Many years ago I got an album "Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns" in 1986 on a sale and I loved it, well, not all of it, but a lot of it.
I bought it because it was from the 1970s (1973), was recorded in the South and looked interesting enough. It was also a gatefold and a US pressing which always felt heavy and substantial compared to our thin sleeves here in Australia.
The highlights of that album were "Black Cat Moan”, and “When I Lay My Burden Down” with Furry Lewis’ spoken intro which was magnificent and it was enough to interest me in Southern rock n roll, n funk, n gospel, n soul, n country, n blues.
1970s Southern rock though not necessarily traditional in its look but it was the inevitable descendant of 1950s Southern American rock n roll, the music that started it all. It contains all those elements above, doesn't look for new forms of experimentation and is quite backward looking, always referring to memories and times and people passed.
The music is visceral, emotional and rarely intellectual.
That's not to say it is smart but it is not designed to act on that part of the brain that makes you think (analytically) if music ever should.
I was familiar with the Southern rock style as Elvis Presley was playing a similar music though he was more mainstream (naturally enough) and he peppered his Southern rock albums, with ballads, MOR and other sort of Elvisania.
That's what Elvis does.
But Don Nix was something altogether different and cut from the same cloth.
His music is the descendant of 1954 Memphis if it hadn't gone to the movies, visited the big towns, travelled internationally or, otherwise, incorporated foreign sounds.
I had no idea who Don Nix was and in those pre-internet days and only the smallest of information would come up. He was from Memphis, he was in Memphis band the Mar-Keys, and he backed people at Alabama's famed Muscle Shoals studio.
I must adit when I bought the "Hobos" album it was mainly because "Memphis" was mentioned on the back.
William Donald Nix was Born in Memphis in 1941 and "attended Messick High School with Donald "Duck" Dunn and Steve Cropper of the famed Stax house band Booker T. & the MG's. After graduation, Nix spent a short stint in the Army before returning to Memphis, where he joined Dunn and Cropper, along with Wayne Jackson, Packy Axton, Terry Johnson, and Smoochy Smith, as a saxophonist in the Mar-Keys … The group scored a smash hit with the instrumental "Last Night" on the Satellite label (later Stax/Volt), and Nix went on the road with the group, while a house band from Memphis attempted to recorded follow-up hits under the Mar-Keys' name … After the success of "Last Night" fizzled, Nix returned to Memphis and spent the next several years as a horn for hire, occasionally playing gigs with a re-formed version of the Mar-Keys or backing Stax stars such as William Bell and Carla Thomas … In the mid-'60s, Nix began making trips to L.A. to visit Leon Russell and Carle Radle, friends he'd met through touring. The friendship with Russell, a big producer at the time, landed Nix a position in Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars backing one of Russell's acts, Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Their friendship also provided Nix the opportunity to see how a session was put together, and he began engineering and producing at studios around Memphis such as Stax and Ardent … Nix spent the next several years writing and producing for artists such as Freddie King, Albert King, Sid Selvidge, and Charlie Musselwhite. In 1970, he signed a recording deal with Shelter Records (co-owned by his old friend Leon Russell) and released a solo album, In God We Trust and followed it a year later with Living by the Days. Neither album sold very well, and after a few more attempts, Nix returned to recording other artists, producing records for John Mayall and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section”. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/don-nix-mn0000155572/biography
"Living by the Days" is his second album (his first album "In God We Trust" also came out in 1971) and it is a product of its time and, importantly, its place. Delaney and Bonnie (Nix produced their 1969 album "Home"), The Band and Leon Russell were, also, all doing the same fusions of rock, blues, gospel, and soul and introducing personal observations, and subtle societal commentary into the music, though one that never got in the way of the sound.
The music was everywhere for a while The Allman Brothers Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lonnie Mack, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas, Tony Joe White, Derek and the Dominos, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Jerry Reed, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hank Williams Jr, traced sideways to The Rolling Stones, Ian Matthews Band, and Led Zeppelin, but it never really disappeared, and has continued to be revived in one form or another down through Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Georgia Satellites, The Black Crowes, The Immortal lee County Killers, North Mississippi Allstars and The Kings of Leon, Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket, Hank III and others
This album captures that place and time and could sit comfortably to a revival band. The musicianship, as you'd expect from experienced musicians steeped in this culture and music, is superb. The album compares favourable with The Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" from 1971, and, I don't know for sure which album came first, or whether it was accidental or not but there are similar sounds .. having said that, both albums were recorded at Muscle Shoals studios, Alabama.
The only curious thing that remains to be answered is why is he wearing a Civil War northern states Union uniform on the front and back sleeve?
All songs by Nix unless indicated
Tracks (best in italics)
The Shape I'm In – a church type organ opens this Leon Russell type song (naturally enough as Nix played with Russell … and not the Robbie Robertson song of the same name) which starts off slow but soon works its magic (did Mick Jagger hear this?).
Olena – a good, Southern rock song
I Saw the Light – (Hank Williams) – In your face gospel which is great with a magnificent intro by Furry Lewis but it's not Hank.
She Don't Want a Lover – Lynyrd Skynyrd have been listening I suspect.
Living by the Days – surprising relaxed for the title song.
Going Back to Iuka – a rock shouter. All up front instruments – keyboards, bass and southern rock guitar. Fictional band Blueshammer (and many real bands) would later destroy something like this.
Three Angels – (Lonnie Mack / Don Nix) – very heavy gospel and quite persuasive. CO-writer Lonnie Mack also released the cong on his 1971 album "The Hills of Indiana".
Mary Louise – (Marlin Greene / Don Nix) – a hoot of a song. Thumping and pumping with a hint of Jerry Reed.
My Train's Done Come and Gone – very like something the Band would do and it hold its own.
Anyone have an Adult Cherry Limeade? I want to kick back and listen to this again and again …. I'm keeping it.
Backing came from guitarists Jimmy Johnson, Tippy Armstrong, Gimmer Nicholson and Wayne Perkins, keyboardists Barry Beckett and Chris Stainton, bassists David Hood and Donald Duck Dunn, and drummer Roger Hawkins (Johnson, Beckett, Hood and Hawkins being the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section).
Produced and arranged by Don Nix.
There is a "very special thanks" to late Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips on the back sleeve.
You have to love album art … the front picture is a felt inlay.
There is very little information on this band out there.
They seem to be one of the many power pop bands signed during the New Wave rush of the late1970s.
The Now were:
Jeff Lennon – (Geoff "Lip" Danielik)
Bobby Ore – (Bobby Orefiece)
They were from NYC.
“Hailing from New York City, Jeff Lennon (Geoff "Lip" Danielik), Mamie Francis, Robin Dee and Bobby Ore were The Now. They were playing the Max's Kansas City scene when they signed to RCA distributed Midsong International Records and hooked up with producer Bobby Orlando. An album was "produced, arranged, engineered and concieved" by Mr. Orlando and sold about 200,000 records – enough to warrant a second LP which the band started to record. Then the label literally disappeared from their New York City offices. The band never received a dime and that was the end of The Now. The band splintered off into various bands but none achieved any level of success. A live disc recorded in 1979 was released on CD. Check also the Japanese import from Wizzard In Vinyl that unearths a retrospective from Geoff "Lip" Danielik who during 1978-1981 had 4 bands (Alter Ego, Peroxide, T.K.O and The Now) all which did the major label flirting thing but never quite getting to where they all had hoped. Danielik`s closest call was with The Now, which power poppers from this time period will recall”.https://www.israbox.life/3137504540-the-now-bobby-orlando-presents-the-now-2013-remastered.html
“Hey, I was in "The Now" … there was a live recording (unofficially released) and what's not mentioned is that we did record a complete second album in just one evening "Bad Publicity Is Better Than No Publicity", we were going to mix the record a couple of weeks later when the record company strangely disappeared basically overnight. So it goes in the music world! Oh, and that's correct – none of the band members made a penny – Go”.http://lostbands.blogspot.com.au/2007/04/now.html
Bobby had been into (and in ?) a number of glitter and New York Dolls type bands in the 70s and, seemingly, The Now was his last hurrah for rock n roll and, perhaps, his vision.
All songs were written (or co-written) by him, he also sings lead vocals and the album was "produced, arranged, engineered and conceived" by him.
