Bobby Hebb wrote "Sunny" in response to personal and national tragedy
You can never go wrong by giving me the gift of a book. I love to read, and in particular I love to read biographies of great musicians, or other music-related books. There were a number of excellent music books published in 2015. I’ve picked out a few here in the hope that it will serve as something of a gift- giving guide for the music-loving reader in your life.
While you can get these titles online, or at big book chain store, let me suggest that you support your local bookseller. They’re a vanishing breed, and much like the local record store, they very much need our support to keep going.
Rob Smith remembers his father, in his new "Vinyl Diaries" column.
In conjunction with this interview, one very fortunate reader is going to win a treasure trove of Four Seasons and Four Seasons-related music. The prize package includes:
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons – The Classic Albums Box.This massive set includes 18 CDs of the albums that the group recorded between 1962-1992.
Jersey Boys: Music From the Motion Picture and Broadway Musical. Producer Bob Gaudio pulled together a compilation of original Four Seasons recordings and blended them with recordings by cast members from the musical, and the film for this collection.
Audio With a G: Sounds of a Jersey Boy, The Music of Bob Gaudio. This two-disc compilation includes songs that Gaudio wrote over the years. Aside from the Four Seasons, other artists in the collection include Frank Sinatra, the Walker Brothers, Diana Ross, and the Temptations.
Holmes and Dunphy take on the revival of a true music icon in 1973.
Before We Was Fab checks in for the first time with the Chairman of the Board, circa 1955.
In which we look at once common curiosities of pop culture that don’t exist anymore, be it because of changing tastes, the fragmentation of culture, or merely the fickle nature of fads. Teen idols come and go, but the concept never leaves us, because there will
Lots of musicians decide they are famous and attractive enough to act, but it takes a special kind of hubris to take a break from making music to direct a movie. Sometimes it works out, as with the fruitful horror filmmaking career of Rob Zombie,
You can either nuzzle up in the bosom of St. Valentine this evening, kids, or you can stick your head in it and slowly suffocate. But wait. Tomorrow's another date and it ain't Valentine's Day, sweetie.
It's been a rough summer for a lot of people out there, so let Popdose provide just a small pick-me-up for everyone.
The Chairman of the Board is not finished, by a long shot.
Dave Lifton fills in for Leslie Liberatore for this week's Song for the Soundtrack of Your Date (No Date).
As our Time-Life "AM Gold" series rolls on with the next batch of tunes from 1964, let's all take a moment to recognize the genius of the Bacharach/David team.
And now, the latest rantings from the crazy, fucked-up world of America’s creepiest music and technology blogger/gadfly.
Last night I read an article about Five Guys Burgers.
They don’t implore you to have it your way, they do it their way. However, Five Guys does allow you to choose from a modicum of toppings, a veritable no-no at In-N-Out…
Bob, “modicum” essentially means “the bare minimum.” Five Guys offers 15 toppings and condiments, so you can’t have it your way, but you can have infinite variations of toppings. Christ, we’re only three sentences in and already you’ve missed the point.
You can’t even get milk at Five Guys. Why? Because kids hate milk…
I think you’re confusing kids with cats again.
Even the writer gave up his vegetarian status to indulge.
The writer of the piece is a woman, Karen Wiese.
And now we come to the especially sweet portion of our program. This week’s batch of songs are here to show you that no matter how much turmoil may have been going on in the real world in ’63, everything was just A-OK on AM radio. So put your headphones on and your cares away, and come back with us once again to the world of Time-Life’s AM Gold — 1963 style!
(For those with Spotify accounts, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#11: Lenny Welch, “Since I Fell for You”; #4 U.S. Hot 100 – Written by jazz bandleader Buddy Johnson in 1945 and popularized by his sister Ella.
Jack Feerick – This must have sounded like an anachronism even in 1963. This sort of string-heavy ballad is part of an earlier tradition of pop. What’s contemporary about it is the naked emotionalism of Welch’s vocal, which would have been unthinkable without the ten years of “race” records and early rock ‘n’ roll that preceded it.
Imagine a Sinatra or a Tony Bennett — singers who know a thing or two about wringing all the heartbreak from a lyric — listening to “Since I Fell For You.” They would dismiss Welch’s huffing and sobbing as gaudy, vulgar showboating. And the thing is, they’d be right. The hybrid approach — pop classicism interpreted with bluesy gusto — is problematic from the start. In the crooner tradition, much of the emotional heavy lifting is done by the songwriter, and understatement is one of the singer’s most important tools.
It’s an art of enormous delicacy, where a subtle change of inflection can alter the mood shading of the song. If you’re going to go big with it, you’ve got to commit to going all the way big. James Brown can whoop and shriek his way through “September Song,” because he’s got the whole band plunging in along with him and devil take the hindmost; the result is ridiculous, but it’s a magnificent kind of ridiculous. Lenny Welch, aping the surface tics of a vocal style he hasn’t fully absorbed while the orchestra plays it straight behind him, just comes off sounding like a putz. In fact, the whole thing sounds like a stunt cooked up by Steve Allen to discredit this crazy “rock ‘n’ roll” fad.
