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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Free Movement--I've Found Someone Of My Own (1971)

     Normally on this forum I do not make fun of artists or songs. This is for a couple of reasons, the first of all being that music, like any kind of art is terribly subjective and what sounds great to one person might sound like tripe to another. Secondly, in an attempt to look at this music through a historic prism, we have to take into account that music many times is a snapshot of an earlier time. We would like to think (although with the events in the news it's hard to keep positive) that we are in a more enlightened age where we look toward those around us as equals. So one needs to keep that in mind when we hear songs that are blatantly of it's own time.
     However, there are times that it becomes so comical that I have to point it out. Which brings me to The Free Movement and "I've Found Someone Of My Own" who's title already give you a bit of a hint of what is to be found inside. This is worth actually printing the lyrics to get the full effect.

I got up this morning
While I was having my coffee
My woman came in, sat down by my side
With tears in her eyes
She said 'I've a confession to make.'
I said 'Woman, speak what's on your mind.'

She said 'I've found somebody new
To take your place.'
'I said don't feel so all alone
I've found someone of my own.'

'All those lonely nights
You left me all alone
My true love would call
And talk to me on the phone.'
I said 'Woman, if that's the way it's gotta be
Then darlin, don't you worry about me.'

She said ' I've found somebody new
To take your place.'
'I said don't feel so all alone
I've found someone of my own.'

I got up from the table
Reached down and wiped the tears
From her face
I put out my cigarette
Turned and walked away

She said 'I've found somebody new
To take your place.'
'I said don't feel so all alone
I've found someone of my own.'

Touching isn't it?

Am not sure who wrote this, but it had to be someone with a misogynistic fantasy of some sort. Too many times modern music is full of anti-woman biases that unfortunately still exists especially in heavy metal and rap.  When I first heard the song, my imagination went to a den with shag carpet and wood paneling and her coming down in her teddy to sit at the feet of her man while she confess that despite the fact that her man is a slimy bastard, she has found someone new. (surprise!) To add to the tenderness of the man involved ("woman, speak what's on your mind"..."Reached down and wiped the tears from her face"), we just find that he turns and walks out, which makes you wonder how long he had been freeloading off of her in the first place.

Hearing the song also give's a 70's porn feel about it all. To top it all off, it evidently touch a soft spot in a generation who evidently mixed up "free love" with ...well..."free love" because it reached #5 on the charts that year.  Anyway, it's not often that a song gets me this worked up, but any song that can make Steven Stills', "Love The One Your With" seem like a tender love ballad deserves some note.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bobby Freeman--Do You Want To Dance (1958)

     With rock music approaching 60 years and going through several generations, it's always a joy to not only discover new music, but to find songs that I thought had been original to an artist, just to find out it wasn't at all....
     Back in the early 90's, I went through a renaissance of sorts with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. There had always been an appreciation for the hits, (I still think 'Don't Worry Baby' was one of the greatest pop songs of the rock era) but knew little else. Immersing myself in the beautiful harmonies and pop genius of Brian, the pure clear tenor of Carl, and the underrated gifts of Dennis, "Do You Want To Dance" became one of my favorites of their early period. It was the highest charting song which Dennis was the lead singer, and it led me back to the original
     Bobby Freeman had been a professional since the age of fourteen in 1955 with a group called The Romancers. Just three years later he wrote and recorded this song, which climbed to #5 on the pop charts and #2 on the R&B. For the next six years he has varying success until the top ten hit, "Do the Swim" which was written and produced by a young (20) Sylvester Stewart aka Sly Stone. It was his last major recording although he continued to write and record well into the 1970's. He still resides in his native San Francisco.

Ace Frehley--New York Groove (1978)

     It's one of those questions that 35 years later makes one scratch their head. Why would the group KISS, at the top of popularity, decide for all of it's members to record a solo album? As we see now, even early on, the business firm of Simmons & Stanley were all about marketing the group as best they could. Of course, there was nothing wrong with that, but one could see now that although the albums sold well to the faithful, dumping four solo albums into the market at the same time might not have been the best idea.
      Of the four, Gene Simmons' album sold the best, but all these years later, it was evident that the most solid album (in my not so humble opinion) belonged to Ace Frehley. Part of my reasoning for this had to do with the fact that the best of Simmons' or Stanley's work could be found on the KISS albums themselves. Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were not only holding their best ideas musically, but they also had a lot more to prove. This is why I believe both of their solo albums were superior.    Certainly when it came to singles off said albums, Frehley did best with New York Groove" reaching the top 20.
     Paul Daniel Frehley was born into a family of musicians and given his first guitar at the age of 13. He played in a series of bands during his teenaged years (it was also where he got the name 'Ace'), but was after High School that he answered an ad in the Village Voice for a guitar player. The name of the group was 'Wicked Lester' and after an audition, members Simmons, Stanley, and Criss invited him to be a part of the band.
     Shortly after this, they changed the name to KISS with Ace coming up with the lightning bolt logo that has become so famous. By 1974 they had released their first album and within the next four years they had risen to becoming the top band in the US Interestingly enough, after the four solo albums, their popularity began a slow decline in the states while at the same time becoming a world wide phenomenon.
     Because of creative differences, Ace left the band in 1981 as he embarked on a solo career. His group, "Frehley's Comet" had some moments in the mid-80's, but perhaps the six years between recording with KISS and their first album with the Comet greatly slowed his momentum. They broke up before the end of the decade, but reformed again to release 2009's, "Anomaly".