The album seems to cover almost all the New Wave stylistic motifs … there is ( a lot of) power pop, there are retro 60s sounds, there is punkish new wave, there is garage, there is some Jamaican sounds, there is some pure pop.
The covering of every musical base reeks of New Wave opportunism …
It works because the songs are so genuinely catchy and there is a real sense of fun going on. There is no danger in the music just good times. There is, also, a vivid sense of the past which was always there in the New Wave but with a punch, and directness, as you would expect. It is a bit like what Elvis Costello was doing in England though with a wider musical palette (Costello’s palette expanded later). To that end this album is ambitious and a little ahead of the curve but, importantly, it doesn’t sound too disjointed.
It should have been much bigger because it is much better than a lot of similar albums coming out at the same time.
And, the cover art is superb.
This is great fun and a very good album..
All songs by Bobby Orlando unless noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
Can You Fix Me Up With Her – a 60s flavoured tune.
He's Takin' You To The Movies – some jingle jangle being introduced here over a theme which is very 60s and very power pop.
T.V. Private Eye – (Orlando, Diliece, Orifice) – some reggae-ish sounds creeping in here. Luckily it's short.
You Are The One – more 60s influences with some Ramones light sounds … fun
Reaction – another 60s flavoured winner
What's Her Name – more power pop. I am a sucker for this.
I Wanna Go Steady With You – another fun power pop with more 60s vibes.
Baby I'm Bad – cartoonish punk which sounds like from England circa 1977
Flex Your Muscle – a punk imitation and very punchy.
Christine – (Mamie Danielik) – more punk with creeping keyboard (?) in the background. Better on re-listens. Quite good, though it reminds me on something else I can't put my finger on.
This album is great fun and vastly underrated … I'm keeping it.
"In late 1983 and early 1984, Chris and Neil recorded thirteen of their early songs in New York City with their first producer, Bobby Orlando, better known in the music world as Bobby 'O'. A songwriter and recording artist in his own right as well as producer, Bobby 'O' was the man primarily responsible for (among many other things) the 1982 cult dance classic "Passion" by The Flirts, which proved a major influence on the early style of the Pet Shop Boys".http://www.geowayne.com/newDesign/lists/bobbyo.htm
His voice and guitar are distinctive and even iconic.
He, though, unfairly gets stereotyped as a loud good ol’ boy singer mainly because his big hits (Amos Moses, When You’re Hot You’re Hot etc), were, errr, loud good ol’ boy hits and he reinforced that with the same image on television appearances and in many film roles.
But, Reed was more than that. He was a sensitive soul, not that he would admit it, who would frequently turn to contemplative songs – he put out many covers of gentle folk songs (at a time when folk had waned) and even an album of Jim Croce songs (another gentle giant who tripped between bravado and sensitive in his music).
Likewise he wasn’t afraid of mixing up musical styles. Just about everything was open to his musical palette. He started out in the late 50s in country rockabilly before moving to Nashville and becoming a top sessionman and songwriter before going solo again. Whilst there he dug into his musical memory and stuck his toes in all sorts of country styles (Progressive Country, Traditional Country, Countrypolitan, Cajun) as well as jazz, light blues, folk, rock and popular.
Also, across his music he injects a good dose of humour, and not subtle humour either, but humour which is the equivalent of the broadest slapstick. Despite the fact that country music is littered with humorous songs (probably as a counterweight to the tragic material which is the norm to country music) the overabundance of humorous songs doesn’t endear Reed to contemporary tastemakers who would rather have thematically consistent albums, or a group of songs that reflects a point of view, and, usually, cynical, dour or negative points of view.
So Reed’s eclectic and quirky nature works against him.
The allmusic review of this album sums up that, “A largely eclectic and overproduced work, Ko-Ko Joe isn't a great Jerry Reed album. From the loose Creedence Clearwater Revival meets the Charlie Daniels Band boogie of the title cut, to the countrified Tom Jones-like quality of the more pop-oriented "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "A Stranger to Me," the set lacks consistency. A four-minute mock anti-smoking dialogue, which appears to be more of a comedy piece than anything, is followed by a dead-serious cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain." Anthemic pop songs, straight country, and more blues-oriented songs are also included, making this a rather confusing and difficult listen”http://www.allmusic.com/album/ko-ko-joe-mw0000888189
But, what the allmusic reviewer sees as a fault I see as a strength. The mix of material may just be a bunch of songs randomly selected but they do seem to sum up life with all its changes in emotion, its ups, downs, its humour and sadness.
There is a lot going on and ultimately this hodgepodge isn’t that different to other Jerry Reed albums.
I love my Jerry a little ragged but this album is quite slick (cello, viola, violin, bongos all make appearances) being caught in the wake of Nashville before the rise of outlaw country.
And if you like Jerry Reed there are some treasures here … and it fits all moods. And that works on me, the listener.
Check out my other comments on Reed for biographical details.
The album was produced by Chet Atkins. Jerry Hubbard and jerry reed Hubbard are aliases for Jerry Reed.
Another Puff – (Earl Jarrett, Jerry Hubbard) – Casual humour with a bite. Jerry died in 2008 of complications from emphysema but I have no idea if he was a regular smoker. The "Chester B." referred to in the song is Chester Burton Atkins aka Chet Atkins.
Early Morning Rain – (Gordon Lightfoot) – This is a great version of the song even with the strings. There is something convincing about Southerner singing about being "long ways from home". Bob Dylan recorded Early Morning Rain on his 1970 album "Self Portrait", Elvis Presley released it twice, first on "Elvis Now" (1972) and later on the live album "Elvis in Concert" (1977). It was a small hit for Peter Paul and Mary in 1965 (#91US), George Hamilton IV took it to #9 on the US Country chart in 1966. It even scraped into the UK Top 40 in the last spot, for Paul Weller in 2005. It was also recorded, in 1965, by fellow Canadian husband and wife duo Ian & Sylvia as well as Grateful Dead in the same year. Judy Collins, Chad & Jeremy, Jerry Reed and Jerry Lee Lewis have also recorded the song – Neil Young recorded it on his recent album, "A Letter Home"(2014). Lightfoot recorded the song in 1964 but it didn’t appear by till his self-titled solo album in 1966 (he re-recorded it for "Gord’s Gold") (1975)).https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Morning_Rain
A Brand New Day – (John Ragsdale) – it seems to have been first recorded by Jerry. A big mid tempo power ballad, country style with some quirky delay on the guitar.
Not As A Sweetheart (But Just As A Friend) – (Cindy Walker) – this country weepie was written by the magnificent Cindy Walker. This may be the first recording of the song, though Jim Ed Brown (of The Browns) also recorded a version on his album “She’s Leavin” which also came out in 1971 and was also on RCA.
You'll Never Walk Alone – (Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein) – This has been done by everyone but I like to think he got his inspiration from the Elvis Presley version from 1968 (perhaps given weigh by the fact the song was included as the title song on an the Elvis gospel compilation album, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” released in 1971 on RCA) though Reed doubles the pace on the song (and no one has done that before as far as I know). It's unusual hearing it at this pace but it is such a good song it still works. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27ll_Never_Walk_Alone
(Love Is) A Stranger To Me – (Jerry Reed Hubbard) – There is big production on this song which is very catchy.
Country Boy's Dream – (Ernie Newton) – first recorded by The Browns in 1967 on their RCA album “Browns Sing the Big Ones from Country” and on which Jerry played guitar on. Another up tempo number in the good ol boy style with some great electric guitar.
Seasons Of My Mind – (Sonja Bird Yancey) – Young songwriter, Sonja Bird Yancey, was 13 when Jerry recorded this which is odd given the sensitive adult themes in the song. Well, they were worldly early in the South, perhaps. It was the first recording of the song.
Framed – (J. Leiber-M. Stoller) – The first recording was by The Robins (1954) and Ritchie Valens also recorded it in 1958. A fun version which again fits in the good ol boy style.
Call me old fashioned. Better still, mix me a Old Fashioned … I'm keeping it.
