Saturday, June 25, 2011

On This Day... "All You Need Is Love"

On this day (June 25th) in 1967, The Beatles performed "All You Need Is Love" on Our World, the first live global television link through satellite, and the broadcast was watched by 400 million people in 26 countries. Commissioned by the BBC for the UK contribution, John Lennon wrote this as a propaganda song, later stating that he was a "revolutionary artist" with his art being dedicated to change. Whether this song was actually written for the broadcast or was already lying in The Beatles' back pocket is uncertain, but the simple message was something all nationalities could understand. With the exception of a pre-recorded rhythm track (mainly consisting of piano, harpischord and drums), The Beatles and the small studio orchestra (and guests) are performing live in this footage. Seated on the floor are friends and studio people including leading stars of the British pop scene like Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones) and Keith Moon (The Who). Lennon was unsatisfied with his singing, due to nerves during the filming (can't blame him though, that's a lot of viewers!), and later re-recorded the solo verses for the single released on July 7th in the UK, which went straight to #1. The program was broadcast in black-and-white (since color TV was not available in the UK and most of the world), but based on photos from that day, The Beatles' footage was later colorized for The Beatles Anthology documentary in 1995. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Barrel Full of Monkees and Friends

American Response: Part 7
For regular readers of The '60s Beat, this is not the first time I've mentioned the fascinating story (see here) of how The Monkees began as a made-for-TV band, created as the American answer to The Beatles, pairing great music with zany antics like A Hard Day's Night. Assembled in 1966 by television producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (who later used "Monkees" money to produce films like Easy Rider), the quartet consisted of two actors (Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz) and two musicians (Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork) who eventually became a respected band in their own right, even outselling The Beatles. With the Emmy Award-winning TV series as the springboard for their music, their initial success was fueled by releasing hit songs by top songwriters, hand-picked by music supervisor Don Kirshner, "the man with the golden ear." When The Monkees began performing live and touring as a real band, they realized they wanted to write, record, and perform their own music, thus firing Kirshner (after some intense disagreements), and against all historical odds, the band continued to produce hit records. With diverse musical styles including pop rock, country rock, folk rock, bubblegum, psychedelic rock, soul/R&B, Broadway, even English music hall, The Monkees have sold over 50 million records worldwide (and counting) and are in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most #1 albums in a single year (that's four #1 albums in 1967)! Here's their debut single and first #1 hit from September 1966, "Last Train to Clarksville," written by songwriting duo Boyce & Hart:

Speaking of those top-notch songwriters, Boyce & Hart were a prolific singer-songwriter team that were the initial driving force behind The Monkees' sound. Meeting in 1959, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart formed a successful musical partnership that would go on to write more than 300 songs including TV show themes, film scores, and commercial jingles, and sold over 42 million records. In 1965, the duo wrote, produced, and performed the soundtrack for the pilot episode of The Monkees, even providing lead vocals (which were replaced when the show was cast), and were responsible for many of The Monkees' hits including "Last Train to Clarksville," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," "Valleri," Words," "I Wanna Be Free," and of course the "(Theme from) The Monkees." Simultaneously, Boyce & Hart had a successful career as recording artists with five charting singles, including "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight," which reached #8 on the Billboard charts in 1968. Introduced by Herb Alpert, here's the classic song that earned the duo a gold disc (gotta love the velvet suits!):

Another one of those notable singer-songwriters was pop music performer Neil Diamond, the third most successful Adult Contemporary artist of all time (behind only Barbara Streisand and Elton John), selling over 115 million records worldwide. From Brooklyn, New York (and apparently a classmate of my husband's uncle!), Diamond spend his early career in the 1960s as a songwriter, gaining fame when The Monkees scored a #1 hit with his song "I'm a Believer" (the Popular Song of the Year in 1966). Also released in 1966 was "Solitary Man," his debut single as a recording artist, and although it was only a minor hit, it did peak at #21 on the charts after its re-release in 1970 (even becoming a hit for other artists as well across five decades). Diamond went on to score hits in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (yes, I voted for him!). This video is a bit on the jiggly side but there's no mistaking the distinct voice of a young Neil Diamond, singing one great tune!

American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson also gained more attention in the music business when The Monkees recorded and featured his music in their TV show and film ("Cuddly Toy" and "Daddy's Song"). An impressive vocalist with a natural talent for writing wonderful melodies, Nilsson became The Beatles' favorite American artist upon hearing his 1967 album Pandemonium Shadow Show. Ironically, the song Nilsson is most known for is one he did not write. Written by Fred Neil, "Everybody's Talkin'" helped Nilsson achieve global success in 1969, as it was also used as the theme for the film Midnight Cowboy, and it earned him his first Grammy Award. Propelling him into stardom, Nilsson would go on to have his biggest commercial success in the early 1970s, winning another Grammy. I'll definitely have to share some of his fantastic, original songs on another post, but here's his performance of his biggest hit; a song everyone could relate to during the turbulent times of the late '60s.

Although The Monkees were influential as the first band in history to fight and win creative control over their music, Don Kirshner does go down in history as kind of getting a bum rap. After all, he was a business man and knew how to find a hit-worthy song. In the late 1960s, Kirshner's next endeavor involved producing another fictitious band, The Archies, however, this time they were animated (and couldn't talk back!). With all the male vocals provided by studio musician Ron Dante, the animated garage band scored a #1 hit with "Sugar, Sugar" in the summer of 1969, selling six million records and was ranked Billboard's number one song of the year (the only time a fictional band has ever claimed that spot). Written by Andy Kim and Jeff Barry, a rumor still circulates that this song was first offered to The Monkees, which Kirshner claimed Mike Nesmith put his fist through a wall refusing to take it (the wall-punching part is true but the song is still in question). Regardless, Kirshner knew this would be a big hit, and in fact, "Sugar Sugar" is one of the biggest bubblegum hits of all time, in both the U.S. and the UK. Notice Ron Dante's is "playing" all the instruments in this video:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Novelty Songs: Father's Day Edition

My dad recently suggested doing a post featuring crazy songs from the 1960s. So in honor of Father's Day, here's a wacky post just for my Daddy-O! Enjoy!
(My dad, the guitarist on the left, with his garage band buddies back in 1966!)

Since my dad grew up as a big Dodger's fan, I've got to start off with "The Dodger's Song" by actor/comedian Danny Kaye in 1962, technically titled "The D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song (Oh Really? No, O'Malley)." As a lifelong fan of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, Kaye gives a detailed yet fictitious account with the San Francisco Giants, which was a big hit during the real-life pennant chase of '62. I even have my dad's old 45 of this classic.

Adopting their English-sounding name in the wage of the British Invasion, The Royal Guardsmen were a rock band from Ocala, Florida, who scored a #2 hit with the 1966 novelty song "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron." Based upon the Snoopy character from the Peanuts comic strip, cartoonist Charles Schulz and the United Features Syndicate (UFC) actually sued The Royal Guardsmen for using the Snoopy name without permission. The UFC won the suit and required that all royalties from the song go to them. Remaining in the bestsellers for 12 weeks, this song sold one million records in early 1967 and earned a gold disc.

Considered the grandfather of the comedy-rock genre, Allan Sherman was an American comedy writer and television producer who became a famous song parodist in the early 1960s. His biggest hit single was "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," a comic novelty song that reached #2 on the charts in 1963. Set to the tune of the classical tune of Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours," it was based on letters of complaint Sherman received from his son while attending Camp Champlain in New York. Winning the 1964 Grammy Award for Comedy, this parody is exactly the kind of music that would inspire future comedic musicians like "Weird Al" Yankovic. Pretty sure the first time I heard this was on a replay of the famous Dr. Demento radio show.

From the clean-cuts Brits of the 60s, Herman's Hermits had a #1 hit in the U.S. in 1965 with "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am" (sometimes spelled "Henery" because of the Cockney accent used to sing it). Dating back to 1910, this song was originally a British music hall song (similar to vaudeville) made famous by music hall star Harry Champion, and it became the fastest-selling song in history to that point when Herman's Hermits revived it. Although the band didn't care much for this song, they aimed at the U.S. fanbase, with lead singer Peter Noone exaggerating his Mancunian accent, however, they never released it as a single in the UK. Here's another jolly clip from their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show:

Napoleon XIV was the pseudonym of American singer-songwriter and record producer Jerry Samuels who is known for his 1966 one-hit wonder, "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha -Haaa!." This successful novelty song was probably the wackiest (and maybe most annoying) of the decade, yet it reached #3 on the U.S. charts and #4 in the UK. The lyrics first appear to be a rant by a mentally ill person who just lost his love, yet as the song continues, it seems like it's about the singer's dog instead (the cover also supports this idea with "Napoleon" holding a novelty "invisible dog" leash. What a crazy hit that actually sold a million records!