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Morning Vault: Stan Freberg--The Yellow Rose of Texas (1955)

    When many think of music parody over the last 25 or so years, the first person to come to mind is "Weird" Al Yankovic. Since the mid-80's he has lovingly poked at the hits of the day. Some thought him brilliant, others (remember Coolio's first response to "Amish Paradise") not so much. Yankovic acknowledges his greatest influence was Stan Freberg, a guy who did it with a much sharper wit (and sharper tongue as well) than anything done since.
     Freberg, born in Pasadena CA, got his start as a voice character on cartoons during the late 40's, soon began making parody's of the top hits of the day, the first that became a hit was of Johnny Ray's "Cry" in 1952. At first Ray was furious at someone making fun of the song until he realized that it was helping record sales. For the better part of the 50's, he would poke fun at the new medium of television and of rock and roll (which he hated). His most popular song as far as chart action is concerned was "The Yellow Rose of Texas" where he parodied Mitch Miller, in 1955.

For many of us younger, Freberg took his skills of satire to television as an ad man in the 60s, developing some of the most iconic commercials of the era, like this brilliant one with dancer Ann Miller for Campbell's Soup.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Richie Havens--Freedom (1969)/Here Comes The Sun (1971)

     Richie Havens died this past Monday (4/22) at the age of 71 of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey. The last couple of years he had been dealing with poor health after a kidney transplant in 2010, although just retiring from performing last year. He had spent many years as an activist and educator on the subject of the environment, especially to children, but his fame was sealed due to his performance at Woodstock in 1969.
     Havens was born in Brooklyn in 1941, the oldest of nine children. Even at an early age he had an interest in the arts, having sung on many a street corner with his schoolmates hoping to be heard. In 1961, he moved to Greenwich Village to attempt to link up with others of like mind artistically. At first he wasn't inclined to perform, settling to write poetry and painting. Once he did pick up a guitar and start singing, it didn't talk long for him to be the talk of the village, which prompted Albert Grossman, who at the time was managing Bob Dylan to approach Richie about signing with him. He did, and soon had a contract with the Verve Forecast label.
     His first album, "Mixed Bag" was released in 1967 which was the first of six (!!) albums released between then and 1969. What he was becoming known for however was his spellbinding live performances. This landed him as the opening act at Woodstock in 1969.
     He certainly had enough material to perform, what was not planned however was the crowds. No one had predicted, much less planned for the tens of thousands who started showing up. This caused a massive bottleneck which caused not only delays for the concert goers, but for the performers as well who were having to be brought in by helicopter to fulfill their obligations to perform. With no other choice, Havens kept the crowds enthralled for three hours with several encores. Finally however, he was out of songs, this led him to improvise a song based on the old spiritual, "Motherless Child", what happened next was nothing short of musical magic.

      The live performance and subsequent movie catapulted his fame not only here in the US but also around the world. He actually only had one hit on the charts, and that was a cover of the George Harrison penned, "Here Comes The Sun" which reached the top 20 in 1971. Although he never stopped singing or releasing albums, Richie instead used his newly found fame to educate others about ecological issues. In the mid-70's he co-founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic museum for children in the Bronx. Throughout the rest of his life, he continued touring and investing his time and energy on a series of environmental pursuits.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Otis Redding/Aretha Franklin--Respect (1965/1967)

    Musical covers can be a bit of an art form in itself. Just because someone records a song for the first time doesn't make it the definitive version of that song, although because it's first, it often is recognized as such.  The following is a song where the original were amazing, but the cover far surpassed it. Many may not realize that Franklin's version of 'Respect' WAS the cover. It's reaching those heights had as much to do with time and place as it did singer.
      Otis Redding wrote the song for Speedo Sims and his group, the Singing Demons. At this point it was essentially a ballad, but as the group went into the Muscle Shoals studio, they had difficulty creating the vision that Redding had hoped, so he asked for permission from Sims to record the song himself, which Sims did. It was included on his 1965 album, "Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul" and the single went to #4 on the R&B charts, and #35 on the Hot 100.
     On hearing this version of the song, one hears a man who will give anything to his woman. Even if she is unfaithful, it will be fine as long as he gets his 'respect' when he gets home. Of course, 'respect' here is a euphemism, but you get the drift.....
     It was producer Jerry Wexler who brought the song to Aretha Franklin's attention. He thought that it would be a great showcase for her vocal talents. Franklin had just signed with Atlantic Records, and her association with Wexler had already netted the singer her first top 10 hit, "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)".  What happened with her recording of "Respect" however, is one of those wonderful musical stories that could never have been predicted.
     In Aretha's hands, the lyrics became a strident, declaration of liberation not only as a person of color, but more importantly (at least from a cultural standpoint) as a woman. She has everything that her man could ever want, so she wants 'respect" in the most real sense of the word. The woman's liberation movement was beginning to come out from the shadows, and the song summed up the feeling of many who felt their lives were being directed without permission by their men, and in this context, by society as a whole.  
     The song from a musical standpoint was a tour de force. Franklin sounded as liberated musically as the lyrics demanded she must be socially. What sealed the deal with the addition of a musical bridge provided by King Curtis' tenor sax. It became her first number one, and thrust her into the limelight once and for all, but more importantly the song became the social and cultural touchstone of that decade. For that alone, it deserves "respect" for one of the great songs of the modern musical era.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

John Fred & His Playboy Band--Judy in Disguise (With Glasses) (1967)

     A few days ago we looked at Louisiana's LeRoux (, a band out of Baton Rouge. One could debate this, but they might not have been the most successful band from that city. Let's consider John Fred & His Playboy Band.
     John Fred Gourrier came from a sports family. His father Fred played baseball for the Detroit Tigers organization from 1931-1935 and John Fred seemingly inherited his father's athleticism, playing college baseball and basketball for Louisiana State University, and Southeastern Louisiana University. His other love however was music, and by the time he was 15 had put together a band. John Fred & the Playboys played around the Baton Rouge area and even cut a record in 1958, with Fats Domino's band. "Shirley" reached #82 on the Hot 100 and gave the now 17 year old a taste of success early.
     During the early 60's, he kept the group going while attending college, but after 1963 put his full time effort into the band. His blue-eyed soul style was a huge hit in the Southern Louisiana area, but several singles recorded went nowhere. After six tries, they recorded, "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" which was written as a parody of The Beatles, "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds". It was put out on the small Paula label, and soon it caught fire soaring to #1 that year.
    The flip side to this success however, was the band was perceived as a novelty band, and as they attempted to capitalize on the million selling single by continuing to play their mix of blue eyed soul, R&B, and Swamp Pop, they quickly went back to relative obscurity. Their follow up, "Hey, Hey, Bunny" went to #57 on the charts, which was the last time they would seen there again.
     The song would continue a life of it's own in the eternity that is oldies radio, but folks in the south delta can still remember songs like, "When the Lights Go Out" from the 1968 album, "Agnes English"
       The band continued in various forms until 1976 when John Fred called in a career and became a record producer, coached high school basketball and baseball, and would play in the occasional concert. He was also known for a successful radio show, "The Roots of Rock and Roll".  He passed away from complications after a kidney transplant in 2005 at the age of 63.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Connie Francis--Who's Sorry Now (1958)

    Connie Francis looked down at the letter in her hand. It was an acceptance letter from New York University offering her a four year scholarship. She was ready to turn her back on what was thought at one time to have been a promising singing career to pursue something a bit more stable. Her contract with MGM was almost up...8 solo singles, and one duet with Marvin Rainwater which had just scraped into the top 100 at #93. It seemed that at the age of 19 her entertainment career was ending before it even really began.
     Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero had been performing since the age of four, playing the accordion and singing. She had even had a reoccurring part on the NBC children's show, "Startime Kids" from 1953 to 1955. During this time she made an appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. It was here that Godfrey suggested she change her name to Connie Francis, and also to ditch the accordion. She did both with no hesitation.
     She signed a recording contract with MGM records for 10 records. The first 8 were flops, and then there was the duet with Rainwater which did better, but not enough for the company to choose to renew their contract with her.
     So she had pretty much decided to move on. She had graduated from Belleville (N.J.) High School in 1955 as a salutatorian and NYU was ready to offer her a free ride. To add to her disappointment, her dad kept pestering her about recording a song that he remembered called, "Who's Sorry Now". Francis hated the song, thinking it was too old for teens her age. Her dad on the other hand, remembered that it had been a hit with his generation, and in a contemporary setting, he thought teens could dance to it as well.
     This disagreement went well into the recording session on October 2, 1957. Connie had been set up to record several songs with one being chosen for release. The first three were recorded and even while the tape was running, the daughter and father were arguing about the song. With almost no time left, she put down the master of the song. When released, it did what the previous 9 songs had done. What could not have been predicted however was on Jan. 1, 1958, Dick Clark played the song on American Bandstand. By the summer the song had sold over a million copies and Connie Francis was a star, with the song finally peaking at #4 on the charts.
     It was the beginning of a very successful stretch for the singer having a total of 26 songs in the top 40 from 1958-1964 including two number 1's: "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You" (1962) and "My Heart Has a Mind Of It's Own" (1960).

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sunday Morning Vault: Louisiana's LeRoux--New Orleans Ladies (1978)

    A couple of days ago, I asked my wife the question, "Was there a local band that everyone listened to when you were a kid". She is from Southern Mississippi, but was heavily influenced by music which came from New Orleans which is just 90 minutes to the West. Her answer was immediate, "Louisiana's LeRoux". I have to admit total ignorance to the group, which of course piqued my interest
     They began from the remnants of a group called the Levee band in 1977, who had backed Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Clifton Chenier. They first called themselves The Jeff Pollard Band, then Louisana's LeRoux (it would be later shortened to LeRoux). The group first consisted of Jeff Pollard (vocals, guitar), David Peters, (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Leon Medica (bass, backing vocals), Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars), Rod Roddy (keys, synths, vocals), Bobby Campo (horns, violin, percussion, vocals). They quickly scored a contract with Capitol and went to work on their first album.
     That album, "Louisiana's LeRoux", spawned the single, "New Orleans Ladies" which reached #59 on the US charts, but at least in their home base, it became their signature song. They released a couple more well received albums, but it wasn't until the 1982 album, "Last Safe Place" that they hit big with the single, "Nobody Said It Was Easy" which reached the top 20 (#18) and it looked as thought the future was bright for the band.
     However after a couple more singles which reached the bottom rungs of the top 100, Campo and Pollard both left the band. They faded from view until the 2000 release of the album, "Ain't Nothing But a Gris Gris" which showed a group that was still musically strong. You can check out their big hit, but at least for a generation of girls in the late 70's/early 80's this song became the band's theme.
You can read a lot more about this great band here:

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Inez & Charlie Foxx--Mockingbird (1963)

     Most people my age remember the song, "Mockingbird" as sung by Carly Simon and James Taylor in 1973 that version reached number 5. Forms of the song has been covered by artists from Dusty Springfield to Toby Keith, but the song had it's start much earlier.
     It's origins come from a lullaby called "Hush, Little Baby", which was to have been thought to been written here in the states. It goes as follows:

  Hush, little baby, don't say a word,
Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird won't sing,
Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring.

