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A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
3 minutes | a month ago
Admin Note: Podcast Host Moved
Hi This is a brief admin podcast to explain why a new episode of the podcast won’t be up for a few days, why the podcast wasn’t available for a couple of days, and also why some of you might have seen all the old episodes turn up again in your podcast app. On Monday, i woke up to find that the Recording Industry Association of America had made a DMCA complaint against episode 112, the episode on “She Loves You”, claiming that it violated copyright law. Now, of course, the podcast does not violate copyright law — everything I do is within fair use rules for the US and fair dealing rules for the EU and UK — but the DMCA is a stupid law that says that as soon as a complaint is received the host company has to take down a file until a counterclaim is made. I’d expected this kind of thing to happen sooner or later — while I stay clearly within the bounds of copyright law, the RIAA is known for sending bogus takedown notices, and I have always been willing to reedit episodes as soon as a complaint was made, just to avoid hassle. It’s something I factored into my plans, as a tiny podcaster doing a music history podcast. So it would have been fair if podbean had taken down that single episode — and I did an edited version removing all the music clips, so it could be restored. But instead of taking down that one episode, they took down the entire podcast, and refused to put it back online even though I’d reedited the one episode complained about. They also refused to answer my emails, kept replying to my tweets on the subject and deleting the replies when other people pointed out the absurdity of what they were saying, and eventually became actively abusive. It took two days of social media pressure for them to reverse their decision and put the podcast back, but obviously I can’t keep using them. So I have migrated the podcast to wordpress.com . The feed has already migrated here, and over the next few days I’ll be sorting out the website and getting the domain redirected. WordPress, unlike most hosting companies, takes freedom of speech seriously, and rejects invalid DMCA claims — and when it does receive a valid one it only takes down the infringing file, not the entire site. Dealing with Podbean’s incompetence and buffoonery has taken two full days — the days I had planned to spend recording and editing the next podcast episode — and I am going to have to spend more time getting the new website into shape, because images and formatting from old posts have been lost in the import. I also have a family commitment this weekend, so I won’t be able to get the new episode recorded until Sunday night — hopefully it will be up on Monday or Tuesday, and then I’ll be back to a regular posting schedule, all else being well. Anyway, everything is pretty much sorted now, but I would advise that anyone who worries that their podcast might receive a bogus or malicious DMCA complaint use literally any podcast host in the world except Podbean, unless you really enjoy having your blood pressure raised to dangerously high levels. For the next couple of days things might look a little shoddy on the website and so on, until things are totally sorted, so bear with me. Thanks for listening.
40 minutes | a month ago
Episode 119: “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks
Episode one hundred and nineteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, and the song that first took distorted guitar to number one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “G.T.O.” by Ronny and the Daytonas. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As usual, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. I’ve used several resources for this and future episodes on the Kinks, most notably Ray Davies: A Complicated Life by Johnny Rogan and You Really Got Me by Nick Hasted. X-Ray by Ray Davies is a remarkable autobiography with a framing story set in a dystopian science-fiction future, while Kink by Dave Davies is more revealing but less well-written. The Anthology 1964-1971 is a great box set that covers the Kinks’ Pye years, which overlap almost exactly with their period of greatest creativity. For those who don’t want a full box set, this two-CD set covers all the big hits. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we’re going to look at a record that has often been called “the first heavy metal record”, one that introduced records dominated by heavy, distorted, guitar riffs to the top of the UK charts. We’re going to look at the first singles by a group who would become second only to the Beatles among British groups in terms of the creativity of their recordings during the sixties, but who were always sabotaged by a record label more interested in short-term chart success than in artist development. We’re going to look at the Kinks, and at “You Really Got Me”: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”] The story of the Kinks starts with two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, the seventh and eighth children of a family that had previously had six girls in a row, most of them much older — their oldest sister was twenty when Ray was born, and Dave was three years younger than Ray. The two brothers always had a difficult relationship, partly because of their diametrically opposed personalities. Ray was introverted, thoughtful, and notoriously selfish, while Dave was outgoing in the extreme, but also had an aggressive side to his nature. Ray, as someone who had previously been the youngest child and only boy, resented his younger brother coming along and taking the attention he saw as his by right, while Dave always looked up to his older brother but never really got to know him. Ray was always a quiet child, but he became more so after the event that was to alter the lives of the whole family in multiple ways forever. Rene, the second-oldest of his sisters, had been in an unhappy marriage and living in Canada with her husband, but moved back to the UK shortly before Ray’s thirteenth birthday. Ray had been unsuccessfully pestering his parents to buy him a guitar for nearly a year, since Elvis had started to become popular, and on the night before his birthday, Rene gave him one as his birthday present. She then went out to a dance hall. She did this even though she’d had rheumatic fever as a child, which had given her a heart condition. The doctors had advised her to avoid all forms of exercise, but she loved dancing too much to give it up for anyone. She died that night, aged only thirty-one, and the last time Ray ever saw his sister was when she was giving him his guitar. For the next year, Ray was even more introverted than normal, to the point that he ended up actually seeing a child psychologist, which for a working-class child in the 1950s was something that was as far from the normal experience as it’s possible to imagine. But even more than that, he became convinced that he was intended by fate to play the guitar. He started playing seriously, not just the pop songs of the time, though there were plenty of those, but also trying to emulate Chet Atkins. Pete Quaife would later recall that when they first played guitar together at school, while Quaife could do a passable imitation of Hank Marvin playing “Apache”, Davies could do a note-perfect rendition of Atkins’ version of “Malaguena”: [Excerpt: Chet Atkins, “Malaguena”] Ray’s newfound obsession with music also drew him closer to his younger brother, though there was something of a cynical motive in this closeness. Both boys got pocket money from their parents, but Dave looked up to his older brother and valued his opinion, so if Ray told him which were the good new records, Dave would go out and buy them — and then Ray could play them, and spend his own money on other things. And it wasn’t just pop music that the two of them were getting into, either. A defining moment of inspiration for both brothers came when a sixteen-minute documentary about Big Bill Broonzy’s tour of Belgium, Low Light and Blue Smoke, was shown on the TV: [Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, “When Did You Leave Heaven?”] Like Broonzy’s earlier appearances on Six-Five Special, that film had a big impact on a lot of British musicians — you’ll see clips from it both in the Beatles Anthology and in a 1980s South Bank Show documentary on Eric Clapton — but it particularly affected Ray Davies for two reasons. The first was that Ray, more than most people of his generation, respected the older generation’s taste in music, and his father approved of Broonzy, saying he sounded like a real man, not like those high-voiced girly-sounding pop singers. The other reason was that Broonzy’s performance sounded authentic to him. He said later that he thought that Broonzy sounded like him — even though Broonzy was Black and American, he sounded *working class* (and unlike many of his contemporaries, Ray Davies did have a working-class background, rather than being comparatively privileged like say John Lennon or Mick Jagger were). Soon Ray and Dave were playing together as a duo, while Ray was also performing with two other kids from school, Pete Quaife and John Start, as a trio. Ray brought them all together, and they became the Ray Davies Quartet — though sometimes, if Pete or Dave rather than Ray got them the booking, they would be the Pete Quaife Quartet or the Dave Davies Quartet. The group mostly performed instrumentals, with Dave particularly enjoying playing “No Trespassing” by the Ventures: [Excerpt: The Ventures, “No Trespassing”] Both Ray and Dave would sing sometimes, with Ray taking mellower, rockabilly, songs, while Dave would sing Little Richard and Lightnin’ Hopkins material, but at first they thought they needed a lead singer. They tried with a few different people, including another pupil from the school they all went to who sang with them at a couple of gigs, but John Start’s mother thought the young lad’s raspy voice was so awful she wouldn’t let them use her house to rehearse, and Ray didn’t like having another big ego in the group, so Rod Stewart soon went back to the Moontrekkers and left them with no lead singer. But that was far from the worst problem the Davies brothers had. When Dave was fifteen, he got his sixteen-year-old girlfriend Susan pregnant. The two were very much in love, and wanted to get married, but both children’s parents were horrified at the idea, and so each set of parents told their child that the other had dumped them and never wanted to see them again. Both believed what they were told, and Dave didn’t see his daughter for thirty years. The trauma of this separation permanently changed him, and you can find echoes of it throughout Dave’s songwriting in the sixties. Ray and Pete, after leaving school, went on to Hornsey Art School, where coincidentally Rod Stewart had also moved on to the year before, though Stewart had dropped out after a few weeks after discovering he was colour-blind. Quaife also dropped out of art school relatively soon after enrolling — he was kicked out for “Teddy Boy behaviour”, but his main problem was that he didn’t feel comfortable as a working-class lad mixing with Bohemian middle-class people. Ray, on the other hand, was in his element. While Ray grew up on a council estate and was thoroughly working-class, he had always had a tendency to want to climb the social ladder, and he was delighted to be surrounded by people who were interested in art and music, though his particular love at the time was the cinema, and he would regularly go to the college film society’s showings of films by people like Bergman, Kurosawa and Truffaut, or silent films by Eisenstein or Griffith, though he would complain about having to pay a whole shilling for entry. Davies also starred in some now-lost experimental films made by the person who ran the film society, and also started branching out into playing with other people. After a gig at the art college, where Alexis Korner had been supported by the young Rolling Stones, Davies went up to Korner and asked him for advice about moving on in the music world. Korner recommended he go and see Giorgio Gomelsky, the promoter and manager who had put on most of the Stones’ early gigs, and Gomelsky got Davies an audition with a group called the Dave Hunt Rhythm and Blues Band. Tom McGuinness had been offered a job with them before he went on to Manfred Mann, but McGuinness thought that the Dave Hunt band were too close to trad for his tastes. Davies, on the other hand, was perfectly happy playing trad along with the blues, and for a while it looked like the Ray Davies Quartet were over, as Ray was getting more prestigious gigs with the Dave Hunt group. Ray would later recall that the Dave Hunt band’s repertoire included things like the old Meade Lux Lewis boogie piece “Honky Tonk Train Blues”, which they would play in the style of Bob Crosby’s Bobcats: [Excerpt: Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, “Honky Tonk Train Blues”] But while the group were extremely good musicians — their soprano saxophone player, Lol Coxhill, would later become one of the most respected sax players in Britain and was a big part of the Canterbury Scene in the seventies — Ray eventually decided to throw his lot in with his brother. While Ray had been off learning from these jazz musicians, Dave, Pete, and John had continued rehearsing together, and occasionally performing whenever Ray was free to join them. The group had by now renamed themselves the Ramrods, after a track by Duane Eddy, who was the first rock and roll musician Ray and Dave had see live: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Ramrod”] Dave had become a far more accomplished guitarist, now outshining his brother, and was also getting more into the London R&B scene. Ray later remembered that the thing that swung it for him was when Dave played him a record by Cyril Davies, “Country Line Special”, which he thought of as a bridge between the kind of music he was playing with Dave Hunt and the kind of music he wanted to be playing, which he described as “Big Bill Broonzy with drums”: [Excerpt: Cyril Davies, “Country Line Special”] That was, coincidentally, the first recording to feature the piano player Nicky Hopkins, who would later play a big part in the music Ray, Dave, and Pete would make. But not John. Shortly after Ray got serious about the Ramrods — who soon changed their name again to the Boll Weevils — John Start decided it was time to grow up, get serious, give up the drums, and become a quantity surveyor. There were several factors in this decision, but a big one was that he simply didn’t like Ray Davies, who he viewed as an unpleasant, troubled, person. Start was soon replaced by another drummer, Mickey Willett, and it was Willett who provided the connection that would change everything for the group. Willett was an experienced musician, who had contacts in the business, and so when a rich dilettante wannabe pop star named Robert Wace and his best friend and “manager” Grenville Collins were looking for a backing band for Wace, one of Willett’s friends in the music business pointed them in the direction of the Boll Weevils. Robert Wace offered the Boll Weevils a deal — he could get them lucrative gigs playing at society functions for his rich friends, if they would allow him to do a couple of songs with them in the middle of the show. Wace even got Brian Epstein to come along and see a Boll Weevils rehearsal, but it wasn’t exactly a success — Mickey Willett had gone on holiday to Manchester that week, and the group were drummerless. Epstein said he was vaguely interested in signing Ray as a solo artist, but didn’t want the group, and nothing further came of it. This is particularly odd because at the time Ray wasn’t singing any solo leads. Robert Wace would sing his solo spot, Dave would take the lead vocals on most of the upbeat rockers, and Ray and Dave would sing unison leads on everything else. The group were soon favourites on the circuit of society balls, where their only real competition was Mike d’Abo’s band A Band of Angels — d’Abo had been to Harrow, and so was part of the upper class society in a way that the Boll Weevils weren’t. However, the first time they tried to play a gig in front of an audience that weren’t already friends of Wace, he was booed off stage. It became clear that there was no future for Robert Wace as a pop star, but there was a future for the Boll Weevils. They came to a deal — Wace and Collins would manage the group, Collins would put in half his wages from his job as a stockbroker, and Wace and Collins would get fifty percent of the group’s earnings. Wace and Collins funded the group recording a demo. They recorded two songs, the old Coasters song “I’m A Hog For You Baby”: [Excerpt: The Boll Weevils, “I’m A Hog For You Baby”] and a Merseybeat pastiche written by Dave Davies, “I Believed You”: [Excerpt: The Ravens, “I Believed You”] It shows how up in the air everything was that those tracks have since been released under two names — at some point around the time of the recording session, the Boll Weevils changed their name yet again, to The Ravens, naming themselves after the recent film, starring Vincent Price, based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem. This lineup of the Ravens wasn’t to last too long, though. Mickey Willett started to get suspicious about what was happening to all of the money, and became essentially the group’s self-appointed shop steward, getting into constant rows with the management. Willett soon found himself edged out of the group by Wace and Collins, and the Ravens continued with a temporary drummer until they could find a permanent replacement. Wace and Collins started to realise that neither of them knew much about the music business, though, and so they turned elsewhere for help with managing the group. The person they turned to was Larry Page. This is not the Larry Page who would later co-found Google, rather he was someone who had had a brief career as an attempt at producing a British teen idol under the name “Larry Page, the Teenage Rage” — a career that was somewhat sabotaged by his inability to sing, and by his producer’s insistence that it would be a good idea to record this, as the original was so bad it would never be a hit in the UK: [Excerpt: Larry Page, “That’ll be the Day”] After his career in music had come to an ignominious end, Page had briefly tried working in other fields, before going into management. He’d teamed up with Eddie Kassner, an Austrian songwriter who had written for Vera Lynn before going into publishing. Kassner had had the unbelievable fortune to buy the publishing rights for “Rock Around the Clock” for two hundred and fifty dollars, and had become incredibly rich, with offices in both London and New York. Page and Kassner had entered into a complicated business arrangement by which Kassner got a percentage of Page’s management income, Kassner would give Page’s acts songs, and any song Page’s acts wrote would be published by Kassner. Kassner and Page had a third partner in their complicated arrangements — independent producer Shel Talmy. Talmy had started out as an engineer in Los Angeles, and had come over to the UK for a few weeks in 1962 on holiday, and thought that while he was there he might as well see if he could get some work. Talmy was a good friend of Nik Venet, and Venet gave him a stack of acetates of recent Capitol records that he’d produced, and told him that he could pretend to have produced them if it got him work. Talmy took an acetate of “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys, and one of “Music in the Air” by Lou Rawls, into Dick Rowe’s office and told Rowe he had produced them. Sources differ over whether Rowe actually believed him, or if he just wanted anyone who had any experience of American recording studio techniques, but either way Rowe hired him to produce records for Decca as an independent contractor, and Talmy started producing hits like “Charmaine” by the Bachelors: [Excerpt: The Bachelors, “Charmaine”] Page, Kassner, Talmy, and Rowe all worked hand in glove with each other, with Page managing artists, Kassner publishing the songs they recorded, Talmy producing them and Rowe signing them to his record label. And so by contacting Page, Wace and Collins were getting in touch with a team that could pretty much guarantee the Ravens a record deal. They cut Page in on the management, signed Ray and Dave as songwriters for Kassner, and got Talmy to agree to produce the group. The only fly in the ointment was that Rowe, showing the same judgement he had shown over the Beatles, turned down the opportunity to sign the Ravens to Decca. They had already been turned down by EMI, and Phillips also turned them down, which meant that by default they ended up recording for Pye records, the same label as the Searchers. Around the time they signed to Pye, they also changed their name yet again, this time to the name that they would keep for the rest of their careers. In the wake of the Profumo sex scandal, and the rumours that went around as a result of it, including that a Cabinet minister had attended orgies as a slave with a sign round his neck saying to whip him if he displeased the guests, there started to be a public acknowledgement of the concept of BDSM, and “kinky” had become the buzzword of the day, with the fashionable boots worn by the leather-clad Honor Blackman in the TV show The Avengers being publicised as “kinky boots”. Blackman and her co-star Patrick MacNee even put out a novelty single, “Kinky Boots”, in February 1964: [Excerpt: Patrick MacNee and Honor Blackman, “Kinky Boots”] Page decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss, and that especially given the camp demeanour of both Dave Davies and Pete Quaife it would make sense to call the group “the Kinks”, as a name that would generate plenty of outrage but was still just about broadcastable. None of the group liked the name, but they all went along with it, and so Ray, Dave, and Pete were now The Kinks. The ever-increasing team of people around them increased by one more when a promoter and booking agent got involved. Arthur Howes was chosen to be in charge of the newly-named Kinks’ bookings primarily because he booked all the Beatles’ gigs, and Wade and Collins wanted as much of the Beatles’ reflected glory as they could get. Howes started booking the group in for major performances, and Ray finally quit art school — though he still didn’t think that he was going to have a huge amount of success as a pop star. He did, though, think that if he was lucky he could make enough money from six months of being a full time pop musician that he could move to Spain and take guitar lessons from Segovia. Pye had signed the Kinks to a three-single deal, and Arthur Howes was the one who suggested what became their first single. Howes was in Paris with the Beatles in January 1964, and he noticed that one of the songs that was getting the biggest reaction was their cover version of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”, and that they hadn’t yet recorded the song. He phoned Page from Paris, at enormous expense, and told him to get the Kinks into the studio and record the song straight away, because it was bound to be a hit for someone. The group worked up a version with Ray on lead, and recorded it three days later: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “Long Tall Sally”] Ray later recollected that someone at the studio had said to him “Congratulations, you just made a flop”, and they were correct — the Kinks’ version had none of the power of Little Richard’s original or of the Beatles’ version, and only scraped its way to number forty-two on the charts. As they had no permanent drummer, for that record, and for the next few they made, the Kinks were augmented by Bobby Graham, who had played for Joe Meek as one of Mike Berry and the Outlaws before becoming one of the two main on-call session drummers in the UK, along with fellow Meek alumnus Clem Cattini. Graham is now best known for having done all the drumming credited to Dave Clark on records by the Dave Clark Five such as “Bits and Pieces”: [Excerpt: The Dave Clark Five, “Bits and Pieces”] It’s also been reported by various people, notably Shel Talmy, that the session guitarist Jimmy Page played Ray Davies’ rhythm parts for him on most of the group’s early recordings, although other sources dispute that, including Ray himself who insists that he played the parts. What’s definitely not in doubt is that Dave Davies played all the lead guitar. However, the group needed a full-time drummer. Dave Davies wanted to get his friend Viv Prince, the drummer of the Pretty Things, into the group, but when Prince wasn’t available they turned instead to Mick Avory, who they found through an ad in the Melody Maker. Avory had actually been a member of the Rolling Stones for a very brief period, but had decided he didn’t want to be a full-time drummer, and had quit before they got Charlie Watts in. Avory was chosen by Ray and the management team, and Dave Davies took an instant dislike to him, partly because Ray liked Avory, but accepted that he was the best drummer available. Avory wouldn’t play on the next few records — Talmy liked to use musicians he knew, and Avory was a bit of an unknown quantity — but he was available for the group’s first big tour, playing on the bottom of the bill with the Dave Clark Five and the Hollies further up, and their first TV appearance, on Ready Steady Go. That tour saw the group getting a little bit of notice, but mostly being dismissed as being a clone of the Rolling Stones, because like the Stones they were relying on the same set of R&B standards that all the London R&B bands played, and the Stones were the most obvious point of reference for that kind of music for most people. Arthur Howes eventually sent someone up to work on the Kinks’ stage act with them, and to get them into a more showbiz shape, but the person in question didn’t get very far before Graham Nash of the Hollies ordered him to leave the Kinks alone, saying they were “OK as they are”. Meanwhile, Larry Page was working with both Ray and Dave as potential songwriters, and using their songs for other acts in the Page/Kassner/Talmy stable of artists. With Talmy producing, Shel Naylor recorded Dave’s “One Fine Day”, a song which its writer dismisses as a throwaway but is actually quite catchy: [Excerpt: Shel Naylor, “One Fine Day”] And Talmy also recorded a girl group called The Orchids, singing Ray’s “I’ve Got That Feeling”: [Excerpt: The Orchids, “I’ve Got That Feeling”] Page also co-wrote a couple of instrumentals with Ray, who was the brother who was more eager to learn the craft of songwriting — at this point, Dave seemed to find it something of a chore. Page saw it as his job at this point to teach the brothers how to write — he had a whole set of ideas about what made for a hit song, and chief among them was that it had to make a connection between the singer and the audience. He told the brothers that they needed to write songs with the words “I”, “Me”, and “You” in the title, and repeat those words as much as possible. This was something that Ray did on the song that became the group’s next single, “You Still Want Me”, a Merseybeat pastiche that didn’t even do as well as the group’s first record: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Still Want Me”] The group were now in trouble. They’d had two flop singles in a row, on a three-single contract. It seemed entirely likely that the label would drop them after the next single. Luckily for them, they had a song that they knew was a winner. Ray had come up with the basic melody for “You Really Got Me” many years earlier. The song had gone through many changes over the years, and had apparently started off as a jazz piano piece inspired by Gerry Mulligan’s performance in the classic documentary Jazz On A Summer’s Day: [Excerpt: Gerry Mulligan, “As Catch Can”] From there it had apparently mutated first into a Chet Atkins style guitar instrumental and then into a piece in the style of Mose Allison, the jazz and R&B singer who was a huge influence on the more Mod end of the British R&B scene with records like “Parchman Farm”: [Excerpt: Mose Allison, “Parchman Farm”] Through all of this, the basic melody had remained the same, as had the two chords that underpinned the whole thing. But the song’s final form was shaped to a large extent by the advice of Larry Page. As well as the “you” and “me” based lyrics, Page had also advised Ray that as he wasn’t a great singer at this point, what the group needed to do was to concentrate on riffs. In particular, he’d pointed Ray to “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, which had recently been released in the UK on Pye, the same label the Kinks were signed to, and told him to do something like that: [Excerpt: The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”] Ray was instantly inspired by “Louie Louie”, which the Kinks quickly added to their own set, and he retooled his old melody in its image, coming up with a riff to go under it. It seems also to have been Page who made one minor change to the lyric of the song. Where Ray had started the song with the line “Yeah, you really got me going,” Page suggested that instead he sing “Girl, you really got me going”, partly to increase that sense of connection with the audience again, partly to add a tiny bit of variety to the repetitive lyrics, but also partly because the group’s sexuality was already coming in for some question — Dave Davies is bisexual, and Ray has always been keen to play around with notions of gender and sexuality. Starting with the word “girl” might help reassure people about that somewhat. But the final touch that turned it into one of the great classics came from Dave, rather than Ray. Dave had been frustrated with the sound he was getting from his amplifier, and had slashed the cone with a knife. He then fed the sound from that slashed amp through his new, larger, amp, to get a distorted, fuzzy, sound which was almost unknown in Britain at the time. We’ve heard examples of fuzz guitar before in this series, of course — on “Rocket ’88”, and on some of the Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio records, and most recently last week on Ellie Greenwich’s demo of “Do-Wah-Diddy”, but those had been odd one-offs. Dave Davies’ reinvention of the sound seems to be the point where it becomes a standard part of the rock guitar toolbox — but it’s very rarely been done as well as it was on “You Really Got Me”: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”] But that introduction, and the classic record that followed, nearly never happened. The original recording of “You Really Got Me” has been lost, but it was apparently very different. Ray and Dave Davies have said that Shel Talmy overproduced it, turning it into a Phil Spector soundalike, and drenched the whole thing with echo. Talmy, for his part, says that that’s not the case — that the main difference was that the song was taken much slower, and that it was a very different but equally valid take on the song. Ray, in particular, was devastated by the result, and didn’t want it released. Pye were insistent — they had a contract, and they were going to put this record out whatever the performers said. But luckily the group’s management had faith in their singer’s vision. Larry Page insisted that as he and Kassner owned the publishing, the record couldn’t come out in the state it was in, and Robert Wace paid for a new recording session out of his own pocket. The group, plus Bobby Graham, piano player Arthur Greenslade, and Talmy, went back into the studio. The first take of the new session was a dud, and Ray worried that Talmy would end the session then and there, but he allowed them to do a second take. And that second take was extraordinary. Going into the solo, Ray yelled “Oh no!” with excitement, looking over at Dave, and became convinced that he’d distracted Dave at the crucial moment. Instead, he delivered one of the defining solos of the rock genre: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”] “You Really Got Me” was released on the fourth of August 1964, and became a smash hit, reaching number one in September. It was also released in the US, and made the top ten over there. The Kinks were suddenly huge, and Pye Records quickly exercised their option — so quickly, that the group needed to get an album recorded by the end of August. The resulting album is, as one might expect, a patchy affair, made up mostly of poor R&B covers, but there were some interesting moments, and one song from the album in particular, “Stop Your Sobbing”, showed a giant leap forward in Ray’s songwriting: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “Stop Your Sobbing”] There may be a reason for that. “Stop Your Sobbing” features backing vocals by someone new to the Kinks’ circle, Ray’s new girlfriend Rasa Didzpetris, who would become a regular feature on the group’s records for the next decade. And when we next look at the Kinks, we’ll see some of the influence she had on the group.
49 minutes | a month ago
Episode 118: “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” by Manfred Mann
Episode 118 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” by Manfred Mann, and how a jazz group with a blues singer had one of the biggest bubblegum pop hits of the sixties. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a thirteen-minute bonus episode available, on “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources No Mixcloud this week due to the number of tracks by Manfred Mann. Information on the group comes from Mannerisms: The Five Phases of Manfred Mann, by Greg Russo, and from the liner notes of this eleven-CD box set of the group’s work. For a much cheaper collection of the group’s hits — but without the jazz, blues, and baroque pop elements that made them more interesting than the average sixties singles band — this has all the hit singles. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript: So far, when we’ve looked at the British blues and R&B scene, we’ve concentrated on the bands who were influenced by Chicago blues, and who kept to a straightforward guitar/bass/drums lineup. But there was another, related, branch of the blues scene in Britain that was more musically sophisticated, and which while its practitioners certainly enjoyed playing songs by Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, was also rooted in the jazz of people like Mose Allison. Today we’re going to look at one of those bands, and at the intersection of jazz and the British R&B scene, and how a jazz band with a flute player and a vibraphonist briefly became bubblegum pop idols. We’re going to look at “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”] Manfred Mann is, annoyingly when writing about the group, the name of both a band and of one of its members. Manfred Mann the human being, as opposed to Manfred Mann the group, was born Manfred Lubowitz in South Africa, and while he was from a wealthy family, he was very opposed to the vicious South African system of apartheid, and considered himself strongly anti-racist. He was also a lover of jazz music, especially some of the most progressive music being made at the time — musicians like Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and John Coltrane — and he soon became a very competent jazz pianist, playing with musicians like Hugh Masakela at a time when that kind of fraternisation between people of different races was very much frowned upon in South Africa. Manfred desperately wanted to get out of South Africa, and he took his chance in June 1961, at the last point at which he was a Commonwealth citizen. The Commonwealth, for those who don’t know, is a political association of countries that were originally parts of the British Empire, and basically replaced the British Empire when the former colonies gained their independence. These days, the Commonwealth is of mostly symbolic importance, but in the fifties and sixties, as the Empire was breaking up, it was considered a real power in its own right, and in particular, until some changes to immigration law in the mid sixties, Commonwealth citizens had the right to move to the UK. At that point, South Africa had just voted to become a republic, and there was a rule in the Commonwealth that countries with a head of state other than the Queen could only remain in the Commonwealth with the unanimous agreement of all the other members. And several of the other member states, unsurprisingly, objected to the continued membership of a country whose entire system of government was based on the most virulent racism imaginable. So, as soon as South Africa became a republic, it lost its Commonwealth membership, and that meant that its citizens lost their automatic right to emigrate to the UK. But they were given a year’s grace period, and so Manfred took that chance and moved over to England, where he started playing jazz keyboards, giving piano lessons, and making some money on the side by writing record reviews. For those reviews, rather than credit himself as Manfred Lubowitz, he decided to use a pseudonym taken from the jazz drummer Shelly Manne, and he became Manfred Manne — spelled with a silent e on the end, which he later dropped. Mann was rather desperate for gigs, and he ended up taking a job playing with a band at a Butlin’s holiday camp. Graham Bond, who we’ve seen in several previous episodes as the leader of The Graham Bond Organisation, was at that time playing Hammond organ there, but only wanted to play a few days a week. Mann became the substitute keyboard player for that holiday camp band, and struck up a good musical rapport with the drummer and vibraphone player, Mike Hugg. When Bond went off to form his own band, Mann and Hugg decided to form their own band along the same lines, mixing the modern jazz that they liked with the more commercial R&B that Bond was playing. They named their group the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, and it initially consisted of Mann on keyboards, Hugg on drums and vibraphone, Mike Vickers on guitar, flute, and saxophone, Dave Richmond on bass, Tony Roberts and Don Fay on saxophone and Ian Fenby on trumpet. As their experiences were far more in the jazz field than in blues, they decided that they needed to get in a singer who was more familiar with the blues side of things. The person they chose was a singer who was originally named Paul Pond, and who had been friends for a long time with Brian Jones, before Jones had formed the Rolling Stones. While Jones had been performing under the name Elmo Lewis, his friend had taken on Jones’ surname, as he thought “Paul Pond” didn’t sound like a good name for a singer. He’d first kept his initials, and performed as P.P. Jones, but then he’d presumably realised that “pee-pee” is probably not the best stage name in the world, and so he’d become just Paul Jones, the name by which he’s known to this day. Jones, like his friend Brian, was a fan particularly of Chicago blues, and he had occasionally appeared with Alexis Korner. After auditioning for the group at a ska club called The Roaring 20s, Jones became the group’s lead singer and harmonica player, and the group soon moved in Jones’ musical direction, playing the kind of Chicago blues that was popular at the Marquee club, where they soon got a residency, rather than the soul style that was more popular at the nearby Flamingo club, and which would be more expected from a horn-centric lineup. Unsurprisingly, given this, the horn players soon left, and the group became a five-piece core of Jones, Mann, Hugg, Vickers, and Richmond. This group was signed to HMV records by John Burgess. Burgess was a producer who specialised in music of a very different style from what the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers played. We’ve already heard some of his production work — he was the producer for Adam Faith from “What Do You Want?” on: [Excerpt: Adam Faith, “What Do You Want?”] And at the time he signed the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, he was just starting to work with a new group, Freddie and the Dreamers, for whom he would produce several hits: [Excerpt: Freddie and the Dreamers, “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody”] Burgess liked the group, but he insisted that they had to change their name — and in fact, he insisted that the group change their name to Manfred Mann. None of the group members liked the idea — even Mann himself thought that this seemed a little unreasonable, and Paul Jones in particular disagreed strongly with the idea, but they were all eventually mollified by the idea that all the publicity would emphasise that all five of them were equal members of the group, and that while the group might be named after their keyboard player, there were five members. The group members themselves always referred to themselves as “the Manfreds” rather than as Manfred Mann. The group’s first single showed that despite having become a blues band and then getting produced by a pop producer, they were still at heart a jazz group. “Why Should We Not?” is an instrumental led by Vickers’ saxophone, Mann’s organ, and Jones’ harmonica: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Why Should We Not?”] Unsurprisingly, neither that nor the B-side, a jazz instrumental version of “Frere Jacques”, charted — Britain in 1963 wanted Gerry and the Pacemakers and Freddie and the Dreamers, not jazz instrumentals. The next single, an R&B song called “Cock-A-Hoop” written by Jones, did little better. The group’s big breakthrough came from Ready, Steady, Go!, which at this point was using “Wipe Out!” by the Surfaris as its theme song: [Excerpt: The Surfaris, “Wipe Out”] We’ve mentioned Ready, Steady, Go! in passing in previous episodes, but it was the most important pop music show of the early and mid sixties, just as Oh Boy! had been for the late fifties. Ready, Steady, Go! was, in principle at least, a general pop music programme, but in practice it catered primarily for the emerging mod subculture. “Mod” stood for “modernist”, and the mods emerged from the group of people who liked modern jazz rather than trad, but by this point their primary musical interests were in soul and R&B. Mod was a working-class subculture, based in the South-East of England, especially London, and spurred on by the newfound comparative affluence of the early sixties, when for the first time young working-class people, while still living in poverty, had a small amount of disposable income to spend on clothes, music, and drugs. The Mods had a very particular sense of style, based around sharp Italian suits, pop art and op art, and Black American music or white British imitations of it. For them, music was functional, and primarily existed for the purposes of dancing, and many of them would take large amounts of amphetamines so they could spend the entire weekend at clubs dancing to soul and R&B music. And that entire weekend would kick off on Friday with Ready, Steady, Go!, whose catchphrase was “the weekend starts here!” Ready, Steady, Go! featured almost every important pop act of the early sixties, but while groups like Gerry and the Pacemakers or the Beatles would appear on it, it became known for its promotion of Black artists, and it was the first major British TV exposure for Motown artists like the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Marvelettes, for Stax artists like Otis Redding, and for blues artists like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Ready Steady Go! was also the primary TV exposure for British groups who were inspired by those artists, and it’s through Ready Steady Go! that the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Them, and the Who, among others reached national popularity — all of them acts that were popular among the Mods in particular. But “Wipe Out” didn’t really fit with this kind of music, and so the producers of Ready Steady Go were looking for something more suitable for their theme music. They’d already tried commissioning the Animals to record something, as we saw a couple of weeks back, but that hadn’t worked out, and instead they turned to Manfred Mann, who came up with a song that not only perfectly fit the style of the show, but also handily promoted the group themselves: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “5-4-3-2-1”] That was taken on as Ready, Steady, Go!s theme song, and made the top five in the UK. But by the time it charted, the group had already changed lineup. Dave Richmond was seen by the other members of the group as a problem at this point. Richmond was a great bass player, but he was a great *jazz* bass player — he wanted to be Charles Mingus, and play strange cross-rhythms, and what the group needed at this point was someone who would just play straightforward blues basslines without complaint — they needed someone closer to Willie Dixon than to Mingus. Tom McGuinness, who replaced him, had already had a rather unusual career trajectory. He’d started out as a satirist, writing for the magazine Private Eye and the TV series That Was The Week That Was, one of the most important British comedy shows of the sixties, but he had really wanted to be a blues musician instead. He’d formed a blues band, The Roosters, with a guitarist who went to art school with his girlfriend, and they’d played a few gigs around London before the duo had been poached by the minor Merseybeat band Casey Jones and his Engineers, a group which had been formed by Brian Casser, formerly of Cass & The Cassanovas, the group that had become The Big Three. Casey Jones and his Engineers had just released the single “One Way Ticket”: [Excerpt: Casey Jones and His Engineers, “One-Way Ticket”] However, the two guitarists soon realised, after just a handful of gigs, that they weren’t right for that group, and quit. McGuinness’ friend, Eric Clapton, went on to join the Yardbirds, and we’ll be hearing more about him in a few weeks’ time, but McGuinness was at a loose end, until he discovered that Manfred Mann were looking for a bass player. McGuinness was a guitarist, but bluffed to Paul Jones that he’d switched to bass, and got the job. He said later that the only question he’d been asked when interviewed by the group was “are you willing to play simple parts?” — as he’d never played bass in his life until the day of his first gig with the group, he was more than happy to say yes to that. McGuinness joined only days after the recording of “5-4-3-2-1”, and Richmond was out — though he would have a successful career as a session bass player, playing on, among others, “Je t’Aime” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, “Your Song” by Elton John, Labi Siffre’s “It Must Be Love”, and the music for the long-running sitcoms Only Fools and Horses