Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Song of the Day: Leaving On A Jet Plane

Since I'm about to be leaving on a jet plane, you can take a wild guess as to which tune is the featured Song of the Day. Unlike these lyrics, I thankfully know when I'm coming back, but the posting will be a little quiet for just a week or two. Written by folk singer John Denver, "Leaving On A Jet Plane" was originally recorded in 1967 by the Chad Mitchell Trio (of which the then unknown Denver had replaced Mitchell two years prior), and later that year, this song was always recorded by Spanky & Our Gang (which I really wanted to post their version too but it's not on YouTube). Peter, Paul, & Mary also released a version on their album that same year, but it didn't become a big hit until they released it as a single in 1969. For this famous folk trio, it turned out to be their biggest (and final) hit, becoming their only #1 hit on the US Billboard chart. It also topped the easy listening chart for three weeks. In the late '70s, the song was used in United Airlines commercials. Here's a live performance by Peter, Paul, & Mary in Melbourne, Australia in 1968 (the sound quality is a not so great at the beginning but does improve for the rest of the song).   

John Denver later went on to have a successful solo career and was one of the most popular acoustic acts in the 1970s. Here's also another live version featuring Denver and Cass Elliot (of The Mamas & The Papas) on The Midnight Special in the early '70s. Their voices blend really well in this lovely tune. (And no jokes now about the fact that Denver died while flying his personal plane in the late '90s).

Wow, sorry to end on such a melancholy note, but I'm be back soon.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Live and Up Close

Last night, my husband took me to see The Turtles and The Grass Roots perform at the "Live and Up Close" Theater in Sycuan Casino out in El Cajon (East San Diego County) and it was a rockin' good time! It may be the fact that I don't go to concerts enough but I couldn't believe how incredibly loud it was! The Turtles Featuring Flo and Eddie were the headlining act, so The Grass Roots opened the concert (each group played about an hour), and boy did they give us a show! Although original lead singer Rob Grill (pictured playing bass on the left) sadly passed away last year, Mark Dawson did a fantastic job taking over lead vocals and bass duties, and the whole group was solid. As soon as they opened with "I'd Wait a Million Years," the audience moved to the edge of their seats for the rest of the concert (if not jumping up and groovin'), impressed by this wall of sound full of '60s nostalgia. The band covered all of their hits including "Sooner or Later," "Two Divided By Love," "Heaven Knows," "Temptation Eyes," "Where Were You When I Needed You," and "Let's Live for Today," at which point they gave a heartfelt salute and thank-you to our veterans. They also added in a couple of covers that went well with their set, such as "Don't Pull Your Love" (originally by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds) and Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)." When the band acted like they were finished, I started thinking "Wait, they have to do "Midnight Confessions!" and thankfully, they saved that classic as their encore. Since my pictures from the concert stink, here's a photo of the current Grass Roots members:
 And since this wouldn't be The '60s Beat without some music, here are the original Grass Roots performing "Heaven Knows" on the short-lived series "Music Scene" in 1969 (and Rob Grill is looking mighty fine).

Be sure to check out past posts featuring other great tunes by The Grass Roots here.

 So over the last five decades, there have been several different personnel lineups for The Turtles, however, original members Howard Kaylan (lead singer) and Mark Volman (backing vocals/funny sideman) have always remained consistent. After The Turtles dissolved in 1970, some serious lawsuits took place with their record label, and for several years, they were prevented from using The Turtles name, as well their real names, in a musical context. Thus, Volman and Kaylan became Flo (aka "Phlorescent Leech") & Eddie. As you may have noticed these guys' antics in videos from the '60s, they are quite a comedic musical duo, and although their voices aren't as top-notch as they used to be, last night's show proved to be an entertaining mix of comedy and music. After an over-the-top orchestral introduction, Flo & Eddie entered the stage wearing Lady Gaga wigs as one of her songs played and was cut short with Kaylan ("Eddie") shouting, "What have they done to our music, man? Real music used to sound like this!" and the group began with their 1967 hit "She'd Rather Be With Me." The set continued with other Turtles hits including "You Baby," "It Ain't Me, Babe" (written by Bob Dylan), "She's My Girl," "You Showed Me," and "Elenore," mixed with lesser known but interesting Flo & Eddie material. The audience may have been expecting more familiar Turtles tunes, but I totally get why they branched out and wanted to show the crowd some of the other things they've done in their career. Actually, the duo has quite a fascinating history, joining Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in 1970, and going on to lend their trademark harmonies in recordings for several other artists including T. Rex ("Get It On [Bang a Gong]"), John Lennon, Alice Cooper, Bruce Springsteen, Duran Duran, The Ramones, and many more. These guys have been best friends and musical partners for 50 years, so it only makes sense to showcase their extensive career and not just those five years when The Turtles were at their peak in the '60s. There was always a touching moment when the band sang a tribute for the late Davy Jones of The Monkees who was their dear friend, and they performed the first verse and chorus of  "Daydream Believer." Backed by an excellent four-man band, the exciting night ended with their most popular hit "Happy Together" from 1967 (previously featured here). And here are those crazy guys now (and yes, Flo managed to retain that wild 'fro).   

And of course, we'll conclude with The Turtles performing their 1968 hit, "Elenore." Written by all the band members at the time, this song was intended to be a parody of their "happy-go-lucky"-type tunes but to their surprise, it reached #6 on the US charts.

If you're interested in hearing these groups, be sure to check out the Happy Together Tour taking place this summer (here's the schedule). The Buckinghams, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees will be joining The Turtles and The Grass Roots, performing all their top hits.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dance Crazes

Dance Crazes: Part 1

And now for something completely different, it's time for a quick, 2-part series on those fun and footloose dance crazes of the 1960s!
Obviously, we have to begin with American singer-songwriter Chubby Checker who popularized the twist dance style with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard's R&B tune "The Twist." It was actually Dick Clark who was extremely instrumental in helping propel this song to the top of the American charts by exposing it on American Bandstand and The Dick Clark Show. At the age of 19, Checker became a star when this nationwide smash hit reached #1 in that September and again in January of 1962 (the only song to top the Billboard 100 twice in two separate runs). This twist phenomenon also marked a significant turning point for adult acceptance of rock and roll as this song joined grown-ups and teenagers on the dance floor. In 1961, Checker had a successful follow-up single with "Let's Twist Again." Including a introduction by the late Dick Clark, here's one of Checker's many twistin' appearances on American Bandstand.


After starting her career as a backup singer in 1961, Dee Dee Sharp got her big break recording a 1962 duet with fellow Philadelphian Chubby Checker called "Slow Twistin'" (which reached #3 on the charts). A successful string of hits followed including #2 hit "Mashed Potato Time," which sold over a million copies and earned a gold disc. James Brown had two Mashed Potato-related chart hits beginning 1959, but Sharp's tune was written to showcase this emerging new dance fad of the Mashed Potato. Even the "Monster Mash" (featured on the Halloween post here) is a variation of this dance with the same footwork (but with 'monster' arm and hand gestures). Also a #1 hit on the R&B chart, here's Dee Dee Sharp mashin' it up (and if you're interested in how to do this dance, take a lesson from the blonde dancer in this clip!).      
Released in June 1962 and performed by Puerto Rican soul singer Little Eva, "The Loco-Motion" is a popular and enduring tune of the dance-song genre. While Eva Boyd worked as a babysitter for American songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin, the duo were amused by her individual dancing style, and wrote "The Loco-Motion" for her. Hitting #1 on the charts, the song is notable for reaching the American Top-5 two more times in two other decades (#1 with Grand Funk Railroad in 1974 and #3 by Australian singer Kylie Minogue in 1988), and is ranked among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. There was no dance for the song when it was originally written, so once it became a smash hit, Boyd created a dance to go along with the song. Here's Little Eva performing what appears to be a live version on Shindig!.
Starting out as the house band at the infamous Peppermint Lounge in New York City, Joey Dee & The Starliters were a popular music team best-known for their successful million-selling record "The Peppermint Twist" from 1961. Wanting to capitalize on the Twist dance craze and the nightclub they performed in, Joey Dee and Henry Glover wrote this tune, and saw it hit #1 on the chart in early 1962, replacing Chubby Checker's "Twist." Featuring lead singer David Brigati (older brother of singer Eddie Brigati of The Young Rascals), the original song was considered too long for release as a single, so it was split into two parts: the first being "Peppermint Twist (Part 1)" and the second half (which was mostly instrumental) is rarely heard today. Actually, how about this for some trivia: while on tour in Europe in the 1963, The Beatles were the opening act for these guys, and over the next two years, Joey Dee toured with various Starliters including Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish, and Felix Cavaliere (three-quarters of what later became The Young Rascals), as well as guitarists Jimmy James (later known as Jimi Hendrix!) and Joe Pesci (yes, that actor from Jersey). Anyway, check out Joey Dee & The Starliters, one of the first racially-integrated mainstream bands in America.  
Finally, we'll conclude this dance crazy post with Shirley Ellis, the American soul singer and songwriter (of Caribbean origin) known for her novelty hits including "The Name Game" Written by Ellis with her manager Lincoln Chase, this children's singalong rhyming song was released in late 1964, reaching #3 on the pop chart and #4 on the R&B chart in 1965. Shortly after that song's success, Ellis released "The Clapping Song" which reached #8 on the US chart. With lyrics borrowed from the 1930s song "Little Rubber Dolly," this song also features instructions for a clapping game. Sure looks like these dancers are getting a pretty good work-out with this spunky tune. Actually, I just noticed this song being used in a VW Beetle commercial the other night. So here's the classy Shirley Ellis doing her thing (too bad the video is way out of sync).