As we continue Floyd’s Prism and look for six good tracks with the word “black” in their titles, we have lots of material to work with, as a search through the more than 72,000 mp3s on the digital shelves brings up a total of 665 results. There is, however, the normal winnowing that takes place.
Whole albums (except the occasional title track) must go, including three albums titled Black & White, one each from Tony Joe White (1969), the Pointer Sisters (1981) and the BoDeans (1991). We also lose, among others, Black Cadillac by Rosanne Cash (2006), Black Cat Oil by Delta Moon (2012), Black Eyed Man by the Cowboy Junkies (1992), Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971), Long Black Train by Josh Turner (2003), Long Black Veil by the Chieftans (1995), Young, Gifted & Black by Aretha Franklin (1972), and the soundtracks to the films Black Swan, Black Snake Moan and The Black Dahlia.
Three singles on the Black & White label are cast aside, two by T-Bone Walker and one by Ivie Anderson & Her All Stars. Single tracks from two albums titled Black & Blue go by the wayside; the albums came from Lou Rawls in 1963 and the Rolling Stones in 1976. I have two tracks that Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull recorded in the 1920s for the Black Patti label; those are set aside. One track each from Ruby Andrews’ 1972 album Black Ruby and XTC’s 1980 effort Black Sea miss the cut, too. One of my favorite Danish tracks, “Mød Mig I Mørket” (which translates to “Meet Me In The Dark”) came from Malurt’s 1982 release Black-out, so that goes away, too. And we lose the great “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” recorded in 1922 by Trixie Smith & The Jazz Masters on the Black Swan label.
Groups and performers must be winnowed as well. We lose, among others, the Black Crowes, Black Heat, the Black Keys, Black Uhuru, Blackburn & Snow, the Blackbyrds, Margaret Johnson & The Black & Blue Trio (who recorded “When a ’Gator Holler, Folks Say It’s A Sign Of Rain” in 1926), Otis Blackwell and Willie “61” Blackwell, eight of whose 1941 sides for Bluebird showed up in the box set When The Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues (Rare Cuts 1926-1941).
But we have plenty of records left.
We start with a guide to a cool wardrobe in the summer of 1957, when “Black Slacks” from Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones went to No. 17:
Black slacks. I’m the cat’s pajamas.
I always run around with crazy little mamas.
Well, all the girls look when I go by.
It’s what I wear that makes ’em sigh.
Black slacks: I wear a red bow tie.
Black slacks: They say “Me, oh my.”
Later in 1957, the quartet from Spartanburg, South Carolina, followed “Black Slacks” with another single of fashion advice, “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox,” but that one only went to No. 42, and – reading between the lines in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – ABC-Paramount dropped the group. Bennett & The Sparkletones got one more shot, on the Paris label, but “Boys Do Cry” bubbled under at No. 125 in September 1959.
I took a stab at the history of the song “Long Black Veil” in 2009 (in a Saturday post that has yet to show up at our archival site), but I have sixteen versions of the song on the digital shelves, so it was almost inevitable that one of them would show up today. I’ve settled on the album track the Kingston Trio released on The New Frontier in late 1962. The album went to No. 16, but as good as that sounds, it was only the second of the trio’s twelve charting albums between 1958 and 1962 to miss the Top Ten. The trio’s time was passing, notes Bruce Eder of All Music Guide: “The Kingston Trio’s 14th album for Capitol Records appeared at a time when folk music was changing around them in ways that no one could have predicted just a couple of years earlier. Bob Dylan had not yet charted a record, but he was at Columbia Records and he was writing serious, topical, angry songs that would soon start getting attention; and a rival folk group called Peter, Paul & Mary was starting to make headway with the public doing songs that had a political and philosophical edge.”
Nor could I ignore “Baby’s In Black” by the Beatles. The track came to my sister and me as part of Beatles ’65, an album cobbled together by Capitol by taking some U.K. non-album singles and B-sides, one track from A Hard Day’s Night and several tracks from the British release Beatles For Sale. While my CD collection and the mp3’s digital tags reflect the track’s origins as an album track on Beatles For Sale, my memory will always have it as part of Beatles ’65, especially since I know there is a 1964 picture somewhere in our family archive – as yet still unfound – of me wearing my Beatle wig and plugging my ears with our copy of Beatles ’65 propped in my lap. Beyond that, “Baby’s In Black” remains a good early Beatles track.
There’s not a lot of information out there – at least readily available information – about soul singer Billy Thompson. He had no hits in the Billboard Hot 100 or on the R&B chart. The bare bones are there at Discogs.com: He was born in Indianola, Mississippi, and he “went to the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, where he majored in musical composition, and arranging.” That’s it. That, and the 1965 single “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye/Black Eyed Girl” on the Wand label, which is the only thing I can find listed at Soulful Kinda Music, which is pretty comprehensive. I’ve never heard “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but if that Wand single is the only record Thompson made then “Black Eyed Girl” is a hell of a resume by itself.
As regular readers have no doubt realized over the years, I love pretty much anything ever recorded by Big Maybelle Smith. From her work on King Records in the 1940s through her time at Savoy in the 1950s and at Rojac in the 1960s, I find something to like in almost anything she did. And among my favorites are the quirkily selected covers found on Got A Brand New Bag from 1967. Among them is “Black Is Black,” which Los Bravos took to No. 4 in 1966. That was a great single, but Big Maybelle’s take on “Black Is Black” is, to my ears, just as good.
And we’ll close today with one of the most evocative songs of 1990: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. According to Myles’ YouTube channel, the record was originally released in Canada in 1989 and then hit the U.S. in 1990. Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles says “Black Velvet” entered the Hot 100 during the first week of January that year; in March, the record was No. 1 for two weeks and topped the Album Rocks Track chart for two weeks as well. In addition, Myles’ performance earned her the 1990 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist.