Archive for the ‘1959’ Category

‘And A Thousand Violins Begin To Play . . .’

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The other afternoon, the Seventies music channel provided the background as I dozed for a while on the couch. I kept the volume low, but every once in a while, I’d wake up and listen for a moment, just to see how deeply into the decade the channel digs. (Not very deeply, generally.)

At one point, when I raised my awareness, I heard Roberta Flack: “The first time . . . ever I saw your face . . .” I went back to sleep, and as I did, a connection flickered between a movie and Flack’s record, which spent six weeks during the spring of 1972 at No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart (and went to No. 4 on the R&B chart). And as the song ended and the music shifted to something from 1979, I went back to sleep, remembering the connection.

The movie was Play Misty For Me, the tale of a late-night jazz disc jockey and a fan who regularly requests the classic Erroll Garner record “Misty.” Over the course of the movie, the fan goes from devoted listener to lover to demented slasher. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood – who plays the disc jockey – was the destination in late 1971 for the first date I had with my first college girlfriend. And it was the first time I’d ever heard of the classic tune “Misty.”

The tune was written by Garner (with lyrics added later by Johnny Burke) and was first recorded by the Erroll Garner Trio and released as a single in 1955:

Shortly after learning about the tune, I came across it in a guitar book I was using as a fake book for piano, and I began to put together my own arrangement. I tried several approaches, ranging from slow minimalism to a bouncy trip, sometimes decorating the tune with some added sixth and major seventh chords, but I never felt at home with the song, and quit playing it. It might have helped, I suppose, if I had ever sought out and listened to the numerous versions of the song that were available on record, but I never thought of that. And the next time I heard the song was a few years later when I heard what Doc Severinsen and Henry Mancini had done with “Misty” on their 1972 album Brass on Ivory.

That cover remains one of my favorites in a list that stretches back to a 1955 cover version by jazz pianist Johnny Costa. The list of covers offered at Second Hand Songs (not necessarily a complete list, but likely pretty good) starts there and goes on to the 2010 cover by the Sachal Studios Orchestra that includes traditional Indian instruments and a 2011 version by singer Michael Ball. Some of the more interesting names among the earlier instrumentals on that list are Toots Thielemans, King Curtis, Buddy Rich, Cal Tjader, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Stephane Grapelli.

When it comes to vocal covers, the list includes the performance that a lot of people might think is the essential version of “Misty,” the 1959 cover by Johnny Mathis that went to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the R&B chart. Other noted names who’ve done vocal covers include Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra, Marty Robbins, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Timi Yuro and more. Not being very conversant with current jazz, either instrumental of vocal, I don’t recognize a lot of the names post-1980.

As to charting versions on or near the Hot 100, they came from Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Lloyd Price, the Vibrations, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Ray Stevens. Of those versions, neither Vaughan’s standard 1959 vocal (No. 106 on the pop chart) nor Price’s 1963 big band version (No. 21 pop and No. 11 R&B) grab me much.

I didn’t care much for the twangy countrified version that came from Ray Stevens in 1975; I like it better now, but it’s never going to be my favorite version of the song. Other folks liked it well enough, though, as it went to No. 14 on the pop chart, No. 3 on the country chart and No. 8 on the AC chart.

The least familiar name among those that hit the charts with “Misty” is likely that of the Vibrations, a Los Angeles R&B group. I do like the classic R&B sound they brought to “Misty” in 1965 when their version went to No. 63 on the Hot 100 and to No. 26 on the R&B chart.

Next to Stevens’ version, jazz organist Holmes’ 1966 take on the classic tune did the best on the charts, going to No. 44 in the Hot 100, to No. 12 on the R&B chart and to No. 7 on the AC chart. Not long ago, I lucked into a collection of Holmes’ work, and I’ve been digging through that. While I won’t say that his take on “Misty” is my favorite – I tend to lean to Mathis’ classic performance – it’s awfully good.

Saturday Single No. 327

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

It’s Groundhog Day today, and it’s sunny, so our local groundhog – wherever he keeps his den – has certainly seen his shadow by now. And because I have no mp3s in the library that have the word “groundhog” in their titles, it’s time this morning for some Games With Numbers.

We’re going to take today’s date – 2/2 – and check out some Billboard Hot 100 charts that were actually released on February 2. And then we’re going to look at the records that were at No. 2 and at No. 22. We’ll look at three Hot 100s that qualify from 1955 through 1963 (staying in that era mostly because so much of what is listed on later charts is so very familiar). Out of six records, we should find something that will please our ears this morning.

We’ll start, as I just noted, back in 1955, which brings us to two sister acts. At No. 2, we find the Fontane Sisters’ “Hearts of Stone,” a mellow harmony workout with a couple of decent saxophone breaks. The record, the first by the sisters to hit the charts, had been No. 1 a week before. Later in 1955, the Fontane Sisters, who hailed from New Milford, New Jersey, would see their “Seventeen” go to No. 3. Five more of their records reached the Top 20, and a total of eighteen of their records got into or near the Hot 100 before the Fontanes fell out of the charts for good.

