Music Throwback: To Sir With Love

I was watching the 31 October 2017 edition of JEOPARDY! a few days later. There was a category in the second round called FILMS OF THE 1960s. The $1600 clue: “British pop singer Lulu had a small role in this 1967 film & also sang the title song.”

None of the contestants rang in, but then again, none of them appeared to have been born before 1970. Naturally, I knew, instantly, that it was To Sir With Love. At the time of the show’s airing, the song was in the midst of the 50th anniversary of its five-week run at #1 on the US Billboard charts. Interestingly. it also got to #9 on the US soul charts at #9.

Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie was born 3 November 1948 in Glasgow, Scotland. Tony Gordon, who would eventually manage Culture Club, discovered the 14-year-old performer. Tony recommended to his sister, Marian Massey, that she should manage the singer.

It was Marian who came up with a new name for Marie. “She actually gave up, and then said, ‘I’ll tell you one thing, she’s a real lulu of a kid,'” Lulu explained.

Marian’s sister Felice tipped off Marian about the script for To Sir With Love. Director James Clavell saw Lulu perform at a Beach Boys concert, and she got the film role and got to sing the title song.

In June 1967, Epic Records released The Boat That I Row, a Neil Diamond song. The song from the film was relegated to the B side. American DJs flipped the record. But To Sir with Love never made the UK charts and it was never even nominated for an Oscar.

Lulu has been an active performer on TV in the UK for decades and was married to Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees from 1969 to 1973.

LISTEN to:

Shout – Lulu & the Luvvers, #7 UK, #94 US (1964); #96 on (1967 re-release)

The Boat That I Row, #6 in the UK, #115 in the US (1967)

To Sir With Love, the best-selling single of 1967 in the US

The Man Who Sold the World, produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson; the former wrote, played saxophone, provided back-up vocals. #3 UK (1974), Top 10 hit in several European countries, did not chart in US

I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do), recorded in 1979, but not properly released as a single until 1981. #18 pop US, #2 US Adult Contemporary chart, only #62 UK

If I Were You, #44 US (1982)

Independence, #11 UK (1993)

Olivia Newton-John turns 70 (September 26)

There was an August 2018 article with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta dancing together, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the movie Grease. The stars have been great friends in the intervening four decades.

It’s weird that, for some reason, I never saw Grease in the movie theater, and it was a massive success. In fact, I’m not sure to this day that I’ve ever seen it in its entirety, though my daughter has watched the film on video

And it wasn’t just the movie that might have drawn me in, it was the music, with three Top 5 singles by Travolta and Newton-John in 1978. I have seen a high school production of the musical i the past couple years.

I’d forgotten that she was born in Cambridge, England. I did recall she was raised in Melbourne, Australia. She was a country artist early on, had some massive “middle of the road” hits before Grease.

But in 1980/1981, she transformed her career. Just as Sandy in Grease changed from goody-goody to being clad in spandex, Newton-John was inspired to do the same metaphorically. As a result, she had her largest hits in the US, Magic, and Physical.

I believe that, for the time, it was constitutionally illegal not to play Physical on the hour, unless you were on one of the two Utah radio stations that banned the single from their playlists. It was ranked by Billboard as the biggest song of the decade.

Her breast cancer had been in remission from 1992 until its metastasis was discovered in 2017. She’s become an advocate for better eating, animal rights, and the environment.

Yes, I have my one Olivia Newton-John greatest hits album, which I play every September. She shares a birthday with my late father.

Listen to:

If Not for You, #25 pop in 1971

Honestly Love You, #1 pop for two weeks, #6 country in 1974

Have You Never Been Mellow, #1 pop, #3 country in 1975

You’re The One That I Want, with John Travolta, #1 pop in 1978
Summer Nights, with Travolta and cast of Grease, #5 pop in 1978

Magic, #1 pop for four weeks in 1980

Physical, #1 pop for ten weeks, #28 R&B in 1981

Music throwback: Beaucoups of Blues – Ringo Starr

One of those albums I have only on vinyl is Beaucoups of Blues, Ringo Starr’s second solo album, which was recorded in Nashville in late June 1970, and released about three months later.

From the Wikipedia: “While playing on sessions for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Starr – a long-time country and western fan – met Pete Drake in May 1970. Starr had to pick up Drake from the airport so that the pair could record with Harrison; Drake noticed the number of country albums Starr had in his vehicle… Starr asked him if they could collaborate on an album together. Drake told Starr his musician friends could compose more than an album’s worth of material in a week, which Starr thought was ‘impossible.'”

But they did, and some of Nashville’s finest performed on the album.

Ringo, of course, recorded some country-related songs with the Beatles: Act Naturally, by Buck Owens, on the UK Help! album; What Goes On, attributed to Lennon-McCartney-Starkey, on Rubber Soul in the UK; and Don’t Pass Me By, which he wrote, and which appears on the white album. The first two songs were both on the US Yesterday and Today LP.

