weeks would peak at No. 5 (No. 2 R&B): “The ‘In’ Crowd” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio. It was the sole Top Ten hit for the jazz pianist, but he’d put three more records into the Top 40 in the next year: “Hang On Sloopy” went to No. 11, a cover of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” went to No. 29, and “Wade In The Water” went to No. 19. Lewis’ 20th and last record in or near the Hot 100 was “What’s The Name Of This Funk (Spiderman),” which went to No. 69 in 1976.

The Bubbling Under section that July 31 was thirty-five records deep, and sitting at the very bottom of that section was a record by young English singer who in a little bit more than a year would become a television and recording star. “What Are We Going To Do” by David Jones is a lightweight record that to my ears owes a lot to Herman’s Hermits. In a couple of weeks it would move into the Hot 100 and peak at No. 93. Starting in September 1966, Jones would be better known as Davy, and with the other three members of the Monkees, would star in the hit television show and record and release numerous hit records, including three that went to No. 1.

In her first hit record, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (No. 1 pop and country, 1968), Jeannie C. Riley took on small-town hypocrisy. In 1971, in the last record she had in or near the Hot 100, Riley took on cohabitation, telling her beau in “Good Enough To Be Your Wife” that shacking up wasn’t gonna happen. The record was at No. 100 as July 1971 ended, and it would only move up three more notches before disappearing. On the country chart, however, “Good Enough To Be Your Wife” went to No. 7, the sixth and final record Riley put into the country Top Ten.

The horn band Ides of March had a No. 2 hit in early 1970 with “Vehicle” and kept throwing singles at the wall for the next eighteen months or so, hoping something would stick. Nothing really did, with “Superman,” the immediate follow-up to “Vehicle” doing the best, getting to No. 64. In the last days of July 1971, the band’s “Tie-Dye Princess” was parked at No. 124, smack on the bottom of the Bubbling Under section. It would get up to No. 113, and it was the last time the Ides of March would be in or near the Hot 100. (The single version of “Tie-Dye Princess doesn’t seem to be available at YouTube; you can find the eleven-minute album track here.)

‘Sleepy Time Lagoon’

July 29th, 2014

Here’s the No. 6 record for 1942, “Sleepy Time Lagoon” by Harry James & His Orchestra. It was No. 1 for four weeks in June and July that year.

And I’m off to that lagoon to see if I can doze off what’s been ailing me. I hope to be back tomorrow.

Saturday Single No. 404

July 26th, 2014

Sometimes you just luck into stuff. In 1957, Cliff Records in Shreveport, Louisiana, released “Flatfoot Sam,” by Oscar Wills, who recorded under the name of TV Slim because he was a skinny television repairman. The tale of the luckless Sam, says All Music Guide, got enough attention to merit a release on the Chicago-based Checker label. But, says AMG, “its ragged edges must have rankled someone at the Chicago label enough to convince Slim to recut it in much tighter form in New Orleans with the vaunted studio band at Cosimo’s.”

And it’s that New Orleans version that popped up in the RealPlayer this morning. Released as Argo 5277, with Robert (Barefootin’) Parker on sax, the record was, AMG says, Slim’s biggest seller. I’m not sure what that means, but I know the record didn’t make the R&B Top 40.

So how did I luck into “Flatfoot Sam” this morning? Well, I found the track some time ago on anthology of lesser-known Chess gems, where the notes indicated that the Argo session in New Orleans took place on July 26, 1957. And when I searched the RealPlayer for today’s date – July 26 – up popped “Flatfoot Sam.”

So here, recorded fifty-seven years ago today, is TV Slim’s “Flatfoot Sam,” today’s Saturday Single.

Flatfoot Sam bought an automobile
No money down, it was a real good deal
Didn’t wanna work, just ride around town
Finance company put his feets on the ground
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam stole a ten dollar bill
He told the judge, he did it for a thrill
He got sixty days suspended fine
He thanked judge for being so kind
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam, he got him a job
The very same day the place got robbed
The cats got away, they couldn’t be found
They picked up ol’ Sam and they dragged him down
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam playin’ a chuck-a-luck game
The dice got switched, Sam got the blame
He pulled a gun, shut out the light
Everybody hollered, run for your life
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam went on a spree
He married a gal weighed 603
She spent all his money, sold all his land
Next thing she did, she got another man
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Chart Digging, July 25, 1964

July 25th, 2014

Looking into the records in the higher portions of the Billboard Hot 100 from July 25, 1964 – fifty years ago today – is fun but unsurprising, like reading a favorite novel for the fifth time. I’ve been known to do that, read books five times or more, but I also read stuff I’ve never read before, combing the shelves at the local library for authors and titles new to me.

The parallel here is, of course, to go deeper into the Hot 100 from fifty years ago and find tunes that I’ve never heard (or may have heard but have since forgotten). Today’s exploration brings up six records from that long ago chart’s Bubbling Under section.

Parked at the very bottom of the Bubbling Under section, at No. 135, is one of those oddities: A performer’s only listed record sitting in the lowest position possible for one week only. After giving it a listen, I might think that “A Casual Kiss” by Leon Peels, an R&B singer born in Arkansas and raised in California, might have deserved more attention. It’s a pretty record, but it’s offered in a doo-woppish style that likely sounded out-of-date by mid-1964. It would have made for a great slow dance, though. And it’s interesting to note that a few years earlier, Peels was the lead singer of the Blue Jays, who were themselves a one-hit wonder, with “Lover’s Island” going to No. 31 in 1961.

Sitting at No. 129, we find a record I have heard, although I didn’t recall it until this morning. “The Seventh Dawn” by Ferrante & Teicher is one of the movie themes the piano-playing duo frequently recorded, and it’s one of the 175 F&T tracks on my digital shelves. The 7th Dawn was a 1964 film about the Communist insurgency in Malaya after World War II; it starred, among others, William Holden and Susannah York. I don’t know about the movie, but the F&T single is actually kind of blah, and its chart performance reflects that. In four weeks of bubbling, the highest the record got was No. 124, a great distance from the duo’s best charting singles: “Exodus” went to No. 2 and “Tonight” from West Side Story went to No. 8, both in 1961.

With Fats Domino’s unmistakable voice and the R&B sax break, “Mary, Oh Mary” has some of the elements of Domino’s classic New Orleans work from the 1950s. But as good as the single sounds today – and it’s pretty darn good – it wasn’t what the marketplace was looking for in July 1964. “Mary, Oh Mary” was bubbling under at No. 127 fifty years ago; it would stay there one more week and then disappear. It was the 74th single Domino put in or near the pop chart since 1955. He would have three more records reach the Hot 100, but just barely, with two records going to No. 99 later in 1964, and his cover of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” reaching No. 100 in 1968.

Jerry Wallace’s name showed up here once before, when I wrote about his 1972 hit (No. 38 pop, No. 2 country, No. 9 AC), “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry,” which was used as a plot device in a January 1972 episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. This morning, we’re listening to “It’s A Cotton Candy World” from its perch fifty years ago at No. 126. Three weeks later, the record, which is pleasant but no more than that, slipped into the Hot 100 and spent one week at No. 99. It was one of seventeen records the Missouri-born performer placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1958 and 1972. From 1965 into 1978, he placed nineteen records in the country Top 40, starting with “If You Leave Me . . .” and including its follow-up, “Do You Know What It’s Like To Be Lonesome,” which went to No. 2 on the country chart.

Moving up ten slots in that long-ago Bubbling Under section, we find at No. 116 an updated version of a famed American song. “Frankie & Johnnie” was likely a Nineteenth Century folk song but its origins are misty, says Wikipedia. (For those interested in popular music history, the story of the song, as told at Wikipedia, is fascinating.) Either way, the tale of Frankie and her two-timing man showed up in the Hot 100 five times between 1959 and 1966, with the best-performing version being Sam Cooke’s 1963 take, which went to No. 14 (No. 4 R&B). The version we’re interested in this morning is, as the record label says, “The New ‘Frankie and Johnnie’ Song” by the Greenwood County Singers. One of two charting records for the California-based group, which included a young Van Dyke Parks, the record would move into the Hot 100 a week later and eventually climb to No. 75 (No. 15 AC).