At No. 22 in that long-ago chart, we find the DeCastro sisters with their first Hot 100 appearance and the first appearance in that chart of the classic “Teach Me Tonight,” a tune written in 1953 by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn. The DeCastro sisters, who were born in Cuba, weren’t the first to record the song – jazz singer Janet Brace was – but the DeCastros’ version went to No. 2, making it the best-charting of the more than sixty recordings of the tune since the mid-1950s. (The most recent version of the song to chart came from Al Jarreau [No. 70] in 1982.)

The next Hot 100 to come out on February 2 came four years later in 1959. The No. 2 record that week was “The All American Boy,” a Bobby Bare recording that was erroneously credited on the label to Bill Parsons. The record is a tongue-in-cheek workout that’s related both in tone and musical style to Eddie Cochran’s 1958 hit “Summertime Blues.” (Its descendants include some of the talking blues of Bob Dylan and, unavoidably, the Who’s 1970 version of “Summertime Blues.”) It was Bare’s first record to hit the pop chart. He’d have fifteen more – all under his real name – through 1974, and of course, many more than that on the country charts.

At No. 22 on February 2, 1959, the day of the Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” (And if that sentence doesn’t give you a little chill, you’re at the wrong blog.) It was Valens’ third charting single, and two more would hit the chart posthumously. “La Bamba” would show up in the Hot 100 three more times: by the Tokens (No. 85 in 1962), Trini Lopez (No. 86 in 1966) and Los Lobos (No. 1 for three weeks in 1987).

We move to February 2, 1963, and find “Hey Paula” by Paul & Paula sitting in the No. 2 spot. The record, the duo’s first hit, would later top the pop chart for three weeks and the R&B chart for two weeks. Paul & Paula would have seven more records in or near the Hot 100 into 1964, but nothing ever approached the success of that first charting hit. (I think my sister had a copy of “Hey Paula,” and, at the age of nine or so, I thought it was sappy, but when I hear the tune these days, I flash to the movie Animal House, which used the record in its soundtrack and which I almost always watch to the end any time I run into it on cable.)

Finally, at No. 22 on February 2, 1963, we find the smooth voice of Brook Benton and “Hotel Happiness.” The record, which works as kind of a complement – seven years later, to be sure – to Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” had peaked in January at No. 3 (No. 2 on the R&B chart). Benton accumulated a remarkable total of fifty-eight records in or near the Hot 100 between 1958 and 1972, a total that placed him as of 2009 in a tie with Madonna for twenty-fourth place all-time.

So there we have six. The Fontanes’ hit from 1955 is a little too sweet. As to the DeCastros’ record, well, I love “Teach Me Tonight,” and I find the muted trumpets and wandering sax break more appealing than I think a lot of folks would. Many other weeks, I’d go with the DeCastros. But we can do better this week.

“Hey Paula” and “La Bamba” can be dismissed, simply for familiarity. On another day, I might be pulled into a discussion of their aesthetic value, but not today. And as much as I like Brook Benton’s voice and “Hotel Happiness,” which I heard for the first time this morning, we’ll pass on that one, too.

That leaves Bobby Bare, credited as Bill Parson, and his witty hit from 1959, “The All American Boy” as today’s Saturday Single.

‘Dreamin’ Those Dreams Again . . .’

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

One can tell, just by looking at the cloud of artists’ names here and at Echoes In The Wind Archives, that one of the main pillars on which this blog has rested is Johnny Rivers. There are a few artists whose names are larger in those two clouds, but not many.* I think I know his catalog pretty well, but I was reminded again this morning how vast that catalog is.

Poking through the Billboard Hot 100 from January 22, 1966 – forty-seven years ago today – I saw Rivers’ name listed at No. 35 with “Under Your Spell Again.” I didn’t recognize the title, and I wandered off to YouTube to dig.

I’d never heard Rivers’ version, but at that point, I recognized the song (though I do not know when or where I’ve ever heard it) and learned rapidly that Buck Owens wrote it and took it to No. 4 on the country chart in 1959.

Just to wrap things up before I go deal with the minor tasks of real life, Rivers’ version went no higher in 1966, peaking at No. 35. The website Second Hand Songs lists twenty-seven versions of the song (although there are likely more out there).  Lloyd Price’s version bubbled under at No. 123 in 1962, while on the country chart, Ray Price’s version went to No. 5 in 1959 and a duet by Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter went to No. 39 in 1971. Here’s that duet (which I like a lot):

And we’ll leave it there this morning (although I think I’d like to dig up the version of the tune that the band Southern Fried released in 1971). Unless the bottom drops out, I’ll be here tomorrow, most likely looking at versions of “Spanish Harlem.”

