Saturday, August 20, 2016

Baltimore/Washington D.C. Regional Breakout Hits

The following two singles are the only ones to be listed in Billboard between 1970-1974 as regional breakout hits in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area and never to have moved any higher.

"Cracker Jack" (1970) - Mickey and His Mice

Written by Mickey Fields, Eddie Drennon, and Martin Cantine * Produced by Martin Cantine * 45: "Cracker Jack"/"Abraham, Martin and John" (Marti) * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Washington D.C. * Entered: 1970-06-27

Question: Hey baby, what is this cracker jack thing? Answer: Ain't nothin' but the popcorn with some sweet jive on it.

The "popcorn" was a James Brown concoction—a dance he'd started doing onstage in 1968, according to some accounts, to the song "Bringing Up the Guitar." He then recorded a stack of popcorn-oriented records, including "Mother Popcorn" (1969), an unassailable highlight in the James Brown hall of finest funk. But "popcorn" might have had more to do with the Godfather of Soul's personal lexicon of booty synonyms than with any specific dance moves.

"Popcorn music" has also become a term adopted by soul music aficionados in Europe to describe a sweeter strain of the obscure vintage sixties dance cuts you see categorized as "Northern soul" (so named for their popularity in certain Manchester clubs). It's safe to assume, though, that Mickey Fields, the Charm City tenor sax man and bandleader answering the lady's question at the beginning of "Cracker Jack," is referring to the James Brown popcorn sound.

The single showed up on Billboard as a regional breakout hit in Washington D.C., having likely racked up some airplay on WPGC or WEAM. It might have gotten more traction if Fields wouldn't have refused to ever leave the Baltimore area.

"Cracker Jack"

"Hey Romeo" (1970) - The Sequins

Written by O. Denise Jones * Produced by Crajon Entertainment * Arranged by Willie Mitchell * 45: "Hey Romeo" / "I've Got to Overcome" (Gold Star) * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Baltimore/Washington D.C.

Between 1964 and 1975, at least three different vocal groups called the Sequins, each of which included a trio of African-American females, released records that found local popularity oblivious to the others' existence. Such was the regionality of pop music in that era. One of these hailed from Los Angeles and recorded for Renfro. Another one, from Detroit, recorded for Detroit Sound, while a third one, from Chicago, recorded for Crajon/Gold Star and saw their "Hey Romeo" get enough airplay in Washington D.C. to appear on Billboard's regional breakout list in 1970. The record is notable for the involvement of Denise LaSalle as songwriter (credited as O. Denise Jones, her legal name as the wife of label head Bill Jones) a few years before she'd get a much bigger hit of her own with "Trapped by a Thing Called Love." Recorded in Memphis, it also benefited from an arrangement by Willie Mitchell, who was in the meantime keeping busy getting Al Green ready for the big time. "Hey Romeo" would be the Sequins' final release. Lead vocalist Lyn Jackson, now based in Phoenix, remains musically active. Side B included another tune written by LaSalle, with husband Bill as co-writer.

Side A: "Hey Romeo"

Side B: "I've Got to Overcome"

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