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.

Image result for kool cigarettes penguin mascot

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.

Image result for Buck Ram songwriter images

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.

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.

Happy Christmas 2018 from Bob Dylan (x2), Judy Garland & Charles Dickens!

Traditions must be maintained!

An Etching by Rembrandt

A Literary extract from Charles Dickens

Music by Bob Dylan and Judy Garland .

Rembrandt who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.

rembrandt

There is such depth of humanity in Rembrandt’s etching of Mother and Christ Child.

The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.

So, at last it’s Christmas Eve!

I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.

I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have many years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!).

But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.

First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts!

Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.

The clip, above comes from his wonderful, ‘Theme Time’ radio show where over a 100 episodes he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century popular music and a wicked sense of humour.

Bob also recorded for the season at hand the deeply heartfelt, ‘Christmas In The Heart’ album which gets better and more extraordinary with every hearing.

It is clear that Bob, who is well aware that it’s not dark yet (but it’s getting there) is consciously rounding out his career by assuming the mantle of the grand old man of American Music tipping his hat to every tradition (hence the deeply stirring series of CDs where he explores the Great American Songbook).

The only safe thing to say about Bob is that he will have a few surprises for us yet!

Who could have imagined his helter-skelter, how fast can you polka punk?, take on, ‘Must Be Santa’?

Only Bob Dylan!

Only Bob.

Now we turn to Judy Garland with a Christmas song without peer, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.

Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

Today, not a poem but the concluding passages from, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the incomparable Charles Dickens – a writer for all seasons and situations.

‘Hallo!’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?

‘I am very sorry, sir’ said Bob, ‘I am behind my time,’
‘You are?’ repeated Scrooge. ‘Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.’
‘It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’

‘Now I’ll tell you what my friend, said Scrooge, I am not going to stand that sort of thing any longer. And therefore, he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again, and therefore I am about to raise your salary!’

Bob trembled and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

‘A merry Christmas Bob! said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

And who am I to do anything other than echo Mr Dickens and Tiny Tim?

So, to all the readers of the Jukebox I wish you a peaceful and joyous feast – however you choose to celebrate it.

God bless us, Every One!

 

Christmas Alphabet S for Santa Claus Is Back in Town : Elvis Presley

It is a moot point as to when the Christmas Season begins.

December 1st?

First Sunday of Advent?

Well, in my house, it begins the day I walk along the shelves of vinyl and with due reverence slide out, ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ which has been for 61 years now the best Christmas Album ever made.

If you want proof of that just cue up your stylus and play track 1 Side 1 – ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town’ and marvel again at the sheer majestic glory that was the voice and persona of the young Elvis Presley!

The sensuous power of his singing here leaves the pretenders to his throne suffocating in dust!

Elvis don’t need no reindeer nor no sack on his back.

No, when he rolls up in his big black Cadillac – Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

Here’s a Santa that will always be welcome back in town by every pretty baby the town can hold.

His magnetism, vocal assurance and sheer delight in his prowess shines through every bar.

There will always and forever only be one King.

 

The Alphabet Series continues on 15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t Miss One!

 

The Band : It Makes No Difference

The Heart, like the Mind, has cliffs of fall.

Any one of us can find ourselves tumbling head over heels down those sheer cliffs.

Prostrate at the foot of those cliffs; bleeding, broken, the Heart yet beats on.

Beats on.

Though the dawn no longer beings a sliver of hope still less the promise of joy the Heart beats on.

Night or Day, though the shadows never fade away – the Heart beats on.

The Sun, former friend, don’t shine anymore and the rains, the rains!

They fall and fall on your sodden door as the Heart beats on.

Oh, it makes no difference how far you go.

The Heart beats on.

It makes no difference who you meet.

They’re just a face in the crowd on a Dead End Street.

The Street where you live.

Without that love what are you?

Footsteps in an empty hall.

A scarred Heart still beating on though the battle is lost.

Lost.

Who can sing your broken heart’s Song?

Who can match in their musicianship and the harmony of their voices the depth of your loss?

 

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Four Canadians and one American, veterans of the roadhouses and Honkytonks, the white heat of Bob Dylan’s 1966 Tour and the restorative retreat of Big Pink.

Never a band better named – The Band.

They all played a plethora of instruments with loving skill and three of them sang with haunting grace.

Levon Helm – the Life Force.

The one with the leery vocals and the drummer beating out the animating rhythms.

Robbie Robertson – the Hot Shot.

The one with the gift of writing haunting songs and the guitarist who knew what you leave out is as important as what you put in.

Richard Manuel – The Holy Ghost.

The one who played the piano with gleeful brilliance and whose voice sounded like it had knowledge of those lands beyond the Styx.

Garth Hudson – The Professor.

The one who could play any instrument you put in front of him and who could conjure soundscapes from them (especially from the Lowery Organ) that no one else could begin to imagine.

Rick Danko – The Heart.

The one who played the bass like his life depended upon it and who sang with a keening country soul that could make you feel that he was saving your life and his with every word.

 

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And, when they had a great song to live up to they lived up to it.

A song for those who are hurt and scarred and whose hearts yet beat on.

 

The original version comes from The Band’s 1975 Album, ‘Northern Lights – Southern Cross’ a record that was shot through with autumnal elegiac solace.

Robbie said that the song was written specifically for Rick to sing and that as they rehearsed it the levels of emotion he brought forth demanded they all plumbed the depths of their musical instincts and empathy to match the magnificence of his vocal.

There is pain and loneliness in Rick’s voice but there is also a passionate determination for that battered heart to beat on.

Though he is aflame with torment he has not surrendered to final despair.

For despair is silent.

The supporting anguished harmony vocals of Levon Helm and Richard Manuel along with the fellow pilgrim guitar of Robbie Robertson and the soul cry of Garth Hudson’s final saxophone together with Rick’s peerless vocal make the Song a luminous triumph.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1976 The Band gave a, ‘Farewell’ Performance at The Winterland in San Francisco to which they invited famous friends like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Eric Clapton.

The concert demonstrated their ability to be brilliantly sympathetic accompanists switching styles with seamless ease.

Amongst many stellar moments there are two transcendent performances.

First, Van Morrison and The Band taking, Caravan’ right into the very heart of The mystic.

Second, a grand, stately, version of, ‘It Makes No Difference’ that rattles the walls of every Heart that hears it.

Rick’s vocal has the quality of an abandoned penitent refusing to believe, despite the rains falling all around him, that there is no hope left in Prayer.

Garth Hudson’s saxophone is a lambent lament fully equal to the line :

‘I Love you so much that It’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you’.

 

 

In the years after The Last Waltz while Robbie went all Hollywood Levon, Richard, Garth and Rick initially struggled to find their way.

It was in live performance that they found themselves again.

While they would never fill the stadiums anymore those who saw them were privileged to be in the presence of a group of musicians of surpassing craft who could yet cut to Heart’s core.

Below, a performance from 1983 in Japan.

The intensity of Rick’s vocal and the interplay with the wraithlike Richard Manuel sears the soul.

If you have tears ….

 

Rick Danko died, worn out by life on the road and the ravages of drugs and alcohol in December 1999.

He was 55 years old.

When a musician takes to the stage he stands in the spotlight surrounded by pools of darkness.

It takes a truly great musician, in the way he plays and the way he sings, to respect in performance, and present to the audience the truth of both the darkness and the light and do so with a full heart.

Rick Danko was such a musician.

His performances, with his Brothers in The Band, especially of ‘It Makes No Difference’ will always flame, night and day, year after year, as long as there are human hearts that though broken stubbornly beat on.

Beat on.