Archive for the ‘1949’ Category

Back In ’49

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

When I searched the RealPlayer this morning for tracks recorded on April 13, it tossed back three titles, one of which I know well and two that were recorded on the same day four years and a few months before I was born.

The one I know well is the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” According to notes I found somewhere – possibly even accompanying the Mono Masters set that came with The Beatles in Mono box set – the group began work on “Paperback Writer” at Abbey Road fifty years ago today. As it happens, “Paperback Writer” is one of my favorite Beatles tracks, maybe because of the lyrics but more likely because of the bass line. But there’s little point in featuring a record so well known, so I turned my eyes and ears back to April 13, 1949.

That’s when two very different singles were recorded for Columbia: “Room Full of Roses,” by a country singer named George Morgan and “Elevation” by a jazz group, Elliot Lawrence & His Orchestra. We’ll stay on the country side today.

Morgan was a Tennessee-born and Ohio-raised singer who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1948, the year he turned twenty-four. By the time he recorded “Room Full of Roses” sixty-seven years ago today, he’d released two major hits: “Candy Kisses” spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Best Seller chart, and “Please Don’t Let Me Love You” went to No. 4 on the magazine’s Best Seller and Juke Box charts.

“Room Full of Roses” was destined to go to No. 4 on the Best Seller chart, but before it reached the chart in August, Morgan had two more records make their marks: “Rainbow In My Heart” went to No. 8 on the Best Seller chart, and “All I Need Is Some More Lovin’” went to No. 11 there as well.

Morgan would go on to have nineteen more records reach the various country charts Billboard offered, with his last hit, “Red Rose From The Blue Side Of Town,” going to No. 21 in 1974. Morgan, who was the father of country single Lorrie Morgan, died in 1975 at the age of fifty-one. Here’s “Room Full of Roses,” recorded sixty-seven years ago today.

‘I Am A Schoolboy, Too . . .’

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

It’s the day after Labor Day, and here in St. Cloud, as in most of Minnesota – and most of the U.S., I imagine – the school buses roll. Teachers plan lessons and welcome new students. Students scan schedules and consider – sometimes covertly and sometimes not – who’s changed the most over what now seems to have been a brief summer.

And a new nine-month school year starts.

I could go several ways here. I thought about digging into the memory banks for a first-day-of-school story, but I’m not sure there are any left untold. So I went looking for a record about the first day of school. I didn’t find one that specific, but as I scanned the list of records the RealPlayer provided about “school,” I realized that I’ve never written about one of the great songs in the blues catalog.

It first showed up as “Good Morning School Girl” by John Lee Williamson, the first Sonny Boy. He wrote and recorded the song for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois, on May 5, 1937.

From there, the song moved on (with varying punctuation, the addition of the word “little” and mixed use of “schoolgirl” or “school girl”). The first cover version noted at Second Hand Songs – a site that’s not always complete but comes pretty close – is by Leroy Dallas & His Guitar in 1948, followed by Smokey Hogg in 1949 and L.C. Green in 1952. I should perhaps know those names, but I don’t. The version I found by Hogg at YouTube this morning is pretty good.

When we get to 1958, we see some familiar names beginning to pop up: Big Joe Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Rod Stewart, Junior Wells, the Grateful Dead, Jim Kweskin, Taj Mahal, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Geoff Muldaur recorded the song through the 1970s.

In 1964, we also find the Yardbirds, but their record is not the same song. Wikipedia explains: “In 1961, Don Level and Bob Love, as the R&B duo ‘Don and Bob,’ recorded a different version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ for Argo Records, a Chess subsidiary. Although it uses the phrase ‘good morning little schoolgirl’, the song has different chord changes and lyrics, including references to popular dance styles of the time. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton later covered this version of ‘Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl’ for their second UK single in 1964.”

My friend Larry, who hangs his hat at the great blog 16 Funky Corners, disputes this in a note below, saying that both the Yardbirds and Don & Bob singles are the Williamson song. It’s close, and I’ll acknowledge inspiration,  but I agree with Wikipedia. They are different songs. The clincher to me is the lack of the “I am a schoolboy, too.”

