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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Dave "Baby" Cortez--The Happy Organ (1959)

    David Cortez Clowney was born in 1938 at Detroit. His dad who was a pianist steered David to the piano which he played for 10 years before switching to the organ. He started out for a few years as a singer in the group, The Pearls, then in 1958 went off on his own.
     His first charting single was his only #1. "The Happy Organ", released on the Clock label made Cortez the first African-American to have an instrumental reach that status in the rock and roll era. A few years later, he hit the top 10 again with, "Rinky Dink". His last charting song was in 1966, and his last album was released in 1972 until just past year, when Cortez released a new album on Norton Records backed by Lonnie Youngblood and His Bloodhounds.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose--Too Late To Turn Back Now (1972)

     A family group that doesn't receive it's just due are the Cornelius family. Brothers Carter and Eddie, sister Rose formed the original group which was signed to United Artists in 1970. As opposed to the gritty, down-home  sound of Southeast soul (they were from Florida), they had a smooth, orchestrated sound.
     This sound paid off quickly as the song, "Treat Her Like a Lady" shot up to number 3 in the spring of 1971. That song and it's follow up, "Too Late To Turn Back Now" were written by Eddie, and on the latter song, the family was joined by new member Billie Joe. "Too Late" did even better, reaching the number 2 slot in 1971.
     This success however was short lived, as after another top 30 offering, ("Don't Ever Be Lonely") and within a year they fell off the charts for the last time. The group broke up in 1976 when Carter joined a religious sect, and spent the rest of his life writing and recording music to further that cause. Eddie became a minister and preaches along with writing and singing gospel. Rose lives in Florida and continues to sing in various groups.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Alice Cooper--School's Out (1972)

     For those who read this blog who are under the age of 40, it's probably humorous to read some of these stories based on what we see of an artist now. Of course, from a historical standpoint, it shows that if we show growth at all, we change over the years. In all media, there is the added perspective of how a person is portrayed now as opposed to 20, 30, 40 years ago.
     For a few years, Alice Cooper was the scourge of my parents generation. Just about every ill that had befallen on teenagers was being blamed on Cooper and his overt call to unwitting children to revolt and usurp authority. Truth was, that those children, understood "the Coop" and "School's Out" much more than parents gave them credit for.. Any kid from first to twelfth grade understood the unabashed glee of that song. And the theatrics? Cooper was a logical extension from artists like, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Screamin' Lord Such, and Arthur Brown. The group KISS, Marilyn Manson, and Lady Gaga has kept this tradition going. Performance art as music has been a part of rock almost as long as we have had rock and roll.
     The group Alice Cooper had made the slow trek from Detroit garage band in the late 60's (who literally could clear a room) to top notch rock band. Producer Bob Ezrin had taken the rawness of "Pretties for You", and "Easy Action", and smoothed just enough of the sharp edges without effecting the raw power of the group. The subsequent albums, "Love It To Death", and "Killer" began a slow climb on the charts, and made them stars with the FM radio crowd.
     1971's, School's Out was the real breakthrough and gave the group their first top 10 single. They were one of the predominant rock bands from 1971-1975. This clip was from Britian's "Top of the Pops" from 1972.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rita Coolidge--(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher (1977)

     Rita Coolidge was attempting to break through as a solo artist in 1977. She had made her mark as a backup singer with Delaney & Bonnie, then a succession of top name artists through the early to mid-70's. Her natural beauty was also the focus of more than a few musicians (Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Kris Kristofferson, to whom she was married most of that decade).
     She charted with a couple of songs in the 72-73, but had been out of the public eye since early 1974. It was this song however, that brought her back to the spotlight in a big way. A cover of Jackie Wilson's 1966 hit was streamlined into more of a 70's pop/dance groove, and gave her a number 2 hit as well. This started a string of four straight top 40 hits through 1977/78. The hits stopped coming after 1983's, "All Time High" from the James Bond movie "Octopussy", however it was far from the end of her career.
     After she left A&M records, she recorded for a series of small label, and went back to backup singing through much of the 80's, but in 1994 she joined her sister Priscilla and neice Laura Satterfield on an album put together by Robbie Robertson called, "Music for Native Americans". The song, "Cherokee Morning Song" inspired the women to return to the music of their childhood (Rita & Priscilla's dad was full blooded Cherokee, and a Baptist minister.  Their mother was half Cherokee/Scot) and formed the group Walela  which recorded three albums from 1997-2004.
     Her last recording is an album of Jazz standards which can be found here:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bill Conti--Gonna Fly Now (1977)