And if that diamond ring turns brass,
Papa's gonna buy you a looking glass.

And if that looking glass gets broke,
Papa's gonna buy you a billy goat,

And if that billy goat don't pull,
Papa's gonna buy you a cart and bull.

And if that cart and bull turn over,
Papa's gonna buy you a dog named Rover.

And if that dog named Rover won't bark,
Papa's gonna buy you a horse and cart.

And if that horse and cart fall down,
You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

     Inez Foxx and her brother Charlie arranged this lullaby and sang it for Henry Murray the owner of Sue Records in New York City. He loved it and after a change of title to, "Mockingbird" it was recorded and released in the fall of 1963. It became by far the biggest hit the duo ever had reaching #7 on the charts.

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Peter Frampton--Show Me The Way (1975/1976)

      "Frampton Comes Alive" was simultaneously one of the best albums of the late 70's, and also one of the most overplayed. I remember buying the album and at first loving it, but with it being played ALL the time on AM and FM radio (when they were not playing Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors"), it soon grew dust on my shelf. Although it made him into a superstar, it also pretty much summed up his career as the subsequent studio albums fell into the laid back vibe of the albums before "Comes Alive". That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but he has always been a superior performer on stage, and the his studio work never truly caught fire in the same way. On the other hand, most musicians would give a digit to have an album that sold as well.
     Peter Frampton had been a guitar wiz and singer from an early age and attracted attention as a member of The Herd as early as 1966 (at the age of 16). Three years later, he was asked by former Small Faces leader, Steve Marriott to start a new group, thus was born Humble Pie. His star in Britain continued to rise as did his popularity with other musicians as well. He was on several popular albums at the time, including George Harrison's, "All Things Must Pass" in 1970. It was during those sessions that he was introduced to the voice box, a guitar effect that would help form his signature sound.
     He left to go solo in 1971 and released his first album, "Winds of Change" in 1972. Over the next four years, he released four albums in which he began to refine his sound. All of these albums are suggested, if for no other reason than to hear the studio versions of the songs that he made famous in 1976. "Show Me the Way" was on his "Frampton" album released in 1975. Here is that version:
     One of the things that you notice in listening is that he has a very pleasurable, melodic voice, but it seemed to miss something....a "fire" if you will. This is interesting to note because at the same time, he was gaining a solid reputation for his live shows. This led A&M to take a huge risk by releasing a double live album. This from an artist who's star was rising, but was far from a solid commodity ("Frampton" had reached #35 on the album charts). The risk payed off in a huge way as it sold 6 million copies in 1976 alone. The single reached #6 on the Hot 100.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Four Preps--26 Miles (Santa Catalina) (1958)

     I guess it was a carry-over from my parents who were a bit older than my peers' (Dad was 43, Mom 39 when I was born), but the music that floated around my house was more the music of the late40's, early/middle 50's than rock and roll. Because of that, I've always have had an affinity for that kind of music as well. One of the song's that has never left my memory was one by the Four Preps.
     Like many groups of that era, they met in High School. Hollywood High School in this case. Bruce Belland, Ed Cobb, Marv Ingram, and Glen Lawson were signed to a record deal in 1956 after a talent scout heard them at a school talent show. They had a minor hit that year with a song called, "Dreamy Eyes" early in 1957, but the rest of that year consisted of them finding the right material as the next six singles stiffed.
     1958 opened strong for them however as "26 Miles" was released and became their biggest hit, reaching #2 on the charts. The song began as lead singer Belland broke his ankle, and while recovering began to fool around a bit with a ukulele. He began playing four chords which eventually became the opening and basis for the song. Bruce and Glen Lawson wrote the lyrics.
     It's follow up, "Big Man" almost did as well that same year, reaching number 3. They continued to chart, although not with the same success up until 1964. The group continues to tour today with Bruce Belland continuing to sing lead and can be found here:

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Samantha Fox--Touch Me (1986)

      From the earliest days of media in the 20th century, artists have attempted to cross over artistic mediums. From radio and records into movies, and later into TV, there has been attempted to "do it all". From Bing Crosby to Elvis to Rick Nelson to John Travolta to Miley Cyrus...there has been a fascination from those in other medias to attempt (?) to sing.
     Which brings us to Samantha Fox. There had been those had been a model turned singer before. The first which comes to mind is Andrea True who had a hit with, "More More, More" in 1976. Of course, some might argue that True actually fell in the category of movie star (well, at least if your forte was Porn). Given that, Samantha Fox then might be one of the first who became a hit singer after becoming a star as a model.
     Those who remember Fox might be surprised to know that she was a singer first. She had been on the stage before beginning school and had made her first appearance on TV at the age of ten. By 1980, at the age of 14 she had formed her own rock band and had been making a few recordings. It was in 82' however that her fortunes changed in a way that had nothing to do with music.
     Her mom had photographed her in lingerie for an amateur modeling contest run by The Sunday People newspaper. She came in second and drew the attention of The Sun newspaper who is famous for their "page six" girls. By 1984 at the age of 18 she had her first topless photo on "page six" and for the next three years became one of the most famous models in Britain   
     Her mind was never far from music however, and in 86' she retired from her role as the UK's top model to concentrate on her singing career. Signing with Jive Records that same year, she recorded five albums over the next six years. Three singles became top 10 hits in America. "Touch Me" in 86, "Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)", and "I Wanna Have Some Fun" both in 1988. Her star faded considerably by the early 90's, but it still a well known quantity in her homeland.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Four Seasons--Rag Doll (1964)

