Friday, May 27, 2011

"If I Can Dream"

The American Response: Part 3

The ONLY American musical group whose popularity did not diminish during the British Invasion was The Four Seasons, and in fact, they are the only act to have a #1 hit before, during, and after the years that The Beatles had #1 hits on the charts. They are one of the best-selling groups of all time, having sold 175 million records worldwide. Forming in 1960 with Frankie Valli as the lead singer, along with Bob Gaudio (keyboards and tenor vocals), Tommy DeVito (lead guitar and baritone vocals), and Nick Massi (bass guitar and bass vocals), these guys were the most popular rock band before The Beatles. "Working My Way Back to You" was just another one of those Top-10 hits from later in the '60s, released in January of 1966. Although Frankie Valli is the only original member still performing today, this group's legacy lives on with lots of airplay on 'oldies' radio stations.

So wow, where do I even begin about one of the most popular singers of all time, a cultural icon, The King of Rock and Roll? With his versatile voice and broad success in several genres including country, pop ballads, gospel, and blues, Elvis Presley is THE best-selling solo artist in the history of pop music. Beginning his career in 1954 with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis became one of the originators of rockabilly (a upbeat blend of country and rhythm and blues), and became a leading figure in the development of rock and roll. However, during the 1960s, his music career faltered while stuck in a Hollywood contract, making formulaic (and silly) musical comedies, but that all ended when his '68 Comeback Special aired on TV in December (yeah, that one where he is looking pretty good in tight, black leather). It was Elvis' first live performance since 1961, and the special's finale was "If I Can Dream," a gospel-influenced song that featured quotations by Martin Luther King Jr. After hearing this song, Elvis proclaimed "I'm never going to sing another song I don't believe in."
Well, it isn't exactly easy following the previous two artists, so we'll just plot along with other classic, 1960s sounds of America. Formed in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1959, The Vogues were an American vocal group that started their career when their high school principle helped them record their first demo. Released in 1965, their second single "Five O'Clock World" hit #4 on the US charts and remains one of their most well-known songs today, along with "You're the One" from the previous year. Sung from the viewpoint of an urban worker looking forward to after-work freedom each day, it was not surprising that this became a major hit among steel workers in the Pittsburgh area. This arrangement was quite innovative with the repeating modal figure on 12-string guitar at the beginning and Bill Burkette's bright, baritone lead vocal (including unique yodeling lines) over a crescendoing string accompaniment. Definitely a noteworthy classic which I grew up hearing on the 1987 Good Morning, Vietnam film soundtrack.
We'll finish off today with another distinctly American-sounding pop rock group from the late '60s, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, who also gained huge popularity in the UK. Originating in San Diego, California (yeah!), this group secured six consecutive gold records and Top-10 hits, of course fueled by the unmistakable, signature voice of baritone Gary Puckett. Released in March 1968, "Young Girl" was one of their biggest hits, reaching #2 on the US charts and #1 in the UK. With the lyrics about a man who realizes that the one he loves is under an acceptable age, this song was quite controversial at the time (and kind of still is), yet it was the second million-selling disc for the band (after "Woman Woman" in 1967), which it reached in less than two months. These guys headlined at White House reception for Prince Charles later in 1968, and received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist the following year (losing to Jose' Feliciano). Clad in Union Army-style Civil War uniforms, here's the promo video for this classic tune.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Songs for the Broken-hearted

The American Response: Part 2
This next batch of bands were directly influenced by the British Invasion (although some may say "Beatles knock-offs"), and it also just so happens that the lyrics of the songs I've selected have a common theme of rejection, lies, and heartache, however the tunes are quite upbeat.