     Just like many men who's teenaged years spanned the 70's, I have a thing for Rocky. The story is probably as old as professional sports, the guy who had a rough life, who strove for greatness and achieved it (and got the girl too..). However, the only two of the movies that really stuck out for me was Rocky III which had one of the great villains of the 1980's in Mr. T, and the first one.
      Some of the scenes in the first movie were inspiring and downright moving. Most of not all of that was due to the soundtrack which perfectly meshed with movie. The scene where you first hear, "Gonna Fly Now" with it's climax on top of the steps overlooking the city almost made you ready for the ring yourself. Of course, like many movie soundtracks, the song is totally encased in the amber of it's 70's kitschey-ness with the chorus and all, but in it's day, it worked, and really that's all that's necessary.
     Bill Conti already had some success as a writer of soundtracks, but Rocky put him on the map. He wrote for many movies and TV shows throughout the 80's and 90's.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Contours--Do You Love Me (1962)

     The Contours started their life out as The Blenders in 1958. After a couple of years, a couple of new singers, and a change to The Contours, they were able to get a audition with Berry Gordy who was just forming Motown records. Gordy wasn't much impressed with them, and told them to come back and try again in a year. Luckily, one of new members, bass singer Hubert Johnson, was a cousin of Jackie Wilson's who secured them a second audition.  One never knows if Wilson had an influence on them getting signed, but considering they played the same songs the same way for Gordy, one has to wonder.
     The first single went nowhere, but magic happened when recording "Do You Love Me". It was originally intended for The Temptations, but couldn't achieve the rough r&b sound that Gordy was looking for. It was a number three hit, but a strong follow up was not to be had. Although they did well on the r&b charts through the mid-60's, they never were able to crack the top 40 again until 1988.  Part of this could be due to the fact that although given a 7 year contract, as Gordy's Motown machine started getting in gear, their rough and tumble sound never meshed well with the slick orchestrated sound that Gordy wanted out of his performers.
     After their contract finished, the group disbanded, but reformed in the 70's and been for the most part playing the oldies circuit ever since. A nice side note to this song was it's revival due to it's inclusion in the movie, "Dirty Dancing" in 1988, when it again reached the top 20.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Sam Cooke--You Send Me (1957)

     Because of his long life and continued presence in the spotlight, Ray Charles is considered by many the father of soul music. While this technically may be true, it was another giant who gave it legitimacy beyond the clubs. Because of his early death, there are several generations who have missed the influence and legacy that was Sam Cooke.
      Soul music by definition is a blending of rhythm & blues, and gospel. Whereas Ray Charles' background wasn't necessarily in the church, what was seen as a blending of the sacred and profane divided many who thought it was sacrilege. Cooke's background was much different. He grew up the son of a pastor in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and after singing in several groups as a child and teenager, filled the role of tenor in the groundbreaking group, The Soul Stirrers.
     The stigma of crossing over from gospel to secular was enough that Cooke released his first single under the name "Dale Cook", which didn't fool many. However, the head of Specialty records, Art Rupe, gave Sam his blessing to leave for a secular career, although wasn't happy at the direction of the music and the singer finally had to separate himself from the label.
     Signing with Keen records, he recorded, "You Send Me", which was actually the B side of the record. The A-side, a reworking of George Gershwin's, "Summertime" was slated for release, the disc jockeys preferred the Cooke-penned song. It was his only number 1 song, but was the beginning of a long stay on the charts as he logged 17 top 20 hits up until his death in December of 1964

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Arthur Conley--Sweet Soul Music (1967)

