‘Four’

This morning we continue our ascent up the numerical scale, a series that’s now tagged “March of the Integers” (mostly so I can keep track of the posts). And today, we come to “Four.”

When I sort for the word “four” in the RealPlayer, I get 222 clips, but – as happens with all these searches – a lot of the tracks that come up have to be ignored, starting with thirty tracks from the Four Tops. Others set aside are tracks by the Four Larks, the Four Aces, the Four Buddies, the Brothers Four, the Philly Four, the Remo Four, the Son Sims Four and the Fairfield Four. We also have to ignore the 1973 album by Wishbone Ash titled Wishbone Four, a few tracks by bluesman Robert Belfour and everything but the title tune from Ian & Sylvia’s 1964 album Four Strong Winds.

Nevertheless, there remain enough tunes available that we can pick and choose. We’ll go chronologically, starting in 1956.

According to the site Soulful Kinda Music, Stanley Mitchell had four singles released during what appears to be a long career in music. “Four O’Clock In The Morning” was the first of the four, released on Chess in 1957 and credited to Stanley Mitchell and the Tornados. A doo-wop-styled record, “Four O’Clock . . .” has been released in recent years on a couple of Chess anthologies, which is how it got here. From Chess, Mitchell went to the Bumble Bee, Gone and Dynamo labels, getting one record released at each label; from what I can tell, none of Mitchell’s records ever made any kind of dent in the national charts. But I suppose there are worse ways to be remembered than for a pretty decent doo-wop record pulled from the long-ago vaults. (The linked video also offers the B-Side of the Chess single.)

Big Joe Williams, writes Barry Lee Pearson of All-Music Guide “may have been the most cantankerous human being who ever walked the earth with guitar in hand. At the same time, he was an incredible blues musician: a gifted songwriter, a powerhouse vocalist, and an exceptional idiosyncratic guitarist.” Williams’ gritty and keening take on “Four Corners of the World” comes from his 1961 album Blues on Highway 49, which Thom Owens of AMG calls a “tense, gritty set of roadhouse blues” on which Williams “shows exactly how Delta blues could be updated.” Though he’s not my favorite blues performer, it’s fun to have Williams and his nine-string guitar pop up on occasion in between the Boss and the Indigo Girls.

Eight versions of Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” sit on my mp3 shelves, and sorting through them to choose one – I could not ignore the tune – was difficult. I’ve written at least a couple times about Neil Young’s 1978 cover of the song (my favorite version), so I decided to go with the only other version of the tune that ever cracked the Billboard Hot 100. In 1964, Bobby Bare’s take on “Four Strong Winds” went to No. 60 on the pop chart and to No. 3 on the country chart. (Young’s record went to No. 61 in 1979, and a cover by the Brothers Four bubbled under at No. 114 in 1963.) Bare’s up-tempo take and the large vocal chorus behind him almost overwhelm the song, at least in my ears, but that was mainstream country in the mid-1960s.

Jesse Colin Young began his career with a 1964 album titled Soul of a City Boy, which included a slightly skewed song titled “Four In The Morning.” Three years later, when he and the other members of the Youngbloods put together the group’s self-titled first album, “Four In The Morning” again showed up as an album track. The gloomy tune of squalor and murder came from the pen of George (aka Robin) Remailly, a member of the Holy Modal Rounders, an off-kilter folk-rock group from the same era.

There’s not a lot of information out there about the Raggamuffins, a group that recorded “Four Days Of Rain” for the Seville label (a track that was also released, based on the visual in the linked video, on London in the U.K.). The song was written by group member Tom Pacheco, whose solo work I enjoy a lot. I can’t find any evidence that the record got any attention in 1967, but in 2002, the track showed up on Byrds Won’t Fly Today, a compilation of 1960s folk-rock judged to have some similarity to the Byrds’ work. AMG says the Raggamuffins’ track “comes about the closest to the actual Byrds sound, almost replicating to a T their mid-’60s harmonies, guitar chime, earnest lyricizing, and even Michael Clarke’s whooshing ‘The Bells of Rhymney’ cymbal patterns.” It’s actually a pretty good record.

If the definition of a “One-Hit Wonder”* is a performer or group that got one record in the Top 40, then Eddie Holman fits right in: His 1970 record “Hey There Lonely Girl” – a gender-switched cover of Ruby & The Romantics’ 1963 hit “Hey There Lonely Boy” – went to No. 2 (No. 4 R&B), and he never had another record in the Top 40. And that’s all that most people know about Eddie Holman (though one could choose far worse than “Hey There Lonely Girl” in selecting a record to be a reminder of one’s existence). But he had seven other records in or near the Billboard Hot 100 and seven others as well in the R&B Top 40. And even some of his album tracks are worth hearing, like “Four Walls” from 1970’s I Love You.

*I saw an online discussion recently about the definition of a one-hit wonder. Among the points noted in the discussion is that it’s silly to use the definition I cited above for bands and performers whose careers have mostly been album-based but had just one charting hit. A case in point used, I think, in that discussion is the Grateful Dead, who reached the Top 40 just once with “Touch Of Grey” in 1987 but isn’t anything close to what we think of when we hear the term “one-hit wonder.” So if you want to pin down a specific definition of the term, it would need to be a lot more complex than the one used in the paragraph above.

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2 Responses to “‘Four’”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    The Raggamuffins record surely deserved more attention, but the Seville label’s early-’60s Marcie Blaine/Ernie Maresca image was light years removed from what was going down in the year of peace and love. Too bad… and our loss.

    But I was thinking “Byrds” even before getting to the Raggamuffins mention, thanks to the photo of the former being displayed pre-roll on the Youngbloods’ clip, along with the mention of “Four Strong Winds.” The ’65 Bruce & Terry take on 4SW sounded as if Terry Melcher simply ushered out whatever Byrds remained in the studio following the “Mr. Tambourine Man” session, then instructed the Wrecking Crew to play the identical Tambourine Man arrangement to the tune of 4SW, right down to Hal Blaine’s nifty drum fills. All the same, the Bobby Bare take is more firmly embedded in the brain, since it received a fair amount of Twin Cities top 40 airplay at the time.

    Loved your “March Of The Integers” tag; the perfect name for whatever the piece was that played over the opening credits of ‘Donald (Duck) In Mathmagic Land.’

  2. […] little more than a week ago, after the post “Four” included Bobby Bare’s 1964 take on “Four Strong Winds,” friend and regular reader Yah Shure […]

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