The Penguins : Earth Angel (Street Corner Symphonies & Subway Psalms)

Street Corner Symphonies.

Subway Psalms.

Fountain flows of secular prayers unceasingly ascending to very Heaven.

Yearning, yearning, yearning.

A feeling in the heart igniting the spine.

Somewhere out there beyond the block there must, must, be someone waiting, yearning, believing, just like you.

The air is charged, vibrant.

Through the Ether you can hear the harmonies.

Through the Ether you can hear the echoes.

Listen!

Listen to The Harptones, The Orioles and The Five Satins.

Listen to The Cadillacs, The Charms and The Capris.

Listen to The Danleers, The Dubs and The Duprees.

Can’t you hear them singing just for you?

Listen to The Penguins.

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Oh, oh, the vision of your loveliness.

I hope and I pray.

I pray.

Oh, someday, someday, I’ll be the vision of your happiness.

Happiness. Happiness. Happiness.

Please be mine.

Darling dear.

Darling dear.

One Moonbeam.

Two Moonbeam.

A street corner symphony indeed.

A subway psalm for sure.

Oh to be just such a Fool.

A Fool in Love.

In Love.

Today, another ordinary/extraordinary Jukebox story surrounding a Doo Wop classic from 1954.

An ordinary/extraordinary story featuring:-

  • Two sets of high school friends recording a demo in a Los Angeles garage that goes on to sell at least 10 Million copies and feature in a succession of Hollywood movies.
  • A court case, with singing from the witness box, to determine who wrote the song and hence who gets the royalties (for it is a music business truth that where there’s a Hit it won’t be long before there’s a writ).
  • The near bankruptcy of the first independent record label to achieve a national smash hit.
  • One definite murder and one highly suspicious death.
  • A guest appearances by Frank Zappa.

So, let’s begin with The Penguins.

They took their name from ‘Willie’ the iconic mascot for the Kool Cigarette brand.

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The members who recorded, ‘Earth Angel’ were Cleve Duncan (lead vocal), Curtis Williams (bass), Dexter Tisby (tenor) and Bruce Tate (baritone).

Curtis and Bruce were alumni of Jefferson High while Cleve and Dexter met at Fremont High.

The piano on the recording was played by Gaynel Hodge (who had previously been in The Hollywood Flames with Curtis Williams and who would go on to be a founder member of The Platters).

No one is sure who played the drums though some speculate that Bongo King Preston Epps was in the garage on that fateful October day.

It seems that Earth Angel emerged out of the collective consciousness and unconscious of Curtis Williams, Gaynel Hodge and Jesse Belvin (a prolific songwriter and melting vocalist who had been their mentor in The Hollywood Flames).

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Jesse’s song from 1952, ‘Dream Girl’ is an obvious influence on ‘Angel’ as is The Swallows’, ‘Will You be Mine’.

Close listening to Patti Page’s, ‘I Went to Your Wedding’ (which The Hollywood Flames had demoed) and The Flames own, ‘I Know’  will reveal pre echoes of Earth Angel.

And. there’s a definite sonic signature traceable back to Rodgers and Hart’s, ‘Blue Moon’ which occupied some part of everybody’s musical memory.

When the royalties battle came to court Jesse Belvin’s virtuoso vocals convinced the Judge that he deserved his share of the greenback bonanza along with Curtis and Gaynel.

The Penguins were in the 2190 West 30th Street Garage because that was where Dootone Label owner, Dootsie Williams, liked to record.

The Garage Studio was owned by Ted Brinson, a relative of Dootsie’s, who had been a Bass player for the Jimmy Lunceford and Andy Kirk swing bands.

Dootsie is the beaming bespectacled gent below next to Johnny Otis a legendary black music mover and shaker who wearing his Disc Jockey hat (Johnny wore a lot of hats) gave, ‘Earth Angel’ many a spin to push it to the top of the LA Charts.

Dootsie heard something winning in The Penguins sound and, as a music publisher, thought that their songs might set the cash registers chiming.

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Thinking of those cash registers and Juke Box Nickels it wasn’t, ‘Earth Angel’ that Dootsie heard as the Hit.

No, he preferred, ‘Hey Senorita’ and that was the official ‘A’ side when the record was issued (the choice perhaps not unconnected with Dootie’s name having a writing credit on Senorita!).

Now, I like the Latin feel of Senorita and the heart racing bongos (hello Preston!) but even in 1954 I could have told you that the treasure was on the ‘B’ side.

And, if you want to know how a record will sell ask a man who sells records and then ask a man who spins records on the radio.

They know!

Dootise took an acetate of the two sides to John Dolphin of Dolphin’s of Hollywood an all night record shop and a network centre for the black community.

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Broadcasting out of Dolphin’s front window was White Disc Jockey Dick, ‘Huggy Boy’ Hugg who attracted a loyal audience across the Black and Latino communities.

That’s Huggy on the right below.

