Sunday, December 28, 2014

Liberty Records: Don't Give It Up

Just for fun, I decided to add another Liberty release to round out the week. In 1980, Capitol/EMI resurrected the label as a vehicle for the United Artists’ catalog that was purchased two years earlier. Making the transition from the UA brand that they were permitted to use for two years, Liberty became the official label for the catalog of releases that now were under EMI’s control.

Instead of managing Liberty from EMI’s flagship American brand, Capitol Records, it fell under the jurisdiction of EMI America for promotion. In addition to United Artists, Imperial, Liberty and other related labels’ catalogs released under the label, Liberty was EMI’s primary country music outlet.

Several of these artists had been previously signed with United Artists, such as Kenny Rogers, Dottie West, Cristy Lane, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. While primarily a country and oldies imprint, a number of pop artists were signed to the reinvigorated label including Robbie Patton.

Having been an opening act for Fleetwood Mac, Patton was promoted as having a connection with these superstars. To further cement this connection, Christine McVie played keyboards and co-produced the “Distant Shores” album and the “Don’t Give It Up” single along with Ken Caillat and Robbie Patton. In addition, Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac alumnus Bob Weston, and Tim Weston played guitars.

Backup vocals were supplied by McVie and another Fleetwood Mac alumnus – Bob Welch. Welch and McVie were also joined on backup vocals by Robin Sylvester who played bass on the track and by David Adelstein who also played keyboards. Although not on this particular recording, Stevie Nicks lent her vocals to another track.

While never a major success, Patton’s “Don’t Give it Up” charted in 1981 at #26 on the Hot 100 and #41 on adult contemporary chart. The song was co-written by Patton and Adelstein.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Liberty Records: Power of Love

Before the Allman brothers were the Allman Brothers, they first The Allman Joys and then later The Hour Glass. Based out of Los Angeles, Gregg and Duane Allman (from The Allman Joys) and Pete Carr, Johnny Sandlin, and Paul Hornsby (of the Men-its) formed this pop band with a slight edge.

Through connections with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who were under contract with one of Transamerica’s labels, United Artists, The Hour Glass were signed to another Transamerica subsidiary, Liberty Records. The band released two albums, “The Hour Glass” and “Power of Love,” and six singles – four of which were credited to Gregg Allman and Hour Glass.

In order to fulfill the band’s contract with Liberty, Gregg Allman recorded an album of material with session musicians that, outside the two single “A” sides, was shelved until some of the recordings were released the 1990s. Eventually all of this material, along with outtakes from the bands’ two official LPs, was released on CD by Acadia Records as “Southbound.”

While the originating two bands had both performed blues covers, Liberty attempted to mold The Hour Glass into a soul/pop band. Unfortunately, The Hour Glass never achieved the status they deserved and when they split in 1968, Duane and Gregg formed the Allman Brothers Band. The other three members headed back to Alabama where they became session musicians Fame Studios, one of the two prominent recording studios located in Muscle Shoals.

“Power of Love” was written by two Alabamans who also spent a great deal of session time at the studios in Muscle Shoals and later in Memphis: Dan Penn and Dewey “Spooner” Oldham. Penn and Oldham had coauthored a number of songs including “Cry Like a Baby” for The Box Tops and “I’m Your Puppet” for James and Bobby Purify. By the time “Power of Love” was written, Penn was already an established songwriter and producer.

Oldham had a plethora of hits under his belt having played organ on Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man,” and Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He was a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section that was nicknamed The Swampers along with Hour Glass alumnus Pete Carr. Oldham has played with numerous artists and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman in 2009.

“Power of Love” features Gregg Allman on organ and lead vocals and Duane Allman on lead guitar. While it doesn’t measure up to the brothers’ later material, it is a decent enough recording. Unfortunately, it never charted and hence is truly a bubbling (way) under selection.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Liberty Records: Going Up The Country

It’s day six of our look at Liberty Records and we turn to Canned Heat’s highest charting single, “Going up the Country.” Credited to Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, it was far from being an original tune. As with a number of the artists recording blues songs in the late 60s and early 70s, “Going up the Country” is an example of overt plagiarism – but, let’s call it what it is was – pure unadulterated theft.

“Going up the Country” is nearly note for note a copy of Henry Thomas’ 1927 recording of “Bull Doze Blues.” Although the melody is the same, the clincher is session musician Jim Horn’s flute parts. They are note-for-note identical to Thomas’ original accompaniment and lead. While Horn used a flute, Henry Thomas played the quills – an African version of the pan pipes. I would imagine that he had the quills attached to a rack so he could accompany himself while playing a guitar.