Here at The 60's Beat, we first met The Beau Brummels during Folk Rock Week, as they were one of the first groups to blend beat music with folk rock (even influencing The Byrds). Releasing their first single in December of 1964, "Laugh Laugh" was the first hit single to come out of the emerging San Francisco scene in response to the British Invasion. With a very British-sounding name (meaning an extremely well-dressed person), The Beau Brummels capitalized on Beatlemania with similar harmonies to British pop groups (like The Beatles and The Zombies), and the fact their records would be alphabetically placed right next to The Beatles didn't hurt either. However, these guys became big teen idols in the US and their music did stand out on its own, as "Laugh Laugh" is considered one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. With its complex chord structure using flat major and minor keys, this song was significant in the development of garage rock and folk rock, and even helped in the boost of harmonica sales during the mid-1960s. Performing this song on several shows including an animated performance as The Beau Brummelstones on The Flintstones (see clip here), here's another on Shindig!. (And I tell you, the lead singer, Sal Valentino, could totally be related to my husband; he looks very similar minus the moptop hair style!).
From New Jersey, The Knickerbockers were formed by two brothers, Beau Charles (guitar and vocals) and John Charles (bass and vocals), with Buddy Randell (vocals and saxophone), and took their name from Knickerbocker Road, a street near their hometown. In 1966, they had their biggest hit with "Lies," however, most listeners mistake this tune for being a "lost" Beatles track. From the distinct John Lennon lead vocal sound to the Paul McCartney-like vocal whoops before the guitar solo, it's regarded as "the most accurate early-Beatles imitation." A Charles/Randell original, this song reached #20 on the charts and helped the band become regular performers on Dick Clark's TV program Where The Action Is.
From Chicago, Illinois, The Buckinghams formed in 1966 and became one of the top-selling bands of 1967. After securing a job as the house band for a WGN variety show (a local Chicago station), the group decided to adopt a name that reflected the British Invasion. With the release of their #1 hit single "Kind of a Drag," The Buckinghams gained national exposure, and were named by Billboard magazine as "The Most Listened to Band in America" as they released four more Top-10 hits that same year. With their songs exploring "brass-rock" orchestration, "Don't You Care" was one of those big hits from 1967, reaching #6 on the charts. Although the group dissolved in 1970, they reformed in 1980 and still tour as part of "oldies" shows in America.

In 1964, drummer Gary Lewis (son of comedian Jerry Lewis) formed a band that first called themselves Gary & the Playboys, and got their first job as regular performers at Disneyland (without mentioning Lewis' celebrity father). After being picked up by record producer Snuff Garrett, Garrett had the group change their name to Gary Lewis & the Playboys (hoping the famous name would help sell records), and wanting to maximize their chances for success, the band was not allowed to play their own instruments on their first recording, "This Diamond Ring." Released in 1965, this tune became a #1 hit on the US charts, selling over a million records after their mimed performance on the Ed Sullivan Show (because of the studio "tricks" they had been done to the recording, it was impossible for the band to recreate the sound, so Ed Sullivan compromised, although he generally had a policy that musicians play live on the show). That same year, Gary Lewis was voted as Cash Box magazine's "Male Vocalist of the Year," and again, as mentioned in the last post about the Lovin' Spoonful, this band was the only other act during the 1960s to have their first seven singles reach the Top-10. After Lewis was drafted into the U.S. Army and went to Vietnam in 1967, the group generally turned into a nostalgia act when Lewis returned later in the '60s.

EDITED on 8/29/11: So it was brought to my attention by an anonymous reader that there are two other "British-sounding" bands that should totally be included in this post.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1962, the Standells were a garage rock band that are now considered to be the "Godfathers of Punk Rock." These guys were one of the first American bands to wear longer hair, however, they were forced to trim their shaggy style in order to play at conservative nightclubs. Going through a variety of personnel, the main lineup in the mid-60s with vocalist/keyboardist Larry Tamblyn, vocalist/drummer Dick Dodd, guitarist Tony Valentino, and bassist Gary Lane were featured in several movies and TV shows (click here for the clip of the Standells performing a cover of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on The Munsters in 1964). They are most remembered for their only Top-40 hit "Dirty Water," which reached #8 on the Cashbox chart and #11 on the Billboard chart during the summer of 1966. Written by their producer Ed Cobb (and uncredited contributions by the band), this classic garage rock tune references the then-polluted Boston Harbor and Charles River, and since has become the anthem for Boston sports teams including the Boston Red Sox. 
Formed in San Antonio, Texas in 1964 by multi-instrumental Doug Sahm (whose professional career began at age 5) with longtime friend Augie Meyers, the Sir Douglas Quintet is one of the founding influences in rock and roll history for incorporating Tex-Mex and Cajun styles into rock music. However like most rock bands at the time, their initial sound was influenced by the British Invasion. After relocating to San Francisco in the mid-'60s, the group absorbed elements of the San Francisco Sound, adding jazz and psychedelic aspects to their Tex-Mex, blues, and soul sound. Written by Sahm, the group's best-known hit single was "She's About a Mover," named the number one 'Texas' song by Texas Monthly. The Sir Douglas Quartet would remain active until 1973, even sharing European tours with The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones, and later, founding members Sahm and Meyers would go on to form Texas Tornadoes. Featuring their signature Tex-Mex sound, here's a performance of "She's About A Mover" on NBC.