Muddy Waters recorded the song for his 1964 album Folk Singer, and his version of “Good Morning Little School Girl” is striking for its acoustic approach, rather than Waters’ usual electric arrangement. (That holds true for the entire album, of course, an early version of the “unplugged” phenomenon.)

A few years later, Mississippi Fred McDowell included “Good Morning Little School Girl” on one of my favorite blues albums, his 1969 effort I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

A few covers are listed in the 1980s, and in 1993, another great version of the tune came, unsurprisingly, from Van Morrison, who tackled “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” on his album Too Long In Exile.

(I haven’t decided: Is it creepy or just an adjustment when Waters and Morrison – and likely others who’ve recorded the song – sing “I once was a schoolboy, too,” and make the song’s narrator older than the schoolgirl to whom he’s singing?)

We skip a few more years and a few more covers and move on to 2011, when Rory Block gender-flipped the song’s lyrics for her 2011 album, Shake ’Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell. I love Block’s work, and I think her version is my favorite, challenged by only Morrison’s and McDowell’s itself (acknowledging that there are many, many versions of the song I have not yet heard).

Chart Digging: March 6, 1961

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Having disposed with March of 1963 briefly last week, I dropped back two more years this morning to see what was going out over the airwaves during the first week of March 1961. The Billboard Top Ten for March 6 of that year – fifty-one years ago today – is at least somewhat familiar today:

“Pony Time” by Chubby Checker
“Surrender” by Elvis Presley
“Wheels” by the String-A-Longs
“Don’t Worry” by Marty Robbins
“Where The Boys Are” by Connie Francis
“Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk
“Baby Sittin’ Boogie” by Buzz Clifford
“Dedicated To The One I Love” by the Shirelles
“There’s A Moon Out Tonight” by the Capris
“Ebony Eyes” by the Everly Brothers

I think that two of those – the singles by the Shirelles and the Capris – rank as all-time classics although I’m certain I didn’t hear them in early 1961. The only one of those I remember hearing at the time is “Where The Boys Are,” which was the title song to a movie starring Francis and George Hamilton. Most of the rest are familiar now, of course, although I had to listen to “Wheels” and “Baby Sittin’ Boogie” for reminders. (And I was reminded how much I dislike maudlin songs about death when I listened this morning to “Ebony Eyes” for the first time in many years.)

And, then, of course, I dipped down further in the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty-one years ago to see what might be lurking in the spots below No. 60 or so.

One of the most familiar songs in country western music – at least to my ears – is “Ghost Riders In The Sky: A Cowboy Legend.” Written in 1948 by Stan Jones, the song has been recorded more than fifty times, according to Wikipedia, with the first recording coming from Burl Ives in 1949; that version went to No. 21 on the pop chart and to No. 8 on the country chart. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles begins in 1955, so Ives’ single isn’t listed. The highest-placing cover Whitburn lists is the one I found at No. 62: The Ramrods’ instrumental take titled simply “Ghost Riders In The Sky” without the subtitle. The Ramrods – a quartet from Connecticut – had seen their version go to No. 30 two weeks earlier. It was their only Hot 100 hit. (Other  notable versions of the tune include the Outlaws’ 1981 release that went to No. 31 and Johnny Cash’s 1979 take on the tune that didn’t hit the pop chart but went to No. 2 on the country chart, matching Vaughn Monroe’s 1949 version.)

With Chubby Checker’s “Pony Time” in the middle of a three-week stay at No. 1, another version of the song, this one by the Goodtimers, was sitting at No. 69, on its way to No. 60. One of the members of the Goodtimers was Don Covay, the writer of Checker’s single as well as a good number of other R&B hits, including “Chain of Fools,” “Mercy Mercy” and “Letter Full Of Tears.” “Pony Time” was the first of several hits for Covay, with and without the Goodtimers; the highest-placing were “Mercy Mercy,” which went to No. 35 in 1964 (with, Whitburn notes, Jimi Hendrix on guitar), and “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In,” which went to No. 29 in 1973. (On the R&B chart, those two records went to No. 1 – for two weeks – and to No. 6, respectively.)