The similarities are so evident, the stars and the planets would have to be aligned just right and the odds of a billion to one would have to be stacked in Canned Heat’s favor to create this song without influence from Thomas’ original. On the surface, it appears that Wilson, who sang the song as well, just borrowed the tune from Thomas and created the lyrics.

Well, that’s partially true as he did write the lyrics, but he had some inspirational help from Johnny Miller who wrote “Up the Country ” in 1927 for Wingy Manone who recorded it twice: once in 1927 as “Up the Country” and then later in 1930 as “Up the Country Blues.” Wilson’s lyrical content is original, but it is obvious that he heard Manone’s recordings and borrowed the idea for the title and the hook lyric.

Recorded for Canned Heat’s “Living the Blues” album in 1968, the single was released in late November 1968 and charted in 1969 at #11. The band performed “Going up the Country” at Woodstock. In the film, the studio version was used while the actual Woodstock performance was included on the soundtrack album.

Henry Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues”


Check out the musical similarities between Canned Heat’s hit and this 1927 recording. Despite that the label says whistling, Thomas was actually playing the quills. 

Wingy Manone “Up the Country”


Not the original US 1927 release, but a later UK reissue.

The title and hook lyric were “borrowed” from this 1927 recording. Manone’s unusual nickname came about because he lost an arm in a streetcar mishap.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Liberty Records: A Not So Merry Christmas

One of Liberty Records’ biggest stars of the early ‘60s was Bobby Vee; however, his music was filled with stories of bad relationships. Notwithstanding, Bobby struck a chord with the record buying public. Maybe it was his boyish good looks, his smooth voice, or possibly consumers identified with the content of his message.

And let’s take a look at his message. Consider “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Run to Him” – he was giving his gal up to some other guy without an argument. At other times, he wasn’t quite sure of the stability of his partner or his relationship status; think of “Devil or Angel” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” – with the latter tune implying that Bobby was a stalker.

On another occasion, he is the constant rebound lover in “Rubber Ball” – there to always pick up the pieces when an old girlfriend ends a relationship with another guy; he would later become a victim. To heap coals on the fire, just remember “Please Don’t Ask about Barbara.” Finally, there’s “Come Back when You Grow Up” girl. Let’s not even go there.

Do we see a theme developing? This guy keeps chasing the women away. Today’s Christmas selection is no better, as Bobby was planning to have “A Not So Merry Christmas.” Unable to repeat the mirth of the previous holiday season, the sad “A Not So Merry Christmas” leads off the second side of the “Merry Christmas from Bobby Vee” album, which was released in December 1962. Vee is backed by The Johnny Mann Singers on all of the cuts.

Actually, “A Not So Merry Christmas” would have made a great Christmas single, as it modeled Vee’s formula hits. Originally, Liberty had intended issuing it as a 45, but shelved that idea, as “A Night Has a Thousand Eyes” was released the day after Thanksgiving 1962. A Christmas single would certainly erode sales of this up-and-coming hit record and in essence, Bobby would be competing with himself – and we see what happens when he competes with other guys – he loses.

Since the “A Night Has a Thousand Eyes” LP would not hit the stores until April 1963, the release of a Christmas album fit into Liberty’s overall marketing schema. Unfortunately, the release only charted at #136. While 13 of his 25 albums never made the charts, “Merry Christmas from Bobby Vee” had the third worst position of the 12 that had placed on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. Be that as it may, “A Not So Merry Christmas,” even with his characteristic sad undertone, is still a classy tune. Here’s wishing that you have a better Christmas than Bobby Vee did in 1962.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Liberty Records: Quiet Village

Today’s selection is not very Christmassy (if that’s a word), but after spending 20 years in radio, you tend to get burnt out on Christmas music very quickly. There’s only so much of a hit and run reindeer, mommy kissing Santa Claus, the lack of two front teeth, Alvin, and back bacon one can take. To satisfy the insatiable Christmas fans, I promise a Christmas release tomorrow from Liberty Records, no doubt – and Ross Bagdasarian had nothing to do with it.

For today, the musical style is exotica. Martin Denny, the father of the genre, was also a Liberty recording artist. He and his band discovered their unique sound while playing at the Shell Bar in Hawaii. When the band played, the local frogs croaked. When they stopped playing, the frogs stopped as well. As a gag, some of the band members decided to do bird calls during the performance. The next night, the owner asked them to do the song with the frogs and birds again – and exotica was born.

