Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Birthday

To celebrate my baby girl's 4th birthday today, we're posting some of her favorite songs this year. Before you leave this page and think "oh brother...," Zoe has impressive taste in music, which all you '60s fans will surely approve. Yes, that's my girl listening to The Zombies' Odessey And Oracle album on our turntable. She requested it, so I had to document the evidence, of course! While she still enjoys the songs that were in her birthday feature last year (here), here are the newest ones in her playlist.

Before I even knew what "the birds and the bees" really meant, I loved to sing along to this Jewel Akens' song. Now it cracks me up to see Zoe enjoying the same catchy tune. Reminiscent of 1950s honky tonk-style hits (like Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill"), this international hit was released in 1964 and reached #2 on the US Cash Box singles chart and #3 on the Billboard chart. Although considered a one-hit wonder, Akens did have other minor hits and even toured with The Monkees. He just passed away this past March at the age of 79. Here's a classic TV performance of "The Birds & the Bees."

It's not surprising that my daughter loves one of the most influential records in pop music history, but her favorite selection from The Beach Boys' 1966 Pet Sounds is not one of the popular ones. Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love with Brian as the producer, "I'm Waiting for the Day" is considered art rock and is very experimental as a combination of an orchestral ballad and a modern rock song. Using our beloved "Wrecking Crew" studio musicians, this positive song features a very exciting instrumentation such as timpani, bongos, strings, flute, English horn, ukelele, organ, bass, and drums. Nothing like driving in your car and hearing your child singing all the lyrics.

Here's another surprising tune from Zoe's playlist: Harry Nilsson's "Mr. Tinker." While his 1968 album Aerial Ballet includes great songs like "Everybody's Talkin'" (a huge hit in '69) and "One" (later covered by Three Dog Night), my daughter is drawn to this beautiful and melancholy number. The arrangement and instrumentation is excellent and so moving as the lyrics tell a story of Mr. Tinker the tailor. Nilsson is such a unique songwriter and I love his variety; even cooler that my kid enjoys the deep tracks like this. And we're in good company: he was the favorite artist of The Beatles!

I guess I must play quite a bit of '60s Baroque Pop around the house because Zoe has caught on to how great it is! While she does love the well-known "Walk Away Renee" by The Left Banke, she really enjoys their second hit single, "Pretty Ballerina." Released in December of 1966 and reaching #15 on the Billboard chart, this haunting tune is not your typical pop song of the era, featuring beautiful string/oboe accompaniment and the soaring vocals of Steve Martin (Caro). Definitely an under-rated band!

While it's appropriate that my kid has a Bubblegum pop tune amongst her favorites, I think the underlying reason she loves this song may be due to the fact that she thinks it's about a large, furry Star Wars character of the same name. In March of 1969, Ohio Express's "Chewy Chewy"became their second million seller and reached #15 in the US, #6 in Australia, and #2 in Canada. While Ohio Express was a studio creation by Super K Productions, they had their biggest success during this time with singer Joey Levine, however, the touring group included a completely different of musicians. Nothing like a little Bubblegum to get the happy juices flowing.

This next gem comes from the wonderful 1968 album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. A collection of thematic vignettes of English town and hamlet life, written by The Kinks' own Ray Davies, "Animal Farm" is wonderful, 'pastoral escape' that makes excellent use of the Mellotron, simulating string and woodwind backing tracks. Although the record is widely considered one of the most influential and important works by the Kinks, it failed to chart upon release, and only sold about 100,000 copies; it was released November 22, 1968, the same day The Beatles released their White Album. Now this Kinks album is ranked amongst Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Another under-rated album now in that list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle definitely caught my daughter's attention but with the most unexpected song. Recorded at Abbey Road Studio in 1967, "Beechwood Park" has a smooth groove complete with a mellow guitar intro, dreamy lyrics, and the breathy vocals of the talented Colin Blunstone. Although one of the biggest songs of the '60s came from this album ("Time of the Season"), Zoe is fascinated by this extraordinary beauty by my beloved Zombies.

And seriously, what kid wouldn't like a song about an octopus's garden? From The Beatles' last recorded album, Abbey Road, released in 1969, "Octopus's Garden" was drummer Ringo Starr's most successful songwriting effort, and was inspired by a trip to Sardinia aboard Peter Sellers' yacht (yes, the hilarious British actor, long story). I still have my parents' original Abbey Road album and now course, the love of this childhood favorite of mine has been passed down in the family.  

Zoe has a dear friend named Caroline, so as soon as she caught the lyrics of this Neil Diamond classic, she requested to hear "Sweet Caroline" every time we drove in the car (where we do most of our music-listening). Released in September of 1969, this soft rock song reached #4 on the Billboard chart and eventually went platinum for sales of one million singles. In recent years, Diamond revealed that he was inspired by a picture of President JFK's daughter, Caroline, riding a horse as a young child. In recent years, the song has become popular at sporting events, especially at the Boston Red Sox home games.

An American orchestra leader and film composer, Hugo Montenegro is best known for his interpretations of the music from Spaghetti westerns, especially the cover version of the main theme from the 1966 film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Originally composed by Ennio Morricone, Montenegro's version was his biggest pop hit in 1968, reaching #2 on the Billboard chart, #3 in Canada, and four weeks at #1 in the UK. Zoe loves this song, especially the whistling, and refers to it as "the cowboy song." This was also a favorite of my dad's, and our family had a joke about the lyrics, or what I suppose are lyrics. We called this song "Egg roll," because it sounded like a bunch of cowboys attempting to talk while eating a hot egg-roll. Seriously, what are they saying/grunting? Here's one of the most iconic scores in film history with clips from the classic movie.
While Zoe does enjoy The Temptations' "My Girl," she is even more interested in the lesser-known cover version of the same song by The Mamas & The Papas. Originally written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, this tender interpretation was first heard on the group's 1967 album Deliver, and was later released as the B-side of "Do You Wanna Dance" in 1968, although it charted rather poorly. With a new, ascending vocal intro, this version is a textbook-example of The Mamas & The Papas' harmonious sound that can surely put a smile on anyone's face. Gotta love my kiddo's variety!

 Happy Birthday to my sweet 4-year-old!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Jack for a Day

Woohoo! I'm so excited about this post since it's quite a unique theme (I think): songs with 'Jack' in the title! Interestingly, five of these six songs are performed by artists east of the Atlantic.
Alright, we're starting with a real poptastic tune by those energetic Brits of Manfred Mann. Originally performed by John Simon for the 1968 counter culture semi-documentary You Are What You Eat, The Manfreds really spiffed up "My Name is Jack" for a single that same year. This "Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls" mentioned in the lyrics was an actual building in San Francisco but was more of a hippie hotel than a children's home. While it was a #8 hit in the UK, the US single was recalled when Mercury Records complained about the phrase "Super Spade" in the lyrics, which referred to a Haight-Ashbury drug dealer. The release was delayed by a week until the offending name was re-recorded as "Superman." Performing on the German TV show The Beat Club, "My Name is Jack" features Manfred Mann himself on keyboards, Mike d'Abo on lead vocals, and Klaus Voorman on bass (dear friend of The Beatles who designed their Revolver album). My kid knows all the words to this happy tune!

If you like the British psych/garage band genre, you'll surely enjoy The Smoke, a short-lived English group that existed from 1965-67. With the exception of being big in Germany, they never really broke internationally, but the quartet did have one hit with "My Friend Jack" in 1967 (#2 in Germany, #45 in UK), which is interpreted by some as an LSD anthem (something about Jack eating sugar lumps?). Whether that's the case (and The '60s Beat does not promote drug-use!), it's a pretty good tune with cool, echoing fuzz guitars, trippy lyrics, and killer riff. Here's more great footage from The Beat Club.  

