Posts Tagged ‘Harry Belafonte’

‘We Almost Didn’t Make It . . .’

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

An email came in yesterday that piqued my interest and reminded me of a post from more than four years ago. A reader taking the name “mm” asked if I’d ever figured out who covered Jake Holmes’ song “So Close,” adding, “It’s been driving me crazy.”

The question was a follow-up to a chart-digging post that ran here in October 2010, looking back at a Billboard Hot 100 from October 1970. Among the records I noted in that chart was Holmes’ “So Close,” which was sitting at No. 70 on its way to No. 49. I wrote:

“Since I found the record at YouTube a couple of weeks ago, I’ve listened to it several times, and although I recall Holmes’ version, I swear I remember another performer singing it . . . . Is anyone out there aware of who might have covered Jake Holmes’ ‘So Close’?”

And I don’t think I ever heard from anybody about it until yesterday, when mm reminded me of Holmes’ record and my vague memories of a cover version. So I turned to one of my favorite toys, one that I did not know about (if it was in existence) during the autumn of 2010: the website Second Hand Songs, which – as I’ve noted here before – might not have full listings of all cover versions but at least provides a place to start.

First, though, here’s Holmes’ version of the song, which was pulled from his 1970 album So Close, So Very Far To Go. (As is the case with many albums from the early 1970s, I recall seeing and ignoring many copies of So Close, So Very Far To Go in the cutout bins at St. Cloud’s Woolworth’s and Musicland stores. And I have long wished I’d bought the album.)

I still like Holmes’ performance, but I think the backing gets a little busy (and Holmes’ voice gets a little thin as he goes into the higher notes on the chorus.) But even as I listened yesterday for the first time in a while, I was still hearing echoes of a cover version.

So who might have done that cover version? Well, Second Hand Songs has three covers listed, one of which I’ve managed to find. That version is by Harry Belafonte, with some help from Eloise Laws, on his 1973 album, Play Me. It’s a little bland, but it’s not awful. It is not, however, the version that sits on the edge of my memory.

Two other versions of “So Close” are mentioned at SHS: Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary recorded the song for her 1974 album, Circles, and Aruban-born soul singer Julio Bernardo Euson – who recorded as Euson and whose career was centered mostly in the Netherlands – included the song on his 1975 album Sweet Surrender. If I’ve ever heard either of the two, I think it’s more likely that I heard Travers’ version, but I don’t know.

Still wondering, I waded through pages of links last evening, looking for other versions of the tune. There were quite a few other songs with the same title and lots of dead links. But after a bit, there was a reference to one Helen Schneider, a Brooklyn-born singer and actress whose career has been mostly based in Germany. Her one major U.S.-based acting credit, it seems, was playing Joann Carlino, Eddie Wilson’s girlfriend in the 1983 film Eddie and the Cruisers.

But it’s her music career that interested me. She’s had only a few albums released in the U.S., but one of them was her 1977 debut, which was titled So Close. The title song was, in fact, the Jake Holmes tune:

Is it the cover that I remember? It could be, although I can’t figure out how I ever would have heard it. But I do like it, and I would have liked it if I had heard it in 1977.

Chart Digging: May 1957

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Having referred to my one clear memory of the spring of 1957 in Tuesday’s post, it seemed appropriate to dig out a Billboard Hot 100 from that time and see what was in the record stores and jukeboxes and on the radio during this week fifty-five years ago. And it turns out there’s some fun stuff in the Hot 100 from the week ending May 15, 1957.

First, the Top Ten:

“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley
“Little Darlin’” by the Diamonds
“Round and Round” by Perry Como
“Gone” by Ferlin Husky
“A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)” by Marty Robbins
“School Day” by Chuck Berry
“So Rare” by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra
“Come Go With Me” by the Dell-Vikings
“Love Letters In The Sand” by Pat Boone
“Dark Moon” by Gale Storm

I see four classics in there: the tunes by the Diamonds, Marty Robbins, Chuck Berry and the Dell-Vikings. Why not Elvis? “All Shook Up” is a record that has never caught my ear. Maybe I needed to hear it in the context of 1957 to care about it. Out of the rest of them, I’d probably pull “So Rare,” with its old-school intro and choir contrasting with its bluesy arrangement. It wasn’t the last time one of the big bands hit the Top Ten – Dorsey’s brother Tommy got there in 1958 with “Tea For Two Cha Cha” – but “So Rare” was certainly one of the last big band hits.

As usual, there are delights below the Top Ten. There were three versions of the tune “Pledge of Love” in the Hot 100: Ken Copeland’s was at No. 17 (it would peak at No. 12), Mitchell Torok’s was at No. 27 (No. 25), and Dick Contino held down No. 52 (No. 42). (A fourth version, by Johnny Janis, had fallen out of the Hot 100 that week after peaking at No. 63.) And for those wondering, yes, Ken Copeland the pop singer turned out to be Kenneth Copeland the evangelist. His version of “Pledge of Love” not only did better than the other four, but it was likely the best version of the tune.

(Of those four singers, Mitchell Torok was the only one to have any other chart success. In fact, he’d had a No. 1 country hit in 1953 with “Caribbean” and reached No. 9 on the country chart in 1954 with “Hootchy Kootchy Henry [From Hawaii].” After the success of “Pledge of Love,” a re-release of “Caribbean” went to No. 27 on the pop chart in 1959, and Torok had two other singles in or near the Hot 100 in 1959 and 1960. As to “Pledge of Love,” two more things likely should be noted: First, Curtis Lee – of “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” – saw his version of “Pledge of Love” go to No. 110 in early 1961, and second, this is not the same song as “My Pledge of Love,” which the Joe Jeffrey Group took to No. 14 in 1969.)

When we get to No. 31, we find “Shish-Kebab,” a Middle Eastern-styled instrumental from Ralph Marterie and His Orchestra. Interestingly, there’s a note at Marterie’s entry in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles that the same tune was recorded as “Harem Dance” by the Armenian Jazz Sextet. And as it so happens, “Harem Dance” was at No. 79 fifty-five years ago this week. Whitburn notes that the members of the sextet were actually all of Armenian descent. “Harem Dance” had already peaked at No. 67 and was the sextet’s only hit. Marterie’s “Shish Kebab” would peak at No. 10, the best of four singles he got in or near the Hot 100 between 1956 and 1961.

A little further down the list from “Harem Dance,” we find two singles – one serious and one not – that are inextricably linked. At No. 86 sits “Banana Boat (Day-O)” by Harry Belafonte and at No. 83, we find the same title as offered by Stan Freberg. Belafonte’s record had gone to No. 5, bringing him his only Top Ten hit. Whitburn notes that Belafonte “[r]ode the crest of the calypso craze to worldwide stardom,” and Wikipedia adds that Belafonte’s 1956 album Calypso – which includes “Banana Boat (Day-O)” – was the first LP to sell more than a million copies.

As to Freberg, he’s simply one of the great humorists in radio history along with being one of the great radio advertising men. His version of “Banana Boat (Day-O)” is classic Freberg, and it went to No. 25.

Near the bottom of the Hot 100 from fifty-five years ago this week lies the only charting single by Lou Stein, who played piano for Glenn Miller and Charlie Ventura and then did session work as well as recording a few records with his own groups. “Almost Paradise” was sitting at No. 91 after having peaked at No. 31. I don’t know a lot about Stein, but the lush sound of “Almost Paradise” tells me I’m going to have to add his name to the lengthening list of musicians to check out.