After Aretha Franklin became a star at Atlantic in the late 1960s, the idea that Columbia hadn’t known what to do with her when she was there hardened from opinion into accepted musical wisdom. And it’s true that a lot of the stuff Franklin recorded at Columbia through 1966 wasn’t a good fit for her. So I was a little leery when I saw that her “Won’t Be Long” was sitting at No. 83 fifty-one years ago today. But the record, which was on its way to No. 76, is better by far than I expected it to be. And it’s a piece of history, too: “Won’t Be Long” was the first of eighty-eight singles that Franklin placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1998. (It was her second hit in the R&B Top 40, going to No. 7.)

I haven’t had many reasons to share a record by Edith Piaf (I think it’s happened only two other times so far in five years), so when I saw her name pop up on the Hot 100 from March 6, 1961, the decision was easy. Sitting at No. 95, Piaf’s single “Milord” was the first and only single the legendary French singer ever placed in the Hot 100. (Her take on the theme to the movie “Exodus” bubbled under at No. 116 in the spring of 1961.) “Milord,” recorded in New York City, would peak at No. 88 in mid-March. (Another version of “Milord,” this one an instrumental by Frank Pourcel & His Orchestra, was bubbling under at No. 118 during that first week of March in 1961; it would peak at No. 112.)

Among my vivid memories from the early 1960s is the annual recognition of the incoming freshman class at St. Cloud State that took place at halftime of the first home football game. The announcer would ask the freshmen to stand as the marching band saluted them, and I recall seeing those young people stand, most seeming embarrassed and a few wearing their freshman beanies, as the band played “Hey Look Me Over” from the 1961 Broadway musical Wildcat. The version of the tune in the Hot 100 during the first week of March in 1961 was by the Pete King Chorale & Orchestra. The record – the only hit for Pete King and his musicians and the only version of the tune to ever hit the pop charts – would peak at No. 108. (For those wondering what a freshman beanie is, here’s a picture of the beanie from Ricker College in Maine. As was true at many colleges, for many years freshmen at St. Cloud State were required to wear their red and black beanies on campus and at college events during the first part of the academic year.  According to a 1998 note at St. Cloud State’s website, “the beanie requirement was abolished in 1961, but for the next few years, freshmen were encouraged to wear them.”)

A Mix: Spree VI, Friendship & Johnny Otis

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

I find myself swamped today, so this will be brief.

As mentioned in progress Saturday, the Texas Gal and I had a wonderful visit with jb – proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – and his Mrs. last weekend in what was billed as Midwest Blog Summit and Beer Spree VI. Activities added since I wrote last Saturday included Saturday lunch at the Old Creamery restaurant in the little burg of Rice, Minnesota, a Saturday evening visit with music expert and friend Yah Shure and a Sunday morning egg bake (with bacon on the side). As the years roll on, the Texas Gal and I realize more and more clearly how rare it is in this life to find true friends, and all three of those folks – jb, the Mrs. and Yah Shure – qualify, and we’re grateful we have them in our lives.

Planning will no doubt begin soon for Spree VII.

I did buy a few 45s during our Saturday road trip, but the true music jewel of the weekend was a CD copy of a long-enjoyed two-LP set, The Roots of Rock ’N Roll: The Savoy Sessions, courtesy of Yah Shure. One of the better-represented artists on that set is Johnny Otis, who passed on a week ago. 

Others have no doubt done a far better job at summing up Otis’ importance to R&B and rock ’n’ roll than I can, so I’ll just exit this morning with a quiet tribute to the man. Here’s “Head Hunter,” which was recorded in Los Angeles on December 19, 1949, and was released on Savoy 774.