and Last of the Summer Wine. As soon as McGuinness joined, the group set out on tour, to promote their new hit, but also to act as the backing group for the Crystals, on a tour which also featured Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and Joe Brown and his Bruvvers. The group’s next single, “Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble” was another original, and made number eleven on the charts, but the group saw it as a failure anyway, to the extent that they tried their best to forget it ever existed. In researching this episode I got an eleven-CD box set of the group’s work, which contains every studio album or compilation they released in the sixties, a collection of their EPs, and a collection of their BBC sessions. In all eleven CDs, “Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble” doesn’t appear at all. Which is quite odd, as it’s a perfectly serviceable, if unexceptional, piece of pop R&B: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble”] But it’s not just the group that were unimpressed with the record. John Burgess thought that the record only getting to number eleven was proof of his hypothesis that groups should not put out their own songs as singles. From this point on, with one exception in 1968, everything they released as an A-side would be a cover version or a song brought to them by a professional songwriter. This worried Jones, who didn’t want to be forced to start singing songs he disliked, which he saw as a very likely outcome of this edict. So he made it his role in the group to seek out records that the group could cover, which would be commercial enough that they could get hit singles from them, but which would be something he could sing while keeping his self-respect. His very first selection certainly met the first criterion. The song which would become their biggest hit had very little to do with the R&B or jazz which had inspired the group. Instead, it was a perfect piece of Brill Building pop. The Exciters, who originally recorded it, were one of the great girl groups of the early sixties (though they also had one male member), and had already had quite an influence on pop music. They had been discovered by Leiber and Stoller, who had signed them to Red Bird Records, a label we’ll be looking at in much more detail in an upcoming episode, and they’d had a hit in 1962 with a Bert Berns song, “Tell Him”, which made the top five: [Excerpt: The Exciters, “Tell Him”] That record had so excited a young British folk singer who was in the US at the time to record an album with her group The Springfields that she completely reworked her entire style, went solo, and kickstarted a solo career singing pop-soul songs under the name Dusty Springfield. The Exciters never had another top forty hit, but they became popular enough among British music lovers that the Beatles asked them to open for them on their American tour in summer 1964. Most of the Exciters’ records were of songs written by the more R&B end of the Brill Building songwriters — they would record several more Bert Berns songs, and some by Ritchie Barrett, but the song that would become their most well-known legacy was actually written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Like many of Barry and Greenwich’s songs, it was based around a nonsense phrase, but in this case the phrase they used had something of a longer history, though it’s not apparent whether they fully realised that. In African-American folklore of the early twentieth century, the imaginary town of Diddy Wah Diddy was something like a synonym for heaven, or for the Big Rock Candy Mountain of the folk song — a place where people didn’t have to work, and where food was free everywhere. This place had been sung about in many songs, like Blind Blake’s “Diddie Wah Diddie”: [Excerpt: Blind Blake, “Diddie Wah Diddie”] And a song written by Willie Dixon for Bo Diddley: [Excerpt: Bo Diddley, “Diddy Wah Diddy”] And “Diddy” and “Wah” had often been used by other Black artists, in various contexts, like Roy Brown and Dave Bartholomew’s “Diddy-Y-Diddy-O”: [Excerpt: Roy Brown and Dave Bartholomew, “Diddy-Y-Diddy-O”] And Junior and Marie’s “Boom Diddy Wah Wah”, a “Ko Ko Mo” knockoff produced by Johnny Otis: [Excerpt: Junior and Marie, “Boom Diddy Wah Wah”] So when Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote “Do-Wah-Diddy”, as the song was originally called, they were, wittingly or not, tapping into a rich history of rhythm and blues music. But the song as Greenwich demoed it was one of the first examples of what would become known as “bubblegum pop”, and is particularly notable in her demo for its very early use of the fuzz guitar that would be a stylistic hallmark of that subgenre: [Excerpt: Ellie Greenwich, “Do-Wah-Diddy (demo)”] The Exciters’ version of the song took it into more conventional girl-group territory, with a strong soulful vocal, but with the group’s backing vocal call-and-response chant showing up the song’s resemblance to the kind of schoolyard chanting games which were, of course, the basis of the very first girl group records: [Excerpt: The Exciters, “Do-Wah-Diddy”] Sadly, that record only reached number seventy-eight on the charts, and the Exciters would have no more hits in the US, though a later lineup of the group would make the UK top forty in 1975 with a song written and produced by the Northern Soul DJ Ian Levine. But in 1964 Jones had picked up on “Do-Wah-Diddy”, and knew it was a potential hit. Most of the group weren’t very keen on “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, as the song was renamed. There are relatively few interviews with any of them about it, but from what I can gather the only member of the band who thought anything much of the song was Paul Jones. However, the group did their best with the recording, and were particularly impressed with Manfred’s Hammond organ solo — which they later discovered was cut out of the finished recording by Burgess. The result was an organ-driven stomping pop song which had more in common with the Dave Clark Five than with anything else the group were doing: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”] The record reached number one in both the UK and the US, and the group immediately went on an American tour, packaged with Peter & Gordon, a British duo who were having some success at the time because Peter Asher’s sister was dating Paul McCartney, who’d given them a hit song, “World Without Love”: [Excerpt: Peter and Gordon, “World Without Love”] The group found the experience of touring the US a thoroughly miserable one, and decided that they weren’t going to bother going back again, so while they would continue to have big hits in Britain for the rest of the decade, they only had a few minor successes in the States. After the success of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, EMI rushed out an album by the group, The Five Faces of Manfred Mann, which must have caused some confusion for anyone buying it in the hope of more “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” style pop songs. Half the album’s fourteen tracks were covers of blues and R&B, mostly by Chess artists — there were covers of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Ike & Tina Turner, and more. There were also five originals, written or co-written by Jones, in the same style as those songs, plus a couple of instrumentals, one written by the group and one a cover of Cannonball Adderly’s jazz classic “Sack O’Woe”, arranged to show off the group’s skills at harmonica, saxophone, piano and vibraphone: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Sack O’Woe”] However, the group realised that the formula they’d hit on with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” was a useful one, and so for their next single they once again covered a girl-group track with a nonsense-word chorus and title — their version of “Sha La La” by the Shirelles took them to number three on the UK charts, and number twelve in the US. They followed that with a ballad, “Come Tomorrow”, one of the few secular songs ever recorded by Marie Knight, the gospel singer who we discussed briefly way back in episode five, who was Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s duet partner, and quite possibly her partner in other senses. They released several more singles and were consistently charting, to the point that they actually managed to get a top ten hit with a self-written song despite their own material not being considered worth putting out as singles. Paul Jones had written “The One in the Middle” for his friends the Yardbirds, but when they turned it down, he rewrote the song to be about Manfred Mann, and especially about himself: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “The One in the Middle”] Like much of their material, that was released on an EP, and the EP was so successful that as well as making number one on the EP charts, it also made number ten on the regular charts, with “The One in the Middle” as the lead-off track. But “The One in the Middle” was a clue to something else as well — Jones was getting increasingly annoyed at the fact that the records the group was making were hits, and he was the frontman, the lead singer, the person picking the cover versions, and the writer of much of the original material, but all the records were getting credited to the group’s keyboard player. But Jones wasn’t the next member of the group to leave. That was Mike Vickers, who went off to work in arranging film music and session work, including some work for the Beatles, the music for the film Dracula AD 1972, and the opening and closing themes for This Week in Baseball. The last single the group released while Vickers was a member was the aptly-titled “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”. Mann had heard Bob Dylan performing that song live, and had realised that the song had never been released. He’d contacted Dylan’s publishers, got hold of a demo, and the group became the first to release a version of the song, making number two in the charts: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”] Before Vickers’ departure, the group had recorded their second album, Mann Made, and that had been even more eclectic than the first album, combining versions of blues classics like “Stormy Monday Blues”, Motown songs like “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, country covers like “You Don’t Know Me”, and oddities like “Bare Hugg”, an original jazz instrumental for flute and vibraphone: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Bare Hugg”] McGuinness took the opportunity of Vickers leaving the group to switch from bass back to playing guitar, which had always been his preferred instrument. To fill in the gap, on Graham Bond’s recommendation they hired away Jack Bruce, who had just been playing in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with McGuinness’ old friend Eric Clapton, and it’s Bruce who played bass on the group’s next big hit, “Pretty Flamingo”, the only UK number one that Bruce ever played on: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Pretty Flamingo”] Bruce stayed with the band for several months, before going off to play in another band who we’ll be covering in a future episode. He was replaced in turn by Klaus Voorman. Voorman was an old friend of the Beatles from their Hamburg days, who had been taught the rudiments of bass by Stuart Sutcliffe, and had formed a trio, Paddy, Klaus, and Gibson, with two Merseybeat musicians, Paddy Chambers of the Big Three and Gibson Kemp of Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes: [Excerpt: Paddy, Klaus, and Gibson, “No Good Without You Baby”] Like Vickers, Voorman could play the flute, and his flute playing would become a regular part of the group’s later singles. These lineup changes didn’t affect the group as either a chart act or as an act who were playing a huge variety of different styles of music. While the singles were uniformly catchy pop, on album tracks, B-sides or EPs you’d be likely to find versions of folk songs collected by Alan Lomax, like “John Hardy”, or things like “Driva Man”, a blues song about slavery in 5/4 time, originally by the jazz greats Oscar Brown and Max Roach: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Driva Man”] But by the time that track was released, Paul Jones was out of the group. He actually announced his intention to quit the group at the same time that Mike Vickers left, but the group had persuaded him to stay on for almost a year while they looked for his replacement, auditioning singers like Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry with little success. They eventually decided on Mike d’Abo, who had previously been the lead singer of a group called A Band of Angels: [Excerpt: A Band of Angels, “(Accept My) Invitation”] By the point d’Abo joined, relations between the rest of the group and Jones were so poor that they didn’t tell Jones that they were thinking of d’Abo — Jones would later recollect that the group decided to stop at a pub on the way to a gig, ostensibly to watch themselves on TV, but actually to watch A Band of Angels on the same show, without explaining to Jones that that was what they were doing – Jones actually mentioned d’Abo to his bandmates as a possible replacement, not realising he was already in the group. Mann has talked about how on the group’s last show with Jones, they drove to the gig in silence, and their first single with the new singer, a version of Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”, came on the radio. There was a lot of discomfort in the band at this time, because their record label had decided to stick with Jones as a solo performer, and the rest of the group had had to find another label, and were worried that without Jones their career was over. Luckily for everyone involved, “Just Like a Woman” made the top ten, and the group’s career was able to continue. Meanwhile, Jones’ first single as a solo artist made the top five: [Excerpt: Paul Jones, “High Time”] But after that and his follow-up, “I’ve Been a Bad, Bad, Boy”, which made number five, the best he could do was to barely scrape the top forty. Manfred Mann, on the other hand, continued having hits, though there was a constant struggle to find new material. d’Abo was himself a songwriter, and it shows the limitations of the “no A-sides by group members” rule that while d’Abo was the lead singer of Manfred Mann, he wrote two hit singles which the group never recorded. The first, “Handbags and Gladrags”, was a hit for Chris Farlowe: [Excerpt: Chris Farlowe, “Handbags and Gladrags”] That was only a minor hit, but was later recorded successfully by Rod Stewart, with d’Abo arranging, and the Stereophonics. d’Abo also co-wrote, and played piano on, “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundations: [Excerpt: The Foundations, “Build Me Up Buttercup”] But the group continued releasing singles written by other people. Their second post-Jones single, from the perspective of a spurned lover insulting their ex’s new fiancee, had to have its title changed from what the writers intended, as the group felt that a song insulting “semi-detached suburban Mr. Jones” might be taken the wrong way. Lightly retitled, “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James” made number two, while the follow-up, “Ha Ha! Said the Clown”, made number four. The two singles after that did significantly less well, though, and seemed to be quite bizarre choices — an instrumental Hammond organ version of Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea”, which made number thirty-six, and a version of Randy Newman’s bitterly cynical “So Long, Dad”, which didn’t make the charts at all. After this lack of success, the group decided to go back to what had worked for them before. They’d already had two hits with Dylan songs, and Mann had got hold of a copy of Dylan’s Basement Tapes, a bootleg which we’ll be talking about later. He picked up on one song from it, and got permission to release “The Mighty Quinn”, which became the group’s third number one: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “The Mighty Quinn”] The album from which that came, Mighty Garvey, is the closest thing the group came to an actual great album. While the group’s earlier albums were mostly blues covers, this was mostly made up of original material by either Hugg or d’Abo, in a pastoral baroque pop style that invites comparisons to the Kinks or the Zombies’ material of that period, but with a self-mocking comedy edge in several songs that was closer to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Probably the highlight of the album was the mellotron-driven “It’s So Easy Falling”: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “It’s So Easy Falling”] But Mighty Garvey didn’t chart, and it was the last gasp of the group as a creative entity. They had three more top-ten hits, all of them good examples of their type, but by January 1969, Tom McGuinness was interviewed saying “It’s not a group any more. It’s just five people who come together to make hit singles. That’s the only aim of the group at the moment — to make hit singles — it’s the only reason the group exists. Commercial success is very important to the group. It gives us financial freedom to do the things we want.” The group split up in 1969, and went their separate ways. d’Abo appeared on the original Jesus Christ Superstar album, and then went into writing advertising jingles, most famously writing “a finger of fudge is just enough” for Cadbury’s. McGuinness formed McGuinness Flint, with the songwriters Gallagher and Lyle, and had a big hit with “When I’m Dead and Gone”: [Excerpt: McGuinness Flint, “When I’m Dead and Gone”] He later teamed up again with Paul Jones, to form a blues band imaginatively named “the Blues Band”, who continue performing to this day: [Excerpt: The Blues Band, “Mean Ol’ Frisco”] Jones became a born-again Christian in the eighties, and also starred in a children’s TV show, Uncle Jack, and presented the BBC Radio 2 Blues Programme for thirty-two years. Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg formed another group, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, who released two albums before splitting. Hugg went on from that to write for TV and films, most notably writing the theme music to “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?”: [Excerpt: Highly Likely, “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?”] Mann went on to form Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, who had a number of hits, the biggest of which was the Bruce Springsteen song “Blinded by the Light”: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded by the Light”] Almost uniquely for a band from the early sixties, all the members of the classic lineup of Manfred Mann are still alive. Manfred Mann continues to perform with various lineups of his Earth Band. Hugg, Jones, McGuinness, and d’Abo reunited as The Manfreds in the 1990s, with Vickers also in the band until 1999, and continue to tour together — I still have a ticket to see them which was originally for a show in April 2020, but has just been rescheduled to 2022. McGuinness and Jones also still tour with the Blues Band. And Mike Vickers now spends his time creating experimental animations. Manfred Mann were a band with too many musical interests to have a coherent image, and their reliance on outside songwriters and their frequent lineup changes meant that they never had the consistent sound of many of their contemporaries. But partly because of this, they created a catalogue that rewards exploration in a way that several more well-regarded bands’ work doesn’t, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a major critical reassessment of them at some point. But whether that happens or not, almost sixty years on people around the world still respond instantly to the opening bars of their biggest hit, and “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” remains one of the most fondly remembered singles of the early sixties.
36 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 117: “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys
Episode one hundred and seventeen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys, and how the years 1963 and 1964 saw a radical evolution in the sound and subject matter of the Beach Boys’ work. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “You’re No Good” by the Swinging Blue Jeans. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- ERRATA: I say that the Surfin’ USA album was released only four months after Surfin’ Safari. It was actually over five months. Also, for some reason I pronounce Nik Venet’s name as if he were French here. I believe that’s incorrect and his name is actually pronounced “Vennit”, though I’m not 100% sure. More importantly, I say that “Sweet Little Sixteen” wasn’t a big hit, when of course it made number two on the charts. Resources There is no Mixcloud this week, because there were too many Beach Boys songs in the episode. I used many resources for this episode, most of which will be used in future Beach Boys episodes too. It’s difficult to enumerate everything here, because I have been an active member of the Beach Boys fan community for twenty-four years, and have at times just used my accumulated knowledge for this. But the resources I list here are ones I’ve checked for specific things. Becoming the Beach Boys by James B. Murphy is an in-depth look at the group’s early years, up to the end of 1963. Stephen McParland has published many, many books on the California surf and hot-rod music scenes, including several on both the Beach Boys and Gary Usher. His books can be found at https://payhip.com/CMusicBooks Andrew Doe’s Bellagio 10452 site is an invaluable resource. Jon Stebbins’ The Beach Boys FAQ is a good balance between accuracy and readability. Stebbins also co-wrote The Lost Beach Boy, David Marks’ autobiography. And Philip Lambert’s Inside the Music of Brian Wilson is an excellent, though sadly out of print, musicological analysis of Wilson’s music from 1962 through 67. The Beach Boys’ Morgan recordings and all the outtakes from them can be found on this 2-CD set. As a good starting point for the Beach Boys’ music, I would recommend this budget-priced three-CD set, which has a surprisingly good selection of their material on it. Transcript Today, we’re going to take our second look at the Beach Boys, and we’re going to look at their evolution through 1963 and 1964, as they responded to the threat from the Beatles by turning to ever more sophisticated music, even as they went through a variety of personal crises. We’re going to look at a period in which they released four albums a year, had three lineup changes, and saw their first number one – and at a song which, despite being a B-side, regularly makes lists of the best singles of all time. We’re going to look at “Don’t Worry Baby”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Don’t Worry Baby”] When we left the Beach Boys, they had just secured a contract with Capitol Records, and released their first national hit, “Surfin’ Safari” backed with “409”. Since then we’ve also seen Brian Wilson working with several songwriting collaborators to write hits for Jan and Dean. But now we need to double back and look at what Brian was doing with his main band in that time. After “Surfin’ Safari” was a hit, in one of the many incomprehensible decisions made in the Beach Boys’ career, Capitol decided to follow it up with an album track that Brian and Gary Usher had written, “Ten Little Indians”. That track, a surf-rock version of the nursery rhyme with the group chanting “Kemo sabe” in the backing vocals, made only number forty-nine on the charts, and frankly didn’t deserve to do even that well. Some have suggested, in fact that the record was released at the instigation of Murry Wilson, who was both Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson’s father and the group’s manager, as a way of weakening Usher’s influence with the group, as Murry didn’t want outsiders interfering in what he saw as a family business. After realising the folly of deviating from the formula, the group’s next single followed the same pattern as their first hit. The B-side was “Shut Down”, a car song co-written by Brian and Roger Christian, who you may remember from the episode on “Surf City” as having been brought in to help Brian with car lyrics. “Shut Down” is most notable for being one of the very small number of Beach Boys records to feature an instrumental contribution from Mike Love, the group’s lead singer. His two-note saxophone solo comes in for some mockery from the group’s fans, but actually fits the record extremely well: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Shut Down”] “Shut Down” was a top thirty hit, but it was the A-side that was the really big hit. Just as their first hit had had a surf song on the A-side and a car song on the B-side, so did this single. Brian Wilson had been inspired by Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”, and in particular the opening verse, which had just listed a lot of places: [Excerpt: Chuck Berry, “Sweet Little Sixteen”] He might well also have been thinking of Chubby Checker’s minor hit, “Twistin’ USA”, which listed places in America where people might be twisting: [Excerpt: Chubby Checker, “Twistin’ USA”] Brian had taken Berry’s melody and the place-name recitation, and with the help of his girlfriend’s brother, and some input from Mike Love, had turned it into a song listing all the places that people could be surfing — at least, they could “if everybody had an ocean”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ USA”] “Surfin’ USA” became a huge hit, reaching number two on the charts, and later being named by Billboard as the biggest hit of 1963, but unfortunately for Brian that didn’t result in a financial windfall for him as the songwriter. As the song was so close to “Sweet Little Sixteen”, Chuck Berry got the sole songwriting credit — one of the only times in rock music history where a white artist has ripped off a Black one and the Black artist has actually benefited from it. And Berry definitely did benefit — “Sweet Little Sixteen”, while a great record, had never been a particularly big hit, while “Surfin’ USA” is to this day regularly heard on oldies radio and used in commercials and films. But that success meant extra work, and a lot of it. “Surfin’ USA” was the title song of the group’s second album, released in March 1963 only four months after their first, and they would release two more albums before the end of the year — Surfer Girl in September and Little Deuce Coupe in October. Not only were they having to churn out a quite staggering amount of product — though Little Deuce Coupe featured four songs recycled from their earlier albums — but Brian Wilson, as well as writing or co-writing all their original material, started producing the records as well, as he was unhappy with Nik Venet’s production on the first album. Not only that, but as well as making the Beach Boys’ records, Wilson was also writing for Jan and Dean, and he had also started making records on the side with Gary Usher, doing things like making a “Loco-Motion” knock-off, “The Revolution”, released under the name Rachel and the Revolvers: [Excerpt: Rachel and the Revolvers, “The Revolution”] According to some sources, Usher and Wilson found the singer for that track by the simple expedient of driving to Watts and asking the first Black teenage girl they saw if she could sing. Other sources say they hired a professional session singer — some say it was Betty Everett, but given that that’s the name of a famous singer from the period who lived in the Mid-West, I think people are confusing her for Betty Willis, another singer who gets named as a possibility, who lived in LA and who certainly sounds like the same person: [Excerpt: Betty Willis, “Act Naturally”] Wilson was also in the process of breaking up with his girlfriend and starting a relationship with a young woman named Marilyn Rovell. Rovell, along with her sister Diane, and their cousin, Ginger Blake, had formed a girl group, and Brian was writing and producing records for them as well: [Excerpt: The Honeys, “The One You Can’t Have”] As well as making all these records, the Beach Boys were touring intensively, to the point that on one day in June the group were actually booked in for four shows in the same day. Unsurprisingly, Brian decided that this was too much for one person, and so in April 1963, just after the release of “Surfin’ USA”, he decided to quit touring with the group. Luckily, there was a replacement on hand. Alan Jardine had been a member of the Beach Boys on their very first single, but had decided to quit the group to go off to university. A year later, that seemed like a bad decision, and when Brian called him up and asked him to rejoin the band, he eagerly agreed. For now, Alan was not going to be a proper member of the group, but he would substitute for Brian on the group’s tour of the Midwest that Spring, and on many of the shows they performed over the summer — he could play the bass, which was the instrument that Brian played on stage, and he could sing Brian’s parts, and so while the Beach Boys still officially consisted of Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and David Marks, the group that was on tour was Carl, Dennis, Mike, David, and Alan, though Brian would sometimes appear for important shows. Jardine also started recording with the group, though he would not get credited on the covers of the first couple of albums on which he appeared. This made a huge change to the sound of the Beach Boys in the studio, as Jardine playing bass allowed Brian Wilson to play keyboards, while Jardine also added to the group’s vocal harmonies. And this was a major change. Up to this point, the Beach Boys’ records had had only rudimentary harmonies. While Brian was an excellent falsetto singer, and Mike a very good bass, the other three members of the group were less accomplished. Carl would grow to be one of the great vocalists of all time, but at this point was still in his early teens and had a thin voice. Dennis’ voice was also a little thin at this point, and he was behind the drum kit, which meant he didn’t get to sing live, and David Marks was apparently not allowed to sing on the records at all, other than taking a single joint lead with Carl on the first album. With the addition of Jardine, Brian now had another singer as strong as himself and Love, and the Surfer Girl album, the first one on which Jardine appears, sees Brian expanding from the rather rudimentary vocal arrangements of the first two albums to something that incorporates a lot more of the influence of the Four Freshmen. You can hear this most startlingly on “In My Room”. This is one of the first songs on which Jardine took part in the studio, though he’s actually not very audible in the vocal arrangement, which instead concentrates on the three brothers. “In My Room” is a major, major, step forward in the group’s sound, in the themes that would appear in their songwriting for the next few years, and in the juxtaposition of the lyrical theme and the musical arrangement. The song’s lyrics, written by Gary Usher but inspired by Wilson’s experiences, are about solitude, and the song starts out with Brian singing alone, but then Brian moves up to the third note of the scale and Carl comes in under him, singing the note Brian started on. Then they both move up again, Brian to the fifth and Carl to the third, with Dennis joining in on the note that Brian had started on, before Mike and Alan finally also join in. Brian is singing about being alone, but he has his family with him, supporting him: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “In My Room”] This new lineup of the group, with Alan augmenting the other five, might even have lasted, except for a chain of events that started on David Marks’ fifteenth birthday. Murry Wilson, who was still managing the group at this point, had never liked the idea of someone from outside the family being an equal member, and was particularly annoyed at David because Murry had tried to have an affair with David’s mother, which hadn’t worked out well for him. But then on Marks’ fifteenth birthday, he and Dennis Wilson both caught a sexually transmitted infection from the same sex worker, and when Murry Wilson found this out — as he had to, as he needed to pay their doctor’s bills — he became furious and started screaming at the whole group. At that point, David had had enough. His mother had been telling him that he was the real talent in the group and he didn’t need those Wilsons, and as a fifteen-year-old kid he didn’t have the understanding to realise that this might not be entirely true. He said “OK, I quit”. At first, the rest of the group thought that he was joking, and even he wasn’t at all sure that he wanted to leave the group altogether. He remained in the band for the next month, but Murry Wilson kept reminding his sons that Marks had quit and that they’d all heard him, and refused to speak directly to him — anything that Murry wanted to say to David, he said to Carl, who passed the message on. And even though the rest of the group definitely wanted David to stay — especially Brian, who liked having the freedom not to go out on tour, and Carl, who had been the one who’d lobbied to bring his friend into the group in the first place — David was still, as the youngest member, the only one who didn’t sing, and the only one not part of the family, regarded by the others as somewhat lesser than the rest of the band. David became increasingly frustrated, especially when they were recording the Little Deuce Coupe album. That album was made up entirely of songs about cars, and the group were so short of material that the album ended up being filled out with four songs from earlier albums, including two from the Surfer Girl album released only the previous month. Yet when David tried to persuade Brian to have the group record his song “Kustom Kar Show”, Brian told David that he wasn’t ready to be writing songs for the group. All this, plus pressure from David’s parents to make him more of a focal point of the group, led to his resignation eventually being accepted, and backdated to the original date he quit. He played his last show with the group on October the fifth 1963, and then formed his own band, the Marksmen, who signed to A&M: [Excerpt: Dave and the Marksmen, “Kustom Kar Show”] There have been rumours that Murry Wilson threatened DJs that the Beach Boys wouldn’t co-operate with them if they played Marksmen records, but in truth, listening to the records the Marksmen made during their two years of existence, it’s quite obvious why they weren’t played — they were fairly shoddy-sounding garage rock records, with little to commend them. Indeed, they actually sound somewhat better now than they would have done at the time — some of Marks’ flatter and more affectless vocals prefigure the sound of some punk singers, but not in a way that would have had any commercial potential in 1963. Meanwhile, the Beach Boys continued, with Alan Jardine buying a Stratocaster and switching to rhythm guitar, and Brian Wilson resigning himself to having to perform live, at least at the moment, and returning to his old role on the bass. Jardine was now, for publicity purposes, a full member of the group, though he would remain on a salary rather than an equal partner for many years — Murry Wilson didn’t want to make the same mistake with him that he had with Marks. And there was still the constant need for new material, which didn’t let up. Brian’s songwriting was progressing at a furious pace, and that can be seen nowhere better than on “The Warmth of the Sun”, a song he wrote, with Love writing the lyrics, around the time of the Kennedy assassination — the two men have differed over the years over whether it was written the night before or the night after the assassination. “The Warmth of the Sun” is quite staggeringly harmonically sophisticated. We’ve talked before in this podcast about the standard doo-wop progression — the one, minor sixth, minor second, fifth progression that you get in about a million songs: [demonstrates] “The Warmth of the Sun” starts out that way — its first two chords are C, Am, played in the standard arpeggiated way one expects from that kind of song: [demonstrates] You’d expect from that that the song would go C, Am, Dm, G or C, Am, F, G. But instead of moving to Dm or F, as one normally would, the song moves to E flat, and *starts the progression over*, a minor third up, so you have: [demonstrates] It then stops that progression after two bars, moves back to the Dm one would expect from the original progression, and stays there for twice as long as normal, before moving on to the normal G — and then throwing in a G augmented at the end, which is a normal G chord but with the D note raised to E flat, so it ties in to that original unexpected chord change. And it does all this *in the opening line of the song*: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “The Warmth of the Sun”] This is harmonic sophistication on a totally different order from anything else that was being done in teen pop music at the time — it was far closer to the modern jazz harmonies of the Four Freshmen that Brian loved than to doo-wop. The new five-piece lineup of the group recorded that on January the first, 1964, and on the same day they recorded a song that combined two of Brian’s other big influences. “Fun Fun Fun” had lyrics by Mike Love — some of his wittiest — and starts out with an intro taken straight from “Johnny B. Goode”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Fun Fun Fun”] But while the rest of the track keeps the same feel as the Chuck Berry song, the verse goes in a different harmonic direction, and actually owes a lot to “Da Doo Ron Ron”. Instead of using a blues progression, as Berry normally would, the verse uses the same I-IV-I-V progression that “Da Doo Ron Ron”‘s chorus does, but uses it to very different effect: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Fun Fun Fun”] That became the group’s fourth top ten hit, and made number five on the charts — but the group suddenly had some real competition. At numbers one, two, and three were the Beatles. Brian Wilson realised that he needed to up his game if he was going to compete, and he did. In April 1964 he started working on a new single. By this time, while the Beach Boys themselves were still playing most of the instruments, Brian was bringing in additional musicians to augment them, and expanding his instrumental palette. The basic track was the core members of the band — Carl playing both lead and rhythm guitar, Alan playing bass, and Dennis playing drums, with Brian on keyboards — but there were two further bass players, Glen Campbell and Ray Pohlman, thickening the sound on six-string bass, plus two saxophones, and Hal Blaine adding percussion. And the main instrument providing chordal support wasn’t guitar or organ, as it usually had been, but a harpsichord, an instrument Brian would use a lot over the next few years: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “I Get Around (backing track)”] The recording session for that backing track was also another breaking point for the band. Murry Wilson, himself a frustrated songwriter and producer, was at the session and kept insisting that there was a problem with the bassline. Eventually, Brian had enough of his father’s interference, and fired him as the band’s manager. Murry would continue to keep trying to interfere in his children’s career, but this was the point at which the Beach Boys finally took control over their own futures. A few days later, they reconvened in the studio to record the vocals for what would become their first number one hit: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “I Get Around”] It’s fascinating to see that even this early in the group’s career, and on one of their biggest, summeriest hits, there’s already a tension in the lyrics, a sense of wanting to move on — “I’m getting bugged driving up and down the same old strip/I’ve got to find a new place where the kids are hip”. The lyrics are Love’s, but as is so often the case with Brian Wilson’s collaborations, Love seems to have been expressing something that Wilson was feeling at the time. The Beach Boys had risen to the challenge from the Beatles, in a way that few other American musicians could, and “I Get Around” was good enough that it made the top ten in the UK, and became a particular favourite in the Mod subculture in London. The group would only become more popular over the next few years in the UK, a new place where the kids were hip. “I Get Around” is a worthy classic, but the B-side, “Don’t Worry Baby”, is if anything even better. It had been recorded in January, and had already been released on their Shut Down vol 2 album in March. It had originally been intended for the Ronettes, and was inspired by “Be My Baby”, which had astonished Brian Wilson when it had been released a few months earlier. He would later recall having to pull over to the side of the road when he first heard the drum intro to that record: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] Brian would play that record over and over, on repeat, for days at a time, and would try to absorb every nuance of the record and its production, and he tried to come up with something that could follow it. Wilson took the basic rhythm and chord sequence of the song, plus melodic fragments like the line “Be my little baby”, and reworked them into a song that clearly owes a lot to its inspiration, but which stands on its own: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Don’t Worry Baby”] Phil Spector turned the song down, and so the Beach Boys recorded it themselves, and I have to say that this was only a good thing — Ronnie Spector recorded a solo version of it many decades later, and it’s a fine performance, but the lyric misses something when it’s sung by a woman rather than a man. That lyric was by Roger Christian, and in it we see the tension between the more emotional themes that Wilson wanted to explore and the surf and car lyrics that had made up the majority of their singles to this point. The lyric is ostensibly about a car race, and indeed it seems to be setting up precisely the kind of situation that was common in teen tragedy records of the period. The protagonist sings “I guess I should have kept my mouth shut when I started to brag about my car, but I can’t back down now because I pushed the other guys too far”, and the whole lyric is focused on his terror of an upcoming race. This seems intended to lead to the kind of situation that we see in “Dead Man’s Curve”, or “Tell Laura I Love Her”, or in another teen tragedy song we’ll be looking at in a couple of weeks, with the protagonist dead in a car crash. But instead, this is short-circuited. The protagonist’s fears are allayed by his girlfriend: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Don’t Worry Baby”] What we have here is someone trying to deal with a particular kind of anxiety brought about by what we now refer to as toxic masculinity. The protagonist has been showing off about his driving skills in front of his peers, and has now found himself in a situation that he can’t cope with. He’s saved by a figure we’ll see a lot more of in Brian’s songs, whoever the lyricist, the supernaturally good woman who understands the protagonist and loves him despite, or because of, his faults, even though she’s too good for him. Obviously, one can point to all sorts of reasons why this figure might be considered problematic — the idea that the man is unable to deal with his own emotional problems without a woman fixing him — but there’s an emotional truth to it that one doesn’t get in much music of the era, and even if it’s a somewhat flawed view of gender relations, it speaks to a very particular kind of insecurity at the inability to live up to traditional masculine roles, and is all the more affecting when it’s paired with the braggadocio of the A-side. The combination means we see the bragging and posturing on the A-side as just a facade, covering over the real emotional fragility of the narrator. Each side reinforces the other, and the combination is one of the most perfect pairings ever released as a single. “Don’t Worry Baby”, released as “I Get Around”’s B-side, made the charts in its own right peaking at number twenty-four. The B-side to the next single further elaborated on the themes of “Don’t Worry Baby”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “She Knows Me Too Well”] This repurposing of the emotional and musical style of girl-group songs to deal with the emotional vulnerability that comes from acknowledging and attempting to process toxic masculinity is something that few other songwriters were capable of at this point – only some of John Lennon’s work a couple of years later comes close to dealing with this very real area of the emotional landscape, and Lennon, like Wilson, often does so by using the figure of the perfect woman who will save the protagonist. In 1964, the group once again released four albums – Shut Down vol.2, All Summer Long, a live album, and a Christmas album – and they also did most of the work on yet another album, The Beach Boys Today!, which would be released in early 1965. As these recordings progressed, Brian Wilson was more and more ambitious, both in terms of the emotional effect of the music and his arrangements, increasingly using session musicians to augment the group, and trying for a variant on Phil Spector’s production style, but one which emphasised gentle fragility rather than sturm und drang. Possibly the greatest track he created in 1964 ended up not being used by the Beach Boys, though, but was given to Glen Campbell: [Excerpt: Glen Campbell, “Guess I’m Dumb”] Campbell got given that track because of an enormous favour he’d done the group. The mental strain of touring had finally got too much for Brian, and in December, on a plane to Texas, he’d had a breakdown, screaming on the plane and refusing to get off. Eventually, they coaxed him off the plane, and he’d managed to get through that night’s show, but had flown back to LA straight after. Campbell, who was a session guitarist who had played on a number of the Beach Boys’ recordings, and had a minor career as a singer at this point, had flown out at almost no notice and for the next five months he replaced Brian on stage for most of their shows, before the group got a permanent replacement in. Brian Wilson had retired from the road, and the hope was that by doing so, he would reduce the strain on himself enough that he could keep writing and producing for the group without making his mental health worse. And for a while, at least, that seemed to be how it worked out. We’ll take a look at the results in a few weeks’ time.
