Posts Tagged ‘Gene Chandler’

Garage Paintin’ Music

Friday, August 10th, 2012

I suppose it might have been in July, but I think it was a sunny morning in August 1970 when my dad presented me with a couple of paintbrushes, some turpentine, some rags and a couple of gallons of white paint. The west side of the garage needed painting.

Actually, I imagine the entire garage needed painting and he was presenting me with the west side as a test: The south side of the garage was fronted by rose bushes, the east side held a door and a window and had a begonia bed in front of it, and the north side had the overhead door. If I could handle a blank wall without mishap, I might be trustworthy enough to be let loose on one of the other three sides. I was not, one might guess, particularly adept at handyman-type chores.

Why do I think it was August? Because as well as the paint, the brushes, the turpentine and the rags, I took with me out to the garage that morning my RCA radio, the one that had been my grandfather’s, the one I’d brought up from the basement about a year earlier as I answered the siren call of Top 40 music. I opened the overhead door, ran an extension cord around to the back of the garage and provided myself with some entertainment as I painted.

And one of the records I heard that morning on the Twin Cities’ KDWB was one of my favorites at the time, a record that was sitting at No. 19 forty-two years ago this week: the “Overture From Tommy” by the Assembled Multitude. (It still is a favorite of mine; when it popped up the other week on the mp3 player in the kitchen, I found myself doing one of my unorthodox kitchen dances, using a soup ladle as a mallet for air chimes when the real chimes come in at the forty-nine second mark.)

I recall bobbing my head to the record as I painted that morning, happily refraining from using my paint-laden brush as an air chimes mallet or a conductor’s baton. I was trying to be responsible and careful as I worked. Nevertheless, by the end of the morning, when I had finished the job, there were a few spatters of white paint on the radio’s brown casing, spots that were still there when the radio was removed from the basement (where I placed it after getting an AM/FM radio) in 2004.

Along with checking where “Overture From Tommy” sat forty-two years ago this week, I took a deeper look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from August 15, 1970. Usually, of course, I’m looking for obscure singles, records that pretty much stayed at the bottom of the chart. But this morning, I thought I’d look for records that were favorites of mine at the time, records I was likely to have heard that morning as I painted the garage.

Heading down only a little to No. 22, we find “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. I’ve mentioned the record numerous times during the past five-plus years, but it’s here again because it mattered to me. I’d be a high school senior in less than a month, and the following summer, after I graduated, I knew my folks would expect me to find some kind of summer job. Yes, I was doing chores during that summer of 1970, and I did spend four days working at the state trap shoot at the nearby gun club, but for the most part, that summer was mine. And “Are You Ready” is a record that over the years has come to be a defining sound of that last free summer.

At the time, being a relatively recent convert to the Church of 45s, I don’t know that I’d ever heard of “Duke of Earl,” Gene Chandler’s classic No. 1 hit from 1962. Early in my senior year, I would come across a slender paperback, The Poetry of Rock, in which Richard Goldstein gathered and commented on rock and pop lyrics he thought significant. Among the lyrics in that book were those to “Duke of Earl.” But it took me years to connect the Gene Chandler mentioned as the singer of “Duke of Earl” in Goldstein’s book to the Gene Chandler whose “Groovy Situation” was sitting at No. 36 as I painted, heading to No. 11 on the pop chart (and No. 8 on the R&B chart, about which I know I was utterly unaware). I had much to learn. But I liked “Groovy Situation,” and that was a start.

Despite being clueless about the origins and background of much of the music I heard coming from that old RCA radio, I was developing – via the commentary of my friends, a little bit of reading in music magazines and the shifting sands of my own tastes – a sense not only of what I liked but of what was, for the lack of a better word at the moment, valuable. I knew the difference between Bob Dylan and Bobby Sherman, and I would spend much of my life digging into the work of the former and forgetting about the latter. Nevertheless, one of the records I was glad to hear coming out of the radio that morning was “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, which was sitting at No. 38 on its way to No. 5. Why? Well, it was romantic adolescent pop, and I was a romantic adolescent. In memory, it doesn’t hurt that there would actually be a Julie during my senior year, one whose charms I noticed but whose interest in me I absolutely missed.

The concept of groups covering other performers’ earlier hits was also something I had to assimilate. The previous autumn – as I’ve related here before – I quite liked “Birthday,” the No. 26 hit by Underground Sunshine, and when confronted some months later by the Beatles’ version from the White Album, I wondered  (without, thankfully, expressing the thought to my friends) why the Beatles had recorded another group’s song. With some exceptions, my knowledge of pop music as I painted the garage still started with the late summer of 1969. So if Rare Earth’s trippy cover of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” came through the speakers that sunny morning, I would have had no awareness that there had been an earlier, earthier version of the song that had gone to No. 8 (No. 1 R&B) in 1966. All I knew was that I liked the record, which was sitting at No. 47 that week, on its way to No. 7, and I certainly didn’t realize that the trippiness I liked would eventually trap Rare Earth’s “(I Know) I’m Losing You” in that specific time.

