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.