Thursday, December 18, 2014

Radio Memoirs: Superjock

Published in 1975, Larry Lujack's Superjock captures him freshly arrived at the top of Chicago's Top 40 airwaves. He was working the afternoon drive shift at WCFL ("The Voice of Labor") when this came out, a few years after the station, programmed by the brilliant John Rook, had managed to outpace the ratings of powerful WLS (where Lujack had previously worked until 1972). This would all come undone by 1976, though, when CFL switched formats to "The World's Most Beautiful Music," prompting Lujack, a few months later, to move back to WLS, where he'd stay until 1987.  (You can hear Lujack handling the 1976 format transition on YouTube, playing Reunion's "Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)" and following it up with ocean sounds.)

Although music programming philosophy is the side of radio history that interests me most, I still gobble up books like these and wish that every notable radio jock would write one. Superjock alternates between memoir and zinger-filled on-air/off-mic dialogues between Lujack and his producer/engineer "Spacey Dave," who's got a thing for records by Rare Earth. Like Don Imus, Lujack was one of the best of the new breed of early '70s Top 40 DJs who came across as the over-caffeinated grouch, seemingly hungover from the exuberance of the "boss radio" years. He'd pepper the playlists with two-to-three minute "Animal Stories," "The Klunk Letter of the Day," "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" and other features, projecting a resigned sense of "can you believe this?" This crucial attitude accompanies the irreverent material in Superjock and makes it funny. The loudmouth approach to today's morning drive time radio, which mostly comes across as spiteful and is done at the expense of music airtime, is both an unfortunate legacy for Lujack (who passed away in December 2013) and a testament of his influence.

Some tidbits from the book:

"Any kid of mine who wanted to be a disk jockey, I'd kick his head in" (p. 22).

"A DJ's life is ... accurately portrayed by Harry Chapin in the song about radio staton 'WOLD,' a very depressing story about the rise and fall of a Top 40 jock: the drinkin', divorce, and driftin'. You mothers who don't want your infant son to waste his life by becoming a rock jock the kid a copy of that record and make him listen to it over and over" (p. 29).

"In the late sixties and early seventies, when objections were raised to songs on the radio with drug-oriented lyrics, the popular radio cop-out was 'Well, we're not endorsing the stuff, nor are we encouraging its use. We're simply playing the music that reflects what's happening in today's society, the music the public wants to hear.' What crap! By playing those songs we endorsed it; we made drugs seem 'in,' hip, sophisticated. We helped make martyrs of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. They weren't heroes, just ignorant people" (p. 33).

"A few years back there was a girl singer who reportedly made the rounds of all the big radio stations in the large markets offering her sexual favors to music directors and DJs in return for airplay of her first record. I say reportedly because I didn't happen to be there the day she dropped by the station I was working at then. But the story came from all over the country; so it must have been true. It worked. The record sold several million and established her as a major nightclub performer" (p. 61; I have my theories).

Lujack describes Janis Joplin as the "absolute snottiest person" he ever met (p. 79), Nancy Sinatra's behavior as being similar to a "pizza waitress," and the Monkees as juvenile, "silly little f*cks" (pp. 79-84). Tiny Tim, on the other hand, is described as a "very intelligent guy, one of the nicest people I've ever met in this business and really fun to talk to" (p. 84).

And this, from his real-life American Grafitti teenage years in Idaho:

"The biggest hood at Caldwell High School [Lujack's alma mater] was two years ahead of me. His first name was Revere. He was in a gang called the 'Nemows' (pronounced with a long 'e' and a long 'o': rhymes with Creamo). The derivation of the name? I'll give you a hint. It concerns something the gang was always in search of. You might as well give up; you'll never get it. Leave off the 's' and spell it backward.

"The Nemows were incredible idiots. At basketball games they would gather outside and wait till everyone was seated and the game had begun. Midway through the first quarter they would make their grand entrance. Twenty guys all wearing Levis and identical leather jackets would march single file all the way around the gym and then back out the door. They didn't give a sh*t about the game. They just wanted to make sure everybody saw them and noticed how cool they were.

"You'd look at Revere and think, 'No way is that sonofab*tch ever going to amount to anything. He'll end up doing either 20 years for armed robbery or life for murder.' So guess who the blond guy was who played piano for Paul  Revere and the Raiders, one of the biggest rock bands in the early and middle sixties?" (p. 98).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

God Rock Sunday: Two Early '70s Charting Versions of "Amazing Grace"

Judy Collins - "Amazing Grace" (Billboard #15, entered 12/12/70). Arranged and Adapted by Judy Collins. Produced by Mark Abramson. 45: "Amazing Grace"/"Nightingale I" (Elektra 1970). LP: Whales and Nightingales (Elektra 1970).

The Pipes and Drums and  Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards -"Amazing Grace" (Billboard #11, entered 5/20/72). Written by (Traditional; the UK and other international versions credit "Collins"). Produced by Pete Kerr. 45: "Amazing Grace"/"Cornet Carillon" (RCA Victor 1972). LP: Farewell to the Greys (RCA Victor 1972).

Often pointed to as evidence of early '70s radio listeners' quirky tastes, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards' 1972 version of "Amazing Grace" caught fire in the UK on late night BBC radio after which it marched into the American Top 40. Less of a reflection on any public hankering for bagpipe music, the record had everything to do with the Jesus Movement, which would send an unprecedented number of religion-themed songs to the top of the charts. (Efforts by the Scotsmen to advance on the Harry Simeon Chorale's traditional Christmas chart turf with their own version of "Little Drummer Boy" fell short.)

The words for "Amazing Grace" were written by English poet and Christian clergyman John Newton and first published in 1779. In 1829, an American Baptist song leader named William Walker merged Newton's words with the familiar melody "New Britain," and it was under this title that certain 19th century versions of "Amazing Grace" were published.  It's tempting to connect the "New Britain" title with the song's stirring suitability for bagpipe music and assume British origins, but no evidence seems to take it farther than the USA.