     Conley had bounced around a bit, being the lead singer in the group, Arthur & the Comets in from 1959 to 1964 before going off on his own. He recorded, "I'm A Lonely Stranger" which caught the attention of Otis Redding. Redding re-recorded the song on his new label, Jotis Records, and did a lot in teaching Conley the finer points of performing and recording. Together they took the Sam Cooke song, "Yeah Man", and rewrote it into, "Sweet Soul Music'.
      It went to number 2 and became Conley's biggest hit. It began a streak of chart hits that lasted for a couple of years, including another top 20, "Funky Street" in 1968. In the mid-70's, he moved to Europe and changed his name to Lee Roberts where he continued to record, perform and dabble in one of his passions, furniture design.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remembering Dick Clark

     When you have been on television for 60 years, you have the opportunity to see and do a lot. Dick Clark had done a lot and influenced several generations. Those under the age of 30 can't remotely understand what he has done. Honestly, I'm 51 and although "American Bandstand" brought a lot of groups that I had never seen or heard into my living room, people of my age can't fully appreciate how deep and wide his influence was not just on entertainment, but on culture as a whole. I would contend that Clark, through "American Bandstand" had more influence on popular music than any one person, more than Elvis, more than the Beatles, because the show caused a generation of teenagers to come together in a way that would make the way for the stupendous growth of those artists.
     To understand how his was, you need to look and see what the culture was like for many pre-World War II. There was literally no "teen-aged" years for many. Once you could take responsibility for bringing in money for the family, to work on your own, to make a family of your own, you did it. Many kids never finished high school, not because they were not smart enough, but because they were needed on the farm, or helping with the family business. At the beginning of the war, much of the country was still coming out of the worst depression in our country's history and more than a few families were still in survival mode.
     The war changed that economically for many. At it's end in 1945, many men came home, married, had kids, and settled into jobs. The economy began to take off, and with it several things changed. With established jobs, many did well enough that children were encouraged to stay in school and get a full education. With extra money flowing, an 8 hour day for many (those who left the farm) allowed for not only leisure time, but money to actually spend ON leisure. This dovetailed nicely with an invention that, was starting to catch on in many homes: television.
     Music was also beginning to change as well. Country and Western and R&B, both for the most part regional genres, began to mix. The result was Rockabilly, which was in bodied in one man, Elvis Presley. By the time he was on Ed Sullivan, he had already made inroads all through the south, but his time on television made him a star across the country. This was the first time that this new generation stood up and was heard through radio airplay and through record sales.
     Dick Clark meanwhile had been working as a disc jockey since the late 40's into the early 50's. A move to Philadelphia's WFIL allowed him to also spend some time on it's television sister station. He was put on as a substitute host on a local dance show called, "Bob Horn's Bandstand" in 1952, which he did until one day Horn was fired because of an arrest for a DUI. Clark became full time host of the Bandstand and in 1957, ABC picked it up for national distribution.. At the time, it was on every weekday after school.
    Clark, who graduated from Syracuse University was not only a lover of this music, but a very shrewd businessman as well. He knew that he was playing music that the kids loved, but looked, dressed and behaved in a manner in which the parents couldn't find fault. This was a secret that kept Bandstand from lasting so long. When I was a kid, he might be interviewing Sly Stone, or some other artists that my parents would frown upon, but with this businesslike dress and attitude, many a parent would be like, "well...if Dick Clark think's he's ok...." and that would allow many different styles to be brought into living rooms for decades.
     Anyway, from 1957 until 1963 and it's move to LA,  American Bandstand was on everyday. This allowed teenagers to hear the music they loved and the artists who made them on a regular basis. More importantly, was for the first time this new generation got to see what others their age were doing. A kid in St. Charles, Missouri could see and hear the same things that a kid in Brooklyn or a kid in LA was doing. It effected not only the music, but dance, and clothing styles as well. With media being almost instantaneous now, it's hard to calculate the effect this had on an entire generation.
     This had the same effect on the music. Elvis breaking out on TV had a huge impact and spurred on literally thousands of kids who wanted to make the music as well. Over the next few years, rock and roll "scenes" broke out all over the country. Many of them became stars within their region, but all were different and fed by local radio stations. After the top stars (Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry), came many local hits. What you heard in St. Louis would be much different than what was being played in El Paso TX and so on.
     What Bandstand did in the late 50's, and especially in the early 60's with the onset of girl groups and male teen idols, (many which were discovered and groomed for stardom on AB) was form a mass collective of teenagers, all whose tastes and styles was formed by the show. This in my opinion made Beatlemaina possible. If there wasn't a entire generation who were listening and watching for the next new thing, the British Invasion might have occurred, but one could argue that it's immediate impact and broadness of it's popularity would have been greatly diminished.
     Hopefully you will take the time to read and listen to the obits over the next days, and there is much more socially that American Bandstand helped to define, such as having many black artists on his show, and for insisting that the audiences watching the show were integrated.Hopefully this helps a small bit to show the enormity of his value to modern culture and to popular music as a whole.


