Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dunhill Records: Walking in the Park

We’ve come to the end of the line of our look at Dunhill Records, and typically on Saturdays I like to feature songs that were below the Top 40 line on the Hot 100, an album cut, or were non-charting singles. Today is no different, as we turn to a progressive British jazz/blues/rock band named Colosseum.

While Dunhill didn’t sign Colosseum directly, their American releases were issued on Dunhill through an arrangement with UK’s branch of Fontana Records. Apparently Mercury, Fontana’s US distributor, passed on Colosseum. An outgrowth of the Graham Bond Organization and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Colosseum was formed by drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith who played with both bands. I was just talking to someone last week about Heckstall-Smith’s performance novelty of playing two saxes simultaneously.

In addition to Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith, Colosseum featured James Litherland on guitar and lead vocals, Tony Reeves on bass, and Dave Greenslade on keyboards. You may remember Greenslade’s name as he fronted a band of the same name in the 1970s. Their 1969 debut LP, “Those Who Are About to Die Salute You,” took its name from what gladiators would say to Caesar before entering in a contest to the death.

Written and originally recorded by Graham Bond, “Walking in the Park” was the first single from this LP. The placement of this song on the album was interesting. Fontana led the album with the track and Dunhill placed it at the end of the album. Either way, the single failed to chart in either the UK or the US.

“Walking in the Park” also featured sideman Henry Lowther on trumpet. The song has a killer arrangement with Litherwood’s powerful vocals and lead guitar, Greenslade’s organ, and the horns of Heckstall-Smith and Lowther. Buckle-up, as this one really moves.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Dunhill Records: Baby It's You

Having formed in Los Angeles in 1969, the band Smith had no members who bore the most popular English language surname. Having been discovered in 1969 by Del Shannon, he brought Smith to ABC/Dunhill, a label to which he had been signed earlier in the same year. Although the group released four singles and two albums before they disbanded, a remake of the Shirelles’ classic “Baby it’s You” was their first single and their only hit record.

It has been said that Shannon came up with the new arrangement of the composition penned by Burt Bacharach, Mack David, and Luther Dixon (under the name of Barney Williams). Lyricist Mack David was the older brother of Bacharach’s frequent songwriting partner Hal David. The sha-la-la vocals from the original and The Beatles version were replaced by an organ riff from Larry Moss. With the heavier arrangement, Smith’s version was perfect for 1969 and beyond. Joel Sill and Dunhill staffer Steve Barri produced the recording.

“Baby it’s You” appeared on the album “A Group Called Smith” and peaked as a single in November 1969 at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. “Baby it’s You” showcases the incredible talent of Gayle McCormick and its sad that she never ever was to reprise her career as she had the pipes. Just listening to where she screams “Baby!!!” near the end of the song sends chills up and down my spine. After Smith, McCormick released three solo albums and several singles, but none achieved the acclaim of her first single with Smith. McCormick died earlier this year on March 1 from cancer.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dunhill Records: Pieces of April

While it wasn’t Three Dog Night’s biggest hit, “Pieces of April” from November 1972 was one of two singles from their “Seven Separate Fools” album and one of my favorite songs of the band. I guess I remember this song, as this was released during my senior year in high school. Of all of the acts on Dunhill Records, Three Dog Night had to be the label’s most popular.

Written by Dave Loggins (remember “Please Come to Boston”), it was originally an album cut on his 1972 album “Personal Belongings”; Vanguard later released it in January 1973 to compete with Three Dog Night’s version. Loggins later re-recorded the tune and released it as a single on Epic in 1979. While neither single charted in the Hot 100, Loggins’ second version peaked at 22 on the adult contemporary charts.

As for Three Dog Night’s rendition of this ballad, it only peaked at #19 on the Hot 100. I would have expected it to have charted higher, but a November release is always a gamble. Chuck Negron was lead vocalist on this cut.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dunhill Records: Magic Carpet Ride

Day four of our look at Dunhill Records brings us a release from September 1968 with the newly reconstituted ABC/Dunhill records imprint. “Magic Carpet Ride” was Steppenwolf’s fifth single release and their second Top 5 record. Like the previous hit, “Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride” was certified as a gold single for one million units sold. It was the only single released on their second LP – which was appropriately titled “The Second.” The single peaked at #3.

Co-written by Steppenwolf’s guitarist/vocalist John Kay and bassist Rushton Moreve. Moreve, an original member of the band, left Steppenwolf after recording “The Second.” He rejoined the band in 1978, but was killed in an automobile accident in 1981 prior to John Kay and Steppenwolf’s recording of the album “Wolftracks” in 1982.

One of my favorite parts of this song is Goldy McJohn’s organ parts. I always thought that he used a Hammond organ, but McJohn stated that his instrument of choice was a Lowrey. Of course, he had this beast connected to a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet that provided a Doppler effect to the organ’s sound. McJohn’s staccato style of playing gave a percussive feel that added to the heaviness of this recording.

The single mix, in my opinion, is much better than the album version. It has a different lead vocal track and the overall instrumental balance is better. Typically, I prefer the album mixes, but there are always exceptions. I provide both versions so you can choose which on you like.