36 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 116: “Where Did Our Love Go?” by The Supremes
Episode one hundred and sixteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Where Did Our Love Go?” by the Supremes, and how the “no-hit Supremes” became the biggest girl group in history. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “She’s Not There” by the Zombies. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As usual, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I’ve used the following resources: Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown. To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy’s own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography. Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown. I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown. The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown’s thirty-year history. How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier’s autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers’. And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles. Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era. The Supremes biography I mention in the podcast is The Supremes by Mark Ribowsky, which seems factually accurate but questionable in its judgments of people. I also used this omnibus edition of Mary Wilson’s two volumes of autobiography. This box set contains everything you could want by the Supremes, but is extraordinarily expensive in physical form at the moment, though cheap as MP3s. This is a good budget substitute, though oddly doesn’t contain “Stop in the Name of Love”. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Before I start, this episode contains a brief mention of rape, and the trauma of a victim, and a glancing mention of an eating disorder. The discussion is not particularly explicit, but if you think you might find it upsetting, you might be advised to check the transcript before listening, which as always can be found on the site website, or to skip this episode. Today, we’re going to look at the first big hit from the group who would become the most successful female vocal group of the sixties, the group who would become the most important act to come out of Motown, and who would be more successful in chart terms than anyone in the sixties except the Beatles and Elvis. We’re going to look at the record that made Holland, Dozier, and Holland the most important team in Motown, and that made a group that had been regarded as a joke into superstars. We’re going to look at “Where Did Our Love Go?” by the group that up until this record was known in Motown as “the no-hit Supremes”: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?”] The story of the Supremes starts, like almost every Motown act, in Detroit. Specifically, it starts with a group called the Primes, a trio who had grown up in Birmingham, Alabama, and then had moved to Cleveland, before moving in turn to Detroit. The Primes consisted of Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Kell Osborne, and were gaining popularity around the city. But their act was lacking something, and their manager, Milton Jenkins, was inspired by Ray Charles’ backing vocalists, the Raelettes. What if, he thought, his male vocal group had a group of female backing singers, the Primettes? Stories vary about exactly how Jenkins pulled the group members together, including the idea that he literally stopped girls on the streets of the housing projects where the eventual members all lived. But what everyone seems to agree on is that Betty McGlown was dating Paul Williams, so she was an obvious choice. Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard knew each other and were good singers, especially Ballard, and they joined together, with Ballard becoming the new group’s leader. And nobody seems to be clear who asked Diana Ross to join, but she was invited in. Ross says she was already singing with the other three around the neighbourhood. Wilson insisted that they didn’t know her, and that she was brought in by Jenkins. While Ballard and Wilson were friendly enough, and all of them were from the same small area and so knew each other by sight, this wasn’t a group that came together as friends, but people who were put together by a third party. This would make a big difference to them over the years. Ross was probably introduced to the group because she already had a reputation among the people who were playing Detroit’s talent shows. For example there’s Melvin Franklin, who in the late fifties was singing with The Distants: [Excerpt: The Distants, “Come On”] Franklin was an old friend of Ross’ from school, and he would rave about Ross to his friends, so much so that Otis Williams, another member of the Distants (which would soon merge with the Primes to become the Temptations) knew Ross’ name long before he ever met her, and later remembered thinking “Jesus, this girl must be something special.” So Jenkins would have known about Ross through these connections. Incidentally, before we go any further, I should mention the issue of Diana Ross’ name. At this point, she was mostly known by the name on her birth certificate, Diane, and that’s how many people who knew her in this period still refer to her when talking about the late fifties and early sixties. However, she says herself that her parents always intended to name her Diana and the person filling in the birth certificate misspelled it, and she’s used Diana for many decades now. As a general rule on this podcast I always refer to someone by the name they choose for themselves unless there’s a very good reason not to, and so I’m going to be referring to her as Diana throughout — and later when we talk about the Byrds, I will always refer to Roger McGuinn, and so on. It’s difficult to talk about Diana Ross in any sensible way, because she is not a person who has inspired the greatest affection among her colleagues, or among people writing about her. But almost all the negative things said about her have a deep undercurrent of misogyny. One of the biographies I used for researching this episode, for example, in the space of four consecutive sentences in the introduction, compares her face to that of ET, says she looked “emaciated and vacant” (and this is a woman who suffered from anorexia), talks about how inviting her mouth is and her “bedroom eyes”, and then talks about how she used her sexuality to get ahead. You will be shocked, I am sure, to hear that this book was written by a male biographer. Oddly, the books I’m using for the upcoming episodes on Manfred Mann and the Beach Boys don’t talk of their lead singers in this way… In particular, there is a recurring theme in almost everything written about Ross, which criticises her for having affairs with prominent people at Motown, most notably Berry Gordy, and accuses her of doing this in order to further her own ambitions. That sort of criticism is rooted in misogyny. This is not a podcast that will ever deal in shaming women for their sexuality, and what consenting adults do with each other is their business alone. I would also point out that Ross’ affair with Gordy is always portrayed as ethical misconduct on Ross’ part, but *if* there was anything unethical about their relationship, the fault in a relationship between a rich, powerful, married man in his thirties and his much younger employee is unlikely to have been due to the latter. That’s not to say that Ross is flawless — far from it, as the narrative will make clear — but to say that it’s very difficult, when relying on reportage either from people with personal grudges against her or from writers who take attitudes like that, to separate the real flaws in the real woman from the monster of the popular imagination. But that’s all for later in the story. At this point, Ross was merely one of four girls brought together by Jenkins to form the Primettes – but Jenkins soon realised that this group could be better used as a group in their own right, rather than merely as backing vocalists for the Primes. At this point, early on, there was no question but that Florence Ballard was the leader of the group. She had the most outspoken personality, and also had the best voice. When Jenkins had asked to hear the girls sing together, all the others had just looked at each other, while she had burst out into Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time”: [Excerpt: Ray Charles, “Night Time is the Right Time”] That would become a staple of the girls’ early act, along with “The Twist” and “There Goes My Baby”. All of the girls would take lead vocals on stage, but Florence was the first among equals. At that time, indeed, Ballard thought that Ross should not be a lead singer at all, but Ross got very angry at this, and kept working at her vocals, trying to get them more commercial and make better use of her more limited voice. Ballard was a natural singer, who sang passionately in a way that apparently blew audiences away with relatively little effort, because she was singing from the heart. Ross, on the other hand, was a calculated performer who was deliberately trying to gain the audience’s popularity, and was improving with every show as she learned what worked. The combination worked, at least for a time, though the two never got on even from the start. Of the other members, Mary Wilson was always the peacemaker, someone who was so conflict-averse she would find a way to get Florence and Diana to stop fighting, no matter what. Meanwhile, Betty was the least interested in being in a group — she was just doing it as a favour for her boyfriend. And finally, there was a fifth member, Marvin Tarplin, who didn’t sing but who played guitar, which made them one of the few vocal groups in the city who had their own accompaniment. Fairly quickly, Franklin dropped out of management — he spent some time in hospital, and after getting out he just never got back in touch with the girls — and the Primettes took over looking after themselves. There are various stories about them being approached by different people within Motown at different points, but everyone agrees that their first real contact with Motown came through Ross. Ross had, a year or so before the group formed, been friendly with Smokey Robinson, on whom she had a bit of an adolescent crush. Knowing that Robinson was now recording for Motown, she got in touch with him, and he made a suggestion — her group should audition for him, and if he thought they were good enough, he’d get them an appointment with Berry Gordy. The group sang for Robinson, who wasn’t hugely impressed, except with their guitarist. So Robinson made a deal with them — he’d get the girls an audition for Motown, if he could borrow their guitarist for a tour the Miracles were about to do. They agreed, and Robinson’s temporary borrowing of Tarplin lasted fifty years, as Tarplin continued working with Robinson, both in the Miracles and on Robinson’s solo records, until 2008, and co-wrote many of Robinson’s biggest hits. But Robinson kept his word, and the girls did indeed audition for Berry Gordy, who was encouraging but told them to come back after they had finished school. But two other producers at Motown, Richard Morris and Robert Bateman, decided they weren’t going to wait around. If Berry Gordy didn’t want to sign them yet, they’d get the Primettes work with other labels. Morris became their manager, and they started getting session work on early recordings by future soul legends like Wilson Pickett: [Excerpt: Wilson Pickett, “Let Me Be Your Boy”] And Eddie Floyd: [Excerpt: Eddie Floyd, “I am Her Yo-Yo Man”] The group also eventually got to put out their own single. The A-side featured Ross on lead: [Excerpt: The Primettes, “Tears of Sorrow”] While the B-side had Wilson singing lead, but also featured a prominent high part from Ballard: [Excerpt: The Primettes, “Pretty Baby”] Shortly after this, several things happened that would change the group forever. One was that Betty decided to leave the group to get married. She had never been as committed to the group as the other three, and she was quickly replaced with a new singer, Barbara Martin. The other, far more devastating, thing was that Florence Ballard was raped by an acquaintance. This traumatised Ballard deeply, and from this point on she became unable to trust anyone, even her friends. She would suffer for the rest of her life from what would now be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, and while it’s likely that the later problems between her and Ross would have occurred in some form, the way they occurred was undoubtedly affected by the fact of Ballard’s untreated mental illness as a result of this trauma. After refusing to speak to anyone at all for a couple of weeks, Ballard managed to get herself well enough to start singing again, and then only a few days later Richard Morris was arrested for a parole violation and found himself in prison. With all these devastating changes, many groups would have given up. But the Primettes were ambitious, and they decided that they were going to force their way into Motown, whether Berry Gordy wanted them or not. They took to hanging around Hitsville, acting like they belonged there, and they soon found themselves doing minor bits of work on sessions — handclaps and backing vocals and so on, as almost everyone who hung around the studio long enough would. Eventually they got lucky. Freddie Gorman, who was the girls’ postman in his day job and had not yet written “Please Mr. Postman”, had been working on a song with Brian Holland, and the girls happened to be around. Gorman suggested they try the song out, to see what it sounded like with harmonies, and the result was good enough that Holland and Gorman called in Gordy, who tinkered with the song to get his name on the credits, and then helped produce the session: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “I Want a Guy”] That came out under the name The Supremes, with a Berry Gordy song on the B-side, a knock-off of “Maybe” by the Chantels called “Never Again”. How the group got their new name has also been a subject of some dispute, in part because of legal issues later on, as Florence Ballard tried to claim some intellectual property rights in the group name as the one who had chosen it. Everyone involved has a different story about how the name was chosen, but it seems to be the consensus that Ballard did pick the name from a shortlist, with the dispute being over whether that shortlist was of names that the group members had come up with between them, or whether it was created by Janie Bradford, and whether Ballard made a conscious choice of the name or just picked it out of a hat. Whatever the case, the Primettes had now become the Supremes. The problem was that Berry Gordy wasn’t really interested in them as a group. Right from the start, he was only interested in Diana Ross as an individual, though at least at first all the members would get to take lead vocals on album tracks — though the singles would be saved for Diana. With one exception — after the group’s first single flopped, they decided to go in a very different direction for the second single. For that, Gordy wrote a knock-off of a knock-off. In 1959 the Olympics had had a very minor hit with “Hully Gully”: [Excerpt: The Olympics, “Hully Gully”] Which had been remade a few months later by the Marathons as “Peanut Butter”: [Excerpt: The Marathons, “Peanut Butter”] Gordy chose to rework this song as “Buttered Popcorn”, a song that’s just an excuse for extremely weak double entendres, and Florence got to sing lead: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Buttered Popcorn”] That was no more successful than “I Want a Guy”, and that would be the last time Florence Ballard ever got to sing lead on a Supremes single. It would also be the last single the Supremes released as a four-piece. While Barbara Martin had recorded some material with the group that would be released later, she became pregnant and decided to leave the group. Having decided that they clearly couldn’t keep a fourth singer around, the other three decided to continue on as a trio. By this time, Motown had signed the Marvelettes, and they’d leapfrogged over the Supremes to become major stars. The Supremes, meanwhile had had two flops in a row, and their third did little better, though “Your Heart Belongs to Me”, written and produced for them by Smokey Robinson, did make number ninety-five in the charts. That was followed by a string of flops that often did, just, make the Hot One Hundred but didn’t qualify as hits by any measure — and many of them were truly terrible. The group got the nickname “the no-hit Supremes” and tended to get the songs that wouldn’t pass muster for other groups. Their nadir was probably the B-side “The Man with the Rock & Roll Banjo Band”, a song that seems to have been based around Duane Eddy’s “Dance With the Guitar Man”: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Dance With the Guitar Man”] But instead of the electric guitar, the Supremes’ song was about the banjo, an instrument which has many virtues, but which does not really fit into the Motown sound: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “The Man with the Rock and Roll Banjo Band”] This sort of thing continued for two years, with the Supremes now being passed in chart success not only by the Marvelettes but also by the Vandellas, who also signed to Motown after them and had hits before. The “no-hit Supremes” at their best only just scraped the bottom of the Hot One Hundred, no matter who produced them — Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Clarence Paul, Berry Gordy, and Smokey Robinson all had multiple attempts at recording with the group, because of Gordy’s belief in Ross’ star potential, but nothing happened until they were paired with Holland, Dozier, and Holland, fresh off their success with the Vandellas. The musical side of the Holland/Dozier/Holland team had already worked with the group, but with little success. But once Holland/Dozier/Holland became a bona fide hit-making team, they started giving the Supremes additional backing vocal parts. They’re in the vocal stack, for example, on Marvin Gaye’s extraordinary “Can I Get a Witness”: [Excerpt: Marvin Gaye, “Can I Get a Witness”] The first song that Holland, Dozier, and Holland wrote as a team for the Supremes is very different from the heavy, soulful, records they’d specialised in up until that point. Lamont Dozier has said that when he came up with the idea for “When the Lovelight Starts Shining in His Eyes” he was thinking of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, although it’s unlikely he was actually thinking of Wilson, who at this point in 1963 was still making rather garagey surf-rock records rather than the symphonic pop he would start to specialise in the next year. Which is not to say that Holland, Dozier, and Holland weren’t paying attention to Wilson — after all, they wrote “Surfer Boy” for the Supremes in 1965 — but Dozier is probably misremembering here. It’s entirely plausible, though, that he was thinking of Spector, and the song definitely has a wall of sound feel, albeit filtered through Motown’s distinctly funkier, non-Wrecking-Crew, sound, and with more than a little Bo Diddley influence: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”] That also featured additional backing vocals from the Four Tops, another group with whom Holland, Dozier, and Holland were working, and who we’ll be hearing more of in future episodes. “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” went to number twenty-three, the first bona fide hit the Supremes had ever had. So they were set. They even had a surefire smash follow-up. With Holland, Dozier, and Holland they’d recorded *another* Phil Spector knock-off, *before* “Lovelight”, a record modelled on “Da Doo Ron Ron”, titled “Run Run Run”, but they’d held it back so they could release it next — they decided to release a record that sounded like a medium-sized hit first, to get some momentum and name recognition, so they could then release the big smash hit. But “Run Run Run” only went to number ninety-four. The group were at a low point, and as far as they could tell they were only going to get lower. They’d had their hit and it looked like a fluke. The big one they’d had hopes for had gone nowhere. The story of their next single has been told many ways by many different people. This is a version of the story as best I can put it together, but everything that follows might be false, because as with so much of Motown, everyone has their own agenda. As best I can make out, Holland, Dozier, and Holland were working on tracks for a proposed Marvelettes album and came up with a simple, stomping, song based on a repetitive eight-bar verse, with no bridge, chorus, or middle eight. The Holland brothers disagree about what happened next, and it sounds odd, but Lamont Dozier, Mary Wilson, and Katherine Anderson of the Marvelettes all say the same thing — while normally Motown artists had no say in what songs they recorded, this time the Marvelettes were played a couple of backing tracks which had been proposed as their next recording, and they chose to dump the eight-bar one, and go instead with “Too Many Fish in the Sea”: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Too Many Fish in the Sea”] The way Dozier tells the story, that presented Holland, Dozier, and Holland with a problem. They’d recorded the backing track, and one of the many ways that Motown caused problems for its creative workers was that they would be charged against royalties for studio time. If the track didn’t get released, they’d lost all the money. So they turned to the Supremes, and Dozier tried to persuade Mary Wilson that he’d written this great new song, just for them, they’d love it, but by this point they’d already talked to the Marvelettes and been told about this dreadful song they’d managed to get out of doing, and advised to avoid it if they could. But while the Marvelettes were a big, successful group, the Supremes weren’t yet, and didn’t have any choice. They were going to record the song whether they liked it or not. They didn’t like it. Having already been poisoned against the song by the Marvelettes, there were further problems in the studio because one of the production team had originally told Mary Wilson she could sing lead on the song. Everyone seems agreed that Brian Holland insisted on Diana Ross singing it instead, but Eddie Holland remembers that he thought that Wilson should sing and it was Brian and Dozier who insisted on Ross, while Dozier remembers that *he* thought that Wilson should sing, and it was the Holland brothers who insisted on Ross. Somehow, if all these memories are to be believed, Brian Holland outvoted his partners one to two, possibly because Berry Gordy had declared that Ross should be the lead singer on all Supremes singles. Mary was devastated, while Ross was annoyed that she was having to sing what she thought was a terrible song, in a key that was much lower than she was used to. She got more annoyed when Eddie Holland kept coaching her on how he wanted the song sung — she was playing with the phrasing and Holland insisted she sing it straight. Eventually she started threatening to get Gordy to come down, at which point Eddie told her that she could do that, but then Gordy could just produce the session and they needn’t bother hoping for any more Holland/Dozier/Holland songs. She sang through her lead putting as little emotion as she could into her voice, while glaring daggers at the producers, before storming off as soon as she’d completed the take they wanted, complaining about being given everyone else’s leftovers: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?”] Holland, Dozier, and Holland then got on with trying to get the other two Supremes to do the backing vocal parts. But the parts Lamont Dozier had come up with were difficult, nobody was in a good mood, and Mary Wilson was still upset that she wasn’t going to be singing lead. They couldn’t get the vocals down, and eventually, frustrated, Dozier told them to just sing “baby baby” when he pointed, and they went with that. Towards the end of the session, Ross came back in, with Berry Gordy, who she had clearly been complaining to about the song. He asked to hear it, and they played back this recording that nobody was happy with. Gordy, much to Ross’ shock, was convinced it was a hit, and said to them “Cheer up, everybody! From now on, you’re the big-hit Supremes!”: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?”] Motown was in a bit of a slump at that point — several of the label’s big stars had had disappointing follow-ups to their hits, and they’d just lost Mary Wells, one of their biggest stars, to another label. Gordy decided that they were going to give “Where Did Our Love Go?” a huge push, and persuaded Dick Clark to put the Supremes on his Caravan of Stars tour. When the record came out in June, they were at the bottom of the bill, opening the show on a bill with more than a dozen other acts, from the Zombies to the Shirelles to Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon above them. By the end of the tour, their record was at number one in the charts and they had already recorded a follow-up. As “Where Did Our Love Go?” had included the word “baby” sixty-eight times, the production team had decided not to mess with a winning formula: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Baby Love”] That went to number one by the end of October 1964, making the Supremes the first Motown act to have two number ones. There would be a lot more where that came from. But there was already trouble brewing in the group. Even on the Dick Clark tourbus, there were rumours that Diana Ross wanted a solo career, and there was talk of her forcing Florence Ballard out of the group. We’ll look at that, and what happened with the Supremes in the latter part of the sixties in a few months’ time. But I can’t end this time without acknowledging the sad death, a month ago today, of Mary Wilson, the only member of the Supremes who stayed with the group from the beginning right through to their split in 1977. For a member of a group who were second only to the Beatles for commercial success in the sixties, she was underrewarded in life, and her death went underreported. She’ll be missed.
50 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 115: “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals
Episode one hundred and fifteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, at the way the US and UK music scenes were influencing each other in 1964, and at the fraught question of attribution when reworking older songs. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Memphis” by Johnny Rivers. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Erratum A couple of times I mispronounce Hoagy Lands’ surname as Land. Resources As always, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. Information on the Animals comes largely from Animal Tracks by Sean Egan. The two-CD set The Complete Animals isn’t actually their complete recordings — for that you’d also need to buy the Decca recordings — but it is everything they recorded with Mickie Most, including all the big hits discussed in this episode. For the information on Dylan’s first album, I used The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald, the fascinating and funny autobiography of Dylan’s mentor in his Greenwich Village period. I also referred to Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan, a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography; Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon; and Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin. Transcript Today we’re going to look at a song that, more than any other song we’ve looked at so far, shows how the influence between British and American music was working in the early 1960s. A song about New Orleans that may have its roots in English folk music, that became an Appalachian country song, performed by a blues band from the North of England, who learned it from a Minnesotan folk singer based in New York. We’re going to look at “House of the Rising Sun”, and the career of the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”] The story of the Animals, like so many of the British bands of this time period, starts at art school, when two teenagers named Eric Burdon and John Steel met each other. The school they met each other at was in Newcastle, and this is important for how the band came together. If you’re not familiar with the geography of Great Britain, Newcastle is one of the largest cities, but it’s a very isolated city. Britain has a number of large cities. The biggest, of course, is London, which is about as big as the next five added together. Now, there’s a saying that one of the big differences between Britain and America is that in America a hundred years is a long time, and in Britain a hundred miles is a long way, so take that into account when I talk about everything else here. Most of the area around London is empty of other big cities, and the nearest other big city to it is Birmingham, a hundred miles north-west of it. About seventy miles north of that, give or take, you hit Manchester, and Manchester is in the middle of a chain of large cities — Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield, and the slightly smaller Bradford, are more or less in a row, and the furthest distance between two adjacent cities is about thirty-five miles. But then Newcastle is another hundred miles north of Leeds, the closest of those cities to it. And then it’s another hundred miles or so further north before you hit the major Scottish cities, which cluster together like the ones near Manchester do. This means Newcastle is, for a major city, incredibly isolated. Britain’s culture is extraordinarily London-centric, but if you’re in Liverpool or Manchester there are a number of other nearby cities. A band from Manchester can play a gig in Liverpool and make the last train home, and vice versa. This allows for the creation of regional scenes, centred on one city but with cross-fertilisation from others. Now, again, I am talking about a major city here, not some remote village, but it means that Newcastle in the sixties was in something of the same position as Seattle was, as we talked about in the episode on “Louie, Louie” — a place where bands would play in their own immediate area and not travel outside it. A journey to Leeds, particularly in the time we’re talking about when the motorway system was only just starting, would be a major trip, let alone travelling further afield. Local bands would play in Newcastle, and in large nearby towns like Gateshead, Sunderland, and Middlesborough, but not visit other cities. This meant that there was also a limited pool of good musicians to perform with, and so if you wanted to be in a band, you couldn’t be that picky about who you got on with, so long as they could play. Steel and Burdon, when they met at art school, were both jazz fanatics, and they quickly formed a trad jazz band. The band initially featured them on trumpet and trombone, but when rock and roll and skiffle hit the band changed its lineup to one based around guitars. Steel shifted to drums, while Burdon stopped playing an instrument and became the lead singer. Burdon’s tastes at the time were oriented towards the jazzier side of R&B, people like Ray Charles, and he also particularly loved blues shouters like Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner. He tried hard to emulate Turner, and one of the songs that’s often mentioned as being in the repertoire of these early groups is “Roll ‘Em Pete”, the Big Joe Turner song we talked about back in episode two: [Excerpt: Big Joe Turner, “Roll ’em Pete”] The jazz group that Burdon and Steel formed was called the Pagan Jazz Men, and when they switched instruments they became instead The Pagans R&B Band. The group was rounded out by Blackie Sanderson and Jimmy Crawford, but soon got a fifth member when a member from another band on an early bill asked if he could sit in with them for a couple of numbers. Alan Price was the rhythm guitarist in that band, but joined in on piano, and instantly gelled with the group, playing Jerry Lee Lewis style piano. The other members would always later say that they didn’t like Price either as a person or for his taste in music — both Burdon and Steel regarded Price’s tastes as rather pedestrian when compared to their own, hipper, tastes, saying he always regarded himself as something of a lounge player, while Burdon was an R&B and blues person and Steel liked blues and jazz. But they all played well together, and in Newcastle there wasn’t that much choice about which musicians you could play with, and so they stayed together for a while, as the Pagans evolved into the Kansas City Five or the Kansas City Seven, depending on the occasional presence of two brass players. The Kansas City group played mostly jump blues, which was the area of music where Burdon and Steel’s tastes intersected — musicians they’ve cited as ones they covered were Ray Charles, Louis Jordan, and Big Joe Turner. But then the group collapsed, as Price didn’t turn up to a gig — he’d been poached by a pop covers band, the Kon-Tors, whose bass player, Chas Chandler, had been impressed with him when Chandler had sat in at a couple of Kansas City Five rehearsals. Steel got a gig playing lounge music, just to keep paying the bills, and Burdon would occasionally sit in with various other musicians. But a few members of the Kon-Tors got a side gig, performing as the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo as the resident band at a local venue called the Club A Go-Go, which was the venue where visiting London jazzmen and touring American blues players would perform when they came to Newcastle. Burdon started sitting in with them, and then they invited Steel to replace their drummer, and in September 1963 the Alan Price Rhythm And Blues Combo settled on a lineup of Burdon on vocals, Price on piano, Steel on drums, Chandler on bass, and new member Hilton Valentine, who joined at the same time as Steel, on guitar. Valentine was notably more experienced than the other members, and had previously performed in a rock and roll group called the Wildcats — not the same band who backed Marty Wilde — and had even recorded an album with them, though I’ve been unable to track down any copies of the album. At this point all the group members now had different sensibilities — Valentine was a rocker and skiffle fan, while Chandler was into more mainstream pop music, though the other members emphasised in interviews that he liked *good* pop music like the Beatles, not the lesser pop music. The new lineup was so good that a mere eight days after they first performed together, they went into a recording studio to record an EP, which they put out themselves and sold at their gigs. Apparently five hundred copies of the EP were sold. As well as playing piano on the tracks, Price also played melodica, which he used in the same way that blues musicians would normally use the harmonica: [Excerpt: The Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo, “Pretty Thing”] This kind of instrumental experimentation would soon further emphasise the split between Price and Burdon, as Price would get a Vox organ rather than cart a piano between gigs, while Burdon disliked the sound of the organ, even though it became one of the defining sounds of the group. That sound can be heard on a live recording of them a couple of months later, backing the great American blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson II at the Club A Go Go: [Excerpt: Sonny Boy Williamson II and the Animals, “Fattening Frogs For Snakes”] One person who definitely *didn’t* dislike the sound of the electric organ was Graham Bond, the Hammond organ player with Alexis Korner’s band who we mentioned briefly back in the episode on the Rolling Stones. Bond and a few other members of the Korner group had quit, and formed their own group, the Graham Bond Organisation, which had originally featured a guitarist named John McLaughlin, but by this point consisted of Bond, saxophone player Dick Heckstall-Smith, and the rhythm section Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. They wouldn’t make an album until 1965, but live recordings of them from around this time exist, though in relatively poor quality: [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, “Wade in the Water”] The Graham Bond Organisation played at the Club A Go Go, and soon Bond was raving back in London about this group from Newcastle he’d heard. Arrangements were quickly made for them to play in London. By this time, the Rolling Stones had outgrown the small club venues they’d been playing, and a new band called the Yardbirds were playing all the Stones’ old venues. A trade was agreed — the Yardbirds would play all the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo’s normal gigs for a couple of weeks, and the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo would play the Yardbirds’. Or rather, the Animals would. None of the members of the group could ever agree on how they got their new name, and not all of them liked it, but when they played those gigs in London in December 1963, just three months after getting together, that was how they were billed. And it was as the Animals that they were signed by Mickie Most. Mickie Most was one of the new breed of independent producers that were cropping up in London, following in Joe Meek’s footsteps, like Andrew Oldham. Most had started out as a singer in a duo called The Most Brothers, which is where he got his stage name. The Most Brothers had only released one single: [Excerpt: The Most Brothers, “Whole Lotta Woman”] But then Most had moved to South Africa, where he’d had eleven number one hits with cover versions of American rock singles, backed by a band called the Playboys: [Excerpt: Mickie Most and the Playboys, “Johnny B Goode”] He’d returned to the UK in 1963, and been less successful here as a performer, and so he decided to move into production, and the Animals were his first signing. He signed them up and started licensing their records to EMI, and in January 1964 the Animals moved down to London. There has been a lot of suggestion over the years that the Animals resented Mickie Most pushing them in a more pop direction, but their first single was an inspired compromise between the group’s blues purism and Most’s pop instincts. The song they recorded dates back at least to 1935, when the State Street Boys, a group that featured Big Bill Broonzy, recorded “Don’t Tear My Clothes”: [Excerpt: The State Street Boys, “Don’t Tear My Clothes”] That song got picked up and adapted by a lot of other blues singers, like Blind Boy Fuller, who recorded it as “Mama Let Me Lay It On You” in 1938: [Excerpt: Blind Boy Fuller, “Mama Let Me Lay it On You”] That had in turn been picked up by the Reverend Gary Davis, who came up with his own arrangement of the song: [Excerpt: Rev. Gary Davis, “Baby, Let Me Lay It On You”] Eric von Schmidt, a folk singer in Massachusetts, had learned that song from Davis, and Bob Dylan had in turn learned it from von Schmidt, and included it on his first album as “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”] The Animals knew the song from that version, which they loved, but Most had come across it in a different way. He’d heard a version which had been inspired by Dylan, but had been radically reworked. Bert Berns had produced a single on Atlantic for a soul singer called Hoagy Lands, and on the B-side had been a new arrangement of the song, retitled “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” and adapted by Berns and Wes Farrell, a songwriter who had written for the Shirelles. Land’s version had started with an intro in which Lands is clearly imitating Sam Cooke: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand”] But after that intro, which seems to be totally original to Berns and Farrell, Lands’ track goes into a very upbeat Twist-flavoured song, with a unique guitar riff and Latin feel, both of them very much in the style of Berns’ other songs, but clearly an adaptation of Dylan’s version of the old song: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand”] Most had picked up that record on a trip to America, and decided that the Animals should record a version of the song based on that record. Hilton Valentine would later claim that this record, whose title and artist he could never remember (and it’s quite possible that Most never even told the band who the record was by) was not very similar at all to the Animals’ version, and that they’d just kicked around the song and come up with their own version, but listening to it, it is *very* obviously modelled on Lands’ version. They cut out Lands’ intro, and restored a lot of Dylan’s lyric, but musically it’s Lands all the way. The track starts like this: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”] Both have a breakdown section with spoken lyrics over a staccato backing, though the two sets of lyrics are different — compare the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”] and Lands: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand”] And both have the typical Bert Berns call and response ending — Lands: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let me Hold Your Hand”] And the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”] So whatever Valentine’s later claims, the track very much was modelled on the earlier record, but it’s still one of the strongest remodellings of an American R&B record by a British group in this time period, and an astonishingly accomplished record, which made number twenty-one. The Animals’ second single was another song that had been recorded on Dylan’s first album. “House of the Rising Sun” has been argued by some, though I think it’s a tenuous argument, to originally date to the seventeenth century English folk song “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard”: [Excerpt: Martin Carthy, “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard”] What we do know is that the song was circulating in Appalachia in the early years of the twentieth century, and it’s that version that was first recorded in 1933, under the name “Rising Sun Blues”, by Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster: [Excerpt: Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster, “Rising Sun Blues”] The song has been described as about several things — about alcoholism, about sex work, about gambling — depending on the precise version. It’s often thought, for example, that the song was always sung by women and was about a brothel, but there are lots of variants of it, sung by both men and women, before it reached its most famous form. Dave van Ronk, who put the song into the form by which it became best known, believed at first that it was a song about a brothel, but he later decided that it was probably about the New Orleans Women’s Prison, which in his accounting used to have a carving of a rising sun over the doorway. Van Ronk’s version traces back originally to a field recording Alan Lomax had made in 1938 of a woman named Georgia Turner, from Kentucky: [Excerpt: Georgia Turner, “Rising Sun Blues”] Van Ronk had learned the song from a record by Hally Wood, a friend of the Lomaxes, who had recorded a version based on Turner’s in 1953: [Excerpt: Hally Wood, “House of the Rising Sun”] Van Ronk took Wood’s version of Turner’s version of the song, and rearranged it, changing the chords around, adding something that changed the whole song. He introduced a descending bassline, mostly in semitones, which as van Ronk put it is “a common enough progression in jazz, but unusual among folksingers”. It’s actually something you’d get a fair bit in baroque music as well, and van Ronk introducing this into the song is probably what eventually led to things like Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” ripping off Bach doing essentially the same thing. What van Ronk did was a simple trick. You play a descending scale, mostly in semitones, while holding the same chord shape which creates a lot of interesting chords. The bass line he played is basically this: [demonstrates] And he held an A minor shape over that bassline, giving a chord sequence Am, Am over G, Am over F#, F. [demonstrates] This is a trick that’s used in hundreds and hundreds of songs later in the sixties and onward — everything from “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks to “Go Now” by the Moody Blues to “Forever” by the Beach Boys — but it was something that at this point belonged in the realms of art music and jazz more than in folk, blues, or rock and roll. Of course, it sounds rather better when he did it: [Excerpt, Dave van Ronk, “House of the Rising Sun”] “House of the Rising Sun” soon became the highlight of van Ronk’s live act, and his most requested song. Dylan took van Ronk’s arrangement, but he wasn’t as sophisticated a musician as van Ronk, so he simplified the chords. Rather than the dissonant chords van Ronk had, he played standard rock chords that fit van Ronk’s bassline, so instead of Am over G he played C with a G in the bass, and instead of Am over F# he played D with an F# in the bass. So van Ronk had: [demonstrates] While Dylan had: [demonstrates] The movement of the chords now follows the movement of the bassline. It’s simpler, but it’s all from van Ronk’s arrangement idea. Dylan recorded his version of van Ronk’s version for his first album: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “House of the Rising Sun”] As van Ronk later told the story (though I’m going to edit out one expletive here for the sake of getting past the adult content rating on Apple): “One evening in 1962, I was sitting at my usual table in the back of the Kettle of Fish, and Dylan came slouching in. He had been up at the Columbia studios with John Hammond, doing his first album. He was being very mysterioso about the whole thing, and nobody I knew had been to any of the sessions except Suze, his lady. I pumped him for information, but he was vague. Everything was going fine and, “Hey, would it be okay for me to record your arrangement of ‘House of the Rising Sun?’” [expletive]. “Jeez, Bobby, I’m going into the studio to do that myself in a few weeks. Can’t it wait until your next album?” A long pause. “Uh-oh.” I did not like the sound of that. “What exactly do you mean, ‘Uh-oh’?” “Well,” he said sheepishly, “I’ve already recorded it.” “You did what?!” I flew into a Donald Duck rage, and I fear I may have said something unkind that could be heard over in Chelsea.” van Ronk and Dylan fell out for a couple of weeks, though they later reconciled, and van Ronk said of Dylan’s performance “it was essentially my arrangement, but Bobby’s reading had all the nuance and subtlety of a Neanderthal with a stone hand ax, and I took comfort thereby.” van Ronk did record his version, as we heard, but he soon stopped playing the song live because he got sick of people telling him to “play that Dylan song”. The Animals learned the song from the Dylan record, and decided to introduce it to their set on their first national tour, supporting Chuck Berry. All the other acts were only doing rock and roll and R&B, and they thought a folk song might be a way to make them stand out — and it instantly became the highlight of their act. The way all the members except Alan Price tell the story, the main instigators of the arrangement were Eric Burdon, the only member of the group who had been familiar with the song before hearing the Dylan album, and Hilton Valentine, who came up with the arpeggiated guitar part. Their arrangement followed Dylan’s rearrangement of van Ronk’s rearrangement, except they dropped the scalar bassline altogether, so for example instead of a D with an F# in the bass they just play a plain open D chord — the F# that van Ronk introduced is still in there, as the third, but the descending line is now just implied by the chords, not explicitly stated in the bass, where Chas Chandler just played root notes. In the middle of the tour, the group were called back into the studio to record their follow-up single, and they had what seemed like it might be a great opportunity. The TV show Ready Steady Go! wanted the Animals to record a version of the old Ray Charles song “Talking ‘Bout You”, to use as their theme. The group travelled down from Liverpool after playing a show there, and went into the studio in London at three o’clock in the morning, before heading to Southampton for the next night’s show. But they needed to record a B-side first, of course, and so before getting round to the main business of the session they knocked off a quick one-take performance of their new live showstopper: [Excerpt: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”] On hearing the playback, everyone was suddenly convinced that that, not “Talking ‘Bout You”, should be the A-side. But there was a problem. The record was four minutes and twenty seconds long, and you just didn’t ever release a record that long. The rule was generally that songs didn’t last longer than three minutes, because radio stations wouldn’t play them, but Most was eventually persuaded by Chas Chandler that the track needed to go out as it was, with no edits. It did, but when it went out, it had only one name on as the arranger — which when you’re recording a public domain song makes you effectively the songwriter. According to all the members other than Price, the group’s manager, Mike Jeffrey, who was close to Price, had “explained” to them that you needed to just put one name down on the credits, but not to worry, as they would all get a share of the songwriting money. According to Price, meanwhile, he was the sole arranger. Whatever the truth, Price was the only one who ever got any songwriting royalties for their version of the song, which went to number one in the UK and the US. although the version released as a single in the US was cut down to three minutes with some brutal edits, particularly to the organ solo: [Excerpt: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun (US edit)”] None of the group liked what was done to the US single edit, and the proper version was soon released as an album track everywhere The Animals’ version was a big enough hit that it inspired Dylan’s new producer Tom Wilson to do an experiment. In late 1964 he hired session musicians to overdub a new electric backing onto an outtake version of “House of the Rising Sun” from the sessions from Dylan’s first album, to see what it would sound like: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “House of the Rising Sun (1964 electric version)”] That wasn’t released at the time, it was just an experiment Wilson tried, but it would have ramifications we’ll be seeing throughout the rest of the podcast. Incidentally, Dave van Ronk had the last laugh at Dylan, who had to drop the song from his own sets because people kept asking him if he’d stolen it from the Animals. The Animals’ next single, “I’m Crying”, was their first and only self-written A-side, written by Price and Burdon. It was a decent record and made the top ten in the UK and the top twenty in the US, but Price and Burdon were never going to become another Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards — they just didn’t like each other by this point. The record after that, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, was written by the jazz songwriters Benny Benjamin and Horace Ott, and had originally been recorded by Nina Simone in an orchestral version that owed quite a bit to Burt Bacharach: [Excerpt: Nina Simone, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”] The Animals’ version really suffers in comparison to that. I was going to say something about how their reinterpretation is as valid in its own way as Simone’s original and stands up against it, but actually listening to them back to back as I was writing this, rather than separately as I always previously had, I changed my mind because I really don’t think it does. It’s a great record, and it’s deservedly considered a classic single, but compared to Simone’s version, it’s lightweight, rushed, and callow: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”] Simone was apparently furious at the Animals’ recording, which they didn’t understand given that she hadn’t written the original, and according to John Steel she and Burdon later had a huge screaming row about the record. In Steel’s version, Simone eventually grudgingly admitted that they weren’t “so bad for a bunch of white boys”, but that doesn’t sound to me like the attitude Simone would take. But Steel was there and I wasn’t… “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was followed by a more minor single, a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me”, which would be the last single by the group to feature Alan Price. On the twenty-eighth of April 1965, the group were about to leave on a European tour. Chas Chandler, who shared a flat with Price, woke Price up and then got in the shower. When he got out of the shower, Price wasn’t in the flat, and Chandler wouldn’t see Price again for eighteen months. Chandler believed until his death that while he was in the shower, Price’s first royalty cheque for arranging “House of the Rising Sun” had arrived, and Price had decided then and there that he wasn’t going to share the money as agreed. The group quickly rushed to find a fill-in keyboard player for the tour, and nineteen-year-old Mick Gallagher was with them for a couple of weeks before being permanently replaced by Dave Rowberry. Gallagher would later go on to be the keyboard player with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, as well as playing on several tracks by the Clash. Price, meanwhile, went on to have a number of solo hits over the next few years, starting with a version of “I Put A Spell On You”, in an arrangement which the other Animals later claimed had originally been worked up as an Animals track: [Excerpt: The Alan Price Set, “I Put A Spell On You”] Price would go on to make many great solo records, introducing the songs of Randy Newman to a wider audience, and performing in a jazz-influenced R&B style very similar to Mose Allison. The Animals’ first record with their new keyboard player was their greatest single. “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” had been written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, and had originally been intended for the Righteous Brothers, but they’d decided to have Mann record it himself: [Excerpt: Barry Mann, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”] But before that version was released, the Animals had heard Mann’s piano demo of the song and cut their own version, and Mann’s was left on the shelf. What the Animals did to the song horrified Cynthia Weill, who considered it the worst record of one of her songs ever — though one suspects that’s partly because it sabotaged the chances for her husband’s single — but to my mind they vastly improved on the song. They tightened the melody up a lot, getting rid of a lot of interjections. They reworked big chunks of the lyric, for example changing “Oh girl, now you’re young and oh so pretty, staying here would be a crime, because you’ll just grow old before your time” to “Now my girl, you’re so young and pretty, and one thing I know is true, you’ll be dead before your time is due”, and making subtler changes like changing “if it’s the last thing that we do” to “if it’s the last thing we ever do”, improving the scansion. They kept the general sense of the lyrics, but changed more of the actual words than they kept — and to my ears, at least, every change they made was an improvement. And most importantly, they excised the overlong bridge altogether. I can see what Mann and Weill were trying to do with the bridge — Righteous Brothers songs would often have a call and response section, building to a climax, where Bill Medley’s low voice and Bobby Hatfield’s high one would alternate and then come together. But that would normally come in the middle, building towards the last chorus. Here it comes between every verse and chorus, and completely destroys the song’s momentum — it just sounds like noodling: [Excerpt: Barry Mann, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”] The Animals’ version, by contrast, is a masterpiece of dynamics, of slow builds and climaxes and dropping back down again. It’s one of the few times I’ve wished I could just drop the entire record in, rather than excerpting a section, because it depends so much for its effect on the way the whole structure of the track works together: [Excerpt: The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”] From a creators’ rights perspective, I entirely agree with Cynthia Weill that the group shouldn’t have messed with her song. But from a listener’s point of view, I have to say that they turned a decent song into a great one, and one of the greatest singles of all time “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” was followed by another lesser but listenable single, “It’s My Life”, which seemed to reinforce a pattern of a great Animals single being followed by a merely OK one. But that was the point at which the Animals and Most would part company — the group were getting sick of Most’s attempts to make them more poppy. They signed to a new label, Decca, and got a new producer, Tom Wilson, the man who we heard earlier experimenting with Dylan’s sound, but the group started to fall apart. After their next single, “Inside — Looking Out”, a prison work song collected by the Lomaxes, and the album Animalisms, John Steel left the group, tired of not getting any money, and went to work in a shop. The album after Animalisms, confusingly titled Animalism, was also mostly produced by Wilson, and didn’t even feature the musicians in the band on two of the tracks, which Wilson farmed out to a protege of his, Frank Zappa, to produce. Those two tracks featured Zappa on guitar and members of the Wrecking Crew, with only Burdon from the actual group: [Excerpt: The Animals, “All Night Long”] Soon the group would split up, and would discover that their management had thoroughly ripped them off — there had been a scheme to bank their money in the Bahamas for tax reasons, in a bank which mysteriously disappeared off the face of the Earth. Burdon would form a new group, known first as the New Animals and later as Eric Burdon and the Animals, who would have some success but not on the same level. There were a handful of reunions of the original lineup of the group between 1968 and the early eighties, but they last played together in 1983. Burdon continues to tour the US as Eric Burdon and the Animals. Alan Price continues to perform successfully as a solo artist. We’ll be picking up with Chas Chandler later, when he moves from bass playing into management, so you’ll hear more about him in future episodes. John Steel, Dave Rowberry, and Hilton Valentine reformed a version of the Animals in the 1990s, originally with Jim Rodford, formerly of the Kinks and Argent, on bass. Valentine left that group in 2001, and Rowberry died in 2003. Steel now tours the UK as “The Animals and Friends”, with Mick Gallagher, who had replaced Price briefly in 1965, on keyboards. I’ve seen them live twice and they put on an excellent show — though the second time, one woman behind me did indignantly say, as the singer started, “That’s not Eric Clapton!”, before starting to sing along happily… And Hilton Valentine moved to the US and played briefly with Burdon’s Animals after quitting Steel’s, before returning to his first love, skiffle. He died exactly four weeks ago today, and will be missed.