In late 1970, folk singer Judy Collins paved the way for the Royal Scots' invasion by releasing an a cappella version of the song backed by a choir which she took to #15. ("Amazing Grace" had become a staple among sixties folk revivalists.) It appeared on her Whales and Nightingales album, which also included her human voice + humpback whale version of the British folk song "Farewell to Tarwathie," backed by humpback whales. The unique relationship of the Judy Collins and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards recordings of "Amazing Grace," one being voice-only and the other being music-only, begs for a mashup. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chart Song Cinema: Lost Horizon (1973)

I don't know if "cursed" is the right word, but Lost Horizon, the 1973 musical remake of the classic '30s film, was a critical and financial failure that represented the end of the road for a number of things. It was arguably the last gasp of the epic and earnest movie musical genre. It was the final film production the once-prolific Ross Hunter would ever undertake.  It was the last consecutive project Burt Bacharach and Hal David would work on together as the indomitable songwriting duo that generated some 70+ charting classics throughout the sixties and early seventies. And the movie's three charting songs would be "lasts" for the artists who recorded them: Shawn Phillips's "Lost Horizon" was his last song to reach Billboard's Hot 100; the 5th Dimension's "Living Together, Growing Together" was their last Top 40 hit; and Tony Bennett's version of the same song was his very last charting single. (It was the second-to-last for the Mike Curb Congregation, who shared the single's billing.)

At one of my readings someone from the audience asked me what had happened to the old conception of the "Great American Songbook," the body of songs written by well-loved tunesmiths that artists would all rush to record. I did happen to address this in my book, in which I talk about the advent of Elvis, and how singular personalities and recordings put to test the dated notion of "the song not the singer" by the late fifties (as did the Beatles in the sixties, whose oft-covered oeuvre reflected their magnetic personae as much as their songcraft). This made choral performances of hits like "Hound Dog" and "Tutti Frutti" on Your Hit Parade sound ridiculous. The answer that leapt off my tongue for this question, though, was "Lost Horizon."

It was a good answer - in late '72 and early '73, before the film debuted, artists like Ed Ames, Ronnie Aldrich, 101 Strings, Hugo Montenegro and Guy Chandler, along with the previously mentioned Tony Bennett and 5th Dimension, made noise on Billboard with Lost Horizon renditions and high hopes, only to cower in embarrassment after the film spontaneously combusted in public. Never again would a "songbook" be ransacked in such a way. Such a bomb was Lost Horizon that it scorched both the Bacharach-David hit-making dynasty and damaged the songwriters' relationship. "The movie was so personally embarrassing that it almost destroyed me," says Bacharach in his Anyone Who Had a Heart memoir. "The day after it opened, I got in the car and drove down to Del Mar to escape because I thought nobody down there would know me" (p. 159).

Did Lost Horizon singlehandedly kill all these careers and entertainment industry templates? No, it just made a production, so to speak, out of their illnesses. It also misjudged the early '70s zeitgeist, asking it to accept a sunny, youth-preserving shangri-la nestled among frigid mountains with none of the science or theory that was turning books like Alvin Toffler's Future Shock and Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth into bestsellers.  It asked civil rights-conscious viewers to buy into a paradise in which Caucasian colonizers enjoyed the servitude of Sherpas. And it asked moviegoers to savor its sophisticated songs but to forgive its low grade vocals and choreography.

My own view of Lost Horizon - and I'm not being coy here - is that it should be understood as a horror film. It's the perfect twin bill for The Wicker Man, a British film that also came out in 1973 and similarly dealt with an isolated society that brings in a chosen outsider. If one embraces the unsettling aspects of Lost Horizon as intentional, the movie begins to make sense, taking on an air of offbeat darkness. Here Sally Kellerman's strained vocals and awkward dance moves become edgy and appropriately unhinged. Liv Ullman's "The World Is a Circle" number, and also "Living Together, Growing Together," with all of the flailing arms and reproductive language, make them compelling companion pieces to the Wicker Man's pagan maypole and "leap fire" numbers. Yes - I believe that if Lost Horizon was, in fact, cursed, it's because it had a horror flick genetic code that wasn't treated properly by Columbia Pictures marketing. Had the salesmanship been thusly attended to, beguiling Bacharach-David melodies and words like "Share the Joy" might have been as readily remembered today as the Exorcist theme or the lullaby from Rosemary's Baby.

Tony Bennett with the Mike Curb Congregation - "Living Together, Growing Together" (Billboard #111, entered 12/9/72). Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa. 45: "Living Together, Growing Together"/"The Good Things in Life" (MGM/Verve 1972). LP: Tony Bennett's Greatest Hits Vol. 7 (MGM 1973).

It must have stung Bacharach and David to have written a racial equality song for a film that ended up being roundly criticized for racial inequality.

Lost Horizon curse: This would be Bennett's final charting hit.

The 5th Dimension - "Living Together, Growing Together" (Billboard #32, entered 1/6/73). Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Produced by Bones Howe. 45: "Living Together, Growing Together"/"What Do I Need to Be Me" (Bell 1973). LP: Living Together, Growing Together (Bell 1973).

Lost Horizon curse: This would be the 5th Dimension's final Top 40 hit.

Shawn Phillips - "Lost Horizon" (Billboard #69, entered 2/10/73). Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Produced by Burt Bacharach. 45: "Lost Horizon"/"Landscape" (A&M 1973). LP: Lost Horizon (A&M 1973).

