Friday, January 30, 2015

Smash Records: The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)

Occasionally, when I’ve looked at specific labels, I discover that a single song was released a number of times by different artists. Such is the case with today’s selection “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).” Written by the hit producing songwriting team of Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, the initial version was recorded by The Four Seasons, but was released under Frankie Valli’s name on the Smash Records label.


As a member of the band, Gaudio sang and played keyboards and Crewe, who produced a plethora of Four Seasons’ hits, reprised this role on the original recording of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).” Although Crewe and Gaudio had written a number of hit songs like “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Ronnie,” “Rag Doll,” “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye),” “Silence is Golden,” “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You,” and others; Frankie Valli’s version of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” wasn’t one of them. The original version had a dismal showing at #128.



But Valli’s version of the tune was not the end of its run. In 1966, another Smash artist would have greater success with the song. Although The Walker Brothers hit number one with “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” in the UK, it peaked at #13 in their native United States.


While none of The Walker Brothers were actually named Walker and they certainly weren’t brothers, their greater success was due to their successful attempt at an American invasion of Britain at the height of the British invasion on this side of the Atlantic. It has been rumored that The Walker Brother’s fan club in England was larger than The Beatles’ fan club membership in Britain. I’m not so sure I believe this; but if it were so, it would have been quite an honor for this trio of Yanks from Los Angeles. By the way, all three Walkers continued to use the surname personally and professionally long after they disbanded.




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Smash Records: Out of Sight

He was “The Godfather of Soul,” “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” and one of several musicians who had records that couldn’t be played on a turntable – think about that one for a moment and you’ll get it. When James Brown began having disputes with his label, King Records, Smash was more than delighted to become his label of choice.


Smash Records released several Brown vocals in 1964 – “Caledonia” – charting at #95, “The Things that I Used to Do” – peaking at #99, and “Out of Sight” backed with “Maybe the Last Time.” While “Maybe the Last Time” got some airplay and charted at #107, the real Smash James Brown hit was “Out of Sight,” which made it to #24 on the pop charts #5 on the R&B chart.

Because the courts sided with King Records, Brown was prevented from recording any further vocals on Smash.  Brown’s further records on Smash through 1966 were all instrumentals. “Out of Sight” was credited as James Brown and His Orchestra unlike the plethora of single material King was releasing under the name of James Brown and the Fabulous Flames at the same time. Eventually some of the Smash recordings would be re-released by King.

Although “Out of Sight’s” songwriting credits went to Ted Wright, this was a pseudonym for James Brown. Why he used another name at this juncture is not known.

I really love the horns on this song. Long live “The Godfather of Soul.”






Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Smash Records: King of the Road

Our next selection brings back a lot of memories as Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” was the first song I learned to play on the guitar. Back in 1967, I began taking guitar lessons from my brother. He suggested I learn to play by accompanying myself with the guitar.


We looked at one of my mother’s songbooks of popular tunes and found “King of the Road.” It was one I knew well from its hit status a few years previous, so sing and play I did; however, both were very rudimentary. What could you expect from an 11 year-old boy just learning three chords. I probably played it in the key of “G” – although the song is in “Bb” until it modulates to “B.”

At the time, I didn’t understand the import of the lyrics, but as I got older I grew to appreciate Roger Miller’s turn of phrase on his fifth single with Smash Records. And a smash record it was. It was a double crossover in 1965. Not only did it peak on the pop charts at #4, but it was a number one record for country and middle of the road radio.

It is said that Miller was inspired to write the song by simply seeing a sign advertising “Trailers for Sale or Rent.” The rest is musical history.




Monday, January 26, 2015

Smash Records: Walk Away Renée

The Left Banke’s lush instrumentation was a nice change of pace in the midst of guitar based recordings of the mid 1960s. Their first hit on Smash Records, “Walk Away Renée,” was written by keyboardist, Michael Brown along with help from Tony Sansone and Bob Calilli. Brown stated that the song was inspired by bassist Tom Finn’s girlfriend Renée Fladen, with whom Brown had admired from afar.


“Walk Away Renée” was recorded at Brown’s (real name Lookofsky) father’s studio in New York City. Harry Lookofsky, who was a classically trained violinist, took an immediate interest in his son’s band, and emerged as their producer, manager, and music publisher.

Of all of the members of the band, Loofosky’s son Michael Brown was the only member who played on “Walk Away Renée,” as he supplied the harpsichord parts that are just barely audible in the song’s left channel.

The three others members of the band only sang on the cut. Steve Martin Caro, who used Steve Martin as a stage name, sang lead. Outside of Brown, the entire instrumentation was provided by session musicians. This was often the practice in the 1960s with up-and-coming acts and still occurs today in Nashville with new country artists.

Brown suggested the alto flute lead which was provided by an unnamed session musician. He was inspired by a similar solo on The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” which at the time was an album cut and had not been released yet as a single. Like its inspiration, the lower voiced alto flute adds a nice touch.

At the time of the recording in 1965, The Left Banke was not under contract with any label and Harry Lookofsky shopped the record to potential labels. Mercury Records bought the masters and released it on their Smash subsidiary. The song charted at #5 in 1966. Two years later, “Walk Away Renée” was covered by Motown’s The Four Tops and did fairly well at #14.

The Left Banke’s follow-up “Pretty Ballerina,” also inspired by Renée Fladen and written by Michael Brown, was their only other hit. It peaked at #15 in 1967. A third song inspired by Fladen, “She May Call You Up,” was released as a single in mid 1967; however, it had a poor showing at #120.

Getting back to the song at hand, check out the decay at the ending of “Walk Away Renée.” There is an “A” bass note decay that is out of this world. It sounds like a piano; however, the session notes do not list a piano for this recording. It follows the bass line and it may be a combination of the bass and harpsichord as they are both in the left channel. If you have an idea, let me know. By the way, the session arranger, John Abbott, played the bass.






