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!).


  1. Thanks for featuring Canned Heat on your blog! Looks like you have a lot more great music here; I'm looking forward to exploring it.

    As you mentioned, Canned Heat was highly influential in their popularization of the blues. To dig deeper, you might want to check out their album with John Lee Hooker, "Hooker 'n Heat". Many of the songs are available on YouTube.

    If you'd like to read about the band's classic era, I hope you'll check out my bio of their co-founder Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson. (That's his voice you hear on the hits, "On the Road Again" and Going Up the Country". It's called "Blind Owl Blues", and is available through my website at

    Wilson was also one of the first rock stars to take up the cause of ecology, and before his mysterious death at the age of 27, was establishing a nonprofit foundation to help preserve old-growth redwood forests in California. I've covered this in my book, along with his early work in the blues revival, his participation in the rediscovery of Son House, his career with Canned Heat, and a full expose of his death.

    Thanks very much and I appreciate the great blog you have here! I'll be sure to share it with fellow music fans.

    1. Wow, thank you for all the info, Rebecca. How awesome you wrote a book on Alan Wilson (or I should say "THE book")! I'll definitely have to check it out. Your website looks great! I'm sure his fans really appreciate all your hard work. He seems like such a fascinating guy; such a shame to have lost him at such a young age.

      I really appreciate your comments. Thanks so much for reading!