Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's the Most Wondeful Time of the Year

Christmas Music: Part 4
For our final Christmas post (and last post of 2011!), I'm featuring the classic tunes that we all know and love from this wonderful time of year. As a kid, it officially became Christmastime for my family when we heard this next song. Written on a hot, blistery summer day in 1944 by Mel Torme' and Bob Wells, "The Christmas Song" (a.k.a. "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire") was first made famous by The Nat King Cole Trio in 1946 (excellent, early live footage here). The most-performed Christmas song of all time, it is Nat King Cole's re-recorded version with string orchestra in 1961 that is regarded as definitive. By playing this classic Christmas LP (recently purchased from eBay!) on our record player, it's an honor keeping this beautiful baritone voice alive.

And you know the party is really getting started when this next tune starts playing! Written by Johnny Marks and recorded by the rockabilly/pop/country singer Brenda Lee in 1958, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" didn't become a big hit until Lee became a star in 1960 and it reached #14 on the pop chart. The following year, it continued to sell well, even hit #5 on the charts, and has continued to be a popular holiday standard for over 50 years. Despite her mature-sounding voice, Lee was only 13 years old when she recorded this song! Although the song's title implies "rock and roll," the song's instrumentation also fit the country genre of the time, featuring Hank Garland's ringing guitar and Boots Randolph's swinging saxophone.

Written in October of 1962 by married couple Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is a pensive yet lovely Christmas song, intended as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following year, this song was made a worldwide smash hit by Bing Crosby, whose bass-baritone voice has made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th Century (with over half a billion records in circulation!!). Bing's version aired on TV on December 13th 1963 on the 'Bob Hope Christmas Special,' posted below.
A longstanding Christmas staple from my childhood is Elvis' Christmas Album from 1957, the best-selling Christmas album of all time in the U.S. No singles from this album were issued until 1964 when "Blue Christmas" was released that November and reached #1 on the Billboard Christmas chart, even re-entering the chart several times over the next few years. Originally a country song recorded in the late 1940s, Elvis' cover version is musically notable for the replacement of many major and minor thirds with neutral and septimal minor thirds, a.k.a. "blue notes," in the backing vocal parts. This live footage of this rock-and-roll holiday classic comes from Elvis' 1968 "Comeback" Special which aired that December.

And for the last song of our Christmas music series, here's another seasonal favorite, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by American singer Andy Williams. Written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle, this popular Christmas song was released that same year on The Andy Williams Christmas Album, and was performed on Williams' own TV variety show (which he hosted from '62 to '71). Since, this original version has become a radio airplay standard during the holiday season, even gaining more popularity each passing year. Thanks for a Christmas classic, Andy!

I hope you've enjoyed listening to fun music from Christmas past! Merry Christmas to you all and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

For The Kiddies

Christmas Music: Part 3
Today's post features music from animated/stop-motion clips that are still Christmas classics decades later. First, it's "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," written and sung by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (a.k.a. David Seville), and credited to the fictitious Chipmunks (thanks to his V-M tape recorder). First released in 1958, it reached #1 on the Billboard chart, and re-entered the chart several more times through 1962 (in 1963, Billboard starting listing re-current Christmas songs on a separate chart). Bagdasarian earned three Grammy Awards for this song including Best Comedy Performance, Best Children's Recording, and Best Engineered Record. (Original video removed from YouTube).
A follow-up to their "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron", The Royal Guardsmen released another novelty song later that same year in 1967, this time "Snoopy's Christmas." Once again featuring the beloved beagle from the Peanuts comic strip, this song is about how Snoopy and the Red Baron set aside their differences on Christmas Eve, echoing the historical event of the "Christmas Truce" during WWI. Peaking at #10 on Cashbox 's list, this holiday favorite actually hit #1 in New Zealand, remaining a popular Christmas song in that country..