Australian singer-songwriter Rolf Harris wrote one of best known and must successful Australian songs in 1957 with "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport." It became a worldwide hit in the early 1960s, even reaching #3 on the Billboard charts after its U.S. release in the 1963. Inspired by Harry Belafonte's calypsos, it's about an Australian stockman (one who cares for livestock) on his deathbed. Harris' recording uses an instrument he designed called "the wobble board," which created a distinctive sound. This song is still popular today as a children's song.

And for my final song today, I'm actually rewinding back to the late 1950s just for fun with a novelty hit by American actor and singer Sheb Wooley. Reaching #1 on the charts in 1958, "The Purple People Eater" was based off a joke told by the child of a friend of Wooley's, and Wooley finished the song within one hour. About a monster (described as a "one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater") who really just wants to be in a rock 'n' roll band, you'll notice that the monster isn't necessarily purple but that he eats purple people! Speeding up the recording to create the monster's high-pitch voice (like The Chipmunk Song later that year), this has been a classic silly song for decades. And check out this old footage!

And of course, the "Surfin' Bird" fits right in with these crazy songs, featured a few months ago during Surf Rock Week. Send me any other wacky suggestions and we'll save them for another post!

Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Association and Other Peeps

American Response: Part 6
In 1961, The Cyrkle was a pop band formed by lead singers Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes while studying at college in Easton, Pennsylvania. Originally a garage rock group called The Rondells, they were later discovered and managed by Brian Epstein (The Beatles' manager) in 1965, renaming them The Cyrkle (John Lennon suggested the unique spelling). In the summer of 1966, the group joined The Beatles on their U.S. tour and performed as one of the opening acts, including The Beatles final concert at Candlestick Park. Earlier that year in April 1966, they had released their biggest hit, "Red Rubber Ball," co-written by Paul Simon (who offered this song to the group while they were on tour with Simon and Garfunkel) and Bruce Woodley (of The Seekers). Reaching #2 on the charts, this classic still receives lots of airplay on the 'oldies' station today, leading listeners to mistake them for another one-hit wonder, although they did have another Top-40 hit. After The Cyrkle disbanded, both Dannemann and Dawes went on to be professional jingle writers, with Dawes writing the famous "plop plop fizz fizz" Alka-Seltzer jingle and Dannemann penning the original 7Up Uncola song.

Speaking of Simon & Garfunkel, this great American pop/folk duo is no stranger to The '60 Beat. Known for their vocal harmonies, singer-songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel released some of the most popular music in the 1960s and are ranked #40 of the 100 greatest artists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. Rising to fame with the folk rock movement that grew out of the British Invasion, the group gained further popularity in 1967 when their music was featured in the landmark film The Graduate. An early version of "Mrs. Robinson" appeared several times throughout the movie, while the complete song was recorded and released in 1968 on the album Bookends. The film's producer asked Simon to write three songs for the movie, but by the time it was nearly edited, the group had been too busy touring and Simon had only written one new song. The producer begged for more, so Simon just played him a different song he had been writing that had nothing to do with the movie, "about past times, Mrs. Roosevelt, Joe DiMaggio, and stuff." The director advised Simon, "It's now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt." Here's a live performance of the song that earned the duo a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

In 1965, The Association formed in Los Angeles and went on to have several big hits, eventually becoming the lead-off band at the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. With their music in the sunshine pop genre , they started out playing many gigs all over L.A., but had difficulty getting a record label contract due to their unique sound. After signing with Valiant Records, the group got their national break with the release of "Along Comes Mary" in 1966, followed by a string of hits, however, my absolute favorite song by these guys is "Never My Love," a great tune that hit #1 on the Cashbox chart in 1967. With dual vocals by Terry Kirkman and Larry Ramos, this baroque pop/sunshine pop classic is "laid-back and dreamy, [yet] sleek and sophisticated," and according to BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) in 1999, it was the second most-played song on American radio and television of the 20th century. After this song's release, the group become a top concert act in high demand by TV variety shows, specials, and talk shows, eventually performing this hit on about thirteen shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show (shown below). I have yet to tire of this beauty.

From Union City, Indiana, The McCoys were a rock band that first formed in 1962 by guitarist Richard Zehringer (known as Rick Derringer) and his brother 'Randy Z' on drums. After adding a bassist, saxophonist, and keyboardist to their line-up, The McCoys scored a #1 hit with "Hang On, Sloopy" in October of 1965. It has since become the official rock song of the state of Ohio, the MLB team the Cleveland Indians, and Ohio State University, which carries on the Saturday tradition of playing this song at football games ever since the university marching band blasted this tune in 1965. Penned by songwriters Wes Farrell and Bert Russell, it was named for singer Dorothy Sloop, who used the name "Sloopy" on stage. Originally titled "My Girl Sloopy," this song was first recorded by The Vibrations in 1964, followed by several other groups including The Ventures, The Supremes, The Kingsmen, The Yardbirds, and Jan & Dean, however, The McCoys, with their 16-year-old leader, will always be remembered for making this tune a fun success.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Midnight Confessions

American Response: Part 5

The Grass Roots were a band project created by songwriter/producer duo P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, who wanted to cash in on the up-and-coming folk rock movement of the time. After going through a couple of groups with the incorporated Grass Roots name, the third and most successful lineup was found in a band that already existed in L.A., who then took on their new role as The Grass Roots in 1967. With Rob Grill as the lead singer/bassist, this lineup went on to have 21 singles to hit the charts (a feat beat by only 9 other bands in the entire history of rock n' roll), and they actually hold the all-time attendance record for a one act U.S. concert of 600,000 people on July 4th, 1982 in Washington, DC. Blending the British beat sound with soul music, rhythm and blues, and folk rock, the group released several hits like "Midnight Confessions" in 1968. As this tune was the first of theirs to use a horn section, the group was concerned that their fans would not like the "departure" from their previous sound, however, it became their biggest hit, reaching #5 that summer. I think I may have a crush on these guys...

Led by guitarist Tom King, The Outsiders (originally named The Starfires) had a built-in advantage over the many American bands that formed in the wake of the British Invasion. Since 1958, they had already been an active rhythm and blues band in the Cleveland, Ohio music scene, sometimes playing six shows a week. With lead singer Sonny Geraci's solid voice and the band's soulful sound accompanied by a screaming brass section, The Outsiders' released "Time Won't Let Me" in early 1966, which peaked at #5 and remained on the charts for 15 weeks. Although the group had three other hits singles that same year and released four albums in the mid-1960s, they are falsely remembered as a one-hit wonder since this song remains prominent on 'oldies' radio playlists. Is it just me or does this lead singer look an awful lot like Chachi from the TV show Happy Days?

With singer and keyboardist Domingo "Sam" Samudio, known for wearing a robe and turban (and for hauling his equipment in a 1952 Packard hearse with velvet curtains), the novelty rock group Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs were formed in 1963 in Memphis, Tennessee. Written by Sam and released in 1965, "Wooly Bully" was the band's first and biggest hit, becoming a worldwide sensation and reaching #2 on the U.S. charts. Influenced by the British rock sound mixed with traditional Mexican-American conjunto rhythms, this was actually the first American record to sell a million copies during the British Invasion. It was also nominated for a Grammy and was named Billboard's "Number One Song of the Year" even though it didn't reach #1. Because the lyrics were hard to understand, some radio stations actually banned this song. By the way, the lyrics, "Let's not be L-7s," means "Let's not be squares," referring to the shape formed by the fingers making an L on one hand and a 7 on the other. Too funny!

