Posts Tagged ‘Petula Clark’

‘Chariot’?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Yesterday’s task here in the Echoes In The Wind studios wasn’t all that hard: Sort the contents of a four-CD anthology of the easy listening music of Franck Pourcel and tag the mp3s with the original album and date. Well, it wouldn’t have been that difficult had Mr. Pourcel not had a habit throughout his career of re-recording many of his favorite pieces.

That meant, for example, that when I got to his version of Tommy Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” I ended up with an album/year notation that read: “In A Nostalgia Mood, 1983; International, 1972; and/or Pourcel Portraits, 1962.” And those, I think without being sure, were only the records released in the U.S. and France. I’m sure the Dorsey classic showed up on records Pourcel released elsewhere around the world, but I decided to focus, as well as I could, on releases in the U.S. and in Pourcel’s native France. I wouldn’t have been able to come that close to precision, of course, had it not been for two websites I found early in the process. One of them is Pourcel’s own website; the other was the Pourcel section of Grand Orchestras, a website devoted to cataloging the work of several easy listening groups and conductors.

So who the heck, I can imagine readers wondering, is Franck Pourcel? The easy answer comes from All-Music Guide: “French violinist Franck Pourcel is best-known for his jazzy string arrangements of pop hits, as well as his lush easy listening arrangements and film scores.” From the early 1950s until the mid-1990s, Pourcel and his orchestra recorded and released scores of albums across Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas, covering pop hits and orchestral classics. Pourcel passed on in 2000, just five years after his last recording session.

So why do I care? Well, I have a fondness for easy listening music, and a while back, when I chanced upon a Pourcel offering from 1973 titled James Bond’s Greatest Hits, I was hooked. I’ve been digging into his catalog ever since. Another one of my musical weaknesses is French pop, and Pourcel’s music scratches that itch, too, so I was very happy the other day to get hold of the four-CD anthology 100 All Time Greatest Hits, and it was those files I was sorting yesterday.

And then I came to the tune called “Chariot.” As I generally do when I’m researching, I clicked the link to listen to the tune as I looked for its origins. The video below isn’t quite what I heard; the version I had was the 1971 revision, but the 1962 original version below is close enough:

You’ll have recognized the melody, I assume, just as I did, probably hearing Little Peggy March inside your head, singing “I will follow him . . .”

I thought it was a mistake. The individual who’d originally tagged the files had made a few that I’d already caught, like tagging “Moon River” as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so I went deeper into the two websites. As helpful as it otherwise was, the official Pourcel website simply told me that there was a tune titled “Chariot.” But the fan website, Grand Orchestras, said that “Chariot” began as a joke. Thinking of American western movies, Pourcel and co-composers Paul Mauriat and Raymond Lefevre – along with lyricist Jacques Plante – put together a tune and then concocted the story that the tune would be in the soundtrack of an American western film (from 20th Century Fox, no less) titled You’ll Never See It. Shortly after Pourcel’s orchestra released its version of the song, a French group called Les Satellites included the tune on an four-track EP. In late 1962 or early 1963, Britain’s Petula Clark recorded the song as “Chariot” and shot a video:

Clark also recorded the song in several other languages, including German, Italian and English (with the English version having some musical adaptation by Arthur Altman and lyrics by Norman Gimbel). The non-English versions were successful in Europe, going to No. 1 in France, No. 8 in Belgium, No. 4 in Italy and No. 6 in what I assume was West Germany. (I found an odd video of Clark presenting the tune with portions in all four languages: English, Italian, German and French.) Clark’s English version of the song, titled “I Will Follow Him (Chariot)” was released on Pye records in the U.K. and on Laurie here in the U.S., but neither of those versions charted.

Other cover versions followed, of course, including those from the Four Dreamers in French, Judita Čeřovská in Czech and Betty Curtis in Italian. George Freedman and Rosemary each released versions in Portuguese. And English versions came from Joan Baxter, Bobby Darin (“I Will Follow Her”), Dee Dee Sharp, and Skeeter Davis. And then, Little Peggy March got hold of the song:

Her version was a huge hit, of course: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, No. 1 on the R&B chart for a week, and the No. 8 record of 1963 (bracketed in that annual tabulation by Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” at No. 7 and Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips – Pt. 2” at No. 9).

There were other covers, of course, with the song sometimes presented –  as in the case of the versions by Percy Faith, Rosemary Clooney and Ricky Nelson (and others, I assume) – as “I Will Follow You.”

Over the next thirty years, there was the occasional cover – later covers in other languages added Finnish to the mix, according to Second Hand Songs – but the most notable resurrection of the song came in the 1992 movie Sister Act, where the song’s object was re-visioned and the tune that began as a bogus western became a gospel song. And we’ll leave it there today with Deloris (as played by Whoopi Goldberg) & The Sisters.

‘Down-town! Down-town!’

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Every so often, a record makes its way up the charts and touches something in the public that makes it not just a hit record but a pop culture sensation. Even those who do not listen to pop music become aware of it, and the record might even become a tag line that sums up an era – or at least a portion of an era.

Two of the more prominent such records I can recall span a good-sized length of time and a huge distance on the quality meter: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles in 1964 (No. 1 for seven weeks) and “Macarena (bayside boys mix)” by Los Del Rio in 1996 (No. 1 for fourteen weeks). Others that come to mind – and this will be a brief list created after minimal research, so it will necessarily be incomplete; readers are invited to leave their own suggestions in a comment – include:

“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker Bill Hayes, No. 1 for five weeks in 1955 (backed by the power of the Disney television show and one of the largest [and possibly earliest] marketing blitzes of tie-in merchandise in the United States).

“Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley, No. 1 for 11 weeks in 1956.

“The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, No. 1 for six weeks in 1958.

“The Twist” by Chubby Checker, No. 1 for one week in 1960 and for two weeks in 1962.

“Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry, No. 1 for four weeks in 1967.

“American Pie, Parts I and II” by Don McLean, No. 1 for four weeks in 1972. (I wonder how many deejays played the split 45 – which I recall hearing on the air at least once – and how many went for the album track.)

“Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando, No. 1 for four weeks in 1973. (This might be the most influential pop song of all time, given the reflexive reaction these days to mount displays of yellow ribbons for someone who is lost or gone away.)

“Convoy” by C. W. McCall, No. 1 for one week in 1976.

After that, except for “Macarena,” I’m not at all sure, given my tenuous connection to pop culture – especially pop music – during many of the years that followed. As I said, I would welcome suggestions.

So what brought that somewhat slender list to the fore today? It seems to me that the first entry in today’s selection from the Ultimate Jukebox might belong on that list. It was one of those records that seemed omnipresent at the time it was out, and it seemed at the time that everyone knew the record: the young folks who listened to Top 40 radio, the young folks who didn’t (and I, of course, was one of those) and the older folks who didn’t listen to Top 40. The record? “Downtown” by Petula Clark.

“Downtown” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 87 during the week of December 19, 1964, then skipped to No. 41. It went to No. 12 in the first week of 1965 and then to No. 5 and to No. 4 before spending the last two weeks of January at No. 1. That’s not the quickest rise ever (I recall writing about “Let It Be” and its massive leap), but it has to rank up there pretty well.

And everyone seemed to like it. It was a bouncy bit of pop sung well and produced well. (The 1992 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide said the record had “a mild Phil Spector-ish production,” which nails it pretty well.) It wasn’t rock, by any long stretch of the imagination (despite the voters for the Grammys who honored the record as the Best Rock and Roll Recording of 1965). And it had one hell of a hook, with its “Down-town!” (Without digging around, it strikes me that songwriter Tony Hatch came up with the shortest hook possible; or can a hook be just one note?)

Anyway, while perhaps not as influential on pop culture as some of the records in the list above, “Downtown” seemed to be everywhere as 1964 ended and 1965 began. Here’s a video, probably from around that time, of Petula Clark lip-synching the song.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 26
“Downtown” by Petula Clark, Warner Bros. 5494 [1964]
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells, Atlantic 2478 [1968]
“Handbags & Gladrags” by Rod Stewart from The Rod Stewart Album [1969]
“Travelin’ Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 637 [1970]
“Highway 49” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions [1970]
“Thunder & Lightning” by Chi Coltrane, Columbia 45640 [1972]

I mentioned when I started this project that there was still one record I was uncertain about including and that I’d make that decision during Week 38 when I present the final six records in the jukebox. Actually, there’s another record whose place I’ve debated over the past few months: “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells. Sometimes when it pops up in company with the other songs on my Zen player it seems flat and blah and utterly out of place. Other times, it seems vibrant and creative and indispensible as Archie Bell calls his players out and brings them into the mix. Obviously, this week it seems the latter, and now I can quit dithering about it and just enjoy a record that was No. 1 for two weeks in the spring of 1968.

For the second week in a row, Rod Stewart shows up here, this time with “Handbags & Gladrags,” another one of those songs that I collect in as many versions as I can find. Written by Michael D’Abo (who was the lead singer for Manfred Mann as well as having a respected solo career), the plaintive song gets probably its best reading as an album track on Stewart’s first album (titled An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down in Britain). The album had no hit singles in the U.S., and that’s always baffled me; the inclusion of “Handbags & Gladrags” on Stewart’s first anthology, Sing It Again Rod, has always made me wonder if the track was released as a single in the U.K. (and if it was released here and utterly tanked). Whatever the case, the track is another bit of sweet testimony as to how good Stewart once was.

CCR’s “Travelin’ Band” peaked at No. 2 in early March of 1970. The record lasts only two minutes and seven seconds, but into those 127 seconds, John Fogerty and his bandmates pack in plenty of potent reminders of Little Richard and the rest of the artists he had to have listened to during his youth in California. As it happens, I’m not the only person to hear Little Richard in “Travelin’ Man.” According to The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, Arco Industries, which owned the copyright to Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” filed suit against Fogerty for what it said was his use of the song. The Billboard book cites CCR bassist Stu Cook as saying in Bad Moon Rising: “The song is a direct rip-off of Little Richard’s style . . . I always thought it sounded more like ‘Long Tall Sally.’ Of course, Little Richard wasn’t above quoting himself, either.” The suit was settled, Cook is quoted as saying, when CCR’s label, Fantasy, bought the Little Richard tune from Venice Music.

A while back, on one of those evenings when my pal Rob and I were sifting through the mp3 collection for something he could use in one of his classes, I clicked on Howlin’ Wolf’s reading of “Highway 49” from his London sessions in May 1970. As Eric Clapton’s incendiary intro rang out, Rob stared and blurted, “That’s not blues, that’s rock ’n’ roll!” Actually, it’s both, merged in a way that points out how difficult it can be to sort genres when performances get close to the edges. Given the Wolf’s vocal performance, it would be hard to argue that “Highway 49” is not blues. Given the instrumental backing of the track, it would be hard to argue against rock. So the best thing to do, I think, is to quit worrying about labels and just enjoy the Wolf as he and his long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin work with one of the best collections of rock musicians ever brought together as a backing band: Clapton on lead guitar, Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on percussion and Jeffrey M. Carp on harmonica. (Steve Winwood played keyboards, but according to the notes in the CD reissue, his parts were added later in Chicago.)

One of the first albums I ripped from vinyl and shared through the first version of this blog was Chi Coltrane’s self-titled debut album, anchored by her only hit single, “Thunder and Lightning.” The rest of the album was fairly good, but none of the songs matched up against that single, which turned out to be Coltrane’s only hit. I’d liked “Thunder and Lightning” a fair amount when it was on the radio, so after I posted that first album I dug around online and found two more of the Wisconsin-born singer’s albums, 1973’s Let It Ride and Road to Tomorrow from 1977. Let It Ride features a cover of “Hallelujah,” first recorded by the Clique in 1969 and later a minor hit for Sweathog in 1971, but otherwise the two albums are pretty blah. That’s okay. There remains “Thunder and Lightning,” which went to No. 17 during the autumn of 1972.