Friday, July 29, 2011

Clear Channel Communications, And Some

Banned Songs: Part 3

Surprisingly, British cutie Lulu even had a banned song, however, the ban took place over two decades after the song's release in 1969. Performed by Lulu, "Boom Bang-a-Bang" was the UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest 1969, and was a joint winner with entries from Spain, France, and the Netherlands. The song scored #2 on the UK singles charts and was a major hit throughout Europe. Although the lyrics are clearly about the singer's heart going "boom bang-a-bang" whenever her lover is near, the song was actually included on a blacklist of banned songs by the BBC during the Gulf War in 1991. Guess they were concerned the lyrics might be mistaken for gunfire? Anyway, here's the actual footage from the Eurovision contest.

On that note, I think I'll mention a few other songs from 1960s that were also blacklisted decades later. In 2001, Clear Channel Communications (the largest owner of U.S. radio stations) released an advisory list of songs which stations were to avoid playing immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
One of the 165 songs on that controversial list includes a classic by The Happenings, a pop music group known for recording cover versions of songs and making them better than the original. First recorded by The Tempos in 1959, "See You In September" became a huge hit for The Happenings in 1966, reaching #3 on the charts and selling over a million records. Although this song is clearly about two lovers saying goodbye for the summer (and has nothing to do with terrorism), it was suggested to be pulled from the airwaves after 9/11, probably because of 'September' in the title. Filmed at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, it's the good ol' days of wholesome entertainment.

(Denny) Zager & (Rick) Evans, a pop-rock duo from Nebraska, hold the distinct record for being the only act to achieve a #1 hit in both the U.S. and the UK, and then never had another chart single for the rest of their career. Released in 1969, "In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)" claimed the #1 spot for six weeks, and struck a chord with millions of people as the song describes a nightmarish vision of the future as man's technology eventually destroys the human race. Written by Evans, and backed by a ominous, orchestral accompaniment, the song even references technologies and concepts that had not been brought up by the mainstream media at the time, such as robots, In vitro fertilization, and parents choosing the gender of their future children. It's interesting that Zager and Evan's psychedelic rock/space rock song was just another deemed inappropriate by the CCC following the September 11th attacks (maybe because the song's predictions are frighteningly realistic?).

Often thought of as a one-hit wonder, American singer-songwriter Norman Greenbaum is best known for "Spirit in the Sky," a psychedelic rock song ,that is among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (I really need an acronym for that!). Selling two million copies after its release in 1969, this song hit #3 on the U.S. charts and #1 on the UK, Canadian, and Australian charts. Inspired by gospel music, Greenbaum included a Christian theme in the lyrics, even though he was/still is a practicing Jew. Remembered for its innovative, 'heavy' guitar intro, this song has been used in numerous films, TV shows and commercials. Guess you'll have to read between the lines as to why this tune was considered 'questionable' and added to the blacklist in 2001.

British Invasion duo Peter & Gordon had two songs on Clear Channel Communications' 'inappropriate' list including "A World Without Love" and "I Go to Pieces" (the latter featured during British Invasion Weeks at The '60s Beat). However, these guys had another hit song in the mid-1960s that caused a little controversy at the time, so I'm posting that one instead since it cracks me up. Released in the fall of 1966, "Lady Godiva" was banned by the mayor of Coventry, England, who felt the song was obscene. Back in the early 11th Century, Coventry was the hometown of the real Lady Godiva who, supposedly, rode naked through the streets to protest the oppressive taxes under her husband's rule. With Gordon on guitar and Peter on banjo, he's the classic duo performing another million-selling single.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rhapsody In The Rain