In 1965, The Doors formed in Los Angeles, California, after a chance-meeting between fellow UCLA film school alumni, vocalist Jim Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who decided to form a band. Completely the lineup with drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger, this group became one of the most controversial acts of the 1960s, mainly due to Morrison's crazy, poetic lyrics and his unpredictable yet charismatic stage presence. Even after Morrison's death in 1971 with the group eventually disbanding in '73, their popularity continues with over 90 million albums sold worldwide. After mainly recording blues rock, psychedelic rock, and hard rock, their sound shifted with the release of the symphonic rock song "Touch Me" in December of 1968, reaching #3 on the U.S. charts. Written by guitarist Krieger (who you'll notice has a black eye in this video, thanks for Morrison), this song was originally (and ironically) titled "Hit Me," but Morrison changed the lyrics in concern for the rowdy crowds at their concerts. This performance comes from one of their most famous TV appearances on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour where Morrison actually missed his cue for the lines "C'mon, c'mon" (at 1:09). Back by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (bandleader for Frank Sinatra and many famous vocalists), this song is a blast. And I think I'd like to have a shiny belt like Jim Morrison.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Happy Together

The American Response: Part 4

Well, you can't get much more American than Paul Revere & the Raiders, a rock band that formed in 1960 from Boise, Idaho. With Paul Revere as the rockin' keyboardist and Mark Lindsey singing lead vocals, these guys first started out playing garage rock at teen dances. Under the guidance of producer Terry Melcher, the guys relocated to L.A. in 1965 and began recording music that mixed the sounds of the British Invasion bands with an American, R&B feel. Gaining considerable mainstream success through national TV appearances as regulars on Dick Clark's Where the Action Is, they were presented as America's response to the British Invasion wearing American Revolutionary War uniforms, however, fellow West Coast bands and the counterculture youth were not fans. Released in March 1966, one of their biggest hits was "Kicks," an anti-drug song by songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, originally written for The Animals (who turned it down). Reaching the #4 position on the charts, this garage rock tune is now among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Apologies for the watermark but I loved the color footage.

The Turtles first began as a surf-rock group in Westchester, California (west L.A.), formed by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman in 1965, however, following a popular musical trend at time, they re-branded themselves as a folk rock group. Like The Byrds, The Turtles achieved breakthrough success with a Bob Dylan cover ("It Ain't Me Babe") in late '65, but it wasn't until 1967 that the group gained the most chart success. Released in February '67, "Happy Together" knocked The Beatles' "Penny Lane" out of the #1 position on the charts, and has since become the group's signature song. This tune had actually been rejected a dozen times before it was offered to The Turtles, and with their bassist Chip Douglas providing the arrangement (who soon after became the producer for The Monkees), this folk rock/psychedelic rock/pop rock song has been used in many films, TV shows, and commercials. With over five million plays on American radio, it ranks as one of the most performed songs in the US of the 20th century, placing it in the same league as The Beatles' "Yesterday" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." This will always be one of my favorites (though some of the non-Turtle clips in this video were definitely added in 1980s, probably re-edited for playtime during MTV's early years).

From Niles, Michigan, the rock band Tommy James & the Shondells formed in 1959 when lead singer/guitarist Tommy James was just 12 years old (first known as Tom & the Tornadoes). Officially changing to the Shondells in 1964, the group had a big local hit with "Hanky Panky," but after they did not break into the national market, they disbanded after high school graduation. When a Pittsburgh radio station unearthed the forgotten single, Tommy James reformed with a new group of Shondells and went on to have many successful hits, ranging from garage rock, psychedelic rock, and bubblegum (which he hated). Released in February of 1968, "Mony Mony" reached #3 on the US charts and went to #1 in the UK, their only song to even reach the Top-20 across the Atlantic. The song's title was inspired by a sign for Mutual of New York just outside James' apartment window in NYC. Later embracing the sounds of psychedelia (like "Crimsom and Clover"), the group was even invited to perform at the Woodstock concert, but they declined. Here's another rockin' song by Tommy James & the Shondells.

From Garfield, New Jersey, The Young Rascals were a blue-eyed soul/pop rock band that released numerous Top-10 singles in their career from 1965 through 1972. They first gained modest success after they performed their debut single ("I Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore") on the TV program Hullabaloo in 1965, but it wasn't until they released "Good Lovin'" in February of '66 that they really made a name for themselves. Becoming the first of three #1 hits for The Young Rascals, this mixture of garage rock and white soul, as well as their variety of hits to come, had a big impact on aspiring R&B-flavored, white acts. With its high-energy instrumentation, call-and-response vocals from lead singer/organist Felix Cavaliere and the band, and a complete false ending (popular at the time), "Good Lovin'" has since become labeled as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and is among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Oh and if you ever notice another group from the 1960s simply called The Rascals, they're the same guys; the band dropped the "Young" part of their name in early 1968. Another great live performance from the Ed Sullivan Show!