Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Mathis’

‘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.

What Was At No. 71?

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

It’s just after eight in the morning here on the East Side, and nothing much is moving out there. It’s been snowing on and off – mostly on – since yesterday morning. Officially, we’ve gotten 7.1 inches of snow so far, and odds are we’re going to get another three to four inches. Out in the driveway, the snow is about six inches deep, so neither the Texas Gal nor I are going anywhere for a while.

So with not much else to do except dig around in my collection of Billboard charts (not that I often need an excuse), I thought I’d take our snowfall total, move the decimal point and then take a look at what records were No. 71 on or around March 5 over the years. We’ll start in 1966, because that’s the earliest year I find when the magazine’s Hot 100 was actually issued on March 5. We’ll likely go back a few years from there, and then come this direction for a while.

And the day starts with a little bit of a puzzle: At No. 71 on March 5, 1966, we find the Righteous Brothers’ take on “Georgia On My Mind” making its way back down the chart after peaking at No. 62. The puzzle is that the record was released on the Moonglow label, and by March of 1965, the Righteous Brothers had left Moonglow far behind, joining and then leaving Phil Spector’s Philles label and then recording for Verve. In fact, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration,” the Verve record that would become the Brothers’ second No. 1 hit (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” went to No. 1 in 1965), entered the Hot 100 the very same week, sitting at No. 90. It seems obvious that the release of “Georgia” was just the latest effort by Moonglow to get a slice of the Righteous pie: Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows five charting or near-charting Moonglow singles during the time the Righteous Brothers were recording for Philles. Then came “Georgia,” which was the Brothers’ last charting single on Moonglow. So it’s really not that much of a puzzle, I guess. But it did make me read the fine print a little bit more closely.

I have evidently been able to write more than a thousand posts about popular music without previously mentioning the name of Esther Phillips, also known as Little Esther, which strikes me as odd given my interest in 1960s R&B. Phillips, whose unique voice and delivery I like very much, had fifteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1962 and 1975, with the first and last of them reaching the Top 40: “Release Me” went to No. 8 in late 1962, and “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes” reached No. 20 in the autumn of 1975. In March of 1963, three years back from today’s starting point, Phillips’ “I Really Don’t Want To Know” was at No. 71, a week after peaking at No. 61. (The linked video also includes the record’s B-side, “Am I That Easy To Forget.”) I should note that during the early 1950s, prior to the years covered by the Billboard Hot 100, Phillips had eight records reach the R&B Top 40, most of them recorded during her association with band leader Johnny Otis.

When we get to the first week of March 1960, we land in traditional pop territory, with Johnny Mathis’ “Starbright” taking up the No. 71 slot of that week’s Hot 100. The record was climbing toward its eventual peak at No. 25 and was the twentieth of an eventual fifty-three records Mathis would place in or near the Hot 100 between 1957 and 1984. That time-span includes, according to Whitburn, No. 1 records separated by more than twenty years. According to Top Pop Hits, “Chances Are” went to No. 1 during a twenty-eight week chart stay that started in September 1957 and lasted into March 1958, and “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” Mathis’ collaboration with Deniece Williams, went to No. 1 in June of 1978. And here is a real puzzle: Whitburn has “Chances Are” going to No. 1 for one week during those twenty-eight weeks, but the week-by-week Billboard charts that I copped from a blog some years ago show “Chances Are” peaking at No. 5, and the record is not listed in Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of Number One Hits. I’m not sure at all what’s correct there.

Heading back to the other side of our starting point, we land on the chart released March 8, 1969, and find ourselves listening to a song better known, I think, for a later version. “Hello It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren’s early band, the Nazz, was sitting at No. 71 in that 1969 chart. The record would go no higher, nor would it do very well – peaking at No. 66 – when it was rereleased a year later. It’s a good song, but the record seems painfully draggy. Of course, that’s because Rundgren recorded a more up-tempo version of the song and released it under his own name in 1973, when it went to No. 5. But you know, I think I’d find the Nazz version draggy and tedious even if Rundgren had never revisited the song. So we move on.

And in March of 1972, we land on a record at No. 71 that’s showed up here before and will always put a lump in my throat: “Waking Up Alone” by Paul Williams. The record was heading to a peak at No. 60, the best-performing of the three singles Williams placed in or near the Hot 100. Of course, I think it should have done much better, a judgment I’ve held since I first heard the record a little more than three years after its brief stay on the chart. Does it make me think of someone? No, it’s heartbreaking all by itself, which means that Williams succeeded at his craft to a degree that I wish I could match one time in my life. As I wrote here once, the record’s best part on a purely musical level is the saxophone that comes in near the end, “hanging around long enough to take a nice solo and then walk us home.”

