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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Donovan--Sunshine Superman (1966)

     Over the years, Donovan has been considered a lightweight, but as opposed to "heaver" psychedelic bands his music would stand up much better over 40 years later. The music however, was truly a product of the "flower power" era.  Early in his career he had been unfairly compared to Dylan, mainly because of the same influences. (Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliott) Although the early style was similar, there was really nothing the same about them as far as content went.
     He had some success in the US by 1965, but it was his collaboration with producer Mickie Most who had been doing work with Lulu, The Animals, and Herman's Hermits. Donovan's first collaboration with his new producer brought him the song, "Sunshine Superman". Which became a number one song for him in the states.
     "Superman" was inspired by Linda Lawrence,  who became his muse throughout his late 60's output, and later became his wife. It was full of the trippy, psychedelic folk sound that became a trademark of his music. It began a string of top 40 hits that would lead him to the end of the decade. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods--Billy, Don't Be A Hero (1974)

    Listening to the bubblegum pop of "Billy, Don't Be A Hero", one would think that Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods would have been a studio group. One just put together to record the song without any intention of touring. That could not have been further from the truth....
     The Heywoods were formed in 1965 by keyboard player, Robert "Bo" Donaldson in Cincinnati.  The name came from one of the members at the time,  Corky Pickering. The group spent the second half of the decade opening for several big names of the day; The Rascals, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Herman's Hermits.
     It was while opening for The Osmonds things began to break for them. After signing with Family Productions, the released their first single in 1972. "Special Someone" didn't make a dent on the charts, it did garner the attention of ABC Records. This led to the release of, "Billy, Don't Be A Hero".
     The song, written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander,  had been a hit by the group Paper Lace in the UK and was being prepared for release in the US. However ABC got Donaldson's version out for a time there were two versions of the song out. Donaldson's version reached number 1 here, it made no impact in the UK.
     The follow up single, "Who Do You Think You Are" also did well on the charts. After breaking up in the 80's, the group reformed in 1996 and still tours. You can find them here:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thomas Dolby--She Blinded Me With Science (1983)

     Am not sure why, but when I think of Thomas Dolby, Food Network personality Alton Brown comes to mind. It just be the mad scientist that both give off. Of course, in both cases, the men are somewhat quirky, but much more than what we see.
     In Dolby's case, he has shown a brilliance in technology that far exceeds his contributions as an artist, although those are quite significant. With little musical training, he taught himself guitar and later piano, when he discovered synthesizers. From that point on, he plunged head long into music and the studio side of music. As a teen, he worked in a studio as a technician, songwriter and engineer. You can hear his keyboards on recordings from Joan Armatrading, Foreigner, and Def Leppard.
     His first recording, "The Golden Age of Wireless" produced his only top ten hit in the US, "She Blinded Me With Science". The song, took off under the power of the video which highlighted Dolby and Dr. Magnus Pyke (who played the doctor). You can also hear producer "Mutt" Lange on the recording as well.
     He never appeared on the US top 40 again, but had another hit in the UK in 1984 with, "Hyperactive". He spent much of the rest of the 80's in the role of musician, but by the 1990's he began working more on business pursuits. The chances are that if you have had a cell phone over the last 10 years, the ringtone on your phone at some time or other had been developed by Dolby.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dr. John--Right Place, Wrong Time (1973)

     There are times in the history of the singles chart where the mix of different genres will cross with artists who's music is eclectic as well and the paths will cross and an off the wall hit is born. Such is the way this song made it to the top ten.
     Dr. John, (who's real name is Mac Rebennack Jr.) began his professional career in his native New Orleans as a guitar player and producer. An incident where he was defending the keyboard player in his band ended with a shooting where Mac ended up with an injured ring finger. His interest in music began as a young teen after meeting Professor Longhair for the first time so his change from guitar to piano seemed to be a natural one.
     Having moved to LA in the early 60's, he quickly caught on with other artists and soon became on of the top session players on the scene. It's also where he developed the persona of "Dr. John" and mixed the jazz and R&B of his home with psychedelic rock of the day. The result, "Gris-Gris" was totally different than anything going on at the time. One of the songs, "I Walk On Guilded Splinters", was as good an example of psychedelic rock than anything done by the Dead or Jefferson Airplane.
     Four more albums were released, and he developed a solid cult following. Although not necessarily making  music for the singles chart, Atco released, "Iko Iko" off of his album, "Dr. John's Gumbo" in 1972, and primed the market for the album, "In The Right Place". Produced by Alan Toussaint and backed by The  Meters and propelled by the single, "Right Place, Wrong Time", the album went into the top 30. He has continued to tour and record top flight records. You can check out more about this stellar American legend at 
     The video was from New Orleans in 1973...


