Posts Tagged ‘Gene Pitney’

‘She Goes Walkin’ Past My Window . . .’

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

A couple of days ago, looking ahead to the first after-Christmas post here, I started digging around in the Billboard charts. One of the Hot 100 charts that came out on December 27 – today’s date – was in 1969. Here’s the Top Ten that week:

“Someday We’ll Be Together” by the Supremes
“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5
“Whole Lotta Love/Living Loving Maid” by Led Zeppelin
“Take A Letter Maria” by R.B. Greaves

Boy, there is nothing there that I would not want to hear coming out of my radio. I don’t know that I ever heard the B-side of the Zeppelin record back then, but the rest were – and still are – about as familiar as any music in any year. I don’t know, however, that I have much to say about the records at the top of the chart anymore.

So, as I frequently do, I dropped to the bottom of that Hot 100 to see if there was anything I missed forty-two years ago. And moving up through the Bubbling Under portion, I saw a title that seemed familiar sitting at No. 113: “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)” by Don Young. A quick check of the reference library told me that the record peaked at No. 104 in the first weeks of 1970. It turned out to be the only record that the Brooklyn-born Young ever got near the pop chart. Still, it’s pretty good.

I kept scanning the Bubbling Under section of that Hot 100, and just six spots higher, at No. 107, was Gene Pitney with the same title: “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning).” Pitney’s version went to No. 89 in early 1970 and has the distinction of being the last of thirty-one records that Pitney placed in or near the chart between 1961 and 1970.

I’d never heard either Young’s or Pitney’s version before. But the tune was familiar, as was the title. So I began digging and learned that two other versions of the same tune made the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. The best-performing of all the versions was by the Tokens, whose version of “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)” was sitting at No. 68 during that last week of 1969, on its way to a peak of No. 61.

And the version that fared the worst was a cover of the tune by Bobby Sherman, who released “Early In The Morning” in the spring of 1973. That version topped off at No. 113.

But none of that explained why the tune was familiar. So I checked on its writers: Paul Vance and Leon Carr, according to All-Music Guide. Various indices noted that the two had written several pop tunes, with one of the indices listing eight of them. But it didn’t list “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning),” so I figured it wasn’t complete. And I began wading through links on Google and elsewhere.

Vance, as it turns out, is someone whose name I should have known, a writer and producer whose co-writing credits include “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (No. 1 in 1960 for Brian Hyland), “Catch A Falling Star” (No. 1 in 1958 for Perry Como) and the parody “Leader of the Laundromat” (No. 19 in 1965 for the Detergents). A look at his page at Wikipedia is instructive.

Carr, who passed on in 1976, had a list of credits nearly as impressive, in both popular music and advertising. Those credits include, Wikipedia notes, the “Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut . . .” jingle for Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars as well as the “See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet” jingle made famous by Dinah Shore:

Having wandered far astray – and not being bothered by that one bit – I refocused on Vance and Carr’s tune, “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning).” I found a listing of tracks and writers for a greatest hits album by the Cuff Links, who had a No. 9 hit with “Tracy” in late 1969. There I saw a familiar title. For some reason, I have the entire Tracy album by the Cuff Links both on vinyl and in mp3 form, so I did a quick search. And among the blues, folk and pop tunes with the title “Early In The Morning” was a familiar album track by the Cuff Links:

I probably prefer Pitney’s version, but Ron Dante and his studio pals did a pretty decent job on a sweet pop song.

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.)

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.)