A History Of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs

Follow A History Of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs
Share on
Copy link to clipboard

A podcast which goes through the history of rock and roll music, one song at a time, starting in 1938 and ending up in 1999.

Andrew Hickey


    • May 6, 2021 LATEST EPISODE
    • weekdays NEW EPISODES
    • 32m AVG DURATION
    • 464 EPISODES


    Search for episodes from A History Of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs with a specific topic:

    Latest episodes from A History Of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs

    Episode 121: “The Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las

    Play Episode Listen Later May 6, 2021

    Episode one hundred and twenty-one of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “The Leader of the Pack”, the rise and fall of Red Bird Records, and the end of the death disc trend. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “California Sun” by the Rivieras. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 120: “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 27, 2021

    This week’s episode, the first on the new host, looks at “A Hard Day’s Night”, and the making of the film that would define music cinema for decades to come. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Tobacco Road” by the Nashville Teens. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Admin Note: Podcast Host Moved

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 14, 2021

    Hi This is a brief admin podcast to explain why a new episode of the podcast won’t be up for a few days, why the podcast wasn’t available for a couple of days, and also why some of you might have seen all the old episodes turn up again in your podcast app. On Monday, i woke up to find that the Recording Industry Association of America had made a DMCA complaint against episode 112, the episode on “She Loves You”, claiming that it violated copyright law. Now, of course, the podcast does not violate copyright law — everything I do is within fair use rules for the US and fair dealing rules for the EU and UK — but the DMCA is a stupid law that says that as soon as a complaint is received the host company has to take down a file until a counterclaim is made. I’d expected this kind of thing to happen sooner or later — while I stay clearly within the bounds of copyright law, the RIAA is known for sending bogus takedown notices, and I have always been willing to reedit episodes as soon as a complaint was made, just to avoid hassle. It’s something I factored into my plans, as a tiny podcaster doing a music history podcast. So it would have been fair if podbean had taken down that single episode — and I did an edited version removing all the music clips, so it could be restored. But instead of taking down that one episode, they took down the entire podcast, and refused to put it back online even though I’d reedited the one episode complained about. They also refused to answer my emails, kept replying to my tweets on the subject and deleting the replies when other people pointed out the absurdity of what they were saying, and eventually became actively abusive. It took two days of social media pressure for them to reverse their decision and put the podcast back, but obviously I can’t keep using them. So I have migrated the podcast to wordpress.com . The feed has already migrated here, and over the next few days I’ll be sorting out the website and getting the domain redirected. WordPress, unlike most hosting companies, takes freedom of speech seriously, and rejects invalid DMCA claims — and when it does receive a valid one it only takes down the infringing file, not the entire site. Dealing with Podbean’s incompetence and buffoonery has taken two full days — the days I had planned to spend recording and editing the next podcast episode — and I am going to have to spend more time getting the new website into shape, because images and formatting from old posts have been lost in the import. I also have a family commitment this weekend, so I won’t be able to get the new episode recorded until Sunday night — hopefully it will be up on Monday or Tuesday, and then I’ll be back to a regular posting schedule, all else being well. Anyway, everything is pretty much sorted now, but I would advise that anyone who worries that their podcast might receive a bogus or malicious DMCA complaint use literally any podcast host in the world except Podbean, unless you really enjoy having your blood pressure raised to dangerously high levels. For the next couple of days things might look a little shoddy on the website and so on, until things are totally sorted, so bear with me. Thanks for listening.

    Admin Note: Podcast Host Moved

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 14, 2021

    A quick admin note about why the podcast has changed hosts. Click through for the transcript. (more…)

    Episode 119: "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 6, 2021 40:29

    Episode one hundred and nineteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, and the song that first took distorted guitar to number one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.   Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "G.T.O." by Ronny and the Daytonas. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Resources As usual, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. I've used several resources for this and future episodes on the Kinks, most notably Ray Davies: A Complicated Life by Johnny Rogan and You Really Got Me by Nick Hasted. X-Ray by Ray Davies is a remarkable autobiography with a framing story set in a dystopian science-fiction future, while Kink by Dave Davies is more revealing but less well-written. The Anthology 1964-1971 is a great box set that covers the Kinks' Pye years, which overlap almost exactly with their period of greatest creativity. For those who don't want a full box set, this two-CD set covers all the big hits. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we're going to look at a record that has often been called "the first heavy metal record", one that introduced records dominated by heavy, distorted, guitar riffs to the top of the UK charts. We're going to look at the first singles by a group who would become second only to the Beatles among British groups in terms of the creativity of their recordings during the sixties, but who were always sabotaged by a record label more interested in short-term chart success than in artist development. We're going to look at the Kinks, and at "You Really Got Me": [Excerpt: The Kinks, "You Really Got Me"] The story of the Kinks starts with two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, the seventh and eighth children of a family that had previously had six girls in a row, most of them much older -- their oldest sister was twenty when Ray was born, and Dave was three years younger than Ray. The two brothers always had a difficult relationship, partly because of their diametrically opposed personalities. Ray was introverted, thoughtful, and notoriously selfish, while Dave was outgoing in the extreme, but also had an aggressive side to his nature. Ray, as someone who had previously been the youngest child and only boy, resented his younger brother coming along and taking the attention he saw as his by right, while Dave always looked up to his older brother but never really got to know him. Ray was always a quiet child, but he became more so after the event that was to alter the lives of the whole family in multiple ways forever. Rene, the second-oldest of his sisters, had been in an unhappy marriage and living in Canada with her husband, but moved back to the UK shortly before Ray's thirteenth birthday. Ray had been unsuccessfully pestering his parents to buy him a guitar for nearly a year, since Elvis had started to become popular, and on the night before his birthday, Rene gave him one as his birthday present. She then went out to a dance hall. She did this even though she'd had rheumatic fever as a child, which had given her a heart condition. The doctors had advised her to avoid all forms of exercise, but she loved dancing too much to give it up for anyone. She died that night, aged only thirty-one, and the last time Ray ever saw his sister was when she was giving him his guitar. For the next year, Ray was even more introverted than normal, to the point that he ended up actually seeing a child psychologist, which for a working-class child in the 1950s was something that was as far from the normal experience as it's possible to imagine. But even more than that, he became convinced that he was intended by fate to play the guitar. He started playing seriously, not just the pop songs of the time, though there were plenty of those, but also trying to emulate Chet Atkins. Pete Quaife would later recall that when they first played guitar together at school, while Quaife could do a passable imitation of Hank Marvin playing "Apache", Davies could do a note-perfect rendition of Atkins' version of "Malaguena": [Excerpt: Chet Atkins, "Malaguena"] Ray's newfound obsession with music also drew him closer to his younger brother, though there was something of a cynical motive in this closeness. Both boys got pocket money from their parents, but Dave looked up to his older brother and valued his opinion, so if Ray told him which were the good new records, Dave would go out and buy them -- and then Ray could play them, and spend his own money on other things.  And it wasn't just pop music that the two of them were getting into, either. A defining moment of inspiration for both brothers came when a sixteen-minute documentary about Big Bill Broonzy's tour of Belgium, Low Light and Blue Smoke, was shown on the TV: [Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, "When Did You Leave Heaven?"] Like Broonzy's earlier appearances on Six-Five Special, that film had a big impact on a lot of British musicians -- you'll see clips from it both in the Beatles Anthology and in a 1980s South Bank Show documentary on Eric Clapton -- but it particularly affected Ray Davies for two reasons. The first was that Ray, more than most people of his generation, respected the older generation's taste in music, and his father approved of Broonzy, saying he sounded like a real man, not like those high-voiced girly-sounding pop singers. The other reason was that Broonzy's performance sounded authentic to him. He said later that he thought that Broonzy sounded like him -- even though Broonzy was Black and American, he sounded *working class* (and unlike many of his contemporaries, Ray Davies did have a working-class background, rather than being comparatively privileged like say John Lennon or Mick Jagger were). Soon Ray and Dave were playing together as a duo, while Ray was also performing with two other kids from school, Pete Quaife and John Start, as a trio. Ray brought them all together, and they became the Ray Davies Quartet -- though sometimes, if Pete or Dave rather than Ray got them the booking, they would be the Pete Quaife Quartet or the Dave Davies Quartet. The group mostly performed instrumentals, with Dave particularly enjoying playing "No Trespassing" by the Ventures: [Excerpt: The Ventures, "No Trespassing"] Both Ray and Dave would sing sometimes, with Ray taking mellower, rockabilly, songs, while Dave would sing Little Richard and Lightnin' Hopkins material, but at first they thought they needed a lead singer. They tried with a few different people, including another pupil from the school they all went to who sang with them at a couple of gigs, but John Start's mother thought the young lad's raspy voice was so awful she wouldn't let them use her house to rehearse, and Ray didn't like having another big ego in the group, so Rod Stewart soon went back to the Moontrekkers and left them with no lead singer. But that was far from the worst problem the Davies brothers had. When Dave was fifteen, he got his sixteen-year-old girlfriend Susan pregnant. The two were very much in love, and wanted to get married, but both children's parents were horrified at the idea, and so each set of parents told their child that the other had dumped them and never wanted to see them again. Both believed what they were told, and Dave didn't see his daughter for thirty years. The trauma of this separation permanently changed him, and you can find echoes of it throughout Dave's songwriting in the sixties. Ray and Pete, after leaving school, went on to Hornsey Art School, where coincidentally Rod Stewart had also moved on to the year before, though Stewart had dropped out after a few weeks after discovering he was colour-blind. Quaife also dropped out of art school relatively soon after enrolling -- he was kicked out for "Teddy Boy behaviour", but his main problem was that he didn't feel comfortable as a working-class lad mixing with Bohemian middle-class people.  Ray, on the other hand, was in his element. While Ray grew up on a council estate and was thoroughly working-class, he had always had a tendency to want to climb the social ladder, and he was delighted to be surrounded by people who were interested in art and music, though his particular love at the time was the cinema, and he would regularly go to the college film society's showings of films by people like Bergman, Kurosawa and Truffaut, or silent films by Eisenstein or Griffith, though he would complain about having to pay a whole shilling for entry. Davies also starred in some now-lost experimental films made by the person who ran the film society, and also started branching out into playing with other people. After a gig at the art college, where Alexis Korner had been supported by the young Rolling Stones, Davies went up to Korner and asked him for advice about moving on in the music world. Korner recommended he go and see Giorgio Gomelsky, the promoter and manager who had put on most of the Stones' early gigs, and Gomelsky got Davies an audition with a group called the Dave Hunt Rhythm and Blues Band. Tom McGuinness had been offered a job with them before he went on to Manfred Mann, but McGuinness thought that the Dave Hunt band were too close to trad for his tastes. Davies, on the other hand, was perfectly happy playing trad along with the blues, and for a while it looked like the Ray Davies Quartet were over, as Ray was getting more prestigious gigs with the Dave Hunt group. Ray would later recall that the Dave Hunt band's repertoire included things like the old Meade Lux Lewis boogie piece "Honky Tonk Train Blues", which they would play in the style of Bob Crosby's Bobcats: [Excerpt: Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, "Honky Tonk Train Blues"] But while the group were extremely good musicians -- their soprano saxophone player, Lol Coxhill, would later become one of the most respected sax players in Britain and was a big part of the Canterbury Scene in the seventies -- Ray eventually decided to throw his lot in with his brother. While Ray had been off learning from these jazz musicians, Dave, Pete, and John had continued rehearsing together, and occasionally performing whenever Ray was free to join them. The group had by now renamed themselves the Ramrods, after a track by Duane Eddy, who was the first rock and roll musician Ray and Dave had see live: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, "Ramrod"] Dave had become a far more accomplished guitarist, now outshining his brother, and was also getting more into the London R&B scene. Ray later remembered that the thing that swung it for him was when Dave played him a record by Cyril Davies, "Country Line Special", which he thought of as a bridge between the kind of music he was playing with Dave Hunt and the kind of music he wanted to be playing, which he described as "Big Bill Broonzy with drums": [Excerpt: Cyril Davies, "Country Line Special"] That was, coincidentally, the first recording to feature the piano player Nicky Hopkins, who would later play a big part in the music Ray, Dave, and Pete would make.  But not John. Shortly after Ray got serious about the Ramrods -- who soon changed their name again to the Boll Weevils -- John Start decided it was time to grow up, get serious, give up the drums, and become a quantity surveyor. There were several factors in this decision, but a big one was that he simply didn't like Ray Davies, who he viewed as an unpleasant, troubled, person. Start was soon replaced by another drummer, Mickey Willett, and it was Willett who provided the connection that would change everything for the group. Willett was an experienced musician, who had contacts in the business, and so when a rich dilettante wannabe pop star named Robert Wace and his best friend and "manager" Grenville Collins were looking for a backing band for Wace, one of Willett's friends in the music business pointed them in the direction of the Boll Weevils.  Robert Wace offered the Boll Weevils a deal -- he could get them lucrative gigs playing at society functions for his rich friends, if they would allow him to do a couple of songs with them in the middle of the show. Wace even got Brian Epstein to come along and see a Boll Weevils rehearsal, but it wasn't exactly a success -- Mickey Willett had gone on holiday to Manchester that week, and the group were drummerless. Epstein said he was vaguely interested in signing Ray as a solo artist, but didn't want the group, and nothing further came of it. This is particularly odd because at the time Ray wasn't singing any solo leads. Robert Wace would sing his solo spot, Dave would take the lead vocals on most of the upbeat rockers, and Ray and Dave would sing unison leads on everything else. The group were soon favourites on the circuit of society balls, where their only real competition was Mike d'Abo's band A Band of Angels -- d'Abo had been to Harrow, and so was part of the upper class society in a way that the Boll Weevils weren't. However, the first time they tried to play a gig in front of an audience that weren't already friends of Wace, he was booed off stage. It became clear that there was no future for Robert Wace as a pop star, but there was a future for the Boll Weevils. They came to a deal -- Wace and Collins would manage the group, Collins would put in half his wages from his job as a stockbroker, and Wace and Collins would get fifty percent of the group's earnings. Wace and Collins funded the group recording a demo. They recorded two songs, the old Coasters song "I'm A Hog For You Baby": [Excerpt: The Boll Weevils, "I'm A Hog For You Baby"] and a Merseybeat pastiche written by Dave Davies, "I Believed You": [Excerpt: The Ravens, "I Believed You"] It shows how up in the air everything was that those tracks have since been released under two names -- at some point around the time of the recording session, the Boll Weevils changed their name yet again, to The Ravens, naming themselves after the recent film, starring Vincent Price, based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem. This lineup of the Ravens wasn't to last too long, though. Mickey Willett started to get suspicious about what was happening to all of the money, and became essentially the group's self-appointed shop steward, getting into constant rows with the management. Willett soon found himself edged out of the group by Wace and Collins, and the Ravens continued with a temporary drummer until they could find a permanent replacement. Wace and Collins started to realise that neither of them knew much about the music business, though, and so they turned elsewhere for help with managing the group. The person they turned to was Larry Page. This is not the Larry Page who would later co-found Google, rather he was someone who had had a brief career as an attempt at producing a British teen idol under the name "Larry Page, the Teenage Rage" -- a career that was somewhat sabotaged by his inability to sing, and by his producer's insistence that it would be a good idea to record this, as the original was so bad it would never be a hit in the UK: [Excerpt: Larry Page, "That'll be the Day"] After his career in music had come to an ignominious end, Page had briefly tried working in other fields, before going into management. He'd teamed up with Eddie Kassner, an Austrian songwriter who had written for Vera Lynn before going into publishing. Kassner had had the unbelievable fortune to buy the publishing rights for "Rock Around the Clock" for two hundred and fifty dollars, and had become incredibly rich, with offices in both London and New York.  Page and Kassner had entered into a complicated business arrangement by which Kassner got a percentage of Page's management income, Kassner would give Page's acts songs, and any song Page's acts wrote would be published by Kassner.  Kassner and Page had a third partner in their complicated arrangements -- independent producer Shel Talmy. Talmy had started out as an engineer in Los Angeles, and had come over to the UK for a few weeks in 1962 on holiday, and thought that while he was there he might as well see if he could get some work. Talmy was a good friend of Nik Venet, and Venet gave him a stack of acetates of recent Capitol records that he'd produced, and told him that he could pretend to have produced them if it got him work. Talmy took an acetate of "Surfin' Safari" by the Beach Boys, and one of "Music in the Air" by Lou Rawls, into Dick Rowe's office and told Rowe he had produced them. Sources differ over whether Rowe actually believed him, or if he just wanted anyone who had any experience of American recording studio techniques, but either way Rowe hired him to produce records for Decca as an independent contractor, and Talmy started producing hits like "Charmaine" by the Bachelors: [Excerpt: The Bachelors, "Charmaine"] Page, Kassner, Talmy, and Rowe all worked hand in glove with each other, with Page managing artists, Kassner publishing the songs they recorded, Talmy producing them and Rowe signing them to his record label. And so by contacting Page, Wace and Collins were getting in touch with a team that could pretty much guarantee the Ravens a record deal. They cut Page in on the management, signed Ray and Dave as songwriters for Kassner, and got Talmy to agree to produce the group. The only fly in the ointment was that Rowe, showing the same judgement he had shown over the Beatles, turned down the opportunity to sign the Ravens to Decca. They had already been turned down by EMI, and Phillips also turned them down, which meant that by default they ended up recording for Pye records, the same label as the Searchers. Around the time they signed to Pye, they also changed their name yet again, this time to the name that they would keep for the rest of their careers. In the wake of the Profumo sex scandal, and the rumours that went around as a result of it, including that a Cabinet minister had attended orgies as a slave with a sign round his neck saying to whip him if he displeased the guests, there started to be a public acknowledgement of the concept of BDSM, and "kinky" had become the buzzword of the day, with the fashionable boots worn by the leather-clad Honor Blackman in the TV show The Avengers being publicised as "kinky boots". Blackman and her co-star Patrick MacNee even put out a novelty single, "Kinky Boots", in February 1964: [Excerpt: Patrick MacNee and Honor Blackman, "Kinky Boots"] Page decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss, and that especially given the camp demeanour of both Dave Davies and Pete Quaife it would make sense to call the group "the Kinks", as a name that would generate plenty of outrage but was still just about broadcastable. None of the group liked the name, but they all went along with it, and so Ray, Dave, and Pete were now The Kinks. The ever-increasing team of people around them increased by one more when a promoter and booking agent got involved. Arthur Howes was chosen to be in charge of the newly-named Kinks' bookings primarily because he booked all the Beatles' gigs, and Wade and Collins wanted as much of the Beatles' reflected glory as they could get. Howes started booking the group in for major performances, and Ray finally quit art school -- though he still didn't think that he was going to have a huge amount of success as a pop star. He did, though, think that if he was lucky he could make enough money from six months of being a full time pop musician that he could move to Spain and take guitar lessons from Segovia. Pye had signed the Kinks to a three-single deal,  and Arthur Howes was the one who suggested what became their first single. Howes was in Paris with the Beatles in January 1964, and he noticed that one of the songs that was getting the biggest reaction was their cover version of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally", and that they hadn't yet recorded the song. He phoned Page from Paris, at enormous expense, and told him to get the Kinks into the studio and record the song straight away, because it was bound to be a hit for someone. The group worked up a version with Ray on lead, and recorded it three days later: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Long Tall Sally"] Ray later recollected that someone at the studio had said to him "Congratulations, you just made a flop", and they were correct -- the Kinks' version had none of the power of Little Richard's original or of the Beatles' version, and only scraped its way to number forty-two on the charts. As they had no permanent drummer, for that record, and for the next few they made, the Kinks were augmented by Bobby Graham, who had played for Joe Meek as one of Mike Berry and the Outlaws before becoming one of the two main on-call session drummers in the UK, along with fellow Meek alumnus Clem Cattini. Graham is now best known for having done all the drumming credited to Dave Clark on records by the Dave Clark Five such as "Bits and Pieces": [Excerpt: The Dave Clark Five, "Bits and Pieces"] It's also been reported by various people, notably Shel Talmy, that the session guitarist Jimmy Page played Ray Davies' rhythm parts for him on most of the group's early recordings, although other sources dispute that, including Ray himself who insists that he played the parts. What's definitely not in doubt is that Dave Davies played all the lead guitar. However, the group needed a full-time drummer. Dave Davies wanted to get his friend Viv Prince, the drummer of the Pretty Things, into the group, but when Prince wasn't available they turned instead to Mick Avory, who they found through an ad in the Melody Maker. Avory had actually been a member of the Rolling Stones for a very brief period, but had decided he didn't want to be a full-time drummer, and had quit before they got Charlie Watts in.  Avory was chosen by Ray and the management team, and Dave Davies took an instant dislike to him, partly because Ray liked Avory, but accepted that he was the best drummer available.  Avory wouldn't play on the next few records -- Talmy liked to use musicians he knew, and Avory was a bit of an unknown quantity -- but he was available for the group's first big tour, playing on the bottom of the bill with the Dave Clark Five and the Hollies further up, and their first TV appearance, on Ready Steady Go. That tour saw the group getting a little bit of notice, but mostly being dismissed as being a clone of the Rolling Stones, because like the Stones they were relying on the same set of R&B standards that all the London R&B bands played, and the Stones were the most obvious point of reference for that kind of music for most people. Arthur Howes eventually sent someone up to work on the Kinks' stage act with them, and to get them into a more showbiz shape, but the person in question didn't get very far before Graham Nash of the Hollies ordered him to leave the Kinks alone, saying they were "OK as they are". Meanwhile, Larry Page was working with both Ray and Dave as potential songwriters, and using their songs for other acts in the Page/Kassner/Talmy stable of artists. With Talmy producing, Shel Naylor recorded Dave's "One Fine Day", a song which its writer dismisses as a throwaway but is actually quite catchy: [Excerpt: Shel Naylor, "One Fine Day"] And Talmy also recorded a girl group called The Orchids, singing Ray's "I've Got That Feeling": [Excerpt: The Orchids, "I've Got That Feeling"] Page also co-wrote a couple of instrumentals with Ray, who was the brother who was more eager to learn the craft of songwriting -- at this point, Dave seemed to find it something of a chore. Page saw it as his job at this point to teach the brothers how to write -- he had a whole set of ideas about what made for a hit song, and chief among them was that it had to make a connection between the singer and the audience. He told the brothers that they needed to write songs with the words "I", "Me", and "You" in the title, and repeat those words as much as possible.  This was something that Ray did on the song that became the group's next single, "You Still Want Me", a Merseybeat pastiche that didn't even do as well as the group's first record: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "You Still Want Me"] The group were now in trouble. They'd had two flop singles in a row, on a three-single contract. It seemed entirely likely that the label would drop them after the next single. Luckily for them, they had a song that they knew was a winner. Ray had come up with the basic melody for "You Really Got Me" many years earlier. The song had gone through many changes over the years, and had apparently started off as a jazz piano piece inspired by Gerry Mulligan's performance in the classic documentary Jazz On A Summer's Day: [Excerpt: Gerry Mulligan, "As Catch Can"] From there it had apparently mutated first into a Chet Atkins style guitar instrumental and then into a piece in the style of Mose Allison, the jazz and R&B singer who was a huge influence on the more Mod end of the British R&B scene with records like "Parchman Farm": [Excerpt: Mose Allison, "Parchman Farm"] Through all of this, the basic melody had remained  the same, as had the two chords that underpinned the whole thing. But the song's final form was shaped to a large extent by the advice of Larry Page. As well as the "you" and "me" based lyrics, Page had also advised Ray that as he wasn't a great singer at this point, what the group needed to do was to concentrate on riffs. In particular, he'd pointed Ray to "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen, which had recently been released in the UK on Pye, the same label the Kinks were signed to, and told him to do something like that: [Excerpt: The Kingsmen, "Louie Louie"] Ray was instantly inspired by "Louie Louie", which the Kinks quickly added to their own set, and he retooled his old melody in its image, coming up with a riff to go under it. It seems also to have been Page who made one minor change to the lyric of the song. Where Ray had started the song with the line "Yeah, you really got me going," Page suggested that instead he sing "Girl, you really got me going", partly to increase that sense of connection with the audience again, partly to add a tiny bit of variety to the repetitive lyrics, but also partly because the group's sexuality was already coming in for some question -- Dave Davies is bisexual, and Ray has always been keen to play around with notions of gender and sexuality. Starting with the word "girl" might help reassure people about that somewhat. But the final touch that turned it into one of the great classics came from Dave, rather than Ray. Dave had been frustrated with the sound he was getting from his amplifier, and had slashed the cone with a knife. He then fed the sound from that slashed amp through his new, larger, amp, to get a distorted, fuzzy, sound which was almost unknown in Britain at the time. We've heard examples of fuzz guitar before in this series, of course -- on "Rocket '88", and on some of the Johnny Burnette Rock 'n' Roll Trio records, and most recently last week on Ellie Greenwich's demo of "Do-Wah-Diddy", but those had been odd one-offs. Dave Davies' reinvention of the sound seems to be the point where it becomes a standard part of the rock guitar toolbox -- but it's very rarely been done as well as it was on "You Really Got Me": [Excerpt: The Kinks, "You Really Got Me"] But that introduction, and the classic record that followed, nearly never happened. The original recording of "You Really Got Me" has been lost, but it was apparently very different. Ray and Dave Davies have said that Shel Talmy overproduced it, turning it into a Phil Spector soundalike, and drenched the whole thing with echo. Talmy, for his part, says that that's not the case -- that the main difference was that the song was taken much slower, and that it was a very different but equally valid take on the song.  Ray, in particular, was devastated by the result, and didn't want it released. Pye were insistent -- they had a contract, and they were going to put this record out whatever the performers said. But luckily the group's management had faith in their singer's vision. Larry Page insisted that as he and Kassner owned the publishing, the record couldn't come out in the state it was in, and Robert Wace paid for a new recording session out of his own pocket. The group, plus Bobby Graham, piano player Arthur Greenslade, and Talmy, went back into the studio. The first take of the new session was a dud, and Ray worried that Talmy would end the session then and there, but he allowed them to do a second take. And that second take was extraordinary. Going into the solo, Ray yelled "Oh no!" with excitement, looking over at Dave, and became convinced that he'd distracted Dave at the crucial moment. Instead, he delivered one of the defining solos of the rock genre: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "You Really Got Me"] "You Really Got Me" was released on the fourth of August 1964, and became a smash hit, reaching number one in September. It was also released in the US, and made the top ten over there. The Kinks were suddenly huge, and Pye Records quickly exercised their option -- so quickly, that the group needed to get an album recorded by the end of August. The resulting album is, as one might expect, a patchy affair, made up mostly of poor R&B covers, but there were some interesting moments, and one song from the album in particular, "Stop Your Sobbing", showed a giant leap forward in Ray's songwriting: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Stop Your Sobbing"] There may be a reason for that. "Stop Your Sobbing" features backing vocals by someone new to the Kinks' circle, Ray's new girlfriend Rasa Didzpetris, who would become a regular feature on the group's records for the next decade. And when we next look at the Kinks, we'll see some of the influence she had on the group.

    Episode 119: “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 5, 2021

    Episode one hundred and nineteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, and the song that first took distorted guitar to number one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “G.T.O.” by Ronny and the Daytonas. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As usual, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. I’ve used several resources for this and future episodes on the Kinks, most notably Ray Davies: A Complicated Life by Johnny Rogan and You Really Got Me by Nick Hasted. X-Ray by Ray Davies is a remarkable autobiography with a framing story set in a dystopian science-fiction future, while Kink by Dave Davies is more revealing but less well-written. The Anthology 1964-1971 is a great box set that covers the Kinks’ Pye years, which overlap almost exactly with their period of greatest creativity. For those who don’t want a full box set, this two-CD set covers all the big hits. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we’re going to look at a record that has often been called “the first heavy metal record”, one that introduced records dominated by heavy, distorted, guitar riffs to the top of the UK charts. We’re going to look at the first singles by a group who would become second only to the Beatles among British groups in terms of the creativity of their recordings during the sixties, but who were always sabotaged by a record label more interested in short-term chart success than in artist development. We’re going to look at the Kinks, and at “You Really Got Me”: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”] The story of the Kinks starts with two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, the seventh and eighth children of a family that had previously had six girls in a row, most of them much older — their oldest sister was twenty when Ray was born, and Dave was three years younger than Ray. The two brothers always had a difficult relationship, partly because of their diametrically opposed personalities. Ray was introverted, thoughtful, and notoriously selfish, while Dave was outgoing in the extreme, but also had an aggressive side to his nature. Ray, as someone who had previously been the youngest child and only boy, resented his younger brother coming along and taking the attention he saw as his by right, while Dave always looked up to his older brother but never really got to know him. Ray was always a quiet child, but he became more so after the event that was to alter the lives of the whole family in multiple ways forever. Rene, the second-oldest of his sisters, had been in an unhappy marriage and living in Canada with her husband, but moved back to the UK shortly before Ray’s thirteenth birthday. Ray had been unsuccessfully pestering his parents to buy him a guitar for nearly a year, since Elvis had started to become popular, and on the night before his birthday, Rene gave him one as his birthday present. She then went out to a dance hall. She did this even though she’d had rheumatic fever as a child, which had given her a heart condition. The doctors had advised her to avoid all forms of exercise, but she loved dancing too much to give it up for anyone. She died that night, aged only thirty-one, and the last time Ray ever saw his sister was when she was giving him his guitar. For the next year, Ray was even more introverted than normal, to the point that he ended up actually seeing a child psychologist, which for a working-class child in the 1950s was something that was as far from the normal experience as it’s possible to imagine. But even more than that, he became convinced that he was intended by fate to play the guitar. He started playing seriously, not just the pop songs of the time, though there were plenty of those, but also trying to emulate Chet Atkins. Pete Quaife would later recall that when they first played guitar together at school, while Quaife could do a passable imitation of Hank Marvin playing “Apache”, Davies could do a note-perfect rendition of Atkins’ version of “Malaguena”: [Excerpt: Chet Atkins, “Malaguena”] Ray’s newfound obsession with music also drew him closer to his younger brother, though there was something of a cynical motive in this closeness. Both boys got pocket money from their parents, but Dave looked up to his older brother and valued his opinion, so if Ray told him which were the good new records, Dave would go out and buy them — and then Ray could play them, and spend his own money on other things. And it wasn’t just pop music that the two of them were getting into, either. A defining moment of inspiration for both brothers came when a sixteen-minute documentary about Big Bill Broonzy’s tour of Belgium, Low Light and Blue Smoke, was shown on the TV: [Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, “When Did You Leave Heaven?”] Like Broonzy’s earlier appearances on Six-Five Special, that film had a big impact on a lot of British musicians — you’ll see clips from it both in the Beatles Anthology and in a 1980s South Bank Show documentary on Eric Clapton — but it particularly affected Ray Davies for two reasons. The first was that Ray, more than most people of his generation, respected the older generation’s taste in music, and his father approved of Broonzy, saying he sounded like a real man, not like those high-voiced girly-sounding pop singers. The other reason was that Broonzy’s performance sounded authentic to him. He said later that he thought that Broonzy sounded like him — even though Broonzy was Black and American, he sounded *working class* (and unlike many of his contemporaries, Ray Davies did have a working-class background, rather than being comparatively privileged like say John Lennon or Mick Jagger were). Soon Ray and Dave were playing together as a duo, while Ray was also performing with two other kids from school, Pete Quaife and John Start, as a trio. Ray brought them all together, and they became the Ray Davies Quartet — though sometimes, if Pete or Dave rather than Ray got them the booking, they would be the Pete Quaife Quartet or the Dave Davies Quartet. The group mostly performed instrumentals, with Dave particularly enjoying playing “No Trespassing” by the Ventures: [Excerpt: The Ventures, “No Trespassing”] Both Ray and Dave would sing sometimes, with Ray taking mellower, rockabilly, songs, while Dave would sing Little Richard and Lightnin’ Hopkins material, but at first they thought they needed a lead singer. They tried with a few different people, including another pupil from the school they all went to who sang with them at a couple of gigs, but John Start’s mother thought the young lad’s raspy voice was so awful she wouldn’t let them use her house to rehearse, and Ray didn’t like having another big ego in the group, so Rod Stewart soon went back to the Moontrekkers and left them with no lead singer. But that was far from the worst problem the Davies brothers had. When Dave was fifteen, he got his sixteen-year-old girlfriend Susan pregnant. The two were very much in love, and wanted to get married, but both children’s parents were horrified at the idea, and so each set of parents told their child that the other had dumped them and never wanted to see them again. Both believed what they were told, and Dave didn’t see his daughter for thirty years. The trauma of this separation permanently changed him, and you can find echoes of it throughout Dave’s songwriting in the sixties. Ray and Pete, after leaving school, went on to Hornsey Art School, where coincidentally Rod Stewart had also moved on to the year before, though Stewart had dropped out after a few weeks after discovering he was colour-blind. Quaife also dropped out of art school relatively soon after enrolling — he was kicked out for “Teddy Boy behaviour”, but his main problem was that he didn’t feel comfortable as a working-class lad mixing with Bohemian middle-class people. Ray, on the other hand, was in his element. While Ray grew up on a council estate and was thoroughly working-class, he had always had a tendency to want to climb the social ladder, and he was delighted to be surrounded by people who were interested in art and music, though his particular love at the time was the cinema, and he would regularly go to the college film society’s showings of films by people like Bergman, Kurosawa and Truffaut, or silent films by Eisenstein or Griffith, though he would complain about having to pay a whole shilling for entry. Davies also starred in some now-lost experimental films made by the person who ran the film society, and also started branching out into playing with other people. After a gig at the art college, where Alexis Korner had been supported by the young Rolling Stones, Davies went up to Korner and asked him for advice about moving on in the music world. Korner recommended he go and see Giorgio Gomelsky, the promoter and manager who had put on most of the Stones’ early gigs, and Gomelsky got Davies an audition with a group called the Dave Hunt Rhythm and Blues Band. Tom McGuinness had been offered a job with them before he went on to Manfred Mann, but McGuinness thought that the Dave Hunt band were too close to trad for his tastes. Davies, on the other hand, was perfectly happy playing trad along with the blues, and for a while it looked like the Ray Davies Quartet were over, as Ray was getting more prestigious gigs with the Dave Hunt group. Ray would later recall that the Dave Hunt band’s repertoire included things like the old Meade Lux Lewis boogie piece “Honky Tonk Train Blues”, which they would play in the style of Bob Crosby’s Bobcats: [Excerpt: Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, “Honky Tonk Train Blues”] But while the group were extremely good musicians — their soprano saxophone player, Lol Coxhill, would later become one of the most respected sax players in Britain and was a big part of the Canterbury Scene in the seventies — Ray eventually decided to throw his lot in with his brother. While Ray had been off learning from these jazz musicians, Dave, Pete, and John had continued rehearsing together, and occasionally performing whenever Ray was free to join them. The group had by now renamed themselves the Ramrods, after a track by Duane Eddy, who was the first rock and roll musician Ray and Dave had see live: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Ramrod”] Dave had become a far more accomplished guitarist, now outshining his brother, and was also getting more into the London R&B scene. Ray later remembered that the thing that swung it for him was when Dave played him a record by Cyril Davies, “Country Line Special”, which he thought of as a bridge between the kind of music he was playing with Dave Hunt and the kind of music he wanted to be playing, which he described as “Big Bill Broonzy with drums”: [Excerpt: Cyril Davies, “Country Line Special”] That was, coincidentally, the first recording to feature the piano player Nicky Hopkins, who would later play a big part in the music Ray, Dave, and Pete would make. But not John. Shortly after Ray got serious about the Ramrods — who soon changed their name again to the Boll Weevils — John Start decided it was time to grow up, get serious, give up the drums, and become a quantity surveyor. There were several factors in this decision, but a big one was that he simply didn’t like Ray Davies, who he viewed as an unpleasant, troubled, person. Start was soon replaced by another drummer, Mickey Willett, and it was Willett who provided the connection that would change everything for the group. Willett was an experienced musician, who had contacts in the business, and so when a rich dilettante wannabe pop star named Robert Wace and his best friend and “manager” Grenville Collins were looking for a backing band for Wace, one of Willett’s friends in the music business pointed them in the direction of the Boll Weevils. Robert Wace offered the Boll Weevils a deal — he could get them lucrative gigs playing at society functions for his rich friends, if they would allow him to do a couple of songs with them in the middle of the show. Wace even got Brian Epstein to come along and see a Boll Weevils rehearsal, but it wasn’t exactly a success — Mickey Willett had gone on holiday to Manchester that week, and the group were drummerless. Epstein said he was vaguely interested in signing Ray as a solo artist, but didn’t want the group, and nothing further came of it. This is particularly odd because at the time Ray wasn’t singing any solo leads. Robert Wace would sing his solo spot, Dave would take the lead vocals on most of the upbeat rockers, and Ray and Dave would sing unison leads on everything else. The group were soon favourites on the circuit of society balls, where their only real competition was Mike d’Abo’s band A Band of Angels — d’Abo had been to Harrow, and so was part of the upper class society in a way that the Boll Weevils weren’t. However, the first time they tried to play a gig in front of an audience that weren’t already friends of Wace, he was booed off stage. It became clear that there was no future for Robert Wace as a pop star, but there was a future for the Boll Weevils. They came to a deal — Wace and Collins would manage the group, Collins would put in half his wages from his job as a stockbroker, and Wace and Collins would get fifty percent of the group’s earnings. Wace and Collins funded the group recording a demo. They recorded two songs, the old Coasters song “I’m A Hog For You Baby”: [Excerpt: The Boll Weevils, “I’m A Hog For You Baby”] and a Merseybeat pastiche written by Dave Davies, “I Believed You”: [Excerpt: The Ravens, “I Believed You”] It shows how up in the air everything was that those tracks have since been released under two names — at some point around the time of the recording session, the Boll Weevils changed their name yet again, to The Ravens, naming themselves after the recent film, starring Vincent Price, based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem. This lineup of the Ravens wasn’t to last too long, though. Mickey Willett started to get suspicious about what was happening to all of the money, and became essentially the group’s self-appointed shop steward, getting into constant rows with the management. Willett soon found himself edged out of the group by Wace and Collins, and the Ravens continued with a temporary drummer until they could find a permanent replacement. Wace and Collins started to realise that neither of them knew much about the music business, though, and so they turned elsewhere for help with managing the group. The person they turned to was Larry Page. This is not the Larry Page who would later co-found Google, rather he was someone who had had a brief career as an attempt at producing a British teen idol under the name “Larry Page, the Teenage Rage” — a career that was somewhat sabotaged by his inability to sing, and by his producer’s insistence that it would be a good idea to record this, as the original was so bad it would never be a hit in the UK: [Excerpt: Larry Page, “That’ll be the Day”] After his career in music had come to an ignominious end, Page had briefly tried working in other fields, before going into management. He’d teamed up with Eddie Kassner, an Austrian songwriter who had written for Vera Lynn before going into publishing. Kassner had had the unbelievable fortune to buy the publishing rights for “Rock Around the Clock” for two hundred and fifty dollars, and had become incredibly rich, with offices in both London and New York. Page and Kassner had entered into a complicated business arrangement by which Kassner got a percentage of Page’s management income, Kassner would give Page’s acts songs, and any song Page’s acts wrote would be published by Kassner. Kassner and Page had a third partner in their complicated arrangements — independent producer Shel Talmy. Talmy had started out as an engineer in Los Angeles, and had come over to the UK for a few weeks in 1962 on holiday, and thought that while he was there he might as well see if he could get some work. Talmy was a good friend of Nik Venet, and Venet gave him a stack of acetates of recent Capitol records that he’d produced, and told him that he could pretend to have produced them if it got him work. Talmy took an acetate of “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys, and one of “Music in the Air” by Lou Rawls, into Dick Rowe’s office and told Rowe he had produced them. Sources differ over whether Rowe actually believed him, or if he just wanted anyone who had any experience of American recording studio techniques, but either way Rowe hired him to produce records for Decca as an independent contractor, and Talmy started producing hits like “Charmaine” by the Bachelors: [Excerpt: The Bachelors, “Charmaine”] Page, Kassner, Talmy, and Rowe all worked hand in glove with each other, with Page managing artists, Kassner publishing the songs they recorded, Talmy producing them and Rowe signing them to his record label. And so by contacting Page, Wace and Collins were getting in touch with a team that could pretty much guarantee the Ravens a record deal. They cut Page in on the management, signed Ray and Dave as songwriters for Kassner, and got Talmy to agree to produce the group. The only fly in the ointment was that Rowe, showing the same judgement he had shown over the Beatles, turned down the opportunity to sign the Ravens to Decca. They had already been turned down by EMI, and Phillips also turned them down, which meant that by default they ended up recording for Pye records, the same label as the Searchers. Around the time they signed to Pye, they also changed their name yet again, this time to the name that they would keep for the rest of their careers. In the wake of the Profumo sex scandal, and the rumours that went around as a result of it, including that a Cabinet minister had attended orgies as a slave with a sign round his neck saying to whip him if he displeased the guests, there started to be a public acknowledgement of the concept of BDSM, and “kinky” had become the buzzword of the day, with the fashionable boots worn by the leather-clad Honor Blackman in the TV show The Avengers being publicised as “kinky boots”. Blackman and her co-star Patrick MacNee even put out a novelty single, “Kinky Boots”, in February 1964: [Excerpt: Patrick MacNee and Honor Blackman, “Kinky Boots”] Page decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss, and that especially given the camp demeanour of both Dave Davies and Pete Quaife it would make sense to call the group “the Kinks”, as a name that would generate plenty of outrage but was still just about broadcastable. None of the group liked the name, but they all went along with it, and so Ray, Dave, and Pete were now The Kinks. The ever-increasing team of people around them increased by one more when a promoter and booking agent got involved. Arthur Howes was chosen to be in charge of the newly-named Kinks’ bookings primarily because he booked all the Beatles’ gigs, and Wade and Collins wanted as much of the Beatles’ reflected glory as they could get. Howes started booking the group in for major performances, and Ray finally quit art school — though he still didn’t think that he was going to have a huge amount of success as a pop star. He did, though, think that if he was lucky he could make enough money from six months of being a full time pop musician that he could move to Spain and take guitar lessons from Segovia. Pye had signed the Kinks to a three-single deal, and Arthur Howes was the one who suggested what became their first single. Howes was in Paris with the Beatles in January 1964, and he noticed that one of the songs that was getting the biggest reaction was their cover version of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”, and that they hadn’t yet recorded the song. He phoned Page from Paris, at enormous expense, and told him to get the Kinks into the studio and record the song straight away, because it was bound to be a hit for someone. The group worked up a version with Ray on lead, and recorded it three days later: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “Long Tall Sally”] Ray later recollected that someone at the studio had said to him “Congratulations, you just made a flop”, and they were correct — the Kinks’ version had none of the power of Little Richard’s original or of the Beatles’ version, and only scraped its way to number forty-two on the charts. As they had no permanent drummer, for that record, and for the next few they made, the Kinks were augmented by Bobby Graham, who had played for Joe Meek as one of Mike Berry and the Outlaws before becoming one of the two main on-call session drummers in the UK, along with fellow Meek alumnus Clem Cattini. Graham is now best known for having done all the drumming credited to Dave Clark on records by the Dave Clark Five such as “Bits and Pieces”: [Excerpt: The Dave Clark Five, “Bits and Pieces”] It’s also been reported by various people, notably Shel Talmy, that the session guitarist Jimmy Page played Ray Davies’ rhythm parts for him on most of the group’s early recordings, although other sources dispute that, including Ray himself who insists that he played the parts. What’s definitely not in doubt is that Dave Davies played all the lead guitar. However, the group needed a full-time drummer. Dave Davies wanted to get his friend Viv Prince, the drummer of the Pretty Things, into the group, but when Prince wasn’t available they turned instead to Mick Avory, who they found through an ad in the Melody Maker. Avory had actually been a member of the Rolling Stones for a very brief period, but had decided he didn’t want to be a full-time drummer, and had quit before they got Charlie Watts in. Avory was chosen by Ray and the management team, and Dave Davies took an instant dislike to him, partly because Ray liked Avory, but accepted that he was the best drummer available. Avory wouldn’t play on the next few records — Talmy liked to use musicians he knew, and Avory was a bit of an unknown quantity — but he was available for the group’s first big tour, playing on the bottom of the bill with the Dave Clark Five and the Hollies further up, and their first TV appearance, on Ready Steady Go. That tour saw the group getting a little bit of notice, but mostly being dismissed as being a clone of the Rolling Stones, because like the Stones they were relying on the same set of R&B standards that all the London R&B bands played, and the Stones were the most obvious point of reference for that kind of music for most people. Arthur Howes eventually sent someone up to work on the Kinks’ stage act with them, and to get them into a more showbiz shape, but the person in question didn’t get very far before Graham Nash of the Hollies ordered him to leave the Kinks alone, saying they were “OK as they are”. Meanwhile, Larry Page was working with both Ray and Dave as potential songwriters, and using their songs for other acts in the Page/Kassner/Talmy stable of artists. With Talmy producing, Shel Naylor recorded Dave’s “One Fine Day”, a song which its writer dismisses as a throwaway but is actually quite catchy: [Excerpt: Shel Naylor, “One Fine Day”] And Talmy also recorded a girl group called The Orchids, singing Ray’s “I’ve Got That Feeling”: [Excerpt: The Orchids, “I’ve Got That Feeling”] Page also co-wrote a couple of instrumentals with Ray, who was the brother who was more eager to learn the craft of songwriting — at this point, Dave seemed to find it something of a chore. Page saw it as his job at this point to teach the brothers how to write — he had a whole set of ideas about what made for a hit song, and chief among them was that it had to make a connection between the singer and the audience. He told the brothers that they needed to write songs with the words “I”, “Me”, and “You” in the title, and repeat those words as much as possible. This was something that Ray did on the song that became the group’s next single, “You Still Want Me”, a Merseybeat pastiche that didn’t even do as well as the group’s first record: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Still Want Me”] The group were now in trouble. They’d had two flop singles in a row, on a three-single contract. It seemed entirely likely that the label would drop them after the next single. Luckily for them, they had a song that they knew was a winner. Ray had come up with the basic melody for “You Really Got Me” many years earlier. The song had gone through many changes over the years, and had apparently started off as a jazz piano piece inspired by Gerry Mulligan’s performance in the classic documentary Jazz On A Summer’s Day: [Excerpt: Gerry Mulligan, “As Catch Can”] From there it had apparently mutated first into a Chet Atkins style guitar instrumental and then into a piece in the style of Mose Allison, the jazz and R&B singer who was a huge influence on the more Mod end of the British R&B scene with records like “Parchman Farm”: [Excerpt: Mose Allison, “Parchman Farm”] Through all of this, the basic melody had remained the same, as had the two chords that underpinned the whole thing. But the song’s final form was shaped to a large extent by the advice of Larry Page. As well as the “you” and “me” based lyrics, Page had also advised Ray that as he wasn’t a great singer at this point, what the group needed to do was to concentrate on riffs. In particular, he’d pointed Ray to “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, which had recently been released in the UK on Pye, the same label the Kinks were signed to, and told him to do something like that: [Excerpt: The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”] Ray was instantly inspired by “Louie Louie”, which the Kinks quickly added to their own set, and he retooled his old melody in its image, coming up with a riff to go under it. It seems also to have been Page who made one minor change to the lyric of the song. Where Ray had started the song with the line “Yeah, you really got me going,” Page suggested that instead he sing “Girl, you really got me going”, partly to increase that sense of connection with the audience again, partly to add a tiny bit of variety to the repetitive lyrics, but also partly because the group’s sexuality was already coming in for some question — Dave Davies is bisexual, and Ray has always been keen to play around with notions of gender and sexuality. Starting with the word “girl” might help reassure people about that somewhat. But the final touch that turned it into one of the great classics came from Dave, rather than Ray. Dave had been frustrated with the sound he was getting from his amplifier, and had slashed the cone with a knife. He then fed the sound from that slashed amp through his new, larger, amp, to get a distorted, fuzzy, sound which was almost unknown in Britain at the time. We’ve heard examples of fuzz guitar before in this series, of course — on “Rocket ’88”, and on some of the Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio records, and most recently last week on Ellie Greenwich’s demo of “Do-Wah-Diddy”, but those had been odd one-offs. Dave Davies’ reinvention of the sound seems to be the point where it becomes a standard part of the rock guitar toolbox — but it’s very rarely been done as well as it was on “You Really Got Me”: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”] But that introduction, and the classic record that followed, nearly never happened. The original recording of “You Really Got Me” has been lost, but it was apparently very different. Ray and Dave Davies have said that Shel Talmy overproduced it, turning it into a Phil Spector soundalike, and drenched the whole thing with echo. Talmy, for his part, says that that’s not the case — that the main difference was that the song was taken much slower, and that it was a very different but equally valid take on the song. Ray, in particular, was devastated by the result, and didn’t want it released. Pye were insistent — they had a contract, and they were going to put this record out whatever the performers said. But luckily the group’s management had faith in their singer’s vision. Larry Page insisted that as he and Kassner owned the publishing, the record couldn’t come out in the state it was in, and Robert Wace paid for a new recording session out of his own pocket. The group, plus Bobby Graham, piano player Arthur Greenslade, and Talmy, went back into the studio. The first take of the new session was a dud, and Ray worried that Talmy would end the session then and there, but he allowed them to do a second take. And that second take was extraordinary. Going into the solo, Ray yelled “Oh no!” with excitement, looking over at Dave, and became convinced that he’d distracted Dave at the crucial moment. Instead, he delivered one of the defining solos of the rock genre: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”] “You Really Got Me” was released on the fourth of August 1964, and became a smash hit, reaching number one in September. It was also released in the US, and made the top ten over there. The Kinks were suddenly huge, and Pye Records quickly exercised their option — so quickly, that the group needed to get an album recorded by the end of August. The resulting album is, as one might expect, a patchy affair, made up mostly of poor R&B covers, but there were some interesting moments, and one song from the album in particular, “Stop Your Sobbing”, showed a giant leap forward in Ray’s songwriting: [Excerpt: The Kinks, “Stop Your Sobbing”] There may be a reason for that. “Stop Your Sobbing” features backing vocals by someone new to the Kinks’ circle, Ray’s new girlfriend Rasa Didzpetris, who would become a regular feature on the group’s records for the next decade. And when we next look at the Kinks, we’ll see some of the influence she had on the group.

    Episode 119: “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 5, 2021

    Episode one hundred and nineteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, and the song that first took distorted guitar to number one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “G.T.O.” by Ronny and the Daytonas. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 118: "Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy" by Manfred Mann

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 28, 2021 49:27

    Episode 118 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy" by Manfred Mann, and how a jazz group with a blues singer had one of the biggest bubblegum pop hits of the sixties. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a thirteen-minute bonus episode available, on "Walk on By" by Dionne Warwick. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Resources No Mixcloud this week due to the number of tracks by Manfred Mann. Information on the group comes from Mannerisms: The Five Phases of Manfred Mann, by Greg Russo, and from the liner notes of this eleven-CD box set of the group's work. For a much cheaper collection of the group's hits -- but without the jazz, blues, and baroque pop elements that made them more interesting than the average sixties singles band -- this has all the hit singles. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript: So far, when we've looked at the British blues and R&B scene, we've concentrated on the bands who were influenced by Chicago blues, and who kept to a straightforward guitar/bass/drums lineup. But there was another, related, branch of the blues scene in Britain that was more musically sophisticated, and which while its practitioners certainly enjoyed playing songs by Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, was also rooted in the jazz of people like Mose Allison. Today we're going to look at one of those bands, and at the intersection of jazz and the British R&B scene, and how a jazz band with a flute player and a vibraphonist briefly became bubblegum pop idols. We're going to look at "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" by Manfred Mann: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy"] Manfred Mann is, annoyingly when writing about the group, the name of both a band and of one of its members. Manfred Mann the human being, as opposed to Manfred Mann the group, was born Manfred Lubowitz in South Africa, and while he was from a wealthy family, he was very opposed to the vicious South African system of apartheid, and considered himself strongly anti-racist. He was also a lover of jazz music, especially some of the most progressive music being made at the time -- musicians like Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and John Coltrane -- and he soon became a very competent jazz pianist, playing with musicians like Hugh Masakela at a time when that kind of fraternisation between people of different races was very much frowned upon in South Africa. Manfred desperately wanted to get out of South Africa, and he took his chance in June 1961, at the last point at which he was a Commonwealth citizen. The Commonwealth, for those who don't know, is a political association of countries that were originally parts of the British Empire, and basically replaced the British Empire when the former colonies gained their independence. These days, the Commonwealth is of mostly symbolic importance, but in the fifties and sixties, as the Empire was breaking up, it was considered a real power in its own right, and in particular, until some changes to immigration law in the mid sixties, Commonwealth citizens had the right to move to the UK.  At that point, South Africa had just voted to become a republic, and there was a rule in the Commonwealth that countries with a head of state other than the Queen could only remain in the Commonwealth with the unanimous agreement of all the other members. And several of the other member states, unsurprisingly, objected to the continued membership of a country whose entire system of government was based on the most virulent racism imaginable. So, as soon as South Africa became a republic, it lost its Commonwealth membership, and that meant that its citizens lost their automatic right to emigrate to the UK. But they were given a year's grace period, and so Manfred took that chance and moved over to England, where he started playing jazz keyboards, giving piano lessons, and making some money on the side by writing record reviews. For those reviews, rather than credit himself as Manfred Lubowitz, he decided to use a pseudonym taken from the jazz drummer Shelly Manne, and he became Manfred Manne -- spelled with a silent e on the end, which he later dropped. Mann was rather desperate for gigs, and he ended up taking a job playing with a band at a Butlin's holiday camp. Graham Bond, who we've seen in several previous episodes as the leader of The Graham Bond Organisation, was at that time playing Hammond organ there, but only wanted to play a few days a week. Mann became the substitute keyboard player for that holiday camp band, and struck up a good musical rapport with the drummer and vibraphone player, Mike Hugg. When Bond went off to form his own band, Mann and Hugg decided to form their own band along the same lines, mixing the modern jazz that they liked with the more commercial R&B that Bond was playing.  They named their group the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, and it initially consisted of Mann on keyboards, Hugg on drums and vibraphone, Mike Vickers on guitar, flute, and saxophone, Dave Richmond on bass, Tony Roberts and Don Fay on saxophone and Ian Fenby on trumpet. As their experiences were far more in the jazz field than in blues, they decided that they needed to get in a singer who was more familiar with the blues side of things. The person they chose was a singer who was originally named Paul Pond, and who had been friends for a long time with Brian Jones, before Jones had formed the Rolling Stones. While Jones had been performing under the name Elmo Lewis, his friend had taken on Jones' surname, as he thought "Paul Pond" didn't sound like a good name for a singer. He'd first kept his initials, and performed as P.P. Jones, but then he'd presumably realised that "pee-pee" is probably not the best stage name in the world, and so he'd become just Paul Jones, the name by which he's known to this day. Jones, like his friend Brian, was a fan particularly of Chicago blues, and he had occasionally appeared with Alexis Korner. After auditioning for the group at a ska club called The Roaring 20s, Jones became the group's lead singer and harmonica player, and the group soon moved in Jones' musical direction, playing the kind of Chicago blues that was popular at the Marquee club, where they soon got a residency, rather than the soul style that was more popular at the nearby Flamingo club, and which would be more expected from a horn-centric lineup. Unsurprisingly, given this, the horn players soon left, and the group became a five-piece core of Jones, Mann, Hugg, Vickers, and Richmond. This group was signed to HMV records by John Burgess. Burgess was a producer who specialised in music of a very different style from what the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers played. We've already heard some of his production work -- he was the producer for Adam Faith from "What Do You Want?" on: [Excerpt: Adam Faith, "What Do You Want?"] And at the time he signed the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, he was just starting to work with a new group, Freddie and the Dreamers, for whom he would produce several hits: [Excerpt: Freddie and the Dreamers, "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody"] Burgess liked the group, but he insisted that they had to change their name -- and in fact, he insisted that the group change their name to Manfred Mann. None of the group members liked the idea -- even Mann himself thought that this seemed a little unreasonable, and Paul Jones in particular disagreed strongly with the idea, but they were all eventually mollified by the idea that all the publicity would emphasise that all five of them were equal members of the group, and that while the group might be named after their keyboard player, there were five members. The group members themselves always referred to themselves as "the Manfreds" rather than as Manfred Mann. The group's first single showed that despite having become a blues band and then getting produced by a pop producer, they were still at heart a jazz group. "Why Should We Not?" is an instrumental led by Vickers' saxophone, Mann's organ, and Jones' harmonica: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Why Should We Not?"] Unsurprisingly, neither that nor the B-side, a jazz instrumental version of "Frere Jacques", charted -- Britain in 1963 wanted Gerry and the Pacemakers and Freddie and the Dreamers, not jazz instrumentals. The next single, an R&B song called "Cock-A-Hoop" written by Jones, did little better. The group's big breakthrough came from Ready, Steady, Go!, which at this point was using "Wipe Out!" by the Surfaris as its theme song: [Excerpt: The Surfaris, "Wipe Out"] We've mentioned Ready, Steady, Go! in passing in previous episodes, but it was the most important pop music show of the early and mid sixties, just as Oh Boy! had been for the late fifties. Ready, Steady, Go! was, in principle at least, a general pop music programme, but in practice it catered primarily for the emerging mod subculture. "Mod" stood for "modernist", and the mods emerged from the group of people who liked modern jazz rather than trad, but by this point their primary musical interests were in soul and R&B. Mod was a working-class subculture, based in the South-East of England, especially London, and spurred on by the newfound comparative affluence of the early sixties, when for the first time young working-class people, while still living in poverty, had a small amount of disposable income to spend on clothes, music, and drugs. The Mods had a very particular sense of style, based around sharp Italian suits, pop art and op art, and Black American music or white British imitations of it. For them, music was functional, and primarily existed for the purposes of dancing, and many of them would take large amounts of amphetamines so they could spend the entire weekend at clubs dancing to soul and R&B music. And that entire weekend would kick off on Friday with Ready, Steady, Go!, whose catchphrase was "the weekend starts here!" Ready, Steady, Go! featured almost every important pop act of the early sixties, but while groups like Gerry and the Pacemakers or the Beatles would appear on it, it became known for its promotion of Black artists, and it was the first major British TV exposure for Motown artists like the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Marvelettes, for Stax artists like Otis Redding, and for blues artists like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Ready Steady Go! was also the primary TV exposure for British groups who were inspired by those artists, and it's through Ready Steady Go! that the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Them, and the Who, among others reached national popularity -- all of them acts that were popular among the Mods in particular. But "Wipe Out" didn't really fit with this kind of music, and so the producers of Ready Steady Go were looking for something more suitable for their theme music. They'd already tried commissioning the Animals to record something, as we saw a couple of weeks back, but that hadn't worked out, and instead they turned to Manfred Mann, who came up with a song that not only perfectly fit the style of the show, but also handily promoted the group themselves: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "5-4-3-2-1"] That was taken on as Ready, Steady, Go!s theme song, and made the top five in the UK. But by the time it charted, the group had already changed lineup. Dave Richmond was seen by the other members of the group as a problem at this point. Richmond was a great bass player, but he was a great *jazz* bass player -- he wanted to be Charles Mingus, and play strange cross-rhythms, and what the group needed at this point was someone who would just play straightforward blues basslines without complaint -- they needed someone closer to Willie Dixon than to Mingus. Tom McGuinness, who replaced him, had already had a rather unusual career trajectory. He'd started out as a satirist, writing for the magazine Private Eye and the TV series That Was The Week That Was, one of the most important British comedy shows of the sixties, but he had really wanted to be a blues musician instead. He'd formed a blues band, The Roosters, with a guitarist who went to art school with his girlfriend, and they'd played a few gigs around London before the duo had been poached by the minor Merseybeat band Casey Jones and his Engineers, a group which had been formed by Brian Casser, formerly of Cass & The Cassanovas, the group that had become The Big Three. Casey Jones and his Engineers had just released the single "One Way Ticket": [Excerpt: Casey Jones and His Engineers, "One-Way Ticket"] However, the two guitarists soon realised, after just a handful of gigs, that they weren't right for that group, and quit. McGuinness' friend, Eric Clapton, went on to join the Yardbirds, and we'll be hearing more about him in a few weeks' time, but McGuinness was at a loose end, until he discovered that Manfred Mann were looking for a bass player. McGuinness was a guitarist, but bluffed to Paul Jones that he'd switched to bass, and got the job. He said later that the only question he'd been asked when interviewed by the group was "are you willing to play simple parts?" -- as he'd never played bass in his life until the day of his first gig with the group, he was more than happy to say yes to that. McGuinness joined only days after the recording of "5-4-3-2-1", and Richmond was out -- though he would have a successful career as a session bass player, playing on, among others, "Je t'Aime" by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, "Your Song" by Elton John, Labi Siffre's "It Must Be Love", and the music for the long-running sitcoms Only Fools and Horses and Last of the Summer Wine. As soon as McGuinness joined, the group set out on tour, to promote their new hit, but also to act as the backing group for the Crystals, on a tour which also featured Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and Joe Brown and his Bruvvers.  The group's next single, "Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble" was another original, and made number eleven on the charts, but the group saw it as a failure anyway, to the extent that they tried their best to forget it ever existed. In researching this episode I got an eleven-CD box set of the group's work, which contains every studio album or compilation they released in the sixties, a collection of their EPs, and a collection of their BBC sessions. In all eleven CDs, "Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble" doesn't appear at all. Which is quite odd, as it's a perfectly serviceable, if unexceptional, piece of pop R&B: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble"] But it's not just the group that were unimpressed with the record. John Burgess thought that the record only getting to number eleven was proof of his hypothesis that groups should not put out their own songs as singles. From this point on, with one exception in 1968, everything they released as an A-side would be a cover version or a song brought to them by a professional songwriter. This worried Jones, who didn't want to be forced to start singing songs he disliked, which he saw as a very likely outcome of this edict. So he made it his role in the group to seek out records that the group could cover, which would be commercial enough that they could get hit singles from them, but which would be something he could sing while keeping his self-respect. His very first selection certainly met the first criterion. The song which would become their biggest hit had very little to do with the R&B or jazz which had inspired the group. Instead, it was a perfect piece of Brill Building pop. The Exciters, who originally recorded it, were one of the great girl groups of the early sixties (though they also had one male member), and had already had quite an influence on pop music. They had been discovered by Leiber and Stoller, who had signed them to Red Bird Records, a label we'll be looking at in much more detail in an upcoming episode, and they'd had a hit in 1962 with a Bert Berns song, "Tell Him", which made the top five: [Excerpt: The Exciters, "Tell Him"] That record had so excited a young British folk singer who was in the US at the time to record an album with her group The Springfields that she completely reworked her entire style, went solo, and kickstarted a solo career singing pop-soul songs under the name Dusty Springfield. The Exciters never had another top forty hit, but they became popular enough among British music lovers that the Beatles asked them to open for them on their American tour in summer 1964. Most of the Exciters' records were of songs written by the more R&B end of the Brill Building songwriters -- they would record several more Bert Berns songs, and some by Ritchie Barrett, but the song that would become their most well-known legacy was actually written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Like many of Barry and Greenwich's songs, it was based around a nonsense phrase, but in this case the phrase they used had something of a longer history, though it's not apparent whether they fully realised that. In African-American folklore of the early twentieth century, the imaginary town of Diddy Wah Diddy was something like a synonym for heaven, or for the Big Rock Candy Mountain of the folk song -- a place where people didn't have to work, and where food was free everywhere. This place had been sung about in many songs, like Blind Blake's "Diddie Wah Diddie": [Excerpt: Blind Blake, "Diddie Wah Diddie"] And a song written by Willie Dixon for Bo Diddley: [Excerpt: Bo Diddley, "Diddy Wah Diddy"] And "Diddy" and "Wah" had often been used by other Black artists, in various contexts, like Roy Brown and Dave Bartholomew's "Diddy-Y-Diddy-O": [Excerpt: Roy Brown and Dave Bartholomew, "Diddy-Y-Diddy-O"] And Junior and Marie's "Boom Diddy Wah Wah", a "Ko Ko Mo" knockoff produced by Johnny Otis: [Excerpt: Junior and Marie, "Boom Diddy Wah Wah"]  So when Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote "Do-Wah-Diddy", as the song was originally called, they were, wittingly or not, tapping into a rich history of rhythm and blues music. But the song as Greenwich demoed it was one of the first examples of what would become known as "bubblegum pop", and is particularly notable in her demo for its very early use of the fuzz guitar that would be a stylistic hallmark of that subgenre: [Excerpt: Ellie Greenwich, "Do-Wah-Diddy (demo)"] The Exciters' version of the song took it into more conventional girl-group territory, with a strong soulful vocal, but with the group's backing vocal call-and-response chant showing up the song's resemblance to the kind of schoolyard chanting games which were, of course, the basis of the very first girl group records: [Excerpt: The Exciters, "Do-Wah-Diddy"] Sadly, that record only reached number seventy-eight on the charts, and the Exciters would have no more hits in the US, though a later lineup of the group would make the UK top forty in 1975 with a song written and produced by the Northern Soul DJ Ian Levine. But in 1964 Jones had picked up on "Do-Wah-Diddy", and knew it was a potential hit. Most of the group weren't very keen on "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", as the song was renamed. There are relatively few interviews with any of them about it, but from what I can gather the only member of the band who thought anything much of the song was Paul Jones. However, the group did their best with the recording, and were particularly impressed with Manfred's Hammond organ solo -- which they later discovered was cut out of the finished recording by Burgess. The result was an organ-driven stomping pop song which had more in common with the Dave Clark Five than with anything else the group were doing: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy"] The record reached number one in both the UK and the US, and the group immediately went on an American tour, packaged with Peter & Gordon, a British duo who were having some success at the time because Peter Asher's sister was dating Paul McCartney, who'd given them a hit song, "World Without Love": [Excerpt: Peter and Gordon, "World Without Love"] The group found the experience of touring the US a thoroughly miserable one, and decided that they weren't going to bother going back again, so while they would continue to have big hits in Britain for the rest of the decade, they only had a few minor successes in the States. After the success of "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", EMI rushed out an album by the group, The Five Faces of Manfred Mann, which must have caused some confusion for anyone buying it in the hope of more "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" style pop songs. Half the album's fourteen tracks were covers of blues and R&B, mostly by Chess artists -- there were covers of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Ike & Tina Turner, and more. There were also five originals, written or co-written by Jones, in the same style as those songs, plus a couple of instrumentals, one written by the group and one a cover of Cannonball Adderly's jazz classic "Sack O'Woe", arranged to show off the group's skills at harmonica, saxophone, piano and vibraphone: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Sack O'Woe"] However, the group realised that the formula they'd hit on with "Do  Wah Diddy Diddy" was a useful one, and so for their next single they once again covered a girl-group track with a nonsense-word chorus and title -- their version of "Sha La La" by the Shirelles took them to number three on the UK charts, and number twelve in the US. They followed that with a ballad, "Come Tomorrow", one of the few secular songs ever recorded by Marie Knight, the gospel singer who we discussed briefly way back in episode five, who was Sister Rosetta Tharpe's duet partner, and quite possibly her partner in other senses. They released several more singles and were consistently charting, to the point that they actually managed to get a top ten hit with a self-written song despite their own material not being considered worth putting out as singles. Paul Jones had written "The One in the Middle" for his friends the Yardbirds, but when they turned it down, he rewrote the song to be about Manfred Mann, and especially about himself: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "The One in the Middle"] Like much of their material, that was released on an EP, and the EP was so successful that as well as making number one on the EP charts, it also made number ten on the regular charts, with "The One in the Middle" as the lead-off track. But "The One in the Middle" was a clue to something else as well -- Jones was getting increasingly annoyed at the fact that the records the group was making were hits, and he was the frontman, the lead singer, the person picking the cover versions, and the writer of much of the original material, but all the records were getting credited to the group's keyboard player.  But Jones wasn't the next member of the group to leave. That was Mike Vickers, who went off to work in arranging film music and session work, including some work for the Beatles, the music for the film Dracula AD 1972, and the opening and closing themes for This Week in Baseball. The last single the group released while Vickers was a member was the aptly-titled "If You Gotta Go, Go Now". Mann had heard Bob Dylan performing that song live, and had realised that the song had never been released. He'd contacted Dylan's publishers, got hold of a demo, and the group became the first to release a version of the song, making number two in the charts: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"] Before Vickers' departure, the group had recorded their second album, Mann Made, and that had been even more eclectic than the first album, combining versions of blues classics like "Stormy Monday Blues", Motown songs like "The Way You Do The Things You Do", country covers like "You Don't Know Me", and oddities like "Bare Hugg", an original jazz instrumental for flute and vibraphone: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Bare Hugg"] McGuinness took the opportunity of Vickers leaving the group to switch from bass back to playing guitar, which had always been his preferred instrument. To fill in the gap, on Graham Bond's recommendation they hired away Jack Bruce, who had just been playing in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with McGuinness' old friend Eric Clapton, and it's Bruce who played bass on the group's next big hit, "Pretty Flamingo", the only UK number one that Bruce ever played on: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Pretty Flamingo"] Bruce stayed with the band for several months, before going off to play in another band who we'll be covering in a future episode. He was replaced in turn by Klaus Voorman. Voorman was an old friend of the Beatles from their Hamburg days, who had been taught the rudiments of bass by Stuart Sutcliffe, and had formed a trio, Paddy, Klaus, and Gibson, with two Merseybeat musicians, Paddy Chambers of the Big Three and Gibson Kemp of Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes: [Excerpt: Paddy, Klaus, and Gibson, "No Good Without You Baby"] Like Vickers, Voorman could play the flute, and his flute playing would become a regular part of the group's later singles. These lineup changes didn't affect the group as either a chart act or as an act who were playing a huge variety of different styles of music. While the singles were uniformly catchy pop, on album tracks, B-sides or EPs you'd be likely to find versions of folk songs collected by Alan Lomax, like "John Hardy", or things like "Driva Man", a blues song about slavery in 5/4 time, originally by the jazz greats Oscar Brown and Max Roach: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Driva Man"] But by the time that track was released, Paul Jones was out of the group. He actually announced his intention to quit the group at the same time that Mike Vickers left, but the group had persuaded him to stay on for almost a year while they looked for his replacement, auditioning singers like Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry with little success. They eventually decided on Mike d'Abo, who had previously been the lead singer of a group called A Band of Angels: [Excerpt: A Band of Angels, "(Accept My) Invitation"] By the point d'Abo joined, relations  between the rest of the group and Jones were so poor that they didn't tell Jones that they were thinking of d'Abo -- Jones would later recollect that the group decided to stop at a pub on the way to a gig, ostensibly to watch themselves on TV, but actually to watch A Band of Angels on the same show, without explaining to Jones that that was what they were doing – Jones actually mentioned d'Abo to his bandmates as a possible replacement, not realising he was already in the group. Mann has talked about how on the group's last show with Jones, they drove to the gig in silence, and their first single with the new singer, a version of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman", came on the radio. There was a lot of discomfort in the band at this time, because their record label had decided to stick with Jones as a solo performer, and the rest of the group had had to find another label, and were worried that without Jones their career was over. Luckily for everyone involved, "Just Like a Woman" made the top ten, and the group's career was able to continue. Meanwhile, Jones' first single as a solo artist made the top five: [Excerpt: Paul Jones, "High Time"] But after that and his follow-up, "I've Been a Bad, Bad, Boy", which made number five, the best he could do was to barely scrape the top forty. Manfred Mann, on the other hand, continued having hits, though there was a constant struggle to find new material. d'Abo was himself a songwriter, and it shows the limitations of the "no A-sides by group members" rule that while d'Abo was the lead singer of Manfred Mann, he wrote two hit singles which the group never recorded. The first, "Handbags and Gladrags", was a hit for Chris Farlowe: [Excerpt: Chris Farlowe, "Handbags and Gladrags"] That was only a minor hit, but was later recorded successfully by Rod Stewart, with d'Abo arranging, and the Stereophonics. d'Abo also co-wrote, and played piano on, "Build Me Up Buttercup" by the Foundations: [Excerpt: The Foundations, "Build Me Up Buttercup"] But the group continued releasing singles written by other people.  Their second post-Jones single, from the perspective of a spurned lover insulting their ex's new fiancee, had to have its title changed from what the writers intended, as the group felt that a song insulting "semi-detached suburban Mr. Jones" might be taken the wrong way. Lightly retitled, "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James" made number two, while the follow-up, "Ha Ha! Said the Clown", made number four. The two singles after that did significantly less well, though, and seemed to be quite bizarre choices -- an instrumental Hammond organ version of Tommy Roe's "Sweet Pea", which made number thirty-six, and a version of Randy Newman's bitterly cynical "So Long, Dad", which didn't make the charts at all. After this lack of success, the group decided to go back to what had worked for them before. They'd already had two hits with Dylan songs, and Mann had got hold of a copy of Dylan's Basement Tapes, a bootleg which we'll be talking about later. He picked up on one song from it, and got permission to release "The Mighty Quinn", which became the group's third number one: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "The Mighty Quinn"] The album from which that came, Mighty Garvey, is the closest thing the group came to an actual great album. While the group's earlier albums were mostly blues covers, this was mostly made up of original material by either Hugg or d'Abo, in a pastoral baroque pop style that invites comparisons to the Kinks or the Zombies' material of that period, but with a self-mocking comedy edge in several songs that was closer to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Probably the highlight of the album was the mellotron-driven "It's So Easy Falling": [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "It's So Easy Falling"] But Mighty Garvey didn't chart, and it was the last gasp of the group as a creative entity. They had three more top-ten hits, all of them good examples of their type, but by January 1969, Tom McGuinness was interviewed saying "It's not a group any more. It's just five people who come together to make hit singles. That's the only aim of the group at the moment -- to make hit singles -- it's the only reason the group exists. Commercial success is very important to the group. It gives us financial freedom to do the things we want." The group split up in 1969, and went their separate ways. d'Abo appeared on the original Jesus Christ Superstar album, and then went into writing advertising jingles, most famously writing "a finger of fudge is just enough" for Cadbury's. McGuinness formed McGuinness Flint, with the songwriters Gallagher and Lyle, and had a big hit with "When I'm Dead and Gone": [Excerpt: McGuinness Flint, "When I'm Dead and Gone"] He later teamed up again with Paul Jones, to form a blues band imaginatively named "the Blues Band", who continue performing to this day: [Excerpt: The Blues Band, "Mean Ol' Frisco"] Jones became a born-again Christian in the eighties, and also starred in a children's TV show, Uncle Jack, and presented the BBC Radio 2 Blues Programme for thirty-two years. Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg formed another group, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, who released two albums before splitting. Hugg went on from that to write for TV and films, most notably writing the theme music to "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?": [Excerpt: Highly Likely, "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?"] Mann went on to form Manfred Mann's Earth Band, who had a number of hits, the biggest of which was the Bruce Springsteen song "Blinded by the Light": [Excerpt: Manfred Mann's Earth Band, "Blinded by the Light"] Almost uniquely for a band from the early sixties, all the members of the classic lineup of Manfred Mann are still alive. Manfred Mann continues to perform with various lineups of his Earth Band. Hugg, Jones, McGuinness, and d'Abo reunited as The Manfreds in the 1990s, with Vickers also in the band until 1999, and continue to tour together -- I still have a ticket to see them which was originally for a show in April 2020, but has just been rescheduled to 2022. McGuinness and Jones also still tour with the Blues Band. And Mike Vickers now spends his time creating experimental animations.  Manfred Mann were a band with too many musical interests to have a coherent image, and their reliance on outside songwriters and their frequent lineup changes meant that they never had the consistent sound of many of their contemporaries. But partly because of this, they created a catalogue that rewards exploration in a way that several more well-regarded bands' work doesn't, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a major critical reassessment of them at some point. But whether that happens or not, almost sixty years on people around the world still respond instantly to the opening bars of their biggest hit, and "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" remains one of the most fondly remembered singles of the early sixties.