Perry Como--And I Love You So (1973)

     A lot of people my age who read this blog (age 45 and up) might have forgotten that several of the pop singers of the early50's would still have the occasional hit even through the early/mid 70's. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Perry Como would all have hits well into a time thought exclusive to rock bands and teen idols.
     I have always thought Perry Como to have one of the smoothest sounding voices in music. My problem with him has been his choice (or someone's choice) of material. He spent much of the 50's singing novelty songs like, "Papa Does Mambo", "Hot Diggity". This isn't saying that all of his time was spent doing that, but for a man of his talents, it just seemed like way much. While Sinatra was singing, "Summer Wind" and "Strangers in the Night", Como was hitting the charts with "Kewpie Doll" and "Catch A Falling Star".
      Not that it affected his popularity at all. In fact, thanks to his good looks, and laid back manner, he was a natural fit for television. From 1949 to 1959 he was on weekly, and from 1959 to 1967, was on about once a month on the Kraft Music Hall. His popularity far exceeded the other pop stars of his day just from sheer longevity.
      Because of this exposure, he was still a known name in music, especially for the older generation who still bought albums. He still was a presence on the pop charts however, "Seattle", and "It's Impossible" in 1969 and 1970 respectively, reached the top 40 with the latter making the top 10. As the decade wore on, it seems as though his effect on the pop charts had run out.
     "And I Love You So" was written by Don McLean (who wrote and sang "American Pie") and included on his 1970 debut album, "Tapestry". It reached #29 in the spring of 1973. He continued recording and touring well up in the 1980's.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Commodores--Night Shift (1985)

    By 1985, The Commodores were limping along. The move towards a more middle of the road R&B sound had alienated their fans who were used to the straight up funk of Machine Gun, Brick House, and Too Hot Ta Trot. Those who were a fans of Lionel Richie's ballads had already abandoned ship for the most part as well. as he crafted a very successful solo career throughout the 80's. They had not had a top 40 hit in 4 years, since 1981's, "Oh No".
     Having been moved to write a song in honor of Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson who both had passed the year before, "Nightshift" is a brilliant song that far outshown what the group had been doing since Ritchie left, and except for a couple of R&B hits over the next couple of years, would never do again. Am not a fan of 1980's production value overall, but just like Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" and Joe Jackson's, "Stepping Out", the atmosphere of the song just lent an otherworldly feel that suited the lyrics perfectly. A more than fitting way for a band to bow out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen--Hot Rod Lincoln (1972)

     Commander Cody is the brainchild of George Frayne who put the group together in 1967. Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, the group moved to San Francisco over the course of a couple of years. This path was similar to the group Asleep at the Wheel, (who moved from West Virginia to San Fran) and who's sound is similar. Whereas however, "the Wheel" has cultivated a more purist approach to western swing, both groups have more than a passing link to the music of Bob Wills and Earnest Tubb.
      After signing with Paramount Records, they released "Hot Rod Lincoln" in 1972. The song's life began in 1955 as an answer song to a 1951 hit called, "Hod Rod Race". The writers, Charlie Ryan and W.S. Stevenson had the song recorded several times, with the most popular version being done by Johnny Bond in 1960. Cody took elements of Bond's altered version along with the original to make their hit, which reached number 9 in early 1972.
     The group had several other hits in the early 70's, mostly with covers of late 1940's/early 1950's songs. Although they stopped charting after 1977, the group now known as The Commander Cody Band, continues to record and tour.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chi Coltrane--Thunder and Lightning (1972)