I liked Beaucoups of Blues quite a bit, actually. John Lennon told Rolling Stone it was “a good record”, but “qualified that comment by saying he ‘didn’t feel as embarrassed as I did about [Starr’s] first record,'” the sappy Sentimental Journey, released in March of 1970. Reviewers at the time, and especially in retrospect, have said it was a solid effort, one of Ringo’s best.

“In his combined review of all the former Beatles’ 1970 solo releases, Geoffrey Cannon of The Guardian rated Beaucoups of Blues as his favourite.” That would be in comparison with Sentimental Journey; McCartney, Paul’s solo debut; John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; and even the aforementioned All Things Must Pass.

Listen to:

Beaucoups of Blues, #87 pop on the Billboard charts
Love Don’t Last Long
Fastest Growing Heartache In The West
Without Her
Woman Of The Night
I’d Be Talking All The Time

$15 Draw
Wine, Women and Loud Happy Songs
I Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way
Loser’s Lounge
Waiting
Silent Homecoming (my favorite)

Coochy Coochy, B-side of the title track single

Meet the Beatle: A Guide to Ringo Starr’s Solo Career in 20 Songs

Happy 78th birthday, Ringo!

Music throwback: When I turned 4 plus 10

One of the those social media memes claims that the song that was #1 on birthday number 4 plus 10 defines your life. Well, that’s ominous.

If I go to the Billboard Hot 100, it gives me Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone by THE SUPREMES, #1 for just a week. Oh, thanks a lot.

But that’s for the week of March 11, because of the way they calculate these things. What about if I cheat and pick the week before, which actually runs through my natal day? That would be Ruby Tuesday by THE ROLLING STONES. At work, my on-the-phone day has been Tuesday for many years, so maybe that’s significant.

Hey, maybe I should look at the soul charts. (Sigh). Same sad SUPREMES song. But for the FOUR weeks before, there’s Are You Lonely For Me by Freddie Scott. I had heard it, but I don’t KNOW it like I recognize the others. Probably it’s because it only got to #39 on the pop charts.

His best showing on the POP charts was Hey Girl, a song written and composed by him, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, which went to #10 on both the pop and soul charts in 1963.

Not incidentally, the Billboard R&B charts were not published between November 30, 1963 and January 23, 1965, ostensibly because there was so much crossover, though the breakout of both the Beatles and Motown in 1964 would suggest otherwise.

Freddie Scott’s next two top 100 pop hits were I Got A Woman, #48 pop in 1963 and Where Does Love Go, #82 pop in 1964. They did get to #27 and #30 on the comparable Cash Box R&B charts.

The “correct” song on the country charts for me is The Fugitive by Merle Haggard. But the song that was #1 for two weeks before March 11 AND the two weeks afterwards is Where Does The Good Times Go by Buck Owens, not only a sad lyric, but ungrammatical to boot.

Listen to:

The Supremes – Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone
The Rolling Stones – Ruby Tuesday

Merle Haggard – The Fugitive
Buck Owens – Where Does The Good Times Go

Songs by Freddie Scott:
Hey Girl
Are You Lonely For Me Baby
I Got a Woman
Where Does Love Go

Chuck turned 14 in 1977. Poor Chuck.

Conversely, Dustbury was born correctly.

Music throwback: Alice Cooper turns 70

Alice Cooper, as an artist, absolutely fascinates me. This Godfather of Shock Rock, born Vincent Damon Furnier, has done shows that utilize “guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood, deadly snakes, baby dolls, and dueling swords.”

The shtick seems to have developed from a need for his band to stand out. His makeup was inspired by Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and other performers. “Furnier adopted the band’s name as his own name in the 1970s and began a solo career with the 1975 concept album Welcome to My Nightmare.”

Yet he is “known for his sociable and witty personality offstage, with The Rolling Stone Album Guide calling him the world’s most ‘beloved heavy metal entertainer.'” You see that in this interview just after his good friend Glen Campbell died. He was also friends with Groucho Marx, and got pied by his good buddy Soupy Sales.

At some point after getting sober in the late 1970s, he became a born-again Christian, interesting since he was raised by a preacher. He married Sheryl Cooper on March 3, 1976 and they had three children together: Calico Cooper, Dash, and Sonora Rose.” He has replaced his addition to alcohol with a near addiction to golf.

Over the years, he’s made his art mainstream, showing up in everything from the game show Hollywood Squares to the Muppet Show to the movie Wayne’s World.

I suppose I’m less interested in his body of work, though I do enjoy the anthemic quality of those early hits. In 2011, the original Alice Cooper band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Still, I’ll have to record and watch him playing King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar – Live! on April 1 – Easter Sunday! -on NBC.

