‘Six’

And so we come to “Six” as the March of the Integers goes on. The RealPlayer sifts through more than 66,000 mp3s and brings back 176 of them, leaving us the task of sorting out the chaff from those results.

All the songs with “sixteen” in their titles have to go, including Joe Clay’s 1956 rockabilly romp, “Sixteen Chicks,” country singer Lacy J. Dalton’s 1982 tribute to perseverance, “Sixteenth Avenue” and several versions of “Sweet Little Sixteen.” The same holds true for songs with “sixty” in their titles, including two versions of Elton John’s “Sixty Years On” – one from the studio and one from his live 11-17-70 set – as well as Billy Ward & The Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man” from 1951.

A cluster of tracks by some groups have to be set aside as well: That includes single tracks by the Deep Six, the Electric Six, the Six Mile Chase, the Soul Brothers Six, the Sound of Six as well as the gloriously titled “Rub A Little Boogie” by Duke Bayou & His Mystic Six. We also have to set aside a couple of albums each by Sixpence None the Richer and the New Colony Six. And then, everything but the title tune from B.B. King’s 1985 album Six Silver Strings goes by the wayside, as does all of Steeleye Span’s 1974 album Now We Are Six and the 1973 opus by Rick Wakeman, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. But we’re still left with enough titles to put together a nice six-record set.

The most successful, and maybe the best of the bunch, is one I’ve written about before: “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley. Recorded in Minneapolis’ Kay Bank Studios in March 1963, “Six Days” spent two weeks at No. 2 on the country chart and went to No. 32 on the pop chart. The record, wrote Dave Marsh in 1989, had “about as much impact as any hit of the early sixties – it spawned a whole genre of truck driving songs that are not only the closest contemporary equivalent of the cowboy ballads of yore but have produced some of the best country records of the past thirty years.”

[Wikipedia notes: According to country music historian Bill Malone, “Six Days on the Road” was not the first truck driving song; Malone credits “Truck Driver’s Blues” by Cliff Bruner, released in 1940, with that distinction. “Nor is it necessarily the best,” said Malone, citing songs such as “Truck Drivin’ Man” by Terry Fell and “White Line Fever” by Merle Haggard and the Strangers as songs that “would certainly rival it.” However, “Six Days,” Malone continued, “set off a vogue for such songs” that continued for many years. “The trucking songs coincided with country music’s growing identification as working man’s music in the 1960s,” he said. Dudley “strikingly captures the sense of boredom, danger and swaggering masculinity that often accompanies long-distance truck driving. His macho interpretation, with its rock-and-roll overtones, is perfect for the song.”]

When Ringo Starr and producer Richard Perry put together the ex-Beatle’s 1973 release Ringo, the other three ex-Beatles stopped by at various times to offer songs and some help in the studio. Paul and Linda McCartney offered the song “Six O’Clock” and hung around to record background vocals, while Paul wrote the arrangement for the strings and flutes and then sat down at both the piano and the synthesizer, adding a solo on the latter that hangs around in one’s ears long after the very catchy track is over.

The Association was a pretty mellow group (occasionally moving, as Bruce Eder of All-Music Guide notes, “into psychedelia and, much more rarely, into a harder, almost garage-punk vein”), so when “Six Man Band” starts coming out of the speakers, those few bars of growling guitars that follow the light percussion opening make one take note. Soon enough, the record mellows, but those guitars keep popping up, alternating with the stacked vocal harmonies. The record label credits the group as producers, but that only shows how much the Association learned from Curt Boettcher. The record, detailing in vague allusions the joys and hassles of being on the road, hit the Billboard Hot 100 in late August 1968 but only got as high as No. 47.

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart are perhaps better known as songwriters – their credits include “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” “Come A Little Bit Closer” and much of the Monkees’ catalog – than as performers. But between 1962 and 1969, they put ten singles in or near the Hot 100 (and Hart had a solo single bubble under at No. 110 in 1980). The best-known of the duo’s records is no doubt “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite,” which went to No. 8 in February 1968. They’re of interest today because the romantic lament “Six + Six” showed up as the B-side to “We’re All Going To The Same Place,” which bubbled under the chart for one week at No. 123 in November 1968.

All I know about the Apostles, I learned at the blog Funky Sixteen Corners, which is where my pal Larry spins his records. Back in 2006, Larry noted that all he knew about the superb instrumental “Six Pack” was that it was from 1969 (and he could have added that it was released on Kapp, a fact made obvious by the label scan). He said, “Despite any religious connotations of the name Apostles, I’m betting that they weren’t following anyone spiritually besides the Meters. It starts out with a funky – but not overly exciting – bass line, so as the record begins you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, ‘I expect this 45 to provide an acceptable level of funk, but little else.’ Then, a few short seconds later, the guitar player drops in with some of the wildest, bell-bottomed, crazy-legged fatback guitar and knocks the whole thing for a loop.” Not quite a year later, a reader by the name of John Rogger left Larry a note: “[I]’m glad to see that someone other than myself likes the records my father produced! ‘Six Pack’ was a great hit for him, but the bigger hit was ‘Soulful’ on the first album he released with the band. . . . If you’re able to find it, listen to it. It’s a great song. It actually sold more than “Six Pack” did. . . .Thanks for finding stuff on my dad. It makes me happy since he wasn’t able to continue his dream and legacy due to the war. I still play his songs on the radio station I work at. It’s fun times for me. . . . The Apostles was a rock and roll band formed from the Renegades that my dad was in charge of in the ’60s in St. Louis. He did a lot back then for music. Now he does real estate. Go figure!”

Candi Staton has showed up here a few times, most recently in September, when her “Never In Public” caught my ear. This morning, it was her “Six Nights and a Day” that got my attention. The track showed up in 1974 on the album Candi, Staton’s first release on Warner Brothers after leaving the Muscle Shoals-based Fame label. Warner Brothers released “Six Days and a Night” as a single (Warner Bros. 8112 b/w “We Can Work It Out”) in 1975, but it didn’t show up in either the Hot 100 or the R&B Top 40. I seem to say this every time I run across one of Staton’s R&B sides, but it’s true: The record deserved better.

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