    It was just a few days before their next tour, and songwriter Bob Gaudio was headed to finish work on a new single for The Four Seasons. In the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City, it was not unusual at stop lights for the poor to come out and clean your windshield while you wait in exchange for some change. This time wasn't any different except this time a poor scruffy girl literally dressed in rags came to clean his windshield. When she finished, as the light turned green, Bob stuck his hand in his pocket to produce some change, but all he had were bills. Moving quickly to allow traffic to continue moving (this WAS New York City), he grabbed the smallest bill he could grab, a ten-dollar bill.
     Only used to change, the young woman looked at him, astonished. As the look remained on her face as he drove off, it didn't leave his thoughts as he continued to work. By the time he reached the studio he had already been rolling lyrics around in his mind, and as he continued that day working on the song with Bob Crewe, it occurred to them that they might have a hit on their hands. The Four Seasons had fared better than many American groups during that early first wave of the British invasion, but had not had a number 1 hit since, "Walk Like a Man" over a year before.
     By the time the song was done, it was Sunday and the regular studio was closed. The next day they were to be off on tour. Another single was in the can and scheduled for release, but Crewe and Gaudio was so convinced this song should be the one released, that they called the rest of the group in, called in production guys who they were not familiar with, and got access to the basement of a Manhattan demo studio to cut the single. The result was another #1 hit for The Four Seasons, and arguably the best single they ever recorded.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

The Four Freshman--Graduation Day (1956)

     On hearing the song, "Graduation Day" by the Four Freshman, it's hard to distinguish them from many of the other male quartets during their day. However, their sound overall was more complex, and the group much more of an entertainment act than just the combination of their voices. For us here at the bus, they are remembered as an example of musicians who prove that you never know who you might be influencing along the way. It was those voices, and harmonies that would be heard for decades afterward because of one man: Brian Wilson .
     Just like any teenager of his day, Wilson was enthused and excited over the sounds coming out of the radio, especially Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. However, the Four Freshman utterly fascinated him. Not just the combination of voices, but how they could be so tightly packed between them, but still with the freedom born of jazz musicians to take those harmonies and meander about with them.
     The group itself began in the late 40's and that era of music continued to inform their music throughout the 50's. Pop laced with jazz overtones was complimented with a series of singers (22 combinations in their history) who were also all multi-instrumentalists which allowed for a myriad of different combinations. They had a polished stage act which was also an influence on 60's groups like, Spanky and Our Gang, and later in the 70's with Manhattan Transfer.
     Because they were as much an entertainment package as they were straight up pop singers their influence went much farther than most of their peers.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Four Tops--Keeper of the Castle/Ain't No Woman Like the One I Got (1972)

     It had been a common refrain from those artists who had a proud legacy with Motown. The late 60's saw major shifts in what was a hit making machine out of Detroit. As with any musical style it is subject to the whims of the buying public, and much of the formula that churned out hit after hit had begun to break down as the Holland/Dozer/Holland songwriting team left to form their own label.
     Several groups like the Temptations and The Four Tops began to experiment with more psychedelic forms that fit with the late 60's. New songwriters such as Ashford & Simpson, Norman Whitfield, and Johnny Bristol began to emerge with a new pop/soul sound.  Artists with more clout such as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder began to bring new forms of the black experience and it's expression  to the Motown label. which although popular with the public, did not impress Label president Berry Gordy who had become fixated on newer groups like The Jackson Five, Rare Earth, and a newly solo Diana Ross. With this began a slow shift from Detroit to Los Angeles which culminated in an announcement in 1972 that all operations were to move there, as was the artists. 
     The Four Tops were not interested in moving. Having felt neglected by the label for the past several years, they chose to break away from Motown and signed with ABC-Dunhill. This sparked a renaissance within the group and 1972 became one of the best years they had since their salad days in Detroit. The first hit was "Keeper of the Castle" which although neglected by oldies radio was a breath of fresh music air in 1972, with singer Levi Stubbs showing once again why his voice was a distinctive one through-out the previous decade. The second hit of the year was, "Ain't No Woman Like the One I Got" which Stubbs was joined in co-lead spots by the rest of the Tops. "Ain't No Woman" was their last top five hit. Although never having another big hit, they continued to record throughout the 70's and from the 80's until the middle of this past decade toured the country with The Temptations in a very successful partnership.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

The Four Coins--Shangri-La (1957)

     As you remember from the post a couple of days ago, I mentioned that Philadelphia was a hotbed for pop all through the 50's. One place that has a rich heritage of music in the same state was Pittsburgh. As early as 1952, cousins George Mantalis, Jim Gregorakis, and George Mahramas were singing harmonies behind singer and friend Bobby Vinton on gigs with the "Band of Tomorrow" Orchestra. The boys added George's brother Michael, and went on their own singing harmonies in clubs around the area as The Four Keys. They signed with a local record company and recorded a few sides, but things began to change when they secured an audition with agent Danny Kessler (who was managing Johnny Ray at the time). Kessler came on as a manager, and soon got them a record deal with Epic in 1954.
     Having changed their names to The Four Coins, the group released, "We'll Be Married" in August of 1954 and began a string of hits that lasted until the late 50's. Shangri-la reached #11 in 1957 and was the groups biggest hit. In 1959 Michael went to pursue and acting career with another brother, Jack, replacing him. This formation of the group were together until 1965. The three Mahramas toured from the mid-60's until 1970 as, "The Original Three Coins" and then later "Brothers James".
     The group reformed in 2003 and continue to tour today.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Four Jacks and a Jill--Master Jack (1968)