This next little gem is brought to you by Four Jacks and a Jill, a South African folk rock ensemble. They originally formed in 1964 without a "Jill" under a different name. Later, they added lead singer Glenys Lynne and changed the group's name. After scoring a hit in their native country, they cracked the American charts in 1968 with the song "Master Jack," the Billboard chart at #18 and #3 on the contemporary chart. The song also reached #5 on the Cashbox and went to #1 in South Africa, Canada, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. With prophetic lyrics from 1968, this sweet tune by Four Jacks and a Jill has a poignant message about South African politics.

Here's the upbeat "Happy Jack" by The Who, a #3 hit in the UK and #24 in the US in the spring of 1967. It's composer, Pete Townshend, can be heard at the end of the song shouting "I saw you!" and it is said that he was noticing drummer Keith Moon trying to join in secretly to add his voice to the recording, something the rest of the band disliked. Townshend reported the song is about a man who slept on the beach where he vacationed as a kid. The kids on the beach would laugh at the man and once buried him in the sand. However, the man never seemed to mind and only smiled in response. Featuring Moon's energetic drummer, here's a great footage of The Who performing "Happy Jack," live at The Marquee in '67.  

Percy Mayfield's tune, "Hit the Road Jack," was made famous by America singer-songwriter-pianist Ray Charles with the Raelettes vocalist Margie Hendricks. The song, which has a strong beat, is a brief, rather comic duet between a fed-up woman and her good-for-nothing man. He tries to wheedle her into letting him stay, but she will have none of it, "'cause it's understood: you ain't got no money, you just ain't no good. Charles' recording hit #1 for two weeks on the Billboard chart in October 1961, as well as #1 on the R&B chart, and also got the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording. Ranked among Rolling Stones magazine's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," here's a great live performance of "Hit the Road Jack."

And our final 'Jack' song of the day is no other than the good ol' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones. Called "supernatural Delta blues by way of Swinging London" by Rolling Stone, the song is considered by some as the band's return to their blues roots after the psychedelia of their preceding albums. Recorded and released in spring of 1968, this Jagger/Richard's tune is one of the group's most popular and recognizable songs, featured in films and covered by numerous artists including Aretha Franklin. With a distinctive guitar sound, as well as one of the greatest guitar licks of all time, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" reached the top of chart in the UK and #3 in the US, and has been performed on every Stones tour since its release. Here's one of The Stone's promo videos from 1968 that showcases the band lip-syncing and wearing interesting make-up. Oh, you guys...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Time of the Season" for The Zombies

As a big fan of one of the most under-rated bands of the 1960s British Invasion, I have eagerly waited for The Zombies to tour on the West Coast. Well, my lucky day finally came last month when The Zombie performed at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood, CA!
 Featuring original lead vocalist Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent, The Zombies and their three, stellar backing members (including an ex-Kinks bassist!) delivered an amazing performance, sounding so fresh, relevant, and better than ever. Time has treated these gentlemen well and they have
perfected their music-making craft as they presented us with Zombie classics and new songs they've recently recorded. Sounding just like the studio recordings we all know and love, they performed hits like "She's Not There," "Tell Her No," "Time of the Season," as well as selections from their beloved Odessey and Oracle album, and even a few tunes from their solo careers (like Argent's 1972 hit "Hold Your Head Up"). After a 50-year career, Colin's beautiful, breathy vocals still showcase his incredible range, Rod's keyboard wizardry was astounding, and I loved how warm and open their relationship was with the enthusiastic audience. Before The Zombies' performance, the night began with popfull tunes and pleasant harmonies by opening act Et Tu Bruce' from West London. The historic venue (seriously, read here) made for an intimate setting and was standing-room only on the ground floor, but I gratefully enjoyed a bench seat and a great view from the loft.

Not a bad view! (The close-up shots are not mine).

It was an fantastic and energetic show that had me on the edge of my seat when I wasn't singing along. These talented Brits did not disappoint and I encourage you to check them out if they're playing in a town near you! And in true '60s Beat fashion, we must have a few videos featuring footage from our beloved decade. Since their biggest hits ("She's Not There") and ("Time of the Season")  have been previously posted, here are two other great songs that we were also performed at the concert. Featuring their complex harmonies and melodies, "Tell Her No" comes from their debut album and reached #4 on the US Billboard chart in March of '65 (here live on Hullabaloo).

Last month's performance concluded with two encores, one of which was this sultry interpretation of George Gershwin's "Summertime." For a group of guys that look like accountants, they sure make some pretty great music!

Thanks again to the magnificent Zombies for a memorable night!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Beatles' LOVE - Cirque du Soleil

Last week, my husband took me to see The Beatles' Love Cirque du Soleil production at The Mirage in Las Vegas. The French-Canadian contemporary circus company is known for fantastic shows, but this 2006 theatrical production combines the re-produced and re-imagined music of The Beatles with the interpretive, circus-based artistic and athletic stage performance. A joint venture between Cirque and The Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd, the music directors are Sir George Martin (producer of nearly all of The Beatles' records) and his son, record producer Niles Martin. I had heard rave reviews of the show, but we were truly amazed at the unbelievable acrobatic and aerial performers paired with the perfect soundtrack. The show samples 130 songs from The Beatles' catalog to create 26 musical pieces, and the songs are mixed so that the lyrics and instrumentation blend from one song to the next. The loose storyline traces the band's biography in board strokes and incorporates characters inspired by their songs including Sgt. Pepper, Eleanor Rigby, Her Majesty, Lady Madonna, Lucy, Nowhere Men, and so on. For Beatles fans, this stellar production is a must-see, and even for the non-Beatles fan, the awesome sights and sounds will entertain for the entire 90 minutes.
Enjoying the colorful entrance to the theater.

Stock photo from the show.

Here's the show's trailer, just to give you a taste of the impressive circus with Beatles-inspired costumes and psychedelic sets.

As someone who knows the music of The Beatles by heart, I was very impressed with the re-working of certain songs. One of my favorite moments was hearing a new version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which matches the first studio demo from 1968 with a new string arrangement written for Love by George Martin. In contrast to George Harrison's original blues rock song, here's the hauntingly beautiful version from the show. 

Also, I found this excellent clip from a documentary about the show ("The Beatles In Love") which discusses the use of this new version, and includes segments from inside the recording studio and from the actual production.

Another moment I really enjoyed in the show was the "Octopus' Garden" scene featuring Ringo's beloved tune and a mesmerizing underwater sequence. This video clip from the show doesn't do it justice. The lyrics from this song's intro are first overlapped with the string part from the "White Album" song "Goodnight."  

My husband hanging out with a Blue Meanie (from the Yellow Submarine film) in the gift shop.

Definitely a groovy night of astounding sights and sounds!

For all you devoted Beatles fans out there, be sure to check out this excellent post here by in honor of 50 years of Beatlemania in America and the upcoming anniversary of The Beatles' first trip to Las Vegas. Half a century later, this city still embraces a LOVE for The Beatles; so much fun!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Strangers In The Night

The Wrecking Crew: Part 5

Although it's apparently taking me over half the year to get through this awesome series, we all know it's well worth it. Featuring the top-notch L.A. musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, our next recording is the traditional pop song "Strangers in the Night," composed by Bert Kaempfert. Originally part of an instrumental score for the movie A Man Could Get Killed, the song was made famous by Frank Sinatra in 1966. Reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Easy Listening, and UK Singles chart, it won Sinatra the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Record of the Year. Despite Sinatra's strong hatred of the song, it was his first #1 song in 11 years and his most commercially successful album. The song's most memorable and recognizable feature is Sinatra's scat improvisation of the melody with the syllables "doo-be-doo-be-doo" as the song fades at the end.