    tv american chicago black history england uk british dad dead italian woman bbc south africa cd britain baseball walk angels beatles boy band states empire animals wolf pirates zombies bond richmond trouble hamburg south african bob dylan cds rolling stones elton john bruce springsteen paul mccartney horses clown commonwealth haha bbc radio fool southeast eps motown dreamers engineers chess you don klaus eric clapton crystals paddy temptations mod gallagher british empire rod stewart hammond kinks unsurprisingly emi steady black american randy newman john coltrane greenwich big three jesus christ superstar supremes tilt british tv manfred blinded rock music otis redding muddy waters roaring flamingo mods dionne warwick oh boy burgess cadbury whatever happened serge gainsbourg wah wipeout brian jones so long roosters john lee hooker private eye stax dusty springfield bo diddley charles mingus casey jones ornette coleman marquee yardbirds paul jones jane birkin what do you want know me manfred mann hmv howlin vickers sister rosetta tharpe john mayall lightly alan lomax sweet pea handbags jack bruce pacemakers stoller stereophonics only fools just like shirelles willie dixon peter gordon mose allison mingus your song joe brown go now tony roberts leiber marvelettes mcguinness dave clark five uncle jack sonny boy williamson peter asher brill building summer wine blues band john hardy earth band bluesbreakers basement tapes glad rags hugg bonzo dog doo dah band labi siffre mighty quinn merseybeat blind blake john burgess roy brown surfaris jeff barry tommy roe dave bartholomew ellie greenwich long john baldry it must be love likely lads manfreds big rock candy mountain butlin greg russo bert berns exciters dracula ad stuart sutcliffe shelly manne springfields five faces klaus voorman marie knight that was the week that was transcript so oscar brown build me up buttercup come tomorrow mike vickers tilt araiza
    Episode 118: “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” by Manfred Mann

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 28, 2021

    Episode 118 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” by Manfred Mann, and how a jazz group with a blues singer had one of the biggest bubblegum pop hits of the sixties. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a thirteen-minute bonus episode available, on “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources No Mixcloud this week due to the number of tracks by Manfred Mann. Information on the group comes from Mannerisms: The Five Phases of Manfred Mann, by Greg Russo, and from the liner notes of this eleven-CD box set of the group’s work. For a much cheaper collection of the group’s hits — but without the jazz, blues, and baroque pop elements that made them more interesting than the average sixties singles band — this has all the hit singles. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript: So far, when we’ve looked at the British blues and R&B scene, we’ve concentrated on the bands who were influenced by Chicago blues, and who kept to a straightforward guitar/bass/drums lineup. But there was another, related, branch of the blues scene in Britain that was more musically sophisticated, and which while its practitioners certainly enjoyed playing songs by Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, was also rooted in the jazz of people like Mose Allison. Today we’re going to look at one of those bands, and at the intersection of jazz and the British R&B scene, and how a jazz band with a flute player and a vibraphonist briefly became bubblegum pop idols. We’re going to look at “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”] Manfred Mann is, annoyingly when writing about the group, the name of both a band and of one of its members. Manfred Mann the human being, as opposed to Manfred Mann the group, was born Manfred Lubowitz in South Africa, and while he was from a wealthy family, he was very opposed to the vicious South African system of apartheid, and considered himself strongly anti-racist. He was also a lover of jazz music, especially some of the most progressive music being made at the time — musicians like Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and John Coltrane — and he soon became a very competent jazz pianist, playing with musicians like Hugh Masakela at a time when that kind of fraternisation between people of different races was very much frowned upon in South Africa. Manfred desperately wanted to get out of South Africa, and he took his chance in June 1961, at the last point at which he was a Commonwealth citizen. The Commonwealth, for those who don’t know, is a political association of countries that were originally parts of the British Empire, and basically replaced the British Empire when the former colonies gained their independence. These days, the Commonwealth is of mostly symbolic importance, but in the fifties and sixties, as the Empire was breaking up, it was considered a real power in its own right, and in particular, until some changes to immigration law in the mid sixties, Commonwealth citizens had the right to move to the UK.  At that point, South Africa had just voted to become a republic, and there was a rule in the Commonwealth that countries with a head of state other than the Queen could only remain in the Commonwealth with the unanimous agreement of all the other members. And several of the other member states, unsurprisingly, objected to the continued membership of a country whose entire system of government was based on the most virulent racism imaginable. So, as soon as South Africa became a republic, it lost its Commonwealth membership, and that meant that its citizens lost their automatic right to emigrate to the UK. But they were given a year’s grace period, and so Manfred took that chance and moved over to England, where he started playing jazz keyboards, giving piano lessons, and making some money on the side by writing record reviews. For those reviews, rather than credit himself as Manfred Lubowitz, he decided to use a pseudonym taken from the jazz drummer Shelly Manne, and he became Manfred Manne — spelled with a silent e on the end, which he later dropped. Mann was rather desperate for gigs, and he ended up taking a job playing with a band at a Butlin’s holiday camp. Graham Bond, who we’ve seen in several previous episodes as the leader of The Graham Bond Organisation, was at that time playing Hammond organ there, but only wanted to play a few days a week. Mann became the substitute keyboard player for that holiday camp band, and struck up a good musical rapport with the drummer and vibraphone player, Mike Hugg. When Bond went off to form his own band, Mann and Hugg decided to form their own band along the same lines, mixing the modern jazz that they liked with the more commercial R&B that Bond was playing.  They named their group the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, and it initially consisted of Mann on keyboards, Hugg on drums and vibraphone, Mike Vickers on guitar, flute, and saxophone, Dave Richmond on bass, Tony Roberts and Don Fay on saxophone and Ian Fenby on trumpet. As their experiences were far more in the jazz field than in blues, they decided that they needed to get in a singer who was more familiar with the blues side of things. The person they chose was a singer who was originally named Paul Pond, and who had been friends for a long time with Brian Jones, before Jones had formed the Rolling Stones. While Jones had been performing under the name Elmo Lewis, his friend had taken on Jones’ surname, as he thought “Paul Pond” didn’t sound like a good name for a singer. He’d first kept his initials, and performed as P.P. Jones, but then he’d presumably realised that “pee-pee” is probably not the best stage name in the world, and so he’d become just Paul Jones, the name by which he’s known to this day. Jones, like his friend Brian, was a fan particularly of Chicago blues, and he had occasionally appeared with Alexis Korner. After auditioning for the group at a ska club called The Roaring 20s, Jones became the group’s lead singer and harmonica player, and the group soon moved in Jones’ musical direction, playing the kind of Chicago blues that was popular at the Marquee club, where they soon got a residency, rather than the soul style that was more popular at the nearby Flamingo club, and which would be more expected from a horn-centric lineup. Unsurprisingly, given this, the horn players soon left, and the group became a five-piece core of Jones, Mann, Hugg, Vickers, and Richmond. This group was signed to HMV records by John Burgess. Burgess was a producer who specialised in music of a very different style from what the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers played. We’ve already heard some of his production work — he was the producer for Adam Faith from “What Do You Want?” on: [Excerpt: Adam Faith, “What Do You Want?”] And at the time he signed the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, he was just starting to work with a new group, Freddie and the Dreamers, for whom he would produce several hits: [Excerpt: Freddie and the Dreamers, “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody”] Burgess liked the group, but he insisted that they had to change their name — and in fact, he insisted that the group change their name to Manfred Mann. None of the group members liked the idea — even Mann himself thought that this seemed a little unreasonable, and Paul Jones in particular disagreed strongly with the idea, but they were all eventually mollified by the idea that all the publicity would emphasise that all five of them were equal members of the group, and that while the group might be named after their keyboard player, there were five members. The group members themselves always referred to themselves as “the Manfreds” rather than as Manfred Mann. The group’s first single showed that despite having become a blues band and then getting produced by a pop producer, they were still at heart a jazz group. “Why Should We Not?” is an instrumental led by Vickers’ saxophone, Mann’s organ, and Jones’ harmonica: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Why Should We Not?”] Unsurprisingly, neither that nor the B-side, a jazz instrumental version of “Frere Jacques”, charted — Britain in 1963 wanted Gerry and the Pacemakers and Freddie and the Dreamers, not jazz instrumentals. The next single, an R&B song called “Cock-A-Hoop” written by Jones, did little better. The group’s big breakthrough came from Ready, Steady, Go!, which at this point was using “Wipe Out!” by the Surfaris as its theme song: [Excerpt: The Surfaris, “Wipe Out”] We’ve mentioned Ready, Steady, Go! in passing in previous episodes, but it was the most important pop music show of the early and mid sixties, just as Oh Boy! had been for the late fifties. Ready, Steady, Go! was, in principle at least, a general pop music programme, but in practice it catered primarily for the emerging mod subculture. “Mod” stood for “modernist”, and the mods emerged from the group of people who liked modern jazz rather than trad, but by this point their primary musical interests were in soul and R&B. Mod was a working-class subculture, based in the South-East of England, especially London, and spurred on by the newfound comparative affluence of the early sixties, when for the first time young working-class people, while still living in poverty, had a small amount of disposable income to spend on clothes, music, and drugs. The Mods had a very particular sense of style, based around sharp Italian suits, pop art and op art, and Black American music or white British imitations of it. For them, music was functional, and primarily existed for the purposes of dancing, and many of them would take large amounts of amphetamines so they could spend the entire weekend at clubs dancing to soul and R&B music. And that entire weekend would kick off on Friday with Ready, Steady, Go!, whose catchphrase was “the weekend starts here!” Ready, Steady, Go! featured almost every important pop act of the early sixties, but while groups like Gerry and the Pacemakers or the Beatles would appear on it, it became known for its promotion of Black artists, and it was the first major British TV exposure for Motown artists like the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Marvelettes, for Stax artists like Otis Redding, and for blues artists like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Ready Steady Go! was also the primary TV exposure for British groups who were inspired by those artists, and it’s through Ready Steady Go! that the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Them, and the Who, among others reached national popularity — all of them acts that were popular among the Mods in particular. But “Wipe Out” didn’t really fit with this kind of music, and so the producers of Ready Steady Go were looking for something more suitable for their theme music. They’d already tried commissioning the Animals to record something, as we saw a couple of weeks back, but that hadn’t worked out, and instead they turned to Manfred Mann, who came up with a song that not only perfectly fit the style of the show, but also handily promoted the group themselves: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “5-4-3-2-1”] That was taken on as Ready, Steady, Go!s theme song, and made the top five in the UK. But by the time it charted, the group had already changed lineup. Dave Richmond was seen by the other members of the group as a problem at this point. Richmond was a great bass player, but he was a great *jazz* bass player — he wanted to be Charles Mingus, and play strange cross-rhythms, and what the group needed at this point was someone who would just play straightforward blues basslines without complaint — they needed someone closer to Willie Dixon than to Mingus. Tom McGuinness, who replaced him, had already had a rather unusual career trajectory. He’d started out as a satirist, writing for the magazine Private Eye and the TV series That Was The Week That Was, one of the most important British comedy shows of the sixties, but he had really wanted to be a blues musician instead. He’d formed a blues band, The Roosters, with a guitarist who went to art school with his girlfriend, and they’d played a few gigs around London before the duo had been poached by the minor Merseybeat band Casey Jones and his Engineers, a group which had been formed by Brian Casser, formerly of Cass & The Cassanovas, the group that had become The Big Three. Casey Jones and his Engineers had just released the single “One Way Ticket”: [Excerpt: Casey Jones and His Engineers, “One-Way Ticket”] However, the two guitarists soon realised, after just a handful of gigs, that they weren’t right for that group, and quit. McGuinness’ friend, Eric Clapton, went on to join the Yardbirds, and we’ll be hearing more about him in a few weeks’ time, but McGuinness was at a loose end, until he discovered that Manfred Mann were looking for a bass player. McGuinness was a guitarist, but bluffed to Paul Jones that he’d switched to bass, and got the job. He said later that the only question he’d been asked when interviewed by the group was “are you willing to play simple parts?” — as he’d never played bass in his life until the day of his first gig with the group, he was more than happy to say yes to that. McGuinness joined only days after the recording of “5-4-3-2-1”, and Richmond was out — though he would have a successful career as a session bass player, playing on, among others, “Je t’Aime” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, “Your Song” by Elton John, Labi Siffre’s “It Must Be Love”, and the music for the long-running sitcoms Only Fools and Horses and Last of the Summer Wine. As soon as McGuinness joined, the group set out on tour, to promote their new hit, but also to act as the backing group for the Crystals, on a tour which also featured Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and Joe Brown and his Bruvvers.  The group’s next single, “Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble” was another original, and made number eleven on the charts, but the group saw it as a failure anyway, to the extent that they tried their best to forget it ever existed. In researching this episode I got an eleven-CD box set of the group’s work, which contains every studio album or compilation they released in the sixties, a collection of their EPs, and a collection of their BBC sessions. In all eleven CDs, “Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble” doesn’t appear at all. Which is quite odd, as it’s a perfectly serviceable, if unexceptional, piece of pop R&B: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble”] But it’s not just the group that were unimpressed with the record. John Burgess thought that the record only getting to number eleven was proof of his hypothesis that groups should not put out their own songs as singles. From this point on, with one exception in 1968, everything they released as an A-side would be a cover version or a song brought to them by a professional songwriter. This worried Jones, who didn’t want to be forced to start singing songs he disliked, which he saw as a very likely outcome of this edict. So he made it his role in the group to seek out records that the group could cover, which would be commercial enough that they could get hit singles from them, but which would be something he could sing while keeping his self-respect. His very first selection certainly met the first criterion. The song which would become their biggest hit had very little to do with the R&B or jazz which had inspired the group. Instead, it was a perfect piece of Brill Building pop. The Exciters, who originally recorded it, were one of the great girl groups of the early sixties (though they also had one male member), and had already had quite an influence on pop music. They had been discovered by Leiber and Stoller, who had signed them to Red Bird Records, a label we’ll be looking at in much more detail in an upcoming episode, and they’d had a hit in 1962 with a Bert Berns song, “Tell Him”, which made the top five: [Excerpt: The Exciters, “Tell Him”] That record had so excited a young British folk singer who was in the US at the time to record an album with her group The Springfields that she completely reworked her entire style, went solo, and kickstarted a solo career singing pop-soul songs under the name Dusty Springfield. The Exciters never had another top forty hit, but they became popular enough among British music lovers that the Beatles asked them to open for them on their American tour in summer 1964. Most of the Exciters’ records were of songs written by the more R&B end of the Brill Building songwriters — they would record several more Bert Berns songs, and some by Ritchie Barrett, but the song that would become their most well-known legacy was actually written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Like many of Barry and Greenwich’s songs, it was based around a nonsense phrase, but in this case the phrase they used had something of a longer history, though it’s not apparent whether they fully realised that. In African-American folklore of the early twentieth century, the imaginary town of Diddy Wah Diddy was something like a synonym for heaven, or for the Big Rock Candy Mountain of the folk song — a place where people didn’t have to work, and where food was free everywhere. This place had been sung about in many songs, like Blind Blake’s “Diddie Wah Diddie”: [Excerpt: Blind Blake, “Diddie Wah Diddie”] And a song written by Willie Dixon for Bo Diddley: [Excerpt: Bo Diddley, “Diddy Wah Diddy”] And “Diddy” and “Wah” had often been used by other Black artists, in various contexts, like Roy Brown and Dave Bartholomew’s “Diddy-Y-Diddy-O”: [Excerpt: Roy Brown and Dave Bartholomew, “Diddy-Y-Diddy-O”] And Junior and Marie’s “Boom Diddy Wah Wah”, a “Ko Ko Mo” knockoff produced by Johnny Otis: [Excerpt: Junior and Marie, “Boom Diddy Wah Wah”]  So when Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote “Do-Wah-Diddy”, as the song was originally called, they were, wittingly or not, tapping into a rich history of rhythm and blues music. But the song as Greenwich demoed it was one of the first examples of what would become known as “bubblegum pop”, and is particularly notable in her demo for its very early use of the fuzz guitar that would be a stylistic hallmark of that subgenre: [Excerpt: Ellie Greenwich, “Do-Wah-Diddy (demo)”] The Exciters’ version of the song took it into more conventional girl-group territory, with a strong soulful vocal, but with the group’s backing vocal call-and-response chant showing up the song’s resemblance to the kind of schoolyard chanting games which were, of course, the basis of the very first girl group records: [Excerpt: The Exciters, “Do-Wah-Diddy”] Sadly, that record only reached number seventy-eight on the charts, and the Exciters would have no more hits in the US, though a later lineup of the group would make the UK top forty in 1975 with a song written and produced by the Northern Soul DJ Ian Levine. But in 1964 Jones had picked up on “Do-Wah-Diddy”, and knew it was a potential hit. Most of the group weren’t very keen on “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, as the song was renamed. There are relatively few interviews with any of them about it, but from what I can gather the only member of the band who thought anything much of the song was Paul Jones. However, the group did their best with the recording, and were particularly impressed with Manfred’s Hammond organ solo — which they later discovered was cut out of the finished recording by Burgess. The result was an organ-driven stomping pop song which had more in common with the Dave Clark Five than with anything else the group were doing: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”] The record reached number one in both the UK and the US, and the group immediately went on an American tour, packaged with Peter & Gordon, a British duo who were having some success at the time because Peter Asher’s sister was dating Paul McCartney, who’d given them a hit song, “World Without Love”: [Excerpt: Peter and Gordon, “World Without Love”] The group found the experience of touring the US a thoroughly miserable one, and decided that they weren’t going to bother going back again, so while they would continue to have big hits in Britain for the rest of the decade, they only had a few minor successes in the States. After the success of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, EMI rushed out an album by the group, The Five Faces of Manfred Mann, which must have caused some confusion for anyone buying it in the hope of more “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” style pop songs. Half the album’s fourteen tracks were covers of blues and R&B, mostly by Chess artists — there were covers of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Ike & Tina Turner, and more. There were also five originals, written or co-written by Jones, in the same style as those songs, plus a couple of instrumentals, one written by the group and one a cover of Cannonball Adderly’s jazz classic “Sack O’Woe”, arranged to show off the group’s skills at harmonica, saxophone, piano and vibraphone: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Sack O’Woe”] However, the group realised that the formula they’d hit on with “Do  Wah Diddy Diddy” was a useful one, and so for their next single they once again covered a girl-group track with a nonsense-word chorus and title — their version of “Sha La La” by the Shirelles took them to number three on the UK charts, and number twelve in the US. They followed that with a ballad, “Come Tomorrow”, one of the few secular songs ever recorded by Marie Knight, the gospel singer who we discussed briefly way back in episode five, who was Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s duet partner, and quite possibly her partner in other senses. They released several more singles and were consistently charting, to the point that they actually managed to get a top ten hit with a self-written song despite their own material not being considered worth putting out as singles. Paul Jones had written “The One in the Middle” for his friends the Yardbirds, but when they turned it down, he rewrote the song to be about Manfred Mann, and especially about himself: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “The One in the Middle”] Like much of their material, that was released on an EP, and the EP was so successful that as well as making number one on the EP charts, it also made number ten on the regular charts, with “The One in the Middle” as the lead-off track. But “The One in the Middle” was a clue to something else as well — Jones was getting increasingly annoyed at the fact that the records the group was making were hits, and he was the frontman, the lead singer, the person picking the cover versions, and the writer of much of the original material, but all the records were getting credited to the group’s keyboard player.  But Jones wasn’t the next member of the group to leave. That was Mike Vickers, who went off to work in arranging film music and session work, including some work for the Beatles, the music for the film Dracula AD 1972, and the opening and closing themes for This Week in Baseball. The last single the group released while Vickers was a member was the aptly-titled “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”. Mann had heard Bob Dylan performing that song live, and had realised that the song had never been released. He’d contacted Dylan’s publishers, got hold of a demo, and the group became the first to release a version of the song, making number two in the charts: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”] Before Vickers’ departure, the group had recorded their second album, Mann Made, and that had been even more eclectic than the first album, combining versions of blues classics like “Stormy Monday Blues”, Motown songs like “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, country covers like “You Don’t Know Me”, and oddities like “Bare Hugg”, an original jazz instrumental for flute and vibraphone: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Bare Hugg”] McGuinness took the opportunity of Vickers leaving the group to switch from bass back to playing guitar, which had always been his preferred instrument. To fill in the gap, on Graham Bond’s recommendation they hired away Jack Bruce, who had just been playing in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with McGuinness’ old friend Eric Clapton, and it’s Bruce who played bass on the group’s next big hit, “Pretty Flamingo”, the only UK number one that Bruce ever played on: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Pretty Flamingo”] Bruce stayed with the band for several months, before going off to play in another band who we’ll be covering in a future episode. He was replaced in turn by Klaus Voorman. Voorman was an old friend of the Beatles from their Hamburg days, who had been taught the rudiments of bass by Stuart Sutcliffe, and had formed a trio, Paddy, Klaus, and Gibson, with two Merseybeat musicians, Paddy Chambers of the Big Three and Gibson Kemp of Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes: [Excerpt: Paddy, Klaus, and Gibson, “No Good Without You Baby”] Like Vickers, Voorman could play the flute, and his flute playing would become a regular part of the group’s later singles. These lineup changes didn’t affect the group as either a chart act or as an act who were playing a huge variety of different styles of music. While the singles were uniformly catchy pop, on album tracks, B-sides or EPs you’d be likely to find versions of folk songs collected by Alan Lomax, like “John Hardy”, or things like “Driva Man”, a blues song about slavery in 5/4 time, originally by the jazz greats Oscar Brown and Max Roach: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “Driva Man”] But by the time that track was released, Paul Jones was out of the group. He actually announced his intention to quit the group at the same time that Mike Vickers left, but the group had persuaded him to stay on for almost a year while they looked for his replacement, auditioning singers like Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry with little success. They eventually decided on Mike d’Abo, who had previously been the lead singer of a group called A Band of Angels: [Excerpt: A Band of Angels, “(Accept My) Invitation”] By the point d’Abo joined, relations  between the rest of the group and Jones were so poor that they didn’t tell Jones that they were thinking of d’Abo — Jones would later recollect that the group decided to stop at a pub on the way to a gig, ostensibly to watch themselves on TV, but actually to watch A Band of Angels on the same show, without explaining to Jones that that was what they were doing – Jones actually mentioned d’Abo to his bandmates as a possible replacement, not realising he was already in the group. Mann has talked about how on the group’s last show with Jones, they drove to the gig in silence, and their first single with the new singer, a version of Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”, came on the radio. There was a lot of discomfort in the band at this time, because their record label had decided to stick with Jones as a solo performer, and the rest of the group had had to find another label, and were worried that without Jones their career was over. Luckily for everyone involved, “Just Like a Woman” made the top ten, and the group’s career was able to continue. Meanwhile, Jones’ first single as a solo artist made the top five: [Excerpt: Paul Jones, “High Time”] But after that and his follow-up, “I’ve Been a Bad, Bad, Boy”, which made number five, the best he could do was to barely scrape the top forty. Manfred Mann, on the other hand, continued having hits, though there was a constant struggle to find new material. d’Abo was himself a songwriter, and it shows the limitations of the “no A-sides by group members” rule that while d’Abo was the lead singer of Manfred Mann, he wrote two hit singles which the group never recorded. The first, “Handbags and Gladrags”, was a hit for Chris Farlowe: [Excerpt: Chris Farlowe, “Handbags and Gladrags”] That was only a minor hit, but was later recorded successfully by Rod Stewart, with d’Abo arranging, and the Stereophonics. d’Abo also co-wrote, and played piano on, “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundations: [Excerpt: The Foundations, “Build Me Up Buttercup”] But the group continued releasing singles written by other people.  Their second post-Jones single, from the perspective of a spurned lover insulting their ex’s new fiancee, had to have its title changed from what the writers intended, as the group felt that a song insulting “semi-detached suburban Mr. Jones” might be taken the wrong way. Lightly retitled, “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James” made number two, while the follow-up, “Ha Ha! Said the Clown”, made number four. The two singles after that did significantly less well, though, and seemed to be quite bizarre choices — an instrumental Hammond organ version of Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea”, which made number thirty-six, and a version of Randy Newman’s bitterly cynical “So Long, Dad”, which didn’t make the charts at all. After this lack of success, the group decided to go back to what had worked for them before. They’d already had two hits with Dylan songs, and Mann had got hold of a copy of Dylan’s Basement Tapes, a bootleg which we’ll be talking about later. He picked up on one song from it, and got permission to release “The Mighty Quinn”, which became the group’s third number one: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “The Mighty Quinn”] The album from which that came, Mighty Garvey, is the closest thing the group came to an actual great album. While the group’s earlier albums were mostly blues covers, this was mostly made up of original material by either Hugg or d’Abo, in a pastoral baroque pop style that invites comparisons to the Kinks or the Zombies’ material of that period, but with a self-mocking comedy edge in several songs that was closer to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Probably the highlight of the album was the mellotron-driven “It’s So Easy Falling”: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, “It’s So Easy Falling”] But Mighty Garvey didn’t chart, and it was the last gasp of the group as a creative entity. They had three more top-ten hits, all of them good examples of their type, but by January 1969, Tom McGuinness was interviewed saying “It’s not a group any more. It’s just five people who come together to make hit singles. That’s the only aim of the group at the moment — to make hit singles — it’s the only reason the group exists. Commercial success is very important to the group. It gives us financial freedom to do the things we want.” The group split up in 1969, and went their separate ways. d’Abo appeared on the original Jesus Christ Superstar album, and then went into writing advertising jingles, most famously writing “a finger of fudge is just enough” for Cadbury’s. McGuinness formed McGuinness Flint, with the songwriters Gallagher and Lyle, and had a big hit with “When I’m Dead and Gone”: [Excerpt: McGuinness Flint, “When I’m Dead and Gone”] He later teamed up again with Paul Jones, to form a blues band imaginatively named “the Blues Band”, who continue performing to this day: [Excerpt: The Blues Band, “Mean Ol’ Frisco”] Jones became a born-again Christian in the eighties, and also starred in a children’s TV show, Uncle Jack, and presented the BBC Radio 2 Blues Programme for thirty-two years. Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg formed another group, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, who released two albums before splitting. Hugg went on from that to write for TV and films, most notably writing the theme music to “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?”: [Excerpt: Highly Likely, “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?”] Mann went on to form Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, who had a number of hits, the biggest of which was the Bruce Springsteen song “Blinded by the Light”: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded by the Light”] Almost uniquely for a band from the early sixties, all the members of the classic lineup of Manfred Mann are still alive. Manfred Mann continues to perform with various lineups of his Earth Band. Hugg, Jones, McGuinness, and d’Abo reunited as The Manfreds in the 1990s, with Vickers also in the band until 1999, and continue to tour together — I still have a ticket to see them which was originally for a show in April 2020, but has just been rescheduled to 2022. McGuinness and Jones also still tour with the Blues Band. And Mike Vickers now spends his time creating experimental animations.  Manfred Mann were a band with too many musical interests to have a coherent image, and their reliance on outside songwriters and their frequent lineup changes meant that they never had the consistent sound of many of their contemporaries. But partly because of this, they created a catalogue that rewards exploration in a way that several more well-regarded bands’ work doesn’t, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a major critical reassessment of them at some point. But whether that happens or not, almost sixty years on people around the world still respond instantly to the opening bars of their biggest hit, and “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” remains one of the most fondly remembered singles of the early sixties.

    tv american chicago black history england uk british dad dead italian woman bbc south africa cd britain baseball walk angels beatles boy band states empire animals wolf pirates zombies bond richmond trouble hamburg south african bob dylan cds rolling stones elton john bruce springsteen paul mccartney horses clown commonwealth diddy haha bbc radio fool southeast eps motown dreamers engineers chess you don klaus eric clapton tina turner crystals paddy temptations mod woe gallagher british empire ike rod stewart hammond kinks unsurprisingly emi steady frisco black american randy newman john coltrane greenwich big three jesus christ superstar supremes tilt abo british tv manfred blinded rock music otis redding muddy waters roaring flamingo mods dionne warwick oh boy burgess cadbury whatever happened serge gainsbourg wah wipeout brian jones so long roosters john lee hooker private eye stax dusty springfield bo diddley charles mingus casey jones ornette coleman marquee yardbirds paul jones jane birkin what do you want know me manfred mann hmv howlin vickers sister rosetta tharpe john mayall lightly alan lomax sweet pea handbags jack bruce pacemakers stoller stereophonics just like only fools shirelles willie dixon mose allison mingus your song go now joe brown one way ticket tony roberts leiber marvelettes mcguinness dave clark five uncle jack sonny boy williamson brill building peter asher summer wine blues band john hardy earth band bluesbreakers high time basement tapes glad rags hugg bonzo dog doo dah band labi siffre mighty quinn merseybeat blind blake john burgess roy brown surfaris jeff barry tommy roe dave bartholomew ellie greenwich long john baldry it must be love manfreds big rock candy mountain likely lads exciters butlin greg russo bert berns stuart sutcliffe shelly manne dracula ad springfields marie knight transcript so that was the week that was five faces klaus voorman oscar brown build me up buttercup come tomorrow mike vickers tilt araiza
    Episode 118: “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” by Manfred Mann

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 28, 2021

    Episode 118 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” by Manfred Mann, and how a jazz group with a blues singer had one of the biggest bubblegum pop hits of the sixties. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a thirteen-minute bonus episode available, on “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 117: “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 20, 2021

    Episode one hundred and seventeen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys, and how the years 1963 and 1964 saw a radical evolution in the sound and subject matter of the Beach Boys’ work. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “You’re No Good” by the Swinging Blue Jeans. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- ERRATA: I say that the Surfin’ USA album was released only four months after Surfin’ Safari. It was actually over five months. Also, for some reason I pronounce Nik Venet’s name as if he were French here. I believe that’s incorrect and his name is actually pronounced “Vennit”, though I’m not 100% sure. More importantly, I say that “Sweet Little Sixteen” wasn’t a big hit, when of course it made number two on the charts.    Resources There is no Mixcloud this week, because there were too many Beach Boys songs in the episode. I used many resources for this episode, most of which will be used in future Beach Boys episodes too. It’s difficult to enumerate everything here, because I have been an active member of the Beach Boys fan community for twenty-four years, and have at times just used my accumulated knowledge for this. But the resources I list here are ones I’ve checked for specific things. Becoming the Beach Boys by James B. Murphy is an in-depth look at the group’s early years, up to the end of 1963. Stephen McParland has published many, many books on the California surf and hot-rod music scenes, including several on both the Beach Boys and Gary Usher.  His books can be found at https://payhip.com/CMusicBooks Andrew Doe’s Bellagio 10452 site is an invaluable resource. Jon Stebbins’ The Beach Boys FAQ is a good balance between accuracy and readability. Stebbins also co-wrote The Lost Beach Boy, David Marks’ autobiography. And Philip Lambert’s Inside the Music of Brian Wilson is an excellent, though sadly out of print, musicological analysis of Wilson’s music from 1962 through 67. The Beach Boys’ Morgan recordings and all the outtakes from them can be found on this 2-CD set. As a good starting point for the Beach Boys’ music, I would recommend this budget-priced three-CD set, which has a surprisingly good selection of their material on it. Transcript Today, we’re going to take our second look at the Beach Boys, and we’re going to look at their evolution through 1963 and 1964, as they responded to the threat from the Beatles by turning to ever more sophisticated music, even as they went through a variety of personal crises. We’re going to look at a period in which they released four albums a year, had three lineup changes, and saw their first number one – and at a song which, despite being a B-side, regularly makes lists of the best singles of all time. We’re going to look at “Don’t Worry Baby”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Don’t Worry Baby”] When we left the Beach Boys, they had just secured a contract with Capitol Records, and released their first national hit, “Surfin’ Safari” backed with “409”. Since then we’ve also seen Brian Wilson working with several songwriting collaborators to write hits for Jan and Dean. But now we need to double back and look at what Brian was doing with his main band in that time.  After “Surfin’ Safari” was a hit, in one of the many incomprehensible decisions made in the Beach Boys’ career, Capitol decided to follow it up with an album track that Brian and Gary Usher had written, “Ten Little Indians”. That track, a surf-rock version of the nursery rhyme with the group chanting “Kemo sabe” in the backing vocals, made only number forty-nine on the charts, and frankly didn’t deserve to do even that well. Some have suggested, in fact that the record was released at the instigation of Murry Wilson, who was both Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson’s father and the group’s manager, as a way of weakening Usher’s influence with the group, as Murry didn’t want outsiders interfering in what he saw as a family business.  After realising the folly of deviating from the formula, the group’s next single followed the same pattern as their first hit. The B-side was “Shut Down”, a car song co-written by Brian and Roger Christian, who you may remember from the episode on “Surf City” as having been brought in to help Brian with car lyrics. “Shut Down” is most notable for being one of the very small number of Beach Boys records to feature an instrumental contribution from Mike Love, the group’s lead singer. His two-note saxophone solo comes in for some mockery from the group’s fans, but actually fits the record extremely well: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Shut Down”]  “Shut Down” was a top thirty hit, but it was the A-side that was the really big hit. Just as their first hit had had a surf song on the A-side and a car song on the B-side, so did this single. Brian Wilson had been inspired by Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”, and in particular the opening verse, which had just listed a lot of places: [Excerpt: Chuck Berry, “Sweet Little Sixteen”] He might well also have been thinking of Chubby Checker’s minor hit, “Twistin’ USA”, which listed places in America where people might be twisting: [Excerpt: Chubby Checker, “Twistin’ USA”] Brian had taken Berry’s melody and the place-name recitation, and with the help of his girlfriend’s brother, and some input from Mike Love, had turned it into a song listing all the places that people could be surfing — at least, they could “if everybody had an ocean”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ USA”] “Surfin’ USA” became a huge hit, reaching number two on the charts, and later being named by Billboard as the biggest hit of 1963, but unfortunately for Brian that didn’t result in a financial windfall for him as the songwriter. As the song was so close to “Sweet Little Sixteen”, Chuck Berry got the sole songwriting credit — one of the only times in rock music history where a white artist has ripped off a Black one and the Black artist has actually benefited from it. And Berry definitely did benefit — “Sweet Little Sixteen”, while a great record, had never been a particularly big hit, while “Surfin’ USA” is to this day regularly heard on oldies radio and used in commercials and films. But that success meant extra work, and a lot of it. “Surfin’ USA” was the title song of the group’s second album, released in March 1963 only four months after their first, and they would release two more albums before the end of the year — Surfer Girl in September and Little Deuce Coupe in October. Not only were they having to churn out a quite staggering amount of product — though Little Deuce Coupe featured four songs recycled from their earlier albums — but Brian Wilson, as well as writing or co-writing all their original material, started producing the records as well, as he was unhappy with Nik Venet’s production on the first album. Not only that, but as well as making the Beach Boys’ records, Wilson was also writing for Jan and Dean, and he had also started making records on the side with Gary Usher, doing things like making a “Loco-Motion” knock-off, “The Revolution”, released under the name Rachel and the Revolvers: [Excerpt: Rachel and the Revolvers, “The Revolution”] According to some sources, Usher and Wilson found the singer for that track by the simple expedient of driving to Watts and asking the first Black teenage girl they saw if she could sing. Other sources say they hired a professional session singer — some say it was Betty Everett, but given that that’s the name of a famous singer from the period who lived in the Mid-West, I think people are confusing her for Betty Willis, another singer who gets named as a possibility, who lived in LA and who certainly sounds like the same person: [Excerpt: Betty Willis, “Act Naturally”] Wilson was also in the process of breaking up with his girlfriend and starting a relationship with a young woman named Marilyn Rovell. Rovell, along with her sister Diane, and their cousin, Ginger Blake, had formed a girl group, and Brian was writing and producing records for them as well: [Excerpt: The Honeys, “The One You Can’t Have”] As well as making all these records, the Beach Boys were touring intensively, to the point that on one day in June the group were actually booked in for four shows in the same day.  Unsurprisingly, Brian decided that this was too much for one person, and so in April 1963, just after the release of “Surfin’ USA”, he decided to quit touring with the group. Luckily, there was a replacement on hand. Alan Jardine had been a member of the Beach Boys on their very first single, but had decided to quit the group to go off to university. A year later, that seemed like a bad decision, and when Brian called him up and asked him to rejoin the band, he eagerly agreed. For now, Alan was not going to be a proper member of the group, but he would substitute for Brian on the group’s tour of the Midwest that Spring, and on many of the shows they performed over the summer — he could play the bass, which was the instrument that Brian played on stage, and he could sing Brian’s parts, and so while the Beach Boys still officially consisted of Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and David Marks, the group that was on tour was Carl, Dennis, Mike, David, and Alan, though Brian would sometimes appear for important shows. Jardine also started recording with the group, though he would not get credited on the covers of the first couple of albums on which he appeared. This made a huge change to the sound of the Beach Boys in the studio, as Jardine playing bass allowed Brian Wilson to play keyboards, while Jardine also added to the group’s vocal harmonies. And this was a major change. Up to this point, the Beach Boys’ records had had only rudimentary harmonies. While Brian was an excellent falsetto singer, and Mike a very good bass, the other three members of the group were less accomplished. Carl would grow to be one of the great vocalists of all time, but at this point was still in his early teens and had a thin voice. Dennis’ voice was also a little thin at this point, and he was behind the drum kit, which meant he didn’t get to sing live, and David Marks was apparently not allowed to sing on the records at all, other than taking a single joint lead with Carl on the first album. With the addition of Jardine, Brian now had another singer as strong as himself and Love, and the Surfer Girl album, the first one on which Jardine appears, sees Brian expanding from the rather rudimentary vocal arrangements of the first two albums to something that incorporates a lot more of the influence of the Four Freshmen. You can hear this most startlingly on “In My Room”. This is one of the first songs on which Jardine took part in the studio, though he’s actually not very audible in the vocal arrangement, which instead concentrates on the three brothers. “In My Room” is a major, major, step forward in the group’s sound, in the themes that would appear in their songwriting for the next few years, and in the juxtaposition of the lyrical theme and the musical arrangement.  The song’s lyrics, written by Gary Usher but inspired by Wilson’s experiences, are about solitude, and the song starts out with Brian singing alone, but then Brian moves up to the third note of the scale and Carl comes in under him, singing the note Brian started on. Then they both move up again, Brian to the fifth and Carl to the third, with Dennis joining in on the note that Brian had started on, before Mike and Alan finally also join in. Brian is singing about being alone, but he has his family with him, supporting him:  [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “In My Room”] This new lineup of the group, with Alan augmenting the other five, might even have lasted, except for a chain of events that started on David Marks’ fifteenth birthday. Murry Wilson, who was still managing the group at this point, had never liked the idea of someone from outside the family being an equal member, and was particularly annoyed at David because Murry had tried to have an affair with David’s mother, which hadn’t worked out well for him.  But then on Marks’ fifteenth birthday, he and Dennis Wilson both caught a sexually transmitted infection from the same sex worker, and when Murry Wilson found this out — as he had to, as he needed to pay their doctor’s bills — he became furious and started screaming at the whole group.  At that point, David had had enough. His mother had been telling him that he was the real talent in the group and he didn’t need those Wilsons, and as a fifteen-year-old kid he didn’t have the understanding to realise that this might not be entirely true. He said “OK, I quit”. At first, the rest of the group thought that he was joking, and even he wasn’t at all sure that he wanted to leave the group altogether. He remained in the band for the next month, but Murry Wilson kept reminding his sons that Marks had quit and that they’d all heard him, and refused to speak directly to him — anything that Murry wanted to say to David, he said to Carl, who passed the message on.  And even though the rest of the group definitely wanted David to stay — especially Brian, who liked having the freedom not to go out on tour, and Carl, who had been the one who’d lobbied to bring his friend into the group in the first place — David was still, as the youngest member, the only one who didn’t sing, and the only one not part of the family, regarded by the others as somewhat lesser than the rest of the band.  David became increasingly frustrated, especially when they were recording the Little Deuce Coupe album. That album was made up entirely of songs about cars, and the group were so short of material that the album ended up being filled out with four songs from earlier albums, including two from the Surfer Girl album released only the previous month. Yet when David tried to persuade Brian to have the group record his song “Kustom Kar Show”, Brian told David that he wasn’t ready to be writing songs for the group.  All this, plus pressure from David’s parents to make him more of a focal point of the group, led to his resignation eventually being accepted, and backdated to the original date he quit. He played his last show with the group on October the fifth 1963, and then formed his own band, the Marksmen, who signed to A&M:  [Excerpt: Dave and the Marksmen, “Kustom Kar Show”] There have been rumours that Murry Wilson threatened DJs that the Beach Boys wouldn’t co-operate with them if they played Marksmen records, but in truth, listening to the records the Marksmen made during their two years of existence, it’s quite obvious why they weren’t played — they were fairly shoddy-sounding garage rock records, with little to commend them. Indeed, they actually sound somewhat better now than they would have done at the time — some of Marks’ flatter and more affectless vocals prefigure the sound of some punk singers, but not in a way that would have had any commercial potential in 1963. Meanwhile, the Beach Boys continued, with Alan Jardine buying a Stratocaster and switching to rhythm guitar, and Brian Wilson resigning himself to having to perform live, at least at the moment, and returning to his old role on the bass. Jardine was now, for publicity purposes, a full member of the group, though he would remain on a salary rather than an equal partner for many years — Murry Wilson didn’t want to make the same mistake with him that he had with Marks. And there was still the constant need for new material, which didn’t let up. Brian’s songwriting was progressing at a furious pace, and that can be seen nowhere better than on “The Warmth of the Sun”, a song he wrote, with Love writing the lyrics, around the time of the Kennedy assassination — the two men have differed over the years over whether it was written the night before or the night after the assassination. “The Warmth of the Sun” is quite staggeringly harmonically sophisticated. We’ve talked before in this podcast about the standard doo-wop progression — the one, minor sixth, minor second, fifth progression that you get in about a million songs: [demonstrates] “The Warmth of the Sun” starts out that way — its first two chords are C, Am, played in the standard arpeggiated way one expects from that kind of song: [demonstrates] You’d expect from that  that the song would go C, Am, Dm, G or C, Am, F, G. But instead of moving to Dm or F, as one normally would, the song moves to E flat, and *starts the progression over*, a minor third up, so you have: [demonstrates] It then stops that progression after two bars, moves back to the Dm one would expect from the original progression, and stays there for twice as long as normal, before moving on to the normal G — and then throwing in a G augmented at the end, which is a normal G chord but with the D note raised to E flat, so it ties in to that original unexpected chord change. And it does all this *in the opening line of the song*: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “The Warmth of the Sun”] This is harmonic sophistication on a totally different order from anything else that was being done in teen pop music at the time — it was far closer to the modern jazz harmonies of the Four Freshmen that Brian loved than to doo-wop. The new five-piece lineup of the group recorded that on January the first, 1964, and on the same day they recorded a song that combined two of Brian’s other big influences. “Fun Fun Fun” had lyrics by Mike Love — some of his wittiest — and starts out with an intro taken straight from “Johnny B. Goode”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Fun Fun Fun”] But while the rest of the track keeps the same feel as the Chuck Berry song, the verse goes in a different harmonic direction, and actually owes a lot to “Da Doo Ron Ron”. Instead of using a blues progression, as Berry normally would, the verse uses the same I-IV-I-V progression that “Da Doo Ron Ron”‘s chorus does, but uses it to very different effect: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Fun Fun Fun”] That became the group’s fourth top ten hit, and made number five on the charts — but the group suddenly had some real competition. At numbers one, two, and three were the Beatles. Brian Wilson realised that he needed to up his game if he was going to compete, and he did. In April 1964 he started working on a new single. By this time, while the Beach Boys themselves were still playing most of the instruments, Brian was bringing in additional musicians to augment them, and expanding his instrumental palette. The basic track was the core members of the band — Carl playing both lead and rhythm guitar, Alan playing bass, and Dennis playing drums, with Brian on keyboards — but there were two further bass players, Glen Campbell and Ray Pohlman, thickening the sound on six-string bass, plus two saxophones, and Hal Blaine adding percussion.  And the main instrument providing chordal support wasn’t guitar or organ, as it usually had been, but a harpsichord, an instrument Brian would use a lot over the next few years: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “I Get Around (backing track)”] The recording session for that backing track was also another breaking point for the band. Murry Wilson, himself a frustrated songwriter and producer, was at the session and kept insisting that there was a problem with the bassline. Eventually, Brian had enough of his father’s interference, and fired him as the band’s manager. Murry would continue to keep trying to interfere in his children’s career, but this was the point at which the Beach Boys finally took control over their own futures. A few days later, they reconvened in the studio to record the vocals for what would become their first number one hit: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “I Get Around”] It’s fascinating to see that even this early in the group’s career, and on one of their biggest, summeriest hits, there’s already a tension in the lyrics, a sense of wanting to move on — “I’m getting bugged driving up and down the same old strip/I’ve got to find a new place where the kids are hip”. The lyrics are Love’s, but as is so often the case with Brian Wilson’s collaborations, Love seems to have been expressing something that Wilson was feeling at the time. The Beach Boys had risen to the challenge from the Beatles, in a way that few other American musicians could, and “I Get Around” was good enough that it made the top ten in the UK, and became a particular favourite in the Mod subculture in London. The group would only become more popular over the next few years in the UK, a new place where the kids were hip. “I Get Around” is a worthy classic, but the B-side, “Don’t Worry Baby”, is if anything even better. It had been recorded in January, and had already been released on their Shut Down vol 2 album in March. It had originally been intended for the Ronettes, and was inspired by “Be My Baby”, which had astonished Brian Wilson when it had been released a few months earlier. He would later recall having to pull over to the side of the road when he first heard the drum intro to that record: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] Brian would play that record over and over, on repeat, for days at a time, and would try to absorb every nuance of the record and its production, and he tried to come up with something that could follow it. Wilson took the basic rhythm and chord sequence of the song, plus melodic fragments like the line “Be my little baby”, and reworked them into a song that clearly owes a lot to its inspiration, but which stands on its own: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Don’t Worry Baby”] Phil Spector turned the song down, and so the Beach Boys recorded it themselves, and I have to say that this was only a good thing — Ronnie Spector recorded a solo version of it many decades later, and it’s a fine performance, but the lyric misses something when it’s sung by a woman rather than a man. That lyric was by Roger Christian, and in it we see the tension between the more emotional themes that Wilson wanted to explore and the surf and car lyrics that had made up the majority of their singles to this point. The lyric is ostensibly about a car race, and indeed it seems to be setting up precisely the kind of situation that was common in teen tragedy records of the period. The protagonist sings “I guess I should have kept my mouth shut when I started to brag about my car,  but I can’t back down now because I pushed the other guys too far”, and the whole lyric is focused on his terror of an upcoming race.  This seems intended to lead to the kind of situation that we see in “Dead Man’s Curve”, or “Tell Laura I Love Her”, or in another teen tragedy song we’ll be looking at in a couple of weeks, with the protagonist dead in a car crash. But instead, this is short-circuited. The protagonist’s fears are allayed by his girlfriend: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Don’t Worry Baby”] What we have here is someone trying to deal with a particular kind of anxiety brought about by what we now refer to as toxic masculinity. The protagonist has been showing off about his driving skills in front of his peers, and has now found himself in a situation that he can’t cope with. He’s saved by a figure we’ll see a lot more of in Brian’s songs, whoever the lyricist, the supernaturally good woman who understands the protagonist and loves him despite, or because of, his faults, even though she’s too good for him. Obviously, one can point to all sorts of reasons why this figure might be considered problematic — the idea that the man is unable to deal with his own emotional problems without a woman fixing him — but there’s an emotional truth to it that one doesn’t get in much music of the era, and even if it’s a somewhat flawed view of gender relations, it speaks to a very particular kind of insecurity at the inability to live up to traditional masculine roles, and is all the more affecting when it’s paired with the braggadocio of the A-side. The combination means we see the bragging and posturing on the A-side as just a facade, covering over the real emotional fragility of the narrator. Each side reinforces the other, and the combination is one of the most perfect pairings ever released as a single. “Don’t Worry Baby”, released as “I Get Around”’s B-side, made the charts in its own right peaking at number twenty-four. The B-side to the next single further elaborated on the themes of “Don’t Worry Baby”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “She Knows Me Too Well”] This repurposing of the emotional and musical style of girl-group songs to deal with the emotional vulnerability that comes from acknowledging and attempting to process toxic masculinity is something that few other songwriters were capable of at this point – only some of John Lennon’s work a couple of years later comes close to dealing with this very real area of the emotional landscape, and Lennon, like Wilson, often does so by using the figure of the perfect woman who will save the protagonist. In 1964, the group once again released four albums – Shut Down vol.2, All Summer Long, a live album, and a Christmas album – and they also did most of the work on yet another album, The Beach Boys Today!, which would be released in early 1965. As these recordings progressed, Brian Wilson was more and more ambitious, both in terms of the emotional effect of the music and his arrangements, increasingly using session musicians to augment the group, and trying for a variant on Phil Spector’s production style, but one which emphasised gentle fragility rather than sturm und drang. Possibly the greatest track he created in 1964 ended up not being used by the Beach Boys, though, but was given to Glen Campbell: [Excerpt: Glen Campbell, “Guess I’m Dumb”] Campbell got given that track because of an enormous favour he’d done the group. The mental strain of touring had finally got too much for Brian, and in December, on a plane to Texas, he’d had a breakdown, screaming on the plane and refusing to get off. Eventually, they coaxed him off the plane, and he’d managed to get through that night’s show, but had flown back to LA straight after. Campbell, who was a session guitarist who had played on a number of the Beach Boys’ recordings, and had a minor career as a singer at this point, had flown out at almost no notice and for the next five months he replaced Brian on stage for most of their shows, before the group got a permanent replacement in. Brian Wilson had retired from the road, and the hope was that by doing so, he would reduce the strain on himself enough that he could keep writing and producing for the group without making his mental health worse. And for a while, at least, that seemed to be how it worked out. We’ll take a look at the results in a few weeks’ time.