     The early beginnings of this South African group go back as far as 1962. Over the course of the next three years there would be groups with names like, The Atoms, The Nevadas and The Zombies (no relation to the group with Rod Argent). and shuffling of band members as well. The "Jill" portion of the group came in the form of Glenys Mynott. She had been singing since the age of 12 and had a recording contract with Luxurama Records as a part of the contract, she was to be accompanied on the road by The Zombies as a backing band.
     It wasn't long before what was just a pairing became an actual group. It also precipitated a change of musical style from the rock and roll of it's day (1965), and a more laid back pop/folk sound, and a change of name as well to Four Jacks and a Jill. Their first single in January 1966 was, "Johnny Come Lately" which broke all existing records for sales in South Africa. Other songs sold even more and established them as the predominate group in the country.
     It wasn't until, "Master Jack" that the band broke through in the states. The song to American ears sounds odd, but in South Africa, "Master Jack" was a name used by some for a foreman in the mines. The story tells of a common laborer who works for years under his boss, then leaves as he desires for something greater than just working in the mines all of his life.
     The song reached #16 on the charts in the spring/summer of 1968, with it's follow up, "Mister Nico" barely cracking the top 100 later that year. Guitarist and leader Clive Harding married Glenys in 1968 and after successfully continuing to tour, broke the group up 1983 after deciding to record gospel music. They have since reunited and you can see their website here:

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Four Aces--Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

     Before Dick Clark and American Bandstand brought Italian-American male singers to the forefront, the city of brotherly love was already a hub of pop music in the early 50's. One of the most popular of these groups was The Four Aces.
     Founded by Navy shipmates, Al Alberts and Dave Mahoney, they brought in Lou Silvesrtri and Sol Vaccaro to round out the group. They could not find a distributor for their first single, "It's A Sin", so Alberts made his own Victoria record label. It became a hit and a million seller. By the end of the year Decca signed them and they were truly on their way.
     The song itself came from a 1955 movie starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones. Written by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, the song won one of the three Oscars that went to the film. It was recorded by many that year, (which was a normal practice) by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Jerry Vale, but it was this recording which went to #2 and is considered the definitive version.
     With the advent of rock and roll, the groups fortunes began to wain, and by 1959 the hits stopped coming, however the group with Alberts at the helm, continue to tour across the country.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Goodnight Annette.....

     Annette Funicello passed away yesterday at the age of 70. She had been battling Multiple Sclerosis since 1992. and her cheerful yet steely determination in the face of the disease had made her a hero to the many millions and their families who deal with it. For many baby boomers it just reminded them why they had fallen in love with her in the first place.
     She was born Utica, NY in 1942 and after World War II, they moved to Southern California. Her parents put her in dance and music lessons, as much to overcome shyness than anything else. It was there that, during a performance of "Swan Lake" that Walt Disney was looking for young talent for his upcoming children's program, "The Mickey Mouse Club" discovered her. She was not only the last one chosen, but one of the few personally picked by Disney himself. He was very protective of her and her image, this manifested himself later in her singing career and in the Beach movies with Frankie Avalon.
     Her perky innocence and beauty caught the eye of a whole generation of teenaged boys as American got to watch her grow up on their screens. This even extended to other artists as well. For a short time a young Paul Anka dated, but between Disney's protective care and just the amount of work she was doing, it never got off the ground. It did however, give a heartbroken Anka the inspiration to write one his biggest hits, "Puppy Love".
     The "Club" also gave her a start in the music business. She was never excited about this part of her career as she never saw herself as a singer, but because of her popularity on the TV screen, and the talents of producer Tutti Camarata (double tracking vocals can be a beautiful thing) gave her several top 40 hits. She left Disney to do a series of "Beach Party" movies with Frankie Avalon from 1963-65. Those children who watched her grow up on the club, were now enthusiastic fans of the grown up Annette, but even then she (thanks to some advice from Disney) showed taste in how she was seen in onscreen romances, and in her swimwear.
      As time went on, she settled in as a wife, mother, and occasional pitchwoman (I grew up watching her in Skippy peanut butter ads), but in doing a comeback movie, a spoof of 60's beach movies again co-starring with Avalon called, "Back to the Beach" she began having problems with her equilibrium. In seeing a doctor, she was diagnosed with MS. Those problems with walking began rumors that she was having problems with alcohol, so rather than withdraw, she came out nationally with her illness, and soon became a spokesperson for the fight against the disease.
     Unless you grew up in the late 50/early 60's, it's hard to imagine her impact. Her influence was as much about who she was than what she did, but in an age where parents still felt very threatened (real or imagined) about rock and roll and negative Hollywood images. She was a willing role model for a generation of boys who wanted to date someone like her (only for a Coke or maybe to a dance however), or girls who wanted to be her. Below you can find clips from her career and a special interview with her and Avalon.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

The Fondations--Baby, Now That I Found You (1967)/Build Me Up Buttercup (1968)