Originating in mid-1965 as a band project by the L.A. songwriter/producer duo of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, The Grass Roots began with demo recordings using Wrecking Crew musicians.
Songs like "Where Were You When I Needed You" included Sloan on lead vocals and guitar, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass, and Bones Howe on drums. When moderate interest in the group arose, the producers found a new band that would incorporate The Grass Roots' name and cut a new version of "Where Were You When I Needed You" with the band's lead vocalist, Willie Fulton. The producers would go on to groom a third identity of The Grass Roots before they became a big success, but in the meantime, the second version of this single peaked at #28 on the charts in mid-1966. Here's performance of the temporarily Willie Fulton-lead Grass Roots.

The music of pop singer Bobby Vee also included the session musicians of the Wrecking Crew. With his biggest success in the early '60s, Vee has had 38 Hot 100 chart hits, 10 of which hit the Top 20. His career actually began amid a tragedy, on "The Day The Music Died" in 1959 when the three headline act line-up (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Booper) were killed in a plane crash. Vee, then age 15, with a quickly assembled band of Fargo, North Dakota schoolboys volunteered and were given the job of filling in for Buddy Holly and his band who were scheduled for a local engagement. Their performance there was a success, which eventually led to Vee's career as a popular singer. Reaching #3 on the Billboard chart, #2 on the Easy Listening, #9 on the R&B, and #3 in the UK in 1963, here's "The Night Has a Thousands Eyes."

One of the first female singer-songwriters of the rock 'n' roll era, Jackie DeShannon had a string of hit song credits from the 1960s onwards. Using the WC musicians, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" was a smash single for DeShannon in 1969, reaching #4 on the Hot 100, #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and even #1 on South Africa's hit parade. Composed by DeShannon with her brother Randy Myers and Jimmy Holiday, it sold over million copies and was awarded a gold disc. It was performed as the closing number at the Music for UNICEF Concert, broadcast worldwide from the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. Here's a feelgood performance by a talented Kentucky girl.

We all know The Monkees began as a made-for-TV band who weren't allowed to play on their own recordings for their first two albums. Knowing the recipe for success, the producers used the Wrecking Crew studio musicians for these albums and other recordings featured on The Monkees TV show. Written and produced by Monkee Michael Nesmith, "You Just May Be the One" featured guitarists Glen Campbell, James Burton, and Al Casey, bassist Robert West, and drummers Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon. The song features the doubling of regular bass with Danelectro (or "dano" bass) played by one of the guitarists, and the dano bass' distinctive twang gave Nesmith's 1966 tracks a country flavor. The doubling of the bass proved difficult to master as some 35 takes were needed before the backing track was completed. A remake of this song was recorded by the band for their third album Headquarters in 1967. Here's the earlier version with the WC musicians that was used several times during Season One of the TV series.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Little Less Conversation

The Wrecking Crew: Part 4

Well, would you believe I started this post back in March? Where does the time go?! OK, so back to more great music recorded with the help of The Wrecking Crew studio musicians (if you missed the initial post explaining these guys, go here). Today's first selection is a tune actually co-written by Wrecking Crew guitarist Billy Strange with Mac Davis, written for and performed by Elvis Presley in the 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little. Released as a single in September of '68, "A Little Less Conversation" was only a minor hit in the US at #69, and included Wrecking Crew musicians like Hal Blaine on drums, Al Casey on guitar, Larry Knechtel on bass, and Don Randi on piano. After its use in the 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven, it was remixed by Junkie XL (the first artist to receive authorization from the Presley Estate to remix an Elvis song), and the electronic version of the song became a world-wide hit, reaching the top-10 in about 17 countries, 10 of which were #1 on the charts. Here's the original "A Little Less Conversation" featured in a typical Elvis movie of the era.