Lost Horizon curse: This would be Shawn Phillips's final Hot 100 hit (although two more would "bubble under" in 1973 and 1975.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

WPOP (Hartford): Top 40, 1958-1975

The lifespan of WPOP in Hartford, Connecticut, paralleled the golden years of AM Top 40. At only 5,000 watts, it managed to generate enough energy and excitement to keep it running from the late fifties all the way to the the mid-seventies with on air alumni like Joey Reynolds, Lee "Baby" Simms, Jack Armstrong, and Greaseman. You can hear Greaseman's 1975 goodbye show on the station's last day (he was the morning man during its final two years) via his website. One of the many Top 40 stations that used "The Good Guys" as its slogan, it adopted "The Music Revolution!" in later years, as seen in this 1974 logo I found at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. A WPOP tribute site contains more info and memorabilia, including a forlorn photo of the abandoned transmitter station in Newington.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Memories of Elephant's Memory

Elephant's Memory is best known as the New York City band that backed up John Lennon and Yoko Ono between 1971 and 1973, including their 1972 Sometime in New York City album.  The 45 for that album's regrettably titled "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" is credited to "John Lennon/Yoko Ono with Elephant's Memory and Invisible Strings." (I talk about the single's soft rock aspects in my "Pillow Talk" chapter, along with its role as a manifestation of the feminized left.)

Before its alliance with Lennon, the group had roused the faith of Buddah Records chief Neil Bogart, much to the chagrin of future mega-manager and recent memoirist Ron Weisner:

"Like every A&R person in history, Neil's ears and heart sometimes led him astray, the most notable instance being a sloppy rock band called Elephant's Memory... How and why they managed to make a name for themselves was beyond me, because they were terrible, a true train wreck of a group...I knew that Elephant's Memory had no chance of succeeding beyond their core fan base of Lower East Side drug heads, because they themselves were Lower East Side drug heads..." (Listen Out Loud, pp. 20-21).

A fuller assessment of Elephant's Memory and the street cred that brought them to the attention of John and Yoko is available in James A. Mitchell's The Walrus and the Elephants: John Lennon's Years of Revolution (2013). A bonus factoid: Carly Simon briefly sang in the group. Here's what Mitchell says: "One story among many in Elephant mythology was that Carly left after members of the band threw her boyfriend down the stairs; they were that kind of group, born in strip bars and befriended by motorcycle gangs."

Their chart appearances:

Elephant's Memory - "Crossroads of the Stepping Stones" (Billboard #120, entered 6/7/69). Written by Michal Shapiro and Stan Bronstein. Produced by Wes Farrell. 45: "Crossroads of the Stepping Stones"/"Jungle Gym at the Zoo" (Buddah 1969). LPs: Elephant's Memory (Buddah 1969).

The surprisingly Harper's Bizarre-like A-side barely "bubbled under." The B-side, sounding more like a Jefferson Airplane/Mamas and the Papas team up, appeared on the 1969 Midnight Cowboy soundtrack.

Elephant's Memory - "Mongoose" (Billboard #50, entered 8/8/70). Written by David Cohen, Rick Frank and Stan Bronstein. Produced by Ted Cooper. 45: "Mongoose"/"I Couldn't Dream" (Metromedia 1970). LP: Take It to the Streets (Metromedia 1970).

This high-octane groove-rocker from their Take It to the Streets album, as I've pointed out earlier, charted alongside a mongoose single by Donovan in 1970.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant's Memory and Invisible Strings - "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" (Billboard #57, entered 5/20/72). Written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Produced by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector. 45: "Woman Is the Nigger of the World"/"Sisters O Sisters" (Apple 1972). LP: Sometime in New York City (Apple 1972).

The picture sleeve shows the cover of the issue of Nova magazine in which Yoko Ono had coined the phrase that became the title of this single's A-side. Ono's track on side B keeps the woman theme afloat but starts out expressing ecological concern: "We lost our green land, we lost our clean air."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pacific Gas & Electric's 3 charting hits

The Los Angeles multiracial soul rock outfit Pacific Gas & Electric made their mark with the 1970 top 20 Jesus hit "Are You Ready?" The song begins by acknowledging the Vietnam War and ecological concerns ("There's rumors of war/Men dying and women crying/If you breathe air you'll die") before stirring up a fuzz guitar/gospel choir frenzy. The group had two lesser-known charting hits: "Father Come on Home," a 45-only release that also uses a gospel choir to ear-catching effect, and "Thank God for You, Baby," which evokes the Almighty in title only (and charted at #50 on the Billboard soul chart). This third one is billed to "PG&E" as a result of protestations from a certain utility company.

Featuring lead vocalist (and Arthur Lee-lookalike) Charlie Allen along with former James Gang guitarist Glenn Schwartz, Pacific Gas & Electric likely had Schwartz to thank for its God rock tendency. He had been converted to Christianity by street preacher Arthur Blessitt, the "Minister of Sunset Strip" who is now best known for carrying a cross through every nation of the world. As for the wince-inducing album cover for the group's Are You Ready?, I'm curious if there's anything more to the story than Columbia Records simply wanting to shake up perceptions.  

1. Pacific Gas & Electric - "Are You Ready?" (Billboard #14, entered 5/30/70). Written by Charles Allen and John Hill. Produced by John Hill. 45: "Are You Ready?"/"Staggolee" (Columbia 1970). LP: Are You Ready?

Side B is a bluesy version of the old Staggolee/ Stagolee/ Stack-A-Lee/ Stagger Lee folk song, sticking close to a traditional, pre-Lloyd Price set of lyrics.

2. Pacific Gas & Electric - "Father, Come on Home" (Billboard #93, entered 10/10/70). Written by Bill Soden. Produced by John Hill. 45: "Father, Come on Home"/"Elvira" (Columbia 1970). LP: (No album appearance).

The A-side's songwriter had recorded some singles in the late sixties, also with John Hill as producer. The label for the smokin' B-side "Elvira" lists it as having appeared in the 1970 Otto Preminger film Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, starring Liza Minelli, even though it doesn't. A promo single released by Columbia does include the correct Pacific Gas & Electric song that appears in the film ("The Rake and Work Your Show"), while the A-side contains "Old Man Devil," a composition by Pete Seeger, who emerges weirdly out of the woods at the end of the film and performs his composition as the closing credits roll.

