Tuesday, August 30, 2011

San Francisco

Flower Power: Part 1
Alright, ready or not, we're taking the next month to explore the many sounds of Flower Power! The slogan "flower power" was used by the American counterculture movement during the late 1960s as a symbol of passive peace and non-violence philosophy. Embracing the symbolism, hippies wore colorful clothing with flowers in their hair and passed out flowers to the public. In later years, Flower Power has become a modern reference to the hippie culture including psychedelic music and art. In the late '60s, the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco, California, was the iconic center of the Flower Power movement, and was the focal point for psychedelic rock music (Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin all lived nearby this famous intersection). So today's post will feature Flower Power songs about the historic city of San Francisco.

During the 1967 Summer of Love, the song that brought literally thousands of young people to San Francisco was "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" by American singer Scott McKenzie. As McKenzie was childhood friends with John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, Phillips wrote and co-produced "San Francisco" for McKenzie, and it was released in May of 1967 to promote the Monterey Pop Festival. This psychedelic pop song became an instant hit, reaching #4 on the U.S. charts and #1 throughout most of Europe, selling over 7 million copies worldwide. Here's that infamous San Franciscan song that became an anthem of freedom during this time.

So up next, we have the British pop group, the Flower Pot Men, who were created as a result of the successful single "Let's Go to San Francisco" in 1967. Written and recorded by songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis, they had no actual group to promote the song after it became a big hit, and since they had no interest in going on the road themselves, the duo created the group by hand-picking session musicians and vocalists. Sometimes mistaken for The Beach Boys, the group's sound was characterized by their rich, three-part vocal harmony. Their name was partly derived from the BBC children's show also titled Flower Pot Men, and had obvious psychedelic-era puns on Flower Power and, well, "pot." The only Top-10 single for this group, here's the light-hearted, psychedelic pop song "Let's Go to San Francisco."

Originating in Houston, Texas, Fever Tree was a psychedelic rock band that formed in 1966, and are mainly remembered for their 1968 hit, "San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)." Written and produced by couple Scott and Vivian Holtzman, this psychedelic rock song was only a minor hit (reaching #91 on the U.S. charts), but it captured the essence of the group's trademark sounds including the searing, fuzz guitar by Michael Knust. Unfortunately, there's no live footage available, but here's a slideshow presentation of Fever Tree's "San Francisco Girls." (Thanks, Uncle Bill, for reminding me about these guys.)

For the final San Francisco song of the day, we'll conclude with these guys: remember the British Invasion rock band The Animals (with their signature hit here)? Well, after undergoing several personnel changes as well as suffering poor business management, the group disbanded in 1966 and lead singer Eric Burdon formed a new incarnation called Eric Burdon & the Animals (sometimes "the New Animals"). Relocating to San Francisco as a psychedelic band characterized by a heavier, more experimental sound, this new group had its biggest hit with "San Franciscan Nights" released in 1967. Written by Burdon and his bandmates, this tribute to San Francisco reached #1 in Canada, #7 in the UK, and #9 in the U.S., and was a stand against the Vietnam War. Beginning with a brief parody of the Dragnet theme, this psychedelic/progressive rock song seems to pull in as many 1960s themes as possible.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Double Farewell

This week on August 22nd, the music world unfortunately lost TWO American songwriters: Jerry Leiber and Nickolas Ashford (discussed later in this post). Lyricist Leiber was the second half of the songwriting/record producing team with Mike Stoller (shown here with Elvis), and together, they created several ground-breaking hits that helped shape rock and roll history. Beginning their partnership in the early 1950s, their most popular songs include "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Kansas City," "Yakety Yak," "On Broadway" (with Mann & Weil), "Leader of the Pack" (discussed here), "Chapel of Love," and even "Stuck in the Middle With You." Smokey Joe's Cafe was a great Broadway musical revue from the mid-1990s that featured 39 pop standards written by Leiber & Stoller. Leiber passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 78 from cardiopulmonary failure. Thank you for the music, Jerry Leiber!

Here are some other hits by Leiber & Stoller during the 1960s. Co-written together with Ben E. King (co-principal singer with The Drifters), "Stand By Me" is one of the most-performed songs in history with over 7 million performances, and there are over 400 recorded versions by other artists. Released in May of 1961, this soul song went straight to #1 on the R&B charts and was a Top-10 hit on the U.S. charts twice. Among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, here's Ben E. King's TV performance of a true American classic (although I think it could do without the 'background dancers').

Another popular tune by Leiber & Stoller was "Love Potion No. 9," originally performed by The Clovers in 1959. The lyrics describe a man who goes to a gypsy for help in finding love, and she gives him a bottle of "love potion #9," which causes him to kiss everything he sees. This song was actually banned by some radio stations because of the line about "kissing a cop." The most popular version of this tune was performed by the Merseybeat/British Invasion group, The Searchers, who scored #3 on the U.S. charts with this song in 1965.

And I'll throw in one more Leiber & Stoller, just because I like this song. Originally performed by The Drifters (resulting in a major R&B hit in 1956), "Ruby Baby" later became a #2 hit on the Billboard charts when Dion released his version in 1962. Here's a TV performance of Dion's classic remake.

Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson were a husband and wife songwriting/production team, as well as successful recording artists later in their career. First meeting at a Baptist church in 1963, the Ashford & Simpson partnership started out writing songs in the mid-1960s for artists like The 5th Dimension, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles, as well as joining the Motown staff in 1966. They wrote/produced most of the singles by vocal duo Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (featured on this past post). Including styles like R&B, soul, pop, disco, and gospel, they went on to create several songs into the 1970s and '80s. Throughout his career, Ashford played tambourine and percussion on hundreds of recording sessions, including dozens of Motown classics, like Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On." Ashford was 70 years old and passed away in New York this past Monday of complications from throat cancer.

Here are two tunes by the Ashford & Simpson team. Released in March of 1968, "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" was first of two #1 hits on the soul singles charts for popular Motown duo Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. Written and produced by Ashford & Simpson, they also provided background vocals for this song. Unfortunately, there are no live performances of these timeless love song on YouTube.

On his own, Ashford (and Frank Wilson) produced the mega hit "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," which was recorded by Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations in 1968. Quite a production including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, this version hit #2 on both the U.S. Billboard charts and R&B charts in January 1969. Since there were no live performances by Diana Ross & The Supremes together with The Temptations, here is a duet performance by Ross with Stevie Wonder The Hollywood Palace around 1970.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Real Oldies

Just a quick commercial for anyone interested in listening to real "oldies." Ever notice when listening to "oldies" stations on the radio that music from the '80s is suddenly being included? '80s music totally has its place but not with "oldies." As kids, my sister and I loved to listen to K-Earth 101.1 based out of Los Angeles and we would hear true classics from the late 1950s through about 1972. Now, music from the '50s rarely exists on the airwaves these days. Classic Rock stations are easier to find but real "oldies" are few and far between. I'm not sure if, in ten years, '90s music will be attaching itself to "oldies" stations too, but to avoid listening to music from decades that don't mix, I recommend Real Oldies (no longer called Real Oldies 1690). Although this station is based out of the Chicago area, it is available through live streaming online! If you are an iPhone user, download the free app called I Heart Radio and you can listen to Real Oldies on your phone, as well as thousands of other radio stations across the country. With this Real Oldies channel, not only do you get a huge selection of songs from the late 1950s through the early 1970s, but it's commercial-free! Where else can you find non-stop music of only the classics?! Thanks to Clear Channel Broadcasting for making this available to us!
Check out Real Oldies here!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Heart of Gold

Out-of-Towners: Part 2

Our second and final day of "foreign" musicians continues with a wide variety, as usual. Forming 1965, Los Bravos were a Spanish beat group based in Madrid, however, the lead singer, Mike Kogel, was from Germany. Attempting to tap into the success in the European market by making English-language pop music, the group released "Black is Black" in 1966 as their debut single. Reaching #2 in the UK, #4 in the U.S., and #1 in Canada, Los Bravos became the first Spanish rock band to have an international hit single. Because Kogel's lead vocals sounded very similar to American singer Gene Pitney, many listeners assumed this song was a Pitney single. Remember the Clear Channel Communications' post about the blacklisted songs after 9/11? For whatever reason, this song was also on that list. Well, it's definitely a groovin' classic in my book.
Next up, it's The Bee Gees, a popular recording group for over 40 years consisting of three brothers: Barry Gibb and twins Robin and Maurice. Yes, I realize that the The Bee Gees were really a British group, but what you may not know is that they actually began their music career in Australia. Initially raised in Manchester, England, the Gibb Family moved to Brisbane, Australia in the late 1950s, where they began performing as The Bee Gees. After scoring their first Australian chart success in 1967, they returned to England, and shortly after, became international stars. Since, they have become one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with record sales totaling more than 220 million. Before becoming one of the biggest acts of the disco era in the late 1970s, The Bee Gees also had an exceptional career as a pop group in the late 1960s and early '70s. Written by Barry Gibb as a soulful ballad in the style of Sam & Dave, The Bee Gees released "To Love Somebody" in July of 1967, becoming one of the trio's early hits on the UK and US charts.

Okay, this next one is by no means significant among "the out-of-towners," but I'm adding it in purely for personal kicks. As I married into a Greek family, I thought I'd just throw in a little song by some Greeks, not to mention, my daughter has the same name as the lead singer. So this is Zoe & the Storms (possibly translated "Stormies") performing in a Greek movie in 1966. Zoe Kouroukli was a popular Greek film and theater actress who first gained attention after winning the title of Miss Greece at 15 years old in 1959. The bassist, Demis Roussos, was also a popular Greek singer in the '60s and '70s, known for his musical partnership with Greek film composer Vangelis (who wrote the infamous theme to the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire"). Incidentally, Vangelis can also be seen playing keyboards in this video. Although this song is in English, I'm guessing "Yuppi Ya Ya" is just a nonsensical term, especially since 'ya-ya' (or "yia yia") really means 'grandma' in Greek. As referenced in the film's opening credits, here's Zoitsa Kourkouli & the Storms performing "The Yuppi Ya Ya Song."
And something else entirely, you may remember me mentioning Neil Young in a post featuring Crosby, Stills, & Nash (here), however, it looks like this Canadian singer-songwriter deserves a bit more acknowledgment as he is one of the most influential musicians of his generation. Listed among the 100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time, Young experimented with various musical styles and is known for his distinctive guitar work, personal lyrics, and unique tenor/falsetto voice. First beginning as a solo artist in 1960 in Canada, he moved to California in '66 where he co-founded Buffalo Springfield (revisit here), and later joined as the occasional fourth member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young in '69. During his time with CSYN, he was simultaneously playing with another group he formed called Crazy Horse. I was planning on posting a video of Young with CS&N performing "Down By the River" from his 1969 Crazy Horse album (here), but when I think of Neil Young, this next song always comes to mind. Released on the 1972 album Harvest, "Heart of Gold" became Young's only #1 hit, gaining him mainstream popularity (my parents had this album, and as a kid, I thought he was singing "par de go," whatever that meant!). Featuring backup vocals by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt in the recording, this song was one of a series of acoustic pieces that Young wrote because of a back injury (he couldn't stand for long periods of time playing electric guitar, so he returned to acoustic which he could sit and play). If you can get over his creepy/grouchy looks, you'll hear why this is among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
And finally, we'll conclude with the Australian Easybeats with adorable Stevie Wright. You may recall seeing these guys performing the energetic "Friday On My Mind" during my "Song For Each Day of the Week" week, which is their best known song that gained them international fame. Formed in 1964 with the British Invasion as their inspiration, this Sydney-based group is regarded as the greatest Australian pop band from the 1960s. Originally performed by Ike and Tine Turner in 1966, this next video features The Easybeats performing "River Deep - Mountain High" live in 1967, however, the song would become even more popular the following year after Eric Burdon & The Animals covered it. Although known for their high-energy concerts, it doesn't look you'll see any of Wright's onstage backflips in this video, but a bit of his 'mod' dancing shows through. What a fun bunch of Aussies.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Out-of-Towners

"Out-of-Towners": Part 1
Well, as I have just returned from a fantastic trip out of the country, I think we need a post discussing popular groups from other countries. American and British musicians have generally received a lot of attention here at The '60s Beat, so here's a two-part series featuring those I respectfully call the the "Out-of-Towners."
Formed in 1962 in Melbourne, Australia, The Seekers were a highly popular band during the '60s with their distinctive harmonies and folk-influenced sound. Appealing to a broad audience, they were the first Australian pop group to achieve mainstream success in Britain and the U.S, as well as the first from "down under"to have a Top 5 hit in all three countries (Australia, UK, and U.S.) at the same time. They are noted for other achievements including being the first Australian band to sell a million records, were named the Best New Artist at the 1966 NME Poll Winner Awards, and were listed in the 1993 Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest concert crowd ever gathered in the southern hemisphere. Their "Best of the Seekers" album in 1968 even knocked The Beatles (White Album) off the top of the UK charts. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, they performed "Georgy Girl" as the title song for the British film of the same name, becoming one of their biggest hits in 1966 and into 1967. With the distinct soprano voice of Judith Durham, here's a live performance by the classy Seekers.

Now how about a band that couldn't contrast more? Formed in Los Angeles, the Canadian-American hard rock band, Steppenwolf, enjoyed worldwide success from the '68 to '74, until clashing personalities ended the core lineup. Selling over 25 million records, the group released eight gold albums and twelve Billboard Hot 100 singles. Originally a Toronto, Ontario-based group called The Sparrows earlier in the '60s, frontman John Kay suggested the name Steppenwolf, inspired by the Hermann Hesse novel of the same name. Known for wearing his trademark sunglasses because of severe light-sensitivity, German-born Kay has served as the lead singer of the group for over 40 years since 1967. Written by Kay and bassist Rushton Moreve, "Magic Carpet Ride" was one of their biggest hits (second to "Born to Be Wild"), reaching #3 on the U.S. charts in 1968, and has become a classic of the early hard rock/acid rock genre.

Also originating in Toronto in the mid-'60s, the acclaimed and influential roots rock group known as The Band was more popular among fellow musicians and music journalists than with the general public. Beginning as a backing band for various frontmen, the name "The Band" worked well with the group when they became their own unit. With the five members each multi-instrumentalists, the group was known for fusing old country music with early rock and roll, playing several genres including Americana, blues rock, country rock, and folk rock, and are ranked #50 of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Released in June 1968, "The Weight" is their best known song and among the most popular songs of the late 1960s counterculture movement. Although the song did not have much mainstream success in the U.S. (scoring much higher on the Canadian and UK charts), it has since been voted #41 out of those 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, as well as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll (by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Featured in many movies, TV shows, and commercials, including the cult film Easy Rider, here's The Band's performance of "The Weight" at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

And we'll conclude with another Canadian rock group, The Guess Who from Winnipeg, Manitoba (and this is a case of "I've heard this song my entire life but this is not what I pictured the lead singer looking like!"). Initially formed in 1960 and going through several names, they were known as Chad Allan & the Expressions at the time of their first hit single in '65 (in Canada), however, in an attempt to build mystique around the record, the label credited the single to "Guess Who?" Even after the band was revealed, radio DJs still announced the group as Guess Who?, so they officially changed their name (the questions mark was dropped in 1968). With the addition of keyboardist/lead vocalist Burton Cummings in 1966, The Guess Who finally scored a U.S. record distribution deal after "These Eyes" became the group's breakthrough success in 1968. Written by Cummings and lead guitarist Randy Bachman (later of the '70s rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive), this song reached #6 on the U.S. charts in 1969 and sold over a million copies, marking the beginning of their international success that continued into the 1970s with edgier, hard rock songs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Song of the Day: Waterloo Sunset

Well, as it is summertime, there's going to be a little hiatus in posts for the next week or so. To tide you over, this is the "Song of the Day," the first in a collection of posts that will show up on occasion when my time is limited. My only criteria for the "song of the day": it must be special.

And 'special' (for lack of a better word) is exactly what "Waterloo Sunset" is. Written and produced by frontman Ray Davies (known for his narrative/observational songwriting), this song is one of the most popular and most acclaimed by the English band The Kinks. Hitting #2 on the UK charts after its release in May of '67, the lyrics describe a narrator observing two lovers passing over a bridge in London and includes landmarks like the River Thames and Waterloo Station (one of the busiest railway stations). It has since been voted the "Greatest Song About London," as well as the "Anthem of London" (and I always recall sweet memories of this fantastic city upon hearing this song). The recording sessions only took about ten hours to complete, which is impressive considering its complex arrangement and unique, tape-delay echo guitar sound played by Ray's brother, Dave (who is kind of a cutie when he's not wearing these gi-normous glasses; okay, and the beard). Anyhow, I just adore this song, and it's no wonder it's #42 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Considered one of the most beautiful songs of the rock and roll era, here's "Waterloo Sunset." Enjoy.