David Lifton – Does this mean we can blame Lenny Welch for Michael Bolton? Thankfully this is such a beautiful song that it holds up to this kind of treatment. it helps that I’m a sucker for a rubato verse — the eight bars or so that precede the first verse — which have become pretty much extinct in the rock era thanks to bridges and instrumental solos (“If I Fell” and “Here, There, And Everywhere” notwithstanding).
Dw. Dunphy – Okay, maybe it is overwrought, but it sure is pretty. I suppose I’m a sap, but everything sounds better when you plop some strings behind it.
Jon Cummings – I’m kind of astonished at Jack’s negative response to this track. In the first place, the sound of this record was hardly anachronistic in a year when Bobby Vinton had two #1 singles and a #3, and in which Steve Lawrence topped the charts, as did “Dominique” and “Sukiyaki.” There’s a reason why the Beatles seemed so revolutionary when they touched down at JFK in ’64 — and why so many artists like Vinton & Lawrence complained about chart placements drying up during the British Invasion. And I would rather hear this exquisite song, and Welch’s excellent (if melodramatic) vocal, 50 times in a row than listen to “Mr. Lonely” or “Blue on Blue” even once. I like the way Welch overplays the emotions — it ties what is essentially a swing-era retread to such early-’60s dramas as “Duke of Earl” and “Tell Laura I Love Her.”
Jeff Giles – I love, love, love this song, but I’ve never heard this version — my favorite cover is the one Al Jarreau cut with David Sanborn and Bob James (I wrote about it here), which I initially heard on the Moonlighting soundtrack. Funny how musical gateways pop up where you least expect them.
#12: The Drifters, “On Broadway”; #9 U.S. Hot 100, #7 U.S. R&B – That’s Phil Spector on guitar.
Feerick – Another one I’ve heard almost too many times to write about objectively. A wonderful song, in all its many incarnations, and this is a fantastic performance Ben E. King. But still, to me it still sounds a trifle confused about what kind of record it wants to be. See, there’s a part of me, the writer part of me, that hungers for thematic unity; that wants a degree of convergence between the style of a song and its substance; that wants, in short, for “On Broadway” to have a shitload of guitar. The twangly little runs we do hear don’t do much to justify the narrator’s confidence, and they’re fighting for space with the strings, the horns, and the sudden female choir.
(It’s even more surprising given that Phil Spector was the guitarist here. He of all people should understand the effect of arrangement and space on the emotional reading of a song. He didn’t produce, though, did he? That would be an irony; Phil Spector, musician, undone by the production…)
Of course, that may be the point. It’s possible, even tempting, to read those other elements as representing the myriad sights and sounds of the big city, into which narrator’s performing voice will vanish without a trace — in other words, to read “On Broadway” as a tragic song, in which the delusional narrator’s future holds only bitterness, failure, and degradation. There’s always George Benson’s version, I suppose.
Lifton – This was a Leiber-Stoller joint. Spector was apprenticing with them at the time.
By the way, those half-step key changes into every verse is the common thread behind this song and “Surrender” by Cheap Trick.
Dunphy – I love this one too. It’s this weird combination of simplicity and the complicated. Listen to how the backing track moves from complementing the strong vocal-group arrangement into something absolutely lush.
Cummings – Not to pick on you, Jack, but Ben E. King was gone from the Drifters by this point — Rudy Lewis sang this track. And while I get your thematic desire for more guitar, even a solo the length of Spector’s here was pretty rare among the 2 1/2-minute pop symphonies concocted for AM radio at this time. (Think of “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which is Roy Orbison’s most guitar-driven hit from the era, and even it only had about 10 seconds for a bridge repeating its central riff.) I suppose when one compares the Drifters’ original with George Benson’s cover, and all its guitar noodling, one can say that Benson’s is more in keeping with the theme — but I still think this is the better record.
Giles – Just about a perfect song, and one that I think bridges the gap between vocal pop and the rock era pretty deftly. The strings are syrupy, but sharp; the vocals are square, but not too melodramatic; the lyrics wedge a bit of social commentary into a sleepy, instantly memorable melody; and then there’s that guitar.
Popdose soldiers on with our Digging for Gold series and looks at another six tracks from Time-Life Music's AM Gold: 1962.
It’s easy to be cynical about a show like The Dean Martin Variety Show. For a modern audience, a show like this one could seem very old fashioned. However, what I gained from digging into a couple of hours of Dean Martin and his gaggle of friends was that his show was a quick witted, loose (very loose) hour of TV that offered a little something for everyone. There was music (well, duh) and plenty of laughs, but there was also a lot of style. Everyone on stage who joined Dean carried with them a sense of class. Most important, everyone on the shows eemed to be having a great time, often at the expense of Dean.
And we’re back! If you had half as much fun reading the first part of our Digging for Gold series as we did putting it together, well that means we enjoyed it twice as much. Where else can you go to get informed debate on topics ranging from World War I-era love songs to Snooki from Jersey Shore?
Jeff Giles – Dig those quavering vocals, boys and girls. In the days before we lost the Melisma Wars, this is how you let people know you were sad. Also: harpsichord!