Our last stop this morning is March of 1975, and we’re going country: Sitting at No. 71 thirty-eight years ago was “Linda On My Mind” by Conway Twitty. The tale of tangled love and heartache was on its way to No. 61 and was the next-to-last record out of twenty-five that Twitty would place in or near the Hot 100. It did much better on the country chart, of course, being one of forty No. 1 records overall for the Mississippi-born singer, a total that was tied for the most all-time with George Strait in 2006, when my edition of Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits was compiled. (A glance at Wikipedia this morning shows that Strait has since broken that tie with an additional four No. 1 records on the country chart.)

Chart Digging: November 10, 1973

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

The ill health theme of the past few weeks continues: The Texas Gal will attend a couple of meetings by phone from home this morning and then spend her second day dealing with autumn crud, a malady being passed around her office (and around numerous other offices in St. Cloud, according to reports from friends and acquaintances). I’m in a little better shape than that, which is good, as it means that someone in the house can make sandwiches. In the meantime, we cope.

One of my ways of coping, of course, is to dig into music, and three names caught my attention while I was passing the time by scanning the Billboard Hot 100 for this date in 1973:

When writing about Jimmy Durante about eight weeks ago, I referred to Canadian performer Ian Thomas and his 1976 tune “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash.” His name popped up again today as I scanned the Hot 100 from November 10, 1973: “Painted Ladies” was sitting at No. 80 on its way to No. 34. This is one of those Top 40 hits I had to learn about after the fact because I was out of the country when it was on the radio. It’s become a mild favorite in the past few years, and I think that’s mainly because it sounds a lot like the records the group America was putting into the charts at the time. In Canada, Thomas has had a fair amount of chart success, both on his own and with several groups. That success includes “Painted Ladies,” which went to No. 4 on the RPM 100 – the main Canadian pop chart – and to No. 5 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart. On this side of the border, however, “Painted Ladies” marked Thomas’ only appearance in the Hot 100.

Another name that kind of jumped out at me from the November 10, 1973, chart was that of Johnny Mathis, as I’d been listening to a bit of Mathis’ work yesterday: his 1959 album Open Fire, Two Guitars and his stellar 1977 cover of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” His 1973 entry on the charts – “I’m Coming Home” – wasn’t near as memorable as 1977’s “Night and Day,” but I still find a quiet charm in the track. Thirty-eight years ago today, “I’m Coming Home” was at its peak of No. 75, but the record spent a week on top of the Adult Contemporary chart. It was the forty-seventh of an eventual fifty-three hits in or near the Hot 100 for Mathis, a run that included two No. 1 hits: “Chances Are” in 1957 and “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” with Deniece Williams in 1978.

The third name that drew my eyes was that of Nino Tempo. He and his sister, April Stevens, had a No. 1 hit in 1963 with their cover of “Deep Purple,” a song written in 1923 by Peter DeRose that became a big band standard after Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1938. As a duo, Tempo and Stevens had fifteen other records in or near the Hot 100 between 1962 and 1973. In the autumn of 1973, however, Stevens evidently wasn’t involved when “Sister James” – credited to Nino Tempo and 5th Ave. Sax – was on the charts. A nifty, slightly funky record, “Sister James” was sitting at No. 74 after peaking at No. 53 during the last week of October. It was the last time Tempo made the charts; Stevens – billed only as “April” – would reach No. 93 with “Wake Up And Love Me” during the summer of 1974.

Chart Digging: February 1, 1958

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Generally, when I start of one these excursions through a specific entry of the Billboard Hot 100, I have a story I can tell about the time that the chart came out, even if it’s nothing more than noting how I spent my free time in, say, the spring of 1965 or the winter of 1971.

But February 1, 1958, had me stumped. I was four years old at the time, and as I began to scan the chart, nothing much was coming to mind from that time except my red wagon, the one that said “REX” on the side, the same one that today sits in the garage filled with rocks for a planned garden boundary. That’s a pretty slender thread on which to hang a memoir, so I kept looking, scanning the Hot 100, checking titles and finding tunes on YouTube. And then, at No. 36, I saw a memory.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the period when St. Cloud State Teachers College changed its name to St. Cloud State College (and when the enrollment was much smaller, just less than 3,900 in 1960 as opposed to today’s 18,000 or so), it seemed to me that my dad was pretty much the college’s audiovisual department. When a football game needed to be filmed, more often than not, Dad worked the camera. If an evening event called for a public address system or a slide projector, Dad often helped set things up. And on Friday and Saturday evenings, when a movie was scheduled in Stewart Hall Auditorium, it was often Dad running the projector.

I went along sometimes. I recall autumn evenings at Selke Field, the Depression-era football stadium not far from where I live today, usually sitting with Mom and my sister on the concrete benches but occasionally huddling against the wind on top of the pressbox, next to Dad and the movie camera.