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John Dolphin and Huggy Boy told Dootise that there was there was absolutely no need for any instrumental overdubs as the ravishing beauty of, ‘Earth Angel’ lay in the impassioned foregrounded vocals.

Still, it was Senorita which went out as the A side but radio DJs and the public were in no doubt – flip that platter and give us more of, ‘Earth Angel’!

And, that’s exactly what happened.

Earth Angel tore up the charts in every territory and raced to the top of the R&B list and steadily climbed the Billboard Pop ladder.

Dootsie pressed as many sides as he could though the strain on his cash flow pushed him close to bankruptcy as the distributors took their time reimbursing him for the sales.

Eventually Dootsie made sweet dollars from Earth Angel as did Jesse, Curtis and Gaynel.

As for the rest of The Penguins the story was not so happy.

Through the smarts of Buck Ram (pictured below) they got out of their contract with Dootone and landed with major label Mercury.

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Buck’s interest in The Penguins was not perhaps as fervid as his interest in the group he insisted be part of the ‘transfer deal’ – a group called The Platters for whom he would write a series of immortal hits including, ‘The Great Pretender’!

So, while The Platters were launched into the showbiz stratosphere The Penguins languished and never really troubled the charts again.

Yet, they carried with them forever more memories of high times at the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas and their name in lights at the gala reopening of Harlem’s Small’s Paradise.

They played Alan Freed’s Labor Day show at the Brooklyn Paramount with legends such as Fats Domino, the Teenagers, the Cleftones, the Harptones and the Moonglows.

And, deep in their hearts they knew that on an October day in 1954 they had made a record that would never die.

Cleve Duncan led a version of The Penguins for decades before his death in November 2012. It was the power of the plea in his tenor lead along with Dexter Tisby’s tender stewardship of the bridge section that made, ‘Earth Angel’ so distinctive and unforgettable.

In one of those, ‘you couldn’t make it up’ happenstances a deeply knowledgeable fan of The Penguins and all the greater and lesser Doo Wop groups was none other than Frank Zappa and when he wrote a song, ‘Memories of El Monte’ in 1963 he turned to Cleve Duncan’s Penguins to bring it to charming life.

El Monte is based on the chords of Earth Angel and celebrates rock ‘n ‘roll dances at El Monte Legion Stadium where the young Frank and like minded teenagers – Black, White and Latino mixed to listen to and dance to music they all loved.

The song and Cleve’s lovely vocal hymns The Heartbeats, Marvin & Johnny and The Medallions among others.

A wonderful homage that sends you right back to the original because through The Jukebox we can travel back to the past and find a sound and a love that will always last.

Earth Angel … Earth Angel .. will you be mine?

My darling dear  .. love you all the time

I’m just a fool .. a fool in love with you

Earth Angel the one I adore

Love you forever and ever more.

And, that’s how long, ‘Earth Angel’ will be listened to and swooned over.

Forever and ever more.

In memory of Cleve Duncan 1935 – 2012, Curtis Williams 1934 – 1979 and Bruce Tate 1937 – 1973. Wishing long life and good health to the surviving Dexter Tisby.

Notes :

Those murders?

Sadly John Dolphin was sadly shot to death in 1958 in his own store. A murder that was witnessed by Bruce Johnston ( later in the Beach Boys) and sandy Nelson (of Let There Be Drums fame).

Dolphin’s death was a profound loss to his community where he had been prominent as a business man, music promoter and producer and networker.

Jesse Belvin died in a car crash with mysterious circumstances on a tour of The South at the age of 27.

Jesse’s signature song was the exquisite, ‘Goodnight My Love’ which pioneer Rock ‘n ‘ Roll DJ Alan Freed used as his show ending song.

His 2 LPs, ‘ Just Jesse Belvin’ and, ‘Mr Easy’ are wonderful records ideal for late night reverie listening.

Dick ‘Huggy Boy’ Hugg 1932 – 1960 was a Rhythm & Blues and Latino music Evangelist.

The DJ persona in Dave Alvin’s great song ‘Border Radio’ (previously featured here on The Jukebox) is believed to be Huggy Boy.

 

 

Teddy Thompson : Dreams of Blue Tears and A Change of Heart

The Ague.

The Lurgy.

Viral Gastroenteritis.

Whatever you call the malodorous malady the effect is the same.

Total exhaustion moderating to laid low lethargy.

So, for the last few days no morning runs for me.

No Scotch, no Bourbon, no Beer.

The height of appetite – a slice of plain toast.

The height of visual concentration – one paragraph of a book or two minutes of TV.

Is it 3 in the afternoon or three in the morning?

Sleep. Restlessly doze.  Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep.

Can’t concentrate on the radio.

What I need is music that is melodious and comforting and hauntingly familiar without being hackneyed which will faithfully abide with me as my state of consciousness veers from ten fathoms deep slumber to stunned heavy eye lidded awareness.

