Friday, April 29, 2011

"I Can't Explain"

British Invasion: Part 8
Formed in 1961 in a St. Albans' grammar school, the English rock band that probably sounded the most British among the "Invaders" was The Zombies. After The Beatles, this band's music has some of the most wonderful melodies of the era, using minor-key and jazz-influenced chord progressions with 3-part vocal harmonies. With Colin Blunstone's distinct, breathy lead vocals and the wizardry behind Rod Argent's keyboard skills, it's a shame these guys remain so under-rated. Okay, so maybe I'm a little partial. After winning a beat-group competition sponsored by the London Evening News, The Zombies were signed to the Decca record label and released their first single, "She's Not There," in July 1964. Written by Rod Argent, this song's most distinctive features include Argent's electric piano and the folk-influenced close-harmony style, and of course makes the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Formed in 1962, The Hollies were a English pop and rock group from Manchester that we known for their distinct, bright vocal harmonies and chose their name in honor of Buddy Holly. Although they were one of the leading British groups in the 1960's and 70's, they were also one of the last major groups during the Invasion to have significant chart success in the US. Like The Rolling Stones and The Searchers, they're among the few British bands of the early 60's that never officially broke up and continue performing and recording today. Released in May 1967, "Carrie Anne" was among the group's many Top-Ten hits, written by the band members Graham Nash (who would later go on to form Crosby, Stills, & Nash), Allan Clarke, and Tony Hicks. Recorded in Abbey Road Studios and actually written about Marianne Faithfull (another British Invasion artist), this pop tune is just one of The Hollies' varied sound throughout their long-running music career.
A band that's appeared a few times around here is the Small Faces, one of the most influential mod groups of the 1960's. Founded in East London in 1965, their music from the mid to late 60's remains among the most acclaimed British psychedelic/mod music of the era. Released in August 1967, the psychedelic pop song "Itchycoo Park" became one of the group's biggest hits. Written by the band's Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, 'itchycoo' was the nickname of the stinging nettles in the park they would play in as kids, however, a certain line about "getting high" caused a temporary ban by the BBC. This song was also the first to use the super-cool audio effect called flanging, the layering of the recording on itself at different speeds (listen at :49). Definitely another fun one by a creative group.

Formed in 1964, one of the greatest rock bands of the 1960's (and beyond) was The Who, known for their energetic live performances and even instrument destruction. Initially influenced by American R&B and skiffle styles, the group was mainly fueled by guitarist Pete Townsend's creative force and songwriting, going on to sell over 100 million records and chart 47 Top-Forty singles in the UK and US. Released in December 1964 in the US (and January '65 in the UK), the rock/power pop song "I Can't Explain" was the group's first single and hit under the name The Who, a recording influenced by The Kinks' sound (who also shared the same American producer Shel Talmy) and another included in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. With Roger Daltrey's powerful voice, John Entwistle's aggressive sound on bass, and Keith Moon's forceful drumming, it's no wonder these guys have had continued success for decades, and this tune continues to be the group's staple at live performances today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"It's Not Unusual"

British Invasion: Part 7
Going on a third week all about the British Invasion, we begin another varied post with Lulu, the Scottish singer and actress who has been successful in the entertainment from the 1960's to present day. With her mature voice, she was signed to the Decca record label at the age of 15 and released her first single in 1965. The follower year, Lulu became the first British female singer to sing behind the Iron Curtain as she went on tour with The Hollies in Poland. With the help of producer Mickie Most (who also produced Herman's Hermits, The Animals, and Donovan), Lulu had her biggest hit song in 1967 with "To Sir, With Love," the theme song to a film with the same name in which she also acted in with Sidney Poitier. Reaching #1 in the US (although never released in its own right in the UK), this song (recorded with The Mindbenders) remained on the Billboard charts for five weeks, becoming the #1 pop song of that year. Another powerful live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show!

