Posts Tagged ‘Coasters’

A ‘What’ Preview

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

I’m still regrouping here, doing the minimum necessary to keep the household running, drinking lots of fluids, taking lots of decongestant and other meds and just holding on. But I thought I’d toss out another preview to the feature I hope to start in earnest in the next week or so: Journalism 101.

Last Thursday, I offered a preview of the first of the five W’s: “Who.” Today, we’ll find a tune with “What” in its title, sorting among 1,375 tracks the RealPlayer found. Among the tracks we’ll have to reject are two pretty good albums, the Doobie Brothers’ What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits and the Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. (There are more that we must pass by, but – in keeping with the tenor of this post – that’s a preview.)

From the perspective of nearly sixty years, the Coasters’ 1959 track “What About Us” sounds, certainly in the first verse and perhaps in some of the later verses, like a plaint about economic inequality:

He’s got a house made of glass
Got his own swimming pool . . . what a gas
We’ve got a one-room shack
Five by six by the railroad track, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

He’s with a beautiful chick
Every night of the week, pretty slick
We’re two poor hung up souls
Girls won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

He goes to eat at the Ritz
Big steaks, that’s the breaks
We eat hominy grits
From a bag, what a drag

He’s got a car made of suede
With a black leather top, got it made
If we go out on dates
We go in a box on roller skates, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

By the second verse, songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are placing the tale clearly in the teen-age milieu, but I wonder if the first verse and some of the later verses had a wider target.

“What About Us” was released in late 1959, and Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows it going to No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 as the B-side to “Run Red Run,” which went to No. 36. Oddly, perhaps, Whitburn’s R&B book shows “What About Us” as the A-side; it went to No. 17 on the Billboard R&B chart (with “Run Red Run” going to No. 29 on the B-side).

Whether pointed statement or teenage playlet, whether A-side or B-side, the record has the classic Coasters sound: A catchy rhythm, humor-laden lyrics, the low-voice interjections and a sax solo that I assume comes from King Curtis. Enjoy!

‘Red’

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Having brought the March of the Integers through ten steps (and not seeing a search for ‘Eleven” offer much of a return), I’ve been pondering what other ways there might be to sort the nearly 69,000 tunes in the RealPlayer that would provide interesting cross-sections of what is a wide range of music.

And then I dropped Dark Side of the Moon into the upstairs CD player late one evening. As the heartbeat faded in to start the epic album’s first track, “Speak To Me,” I looked idly at the iconic album cover with its prism. And I thought, “The spectrum. Sort titles by color.”

So this is the first of nine planned posts in a series that my pals Odd and Pop insist on calling “Floyd’s Prism.” Nine? Yes, because we plan on covering the seven colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – and then adding black and white.

Here we go with “Red.”

Our search through the mp3 shelves brings up 1,878 files, most of which we’ll not be able to use. We discard immediately anything performed or conducted by anyone named “Alfred,” which eliminates the Philharmonia Slavonica performances of two symphonies by Robert Schumann (Alfred Scholz conducting),  Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won, the 1929 plaint by Blind Alfred Reed, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” (revived in recent years by Bruce Springsteen) and Alfred Lewis’ whooping and harmonica-honking take on “Mississippi Swamp Moan” from 1930.

Numerous other artists that pop up in the search are set aside (unless further search finds in their catalog a title with “red” in it): bluesman Tampa Red; Don Redman & His Orchestra (with the oddly titled 1931 single “Chant of the Weed’); Mississippi Fred McDowell (many tracks including the great soliloquy “I Do No Play No Rock ’N’ Roll”); an early 1970s band, Fred, that released, from what I’ve been able to tell, one self-titled album between 1971 and 1973; and Fred Astaire, Fred Hughes, Fred Hess, Fred Neil (who wrote “The Dolphins” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”); Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns; Freddie King, Freda Payne and a few more.

Albums take a hit, too. We lose most tracks off numerous albums, including Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to the 1990 movie, The Hunt for Red October, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road, Bob Dylan’s Under the Red Sky, Chris Rea’s Wired to the Moon, Chris Thomas King’s Red Mud, Dan Fogelberg’s Captured Angel, Jane Bunnett’s Red Dragonfly, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus and Jimmy McGriff’s Red Beans.

