Archive for the ‘1955’ Category

A Roundabout Appreciation Of Roger Williams

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

When I graduated from high school in 1971, my sister gave me an Alvarez acoustic guitar to replace the old second-hand instrument I’d been messing around with. And not long after that, I bought a songbook called 50 Sensational Songs for Guitar. I don’t know if the songs were truly sensational, but the book – for which I paid $2.50; this was 1971 – had a good collection of songs from many styles.

There was some traditional pop (“Misty” and “Sentimental Journey”), some Top 40 pop (“Dizzy” and “Sugar, Sugar”), some Broadway (“Applause” and “Hello, Dolly”), some Jimmy Webb tunes (“Wichita Lineman,” “Didn’t We” and more), some Burt Bacharach/Hal David stuff (“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and more) and a lot of other stuff including four Beatles’ tunes, two of which now seem to be very odd choices: “Old Brown Shoe” and “Octopus’s Garden.”

(As I look at the book now, I realize that three of the Beatles’ tunes in the book were written by George Harrison and “Octopus’s Garden” was, of course, written by Ringo Starr. No tunes by Lennon and McCartney. I’d never noticed that before.)

I don’t know that I ever played any of the tunes in the songbook on guitar. I did play my guitar a lot in those days, sitting on the little bank on the north side of our house in the spring and summer evenings, practicing my own songs as I let my hands learn what they needed to do. But I found a use for the songbook anyway.

During my first two years of college, I took five quarters of music theory, every class St. Cloud State offered in the subject. And through those courses, I realized that I could use 50 Sensational Songs for Guitar, which offered melody lines and guitar chord charts, as a fakebook, making up my own arrangements of those songs. Among the songs that I learned to play that way was a tune that had originally been titled “Les Feuillies Mortes.”

I knew the song as “Autumn Leaves,” although I can’t specifically say how I knew it. I was just aware that I’d heard the song many times as a pop standard. I certainly didn’t recall the song from 1955, when it was a No. 1 hit for pianist Roger Williams.

“Autumn Leaves” was the first of thirty chart hits or near-hits hit for Williams, who passed on last week at the age of eighty-seven. (And I should note that my version of “Autumn Leaves” hews to the melody: I have never attempted those fantastic runs Williams plays, nor will I ever do so.) I see this morning in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles that Kapp Records re-released Williams’ version of “Autumn Leaves” in 1965, which is when I might have heard the tune; if that’s the case, I was one of the few, as the record peaked at No. 92. Many of Williams’ other single releases did better, but quite a few parked themselves in the lower portions of the chart. Nevertheless, Williams had singles in or near the Billboard Hot 100 every year but one (1964) from 1955 through 1969, with one more coming in 1972.

Williams’ second-biggest hit came when his cover of John Barry’s movie theme “Born Free” went to No. 7 (No. 5 on the chart now called Adult Contemporary) in December 1966. That’s probably the Williams record I recall the most, and I know I would have heard it – and liked it – on any of the radio stations I happened to hear at the time.

Even though he was on or near the charts during the 1960s, Williams’ better years had been the late 1950s, when he placed several records in the Top 40: “Wanting You” went to No. 38 in 1955; “La Mer (Beyond the Sea)” went to No. 37 in 1956; “Almost Paradise” went to No. 15 and “Till” went to No. 22 in 1957; and “Near You” went to No. 10 in 1958. After that, beyond “Born Free,” the closest Williams got to the Top 40 was in early 1962, when his cover of “Maria” from West Side Story went to No. 48.

My favorite Roger Williams piece, however, comes from 1980, when he teamed up with John Barry to record Barry’s “Theme from Somewhere In Time,” which closes the soundtrack album (and, I think, plays under the closing credits) of one of my favorite films. The track also showed up on Williams’ 1986 album, also titled Somewhere In Time. The record isn’t listed in Top Pop Singles; if it made any chart, it would’ve been the Adult Contemporary.

I know I’ve shared “Theme from Somewhere In Time” before, but it’s good enough to share again, and it provides an appropriate way to say farewell to Roger Williams.

Music Geek Heaven: New Reference Books!

Friday, February 25th, 2011

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.

Dipping Into The Mystery Box

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

I realized the other day that there hadn’t been a Grab Bag post since we settled into our own digs here last winter. So it seemed to be a good time to dig back into the mystery box in which I keep about a hundred 45s.

I did things a bit differently this time. Earlier Grab Bag posts saw me reaching into the box and pulling out four or five 45s and then offering the three that played best among them. This time, I spent most of a day pulling records from the box and testing them on the turntable. Quite a few were rejected permanently because of scratches and pops. Some were laid back into the box for future consideration; they didn’t interest me that day.

And about twenty 45s both played well and seemed interesting, so I ripped them to mp3s and then spent a couple of hours with my new toy: the scanner that came with my new printer. And this morning, we’ll take a look at three of those 45s from last week’s work:

A Six-Pack of Singles From The Mystery Box
“Daddy-O” by the Fontane Sisters, Dot 15428 [1955]
“Adorable” by the Fontane Sisters, Dot 15428 [1955]
“Come Back, Baby” by Billy & Eddie, Top Rank 2017 [1957]
“The King Is Coming Back” by Billy & Eddie, Top Rank 2017 [1957]
“Keep Your Mind On Me” by Roscoe Shelton, Sims 240 [1965]
“Wedding Cake” by Roscoe Shelton, Sims 240 [1965]

I found a couple of 45s by the Fontane Sisters, who were very well known, which is a rare circumstance for the music I pull from the mystery box. In fact, there’s not much mystery about the Fontane Sisters at all. Wikipedia notes:

“The Fontane Sisters were a trio (Bea, Geri and Marge Rosse) from New Milford, New Jersey. Originally they performed with their guitarist brother Frank (1941–1944), but he was killed in World War II. They were featured on a radio show done by Perry Como 1945–1948 and Como’s later television simulcast program in 1948 known as The Chesterfield Supper Club and later (1949–1954) as The Perry Como Show.

