Archive for the ‘1959’ Category

A ‘What’ Preview

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

I’m still regrouping here, doing the minimum necessary to keep the household running, drinking lots of fluids, taking lots of decongestant and other meds and just holding on. But I thought I’d toss out another preview to the feature I hope to start in earnest in the next week or so: Journalism 101.

Last Thursday, I offered a preview of the first of the five W’s: “Who.” Today, we’ll find a tune with “What” in its title, sorting among 1,375 tracks the RealPlayer found. Among the tracks we’ll have to reject are two pretty good albums, the Doobie Brothers’ What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits and the Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. (There are more that we must pass by, but – in keeping with the tenor of this post – that’s a preview.)

From the perspective of nearly sixty years, the Coasters’ 1959 track “What About Us” sounds, certainly in the first verse and perhaps in some of the later verses, like a plaint about economic inequality:

He’s got a house made of glass
Got his own swimming pool . . . what a gas
We’ve got a one-room shack
Five by six by the railroad track, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

He’s with a beautiful chick
Every night of the week, pretty slick
We’re two poor hung up souls
Girls won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

He goes to eat at the Ritz
Big steaks, that’s the breaks
We eat hominy grits
From a bag, what a drag

He’s got a car made of suede
With a black leather top, got it made
If we go out on dates
We go in a box on roller skates, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

By the second verse, songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are placing the tale clearly in the teen-age milieu, but I wonder if the first verse and some of the later verses had a wider target.

“What About Us” was released in late 1959, and Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows it going to No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 as the B-side to “Run Red Run,” which went to No. 36. Oddly, perhaps, Whitburn’s R&B book shows “What About Us” as the A-side; it went to No. 17 on the Billboard R&B chart (with “Run Red Run” going to No. 29 on the B-side).

Whether pointed statement or teenage playlet, whether A-side or B-side, the record has the classic Coasters sound: A catchy rhythm, humor-laden lyrics, the low-voice interjections and a sax solo that I assume comes from King Curtis. Enjoy!

Stuff For Sale

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

It’s been busy here the past few days, and that will continue through Saturday. In our effort to slender down the amount of stuff in the house, we’re having a yard sale tomorrow and Saturday.

We’ve been gathering things from throughout the house for a few weeks now – quilting material and supplies, craft materials, unused dishes and cookware, some games and lots of miscellaneous stuff – and pricing it and letting it sit in the living room and the back room.

Today, my tasks include stops at the bank to get cash for change, a stop somewhere to get yard sale signs, and clearing four portable tables currently in use in the house and getting them out to the garage for use tomorrow.

I’m already weary, and it’s only 7:30 in the morning.

Given our plans, this is my only stop here in the studios this week. I’ll be back Tuesday with a less cluttered house and – we hope – a little more cash in the bank account. Then, the Texas Gal and I can begin to look at some of the items we’ve unearthed in the house that are more suited to an antique dealer’s care than simply being sold in the front yard.

Given the week’s activity, I checked out tunes in the RealPlayer with “sale” in their titles. After some sorting – I have more tracks than I would have guessed with “Jerusalem” in their titles – I came up with three commodities that have frequently been listed for musical sale: Love, a cottage and a broken heart.

I’m going with the cottage. Here’s Frank Sinatra with “A Cottage For Sale.” It’s from his 1959 album No One Cares, an album so bleak that, according to a note at Discogs.com, Sinatra called it a collection of “suicide songs.”

‘Big Iron On His Hip . . .’

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Sometimes, when I look for something that matches a date, I struggle to find something fun or even interesting. I look through the reference library, the CD and LP logs, through the lists of tracks recorded on that date and through the Wikipedia entry on that date . . . and I sit here dithering, trying to select the best option from any number of uninspiring choices.