Another solo artist from the British Invasion, Welsh singer Tom Jones is known for his powerful voice and has sold over 100 million records since 1965. Like Lulu, who sang the theme for the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun, Jones also sang the theme to another Bond film, Thunderball. Influenced by American soul music, Tom Jones was first the frontman for a Welsh beat group, but after being spotted by a London-based manager, he became a solo act and gained his first international hit with "It's Not Unusual" released in January 1965. The BBC refused to play this song initially and thus was first made popular by a pirate radio station. With the brass-heavy accompaniment and Jones' sexy image, this tune eventually became a big hit on the US and UK airwaves, reaching the Top-Ten, and has since become his signature song. A commonly heard phase around here, this is definitely another classic tune!

From Birmingham, England, another British beat band among the "Invaders" was The Spencer Davis Group. Signing their first recording contract in 1964, the group consisted of Welsh guitarist Spencer Davis joined by lead vocalist/organist Steve Winwood (who went on to form Traffic in 1967, followed by a solo career) and his bass-playing brother Muff Winwood, completed by Pete York on drums. Released in October 1966, one of their best known songs was "Gimme Some Lovin,'" written by Davis and the Winwood brothers (Steve Winwood was only 18 at the time). Earning the gold disc, this blue-eyed soul/rock tune is ranked among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. I'm not gonna lie; this song will always remind of the film The Blues Brothers (and yes, I realize that was a cover version from 1980), nonetheless, it's very clear why this song is among the greatest.

We'll finish off today's post with the English rock band, The Yardbirds, a group known for having started the careers of three of the top greatest guitarists of all time: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page (later of Led Zeppelin). A blues-based group that ventured into pop and rock, The Yardbirds have been considered one of the most impressive guitar groups in rock history as they were guitar-playing innovators, exploring effects like fuzz tone, feedback, distortion, backwards echo, etc. In February 1965, they released their first major hit "For Your Love," selling over a million copies and earning the gold disc as well. Despite its success, blues purist Clapton was not happy with their pop route and left the group (forming Cream the following year), being replaced by Beck, and later Page took over lead guitar. With lead singer Keith Relf probably being one of the first rock star to unnecessarily wear sunglasses indoors, this live performance is a real treat.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"You Really Got Me"

British Invasion: Part 6
So here we are again with the good ol' Kinks, one of the most important and influential bands of the British Invasion. Forming in 1964 in North London, The Kinks consisted of brothers Ray and Dave Davies on guitars and vocals, with Pete Quaife on bass and Mick Avory on drums, who had their breakout hit in August 1964 with "You Really Got Me." Written by Ray Davies (chief songwriter and lead vocalist), this tune topped the international charts, and has since joined the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, as well as #4 of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. Built around power chords (perfects 5ths and octaves for you musical folks), this song became the blueprint for hard rock and heavy metal music that followed. Throughout their 32-year career that varied with a wide range of musical styles, The Kinks (as well the Davies brothers' solo acts) continue to perform this song, generally as the show's closer. Unfortunately during the Invasion, The Kinks' initial US success was hindered because they were banned from touring in America for four years; they were known for being a bit rowdy on stage!

A solo artist among the British Invasion was pop singer-songwriter Crispian St. Peters, who began his musical career playing guitar in unknown bands in London. In 1966, he had his first big hit with a version of "You Were On My Mind," but his signature song became "The Pied Piper," a transatlantic hit later that summer. However, the shy singer was transformed by his manager to be rather arrogant, boasting that he was better than The Beatles and Elvis. Although he later explained himself, saying the claims were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the music press was not impressed. Hopefully that side fact doesn't ruin this spunky song for you. Looks like another NME Concert performance; also sounds like the key is a little too low in first and second verse!

Formed in 1959, the Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers rivaled The Beatles as they had the same manager, Brian Epstein, and were also from Liverpool. With the group's main lineup including Gerry Marsden (lead vocals and chief songwriter) and his brother, drummer Freddie, along with Les Chadwick, and Les Maguire, they released "How Do You Do It?" in early 1963, making them the first Epstein/Liverpool group to have a #1 hit (until The Beatles released "From Me to You" a few weeks later). In 1965, the group starred in a film called Ferry Cross the Mersey, and the song with the same name was another big hit, written by Gerry Marsden. 'Mersey' refers to the River Mersey that flows into the Irish Sea at Liverpool. Although they had a string of hits including "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," Gerry and the Pacemakers unfortunately disbanded in 1966. Here's the classic Mersey-crossin' tune from that particular film.