    Episode 117: “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 20, 2021

    Episode one hundred and seventeen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys, and how the years 1963 and 1964 saw a radical evolution in the sound and subject matter of the Beach Boys’ work. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “You’re No Good” by the Swinging Blue Jeans. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 117: "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 20, 2021 36:00

    Episode one hundred and seventeen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys, and how the years 1963 and 1964 saw a radical evolution in the sound and subject matter of the Beach Boys' work. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "You're No Good" by the Swinging Blue Jeans. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- ERRATA: I say that the Surfin' USA album was released only four months after Surfin' Safari. It was actually over five months. Also, for some reason I pronounce Nik Venet's name as if he were French here. I believe that's incorrect and his name is actually pronounced “Vennit”, though I'm not 100% sure. More importantly, I say that "Sweet Little Sixteen" wasn't a big hit, when of course it made number two on the charts.    Resources There is no Mixcloud this week, because there were too many Beach Boys songs in the episode. I used many resources for this episode, most of which will be used in future Beach Boys episodes too. It's difficult to enumerate everything here, because I have been an active member of the Beach Boys fan community for twenty-four years, and have at times just used my accumulated knowledge for this. But the resources I list here are ones I've checked for specific things. Becoming the Beach Boys by James B. Murphy is an in-depth look at the group's early years, up to the end of 1963. Stephen McParland has published many, many books on the California surf and hot-rod music scenes, including several on both the Beach Boys and Gary Usher.  His books can be found at https://payhip.com/CMusicBooks Andrew Doe's Bellagio 10452 site is an invaluable resource. Jon Stebbins' The Beach Boys FAQ is a good balance between accuracy and readability. Stebbins also co-wrote The Lost Beach Boy, David Marks' autobiography. And Philip Lambert's Inside the Music of Brian Wilson is an excellent, though sadly out of print, musicological analysis of Wilson's music from 1962 through 67. The Beach Boys' Morgan recordings and all the outtakes from them can be found on this 2-CD set. As a good starting point for the Beach Boys' music, I would recommend this budget-priced three-CD set, which has a surprisingly good selection of their material on it. Transcript Today, we're going to take our second look at the Beach Boys, and we're going to look at their evolution through 1963 and 1964, as they responded to the threat from the Beatles by turning to ever more sophisticated music, even as they went through a variety of personal crises. We're going to look at a period in which they released four albums a year, had three lineup changes, and saw their first number one – and at a song which, despite being a B-side, regularly makes lists of the best singles of all time. We're going to look at “Don't Worry Baby”: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "Don't Worry Baby"] When we left the Beach Boys, they had just secured a contract with Capitol Records, and released their first national hit, "Surfin' Safari" backed with "409". Since then we've also seen Brian Wilson working with several songwriting collaborators to write hits for Jan and Dean. But now we need to double back and look at what Brian was doing with his main band in that time.  After "Surfin' Safari" was a hit, in one of the many incomprehensible decisions made in the Beach Boys' career, Capitol decided to follow it up with an album track that Brian and Gary Usher had written, "Ten Little Indians". That track, a surf-rock version of the nursery rhyme with the group chanting "Kemo sabe" in the backing vocals, made only number forty-nine on the charts, and frankly didn't deserve to do even that well. Some have suggested, in fact that the record was released at the instigation of Murry Wilson, who was both Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson's father and the group's manager, as a way of weakening Usher's influence with the group, as Murry didn't want outsiders interfering in what he saw as a family business.  After realising the folly of deviating from the formula, the group's next single followed the same pattern as their first hit. The B-side was "Shut Down", a car song co-written by Brian and Roger Christian, who you may remember from the episode on "Surf City" as having been brought in to help Brian with car lyrics. "Shut Down" is most notable for being one of the very small number of Beach Boys records to feature an instrumental contribution from Mike Love, the group's lead singer. His two-note saxophone solo comes in for some mockery from the group's fans, but actually fits the record extremely well: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "Shut Down"]  "Shut Down" was a top thirty hit, but it was the A-side that was the really big hit. Just as their first hit had had a surf song on the A-side and a car song on the B-side, so did this single. Brian Wilson had been inspired by Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen", and in particular the opening verse, which had just listed a lot of places: [Excerpt: Chuck Berry, "Sweet Little Sixteen"] He might well also have been thinking of Chubby Checker's minor hit, "Twistin' USA", which listed places in America where people might be twisting: [Excerpt: Chubby Checker, "Twistin' USA"] Brian had taken Berry's melody and the place-name recitation, and with the help of his girlfriend's brother, and some input from Mike Love, had turned it into a song listing all the places that people could be surfing -- at least, they could "if everybody had an ocean": [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "Surfin' USA"] "Surfin' USA" became a huge hit, reaching number two on the charts, and later being named by Billboard as the biggest hit of 1963, but unfortunately for Brian that didn't result in a financial windfall for him as the songwriter. As the song was so close to "Sweet Little Sixteen", Chuck Berry got the sole songwriting credit -- one of the only times in rock music history where a white artist has ripped off a Black one and the Black artist has actually benefited from it. And Berry definitely did benefit -- "Sweet Little Sixteen", while a great record, had never been a particularly big hit, while "Surfin' USA" is to this day regularly heard on oldies radio and used in commercials and films. But that success meant extra work, and a lot of it. "Surfin' USA" was the title song of the group's second album, released in March 1963 only four months after their first, and they would release two more albums before the end of the year -- Surfer Girl in September and Little Deuce Coupe in October. Not only were they having to churn out a quite staggering amount of product -- though Little Deuce Coupe featured four songs recycled from their earlier albums -- but Brian Wilson, as well as writing or co-writing all their original material, started producing the records as well, as he was unhappy with Nik Venet's production on the first album. Not only that, but as well as making the Beach Boys' records, Wilson was also writing for Jan and Dean, and he had also started making records on the side with Gary Usher, doing things like making a "Loco-Motion" knock-off, "The Revolution", released under the name Rachel and the Revolvers: [Excerpt: Rachel and the Revolvers, "The Revolution"] According to some sources, Usher and Wilson found the singer for that track by the simple expedient of driving to Watts and asking the first Black teenage girl they saw if she could sing. Other sources say they hired a professional session singer -- some say it was Betty Everett, but given that that's the name of a famous singer from the period who lived in the Mid-West, I think people are confusing her for Betty Willis, another singer who gets named as a possibility, who lived in LA and who certainly sounds like the same person: [Excerpt: Betty Willis, "Act Naturally"] Wilson was also in the process of breaking up with his girlfriend and starting a relationship with a young woman named Marilyn Rovell. Rovell, along with her sister Diane, and their cousin, Ginger Blake, had formed a girl group, and Brian was writing and producing records for them as well: [Excerpt: The Honeys, "The One You Can't Have"] As well as making all these records, the Beach Boys were touring intensively, to the point that on one day in June the group were actually booked in for four shows in the same day.  Unsurprisingly, Brian decided that this was too much for one person, and so in April 1963, just after the release of "Surfin' USA", he decided to quit touring with the group. Luckily, there was a replacement on hand. Alan Jardine had been a member of the Beach Boys on their very first single, but had decided to quit the group to go off to university. A year later, that seemed like a bad decision, and when Brian called him up and asked him to rejoin the band, he eagerly agreed. For now, Alan was not going to be a proper member of the group, but he would substitute for Brian on the group's tour of the Midwest that Spring, and on many of the shows they performed over the summer -- he could play the bass, which was the instrument that Brian played on stage, and he could sing Brian's parts, and so while the Beach Boys still officially consisted of Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and David Marks, the group that was on tour was Carl, Dennis, Mike, David, and Alan, though Brian would sometimes appear for important shows. Jardine also started recording with the group, though he would not get credited on the covers of the first couple of albums on which he appeared. This made a huge change to the sound of the Beach Boys in the studio, as Jardine playing bass allowed Brian Wilson to play keyboards, while Jardine also added to the group's vocal harmonies. And this was a major change. Up to this point, the Beach Boys' records had had only rudimentary harmonies. While Brian was an excellent falsetto singer, and Mike a very good bass, the other three members of the group were less accomplished. Carl would grow to be one of the great vocalists of all time, but at this point was still in his early teens and had a thin voice. Dennis' voice was also a little thin at this point, and he was behind the drum kit, which meant he didn't get to sing live, and David Marks was apparently not allowed to sing on the records at all, other than taking a single joint lead with Carl on the first album. With the addition of Jardine, Brian now had another singer as strong as himself and Love, and the Surfer Girl album, the first one on which Jardine appears, sees Brian expanding from the rather rudimentary vocal arrangements of the first two albums to something that incorporates a lot more of the influence of the Four Freshmen. You can hear this most startlingly on "In My Room". This is one of the first songs on which Jardine took part in the studio, though he's actually not very audible in the vocal arrangement, which instead concentrates on the three brothers. "In My Room" is a major, major, step forward in the group's sound, in the themes that would appear in their songwriting for the next few years, and in the juxtaposition of the lyrical theme and the musical arrangement.  The song's lyrics, written by Gary Usher but inspired by Wilson's experiences, are about solitude, and the song starts out with Brian singing alone, but then Brian moves up to the third note of the scale and Carl comes in under him, singing the note Brian started on. Then they both move up again, Brian to the fifth and Carl to the third, with Dennis joining in on the note that Brian had started on, before Mike and Alan finally also join in. Brian is singing about being alone, but he has his family with him, supporting him:  [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "In My Room"] This new lineup of the group, with Alan augmenting the other five, might even have lasted, except for a chain of events that started on David Marks' fifteenth birthday. Murry Wilson, who was still managing the group at this point, had never liked the idea of someone from outside the family being an equal member, and was particularly annoyed at David because Murry had tried to have an affair with David's mother, which hadn't worked out well for him.  But then on Marks' fifteenth birthday, he and Dennis Wilson both caught a sexually transmitted infection from the same sex worker, and when Murry Wilson found this out -- as he had to, as he needed to pay their doctor's bills -- he became furious and started screaming at the whole group.  At that point, David had had enough. His mother had been telling him that he was the real talent in the group and he didn't need those Wilsons, and as a fifteen-year-old kid he didn't have the understanding to realise that this might not be entirely true. He said "OK, I quit". At first, the rest of the group thought that he was joking, and even he wasn't at all sure that he wanted to leave the group altogether. He remained in the band for the next month, but Murry Wilson kept reminding his sons that Marks had quit and that they'd all heard him, and refused to speak directly to him -- anything that Murry wanted to say to David, he said to Carl, who passed the message on.  And even though the rest of the group definitely wanted David to stay -- especially Brian, who liked having the freedom not to go out on tour, and Carl, who had been the one who'd lobbied to bring his friend into the group in the first place -- David was still, as the youngest member, the only one who didn't sing, and the only one not part of the family, regarded by the others as somewhat lesser than the rest of the band.  David became increasingly frustrated, especially when they were recording the Little Deuce Coupe album. That album was made up entirely of songs about cars, and the group were so short of material that the album ended up being filled out with four songs from earlier albums, including two from the Surfer Girl album released only the previous month. Yet when David tried to persuade Brian to have the group record his song "Kustom Kar Show", Brian told David that he wasn't ready to be writing songs for the group.  All this, plus pressure from David's parents to make him more of a focal point of the group, led to his resignation eventually being accepted, and backdated to the original date he quit. He played his last show with the group on October the fifth 1963, and then formed his own band, the Marksmen, who signed to A&M:  [Excerpt: Dave and the Marksmen, "Kustom Kar Show"] There have been rumours that Murry Wilson threatened DJs that the Beach Boys wouldn't co-operate with them if they played Marksmen records, but in truth, listening to the records the Marksmen made during their two years of existence, it's quite obvious why they weren't played -- they were fairly shoddy-sounding garage rock records, with little to commend them. Indeed, they actually sound somewhat better now than they would have done at the time -- some of Marks' flatter and more affectless vocals prefigure the sound of some punk singers, but not in a way that would have had any commercial potential in 1963. Meanwhile, the Beach Boys continued, with Alan Jardine buying a Stratocaster and switching to rhythm guitar, and Brian Wilson resigning himself to having to perform live, at least at the moment, and returning to his old role on the bass. Jardine was now, for publicity purposes, a full member of the group, though he would remain on a salary rather than an equal partner for many years -- Murry Wilson didn't want to make the same mistake with him that he had with Marks. And there was still the constant need for new material, which didn't let up. Brian's songwriting was progressing at a furious pace, and that can be seen nowhere better than on "The Warmth of the Sun", a song he wrote, with Love writing the lyrics, around the time of the Kennedy assassination -- the two men have differed over the years over whether it was written the night before or the night after the assassination. "The Warmth of the Sun" is quite staggeringly harmonically sophisticated. We've talked before in this podcast about the standard doo-wop progression -- the one, minor sixth, minor second, fifth progression that you get in about a million songs: [demonstrates] "The Warmth of the Sun" starts out that way -- its first two chords are C, Am, played in the standard arpeggiated way one expects from that kind of song: [demonstrates] You'd expect from that  that the song would go C, Am, Dm, G or C, Am, F, G. But instead of moving to Dm or F, as one normally would, the song moves to E flat, and *starts the progression over*, a minor third up, so you have: [demonstrates] It then stops that progression after two bars, moves back to the Dm one would expect from the original progression, and stays there for twice as long as normal, before moving on to the normal G -- and then throwing in a G augmented at the end, which is a normal G chord but with the D note raised to E flat, so it ties in to that original unexpected chord change. And it does all this *in the opening line of the song*: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "The Warmth of the Sun"] This is harmonic sophistication on a totally different order from anything else that was being done in teen pop music at the time -- it was far closer to the modern jazz harmonies of the Four Freshmen that Brian loved than to doo-wop. The new five-piece lineup of the group recorded that on January the first, 1964, and on the same day they recorded a song that combined two of Brian's other big influences. "Fun Fun Fun" had lyrics by Mike Love -- some of his wittiest -- and starts out with an intro taken straight from "Johnny B. Goode": [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "Fun Fun Fun"] But while the rest of the track keeps the same feel as the Chuck Berry song, the verse goes in a different harmonic direction, and actually owes a lot to "Da Doo Ron Ron". Instead of using a blues progression, as Berry normally would, the verse uses the same I-IV-I-V progression that "Da Doo Ron Ron"'s chorus does, but uses it to very different effect: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "Fun Fun Fun"] That became the group's fourth top ten hit, and made number five on the charts -- but the group suddenly had some real competition. At numbers one, two, and three were the Beatles. Brian Wilson realised that he needed to up his game if he was going to compete, and he did. In April 1964 he started working on a new single. By this time, while the Beach Boys themselves were still playing most of the instruments, Brian was bringing in additional musicians to augment them, and expanding his instrumental palette. The basic track was the core members of the band -- Carl playing both lead and rhythm guitar, Alan playing bass, and Dennis playing drums, with Brian on keyboards -- but there were two further bass players, Glen Campbell and Ray Pohlman, thickening the sound on six-string bass, plus two saxophones, and Hal Blaine adding percussion.  And the main instrument providing chordal support wasn't guitar or organ, as it usually had been, but a harpsichord, an instrument Brian would use a lot over the next few years: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "I Get Around (backing track)"] The recording session for that backing track was also another breaking point for the band. Murry Wilson, himself a frustrated songwriter and producer, was at the session and kept insisting that there was a problem with the bassline. Eventually, Brian had enough of his father's interference, and fired him as the band's manager. Murry would continue to keep trying to interfere in his children's career, but this was the point at which the Beach Boys finally took control over their own futures. A few days later, they reconvened in the studio to record the vocals for what would become their first number one hit: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "I Get Around"] It's fascinating to see that even this early in the group's career, and on one of their biggest, summeriest hits, there's already a tension in the lyrics, a sense of wanting to move on -- "I'm getting bugged driving up and down the same old strip/I've got to find a new place where the kids are hip". The lyrics are Love's, but as is so often the case with Brian Wilson's collaborations, Love seems to have been expressing something that Wilson was feeling at the time. The Beach Boys had risen to the challenge from the Beatles, in a way that few other American musicians could, and "I Get Around" was good enough that it made the top ten in the UK, and became a particular favourite in the Mod subculture in London. The group would only become more popular over the next few years in the UK, a new place where the kids were hip. "I Get Around" is a worthy classic, but the B-side, "Don't Worry Baby", is if anything even better. It had been recorded in January, and had already been released on their Shut Down vol 2 album in March. It had originally been intended for the Ronettes, and was inspired by "Be My Baby", which had astonished Brian Wilson when it had been released a few months earlier. He would later recall having to pull over to the side of the road when he first heard the drum intro to that record: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"] Brian would play that record over and over, on repeat, for days at a time, and would try to absorb every nuance of the record and its production, and he tried to come up with something that could follow it. Wilson took the basic rhythm and chord sequence of the song, plus melodic fragments like the line "Be my little baby", and reworked them into a song that clearly owes a lot to its inspiration, but which stands on its own: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "Don't Worry Baby"] Phil Spector turned the song down, and so the Beach Boys recorded it themselves, and I have to say that this was only a good thing -- Ronnie Spector recorded a solo version of it many decades later, and it's a fine performance, but the lyric misses something when it's sung by a woman rather than a man. That lyric was by Roger Christian, and in it we see the tension between the more emotional themes that Wilson wanted to explore and the surf and car lyrics that had made up the majority of their singles to this point. The lyric is ostensibly about a car race, and indeed it seems to be setting up precisely the kind of situation that was common in teen tragedy records of the period. The protagonist sings "I guess I should have kept my mouth shut when I started to brag about my car,  but I can't back down now because I pushed the other guys too far", and the whole lyric is focused on his terror of an upcoming race.  This seems intended to lead to the kind of situation that we see in "Dead Man's Curve", or “Tell Laura I Love Her”, or in another teen tragedy song we'll be looking at in a couple of weeks, with the protagonist dead in a car crash. But instead, this is short-circuited. The protagonist's fears are allayed by his girlfriend: [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "Don't Worry Baby"] What we have here is someone trying to deal with a particular kind of anxiety brought about by what we now refer to as toxic masculinity. The protagonist has been showing off about his driving skills in front of his peers, and has now found himself in a situation that he can't cope with. He's saved by a figure we'll see a lot more of in Brian's songs, whoever the lyricist, the supernaturally good woman who understands the protagonist and loves him despite, or because of, his faults, even though she's too good for him. Obviously, one can point to all sorts of reasons why this figure might be considered problematic -- the idea that the man is unable to deal with his own emotional problems without a woman fixing him -- but there's an emotional truth to it that one doesn't get in much music of the era, and even if it's a somewhat flawed view of gender relations, it speaks to a very particular kind of insecurity at the inability to live up to traditional masculine roles, and is all the more affecting when it's paired with the braggadocio of the A-side. The combination means we see the bragging and posturing on the A-side as just a facade, covering over the real emotional fragility of the narrator. Each side reinforces the other, and the combination is one of the most perfect pairings ever released as a single. "Don't Worry Baby", released as "I Get Around”'s B-side, made the charts in its own right peaking at number twenty-four. The B-side to the next single further elaborated on the themes of "Don't Worry Baby": [Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "She Knows Me Too Well"] This repurposing of the emotional and musical style of girl-group songs to deal with the emotional vulnerability that comes from acknowledging and attempting to process toxic masculinity is something that few other songwriters were capable of at this point – only some of John Lennon's work a couple of years later comes close to dealing with this very real area of the emotional landscape, and Lennon, like Wilson, often does so by using the figure of the perfect woman who will save the protagonist. In 1964, the group once again released four albums – Shut Down vol.2, All Summer Long, a live album, and a Christmas album – and they also did most of the work on yet another album, The Beach Boys Today!, which would be released in early 1965. As these recordings progressed, Brian Wilson was more and more ambitious, both in terms of the emotional effect of the music and his arrangements, increasingly using session musicians to augment the group, and trying for a variant on Phil Spector's production style, but one which emphasised gentle fragility rather than sturm und drang. Possibly the greatest track he created in 1964 ended up not being used by the Beach Boys, though, but was given to Glen Campbell: [Excerpt: Glen Campbell, "Guess I'm Dumb"] Campbell got given that track because of an enormous favour he'd done the group. The mental strain of touring had finally got too much for Brian, and in December, on a plane to Texas, he'd had a breakdown, screaming on the plane and refusing to get off. Eventually, they coaxed him off the plane, and he'd managed to get through that night's show, but had flown back to LA straight after. Campbell, who was a session guitarist who had played on a number of the Beach Boys' recordings, and had a minor career as a singer at this point, had flown out at almost no notice and for the next five months he replaced Brian on stage for most of their shows, before the group got a permanent replacement in. Brian Wilson had retired from the road, and the hope was that by doing so, he would reduce the strain on himself enough that he could keep writing and producing for the group without making his mental health worse. And for a while, at least, that seemed to be how it worked out. We'll take a look at the results in a few weeks' time.

    Episode 116: “Where Did Our Love Go?” by The Supremes

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 10, 2021

    Episode one hundred and sixteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Where Did Our Love Go?” by the Supremes, and how the “no-hit Supremes” became the biggest girl group in history. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “She’s Not There” by the Zombies. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—-   Resources As usual, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.  For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I’ve used the following resources: Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown.  To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy’s own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography. Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown. I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown. The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown’s thirty-year history. How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier’s autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers’. And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles. Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era. The Supremes biography I mention in the podcast is The Supremes by Mark Ribowsky, which seems factually accurate but questionable in its judgments of people. I also used this omnibus edition of Mary Wilson’s two volumes of autobiography. This box set contains everything you could want by the Supremes, but is extraordinarily expensive in physical form at the moment, though cheap as MP3s. This is a good budget substitute, though oddly doesn’t contain “Stop in the Name of Love”. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Before I start, this episode contains a brief mention of rape, and the trauma of a victim, and a glancing mention of an eating disorder. The discussion is not particularly explicit, but if you think you might find it upsetting, you might be advised to check the transcript before listening, which as always can be found on the site website, or to skip this episode. Today, we’re going to look at the first big hit from the group who would become the most successful female vocal group of the sixties, the group who would become the most important act to come out of Motown, and who would be more successful in chart terms than anyone in the sixties except the Beatles and Elvis.  We’re going to look at the record that made Holland, Dozier, and Holland the most important team in Motown, and that made a group that had been regarded as a joke into superstars. We’re going to look at “Where Did Our Love Go?” by the group that up until this record was known in Motown as “the no-hit Supremes”: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?”] The story of the Supremes starts, like almost every Motown act, in Detroit. Specifically, it starts with a group called the Primes, a trio who had grown up in Birmingham, Alabama, and then had moved to Cleveland, before moving in turn to Detroit. The Primes consisted of Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Kell Osborne, and were gaining popularity around the city. But their act was lacking something, and their manager, Milton Jenkins, was inspired by Ray Charles’ backing vocalists, the Raelettes. What if, he thought, his male vocal group had a group of female backing singers, the Primettes? Stories vary about exactly how Jenkins pulled the group members together, including the idea that he literally stopped girls on the streets of the housing projects where the eventual members all lived. But what everyone seems to agree on is that Betty McGlown was dating Paul Williams, so she was an obvious choice. Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard knew each other and were good singers, especially Ballard, and they joined together, with Ballard becoming the new group’s leader. And nobody seems to be clear who asked Diana Ross to join, but she was invited in. Ross says she was already singing with the other three around the neighbourhood. Wilson insisted that they didn’t know her, and that she was brought in by Jenkins. While Ballard and Wilson were friendly enough, and all of them were from the same small area and so knew each other by sight, this wasn’t a group that came together as friends, but people who were put together by a third party. This would make a big difference to them over the years. Ross was probably introduced to the group because she already had a reputation among the people who were playing Detroit’s talent shows. For example there’s Melvin Franklin, who in the late fifties was singing with The Distants: [Excerpt: The Distants, “Come On”] Franklin was an old friend of Ross’ from school, and he would rave about Ross to his friends, so much so that Otis Williams, another member of the Distants (which would soon merge with the Primes to become the Temptations) knew Ross’ name long before he ever met her, and later remembered thinking “Jesus, this girl must be something special.” So Jenkins would have known about Ross through these connections. Incidentally, before we go any further, I should mention the issue of Diana Ross’ name. At this point, she was mostly known by the name on her birth certificate, Diane, and that’s how many people who knew her in this period still refer to her when talking about the late fifties and early sixties. However, she says herself that her parents always intended to name her Diana and the person filling in the birth certificate misspelled it, and she’s used Diana for many decades now. As a general rule on this podcast I always refer to someone by the name they choose for themselves unless there’s a very good reason not to, and so I’m going to be referring to her as Diana throughout — and later when we talk about the Byrds, I will always refer to Roger McGuinn, and so on. It’s difficult to talk about Diana Ross in any sensible way, because she is not a person who has inspired the greatest affection among her colleagues, or among people writing about her. But almost all the negative things said about her have a deep undercurrent of misogyny. One of the biographies I used for researching this episode, for example, in the space of four consecutive sentences in the introduction, compares her face to that of ET, says she looked “emaciated and vacant” (and this is a woman who suffered from anorexia), talks about how inviting her mouth is and her “bedroom eyes”, and then talks about how she used her sexuality to get ahead. You will be shocked, I am sure, to hear that this book was written by a male biographer. Oddly, the books I’m using for the upcoming episodes on Manfred Mann and the Beach Boys don’t talk of their lead singers in this way… In particular, there is a recurring theme in almost everything written about Ross, which criticises her for having affairs with prominent people at Motown, most notably Berry Gordy, and accuses her of doing this in order to further her own ambitions. That sort of criticism is rooted in misogyny. This is not a podcast that will ever deal in shaming women for their sexuality, and what consenting adults do with each other is their business alone. I would also point out that Ross’ affair with Gordy is always portrayed as ethical misconduct on Ross’ part, but *if* there was anything unethical about their relationship, the fault in a relationship between a rich, powerful, married man in his thirties and his much younger employee is unlikely to have been due to the latter. That’s not to say that Ross is flawless — far from it, as the narrative will make clear — but to say that it’s very difficult, when relying on reportage either from people with personal grudges against her or from writers who take attitudes like that, to separate the real flaws in the real woman from the monster of the popular imagination. But that’s all for later in the story. At this point, Ross was merely one of four girls brought together by Jenkins to form the Primettes – but Jenkins soon realised that this group could be better used as a group in their own right, rather than merely as backing vocalists for the Primes.  At this point, early on, there was no question but that Florence Ballard was the leader of the group. She had the most outspoken personality, and also had the best voice. When Jenkins had asked to hear the girls sing together, all the others had just looked at each other, while she had burst out into Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time”: [Excerpt: Ray Charles, “Night Time is the Right Time”] That would become a staple of the girls’ early act, along with “The Twist” and “There Goes My Baby”. All of the girls would take lead vocals on stage, but Florence was the first among equals. At that time, indeed, Ballard thought that Ross should not be a lead singer at all, but Ross got very angry at this, and kept working at her vocals, trying to get them more commercial and make better use of her more limited voice. Ballard was a natural singer, who sang passionately in a way that apparently blew audiences away with relatively little effort, because she was singing from the heart. Ross, on the other hand, was a calculated performer who was deliberately trying to gain the audience’s popularity, and was improving with every show as she learned what worked. The combination worked, at least for a time, though the two never got on even from the start. Of the other members, Mary Wilson was always the peacemaker, someone who was so conflict-averse she would find a way to get Florence and Diana to stop fighting, no matter what. Meanwhile, Betty was the least interested in being in a group — she was just doing it as a favour for her boyfriend. And finally, there was a fifth member, Marvin Tarplin, who didn’t sing but who played guitar, which made them one of the few vocal groups in the city who had their own accompaniment. Fairly quickly, Franklin dropped out of management — he spent some time in hospital, and after getting out he just never got back in touch with the girls — and the Primettes took over looking after themselves. There are various stories about them being approached by different people within Motown at different points, but everyone agrees that their first real contact with Motown came through Ross. Ross had, a year or so before the group formed, been friendly with Smokey Robinson, on whom she had a bit of an adolescent crush. Knowing that Robinson was now recording for Motown, she got in touch with him, and he made a suggestion — her group should audition for him, and if he thought they were good enough, he’d get them an appointment with Berry Gordy. The group sang for Robinson, who wasn’t hugely impressed, except with their guitarist. So Robinson made a deal with them — he’d get the girls an audition for Motown, if he could borrow their guitarist for a tour the Miracles were about to do. They agreed, and Robinson’s temporary borrowing of Tarplin lasted fifty years, as Tarplin continued working with Robinson, both in the Miracles and on Robinson’s solo records, until 2008, and co-wrote many of Robinson’s biggest hits. But Robinson kept his word, and the girls did indeed audition for Berry Gordy, who was encouraging but told them to come back after they had finished school.  But two other producers at Motown, Richard Morris and Robert Bateman, decided they weren’t going to wait around. If Berry Gordy didn’t want to sign them yet, they’d get the Primettes work with other labels. Morris became their manager, and they started getting session work on early recordings by future soul legends like Wilson Pickett: [Excerpt: Wilson Pickett, “Let Me Be Your Boy”] And Eddie Floyd: [Excerpt: Eddie Floyd, “I am Her Yo-Yo Man”] The group also eventually got to put out their own single. The A-side featured Ross on lead: [Excerpt: The Primettes, “Tears of Sorrow”] While the B-side had Wilson singing lead, but also featured a prominent high part from Ballard: [Excerpt: The Primettes, “Pretty Baby”] Shortly after this, several things happened that would change the group forever. One was that Betty decided to leave the group to get married. She had never been as committed to the group as the other three, and she was quickly replaced with a new singer, Barbara Martin. The other, far more devastating, thing was that Florence Ballard was raped by an acquaintance. This traumatised Ballard deeply, and from this point on she became unable to trust anyone, even her friends. She would suffer for the rest of her life from what would now be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, and while it’s likely that the later problems between her and Ross would have occurred in some form, the way they occurred was undoubtedly affected by the fact of Ballard’s untreated mental illness as a result of this trauma. After refusing to speak to anyone at all for a couple of weeks, Ballard managed to get herself well enough to start singing again, and then only a few days later Richard Morris was arrested for a parole violation and found himself in prison.  With all these devastating changes, many groups would have given up. But  the Primettes were ambitious, and they decided that they were going to force their way into Motown, whether Berry Gordy wanted them or not. They took to hanging around Hitsville, acting like they belonged there, and they soon found themselves doing minor bits of work on sessions — handclaps and backing vocals and so on, as almost everyone who hung around the studio long enough would. Eventually they got lucky. Freddie Gorman, who was the girls’ postman in his day job and had not yet written “Please Mr. Postman”, had been working on a song with Brian Holland, and the girls happened to be around.  Gorman suggested they try the song out, to see what it sounded like with harmonies, and the result was good enough that Holland and Gorman called in Gordy, who tinkered with the song to get his name on the credits, and then helped produce the session: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “I Want a Guy”] That came out under the name The Supremes, with a Berry Gordy song on the B-side, a knock-off of “Maybe” by the Chantels called “Never Again”. How the group got their new name has also been a subject of some dispute, in part because of legal issues later on, as Florence Ballard tried to claim some intellectual property rights in the group name as the one who had chosen it. Everyone involved has a different story about how the name was chosen, but it seems to be the consensus that Ballard did pick the name from a shortlist, with the dispute being over whether that shortlist was of names that the group members had come up with between them, or whether it was created by Janie Bradford, and whether Ballard made a conscious choice of the name or just picked it out of a hat. Whatever the case, the Primettes had now become the Supremes. The problem was that Berry Gordy wasn’t really interested in them as a group. Right from the start, he was only interested in Diana Ross as an individual, though at least at first all the members would get to take lead vocals on album tracks — though the singles would be saved for Diana. With one exception — after the group’s first single flopped, they decided to go in a very different direction for the second single.  For that, Gordy wrote a knock-off of a knock-off. In 1959 the Olympics had had a very minor hit with “Hully Gully”: [Excerpt: The Olympics, “Hully Gully”] Which had been remade a few months later by the Marathons as “Peanut Butter”: [Excerpt: The Marathons, “Peanut Butter”] Gordy chose to rework this song as “Buttered Popcorn”, a song that’s just an excuse for extremely weak double entendres, and Florence got to sing lead: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Buttered Popcorn”] That was no more successful than “I Want a Guy”, and that would be the last time Florence Ballard ever got to sing lead on a Supremes single. It would also be the last single the Supremes released as a four-piece. While Barbara Martin had recorded some material with the group that would be released later, she became pregnant and decided to leave the group. Having decided that they clearly couldn’t keep a fourth singer around, the other three decided to continue on as a trio. By this time, Motown had signed the Marvelettes, and they’d leapfrogged over the Supremes to become major stars. The Supremes, meanwhile had had two flops in a row, and their third did little better, though “Your Heart Belongs to Me”,  written and produced for them by Smokey Robinson, did make number ninety-five in the charts. That was followed by a string of flops that often did, just, make the Hot One Hundred but didn’t qualify as hits by any measure — and many of them were truly terrible. The group got the nickname “the no-hit Supremes” and tended to get the songs that wouldn’t pass muster for other groups. Their nadir was probably the B-side “The Man with the Rock & Roll Banjo Band”, a song that seems to have been based around Duane Eddy’s “Dance With the Guitar Man”: [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Dance With the Guitar Man”] But instead of the electric guitar, the Supremes’ song was about the banjo, an instrument which has many virtues, but which does not really fit into the Motown sound: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “The Man with the Rock and Roll Banjo Band”] This sort of thing continued for two years, with the Supremes now being passed in chart success not only by the Marvelettes but also by the Vandellas, who also signed to Motown after them and had hits before. The “no-hit Supremes” at their best only just scraped the bottom of the Hot One Hundred, no matter who produced them — Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Clarence Paul, Berry Gordy, and Smokey Robinson all had multiple attempts at recording with the group, because of Gordy’s belief in Ross’ star potential, but nothing happened until they were paired with Holland, Dozier, and Holland, fresh off their success with the Vandellas. The musical side of the Holland/Dozier/Holland team had already worked with the group, but with little success. But once Holland/Dozier/Holland became a bona fide hit-making team, they started giving the Supremes additional backing vocal parts. They’re in the vocal stack, for example, on Marvin Gaye’s extraordinary “Can I Get a Witness”: [Excerpt: Marvin Gaye, “Can I Get a Witness”] The first song that Holland, Dozier, and Holland wrote as a team for the Supremes is very different from the heavy, soulful, records they’d specialised in up until that point. Lamont Dozier has said that when he came up with the idea for “When the Lovelight Starts Shining in His Eyes” he was thinking of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, although it’s unlikely he was actually thinking of Wilson, who at this point in 1963 was still making rather garagey surf-rock records rather than the symphonic pop he would start to specialise in the next year. Which is not to say that Holland, Dozier, and Holland weren’t paying attention to Wilson — after all, they wrote “Surfer Boy” for the Supremes in 1965 — but Dozier is probably misremembering here. It’s entirely plausible, though, that he was thinking of Spector, and the song definitely has a wall of sound feel, albeit filtered through Motown’s distinctly funkier, non-Wrecking-Crew, sound, and with more than a little Bo Diddley influence: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”] That also featured additional backing vocals from the Four Tops, another group with whom Holland, Dozier, and Holland were working, and who we’ll be hearing more of in future episodes. “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” went to number twenty-three, the first bona fide hit the Supremes had ever had. So they were set. They even had a surefire smash follow-up. With Holland, Dozier, and Holland they’d recorded *another* Phil Spector knock-off, *before* “Lovelight”, a record modelled on “Da Doo Ron Ron”, titled “Run Run Run”, but they’d held it back so they could release it next — they decided to release a record that sounded like a medium-sized hit first, to get some momentum and name recognition, so they could then release the big smash hit. But “Run Run Run” only went to number ninety-four. The group were at a low point, and as far as they could tell they were only going to get lower. They’d had their hit and it looked like a fluke. The big one they’d had hopes for had gone nowhere. The story of their next single has been told many ways by many different people. This is a version of the story as best I can put it together, but everything that follows might be false, because as with so much of Motown, everyone has their own agenda. As best I can make out, Holland, Dozier, and Holland were working on tracks for a proposed Marvelettes album and came up with a simple, stomping, song based on a repetitive eight-bar verse, with no bridge, chorus, or middle eight. The Holland brothers disagree about what happened next, and it sounds odd, but Lamont Dozier, Mary Wilson, and Katherine Anderson of the Marvelettes all say the same thing — while normally Motown artists had no say in what songs they recorded, this time the Marvelettes were played a couple of backing tracks which had been proposed as their next recording, and they chose to dump the eight-bar one, and go instead with “Too Many Fish in the Sea”: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Too Many Fish in the Sea”] The way Dozier tells the story, that presented Holland, Dozier, and Holland with a problem. They’d recorded the backing track, and one of the many ways that Motown caused problems for its creative workers was that they would be charged against royalties for studio time. If the track didn’t get released, they’d lost all the money. So they turned to the Supremes, and Dozier tried to persuade Mary Wilson that he’d written this great new song, just for them, they’d love it, but by this point they’d already talked to the Marvelettes and been told about this dreadful song they’d managed to get out of doing, and advised to avoid it if they could. But while the Marvelettes were a big, successful group, the Supremes weren’t yet, and didn’t have any choice. They were going to record the song whether they liked it or not. They didn’t like it. Having already been poisoned against the song by the Marvelettes, there were further problems in the studio because one of the production team had originally told Mary Wilson she could sing lead on the song. Everyone seems agreed that Brian Holland insisted on Diana Ross singing it instead, but Eddie Holland remembers that he thought that Wilson should sing and it was Brian and Dozier who insisted on Ross, while Dozier remembers that *he* thought that Wilson should sing, and it was the Holland brothers who insisted on Ross. Somehow, if all these memories are to be believed, Brian Holland outvoted his partners one to two, possibly because Berry Gordy had declared that Ross should be the lead singer on all Supremes singles. Mary was devastated, while Ross was annoyed that she was having to sing what she thought was a terrible song, in a key that was much lower than she was used to. She got more annoyed when Eddie Holland kept coaching her on how he wanted the song sung — she was playing with the phrasing and Holland insisted she sing it straight. Eventually she started threatening to get Gordy to come down, at which point Eddie told her that she could do that, but then Gordy could just produce the session and they needn’t bother hoping for any more Holland/Dozier/Holland songs.  She sang through her lead putting as little emotion as she could into her voice, while glaring daggers at the producers, before storming off as soon as she’d completed the take they wanted, complaining about being given everyone else’s leftovers: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?”] Holland, Dozier, and Holland then got on with trying to get the other two Supremes to do the backing vocal parts. But the parts Lamont Dozier had come up with were difficult, nobody was in a good mood, and Mary Wilson was still upset that she wasn’t going to be singing lead. They couldn’t get the vocals down, and eventually, frustrated, Dozier told them to just sing “baby baby” when he pointed, and they went with that. Towards the end of the session, Ross came back in, with Berry Gordy, who she had clearly been complaining to about the song. He asked to hear it, and they played back this recording that nobody was happy with. Gordy, much to Ross’ shock, was convinced it was a hit, and said to them “Cheer up, everybody! From now on, you’re the big-hit Supremes!”: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?”] Motown was in a bit of a slump at that point — several of the label’s big stars had had disappointing follow-ups to their hits, and they’d just lost Mary Wells, one of their biggest stars, to another label. Gordy decided that they were going to give “Where Did Our Love Go?” a huge push, and persuaded Dick Clark to put the Supremes on his Caravan of Stars tour. When the record came out in June, they were at the bottom of the bill, opening the show on a bill with more than a dozen other acts, from the Zombies to the Shirelles to Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon above them. By the end of the tour, their record was at number one in the charts and they had already recorded a follow-up. As “Where Did Our Love Go?” had included the word “baby” sixty-eight times, the production team had decided not to mess with a winning formula: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Baby Love”] That went to number one by the end of October 1964, making the Supremes the first Motown act to have two number ones. There would be a lot more where that came from. But there was already trouble brewing in the group. Even on the Dick Clark tourbus, there were rumours that Diana Ross wanted a solo career, and there was talk of her forcing Florence Ballard out of the group. We’ll look at that, and what happened with the Supremes in the latter part of the sixties in a few months’ time.  But I can’t end this time without acknowledging the sad death, a month ago today, of Mary Wilson, the only member of the Supremes who stayed with the group from the beginning right through to their split in 1977. For a member of a group who were second only to the Beatles for commercial success in the sixties, she was underrewarded in life, and her death went underreported. She’ll be missed.

    Episode 116: “Where Did Our Love Go?” by The Supremes

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 10, 2021

    Episode one hundred and sixteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Where Did Our Love Go?” by the Supremes, and how the “no-hit Supremes” became the biggest girl group in history. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “She’s Not There” by the Zombies. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 116: "Where Did Our Love Go?" by The Supremes

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 10, 2021 35:59

    Episode one hundred and sixteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Where Did Our Love Go?" by the Supremes, and how the "no-hit Supremes" became the biggest girl group in history. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "She's Not There" by the Zombies. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more----   Resources As usual, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.  For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I've used the following resources: Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown.  To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy's own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography. Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown. I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown. The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown's thirty-year history. How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier's autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers'. And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles. Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era. The Supremes biography I mention in the podcast is The Supremes by Mark Ribowsky, which seems factually accurate but questionable in its judgments of people. I also used this omnibus edition of Mary Wilson's two volumes of autobiography. This box set contains everything you could want by the Supremes, but is extraordinarily expensive in physical form at the moment, though cheap as MP3s. This is a good budget substitute, though oddly doesn't contain "Stop in the Name of Love". Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Before I start, this episode contains a brief mention of rape, and the trauma of a victim, and a glancing mention of an eating disorder. The discussion is not particularly explicit, but if you think you might find it upsetting, you might be advised to check the transcript before listening, which as always can be found on the site website, or to skip this episode. Today, we're going to look at the first big hit from the group who would become the most successful female vocal group of the sixties, the group who would become the most important act to come out of Motown, and who would be more successful in chart terms than anyone in the sixties except the Beatles and Elvis.  We're going to look at the record that made Holland, Dozier, and Holland the most important team in Motown, and that made a group that had been regarded as a joke into superstars. We're going to look at "Where Did Our Love Go?" by the group that up until this record was known in Motown as "the no-hit Supremes": [Excerpt: The Supremes, "Where Did Our Love Go?"] The story of the Supremes starts, like almost every Motown act, in Detroit. Specifically, it starts with a group called the Primes, a trio who had grown up in Birmingham, Alabama, and then had moved to Cleveland, before moving in turn to Detroit. The Primes consisted of Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Kell Osborne, and were gaining popularity around the city. But their act was lacking something, and their manager, Milton Jenkins, was inspired by Ray Charles' backing vocalists, the Raelettes. What if, he thought, his male vocal group had a group of female backing singers, the Primettes? Stories vary about exactly how Jenkins pulled the group members together, including the idea that he literally stopped girls on the streets of the housing projects where the eventual members all lived. But what everyone seems to agree on is that Betty McGlown was dating Paul Williams, so she was an obvious choice. Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard knew each other and were good singers, especially Ballard, and they joined together, with Ballard becoming the new group's leader. And nobody seems to be clear who asked Diana Ross to join, but she was invited in. Ross says she was already singing with the other three around the neighbourhood. Wilson insisted that they didn't know her, and that she was brought in by Jenkins. While Ballard and Wilson were friendly enough, and all of them were from the same small area and so knew each other by sight, this wasn't a group that came together as friends, but people who were put together by a third party. This would make a big difference to them over the years. Ross was probably introduced to the group because she already had a reputation among the people who were playing Detroit's talent shows. For example there's Melvin Franklin, who in the late fifties was singing with The Distants: [Excerpt: The Distants, "Come On"] Franklin was an old friend of Ross' from school, and he would rave about Ross to his friends, so much so that Otis Williams, another member of the Distants (which would soon merge with the Primes to become the Temptations) knew Ross' name long before he ever met her, and later remembered thinking "Jesus, this girl must be something special." So Jenkins would have known about Ross through these connections. Incidentally, before we go any further, I should mention the issue of Diana Ross' name. At this point, she was mostly known by the name on her birth certificate, Diane, and that's how many people who knew her in this period still refer to her when talking about the late fifties and early sixties. However, she says herself that her parents always intended to name her Diana and the person filling in the birth certificate misspelled it, and she's used Diana for many decades now. As a general rule on this podcast I always refer to someone by the name they choose for themselves unless there's a very good reason not to, and so I'm going to be referring to her as Diana throughout -- and later when we talk about the Byrds, I will always refer to Roger McGuinn, and so on. It's difficult to talk about Diana Ross in any sensible way, because she is not a person who has inspired the greatest affection among her colleagues, or among people writing about her. But almost all the negative things said about her have a deep undercurrent of misogyny. One of the biographies I used for researching this episode, for example, in the space of four consecutive sentences in the introduction, compares her face to that of ET, says she looked "emaciated and vacant" (and this is a woman who suffered from anorexia), talks about how inviting her mouth is and her "bedroom eyes", and then talks about how she used her sexuality to get ahead. You will be shocked, I am sure, to hear that this book was written by a male biographer. Oddly, the books I'm using for the upcoming episodes on Manfred Mann and the Beach Boys don't talk of their lead singers in this way... In particular, there is a recurring theme in almost everything written about Ross, which criticises her for having affairs with prominent people at Motown, most notably Berry Gordy, and accuses her of doing this in order to further her own ambitions. That sort of criticism is rooted in misogyny. This is not a podcast that will ever deal in shaming women for their sexuality, and what consenting adults do with each other is their business alone. I would also point out that Ross' affair with Gordy is always portrayed as ethical misconduct on Ross' part, but *if* there was anything unethical about their relationship, the fault in a relationship between a rich, powerful, married man in his thirties and his much younger employee is unlikely to have been due to the latter. That's not to say that Ross is flawless -- far from it, as the narrative will make clear -- but to say that it's very difficult, when relying on reportage either from people with personal grudges against her or from writers who take attitudes like that, to separate the real flaws in the real woman from the monster of the popular imagination. But that's all for later in the story. At this point, Ross was merely one of four girls brought together by Jenkins to form the Primettes - but Jenkins soon realised that this group could be better used as a group in their own right, rather than merely as backing vocalists for the Primes.  At this point, early on, there was no question but that Florence Ballard was the leader of the group. She had the most outspoken personality, and also had the best voice. When Jenkins had asked to hear the girls sing together, all the others had just looked at each other, while she had burst out into Ray Charles' "Night Time is the Right Time": [Excerpt: Ray Charles, "Night Time is the Right Time"] That would become a staple of the girls' early act, along with "The Twist" and "There Goes My Baby". All of the girls would take lead vocals on stage, but Florence was the first among equals. At that time, indeed, Ballard thought that Ross should not be a lead singer at all, but Ross got very angry at this, and kept working at her vocals, trying to get them more commercial and make better use of her more limited voice. Ballard was a natural singer, who sang passionately in a way that apparently blew audiences away with relatively little effort, because she was singing from the heart. Ross, on the other hand, was a calculated performer who was deliberately trying to gain the audience's popularity, and was improving with every show as she learned what worked. The combination worked, at least for a time, though the two never got on even from the start. Of the other members, Mary Wilson was always the peacemaker, someone who was so conflict-averse she would find a way to get Florence and Diana to stop fighting, no matter what. Meanwhile, Betty was the least interested in being in a group -- she was just doing it as a favour for her boyfriend. And finally, there was a fifth member, Marvin Tarplin, who didn't sing but who played guitar, which made them one of the few vocal groups in the city who had their own accompaniment. Fairly quickly, Franklin dropped out of management -- he spent some time in hospital, and after getting out he just never got back in touch with the girls -- and the Primettes took over looking after themselves. There are various stories about them being approached by different people within Motown at different points, but everyone agrees that their first real contact with Motown came through Ross. Ross had, a year or so before the group formed, been friendly with Smokey Robinson, on whom she had a bit of an adolescent crush. Knowing that Robinson was now recording for Motown, she got in touch with him, and he made a suggestion -- her group should audition for him, and if he thought they were good enough, he'd get them an appointment with Berry Gordy. The group sang for Robinson, who wasn't hugely impressed, except with their guitarist. So Robinson made a deal with them -- he'd get the girls an audition for Motown, if he could borrow their guitarist for a tour the Miracles were about to do. They agreed, and Robinson's temporary borrowing of Tarplin lasted fifty years, as Tarplin continued working with Robinson, both in the Miracles and on Robinson's solo records, until 2008, and co-wrote many of Robinson's biggest hits. But Robinson kept his word, and the girls did indeed audition for Berry Gordy, who was encouraging but told them to come back after they had finished school.  But two other producers at Motown, Richard Morris and Robert Bateman, decided they weren't going to wait around. If Berry Gordy didn't want to sign them yet, they'd get the Primettes work with other labels. Morris became their manager, and they started getting session work on early recordings by future soul legends like Wilson Pickett: [Excerpt: Wilson Pickett, "Let Me Be Your Boy"] And Eddie Floyd: [Excerpt: Eddie Floyd, "I am Her Yo-Yo Man"] The group also eventually got to put out their own single. The A-side featured Ross on lead: [Excerpt: The Primettes, "Tears of Sorrow"] While the B-side had Wilson singing lead, but also featured a prominent high part from Ballard: [Excerpt: The Primettes, "Pretty Baby"] Shortly after this, several things happened that would change the group forever. One was that Betty decided to leave the group to get married. She had never been as committed to the group as the other three, and she was quickly replaced with a new singer, Barbara Martin. The other, far more devastating, thing was that Florence Ballard was raped by an acquaintance. This traumatised Ballard deeply, and from this point on she became unable to trust anyone, even her friends. She would suffer for the rest of her life from what would now be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, and while it's likely that the later problems between her and Ross would have occurred in some form, the way they occurred was undoubtedly affected by the fact of Ballard's untreated mental illness as a result of this trauma. After refusing to speak to anyone at all for a couple of weeks, Ballard managed to get herself well enough to start singing again, and then only a few days later Richard Morris was arrested for a parole violation and found himself in prison.  With all these devastating changes, many groups would have given up. But  the Primettes were ambitious, and they decided that they were going to force their way into Motown, whether Berry Gordy wanted them or not. They took to hanging around Hitsville, acting like they belonged there, and they soon found themselves doing minor bits of work on sessions -- handclaps and backing vocals and so on, as almost everyone who hung around the studio long enough would. Eventually they got lucky. Freddie Gorman, who was the girls' postman in his day job and had not yet written "Please Mr. Postman", had been working on a song with Brian Holland, and the girls happened to be around.  Gorman suggested they try the song out, to see what it sounded like with harmonies, and the result was good enough that Holland and Gorman called in Gordy, who tinkered with the song to get his name on the credits, and then helped produce the session: [Excerpt: The Supremes, "I Want a Guy"] That came out under the name The Supremes, with a Berry Gordy song on the B-side, a knock-off of "Maybe" by the Chantels called "Never Again". How the group got their new name has also been a subject of some dispute, in part because of legal issues later on, as Florence Ballard tried to claim some intellectual property rights in the group name as the one who had chosen it. Everyone involved has a different story about how the name was chosen, but it seems to be the consensus that Ballard did pick the name from a shortlist, with the dispute being over whether that shortlist was of names that the group members had come up with between them, or whether it was created by Janie Bradford, and whether Ballard made a conscious choice of the name or just picked it out of a hat. Whatever the case, the Primettes had now become the Supremes. The problem was that Berry Gordy wasn't really interested in them as a group. Right from the start, he was only interested in Diana Ross as an individual, though at least at first all the members would get to take lead vocals on album tracks -- though the singles would be saved for Diana. With one exception -- after the group's first single flopped, they decided to go in a very different direction for the second single.  For that, Gordy wrote a knock-off of a knock-off. In 1959 the Olympics had had a very minor hit with "Hully Gully": [Excerpt: The Olympics, "Hully Gully"] Which had been remade a few months later by the Marathons as "Peanut Butter": [Excerpt: The Marathons, "Peanut Butter"] Gordy chose to rework this song as "Buttered Popcorn", a song that's just an excuse for extremely weak double entendres, and Florence got to sing lead: [Excerpt: The Supremes, "Buttered Popcorn"] That was no more successful than "I Want a Guy", and that would be the last time Florence Ballard ever got to sing lead on a Supremes single. It would also be the last single the Supremes released as a four-piece. While Barbara Martin had recorded some material with the group that would be released later, she became pregnant and decided to leave the group. Having decided that they clearly couldn't keep a fourth singer around, the other three decided to continue on as a trio. By this time, Motown had signed the Marvelettes, and they'd leapfrogged over the Supremes to become major stars. The Supremes, meanwhile had had two flops in a row, and their third did little better, though "Your Heart Belongs to Me",  written and produced for them by Smokey Robinson, did make number ninety-five in the charts. That was followed by a string of flops that often did, just, make the Hot One Hundred but didn't qualify as hits by any measure -- and many of them were truly terrible. The group got the nickname "the no-hit Supremes" and tended to get the songs that wouldn't pass muster for other groups. Their nadir was probably the B-side "The Man with the Rock & Roll Banjo Band", a song that seems to have been based around Duane Eddy's "Dance With the Guitar Man": [Excerpt: Duane Eddy, "Dance With the Guitar Man"] But instead of the electric guitar, the Supremes' song was about the banjo, an instrument which has many virtues, but which does not really fit into the Motown sound: [Excerpt: The Supremes, "The Man with the Rock and Roll Banjo Band"] This sort of thing continued for two years, with the Supremes now being passed in chart success not only by the Marvelettes but also by the Vandellas, who also signed to Motown after them and had hits before. The "no-hit Supremes" at their best only just scraped the bottom of the Hot One Hundred, no matter who produced them -- Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Clarence Paul, Berry Gordy, and Smokey Robinson all had multiple attempts at recording with the group, because of Gordy's belief in Ross' star potential, but nothing happened until they were paired with Holland, Dozier, and Holland, fresh off their success with the Vandellas. The musical side of the Holland/Dozier/Holland team had already worked with the group, but with little success. But once Holland/Dozier/Holland became a bona fide hit-making team, they started giving the Supremes additional backing vocal parts. They're in the vocal stack, for example, on Marvin Gaye's extraordinary "Can I Get a Witness": [Excerpt: Marvin Gaye, "Can I Get a Witness"] The first song that Holland, Dozier, and Holland wrote as a team for the Supremes is very different from the heavy, soulful, records they'd specialised in up until that point. Lamont Dozier has said that when he came up with the idea for "When the Lovelight Starts Shining in His Eyes" he was thinking of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, although it's unlikely he was actually thinking of Wilson, who at this point in 1963 was still making rather garagey surf-rock records rather than the symphonic pop he would start to specialise in the next year. Which is not to say that Holland, Dozier, and Holland weren't paying attention to Wilson -- after all, they wrote "Surfer Boy" for the Supremes in 1965 -- but Dozier is probably misremembering here. It's entirely plausible, though, that he was thinking of Spector, and the song definitely has a wall of sound feel, albeit filtered through Motown's distinctly funkier, non-Wrecking-Crew, sound, and with more than a little Bo Diddley influence: [Excerpt: The Supremes, "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes"] That also featured additional backing vocals from the Four Tops, another group with whom Holland, Dozier, and Holland were working, and who we'll be hearing more of in future episodes. "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" went to number twenty-three, the first bona fide hit the Supremes had ever had. So they were set. They even had a surefire smash follow-up. With Holland, Dozier, and Holland they'd recorded *another* Phil Spector knock-off, *before* "Lovelight", a record modelled on "Da Doo Ron Ron", titled "Run Run Run", but they'd held it back so they could release it next -- they decided to release a record that sounded like a medium-sized hit first, to get some momentum and name recognition, so they could then release the big smash hit. But "Run Run Run" only went to number ninety-four. The group were at a low point, and as far as they could tell they were only going to get lower. They'd had their hit and it looked like a fluke. The big one they'd had hopes for had gone nowhere. The story of their next single has been told many ways by many different people. This is a version of the story as best I can put it together, but everything that follows might be false, because as with so much of Motown, everyone has their own agenda. As best I can make out, Holland, Dozier, and Holland were working on tracks for a proposed Marvelettes album and came up with a simple, stomping, song based on a repetitive eight-bar verse, with no bridge, chorus, or middle eight. The Holland brothers disagree about what happened next, and it sounds odd, but Lamont Dozier, Mary Wilson, and Katherine Anderson of the Marvelettes all say the same thing -- while normally Motown artists had no say in what songs they recorded, this time the Marvelettes were played a couple of backing tracks which had been proposed as their next recording, and they chose to dump the eight-bar one, and go instead with "Too Many Fish in the Sea": [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, "Too Many Fish in the Sea"] The way Dozier tells the story, that presented Holland, Dozier, and Holland with a problem. They'd recorded the backing track, and one of the many ways that Motown caused problems for its creative workers was that they would be charged against royalties for studio time. If the track didn't get released, they'd lost all the money. So they turned to the Supremes, and Dozier tried to persuade Mary Wilson that he'd written this great new song, just for them, they'd love it, but by this point they'd already talked to the Marvelettes and been told about this dreadful song they'd managed to get out of doing, and advised to avoid it if they could. But while the Marvelettes were a big, successful group, the Supremes weren't yet, and didn't have any choice. They were going to record the song whether they liked it or not. They didn't like it. Having already been poisoned against the song by the Marvelettes, there were further problems in the studio because one of the production team had originally told Mary Wilson she could sing lead on the song. Everyone seems agreed that Brian Holland insisted on Diana Ross singing it instead, but Eddie Holland remembers that he thought that Wilson should sing and it was Brian and Dozier who insisted on Ross, while Dozier remembers that *he* thought that Wilson should sing, and it was the Holland brothers who insisted on Ross. Somehow, if all these memories are to be believed, Brian Holland outvoted his partners one to two, possibly because Berry Gordy had declared that Ross should be the lead singer on all Supremes singles. Mary was devastated, while Ross was annoyed that she was having to sing what she thought was a terrible song, in a key that was much lower than she was used to. She got more annoyed when Eddie Holland kept coaching her on how he wanted the song sung -- she was playing with the phrasing and Holland insisted she sing it straight. Eventually she started threatening to get Gordy to come down, at which point Eddie told her that she could do that, but then Gordy could just produce the session and they needn't bother hoping for any more Holland/Dozier/Holland songs.  She sang through her lead putting as little emotion as she could into her voice, while glaring daggers at the producers, before storming off as soon as she'd completed the take they wanted, complaining about being given everyone else's leftovers: [Excerpt: The Supremes, “Where Did Our Love Go?”] Holland, Dozier, and Holland then got on with trying to get the other two Supremes to do the backing vocal parts. But the parts Lamont Dozier had come up with were difficult, nobody was in a good mood, and Mary Wilson was still upset that she wasn't going to be singing lead. They couldn't get the vocals down, and eventually, frustrated, Dozier told them to just sing "baby baby" when he pointed, and they went with that. Towards the end of the session, Ross came back in, with Berry Gordy, who she had clearly been complaining to about the song. He asked to hear it, and they played back this recording that nobody was happy with. Gordy, much to Ross' shock, was convinced it was a hit, and said to them "Cheer up, everybody! From now on, you're the big-hit Supremes!": [Excerpt: The Supremes, "Where Did Our Love Go?"] Motown was in a bit of a slump at that point -- several of the label's big stars had had disappointing follow-ups to their hits, and they'd just lost Mary Wells, one of their biggest stars, to another label. Gordy decided that they were going to give "Where Did Our Love Go?" a huge push, and persuaded Dick Clark to put the Supremes on his Caravan of Stars tour. When the record came out in June, they were at the bottom of the bill, opening the show on a bill with more than a dozen other acts, from the Zombies to the Shirelles to Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon above them. By the end of the tour, their record was at number one in the charts and they had already recorded a follow-up. As "Where Did Our Love Go?" had included the word "baby" sixty-eight times, the production team had decided not to mess with a winning formula: [Excerpt: The Supremes, "Baby Love"] That went to number one by the end of October 1964, making the Supremes the first Motown act to have two number ones. There would be a lot more where that came from. But there was already trouble brewing in the group. Even on the Dick Clark tourbus, there were rumours that Diana Ross wanted a solo career, and there was talk of her forcing Florence Ballard out of the group. We'll look at that, and what happened with the Supremes in the latter part of the sixties in a few months' time.  But I can't end this time without acknowledging the sad death, a month ago today, of Mary Wilson, the only member of the Supremes who stayed with the group from the beginning right through to their split in 1977. For a member of a group who were second only to the Beatles for commercial success in the sixties, she was underrewarded in life, and her death went underreported. She'll be missed.