     Just like the lack of information in her biography, Chi Coltrane has been somewhat of an enigma throughout her career. Born from a Canadian mom, and German dad, (who was a violinist) in Wisconsin, Chi (pronounced Shy) was signed to a contract on the strength of a demo of self written songs in 1971.
     "Thunder and Lightning" was the best of that demo, but the entire first album is a gem, and shows her as Laura Nyro type with top notch piano skills. The song reached the top 20 as did the debut album.
      Since then she had experienced the problems of many artists, poor management at the beginning of her career, and a follow up album that was great, but failed to make inroads in the market. (she has released 10 in total) Coupling with an aversion to self-promotion has caused this wonderful talent to never become more than a one hit wonder in the states, despite a strong cult following. She has had a great deal more success in Europe.
     She has resurfaced with a "comeback" album, you can read more about that here:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Eddie Cochran--Summertime Blues (1958)

     When we think of the pillars of rock and roll, Eddie Cochran doesn't immediately come to mind, but the timing of his career, his rebel attitude, and his tragic, early death, had a profound influence on the early days of what was to become rock music.
     Cochran had been charting hits since 1957, but it was his appearance in the 1956 movie, "The Girl Can't Help It" with and the song "Twenty Flight Rock" that got his career off the ground. He didn't write that song, but many a young guitar player picked it up. In Britain, it was that song that impressed a young John Lennon to invite Paul McCartney to join The Quarrymen. The success of that song in the movie led Liberty records to sign him to a contract and his first song on the charts was a top 20 hit, "Sittin' In The Balcony"
     "Summertime Blues' was released in the late summer of 1958, and was his only top 10 hit and has been covered by a multitude of pop, rock, and country artists.  Eddie released only one album in late 1957,  and it showed that Liberty was attempting to turn him into a middle of the road pop star, much like what Col. Tom Parker did to Elvis a few years later. His death in 1960 kept any of that from fully taking hold, and preserved his status as a rock and roll rebel. That status, especially in  the UK made him a hero to more than a few early British rock heroes and made Cochran along with Chuck Berry direct descendents of the early rock of The Who and The Beatles.    

Friday, April 13, 2012

Phil Collins--In The Air Tonight (1981)

     By the time Phil Collins began releasing solo projects, he already had a varied and full career. He was a child actor who had his first major role as The Artful Dodger in the London production of Oliver! He was an extra in The Beatles first film, "A Hard Day's Night" (he's in the film, during a scene with an audience....but you have to look close...a blink and he's gone).
     He answered an ad in Melody Maker for a drummer, and found himself in the group "Genesis", which for a period was Britian's predominant progressive rock band. When frontman Peter Gabriel left in 1975, Collins filled in surprisingly well (his voice in those early days had an eerie similarity to Gabriel's). Guitarist Steve Hackett's departure after the release of "Wind and Wuthering" left them as a trio, and the music took a slow turn away from prog and into a more pop sound. With that came success on the US pop charts.
     His first solo album was brought about by the break up of his first marriage more than anything (as did the Genesis album, "Duke" which had been released the year before). The album, "Face Value" contained his first solo single, "I Missed Again", then "In The Air Tonight". This was one of Collins' best singles as he combined the pain in his lyrics, with the atmospheric production which was a direct result of his days as a progressive rock drummer. By the way, according to Collins, many of the lyrics were developed on the spot as he was fooling around with the drum machine....still my favorite Phil Collins single....


Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Chiffons--He's So Fine (1963)

     The Chiffons was a girl group in the early/mid 60's and consisting of Judy Craig, Patricia Bennett, Barbara Lee, and Sylvia Peterson. "He's So Fine" was written by Ronald Mack, who was responsible for helping the group get their start. The song went all the way to number 1, and it's follow-up, the Goffen-King song, "One Fine Day" reached the top ten as well. They continued for another few years stacking up hits. However, the story of  "He's So Fine" was far from over.
     In early 1971, Bright Tunes, who owned the rights to the song, sued George Harrison for plagiarism in his use of the tune in his, "My Sweet Lord". It wasn't until 1976 that the court decided in favor of the publishing company, the suit in it's entirety wasn't wrapped up until the mid-80's, but the court's verdict held. The court found him guilty of "unintentional plagiarism", which is an interesting term for the layman, but makes perfect sense to the musician. Most artists gain inspiration from others. It might be the subject of a lyric, a small riff, or a chord pattern.  From where I sit, Harrison (deliberate or not) took a bit too much liberty in borrowing from another song. Despite all of that, Harrison's, "My Sweet Lord" has never diminished in greatness.....nor has "He's So Fine"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Judy Collins--Both Sides Now (1968)

     By the time she recorded, "Both Sides Now", Collins had already established herself as one of the most popular of the female folk/art singers. Like her contemporary Joan Baez, Collins started out singing traditional folk songs and through the 60's began to shift to covering the material of newer songwriters and mixing some of her own compositions as well.
     "Wildflowers", her 7th album included a brand new song from an unknown from Canada named Joni Mitchell. Judy was the first to cover "Both Sides Now", which gave her a top 10 hit on the pop charts, the only one of her career. It also broke Mitchell through to an audience beyond her fellow singer/songwriters.
     Collins also had success with Mitchell's, "Chelsea Morning" in 1969. She still continues to record, with her latest album, "Bohemian" being released just last year.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Natalie Cole--This Will Be (1975)

     Most know that Natalie Cole was the daughter of pop/jazz singer Nat King Cole, what many might not know is that her mother Maria had been a singer for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, so the musical talent ran deep from both sides of the family.
      Her initial attempts in the music business was met with some resistance because of her style. Being Nat's daughter, it was thought that her style would be smooth and poppish like his. However, she was raised to appreciate all styles of music and found herself gravitating towards r&b and rock. After meeting producers Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey, they cut a few demos and began passing them around. It took awhile but finally Capitol records (her Dad's old record company) signed her to a contract.
      The resulting debut album, "Inseparable" shows a debt to Aretha Franklin, but shows her to be her own woman as well. It became a hit, as did the first single, "This Will Be". It would be about 25 years before she would tackle some of the work that her dad made famous, in the meantime, she defined female contemporary r&b for the next 15 years.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band--Scorpio (1971)

     Dennis Coffey was a part of the "Funk Brothers" who helped changed Motown's image in the late 60's/early 70's by adding a more muscular sound. They could be heard on many of Norman Whitfield produced songs including, The Temptations', "Ball of Confusion", and Freda Payne's, "Band of Gold".
     Coffey had been doing session work from the age of 15, and joined The Royaltones in the late 50's who had a top 20 hit with, "Poor Boy" in 1958. He joined Motown just as Whitfield became the leading producer at the Detroit based company. It was during this time, that some rock and even psychedelic elements were brought into the music.
     Dennis went off on his own in the early 70's, and along with fellow Funk Brother, bassist Bob Babbit, scored a top 10 hit right out of the gate with, "Scorpio". It garnered him an appearance on "Soul Train" (the first white guy to do that), and along with a follow up top 20 the next year, ("Taurus") set in motion a career that would span 14 albums including his brand new release, "Dennis Coffey" on Strut Records.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gary Lewis & The Playboys: This Diamond Ring (1965)

     The son of actor Jerry Lewis, Gary & The Playboys (he chose not to add 'Lewis' so as not not be an influence in getting a gig) got a spot at Disneyland in 1960 and were there for several years when they were discovered by record producer Snuff Garrett. It was Garrett who added the "Lewis" back into the band's name thinking that it would be a way to sell records. "This Diamond Ring" was the first song out of the box and went to No. 1 in 1965. They had solid success through 1967 when Lewis was drafted into the military. Upon his return the momentum had been lost. They still continue to tour and you can check his website:

     Please check out our other posts, and friend us on Facebook. By clicking on the live 365 banner, you can check out the best of the hits of the past and the songs that should have been. Thanks and have a great Thursday.

Joe Cocker--The Letter (1970)

     Joe Cocker brings a good example of what I think is a problem with oldies radio today. The two songs that you hear mostly from him is "Up Where We Belong" (1982), and "You Are So Beautiful" (1975). Both songs have their charms I suppose, but they also are the definition of "lite rock", and miss the songs that truly defined him as one of rock's distinctive voices.
     Cocker had been singing in bands from 1961 to 1968, when going solo, he covered, "With a Little Help From My Friends", which easily became one of the best Beatle covers ever. His debut album, along with a landmark gig at Woodstock pushed him to the forefront of rock's elite.
     Early in 1970, Cocker was going on a promotional tour, and gathering a group of 30 to surround him, took "The Mad Dog and Englishmen" tour on the road. Described as "one big party", the group traveled to 48 cities and over a two day set in March at the Fillmore East in New York recorded an album that would be released in August. "The Letter" would be on that album.
     The song itself had been a bit hit for The Box Tops in August 1967 (the story of that recording is one that deserves it's own blog). In this group's hands however, it became a rip roaring gospel/blues shouter propelled by the piano of Leon Russell and a devastating rhythm section. The song broke Cocker through to a much wider audience and became his first top 10 hit.
     He would have greater success, and songs with much wider appeal. But for me, this is not only his best single, but one of the best singles of all time.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Patsy Cline--Crazy (1961)

    Looking back over 50 years now it seemed like a natural pairing, the great Patsy Cline and the great Willie Nelson....two giants of country music right?
    Well at the time it wasn't seen as such. Cline had a hit in 1957 with, "Walkin After Midnight" which had gained exposure through her appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. She didn't have a crossover hit for another 4 years. Much of this was due to her contract with Four Star Records, who clearly didn't know what to do with her, and some of it to Cline herself who was more comfortable singing honky-tonk music.
     Her 1960 contract with Decca-Nashville and relationship with producer Owen Bradley changed all of that however. Bradley's use of strings and directly marketing for crossover exposure wasn't necessarily Cline's cup of tea, but after over 5 years and 50 recording, most going nowhere, she was willing to work with Bradley to change her style.

     The difference was magic. The first hit from this professional union was, "I Fall To Pieces" which might have done even better if she had been able to promote it. However, she was involved in a car wreck that took her out of commission for some time. While recovering she was introduced to a song that songwriter Willie Nelson had pitched to her husband. He loved the song called, "Crazy", as did Owen Bradley, Cline however hated it. She was still very uncomfortable singing in the "Nashville Sound" style that was Bradley's trademark, and Nelson's demo of the song she thought too difficult for her to sing.
     Nelson was a songwriter who was just starting to get on his feet in Nashville, having just moved there a couple of years before, he got a gig playing bass for Ray Price's touring band. He had some success writing for Faron Young, Roy Orbison and Billy Walker. It was Walker in fact who he had written "Crazy" for in the first place, but Billy rejected it and Willie was looking for someone to record it.
     Stories vary about how she was able to wrap herself around the song, but the short of it is that it became her signature song and biggest hit. Over the next year and a half, before her death in March of 1963, she became not only the biggest name in country music, but became a direct mentor to a whole generation of female country singers, as well as a myriad of country and pop singers over the last 50 years. 
     "Crazy" put Nelson on the map, but never was comfortable with Nashville and it's very rigid promotion machine. It wasn't until a move to Austin in 1973 that things began to change, and Willie began his move to stardom.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Climax Blues Band--Couldn't Get it Right (1977)

