Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Bare’

Saturday Single No. 327

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

It’s Groundhog Day today, and it’s sunny, so our local groundhog – wherever he keeps his den – has certainly seen his shadow by now. And because I have no mp3s in the library that have the word “groundhog” in their titles, it’s time this morning for some Games With Numbers.

We’re going to take today’s date – 2/2 – and check out some Billboard Hot 100 charts that were actually released on February 2. And then we’re going to look at the records that were at No. 2 and at No. 22. We’ll look at three Hot 100s that qualify from 1955 through 1963 (staying in that era mostly because so much of what is listed on later charts is so very familiar). Out of six records, we should find something that will please our ears this morning.

We’ll start, as I just noted, back in 1955, which brings us to two sister acts. At No. 2, we find the Fontane Sisters’ “Hearts of Stone,” a mellow harmony workout with a couple of decent saxophone breaks. The record, the first by the sisters to hit the charts, had been No. 1 a week before. Later in 1955, the Fontane Sisters, who hailed from New Milford, New Jersey, would see their “Seventeen” go to No. 3. Five more of their records reached the Top 20, and a total of eighteen of their records got into or near the Hot 100 before the Fontanes fell out of the charts for good.

At No. 22 in that long-ago chart, we find the DeCastro sisters with their first Hot 100 appearance and the first appearance in that chart of the classic “Teach Me Tonight,” a tune written in 1953 by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn. The DeCastro sisters, who were born in Cuba, weren’t the first to record the song – jazz singer Janet Brace was – but the DeCastros’ version went to No. 2, making it the best-charting of the more than sixty recordings of the tune since the mid-1950s. (The most recent version of the song to chart came from Al Jarreau [No. 70] in 1982.)

The next Hot 100 to come out on February 2 came four years later in 1959. The No. 2 record that week was “The All American Boy,” a Bobby Bare recording that was erroneously credited on the label to Bill Parsons. The record is a tongue-in-cheek workout that’s related both in tone and musical style to Eddie Cochran’s 1958 hit “Summertime Blues.” (Its descendants include some of the talking blues of Bob Dylan and, unavoidably, the Who’s 1970 version of “Summertime Blues.”) It was Bare’s first record to hit the pop chart. He’d have fifteen more – all under his real name – through 1974, and of course, many more than that on the country charts.

At No. 22 on February 2, 1959, the day of the Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” (And if that sentence doesn’t give you a little chill, you’re at the wrong blog.) It was Valens’ third charting single, and two more would hit the chart posthumously. “La Bamba” would show up in the Hot 100 three more times: by the Tokens (No. 85 in 1962), Trini Lopez (No. 86 in 1966) and Los Lobos (No. 1 for three weeks in 1987).

We move to February 2, 1963, and find “Hey Paula” by Paul & Paula sitting in the No. 2 spot. The record, the duo’s first hit, would later top the pop chart for three weeks and the R&B chart for two weeks. Paul & Paula would have seven more records in or near the Hot 100 into 1964, but nothing ever approached the success of that first charting hit. (I think my sister had a copy of “Hey Paula,” and, at the age of nine or so, I thought it was sappy, but when I hear the tune these days, I flash to the movie Animal House, which used the record in its soundtrack and which I almost always watch to the end any time I run into it on cable.)

Finally, at No. 22 on February 2, 1963, we find the smooth voice of Brook Benton and “Hotel Happiness.” The record, which works as kind of a complement – seven years later, to be sure – to Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” had peaked in January at No. 3 (No. 2 on the R&B chart). Benton accumulated a remarkable total of fifty-eight records in or near the Hot 100 between 1958 and 1972, a total that placed him as of 2009 in a tie with Madonna for twenty-fourth place all-time.

So there we have six. The Fontanes’ hit from 1955 is a little too sweet. As to the DeCastros’ record, well, I love “Teach Me Tonight,” and I find the muted trumpets and wandering sax break more appealing than I think a lot of folks would. Many other weeks, I’d go with the DeCastros. But we can do better this week.

“Hey Paula” and “La Bamba” can be dismissed, simply for familiarity. On another day, I might be pulled into a discussion of their aesthetic value, but not today. And as much as I like Brook Benton’s voice and “Hotel Happiness,” which I heard for the first time this morning, we’ll pass on that one, too.