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dr. Hook--Sylvia's Mother (1972)

     Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show got it's start in 1970 as the three members of the group, The Chocolate Papers broke up, than reformed with new lead singer Dennis Locorriere. The name of the group came from one of their first gigs when a club owner said they needed a name for a poster that would promote a gig that night. Guitarist George Cummings made a sign that said, "Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic For The Soul". The name Dr. Hook was a play on bandmate Ray Sawyer's eye patch (he had lost an eye in a 1967 car accident).
     An early enthusiast of the group was songwriter Shel Silverstein. Some of Shel's songs were chosen for the 1970 movie, "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me" (no kidding...that was the name of the movie) Silverstein suggested that Dr. Hook would be the perfect band to perform the songs in the movie. The movie was less than stellar at the box office, but it would lead Ron Haffkine, who was musical director of the movie to become their manager.
     They were signed to CBS records in 1971 and Silverstein wrote their first single. "Sylvia's Mother". The song was autobiographical was Shel wrote about a failed relationship he had with a woman named Sylvia. He called her mother to attempt to rekindle things, but to no avail. The song reached number five in the summer of 1972, and launched Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show to stardom. They just became Dr. Hook in 1975, and had a stellar career for the rest of the 70's. By the way, although "Cover of the Rolling Stone" is their signature song, "Sylvia's Mother", and 1980's "Sexy Eyes" were better sellers.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dire Straits--Sultans of Swing (1979)

     Mark Knopfler (born 1949), had been a student at Leeds University, and for a time was a rock critic for the Yorkshire Evening Post. He was also an excellent guitar player and was playing in a pub band, when he gathered brother David (guitar)  and his roommate, John Illsley (bass) in 1977. Later that year they picked up drummer Pick Withers and made a six song demo tape. They approached DJ Charlie Gillett about listening to the tape and just giving some advice about how good it was. Gillett was so impressed by it, he played "Sultans of Swing" on his BBC show, "Honky Tonkin'". On the strength of that demo, the group was signed by Phonogram Records and Muff Winwood produced the first album.
     In an era where disco in the US and punk in the UK were both running their course, the mix of pub rock, jazz, and country along with Mark Knopfler's unique voice (kinda like a understandable Dylan) and hot guitar playing led the band eventually to top ten status all over the world. It would not always be a smooth ride while they band always did well in the states (they never had an album out of the top 20), they never reached the singles charts again until 1985's, "Money For Nothin'".

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: The Dixie Cups--Chapel Of Love (1964)

     Sisters Barbara and Rosa Hawkins along with school friend Joan Johnson began singing in the Calliope housing project in New Orleans. First known as Melltones, they caught the attention of singer Joe Jones who became their manager. By 1963, they went to New York for an audition and was signed by Leiber and Stoller signed them to Red Bird Records.
      They were renamed "The Dixie Cups" and was assigned a song written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector which had originally been meant for The Ronettes. "Chapel Of Love" became their biggest hit, although it was not their only one having three more top 40 hits. it was also the first American song to reach the top 40 after the British Invasion, knocking off "Love Me Do" in the summer of 1964.
      The sisters still continue to perform along with Athelgra Neville. You can see more of them at

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dion--Ruby Baby (1963)

     I have always thought that Dion has been on of the most unappreciated artists in rock and roll history. Part of this has been caused due to an overall negative view of musicians who broke through in a big way in the early 60's. However the quality of the music was usually head and shoulders above most pop groups of that day. With the Belmonts, he started out singing Italian-American doo-wop, then on going solo he went into more of a pop mode with definite  blues leanings (as you can hear on "Ruby Baby").
     A heroin habit that he had been fostering since his teen years began to get the best of him. He kicked it once and for all in the late 60's, and began singing more folk oriented songs. This was best heard on his album, "Dion" in 1968 and the single, "Abraham, Martin and John", written by Dick Holler and became his last top 10 hit.
     Since then he has meandered through folk, Christian music, and now headlong into the blues over the last decade. In fact, he was nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for Best Traditional Blues album for, "Bronx in Blue". No matter what direction he has taken his music, he has always been consistently good. There are obviously albums that are better than others, but I've never heard a bad album in the bunch. At the age of 72, he continues to record great music. If you have not heard of him, check out his early material first as many have been influenced by his pop material. Those who had forgotten about him, need to check out his output of the last 20 years. In fact...I'll give you all a bit of a bonus and add one of his later songs.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dino, Desi, & Billy--I'm A Fool (1965)

     Nepotism in the arts has always been a fact of life. The idea being that if Mom or Dad had the talent, then Junior must have some too. Today we have more than a few examples of the family trade being passed along. At least to my ears however, because of the current conditions in the music industry, you still have to have the goods talent-wise, just your good (musical) name won't be enough.
     The first of these didn't come from the rock era, but rather the pop era of an earlier generation. Dean Paul Martin, the son of singer Dean Martin. Desi Arnez Jr. not only had a popular musician/actor father, but his mother was the predominate actress on television. They both went to school with Billy Hinsche, and seeing the Beatles for the first time encouraged them to work together as a group.
      Dean Martin had a recording contract with Reprise which was owned by friend Frank Sinatra, and through that connection an audition was set up with the boys (who were all under 16 at the time). They were signed and their first single was the most popular. "I'm a Fool" came out in the summer of 1965 and reached #17 on the charts. There has been an argument that the boys, while not bad, had been signed and taken energy and money away from the company which would have been better used for other artists.
     The trio wasn't bad, and yes, you can easily argue that most groups wouldn't have got a sit down audition with "The Chairman of the Board" (figuratively and literally). On the other hand, the trio did have two top 40 hits, and opened for the likes of The Beach Boys, The Mamas and Papas, and Paul Revere & the Raiders, so it wasn't a bad gamble for Reprise records either.
     The group stayed together until 1968, as they all began to mature and choose different directions for their lives. Martin wanted to do a lot of things, he was a professional tennis player, was an avid pilot reaching the rank of Captain in the Air National Guard by 1981, and acted on the big and small screen. He died in 1987 in a jet crash in the California mountains. Desi found a spot on his mom's show (Here's Lucy) in 1970 and has spent the rest of his career as an actor and in production. Billy was the only one to remain in music as he became a part of the Beach Boys band in 1974 after graduating from UCLA.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Mark Dinning--Teen Angel (1959)

     From a purely historical standpoint, I was always amused by certain religious groups in the late 80's and 90's who were claiming that rock songs promoted death. Not that the subject would be worth discussing, but this was not the first time that popular music had been preoccupied with it. In fact, it has been a part of rock and pop music since the late 50's. There have been many over the years, but for those who think this is a subject of later rockers consider the death in a car songs, "Dead Man's Curve" (1964), and  "Last Kiss" (1962). Or maybe on a motorcycle with "Leader of the Pack" (1965). In fact, if you are wanting to dive into this a bit more, there is an entire page of this stuff with dozens of examples of death in music, either by accident, by murder, or by war. So any talk of death in today's music seems a bit disingenuous. (By the way...that website is Your welcome.)
     Anyway, this leads our blog today to look at, if not the first, the first popular "death" song on the charts. Mark Dinning was one of nine born to a couple who lived in Oklahoma,  (where Mark was born) Kansas, and finally Nashville. Three of his sisters had recording success as "The Dinning Sisters" in the late 40's. Mark however fancied himself as a country singer. He was signed to a contract with MGM in 1957, but really hadn't done much until he was given a song written by his sister Jean and her husband Red Surrey.
     The song had all the makings of a hit. Danger (car stalls on train), devotion (she goes back for ring), unrequited love (she dies in his arms...never to love her again ), and of course eternal devotion (assuming she is watching over him from above). It took awhile for the song to make it to the charts as US and UK radio stations at first would not play it because of what was considered morbid material. Between some stations what would play it, and word of mouth, the song would quickly make it up the charts becoming a number 1 hit in February 1960.
    Dinning would have three more minor hits over the next couple of years, but alcoholism hindered his career greatly. He died in 1986 of a heart attack driving home from a gig in Jefferson City MO.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Neil Diamond--Sweet Caroline (1969)