Speaking of the Peanuts gang, 1965 saw the release of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," a CBS Christmas special with an accompanying album of the same name. Performed by the jazzy Vince Guaraldi Trio, it is among the most popular Christmas music albums of all time. Here's a quick clip from the special featuring the mellow tune of "Christmas Time Is Here."
Another one of the few Christmas specials from the 1960s to be shown annualy on TV is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" Originally airing on CBS in 1966, this Dr. Seuss animated classic featured the voice of Boris Karloff as the Narrator and The Grinch, however, it was Thurl Ravencroft (mentioned in the Halloween post) who performed "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch." After Ravencroft was accidentally not credited in the closing credits, Seuss personally called him and apologized, and wrote letters to columnists nationwide to clear up the mistake. Too bad YouTube will only allow me to post a portion of the song.

Finally, we'll conclude with the longest-running Christmas TV special, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which has been telecast every year since it first aired in 1964 on NBC. Produced in stop-motion animation, this special featured original songs by Johnny Marks that have become Christmas standards including "A Holly Jolly Christmas," "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and "Silver and Gold." Here's a clip from the special with folk singer Burl Ives performing "A Holly Jolly Christmas."

Stay tuned for one last post featuring the best sounds of the season!

Monday, December 5, 2011


Christmas Music: Part 2

Alright, we're beginning another full post with a fun, instrumental classic by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. Originally a show tune from the Rodgers' & Hammerstein 1959 musical The Sound of Music, "My Favorite Things" has become a popular Christmas selection, likely because of the wintertime imagery in the lyrics. With the unmistakable trumpet-playing style of Herb Alpert, this quick rendition comes from the group's Christmas album (their eleventh release) in December of 1968.

Now, this next song has absolutely nothing to with Christmas, except for the fact that its titled "Holiday." So why include it on this post? Why not! Written by Barry and Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees, these two brothers share lead vocals in this haunting song that is primarily in a minor key with a strong organ presence. Released as a single in the U.S. in September 1967 (although not released in their native England), this song remained a concert favorite for over 30 years, with Maurice Gibb sometimes providing comedic antics by attempting many failed attempts to join in with his brothers.

Up next is an original Christmas song performed by Motown girl group The Supremes. Released in November 1965, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Me" was the B-side of their holiday single that year and was featured on their album Merry Christmas, which peaked at #6 on the Billboard Holiday charts. Here's a sweet, little tune with a nice photo montage for ya.

On a completely different note, this next seasonal tune comes from Here Come the Brides, an American comedy Western TV series that first aired on ABC in 1968. "St. Day Carol" is a Cornish Christmas song that dates back to the 19th century, and is beautifully performed here by Bobby Sherman and David Soul (who were propelled into stardom after their roles in this show). Singer/actor Sherman became a teen idol during the late '60s and early '70s while Soul went on to star in the TV show "Starsky & Hutch" in the mid-'70s.

And our last song of this post, it's New York girl group The Ronettes with their fun version of "Sleigh Ride." With its well-known "Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong-ding" background vocals, this song was featured on a Christmas album with several other artists, all produced by Phil Spector, and was titled A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records. At the time, the album was a relative flop because it was released the same day as President Kennedy's assassination on November 22nd 1963, but since has been ranked among the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, with original pressings selling now for $500! Here's another cute photo montage, however the performance footage is clearly from a different Ronettes song.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Time Is Here Again

Christmas Music: Part 1

Well, I realize it's still November, but if you love the sounds of the Christmas season, you should enjoy the next several weeks here at The '60s Beat. I'll try to keep the descriptions more brief, but we all know how rare that is on this blog...

To kick off the Christmas spirit, how about a cheery tune from that favorite vocal surf pop group, The Beach Boys! Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, "Little Saint Nick" went to #3 on the Billboard Christmas charts after its release in December of 1963. It borrows its rhythm and structure from the group's "Little Deuce Coupe," a hit a few months prior. Although that year saw a media-hushed Christmas as the country mourned the recent death of JFK, the single did go into the Top Tens for record sales in dozens of cities, and eventually became an unofficial million-seller. This footage is definitely from later in the '60s when Love started sporting a beard.

And here are some of our favorite Brits with a Christmas greeting, wishing Beatle fans a "Happy Crimble!" 'Crimble' was a slang word for Christmas coined by The Beatles in 1964 (more likely John Lennon, who enjoyed wordplay), and has come into general use among Liverpudlians. The greeting is followed by an excerpt of "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)," a song written by all four Beatles for their 1967 fan club Christmas record. These Christmas records included spoken and musical messages on a flexi disc and were issued each year between 1963 through 1969 for official Beatle fan-club members in the UK and US.

This next seasonal tune comes from an album that's a 1960s Christmas essential: The Four Seasons' Christmas album from 1962. Done in the style of "Big Girls Don't Cry," a #1 hit from that same year, this falsetto version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is a holiday classic. Although there isn't any live footage with the audio, here's a photo montage of many Santa Clauses to accompany this Christmas standard written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie back in 1934!
And for this post's finale, you get two more Christmas videos, brought to you by the zany and lovable Monkees. This first holiday clip comes from their 1967 Christmas episode where the foursome try to instill the spirit of Christmas in a cynical little boy (played by Butch Patrick a.k.a. "Eddie Munster"!).

Finally, this last clip (also from the Christmas episode) is a impressive performance by The Monkees as they sing an a-cappella rendition of the 16th Century Spanish carol, "Riu Riu Chiu." Sung in Olde Spanish, the lyrics refer to the nativity of Jesus and the virgin birth.
Although this post is kind of concluding on a melancholy note, I think you'll enjoy this Christmas beauty. (And in case you were wondering, they're holding incense; this was a family show, so these guys wouldn't be caught dead smoking!). Peace, Love, and Happy Christmas!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Up On The Roof

Soul Music: Part 4
Continuing with successes from Hitsville, USA (a.k.a. Detroit, MI), American soul singer Jimmy Ruffin had several hits in the '60s and '80s, and is the older brother of David Ruffin of The Temptations. First joining Motown Records in 1961, followed by a few years of service in U.S. Army, Ruffin finally scored his breakthrough hit in June of 1966 with "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted." This beautiful ballad was his only Top-10 hit, peaking at #7 on the Billboard charts and #6 on the R&B Singles chart, and remains one of the most revived of Motown's hits. The original recording initially included a spoken introduction by Ruffin, however, it was left out of the final mix, thus making for an extra-long instrumental intro. The only video footage I could find comes from a performance that Ruffin gave on British TV in about 1975, which does include those original spoken lines at the beginning.

Before they were known as Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (from 1965 through 1972), The Miracles were the first successful act for the Motown Record Corporation. Not only were they one of Motown's signature groups of the 1960s, but their leader, Smokey Robinson, became one of most successful songwriters and record producers of all time. Even maintaining success during the British Invasion, they were actually a major influence on many British bands at the time. Among their fifty hits that charted, their first million-selling single was "Shop Around" released in the fall of 1960. Written by Robinson and Motown CEO Berry Gordy, this early soul single reached #1 on the R&B charts, #1 on the Cashbox, and #2 on the Billboard charts. Although not included in the video footage, the female in the group, Claudette Robinson was Smokey's wife who sang background vocals. Here's another classic tune ranked among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Frequently featured on the '60s Beat, Diana Ross & the Supremes are America's most successful vocal group to date, with twelve #1 singles on the Billboard chart. Their success helped make it possible for future African-American soul and R&B musicians to gain mainstream success. Their consecutive hit singles in the mid-'6os included "Stop! In the Name of Love," which remained at #1 for a few weeks during the spring of 1965, and was nominated for the 1966 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Group Vocal Performance. In addition to this song making the permanent collection of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, the song's choreography, with the outstretched "stop" gesture, is also legendary. Members of The Temptations taught the girls the routine backstage in London before their performance on a Ready, Steady, Go! special featuring Motown music, hosted by Motown enthusiast Dusty Springfield (as seen below!).