Listen to (chart action on US Billboard charts):

Eighteen, #21 in 1971

School’s Out, #7 in 1972

Elected, #26 in 1972

No More Mr. Nice Guy, #25 in 1973

His birthday will be February 4.

Music throwback: Jingle Bells

It’s been around so long that I forgot Jingle Bells was actually penned by someone. The Wikipedia: “It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title One Horse Open Sleigh in the autumn of 1857.

“Although originally intended for the Thanksgiving season, and having no connection to Christmas, it became associated with Christmas music and the holiday season in general decades after it was first performed on Washington Street in Boston in 1857… It was first recorded in 1889 on an Edison cylinder” by Will Lyle.

Lots of people have recorded the song, of course, my favorite being Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1943. Even barking dogs have charted, first in 1955.

Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from space, by Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra with a smuggled harmonica.

Of course, it inspired a number of parodies and homages, most notably Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms from 1957, a very different tune that became one of the most popular seasonal song of all time; as of 2004, it was #3 behind only White Christmas by Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song.

“The first notes in the chorus have become a motif that has been inserted into recordings other Christmas songs, most notably a guitar passage at the end of [the Cole hit] and Clarence Clemons performing a saxophone solo in the middle of Bruce Springsteen’s Merry Christmas Baby; a piano is also heard playing these notes at the end of Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

But what’s not mentioned in the article is Joni Mitchell’s song River, which starts and ends with the Jingle Bells theme. I remain fascinated that one of my good friends, now deceased, who was a huge Joni fan did not discern it.

Listen to:

Jingle Bells (Disney)

Jingle Bells – Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters

Jingle Bells – Barking Dogs

Jingle Bells, Batman smells from the Simpsons

Jingle Bells – The Fab Four, in the style of Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles

Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms

River – Joni Mitchell

Trivial metadata surrounding music

A friend of mine wrote this about my wife: “[She] likes music but isn’t obsessed with the trivial metadata surrounding it — you know, she knows a song when she hears it but might not know the title or artist, or underlying themes, or what studio it was recorded in, or if the band’s usual drummer was replaced by someone else for some reason on that particular song — that sort of thing doesn’t interest her. ”

My wife is like that. And so are some folks who read my blog who DON’T know who Holland-Dozier-Holland are, or Barry and Greenwich, or Doc Pomus, or even George Martin when I mention them here, all of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They know Carole King from the album Tapestry, but Gerry Goffin, or Mann and Weil, not so much unless they happened to have seen Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

What I realized is that my friend, and much of the crew who worked at FantaCo, and the director of my library, and Dustbury, and Chuck Miller, and I are the anomalies. We’re the outliers who used to read the liner notes of albums to find out who wrote each song, who produced the tracks, even each song’s running time. We discovered that the person who wrote X also both wrote AND produced Y.

I’ll bet some of them used to read the side panels of cereal boxes. I know I did: thiamine, niacin…

I tended to surround myself with like-minded people and fooled myself into believing that almost everyone is like that. Then I post something on, say ABC Wednesday, and folks know the tunes but not the names.

I get the comeuppance I need. I’m the weirdo who knows Classical Gas by Mason Williams is exactly three minutes, designed to accompany some video on The Smothers Brothers TV show, without looking it up. But not everyone’s brain is filled with such musical trivia. And that, I suppose, is a good thing.

November 1971: the record producers

Long before reading Never A Dull Moment: 1971, the Year Rock Exploded by David Hepworth, I knew the role of the producer of popular music was changing during the late 1960s. Famously, “George Martin left EMI’s studios in Abbey Road to start his own studios… in order to command” a more lucrative salary.

Before being the collaborator, Martin had been the “company man,” trying to get the artist to record the type of music the label had sold most recently. At his insistence, the Beatles reluctantly recorded “How Do You Do It,” but it was shelved in favor of Lennon-McCartney music. (The song shows up on The Beatles Anthology 1.)

When record labels were not involved in the creation of albums, sometimes this allowed for great creativity. But it could also lead to expensive experimentation, such as on Pink Floyd’s Meddle, when the musicians often couldn’t hear each other, “capturing the sounds made by household items.”

Brooklyn-born Richard Perry produced albums for people as varied as Tiny Tim, Harry Nilsson and Barbra Streisand. “He knew you had to capture the performance before the artist thought it was perfect, at which point it was actually stale. (See Hank Green’s vlog post, The Secret to my Productivity; it’s related.)

Ken Scott went from tea boy to engineer with the Beatles, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd and Elton John, among others. While His session with David Bowie was very quick, with the vocals usually done on the first take, and no drugs or alcohol required by the artist.

“The producer that the bands asked for by name in 1971 was Glyn Johns.” He nearly passed on one group, who thought they were rockers, but when he heard their harmonies, he produced the first two albums by the Eagles.

