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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Drifters--Under the Boardwalk (1964)

     By 1964 The Drifters had been a mainstay on the charts having been there 26 times with four top ten hits. Ben E. King had been their lead singer until 1960 when he left for a solo career and was replaced in that position by Rudy Lewis. Lewis was the voice you heard singing such hits as, "Up On The Roof", and "On Broadway".
     The group had planned to head to the studio once again in May of that year to record, "Under the Boardwalk", written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick. On the 21st of that month however, Lewis died of a suspected heroin overdose. Instead of canceling the studio session, they asked a former member of the group, Johnny Moore to sing the lead.
     The song was intended to be an uptempo, upbeat song. No one seems to be sure if the change was made intentionally, but the shift from major to minor (which WAS part of the song), along with the slowing down of the melody changed the feel entirely. It became the last top ten hit for the group although they continued hitting the charts up until 1967. They continue to perform today and you can see more about the group now, and their legacy here:


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Dream Academy--Life in a Northern Town (1985)

     The story of The Dream Academy began with the meeting of singer/guitarist Nick Laird-Clowes and keyboard player Gilbert Gabriel in the late 70's. They formed a duo called the Politics of Pop which emphasized different musical textures such as strings and woodwinds. They met and invited multi-instrumentalist Kate St. John to be a part of the group. With her addition, they changed the name to The Dream Academy and spent the next couple of years developing their sound. They were rejected by many record companies when Warner Brothers took a chance in 1985.
     The suits and Warner wasn't convinced of the marketability of  the first single, "Life in a Northern Town" and attempted to change it by adding a drummer, but Laird-Clowes and Gabriel dug in their heels and refused to change it. The song, released in the fall of 1985, made it up to number 7 on the charts, and the debut album it was on made it to the top 20. A follow up, "The Love Parade" found it's way to the top 40 the next year. Those were the only two hits here in the US, with the last showing on the top 100 coming in 1986 with a song off of the soundtrack to the movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Oddly enough the group never toured until 1991, years after they were relevant, then split up.
     The song itself was about Nick Drake, the British singer-songwriter of the early 70's. It's sound perfectly captured the melancholia of the tragically short life of Drake. It was a striking difference in sound from everything that was around it at the time, and of course like the best songs of any era, it cannot be pigeon-holed into a certain era.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Dramatics--In The Rain (1972)

     Sometimes I'll post a blog because of specific reasons (i.e. death, retirement, new album, etc.), and today it's all about the rain. The Dramatics first big hit was 1971's, "Watcha See is Watcha Get". But today in Nashville is cloudy, wet, and cool. A perfect early fall day from my perspective, and my mind wandered to a song that to me is a lost classic. "In the Rain" hit the charts in February of 1972 and rose to number 5 on the charts, which made it the biggest hit for the group on the Hot 100 and their only number 1 on the R&B list. 
     The Dramatics formed in 1962 out of Detroit and began recording in 1965 on the small Wingate label. Motown absorbed the label in 1967 and it was with them that the group had a local hit with, "All Because of You" which reached #43 on the R&B charts. The next year they signed with Stax/Volt and continued to hone their skills breaking through with "Watcha See.." three years later.
     The group continued to record hits throughout the decade of the 70's, finally breaking up in 1982. A reunion in 1985, and the reception from their fans convinced them to reform Part of that group remains today as they continue to tour. Their last studio album, "If You Come Back To Me" was released in 1999 although they have a live set that came out in 2002.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lamont Dozier--Trying To Hold On To My Woman (1973)

     Before getting started with today's post, I wanted to direct you to a blog that you might find interesting. For several months now, I've been reading Mike Descz's, "A Bit Like You and Me". It also takes a song a day, but his focus is on songs that are a bit more obscure than what we do here on the bus. It's a fun trip and hope you check it out.

     Lamont Dozier was born in Detroit in 1941, and from 1957 to 61 recorded with groups like The Romeos and The Voice Masters until signing a deal with Motown in 1962 and teaming up with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland.
      Beginning with Martha and the Vandellas, they began crafting hits like, "Heatwave", and "Quicksand". But it was 1964, when hit the top of the charts with, "Where Did Our Love Go", that the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland took off and for the next four years, this songwriting team produced 12 number one hits.
      H-D-H left Motown in 1968 to form their own company, Invictus/Hot Wax which was moderately successful and in 70, Dozier went back to his recording career. During the first half of the 70's, Dozier had success, especially on the R&B charts. It was this song in late 73/early 74 that was became his highest charting hit. He continues to write and record. His website is,

Monday, September 10, 2012

Joe South (1940--2012)

     Joe South, who passed away on September 5th had not been heard from very much since his heyday in the late 60's/early 70's. His style of songwriting and guitar playing which was filled with a  distinctly southern feel which still holds up very well today.
      Born Joseph Alfred Souter in Atlanta Georgia, he started songwriting during the late 50's, penning the novelty song, "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor" in 1958, and a couple of songs for Gene Vincent. His first big hit as a songwriter was in 1962 when a local group, The Tams hit #12 with, "Untie Me".
     He spent much of the mid-60's as a top rate studio guitarist with the National Recording Company which also included producer/keyboardist Ray Stevens and guitarist Jerry Reed. South's guitar work could be heard on the electric version of Simon & Garfunkel's, "Sound of Silence" Bob Dylan's, "Blonde on Blonde" album, and the amazing guitar work the propelled Aretha Franklin's, "Chain of Fools".
     His next big hit as a songwriter was in 1965's, "Down in the Boondocks" by Billy Joe Royal in 1965. His list of hits for others include:

    "Hush" (Deep Purple 1968)
   "Yo-Yo" (The Osmonds 1971)
    "Birds of a Feather (The Raiders 1971)
    "(You Never Promised Me a) Rose Garden (Lynn Anderson 1971)
    "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" (Brook Benton 1972)

     He is best remembered for the song, "Games People Play" which was his biggest hit and garnered him two Grammys (he also received a Grammy for, "Rose Garden"). His other top 20 hit was, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" which Elvis made a staple in his live performances.
     In 1971, his brother and the drummer in his band, Tommy, committed suicide. This threw Joe into a depression which, along with a drug problem, drove him into a self imposed exile in Hawaii for years until he cleaned up his life. His reclusiveness assured that any kind of "comeback" was not in the cards. He eventually moved back to Buford Georgia.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Joe Dowell--Wooden Heart (1961)

    Joe Dowell was from Indiana then moved with his family to Illinois where he went to college. During a semester break he drove to Nashville to look for a record company to record him. On his last day in the city, he was signed to Smash records not only because of his voice, and his clean cut look. After school was out in May of 1961 he went to record four songs.
     The night before the recording session, producer Shelby Singleton was at the movies watching "G.I. Blues" which was Elvis' latest movie. He was attracted again to a song in the movie called, "Wooden Heart" which was sung partly in German. A version was already going up the charts IN Germany, and with another Elvis song climbing up the charts at the time in the US, it was thought that Presley would not be releasing the song anytime soon, so it was presented to Dowell as one of the four songs to be recorded.
     Dowell took about three hours to learn the song phonetically that next day. It was released in June and a couple of months later it reached number 1. Presley himself had it issued as a single in the UK where it went to number 1, but never released it in the states. Joe had a couple more songs reach the charts, but was dropped by Smash after a contract dispute in late 1962. He spent the rest of his career in radio advertising.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Dovells--Bristol Stomp (1961)

     The group formed as the Brooktones in 1957. The Philadelphia based group consisted of Jerry Summers, Mark Stevens, Len Barry, Mike Dennis, Arnie Satin, and Danny Brooks. Their early songs attracted a small amount of attention in the city, but not enough to warrant a look from any record company, so in the summer of 1960 Jerry and Mike left to form The Gems. 
     Things began to change however late that year as Cameo/Parkway records brought in The Brooktones for an audition and did well enough on the strength of two of Barry's songs to be signed. Jerry and Mike were asked to come back, as the group changed their name to The Dovells. During the late spring of 1961, while in the studio, a PR guy was talking to the group about a new dance that he came across at the Goodwill Fire Hall at Bristol. The dance was called, "The Stomp". Several of the guys thought it cool to write a song about it, and just over 24 hours later, they song was written and recorded.
     Although released in the summer of that year, the single went nowhere. Finally it began to catch in the midwest during the Fall, and it wasn't long before it became the number 2 hit in the nation. For the next two years, they hit the top 100 another 7 times. Most of the songs were related to dances that were popular at the time ("Do the New Continental", "Bristol Twistin' Annie"). They did reach the top five again in mid-1963 with the number three hit, "You Can't Sit Down". A dispute however in 1964 led Barry to leave the band for a solo career, where he had several top 40 hits. Summers and Stevens still tour as The Dovells today.
      Check them out at