So, for the last 72 hours on constant repeat as the moon and sun replace each other in the heavens and my mind races with scudding dreams I have been listening to Teddy Thompson’s magnificent tribute to the Country Ballad : ‘Upfront and Downlow’ and marveling at the way his love and respect for these classic songs gives them new dimensions of beauty without any disrespect to the wonders of the original versions.

if I could sing this is exacttly how I would want to sound like singing songs of hard won wisdom and care worn truth.

Teddy is not imitating anyone.

Neither is he intimidated by any of the great artists who have taken on these songs before.

He gives an extra patina to these songs – burnishing their brilliance.

My mind performs slow aquatic somersaults as the songs flow in and out echoing each other and the all voices that sang them.

Don and Phil. Hank and Ernest. Elvis and Dolly.

Fragments of Fractured dreams abound.

Goodbye to all those castles in the air.

Guess you had a change of heart.

A change of heart.

Sing it for me Teddy.

Oh, oh, if we only could go right back to the start.

But the river flows. The river flows one way. One way.

Everyone wants, needs to believe the things the loved one says and everyone feels the same pangs when it turns out not to be that way.

In my hallucinatory dreams songs and images entwine and drift apart.

Entwine and drift apart.

Echoes echo on into infinity.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein relentlessly pursues me through the splashy salt marshes as a fireball lights up the sky.

Elisha Cook Jr gibbers as he pulls out his gat ready to drill me full of holes.

He would have done it too if Ida Lupino hadn’t beaten him to the trigger.

Echoes. Echoes. Echoes.

There’s an emptiness tonight.

There’s a longing in my heart.

Though we said that we were through …

I’ll be waiting here for you.

Waiting here for you.

And, diving to the deepest depths of my deepest dream the entwined voices, balm and blessing, of Teddy Thompson and Iris Dement.

The heart echoes every time it beats.

Til the day it echoes no more.

What time is it?

What day is it?

Where am I?

Have a care! Chap here’s run absolutely amok.

Lilian Gish rocking on her armchair cradling a shotgun.

Is it 2019 or 1959 or 1969?

Ah, I must be sick but it’s ok my mum will be coming up the stairs soon with my favourite comic, a glass of orange squash and some ice cream.

There’s a baby crying somewhere.

Is that my sister, my daughter or my granddaughter (or my son)?

Too many questions and riddles.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep . Sleep.

What’s that Elvis song you’re singing now Teddy?

Well you tried to tell me so.

But how was I to know.

Guess I’m not so smart.

You’re right, I’m left, She’s gone.

I’m left all alone.

Right. Left. Gone.

Gone.

Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac as the propeller turns and the fog descends.

You’re right, I’m left, she’s gone.

Gone.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

A boy and his father and a bicycle.

How many songs with Goodbye in the title?

Good. Bye.

See you later Alligator.

I’ll see you, even if I don’t want to, in my dreams.

Let me tell ya something sister.

Just so you know and for the avoidance of doubt.

Youve messed with my mind and heart enough.

Enough.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

I’ll help you pack.

I’ll call a cab.

I’ll pay the fare.

I ain’t building my gallows for you anymore.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

Goodbye.

 

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Mitchum and me never should have trusted Jane Greer.

Those string arrangements swirling around my head – there’s a signature there.

Whose?

Ah .. 1974. I’m in my room in college listening to the music of a previous alumni – Nick Drake and the strings are arranged by another Cambridge alumni – Robert Kirby.

Soft sift in an hourglass.

Soft soft.

1956. 1966. 1974. 1990.

Photographs fading into photographs.

The river flows.

Soft sift.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

What’s that bird at the window?

Where’s that light coming from?

I’m in no mood for sunshine today.

Waste not your warmth.

What’s that song?

What’s that song?

Fly away little blue bird.

Fly away.

Go spread your blue wings.

Go light your blue sky.

Leave me here.

Leave me here.

Me?

I’ll shed my blue tears.

My blue tears.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Thanks to Teddy and Iris and Tift and Don and Phil and Elvis and Dolly and Felice and Boudeloux for seeing me through.

Thanks Teddy.

 

Note : As always if for corporate/copyright reasons any of these clips fail to play you will find they or an alternative clip can be quickly found by a quick Google/YouTube search.

Happy Birthday Don Everly! Singing beyond Singing.

Note : This Post is best read in conjunction with the previously published,’Phil Everly Remembered’ from January 2017.

Don Everly was born on February 1st 1937

Don is the elder of the two brothers – almost two years older than Phil.

When they started out on the radio singing before they went to elementary school they were billed as, ‘LIttle Donnie and Baby Boy Phil’.

Don had the deeper baritone tenor voice.

Phil had a pure strong tenor and generally harmonised one third above Don.

Together, singing in harmony for decades, they achieved an ambrosial sound that has never been matched in popular music.

When they started to record it was Don who played the punchy rhythm guitar licks that signalled that though deeply grounded in Country Music these young men were true Rock ‘n’ Rollers who had been listening to the thunderous groove of Bo Diddley.

That influence is unmistakeable from the intro to their breakthrough single ‘Bye, Bye Love’.

