Posts Tagged ‘Jimmie Rodgers’

‘Like A Wheel Within A Wheel . . .’

Friday, July 27th, 2012

After “Windmills of Your Mind” was used – as noted here Tuesday – as the main theme for the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair, covers of the Michel Legrand tune came spinning from many places – in English, with the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman; in French, with Eddy Marnay’s lyrics; in Dutch; in Danish (as “Sjælens Karrusel,” a 1970 single performed by Pedro Biker that I, sadly, have not yet heard); and eventually, in recent years, in Slovenian and Italian.

(Those are the languages listed today at Second Hand Songs, which is usually pretty comprehensive, but there certainly could be covers in other languages out there.)

The vast majority of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs are, of course, in English; the website lists seventy versions of “Windmills of Your Mind,” beginning with a 1968 cover by Merrill Womach, who is described at Wikipedia as “an American undertaker, organist and gospel singer.” I’ve never heard Womach’s cover, but other early covers I have heard include those from jazz drummer and singer Grady Tate, guitarist George Benson (who kicked the tempo up way too fast) and rock group Vanilla Fudge (who psychedelicized the tune) in 1969.

(The song has also been covered numerous times in French, too, with the most popular cover – if I’m reading things right – being the 1969 version by Vicky Leandros.)

Also in 1969, Dusty Springfield released the tune as a single, recorded during her brilliant Dusty in Memphis sessions; the record went to No. 31 on the Billboard chart in June of that year. I don’t recall hearing Springfield’s version, and the record doesn’t show up on the Twin Cities radio charts available at The Oldies Loon. But a couple of readers who stopped in this week – Steve E. and Marie – noted that for them, Dusty’s version is the definitive take on the song. Steve E. wrote, “For me, the song belongs to Dusty Springfield. Her version got a lot of airplay in Southern California in summer 1969, and I love both her vocal and the arrangement.”

Despite the large number of covers the song has generated over the years, only two versions of the tune have made it to the pop charts (through 2009, anyway, which is where my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles calls it quits). Springfield’s, as I noted above, got to No. 31, and a version by country/pop singer Jimmie Rodgers (“Honeycomb”) went to No. 123 in 1969. It’s not a bad cover, but it’s distinguished more by being Rodgers’ thirtieth and last record in or near the Hot 100 than by anything else.

The past decade has brought out quite a few covers of the tune. Of those I’ve heard, perhaps the most interesting was the trippy 2008 version released by the Parenthetical Girls, an “experimental pop band” (according to Wikipedia) from Everett, Washington. You’ll note I said “most interesting” and not “most listenable.” I also sampled recent versions of the song by singers Melissa Errico, Stephanie Rearick and by Barbra Streisand (from her 2011 album What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman), and wasn’t impressed by them, either.

So which is my favorite? Well, somewhere out there is an instrumental version of the tune that I heard on occasion, probably on what would now be called Adult Contemporary radio, right around the time the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair was released. I’m just not sure whose version it was. It might have been the cover by Henry Mancini off his 1969 album A Warm Shade of Ivory, but I’m not putting any money on it. In the absence of surety, I’ll go with Steve E. and Marie and enjoy Dusty Springfield’s take on the song.

‘Good Night, Mrs. Calabash . . .’

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Being unsure which era to select this morning for a bit of chart digging, I began shuffling years in my head (and then looking to see how recently I’d visited those years). It had been a while since I’d tackled anything from the 1950s, so I started with the Billboard Hot 100 from September 21, 1959, fifty-two years ago tomorrow.

As the computer searched for that file, I wandered to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, thinking: What do I recall or know about mid-September 1959? Well, I was in first grade, and it was about that time that Miss Rodeman had to be wondering how to engage a daydreaming boy who could already read at about a third-grade level.

A pretty slender thread, I thought, as I sat down and looked at that Hot 100. Well, there doesn’t always have to be a story. A vague link to a recent post is sometimes enough. And that’s what started our digging today, because the No. 1 record in Billboard on September 21, 1959, was “Sleepwalk,” which was the Saturday Single the last time I popped into the Echoes In The Wind studios.

So it seemed like a fine idea to stay right there and see what was lurking in the lower portions of the Hot 100 during one of the two weeks that Santo & Johnny’s instrumental topped the chart. Then, one of those records and a YouTube clip caught my attention, and that’s all we’re going to dig into this morning in kind of a disjointed, attention-shifting manner.

Between August 1957 and May 1958, Jimmie Rodgers had been about as hot as a recording artist not named Elvis Presley could be: “Honeycomb” was No. 1 on the pop chart for four weeks, No. 1 on the R&B chart for two weeks and went to No. 7 on the country chart. “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” went to No. 3 on the pop chart, No. 8 on the R&B chart and No. 6 on the country chart. “Oh-Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again” went to No. 7 on the pop chart, No. 19 on the R&B chart and No. 5 on the country chart. “Secretly” b/w “Make Me A Miracle” went to No. 3 on the pop chart, No. 7 on the R&B chart and No. 5 on the country chart. And “Are You Really Mine” went to No. 10 on the pop chart and to No. 13 on the country chart.

The more I re-read that preceding paragraph, the more astounding that nine-month sequence seems. And Jimmie Rodgers seems pretty much forgotten these days.

Anyway, by the time September of 1959 rolled around, Rodgers had tumbled some. Nothing he’d released since the previous August had hit the country or R&B Top 40s, and although he’d hit the pop Top 40 with a few records – “Bimbombey” had done the best, going to No. 11 – the general trend was downward. His September 1959 single, “Tucumcari” – featuring a pretty generic lyric of love lost and won over what sounds like a Bo Diddley beat – didn’t change that, peaking at No. 32. But it did provide a pretty cool television clip for those intrigued by American pop culture before rock ’n’ roll.

The clip, according to information harvested from tv.com and the Internet Archive, came from a December 6, 1959, episode of NBC’s series of specials titled Sunday Showcase. Besides Rodgers, those joining Durante during the show were Jane Powell, Ray Bolger and Eddie Hodges. (The special was televised in color, but only a black and white kinescope survives.)

I actually recall seeing Jimmy Durante on television more than once around that time, possibly even during this show. As I wrote in 2007, when Ian Thomas’ tune “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash” popped up during a random Baker’s Dozen:

“The title [of Thomas’ song] comes from a phrase used by Jimmy Durante (1893-1980), a singer, comedian and actor whose career began in vaudeville and continued through numerous radio and television shows and movies. Durante invariably closed his radio and television performances with the phrase, ‘Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.’ He never explained who Mrs. Calabash was, and – having seen Durante on some television shows as a young child – I always thought that was kind of neat and maybe even poignant.”

As it happens, Durante did explain his exit line in 1966, according to Wikipedia. On NBC’s Monitor, Durante revealed that the line was a tribute to his first wife, Jeanne, who died in 1943: “While driving across the country, they stopped in a small town called Calabash, which name she had loved. ‘Mrs. Calabash’ became his pet name for her, and he signed off his radio program with ‘Good night, Mrs. Calabash.’ He added ‘wherever you are’ after the first year.”

Here’s Durante closing that Sunday Showcase from December of 1959: