Posts Tagged ‘Gerry & the Pacemakers’

And At No. 86 . . .

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

We’ll take a break from summer records and memories for today and dive deep into some charts from the years that make up our sweet spot. We’ll take today’s date – 8/15 – and twist it just a little so it becomes 86, and then check out the Billboard Hot 100 charts from mid-August for a half-a-dozen years. We’ll start in 1965 and come forward two years at a time.

(A note on our methodology, if that’s not too grand a word for something that Odd and Pop and I came up with off the top of our shiny heads a while back. When we dig into the charts to see what record was doing what on a particular day, as we are doing this morning, we look at the chart that would have been released on that day or during the following six days. Take August 1965 as an example. Billboard released a Hot 100 on August 14. We’re looking at where records sat on August 15, so we’ll look at the following chart, which came out on August 21. When we started digging into charts for games like this, a six-day gap like that was a little disconcerting, but those things happen. Anyway, on with the fun . . .)

When we look just past the mid-point of August 1965, we find Gerry & The Pacemakers’ “Give All Your Love To Me” perched at No. 86, heading toward a peak at No. 68. The Liverpool group, signed in 1962 by Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, had scored three Top Ten hits (“Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” “How Do You Do It” and “Ferry Cross The Mersey”) starting in the spring of 1964, but it was clear that since “Ferry,” the ride was slowing down, as the group had missed the Top Twenty with its next two releases. “Give . . .” was a little more dramatic and over-wrought than the group’s earlier hits, almost as if the boys – especially lead singer Gerry Marsden – were trying too hard. The record was the ninth single the group had placed into the Hot 100, but there would be only two more of them – none in the Top Twenty – and three other releases that bubbled under the Hot 100. (One of those bubblers would be a 1970 re-release of “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” which stalled out at No. 112.)

Just for context, the No. 1 record during that week in August 1965 was Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”

“Leon Haywood” is a name that’s never been mentioned in this space. That’s not a huge omission, but I’d have thought that in more than six years of blogging I would have somehow mentioned his 1975 hit “I Want’a Do Something Freaky To Ya,” which moaned and grooved its way to No. 15 (No. 7 on the R&B chart). But it’s Haywood’s “It’s Got To Be Mellow” that brings him here today, as during mid-August 1967, it was sitting at No. 86 on its way to No. 63 (No. 21 R&B). It was the first record released under the Houston singer’s real name; “She’s With Her Other Love,” a late 1965 release credited to Leon Hayward, had gone to No. 92 (No. 13, R&B). Haywood would show up sporadically on the pop charts up to 1980 and on the R&B charts a few years longer than that. “It’s Got To Be Mellow” was a decent record but not all that different from what a lot of other R&B groups were doing at the time; it sounds to me very much like an Impressions record.

The No. 1 record on the August 19, 1967, Hot 100 was the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”

As August passed its midpoint in 1969, the No. 86 record was one that we mentioned in this space a little more than three years ago. But three years is an eternity in blogtime, and anyway, the record in question probably doesn’t get mentioned all that often anywhere, so we’ll take another listen to “The Colour Of My Love” by the English singer who performed under the name of Jefferson. It’s a melodramatic single, a bit overwrought with splashes of brass underneath. I don’t remember hearing it back in 1969, but I might have liked it then. I know I liked Jefferson’s only other hit, “Baby Take Me In Your Arms,” which went to No. 23 (No. 19 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in February of 1970.

Sitting at No. 1 in mid-August of 1969 was a record that showed up in this space a little more than a week ago in one of our posts about summer records: Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus).”

From 1967 through 1973 or so, Clarence Carter was a regular presence on the pop and R&B charts. In mid-August 1971, his “Slipped, Tripped And Fell In Love” was sitting at No. 86 in the Hot 100. A piece of deep soul, the record would only go two places higher on the pop chart but would get to No. 25 on the R&B chart. It was the fourteenth Hot 100 record for the blind singer from Alabama; he’d have two more records on the chart and three more bubble under into 1973; his total on the R&B chart would be eighteen, with seven of them hitting the Top Ten. His best-performing records – “Slip Away” in 1968 and “Patches” in 1970 – would get to No. 2 on the R&B chart and to No. 6 and No 4 respectively on the pop chart.

The No. 1 record as the third week of August 1971 rolled on was the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend  A Broken Heart.”

I’m not sure I ever heard America’s version of “Muskrat Love” on the radio. It was sitting at No. 86 during this week in 1973, and it climbed just a little bit, peaking at No. 67 (No. 11 AC). At the time, I was preparing for my stay in Denmark, and I was gone for more than half of the eight weeks the record charted, so it doesn’t really hit any buttons. I’ve heard it in the intervening forty years, of course, and it’s not as bad this morning as my gut reaction to the title said it would be. I imagine that I tend to conflate America’s folky version with the cutesy No. 4 hit that the Captain & Tennille had with the song in 1976. Anyway, the record was one of America’s lesser hits; the group put nineteen records in or near the charts between 1972 and 1984, hitting No. 1 with “A Horse With No Name” in 1972 and “Sister Golden Hair” in 1975.

Sitting at No. 1 during the third week of August 1973 was Diana Ross’ “Touch Me In The Morning.”

Speaking of the Captain & Tennille, in 1975, when “Love Will Keep Us Together” was a hit, the duo recorded and A&M released a version of the single in Spanish, something I’ve not heard until this morning. “Por Amor Viviremos” was sitting at No. 86 this week in 1975, heading for a peak of No. 49. The English version (which makes up the first half of the linked video) was, of course, a massive hit, spending four weeks at No. 1 (one week at No. 1 on the AC chart), topping the year-end chart and winning a Grammy for Record of the Year. And to be honest, coming across the listing for the Spanish version has made me listen to the English version for the first time in years, and if I set aside the cynicism that’s somehow gathered around my memory of the Captain & Tennille and their records, “Love Will Keep Us Together” – in English or Spanish – is a hell of a record. (The duo ended up with fifteen records in or near the Hot 100; “Do That To Me One More Time” was their second No. 1 hit in 1979.)

Sitting at No. 1 during that week in August 1975 was “Jive Talkin’” by the Bee Gees.

My Verdict: ‘Rocket 88’ Was The First

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

It’s time to throw my nickel into one of rock music’s enduring debates this morning: What was the first rock ’n’ roll record?

To my mind – dim as it sometimes can be – there are two candidates: “The Fat Man,” a 1950 record by Fats Domino, and “Rocket 88,” a 1951 single from Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (which was really Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm with saxophonist Brenston taking the lead vocal).

I come down on the side of “Rocket 88.” There’s nothing wrong at all with the Domino track: It’s got a rollicking beat, courtesy of its hometown, New Orleans. “They call, they call me the fat man because I weight two hundred pounds,” the record starts, and – co-written and co-produced by Domino and his long-time partner Dave Bartholomew – the single gets its business done in a tidy two minutes and thirty-six seconds and includes a middle section that showcases Domino’s falsetto.

Wikipedia says: “‘The Fat Man’ features Domino’s piano with a distinct back beat that dominates both the lead and the rhythm section. Earl Palmer said it was the first time a drummer played nothing but back beat for recording, which he said he derived from a Dixieland “out chorus.” Domino also scats a pair of choruses in a distinctive wah-wah falsetto, creating a variation on the lead similar to a muted Dixieland trumpet.”

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with “The Fat Man.” It’s got a great vocalist, a great team of writers and producers. The band was made up of top session players, including the magnificent Earl Palmer on drums. And it came out of New Orleans, a city and source of music that – based on my reading, my pondering and my gut – was the second most important city in the development of rock ’n’ roll.

The advantages that “Rocket 88” has over all of that history come down to two: It was recorded in Memphis, the most important city in rock ’n’ roll history, and it was recorded/produced by Sam Phillips.

Like “The Fat Man,” “Rocket 88” has a groove, but while Domino’s record seems dance, Brenston’s record drives, pulling the band and the listeners down the highway.

Wikipedia says: “The song was based on the 1947 song ‘Cadillac Boogie’ by Jimmy Liggins. It was also preceded and influenced by Pete Johnson’s “Rocket 88 Boogie” Parts 1 and 2, an instrumental, originally recorded for the Los Angeles-based Swing Time Records label in 1949.”

Wikipedia continues: “Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, starting with a strongly stated back beat by drummer Willie Sims, and superimposing Brenston’s enthusiastic vocals, his own piano, and tenor saxophone solos by 17 year old Raymond Hill . . . . The song also features one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar, ever recorded, played by the band’s guitarist Willie Kizart.”

(Basing new songs on versions of earlier songs – a practice that could draw charges of plagiarism today – was an accepted practice among musicians in the folk, blues and rhythm & blues communities and traditions. Domino’s song, Wikipedia notes, “is a variation on the traditional New Orleans tune, ‘Junker’s Blues’ number by Drive’em Down, which also provided the melody for Lloyd Price’s ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and Professor Longhair’s ‘Tiptina.’” Two years later, with a faster beat and a few minor lyric changes, Big Mama Thornton released essentially the same song as Domino’s from a Los Angeles date for Peacock, singing, “Well, they call me Big Mama ’cause I weigh three-hundred pounds.”)

So what makes “The Fat Man” a good R&B song and what makes “Rocket 88” rock ’n’ roll? Well, one hesitates to pull the watch apart too much for fear of being left with a pile of gears, springs and little screws, but the Wikipedia quote above does identify the key ingredients of “Rocket 88”: Sims’ back beat, Brenston’s vocal, the solos and the fuzz guitar.

And then there’s Memphis and Sam Phillips, the owner and operator of the Memphis Recording Service, where “Rocket 88” was cut. I think, and I’m certainly not alone in this, that Memphis is the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll. Chicago, New York, Detroit, Cincinnati (home of King Records) and, yes, New Orleans (and probably several other cities I have not mentioned) were instrumental in the development of the music, but – as Robert Gordon titled his fascinating book about the city’s musical traditions – it came from Memphis.

And it came from Sam Phillips’ studio. Jimmy Guterman, in Runaway American Dream, his 2005 assessment of Bruce Springsteen’s recording career, calls Phillips “the single most important non-performing figure in rock’n’roll,” noting that it was Phillips who, “along with folks like Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Charlie Rich, invented the past 50 years of popular music.”

There are other acceptable answers to the question “What was the first rock ‘n’ roll record?” All of those answers have reasons behind them: the recording date and location, the session personnel, the lead performer and ultimately, the way the record sounds and the way it makes the listener feel. My answer, as I indicated above, rests on its creation in Memphis and on Sam Phillips’ role in its creation. Oh, and one more thing: “Rocket 88” just flat out rocks.

(And no, I don’t know why Bettie Page shows up in the video.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 15
“Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, Chess 1458 [1951]
“Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” by Gerry & the Pacemakers, Laurie 3284 [1965]
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond, Uni 55175 [1969]
“Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone, Epic 11035 [1974]
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood, Island 49656 [1981]
“A Long December” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites [1996]

In the box in which I keep the best of the four hundred or so 45s that I own, there resides a copy of Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey.” It belongs, actually, to my sister, who brought it home sometime during the early months of 1965, when the record was on its way to No. 6. I don’t think it was the first record she bought; I recall her buying bargain bags – ten 45s for a dollar – sometime earlier, but the thought tickles at me that “Ferry” might have been the first single she actively sought out when it was on the charts. I do remember her playing it for the first time on our old portable player, and I liked it at the time far more than I expected. Obviously, I still like it. And no, she can’t have it back.

The spookiness of “Holly Holy” grabbed hold of me late one evening in the fall of 1969 when I heard the record on – I assume – WJON shortly after I’d turned out the light to go to sleep. I wrote once before about hearing the song at dusk on a sliding hill, and that happened, but my first hearing was in the dark of my room. I found the song a little unsettling, what with the choir chanting – or seeming to – behind Diamond’s vocal, the percussion (tympani?), the swelling climax and the frequent use of what I now recognize as minor thirds. Nevertheless, I found the record appealing as well. I’m not sure about the unsettling part, but plenty of other folks found the record appealing, too, as it went to No. 6

The Redbone single is one of those I caught up to sometime after the fact. I was in Denmark when “Come And Get Your Love” entered the Top 40 and climbed to No. 5. By the time I got home in the latter portion of May, the record was in the last couple weeks of its eighteen-week stay in the Top 40, and its airplay was diminishing. I likely heard it during the last couple of weeks of spring and during the summer of 1974, but never enough to dig any further into Redbone or its music. That digging came later, during the vinyl-crazed years of the 1990s, probably after I found a Redbone LP at Cheapo’s and vaguely recalled the hit. With the possible exception of “The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” – a record that went to No. 21 in 1972 – nothing else in Redbone’s catalog approaches “Come And Get Your Love,” and it’s fun to hear it pop up every now and then surrounded by the other tunes in the Ultimate Jukebox.

Over all the years since I first dug into rock and pop and their relatives in the autumn of 1969, very few contemporary records have ever moved me to run off to the store in search of them. The last two of these six did just that. I was living in Monticello when Steve Winwood’s “While You See A Chance” started to get airplay on its way to No. 7 in early 1981. (It was also on its way to being Winwood’s first Top 40 hit, a fact that’s a little surprising in light of his long and celebrated career to that point.) Loving the synth-based intro and solos and the groove of the body of the song, my wife of the time and I invested a portion of a weekend in a shopping trip to one of the Twin Cities’ major malls. We picked up some other, more useful items – clothes, kitchen stuff and so on – but the highlight of the day for me was Winwood’s album Arc of a Diver, where the album track of “While You See A Chance” resided. (I believe the single was an edit, and I think that’s the audio on the linked YouTube video.) And twenty-nine years later, I still find the sound a little thrilling.

Another record that got me out into the shops was Counting Crows’ “A Long December,” which I heard on a Twin Cities’ radio station late in 1996, soon after Recovering the Satellites was released. (The track was never released as a single, if I read the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits correctly, but went to No. 6 on a chart based on airplay.) Seeking a vinyl copy of the album, I spent a good chunk of a Saturday morning making the rounds of four or five music stores near my home. I was discouraged and wandering the aisles of the last of the stores when another music lover came through the door and sold his copy of Recovering the Satellites. After the seller left, the clerk looked at me, eyebrows raised, and named a price. I paid it and went happily on my way. I still love the track, even after repeated listenings over the last thirteen-plus years, and I still marvel at one particular line: “The feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls.”