Posts Tagged ‘Gary U.S. Bonds’

‘The Gist Of The Twist . . .’

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

I remember twisting in the spring of 1962. I was in third grade, and the Twist was the pop culture nugget of the season, what with Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” having hit No. 1 in Billboard for the second time in January, spending two weeks atop the chart. (“The Twist” had been No. 1 for a week in September 1960, and it remains, I think, the only record to rise to No. 1 twice in separate releases.)

Like the rest of the country, my third-grade class at Lincoln Elementary School was very aware of the dance, of Checker’s record and of at least some of the numerous twist records that followed. There was one rainy afternoon when lessons were set aside for a time in favor of twist talk. I clearly remember our teacher, Miss Kelly, being schooled in the fine points of the “Peppermint Twist” (a No. 1 hit for Joey Dee & The Starliters early in 1962) by a classmate of mine named Debbie for whom dance was a passion; nine years later, she’d be one of the leaders of the St. Cloud Tech High dance line, the Tigerettes.

As Debbie demonstrated without music, Miss Kelly, a pretty brunette who I think was a first-year teacher, urged all of us to move away from our desks and follow along. And we did, making that afternoon the only time I’ve ever done the Twist, which is probably a good thing.

Had I wanted to dance some more, however, and had I listened to Top 40 radio at the time, I would have found plenty of music for twisting, as there were no fewer than ten twist records in or near the Billboard Hot 100 of May 5, 1962. One of them, at least, might have been useful to us in Miss Kelly’s classroom. “Teach Me To Twist” by Bobby Rydell & Chubby Checker was bubbling under at No. 112. Despite the classic line, “The gist of the twist is chiefly in the hips,” it would rise only to No. 109. The seemingly odd pairing of singers becomes less odd when one recalls that Rydell recorded for Cameo and Checker’s records were on Cameo’s sister label, Parkway.

Checker also twists much higher in that same Hot 100. His “Slow Twistin’,” recorded with Dee Dee Sharp, was parked at No. 8, having peaked at No. 3. The song was, I believe, featured in a movie titled Don’t Knock the Twist, and I believe the clip below is from the movie.

So what other records were urging folks to twist that week? Well, there was “Twist, Twist Senora” by Gary U.S. Bonds at No. 10, “Soul Twist” by King Curtis & The Noble Knights at No. 17, “Twistin’ The Night Away” by Sam Cooke at No. 32, “Twistin’ Matilda” by Jimmy Soul at No. 36 and “Meet Me At The Twistin’ Place” by Johnnie Morisette at No. 71. (Those not linked are all available at YouTube.)

And then there were three remakes of records by folks trying to capitalize – as good businessfolk should – on the craze. Perez Prado, known as the King of the Mambo, had scored a No. 1 hit in 1958 with “Patricia.” In early May 1962, Prado’s “Patricia – Twist” was sitting at No. 70, having peaked at No. 65. Bill Black’s Combo had reached No. 9 in 1960 with “White Silver Sands.” In early May 1962, the combo’s “Twistin’ White Silver Sands” was peaking at No. 92. And there was saxophonist Moe Koffman, who’d hit No. 23 in 1958 with “The Swingin’ Shepherd Blues.” In early May 1962, Koffman’s “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues Twist” was bubbling under at No. 115; it would peak at No. 110.

A Gem At The Library Sale

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

It was a pretty typical Saturday assignment for a weekly newspaper: Go to the library and get a few pictures of folks looking at books, records and anything else the library might be offering during its annual sale.

So I drove out to Eden Prairie that November Saturday and spent maybe an hour trying to be inconspicuous and stay out of everyone’s way. There was a crowd over by the shelves of children’s books, which was good. Shots of kids are almost always winners, especially if they’re so engrossed in something that they don’t notice the camera, and the kids at the library sale were focused on the books on the shelves and nothing else.

So I shot around and over the crowd, and I also got a few shots of adults poking in the mysteries and the cookbooks. Then I backed off and got some wide-angle shots. After an hour and a roll of film, I figured I had at least one shot that would work for the next week’s paper, so I let my camera dangle on its neck-strap and began to dig into the books and records myself.

I don’t remember if I bought any books that day, but I did grab one LP. Now, I’ve been to a lot of library sales and dug through many, many boxes of surplus records that libraries often keep on hand regularly. You can find some interesting titles, but rarely do you find anything really good. But on this Saturday, I came across a keeper, an LP titled Cover Me, which was a collection of songs by Bruce Springsteen as performed by other folks. Some of those performers were Southside Johnny, Gary U.S. Bonds, the Patti Smith Group, the Pointer Sisters and Johnny Cash.

