Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blue Haze's Reggae Pedigree

Blue Haze - "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (Billboard #27, entered 11/11/72). Written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. Produced by Johnny Arthey and Phillip Swern. 45: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"/"Anna Rosanna" (A&M 1972). LP: (no album appearance).

A classic from the Great American Songbook, Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach's “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” appeared for the first time in the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film Roberta in 1933, after which jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman took it to the top of the Hit Parade the following year. The Platters would return it to #1 in 1959, but the song wouldn’t appear in the Top 40 again until Blue Haze, seemingly from out of the blue (sorry), resurrected it in 1972.

The group was a studio project led by British arranger Johnny Arthey and producer Phillip Swern, and their lone US Top 40 hit might strike listeners as a quick cash-in on both the nostalgia boom and the popular Caribbean sound. In fact, Swern and Arthey were already invested in reggae, which had been simmering to a boil in the UK throughout the late sixties. Arthey had done the British market string arrangements for Desmond Dekker's "You Can Get It If You Really Want," Bob and Marcia's "Young, Gifted and Black," and records by the Pioneers, among others. Along with Swern, he also produced and arranged Trojan singles by Teddy Brown, who sang lead on all of their Blue Haze output, including "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

The Seashells - "(The Best Part of) Breaking Up" (Billboard #115, entered 1/27/73). Written by Phil Spector, Pete Andreoli, and Vince Poncia. Produced by Johnny Arthey and Phillip Swern. 45: "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up"/"Play That Song" (Columbia 1972). LP: (no album appearance).

Another single Arthey and Swern produced "bubbled under" in the US at #115 - a version of the Ronettes' 1964 hit "(The Best Part of) Breaking Up" that sounds, rather incredibly, like a lost vintage Abba track. The Liverpool girl group included Vicki Brown and Mary Partington, who were sisters, along with Laura Lee. Brown, who is now deceased, was the wife of UK musican Joe Brown and the mother of vocalist Sam Brown, who had a US charting hit called "Stop" in 1989.

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