As we did yesterday, we’re going to dig into the product of the search function of the RealPlayer today and find a track recorded on today’s date, December 29. And in doing so, we find ourselves in the Sugar Hill club in San Francisco’s North Beach district.
That’s where blues artists Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee spent the evening of December 29, 1961, offering an eighteen-song set that was recorded but seemingly went unreleased until 1999, when the entire performance was released on CD as Backwater Blues. (It’s entirely possible that an abridged version of the performance was released as an album or that individual tracks from the Sugar Hill performance were included on compilations of one sort or another in the thirty-eight intervening years.)
Here’s the tune that became the title track of that performance from fifty-five years ago, “Backwater Blues” (titled that even though McGhee introduces the song as “Backwater Rising”).
As our pal j.b. at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has noted on occasion, our culture has a fascination with round numbers and anniversaries: Twenty years ago, thirty years ago, and so on. I have the same fascination (as does j.b., whose plan this year is to feature posts about 1976, his year of years). Not only do I like to look at round numbers, but I also like the numbers halfway in between: the fives.
So we’re going to look for our first Saturday Single of 2016 by using round numbers and those halfway numbers. We’re going to look at the Billboard Hot 100 for the first week of the year, starting in 1981 and heading back five years at a time to 1956 (when the chart was called the Top 100). We’ll check out one record on each chart (and look at the No. 1 record at the time, as well).
Thirty-five years ago, in 1981, the No. 35 record on the first chart of the year was the Eagles’ live version of “Seven Bridges Road,” on its way to No. 21. The No. 1 record that week was John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over,” in its third week at the top of the chart.
We go back five years from there, forty years ago, and the No. 40 record during the first week of 1976 was “Squeeze Box” by the Who, heading to No. 16. The No. 1 record as 1976 began was “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers (and that’s the first mention of that group in the nearly 2,000 posts I’ve written for this blog).
As 1971 began, the No. 45 record was “The Green Grass Starts To Grow” by Dionne Warwick, closing in on its peak at No. 43. Sitting on top of the chart forty-five years ago was George Harrison’s double-sided single, “My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity,” in its second week at No. 1.
The No. 50 single in the first Hot 100 of 1966, fifty years ago, was “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks, on its way to No. 13. The No. 1 record fifty years ago this week was “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. It would stay there another week.
The first Hot 100 of January 1961, fifty-five years ago, had “My Last Date (With You)” by Joni James at No. 55, heading for a peak at No. 35. Parked at No. 1 for the first of three weeks was Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland By Night.”
Our final stop is the chart from the first week of 1956, sixty years ago, when the No. 60 record was Dorothy Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top.” The No. 1 record in that long-ago first week of January was Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made Of This,” in the first of six weeks atop the chart.
So, we have three candidates that I know well and don’t particularly like (the records by the Eagles, the Who and the Kinks) and three candidates that I doubt I’ve ever heard (the records by Warwick, James and Collins).
Warwick’s record is a typical Burt Bacharach/Hal David joint, similar in style and production to almost any of the hits she had in the 1960s. Think “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” or “Message To Michael” or “I Say A Little Prayer.” In other words, it’s a good record but nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that I don’t remember ever hearing it before.
James’ single, “My Last Date (With You)” is a country-ish adaptation of (or answer to) pianist Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date,” which went to No. 2 in late 1960. The lyrics were added, according to Second Hand Songs, by Boudleaux Bryant and Skeeter Davis, and Davis’ version of the song went to No. 2 on the country chart and No. 26 in the Hot 100 in early 1961. James’ version, as I noted above, went to No. 35 in the Hot 100. It was the last of her eighteen records in or near the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960, and Joel Whitburn notes in Top Pop Singles that James also had eight Top Twenty hits in 1952 and 1953.
Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top” is a poppy and peppy celebration of a boyfriend with a severe crew cut; there’s a great sax break in the middle, but the record comes off as more of a novelty than anything else. Collins was the star of the television show Your Hit Parade! for most of the 1950s, and “My Boy – Flat Top” was the first – and most successful – of four records Collins put into the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960.