Individual titles go, too. Among them: “My Days Are Numbered” by the Bad Habits, “Blistered Heart” by Badly Drawn Boy, versions of “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles and Billy Preston, “Rip Her To Shreds” by Blondie, “Blues for Big Fred” by Richard “Groove” Holmes, “High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” by the Marvelettes, three versions of Dylan’s “Nothing Was Delivered,” five versions of the standard, “It Never Entered My Mind,” and – as we close this section to keep it somewhat under control – Keld Heick’s Danish tune, “Jeg Ringer På Fredag” (which translates to “I’ll Call You On Friday”) and a track titled “Es Redzeju Jurina” from the album Beyond The River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia.

There are, however, many recordings with “red” in their titles, and as we select six this morning, we’ll no doubt miss some good ones.

Before Muddy Waters found his way in 1947 to the Aristocrat and Chess labels in Chicago, he recorded for Columbia. The label, along with other major labels, was struggling with change, according to the notes in the British-issued box set Chicago Is Just That Way: “The major companies . . . retained such a hidebound attitude toward their product that younger artists coming forward, like Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters, seemed to be beyond their comprehension.” Waters recorded several sides for Columbia, mostly with only his slide guitar as accompaniment. But in 1946, he recorded “Mean Red Spider” with a band, and then Columbia for some reason released the record under the name of James “Sweet Lucy” Carter.

The entry for Billy “The Kid” Emerson at Wikipedia tells an interesting story: “William Robert Emerson, known during his recording career as Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson and more recently as Rev. William R. Emerson . . . is an African American preacher and former R&B and rock and roll singer and songwriter, best known for his 1955 song, ‘Red Hot’.”  We may dig into that story more in the future, but for today, “Red Hot” is where our interest lies. Emerson wrote the song after hearing a football cheer, “Our team is red hot . . .” and recorded it on May 31, 1955, at the Sun studios in Memphis. It was released as Sun 219 but it failed to chart. (The better-known version is probably the 1957 cover by Billy Lee Riley; versions by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and by Robert Gordon with Link Wray made the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and 1977, respectively.)

Teach a monkey to play poker, and you’re asking for trouble. That’s the surface moral in “Run Red Run” by the Coasters. The fanciful tale of a monkey who turns on its owner for cheating at cards came from the minds of songwriting geniuses Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s one of the Coasters’ lesser-known hits today, but it has everything a Coasters fan would need: A good if fanciful story, great vocals (including the classic “boogetty boogetty boogetty boogetty” behind the chorus) and two sax solos that are almost certainly by King Curtis. The 1959 record went to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 29 on the R&B chart. I especially like the mention in the final verse of the “brand new Stetson hat,” which has to be a clear reference to “Stagger Lee,” which Lloyd Price had taken to No. 1 in early 1959.

Another record that tends to get lost, I think, is “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond, overtaken by both the more popular hits in his vast catalog and by the two 1988 covers of the song by the English reggae group, UB40. The standard version by UB40 went to No. 34 in the U.S., and the version with a rap by Astro went to No. 1. There’s no doubt that UB40 reinvented the song memorably, and it’s true that Diamond’s original went only as high as No. 62. But Diamond’s 1968 version is worth a listen, too, either to examine the source of the later hit or just to hear a good record.

I have no idea who was in the group Kansas City, which released “Red Tower Road” as a single on the Trump label in 1970. I got the record as part of the Lost Jukebox series, and all I know from the barebones index I’ve found and from looking at the single’s label online is that the record was produced by the well-known and highly regarded Tommy Cogbill. (The video I found notes the involvement as well of Chips Moman, but a quick search this morning leaves me uncertain as to his ties to the record, although I could guess that it was recorded at Moman’s studio in Memphis.) According to one website, “Red Tower Road” was the B-side to “Linda Was A Lady,” but to my ears, it was good enough to be an A-side.

So what’s our last stop? “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” by Jesse Ed Davis” “Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie? “Rusty Red Armour” by Vinegar Joe? Well, having visited one keyboard genius earlier this week in Richard “Groove” Holmes, it only seems right that we pick up on a chance to listen to “Red Beans” by Jimmy McGriff. It’s the title track of the earlier mentioned 1976 album, and although there’s not as much keyboard in the track as one might like, it’s still a sweet workout for a Thursday.