Finally, the last group of the day is Them, a Northern Irish band that formed in Belfast in 1964. Playing in styles like garage rock and blue-eyed soul, this group was the springboard for singer Van Morrison, who went on to have his own musical career later in the 60's. Marketed as part of the British Invasion, this Irish band is best known for their garage rock standard "Gloria," which was originally the B-side of the single with "Baby, Please Don't Go." Written by Van Morrison and released in November 1964, "Gloria" has become a staple of rock bands and unknown garage bands for decades (including my dad's garage band in the 60's!), as its three-chord progression is easy to play. Considered amongst the best rock singles of all time, here's that memorable tune by Them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Catch Us If You Can"

British Invasion: Part 5
From Manchester, England, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders were a beat group that formed in 1963 like many other British Invasion bands. In April of 1965, they had their big break when "Game of Love" hit #1 on the US singles charts and #2 in the UK, which led to a tour of America. Unfortunately, after a few unsuccessful singles, Wayne Fontana left the group later that year (actually in the middle of a concert), and their guitarist Eric Stewart took over lead vocals. Then becoming just The Mindbenders, they released another chart-topper in 1965, "A Groovy Kind of Love." The video below is from another NME Poll Winners Concert performance with Wayne fronting The Mindbenders with the fun "Game of Love."

Forming in 1964, The Troggs were a rock group from southern England, fronted by the raspy-voiced Reg Presley. With their chart-topper, signature hit "Wild Thing" (a tune included among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time), the group is considered influential in the punk rock and garage rock genres that followed. In the summer of 1966, the group had another #1 UK hit with Reg Presley's "With a Girl Like You," which earned a gold disc after it sold over one million copies. However, their success in America was limited as they were not allowed to tour in the US until 1968. This live performance is likely another from the British NME Concert in 1966. I should probably be posting "Wild Thing," but here's "With a Girl Like You" instead, just because my husband happens to love this tune.

In 1964, the rock band The Moody Blues formed in Birmingham, however, their early style and initial lead singer were different from the symphonic rock band that they evolved into in the late 1960's. In their early years, they began as a beat group with Denny Laine on lead vocals, and it was their second single, "Go Now," that launched their career in November 1964, becoming their only #1 UK hit to date. However, after some unsuccessful singles to follow, Denny Laine left the group (and later joined Paul McCartney in the 1970's group Wings) and Justin Hayward took over lead vocals. Even with the new lineup, the group continued to perform this song for awhile, and it would later be considered influential in the genre of prog rock with its lush instrumentation and strong baroque elements.

Originating in North London in 1959, The Dave Clark Five were the second band during the British Invasion (after The Beatles) to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and become an even bigger success in the US than in their native country. With Dave Clark as the drummer and manager, this group was unique as they also included a saxophonist in the lineup. In 1965, the band released their own film, Catch Us If You Can (the US release titled Having a Wild Weekend), and the theme song of the same name became one of their top hits (I still have my dad's vinyl LP too!). Written by Dave Clark and guitarist Lenny Davidson, this song was quite 'catchy' as it begins with finger-snapping as the only accompaniment. As the group was promoted as having a 'cleaner' image than The Beatles, they were one of the first British Invasion groups to tour America, and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for a total of 18 times. This is just one of their many hit songs of the era.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm Into Something Good

British Invasion: Part 4
Continuing with this theme for another fun week, a group that was extremely successful during the British Invasion was Herman's Hermits, a beat band from Manchester. Forming in 1963 and fronted by the 15-year old lead singer Peter Noone ("Herman") who was already an experienced actor in a British soap opera, the group actually rivaled The Beatles on the charts and was the top-selling act of 1965. With their clean-cut, non-threatening image, the band had a string of hits including "I'm into Something Good," which reached the #1 position on the UK charts in September 1964. Written by the Gerry Goffin and Carole King (Brill Building songwriters), this song was arranged by Hermit's guitarist Derek Leckenby and was their debut single. Considering that Peter Noone had a certain similarity to a certain US president (JFK), Herman's Hermits aimed several of their songs for the US fan base that never saw release in the UK. What a fun bunch of lads!
From North London, another beat group that formed in 1963 was The Honeycombs. Unlike any group we're seen so far, this band actually had a female drummer, Honey Lantree, and the group's name was actually a pun on her name and her job as a hairdresser's assistant. The Honeycombs are best known for their debut single, "Have I the Right?," released in June 1964, which went on to sell two million copies worldwide and became their biggest hit. Known for its prominent drum beat, the sound was enhanced by the band's members stomping their feet on wooden chairs in the studio. Although the group was considered a one-hit wonder in the US, with Dennis D'Ell's strong lead vocal and Honey on drums, they remain a distinguished group from the Invasion.
Also forming in 1963, The Fortunes were an English harmony beat group from Birmingham, who hit their big break in 1965 with a succession of hits that continued into the 1970'. In the summer of '65, the group received international acclaim after their fifth single release with "You've Got Your Troubles," breaking into the Top-1o charts in both the UK and US. Later in the '60s, The Fortunes were also the voices for Coca-Cola advertisements, including a version of the classic "Things Go Better With Coke" and the new "It's the Real Thing" slogan in 1969. This live performance comes from the NME Poll Winners Concert (NME being New Musical Express, a popular music magazine in Britain), which was an awards event that featured artists voted most popular. Lead singer and bassist Rod Allen definitely has a great quality to his voice, though his look is not at all what I pictured (sorry about the poor sound on the video).
We'll conclude today with Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan, a "regular" around here at The 60's Beat. Coming out of the British folk scene, Donovan came to fame in early 1965 after a series of live performances on the pop TV show Ready Steady Go! in the UK, and with record producer Mickie Most (who also produced Herman's Hermits and The Animals), Donovan had several hit albums and singles throughout the rest of the 60's. Released in October of 1966, "Mellow Yellow" reached #2 on the US charts, selling over a million copies, and has since become his signature song. Although this song is sometimes mistaken for a Beatles song, Donovan was in fact friends with The Beatles (he even taught John Lennon and Paul McCartney his finger-picking guitar style) and Paul was actually one of the "partiers" heard in the recording. Despite the untrue rumor that this song was about smoking dried banana peels, it remains a classic example of 1960's fun.

Friday, April 15, 2011


British Invasion: Part 3
Boy, the variety of styles that came along with the British Invasion is quite impressive, and today's post has some of the most contrasting artists so far!

First off today, it's the sweet, British singer and actress Petula Clark, who actually got her professional start well before the Invasion. Known as "Britain's Shirley Temple," Petula first began her career on the BBC radio as a child actor, even touring the country to entertain the troops in WWII. After making her singing debut in the late 1940's, it wasn't until the '60s when she became a international success. In November of 1964, Petula became the first female UK artist to have a #1 hit in the US with "Downtown." Written by Tony Hatch about his first time in New York City, this song won the Grammy Award for "Best Rock 'n' Roll Song" in 1965, and was also awarded a Gold Record for over 1 million sales.

Initially forming in 1958, the English beat group, The Tremeloes, were first signed to Decca Records in 1962, being chosen over The Beatles after the two groups had auditioned. Although they hit the charts with "Twist and Shout" in 1963 (a cover song also recorded by The Beatles), it's wasn't until some personnel changes and a record label change in 1967 that the group gained their biggest success with songs like "Here Comes My Baby" and "Silence Is Golden." The latter, first performed by the American group The Four Seasons, hit #1 on the UK charts in May of 1967, earning the gold disc status, and was one of the top 100 songs of that year. With The Tremeloes' strong vocal harmonies, this post-Invasion song still carries the essence and quality of the British Invasion era.