As no lesser an authority than Keith Richard put it :

’Don’s acoustic guitar, that rhythm guitar, was rocking man! I guess that rubbed off on me’.

Here’s Don and Phil at their epic, ‘Reunion Concert’ from 1983 showing that they had lost none of their instrumental and vocal potency.

Sadness never sweeter.

Bye, bye Love.

Bye, bye, Happiness

Hello Loneliness.

I think I’m gonna Cry.

Bye, bye Love.

It was generally Don who sang the solo parts in Everly Brothers songs.

There was a quality in his voice, a seeming deep acquaintance with the heartaches that assail us all, that never fails to move me deeply.

And, when he and Phil found a song like, ‘All I Have To Is Dream’ they graduated from being upcoming hit makers into an immortal presence in millions of hearts.

Gee whiz. Gee whiz.

Dream, dream, dream.

In 1960 Don wrote, ‘So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)’ allowing The Everly’s to demonstrate their unparalleled control of the slow harmony ballad.

Teddy Thompson (Richard & Linda’s son) said that he had spent thirty years seat hing for singers as good as The Everly Brothers before realising that it was an impossible pursuit.

Who could argue with the truth of that verdict?

Inevitably, two brothers who have been singing together since early childhood will have fallings out and Tne Everlys, deeply contrasting personalities, certainly did.

Working apart tney both made fine records.

I’ve chosen to showcase here a sublime duet recording of a Louvin Brothers song Don cut with Emmylou Harris.

I remember the first time I heard this thinking – Emmylou is a magnificent singer and a great harmoniser but Don Everly, Don Everly! has clearly been blessed with a gift that is  very rare indeed.

A gift that he shared in such generous measure with all of us.

Happy Birthday Don.

Thanks for all the songs and all the singing.

I’ll conclude with an Everly Brothers performance of, ‘Kentucky’.

This is singing that goes beyond singing.

Singing that is the heart in pilgrimage and the soul in paraphrase.

The dearest land outside of Heaven.

Heaven.

The Kinks : Days (Thank You For …)

Here is is.

Another Day.

One Day.

One among the unknown number alloted to you.

Bless the light.

Another sacred day.

Yours to do with what you will.

This Day won’t, can’t come again – though you may remember it for every Day you have left to live.

Bless the Light.

Today is all we have and whatever happens today you have the absolute existential freedom to choose how you act, how your react, to whatever this Day brings.

Bless the light.

And, when you come to the end of this Day you will have much to give thanks for – not least that the lightning bolt of death has stayed sheathed in the heavens.

Give thanks for the day that is done and pray that tomorrow will dawn for you and gift you one more sacred day.

Bless the light.

And, as you walk through the world of your alloted days you will find that the steps of others will from time to time fall in step with yours.

If you are very fortunate you will find that another’s steps will match yours for mile after mile after mile and that if you lose your footing and fall behind they will stay their steps until you catch up.

Thank you for the Days.

I won’t forget a single day believe me.

Bless the light.

There will be guides and spirits along the way who will befriend and show you t e way before going their own way.

On this road of Days you will find that those who once walked so companionably by your side now seem to marched ahead or taken another turn to take them out of sight.

Yet, as you come to give thanks for another Day of your alloted number you can give thanks for the miles you shared and wish them well wherever they are on the highway of their own Days.

The night is dark and sorrow comes to us all so give thanks for the Days you shared.

Thank you for the Days.

Those sacred days.

Bless the light.

Don’t forget a single Day.

A single Day.

 

Another bitter sweet classic from the pen of Ray Davies brought to vivid, shimmering life by The Kinks.

One of the hallmarks of Ray’s greatness as a songwriter is the ability to tell stories distilling complex emotions we all share into endlessly satisfying three minute vignettes which are faithful both the joy and the sadness in our lives.

Ray has acknowledged that a songwriter is frequently, at the time a song is created, unaware of the effect it will have on its audience :

The song has grown in intensity over the years … you don’t think about it, but it’s built up quite a mystique over the years. It certainly left me. It belongs to the world now.’

That’ll do for me as the definition of a great song!

The beauty of the lyric, tenderly evocative but unspecific, is that will be apposite for so many of us in so many times and stations of our lives.

Recollection of those sacred days will always as the days pass have elements of regret.

Loss and sorrow are not to be feared in this world – they come with the territory.

The song starts as an almost busked folk song before building to a tremendous crescendo    as the piano, drums and harmony vocals take the song deep into our hearts.

And, as we will see below, it’s a song that can even surprise its author with its keening power.

In 2010 Ray Davies played the Glastonbury Festival just after the death of Pete Quaife, the Bass player in the original Kinks lineup.

Pete Quaife had quit The Kinks just after ‘Days’ was recorded so playing the song must have had particular resonance for Ray as he looked out on the thronged audience (each of whom will have had their own days to remember and bless as they sang along).

Bless the light.

Thank you for the Days.

Those sacred Days.

 

 

 

Beach Boys, The Who, Jan and Dean (not forgetting The Regents) : Barbara Ann

Keen readers of The Jukebox will recall that in a previous Post (featuring the song, ‘Do You Want to Dance?) I revealed that my exhaustive researches in; theology,the classics, the canon of great literature, modern psychology and neuroscience had led me to the inescapable conclusion that there were only five essential questions to be asked, and answered, in Life.

I can now tell you, prior to the publication of, ‘The 5 questions every life must answer‘ that one of these is … ‘What’s your Name?’

Who am I? Who are You?

Names are very powerful signifiers.

More powerful and mysterious in their effects on our lives than we generally allow.

At some point in my mid teens I became, ‘Thom’ instead of ‘Thomas’ or, ‘Tom’ (I would never, never, allow, ‘Tommy’) to differentiate myself from all the other Toms – as well as the Dicks and Harrys.

By insisting on a particular spelling of my name I was establishing a particular identity for myself.

An identity to embrace and challenge the world with.

Of course, in the world of the creative arts changes of name are common to signal a move from the private into the public and commercial realms.

There was a particular moment in time when someone asked the young Robert Zimmerman what his name was and after a micro second of hesitation the reply came, ‘Bob Dylan’ and a legend began.

In the realm of romance the question, ‘What’s your Name?’ starts that crazy carousel spinning, spinning, spinning.

As the wonderful Don and Juan, in their Doo-Wop classic from 1962 observed the thought behind the question is frequently : ‘Do I stand a chance with you?’.

Once you’re aboard the carousel you’ll find that the name of your beloved will take on sacred properties and hearing your own name spoken by them will constitute a new christening.

So, here’s a Post about a song that celebrates a particular name with abounding Joy.

Not forgetting to mention the power of familial love and discord, car crashes, comas, the collision of music genres, fate and happenstance, huckstering marketing and genius goofing off.

Or, to put it another way as The Regents first sang (and I defy you not to sing along, I’ll hold down the bass, you take the falsetto) :

‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’

Image result for the regents doo wop group images

‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann (take my hand)

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

You’ve got me rockin’ and a -rollin’

Rockin’ and a reelin’

Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’

Yowzah! Yowzah! Yowzah!

That’ll have you dancing ’til a quarter to three and then some.

I think we can agree the brothers Fassert and The Regents did Barbara Ann proud.

Mighty proud.

How The Regents came to have a top 20 hit with the song is a saga in itself.

Originally in 1957 they were The Monterays and included among their members Ernie Moresca who went on to Rock ‘n Roll immortality through writing, ‘The Wanderer’ for Dion.

Ernie dropped out and they became The Regents (they may also have been briefly known as The Desires).

They then recorded a series of unreleased demos in New York recording studios in 1958 (one of these, significantly for our story, was Regent Studios).

Core members were Guy Villari on lead (whose preferred cigarette brand was Regent), Sal Cuomo (first tenor), Tony Gravanga (baritone and Sax), Donnie Jacobucci (baritone) and Chuck Fassert (second tenor).

During one of their 1 hour demo sessions they spent 50 minutes running down a ballad, written by Guy Villari, called, ‘A Teenager’s Love’ and wondered what to do with their precious remaining 10 minutes of studio time.

What about that song written by Chuck’s kid brother Fred about their kid sister, ‘Barbara Ann’ – it was always a kick to warm up to and who knows maybe people would like it even if it was basically just the repetition of her name over and over again!

So in 10 minutes it was wrapped up and a waiting world … heard not a whisper of it as 50 or more Record Labels said, Barbara Ann – no thanks!

And, that is where the story might have ended.

But, as fate would have it, in 1961 it happened that Donnie Jacobucci’s younger brother, Eddie, joined a group called The Consorts who were looking for material to record.

Eddie remembered, ‘Barbara Ann’ and taught it to his fellow Consorts who then cut their own version.

This was brought to the attention of Lou Cichetti of the Cousins Record Shop and Label. Sharp eared Lou also listened to the Regents demo which had been brought in by the original songwriter,Fred Fassert.

Lou was in no doubt which was the superior version (Fred was a winner either way) and promptly decided to issue The Regents version in March 1961.

This necessitated their urgent resurrection once the tune sped to Number One in the New York region after being heavily played on the radio.

Lou, aware that the record needed national distribution, leased it to Roulette/Gee who pushed it all the way to Number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

So, the fruit of 10 minutes work paid off handsomely – though it took 3 years to do so!

The Regents would only have one more hit, ‘Runaround’ in September 1961 but, ‘Barbara Ann’ would never die!

Once a song, particularly a Doo Wop song, got wide radio play hordes of young singers thought – we could do that!

Among those tuning in to, ‘Barbara Ann’ were two California High School buddies, Jan Berry and Dean Torrence.

Jan and Dean found that their voices had a pleasing blend and that Dean had a knack for capturing multi part vocal arrangements on tape (which would later bring him to the attention of and to collaborate with another California native more than somewhat obsessed with multi part vocal arrangements – one Brian Wilson).

Their career benefited from the patronage of Herb Alpert and Lou Adler and Dean’s astute insights into song structures and song genres.

He quickly picked up how well their Doo Wop chops would fit with the burgeoning Surf Music scene.

It also didn’t hurt that they had a clean cut tanned handsomeness that looked real swell on record covers and posters ripe for the bedroom walls of teenage girls all over the nation.

Surf City, in 1963 was the first Surf song to ride all the way to the top of the Hot 100 while the succeeding, ‘Drag City’, ‘The Little Old Lady from Pasadena’ and the prophetic, ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ (Jan Berry had a terrible car crash in April 1966 sustaining serous head injuries which left him in a coma for 2 months) carved out a secure place in history for the duo.

In 1962 they had laid down their take on, ‘Barbara Ann’ which they no doubt sang when they shared stages with the Beach Boys – who were of course the High Kings of the Surf Scene.

Altogether more produced and assured than The Regents.

I’m sure this will have gone down a storm on the beach party scene.

The Drums here really drive things along and the assures layering of the vocals with the clinching sax break makes this a cert for the repeat play button.

By the summer of 1965 The Beach Boys had already issued 2 successful Albums as well as holding down a heavy touring schedule.

However, Capitol Records wanted more.

Tney didn’t really want to hear that resident genius Brian Wilson, in response to hearing The Beatles rapid development as represented on Rubber Soul, had ambitions to write, sing and produce material of an altogether more sophisticated nature.

To hold off Capitol while Pet Sounds coelesed in his mind and soul a plan was hatched to record a largely acoustic live in the studio party session where they would cut loose on a series of favourite songs – including Barbara Ann on which their old friend Dean Torrence would share lead vocals.

We should also never forget the contribution of percussion potentate Hal Blaine on ashtrays!

You want loose?

You want a party?

Ah … Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann …

 

Loose but very lovely.

And, before the personalities began to grind against each other to all their detriment an example of family and friends having a whale of a time together.

Classily Capitol’s marketing strategy for, ‘Party!’ included sending dealers a million (!) bags of Potato chips adorned with the album’s cover art for distribution to the ravening fans.

Barbara Ann was the last track on the record as originally issued and was not chosen as the single.

Instead a non album 45,’The Little Girl I Once Knew’ hit the playlists in November and was roundly disliked by DJs and Station managers as it included repeated instances of silence throughout.

So, as fate (ah fate) would have it DJs turned to the track on the Album that seemed likely to get the best response.

You’ve guessed it Barbara Ann.

Thus, it became very hard to turn on your radio  and not hear, blasting out at full volume …Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann!

All the way to Number 2 and eternally into the memsory of anyone who ever heard it.

Now, apart from the extremely hardy and commited few, Surfing as a pastime, still less  a culture was largely unknown to us Brits.

But, only those with their radios steadfastly tuned to classical stations were unaware of The Beach Boys.

And, musicians and songwriters in particular were in awe of Brian Wilson’s melodic gifts and conceptual imagInation.

No one will be surprised to learn that Paul McCartney was stunned by Brian’s talents and driven to match them in songs and arrangements of his own.

An unexpected Beach Boys devotee was none other than one of the true wild men of the era –  the iconic drummer of Tne Who Keith Moon!

It’s fair to say that Keith’s gifts as a singer are dwarfed by his gifts at the drum kit yet there is something immensely touching listening to him assay, ‘Barbara Ann’in his unique falsetto.

 

Lordy, Lordy.

Of course, once Daltrey, Townshend and Entwhistle cut loose in support of their sticksman there can be no getting out of the landslide that was The Who at full throttle.

Rockin’ and a rollin’ Rockin’ and a rellin’ indeed!

Slight though Barbara Ann is in the glorious Beach Boys treasure trove it recurred in their live shows  simply because everybody can sing along and it’s just flat out FUN.

When they toured on 2012 to celebrate a staggering 50 years as a Group tney invariably encored with Barbara Ann and duly brought the house down.

It seemed that tour was the last time Brian and Mike Love were on speaking terms.

So for the good times ….

To conclude as we started with the power of names : we know how pretty, pretty, Peggy Sue was and we are always happy to hear from BIllie Jean and indeed from Bobby Jean and  the party is always guaranteed to go with a swing when Fannie Mae calls round.

Still and all nothing gets me stirred like :

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann.

Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, (never forgetting Lonnie Donegan!) : It Looks Like I’ll Never Fall in Love Again

In late 1962 the sun was setting on the commercial career of Lonnie Donnegan.

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The man who had run up an astonishing 24 successive top 30 singles (31 in total) including 3 Number Ones in the UK as well as 2 top 10 hits in America, now, it seemed, couldn’t get a hit to save his life.

Perry Como wasn’t calling up to invite him back on his show (where he had appeared alongside Ronald Reagan!).

The man who had strummed the first immortal chords of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Britain with Rock Island Line in 1956 and who had inspired thousands of teenagers to form a Skiffle group found that the caravan of popularity had moved on.

Moved on to the Beat Groups whose members had almost all been electrified, transformed, by listening to Lonnie from the mid 1950s.

Moved on above all to The Beatles.

But the Beat Group Boys never forgot their debt to Lonnie.

Listen to Roger Daltrey of the Who :

‘I wanted to be Elvis  .. I knew that. But the man who really made me feel I could actually go out and do it was Lonnie Donegan’.

Listen to Paul McCartney :

‘He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No 1 in the charts. We studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.’

Lonnie had adopted his first name in homage to the legendary Jazz/Blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson after the Chris Barber Band shared a Royal Festival Hall Concert with the great man in 1952.

Maybe it was thinking back to Lonnie Johnson’s smooth vocal delivery and elegiac tone on songs from the 1930s and his own melancholic situation that set Lonnie’s creative juices flowing when he came to write, ‘(It Looks Like) I’m Never Going To Fall in Love Again’.

Lonnie Donegan had developed since boyhood a deep love and understanding of the heritage of American roots music – Folk, Blues, Jazz and Country.

Songs from that treasury swirled about in his memory.

One of those songs was a wistful ballad, ‘Wanderin” or ”I’m Never Going To Cease My Wandering’ which recurred from the 1920s on in versions by Vernon Dalhart, Eddie Arnold and Milt Okun among many others.

Using that template and collaborating with Jimmy Currie he took ‘Wanderin” to the  piano and crafted a timeless classic.

Lonnie didn’t have the vocal prowess to sell the song in the bravura manner that it would later receive.

No, his own version is distinguished for me by its hesitant charm.

This is a man, a man wounded by love, singing the song softly, tenderly, to himself in regret after the storm of emotion has largely subsided.

There can be great beauty and sometimes unexpected peace in the stillness after the storm.

The song wasn’t much played on the radio and it wasn’t a hit.

Lonnie carried on playing clubs and cabaret always singing his heart out.

Singing his heart out.

But, like I’ve said here before and will surely say again – a true message always gets through.

Sometimes, it just takes a while.

So, scroll forward four of five years and Lonnie runs into an old friend, Tom Jones, and he thinks – now here was a man who can sell a ballad!

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In Lonnie’s home the two troubadours sat down, no doubt fortified by strong liquor, and talked about songs they had loved growing up.

Lonnie took out, ‘It Looks Like …’ and said.:

‘ Tom, I have this song – you’d sing the pants off it. I recorded it but I can’t really sing it (like you could)’

Tom remembered that, ‘Wanderin” had gone down a storm as a singalong in the pubs of his native Wales.

Listening to Lonnie’s song he knew that the chorus was just made for his own Alpha male full throated style.

And, so it proved.

Tom’s version hit Number 2 in the UK Charts in 1967 and appeared twice on the US Charts – top 50 in ’67 and Number 6 when re released in 1969.

When Tom Jones takes on a ballad you know there will be no half measures.

Tom has vocal power and range aplenty and is capable of bringing shade and nuance to a lyric.

Here, he takes us on a passionate journey through a man’s bewilderment at his current situation.

Though he thought he knew the score and cast aside his pride now, now, he can’t take anymore.

There is time for tears in the wake of lost love.

And, then, it will feel like you’ll never fall in love again.

Yet, Tom’s version has such force, such strength, even in defeat, that you are sure this is a champion who will, though he has to take a count, get up off the canvas and get back in the game again.

The eternal Game of Love.

A true message always gets through.

For there are always those for whom the message seems personal, heaven sent.

So scroll forward to the mid 1970s when Tom Jones appears regularly in Las Vegas.

And, of course, no Tom Jones show is complete without his scintillating take on, ‘It Looks Like ..’.

Frequently in the audience for Tom’s shows is another Vegas Star – in fact the greatest Vegas Star, Elvis Presley.

And, Elvis knows a storming ballad when he hears one.

When Elvis comes to record the song it’s sadly near the end of his storied career.

Now, though he’s still a Lion he’s a Lion in Winter.

So, Elvis brings a depth of melancholy to the song that’s beyond either Tom or Lonnie.

Though his royal robes may have seemed threadbare in those days he was and always would be The King.

And, when a King sings we should all pay full attention for there are many pretenders but only one King.

Only One King.

So, Lonnie’s little regarded song from 1962 had proved a true wonder and before his death in 2002 Lonnie must have reaped some handsome royalty cheques to add to the pride he had in his song writing.

And, that is where I had planned to end this Post.

But, what do I know of the strange forces of synchronicity and serendipity?

For, as I began to write it happened that Lonnie Donegan’s son, Peter, a fine singer and musician in his own right, appeared on the UK talent show, ‘The Voice’ and that also on the show as Judge/Mentor was none other than Tom Jones!

The format of the show involves the Judges listening to the contestants with their chairs turned away from the stage so that they assess purely on the basis of the voice rather than looks and age.

Listening to Peter Tom’s interest was immediately piqued and he was the judge whose chair turned around.

Then, in story book fashion, Tom learned that Peter was the son of his old friend and writer of one of his signature songs – Lonnie Donegan.

And then to make the movie complete Tom and Peter put on a tear inducing impromptu performance of, ‘It Looks Like ..’ that brought the house down.

Somewhere, the shade of Lonnie must have smiled and thought, ‘I told you so …’

 

Notes ;

It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Lonnie Donegan on Rock ‘n’ Roll In Britian.

Billy Bragg’s book, ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers’ is a fine primer on Lonnie’s role in the Skiffle movement.

Chas McDevitt’s book, ‘Skiffle – The Definitive Inside Story’ is filed with wonderful anecdotes from those who were there.

There are many fine single CD collections of Lonnie’s hits.

I listen with great pleasure to the 5CD, ‘Lonnie Donegan Collection’ on the Spectrum label which amply demonstrates the breadth of his talents.

 

Nina Simone, The Animals : Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

All of us want to be loved.

All of us want to be known for who we really are.

All of us want to be understood.

We want to stretch out our hand to someone who says, with feeling, ‘I know, I know, I know exactly what you mean’.

Yet, so  often, we feel, far from being truly understood, we are instead misunderstood.

Living day to day can be so hard.

We make mistakes.

We let ourselves down.

No one alive can always be an angel.

Sometimes it seems all we have to do is worry, worry, worry.

We regret those foolish words so carelessly spoken.

Oh, but at heart, in our soul, to get through another day, to live companionably, we must believe our intentions are good.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

 

Nina Simone.

An artist of the first degree.

A musician, singer and performer sharing the stature of Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday and Aretha Franklin.

Not that you can compare her artistry to anyone else.

There has never been anyone like Nina Simone.

A naturally gifted pianist and a singer who made every song she ever sang her own.

She grew up in in pre War South Carolina where strict limits were imposed on the ambitions of young black girls – however talented.

Her originality, her sensitivity and her intuition which were integral to her greatness as an artist made her acutely, painfully, aware of the savage injustice she was heir to as a proud Black Woman and artist in the land of her birth.

So, when Nina Simone sang there was always wounded pain informing the beauty she created.

She brought fierce attention to a song melding the personal and the political with irresistible force.

‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is in her reading a plea for personal and political justice and respect from a casualty of wilful misunderstanding – including her misunderstanding of herself.

Listening, you feel suspended in time, swaying in tempo, as Nina Simone with her poised piano and bruised vocal excavates layer after layer of meaning and emotion.

Listening, you hear a blues, you hear a spiritual, you hear echoes of No More Auction Block, you hear echoes of All My Trials, you hear a cry from the heart.

Listening to the way she bites into and stretches the words misunderstood, good and joy for maximum effect.

There is a gravity in her performance of this song which I find emotionally overwhelming.

Nina Simone cuts deep and listening to her is both immensely rewarding and profoundly disturbing for there can be no ignoring the dark truths about humanity and society she so often revealed.

Nina Simone paid a high price in personal terms for the truths she told.

We are all in her debt for the courage and fortitude with which she pursued her vocation and for the many treasures she bequeathed through her records.

I estimate that there are over 400 versions of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ in the catalogue.

I have listened to twenty or so before writing this Post.

I found merit in the versions by Joe Cocker, Julie Tippets & Brian Auger, Mary J Blige and especially in that of Meshell Ndegeocello.

But, it seemed to me there was only one version that I could, in all conscience, present in the same Post as that of Nina Simone.

The Animals.

The pride of Newcastle.

They were specialists in sourcing songs from the blues tradition and turbo charging them through the lacerating power of Eric Burdon’s vocals and intensity of the arrangements led by Alan Price’s entrancing Organ and Hilton Valentine’s down these mean streets Noir Guitar.

I have read that Bob Dylan jumped out of his car and shouted with amazed delight when he first heard The Animals take on, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ which they had found on his debut LP.

I would not venture to guess what Nina Simone made of their version of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ yet we can say that it is an intensely driven, masculine, version that can never be forgotten once heard.

Certainly, Bruce Springsteen, a major Animals devotee, must have had this version in his head as he wrote, ‘Badlands’.

While no one could attempt to match the Nina Simone original The Animals version, a classic in its own right, became the essential template for almost all versions that followed.

We will always be in search of understanding.

We will always be edgy, have regrets and be filled with worry.

While wanting desperately to be understood we will misunderstand others and ourselves.

That’s what it is to be human rather than an angel.

Ah  but, if we could, if we just would pay proper attention to each other and the world around us we might in our journey come to understand that every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

We might come to live in the land of spices.

We might hear church bells beyond the stars.

We might find something understood.

Sing it Nina.

Notes :

Nina Simone’s original version can be found on her 1964 Album, ‘Broadway, Blues, Ballads’.

The Animals version was released in January 1965 – it was a substantial world wide hit.

The writers of the song were Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott (who arranged and conducted the Nina Simone version) and Sol Marcus.