Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


This was 49 years ago and perhaps the last true year of the post-war innocence. Until now, the Baby-boom generation, moving out to the suburbs, white-picket fences and all-American exceptionalism ruled society in general. But there were warnings of change that were soon to erupt - especially on college campuses and in Black neighborhoods. By the end of the decade, assassinations, riots and war would fundamentally change the way we lived.

Part of that change began in January, when George Wallace became the Governor of Alabama. In response to a growing call for Black civil rights, Wallace (in his inaugural address) defiantly proclaims "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" However, just two weeks later, Black student Harvey Gantt enters Clemson University in South Carolina, the last U.S. state to hold out against racial integration. Change begins to affect other movements as well. in February, the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique launches the reawakening of the Women's Movement in the United States as women's organizations and consciousness-raising groups spread.

In May, few new items are released; Tab Cola, Coke's first foray into the diet market debuts, the U.S. postal system begins it's "Zip Code" system, "Dr. No," is the first James Bond movie to hit the theaters and "General Hospital" makes its' television debut. The Beatles first LP, Please Please Me, hits the shelves in Britain. In one year's time, the Fab Four will become the most widely known and successful rock and roll band in history. In a sad note, singer Patsy Cline is killed in a plane crash.

But the strife from the Civil Rights movement, including Martin Luther King's march on Selma, Alabama and his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" dominate the headlines - until November 22nd. On that day, known Communist Lee Harvey Oswald assassinates President John F. Kennedy, as his motorcade passes through Dealy Plaza in Dallas. Two days later, Oswald is gunned down while being transferred from city to county jail. His death encourages a massive amount of conspiracy theories regarding who actually killed the President, that continue today - 49 years later.

End of the World -- Skeeter Davis (lyrics)

Born Mary Frances Penick, Skeeter Davis was best known for this tune that peaked at #2 in the US in 1963. The record achieved the unusual feat of reaching the Top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop, Adult Contemporary, R/B and Country charts. Davis' four-chart top-ten accomplishment has never been duplicated by any other female vocalist in the history of Billboard. However, she had a modest career as a country music artist. One of her successes was her take on the song "One Tin Soldier." However, it did not reach the popularity of Coven's version, which was released off the Billy Jack soundtrack. Davis continued to perform frequently throughout much of the 1990s and into 2000. Quite a bit of her touring during the 1980s and 1990s was in international markets such as Barbados and Singapore where she remained a pop superstar. In 2001 she became incapacitated by the breast cancer that would claim her life. While Davis remained a member of the Grand Ole Opry until her death, she last appeared there in 2002. She died of breast cancer in a Nashville, Tennessee, hospice at the age of 72, on September 19, 2004.

One Fine Day -- The Chiffons (lyrics)

This is about a girl who has a crush on a boy who doesn't appear interested in her. She expects that he'll eventually fall for her, and waits eagerly for that day. It was written by songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin and was intended for Little Eva, who was the babysitter for King and Goffin and had a hit the year earlier with their song "Locomotion." Her voice did not sound right when they recorded it, so this went to The Chiffons. Carole King finally released her "official" version two decades later; her version reached #12 in the US. The group was originally a trio comprising lead singer Judy Craig, Patricia Bennett and Barbara Lee. They formed at James Monroe High School in The Bronx in 1960. In 1962, at the suggestion of songwriter Ronald Mack, the group added Sylvia Peterson, who at age 14 had sung with Little Jimmy and the Tops, sharing lead vocals with Jimmy on "Say You Love Me," the B-side of the Tops' 1959 local hit "Puppy Love." The group then began recording as the Four Pennies, with Peterson singing lead on "When the Boy's Happy." Over the course of 1963, the group gradually adopted the Chiffons name. As late as 2009, Judy Craig was performing as the Chiffons with her daughter and her niece, appearing at select shows throughout the U.S. and internationally.

(Love is Like a) Heat Wave -- Martha and The Vandellas (lyrics

Written by the Motown songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, this was the first Top 10 hit for Martha and the Vandellas. Lead singer Martha Reeves started as a secretary at Motown. In this song, Reeves sings about a guy who turns her on so much that her temperature rises when he's around. Like many of Motown's hits, it's a light and amorous Pop song. In contrast to other Motown groups such as The Supremes and The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas were known for a harder, R&B sound, typified by this song, "Nowhere to Run", "Jimmy Mack" and, their signature song, "Dancing in the Street". During their nine-year run on the charts from 1963 to 1972, Martha and the Vandellas charted over twenty-six hits and recorded in the styles of doo-wop, R/B, pop, blues, rock and soul. Ten Vandellas songs reached the top ten of the Billboard R/B singles chart, including two R/B number ones. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Martha and the Vandellas #96 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.

