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’
‘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’
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.
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.
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.