Today is not one of those days. It was on April 7, 1959, that Marty Robbins was in the studio, laying down one of the tracks for his album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which would be released that September. The track was “Big Iron,” the tale of a confrontation between an Arizona ranger and an outlaw named Texas Red:

To the town of Agua Fria rode a stranger one fine day
Hardly spoke to folks around him, didn’t have too much to say
No one dared to ask his business, no one dared to make a slip
For the stranger there among them had a big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

It was early in the morning when he rode into the town
He came riding from the south side, slowly lookin’ all around
He’s an outlaw loose and running came the whisper from each lip
And he’s here to do some business with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red
Many men had tried to take him and that many men were dead
He was vicious and a killer though a youth of twenty four
And the notches on his pistol numbered one and nineteen more
One and nineteen more

Now the stranger started talking, made it plain to folks around
Was an Arizona ranger, wouldn’t be too long in town
He came here to take an outlaw back alive or maybe dead
And he said it didn’t matter, that he was after Texas Red
After Texas Red

Wasn’t long before the story was relayed to Texas Red
But the outlaw didn’t worry, men that tried before were dead
Twenty men had tried to take him, twenty men had made a slip
Twenty one would be the ranger with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

The morning passed so quickly, it was time for them to meet
It was twenty past eleven when they walked out in the street
Folks were watching from the windows, everybody held their breath
They knew this handsome ranger was about to meet his death
About to meet his death

There was forty feet between them when they stopped to make their play
And the swiftness of the ranger is still talked about today
Texas Red had not cleared leather ’fore a bullet fairly ripped
And the ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered ’round
There before them lay the body of the outlaw on the ground
Oh, he might have went on living but he made one fatal slip
When he tried to match the ranger with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

The album was released in September 1959 and went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200. “Big Iron” was released as a single in early 1960; it went to No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 5 on the magazine’s country chart. (The classic track “El Paso,” which was included on the same album, was also recorded fifty-six years ago today. Released as a single in late 1959, it was No. 1 on the Hot 100 for two weeks and No. 1 on the country chart for seven weeks.)

Marty Robbins has shown up here before, first in the chart-digging discovery of his 1970 folk-rock piece “Jolie Girl” and then when his 1957 hit, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation,” was part of “White” in our exploration of what we called Floyd’s Prism. Today’s track, “Big Iron,” is one I hadn’t heard until about a year ago, when I collected a five-CD set titled Columbia Country Classics. It’s left me thinking I need to dig up a copy of Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs for myself.

Revised slightly after initial posting.

Saturday Single No. 410

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

I had a very pleasant birthday yesterday, marking sixty-one years on the planet with a couple of nice meals, lots of greetings on Facebook and a quiet evening at home. I lunched with my mom at Jimmy’s Pour House in Sauk Rapids, and after running a few errands with her, I headed home, and as I did, I recalled a long-ago birthday lunch.

During the years I was growing up, turning twenty-one was a big deal. It meant – as it does again now – that one can legally buy beer and liquor. As I approached twenty-one in September of 1974, that had changed. In the late spring of 1973, the legal drinking age in Minnesota changed to eighteen, leaving thousands of suddenly legal young folks who had anticipated their first drinks on their twenty-first birthdays vaguely dissatisfied (although they were allowed to legally mitigate their dissatisfactions with beer or margaritas or whatever). I was one of those vaguely dissatisfied folks, and my first legal drink – which I likely have mentioned before in this space – was a brandy and water recommended by my father one evening when we went for dinner. It’s a drink I shall never have again.

Thus, by the time my twenty-first birthday came along in 1974, I’d been drinking legally for something like fifteen months (with about half of that time spent happily quaffing European beers, mostly Danish, in their places of origin). But on that September 5 in 1974 – it was a Thursday – some of the folks at The Table in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center decided that I needed to mark my twenty-first birthday with a celebration. So we squeezed into a couple of cars and headed to Little John’s Pub in the mall at the west end of town.

After some sandwiches and a couple of pitchers of Grain Belt Premium (a good, if basic, lager brewed in Minneapolis at the time), we wobbled back to campus and whatever else a Thursday afternoon would bring. It was a far more raucous lunch than my mom and I had yesterday at Jimmy’s, and far more raucous, too, than the dinner the Texas Gal and I had yesterday evening at the Ace Bar & Grill. But all three events were celebrating in their ways the same thing: the successful passage through another year on this blue planet and our wishes for similar success as the next stage of the voyage continues.

And it seems to me that the first full day of that next stage needs a September song. After considering Carole King’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” Frank Sinatra’s “The September Of My Years” and a few others, I’ve decided to go instrumental and minimal this morning. Here’s Chet Baker’s 1959 take on the classic and somewhat melancholy “September Song.” Even though I am not at all melancholy this morning, it’s nevertheless today’s Saturday Single.

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board WeenieCampbell.com, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.

‘You Done Your Daddy Wrong . . .’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Back when I was a little horn-playing sprout, listening to my Herb Alpert and Al Hirt records on our RCA stereo, I found myself wanting to dance every time the needle got to the last track on Hirt’s 1963 album, Honey In The Horn. With its rapid tempo, its lip-rippling horn riffs, and its background singers chants of “Go along, go along,” I loved Hirt’s cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.”

Of course, at the age of twelve or so, I had no idea it was a cover. I had no idea who Hank Snow was. And I had no idea that Snow’s 1950 original had topped the country chart for a record-tying twenty-one weeks, matching the performance of Eddy Arnold’s 1947 release, “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms).” (In 1955, Webb Pierce tied Arnold and Snow when his “In The Jailhouse Now” was No. 1 for twenty-one weeks, and in 2013, notes Wikipedia, the three records were dropped from their record-holding positions when “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line spent twenty-four weeks at No. 1.*)

I’m not sure when I learned about Snow’s original – sometime between 1965 and 2000, I guess – but it’s without a doubt one of the classics of country music:

The record came to mind the other day when I heard a version of “I’m Movin’ On” by Johnny Cash with Waylon Jennings that was recently released on Out Among the Stars, a collection of recently discovered Cash recordings from 1981 and 1984. And I wondered what other covers might be out there, expecting the list to be lengthy.

And I was right: Second Hand Songs lists more than fifty covers of the Snow song, and there are others at Amazon (though many of those listings are the Rascal Flatts song with the same title). And Wikipedia references a few other covers. I don’t entirely trust that list, however, as it cites covers by Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, and I can find no indication that either Dylan or Zep recorded the song. (Dylan’s official website does note that he performed the song in concert nineteen times between 1989 and 1993.)

Some of the covers have hit the various charts. On the country chart, Don Gibson took the song to No. 14 in 1960, and a live version by Emmylou Harris went to No. 5 in 1983. (The Harris version linked here is from an anthology, and I believe it’s the single version from the live Last Date album, though I imagine the single might have had the introduction trimmed. If it’s the wrong performance, I’d appreciate knowing about it.)

Three versions of the tune have also hit the pop chart: A jaunty cover by Ray Charles went to No. 40 (and to No. 11 on the R&B chart) in 1959, singer Matt Lucas took the song to No. 59 in 1963 in his only appearance on the chart, and John Kay saw his Steppenwolf-ish cover of the tune go to No. 52 in 1972.

And that’s enough for today. We’ll be back later this week with some more.

*Based on what I read at Wikipedia, I have some reservations about “Cruise” holding the record for most weeks at No. 1, as some of those twenty-four weeks belong to the original release and some of them belong to a remix by hip-hop artist Nelly. If there’s a remix, is it the same record?

‘Baby, You’re The Ginchiest . . .’

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

So what do we know about July 30? Well, it’s the 211th day of the year, leaving 154 to go.

And a few notable events have taken place over the years on July 30. The one that’s listed at Wikipedia with the most interesting title might be the First Defenestration of Prague, which took place in 1419. Here’s what happened, according to Wikipedia:

“Jan Želivský, a Hussite priest at the church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows, led his congregation on a procession through the streets of Prague to the New Town on Charles Square. The town council members had refused to exchange . . . Hussite prisoners. While they were marching, a stone was thrown at Želivský from the window of the town hall. The mob became enraged at this event and, led by Jan Žižka, stormed the town hall. Once inside the hall, the group threw the judge, the burgomaster, and some thirteen members of the town council out of the window and into the street, where they were killed by the fall or dispatched by the mob.”