That leaves Bobby Bare, credited as Bill Parson, and his witty hit from 1959, “The All American Boy” as today’s Saturday Single.

‘Four’

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

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.

‘You Can Hear The Whistle Blow . . .’

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

A week ago, as I explored tunes buried in the deeper portions of the Billboard chart in mid-January 1972, I shared the version of “500 Miles” by a group billed as Heaven Bound with Tony Scotti. In doing so, I called the tune a “folk song,” vaguely remembering it sung around campfires somewhere, perhaps at the Shores of St. Andrew, where I attended Bible camp during the summer of 1968.

But I also recalled it from one of the first pop-rock albums I ever owned: Look At Us by Sonny & Cher. It was a Christmas gift from my sister in 1965, one of her occasional attempts to encourage me to listen to the same music that my peers did. I liked the album well enough, and “500 Miles” – if not the heart of the album – was a pretty good track:

As I listened to Sonny & Cher this week for the first time in years, I still liked it, but it came to mind that Sonny Bono’s Spectorian folk-rock likely pulls “500 Miles” away from its roots as a folk song, whether those roots are in the literal folk tradition as a song that evolved over time or in purposeful composition during the folk boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s. And I wondered where the tune had come from.

It came, as it turned out, from the pen of Hedy West, a folk singer and performer from Georgia who recorded a few albums of traditional folk music in the early 1960s and 1970s. She wrote only a few songs, and “500 Miles” was by far her most famous composition. The song, according to Wikipedia, “was put together from fragments of a melody she had heard her uncle sing to her back in Georgia.” In her own performance of the tune from her 1963 self-titled album, she offers more verses than are usually sung.*

West’s version of her song wasn’t the first released, however. The Journeymen – a folk trio made up of John Phillips (future founder of the Mamas & the Papas), Scott McKenzie (of future “San Francisco” fame) and Dick Weissman – recorded “500 Miles” for their 1961 self-titled album.

From there, covers of the song multiplied. The Kingston Trio included the song in a live recording done in late 1961, and folk icons Peter, Paul & Mary included the song as an album track on their 1962 debut album. Other covers in the early and mid-1960s came from the Brothers Four, Johnny Rivers, Peter & Gordon, Jackie DeShannon and more. And in 1963, Bobby Bare released a reworking of the song with an expanded title – “500 Miles Away From Home” – and additional lyrics that went to No. 10 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the country chart.

I have no idea how many performers have covered the tune, then or since. The listing at AMG shows 237 CDs with the tune “500 Miles” on them, and nearly a hundred more with the title “500 Miles Away From Home.” Many of those are duplicates, of course, so there may not be as many cover versions as I once thought, maybe thirty at a guess.

One of the most recent came from a group called the Innocence Mission, which included “500 Miles” on its 2000 release Christ Is My Hope. In its review of the album, AMG notes the “childlike humility and translucence of Karen Peris’ voice” as contributing “to a kind of wide-eyed wisdom that seems to gaze into the everyday and illuminate its elusive spiritual core.” I didn’t necessarily get that, but I thought casual listeners could be forgiven if they thought that the performance came from 1970s folkie Melanie. It’s a nice version with a decent if simple arrangement.

I should also note that Rosanne Cash did an excellent cover of Bare’s version of “500 Miles” on her 2009 release The List, an album whose contents were drawn from a literal list of essential American songs compiled for Cash in the early 1970s by her famous father, Johnny.

But the most interesting cover of the song I found as I dug around the past few days – one that’s far removed in approach from Hedy West’s spare rendition – came from an unexpected source. In 1989, the Hooters, a pop-rock band from Philadelphia best remembered, AMG says, for the No. 21 hit “And We Danced” (or perhaps for being Cyndi Lauper’s backing band on She’s So Unusual),  adapted “500 Miles” – adding lyrics evidently inspired by that year’s events in and near Beijing’s Tienanmen Square – on its album Zig Zag.

The haunting, atmospheric arrangement works very well, and the Hooters’ version, which went to No. 97, has the added attraction of including background vocals from Peter, Paul & Mary along the way.

*Some compilations of West’s work are available on CD and through downloads at Amazon, as is a CD version of Getting Folk Out Of The Country, the 1974 album she recorded with folk musician Bill Clifton. There’s some vinyl out there, too, both at Amazon and through GEMM.