Joining the Motown Records Corporation at the age of 11, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Stevie Wonder is going on fifty years of a successful music career and is the most awarded male solo artist of all time. Although the 1970s saw his most classic era of recording, he did score some big hits while still a teenager in the '60s. Released on his seventh studio album in August of 1967, "I was Made to Love Her" peaked at #2 on the pop chart, and spent four straight weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. Written by Wonder with his mother Lula Mae Hardaway, Sylvia Moy, and producer Henry Cosby, this soul song features Wonder's signature harmonica sound in the introduction, as well as strings following the bridge section. The song has some interesting covers including a version by guitarist Jimi Hendrix with Stevie Wonder on drums. Although blind from birth, it's as if Wonder has a sixth sense for creating fantastic music.

We'll conclude our Soul Series with a childhood favorite of mine, the long-lived American doo-wop and soul/R&B vocal group from New York City, The Drifters. Although the group was a revolving door with its members and peaked in popularity was from 1953 through 1963, splinter groups continue to perform today. Having a completely different lineup by 1958, led by Ben E. King ("Stand By Me"), these "New" Drifters are widely considered to be the "true" golden age of the group and have received Pioneer Awards from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. Released at the end of 1962, "Up on the Roof" became a big hit in early '63, reaching #5 on the U.S. pop chart and #4 on the R&B chart. Written by the Brill Building songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King, this timeless song has been described as "a remarkable pop song for 1962" with "first-rate, sophisticated writing." My family had a Drifters' Greatest Hits cassette tape that was played numerous times on roadtrips, yet this music really never gets old to me. Here's another one of those 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (#113), as well as one that Shaped Rock and Roll, performed by one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time (#81).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nowhere to Run

Soul Music: Part 3

Jumping back into our Soul Series, we'll continue with The Righteous Brothers, the 'blue-eyed soul' musical duo featuring Bill Medley (bass vocals) and Bobby Hatfield (tenor). From Los Angeles, California, they adopted their name while performing together as part of a five-member group called The Paramours, when at the end of one performance, an African-American Marine in the audience shouted, "That was righteous, brothers!" Beginning their career as a duo in 1963 and continuing to perform together until Hatfield's death in 2003, they are known for recording the most played song in radio history. Released in December 1964 (note: during Beatlemania), "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" became a #1 hit single in the US and the UK, and has since been ranked #34 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. One of the foremost examples of producer Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" technique, this song was one of the most successful pop singles of its time, even though the song's length exceed the standard for radio airplay then. Unfortunately, I heard this song so many times during my childhood that I've kind of lost that lovin' feelin' for it.

One of the earliest African-American soul singing groups signed to Motown Records were The Contours, best known for their million-selling song "Do You Love Me?" Written and produced by Motown CEO Berry Gordy Jr., this rhythm and blues classic peaked at #3 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B charts after its release in June 1962. Gordy had intended for The Temptations to record this song, but when he was unable to track them down at the moment, he turned to The Contours who were in danger of being dropped from the Motown label (their first two singles had failed to chart). After being offered Gordy's sure-fire hit, they immediately hugged and thanked him. In 1987, the song's popularity was revived after being featured in the film Dirty Dancing, resulting in the song's Billboard chart re-entry at #11. The lyrics name off many dance fads of the 1960s including the Mashed Potato and The Twist.
American musician Ray Charles was a founding father of soul music in 1950s by infusing R&B, gospel, and blues styles into his music, and racially integrated country and pop music in the 1960s. Due to glaucoma, he was completely blind by age seven, however, it was while attending a school for the blind where he developed his musical talent. With his career spanning several decades from 1947 till his death in 2004, this Georgian native is considered one of the greatest singers of all time. He was also one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Released in September 1960, Charles' blues version of "Georgia on My Mind" received national acclaim and a Grammy Award, reaching the #1 spot that November. This recording inspired many cover versions to follow, and in 1979, was declared the official state song of Georgia.