     Neil Diamond is one of the few songwriters left (along with Carole King) who's musical heritage flows directly through the Brill Building which is the 60's equivalent of Tin Pan Alley. He began as a pure pop singer who crafted some of the best songs of the late 60's/early 70's. His desire to become a more "serious" songwriter took him to some strange places musically and didn't always work, but his attempts were fascinating, and  often took flight as successful hits.
     Neil was born in Brooklyn in 1941 to parents of Russian and Polish ancestry. He had taken an interest in music early on, but began to sing and play the guitar during his teen years. He was known in high school as a fine fencer, and in fact was given a scholarship to New York University in fencing and would eventually be on the US Men's championship team.  He originally intended to study medicine, but during his senior year, switched to the NYU's School of Commerce and retained his student status until 1965, but from that time on his focus was on being a songwriter/singer. It was in 1965 that one of his compositions, "Sunday and Me" was recorded by Jay & The Americans and hit the top twenty, the first of his songs to become a hit.
     He had his first charting song as a solo artist in 1966, "Solitary Man" reached about the midway point of the hot 100. It's follow up, "Cherry Cherry" reached the top ten and his career as singer/songwriter was on it's way.  A string of top 20 hits for him and others (most notably The Monkees) continued through 66' and 67'. As the next year opened however, artists were beginning to do more "serious" work musically and Diamond was showing discontent of writing just pure pop songs. This disagreement with his record label, "Bang Records", let him to leave the label and sign an contract with Uni. This was to lead him to some of his more enduring records.
     Before 1969 was over he had scored first with, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" then with his biggest hit up to that time, "Sweet Caroline". In an interview on Dec. of 2011, Diamond attributed the name Caroline to Caroline Kennedy. He said that a magazine cover photo of her as a young child on a horse with her parents in the background created an image in his mind, and that the rest of the song came together about five years after seeing the picture.
     The song reached number 4 in late 1969 and set in motion a very prosperous five year period for the singer. He had bigger hits, "Cracklin' Rosie" (#1 1970),  "Song, Sung Blue" (#1 1974), "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (#1 1978), "Love On The Rocks (#2 1980), but none has stayed in the public imagination more than this one.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Andy Griffith--The Fishin' Hole (1960)

