I’m going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and let it do the work for me.
Right off the top we get some easy listening: “Emmanuelle” by Italian sax player Fausto Papetti, which turns out to be an instrumental version of the theme to the 1974 soft-core film Emmanuelle. The film was the first of seven chronicling the adventures of the character created in 1959 by French writer Emmanuelle Arsan (a pseudonym for Thai-born Marayat Bibidh Krasaesin Rollet-Andriane) and portrayed in four of the films by Sylvia Kristel. (All of that according to Wikpedia.) The song and the soundtrack for the first film were written by Pierre Bachelet. Papetti, who passed on in 1999, was known, Wikipedia says, for both his saxophone work and the covers of his albums, many of which featured attractive women in little or no clothing. Papetti’s 1977 version of the theme came to me in a 2009 collection titled 100 Hits Romantic Saxophone.
And then we head back to 1944 for “Opus One” by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra. The fox trot – as it’s described on the Victor label – was written by Sy Oliver, who became, says Wikipedia, “one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band” when he joined Dorsey’s band in 1939. It’s not my favorite track from Dorsey; that would be his theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” from 1935. As it happens, any of the 1930s and 1940s big band tunes remind me of the summer of 1991, when I was reporting and writing a lengthy piece about life in Columbia, Missouri, during World War II. On a lot of evenings at home that summer, as I sat at my desk and planned my next day’s work, I stacked some big bands – Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and more – on the stereo and tried to get my head at least a little into an era that I never knew.
From there, it’s another dip into the easy listening pool with Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” as filtered through the sound of Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra. The late Chacksfield was an English composer and conductor who is estimated, Wikipedia says, to have sold more than 20 million albums world-wide. Two of those albums reached the Billboard 200: Ebb Tide went to No. 36 in 1961 and The New Ebb Tide went to No. 120 in late 1964 or early 1965. Chacksfield and his orchestra had one single reach the magazine’s charts: “On The Beach,” the title song to the 1959 film, went to No. 47 in early 1961. Chacksfield’s take on Simon’s tune was a track on a 1970 album titled Chacksfield Plays Simon & Garfunkel & Jim Webb. It came to me in a 2005 collection titled The Lounge Legends Play Simon & Garfunkel.
Then up pop the Bee Gees with “Sun in My Morning” from 1969. The not terribly interesting track was the B-side to the group’s single “Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” which doesn’t make my list of vital Bee Gees’ tunes, either, even if it went to No. 54. There’s not a lot more to say as the tune plays itself out and this post limps to an end.
And there we see clearly the risk of letting random chance decide things.
Now, about the song “Stewball.” We offered in this spot yesterday the version of the song recorded in 1940 by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label. Pretty much a work song, that was the second of several iterations of the folk song that arose in England in the late Eighteenth Century.
Second Hand Songs notes: “Skewball, born in 1741, was a racehorse bred by Francis, Second Earl of Goldolphin. The horse, a gelding, was purportedly the top earning racer in Ireland in 1752, when he was 11. The song apparently originated as a ballad about a high stakes race occurring in the Curragh in Kildare, Ireland, in March 1752, which Skewball won.” The website gives a date of 1784 for the song, noting that the date “is for the oldest broadside identified of the ballad . . . held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.”
The webpage continues, “According to John and Alan Lomax in American Ballads and Folk Songs, the ballad was converted into a work song by slaves – which is supported by the version of the lyrics published in their book. ‘Skewball’ apparently became ‘Stewball’ after the song migrated to the United States.”
Beyond the work song version of “Stewball,” the original story-song continued to be recorded. A 1953 recording by Cisco Houston is the earliest listed in the on-going project at Second Hand Songs, but Woody Guthrie recorded the tale of the horse race in 1944 or 1945. His version was released in 1999 on Buffalo Skinners: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 4 on the Smithsonian Folkways label.
Then came along the Greenbriar Boys. A trio made up by 1960 of John Herald, Ralph Rinzler, and Bob Yellin, the group, says All Music Guide, was “[o]ne of the first urban bands to play bluegrass” and was “instrumental in transforming the sounds of the hill country from a Southern music to an international phenomenon.” The Greenbriar Boys released their first two albums of bluegrass tunes in 1962 and 1964, but of more import for us today is a tune that showed up on New Folks, a 1961 sampler on the Vanguard label. Herald, Rinzler and Yellin set the words of “Stewball” to a simple, folkish tune (written by Yellin, according to website Beatles Songwriting Academy) and recorded the song as their contribution to the album:
After that, covers of the new version followed: From Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963 (a single release went to No. 35 and is the only version to chart), from Joan Baez in 1964 and from the Hollies in 1966, according to Second Hand Songs. And I know there are many other covers. Most of those take on the Greenbriar’s Boys’ version (including one by Mason Proffit on its 1969 album Wanted), but there are other covers of the early folk version and the work song version as well. I didn’t go digging too deeply, though, because something else about the song grabbed my attention this week.
Now, I’ve heard the version of “Stewball” using the Greenbriar Boys’ melody several times over the years, notably the versions by Mason Proffit and Peter, Paul & Mary. Heck, I even sang it along with Peter Yarrow at a concert a year-and-a-half ago. But I’d never noticed or thought about the tune’s similarity to another famous song until this week.
Last Tuesday, I ran past Second Hand Songs while looking for an interesting cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1971 single “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, and when the results came up that put the Lennon/Ono tune in the adaptation tree for “Stewball,” I did a mild double-take. And then I thought about it, running the two tunes through my head. And yeah, John (and Yoko, to whatever degree she was involved in the writing, listed as she is as a composer) lifted the melody and chord structure from the Greenbriar Boys’ version of “Stewball.” There were a few changes, notably a key change and the addition of the “War is over if you want it” chorus, but it was essentially the same song.
And I’m not at all sure why Herald, Rinzler and Yellin didn’t complain. Does anybody know?
The space devoted to music references on my bookshelves has expanded greatly in the last couple months, and I’m having a great time browsing. Through reference books? Well, yeah. After all, I was the kid who spent hours when he was about ten sitting quietly and reading volumes of Compton’s Illustrated Encyclopedia, one after the other.
(More likely than not, the title was actually Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia, as suggested in a comment by reader Yah Shure. I do have a good memory, but details can sometimes be a little foggy after nearly fifty years. Thanks, Yah Shure!)
The new books on my shelves are, if anything, more interesting than the Compton’s was, though I won’t say more useful. It was the encyclopedia that helped me figure out where Indochina was. And that gave me as a fifth-grader a little bit better grasp of the location and history of those small nations that were being named more and more frequently in the news in the early years of the 1960s.
The new volumes – all by Joel Whitburn – are Top Pop Singles, The Billboard Book of Top Country Hits and The Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits. The first was a Christmas present from the Texas Gal; the other two were the product of one of my occasional online buying sprees.
And all three are great fun. Top Pop Singles includes listings by artist and title of every song that reached the Billboard Hot 100 (or its earlier equivalents) and its Bubbling Under section from January of 1955 through the first weeks of July 2009. The R&B/hip-hop book presents data from even earlier, starting with the chart called the “Harlem Hit Parade” in October 1942 and ending in November 2004 with the chart now called R&B/Hip-Hop (a designation that debuted in late 1999). And the country book begins its tale with a chart collated from juke box plays around the country in January 1944 and gathers data through early 2006, with the chart at that time called “Hot Country Songs.”
I can hear some folks thinking: “Great fun”? Well, yeah. I’m a music geek and an information junkie. I’ve read – nearly cover-to-cover – all four editions of the Rolling Stone record and album guides, as well as the similar All-Music Guide to Rock. And I can lose myself browsing through any of the references on my shelf, whether that be any of the three books I mentioned to start this piece or any of the others, from The Billboard Book of No. 2 Hits through the Billboard Top Ten Album Charts, 1963-1998 to either of two editions of the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll.
So I’ve got three new books to divert me and – more to the point – help me be more accurate and broad-based in the information I toss out here. Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed a reference to two of the three books here already. I don’t seem to have cited yet the country hits book.
But all three of them got a little exercise this morning. I decided that I’d check each book for the earliest cited No. 1 hit from February 25 and then take a look at the No. 1 song from February 25, 1966, forty-five years ago today.