On Sonja Bird Yancey who wrote “Seasons Of My Mind” … "Her career began at the age of 12 when she met musician Vernis Pratt at a Merle Haggard concert in Hazard in 1970. “I ran down and told him I wrote songs. He and his wife came over and listened to my music and took me straight to WKIC and made a tape. We all knocked on doors – you could do that then,” she said. At a restaurant in Nashville, Miss Yancey talked to “a man in a funny fishing hat.” It was singer Jerry Reed. “I didn’t know who he was but I told him I was a songwriter. He asked me to come to his office the next morning and he published seven of my songs and signed me as an exclusive songwriter with his company, Vector Music,” said Yancey". https://www.facebook.com/180785432011304/photos/a.180837378672776.42395.180785432011304/1105502769539561/?type=3&theate
This was Trini’s last album during his hit making period or the first album of his non-hit making period.
Trini released more albums on a variety of (minor) labels between 1972 and today but his time as a force on the charts in the US was over.
Check out my other comments for biographical detail on Trini.
Career wise, Lopez started out on the King label released upbeat rock ‘n’ roll 45s, but he made his name with go go beat driven rock n pop in the 60s when he signed with reprise. All his subsequent albums, and there was something like twenty original albums in seven years, apart from this one, were on the Reprise label.
I’m not sure why he left Reprise but I would think he was not a bankable star by 1969 when he released his last album there.
A couple of year’s later Capitol records took a chance on him to release this album.
A Spanish language album.
Though, perhaps, it isn’t a great risk. Lopez always had a big following in Spanish speaking markets and had released a couple of Spanish (and semi Spanish) language albums on Reprise. It was viable and bankable.
I have a basic understanding of Spanish so I have never avoided the music. Though, the argument that you can’t understand the words if they are in a non-English language is a redundant one …
You can’t understand the words in most operas (assuming you don’t speak Italian).
Music can move you without the necessity of you being able to understand the lyric. The vocal performance or the musical virtuosity may excite you. The passion may stimulate the senses. Or, sometimes, just the melody and vibe will keep your toes tapping.
And all that applies to Trini on his Spanish language records. That’s not to say that they are all great but that an understanding of Spanish isn’t needed to enjoy the albums.
It would help but it isn’t required.
The 60s was a big time for foreign language albums, especially in the US. Sure, there are many migrants and their offspring in the US, which probably accounted for most of the target sales, but I suspect some people were buying just because of the vocalist or because of the sound.
Gene Pitney put out an album of songs in Italian and another in Spanish, Connie Francis went a couple better and put our albums in (or partially in) Italian, Jewish, Spanish and German. Hell, even Elvis released songs in the American market in Italian, German and Spanish (check his soundtracks).
For Trini, a American of Latin ancestry, this was no brainer … and he had success before with his Spanish language songs.
Spanish seemed to be the preferred foreign language music of the US. Of course it helped that one quarter of the US was Latin / Hispanic or of Latin ancestry and that much of its south-west had been under Mexico 100 or so years earlier.
Trini, Jose Feliciano, Trio Los Panchos, El Chicano all did well in the 60s and early 70s with Spanish language music.
And it was used in every second western film and TV show.
And it was the street talk and native language in many parts of the US.
Spanish music wasn’t unfamiliar to Caucasian ears.
Trini, here, adds another strand to the music, making it even more relatable to non-Spanish speakers, by singing Spanish language versions of some well-known English language pop hits. As a listener, if you don’t speak Spanish, the melody will be familiar to you so you can tap along to that whilst getting the meaning from the song in the familiar English lyric which has been translated in your head.
Trini’s style was specifically 60s and it is interesting hearing the 70s sounds incorporated. He taps into the jazz, funk, Latino (Chicano) and the general MOR sounds of the early 70s and doesn’t sound like the Trini of old, though he manages to squeeze in some of his trademark oooohii squawks in.
Perhaps, Trini’s time had come and gone but Trini's force of musical personality keeps this more than listenable. This type of Spanish language pop rock would eventually become quite plastic with synths providing the bloodless backing. Here it is still all organic with instruments (and arrangements) up front playing off the singer.
The album didn’t sell nationally.
The cover art is crap.
Tracks (best in italics)
Vive La Vida Hoy – (Nino Frias) – Spanish rumba duo "Los Amaya Y Su Combo Gitano" released a version in 1971 and salsa man "Frankie Dante & Orquesta Flamboyan Con Larry Harlow" released a version in 1972. Translated this is "Live Life today" … and it is a bouncy toe tapping hoot!
Y Volvere – (A. Barrier, G. De La Fuente, R.Lopez) – Co-written by Germaín de la Fuente of Chilean pop band “Los Angeles Negros” the song was released on their second album in 1969 and was a big Latin American hit. It is a cover version of "Emporte-moi" by Alain Barrière with new lyrics by De la Fuente. Emotive and effective.
Tu Amigo Fiel – (You've Got A Friend) – (C. King, B.M. McCluskey) – It was first recorded by Carole King on her album, Tapestry (1971), though James Taylor had the hit with it in 1971 (#1US, #4UK). Well sung. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27ve_Got_a_Friend
Montana Rubi – (Ruby Mountain) – (Kenny Young) – Songwriter, musician, record producer (and environmentalist) Young recorded and released this as a single in 1970 as "Shine On Ruby Mountain" as did the Hondells. Kenny Rogers & The First Edition also released it as an album track in 1970. A good bass line beat keeps this pumping along.
Viva! – (Viva Tirado) – (Gerald Wilson, Norman Gimbel) – The song Viva Tirado was written by Norman Gimbel and was first released by The 5th Dimension in 1971. It was adapted from the instrumental Viva Tirado recorded by The Gerald Wilson Band in 1962. Catchy.
Sol De Mi Vida – (Bring Back My Sunshine) – (Jim Weatherly) – Written by country singer-songwriter Jim Weatherly. He eventually released it on his self-titled album in 1973. This is an early version of the song. It could be a Trini first. Really, quite good.
Jesus Cristo – (Carlos, Carlos, Singleton) – released by “Al De Lory and Mandango” and by “Alan Shelly With Equator” in 1971 in the same year. A quite funky song about Jesus Christ.
Siempre Le Sigo – (All That Keeps Me Going) – (Jim Weatherly) – Another one by country singer-songwriter Jim Weatherly. He eventually released it on his album "Weatherly" in 1972.It could be a Trini first. MOR country Spanish style.
Mi Mami Blue – (Mammy Blue) – (Hubert Giraud-Phil Trim) – a French song released in 1970, which was given English lyrics in 1971 and was a hit for the Pop-Tops (US#57, Japan#2), Joël Daydé and Roger Whittaker (UK#31). Very catchy though it always reminds me of The Benny Hill Show where it was used on some skits (at least I think it was ..
I’ve always liked Fabian as a result of watching films he made in the 1960s. Not just the teen films but his two films with Jimmy Stewart, “Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (1962) and Dear Brigitte (1965), as well as his bit in The Longest Day” (1962). But my favourite, and I can’t count how many times I have seen it, is “North to Alaska” (1960) with John Wayne and Stewart Granger.
I love that movie.
He sang in some of those films, albeit briefly, so it was natural I would search out his vinyl. He was also from a period of music I quite like, the early 60s before the rise of The Beatles.
Fabian started off as a singer but his career as a singer (or at least as a hitmaker) was quite short (two years) whilst his film career (though never spectacular) kept him busy for 20 years or so.
Today’s audience when they think of him, if they think of him, think of him primarily as a singer, and part of the wave of clean urban rock pop (Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vinton) that replaced the rough, ragged and regional rock of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, et al.
He was cast to a mould at the time …
As he says himself: “We were plastic, these plastic . . . things–not even people … They laughed at us. They wouldn't take us seriously as artists. They didn't think we could sing or perform or anything. To them, we were this low form of life. You can't laugh that off. Everybody craves respect. If people are looking down on you, all the money in the world doesn't really make you feel any better about it."http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-13/entertainment/ca-10079_1_fabian
An aside: every cloud has a silver lining as Fabian goes on to say: "Don't get me wrong. It wasn't all bad. For a teen-age boy, you can imagine what it was like having all those girls drooling over you. That was heaven. Sometimes I was on top of the world. Me, this dumb kid from South Philly, got to be a star. I couldn't believe it."http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-13/entertainment/ca-10079_1_fabian
It’s easy to say that this late 50s pop mould was a result of the threat of rock 'n' roll, which had become too much for parents. The music was cleaner, softer, pop-ier and less threatening.