3. PG&E - "Thank God for You, Baby" (Billboard #97, entered 3/18/72; soul #50). Written by Chris Allen and John Hill. Produced by John Hill. 45: "Thank God for You, Baby"/"See the Monkey Run" (Columbia 1972). LP: PG&E (Columbia 1972).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Chart Song Cinema: "Grand Central Shuffle" Mystery

"Grand Central Shuffle" (1973) - Johnny Griffith, Inc.
Written by Al Browne, Ernest Kelley, and James Butler * Produced by Johnny Griffith and Ernest Kelley * 45: "The Grand Central Shuffle"/"My Love" * Label: RCA Victor * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—New York City * Entered: 1973-01-20

Johnny Griffith was the keyboardist for the Funk Brothers, Motown's house band until the label moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972. Left to his own devices, Griffith tacked on an "Inc." to his name (echoing Motown's practice of giving songwriting and production credits to "The Corporation"), and kept busy recording, arranging, and producing for the GeNEVA label in Dearborn. As far as I can tell, the "Shaft"-like "Grand Central Shuffle" was his biggest post-Motown record. Picked up by RCA, it racked up enough airplay and sales in New York City to get listed as a "breakout" hit in Billboard.

Mysteriously, the original label for the track shows the following: "From the Neil Sullivan movie, 'The Candidate'." No such movie exists, as far as I can tell, although one starring Robert Redford and directed by Michael Ritchie, about a Senatorial race in California, certainly did. This is the one Joel Whitburn lists under the single's heading in Top Pop Singles, but nothing in the soundtrack for the Redford film sounds remotely close to Griffith's slick number, nor would any scene seem to call for it. Some other Candidate movieperhaps slated for direction by the same Neil Sullivan whose Why Russians Are Revolting got slammed by the New York Times in 1970likely fizzled in time for RCA to give Griffith's single some attention on its own merits.

"Grand Central Shuffle"

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

RCA Soul Ad

Early '70s child imagery in a Billboard ad for RCA's soul roster (1/29/72, p. 33):

"Tonight after dinner, when the dishes are all washed and the new young one is tucked in, a lot of young families are going to settle back and listen to our artists' music. We salute them, and thank you."

First on the artist list: Jimmy "Troglodyte" Castor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Primal Sounds of Jimmy Castor

Listening to the Jimmy Castor Bunch feels a bit transgressive today. The New York City vocalist/saxophonist Castor's first charting hit was the 1966 boogaloo Top 40 party track "Hey, Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You," featuring an African-American taking on a Puerto Rican accent. His 1972 "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" told the story of a neanderthal who growls "gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman" before grabbing the hair of a female named "Bertha Butt" ("one of the Butt sisters"), who, after lying there "frightened and cold," comes around and says "I'll sock it to ya, Daddy!"

This was the stuff of Top Ten hits in 1972. A huge-selling novelty "break in" track called "Convention '72" confirmed this. Recorded by a a Pittsburgh DJ named Bob DeCarlo who called himself "The Delegates," it relied on "Troglodyte" as its central gag. When Castor's follow up single, "Luther The Anthropoid (Ape Man)," conked out at #105, it indicated that he perhaps misunderstood his previous hit's appeal. His 1975 Top Twenty hit "The Bertha Butt Boogie - Part 1," though, showed him in a state of comprehension concerning the profitable (aka "lascivious") side of primal.

Aside from all of this novelty song talk is the fact that Jimmy Castor - who wrote Frankie Lymon and the  Teenagers' "I Promise to Remember" and would often stand in for Lymon in the fifties - was an extraordinary entertainer, sax player, and vocalist who could lay down a monstrous groove with that band of his. You can see what I'm talking about if you watch this whole clip from a 1973 appearance on the SOUL! TV show. Here he leads his six-piece combo through the oft-sampled "It's Just Begun," "Hey Leroy," a savory instrumental version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Troglodyte," a timely investigation of the preteen condition called "I'm Not a Child Anymore," and a scorching "Foxy Lady."

Also worth checking out: "King Kong - Pt. 1," a 1975 Rufus Thomas evocation that followed up "Bertha Butt Boogie" and likely electrified dance floors in its day. By 1977, Castor's Hot 100 days were over, although his back catalog proved to be a borrower's wonderland.

Jimmy Castor Bunch - "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" (Billboard #6, entered 5/13/72). Written by Castor Bunch. Produced by Castor-Pruitt Productions. 45: "Troglodyte (Cave Man)"/"I Promise to Remember" (RCA Victor 1972). LP: It's Just Begun (RCA Victor 1972).

The picture sleeve to Side A misspelled it as "Troglodite." Side B contains an updated version of Castor's "I Promise to Remember," the 1956 #10 hit he'd written for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

Jimmy Castor Bunch - "Luther the Anthropoid (Ape Man)" (Billboard #105, entered 8/5/72). Written by Jimmy Castor, Gerry Thomas, and John Pruitt. Produced by Castor-Pruitt Productions. 45: "Luther the Anthropoid (Ape Man)"/"Party Life" (RCA Victor 1972). LP: Phase II (RCA Victor 1972).

Power to the peephole.

The Delegates - "Convention '72" (Billboard #8, entered 10/21/72), Written by Nick Cenci and Nick Kouselaneos. Produced by Nik-Nik Productions. 45: "Convention '72"/"Funky Butt" (Mainstream 1972). LP: The Delegates (Mainstream 1972).

Side B is a non-album piece of organ-rock instrumental music, the kind teenagers would play at parties on early seventies TV shows.

Jimmy Castor Bunch - "The Bertha Butt Boogie - Pt. I" (Billboard #16, entered 2/22/75). Written by Jimmy Castor and John Pruitt. Produced by Castor-Pruitt Productions. 45: "The Bertha Butt Boogie - Part I"/"The Bertha Butt Boogie - Part II" (Atlantic 1974). LP: The Jimmy Castor Bunch Featuring the Everything Man: Butt of Course... (Atlantic 1974).

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sha Na Na's 2 Early '70s Charting Singles

Here's what I wrote about them in my book (p. 66): "Underneath the iconic [Woodstock] music festival's mud, grass, and layers of '60s hippy mythology, a quintessentially '70s seed flowered in the form of '50s revivalism when Sha Na Na, in pompadours and gold lamé, raved up on golden oldies like Danny and the Juniors' 'At the Hop.'"