    Episode 115: “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 27, 2021

    Episode one hundred and fifteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, at the way the US and UK music scenes were influencing each other in 1964, and at the fraught question of attribution when reworking older songs. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.   Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Memphis” by Johnny Rivers. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Erratum A couple of times I mispronounce Hoagy Lands’ surname as Land. Resources As always, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. Information on the Animals comes largely from Animal Tracks  by Sean Egan. The two-CD set The Complete Animals isn’t actually their complete recordings — for that you’d also need to buy the Decca recordings — but it is everything they recorded with Mickie Most, including all the big hits discussed in this episode. For the information on Dylan’s first album, I used The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald, the fascinating and funny autobiography of Dylan’s mentor in his Greenwich Village period. I also referred to Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan, a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography; Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon; and Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin. Transcript Today we’re going to look at a song that, more than any other song we’ve looked at so far, shows how the influence between British and American music was working in the early 1960s. A song about New Orleans that may have its roots in English folk music, that became an Appalachian country song, performed by a blues band from the North of England, who learned it from a Minnesotan folk singer based in New York. We’re going to look at “House of the Rising Sun”, and the career of the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”] The story of the Animals, like so many of the British bands of this time period, starts at art school, when two teenagers named Eric Burdon and John Steel met each other. The school they met each other at was in Newcastle, and this is important for how the band came together. If you’re not familiar with the geography of Great Britain, Newcastle is one of the largest cities, but it’s a very isolated city. Britain has a number of large cities. The biggest, of course, is London, which is about as big as the next five added together. Now, there’s a saying that one of the big differences between Britain and America is that in America a hundred years is a long time, and in Britain a hundred miles is a long way, so take that into account when I talk about everything else here. Most of the area around London is empty of other big cities, and the nearest other big city to it is Birmingham, a hundred miles north-west of it. About seventy miles north of that, give or take, you hit Manchester, and Manchester is in the middle of a chain of large cities — Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield, and the slightly smaller Bradford, are more or less in a row, and the furthest distance between two adjacent cities is about thirty-five miles. But then Newcastle is another hundred miles north of Leeds, the closest of those cities to it. And then it’s another hundred miles or so further north before you hit the major Scottish cities, which cluster together like the ones near Manchester do. This means Newcastle is, for a major city, incredibly isolated. Britain’s culture is extraordinarily London-centric, but if you’re in Liverpool or Manchester there are a number of other nearby cities. A band from Manchester can play a gig in Liverpool and make the last train home, and vice versa. This allows for the creation of regional scenes, centred on one city but with cross-fertilisation from others. Now, again, I am talking about a major city here, not some remote village, but it means that Newcastle in the sixties was in something of the same position as Seattle was, as we talked about in the episode on “Louie, Louie” — a place where bands would play in their own immediate area and not travel outside it. A journey to Leeds, particularly in the time we’re talking about when the motorway system was only just starting, would be a major trip, let alone travelling further afield. Local bands would play in Newcastle, and in large nearby towns like Gateshead, Sunderland, and Middlesborough, but not visit other cities. This meant that there was also a limited pool of good musicians to perform with, and so if you wanted to be in a band, you couldn’t be that picky about who you got on with, so long as they could play. Steel and Burdon, when they met at art school, were both jazz fanatics, and they quickly formed a trad jazz band. The band initially featured them on trumpet and trombone, but when rock and roll and skiffle hit the band changed its lineup to one based around guitars. Steel shifted to drums, while Burdon stopped playing an instrument and became the lead singer. Burdon’s tastes at the time were oriented towards the jazzier side of R&B, people like Ray Charles, and he also particularly loved blues shouters like Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner. He tried hard to emulate Turner, and one of the songs that’s often mentioned as being in the repertoire of these early groups is “Roll ‘Em Pete”, the Big Joe Turner song we talked about back in episode two: [Excerpt: Big Joe Turner, “Roll ’em Pete”] The jazz group that Burdon and Steel formed was called the Pagan Jazz Men, and when they switched instruments they became instead The Pagans R&B Band. The group was rounded out by Blackie Sanderson and Jimmy Crawford, but soon got a fifth member when a member from another band on an early bill asked if he could sit in with them for a couple of numbers. Alan Price was the rhythm guitarist in that band, but joined in on piano, and instantly gelled with the group, playing Jerry Lee Lewis style piano. The other members would always later say that they didn’t like Price either as a person or for his taste in music — both Burdon and Steel regarded Price’s tastes as rather pedestrian when compared to their own, hipper, tastes, saying he always regarded himself as something of a lounge player, while Burdon was an R&B and blues person and Steel liked blues and jazz. But they all played well together, and in Newcastle there wasn’t that much choice about which musicians you could play with, and so they stayed together for a while, as the Pagans evolved into the Kansas City Five or the Kansas City Seven, depending on the occasional presence of two brass players. The Kansas City group played mostly jump blues, which was the area of music where Burdon and Steel’s tastes intersected — musicians they’ve cited as ones they covered were Ray Charles, Louis Jordan, and Big Joe Turner. But then the group collapsed, as Price didn’t turn up to a gig — he’d been poached by a pop covers band, the Kon-Tors, whose bass player, Chas Chandler, had been impressed with him when Chandler had sat in at a couple of Kansas City Five rehearsals. Steel got a gig playing lounge music, just to keep paying the bills, and Burdon would occasionally sit in with various other musicians. But a few members of the Kon-Tors got a side gig, performing as the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo as the resident band at a local venue called the Club A Go-Go, which was the venue where visiting London jazzmen and touring American blues players would perform when they came to Newcastle. Burdon started sitting in with them, and then they invited Steel to replace their drummer, and in September 1963 the Alan Price Rhythm And Blues Combo settled on a lineup of Burdon on vocals, Price on piano, Steel on drums, Chandler on bass, and new member Hilton Valentine, who joined at the same time as Steel, on guitar. Valentine was notably more experienced than the other members, and had previously performed in a rock and roll group called the Wildcats — not the same band who backed Marty Wilde — and had even recorded an album with them, though I’ve been unable to track down any copies of the album. At this point all the group members now had different sensibilities — Valentine was a rocker and skiffle fan, while Chandler was into more mainstream pop music, though the other members emphasised in interviews that he liked *good* pop music like the Beatles, not the lesser pop music. The new lineup was so good that a mere eight days after they first performed together, they went into a recording studio to record an EP, which they put out themselves and sold at their gigs. Apparently five hundred copies of the EP were sold. As well as playing piano on the tracks, Price also played melodica, which he used in the same way that blues musicians would normally use the harmonica: [Excerpt: The Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo, “Pretty Thing”] This kind of instrumental experimentation would soon further emphasise the split between Price and Burdon, as Price would get a Vox organ rather than cart a piano between gigs, while Burdon disliked the sound of the organ, even though it became one of the defining sounds of the group. That sound can be heard on a live recording of them a couple of months later, backing the great American blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson II at the Club A Go Go: [Excerpt: Sonny Boy Williamson II and the Animals, “Fattening Frogs For Snakes”] One person who definitely *didn’t* dislike the sound of the electric organ was Graham Bond, the Hammond organ player with Alexis Korner’s band who we mentioned briefly back in the episode on the Rolling Stones. Bond and a few other members of the Korner group had quit, and formed their own group, the Graham Bond Organisation, which had originally featured a guitarist named John McLaughlin, but by this point consisted of Bond, saxophone player Dick Heckstall-Smith, and the rhythm section Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. They wouldn’t make an album until 1965, but live recordings of them from around this time exist, though in relatively poor quality: [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, “Wade in the Water”] The Graham Bond Organisation played at the Club A Go Go, and soon Bond was raving back in London about this group from Newcastle he’d heard. Arrangements were quickly made for them to play in London. By this time, the Rolling Stones had outgrown the small club venues they’d been playing, and a new band called the Yardbirds were playing all the Stones’ old venues. A trade was agreed — the Yardbirds would play all the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo’s normal gigs for a couple of weeks, and the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo would play the Yardbirds’. Or rather, the Animals would. None of the members of the group could ever agree on how they got their new name, and not all of them liked it, but when they played those gigs in London in December 1963, just three months after getting together, that was how they were billed. And it was as the Animals that they were signed by Mickie Most. Mickie Most was one of the new breed of independent producers that were cropping up in London, following in Joe Meek’s footsteps, like Andrew Oldham. Most had started out as a singer in a duo called The Most Brothers, which is where he got his stage name. The Most Brothers had only released one single: [Excerpt: The Most Brothers, “Whole Lotta Woman”] But then Most had moved to South Africa, where he’d had eleven number one hits with cover versions of American rock singles, backed by a band called the Playboys: [Excerpt: Mickie Most and the Playboys, “Johnny B Goode”] He’d returned to the UK in 1963, and been less successful here as a performer, and so he decided to move into production, and the Animals were his first signing. He signed them up and started licensing their records to EMI, and in January 1964 the Animals moved down to London. There has been a lot of suggestion over the years that the Animals resented Mickie Most pushing them in a more pop direction, but their first single was an inspired compromise between the group’s blues purism and Most’s pop instincts. The song they recorded dates back at least to 1935, when the State Street Boys, a group that featured Big Bill Broonzy, recorded “Don’t Tear My Clothes”: [Excerpt: The State Street Boys, “Don’t Tear My Clothes”] That song got picked up and adapted by a lot of other blues singers, like Blind Boy Fuller, who recorded it as “Mama Let Me Lay It On You” in 1938: [Excerpt: Blind Boy Fuller, “Mama Let Me Lay it On You”] That had in turn been picked up by the Reverend Gary Davis, who came up with his own arrangement of the song: [Excerpt: Rev. Gary Davis, “Baby, Let Me Lay It On You”] Eric von Schmidt, a folk singer in Massachusetts, had learned that song from Davis, and Bob Dylan had in turn learned it from von Schmidt, and included it on his first album as “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”] The Animals knew the song from that version, which they loved, but Most had come across it in a different way. He’d heard a version which had been inspired by Dylan, but had been radically reworked. Bert Berns had produced a single on Atlantic for a soul singer called Hoagy Lands, and on the B-side had been a new arrangement of the song, retitled “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” and adapted by Berns and Wes Farrell, a songwriter who had written for the Shirelles. Land’s version had started with an intro in which Lands is clearly imitating Sam Cooke: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand”] But after that intro, which seems to be totally original to Berns and Farrell, Lands’ track goes into a very upbeat Twist-flavoured song, with a unique guitar riff and Latin feel, both of them very much in the style of Berns’ other songs, but clearly an adaptation of Dylan’s version of the old song: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand”] Most had picked up that record on a trip to America, and decided that the Animals should record a version of the song based on that record. Hilton Valentine would later claim that this record, whose title and artist he could never remember (and it’s quite possible that Most never even told the band who the record was by) was not very similar at all to the Animals’ version, and that they’d just kicked around the song and come up with their own version, but listening to it, it is *very* obviously modelled on Lands’ version. They cut out Lands’ intro, and restored a lot of Dylan’s lyric, but musically it’s Lands all the way. The track starts like this: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”] Both have a breakdown section with spoken lyrics over a staccato backing, though the two sets of lyrics are different — compare the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”] and Lands: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand”] And both have the typical Bert Berns call and response ending — Lands: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, “Baby Let me Hold Your Hand”] And the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”] So whatever Valentine’s later claims, the track very much was modelled on the earlier record, but it’s still one of the strongest remodellings of an American R&B record by a British group in this time period, and an astonishingly accomplished record, which made number twenty-one. The Animals’ second single was another song that had been recorded on Dylan’s first album. “House of the Rising Sun” has been argued by some, though I think it’s a tenuous argument, to originally date to the seventeenth century English folk song “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard”: [Excerpt: Martin Carthy, “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard”] What we do know is that the song was circulating in Appalachia in the early years of the twentieth century, and it’s that version that was first recorded in 1933, under the name “Rising Sun Blues”, by Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster: [Excerpt: Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster, “Rising Sun Blues”] The song has been described as about several things — about alcoholism, about sex work, about gambling — depending on the precise version. It’s often thought, for example, that the song was always sung by women and was about a brothel, but there are lots of variants of it, sung by both men and women, before it reached its most famous form. Dave van Ronk, who put the song into the form by which it became best known, believed at first that it was a song about a brothel, but he later decided that it was probably about the New Orleans Women’s Prison, which in his accounting used to have a carving of a rising sun over the doorway. Van Ronk’s version traces back originally to a field recording Alan Lomax had made in 1938 of a woman named Georgia Turner, from Kentucky: [Excerpt: Georgia Turner, “Rising Sun Blues”] Van Ronk had learned the song from a record by Hally Wood, a friend of the Lomaxes, who had recorded a version based on Turner’s in 1953: [Excerpt: Hally Wood, “House of the Rising Sun”] Van Ronk took Wood’s version of Turner’s version of the song, and rearranged it, changing the chords around, adding something that changed the whole song. He introduced a descending bassline, mostly in semitones, which as van Ronk put it is “a common enough progression in jazz, but unusual among folksingers”. It’s actually something you’d get a fair bit in baroque music as well, and van Ronk introducing this into the song is probably what eventually led to things like Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” ripping off Bach doing essentially the same thing. What van Ronk did was a simple trick. You play a descending scale, mostly in semitones, while holding the same chord shape which creates a lot of interesting chords. The bass line he played is basically this: [demonstrates] And he held an A minor shape over that bassline, giving a chord sequence Am, Am over G, Am over F#, F. [demonstrates] This is a trick that’s used in hundreds and hundreds of songs later in the sixties and onward — everything from “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks to “Go Now” by the Moody Blues to “Forever” by the Beach Boys — but it was something that at this point belonged in the realms of art music and jazz more than in folk, blues, or rock and roll. Of course, it sounds rather better when he did it: [Excerpt, Dave van Ronk, “House of the Rising Sun”] “House of the Rising Sun” soon became the highlight of van Ronk’s live act, and his most requested song. Dylan took van Ronk’s arrangement, but he wasn’t as sophisticated a musician as van Ronk, so he simplified the chords. Rather than the dissonant chords van Ronk had, he played standard rock chords that fit van Ronk’s bassline, so instead of Am over G he played C with a G in the bass, and instead of Am over F# he played D with an F# in the bass. So van Ronk had: [demonstrates] While Dylan had: [demonstrates] The movement of the chords now follows the movement of the bassline. It’s simpler, but it’s all from van Ronk’s arrangement idea. Dylan recorded his version of van Ronk’s version for his first album: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “House of the Rising Sun”] As van Ronk later told the story (though I’m going to edit out one expletive here for the sake of getting past the adult content rating on Apple): “One evening in 1962, I was sitting at my usual table in the back of the Kettle of Fish, and Dylan came slouching in. He had been up at the Columbia studios with John Hammond, doing his first album. He was being very mysterioso about the whole thing, and nobody I knew had been to any of the sessions except Suze, his lady. I pumped him for information, but he was vague. Everything was going fine and, “Hey, would it be okay for me to record your arrangement of ‘House of the Rising Sun?’” [expletive]. “Jeez, Bobby, I’m going into the studio to do that myself in a few weeks. Can’t it wait until your next album?” A long pause. “Uh-oh.” I did not like the sound of that. “What exactly do you mean, ‘Uh-oh’?” “Well,” he said sheepishly, “I’ve already recorded it.” “You did what?!” I flew into a Donald Duck rage, and I fear I may have said something unkind that could be heard over in Chelsea.” van Ronk and Dylan fell out for a couple of weeks, though they later reconciled, and van Ronk said of Dylan’s performance “it was essentially my arrangement, but Bobby’s reading had all the nuance and subtlety of a Neanderthal with a stone hand ax, and I took comfort thereby.” van Ronk did record his version, as we heard, but he soon stopped playing the song live because he got sick of people telling him to “play that Dylan song”. The Animals learned the song from the Dylan record, and decided to introduce it to their set on their first national tour, supporting Chuck Berry. All the other acts were only doing rock and roll and R&B, and they thought a folk song might be a way to make them stand out — and it instantly became the highlight of their act.  The way all the members except Alan Price tell the story, the main instigators of the arrangement were Eric Burdon, the only member of the group who had been familiar with the song before hearing the Dylan album, and Hilton Valentine, who came up with the arpeggiated guitar part. Their arrangement followed Dylan’s rearrangement of van Ronk’s rearrangement, except they dropped the scalar bassline altogether, so for example instead of a D with an F# in the bass they just play a plain open D chord — the F# that van Ronk introduced is still in there, as the third, but the descending line is now just implied by the chords, not explicitly stated in the bass, where Chas Chandler just played root notes. In the middle of the tour, the group were called back into the studio to record their follow-up single, and they had what seemed like it might be a great opportunity. The TV show Ready Steady Go! wanted the Animals to record a version of the old Ray Charles song “Talking ‘Bout You”, to use as their theme. The group travelled down from Liverpool after playing a show there, and went into the studio in London at three o’clock in the morning, before heading to Southampton for the next night’s show. But they needed to record a B-side first, of course, and so before getting round to the main business of the session they knocked off a quick one-take performance of their new live showstopper: [Excerpt: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”] On hearing the playback, everyone was suddenly convinced that that, not “Talking ‘Bout You”, should be the A-side. But there was a problem. The record was four minutes and twenty seconds long, and you just didn’t ever release a record that long. The rule was generally that songs didn’t last longer than three minutes, because radio stations wouldn’t play them, but Most was eventually persuaded by Chas Chandler that the track needed to go out as it was, with no edits. It did, but when it went out, it had only one name on as the arranger — which when you’re recording a public domain song makes you effectively the songwriter. According to all the members other than Price, the group’s manager, Mike Jeffrey, who was close to Price, had “explained” to them that you needed to just put one name down on the credits, but not to worry, as they would all get a share of the songwriting money. According to Price, meanwhile, he was the sole arranger. Whatever the truth, Price was the only one who ever got any songwriting royalties for their version of the song, which went to number one in the UK and the US. although the version released as a single in the US was cut down to three minutes with some brutal edits, particularly to the organ solo: [Excerpt: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun (US edit)”] None of the group liked what was done to the US single edit, and the proper version was soon released as an album track everywhere The Animals’ version was a big enough hit that it inspired Dylan’s new producer Tom Wilson to do an experiment. In late 1964 he hired session musicians to overdub a new electric backing onto an outtake version of “House of the Rising Sun” from the sessions from Dylan’s first album, to see what it would sound like: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “House of the Rising Sun (1964 electric version)”] That wasn’t released at the time, it was just an experiment Wilson tried, but it would have ramifications we’ll be seeing throughout the rest of the podcast. Incidentally, Dave van Ronk had the last laugh at Dylan, who had to drop the song from his own sets because people kept asking him if he’d stolen it from the Animals. The Animals’ next single, “I’m Crying”, was their first and only self-written A-side, written by Price and Burdon. It was a decent record and made the top ten in the UK and the top twenty in the US, but Price and Burdon were never going to become another Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards — they just didn’t like each other by this point. The record after that, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, was written by the jazz songwriters Benny Benjamin and Horace Ott, and had originally been recorded by Nina Simone in an orchestral version that owed quite a bit to Burt Bacharach: [Excerpt: Nina Simone, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”] The Animals’ version really suffers in comparison to that. I was going to say something about how their reinterpretation is as valid in its own way as Simone’s original and stands up against it, but actually listening to them back to back as I was writing this, rather than separately as I always previously had, I changed my mind because I really don’t think it does. It’s a great record, and it’s deservedly considered a classic single, but compared to Simone’s version, it’s lightweight, rushed, and callow: [Excerpt: The Animals, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”] Simone was apparently furious at the Animals’ recording, which they didn’t understand given that she hadn’t written the original, and according to John Steel she and Burdon later had a huge screaming row about the record. In Steel’s version, Simone eventually grudgingly admitted that they weren’t “so bad for a bunch of white boys”, but that doesn’t sound to me like the attitude Simone would take. But Steel was there and I wasn’t… “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was followed by a more minor single, a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me”, which would be the last single by the group to feature Alan Price. On the twenty-eighth of April 1965, the group were about to leave on a European tour. Chas Chandler, who shared a flat with Price, woke Price up and then got in the shower. When he got out of the shower, Price wasn’t in the flat, and Chandler wouldn’t see Price again for eighteen months. Chandler believed until his death that while he was in the shower, Price’s first royalty cheque for arranging “House of the Rising Sun” had arrived, and Price had decided then and there that he wasn’t going to share the money as agreed. The group quickly rushed to find a fill-in keyboard player for the tour, and nineteen-year-old Mick Gallagher was with them for a couple of weeks before being permanently replaced by Dave Rowberry. Gallagher would later go on to be the keyboard player with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, as well as playing on several tracks by the Clash. Price, meanwhile, went on to have a number of solo hits over the next few years, starting with a version of “I Put A Spell On You”, in an arrangement which the other Animals later claimed had originally been worked up as an Animals track: [Excerpt: The Alan Price Set, “I Put A Spell On You”] Price would go on to make many great solo records, introducing the songs of Randy Newman to a wider audience, and performing in a jazz-influenced R&B style very similar to Mose Allison. The Animals’ first record with their new keyboard player was their greatest single. “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” had been written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, and had originally been intended for the Righteous Brothers, but they’d decided to have Mann record it himself: [Excerpt: Barry Mann, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”] But before that version was released, the Animals had heard Mann’s piano demo of the song and cut their own version, and Mann’s was left on the shelf. What the Animals did to the song horrified Cynthia Weill, who considered it the worst record of one of her songs ever — though one suspects that’s partly because it sabotaged the chances for her husband’s single — but to my mind they vastly improved on the song. They tightened the melody up a lot, getting rid of a lot of interjections. They reworked big chunks of the lyric, for example changing “Oh girl, now you’re young and oh so pretty, staying here would be a crime, because you’ll just grow old before your time” to “Now my girl, you’re so young and pretty, and one thing I know is true, you’ll be dead before your time is due”, and making subtler changes like changing “if it’s the last thing that we do” to “if it’s the last thing we ever do”, improving the scansion. They kept the general sense of the lyrics, but changed more of the actual words than they kept — and to my ears, at least, every change they made was an improvement. And most importantly, they excised the overlong bridge altogether. I can see what Mann and Weill were trying to do with the bridge — Righteous Brothers songs would often have a call and response section, building to a climax, where Bill Medley’s low voice and Bobby Hatfield’s high one would alternate and then come together. But that would normally come in the middle, building towards the last chorus. Here it comes between every verse and chorus, and completely destroys the song’s momentum — it just sounds like noodling: [Excerpt: Barry Mann, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”] The Animals’ version, by contrast, is a masterpiece of dynamics, of slow builds and climaxes and dropping back down again. It’s one of the few times I’ve wished I could just drop the entire record in, rather than excerpting a section, because it depends so much for its effect on the way the whole structure of the track works together: [Excerpt: The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”] From a creators’ rights perspective, I entirely agree with Cynthia Weill that the group shouldn’t have messed with her song. But from a listener’s point of view, I have to say that they turned a decent song into a great one, and one of the greatest singles of all time “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” was followed by another lesser but listenable single, “It’s My Life”, which seemed to reinforce a pattern of a great Animals single being followed by a merely OK one. But that was the point at which the Animals and Most would part company — the group were getting sick of Most’s attempts to make them more poppy. They signed to a new label, Decca, and got a new producer, Tom Wilson, the man who we heard earlier experimenting with Dylan’s sound, but the group started to fall apart. After their next single, “Inside — Looking Out”, a prison work song collected by the Lomaxes, and the album Animalisms, John Steel left the group, tired of not getting any money, and went to work in a shop. The album after Animalisms, confusingly titled Animalism, was also mostly produced by Wilson, and didn’t even feature the musicians in the band on two of the tracks, which Wilson farmed out to a protege of his, Frank Zappa, to produce. Those two tracks featured Zappa on guitar and members of the Wrecking Crew, with only Burdon from the actual group: [Excerpt: The Animals, “All Night Long”] Soon the group would split up, and would discover that their management had thoroughly ripped them off — there had been a scheme to bank their money in the Bahamas for tax reasons, in a bank which mysteriously disappeared off the face of the Earth. Burdon would form a new group, known first as the New Animals and later as Eric Burdon and the Animals, who would have some success but not on the same level. There were a handful of reunions of the original lineup of the group between 1968 and the early eighties, but they last played together in 1983. Burdon continues to tour the US as Eric Burdon and the Animals. Alan Price continues to perform successfully as a solo artist. We’ll be picking up with Chas Chandler later, when he moves from bass playing into management, so you’ll hear more about him in future episodes. John Steel, Dave Rowberry, and Hilton Valentine reformed a version of the Animals in the 1990s, originally with Jim Rodford, formerly of the Kinks and Argent, on bass. Valentine left that group in 2001, and Rowberry died in 2003. Steel now tours the UK as “The Animals and Friends”, with Mick Gallagher, who had replaced Price briefly in 1965, on keyboards. I’ve seen them live twice and they put on an excellent show — though the second time, one woman behind me did indignantly say, as the singer started, “That’s not Eric Clapton!”, before starting to sing along happily… And Hilton Valentine moved to the US and played briefly with Burdon’s Animals after quitting Steel’s, before returning to his first love, skiffle. He died exactly four weeks ago today, and will be missed.

    tv america american new york house english apple earth history england uk british friends home talking seattle european water new orleans south africa land baby north massachusetts cd britain local beatles atlantic air kansas city revolution manchester mayor columbia liverpool rock and roll latin scottish price animals birmingham fish bond prison forever steel bob dylan clash rolling stones newcastle wood leeds great britain uh bahamas bach stones vox sheffield my life southampton beach boys twist crying richards eric clapton nina simone schmidt appalachian appalachia wildcats bradford frank zappa gallagher ray charles hammond kinks chuck berry excerpt sam cooke sunderland emi mccartney randy newman farrell greenwich village donald duck rising sun tilt pale incidentally rock music neanderthal tom wilson lands zappa argent jerry lee lewis jeez pagans minnesotan kettle moody blues wrecking crew john hammond decca john mclaughlin suze ginger baker yardbirds arrangements gateshead eric burdon all night long alan lomax righteous brothers korner ian dury jack bruce playboys shirelles weill louis jordan blockheads middlesborough mose allison berns big bill broonzy go now on you johnny rivers bill medley gary davis big joe turner joe meek whiter shade dave van ronk barry mann looking out pretty thing american r sunny afternoon johnny b goode hold your hand alan price john steel i put a spell on you let me be misunderstood reverend gary davis blind boy fuller jimmy witherspoon marty wilde bert berns elijah wald chas chandler burdon procul harum baby let bout you macdougal street gwen foster ronk georgia turner animalism while dylan andrew oldham clarence ashley tilt araiza
    Episode 115: “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 27, 2021

    Episode one hundred and fifteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, at the way the US and UK music scenes were influencing each other in 1964, and at the fraught question of attribution when reworking older songs. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Memphis” by Johnny Rivers. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 115: "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 27, 2021 49:51

    Episode one hundred and fifteen of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals, at the way the US and UK music scenes were influencing each other in 1964, and at the fraught question of attribution when reworking older songs. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.   Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Erratum A couple of times I mispronounce Hoagy Lands' surname as Land. Resources As always, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. Information on the Animals comes largely from Animal Tracks  by Sean Egan. The two-CD set The Complete Animals isn't actually their complete recordings -- for that you'd also need to buy the Decca recordings -- but it is everything they recorded with Mickie Most, including all the big hits discussed in this episode. For the information on Dylan's first album, I used The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald, the fascinating and funny autobiography of Dylan's mentor in his Greenwich Village period. I also referred to Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan, a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography; Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon; and Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin. Transcript Today we're going to look at a song that, more than any other song we've looked at so far, shows how the influence between British and American music was working in the early 1960s. A song about New Orleans that may have its roots in English folk music, that became an Appalachian country song, performed by a blues band from the North of England, who learned it from a Minnesotan folk singer based in New York. We're going to look at "House of the Rising Sun", and the career of the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, "House of the Rising Sun"] The story of the Animals, like so many of the British bands of this time period, starts at art school, when two teenagers named Eric Burdon and John Steel met each other. The school they met each other at was in Newcastle, and this is important for how the band came together. If you're not familiar with the geography of Great Britain, Newcastle is one of the largest cities, but it's a very isolated city. Britain has a number of large cities. The biggest, of course, is London, which is about as big as the next five added together. Now, there's a saying that one of the big differences between Britain and America is that in America a hundred years is a long time, and in Britain a hundred miles is a long way, so take that into account when I talk about everything else here. Most of the area around London is empty of other big cities, and the nearest other big city to it is Birmingham, a hundred miles north-west of it. About seventy miles north of that, give or take, you hit Manchester, and Manchester is in the middle of a chain of large cities -- Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield, and the slightly smaller Bradford, are more or less in a row, and the furthest distance between two adjacent cities is about thirty-five miles. But then Newcastle is another hundred miles north of Leeds, the closest of those cities to it. And then it's another hundred miles or so further north before you hit the major Scottish cities, which cluster together like the ones near Manchester do. This means Newcastle is, for a major city, incredibly isolated. Britain's culture is extraordinarily London-centric, but if you're in Liverpool or Manchester there are a number of other nearby cities. A band from Manchester can play a gig in Liverpool and make the last train home, and vice versa. This allows for the creation of regional scenes, centred on one city but with cross-fertilisation from others. Now, again, I am talking about a major city here, not some remote village, but it means that Newcastle in the sixties was in something of the same position as Seattle was, as we talked about in the episode on "Louie, Louie" -- a place where bands would play in their own immediate area and not travel outside it. A journey to Leeds, particularly in the time we're talking about when the motorway system was only just starting, would be a major trip, let alone travelling further afield. Local bands would play in Newcastle, and in large nearby towns like Gateshead, Sunderland, and Middlesborough, but not visit other cities. This meant that there was also a limited pool of good musicians to perform with, and so if you wanted to be in a band, you couldn't be that picky about who you got on with, so long as they could play. Steel and Burdon, when they met at art school, were both jazz fanatics, and they quickly formed a trad jazz band. The band initially featured them on trumpet and trombone, but when rock and roll and skiffle hit the band changed its lineup to one based around guitars. Steel shifted to drums, while Burdon stopped playing an instrument and became the lead singer. Burdon's tastes at the time were oriented towards the jazzier side of R&B, people like Ray Charles, and he also particularly loved blues shouters like Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner. He tried hard to emulate Turner, and one of the songs that's often mentioned as being in the repertoire of these early groups is "Roll 'Em Pete", the Big Joe Turner song we talked about back in episode two: [Excerpt: Big Joe Turner, "Roll 'em Pete"] The jazz group that Burdon and Steel formed was called the Pagan Jazz Men, and when they switched instruments they became instead The Pagans R&B Band. The group was rounded out by Blackie Sanderson and Jimmy Crawford, but soon got a fifth member when a member from another band on an early bill asked if he could sit in with them for a couple of numbers. Alan Price was the rhythm guitarist in that band, but joined in on piano, and instantly gelled with the group, playing Jerry Lee Lewis style piano. The other members would always later say that they didn't like Price either as a person or for his taste in music -- both Burdon and Steel regarded Price's tastes as rather pedestrian when compared to their own, hipper, tastes, saying he always regarded himself as something of a lounge player, while Burdon was an R&B and blues person and Steel liked blues and jazz. But they all played well together, and in Newcastle there wasn't that much choice about which musicians you could play with, and so they stayed together for a while, as the Pagans evolved into the Kansas City Five or the Kansas City Seven, depending on the occasional presence of two brass players. The Kansas City group played mostly jump blues, which was the area of music where Burdon and Steel's tastes intersected -- musicians they've cited as ones they covered were Ray Charles, Louis Jordan, and Big Joe Turner. But then the group collapsed, as Price didn't turn up to a gig -- he'd been poached by a pop covers band, the Kon-Tors, whose bass player, Chas Chandler, had been impressed with him when Chandler had sat in at a couple of Kansas City Five rehearsals. Steel got a gig playing lounge music, just to keep paying the bills, and Burdon would occasionally sit in with various other musicians. But a few members of the Kon-Tors got a side gig, performing as the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo as the resident band at a local venue called the Club A Go-Go, which was the venue where visiting London jazzmen and touring American blues players would perform when they came to Newcastle. Burdon started sitting in with them, and then they invited Steel to replace their drummer, and in September 1963 the Alan Price Rhythm And Blues Combo settled on a lineup of Burdon on vocals, Price on piano, Steel on drums, Chandler on bass, and new member Hilton Valentine, who joined at the same time as Steel, on guitar. Valentine was notably more experienced than the other members, and had previously performed in a rock and roll group called the Wildcats -- not the same band who backed Marty Wilde -- and had even recorded an album with them, though I've been unable to track down any copies of the album. At this point all the group members now had different sensibilities -- Valentine was a rocker and skiffle fan, while Chandler was into more mainstream pop music, though the other members emphasised in interviews that he liked *good* pop music like the Beatles, not the lesser pop music. The new lineup was so good that a mere eight days after they first performed together, they went into a recording studio to record an EP, which they put out themselves and sold at their gigs. Apparently five hundred copies of the EP were sold. As well as playing piano on the tracks, Price also played melodica, which he used in the same way that blues musicians would normally use the harmonica: [Excerpt: The Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo, "Pretty Thing"] This kind of instrumental experimentation would soon further emphasise the split between Price and Burdon, as Price would get a Vox organ rather than cart a piano between gigs, while Burdon disliked the sound of the organ, even though it became one of the defining sounds of the group. That sound can be heard on a live recording of them a couple of months later, backing the great American blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson II at the Club A Go Go: [Excerpt: Sonny Boy Williamson II and the Animals, “Fattening Frogs For Snakes”] One person who definitely *didn't* dislike the sound of the electric organ was Graham Bond, the Hammond organ player with Alexis Korner's band who we mentioned briefly back in the episode on the Rolling Stones. Bond and a few other members of the Korner group had quit, and formed their own group, the Graham Bond Organisation, which had originally featured a guitarist named John McLaughlin, but by this point consisted of Bond, saxophone player Dick Heckstall-Smith, and the rhythm section Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. They wouldn't make an album until 1965, but live recordings of them from around this time exist, though in relatively poor quality: [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Wade in the Water"] The Graham Bond Organisation played at the Club A Go Go, and soon Bond was raving back in London about this group from Newcastle he'd heard. Arrangements were quickly made for them to play in London. By this time, the Rolling Stones had outgrown the small club venues they'd been playing, and a new band called the Yardbirds were playing all the Stones' old venues. A trade was agreed -- the Yardbirds would play all the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo's normal gigs for a couple of weeks, and the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo would play the Yardbirds'. Or rather, the Animals would. None of the members of the group could ever agree on how they got their new name, and not all of them liked it, but when they played those gigs in London in December 1963, just three months after getting together, that was how they were billed. And it was as the Animals that they were signed by Mickie Most. Mickie Most was one of the new breed of independent producers that were cropping up in London, following in Joe Meek's footsteps, like Andrew Oldham. Most had started out as a singer in a duo called The Most Brothers, which is where he got his stage name. The Most Brothers had only released one single: [Excerpt: The Most Brothers, "Whole Lotta Woman"] But then Most had moved to South Africa, where he'd had eleven number one hits with cover versions of American rock singles, backed by a band called the Playboys: [Excerpt: Mickie Most and the Playboys, "Johnny B Goode"] He'd returned to the UK in 1963, and been less successful here as a performer, and so he decided to move into production, and the Animals were his first signing. He signed them up and started licensing their records to EMI, and in January 1964 the Animals moved down to London. There has been a lot of suggestion over the years that the Animals resented Mickie Most pushing them in a more pop direction, but their first single was an inspired compromise between the group's blues purism and Most's pop instincts. The song they recorded dates back at least to 1935, when the State Street Boys, a group that featured Big Bill Broonzy, recorded "Don't Tear My Clothes": [Excerpt: The State Street Boys, "Don't Tear My Clothes"] That song got picked up and adapted by a lot of other blues singers, like Blind Boy Fuller, who recorded it as "Mama Let Me Lay It On You" in 1938: [Excerpt: Blind Boy Fuller, "Mama Let Me Lay it On You"] That had in turn been picked up by the Reverend Gary Davis, who came up with his own arrangement of the song: [Excerpt: Rev. Gary Davis, "Baby, Let Me Lay It On You"] Eric von Schmidt, a folk singer in Massachusetts, had learned that song from Davis, and Bob Dylan had in turn learned it from von Schmidt, and included it on his first album as "Baby Let Me Follow You Down": [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Baby Let Me Follow You Down"] The Animals knew the song from that version, which they loved, but Most had come across it in a different way. He'd heard a version which had been inspired by Dylan, but had been radically reworked. Bert Berns had produced a single on Atlantic for a soul singer called Hoagy Lands, and on the B-side had been a new arrangement of the song, retitled "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" and adapted by Berns and Wes Farrell, a songwriter who had written for the Shirelles. Land's version had started with an intro in which Lands is clearly imitating Sam Cooke: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand"] But after that intro, which seems to be totally original to Berns and Farrell, Lands' track goes into a very upbeat Twist-flavoured song, with a unique guitar riff and Latin feel, both of them very much in the style of Berns' other songs, but clearly an adaptation of Dylan's version of the old song: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand"] Most had picked up that record on a trip to America, and decided that the Animals should record a version of the song based on that record. Hilton Valentine would later claim that this record, whose title and artist he could never remember (and it's quite possible that Most never even told the band who the record was by) was not very similar at all to the Animals' version, and that they'd just kicked around the song and come up with their own version, but listening to it, it is *very* obviously modelled on Lands' version. They cut out Lands' intro, and restored a lot of Dylan's lyric, but musically it's Lands all the way. The track starts like this: [Excerpt: The Animals, "Baby Let Me Take You Home"] Both have a breakdown section with spoken lyrics over a staccato backing, though the two sets of lyrics are different -- compare the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, "Baby Let Me Take You Home"] and Lands: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand"] And both have the typical Bert Berns call and response ending -- Lands: [Excerpt: Hoagy Lands, "Baby Let me Hold Your Hand"] And the Animals: [Excerpt: The Animals, "Baby Let Me Take You Home"] So whatever Valentine's later claims, the track very much was modelled on the earlier record, but it's still one of the strongest remodellings of an American R&B record by a British group in this time period, and an astonishingly accomplished record, which made number twenty-one. The Animals' second single was another song that had been recorded on Dylan's first album. "House of the Rising Sun" has been argued by some, though I think it's a tenuous argument, to originally date to the seventeenth century English folk song "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard": [Excerpt: Martin Carthy, "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard"] What we do know is that the song was circulating in Appalachia in the early years of the twentieth century, and it's that version that was first recorded in 1933, under the name "Rising Sun Blues", by Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster: [Excerpt: Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster, "Rising Sun Blues"] The song has been described as about several things -- about alcoholism, about sex work, about gambling -- depending on the precise version. It's often thought, for example, that the song was always sung by women and was about a brothel, but there are lots of variants of it, sung by both men and women, before it reached its most famous form. Dave van Ronk, who put the song into the form by which it became best known, believed at first that it was a song about a brothel, but he later decided that it was probably about the New Orleans Women's Prison, which in his accounting used to have a carving of a rising sun over the doorway. Van Ronk's version traces back originally to a field recording Alan Lomax had made in 1938 of a woman named Georgia Turner, from Kentucky: [Excerpt: Georgia Turner, "Rising Sun Blues"] Van Ronk had learned the song from a record by Hally Wood, a friend of the Lomaxes, who had recorded a version based on Turner's in 1953: [Excerpt: Hally Wood, "House of the Rising Sun"] Van Ronk took Wood's version of Turner's version of the song, and rearranged it, changing the chords around, adding something that changed the whole song. He introduced a descending bassline, mostly in semitones, which as van Ronk put it is "a common enough progression in jazz, but unusual among folksingers". It's actually something you'd get a fair bit in baroque music as well, and van Ronk introducing this into the song is probably what eventually led to things like Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" ripping off Bach doing essentially the same thing. What van Ronk did was a simple trick. You play a descending scale, mostly in semitones, while holding the same chord shape which creates a lot of interesting chords. The bass line he played is basically this: [demonstrates] And he held an A minor shape over that bassline, giving a chord sequence Am, Am over G, Am over F#, F. [demonstrates] This is a trick that's used in hundreds and hundreds of songs later in the sixties and onward -- everything from "Sunny Afternoon" by the Kinks to "Go Now" by the Moody Blues to "Forever" by the Beach Boys -- but it was something that at this point belonged in the realms of art music and jazz more than in folk, blues, or rock and roll. Of course, it sounds rather better when he did it: [Excerpt, Dave van Ronk, "House of the Rising Sun"] "House of the Rising Sun" soon became the highlight of van Ronk's live act, and his most requested song. Dylan took van Ronk's arrangement, but he wasn't as sophisticated a musician as van Ronk, so he simplified the chords. Rather than the dissonant chords van Ronk had, he played standard rock chords that fit van Ronk's bassline, so instead of Am over G he played C with a G in the bass, and instead of Am over F# he played D with an F# in the bass. So van Ronk had: [demonstrates] While Dylan had: [demonstrates] The movement of the chords now follows the movement of the bassline. It's simpler, but it's all from van Ronk's arrangement idea. Dylan recorded his version of van Ronk's version for his first album: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "House of the Rising Sun"] As van Ronk later told the story (though I'm going to edit out one expletive here for the sake of getting past the adult content rating on Apple): "One evening in 1962, I was sitting at my usual table in the back of the Kettle of Fish, and Dylan came slouching in. He had been up at the Columbia studios with John Hammond, doing his first album. He was being very mysterioso about the whole thing, and nobody I knew had been to any of the sessions except Suze, his lady. I pumped him for information, but he was vague. Everything was going fine and, “Hey, would it be okay for me to record your arrangement of ‘House of the Rising Sun?’” [expletive]. “Jeez, Bobby, I’m going into the studio to do that myself in a few weeks. Can’t it wait until your next album?” A long pause. “Uh-oh.” I did not like the sound of that. “What exactly do you mean, ‘Uh-oh’?” “Well,” he said sheepishly, “I’ve already recorded it.” “You did what?!” I flew into a Donald Duck rage, and I fear I may have said something unkind that could be heard over in Chelsea." van Ronk and Dylan fell out for a couple of weeks, though they later reconciled, and van Ronk said of Dylan's performance "it was essentially my arrangement, but Bobby’s reading had all the nuance and subtlety of a Neanderthal with a stone hand ax, and I took comfort thereby." van Ronk did record his version, as we heard, but he soon stopped playing the song live because he got sick of people telling him to "play that Dylan song". The Animals learned the song from the Dylan record, and decided to introduce it to their set on their first national tour, supporting Chuck Berry. All the other acts were only doing rock and roll and R&B, and they thought a folk song might be a way to make them stand out -- and it instantly became the highlight of their act.  The way all the members except Alan Price tell the story, the main instigators of the arrangement were Eric Burdon, the only member of the group who had been familiar with the song before hearing the Dylan album, and Hilton Valentine, who came up with the arpeggiated guitar part. Their arrangement followed Dylan's rearrangement of van Ronk's rearrangement, except they dropped the scalar bassline altogether, so for example instead of a D with an F# in the bass they just play a plain open D chord -- the F# that van Ronk introduced is still in there, as the third, but the descending line is now just implied by the chords, not explicitly stated in the bass, where Chas Chandler just played root notes. In the middle of the tour, the group were called back into the studio to record their follow-up single, and they had what seemed like it might be a great opportunity. The TV show Ready Steady Go! wanted the Animals to record a version of the old Ray Charles song "Talking 'Bout You", to use as their theme. The group travelled down from Liverpool after playing a show there, and went into the studio in London at three o'clock in the morning, before heading to Southampton for the next night's show. But they needed to record a B-side first, of course, and so before getting round to the main business of the session they knocked off a quick one-take performance of their new live showstopper: [Excerpt: The Animals, "House of the Rising Sun"] On hearing the playback, everyone was suddenly convinced that that, not "Talking 'Bout You", should be the A-side. But there was a problem. The record was four minutes and twenty seconds long, and you just didn't ever release a record that long. The rule was generally that songs didn't last longer than three minutes, because radio stations wouldn't play them, but Most was eventually persuaded by Chas Chandler that the track needed to go out as it was, with no edits. It did, but when it went out, it had only one name on as the arranger -- which when you're recording a public domain song makes you effectively the songwriter. According to all the members other than Price, the group's manager, Mike Jeffrey, who was close to Price, had "explained" to them that you needed to just put one name down on the credits, but not to worry, as they would all get a share of the songwriting money. According to Price, meanwhile, he was the sole arranger. Whatever the truth, Price was the only one who ever got any songwriting royalties for their version of the song, which went to number one in the UK and the US. although the version released as a single in the US was cut down to three minutes with some brutal edits, particularly to the organ solo: [Excerpt: The Animals, "House of the Rising Sun (US edit)"] None of the group liked what was done to the US single edit, and the proper version was soon released as an album track everywhere The Animals' version was a big enough hit that it inspired Dylan's new producer Tom Wilson to do an experiment. In late 1964 he hired session musicians to overdub a new electric backing onto an outtake version of "House of the Rising Sun" from the sessions from Dylan's first album, to see what it would sound like: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "House of the Rising Sun (1964 electric version)"] That wasn't released at the time, it was just an experiment Wilson tried, but it would have ramifications we'll be seeing throughout the rest of the podcast. Incidentally, Dave van Ronk had the last laugh at Dylan, who had to drop the song from his own sets because people kept asking him if he'd stolen it from the Animals. The Animals' next single, "I'm Crying", was their first and only self-written A-side, written by Price and Burdon. It was a decent record and made the top ten in the UK and the top twenty in the US, but Price and Burdon were never going to become another Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards -- they just didn't like each other by this point. The record after that, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", was written by the jazz songwriters Benny Benjamin and Horace Ott, and had originally been recorded by Nina Simone in an orchestral version that owed quite a bit to Burt Bacharach: [Excerpt: Nina Simone, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"] The Animals' version really suffers in comparison to that. I was going to say something about how their reinterpretation is as valid in its own way as Simone's original and stands up against it, but actually listening to them back to back as I was writing this, rather than separately as I always previously had, I changed my mind because I really don't think it does. It's a great record, and it's deservedly considered a classic single, but compared to Simone's version, it's lightweight, rushed, and callow: [Excerpt: The Animals, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"] Simone was apparently furious at the Animals' recording, which they didn't understand given that she hadn't written the original, and according to John Steel she and Burdon later had a huge screaming row about the record. In Steel's version, Simone eventually grudgingly admitted that they weren't "so bad for a bunch of white boys", but that doesn't sound to me like the attitude Simone would take. But Steel was there and I wasn't... "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was followed by a more minor single, a cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring it on Home to Me", which would be the last single by the group to feature Alan Price. On the twenty-eighth of April 1965, the group were about to leave on a European tour. Chas Chandler, who shared a flat with Price, woke Price up and then got in the shower. When he got out of the shower, Price wasn't in the flat, and Chandler wouldn't see Price again for eighteen months. Chandler believed until his death that while he was in the shower, Price's first royalty cheque for arranging "House of the Rising Sun" had arrived, and Price had decided then and there that he wasn't going to share the money as agreed. The group quickly rushed to find a fill-in keyboard player for the tour, and nineteen-year-old Mick Gallagher was with them for a couple of weeks before being permanently replaced by Dave Rowberry. Gallagher would later go on to be the keyboard player with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, as well as playing on several tracks by the Clash. Price, meanwhile, went on to have a number of solo hits over the next few years, starting with a version of "I Put A Spell On You", in an arrangement which the other Animals later claimed had originally been worked up as an Animals track: [Excerpt: The Alan Price Set, "I Put A Spell On You"] Price would go on to make many great solo records, introducing the songs of Randy Newman to a wider audience, and performing in a jazz-influenced R&B style very similar to Mose Allison. The Animals' first record with their new keyboard player was their greatest single. "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" had been written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, and had originally been intended for the Righteous Brothers, but they'd decided to have Mann record it himself: [Excerpt: Barry Mann, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"] But before that version was released, the Animals had heard Mann's piano demo of the song and cut their own version, and Mann's was left on the shelf. What the Animals did to the song horrified Cynthia Weill, who considered it the worst record of one of her songs ever -- though one suspects that's partly because it sabotaged the chances for her husband's single -- but to my mind they vastly improved on the song. They tightened the melody up a lot, getting rid of a lot of interjections. They reworked big chunks of the lyric, for example changing "Oh girl, now you're young and oh so pretty, staying here would be a crime, because you'll just grow old before your time" to "Now my girl, you're so young and pretty, and one thing I know is true, you'll be dead before your time is due", and making subtler changes like changing "if it's the last thing that we do" to "if it's the last thing we ever do", improving the scansion. They kept the general sense of the lyrics, but changed more of the actual words than they kept -- and to my ears, at least, every change they made was an improvement. And most importantly, they excised the overlong bridge altogether. I can see what Mann and Weill were trying to do with the bridge -- Righteous Brothers songs would often have a call and response section, building to a climax, where Bill Medley's low voice and Bobby Hatfield's high one would alternate and then come together. But that would normally come in the middle, building towards the last chorus. Here it comes between every verse and chorus, and completely destroys the song's momentum -- it just sounds like noodling: [Excerpt: Barry Mann, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"] The Animals' version, by contrast, is a masterpiece of dynamics, of slow builds and climaxes and dropping back down again. It's one of the few times I've wished I could just drop the entire record in, rather than excerpting a section, because it depends so much for its effect on the way the whole structure of the track works together: [Excerpt: The Animals, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"] From a creators' rights perspective, I entirely agree with Cynthia Weill that the group shouldn't have messed with her song. But from a listener's point of view, I have to say that they turned a decent song into a great one, and one of the greatest singles of all time "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" was followed by another lesser but listenable single, "It's My Life", which seemed to reinforce a pattern of a great Animals single being followed by a merely OK one. But that was the point at which the Animals and Most would part company -- the group were getting sick of Most's attempts to make them more poppy. They signed to a new label, Decca, and got a new producer, Tom Wilson, the man who we heard earlier experimenting with Dylan's sound, but the group started to fall apart. After their next single, "Inside -- Looking Out", a prison work song collected by the Lomaxes, and the album Animalisms, John Steel left the group, tired of not getting any money, and went to work in a shop. The album after Animalisms, confusingly titled Animalism, was also mostly produced by Wilson, and didn't even feature the musicians in the band on two of the tracks, which Wilson farmed out to a protege of his, Frank Zappa, to produce. Those two tracks featured Zappa on guitar and members of the Wrecking Crew, with only Burdon from the actual group: [Excerpt: The Animals, "All Night Long"] Soon the group would split up, and would discover that their management had thoroughly ripped them off -- there had been a scheme to bank their money in the Bahamas for tax reasons, in a bank which mysteriously disappeared off the face of the Earth. Burdon would form a new group, known first as the New Animals and later as Eric Burdon and the Animals, who would have some success but not on the same level. There were a handful of reunions of the original lineup of the group between 1968 and the early eighties, but they last played together in 1983. Burdon continues to tour the US as Eric Burdon and the Animals. Alan Price continues to perform successfully as a solo artist. We'll be picking up with Chas Chandler later, when he moves from bass playing into management, so you'll hear more about him in future episodes. John Steel, Dave Rowberry, and Hilton Valentine reformed a version of the Animals in the 1990s, originally with Jim Rodford, formerly of the Kinks and Argent, on bass. Valentine left that group in 2001, and Rowberry died in 2003. Steel now tours the UK as "The Animals and Friends", with Mick Gallagher, who had replaced Price briefly in 1965, on keyboards. I've seen them live twice and they put on an excellent show -- though the second time, one woman behind me did indignantly say, as the singer started, "That's not Eric Clapton!", before starting to sing along happily... And Hilton Valentine moved to the US and played briefly with Burdon's Animals after quitting Steel's, before returning to his first love, skiffle. He died exactly four weeks ago today, and will be missed.

    tv america american new york house english earth history england uk british friends home seattle european new orleans south africa land baby north massachusetts cd britain local beatles atlantic air kansas city revolution manchester mayor columbia liverpool rock and roll latin scottish price animals birmingham fish bond prison forever steel bob dylan clash rolling stones newcastle wood leeds great britain uh bahamas bach stones vox sheffield my life southampton beach boys twist crying richards eric clapton nina simone schmidt appalachian appalachia wildcats bradford frank zappa gallagher ray charles hammond kinks chuck berry excerpt sam cooke sunderland emi mccartney randy newman farrell greenwich village donald duck rising sun tilt pale incidentally rock music neanderthal tom wilson lands zappa argent jerry lee lewis jeez pagans minnesotan kettle moody blues apple one wrecking crew john hammond decca john mclaughlin suze ginger baker yardbirds arrangements gateshead eric burdon alan lomax righteous brothers korner ian dury jack bruce playboys shirelles weill louis jordan blockheads mose allison middlesborough berns big bill broonzy go now johnny rivers bill medley gary davis big joe turner joe meek whiter shade dave van ronk barry mann sunny afternoon alan price john steel i put a spell on you american r b let me be misunderstood reverend gary davis blind boy fuller jimmy witherspoon marty wilde bert berns elijah wald chas chandler baby let procul harum burdon macdougal street gwen foster ronk andrew oldham clarence ashley animalism georgia turner while dylan tilt araiza
    Episode 114: “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 18, 2021

    This week’s episode looks at “My Boy Lollipop” and the origins of ska music. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As usual, I have created a Mixcloud playlist containing every song heard in this episode — a content warning applies for the song “Bloodshot Eyes” by Wynonie Harris. The information about ska in general mostly comes from Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King by Lloyd Bradley, with some also from Reggae and Caribbean Music by Dave Thompson. Biographical information on Millie Small is largely from this article in Record Collector, plus a paywalled interview with Goldmine magazine (which I won’t link to because of the paywall). Millie’s early recordings with Owen Gray and Coxsone Dodd can be found on this compilation, along with a good selection of other recordings Dodd produced, while this compilation gives a good overview of her recordings for Island and Fontana. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Erratum I refer to “Barbara Gaye” when I should say “Barbie Gaye” Transcript Today, we’re going to take our first look at a form of music that would go on to have an almost incalculable influence on the music of the seventies, eighties, and later, but which at the time we’re looking at was largely regarded as a novelty music, at least in Britain and America. We’re going to look at the birth of ska, and at the first ska record to break big outside of Jamaica. We’re going to look at “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie: [Excerpt: Millie, “My Boy Lollipop”] Most of the music we’ve looked at so far in the podcast has been from either America or Britain, and I’m afraid that that’s going to remain largely the case — while there has been great music made in every country in the world, American and British musicians have tended to be so parochial, and have dominated the music industry so much, that relatively little of that music has made itself felt widely enough to have any kind of impact on the wider history of rock music, much to rock’s detriment. But every so often something from outside the British Isles or North America manages to penetrate even the closed ears of Anglo-American musicians, and today we’re going to look at one of those records. Now, before we start this, this episode is, by necessity, going to be dealing in broad generalisations — I’m trying to give as much information about Jamaica’s musical culture in one episode as I’ve given about America’s in a hundred, so I am going to have to elide a lot of details. Some of those details will come up in future episodes, as we deal with more Jamaican artists, but be aware that I’m missing stuff out. The thing that needs to be understood about the Jamaican music culture of the fifties and early sixties is that it developed in conditions of absolute poverty. Much of the music we looked at in the first year or so of the podcast came from extremely impoverished communities, of course, but even given how utterly, soul-crushingly, poor many people in the Deep South were, or the miserable conditions that people in Liverpool and London lived in while Britain was rebuilding itself after the war, those people were living in rich countries, and so still had access to some things that were not available to the poor people of poorer countries. So in Jamaica in the 1950s, almost nobody had access to any kind of record player or radio themselves. You wouldn’t even *know* anyone who had one, unlike in the states where if you were very poor you might not have one yourself, but your better-off cousin might let you come round and listen to the radio  at their house. So music was, by necessity, a communal experience.  Jamaican music, or at least the music in Kingston, the biggest city in Jamaica, was organised around  sound systems — big public open-air systems run by DJs, playing records for dancing. These had originally started in shops as a way of getting customers in, but soon became so popular that people started doing them on their own. These sound systems played music that was very different from the music played on the radio, which was aimed mostly at people rich enough to own radios, which at that time mostly meant white British people — in the fifties, Jamaica was still part of the British Empire, and there was an extraordinary gap between the music the white British colonial class liked and the music that the rest of the population liked.  The music that the Jamaican population *made* was mostly a genre called mento. Now, this is somewhere where my ignorance of this music compared to other musics comes into play a bit. There seem to have been two genres referred to as mento. One of them, rural mento, was based around instruments like the banjo, and a home-made bass instrument called a “rhumba box”, and had a resemblance to a lot of American country music or British skiffle — this form of mento is often still called “country music” in Jamaica itself: [Excerpt: The Hiltonaires, “Matilda”] There was another variant of mento, urban mento, which dropped the acoustic and home-made instruments and replaced them with the same sort of instruments that R&B or jazz bands used. Everything I read about urban mento says that it’s a different genre from calypso music, which generally comes from Trinidad and Tobago rather than Jamaica, but nothing explains what that difference is, other than the location. Mento musicians would also call their music calypso in order to sell it to people like me who don’t know the difference, and so you would get mento groups called things like Count Lasher and His Calypsonians, Lord Lebby and the Jamaica Calypsonians, and Count Owen and His Calypsonians, songs called things like “Hoola Hoop Calypso”, and mentions of calypso in the lyrics. I am fairly familiar with calypso music — people like the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Melody, Roaring Lion, and so on — and I honestly can’t hear any difference between calypso proper and mento records like this one, by Lord Power and Trenton Spence: [Excerpt: Lord Power and Trenton Spence, “Strip Tease”] But I’ll defer to the experts in these genres and accept that there’s a difference I’m not hearing. Mento was primarily a music for live performance, at least at first — there were very few recording facilities in Jamaica, and to the extent that records were made at all there, they were mostly done in very small runs to sell to tourists, who wanted a souvenir to take home. The music that the first sound systems played would include some mento records, and they would also play a fair number of latin-flavoured records. But the bulk of what they played was music for dancing, imported from America, made by Black American musicians, many of them the same musicians we looked at in the early months of this podcast. Louis Jordan was a big favourite, as was Wynonie Harris — the biggest hit in the early years of the sound systems was Harris’ “Bloodshot Eyes”. I’m going to excerpt that here, because it was an important record in the evolution of Jamaican music, but be warned that the song trivialises intimate partner violence in a way that many people might find disturbing. If you might be upset by that, skip forward exactly thirty seconds now: [Excerpt: Wynonie Harris, “Bloodshot Eyes”] The other artists who get repeatedly named in the histories of the early sound systems along with Jordan and Harris are Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Professor Longhair — a musician we’ve not talked about in the podcast, but who made New Orleans R&B music in the same style as Domino and Price, and for slow-dancing the Moonglows and Jesse Belvin. They would also play jazz — Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan were particular favourites. These records weren’t widely available in Jamaica — indeed, *no* records were really widely available . They found their way into Jamaica through merchant seamen, who would often be tasked by sound men with getting hold of new and exciting records, and paid with rum or marijuana. The “sound man” was the term used for the DJs who ran these sound systems, and they were performers as much as they were people who played records — they would talk and get the crowds going, they would invent dance steps and perform them, and they would also use the few bits of technology they had to alter the sound — usually by adding bass or echo. Their reputation was built by finding the most obscure records, but ones which the crowds would love. Every sound man worth his salt had a collection of records that nobody else had — if you were playing the same records that someone else had, you were a loser. As soon as a sound man got hold of a record, he’d scratch out all the identifying copy on the label and replace it with a new title, so that none of his rivals could get hold of their own copies. The rivalry between sound men could be serious — it started out just as friendly competition, with each man trying to build a bigger and louder system and draw a bigger crowd, but when the former policeman turned gangster Duke Reid started up his Trojan sound system, intimidating rivals with guns soon became par for the course. Reid had actually started out in music as an R&B radio DJ — one of the few in Jamaica — presenting a show whose theme song, Tab Smith’s “My Mother’s Eyes”, would become permanently identified with Reid: [Excerpt: Tab Smith, “My Mother’s Eyes”] Reid’s Trojan was one of the two biggest sound systems in Kingston, the other being Downbeat, run by Coxsone Dodd. Dodd’s system became so popular that he ended up having five different sound systems, all playing in different areas of the city every night, with the ones he didn’t perform at himself being run by assistants who later became big names in the Jamaican music world themselves, like Prince Buster and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Buster performed a few other functions for Dodd as well — one important one being that he  knew enough about R&B that he could go to Duke Reid’s shows, listen to the records he was playing, and figure out what they must be — he could recognise the different production styles of the different R&B labels well enough that he could use that, plus the lyrics, to work out the probable title and label of a record Reid was playing. Dodd would then get a merchant seaman to bring a copy of that record back from America, get a local record pressing plant to press up a bunch of copies of it, and sell it to the other sound men, thus destroying Reid’s edge. Eventually Prince Buster left Dodd and set up his own rival sound system, at which point the rivalry became a three-way one. Dodd knew about technology, and had the most powerful sound system with the best amps. Prince Buster was the best showman, who knew what the people wanted and gave it to them, and Duke Reid was connected and powerful enough that he could use intimidation to keep a grip on power, but he also had good enough musical instincts that his shows were genuinely popular in their own right. People started to see their favourite sound systems in the same way they see sports teams or political parties — as marks of identity that were worth getting into serious fights over. Supporters of one system would regularly attack supporters of another, and who your favourite sound system was *really mattered*. But there was a problem. While these systems were playing a handful of mento records, they were mostly relying on American records, and this had two problems. The most obvious was that if a record was available publicly, eventually someone else would find it. Coxsone Dodd managed to use one record, “Later For Gator” by Willis “Gatortail” Jackson, at every show for seven years, renaming it “Coxsone Hop”: [Excerpt: Willis “Gatortail” Jackson, “Later For Gator”] But eventually word got out that Duke Reid had tracked the song down and would play it at a dance. Dodd went along, and was allowed in unmolested — Reid wanted Dodd to know he’d been beaten.  Now, here I’m going to quote something Prince Buster said, and we hit a problem we’re likely to hit again when it comes to Jamaica. Buster spoke Jamaican Patois, a creole language that is mutually intelligible with, but different from, standard English. When quoting him, or any other Patois speaker, I have a choice of three different options, all bad. I could translate his words into standard English, thus misrepresenting him; I could read his words directly in my own accent, which has the problem that it can sound patronising, or like I’m mocking his language, because so much of Patois is to do with the way the words are pronounced; or I could attempt to approximate his own accent — which would probably come off as incredibly racist. As the least bad option of the three, I’m choosing the middle one here, and reading in my own accent, but I want people to be aware that this is not intended as mockery, and that I have at least given this some thought: “So we wait. Then as the clock struck midnight we hear “Baaap… bap da dap da dap, daaaa da daap!” And we see a bunch of them down from the dancehall coming up with the green bush. I was at the counter with Coxsone, he have a glass in him hand, he drop it and just collapse, sliding down the bar. I had to brace him against the bar, then get Phantom to give me a hand. The psychological impact had knocked him out. Nobody never hit him.” There was a second problem with using American records, as well — American musical tastes were starting to change, and Jamaican ones weren’t. Jamaican audiences wanted Louis Jordan, Fats Domino, and Gene & Eunice, but the Americans wanted Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Darin. For a while, the sound men were able to just keep finding more and more obscure old R&B and jump band records, but there was a finite supply of these, and they couldn’t keep doing it forever. The solution eventually became obvious — they needed Jamaican R&B. And thankfully there was a ready supply. Every week, there was a big talent contest in Kingston, and the winners would get five pounds — a lot of money in that time and place. Many of the winners would then go to a disc-cutting service, one of those places that would record a single copy of a song for you, and use their prize money to record themselves. They could then sell that record to one of the sound men, who would be sure that nobody else would have a copy of it. At first, the only sound men they could sell to were the less successful ones, who didn’t have good connections with American records. A local record was clearly not as good as an American one, and so the big sound systems wouldn’t touch it, but it was better than nothing, and some of the small sound systems would find that the local records were a success for them, and eventually the bigger systems would start using the small ones as a test audience — if a local record went down well at a small system, one of the big operators would get in touch with the sound man of that system and buy the record from him. One of the big examples of this was “Lollipop Girl”, a song by Derrick Harriott and Claudie Sang. They recorded that, with just a piano backing, and sold their only copy to a small sound system owner. It went down so well that the small sound man traded his copy with Coxsone Dodd for an American record — and it went down so well when Dodd played it that Duke Reid bribed one of Dodd’s assistants to get hold of Dodd’s copy long enough to get a copy made for himself. When Dodd and Reid played a sound clash — a show where they went head to head to see who could win a crowd over — and Reid played his own copy of “Lollipop Girl”, Dodd pulled a gun on Reid, and it was only the fact that the clash was next door to the police station that kept the two men from killing each other. Reid eventually wore out his copy of “Lollipop Girl”, he played it so much, and so he did the only sensible thing — he went into the record business himself, and took Harriott into the studio, along with a bunch of musicians from the local big bands, and cut a new version of it with a full band backing Harriott. As well as playing this on his sound system, Reid released it as a record: [Excerpt: Derrick Harriott, “Lollipop Girl”] Reid didn’t make many more records at this point, but both Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster started up their own labels, and started hiring local singers, plus people from a small pool of players who became the go-to session musicians for any record made in Jamaica at the time, like trombone player Rico Rodriguez and guitarist Ernest Ranglin. During the late 1950s, a new form of music developed from these recordings, which would become known as ska, and there are three records which are generally considered to be milestones in its development. The first was produced by a white businessman, Edward Seaga, who is now more famous for becoming the Prime Minister of Jamaica in the 1980s. At the time, though, Seaga had the idea to incorporate a little bit of a mento rhythm into an R&B record he was producing. In most music, if you have a four-four rhythm, you can divide it into eight on-beats and off-beats, and you normally stress the on-beats, so you stress “ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and”. In mento, though, you’d often have a banjo stress the off-beats, so the stresses would be “one AND two AND three AND four AND”. Seaga had the guitarist on “Manny Oh” by Higgs and Wilson do this, on a track that was otherwise a straightforward New Orleans style R&B song with a tresillo bassline. The change in stresses is almost imperceptible to modern ears, but it made the record sound uniquely Jamaican to its audience: [Excerpt: Higgs and Wilson, “Manny Oh”] The next record in the sequence was produced by Dodd, and is generally considered the first real ska record. There are a few different stories about where the term “ska” came from, but one of the more believable is that it came from Dodd directing Ernest Ranglin, who was the arranger for the record, to stress the off-beat more, saying “play it ska… ska… ska…” Where “Manny Oh” had been a Jamaican sounding R&B record, “Easy Snappin'” is definitely a blues-influenced ska record: [Excerpt: Theo Beckford, “Easy Snappin'”] But Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, at this point, still saw the music they were making as a substitute for American R&B. Prince Buster, on the other hand, by this point was a full-fledged Black nationalist, and wanted to make a purely Jamaican music. Buster was, in particular, an adherent of the Rastafari religion, and he brought in five drummers from the Rasta Nyabinghi tradition, most notably Count Ossie, who became the single most influential drummer in Jamaica, to record on the Folkes brothers single “Oh Carolina”, incorporating the rhythms of Rasta sacred music into Jamaican R&B for the first time: [Excerpt: The Folkes Brothers, “Oh Carolina”] 1962 was a turning point in Jamaican music in a variety of ways. Most obviously, it was the year that Jamaica became independent from the British Empire, and was able to take control of its own destiny. But it was also the year that saw the first recordings of a fourteen-year-old girl who would become ska’s first international star. Millie Small had started performing at the age of twelve, when she won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, the single biggest talent contest in Kingston. But it was two years later that she came to the attention of Coxsone Dodd, who was very interested in her because her voice sounded spookily like that of Shirley, from the duo Shirley and Lee. We mentioned Shirley and Lee briefly back in the episode on “Ko Ko Mo”, but they were a New Orleans R&B duo who had a string of hits in the early and mid fifties, recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s studio, pairing Leonard Lee’s baritone voice with Shirley Goodman’s soprano. Their early records had been knock-offs of the sound that Little Esther had created with Johnny Otis and his male vocalists — for example Shirley and Lee’s “Sweethearts”: [Excerpt: Shirley and Lee, “Sweethearts”] bears a very strong resemblance to “Double-Crossing Blues”: [Excerpt: Little Esther, Johnny Otis, and the Robins, “Double-Crossing Blues”] But they’d soon developed a more New Orleans style, with records like “Feel So Good” showing some of the Caribbean influence that many records from the area had: [Excerpt: Shirley and Lee, “Feel So Good”] Shirley and Lee only had minor chart success in the US, but spawned a host of imitators, including Gene and Eunice and Mickey and Sylvia, both of whom we looked at in the early months of the podcast, and Ike and Tina Turner who will be coming up later. Like much New Orleans R&B, Shirley and Lee were hugely popular among the sound system listeners, and Coxsone Dodd thought that Mille’s voice sounded enough like Shirley’s that it would be worth setting her up as part of his own Shirley and Lee soundalike duo, pairing her with a more established singer, Owen Gray, to record songs like “Sit and Cry”, a song which combined the vocal sound of Shirley and Lee with the melody of “The Twist”: [Excerpt: Owen and Millie, “Sit and Cry”] After Gray decided to continue performing on his own, Millie was instead teamed with another performer, Roy Panton, and “We’ll Meet” by Roy and Millie went to number one in Jamaica: [Excerpt: Roy and Millie, “We’ll Meet”] Meanwhile, in the UK, there was a growing interest in music from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. Until very recently, Britain had been a very white country — there have always been Black people in the UK, especially in port towns, but there had been very few. As of 1950, there were only about twenty thousand people of colour living in the UK. But starting in 1948, there had been a massive wave of immigration from other parts of what was then still the British Empire, as the government encouraged people to come here to help rebuild the country after the war. By 1961 there were nearly two hundred thousand Black people in Britain, almost all of them from the Caribbean.  Those people obviously wanted to hear the music of their own culture, and one man in particular was giving it to them. Chris Blackwell was a remarkably privileged man. His father had been one of the heirs to the Crosse and Blackwell fortune, and young Chris had been educated at Harrow, but when not in school he had spent much of his youth in Jamaica. His mother, Blanche, lived in Jamaica, where she was a muse to many men — Noel Coward based a character on her, in a play he wrote in 1956 but which was considered so scandalous that it wasn’t performed in public until 2012. Blanche attended the premiere of that play, when she was ninety-nine years old. She had an affair with Errol Flynn, and was also Ian Fleming’s mistress — Fleming would go to his Jamaican villa, GoldenEye, every year to write, leaving his wife at home (where she was having her own affairs, with the Labour MPs Hugh Gaitskell and Roy Jenkins), and would hook up with Blanche while he was there — according to several sources, Fleming based the characters of Pussy Galore and Honeychile Ryder on Blanche. After Fleming’s death, his wife instructed the villa’s manager that it could be rented to literally anyone except Blanche Blackwell, but in the mid-1970s it was bought by Bob Marley, who in turn sold it to Chris Blackwell. Chris Blackwell had developed a fascination with Rasta culture after having crashed his boat while sailing, and being rescued by some Rasta fishermen, and he had decided that his goal was to promote Jamaican culture to the world. He’d started his own labels, Island Records, in 1959, using his parents’ money, and had soon produced a Jamaican number one, “Boogie in My Bones”, by Laurel Aitken: [Excerpt: Laurel Aitken, “Boogie in My Bones”] But music was still something of a hobby with Blackwell, to the point that he nearly quit it altogether in 1962. He’d been given a job as a gopher on the first James Bond film, Dr. No, thanks to his family connections, and had also had a cameo role in the film. Harry Saltzman, the producer, offered him a job, but Blackwell went to a fortune teller who told him to stick with music, and he did. Soon after that, he moved back to England, where he continued running Island Records, this time as a distributor of Jamaican records. The label would occasionally record some tracks of its own, but it made its money from releasing Jamaican records, which Blackwell would hand-sell to local record shops around immigrant communities in London, Manchester, and Birmingham. Island was not the biggest of the labels releasing Jamaican music in Britain at the time — there was another label, Blue Beat, which got most of the big records, and which was so popular that in Britain “bluebeat” became a common term for ska, used to describe the whole genre, in the same way as Motown might be. And ska was becoming popular enough that there was also local ska being made, by Jamaican musicians living in Britain, and it was starting to chart. The first ska record to hit the charts in Britain was a cover of a Jimmy Cliff song, “King of Kings”, performed by Ezz Reco and the Launchers: [Excerpt: Ezz Reco and the Launchers, “King of Kings”] That made the lower reaches of the top forty, and soon after came “Mockingbird Hill”, a ska remake of an old Les Paul and Mary Ford hit, recorded by the Migil Five, a white British R&B group whose main claim to fame was that one of them was Charlie Watts’ uncle, and Watts had occasionally filled in on drums for them before joining the Rolling Stones: [Excerpt: Migil Five, “Mockingbird Hill”] That made the top ten. Ska was becoming the in sound in Britain, to the point that in March 1964, the same month that “Mockingbird Hill” was released, the Beatles made a brief detour into ska in the instrumental break to “I Call Your Name”: [Excerpt: The Beatles, “I Call Your Name”] And it was into this atmosphere that Chris Blackwell decided to introduce Millie. Her early records had been selling well enough for him that in 1963 he had decided to call Millie’s mother and promise her that if her daughter came over to the UK, he would be able to make her into a star. Rather than release her records on Island, which didn’t have any wide distribution, he decided to license them to Fontana, a mid-sized British label. Millie’s first British single, “Don’t You Know”, was released in late 1963, and was standard British pop music of the time, with little to distinguish it, and so unsurprisingly it wasn’t a hit: [Excerpt: Millie, “Don’t You Know”] But the second single was something different. For that, Blackwell remembered a song that had been popular among the sound systems a few years earlier; an American record by a white singer named Barbara Gaye. Up to this point, Gaye’s biggest claim to fame had been that Ellie Greenwich had liked this record enough that she’d briefly performed under the stage name Ellie Gaye, before deciding against that. “My Boy Lollipop” had been written by Robert Spencer of the Cadillacs, the doo-wop group whose biggest hit had been “Speedoo”: [Excerpt: The Cadillacs, “Speedoo”] Spencer had written “My Boy Lollipop”, but lost the rights to it in a card game — and then Morris Levy bought the rights from the winner for a hundred dollars. Levy changed the songwriting credit to feature a mob acquaintance of his, Johnny Roberts, and then passed the song to Gaetano Vastola, another mobster, who had it recorded by Gaye, a teenage girl he managed, with the backing provided by the normal New York R&B session players, like Big Al Sears and Panama Francis: [Excerpt: Barbie Gaye, “My Boy Lollipop”] That hadn’t been a hit when it was released in 1956, but it had later been picked up by the Jamaican sound men, partly because of its resemblance to the ska style, and Blackwell had a tape recording of it. Blackwell got Ernest Ranglin, who had also worked on Dr. No, and who had moved over to the UK at the same time as Blackwell, to come up with an arrangement, and Ranglin hired a local band to perform the instrumental backing. That band, Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions, had previously been known as the Moontrekkers, and had worked with Joe Meek, recording “Night of the Vampire”: [Excerpt: The Moontrekkers, “Night of the Vampire”] Ranglin replaced the saxophone solo from the original record with a harmonica solo, to fit the current fad for the harmonica in the British charts, and there is some dispute about who played it, but Millie always insisted that it was the Five Dimensions’ harmonica player, Rod Stewart, though Stewart denies it: [Excerpt: Millie, “My Boy Lollipop”] “My Boy Lollipop” came out in early 1964 and became a massive hit, reaching number two on the charts both in the UK and the US, and Millie was now a star. She got her own UK TV special, as well as appearing on Around The Beatles, a special starring the Beatles and produced by Jack Good. She was romantically linked to Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon. Her next single, though, “Sweet William”, only made number thirty, as the brief first wave of interest in ska among the white public subsided: [Excerpt: Millie, “Sweet William”] Over the next few years, there were many attempts made to get her back in the charts, but the last thing that came near was a remake of “Bloodshot Eyes”, without the intimate partner violence references, which made number forty-eight on the UK charts at the end of 1965: [Excerpt: Millie, “Bloodshot Eyes”] She was also teamed with other artists in an attempt to replicate her success as a duet act. She recorded with Jimmy Cliff: [Excerpt: Millie and Jimmy Cliff, “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”] and Jackie Edwards: [Excerpt: Jackie and Millie, “Pledging My Love”] and she was also teamed with a rock group Blackwell had discovered, and who would soon become big stars themselves with versions of songs by Edwards, on a cover version of Ike and Tina Turner’s “I’m Blue (the Gong Gong Song)”: [Excerpt: The Spencer Davis Group, “I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song)”] But the Spencer Davis Group didn’t revive her fortunes, and she moved on to a succession of smaller labels, with her final recordings coming in the early 1970s, when she recorded the track “Enoch Power”, in response to the racism stirred up by the right-wing politician Enoch Powell: [Excerpt: Millie Small, “Enoch Power”] Millie spent much of the next few decades in poverty. There was talk of a comeback in the early eighties, after the British ska revival group Bad Manners had a top ten hit with a gender-flipped remake of “My Boy Lollipop”: [Excerpt: Bad Manners, “My Girl Lollipop”] But she never performed again after the early seventies, and other than one brief interview in 2016 she kept her life private. She was given multiple honours by the people of Jamaica, including being made a Commander in the Order of Distinction, but never really got any financial benefit from her enormous chart success, or from being the first Jamaican artist to make an impact on Britain and America. She died last year, aged seventy-two.

    Episode 114: “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 18, 2021

    This week’s episode looks at “My Boy Lollipop” and the origins of ska music. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 114: "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 18, 2021 47:11

    This week's episode looks at "My Boy Lollipop" and the origins of ska music. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "If You Wanna Be Happy" by Jimmy Soul. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Resources As usual, I have created a Mixcloud playlist containing every song heard in this episode -- a content warning applies for the song "Bloodshot Eyes" by Wynonie Harris. The information about ska in general mostly comes from Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King by Lloyd Bradley, with some also from Reggae and Caribbean Music by Dave Thompson. Biographical information on Millie Small is largely from this article in Record Collector, plus a paywalled interview with Goldmine magazine (which I won't link to because of the paywall). Millie's early recordings with Owen Gray and Coxsone Dodd can be found on this compilation, along with a good selection of other recordings Dodd produced, while this compilation gives a good overview of her recordings for Island and Fontana. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Erratum I refer to "Barbara Gaye" when I should say "Barbie Gaye" Transcript Today, we're going to take our first look at a form of music that would go on to have an almost incalculable influence on the music of the seventies, eighties, and later, but which at the time we're looking at was largely regarded as a novelty music, at least in Britain and America. We're going to look at the birth of ska, and at the first ska record to break big outside of Jamaica. We're going to look at "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie: [Excerpt: Millie, "My Boy Lollipop"] Most of the music we've looked at so far in the podcast has been from either America or Britain, and I'm afraid that that's going to remain largely the case -- while there has been great music made in every country in the world, American and British musicians have tended to be so parochial, and have dominated the music industry so much, that relatively little of that music has made itself felt widely enough to have any kind of impact on the wider history of rock music, much to rock's detriment. But every so often something from outside the British Isles or North America manages to penetrate even the closed ears of Anglo-American musicians, and today we're going to look at one of those records. Now, before we start this, this episode is, by necessity, going to be dealing in broad generalisations -- I'm trying to give as much information about Jamaica's musical culture in one episode as I've given about America's in a hundred, so I am going to have to elide a lot of details. Some of those details will come up in future episodes, as we deal with more Jamaican artists, but be aware that I'm missing stuff out. The thing that needs to be understood about the Jamaican music culture of the fifties and early sixties is that it developed in conditions of absolute poverty. Much of the music we looked at in the first year or so of the podcast came from extremely impoverished communities, of course, but even given how utterly, soul-crushingly, poor many people in the Deep South were, or the miserable conditions that people in Liverpool and London lived in while Britain was rebuilding itself after the war, those people were living in rich countries, and so still had access to some things that were not available to the poor people of poorer countries. So in Jamaica in the 1950s, almost nobody had access to any kind of record player or radio themselves. You wouldn't even *know* anyone who had one, unlike in the states where if you were very poor you might not have one yourself, but your better-off cousin might let you come round and listen to the radio  at their house. So music was, by necessity, a communal experience.  Jamaican music, or at least the music in Kingston, the biggest city in Jamaica, was organised around  sound systems -- big public open-air systems run by DJs, playing records for dancing. These had originally started in shops as a way of getting customers in, but soon became so popular that people started doing them on their own. These sound systems played music that was very different from the music played on the radio, which was aimed mostly at people rich enough to own radios, which at that time mostly meant white British people -- in the fifties, Jamaica was still part of the British Empire, and there was an extraordinary gap between the music the white British colonial class liked and the music that the rest of the population liked.  The music that the Jamaican population *made* was mostly a genre called mento. Now, this is somewhere where my ignorance of this music compared to other musics comes into play a bit. There seem to have been two genres referred to as mento. One of them, rural mento, was based around instruments like the banjo, and a home-made bass instrument called a "rhumba box", and had a resemblance to a lot of American country music or British skiffle -- this form of mento is often still called "country music" in Jamaica itself: [Excerpt: The Hiltonaires, "Matilda"] There was another variant of mento, urban mento, which dropped the acoustic and home-made instruments and replaced them with the same sort of instruments that R&B or jazz bands used. Everything I read about urban mento says that it's a different genre from calypso music, which generally comes from Trinidad and Tobago rather than Jamaica, but nothing explains what that difference is, other than the location. Mento musicians would also call their music calypso in order to sell it to people like me who don't know the difference, and so you would get mento groups called things like Count Lasher and His Calypsonians, Lord Lebby and the Jamaica Calypsonians, and Count Owen and His Calypsonians, songs called things like "Hoola Hoop Calypso", and mentions of calypso in the lyrics. I am fairly familiar with calypso music -- people like the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Melody, Roaring Lion, and so on -- and I honestly can't hear any difference between calypso proper and mento records like this one, by Lord Power and Trenton Spence: [Excerpt: Lord Power and Trenton Spence, "Strip Tease"] But I'll defer to the experts in these genres and accept that there's a difference I'm not hearing. Mento was primarily a music for live performance, at least at first -- there were very few recording facilities in Jamaica, and to the extent that records were made at all there, they were mostly done in very small runs to sell to tourists, who wanted a souvenir to take home. The music that the first sound systems played would include some mento records, and they would also play a fair number of latin-flavoured records. But the bulk of what they played was music for dancing, imported from America, made by Black American musicians, many of them the same musicians we looked at in the early months of this podcast. Louis Jordan was a big favourite, as was Wynonie Harris -- the biggest hit in the early years of the sound systems was Harris' "Bloodshot Eyes". I'm going to excerpt that here, because it was an important record in the evolution of Jamaican music, but be warned that the song trivialises intimate partner violence in a way that many people might find disturbing. If you might be upset by that, skip forward exactly thirty seconds now: [Excerpt: Wynonie Harris, "Bloodshot Eyes"] The other artists who get repeatedly named in the histories of the early sound systems along with Jordan and Harris are Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Professor Longhair -- a musician we've not talked about in the podcast, but who made New Orleans R&B music in the same style as Domino and Price, and for slow-dancing the Moonglows and Jesse Belvin. They would also play jazz -- Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan were particular favourites. These records weren't widely available in Jamaica -- indeed, *no* records were really widely available . They found their way into Jamaica through merchant seamen, who would often be tasked by sound men with getting hold of new and exciting records, and paid with rum or marijuana. The "sound man" was the term used for the DJs who ran these sound systems, and they were performers as much as they were people who played records -- they would talk and get the crowds going, they would invent dance steps and perform them, and they would also use the few bits of technology they had to alter the sound -- usually by adding bass or echo. Their reputation was built by finding the most obscure records, but ones which the crowds would love. Every sound man worth his salt had a collection of records that nobody else had -- if you were playing the same records that someone else had, you were a loser. As soon as a sound man got hold of a record, he'd scratch out all the identifying copy on the label and replace it with a new title, so that none of his rivals could get hold of their own copies. The rivalry between sound men could be serious -- it started out just as friendly competition, with each man trying to build a bigger and louder system and draw a bigger crowd, but when the former policeman turned gangster Duke Reid started up his Trojan sound system, intimidating rivals with guns soon became par for the course. Reid had actually started out in music as an R&B radio DJ -- one of the few in Jamaica -- presenting a show whose theme song, Tab Smith's "My Mother's Eyes", would become permanently identified with Reid: [Excerpt: Tab Smith, "My Mother's Eyes"] Reid's Trojan was one of the two biggest sound systems in Kingston, the other being Downbeat, run by Coxsone Dodd. Dodd's system became so popular that he ended up having five different sound systems, all playing in different areas of the city every night, with the ones he didn't perform at himself being run by assistants who later became big names in the Jamaican music world themselves, like Prince Buster and Lee "Scratch" Perry. Buster performed a few other functions for Dodd as well -- one important one being that he  knew enough about R&B that he could go to Duke Reid's shows, listen to the records he was playing, and figure out what they must be -- he could recognise the different production styles of the different R&B labels well enough that he could use that, plus the lyrics, to work out the probable title and label of a record Reid was playing. Dodd would then get a merchant seaman to bring a copy of that record back from America, get a local record pressing plant to press up a bunch of copies of it, and sell it to the other sound men, thus destroying Reid's edge. Eventually Prince Buster left Dodd and set up his own rival sound system, at which point the rivalry became a three-way one. Dodd knew about technology, and had the most powerful sound system with the best amps. Prince Buster was the best showman, who knew what the people wanted and gave it to them, and Duke Reid was connected and powerful enough that he could use intimidation to keep a grip on power, but he also had good enough musical instincts that his shows were genuinely popular in their own right. People started to see their favourite sound systems in the same way they see sports teams or political parties -- as marks of identity that were worth getting into serious fights over. Supporters of one system would regularly attack supporters of another, and who your favourite sound system was *really mattered*. But there was a problem. While these systems were playing a handful of mento records, they were mostly relying on American records, and this had two problems. The most obvious was that if a record was available publicly, eventually someone else would find it. Coxsone Dodd managed to use one record, "Later For Gator" by Willis "Gatortail" Jackson, at every show for seven years, renaming it "Coxsone Hop": [Excerpt: Willis "Gatortail" Jackson, "Later For Gator"] But eventually word got out that Duke Reid had tracked the song down and would play it at a dance. Dodd went along, and was allowed in unmolested -- Reid wanted Dodd to know he'd been beaten.  Now, here I'm going to quote something Prince Buster said, and we hit a problem we're likely to hit again when it comes to Jamaica. Buster spoke Jamaican Patois, a creole language that is mutually intelligible with, but different from, standard English. When quoting him, or any other Patois speaker, I have a choice of three different options, all bad. I could translate his words into standard English, thus misrepresenting him; I could read his words directly in my own accent, which has the problem that it can sound patronising, or like I'm mocking his language, because so much of Patois is to do with the way the words are pronounced; or I could attempt to approximate his own accent -- which would probably come off as incredibly racist. As the least bad option of the three, I'm choosing the middle one here, and reading in my own accent, but I want people to be aware that this is not intended as mockery, and that I have at least given this some thought: "So we wait. Then as the clock struck midnight we hear “Baaap… bap da dap da dap, daaaa da daap!” And we see a bunch of them down from the dancehall coming up with the green bush. I was at the counter with Coxsone, he have a glass in him hand, he drop it and just collapse, sliding down the bar. I had to brace him against the bar, then get Phantom to give me a hand. The psychological impact had knocked him out. Nobody never hit him." There was a second problem with using American records, as well -- American musical tastes were starting to change, and Jamaican ones weren't. Jamaican audiences wanted Louis Jordan, Fats Domino, and Gene & Eunice, but the Americans wanted Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Darin. For a while, the sound men were able to just keep finding more and more obscure old R&B and jump band records, but there was a finite supply of these, and they couldn't keep doing it forever. The solution eventually became obvious -- they needed Jamaican R&B. And thankfully there was a ready supply. Every week, there was a big talent contest in Kingston, and the winners would get five pounds -- a lot of money in that time and place. Many of the winners would then go to a disc-cutting service, one of those places that would record a single copy of a song for you, and use their prize money to record themselves. They could then sell that record to one of the sound men, who would be sure that nobody else would have a copy of it. At first, the only sound men they could sell to were the less successful ones, who didn't have good connections with American records. A local record was clearly not as good as an American one, and so the big sound systems wouldn't touch it, but it was better than nothing, and some of the small sound systems would find that the local records were a success for them, and eventually the bigger systems would start using the small ones as a test audience -- if a local record went down well at a small system, one of the big operators would get in touch with the sound man of that system and buy the record from him. One of the big examples of this was "Lollipop Girl", a song by Derrick Harriott and Claudie Sang. They recorded that, with just a piano backing, and sold their only copy to a small sound system owner. It went down so well that the small sound man traded his copy with Coxsone Dodd for an American record -- and it went down so well when Dodd played it that Duke Reid bribed one of Dodd's assistants to get hold of Dodd's copy long enough to get a copy made for himself. When Dodd and Reid played a sound clash -- a show where they went head to head to see who could win a crowd over -- and Reid played his own copy of "Lollipop Girl", Dodd pulled a gun on Reid, and it was only the fact that the clash was next door to the police station that kept the two men from killing each other. Reid eventually wore out his copy of "Lollipop Girl", he played it so much, and so he did the only sensible thing -- he went into the record business himself, and took Harriott into the studio, along with a bunch of musicians from the local big bands, and cut a new version of it with a full band backing Harriott. As well as playing this on his sound system, Reid released it as a record: [Excerpt: Derrick Harriott, "Lollipop Girl"] Reid didn't make many more records at this point, but both Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster started up their own labels, and started hiring local singers, plus people from a small pool of players who became the go-to session musicians for any record made in Jamaica at the time, like trombone player Rico Rodriguez and guitarist Ernest Ranglin. During the late 1950s, a new form of music developed from these recordings, which would become known as ska, and there are three records which are generally considered to be milestones in its development. The first was produced by a white businessman, Edward Seaga, who is now more famous for becoming the Prime Minister of Jamaica in the 1980s. At the time, though, Seaga had the idea to incorporate a little bit of a mento rhythm into an R&B record he was producing. In most music, if you have a four-four rhythm, you can divide it into eight on-beats and off-beats, and you normally stress the on-beats, so you stress "ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and". In mento, though, you'd often have a banjo stress the off-beats, so the stresses would be "one AND two AND three AND four AND". Seaga had the guitarist on "Manny Oh" by Higgs and Wilson do this, on a track that was otherwise a straightforward New Orleans style R&B song with a tresillo bassline. The change in stresses is almost imperceptible to modern ears, but it made the record sound uniquely Jamaican to its audience: [Excerpt: Higgs and Wilson, "Manny Oh"] The next record in the sequence was produced by Dodd, and is generally considered the first real ska record. There are a few different stories about where the term "ska" came from, but one of the more believable is that it came from Dodd directing Ernest Ranglin, who was the arranger for the record, to stress the off-beat more, saying "play it ska... ska... ska..." Where "Manny Oh" had been a Jamaican sounding R&B record, "Easy Snappin'" is definitely a blues-influenced ska record: [Excerpt: Theo Beckford, "Easy Snappin'"] But Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, at this point, still saw the music they were making as a substitute for American R&B. Prince Buster, on the other hand, by this point was a full-fledged Black nationalist, and wanted to make a purely Jamaican music. Buster was, in particular, an adherent of the Rastafari religion, and he brought in five drummers from the Rasta Nyabinghi tradition, most notably Count Ossie, who became the single most influential drummer in Jamaica, to record on the Folkes brothers single "Oh Carolina", incorporating the rhythms of Rasta sacred music into Jamaican R&B for the first time: [Excerpt: The Folkes Brothers, "Oh Carolina"] 1962 was a turning point in Jamaican music in a variety of ways. Most obviously, it was the year that Jamaica became independent from the British Empire, and was able to take control of its own destiny. But it was also the year that saw the first recordings of a fourteen-year-old girl who would become ska's first international star. Millie Small had started performing at the age of twelve, when she won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, the single biggest talent contest in Kingston. But it was two years later that she came to the attention of Coxsone Dodd, who was very interested in her because her voice sounded spookily like that of Shirley, from the duo Shirley and Lee. We mentioned Shirley and Lee briefly back in the episode on "Ko Ko Mo", but they were a New Orleans R&B duo who had a string of hits in the early and mid fifties, recorded at Cosimo Matassa's studio, pairing Leonard Lee's baritone voice with Shirley Goodman's soprano. Their early records had been knock-offs of the sound that Little Esther had created with Johnny Otis and his male vocalists -- for example Shirley and Lee's "Sweethearts": [Excerpt: Shirley and Lee, "Sweethearts"] bears a very strong resemblance to "Double-Crossing Blues": [Excerpt: Little Esther, Johnny Otis, and the Robins, "Double-Crossing Blues"] But they'd soon developed a more New Orleans style, with records like "Feel So Good" showing some of the Caribbean influence that many records from the area had: [Excerpt: Shirley and Lee, "Feel So Good"] Shirley and Lee only had minor chart success in the US, but spawned a host of imitators, including Gene and Eunice and Mickey and Sylvia, both of whom we looked at in the early months of the podcast, and Ike and Tina Turner who will be coming up later. Like much New Orleans R&B, Shirley and Lee were hugely popular among the sound system listeners, and Coxsone Dodd thought that Mille's voice sounded enough like Shirley's that it would be worth setting her up as part of his own Shirley and Lee soundalike duo, pairing her with a more established singer, Owen Gray, to record songs like "Sit and Cry", a song which combined the vocal sound of Shirley and Lee with the melody of "The Twist": [Excerpt: Owen and Millie, "Sit and Cry"] After Gray decided to continue performing on his own, Millie was instead teamed with another performer, Roy Panton, and "We'll Meet" by Roy and Millie went to number one in Jamaica: [Excerpt: Roy and Millie, "We'll Meet"] Meanwhile, in the UK, there was a growing interest in music from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. Until very recently, Britain had been a very white country -- there have always been Black people in the UK, especially in port towns, but there had been very few. As of 1950, there were only about twenty thousand people of colour living in the UK. But starting in 1948, there had been a massive wave of immigration from other parts of what was then still the British Empire, as the government encouraged people to come here to help rebuild the country after the war. By 1961 there were nearly two hundred thousand Black people in Britain, almost all of them from the Caribbean.  Those people obviously wanted to hear the music of their own culture, and one man in particular was giving it to them. Chris Blackwell was a remarkably privileged man. His father had been one of the heirs to the Crosse and Blackwell fortune, and young Chris had been educated at Harrow, but when not in school he had spent much of his youth in Jamaica. His mother, Blanche, lived in Jamaica, where she was a muse to many men -- Noel Coward based a character on her, in a play he wrote in 1956 but which was considered so scandalous that it wasn't performed in public until 2012. Blanche attended the premiere of that play, when she was ninety-nine years old. She had an affair with Errol Flynn, and was also Ian Fleming's mistress -- Fleming would go to his Jamaican villa, GoldenEye, every year to write, leaving his wife at home (where she was having her own affairs, with the Labour MPs Hugh Gaitskell and Roy Jenkins), and would hook up with Blanche while he was there -- according to several sources, Fleming based the characters of Pussy Galore and Honeychile Ryder on Blanche. After Fleming's death, his wife instructed the villa's manager that it could be rented to literally anyone except Blanche Blackwell, but in the mid-1970s it was bought by Bob Marley, who in turn sold it to Chris Blackwell. Chris Blackwell had developed a fascination with Rasta culture after having crashed his boat while sailing, and being rescued by some Rasta fishermen, and he had decided that his goal was to promote Jamaican culture to the world. He'd started his own labels, Island Records, in 1959, using his parents' money, and had soon produced a Jamaican number one, "Boogie in My Bones", by Laurel Aitken: [Excerpt: Laurel Aitken, "Boogie in My Bones"] But music was still something of a hobby with Blackwell, to the point that he nearly quit it altogether in 1962. He'd been given a job as a gopher on the first James Bond film, Dr. No, thanks to his family connections, and had also had a cameo role in the film. Harry Saltzman, the producer, offered him a job, but Blackwell went to a fortune teller who told him to stick with music, and he did. Soon after that, he moved back to England, where he continued running Island Records, this time as a distributor of Jamaican records. The label would occasionally record some tracks of its own, but it made its money from releasing Jamaican records, which Blackwell would hand-sell to local record shops around immigrant communities in London, Manchester, and Birmingham. Island was not the biggest of the labels releasing Jamaican music in Britain at the time -- there was another label, Blue Beat, which got most of the big records, and which was so popular that in Britain "bluebeat" became a common term for ska, used to describe the whole genre, in the same way as Motown might be. And ska was becoming popular enough that there was also local ska being made, by Jamaican musicians living in Britain, and it was starting to chart. The first ska record to hit the charts in Britain was a cover of a Jimmy Cliff song, "King of Kings", performed by Ezz Reco and the Launchers: [Excerpt: Ezz Reco and the Launchers, "King of Kings"] That made the lower reaches of the top forty, and soon after came "Mockingbird Hill", a ska remake of an old Les Paul and Mary Ford hit, recorded by the Migil Five, a white British R&B group whose main claim to fame was that one of them was Charlie Watts' uncle, and Watts had occasionally filled in on drums for them before joining the Rolling Stones: [Excerpt: Migil Five, "Mockingbird Hill"] That made the top ten. Ska was becoming the in sound in Britain, to the point that in March 1964, the same month that "Mockingbird Hill" was released, the Beatles made a brief detour into ska in the instrumental break to "I Call Your Name": [Excerpt: The Beatles, "I Call Your Name"] And it was into this atmosphere that Chris Blackwell decided to introduce Millie. Her early records had been selling well enough for him that in 1963 he had decided to call Millie's mother and promise her that if her daughter came over to the UK, he would be able to make her into a star. Rather than release her records on Island, which didn't have any wide distribution, he decided to license them to Fontana, a mid-sized British label. Millie's first British single, "Don't You Know", was released in late 1963, and was standard British pop music of the time, with little to distinguish it, and so unsurprisingly it wasn't a hit: [Excerpt: Millie, "Don't You Know"] But the second single was something different. For that, Blackwell remembered a song that had been popular among the sound systems a few years earlier; an American record by a white singer named Barbara Gaye. Up to this point, Gaye's biggest claim to fame had been that Ellie Greenwich had liked this record enough that she'd briefly performed under the stage name Ellie Gaye, before deciding against that. "My Boy Lollipop" had been written by Robert Spencer of the Cadillacs, the doo-wop group whose biggest hit had been "Speedoo": [Excerpt: The Cadillacs, "Speedoo"] Spencer had written “My Boy Lollipop”, but lost the rights to it in a card game -- and then Morris Levy bought the rights from the winner for a hundred dollars. Levy changed the songwriting credit to feature a mob acquaintance of his, Johnny Roberts, and then passed the song to Gaetano Vastola, another mobster, who had it recorded by Gaye, a teenage girl he managed, with the backing provided by the normal New York R&B session players, like Big Al Sears and Panama Francis: [Excerpt: Barbie Gaye, "My Boy Lollipop"] That hadn't been a hit when it was released in 1956, but it had later been picked up by the Jamaican sound men, partly because of its resemblance to the ska style, and Blackwell had a tape recording of it. Blackwell got Ernest Ranglin, who had also worked on Dr. No, and who had moved over to the UK at the same time as Blackwell, to come up with an arrangement, and Ranglin hired a local band to perform the instrumental backing. That band, Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions, had previously been known as the Moontrekkers, and had worked with Joe Meek, recording "Night of the Vampire": [Excerpt: The Moontrekkers, "Night of the Vampire"] Ranglin replaced the saxophone solo from the original record with a harmonica solo, to fit the current fad for the harmonica in the British charts, and there is some dispute about who played it, but Millie always insisted that it was the Five Dimensions' harmonica player, Rod Stewart, though Stewart denies it: [Excerpt: Millie, "My Boy Lollipop"] "My Boy Lollipop" came out in early 1964 and became a massive hit, reaching number two on the charts both in the UK and the US, and Millie was now a star. She got her own UK TV special, as well as appearing on Around The Beatles, a special starring the Beatles and produced by Jack Good. She was romantically linked to Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon. Her next single, though, "Sweet William", only made number thirty, as the brief first wave of interest in ska among the white public subsided: [Excerpt: Millie, "Sweet William"] Over the next few years, there were many attempts made to get her back in the charts, but the last thing that came near was a remake of "Bloodshot Eyes", without the intimate partner violence references, which made number forty-eight on the UK charts at the end of 1965: [Excerpt: Millie, "Bloodshot Eyes"] She was also teamed with other artists in an attempt to replicate her success as a duet act. She recorded with Jimmy Cliff: [Excerpt: Millie and Jimmy Cliff, "Hey Boy, Hey Girl"] and Jackie Edwards: [Excerpt: Jackie and Millie, "Pledging My Love"] and she was also teamed with a rock group Blackwell had discovered, and who would soon become big stars themselves with versions of songs by Edwards, on a cover version of Ike and Tina Turner's "I'm Blue (the Gong Gong Song)": [Excerpt: The Spencer Davis Group, "I'm Blue (The Gong Gong Song)"] But the Spencer Davis Group didn't revive her fortunes, and she moved on to a succession of smaller labels, with her final recordings coming in the early 1970s, when she recorded the track "Enoch Power", in response to the racism stirred up by the right-wing politician Enoch Powell: [Excerpt: Millie Small, "Enoch Power"] Millie spent much of the next few decades in poverty. There was talk of a comeback in the early eighties, after the British ska revival group Bad Manners had a top ten hit with a gender-flipped remake of "My Boy Lollipop": [Excerpt: Bad Manners, "My Girl Lollipop"] But she never performed again after the early seventies, and other than one brief interview in 2016 she kept her life private. She was given multiple honours by the people of Jamaica, including being made a Commander in the Order of Distinction, but never really got any financial benefit from her enormous chart success, or from being the first Jamaican artist to make an impact on Britain and America. She died last year, aged seventy-two.

    Episode 113: “Needles and Pins” by The Searchers

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 8, 2021

    This week’s episode looks at “Needles and Pins”, and the story of the second-greatest band to come out of Liverpool in the sixties, The Searchers. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a sixteen-minute bonus episode available, on “Farmer John” by Don and Dewey. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many recordings by the Searchers.  My two main resources for this episode have been the autobiographies of members of the group — Frank Allen’s The Searchers and Me and Mike Pender’s The Search For Myself.  All the Searchers tracks and Tony Jackson or Chris Curtis solo recordings excerpted here, except the live excerpt of “What’d I Say”, can be found on this box set, which is out of print as a physical box, but still available digitally. For those who want a good budget alternative, though, this double-CD set contains fifty Searchers tracks, including all their hits, for under three pounds.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Last week we had a look at the biggest group ever to come out of Liverpool, and indeed the biggest group ever to play rock and roll music. But the Beatles weren’t the only influential band on the Merseybeat scene, and while we won’t have much chance to look at Merseybeat in general, we should at least briefly touch on the other bands from the scene. So today we’re going to look at a band who developed a distinctive sound that would go on to be massively influential, even though they’re rarely cited as an influence in the way some of their contemporaries are. We’re going to look at The Searchers, and “Needles and Pins”: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins”] The story of the early origins of the Searchers is, like everything about the Searchers, the subject of a great deal of dispute. The two surviving original members of the group, John McNally and Mike Pender, haven’t spoken to each other in thirty-six years, and didn’t get on for many years before that, and there have been several legal disputes between them over the years. As a result, literally everything about the group’s history has become a battlefield in their ongoing arguments. According to a book by Frank Allen, the group’s bass player from 1964 on and someone who took McNally’s side in the split and subsequent legal problems, McNally formed a skiffle group, which Mike Pender later joined, and was later joined first by Tony Jackson and then by a drummer then known as Chris Crummey, but who changed his name to the more euphonic Chris Curtis.  According to Pender, he never liked skiffle, never played skiffle, and “if McNally had a skiffle group, it must have been before I met him”. He is very insistent on this point — he liked country music, and later rock and roll, but never liked skiffle. According to him, he and McNally got together and formed a group that was definitely absolutely not in any way a skiffle group and wasn’t led by McNally but was formed by both of them. That group split up, and then Pender became friends with Tony Jackson — and he’s very insistent that he became friends with Jackson during  a period when he didn’t know McNally — and the group reformed around the three of them, when McNally and Pender got back in touch. The origin of the group’s name is similarly disputed. Everyone agrees that it came from the John Wayne film The Searchers — the same film which had inspired the group’s hero Buddy Holly to write “That’ll Be The Day” — but there is disagreement as to whose idea the name was. Pender claims that it was his idea, while McNally says that the name was coined by a singer named “Big Ron”, who sang with the band for a bit before disappearing into obscurity. Big Ron’s replacement was a singer named Billy Beck, who at the time he was with the Searchers used the stage name Johnny Sandon (though he later reverted to his birth name). The group performed as Johnny Sandon and The Searchers for two years, before Sandon quit the group to join the Remo Four, a group that was managed by Brian Epstein. Sandon made some records with the Remo Four in 1963, but they went nowhere, but they’ll give some idea of how Sandon sounded: [Excerpt: Johnny Sandon and the Remo Four, “Lies”] The Remo Four later moved on to back Tommy Quickly, who we heard last week singing a song the Beatles wrote for him. With Sandon out of the picture, the group had no lead singer or frontman, and were in trouble — they were known around Liverpool as Johnny Sandon’s backing group, not as a group in their own right. They started splitting the lead vocals between themselves, but with Tony Jackson taking most of them. And, in a move which made them stand out, Chris Curtis moved his drum kit to the front line, started playing standing up, and became the group’s front-man and second lead singer. Even at this point, though, there seemed to be cracks in the group. The Searchers were the most clean-living of the Liverpool bands — they were all devout Catholics who would go to Mass every Sunday without fail, and seem to have never indulged in most of the vices that pretty much every other rock star indulged in. But Curtis and Jackson were far less so than Pender and McNally — Jackson in particular was a very heavy drinker and known to get very aggressive when drunk, while Curtis was known as eccentric in other ways — he seems to have had some sort of mental illness, though no-one’s ever spoken about a diagnosis — the Beatles apparently referred to him as “Mad Henry”. Curtis and Jackson didn’t get on with each other, and while Jackson started out as a close friend of Pender’s, the two soon drifted apart, and by the time of their first recording sessions they appeared to most people to be a group of three plus one outsider, with Jackson not getting on well with any of the others. There was also a split in the band’s musical tastes, but that would be the split that would drive much of their creativity. Pender and McNally were drawn towards softer music — country and rockabilly, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly — while Jackson preferred harder, stomping, music. But it was Chris Curtis who took charge of the group’s repertoire, and who was the group’s unofficial leader. While the other band members had fairly mainstream musical tastes, it was Curtis who would seek out obscure R&B B-sides that he thought the group could make their own, by artists like The Clovers and Richie Barrett — while many Liverpool groups played Barrett’s “Some Other Guy”, the Searchers would also play the B-side to that, “Tricky Dicky”, a song written by Leiber and Stoller. Curtis also liked quite a bit of folk music, and would also get the group to perform songs by Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary. The result of this combination of material and performers was that the Searchers ended up with a repertoire rooted in R&B, and a heavy rhythm section, but with strong harmony vocals inspired more by the Everlys than by the soul groups that were inspiring the other groups around Liverpool. Other than the Beatles, the Searchers were the best harmony group in Liverpool, and were the only other one to have multiple strong lead vocalists. Like the Beatles, the Searchers went off to play at the Star Club in Hamburg in 1962. Recordings were made of their performances there, and their live version of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s” later got released as a single after they became successful: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sweet Nothin’s”] Even as every talent scout in the country seemed to be turning up in Liverpool, and even bands from nearby Manchester were getting signed up in the hope of repeating the Beatles’ success, the Searchers were having no luck getting any attention from the London music industry. In part that was because of one bit of bad luck — the day that Brian Epstein turned up to see them, with the thought of maybe managing them, Tony Jackson was drunk and fell off the stage, and Epstein decided that he was going to give them a miss. As no talent scouts were coming to see them, they decided that they would record a demo session at the Iron Door, the club they regularly played, and send that out to A&R people. That demo session produced a full short album, which shows them at their stompiest and hardest-driving. Most of the Merseybeat bands sounded much more powerful in their earlier live performances than in the studio, and the Searchers were no exception, and it’s interesting to compare the sound of these recordings to the studio ones from only a few months later: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Let’s Stomp”] The group eventually signed to Pye Records. Pye was the third or fourth biggest record label in Britain at the time, but that was a relative matter — EMI and Decca between them had something like eighty-five percent of the market, and basically *were* the record industry in Britain at the time. Pye was chronically underfunded, and when they signed an artist who managed to have any success, they would tend to push that artist to keep producing as many singles as possible, chasing trends, rather than investing in their long-term career survival. That said, they did have some big acts, most notably Petula Clark — indeed the company had been formed from the merger of two other companies, one of which had been formed specifically to issue Clark’s records. Clark was yet to have her big breakthrough hit in the USA, but she’d had several big hits in the UK, including the number one hit “Sailor”: [Excerpt: Petula Clark, “Sailor”] The co-producer on that track had been Tony Hatch, a songwriter and producer who would go on to write and produce almost all of Clark’s hit records. Hatch had a track record of hits — we’ve heard several songs he was involved in over the course of the series. Most recently, we heard last week how “She Loves You” was inspired by “Forget Him”, which Hatch wrote and produced for Bobby Rydell: [Excerpt: Bobby Rydell, “Forget Him”] Hatch heard the group’s demo, and was impressed, and offered to sign them. The Searchers’ manager at the time agreed, on one condition — that Hatch also sign another band he managed, The Undertakers. Astonishingly, Hatch agreed, and so the Undertakers also got a record contract, and released several flop singles produced by Hatch, including this cover version of a Coasters tune: [Excerpt: The Undertakers, “What About Us?”] The biggest mark that the Undertakers would make on music would come many years later, when their lead singer Jackie Lomax would release a solo single, “Sour Milk Sea”, which George Harrison wrote for him. The Searchers, on the other hand, made their mark immediately. The group’s first single was a cover version of a song written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, which had been a top twenty hit in the US for the Drifters a couple of years earlier: [Excerpt: The Drifters, “Sweets For My Sweet”] That had become a regular fixture in the Searchers’ live set, with Tony Jackson singing lead and Chris Curtis singing the high backing vocal part in falsetto. In much the same way that the Beatles had done with “Twist and Shout”, they’d flattened out the original record’s Latin cha-cha-cha rhythm into a more straightforward thumping rocker for their live performances, as you can hear on their original demo version from the Iron Door sessions: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sweets For My Sweet (live at the Iron Door)”] As you can hear, they’d also misheard a chunk of the lyrics, and so instead of “your tasty kiss”, Jackson sang “Your first sweet kiss”. In the studio, they slowed the song down very slightly, and brought up the harmony vocal from Pender on the choruses, which on the demo he seems to have been singing off-mic. The result was an obvious hit: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sweets For My Sweet”] That went to number one, helped by an endorsement from John Lennon, who said it was the best record to come out of Liverpool, and launched the Searchers into the very top tier of Liverpool groups, their only real competition being the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers — and though nobody could have known it at the time, the Pacemakers’ career had already peaked at this point.  Their first album, Meet The Searchers, featured “Sweets For My Sweet”, along with a selection of songs that mixed the standard repertoire of every Merseybeat band — “Money”, “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Twist and Shout”, “Stand By Me”, and the Everly Brothers’ “Since You Broke My Heart”, with more obscure songs like “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya”, by the then-unknown P.J. Proby, “Farmer John” by Don and Dewey, which hadn’t yet become a garage-rock standard (and indeed seems to have become so largely because of the Searchers’ version), and a cover of “Love Potion #9”, a song that Leiber and Stoller had written for the Clovers, which was not released as a single in the UK, but later became their biggest hit in the US (and a quick content note for this one — the lyric contains a word for Romani people which many of those people regard as a slur): [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Love Potion #9”] Their second single was an attempt to repeat the “Sweets For My Sweet” formula, and was written by Tony Hatch, although the group didn’t know that at the time. Hatch, like many producers of the time, was used to getting his artists to record his own songs, written under pseudonyms so the record label didn’t necessarily realise this was what he was doing. In this case he brought the group a song that he claimed had been written by one “Fred Nightingale”, and which he thought would be perfect for them. The song in question, “Sugar and Spice”, was a blatant rip-off of “Sweets For My Sweet”, and recorded in a near-identical arrangement: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Sugar and Spice”] The group weren’t keen on the song, and got very angry later on when they realised that Tony Hatch had lied to them about its origins, but the record was almost as big a hit as the first one, peaking at number two on the charts. But it was their third single that was the group’s international breakthrough, and which both established a whole new musical style and caused the first big rift in the group. The song chosen for that third single was one they learned in Hamburg, from Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, a London group who had recorded a few singles with Joe Meek, like “You Got What I Like”: [Excerpt: Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, “You Got What I Like”] The Rebel Rousers had picked up on a record by Jackie DeShannon, a singer-songwriter who had started up a writing partnership with Sharon Sheeley, the writer who had been Eddie Cochran’s girlfriend and in the fatal car crash with him. The record they’d started covering live, though, was not one that DeShannon was the credited songwriter on. “Needles and Pins” was credited to two other writers, both of them associated with Phil Spector.  Sonny Bono was a young songwriter who had written songs at Specialty Records for people like Sam Cooke, Larry Williams, and Don and Dewey, and his most famous song up to this point was “She Said Yeah”, the B-side to Williams’ “Bad Boy”: [Excerpt: Larry Williams, “She Said Yeah”] After working at Specialty, he’d gone on to work as Phil Spector’s assistant, doing most of the hands-on work in the studio while Spector sat in the control room. While working with Spector he’d got to know Jack Nitzsche, who did most of the arrangements for Spector, and who had also had hits on his own like “The Lonely Surfer”: [Excerpt: Jack Nitzsche, “The Lonely Surfer”] Bono and Nitzsche are the credited writers on “Needles and Pins”, but Jackie DeShannon insists that she co-wrote the song with them, but her name was left off the credits. I tend to believe her — both Nitzsche and Bono were, like their boss, abusive misogynist egomaniacs, and it’s easy to see them leaving her name off the credits. Either way, DeShannon recorded the song in early 1963, backed by members of the Wrecking Crew, and it scraped into the lower reaches of the US Hot One Hundred, though it actually made number one in Canada: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, “Needles and Pins”] Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers had been covering that song, and Chris Curtis picked up on it as an obvious hit. The group reshaped the song, and fixed the main flaw with DeShannon’s original.  There’s really only about ninety seconds’ worth of actual song in “Needles and Pins”, and DeShannon’s version ends with a minute or so of vamping — it sounds like it’s still a written lyric, but it’s full of placeholders where entire lines are “whoa-oh”, the kind of thing that someone like Otis Redding could make sound great, but that didn’t really work for her record. The Searchers tightened the song up and altered its dynamics — instead of the middle eight leading to a long freeform section, they started the song with Mike Pender singing solo, and then on the middle eight they added a high harmony from Curtis, then just repeated the first verse and chorus, in the new key of C sharp, with Curtis harmonising this time: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins” (middle eight on)] The addition of the harmony gives the song some much-needed dynamic variation not present in DeShannon’s version, while repeating the original verse after the key change, and adding in Curtis’ high harmony, gives it an obsessive quality. The protagonist here is spiralling – he keeps thinking the same things over and over, at a higher and higher pitch, getting more and more desperate. It’s a simple change, but one that improves the song immensely. Incidentally, one thing I should note here because it’s not something I normally do — in these excerpts of the Searchers’ version of “Needles and Pins”, I’m actually modifying the recording slightly. The mix used for the original single version of the song, which is what I’m excerpting here, is marred by an incredibly squeaky bass pedal on Chris Curtis’ drumkit, which isn’t particularly audible if you’re listening to it on early sixties equipment, which had little dynamic range, but which on modern digital copies of the track overpowers everything else, to the point that the record sounds like that Monty Python sketch where someone plays a tune by hitting mice with hammers. Here’s a couple of seconds of the unmodified track, so you can see what I mean: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins”] Most hits compilations have a stereo mix of the song, and have EQ’d it so that the squeaky bass pedal isn’t noticeable, but I try wherever possible to use the mixes that people were actually listening to at the time, so I’ve compromised and used the mono mix but got rid of the squeaky frequencies, so you can hear the music I’m talking about rather than being distracted by the squeaks. Anyway, leaving the issue of nobody telling Chris Curtis to oil his pedals aside, the change in the structure of the song turned it from something a little baggy and aimless into a tight two-and-a-half minute pop song, but the other major change they made was emphasising the riff, and in doing so they inadvertently invented a whole new genre of music.  The riff in DeShannon’s version is there, but it’s just one element — an acoustic guitar strumming through the chords. It’s a good, simple, play-in-a-day riff — you basically hold a chord down and then move a single finger at a time and you can get that riff — and it’s the backbone of the song, but there’s also a piano, and horns, and the Blossoms singing: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, “Needles and Pins”] But what the Searchers did was to take the riff and play it simultaneously on two electric guitars, and then added reverb. They also played the first part of the song in A, rather than the key of C which DeShannon’s version starts in, which allowed the open strings to ring out more. The result came out sounding like an electric twelve-string, and soon both they and the Beatles would be regularly using twelve-string Rickenbackers to get the same sound: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Needles and Pins”] That record is the root of jangle-pop and folk-rock. That combination of jangling, reverb-heavy, trebly guitars and Everly Brothers inspired harmonies is one that leads directly to the Byrds, Love, Big Star, Tom Petty, REM, the Smiths, and the Bangles, among many others. While the Beatles were overall obviously the more influential group by a long way, “Needles and Pins” has a reasonable claim to be the most influential single track from the Merseybeat era. It went to number one in the UK, and became the group’s breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number sixteen. The follow-up, “Don’t Throw Your Love Away”, a cover of a B-side by the Orlons, again featuring Pender on lead vocals and Curtis on harmonies, also made number one in the UK and the US top twenty, giving them a third number one out of four singles. But the next single, “Someday We’re Gonna Love Again”, a cover of a Barbara Lewis song, only made number eleven, and caused journalists to worry if the Searchers had lost their touch. There was even some talk in the newspapers that Mike Pender might leave the group and start a solo career, which he denied. As it turned out, one of the group’s members was going to leave, but it wasn’t Mike Pender. Tony Jackson had sung lead on the first two singles, and on the majority of the tracks on the first album, and he thus regarded himself as the group’s lead singer. With Pender taking over the lead on the more recent hit singles, Jackson was being edged aside. By the third album, It’s The Searchers, which included “Needles and Pins”, Jackson was the only group member not to get a solo lead vocal — even John McNally got one, while Jackson’s only lead was an Everlys style close harmony with Mike Pender. Everything else was being sung by Pender or Curtis. Jackson was also getting involved in personality conflicts with the other band members — at one point it actually got to the point that he and Pender had a fistfight on stage. Jackson was also not entirely keen on the group’s move towards more melodic material. It’s important to remember that the Searchers had started out as an aggressive, loud, R&B band, and they still often sounded like that on stage — listen for example to their performance of “What’d I Say” at the NME poll-winners’ party in April 1964, with Chris Curtis on lead vocals clearly showing why he had a reputation for eccentricity: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “What’d I Say (live)”] The combination of these musical differences and his feelings about having his place usurped meant that Jackson was increasingly getting annoyed at the other three band members. Eventually he left the group — whether he was fired or quit depends on which version of the story you read — and was replaced by Frank Allen of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers.  Jackson didn’t take this replacement well, and publicly went round telling people that he had been pushed out of the band so that Curtis could get his boyfriend into the band, and there are some innuendoes to this effect in Mike Pender’s autobiography — although Allen denies that he and Curtis were in a relationship, and says that he doesn’t actually know what Curtis’ sexuality was, because they never discussed that kind of thing, and presumably Allen would know better than anyone else whether he was in a relationship with Curtis.  Curtis is widely described as having been gay or bi by his contemporaries, but if he was he never came out publicly, possibly due to his strong religious views. There’s some suggestion, indeed, that one reason Jackson ended up out of the band was that he blackmailed the band, saying that he would publicly out Curtis if he didn’t get more lead vocals. Whatever the truth, Jackson left the group, and his first solo single, “Bye Bye Baby”, made number thirty-eight on the charts: [Excerpt: Tony Jackson and the Vibrations, “Bye Bye Baby”] However, his later singles had no success — he was soon rerecording “Love Potion Number Nine” in the hope that that would be a UK chart success as it had been in the US: [Excerpt: Tony Jackson and the Vibrations, “Love Potion Number Nine”] Meanwhile, Allen was fitting in well with his new group, and it appeared at first that the group’s run of hits would carry on uninterrupted without Jackson. The first single by the new lineup, “When You Walk In The Room”, was a cover of another Jackie DeShannon song, this time written by DeShannon on her own, and originally released as a B-side: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, “When You Walk In The Room”] The Searchers rearranged that, once again emphasising the riff from DeShannon’s original, and by this time playing it on real twelve-strings, and adding extra compression to them. Their version featured a joint lead vocal by Pender and Allen: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “When You Walk In the Room”] Do you think the Byrds might have heard that? That went to number three on the charts. The next single was less successful, only making number thirteen, but was interesting in other ways — from the start, as well as their R&B covers, Curtis had been adding folk songs to the group’s repertoire, and there’d been one or two covers of songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” on their albums, but “What Have They Done to the Rain?” was the first one to become a single.  It was written by Malvina Reynolds, who was a socialist activist who only became a songwriter in her early fifties, and who also wrote “Morningtown Ride” and “Little Boxes”. “What Have They Done to The Rain?” was a song written to oppose nuclear weapons testing, and Curtis had learned it from a Joan Baez album. Even though it wasn’t as big a success as some of their other hits, given how utterly different it was from their normal style, and how controversial the subject was, getting it into the top twenty at all seems quite an achievement. [Excerpt: The Searchers, “What Have They Done To The Rain?”] Their next single, “Goodbye My Love”, was their last top ten hit, and the next few singles only made the top forty, even when the Rolling Stones gave them “Take It Or Leave It”. The other group members started to get annoyed at Curtis, who they thought had lost his touch at picking songs, and whose behaviour had become increasingly erratic. Eventually, on an Australian tour, they took his supply of uppers and downers, which he had been using as much to self-medicate as for enjoyment as far as I can tell, and flushed them down the toilet. When they got back to the UK, Curtis was out of the group. Their first single after Curtis’ departure, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”, was given to them by the Hollies, who had originally written it as an Everly Brothers album track: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”] Unfortunately for the Searchers, Chris Curtis had also heard the song, decided it was a likely hit, and had produced a rival version for Paul and Barry Ryan, which got rushed out to compete with it: [Excerpt: Paul and Barry Ryan, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”] Neither single made the top forty, and the Searchers would never have a hit single again. Nor would Curtis. Curtis only released one solo single, “Aggravation”, a cover of a Joe South song: [Excerpt: Chris Curtis, “Aggravation”] The musicians on that included Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Joe Moretti, but it didn’t chart. Curtis then tried to form a band, which he named Roundabout, based on the concept that musicians could hop on or hop off at any point, with Curtis as the only constant member. The guitarist and keyboard player quickly decided that it would be more convenient for them if Curtis was the one to hop off, and without Curtis Jon Lord and Richie Blackmore went on to form Deep Purple. The Searchers didn’t put out another album for six years after Curtis left. They kept putting out singles on various labels, but nothing came close to charting. Their one album between 1966 and 1979 was a collection of rerecordings of their old hits, in 1972. But then in 1979 Seymour Stein, the owner of Sire Records, a label which was having success with groups like the Ramones, Talking Heads, and the Pretenders, was inspired by the Ramones covering “Needles and Pins” to sign the Searchers to a two-album deal, which produced records that fit perfectly into the late seventies New Wave pop landscape, while still sounding like the Searchers: [Excerpt: The Searchers, “Hearts in Her Eyes”] Apparently during those sessions, Curtis, who had given up music and become a civil servant, would regularly phone the studio threatening to burn it down if he wasn’t involved. Unfortunately, while those albums had some critical success, they did nothing commercially, and Sire dropped them. By 1985, the Searchers were at breaking point. They hadn’t recorded any new material in several years, and Mike Pender and John McNally weren’t getting on at all — which was a particular problem as the two of them were now the only two members based in Liverpool, and so they had to travel to and from gigs together without the other band members — the group were so poor that McNally and Pender had one car between the two of them. One of them would drive them both to the gig, the other would drive back to Liverpool and keep the car until the next gig, when they would swap over again. No-one except them knows what conversations they had on those long drives, but apparently they weren’t amicable. Pender thought of himself as the star of the group, and he particularly resented that he had to split the money from the band three ways (the drummers the group got in after Curtis were always on a salary rather than full partners in the group). Pender decided that he could make more money by touring on his own but still doing essentially the same show, with hired backing musicians. Pender and the other Searchers eventually reached an agreement that he could tour as “Mike Pender’s Searchers”, so long as he made sure that all the promotional material put every word at the same size, while the other members would continue as The Searchers with a new singer. A big chunk of the autobiographies of both Pender and Allen are taken up with the ensuing litigation, as there were suits and countersuits over matters of billing which on the outside look incredibly trivial, but which of course mattered greatly to everyone involved — there were now two groups with near-identical names, playing the same sets, in the same venues, and so any tiny advantage that one had was a threat to the other, to the extent that at one point there was a serious danger of Pender going to prison over their contractual disputes. The group had been earning very little money anyway, comparatively, and there was a real danger that the two groups undercutting each other might lead to everyone going bankrupt. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Pender still tours — or at least has tour dates booked over the course of the next year — and McNally and Allen’s band continued playing regularly until 2019, and only stopped performing because of McNally’s increasing ill health. Having seen both, Pender’s was the better show — McNally and Allen’s lineup of the group relied rather too heavily on a rather cheesy sounding synthesiser for my tastes, while Pender stuck closer to a straight guitar/bass/drums sound — but both kept audiences very happy for decades. Mike Pender was made an MBE in 2020, as a reward for his services to the music industry. Tony Jackson and Chris Curtis both died in the 2000s, and John McNally and Frank Allen are now in well-deserved retirement. While Allen and Pender exchanged pleasantries and handshakes at their former bandmates’ funerals, McNally and Pender wouldn’t even say hello to each other, and even though McNally and Allen’s band has retired, there’s still a prominent notice on their website that they own the name “The Searchers” and nobody else is allowed to use it. But every time you hear a jangly twelve-string electric guitar, you’re hearing a sound that was originally created by Mike Pender and John McNally playing in unison, a sound that proved to be greater than any of its constituent parts.