47 minutes | 3 months ago
Episode 114: “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie
This week’s episode looks at “My Boy Lollipop” and the origins of ska music. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As usual, I have created a Mixcloud playlist containing every song heard in this episode — a content warning applies for the song “Bloodshot Eyes” by Wynonie Harris. The information about ska in general mostly comes from Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King by Lloyd Bradley, with some also from Reggae and Caribbean Music by Dave Thompson. Biographical information on Millie Small is largely from this article in Record Collector, plus a paywalled interview with Goldmine magazine (which I won’t link to because of the paywall). Millie’s early recordings with Owen Gray and Coxsone Dodd can be found on this compilation, along with a good selection of other recordings Dodd produced, while this compilation gives a good overview of her recordings for Island and Fontana. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Erratum I refer to “Barbara Gaye” when I should say “Barbie Gaye” Transcript Today, we’re going to take our first look at a form of music that would go on to have an almost incalculable influence on the music of the seventies, eighties, and later, but which at the time we’re looking at was largely regarded as a novelty music, at least in Britain and America. We’re going to look at the birth of ska, and at the first ska record to break big outside of Jamaica. We’re going to look at “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie: [Excerpt: Millie, “My Boy Lollipop”] Most of the music we’ve looked at so far in the podcast has been from either America or Britain, and I’m afraid that that’s going to remain largely the case — while there has been great music made in every country in the world, American and British musicians have tended to be so parochial, and have dominated the music industry so much, that relatively little of that music has made itself felt widely enough to have any kind of impact on the wider history of rock music, much to rock’s detriment. But every so often something from outside the British Isles or North America manages to penetrate even the closed ears of Anglo-American musicians, and today we’re going to look at one of those records. Now, before we start this, this episode is, by necessity, going to be dealing in broad generalisations — I’m trying to give as much information about Jamaica’s musical culture in one episode as I’ve given about America’s in a hundred, so I am going to have to elide a lot of details. Some of those details will come up in future episodes, as we deal with more Jamaican artists, but be aware that I’m missing stuff out. The thing that needs to be understood about the Jamaican music culture of the fifties and early sixties is that it developed in conditions of absolute poverty. Much of the music we looked at in the first year or so of the podcast came from extremely impoverished communities, of course, but even given how utterly, soul-crushingly, poor many people in the Deep South were, or the miserable conditions that people in Liverpool and London lived in while Britain was rebuilding itself after the war, those people were living in rich countries, and so still had access to some things that were not available to the poor people of poorer countries. So in Jamaica in the 1950s, almost nobody had access to any kind of record player or radio themselves. You wouldn’t even *know* anyone who had one, unlike in the states where if you were very poor you might not have one yourself, but your better-off cousin might let you come round and listen to the radio at their house. So music was, by necessity, a communal experience. Jamaican music, or at least the music in Kingston, the biggest city in Jamaica, was organised around sound systems — big public open-air systems run by DJs, playing records for dancing. These had originally started in shops as a way of getting customers in, but soon became so popular that people started doing them on their own. These sound systems played music that was very different from the music played on the radio, which was aimed mostly at people rich enough to own radios, which at that time mostly meant white British people — in the fifties, Jamaica was still part of the British Empire, and there was an extraordinary gap between the music the white British colonial class liked and the music that the rest of the population liked. The music that the Jamaican population *made* was mostly a genre called mento. Now, this is somewhere where my ignorance of this music compared to other musics comes into play a bit. There seem to have been two genres referred to as mento. One of them, rural mento, was based around instruments like the banjo, and a home-made bass instrument called a “rhumba box”, and had a resemblance to a lot of American country music or British skiffle — this form of mento is often still called “country music” in Jamaica itself: [Excerpt: The Hiltonaires, “Matilda”] There was another variant of mento, urban mento, which dropped the acoustic and home-made instruments and replaced them with the same sort of instruments that R&B or jazz bands used. Everything I read about urban mento says that it’s a different genre from calypso music, which generally comes from Trinidad and Tobago rather than Jamaica, but nothing explains what that difference is, other than the location. Mento musicians would also call their music calypso in order to sell it to people like me who don’t know the difference, and so you would get mento groups called things like Count Lasher and His Calypsonians, Lord Lebby and the Jamaica Calypsonians, and Count Owen and His Calypsonians, songs called things like “Hoola Hoop Calypso”, and mentions of calypso in the lyrics. I am fairly familiar with calypso music — people like the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Melody, Roaring Lion, and so on — and I honestly can’t hear any difference between calypso proper and mento records like this one, by Lord Power and Trenton Spence: [Excerpt: Lord Power and Trenton Spence, “Strip Tease”] But I’ll defer to the experts in these genres and accept that there’s a difference I’m not hearing. Mento was primarily a music for live performance, at least at first — there were very few recording facilities in Jamaica, and to the extent that records were made at all there, they were mostly done in very small runs to sell to tourists, who wanted a souvenir to take home. The music that the first sound systems played would include some mento records, and they would also play a fair number of latin-flavoured records. But the bulk of what they played was music for dancing, imported from America, made by Black American musicians, many of them the same musicians we looked at in the early months of this podcast. Louis Jordan was a big favourite, as was Wynonie Harris — the biggest hit in the early years of the sound systems was Harris’ “Bloodshot Eyes”. I’m going to excerpt that here, because it was an important record in the evolution of Jamaican music, but be warned that the song trivialises intimate partner violence in a way that many people might find disturbing. If you might be upset by that, skip forward exactly thirty seconds now: [Excerpt: Wynonie Harris, “Bloodshot Eyes”] The other artists who get repeatedly named in the histories of the early sound systems along with Jordan and Harris are Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Professor Longhair — a musician we’ve not talked about in the podcast, but who made New Orleans R&B music in the same style as Domino and Price, and for slow-dancing the Moonglows and Jesse Belvin. They would also play jazz — Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan were particular favourites. These records weren’t widely available in Jamaica — indeed, *no* records were really widely available . They found their way into Jamaica through merchant seamen, who would often be tasked by sound men with getting hold of new and exciting records, and paid with rum or marijuana. The “sound man” was the term used for the DJs who ran these sound systems, and they were performers as much as they were people who played records — they would talk and get the crowds going, they would invent dance steps and perform them, and they would also use the few bits of technology they had to alter the sound — usually by adding bass or echo. Their reputation was built by finding the most obscure records, but ones which the crowds would love. Every sound man worth his salt had a collection of records that nobody else had — if you were playing the same records that someone else had, you were a loser. As soon as a sound man got hold of a record, he’d scratch out all the identifying copy on the label and replace it with a new title, so that none of his rivals could get hold of their own copies. The rivalry between sound men could be serious — it started out just as friendly competition, with each man trying to build a bigger and louder system and draw a bigger crowd, but when the former policeman turned gangster Duke Reid started up his Trojan sound system, intimidating rivals with guns soon became par for the course. Reid had actually started out in music as an R&B radio DJ — one of the few in Jamaica — presenting a show whose theme song, Tab Smith’s “My Mother’s Eyes”, would become permanently identified with Reid: [Excerpt: Tab Smith, “My Mother’s Eyes”] Reid’s Trojan was one of the two biggest sound systems in Kingston, the other being Downbeat, run by Coxsone Dodd. Dodd’s system became so popular that he ended up having five different sound systems, all playing in different areas of the city every night, with the ones he didn’t perform at himself being run by assistants who later became big names in the Jamaican music world themselves, like Prince Buster and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Buster performed a few other functions for Dodd as well — one important one being that he knew enough about R&B that he could go to Duke Reid’s shows, listen to the records he was playing, and figure out what they must be — he could recognise the different production styles of the different R&B labels well enough that he could use that, plus the lyrics, to work out the probable title and label of a record Reid was playing. Dodd would then get a merchant seaman to bring a copy of that record back from America, get a local record pressing plant to press up a bunch of copies of it, and sell it to the other sound men, thus destroying Reid’s edge. Eventually Prince Buster left Dodd and set up his own rival sound system, at which point the rivalry became a three-way one. Dodd knew about technology, and had the most powerful sound system with the best amps. Prince Buster was the best showman, who knew what the people wanted and gave it to them, and Duke Reid was connected and powerful enough that he could use intimidation to keep a grip on power, but he also had good enough musical instincts that his shows were genuinely popular in their own right. People started to see their favourite sound systems in the same way they see sports teams or political parties — as marks of identity that were worth getting into serious fights over. Supporters of one system would regularly attack supporters of another, and who your favourite sound system was *really mattered*. But there was a problem. While these systems were playing a handful of mento records, they were mostly relying on American records, and this had two problems. The most obvious was that if a record was available publicly, eventually someone else would find it. Coxsone Dodd managed to use one record, “Later For Gator” by Willis “Gatortail” Jackson, at every show for seven years, renaming it “Coxsone Hop”: [Excerpt: Willis “Gatortail” Jackson, “Later For Gator”] But eventually word got out that Duke Reid had tracked the song down and would play it at a dance. Dodd went along, and was allowed in unmolested — Reid wanted Dodd to know he’d been beaten. Now, here I’m going to quote something Prince Buster said, and we hit a problem we’re likely to hit again when it comes to Jamaica. Buster spoke Jamaican Patois, a creole language that is mutually intelligible with, but different from, standard English. When quoting him, or any other Patois speaker, I have a choice of three different options, all bad. I could translate his words into standard English, thus misrepresenting him; I could read his words directly in my own accent, which has the problem that it can sound patronising, or like I’m mocking his language, because so much of Patois is to do with the way the words are pronounced; or I could attempt to approximate his own accent — which would probably come off as incredibly racist. As the least bad option of the three, I’m choosing the middle one here, and reading in my own accent, but I want people to be aware that this is not intended as mockery, and that I have at least given this some thought: “So we wait. Then as the clock struck midnight we hear “Baaap… bap da dap da dap, daaaa da daap!” And we see a bunch of them down from the dancehall coming up with the green bush. I was at the counter with Coxsone, he have a glass in him hand, he drop it and just collapse, sliding down the bar. I had to brace him against the bar, then get Phantom to give me a hand. The psychological impact had knocked him out. Nobody never hit him.” There was a second problem with using American records, as well — American musical tastes were starting to change, and Jamaican ones weren’t. Jamaican audiences wanted Louis Jordan, Fats Domino, and Gene & Eunice, but the Americans wanted Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Darin. For a while, the sound men were able to just keep finding more and more obscure old R&B and jump band records, but there was a finite supply of these, and they couldn’t keep doing it forever. The solution eventually became obvious — they needed Jamaican R&B. And thankfully there was a ready supply. Every week, there was a big talent contest in Kingston, and the winners would get five pounds — a lot of money in that time and place. Many of the winners would then go to a disc-cutting service, one of those places that would record a single copy of a song for you, and use their prize money to record themselves. They could then sell that record to one of the sound men, who would be sure that nobody else would have a copy of it. At first, the only sound men they could sell to were the less successful ones, who didn’t have good connections with American records. A local record was clearly not as good as an American one, and so the big sound systems wouldn’t touch it, but it was better than nothing, and some of the small sound systems would find that the local records were a success for them, and eventually the bigger systems would start using the small ones as a test audience — if a local record went down well at a small system, one of the big operators would get in touch with the sound man of that system and buy the record from him. One of the big examples of this was “Lollipop Girl”, a song by Derrick Harriott and Claudie Sang. They recorded that, with just a piano backing, and sold their only copy to a small sound system owner. It went down so well that the small sound man traded his copy with Coxsone Dodd for an American record — and it went down so well when Dodd played it that Duke Reid bribed one of Dodd’s assistants to get hold of Dodd’s copy long enough to get a copy made for himself. When Dodd and Reid played a sound clash — a show where they went head to head to see who could win a crowd over — and Reid played his own copy of “Lollipop Girl”, Dodd pulled a gun on Reid, and it was only the fact that the clash was next door to the police station that kept the two men from killing each other. Reid eventually wore out his copy of “Lollipop Girl”, he played it so much, and so he did the only sensible thing — he went into the record business himself, and took Harriott into the studio, along with a bunch of musicians from the local big bands, and cut a new version of it with a full band backing Harriott. As well as playing this on his sound system, Reid released it as a record: [Excerpt: Derrick Harriott, “Lollipop Girl”] Reid didn’t make many more records at this point, but both Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster started up their own labels, and started hiring local singers, plus people from a small pool of players who became the go-to session musicians for any record made in Jamaica at the time, like trombone player Rico Rodriguez and guitarist Ernest Ranglin. During the late 1950s, a new form of music developed from these recordings, which would become known as ska, and there are three records which are generally considered to be milestones in its development. The first was produced by a white businessman, Edward Seaga, who is now more famous for becoming the Prime Minister of Jamaica in the 1980s. At the time, though, Seaga had the idea to incorporate a little bit of a mento rhythm into an R&B record he was producing. In most music, if you have a four-four rhythm, you can divide it into eight on-beats and off-beats, and you normally stress the on-beats, so you stress “ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and”. In mento, though, you’d often have a banjo stress the off-beats, so the stresses would be “one AND two AND three AND four AND”. Seaga had the guitarist on “Manny Oh” by Higgs and Wilson do this, on a track that was otherwise a straightforward New Orleans style R&B song with a tresillo bassline. The change in stresses is almost imperceptible to modern ears, but it made the record sound uniquely Jamaican to its audience: [Excerpt: Higgs and Wilson, “Manny Oh”] The next record in the sequence was produced by Dodd, and is generally considered the first real ska record. There are a few different stories about where the term “ska” came from, but one of the more believable is that it came from Dodd directing Ernest Ranglin, who was the arranger for the record, to stress the off-beat more, saying “play it ska… ska… ska…” Where “Manny Oh” had been a Jamaican sounding R&B record, “Easy Snappin'” is definitely a blues-influenced ska record: [Excerpt: Theo Beckford, “Easy Snappin'”] But Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, at this point, still saw the music they were making as a substitute for American R&B. Prince Buster, on the other hand, by this point was a full-fledged Black nationalist, and wanted to make a purely Jamaican music. Buster was, in particular, an adherent of the Rastafari religion, and he brought in five drummers from the Rasta Nyabinghi tradition, most notably Count Ossie, who became the single most influential drummer in Jamaica, to record on the Folkes brothers single “Oh Carolina”, incorporating the rhythms of Rasta sacred music into Jamaican R&B for the first time: [Excerpt: The Folkes Brothers, “Oh Carolina”] 1962 was a turning point in Jamaican music in a variety of ways. Most obviously, it was the year that Jamaica became independent from the British Empire, and was able to take control of its own destiny. But it was also the year that saw the first recordings of a fourteen-year-old girl who would become ska’s first international star. Millie Small had started performing at the age of twelve, when she won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, the single biggest talent contest in Kingston. But it was two years later that she came to the attention of Coxsone Dodd, who was very interested in her because her voice sounded spookily like that of Shirley, from the duo Shirley and Lee. We mentioned Shirley and Lee briefly back in the episode on “Ko Ko Mo”, but they were a New Orleans R&B duo who had a string of hits in the early and mid fifties, recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s studio, pairing Leonard Lee’s baritone voice with Shirley Goodman’s soprano. Their early records had been knock-offs of the sound that Little Esther had created with Johnny Otis and his male vocalists — for example Shirley and Lee’s “Sweethearts”: [Excerpt: Shirley and Lee, “Sweethearts”] bears a very strong resemblance to “Double-Crossing Blues”: [Excerpt: Little Esther, Johnny Otis, and the Robins, “Double-Crossing Blues”] But they’d soon developed a more New Orleans style, with records like “Feel So Good” showing some of the Caribbean influence that many records from the area had: [Excerpt: Shirley and Lee, “Feel So Good”] Shirley and Lee only had minor chart success in the US, but spawned a host of imitators, including Gene and Eunice and Mickey and Sylvia, both of whom we looked at in the early months of the podcast, and Ike and Tina Turner who will be coming up later. Like much New Orleans R&B, Shirley and Lee were hugely popular among the sound system listeners, and Coxsone Dodd thought that Mille’s voice sounded enough like Shirley’s that it would be worth setting her up as part of his own Shirley and Lee soundalike duo, pairing her with a more established singer, Owen Gray, to record songs like “Sit and Cry”, a song which combined the vocal sound of Shirley and Lee with the melody of “The Twist”: [Excerpt: Owen and Millie, “Sit and Cry”] After Gray decided to continue performing on his own, Millie was instead teamed with another performer, Roy Panton, and “We’ll Meet” by Roy and Millie went to number one in Jamaica: [Excerpt: Roy and Millie, “We’ll Meet”] Meanwhile, in the UK, there was a growing interest in music from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. Until very recently, Britain had been a very white country — there have always been Black people in the UK, especially in port towns, but there had been very few. As of 1950, there were only about twenty thousand people of colour living in the UK. But starting in 1948, there had been a massive wave of immigration from other parts of what was then still the British Empire, as the government encouraged people to come here to help rebuild the country after the war. By 1961 there were nearly two hundred thousand Black people in Britain, almost all of them from the Caribbean. Those people obviously wanted to hear the music of their own culture, and one man in particular was giving it to them. Chris Blackwell was a remarkably privileged man. His father had been one of the heirs to the Crosse and Blackwell fortune, and young Chris had been educated at Harrow, but when not in school he had spent much of his youth in Jamaica. His mother, Blanche, lived in Jamaica, where she was a muse to many men — Noel Coward based a character on her, in a play he wrote in 1956 but which was considered so scandalous that it wasn’t performed in public until 2012. Blanche attended the premiere of that play, when she was ninety-nine years old. She had an affair with Errol Flynn, and was also Ian Fleming’s mistress — Fleming would go to his Jamaican villa, GoldenEye, every year to write, leaving his wife at home (where she was having her own affairs, with the Labour MPs Hugh Gaitskell and Roy Jenkins), and would hook up with Blanche while he was there — according to several sources, Fleming based the characters of Pussy Galore and Honeychile Ryder on Blanche. After Fleming’s death, his wife instructed the villa’s manager that it could be rented to literally anyone except Blanche Blackwell, but in the mid-1970s it was bought by Bob Marley, who in turn sold it to Chris Blackwell. Chris Blackwell had developed a fascination with Rasta culture after having crashed his boat while sailing, and being rescued by some Rasta fishermen, and he had decided that his goal was to promote Jamaican culture to the world. He’d started his own labels, Island Records, in 1959, using his parents’ money, and had soon produced a Jamaican number one, “Boogie in My Bones”, by Laurel Aitken: [Excerpt: Laurel Aitken, “Boogie in My Bones”] But music was still something of a hobby with Blackwell, to the point that he nearly quit it altogether in 1962. He’d been given a job as a gopher on the first James Bond film, Dr. No, thanks to his family connections, and had also had a cameo role in the film. Harry Saltzman, the producer, offered him a job, but Blackwell went to a fortune teller who told him to stick with music, and he did. Soon after that, he moved back to England, where he continued running Island Records, this time as a distributor of Jamaican records. The label would occasionally record some tracks of its own, but it made its money from releasing Jamaican records, which Blackwell would hand-sell to local record shops around immigrant communities in London, Manchester, and Birmingham. Island was not the biggest of the labels releasing Jamaican music in Britain at the time — there was another label, Blue Beat, which got most of the big records, and which was so popular that in Britain “bluebeat” became a common term for ska, used to describe the whole genre, in the same way as Motown might be. And ska was becoming popular enough that there was also local ska being made, by Jamaican musicians living in Britain, and it was starting to chart. The first ska record to hit the charts in Britain was a cover of a Jimmy Cliff song, “King of Kings”, performed by Ezz Reco and the Launchers: [Excerpt: Ezz Reco and the Launchers, “King of Kings”] That made the lower reaches of the top forty, and soon after came “Mockingbird Hill”, a ska remake of an old Les Paul and Mary Ford hit, recorded by the Migil Five, a white British R&B group whose main claim to fame was that one of them was Charlie Watts’ uncle, and Watts had occasionally filled in on drums for them before joining the Rolling Stones: [Excerpt: Migil Five, “Mockingbird Hill”] That made the top ten. Ska was becoming the in sound in Britain, to the point that in March 1964, the same month that “Mockingbird Hill” was released, the Beatles made a brief detour into ska in the instrumental break to “I Call Your Name”: [Excerpt: The Beatles, “I Call Your Name”] And it was into this atmosphere that Chris Blackwell decided to introduce Millie. Her early records had been selling well enough for him that in 1963 he had decided to call Millie’s mother and promise her that if her daughter came over to the UK, he would be able to make her into a star. Rather than release her records on Island, which didn’t have any wide distribution, he decided to license them to Fontana, a mid-sized British label. Millie’s first British single, “Don’t You Know”, was released in late 1963, and was standard British pop music of the time, with little to distinguish it, and so unsurprisingly it wasn’t a hit: [Excerpt: Millie, “Don’t You Know”] But the second single was something different. For that, Blackwell remembered a song that had been popular among the sound systems a few years earlier; an American record by a white singer named Barbara Gaye. Up to this point, Gaye’s biggest claim to fame had been that Ellie Greenwich had liked this record enough that she’d briefly performed under the stage name Ellie Gaye, before deciding against that. “My Boy Lollipop” had been written by Robert Spencer of the Cadillacs, the doo-wop group whose biggest hit had been “Speedoo”: [Excerpt: The Cadillacs, “Speedoo”] Spencer had written “My Boy Lollipop”, but lost the rights to it in a card game — and then Morris Levy bought the rights from the winner for a hundred dollars. Levy changed the songwriting credit to feature a mob acquaintance of his, Johnny Roberts, and then passed the song to Gaetano Vastola, another mobster, who had it recorded by Gaye, a teenage girl he managed, with the backing provided by the normal New York R&B session players, like Big Al Sears and Panama Francis: [Excerpt: Barbie Gaye, “My Boy Lollipop”] That hadn’t been a hit when it was released in 1956, but it had later been picked up by the Jamaican sound men, partly because of its resemblance to the ska style, and Blackwell had a tape recording of it. Blackwell got Ernest Ranglin, who had also worked on Dr. No, and who had moved over to the UK at the same time as Blackwell, to come up with an arrangement, and Ranglin hired a local band to perform the instrumental backing. That band, Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions, had previously been known as the Moontrekkers, and had worked with Joe Meek, recording “Night of the Vampire”: [Excerpt: The Moontrekkers, “Night of the Vampire”] Ranglin replaced the saxophone solo from the original record with a harmonica solo, to fit the current fad for the harmonica in the British charts, and there is some dispute about who played it, but Millie always insisted that it was the Five Dimensions’ harmonica player, Rod Stewart, though Stewart denies it: [Excerpt: Millie, “My Boy Lollipop”] “My Boy Lollipop” came out in early 1964 and became a massive hit, reaching number two on the charts both in the UK and the US, and Millie was now a star. She got her own UK TV special, as well as appearing on Around The Beatles, a special starring the Beatles and produced by Jack Good. She was romantically linked to Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon. Her next single, though, “Sweet William”, only made number thirty, as the brief first wave of interest in ska among the white public subsided: [Excerpt: Millie, “Sweet William”] Over the next few years, there were many attempts made to get her back in the charts, but the last thing that came near was a remake of “Bloodshot Eyes”, without the intimate partner violence references, which made number forty-eight on the UK charts at the end of 1965: [Excerpt: Millie, “Bloodshot Eyes”] She was also teamed with other artists in an attempt to replicate her success as a duet act. She recorded with Jimmy Cliff: [Excerpt: Millie and Jimmy Cliff, “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”] and Jackie Edwards: [Excerpt: Jackie and Millie, “Pledging My Love”] and she was also teamed with a rock group Blackwell had discovered, and who would soon become big stars themselves with versions of songs by Edwards, on a cover version of Ike and Tina Turner’s “I’m Blue (the Gong Gong Song)”: [Excerpt: The Spencer Davis Group, “I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song)”] But the Spencer Davis Group didn’t revive her fortunes, and she moved on to a succession of smaller labels, with her final recordings coming in the early 1970s, when she recorded the track “Enoch Power”, in response to the racism stirred up by the right-wing politician Enoch Powell: [Excerpt: Millie Small, “Enoch Power”] Millie spent much of the next few decades in poverty. There was talk of a comeback in the early eighties, after the British ska revival group Bad Manners had a top ten hit with a gender-flipped remake of “My Boy Lollipop”: [Excerpt: Bad Manners, “My Girl Lollipop”] But she never performed again after the early seventies, and other than one brief interview in 2016 she kept her life private. She was given multiple honours by the people of Jamaica, including being made a Commander in the Order of Distinction, but never really got any financial benefit from her enormous chart success, or from being the first Jamaican artist to make an impact on Britain and America. She died last year, aged seventy-two.
47 minutes | 3 months ago
Episode 113: “Needles and Pins” by The Searchers
This week’s episode looks at “Needles and Pins”, and the story of the second-greatest band to come out of Liverpool in the sixties, The Searchers. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a sixteen-minute bonus episode available, on “Farmer John” by Don and Dewey. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many recordings by the Searchers. My two main resources for this episode have been the autobiographies of members of the group — Frank Allen’s The Searchers and Me and Mike Pender’s The Search For Myself. All the Searchers tracks and Tony Jackson or Chris Curtis solo recordings excerpted here, except the live excerpt of “What’d I Say”, can be found on this box set, which is out of print as a physical box, but still available digitally. For those who want a good budget alternative, though, this double-CD set contains fifty Searchers tracks, including all their hits, for under three pounds. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Last week we had a look at the biggest group ever to come out of Liverpool, and indeed the biggest group ever to play rock and roll music. But the Beatles weren’t the only influential band on the Merseybeat scene, and while we won’t have much chance to look at Merseybeat in general, we should at least briefly touch on the other bands from the scene. So today we’re going to look at a band who developed a distinctive sound that would go on to be massively influential, even though they’re rarely cited as an influence in the way some of their contemporaries are. We’re going to look at The Searchers, and “Needles and Pins”: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins”] The story of the early origins of the Searchers is, like everything about the Searchers, the subject of a great deal of dispute. The two surviving original members of the group, John McNally and Mike Pender, haven’t spoken to each other in thirty-six years, and didn’t get on for many years before that, and there have been several legal disputes between them over the years. As a result, literally everything about the group’s history has become a battlefield in their ongoing arguments. According to a book by Frank Allen, the group’s bass player from 1964 on and someone who took McNally’s side in the split and subsequent legal problems, McNally formed a skiffle group, which Mike Pender later joined, and was later joined first by Tony Jackson and then by a drummer then known as Chris Crummey, but who changed his name to the more euphonic Chris Curtis. According to Pender, he never liked skiffle, never played skiffle, and “if McNally had a skiffle group, it must have been before I met him”. He is very insistent on this point — he liked country music, and later rock and roll, but never liked skiffle. According to him, he and McNally got together and formed a group that was definitely absolutely not in any way a skiffle group and wasn’t led by McNally but was formed by both of them. That group split up, and then Pender became friends with Tony Jackson — and he’s very insistent that he became friends with Jackson during a period when he didn’t know McNally — and the group reformed around the three of them, when McNally and Pender got back in touch. The origin of the group’s name is similarly disputed. Everyone agrees that it came from the John Wayne film The Searchers — the same film which had inspired the group’s hero Buddy Holly to write “That’ll Be The Day” — but there is disagreement as to whose idea the name was. Pender claims that it was his idea, while McNally says that the name was coined by a singer named “Big Ron”, who sang with the band for a bit before disappearing into obscurity. Big Ron’s replacement was a singer named Billy Beck, who at the time he was with the Searchers used the stage name Johnny Sandon (though he later reverted to his birth name). The group performed as Johnny Sandon and The Searchers for two years, before Sandon quit the group to join the Remo Four, a group that was managed by Brian Epstein. Sandon made some records with the Remo Four in 1963, but they went nowhere, but they’ll give some idea of how Sandon sounded: [Excerpt: Johnny Sandon and the Remo Four, “Lies”] The Remo Four later moved on to back Tommy Quickly, who we heard last week singing a song the Beatles wrote for him. With Sandon out of the picture, the group had no lead singer or frontman, and were in trouble — they were known around Liverpool as Johnny Sandon’s backing group, not as a group in their own right. They started splitting the lead vocals between themselves, but with Tony Jackson taking most of them. And, in a move which made them stand out, Chris Curtis moved his drum kit to the front line, started playing standing up, and became the group’s front-man and second lead singer. Even at this point, though, there seemed to be cracks in the group. The Searchers were the most clean-living of the Liverpool bands — they were all devout Catholics who would go to Mass every Sunday without fail, and seem to have never indulged in most of the vices that pretty much every other rock star indulged in. But Curtis and Jackson were far less so than Pender and McNally — Jackson in particular was a very heavy drinker and known to get very aggressive when drunk, while Curtis was known as eccentric in other ways — he seems to have had some sort of mental illness, though no-one’s ever spoken about a diagnosis — the Beatles apparently referred to him as “Mad Henry”. Curtis and Jackson didn’t get on with each other, and while Jackson started out as a close friend of Pender’s, the two soon drifted apart, and by the time of their first recording sessions they appeared to most people to be a group of three plus one outsider, with Jackson not getting on well with any of the others. There was also a split in the band’s musical tastes, but that would be the split that would drive much of their creativity. Pender and McNally were drawn towards softer music — country and rockabilly, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly — while Jackson preferred harder, stomping, music. But it was Chris Curtis who took charge of the group’s repertoire, and who was the group’s unofficial leader. While the other band members had fairly mainstream musical tastes, it was Curtis who would seek out obscure R&B B-sides that he thought the group could make their own, by artists like The Clovers and Richie Barrett — while many Liverpool groups played Barrett’s “Some Other Guy”, the Searchers would also play the B-side to that, “Tricky Dicky”, a song written by Leiber and Stoller. Curtis also liked quite a bit of folk music, and would also get the group to perform songs by Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary. The result of this combination of material and performers was that the Searchers ended up with a repertoire rooted in R&B, and a heavy rhythm section, but with strong harmony vocals inspired more by the Everlys than by the soul groups that were inspiring the other groups around Liverpool. Other than the Beatles, the Searchers were the best harmony group in Liverpool, and were the only other one to have multiple strong lead vocalists. Like the Beatles, the Searchers went off to play at the Star Club in Hamburg in 1962. Recordings were made of their performances there, and their live version of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s” later got released as a single after they became successful: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sweet Nothin’s”] Even as every talent scout in the country seemed to be turning up in Liverpool, and even bands from nearby Manchester were getting signed up in the hope of repeating the Beatles’ success, the Searchers were having no luck getting any attention from the London music industry. In part that was because of one bit of bad luck — the day that Brian Epstein turned up to see them, with the thought of maybe managing them, Tony Jackson was drunk and fell off the stage, and Epstein decided that he was going to give them a miss. As no talent scouts were coming to see them, they decided that they would record a demo session at the Iron Door, the club they regularly played, and send that out to A&R people. That demo session produced a full short album, which shows them at their stompiest and hardest-driving. Most of the Merseybeat bands sounded much more powerful in their earlier live performances than in the studio, and the Searchers were no exception, and it’s interesting to compare the sound of these recordings to the studio ones from only a few months later: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Let’s Stomp”] The group eventually signed to Pye Records. Pye was the third or fourth biggest record label in Britain at the time, but that was a relative matter — EMI and Decca between them had something like eighty-five percent of the market, and basically *were* the record industry in Britain at the time. Pye was chronically underfunded, and when they signed an artist who managed to have any success, they would tend to push that artist to keep producing as many singles as possible, chasing trends, rather than investing in their long-term career survival. That said, they did have some big acts, most notably Petula Clark — indeed the company had been formed from the merger of two other companies, one of which had been formed specifically to issue Clark’s records. Clark was yet to have her big breakthrough hit in the USA, but she’d had several big hits in the UK, including the number one hit “Sailor”: [Excerpt: Petula Clark, “Sailor”] The co-producer on that track had been Tony Hatch, a songwriter and producer who would go on to write and produce almost all of Clark’s hit records. Hatch had a track record of hits — we’ve heard several songs he was involved in over the course of the series. Most recently, we heard last week how “She Loves You” was inspired by “Forget Him”, which Hatch wrote and produced for Bobby Rydell: [Excerpt: Bobby Rydell, “Forget Him”] Hatch heard the group’s demo, and was impressed, and offered to sign them. The Searchers’ manager at the time agreed, on one condition — that Hatch also sign another band he managed, The Undertakers. Astonishingly, Hatch agreed, and so the Undertakers also got a record contract, and released several flop singles produced by Hatch, including this cover version of a Coasters tune: [Excerpt: The Undertakers, “What About Us?”] The biggest mark that the Undertakers would make on music would come many years later, when their lead singer Jackie Lomax would release a solo single, “Sour Milk Sea”, which George Harrison wrote for him. The Searchers, on the other hand, made their mark immediately. The group’s first single was a cover version of a song written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, which had been a top twenty hit in the US for the Drifters a couple of years earlier: [Excerpt: The Drifters, “Sweets For My Sweet”] That had become a regular fixture in the Searchers’ live set, with Tony Jackson singing lead and Chris Curtis singing the high backing vocal part in falsetto. In much the same way that the Beatles had done with “Twist and Shout”, they’d flattened out the original record’s Latin cha-cha-cha rhythm into a more straightforward thumping rocker for their live performances, as you can hear on their original demo version from the Iron Door sessions: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sweets For My Sweet (live at the Iron Door)”] As you can hear, they’d also misheard a chunk of the lyrics, and so instead of “your tasty kiss”, Jackson sang “Your first sweet kiss”. In the studio, they slowed the song down very slightly, and brought up the harmony vocal from Pender on the choruses, which on the demo he seems to have been singing off-mic. The result was an obvious hit: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sweets For My Sweet”] That went to number one, helped by an endorsement from John Lennon, who said it was the best record to come out of Liverpool, and launched the Searchers into the very top tier of Liverpool groups, their only real competition being the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers — and though nobody could have known it at the time, the Pacemakers’ career had already peaked at this point. Their first album, Meet The Searchers, featured “Sweets For My Sweet”, along with a selection of songs that mixed the standard repertoire of every Merseybeat band — “Money”, “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Twist and Shout”, “Stand By Me”, and the Everly Brothers’ “Since You Broke My Heart”, with more obscure songs like “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya”, by the then-unknown P.J. Proby, “Farmer John” by Don and Dewey, which hadn’t yet become a garage-rock standard (and indeed seems to have become so largely because of the Searchers’ version), and a cover of “Love Potion #9”, a song that Leiber and Stoller had written for the Clovers, which was not released as a single in the UK, but later became their biggest hit in the US (and a quick content note for this one — the lyric contains a word for Romani people which many of those people regard as a slur): [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Love Potion #9”] Their second single was an attempt to repeat the “Sweets For My Sweet” formula, and was written by Tony Hatch, although the group didn’t know that at the time. Hatch, like many producers of the time, was used to getting his artists to record his own songs, written under pseudonyms so the record label didn’t necessarily realise this was what he was doing. In this case he brought the group a song that he claimed had been written by one “Fred Nightingale”, and which he thought would be perfect for them. The song in question, “Sugar and Spice”, was a blatant rip-off of “Sweets For My Sweet”, and recorded in a near-identical arrangement: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sugar and Spice”] The group weren’t keen on the song, and got very angry later on when they realised that Tony Hatch had lied to them about its origins, but the record was almost as big a hit as the first one, peaking at number two on the charts. But it was their third single that was the group’s international breakthrough, and which both established a whole new musical style and caused the first big rift in the group. The song chosen for that third single was one they learned in Hamburg, from Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, a London group who had recorded a few singles with Joe Meek, like “You Got What I Like”: [Excerpt: Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, “You Got What I Like”] The Rebel Rousers had picked up on a record by Jackie DeShannon, a singer-songwriter who had started up a writing partnership with Sharon Sheeley, the writer who had been Eddie Cochran’s girlfriend and in the fatal car crash with him. The record they’d started covering live, though, was not one that DeShannon was the credited songwriter on. “Needles and Pins” was credited to two other writers, both of them associated with Phil Spector. Sonny Bono was a young songwriter who had written songs at Specialty Records for people like Sam Cooke, Larry Williams, and Don and Dewey, and his most famous song up to this point was “She Said Yeah”, the B-side to Williams’ “Bad Boy”: [Excerpt: Larry Williams, “She Said Yeah”] After working at Specialty, he’d gone on to work as Phil Spector’s assistant, doing most of the hands-on work in the studio while Spector sat in the control room. While working with Spector he’d got to know Jack Nitzsche, who did most of the arrangements for Spector, and who had also had hits on his own like “The Lonely Surfer”: [Excerpt: Jack Nitzsche, “The Lonely Surfer”] Bono and Nitzsche are the credited writers on “Needles and Pins”, but Jackie DeShannon insists that she co-wrote the song with them, but her name was left off the credits. I tend to believe her — both Nitzsche and Bono were, like their boss, abusive misogynist egomaniacs, and it’s easy to see them leaving her name off the credits. Either way, DeShannon recorded the song in early 1963, backed by members of the Wrecking Crew, and it scraped into the lower reaches of the US Hot One Hundred, though it actually made number one in Canada: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, “Needles and Pins”] Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers had been covering that song, and Chris Curtis picked up on it as an obvious hit. The group reshaped the song, and fixed the main flaw with DeShannon’s original. There’s really only about ninety seconds’ worth of actual song in “Needles and Pins”, and DeShannon’s version ends with a minute or so of vamping — it sounds like it’s still a written lyric, but it’s full of placeholders where entire lines are “whoa-oh”, the kind of thing that someone like Otis Redding could make sound great, but that didn’t really work for her record. The Searchers tightened the song up and altered its dynamics — instead of the middle eight leading to a long freeform section, they started the song with Mike Pender singing solo, and then on the middle eight they added a high harmony from Curtis, then just repeated the first verse and chorus, in the new key of C sharp, with Curtis harmonising this time: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins” (middle eight on)] The addition of