And if you like (ridiculous) conspiracy theories it was a good time to make the move to something gentler: first generation rock had been silenced : Elvis was in the army, Jerry Lee was banned, Chuck was in jail, Buddy was dead, Gene Vincent had retreated to England, Eddie Cochran would be dead, Little Richard had turned to God …
But all of these rock n rollers being off the scene doesn’t really explain anything.
The new rock ‘n’ posters had to tread carefully. Elvis and his peers had opened a floodgate which threatened to (and did) change the world. That sounds dramatic but they did change the world and make it uncomfortable or unsettling for some … they also, certainly, changed the noise level on music.
So, perhaps this newfound softly softly was a natural societal reaction to the wild men of yesterday.
There is some truth to that, and, their lack of presence certainly meant the softer music options could come forward but, by the same token, Elvis himself liked his pop (and alternated it with his rock ‘n’ roll) and Pat Boone, always the softer option, had been a consistent hit maker since 1955.
Contrary to popular music history the wild men of rock still existed in the late 50s / early 60s – Link Wray, Bobby Fuller, all the frat rockers all over the States. They didn’t dominate the charts but they were there.
Fabian, and his crew (Frankie Avalon, James Darren, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton) weren’t anything new in rock 'n' roll terms. They were an extension of the Pat Boone logic … play it softer and try to appeal to the biggest audience.
And, savvy music producers and record labels pushed the logic and moulded or created the artists to pass it on to the public.
Despite that, and unlike Pat Boone and his posters, Fabian and his teen idol friends were brought up on the rhythm and rock of the early first generation rock ‘n’ rollers like Elvis. Also, Fabian and friends heard the sounds of the streets of the urban north … the black doo wop, the street corner singing, and the Italian (there were a lot of Italians amongst this crew) ballads of their households.
So there was rhythm and beat in there as well as the various sounds of their environment and ethnic backgrounds.
That was something new but to purists it was a sell-out of old school rock ‘n’ roll to record music by pretty boys who couldn’t sing
Okay, there was some truth in that as some of them couldn’t sing as well as the rockers or Pat Boone and the smooth popsters.
And, Fabian was tarnished with that brush.
Fabian had an Elvis-type face, including hair style and eye shadow but he couldn’t sing all that well. He could sing in key but without much range or vibrato, which is why he rarely holds a note. He didn't so much sing as speak in tune, or speak to the melody or talk with the rhythm. At the time he was criticised for it but it became the norm with Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and even John Lennon (perhaps) and today it is everywhere, though, there is usually a more complicated backing to hide the fact.
In Fabian's case songs were arranged to hide his shortcomings.
The rest he sold on attitude and looks.
But, that, combined with his light entertainment and B-film movie career, has done nothing to preserve or enhance his reputation with the music archaeologist or pop culture historians.
Criticism like “cookie cutter creation”, “puppet” or “cast from a mould” are used but it doesn’t matter because …
I like Fabian,
Though limited, I think he was quite underrated as a musician (and as a film star) because he has a nice voice and an appealing musical personality. Admittedly, saying Fabian is underrated is not saying much because any interest in Fabian is “up” from where he sits at the moment on the cultural capital pole.
Allmusic’s entire entry is, “Thanks to a series of performances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Fabian rocketed to stardom in the late '50s. With his stylish good looks and mild rock & roll, he became one of the top teen idols of the era; luckily, he had the support of the legendary songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who provided him with "Turn Me Loose," "Hound Dog Man," and "I'm a Man," among other songs. Fabian's fame peaked in 1959 with the million-selling "Tiger" single; after that, he valiantly tried to become a movie star. When Congress fingered him as one of the performers who benefited from payola, his already-ailing career was given a nearly fatal blow; under questioning, Fabian explained that his records featured a substantial amount of electronic doctoring in order to improve his voice. After the hearings, he starred in some more movies in the '60s, without regaining the audience of his peak years”.
But what he was, was a well-rounded entertainer. His star only really shone for about two years in music and five years in film but the period he was working in (both in film and music) is a generally forgotten period between the wild days of 50s rock and the experimentation of 60s rock.
A period of innocence.
It’s easy to criticise those artists, or to forget them, but they were working with some exceptional songwriters and musicians (generally) and if you like the sound of that era, as I do, they made some beautiful music.
But, a lot of their material was second rate or rushed. A lot was not newly written. There was a tendency to go back to Tin Pan Alley and update an old tune … perhaps this was an easy way to fill an album, perhaps it was about royalties, perhaps the labels liked the tunes because there is the potential for the song to reach older listeners as well as the kids, or perhaps they didn’t have access to all the best new songs.
I mention that because Elvis rarely did Tin Pan Alley – songs like “Blue Hawaii” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” being exceptions – Elvis, a non-writer, would dig back into his extensive memory music bag or would be able to pick songs from the hundreds or thousands sent to him to choose from.
Every writer wanted Elvis to record their songs – that’s money in the bank. So, I assume that acts like Fabian etc didn’t get as much new material from the songwriters. The songs tended to be ones Elvis didn’t want to do (“Turn Me Loose” here) as Pomus-Shuman and Leiber-Stoller have indicated.
As a side note: it wasn’t all one way traffic between the old and the new because it wouldn’t be long before Sinatra and other trad pop crooners were doing versions of rocks songs.
WIKIPEDIA: “Fabian Forte (born 1943) is the son of Josephine and Dominic Forte; his father was a Philadelphia police officer. He is the oldest of three brothers … Forte was discovered in 1957 by Bob Marcucci and Peter DeAngelis, owners of Chancellor Records. At the time record producers were looking to the South Philadelphia neighborhoods in search of teenage talents with good looks … Marcucci was a friend of Fabian's next door neighbour. One day Fabian's father had a heart attack, and while he was being taken away in an ambulance, Marcucci spotted Fabian. Fabian later recalled: He kept staring at me and looking at me. I had a crew cut, but this was the day of Rick Nelson and Elvis. He comes up and says to me, 'So if you're ever interested in the rock and roll business…' and hands me his card. I looked at the guy like he was fucking out of his mind. I told him, 'leave me alone. I'm worried about my dad.'" … However when Fabian's father returned from hospital he was unable to work, so when Marcucci persisted, Fabian and his family were amenable and he agreed to record a single … Frankie Avalon, also of South Philadelphia, suggested Forte as a possibility … "They gave me a pompadour and some clothes and those goddamned white bucks," recalled Fabian, "and out I went." "He was the right look and right for what we were going for," wrote Marcucci later”
This was Fabian’s first album and the mould was set … some newly written songs and some Tin Pan Alley songs (and one Elvis song) all sung in an Elvis type style and with some Elvis attitude, designed to make the girls scream and swoon … just quieter.
Fabian’s voice is a little thin, the backup singers are Jordanaires wannabees, and his band is a little all over the place …but … this album is fun and chockfull of Elvis Presley knockoffs making it quite endearing.
Eventually, Fabian became a more accomplished actor than a singer though he wasn’t highly regarded there either.
It’s a pity, because, ultimately, this pop rock is perfectly evocative of time and place and charming on its own level.
Tracks (best in italics)
Tiger Rag – (Harry DaCosta )- This song has been done by everyone going back to 1917. Take your pick as to why Fabian did it. There was a trend towards rock guys doing big band trad stuff (Darin, Boone) so maybe why that’s why they dug deep? This is sung in harmony by Fabian and his backing vocalists. It is also one of two tiger themed songs (I assume because he had a big hit with another tiger song, "Tiger" in 1959 (#3)). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Rag
Hold Me (In Your Arms) – (Ricciuti, Ricci, Aquilino, Damato) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. A lovely little ballad the chicks would have loved.
Ooh, What You Do! – (Ed Marshall)- An original written for or chosen for Fabian. A mid tempo rocker. Pleasant.
Please Don't Stop – (Gordon Galbraith) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. A totally enjoyable rocker, err mid-tempo rocker.
Lovesick – (Ballard, Hunter) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. Again, fun.
Gonna Get You – (Gordon Galbraith) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. Quite a hoot.
Love Me, Love My Tiger – (Roy Straigis) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian.