The record was from the library’s collection, not from the donations that local folks brought in, which meant it might not have been treated gently by those who checked it out, so I scanned the record for scratches and hacks, and it looked pretty clean. It went home with me, and there was in fact only bad spot on the record: during Johnny Cash’s take on “Johnny 99,” the needle jumps into the air and moves ahead about an eighth of an inch. So I put the record on the shelves, used some of the tracks when I made mixtapes for friends and told myself I’d get a clean copy of it someday.

I think that record was the first time I’d run across a phenomenon that’s gone crazy in the past ten years or so: the tribute record. Maybe there were similar releases earlier, but I don’t recall running into any of them. In the case of Cover Me, the producers pulled together – for the most part – recordings already done of Springsteen songs. I can’t find any earlier listing for two of the performances – the Reivers’ take on “Atlantic City” and the Greg Kihn Band’s version of “Rendezvous” – but the other thirteen tracks had been previously released. (The Reivers and Kihn tracks might have been also, but I’ve dug around a little, and I can’t find anything that says so; if someone knows, enlighten me, please.)

Having resumed the digging after returning home from a baseball game late last evening, I can now say that the Greg Kihn Band released “Rendezvous” on “With the Naked Eye” in 1979, as I noted in a comment, and the Reivers’ version of “Atlantic City” was recorded and released  as a twelve-inch single in 1986, when that band was still called Zeitgeist.

As I said, the vinyl had one bad spot on it, and in the early years of this decade, as I made a mental list of LPs that I wanted to duplicate on CD, Cover Me was one of the first titles I listed. For about five years, I’d check four or five times a year at the website named for a South American river, seeing if any copies of the CD – long out of print – were available.

There often were one or two copies available, but for prices running from $50 to $100, which was far more than I was going to pay for a CD. And then in May of this year, it was like a switch flipped somewhere. I checked for copies of Cover Me, and there were a few for the exorbitant prices I’d regularly seen, but there was one for something like five bucks. I grabbed it. And in the months since, used copies of the CD have regularly been available for less than five bucks. (There are still some high-priced copies out there; this morning’s listings at Amazon for a used copy range from $3.47 to $60. It makes no sense to me.)

Anyway, once I got the CD and ripped it into the RealPlayer, it reminded me that among the very good performances gathered for the album, there was one track that’s among the best things I’ve ever heard, and hearing it again pointed out to me how easy it is to lose track of music I like when it’s awash in a sea of tunes.

The tune is “This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, taken from his 1981 album, Dedication, an album produced for Bonds by Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt. I was a little chagrined to realize I’d kind of forgotten about the track, as the album was one of those I shared during the first iteration of Echoes In The Wind. And as I think I said then, although “This Little Girl” is the standout track to me, the entire album is worth a listen. I do have one caveat: Given the deep involvement of the E Street Band –all of the members circa 1981 were involved in the project: Gary Tallent, Max Weinberg, Danny Federici, Clarence Clemons, Roy Bittan, Van Zandt and Springsteen – the effect is sometimes like listening to a Springsteen album with a different vocalist.

But that’s something to consider when listening to the entire album. Track by track, mixed in with other things, that’s less of a concern. And in the Ultimate Jukebox, “This Little Girl” – which spent the last two weeks of June and the first week of July of 1981 at No. 11 – meshes right in with the rest of the tracks.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 37
“Every Breath I Take” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1011 [1961]
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, Dunhill 4134 [1968]
“Tired of Being Alone” by Al Green, Hi 2194 [1971]
“Disco Inferno” by the Trammps from Disco Inferno [1977]
“Giving It Up For Your Love” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind [1980]
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication [1981]

Though it wasn’t one of Gene Pitney’s biggest hits – it topped out at No. 42 – “Every Breath I Take” has solid credentials. It was written by the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and produced by Phil Spector, coming in the years when Spector was just beginning to formulate the Wall of Sound. There are hints of that sound in “Every Breath I Take,” but it’s not quite there. I’ve tried to figure out in the past few months what I hear that elevates this record above the rest of Pitney’s work – sixteen Top 40 hits with four in the Top Ten (“Only Love Can Break A Heart” earned Pitney his highest rank when it went to No. 2 in 1962) – but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the contrarian point of the lyrics. Maybe it’s the “dit-dit” background vocals. I dunno. I just know it belongs here.