You might remember the nursery rhyme:

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles at his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

Well, fifty years ago this week, Bobby Shafto was Bubbling Under, with “She’s My Girl” sitting at No. 105. The English singer, about whom even Joel Whitburn seems to know little, was, one would think, stage-named after the subject of the nursery rhyme, who was likely, says Wikipedia, “a resident of Hollybrook, County Wicklow, Ireland, who died in 1737.” Or the singing Shafto could have been stage-named for Robert Shafto, an Eighteenth Century member of the British Parliament. Or the singer’s parents might have actually carried the surname Shafto and decided to saddle their son from his birth with that burdensome name. I don’t know, but I lean toward its being the silly brainstorm of the singer’s manager or some promotions person employed by the Rust label. In any case, the record was not bad, but it really went nowhere, spending one week at No. 99 before bubbling back down to where we found it. It was Shafto’s only charting single.

‘How Does Your Light Shine?’

July 22nd, 2014

As we’ve discovered over the past week or two, covers of the song “Shambala” – the Daniel Moore-penned song first recorded in 1973 by B.W. Stevenson and covered almost simultaneously by Three Dog Night – are relatively few. (I should note that the order in which the first versions of the song were recorded is offered here as I find it online. Faithful reader and pal Yah Shure made a comment in an email the other day that calls that order – Stevenson, then Three Dog Night – into question. I’ve meant to ask him about that, but I have not yet done so.)

Beyond the two 1973 versions and the two other covers noted here last week, I’ve found three other covers of “Shambala” and clear evidence that there’s at least one more cover out there: At least two used record outlets online are offering a 45 rpm single of the tune by soul legend Solomon Burke. Neither listing shows an issue date, nor does the generally reliably Soulful Kinda Music list the single at all. All Music Guide has the track listed on a 2004 anthology. If I get hold of it, it will show up here.

Writer Moore released one rootsy self-titled album in 1971 and then focused on writing and production for more than twenty years before establishing his own label – DJM – and releasing a series of albums starting in 1997, with the most recent listed at AMG being 2011’s Fittin’ To Go Off. His rather bland take on “Shambala” showed up on his 1998 album, Riding a Horse & Holding Up the World:

One of the covers of “Shambala” mentioned here earlier was Rockpile’s a capella 1992 offering. A similar version showed up in 2009 via a group that was formed at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. That’s when the Bear Necessities included their version of the tune on their album Teaches Of Peaches, a take on the song that, to my ears, owes an immense debt to the Swingle Singers.

And finally, the last cover I’ve found of “Shambala” is a good live version of the tune recorded by country star Toby Keith and his band. The performance – recorded in June 2010 at New York City’s Irving Plaza during one of Keith’s low-profile Incognito Bandito gigs – was one of four live tracks included in the deluxe version of Keith’s 2011 album Clancy’s Tavern.

Saturday Singles No. 402 & 403

July 19th, 2014

The tale of the Cash family and the song “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” feels to me this morning like something that might have been told by a country radio version of the recently departed Casey Kasem.

Having come to an appreciation of country music by a roundabout way and not via the radio, I can only assume that there is or was a country radio show similar to Kasem’s American Top 40. If that’s the case, then the tale has to have been told. But it was new to me this morning.

Johnny Cash wrote the tale of the boy and his guitar:

In a little cabaret in a South Texas border town
Sat a boy and his guitar, and the people came from all around.
And all the girls from there to Austin
Were slippin’ away from home and puttin’ jewelery in hock.
To take the trip, to go and listen
To the little dark-haired boy that played the Tennessee flat-top box.

And he would play: [Instrumental]

Well, he couldn’t ride or wrangle, and he never cared to make a dime.
But give him his guitar, and he’d be happy all the time.
And all the girls from nine to ninety
Were snappin’ fingers, tappin’ toes and beggin’ him: “Don’t stop.”
And hypnotized and fascinated
By the little dark-haired boy that played the Tennessee flat-top box.

And he would play: [Instrumental]

Then one day he was gone, and no one ever saw him ’round.
He’d vanished like the breeze, and they forgot him in the little town.
But all the girls still dreamed about him,
And hung around the cabaret until the doors were locked.
And then one day on the Hit Parade
Was a little dark-haired boy that played a Tennessee flat-top box.