Sifting all that out, I fall on the side of the adaptation/answer song. It’s not a great record, but it’s not bad, and it’s the best of the three that I’ve got to choose from, according to the rules I’ve set. So here’s Joni James’ “My Last Date (With You),” your Saturday Single.
As we drove down the Interstate Saturday en route to meet friend and regular commenter Yah Shure for lunch, the radio offered us ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” I wondered out loud whether I should have included the record or the group’s “Legs” in this blog’s long-completed Ultimate Juke Box or the following series of posts called Juke Box Regrets.
Having decided that including ZZ Top’s “La Grange” in the long project was likely enough Texas boogie, I told the Texas Gal that one of my goals in life is still to drive through the streets of La Grange, Texas, with my car audio blaring out “China Grove.”
“Or the other way around?” she asked with a chuckle. That would do, too, I told her. And then she asked “But what about Luckenbach?” I said I wasn’t sure what to do about any visit to that city, and we began listing song titles that include the names of cities in Texas. It didn’t take us long to come up with a good list, and I’ve continued the work this week. So here’s a six-stop musical tour of the Lone Star State.
We’ll cross into the state from the Oklahoma panhandle, probably because someone told us to get of out Dodge City, just a ways north and east in Kansas. So the first major city we come to, smack-dab in the middle of Texas’ own panhandle is Amarillo. And it’s “Amarillo” by Emmylou Harris that starts off our musical tour. She’s lost her fellow, but not to another woman: “Oh I lost him to a jukebox and a pinball machine,” she sings.
The song, written by Harris and Rodney Crowell, was the opening track to Harris’ 1975 album, Elite Hotel. The album went to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and to No. 25 on the Billboard 200. And we’re on our way south, noting that we could have listened to a couple of other tunes instead: “Midnight In Old Amarillo” by Cindy Cashdollar (2004) or “Amarillo By Morning” by George Strait (1982).
But we head south to Lubbock and then make our way southeast to Abilene, which George Hamilton IV said, in his 1963 cover of Bob Gibson’s 1957 song, was “the prettiest town I’ve ever seen.” Hamilton’s “Abilene” was a pretty major record, sitting on top of the country chart for four weeks and reaching No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 15 on the Hot 100.
The record was one of thirty-one that Hamilton got into the country Top 40 between 1960 and 1973. I have to admit that his work is mostly unfamiliar to me, and I may correct that. While in Abilene, we could also have listened to Bobby Bare’s 1963 cover of the same song, Dave Alvin’s similarly titled but entirely different song from 1998 or Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Way Out In Abilene,” which showed up for me on a 1973 album titled Legacy of the Blues, Vol. 12.
We head east along Interstate 20, now getting into parts of Texas I’ve seen, even if I don’t know them well. Eventually, we make it to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and the first tune we come across is the 1984 single “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” by George Strait. His gal has gone to Dallas, not far away in miles, but far enough in culture. My take on the two cities – and the Texas Gal generally agrees – is that Dallas is a city that mixes Eastern and Southern cultures in a kind of uneasy truce, while Fort Worth, just thirty or so miles away, is a Western city, and the gap between the two is greater than the distance.
Strait’s record went to No. 1 on the country chart, one of an incomprehensible number of country hits in his column. (My copy of the Billboard Book of Top Country Hits goes through 2005, and Strait’s total at the time the book came out was eighty; All Music lists at least twenty country hits for Strait since then.) As we leave Fort Worth, we’ll skip Dallas and head south, but as we do, we can listen to Lee Hazlewood’s ‘Fort Worth” from 1968 and what seems to be an obscure single by Steely Dan from 1972 titled “Dallas.”
About ninety miles out of Fort Worth, we reach Waco and the Brazos River, where Billy Walker’s bandito was urging himself on in 1964’s “Cross The Brazos At Waco.”
The record went to No. 2 on the country chart and bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 128. “Cross The Brazos . . .” was one of thirty-eight records Walker put into the country Top 40 between 1954 and 1976. As we cross the Brazos and prepare to leave Waco, we can listen to Ronnie Dunn’s “How Far To Waco” from his 2011 solo album.