First featured during Motown Week, Martha and the Vandellas were one of the most popular performing acts from Motown Records during the mid-60s. With their hard-driving instrumentation sound, several of their songs are among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time including "Nowhere to Run." Released as a single in February 1965, this pop/soul tune reached #8 on the pop charts and #5 on the R&B charts. Written by Motown main production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Funk Brothers (Motown's studio musicians) used snow chains as percussion along side tambourine and drums to emphasize the heavy beat. Heavily played by the troops in the Vietnam War, its brass-heavy arrangement and chorus of "nowhere to run, nowhere to hide" have also made this a popular song at sporting events. Among many accolades over the years including one of the greatest artists of all time, these girls were awarded the Pioneer Award at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1993.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Spooktacular

Although Halloween is generally too creepy for me, here's a fun-filled (and I mean full!) post of some innocent, 1960s spookiness.
We're kicking this post off with a Halloween pop favorite, the novelty song "Monster Mash." During the early 1960s, Bobby "Boris" Pickett was an aspiring actor who first gained attention with his Boris Karloff impressions while singing with a band called The Cordials. Composed together with guitarist Leonard Capizzi, Pickett recorded the "Monster Mash" with session musicians credited as "The Crypt-Kickers," and this monster-themed tune reached #1 on the charts in October of 1962, just in time for Halloween. Seeing Pickett's crazy facial expressions are crackup, though you're almost kind of relieved when you finally see him smile at the end (reminds me of the "first Darrin Stephens" from Bewitched in the mid-1960s).

This next creepy tune is brought to you by The Turtles before they scored their best-known hit ("Happy Together") in 1967. Released as a single in May of 1966, "Grim Reaper of Love" barely made the Billboard charts since it was clearly too dark for record-buying public. Written by Turtles lead guitarist Al Nichol and bassist Chuck Portz, it's actually a pretty cool and haunting song with the verses metered in a 5/8 feel (some nerdy musician language for ya).

And who can forget one of the strangest families on 1960s television? Based on Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoons, The Addams Family TV series ran for two seasons from 1964 to 1966 on ABC, and were often compared to their working-class rivals, The Munsters (that TV theme featured during Surf Rock Week). Composed by American TV and film composer Vic Mizzy (who also wrote the theme to Green Acres), this finger-snappin' tune is still remembered generations later.

Next up is a "spooky little" cover by "The White Queen of Soul," British singer Dusty Springfield. Originally an instrumental song played a saxophonist, the best-known version of "Spooky" was actually by The Classics IV, whose jazz fusion/pop rendition reached #3 on the charts in 1968. Unfortunately no decent videos of The Classics IV's "Spooky" are currently available, so here's the next best cover by the beautiful and sultry Dusty, probably in the early 1970s since her signature beehive hairdo of the '60s is not included.

One of the most recognizable films in cinema history is Hitchcock's 1960 horror film Psycho, with Bernard Herrmann's musical score adding greatly to the tension and drama. Hitchcock himself stated that "33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music." The Shower Scene is probably the most famous cue in film music, with the shrill screeching of string instruments. However (no Shower Scene today), this sound clip below is the main title of the soundtrack, an intense yet truly fantastic piece of musical art.

And of course a Halloween post deserves a typical and crazy Monkees romp (a music video precursor), featuring the foursome with classic Hollywood monsters in the episode titled "The Monstrous Monkee Mash." Although the episode first aired in January of 1968, the filming actually started on Halloween of '67. Written together by all four of The Monkees with Diane Hilderbrand, "Goin' Down" shows off Micky Dolenz's impressive (and quick) vocal skills, and was the B-side to "Daydream Believer." Sock it to me! (The individual music video has been removed from YouTube, so here's the whole episode! "Goin' Down" begins around the 20-minute mark).

First opening in August of 1969 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, the Haunted Mansion is a beloved dark ride with a classically creepy theme song heard in many different variations throughout "the tour." Composed by Buddy Baker with lyrics written by Disney legend "X" Atencio, "Grim Grinning Ghosts" featured a pickup group of vocalists including Thurl Ravencroft (in the clip, the "singing bust" on its side) who is also known for singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," as well as the voice of Tony the Tiger ("they're ggggreat!"). This particular sound clip comes from the "Graveyard Jamboree" variation where the theme is played the loudest in the ride, with ghosts singing over a background loop including the 1960s-style bass line and rhythm section. In college, I actually based a music composition homework assignment on these chords because I liked the progression so much. ("Graveyard Jamboree" begins around the 10:39 mark).

To end this Spooktacular post, here's my favorite creepy song of the 1960s: "People Are Strange" by The Doors. Written by bandmates Robby Krieger and Jim Morrison, this psychedelic rock song was released as a single in September of 1967, and peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts and #10 on the Cashbox. As a teenager, I heard a cover version of this used for the opening credits of the 1980s vampire film The Lost Boys (with a teenage Keifer Sutherland!), which I think forever etched into my mind the eeriness of this tune. Showcasing The Doors' interest in the theatrical music of European cabaret, this song isn't at all Halloween-related but about alienation and being an outsider, and seems to expose Morrison's vulnerability. On that depressing note, enjoy!

Other 1960s songs that you can include in your Halloween playlist are "Paint It Black" by The Rolling Stones (already featured here) and The Zombies' very interesting "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" from their Odessey and Oracle LP here.
Happy Fall, everyone!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Soul Music: Part 2
Today, we'll begin with one of the greatest singers of all time, Aretha Franklin, "The Queen of Soul," and the one female with the most million-selling singles ever. Beginning her music career in the late 1950s, it wasn't until the release of her single "Respect" in August 1967 when she reached international stardom. Written and originally released by Otis Redding, Franklin's cover version is considered to be one of the best songs of the R&B era, earning her two Grammy Awards in 1968 for "Best Rhythm & Blues Recording" and "Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance: Female." Also featuring Aretha's sisters, Carolyn and Erma, as backup singers, this song became a crossover hit when it reached #1 on both pop and R&B charts. It was also a landmark song for the feminist movement, and is included among the Songs of the Century. The last line of the song "Take care...TCB" was often misunderstood, however, it was an abbreviation for "taking care of business" which was widely used in the African-American culture are the time. Here's a classic performance of a song that helped shape music history.

First featured during the "Songs for Each Day of the Week" Week, Sam Cooke was the first "King of Soul" and founding father of soul music, who paved the way for all soul singers that followed. With his distinctive vocal abilities and influence on the modern world of music, he was also an entrepreneur, forming a record label and publishing company in addition to his singing-songwriting career. Among his 29 Top-40s, one of his most popular was "Wonderful World," written by Cooke with his producer Lou Adler and Herb Alpert (yeah, the trumpet guy). Hitting #12 on the pop charts and #2 on the black charts in the spring of 1960, this bouncy love song was also thought to possibly have a political message, asking white listeners to forget about African-American history (slavery) and of course biology. With so many major hits in a short amount of time, one can only imagine what else Cooke could have accomplished if he hadn't been shot to his death in 1964.

Another extremely influential artist of his generation was American singer Jackie Wilson, also known as "Mr. Excitement." One of the most dynamic performers in R&B and rock history, Wilson was important in the transition from rhythm and blues into soul. Beginning his career in the mid-1950s, he recorded over 50 hit singles, and his electrifying live performances inspired many other artists including James Brown, Elvis Presley (who dubbed him "The Black Elvis"), and Michael Jackson. However, during a 1975 benefit concert, he collapsed onstage from heart attack and fell into a coma for nine years until his death in 1984. Released in August of 1967, one of his final pop hits was the Chicago soul song "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," which reached #1 on the R&B charts and #6 on the pop charts. Here's one (#68) of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time performing one (#246) of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Active from 1966 to 1983, the San Francisco-based band Sly & the Family Stone was crucial in the development of soul, funk, and psychedelic music. Led by singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and including his family members and friends, this band was the first major American rock band to have an "integrated, multi-gender" lineup. Released in February 1968, the psychedelic soul single "Dance to the Music" was a widespread, groundbreaking hit for the group, reaching #8 on the charts, and in late 1968, "Everyday People" became their first #1 hit single on both R&B and pop charts. The latter was a plea for peace and equality between different races and social groups (a major focus for the band), and popularized the catchphrase "different strokes for different people." Both written and produced by Sly Stone, as well as both included on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this performance by Sly & the Family Stone features "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Soul Men

