Thursday, November 27, 2014

Vee Jay Records: Thank You Girl

Happy Thanksgiving and today’s selection is the reason I picked Vee-Jay Records as our fourth week label feature. “Thank You Girl,” which was originally titled “Thank You Little Girl,” was an effort for The Beatles to thank their female fans. They hoped that each of these young ladies would consider the song as being a personal message of gratitude. The recording featured John Lennon on double tracked lead vocals and Paul McCartney on the high harmony. Additionally, it was the first recording by group to feature double tracked vocals. The song took 13 takes to complete and features harmonica overdubs by John Lennon.

The Beatles’ “Thank You Girl” appeared as a flip side on not one, but two Vee-Jay single releases by The Beatles. When Capitol Records passed on The Beatles in 1963, the masters of their first album, “Please Please Me” in the UK, were leased to Chicago based Vee-Jay Records. Prior to Beatlemania hitting America by storm in 1964, Vee-Jay released two singles: “Please Please Me”/”Ask Me Why” and “From Me to You”/”Thank You Girl.” The latter was released in the US on May 6, 1963. Since The Beatles were yet an unknown commodity in North America, “From Me to You” only charted at #116.

Once the floodgates were opened with the #1 release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on Capitol,” Vee-Jay began ramping up their Beatles product and beat Capitol to the punch with the first American Beatles’ LP, “Introducing The Beatles,” on January 10, 1964. Capitol followed with “Meet the Beatles!” ten days later.

Although the album titles and covers were different, “Introducing The Beatles” and “Please Please Me” had much in common including track order. There was one major difference; the UK version had more songs. Like all of the UK releases through “Revolver,” “Please Please Me” was no exception, as it contained two additional cuts that were eliminated from the American release. “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why,” which had been previously issued in early 1963 as the first Beatles’ Vee-Jay single, were not on the initial release of the album.

As Vee-Jay was trying to quickly capitalize on the new found fame of The Beatles before their license expired, “Introducing The Beatles” was repacked several times. The first reissue replaced “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” with “Ask Me Why” and “Please Please Me.” This was due to a restraining order from Beechwood Music, Capitol’s publishing arm, who had not licensed these two songs yet in the US.

During 1964, Vee-Jay issued other albums featuring the material from “Introducing The Beatles.” These included “Jolly What! England's Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage” (which was later repacked as “The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage”); “Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles”; “The Beatles vs the Four Seasons”; and an EP, “Souvenir of Their Visit to America.” The two versions of the Beatles/Frank Ifield album was misleading as all of the tracks were studio recordings – four by The Beatles and eight by Ifield.

Additionally, Vee-Jay flooded the market in 1964 with additional Beatles’ singles. These included the following:
  • “Please Please Me”/“From Me to You,”
  • “Ask Me Why”/“Anna” (promo only),
  • “Twist and Shout”/“There’s A Place” (on Vee-Jay subsidiary Tollie Records),
  • “Do You Want to Know a Secret”/“Thank You Girl,”
  • “Love Me Do”/“P.S. I Love You” (on Vee-Jay subsidiary Tollie Records),
The second release of our feature tune was as the “B” side to “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” This single was released on March 23, 1964 and did quite well as a double sided hit. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” peaked at #2, while “Thank You Girl” made it to #35.

The record was certified gold for sales in excess of a million copies. Because Vee-Jay was overwhelmed in pressing Beatles’ records, numerous label variations exist for all of the releases. The one shown above is a Tollie yellow blank used for this particular issue. Black blanks, also used for Tollie releases, were used as well.

To make one last stab at sales before Vee-Jay’s license expired in October 1964, the label issued four Vee-Jay/Tollie singles on their subsidiary Oldies 45. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and “Thank You Girl” were issued with the lowest catalog number of the four simultaneous releases.

True Stereo Version

While the Vee-Jay issues were either mono or rechanneled stereo, a true stereo version of “Thank You Girl” was issued by Capitol on “The Beatles’ Second Album,” which was released on April 10, 1964. In addition to being a true stereo mix, this version of “Thank You Girl” contains additional harmonica parts during the song’s bridge and at the end.

Capitol added extra reverb to the vocals the North American releases. To me the reverb is a bit over the top considering that the wet signal was in a different channel than the dry signal. Since this was a different mix, Capitol may have sidestepped Vee-Jay’s rights to the song.

Following the expiration of Vee-Jay’s license, eleven of the songs from “Introducing The Beatles” were issued by Capitol on “The Early Beatles” in March 1965. One year following Vee-Jay’s last minute issue of four singles on their Oldies 45 label, Capitol issued six singles by The Beatles in their Starline Series of oldies singles.

