Thursday, February 27, 2014

Out of Limits

Wrecking Crew: Part 6

OK, so my lack of posting over the last few months (well, this last year, really) is annoying, but what can I say? We recently uprooted our life in Southern California and relocated to Virginia! Gotta love the military. Since it's only taken a whole year to get through my cute Wrecking Crew series, it's about time we wrap things up.

In case you're just jumping into this blog for the first time and haven't heard of the Wrecking Crew, they were a top-notch session musicians in L.A. that played on dozens of hit records in the 1960s and '70s. This impressive group played wide of variety of styles including pop, jazz, and even easy listening, like this next Rat Pack tune. Released in 1964, Dean Martin's recording of "Everybody Loves Somebody" surprised everyone and topped the Billboard and Easy Listening charts. The middle aged Italian crooner had not had a Top 40 hit since 1958, and despite the British Invasion ruling the charts, Martin defied the odds and knocked The Beatles "A Hard Days Night" off the #1 slot on Billboard. It ultimately replaced "That's Amore" as his signature song, and he sang it as the theme of weekly TV variety show from 1965 until 1974. Written in 1947 by Sam Coslow, Irving Taylor, and Ken Lane, here's Dino's laid-back live version of this classic (song starts after 2 minutes in).

Another classic song featuring the Wrecking Crew musicians was Shelley Fabares' debut pop single, "Johnny Angel" in 1962. This million-selling record first premiered on an episode of Fabares' sitcom The Donna Reed Show, and reached #1 on the Billboard chart, Best Sellers chart (Cashbox), as well as Canada and New Zealand. While Darlene Love and her group, The Blossoms, sang backup vocals on the track, Fabares felt intimidated by their beautiful voices since she did not consider herself a singer. An echo chamber was also featured, where the intro of the repeated title words ("Johnny Angel, Johnny Angel") was used by Fabares and the backup singers. Earning her a gold disc, here's Shelley Fabares' premiere performance on The Donna Reed Show.

Formed in Hollywood, CA, The Marketts were an American instrumental pop group featuring Michael Z. Gordon and various session musicians including members of the Wrecking Crew. They are best known for the 1963 million-seller "Out of Limits," a surf rock instrumental piece written by Gordon. First pressings were issued as "Outer Limits," named after the TV program of the same name, however, Rod Sterling sued The Marketts for quoting the four note motif from his TV show, The Twilight Show, without his approval (which resulted in the change of title to "Out of Limits"). In February 1964, the song peaked at #3 on the Billboard chart, as well as the Cashbox.

Written in 1940, this next song was a popular one covered by numerous artists including Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, Etta James, Brenda Lee, Doris Day, and Elvis Presley, to name a few. However, Ricky Nelson's version of "Fools Rush In" was an enormous hit in 1963, reaching #12 on the Billboard pop charts and became the most famous version of the song. From 1957 to 1962, Nelson had 30 Top-40 hits, more than any other artist (except Elvis and Pat Boone), but this was one of his last big hits before his career came to a dramatic halt in the wake of the British Invasion. Also recorded with Wrecking Crew musicians, here's Ricky Nelson performing on his family's TV show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Written by producer Phil Spector with songwriting team Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, "River Deep - Mountain High" was among the first recordings that Ike & Tina Turner did for Phil Spector's Philles Records. Spector was well aware of Ike's controlling attitude in the studio, and drew up an unusual contract: this album and single would be credited to "Ike & Tina Turner," but Ike was paid $20,000 to stay away from the studio, and only Tina's vocals would be used on record. The track was recorded using Spector's "Wall of Sound" production technique, cost a then-unheard-of $22,000, and required 21 session musicians (the Wrecking Crew, of course!) and 21 background vocalists. Due to Spector's perfectionism in the studio, he made Turner sing the song over and over for several hours until he felt he had the perfect vocal take for the song. Although the single reached #3 in the UK in 1966, its original release flopped in the US, but was re-released in '69 after Eric Burdon & The Animals covered the song in '68. It has since become one of Tina Turner's signature songs.

 Our last featured song is the commercially successful yet often parodied "MacArthur Park" performed by Richard Harris. Originally composed as part of an intended cantata by Jimmy Webb, he first brought the song to The Association but the group rejected it. British actor Richard Harris approached Webb about releasing a record and selected this song for his pop music debut. It'was one of the longest singles at the time (7:21) and includes four distinct sections (or movements) with great instrumental features. Several Wrecking Crew musicians played on this original recording including Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass, and Mike Deasy on guitar, along with Webb himself on harpsichord. Despite some cheesy lyrics (something about leaving the cake out in the rain), the 1968 single reached #2 on the Billboard chart, #4 in the UK, and #1 in Australia, and even received the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) in '69. No offense to Richard Harris, but I think this song could been amazing if it had been recorded by a vocal group like The Association or The 5th Dimension. Here's a video by Music Mike who gives a little more insight.