In 1955, Alex North and lyricist Hey Zaret were contracted to write a song as the theme for the obsure prison movie Unchained, and their song eventually became known as the "Unchained Melody." Becoming one of the most recorded songs of the 20th Century with at least 500 different versions, it was the 1965 version by The Righteous Brothers that became a jukebox standard, even achieving a second round of great popularity after being featured in the 1990 film Ghost. Produced by Phil Spector (who regularly used Wrecking Crew musicians), it was performed as a solo by Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers, and peaked at #4 on the Billboard chart. Here's a great live performance of a classic.

The T-Bones were a short-lived American pop group active in the mid-'60s. The group had a hit single in 1966 with their instrumental "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)," whose melody was from an Alka-Seltzer commercial. With Wrecking Crew session musician Hal Blaine on drums, this tune reached #3 on the Billboard chart. The group later became the AM soft rock trio Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds whose first hit was "Don't Pull Your Love" in 1971. Not the greatest video quality but a cute performance from Hullabaloo. 

The Rip Chords were an American vocal duo with Phil Stewart and Ernie Bringas (Phil & Ernie) who eventually expanded into four primary voices, adding record producer Terry Melcher (produced The Byrds) and co-producer Bruce Johnston (who later joined The Beach Boys in 1965). Since they were not a band and needed to be backed instrumentally by studio musicians, Wrecking Crew musicians were used including singer/guitarist Glen Campbell, drummer Hal Blaine, bass guitarist Ray Pohlman, and other prominent members. With vocal layering by only the producers (Bruce and Terry), "Hey Little Cobra" was mega hit for The Rip Chords, reaching #4 in February of 1964. Since the two were "ghostsingers" for the recording, they didn't receive any credit for their vocal participation, and two other vocalists were brought in to perform strictly on tours as part of The Rip Chords. Here's one of the highest ranking hot rod songs of all time.

Today's final group featuring musicians of the Wrecking Crew is Gary Lewis & The Playboys, fronted by the son of comedian Jerry Lewis. Wanting to ensure a hit, the group's producer, Snuff Garrett, insisted on using experienced studio musicians and did not allow the band to play their own instruments on the recordings. With the help of Tommy Allsup on guitar, Leon Russell on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass, and Hal Blaine on drums, the group had an impressive string of hits including "Everybody Loves a Clown." Written by Gary Lewis with Leon Russell, Snuff Garrett, and Thomas Leslie, this pop tune from the album of the same name reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. Here's another cute performance from Hullabaloo (love that the drum kit is set up on the slide!).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Farewell to Another Legend

On May 20th, we lost one of the greatest rock keyboardists of all time, Ray Manzarek, who passed away at the age of 74 due to cancer. As a founding member and rock organist with The Doors, Manzarek contributed greatly to one of the most influential and revolutionary groups of the 1960s. Manzarek initially met poet Jim Morrison in film school at UCLA, and after running into each other again after graduation, they almost immediately formed The Doors. The group lacked a bass player, so Manzarek usually covered the bass parts on keyboard. His signature sound is that of the Vox Continental combo organ, an instrument used by many other psychedelic rock groups of that era. As a classically-trained pianist, he was instrumental in expanding upon songs of the The Doors, creating distinctive organ intros like that in "Light My Fire" (inspired by Bach's Two and Three-Part Invensions).

From their debut album in 1967, this #1 hit has been featured before during our Psychedelic Rock Week (here), but we're posting it again because it's just that good. While the single version was edited down to just under 3 minutes with nearly all the instrumental break removed for radio airplay, this live performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968 includes the album's 7-minute version. No mistaking that opening sound of Manzarek on his rock organ.

Carrying over their psychedelic rock and blues rock sound into the 1970s, "Love Her Madly" reached #11 on the Billboard chart in 1971, and features Manzarek playing both tack piano and his signature Continental Vox in the recording. Not an actual live performance but nicely done audio and video compilation.