I think “MacArthur Park” is one of those records that has no middle ground. Folks either love it or find it ridiculous. Obviously, I’m I the first group, and have been from the first time I heard it. (One day in the summer of 1968, my sister called me to the radio to hear “this stupid song that goes on forever about leaving the cake out in the rain.”) I recognize its flaws: Harris’ vocals are overblown. The lyrics – even without the cake in the rain – are overwritten. The backing, with its lengthy instrumental passages, is too big for the song. But you know what? From where I hear the record, every one of those things – the over-reaching vocal, the over-written lyrics, the overwhelming backing – is a virtue for a record that went to No. 2 during the summer of 1968. Baroque and excessive “MacArthur Park” may be, but it’s also brilliant.

I don’t have a lot to say about Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone.” From the instant it starts, the record – like much of Green’s early 1970s output – rides on the signature sound that Willie Mitchell crafted for his performers at Hi Records. Mellow and sharp at the same time, it’s a sonic formula that worked well enough for Green alone to record thirteen Top 40 hits on Hi between 1971 and 1976. “Tired of Being Alone” was Green’s first hit, peaking at No. 11.

“Disco Inferno” was released first as a single in 1977 – the 45 labels I’ve seen show a running time of 3:35 – and went to No. 53. When the album track was used in the film Saturday Night Fever – clocking in at 10:52 – the single was re-released and went to No. 11. The long version might get a little tedious unless you’re on the dance floor channeling your best Tony Manero, but even just listening, it still works for me. (The single edit is here.)

I’ve told the story before: I was driving one day in early 1981, maybe from one reporting assignment to the next or maybe to lunch, and I was listlessly pushing buttons on the car radio, trying to find something I liked, anywhere. Then I heard the chugging guitar riff and horns of Delbert McClinton’s “Giving It Up For Your Love” coming from the speaker, and at least for the next few minutes, I was happy with the state of Top 40 radio. The record went to No. 8, providing the Texas singer his only hit. (It should be noted that McClinton played the harmonica part that figures largely on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby,” which spent three weeks at No. 1 in 1962.)

The Baton Twirler & The Red Army

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

One of the things about music that fascinates me is my reactions to pieces I’ve long loved. When one of those songs cycles randomly through the mp3 player in the kitchen or shows up on the radio while I’m driving down St. Germain, what are the first thoughts, the first images that come to mind?

Mostly, those long-loved songs bring back people, times and places that are also cherished. Sometimes, the connections between the record and the memory images are harder to figure out. I wrote a while back about “Desiderata,” the spoken-word record that was a hit for Les Crane in 1971 and how its strains take me back to a corridor as it existed in 1971 just outside the bookstore at St. Cloud State. Ever since I wrote about that, I’ve pondered at odd moments why that is, what – if anything – that juxtaposition means. And I still sit clueless.

Another record, one I like much more than I like “Desiderata,” presents me with an odd collage of images. Whenever I hear its percussive introduction and its swelling harmonies, I see in my mind – jarringly – Soviet tanks and troops entering Prague, Czechoslovakia, in August 1968, crushing the liberalization of government and life there, a period now known as the Prague Spring.

And after a split-second of that, the strains of “Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues bring to mind something far more normal: the image in memory of a young woman, one who was a baton twirler for the marching band and so much more, walking between classes at South Junior High, looking for something she’s unable to find in front of her. If only she’d turn around, I often thought during that summer of 1968, the summer between freshman and sophomore years, the summer when “Turn Around, Look At Me” went to No. 7.

With its strings piled on top of horns and its lush vocals (ending with what a musician friend of mine used to call “an MGM climax”), “Turn Around, Look At Me” is a beautiful record that is not at all of its time, 1968. Listening to it this morning, I pegged it as being far more appropriate for the years 1957-62, perhaps recorded by one of those male vocal groups with a number in its name: the Four Freshmen, the Four Lads, the Four Dorks. But that displacement in style and time probably worked for the record among the listening public. The week “Turn Around, Look At Me” reached its peak at No. 7, the other songs in the Top Ten were:

“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Light My Fire” by José Feliciano
“Stoned Soul Picnic” by the 5th Dimension
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan

That’s a great bunch of songs, but the nearest things to the lush pop of the Vogues there are the Latin-tinged cover of “Light My Fire” and Mason Williams’ instrumental, and neither of those are really in the same block. I don’t have any idea how “Turn Around, Look At Me” did on the chart that’s now called Adult Contemporary, but while the record was still in the Top 40, Reprise released another Vogues’ single, “My Special Angel,” and that one spent one week two weeks atop the AC chart (and peaked, like its predecessor, at No. 7 in the Top 40). So I’m guessing that “Turn Around, Look At Me” did pretty well on the AC chart, as lush as it was.