We’ll start with the R&B/Hip-Hop book, as its first entries come from a slightly earlier time than do those of the Country book. The No. 1 song on the Harlem Hit Parade for February 25, 1943, was “Apollo Jump” by Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra. Millinder was from Anniston, Alabama, and he and his band had ten records reach the R&B chart (which had various names) from 1942 through 1951. Among those who performed with his band were singers Wynonie Harris – his version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1948 – and Gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who had four hits in the R&B Top 40 during the latter half of the 1940s, with her best-known song, “Strange Things Happening Every Day” reaching No. 2 on the R&B chart in 1945.
“Apollo Jump” was the second charted hit and second No. 1 hit for Millinder and his orchestra (though as his band pre-dated the chart data I have, one would assume Millinder had previously released records that were gauged as hits before that). Their 1942 take on the war-time ballad “When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)” had also gone to No. 1. And Millinder’s next two records to reach the chart – “Sweet Slumber” and “Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well” – would also go to No. 1. But sixty-eight years ago today, it was “Apollo Jump” and its jazzy, big-band sound that was at No. 1.
Things get a bit more familiar when we move ahead to 1966. The No. 1 record on the Hot R&B chart on February 25 of that year was from a Louisiana-born singer and guitar player who’d already scored an R&B and pop hit (No. 17 and No. 34, respectively) in 1961 with “Rainin’ In My Heart.” Five years later, James Moore, better known as Slim Harpo, would reach the top of the R&B chart (and go to No. 16 on the pop chart) with “Baby Scratch My Back.” Harpo would score two more hits on the R&B chart. One of those two R&B hits and two entirely different records would reach the Bubbling Under section of the pop chart; among those that bubbled under was the 1966 record “Shake Your Hips,” covered six years later by the Rolling Stones on Exile on Main St. For now, we’ll stay with Harpo’s No. 1 R&B hit, “Baby Scratch My Back.”
The earliest chart information presented in The Billboard Book of Top Country Hits is interesting for, among other things, its source, which is made clear in the chart’s title: “Most Played Juke Box Folk Records.” And it seems the definition of “folk” was pretty elastic, as the first year’s No. 1 records included work by, among others, Bing Crosby, Louis Jordan and the King Cole Trio, not performers we’d consider folk or country.
Jordan is, interestingly, listed in all three books. Three of his records reached the country chart in 1944, with two going to No. 1. He had fifty-seven records reach the R&B Top 40 between 1942 and 1951, with an astounding eighteen of them reaching No. 1. And in 1963, “Hard Head” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for one week at No. 128. Those eighteen No. 1 R&B hits, by the way, put Jordan third all-time behind Aretha Franklin’s twenty and Stevie Wonder’s nineteen; Jordan does hold, however, the record for the most weeks spent total at No. 1 on the R&B chart, with 113. Wonder is second at sixty-seven.
And one of those weeks at No. 1 for Jordan was the week that included February 25, 1944, as Jordan and His Tympany Five were on top of the country chart with the slightly salacious “Ration Blues.” The record was No. 1 for three weeks.
By the time we get to 1966, things are sounding decidedly more like what we think of as country. The artists who were at No. 1 for the first six months of that year were Red Sovine, Buck Owens, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves and Sonny James. And forty-five years ago today, it was Buck Owens & His Buckaroos at No. 1 with “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line,” one of seventy-five records Owens put onto the country chart between 1959 and 1989. Owens had twenty-one records reach No. 1 on the country chart, which ranked twelfth all-time in 2006; Conway Twitty and George Strait were tied at the top of that list with forty No. 1 country hits each. In terms of weeks at No. 1, Owens racked up a total of eighty-two in his career, good for third place in 2006 behind Eddy Arnold’s 145 and Webb Pierce’s 111. “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line,” provided Owens with seven of those No. 1 weeks (and went to No. 57 on the pop chart). Here’s a television performance from 1966.
Taking up at last the volume Top Pop Singles, we find at the No. 1 spot for its earliest February 25 a prime example of the regrettable and very common practice of white groups and performers covering songs originated by groups and performers with darker skins. The No. 1 record during the week of February 25, 1955, was “Sincerely” by the McGuire Sisters. Originally recorded by the Moonglows, a Cleveland group that included Harvey Fuqua, the tune is one of the great songs of the 1950s, and the Moonglow’s performance is stellar. Their version, in direct competition with the McGuire Sisters’ cover, went to No. 20 and reached No. 2 on the R&B chart.
(Another egregious practice, of which “Sincerely” is also a prime example, was the claiming of part authorship of a song by those involved only with its recording, promotion or radio play. In the case of “Sincerely,” authorship credit is split to this day between Fuqua and Cleveland disk jockey Alan Freed, though how much Freed actually contributed is uncertain. In a piece about the Moonglows at the website BlackCat Rockabilly Europe, Fuqua is quoted as saying: “Alan would sit there and throw a word in every now and then so, ya know, we’d give him credit for that, sometimes all the credit.”)
Whatever the ethical and social considerations, however, it was the McGuire Sisters’ version of “Sincerely” that was atop the pop chart on February 25, 1955. It was the third week of a ten-week run at No. 1 for the record.
As we look at the pop chart from this week in 1966 and the year’s No. 1 hits, we find – unsurprisingly – familiar names. Up to this week forty-five years ago, the year’s top pop singles had been records by Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, Petula Clark and Lou Christie. And the fifth No. 1 song of the year belonged to Nancy Sinatra with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” It was one of two No. 1 hits she’d claim, with the other being “Somethin’ Stupid,” her 1967 duet with her famous father. Altogether, Nancy Sinatra placed twenty-three records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section from1965 into 1972. “Boots” was at No. 1 for just one week.
A couple of weeks ago, I figured it was time to make sure that my family and I knew the names of all the folks in all the pictures my dad took over the years. So I went to the storage unit where we keep all the stuff Mom couldn’t fit into her apartment and found a cardboard box full of slides. Mom and I have been spending a couple of afternoons each week, looking at slides, identifying who was pictured and jotting all the information into a notebook. (Luckily, Dad wrote the date and place on most slides over the years; that information would be more difficult to figure out.)
I’m (slowly) entering the information into a database – one spreadsheet for each large box of slides – and just as slowly converting the slides to digital images. The boxes we’re looking at right now hold slides from the late 1950s and the early and mid-1960s, so we’ve seen some terrific pictures of friends and relatives long gone. And there have been a few laughs, as well. (I may post one or two of the images here, if they seem to help illustrate a post.)
As well as finding the first of the boxes of slides at the storage unit, I also found a box marked CDs. So I dug into it, and I found some CDs that Dad bought in – I would guess – the early 1990s. There were a few that intrigued me, collections of music from the time of World War II and the years that bracketed that war. So for the last week, when I haven’t been looking at slides or working on the photo project, my spare time has been filled with ripping those CDs and then digging for original release data about the tunes. (The CD sets have poor, if any, notes. The best source for that information has been the Online Discographical Project and its associated search site.)
And I got to thinking as I was listening to the music of my father’s youth and young adulthood: what if I’d pushed the starting date for the Ultimate Jukebox back ten years, starting in the late 1930s instead of the late 1940s? Don’t worry. I’m not going to do that. But wondered for a few minutes about what recordings might have been contenders.
Here’s the first one I thought of: Tommy Dorsey’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with vocals from a young Frank Sinatra. It was recorded, I believe, on February 26, 1940, in New York City.
Next, I thought of something by Benny Goodman, and after dithering for a while, I settled on the studio version of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” with the amazing Gene Krupa on drums. (The version from Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert is great, as well.) The studio version in the video below was recorded, as far as I can tell, on July 6, 1937, in Hollywood.
The third song I thought about – and this is as far as I went – was one for my Dad. We were talking once years ago about his time in the Army and the Army Air Corps – he enlisted sometime in the late 1930s, before World War II, and served through the war’s end in 1945 – and I asked him where he’d traveled during those years. He told me a few tales about his wartime service in India and China, but he said he’d also been to a few more pleasant places. One that he recalled with a smile was Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean just off the coast of Venezuela.
He was there during the early months of 1941 for a military air show, and he said that one of his favorite memories of Trinidad was sitting in a waterfront establishment, drinking the local favorite: rum and Coca-Cola. “Just like in the song,” he said. The Andrews Sisters’ song, titled simply “Rum and Coca-Cola,” was a hit in 1945 and evidently provided my dad with good memories. So here it is, recorded – I think – on October 23, 1944.
Song ticker replaced June 13, 2011, with a video that I hope has the right recording.