And here's what their one time manager Ron Weisner wrote about them in his Listen Out Loud (pp. 66-67): "On more than one instance, they duked it out before they took the stage...I often had to break it up; what usually put the kibosh on the scuffle was me telling them, 'If you guys don't get your sh*t together, they'll cancel the show, and if they cancel the show, you won't get paid.' That always ended the fight...for the time being. Sometimes they waited until after the show to beat the sh*t out of each other."

A hard working band, nonetheless, New York City's Sha Na Na was among the most visible manifestations of the seventies' yearning for a simpler time. It's easy to forget, though, that before the band's TV variety show years, which ran between 1977 and 1981, they were comparatively confrontational. The full page ad above appeared on the back of the July 17, 1971, issue of Billboard and flashed their early '70s slogan: "Greased and Ready to Kick Ass."  In his Performing Glam Rock, Philip Auslander equates the group's implicitly violent disdain for the counterculture with that of Alice Cooper. He reports that the group "often taunted their audiences with such lines as 'We gots just one thing to say to you f*ckin' hippies and that is rock 'n' roll is here to stay!'" (pp. 33-34).

Interestingly, out of the three singles Sha Na Na charted with in Billboard, two of those happened in 1971. (Their third, a disco-tinged cover of "(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet," reached #55 in 1975.)  The first of these, "Only One Song," was a ballad no one today would peg as the product of a '50s revival, while "Top Forty," another song on the outer edges of the typical Sha Na Na sound, still managed to tap into nostalgia, radio format lingo, and the concurrent God rock trend while sending up the Statler Brothers. (Both of the 1971 A-sides were written by group keyboardist "Screamin'" Scott Simon.)

Sha Na Na - "Only One Song" (Billboard #110, entered 5/15/71). Written by Scott Simon. Produced by Eddie Kramer. 45: "Only One Song"/"Yakity Yak [sic]/Jailhouse Rock (Medley)" (Kama Sutra 1971). LP: Sha Na Na (Kama Sutra 1971).

Side B contains the more standard representation of the Sha Na Na sound.

Sha Na Na - "Top Forty" (Billboard #84, entered 8/7/71). Written by Scott Simon. Produced by Eddie Kramer. 45: "Top Forty"/"I Wonder Why" (Kama Sutra 1971). LP: Sha Na Na (Kama Sutra 1971).

The picture sleeve for this showed the song title as "Top Forty of the Lord" but with the label simply as "Top Forty." Side B, as with the previous single, delivered a truer rendering of the band's live sound, covering the Dion and the Belmonts classic.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Mammy Blue" in the US: The Early '70s Charting Versions

A year before before Danyel Gerard's European singalong favorite "Butterfly" cracked the Billboard charts (see previous post), another one called "Mamy Blue" had done the same thing with somewhat better US results. Written by a Frenchman named Hubert Giraud in a Paris traffic jam, the song saw its first release as an Italian language rendering by the singer Ivana Spagna. A Spanish group called Los Pop Tops gave Giraud's song English lyrics after which most of the world pretty much went bonkers for it. A scan of Billboard's "Hits of the World" section in 1971 and 1972 shows additional international high charting versions—using the alternating spellings of "Mamy Blue" and "Mammy Blue"—by Joel Dayde, Nicoletta, Roger Whittaker, Charisma, Ricky Shayne, Johnny Dorrelli, Nanesse et les Nanas, and Kirka, among others.

Although US chart positions for "Mamy Blue" were comparatively modest, the song did make its mark. The original English version, credited to the name-tweaked Pop-Tops and using the original spelling of "Mamy Blue," hit #57, while a follow up by James Darren, spelled "Mammy Blue," bubbled under at #107. The song had a surprise revival in 1973, when Stories chose it as the follow up to their #1 smash "Brother Louie" and gave it its best US showing at #50. After that, I know from personal experience that the song lived on in US-marketed TV ads for the UK's beloved Roger Whittaker.

"Mamy Blue" (1971)

Written by Hubert Giraud and Phil Trim *  Arranged and conducted by Zack Laurence * 45: "Mamy Blue" / "Road to Freedom" * LP: Mamy Blue * Label: ABC/Dunhill * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#57), easy listening (#28) * Entered: 1971-10-09 (both charts)

Under the name Los Pop Tops, this many-membered unit based in Spain had taken a reimagination of Pachelbel's Canon called "Lord, Why Lord" to Billboard's #78 in 1968. Lead vocalist Phil Trim—originally from Trinidad and Tobago—also wrote the English lyrics, expressing the remorseful words of a "forgotten son who wandered off at twenty-one" to a mother who has presumably died. Some cover versions of the song used the title "Mommy Blue." After this, all of the Pop-Tops' pop successes rose up charts closer to home. The Eurovision-friendly song "Road to Freedom" on the B side was also written by Trim and the Spanish songwriter Gefingal (Germán Luis Bueno Brasero).

Side A: "Mamy Blue"

Side B: "The Road to Freedom"

"Mammy Blue" (1971)
James Darren

Written by Hurbert Giraud and Phil Trim * Produced by Ritchie Adams * 45: "Mammy Blue" / "As Long as You Love Me" * LP: Mammy Blue * Label: Kirshner * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#107) * Entered: 1971-10-30

James Darren, who grew up next door to Bobby Rydell in South Philly, was the heartthrob actor who played leading man Moondoggie in three Gidget films between 1959 and 1963. The sixties were his busiest music biz decade with hits like the borderline-novelty "Goodbye Cruel World" (1961, #3) and "Her Royal Majesty" (1962, #6). His 1971 outing with the international earworm "Mammy Blue," also the title track of an album that presented him on the cover as being ready for adult roles, would be his only early '70s chart hit. Producer Ritchie Adams got his first writing and production credits with songwriter Larry Kusik ("Love Story," "Speak Softly Love") on a 1966 record by "Link Cromwell," aka Lenny Kaye. Although Darren's filmography and discography are both sparsely populated throughout the seventies, he'd become a familiar face on TV again in the '80s as a regular on T.J. Hooker with William Shatner. Side B is a track co-written by the record's producer Ritchie Adams (who had also co-written Bobby Lewis's "Tossin' and Turnin'") and is overstated in every way, a difficult listen. But it's notable for a perfectly-reworked reggae cover version done by Jamaica's Maytones a year later.