*After writing this post, I did a quick bit of research. Between this site and the earlier locations of Echoes In The Wind (with about nine months’ worth of posts yet to be revived at the archives site), Rivers’ music has been featured twenty-six times. Only three other artists and one group have been featured more. Here’s the top five:

Bob Dylan (57)
Bruce Springsteen (40)
Richie Havens (29)
The Band (28)
Johnny Rivers (26)

‘Five’

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

We’re back to the March of the Integers this morning, looking at ‘Five,’ and the RealPlayer comes up with a list of 262 mp3s as a starting point.

Before we can get to work, though, we have to winnow out records by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Original Memphis Five, the We Five, Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five, the Ben Folds Five and the Dave Clark Five as well as tracks by the Five Americans, Five Bells, Five Blazes, Five Breezes, Five Chavis Brothers, Five Delights, Five Empressions, Five Keys, Five Man Electrical Band, Five Stairsteps and Five For Fighting. We also need to set aside Nick Drake’s 1969 album Five Leaves Left, most of the 1969 Hawaii Five-O soundtrack by the Morton Stevens Orchestra and most of the similarly titled 1969 album by the Ventures.

Still – as has been the case in the previous four chapters of this exercise – we’re left with enough titles available so we can be a little picky. We’ll once again go chronologically.

With a nod to events in the eastern U.S. this week – and meaning no disrespect to anyone affected by Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath – we’ll start with a country tune about a flood from 1959. Johnny Cash chronicles the rising waters in “Five Feet High and Rising” in a dry and matter-of-fact tone that one can interpret as either comic or stoic. I’ll go with the latter. The record spent nine weeks in the country Top 40 as summer edged into autumn in 1959, peaking at No. 14.

The pleasantly trippy track “Five O’Clock in the Morning” by Wendy & Bonnie comes from one of the more interesting one-shot albums of the 1960s. Wendy and Bonnie Flowers were sisters from San Francisco who were seventeen and thirteen, respectively, when their album, Genesis, was released in 1969. It came out on the Skye label, which folded soon after the record came out, dooming any chances for the album to gain any attention. Was it interesting because it was good or because Wendy and Bonnie were so young? A little more the latter than the former, I think, but the album – re-released on the Sundazed label in 2001 with bonus tracks – is worth finding.

I noted that we’d have to ignore most of the Ventures’ 1969 album Hawaii Five-O, but there was really no way I could put together a selection of songs featuring the number “five” and not include the title track from that album. “Hawaii Five-O” is about as catchy as a television theme can be, and the Ventures’ recording of the theme went to No. 4 in 1969. The tune came from the pen of composer Morton Stevens, who recorded the version used for the show’s opening.

Jade was a British folk-rock group that released its only album, Fly on Strangewings, in 1970. It’s a pleasant album with a few very good pieces, but I think that Richie Unterberger of All-Music Guide got it right: “While Jade’s only album is decent early-’70s British folk-rock, its similarity to the material that Sandy Denny sang lead on with Fairport Convention is so evident that it’s rather unnerving.” Unterberger went on, however, to note several tracks on the album that could stand on their own without drawing comparisons to Denny and Fairport. “Five Of Us” is, sadly, not one of those tracks. Still, from the distance of more than forty years, it’s a decent piece of British folk-rock with impressive harmonies and a very eerie recurring “whooooooh” in the background.

The country-rock group Cowboy released half-a-dozen albums on the Capricorn label during the 1970s and deservedly sold a fair number of records. I’d guess that most folks who went looking for Cowboy’s work, though, did so for the same reason I did: The track “Please Be With Me” was included on the first Duane Allman Anthology because of Allman’s Dobro work. And, like me, those who bought the 1971 album 5’ll Get You Ten just for that track discovered a lot of additional fine music from Scott Boyer, Tommy Talton, Chuck Leavell and the others who sat in. The track “5’ll Get You Ten” is as good as anything on the album.

In 1999, country-folk artist Nanci Griffith took some of her best songs from previous albums and re-recorded them with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. Some of Griffith’s performances were overwhelmed by the orchestra, and some of them came out all right. To my ears, the best thing on the album was the duet on “Love at the Five and Dime” by Griffith and Darius Rucker, best known as lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish. The song, which had been affecting in its original version on Griffith’s 1986 album, The Last of the True Believers, became more powerful and poignant with the addition of Rucker’s unique voice.

What Was At No. 41?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

In the absence of anything else within my expertise to write about today, and in the interest of getting to chores less interesting but more vital than this blog, I thought I’d take today’s date – 4/19 – and use that to find a few records to write about. We’ll change that date to No. 41 and go find out what tunes lay just outside the Billboard Top 40 on a few years in and around our sweet spot. We’ll start with 1962.

In the third week of April 1962, Etta James and her cheeky “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” held down the No. 41 spot on the pop chart. With its pop-styled arrangement, its gospel chorus background and James’ bluesy vocals, the record is a little bit of a mish-mash. But James is in fine voice, making it worth a listener’s time. The record peaked at No. 37 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart.

Three years later, a sweet slice of Chess R&B was in spot No. 41, as Billy Stewart’s “I Do Love You” was heading up the chart to No. 26 on the pop chart and No. 6 on the R&B chart. Stewart, who passed on early at the age of thirty-two, had only one other record go higher in the pop chart: “Sitting In The Park” went to No. 24 (No. 4 R&B) later in 1965. In 1969, Chess released “I Do Love You” in 1969, but it went only to No. 94 the second time around. (Somehow, as Yah Shure points out below, I managed as I looked over Billy Stewart’s entry in Top Pop Singles to read right past his biggest hit of all, the No. 10 “Summertime” from 1966. Thanks for the catch, Yah Shure!)

Memphis R&B was sitting in spot No. 41 three years later, as Sam & Dave’s classic “Thank You” was just under the Top 40 during the third week in April 1968. The record had peaked earlier at No. 9, giving the duo of Sam Moore and Dave Prater their second Top Ten hit; “Soul Man” had gone to No. 2 during the autumn of 1967. On the R&B chart, “Thank You” went to No. 4 and was the last of seven Top Ten hits for Sam & Dave on the R&B chart.

Okay. I’m going to let Wikipedia describe the No. 41 record as of April 19, 1971: “‘The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley’ is a 1971 spoken word recording with vocals by Terry Nelson and music by pick-up group C-Company . . .  The song is set to the tune of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ It offers a heroic description of Lieutenant William Calley, who in March 1971 was convicted of murdering Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre of March 16, 1968.” The record, which turns my stomach in its approval of Calley and his actions, went to No. 37 on the pop charts and, says Wikipedia, No. 49 on the country chart. (The story of the My Lai Massacre is here.)

When we get to 1974, it’s time for some Philadelphia-style soul with the Spinners, whose “Mighty Love, Pt. 1” was holding down the No. 41 spot as the calendar moved toward the final third of April. The record had earlier peaked at No. 20, the seventh of an eventual seventeen Top 40 hits for the Spinners. (They had thirty-five records in or near the Hot 100.) “Mighty Love, Pt. 1” spent two weeks on top of the R&B chart; the Spinners wound up with thirty-four records in the R&B Top 40, with six of those going to No. 1.

And then, we find the Starz rocking it with “Cherry Baby” at No. 41 during April 1977. The band, formed in New York, had eight singles in or near the Hot 100 between 1975 – when the band was called the Fallen Angels – and 1979, but the very catchy “Cherry Baby” was the only record by the band to ever climb into the Top 40, where it peaked at No. 33.

A Legend Gone
I should note today the passing of Dick Clark, the man who for years brought rock ’n’ roll into our living rooms. Other bloggers will no doubt pay tribute to the man better than I can: I rarely watched American Bandstand or any of the other shows with which he was connected, so I have no memories to tap. I have only respect, so I will let others tell the tales and simply provide a closing video as a farewell to the man. It’s a clip from Bandstand with Link Wray performing “Rawhide,” likely from early 1959, when “Rawhide” was in the charts.

‘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:

Saturday Single No. 255

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

As happens to some of us navigating the straits and shoals of middle age – I turned fifty-eight the other week, still uncertain where the time has gone and still not always recognizing the portly greybeard who greets me each morning in the mirror – I began having some trouble with sleeping a few years ago.

I’d get to sleep fine, usually around midnight, and most nights would sleep to the alarm at half past six. But every six weeks or so, I’d wake at about two in the morning, sleep done for the night. I’d read or putter on the computer for the rest of the night, only to find myself dragging and needing a long nap the following afternoon. I could live with the occasional sleepless night and sleepy day, but when those sleepless nights began clustering two or three at a time, I would become unpleasantly confused and irritable.

So I began taking the sleep aid Ambien. And it has been a sanity-saver. I am almost always able to go to sleep when I wish to, and I almost always sleep through the night. There is still the occasional night when sleep is elusive, but those are, thankfully, infrequent. What’s replaced the sleepless nights is the occasional adventure in the late night or early morning after I’ve taken my Ambien. (Technically, the drug has another name, as I currently take the generic version, but I’m calling it Ambien.)

Every once in a while, I’ll take my late-night pill and not go to bed as rapidly as I should. I’ll sit at my computer and play solitaire as the drug kicks in. And then I go online without really knowing that I do so. Friends and relatives have noticed occasional comments or statements on Facebook that suffer from odd syntax and creative spelling. And my Wisconsin pal, jb, who blogs at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, has noticed. He told the Texas Gal and me over dinner during our most recent trip to Madison that our post-Ambien writings bring him great amusement.