The road bends slightly to the southwest, and 180 miles later, we find ourselves in San Antonio. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys released two versions of one of his most famous songs: “San Antonio Rose” in 1938 had a traditional string band arrangement, while “New San Antonio Rose” in 1940 added horns and some odd vocal embellishments, but the two were essentially the same song.
As we head through San Antonio, we choose the instrumental “San Antonio Rose” by pianist Floyd Cramer. The 1961 single was the most successful of the records we’re listening to today: It went to No. 8 on both the country and pop charts and to No. 3 on the adult contemporary chart. There are no doubt other tunes about San Antonio, but they’re not on the digital shelves here, and as we drive southwest out of town, we listen to versions of Wills’ tune by Patsy Cline and Leon Russell.
Our last stop today is another 150 or so miles to the south: Laredo, right on the Rio Grande, celebrated in one of the great traditional American songs. The version of “Streets of Laredo” that we hear today is by Willie Nelson, found on his 1968 album Texas In My Soul. Oddly enough, no version of the song has hit the country Top 40, but a version by Johnny Cash bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 124 in 1965. (The tale of “Streets of Laredo,” as gathered at Wikipedia, is quite interesting.)
And if we’re in a mood for some different Laredo music as we reach the Rio Grande, there’s always the “Nuevo Laredo Polka” by Gilberto López, a 1950 track. And casting regretful thoughts toward records about El Paso, Houston, Brownsville, Galveston and more, we come to a stopping place.
So, with today being February 27 and Odd, Pop and I being short of ideas this morning, we’re going to look at a few Billboard charts released on this date over the years and check out what’s hiding at No. 27. Along the way, we’ll check out the No. 1 records of the times, too. There are four such charts during the span of years that tends to interest us here. We’ll start in 1957.
One of the odd things about the earlier charts in the files I have is that records are often tied for a spot. In the Top 100 for February 27, 1957, two records are tied at No. 26, which means there really was no record at No. 27. So we’ll look at both records at No. 26. The first listed is “Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown. The record, which went no further on the Top 100 but went to No. 25 on two of the other main charts Billboard issued at the time, is the first listed under Brown’s name in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, where the listings start in 1955. Brown was a force long before that, of course; her listings on the magazine’s R&B chart start in 1949. “Lucky Lips” went to No. 6 on that chart.
The other record at No. 26 on this date in 1957 was a pairing of artist and song that seems incongruous from a distance of nearly sixty years: “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” by Jerry Lewis, whose image in my mind starts at goofy comedian and ends at smarmy telethon host and doesn’t come close to hit singer at all. (The combination evidently seemed so bizarre to the anonymous person who transcribed my collection of Billboard charts that he or she credited the record to Jerry Lee Lewis, which caused me a bit of confusion.) Lewis offers the song over a Vegas-style big band arrangement that serves it well although the whole thing sounds odd to me. Listeners liked it, though; the record peaked at No. 10 on the store sales list. Lewis had one other hit: “It All Depends On You” went to No. 68 on the Top 100 later in 1957.
Sitting at No. 1 on this date in 1957 was “Young Love” by Tab Hunter, by far the most successful single the actor ever had to his credit. (I recall Hunter’s smiling visage on the front of a comic book that told the tale of one of Hunter’s movies. I forget which movie, and a look at Hunter’s credits this morning doesn’t help.)
The next time Billboard released a pop chart on February 27, it was 1961, and the chart was called – as it would be past the turn of the century – the Hot 100. Parked at No. 27 was “What A Price” by Fats Domino. The slow, sad record, which was the forty-fourth of an eventual seventy-seven Domino placed in or near the Hot 100, was on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 22 (No. 7, R&B). Should it have done better? Well, yes, because Fats Domino should always be in the Top Ten.
The No. 1 record as February approached its end in 1961 was Chubby Checker’s “Pony Time.”