Sunday, January 25, 2015

Smash Records: Mendocino

Our fourth week label feature remembers Mercury Records’ subsidiary Smash, which was formed in 1961. While numerous country artists recorded for the label, and it was often characterized as Mercury’s country imprint, quite a few pop recordings were also issued by Smash during its initial run.


In 1970, Mercury discontinued the label; however, PolyGram, Mercury’s corporate owner, brought back Smash in the 1980s for reissues. From 1991 to 1996, PolyGram reinvigorated Smash as an R&B/Dance label for its final run. Our look at Smash will come entirely from its original catalog of recordings issued between 1961 and 1970.

For our first look at the label, we enlist the help of Doug Sahm and his band: Sir Douglas Quintet from San Antonio, Texas. The Sir Douglas Quintet featured a fusion of musical genres that included country, blues, Tex-Mex, and rock ‘n’ roll. Although not remembered as well as other artists from the era, the band had three US Top 40 hits: 1965’s “She’s about a Mover” (#13), 1966’s “The Rains Came” (#31), and “Mendocino.”

Recorded in 1968, “Mendocino” was the band’s first release on Smash; and in early 1969, it peaked at #27 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It was the band’s second highest performing single and it represented a recording comeback for the group who hadn’t had a single release since October 1966’s “She Digs My Love,” which had a dismal showing at #132. While “The Rains Came” from January that year did significantly better at #31, the band’s cover of Gary U.S. Bonds’ “Quarter to Three,” which was issued in May, only charted at #128.

Their apparent comeback is noted in the spoken intro on this studio cut with Doug Sahm stating, “Sir Douglas Quintet is back. We’d like to thank all of our beautiful friends all over the country for all the beautiful vibrations. We love you.”

“Mendocino” includes nearly all of the original members of the band with only bassist Jack Barber having been replaced by Harvey Kagan. Sahm played guitar and sang, Frank Morin is credited with vocals and playing a variety of horns, John Perez was on drums, and Augie Meyers hosted the keyboards.

Although not credited as playing keyboards on the album, Frank Morin played keys live. Since there are two keyboard parts on “Mendocino,” he may have contributed his talents in this area. The keyboard lead is courtesy of Augie Meyers and he probably played it on a Vox Continental combo organ.

The producer is listed as Amigos de Musica. Most folks believe that this was a nom de plume for Doug Sahm – who certainly was a friend of music.






Thursday, January 15, 2015

Missed 2014 Necrology: Mr. Acker Bilk

While some of the missed necrology from 2014 was just because I didn’t get around to authoring a post at the time, I completely missed other deaths. That includes the passing of Mr. Acker Bilk on November 2, 2014. He was 85 years old. Some may not remember the man with the bowler, goatee and strange name, but I do. His real first name was Bernard, but used the nickname “Acker,” which comes from his native Somerset, England dialect for friend.


The song “Stranger on the Shore” evokes fond memories of early summer 1962 when the single was released in the US and it quickly became a #1 record. In fact, it was only the second time a British artist had a number one record on this side of the Atlantic, and it had been ten years since Vera Lynn’s hit. “Stranger on the Shore” was certainly not the last record by a Brit to reach the top of the charts, and two years later it was quite a common occurrence.

Billboard named “Stranger on the Shore” as 1962’s record of the year; it was certified gold for selling in excess of a million copies. The keynote instrument is Acker Bilk’s clarinet. Bilk’s interest in this member of the woodwind family was spawned a friend’s gift of a rather rough, second-hand instrument. Having no reed, the friend fashioned one from a piece of wood. Acker Bilk later procured a better instrument and the rest is history.

Although billed as Mr. Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, it doesn’t appear that the band was present on this recording. The backing instrumentation was provided by the Leon Young String Chorale. Both Bilk and Young were credited with writing the tune. Later, publisher Robert Mellin added lyrics to this already charming instrumental and vocalists could tackle “Stranger on the Shore.”




Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Missed 2014 Necrology: Jesse Winchester

When Jesse Winchester passed away in April 11, 2014, I didn’t get an opportunity to make a post concerning his passing. In our second week special on missed necrology from 2014, I’m finally getting around to posting a tribute. Winchester died in Charlottesville, Virginia 36 days before his 70th birthday.


One year after graduating from Williams College, Winchester received his draft notice and immediately fled to Canada where he stayed until receiving amnesty from President Jimmy Carter. Since leaving the US in 1967, he was not able to perform in the states until 1977 out of fear of arrest. His first stateside concert after gaining amnesty was in Vermont where he performed to sell out crowd.

Winchester never had as great a commercial success in the US as he did in Canada. This can largely be attributed to him not being able to support his releases with live performances on this side of the border. His biggest record in the US was “Say What” from his 1981 “Talk Memphis” LP. Nationally, the single charged at #32 and I had an opportunity to play it on the air. As a thank-you, Bearsville Records sent me a baseball style “Talk Memphis” tour jacket in 1981.

Unfortunately, I’m not featuring “Say What,” but a cut from his debut album. While his first release on Ampex Record in 1970 earned critical acclaim, it was a commercial failure in the US. The initial single, “Yankee Lady,” failed to chart in the US, but peaked at #20 on the Canadian pop chart and was a bigger adult contemporary hit at #8.


“Yankee Lady” was produced by Robbie Robertson of The Band who played guitar on the cut. He was joined by Levon Helm, a fellow member of The Band, who provided a nice mandolin track. Helm also played drums on the album, but since two other drummers are also credit, I am not sure which one appeared on “Yankee Lady.” Oh yeah, Todd Rundgren was the recording engineer as well. This is nice stuff from 1970.