Thanks to another '60s Beat reader for the suggestions and feedback!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The American Sound-Off

The American Response: Part 1

So after a fun run with great bands of the British Invasion, we're finally jumping across the Atlantic to check out the American sounds that put up a fantastic front; many influenced by the Brits, and others who created purely American music.
Probably the biggest band that could actually compete with The Beatles were The Beach Boys. I know I've already raved a bit about "America's Band" here, but these guys are considered one of the greatest artists of all time for a reason, having thirty-six Top-40 hits (more than any other American rock band). Expanding their music from the surf rock genre, The Beach Boys went on to create some of the best music from the 1960s with their complex, multi-layered sounds. Considered by many to be the most beautiful pop song of all time (even a big favorite of Paul McCartney), "God Only Knows" is a fantastic baroque pop song from the influential album Pet Sounds, released in May 1966. Composed and produced by Brian Wilson, and with lyrics by Tony Asher, this song broke ground in many ways: not only was it one of the first pop songs to use 'God' in its title, but it was more technically sophisticated than any of their music before with its complicated melodic structure and vocal harmonies. Twenty-three musicians were used in this recording, which was unheard of for pop music at that time, and a variety of instruments were used including harpsichord, French horn, woodwinds, and strings, creating a "rich, heavenly blanket of music." With a wonderful melody sung by brother Carl Wilson, here's one of the finest songs of the 1960s.
The next three groups are some of the folkies we heard about during Folk Rock Week, each a significant aspect of the American sound. Initially influenced by The Beatles, The Byrds were publicized on their 1965 English tour as "America's answer to The Beatles" (however a label impossible to live up to), yet The Beatles actually stated that The Byrds were their favorite American group at that time, even drawing inspiration from them as well (see "Nowhere Man"). The Byrds, who helped establish the sound of folk rock, released their second #1 hit single, "Turn! Turn! Turn!," in October 1965. With the lyrics taken almost word-for-word from the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible (with the addition of just six words), this tune was actually written by folk singer Pete Seeger in 1959, but with The Byrds' successful mix of vocal harmony and jangly twelve-string guitar playing, their folk rock version is a classic and the most well-known. Technically holding the record as the #1 pop song with the oldest lyrics, the words about peace also struck a chord with the American record-buying public as the Vietnam War gained momentum. Although known for their sometimes lackluster stage presence, here's a Shindig! performance by a classic American band.

Like the above bands, The Mamas & The Papas were another L.A.-based group with wonderful vocal harmonies as well, blending their distinct sound with folk rock and sunshine pop styles. An inventive pop musical group, The Mamas & The Papas (along with The Beach Boys and The Byrds) helped bring attention back to America in the wage of the British Invasion. Written by the group's leader, John Philips, with the help of his wife Michelle, "California Dreamin'" was released November 1965 and became the group's first hit single, peaking at #4 on the US charts and launching them into stardom. The California natives came up with the lyrics while living in New York, longing for warmer weather during a cold winter (Michelle's first time seeing snow!). With their sunny, tight-knit harmonies and free-wheeling persona, it's clear how this initially rag-tag group appealed to a diverse record-buying public.

To complete today's post, we have another group with a pure American sound, The Lovin' Spoonful, whose folk-flavored pop songs captured the essence of classic American music. At the height of their success, their first seven consecutive hits reached the chart's Top-10 (a feat only achieved by one other group in 1960s, Gary Lewis & the Playboys) and they were even the original band selected to perform and act in the show that would become The Monkees. Naming their approach as "good-time music," The Lovin' Spoonful are probably the most successful pop/rock group to have their roots in the jug band style, which was an inspiration for several of their songs including "Daydream." Written and sung by the group's leader, John Sebastian, this #2 hit single was released in March 1966 with their second album of the same title. With a TV performance from 1967, it doesn't get much more American than a folk rock song with a honky-tonk piano, whistling, and mutton-chop sideburns!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Heavy Second Wave

British Invasion: Part 9 (Second Wave, 1967-1970)

By 1967, the term 'roll' was generally dropped and the rock style of the 1960s emerged, also marking the end of the Invasion. However, from 1967-1970, the Brits did send off a much smaller 'second wave' of this newer rock sound (however, the official Second Invasion wouldn't take place until the 1980s). As the decade progressed, you can not only hear how much 'heavier' the music gets, but can also see a distinctive change in appearance, and boy, did hair get long! So hang on, we've got a whopping seven groups in this post!