Don't You Think It's Time? – (Wayne-Raney) – This is a cover of the Elvis hit (Doncha' Think It's Time) from 1958 (#15). It also must have been the result of one those strange 50s song writing credits with pseudonyms, co-writer sell off or something. The song here is credited to Wayne and Raney, most contemporary credits to the Elvis song credit Brook Benton, and Clyde Otis, whilst old Elvis vinyl credits it to Otis and Dixon (Luther not Willie and sometimes written). But, it is all the same song. Maybe someone got a credit for correcting the slang, harrr. Fabian does the song well but the difference in singing styles between Elvis and Fabian is accentuated.
Just One More Time – (DeAngelis, Marcucci) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian and another good one with some Scotty Moore type guitar.
Cuddle Up A Little Closer – (C. Hoschna, O. Harbach) – This one dates to 1908 and sounds like it.
Fabian remembers the day he met his doppelganger. “My road manager told me that Elvis was on the phone and that he wanted to meet me. I asked him, ‘Why?’ He came up to my hotel room, which I couldn’t believe. I opened up the door, and there he was”. Fabian said that both of them appeared awkward at first; Elvis was said to be terribly insecure and felt threatened by others who could steal the spotlight. “We started laughing and joking around, and Elvis told me that he was learning karate. I had four other guys in the room with me. Elvis said, ‘Have your four guys surround me. I want to practice my karate.’ He wanted to do it, and he did it, and he got around them and knocked them all on their ass. He ripped his pants, by the way. I gave him a pair of my pants to wear home. That’s how I met Elvis Presley.” http://www.goldminemag.com/article/a-tale-of-two-idols-fabian-and-neil-sedaka
On his films from his blog; “Fabian's early films rocketed him to stardom. He made his screen debut in 1959 in "Hound Dog Man", directed by Don Segal. He traveled iout of the country to make "Five Weeks In A Balloon" and "The Longest Day". He worked with two of our great screen giants in "North To Alaska" with John Wayne and "High Time" with Bing Crosby. Fabian was fortunate to have worked with the incomparable and gracious James Stewart in two films in his career, "Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation" and "Dear Brigette." He learned to surf with Tab Hunter in "Ride The Wild Surf" which has become a cult classic. More recent work includes being interviewed by Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1996, Jon Avnet directed film, "Up Close & Personal" … Fabian's role as a homicidal maniac in the TV production titled "A Lion Walks Among Us" directed by Robert Altman solidly established him as a versatile and powerful actor. This history making production was the first television show to run an hour without commercials”.
Jonathan Edwards is one of those overlooked singer songwriters from the 1970s that seems to have a small following.
Check out my other comments on him for biographical detail.
This was his first solo album and he had a Top10 hit with the single "Sunshine" (#4) in the US.
It's not easy to (well, not until the digital download era) have a Top 10 single hit in the US. It is very difficult to have a #1. It is near on impossible to do it repeatedly.
The market is so big.
Well, the population is so big
That's a "derrr" statement.
But, accordingly, there are many musics, singers, and record labels trying to get into the Top 40. Getting there indicates your songs' popularity but once there, there is more visibility and your song can progress to the Top 10 or up to #1.
But it's not easy.
If you don't believe me do some googling.
For example, acts that we think have had it all, in terms of singles sales: The Who never had a #1 (they only had one Top 10), Bruce Springsteen has never had a #1, Bowie only had one #1, Oasis had only had one Top 10, Neil Young has had only one Top 10 (though a number one) … you get the idea.
Sure you can say some of these guys are "album artists" but the single is the format that sold the most, and it is the song that people hum, evokes memories and becomes what people talk about in the future.
Yes, I know on this blog I comment on albums only.
So, for Edwards to have a Top 10 is something, and on this, his first album.
But the single is what entranced people.
This album didn't chart.
He followed up this album with others but he fell from view.
But like John Stewart, Steve Young, Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine, Tom Rush and many others he has a devoted, small following.
Perhaps (likely) he is even less known here (Australia) and in the UK because he never had that hit, but that makes me listening to him even more fun for revelations.
Edwards had just split from his psychedelic folk group, "Sugar Creek'" who had released one album on Metromedia records in 1969, " Please Tell A Friend", but he remained friendly with band members Joe Dolce and Malcolm McKinney.
What is interesting about that may be lost on Americans. Dolce moved to Australia in 1978 and wrote and recorded the humorous and slightly cynical song about a fictitious rebellious Italian boy, "Shaddap You Face", which he released under the name Joe Dolce Theatre in 1980. The song was a mammoth hit in Australia – it went to #1 and sold more than 450,000 copies (a lot in Australia). It also went to #1 in the UK, Ireland and another 12 or so countries but in the US it only got to #53. It has sold six million copies worldwide.
Dolce contributes a song (a co-write) to this first album and Edwards would continue to record Dolce material over his other albums. Two songs by Malcolm McKinney appear here and Edwards would, again, record him in the future.
But by 1970 the band Sugar Creek wasn't making any headway, Edwards wanted to go solo, and the dominant music sound was changing.
Singer songwriter sucked in a lot of the old folkies as well as some of the Brill building pop crafts people, country sounds were all about and the psychedelic noise of the 60s was being left behind for something gentler and more earthy. That's not to say that full steam ahead rock 'n' roll was dead but balladry, with country and folk overtones and bouncy earthy songs were popular also.
Despite all the problems of the early 70s in the US like (I repeat myself here from other blog comments), pollution, urban decay, crime , unemployment, civil strife etc there was a back to the earth movement in spirit if not in physicality (though it existed in both) and introspection, observation of others and the world around you was the order of the day.
Edwards was in the right place at the right time.
This album is a direct result of the place and the time.
And Capricorn records was the right place for him sound wise if not major label push wise. Capricorn Records was started in Macon, Georgia by Phil Walden, Alan Walden and Frank Fenter in 1969. The label issued records from The Allman Brothers Band, Jonathan Edwards, Captain Beyond, White Witch, Grinderswitch The Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, The James Montgomery Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie, , Cowboy and many other acts during its ’70s hey day. They went bust in 1979 (though Phil Walden resurrected the label in the early ’90s).
Many singer songwriter country folk albums were released in the 70s but Edwards does have something .
He is clean voiced (much like Jesse Colin Young or John Denver) with some silky-ness to it rather than gravel-ly which throws him into the folkie singer songwriter traditions rather than the country singer songwriter traditions.
There are also orchestrations and interesting chord progressions that further support the folkie traditions.
That's not to say you can't have country success with these sounds just that folk sounds outweigh the country ones but they do co-exist happily … yes, yes, it's a rich tapestry.
Edwards, himself, gravitated more to country as time progressed.
If you know anything from him, it will be "Sunshine" or "Shanty" (see trivia at end) but there is a lot more here.
Now, for a Nick Drake style revival ..though he may be too happy and positive for that and people seem to revere the opposite in music's fringe dwellers.
All songs written by Edwards unless otherwise noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
Everybody Knows Her – a great example of folk meets poppy singer songwriter. This is a great tune
Cold Snow – some good violin
AthensCounty – (Edwards, Joe Dolce) – another great tune. Very Chris Hillman in his bluegrass phase.
Dusty Morning – getting into Shawn Phillips territory here
Emma – (Edwards, Barbara Ann Brannon) – This could be a John Denver outtake. And there is nothing wrong with that.
For many, “Sunshine” became a rallying protest cry against war and politics.Edwards reveals in this interview … “It was a combination of factors that went into the inspiration of pulling that one together and started with my dad being an ex FBI agent and me taking over ROTC buildings at the same time he was still an FBI agent. It was the height of the Viet Nam war that was brought to us through ways of lies and submergence, Nixon was president and I had just narrowly survived my pre induction draft board physical and I was very frustrated with our Government and the conduct it was having in our name, so I just sat down with this in Brighton, Massachusetts, wrote the song, and it took off.”http://www.musictriedandtrue.com/single-post/2015/02/12/Jonathan-Edwards-Talks-about-New-CD-with-Darrell-Scott-Vince-Gill-Shawn-Colvin-Jerry-Douglas-and-Alison-Krauss
"AthensCounty" was recorded under the title "Sweet Maria (AthensCounty)" by the Montana bluegrass group MissionMountain Wood Band in 1977 for their first album, In Without Knocking. The song "Shanty" is used as the "Friday Song" on various "classic rock" FM radio stations; played at various times every Friday, it represents the unofficial start of the weekend. The song "Sunshine" was used in a Jeep commercial, and was also featured on the soundtrack for the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Edwards_(album)
Cast your mind back to a time when you were a teen.