Side A: "Mammy Blue"

Side B: "As Long as You Love Me"

"Mammy Blue" (1973)

Written by Hubert Giraud and Phil Trim * Produced by Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise * 45: "Mammy Blue" / "Traveling Underground" * LP: Traveling Underground  * Label: Kama Sutra * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#50) * Entered: 1973-10-27

In early 1973, Stories—featuring the Rod Stewart-style vocals of Ian Lloyd—touched a nerve with "Brother Louie," a hit for the British-Jamaican Errol Brown and Hot Chocolate in the UK. It told of a white boy bringing home a black girl to meet his parents, then having a "terrible night." After the Stories record went to #1 in the US, the band reached out again for an across-the-pond hit and decided on "Mammy Blue," which had more of the swooping orchestral lines (used as an instrumental bridge) that helped "Brother Louie" sound so distinctive.

A connection exists between the first US charting version by the Pop Tops and this one: After the Pop Tops had scored a hit with a classical song ("Lord, Why Lord," based on Pachelbel's Canon), the group had expressed its admiration for the orchestral pop sounds of the Left Banke. By then, the Left Banke's main songwriter Michael Brown had left that band to form Stories with Ian Lloyd. So there you go. (Brown would move on after "Brother Louie").

After "Mammy Blue" stalled at #50, Stories tried "If It Feels Good, Do It," which peaked at #88. When one more daring single called "Another Love," dealing with bisexuality, could only make it to #100 in Cash Box, the band called it quits, allowing Lloyd to pursue a solo career.

Although the single for "Mammy Blue" was credited to Stories, the album it appeared on said "Ian Lloyd and Stories." The single is worth finding for a vinyl-only instrumental version of the album's title track (written by Ian Lloyd), with its space-glam guitar by Steve Love. The album version of the tune contains a vocal.

Side A: "Mammy Blue"

Side B: "Traveling Underground (Instrumental)"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Charting Version of Danyel Gerard's "Butterfly"

Danyel Gerard - "Butterfly" (Billboard #78, entered 6/10/72). Written by Danyel Gerard, Ralph Bernet, Howard Barnes, Mike Curb and Mack David. Produced by Danyel Gerard and Don Costa. 45: "Butterfly"/"Let's Love" (MGM/Verve 1972). LP: Danyel Gerard (MGM/Verve 1972).

French singer songwriter Danyel Gerard made a lifelong career out of his widely-covered song "Butterfly," which had the melodic sentiment European schlager fans loved and also the kind of campfire singalong chorus US audiences in the early '70s ate up. Originally recorded in French, the song's popularity compelled Gerard to record versions in Spanish, English, and German (possibly more). The "butterfly, my butterfly" vocal hook, though, was sung in English on every version. This was a clever move on Gerard's part, who perhaps saw an international hit on the horizon. The words for "butterfly" in French (papillon), Spanish (mariposa), and German (schmetterling), all would have fit the song's musical cadence just fine.

After topping the charts all over Europe, Gerard found that his English version of the song, released on Columbia with lyrics credited to "P. Kent," would need to get a new label and subsequent lyrical makeover - for whatever reason - if it stood a chance in America. MGM label head Mike Curb, along with veteran lyricist Mack David (brother of Hal) helped with new words, making for some hyphen-heavy label credits on the new 45. Why the earlier Columbia 45 doesn't credit Ralph Bernet and H. Barnes, who presumably wrote the French lyrics and appear on that version's credits, while the MGM version does credit them, is a mystery. Perhaps disappointingly to Gerard and MGM, "Butterfly" would be Gerard's only US hit, peaking no higher than #78.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The 2 Early '70s "Monster Mash" Reissues: A Few More Words

I've already said a few words about the early '70s "Monster Mash" revival in these pages. Here are a few more: A #1 US hit in 1962, the single (originally on Garpax but reissued on Parrot) had a slight Billboard chart resurgence in 1970 thanks to its popularity in the San Diego market, according to Herb Goldfarb of London Records (who distributed for both Parrot and Garpax).  In 1973 the single got hot again in Milwaukee, prompting London to repackage the 1962 album (minus a few tracks) and to push the single in both the US and UK. It had never been a chart success in the UK before '73 - the BBC had apparently banned it for being too morbid, while a 9/29/73 New Musical Express article on Pickett by Rob Finnis said it had been "too banally American" for the '62 Brit kids.    

This NME article was called "Monster Mash and the Junk Store Syndrome," and touched upon the troubled era's acute American Graffiti-tinged pangs of nostalgia - on both sides of the pond - that brought old records like Pickett's back to the airwaves.  The article also talks about how Pickett got the idea for the song when one of his early groups, called the Cordials, would perform a version of the Diamonds' "Little Darlin'," in which Pickett would deliver its spoken recitation in the voice of Boris Karloff.  "Monster Mash" was such a "graveyard smash" in 1973 Britain that it reached #3 on the UK charts, while peaking at #10 in the US. (The photo of Pickett above accompanied both the NME article and the back of the repackaged Original Monster Mash album). 

Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers - "Monster Mash" (Billboard #91, entered 8/29/70). Written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard Capizzi. Produced by Gary Paxton. 45: "Monster Mash"/"Monsters' Mash Party" (Parrott 1970). LP: (No album appearance for 1970 reissue).
Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers - "Monster Mash" (Billboard #10, entered 5/5/73). Written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard Capizzi. Produced by Gary Paxton. 45: "Monster Mash"/"Monsters' Mash Party" (London 1973). LP: The Original Monster Mash (London 1973); Monster Mash (Peter Pan 1973).

