Archive for the ‘Answer Songs’ Category

‘My Sweet Lord’ vs. ‘He’s So Fine’

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

As I sometimes do, I was browsing through the old posts here yesterday when I came across one that wandered from the Beatles’ last years as a group into George Harrison’s massive 1970 album All Things Must Pass,

The post mentioned Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and the resulting suit brought by the copyright owners of “He’s So Fine,” a hit for the Chiffons in 1963. And when iTunes offered me “He’s So Fine” this morning as I pondered the empty space here, I wondered two things: First, how did things in that lawsuit actually resolve? And second, was I right in thinking that the Chiffons did a cover version of “My Sweet Lord”?

I dug into the tale of the U.S. suit at Wikipedia and read, as I recalled, that Harrison was in fact found, in 1976, to have plagiarized the melody of “He’s So Fine,” written by one Ronnie Mack, who had died in 1963. The financial verdict against Harrison, says Wikipedia, was startlingly large: He was to pay Bright Tunes Music – holder of the “He’s So Fine” copyright – $1.6 million, which amounted to three quarters of the sales of the single in the U.S. and a significant amount of the proceeds from the sales of All Things Must Pass.

And then, Wikipedia tells us, we find the dirty hands of Allen Klein, one-time manager of the Beatles (over the protests of Paul McCartney). After Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr severed their business relationship with Klein in 1973 – a move that led to protracted litigation itself – Klein began providing inside information to Bright about, if I read things rightly, Harrison’s legal strategy. Eventually, Klein’s ABCKO Industries purchased from Bright the rights to “He’s So Fine” and the rights to any settlement; that cost Klein $587,000, and he then proceeded to open negotiations with Harrison for the rights to the song.

In February 1981 – more than ten years after the release of the single “My Sweet Lord” and All Things Must Pass – the New York court ruled that because of Klein’s duplicity and interference, Harrison would pay Klein $587,000 for the rights to “He’s So Fine” and would retain the rights to “My Sweet Lord.”

Okay, that’s how that turned out. But what about the Chiffons covering “My Sweet Lord”? Well, that happened, too. In 1975, the Chiffons released their version of the song with the aim, Wikipedia says, of drawing attention to the languishing court proceedings. I suppose that sounded like a good idea, but I think the result is a little tepid. Here it is:

Saturday Single No. 478

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

As our pal j.b. at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has noted on occasion, our culture has a fascination with round numbers and anniversaries: Twenty years ago, thirty years ago, and so on. I have the same fascination (as does j.b., whose plan this year is to feature posts about 1976, his year of years). Not only do I like to look at round numbers, but I also like the numbers halfway in between: the fives.

So we’re going to look for our first Saturday Single of 2016 by using round numbers and those halfway numbers. We’re going to look at the Billboard Hot 100 for the first week of the year, starting in 1981 and heading back five years at a time to 1956 (when the chart was called the Top 100). We’ll check out one record on each chart (and look at the No. 1 record at the time, as well).

Thirty-five years ago, in 1981, the No. 35 record on the first chart of the year was the Eagles’ live version of “Seven Bridges Road,” on its way to No. 21. The No. 1 record that week was John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over,” in its third week at the top of the chart.

We go back five years from there, forty years ago, and the No. 40 record during the first week of 1976 was “Squeeze Box” by the Who, heading to No. 16. The No. 1 record as 1976 began was “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers (and that’s the first mention of that group in the nearly 2,000 posts I’ve written for this blog).

As 1971 began, the No. 45 record was “The Green Grass Starts To Grow” by Dionne Warwick, closing in on its peak at No. 43. Sitting on top of the chart forty-five years ago was George Harrison’s double-sided single, “My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity,” in its second week at No. 1.

The No. 50 single in the first Hot 100 of 1966, fifty years ago, was “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks, on its way to No. 13. The No. 1 record fifty years ago this week was “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. It would stay there another week.

The first Hot 100 of January 1961, fifty-five years ago, had “My Last Date (With You)” by Joni James at No. 55, heading for a peak at No. 35. Parked at No. 1 for the first of three weeks was Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland By Night.”

Our final stop is the chart from the first week of 1956, sixty years ago, when the No. 60 record was Dorothy Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top.” The No. 1 record in that long-ago first week of January was Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made Of This,” in the first of six weeks atop the chart.

So, we have three candidates that I know well and don’t particularly like (the records by the Eagles, the Who and the Kinks) and three candidates that I doubt I’ve ever heard (the records by Warwick, James and Collins).

Warwick’s record is a typical Burt Bacharach/Hal David joint, similar in style and production to almost any of the hits she had in the 1960s. Think “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” or “Message To Michael” or “I Say A Little Prayer.” In other words, it’s a good record but nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that I don’t remember ever hearing it before.