Not long after that visit to Madison, I visited his blog late one night and left a cheerfully combative comment on one of his always interesting posts. When I saw the comment a few days later on my next visit to The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, I had no memory of it. And I began to wonder what else I do in my post-Ambien stupors.

I got part of the answer the other week: When I went to the kitchen one morning to put together a lunch for the Texas Gal as she got ready for work, I found minor disorder. There was a container of ranch dip – my favorite – open on the counter. Next to it sat a bowl of tortilla chips, soaked in some liquid. And a beer glass sat next to the chips and dip.

I looked around for more information. Near the stairway to the basement lay the table runner from the dining room and a woven burgundy placemat, both very damp. I was putting things together. It seemed a late-night snack had gone badly wrong. And sure enough, in the dining room a little bit later, there was still a small pool of spilled beer there. I had vague memories of taking a beer out of the refrigerator, but that’s all.

Fast forward to last evening. I recall taking my Ambien and considering what I might have for a midnight snack. I decided to clean out the carton of Schwan’s Dulce de Leche ice cream, a delicious caramel concoction. I did so and then headed off to the study to play solitaire.

This morning, there was a bowl on the counter holding bits and piece of tortilla chips. In the sink, washed clean, was a container that I last remember seeing in the refrigerator with a little bit of ranch dip in it. It seems that I not only cleaned out what was left of the dip during my early morning wanderings, but I neatly washed the container and set it in the sink with the dishes already there.

I saw no sign this morning of beer either sipped or spilled, which is good. It would be a shame to drink another good beer and have no memory of doing so.

Given all that, there’s only one tune for this morning’s listening: “Sleepwalk.” Santo & Johnny had a No. 1 hit with their version of the tune in 1959. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Field Of 43s (And One 44)

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Heading home the other day, I drove along the frontage road that parallels U.S. Highway 10 not far from our house. There’s a stretch there that bears watching for a driver, with lots of vehicles turning onto and off of the frontage road from various businesses: You’ll pass a bank, a tire place/tune-up garage, the main entrance to a mobile home park, a used car dealer, a Dairy Queen, a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and finally, a porn shop.

Being the height of the warm season – and with Highway 10 being one of the main routes from the Twin Cities to the northern part of the state, where many folks have vacation homes – the frontage road is appreciably busier at this time of year than others, especially where the two fast food joints sit side-by-side. Vehicles entering and exiting the two parking lots – with drivers distracted by appetites and possibly small children – make for a mini-jam.

And as I sat in the mini-jam the other day, I noticed the license plate on the car in front of me. It was an Idaho plate. About three years ago, I wrote about my one-time hobby of keeping track each year of the out-of-state license plates I saw, and I noted that the two rarest plates to see in Minnesota were those from Hawaii and Idaho. As I looked at the plate with its “Famous Potatoes” legend, I was tempted for an instant to resume that hobby from my teen years.

But no, I won’t do that. I’ve got my adult manias to feed now. Like noticing that Idaho was the forty-third state admitted to the Union and wondering what tunes were No. 43 on this date, ending with one of those years when I was looking for a license plate from Idaho.

We’ll start with 1956: The brief biography of Don Robertson in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles is pretty impressive. Robertson was born in Peking (now Beijing), China, in 1922 and was raised in Chicago. A pianist/composer, he was one-half of the pop duo The Echoes and wrote their best-known single “Born To Be With You,” which topped out at No. 101 in 1960. (The Chordettes took the song to No. 5 in 1956, and it’s been recorded by many artists and groups since.) Robertson also wrote, Whitburn notes, several of Elvis Presley’s hits and – with Hal Blair – Lorne Green’s No. 1 hit from 1964, “Ringo.” He’s also credited by Whitburn with creating the Nashville piano style. And fifty-five years ago this week, his “Happy Whistler” was the No. 44 song in the U.S. (Wait, I can hear you say. We were looking for songs that were No. 43. Yes, we were, but the Billboard Hot 100 for August 1, 1956, lists two songs tied at No. 42. Instead of trying to break the tie, I took the next song down the list.) Robertson has one other single listed in Whitburn’s book: His version of the “Tennessee Waltz” bubbled under at No. 117 in the summer of 1961.

Getting back to our original intent, the No. 43 tune during this week in 1959 was a sprightly ditty titled “Keep It Up” from Dee Clark, who is likely best known for “Raindrops,” his 1961 hit that went to No. 2. Clark, who hailed from Blytheville, Arkansas, racked up ten Hot 100 hits between 1958 and 1963. “Keep It Up” was his second-most successful single, getting to No. 18. Whitburn notes that before becoming a solo performer in 1957, Clark sang in groups known as the Hambone Kids, the Goldentones, the Kool Gents and the Delegates. Clark last showed up near the chart in 1965, when his “T.C.B.” went to No. 132.