    Episode 113: “Needles and Pins” by The Searchers

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 8, 2021

    This week’s episode looks at “Needles and Pins”, and the story of the second-greatest band to come out of Liverpool in the sixties, The Searchers. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a sixteen-minute bonus episode available, on “Farmer John” by Don and Dewey. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 113: "Needles and Pins" by The Searchers

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 8, 2021 46:32

    This week's episode looks at "Needles and Pins", and the story of the second-greatest band to come out of Liverpool in the sixties, The Searchers. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a sixteen-minute bonus episode available, on "Farmer John" by Don and Dewey. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Resources No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many recordings by the Searchers.  My two main resources for this episode have been the autobiographies of members of the group -- Frank Allen's The Searchers and Me and Mike Pender's The Search For Myself.  All the Searchers tracks and Tony Jackson or Chris Curtis solo recordings excerpted here, except the live excerpt of "What'd I Say", can be found on this box set, which is out of print as a physical box, but still available digitally. For those who want a good budget alternative, though, this double-CD set contains fifty Searchers tracks, including all their hits, for under three pounds.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Last week we had a look at the biggest group ever to come out of Liverpool, and indeed the biggest group ever to play rock and roll music. But the Beatles weren't the only influential band on the Merseybeat scene, and while we won't have much chance to look at Merseybeat in general, we should at least briefly touch on the other bands from the scene. So today we're going to look at a band who developed a distinctive sound that would go on to be massively influential, even though they're rarely cited as an influence in the way some of their contemporaries are. We're going to look at The Searchers, and "Needles and Pins": [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Needles and Pins"] The story of the early origins of the Searchers is, like everything about the Searchers, the subject of a great deal of dispute. The two surviving original members of the group, John McNally and Mike Pender, haven't spoken to each other in thirty-six years, and didn't get on for many years before that, and there have been several legal disputes between them over the years. As a result, literally everything about the group's history has become a battlefield in their ongoing arguments. According to a book by Frank Allen, the group's bass player from 1964 on and someone who took McNally's side in the split and subsequent legal problems, McNally formed a skiffle group, which Mike Pender later joined, and was later joined first by Tony Jackson and then by a drummer then known as Chris Crummey, but who changed his name to the more euphonic Chris Curtis.  According to Pender, he never liked skiffle, never played skiffle, and "if McNally had a skiffle group, it must have been before I met him". He is very insistent on this point -- he liked country music, and later rock and roll, but never liked skiffle. According to him, he and McNally got together and formed a group that was definitely absolutely not in any way a skiffle group and wasn't led by McNally but was formed by both of them. That group split up, and then Pender became friends with Tony Jackson -- and he's very insistent that he became friends with Jackson during  a period when he didn't know McNally -- and the group reformed around the three of them, when McNally and Pender got back in touch. The origin of the group's name is similarly disputed. Everyone agrees that it came from the John Wayne film The Searchers -- the same film which had inspired the group's hero Buddy Holly to write "That'll Be The Day" -- but there is disagreement as to whose idea the name was. Pender claims that it was his idea, while McNally says that the name was coined by a singer named "Big Ron", who sang with the band for a bit before disappearing into obscurity. Big Ron's replacement was a singer named Billy Beck, who at the time he was with the Searchers used the stage name Johnny Sandon (though he later reverted to his birth name). The group performed as Johnny Sandon and The Searchers for two years, before Sandon quit the group to join the Remo Four, a group that was managed by Brian Epstein. Sandon made some records with the Remo Four in 1963, but they went nowhere, but they'll give some idea of how Sandon sounded: [Excerpt: Johnny Sandon and the Remo Four, "Lies"] The Remo Four later moved on to back Tommy Quickly, who we heard last week singing a song the Beatles wrote for him. With Sandon out of the picture, the group had no lead singer or frontman, and were in trouble -- they were known around Liverpool as Johnny Sandon's backing group, not as a group in their own right. They started splitting the lead vocals between themselves, but with Tony Jackson taking most of them. And, in a move which made them stand out, Chris Curtis moved his drum kit to the front line, started playing standing up, and became the group's front-man and second lead singer. Even at this point, though, there seemed to be cracks in the group. The Searchers were the most clean-living of the Liverpool bands -- they were all devout Catholics who would go to Mass every Sunday without fail, and seem to have never indulged in most of the vices that pretty much every other rock star indulged in. But Curtis and Jackson were far less so than Pender and McNally -- Jackson in particular was a very heavy drinker and known to get very aggressive when drunk, while Curtis was known as eccentric in other ways -- he seems to have had some sort of mental illness, though no-one's ever spoken about a diagnosis -- the Beatles apparently referred to him as "Mad Henry". Curtis and Jackson didn't get on with each other, and while Jackson started out as a close friend of Pender's, the two soon drifted apart, and by the time of their first recording sessions they appeared to most people to be a group of three plus one outsider, with Jackson not getting on well with any of the others. There was also a split in the band's musical tastes, but that would be the split that would drive much of their creativity. Pender and McNally were drawn towards softer music -- country and rockabilly, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly -- while Jackson preferred harder, stomping, music. But it was Chris Curtis who took charge of the group's repertoire, and who was the group's unofficial leader. While the other band members had fairly mainstream musical tastes, it was Curtis who would seek out obscure R&B B-sides that he thought the group could make their own, by artists like The Clovers and Richie Barrett -- while many Liverpool groups played Barrett's "Some Other Guy", the Searchers would also play the B-side to that, "Tricky Dicky", a song written by Leiber and Stoller. Curtis also liked quite a bit of folk music, and would also get the group to perform songs by Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary. The result of this combination of material and performers was that the Searchers ended up with a repertoire rooted in R&B, and a heavy rhythm section, but with strong harmony vocals inspired more by the Everlys than by the soul groups that were inspiring the other groups around Liverpool. Other than the Beatles, the Searchers were the best harmony group in Liverpool, and were the only other one to have multiple strong lead vocalists. Like the Beatles, the Searchers went off to play at the Star Club in Hamburg in 1962. Recordings were made of their performances there, and their live version of Brenda Lee's "Sweet Nothin's" later got released as a single after they became successful: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Sweet Nothin's"] Even as every talent scout in the country seemed to be turning up in Liverpool, and even bands from nearby Manchester were getting signed up in the hope of repeating the Beatles' success, the Searchers were having no luck getting any attention from the London music industry. In part that was because of one bit of bad luck -- the day that Brian Epstein turned up to see them, with the thought of maybe managing them, Tony Jackson was drunk and fell off the stage, and Epstein decided that he was going to give them a miss. As no talent scouts were coming to see them, they decided that they would record a demo session at the Iron Door, the club they regularly played, and send that out to A&R people. That demo session produced a full short album, which shows them at their stompiest and hardest-driving. Most of the Merseybeat bands sounded much more powerful in their earlier live performances than in the studio, and the Searchers were no exception, and it's interesting to compare the sound of these recordings to the studio ones from only a few months later: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Let's Stomp"] The group eventually signed to Pye Records. Pye was the third or fourth biggest record label in Britain at the time, but that was a relative matter -- EMI and Decca between them had something like eighty-five percent of the market, and basically *were* the record industry in Britain at the time. Pye was chronically underfunded, and when they signed an artist who managed to have any success, they would tend to push that artist to keep producing as many singles as possible, chasing trends, rather than investing in their long-term career survival. That said, they did have some big acts, most notably Petula Clark -- indeed the company had been formed from the merger of two other companies, one of which had been formed specifically to issue Clark's records. Clark was yet to have her big breakthrough hit in the USA, but she'd had several big hits in the UK, including the number one hit "Sailor": [Excerpt: Petula Clark, "Sailor"] The co-producer on that track had been Tony Hatch, a songwriter and producer who would go on to write and produce almost all of Clark's hit records. Hatch had a track record of hits -- we've heard several songs he was involved in over the course of the series. Most recently, we heard last week how "She Loves You" was inspired by "Forget Him", which Hatch wrote and produced for Bobby Rydell: [Excerpt: Bobby Rydell, "Forget Him"] Hatch heard the group's demo, and was impressed, and offered to sign them. The Searchers' manager at the time agreed, on one condition -- that Hatch also sign another band he managed, The Undertakers. Astonishingly, Hatch agreed, and so the Undertakers also got a record contract, and released several flop singles produced by Hatch, including this cover version of a Coasters tune: [Excerpt: The Undertakers, "What About Us?"] The biggest mark that the Undertakers would make on music would come many years later, when their lead singer Jackie Lomax would release a solo single, "Sour Milk Sea", which George Harrison wrote for him. The Searchers, on the other hand, made their mark immediately. The group's first single was a cover version of a song written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, which had been a top twenty hit in the US for the Drifters a couple of years earlier: [Excerpt: The Drifters, "Sweets For My Sweet"] That had become a regular fixture in the Searchers' live set, with Tony Jackson singing lead and Chris Curtis singing the high backing vocal part in falsetto. In much the same way that the Beatles had done with "Twist and Shout", they'd flattened out the original record's Latin cha-cha-cha rhythm into a more straightforward thumping rocker for their live performances, as you can hear on their original demo version from the Iron Door sessions: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Sweets For My Sweet (live at the Iron Door)"] As you can hear, they'd also misheard a chunk of the lyrics, and so instead of "your tasty kiss", Jackson sang "Your first sweet kiss". In the studio, they slowed the song down very slightly, and brought up the harmony vocal from Pender on the choruses, which on the demo he seems to have been singing off-mic. The result was an obvious hit: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Sweets For My Sweet"] That went to number one, helped by an endorsement from John Lennon, who said it was the best record to come out of Liverpool, and launched the Searchers into the very top tier of Liverpool groups, their only real competition being the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers -- and though nobody could have known it at the time, the Pacemakers' career had already peaked at this point.  Their first album, Meet The Searchers, featured "Sweets For My Sweet", along with a selection of songs that mixed the standard repertoire of every Merseybeat band -- "Money", "Da Doo Ron Ron", "Twist and Shout", "Stand By Me", and the Everly Brothers' "Since You Broke My Heart", with more obscure songs like "Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya", by the then-unknown P.J. Proby, "Farmer John" by Don and Dewey, which hadn't yet become a garage-rock standard (and indeed seems to have become so largely because of the Searchers' version), and a cover of "Love Potion #9", a song that Leiber and Stoller had written for the Clovers, which was not released as a single in the UK, but later became their biggest hit in the US (and a quick content note for this one -- the lyric contains a word for Romani people which many of those people regard as a slur): [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Love Potion #9"] Their second single was an attempt to repeat the "Sweets For My Sweet" formula, and was written by Tony Hatch, although the group didn't know that at the time. Hatch, like many producers of the time, was used to getting his artists to record his own songs, written under pseudonyms so the record label didn't necessarily realise this was what he was doing. In this case he brought the group a song that he claimed had been written by one "Fred Nightingale", and which he thought would be perfect for them. The song in question, "Sugar and Spice", was a blatant rip-off of "Sweets For My Sweet", and recorded in a near-identical arrangement: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Sugar and Spice"] The group weren't keen on the song, and got very angry later on when they realised that Tony Hatch had lied to them about its origins, but the record was almost as big a hit as the first one, peaking at number two on the charts. But it was their third single that was the group's international breakthrough, and which both established a whole new musical style and caused the first big rift in the group. The song chosen for that third single was one they learned in Hamburg, from Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, a London group who had recorded a few singles with Joe Meek, like "You Got What I Like": [Excerpt: Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, "You Got What I Like"] The Rebel Rousers had picked up on a record by Jackie DeShannon, a singer-songwriter who had started up a writing partnership with Sharon Sheeley, the writer who had been Eddie Cochran's girlfriend and in the fatal car crash with him. The record they'd started covering live, though, was not one that DeShannon was the credited songwriter on. "Needles and Pins" was credited to two other writers, both of them associated with Phil Spector.  Sonny Bono was a young songwriter who had written songs at Specialty Records for people like Sam Cooke, Larry Williams, and Don and Dewey, and his most famous song up to this point was "She Said Yeah", the B-side to Williams' "Bad Boy": [Excerpt: Larry Williams, "She Said Yeah"] After working at Specialty, he'd gone on to work as Phil Spector's assistant, doing most of the hands-on work in the studio while Spector sat in the control room. While working with Spector he'd got to know Jack Nitzsche, who did most of the arrangements for Spector, and who had also had hits on his own like "The Lonely Surfer": [Excerpt: Jack Nitzsche, "The Lonely Surfer"] Bono and Nitzsche are the credited writers on "Needles and Pins", but Jackie DeShannon insists that she co-wrote the song with them, but her name was left off the credits. I tend to believe her -- both Nitzsche and Bono were, like their boss, abusive misogynist egomaniacs, and it's easy to see them leaving her name off the credits. Either way, DeShannon recorded the song in early 1963, backed by members of the Wrecking Crew, and it scraped into the lower reaches of the US Hot One Hundred, though it actually made number one in Canada: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, "Needles and Pins"] Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers had been covering that song, and Chris Curtis picked up on it as an obvious hit. The group reshaped the song, and fixed the main flaw with DeShannon's original.  There's really only about ninety seconds' worth of actual song in "Needles and Pins", and DeShannon's version ends with a minute or so of vamping -- it sounds like it's still a written lyric, but it's full of placeholders where entire lines are "whoa-oh", the kind of thing that someone like Otis Redding could make sound great, but that didn't really work for her record. The Searchers tightened the song up and altered its dynamics -- instead of the middle eight leading to a long freeform section, they started the song with Mike Pender singing solo, and then on the middle eight they added a high harmony from Curtis, then just repeated the first verse and chorus, in the new key of C sharp, with Curtis harmonising this time: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Needles and Pins" (middle eight on)] The addition of the harmony gives the song some much-needed dynamic variation not present in DeShannon's version, while repeating the original verse after the key change, and adding in Curtis' high harmony, gives it an obsessive quality. The protagonist here is spiralling – he keeps thinking the same things over and over, at a higher and higher pitch, getting more and more desperate. It's a simple change, but one that improves the song immensely. Incidentally, one thing I should note here because it's not something I normally do -- in these excerpts of the Searchers' version of "Needles and Pins", I'm actually modifying the recording slightly. The mix used for the original single version of the song, which is what I'm excerpting here, is marred by an incredibly squeaky bass pedal on Chris Curtis' drumkit, which isn't particularly audible if you're listening to it on early sixties equipment, which had little dynamic range, but which on modern digital copies of the track overpowers everything else, to the point that the record sounds like that Monty Python sketch where someone plays a tune by hitting mice with hammers. Here's a couple of seconds of the unmodified track, so you can see what I mean: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Needles and Pins"] Most hits compilations have a stereo mix of the song, and have EQ'd it so that the squeaky bass pedal isn't noticeable, but I try wherever possible to use the mixes that people were actually listening to at the time, so I've compromised and used the mono mix but got rid of the squeaky frequencies, so you can hear the music I'm talking about rather than being distracted by the squeaks. Anyway, leaving the issue of nobody telling Chris Curtis to oil his pedals aside, the change in the structure of the song turned it from something a little baggy and aimless into a tight two-and-a-half minute pop song, but the other major change they made was emphasising the riff, and in doing so they inadvertently invented a whole new genre of music.  The riff in DeShannon's version is there, but it's just one element -- an acoustic guitar strumming through the chords. It's a good, simple, play-in-a-day riff -- you basically hold a chord down and then move a single finger at a time and you can get that riff -- and it's the backbone of the song, but there's also a piano, and horns, and the Blossoms singing: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, "Needles and Pins"] But what the Searchers did was to take the riff and play it simultaneously on two electric guitars, and then added reverb. They also played the first part of the song in A, rather than the key of C which DeShannon's version starts in, which allowed the open strings to ring out more. The result came out sounding like an electric twelve-string, and soon both they and the Beatles would be regularly using twelve-string Rickenbackers to get the same sound: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Needles and Pins"] That record is the root of jangle-pop and folk-rock. That combination of jangling, reverb-heavy, trebly guitars and Everly Brothers inspired harmonies is one that leads directly to the Byrds, Love, Big Star, Tom Petty, REM, the Smiths, and the Bangles, among many others. While the Beatles were overall obviously the more influential group by a long way, "Needles and Pins" has a reasonable claim to be the most influential single track from the Merseybeat era. It went to number one in the UK, and became the group's breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number sixteen. The follow-up, "Don't Throw Your Love Away", a cover of a B-side by the Orlons, again featuring Pender on lead vocals and Curtis on harmonies, also made number one in the UK and the US top twenty, giving them a third number one out of four singles. But the next single, "Someday We're Gonna Love Again", a cover of a Barbara Lewis song, only made number eleven, and caused journalists to worry if the Searchers had lost their touch. There was even some talk in the newspapers that Mike Pender might leave the group and start a solo career, which he denied. As it turned out, one of the group's members was going to leave, but it wasn't Mike Pender. Tony Jackson had sung lead on the first two singles, and on the majority of the tracks on the first album, and he thus regarded himself as the group's lead singer. With Pender taking over the lead on the more recent hit singles, Jackson was being edged aside. By the third album, It's The Searchers, which included "Needles and Pins", Jackson was the only group member not to get a solo lead vocal -- even John McNally got one, while Jackson's only lead was an Everlys style close harmony with Mike Pender. Everything else was being sung by Pender or Curtis. Jackson was also getting involved in personality conflicts with the other band members -- at one point it actually got to the point that he and Pender had a fistfight on stage. Jackson was also not entirely keen on the group's move towards more melodic material. It's important to remember that the Searchers had started out as an aggressive, loud, R&B band, and they still often sounded like that on stage -- listen for example to their performance of "What'd I Say" at the NME poll-winners' party in April 1964, with Chris Curtis on lead vocals clearly showing why he had a reputation for eccentricity: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "What'd I Say (live)"] The combination of these musical differences and his feelings about having his place usurped meant that Jackson was increasingly getting annoyed at the other three band members. Eventually he left the group -- whether he was fired or quit depends on which version of the story you read -- and was replaced by Frank Allen of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers.  Jackson didn't take this replacement well, and publicly went round telling people that he had been pushed out of the band so that Curtis could get his boyfriend into the band, and there are some innuendoes to this effect in Mike Pender's autobiography -- although Allen denies that he and Curtis were in a relationship, and says that he doesn't actually know what Curtis' sexuality was, because they never discussed that kind of thing, and presumably Allen would know better than anyone else whether he was in a relationship with Curtis.  Curtis is widely described as having been gay or bi by his contemporaries, but if he was he never came out publicly, possibly due to his strong religious views. There's some suggestion, indeed, that one reason Jackson ended up out of the band was that he blackmailed the band, saying that he would publicly out Curtis if he didn't get more lead vocals. Whatever the truth, Jackson left the group, and his first solo single, "Bye Bye Baby", made number thirty-eight on the charts: [Excerpt: Tony Jackson and the Vibrations, "Bye Bye Baby"] However, his later singles had no success -- he was soon rerecording "Love Potion Number Nine" in the hope that that would be a UK chart success as it had been in the US: [Excerpt: Tony Jackson and the Vibrations, "Love Potion Number Nine"] Meanwhile, Allen was fitting in well with his new group, and it appeared at first that the group's run of hits would carry on uninterrupted without Jackson. The first single by the new lineup, "When You Walk In The Room", was a cover of another Jackie DeShannon song, this time written by DeShannon on her own, and originally released as a B-side: [Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, "When You Walk In The Room"] The Searchers rearranged that, once again emphasising the riff from DeShannon's original, and by this time playing it on real twelve-strings, and adding extra compression to them. Their version featured a joint lead vocal by Pender and Allen: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "When You Walk In the Room"] Do you think the Byrds might have heard that? That went to number three on the charts. The next single was less successful, only making number thirteen, but was interesting in other ways -- from the start, as well as their R&B covers, Curtis had been adding folk songs to the group's repertoire, and there'd been one or two covers of songs like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" on their albums, but "What Have They Done to the Rain?" was the first one to become a single.  It was written by Malvina Reynolds, who was a socialist activist who only became a songwriter in her early fifties, and who also wrote "Morningtown Ride" and "Little Boxes". "What Have They Done to The Rain?" was a song written to oppose nuclear weapons testing, and Curtis had learned it from a Joan Baez album. Even though it wasn't as big a success as some of their other hits, given how utterly different it was from their normal style, and how controversial the subject was, getting it into the top twenty at all seems quite an achievement. [Excerpt: The Searchers, “What Have They Done To The Rain?”] Their next single, "Goodbye My Love", was their last top ten hit, and the next few singles only made the top forty, even when the Rolling Stones gave them "Take It Or Leave It". The other group members started to get annoyed at Curtis, who they thought had lost his touch at picking songs, and whose behaviour had become increasingly erratic. Eventually, on an Australian tour, they took his supply of uppers and downers, which he had been using as much to self-medicate as for enjoyment as far as I can tell, and flushed them down the toilet. When they got back to the UK, Curtis was out of the group. Their first single after Curtis' departure, "Have You Ever Loved Somebody", was given to them by the Hollies, who had originally written it as an Everly Brothers album track: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Have You Ever Loved Somebody"] Unfortunately for the Searchers, Chris Curtis had also heard the song, decided it was a likely hit, and had produced a rival version for Paul and Barry Ryan, which got rushed out to compete with it: [Excerpt: Paul and Barry Ryan, "Have You Ever Loved Somebody"] Neither single made the top forty, and the Searchers would never have a hit single again. Nor would Curtis. Curtis only released one solo single, "Aggravation", a cover of a Joe South song: [Excerpt: Chris Curtis, "Aggravation"] The musicians on that included Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Joe Moretti, but it didn't chart. Curtis then tried to form a band, which he named Roundabout, based on the concept that musicians could hop on or hop off at any point, with Curtis as the only constant member. The guitarist and keyboard player quickly decided that it would be more convenient for them if Curtis was the one to hop off, and without Curtis Jon Lord and Richie Blackmore went on to form Deep Purple. The Searchers didn't put out another album for six years after Curtis left. They kept putting out singles on various labels, but nothing came close to charting. Their one album between 1966 and 1979 was a collection of rerecordings of their old hits, in 1972. But then in 1979 Seymour Stein, the owner of Sire Records, a label which was having success with groups like the Ramones, Talking Heads, and the Pretenders, was inspired by the Ramones covering "Needles and Pins" to sign the Searchers to a two-album deal, which produced records that fit perfectly into the late seventies New Wave pop landscape, while still sounding like the Searchers: [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Hearts in Her Eyes"] Apparently during those sessions, Curtis, who had given up music and become a civil servant, would regularly phone the studio threatening to burn it down if he wasn't involved. Unfortunately, while those albums had some critical success, they did nothing commercially, and Sire dropped them. By 1985, the Searchers were at breaking point. They hadn't recorded any new material in several years, and Mike Pender and John McNally weren't getting on at all -- which was a particular problem as the two of them were now the only two members based in Liverpool, and so they had to travel to and from gigs together without the other band members -- the group were so poor that McNally and Pender had one car between the two of them. One of them would drive them both to the gig, the other would drive back to Liverpool and keep the car until the next gig, when they would swap over again. No-one except them knows what conversations they had on those long drives, but apparently they weren't amicable. Pender thought of himself as the star of the group, and he particularly resented that he had to split the money from the band three ways (the drummers the group got in after Curtis were always on a salary rather than full partners in the group). Pender decided that he could make more money by touring on his own but still doing essentially the same show, with hired backing musicians. Pender and the other Searchers eventually reached an agreement that he could tour as "Mike Pender's Searchers", so long as he made sure that all the promotional material put every word at the same size, while the other members would continue as The Searchers with a new singer. A big chunk of the autobiographies of both Pender and Allen are taken up with the ensuing litigation, as there were suits and countersuits over matters of billing which on the outside look incredibly trivial, but which of course mattered greatly to everyone involved -- there were now two groups with near-identical names, playing the same sets, in the same venues, and so any tiny advantage that one had was a threat to the other, to the extent that at one point there was a serious danger of Pender going to prison over their contractual disputes. The group had been earning very little money anyway, comparatively, and there was a real danger that the two groups undercutting each other might lead to everyone going bankrupt. Thankfully, that didn't happen. Pender still tours -- or at least has tour dates booked over the course of the next year -- and McNally and Allen's band continued playing regularly until 2019, and only stopped performing because of McNally's increasing ill health. Having seen both, Pender's was the better show -- McNally and Allen's lineup of the group relied rather too heavily on a rather cheesy sounding synthesiser for my tastes, while Pender stuck closer to a straight guitar/bass/drums sound -- but both kept audiences very happy for decades. Mike Pender was made an MBE in 2020, as a reward for his services to the music industry. Tony Jackson and Chris Curtis both died in the 2000s, and John McNally and Frank Allen are now in well-deserved retirement. While Allen and Pender exchanged pleasantries and handshakes at their former bandmates' funerals, McNally and Pender wouldn't even say hello to each other, and even though McNally and Allen's band has retired, there's still a prominent notice on their website that they own the name "The Searchers" and nobody else is allowed to use it. But every time you hear a jangly twelve-string electric guitar, you're hearing a sound that was originally created by Mike Pender and John McNally playing in unison, a sound that proved to be greater than any of its constituent parts.

    Episode 112: “She Loves You” by The Beatles

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 30, 2021

    This week’s episode looks at “She Loves You”, the Beatles in 1963, and the start of Beatlemania in the UK. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 112: "She Loves You" by The Beatles

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 30, 2021 45:20

    This week's episode looks at "She Loves You", the Beatles in 1963, and the start of Beatlemania in the UK. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "Glad All Over" by the Dave Clark Five. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Resources As usual, I have created a Mixcloud playlist containing every song heard in this episode (except for the excerpt of a Beatles audience screaming, and the recording of me singing, because nobody needs those.) While there are many books on the Beatles, and I have read dozens of them,  All These Years Vol 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn is simply the *only* book worth reading on the Beatles' career up to the end of 1962. It is the most detailed, most accurate, biography imaginable, and the gold standard by which all other biographies of musicians should be measured. I only wish volumes two and three were available already so I could not expect my future episodes on the Beatles to be obsolete when they do come out. There are two versions of the book -- a nine-hundred page mass-market version and a 1700-page expanded edition. I recommend the latter.  I have read literally dozens of books on the Beatles, and used bits of information from many of them, but the ones I specifically referred to while writing this episode, other than Tune In, were: The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewisohn, All The Songs: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon, And The Band Begins To Play: The Definitive Guide To The Songs of The Beatles by Steve Lambley, The Beatles By Ear by Kevin Moore, Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald, and The Beatles Anthology.   "She Loves You" can be found on Past Masters, a 2-CD compilation of the Beatles' non-album tracks that includes the majority of their singles and B-sides.    Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today, we're going to look at a record that is one of the most crucial turning points in the history of rock music, and of popular culture as a whole, a record that took the Beatles from being a very popular pop group to being the biggest band in Britain -- and soon to be the world. We're going to look at "She Loves You" by the Beatles: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "She Loves You"] When we left the Beatles, they had just released their first single, and seen it make the top twenty -- though we have, of course, seen them pop up in other people's stories in the course of our narrative, and we've seen how Lennon and McCartney wrote a hit for the Rolling Stones. But while we've been looking the other way, the Beatles had become the biggest band in Britain. Even before "Love Me Do" had been released, George Martin had realised that the Beatles had more potential than he had initially thought. He knew "Love Me Do" would be only a minor hit, but he didn't mind that -- over the sessions at which he'd worked with the group, he'd come to realise that they had real talent, and more than that, they had real charisma.  The Beatles' second single was to be their real breakthrough. "Please Please Me" was a song that had largely been written by John, and which had two very different musical inspirations. The first was a song originally made famous by Bing Crosby in 1932, "Please": [Excerpt: Bing Crosby, "Please"] Lennon had always been fascinated by the pun in the opening line -- the play on the word "please" -- and wanted to do something similar himself. The other influence is less obvious in the finished record, but makes sense once you realise it. A lot of Roy Orbison's records have a slow build up with a leap into falsetto, like "Crying": [Excerpt: Roy Orbison, "Crying"] Now, I'm going to have to do something I'm a little uncomfortable with here, and which I've honestly been dreading since the start of this project two years ago -- to demonstrate the similarity between "Please Please Me" and an Orbison song, I'm going to have to actually sing. I have a terrible voice and appalling pitch, and I could easily win an award for "person who has the least vocal resemblance to Roy Orbison of anyone in existence", so this will not be a pleasant sound, but it will hopefully give you some idea of how Lennon was thinking when he was writing "Please Please Me": [Excerpt: Me singing "Please Please Me"] I'm sorry you had to hear that, and I hope we can all move past it together. I promise that won't be a regular feature of the podcast. But I hope it gets the basic idea across, of how the song that's so familiar now could have easily been inspired by Orbison. Lennon had played that to George Martin very early on, but Martin had been unimpressed, thinking it a dirge. At Martin's suggestion, they took the song at a much faster tempo, and they rearranged the song so that instead of Lennon singing it solo, he and McCartney sang it as a duo with Everly Brothers style harmonies. They also changed the ascending "come on" section to be a call and response, like many of the Black vocal groups the Beatles were so influenced by, and by taking elements from a variety of sources they changed what had been a derivative piece into something totally original. For good measure, they overdubbed some harmonica from Lennon, to provide some sonic continuity with their earlier single. The result was a very obvious hit: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "Please Please Me"] After they'd finished recording that, George Martin said to them, "Gentlemen, you've just made your first number one" -- there are a number of slight variations of the wording depending on when Martin was telling the story, but it was something very close to that. Now that the Beatles had recorded something that really displayed their talents, they were clearly on their way to becoming very big, and it was at this point that George Martin brought in the final part of the team that would lead to that success; someone who would work closely with himself, the Beatles, and Brian Epstein. Dick James was someone who had himself had been a successful performer -- he's most famous now for having recorded the theme tune for the 1950s Robin Hood TV series: [Excerpt: Dick James, "Robin Hood"] That record had been produced by George Martin, as had several of James' other records, but James had recently retired from singing -- in part because he had gone prematurely bald, and didn't look right -- and had set up his own publishing company. George Martin had no great love for the people at Ardmore and Beechwood -- despite them having been the ones who had brought the Beatles to him -- and so he suggested to Brian Epstein that rather than continue with Ardmore and Beechwood, the group's next single should be published by Dick James. In particular, he owed James a favour, because James had passed him "How Do You Do It?", and Martin hadn't yet been able to get that recorded, and he thought that giving him the publishing for another guaranteed hit would possibly make up for that, though he still intended to get "How Do You Do It?" recorded by someone. Epstein had been unsure about this at first -- Epstein was a man who put a lot of stock in loyalty, but he ended up believing that Ardmore and Beechwood had done nothing to promote "Love Me Do" -- he possibly never realised that in fact it was them who were responsible for the record having come out at all, and that they'd had a great deal to do with its chart success. He ended up having a meeting with James, who was enthused by "Please Please Me", and wanted the song. Epstein told him he could have it, if he could prove he would be more effective at promoting the song than Ardmore and Beechwood had been with "Love Me Do". James picked up the telephone and called the producer of Thank Your Lucky Stars, one of the most popular music programmes on TV, and got the group booked for the show. He had the publishing rights. "Please Please Me" and its B-side "Ask Me Why" were published by Dick James Music, but after that point, any songs written by the Beatles for the next few years were published by a new company, Northern Songs. The business arrangements behind this have come in for some unfair criticism over the years, because Lennon and McCartney have later said that they were under the impression that they owned the company outright, but in fact they owned forty percent of the company, with Epstein owning ten percent, and the remaining fifty percent owned by Dick James and his business partner Charles Silver.  Obviously it's impossible to know what Lennon and McCartney were told about Northern Songs, and whether they were misled, but at the time this was very far from a bad deal. Most songwriters, even those with far more hits under their belt at the time, wrote for publishing companies owned by other people -- it was almost unheard of for them to even have a share in their own company. And at this time, it was still normal for publishing companies to actually have to work for their money, to push songs and get cover versions of them from established artists. Obviously the Beatles would change all that, and after them the job of a publisher became almost nonexistent, but nobody could have predicted how much the entire world of music was about to change, and so the deal that Lennon and McCartney got was an astonishingly good one for the time. This is something that's also true of a lot of the business decisions that Epstein made for the group early on. The Beatles earned incalculably less than they would have if they'd got the kind of contracts that people who started even a year or so after them got -- but their contracts were still vastly superior to anything that other performers in British music at the time were getting. Remember that Larry Parnes' teen idols were on a fixed salary, as were, for example, all the members of the Dave Clark Five except Clark himself, and you can see that the assumptions that apply when you look at later acts don't apply here. Either way, Dick James now had the publishing of what became the Beatles' first number one: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "Please Please Me"] At least, it became the Beatles' first number one as far as anyone paying attention in 1963 was concerned. But it's not their first number one according to any modern reference. These days, the British charts are compiled by a company called the Official Charts Company. That company started, under another name, in 1969, and is run by a consortium of record companies and retailers. If you see anywhere referring to "the UK charts" after 1969, that's always what they're referring to. In 1963, though, there were multiple singles charts in Britain, published by different magazines, and no single standard music-industry one. "Please Please Me" went to number one in the charts published by the NME and Melody Maker, two general-interest magazines whose charts were regarded by most people at the time as "the real charts", and which had huge audiences. However, it only made number two in the chart published by Record Retailer, a smaller magazine aimed at music industry professionals and the trade, rather than at the wider public. However, because the Official Charts Company is an industry body, the people who ran it were the people Record Retailer was aimed at, and so when they provide lists of historical charts, they use the Record Retailer one for the period from 1960 through 69 (they use the NME chart for 1952 through 59). So retroactively, "Please Please Me" does not appear as a number one in the history books, but as far as anyone at the time was concerned, it was. The record that kept "Please Please Me" off the top on the Record Retailer charts was "The Wayward Wind" by Frank Ifield: [Excerpt: Frank Ifield, "The Wayward "Wind"] Oddly, Ifield would himself record a version of "Please", the song that had inspired "Please Please Me", the next year: [Excerpt: Frank Ifield, "Please"] As a result of the success of "Please Please Me", the group were quickly brought into the studio to record an album. George Martin had originally intended to make that a live album, recorded at the Cavern, but having visited it he decided that possibly the huge amounts of condensation dripping from the ceiling might not be a good idea to mix with EMI's expensive electronic equipment. So instead, as we talked about briefly a couple of months back, the group came into Abbey Road on a rare day off from a package tour they were on, and recorded ten more songs that would, with the A- and B-sides of their first two singles, round out an album. Those tracks were a mixture of six songs that they performed regularly as part of their normal set -- covers of songs by the Cookies, the Shirelles, and Arthur Alexander, plus "Twist and Shout" and the soft pop ballad "A Taste of Honey", all of which they'd performed often enough that they could turn out creditable performances even though they all had colds, and Lennon especially was definitely the worse for wear (you can hear this in some of his vocals -- his nose is particularly congested on "There's a Place"), plus four more  recent Lennon and McCartney originals. By the time that first album came out, Lennon and McCartney had also started expanding their songwriting ambitions, offering songs to other performers. This had always been something that McCartney, in particular, had considered as part of their long-term career path -- he knew that the average pop act only had a very small time in the spotlight, and he would talk in interviews about Lennon and McCartney becoming a songwriting team after that point. That said, the first two Lennon/McCartney songs to be released as singles by other acts -- if you don't count a version of "Love Me Do" put out by a group of anonymous session players on a budget EP of covers of hits of the day, anyway -- were both primarily Lennon songs, and were both included on the Please Please Me album. "Misery" was written by Lennon and McCartney on a tour they were on in the early part of the year. That tour was headlined by Helen Shapiro, a sixteen-year-old whose biggest hits had been two years earlier, when she was fourteen: [Excerpt: Helen Shapiro, "Walking Back to Happiness"] Shapiro had also, in 1962, appeared in the film It's Trad, Dad!, which we've mentioned before, and which was  the first feature film directed by Richard Lester, who would later play a big part in the Beatles' career. Lennon and McCartney wrote "Misery" for Shapiro, but it was turned down by her producer, Norrie Paramor, without Shapiro ever hearing it -- it's interesting to wonder if that might have been, in part, because of the strained relationship between Paramor and George Martin. In the event, the song was picked up by one of the other artists on the tour, Kenny Lynch, who recorded a version of it as a single, though it didn't have any chart success: [Excerpt: Kenny Lynch, "Misery"] Lennon apparently disliked that record, and would mock Lynch for having employed Bert Weedon as the session guitarist for the track, as he regarded Weedon as a laughable figure. The other non-Beatles single of Lennon/McCartney songs that came out in early 1963 was rather more successful. Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas were another act that Brian Epstein managed and who George Martin produced. Their first single, "Do You Want To Know A Secret?" was a cover of a song mostly written by Lennon, which had been an album track on Please Please Me. Kramer's version went to number two on the charts (or number one on some charts): [Excerpt: Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, "Do You Want To Know A Secret?"] They also gave a song to Kramer for the B-side -- "I'll Be On My Way", which the group never recorded in the studio themselves, though they did do a version of it on a radio show, which was later released on the Live at the BBC set. In 1963 and 64 Lennon and McCartney would write a further three singles for Kramer, "I'll Keep You Satisfied", "Bad to Me", and "From a Window", all of which also became top ten hits for him. and none of which were ever recorded by the Beatles. They also gave him "I Call Your Name" as a B-side, but they later recorded that song themselves. As well as the Rolling Stones, who we've obviously looked at a few weeks back, Lennon and McCartney also wrote hits in 1963 and early 64 for The Fourmost: [Excerpt: The Fourmost, "I'm In Love"] Cilla Black: [Excerpt: Cilla Black, "It's For You"] And Peter & Gordon: [Excerpt: Peter & Gordon, "World Without Love"] As well as a flop for Tommy Quickly: [Excerpt: Tommy Quickly, "Tip of My Tongue"] Kramer, the Fourmost, and Black were all managed by Epstein and produced by Martin, while Quickly was also managed by Epstein, and they were part of a massive shift in British music that started with "Please Please Me", and then shifted into gear with Gerry and the Pacemakers, another act managed by Epstein, who Martin also produced. Their first single was a version of "How Do You Do It?", the song that Dick James had published and that Martin had tried to get the Beatles to record: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakes, "How Do You Do It?"] "How Do You Do It?" went to number one, and when it dropped off the top of the charts, it was replaced by the Beatles' next single. "From Me to You" was a song they wrote on the tour bus of that Helen Shapiro tour, and lyrically it was inspired by the NME's letter column, which had the header "From You To Us": [Excerpt: The Beatles, "From Me To You"] "From Me To You" often gets dismissed when talking about the Beatles' early hits, but it has a few points worth noticing. Firstly, it's the first Beatles single to be written as a true collaboration. Both sides of the "Love Me Do" single had been written by McCartney, with Lennon helping him fix up a song he'd started and largely finished on his own. And in turn, both "Please Please Me" and its B-side were Lennon ideas, which McCartney helped him finish. "From Me to You" and its B-side "Thank You Girl" were written together, "one on one, eyeball to eyeball", to use Lennon's famous phrase, and that would be the case for the next two singles. It's also an interesting stepping stone. The song retains the harmonica from the first two singles, which would be dropped by the next single, and it also has the octave leap into falsetto that "Please Please Me" has, on the line "If there's anything I can do", but it also has the "ooh" at the end of the middle eight leading back into the verse, a trick they'd picked up from "Twist and Shout", and an opportunity for Lennon and McCartney to shake their heads while making a high-pitched noise, a bit of stagecraft that set the audiences screaming and which turned up again in the next single. The other notable aspect is that the song is more harmonically sophisticated than their previous work. McCartney always singles out the change to the minor of the dominant at the start of the middle eight (on the word  "arms") as being interesting: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "From Me To You"] And that is an interesting change, and it sets up an unexpected key change to F, but I'd also note the change from G to G augmented at the end of the middle eight, on the "fied" of "satisfied". That's a very, very, Lennon chord change -- Lennon liked augmented chords in general, and he'd already used one in "Ask Me Why", but the G augmented chord in particular is one he would use over and over again. For those who don't understand that -- chords are normally made up of three notes, the first, third, and fifth of the scale for a major chord, and the flrst, flattened third, and fifth of a scale for a minor chord. But you can get other chords that have unexpected notes in them, and those can be particularly useful if you want to change key or move between two chords that don't normally go together. All the Beatles had particular favourite odd chords they would use in this way -- Paul would often use a minor fourth instead of a major one, and John would use it occasionally too, so much so that some people refer to a minor fourth as "the Beatle chord". George, meanwhile, would often use a diminished seventh in his songwriting, especially a D diminished seventh. And John's chord was G augmented. An augmented chord is one where the fifth note is raised a semitone, so instead of the first, third and fifth: [demonstrates] it's the first, third, and sharpened fifth: [demonstrates] In this case, John moves from G to G augmented right as they're going into the climax of the middle eight, so the top note of the chord goes higher than you'd normally expect, giving an impression of being so excited you just can't stop going up. "From Me To You" knocked "How Do You Do It" off the top of the charts, and at this point, the British music scene had been changed irrevocably. While we've seen that, according to the Official Charts Company, the number one records in the UK for eleven of the first fourteen weeks of 1963 were by either Cliff Richard, the Shadows, or ex-members of the Shadows, with only Frank Ifield breaking their dominance, between the eleventh of April 1963 and the sixteenth of January 1964, thirty-two out of forty weeks at the top were taken up by the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas -- all acts from Liverpool, managed by Brian Epstein and produced by George Martin. And two of the other acts to hit number one in that period were Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who were a London band, but doing a Motown cover, "Do You Love Me?", in a style clearly inspired by the Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout", and The Searchers, another band from Liverpool who rose to prominence as a result of the sudden dominance of Liverpudlian acts, and who we'll be looking at next week. The only pre-April acts to go to number one for the rest of 1963 were Frank Ifield and Elvis. In 1964 there was only Roy Orbison. There would be occasional number one hits by older acts after that -- Cliff Richard would have several more over his career -- but looking at the charts from this time it's almost as if there's a switch thrown, as if when people heard "Please Please Me", they decided "that's what we want now, that's what music should be", and as soon as there was more supply of stuff like that, as soon as the next Merseybeat single came out, they decided they were going to get that in preference to all other kinds of music. And of course, they were choosing the Beatles over every other Merseybeat act. The Beatles were, of course, a great band, and they are still nearly sixty years later the most commercially successful band ever, but so much has focused on what happened once they hit America, and so much time has passed, that it becomes almost impossible to see clearly just how huge they became how quickly in Britain. But they dominated 1963 culturally in the UK in a way that nothing else has before or since.  And the song that cemented that dominance was their next single, "She Loves You": [Excerpt: The Beatles, "She Loves You"] "She Loves You" was another step forward in the group's songwriting, and in the technical aspects of their recording. The group were, at this point, still only recording on two-track machines, but Norman Smith, the engineer, and his assistant Geoff Emerick, came up with a few techniques to make the sound more interesting. In particular, Emerick decided to use separate compressors on the drums and bass, rather than putting them both through the same compressor, and to use an overhead mic on Ringo's drums, which he'd never previously used.  But it was the songwriting itself that was, once again, of most interest. The idea for "She Loves You" came from McCartney, who was particularly inspired by a hit by one of the interchangeable Bobbies, Bobby Rydell, who was in the charts at the time with "Forget Him": [Excerpt: Bobby Rydell, "Forget Him"] McCartney took the idea of having a song be one side of a conversation with someone about their relationship, and decided that it would be an interesting idea to have the song be telling someone else "she loves you", rather than be about the singer's own relationships, as their previous singles had been. Everything up to that point had been centred around the first person addressing the second -- "Love ME Do", "PS I Love You", "Please Please ME", "Ask ME Why", "From ME to You", "Thank You Girl". This would be about addressing the second person about a third. While the song was McCartney's idea, he and Lennon wrote it together, but it was Harrison who added a crucial suggestion -- he came up with the idea that the final "Yeah" at the end of the chorus should be a major sixth instead of a normal chord, and that they should end with that as well: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "She Loves You"] George Martin was not keen on that -- while the Beatles saw it as something exciting and new, something they'd not done before, to Martin it was reminiscent of the 1940s -- both the Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller would use similar tricks, and it was quite dated even then, being a standard technique of barbershop harmony. But to the Beatles, on the other hand, it didn't matter if other people had done it before, *they'd* not done it before, and while they agreed to try it both ways, Martin eventually agreed that it did sound better the way they were doing it. "She Loves You" took, by the standards of the Beatles in 1963, an inordinately long time to record -- though by today's standards it was ridiculously quick. While they had recorded ten tracks in ten hours for the Please Please Me album, they took six hours in total to record just "She Loves You" and its B-side "I'll Get You". This is partly explained by the fact that Please Please Me consisted of songs they'd been playing every night for years, while John and Paul finished writing "She Loves You" only four days before they went into the studio to record it. The arrangement had to be shaped in the studio -- apparently it was George Martin's idea to start with the chorus -- and there are clear edits in the final version, most audibly just before and after the line "you know it's up to you/I think it's only fair" [Excerpt: The Beatles, "She Loves You"] For those of you who want to see if you can spot the edits, they're most audible on the original CD issue of Past Masters vol. 1 from the eighties -- the later CD versions I have (the 2009 Mono Masters CD and the 2015 reissue of the 1 compilation) have been mastered in a way that makes the edits less obvious. As far as I can tell, there are six audible edit points in the song, even though it's only two minutes twenty-one -- a clear sign that they had to do a lot of studio work to get the song into a releasable shape. That work paid off, though. The single sold half a million advance copies before being released, quickly sold over a million, and became the biggest-selling single in British history -- there wouldn't be another single that sold more until fourteen years later, when Paul McCartney's solo single "Mull of Kintyre" overtook it. While "Please Please Me" and "From Me To You" had been big hits, it was "She Loves You" that caught the cultural moment in the UK. The "Yeah Yeah Yeah" chorus, in particular, caught on in a way few if any cultural phenomena ever had before. The phenomenon known as Beatlemania had, by this point, started in earnest. As the Beatles started their first national tour as headliners, their audiences could no longer hear them playing -- every girl in the audience was screaming at the top of her lungs for the entire performance.  Beatlemania is something that's impossible to explain in conventional terms. While I'm sure everyone listening to this episode has seen at least some of the footage, but for those who haven't, the only way to explain it is to hear the level of the screaming compared to the music. This is from some newsreel footage of the Beatles playing what was then the ABC in Ardwick. It's fascinating because most of the footage of Beatlemania shows gigs in the US at places like Shea Stadium or the Hollywood Bowl -- places where you get enough people that you can understand how they made that much noise. But this is a medium-sized theatre, and having been there many times myself (it's now the Manchester Apollo) I actually can't imagine how a crowd in that venue could make this much noise: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "Twist and Shout", Ardwick ABC] I won't be including that on the Mixcloud, by the way, as the noise makes it unlistenable, but the footage can easily be found on YouTube and is worth watching.  After "She Loves You" came their second album, With The Beatles, another album very much along the same lines as the first -- a mixture of Lennon/McCartney songs and covers of records by Black American artists, this time dominated by Motown artists, with versions of "Money", "Please Mr Postman", and the Miracles' "You Really Got A Hold On Me", all with Lennon lead vocals. That went to number one on the album charts, knocking Please Please Me down to number two. "She Loves You", meanwhile, remained at number one for a month, then dropped down into the top three, giving Brian Poole and the Tremeloes and Gerry and the Pacemakers a chance at the top spot, before it returned to number one for a couple of weeks -- the last time a record would go back to number one after dropping off the top until "Bohemian Rhapsody" went back to number one after Freddie Mercury died, nearly thirty years later. But while all this had been going on in Britain, the Beatles had had no success at all in the USA. Capitol, the label that had the right of first refusal for EMI records in the US, had a consistent pattern of turning down almost every British record, on the grounds that there was no market in the US for foreign records. This also meant that any record that EMI tried to license to any other label, that label knew had been turned down by Capitol. So the Beatles' first singles and album were licensed by a small label, VeeJay, who mostly put out soul records but also licensed Frank Ifield's material and had a hit act in The Four Seasons. VeeJay was close to bankruptcy, though, and didn't do any promotion of the Beatles' music. "She Loves You" was put out by an even smaller label, Swan, whose biggest hit act was Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon. But Brian Epstein and George Martin were convinced that the Beatles could break America, and the group's next single was written specifically with the American audience in mind, and recorded using the unbelievably advanced technology of four-track tape machines -- the first time they'd used anything other than two-track: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "I Want To Hold Your Hand"] "I Want To Hold Your Hand" went to number one in the UK, of course, replacing "She Loves You" -- the only time that an artist would knock themselves off the number one spot until 1981, when John Lennon did it as a solo artist in far more tragic circumstances. At this point, the Beatles had the number one and two spots on the singles chart, the number one and two positions on the album charts, and were at numbers one, two and three on the EP chart.  It would also be the start of Beatlemania in the USA. After the Beatles' famous appearance on the Royal Variety Performance, at the time the most prestigious booking an entertainer could get in the UK, Brian Epstein flew to New York, with a few aims in mind. He brought Billy J. Kramer with him, as he thought that Kramer had some potential as a lounge singer and could maybe get some club work in the US, but mostly he was there to try to persuade Capitol to release "I Want to Hold Your Hand", using the news coverage of Beatlemania as a reason they should pick up on it. By this time, Capitol were running out of excuses. Given the group's popularity was at a different level from any other British artist ever, they had no reason not to release "I Want to Hold Your Hand". They agreed they would put it out on January the thirteenth 1964. [Excerpt: The Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”] Epstein also had two more meetings while he was in New York. One was with the makers of the Ed Sullivan Show -- Sullivan had been in London and been at the airport when the Beatles had arrived back from a trip abroad, and had seen the response of the crowds there. He was mildly interested in having the group on his show, and he agreed to book them. The other meeting was with Sid Bernstein, a promoter who had been in the UK and was willing to take a gamble on putting the group on at Carnegie Hall. Both of these were major, major bookings for a group who had so far had no commercial success whatsoever in the US, but by this point the Beatles were *so* big in the UK that people were willing to take a chance on them. But it turned out that they weren't taking a chance at all. In November, a CBS journalist had done a quick "look at those wacky Brits" piece to use as a filler in the evening news, including some footage of the Beatles performing "She Loves You". That had originally been intended to be shown on November the 22nd, but with President Kennedy's murder, the news had more important things to cover. It was eventually shown, introduced by Walter Cronkite, on December the tenth. Cronkite's broadcast got the attention of his friend Ed Sullivan, who had already more or less forgotten that he'd booked this British group whose name he couldn't even remember. He phoned Cronkite and asked him about these "Bugs, or whatever they call themselves", and started actually promoting their appearance on his show. At the same time, a fifteen-year-old girl named Marsha Albert in Maryland was very impressed with "She Loves You", after seeing the news report and wrote to a DJ called Carroll James, asking "Why can't we have this music in America?" James got a friend who worked as a flight attendant to bring him a copy of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on her next return from the UK, and started playing it on December the seventeenth. He played it a *lot*, because the audience loved it and kept calling in for more. Capitol tried to get him to stop playing the record -- they weren't planning on releasing it for another month yet! What was he doing, actually promoting this record?!  Unfortunately for Capitol, by the time they got round to this, DJs at a couple of other stations had heard about the reaction the record was getting, and started playing their own copies as well. Capitol changed the release date, and put the record out early, on December the twenty-sixth. It sold a quarter of a million copies in the first three days. By the week of its originally scheduled release date, it was at number one on the Cashbox chart, and it would hit the same position on Billboard soon after. By the time the Beatles arrived in America for their Ed Sullivan show, it was half-way through a seven-week run at the top of the charts, and only got knocked off the top spot by "She Loves You", which was in its turn knocked off by "Can't Buy Me Love". The Beatles had hit America, and the world of music would never be the same again.

    Episode 112: “She Loves You” by The Beatles

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 30, 2021

    This week’s episode looks at “She Loves You”, the Beatles in 1963, and the start of Beatlemania in the UK. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 111: “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 20, 2021

    Episode one hundred and eleven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginnings of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—-   Resources As usual, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.  For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I’ve used the following resources: Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown.  To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy’s own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography. Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown, including Martha and the Vandellas. I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown. The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown’s thirty-year history. How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier’s autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers’. And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles. Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era, including Martha and the Vandellas. And Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva  by Martha Reeves and Mark Bego is Reeves’ autobiography. And this three-CD set contains all the Vandellas’ Motown singles, along with a bunch of rarities.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we’re going to take a look at the career of one of the great girl groups to come out of Motown, and at the early work of the songwriting team that went on to be arguably the most important people in the definition of the Motown Sound. We’re going to look at “Heatwave” by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginning of the career of Holland, Dozier, and Holland: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Heatwave”] By the time she started recording for Motown, Martha Reeves had already spent several years in groups around Detroit, with little success. Her singing career had started in a group called The Fascinations, which she had formed with another singer, who is variously named in different sources as Shirley Lawson and Shirley Walker. She’d quickly left that group, but after she left them, the Fascinations went on to make a string of minor hit records with Curtis Mayfield: [Excerpt: The Fascinations, “Girls Are Out To Get You”] But it wasn’t just her professional experience, such as it was, that Reeves credited for her success — she had also been a soloist in her high school choir, and from her accounts her real training came from her High School music teacher, Abraham Silver. In her autobiography she talks about hanging around in the park singing with other people who had been taught by the same teacher — Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, who would go on to form the Supremes, Bobby Rogers and Claudette Robinson, who were founder members of the Miracles, and Little Joe Harris, who would later become lead singer of the minor Motown act The Undisputed Truth. She’d eventually joined another group, the Del-Phis, with three other singers — Gloria Williams (or Williamson — sources vary as to what her actual surname was — it might be that Williamson was her birth name and Williams a stage name), Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford. The group found out early on that they didn’t particularly get on with each other as people — their personalities were all too different — but their voices blended well and they worked well on stage. Williams or Williamson was the leader and lead singer at this point, and the rest of the DelPhis acted as her backing group. They started performing at the amateur nights and talent contests that were such a big part of the way that Black talent got known at that time, and developed a rivalry with two other groups — The Primes, who would later go on to be the Temptations, and The Primettes, who had named themselves after the Primes, but later became the Supremes. Those three groups more or less took it in turns to win the talent contests, and before long the Del-Phis had been signed to Checkmate Records, one of several subsidiaries of Chess, where they released one single, with Gloria on lead: [Excerpt: The Del-Phis, “I’ll Let You Know”] The group also sang backing vocals on various other records at that time, like Mike Hanks’ “When True Love Comes to Be”: [Excerpt: Mike Hanks, “When True Love Comes to Be”] Depending on who you believe, Martha may not be on that record at all — the Del-Phis apparently had some lineup fluctuations, with members coming and going, though the story of who was in the group when seems to be told more on the basis of who wants credit for what at any particular time than on what the truth is. No matter who was in the group, though, they never had more than local success. While the Del-Phis were trying and failing to become big stars as a group, Martha also started performing solo, as Martha LaVelle. Only a couple of days after her first solo performance, Mickey Stevenson saw her perform and gave her his card, telling her to pop down to Hitsville for an audition as he thought she had talent. But when she did turn up, Stevenson was annoyed at her, over a misunderstanding that turned out to be his fault. She had just come straight to the studio, assuming she could audition any time, and Stevenson hadn’t explained to her that they had one day a month where they ran auditions — he’d expected her to call him on the number on the card, not just come down. Stevenson was busy that day, and left the office, telling Martha on his way out the door that he’d be back in a bit, and to answer the phone if it rang, leaving her alone in the office. She started answering the phone, calling herself the “A&R secretary”, taking messages, and sorting out problems. She was asked to come back the next day, and worked there three weeks for no pay before getting herself put on a salary as Stevenson’s secretary. Once her foot was in the door at Motown, she also started helping out on sessions, as almost all the staff there did, adding backing vocals, handclaps, or footstomps for a five-dollar-per-session bonus.  One of her jobs as Stevenson’s secretary was to phone and book session musicians and singers,  and for one session the Andantes, Motown’s normal female backing vocal group, were unavailable. Martha got the idea to call the rest of the DelPhis — who seem like they might even have been split up at this point, depending on which source you read — and see if they wanted to do the job instead. They had to audition for Berry Gordy, but Gordy was perfectly happy with them and signed them to Motown. Their role was mostly to be backing vocalists, but the plan was that they would also cut a few singles themselves as well.  But Gordy didn’t want to sign them as the Del-Phis — he didn’t know what the details of their contract with Checkmate were, and who actually owned the name. So they needed a new name. At first they went with the Dominettes, but that was soon changed, before they ever made a record What happened is a matter of some dispute, because this seems to be the moment that Martha Reeves took over the group — it may be that the fact that she was the one booking them for the sessions and so in charge of whether they got paid or not changed the power dynamics of the band — and so different people give different accounts depending on who they want to seem most important. But the generally accepted story is that Martha suggested a name based on the street she lived on, Van Dyke Street, and Della Reese, Martha’s favourite singer, who had hits like “Don’t You Know?”: [Excerpt: Della Reese, “Don’t You Know?”] The group became Martha and the Vandellas — although Rosalind Ashford, who says that the group name was not Martha’s work, also says that the group weren’t “Martha and the Vandellas” to start with, but just the Vandellas, and this might be the case, as at this point Gloria rather than Martha was still the lead singer. The newly-named Vandellas were quickly put to work, mostly working on records that Mickey Stevenson produced. The first record they sang on was not credited either to the Vandellas *or* to Martha and the Vandellas, being instead credited to Saundra Mallett and the Vandellas – Mallett was a minor Motown singer who they were backing for this one record. The song was one written by Berry Gordy, as an attempt at a “Loco-Motion” clone, and was called “Camel Walk”: [Excerpt: Saundra Mallett and the Vandellas, “Camel Walk”] More famously, there was the record that everyone talks about as being the first one to feature the Vandellas, even though it came out after “Camel Walk”, one we’ve already talked about before, Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”: [Excerpt: Marvin Gaye, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”] That became Gaye’s breakout hit, and as well as singing in the studio for other artists and trying to make their own records, the Vandellas were now also Marvin Gaye’s backing vocalists, and at shows like the Motortown Revue shows, as well as performing their own sets, the Vandellas would sing with Gaye as well. While they were not yet themselves stars, they had a foot on the ladder, and through working with Marvin they got to perform with all sorts of other people — Martha was particularly impressed by the Beach Boys, who performed on the same bill as them in Detroit, and she developed a lifelong crush on Mike Love. But while the Vandellas were Motown’s go-to backing vocalists in 1962, they still wanted to make their own records. They did make one record with Gloria singing lead, “You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)”: [Excerpt: The Vells, “You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)”] But that was released not as by the Vandellas, but by the Vells, because by the time it was released, the Vandellas had more or less by accident become definitively MARTHA and the Vandellas. The session that changed everything came about because Martha was still working as Mickey Stevenson’s secretary. Stevenson was producing a record for Mary Wells, and he had a problem. Stevenson had recently instituted a new system for his recordings at Motown. Up to this point, they’d been making records with everyone in the studio at the same time — all the musicians, the lead singer, the backing vocalists, and so on. But that became increasingly difficult when the label’s stars were on tour all the time, and it also meant that if the singer flubbed a note a good bass take would also be wrecked, or vice versa. It just wasn’t efficient. So, taking advantage of the ability to multitrack, Stevenson had started doing things differently. Now backing tracks would be recorded by the Funk Brothers in the studio whenever a writer-producer had something for them to record, and then the singer would come in later and overdub their vocals when it was convenient to do that. That also had other advantages — if a singer turned out not to be right for the song, they could record another singer doing it instead, and they could reuse backing tracks, so if a song was a hit for, say, the Miracles, the Marvelettes could then use the same backing track for a cover version of it to fill out an album. But there was a problem with this system, and that problem was the Musicians’ Union. The union had a rule that if musicians were cutting a track that was intended to have a vocal, the vocalist *must* be present at the session — like a lot of historical union rules, this seems faintly ridiculous today, but no doubt there were good reasons for it at the time.  Motown, like most labels, were perfectly happy to break the union rules on occasion, but there was always the possibility of a surprise union inspection, and one turned up while Mickey Stevenson was cutting “I’ll Have to Let Him Go”. Mary Wells wasn’t there, and knowing that his secretary could sing, Stevenson grabbed her and got her to go into the studio and sing the song while the musicians played. Martha decided to give the song everything she had, and Stevenson was impressed enough that he decided to give the song to her, rather than Wells, and at the same session that the Vandellas recorded the songs with Gloria on lead, they recorded new vocals to the backing track that Stevenson had recorded that day: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “I’ll Have to Let Him Go”] That was released under the Martha and the Vandellas name, and around this point Gloria left the group. Some have suggested that this was because she didn’t like Martha becoming the leader, while others have said that it’s just that she had a good job working for the city, and didn’t want to put that at risk by becoming a full-time singer. Either way, a week after the Vandellas record came out, Motown released “You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)” under the name The Vells.  Neither single had any chart success, but that wouldn’t be true for the next one, which wouldn’t be released for another five months. But when it was finally released, it would be regarded as the beginning of the “Motown Sound”. Before that record, Motown had released many extraordinary records, and we’ve looked at some of them. But after it, it began a domination of the American charts that would last the rest of the decade; a domination caused in large part by the team of Holland, Dozier, and Holland. We’ve heard a little from the Holland brothers and Lamont Dozier, separately, in previous episodes looking at Motown, but this is the point at which they go from being minor players within the Motown organisation to being the single most important team for the label’s future commercial success, so we should take a proper look at them now. Eddie Holland started working with Berry Gordy years before the start of Motown — he was a singer who was known for having a similar sounding voice to that of Jackie Wilson, and Gordy had taken him on first as a soundalike demo singer, recording songs written for Wilson so Wilson could hear how they would sound in his voice, and later trying to mould him into a Wilson clone, starting with Holland’s first single, “You”: [Excerpt: Eddie Holland, “You”] Holland quickly found that he didn’t enjoy performing on stage — he loved singing, but he didn’t like the actual experience of being on stage. However, he continued doing it, in the belief that one should not just quit a job until a better opportunity comes along. Before becoming a professional singer, Holland had sung in street-corner doo-wop groups with his younger brother Brian. Brian, unlike Eddie, didn’t have a particularly great voice, but what he did have was a great musical mind — he could instantly figure out all the harmony parts for the whole group, and had a massive talent for arrangement. Eddie spent much of his early time working with Gordy trying to get Gordy to take his little brother seriously — at the time,  Brian Holland was still in his early teens, and Gordy refused to believe he could be as talented as Eddie said. Eventually, though, Gordy listened to Brian and took him under his wing, pairing him with Janie Bradford to add music to Bradford’s lyrics, and also teaching him to engineer. One of Brian Holland’s first engineering jobs was for a song recorded by Eddie, written as a jingle for a wine company but released as a single under the name “Briant Holland” — meaning it has often over the years been assumed to be Brian singing lead: [Excerpt: Briant Holland, “(Where’s the Joy) in Nature Boy?”] When Motown started up, Brian had become a staffer — indeed, he has later claimed that he was the very first person employed by Motown as a permanent staff member. While Eddie was out on the road performing, Brian was  writing, producing, and singing backing vocals on many, many records. We’ve already heard how he was the co-writer and producer on “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Please Mr. Postman”] That had obviously been a massive hit, and Motown’s first number one, but Brian was still definitely just one of the Motown team, and not as important a part of it as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, or Mickey Stevenson. Meanwhile, Eddie finally had a minor hit of his own, with “Jamie”, a song co-written by Barrett Strong and Mickey Stevenson, and originally recorded by Strong — when Strong left the label, they took the backing track intended for him and had Holland record new vocals over it. [Excerpt: Eddie Holland, “Jamie”] That made the top thirty, which must have been galling at the time for Strong, who’d quit in part because he couldn’t get a hit. But the crucial thing that lifted the Holland brothers from being just parts of the Motown machine to being the most important creative forces in the company was when Brian Holland became friendly with Anne Dozier, who worked at Motown packing records, and whose husband Lamont was a singer. Lamont Dozier had been around musical people all his life — at Hutchins Junior High School, he was a couple of years below Marv Johnson, the first Motown star, he knew Freda Payne, and one of his classmates was Otis Williams, later of the Temptations. But it was another junior high classmate who, as he puts it, “lit a fire under me to take some steps to get my own music heard by the world”, when one of his friends asked him if he felt like coming along to church to hear another classmate sing. Dozier had no idea this classmate sang, but he went along, and as it happens, we have some recordings of that classmate singing and playing piano around that time: [Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood”] That’s fourteen-year-old Aretha Franklin, and as you can imagine, being classmates with someone who could perform like that caused Lamont Dozier to radically revise his ideas of what it was possible for him to do. He’d formed a doo-wop group called the Romeos, and they released their first single, with both sides written by Lamont, by the time he was sixteen: [Excerpt: The Romeos, “Gone Gone Get Away”] The Romeos’ third single, “Fine Fine Fine”, was picked up by Atlantic for distribution, and did well enough that Atlantic decided they wanted a follow-up, and wrote to them asking them to come into the studio. But Lamont Dozier, at sixteen, thought that he had some kind of negotiating power, and wrote back saying they weren’t interested in just doing a single, they wanted to do an album. Jerry Wexler wrote back saying “fair enough, you’re released from your contract”, and the Romeos’ brief career was over before it began. He joined the Voice Masters, the first group signed to Anna Records, and sang on records of theirs like “Hope and Pray”, the very first record ever put out by a Gordy family label: [Excerpt: The Voice Masters, “Hope and Pray”] And he’d continued to sing with them, as well as working for Anna Records doing odd jobs like cleaning the floors. His first solo record on Anna, released under the name Lamont Anthony, featured Robert White on guitar, James Jamerson on bass, Harvey Fuqua on piano, and Marvin Gaye on drums, and was based on the comic character “Popeye”: [Excerpt: Lamont Anthony, “Popeye the Sailor Man”] Unfortunately, just as that record was starting to take off, King Features Syndicate, the owners of Popeye, sent a cease and desist order. Dozier went back into the studio and recut the vocal, this time singing about Benny the Skinny Man, instead of Popeye the Sailor Man: [Excerpt: Lamont Anthony, “Benny the Skinny Man”] But without the hook of it being about Popeye, the song flopped. Dozier joined Motown when that became the dominant part of the Gordy family operation, and signed up as a songwriter and producer. Robert Batemen had just stopped working with Brian Holland as a production team, and when Anne Dozier suggested that Holland go and meet her husband who was just starting at Motown, Holland walked in to find Dozier working at the piano, writing a song but stuck for a middle section. Holland told him he had an idea, sat next to him at the piano, and came up with the bridge. The two instantly clicked musically — they discovered that they almost had a musical telepathy, and Holland got Freddie Gorman, his lyricist partner at the time, to finish up the lyrics for the song while he and Dozier came up with more ideas. That song became a Marvelettes album track, “Forever”, which a few years later would be put out as a B-side, and make the top thirty in its own right: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Forever”] Holland and Dozier quickly became a strong musical team — Dozier had a great aptitude for coming up with riffs and hooks, both lyrical and musical, and rhythmic ideas, while Brian Holland could come up with great melodies and interesting chord changes, though both could do both. In the studio Brian would work with the drummers, while Lamont would work with the keyboard players and discuss the bass parts with James Jamerson. Their only shortfall was lyrically. They could both write lyrics — and Lamont would often come up with a good title or hook phrase — but they were slow at doing it. For the lyrics, they mostly worked with Freddie Gorman, and sometimes got Janie Bradford in. These teams came up with some great records, like “Contract on Love”, which sounds very like a Four Seasons pastiche but also points the way to Holland and Dozier’s later sound: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, “Contract on Love”] Both Little Stevie Wonder and the backing vocalists on that, the Temptations, would do better things later, but that’s still a solid record. Meanwhile, Eddie Holland had had a realisation that would change the course of Motown. “Jamie” had been a hit, but he received no royalties — he’d had a run of flop singles, so he hadn’t yet earned out the production costs on his records. His first royalty statement after his hit showed him still owing Motown money. He asked his brother, who got a royalty statement at the same time, if he was in the same boat, and Brian showed him the statement for several thousand dollars that he’d made from the songs he’d written. Eddie decided that he was in the wrong job. He didn’t like performing anyway, and his brother was making serious money while he was working away earning nothing. He took nine months off from doing anything other than the bare contractual minimum, — where before he would spend every moment at Hitsville, now he only turned up for his own sessions — and spent that time teaching himself songwriting. He studied Smokey Robinson’s writing, and he developed his own ideas about what needed to be in a lyric — he didn’t want any meaningless filler words, he wanted every word to matter. He also wanted to make sure that even if people misheard a line or two, they would be able to get the idea of the song from the other lines, so he came up with a technique he referred to as “repeat-fomation”, where he would give the same piece of information two or three times, paraphrasing it.  When the next Marvelettes album, The Marvellous Marvelettes, was being finished up by Mickey Stevenson, Motown got nervous about the album, thinking it didn’t have a strong enough single on it, and so Brian Holland and Dozier were asked to come up with a new Marvelettes single in a hurry. Freddie Gorman had more or less stopped songwriting by this point, as he was spending most of his time working as a postman, and so, in need of another writing partner, they called on Eddie, who had been writing with various people. The three of them wrote and produced “Locking Up My Heart”, the first single to be released with the writing credit “Holland-Dozier-Holland”: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, “Locking Up My Heart”] That was a comparative flop for the Marvelettes, and the beginning of the downward slump we talked about for them in the episode on “Please Mr. Postman”, but the second Holland-Dozier-Holland single, recorded ten days later, was a very different matter. That one was for Martha and the Vandellas, and became widely regarded as the start of Motown’s true Golden Age — so much so that Brian and Eddie Holland’s autobiography is named after this, rather than after any of the bigger and more obvious hits they would later co-write. The introduction to “Come and Get These Memories” isn’t particularly auspicious — the Vandellas singing the chorus: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Come and Get These Memories”] Hearing all three of the Vandellas, all of whom have such strong, distinctive voices, sing together is if anything a bit much — the Vandellas aren’t a great harmony group in the way that some of the other Motown groups are, and they work best when everyone’s singing an individual line rather than block harmonies. But then we’re instantly into the sound that Holland, Dozier, and Holland — really Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, who took charge of the musical side of things, with Eddie concentrating on the lyrics — would make their own. There’s a lightly swung rhythm, but with a strong backbeat with handclaps and tambourine emphasising the two and four– the same rhythmic combination that made so many of the very early rock and roll records we looked at in the first year of the podcast, but this time taken at a more sedate pace, a casual stroll rather than a sprint. There’s the simple, chorded piano and guitar parts, both instruments often playing in unison and again just emphasising the rhythm rather than doing anything more complex. And there’s James Jamerson’s wonderful, loping bass part, doing the exact opposite of what the piano and guitar are doing. [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Come and Get These Memories”] In almost every record in the rock and roll, soul, and R&B genres up to this point — I say “almost every” because, as I’ve said many times before, there are always exceptions and there is never a first of anything — the bass does one of two things: it either plods along just playing the root notes, or it plays a simple, repeated, ostinato figure throughout, acting as a backbone while the other instruments do more interesting things. James Jamerson is the first bass player outside the jazz and classical fields to prominently, repeatedly, do something very different — he’s got the guitars and piano holding down the rhythm so steadily that he doesn’t need to. He plays melodies, largely improvised, that are jumping around and going somewhere different from where you’d expect.  “Come and Get These Memories” was largely written before Eddie’s involvement, and the bulk of the lyric was Lamont Dozier’s. He’s said that in this instance he was inspired by country singers like Loretta Lynn, and the song’s lyrical style, taking physical objects and using them as a metaphor for emotional states, certainly seems very country: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Come and Get These Memories”] “Come and Get These Memories” made number twenty-nine on the pop charts and number six on the R&B charts. Martha and the Vandellas were finally stars. As was the normal practice at Motown, when an artist had a hit, the writing and production team were given the chance to make the follow-up with them, and so the followup was another Holland/Dozier/Holland song, again from an idea by Lamont Dozier, as most of their collaborations with the Vandellas would be. “Heat Wave” is another leap forward, and is quite possibly the most exciting record that Motown had put out to this point. Where “Come and Get These Memories” established the Motown sound, this one establishes the Martha and the Vandellas sound, specifically, and the style that Holland, Dozier, and Holland would apply to many of their more uptempo productions for other artists. This is the subgenre of Motown that, when it was picked up by fans in the North of England, became known as Northern Soul — the branch of Motown music that led directly to Disco, to Hi-NRG, to electropop, to the Stock-Aitken-Waterman hit factory of the eighties, to huge chunks of gay culture, and to almost all music made for dancing in whatever genre after this point. Where “Come and Get These Memories” is mid-tempo, “Heat Wave” races along. Where “Come and Get These Memories” swings, “Heat Wave” stomps. “Come and Get These Memories” has the drums swinging and the percussion accenting the backbeat, here the drums are accenting the backbeat while the tambourine is hitting every beat dead on, four/four. It’s a rhythm which has something in common with some of the Four Seasons’ contemporary hits, but it’s less militaristic than those. While “Pistol” Allen’s drumming starts out absolutely hard on the beat, he swings it more and more as the record goes on, trusting to the listener once that hard rhythm has been established, allowing him to lay back behind the beat just a little. This is where my background as a white English man, who has never played music for dancing — when I tried to be a musician myself, it was jangly guitar pop I was playing — limits me. I have a vocabulary for chords and for melodies, but when it comes to rhythms, at a certain point my vocabulary goes away, and all I can do is say “just… *listen*” It’s music that makes you need to dance, and you can either hear that or you can’t — but of course, you can: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Heat Wave”] And Martha Reeves’ voice is perfect for the song. Most female Motown singers were pop singers first and foremost — some of them, many of them, *great* pop singers, but all with voices fundamentally suited to gentleness. Reeves was a belter. She has far more blues and gospel influence in her voice than many of the other Motown women, and she’s showing it here. “Heat Wave” made the top ten, as did the follow-up, a “Heat Wave” soundalike called “Quicksand”. But the two records after that, both still Holland/Dozier/Holland records, didn’t even make the top forty, and Annette left, being replaced by Betty Kelly. The new lineup of the group were passed over to Mickey Stevenson, for a record that would become the one for which they are best remembered to this day. It wasn’t as important a record in the development of the Motown sound as “Come and Get These Memories” or “Heat Wave”, but “Dancing in the Street” was a masterpiece. Written by Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, and Ivy Joe Hunter, it features Gaye on drums, but the most prominent percussive sound is Hunter, who, depending on which account you read was either thrashing a steel chain against something until his hands bled, or hitting a tire iron.  And Martha’s vocal is astonishing — and has an edge to it. Apparently this was the second take, and she sounds a little annoyed because she absolutely nailed the vocal on the first take only to find that there’d been a problem recording it. [Excerpt: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street”] That went to number two in the charts, and would be the group’s cultural and commercial high point. The song also gained some notoriety two years later when, in the wake of civil rights protests that were interpreted as rioting, the song was interpreted as being a call to riot — it was assumed that instead of being about dancing it was actually about rioting, something the Rolling Stones would pick up on later when they released “Street Fighting Man”, a song that owes more than a little to the Vandellas classic. The record after that, “Wild One”, was so much of a “Dancing in the Streets” soundalike that I’ve seen claims that the backing track is an alternate take of the earlier song. It isn’t, but it sounds like it could be. But the record after that saw them reunited with Holland/Dozier/Holland, who provided them with yet another great track, “Nowhere to Run”: [Excerpt: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run”] For the next few years the group would release a string of classic hits, like “Jimmy Mack” and “Honey Chile”, but the rise of the Supremes, who we’ll talk about in a month, meant that like the Marvelettes before them the Vandellas became less important to Motown. When Motown moved from Detroit to LA in the early seventies, Martha was one of those who decided not to make the move with the label, and the group split up, though the original lineup occasionally reunited for big events, and made some recordings for Ian Levine’s Motorcity label. Currently, there are two touring Vandellas groups. One, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, consists of Martha and two of her sisters — including Lois, who was a late-period member of the group before they split, replacing Betty in 1967. Meanwhile “The Original Vandellas” consist of Rosalind and Annette. Gloria died in 2000, but Martha and the Vandellas are one of the very few sixties hitmaking groups where all the members of their classic lineup are still alive and performing. Martha, Rosalind, Betty, Annette, and Lois were all also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, becoming only the second all-female group to be inducted.  The Vandellas were one of the greatest of the Motown acts, and one of the greatest of the girl groups, and their biggest hits stand up against anything that any of the other Motown acts were doing at the time. When you hear them now, even almost sixty years later, you’re still hearing the sound they were in at the birth of, the sound of young America.  