“In 1949 they were signed by RCA Records, and did some recordings as backup to Como. In 1951 they had a minor hit with ‘The Tennessee Waltz,’ of which bigger selling recordings were made by Patti Page and Les Paul and Mary Ford.

“In 1954 they switched to Randy Wood’s Dot Record, where they had 18 songs in the Billboard Hot 100, including ten in the Top 40. Their 1954 recording ‘Hearts of Stone’, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

“The Fontane Sisters retired from show business around 1961, when youngest sister Geri was expecting her daughter. The daughter was named after Geri, and as an adult she went by the name ‘Geri Fontane Latchford’ – ‘Latchford’ coming from her father’s name, Al(bert) Latchford. Marge Fontaine felt that the trio did not want to continue the grind of tours and mixing with the newer members of the music scene. The sisters agreed that they did not want to be part of the evolving rock and roll scene, and wanted private lives.

“In 1963, Dot Records did release one last album, Tips of my Fingers, and single (‘Tips of My Fingers’/‘Summertime Love’) by The Fontane Sisters. But these recordings did not mark a return to performing for the trio, who remained retired despite having agreed to make the recordings for Dot.

“For the next 40 years, The Fontane Sisters remained out of the public’s eye. In 2004 an article in the New York Daily News reported that Geri Fontane Latchford had received royalties due to her mother and two aunts. It was revealed in this same article that all three of The Fontane Sisters had died: Geri (aged 65) in 1993, Bea (77) around 2002, and Marge (80) around 2003.”

So I know far more about the Fontane Sisters than I ever expected to know.

The record I pulled for today’s post intrigues me for one reason: The A side, “Daddy-O.” The title, of course, is drawn from beatnik slang of the mid-1950s, the time when the Beat movement – about which I am no expert, thank you – was derisive of the mainstream culture of the time. I do have a sense that “Daddy-O” was truly used by the beats to greet each other about as long as “groovy” was truly used by the hippies of the late 1960s: Only until each usage went mainstream.

And “Daddy-O” puts the slang term in the mainstream in 1955, as writers Louis Todd Innis, Buford Abner and Charlie Gore do what pop song writers have always done: take a hot topic, trend or piece of slang and make popular art out of it. The Fontane Sisters’ version of “Daddy-0” placed on four of the pertinent charts of the time, peaking at No. 11 on both the Top 100 and the Juke Box charts.

The B Side, “Adorable,” is pop that’s a little too sweet for my tastes, but it does show off to good effect the sister’s way with harmonies. So here’s the Fontane Sisters on Dot 15428 from 1955.



One side of the Billy & Eddie rockabilly record is intriguing. There’s not much to say about “Come Back, Baby,” which is a pretty generic lost love song, but “The King Is Coming Back” is an Elvis tribute, released in October 1957. I assume that it was released in advance of Presley’s imminent military service, which began in early 1958. The anticipation of Presley’s receiving his draft notice had been for some time one of the major stories of the day.

Still, it’s not certain from today’s digging who Billy and Eddie were. A page about their rockabilly contemporaries the Sparkletones at Black Cat Rockabilly Europe notes that there’s been speculation over the years that members of the Sparkletones might have sung on “The King Is Coming Back” as “the song was written by Joe Bennett and Jimmy Denton.” That’s an odd statement of authorship, unless Denton was using a pseudonym, as my copy of the record lists J. Bennet, C.Bennet and G. Brown as its creators.

The writers’ identities aside, Joe Bennett of the Sparkletones didn’t know much about who Billy and Eddie were: “I believe they were British guys,” he told Black Cat Rockabilly Europe.

Other than that, I don’t see a lot of information out there about Billy and Eddie. But there’s still the music, from Top Rank 2017 from 1957.

“Come Back, Baby”

“The King Is Coming Back”

Until I pulled his record from the box this week, I’d never heard of Roscoe Shelton. Born in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in 1931, Shelton – according to Wikipedia – worked with the long-time gospel group the Fairfield Four and with Bobby Hebb (“Sunny,” No. 2, 1966) as well as on his own. He had two singles reach the U.S. R&B chart: “Strain On My Heart” went to No. 25 in 1965, and “Easy Going Fellow” went to No. 32 a year later.

As the brief Wikipedia piece notes, Shelton was out of the music business from 1969 to 1994, and after a brief bit of success, Shelton crossed over in 2002.

The record I found in the mystery box dates to 1965, the year Shelton had the first of his two hits on the R&B chart. I’m not certain which of the two sides – “Wedding Cake” or “Keep Your Mind On Me” – was the A Side, but I’m guessing that it was the latter former, based on the listing of the single at Soulful Kinda Music.

And that’s just fine with me. “Keep Your Mind On Me” is a nice slice of deep soul, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But “Wedding Cake” is sly and cheerfully vindictive, as shown by the first two verses:

So you gonna marry the other guy?
Well, that’s all right. I ain’t gonna cry.
My heart is aching, but it ain’t gonna break.
’Cause I have already had a piece of that wedding cake.

 So you’re gonna be sorry when the new is gone
And when you are with him, you’re gonna feel all alone.
Then you think about me, but your heart will ache,
But I’ll be off and running with a piece of that wedding cake.

And there ain’t much to say after that. Here’s Roscoe Shelton on Sims 240 from 1965:

“Wedding Cake”

“Keep Your Mind On Me”