In the autumn of 1961, Jimmy Dean had a No. 1 hit with “Big Bad John,” his tale of tragedy and heroism in a coal mine. The next spring, Dean’s “P.T. 109,” an account of the heroic actions of then-President John F. Kennedy during a World War II naval engagement, went to No. 8. In the summer of 1962, Dean’s “Steel Men” combined working class tragedy and real life events, relating the tale of the collapse of a bridge under construction in British Columbia, Canada. The collapse, which took nineteen lives, according to Wikipedia, resulted in the completed bridge being named the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing. Dean’s record about the event, which was at No. 43 forty-nine years ago this week, didn’t fare as well as his previous efforts, reaching only No. 41. Dean would have four more hits in the Hot 100, with “Little Black Book” from the autumn of 1962 doing the best by reaching No. 29.

Between 1956 and 1980 (with some admittedly long gaps), Roy Orbison notched thirty-eight records in or near the Billboard Hot 100. During the last week of July 1965, the record at No. 43 was Orbison’s “(Say) You’re My Girl,” which is kind of a herky-jerky tune, one that I’d call idiosyncratic. The record went only to No. 39, and for the rest of his long career, the lower reaches of the Top 40 was about the best that Orbison did, until “You Got It” went to No. 9 in early 1989, shortly after Orbison’s death in late 1988.

Billy Vera’s name is most familiar to music fans, I’d guess, from “At This Moment,” his 1987 No. 1 record with his R&B backing group, The Beaters. But he’s had some success as a songwriter and in early 1968, he and Judy Clay hit the Top 40 with their duet “Country Girl – City Man,” which went to No. 36. That summer, Vera released his version of the divorce-themed “With Pen In Hand” and saw it get as high as No. 43, which is where it sat during the last days of July. The more successful version of the tune was by Vicki Carr, whose single went to No. 35. (I was surprised for an instant – and then, after some thought, not so surprised – to see that the song was written by Bobby Goldsboro.)

In an era when numerous hit records touched on or clearly promoted the Christian faith – the best example, offhand, might have been Ocean’s “Put Your Hand In The Hand,” which went to No. 2 in May of 1971 – perhaps the most moving of those records was “Mighty Clouds of Joy” by  B.J. Thomas. I’d not heard it for years until this morning, and the faith expressed is one I don’t share, but I still found it musically thrilling, as I did forty years ago when I occasionally heard it coming out of the radio speakers. As July ended in 1971, the record was sitting at No. 43 on its way to No. 34, one of twenty-five records Thomas placed in the Hot 100. His best performing records were two that reached No. 1: “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” was No. 1 for four weeks in early 1970, and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” topped the chart for a week in 1975.

Chart Digging: March 23, 1959

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

I had a hell of a time learning to tie my shoes. Back in March 1959, as my stay in Kindergarten was going on seven months, I was – if I recall things accurately, and I’m pretty sure I do – the last student in the morning Kindergarten session at Lincoln Elementary who had not yet learned to tie his shoes.

Why do I remember?

Because when a Kindergartner learned to tie his or her shoes and then demonstrated that skill to Miss Wendt on the Fisher-Price shoe – which came complete with wooden figures representing the old woman and her many children who lived there – the successful student was awarded a small picture of two neatly tied shoes printed on construction paper. That picture was then placed on the door of the student’s storage cubby. (We kept our coats, tennis shoes and rugs for naptime in our cubbies.)

And as March was ending, your narrator’s cubby was, he’s pretty sure, the only morning student’s cubby in the room that was not decorated with a picture of neatly tied shoes. I spent a lot of time with the Fisher-Price shoe that spring, tangling its laces over and over as I tried to master the basic skill of shoe-tying. It eluded me, seeming as difficult a task as splitting atoms or eating spaghetti without slurping the noodles up like worms.

On the other hand, there were things that I could do that no other Kindergartner had yet begun to try, as Miss Wendt learned one day. I’d been inattentive, a chronic state for me. (Had I been born in 1993 rather than in 1953, I would certainly have been diagnosed with and treated for Attention Deficit Disorder. Would life have been easier? In many ways, yes. Would I have been as creative? I tend to think not.)

When my lack of focus on that particular day became disruptive – I suppose I wouldn’t quit talking to the student next to me, whoever that was – Miss Wendt put me into the 1950s version of a time-out. She had me take a set of pages from the stack of newspapers in the corner – used to protect the tables during messy art projects – and go to the far end of the room, where I was to lie down on the two pages of newspaper until I could behave.

I lay on my newspaper for a while as the rest of the class moved on to something else, perhaps one of those art projects. After a bit, I got up and carried my two pages of the newspaper to Miss Wendt and said something very much like “May I have some more pages? I’ve finished these.”

“Finished them? What do you mean?”

“I’ve read them.”

Skeptical, Miss Wendt picked up another set of newspaper pages, pointed to a paragraph and asked me to read it to her. To her surprise, I did just that. It turns out I could read at about a second-grade level, having taught myself from the elementary schoolbooks left over from when my mother was a teacher. (I’d demonstrated my abilities to my mother once, but evidently, she didn’t clue in the folks at Lincoln School.)