the harmony gives the song some much-needed dynamic variation not present in DeShannon’s version, while repeating the original verse after the key change, and adding in Curtis’ high harmony, gives it an obsessive quality. The protagonist here is spiralling – he keeps thinking the same things over and over, at a higher and higher pitch, getting more and more desperate. It’s a simple change, but one that improves the song immensely. Incidentally, one thing I should note here because it’s not something I normally do — in these excerpts of the Searchers’ version of “Needles and Pins”, I’m actually modifying the recording slightly. The mix used for the original single version of the song, which is what I’m excerpting here, is marred by an incredibly squeaky bass pedal on Chris Curtis’ drumkit, which isn’t particularly audible if you’re listening to it on early sixties equipment, which had little dynamic range, but which on modern digital copies of the track overpowers everything else, to the point that the record sounds like that Monty Python sketch where someone plays a tune by hitting mice with hammers. Here’s a couple of seconds of the unmodified track, so you can see what I mean: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins”] Most hits compilations have a stereo mix of the song, and have EQ’d it so that the squeaky bass pedal isn’t noticeable, but I try wherever possible to use the mixes that people were actually listening to at the time, so I’ve compromised and used the mono mix but got rid of the squeaky frequencies, so you can hear the music I’m talking about rather than being distracted by the squeaks. Anyway, leaving the issue of nobody telling Chris Curtis to oil his pedals aside, the change in the structure of the song turned it from something a little baggy and aimless into a tight two-and-a-half minute pop song, but the other major change they made was emphasising the riff, and in doing so they inadvertently invented a whole new genre of music. The riff in DeShannon’s version is there, but it’s just one element — an acoustic guitar strumming through the chords. It’s a good, simple, play-in-a-day riff — you basically hold a chord down and then move a single finger at a time and you can get that riff — and it’s the backbone of the song, but there’s also a piano, and horns, and the Blossoms singing: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, “Needles and Pins”] But what the Searchers did was to take the riff and play it simultaneously on two electric guitars, and then added reverb. They also played the first part of the song in A, rather than the key of C which DeShannon’s version starts in, which allowed the open strings to ring out more. The result came out sounding like an electric twelve-string, and soon both they and the Beatles would be regularly using twelve-string Rickenbackers to get the same sound: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins”] That record is the root of jangle-pop and folk-rock. That combination of jangling, reverb-heavy, trebly guitars and Everly Brothers inspired harmonies is one that leads directly to the Byrds, Love, Big Star, Tom Petty, REM, the Smiths, and the Bangles, among many others. While the Beatles were overall obviously the more influential group by a long way, “Needles and Pins” has a reasonable claim to be the most influential single track from the Merseybeat era. It went to number one in the UK, and became the group’s breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number sixteen. The follow-up, “Don’t Throw Your Love Away”, a cover of a B-side by the Orlons, again featuring Pender on lead vocals and Curtis on harmonies, also made number one in the UK and the US top twenty, giving them a third number one out of four singles. But the next single, “Someday We’re Gonna Love Again”, a cover of a Barbara Lewis song, only made number eleven, and caused journalists to worry if the Searchers had lost their touch. There was even some talk in the newspapers that Mike Pender might leave the group and start a solo career, which he denied. As it turned out, one of the group’s members was going to leave, but it wasn’t Mike Pender. Tony Jackson had sung lead on the first two singles, and on the majority of the tracks on the first album, and he thus regarded himself as the group’s lead singer. With Pender taking over the lead on the more recent hit singles, Jackson was being edged aside. By the third album, It’s The Searchers, which included “Needles and Pins”, Jackson was the only group member not to get a solo lead vocal — even John McNally got one, while Jackson’s only lead was an Everlys style close harmony with Mike Pender. Everything else was being sung by Pender or Curtis. Jackson was also getting involved in personality conflicts with the other band members — at one point it actually got to the point that he and Pender had a fistfight on stage. Jackson was also not entirely keen on the group’s move towards more melodic material. It’s important to remember that the Searchers had started out as an aggressive, loud, R&B band, and they still often sounded like that on stage — listen for example to their performance of “What’d I Say” at the NME poll-winners’ party in April 1964, with Chris Curtis on lead vocals clearly showing why he had a reputation for eccentricity: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “What’d I Say (live)”] The combination of these musical differences and his feelings about having his place usurped meant that Jackson was increasingly getting annoyed at the other three band members. Eventually he left the group — whether he was fired or quit depends on which version of the story you read — and was replaced by Frank Allen of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. Jackson didn’t take this replacement well, and publicly went round telling people that he had been pushed out of the band so that Curtis could get his boyfriend into the band, and there are some innuendoes to this effect in Mike Pender’s autobiography — although Allen denies that he and Curtis were in a relationship, and says that he doesn’t actually know what Curtis’ sexuality was, because they never discussed that kind of thing, and presumably Allen would know better than anyone else whether he was in a relationship with Curtis. Curtis is widely described as having been gay or bi by his contemporaries, but if he was he never came out publicly, possibly due to his strong religious views. There’s some suggestion, indeed, that one reason Jackson ended up out of the band was that he blackmailed the band, saying that he would publicly out Curtis if he didn’t get more lead vocals. Whatever the truth, Jackson left the group, and his first solo single, “Bye Bye Baby”, made number thirty-eight on the charts: [Excerpt: Tony Jackson and the Vibrations, “Bye Bye Baby”] However, his later singles had no success — he was soon rerecording “Love Potion Number Nine” in the hope that that would be a UK chart success as it had been in the US: [Excerpt: Tony Jackson and the Vibrations, “Love Potion Number Nine”] Meanwhile, Allen was fitting in well with his new group, and it appeared at first that the group’s run of hits would carry on uninterrupted without Jackson. The first single by the new lineup, “When You Walk In The Room”, was a cover of another Jackie DeShannon song, this time written by DeShannon on her own, and originally released as a B-side: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, “When You Walk In The Room”] The Searchers rearranged that, once again emphasising the riff from DeShannon’s original, and by this time playing it on real twelve-strings, and adding extra compression to them. Their version featured a joint lead vocal by Pender and Allen: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “When You Walk In the Room”] Do you think the Byrds might have heard that? That went to number three on the charts. The next single was less successful, only making number thirteen, but was interesting in other ways — from the start, as well as their R&B covers, Curtis had been adding folk songs to the group’s repertoire, and there’d been one or two covers of songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” on their albums, but “What Have They Done to the Rain?” was the first one to become a single. It was written by Malvina Reynolds, who was a socialist activist who only became a songwriter in her early fifties, and who also wrote “Morningtown Ride” and “Little Boxes”. “What Have They Done to The Rain?” was a song written to oppose nuclear weapons testing, and Curtis had learned it from a Joan Baez album. Even though it wasn’t as big a success as some of their other hits, given how utterly different it was from their normal style, and how controversial the subject was, getting it into the top twenty at all seems quite an achievement. [Excerpt: The Searchers, “What Have They Done To The Rain?”] Their next single, “Goodbye My Love”, was their last top ten hit, and the next few singles only made the top forty, even when the Rolling Stones gave them “Take It Or Leave It”. The other group members started to get annoyed at Curtis, who they thought had lost his touch at picking songs, and whose behaviour had become increasingly erratic. Eventually, on an Australian tour, they took his supply of uppers and downers, which he had been using as much to self-medicate as for enjoyment as far as I can tell, and flushed them down the toilet. When they got back to the UK, Curtis was out of the group. Their first single after Curtis’ departure, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”, was given to them by the Hollies, who had originally written it as an Everly Brothers album track: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”] Unfortunately for the Searchers, Chris Curtis had also heard the song, decided it was a likely hit, and had produced a rival version for Paul and Barry Ryan, which got rushed out to compete with it: [Excerpt: Paul and Barry Ryan, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”] Neither single made the top forty, and the Searchers would never have a hit single again. Nor would Curtis. Curtis only released one solo single, “Aggravation”, a cover of a Joe South song: [Excerpt: Chris Curtis, “Aggravation”] The musicians on that included Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Joe Moretti, but it didn’t chart. Curtis then tried to form a band, which he named Roundabout, based on the concept that musicians could hop on or hop off at any point, with Curtis as the only constant member. The guitarist and keyboard player quickly decided that it would be more convenient for them if Curtis was the one to hop off, and without Curtis Jon Lord and Richie Blackmore went on to form Deep Purple. The Searchers didn’t put out another album for six years after Curtis left. They kept putting out singles on various labels, but nothing came close to charting. Their one album between 1966 and 1979 was a collection of rerecordings of their old hits, in 1972. But then in 1979 Seymour Stein, the owner of Sire Records, a label which was having success with groups like the Ramones, Talking Heads, and the Pretenders, was inspired by the Ramones covering “Needles and Pins” to sign the Searchers to a two-album deal, which produced records that fit perfectly into the late seventies New Wave pop landscape, while still sounding like the Searchers: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Hearts in Her Eyes”] Apparently during those sessions, Curtis, who had given up music and become a civil servant, would regularly phone the studio threatening to burn it down if he wasn’t involved. Unfortunately, while those albums had some critical success, they did nothing commercially, and Sire dropped them. By 1985, the Searchers were at breaking point. They hadn’t recorded any new material in several years, and Mike Pender and John McNally weren’t getting on at all — which was a particular problem as the two of them were now the only two members based in Liverpool, and so they had to travel to and from gigs together without the other band members — the group were so poor that McNally and Pender had one car between the two of them. One of them would drive them both to the gig, the other would drive back to Liverpool and keep the car until the next gig, when they would swap over again. No-one except them knows what conversations they had on those long drives, but apparently they weren’t amicable. Pender thought of himself as the star of the group, and he particularly resented that he had to split the money from the band three ways (the drummers the group got in after Curtis were always on a salary rather than full partners in the group). Pender decided that he could make more money by touring on his own but still doing essentially the same show, with hired backing musicians. Pender and the other Searchers eventually reached an agreement that he could tour as “Mike Pender’s Searchers”, so long as he made sure that all the promotional material put every word at the same size, while the other members would continue as The Searchers with a new singer. A big chunk of the autobiographies of both Pender and Allen are taken up with the ensuing litigation, as there were suits and countersuits over matters of billing which on the outside look incredibly trivial, but which of course mattered greatly to everyone involved — there were now two groups with near-identical names, playing the same sets, in the same venues, and so any tiny advantage that one had was a threat to the other, to the extent that at one point there was a serious danger of Pender going to prison over their contractual disputes. The group had been earning very little money anyway, comparatively, and there was a real danger that the two groups undercutting each other might lead to everyone going bankrupt. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Pender still tours — or at least has tour dates booked over the course of the next year — and McNally and Allen’s band continued playing regularly until 2019, and only stopped performing because of McNally’s increasing ill health. Having seen both, Pender’s was the better show — McNally and Allen’s lineup of the group relied rather too heavily on a rather cheesy sounding synthesiser for my tastes, while Pender stuck closer to a straight guitar/bass/drums sound — but both kept audiences very happy for decades. Mike Pender was made an MBE in 2020, as a reward for his services to the music industry. Tony Jackson and Chris Curtis both died in the 2000s, and John McNally and Frank Allen are now in well-deserved retirement. While Allen and Pender exchanged pleasantries and handshakes at their former bandmates’ funerals, McNally and Pender wouldn’t even say hello to each other, and even though McNally and Allen’s band has retired, there’s still a prominent notice on their website that they own the name “The Searchers” and nobody else is allowed to use it. But every time you hear a jangly twelve-string electric guitar, you’re hearing a sound that was originally created by Mike Pender and John McNally playing in unison, a sound that proved to be greater than any of its constituent parts.
45 minutes | 3 months ago
Episode 112: “She Loves You” by The Beatles
This week’s episode looks at “She Loves You”, the Beatles in 1963, and the start of Beatlemania in the UK. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)
45 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 111: “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas
Episode one hundred and eleven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginnings of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As usual, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I’ve used the following resources: Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown. To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy’s own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography. Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown, including Martha and the Vandellas. I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown. The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown’s thirty-year history. How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier’s autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers’. And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles. Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era, including Martha and the Vandellas. And Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva by Martha Reeves and Mark Bego is Reeves’ autobiography. And this three-CD set contains all the Vandellas’ Motown singles, along with a bunch of rarities. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we’re going to take a look at the career of one of the great girl groups to come out of Motown, and at the early work of the songwriting team that went on to be arguably the most important people in the definition of the Motown Sound. We’re going to look at “Heatwave” by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginning of the career of Holland, Dozier, and Holland: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Heatwave”] By the time she started recording for Motown, Martha Reeves had already spent several years in groups around Detroit, with little success. Her singing career had started in a group called The Fascinations, which she had formed with another singer, who is variously named in different sources as Shirley Lawson and Shirley Walker. She’d quickly left that group, but after she left them, the Fascinations went on to make a string of minor hit records with Curtis Mayfield: [Excerpt: The Fascinations, “Girls Are Out To Get You”] But it wasn’t just her professional experience, such as it was, that Reeves credited for her success — she had also been a soloist in her high school choir, and from her accounts her real training came from her High School music teacher, Abraham Silver. In her autobiography she talks about hanging around in the park singing with other people who had been taught by the same teacher — Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, who would go on to form the Supremes, Bobby Rogers and Claudette Robinson, who were founder members of the Miracles, and Little Joe Harris, who would later become lead singer of the minor Motown act The Undisputed Truth. She’d eventually joined another group, the Del-Phis, with three other singers — Gloria Williams (or Williamson — sources vary as to what her actual surname was — it might be that Williamson was her birth name and Williams a stage name), Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford. The group found out early on that they didn’t particularly get on with each other as people — their personalities were all too different — but their voices blended well and they worked well on stage. Williams or Williamson was the leader and lead singer at this point, and the rest of the DelPhis acted as her backing group. They started performing at the amateur nights and talent contests that were such a big part of the way that Black talent got known at that time, and developed a rivalry with two other groups — The Primes, who would later go on to be the Temptations, and The Primettes, who had named themselves after the Primes, but later became the Supremes. Those three groups more or less took it in turns to win the talent contests, and before long the Del-Phis had been signed to Checkmate Records, one of several subsidiaries of Chess, where they released one single, with Gloria on lead: [Excerpt: The Del-Phis, “I’ll Let You Know”] The group also sang backing vocals on various other records at that time, like Mike Hanks’ “When True Love Comes to Be”: [Excerpt: Mike Hanks, “When True Love Comes to Be”] Depending on who you believe, Martha may not be on that record at all — the Del-Phis apparently had some lineup fluctuations, with members coming and going, though the story of who was in the group when seems to be told more on the basis of who wants credit for what at any particular time than on what the truth is. No matter who was in the group, though, they never had more than local success. While the Del-Phis were trying and failing to become big stars as a group, Martha also started performing solo, as Martha LaVelle. Only a couple of days after her first solo performance, Mickey Stevenson saw her perform and gave her his card, telling her to pop down to Hitsville for an audition as he thought she had talent. But when she did turn up, Stevenson was annoyed at her, over a misunderstanding that turned out to be his fault. She had just come straight to the studio, assuming she could audition any time, and Stevenson hadn’t explained to her that they had one day a month where they ran auditions — he’d expected her to call him on the number on the card, not just come down. Stevenson was busy that day, and left the office, telling Martha on his way out the door that he’d be back in a bit, and to answer the phone if it rang, leaving her alone in the office. She started answering the phone, calling herself the “A&R secretary”, taking messages, and sorting out problems. She was asked to come back the next day, and worked there three weeks for no pay before getting herself put on a salary as Stevenson’s secretary. Once her foot was in the door at Motown, she also started helping out on sessions, as almost all the staff there did, adding backing vocals, handclaps, or footstomps for a five-dollar-per-session bonus. One of her jobs as Stevenson’s secretary was to phone and book session musicians and singers, and for one session the Andantes, Motown’s normal female backing vocal group, were unavailable. Martha got the idea to call the rest of the DelPhis — who seem like they might even have been split up at this point, depending on which source you read — and see if they wanted to do the job instead. They had to audition for Berry Gordy, but Gordy was perfectly happy with them and signed them to Motown. Their role was mostly to be backing vocalists, but the plan was that they would also cut a few singles themselves as well. But Gordy didn’t want to sign them as the Del-Phis — he didn’t know what the details of their contract with Checkmate were, and who actually owned the name. So they needed a new name. At first they went with the Dominettes, but that was soon changed, before they ever made a record What happened is a matter of some dispute, because this seems to be the moment that Martha Reeves took over the group — it may be that the fact that she was the one booking them for the sessions and so in charge of whether they got paid or not changed the power dynamics of the band — and so different people give different accounts depending on who they want to seem most important. But the generally accepted story is that Martha suggested a name based on the street she lived on, Van Dyke Street, and Della Reese, Martha’s favourite singer, who had hits like “Don’t You Know?”: [Excerpt: Della Reese, “Don’t You Know?”] The group became Martha and the Vandellas — although Rosalind Ashford, who says that the group name was not Martha’s work, also says that the group weren’t “Martha and the Vandellas” to start with, but just the Vandellas, and this might be the case, as at this point Gloria rather than Martha was still the lead singer. The newly-named Vandellas were quickly put to work, mostly working on records that Mickey Stevenson produced. The first record they sang on was not credited either to the Vandellas *or* to Martha and the Vandellas, being instead credited to Saundra Mallett and the Vandellas – Mallett was a minor Motown singer who they were backing for this one record. The song was one written by Berry Gordy, as an attempt at a “Loco-Motion” clone, and was called “Camel Walk”: [Excerpt: Saundra Mallett and the Vandellas, “Camel Walk”] More famously, there was the record that everyone talks about as being the first one to feature the Vandellas, even though it came out after “Camel Walk”, one we’ve already talked about before, Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”: [Excerpt: Marvin Gaye, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”] That became Gaye’s breakout hit, and as well as singing in the studio for other artists and trying to make their own records, the Vandellas were now also Marvin Gaye’s backing vocalists, and at shows like the Motortown Revue shows, as well as performing their own sets, the Vandellas would sing with Gaye as well. While they were not yet themselves stars, they had a foot on the ladder, and through working with Marvin they got to perform with all sorts of other people — Martha was particularly impressed by the Beach Boys, who performed on the same bill as them in Detroit, and she developed a lifelong crush on Mike Love. But while the Vandellas were Motown’s go-to backing vocalists in 1962, they still wanted to make their own records. They did make one record with Gloria singing lead, “You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)”: [Excerpt: The Vells, “You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)”] But that was released not as by the Vandellas, but by the Vells, because by the time it was released, the Vandellas had more or less by accident become definitively MARTHA and the Vandellas. The session that changed everything came about because Martha was still working as Mickey Stevenson’s secretary. Stevenson was producing a record for Mary Wells, and he had a problem. Stevenson had recently instituted a new system for his recordings at Motown. Up to this point, they’d been making records with everyone in the studio at the same time — all the musicians, the lead singer, the backing vocalists, and so on. But that became increasingly difficult when the label’s stars were on tour all the time, and it also meant that if the singer flubbed a note a good bass take would also be wrecked, or vice versa. It just wasn’t efficient. So, taking advantage of the ability to multitrack, Stevenson had started doing things differently. Now backing tracks would be recorded by the Funk Brothers in the studio whenever a writer-producer had something for them to record, and then the singer would come in later and overdub their vocals when it was convenient to do that. That also had other advantages — if a singer turned out not to be right for the song, they could record another singer doing it instead, and they could reuse backing tracks, so if a song was a hit for, say, the Miracles, the Marvelettes could then use the same backing track for a cover version of it to fill out an album. But there was a problem with this system, and that problem was the Musicians’ Union. The union had a rule that if musicians were cutting a track that was intended to have a vocal, the vocalist *must* be present at the session — like a lot of historical union rules, this seems faintly ridiculous today, but no doubt there were good reasons for it at the time. Motown, like most labels, were perfectly happy to break the union rules on occasion, but there was always the possibility of a surprise union inspection, and one turned up while Mickey Stevenson was cutting “I’ll Have to Let Him Go”. Mary Wells wasn’t there, and knowing that his secretary could sing, Stevenson grabbed her and got her to go into the studio and sing the song while the musicians played. Martha decided to give the song everything she had, and Stevenson was impressed enough that he decided to give the song to her, rather than Wells, and at the same session that the Vandellas recorded the songs with Gloria on lead, they recorded new vocals to the backing track that Stevenson had recorded that day: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “I’ll Have to Let Him Go”] That was released under the Martha and the Vandellas name, and around this point Gloria left the group. Some have suggested that this was because she didn’t like Martha becoming the leader, while others have said that it’s just that she had a good job working for the city, and didn’t want to put that at risk by becoming a full-time singer. Either way, a week after the Vandellas record came out, Motown released “You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)” under the name The Vells. Neither single had any chart success, but that wouldn’t be true for the next one, which wouldn’t be released for another five months. But when it was finally released, it would be regarded as the beginning of the “Motown Sound”. Before that record, Motown had released many extraordinary records, and we’ve looked at some of them. But after it, it began a domination of the American charts that would last the rest of the decade; a domination caused in large part by the team of Holland, Dozier, and Holland. We’ve heard a little from the Holland brothers and Lamont Dozier, separately, in previous episodes looking at Motown, but this is the point at which they go from being minor players within the Motown organisation to being the single most important team for the label’s future commercial success, so we should take a proper look at them now. Eddie Holland started working with Berry Gordy years before the start of Motown — he was a singer who was known for having a similar sounding voice to that of Jackie Wilson, and Gordy had taken him on first as a soundalike demo singer, recording songs written for Wilson so Wilson could hear how they would sound in his voice, and later trying to mould him into a Wilson clone, starting with Holland’s first single, “You”: [Excerpt: Eddie Holland, “You”] Holland quickly found that he didn’t enjoy performing on stage — he loved singing, but he didn’t like the actual experience of being on stage. However, he continued doing it, in the belief that one should not just quit a job until a better opportunity comes along. Before becoming a professional singer, Holland had sung in street-corner doo-wop groups with his younger brother Brian. Brian, unlike Eddie, didn’t have a particularly great voice, but what he did have was a great musical mind — he could instantly figure out all the harmony parts for the whole group, and had a massive talent for arrangement. Eddie spent much of his early time working with Gordy trying to get Gordy to take his little brother seriously — at the time, Brian Holland was still in his early teens, and Gordy refused to believe he could be as talented as Eddie said. Eventually, though, Gordy listened to Brian and took him under his wing, pairing him with Janie Bradford to add music to Bradford’s lyrics, and also teaching him to engineer. One of Brian Holland’s first engineering jobs was for a song recorded by Eddie, written as a jingle for a wine company but released as a single under the name “Briant Holland” — meaning it has often over the years been assumed to be Brian singing lead: [Excerpt: Briant Holland, “(Where’s the Joy) in Nature Boy?”] When Motown started up, Brian had become a staffer — indeed, he has later claimed that he was the very first person employed by Motown as a permanent staff member. While Eddie was out on the road performing, Brian was writing, producing, and singing backing vocals on many, many records. We’ve already heard how he was the co-writer and producer on “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Please Mr. Postman”] That had obviously been a massive hit, and Motown’s first number one, but Brian was still definitely just one of the Motown team, and not as important a part of it as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, or Mickey Stevenson. Meanwhile, Eddie finally had a minor hit of his own, with “Jamie”, a song co-written by Barrett Strong and Mickey Stevenson, and originally recorded by Strong — when Strong left the label, they took the backing track intended for him and had Holland record new vocals over it. [Excerpt: Eddie Holland, “Jamie”] That made the top thirty, which must have been galling at the time for Strong, who’d quit in part because he couldn’t get a hit. But the crucial thing that lifted the Holland brothers from being just parts of the Motown machine to being the most important creative forces in the company was when Brian Holland became friendly with Anne Dozier, who worked at Motown packing records, and whose husband Lamont was a singer. Lamont Dozier had been around musical people all his life — at Hutchins Junior High School, he was a couple of years below Marv Johnson, the first Motown star, he knew Freda Payne, and one of his classmates was Otis Williams, later of the Temptations. But it was another junior high classmate who, as he puts it, “lit a fire under me to take some steps to get my own music heard by the world”, when one of his friends asked him if he felt like coming along to church to hear another classmate sing. Dozier had no idea this classmate sang, but he went along, and as it happens, we have some recordings of that classmate singing and playing piano around that time: [Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood”] That’s fourteen-year-old Aretha Franklin, and as you can imagine, being classmates with someone who could perform like that caused Lamont Dozier to radically revise his ideas of what it was possible for him to do. He’d formed a doo-wop group called the Romeos, and they released their first single, with both sides written by Lamont, by the time he was sixteen: [Excerpt: The Romeos, “Gone Gone Get Away”] The Romeos’ third single, “Fine Fine Fine”, was picked up by Atlantic for distribution, and did well enough that Atlantic decided they wanted a follow-up, and wrote to them asking them to come into the studio. But Lamont Dozier, at sixteen, thought that he had some kind of negotiating power, and wrote back saying they weren’t interested in just doing a single, they wanted to do an album. Jerry Wexler wrote back saying “fair enough, you’re released from your contract”, and the Romeos’ brief career was over before it began. He joined the Voice Masters, the first group signed to Anna Records, and sang on records of theirs like “Hope and Pray”, the very first record ever put out by a Gordy family label: [Excerpt: The Voice Masters, “Hope and Pray”] And he’d continued to sing with them, as well as working for Anna Records doing odd jobs like cleaning the floors. His first solo record on Anna, released under the name Lamont Anthony, featured Robert White on guitar, James Jamerson on bass, Harvey Fuqua on piano, and Marvin Gaye on drums, and was based on the comic character “Popeye”: [Excerpt: Lamont Anthony, “Popeye the Sailor Man”] Unfortunately, just as that record was starting to take off, King Features Syndicate, the owners of Popeye, sent a cease and desist order. Dozier went back into the studio and recut the vocal, this time singing about Benny the Skinny Man, instead of Popeye the Sailor Man: [Excerpt: Lamont Anthony, “Benny the Skinny Man”] But without the hook of it being about Popeye, the song flopped. Dozier joined Motown when that became the dominant part of the Gordy family operation, and signed up as a songwriter and producer. Robert Batemen had just stopped working with Brian Holland as a production team, and when Anne Dozier suggested that Holland go and meet her husband who was just starting at Motown, Holland walked in to find Dozier working at the piano, writing a song but stuck for a middle section. Holland told him he had an idea, sat next to him at the piano, and came up with the bridge. The two instantly clicked musically — they discovered that they almost had a musical telepathy, and Holland got Freddie Gorman, his lyricist partner at the time, to finish up the lyrics for the song while he and Dozier came up with more ideas. That song became a Marvelettes album track, “Forever”, which a few years later would be put out as a B-side, and make the top thirty in its own right: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Forever”] Holland and Dozier quickly became a strong musical team — Dozier had a great aptitude for coming up with riffs and hooks, both lyrical and musical, and rhythmic ideas, while Brian Holland could come up with great melodies and interesting chord changes, though both could do both. In the studio Brian would work with the drummers, while Lamont would work with the keyboard players and discuss the bass parts with James Jamerson. Their only shortfall was lyrically. They could both write lyrics — and Lamont would often come up with a good title or hook phrase — but they were slow at doing it. For the lyrics, they mostly worked with Freddie Gorman, and sometimes got Janie Bradford in. These teams came up with some great records, like “Contract on Love”, which sounds very like a Four Seasons pastiche but also points the way to Holland and Dozier’s later sound: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, “Contract on Love”] Both Little Stevie Wonder and the backing vocalists on that, the Temptations, would do better things later, but that’s still a solid record. Meanwhile, Eddie Holland had had a realisation that would change the course of Motown. “Jamie” had been a hit, but he received no royalties — he’d had a run of flop singles, so he hadn’t yet earned out the production costs on his records. His first royalty statement after his hit showed him still owing Motown money. He asked his brother, who got a royalty statement at the same time, if he was in the same boat, and Brian showed him the statement for several thousand dollars that he’d made from the songs he’d written. Eddie decided that he was in the wrong job. He didn’t like performing anyway, and his brother was making serious money while he was working away earning nothing. He took nine months off from doing anything other than the bare contractual minimum, — where before he would spend every moment at Hitsville, now he only turned up for his own sessions — and spent that time teaching himself songwriting. He studied Smokey Robinson’s writing, and he developed his own ideas about what needed to be in a lyric — he didn’t want any meaningless filler words, he wanted every word to matter. He also wanted to make sure that even if people misheard a line or two, they would be able to get the idea of the song from the other lines, so he came up with a technique he referred to as “repeat-fomation”, where he would give the same piece of information two or three times, paraphrasing it. When the next Marvelettes album, The Marvellous Marvelettes, was being finished up by Mickey Stevenson, Motown got nervous about the album, thinking it didn’t have a strong enough single on it, and so Brian Holland and Dozier were asked to come up with a new Marvelettes single in a hurry. Freddie Gorman had more or less stopped songwriting by this point, as he was spending most of his time working as a postman, and so, in need of another writing partner, they called on Eddie, who had been writing with various people. The three of them wrote and produced “Locking Up My Heart”, the first single to be released with the writing credit “Holland-Dozier-Holland”: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Locking Up My Heart”] That was a comparative flop for the Marvelettes, and the beginning of the downward slump we talked about for them in the episode on “Please Mr. Postman”, but the second Holland-Dozier-Holland single, recorded ten days later, was a very different matter. That one was for Martha and the Vandellas, and became widely regarded as the start of Motown’s true Golden Age — so much so that Brian and Eddie Holland’s autobiography is named after this, rather than after any of the bigger and more obvious hits they would later co-write. The introduction to “Come and Get These Memories” isn’t particularly auspicious — the Vandellas singing the chorus: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Come and Get These Memories”] Hearing all three of the Vandellas, all of whom have such strong, distinctive voices, sing together is if anything a bit much — the Vandellas aren’t a great harmony group in the way that some of the other Motown groups are, and they work best when everyone’s singing an individual line rather than block harmonies. But then we’re instantly into the sound that Holland, Dozier, and Holland — really Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, who took charge of the musical side of things, with Eddie concentrating on the lyrics — would make their own. There’s a lightly swung rhythm, but with a strong backbeat with handclaps and tambourine emphasising the two and four– the same rhythmic combination that made so many of the very early rock and roll records we looked at in the first year of the podcast, but this time taken at a more sedate pace, a casual stroll rather than a sprint. There’s the simple, chorded piano and guitar parts, both instruments often playing in unison and again just emphasising the rhythm rather than doing anything more complex. And there’s James Jamerson’s wonderful, loping bass part, doing the exact opposite of what the piano and guitar are doing. [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Come and Get These Memories”] In almost every record in the rock and roll, soul, and R&B genres up to this point — I say “almost every” because, as I’ve said many times before, there are always exceptions and there is never a first of anything — the bass does one of two things: it either plods along just playing the root notes, or it plays a simple, repeated, ostinato figure throughout, acting as a backbone while the other instruments do more interesting things. James Jamerson is the first bass player outside the jazz and classical fields to prominently, repeatedly, do something very different — he’s got the guitars and piano holding down the rhythm so steadily that he doesn’t need to. He plays melodies, largely improvised, that are jumping around and going somewhere different from where you’d expect. “Come and Get These Memories” was largely written before Eddie’s involvement, and the bulk of the lyric was Lamont Dozier’s. He’s said that in this instance he was inspired by country singers like Loretta Lynn, and the song’s lyrical style, taking physical objects and using them as a metaphor for emotional states, certainly seems very country: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Come and Get These Memories”] “Come and Get These Memories” made number twenty-nine on the pop charts and number six on the R&B charts. Martha and the Vandellas were finally stars. As was the normal practice at Motown, when an artist had a hit, the writing and production team were given the chance to make the follow-up with them, and so the followup was another Holland/Dozier/Holland song, again from an idea by Lamont Dozier, as most of their collaborations with the Vandellas would be. “Heat Wave” is another leap forward, and is quite possibly the most exciting record that Motown had put out to this point. Where “Come and Get These Memories” established the Motown sound, this one establishes the Martha and the Vandellas sound, specifically, and the style that Holland, Dozier, and Holland would apply to many of their more uptempo productions for other artists. This is the subgenre of Motown that, when it was picked up by fans in the North of England, became known as Northern Soul — the branch of Motown music that led directly to Disco, to Hi-NRG, to electropop, to the Stock-Aitken-Waterman hit factory of the eighties, to huge chunks of gay culture, and to almost all music made for dancing in whatever genre after this point. Where “Come and Get These Memories” is mid-tempo, “Heat Wave” races along. Where “Come and Get These Memories” swings, “Heat Wave” stomps. “Come and Get These Memories” has the drums swinging and the percussion accenting the backbeat, here the drums are accenting the backbeat while the tambourine is hitting every beat dead on, four/four. It’s a rhythm which has something in common with some of the Four Seasons’ contemporary hits, but it’s less militaristic than those. While “Pistol” Allen’s drumming starts out absolutely hard on the beat, he swings it more and more as the record goes on, trusting to the listener once that hard rhythm has been established, allowing him to lay back behind the beat just a little. This is where my background as a white English man, who has never played music for dancing — when I tried to be a musician myself, it was jangly guitar pop I was playing — limits me. I have a vocabulary for chords and for melodies, but when it comes to rhythms, at a certain point my vocabulary goes away, and all I can do is say “just… *listen*” It’s music that makes you need to dance, and you can either hear that or you can’t — but of course, you can: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Heat Wave”] And Martha Reeves’ voice is perfect for the song. Most female Motown singers were pop singers first and foremost — some of them, many of them, *great* pop singers, but all with voices fundamentally suited to gentleness. Reeves was a belter. She has far more blues and gospel influence in her voice than many of the other Motown women, and she’s showing it here. “Heat Wave” made the top ten, as did the follow-up, a “Heat Wave” soundalike called “Quicksand”. But the two records after that, both still Holland/Dozier/Holland records, didn’t even make the top forty, and Annette left, being replaced by Betty Kelly. The new lineup of the group were passed over to Mickey Stevenson, for a record that would become the one for which they are best remembered to this day. It wasn’t as important a record in the development of the Motown sound as “Come and Get These Memories” or “Heat Wave”, but “Dancing in the Street” was a masterpiece. Written by Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, and Ivy Joe Hunter, it features Gaye on drums, but the most prominent percussive sound is Hunter, who, depending on which account you read was either thrashing a steel chain against something until his hands bled, or hitting a tire iron. And Martha’s vocal is astonishing — and has an edge to it. Apparently this was the second take, and she sounds a little annoyed because she absolutely nailed the vocal on the first take only to find that there’d been a problem recording it. [Excerpt: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street”] That went to number two in the charts, and would be the group’s cultural and commercial high point. The song also gained some notoriety two years later when, in the wake of civil rights protests that were interpreted as rioting, the song was interpreted as being a call to riot — it was assumed that instead of being about dancing it was actually about rioting, something the Rolling Stones would pick up on later when they released “Street Fighting Man”, a song that owes more than a little to the Vandellas classic. The record after that, “Wild One”, was so much of a “Dancing in the Streets” soundalike that I’ve seen claims that the backing track is an alternate take of the earlier song. It isn’t, but it sounds like it could be. But the record after that saw them reunited with Holland/Dozier/Holland, who provided them with yet another great track, “Nowhere to Run”: [Excerpt: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run”] For the next few years the group would release a string of classic hits, like “Jimmy Mack” and “Honey Chile”, but the rise of the Supremes, who we’ll talk about in a month, meant that like the Marvelettes before them the Vandellas became less important to Motown. When Motown moved from Detroit to LA in the early seventies, Martha was one of those who decided not to make the move with the label, and the group split up, though the original lineup occasionally reunited for big events, and made some recordings for Ian Levine’s Motorcity label. Currently, there are two touring Vandellas groups. One, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, consists of Martha and two of her sisters — including Lois, who was a late-period member of the group before they split, replacing Betty in 1967. Meanwhile “The Original Vandellas” consist of Rosalind and Annette. Gloria died in 2000, but Martha and the Vandellas are one of the very few sixties hitmaking groups where all the members of their classic lineup are still alive and performing. Martha, Rosalind, Betty, Annette, and Lois were all also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, becoming only the second all-female group to be inducted. The Vandellas were one of the greatest of the Motown acts, and one of the greatest of the girl groups, and their biggest hits stand up against anything that any of the other Motown acts were doing at the time. When you hear them now, even almost sixty years later, you’re still hearing the sound they were in at the birth of, the sound of young America.