Soul Music: Part 1
We're back and ready to talk about Soul music! Arising out of the black experience in America in the late '50s and early '60s, 'soul' music was deeply rooted in gospel music (using secular lyrics), as well as in rhythm and blues (R&B). Important features of soul included catchy rhythms (accented by hand claps and improvised body moves), call and responses between soloist and chorus, and a tense vocal sound.
From 1961 through 1981, probably the most successful soul duo was Sam & Dave, featuring the tenor vocals of Sam Moore and baritone/lower tenor vocals of Dave Prater. During the mid-1960s, they were not only one of the greatest live acts, but they were one of the most consistent in their R&B charts successes that included 10 consecutive Top 20 singles and 3 consecutive Top 10 albums. Not only did their crossover chart-appeal aid in the acceptance of soul music by white pop audiences, but their song "Soul Man" helped define the genre, being one of the first songs by a black group to top the charts using the word 'soul.' Released in August of 1967, "Soul Man" is Sam & Dave's biggest and most remembered hit, reaching #1 on the R&B charts, #1 on the Cashbox charts, and #2 on the Billboard chart. Written and produced by Issac Hayes and David Porter, and inspired by the turmoil of the Africa-American Civil Rights Movement, here's the song that earned Sam & Dave the 1968 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance.

One popular soul song of 1966 was "When a Man Loves a Woman," recorded by American R&B/soul performer Percy Sledge. A soulful ballad that is still heard at weddings today, this classic made it to #1 on both Billboard and R&B charts, and has been listed among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Actually written by Sledge himself, he gave the songwriting credit to Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, who played bass and keyboards on the recording. During the recording session, the song had no title or lyrics, and Sledge improvised the lyrics with minimal pre-planning. His performance was so convincing that the studio musicians assumed that he had the words written down. This soulful anthem has been re-recorded by dozens of the other artists, yet remains Sledge's signature song today.

American soul singer-songwriter/record producer Otis Redding was a major figure in soul/R&B during the 1960s. His open-throated vocals and powerful style of rhythm and blues created the foundation of the Stax Sound (a renowned record label for its Southern soul and Memphis soul music styles; included Sam & Dave), and has been given the honorific name "King of Soul." One of his last big concerts was at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967, where he performed before a primarily white audience. Following the festival, Redding wrote and produced "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay" just three days before his death in a plane crash in December '67. That single was released in January 1968 and became the #1 record on both the pop and R&B charts, as well as the first posthumous #1 single in U.S. chart history. He was only 26 but he is still considered one of the greatest singers of all time. From earlier in '67 while on the Stax Tour in Europe, here's Redding giving a live performance of the classic "Try a Little Tenderness," another considered among the greatest songs of all time.

We'll conclude today's post with the "Godfather of Soul," American singer, songwriter, musician, and recording artist James Brown, also known as "The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business." With an extensive career from the late 1950s until his death in 2006, Brown was the originator of the musical style funk, and was a major figure in 20th century pop music for both his vocal and dancing styles. In 1965, he released two signature hits, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)," both of which became his first Top 10 hits, as well as major #1 R&B hits. The following year, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues recording. Here's a high-energy performance with fancy footwork by James Brown, live on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Song of the Day: One

How about the occasional "Song of the Day" post? I think we're overdue.
The phase "one is the loneliest number" is quite common today but few know who actually coined it. Being the opening line to the classic song called "One," most people recall Three Dog Night singing it, however, it was actually written and first released by American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson (featured a few months ago here). Released on his third album in 1968, Nilsson composed "One" after calling someone and getting the 'busy' signal on the other end. He stayed on the line, listening to the 'beep beep beep' tone, which became the opening notes of the song. Reminiscent of a George Martin arrangement (The Beatles' orchestrator) with its subtle woodwind and string accompaniment, this baroque pop song is beautiful, and perfectly evokes the feeling of loneliness and the desperation it brings. If you're unfamiliar with Nilsson's original, this haunting song may come as a surprise (only audio, no video footage).