The signature tune of the genre was Denny’s adaptation of Les Baxter’s 1952 song “Quiet Village.” They recorded it in 1957, but since there were no frogs present, Denny used a makeshift güiro from a grooved cylinder. In 1959, Liberty Records decided to release “Quiet Village” as a single and it shot up the charts to the #4 position. It also crossed over to the R&B chart where it peaked at #11.

For the album “Exotica,” the beautiful model Sandy Warner graced the cover. In fact, Warner was the face of Martin Denny’s albums for the next eleven releases as well. I always loved this song and was able to purchase the original single release with a stock Liberty sleeve in 1976 in mint condition at a little music store in East Jenkins, KY. I think I paid a quarter for it.

It was the second time I visited this now extinct establishment and I always walked away with collector items including a rare Beatles album that I paid $2.00 for in 1973. Its current worth is between $600 and $800. The value of the “Quiet Village” single – not so much, and it is probably valued in the $15 range – still worth a lot more than I paid for it nearly 40 years ago. Enjoy this Wordless Wednesday selection from Liberty Records.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Liberty Records: Cry Me A River

Since I featured Joe Cocker’s version of “Cry me a River” last night, I thought I might divert my Liberty Records’ selection today to the original recording. I hadn’t planned on any Julie London songs for this week, but with the circumstances with the death of Joe Cocker, I thought it might be nice to hear the version that Cocker probably heard first and inspired him to make it his own.

Arthur Hamilton wrote “Cry me a River” in 1953 originally for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in the movie “Pete Kelly’s Blues” – and she did; however, her recording was cut from the film and shelved until 1961. After others passed on the tune, Julie London recorded it and the original release became the sixth single issue for Liberty Records in 1955. It appeared on her second album, “Julie is her Name.” Hamilton had one of the more unusual lyrics in this hit, as he wrote, “Remember, I remember all that you said. Told me love was too plebeian – told me you were through with me and . . .”

Backed with a Spartan accompaniment from Barney Kessel on guitar and Ray Leatherwood on bass, it was all that was necessary to provide a platform for London’s low, sultry voice. Charting at #9, it was her signature song as no other Julie London single made it into the Top 40 let alone the Hot 100. In the UK where Joe Cocker would have heard the song, it only charted at #22. No one, including Joe Cocker, has ever matched Julie London’s chart performance of this tune on either side of the Atlantic.

Movie Video

Although Ella Fitzgerald’s recording laid on the cutting room floor, Julie London’s rendition made it into several movies. It has appeared in “Passion of Mind” and “V for Vendetta,” but another film provides a unique haunting version of “Cry me a River.” London sang the complete number in the 1956 release of “The Girl Can’t Help It.” In the clip, Julie appears as an apparition to Tom Ewell’s drunken character Tom Miller. Was it the paranormal or the DTs? We may never know.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cry Me A River as Joe Cocker Has Departed

I don’t often have two posts in a day, but when I do it is usually due to unfortunate news. Earlier today, I heard that 70 year-old Joe Cocker had succumbed from lung cancer. His death occurred in Colorado where he made his home. In 1968, he was propelled into the spotlight with his rendition of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help from my Friends.” While it was a number one record in Britain, it had a dismal showing in US where it only peaked at #68.

His appearance on the stage of Woodstock gained him further notoriety and he entered the Top 40 charts in the US. Some of his biggest hits included the following:
  • His rendition of another Beatles’ album cut, “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” that charted at #30,
  • A cover of The Boxtops number one record from 1967, “The Letter,” that reached #7 in 1970;
  • A rocking version of the 1950s torch song “Cry Me a River,” at #11;
  • His composition with keyboardist Chris Stainton, “High Time We Went,” that charted at #22;
  • A live re-issue of Dave Mason’s “Feeling Alright” that landed at #33. This version did significantly better than the 1968 studio rendition that charted at #69;
  • His cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rambler” that landed at #27;
  • His most popular solo release that charted at #5 – “You are so Beautiful”;
  • A duet with Jennifer Warnes, “Up Where We Belong,” which became his most popular recording and was his only #1 record; and
  • His final Top 40 hit in the US, 1989’s “When the Night Comes.”

Although I am not featuring “Up Where We Belong,” I have a personal connection with this song. As the music director at WCIR-FM in Beckley, WV, I was one of the first programmers in the country to play the record on the air. It was immensely popular in our market; however, it took awhile for other stations to play the tune and for several weeks only a handful of reporting stations had added the song. My gut instinct was correct, and the record peaked at #1 for three weeks. It also won the both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for “Best Original Song.”

