Posts Tagged ‘Etta James’

Six At Random

Friday, June 5th, 2015

I’m gonna fire up the iPod and let it do the work this morning. Many of the 2,000 or so tunes in the device are familiar, but sometimes the familiar tends to get ignored around here. So off we go:

First up is “Be Easy” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, a 2007 joint that, like most of Jones’ catalog, sounds as if it could have come out of Memphis forty years earlier. The track comes from 100 Days, 100 Nights, Jones’ third release and the first one I ever heard. Six of her albums with the Dap-Kings are on the shelves here along with a couple of one-off recordings. One of those one-offs, a cover of the First Edition’s 1967 hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” caught the ear of my pal Schultz when he was here a few weeks ago, and he spent a few moments jotting down the titles of Jones’ CDs for future reference.

Then we jump back in time to 1971, when Ten Years After’s “I’d Love To Change The World” went to No. 40. When this one popped up on the car radio a couple of years ago, I wrote, “I was once again bemused by the ‘Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more’ couplet. I also considered – not for the first time – about how unacceptable the reference to ‘dykes and fairies’ would be today. Social change happens glacially, but it does happen.” Even with those considerations, it’s still a pretty good record.

And we do get some Memphis R&B: “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from 1973. The slightly funky and sometimes propulsive record went to No. 9, one of three Top Ten hits for the singers, and it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. I didn’t really get the Staple Singers back then – too much other stuff crowding my ears, I guess – but they’re well-represented these days on both the vinyl and digital files, and “If You’re Ready” is one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

From there, we head into the mid-1990s and find a cover of Billie Holliday’s version of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance (With You)” as performed by the late Etta James. The track comes from James’ 1994 album Mystery Lady – Songs of Billie Holiday. I can’t find any fault with the song selection, with the classic pop arrangements on the album, or with James’ performances, but there’s something about the entire project that leaves me a little cold. It’s a little odd: It’s like the parts are all fine but just don’t fit together. “I Don’t Stand . . .” is probably the best track on the album, and it’s nice and all, but ultimately kind of empty. That one may not stay on the iPod too much longer.

Somewhere along the line, I came across a huge pile of work by the late Lee Hazlewood, ranging from the early 1960s all the way to 2006, a year before his death. One of the more idiosyncratic folks in the pop music world, Hazlewood kind of fascinates me. And this morning, we get Hazlewood and Ann-Margret gender-flipping and covering Waylon Jennings’ No. 2 country hit from 1968 with “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” from the 1969 album The Cowboy & The Lady. Despite my affection for Hazlewood’s work, the limp performance by Ann-Margret means that this is another track that’s likely not going to remain long in the iPod. Linda Ronstadt’s superior version from the same year is already in the device, and that one should be the only one I need.

And we close with one of my favorite melancholy tracks, “Scudder’s Lane,” by the New Jersey band From Good Homes. Found on the group’s 1993 album, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!, the song tells a tale familiar and yet unique. I’ve posted the lyrics here before, but they’re worth another look:

Scudder’s Lane

me and lisa used to run thru the night
thru the fields off scudder’s lane
we’d lay down and look up at the sky
and feel the breeze, thru the trees
and I’d often wonder
how long would it take
to ride or fly to the dipper in the sky

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

I stayed with my love lisa
thru the darkness of her days
she walked into the face of horror
and I followed in her wake
and I often wonder
how much does it take
’til you’ve given all the love
That’s in your heart
and there’s nothing in its place

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

i’m afraid of the momentum
that can take you to the edge of a cliff
where you look out and see nothing
and you ask
it that all there is

still I drove back out of hainesville
and I asked myself again will there ever come a day
when you drive back home to stay
could you ever settle down and be a happy man
in one of the houses that they’re building thru the fields
off scudder’s lane

What Was At No. 41?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

In the absence of anything else within my expertise to write about today, and in the interest of getting to chores less interesting but more vital than this blog, I thought I’d take today’s date – 4/19 – and use that to find a few records to write about. We’ll change that date to No. 41 and go find out what tunes lay just outside the Billboard Top 40 on a few years in and around our sweet spot. We’ll start with 1962.

In the third week of April 1962, Etta James and her cheeky “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” held down the No. 41 spot on the pop chart. With its pop-styled arrangement, its gospel chorus background and James’ bluesy vocals, the record is a little bit of a mish-mash. But James is in fine voice, making it worth a listener’s time. The record peaked at No. 37 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart.

Three years later, a sweet slice of Chess R&B was in spot No. 41, as Billy Stewart’s “I Do Love You” was heading up the chart to No. 26 on the pop chart and No. 6 on the R&B chart. Stewart, who passed on early at the age of thirty-two, had only one other record go higher in the pop chart: “Sitting In The Park” went to No. 24 (No. 4 R&B) later in 1965. In 1969, Chess released “I Do Love You” in 1969, but it went only to No. 94 the second time around. (Somehow, as Yah Shure points out below, I managed as I looked over Billy Stewart’s entry in Top Pop Singles to read right past his biggest hit of all, the No. 10 “Summertime” from 1966. Thanks for the catch, Yah Shure!)

Memphis R&B was sitting in spot No. 41 three years later, as Sam & Dave’s classic “Thank You” was just under the Top 40 during the third week in April 1968. The record had peaked earlier at No. 9, giving the duo of Sam Moore and Dave Prater their second Top Ten hit; “Soul Man” had gone to No. 2 during the autumn of 1967. On the R&B chart, “Thank You” went to No. 4 and was the last of seven Top Ten hits for Sam & Dave on the R&B chart.

Okay. I’m going to let Wikipedia describe the No. 41 record as of April 19, 1971: “‘The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley’ is a 1971 spoken word recording with vocals by Terry Nelson and music by pick-up group C-Company . . .  The song is set to the tune of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ It offers a heroic description of Lieutenant William Calley, who in March 1971 was convicted of murdering Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre of March 16, 1968.” The record, which turns my stomach in its approval of Calley and his actions, went to No. 37 on the pop charts and, says Wikipedia, No. 49 on the country chart. (The story of the My Lai Massacre is here.)

When we get to 1974, it’s time for some Philadelphia-style soul with the Spinners, whose “Mighty Love, Pt. 1” was holding down the No. 41 spot as the calendar moved toward the final third of April. The record had earlier peaked at No. 20, the seventh of an eventual seventeen Top 40 hits for the Spinners. (They had thirty-five records in or near the Hot 100.) “Mighty Love, Pt. 1” spent two weeks on top of the R&B chart; the Spinners wound up with thirty-four records in the R&B Top 40, with six of those going to No. 1.

And then, we find the Starz rocking it with “Cherry Baby” at No. 41 during April 1977. The band, formed in New York, had eight singles in or near the Hot 100 between 1975 – when the band was called the Fallen Angels – and 1979, but the very catchy “Cherry Baby” was the only record by the band to ever climb into the Top 40, where it peaked at No. 33.

A Legend Gone
I should note today the passing of Dick Clark, the man who for years brought rock ’n’ roll into our living rooms. Other bloggers will no doubt pay tribute to the man better than I can: I rarely watched American Bandstand or any of the other shows with which he was connected, so I have no memories to tap. I have only respect, so I will let others tell the tales and simply provide a closing video as a farewell to the man. It’s a clip from Bandstand with Link Wray performing “Rawhide,” likely from early 1959, when “Rawhide” was in the charts.

Chart Digging: January 18, 1964

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

There was a hint. For an astute observer, one who’d followed what was going on over in Britain, there was a one-line clue in the Billboard Hot 100 that was released forty-seven years ago today, on January 18, 1964.

I’m not sure who saw that clue and understood what it meant. I imagine that someone in the radio and music trades – many someones, I would guess – took note of the line in the Hot 100 and saw it as one more bit of momentum toward the revolution that had been rumored for some time.

Those who listened to Top 40 radio would soon notice and would approve. The approaching musical tidal wave would even be large enough to catch the attention of a ten-year-old Midwestern boy who had no clue there was anything called the Top 40.

The bit of information to which I refer noted that a record on the Capitol label titled “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by a group called the Beatles had jumped from outside the Hot 100 of the previous week – it hadn’t even been listed in the Bubbling Under section, which ran to No. 126 – and was now sitting at No. 45, the Beatles’ first Hot 100 hit. A week later, in the January 25 Hot 100, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” would be at No. 3, making the record the first of the group’s eventual thirty-four Top Ten hits. And a week after that, the record would begin its seven-week stay at No. 1, the first of what would be twenty No. 1 hits for the band.

The success of Capitol’s “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on the chart followed an earlier attempt by Vee-Jay, which had released “From Me To You” during the summer of 1963. The record spent three weeks Bubbling Under and got to No. 116. Vee-Jay re-released the record with a new catalog number in early 1964, after the tidal wave hit, and “From Me To You” got to No. 41.

At the wave’s remarkable peak – in the Hot 100 released April 4, 1964 – the Beatles had the top five records, had ten singles in the Hot 100 and had recorded their third consecutive No. 1 single, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which succeeded “She Loves You,” which had itself succeeded “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

That remarkable April chart was still two-and-a-half months away, but it was coming. And that one line in the January 18, 1964, chart foreshadowed it. Otherwise, that January 18 chart was generally unremarkable. Here’s the Top Ten:

“There! I’ve Said It Again” by Bobby Vinton
“Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen
“Popsicles and Icicles” by the Murmaids
“Forget Him” by Bobby Rydell
“Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen
“Dominique” by the Singing Nun (Soeur Sourire)
“Hey Little Cobra” the Rip Cords
“The Nitty Gritty” by Shirley Ellis
“Out of Limits” by the Marketts
“Drag City” by Jan and Dean

That’s an interesting mix. Rydell, in my book, is an example of an archetype – the manufactured teen crooner – that was weeks away from major limitations. The formula he represented didn’t cease to exist (Shaun Cassidy, anyone?), but the room on the charts for its exemplars was greatly diminished for some time to come.  And Rydell – who’d had twenty-six records in the Hot 100, six in the Top Ten – was pretty well done by this time; “Forget Him” was his last Top 40 hit, though he had four more records reach the Hot 100 into 1965.

At first thought, I was tempted to stick Vinton into the same pigeonhole, but that’s likely not fair, as Vinton had far more success in the years to come (and had far more talent, as I see it). He reached the Hot 100 thirty-five more times into 1980 and was frequently in the Top 40, and one of his four additional Top Ten hits – “Mr. Lonely” – went to No. 1 in December 1964.

Beyond the Vinton and Rydell records and the one-off oddness of “Dominique,” that’s a pretty good Top Ten, with a good R&B selection, a couple of car songs, a girl group hit, an edgy instrumental and the joyous anarchy of the Kingsmen and the Trashmen.

And, as is generally the case, there are some good things further down in the chart.

The Cookies are best known these days for “Chains,” which went to No. 17 in 1962 (and which was covered by the Beatles) or for “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby),” which went to No. 7 in the spring of 1963. The record they had in the chart in mid-January 1964 was, viewed from today, a little bit odd. “Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys” has the singer putting the moves on her big sister’s ex-boyfriend:

Girls grow up faster than boys do
So, baby, I’m old enough for you
Once you used to date my big sister
Now, baby, she’s too old for you

 Beyond that seeming a little creepy, there’s also the bizarre ideal feminine figure cited at the end of a couple of verses: “Thirty-six, twenty-one, thirty-five.” Talk about wasp-waisted!

The record eventually moved up one more slot, peaking at No. 33. It was the Cookies’ fourth and last Hot 100 hit.

 

Murry Kellum was a country musician who was born in Tennessee and grew up in Texas. He played guitar for a number of groups and musicians (including Carl Perkins and the Grand Old Opry, if I’m deciphering the references correctly at Wikipedia), and co-wrote – with Dan Mitchell – some popular country songs, including Ernest Tubbs’ “If You Don’t Quit Checkin’ on Me (I’m Checking Out on You)” and Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band).” In early 1964, Kellum reached the Hot 100 for the first and only time with the novelty song, “Long Tall Texan.” The record was at No. 62 in the January 18, 1964, chart and would peak at No. 51. (I don’t know how the record did on the country chart. My friends down the street at WWJO radio could only tell me that it didn’t reach the country Top 40; they added that Kellum did have a hit in 1971 with “Joy to the World,” a cover of the Hoyt Axton tune that went to No. 26 on the country chart.)

Moving down to No. 79, we find the original version of the song that brought Manfred Mann a No. 1 hit in October of 1964 with the title of  “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” But when the Exciters recorded it, it was called simply “Do-Wah-Diddy.” (Despite the visuals in the video below, numerous references – including Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – list the Exciters’ version with only one “Diddy.”) Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and produced by legends Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the record should have been a major hit for the Exciters, whose “Tell Him” had gone to No. 4 in early 1963. But the record peaked at No. 78 and it was left to Mann and his boys to add one more “Diddy” and make the song a hit.

At some point during the recording of the Rolling Stones’ debut album, singer Gene Pitney came into the studio. He ended up playing piano to some extent on that first Stones’ album – The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hit Makers) – and somewhere along the line, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards offered Pitney one of their songs. “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday” was a hit in Britain for Pitney and became the first Jagger-Richards song to hit the Top Ten in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., the record didn’t fare quite as well, getting only as high as No. 49. Forty-seven years ago today, “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday” was at No. 87 in its first week in the Hot 100.

I know very little about the Sapphires. The book Top Pop Singles tells me that they were an R&B/pop trio from Philadelphia, and that’s about it. All-Music Guide has a pretty good overview, beginning with the nugget that future producing star Kenny Gamble was “closely associated with the group very early in its history, arranging the vocals on their first album.” And among the musicians on the group’s early singles, says AMG, were Leon Huff and Thom Bell, also among the creators of the Philadelphia sound of the 1970s. The Sapphires ended up with two charting singles: “Who Do You Love,” which went to No. 25 on both the Hot 100 and the R&B chart, and “Gotta Have Your Love,” which went to No. 77 on the Hot 100 and to No. 33 on the R&B chart. (Two other singles stalled in the Bubbling Under portion of the Hot 100.) It was the first of the two hits, “Who Do You Love,” that was in the Hot 100 on January 18, 1964, sitting at No. 99 for the second week. It’s a great record!

I saw this week the sad news that Etta James is ailing from leukemia and dementia. (This morning’s news says that her husband has been granted access to some of her savings to pay for her care; her sons are disputing the decision.) I was lucky enough to see James perform during a blues festival at the Minnesota State Fair during the 1990s, and she’s long been a favorite of mine. Forty-seven years ago, her single, “Baby What You Want Me To Do” – pulled from the live album Etta James Rocks the House – was Bubbling Under at No. 101. An amazing performance, perhaps it was too raw for mainstream audiences, as it would eventually get only to No. 82. (I don’t know how it did on the R&B chart.)

(The Sapphires’ chart history clarified since first posting.)