     For several generations the character of Andy Taylor and the actor who played him (for many of us one in the same) presented a vision for many of what life could be. Played in the fictitious Mayberry, North Carolina, it was as close to utopia as television would ever get. But I've often thought, "Why?". Well, there are those who will take a deeper look into the sociological aspects to the show, and this isn't the venue for that kind of let's take a look at the man.
     Andy Griffith was born North Carolina and from his earliest years was immersed in music. He learned to play the trombone, and also acted some in high school. After pondering becoming a minister, he switched his major to music and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1949. His first job out of school was teaching music and drama at a high school in Goldsboro.
     He started his career as a stand up comedian, but not like we think of one today. He was a monologist, one who would tell long stories. This was where he first made a name for himself with, "What It Was, Was Football", which 60 years later, his country/rural character still makes me laugh. This led him to the opportunity to play his first major role in the teleplay, "No Time For Sergeants" on the United States Steel Hour. He broadened out the play to a full length Broadway production in late 1955 which became quite successful. It was also made into a movie in 1958 with another young actor Don Knotts. This would be the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship between the two. Those who are old enough to remember won't be surprised to know that the television show Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C was pretty much a modern copy of this movie.
     Producer Sheldon Leonard and actor Danny Thomas wanted to get Griffith on TV and began to develop a show for him. On Feb 15, 1960, we see Andy Taylor (and Opie) on The Danny Thomas Show, where Andy plays the justice of the peace on an episode where Thomas gets arrested for running a stop sign This lead up to the debut of the Andy Griffith show in October of that year.
     For the next eight years, The Andy Griffith show was to be one of the top programs on CBS. Looking back at it now, it was (as many of television's best shows are) a cast of people who are perfectly suited for that role. Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Frances Bavier, and all of the others became so set in their performances, that none of them, were able to break out of the characters they developed in future years. For as well as Griffith, Knotts, Howard, and Nabors did after the show ended, over 50 years later we still seem them in citizens of Mayberry.
     Griffith did well post-Mayberry, starting his own production company, doing guest spots, and working on several made for TV movies, although he was never able to find success on a weekly show again until Matlock which ran from 1986-1995 on NBC and ABC. Although he continued to work on TV and film up to 2009, the last 15 years or so he returned to his love of music. From his first dramatic role in the 1957 movie, "A Face in the Crowd" through the Andy Griffith Show, he would find a time and a place to sing. He started recording albums of religious music in 1995 and had a great deal of success in that arena as well.
     To return to the question at the beginning of this blog. The Andy Griffith show and it's characters are by far the most celebrated and beloved in TV history. It came along at a time in which one could argue that the country was going through it's biggest upheaval since the Civil War. Despite what was going on socially, politically, and culturally, one could turn on CBS and see a 30 minute slice of what we wished for America to be, with the benevolent Sheriff/Dad Andy Taylor making sure all was ok with his world...and ours too. One might think that so many years later that sentiment like that would be passe, but we find that generations later, the lessons Mayberry taught has not lost it's importance. Although naive at certain level, at it's core we are drawn by the warmth of a town that was built on respect, kindness, and love. For some that reminds us of our own families. For others, it brings us closer to a family we never had. Let's face it, we still want to come home to a place in our hearts that is safe, warm, and protected by those who love us. That was the genus of The Andy Griffith Show, and in the death of it's star, we feel as if we have lost more than just an actor, we lost a friend.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dexy's Midnight Runners--Come On Eileen (1983)

     I've talked to a lot of people over the years who either really like this song, or really hate it. Either way, it is one of the most distinctive hits to come out of the 80's. The hybrid of soul and Irish music was an interesting combination that was unlike anything being played at that time.
     The "Runners" actually came from a straight up northern soul sound. Their previous album, "Searching For The Young Soul Rebels", had sparked a rebirth of the genre in the UK. Lead singer Kevin Rowland was/is a pretty idiosyncratic kind of guys, and his rules that he put on the band basically led most of them to quit on him.
      Rather than continuing on in the vein of their hit album, he put together a new band with a much more Celtic folk sound to them. The result was "Too-Rye-Ay", where they took on the roles of Irish vagabonds (Rowland like to do this kind of their previous incarnation, they dressed up like dockworkers, inspired by DiNero's "Mean Streets").
     The result was a number one song in the UK and here in the states. Interesting to note in the video that the drummer was sacked even before the video shoot was over. At the end of the clip, notice that the guy beating on his drum at the beginning was now gone. This was a pretty good microcosm of the group's history. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Cliff DeYoung--My Sweet Lady (1974)

    Cliff DeYoung began his career as a musician with the group Clear Light, who opened for several of the major stars of the day, but who's own light would be out by 1968. DeYoung then tried out and won a part on the Broadway version of "Hair" then later the Tony award winning, "Sticks and Bones"
     After four years on the east coast, he went back to the west side to star in the movie "Sunshine". The movie was a real tear-jerker as it told the story of a mother who discovers she has cancer and recorded her last days for her family. The music in the show was written by John Denver (who had recorded it on his 1971 album, "Poems, Prayers, and Promises") but the single was the recording that DeYoung sang in the movie. Denver was to release his own single version in 1977.
     Cliff continues to act, having been in almost 100 movies and tv shows. The clip below has part of the audio from the movie with Christina Raines and Cliff DeYoung.