You thought you knew it all and you had all the answers and you tried to swagger but ultimately you were a wide eyed innocent.
This music is sung by people not much older than that and at a time when the ear was not tuned in to irony, parody or the postmodern.
Everything was straight.
The world was simple or so it seemed despite the fact that the civil rights movement was exploding, tensions over the Cuban missile crisis were still around, people were hopping over or tunnelling under the Berlin Wall, Kennedy had been assassinated … but what is that all compared to the girl down the road who rebuffs your advances?
Has anything changed?
Perhaps, err perhaps not.
Rydell was on Cameo records and was its biggest star and hitmaker. Accordingly they loved product being released. When there are no new suitable songs then … release an album of covers.
Nothing wrong with that but there has to be a reason or theme that holds everything together. ie; Jerry Lewis sings Al Jolson, Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Johnny Mercer Songbook, Tony Bennett Sings a String of Harold Arlen, Sinatra sings Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bobby Vee sings Buddy Holly ("I Remember Buddy Holly"), Gene Pitney Sings Bacharach, Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites … here the theme is a lot more cynical.
Bobby Rydell sings the big hits of 1963.
It was normal for the teen idols of the time to include, one, two or maybe three covers of recent hits. But a whole album?
Plus a new original song (see below).
The beauty then is that this is more than a covers album because the songs have been subsumed into Rydell’s style. Rydell isn’t faithful to the originals and he shows he has the force of personality and voice to, maybe not always make the songs his own, but enough to be able to make them clearly distinguishable from the originals.
And that is not easy to do.
But he was experienced at this. Cameo had already released Rydells “An Era Reborn” (1962) which was him tackling old crooner material so perhaps him tackling the hits of the day was inevitable.
1964 was the year the Beatles took America by storm and ruined everything or revolutionised music. Take your pick.
But Beatlemania effectively did away with this music, all of it. The baby went out with the bathwater.
The pop craft here is substantial (and it was acknowledges by Paul McCartney – see trivia tag)
See my other comments for biographical detail on Rydell.
Tracks (best in italics)
Ruby Baby – (Leiber-Stoller) – (a #2 for Dion) Maybe you have to be Italian to sing this but it swings with the youthful streetwise attitude of an inner city ethnic tenement. The double up chuck a lunk thunping and clapping make Gary Glitter proud. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruby_Baby
So Much In Love – (Jackson, Williams, Straigis) – (a #1 form The Tymes) a pretty song that comes out as a white doowop crossed with a show tune … though the original wasn't far from that. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/So_Much_in_Love
Go Away Little Girl – (Goffin-King) – (Bobby Vee had a #1 with it and crooner Steve Lawrence had a #1 with it in the Easy listening charts), This is a beautiful Goffin and King song with familiar themes (teen love when one is with another) sung beautifully … excellent early 60s pop. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Away_Little_Girl
Wonderful! Wonderful! – (Raleigh, Edwards) – (The Tymes had a #23 R&B hit with this in 1963. Johnny Mathis had the big one, a #14 in 1957). Not as good as the Mathis version but as good as the Tymes. Happy, delicate and life affirming. Surely. Pure corn but totally subversive. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderful!_Wonderful!
My Coloring Book – (Ebb-Kander) – (Kitty Kallen had a #18 hit, though, in 1963 alone there were versions by Barbara Streisand, Andy Williams, Brenda Lee, and Julie London floating around). I find the tune a little dull but the drama is nice and it is extremely well sung. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Coloring_Book
If I Had A Hammer – (Hays, Seeger) – (Trini Lopez went to #3 with this) – Bobby hasn't done much too change this one. It's got Trini's go go beat. Seeger recorded it in 1949. A song of emancipation with a "groovy" beat! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_I_Had_a_Hammer
The Alley Cat Song – (Bjorn, Harlen) – (in 1962, the Bent Fabric composition reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number two on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart). So-so, but then so was the original. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alley_Cat_(song)
Side One – Forget Him – (Mark Anthony) – Now that's marketing … an album with a new single on it and the single is with the album and not part of it. It was a #13 hit in England in 1963. Apparently (according to Bobby on the flipside) he recorded it England and it was a hit there so they decided to include it on this album. It did it work – it went up to a #4 in the US. It was a hit in Europe – # 1 on the continent apparently). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forget_Him_(Bobby_Rydell_song)
Side Two – Message From Bobby – more marketing … cool. Bobby explaining the single and thanking us for his career and for buying this album!
A great album. I know that half the joy comes from the fact of the choice of songs. But they are well sung and arranged and sometimes as good as the originals … I'm keeping it.
"Paul McCartney has stated in "The Beatles Anthology" that Bobby Rydell was an inspiration for a lot of the "Yeah Yeah's" used in "She Loves You" (Remember the Yeah Yeahs and Whoa Whoa's his background singers were so famous for?) Paul McCartney also said that a Bobby Rydell song "Forget Him" was the original inspiration for actually writing "She Loves You" — Inspired by "Forget Him" Paul McCartney had the idea to write an "answer song" to Forget Him and "She Loves You" was born" https://www.facebook.com/OfficialBobbyRydell/posts/640890955972474
"In 2000, McCartney said the initial idea for "She Loves You" came from a Bobby Rydell hit that was popular at the time (mid-1963). Lennon and McCartney started composing "She Loves You" after a concert on June 26, 1963 (about four weeks after the release of "Forget Him" in the UK). They began writing the song on the tour bus, and continued later that night at their hotel in Newcastle. "She Loves You" was completed the following day at McCartney's family home in Forthlin Road, Liverpool." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forget_Him_(Bobby_Rydell_song)
It’s Christmas time so …I pulled this Christmas record out.
I knew this album wasn’t a selection of traditional Christmas songs but I wasn’t expecting this.
A total spinout album.
This album comes after a major line-up shuffle in early 1967 that saw three members (Valley, Volk, and Smith) leave the band and songwriter Mark Lindsay take control of the direction of the band. From this point on Paul Revere & the Raiders would move away from their garage rock, frat rock beginnings towards a more pop style. The band had been moving that way anyway as evidenced by the fact that Volk and Smith joined another former member, Drake Levin, in the more serious and uncommercial Brotherhood.
Also, June 1967 saw the release of The Beatles Sgt Peppers album, an album I’ve never really loved though its musical historical importance is undeniable (though it did not appear in a vacuum and wasn’t as revolutionary as many contemporary music critics seem to think … it was very popular at the time though, and was preceded with quite a bit of hype).
At the time its popularity did shake things up though. Its catchy and fully orchestrated pop tunes sold to the kids and the mainstream whilst its musical quirks endeared it to the emerging hip underground rock movement. It crossed many audiences and demographics and was an extremely influential album.
It punctuated in commercial terms what had been happening since Bob Dylan started recording … and that is that if you were a serious musician you put out albums not singles.
Paul Revere & the Raiders where, essentially, a singles act.
Albeit a singles act who put out many worthwhile albums, but ultimately, a singles act.
Or, that’s how the public perceived them.
In 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll there were only a handful, hell, probably only two, singles acts who could sell albums en masse … Elvis Presley and The Beatles. And, both, in their own ways became more album oriented.
OK, you could add The Monkees and maybe Credence Clearwater Revival to that list.
Outside of music (in the real world) the Vietnam War was being fought, the Cold War was alive and well, civil rights demonstrations and poverty riots were ongoing and there was turmoil in the air which would culminate in the events of civil disobedience both in the US and across the western world in 1968.
Accordingly, there was growing pressure in 1967 for pop musicians to "have something to say".
And the music single was not the way to say it.
The album was.
So, this is what Paul Revere & the Raiders were faced with.
And, Christmas was looming.
And, record labels love Christmas albums.
Some quick sales on the back of Yuletide cheer without a hit single needed.
The new Raiders were moving to a more pop commercial sound and also (no doubt) trying to distance themselves from the prefab teeny bopper image (with colourful Revolutionary War costumes and near-daily appearances on TV (mainly on the show “Where The Action Is”)).