Atlantic Records, who was distributing Island Records at the time, promised me a gold record if it sold a million copies. Unfortunately, the record sold slightly under a million and initially failed to have gold status. With sales of it as an oldies release, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the single both as gold and platinum in January 1989. By December that same year, the single was reissued; however, it failed to chart in the US the second time around.

While I am not featuring this tune, I have decided to feature his rocking rendition of the torch ballad “Cry me a River.” Recorded live at the Fillmore East in New York in March 1970, “Cry me a River” was originally a slow tempo, sultry number until Cocker got a hold of it.

The album features a veritable who’s who of the music business. Most notably, Leon Russell is on piano, Don Preston on guitar, and Chris Stainton is playing a Hammond organ. This is a great recording and captures Cocker’s energy. I’ve never had the opportunity to see him live, but have seen his Woodstock footage as well as other videos – and he was the consummate (and very animated) performer. We’ll miss you Joe – Rest in Peace.

Liberty Records: Summertime Blues

It’s the day after the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and here I am featuring a song about summer. But Eddie Cochran’s iconic record about summer break is appropriate, as it was a Top 10 hit for Liberty Records – our feature label during this month of December. Released initially as a “B” side, Liberty saw the potential of this song and flipped it to the “A” side in August 1958. This was a good move as “Summertime Blues” peaked at #8 in September – well after summer break ended.

Written by Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart, the song features Cochran on all of the guitars and vocals, Connie “Guybo” Smith on bass, and Earl Palmer on drums. It is believed that the handclaps were provided by Cochran and his fiancée Sharon Sheeley; however, there is no official documentation to confirm this hypothesis.

With the death of his friends Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), Cochran had a premonition of an early death. Unfortunately, this was the case as he met his untimely end at the age of 21. Cochran was the only one of the four occupants to have fatal injuries in a one-vehicle accident in England.

Travelling at a high rate of speed, the taxi in which he was a passenger slammed into a lamp post. Cochran was thrown from the taxi and died the next day in St. Martin’s Hospital in Bath. It is said he was protecting Shelley as the crash was imminent. Shelley was a prolific songwriter and later would be co-creator of the Shindig TV show.

As for Cochran, his guitar playing would influence several generations of musicians. He was best known sporting an orange Gretsch 6120 hollow-body electric guitar. Cochran was an innovator of sorts as he customized his instrument. Wanting a fatter sound than the stock DeArmond Dynasonic pickups, he replaced the neck pickup with a Gibson P-90 (as seen in the photo above).

While “Summertime Blues” doesn’t include any lead guitar parts, Cochran replaced the typical wound “G” string with an unwound version that made string bending easier. It is also reported that he tuned the guitar a step lower (DGCFAD) on occasion to facilitate the bending of the strings.

“Summertime Blues” has been covered numerous times, but most notably by Blue Cheer in 1968 (peaking at #14), The Who in 1970 (#27), and Alan Jackson in 1994. Jackson’s version charted at #104, but was a #1 country tune. None, however, has had the success of the original on Liberty.  Cochran’s original recording also appears on the soundtrack to “Caddyshack.”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Liberty Records: A Hundred Pouds of Clay

Founded in 1955, Liberty Records began as an independent record label originally focusing originally on film, standards, and instrumental music. By 1957, Liberty added rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues to their repertoire, which was a positive cash flow move for the label. Over the years, Liberty had its ups and downs; and in 1963, Avnet, Inc. purchased Liberty Records. Liberty was added to the company’s stable of independent labels that included the following: Imperial, Blue Note, Dolton, Aladdin, and Minit.

Avnet’s entrance in the record business, however, was unsuccessful and it sold the collection of labels to Alvin Bennett, Liberty’s president from 1955 to 1963. In 1968, Transamerica Corporation, the owner of United Artists Records, purchased Liberty and allied labels and their respective catalogues. Many of the secondary labels were shuttered by 1980 with the artists transferred to Liberty. By 1971, Liberty itself was absorbed into United Artists.

In 1978, EMI purchased United Artists. Under the transfer agreement, EMI was allowed to use the UA name and logo for two years. After the 1980 expiration of the contract, EMI revived Liberty primarily as an oldies label for the United Artists’ catalogue. While some new pop and rock artists were signed to Liberty, EMI primarily used the Liberty brand for new country recordings. Liberty was active as a country label such from 1980-1984 and 1991-1995. Although a European version of Liberty has been ongoing, the American label ceased operation in 1995.

For our look at Liberty Records, we begin with a million seller by Gene McDaniels. While McDaniels would later be known as a songwriter, his early hits on Liberty were penned by others. While the first two singles were flops, the label teamed McDaniels up with veteran producer Tommy “Snuff” Garrett and a hit was born with the release of “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.”