It took only another four years before a Billboard Hot 100 touched down on a February 27, and the No. 27 record on this date in 1965 was the first track on one of the first pop LPs I ever owned. My sister gave me Herman’s Hermits On Tour (which was made up of studio recordings, not the live recordings that the album’s title might have implied), and “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” led off the album. As a single, “Heartbeat” went to No. 2, the first of nine straight Top Ten hits for Peter Noone and his group. (The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles tells me that the Hermits’ single was blocked from the top spot by the Supremes’ “Stop! In The Name Of Love.”)
The No. 1 record fifty years ago today was “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys.
And the last of the February 27 Billboard charts that we’re concerned with today came out in 1971. (There were charts on February 27 in 1982, 1988 and beyond, but that gets us into years we are not all that enthusiastic about.) The No. 27 record at the end of the last February of my high school days was “Help Me Make It Through The Night” by Sammi Smith, written by Kris Kristofferson. Smith’s plaintive performance was on its way to No. 8; it would go to No. 1 on the country chart and to No. 3 on the easy listening chart. I’m not sure I had much regard for “Help Me Make It Through The Night” when I was a high school senior, but now I think it’s pretty great stuff.
And to finish this off, the No. 1 single during on this date in 1971 was the Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple.”
So up pops the name of another artist whom I do not recognize but absolutely need to learn more about.
Glancing this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 for January 27, 1962 – forty-five years ago today – I recognized a title bubbling under at No. 103: “Drown In My Own Tears” by Don Shirley.
I know the song, certainly. In 1956, Ray Charles’ version went to No. 1 on a couple of the pop charts of the time and on the R&B chart. Written by Henry Glover and – according to Second Hand Songs – first recorded by the Sonny Thompson Orchestra in 1952, the song has been covered many, many times. My first hearing of the song was likely as part of the “Blue Medley” on Joe Cocker’s live Mad Dogs & Englishmen from 1970, and just by accident, I’ve gathered ten other versions of the song.
So who was Don Shirley? Well, we’ll start with the version of “Drown In My Own Tears” that he released as the title track to a 1961 album. (Is this the single version? I doubt it. A label I saw for the single shows a running time of 2:16. As I implied the other day, we all know how unreliable running times on single labels are, but still, that 2:16 is about forty seconds shorter than the album track, and that’s a big difference to hide.) The single peaked at No. 100, and on its B-side, “The Lonesome Road” bubbled under at No. 116.
It turns out that Shirley was a well-known and well–regarded composer and pianist, working in jazz but with influences from other forms as well. As Wikipedia notes, “Don Shirley’s music is hard to categorize. As an arranger-composer he treated each piece of music as a new composition, not just an arrangement. Shirley played standards in a non-standard way. He was a virtuoso, playing everything from show tunes, to ballads, to his personal arrangements of Negro spirituals, to jazz, and always with the overtone of a classically trained musician who has utmost respect for the music he is playing.”
His biography is – to use a word I likely have overused in this space – fascinating, from studying music theory in Leningrad at age nine, to playing with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops and performing at Milan’s La Scala, to becoming a psychologist and then falling back into a musical career and recording a series of jazz albums from the mid-1950s through the 1960s.
His chart presence was minimal: In 1955, his album Tonal Expressions went to No. 14 on the Billboard chart, and in mid-1961, a cover of the traditional work song “Water Boy” by the Don Shirley Trio went to No. 40 on the Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the Easy Listening chart. Neither of the two singles – “Water Boy” or the earlier mentioned “Drown In My Own Tears/The Lonesome Road” – showed up in the R&B Top 40.
There’s plenty of Don Shirley’s stuff out there. I saw numerous CDs listed and there’s some stuff in the wilds of the ’Net, too, I imagine. What I’ve heard so far, I like, and I’m no doubt going to find more.
As my stint in third grade went through its second month, I’m not entirely sure what was on my mind beyond basic third-grade business. When I look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1961, I see many familiar titles, but I know that very few of them would have been familiar to me back then, when I was eight.
