Friday, August 24, 2012

Hot Fun In The Summertime

Summer Music: Part 2

Well, my apologizes to anyone whose summer is already over. As there are no school-age children in my house (yet), I'm still making the most of my summer. In fact, a few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to take a little roadtrip to San Francisco and made a stop at Amoeba Records on Haight Street (figured all you audiophiles would appreciate that it). By the way, it turns out many of those hippies that came to the Haight-Asbury district have never left! Anyway, here's the last of those fun summery songs of 1960s.
Finding their greatest success in the early 1970s, the British pop-blues band Mungo Jerry was known for their good-time and jug band songs like "In the Summertime." Written by frontman Ray Dorset (hello sideburns!), this 1970 hit reached #1 in 26 countries worldwide including the UK, and is considered one of the highest selling singles of all time with over 30 million records sold. Celebrating the carefree days of summer, this folk pop number remains the group's most successful and most instantly recognizable song. You can check an excellent live performance here, otherwise, here's a fun music video below (boy, how would you like to manage this group's hair?).
Another popular song of summer is this fun tune by the beloved singing family The Cowsills. After the success of their first single, "The Rain, Park, and Other Things," the band followed up with another million-selling hit in 1968 with the song "Indian Lake," which reached #10 in the US and #2 in Canada. Written by Tony Romeo, the song is about the group's favorite place to visit in the summertime, Indian Lake in Washington County, Rhode Island (where the band was from), but however most Indian Lakers believe it's describing another lake in upstate New York. In case you were wondering who Wes Farrell is that appears in this photo montage, he was a prolific songwriter and record producer at the time that produced "Indian Lake," as well as the made-for-TV family, inspired by The Cowills, The Partridge Family (which is why David Cassidy briefly shows up in a photo too). Complete with a cute, Native American-flavored intro, here's the audio of this summery hit.  

Known for styles including folk songs, blues, and revivals of old-time rock 'n' roll songs, Johnny Rivers found success with a summery tune as well. In 1968, he released Realization, a #5-album on the LP chart, which included the #14 pop chart single "Summer Rain." Written by James Hendricks (no, not guitar legend Jimi Hendrix) formerly of The Mugwumps (a short-lived group whose members would later become one-half of  The Mamas & The Papas and half of The Lovin' Spoonful), this song has a technically incorrect line: "...and the jukebox kept on playing 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'..." which could not have happened then as jukeboxes of that era only played 45s (singles). None of the songs from Sgt. Pepper were ever released as a single, therefore none of the music from this Beatles album was ever heard on a jukebox! That aside, here's some great summer imagery from Johnny Rivers (footage from a live performance in 1973).
Well, the lyrics in this next tune bring us a depressing thought: "we gotta say 'goodbye' for the summer" (as a kid, I thought the line was saying 'goodbye' to the summer). Originally an unsuccessful single for The Four Voices in 1960, pop artist Brian Hyland found his second biggest hit (after "...Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," featured in the first Summer post) with a cover version of "Sealed with a Kiss." Released in June of 1962, this mellow tune reached #3 on both the American and UK charts, staying on the US pop chart for eleven weeks. Although it would again be covered by many other artists like Gary Lewis & The Playboys (#19 in '68) and Bobby Vinton (#19 in '72), Hyland's version was re-issued as a 1975 single in the UK and became a surprise #7 hit. While this is likely Brian Hyland's American Bandstand performance, the dancing in the background doesn't seem to fit the song so well...   

To end on a more upbeat note, here's a classic one by the exciting San Francisco group Sly & the Family Stone, whose 'melting pot' sound incorporated many styles including James Brown-like proto-funk, Motown pop, Stax soul, Broadway showtunes, and psychedelic rock music. In the wake of the band's high-profile performance at Woodstock (which was said to be one of the best shows of the festival), they released "Hot Fun in the Summertime" that August of 1969, written by Sly Stone as a dedication to the fun and games to be had in the summer. This psychedelic soul/funk/pop rock tune reached #2 on the US pop chart and #3 on the US soul chart, and has been ranked among the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" by Rolling Stone. Here's Sly & the Family Stone's live performance of "Hot Fun in the Summertime," followed by "I Want to Take You Higher" (a B-side of another earlier single that later became its own hit in 1970).

Hope you all had a fantastic summer!!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Farewell

On Saturday, August 18th, we lost another beautiful voice as American singer Scott McKenzie passed away at the age of 73. He is remembered for his 1967 hit "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," which reached #1 in the US, as well as in most of Europe, and sold over 7 million records. Written by John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas (McKenzie's childhood friend and former bandmate in the early '60s), this psychedelic pop tune was intended to promote the Monterey Pop Festival in '67 and went on to become a generational anthem. Later in the 1980s, McKenzie joined a new version of The Mamas & The Papas and toured with John Phillips, Phillips' daughter MacKenzie, and Spanky McFarlane (of Spanky & Our Gang). In 1988, he co-wrote another hit song, "Kokomo," with Phillips, Beach Boy Mike Love, and Terry Melcher, which became a #1 single for The Beach Boys. Although featured last year here during the Flower Power Series, here's different footage of Scott McKenzie in his live performance at the Monterey Pop Festival.  

Farewell, Scott McKenzie. Your beautiful, smooth voice will always be remembered as the sound of a generation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

Summer Music: Part 1

NOTE: I started this post awhile ago, but I've taken so long that summer has almost passed me by! I heard kids were already going back to school this week, crazy!
Well, I've been caught up in all the fun things that a Californian summer has to offer. I suppose, before summer is truly over, we should do a little two-part series on Summer Music. In this next batch of songs, each of the lyrics mention those footloose and fancy-free activities of summer.

As a kid, I remember my mom having this Best of Nat King Cole LP, and my sister and I particularly loved the song "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer." Reaching #6 on the pop charts in 1963, this was one of his last big hits, two years before his death in '65 (while smoking three packs of cigarettes a day may have continued to his golden baritone, it unfortunately shortened his life as well). Being one of the first black Americans to host a TV variety show, Cole's distinct, mellow voice continues to maintain worldwide popularity. Here's some excellent color footage from a BBC TV special in that summer of '63.
Becoming an international star in the late 1950s thanks to Dick Clark, American rock and roll singer Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon found his biggest success with the 1962 hit "Palisades Park." Released as a B-side, this song broke in when a Michigan radio DJ played it by mistake, and by March of '62, it peaked at #3 on the charts. Written by Chuck Barris, this up-tempo tune was a tribute to New Jersey's Palisades Amusement Park, which later closed in 1971. Complete with the distinctive organ part and amusement park sound effects, this is likely a performance from America Bandstand, a show where he made a record 110 appearances!
A popular recording artist and teen idol of the early 1960s, New York-based Brian Hyland is known for his "puppy-love pop" and pre-Bubblegum sound. In August of 1960, he scored his first and biggest single at the age of 16 with "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," written by Brill Building duo Vance and Pockriss. This novelty song about a shy girl wearing a revealing bikini at the beach was a #1 hit in the US and was popular in other countries, reaching #8 in the UK. At a time when these bathing suits were too risque' to be mainstream, bikini sales took off after the release of this song, and it is considered to be one of the earliest contributors to the acceptance of the suit in society. More from Brian Hyland in our next post.
Although the life of this next artist was tragically cut short at 21 in 1960, his guitar playing had quite a lasting influence on rock music, so I figured I'd include his summer-related tune. Being one of the first rock and roll artists to write his own songs and overdub his tracks, Eddie Cochran was known for capturing teenage frustration and desire in the late '50s and early '60s with rockabilly songs like "Summertime Blues." Originally a B-side single, this classic tune peaked at #8 on the US charts in September of 1958 and #18 in the UK. It has been covered by many artists including The Beach Boys, The Who (a staple at their concerts in the early years), and Brian Setzer, who portrayed Cochran in the 1987 film La Bamba (great soundtrack, by the way). Here's a great live performance by one of the first true rock and rollers!

And since that last tune was technically not from the '60s decade, here's another cover version that was. The San Franciscan psychedelic blues-rock band Blue Cheer recorded their version of "Summertime Blues" in 1967, which peaked at #14 on the Billboard charts. Although it is not as widely recognized as The Who's version, it was more distorted with a more intense guitar sound and is ranked among the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. It is the actually the first heavy metal song to make the pop charts, well before "Born to Be Wild" and "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." Here's a great intro by the late Dick Clark who didn't shy away from any type of music. 
To complete this rather varied post, I absolutely must include the band that epitomizes the sounds of summer, our good ol' Beach Boys. Released in March 1963, "Surfin' USA" was their first big hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard, while taking its parent album to gold record status. At this time, Brian Wilson began using double tracking to achieve fuller-sounding vocals, thus creating The Beach Boys' own unique sound. Set to melody of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" (which he does receive co-writing credit for),
"Surfin' USA" mentions nearly every hot surfing spot at the time, mostly in California including the local beach I grew up going to, San Onofre. From the 1964 concert film known as the T.A.M.I. Show, here's a classic live performance where the girls just can't get enough of these guys. Surf's up!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

England Swings

Once again, blog posting has come to a halt as my free evenings have been spent tuned into the Olympics on TV! The amazing athleticism aside, I've really enjoyed seeing footage from around London and I'm reminded what a fun and beautiful city it is. I had the privilege of visiting London four summers ago and I still can't wait to go back someday. 
During the 1960s, "Swinging London" was a catch-all term that applied to the fashion and cultural scene that flourished in this city, and of course music of the "British Invasion" (from America's perspective) was well underway.
Anyway, I thought I'd do a quick post with songs about London, as these tunes have been playing through my head as I've watchd the Olympics (if you were hoping this post was going to be all about the British Invasion, you'll just have to check out those previous posts here).

The song that presents the most stereotypical picture of England at this time was "England Swings (Like a Pendulum Do)" by American country singer Roger Miller. Written by Miller and released as a single in 1965, this catchy, little ditty reached #3 on the country chart, #8 on the US pop chart,  and #13 in the UK.  If you're interested in seeing this song get a go-go booted makeover, there's a funny version by Patty Duke here. Anyway, looks like I'll be hearing "Bobbies, two by two" in my head the next time I watch the Olympics. Sorry, no live performance footage of this song.

Released in late 1965, this next song comes from Donovan's second album, Fairytale, where he developed his British folk sound. His "Sunny Goodge Street" foreshadows the jazzy feel and descriptions of life in urban London, which Donovan would explore further in the following years.
And what do ya know, Goodge Street is an actual location in Central London around the corner from the British Museum, as pictured in this tube station signage. So here's some nice live footage with that soothing voice of the Scottish singer-songwriter doing what he does best.


 This next "London" tune is classic one that you rarely hear on the oldies radio stations these days (maybe only on Sirius XM). From Los Angeles, The Rose Garden was an American folk rock musical group that formed in 1967. Although very short-lived, they did enjoy one hit single with "Next Plane to London," which reached #17 on the US Billboard chart at the end of '67. Complete with pleasant lead vocals by Diana DeRose, here's another wonderful tune from this bygone era of Sunshine Pop! 


And of course, it's kind of silly to have a post with songs about London and not include London's anthem. We all know I love "Waterloo Sunset" by The Kinks so much that it was already featured it in it's own post last summer (if you missed it, check out the details here). And since it's that good, I'll post it again here. This time, I'll use a video that includes photos of those lovely sites around this marvelous city. From the 1967 album Something Else by The Kinks (one of my favorites in my record collection), here's that good ol' "Waterloo Sunset."