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sunday Morning Vault: Hal David (1921-2012)

     Yesterday we lost one of the great American lyricists of the last 50 years. Hal David with his songwriting partner Burt Bacharach defined 60's pop music. His timeless lyrics are still being sung by many an artist who's parents were children when they were first performed.
     David dabbled in lyric writing, but was preparing for himself a career in journalism. He was writing for the New York Post, when a lucky break allow him an opportunity to write for big band leader Sammy Kaye. Several hits came for Kaye and for Guy Lombardo's band s well. However it was hit meeting with Burt Bacharach in 1957 that would change the life of both men, and of American music. Starting with, "The Story of My Life" written and recorded that year by Marty Robbins, and "Magic Moments" sung by Perry Como, they were off and running.
     Their biggest success came though with the collaboration with Dionne Warwick. There was a chemistry between the three that made it impossible to mention one without the other. "I'll Never Fall In Love Again", "Do You Know the Way to San Jose", "Walk On By", and "I Say A Little Prayer" were touchstones of mid-60's pop and are still fresh and inviting today.
     The following is a listing of David's biggest songs and a video or two as well.

"The Story of My Life"--Marty Robbins
"Magic Moments"--Perry Como
"(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Vallance"--Gene Pitney
"Only Love Can Break a Heart"--Gene Pitney
"Close to You"--The Carpenters
"Wives and Lovers"--Jack Jones
"Wishin and Hopin"--Dusty Springfield
"Walk On By"--Dionne Warwick
"There Was Always Something There To Remind Me"--Dionne Warwick/Naked Eyes (82)
"What The World Needs Now Is Love"--Jackie DeShannon
"What's New Pussycat"--Tom Jones
"Alfie"--Dionne Warwick
"I Say a Little Prayer"--Dionne Warwick
"The Look Of Love"--Dusty Springfield/Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66'
"Casino Royale"--Herb Alpert
"One Less Bell To Answer"--The Fifth Dimension
"This Guys In Love With You"--Herb Alpert
"Do You Know the Way to San Jose--Dionne Warwick
"Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"--B.J. Thomas
"I"ll Never Fall In Love Again"--Dionne Warwick
"To All The Girls I've Loved Before"--Nelson/Iglesias
"It Was Almost Like A Song"--Ronnie Milsap


Carl Douglas--Kung Fu Fighting (1974)

     In the history of popular music, there are many examples of songs that make you scratch your head, laugh out loud, or both. Even better when said music can make you move. The 70's for some reason was full of stuff like this....and so we come to the story of Carl Douglas.
     He spent his youth in his native Jamaica and California, then moving to England to study sound engineering. While there, he formed the group Big Stampede and even issued a couple of singles. From the mid-60's to early 70's he spent time with several groups in England and Spain, but it was a meeting with Indian-born producer Biddu which would lead to his biggest hit.
     Biddu worked with Carl on a movie soundtrack in 1972, and it was that experience that led the producer to call for help with vocals a couple of years later. The song, "I Want To Give You My Everything" was the supposed "A" side. He needed a song for the flip side, so Biddu wrote music to some lyrics that Douglas had written about the martial arts craze happening in the US at the time. The song was recorded in 10 minutes.  
     The supposed "A" side was forgotten immediately as the song was a meeting of a great tune with "expert timing". It reached number 1 in the states in late 1974. The follow-up, "Dance the Kung Fu" made the top 50, and top 20 in Britain, but he was not seen in the US again. Douglas settled in Germany and owns a production company.