Banned Songs: Part 2

New to The '60s Beat, Lou Christie was a popular American singer-songwriter known for his impressive, three-octave vocal range. Released in the spring of 1966, his song "Rhapsody In The Rain" caused a storm of controversy with its suggestive lyrics. With the opening melody inspired by Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" (a music history refresher on that famous love theme here), the song tells of a teenager's regret over "what happened" in the backseat of a car during a rainstorm. Many radio stations banned the song, resulting in Christie re-recording a "toned down" version. Despite the ban, the song managed to hit #16 on the U.S. charts, with the controversy aiding its popularity. Backed by the familiar, female singers known as The Tammys, Christie effortlessly soars into falsetto vocals in this classic.
A popular, American girl group in the mid-60s, The Shangri-Las were known for their heartbreaking, teen melodramas like their biggest hit, "Leader of the Pack." Although this is one of my least favorite songs of the decade (sorry Leiber & Stoller), it was a #1 hit in 1964 and is now even ranked among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Despite its popularity, this song was banned by the BBC in the UK because it glorified motorcycle gangs. However, by the end of 1964, The Shangri-Las were quite an established act, getting to perform with The Beatles and touring with The Drifters and James Brown (who were surprised the girls were white) as well as with Dusty Springfield and The Zombies (whose drummer, Hugh Grundy, got to rev up the motorcycle backstage during the girls' live performances of this song). Here's Mary Weiss singing lead, backed by twin sisters Mary Ann and Marge Ganser, performing on I've Got a Secret with singer Robert Goulet on the motorcycle.
Featured during Psychedelic Rock Week, we all know the story of how The Doors asked to change the lyrics to "Light My Fire" on The Ed Sullivan Show, however, Jim Morrison still sang "higher" in the live performance, resulting in their ban from the show. Since it's such a classic song, I thought I'd post the mellow, Latin-influenced cover version by the blind, Puerto Rican singer and guitarist, Jose' Feliciano. Released in 1968, Feliciano's interpretation brought him international success, reaching #3 in the US, and #1 in several other countries, earning him a gold disc, as well as two Grammy Awards including Best New Artist of the Year and Best Pop Song of 1969. However, Feliciano caused a lot of controversy that same year when he sang a slow, Latin-jazz version of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, resulting in the ban of his music by many radio stations.
One of the biggest songs of 1967 was Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," his first single after leaving the British Invasion group Them (revisit Them, whose hit song "Gloria" was actually banned as well by a Chicago radio station in 1964). Written by the Northern Irish singer-songwriter, Morrison had to record an alternate, radio-edit version of this song since it was considered too racy and suggestive at the time, however, the original recording is widely familiar today, reaching over 9 million radio and TV air plays in 2009 (yeah, wow). Although this tune has become Morrison's signature song, he signed the record label without legal advice, and unfortunately has never received any of the royalties for writing or recording the song. Here's a very serious Morrison performing on American Bandstand.
We'll finish this post with one of the premiere groups on Motown's roster, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (check them out from Motown Week). Known for their harder, R&B sound, their 1964 release of "Dancing in the Street" is a signature song for the girls (and for Motown), and has become one of the most covered and popular songs in rock and roll history. Although it was recorded as an innocent dance single, the song was banned by many radio stations in concern that the song was a call to riot, as the Civil Rights Movement was just getting underway. Regardless, the song reached #2 on the U.S. charts, even becoming a global success. In 2009, it became one of 50 sound recordings to be preserved by the Library of Congress, and is #40 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Those Darn Kids and Their Music

Banned Songs: Part 1
So how about a three-part segment of songs that were either banned or edited for the radio due to questionable lyrics?!
For anyone that knows a little about The Beatles, they probably can guess a few of their tunes were banned including "A Day in the Life" (for lyrics about a graphic car accident) and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (which was thought to be a drug reference, however, it was based upon drawing by John Lennon's son). "I Am the Walrus" was another of those banned songs, although it's quite clear what substance contributed to some of these lyrics. Released in November 1967 as the B-side to "Hello, Goodbye," Lennon composed this psychedelic rock song by combining three songs he had been working on. He also added a verse of nonsensical words when he had a learned that a teacher at his old primary school was having students analyze his lyrics. The walrus is a reference to Lewis Carroll's "Walrus and the Carpenter" (from the sequel to Alice In Wonderland), however, Lennon was 'bummed' when he later learned that the walrus was the 'bad guy.' From their 1967 TV film Magical Mystery Tour, here's a Beatles tune banned by the BCC for a couple of inappropriate lines.

And here's Peter, Paul, and Mary, the beloved folk group just discussed a few posts ago. Although they were often politically outspoken in their lyrics, their only song to actually be banned was "Puff, the Magic Dragon," a simple song about the loss of childhood innocence. Based upon a 1959 poem written by 19-year-old Cornell student Leonard Lipton, an acquaintance of Peter Yarrow (of the trio), Lipton was given half of the songwriting credits along with Yarrow after the song's release in 1963. Throughout the sixties, there was lots of speculation about the lyrics referring drugs leading to its ban in several countries, but the authors consistently deny this rumor. Since, this song is considered a popular children's classic, and has become a part of American and British pop culture.