The Top Ten has some gems (and a few limpers) in it:
“Runaround Sue” by Dion
“Bristol Stomp” by the Dovells
“Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean
“Hit The Road, Jack” by Ray Charles
“Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” by Sue Thompson
“This Time” by Troy Shondell
“I Love How You Love Me” by the Paris Sisters
“Let’s Get Together” by Hayley Mills & Hayley Mills
“Ya Ya” by Lee Dorsey
“The Fly” by Chubby Checker
There are three on that list that I might have known about as they sat in the Top Ten: “Runaround Sue” is one of those, simply for its popularity, though I’m not at all certain. Hayley Mills’ duet with herself from the first iteration of the movie The Parent Trap did catch my attention for a couple of reasons: We had the comic book version of the movie at home – my sister had bought it but I enjoyed it, too – and, having seen Ms. Mills in Pollyanna the year before, I had an eight-year-old’s crush on the young British actress. Still, I recall hearing the record only a couple of times, and listening to it today was, frankly, painful both in terms of content and performance. (Here is the YouTube link if you feel the need to check for yourself.)
Then there was Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.” A spoken word tale of the archetypal quiet big man who sacrifices himself for his workmates, the record was, I think, a phenomenon, a judgment that seems accurate based on vague memory and on its chart performance: Five weeks at No. 1 on the pop chart, two weeks at No. 1 on the country chart and nine weeks at No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart.
Here’s a clip of Dean performing the song on his own television program, The Jimmy Dean Show, in 1963:
I likely heard the record on WCCO back in late 1961 when it was riding high on the AC chart, but I have to admit I didn’t get the story until a few years later, when the song showed up on a cheapie album by a group called the Deputies on the Wyncote label. The Wyncote album, titled Ringo, was put out to capitalize on Lorne Greene’s 1964 hit, and when I heard “Big Bad John” then, the narrative was clear (although I wondered for some time what a “Cajun queen” was).
(Along with “Ringo” and “Big Bad John,” the Wyncote album contained a lot of public domain material. I played the record a while back, and it’s still in pretty good shape, so I tried to rip it to mp3s, but there was a persistent hiss, which, I’ve read, is chronic problem with Wyncote LPs from that era.)
Anyway, from the Top Ten, I thought I’d drop to the lower portions of the Hot 100 from fifty-three years ago today and see if there was anything down there I might have recognized at the time. Surprisingly, there was.
I’ve mentioned on occasion that during the early 1960s, my sister – three years older than I – would sometimes pick up a bag of bargain 45s at Musicland or Dayton’s or wherever she found them during a trip to the Twin Cities. And I recall that one of those bargain bags brought her a copy of “Let There Be Drums” by Sandy Nelson.
Nelson’s surf-washed instrumental would eventually climb to No. 7, but fifty-three years ago today, it was just starting its climb and was bubbling under at No. 105. The bargain bag that brought the record to Kilian Boulevard was likely purchased sometime in early 1962, after the record had passed its peak. So while I might not have heard “Let There Be Drums” when it was on the chart, it didn’t have to wait ten to twenty years – as did many other records of the time – to reach my ears.
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.)
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.
So what other covers did I run across this week as I dug into Hank Snow’s 1950 classic song “I’m Movin’ On”? Well, using the list at Second Hand Songs and the list of performers available at BMI, I found a bunch that I thought were interesting and a couple that I really liked.
My favorite? Well, that can wait for a bit, but second place goes to the version that Leon Russell released in 1984 recording as his alter ego, Hank Wilson. Here’s that rollicking cover, from Hank Wilson Vol. II.
As I dug, I was particularly interested in giving a listen to the first cover listed at SHS, a performance by Hoagy Carmichael, but I think that’s an error, maybe a different song with the same (or a similar) title, as Carmichael is not included in the BMI list of performers who’ve recorded the song. Given that, it seems – and I’m not at all certain, as the BMI listings don’t include dates – that the first cover of “I’m Movin’ On” came in 1955 from Les Paul and Mary Ford.
In 1961, a rockabilly musician named Dick Hiorns – whose resume included a couple of daily performances during the early 1950s on WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin – recorded a version of Snow’s song for the Cuca Record Company of Sauk City, Wisconsin. A year later, Jerry Reed – at the time a session guitarist in Nashville – teamed up with some background singers who were called the Hully Girlies for a version of Snow’s tune, and a few years after that, in 1965, the Rolling Stones took on the tune and released it on the EP Got Live If You Want It!
