Saturday, December 13, 2014

Parts of Speech: Stormy

Our final selection for our Second Week Special on parts of speech features a word that is typically an adjective, but is used as a noun in the Classics IV’s “Stormy.” This 1968 recording came from their second album, "Mamas and Papas/Soul Train."

Peaking at #5, “Stormy” was the one of only four songs by the band to chart in the Top 20 and one of only three to chart in the Top 10. Sandwiched between “Spooky” that peaked at #3 and “Traces” that charted at #2, “Stormy” is a tune that is likely to be heard on oldies radio nearly 50 years later.

Besides Dennis Yost’s vocals, one of the shining moments of the song is the fantastic alto sax lead provided by session musician Ray Jarrell. Of course there is also the subtle use of a vibraphone, which is slightly buried in the mix unlike its front and center usage on “Traces.”

I’ve heard this song hundreds of times; but today, I noticed some things I’d never heard before with the guitar tracks provided by Buddy Buie and J.R. Cobb. If you listen closely, some of the rhythm guitar is run through a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet at full speed. There’s also an electric sitar playing accompaniment.

Finally if you listen to the sax solo, there’s a series of octave guitar runs (akin to a style used by Wes Montgomery) playing the melody of the song counterpoint to the solo. Emory Gordy’s arrangement and Buddy Buie’s production is spectacular – one of the best spent 2:45 in the 1960s.

By the time “Stormy” was released, the band had transformed from “Classics IV” to “Classics IV featuring Dennis Yost.” In 1969, they became “Dennis Yost and The Classics IV.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Parts of Speech: Because

Today we focus on another part of speech – the conjunction and specifically a subordinating conjunction – “Because.” Growing up in the 1960s, you will certainly remember the identity of the Mersey Beat that was used to describe the sound popularized by Liverpudlian groups such as The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and Rory Storm and The Hurricanes – well maybe not that last one, but you’d certainly remember their name, as Ringo Starr had been a member of The Hurricanes before becoming a Beatle.

How about the Tottenham Sound? To compete with Merseyside groups and their distinct sound, this subgenre of rock ‘n’ roll was named after the music from North London and the home area of The Dave Clark Five. When The DC5’s “Glad All Over” unseated The Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand” at the top of the UK charts in early 1964, the media promoted a fictitious feud between The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five. There was no feud, but it was a bit of fun encouraging people to pick their favorite band. Additionally, there was no official Tottenham Sound either – this was another fabrication of the media at the time.

In the US, the decision over which group reigned supreme in the battle of the British Invasion never came to fruition, but The DC5 were popular enough with eight Top 10 hits. One of those, “Because,” was released in August 1964.

Initially, Epic Records did not want to release this ballad as a single because it was different than the band’s previous hits with a driving beat – the songs that had garnered their initial success on this side of the Atlantic. In addition, “Because” did not feature Denny Payton’s sax – an integral part of their hit sound.

Band leader and drummer Dave Clark felt differently and persuaded Epic to release “Because.” This was highly unusual, as The DC5’s UK label, Columbia EMI,” only issued the song as a flip side to “Can’t You See that She’s Mine.” There was no precedent for this single to be issued, but Epic acquiesced. Clark’s forecast was correct and Epic’s fears were unfounded, as “Because” did quite well in the US peaking at #3.

“Because” features the vocals of keyboardist Mike Smith. Although named The Dave Clark Five, the front man was Smith. Adding to the sound of this record was his keyboard lead. It was played on a Vox Continental combo organ.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Parts of Speech: Ooh Ooh Song

Day five of our Second Week Special on parts of speech brings us to an interjection. Wow! It could be an exclamation too. Today’s word of emotion is Ooh! From the album “Tropico,” Pat Benatar sings the “Ooh Ooh Song” from 1985.

It wasn’t one of Ms. Benatar’s biggest hits, but it made it to the Top 40 charting at #36. This allows us to use the “Ooh Ooh Song” as a Thirty Something Thursday selection. The same tune appeared on the single’s flip side; however, it was in Spanish and was titled as “La Canción Ooh Ooh.”

The harmonica (as well as the guitar) was played by Benatar’s husband, Neil Giraldo. Giraldo also co-produced the single and album with Peter Coleman. Here’s one you probably hadn’t heard since the ‘80s. Notice the songwriting credits are listed as N. Giraldo and P. Giraldo with Pat using her second married name rather than the first for royalty purposes.

Spanish Version

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Parts of Speech: Drive

Day four of our Second Week Special on parts of speech is brought to by verbs – “they’re where the action is.” Today’s verb is “Drive” – a 1984 single by The Cars. Not only is “Drive” my favorite song by The Cars, it was their most popular single peaking at #3 on the pop charts and #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Written by guitarist Ric Ocasek, the medium tempo ballad “Drive” was the perfect (excuse the pun) vehicle for Benjamin Orr’s voice. “Drive” was one of those songs I wish I had an opportunity to sing, as my voice is in a similar range. I never had that opportunity though, but I did do a cover of Orr’s 1986 solo number “Stay the Night.”

In addition to Orr, my second attraction to the song is its wonderful layered keyboard tracks. The LP credits one of the instruments as a Fairlight CMI digital sampler; however, some of the layers are reminiscent of a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 synthesizer, which was very popular at the time.

“Drive” appeared on The Cars’ fifth album, “Heartbeat City.” In addition to a vinyl copy of the LP, I had the cassette version that I wore out on long trips during the mid 1980s. Additionally, the song’s video featured the Slavic beauty Paulina Porizkova who would later marry Ric Ocasek in 1989. I guess he gets to drive her home tonight as well as every night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Parts of Speech: Alone Again (Naturally)

I’ll have to admit, this selection was not one of my favorite songs when it was released in the US in 1972. I thought it was sappy, but Irishman Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” struck a chord with American audiences. It was a number one record for six weeks on both the Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary charts and was the second most popular record in 1972. By the end of the decade, “Alone Again (Naturally)” ranked as the fifth most popular tune of the 1970s.

