Sunday, April 01, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


(for a previous 1969 list, click here)

As we entered the final year of the decade, the United States was still dealing with the war in Vietnam, the anti-war movement, disenfranchised (or "drugged up") youth and serious racial tensions. On the other side of the coin, America was about to make its' mark in the space race, as well. Little did we realize that the end of the turbulent '60s really did bring about a great awakening in American society. By the final day, it seemed that most Americans had grown tired of the hippy movement, moved on from Woodstock and lost interest in the war (even though the draft and troop engagement went on for another 2 years). America accepted the fact that Nixon was the President, as the Democratic Party really self-destructed after the riots at the 1968 Convention. It would be 7 more years before they won another Presidential election, and 24 years before they had their second one.

Musically, the beginning of 1969 saw two landmark events. In late January, the great Elvis Presley stepped into American Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, recording "Long Black Limousine" thus beginning the recording of what becomes his landmark comeback sessions for the albums From Elvis in Memphis and Back in Memphis. Just 4 days later, The Beatles give their last public performance, on the roof of Apple Records. The impromptu concert was broken up by the police. Of course, the Woodstock Music Festival, in August, was the culmination of a decade of great change and awareness (not to mention sex and drugs). However, while still romanticized by many who attended, it really was an enormous mess, with numerous injuries, diseases and assaults. In hindsight, the backlash against the hippy movement that followed has still not changed, all these years later.

Just like today, there were serious tensions in the Middle East. In February, Yasir Arafat is named the head of the PLO. A month later, Golda Meir becomes the first female Prime Minister in Israel's history. In May, An American teenager known as 'Robert R.' dies in St. Louis, Missouri, of a baffling medical condition. In 1984 it will be identified as the first confirmed case of HIV/AIDS in North America. In June, the Cuyahoga River fire (outside Cleveland) helps spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities resulting in the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. That same day, Judy Garland dies of drug overdose in her London home. A few days later, The Stonewall riots in New York City mark the start of the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.

July, of course, brought us the Apollo 11 lunar mission. After 5 days traveling, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldredge (Michael Collins remained on the ship) successfully landed on the surface of the moon. They returned four days later to heroes welcome. Around this same time, tragedy once again stuck the Kennedy family (although this one was caused by them) when a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy drove over the side of the Chappaquiddick bridge, into the river below. Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign aide to his brother, dies in the early morning hours of July 19 in the submerged car. Due to the enormous amount of time between the accident, and Kennedy's notifying the authorities, it is believed the Senator was not sober at the time of the accident. Questions continued to dog him the rest of his life. Followers of Charles Manson murder Sharon Tate, (who was eight months pregnant), and her friends: Folgers coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring at the home of Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski, in Los Angeles, California. Also killed was Steven Parent, leaving from a visit to the Polanskis' caretaker. More than 100 stab wounds are found on the victims, except for Parent, who had been shot almost as soon as the Manson Family entered the property.

Within a week of each other, the first-ever episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? is broadcast on CBS and the very last Warner Bros. cartoon of the original theatrical Looney Tunes series is released. One week after that, "The Brady Bunch" makes its' television debut. In Chicago, the United States National Guard is called in to control demonstrations involving the radical Weathermen, in connection with the "Chicago Eight" Trial. Of course, this domestic terror organization has been back in the news these past few years because two of the original members, Bernadine Dorn and William Ayers are friends and close associates of current President Barack Obama. This incredibly diverse year and decade ended with the first draft lottery in the United States held since World War II.

Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat and Tears (lyrics)

"Spinning Wheel" was nominated for three Grammys in 1970, and won Best Instrumental Arrangement. It was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The album itself won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1970. In founding member Al Kooper's memoir, Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, Kooper writes that he originally conceived of Blood, Sweat and Tears as "a band that could put dents in your shirt if you got within fifteen rows of the stage. Like Maynard Ferguson's band from the years 1960-1964, I wanted a horn section that would play more than the short adjectives they were relegated to in R/B bands; but, on the other hand, a horn section that would play less than Count Basie's or Buddy Rich's. Somewhere in the middle was a mixture of soul, rock, and jazz that was my little fantasy." When the band was first forming, they needed $40,000 seed money while the first album was in progress. This made Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records (the A/R behind Leiber and Stoller, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan, amongst others) turn them down. Mo Ostin of Warner Brothers also nibbled but turned them down. Finally Bill Gallagher at Columbia signed them on, after attending the Monterey Pop Festival and becoming interested in the alternative market. One of the most intriguing riddles in rock 'n' roll history is: How did Blood, Sweat and Tears get it name? In Al Kooper's book, the truth is finally revealed: "One particular night, Jimi Hendrix, B. B. King, myself, and an unidentified drummer and bass player were going at it all night at the Cafe Au Go Go... At daybreak, when we finished playing, they put the house lights on and somebody observed: 'Christ! Look at the organ! There's blood all over the keyboard!' Sure enough, I had cut my hand playing, and in the state of bliss induced by my compatriot's sound had not felt a thing. What a great album cover, I thought. No. What a great name for a band."

Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival (lyrics)

In Rolling Stone issue 649, John Fogerty explained that the lyrics were inspired by a movie called The Devil And Daniel Webster, in which a hurricane wipes out most of a town. This is where he got the idea for the words "I feel the hurricane blowin', I hope you're quite prepared to die." Overall, he said the song is about the "apocalypse that was going to be visited upon us." This became the theme song of the demonstrators during the People's Park riots in Berkeley, California, in 1969. This song was used in two science-fiction movies of the 1980s: An American Werewolf In London (1981) and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1982). This contains a classic misheard lyric. The line "There's a bad moon on the rise" is often heard as "There's a bathroom on the right." Not only do many people sing the wrong lyrics, but John Fogerty himself sang the "bathroom on the right" lyric once during the "Premonition" concert. It can be heard after the last verse of the song quite plainly. The music makes this sound like a happy song, but the lyrics are very bleak, describing events that indicate a coming apocalypse. As a result of this song, American football player Andre Rison's nickname was "Bad Moon," as in "Bad Moon Risin'." Rison was an all-pro wide receiver, but is also famous for having his house burned down by Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes, a singer with TLC who was his girlfriend at the time.

Time of the Season - The Zombies (lyrics)

The theme of "Seasons" was a concept on the album Odessey And Oracle. Albums were very popular in 1967, so artists could put songs together that meant something when played in a certain order. The band broke up 2 weeks after this was released in 1967. In the US, it wasn't released until 1969, almost two years after the band disbanded. Lead singer Colin Blunstone went on to have a successful solo career including a #15 UK hit in 1972 "Say You Don't Mind" and was the guest vocalist on Dave Stewart's (not the Eurythmics Dave Stewart) 1981 UK #13 cover of "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted," as well works with the Alan Parsons Project (he was the lead singer on "Old and Wise"). The recording of this song bought about a minor spat between keyboardist Rod Argent, who wrote the song, and the vocalist Colin Bluntstone. The argument was over the phrase, "When love runs high." Bluntstone struggled with the high note at the end of the line, and snapped at Argent, "If you're so good you come and sing it." Argent admitted in Mojo magazine February 2008: "It was written really quickly and we didn't rehearse it an awful lot. I was trying to change the phrasing."

Worst That Could Happen - Brooklyn Bridge (lyrics)

This song was written by Jimmy Webb and originally recorded by The 5th Dimension on their 1968 Magic Garden album. Like "MacArthur Park" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," Webb wrote the song about a love affair that he had with Linda Ronstadt's cousin, Susan Rondstadt. And yes, she married someone else in real life. When Johnny Maestro (former lead singer of the Crests) put together an 11-piece band, his managers complained that it would be easier to sell the Brooklyn Bridge than to promote such a large ensemble. The name stuck. After the group recorded two songs assigned to them by Buddha Records and were less than amused with the results, Maestro was rummaging through his LP collection when he spotted this song on The 5th Dimension's album. The follow-up, "Welcome Me Love", and its flip side, "Blessed is the Rain" — both by Tony Romeo — each reached the Top 50. A dramatic version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" and the controversial "Your Husband, My Wife" also reached the middle ranges of the charts. The group sold over 10 million records by 1972, including LP sales, mostly produced by Wes Farrell. Appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Della Reese Show, and other programs helped to bring the group to the national stage. Johnny Maestro died on March 24, 2010, from cancer in Cape Coral, Florida, at age 70.

These Eyes - The Guess Who (lyrics)

Randy Bachman started writing this song when he was waiting in the living room at the house of his date, Denise. She was taking a long time getting ready so Bachman sat at the piano and wrote the beginning of this song. Denise - the girl he was waiting for - was the woman he eventually married. Burton claims the song took him just 15 minutes to write once he set down with his bandmate Burton Cummings to put it together. In 1968, this was a #1 hit when it was released in The Guess Who's native Canada. It got them a US record deal with RCA Records. This was The Guess Who's first Top 10 hit in the US. They hit #1 there the next year with "American Woman." Randy Bachman had the original piano chords with an original title of "These Arms." Burton Cummings changed the title to "These Eyes" and added the middle eight. After hitting the top 40 eleven times between 1969 and 1974, the band broke up, following their last big hit "Clap for the Wolfman." However, over the years, the band, under different arrangements, reunited a number of times. Currently, Bachman and Cummings tour together performing old Guess Who songs, as well as their other solo material (Bachman includes songs from his stint in Bachman-Turner Overdrive).

Something - The Beatles (lyrics)

This was released as a Double A-side single with "Come Together." It was the only song written by George Harrison released as a single by The Beatles. They had used some of his songs as B-sides, including "The Inner Light" and "Old Brown Shoe." Harrison wrote this during a break while they were working on The White Album. It was not recorded in time for the album, so Harrison gave this to Joe Cocker, but Cocker didn't release it until after The Beatles did. This seemed to be inspired by Harrison's wife, Pattie, but he claimed he did not have anyone in mind when he wrote it. George was really into his studies of Krishna Consciousness when he wrote this song and its original intent was as a devotion to Lord Krishna. In fact, the lyric was "something in the way HE moves." George ended up changing it because he didn't want to be perceived as a "poof." Pattie did inspire "Layla" when Eric Clapton realized he loved her a few years later. She and Clapton were married from 1979-1988. He also wrote "Wonderful Tonight" for her. In her 2007 book Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me, Pattie Boyd wrote: "George wrote a song called Something. He told me in a matter-of-fact way that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful and it turned out to be the most successful song he ever wrote, with more than 150 cover versions. George's favorite version was the one by James Brown. Mine was the one by George Harrison, which he played to me in our kitchen. But, in fact, by then our relationship was in trouble. Since a trip to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in India in 1968, George had become obsessive about meditation. He was also sometimes withdrawn and depressed." Harrison came up with the title after listening to a James Taylor song called "Something In The Way She Moves." Taylor was signed to Apple Records (The Beatles label) at the time. This is the only song on the Beatles 1 album that was not a #1 hit on its own in the US or UK. "Something" and "Come Together" spent one week at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart when the compilers of the chart changed its ranking method and stopped giving separate rankings for the two sides of a single. It was also gave Harrison representation among the 27 tracks.

Someday, We'll Be Together - Diana Ross and the Supremes (lyrics)

This was a remake of a song originally recorded by the duo Johnny and Jackey (Johnny Bristol and Jackey Beavers) in 1961. Motown Records brought in Bristol to produce a new version of the song for Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, but Motown chief Berry Gordy decided to give it to Diana Ross as her first solo single away from The Supremes. Bristol struggled to get the sound he wanted from Ross, and encouraged her along the way, which made it onto tape: That's him coaching Diana through the song, offering "Sing it pretty" and "You better" along the way. Motown decided to release this as by "Diana Ross and the Supremes," even though Ross was the only member of the group whose voice is on the recording - the backing vocals are by session artists. The next song Ross recorded, which was "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," became her first solo single. The songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in early 1968 after a dispute with the label over royalties and profit sharing, and the quality of Motown's output (and the Supremes' records in particular) began to falter. From "Reflections" in 1967 to "The Weight" in 1969, only six out of the eleven released singles reached the Top 20, and only one of those, 1968's "Love Child", made it to number one. Due to the tension within the group and stringent touring schedules, neither Mary Wilson nor Cindy Birdsong appear on many of these singles; they were replaced on these recordings by session singers such as The Andantes. The changes within the group and their decreasing sales were signs of changes within the music industry. The gospel-based soul of female performers such as Aretha Franklin had eclipsed The Supremes' pop-based sound, which had by now evolved to include more middle-of-the-road material. In a cultural climate now influenced more than ever by countercultural movements such as the Black Panther Party, The Supremes found themselves attacked for not being "black enough", and lost ground in the black music market. "Someday, We'll Be Together" hit number one on the American pop charts, becoming not only the Supremes' 12th and final number-one hit, but also the final number-one hit of the 1960s. This single would also mark The Supremes' final television appearance together with Ross, performing on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 21, 1969. The Supremes without Ross made their final appearance altogether on Ed Sullivan on February 15, 1970.

Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley (lyrics)

This was the last #1 hit for Elvis during his lifetime. A remixed version of "A Little Less Conversation" hit #1 in the UK in 2002. Memphis singer Mark James wrote this song and he recorded and released his own version, but it didn't go anywhere. Memphis Soul producer Chips Moman brought this to Presley in 1969, and Elvis immediately fell in love with it and decided he could turn it into a hit, even though it had flopped for James. This was recorded between 4-7 in the morning, during the landmark Memphis session that helped Elvis reclaim his title of "The King." This was a big comeback song for Elvis, as it was 7 years since his last #1 hit. Elvis' publishing company, along with his manager Col. Tom Parker, tried to get their usual cut of the royalties from this and threatened to stop the recording if they didn't. Elvis insisted on recording the song regardless. This song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