They, no doubt, wanted to flex their musical muscle (and explore new sounds) and wanted to do it a way which would not affect their normal output … what better than a Christmas album that would be deleted shortly thereafter?
But what happened was extraordinary.
Lindsay recalls it this way, “When CBS said they wanted a Christmas album, we couldn’t see giving them the one they probably expected,” former lead singer Mark Lindsay said. “Then we’d flip on the news and see ’Nam in full color, so that had to sink in. We were also traveling in the South at the time, so those kinds of [civil rights] issues came up. So most of our singles weren’t political, but the Christmas album totally was. It was a disaster, but it reflected what we were feeling at the time. It was a good time for flower power and protest.”
The album was unusual for many reasons. For starters, unlike most Christmas albums which are made up of standards this is one which only has one standard, the rest are all originals.
And the originals were, musically, pop and the more familiar garage (though toned down) but all saturated with a raiders trying to be hip like some countercultural pranksters.
These guys are to pop (and mainstream) to ever be The Fugs but it is amazing to listen to.
The album is topical and quite cynical with acute societal observations, rambling narratives, Vietnam protest, boozy singalongs, hippie and beat humour, quirky musical interludes (like the two minutes of kazoo at the end and the brass band oom-pahs between each song), and studio trickery all done to their usual catchy tunes.
Even the title of the album “A Christmas Present … and past” referring to both a gift and today and yesterday is in on the humour … get it?
Are they referring to the mix of old Christmas tunes (one) and new ones or something about America and the state of the union? Mark Lindsay and producer Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day, friend of Brian Wilson) wrote all the original songs apart from a bizarre version of "Jingle Bells".
There is a "PS" on the back that reads: "There are actually nine "presents" in this album – nine original Christmas songs by Mark Lindsay and Terry Melcher. Presents with a future, the past saluted with Jingle Bells".
What I like is the gentle cynicism. The cynicism is not about Christmas itself but about people and the nation at Christmas. The detail of everyday things on some of the songs is quite Ray Davies Kinksian.
Not surprisingly, Columbia hated it, DJs hated it, and the public at the time hated it (it made it to #10 on the Christmas albums list but that isn’t saying much as it only got to #71 on the Top 100 … and this is from a band who were charting well). In fact this is quite daring for a mainstream band, and a big one at that. They were very popular.
The album is a period piece and of its time. There are more studio ideas than music and at times it feels like it isn't fully formed. But these types of records, even with their faults, give us some insights into what was happening in the real world at the time … much more than something like “Sgt Peppers”, perhaps.
Musically it will never be on high rotation with the masses but for those who like to dig there is a little piece of gold here.
Check out my other comments on Paul Revere & the Raiders for biographical detail.
All songs by Lindsay-Melcher unless noted
Tracks (best in italics)
Introduction – a humorous introduction introducing The Salvation Army band – shades of Sgt Peppers.
Wear a Smile at Christmas – A Lovin Spoonfull-ish tune which is quite good (despite the bad click I have on my copy of the vinyl). A Lyndon B Johnson (the president of the US at the time) impersonator makes an appearance.
Jingle Bells – (Pierpont) – Just a weird version of Jingle Bells that sounds like it was sung at the local bar after everyone has had a few. The singers (who are credited but weren't in the band) were a mystery for some time. Says Lindsay, “That was a guy named Paul Connors, who worked at the hot-dog stand around the corner from the studio. Terry Melcher and I would talk to him when we went on breaks. He was a big showbiz fan, a living encyclopedia. When he found out we worked at the studio, he kept begging us to let him come visit,” Lindsay says. “His girlfriend used to hang out at the counter with him, so we invited both of them to sing ‘Jingle Bells.” When we were done, I pulled out a Johnny Mathis track and let Paul sing on it, then gave him the tape to take home. Please, CBS, don’t bill us for that”. .http://www.goldminemag.com/article/solve-the-mystery-behind-paul-revere-the-raiders%E2%80%99-christmas-album
Brotherly Love – a ballad which is quite effective (if a little dated) and is adapted from the traditional tune Greensleeves.
Rain, Sleet, Snow – it's as if Eric Clapton and Cream went Christmassy. A song about the postman getting the mail through, I think.
Peace – an orchestral instrumental that meanders and sets mood.
Valley Forge – you are taken to Valley Forge in 1775 … a very pretty song with something to say.
Dear Mr. Claus – a bizarre love song done in a Vaudeville style which is quite lascivious (and some would say misogynistic). The narrator is writing to Mr Claus asking him to send him a real life doll to, apparently, help with the pots, pans, dirty dishes. There is even a wolf howl at the end. It is up there with "Trim Your Tree" by Jimmy Butler, "It's Christmas Time" by Mojo Nixon, "Let's Make Christmas Merry Baby" by Amos Milburn" and "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" by Elvis Presley in the great sexy Christmas song list.
Macy's Window – another gentle song with Christmas as a background. Like a Christmas version of Elvis' "In The Ghetto" with Ray Davies like observations … but it is over too quick.
Christmas Spirit – pleasant with a little more emphasis on the brass band
A Heavy Christmas Message – "who took the Christ out of Christmas" is the central theme of the song with a spoken sermon like (church organ and all) interlude followed by two minutes of background kazoo music. Nice.
Not fantastic and perhaps not fully realised, but, at times, effective, catchy and endearing … I'm keeping it.
Tommy Roe is another one of those sixties pop stars I like to resurrect.
He is, to the wider music public, occasionally derided, rarely discussed, often mistaken, largely forgotten, and greatly undervalued.
The mid to late-60s Tommy’s and Bobby’s are too hard to distinguish for contemporary audiences I suspect.
Tommy Roe, Tommy James, Tommy Boyce …
Bobby Hart, Bobby Sherman, Bobby Goldsboro …
Not to mention the non-Tommy/Bobby crew …
Brian Hyland, Billy Joe Royal, Len Barry, Ron Dante, B.J. Thomas, Lou Christie, Chris Montez, Keith …
And groups like Jay and the Americans, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap …
They all practiced AM Pop with touches of bubblegum pop, sunshine pop, blue eyed soul and rock n roll.
Their mentors were Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Gene Pitney, Del Shannon, Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, Tommy Sands, Ricky Nelson, Fabian, Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, and Elvis Presley.
Given that, it can’t be too bad …
But, when they talk about those guys they talk in terms of hit singles or how they did other things linked to other famous musicians: ie: Tommy Roe opened for the Beatles in 1964 (they also opened for him).
There is more than that here, but, the question remains … is this pop any more worthwhile than pop of the 70s, 80s, and beyond?
Putting aside the 70s I would say, definitely yes.
I’m not a teen of the 60s so I’m not using rose coloured glasses but the pop of the 60s was still testing the boundaries of where rock ‘n’ pop could go so there is quite a bit of experimentation and playfulness in the pop grooves.
Melodies hadn’t been exclusively replaced by beats, the narrative and lyric hadn’t been reduced to unrelated nonsensical words and the music was the result of organic multi person input.
This, all, appeals to me.
But, the subsequent rush to venerate the 60s (especially the mid to late-60s) as the thoughtful decade (maybe it was) meant that if you weren't Bob Dylan, The Beatles or serious in your intentions (album oriented) then your music was largely forgotten. But, like a lot of music in that golden age of rock ‘n’ pop, even something as pop as Tommy Roe has merits not often seen. In Roe’s case those merits are substantial. He is a consummate singer, a prolific song writer, and a strong musician.
The allmusic entry is short but hints at Roe’s hidden talents, “Widely perceived as one of the archetypal bubblegum artists of the late '60s, Tommy Roe cut some pretty decent rockers along the way, especially early in his career — many displaying some pretty prominent Buddy Holly roots. In fact, Roe's initial pop smash, 1962's chart-topping "Sheila," was quite reminiscent of Holly's "Peggy Sue," utilizing a very similar throbbing drumbeat and Roe's hiccuping vocal. The singer had previously cut the song for the smaller Judd label before remaking it in superior form for ABC-Paramount. The infectious "Everybody" — another hot item the next year — was waxed in Muscle Shoals at Rick Hall's Fame studios, normally an R&B-oriented facility (it's not widely known that Roe wrote songs for the Tams, a raw-edged soul group from his Atlanta hometown). Once Roe veered off on his squeaky-clean bubblegum tangent, he stuck with it for the rest of the decade. His lighthearted "Sweet Pea" and "Hooray for Hazel" burned up the charts in 1966, and he was still at it three years later when he waxed his biggest hit, "Dizzy," and "Jam Up Jelly Tight"”.