Genius organist Jimmy Smith took a whack at the tune in 1967, and two years later, Elvis Presley included it on his From Elvis in Memphis album. In 1978, New Orleans’ Professor Longhair (aka Henry Byrd) took Snow’s song, altered the verses and made it into a Crescent City shuffle. It’s included on Big Chief, a 1993 Rhino album. (And I have no idea if the fourteen tracks on Big Chief were released during the intervening fifteen years).
There were others, of course: Versions that I didn’t track down or that didn’t grab me came from, among other, Del Reeves, Clyde McPhatter, Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Burl Ives, the Box Tops, Sammy Kershaw, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Mickey Gilley, Loggins & Messina and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
But after all of that, I think my favorite cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I found this week was actually a rediscovery. Rosanne Cash included the tune on her 2009 CD The List, an album of songs pulled from a list her famous father once gave her of essential American music. I’ve often thought that too many versions of the song – Snow’s included – have sounded almost celebratory. Not Cash’s. She pulls the tempo back, and amid a nest of atmospheric guitars and percussion, she makes the song something closer to a dirge, and that fits.
It’s a rainy day – the third such in a row here in St. Cloud – and there are rumors of snow in the weather forecast. That’s not likely to make me any more enthusiastic about the day. But instead of spending the first portions of the morning moping – there will be time for that type of indulgence later in the day, if I wish – I thought I’d take a look at a long-ago radio station survey from an April 29.
I had no specific station in mind when I searched at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, so I was pleasantly surprised when the first page of listings offered surveys from April 29, 1961, from both WDGY and KDWB in the Twin Cities. I went with KDWB and its Fabulous Forty. Here’s the station’s Top Ten from fifty-three years ago today:
“Running Scared” by Roy Orbison
“Bumble Boogie” by B. Bumble & The Stingers
“Runaway” by Del Shannon
“Blue Moon” by the Marcels
“Hello Mary Lou” by Ricky Nelson
“I’ve Told Every Little Star” by Linda Scott
“Just Call Me Lonesome” by Eddy Arnold
“Mother-In-Law” by Ernie K-Doe
“Trust In Me” by Etta James
“On The Rebound” by Floyd Cramer
Well, that looks like your average schizophrenic mix from the early 1960s: A little bit of what I would now call country-tinged pop rock, a doo-wop classic, some sweet pop and country, a New Orleans novelty, once very nice R&B ballad and a Nashville-tinged instrumental. Then there’s “Bumble Boogie” by B. Bumble & The Stingers, a group of Los Angeles session men who took Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee” and turned it into a boogie-woogie session that went to No. 27 in the Billboard Hot 100.
Familiar names stud the rest of the KDWB survey, for the most part: Elvis Presley, Steve Lawrence, Arthur Lyman, Brenda Lee, Ferrante & Teicher, Ray Charles, Marty Robbins and the Everly Brothers are the ones that pop out at me. Finding all those folks on the same survey is one more indication of how broad a swath Top 40 cut in those days.
There were a few unfamiliar names in the station’s survey. The Cajun duo named Rusty & Doug and their take on “Louisiana Man” baffled me for a few moments until I realized they were the Kershaw brothers. Their version of Doug’s “Louisiana Man” – which Second Hand Songs says is the first version recorded – is actually pretty good, and it did well on the country chart, reaching No. 10; it bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 104. It eventually reached No. 2 on KDWB, which seems like an anomaly: Of the Top 40 stations whose charts are available at ARSA, the only place where the Kershaw’s “Louisiana Man” did any better was at stations in Houston and San Antonio.
The variety of records listed in that survey from April 29, 1961, makes for some interesting juxtapositions: Adam Wade’s lush “Take Good Care Of Her” at No. 26, just below guitarist Al Caoila’s take on the theme from the TV show Bonanza is one. Another comes at the bottom of the survey, where Presley’s “Surrender” sits at No. 39 and the No. 40 record is Lawrence Welk’s version of the theme from the TV show My Three Sons. It peaked at No. 55 in Billboard.