(The Second Defenestration of Prague, says Wikipedia, took place in 1618 when four Catholic Lords Regent were tossed from a third-floor window at the Bohemian Chancellory by angry Protestants. The four survived, likely because of their heavy clothing; Catholics, however, credited the intercession of angels while Czech Protestants credited the intercession of a dung heap as a landing place. The event precipitated the Thirty Years’ War.)

The list of July 30 events at Wikipedia goes on to include other wars, castle constructions, government creations, legislatives signings, space missions and more. It’s interesting stuff, but nothing I see on the page seems quite as good as a classic defenestration. Well, maybe the 1933 birth of Edd Byrnes, who played Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III on ABC’s 77 Sunset Strip from 1958 to 1963. Kookie was, as Wikipedia notes, “the valet parking [attendant] who constantly combed his piled-high, greasy-styled teen hair.” Byrnes parlayed Kookie’s popularity with young folks into a hit record with Connie Stevens in 1959 when “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)” went to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 30 on the R&B chart.

Happy 80th Birthday, Edd! Here are Byrnes and Stevens on the Dick Clark Saturday Night Beechnut Show that aired on April 4, 1959.

‘Red’

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Having brought the March of the Integers through ten steps (and not seeing a search for ‘Eleven” offer much of a return), I’ve been pondering what other ways there might be to sort the nearly 69,000 tunes in the RealPlayer that would provide interesting cross-sections of what is a wide range of music.

And then I dropped Dark Side of the Moon into the upstairs CD player late one evening. As the heartbeat faded in to start the epic album’s first track, “Speak To Me,” I looked idly at the iconic album cover with its prism. And I thought, “The spectrum. Sort titles by color.”

So this is the first of nine planned posts in a series that my pals Odd and Pop insist on calling “Floyd’s Prism.” Nine? Yes, because we plan on covering the seven colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – and then adding black and white.

Here we go with “Red.”

Our search through the mp3 shelves brings up 1,878 files, most of which we’ll not be able to use. We discard immediately anything performed or conducted by anyone named “Alfred,” which eliminates the Philharmonia Slavonica performances of two symphonies by Robert Schumann (Alfred Scholz conducting),  Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won, the 1929 plaint by Blind Alfred Reed, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” (revived in recent years by Bruce Springsteen) and Alfred Lewis’ whooping and harmonica-honking take on “Mississippi Swamp Moan” from 1930.

Numerous other artists that pop up in the search are set aside (unless further search finds in their catalog a title with “red” in it): bluesman Tampa Red; Don Redman & His Orchestra (with the oddly titled 1931 single “Chant of the Weed’); Mississippi Fred McDowell (many tracks including the great soliloquy “I Do No Play No Rock ’N’ Roll”); an early 1970s band, Fred, that released, from what I’ve been able to tell, one self-titled album between 1971 and 1973; and Fred Astaire, Fred Hughes, Fred Hess, Fred Neil (who wrote “The Dolphins” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”); Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns; Freddie King, Freda Payne and a few more.

Albums take a hit, too. We lose most tracks off numerous albums, including Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to the 1990 movie, The Hunt for Red October, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road, Bob Dylan’s Under the Red Sky, Chris Rea’s Wired to the Moon, Chris Thomas King’s Red Mud, Dan Fogelberg’s Captured Angel, Jane Bunnett’s Red Dragonfly, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus and Jimmy McGriff’s Red Beans.

Individual titles go, too. Among them: “My Days Are Numbered” by the Bad Habits, “Blistered Heart” by Badly Drawn Boy, versions of “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles and Billy Preston, “Rip Her To Shreds” by Blondie, “Blues for Big Fred” by Richard “Groove” Holmes, “High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” by the Marvelettes, three versions of Dylan’s “Nothing Was Delivered,” five versions of the standard, “It Never Entered My Mind,” and – as we close this section to keep it somewhat under control – Keld Heick’s Danish tune, “Jeg Ringer På Fredag” (which translates to “I’ll Call You On Friday”) and a track titled “Es Redzeju Jurina” from the album Beyond The River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia.

There are, however, many recordings with “red” in their titles, and as we select six this morning, we’ll no doubt miss some good ones.

Before Muddy Waters found his way in 1947 to the Aristocrat and Chess labels in Chicago, he recorded for Columbia. The label, along with other major labels, was struggling with change, according to the notes in the British-issued box set Chicago Is Just That Way: “The major companies . . . retained such a hidebound attitude toward their product that younger artists coming forward, like Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters, seemed to be beyond their comprehension.” Waters recorded several sides for Columbia, mostly with only his slide guitar as accompaniment. But in 1946, he recorded “Mean Red Spider” with a band, and then Columbia for some reason released the record under the name of James “Sweet Lucy” Carter.

The entry for Billy “The Kid” Emerson at Wikipedia tells an interesting story: “William Robert Emerson, known during his recording career as Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson and more recently as Rev. William R. Emerson . . . is an African American preacher and former R&B and rock and roll singer and songwriter, best known for his 1955 song, ‘Red Hot’.”  We may dig into that story more in the future, but for today, “Red Hot” is where our interest lies. Emerson wrote the song after hearing a football cheer, “Our team is red hot . . .” and recorded it on May 31, 1955, at the Sun studios in Memphis. It was released as Sun 219 but it failed to chart. (The better-known version is probably the 1957 cover by Billy Lee Riley; versions by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and by Robert Gordon with Link Wray made the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and 1977, respectively.)

Teach a monkey to play poker, and you’re asking for trouble. That’s the surface moral in “Run Red Run” by the Coasters. The fanciful tale of a monkey who turns on its owner for cheating at cards came from the minds of songwriting geniuses Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s one of the Coasters’ lesser-known hits today, but it has everything a Coasters fan would need: A good if fanciful story, great vocals (including the classic “boogetty boogetty boogetty boogetty” behind the chorus) and two sax solos that are almost certainly by King Curtis. The 1959 record went to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 29 on the R&B chart. I especially like the mention in the final verse of the “brand new Stetson hat,” which has to be a clear reference to “Stagger Lee,” which Lloyd Price had taken to No. 1 in early 1959.

Another record that tends to get lost, I think, is “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond, overtaken by both the more popular hits in his vast catalog and by the two 1988 covers of the song by the English reggae group, UB40. The standard version by UB40 went to No. 34 in the U.S., and the version with a rap by Astro went to No. 1. There’s no doubt that UB40 reinvented the song memorably, and it’s true that Diamond’s original went only as high as No. 62. But Diamond’s 1968 version is worth a listen, too, either to examine the source of the later hit or just to hear a good record.

I have no idea who was in the group Kansas City, which released “Red Tower Road” as a single on the Trump label in 1970. I got the record as part of the Lost Jukebox series, and all I know from the barebones index I’ve found and from looking at the single’s label online is that the record was produced by the well-known and highly regarded Tommy Cogbill. (The video I found notes the involvement as well of Chips Moman, but a quick search this morning leaves me uncertain as to his ties to the record, although I could guess that it was recorded at Moman’s studio in Memphis.) According to one website, “Red Tower Road” was the B-side to “Linda Was A Lady,” but to my ears, it was good enough to be an A-side.

So what’s our last stop? “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” by Jesse Ed Davis” “Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie? “Rusty Red Armour” by Vinegar Joe? Well, having visited one keyboard genius earlier this week in Richard “Groove” Holmes, it only seems right that we pick up on a chance to listen to “Red Beans” by Jimmy McGriff. It’s the title track of the earlier mentioned 1976 album, and although there’s not as much keyboard in the track as one might like, it’s still a sweet workout for a Thursday.

‘And A Thousand Violins Begin To Play . . .’

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The other afternoon, the Seventies music channel provided the background as I dozed for a while on the couch. I kept the volume low, but every once in a while, I’d wake up and listen for a moment, just to see how deeply into the decade the channel digs. (Not very deeply, generally.)

At one point, when I raised my awareness, I heard Roberta Flack: “The first time . . . ever I saw your face . . .” I went back to sleep, and as I did, a connection flickered between a movie and Flack’s record, which spent six weeks during the spring of 1972 at No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart (and went to No. 4 on the R&B chart). And as the song ended and the music shifted to something from 1979, I went back to sleep, remembering the connection.

The movie was Play Misty For Me, the tale of a late-night jazz disc jockey and a fan who regularly requests the classic Erroll Garner record “Misty.” Over the course of the movie, the fan goes from devoted listener to lover to demented slasher. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood – who plays the disc jockey – was the destination in late 1971 for the first date I had with my first college girlfriend. And it was the first time I’d ever heard of the classic tune “Misty.”

The tune was written by Garner (with lyrics added later by Johnny Burke) and was first recorded by the Erroll Garner Trio and released as a single in 1955:

Shortly after learning about the tune, I came across it in a guitar book I was using as a fake book for piano, and I began to put together my own arrangement. I tried several approaches, ranging from slow minimalism to a bouncy trip, sometimes decorating the tune with some added sixth and major seventh chords, but I never felt at home with the song, and quit playing it. It might have helped, I suppose, if I had ever sought out and listened to the numerous versions of the song that were available on record, but I never thought of that. And the next time I heard the song was a few years later when I heard what Doc Severinsen and Henry Mancini had done with “Misty” on their 1972 album Brass on Ivory.

That cover remains one of my favorites in a list that stretches back to a 1955 cover version by jazz pianist Johnny Costa. The list of covers offered at Second Hand Songs (not necessarily a complete list, but likely pretty good) starts there and goes on to the 2010 cover by the Sachal Studios Orchestra that includes traditional Indian instruments and a 2011 version by singer Michael Ball. Some of the more interesting names among the earlier instrumentals on that list are Toots Thielemans, King Curtis, Buddy Rich, Cal Tjader, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Stephane Grapelli.

When it comes to vocal covers, the list includes the performance that a lot of people might think is the essential version of “Misty,” the 1959 cover by Johnny Mathis that went to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the R&B chart. Other noted names who’ve done vocal covers include Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra, Marty Robbins, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Timi Yuro and more. Not being very conversant with current jazz, either instrumental of vocal, I don’t recognize a lot of the names post-1980.

As to charting versions on or near the Hot 100, they came from Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Lloyd Price, the Vibrations, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Ray Stevens. Of those versions, neither Vaughan’s standard 1959 vocal (No. 106 on the pop chart) nor Price’s 1963 big band version (No. 21 pop and No. 11 R&B) grab me much.

I didn’t care much for the twangy countrified version that came from Ray Stevens in 1975; I like it better now, but it’s never going to be my favorite version of the song. Other folks liked it well enough, though, as it went to No. 14 on the pop chart, No. 3 on the country chart and No. 8 on the AC chart.

The least familiar name among those that hit the charts with “Misty” is likely that of the Vibrations, a Los Angeles R&B group. I do like the classic R&B sound they brought to “Misty” in 1965 when their version went to No. 63 on the Hot 100 and to No. 26 on the R&B chart.

Next to Stevens’ version, jazz organist Holmes’ 1966 take on the classic tune did the best on the charts, going to No. 44 in the Hot 100, to No. 12 on the R&B chart and to No. 7 on the AC chart. Not long ago, I lucked into a collection of Holmes’ work, and I’ve been digging through that. While I won’t say that his take on “Misty” is my favorite – I tend to lean to Mathis’ classic performance – it’s awfully good.

Saturday Single No. 327

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

It’s Groundhog Day today, and it’s sunny, so our local groundhog – wherever he keeps his den – has certainly seen his shadow by now. And because I have no mp3s in the library that have the word “groundhog” in their titles, it’s time this morning for some Games With Numbers.

We’re going to take today’s date – 2/2 – and check out some Billboard Hot 100 charts that were actually released on February 2. And then we’re going to look at the records that were at No. 2 and at No. 22. We’ll look at three Hot 100s that qualify from 1955 through 1963 (staying in that era mostly because so much of what is listed on later charts is so very familiar). Out of six records, we should find something that will please our ears this morning.

We’ll start, as I just noted, back in 1955, which brings us to two sister acts. At No. 2, we find the Fontane Sisters’ “Hearts of Stone,” a mellow harmony workout with a couple of decent saxophone breaks. The record, the first by the sisters to hit the charts, had been No. 1 a week before. Later in 1955, the Fontane Sisters, who hailed from New Milford, New Jersey, would see their “Seventeen” go to No. 3. Five more of their records reached the Top 20, and a total of eighteen of their records got into or near the Hot 100 before the Fontanes fell out of the charts for good.

At No. 22 in that long-ago chart, we find the DeCastro sisters with their first Hot 100 appearance and the first appearance in that chart of the classic “Teach Me Tonight,” a tune written in 1953 by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn. The DeCastro sisters, who were born in Cuba, weren’t the first to record the song – jazz singer Janet Brace was – but the DeCastros’ version went to No. 2, making it the best-charting of the more than sixty recordings of the tune since the mid-1950s. (The most recent version of the song to chart came from Al Jarreau [No. 70] in 1982.)

The next Hot 100 to come out on February 2 came four years later in 1959. The No. 2 record that week was “The All American Boy,” a Bobby Bare recording that was erroneously credited on the label to Bill Parsons. The record is a tongue-in-cheek workout that’s related both in tone and musical style to Eddie Cochran’s 1958 hit “Summertime Blues.” (Its descendants include some of the talking blues of Bob Dylan and, unavoidably, the Who’s 1970 version of “Summertime Blues.”) It was Bare’s first record to hit the pop chart. He’d have fifteen more – all under his real name – through 1974, and of course, many more than that on the country charts.

At No. 22 on February 2, 1959, the day of the Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” (And if that sentence doesn’t give you a little chill, you’re at the wrong blog.) It was Valens’ third charting single, and two more would hit the chart posthumously. “La Bamba” would show up in the Hot 100 three more times: by the Tokens (No. 85 in 1962), Trini Lopez (No. 86 in 1966) and Los Lobos (No. 1 for three weeks in 1987).

We move to February 2, 1963, and find “Hey Paula” by Paul & Paula sitting in the No. 2 spot. The record, the duo’s first hit, would later top the pop chart for three weeks and the R&B chart for two weeks. Paul & Paula would have seven more records in or near the Hot 100 into 1964, but nothing ever approached the success of that first charting hit. (I think my sister had a copy of “Hey Paula,” and, at the age of nine or so, I thought it was sappy, but when I hear the tune these days, I flash to the movie Animal House, which used the record in its soundtrack and which I almost always watch to the end any time I run into it on cable.)

Finally, at No. 22 on February 2, 1963, we find the smooth voice of Brook Benton and “Hotel Happiness.” The record, which works as kind of a complement – seven years later, to be sure – to Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” had peaked in January at No. 3 (No. 2 on the R&B chart). Benton accumulated a remarkable total of fifty-eight records in or near the Hot 100 between 1958 and 1972, a total that placed him as of 2009 in a tie with Madonna for twenty-fourth place all-time.

So there we have six. The Fontanes’ hit from 1955 is a little too sweet. As to the DeCastros’ record, well, I love “Teach Me Tonight,” and I find the muted trumpets and wandering sax break more appealing than I think a lot of folks would. Many other weeks, I’d go with the DeCastros. But we can do better this week.

“Hey Paula” and “La Bamba” can be dismissed, simply for familiarity. On another day, I might be pulled into a discussion of their aesthetic value, but not today. And as much as I like Brook Benton’s voice and “Hotel Happiness,” which I heard for the first time this morning, we’ll pass on that one, too.

That leaves Bobby Bare, credited as Bill Parson, and his witty hit from 1959, “The All American Boy” as today’s Saturday Single.