Although its dreary lyrical content would bring a tear to most eyes, I have chosen it for our second week special on parts of speech because the title is a series of adverbs. To be honest, the word “alone” can be either an adverb or an adjective, but for argument’s sake, let’s stick with the adverbial identification. Do you know how hard it is to find songs with a series of three adverbs, well it ain’t easy.

Contrary to popular belief at the time, O’Sullivan’s composition “Alone Again (Naturally)” was not autobiographical. He was not left standing at the altar and had not contemplated suicide. Although, his father had passed away, O’Sullivan hardly knew him – so his grief is off the table – as well as that of his mother’s, as the old man had been abusive. Finally, O’Sullivan’s mother was still living at the time this song was released. So if you bought the record out of pity, you were out 89¢.

The guitar solo which mimicked the melody was supplied by session musician Big Jim Sullivan. It appears that he was playing a nylon string guitar for the session, but I can’t verify it. I can verify that it was released on the MAM Records label, which was distributed in the US by London Records. MAM stood for Management Agency & Music Ltd. Only two artists on MAM charted in the US: O’Sullivan and his Welsh label mate Dave Edmunds.

Parts of Speech: I Me Mine

Oops, I was so busy yesterday, I missed my Monday post. I’ll double up and make good on it later this week. Our look at parts of speech brings us to personal pronouns – and especially first person, personal pronouns in the subjective, objective, and objective possessive cases. Recorded in early January 1970, George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” was one of the last tunes recorded by The Beatles.

A demo was recorded by George in 1969; however, when the film “Let it Be” was being assembled from the various film clips of the “Get Back” (the original title of the “Let it Be”) project, director Michael Lindsey-Hogg wanted a better version of the tune to use while showing John Lennon and Yoko Ono dancing a waltz. The original waltz was filmed as George was introducing the song to the band.

This required a re-recording of the tune on January 3, 1970. This was after John Lennon had left the band and only included the other three members. With 16 takes, an abbreviated version of the song was recorded by Harrison, McCartney, and Starr. George sang lead and harmony vocals and played acoustic and electric lead and rhythm guitars; Paul added harmony vocals and played bass, organ, and electric piano; and Ringo added drums – to which he overdubbed another drum track on April 1, 1970.

When Phil Spector was assembling the “Let it Be” album, he lengthened the original by splicing a copy of the song into itself. Additionally, Spector added an orchestral arrangement that included 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, three trumpets, three trombones, and a harp. The song had two movements – the verse in A minor that was in 6/8 time, and the chorus in A major in 4/4 time. During the chorus, George and Paul actually sing “I, Me, Me, Mine.”

The lyrics were based on a Hindu doctrine of renouncing one’s own ego to achieve enlightenment. Harrison also used “I Me Mine” as the title of his autobiography. Although the “Let it Be” album bore the Apple label and logo on the American releases, it was actually distributed by United Artists, who had the rights to the film. To my knowledge, the red Apple label was only used in the US, as releases in other nations (including Canada) used the traditional green Apple label.

When Capitol’s parent company EMI purchased United Artists in 1978, it provided an opportunity for two Beatles’ LP controlled by United Artists, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Let it Be,” to finally be issued on the Capitol imprint in the US.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Parts of Speech: Over, Under, Sideways, Down

Back when I worked at WWNR (1987-1994) in Beckley, West Virginia, the last hour of my Friday shift (9AM-10AM), I did a set of music that had some sort of common theme – much like I do every second week of the month here. During the month of December 2014, it is no different, as I am repeating one of my themes from that oldies’ show. This week’s set looks at parts of speech in song titles.

Today, we pick prepositions – well, more accurately – three prepositions and an adverb. The prepositions are “over,” “under,” and “down” – “sideways” is the lone adverb. One of my favorite groups of the 60s were The Yardbirds and one of their best known tunes is their Top 15 hit “Over, Under, Sideways, Down.” In the US, it charted at #13 in 1966.

The band, sans Jeff Beck, recorded the basic tracks of “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” with Keith Relf on lead vocals and harmonica, Chris Dreja on rhythm guitar and vocals, Jim McCarty on drums and vocals, and Paul Samwell-Smith on bass and vocals. The working arrangement with Beck was that the band would lay down the song and Beck would then work his magic. What resulted was not expected by the band.

Although they were initially skeptical of Beck’s high energy eastern influenced leads, they added a new dimension to the song. Part of the lead’s charm was its tonality. At the time, Beck achieved his signature sound by using a fuzz tone and feedback. Additionally, he overdubbed a bass part to give the song greater drive. Apparently the changes were acceptable to bassist Samwell-Smith who also co-produced the record with Simon Napier-Bell.

In the US, the song was the title cut to their third studio album. In the UK, it appeared, however, on their only studio album – “The Yardbirds” commonly called “Roger the Engineer.” This nickname was based on Chris Dreja’s drawing of studio engineer Roger Cameron. The American release wisely steered away from the original artwork and used photos of the band that were edited to depict the title’s description. On the cover, Chris Dreja is “over,” Jim McCarty is “under,” Paul Samwell-Smith is “sideways,” while Keith Relf and Jeff Beck are both “down.”

The song was credited to all of The Yardbirds; however, on the American releases, Jim McCarty is incorrectly listed as “McCarthy” and Chris Dreja’s name was misspelled as “Drega.” You’ll see these errors on the single’s label.