On that note, we'll conclude with the extremely popular cover version of "One" made famous by Three Dog Night (just featured last month here). Eventually included on the band's self-titled debut album (not in the initial copies) and released as a single in April 1969, this rockin' version reached #5 on the Billboard charts, becoming the group's first big hit. Using a completely different arrangement, you may find it hard to not join in with co-lead vocalist Chuck Negron, singing about that loneliest number.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Flower Power: Part 7 (Final)
One of the ultimate Flower Power songs would be The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," but since that love anthem was already featured here, we'll take a look at another Beatles' song, a classic of psychedelia. Written mainly by John Lennon (credited to Lennon/McCartney), "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" comes from biggest-selling album of the 1960s, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. After its release at the beginning of the Summer of Love in June 1967, the BBC banned this song suspecting its title was referencing drugs (LSD), however, Lennon always denied that claim. Lennon's son, Julian, had inspired the song with a drawing of his school-friend Lucy, floating "in the sky with diamonds." The lyrics are a surreal and lavish daydream, accompanied by a complicated arrangement featuring a tamboura (stringed instrument) played by George Harrison, and a counter melody on organ by McCartney. In 1974, Elton John released a cover version of this tune (discreetly featuring John Lennon on backup vocals and guitar), and it is the only Beatles cover song to reach #1 on the Billboard chart. From The Beatles' 1968 animated feature film Yellow Submarine, here's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamond."

Next up, this light-hearted, groovy tune comes from the classic American folk duo, Simon & Garfunkel. About the Queensboro Bridge in New York City, "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" comes from their third album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme released in October 1966, which reached #4 on the album charts and is considered on of the greatest albums of all time (I even recently purchased it at a used record store!). Written by Paul Simon and featuring musicians from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the message of this folk rock song is delivered right in the first verse of the song: "Slow down, you move too fast." A popular cover version was recorded by Harpers Bizarre the following year, making it into sunshine pop arrangement. From the Smothers Bros. Comedy Hour, here's Simon & Garfunkel, with a little "accompaniment" by Tommy and Dick Smothers.
Known for venturing into a wide variety of musical genres, Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan was one of the first British pop musicians to adopt a flower power image. Influenced by US West Coast bands (like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead), he recorded one of the first examples of psychedelia at Abbey Road Studios in January of 1966. Released later that summer in the U.S., "Sunshine Superman" was a psychedelic folk song that reached #1 on the US Billboard charts (#2 in the UK), selling over 800,000 copies in just the first six weeks, eventually earning a gold disc. Written for his future wife, Donovan's lyrics mention two DC Comics superheroes, Green Lantern in addition to Superman. The eclectic arrangement was quite innovative with the prominent use of the harpsichord and sitar, combined with a funky, conga-like back-beat. Described as " the quintessential bright summer sing along," here's a Donovan classic.

And for our final band of Flower Power Month, it's American blue-eyed soul group from New Jersey, The Young Rascals. These guys found themselves with one of their biggest hits at the beginning of the Summer of Love when "Groovin'" spend four weeks at #1 on the charts in May of '67, earning a certified gold record by June. Written by group members Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati with lead vocals by Cavaliere, this classic tune is a slow, relaxed groove and has become one of the group's signature songs. Based on Cavaliere's newfound interest in Afro-Cuban music, the instrumentation features a conga, harmonica, and a Cuban-style bass line. Resulting in a different sound from The Rascals' white-soul origins, the head of their record label originally did not the song released, however, the song (and the group) proved to have crossover appeal when "Groovin'" hit #3 on the Billboard Black Songs chart. Considered one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll (by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), it is also a recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Great tune, but to be honest, as a kid, I always misheard the line, "life would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly" as "you and me and Lesley!" (wait, who the heck is Lesley?).

If you enjoyed Flower Power Week, be sure to revisit some past posts featuring other Flower Power-type songs such as The Turtles' "Happy Together", The Mamas & The Papas' "California Dreamin'" and The Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn!" both featured here, and Procol Harum' "A Whiter Shade of Pale".