Charting at #3 on the Hot 100 and #11 on the R&B chart in 1961, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” was composed by Kay Rogers, Luther Dixon, and Bob Elgin.

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.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vee-Jay: Uncloudy Day

Well, we have one more day in November, so I thought I’d extend our look at Vee-Jay Records one more time. Like its cross town rival Chess, Vee-Jay also signed a number of gospel artists in addition to its cadre of blues and R&B artists. One of those acts was The Staple Singers. While Vee-Jay wasn’t their first label (that was United) and it wasn’t the label of their greatest success (that would be Stax), this family band had a modicum of notoriety when they were with Vee-Jay.

One of their top sellers at the label was the 1956 recording of “Uncloudy Day.” As with most singles in the 50s, the song was released both as a 78 RPM single and as a 45 RPM single. Eventually, the 78 market diminished and was overtaken by 45 RPMs as the medium of consumers’ choice for a variety of reasons – but primarily for fidelity reasons.

“Uncloudy Day” features Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his four children: Cleotha, Purvis, Yvonne, and Mavis. “Pops’” guitar, with the amp’s tremolo turned up, is the sole instrument on this recording. “Uncloudy Day” is a loose adaptation of Josiah Alwood’s 1885 composition “Unclouded Day.” Over 90% of the original’s lyrical content is missing and the arrangement is as far away from the original as possible. This truly is a Staples’ song, by and by.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: Bright Lights, Big City

Day Seven of our journey through Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records catalog and we bring you a little 12-bar blues by the legendary Jimmy Reed. Although one of Reed’s most popular numbers, “Bright Lights, Big City” only charted at #58 on the Hot 100. The song had a better showing on the R&B chart where it peaked at #3.

Recorded and released by Vee-Jay in 1961, the song features a duet between Reed and his wife Mary – who is otherwise known as “Mama” Reed. In addition to vocals, Reed plays a wicked high register harmonica lead in the key of “A” blues. Playing the harp, I’ve never mastered this upper register playing, but Reed certainly did.

Besides Jimmy and Mama Reed, it was truly a family affair as their son Jimmy, Jr. also plays guitar. Other musicians include second guitarist Lefty Bates, drummer Earl Phillips, and an unknown bassist. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognizes “Bright Lights, Big City” as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)

When Betty Everrett first heard “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” she was unenthused about it, as she thought was childish; however, it was one the bigger records of her career. It was only eclipsed by one other recording: her duet with Jerry Butler on “Let it be Me.” “The Shoop Shoop Song” peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #6, but was a #1 R&B record according to Cashbox.

One of several Vee-Jay label versions in use in 1964.
This one used a black Tollie label blank,

The song is reminiscent of the girl groups that had grown in popularity since 1962. Everett was backed by the Chicago group the Opals who performed on a number of Vee-Jay recordings. Although she had the most popular version of the tune in the 1960s, Everett was not the first to record the song.

Merry Clayton’s Original

A year earlier, Capitol Records released the song first recording of the tune by Merry Clayton who was backed by The Blossoms. The legendary Jack Nitzsche wrote the arrangement for Clayton.

While Clayton’s and Everett’s vocal arrangements are similar, the instrumental treatments are quite different. Later, Clayton would best be known as a backup vocalist for The Rolling Stones.

Ramona King’s Version

Released a week before Everett’s single in February 1964, Ramona King’s version on Warner Brothers stood to provide the most competition for Vee-Jay. This particular version was quite different from Clayton’s original and Everett’s treatment – it is almost Spectoresque in its arrangement and production.

King, who was formerly of the Fairlanes had previously recorded several sides for Lee Hazelwood’s Eden Records, was relatively unknown both then and now.

To combat any confusion with King’s release, Vee-Jay made the bold move to alter the song’s name. Both Clayton’ and King’s singles were issued with the original name Rudy Clark’s song: “It’s in His Kiss.” Vee-Jay decided to make the actual title parenthetical and accentuate the back-ups vocals of the Opals by calling the record “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).”

While neither Clayton’s nor King’s version charted, Betty Everett put “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” on the musical map. While Clayton and Everett both had stronger voices than King’s, Vee-Jay’s arrangement of the song was far superior to the two previous renditions of the song. The instrumental punctuation, the horns reminiscent of Perez Prado’s orchestra, and the clever use of a xylophone as a lead instrument make Everett’s version a standout recording.

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 its North American album release of “Thank You Girl.” To me the reverb is a bit over-the-top considering that the wet signal was in a different channel than the dry signal, and that sounds a bit odd at times. 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.