In the song “Yellow River,” Tony Christie – billed on the label as just Christie – sings about coming home from war:

So long, boy, you can take my place
Got my papers, I got my pay
So pack my bags and I’ll be on my way to Yellow River

Put my gun down, the war is won
Fill my glass high, the time has come
I’m going back to the place that I love: Yellow River

A note at Wikipedia says that Christie wrote the song from the viewpoint of a Confederate soldier returning from the U.S. Civil War, but I have a sense that a lot of folks who listened to Christie’s words in 1970 heard the story of a soldier coming home from Vietnam instead. “Yellow River” was sitting at No. 80 forty-two years ago this week and would eventually climb to No. 23, and as often as I would hear the song that late summer and autumn, I don’t think I ever listened closely enough to hear either the story that Christie intended nor the parallel tale that must have echoed in the record’s chords for thousands of Americans who were not all that much older than I was when I was painting the garage.

There’s Still So Much Left To Learn

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

One of the questions about music from the late 1950s and the early 1960s that I consider from time to time is: What do I actually remember?

I’ll look at a list of songs from a particular year – usually the records that got to No. 1 in Billboard (or occasionally Cashbox) – and see how many of them I actually remember. Not how many of them I know now – that’s usually all of them – but how many I remember hearing as I lived through that time. Given that I was six when the 1950s turned into the 1960s, the numbers of records I remember actually hearing from some of those early years can be quite small.

As an example, I give you 1959, the year I turned six: Of the fifteen songs that made it to No. 1 in Billboard that year, I recall hearing only one: Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans.” Where I heard it, I don’t know, but I remember singing along: “We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’ . . .”

The numbers of songs I remember increases year-by-year, of course. Some of that is a function of memory, I’m sure. Some of it can likely be ascribed to the increased popularity of the music itself. And a large part of it is my own increased interest in the music, to the point where from 1966 on into the mid-1980s, I remember hearing during its run in the chart nearly every record that got to No. 1. (I use the word “nearly” there because of the 1973-74 academic year I spent in Denmark; I had to catch up later with about half of the records that went to No. 1 during those months.)

So what’s the point, exactly? I’m not sure there is one, really. But this morning, I was looking through songs that were in the chart during this week in 1962, and I realized – not for the first time – that one of my favorite records from 1962 is one that I don’t recall from the time and that I almost certainly didn’t hear back then: Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” was No. 1 on the pop chart for three weeks and No. 1 on the R&B chart for five weeks.

I don’t remember it. I recall “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, and I heard “The Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee & The Starliters. I know I heard “Stranger on the Shore” by Mr. Acker Bilk and I heard David Rose’s “The Stripper.” Now, those four make sense: The twist – the dance and the accompanying records – was a pop culture phenomenon. And the other two tunes were mainstays of the middle of the road radio stations we listened to at home: “Stranger on the Shore” went to No. 7 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart, and “The Stripper” went to No. 2 on the same chart. But most of the records on that 1962 list were strangers to me during the year I turned nine, and that holds true for all the ages I was from the mid-1960s back.

Accordingly, one of the first things I realized when I began to dig into the history of pop music as a serious hobby sometime in the late 1980s was that I had a lot of things to learn. And that was fine, as learning about stuff as fascinating as music was fun, and I eventually got to a point where very little in the lists of No. 1 hits – or even Top Ten hits – could surprise me. Then, twenty or so years after that self-education project began, I started a blog and in the process of finding new things to write about, I began to dig into the Hot 100 charts from over the years. And I’m reminded every time I do that how little I actually know.

Not surprisingly, that lack of knowledge is greater, once again, in those early years. So as I dig into those years – now extended back to the mid-1950s because I have the charts and my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – I am once again challenged and pleased. Whether I’m looking into those sources for one of the Chart Digging posts that have become a mainstay of this blog or simply to pass the time, I’m finding two or five or twelve (or more) things I didn’t know before.

Among today’s harvest, as I looked through the Billboard Hot 100 from May 12, 1962, was Gene Chandler’s follow-up to “Duke of Earl.” Actually credited to the Duke of Earl, the single “Walk On With The Duke” was bubbling under at No. 112 forty-nine years ago today. The record topped out at No. 91 and did not make the R&B Top 40. But it’s fun to know about it.

Recommended reading: At The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, jb takes a pensive look at life via a record that never strays far from me. His thoughts on Seals & Crofts’ “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” are worth your time.