‘This Stone Is Genuine . . .’

Even during the years before I was actively listening to pop and rock, some records insinuated their way into my ears and into my affections.

“This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys was one of those. I remember hearing it at home when my sister tuned the kitchen radio to KDWB, and I likely heard it over at Rick’s when his sister and her friends were playing records upstairs. Those hearings would have come during the early weeks of 1965, when I was in sixth grade. I also know I heard it more than once during the following school year at South Junior High when we ended our lunch period every day by playing records (with the guys watching the girls dance) in the gym.

Why do I remember that record? I’m not sure. There were – looking back from more than forty-five years with the benefit of many more hours spent listening to the music of 1965 – other seemingly better records on the air and likely on the gymnasium turntable at the time. The Billboard Top Ten for this week in 1965 has, along with the Lewis single, at least a few that were just as good or better:

“Eight Days A Week” by the Beatles
“Stop! In The Name Of Love” by the Supremes
“The Birds and the Bees” by Jewel Akens
“King of the Road” by Roger Miller
“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” by Herman’s Hermits
“Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” by Gerry & the Pacemakers
“My Girl” by the Temptations
“This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys
“Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey
“Shotgun” by Jr. Walker & the All Stars

And cherry picking from farther down the list (but still in the Top 40):

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers
“People Get Ready” by the Impressions
“Nowhere to Run” by Martha & the Vandellas
“Tell Her No” by the Zombies
“Laugh, Laugh” by the Beau Brummels

Well, you get the point. There were other records around at the time that are likely remembered now – with the weight of pop/rock/R&B history on their side – as better. But of that Top Ten, there are only two I recall more vividly: “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” because my sister had it and “Goldfinger” because I had the soundtrack album. (I do recall hearing all of them during that long ago spring except, oddly, the Beatles tune. When I did my Beatles collecting during the early 1970s, “Eight Days A Week” was one of the few hits by the boys from Liverpool that I did not recall hearing before. I recognized the title but not the record.)

So what was it about “This Diamond Ring” that grabbed me? I’m not sure, but I can make a few guesses. First, the song and its story. Even when I was eleven, tales of heartbreak, broken promises and lost dreams affected me greatly, and the mournful lyrics complemented the song, with its strategic minor chords and a couple of disquieting modulations. Then there was the production, which I now know carries hints of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

As to the performance by Lewis and the Playboys, it was competent but no more than that. The record’s charm is in its song construction and production, and the credit for that goes to songwriters Bob Brass, Al Kooper and Irwin Levine; arranger Leon Russell; and producer Snuff Garrett.

“This Diamond Ring” doesn’t have the hold on me these days that it once did. For example, it didn’t show up as one of my favorites in the long Ultimate Jukebox project of a couple of years ago. In fact, I don’t think I even considered it for more than a few seconds, and that’s all right. But it is a pleasant artifact of its time for me, and it came to mind this morning because, as I dug around in the Billboard Hot 100 for March 20, 1965, I found – in the Bubbling Under section at No. 134 – another record with the same credits: songwriters Bob Brass, Al Kooper and Irwin Levine; arranger Leon Russell; and producer Snuff Garrett.

It was an answer record: “(Gary, Please Don’t Sell) My Diamond Ring” by Wendy Hill.

Joel Whitburn doesn’t have a lot of information about Hill in his Top Pop Singles: She was from Los Angeles, and her only other single listed was “Without Your Love,” which bubbled under the chart at No. 111 for one week during the autumn of 1961. “(Gary, Please Don’t Sell) My Diamond Ring” didn’t even do that well; it disappeared after its one week at No. 134.

But it does make me wonder what happened to the diamond ring. Somebody should have written a sequel.

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2 Responses to “‘This Stone Is Genuine . . .’”

  1. porky says:

    I’ve been doing some Billboard research and found that both the Lewis and Sammy Ambrose version (on Musicor) were simultaneously in the spotlight singles category the same week. Gary got a spot on Sullivan around this time which may have helped boost his version (along with the show-biz weight thrown behind it, too).

    Did you know that Sea-Lark was one of Dick Clark’s companies (C-lark)? The man knew the angles.

    I may be biased but 65-66 will never be topped for pop greatness.

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