    Episode 111: “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 20, 2021

    Episode one hundred and eleven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginnings of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 111: "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 20, 2021 44:51

    Episode one hundred and eleven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginnings of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more----   Resources As usual, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.  For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I've used the following resources: Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown.  To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy's own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography. Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown, including Martha and the Vandellas. I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown. The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown's thirty-year history. How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier's autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers'. And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles. Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era, including Martha and the Vandellas. And Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva  by Martha Reeves and Mark Bego is Reeves' autobiography. And this three-CD set contains all the Vandellas' Motown singles, along with a bunch of rarities.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we're going to take a look at the career of one of the great girl groups to come out of Motown, and at the early work of the songwriting team that went on to be arguably the most important people in the definition of the Motown Sound. We're going to look at "Heatwave" by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginning of the career of Holland, Dozier, and Holland: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, "Heatwave"] By the time she started recording for Motown, Martha Reeves had already spent several years in groups around Detroit, with little success. Her singing career had started in a group called The Fascinations, which she had formed with another singer, who is variously named in different sources as Shirley Lawson and Shirley Walker. She'd quickly left that group, but after she left them, the Fascinations went on to make a string of minor hit records with Curtis Mayfield: [Excerpt: The Fascinations, "Girls Are Out To Get You"] But it wasn't just her professional experience, such as it was, that Reeves credited for her success -- she had also been a soloist in her high school choir, and from her accounts her real training came from her High School music teacher, Abraham Silver. In her autobiography she talks about hanging around in the park singing with other people who had been taught by the same teacher -- Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, who would go on to form the Supremes, Bobby Rogers and Claudette Robinson, who were founder members of the Miracles, and Little Joe Harris, who would later become lead singer of the minor Motown act The Undisputed Truth. She'd eventually joined another group, the Del-Phis, with three other singers -- Gloria Williams (or Williamson -- sources vary as to what her actual surname was -- it might be that Williamson was her birth name and Williams a stage name), Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford. The group found out early on that they didn't particularly get on with each other as people -- their personalities were all too different -- but their voices blended well and they worked well on stage. Williams or Williamson was the leader and lead singer at this point, and the rest of the DelPhis acted as her backing group. They started performing at the amateur nights and talent contests that were such a big part of the way that Black talent got known at that time, and developed a rivalry with two other groups -- The Primes, who would later go on to be the Temptations, and The Primettes, who had named themselves after the Primes, but later became the Supremes. Those three groups more or less took it in turns to win the talent contests, and before long the Del-Phis had been signed to Checkmate Records, one of several subsidiaries of Chess, where they released one single, with Gloria on lead: [Excerpt: The Del-Phis, "I'll Let You Know"] The group also sang backing vocals on various other records at that time, like Mike Hanks' "When True Love Comes to Be": [Excerpt: Mike Hanks, "When True Love Comes to Be"] Depending on who you believe, Martha may not be on that record at all -- the Del-Phis apparently had some lineup fluctuations, with members coming and going, though the story of who was in the group when seems to be told more on the basis of who wants credit for what at any particular time than on what the truth is. No matter who was in the group, though, they never had more than local success. While the Del-Phis were trying and failing to become big stars as a group, Martha also started performing solo, as Martha LaVelle. Only a couple of days after her first solo performance, Mickey Stevenson saw her perform and gave her his card, telling her to pop down to Hitsville for an audition as he thought she had talent. But when she did turn up, Stevenson was annoyed at her, over a misunderstanding that turned out to be his fault. She had just come straight to the studio, assuming she could audition any time, and Stevenson hadn't explained to her that they had one day a month where they ran auditions -- he'd expected her to call him on the number on the card, not just come down. Stevenson was busy that day, and left the office, telling Martha on his way out the door that he'd be back in a bit, and to answer the phone if it rang, leaving her alone in the office. She started answering the phone, calling herself the "A&R secretary", taking messages, and sorting out problems. She was asked to come back the next day, and worked there three weeks for no pay before getting herself put on a salary as Stevenson's secretary. Once her foot was in the door at Motown, she also started helping out on sessions, as almost all the staff there did, adding backing vocals, handclaps, or footstomps for a five-dollar-per-session bonus.  One of her jobs as Stevenson's secretary was to phone and book session musicians and singers,  and for one session the Andantes, Motown's normal female backing vocal group, were unavailable. Martha got the idea to call the rest of the DelPhis -- who seem like they might even have been split up at this point, depending on which source you read -- and see if they wanted to do the job instead. They had to audition for Berry Gordy, but Gordy was perfectly happy with them and signed them to Motown. Their role was mostly to be backing vocalists, but the plan was that they would also cut a few singles themselves as well.  But Gordy didn't want to sign them as the Del-Phis -- he didn't know what the details of their contract with Checkmate were, and who actually owned the name. So they needed a new name. At first they went with the Dominettes, but that was soon changed, before they ever made a record What happened is a matter of some dispute, because this seems to be the moment that Martha Reeves took over the group -- it may be that the fact that she was the one booking them for the sessions and so in charge of whether they got paid or not changed the power dynamics of the band -- and so different people give different accounts depending on who they want to seem most important. But the generally accepted story is that Martha suggested a name based on the street she lived on, Van Dyke Street, and Della Reese, Martha's favourite singer, who had hits like "Don't You Know?": [Excerpt: Della Reese, "Don't You Know?"] The group became Martha and the Vandellas -- although Rosalind Ashford, who says that the group name was not Martha's work, also says that the group weren't "Martha and the Vandellas" to start with, but just the Vandellas, and this might be the case, as at this point Gloria rather than Martha was still the lead singer. The newly-named Vandellas were quickly put to work, mostly working on records that Mickey Stevenson produced. The first record they sang on was not credited either to the Vandellas *or* to Martha and the Vandellas, being instead credited to Saundra Mallett and the Vandellas – Mallett was a minor Motown singer who they were backing for this one record. The song was one written by Berry Gordy, as an attempt at a "Loco-Motion" clone, and was called "Camel Walk": [Excerpt: Saundra Mallett and the Vandellas, "Camel Walk"] More famously, there was the record that everyone talks about as being the first one to feature the Vandellas, even though it came out after "Camel Walk", one we've already talked about before, Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow": [Excerpt: Marvin Gaye, "Stubborn Kind of Fellow"] That became Gaye's breakout hit, and as well as singing in the studio for other artists and trying to make their own records, the Vandellas were now also Marvin Gaye's backing vocalists, and at shows like the Motortown Revue shows, as well as performing their own sets, the Vandellas would sing with Gaye as well. While they were not yet themselves stars, they had a foot on the ladder, and through working with Marvin they got to perform with all sorts of other people -- Martha was particularly impressed by the Beach Boys, who performed on the same bill as them in Detroit, and she developed a lifelong crush on Mike Love. But while the Vandellas were Motown's go-to backing vocalists in 1962, they still wanted to make their own records. They did make one record with Gloria singing lead, "You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)": [Excerpt: The Vells, "You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)"] But that was released not as by the Vandellas, but by the Vells, because by the time it was released, the Vandellas had more or less by accident become definitively MARTHA and the Vandellas. The session that changed everything came about because Martha was still working as Mickey Stevenson's secretary. Stevenson was producing a record for Mary Wells, and he had a problem. Stevenson had recently instituted a new system for his recordings at Motown. Up to this point, they'd been making records with everyone in the studio at the same time -- all the musicians, the lead singer, the backing vocalists, and so on. But that became increasingly difficult when the label's stars were on tour all the time, and it also meant that if the singer flubbed a note a good bass take would also be wrecked, or vice versa. It just wasn't efficient. So, taking advantage of the ability to multitrack, Stevenson had started doing things differently. Now backing tracks would be recorded by the Funk Brothers in the studio whenever a writer-producer had something for them to record, and then the singer would come in later and overdub their vocals when it was convenient to do that. That also had other advantages -- if a singer turned out not to be right for the song, they could record another singer doing it instead, and they could reuse backing tracks, so if a song was a hit for, say, the Miracles, the Marvelettes could then use the same backing track for a cover version of it to fill out an album. But there was a problem with this system, and that problem was the Musicians' Union. The union had a rule that if musicians were cutting a track that was intended to have a vocal, the vocalist *must* be present at the session -- like a lot of historical union rules, this seems faintly ridiculous today, but no doubt there were good reasons for it at the time.  Motown, like most labels, were perfectly happy to break the union rules on occasion, but there was always the possibility of a surprise union inspection, and one turned up while Mickey Stevenson was cutting "I'll Have to Let Him Go". Mary Wells wasn't there, and knowing that his secretary could sing, Stevenson grabbed her and got her to go into the studio and sing the song while the musicians played. Martha decided to give the song everything she had, and Stevenson was impressed enough that he decided to give the song to her, rather than Wells, and at the same session that the Vandellas recorded the songs with Gloria on lead, they recorded new vocals to the backing track that Stevenson had recorded that day: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, "I'll Have to Let Him Go"] That was released under the Martha and the Vandellas name, and around this point Gloria left the group. Some have suggested that this was because she didn't like Martha becoming the leader, while others have said that it's just that she had a good job working for the city, and didn't want to put that at risk by becoming a full-time singer. Either way, a week after the Vandellas record came out, Motown released "You’ll Never Cherish A Love So True (‘Til You Lose It)" under the name The Vells.  Neither single had any chart success, but that wouldn't be true for the next one, which wouldn't be released for another five months. But when it was finally released, it would be regarded as the beginning of the "Motown Sound". Before that record, Motown had released many extraordinary records, and we've looked at some of them. But after it, it began a domination of the American charts that would last the rest of the decade; a domination caused in large part by the team of Holland, Dozier, and Holland. We've heard a little from the Holland brothers and Lamont Dozier, separately, in previous episodes looking at Motown, but this is the point at which they go from being minor players within the Motown organisation to being the single most important team for the label's future commercial success, so we should take a proper look at them now. Eddie Holland started working with Berry Gordy years before the start of Motown -- he was a singer who was known for having a similar sounding voice to that of Jackie Wilson, and Gordy had taken him on first as a soundalike demo singer, recording songs written for Wilson so Wilson could hear how they would sound in his voice, and later trying to mould him into a Wilson clone, starting with Holland's first single, "You": [Excerpt: Eddie Holland, "You"] Holland quickly found that he didn't enjoy performing on stage -- he loved singing, but he didn't like the actual experience of being on stage. However, he continued doing it, in the belief that one should not just quit a job until a better opportunity comes along. Before becoming a professional singer, Holland had sung in street-corner doo-wop groups with his younger brother Brian. Brian, unlike Eddie, didn't have a particularly great voice, but what he did have was a great musical mind -- he could instantly figure out all the harmony parts for the whole group, and had a massive talent for arrangement. Eddie spent much of his early time working with Gordy trying to get Gordy to take his little brother seriously -- at the time,  Brian Holland was still in his early teens, and Gordy refused to believe he could be as talented as Eddie said. Eventually, though, Gordy listened to Brian and took him under his wing, pairing him with Janie Bradford to add music to Bradford's lyrics, and also teaching him to engineer. One of Brian Holland's first engineering jobs was for a song recorded by Eddie, written as a jingle for a wine company but released as a single under the name "Briant Holland" -- meaning it has often over the years been assumed to be Brian singing lead: [Excerpt: Briant Holland, "(Where's the Joy) in Nature Boy?"] When Motown started up, Brian had become a staffer -- indeed, he has later claimed that he was the very first person employed by Motown as a permanent staff member. While Eddie was out on the road performing, Brian was  writing, producing, and singing backing vocals on many, many records. We've already heard how he was the co-writer and producer on "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, "Please Mr. Postman"] That had obviously been a massive hit, and Motown's first number one, but Brian was still definitely just one of the Motown team, and not as important a part of it as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, or Mickey Stevenson. Meanwhile, Eddie finally had a minor hit of his own, with "Jamie", a song co-written by Barrett Strong and Mickey Stevenson, and originally recorded by Strong -- when Strong left the label, they took the backing track intended for him and had Holland record new vocals over it. [Excerpt: Eddie Holland, "Jamie"] That made the top thirty, which must have been galling at the time for Strong, who'd quit in part because he couldn't get a hit. But the crucial thing that lifted the Holland brothers from being just parts of the Motown machine to being the most important creative forces in the company was when Brian Holland became friendly with Anne Dozier, who worked at Motown packing records, and whose husband Lamont was a singer. Lamont Dozier had been around musical people all his life -- at Hutchins Junior High School, he was a couple of years below Marv Johnson, the first Motown star, he knew Freda Payne, and one of his classmates was Otis Williams, later of the Temptations. But it was another junior high classmate who, as he puts it, "lit a fire under me to take some steps to get my own music heard by the world", when one of his friends asked him if he felt like coming along to church to hear another classmate sing. Dozier had no idea this classmate sang, but he went along, and as it happens, we have some recordings of that classmate singing and playing piano around that time: [Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood"] That's fourteen-year-old Aretha Franklin, and as you can imagine, being classmates with someone who could perform like that caused Lamont Dozier to radically revise his ideas of what it was possible for him to do. He'd formed a doo-wop group called the Romeos, and they released their first single, with both sides written by Lamont, by the time he was sixteen: [Excerpt: The Romeos, "Gone Gone Get Away"] The Romeos' third single, "Fine Fine Fine", was picked up by Atlantic for distribution, and did well enough that Atlantic decided they wanted a follow-up, and wrote to them asking them to come into the studio. But Lamont Dozier, at sixteen, thought that he had some kind of negotiating power, and wrote back saying they weren't interested in just doing a single, they wanted to do an album. Jerry Wexler wrote back saying "fair enough, you're released from your contract", and the Romeos' brief career was over before it began. He joined the Voice Masters, the first group signed to Anna Records, and sang on records of theirs like "Hope and Pray", the very first record ever put out by a Gordy family label: [Excerpt: The Voice Masters, "Hope and Pray"] And he'd continued to sing with them, as well as working for Anna Records doing odd jobs like cleaning the floors. His first solo record on Anna, released under the name Lamont Anthony, featured Robert White on guitar, James Jamerson on bass, Harvey Fuqua on piano, and Marvin Gaye on drums, and was based on the comic character "Popeye": [Excerpt: Lamont Anthony, "Popeye the Sailor Man"] Unfortunately, just as that record was starting to take off, King Features Syndicate, the owners of Popeye, sent a cease and desist order. Dozier went back into the studio and recut the vocal, this time singing about Benny the Skinny Man, instead of Popeye the Sailor Man: [Excerpt: Lamont Anthony, "Benny the Skinny Man"] But without the hook of it being about Popeye, the song flopped. Dozier joined Motown when that became the dominant part of the Gordy family operation, and signed up as a songwriter and producer. Robert Batemen had just stopped working with Brian Holland as a production team, and when Anne Dozier suggested that Holland go and meet her husband who was just starting at Motown, Holland walked in to find Dozier working at the piano, writing a song but stuck for a middle section. Holland told him he had an idea, sat next to him at the piano, and came up with the bridge. The two instantly clicked musically -- they discovered that they almost had a musical telepathy, and Holland got Freddie Gorman, his lyricist partner at the time, to finish up the lyrics for the song while he and Dozier came up with more ideas. That song became a Marvelettes album track, "Forever", which a few years later would be put out as a B-side, and make the top thirty in its own right: [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, "Forever"] Holland and Dozier quickly became a strong musical team -- Dozier had a great aptitude for coming up with riffs and hooks, both lyrical and musical, and rhythmic ideas, while Brian Holland could come up with great melodies and interesting chord changes, though both could do both. In the studio Brian would work with the drummers, while Lamont would work with the keyboard players and discuss the bass parts with James Jamerson. Their only shortfall was lyrically. They could both write lyrics -- and Lamont would often come up with a good title or hook phrase -- but they were slow at doing it. For the lyrics, they mostly worked with Freddie Gorman, and sometimes got Janie Bradford in. These teams came up with some great records, like "Contract on Love", which sounds very like a Four Seasons pastiche but also points the way to Holland and Dozier's later sound: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "Contract on Love"] Both Little Stevie Wonder and the backing vocalists on that, the Temptations, would do better things later, but that's still a solid record. Meanwhile, Eddie Holland had had a realisation that would change the course of Motown. "Jamie" had been a hit, but he received no royalties -- he'd had a run of flop singles, so he hadn't yet earned out the production costs on his records. His first royalty statement after his hit showed him still owing Motown money. He asked his brother, who got a royalty statement at the same time, if he was in the same boat, and Brian showed him the statement for several thousand dollars that he'd made from the songs he'd written. Eddie decided that he was in the wrong job. He didn't like performing anyway, and his brother was making serious money while he was working away earning nothing. He took nine months off from doing anything other than the bare contractual minimum, -- where before he would spend every moment at Hitsville, now he only turned up for his own sessions -- and spent that time teaching himself songwriting. He studied Smokey Robinson's writing, and he developed his own ideas about what needed to be in a lyric -- he didn't want any meaningless filler words, he wanted every word to matter. He also wanted to make sure that even if people misheard a line or two, they would be able to get the idea of the song from the other lines, so he came up with a technique he referred to as "repeat-fomation", where he would give the same piece of information two or three times, paraphrasing it.  When the next Marvelettes album, The Marvellous Marvelettes, was being finished up by Mickey Stevenson, Motown got nervous about the album, thinking it didn't have a strong enough single on it, and so Brian Holland and Dozier were asked to come up with a new Marvelettes single in a hurry. Freddie Gorman had more or less stopped songwriting by this point, as he was spending most of his time working as a postman, and so, in need of another writing partner, they called on Eddie, who had been writing with various people. The three of them wrote and produced "Locking Up My Heart", the first single to be released with the writing credit "Holland-Dozier-Holland": [Excerpt: The Marvelettes, "Locking Up My Heart"] That was a comparative flop for the Marvelettes, and the beginning of the downward slump we talked about for them in the episode on "Please Mr. Postman", but the second Holland-Dozier-Holland single, recorded ten days later, was a very different matter. That one was for Martha and the Vandellas, and became widely regarded as the start of Motown's true Golden Age -- so much so that Brian and Eddie Holland's autobiography is named after this, rather than after any of the bigger and more obvious hits they would later co-write. The introduction to "Come and Get These Memories" isn't particularly auspicious -- the Vandellas singing the chorus: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, "Come and Get These Memories"] Hearing all three of the Vandellas, all of whom have such strong, distinctive voices, sing together is if anything a bit much -- the Vandellas aren't a great harmony group in the way that some of the other Motown groups are, and they work best when everyone's singing an individual line rather than block harmonies. But then we're instantly into the sound that Holland, Dozier, and Holland -- really Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, who took charge of the musical side of things, with Eddie concentrating on the lyrics -- would make their own. There's a lightly swung rhythm, but with a strong backbeat with handclaps and tambourine emphasising the two and four-- the same rhythmic combination that made so many of the very early rock and roll records we looked at in the first year of the podcast, but this time taken at a more sedate pace, a casual stroll rather than a sprint. There's the simple, chorded piano and guitar parts, both instruments often playing in unison and again just emphasising the rhythm rather than doing anything more complex. And there's James Jamerson's wonderful, loping bass part, doing the exact opposite of what the piano and guitar are doing. [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, “Come and Get These Memories”] In almost every record in the rock and roll, soul, and R&B genres up to this point -- I say "almost every" because, as I've said many times before, there are always exceptions and there is never a first of anything -- the bass does one of two things: it either plods along just playing the root notes, or it plays a simple, repeated, ostinato figure throughout, acting as a backbone while the other instruments do more interesting things. James Jamerson is the first bass player outside the jazz and classical fields to prominently, repeatedly, do something very different -- he's got the guitars and piano holding down the rhythm so steadily that he doesn't need to. He plays melodies, largely improvised, that are jumping around and going somewhere different from where you'd expect.  "Come and Get These Memories" was largely written before Eddie's involvement, and the bulk of the lyric was Lamont Dozier's. He's said that in this instance he was inspired by country singers like Loretta Lynn, and the song's lyrical style, taking physical objects and using them as a metaphor for emotional states, certainly seems very country: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, "Come and Get These Memories"] "Come and Get These Memories" made number twenty-nine on the pop charts and number six on the R&B charts. Martha and the Vandellas were finally stars. As was the normal practice at Motown, when an artist had a hit, the writing and production team were given the chance to make the follow-up with them, and so the followup was another Holland/Dozier/Holland song, again from an idea by Lamont Dozier, as most of their collaborations with the Vandellas would be. "Heat Wave" is another leap forward, and is quite possibly the most exciting record that Motown had put out to this point. Where "Come and Get These Memories" established the Motown sound, this one establishes the Martha and the Vandellas sound, specifically, and the style that Holland, Dozier, and Holland would apply to many of their more uptempo productions for other artists. This is the subgenre of Motown that, when it was picked up by fans in the North of England, became known as Northern Soul -- the branch of Motown music that led directly to Disco, to Hi-NRG, to electropop, to the Stock-Aitken-Waterman hit factory of the eighties, to huge chunks of gay culture, and to almost all music made for dancing in whatever genre after this point. Where "Come and Get These Memories" is mid-tempo, "Heat Wave" races along. Where "Come and Get These Memories" swings, "Heat Wave" stomps. "Come and Get These Memories" has the drums swinging and the percussion accenting the backbeat, here the drums are accenting the backbeat while the tambourine is hitting every beat dead on, four/four. It's a rhythm which has something in common with some of the Four Seasons' contemporary hits, but it's less militaristic than those. While "Pistol" Allen's drumming starts out absolutely hard on the beat, he swings it more and more as the record goes on, trusting to the listener once that hard rhythm has been established, allowing him to lay back behind the beat just a little. This is where my background as a white English man, who has never played music for dancing -- when I tried to be a musician myself, it was jangly guitar pop I was playing -- limits me. I have a vocabulary for chords and for melodies, but when it comes to rhythms, at a certain point my vocabulary goes away, and all I can do is say "just... *listen*" It's music that makes you need to dance, and you can either hear that or you can't -- but of course, you can: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, "Heat Wave"] And Martha Reeves' voice is perfect for the song. Most female Motown singers were pop singers first and foremost -- some of them, many of them, *great* pop singers, but all with voices fundamentally suited to gentleness. Reeves was a belter. She has far more blues and gospel influence in her voice than many of the other Motown women, and she's showing it here. "Heat Wave" made the top ten, as did the follow-up, a "Heat Wave" soundalike called "Quicksand". But the two records after that, both still Holland/Dozier/Holland records, didn't even make the top forty, and Annette left, being replaced by Betty Kelly. The new lineup of the group were passed over to Mickey Stevenson, for a record that would become the one for which they are best remembered to this day. It wasn't as important a record in the development of the Motown sound as "Come and Get These Memories" or "Heat Wave", but "Dancing in the Street" was a masterpiece. Written by Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, and Ivy Joe Hunter, it features Gaye on drums, but the most prominent percussive sound is Hunter, who, depending on which account you read was either thrashing a steel chain against something until his hands bled, or hitting a tire iron.  And Martha's vocal is astonishing -- and has an edge to it. Apparently this was the second take, and she sounds a little annoyed because she absolutely nailed the vocal on the first take only to find that there'd been a problem recording it. [Excerpt: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, "Dancing in the Street"] That went to number two in the charts, and would be the group's cultural and commercial high point. The song also gained some notoriety two years later when, in the wake of civil rights protests that were interpreted as rioting, the song was interpreted as being a call to riot -- it was assumed that instead of being about dancing it was actually about rioting, something the Rolling Stones would pick up on later when they released "Street Fighting Man", a song that owes more than a little to the Vandellas classic. The record after that, "Wild One", was so much of a "Dancing in the Streets" soundalike that I've seen claims that the backing track is an alternate take of the earlier song. It isn't, but it sounds like it could be. But the record after that saw them reunited with Holland/Dozier/Holland, who provided them with yet another great track, "Nowhere to Run": [Excerpt: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, "Nowhere to Run"] For the next few years the group would release a string of classic hits, like "Jimmy Mack" and "Honey Chile", but the rise of the Supremes, who we'll talk about in a month, meant that like the Marvelettes before them the Vandellas became less important to Motown. When Motown moved from Detroit to LA in the early seventies, Martha was one of those who decided not to make the move with the label, and the group split up, though the original lineup occasionally reunited for big events, and made some recordings for Ian Levine's Motorcity label. Currently, there are two touring Vandellas groups. One, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, consists of Martha and two of her sisters -- including Lois, who was a late-period member of the group before they split, replacing Betty in 1967. Meanwhile "The Original Vandellas" consist of Rosalind and Annette. Gloria died in 2000, but Martha and the Vandellas are one of the very few sixties hitmaking groups where all the members of their classic lineup are still alive and performing. Martha, Rosalind, Betty, Annette, and Lois were all also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, becoming only the second all-female group to be inducted.  The Vandellas were one of the greatest of the Motown acts, and one of the greatest of the girl groups, and their biggest hits stand up against anything that any of the other Motown acts were doing at the time. When you hear them now, even almost sixty years later, you're still hearing the sound they were in at the birth of, the sound of young America.  

    Episode 110: “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 9, 2021

      Episode 110 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Be My Baby”, and at the career of the Ronettes and Ronnie Spector.  Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.   Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Little Saint Nick” by the Beach Boys. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Erratum I say Ray Peterson’s version of “Tell Laura I Love Her” was an American number one. It wasn’t — it only made number seven.   Resources As always, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. A lot of resources were used for this episode. Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette by Ronnie Spector and Vince Waldron is Ronnie’s autobiography and was the main source. Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson is a good overview of the Brill Building scene, and provided me with the information on Barry and Greenwich. I’ve referred to two biographies of Spector in this episode, Phil Spector: Out of His Head by Richard Williams and He’s a Rebel by Mark Ribkowsky. And information on the Wrecking Crew largely comes from The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman. There are many compilations available with some of the hits Spector produced, but I recommend getting Back to Mono, a four-CD overview of his career containing all the major singles put out by Philles. If you want something just covering Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, The Very Best of Ronnie Spector  covers all the Ronettes hits and the best of her solo career. And the AFM contract listing the musicians on “Be My Baby” can be found here.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we’re going to take a look at the record that, more than anything, ensured Phil Spector’s place in popular music history — a record that changed the lives of several people who heard it for the better, and changed the life of its singer for the worse, and one which has the most imitated drum intro in the world. We’re going to look at “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] Before I start this one, two things need saying. The first is that this episode, by necessity, deals with spousal abuse. As always, I will try to discuss the issue with sensitivity, and touch on it as briefly as possible, but if you worry that it might upset you, please either skip this episode, or read the transcript to see if you’ll be OK listening to it. I imagine that very few people will be upset by anything I say here, but it’s always a possibility. And secondly, I’d like to apologise for this episode being so late. I had a major disruption in my personal life over Christmas — one of those really bad life events that only happens once or twice in most people’s lifetimes — and that made it impossible for me to get any work done at all for the last couple of weeks. I’m now able to work again, and this should not be anything that affects the podcast for the rest of the year. Anyway, enough about that, let’s get on with the story. The story of the Ronettes begins when Ronnie Bennett, a mixed-race girl from Harlem, became obsessed with the sound of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers: [Excerpt: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”] Ronnie became the Teenagers’ biggest fan, and even managed to arrange a meeting between herself and Lymon when they were both thirteen, but had her illusions torn away when he turned up drunk and made a pass at her. But that didn’t stop her from trying her best to imitate Lymon’s vocals, and forming a vocal group with several friends and relatives. That group had a male lead singer, but when they made their first appearance on one of the Harlem Apollo’s talent shows, the lead singer got stage fright and couldn’t start singing when he got on stage. Ronnie stepped forward and took over the lead vocal, and the group went down well enough even with the Apollo’s notoriously hostile audience that a smaller group of them decided to start performing regularly together. The group took the name Ronnie and the Relatives, and consisted of Ronnie, her sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra Talley. They originally only performed at private parties, bar mitzvahs and the like, but they soon reached the attention of Stu Phillips at Colpix Records, a label owned by the film studio Columbia Pictures. The first single by Ronnie and the Relatives was not a success — “I Want a Boy” came out in August 1961 and didn’t chart: [Excerpt: Ronnie and the Relatives, “I Want a Boy”] And nor did their second, “I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead”: [Excerpt: Ronnie and the Relatives, “I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead”] Those records did apparently sell to at least one person, though, as when Ronnie met President Clinton in 1997, he asked her to sign a record, and specifically got her to sign an album of those early recordings for Colpix. While the girls were not having any commercial success, they did manage to accidentally get themselves a regular gig at the most important nightclub in New York. They went to the Peppermint Lounge, just as the Twist craze was at its height, and as they were underage they dressed up especially well in order to make themselves look more grown up so they could get in. Their ruse worked better than they expected. As they were all dressed the same, the club’s manager assumed they were the dancers he’d booked, who hadn’t shown up. He came out and told them to get on stage and start dancing, and so of course they did what he said, and started dancing to the Twist sounds of Joey Dee and the Starliters: [Excerpt: Joey Dee and the Starliters, “The Peppermint Twist”] The girls’ dancing went down well, and then the band started playing “What’d I Say?”, a favourite song of Ronnie’s and one the group did in their own act, and Ronnie danced over to David Brigati, who was singing lead on the song, and started dancing close to him. He handed her the mic as a joke, and she took over the song. They got a regular spot at the Peppermint Lounge, dancing behind the Starliters for their whole show and joining them on vocals for a few numbers every night. Inspired by the Bobbettes and the Marvelettes, Ronnie and Estelle’s mother suggested changing the group’s name. She suggested “the Rondettes”, and they dropped the “d”, becoming the Ronettes. The singles they released on ColPix under the new name did no better than the others, but they were such an important part of the Peppermint Lounge that when the Lounge’s owners opened a second venue in Florida, the girls went down there with the Starliters and were part of the show.  That trip to Florida gave them two very different experiences. The first was that they got to see segregation firsthand for the first time, and they didn’t like it — especially when they, as light-skinned mixed-race women, were read as tanned white women and served in restaurants which then refused to serve their darker-skinned mothers. But the second was far more positive. They met Murray the K, who since Alan Freed had been driven out of his job had become the most popular DJ in New York. Murray was down in Florida for a holiday, and was impressed enough by the girls’ dancing that he told them if they were ever in New York and wanted a spot on one of his regular shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre they should let him know. They replied that they lived in New York and went to those shows all the time — of course they wanted to perform on his shows. They became regular performers at the Brooklyn Fox, where they danced between the other, bigger, acts, sang backing vocals, did a song or two themselves, and took part in comedy sketches with Murray. It was at these shows, as well, that they developed the look they would become famous with — huge hair piled up on top of their heads, tons of mascara, and tight skirts slit to show their legs. It was a style inspired by street fashion rather than by what the other girl groups were wearing, and it made them incredibly popular with the Fox audience. But the Ronettes, even under their new name, and even with the backing of New York’s most prominent DJ, were still not selling any records. They knew they were good, and the reaction to their stage performances proved as much, so they decided that the problem must be with Colpix. And so in 1963 they made a New Year’s resolution — they were going to get Phil Spector to produce them.  By this time, Spector was becoming very well known in the music industry as a hit maker. We already saw in the recent episode on the Crystals how he was making hits for that group and the Blossoms, but he was also making hits with studio groups like Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, who he took into the top ten with a remake of the old Disney song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”: [Excerpt: Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”] and as well as the records he was putting out on Philles, he was also working as a freelance producer for people like Connie Francis, producing her top ten hit “Second-Hand Love”: [Excerpt: Connie Francis, “Second-Hand Love”] So the Ronettes were convinced that he could make them into the stars they knew they had the potential to be. The group had no idea how to get in touch with Spector, so they tried the direct route — Estelle called directory enquiries, got the number for Philles Records, and called and asked to be put through to Spector. She was as astonished as anyone when he agreed to talk to her — and it turned out that he’d seen the group regularly at the Brooklyn Fox and was interested in working with them.  At their audition for Spector, the group first performed a close-harmony version of “When the Red Red Robin Goes Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ Along”, which they’d been taught by their singing teacher. Spector told them that he wanted to hear what they did when they were singing for themselves, not for a teacher, and so Ronnie launched into “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”  It only took her getting to the second line of the song before Spector yelled at her to stop — “THAT is the voice I’ve been looking for!” The Ronettes’ first recordings for Spector weren’t actually issued as by the Ronettes at all. To start with, he had them record a version of a song by the writing team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love?”, but didn’t release it at the time. It was later released as by “Veronica”, the name under which he released solo records by Ronnie: [Excerpt: Veronica, “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love?”] But at the time, when Ronnie asked him when the record was coming out, Spector answered “Never”. He explained to her that it was a good record, but it wasn’t a number one, and he was still working on their first number one record. Their next few recordings were covers of then-current dance hits, like “The Twist”: [Excerpt, “The Crystals”, “The Twist”] And “The Wah-Watusi”, one of the few times that one of the other Ronettes took the lead rather than Ronnie, as Nedra sang lead: [Excerpt, “The Crystals”, “The Wah-Watusi”] But these, and two other tracks, were released as album tracks on a Crystals album, credited to the Crystals rather than the Ronettes. The song that eventually became the group’s first hit, “Be My Baby”, was mostly written by one of the many husband-and-wife songwriting teams that had developed at the Brill Building, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Barry had started out as a performer who occasionally wrote, putting out records like “It’s Called Rock and Roll”: [Excerpt: Jeff Barry, “It’s Called Rock and Roll”] But while his performing career had gone nowhere, he’d started to have some success as a songwriter, writing “Teenage Sonata” for Sam Cooke: [Excerpt: Sam Cooke, “Teenage Sonata”] And “Tell Laura I Love Her”, which was recorded by several people, but the biggest hit version was the American number one by Ray Peterson: [Excerpt: Ray Peterson, “Tell Laura I Love Her”] Ellie Greenwich had also started as a performer, recording “Silly Isn’t It?” under the name Ellie Gaye: [Excerpt: Ellie Gaye, “Silly, Isn’t It?”] She’d become one of the most important demo singers in New York, and had also started writing songs. She’d first collaborated with Doc Pomus, cowriting songs like “This is It”, which had been a flop single for Jay and the Americans: [Excerpt: Jay and the Americans, “This is It”] She’d then been taken on by Trio Music, Leiber and Stoller’s company, where she had largely collaborated with another writer named Tony Powers. Trio had first refusal on anything the two of them wrote, and if Leiber and Stoller didn’t like it, they could take the song elsewhere. Greenwich and Powers had their biggest successes with songs that Leiber and Stoller rejected, which they sold to Aaron Schroeder. And they’d started up a collaboration with Phil Spector — although Spector and Greenwich’s first meeting had not exactly gone smoothly. He’d gone into her office to hear her play a song that she thought would be suitable for the Paris Sisters, but had kept wandering out of the office, and had kept looking at himself in a mirror and primping himself rather than listen to her song. Eventually she said to him  “Listen to me, you little prick. Did you come to look at yourself or to hear my songs?”, and she didn’t make that sale. But later on, Spector became interested in a song she’d sold to Schroeder, and made an appointment to meet her and talk about her writing some stuff for him — that second meeting, which Spector didn’t realise was with someone he’d already made a bad impression on, Spector turned up four hours late.  But despite that, Greenwich and Powers wrote several songs for Spector, who was also given songwriting credit, and which became big hits in versions he produced — “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”, a single by Darlene Love: [Excerpt: Darlene Love, “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”] And “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others’ Hearts?”, released as by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but with Love once again on lead vocals: [Excerpt: Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others’ Hearts?”] I say that Spector was also given songwriting credit on those records, because there is some debate about how much he contributed to the songs he’s credited on. Some of his co-writers have said that he would often only change a word or a phrase, and get himself cut in on an already-completed song, while others have said that he contributed a reasonable amount to the songwriting, though he was never the primary writer — for example Barry Mann has said that Spector came up with the middle section for “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. I tend towards the belief that Spector’s contribution to the writing on those songs he’s co-credited on was minimal — in his whole career, the number of songs he wrote on his own seems to be in the single figures, while those other writers wrote dozens of hit records without any contribution from Spector — and so when I talk about records he produced I’ll tend to use phrasing like “a Goffin and King song co-credited to Phil Spector” rather than “a song by Goffin, King, and Spector”, but I don’t want that to give the impression that I’m certain Spector made no contribution.  But while Greenwich and Powers were a mildly successful team, their partnership ended when Greenwich met Jeff Barry at a family Thanksgiving dinner — Greenwich’s uncle was Barry’s cousin. As Greenwich later put it, when they started talking together about music and realised how much they had in common, “I went ‘ooh’, he went ‘mmmhh’, and his wife went ‘I don’t think I like this'”. Soon their previous partnerships, both romantic and musical, were over, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich became the third of the great Brill Building husband-and-wife songwriting teams.  Where Goffin and King had a sophisticated edge to their writing, with a hint of sexual subversion and the mingling of pain and pleasure, and Mann and Weill tried to incorporate social comment into their songs, Barry and Greenwich were happy to be silly — they were writing songs like “Hanky Panky”, “Da Doo Ron Ron”,  and “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy”: [Excerpt: Ellie Greenwich “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy (demo)”] This worked extremely well for them, to the extent that after they broke up a few years later, Barry would continue this formula with songs such as “Sugar Sugar”, “Jingle Jangle” and “Bang Shang A Lang”. Barry and Greenwich’s style was to jam in as many hooks as possible, maybe put in a joke or two, keep the lyrics simple, and get out in two minutes. Very few of their songs were masterpieces of songwriting, but they *were* absolutely perfect templates for masterpieces of production. It sounds like I’m damning them with faint praise, but I’m really not. There is a huge skill involved in what they were doing — if you’re writing some heartwrenching masterpiece about the human condition, people will forgive the odd lapse in craft, but if you’re writing “My baby does the hanky panky”, there’s no margin for error, and you’re not going to get forgiven if you mess it up.  Barry and Greenwich were good enough at this that they became the go-to writers for Spector for the next couple of years. He would record songs by most of the Brill Building teams, but when you think of the classic records Spector produced, they’re far more likely than not to be Barry and Greenwich songs — of the twenty-seven Philles singles released after Barry and Greenwich started writing together, fourteen are credited to Barry/Greenwich/Spector, and other than the joke release “Let’s Dance the Screw”, which we talked about back in the episode on the Crystals, there’s a run of eleven singles released on the label between late 1962 and early 1964 which are credited either as Greenwich/Powers/Spector or Barry/Greenwich/Spector. And so it was naturally to Barry and Greenwich that Spector turned to write the first big hit for the Ronettes — and he let Ronnie hear the writing session. By this time, Spector had become romantically involved with Ronnie, and he invited her into his apartment to sit in the next room and listen to them working on the song — usually they got together in hotels rather than at Spector’s home. While she was there, she found several pairs of women’s shoes — Spector hadn’t told her he was married, and claimed to her when she asked that they belonged to his sister. This should probably have been a sign of things to come. Assuming that Spector did contribute to the writing, I think it’s easy to tell what he brought to “Be My Baby”. If you listen to that Connie Francis record I excerpted earlier, on which Spector is also a credited co-writer, the melody line for the line “that you don’t feel the same” leading into the chorus: [Excerpt: Connie Francis, “Second-Hand Love”] is identical to the melody line leading into the chorus of “Be My Baby”: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] So that transition between the verse and the chorus is likely his work. After rehearsing Ronnie for several weeks in New York, Spector flew her out to LA to make the record in Gold Star Studios, where she spent three days recording the lead vocals. The backing vocals weren’t provided by the other Ronettes, but rather by the Blossoms, with a few extra singers — notably Spector’s assistant Sonny Bono, and his new girlfriend Cher — but what really made the track was not the vocals — although the song was perfect for Ronnie — but Hal Blaine’s drum intro: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] That intro was utterly simple — Blaine was always a minimalist player, someone who would play for the song rather than play fussy fills — but that simple part, combined with the powerful sound that the engineer Larry Levine got, was enough to make it one of the most memorable intros in rock music history. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys talks to this day about how he had to pull over to the side of the road when he first heard it on his car radio, and he would listen to the record incessantly for hours at a time. Incidentally, since I’m talking about the musicians, a lot of sources credit Carol Kaye for playing the bass on this track, so I’m going to say something once, here, which should be taken as read whenever I’m talking about records made in LA in the sixties — Carol Kaye is not only an unreliable source about what records she played on, she is an utterly dishonest one. For those who don’t know, Ms. Kaye was one of the great bass players of the sixties, and also one of the better session guitarists. She played on hundreds of records in the sixties, including many, many, classics from the Beach Boys, Spector, Frank Zappa, and others, and she was the only woman getting regular session work in LA on a rock instrument — there may have been session orchestral musicians who were women, but when it comes to guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, sax, and so on, she was the only one. For that, she deserves a huge amount of credit. Unfortunately, she has never been happy only being credited for the records she actually played on, and insists she played on many, many, more. Some of this can be reasonably put down to lapses in memory more than fifty years later — if you’re playing two or three sessions a day, and you play on a bunch of Beach Boys records, then it’s easy enough to misremember having played on “Surfin’ USA” when maybe you played on a similar-sounding record, and there are things like her claiming to have played on “Good Vibrations”, where there were multiple sessions for that track, and it happened that the takes eventually used weren’t the ones where she was playing bass, but she had no way of knowing that. That’s completely forgivable. But Ms. Kaye also claims, with no evidence whatsoever on her side and a great deal of evidence against her, to have been responsible for playing almost the entire recorded works of James Jamerson, Motown’s main bass player, claiming tapes were secretly shipped from Detroit to LA — something that has been denied by every single person working at Motown, and which can be easily disproved just by listening to the tapes. She claims to have played the bass on “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees — a track recorded in New York, by New York musicians. And whenever anyone points out the falsehoods, rather than saying “I may have made a mistake” she hurls abuse at them, and in some cases libels them on her website. So, Carol Kaye did not play on this record, and we know that because we have the AFM session sheets, which show that the bass players on the track were Ray Pohlman and Jimmy Bond. I’ll link a PDF of that sheet in the show notes. So in future, when I mention someone other than Carol Kaye playing on a song, and Wikipedia or somewhere says she played on it, bear this in mind. Two people who did play on the record were Bill Pitman and Tommy Tedesco, and this is why the B-side, an instrumental, is named “Tedesco and Pitman”. Spector was enough of a control freak that he didn’t want DJs ever to play the wrong side of his singles, so he stuck instrumental jam sessions by the studio musicians — with the songwriting credited to him rather than to them — on the B-sides. I don’t know about you, but I actually quite like “Tedesco and Pitman”, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the vibraphone: [Excerpt: “The Ronettes” (The Wrecking Crew), Tedesco and Pitman”] “Be My Baby” was a massive hit — it went to number one on the Cashbox chart, though only number two on the Billboard chart, and sold millions of copies. The group were invited on to Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars tour, but Spector wanted Ronnie to be in California to record the follow-up, so the girls’ cousin Elaine filled in for her for the first couple of weeks of the tour, while Ronnie recorded another Barry, Greenwich and Spector song, “Baby I Love You”: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Baby I Love You”] Ronnie didn’t realise it at the time, but Spector was trying to isolate her from the other group members, and from her family. But at first this seemed to her like a sensible way of solving the problem, and she rejoined the tour after the record was made. Soon after this, the group travelled to the UK for a brief tour in early 1964, during which they became friendly with the Beatles — Ronnie had a brief chaste flirtation with John Lennon, and Estelle something a little more with George Harrison. They also got to know their support act on the tour, the Rolling Stones — at least once Ronnie had had a row with Andrew Loog Oldham, as Spector had sent a telegram forbidding the Rolling Stones from spending time with the Ronettes. Once Ronnie pointed out that they were there and Spector wasn’t, the two groups became very friendly — and more than friendly, if Keith Richards’ autobiography is to be believed. On their return to the US, they continued having hits through 1964 — nothing was as big as “Be My Baby”, but they had three more top forty hits that year, with two mediocre records, “The Best Part of Breaking Up” and “Do I Love You?”, co-written by the team of Pete Andreoli and Vini Poncia, and then a return to form with the magnificent “Walking in the Rain”, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill: [Excerpt: The Ronettes Featuring Veronica, “Walking in the Rain”] But Spector was becoming more and more erratic in his personal life, and more and more controlling. I won’t go into too many details here, because we’re going to see a lot more of Phil Spector over the next year or so, but he recorded many great records with the Ronettes which he refused to release, claiming they weren’t quite right — Ronnie has later realised that he was probably trying to sabotage their career so he could have her all to himself, though at the time she didn’t know that. Neither of the two singles they did release in 1965 made the top fifty, and the one single they released in 1966, a return to songs by Barry and Greenwich, only made number one hundred, for one week: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “I Can Hear Music”] Also in 1966, the Ronettes were invited by the Beatles to be their support act on their last ever tour, but once again Spector insisted that Ronnie couldn’t go, because she needed to be in the studio, so Elaine substituted for her again, much to the Beatles’ disappointment. Nothing from the studio sessions during that tour was released. The group broke up in 1967, and the next year Ronnie married Phil Spector, who became ever more controlling and abusive. I won’t go into details of the way he treated her, which you can read all about in her autobiography, but suffice to say that I was completely unsurprised when he murdered a woman in 2003. You’ll probably get some idea of his behaviours when I talk about him in future episodes, but what Ronnie suffered in the years they were together was something no-one should have to go through. By the time she managed to leave him, in June 1972, she had only released one track in years, a song that George Harrison had written for her called “Try Some, Buy Some”, which Spector had recorded with her at Harrison’s insistence, during a period when Spector was working with several of the ex-Beatles and trying to rebuild his own career on the back of them: [Excerpt: Ronnie Spector, “Try Some, Buy Some”] Neither Ronnie nor Spector were particularly keen on the track, and it was a commercial flop — although John Lennon later said that the track had inspired his “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”. Ronnie eventually escaped from Spector’s abuse — leaving the house barefoot, as Spector had stolen her shoes so she couldn’t leave — and started to build a new life for herself, though she would struggle with alcoholism for many years. She got nothing in their divorce settlement, as Spector threatened to hire a hit man to kill her if she tried to get anything from him, and she made a living by touring the nostalgia circuit with various new lineups of Ronettes — the others having given up on their music careers — and while she never had another hit, she did have a recording career. Her solo career got its proper start because of a chance meeting in New York. Her old friend John Lennon saw her on the street and called her over for a chat, and introduced her to the friend he was with, Jimmy Iovine, who was producing an album for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes. Bruce Springsteen had written a song for that band, and Iovine thought it might work well as a duet with Ronnie, and he invited her to the studio that day, and she cut the song with them: [Excerpt: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes, “You Mean So Much To Me”] That song became one of the most popular songs on the album, and so when the Asbury Dukes toured supporting Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, they brought Ronnie along with them to sing on that song and do a couple of her own hits. That led to the E-Street Band themselves backing Ronnie on a single — a version of Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”, a song that Joel had written with her in mind: [Excerpt: Ronnie Spector and the E-Street Band, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”] However, that was a flop, and so were all her later attempts to have comebacks, though she worked with some great musicians over the years. But she was able to continue having a career as a performer, even if she never returned to stardom, and she never made much money from her hits. She did, though, sing on one more top-ten hit, singing backing vocals on Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight”: [Excerpt: Eddie Money, “Take Me Home Tonight”] Phil Spector continued to earn money from his ex-wife for a long time after their divorce. By 1998, when the Ronettes finally sued Spector for unpaid royalties, they had earned, between them, a total of $14,482.30 in royalties from all their hit records — the amount that came from a single 1964 royalty payment. In court, Spector argued that he didn’t owe them any more, and indeed that *they* still owed *him* money, because the cost of recording their singles meant that they had never actually earned more money than they cost. Eventually, after a series of appeals, the group members each got about half a million dollars in 2002 — obviously a great deal of money, but a small fraction of what they actually earned. Spector, who was on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, prevented the Ronettes from being inducted out of spite towards his ex until he was imprisoned, at which point they were finally recognised, in 2007.  Ronnie continues to perform, and seems to have a happy life. Estelle, sadly, did not — she suffered from anorexia and schizophrenia, spent a period of time homeless, and died in 2009. Nedra became a born-again Christian shortly after the group split up, and recorded a couple of unsuccessful albums of Christian music in the seventies, before going off to work in real estate. In September last year, it was announced that a film is going to be made of Ronnie Spector’s life story.  It’s nice to know that there’ll be something out there telling her story with her as the protagonist, rather than as a background character in the story of her abusive husband.

    Episode 110: “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 9, 2021

    Episode 110 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Be My Baby”, and at the career of the Ronettes and Ronnie Spector. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Little Saint Nick” by the Beach Boys. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 110: "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 9, 2021 45:20

      Episode 110 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Be My Baby", and at the career of the Ronettes and Ronnie Spector.  Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.   Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Erratum I say Ray Peterson's version of "Tell Laura I Love Her" was an American number one. It wasn't -- it only made number seven.   Resources As always, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. A lot of resources were used for this episode. Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette by Ronnie Spector and Vince Waldron is Ronnie's autobiography and was the main source. Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson is a good overview of the Brill Building scene, and provided me with the information on Barry and Greenwich. I've referred to two biographies of Spector in this episode, Phil Spector: Out of His Head by Richard Williams and He's a Rebel by Mark Ribkowsky. And information on the Wrecking Crew largely comes from The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman. There are many compilations available with some of the hits Spector produced, but I recommend getting Back to Mono, a four-CD overview of his career containing all the major singles put out by Philles. If you want something just covering Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, The Very Best of Ronnie Spector  covers all the Ronettes hits and the best of her solo career. And the AFM contract listing the musicians on "Be My Baby" can be found here.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Today we're going to take a look at the record that, more than anything, ensured Phil Spector's place in popular music history -- a record that changed the lives of several people who heard it for the better, and changed the life of its singer for the worse, and one which has the most imitated drum intro in the world. We're going to look at "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"] Before I start this one, two things need saying. The first is that this episode, by necessity, deals with spousal abuse. As always, I will try to discuss the issue with sensitivity, and touch on it as briefly as possible, but if you worry that it might upset you, please either skip this episode, or read the transcript to see if you'll be OK listening to it. I imagine that very few people will be upset by anything I say here, but it's always a possibility. And secondly, I'd like to apologise for this episode being so late. I had a major disruption in my personal life over Christmas -- one of those really bad life events that only happens once or twice in most people's lifetimes -- and that made it impossible for me to get any work done at all for the last couple of weeks. I'm now able to work again, and this should not be anything that affects the podcast for the rest of the year. Anyway, enough about that, let's get on with the story. The story of the Ronettes begins when Ronnie Bennett, a mixed-race girl from Harlem, became obsessed with the sound of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers: [Excerpt: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"] Ronnie became the Teenagers' biggest fan, and even managed to arrange a meeting between herself and Lymon when they were both thirteen, but had her illusions torn away when he turned up drunk and made a pass at her. But that didn't stop her from trying her best to imitate Lymon's vocals, and forming a vocal group with several friends and relatives. That group had a male lead singer, but when they made their first appearance on one of the Harlem Apollo's talent shows, the lead singer got stage fright and couldn't start singing when he got on stage. Ronnie stepped forward and took over the lead vocal, and the group went down well enough even with the Apollo's notoriously hostile audience that a smaller group of them decided to start performing regularly together. The group took the name Ronnie and the Relatives, and consisted of Ronnie, her sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra Talley. They originally only performed at private parties, bar mitzvahs and the like, but they soon reached the attention of Stu Phillips at Colpix Records, a label owned by the film studio Columbia Pictures. The first single by Ronnie and the Relatives was not a success -- "I Want a Boy" came out in August 1961 and didn't chart: [Excerpt: Ronnie and the Relatives, "I Want a Boy"] And nor did their second, "I'm Gonna Quit While I'm Ahead": [Excerpt: Ronnie and the Relatives, "I'm Gonna Quit While I'm Ahead"] Those records did apparently sell to at least one person, though, as when Ronnie met President Clinton in 1997, he asked her to sign a record, and specifically got her to sign an album of those early recordings for Colpix. While the girls were not having any commercial success, they did manage to accidentally get themselves a regular gig at the most important nightclub in New York. They went to the Peppermint Lounge, just as the Twist craze was at its height, and as they were underage they dressed up especially well in order to make themselves look more grown up so they could get in. Their ruse worked better than they expected. As they were all dressed the same, the club's manager assumed they were the dancers he'd booked, who hadn't shown up. He came out and told them to get on stage and start dancing, and so of course they did what he said, and started dancing to the Twist sounds of Joey Dee and the Starliters: [Excerpt: Joey Dee and the Starliters, "The Peppermint Twist"] The girls' dancing went down well, and then the band started playing "What'd I Say?", a favourite song of Ronnie's and one the group did in their own act, and Ronnie danced over to David Brigati, who was singing lead on the song, and started dancing close to him. He handed her the mic as a joke, and she took over the song. They got a regular spot at the Peppermint Lounge, dancing behind the Starliters for their whole show and joining them on vocals for a few numbers every night. Inspired by the Bobbettes and the Marvelettes, Ronnie and Estelle's mother suggested changing the group's name. She suggested "the Rondettes", and they dropped the "d", becoming the Ronettes. The singles they released on ColPix under the new name did no better than the others, but they were such an important part of the Peppermint Lounge that when the Lounge's owners opened a second venue in Florida, the girls went down there with the Starliters and were part of the show.  That trip to Florida gave them two very different experiences. The first was that they got to see segregation firsthand for the first time, and they didn't like it -- especially when they, as light-skinned mixed-race women, were read as tanned white women and served in restaurants which then refused to serve their darker-skinned mothers. But the second was far more positive. They met Murray the K, who since Alan Freed had been driven out of his job had become the most popular DJ in New York. Murray was down in Florida for a holiday, and was impressed enough by the girls' dancing that he told them if they were ever in New York and wanted a spot on one of his regular shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre they should let him know. They replied that they lived in New York and went to those shows all the time -- of course they wanted to perform on his shows. They became regular performers at the Brooklyn Fox, where they danced between the other, bigger, acts, sang backing vocals, did a song or two themselves, and took part in comedy sketches with Murray. It was at these shows, as well, that they developed the look they would become famous with -- huge hair piled up on top of their heads, tons of mascara, and tight skirts slit to show their legs. It was a style inspired by street fashion rather than by what the other girl groups were wearing, and it made them incredibly popular with the Fox audience. But the Ronettes, even under their new name, and even with the backing of New York's most prominent DJ, were still not selling any records. They knew they were good, and the reaction to their stage performances proved as much, so they decided that the problem must be with Colpix. And so in 1963 they made a New Year's resolution -- they were going to get Phil Spector to produce them.  By this time, Spector was becoming very well known in the music industry as a hit maker. We already saw in the recent episode on the Crystals how he was making hits for that group and the Blossoms, but he was also making hits with studio groups like Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, who he took into the top ten with a remake of the old Disney song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah": [Excerpt: Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah"] and as well as the records he was putting out on Philles, he was also working as a freelance producer for people like Connie Francis, producing her top ten hit "Second-Hand Love": [Excerpt: Connie Francis, "Second-Hand Love"] So the Ronettes were convinced that he could make them into the stars they knew they had the potential to be. The group had no idea how to get in touch with Spector, so they tried the direct route -- Estelle called directory enquiries, got the number for Philles Records, and called and asked to be put through to Spector. She was as astonished as anyone when he agreed to talk to her -- and it turned out that he'd seen the group regularly at the Brooklyn Fox and was interested in working with them.  At their audition for Spector, the group first performed a close-harmony version of "When the Red Red Robin Goes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along", which they'd been taught by their singing teacher. Spector told them that he wanted to hear what they did when they were singing for themselves, not for a teacher, and so Ronnie launched into "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"  It only took her getting to the second line of the song before Spector yelled at her to stop -- "THAT is the voice I've been looking for!" The Ronettes' first recordings for Spector weren't actually issued as by the Ronettes at all. To start with, he had them record a version of a song by the writing team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, "Why Don't They Let Us Fall In Love?", but didn't release it at the time. It was later released as by "Veronica", the name under which he released solo records by Ronnie: [Excerpt: Veronica, "Why Don't They Let Us Fall In Love?"] But at the time, when Ronnie asked him when the record was coming out, Spector answered "Never". He explained to her that it was a good record, but it wasn't a number one, and he was still working on their first number one record. Their next few recordings were covers of then-current dance hits, like "The Twist": [Excerpt, "The Crystals", "The Twist"] And "The Wah-Watusi", one of the few times that one of the other Ronettes took the lead rather than Ronnie, as Nedra sang lead: [Excerpt, "The Crystals", "The Wah-Watusi"] But these, and two other tracks, were released as album tracks on a Crystals album, credited to the Crystals rather than the Ronettes. The song that eventually became the group's first hit, "Be My Baby", was mostly written by one of the many husband-and-wife songwriting teams that had developed at the Brill Building, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Barry had started out as a performer who occasionally wrote, putting out records like "It's Called Rock and Roll": [Excerpt: Jeff Barry, "It's Called Rock and Roll"] But while his performing career had gone nowhere, he'd started to have some success as a songwriter, writing "Teenage Sonata" for Sam Cooke: [Excerpt: Sam Cooke, "Teenage Sonata"] And "Tell Laura I Love Her", which was recorded by several people, but the biggest hit version was the American number one by Ray Peterson: [Excerpt: Ray Peterson, "Tell Laura I Love Her"] Ellie Greenwich had also started as a performer, recording "Silly Isn't It?" under the name Ellie Gaye: [Excerpt: Ellie Gaye, "Silly, Isn't It?"] She'd become one of the most important demo singers in New York, and had also started writing songs. She'd first collaborated with Doc Pomus, cowriting songs like "This is It", which had been a flop single for Jay and the Americans: [Excerpt: Jay and the Americans, "This is It"] She'd then been taken on by Trio Music, Leiber and Stoller's company, where she had largely collaborated with another writer named Tony Powers. Trio had first refusal on anything the two of them wrote, and if Leiber and Stoller didn't like it, they could take the song elsewhere. Greenwich and Powers had their biggest successes with songs that Leiber and Stoller rejected, which they sold to Aaron Schroeder. And they'd started up a collaboration with Phil Spector -- although Spector and Greenwich's first meeting had not exactly gone smoothly. He'd gone into her office to hear her play a song that she thought would be suitable for the Paris Sisters, but had kept wandering out of the office, and had kept looking at himself in a mirror and primping himself rather than listen to her song. Eventually she said to him  "Listen to me, you little prick. Did you come to look at yourself or to hear my songs?", and she didn't make that sale. But later on, Spector became interested in a song she'd sold to Schroeder, and made an appointment to meet her and talk about her writing some stuff for him -- that second meeting, which Spector didn't realise was with someone he'd already made a bad impression on, Spector turned up four hours late.  But despite that, Greenwich and Powers wrote several songs for Spector, who was also given songwriting credit, and which became big hits in versions he produced -- "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry", a single by Darlene Love: [Excerpt: Darlene Love, "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry"] And "Why Do Lovers Break Each Others' Hearts?", released as by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but with Love once again on lead vocals: [Excerpt: Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, "Why Do Lovers Break Each Others' Hearts?"] I say that Spector was also given songwriting credit on those records, because there is some debate about how much he contributed to the songs he's credited on. Some of his co-writers have said that he would often only change a word or a phrase, and get himself cut in on an already-completed song, while others have said that he contributed a reasonable amount to the songwriting, though he was never the primary writer -- for example Barry Mann has said that Spector came up with the middle section for "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". I tend towards the belief that Spector's contribution to the writing on those songs he's co-credited on was minimal -- in his whole career, the number of songs he wrote on his own seems to be in the single figures, while those other writers wrote dozens of hit records without any contribution from Spector -- and so when I talk about records he produced I'll tend to use phrasing like "a Goffin and King song co-credited to Phil Spector" rather than "a song by Goffin, King, and Spector", but I don't want that to give the impression that I'm certain Spector made no contribution.  But while Greenwich and Powers were a mildly successful team, their partnership ended when Greenwich met Jeff Barry at a family Thanksgiving dinner -- Greenwich's uncle was Barry's cousin. As Greenwich later put it, when they started talking together about music and realised how much they had in common, "I went 'ooh', he went 'mmmhh', and his wife went 'I don't think I like this'". Soon their previous partnerships, both romantic and musical, were over, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich became the third of the great Brill Building husband-and-wife songwriting teams.  Where Goffin and King had a sophisticated edge to their writing, with a hint of sexual subversion and the mingling of pain and pleasure, and Mann and Weill tried to incorporate social comment into their songs, Barry and Greenwich were happy to be silly -- they were writing songs like "Hanky Panky", "Da Doo Ron Ron",  and "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy": [Excerpt: Ellie Greenwich "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy (demo)"] This worked extremely well for them, to the extent that after they broke up a few years later, Barry would continue this formula with songs such as "Sugar Sugar", "Jingle Jangle" and "Bang Shang A Lang". Barry and Greenwich's style was to jam in as many hooks as possible, maybe put in a joke or two, keep the lyrics simple, and get out in two minutes. Very few of their songs were masterpieces of songwriting, but they *were* absolutely perfect templates for masterpieces of production. It sounds like I'm damning them with faint praise, but I'm really not. There is a huge skill involved in what they were doing -- if you're writing some heartwrenching masterpiece about the human condition, people will forgive the odd lapse in craft, but if you're writing "My baby does the hanky panky", there's no margin for error, and you're not going to get forgiven if you mess it up.  Barry and Greenwich were good enough at this that they became the go-to writers for Spector for the next couple of years. He would record songs by most of the Brill Building teams, but when you think of the classic records Spector produced, they're far more likely than not to be Barry and Greenwich songs -- of the twenty-seven Philles singles released after Barry and Greenwich started writing together, fourteen are credited to Barry/Greenwich/Spector, and other than the joke release "Let's Dance the Screw", which we talked about back in the episode on the Crystals, there's a run of eleven singles released on the label between late 1962 and early 1964 which are credited either as Greenwich/Powers/Spector or Barry/Greenwich/Spector. And so it was naturally to Barry and Greenwich that Spector turned to write the first big hit for the Ronettes -- and he let Ronnie hear the writing session. By this time, Spector had become romantically involved with Ronnie, and he invited her into his apartment to sit in the next room and listen to them working on the song -- usually they got together in hotels rather than at Spector's home. While she was there, she found several pairs of women's shoes -- Spector hadn't told her he was married, and claimed to her when she asked that they belonged to his sister. This should probably have been a sign of things to come. Assuming that Spector did contribute to the writing, I think it's easy to tell what he brought to “Be My Baby”. If you listen to that Connie Francis record I excerpted earlier, on which Spector is also a credited co-writer, the melody line for the line “that you don't feel the same” leading into the chorus: [Excerpt: Connie Francis, “Second-Hand Love”] is identical to the melody line leading into the chorus of “Be My Baby”: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”] So that transition between the verse and the chorus is likely his work. After rehearsing Ronnie for several weeks in New York, Spector flew her out to LA to make the record in Gold Star Studios, where she spent three days recording the lead vocals. The backing vocals weren't provided by the other Ronettes, but rather by the Blossoms, with a few extra singers -- notably Spector's assistant Sonny Bono, and his new girlfriend Cher -- but what really made the track was not the vocals -- although the song was perfect for Ronnie -- but Hal Blaine's drum intro: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"] That intro was utterly simple -- Blaine was always a minimalist player, someone who would play for the song rather than play fussy fills -- but that simple part, combined with the powerful sound that the engineer Larry Levine got, was enough to make it one of the most memorable intros in rock music history. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys talks to this day about how he had to pull over to the side of the road when he first heard it on his car radio, and he would listen to the record incessantly for hours at a time. Incidentally, since I'm talking about the musicians, a lot of sources credit Carol Kaye for playing the bass on this track, so I'm going to say something once, here, which should be taken as read whenever I'm talking about records made in LA in the sixties -- Carol Kaye is not only an unreliable source about what records she played on, she is an utterly dishonest one. For those who don't know, Ms. Kaye was one of the great bass players of the sixties, and also one of the better session guitarists. She played on hundreds of records in the sixties, including many, many, classics from the Beach Boys, Spector, Frank Zappa, and others, and she was the only woman getting regular session work in LA on a rock instrument -- there may have been session orchestral musicians who were women, but when it comes to guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, sax, and so on, she was the only one. For that, she deserves a huge amount of credit. Unfortunately, she has never been happy only being credited for the records she actually played on, and insists she played on many, many, more. Some of this can be reasonably put down to lapses in memory more than fifty years later -- if you're playing two or three sessions a day, and you play on a bunch of Beach Boys records, then it's easy enough to misremember having played on "Surfin' USA" when maybe you played on a similar-sounding record, and there are things like her claiming to have played on "Good Vibrations", where there were multiple sessions for that track, and it happened that the takes eventually used weren't the ones where she was playing bass, but she had no way of knowing that. That's completely forgivable. But Ms. Kaye also claims, with no evidence whatsoever on her side and a great deal of evidence against her, to have been responsible for playing almost the entire recorded works of James Jamerson, Motown's main bass player, claiming tapes were secretly shipped from Detroit to LA -- something that has been denied by every single person working at Motown, and which can be easily disproved just by listening to the tapes. She claims to have played the bass on "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees -- a track recorded in New York, by New York musicians. And whenever anyone points out the falsehoods, rather than saying "I may have made a mistake" she hurls abuse at them, and in some cases libels them on her website. So, Carol Kaye did not play on this record, and we know that because we have the AFM session sheets, which show that the bass players on the track were Ray Pohlman and Jimmy Bond. I'll link a PDF of that sheet in the show notes. So in future, when I mention someone other than Carol Kaye playing on a song, and Wikipedia or somewhere says she played on it, bear this in mind. Two people who did play on the record were Bill Pitman and Tommy Tedesco, and this is why the B-side, an instrumental, is named "Tedesco and Pitman". Spector was enough of a control freak that he didn't want DJs ever to play the wrong side of his singles, so he stuck instrumental jam sessions by the studio musicians -- with the songwriting credited to him rather than to them -- on the B-sides. I don't know about you, but I actually quite like "Tedesco and Pitman", but then I've always had a soft spot for the vibraphone: [Excerpt: "The Ronettes" (The Wrecking Crew), Tedesco and Pitman"] "Be My Baby" was a massive hit -- it went to number one on the Cashbox chart, though only number two on the Billboard chart, and sold millions of copies. The group were invited on to Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars tour, but Spector wanted Ronnie to be in California to record the follow-up, so the girls' cousin Elaine filled in for her for the first couple of weeks of the tour, while Ronnie recorded another Barry, Greenwich and Spector song, "Baby I Love You": [Excerpt: The Ronettes, "Baby I Love You"] Ronnie didn't realise it at the time, but Spector was trying to isolate her from the other group members, and from her family. But at first this seemed to her like a sensible way of solving the problem, and she rejoined the tour after the record was made. Soon after this, the group travelled to the UK for a brief tour in early 1964, during which they became friendly with the Beatles -- Ronnie had a brief chaste flirtation with John Lennon, and Estelle something a little more with George Harrison. They also got to know their support act on the tour, the Rolling Stones -- at least once Ronnie had had a row with Andrew Loog Oldham, as Spector had sent a telegram forbidding the Rolling Stones from spending time with the Ronettes. Once Ronnie pointed out that they were there and Spector wasn't, the two groups became very friendly -- and more than friendly, if Keith Richards' autobiography is to be believed. On their return to the US, they continued having hits through 1964 -- nothing was as big as "Be My Baby", but they had three more top forty hits that year, with two mediocre records, "The Best Part of Breaking Up" and "Do I Love You?", co-written by the team of Pete Andreoli and Vini Poncia, and then a return to form with the magnificent "Walking in the Rain", written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill: [Excerpt: The Ronettes Featuring Veronica, "Walking in the Rain"] But Spector was becoming more and more erratic in his personal life, and more and more controlling. I won't go into too many details here, because we're going to see a lot more of Phil Spector over the next year or so, but he recorded many great records with the Ronettes which he refused to release, claiming they weren't quite right -- Ronnie has later realised that he was probably trying to sabotage their career so he could have her all to himself, though at the time she didn't know that. Neither of the two singles they did release in 1965 made the top fifty, and the one single they released in 1966, a return to songs by Barry and Greenwich, only made number one hundred, for one week: [Excerpt: The Ronettes, "I Can Hear Music"] Also in 1966, the Ronettes were invited by the Beatles to be their support act on their last ever tour, but once again Spector insisted that Ronnie couldn't go, because she needed to be in the studio, so Elaine substituted for her again, much to the Beatles' disappointment. Nothing from the studio sessions during that tour was released. The group broke up in 1967, and the next year Ronnie married Phil Spector, who became ever more controlling and abusive. I won't go into details of the way he treated her, which you can read all about in her autobiography, but suffice to say that I was completely unsurprised when he murdered a woman in 2003. You'll probably get some idea of his behaviours when I talk about him in future episodes, but what Ronnie suffered in the years they were together was something no-one should have to go through. By the time she managed to leave him, in June 1972, she had only released one track in years, a song that George Harrison had written for her called "Try Some, Buy Some", which Spector had recorded with her at Harrison's insistence, during a period when Spector was working with several of the ex-Beatles and trying to rebuild his own career on the back of them: [Excerpt: Ronnie Spector, "Try Some, Buy Some"] Neither Ronnie nor Spector were particularly keen on the track, and it was a commercial flop -- although John Lennon later said that the track had inspired his "Happy Xmas (War is Over)". Ronnie eventually escaped from Spector's abuse -- leaving the house barefoot, as Spector had stolen her shoes so she couldn't leave -- and started to build a new life for herself, though she would struggle with alcoholism for many years. She got nothing in their divorce settlement, as Spector threatened to hire a hit man to kill her if she tried to get anything from him, and she made a living by touring the nostalgia circuit with various new lineups of Ronettes -- the others having given up on their music careers -- and while she never had another hit, she did have a recording career. Her solo career got its proper start because of a chance meeting in New York. Her old friend John Lennon saw her on the street and called her over for a chat, and introduced her to the friend he was with, Jimmy Iovine, who was producing an album for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes. Bruce Springsteen had written a song for that band, and Iovine thought it might work well as a duet with Ronnie, and he invited her to the studio that day, and she cut the song with them: [Excerpt: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes, "You Mean So Much To Me"] That song became one of the most popular songs on the album, and so when the Asbury Dukes toured supporting Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, they brought Ronnie along with them to sing on that song and do a couple of her own hits. That led to the E-Street Band themselves backing Ronnie on a single -- a version of Billy Joel's "Say Goodbye to Hollywood", a song that Joel had written with her in mind: [Excerpt: Ronnie Spector and the E-Street Band, "Say Goodbye to Hollywood"] However, that was a flop, and so were all her later attempts to have comebacks, though she worked with some great musicians over the years. But she was able to continue having a career as a performer, even if she never returned to stardom, and she never made much money from her hits. She did, though, sing on one more top-ten hit, singing backing vocals on Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight": [Excerpt: Eddie Money, "Take Me Home Tonight"] Phil Spector continued to earn money from his ex-wife for a long time after their divorce. By 1998, when the Ronettes finally sued Spector for unpaid royalties, they had earned, between them, a total of $14,482.30 in royalties from all their hit records -- the amount that came from a single 1964 royalty payment. In court, Spector argued that he didn't owe them any more, and indeed that *they* still owed *him* money, because the cost of recording their singles meant that they had never actually earned more money than they cost. Eventually, after a series of appeals, the group members each got about half a million dollars in 2002 -- obviously a great deal of money, but a small fraction of what they actually earned. Spector, who was on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, prevented the Ronettes from being inducted out of spite towards his ex until he was imprisoned, at which point they were finally recognised, in 2007.  Ronnie continues to perform, and seems to have a happy life. Estelle, sadly, did not -- she suffered from anorexia and schizophrenia, spent a period of time homeless, and died in 2009. Nedra became a born-again Christian shortly after the group split up, and recorded a couple of unsuccessful albums of Christian music in the seventies, before going off to work in real estate. In September last year, it was announced that a film is going to be made of Ronnie Spector's life story.  It's nice to know that there'll be something out there telling her story with her as the protagonist, rather than as a background character in the story of her abusive husband.

    BONUS: A Tribute to Gerry Marsden

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 3, 2021

    I just heard the sad news that Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, has died today aged seventy-eight. As the latest episode of the podcast is late due to personal issues, I thought I’d make this available to the general public – this is a ten-minute Patreon bonus episode I did back in October, on Gerry and the Pacemakers, so it’s here as a little tribute. He’ll be missed. —-more—- Transcript Today we’re going to look at a group that were for a very short while arguably the most successful band to come out of Liverpool, one that set a record that wouldn’t be broken for twenty-one years, and who deserved rather better than the reputation they’ve ended up with. We’re going to look at Gerry and the Pacemakers, and at “How Do You Do It?”: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “How Do You Do It?”] Gerry and the Pacemakers were, in the very early sixties, one of the bands that was most strongly competing for the title of Liverpool’s best band. They were so good that before he joined the Beatles, for a while Richy Starkey was considering quitting the Hurricanes and joining them, even though it would mean switching instruments — Gerry’s brother Freddy Marsden was the Pacemakers’ drummer, but they didn’t have a bass player, and everyone was sure that Richy could pick it up no problem.  The Pacemakers had been around before the Beatles, and they shared similar musical tastes, and even a similar repertoire — the Beatles dropped “What’d I Say” from their sets because the Pacemakers were also doing it, and when Paul started to sing “Over the Rainbow” in the Beatles’ sets, the Pacemakers responded by adding the old Rogers and Hammerstein song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to match it. Both bands played Hamburg backing Tony Sheridan, and both were playing songs by Arthur Alexander, Larry Williams, Richie Barrett and Carl Perkins. The main difference between the two was that the Pacemakers would have a slightly harder-edged sound — the Pacemakers only had one real singer, Gerry, and so they couldn’t do the kind of girl-group harmonies that the Beatles would do, and so they couldn’t move off into the songs by the Shirelles or the Cookies that the Beatles performed, and instead had to fill out their set with bluesy songs like Little Walter’s “My Babe”: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “My Babe (live)”] There was a friendly but real rivalry between the Beatles and the Pacemakers, so much so that when Mersey Beat had a popularity poll among its readers, the Beatles bought up as many copies of the magazine as they could and filled out the poll under fake names with themselves at the top and the Pacemakers at the bottom, to make sure they won and the Pacemakers only came second (Rory Storm and the Hurricanes tried filling out the poll with themselves at the top too, but Bill Harry disqualified forty ballots written in green ink in the same handwriting, posted from the same letter box, so they came in fourth). It even looked for a while like the Pacemakers would be the very first Liverpool band to release a record — a local promoter called Sam Leach was planning to set up his own label and record them, before they realised he was better at coming up with plans than coming up with money. The Pacemakers also had their own PA system rather than just relying on the club ones, at a time when no other band did. Indeed, when Brian Epstein took the Decca A&R man Mike Smith to see the Beatles at the Cavern, when it looked like they would be signed to Decca, he seems to have taken Smith out for dinner before the show because the Pacemakers were the support act, and Paul McCartney was worried that if Smith saw the Pacemakers’ set he might choose to sign them rather than the Beatles. So it made sense that when Epstein was looking to sign up some more artists to a management contract, he signed the Pacemakers. And it made sense that once the Beatles had had some success, George Martin trusted Epstein enough to sign Gerry and the Pacemakers. And as there was no awkward publishing company contract to deal with like there had been with the Beatles, he could give them “How Do You Do It?”, the song that he’d tried to foist on the Beatles: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “How Do You Do It?”]qqqq Martin’s ear for a hit was proved right, and the song went to number one — and it was the first record from a Liverpool group to do so on what is now considered the “official” chart, though it was then just one of several. Unsurprisingly, the second single released was another Mitch Murray song — one that was almost identical to “How Do You Do It?”: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “I Like It”]  That also went to number one, as did their third single, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”] That last became almost the unofficial anthem of Liverpool after the Pacemakers’ release, and is to this day still sung by fans of Liverpool Football Club at every match. It also made them the first act ever to have their first three singles go to number one in the British charts, something that wouldn’t be repeated until another Liverpool act, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, twenty-one years later. After that, the group started recording songs Gerry wrote himself, and he proved to be quite good. Their first original single, “I’m the One”, went to number two, just behind “Needles and Pins” by the Searchers, and was very much in the same style as their first two hits, but he also started writing a few more interesting and meditative songs, most notably “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, which became their first and biggest hit in the US: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”] But the Pacemakers came along, sadly, at *just* the wrong time. As the first of the Liverpool bands other than the Beatles to get signed, they were initially pushed into the same all-round entertainer role that groups like Cliff Richard and the Shadows were in, and their early singles were light pop even as their first album was full of covers of Arthur Alexander songs like “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues”. By mid-1964 the light pop style of their early singles was considered hopelessly passe when compared to groups like the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds — all of whom were playing the same kind of material that the Pacemakers’ pre-fame club sets and first album had been made up of. On the evidence of the small number of live recordings of the Pacemakers, had they been signed even a year later, they would have fit easily into that millieu, and while Gerry Marsden’s friendly singing voice and persona would never have allowed him to become a menacing, rebellious figure like Mick Jagger, the group could easily have had a much longer period of success and respect than they did: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “What’d I Say (Live)”] The Pacemakers split up in 1966, but Gerry later revived the name for tours on the nostalgia circuit. He’s now retired due to health problems, but I saw him on what was his last tour a couple of years ago, and he was still good enough that you could understand why, for at least a few weeks, he had once been bigger than the Beatles.

    BONUS: A Tribute to Gerry Marsden

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 3, 2021

    I just heard the sad news that Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, has died today aged seventy-eight. As the latest episode of the podcast is late due to personal issues, I thought I’d make this available to the general public – this is a ten-minute Patreon bonus episode I did back in October, on Gerry and the Pacemakers, so it’s here as a little tribute. He’ll be missed. (more…)

    BONUS: A Tribute to Gerry Marsden

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 3, 2021 11:32

    I just heard the sad news that Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, has died today aged seventy-eight. As the latest episode of the podcast is late due to personal issues, I thought I'd make this available to the general public – this is a ten-minute Patreon bonus episode I did back in October, on Gerry and the Pacemakers, so it's here as a little tribute. He'll be missed. ----more---- Transcript Today we're going to look at a group that were for a very short while arguably the most successful band to come out of Liverpool, one that set a record that wouldn't be broken for twenty-one years, and who deserved rather better than the reputation they've ended up with. We're going to look at Gerry and the Pacemakers, and at "How Do You Do It?": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "How Do You Do It?"] Gerry and the Pacemakers were, in the very early sixties, one of the bands that was most strongly competing for the title of Liverpool's best band. They were so good that before he joined the Beatles, for a while Richy Starkey was considering quitting the Hurricanes and joining them, even though it would mean switching instruments -- Gerry's brother Freddy Marsden was the Pacemakers' drummer, but they didn't have a bass player, and everyone was sure that Richy could pick it up no problem.  The Pacemakers had been around before the Beatles, and they shared similar musical tastes, and even a similar repertoire -- the Beatles dropped "What'd I Say" from their sets because the Pacemakers were also doing it, and when Paul started to sing "Over the Rainbow" in the Beatles' sets, the Pacemakers responded by adding the old Rogers and Hammerstein song "You'll Never Walk Alone" to match it. Both bands played Hamburg backing Tony Sheridan, and both were playing songs by Arthur Alexander, Larry Williams, Richie Barrett and Carl Perkins. The main difference between the two was that the Pacemakers would have a slightly harder-edged sound -- the Pacemakers only had one real singer, Gerry, and so they couldn't do the kind of girl-group harmonies that the Beatles would do, and so they couldn't move off into the songs by the Shirelles or the Cookies that the Beatles performed, and instead had to fill out their set with bluesy songs like Little Walter's "My Babe": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "My Babe (live)"] There was a friendly but real rivalry between the Beatles and the Pacemakers, so much so that when Mersey Beat had a popularity poll among its readers, the Beatles bought up as many copies of the magazine as they could and filled out the poll under fake names with themselves at the top and the Pacemakers at the bottom, to make sure they won and the Pacemakers only came second (Rory Storm and the Hurricanes tried filling out the poll with themselves at the top too, but Bill Harry disqualified forty ballots written in green ink in the same handwriting, posted from the same letter box, so they came in fourth). It even looked for a while like the Pacemakers would be the very first Liverpool band to release a record -- a local promoter called Sam Leach was planning to set up his own label and record them, before they realised he was better at coming up with plans than coming up with money. The Pacemakers also had their own PA system rather than just relying on the club ones, at a time when no other band did. Indeed, when Brian Epstein took the Decca A&R man Mike Smith to see the Beatles at the Cavern, when it looked like they would be signed to Decca, he seems to have taken Smith out for dinner before the show because the Pacemakers were the support act, and Paul McCartney was worried that if Smith saw the Pacemakers' set he might choose to sign them rather than the Beatles. So it made sense that when Epstein was looking to sign up some more artists to a management contract, he signed the Pacemakers. And it made sense that once the Beatles had had some success, George Martin trusted Epstein enough to sign Gerry and the Pacemakers. And as there was no awkward publishing company contract to deal with like there had been with the Beatles, he could give them "How Do You Do It?", the song that he'd tried to foist on the Beatles: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "How Do You Do It?"]qqqq Martin's ear for a hit was proved right, and the song went to number one -- and it was the first record from a Liverpool group to do so on what is now considered the "official" chart, though it was then just one of several. Unsurprisingly, the second single released was another Mitch Murray song -- one that was almost identical to "How Do You Do It?": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "I Like It"]  That also went to number one, as did their third single, "You'll Never Walk Alone": [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "You'll Never Walk Alone"] That last became almost the unofficial anthem of Liverpool after the Pacemakers' release, and is to this day still sung by fans of Liverpool Football Club at every match. It also made them the first act ever to have their first three singles go to number one in the British charts, something that wouldn't be repeated until another Liverpool act, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, twenty-one years later. After that, the group started recording songs Gerry wrote himself, and he proved to be quite good. Their first original single, "I'm the One", went to number two, just behind "Needles and Pins" by the Searchers, and was very much in the same style as their first two hits, but he also started writing a few more interesting and meditative songs, most notably "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying", which became their first and biggest hit in the US: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying"] But the Pacemakers came along, sadly, at *just* the wrong time. As the first of the Liverpool bands other than the Beatles to get signed, they were initially pushed into the same all-round entertainer role that groups like Cliff Richard and the Shadows were in, and their early singles were light pop even as their first album was full of covers of Arthur Alexander songs like "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues". By mid-1964 the light pop style of their early singles was considered hopelessly passe when compared to groups like the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds -- all of whom were playing the same kind of material that the Pacemakers' pre-fame club sets and first album had been made up of. On the evidence of the small number of live recordings of the Pacemakers, had they been signed even a year later, they would have fit easily into that millieu, and while Gerry Marsden's friendly singing voice and persona would never have allowed him to become a menacing, rebellious figure like Mick Jagger, the group could easily have had a much longer period of success and respect than they did: [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, “What'd I Say (Live)”] The Pacemakers split up in 1966, but Gerry later revived the name for tours on the nostalgia circuit. He's now retired due to health problems, but I saw him on what was his last tour a couple of years ago, and he was still good enough that you could understand why, for at least a few weeks, he had once been bigger than the Beatles.

    Apology for Delay

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 1, 2021

    This is just a quick apology for the delay with this week’s episode. I had some very, very bad news in my personal life last weekend, and haven’t been able to focus properly. I hope to have the next episode up in a couple of days’ time, and things should be back to normal, at least as far as the schedule goes, after that.​

    Apology for Delay

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 1, 2021 0:19

    This is just a quick apology for the delay with this week's episode. I had some very, very bad news in my personal life last weekend, and haven't been able to focus properly. I hope to have the next episode up in a couple of days' time, and things should be back to normal, at least as far as the schedule goes, after that.​

    Episode 109: “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul, and Mary

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 23, 2020

    Episode one hundred and nine of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene and the civil rights movement. Those of you who get angry at me whenever I say anything that acknowledges the existence of racism may want to skip this one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Crystals. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 109: “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul, and Mary

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 23, 2020

    Episode one hundred and nine of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene and the civil rights movement. Those of you who get angry at me whenever I say anything that acknowledges the existence of racism may want to skip this one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Crystals. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ (more…)

    Episode 109: “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul and Mary

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 23, 2020

    Episode one hundred and nine of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene and the civil rights movement. Those of you who get angry at me whenever I say anything that acknowledges the existence of racism may want to skip this one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.   Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Crystals. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ —-more—- Resources As always, I’ve created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.   This compilation contains all Peter, Paul and Mary’s hits. I have used *many* books for this episode, most of which I will also be using for future episodes on Dylan: The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald is the fascinating and funny autobiography of Dylan’s mentor in his Greenwich Village period, including his interactions with Albert Grossman. Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan is a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography. Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon is a song-by-song look at every song Dylan ever wrote, as is Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin. Heylin also wrote the most comprehensive and accurate biography of Dylan, Behind the Shades. I’ve also used Robert Shelton’s No Direction Home, which is less accurate, but which is written by someone who knew Dylan. Only one book exists on Peter, Paul, and Mary themselves, and it is a hideously overpriced coffee table book consisting mostly of photos, so I wouldn’t bother with it.  Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World by Billy Bragg has some great information on the British folk scene of the fifties and sixties. And Singing From the Floor is an oral history of British folk clubs, including a chapter on Dylan’s 1962 visit to London.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript   Today we’re going to look at the first manufactured pop band we will see in this story, but not the last — a group cynically put together by a manager to try and cash in on a fad, but one who were important enough that in a small way they helped to change history. We’re going to look at the March on Washington and the civil rights movement, at Bob Dylan blossoming into a songwriter and the English folk revival, and at “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul, and Mary: [Excerpt: Peter, Paul and Mary, “Blowin’ in the Wind”] Albert Grossman was an unusual figure in the world of folk music. The folk revival had started out as an idealistic movement, mostly centred on Pete Seeger, and outside a few ultra-commercial acts like the Kingston Trio, most of the people involved were either doing it for the love of the music, or as a means of advancing their political goals. No doubt many of the performers on the burgeoning folk circuit were also quite keen to make money — there are very few musicians who don’t like being able to eat and have a home to live in — but very few of the people involved were primarily motivated by increasing their income. Grossman was a different matter. He was a businessman, and he was interested in money more than anything else — and for that he was despised by many of the people in the Greenwich Village folk scene. But he was, nonetheless, someone who was interested in making money *from folk music* specifically. And in the late fifties and early sixties this was less of a strange idea than it might have seemed. We talked back in the episode on “Drugstore Rock and Roll” about how rock and roll music was starting to be seen as the music of the teenager, and how “teenager” was, for the first time, becoming a marketing category into which people could be segmented. But the thing about music that’s aimed at a particular age group is that once you’re out of that age group you are no longer the target audience for that music. Someone who was sixteen in 1956 was twenty in 1960, and people in their twenties don’t necessarily want to be listening to music aimed at teenagers. But at the same time, those people didn’t want to listen to the music that their parents were listening to.  There’s no switch that gets flipped on your twentieth birthday that means that you suddenly no longer like Little Richard but instead like Rosemary Clooney. So there was a gap in the market, for music that was more adult than rock and roll was perceived as being, but which still set itself apart from the pop music that was listened to by people in their thirties and forties. And in the late fifties and early sixties, that gap seemed to be filled by a commercialised version of the folk revival.  In particular, Harry Belafonte had a huge run of massive hit albums with collections of folk, calypso, and blues songs, presented in a way that was acceptable to an older, more settled audience while still preserving some of the rawness of the originals, like his version of Lead Belly’s “Midnight Special”, recorded in 1962 with a young Bob Dylan on harmonica: [Excerpt: Harry Belafonte, “Midnight Special”] Meanwhile, the Kingston Trio had been having huge hits with cleaned-up versions of old folk ballads like “Tom Dooley”: [Excerpt: The Kingston Trio, “Tom Dooley”] So Grossman believed that there was a real market out there for something that was as clean and bright and friendly as the Kingston Trio, but with just a tiny hint of the bohemian Greenwich Village atmosphere to go with it. Something that wouldn’t scare TV people and DJs, but which might seem just the tiniest bit more radical than the Kingston Trio did. Something mass-produced, but which seemed more authentic. So Grossman decided to put together what we would now call a manufactured pop group. It would be a bit like the Kingston Trio, but ever so slightly more political, and rather than being three men, it would be two men and a woman. Grossman had very particular ideas about what he wanted — he wanted a waifish, beautiful woman at the centre of the group, he wanted a man who brought a sense of folk authenticity, and he wanted someone who could add a comedy element to the performances, to lighten them.  For the woman, he chose Mary Travers, who had been around the folk scene for several years at this point, starting out with a group called the Song Swappers, who had recorded an album of union songs with Pete Seeger back in 1955: [Excerpt: Pete Seeger and the Song Swappers, “Solidarity Forever”] Travers was chosen in part because of her relative shyness — she had never wanted to be a professional singer, and her introverted nature made her perfect for the image Grossman wanted — an image that was carefully cultivated, to the point that when the group were rehearsing in Florida, Grossman insisted Travers stay inside so she wouldn’t get a tan and spoil her image. As the authentic male folk singer, Grossman chose Peter Yarrow, who was the highest profile of the three, as he had performed as a solo artist for a number of years and had appeared on TV and at the Newport Folk Festival, though he had not yet recorded. And for the comedy element, he chose Noel Stookey, who regularly performed as a comedian around Greenwich Village — in the group’s very slim autobiography, Stookey compares himself to two other comedians on that circuit, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, comparisons that were a much better look in 2009 when the book was published than they are today. Grossman had originally wanted Dave Van Ronk to be the low harmony singer, rather than Stookey, but Van Ronk turned him down flat, wanting no part of a Greenwich Village Kingston Trio, though he later said he sometimes looked at his bank account rather wistfully. The group’s name was, apparently, inspired by a line in the old folk song “I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago”, which was recorded by many people, but most famously by Elvis Presley in the 1970s: [Excerpt: Elvis Presley, “I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago”] The “Peter, Paul, and Moses” from that song became Peter, Paul and Mary — Stookey started going by his middle name, Paul, on stage, in order to fit the group name, though he still uses Noel in his daily life. While Peter, Paul, and Mary were the front people of the group, there were several other people who were involved in the creative process — the group used a regular bass player, Bill Lee, the father of the filmmaker Spike Lee, who played on all their recordings, as well as many other recordings from Greenwich Village folk musicians. They also had, as their musical director, a man named Milt Okun who came up with their arrangements and helped them choose and shape the material. Grossman shaped this team into a formidable commercial force. Almost everyone who talks about Grossman compares him to Colonel Tom Parker, and the comparison is a reasonable one. Grossman was extremely good at making money for his acts, so long as a big chunk of the money came to him. There’s a story about him signing Odetta, one of the great folk artists of the period, and telling her “you can stay with your current manager, and make a hundred thousand dollars this year, and he’ll take twenty percent, or you can come with me, and make a quarter of a million dollars, but I’ll take fifty percent”. That was the attitude that Grossman took to everyone. He cut himself in to every contract, salami-slicing his artists’ royalties at each stage. But it can’t be denied that his commercial instincts were sound. Peter, Paul, and Mary’s first album was a huge success. The second single from the album, their version of the old Weavers song “If I Had a Hammer”, written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, went to number ten on the pop charts: [Excerpt: Peter, Paul and Mary, “If I Had a Hammer”] And the album itself went to number one and eventually went double-platinum — a remarkable feat for a collection of songs that, however prettily arranged, contained a fairly uncompromising selection of music from the folk scene, with songs by Seeger, Dave van Ronk, and Rev. Gary Davis mixing with traditional songs like “This Train” and originals by Stookey and Yarrow. Their second album was less successful at first, with its first two singles flopping. But the third, a pretty children’s song by Yarrow and his friend Leonard Lipton, went to number two on the pop charts and number one on the Adult Contemporary charts: [Excerpt: Peter, Paul, and Mary, “Puff the Magic Dragon”] Incidentally, Leonard Lipton, who wrote that lyric, became independently wealthy from the royalties from the song, and used the leisure that gave him to pursue his passion of inventing 3D projection systems, which eventually made him an even wealthier man — if you’ve seen a 3D film in the cinema in the last couple of decades, it’s almost certainly been using the systems Lipton invented. So Peter, Paul, and Mary were big stars, and having big hits. And Albert Grossman was constantly on the lookout for more material for them. And eventually he found it, and the song that was to make both him, his group, and its writer, very, very rich, in the pages of Broadside magazine. When we left Bob Dylan, he was still primarily a performer, and not really known for his songwriting, but he had already written a handful of songs, and he was being drawn into the more political side of the folk scene. In large part this was because of his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, with whom Dylan was very deeply in love, and who was a very political person indeed. Dylan had political views, but wasn’t particularly driven by them — Rotolo very much was, and encouraged him to write songs about politics. For much of early 1962, Dylan was being pulled in two directions at once — he was writing songs inspired by Robert Johnson, and trying to adapt Johnson’s style to fit himself, but at the same time he was writing songs like “The Death of Emmett Till”, about the 1955 murder of a Black teenager which had galvanised the civil rights movement, and “The Ballad of Donald White”, about a Black man on death row. Dylan would later be very dismissive of these attempts at topicality, saying “I realize now that my reasons and motives behind it were phony, I didn’t have to write it; I was bothered by many other things that I pretended I wasn’t bothered by, in order to write this song about Emmett Till, a person I never even knew”. But at the time they got him a great deal of attention in the small US folk-music scene, when they were published in magazines like Broadside and Sing Out, which collected political songs. Most of these early songs are juvenilia, with a couple of exceptions like the rather marvellous anti-bomb song “Let Me Die in My Footsteps”, but the song that changed everything for Dylan was a different matter.  “Blowin’ in the Wind” was inspired by the melody of the old nineteenth century song “No More Auction Block”, a song that is often described as a “spiritual”, though in fact it’s a purely secular song about slavery: [Excerpt: Odetta, “No More Auction Block”] That song had seen something of a revival in folk circles in the late fifties, especially because part of its melody had been incorporated into another song, “We Shall Overcome”, which had become an anthem of the civil rights movement when it was revived and adapted by Pete Seeger: [Excerpt: Pete Seeger, “We Shall Overcome”] Dylan took this melody, with its associations with the fight for the rights of Black people, and came up with new lyrics, starting with the line “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?” He wrote two verses of the song — the first and last verses — in a short burst of inspiration, and a few weeks later came back to it and added another verse, the second, which incorporated allusions to the Biblical prophet Ezekiel, and which is notably less inspired than those earlier verses. In later decades, many people have looked at the lyrics to the song and seen it as the first of what would become a whole subgenre of non-protest protest songs — they’ve seen the abstraction of “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” as being nice-sounding rhetoric that doesn’t actually mean anything, in much the same way as something like, say, “Another Day in Paradise” or “Eve of Destruction”, songs that make nonspecific complaints about nonspecific bad things. But while “Blowin’ in the Wind” is a song that has multiple meanings and can be applied to multiple situations, as most good songs can, that line was, at the time in which it was written, a very concrete question. The civil rights movement was asking for many things — for the right to vote, for an end to segregation, for an end to police brutality, but also for basic respect and acknowledgment of Black people’s shared humanity. We’ve already heard in a couple of past episodes Big Bill Broonzy singing “When Do I Get to Be Called a Man?”: [Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, “When Do I Get to Be Called a Man?”] Because at the time, it was normal for white people to refer to Black men as “boy”. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, one of the greatest pieces of writing of the twentieth century, a letter in large part about how white moderates were holding Black people back with demands to be “reasonable” and let things take their time: “when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society… when your first name becomes“ and here Dr. King uses a racial slur which I, as a white man, will not say, “and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness”—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.” King’s great letter was written in 1963, less than a year after Dylan was writing his song but before it became widely known. In the context of 1962, the demand to call a man a man was a very real political issue, not an aphorism that could go in a Hallmark card. Dylan recorded the song in June 1962, during the sessions for his second album, which at the time was going under the working title “Bob Dylan’s Blues”: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind”] By the time he recorded it, two major changes had happened to him. The first was that Suze Rotolo had travelled to Spain for several months, leaving him bereft — for the next few months, his songwriting took a turn towards songs about either longing for the return of a lost love, like “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, one of his most romantic songs, or about how the protagonist doesn’t even need his girlfriend anyway and she can leave if she likes, see if he cares, like “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. The other change was that Albert Grossman had become his manager, largely on the strength of “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which Grossman thought had huge potential. Grossman signed Dylan up, taking twenty percent of all his earnings — including on the contract with Columbia Records Dylan already had — and got him signed to a new publisher, Witmark Publishing, where the aptly-named Artie Mogull thought that “Blowin’ in the Wind” could be marketed. Grossman took his twenty percent of Dylan’s share of the songwriting money as his commission from Dylan — and fifty percent of Witmark’s share of the money as his commission from Witmark, meaning that Dylan was getting forty percent of the money for writing the songs, while Grossman was getting thirty-five percent. Grossman immediately got involved in the recording of Dylan’s second album, and started having personality clashes with John Hammond. It was apparently Grossman who suggested that Dylan “go electric” for the first time, with the late-1962 single “Mixed-Up Confusion”: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Mixed-Up Confusion”] Neither Hammond nor Dylan liked that record, and it seemed clear for the moment that the way forward for Dylan was to continue in an acoustic folk vein. Dylan was also starting to get inspired more by English folk music, and incorporate borrowings from English music into his songwriting. That’s most apparent in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, written in September 1962. Dylan took the structure of that song from the old English ballad, “Lord Randall”: [Excerpt: Ewan MacColl, “Lord Randall”] He reworked that structure into a song of apocalypse, again full of the Biblical imagery he’d tried in the second verse of  “Blowin’ in the Wind”, but this time more successfully incorporating it: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”] His interest in English folk music was to become more important in his songwriting in the following months, as Dylan was about to travel to the UK and encounter the British folk music scene. A TV director called Philip Saville had seen Dylan performing in New York, and had decided he would be perfect for the role of a poet in a TV play he was putting on, Madhouse in Castle Street, and got Dylan flown over to perform in it. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have told Dylan what would be involved in this, and he proved incapable of learning his lines or acting, so the show was rethought — the role of the poet was given to David Warner, later to become one of Britain’s most famous screen actors, and Dylan was cast in a new role as a singer called “Bobby”, who had few or no lines but did get to sing a few songs, including “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which was the first time the song was heard by anyone outside of the New York folk scene. Dylan was in London for about a month, and while he was there he immersed himself in the British folk scene. This scene was in some ways modelled on the American scene, and had some of the same people involved, but it was very different. The initial spark for the British folk revival had come in the late 1940s, when A.L. Lloyd, a member of the Communist Party, had published a book of folk songs he’d collected, along with some Marxist analysis of how folk songs evolved. In the early fifties, Alan Lomax, then in the UK to escape McCarthyism, put Lloyd in touch with Ewan MacColl, a songwriter and performer from Manchester, who we heard earlier singing “Lord Randall”. MacColl, like Lloyd, was a Communist, but the two also shared a passion for older folk songs, and they began recording and performing together, recording traditional songs like “The Handsome Cabin Boy”: [Excerpt: Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, “The Handsome Cabin Boy”] MacColl and Lloyd latched on to the skiffle movement, and MacColl started his own club night, Ballads and Blues, which tried to push the skifflers in the direction of performing more music based in English traditional music. This had already been happening to an extent with things like the Vipers performing “Maggie May”, a song about a sex worker in Liverpool: [Excerpt: The Vipers Skiffle Group, “Maggie May”] But this started to happen a lot more with MacColl’s encouragement. At one point in 1956, there was even a TV show hosted by Lomax and featuring a band that included Lomax, MacColl, Jim Bray, the bass player from Chris Barber’s band, Shirley Collins — a folk singer who was also Lomax’s partner — and Peggy Seeger, who was Pete Seeger’s sister and who had also entered into a romantic relationship with MacColl, whose most famous song, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, was written both about and for her: [Excerpt: Peggy Seeger, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”] It was Seeger who instigated what became the most notable feature at the Ballads and Blues club and its successor the Singer’s Club. She’d burst out laughing when she saw Long John Baldry sing “Rock Island Line”, because he was attempting to sing in an American accent. As someone who had actually known Lead Belly, she found British imitations of his singing ludicrous, and soon there was a policy at the clubs that people would only sing songs that were originally sung with their normal vowel sounds. So Seeger could only sing songs from the East Coast of the US, because she didn’t have the Western vowels of a Woody Guthrie, while MacColl could sing English and Scottish songs, but nothing from Wales or Ireland. As the skiffle craze died down, it splintered into several linked scenes. We’ve already seen how in Liverpool and London it spawned guitar groups like the Shadows and the Beatles, while in London it also led to the electric blues scene. It also led to a folk scene that was very linked to the blues scene at first, but was separate from it, and which was far more political, centred around MacColl. That scene, like the US one, combined topical songs about political events from a far-left viewpoint with performances of traditional songs, but in the case of the British one these were mostly old sea shanties and sailors’ songs, and the ancient Child Ballads, rather than Appalachian country music — though a lot of the songs have similar roots.  And unlike the blues scene, the folk scene spread all over the country. There were clubs in Manchester, in Liverpool (run by the group the Spinners), in Bradford, in Hull (run by the Waterson family) and most other major British cities. The musicians who played these venues were often inspired by MacColl and Lloyd, but the younger generation of musicians often looked askance at what they saw as MacColl’s dogmatic approach, preferring to just make good music rather than submit it to what they saw as MacColl’s ideological purity test, even as they admired his musicianship and largely agreed with his politics. And one of these younger musicians was a guitarist named Martin Carthy, who was playing a club called the King and Queen on Goodge Street when he saw Bob Dylan walk in. He recognised Dylan from the cover of Sing Out! magazine, and invited him to get up on stage and do a few numbers. For the next few weeks, Carthy showed Dylan round the folk scene — Dylan went down great at the venues where Carthy normally played, and at the Roundhouse, but flopped around the venues that were dominated by MacColl, as the people there seemed to think of Dylan as a sort of cut-rate Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, as Elliot had been such a big part of the skiffle and folk scenes. Carthy also taught Dylan a number of English folk songs, including “Lord Franklin”: [Excerpt: Martin Carthy, “Lord Franklin”] and “Scarborough Fair”: [Excerpt: Martin Carthy, “Scarborough Fair”] Dylan immediately incorporated the music he’d learned from Carthy into his songwriting, basing “Bob Dylan’s Dream” on “Lord Franklin”, and even more closely basing “GIrl From the North Country” on “Scarborough Fair”: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, “Girl From The North Country”] After his trip to London, Dylan went over to Europe to see if he could catch up with Suze, but she had already gone back to New York — their letters to each other crossed in the post. On his return, they reunited at least for a while, and she posed with him for the photo for the cover of what was to be his second album.  Dylan had thought that album completed when he left for England, but he soon discovered that there were problems with the album — the record label didn’t want to release the comedy talking blues “Talking John Birch Society Paranoid Blues”, because they thought it might upset the fascists in the John Birch Society. The same thing would later make sure that Dylan never played the Ed Sullivan Show, because when he was booked onto the show he insisted on playing that song, and so they cancelled the booking. In this case, though, it gave him an excuse to remove what he saw as the weaker songs on the album, including “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, and replace them with four new songs, three of them inspired by traditional English folk songs — “Bob Dylan’s Dream”,  “Girl From the North Country”, and “Masters of War” which took its melody from the old folk song “Nottamun Town” popularised on the British folk circuit by an American singer, Jean Ritchie: [Excerpt: Jean Ritchie, “Nottamun Town”] These new recordings weren’t produced by John Hammond, as the rest of the album was. Albert Grossman had been trying from the start to get total control over Dylan, and didn’t want Hammond, who had been around before Grossman, involved in Dylan’s career. Instead, a new producer named Tom Wilson was in charge. Wilson was a remarkable man, but seemed an odd fit for a left-wing folk album. He was one of the few Black producers working for a major label, though he’d started out as an indie producer. He was a Harvard economics graduate, and had been president of the Young Republicans during his time there — he remained a conservative all his life — but he was far from conservative in his musical tastes. When he’d left university, he’d borrowed nine hundred dollars and started his own record label, Transition, which had put out some of the best experimental jazz of the fifties, produced by Wilson, including the debut albums by Sun Ra: [Excerpt: Sun Ra, “Brainville”] and Cecil Taylor: [Excerpt: Cecil Taylor, “Bemsha Swing”] Wilson later described his first impressions of Dylan: “I didn’t even particularly like folk music. I’d been recording Sun Ra and Coltrane … I thought folk music was for the dumb guys. This guy played like the dumb guys, but then these words came out. I was flabbergasted.” Wilson would soon play a big part in Dylan’s career, but for now his job was just to get those last few tracks for the album recorded. In the end, the final recording session for Dylan’s second album was more than a year after the first one, and it came out into a very different context from when he’d started recording it. Because while Dylan was putting the finishing touches on his second album, Peter Paul and Mary were working on their third, and they were encouraged by Grossman to record three Bob Dylan songs, since that way Grossman would make more money from them. Their version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” came out as a single a few weeks after The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan came out, and sold 300,000 copies in the first week: [Excerpt: Peter, Paul, and Mary, “Blowin’ in the Wind”] The record went to number two on the charts, and their followup, “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright”, another Dylan song, went top ten as well.  “Blowin’ in the Wind” became an instant standard, and was especially picked up by Black performers, as it became a civil rights anthem. Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers said later that she was astonished that a white man could write a line like “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?”, saying “That’s what my father experienced” — and the Staple Singers recorded it, of course: [Excerpt: The Staple Singers, “Blowin’ in the Wind”] as did Sam Cooke: [Excerpt: Sam Cooke, “Blowin’ in the Wind”] And Stevie Wonder: [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, “Blowin’ in the Wind”] But the song’s most important performance came from Peter, Paul and Mary, performing it on a bill with Dylan, Odetta, Joan Baez, and Mahalia Jackson in August 1963, just as the song had started to descend the charts. Because those artists were the entertainment for the March on Washington, in which more than a quarter of a million people descended on Washington both to support President Kennedy’s civil rights bill and to speak out and say that it wasn’t going far enough. That was one of the great moments in American political history, full of incendiary speeches like the one by John Lewis: [Excerpt: John Lewis, March on Washington speech] But the most memorable moment at that march  came when Dr. King was giving his speech. Mahalia Jackson shouted out “Tell them about the dream, Martin”, and King departed from his prepared words and instead improvised based on themes he’d used in other speeches previously, coming out with some of the most famous words ever spoken: [Excerpt: Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream”] The civil rights movement was more than one moment, however inspiring, and white people like myself have a tendency to reduce it just to Dr. King, and to reduce Dr. King just to those words — which is one reason why I quoted from Letter From Birmingham Jail earlier, as that is a much less safe and canonised piece of writing. But it’s still true to say that if there is a single most important moment in the history of the post-war struggle for Black rights, it was that moment, and because of “Blowin’ in the Wind”, both Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary were minor parts of that event. After 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary quickly became passe with the British Invasion, only having two more top ten hits, one with a novelty song in 1967 and one with “Leaving on a Jet Plane” in 1969. They split up in 1970, and around that time Yarrow was arrested and convicted for a sexual offence involving a fourteen-year-old girl, though he was later pardoned by President Carter. The group reformed in 1978 and toured the nostalgia circuit until Mary’s death in 2009. The other two still occasionally perform together, as Peter and Noel Paul. Bob Dylan, of course, went on to bigger things after “Blowin’ in the Wind” suddenly made him into the voice of a generation — a position he didn’t ask for and didn’t seem to want. We’ll be hearing much more from him. And we’ll also be hearing more about the struggle for Black civil rights, as that’s a story, much like Dylan’s, that continues to this day.

    tv american new york world man black europe english washington death history england uk war british masters ireland spain western 3d club mrs rev harvard britain biblical beatles martin luther king jr air manchester wind liverpool rock and roll blues scottish singer wales paradise leaving santa claus east coast djs shadows transition bob dylan spike lee bill cosby hammer shades hallmark elvis presley destruction woody allen lloyd ballad floor longtime communist marxist crystals appalachian bradford hull little richard hammond i have robert johnson communist party greenwich village tilt puff incidentally rock music tom wilson years ago joan baez emmett till woody guthrie lipton midnight special pete seeger sun ra grossman mccarthyism travers madhouse billy bragg harry belafonte british invasion david warner mavis staples radicals another day roundhouse vipers john hammond ballads spinners suze ed sullivan show mahalia jackson leadbelly north country so peter rosemary clooney yarrow ramblin think twice lomax alan lomax weavers waterson bill lee while peter staple singers magic dragon newport folk festival adult contemporary blowin hard rain john birch society seeger kingston trio peter paul if i had broadside big bill broonzy we shall overcome jet plane gary davis peggy seeger shirley collins maggie may scarborough fair sing out dave van ronk ewan maccoll chris barber freewheelin peter yarrow tom dooley colonel tom parker young republicans martin carthy this train maccoll girl from the north country carthy long john baldry solidarity forever think twice it elijah wald no direction home mary travers albert grossman child ballads be called stookey macdougal street ronk rockers how skiffle changed tilt araiza
    Episode 109: "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter, Paul and Mary

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 23, 2020 45:31

    Episode one hundred and nine of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Blowin' in the Wind", Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene and the civil rights movement. Those of you who get angry at me whenever I say anything that acknowledges the existence of racism may want to skip this one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.   Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by the Crystals. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ ----more---- Resources As always, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.   This compilation contains all Peter, Paul and Mary's hits. I have used *many* books for this episode, most of which I will also be using for future episodes on Dylan: The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald is the fascinating and funny autobiography of Dylan's mentor in his Greenwich Village period, including his interactions with Albert Grossman. Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan is a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography. Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon is a song-by-song look at every song Dylan ever wrote, as is Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin. Heylin also wrote the most comprehensive and accurate biography of Dylan, Behind the Shades. I've also used Robert Shelton's No Direction Home, which is less accurate, but which is written by someone who knew Dylan. Only one book exists on Peter, Paul, and Mary themselves, and it is a hideously overpriced coffee table book consisting mostly of photos, so I wouldn't bother with it.  Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World by Billy Bragg has some great information on the British folk scene of the fifties and sixties. And Singing From the Floor is an oral history of British folk clubs, including a chapter on Dylan's 1962 visit to London.   Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript   Today we're going to look at the first manufactured pop band we will see in this story, but not the last -- a group cynically put together by a manager to try and cash in on a fad, but one who were important enough that in a small way they helped to change history. We're going to look at the March on Washington and the civil rights movement, at Bob Dylan blossoming into a songwriter and the English folk revival, and at "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter, Paul, and Mary: [Excerpt: Peter, Paul and Mary, "Blowin' in the Wind"] Albert Grossman was an unusual figure in the world of folk music. The folk revival had started out as an idealistic movement, mostly centred on Pete Seeger, and outside a few ultra-commercial acts like the Kingston Trio, most of the people involved were either doing it for the love of the music, or as a means of advancing their political goals. No doubt many of the performers on the burgeoning folk circuit were also quite keen to make money -- there are very few musicians who don't like being able to eat and have a home to live in -- but very few of the people involved were primarily motivated by increasing their income. Grossman was a different matter. He was a businessman, and he was interested in money more than anything else -- and for that he was despised by many of the people in the Greenwich Village folk scene. But he was, nonetheless, someone who was interested in making money *from folk music* specifically. And in the late fifties and early sixties this was less of a strange idea than it might have seemed. We talked back in the episode on "Drugstore Rock and Roll" about how rock and roll music was starting to be seen as the music of the teenager, and how "teenager" was, for the first time, becoming a marketing category into which people could be segmented. But the thing about music that's aimed at a particular age group is that once you're out of that age group you are no longer the target audience for that music. Someone who was sixteen in 1956 was twenty in 1960, and people in their twenties don't necessarily want to be listening to music aimed at teenagers. But at the same time, those people didn't want to listen to the music that their parents were listening to.  There's no switch that gets flipped on your twentieth birthday that means that you suddenly no longer like Little Richard but instead like Rosemary Clooney. So there was a gap in the market, for music that was more adult than rock and roll was perceived as being, but which still set itself apart from the pop music that was listened to by people in their thirties and forties. And in the late fifties and early sixties, that gap seemed to be filled by a commercialised version of the folk revival.  In particular, Harry Belafonte had a huge run of massive hit albums with collections of folk, calypso, and blues songs, presented in a way that was acceptable to an older, more settled audience while still preserving some of the rawness of the originals, like his version of Lead Belly's "Midnight Special", recorded in 1962 with a young Bob Dylan on harmonica: [Excerpt: Harry Belafonte, "Midnight Special"] Meanwhile, the Kingston Trio had been having huge hits with cleaned-up versions of old folk ballads like "Tom Dooley": [Excerpt: The Kingston Trio, "Tom Dooley"] So Grossman believed that there was a real market out there for something that was as clean and bright and friendly as the Kingston Trio, but with just a tiny hint of the bohemian Greenwich Village atmosphere to go with it. Something that wouldn't scare TV people and DJs, but which might seem just the tiniest bit more radical than the Kingston Trio did. Something mass-produced, but which seemed more authentic. So Grossman decided to put together what we would now call a manufactured pop group. It would be a bit like the Kingston Trio, but ever so slightly more political, and rather than being three men, it would be two men and a woman. Grossman had very particular ideas about what he wanted -- he wanted a waifish, beautiful woman at the centre of the group, he wanted a man who brought a sense of folk authenticity, and he wanted someone who could add a comedy element to the performances, to lighten them.  For the woman, he chose Mary Travers, who had been around the folk scene for several years at this point, starting out with a group called the Song Swappers, who had recorded an album of union songs with Pete Seeger back in 1955: [Excerpt: Pete Seeger and the Song Swappers, "Solidarity Forever"] Travers was chosen in part because of her relative shyness -- she had never wanted to be a professional singer, and her introverted nature made her perfect for the image Grossman wanted -- an image that was carefully cultivated, to the point that when the group were rehearsing in Florida, Grossman insisted Travers stay inside so she wouldn't get a tan and spoil her image. As the authentic male folk singer, Grossman chose Peter Yarrow, who was the highest profile of the three, as he had performed as a solo artist for a number of years and had appeared on TV and at the Newport Folk Festival, though he had not yet recorded. And for the comedy element, he chose Noel Stookey, who regularly performed as a comedian around Greenwich Village -- in the group's very slim autobiography, Stookey compares himself to two other comedians on that circuit, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, comparisons that were a much better look in 2009 when the book was published than they are today. Grossman had originally wanted Dave Van Ronk to be the low harmony singer, rather than Stookey, but Van Ronk turned him down flat, wanting no part of a Greenwich Village Kingston Trio, though he later said he sometimes looked at his bank account rather wistfully. The group's name was, apparently, inspired by a line in the old folk song "I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago", which was recorded by many people, but most famously by Elvis Presley in the 1970s: [Excerpt: Elvis Presley, "I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago"] The "Peter, Paul, and Moses" from that song became Peter, Paul and Mary -- Stookey started going by his middle name, Paul, on stage, in order to fit the group name, though he still uses Noel in his daily life. While Peter, Paul, and Mary were the front people of the group, there were several other people who were involved in the creative process -- the group used a regular bass player, Bill Lee, the father of the filmmaker Spike Lee, who played on all their recordings, as well as many other recordings from Greenwich Village folk musicians. They also had, as their musical director, a man named Milt Okun who came up with their arrangements and helped them choose and shape the material. Grossman shaped this team into a formidable commercial force. Almost everyone who talks about Grossman compares him to Colonel Tom Parker, and the comparison is a reasonable one. Grossman was extremely good at making money for his acts, so long as a big chunk of the money came to him. There's a story about him signing Odetta, one of the great folk artists of the period, and telling her "you can stay with your current manager, and make a hundred thousand dollars this year, and he'll take twenty percent, or you can come with me, and make a quarter of a million dollars, but I'll take fifty percent". That was the attitude that Grossman took to everyone. He cut himself in to every contract, salami-slicing his artists' royalties at each stage. But it can't be denied that his commercial instincts were sound. Peter, Paul, and Mary's first album was a huge success. The second single from the album, their version of the old Weavers song "If I Had a Hammer", written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, went to number ten on the pop charts: [Excerpt: Peter, Paul and Mary, "If I Had a Hammer"] And the album itself went to number one and eventually went double-platinum -- a remarkable feat for a collection of songs that, however prettily arranged, contained a fairly uncompromising selection of music from the folk scene, with songs by Seeger, Dave van Ronk, and Rev. Gary Davis mixing with traditional songs like "This Train" and originals by Stookey and Yarrow. Their second album was less successful at first, with its first two singles flopping. But the third, a pretty children's song by Yarrow and his friend Leonard Lipton, went to number two on the pop charts and number one on the Adult Contemporary charts: [Excerpt: Peter, Paul, and Mary, "Puff the Magic Dragon"] Incidentally, Leonard Lipton, who wrote that lyric, became independently wealthy from the royalties from the song, and used the leisure that gave him to pursue his passion of inventing 3D projection systems, which eventually made him an even wealthier man -- if you've seen a 3D film in the cinema in the last couple of decades, it's almost certainly been using the systems Lipton invented. So Peter, Paul, and Mary were big stars, and having big hits. And Albert Grossman was constantly on the lookout for more material for them. And eventually he found it, and the song that was to make both him, his group, and its writer, very, very rich, in the pages of Broadside magazine. When we left Bob Dylan, he was still primarily a performer, and not really known for his songwriting, but he had already written a handful of songs, and he was being drawn into the more political side of the folk scene. In large part this was because of his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, with whom Dylan was very deeply in love, and who was a very political person indeed. Dylan had political views, but wasn't particularly driven by them -- Rotolo very much was, and encouraged him to write songs about politics. For much of early 1962, Dylan was being pulled in two directions at once -- he was writing songs inspired by Robert Johnson, and trying to adapt Johnson's style to fit himself, but at the same time he was writing songs like "The Death of Emmett Till", about the 1955 murder of a Black teenager which had galvanised the civil rights movement, and "The Ballad of Donald White", about a Black man on death row. Dylan would later be very dismissive of these attempts at topicality, saying "I realize now that my reasons and motives behind it were phony, I didn’t have to write it; I was bothered by many other things that I pretended I wasn’t bothered by, in order to write this song about Emmett Till, a person I never even knew". But at the time they got him a great deal of attention in the small US folk-music scene, when they were published in magazines like Broadside and Sing Out, which collected political songs. Most of these early songs are juvenilia, with a couple of exceptions like the rather marvellous anti-bomb song "Let Me Die in My Footsteps", but the song that changed everything for Dylan was a different matter.  "Blowin' in the Wind" was inspired by the melody of the old nineteenth century song "No More Auction Block", a song that is often described as a "spiritual", though in fact it's a purely secular song about slavery: [Excerpt: Odetta, "No More Auction Block"] That song had seen something of a revival in folk circles in the late fifties, especially because part of its melody had been incorporated into another song, "We Shall Overcome", which had become an anthem of the civil rights movement when it was revived and adapted by Pete Seeger: [Excerpt: Pete Seeger, "We Shall Overcome"] Dylan took this melody, with its associations with the fight for the rights of Black people, and came up with new lyrics, starting with the line "How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?" He wrote two verses of the song -- the first and last verses -- in a short burst of inspiration, and a few weeks later came back to it and added another verse, the second, which incorporated allusions to the Biblical prophet Ezekiel, and which is notably less inspired than those earlier verses. In later decades, many people have looked at the lyrics to the song and seen it as the first of what would become a whole subgenre of non-protest protest songs -- they've seen the abstraction of "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" as being nice-sounding rhetoric that doesn't actually mean anything, in much the same way as something like, say, "Another Day in Paradise" or "Eve of Destruction", songs that make nonspecific complaints about nonspecific bad things. But while "Blowin' in the Wind" is a song that has multiple meanings and can be applied to multiple situations, as most good songs can, that line was, at the time in which it was written, a very concrete question. The civil rights movement was asking for many things -- for the right to vote, for an end to segregation, for an end to police brutality, but also for basic respect and acknowledgment of Black people's shared humanity. We've already heard in a couple of past episodes Big Bill Broonzy singing "When Do I Get to Be Called a Man?": [Excerpt: Big