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.

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