While in the 70s and 80s, all of The Beatles’ singles were issued with the Starline imprint, these six releases were the only Starline Series Beatles’ records in the 1960s. Similar to the standard yellow/orange Capitol swirl label, the original Starline Series releases were in a two-tone green swirl.

Of the 12 songs released on the Starline label, 10 of these had appeared previously as Vee-Jay recordings. While the first four had the same configuration as the Oldies 45 singles, two additional singles were issued: “Roll over Beethoven”/“Misery” and “Kansas City”/“Boys.” If you notice on the Vee-Jay releases, the songwriting is credited to McCartney-Lennon rather than the more common configuration of Lennon-McCartney that was used thereafter.

The song fulfills several duties today.  Because it is an expression of thanks, we make it our Thanksgiving holiday song.  It also charted in the 30s, so it is our Thirty Something Thursday release.  Finally, since it was released multiple times, it fits the bill as our Thursday's Threepeats and Repeats selection. Hope you enjoy both versions. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: Raindrops

One of Vee-Jay’s more popular releases was inspired when Dee Clark was driving through a heavy rainstorm. As the protagonist, Clark uses the excuse of raindrops to cover up the fact that he is actually crying because his lover had left him. Released in 1961, “Raindrops” peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart.

The production of this song was well ahead of its time. Part of this could be attributed to Riley C. Hampton’s arrangement. Hampton, who was a noted Chicagoland string arranger, worked on a number of recordings produced in the city. One his better known arrangements was Etta James’ “At Last.” Like Clark, Hampton was a native Arkansan who traveled north to Chicago to make his mark on the music business.

While Dee Clark had six Top 40 hits between 1958 and 1961, “Raindrops” was his biggest song and his final hit record.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: Boom Boom

When I think of John Lee Hooker’s 1961 recording of “Boom Boom,” the movie “The Blues Brothers” comes to mind, as Hooker appears singing the tune while Jake and Elwood Blues get ready to enter the Soul Food Café. Released in 1962, the original charted both on the R&B and Hot 100 charts. On the R&B side, it peaked at #16; however, it failed to make it into the Top 40 by only peaking at #60.

The sidemen that accompanied John Lee Hooker’s guitar and vocals are a veritable who’s who of session musicians. The Funk Brothers of Motown Records’ fame provided the backing. Included among the band were the following musicians: Joe Hunter on piano, James Jamerson on bass, Benny Benjamin on drums, Larry Veeder on guitar, Hank Cosby on tenor sax, and Mike Terry on baritone sax.

Hooker said that he was inspired to write the song from a female Detroit bartender. Since Hooker was frequently tardy for his gigs at the Apex Bar, the barkeep would say, “Boom, boom – you’re late again.” Hearing the phrase enough, he was inspired to write the song.

Cameo in The Blues Brothers

Vee-Jay Records: Sherry

While The Four Seasons had released a number of regional singles, the boys from Jersey had immediate success when they signed to Vee-Jay Records in 1962. Their first release on the label, “Sherry,” was also their first #1 record. If I am correct, “Sherry” was also the second #1 single for the label.

It took The Four Seasons’ keyboardist/vocalist Bob Gaudio 15 minutes to write “Sherry” and it may have been the best spent quarter hour in Gaudio’s life. Originally known as “Jackie Baby” after First Lady Jackie Kennedy, Gaudio cycled through about a half dozen names before settling on “Sherry” for its eventual title.

Gaudio admitted that the idea for “Sherry” wasn’t totally original. It was inspired by Bruce Channel’s 1961 hit “Hey Baby.” Not only did “Sherry” make it to the #1 slot on the Hot 100 for five weeks, it also peaked at #1 on the R&B charts. This early Four Seasons’ hit was produced by musical legend Bob Crewe.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: For Your Precious Love

Vee-Jay Records was founded in 1953 in the Chicago suburb of Gary, Indiana by the husband and wife team of Vivian Carter and James C. Bracken. Their first names’ initials were the inspiration for the label’s name. Originally it focused on R&B artists; however, the label saw its greatest success in the mid 1960s when it became the label for The Beatles’ first American releases, The Four Seasons, and Frank Ifield.

Due to financial difficulties caused by upper management appropriating profits for personal debts, the label went bankrupt in 1966. Over the years, Vee-Jay has surfaced several times with its primary purpose of leasing its masters to other labels for release. For a brief period in the 1980s, it was operational as a disco and R&B label, but was unsuccessful in this venture. This last summer, the Concord Music Group acquired the Vee-Jay catalog.