45 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 110: “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
Episode 110 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Be My Baby”, and at the career of the Ronettes and Ronnie Spector. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Little Saint Nick” by the Beach Boys. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Erratum I say Ray Peterson’s version of “Tell Laura I Love Her” was an American number one. It wasn’t — it only made number seven. Resources As always, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. A lot of resources were used for this episode. Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette by Ronnie Spector and Vince Waldron is Ronnie’s autobiography and was the main source. Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson is a good overview of the Brill Building scene, and provided me with the information on Barry and Greenwich. I’ve referred to two biographies of Spector in this episode, Phil Spector: Out of His Head by Richard Williams and He’s a Rebel by Mark Ribkowsky. And information on the Wrecking Crew largely comes from The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman. There are many compilations available with some of the hits Spector produced, but I recommend getting Back to Mono, a four-CD overview of his career containing all the major singles put out by Philles. If you want something just covering Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, The Very Best of Ronnie Spector covers all the Ronettes hits and the best of her solo career. And the AFM contract listing the musicians on “Be My Baby” can be found here. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we’re going to take a look at the record that, more than anything, ensured Phil Spector’s place in popular music history — a record that changed the lives of several people who heard it for the better, and changed the life of its singer for the worse, and one which has the most imitated drum intro in the world. We’re going to look at “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] Before I start this one, two things need saying. The first is that this episode, by necessity, deals with spousal abuse. As always, I will try to discuss the issue with sensitivity, and touch on it as briefly as possible, but if you worry that it might upset you, please either skip this episode, or read the transcript to see if you’ll be OK listening to it. I imagine that very few people will be upset by anything I say here, but it’s always a possibility. And secondly, I’d like to apologise for this episode being so late. I had a major disruption in my personal life over Christmas — one of those really bad life events that only happens once or twice in most people’s lifetimes — and that made it impossible for me to get any work done at all for the last couple of weeks. I’m now able to work again, and this should not be anything that affects the podcast for the rest of the year. Anyway, enough about that, let’s get on with the story. The story of the Ronettes begins when Ronnie Bennett, a mixed-race girl from Harlem, became obsessed with the sound of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers: [Excerpt: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”] Ronnie became the Teenagers’ biggest fan, and even managed to arrange a meeting between herself and Lymon when they were both thirteen, but had her illusions torn away when he turned up drunk and made a pass at her. But that didn’t stop her from trying her best to imitate Lymon’s vocals, and forming a vocal group with several friends and relatives. That group had a male lead singer, but when they made their first appearance on one of the Harlem Apollo’s talent shows, the lead singer got stage fright and couldn’t start singing when he got on stage. Ronnie stepped forward and took over the lead vocal, and the group went down well enough even with the Apollo’s notoriously hostile audience that a smaller group of them decided to start performing regularly together. The group took the name Ronnie and the Relatives, and consisted of Ronnie, her sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra Talley. They originally only performed at private parties, bar mitzvahs and the like, but they soon reached the attention of Stu Phillips at Colpix Records, a label owned by the film studio Columbia Pictures. The first single by Ronnie and the Relatives was not a success — “I Want a Boy” came out in August 1961 and didn’t chart: [Excerpt: Ronnie and the Relatives, “I Want a Boy”] And nor did their second, “I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead”: [Excerpt: Ronnie and the Relatives, “I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead”] Those records did apparently sell to at least one person, though, as when Ronnie met President Clinton in 1997, he asked her to sign a record, and specifically got her to sign an album of those early recordings for Colpix. While the girls were not having any commercial success, they did manage to accidentally get themselves a regular gig at the most important nightclub in New York. They went to the Peppermint Lounge, just as the Twist craze was at its height, and as they were underage they dressed up especially well in order to make themselves look more grown up so they could get in. Their ruse worked better than they expected. As they were all dressed the same, the club’s manager assumed they were the dancers he’d booked, who hadn’t shown up. He came out and told them to get on stage and start dancing, and so of course they did what he said, and started dancing to the Twist sounds of Joey Dee and the Starliters: [Excerpt: Joey Dee and the Starliters, “The Peppermint Twist”] The girls’ dancing went down well, and then the band started playing “What’d I Say?”, a favourite song of Ronnie’s and one the group did in their own act, and Ronnie danced over to David Brigati, who was singing lead on the song, and started dancing close to him. He handed her the mic as a joke, and she took over the song. They got a regular spot at the Peppermint Lounge, dancing behind the Starliters for their whole show and joining them on vocals for a few numbers every night. Inspired by the Bobbettes and the Marvelettes, Ronnie and Estelle’s mother suggested changing the group’s name. She suggested “the Rondettes”, and they dropped the “d”, becoming the Ronettes. The singles they released on ColPix under the new name did no better than the others, but they were such an important part of the Peppermint Lounge that when the Lounge’s owners opened a second venue in Florida, the girls went down there with the Starliters and were part of the show. That trip to Florida gave them two very different experiences. The first was that they got to see segregation firsthand for the first time, and they didn’t like it — especially when they, as light-skinned mixed-race women, were read as tanned white women and served in restaurants which then refused to serve their darker-skinned mothers. But the second was far more positive. They met Murray the K, who since Alan Freed had been driven out of his job had become the most popular DJ in New York. Murray was down in Florida for a holiday, and was impressed enough by the girls’ dancing that he told them if they were ever in New York and wanted a spot on one of his regular shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre they should let him know. They replied that they lived in New York and went to those shows all the time — of course they wanted to perform on his shows. They became regular performers at the Brooklyn Fox, where they danced between the other, bigger, acts, sang backing vocals, did a song or two themselves, and took part in comedy sketches with Murray. It was at these shows, as well, that they developed the look they would become famous with — huge hair piled up on top of their heads, tons of mascara, and tight skirts slit to show their legs. It was a style inspired by street fashion rather than by what the other girl groups were wearing, and it made them incredibly popular with the Fox audience. But the Ronettes, even under their new name, and even with the backing of New York’s most prominent DJ, were still not selling any records. They knew they were good, and the reaction to their stage performances proved as much, so they decided that the problem must be with Colpix. And so in 1963 they made a New Year’s resolution — they were going to get Phil Spector to produce them. By this time, Spector was becoming very well known in the music industry as a hit maker. We already saw in the recent episode on the Crystals how he was making hits for that group and the Blossoms, but he was also making hits with studio groups like Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, who he took into the top ten with a remake of the old Disney song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”: [Excerpt: Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”] and as well as the records he was putting out on Philles, he was also working as a freelance producer for people like Connie Francis, producing her top ten hit “Second-Hand Love”: [Excerpt: Connie Francis, “Second-Hand Love”] So the Ronettes were convinced that he could make them into the stars they knew they had the potential to be. The group had no idea how to get in touch with Spector, so they tried the direct route — Estelle called directory enquiries, got the number for Philles Records, and called and asked to be put through to Spector. She was as astonished as anyone when he agreed to talk to her — and it turned out that he’d seen the group regularly at the Brooklyn Fox and was interested in working with them. At their audition for Spector, the group first performed a close-harmony version of “When the Red Red Robin Goes Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ Along”, which they’d been taught by their singing teacher. Spector told them that he wanted to hear what they did when they were singing for themselves, not for a teacher, and so Ronnie launched into “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” It only took her getting to the second line of the song before Spector yelled at her to stop — “THAT is the voice I’ve been looking for!” The Ronettes’ first recordings for Spector weren’t actually issued as by the Ronettes at all. To start with, he had them record a version of a song by the writing team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love?”, but didn’t release it at the time. It was later released as by “Veronica”, the name under which he released solo records by Ronnie: [Excerpt: Veronica, “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love?”] But at the time, when Ronnie asked him when the record was coming out, Spector answered “Never”. He explained to her that it was a good record, but it wasn’t a number one, and he was still working on their first number one record. Their next few recordings were covers of then-current dance hits, like “The Twist”: [Excerpt, “The Crystals”, “The Twist”] And “The Wah-Watusi”, one of the few times that one of the other Ronettes took the lead rather than Ronnie, as Nedra sang lead: [Excerpt, “The Crystals”, “The Wah-Watusi”] But these, and two other tracks, were released as album tracks on a Crystals album, credited to the Crystals rather than the Ronettes. The song that eventually became the group’s first hit, “Be My Baby”, was mostly written by one of the many husband-and-wife songwriting teams that had developed at the Brill Building, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Barry had started out as a performer who occasionally wrote, putting out records like “It’s Called Rock and Roll”: [Excerpt: Jeff Barry, “It’s Called Rock and Roll”] But while his performing career had gone nowhere, he’d started to have some success as a songwriter, writing “Teenage Sonata” for Sam Cooke: [Excerpt: Sam Cooke, “Teenage Sonata”] And “Tell Laura I Love Her”, which was recorded by several people, but the biggest hit version was the American number one by Ray Peterson: [Excerpt: Ray Peterson, “Tell Laura I Love Her”] Ellie Greenwich had also started as a performer, recording “Silly Isn’t It?” under the name Ellie Gaye: [Excerpt: Ellie Gaye, “Silly, Isn’t It?”] She’d become one of the most important demo singers in New York, and had also started writing songs. She’d first collaborated with Doc Pomus, cowriting songs like “This is It”, which had been a flop single for Jay and the Americans: [Excerpt: Jay and the Americans, “This is It”] She’d then been taken on by Trio Music, Leiber and Stoller’s company, where she had largely collaborated with another writer named Tony Powers. Trio had first refusal on anything the two of them wrote, and if Leiber and Stoller didn’t like it, they could take the song elsewhere. Greenwich and Powers had their biggest successes with songs that Leiber and Stoller rejected, which they sold to Aaron Schroeder. And they’d started up a collaboration with Phil Spector — although Spector and Greenwich’s first meeting had not exactly gone smoothly. He’d gone into her office to hear her play a song that she thought would be suitable for the Paris Sisters, but had kept wandering out of the office, and had kept looking at himself in a mirror and primping himself rather than listen to her song. Eventually she said to him “Listen to me, you little prick. Did you come to look at yourself or to hear my songs?”, and she didn’t make that sale. But later on, Spector became interested in a song she’d sold to Schroeder, and made an appointment to meet her and talk about her writing some stuff for him — that second meeting, which Spector didn’t realise was with someone he’d already made a bad impression on, Spector turned up four hours late. But despite that, Greenwich and Powers wrote several songs for Spector, who was also given songwriting credit, and which became big hits in versions he produced — “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”, a single by Darlene Love: [Excerpt: Darlene Love, “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”] And “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others’ Hearts?”, released as by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but with Love once again on lead vocals: [Excerpt: Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others’ Hearts?”] I say that Spector was also given songwriting credit on those records, because there is some debate about how much he contributed to the songs he’s credited on. Some of his co-writers have said that he would often only change a word or a phrase, and get himself cut in on an already-completed song, while others have said that he contributed a reasonable amount to the songwriting, though he was never the primary writer — for example Barry Mann has said that Spector came up with the middle section for “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. I tend towards the belief that Spector’s contribution to the writing on those songs he’s co-credited on was minimal — in his whole career, the number of songs he wrote on his own seems to be in the single figures, while those other writers wrote dozens of hit records without any contribution from Spector — and so when I talk about records he produced I’ll tend to use phrasing like “a Goffin and King song co-credited to Phil Spector” rather than “a song by Goffin, King, and Spector”, but I don’t want that to give the impression that I’m certain Spector made no contribution. But while Greenwich and Powers were a mildly successful team, their partnership ended when Greenwich met Jeff Barry at a family Thanksgiving dinner — Greenwich’s uncle was Barry’s cousin. As Greenwich later put it, when they started talking together about music and realised how much they had in common, “I went ‘ooh’, he went ‘mmmhh’, and his wife went ‘I don’t think I like this'”. Soon their previous partnerships, both romantic and musical, were over, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich became the third of the great Brill Building husband-and-wife songwriting teams. Where Goffin and King had a sophisticated edge to their writing, with a hint of sexual subversion and the mingling of pain and pleasure, and Mann and Weill tried to incorporate social comment into their songs, Barry and Greenwich were happy to be silly — they were writing songs like “Hanky Panky”, “Da Doo Ron Ron”, and “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy”: [Excerpt: Ellie Greenwich “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy (demo)”] This worked extremely well for them, to the extent that after they broke up a few years later, Barry would continue this formula with songs such as “Sugar Sugar”, “Jingle Jangle” and “Bang Shang A Lang”. Barry and Greenwich’s style was to jam in as many hooks as possible, maybe put in a joke or two, keep the lyrics simple, and get out in two minutes. Very few of their songs were masterpieces of songwriting, but they *were* absolutely perfect templates for masterpieces of production. It sounds like I’m damning them with faint praise, but I’m really not. There is a huge skill involved in what they were doing — if you’re writing some heartwrenching masterpiece about the human condition, people will forgive the odd lapse in craft, but if you’re writing “My baby does the hanky panky”, there’s no margin for error, and you’re not going to get forgiven if you mess it up. Barry and Greenwich were good enough at this that they became the go-to writers for Spector for the next couple of years. He would record songs by most of the Brill Building teams, but when you think of the classic records Spector produced, they’re far more likely than not to be Barry and Greenwich songs — of the twenty-seven Philles singles released after Barry and Greenwich started writing together, fourteen are credited to Barry/Greenwich/Spector, and other than the joke release “Let’s Dance the Screw”, which we talked about back in the episode on the Crystals, there’s a run of eleven singles released on the label between late 1962 and early 1964 which are credited either as Greenwich/Powers/Spector or Barry/Greenwich/Spector. And so it was naturally to Barry and Greenwich that Spector turned to write the first big hit for the Ronettes — and he let Ronnie hear the writing session. By this time, Spector had become romantically involved with Ronnie, and he invited her into his apartment to sit in the next room and listen to them working on the song — usually they got together in hotels rather than at Spector’s home. While she was there, she found several pairs of women’s shoes — Spector hadn’t told her he was married, and claimed to her when she asked that they belonged to his sister. This should probably have been a sign of things to come. Assuming that Spector did contribute to the writing, I think it’s easy to tell what he brought to “Be My Baby”. If you listen to that Connie Francis record I excerpted earlier, on which Spector is also a credited co-writer, the melody line for the line “that you don’t feel the same” leading into the chorus: [Excerpt: Connie Francis, “Second-Hand Love”] is identical to the melody line leading into the chorus of “Be My Baby”: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] So that transition between the verse and the chorus is likely his work. After rehearsing Ronnie for several weeks in New York, Spector flew her out to LA to make the record in Gold Star Studios, where she spent three days recording the lead vocals. The backing vocals weren’t provided by the other Ronettes, but rather by the Blossoms, with a few extra singers — notably Spector’s assistant Sonny Bono, and his new girlfriend Cher — but what really made the track was not the vocals — although the song was perfect for Ronnie — but Hal Blaine’s drum intro: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] That intro was utterly simple — Blaine was always a minimalist player, someone who would play for the song rather than play fussy fills — but that simple part, combined with the powerful sound that the engineer Larry Levine got, was enough to make it one of the most memorable intros in rock music history. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys talks to this day about how he had to pull over to the side of the road when he first heard it on his car radio, and he would listen to the record incessantly for hours at a time. Incidentally, since I’m talking about the musicians, a lot of sources credit Carol Kaye for playing the bass on this track, so I’m going to say something once, here, which should be taken as read whenever I’m talking about records made in LA in the sixties — Carol Kaye is not only an unreliable source about what records she played on, she is an utterly dishonest one. For those who don’t know, Ms. Kaye was one of the great bass players of the sixties, and also one of the better session guitarists. She played on hundreds of records in the sixties, including many, many, classics from the Beach Boys, Spector, Frank Zappa, and others, and she was the only woman getting regular session work in LA on a rock instrument — there may have been session orchestral musicians who were women, but when it comes to guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, sax, and so on, she was the only one. For that, she deserves a huge amount of credit. Unfortunately, she has never been happy only being credited for the records she actually played on, and insists she played on many, many, more. Some of this can be reasonably put down to lapses in memory more than fifty years later — if you’re playing two or three sessions a day, and you play on a bunch of Beach Boys records, then it’s easy enough to misremember having played on “Surfin’ USA” when maybe you played on a similar-sounding record, and there are things like her claiming to have played on “Good Vibrations”, where there were multiple sessions for that track, and it happened that the takes eventually used weren’t the ones where she was playing bass, but she had no way of knowing that. That’s completely forgivable. But Ms. Kaye also claims, with no evidence whatsoever on her side and a great deal of evidence against her, to have been responsible for playing almost the entire recorded works of James Jamerson, Motown’s main bass player, claiming tapes were secretly shipped from Detroit to LA — something that has been denied by every single person working at Motown, and which can be easily disproved just by listening to the tapes. She claims to have played the bass on “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees — a track recorded in New York, by New York musicians. And whenever anyone points out the falsehoods, rather than saying “I may have made a mistake” she hurls abuse at them, and in some cases libels them on her website. So, Carol Kaye did not play on this record, and we know that because we have the AFM session sheets, which show that the bass players on the track were Ray Pohlman and Jimmy Bond. I’ll link a PDF of that sheet in the show notes. So in future, when I mention someone other than Carol Kaye playing on a song, and Wikipedia or somewhere says she played on it, bear this in mind. Two people who did play on the record were Bill Pitman and Tommy Tedesco, and this is why the B-side, an instrumental, is named “Tedesco and Pitman”. Spector was enough of a control freak that he didn’t want DJs ever to play the wrong side of his singles, so he stuck instrumental jam sessions by the studio musicians — with the songwriting credited to him rather than to them — on the B-sides. I don’t know about you, but I actually quite like “Tedesco and Pitman”, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the vibraphone: [Excerpt: “The Ronettes” (The Wrecking Crew), Tedesco and Pitman”] “Be My Baby” was a massive hit — it went to number one on the Cashbox chart, though only number two on the Billboard chart, and sold millions of copies. The group were invited on to Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars tour, but Spector wanted Ronnie to be in California to record the follow-up, so the girls’ cousin Elaine filled in for her for the first couple of weeks of the tour, while Ronnie recorded another Barry, Greenwich and Spector song, “Baby I Love You”: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Baby I Love You”] Ronnie didn’t realise it at the time, but Spector was trying to isolate her from the other group members, and from her family. But at first this seemed to her like a sensible way of solving the problem, and she rejoined the tour after the record was made. Soon after this, the group travelled to the UK for a brief tour in early 1964, during which they became friendly with the Beatles — Ronnie had a brief chaste flirtation with John Lennon, and Estelle something a little more with George Harrison. They also got to know their support act on the tour, the Rolling Stones — at least once Ronnie had had a row with Andrew Loog Oldham, as Spector had sent a telegram forbidding the Rolling Stones from spending time with the Ronettes. Once Ronnie pointed out that they were there and Spector wasn’t, the two groups became very friendly — and more than friendly, if Keith Richards’ autobiography is to be believed. On their return to the US, they continued having hits through 1964 — nothing was as big as “Be My Baby”, but they had three more top forty hits that year, with two mediocre records, “The Best Part of Breaking Up” and “Do I Love You?”, co-written by the team of Pete Andreoli and Vini Poncia, and then a return to form with the magnificent “Walking in the Rain”, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill: [Excerpt: The Ronettes Featuring Veronica, “Walking in the Rain”] But Spector was becoming more and more erratic in his personal life, and more and more controlling. I won’t go into too many details here, because we’re going to see a lot more of Phil Spector over the next year or so, but he recorded many great records with the Ronettes which he refused to release, claiming they weren’t quite right — Ronnie has later realised that he was probably trying to sabotage their career so he could have her all to himself, though at the time she didn’t know that. Neither of the two singles they did release in 1965 made the top fifty, and the one single they released in 1966, a return to songs by Barry and Greenwich, only made number one hundred, for one week: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “I Can Hear Music”] Also in 1966, the Ronettes were invited by the Beatles to be their support act on their last ever tour, but once again Spector insisted that Ronnie couldn’t go, because she needed to be in the studio, so Elaine substituted for her again, much to the Beatles’ disappointment. Nothing from the studio sessions during that tour was released. The group broke up in 1967, and the next year Ronnie married Phil Spector, who became ever more controlling and abusive. I won’t go into details of the way he treated her, which you can read all about in her autobiography, but suffice to say that I was completely unsurprised when he murdered a woman in 2003. You’ll probably get some idea of his behaviours when I talk about him in future episodes, but what Ronnie suffered in the years they were together was something no-one should have to go through. By the time she managed to leave him, in June 1972, she had only released one track in years, a song that George Harrison had written for her called “Try Some, Buy Some”, which Spector had recorded with her at Harrison’s insistence, during a period when Spector was working with several of the ex-Beatles and trying to rebuild his own career on the back of them: [Excerpt: Ronnie Spector, “Try Some, Buy Some”] Neither Ronnie nor Spector were particularly keen on the track, and it was a commercial flop — although John Lennon later said that the track had inspired his “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”. Ronnie eventually escaped from Spector’s abuse — leaving the house barefoot, as Spector had stolen her shoes so she couldn’t leave — and started to build a new life for herself, though she would struggle with alcoholism for many years. She got nothing in their divorce settlement, as Spector threatened to hire a hit man to kill her if she tried to get anything from him, and she made a living by touring the nostalgia circuit with various new lineups of Ronettes — the others having given up on their music careers — and while she never had another hit, she did have a recording career. Her solo career got its proper start because of a chance meeting in New York. Her old friend John Lennon saw her on the street and called her over for a chat, and introduced her to the friend he was with, Jimmy Iovine, who was producing an album for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes. Bruce Springsteen had written a song for that band, and Iovine thought it might work well as a duet with Ronnie, and he invited her to the studio that day, and she cut the song with them: [Excerpt: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes, “You Mean So Much To Me”] That song became one of the most popular songs on the album, and so when the Asbury Dukes toured supporting Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, they brought Ronnie along with them to sing on that song and do a couple of her own hits. That led to the E-Street Band themselves backing Ronnie on a single — a version of Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”, a song that Joel had written with her in mind: [Excerpt: Ronnie Spector and the E-Street Band, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”] However, that was a flop, and so were all her later attempts to have comebacks, though she worked with some great musicians over the years. But she was able to continue having a career as a performer, even if she never returned to stardom, and she never made much money from her hits. She did, though, sing on one more top-ten hit, singing backing vocals on Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight”: [Excerpt: Eddie Money, “Take Me Home Tonight”] Phil Spector continued to earn money from his ex-wife for a long time after their divorce. By 1998, when the Ronettes finally sued Spector for unpaid royalties, they had earned, between them, a total of $14,482.30 in royalties from all their hit records — the amount that came from a single 1964 royalty payment. In court, Spector argued that he didn’t owe them any more, and indeed that *they* still owed *him* money, because the cost of recording their singles meant that they had never actually earned more money than they cost. Eventually, after a series of appeals, the group members each got about half a million dollars in 2002 — obviously a great deal of money, but a small fraction of what they actually earned. Spector, who was on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, prevented the Ronettes from being inducted out of spite towards his ex until he was imprisoned, at which point they were finally recognised, in 2007. Ronnie continues to perform, and seems to have a happy life. Estelle, sadly, did not — she suffered from anorexia and schizophrenia, spent a period of time homeless, and died in 2009. Nedra became a born-again Christian shortly after the group split up, and recorded a couple of unsuccessful albums of Christian music in the seventies, before going off to work in real estate. In September last year, it was announced that a film is going to be made of Ronnie Spector’s life story. It’s nice to know that there’ll be something out there telling her story with her as the protagonist, rather than as a background character in the story of her abusive husband.
12 minutes | 4 months ago
BONUS: A Tribute to Gerry Marsden
I just heard the sad news that Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, has died today aged seventy-eight. As the latest episode of the podcast is late due to personal issues, I thought I'd make this available to the general public – this is a ten-minute Patreon bonus episode I did back in October, on Gerry and the Pacemakers, so it's here as a little tribute. He'll be missed. ----more---- Transcript Today we're going to look at a group that were for a very short while arguably the most successful band to come out of Liverpool, one that set a record that wouldn't be broken for twenty-one years, and who deserved rather better than the reputation they've ended up with. We're going to look at Gerry and the Pacemakers, and at "How Do You Do It?": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "How Do You Do It?"] Gerry and the Pacemakers were, in the very early sixties, one of the bands that was most strongly competing for the title of Liverpool's best band. They were so good that before he joined the Beatles, for a while Richy Starkey was considering quitting the Hurricanes and joining them, even though it would mean switching instruments -- Gerry's brother Freddy Marsden was the Pacemakers' drummer, but they didn't have a bass player, and everyone was sure that Richy could pick it up no problem. The Pacemakers had been around before the Beatles, and they shared similar musical tastes, and even a similar repertoire -- the Beatles dropped "What'd I Say" from their sets because the Pacemakers were also doing it, and when Paul started to sing "Over the Rainbow" in the Beatles' sets, the Pacemakers responded by adding the old Rogers and Hammerstein song "You'll Never Walk Alone" to match it. Both bands played Hamburg backing Tony Sheridan, and both were playing songs by Arthur Alexander, Larry Williams, Richie Barrett and Carl Perkins. The main difference between the two was that the Pacemakers would have a slightly harder-edged sound -- the Pacemakers only had one real singer, Gerry, and so they couldn't do the kind of girl-group harmonies that the Beatles would do, and so they couldn't move off into the songs by the Shirelles or the Cookies that the Beatles performed, and instead had to fill out their set with bluesy songs like Little Walter's "My Babe": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "My Babe (live)"] There was a friendly but real rivalry between the Beatles and the Pacemakers, so much so that when Mersey Beat had a popularity poll among its readers, the Beatles bought up as many copies of the magazine as they could and filled out the poll under fake names with themselves at the top and the Pacemakers at the bottom, to make sure they won and the Pacemakers only came second (Rory Storm and the Hurricanes tried filling out the poll with themselves at the top too, but Bill Harry disqualified forty ballots written in green ink in the same handwriting, posted from the same letter box, so they came in fourth). It even looked for a while like the Pacemakers would be the very first Liverpool band to release a record -- a local promoter called Sam Leach was planning to set up his own label and record them, before they realised he was better at coming up with plans than coming up with money. The Pacemakers also had their own PA system rather than just relying on the club ones, at a time when no other band did. Indeed, when Brian Epstein took the Decca A&R man Mike Smith to see the Beatles at the Cavern, when it looked like they would be signed to Decca, he seems to have taken Smith out for dinner before the show because the Pacemakers were the support act, and Paul McCartney was worried that if Smith saw the Pacemakers' set he might choose to sign them rather than the Beatles. So it made sense that when Epstein was looking to sign up some more artists to a management contract, he signed the Pacemakers. And it made sense that once the Beatles had had some success, George Martin trusted Epstein enough to sign Gerry and the Pacemakers. And as there was no awkward publishing company contract to deal with like there had been with the Beatles, he could give them "How Do You Do It?", the song that he'd tried to foist on the Beatles: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "How Do You Do It?"]qqqq Martin's ear for a hit was proved right, and the song went to number one -- and it was the first record from a Liverpool group to do so on what is now considered the "official" chart, though it was then just one of several. Unsurprisingly, the second single released was another Mitch Murray song -- one that was almost identical to "How Do You Do It?": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "I Like It"] That also went to number one, as did their third single, "You'll Never Walk Alone": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "You'll Never Walk Alone"] That last became almost the unofficial anthem of Liverpool after the Pacemakers' release, and is to this day still sung by fans of Liverpool Football Club at every match. It also made them the first act ever to have their first three singles go to number one in the British charts, something that wouldn't be repeated until another Liverpool act, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, twenty-one years later. After that, the group started recording songs Gerry wrote himself, and he proved to be quite good. Their first original single, "I'm the One", went to number two, just behind "Needles and Pins" by the Searchers, and was very much in the same style as their first two hits, but he also started writing a few more interesting and meditative songs, most notably "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying", which became their first and biggest hit in the US: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying"] But the Pacemakers came along, sadly, at *just* the wrong time. As the first of the Liverpool bands other than the Beatles to get signed, they were initially pushed into the same all-round entertainer role that groups like Cliff Richard and the Shadows were in, and their early singles were light pop even as their first album was full of covers of Arthur Alexander songs like "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues". By mid-1964 the light pop style of their early singles was considered hopelessly passe when compared to groups like the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds -- all of whom were playing the same kind of material that the Pacemakers' pre-fame club sets and first album had been made up of. On the evidence of the small number of live recordings of the Pacemakers, had they been signed even a year later, they would have fit easily into that millieu, and while Gerry Marsden's friendly singing voice and persona would never have allowed him to become a menacing, rebellious figure like Mick Jagger, the group could easily have had a much longer period of success and respect than they did: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “What'd I Say (Live)”] The Pacemakers split up in 1966, but Gerry later revived the name for tours on the nostalgia circuit. He's now retired due to health problems, but I saw him on what was his last tour a couple of years ago, and he was still good enough that you could understand why, for at least a few weeks, he had once been bigger than the Beatles.