     Have you ever heard a song on the radio and said, "I remember that song", but could never think of the band's name? Of course, most of us have. Sometimes it's because our memories are fading, but other times, it's just the group never stood out enough to be remembered. You would think this would happen to one hit wonders, and it does many times. For me however, the fact that they only hit the charts once makes it easier to remember....since the name is so identified with the song.
     The Climax Blues Band had two major hits in the US. This song, which was released in 1977 and went all the way to #3, with it's catchy,  loping groove. The next top 20 was four years later and a sticky sweet ballad called, "I Love You". I thought at the time it was a great song (maybe being in love with wife #1 had something to do with it).
     Part of the problem in my mind was that the group had no real identity. many of you can name the lead singer of the group? It was Colin Cooper. Yes...I had to look it up, and no, I didn't even remember the name at the time. Another problem was it's name. For some reason as a kid, I kept confusing it with the Kosmic Blues Band, which was another band that was essentially faceless...except for the engulfing personality that was Janis Joplin. Part of this was totally my fault...but sometimes we just link two things together for no good reason. (have YOU ever seen Gary Busey and Nick Nolte in a room together?? I rest my case)
     The band that is on the road now has none of it's original member with death of Cooper in 2008.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Climax--Precious and Few (1972)

     Every so often we run into a song that takes the long road to popularity...this is one of them.

    The group itself had it's beginnings from the 60's garage band, "The Outsiders" which had four top 40 hits in 1966, most notably, "Time Won't Let Me" which reached #5. When the band broke up several years later, several of the band members started new bands, all with the name, "The Outsiders" including lead singer Sonny Geraci. However, guitarist Tom King took the others to court and barred them from using that name. Geraci changed the name of his group to Climax.
      "Precious and Few" was actually recorded in 1970. It was retooled and re-recorded by a second producer (Larry Cox...who would have his hand in a 70's ballad or Jefferson Starship's, "Miracles"),...then shelved for over a year in the Bell Records studios. It wasn't until a Bell executive heard the song played on a Santa Barbra radio station (Santa Barbra was the home base of the group) that it was dusted off and released in January of 1972. Within two months it was the number 3 song in the country.
       It's follow-up, "Life and Breath" hit the charts, but not with the success of it's predecessor and the album which contained both songs was one and done. The song however has lasted for well over a generation and has to be considered one of the best "one hit wonders" of all time.


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Clash--Rock the Casbah (1981)

     By the time, "Rock the Casbah" had been released in 1981, The Clash had established themselves as the cream of the crop of the punk movement. So much so that they had pretty much transcended the genre by this time anyway. First off, one of the tenets of punk was the music and lyrics were to be raw to the point of being amateurish. Groups like The Sex Pistols made it clear they couldn't play very well, but from it's outset, The Clash was different. It takes talent to be good musicians and to sound as raw and unpolished as they did, and from their debut album in the spring of 1979, they consolidated the anger that was a staple of punk, and linked it with music that complimented it.
     Neither "The Clash" nor, "Give Em' Enough Rope" did well in the states, but their 3rd LP, "London Calling" was not only a hit, but has to be in the conversation of one of the best albums of the 80's. They had been experimenting with reggae from the first album, but the array of styles on this album is dazzling. Tying that in with not only the normal punk anger, but to filter it through different lyrical prisms, not only took beyond any other punk band was doing, but it took pretty much the entire decade for any rock band to catch up as well.
      "Rock the Casbah" was off the album, "Combat Rock", which showed them heading in more of a straight ahead rock sound, but lyrically they had not given up a thing. It gave them a top 10 single for the first and only time. By this time however, the two main principles, Mick Jones, and Joe Strummer were beginning to go different directions musically, and after Jones was booted from the band, one more album was made in 1985 before the group packed it in.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Dee Clark--Raindrops (1961)

Delectus Clark was born in Arkansas in 1938, with the family moving to Chicago in 1941. He spent his teen years singing in various groups, and began a solo career in 1957. His first big break occurred when Little Richard retired (for the first time) and Clark stepped in to fill the dates that Richard abandoned. Over the next several years, he had success on the charts with 5 top 40 hits, but his only top 10 came in the spring in 1961 when "Raindrops" reached #2 for a week. Ironically, it was also his last hit as the next two songs could not replicate that, and by the late 70's was on the oldies circuit.