To begin our fourth week label feature, our initial selection was released five times by Vee-Jay and its subsidiaries. The original release of Jerry Butler and The Impressions’ “For Your Precious Love” was appeared on the Vee-Jay label in June 1958. Fearing that radio would pass on the release because it was on a label known for R&B artists, Vee-Jay released the single on their Falcon Records subsidiary in July 1958.

When Vee-Jay become aware of another label named Falcon, the subsidiary’s name was changed to Abner Records, which was named for Vee-Jay’s president Ewart Abner. “For Your Precious Love” did extremely well and cracked the Top 40 charts and peaked at #11. It also charted at #3 on the R&B charts. During summer 1961, Vee-Jay re-released the single; however, it failed to chart.

The 1965/1966 Re-Issue

In 1965, Butler returned to the studio and re-recorded “For Your Precious Love” as a solo recording in stereo for Vee-Jay. Released late in the year, the song charted in early 1966 on the R&B charts at #25. The re-issue had a dismal showing on the pop charts as it only broke into the Hot 100 at #99.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: What It Is

In 1981, I received a copy of the Robin Trower album “B.L.T.” – so named for the collaboration of Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan, and of course Trower. This power trio enlisted the Hendixian leads of guitarist Robin Trower that audiences worldwide learned to love with his post Procol Harum solo albums. In this incarnation of his musical genius, Trower was joined by Jack Bruce on bass, keyboards, and vocals and former Sly and the Family Stone drummer, Bill Lordan.

Although Bruce’s and Lordan’s names appeared on the album cover, it was not considered a B.L.T. album – it was another Robin Trower solo, as he had the contract with Chrysalis Records. Therefore, Trower’s name appeared with the largest type and his name only appeared on the spine, the label, and on the label of the single releases. On the single’s picture sleeve, all participates were credited.

Be that as it may, Jack Bruce played an important role on this record, as it is his vocals that are heard on every cut. I don’t hear it now when I listen to B.L.T., but in 1981 I drew comparisons with Bruce’s work in Cream. Now that I listen to it in 2014, it sounds more like a Robin Trower album only with Jack Bruce singing instead of James Dewar who sang and played bass on Trower’s previous, but equally good projects.

Like the Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, Cream, and West, Bruce & Laing; B.L.T. was yet another super group to which Bruce was drawn. Like Cream and West, Bruce & Laing; B.L.T. was another power trio.  As always, Jack Bruce rose to the occasion.

Our chosen cut, “What It Is,” was released as a single in the US and elsewhere. In the UK, a special limited edition version of the single was released in clear vinyl. The song, like many of the cuts, was co-written by Trower and Procol Harum’s lyricist, Keith Reid.

If you look closely at the single’s picture sleeve and the album cover, it appears that the bacon in the BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich) is raw. I like my bacon like my music – cooking and crunchy – much like you find on this album.

Friday, November 14, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Why Dontcha

During the midst of his solo career, Jack Bruce joined yet another super group: West, Bruce & Laing. This power trio consisted of two parts Mountain and one part Cream. The impetus for the forming WB&L was the dissolution of Mountain due to bassist Felix Pappalardi’s heroin addiction. Wanting to continue the momentum started with Mountain, former members Leslie West (guitar) and Corky Laing (drums) enlisted the perfect replacement for Pappalardi – his old musical partner, Jack Bruce.

The band lasted only a short time. Three albums were produced with their debut “Why Dontcha” having the most commercial success but little critical acclaim. The third release was a live album that was issued after the WB&L had disbanded. I was excited during my senior year of high school that yet another super group related to Cream had been created. I really thought this band was going places. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Bruce is credited with playing a plethora of instruments on the album including bass, keyboards, harmonica, and other sundry items. On today’s cut, Bruce only supplies the bass. The band’s first single, “The Doctor,” which I’ve already featured in the past, was the only cut to receive a modicum of album rock airplay. The title cut, “Why Dontcha,” was released as the second single, but floundered.

The interesting thing about the “Why Dontcha” single is that its flipside did not include a West, Bruce & Laing cut – it was Mountain’s hit, “Mississippi Queen.” While smaller labels normally paired different artists on one single and even the majors paired different artists on oldies releases, it was highly unusual for Columbia (CBS) to issue two different, albeit related, artists on one disc.

Perhaps by reissuing Mountain’s biggest hit (which originally appeared on the CBS distributed Windfall label), it might generate additional interest in West, Bruce & Laing. If that were the case, it didn’t work. The album featured the power trio engulfed in waves and features Jack Bruce playing his cherry red Gibson EB-0 bass. It appears that West has a Gibson Les Paul Jr. TV Special in this photo.

When West, Bruce & Laing were reformed in 2009, Jack’s son Malcolm took his father’s place as bassist and the group was appropriately called West, Bruce, Jr. & Laing.