Roe was born May 9, 1942, in Atlanta, Georgia. When he was in high school he sang in the vocal group "The Satins" and they released a couple of records in 1960. In 1962, he went to ABC-Paramount Records and released "Sheila" (which had been a song released by The Satins). The song was a hit. During 1963 and 1964 he followed with some other chart toppers. In late 1964 and 1965 he served as an electrician in the U.S. Army reserves. Though his early work was in the soft rockabilly style he continue to explore pop and, when he returned to his music career in 1966 he realised he needed a change of style and moved to a more full pop style, and released the song "Sweet Pea" which re-established him on the charts. In 1969, he scored his biggest hit with "Dizzy" which went to #1. His chart visibility diminished in the 1970s though he released a number of albums. He still tours on oldies shows.
This album came on the back of the hit single “Sweet Pea” and is a bit of a hodge podge release, just like many records by Roe and his AM Pop contemporaries at the time … their songs were product and were packaged quickly on the back of a hot chart song or two. You have a hit single or two, record a couple of originals, stick in some covers of other people's recent hits, pad the rest out with non-album A or B sides, and voila …. instant album.
Here the hits are “Sweet Pea” and “Hooray for Hazel”, there are another couple of originals, the four recent covers are (mainly of) British Invasion songs (popular at the time and Roe lived in England for a while in the mid-60s), and the rest are old A sides.
The album does not hide the fact. The liner notes state, "This is an accumulation of only the highlights of Tommy's first four years in the entertainment field …"
Accordingly the first side is the hits and the new songs, and the second side are the old hits and singles and a couple of new songs
So, the album is a little schizophrenic. The first side is different to the second side, but, given we are only talking a couple or so years the stylistic shifts may not be noticed to non-anal types. Even then, Roe's voice holds everything together.
The Roe originals are catchy and clearly he knows the sound he is looking for. What I like is the way Roe then tackles the covers and subsumes them within his musical palette.
It was his fifth album, the first having come out three years earlier.
Under My Thumb – (Jagger, Richards) – The great Rolling Stones song from 1966 (from the "Aftermath" album) which was not released as a single but was extremely popular. Del Shannon released a version in 1966 as did The Kingsmen. This is a great pop version of the song which softens the snarl in the lyric but doesn't diminish the implication. A hoot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_My_Thumb
Sweet Pea – (Roe) – released as a single in December 1965. Roe wrote the song for the McCoys but they never got back to him. Great pop, and a bit of a throwback to the early 60s but with some great mid-60s organ.
Party Girl – (Bouie, Jr Atkins) – released as a Roe single in 1964. The start is like something that escapes me at the moment (something by Bobby Darin perhaps?) and at times he sounds like a sweeter Sonny Bono. A great song.
The Folk Singer – (Merle Kilgore) – released as a single in 1963 this was written by country song writer (and occasional singer) Kilgore (he co-wrote "Ring of Fire" with June Carter). This was first recorded by Roe. A strange one for Roe … it sounds more like something Johnny Cash would do.. A good song though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Folk_Singer_(Tommy_Roe_song)
Pleasing You Pleases Me – (Roe, Bouie) – gentle mid-tempo pop.
Kick Me Charlie – (Roe) – some R&B introduced here.
Sheila – (Roe) – released as a single in 1960 by Roe and his vocal group The Satins and then by Roe solo in 1962 when he had a hit with it. The Beatles recorded it in 1962 at the Star Club in Hamburg. It sounds a lot like Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and doesn't fit with the newer songs but it is a great song. Jerry reed apparently played guitar on this.
It's hard opening a comment sometimes, especially when it's on someone you have discussed before. Perhaps you need something punchy, something to suck the reader(s) in? That opening line can be crucial, and I've probably just wasted it with my observation above.
Okay, I'll try again.
There is no reason I should like Shawn Phillips.
He represents a genre of music which I largely, at worst dislike, at best am ambivalent to.
Well, Phillips plays in the singer-songwriter style but I'm not talking about that because I like a lot of that. Where I start to nod off is where the singer-songwriter is also a virtuoso on their instrument and the music is designed to show off that as well as any emotion in the lyric and song.
Phillips is a guitar virtuoso.
Worse still he was recording mainly in the late 60s through to the late 70s … a decade when singer-songwriters, generally, took themselves very seriously.
At worst: the music is too hippie (or if it isn't, former hippie types like it), the lyrics can be a bit vague and overly spiritual (there is no Woody Guthrie directness here), because Phillips was an album artist there aren't any pop singles, his songs are rarely short, the music seems designed, at times, only as a display of his virtuosity, his songs lean to the precious and, on their face, lack humour, and, his fans would be total bores (well most fans are bores but Phillip's show would be populated by people who were into him in 1973 and were bores then).
Okay I have probably offended a few fans. But then why would they be reading this? They would already have this record.
So, to you non-fans or, people not in the know who may be reading this, what I have said may be true but, I like Shawn Phillips.
Well, Phillips plays in the electric folkie style but he is like the "pure form" of that style. He writes, plays, sings and, it is clear, he is gifted. Importantly he draws in other forms of music and incorporates them into his sound … sometimes singer-songwriter, sometimes eastern influences, sometimes country, psych, folk, classical, Hawaiian. He is never afraid to mix it up and he is never afraid to let the songs ramble with his emotions … so he becomes a sort of prog folk jazz singer-songwriter.
His songs may be long but lyrically they can be sparse, and normally his song lines are usually short. There is wordplay though there isn't excessive wordplay in his songs. His father who was a crime novelist, James Phillips who wrote under the name Phillip Atlee, may have had an influence:
Though, I'm sure you wouldn't see mystical dancing pixies in any of his fathers novels and at times in Phillip's music you fully expect one to hop out.
Then there is his voice … Phillips has a four octave vocal range and he isn't scared to use it and uses it all to punctuate the emotion in his songs. It can be direct but normally likes to be otherworldly. He comes across as a hippie cosmic Roy Orbison.
Or at least Roy Orbison who has been hanging out with Donovan, Sandy Bull and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
But, what I like about this music is you put it on and it is disarming and quite relaxing. You can't dance to it, you can't sing along to it, you can't even hum to it. But like the jazz or classical you can put it on and it will stimulate the senses.
Now I'm sounding like a hippie but, hey, we all need some time out to sit and think and this music tells us stories and allows us to chill out.
This album came at Phillips most creative peak and was recorded in 1972 apart from three that date back to 1969 ("Landscape", "Chorale", "Parisien Plight II").
All sorts of legends including Steve Winwood, Leland Sklar, Sneaky Pete Kleinow assist him on this record though the Glen Campbell is Juicy Lucy (and The Misunderstood) steel guitarist Glen Ross Campbell.
Tracks (best in italics)
Landscape – Nice, really nice and a little ethereal. An ethereal landscape?
'L' Ballade – so gentle and delicate it seems to barely exist.
Hey Miss Lonely – another one cone in the familiar Phillips style but genuinely enjoyable
Chorale – one of Phillips wordless songs, though not an instrumental. Have I used the word "ethereal" yet? A mix of Catholic chorale and Eastern traditions. It is meant to open the mind I suppose … all seven and a half minutes of it.
Parisien Plight II – The song starts with mood and percussive sounds combined with sound effects (monkey chattering, exotic birds chirping) before going off into a funky beat. If Woodstock had of been held on the West Coast of Africa instead of in upstate New York you would have an idea of where this is coming from. Thirteen minutes of it. It is of its time but enjoyable
We – a love song and a bouncy (well, as bouncy as Phillips gets) one.
Anello (Where Are You) – a playful song about musicians in a Donovan style but taken away on a tangent. Very funny.
I Took A Walk – a nice pointed song about America circa 1972.
I do like Phillips but I'm not sure where you would play him unless you were alone or with a lot of people who were stoned … I'm keeping it.