Although they were originally from Manchester, England, Freddie and the Dreamers were categorized as another Beatle-inspired Merseybeat group, however, their stage act was a hilarious sight, lead by the antics of 5 foot 3 frontman Freddie Garrity, who bounced around stage. Among a string of hit records during the Invasion, "You Were Made for Me" hit #3 on the UK charts in November of 1963, and clearly demonstrates Freddie's "unique" dance style that actually led to another US hit, "Do the Freddie." I grew up hearing about "doing the Freddie," but now it finally all makes sense. Pretty goofy, but interesting that these guys were the first of three consecutive Manchester groups to have a number one hit.

And to conclude today's post on the other side of the spectrum, we have the bad boys of the British Invasion: The Rolling Stones (though they sure don't look too bad in this early photo of their short-lived matching-suit look!). Coming out of London's club scene playing many rhythm and blues covers, The Stones gained international success with the #1 hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" in the summer of 1965. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this (early) hard rock song's distinctive opening guitar riff (with fuzzbox effect) and racy lyrics established The Stones' look as rebellious, troublemakers compared to the adorable, "moptop" image of The Beatles. Initially only played on pirate radio stations, "Satisfaction" has since been considered one of the all-time greatest rock songs (#2 on that 500 list) and has become a staple at Rolling Stones concert, being performed on nearly every tour since its release. Here's great live performance from The Ed Sullivan Show!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The British Are Still Coming!

British Invasion: Part 2
Unlike our usual weekly themes, I forgot to warn you that the British Invasion at The 60's Beat will be extended to a couple of weeks! We have so many artists lined up, so who says we have to cram it all into a week? Of a list of about 35 significant groups in the Invasion, we're planning on covering at least 30, so buckle up and here we go!

So continuing on with this British Invasion phenomenon, we have the English group, The Animals, whose signature song was featured during folk rock week. With their gritty/bluesy sound led by the deep-voiced Eric Burdon, the group had ten Top-20 hits including "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," released in February of 1965. Originally written for American singer Nina Simone, The Animals turned this jazzy, soulful song into a faster, blues rock version with a memorable organ/guitar riff, becoming a trans-Atlantic hit. Yet another tune found in the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Interestingly, this group later went through so many personnel changes that in the late '60s, they relocated to California as a psychedelic rock group named Eric Burdon & the Animals (as Eric Burdon was the only original member).
Also joining in the Invasion was another Merseybeat group (the name for the rock 'n' roll style of music by bands from Liverpool), Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Also managed by The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, John Lennon and Paul McCartney helped the fellow Liverpudlian Billy J. (backed by the Manchester-based Dakotas) reach stardom by writing a series of songs just for them. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios and released in July 1963 (finding its way to the US in '64), "Bad to Me" was a John Lennon composition that put Billy J. and the guys at the #1 position on the charts, becoming the first Lennon/McCartney song covered by an artist (other than The Beatles) to reach the Top-40.
Another group with this Merseybeat sound was the British Invasion-era duo Peter and Gordon. Schoolmates Peter Asher and Gordon Waller achieved fame in 1964 with the song "A World Without Love," written by Paul McCartney, who composed several songs for the pair (sometimes even receiving uncredited Beatle tunes since Peter's sister, Jane Asher, was Paul's girlfriend throughout the mid-60's). In late '64, they released Del Shannon's "I Go to Pieces," who gave this song to the duo after they had toured together. Also recorded in Abbey Road Studios, this Merseybeat-style tune ascended to the top of the charts in 1965, contributing to their string of hits. After the two disbanded in 1968, Peter took charge of a department at Apple Records, signing artists like James Taylor, and Gordon even went on to perform the roll of Pharaoh in a production of Joseph. Interesting stuff!
We'll end today with the British R&B, beat, and pop band Manfred Mann, named after their South African keyboardist, Manfred Mann. Emerging from the British blues scene in London's club (along with The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, and The Yardbirds), these guys was the first south-of-England-based group to top the charts during the Invasion. With their distinct sound fueled by Manfred's keyboard and the soulful voice of singer Paul Jones, the group had a huge hit with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," reaching #1 on both the UK and U.S. charts in the fall of 1964. Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and originally a minor hit by The Exciters (an American vocal group), Manfred Mann's cover version continues to remain a well-known favorite for generations. Later in the early 1970's, Manfred went to form the successful progressive rock group Manfred Man's Earth Band (remember "Blinded By the Light"?). Anyway, I have vivid memories of singing this tune at the top of my lungs as a kid.