And he would play: [Instrumental]

Cash recorded the song in Hollywood on July 19, 1961, fifty-three years ago today. Released as a single, “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” went to No. 11 on the Billboard country chart and to No. 84 on the magazine’s Hot 100.

Fast forward twenty-six years to 1987, when Cash’s daughter Rosanne was putting together her sixth album, King’s Record Shop. According to Wikipedia, it was at the urging of her then-husband Rodney Crowell that the younger Cash recorded “Tennessee Flat-Top Box.” When she recorded the song, Wikipedia says, Rosanne Cash was unaware her father had written it; she thought the song was in the public domain.

Released as a single in late 1987, Rosanne Cash’s version of “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” went to No. 1 on the county chart, the third of four country No. 1 records from King’s Record Shop. (The others were “The Way We Make A Broken Heart,” “If You Change Your Mind” and “Runaway Train.”) According to a note in the 2001 edition of the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the younger Cash’s success with “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” “marked a healing of her strained relationship with her dad.”

That healing probably wasn’t as easy as that makes it sound, but never mind. And the tale is probably not unique; I imagine there are other examples of families’ later generations finding success with remakes of earlier generations’ works. (I’m not going to dig for them today, but I imagine I’d find some.)

But it’s still a nice story, with two versions of the same song that are both worth hearing. That’s why Johnny Cash’s 1961 recording of “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” (offered above) and Rosanne Cash’s 1987 cover of her father’s song (below) are today’s Saturday Singles.

‘Wash Away My Troubles . . .’

July 18th, 2014

As your faithful narrator seems not to be enlightened enough on his own road to Shambala to avoid the head cold that afflicts him every summer year after year, our full examination of covers of the Daniel Moore song – first recorded by B.W. Stevenson and then Three Dog Night in 1973, as noted here – will have to be conducted piecemeal.

There really aren’t all that many covers of the tune, but even the minor hurdle of exploring them all seems insurmountable this morning, so I’m going to offer two and then curl up in a metaphoric cocoon. (Perhaps I’ll emerge as a more enlightened being, or maybe not.)

Anyway, the song “Shambala” seems to have been pretty much ignored for nearly twenty years after the two versions charted in 1973. There are many records with that title listed at Discogs.com and offered as videos at YouTube, but few of them are of the same song.

The next cover I can find of the tune showed up in 1992, when Rockapella, an a capella group from New York City, released “Shambala” on its album Smilin’. The group is better known, says Wikipedia, for its role as a vocal house band and resident comedy troupe on the hit PBS geography game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

And then it was on to South Africa. In 1994, a South African artist, Victor Khojane – recording as Dr. Victor – had a hit with the song after it was released on a maxi-single. I’ve seen the song credited in various places to Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels, but I’m not sure if it’s a group effort or a solo effort from Khojane. Either way, it’s danceable.

And we’ll continue our road to Shambala next week.

‘On The Road To Shambala . . .’

July 15th, 2014

Shambala, according to Wikipedia, is “a kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia.” Digging deeper, one reads that Shambala is “mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra Tantra and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which predated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet.” Wikipedia goes on to say:

Hindu texts such as Vishnu Purana mention the village Shambhala as the birthplace of Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu who will usher in a new Golden Age . . .

Whatever its historical basis, Shambhala gradually came to be seen as a Buddhist Pure Land, a fabulous kingdom whose reality is visionary or spiritual as much as physical or geographic. It was in this form that the Shambhala myth reached the Western Europe and the Americas, where it influenced non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist spiritual seekers — and, to some extent, popular culture in general.

The Wikipedia entry on Shambala offers numerous examples of the use of Shambala in Western culture, including popular culture, noting that the mythical place is sometimes claimed to have been the inspiration for Shangri-La, first described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. Our popular culture interest this morning, of course, is the song “Shambala,” written by Daniel Moore and first recorded in 1973 by B.W. Stevenson and covered very soon after by Three Dog Night. Here’s how Stevenson sang it:

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala.
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala.