James’ single, “My Last Date (With You)” is a country-ish adaptation of (or answer to) pianist Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date,” which went to No. 2 in late 1960. The lyrics were added, according to Second Hand Songs, by Boudleaux Bryant and Skeeter Davis, and Davis’ version of the song went to No. 2 on the country chart and No. 26 in the Hot 100 in early 1961. James’ version, as I noted above, went to No. 35 in the Hot 100. It was the last of her eighteen records in or near the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960, and Joel Whitburn notes in Top Pop Singles that James also had eight Top Twenty hits in 1952 and 1953.

Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top” is a poppy and peppy celebration of a boyfriend with a severe crew cut; there’s a great sax break in the middle, but the record comes off as more of a novelty than anything else. Collins was the star of the television show Your Hit Parade! for most of the 1950s, and “My Boy – Flat Top” was the first – and most successful – of four records Collins put into the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960.

Sifting all that out, I fall on the side of the adaptation/answer song. It’s not a great record, but it’s not bad, and it’s the best of the three that I’ve got to choose from, according to the rules I’ve set. So here’s Joni James’ “My Last Date (With You),” your Saturday Single.

‘This Stone Is Genuine . . .’

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Even during the years before I was actively listening to pop and rock, some records insinuated their way into my ears and into my affections.

“This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys was one of those. I remember hearing it at home when my sister tuned the kitchen radio to KDWB, and I likely heard it over at Rick’s when his sister and her friends were playing records upstairs. Those hearings would have come during the early weeks of 1965, when I was in sixth grade. I also know I heard it more than once during the following school year at South Junior High when we ended our lunch period every day by playing records (with the guys watching the girls dance) in the gym.

Why do I remember that record? I’m not sure. There were – looking back from more than forty-five years with the benefit of many more hours spent listening to the music of 1965 – other seemingly better records on the air and likely on the gymnasium turntable at the time. The Billboard Top Ten for this week in 1965 has, along with the Lewis single, at least a few that were just as good or better:

“Eight Days A Week” by the Beatles
“Stop! In The Name Of Love” by the Supremes
“The Birds and the Bees” by Jewel Akens
“King of the Road” by Roger Miller
“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” by Herman’s Hermits
“Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” by Gerry & the Pacemakers
“My Girl” by the Temptations
“This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys
“Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey
“Shotgun” by Jr. Walker & the All Stars

And cherry picking from farther down the list (but still in the Top 40):

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers
“People Get Ready” by the Impressions
“Nowhere to Run” by Martha & the Vandellas
“Tell Her No” by the Zombies
“Laugh, Laugh” by the Beau Brummels

Well, you get the point. There were other records around at the time that are likely remembered now – with the weight of pop/rock/R&B history on their side – as better. But of that Top Ten, there are only two I recall more vividly: “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” because my sister had it and “Goldfinger” because I had the soundtrack album. (I do recall hearing all of them during that long ago spring except, oddly, the Beatles tune. When I did my Beatles collecting during the early 1970s, “Eight Days A Week” was one of the few hits by the boys from Liverpool that I did not recall hearing before. I recognized the title but not the record.)

So what was it about “This Diamond Ring” that grabbed me? I’m not sure, but I can make a few guesses. First, the song and its story. Even when I was eleven, tales of heartbreak, broken promises and lost dreams affected me greatly, and the mournful lyrics complemented the song, with its strategic minor chords and a couple of disquieting modulations. Then there was the production, which I now know carries hints of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

As to the performance by Lewis and the Playboys, it was competent but no more than that. The record’s charm is in its song construction and production, and the credit for that goes to songwriters Bob Brass, Al Kooper and Irwin Levine; arranger Leon Russell; and producer Snuff Garrett.

“This Diamond Ring” doesn’t have the hold on me these days that it once did. For example, it didn’t show up as one of my favorites in the long Ultimate Jukebox project of a couple of years ago. In fact, I don’t think I even considered it for more than a few seconds, and that’s all right. But it is a pleasant artifact of its time for me, and it came to mind this morning because, as I dug around in the Billboard Hot 100 for March 20, 1965, I found – in the Bubbling Under section at No. 134 – another record with the same credits: songwriters Bob Brass, Al Kooper and Irwin Levine; arranger Leon Russell; and producer Snuff Garrett.

It was an answer record: “(Gary, Please Don’t Sell) My Diamond Ring” by Wendy Hill.

Joel Whitburn doesn’t have a lot of information about Hill in his Top Pop Singles: She was from Los Angeles, and her only other single listed was “Without Your Love,” which bubbled under the chart at No. 111 for one week during the autumn of 1961. “(Gary, Please Don’t Sell) My Diamond Ring” didn’t even do that well; it disappeared after its one week at No. 134.

But it does make me wonder what happened to the diamond ring. Somebody should have written a sequel.