(Yes, this links to the same song as above.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spirit's early '70s chart action

Spirit's "Mr. Skin," which is either about pimping or pornography, crept into Billboard's Hot 100 three years after the release of their 1970 Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus album, thanks to a promotional boost from Epic's Best of Spirit compilation. Too bad the classic lineup of the LA quintet, after releasing four heady albums between 1968 and 1970, had disbanded by then: vocalist/ songwriter Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes focused on their new boogie rock group Jo Jo Gunne; Ed Cassidy and John Locke joined forces with Texas brothers Al and John Staehely for a revamped boogie rock version of Spirit; and guitarist Randy California got busy with his Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds album, a future cult favorite.

Here's a chronological list of Spirit's early '70s singles chart appearances:

1. Spirit - "1984" (Billboard #69, entered 2/7/70). Written by Randy California. Produced by Lou Adler. 45: "1984"/"Sweet Stella Baby" (Ode 1970). LP: The Best of Spirit (Epic 1973).

Whatever the intention, this single comes off a bit as a cash-in on Zager and Evans's "In the Year 2525," but it does feature Randy California's distinctive lead guitar. It was Spirit's second-best charting performance, next to "I Got a Line on You" (#25 in 1969). Side B was a non-album groupie-tribute song.

2. "Animal Zoo" (Billboard #97, entered 9/12/70). Written by Jay Ferguson. Produced by David Briggs. 45: "Animal Zoo"/"Red Light Roll On" (Epic 1970). LP: Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (Epic 1970); The Best of Spirit (Epic 1973).

The A-side is a city-gripe companion piece to "Nature's Way," which also appears on the Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus album. The B-side is an (uncharacteristically) crude non-album recording of a rocker written by Randy California about being given "the shaft."

3. "Nature's Way" (Billboard #111, entered 3/20/71). Written by Randy California. Produced by David Briggs. 45: "Nature's Way"/"Mr. Skin" (Epic 1970). LP: Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (Epic 1970); The Best of Spirit (Epic 1973).

The ecology-tinged A-side peaked at #111. The appearance of "Mr. Skin" on the B-side tricked Billboard chart archivist Joel Whitburn into mistakenly listing the 1973 charting version of "Mr. Skin" as the "Nature's Way" B-side in his Top Pop Singles 1955-2010.

4. "Mr. Skin" (Billboard #92, entered 10/20/73). Written by Jay Ferguson. Produced by David Briggs. 45: "Mr. Skin"/"Soldier" (Epic 1973). LP: Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (Epic 1970); The Best of Spirit (Epic 1973).

This was a fresh reissue of "Mr. Skin," not to be confused with its appearance as a B-side to "Nature's Way" in 1971. The confusing copyright date on the single's label is 1972, even though it charted in late '73 as a result of Epic's push for the 1973 Best of Spirit compilation.

Jo Jo Gunne - "Run Run Run" (Billboard #27, entered 3/18/72). Written by Jay Ferguson and Matthew Andes. Produced by Jo Jo Gunne. 45: "Run Run Run"/"Take It Easy" (Asylum 1972). LP: Jo Jo Gunne (Asylum 1972).

Although the band that ex-Spirit members Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes formed in 1972 scored a Top 40 hit right out of the gate with this hippie joyride, it would be their only chart appearance.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The 2 Charting Versions of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"

Coca-Cola's "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" is the standard bearer of what I call "jingle singles," charting hits tied to the music from a TV/radio ad for another product. This Coke campaign debuted in 1971, shortly after Budweiser's "You've Said It All" (see previous post). The TV commercial that spawned it had a similar sequence as the Budweiser one, spotlighting a lone female singer who is joined by a growing chorus. The difference: Coca-Cola's singers are multicultural young adults while Budweiser's are American middle-aged nine-to-fivers. The song had a special quality of sounding at once like a commercial, a pop hit, a Christmas song, and a church hymn.

Composed by ad men Bill Backer and Billy Davis along with the British hit songwriting team of Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" hit it big as a 45 released by the Hillside Singers. According to the Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders, this was a group assembled by veteran producer Al Ham specifically to generate a record out of the Coke commercial, an idea he'd hatched along with Metromedia president Jack Wiedenman. That version hit #13 on Billboard, while a version by Australia's New Seekers climbed up to #7 in early '72. According to an article on the Coca-Cola website, the New Seekers were who the writers always had in mind to record it, but the group had scheduling conflicts, which they were able to resolve easily enough when they saw the Hillside Singers' version taking off. Hence the claims of Billboard ad from Nov. 20, 1971, claiming the New Seekers' version to be the "original."

Note the early seventies tendency toward child imagery being put to use for the Hillside Singers' album cover above.

(Bonus info: The British rock band Oasis were successfully sued for using the opening melody of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" for their 1994 #11 UK hit "Shakermaker.")

The Hillside Singers - "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" (Billboard #13, entered 11/27/71). Written by Bill Backer, Billy Davis, Roger Cook, and Roger Greenaway. Produced by Al Ham. 45: "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)"/"I Believed It All" (Metromedia 1971). LP: I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (Metromedia 1971).

The New Seekers - "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" (Billboard #7, entered 12/4/71). Written by Bill Backer, Billy Davis, Roger Cook, and Roger Greenaway. Produced by David MacKay. 45: "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)"/"Boom-Town" (Elektra 1971). LP: We'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (Elektra 1971).

Side B is surprisingly palatable glam pop written and sung by New Seeker Peter Doyle, a former solo hit-maker in Australia.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

KSLQ (St. Louis): Top 40, 1972-1982

A good place to soak in the early '70s vibe of St. Louis station KSLQ (the "Super Q"), an FM Top 40 station that ran its records at a slightly faster RPM rate than the competition, is at the website of Jonnie King, a longtime station jock. Listen to some of his airchecks while you're there. King spent all of 1973 to 1982 at the Top 40 station, except for one year (1975) at KADI (also St. Louis).