One - The Dog Night (lyrics)

This was written by Harry Nilsson, a popular songwriter who had hits as a singer with "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Without You." This is about loneliness. It was used in the film Recess: School's Out when the character of TJ is lonely and bored after all his friends go to summer camps. This was the first song on Three Dog Night's first album and it was one of 21 US Top-40 hits for the group, who did very well with songs written by other artists. Other hits by Three Dog Night include "Joy To The World" (written by Hoyt Axton), "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" (written by Randy Newman) and "The Show Must Go On" (written by Leo Sayer). The official commentary included in the CD set Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1965-1975 states that vocalist Danny Hutton's then-girlfriend June Fairchild suggested the name after reading a magazine article about indigenous Australians, in which it was explained that on cold nights they would customarily sleep in a hole in the ground whilst embracing a dingo, a native species of wild dog. On colder nights they would sleep with two dogs and if the night was freezing, it was a "three dog night". On October 24, 2009, Three Dog Night released two new songs - '"Heart of Blues"/"Prayer of the Children". A new studio album, the group's first in 24 years, is being recorded during breaks from touring using producer Richie Podolor. Although an EP of five new songs was recorded and released in 1983, and two new songs were issued on Three Dog Night's 35th Anniversary Hits Collection Featuring The London Symphony Orchestra, the band thas not recorded a full-length album since 1976's American Pastime.

Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond (lyrics)

In 2007, Neil Diamond revealed that this song is about Caroline Kennedy, who is the daughter of the American president John F. Kennedy. After performing the song via satellite at Caroline's 50th birthday party, he told the Associated Press: "I've never discussed it with anybody before - intentionally. I thought maybe I would tell it to Caroline when I met her someday. I'm happy to have gotten it off my chest and to have expressed it to Caroline. I thought she might be embarrassed, but she seemed to be struck by it and really, really happy." Diamond added that he was a young, broke songwriter in the '60s when he saw a cute photo of Caroline Kennedy in a magazine. Said Diamond: "It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony. It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there." A few years later, Diamond wrote the song in a Memphis hotel in less than an hour. Caroline was 11 years old when the song was released. David Wild wrote in his book He Is...I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond, "Diamond says that 'Sweet Caroline' just seemed to come out of 'the excitement of the moment.' More specifically, Diamond's excitement seemed to focus on a chord in the song's 'touching hands' section, a relatively unusual A6 chord that he had never played before." Even though the song has nothing to do with Boston, the Red Sox, baseball or New England, it is played at Red Sox home games in Fenway Park between the 8th and 9th innings. The song was first played in honor of a Red Sox employee who named her newborn daughter "Caroline" in 1998, and it caught on with the fans, getting regular play since 2003. It's an audience participation number in that the crowd sings "dum-dum-dum" after the words "Sweet Caroline" in the chorus and "so good, so good, so good" after "good times never seemed so good." This Fenway ritual is portrayed in the Drew Barrymore/Jimmy Fallon movie Fever Pitch. Neil Diamond told AOL Music Canada that Frank Sinatra's version of this with a big band is his favorite of all the covers of his material. He explained: "He did it his way. He didn't cop my record at all. I've heard that song by a lot of people and there are a lot of good versions. But Sinatra's swinging, big band version tops them all by far." Other artists to record the song include Waylon Jennings, The Drifters, Julio Iglesias and Elvis Presley.


Hawaii Five-O - The Ventures 

The Ventures are an American instrumental rock band formed in 1958 in Tacoma, Washington. Founded by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, the group in its various incarnations has had an enduring impact on the development of music worldwide. With over 100 million records sold, the group is the best-selling instrumental band of all time. In 2008, the Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their instrumental virtuosity, experimentation with guitar effects, and unique sound laid the groundwork for innumerable groups, earning them the moniker "The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands". While their popularity in the United States waned in the 1970s, the group remains revered in Japan, where they still tour regularly to this day. The CBS television network produced Hawaii Five-O, which aired from September 20, 1968 to April 4, 1980. Currently, the program is broadcast in syndication worldwide and via on-demand streaming media from CBS Interactive. Created by Leonard Freeman, Hawaii Five-O was shot on location in Honolulu, Hawaii, and throughout the island of Oahu as well as other Hawaiian islands—with occasional filming in other locales such as Los Angeles, Singapore and Hong Kong. Hawaii Five-O was named in honor of Hawaii's status as the 50th State. Although the show's name has always ended with the number "0," the soundtrack album, released in the late 1960s, used the letter "O" instead of the number zero. Today, an "O" is often used to differentiate the original series and the revival which premiered in 2010.

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