Nothing much came of my newspaper reading during the rest of the Kindergarten year, but starting in first grade and for the rest of my school days, I was either in an accelerated reading program – sometimes by myself – or I was part of the school’s first and tentative program for what would these days be called gifted students.

But all that was yet to come, as was the largest accomplishment of my term in Kindergarten. One day that spring, I asked Miss Wendt to watch as I carefully took the laces of the Fisher-Price shoe and tied a fairly even bow. I got my construction paper shoes and proudly taped them to the door of my cubby. Compared to being able to tie my shoes, reading a newspaper was no big thing.

It was about this time of year in 1959 when I taped those shoes on my cubby. And, interestingly enough, I saw this morning that I remember two of the records in the Billboard Hot 100 – one of them in the Top Ten – that was released fifty-two years ago today.

The Top Ten from March 23, 1959, was:

“Venus” by Frankie Avalon
“Charlie Brown” by the Coasters
“Alvin’s Harmonica” by David Seville & the Chipmunks
“It’s Just A Matter Of Time” by Brook Benton
“Tragedy” by Thomas Wayne with the DeLons
“Come Softly To Me” by the Fleetwoods
“I’ve Had It” by the Bell Notes
“Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price
“Never Be Anyone Else But You” by Ricky Nelson
“Donna” by Ritchie Valens

That’s a decent Top Ten for the late 1950s. The records by the Coasters, Brook Benton, the Fleetwoods and Lloyd Price are classics. Most folks would put “Donna” in there, but that’s one I’ve never liked all that much. I can live without Frankie Avalon.

Of the others, I know the Ricky Nelson and “Tragedy” although they really don’t stand out. “I’ve Had It,” which I’d not heard until this morning, turns out to have a surf music sound a couple of years – I think – before that genre took off.

And that leaves “Alvin’s Harmonica” at No. 3, which I remember clearly. The creation of David Seville (who was born Ross Bagdasarian and who had a No. 1 hit with “Witch Doctor” in 1958), the Chipmunks reached the Hot 100 twelve times and the Christmas chart nine times over the years. That’s misleading, of course, as the Christmas listing includes five reissues of the original Christmas “Chipmunk Song” from 1958 (and a 2007 remake) as well as three annual issues in the early 1960s of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” And the Hot 100 listings include reissues of “Alvin’s Harmonica” in both 1960 and 1961. I suppose it could have been during one of those later years when I heard “Alvin’s Harmonica,” but the records during those years went to only Nos. 73 and 87, respectively. So I’d bet that I heard “Alvin’s Harmonica” during its early 1959 chart stay. (Having been reminded of the Chipmunks, I may have to pull from the shelves the 1982 album Chipmunk Rock and finish ripping it to mp3s.)

The other record I remember from the Hot 100 of March 23, 1959, was sitting at No. 26: “The Children’s Marching Song (Nick Nack Paddy Whack)” by Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus. The song seems to have derived from an English folk song, says Wikipedia, which adds, “In 1948 it was included by Pete Seeger and Ruth Crawford in their American Folk Songs for Children and recorded by Seeger in 1953. It received a boost in popularity when it was adapted for the 1958 film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness by composer Malcolm Arnold as ‘The Children’s Marching Song’, which led to hit singles for Cyril Stapleton and Mitch Miller.” Stapleton’s version – which shows the nonsense chorus as “Nick Nack Taddy Whack” – peaked at No. 13 and was at No. 26 in the March 23, 1959, chart. Miller’s version, which is the one that I recall, had peaked at No. 16 and was at No. 26 fifty-two years ago today.

From there, we go down the Hot 100 to No. 51, where we find “Pretty Girls Everywhere” by Eugene Church and The Fellows, a repetitive but enjoyable piece of R&B that would peak at No. 36 and go to No. 6 on the R&B chart. “Pretty Girls Everywhere” was the highest charting record for Church. Later in 1959, “Miami” went to No. 67 and in 1960, “Good News” bubbled under at No. 106; those records went to Nos. 14 and 19, respectively, on the R&B chart. Interestingly, one of the Fellows who recorded “Pretty Girls Everywhere” with Church was Jesse Belvin, whose many accomplishments included recording “Good Night My Love (Pleasant Dreams),” a classic that went to No. 7 on the R&B chart in 1956. Getting back to “Pretty Girls Everywhere,” I like the “boogity-boogity, boogity-woogity” at 1:23 and the sax break that follows at about 1:31.