And for me, the lushness of the Vogues’ pop was certainly one of the attractions of “Turn Around, Look At Me.” Rock music was not yet my thing, and it was nice to hear something easy to listen to coming from the radio, and it was even nicer that the record spoke to my life. As the summer faded and the school year began, I still hoped that the baton twirler might figuratively turn around. She didn’t. The time wasn’t right (although it never would be in her case), and I knew that even as I hoped for a different outcome.

So the song slid from the charts and quit coming out of the radio, but sometime during August, I must have heard the song at least once very close to the time when international news reporters were giving us the lowdown on what was happening in Prague and elsewhere in Czechoslovakia. Because for some forty-two years, when the first strains of that lovely song reach my ears, it seems as if I have to fight my way through the Red Army to get to the sweet object of my hope. And how’s that for a romantic notion?

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Juke Box, No. 20
“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1008 [1961]
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414 [1968]
‘Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise 0686 [1968]
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists 50721
[1971]
“One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse, Evolution 1048 [1971]
“Galileo” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage [1992]

Because of – as I understand it – a record label’s promotional hi-jinks, “Quarter to Three” and the hit that preceded it, “New Orleans,” were credited to one U.S. Bonds rather than to Gary Bonds, which is the singer’s real name. Although the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits lists him as “Gary Bonds (U.S.),” over the years, it’s become commonplace to simply call the performer, as I have, “Gary U.S. Bonds.” Whatever name you call him, his body of work is a good one, and “Quarter to Three,” especially, is a great and infectious party song, one that spent two weeks at No. 1 during the summer of 1961.

With “Time Has Come Today,” the Chambers Brothers added psychedelia to their menu of blues, gospel and R&B. This was one of those records that could not be ignored as it came out of the radio, even if the listener were more attuned to other styles. In other words, as “Time Has Come Today” entered the room, it demanded attention, right from the “tick-tock” of the percussion and the lightly spoken “cuckoo!” On the album – The Time Has Come, released in 1967 – the track ran a little longer than eleven minutes; the single edit released in the autumn of 1968 spent nine weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 11.

I wrote a brief bit about the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose about a year ago, and those words still hold true: “The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two Top Ten hits, and what great records they were! ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ was the first of them, riding that chugging guitar, superb hook and gospelish call-and-response all the way to No. 3. ‘Too Late To Turn Back Now,’ which went to No. 2 during the summer of 1972, was also a good record, but it was smoother and somehow less demanding. If forced to choose, I’d give the decision to ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ on points, but both sounded great coming out of the car radio. (The group had two other Top 40 hits, ‘Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)’ and ‘I’m Never Gonna Be Alone Anymore,’ neither of which reached the Top Twenty.)” “Treat Her Like A Lady” peaked at No. 3 in July of 1971.

Percussive and jazzy, with a great horn chart, Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” probably should have done better than No. 24, which is where the single spent two weeks during November of 1971. But better singles have performed less well, and the charts – and record bins – were crowded with horn bands in those days: Chicago, BST, Mom’s Apple Pie, Chase, the Ides of March and more. And Lighthouse was from Canada, which might have limited the group’s appeal here in the U.S. But it’s still a great tune: “We’ll fly to the east! We’ll fly to the west! There’s no place we can’t call our own.”

“Galileo,” the Indigo Girls’ meditation on reincarnation, came along at an awkward time for me as a collector. By 1992, when the Indigo Girls released Rites of Passage, I was happily using my growing LP collection to make about one mix-tape a week for friends. But almost no new music was being released on vinyl, and I was still a few years away from having a CD player. So when I heard “Galileo” on the radio, I knew, first, that it was a song I wanted to include on mixes, and second, unless I bought a CD player or ran into some sort of miracle, I’d have to live without it. And I went without for a few years. I eventually got a CD player, and began collecting lots of new music I’d gone without, but at the same time, I kept on buying vinyl. And in late 1999, I found a white-labeled promo album in one of the bins at Cheapo’s. The label was blank and the white jacket had only a sticker that asked three questions, the first of which was: “What artist has been nominated for 4 Grammy awards, won 2, sold over 3 million records and doesn’t get played on very many commercial radio stations?” There was a toll-free phone number listed for those who wanted answers. But what interested me more than the sticker with the questions was the little scrawl on the other side of the front cover: “Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage.” So I bought it, and after I figured out which track was “Galileo,” the song began to show up on my mix-tapes. Eleven years later, and eighteen years after I first heard the song, it remains a favorite of mine, partly for the thoughtful and sometimes witty lyric, partly for the guest spot on the chorus from Jackson Browne and partly because miracles – even small ones – should be embraced.