Hey-ay-ee . . .

Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala.
Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala.

How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?
How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?
Tell me: How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?
How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?

I can tell my sister by the flowers in her eyes
On the road to Shambala.
I can tell my brother by the flowers in his eyes
On the road to Shambala.

Hey-ay-ee . . .

Stevenson’s version entered the Billboard Hot 100 on May 12, 1973, and spent eight weeks in the chart, peaking at No. 66. It went to No. 31 on the adult contemporary chart. The cover from Three Dog Night entered the Hot 100 a week later for a sixteen-week stay, peaking at No. 3 on both the pop and AC charts.

And with your host limited by a couple of summer ailments, other covers of “Shambala” – including the 1998 version by its writer, Daniel Moore – will have to wait until later in the week.

Saturday Single No. 401

July 12th, 2014

I spent just a little time this morning looking for something that connects with the day. I dug into a few Billboard Hot 100s from over the years, looked at games I might play with the date – 7/12 – and then sipped my coffee while the RealPlayer searched for “July 12” so I could see if anything was recorded on this date over the years.

There were a few tracks dated “July 12,” most of them, as I expected, folk and blues material from the 1930s and 1940s. (I have session dates for relatively few tracks among the 77,000 in the RealPlayer, and most of those come from annotated blues and folk anthologies.) And then I spotted the date “July The 12th” in a title.

The late Larry Jon Wilson has been mentioned in this space just twice in more than seven years, and that lack of attention surprises me, given how much I enjoy his music. The track that caught my attention this morning, “July The 12th, 1939,” is a sad and enigmatic Southern tale – and I wonder as I write if there are any Southern tales that are not sad and enigmatic – written by Norro Wilson and released on Wilson’s 1977 album Loose Change. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘She Takes My Blues Away . . .’

July 11th, 2014

Ever since B.W. Stevenson popped up earlier this week, I’ve been digging back into his music. Finding Stevenson’s “Save A Little Time For Love” and “Say What I Feel” through the help of our pal Yah Shure spurred me into ordering two CDs, each of which contains two of Stevenson’s 1970s albums. (The CD offering My Maria from 1973 and Calabasas from 1974 was already on my shelves, though I had a difficult time this morning determining which particular shelf.)

And as I began to dig into Stevenson’s music, I also found myself digging into the work of Daniel Moore, the co-writer of “My Maria” – the late Stevenson’s most successful single – and the writer on his own of “Shambala,” probably Stevenson’s second-best-known work. We’ll get to Moore next week as we listen to some covers of “Shambala” and perhaps a little bit of Moore’s rootsy self-titled album from 1971.

But for today, we’re just going to deal with “My Maria.” Here’s Stevenson’s version, which went to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 for one week on the adult contemporary chart:

From what I can tell, poking around at Second Hand Songs, at discogs.com and at Amazon, there are two U.S.-released covers out there of “My Maria.” (At discogs.com, there are some releases listed from other artists in Germany and the U.K. that may or may not be the same song.) One of those U.S.-released covers listed at Second Hand Songs is credited only to “Voice Male” and was included on a 1997 CD of covers titled Up, Up & Away.

(Other tracks on the Up, Up & Away CD include Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration,” Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow Of Your Smile” and the classic by Ernie, “Rubber Duckie.” Sadly, or perhaps not, the link from Second Hand Songs to the CD’s page at Amazon no longer works, and a few quick checks at other CD emporia brought no joy.)

The other U.S.-released cover of “My Maria” is, of course, the 1996 cover by Brooks & Dunn. Having come late to an appreciation of country music (and not being an expert by any definition of the word), I wonder if Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are not the most successful country duo of all time. If not, they’re definitely in the running, with – according to Wikipedia – twenty No. 1 hit on the Billboard country chart and another nineteen in the magazine’s Top Ten. “My Maria” wasn’t the duo’s biggest hit. Based on weeks at No. 1, that would have been 2001’s “Ain’t Nothing ’Bout You,” which topped the chart for six weeks. But “My Maria” was No. 1 for three weeks in 1996, and, says Wikipedia, was that year’s top country song. So here’s Brooks & Dunn’s cover of “My Maria.”