46 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 109: “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul, and Mary
Episode one hundred and nine of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene and the civil rights movement. Those of you who get angry at me whenever I say anything that acknowledges the existence of racism may want to skip this one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Crystals. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)
47 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 108: “I Wanna Be Your Man” by the Rolling Stones
Episode 108 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “I Wanna Be Your Man” by the Rolling Stones and how the British blues scene of the early sixties was started by a trombone player. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have an eight-minute bonus episode available, on “The Monkey Time” by Major Lance. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As always, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. i used a lot of resources for this episode. Information on Chris Barber comes from Jazz Me Blues: The Autobiography of Chris Barber by Barber and Alyn Shopton. Information on Alexis Korner comes from Alexis Korner: The Biography by Harry Shapiro. Two resources that I’ve used for this and all future Stones episodes — The Rolling Stones: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesden is an invaluable reference book, while Old Gods Almost Dead by Stephen Davis is the least inaccurate biography. I’ve also used Andrew Loog Oldham’s autobiography Stoned, and Keith Richards’ Life, though be warned that both casually use slurs. This compilation contains Alexis Korner’s pre-1963 electric blues material, while this contains the earlier skiffle and country blues music. The live performances by Chris Barber and various blues legends I’ve used here come from volumes one and two of a three-CD series of these recordings. And this three-CD set contains the A and B sides of all the Stones’ singles up to 1971. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we’re going to look at a group who, more than any other band of the sixties, sum up what “rock music” means to most people. This is all the more surprising as when they started out they were vehemently opposed to being referred to as “rock and roll”. We’re going to look at the London blues scene of the early sixties, and how a music scene that was made up of people who thought of themselves as scholars of obscure music, going against commercialism ended up creating some of the most popular and commercial music ever made. We’re going to look at the Rolling Stones, and at “I Wanna Be Your Man”: [Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, “I Wanna Be Your Man”] The Rolling Stones’ story doesn’t actually start with the Rolling Stones, and they won’t be appearing until quite near the end of this episode, because to explain how they formed, I have to explain the British blues scene that they formed in. One of the things people asked me when I first started doing the podcast was why I didn’t cover people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf in the early episodes — after all, most people now think that rock and roll started with those artists. It didn’t, as I hope the last hundred or so episodes have shown. But those artists did become influential on its development, and that influence happened largely because of one man, Chris Barber. We’ve seen Barber before, in a couple of episodes, but this, even more than his leading the band that brought Lonnie Donegan to fame, is where his influence on popular music really changes everything. On the face of it, Chris Barber seems like the last person in the world who one would expect to be responsible, at least indirectly, for some of the most rebellious popular music ever made. He is a trombone player from a background that is about as solidly respectable as one can imagine — his parents were introduced to each other by the economist John Maynard Keynes, and his father, another economist, was not only offered a knighthood for his war work (he turned it down but accepted a CBE), but Clement Atlee later offered him a safe seat in Parliament if he wanted to become Chancellor of the Exchequer. But when the war started, young Chris Barber started listening to the Armed Forces Network, and became hooked on jazz. By the time the war ended, when he was fifteen, he owned records by Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and more — records that were almost impossible to find in the Britain of the 1940s. And along with the jazz records, he was also getting hold of blues records by people like Cow Cow Davenport and Sleepy John Estes: [Excerpt: Sleepy John Estes, “Milk Cow Blues”] In his late teens and early twenties, Barber had become Britain’s pre-eminent traditional jazz trombonist — a position he held until he retired last year, aged eighty-nine — but he wasn’t just interested in trad jazz, but in all of American roots music, which is why he’d ended up accidentally kick-starting the skiffle craze when his guitarist recorded an old Lead Belly song as a track on a Barber album, as we looked at back in the episode on “Rock Island Line”. If that had been Barber’s only contribution to British rock and roll, he would still have been important — after all, without “Rock Island Line”, it’s likely that you could have counted the number of British boys who played guitar in the fifties and sixties on a single hand. But he did far more than that. In the mid to late fifties, Barber became one of the biggest stars in British music. He didn’t have a breakout chart hit until 1959, when he released “Petit Fleur”, engineered by Joe Meek: [Excerpt: Chris Barber, “Petit Fleur”] And Barber didn’t even play on that – it was a clarinet solo by his clarinettist Monty Sunshine. But long before this big chart success he was a huge live draw and made regular appearances on TV and radio, and he was hugely appreciated among music lovers. A parallel for his status in the music world in the more modern era might be someone like, say, Radiohead — a band who aren’t releasing number one singles, but who have a devoted fanbase and are more famous than many of those acts who do have regular hits. And that celebrity status put Barber in a position to do something that changed music forever. Because he desperately wanted to play with his American musical heroes, and he was one of the few people in Britain with the kind of built-in audience that he could bring over obscure Black musicians, some of whom had never even had a record released over here, and get them on stage with him. And he brought over, in particular, blues musicians. Now, just as there was a split in the British jazz community between those who liked traditional Dixieland jazz and those who liked modern jazz, there was a similar split in their tastes in blues and R&B. Those who liked modern jazz — a music that was dominated by saxophones and piano — unsurprisingly liked modern keyboard and saxophone-based R&B. Their R&B idol was Ray Charles, whose music was the closest of the great R&B stars to modern jazz, and one stream of the British R&B movement of the sixties came from this scene — people like the Spencer Davis Group, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, and Manfred Mann all come from this modernist scene. But the trad people, when they listened to blues, liked music that sounded primitive to them, just as they liked primitive-sounding jazz. Their tastes were very heavily influenced by Alan Lomax — who came to the UK for a crucial period in the fifties to escape McCarthyism — and they paralleled those of the American folk scene that Lomax was also part of, and followed the same narrative that Lomax’s friend John Hammond had constructed for his Spirituals to Swing concerts, where the Delta country blues of people like Robert Johnson had been the basis for both jazz and boogie piano. This entirely false narrative became the received wisdom among the trad scene in Britain, to the extent that two of the very few people in the world who had actually heard Robert Johnson records before the release of the King of the Delta Blues Singers album were Chris Barber and his sometime guitarist and banjo player Alexis Korner. These people liked Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Lead Belly, and Lonnie Johnson’s early recordings before his later pop success. They liked solo male performers who played guitar. These two scenes were geographically close — the Flamingo Club, a modern jazz club that later became the place where Georgie Fame and Chris Farlowe built their audiences, was literally across the road from the Marquee, a trad jazz club that became the centre of guitar-based R&B in the UK. And there wasn’t a perfect hard-and-fast split, as we’ll see — but it’s generally true that what is nowadays portrayed as a single British “blues scene” was, in its early days, two overlapping but distinct scenes, based in a pre-existing split in the jazz world. Barber was, of course, part of the traditional jazz wing, and indeed he was so influential a part of it that his tastes shaped the tastes of the whole scene to a large extent. But Barber was not as much of a purist as someone like his former collaborator Ken Colyer, who believed that jazz had become corrupted in 1922 by the evil innovations of people like Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson, who were too modern for his tastes. Barber had preferences, but he could appreciate — and more importantly play — music in a variety of styles. So Barber started by bringing over Big Bill Broonzy, who John Hammond had got to perform at the Spirituals to Swing concerts when he’d found out Robert Johnson was dead. It was because of Barber bringing Broonzy over that Broonzy got to record with Joe Meek: [Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, “When Do I Get to Be Called a Man?”] And it was because of Barber bringing Broonzy over that Broonzy appeared on Six-Five Special, along with Tommy Steele, the Vipers, and Mike and Bernie Winters, and thus became the first blues musician that an entire generation of British musicians saw, their template for what a blues musician is. If you watch the Beatles Anthology, for example, in the sections where they talk about the music they were listening to as teenagers, Broonzy is the only blues musician specifically named. That’s because of Chris Barber. Broonzy toured with Barber several times in the fifties, before his death in 1958, but he wasn’t the only one. Barber brought over many people to perform and record with him, including several we’ve looked at previously. Like the rock and roll stars who visited the UK at this time, these were generally people who were past their commercial peak in the US, but who were fantastic live performers. The Barber band did recording sessions with Louis Jordan: [Excerpt: Louis Jordan and the Chris Barber band, “Tain’t Nobody’s Business”] And we’re lucky enough that many of the Barber band’s shows at the Manchester Free Trade Hall (a venue that would later host two hugely important shows we’ll talk about in later episodes) were recorded and have since been released. With those recordings we can hear them backing Sister Rosetta Tharpe: [Excerpt: Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Chris Barber band, “Peace in the Valley”] Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee: [Excerpt: Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and the Chris Barber band, “This Little Light of Mine”] And others like Champion Jack Dupree and Sonny Boy Williamson. But there was one particular blues musician that Barber brought over who changed everything for British music. Barber was a member of an organisation called the National Jazz Federation, which helped arrange transatlantic musician exchanges. You might remember that at the time there was a rule imposed by the musicians’ unions in the UK and the US that the only way for an American musician to play the UK was if a British musician played the US and vice versa, and the National Jazz Federation helped set these exchanges up. Through the NJF Barber had become friendly with John Lewis, the American pianist who led the Modern Jazz Quartet, and was talking with Lewis about what other musicians he could bring over, and Lewis suggested Muddy Waters. Barber said that would be great, but he had no idea how you’d reach Muddy Waters — did you send a postcard to the plantation he worked on or something? Lewis laughed, and said that no, Muddy Waters had a Cadillac and an agent. The reason for Barber’s confusion was fairly straightfoward — Barber was thinking of Waters’ early recordings, which he knew because of the influence of Alan Lomax. Lomax had discovered Muddy Waters back in 1941. He’d travelled to Clarksdale, Mississippi hoping to record Robert Johnson for the Library of Congress — apparently he didn’t know, or had forgotten, that Johnson had died a few years earlier. When he couldn’t find Johnson, he’d found another musician, who had a similar style, and recorded him instead. Waters was a working musician who would play whatever people wanted to listen to — Gene Autry songs, Glenn Miller, whatever — but who was particularly proficient in blues, influenced by Son House, the same person who had been Johnson’s biggest influence. Lomax recorded him playing acoustic blues on a plantation, and those recordings were put out by the Library of Congress: [Excerpt: Muddy Waters, “I Be’s Troubled”] Those Library of Congress recordings had been hugely influential among the trad and skiffle scenes — Lonnie Donegan, in particular, had borrowed a copy from the American Embassy’s record-lending library and then stolen it because he liked it so much. But after making those recordings, Waters had travelled up to Chicago and gone electric, forming a band with guitarist Jimmie Rodgers (not the same person as the country singer of the same name, or the 50s pop star), harmonica player Little Walter, drummer Elgin Evans, and pianist Otis Spann. Waters had signed to Chess Records, then still named Aristocrat, in 1947, and had started out by recording electric versions of the same material he’d been performing acoustically: [Excerpt: Muddy Waters, “I Can’t Be Satisfied”] But soon he’d partnered with Chess’ great bass player, songwriter, and producer Willie Dixon, who wrote a string of blues classics both for Waters and for Chess’ other big star Howlin’ Wolf. Throughout the early fifties, Waters had a series of hits on the R&B charts with his electric blues records, like the great “Hoochie Coochie Man”, which introduced one of the most copied blues riffs ever: [Excerpt: Muddy Waters, “Hoochie Coochie Man”] But by the late fifties, the hits had started to dry up. Waters was still making great records, but Chess were more interested in artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and the Moonglows, who were selling much more and were having big pop hits, not medium-sized R&B ones. So Waters and his pianist Otis Spann were eager to come over to the UK, and Barber was eager to perform with them. Luckily, unlike many of his trad contemporaries, Barber was comfortable with electric music, and his band quickly learned Waters’ current repertoire. Waters came over and played one night at a festival with a different band, made up of modern jazz players who didn’t really fit his style before joining the Barber tour, and so he and Spann were a little worried on their first night with the group when they heard these Dixieland trombones and clarinets. But as soon as the group blasted out the riff of “Hoochie Coochie Man” to introduce their guests, Waters and Spann’s faces lit up — they knew these were musicians they could play with, and they fit in with Barber’s band perfectly: [Excerpt: Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, and the Chris Barber band, “Hoochie Coochie Man”] Not everyone watching the tour was as happy as Barber with the electric blues though — the audiences were often bemused by the electric guitars, which they associated with rock and roll rather than the blues. Waters, like many of his contemporaries, was perfectly willing to adapt his performance to the audience, and so the next time he came over he brought his acoustic guitar and played more in the country acoustic style they expected. The time after that he came over, though, the audiences were disappointed, because he was playing acoustic, and now they wanted and expected him to be playing electric Chicago blues. Because Muddy Waters’ first UK tour had developed a fanbase for him, and that fanbase had been cultivated and grown by one man, who had started off playing in the same band as Chris Barber. Alexis Korner had started out in the Ken Colyer band, the same band that Chris Barber had started out in, as a replacement for Lonnie Donegan when Donegan was conscripted. After Donegan had rejoined the band, they’d played together for a while, and the first ever British skiffle group lineup had been Ken and Bill Colyer, Korner, Donegan, and Barber. When the Colyers had left the group and Barber had taken it over, Korner had gone with the Colyers, mostly because he didn’t like the fact that Donegan was introducing country and folk elements into skiffle, while Korner liked the blues. As a result, Korner had sung and played on the very first ever British skiffle record, the Ken Colyer group’s version of “Midnight Special”: [Excerpt: The Ken Colyer Skiffle Group, “Midnight Special”] After that, Korner had also backed Beryl Bryden on some skiffle recordings, which also featured a harmonica player named Cyril Davies: [Excerpt: Beryl Bryden Skiffle Group, “This Train”] But Korner and Davies had soon got sick of skiffle as it developed — they liked the blues music that formed its basis, but Korner had never been a fan of Lonnie Donegan’s singing — he’d even said as much in the liner notes to an album by the Barber band while both he and Donegan were still in the band — and what Donegan saw as eclecticism, including Woody Guthrie songs and old English music-hall songs, Korner saw as watering down the music. Korner and Donegan had a war of words in the pages of Melody Maker, at that time the biggest jazz periodical in Britain. Korner started with an article headlined “Skiffle is Piffle”, in which he said in part: “It is with shame and considerable regret that I have to admit my part as one of the originators of the movement…British skiffle is, most certainly, a commercial success. But musically it rarely exceeds the mediocre and is, in general, so abysmally low that it defies proper musical judgment”. Donegan replied pointing out that Korner was playing in a skiffle group himself, and then Korner replied to that, saying that what he was doing now wasn’t skiffle, it was the blues. You can judge for yourself whether the “Blues From the Roundhouse” EP, by Alexis Korner’s Breakdown Group, which featured Korner, Davies on guitar and harmonica, plus teachest bass and washboard, was skiffle or blues: [Excerpt: Alexis Korner’s Breakdown Group, “Skip to My Lou”] But soon Korner and Davies had changed their group’s name to Blues Incorporated, and were recording something that was much closer to the Delta and Chicago blues Davies in particular liked. [Excerpt: Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated feat. Cyril Davies, “Death Letter”] But after the initial recordings, Blues Incorporated stopped being a thing for a while, as Korner got more involved with the folk scene. At a party hosted by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, he met the folk guitarist Davey Graham, who had previously lived in the same squat as Lionel Bart, Tommy Steele’s lyricist, if that gives some idea of how small and interlocked the London music scene actually was at this time, for all its factional differences. Korner and Graham formed a guitar duo playing jazzy folk music for a while: [Excerpt: Alexis Korner and Davey Graham, “3/4 AD”] But in 1960, after Chris Barber had done a second tour with Muddy Waters, Barber decided that he needed to make Muddy Waters style blues a regular part of his shows. Barber had entered into a partnership with an accountant, Harold Pendleton, who was secretary of the National Jazz Federation. They co-owned a club, the Marquee, which Pendleton managed, and they were about to start up an annual jazz festival, the Richmond festival, which would eventually grow into the Reading Festival, the second-biggest rock festival in Britain. Barber had a residency at the Marquee, and he wanted to introduce a blues segment into the shows there. He had a singer — his wife, Ottilie Patterson, who was an excellent singer in the Bessie Smith mould — and he got a couple of members of his band to back her on some Chicago-style blues songs in the intervals of his shows. He asked Korner to be a part of this interval band, and after a little while it was decided that Korner would form the first ever British electric blues band, which would take over those interval slots, and so Blues Incorporated was reformed, with Cyril Davies rejoining Korner. The first time this group played together, in the first week of 1962, it was Korner on electric guitar, Davies on harmonica, and Chris Barber plus Barber’s trumpet player Pat Halcox, but they soon lost the Barber band members. The group was called Blues Incorporated because they were meant to be semi-anonymous — the idea was that people might join just for a show, or just for a few songs, and they never had the same lineup from one show to the next. For example, their classic album R&B From The Marquee, which wasn’t actually recorded at the Marquee, and was produced by Jack Good, features Korner, Davies, sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith, Keith Scott on piano, Spike Heatley on bass, Graham Burbridge on drums, and Long John Baldry on vocals: [Excerpt: Blues Incorporated, “How Long How Long Blues”] But Burbridge wasn’t their regular drummer — that was a modern jazz player named Charlie Watts. And they had a lot of singers. Baldry was one of their regulars, as was Art Wood (who had a brother, Ronnie, who wasn’t yet involved with these players). When Charlie quit the band, because it was taking up too much of his time, he was replaced with another drummer, Ginger Baker. When Spike Heatley left the band, Dick Heckstall-Smith brought in a new bass player, Jack Bruce. Sometimes a young man called Eric Clapton would get up on stage for a number or two, though he wouldn’t bring his guitar, he’d just sing with them. So would a singer and harmonica player named Paul Jones, later the singer with Manfred Mann, who first travelled down to see the group with a friend of his, a guitarist named Brian Jones, no relation, who would also sit in with the band on guitar, playing Elmore James numbers under the name Elmo Lewis. A young man named Rodney Stewart would sometimes join in for a number or two. And one time Eric Burdon hitch-hiked down from Newcastle to get a chance to sing with the group. He jumped onto the stage when it got to the point in the show that Korner asked for singers from the audience, and so did a skinny young man. Korner diplomatically suggested that they sing a duet, and they agreed on a Billy Boy Arnold number. At the end of the song Korner introduced them — “Eric Burdon from Newcastle, this is Mick Jagger”. Mick Jagger was a middle-class student, studying at the London School of Economics, one of the most prestigious British universities. He soon became a regular guest vocalist with Blues Incorporated, appearing at almost every show. Soon after, Davies left the group — he wanted to play strictly Chicago style blues, but Korner wanted to play other types of R&B. The final straw for Davies came when Korner brought in Graham Bond on Hammond organ — it was bad enough that they had a saxophone player, but Hammond was a step too far. Sometimes Jagger would bring on a guitar-playing friend for a song or two — they’d play a Chuck Berry song, to Davies’ disapproval. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had known each other at primary school, but had fallen out of touch for years. Then one day they’d bumped into each other at a train station, and Richards had noticed two albums under Jagger’s arm — one by Muddy Waters and one by Chuck Berry, both of which he’d ordered specially from Chess Records in Chicago because they weren’t out in the UK yet. They’d bonded over their love for Berry and Bo Diddley, in particular, and had soon formed a band themselves, Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, with a friend, Dick Taylor, and had made some home recordings of rock and roll and R&B music: [Excerpt: Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, “Beautiful Delilah”] Meanwhile, Brian Jones, the slide player with the Elmore James obsession, decided he wanted to create his own band, who were to be called The Rollin’ Stones, named after a favourite Muddy Waters track of his. He got together with Ian Stewart, a piano player who answered an ad in Jazz News magazine. Stewart had very different musical tastes to Jones — Jones liked Elmore James and Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and especially Jimmy Reed, and very little else, just electric Chicago blues. Stewart was older, and liked boogie piano like Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, and jump band R&B like Wynonie Harris and Louis Jordan, but he could see that Jones had potential. They tried to get Charlie Watts to join the band, but he refused at first, so they played with a succession of other drummers, starting with Mick Avory. And they needed a singer, and Jones thought that Mick Jagger had genuine star potential. Jagger agreed to join, but only if his mates Dick and Keith could join the band. Jones was a little hesitant — Mick Jagger was a real blues scholar like him, but he did have a tendency to listen to this rock and roll nonsense rather than proper blues, and Keith seemed even less of a blues purist than that. He probably even listened to Elvis. Dick, meanwhile, was an unknown quantity. But eventually Jones agreed — though Richards remembers turning up to the first rehearsal and being astonished by Stewart’s piano playing, only for Stewart to then turn around to him and say sarcastically “and you must be the Chuck Berry artist”. Their first gig was at the Marquee, in place of Blues Incorporated, who were doing a BBC session and couldn’t make their regular gig. Taylor and Avory soon left, and they went through a succession of bass players and drummers, played several small gigs, and also recorded a demo, which had no success in getting them a deal: [Excerpt: The Rollin’ Stones, “You Can’t Judge a Book By its Cover”] By this point, Jones, Richards, and Jagger were all living together, in a flat which has become legendary for its squalour. Jones was managing the group (and pocketing some of the money for himself) and Jones and Richards were spending all day every day playing guitar together, developing an interlocking style in which both could switch from rhythm to lead as the song demanded. Tony Chapman, the drummer they had at the time, brought in a friend of his, Bill Wyman, as bass player — they didn’t like him very much, he was older than the rest of them and seemed to have a bad attitude, and their initial idea was just to get him to leave his equipment with them and then nick it — he had a really good amplifier that they wanted — but they eventually decided to keep him in the band. They kept pressuring Charlie Watts to join and replace Chapman, and eventually, after talking it over with Alexis Korner’s wife Bobbie, he decided to give it a shot, and joined in early 1963. Watts and Wyman quickly gelled as a rhythm section with a unique style — Watts would play jazz-inspired shuffles, while Wyman would play fast, throbbing, quavers. The Rollin’ Stones were now a six-person group, and they were good. They got a residency at a new club run by Giorgio Gomelsky, a trad jazz promoter who was branching out into R&B. Gomelsky named his club the Crawdaddy Club, after the Bo Diddley song that the Stones ended their sets with. Soon, as well as playing the Crawdaddy every Sunday night, they were playing Ken Colyer’s club, Studio 51, on the other side of London every Sunday evening, so Ian Stewart bought a van to lug all their gear around. Gomelsky thought of himself as the group’s manager, though he didn’t have a formal contract, but Jones disagreed and considered himself the manager, though he never told Gomelsky this. Jones booked the group in at the IBC studios, where they cut a professional demo with Glyn Johns engineering, consisting mostly of Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed songs: [Excerpt: The Rollin’ Stones, “Diddley Daddy”] Gomelsky started getting the group noticed. He even got the Beatles to visit the club and see the group, and the two bands hit it off — even though John Lennon had no time for Chicago blues, he liked them as people, and would sometimes pop round to the flat where most of the group lived, once finding Mick and Keith in bed together because they didn’t have any money to heat the flat. The group’s live performances were so good that the Record Mirror, which as its name suggested only normally talked about records, did an article on the group. And the magazine’s editor, Peter Jones, raved about them to an acquaintance of his, Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham was a young man, only nineteen, but he’d already managed to get himself a variety of jobs around and with famous people, mostly by bluffing and conning them into giving him work. He’d worked for Mary Quant, the designer who’d popularised the miniskirt, and then had become a freelance publicist, working with Bob Dylan and Phil Spector on their trips to the UK, and with a succession of minor British pop stars. Most recently, he’d taken a job working with Brian Epstein as the Beatles’ London press agent. But he wanted his own Beatles, and when he visited the Crawdaddy Club, he decided he’d found them. Oldham knew nothing about R&B, didn’t like it, and didn’t care — he liked pure pop music, and he wanted to be Britain’s answer to Phil Spector. But he knew charisma when he saw it, and the group on stage had it. He immediately decided he was going to sign them as a manager. However, he needed a partner in order to get them bookings — at the time in Britain you needed an agent’s license to get bookings, and you needed to be twenty-one to get the license. He first offered Brian Epstein the chance to co-manage them — even though he’d not even talked to the group about it. Epstein said he had enough on his plate already managing the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and his other Liverpool groups. At that point Oldham quit his job with Epstein and looked for another partner. He found one in Eric Easton, an agent of the old school who had started out as a music-hall organ player before moving over to the management side and whose big clients were Bert Weedon and Mrs. Mills, and who was letting Oldham use a spare room in his office as a base. Oldham persuaded Easton to come to the Crawdaddy Club, though Easton was dubious as it meant missing Sunday Night at the London Palladium on the TV, but Easton agreed that the group had promise — though he wanted to get rid of the singer, which Oldham talked him out of. The two talked with Brian Jones, who agreed, as the group’s leader, that they would sign with Oldham and Easton. Easton brought traditional entertainment industry experience, while Oldham brought an understanding of how to market pop groups. Jones, as the group’s leader, negotiated an extra five pounds a week for himself off the top in the deal. One piece of advice that Oldham had been given by Phil Spector and which he’d taken to heart was that rather than get a band signed to a record label directly, you should set up an independent production company and lease the tapes to the label, and that’s what Oldham and Easton did. They formed a company called Impact, and went into the studio with the Stones and recorded the song they performed which they thought had the most commercial potential, a Chuck Berry song called “Come On” — though they changed Berry’s line about a “stupid jerk” to being about a “stupid guy”, in order to make sure the radio would play it: [Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, “Come On”] During the recording, Oldham, who was acting as producer, told the engineer not to mic up the piano. His plans didn’t include Ian Stewart. Neither the group nor Oldham were particularly happy with the record — the group because they felt it was too poppy, Oldham because it wasn’t poppy enough. But they took the recording to Decca Records, where Dick Rowe, the man who had turned down the Beatles, eagerly signed them. The conventional story is that Rowe signed them after being told about them by George Harrison, but the other details of the story as it’s usually told — that they were judging a talent contest in Liverpool, which is the story in most Stones biographies, or that they were appearing together on Juke Box Jury, which is what Wikipedia and articles ripped off from Wikipedia say — are false, and so it’s likely that the story is made up. Decca wanted the Stones to rerecord the track, but after going to another studio with Easton instead of Oldham producing, the general consensus was that the first version should be released. The group got new suits for their first TV appearance, and it was when they turned up to collect the suits and found there were only five of them, not six, that Ian Stewart discovered Oldham had had him kicked out of the group, thinking he was too old and too ugly, and that six people was too many for a pop group. Stewart was given the news by Brian Jones, and never really forgave either Jones or Oldham, but he remained loyal to the rest of the group. He became their road manager, and would continue to play piano with them on stage and in the studio for the next twenty-two years, until his death — he just wasn’t allowed in the photos or any TV appearances. That wasn’t the only change Oldham made — he insisted that the group be called the Rolling Stones, with a g, not Rollin’. He also changed Keith Richards’ surname, dropping the s to be more like Cliff, though Richards later changed it back again. “Come On” made number twenty-one in the charts, but the band were unsure of what to do as a follow-up single. Most of their repertoire consisted of hard blues songs, which were unlikely to have any chart success. Oldham convened the group for a rehearsal and they ran through possible songs — nothing seemed right. Oldham got depressed and went out for a walk, and happened to bump into John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They asked him what was up, and he explained that the group needed a song. Lennon and McCartney said they thought they could help, and came back to the rehearsal studio with Oldham. They played the Stones an idea that McCartney had been working on, which they thought might be OK for the group. The group said it would work, and Lennon and McCartney retreated to a corner, finished the song, and presented it to them. The result became the Stones’ second single, and another hit for them, this time reaching number twelve. The second single was produced by Easton, as Oldham, who is bipolar, was in a depressive phase and had gone off on holiday to try to get out of it: [Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, “I Wanna Be Your Man”] The Beatles later recorded their own version of the song as an album track, giving it to Ringo to sing — as Lennon said of the song, “We weren’t going to give them anything great, were we?”: [Excerpt: The Beatles, “I Wanna Be Your Man”] For a B-side, the group did a song called “Stoned”, which was clearly “inspired” by “Green Onions”: [Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, “Stoned”] That was credited to a group pseudonym, Nanker Phelge — Nanker after a particular face that Jones and Richards enjoyed pulling, and Phelge after a flatmate of several of the band members, James Phelge. As it was an original, by at least some definitions of the term original, it needed publishing, and Easton got the group signed to a publishing company with whom he had a deal, without consulting Oldham about it. When Oldham got back, he was furious, and that was the beginning of the end of Easton’s time with the group. But it was also the beginning of something else, because Oldham had had a realisation — if you’re going to make records you need songs, and you can’t just expect to bump into Lennon and McCartney every time you need a new single. No, the Rolling Stones were going to have to have some originals, and Andrew Loog Oldham was going to make them into writers. We’ll see how that went in a few weeks’ time, when we pick up on their career.
7 minutes | 5 months ago
BONUS: I Read The NewsToday Oh Boy: The Kennedy Assassination
The third in the occasional series of ten-minute looks at topics in the news during the time we’re looking at covers the Kennedy assassination. Click through for the transcript: —-more—- Welcome to the third episode of “I Read The News Today, Oh Boy”. As I explained in the previous episodes, these are ten-minute bonuses looking at news events that happened at the time we’re looking at in the main episode, to provide some background on the cultural context in which the music we’re looking at is being made. Today’s is on something that one sort of expects everyone to know about, but the Kennedy assassination was almost sixty years ago now, and it’s entirely possible that many people have only the vaguest idea of what happened, or why it is important in twentieth century history. I should also say, given that this is about someone’s death, that the theme music I use for these episodes is not meant to imply that they will always be about actual good news — I don’t think Kennedy’s murder was a good thing. Obviously, there isn’t much room in ten minutes to tell the full story, but here’s the basics. John F Kennedy was elected President in 1960, in a very closely-fought campaign, one of the first modern Presidential campaigns in which the TV played a big part — in his debates with the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, people listening to the radio tended to think that Nixon had won, but people watching on TV, seeing handsome young John F Kennedy debating with a jowly man who looked much older — though in truth Nixon was only four years older than Kennedy, thought Kennedy had won. When he was elected, aged forty-three, he became the youngest person ever elected President. He was also the first Catholic to be elected, and this made him unpopular with a large chunk of the public. He actually had to make public statements in his campaign that he would be working for the American people, not the Pope. Kennedy eventually won the election by an extremely narrow margin — he won the popular vote by 0.2% — and there were widespread accusations by Republicans that he’d won by voter fraud, though these have largely been debunked. Kennedy was, by and large, a popular President once in office. He was charismatic, intelligent, and young. He was a war hero and a Pulitzer prize winning writer (though it’s later been revealed that his prize-winning book was ghostwritten by one of his speechwriters), he had a broadly popular programme of mild liberal reforms on the domestic side coupled with strong anti-communism in foreign policy. His election at the start of a new decade was widely seen as a sign of hope — and in his inaugural speech he spoke of how “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century”. But he made enemies. In particular, he had enemies in two overlapping groups. One was the Mafia — Kennedy’s father, Joseph Kennedy, was strongly rumoured to have ties to organised crime, and the Mafia had been supportive of Kennedy’s Presidential run, but when he came to power he and his brother Robert, who became Attorney General, started a crackdown on organised crime, which the Mafia saw as a betrayal. The other group was white supremacists. Kennedy had been publicly supportive of the civil rights movement — as most white supremacists were also anti-Catholic, it’s easy to see how Kennedy would have been unpopular with them. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was in Dallas, Texas, to give a speech, and was driving through the city in an open-topped car, when he and the governor of Texas, who was travelling in the same car, were shot. Kennedy was killed. It’s hard to understand now just how shocking this was to most people — people broke down and wept in the streets, and the stock market plunged. The TV stations all went to rolling news formats, cancelling normal programming for several days, and many of the top forty radio stations switched to playing classical music until Kennedy’s memorial service. Not everyone mourned, but enough people did that if there is such a thing as a national mood, for several months in late 1963 and early 64, the national mood in the US was despondent. Phil Spector’s Christmas album, which we’ll be looking at in a backer bonus podcast next week, was pulled from the shelves — people didn’t want happy Christmas music in 1963. Shortly after the shooting, a former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder. Oswald was someone who had defected to Russia at one point and later redefected, but who was still a Communist and a vocal supporter of the Cuban Castro regime, and who had previously attempted to kill a leader of the far-right John Birch Society. There was a lot of evidence against Oswald, but two days later he was shot while being transported from the police station to the jail, by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner who some have said had links to organised crime, though Ruby always maintained that he was acting out of anger at Oswald’s murder of Kennedy. Because of this, and because Oswald never stood trial, there have been many conspiracy theories around the murder, some with more support than others, but none hugely convincing. Those accused have ranged from Fidel Castro, to the Mafia, to the CIA, to Kennedy’s Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson. There have been various investigations of the evidence over the years, and most have come to the conclusion that Oswald acted alone. But a substantial proportion of the population believed otherwise. Some have good reason for this belief — there are bits of evidence that are contradictory and perhaps tell a different story — but for many, it was as much about their own inability to cope with the shock of the murder, as it was any rational assessment of the evidence. Things like that just didn’t happen, and there must have been a bigger reason than one man deciding to do a terrible thing. Sadly, though, things like that do just happen. The same day that Kennedy had given his address to the nation on Civil Rights, a few months earlier, the civil rights leader Medgar Evers had been murdered for his activism, and over the course of the sixties we will see time and again how progressive political figures in the US got shot and killed. As we go through the sixties, we’ll see a lot of great music, but sadly not very much in the way of good news.
45 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 107: “Surf City” by Jan and Dean
Episode 107 of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs looks at “Surf City” and the career of Jan and Dean, including a Pop Symphony, accidental conspiracy to kidnap, and a career that both started and ended with attempts to get out of being drafted. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Hey Little Cobra” by the Rip Chords. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources No Mixcloud this week, due to the number of songs by Jan and Dean. Stephen McParland has published many, many books on the California surf and hot-rod music scenes. The Grand High Potentates of California Rock: Jan and Dean “In Perspective” 1958-1968 is the one I used most here, but I referred to several. His books can be found at https://payhip.com/CMusicBooks I also used Dead Man’s Curve and Back: The Jan and Dean Story by Mark Thomas Passmore, and Dean Torrence’s autobiography Surf City. The original mono versions of the Liberty singles are only available on an out-of-print CD that goes for over £400, and many compilations have later rerecordings (often by Dean without Jan) but this has the proper recordings, albeit in stereo mixes. This compilation contains their pre-Liberty singles, including the Jan & Arnie material. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript A warning about this episode — it features some discussion of a car crash and resulting disability and recovery, which may be upsetting to some people. Today we’re going to look at one of the most successful duos in rock and roll history, but one who have been relegated to a footnote because of their collaboration with a far more successful band, who had a similar sound to them. We’re going to look at Jan and Dean, and at “Surf City”: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Surf City”] The story of Jan and Dean begins with Jan and Arnie, and with the Barons. We discussed the Barons briefly in the episode on “LSD-25”, a few months ago, but only in passing, so to recap — the Barons were a singing group that formed at University High School in LA in the late fifties, centred around Jan Berry. Various people involved in the group’s formation went on to be important parts of the LA music scene in the sixties, but by 1958 they were down to Berry and his friends Arnie Ginsburg — not the DJ we talked about last episode, Dean Torrence, and Don Altfeld. The group members all had a love for R&B, and hung around with various of the Black groups of the time — Don Altfeld has talked about him and Berry being present, but not participating, for Richard Berry’s recording of “Louie Louie”, though his memories of the time seem confused in the interviews I’ve read. And Jan Berry in particular was a real music obsessive, and had what may have been the biggest R&B and rock and roll record collection in LA — which he obtained by scamming record companies, which seems to be very in character for him. He got a letterhead made up for a fake radio station, KJAN, and wrote to every record company he could find asking for promo copies. He ended up getting six copies of every new release “to play on the radio”, and would give some of the extra copies to his friends — and others he would use as frisbees. According to Torrence, Berry would often receive two hundred new records a day, all free. Berry had a reel-to-reel tape recorder belonging to his father — his father, William Berry, was important in the Howard Hughes organisation, and had been in charge of the Spruce Goose project, even flying in the famous plane with Hughes, and Hughes had given him the tape recorder, which unlike almost all recording equipment available in the fifties had a primitive reverb function built in. With that and a microphone stolen from the school auditorium, Berry started recording himself and his friends, and he’d wanted to play one of the tapes he’d made at a party, so he’d taken it to a studio to be cut as an acetate, where it had been heard by Joe Lubin of Arwin Records, who took the tape and got session musicians to overdub it: [Excerpt: Jan and Arnie, “Jennie Lee”] That record was released as by Jan and Arnie, rather than the Barons — Dean Torrence was off doing six months in the army, to get out of being conscripted later. Torrence has always said that he could hear himself on the recording, and that it was one the Barons had done together, but everyone else involved has claimed that while the Barons did record a version of that song, the finished version only features Jan and Arnie’s vocals. Don Altfeld didn’t sing on it, because he was never allowed to sing in the Barons — he was forced to just mouth along, which given that both Jan and Dean were known for regularly singing flat must say something about just how bad a singer he is — though he did apparently hit a metal chair leg as percussion on the record. “Jennie Lee” went to number three on the Cashbox chart — number eight on Billboard — and was a big enough hit that it set a precedent for how all the records Jan Berry would be involved in for the next few years would be made — he would record vocals and piano in his garage, with a ton of reverb, and then the backing track would be recorded to that, usually by the same group of musicians that played on records by people like Sam Cooke, Ritchie Valens, and other late-fifties LA singers — a group centred around Ernie Freeman on piano and organ, Rene Hall on guitar, and Earl Palmer on drums. This was a completely backwards way of recording — normally you’d have the musicians play the backing track first and then overdub the vocals on it — but it was how they would carry on doing things for several years. Jan and Arnie’s follow-up, “Gas Money”, written by Berry, Ginsburg, and Altfeld, did less well, only making number eighty-one in the charts: [Excerpt: Jan and Arnie, “Gas Money”] And their third single didn’t chart at all. By this point, Arnie Ginsburg was getting thoroughly sick of working with Jan Berry — pretty much without exception everyone who knew Berry in the fifties and early sixties says two things about him — that he was the single most intelligent person they ever met, and that he was a domineering egomaniac who used anyone he could remorselessly. Jan and Arnie split up, and Arwin Records seems to have decided to stick with Arnie, rather than Jan — though this might have been because Arnie seemed *less* likely to have hits, as Dean Torrence has later claimed that Arwin was a tax dodge — it was owned by Marty Melcher, Doris Day’s husband, and seems to have been used as much to get out of paying as much tax on the family’s vast wealth as it was a real record label. Whatever the reason, though, Arnie made one more single, as The Rituals, backed by many of the people who had played with The Barons — Bruce Johnston, Sandy Nelson, and Dave Shostac, plus their regular collaborators Mike Deasy, Richie Polodor and Harper Cosby. It didn’t chart: [Excerpt: The Rituals, “Girl in Zanzibar”] Dean Torrence, who had by now left the Army, saw his chance, and soon Jan and Arnie had become Jan and Dean — after a brief phase in which it looked like they might persuade Dean to change his name in order to avoid losing the group name. They hooked up with a new management and production team, Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, who had both been working at Keen Records with Sam Cooke. Kim Fowley later said that it was him who persuaded Adler to sign the duo, but Kim Fowley said a lot of things, very few of them true. Adler and Alpert got the new duo signed to Doré Records, a small label based in LA, and their first release on the label was a cover version of a record originally by a group called the Laurels: [Excerpt: The Laurels, “Baby Talk”] Herb Alpert brought that song to the duo, and their version became a top ten hit, with Jan singing the low parts and Dean singing the lead: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Baby Talk”] The hit was big enough that budget labels released soundalike cover versions of it, one of which was by a duo called Tom and Jerry, who had been one hit wonders a year earlier: [Excerpt: Tom and Jerry, “Baby Talk”] That cover version was unsuccessful, something Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were probably very grateful for when they reinvented themselves as sensitive folkies a couple of years later. Around this time, Jan got his girlfriend pregnant. In order not to spoil their son’s promising career — as well as being a singer, he was also at university and planned to become a doctor — Jan’s parents adopted his son and raised the boy as their own son. The duo went on a tour with Little Willie John, Bobby Day, and Little Richard’s old backing band The Upsetters, playing to mainly Black audiences — a tour they were booked on because almost all West Coast doo-wop at that time was from Black singers. Once the mistake was realised, a decision was made to promote the new duo’s image more — lots of photos of the very blonde, very white, duo started to be released, as a way to reassure the white audience. The duo’s film-star good looks assured them of regular coverage in the teen magazines, but they didn’t have any more hits on Doré — of the seven singles they released in the two years after “Baby Talk”, none of them got to better than number fifty-three on the charts. Eventually the duo left Doré, and Jan released one solo single, “Tomorrow’s Teardrops”: [Excerpt: Jan Berry, “Tomorrow’s Teardrops”] That was actually released as by Jan Barry, rather than Jan Berry, at a point when the duo had actually split up — Dean was getting tired of not having any further hit records, and wanted to concentrate on his college work, while Berry was one of those people who needs to be doing several things simultaneously. Berry’s new girlfriend Jill Gibson added backing vocals — by this time he’d dumped the one he’d got pregnant — and the song was written by Berry and Altfeld. Jan actually started his own label, Ripple Records — named after the brand of cheap wine — to release it, and Dean created the logo for him — the first of many he would create over the years. However, the duo soon reunited, and came up with a plan which would have them only touring during the summer break, and doing local performances in the LA area on those weekends when neither had any homework. Now they needed to get signed to a major label. The one they wanted was Liberty, the label that Eddie Cochran had been on, and whose owner, Si Waronker, was actually the cousin of the owners of Doré. And they had recorded a track that they were sure would get them signed to Liberty. The Marcels had recently had a hit with their doo-wop revival of the old standard “Blue Moon”: [Excerpt: The Marcels, “Blue Moon”] Jan had decided to make a soundalike arrangement of another song from the same period, using the same chord changes — the old Hoagy Carmichael song “Heart and Soul”: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Heart and Soul”] They were sure that would be a hit. But Herb Alpert wasn’t — he thought it was a dreadful record, He hated it so much, in fact, that he broke up his partnership with Lou Adler. The division of the partnership’s assets was straightforward — they owned Jan and Dean’s contract, and they owned a tape recorder. Alpert got the tape recorder, and Adler got Jan and Dean. Alpert went on to have a string of hit records as a trumpet player, starting with “The Lonely Bull” in 1962: [Excerpt: Herb Alpert, “The Lonely Bull”] He later formed his own record label, A&M, and never seems to have regretted losing Jan & Dean. Jan and Dean took their tape of “Heart and Soul” to Liberty Records, who said that they did want to sign Jan and Dean, but they didn’t want to release a record like that — they told them to take it somewhere else, and then when the single was a flop, they could come back to Liberty and make some proper records. So the duo got a two-record deal with the small label Challenge Records, on the understanding that after those two singles they would move on to Liberty. And “Heart and Soul” turned out to be a big hit, making number twenty-five on the charts: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Heart and Soul”] Their second single on Challenge only made number one hundred and four, but by this time they knew the drill — they’d release their first single on a new label, it would be a big hit, then everything after that would be a flop. But they were going to a new label anyway, and they were sure their first single on Liberty Records would be a huge hit, just like every time they changed labels. The first record they put out on Liberty was a cover of another oldie, “A Sunday Kind of Love”, suggested by Si Waronker’s son Lenny, who we’ll be hearing a lot more about in future episodes. By this point Lou Adler was working for Aldon Music as their West Coast representative, and so the track was credited as “produced by Lou Adler for Nevins-Kirshner”, but Jan was given a separate arrangement credit on the record. But despite their predictions that the single would be a hit because it was a new label, it only made number ninety-four on the charts. The follow-up, “Tennessee”, was a song which had been more or less forced on them — it was originally one of the recordings that Phil Spector produced during his short-lived contract with Liberty, for a group called the Ducanes, but when the Ducanes had made a hash of it, Liberty forced the song on Jan & Dean instead: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Tennessee”] By this time, while Ernie Freeman was still the studio leader of the session musicians, Jan was requesting a rather larger group of musicians, and they’d started recording the backing tracks first. The musicians on “Tennessee” included Tommy Allsup and Jerry Allison of the Crickets, Earl Palmer on drums, and Glen Campbell on guitar, but even these proven hit-makers couldn’t bring the song to more than number sixty-nine on the charts. And even that was better than their next two singles, neither of which even made the Hot One Hundred — though the fact that by this point they were reduced to recording versions of “Frosty The Snowman”, and attempting to recapture their first hit with a sequel called “She’s Still Talking Baby Talk” shows how desperately they were casting around for something, anything that could be a hit. Eventually they found something that worked. A group called the Regents had recently had a hit with “Barbara Ann”: [Excerpt: The Regents, “Barbara Ann”] The duo had cut a cover version of that for their most recent album, and they thought it had worked well, and so they wanted something else that would allow Dean to sing a falsetto lead, over a bass vocal by Jan, with a girl’s name in the title. They eventually hit on an old standard from the 1940s, originally written as a favour for the songwriter’s lawyer, Lee Eastman, about his then one-year-old daughter Linda (who we’ll be hearing more about later in this series). Their version of “Linda” finally gave them another hit after five flops in a row, reaching number twenty-eight in the charts: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Linda”] Their career was on an upswing again, and then everything changed for them when they played a gig with support from a local band who had just started having hits, the Beach Boys. The story goes that the Beach Boys were booked to do their own support slot and then to back Jan and Dean on their set. The show went down well with the audience, and they wanted an encore, but Jan and Dean had run out of rehearsed songs. So they suggested that the Beach Boys play their own two singles again, and Jan and Dean would sing with them. The group were flattered that two big stars like Jan and Dean would want to perform their songs, and eagerly joined in. Suddenly, Jan and Dean had an idea — their next album was going to be called Jan & Dean Take Linda Surfin’, but as yet they hadn’t recorded any surf songs. They invited the Beach Boys to come into the studio and record new versions of their two singles for Jan & Dean’s album, with Jan and Dean singing the leads: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys, “Surfin'”] The Beach Boys weren’t credited for that session, as they were signed to another label, but it started a long collaboration between the two groups. In particular, the Beach Boys’ leader Brian Wilson became a close collaborator with Berry. And at that same session, Wilson gave Jan and Dean what would become their biggest hit. After the recording, Jan and Dean asked Wilson if he had any new songs they might be able to do. The first one he played them, “Surfin’ USA”, he told them they couldn’t do anything with as he wanted that for the Beach Boys themselves. But then he played them two others. The one that Jan and Dean saw most potential in was a song he’d completed, “Gonna Hustle You”: [Excerpt: Brian Wilson, “Gonna Hustle You”] The duo wanted that as their next single, but Liberty Records flat out refused to put out something that sounded so dirty as “Gonna Hustle You”. They tried rewriting it as “Get a Chance With You”, but even that was too much. They put the song aside, though they’d return to it later as “The New Girl In School”, which would become a minor hit for them. Instead, they worked on a half-completed song that Wilson had started, very much in the same mould as the first two Beach Boys singles, with the provisional title “Goodie Connie Won’t You Please Come Home”. This song would become the first of many Jan and Dean songs for which the songwriting credit is disputed. No-one argues with the fact that the basic idea of the song was Brian Wilson’s, but Jan Berry’s process was to get a lot of people to throw ideas in, sometimes working in a group, sometimes working separately and not even knowing that other people had been involved. The song is officially credited to Wilson and Berry, but Don Altfeld has also claimed he contributed to it, Dean Torrence says that he wrote about a quarter of the lyrics, and it’s also been suggested that Roger Christian wrote the lyrics to the first verse. Christian was an LA-area DJ who was obsessed with cars, and had come to Wilson’s attention after he’d said on the air that the Beach Boys’ “409” was a great song about a bad car. He’d started writing songs with Wilson, and he would also collaborate with both Jan Berry and Wilson’s friend Gary Usher (who was a big part of this scene but hardly ever worked with Jan and Dean because he hated Jan). Almost every car song from this period, by the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, or any number of studio groups, was co-written by Christian, and we’ll be hearing more about him in a future episode. This group of people — Jan and Dean, Brian Wilson, Roger Christian, and Don Altfeld — would write together in various combinations, and write a lot of hits, but a lot of the credits were assigned more or less randomly — though Jan Berry was almost always credited, and Dean Torrence almost never was. The completed song, titled “Surf City”, was recorded with members of the Wrecking Crew — the studio musicians who usually worked with Phil Spector — performing the backing track. In this case, these were Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell, Earl Palmer, Bill Pitman, Ray Pohlman and Billy Strange — there were two drummers because Berry liked a big drum sound. Brian Wilson was at the session, and soon after this he started using some of those musicians himself. While it was released as a Jan and Dean record, Dean doesn’t sing on it at all — the vocals featured Jan, three singers from another Liberty Records group called the Gents, and Brian Wilson, with Wilson and Tony Minichello of the Gents singing the falsetto parts that Dean would sing live: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Surf City”] That went to number one, becoming Jan and Dean’s only number one, and Brian Wilson’s first — much to the fury of Wilson’s father Murry, who thought that Wilson’s hits should only be going to the Beach Boys. Murry Wilson may well have been more bothered by the fact that the publishing for the song went to Columbia/Screen Gems, to whom Jan was signed, rather than to Sea of Tunes, the company that published Wilson’s other songs, and which was owned by Murry himself. Murry started calling Jan a “pirate”, which prompted Berry to turn up to a Beach Boys session wearing a full pirate costume to taunt Murry. From “Linda” on, Jan and Dean had ten top forty hits with ten singles — one of the B-sides also charted, but they did miss with “Here They Come From All Over The World”, the theme tune for the TAMI Show, a classic rock concert film on which Jan and Dean appeared both as singers and as the hosts. That was by far their weakest single from this period, being as it is just a list of the musicians in the show, some of them described incorrectly — the song talks about “The Rolling Stones from Liverpool” and James Brown being “the King of the Blues”. All of these hits were made by the same team. The Wrecking Crew would play the instruments, the Gents — now renamed the Matadors, and sometimes the Blossoms would provide backing vocals on the earlier singles. The later ones would feature the Fantastic Baggies instead of the Matadors — two young songwriters, Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan, who were also making their own surf records. The lead would be sung by Jan, the falsetto by some combination of Brian Wilson, Dean Torrence, Tony Minichello and P.F. Sloan — often Dean wouldn’t appear at all. The singles would be written by some combination of Wilson, Berry, Altfeld and Christian, and the songs would be about the same subjects as the Beach Boys’ records — surf, cars, girls, or some combination of the three. Sometimes the records would be just repetitions of the formula, like “Drag City”, which was an attempt at a second “Surf City”: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Drag City”] But often there would be a self-parodic element that wasn’t present in the Beach Boys’ singles, as in “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena”, a car song written by Berry, Christian, and Altfeld, based on a series of Dodge commercials featuring a car-racing old lady: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena”] And the grotesque “Dead Man’s Curve”, equal parts a serious attempt at a teen tragedy song and a parody of the genre, which took on a new meaning a few years after it was a hit: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Dead Man’s Curve”] But while 1963 and 64 saw the duo rack up an incredible run of hits, they were making enemies. Jan was so unpleasant to people by this point that even the teen mags would call him out, with Teen Scene in March 1964 running an article which read, in part, “Blast of the month goes to half of a certain group whose initials are J&D. Reason for the blast: his personality, which makes enemies faster than Carter makes pills… (It’s the Jan Half)… Acting like Mr. Big Britches gets you nowhere, and your poor partner, who is one of the nicest guys on earth, shouldn’t be forced to go around making apologies for your actions.” And while Torrence may have been “one of the nicest guys on Earth”, not all of his friends were. In fact, in December 1963, his closest friend, Barry Keenan, was the ringleader in the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. Keenan told Torrence about the plan in advance, and Torrence had lent Keenan a great deal of money, which Keenan used to finance the kidnapping. Torrence was accused of being a major part of the plot, though he was let off after testifying against the people who were actually involved — he’s always claimed that he thought that his friend’s talking about his plan for the perfect crime was just talk, not a serious plan. Torrence had even offered suggestions, jokingly, which Keenan had incorporated — and Keenan had left a bag containing fifty thousand dollars at Torrence’s home, Torrence’s share of the ransom money, which Torrence refused to keep. However, Sinatra Sr was annoyed enough at Torrence that a lot of plans for Jan and Dean TV shows and film appearances suddenly dried up. The lack of TV and film appearances was a particular problem as the music industry was changing under them, and surf and hot rod records weren’t the in thing any more — and Brian Wilson seems to have been less interested in working with them as well, as the Beach Boys overtook Jan and Dean in popularity. 1965 saw them trying to figure out the new, more serious, music scene, with experiments like Pop Symphony Number 1, an album of orchestral arrangements of the duo’s hits by Berry (who minored in music at UCLA) and George Tipton: [Excerpt: The Bel-Aire Pops Orchestra, “Surf City”] The duo also tried going folk-rock, releasing an album called Folk ‘n’ Roll, which featured another variation on the “Surf City” and “Drag City” theme — this one “Folk City”: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Folk City”] That album didn’t do well at all, not least because the lead-off single was a pro-war protest song, released as a Jan Berry solo single. Berry had become incensed by Buffy Saint-Marie’s song “The Universal Soldier”, and had written a right-wing response, “The Universal Coward”: [Excerpt: Jan Berry, “The Universal Coward”] As you can imagine, that was not popular with the folk-rock crowd, especially coming as it did from someone who was still managing to avoid the draft by studying medicine, even as he was also a pop star. Torrence became so irritated with Berry, and with the music they were making, during the recording of that album that he ended up going down the hall to another studio, where the Beach Boys were recording their unplugged Party! album, and sitting in with them. He suggested they do a new recording of “Barbara Ann”, and he sang lead on it, uncredited: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Barbara Ann”] That went to number two on the charts, becoming the biggest hit record that Torrence ever sang on. Torrence was happier with the next project, though, an album spoofing the popular TV show Batman, with several comedy sketches, along with songs about the characters from the TV show: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Batman”] But by this point, in 1966, Jan and Dean’s singles were doing absolutely nothing in the charts. In March, Liberty Records dropped them. And then on April the twelfth, 1966, something happened that would end their chances of another comeback. Jan Berry had been in numerous accidents over the previous few years — he was a thrill-seeker, and would often end up crashing cars or breaking bones. On April the twelfth, he had an appointment at the draft board, at which he was given bad news — depending on which account you read, he was either told that his draft deferment was coming to an end and he was going to Vietnam straight away, or that he was going to Vietnam as soon as he graduated from medical school at the end of the school year. He was furious, and he got into his car. What happened next has been the subject of some debate. Some people say that a wheel came off his car — and some have hinted that this was the result of some of Sinatra’s friends getting revenge on Jan and Dean. Others just say he was driving carelessly, which he often did. Some have suggested that he was trying to deliberately get into a minor accident to avoid being drafted. Whatever happened, he was involved in a major accident, in which he, though luckily no-one else, was severely injured. He spent a month in a coma, and came out of it severely brain damaged. He had to relearn to read and speak, and for the rest of his life would have problems with his memory, his physical co-ordination, and his speech. Liberty kept releasing old Jan and Dean tracks, and even got them a final top twenty hit with “Popsicle”, a song from a few years earlier. Dean made a Jan and Dean album, Save For a Rainy Day, without Jan, while Jan was still recovering, as a way of trying to keep their career options open if Jan ever got better. Dean put it out on the duo’s own new label, J&D, and there were plans for Columbia to pick it up and give it a wider release, but Jan refused to sign the contracts — he was furious that Dean had made a Jan and Dean record without him, and would have nothing to do with it. Torrence tried to have a music career anyway — he put out a cover of the Beach Boys song “Vegetables” under the name The Laughing Gravy: [Excerpt: The Laughing Gravy, “Vegetables”] But he soon gave up, and became an artist, designing covers and logos for people like Harry Nilsson, Canned Heat, the Turtles, and the Beach Boys. Jan tried making his own Jan and Dean album without Dean, even though he was unable to sing again or write yet. With a lot of help from Roger Christian, he pulled together some old half-finished songs and finished them, got in some soundalike session singers and famous friends like Glen Campbell and Davy Jones of the Monkees and put together Carnival of Sound, an album that didn’t get released until 2010: [Excerpt: Jan and Dean, “Girl You’re Blowing My Mind”] In the mid-seventies, Jan and Dean got back together and started touring the nostalgia circuit, spurred by a TV movie, Dead Man’s Curve, based on their lives. There seemed to be a love-hate relationship between them in later years — they would split up and get back together, and their roles had reversed, with Dean now taking most of the leads on the shows — Dean had to look after Jan a lot of the time, and some reports said that Jan had to relearn the words to the three songs he sang lead on every night. But with the aid of some excellent backing musicians, and with some love and tolerance from the audience for Jan’s ongoing problems, they managed to regularly please crowds of thousands until a few weeks before Jan’s death in 2004. Since then, Dean has mostly performed with the Surf City All-Stars, a band that sometimes also features Al Jardine and David Marks of the Beach Boys, playing a few shows a year. He released an autobiography in 2016 — it came out at the same time as the autobiographies of Brian Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys, ensuring that even at this late date, he would be overshadowed by his more famous colleagues.