From Portland, Oregon, The Kingsmen were a garage rock band best known for their 1963 recording of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie." It held the #2 spot on the Billboard chart for six weeks and is still well-known today. However, because of lead singer/rhythm guitarist Jack Ely's indistinguishable enunciation of the lyrics (try saying that ten times fast!), the song became immediately controversial, with millions of teenagers and their parents thinking it was "dirty." As a result, the governor of Illinois banned it, and the FBI even got involved investigating the lyrics, but found nothing. The words are, in fact, innocent, which you can actually hear a bit clearer in this video footage from Shindig! compared to the garbled vocals on the original recording.

Finally, we all know that The Rolling Stones were the 'bad boys' of the British Invasion as their music was often quite suggestive. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, "Let's Spend the Night Together" was released as a double A-sided single with "Ruby Tuesday" in January 1967, and was definitely controversial at the time. On the Ed Sullivan Show, the band was initially not allowed to perform this song, but a compromise was met by changing the lyrics to "let's spend some time together." However, during the live performance, Jagger clearly rolled his eyes at the TV camera every time he sang that line (seen in this footage below). This, combined with their antics backstage (something about wearing Nazi uniforms), Ed Sullivan announced the band was banned for performing on the show again.

Monday, July 18, 2011

An Evening With The Monkees

On July 16th, my sister and I got the fortunate opportunity to attend The Monkees 45th Anniversary Concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and it was a fantastic blast from the past! Three of the original four Monkees were there, and while we of course miss Mike Nesmith and his wool hat, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork gave the performance of a lifetime! Although these guys may be old enough to be our grandparents, their energy was incredible and the music as fun and fresh as if it were 1966 all over again. The packed audience, full of several generations of Monkee fans, screamed, danced, and sang along to the classic tunes of one of the most popular groups from over four decades ago. This impressive 135 minute concert (with no intermission!) was truly for the fans with The Monkees performing nearly 40 songs, including their biggest hits as well as several never-performed-before favorites (voted for by the fans via Facebook). Those misinformed folks that still believe the stigma that The Monkees don't play their instruments surely have never seen them perform live before. Micky wailed on the drums and guitar while the usual tambourine-banging Davy even pulled out a guitar, but Peter was quite the star, rocking out on several instruments including guitar, keyboard, banjo, and French horn! Their voices may not have the full range as they once did, but I was still pleasantly surprised with how great they still sound (it should be noted that Peter battled and beat a rare form of head and neck cancer in 2009, definitely a celebratory event!). A favorite moment was when Micky wheeled out the kettle drum and everyone starting cheering in anticipation for his fun, psychedelic rant (and early punk-ish) "Randy Scouse Git." The backdrop onstage was a huge screen projecting fun images of the youthful boys back in the '60s, as well as well-edited footage from their TV show, their film Head, and TV commercials. Backed by a stellar seven-man band (an eighth musician was mysteriously missing), The Monkees were personable and entertaining from beginning to end, and the crowd clearly had a fantastic time.

I'm always looking for a good excuse to wear my white go-go boots, so we went all out with 1960s groovy-ness. Aren't we cute?

As my photos came out looking like this... are some great, close-up shots from another concert during this tour (my apologizes to the photographer who is not cited, but I was unable to relocate the website where I initially retrieved these photos).

It's no wonder this tour has had so many sold-out concerts and continues to receive rave reviews across the country. Thank you, Micky, Davy, and Peter, for an evening to be remembered!

And because I cannot end a '60s Beat post without having some music clip from the 1960s , here's that blast from the past with The Monkees performing "Randy Scouse Git" from the second season of their TV show (the "Rainbow Room" and wilder wardrobe choices are always a dead giveaway for the season). Micky composed this tune after The Beatles ("the four kings of EMI") hosted a party in honor of The Monkees' visit to England. He had heard the term "randy scouse git" on a British TV show and thought it was hilarious, not knowing it was an inappropriate insult to a Liverpudlian. Released as a single in UK and renamed "Alternate Title," this hit #2 on the UK charts, however, it was never released as a single in the US. Fun stuff!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Folk For A Day

After mentioning folk singer Joan Baez in the recent Patriotic post, I realized I should devote a day to some of the other folk folks of the 1960s. This post is definitely on the mellow side but folk music was very significant to this decade as a social, cultural, and political force.

American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was first introduced during Folk Rock Week at The '60s Beat, when he "went electric" and influenced the sound of the '60s, even impacting the music of The Beatles. With a recording career spanning fifty years, he has explored various genres including folk, blues, country, gospel, rock 'n roll, rockabilly, even English, Scottish, and Irish folk music. Before he became known for his political, social, philosophical, and literary influence, Dylan's humble beginnings were that of a young (Jewish) folk musician from Minnesota, initially inspired by the songs of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, and the performance style of Buddy Holly. Released in August 1963, "Blowin' In The Wind" was described as a protest song, although it raises several questions about peace, war, and freedom, and since has been ranked #15 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. With a voice sometimes as surprising as his lyrics, Dylan would go on to become one of the most influential figures (musically and culturally) of the 20th century. Here's a great quality, live performance in 1963.

Interestingly, Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" was covered by another folk group and released just three weeks before his, however, this version became an international hit (listen here). The American folk-singing trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, were one of the biggest musical acts of the 1960s. After auditioning for manager Albert Grossman in 1961, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers were chosen from the New York folk scene, becoming a successful and beloved group that helped revive folk music in America (which had been forced underground by McCarthyism in the late '50s). As folk music goes hand-in-hand with promoting peace, they performed "The Hammer Song" at the 1963 March on Washington, best remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. As "Blowin' In The Wind" was one of their biggest hits, they sang other Dylan songs like "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," which aided in the popularity of his second album. I'm sure you were expecting to hear one of their biggest hits, but I really love the group's rendition of this folk beauty. Initially released by the trio in 1963, here's a live performance of "Don't Think Twice" in Sydney while on their Australian tour in the late '60s.

Described as one of the most important female recording artists of the rock era, Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was known for her distinctive voice and unique guitar style, as well as complex piano arrangements further into her career. First achieving fame as a songwriter in New York, then as singer with her debut album in 1968, she finally settled in Southern California (introduced to the L.A. music scene by David Crosby of The Byrds) and played a significant part in the development of rock folk. Her success really took off in the early 1970s, beginning with a Grammy Award win for Best Folk Performance for her album Clouds in March 1970, the first of many wins over the years. The following month, Mitchell's next album featured the folk rock tune "Big Yellow Taxi," a big hit in her native Canada that has since been voted #9 on CBC's list of the 50 essential Canadian tracks. Known for its environmental concern, this song is one of the most identifiable of Mitchell's music.

One of Joni Mitchell's most famous songs was made famous by fellow folk musician Judy Collins. An American singer and songwriter, Collins was inspired by the folk music revival in the early 1960s and began her career in the Greenwich Village folk music scene in New York City as well. She is known for recording a wide variety of other genres including folk, show tunes, pop, rock 'n' roll, and standards, as well as for her social activism (like most folk singers of the time). After signing with a record label in 1961 at the age of 22, Collins has continued a steady career of recording and performing, still touring today. Written by Joni Mitchell, Collins released "Both Sides Now" in 1968, which reached #8 on the Billboard charts and won her a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance of that year. It has since become her signature song and is ranked among those 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. I was unable to find a live performance of this song from the '60s, so here's Judy Collins performing this beauty with the Boston Pops in 1976.

And we'll conclude with good 'ol Donovan, one of the leading British recording artists of his day who produced a series of hit singles and albums between 1965 and 1970. The Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist is remembered for having developed a distinctive style, mixing folk, jazz, pop, psychedelic, and world music together. Since we've explored some of those "evolved sounds of Donovan" in past posts, we'll go back to his roots with his early folk sound, a time when he was even referred to as the "British Bob Dylan." Released in 1965, "Catch the Wind" was his first single, reaching #4 on the UK charts and #23 in the US. The single version featured Donovan's voice with an echo and strings, while the song was re-recorded for his first album without the vocal echo and string section. Here's a live performance of classic Donovan on the American TV show Shindig!.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Farewell

Today, the music world lost another great rock classic, Rob Grill of The Grass Roots. Lead singer and bassist of one of the most popular groups in the late 60s/early 70s, Grill passed away at the age of 67 after suffering a head injury caused by a stroke. During their peak from 1967 to 1975, they charted 29 singles, 13 of which went gold followed by two gold albums and two platinum albums. While the band's personnel changed over the decades, Grill remained the point of focus throughout the years, even touring with the band on "oldies" tours, as well as appearing with the group again in 2008. Grill was also a songwriter, composing 16 songs for The Grass Roots and for his solo album. For TV in 1970 (the era of even longer hair), here are The Grass Roots performing a medley of the some of their biggest hits including "Wait a Million Years" (U.S. #15, 1969), "Midnight Confessions" (#5, 1968), "Let's Live For Today" (#8, 1967), and "Temptations Eyes" (#15, 1970).

Be sure to revisit past posts featuring The Grass Roots.

Farewell, Rob Grill. Your legendary voice will never be forgotten.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

More Californian Sounds

American Response to the British Invasion: Part 8 (Final)

First gaining popularity in the late 1960s, the music of the rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival remains an airplay essential on American and worldwide radio. Although they originated in the San Francisco Bay area, CCR are considered Southern rock stylists with genres ranging from country rock to swamp rock (isn't that a great term?!). Initially forming in junior high, the band had a few setbacks at first due to the military draft, but eventually settled with primary songwriter John Fogerty as lead vocalist/lead guitarist, with his brother and rhythm guitarist, Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford. Released as a single for their second album in January 1969, "Proud Mary" was a Bayou-influenced rock song that became an international hit, peaking at #2 on the charts (the first of five consecutive singles to hit #2 for the the group). Written by John Fogerty about his high spirits after being discharged from the Army Reserve, this swamp rock song is among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and has become the group's most covered song with over 100 cover versions by other artists.

Coming into prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, American singer Janis Joplin was known during the height of her popularity as “The Queen of Rock and Roll,” as well as “The Queen of Psychedelic Rock.” Originally from Texas, her bluesy vocal style (albeit uniquely raspy) attracted the attention of Big Brother, a psychedelic rock group among the bursting San Francisco music scene, and after their breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the group gained national attention. Eventually going solo in 1969, Joplin’s success was a breakthrough for women in the male-dominated world of rock music and is ranked #28 on the list of the 500 Greatest Singers of All Time. Performing “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” on The Dick Cavett Show with her backing band The Kozmic Blues Band in 1969, Joplin’s shows her passion and intense devotion to her craft.

One of the first San Franciscan groups to achieve mainstream critical and commercial success was Jefferson Airplane, a founding band of the psychedelic rock movement. Inspired by the emerging folk rock scene in 1965, lead singer Marty Balin formed this hybrid group, and with the addition of co-lead vocalist Grace Slick the following year, they gained international popularity with a string of hit albums. Their 1967 album was a key recording of the "Summer of Love" with huge hits like "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" (see Psychedelic Rock Week). Like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick was influential as a prominent woman in the rock music scene of '60s. Released in September of 1969, "Volunteers" is a psychedelic rock/acid rock song written by band members Marty Balin and Paul Kantner, as performed live at the Woodstock Festival that same year.

An extremely influential folk rock supergroup of the 1960s was Crosby, Stills, & Nash (and sometimes Young), initially formed by the trio David Crosby (of The Byrds), Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield), and Graham Nash (of The Hollies). All three musicians had left/disbanded from their previous groups due to friction and personal issues, and while having a jam session at an informal gathering (possibly at "Mama" Cass Elliot's house), they discovered their intricate vocal harmonies gelled really well together. Releasing their self-titled debut album in May 1969, they were in demand for touring, thus bringing on Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young to play guitar. The group's second live performance was at Woodstock where they performed their first single "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." Written by Stephen Stills about his former girlfriend, folk singer Judy Collins, this folk rock reached #21 on the charts, and has since been named one of the 500 Greastest Songs of All Time. Definitely a treat to hear this masterpiece live at Woodstock.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Edition: Patriotic Songs

Happy 235th Birthday, America! In honor of Independence Day, we're going all out of with a patriotic blog for you, featuring a wide variety, as usual. Like all big American ceremonies and sporting events, we're starting off with our National Anthem, however, it's the bit "unorthodox" version of the "Star Spangled Banner" as performed by guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, live from Woodstock in 1969!
Despite the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, one of the few songs from the 1960s to cast the military in a positive light was "Ballad of the Green Berets" by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler. While recuperating from a led wound suffered as a medic in Vietnam, SSgt. Sadler wrote this song with Robin Moore in honor of Green Beret James Gabriel Jr., the first Native Hawaiian to die during the war, executed by the Viet Cong while on a training mission in 1962. During a year when British Invasion bands dominated the charts, this song was the #1 hit in the U.S. for five weeks in 1966 and sold over nine million records. Here's a performance of this wonderful, patriotic tune after its debut in January 1966:

It only makes sense that the popular music group, Jay and the Americans, should have a patriotic number. Initially formed in late 1950s in New York, the group went through three different "Jays" over the course of their history, however their most famous lineup included Jay Black as their lead singer. The group's first hit with Black (though their second time on the charts) was with their 1963 single written by Leiber & Stoller, "Only in America," which peaked at #25. With singer Paul Anka giving the group a musical introduction, here's another classy performance on the Hullabaloo TV program by Jay and the Americans.
Rising to prominence in the early 1960s with her beautiful renditions of traditional ballads and her distinctive vocal style, Joan Baez was American folk singer-songwriter from Staten Island, New York. Baez has performed publicly for over 52 years, releasing 30 albums, and is also remembered for introducing her audiences to the then-unknown fellow folk musician Bob Dylan early in her career. As a great interpreter of other people's music, here's her cover version of "The Night They Drove Dixie Down," originally a roots rock song recorded by The Band in 1969. Telling about the last ten days of the Civil War and the suffering of the South, this rendition struck a chord with its listeners, reaching #3 on the charts in 1971.
American funnyman Stan Freberg has been known for many things including comedian, recording artist, animation voice actor, radio personality, puppeteer, and author, just to name a few. Beginning his career in 1944 as voice actor for Warner Bros. cartoons, he went on to become an on-screen actor in comedy films in the 1950s, followed by making satirical recordings for Capitol Records. In 1961, he released Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America: Vol. One, The Early Years, a comedy album that combined dialogue and song in a musical theater format, which parodied the history of the United States from 1492 to the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Below, I've posted the 'Declaration of Independence' sketch from this album, which was particularly a satire of McCarthyism. If you have the time, this classic stuff is worth a listen.

Singer-songwriter Dion (Dion DiMucci) was one of the most popular American rock and roll performers of the pre-British Invasion era with over a dozen Top-40 hits in the late 1950s and early '60s (like "Runaround Sue"). As the public's taste changed, he regained popularity in the late '60s and early '70s with more mature music, breaking from his teen idol stigma. Released in late 1968, Dion had another major American hit with the folk rock song "Abraham, Martin, and John," a tribute to the icons of social change, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. Written by Dick Holler, it was in response to the recent assassinations of MLK Jr. and RFK in April and June of that year. The original recording is arranged nicely, opening with oboe and violin, as well as several harp flourishes, however, this is a even mellower performance by Dion with choral accompaniment on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Known for starting the "historical ballad" craze of the late 1950s and early '60s, Johnny Horton was an American country music and rockabilly singer that had several major successes. He is greatly remembered for his contributions in those genres, however, his career was short-lived when he died in 1960 at the age of 35 (he started having premonitions that he would be killed by a drunk and was in fact killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, yikes). His most notable song was "The Battle of New Orleans," which was released in 1959 and earned him a 1960 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. With comical lyrics, this fun tune describes the 1815 Battle of New Orleans from an American soldier's point of view. Ranked among the Recording Industry Association of America's "Songs of the Century" in 2001, this is the #1 country song to score the Billboard chart, and clearly remains a wonderful, American classic. (I have my dad's old 45 and apparently those are worth a lot!)

Happy 4th of July from The '60s Beat, and thinking of all the men and women who sacrificed for our freedom!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Because Every Girl Should Have a Song With Her Name

Happy Birthday to my little sister, Monica!
(A photo of us from many moons ago...)

From their 1968 album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (one of their most influential records I might add, even included among the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time), here's "Monica," a little song The Kinks wrote just for my sister :)

And how about a little Birthday song from those other crazy, English lads? And not only do you get one, but TWO Birthday songs by The Beatles! The first is a quick yet rare sound clip of The Beatles singing "Happy Birthday," and I believe it's sung to the Saturday Club, a venue the band would often play during their early years.

And of course, you knew this was coming: the infamous "Birthday" from The Beatles, a.k.a. the "White Album," released in November 1968.

I was going stop there but why not end with an inside joke between sisters? Written by Mike Nesmith and released on their second album in 1967, here's Micky Dolenz singing "Mary, Mary" with The Monkees, our other childhood favorites.

Happy Birthday, sweet sister!