Saturday Single No. 290

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

As I’ve been hanging around 1957 for the first two posts of the week, it seems almost churlish to leave that year today, when I can play our occasional Saturday morning game of “Jump!” with the Billboard Top 40 of May 15 of that year.

Thirteen of those forty records moved more than six places from the previous week’s chart, with most of that movement coming from records ranked between No. 21 and No. 40, a circumstance that is not at all surprising.

Two records moved seven places: Jim Lowe’s “Four Walls” went from No. 44 to No. 37, and Ken Copeland’s “Pledge of Love” (featured here Tuesday) climbed from No. 24 to No. 17. And three records shifted nine places: “Mangos” by Rosemary Clooney dropped from No. 25 to No. 34; “Wonderful Memories” by Johnny Mathis moved up from a tie for No. 34 to No. 25; and Andy Williams’ “Butterfly” fell from No. 11 to No. 20.

(How many of these records do I know? Until I listened to Copeland’s record the other day, I had heard only three of the twelve I’ll mention here this morning. Even now, after years of tracking back into the history of rock, pop and R&B, looking at charts from the years before 1960 is something like archeology: I have very little knowledge about what’s out there, so I dig and sift, hoping to find something that clarifies the history of the music. If it turns out to be something I like, that’s great; if it’s something I already know, then the digging and sifting helps me put it in the context of its time, and I learn something.)

There was one record that moved ten places between the charts of May 8 and May 15, 1957: Charlie Grace’s original version of “Butterfly” – Williams’ version noted above was a cover – fell from No. 16 to No. 26. One record – Pat Boone’s “Love Letters In The Sand” – moved twelve spots, climbing from No. 21 to No. 9.

Then two artists already mentioned this morning pop back up: Jim Lowe shows up for the second time, this time with “Talkin’ To The Blues,” which jumped fourteen places, from No. 43 to a tie for No. 29; and Charlie Grace makes his second entrance, as his “Fabulous” climbed fifteen places from No. 51 to No. 36.

Two records moved up twenty places, which is a pretty good leap: “I Just Don’t Know” by the Four Lads went from No. 53 to No. 33, and Jim Reeves’ “Four Walls” went from No. 36 to No. 16. (I think Reeves’ version of the song was the original and Lowe’s version – mentioned above – was the cover, based on the data I found at Second Hand Songs.)

As large as those leaps were, however, they were not the largest of the week. The biggest movement of the week came from a familiar song, one that moved thirty-eight places, flying from No. 76 to No. 38 as it headed to No. 3. And that makes “Searchin’” by the Coasters Today’s Saturday Single.

(I was going to do my own video of the tune this morning, as each of the several videos I found at YouTube seemed to be in a different key with a different level of clarity. But the mp3 on my digital shelves has a muddy quality to it, and to my baffled amazement, I have no Coasters LPs or CDs. That gap will be closed soon, but in the meantime, the video I have posted above is in the same key as my muddy mp3, and I sincerely hope it’s the original recording. Sadly, that’s not the case, as Yah Shure notes below in his assessment of the Coasters’ catalog on CD.)

One Part Bliss, Two Parts Agony

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

What is it that qualifies a record for my Ultimate Jukebox?

Well, it’s not universal acclaim, for there are few records that would qualify under so stringent a rule. I’d hazard that a few Beatles records might. (The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide noted that “not liking the Beatles is as perverse as not liking the sun.”) I do have two records by the Beatles among the songs I’ll be featuring here, but they are, I guess, quirky picks and thus might not find unanimous support. And if Beatles records aren’t unanimous choices, I don’t know what records might be.

Obviously, the records highlighted here are songs that move me one way or another: Some of them make me want to dance (a sight not often granted to non-family members, which is good for the welfare of all). Some of them astound me musically. Some take me to other places and times, both good and ill, and some remind me that there were times when folks were making great music in many places before I was aware of it or even before I was born. And some of them tug on my emotions, bitter and sweet alike.

“Cherish” by the Association is one of the latter. It’s also a record that I once acclaimed as the perfect single or as near as one can get to a perfect single or something like that. And I still think it’s that good. So did a lot of people: Written by Association member Terry Kirkman and produced by the legendary Curt Boettcher, the record spent three weeks at No. 1 during the early autumn of 1966.