Monday, April 11, 2011

British Invasion

British Invasion: Part 1
From 1964 to 1966, rock 'n' roll, beat, and pop and rock musicians from the United Kingdom took America by storm in the British Invasion. Influenced by the rebellious tone and image of American rock and roll of the late 1950's, The Beatles were the first to lead the barrage after Beatlemania first began in the UK in 1963. Since my very first blog posts featured The Beatles' arrival in America (here), as well as their historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 (here), I'll just get to another classic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show the following year in 1965. Reaching the #1 spot on the charts and included as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, "Help!" was written by John Lennon about his stress after The Beatles' quick rise to fame, a literal cry out for help. Performing live, notice Lennon actually forgets some of the lyrics at about 1:00 into the video, but I doubt anyone really cares; it's a great tune!

In March 1964, the second group for Liverpool, after The Beatles, to have a hit in the U.S. was The Searchers with "Needles and Pins." With their Merseybeat (British beat popularized by The Beatles) sound, this tune was written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono (yeah, that Sonny Bono) and was originally recorded by American singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon in 1963. Using a Rickenbacker electric guitar played by Mike Pender, The Seachers' jangly guitar sound was influential in early folk-rock genre of the 1960's.
Part of the British Invasion, the English soft/folk rock singing duo, Chad and Jeremy, made a bigger splash with the American music market than that of their native country, even making TV guest appearances on American shows like the Dick Van Dyke Show, the Patty Duke Show,and Batman. Comprised of Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde, these guys had two breakthrough hits in 1964, including "A Summer Song," a gentle tune reminiscing about a summer romance. Written by Chad with Clive Metcalf and Keith Noble, this song was an unfortunate flop in the UK but peaked at #7 on the U.S. charts that summer. There was something about this song's sweetness that appealed more to America.
During the Invasion, the first non-Beatle act to have a major U.S. hit was pop singer Dusty Springfield. With a career spanning from the late 1950's to the 1990's, Dusty was an important white soul singer and was one of the most successful British female performers, as she had 18 hit singles from 1964 to 1970. Previously recorded by Dionne Warwick and written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (these guys wrote a ton!), "Wishin' and Hopin'" became Dusty's first American Top-10 hit, peaking at #6 on the charts in July of 1964. Her sultry voice is classic, but too bad this video is a bit out of sync.

So we've just nicked the ice berg of the British Invasion, so stay tuned for the many, many British artists to come!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Some American Boys

So this week, The 60's Beat will take a little hiatus from posting (even pop music archeologists need a break once in awhile), but the good news is that next week, we're going hog-wild with the British Invasion! However, in complete contrast, I'll leave you with just this one post about a few bands from the 1960's with "American" in their name.

So first off, we have the American group (obviously) The Five Americans, originally from Oklahoma (and thanks to my sister for reminding me about this song). Considered a one-hit wonder (although they did have a few tunes make it into the Top-100), these guys are best known for their 1967 hit "Western Union," which scored #5 on the Billboard charts. This song holds the record for the most repetitive word in a Top-10 hit, however, this imitative word ("dit") represents morse code that Western Union used to transit messages (a very clever idea, if you ask me). And according to this introduction, even the "old squares" like this tune.

