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.

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