Puff, The Magic Dragon -- Peter, Paul and Mary(lyrics)

Peter Yarrow wrote this in 1958 before he joined the group. He wrote it after coming home and seeing a poem on his typewriter with words about the dragon. He based his song on this poem, which was written by Lenny Lipton. A few years later when this became a hit, Yarrow found Lipton and gave him half the songwriting credit. Lipton, who was a camp counselor when Yarrow found him, gets extensive royalties from the song. For his book Behind The Hits John Javna spoke with Lenny Lipton about his poem. Lipton was feeling homesick when he wrote it. One day, he was on his way to dinner at a friend's house, and was a little early, so he stopped at the library and happened to read some Ogden Nash poems. The title of the poem that grabbed him was The Tale Of Custard The Dragon, which is about a "Really-o Truly-o Dragon." Lipton was friends with Peter Yarrow's housemate when they were all students at Cornell University. On the walk from Cornell's library to the friend's house (where he was to eat dinner), he wrote the poem, which was about the loss of childhood. But no one was home when he arrived - there was some sort of mix-up about dinner. So he just went in and used Yarrow's typewriter to get the poem out of his head. Then, he forgot about it. Years later, a friend called and told him Yarrow was looking for him, to give him credit for the lyrics. Lipton had actually forgotten about the poem. The original poem had a verse that did not make it into the song. In it, Puff found another child and played with him after returning. Neither Yarrow nor Lipton remember the verse in any detail, and the paper that was left in Yarrow's typewriter in 1958 has since been lost.

Our Day Will Come -- Ruby and The Romantics (lyrics)

Dionne Warwick recorded the original demo of the song for songwriter Bob Hilliard and she told him how much she liked it. Dionne recalls, "It was written during that period of time when I met Bacharach and David. Bob Hilliard wrote the song also and he said: 'I've got a good little song here and there's a new group called 'Ruby and the Romantics' and will you do the demonstration record?' I said: 'Of course. I'd love to. And I did. And I told him then that it was a really pretty song." In 1982 Dionne Warwick included it as her only cover on her 1982 album Heartbreaker. An Abraham Lincoln quotation over the stage in the auditorium at Akron Central High School, where the group members attended may have been the inspiration for "Our Day Will Come" - "I will study and get ready, and some day my chance will come". Those who attended Akron Central High School in the early 1960s will recall hearing that song sung between classes by members of the group. The follow-up, "My Summer Love" reached #16 on the Hot 100 and a third release, the original version of "Hey There Lonely Boy" climbed to #27. As of 2003, Ruby was working in Barberton, Ohio at The Salvation Army thrift store. Though she rarely sings anymore, she will still sing with her church choir. She also says that she receives no money from the use of her songs.

You've Really Got a Hold On Me -- The Miracles (lyrics)

Miracles leader Smokey Robinson wrote this song for his wife Claudette after hearing Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" on the radio. Claudette was a singer in The Miracles. She and Robinson had two children - Berry, named after Motown president Berry Gordy, and Tamla, named after Gordy's record label The Miracles recorded on. When Motown was growing into a dominant label in 1962, they set up a tour where many of their acts performed together around the United States. For many people, this was their first look at Motown acts like The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. This was the biggest Motown hit at the time, so The Miracles closed the shows with it. During their nineteen-year run on the American music charts, The Miracles charted over fifty hits and recorded in the genres of doo-wop, soul, disco, and R/B. Twenty-six Miracles songs reached the Top Ten of the Billboard R/B singles chart, including four R/B number ones. Sixteen of the Miracles' songs charted within the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, with seven songs charting within the Top Ten and two – 1970's "The Tears of a Clown" and 1975's "Love Machine" (Part 1) – reaching number-one. Although Robinson left the band in 1971, the original Miracles, Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, Claudette Rogers and Robinson, re-united in Detroit in 2007 to celebrate the group's 50th anniversary, and performed in a tribute to Motown founder Barry Gordy.