Rest in peace, Ray!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Rollings Stone: 50 & Counting

On Saturday, May 18th, a friend and I checked off a box on our bucket-list: attend a Rolling Stones concert! The Stones are some of the oldest rockers out there, but they are still going strong after fifty years since they first formed. As part of their ongoing 50 & Counting Tour, these Brits put on an awesome show at the Honda Center ("The Pond") in Anaheim, CA, and there's nothing like seeing their incredible energy and impressive talent in person! The arena took quite awhile to fill up, giving us ample time for people-watching (the audience was also a sight to behold), but once the concert began 50 minutes late, it was a near full house and we were in for a treat with over two hours of solid music.
High-energy Mick Jagger belted on vocals, jammed on harmonica, and strutted on the catwalk around the tongue pit. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood (member since 1975) both wailed on guitar, and Charlie Watts (also a founding member with Jagger and Richards) rocked out on drums. No wonder these guys are so skinny! Their support musicians were also excellent and a great addition, including two backup singers, keyboardist, bass player, and sax players They performed over 20 hits from throughout their lengthy career, including "Get Off of My Cloud," "Paint It Black," "Gimme Shelter," "Wild Horses," "Honky Tonk Women," "Start Me  Up," "Brown Sugar," and 3-song encore with "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." One of the top guitarists of all time, Mick Taylor (Stones member from '69-'74), was a featured guest, joining the band on "Midnight Rambler," and Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters (and Nirvana) also made a guest appearance on guitar. With the exception of the massive pot-smoke that enveloped us during the performance, it was a stellar show! Here we are, ready to rock to out! 

The stage incorporating their infamous lips and tongue logo. 

You can see Jagger out front on the catwalk (don't laugh at my faraway seat, but the only way I'd pay the $600 for the good seats is if it included the time machine to see The Stones back in the '60s!). 

And because it wouldn't be the '60s Beat without a performance from back in the day, here's the classic tune The Stones opened the concert with. Written as a reaction to their sudden popularity after the success of "Satisfaction" in 1965, "Get Off of My Cloud" topped the charts in the US and UK in November of 1965. Cultivating their infamous "bad boy" image, the lyrics are defiant and rebellious, a common practice for The Stones around that time. 
 And for the first part of the concert's encore, The Stones performed "You Can't Always Get What You Want," featuring a full choir and French horn player. Written by Jagger and Richards and released in July of 1969, it was named the 100th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in its 2004 list. The three verses (along with the varied theme in the fourth verse) address the major topics of the 1960s: love, politics, and drugs. Each verse captures the essence of the initial optimism and eventual disillusion, resigning to a practical approach in the chorus. Minus the choral introduction, here's a performance on The David Frost Show in 1969 (live vocals only).
Happy 50th Anniversary to The Rolling Stones, and thank you for a night to remember!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Instrumental Hits

Instrumental Hits: Part 1 of 2

We're not finished with our Wrecking Crew Series, but because I'm thinking of my Marine husband who is currently in Afghanistan, we're doing a jam-packed post featuring the biggest instrumental hits of the 1960s. So yes, my hubby loves this stuff, and yes, we were both born in the wrong generation!

One of the most successful instrumental groups of the decade was Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass from L.A.  As trumpeter, music producer, and record executive, Alpert first found success in 1962 with his Latin-styled hit "The Lonely Bull, however, The Tijuana Brass was just Alpert overdubbing his own trumpet slightly out of sync. By the end of 1964, because of a growing demand for live performances by the Tijuana Brass, Alpert auditioned and hired a team of top session musicians (including members of The Wrecking Crew of course!). The band debuted in 1965 and became one of the highest-paid acts then performing, having put together a complete revue that included choreographed moves and comic routines. An instrumental track originally written for the 1960 Broadway show of the same name (and 1961 film), Alpert's version of "A Taste of Honey" was the most popular, spending five weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart, reaching #7 on the Hot 100, and won three awards including Record of the Year at the 1966 Grammy Awards. My husband has a ton of their records!