55 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 106: “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen
Episode 106 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, and the story of how a band that had already split up accidentally had one of the biggest hits of the sixties and sparked a two-year FBI investigation. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have an eight-minute bonus episode available, on “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)
46 minutes | 6 months ago
Episode 105: “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MGs
Episode 105 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Green Onions”, and how a company started by a Western Swing fiddle player ended up making the most important soul records of the sixties. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)
42 minutes | 6 months ago
Episode 104: “He’s a Rebel” by “The Crystals”
Episode 104 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “He’s a Rebel”, and how a song recorded by the Blossoms was released under the name of the Crystals. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As always, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. A lot of resources were used for this episode. The material on Gene Pitney mostly comes from his page on This is My Story. Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson is a good overview of the Brill Building scene. Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era, including articles on both The Crystals and the Blossoms. I’ve referred to two biographies of Spector in this episode, Phil Spector: Out of His Head by Richard Williams and He’s a Rebel by Mark Ribkowsky. And information on the Wrecking Crew largely comes from The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman. There are many compilations available with some of the hits Spector produced, but I recommend getting Back to Mono, a four-CD overview of his career containing all the major singles put out by Philles. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript A brief note — there are some very brief mentions of domestic abuse here. Nothing I think will upset anyone, but you might want to check the transcript if you’re at all unsure. Up to this point, whenever we’ve looked at a girl group, it’s been at one that had, to a greater or lesser extent, some control over their own career. Groups like the Marvelettes, the Chantels, and the Bobbettes all wrote their own material, at least at first, and had distinctive personalities before they ever made a record. But today, we’re going to look at a group whose identity was so subsumed in that of their producer that the record we’re looking at was released under the name of a different group from the one that recorded it. We’re going to look at “He’s a Rebel”, which was recorded by the Blossoms and released by the Crystals. [Excerpt: “The Crystals” (The Blossoms), “He’s a Rebel”] The Crystals, from their very beginnings, were intended as a vehicle for the dreams of men, rather than for their own ambitions. Whereas the girl groups we’ve looked at so far all formed as groups of friends at school before they moved into professional singing, the Crystals were put together by a man named Benny Wells. Wells had a niece, Barbara Alston, who sang with a couple of her schoolfriends, Mary Thomas and Myrna Giraud. Wells put those three together with two other girls, Dee Dee Kenniebrew and Patsy Wright, to form a five-piece vocal group. Wells seems not to have had much concept of what was in the charts at the time — the descriptions of the music he had the girls singing talk about him wanting them to sound like the Modernaires, the vocal group who sang with Glenn Miller’s band in the early 1940s. But the girls went along with Wells, and Wells had good enough ears to recognise a hit when one was brought to him — and one was brought to him by Patsy Wright’s brother-in-law, Leroy Bates. Bates had written a song called “There’s No Other Like My Baby”, and Wells could tell it had potential. Incidentally, some books say that the song was based on a gospel song called “There’s No Other Like My Jesus”, and that claim is repeated on Wikipedia, but I can’t find any evidence of a song of that name other than people talking about “There’s No Other Like My Baby”. There is a gospel song called “There’s No Other Name Like Jesus”, but that has no obvious resemblance to Bates’ song, and so I’m going to assume that the song was totally original. As well as bringing the song, Bates also brought the fledgling group a name — he had a daughter, Crystal Bates, after whom the group named themselves. The newly-named Crystals took their song to the offices of Hill and Range Music, which as well as being a publishing company also owned Big Top Records, the label that had put out the original version of “Twist and Shout”, which had so annoyed Bert Berns. And it was there that they ended up meeting up with Phil Spector. After leaving his role at Atlantic, Spector had started working as a freelance producer, including working for Big Top. According to Spector — a notorious liar, it’s important to remember — he worked during this time on dozens of hits for which he didn’t get any credit, just to earn money. But we do know about some of the records he produced during this time. For example, there was one by a new singer called Gene Pitney. Pitney had been knocking around for years, recording for Decca as part of a duo called Jamie and Jane: [Excerpt: Jamie and Jane, “Faithful Our Love”] And for Blaze Records as Billy Bryan: [Excerpt: Billy Bryan, “Going Back to My Love”] But he’d recently signed to Musicor, a label owned by Aaron Schroeder, and had recorded a hit under his own name. Pitney had written “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away”, and had taken advantage of the new multitracking technology to record his vocals six times over, creating a unique sound that took the record into the top forty: [Excerpt: Gene Pitney, “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away”] But while that had been a hit, his second single for Musicor was a flop, and so for the third single, Musicor decided to pull out the big guns. They ran a session at which basically the whole of the Brill Building turned up. Leiber and Stoller were to produce a song they’d written for Pitney, the new hot husband-and-wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were there, as was Burt Bacharach, and so were Goffin and King, who wrote the song that *Spector* was to produce for Pitney. All of them were in the control booth, and all of them were chipping in ideas. As you might expect with that many cooks, the session did not go smoothly, and to make matters worse, Pitney was suffering from a terrible cold. The session ended up costing thirteen thousand dollars, at a time when an average recording session cost five hundred dollars. On the song Spector was producing on that session, Goffin and King’s “Every Breath I Take”, Pitney knew that with the cold he would be completely unable to hit the last note in full voice, and went into falsetto. Luckily, everyone thought it sounded good, and he could pretend it was deliberate, rather than the result of necessity: [Excerpt: Gene Pitney, “Every Breath I Take”] The record only went to number forty-two, but it resuscitated Pitney’s singing career, and forged a working relationship between the two men. But soon after that, Spector had flown back to LA to work with his old friend Lester Sill. Sill and producer/songwriter, Lee Hazelwood, had been making records with the guitarist Duane Eddy, producing a string of hits like “Rebel Rouser”: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Rebel Rouser”] But Eddy had recently signed directly to a label, rather than going through Sill and Hazelwood’s company as before, and so Sill and Hazelwood had been looking for new artists, and they’d recently signed a group called the Paris Sisters to their production company. Sill had decided to get Spector in to produce the group, and Spector came up with a production that Sill was sure would be a hit, on a song called “I Love How You Love Me”, written by Barry Mann with another writer called Jack Keller: [Excerpt: The Paris Sisters, “I Love How You Love Me”] Spector was becoming a perfectionist — he insisted on recording the rhythm track for that record at one studio, and the string part at another, and apparently spent fifty hours on the mix — and Sill was spending more and more time in the studio with Spector, fascinated at his attitude to the work he was doing. This led to a breakup between Sill and Hazelwood — their business relationship was already strained, but Hazelwood got jealous of all the time that Sill was spending with Spector, and decided to split their partnership and go and produce Duane Eddy, without Sill, at Eddy’s new label. So Sill was suddenly in the market for a new business partner, and he and Spector decided that they were going to start up their own label, Philles, although by this point everyone who had ever worked with Spector was warning Sill that it was a bad idea to go into business with him. But Spector and Sill kept their intentions secret for a while, and so when Spector met the Crystals at Hill and Range’s offices, everyone at Hill and Range just assumed that he was still working for them as a freelance producer, and that the Crystals were going to be recording for Big Top. Freddie Bienstock of Hill & Range later said, “We were very angry because we felt they were Big Top artists. He was merely supposed to produce them for us. There was no question about the fact that he was just rehearsing them for Big Top—hell, he rehearsed them for weeks in our offices. And then he just stole them right out of here. That precipitated a breach of contract with us. We were just incensed because that was a terrific group, and for him to do that shows the type of character he was. We felt he was less than ethical, and, obviously, he was then shown the door.” Bienstock had further words for Spector too, ones I can’t repeat here because of content rules about adult language, but they weren’t flattering. Spector had been dating Bienstock’s daughter, with Bienstock’s approval, but that didn’t last once Spector betrayed Bienstock. But Spector didn’t care. He had his own New York girl group, one that could compete with the Bobbettes or the Chantels or the Shirelles, and he was going to make the Crystals as big as any of them, and he wasn’t going to cut Big Top in. He slowed down “There’s No Other Like My Baby” and it became the first release on Philles Records, with Barbara Alston singing lead: [Excerpt: The Crystals, “There’s No Other Like My Baby”] That record was cut late at night in June 1961. In fact it was cut on Prom Night — three of the girls came straight to the session from their High School prom, still wearing their prom dresses. Spector wrote the B-side, a song that was originally intended to be the A-side called “Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby”, but everyone quickly realised that “There’s No Other Like My Baby” was the hit, and it made the top twenty. While Spector was waiting for the money to come in on the first Philles record, he took another job, with Liberty Records, working for his friend Snuff Garrett. He got a thirty thousand dollar advance, made a single flop record with them with an unknown singer named Obrey Wilson, and then quit, keeping his thirty thousand dollars. Once “There’s No Other” made the charts, Spector took the Crystals into the studio again, to record a song by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil that he’d got from Aldon Music. Spector was becoming increasingly convinced that he’d made a mistake in partnering with Lester Sill, and he should really have been working with Don Kirshner, and he was in discussions with Kirshner which came to nothing about them having some sort of joint project. While those discussions fell through, almost all the songs that Spector would use for the next few years would come from Aldon songwriters, and “Uptown” was a perfect example of the new kind of socially-relevant pop songwriting that had been pioneered by Goffin and King, but which Mann and Weil were now making their own. Before becoming a professional songwriter, Weil had been part of the Greenwich Village folk scene, and while she wasn’t going to write anything as explicitly political as the work of Pete Seeger, she thought that songs should at least try to be about the real world. “Uptown” was the first example of a theme which would become a major motif for the Crystals’ records — a song about a man who is looked down upon by society, but who the singer believes is better than his reputation. Mann and Weil’s song combined that potent teen emotion with an inspiration Weil had had, seeing a handsome Black man pushing a hand truck in the Garment District, and realising that even though he was oppressed by his job, and “a nobody” when he was working downtown, he was still somebody when he was at home. They originally wrote the song for Tony Orlando to sing, but Spector insisted, rightly, that the song worked better with female voices, and that the Crystals should do it. Spector took Mann and Weil’s song and gave it a production that evoked the Latin feel of Leiber and Stoller’s records for the Drifters: [Excerpt: The Crystals, “Uptown”] By the time of this second record, the Crystals had already been through one lineup change. As soon as she left school, Myrna Giraud got married, and she didn’t want to perform on stage any more. She would still sing with the girls in the studio for a little while — she’s on every track of their first album, though she left altogether soon after this recording — but she was a married woman now and didn’t want to be in a group. The girls needed a replacement, and they also needed something else — a lead singer. All the girls loved singing, but none of them wanted to be out in front singing lead. Luckily, Dee Dee Kenniebrew’s mother was a secretary at the school attended by a fourteen-year-old gospel singer named La La Brooks, and she heard Brooks singing and invited her to join the group. Brooks soon became the group’s lead vocalist on stage. But in the studio, Spector didn’t want to use her as the lead vocalist. He insisted on Barbara singing the lead on “Uptown”, but in a sign of things to come, Mann and Weil weren’t happy with her performance — Spector had to change parts of the melody to accommodate her range — and they begged Spector to rerecord the lead vocal with Little Eva singing. However, Eva became irritated with Spector’s incessant demands for more takes and his micromanagement, cursed him out, and walked out of the studio. The record was released with Barbara’s original lead vocal, and while Mann and Weil weren’t happy with that, listeners were, as it went to number thirteen on the charts: [Excerpt: The Crystals, “Uptown”] Little Eva later released her own version of the song, on the Dimension Dolls compilation we talked about in the episode on “The Loco-Motion”: [Excerpt: Little Eva, “Uptown”] It was Little Eva who inspired the next Crystals single, as well — as we talked about in the episode on her, she inspired a truly tasteless Goffin and King song called “He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss”, which I will not be excerpting, but which was briefly released as the Crystals’ third single, before being withdrawn after people objected to hearing teenage girls sing about how romantic and loving domestic abuse is. There seems to be some suggestion that the record was released partly as a way for Spector to annoy Lester Sill, who by all accounts was furious at the release. Spector was angry at Sill over the amount of money he’d made from the Paris Sisters recordings, and decided that he was being treated unfairly and wanted to force Sill out of their partnership. Certainly the next recording by the Crystals was meant to get rid of some other business associates. Two of Philles’ distributors had a contract which said they were entitled to the royalties on two Crystals singles. So the second one was a ten-minute song called “The Screw”, split over two sides of a disc, which sounded like this: [Excerpt: The Crystals, “The Screw”] Only a handful of promotional copies of that were ever produced. One went to Lester Sill, who by this point had been bought out of his share of the company for a small fraction of what it was worth. The last single Spector recorded for Philles while Sill was still involved with the label was another Crystals record, one that had the involvement of many people Sill had brought into Spector’s orbit, and who would continue working with him long after the two men stopped working together. Spector had decided he was going to start recording in California again, and two of Sill’s assistants would become regular parts of Spector’s new hit-making machine. The first of these was a composer and arranger called Jack Nitzsche, who we’ll be seeing a lot more of in this podcast over the next couple of years, in some unexpected places. Nitzsche was a young songwriter, whose biggest credit up to this point was a very minor hit for Preston Epps, “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo”: [Excerpt: Preston Epps, “Bongo Bongo Bongo”] Nitzsche would become Spector’s most important collaborator, and his arrangements, as much as Spector’s production, are what characterise the “Wall of Sound” for which Spector would become famous. The other assistant of Sill’s who became important to Spector’s future was a saxophone player named Steve Douglas. We’ve seen Douglas before, briefly, in the episode on “LSD-25” — he played in the original lineup of Kip and the Flips, one of the groups we talked about in that episode. He’d left Kip and the Flips to join Duane Eddy’s band, and it was through Eddy that he had started working with Sill, when he played on many of Eddy’s hits, most famously “Peter Gunn”: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Peter Gunn”] Douglas was the union contractor for the session, and for most of the rest of Spector’s sixties sessions. This is something we’ve not talked about previously, but when we look at records produced in LA for the next few years, in particular, it’s something that will come up a lot. When a producer wanted to make records at the time, he (for they were all men) would not contact all the musicians himself. Instead, he’d get in touch with a trusted musician and say “I have a session at three o’clock. I need two guitars, bass, drums, a clarinet and a cello” (or whatever combination of instruments), and sometimes might say, “If you can get this particular player, that would be good”. The musician would then find out which other musicians were available, get them into the studio, and file the forms which made sure they got paid according to union rules. The contractor, not the producer, decided who was going to play on the session. In the case of this Crystals session, Spector already had a couple of musicians in mind — a bass player named Ray Pohlman, and his old guitar teacher Howard Roberts, a jazz guitarist who had played on “To Know Him is to Love Him” and “I Love How You Love Me” for Spector already. But Spector wanted a *big* sound — he wanted the rhythm instruments doubled, so there was a second bass player, Jimmy Bond, and a second guitarist, Tommy Tedesco. Along with them and Douglas were piano player Al de Lory and drummer Hal Blaine. This was the first session on which Spector used any of these musicians, and with the exception of Roberts, who hated working on Spector’s sessions and soon stopped, this group put together by Douglas would become the core of what became known as “The Wrecking Crew”, a loose group of musicians who would play on a large number of the hit records that would come out of LA in the sixties. Spector also had a guaranteed hit song — one by Gene Pitney. While Pitney wrote few of his own records, he’d established himself a parallel career as a writer for other people. He’d written “Today’s Teardrops”, the B-side of Roy Orbison’s hit “Blue Angel”: [Excerpt: Roy Orbison, “Today’s Teardrops”] And had followed that up with a couple of the biggest hits of the early sixties, Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball”: [Excerpt: Bobby Vee, “Rubber Ball”] And Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou”: [Excerpt: Ricky Nelson, “Hello, Mary Lou”] Pitney had written a song, “He’s a Rebel”, that was very strongly inspired by “Uptown”, and Aaron Schroeder, Pitney’s publisher, had given the song to Spector. But Spector knew Schroeder, and knew that when he gave you a song, he was going to give it to every other producer who came knocking as well. “He’s a Rebel” was definitely going to be a massive hit for someone, and he wanted it to be for the Crystals. He phoned them up and told them to come out to LA to record the song. And they said no. The Crystals had become sick of Spector. He’d made them record songs like “He Hit Me and it Felt Like a Kiss”, he’d refused to let their lead singer sing lead, and they’d not seen any money from their two big hits. They weren’t going to fly from New York to LA just because he said so. Spector needed a new group, in LA, that he could record doing the song before someone else did it. He could use the Crystals’ name — Philles had the right to put out records by whoever they liked and call it the Crystals — he just needed a group. He found one in the Blossoms, a group who had connections to many of the people Spector was working with. Jack Nitzsche’s wife sometimes sang with them on sessions, and they’d also sung on a Duane Eddy record that Lester Sill had worked on, “Dance With the Guitar Man”, where they’d been credited as the Rebelettes: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Dance With the Guitar Man”] The Blossoms had actually been making records in LA for nearly eight years at this point. They’d started out as the Dreamers one of the many groups who’d been discovered by Johnny Otis, back in the early fifties, and had also been part of the scene around the Penguins, one of whom went to school with some of the girls. They started out as a six-piece group, but slimmed down to a quartet after their first record, on which they were the backing group for Richard Berry: [Excerpt: Richard Berry, “At Last”] The first stable lineup of the Dreamers consisted of Fanita James, Gloria Jones (not the one who would later record “Tainted Love”), and the twin sisters Annette and Nanette Williams. They worked primarily with Berry, backing him on five singles in the mid fifties, and also recording songs he wrote for them under their own name, like “Do Not Forget”, which actually featured another singer, Jennell Hawkins, on lead: [Excerpt: The Dreamers, “Do Not Forget”] They also sang backing vocals on plenty of other R&B records from people in the LA R&B scene — for example it’s them singing backing vocals, with Jesse Belvin, on Etta James’ “Good Rocking Daddy”: [Excerpt: Etta James, “Good Rocking Daddy”] The group signed to Capitol Records in 1957, but not under the name The Dreamers — an executive there said that they all had different skin tones and it made them look like flowers, so they became the Blossoms. They were only at Capitol for a year, but during that time an important lineup change happened — Nanette quit the group and was replaced by a singer called Darlene Wright. From that point on The Blossoms was the main name the group went under, though they also recorded under other names, for example using the name The Playgirls to record “Gee But I’m Lonesome”, a song written by Bruce Johnston, who was briefly dating Annette Williams at the time: [Excerpt: The Playgirls, “Gee But I’m Lonesome”] By 1961 Annette had left the group, and they were down to a trio of Fanita, Gloria, and Darlene. Their records, under whatever name, didn’t do very well, but they became the first-call session singers in LA, working on records by everyone from Sam Cooke to Gene Autry. So it was the Blossoms who were called on in late 1962 to record “He’s a Rebel”, and it was Darlene Wright who earned her session fee, and no royalties, for singing the lead on a number one record: [Excerpt: The “Crystals” (The Blossoms), “He’s a Rebel”] From that point on, the Blossoms would sing on almost every Spector session for the next three years, and Darlene, who he renamed Darlene Love, would become Spector’s go-to lead vocalist for records under her own name, the Blossoms, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and the Crystals. It was lucky for Spector that he decided to go this route rather than wait for the Crystals, not only because it introduced him to the Blossoms, but because he’d been right about Aaron Schroeder. As Spector and Sill sat together in the studio where they were mastering the record, some musicians on a break from the studio next door wandered in, and said, “Hey man. we were just playing the same goddam song!” Literally in the next room as Spector mastered the record, his friend Snuff Garrett was producing Vicki Carr singing “He’s a Rebel”: [Excerpt: Vicki Carr, “He’s a Rebel”] Philles got their version out first, and Carr’s record sank without trace, while “The Crystals” went to number one, keeping the song’s writer off the top spot, as Gene Pitney sat at number two with a Bacharach and David song, “Only Love Can Break a Heart”: [Excerpt: Gene Pitney, “Only Love Can Break a Heart”] The Crystals were shocked that Spector released a Crystals record without any of them on it, but La La Brooks had a similar enough voice to Darlene Love’s that they were able to pull the song off live. They had a bit more of a problem with the follow-up, also by the Blossoms but released as the Crystals: [Excerpt: “The Crystals”/The Blossoms, “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”] La La could sing that fine, but she had to work on the spoken part — Darlene was from California and La La had a thick Brooklyn accent. She managed it, just about. As La La was doing such a good job of singing Darlene Love’s parts live — and, more importantly, as she was only fifteen and so didn’t complain about things like royalties — the Crystals finally did get their way and have La La start singing the leads on their singles, starting with “Da Doo Ron Ron”. The problem is, none of the other Crystals were on those records — it was La La singing with the Blossoms, plus other session singers. Listen out for the low harmony in “Da Doo Ron Ron” and see if you recognise the voice: [Excerpt: The Crystals, “Da Doo Ron Ron”] Cher would later move on to bigger things than being a fill-in Crystal. “Da Doo Ron Ron” became another big hit, making number three in the charts, and the follow-up, “Then He Kissed Me”, with La La once again on lead vocals, also made the top ten, but the group were falling apart — Spector was playing La La off against the rest of the group, just to cause trouble, and he’d also lost interest in them once he discovered another group, The Ronettes, who we’ll be hearing more about in future episodes. The singles following “Then He Kissed Me” barely scraped the bottom of the Hot One Hundred, and the group left Philles in 1964. They got a payoff of five thousand dollars, in lieu of all future royalties on any of their recordings. They had no luck having hits without Spector, and one by one the group members left, and the group split up by 1966. Mary, Barbara, and Dee Dee briefly reunited as the Crystals in 1971, and La La and Dee Dee made an album together in the eighties of remakes of the group’s hits, but nothing came of any of these. Dee Dee continues to tour under the Crystals name in North America, while La La performs solo in America and under the Crystals name in Europe. Barbara, the lead singer on the group’s first hits, died in 2018. Darlene Love continues to perform, but we’ll hear more about her and the Blossoms in future episodes, I’m sure. The Crystals were treated appallingly by Spector, and are not often treated much better by the fans, who see them as just interchangeable parts in a machine created by a genius. But it should be remembered that they were the ones who brought Spector the song that became the first Philles hit, that both Barbara and La La were fine singers who sang lead on classic hit records, and that Spector taking all the credit for a team effort doesn’t mean he deserved it. Both the Crystals and the Blossoms deserved better than to have their identities erased in return for a flat session fee, in order to service the ego of one man.
10 minutes | 6 months ago
BONUS: I Read The News Today Oh Boy — The Profumo Affair
This month’s ten-minute extra bonus episode on news events at the time we’re looking at is on the Profumo Affair, and how a sex scandal transformed Britain. Click through to the full post to read a transcript. —-more—- Transcript Welcome to the second episode of “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy”, the ten-minute bonus podcast I’m running monthly alongside the main podcast. In case you’ve forgotten from last month, in these bonus episodes I’m going to talk about aspects of the news that were happening at the same time as the music we’re talking about, so you have some idea of the wider context in which the music was being made. This month, we’re going to look at the Profumo affair, which was one of the most important moments in post-War British history, not for anything that actually happened, but because of the change in cultural attitudes it created. A brief warning — this one contains some mention of suicide, violence against women, and gun violence. In 1963, the Conservative Party had been in power in Britain for twelve years, and as with any party in power for that long, it was starting to become unpopular. In that time there had been three different Prime Ministers — Winston Churchill, who had returned to power in 1951 after losing the 1945 election, but who had retired before the 1955 election; Anthony Eden, who had replaced Churchill, and who had been Prime Minister during the Suez Crisis, which was the event that finally led to the realisation that Britain was no longer a major world power; and finally Harold Macmillan, an ageing, Patrician, figure who gave the impression of being an amiable but rather befuddled old man. But the government was finally brought down by the first British sex scandal among the ruling classes ever to go public. John Profumo was a minor minister, never in the Cabinet but with a long history of ministerial roles. He was as establishment as you could get, having been educated at Harrow and Oxford, and he was technically the fifth Baron Profumo, a member of the Italian nobility, though he inherited his title during the Second World War at a time when Britain was at war with Italy, and the title was abolished soon afterwards. He had been the youngest MP to be elected in 1940, he’d gone and fought in the war and risen to the rank of Brigadier, and he was married to Valerie Hobson, an actor who had appeared in films such as Bride of Frankenstein, Werewolf of London, Great Expectations, and Kind Hearts and Coronets. Profumo had attended a party hosted by his friend Viscount Astor, where he’d been introduced by the society osteopath and artist Stephen Ward to Christine Keeler, a model who was twenty-seven years younger than him, and who had a very active love life. Keeler was involved with many men, and Profumo soon became one of them — which caused problems with MI5. Because one of the other men with whom Keeler was involved was Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian spy in Britain who MI5 were trying to induce to defect, while Profumo was the Minister of War, in charge of Britain’s defence. Profumo and Keeler’s affair was quite brief, and would have been hushed up as these things usually were, except that one of Keeler’s other lovers, a jazz promoter named Johnny Edgecombe, attacked another man, a singer called “Lucky” Gordon, after being told by Keeler that Gordon had assaulted her. Edgecombe became angry when Keeler refused to testify in his defence, and took a gun round to Stephen Ward’s flat, where Keeler was staying, and shot five rounds into the building. This brought Keeler to the attention not only of the police, but of the press, and the story was initially just about the shooting — along with the excitement of the shooting itself there was also the prurient interest of a beautiful young woman with multiple lovers, and a chance for some good old-fashioned British racism, as Edgecombe and Gordon were Black. But because of this interest, the press started sniffing around Keeler’s other lovers, and discovered her connections with both Ivanov and Profumo. Up to this point, there had been a convention in the British media that one didn’t attack people in power, but that had very slowly been changing over the last few years, to the point where it had become possible for the comedian Peter Cook to actually impersonate the Prime Minister on stage during the show “Beyond the Fringe”: [Excerpt: Peter Cook, “T.V.P.M”] So the media didn’t say anything explicit about it — and even if there hadn’t been questions of decorum they would probably have worried about British libel laws being used against them — but they did start dropping subtle hints, which allowed anyone who knew the people involved but didn’t know what had been happening to work it out. Least subtle of all was the satirical magazine Private Eye, owned by Peter Cook, which printed the details of the story, but just changed the names of everyone involved to things like “Miss Gaye Funloving” and “Vladimir Bolokhov”. Eventually, George Wigg, an MP for the opposition Labour Party, used Parliamentary privilege to bring the matter out into the open. Parliamentary privilege is an aspect of British law which means that an MP saying something in Parliament is not liable under the normal laws of slander and libel. Profumo denied everything to Parliament, but suspicion still remained. Meanwhile, the police were getting suspicious of Stephen Ward, believing that he was acting as a pimp, rather than just as a friend of lots of people who happened to sometimes introduce them to one another. They started pressuring people who knew Ward to testify against him — Mandy Rice-Davies, Keeler’s flatmate, was arrested for a driving offence and held in prison for eight days until she agreed to testify. Stephen Ward went to various government ministers to try to get the police action against him halted, and he told them that he’d been covering for Profumo, who had lied to Parliament. Profumo resigned from his ministerial position, and retired from public life — he spent the rest of his very long life doing charity work in an attempt to rehabilitate himself, and seems to have been generally remorseful about the whole business. Stephen Ward, meanwhile, was put on trial for living off immoral earnings, though there seems little evidence that he was actually a pimp. But none of his friends would testify for him, and he was found guilty in absentia — the night before the verdict was due, he took an overdose of sleeping pills, and he died in hospital a few days later without ever regaining consciousness. Keeler was imprisoned for several months for perjury in a related trial, about the assault she had claimed Lucky Gordon had committed — Gordon was found not guilty of having attacked her. Keeler’s life was ruined, and she spent the next fifty-three years having to live with having had her sex life made a topic of national discussion. There were many more rumours about other people having been involved in compromising actions as part of Ward’s set, including other ministers and members of the Royal family, but the truth of most of those rumours will never be known. The Conservative government was fatally wounded by the affair — Macmillan resigned shortly afterwards, claiming he had health problems which led him to suspect he would not live much longer, though in fact he lived for another twenty-three years, finally dying at the age of ninety-two in the mid-eighties. His successor, Alec Douglas-Home, remained in power a little less than a year before being defeated in late 1964 by the Labour Party. That defeat let in one of the great reforming governments of the twentieth century — the Labour government that came in, and Roy Jenkins, who was Home Secretary for much of the next few years, abolished the death penalty, legalised sexual acts between men, legalised abortion, got rid of corporal punishment in the prison system, and ended censorship in the theatre, among many other things. And part of the reason they were able to do these things was because the Profumo affair had brought to light just how the people in power were behaving, and from that point on the media had decided politicians didn’t deserve respect because of their office. While nothing has a single cause, you can trace all the social changes we’ll see in Britain as we look at the sixties back to this point, and to a powerful man having an affair with a much younger woman.
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