Single Edit

Album Version

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dunhill Records: Midnight Confessions

Suggested by Lou Adler, president of Dunhill Records, and put into fruition by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri in 1965, The Grass Roots became one of the top hit making bands to make their mark with the label. Originally called The Grassroots, it was formed as a studio band with an ever changing lineup until 1967. The name change occurred during the new band’s first year.

Having submitted a demo to Dunhill, a LA based band named the 13th Floor became the permanent version of the group. The band went through three bassists until Rob Grill was enlisted into the incarnation of The Grass Roots that most of us know. He was the band’s primary lead singer in addition to playing bass.

In 1968, the band recorded their biggest hit, “Midnight Confessions.” The band was a four piece during this period and also featured Warren Entner on guitar/keyboards, Creed Bratton on lead guitar, and Rick Coonce on drums. When Bratton left the band in 1969, Dennis Provisor was brought in on guitar and Terry Furlong joined the band on keyboards. By 1971, The Grass Roots enlarged to a six piece combo with Brian Naughton as additional lead guitarist. Other line-up changes occurred in 1972 and 1974.

While the band performed the song in concert, there is no indication that The Grass Roots per se played the instruments on the actual recording. While the band provided the vocals, instrumentation was supplied by The Wrecking Crew. The legendary bass line, which was later played live by Rob Grill, was actually performed by Carole Kaye who contributed to hundreds of recordings.

“Midnight Confessions” charted at #5 during the summer of 1968 and was their only single to be certified gold.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dunhill Records: Monday, Monday

During 1965, Dunhill Records signed one of their biggest acts, The Mama’s and the Papas. This new vocal group was led by John Phillips who, along with his wife Michelle, had been in the folk group The New Journeyman.

Enter Denny Doherty and later Cass Elliot from the Mugwamps and this new group spent several months in the Virgin Islands honing their craft and working out the intricate harmonies that made them successful and became the inspiration for a half a dozen other popular vocal groups.

Brought to Dunhill by their friend Barry McGuire, the band was signed by Lou Adler. Their first single, “Go Where You Want to Go,” was released to radio in November 1965, but there is no evidence that this debut single ever was released commercially. If so, it failed to chart in any trade publications.

While I’m speculating here, it may be that Adler felt that “California Dreamin’” was a better selection for the public as winter was approaching and it was released on the heels of  “Go Where You Want to Go” with the same picture sleeve photo.  Since they were an unknown act at the time, it took a couple months for radio to gravitate towards the song – plus releasing a new artist before the Christmas holiday was not wisest decision. But it eventually became the first their of several top 10 hits.  It also was certified as a gold record.

“California Dreamin’s” follow-up, “Monday, Monday,” is today’s selection. Why? It’s Monday. This was the band’s most popular song. It was their only #1 record, second of two gold singles, and it won the Grammy for best pop vocal by a duo or group.

Having grown up with the mono version on AM radio – the place where we used to hear the hits – I find it difficult to listen to Lou Adler’s stereo mix on this song. I know, this is how many records (ad nauseam) were mixed for stereo – put the back-up vocals on one side, the instruments on the other, and if you’re lucky the lead vocal might be in the middle.

However, a good many records had all the vocals to one side. I think there was an unwritten principle that this practice illustrated the aural width of a recording – let’s get as much separation as possible and it might sound live. I am certainly glad that by the late 60s, this practice began to wane. The instrumentation for this song was provided by The Wrecking Crew, a loose collection of LA studio musicians who played on a bazillion records and who had a fluid line-up. John Phillips sang lead on this number.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dunhill Records: Eve of Destruction

Now that we’re back on track with the blog, we can resume with our features. Since it’s the fourth week of the month, we turn to our Fourth Week Label Feature. For this week, I’ve chosen Dunhill Records. The company was conceived in 1964 by Lou Adler and several others as a production house for Johnny Rivers. It did not become an actual label until spring 1965.

While it is commonly cited that the label’s initial release was by Adler's wife Shelley Fabares, this is incorrect. Two singles were issued a month prior to Fabares’ recording: Ray Whitley’s “I’ve Been Hurt” and Ritchie Weems and the Continental Five’s “Natural Born Man.” These two singles were numbered D-201 and D-202 respectively.

With Dunhill’s third release (Fabares’ “My Prayer” cataloged as D-4001), the label began a distribution deal with ABC-Paramount Records – later simply known as ABC Records. Two years later, Adler sold his shares to ABC and this created the subsidiary label: ABC-Dunhill Records. Dunhill would be inextricably linked to ABC throughout its 10-year run.

By 1975, ABC began consolidating its subsidiaries under the ABC Records’ umbrella and Dunhill was no longer an active imprint.  Within four years, ABC’s record holdings were purchased by MCA and subsequent releases used its imprint. Geffen Records now controls the Dunhill catalog. This week will look at seven releases from Dunhill and ABC-Dunhill.

Numbered as D-4009, Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” was actually Dunhill’s twelfth release and not the eleventh as one may surmise. This was because two P.F. Sloan singles that were subsequently issued shared the D-4007 catalog number and the same B-side.

Written in 1964 by P.F. Sloan, “Eve of Destruction” chronicled the unrest in the world during the mid 1960s that dealt with war, suffering, and racism. According to McGuire, he recorded the song on a Thursday and it was on the air the following Monday. McGuire’s recording was Dunhill’s first Top 40 hit and it quickly ascended to the number one slot during the fall of1965. The song hit apparently hit a political nerve at the time.

The double strike on the tom-tom found only in the intro and the first verse provides a subliminal sound effect of artillery fire that accentuates the message decrying war. The lyrics played on the real fears of nuclear annihilation – “if the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away. There will be no one to save with the world in a grave.” Sloan’s lyrics also points at hypocrisy found in America with the line “hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.”

McGuire later re-recorded “Eve of Destruction” on his second Contemporary Christian release “Lighten Up.” It was released on Myrrh Records in 1974 - a label that was part of ABC's holdings of Word Records in the 1970s. Being the album’s lead track dispels the rumors that McGuire eschewed the song once becoming a Christian. He still performs “Eve of Destruction,” but often modifies the lyrics to be applicable to the unrest of the present world.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bruce Springsteen: Jungleland

As Lou Abbott used to say, “I’ve been a baaaaad boy.” During the last three years, I have let my participation in this blog lapse. Much of my absence has been due to some major changes that have occurred in my life since the end of 2012. Unfortunately, 2015 and 2016 have suffered the most with my lack of posts. I dropped below 100 posts in 2015 and so far this year, I’ve only had 17. It is time to rectify this. Jim Mycyk, a friend of mine since first grade, asked me three weeks ago when I was bringing back “Reading between the Grooves.” I told him soon. That time has come.

What better way to return to writing is to head back to Bruce Springsteen’s landmark album from 1975, “Born to Run.” It wasn’t the first album for this legendary New Jersey rocker, but his third; and, it was the first to propel him to stardom. Having lived in Eastern Kentucky since 1973 where album radio was scarce in the mid-70s, I hadn’t heard of Springsteen until I walked through my college’s library and saw his face on both the covers of Time and Newseek. Who was this guy with the chimera of a guitar that sported a Fender Telecaster body and an Esquire neck?

During that same fall, Springsteen had his first Top 40 hit with the title cut, “Born to Run,” which peaked at #23. A second single, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” fared worse at #83. In 1974, music maven Jon Landau wrote in The Real Paper, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Springsteen and Columbia Records both took note.

Landau was brought in as one the producers of the “Born to Run” LP and Columbia engaged in a massive quarter of a million dollar publicity campaign for the album. With inflation, that campaign would cost about $2 million in current dollars. Not a small investment for an artist that, up to this point, had minimal success. Was it worth it?  Over the years, “Born to Run” has sold over six million copies worldwide, with two million in sales in the US alone.

While this album was wildly popular, it was not certified gold or platinum until the 21st century. It earned the gold record certification in April 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America for 500,000 copies sold. Three months later, the RIAA certified it platinum for a million copies sold. By 2004, it achieved double platinum status for two million sold copies – showing that even nearly 30 years after its release, it was still viable in the minds (and ears) of the American public.

Bruce Springsteen holds a special place in my heart, as because of him I received my only hate letter in my 20 year career as a broadcaster. In November 1981, I had done a wildly exaggerated impersonation of Springsteen on the air, and a lady, originally from Philadelphia, saw the need to write a six-page, single spaced, typewritten letter telling me how much she loathed me because I had insulted “The Boss.”

She went on to say that, had I lived in Philadelphia, people would have been camped out on the doorstep of the station waiting for me to end my shift that night to teach me a lesson that only those who lived in and near New Jersey could. I still have the letter, as it was a first. In addition, her Herculean effort was worth saving. Good thing I used a different name on the air at the time.

For my return to “Grooves,” I didn’t pick “Born to Run” or “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” but rather an album cut that is my favorite song on the LP. This nearly 10 minute song closed out the album and starts out uncharacteristic of a typical Sprinsgsteen song – but if you wait, it is Springsteen through and through.

The song commences with Roy Bittan on piano and Suki Lahav on violin before this song about love, gang warfare, and bloodshed commences into a full rocker. It also features one of the best sax solos by Springsteen’s longtime partner in musical crime, the late Clarence Clemmons. The relationship between these two is cemented in the minds of Springsteen fans everywhere due to the iconic album cover of “Born to Run.” The lead guitar on “Jungleland” is played by Springsteen – this was before the addition of Little Steven and Nils Lofgren who augmented these duties later.

The piano, violin, sax, and Springsteen’s overly processed cries of anguish at the song’s conclusion all contributed to this musical epic. The addition of a string arrangement shows a softer side to a harsh story merges with the rock guitar, drums, bass, and organ that accentuates the violence that occurs in “Jungleland’s” story. The production on “Jungleland” is legendary – the changing dynamics are essential to match the emotions in the lyrical content. It doesn’t get much better than this.