Although Johns is listed only as ‘associate producer,’ he was the one we have to thank for what may be the best albums of 1971.” He honed downed Pete Townsend’s Lifehouse project, was eager to figure out what would work – a Lowery organ fed through a synthesizer – and created the distinctive sound of Baba O’Riley, the opening cut of Who’s Next.

Listen to the full album:

Meddle – Pink Floyd

Nilsson Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson (Japanese import)

Hunky Dory – David Bowie

Who’s Next – The Who

Music Throwback: Weather the Storm by Rebecca Jade

I discovered just this week that the video for Weather the Storm by Rebecca Jade was among the music videos nominated as finalists in the Viewers Choice category for the MUSIC CALIFORNIA VIDEO AWARDS, which will be held on November 30th in San Francisco.

You could vote for Rebecca Jade, or one of the other entries HERE, but only until November 1. Of course, I am pushing for RJ, since she’s not only an extremely talented singer and emerging songwriter, she’s my eldest niece, daughter of my sister Leslie.

She sings in a variety of genres. As her bio reads: “Rebecca is a vocalist and has been involved with music her whole life. Growing up in a musical home and having generations of musicians in her family, she has been exposed to a vast assortment of artists, genres and styles. Her own mother was a professional jazz singer in Puerto Rico. With such influences, it seems a natural progression that Rebecca has followed in her footsteps.”

She has been a top artist in San Diego, which you can read about here. My wife, daughter and I got to see her sing in New York City this past August when she was a backing singer for Sheila E., which was a fabulous experience.

Listen to:

Weather the Storm – Rebecca Jade (2015)

Hour Glass – Rebecca Jade and The Jade Element (2014)

Gonna Be Alright – Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact (2015)

Cuts Like a Winter – Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact

Planet Cole Porter medley – Peter Sprague and Rebecca Jade (2017)

I’d Rather Go Blind – Rebecca Jade, singing at Spaghettini (2014)

All This Love – El DeBarge w/ Rebecca Jade @ Music Box 11-28-2015

Siren’s Crush promo reel (2015)

Soultone promo reel (2014)

Available for purchase:

Rebecca Jade & The Cold Fact

Planet Cole Porter – Peter Sprague & Rebecca Jade

You can find her social media contacts, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Oh, and a belated happy birthday, niece!

Music, October 1971: Parents of rock stars

Clockwise from top left: Zappa, Cocker, Crosby, Clapton

The book Never A Dull Moment by David Hepworth notes a photo display in LIFE magazine in the fall of 1971 called “Rock Stars and their parents.” Among those represented: the Jackson Five, Frank Zappa, Ginger Baker, Joe Cocker, Grace Slick, and David Crosby.

“Eric Clapton was pictured with his grandmother Rose Clapp, who had raised him on behalf of her sixteen-year-old daughter. There was no mention of his actual birth mother. the public wasn’t ready for the complexity of a nonnuclear family.”

While photographer John Olson noted that the rock stars were “uniformly” well-behaved around their parents, they weren’t temperamentally suited for domestic life, having spent years on the road. Moreover, unannounced fans would try to show up on the doorsteps of Bob Dylan, Pete Townsend and others. Paul McCartney was the exception, as he and Linda lived in rural Scotland.

Often even these musicians of means still thought of themselves as creators first, people with homes second. Among the folks with studios actually in their abodes were George Harrison, James Taylor and Graham Nash. Other musicians were impulsive buyers of eccentric structures. Keith Moon’s house had five pyramids. Jimmy Page and John Lennon both needed others to stay in their residences.

As for musical families, the Kinks put out my favorite of their albums, Muswell Hillbillies, Donny Osmond and his brothers were strong on the charts all year since One Bad Apple copped the style of the Motown family’s J5.

The Beach Boys made the cover of Rolling Stones, a wildly successful singles band in the early ’60s who aside from Pet Sounds, were not particularly successful album artists in the latter part of the decade. They were perceived as uncool.

Fortunately, they pieced together the often magnificent Surf’s Up, in a way a tribute to the band’s aura. “Van Dyke Park, who had co-written the title song five years earlier correctly predicted if they used that title, they could pre-sell 150,000 extra copies.

Eventually, though, it was the old songs, first with the Who’s 1971 Meaty Big and Bouncy, then the defunct Beatles, followed by the Beach Boys, post 1973’s American Graffiti, that showed that nostalgia could sell quite well, thank you.

Listen to:

Surf’s Up – the Beach Boys
Coat Of Many Colors – Dolly Parton
Superstar – Carpenters
Old Man – Neil Young
Muswell Hillbilly – The Kinks
Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa
Will the Circle Be Unbroken – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Tired of Being Alone – Al Green