From No. 51, we drop down to No. 67 and the Rivieras’ doo-wop version of “Moonlight Serenade,” the tune that bandleader and trombonist Glenn Miller used as his theme song during the Big Band era of the 1930s and early 1940s. The record – a nicely done version of the classic song – was the best charting single ever for the New Jersey quintet, eventually peaking at No. 47. A 1958 single, “Count Every Star,” had peaked at No. 73, and after “Moonlight Serenade,” the group would have one more single in the Hot 100: “Since I Made You Cry” would get to No. 93 in 1960. Two more singles would reach the Bubbling Under portion of the chart. I’d say that if this version of “Moonlight Serenade” is the best you can do, you’ve done pretty well.

A name familiar to those who know the music of the mid-1960s pops up at No. 84, where John Fred and The Playboys sit with “Shirley.” More than eight years later, billed as John Fred & His Playboy Band, the group would have a No. 1 hit with “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses),” a joyful piece of pop inspired by the Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” “Shirley,” on the other hand, owes a debt to every R&B record with a honking saxophone. It’s worth noting that at the time “Shirley” was on the chart – it peaked at No. 82 – bandleader John Fred was seventeen years old.

Linda Laurie was a singer and songwriter from Brooklyn. One can find a number of her records at YouTube (including “Stay-At Home Sue,” an answer to Dion’s 1961 hit “Runaround Sue”), and among her writing credits is “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),” which Helen Reddy took to No. 3 in 1973. But Laurie shows up in the March 23, 1959, Hot 100 with what may be the greatest novelty record of all time: “Ambrose (Part Five).” The person who posted the video notes that Parts One through Four never existed, adding that the record inspired two sequels, “Forever Ambrose,” and “The Return Of Ambrose.” I’m going to have to look them up. By the time the Hot 100 was released fifty-two years ago today, “Ambrose (Part Five)” had peaked at No. 52 and had dropped to No. 88. The record turned out to be Laurie’s only entry on the chart, and I suppose that was a disappointment, as she did have a nice singing voice. But still, there’s so much to like in “Ambrose (Part Five),” from the cocktail piano and Laurie’s Brooklyn accent to the abrupt ending. And the record offers one of the greatest sets of spoken lines in pop history: “You wanna be a disk jockey? Oh, Ambrose, you can’t spend the rest of your life avoiding responsibility!”

And At No. 33, We Find . . .

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

It’s been one of those weeks: Medical appointments for both of us, a quick trip to Little Falls for me, a research paper for the Texas Gal, an impending visit – routine, we think – by the city rental inspector, and some planning for a weekend trip to see a concert. And we’re both feeling a slight bit frazzled.

So instead of working real hard to find something to write about this morning, I let the calendar do the lifting, as I sometimes do. It’s March 3, or 3/3, so I decided to look at some tunes that were No. 33 on 3/3 over the years.

During this week in 1959, the 33rd spot in the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by Johnny Cash’s cautionary tale, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.” The tale of Billy Joe’s deadly visit to a cattle town had peaked at No. 32 and was on its way back down the chart, one of fifty-nine Hot 100 singles Cash would notch during his career. On the country chart, the record spent six weeks at No. 1.

During the first week of March in 1963, Marvin Gaye’s first Top 40 hit was encouraging listeners either to dance or to get out on the highway and catch a ride out of town. “Hitch Hike” was at No. 33 forty-eight years ago this week, heading for a peak position of No. 30. The record, the second of an eventual fifty-nine Hot 100 hits for Gaye, went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.

Fifty-nine charting hits, like Cash and Gaye each marked, is a lot. But four years later, in March of 1967, the No. 33 record in the Hot 100 was one from the record holder for the most charted hits ever. Elvis Presley’s “Indescribably Blue,” as melodramatic a record as there is, was the ninety-eighth of an eventual 165 charting hits for Presley. It went no higher than No. 33.

Another performer who racked up an impressive total of chart hits was in the 33rd spot in the Hot 100 when March 3, 1971 rolled around. Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman” was on its way back down the chart after peaking at No. 9 (and its writers – Clay McMurray, Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer – get bonus points for the correct use of the subjunctive with the word “were”). The record was the twenty-first of an eventual forty-eight records in the Hot 100 for Knight, forty-six of those – if I’m reading things correctly – coming with the Pips.

The first week of March in 1975 finds another major chart machine in the thirty-third spot in the Hot 100, as Chicago’s “Harry Truman” was on its way to No. 13. The ode to the thirty-third (there’s that number again!) president of the United States was a nostalgic post-Watergate expression of dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. It was also the nineteenth of an eventual fifty charting hits for Chicago.

And we’ll end today’s exercise in 1979. Sitting at No. 33 during the week of March 3, 1979, was “Shake It,” the fifth of six charting hits for Ian Matthews. The first three of those hits had come with his group Matthews Southern Comfort; he had also been a founding member of the British folk-rock group Fairport Convention. As well as peaking at No. 13 in early 1979, “Shake It” shows up in a couple of different places in pop culture, according to Wikipedia: It was used in the opening moments of the 1980 movie Little Darlings, and it can be heard on a radio during the video game The Warriors.