Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Wrecking Continues

The Wrecking Crew: Part 2

As we continue with more songs backed by the fabulous Wrecking Crew session musicians, this next one was a transatlantic hit and a signature song for singer/actress Nancy Sinatra (yes, daughter of that famous crooner Frankie). Written by Lee Hazelwood (who wrote and produced most of her hits), "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" reached #1 on the US and UK charts after its release in February 1966. Arranger and conductor (also WC guitarist) Billy Strange used two basses together, Carol Kaye on electric bass and Chuck Berghofer on double bass, to provide the notable bass line
(Ms. Kaye, pictured on the right, played on almost all hit records out of L.A. at that time and was the only woman in the Wrecking Crew). The session also included Hal Blaine on drums (as usual), and Al Casey, Tommy Tedesco, and Strange on guitars, along many others. During TV news coverage in '66/'67, this song was aired as soundtrack as a camera focused on US infantrymen on patrol in the Vietnam, and around that same time, Sinatra herself traveled to South Vietnam to perform for the troops. Here's the promo video featuring Nancy Sinatra's trademark look, synonymous with go-go boots. 
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass could have been named Herb Alpert & The Wrecking Crew. Yep, trumpeter Alpert needed a team of crack session musicians and used the WC members to record his music, including five #1 hit albums in the 1960s. Released the same year (and equally as popular) as Whipped Cream and Other Delights, their second 1965 album, Going Places, included enduring tunes like "Tijuana Taxi" and "Spanish Flea." Reaching #1 on the US chart, "Spanish Flea" was composed by Alpert's friend and mariachi band leader, Julius Wechter, who also played percussion and marimba with the Wrecking Crew musicians (he also went on to form the Baja Marimba Band, at Alpert's encouragement). Featuring Alpert's trumpeting over a Latin rhythm backing, this instrumental song was used as "The Bachelor's Theme" for the long-running TV show The Dating Game (my dad was on that show in the '70s!). Using his touring band, here's excellent TV footage of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass performing "Spanish Flea."

Popular singer, songwriter, and guitarist Johnny Rivers also used the talents of the Wrecking Crew during his peak success in the '60s. Breaking away from his "Go-Go sound," River moved into the pop-soul style with the release of "Poor Side of Town" in 1966. Written by Rivers with L.A producer Lou Adler (Mamas & the Papas), this #1 hit in the US and in Canada uses a soulful melody based on Californian pop with some strong folk elements and a lovely string arrangement. Along with WC session musicians, the backing vocals were provided by The Blossoms (singers for producer Phil Spector) including Darlene Love (more on her in a future WC post). Although Rivers had quite a string of hit songs in the mid- to late-'60s, this tune was his biggest success and only chart-topping record. Aside from Rivers' guitar playing, all WC musicians were used in the original recording heard in this TV footage.

As a friend and apprentice to producer Phil Spector, Sonny Bono was no stranger to the recording studio, often hanging out and contributing to sessions with the Wrecking Crew. Writing and producing songs for his aspiring duo with 18-year-old backup singer Cher, Bono composed "Baby Don't Go" in 1964, and had to borrow and raise money to cover the cost of the recording session. According to Cher, pianist Leon Russell (yes, the same Leon Russell who later had a solo career), guitarist Barney Kessel, and keyboardist Don Randi participated in the recording at no cost. The single only became a local hit in L.A., but after the success of the duo's 1965 single, "I Got You Babe," "Baby Don't Go" was re-released in September of '65 and peaked at #8 in the US, #11 in the UK, and #1 in Canada. Featuring the Wrecking Crew's handy work of a rolling piano-and-bass line, harmonica-driven riff, and shimmering mandolin part,  here's Sonny & Cher on the TV show Hollywood-A-Go-Go.
Like many of the popular L.A. groups, The Association also looked to the Wrecking Crew to cover some of the instrumental playing in their recordings. On one of the top-selling records of 1967 in the US, the sunshine pop band elected to use these top session musicians on Insight Out, including Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborn on bass, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Al Casey on guitar, and Mike Deasy on guitar and sitar. Featuring the impressive vocals by The Association, this album produced two iconic US hits "Windy" and "Never My Love," which reached #1 and #2 on the charts respectively.
Since both of these tunes have been previously featured on this blog, I'm going back one year to the group's first hit with "Along Comes Mary" in 1966. Even in a group with talented musicians and multi- instrumentalists, the studio recording of this beat/baroque pop tune included prolific WC drummer Hal Blaine (seriously check out the list of songs he's played on here!). Performing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, here's "Along Comes Mary" with a creative introduction (with exception of the intro, only the vocals are live in this performance).  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Farewell, Wild Thing

  On February 4th, we lost English singer-songwriter Reg Presley, best known as the lead singer of The Troggs. An active performer for over 40 years, Presley passed away from lung cancer at the age of 71. From Andover, Hampshire, his British Invasion band had a number of US and UK hits, including "Wild Thing," "Love Is All Around," and "With A Girl Like You" (featured here).
The Troggs were a highly influential rock and roll band whose sound was an inspiration for garage rock and punk rock. Presley started out as a bricklayer and kept up with this occupation until "Wild Thing" entered the UK singles chart in 1966. It reached #2 in the UK, #1 in the US, and sold over five million copies. With his distinct growl/lusty vocals and that memorable guitar riff, here's Presley and The Troggs in a promo video for "Wild Thing" (another song ranked among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time).

Released in October 1967, "Love Is All Around" was composed by Presley, and reached #5 in the UK and #7 in the US later in May of '68. Covered by numerous artists, this version features a string quartet and a "tick tock" sound on percussion. After the first video taking place in a subway (or I mean, the underground), here's another cute video, this time on a train.

 Farewell, Reg Presley. You will always remain a legend of rock and roll.