And Then He Kissed Me -- The Crystals (lyrics

This was the very first recording by the Crystals to feature all 4 members. (The year before, they lost a fifth member when Mary Thomas departed to marry). Dolores "La La" Brooks sang lead on this and for the rest of their career as a group. By July, 1963, Phil Spector had already made the Top 100 with 7 chart hits that he produced. He successfully ended his partnership with Lester Sill and began his marriage to Annette Merar. Shortly after his marriage, Spector traveled to New York looking for a song to follow up on the Crystals success with "Da Doo Ron Ron." "Then He Kissed Me" was the perfect song for the group and Phil put together one of his most extravagant productions for the record.Spector produced this using his "Wall Of Sound" technique, which meant long hours in the studio for the musicians, as Spector was notoriously stingy allowing breaks. His engineer Larry Levine recalled: "He didn’t want to give them a bathroom break. Not because he wanted to work them to death, but because he didn’t want them to move microphones or bodies or anything. He wanted everything to stay as it was in the studio. But he would work for three hours or more before we ever put anything on tape. And I think the reason was he wanted to tire these great musicians so that they weren’t playing individualistic; they were too tired. And so they just melded into this wall of sound." In 1987, this song was used in the opening of the movie "Adventures in Babysitting."

Ring of Fire -- Johnny Cash (lyrics)

This was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. Kilgore wrote several other Country hits, acted in a few movies, and became a manager for artists like Hank Williams. Kilgore was best man when Carter married Cash. June Carter wrote the lyrics about her relationship with Johnny Cash. She felt being around Cash was like being in a "ring of fire." Cash was involved in drugs and had a very volatile lifestyle. When she wrote this, both June and Johnny were married, but they became singing partners and close friends. By 1967, Cash and Carter were single again and they got married in 1968. Johnny claimed that June saved his life by helping him get off drugs. June died in 2003 after 35 years of marriage to Johnny. In her autobiography I Walked the Line, Johnny Cash's first wife, Vivian Cash, denies that June Carter had any part in writing "Ring of Fire." In her words: "She didn't write that song any more than I did. The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part."

So Much in Love -- The Tymes (lyrics

In 2005 The Tymes were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. As of 2006, they were still performing, with three of the original five group members; they appeared on the PBS special My Music: Love Songs of the 50s and 60s.The Tymes had hits in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s with songs such as "So Much in Love", a U.S. chart topper and million-seller in 1963, "You Little Trustmaker" and "Ms Grace". The last of these became the group's biggest UK hit, reaching Number One in the UK Singles Chart in 1975, but barely dented the Billboard Hot 100 after the success of "So Much in Love". "Ms Grace", while only charting modestly in the U.S., was and remains a regional hit with the Carolina Beach Music scene. The group was formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1956 as the Latineers, by Donald Banks, Albert Berry, Norman Burnett, and George Hilliard. After a four year stint on Philadelphia's club circuit, they recruited a new lead vocalist, George Williams in 1960, and changed their name to The Tymes.

Bonus Track

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp) -- Allan Sherman (lyrics

The music is based on the 1876 Ponchielli opera "Dance Of The Hours." Sherman wrote the lyrics, which are a comical letter from a boy at camp. Sherman was a writer onThe Steve Allen Show and created the game show. He went on to record comedy albums. Sherman's career success was short-lived: after peaking in 1963, his popularity declined rather quickly. After the JFK assassination, impersonator Vaughn Meader vowed to never again do a Kennedy impression, and perhaps because of this ominous shadow – Meader was a very popular parody impressionist of the day – and the resulting reluctance to book such acts, the public saw less of Sherman's type of comedy. By 1965, Sherman had released two albums that did not make the Top 50 and in 1966, Warner Bros. dropped him from the label. His last album for the company, Togetherness, was released in 1967 to poor reviews and poorer sales. All of Sherman's previous releases had been recorded in front of a live studio audience, but Togetherness was not, and the lack of an audience and their response affected the result, as did the nondescript backup singers and studio orchestra. Late in his life, Sherman drank and ate heavily which resulted in a dangerous weight gain; he later developed diabetes and struggled with lung disease. In 1966, his wife Dee filed for divorce and received full custody of their son and daughter. Sherman lived on unemployment benefits for a time and moved into the Motion Picture Home near Calabasas, California for a short time to lose weight. He died of emphysema at home in West Hollywood ten days before his 49th birthday. He is entombed in Culver City, California's Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery.


Anonymous said...

Well done but no Beatles before their U.S. invasion in Feb. 1964.

Dana said...

This brings back memories! It was the year I graduated from high school.