OK … by now you all should know I'm partial to the vocal group Jay and The Americans. At their best they were one of the best vocal harmony groups, black or white. At worst they were strictly saccharine MOR.
Where does this album fit in?
For those not au fait with Jay and The Americans, or those who have forgotten my earlier words of wisdom I refer you to my previous comments … see the end of this "comment". Suffice it to say they were from 1960s NYC, sang vocal pop and and were groomed by R&B, rock writing legends, Leiber & Stoller … is this enough?
This album is their second, released in 1963, and features Jay Black on vocals. The original vocalist Jay Traynor had just left the group so I suppose this is a bit of a try out for the new guy. (There is a third Jay – who does the recent revival concerts).
It's also a live album which was something quite rare in pop rock at the time though quite common in jazz and folk.
As to the question above – where does this album fit in the discography of Jay and the Americans ("JATA") – I would think it fits in at either end of their spectrum as it hints at the directions they would explore later, both good and bad. Mostly, though, it's a good indicator of US pop rock in 1962 prior to the rise of the Beatles when pop rock was suffering some growing pains. Mainstream rock was only six years old but already suffering a crisis as it's initial fans grew up. It seems record labels must have thought of rock 'n' roll as a music for youth and that as the youth grew they would gravitate to other forms of music rather than let rock grow up with them. The thinking of course is faulty and shows little knowledge of the origins and ancestry of rock but at the time it must have seemed the way … if proof of this logic was needed look at Bobby Darin who had successfully crossed over to Sinatra's territory and Dion and Ricky Nelson who had gone for smoother sounds. Hell, even Elvis had come back from the army and despite some convincing, landmark R&B and rock he was having big hits with glorified up-tempo Neapolitan songs like "It's Now or Never" and "Surrender" and old ballads like "Are You Lonesome Tonight" (and glorious they all are also).
With that in mind this album tried to accommodate JATAs previous doo wop leanings and R&B as well as incorporate cool lounge jazz, show type songs, and folk (which was going through a boom).
Produced by Lew Futterman for Leiber & Stoller the music is a little tinny – but this is a vocal group and these boys can sing.
What pervades the whole album is a sense of mischievous fun … there are quite a few asides both musical and between songs and there is a tongue in cheek attitude to most of the numbers. And some of the distinctively NYC Damon Runyonesque accents in the spoken bits are a hoot as well as quite urbane and astute as you would expect from a bunch of largely Jewish (?) kids from middle class (?) Belle Harbor, Queens.
Does it work ………………..yes (just)
Well, because these guys can …err, sing (despite the scattergun material)
Tracks (best in italics)
- Gypsy In My Soul – an old standard done by everyone … Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr.
- I Hear Music – a jazzy standard done by Ella Fitzgerald in1962.
- The Song Is You – a Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein standard, again done by everyone, but associated with Sinatra.
- A Certain Smile – a Sammy Fain – Paul Francis Webster song was published in 1958 for a film and is associated with Johnny Mathis.
- This Land Is Your Land – energetic, much in the vein of the folkies … a great song …
- The Percolator Song – the old standard nonsense song.
- The Riddle – "The Riddle Song" or "I Gave My Love a Cherry"… an old English folk song … look, something the English invented … a great old song revived by the folk movement but forever (in my mind) associated with Homer Simpson … mmmmmmm chicken. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Riddle_Song
- Girls, Girls, Girls – a Leiber – Stoller original done first by the Coasters and then covered by Elvis. This version is probably "inspired" by the Elvis version given the tempo and the fact that the film of the same name was released in 1962 however the comedic aspects are from the Coasters version … there is also a touch of Jerry Lewis in there. The English group The Fourmost did a similar comedic version in 1965.
- A Lot Of Living To Do – a song from the Broadway "rock" musical "Bye Bye Birdie"(1960) … it was made into a film in 1963.
- Gonna Build A Mountain – a faux folk song from the stage musical "Stop the World I Want to Get Off" by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse … which hit Broadway in 1962.
- Lawrence – a pisstake of the Lawrence of Arabia theme (?) with a vocal based on "Hey Baby" by Bruce Channel (I think)
- The Golden Vanity – another old folk song … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Vanity
- Kansas City – another Leiber – Stoller song from the early 50s – the best known version being by Wilbert Harrison in 1959 (#1). The Beatles did it in 1964.
- Baby, That Is Rock & Roll – another Leiber – Stoller done first by The Coasters (?) but popularised later in the "rock" musical Smokey Joe's Cafe.
- For All We Know – A version by Dinah Washington reached #88 on the chart in 1962 and a version by Nat King Cole is also well known.
Patchy but I'm keeping this.
I Hear Music
A Certain Smile
Girls, Girls, Girls
Baby, That Is Rock & Roll
For All We Know
Leiber and Stoller
- The original lead singer of this quintet was John "Jay" Traynor. After he left the group in late 1962, David Blatt assumed the name Jay Black and became the new lead singer. The original band split in 1970. Later on, Jay Black as well as Jay Traynor have travelled with a band of "Americans" due to a court settlement that allows them both to make a living off the name.
what Frank is listening to #157
what Frank is listening to #127
what Frank is listening to #123
what Frank is listening to #77
(originally posted: 17/10/2010)
what Frank is listening to #179 – JAY AND THE AMERICANS – At The Cafe Wha? – (United Artists) – 1962