Owned by Bartell Broadcasting, KSLQ lasted from 1972 to 1982. Disc jockey JoJo Kincaid, in a 2005 issue of the St. Louis Journalism Review, remembers that the station's General Manager would keep mannequins of a father and mother alongside a teenage boy and girl outside of the control booth door to remind the DJs of their target audience. Much to the GM's chagrin, the mannequins would mysteriously contort themselves into a number of shocking poses. Here are the song snippets that appear on one of King's 1974 airchecks:

"If" (Bread), "Sunshine on My Shoulders" (John Denver), "Pillow Talk" (Sylvia), "Hooked on a Feeling" (Blue Swede), "Vehicle" (Ides of March), "The Entertainer" (Marvin Hamlisch), "The Show Must Go On" (Three Dog Night), "Signed Sealed Delivered" (Stevie "Wonderburger"), "Seasons in the Sun" (Terry Jacks), "Mercy Mercy Me" (Marvin Gaye), "Heart of Gold" (Neil Young), "Come and Get Your Love" (Redbone), "Still in Love with You" (Al Green), "My Girl" (Temptations). Also included: A reference to the "current boom in nostalgia."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Three Budweiser Jingle Singles

One of the most recognizable American TV commercial tunes in its day was Steve Karmen's "You've Said It All," written for Budweiser. It debuted on TV in 1970 and featured an ad in which a Dionne Warwick lookalike sang solo, later to be joined by a growing chorus of cheerfully average people. The chord change to a flatted seventh in the bridge (at :43 in this clip), along with the singers' emphatic delivery, gives the beer ad an almost poignant, Jesus Christ Superstar aura.

A 45 record of this song credited to the Steve Karmen Orchestra sold well enough in the summer of '71 to register in Billboard magazine as a "breakout hit" in Chicago even though it never cracked the Hot 100. Oddly enough, "Budweiser" is mentioned nowhere on the label of Karmen's disc. Would that have helped or hurt its chances as a stand alone track, I wonder?

In 1972, the Nashville songwriting team of Jerry Foster and Bill Rice served up a song called "When You Say Love" to country/rockabilly veteran Bob Luman. They appropriated the Budweiser hook outright, giving it new words and a new bridge, and it bubbled right up to #6 on the country chart. Later that year it became Sonny and Cher's final Top 40 hit (#32). I'd always assumed "When You Say Love" was a knowing spin off of Karmen's jingle and that all parties had been in on it. No - it was an old-fashioned rip off, credited only to Foster and Rice, prompting the dumbfounded Karmen to (successfully) sue. (Karmen reports on this in his 2005 book Who Killed the Jingle? His name now appears on writer credits for reissues of this song, but it's often misspelled as "Carmen," for some reason.)

As for the adoption of the same Budweiser jingle by the Wisconsin marching band (and the legal aspects), that's a story you'll need to get elsewhere.   

Steve Karmen Orchestra - “You’ve Said It All (Tuba Version)” (Billboard Regional Hit: Chicago, entered 7/31/71). Written and produced by Steve Karmen. 45: "You've Said It All (Tuba Version)"/"You've Said It All (Four Feeling Version)" (Audio Fidelity 1971). LP: (No album appearance).

Don't miss the seventies noir version on the B-side!

Bob Luman - "When You Say Love" (Billboard country #6, 2/19/72). Written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice (and Steve Karmen). Produced by Glenn Sutton. 45: "When You Say Love"/"Have a Little Faith" (Epic 1972). LP: When You Say Love (Epic 1972).

Sonny and Cher - “When You Say Love” (Billboard #32, entered 7/8/72). Written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice (and Steve Karmen). Produced by Snuff Garrett. 45: "When You Say Love"/"Crystal Clear/Muddy Waters" (Kapp 1972). LP: Greatest Hits (MCA 1974).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

WWDJ (Hackensack): Top 40, 1971-1974

WWDJ in Hackensack, New Jersey, was one of the ultimate early '70s stations not only because its lifespan stretched from 1971 to 1974, but also because it had the contemporary post-"Boss Radio" Top 40 sound. As Uncle Ricky over at Reel Radio puts it, it was an "early representative of new school Top 40," featuring no jingles or "big time production elements...The only thing that remained was the music and personality." You can hear up to seven airchecks from DJs including Bwana Johnny on John Porcaro's WWDJ tribute page and take in loads of memorabilia while you're at it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Mazda Jingle Single

A popular 1973 Mazda commercial prompted a 45 release on Capitol Records by the jingle's writer/ producer Dan Dalton (credited to "The Hummers"). Without previous exposure to the TV ad, I doubt listeners would have fully comprehended "Old Betsy Goes Boing Boing Boing," which featured a confusing narrative scrubbed of any Mazda references. Then again, "Old Betsy" did run on fumes of sexual innuendo, which, during the blue early '70s, might have been enough to push it somewhere near its Billboard peak position of #104 in late '73.

Dalton had been a member of the sixties large-group folk ensemble the Back Porch Majority (formed by the New Christy Minstrels' Randy Sparks). They had a single called "Second Hand Man" that also "bubbled under" no higher than #104 in 1966. Another member of the group, Lois Fletcher, was Dalton's wife by 1973, when he produced her only hit, the Caribbean inflected "I Am What I Am." It reached #64 in Billboard in 1974 and became an even bigger hit in Canada. The label? Playboy Records, which perhaps explains why Dalton plugs Playboy magazine in "Old Betsy."

The Hummers - "Old Betsy Goes Boing Boing Boing" (Billboard #104, entered 8/25/73). Written by Dan Dalton and Larry Rood. Produced by Dan Dalton. 45: "Old Betsy Goes Boing Boing Boing"/"One Good Thing About Being Down" (Capitol 1973). LP: (No album appearance).

Lois Fletcher - "I Am What I Am" (Billboard #64, entered 3/30/74). Written by Richard Kerr and Scott English. Produced by Dan Dalton. 45: "I Am What I Am"/"One More Time" (Playboy 1974). LP: (No album appearance).