And I recall going to movies when Dad ran the projector. I don’t remember a lot of the specific films, but one was the 1949 western She Wore A Yellow Ribbon starring John Wayne. And when I was looking at the hit songs of February 1, 1958, I recalled another film I saw in Stewart Hall, for there – at No. 36 – was listed “March from the River Kwai and Colonel Bogey” by Mitch Miller and His Orchestra and Chorus.

I imagine that we saw David Lean’s 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, sometime about 1960, the year I turned seven. I recall being puzzled by that very grown-up movie about war and deprivation and cruelty and duty. And I remember the film’s ambiguous ending.

I also remember the soundtrack’s main theme. And last night, as I heard Mitch and the boys whistling their way through their medley from the movie – the record peaked at No. 20 – I recalled the darkness of the sparsely filled Stewart Hall Auditorium on movie night. There were times when we all went and I sat with Mom and my sister in the main auditorium. But sometimes it was just Dad and me up in the projection booth, and I’d strain my ears as the whirr of the projector drowned out the movies’ quiet portions, and I’d watch the films’ images ride a cone of light from the booth across to the screen. Whether the movie was something I liked – or even understood, sometimes – didn’t matter. It was good to spend time with my dad.

Mitch Miller’s hit wasn’t the only familiar song in the Hot 100 from fifty-three years ago today, of course. In fact, the Top Ten reads in part like a selection from a Hall of Fame:

“At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors
“Get A Job” by the Silhouettes
“Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens
“Don’t” by Elvis Presley
“Sail On, Silvery Moon” by Billy Vaughn & His Orchestra
“The Stroll” by the Diamonds
“Sugartime” by the McGuire Sisters
“I Beg Of You” by Elvis Presley
“Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly

That’s some good stuff there. Some I don’t know much about and had to look up. The two Elvis tunes are all right: “Don’t” is a slow dance, and “I Beg Of You” sounds very much to me like “Don’t Be Cruel,” but they’re decent. “Sugartime” and the Vaughn track are familiar but bland. But the other six records in that Top Ten? Even with the silliness of “Short Shorts,” there’s brilliance there.

As good as that Top Ten is, however, our business is lower on the charts. Dale Wright was born Harlan Dale Riffe in Middleton, Ohio, and by the early days of 1958, “She’s Neat,” credited to “Dale Wright with the Rock-Its,” was at No. 54, headed to No. 38. It was the first of two Hot 100 hits for Wright; later, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, he worked as a deejay in the Midwest.

The charts from the late 1950s are intriguing, especially for one who doesn’t remember the era. Orchestral pop sits next to rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly shares a bench with R&B, and over there, at No. 22, we see the “Liechtensteiner Polka” by Will Glahe and His Orchestra. We’ll pass that one by, although you’re invited to look for it on YouTube. I saw several entries for Johnny Mathis in the Hot 100 from February 1, 1958, including the gorgeous “Chances Are,” but the one that caught my ear was “Wild is the Wind,” the title theme written by Dmitri Tiomkin for the film starring Anthony Quinn. I’m not sure how good the film was, but the theme – nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song – is beautiful. Sitting at No. 56, it eventually went to No. 22.

One of the things I like best about late 1950s rock ’n’ roll and R&B is the frequent use of the saxophone. The instrument never really went out of style for R&B, but in my musically formative years, say 1967-70, saxophone seems to have been rare in rock. So it’s fun to dig back and find tune after tune reliant on saxophones for their kicks. One of those tunes in the Hot 100 fifty-three years ago today was “Walkin’ With Mr. Lee” by Lee Allen and His Band. Allen, as it happens, played sax on records by Fats Domino, Little Richard and others; later, in the 1980s, he played on the first three album by the Blasters. “Walkin’ With Mr. Lee,” – an answer tune to the Bobbettes’ 1957 hit, “Mr. Lee” – was at No. 61, headed to No. 54.

Rockabilly singer Clint Miller – born Isaac Clinton Miller in Ferguson, North Carolina – was eighteen in February of 1958 when his only hit, “Bertha Lou,” was climbing a short way up the Hot 100, sitting at No. 87 on its way to No. 79. It’s pretty much a standard rockabilly tune, until he tells Bertha Lou “I wanna conjugate with you . . .” English homework never seemed so cool.

From one one-hit wonder with a girl’s name in the title, we go to another: “Henrietta” by Jimmie Dee and The Offbeats, a band from San Antonio, Texas. First released on the Austin-based TNT label, the record was picked up by Dot for national release. I’m grabbed by the nearly desperate vocal atop the constantly chugging backing track. “Henrietta” was at No. 95 on February 1, 1958, and would peak at No. 47.