First up, Cream was a British rock supergroup with bassist Jack Bruce on lead vocals, the bluesy guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton (of The Yardbirds), and jazz-influenced drummer Ginger Baker, who created a hybrid of blues rock, hard rock, and psychedelic rock. They were the world's first notable and successful supergroup, selling over 35 million records in just the short two years that they were together. From their third album Wheels on Fire (the world's first platinum-selling double album), "White Room" was released as a single in September 1968, reaching #6 on the US charts and later becoming another among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Recorded using an eight-track tape recorder (rare at the time), Clapton makes great use of the wah -wah pedal guitar effect on this classic psychedelic tune, a style he learned from fellow guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Here's live footage from their Farewell Performance in 1968.

Joe Cocker was an English rock/blues musician known for his gritty voice and is ranked among the 100 greatest singers of all time. In 1968, he gained his biggest success with a radical re-arranged version of The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends," which features a longer introduction, is in a slower, 6/8 meter, and uses different chords in the middle section. Reaching #1 on the British singles charts, this songs is considered one of the greatest music covers of all time, and is sometimes referred to as "The Wonder Years" song as it was the theme for that American TV series from the late 1980s. The Beatles were so impressed with this version that they gave Cocker permission to sing some of their other songs including "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Something." In the recording, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin played the guitar lines.

Speaking of Led Zeppelin, they were another English rock group that formed in 1968 and are considered as influential to rock music of the 1970s as The Beatles were to the '60s. With a heavy, bluesy guitar-driven sound, they are founding fathers of heavy metal and hard rock, however, about a third of their music is acoustic and they drew from several other styles including Celtic, Eastern Indian, and folk music. Some sources say they have sold over 300 million records, making them one of the world's best-selling artists of all time. Consisting of guitarist Jimmy Page (of The Yardbirds), singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, and bassist John Paul Jones, they were probably the biggest band of the 1970s. However, here they are early in their career in the late 1960s performing "How Many More Times." Definitely no "Stairway to Heaven" (1971), but interesting to see their beginnings.

In 1967, the English rock group Traffic was formed by Steve Winwood (from The Spencer Davis Group), Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Dave Mason, whose first singles were influenced by The Beatles. Initially starting out as a psychedelic rock group, they expanded their sound with the use of keyboards like the Mellotron, reed instruments, and included jazz and improv techniques in their music. Released in August 1967, the psychedelic pop classic "Hole in My Shoe" was written by guitarist Dave Mason (one of the chief songwriters with Winwood) and with its "Beatles-esque" sound, reached #2 on the UK charts. The little monologue in the middle was spoken by the stepdaughter of the boss of their record label, a simple effect, along with the sitar, that were typically traits of psychedelic music.

Like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple was another English rock group from 1968 that are also considered pioneers of modern hard rock and heavy metal. Once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being "the loudest pop group," these guys are ranked among the greatest artists of hard rock and have sold over 100 million records worldwide. They have had many different personnel line-ups over the years and are still touring to this day. Their breakout success started with their first hit single "Hush," released in June 1968, reaching #4 on the US charts (though was overlooked in the UK). This song was originally performed by Billy Joe Royal (known for "Down in the Boondocks"), however, Deep Purple's hard rock version became better known and is still remembered today. Definitely a classic, however, I'm not a fan of the band's attire here.

One of the most commercially successful and influential rock bands of all time was Pink Floyd, selling over 200 million albums worldwide. With their progressive and psychedelic rock music, they were known for their philosophical lyrics, audio experimentation, innovative album art, and their ornate live shows. Founded in 1965 by college students Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and Syd Barrett, they got their start playing in London's underground club scene, and released their first single, "Arnold Layne," in spring of 1967. This psychedelic pop song was written by original frontman Syd Barrett, however, due to his unstable mental health, he was soon replaced by guitarist David Gilmour who was a part of the lineup when the band achieved worldwide critical success with albums in the 1970s such The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Once again, it's interesting to hear the early sound of these mega groups-to-be in the 1960s.

At last, we've reached the final group of the day: The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Okay, I know we're talked a little about guitar-wizard Jimi Hendrix before and we all clearly know that he was American, however, this "power trio" included Brits, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, and originally formed in London. Not only influential to the development of hard rock and heavy metal, The Experience will always be known for the skill, style, and charisma of one of the greatest guitarists of all time as their frontman. The group came to prominence in the US after the infamous performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 where Hendrix set his guitar on fire. After seeing the Festival, The Monkees actually asked The Experience to go on tour with them as their opening act (definitely a mismatch!), but Hendrix and the guys only lasted a few concerts before they couldn't stand the 'boos' from the unappreciative teenage audience. Released as their first single in December 1966 (in the UK), the band's blues-rock version of "Hey Joe" failed to chart in the US, however has since become one of those 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and remains the most well-known version of this song.