     The Foundations had an all too brief run on the charts between 1967 and 69, but their influence went beyond what would be expect of a 60's singles band. Part of this was due to the background of the band. The members were from the West Indies, Britain, and Sri Lanka and the instrumental make up of the group were informed much more by Motown than anything on the UK scene.
     The band came together in early 1967 as they practiced, performed, and lived (for a while) at the Butterfly Club in London. After being signed to a contract, the single, "Baby, Now That I Found You" was released and went nowhere. Fortunately for the band, BBC had just started BBC 1 radio which was to play more modern hits. The station was attempting to avoid playing the same songs that was being played on pirate radio offshore, and would look over station playlists to find records that might have been missed. "Baby, Now That I Found You" was one of those, so with the song going into heavy rotation on the BBC, it pushed the single to the number 1 spot in the UK and number 11 in the US top 40.
     The band released a couple of other hits that did reasonably well in the UK, but in 1968, their lead singer, Clem Curtis left for a solo career. He stuck around long enough to help find his replacement, Colin Young, also from the West Indies. With Young singing lead, the group recorded, "Build Me Up Buttercup" later that year which reach the #2 spot in Britain and became their biggest hit in American, soaring up to #3.
     After "Buttercup", the band had a couple more minor offerings before breaking up in 1970. Curtis returned to the UK in 71 and put together a reformed version of the band up to the end of that decade. Today guitarist Alan Warner has a version of The Foundations which can be found here: Clem Curtis and his version of the band can be found here:

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

David Foster--Love Theme From St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

     You know, for such a lousy movie,  (and for all who might have 'Brat Pack' revisionist history, 'St. Elmo's Fire WAS a lousy movie) there was some pretty good music that came out of it. The two most memorable were written by Canadian composer David Foster, "St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)" which was sung by John Parr, and it's "Love Theme".
      Foster however has been writing and performing his own music since the early 70's with Canadian groups. The first of those, "Skylark" actually had a top 40 hit with the song, "Wildflower" (#9--1973). Along with studio musician Jay Graydon, they formed the band Airplay who's probably best known for writing and performing the original version of, "After the Love Has Gone" which would later be made famous by Earth, Wind & Fire.
     In the 80's, he turned to writing with some impressive credits such as "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" and "You're the Inspiration" by Chicago, "Who's Holding Donna Now" by DeBarge, "The Best of Me" by Olivia Newton-John, and "The Glory Of Love" by Peter Cetera.
     Although he never stopped composing the last 20 years has also seen him adding producing to his credits producing artists such as Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Brandy,  Josh Groban and many others.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Fortunes--You've Got Your Troubles (1965)/ Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again (1971)

     During the mid-60's there were a host of British bands who took advantage of the walls knocked down by the Beatles' breakthrough in the states in 1964. These bands (and songs) were many times catchy tunes but  they might not have had a proper hearing except for the fact that by 1965 the popular US listeners were clamoring for anything from the UK.
     The Fortunes began their history as the Cliftones in 1963. They were signed to British Decca records that year and released a series of singles over the next two years that went nowhere. The first breakthrough for the group was also their charting song: "You've Got Your Troubles"
    The song reached #2 in the UK and #7 in the states. The two follow-ups "Here It Comes Again" (UK-#4, US #27) and "This Golden Ring" (UK #14, US#82) showed the band not able to continue it's successes, at least here in the state. A label change from Decca to United Artists in 1967 didn't help from the group's downhill slide.
     They spend the next couple of years floundering with different formulas, attempting to recapture past glories. It was a move to Capitol records in the early 70's that began to change things. Although not charting in the UK at all, "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling" was released in 1971 and reached #15 on the charts making them more than a one hit wonder, although because of the 6 years between hits, many don't realize that both songs are by the same group.
     The group continues to tour although it's lead singer Rod Allen, who was the only remaining original member of the band died in 2008. You can find more on them here:

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Foreigner--I Want To Know What Love Is (1984)

     I've always thought of Foreigner as a 70's band, and why not. The band's first album was released in 1977 and immediately cracked the top ten with, "Feels Like The First Time"(#4) and "Cold As Ice"(#6) . The next year saw even great success with the release of "Double Vision"(#2)  and "Hot Blooded" (#3). They were one of the few 70's bands that had as great of success with FM fans as with top 40 (although by this time the lines between two were blurring)
     The six piece group,named because three of it's members (Mick Jones, Ian McDonald, Dennis Elliott ) were British, and three were American, (Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood, Ed Gagliardi), were riding high on the charts even as the next decade turned. The album, "Head Games" did well but the singles off of the album didn't do quite as well. The 1981 album, "4" was the first to go number one and the songs, "Urgent" (#4) and "Waiting For a Girl Like You" (#2) brought them back to top 40 prominence. By 1983, it began to look as if the group might be running out of steam. The musical landscape had changed drastically over the previous few years, but the first single from the 1984 album, "Agent Provocateur" changed all of that
      "I Want To Know What Love Is", written by Mick Jones, with assistance by Lou Gramm (exactly how much assistance depends on which artist you ask) and was a distinct turn from anything they had released before. The distinct vocals of Gramm were there, however the musical backing were almost dreamlike with backing by The New Jersey Mass Choir. The change of pace was enough not only to give Foreigner their first top 40 hit in two years, but their first and only #1.
      Although the last top 40 hits were in the late 80's, Foreigner continues to tour and record although Jones is the last remaining original member. In fact, in 2010 the song, "In Pieces" hit #21 on the Adult Contemporary charts. You can find more about them at: . Lou Gramm's website is here:

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tennessee Ernie Ford--Sixteen Tons (1955)