And “Cherish” is one of those relatively rare pre-1969 pop/rock records that broke through to me at the time of its release, during the years before I became an active Top 40 listener. Romantic that I was even at the age of thirteen, I’d had crushes, but I recall thinking as I sorted out the record’s lyrics that “Cherish” was describing something several magnitudes greater, a kind of worshipful enchantment that I thought – admittedly vaguely; I was thirteen – must be one part bliss and two parts agony at the same time.

When I finally got my own futile chance to truly cherish someone a few years later, I learned I was right. Even so, or maybe because of the formative memory, “Cherish” remains atop my all-time list:

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 21
“Yakety Yak” by the Coasters, Atco 6116 [1958]
“Cherish” by the Association, Valiant 747 [1966]
“Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin/Big Brother & The Holding Company, Columbia 44626 [1968]
“Going Up The Country” by Canned Heat, Liberty 56077 [1968]
“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, Reprise 0885 [1970]
“Dreams” by the Cranberries from Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? [1993]

“Yakety Yak” was one of the little playlets that writers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller put together for the Coasters and other R&B groups during the mid- to late 1950s. The genius of the song is having the tale told almost entirely from the father’s perspective; as I hear it, “Yakety Yak” is the only thing the kid gets to say. And that’s trumped every time by Dad’s “Don’t talk back!” Add to that a stellar saxophone solo by the great King Curtis, and it’s no wonder that “Yakety Yak” was a No. 1 hit, reaching that spot for a week on the Top 100 chart of the time, and topping that era’s R&B chart for seven weeks.

“Piece of My Heart,” which is almost entirely linked to Janis Joplin these days, was originally recorded by Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister. Franklin’s R&B/soul version of the song did fairly well, making it to the Top Ten of the R&B chart and to No. 62 on the pop chart. Then Joplin and her backing band of the time, Big Brother & The Holding Company, got hold of the song and drenched it in acid. By the time Joplin and her band were done, the song was hers, though I think one can hear echoes of Franklin’s performance in Joplin’s work. The record was released as a single and went to No. 12 during the autumn of 1968.

When those of us of a certain age hear the opening riff to Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country,” most of us, I’d wager, see the opening sequence to the 1970 documentary Woodstock, which tells the tale of the legendary three-day music festival of the previous summer. The use of the blues ’n’ boogie band’s anthem for the film was a brilliant idea, benefitting both film and band. Now, Canned Heat was hardly unknown at the time, as “On The Road Again” had gone to No. 16 in the autumn of 1968 and “Going Up The Country” had reached No. 11 as 1968 turned into 1969, but I’m sure that the group became far more visible as a result. In another vein, I still have fun demonstrating to music-attuned visitors the opening riff on the quills from Henry Thomas’ 1928 recording of “Bull Doze Blues,” clearly the source of the opening flute riff of “Going Up The Country.”

When my mind wanders to the topic of my favorite one-hit wonders, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky” usually floats to the top of the pool fairly quickly. I like too many one-hit wonders to be able to sort out an utter favorite, but Greenbaum’s fuzz-drenched single – which went to No. 3 in the spring of 1970 – would certainly be one of the finalists. I’ve seen it lumped in at times with other hit songs of its era that actively promoted religion (see “Put Your Hand In The Hand” by Ocean, as an example), but I don’t think “Spirit In The Sky” is quite as clear in its theology. Not that it matters when the guitar solo hits.

The shimmering and jangly “Dreams” remains an enigma to me. It’s not the lyrics, which tell a pretty straight-forward tale. Nor is it the music, per se. What still puzzles me is Dolores Riordan’s odd keening. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. But it’s such an odd sound – I like odd sounds, sometimes – that I sometimes wonder at the popularity of the Cranberries during the 1990s.  When I first heard the Cranberries sometime around 1993 – almost certainly on Minneapolis’ Cities 97 – I was intrigued but I figured I’d be part of a minority. If so, it was a substantial minority, as the Cranberries did quite well: The group’s debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, was a Top 20 album and “Dreams” made it to No. 42 in the Billboard Hot 100. After that, the three succeeding albums went to No. 6, No. 4 and No. 13 before 2001’s Wake Up And Smell The Coffee reached only No. 46. That’s a pretty good run; I won’t say “Dreams” is the best the group did in that run, but it is the track I like the best.