Canadian bandleader, orchestrator, composer and conductor Percy Faith was known for his lush arrangements of pop and Christmas standards, and is often credited for popularizing the "easy listening" or "mood music" format. One of his most memorable recordings is "Theme from A Summer Place" (1960), which earned him the Record of the Year Grammy Award in 1961, and is the longest-running #1 instrumental in the history of the Billboard chart (9 weeks). Faith remains the only artist to have a best-selling single of the year during both the pop singer era ("Song from Moulin Rouge") and the rock era ("Theme from A Summer Place"), and he is one of only three artists (with Elvis and The Beatles) to have the best-selling single of the year twice. Here's a fantastic live performance of Percy Faith conducting his  musical magic.

American guitarist and composer Mason Williams was a comedy writer for Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and Saturday Night Live, however, he was best-known for his guitar instrumental hit, "Classical Gas." Composed and originally performed by Mason in 1968, this record earned three Grammy Awards including Best Musical Composition, Best Comtemporary-Pop Performance - Instrumental, and Best Instrumental Orchestra Arrangement (for arranger Mike Post, who went on to write dozens of TV shows themes including Law & Order and Magnum P.I.). Selling over a million copies and earning a gold disc, it peaked at #2 on the charts for two weeks. My husband loves this one (although we think the rest of the LP is odd) and even made his own successful arrangement for symphonic band back in high school. Here's Mason Williams with a good-lookin' orchestra (miming the studio recording) on the Ed Sullivan Show in March of '68.

The Tornados were an English instrumental group that acted as a backing band for many of record producer Joe Meek's productions and also for singer Billy Fury. Enjoying several chart hits in their own right, their biggest success was the instrumental single "Telstar." Released in August of 1962, this surf rock-sounding record was named after the Telstar communications satellite that was launched into space just a month prior, and reached #1 in both the UK and US (the first US #1 single by a British group). Featuring a clavioline (a keyboard instrument with a distinctive electronic sound), it became a precursor to space rock intending to evoke the dawn of the space age. Unfortunately, pop instrumentals lost popularity with British audiences when the "Mersey Sound" (i.e. The Beatles) became more and more popular in 1963.

French orchestra leader Paul Mauriat specialized in the easy listening genre, and is best known in the US for his million-selling remake of Andre' Popp's "Love is Blue." In February of 1968, this version hit #1 on the US pop charts, becoming the only performance by a French artist ever to top the Billboard Hot 100. Its five-week run at the top was the second longest of any instrumental on the pop chart era next to "Theme from A Summer Place," of course. It also spent 11 weeks at #1 on the easy listening charts, and peaked at #12 on the UK Singles chart. In case you're curious about the original version, you can see Greek singer Vicky Leandros singing the original French lyrics in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1967 here. This instrumental beauty still crops up on film and TV, including most recently on an episode of the popular '60s-based drama Mad Men. Here's a live performance from a few decades after its success.
The Brass Ring was a group of American studio musicians led by saxophonist and arranger Phil Bodner. They were based in New York City and were stylistically similar to Herb Alpert and other "Now Sound" instrumental pop groups from the 1960s, although the twin-sax sound more closely resembled Billy Vaughn, who had big hits in the '50s (I even have some of my grandparents' Billy Vaughn records!). The group had two hit singles, including "The Dis-Advantages of You," which was used in a commercial for Henson & Hodges (cigarettes) and hit #36 on the Billboard chart in 1966. I can't explain it but my hubby just loves this stuff, and we own at least three Brass Ring albums. We're so weird!   
I'll conclude this fabulously full post with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, an American jazz group considered to be one of the foremost exponents of cool jazz. Their best-remembered piece is the enduring jazz classic, "Take Five," composed by the quartet's saxophonist Paul Desmond. While its not the first jazz composition to use quintuple meter (5/4 time), it was the first in the US to achieve mainstream significance, reaching #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the easy listening chart in 1961, two years after its initial release. For several years in the early '60s, it was the theme music for NBC "Today" program, and has been included in countless movie and TV soundtracks. With the distinctive, catchy saxophone melody, here's an excellent live performance of "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.