     Ernest Ford was born in Bristol Tennessee in 1919 and grew up blessed with a rich baritone voice that was good enough for him to be accepted to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1939. World War II interrupted that education and on the end of the war found that his deep resonant voice was sought after by radio stations. He worked at a couple of stations on the west coast, and it was there he developed a hillbilly persona called, "Tennessee Ernie".
     He also would tour as a singer/personality with regional country artists of the day as far east as Texas. It was one of these tours that a talent scout from Capitol records signed him to a contract in 1949. That year he also became host of a syndicated radio show called, "Hometown Jamboree" which eventually was heard over all of Southern California.
     Over the course of the late 40's/early 50's, he had seventeen top 20 hits on the country charts with eight making it to the pop charts as well. It was a song made popular by Merle Travis that would propel him to superstardom.
     "Sixteen Tons" has been claimed to have been written by George S. Davis, a folk singer/songwriter and coal miner from Kentucky in the late 30's as, "nine-to-ten tons". It has generally been attributed however to Merle Travis (who's grew up in a coal mining family as well) who recorded it in 1946 as, "Sixteen Tons". It told the travails of a poor family who was caught in a system where the coal mining companies would literally own a town, so because of low wages, families would have to buy on credit to stores which were owned by the companies. This created a situation which amounted to indentured servitude where the men of the family would literally be trapped into finding a better job or better situation for them and their families.
     Ford's musical director, Jack Fascinato came up with a unique musical arraignment which was lead by a solo clarinet. That, with Ford's baritone, and finger snaps lent a somber feel in a musical world which at that time was full of upbeat, fluff tunes. It soared to number one on both the country and pop charts. It was his last country #1 and he never really had a big hit again. Some could point to the advent of rock and roll for this, but the real reason I believe was that his focus changed from selling records to television.
     He was host of his own television show from 1956 to 1961, and then with a local San Francisco show from 62-65. He remained a guest host on shows throughout the 60's and 70's was well as a spokesman for different companies (most notably the Pontiac Furniture Company). His ability to sing however was compromised many years by his increasing alcoholism and passed in 1991 of liver failure.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lita Ford--Kiss Me Deadly/Close My Eyes Forever (1988)

     When The Runaways broke up in the early 1979, the focus went to the careers of Cherie Currie and then a couple of years later to Joan Jett as both went solo. Lead guitarist Lita Ford took some time to continue working on her singing skills and released her first solo album, "Out For Blood" in 1983 and a follow up, "Dancin' On The Edge". Neither made the kind of impact that Ford had hoped for, so she went to work with Tony Iommi as producer on her next album. Both were pleased with the result, but for some reason that has still to be explained, the album was never released. This led Ford to make a change that would have a huge impact on her career.
     She signed a contract with RCA Records, and hired Sharon Osbourne Management to help rebuild her career. Osbourne had gained a lot of respect in the industry for her no nonsense, take no prisoners approach having rebuild her husband Ozzy's career. Ford began to streamline her hard rock approach that melded with the pop/metal that was being heard on the radio. This coupled with her decision to produce her own album resulted in "Lita" which gave her the two biggest hits of her career.
     "Kiss Me Deadly" was released in 1988 and reached #12 on the charts. Early in 89', "Close My Eyes Forever", a duet with Ozzy Osbourne hit #8. She has released four albums since then, the most recent being "Living Like a Runaway" in 2012. You can find out more by going to:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Frankie Ford--Sea Cruise (1959)

     Frankie Ford is what we would call a lifer. He began singing in talent shows and the like from the age of five and has never looked back. He was the adoptive son of Vincent and Anna Guzzo of Gretna Louisiana from an early age showed an assertiveness and charisma that served him well all of his life and foresaw his life as an entertainer.
     He was signed to Ace records and his first song, "Cheatin Woman" became a local hit. It was it's follow up, "Sea Cruise" which hit big nationally. The song which was sung over a pre-recorded track by Huey "Piano" Smith (who wrote it) went to number 14 in the spring of 1959 and made Frankie a star.
     He reached the bottom reaches of the chart over the next two years (the highest charting was, "Seventeen" in 1961 at #72), until his going into the Army in 1962 put an end to his life on the hot 100. He continued to entertain while in the military and on his release, sang on a fairly long list of local record labels throughout the next 30 years. He continues to live in the town where he grew up and tours up to 200 dates a year. You can find him at: 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Steve Forbert--Romeo's Tune (1979)

      If you were to define Steve Forbert today, it would probably be listed under the all-encompassing tent that is Americana music. He has been called a folk singer, or even earlier just categorized as a singer-songwriter. No matter what genre you put him in, Steve has had a long and successful career, even if this song defines him to most listeners.
     He has been nominated for a Grammy in 2004 for a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, and has written music in support of the Occupy Wall St. movement, as well as a song ("Sandy") to raise awareness of the devastating hurricane and it's aftermath. Many of his albums since going in a pop rock/folk/country vein in 1985, has been very influential to other singers and songwriters, if not the general public.
     But it's always been that way with Steve as his strong poetic lyrics were evident from his first album release, "Alive on Arrival" in 1978. It was the second disc though that put him on the map. "Jackrabbit Slim" (1979) and the single from that album was a distinctive sound on the charts as opposed to the disco/punk/new wave that was being heard at that time. It was one of those moments that I've written about before where an artist's song crosses paths for just a moment with public tastes, before they continue on their paths, never to cross again.
     The song reached #11 on the charts, and a follow up barely cracked the top 100. Other than a role (as her boyfriend) in Cindi Lauper's video for  "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", most top 40 listeners never heard of him again. However, 14 years later, Forbert continues to craft strong albums and influence a generation of songwriters and performers.
     You can read more about him and his latest album here: