Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rock and Roll with Horns

Random Hits: Part 3

These next four groups each have a rockin' horn section, and fused jazz with rock and roll.

Formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1967, this American 'rock band with horns' shortened their name from Chicago Transit Authority (because the actual CTA threatened legal action), and launched a successful career selling over 38 million records, charting five #1 album and scoring 21 Top-10 hits. Chicago is one of the longest running and most successful rock groups, second only to The Beach Boys in terms of chart successes among American bands (the two bands actually had a successful joint tour together in the mid-'70s, being one of the highest grossing tours of that time). Before the band later moved to softer sound, they started off with some great, rockin' tunes in the late '60s and early '70s, like their first Top-5 hit "25 or 6 to 4." Recorded in August 1969 (although not released until the following summer), this hot song was written by one of the band's founding members, Robert Lamm, and features Peter Cetera on lead vocals and a great guitar solo with wah-wah pedal by Terry Kath. The title is actually a reference to a songwriter trying to write at 25 (or 26) minutes to 4:00 in the morning. Although the audio is out of sync, here's a rare, "studio" video filmed a few years later.

From New York City in 1967, Blood, Sweat & Tears was a "jazz-rock" band known for infusing a multitude of styles including rock, blues, pop music, horn arrangements, and jazz improv. Founded by musician Al Kooper (an important figure in historic sessions with Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix), this eclectic group first appealed to the musical counterculture of the '60s, before going through many personnel changes and becoming a commercial, mainstream success. With the signature voice of Canadian lead singer David Clayton-Thomas, the band won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year with their second LP, beating out The Beatles' Abbey Road. One popular tune from this album was "Spinning Wheel," which peaked at the #2 position on the charts for three weeks in July of 1969, and actually topped the Billboard easy listening chart, even crossing over into the R&B chart. Written by Clayton-Thomas and arranged by the band's saxophonist Fred Lipsius, this song also won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement. What a classic sound!

Formed in a Chicago suburb in the mid-'60s, The Ides of March were another jazz fusion band, best-known for their huge hit "Vehicle" in 1970. Released on the Warner Bros. Record label, at the time, "Vehicle" was the fastest-selling song in Warner's history, and reached #2 on the Hot-100, selling over a million copies and of course earning a gold disc. With the song's success, the group toured extensively throughout 1970, supporting many top acts including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Led Zeppelin. After an extended hiatus between 1973 and 1990, the original members reunited, and have been active since (even recording a double live album in Glen Ellyn, Illinois in 2002; sorry, personal shout-out to my sister's residence!). While this video incorporates cool footage from NASA's space program in the '70s, you can't beat this funky sound by The Ides.

Our final song of the day is a psychedelic soul/funk one by American soul singer Edwin Starr from Nashville, Tennessee. Joining Motown Records in 1968, his biggest success came with the release of "War" in 1970, an anti-Vietnam War protest song that is considered the most popular protest song ever recorded (even earning compliments from contemporary protestor John Lennon). Originally recorded by The Temptations in '69, the label decided to withhold their version (as to not alienate their conservative fans), and using Starr's intense vocals instead, his version hit #1 on the US charts, as well as #3 on the both R&B chart and the UK chart. Accented by a heavy horn section, this tune became an anthem for the antiwar movement and a cultural milestone, still popping up today in movie soundtracks and in hop hop music samples. Not the best quality video but Starr's James Brown-influenced soul shout and funky moves are loud and clear.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And the Randomness Just Keeps Rollin' In

Random Hits: Part 2

We begin our next Random post with a little hot number by the British pop/rock group Vanity Fare. Forming in Kent, England in 1966, these guys found their place on the singles chart in the late '60s with songs like the worldwide hit "Hitchin' a Ride." Released in late 1969, this tune hit #16 in the UK, but was an even bigger success in the US where it reached #5 on the Billboard chart in the spring of 1970 and sold over a million copies (in the US alone), resulting in a tour of the US. About a man trying to hitchhike, this song is noted for its use of a recorder (a simple woodwind instrument) heard in between the verses and chorus. Although the group went through a lot of personnel changes over the years, Vanity Fare is still musically active today.

Formed in Los Angeles in 1965, the blues-rock/boogie rock band Canned Heat was one of the most popular acts of the hippie era. Noted for their interpretations of blues material, the group was helpful in promoting interest in this type of music and its original artists. They appeared at most major musical events in the late '60s including the Monterey Pop Festival (their first big show) and the Woodstock Music Festival, where they delivered electrifying performances. Released in September 1968, the blues-rock single "Going Up The Country" reached #11 in the US, #19 in the UK, and #1 in 25 other countries. Written and sung by Alan Wilson, it later became the "unofficial anthem" of Woodstock the following summer. Canned Heat is yet another group that is still performing today, however, with a much different lineup. I have yet to figure out which TV show this footage comes from, but it really cracks me up.

Next up, we have a Louisiana-based group, John Fred & His Playboy Band, best-known for their 1968 hit "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)." Written by Fred and bandmate Andrew Bernard, the song was inspired by The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", which Fred mistakenly thought the lyrics were "lucy in disguise." Ironically, this single knocked The Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" out of the #1 position on the Billboard chart for two weeks in January '68, eventually earning a gold disc. Although the group was well-rehearsed and talented, Fred and his band were labeled as a novelty act and never did have another success. Also reaching #1 in German and Switzerland, and #4 in the UK, this bubblegum pop-like tune includes some random breathing sounds, unusual dissonant string sounds, and strange lyrics.

We'll finish this post with an unexpected one-hit wonder by a then-fictitious band named Steam. Written and recorded by New York studio musicians Garret DeCarlo, Dale Frashuer, and Paul Leka (writer of "Green Tambourine" and other tunes for The Lemon Pipers), this next song was a result of these guys attempting to record an "inferior" B-side to back an already recorded A-side single. As the trio were former bandmates in the early '60s (known as The Chateaus), they decided to dig up an old song they had written together called "Kiss Him Goodbye." With DeCarlo as lead vocalist and Leka on keyboards, the three musicians recorded this song in one session, and instead of using a full band, they spliced a drum track from a different track. Thinking it was a throwaway song, they added a bunch of "na nas" and "hey heys" to make the song longer, but not wanting their names attached to it, they attributed the song to a non-existent band called Steam. However, to their surprise, "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" began receiving so much radio airplay that it eventually reached #1 in the US for two weeks in December of 1969, becoming Billboard's final multi-week #1 hit of the 1960s. After its success, Leka put together a band that was sent on tour to support the song, but the group disbanded in 1970. By the beginning of the 21st Century, the sales had exceeded 6.5 million records. With its chorus still well-known today, it frequently used a crowd chant at sporting events. Here's a nice, mimed performance (notice they're playing guitars but there are no guitars in the recording!).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Birthday Randomness

Happy 1st Birthday to The '60s Beat!!! Yes, this blog has now reached one whole year of walking down memory lane! We've covered over 200 artists and genres from this great decade, and the good news is there is still so much that hasn't even been mentioned yet!! I'd also like to thank all my wonderful readers who helped this page get over 16,000 pageviews! It's really a treat knowing that my mom isn't the only one reading this blog! :)
So for fun, the next few posts will be a part of our Random Series, featuring performers that have NOT YET been mentioned on this blog. I remember these next classic tunes receiving lots of airplay on the 'oldies' radio station during my childhood.

Random Hits: Part 1
After serving in the military as a singer with U.S. Army bands, Len Barry became the lead singer for The Dovells, a music group that went on to score huge hits, like the million-selling "Bristol Stomp" in the early 1960s. Then embarking on his own solo career in the mid-'60s, this pop/blue-eyed soul singer scored a few more hits like "1-2-3" in October of '65. Co-written by Barry, this classic reached #2 in the US and #3 in the UK, even reaching #11 on the US R&B charts. Selling over one and three quarter million copies, "1-2-3" was awarded the gold disc, and is one of the songs that appeared in John Lennon's jukebox. Barry's vocals are impressive but I'll admit that, as a kid, I thought this song was sung by a female!

Based in San Francisco, We Five was a folk rock musical group that are best-known for their 1965 remake of Ian & Sylvia's "You Were on My Mind." Formed by Michael Stewart (brother of John Stewart of the Kingston Trio) while attending University of San Franisco in '64, he spent many hours working on the musical arrangements for the group after the five members would practice together for five or six hours a day. The ensemble played acoustic guitars, electric guitar and bass, while singing multi-part harmonies, and later a drummer was added when they began to tour. We Five was also the first commercial folk-rock artist to record music for Coca-Cola. Reaching #1 on the Cashbox chart, #3 on the Billboard chart, and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, "You Were on My Mind" sold over a million copies, and earned the group a Grammy nomination for Best Performance by a Vocal Group in '66 (losing to the Anita Kerr Quartet). With cute, little Beverly Bivens at the front, here's a true live performance on The Hollywood Palace.

In New York City, 1967, folk duo/brothers Dennis and Lary Larden formed the rock band Every Mother's Son and are remembered as a one-hit wonder (although four of their singles did chart). Signed to the MGM record label (with their clean-cut image apparently being the perfect antidote to the current hippie surge), they recorded a self-titled title album that included the single "Come On Down to My Boat," which shot to #6 on the Billboard chart in July of '67 (you know, that good 'ol "Summer of Love"). Because of their MGM label, MGM Television featured the group in a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., in which they performed this song in a night club as a fight broke out. Unable to sustain success, the group disbanded in 1968, however, Dennis later joined Ricky Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. This tune sure puts you in the mood for some clean, summer fun!

For our final group today, we'll conclude with another one-hit wonder, Spiral, Starecase (misspelling intentional), recognizable for its horns and lead singer Pat Upton's distinctive voice. Initially forming as a instrumental group for an Air Force talent contest in Sacramento, California, the group would play five-hour lounge gigs in Las Vegas before being discovered by Gary Usher, a representative/producer for Columbia Records. With Usher's help and encouragement, Upton wrote original material for the group, including their only hit "More Today Than Yesterday." Released in 1969, this single reached #7 on the Cashbox and #12 on the Billboard chart, selling over a million copies and earning a gold disc. Unfortunately, a year and a half after the single's success, the group disbanded due to poor management and disagreements over finances. (And this is another case of "I always thought this was a girl singing this song!" My apologizes to Pat; your vocals are amazing.)

And there you have it for our first day of random artists. This birthday celebration continues for a few more weeks with many more random classics!