From Chicago, Illinois, the rock band The American Breed were also somewhat known as a one-hit wonder. Released in 1967, their biggest hit was "Bend Me, Shape," which reached #5 on the charts as well. Written by Scott English and Larry Weiss, this fun tune was first released by The Outsiders the previous year, however, The American Breed's version went on to sell over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. The single mix of this song was sped-up during the mastering for its release, while the album release is at normal speed. From their performance on American Bandstand, these guys make this "swingin'" song so much fun.

The final band for today is the wonderful New York pop group, Jay and the Americans. These guys are so great, I'm actually going to post two of their songs! Forming in the late-1950's, the original "Jay" Traynor left the group in the early 60's but after being replaced by David Black (who agreed to change his name to "Jay" Black), the group found their biggest success. In 1965, they had a #4 hit with the popular song "Cara Mia," which was actually first recorded by English singer David Whitfield in 1954. Meaning "my beloved" in Italian, Jay can sure belt this tune!

And the final song for the day by Jay and the Americans is "Come A Little Bit Closer," the group's most popular single to this day. Reaching #3 on the charts in 1964, this song was written by songwriting team Boyce and Hart, their first Top-10 hit before going on to write the early hits for The Monkees. Because of its popularity, Jay and the boys joined The Beatles on their first American tour, along with The Righteous Brothers. Whenever I hear this song, I'm reminded of my dad playing this tune really loud on the radio while on our family roadtrips. What a fun classic!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Heat Wave

Motown Week: Part 3
Well, since we're having a heat wave this week here in Southern California, this final Motown post for the week will begin with a little "Heat Wave" by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, one of the most successful Motown groups from 1963 to 1972. Charting over twenty-six hits, these girls are ranked #96 on Rolling Stones' list of the 100 greatest artists of all time, as many of their recordings have become a part of American culture. Their 1964 standard, "Dancing in the Street," has been one of the most covered songs in rock and roll history, however, their smash hit from 1963, "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave," is likely the first song to represent the Motown Sound with its doo-wop call-and-response vocals, gospel beat, and jazzy flavor. Another written by the Motown production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, this "Heat Wave" is timeless!

Next up, it's the amazing singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Stevie Wonder, who signed with Motown Records at the age of eleven in 1961 and continues to record for the company to this day! Blind since just shortly after birth, Wonder has recorded more than 30 Top-10 hits and has received 22 Grammy Awards, making him the most awarded male solo artist. One of his most popular early singles is the 1966 hit "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," which he co-wrote (along with Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby) and recorded at just 15 years old. On the day of the recording, the song's lyrics were not available in braille, so Moy sang the lines to Wonder in the studio and he simply repeated the lines, never missing a beat in the recording session. Ranked at #5 on Billboard's Hot-100 All Time Top Artists, Stevie Wonder's music is pure classic.

One of the hottest Motown duos of the late-60's was Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, who had their first big hit together with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in 1967 (written by Ashford & Simpson). Known as the "Prince of Motown," Marvin Gaye was the label's top-selling solo artist of the decade, and with his four-octave vocal range, he's ranked #6 among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Tammi Terrell was the perfect musical match for Gaye, and with her easy-going nature with audiences and his laid-back approach, they were successful on stage. Unfortunately, their stardom together was short-lived after Terrell was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, which led to her death at the age of 24 in 1970 (and also tragic, Gaye was later accidentally shot to death by his own father in 1984). However, their voices live on with their signature, care-free, love duets like this.

So maybe it's slightly inappropriate to finish Motown week with a non-Motown artist, but hey, it looks we're just wild and crazy here at The 60s Beat! Well, because it's relevant to soul music, we'll end this post with one of the greatest singers of all time, Aretha Franklin, "The Queen of Soul." Franklin is one of the most honored artists by the Grammy Awards, and since 1961, she has scored forty-five Top-40 hits on the Billboard charts. She also has the most million-selling singles of any female artist (14 total), and in 1987, was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After becoming a superstar with her 1965 hit, "Respect," Franklin went on to sing a string of hits throughout the 1960's (and beyond) including a classic cover of Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer" in 1968. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Warwick, Franklin's version brought this tune back to the R&B Top 10 for a second time, also gaining her international success. This woman sure has some pipes!