Jack Feerick – Songs like this seem to exist only as a sort of employment program for harpsichord players and string arrangers. The details are all in place, but the song itself is pretty slight. The spoken-word repeat is there obviously as a callback to “I’m Sorry,” but also to pad this thing out to an acceptable length for a single.
Jon Cummings – I have a major soft spot for Brenda Lee, whose early-’60s catalog ranks with the very best of them … even Roy Orbison and Phil Spector’s stuff. The sustained sob of this song is typical of what she was able to do at such a young age — other teen stars of the last 40 years can’t sniff her … well, insert your own euphemism here, because Brenda actually was a class act. You know how I decided to go back and check out all her old stuff? Because I wanted to know what Golden Earring was talking about when they sang, “Brenda Lee coming on strong.” It turns out “Coming On Strong” is an AWESOME song, and that got me hooked.
David Medsker – Weird to think that the Beatles are only a year or so away from this. This seems awfully quaint, even by ’50s standards, though I can’t shake the feeling that Quentin Tarantino will use this song in ironic fashion for an upcoming movie.
Dave Lifton – Goddamn, this song sucks.
#7: Gene Pitney, “Only Love Can Break a Heart” – #2 U.S., #4 Australia. A Hal David/Burt Bacharach joint.
Dw. Dunphy – I didn’t know Gene Pitney did “Only Love Can Break a Heart.” I recognize him from the vastly underrated “Backstage” and the overrated “Town Without Pity.” Sorry, but the delivery of the latter is just so melodramatic, I can’t take it after awhile.
Feerick – Bacharach and David are already throwing the pop rulebook out the window here. The structure is unconventional, to say the least — it’s all chorus, basically, with only brief tags of verse, and the middle eight dominates the thing. It’s damned odd, and there’s nothing much for me to latch onto.
Giles – Love can break a heart, but there isn’t a substance known to man that could have broken Gene’s glossy mane. Goddamn. Good for you, Gene.
This sounds like your average tremulous strings ‘n’ things pop ballad to me, but lest anyone doubt its effectiveness, just read the top comment at the video, which tells the heartbreaking tale of a retired GI who’s still pining for the girl who dumped him while he was fighting in Vietnam. I repeat: Goddamn.
Cummings – I find “Only Love Can Break a Heart” excruciating. Except for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” I never got Pitney’s appeal — his voice bugs me. Something about “Liberty Valance” works, though — that whole story-song thing meshes with his overly enunciated vocals. That was his “lane,” as the Idol judges this year are so fond of saying. He needed to “stay in his lane.”
Dunphy – Funny you should say “lane” in this regard. I thought “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was sung by Frankie Laine.
Feerick – I dunno. I mean, Pitney was a huge and genuine talent, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who incorporated all kinds of innovative instrumentation into his work, but he sounds hamstrung here. The voice has elements of big-band croon with a community-theater quaver, but there’s a graininess on the low notes that makes me think this guy was holding back the raunch — he could have gotten low-down and dirty if he’d wanted. (He did hang out with the Rolling Stones, after all.) I do love the horn-and-whistling motif—it’s a characteristic Pitney arranging touch, and the old-timey whistling always reminds me of “White Christmas” — but overall I reckon that Pitney was more comfortable singing his own songs, and that consequently “Town Without Pity” is a much better record.
Medsker – Love the chorus to this. Those ghostly backing vocals are both pretty and a little terrifying.
Lifton – Goddamn, this song sucks.
#8: The Everly Brothers, “Crying in the Rain” – #6 U.S. and U.K.; the second song on this disc co-written by Carole King.
Dunphy – “Crying In The Rain” is one of my favorite Everly Bros. songs. I’m not sure why it sets itself apart in my mind from their other songs, but when I hear the name, I go to this song even before “Wake Up Little Susie.”
Giles – Once again, I will embarrass myself by stating publicly that a-ha’s cover of this song was the first version I heard.
Cummings – “Crying in the Rain” was practically the Everlys’ swan song as a chart-topping act. I love the drama of it — the way those boys could slow down a ballad to a snail’s pace and force you to focus on nothing but their harmonies was pure magic.
Medsker – Wow, this really stands out compared to the first two songs. It’s easy to lose sight of their influence without the proper context. These guys were clearly playing a different sport than everyone else.
Dunphy – I agree on the Everlys. They were aiming for a new pop sound while Brenda Lee and Gene Pitney both have feet still tentatively planted in Your Hit Parade.
Chris Holmes – I think if we were to put together a pie chart showing influences on the Beatles, there would be a fairly large slice for the Everly Brothers. And Chuck Berry.
Dunphy – Certainly on the level where vocal harmony is concerned, I agree.
Feerick – I can’t even write about the voices; what more is there to add? Only listen to the drums on this one — riding a light Latin groove, which of course was all the rage at the time; but dig the rolling toms, which simultaneously suggest the rumbling of distant thunder. A miraculous record, with all the elements working together.
Lifton – Goddamn, this song rules. I also love the cover by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe on the reissue of Rockpile’s Seconds Of Pleasure.
“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
The Korean War. An Army unit is ambushed while on patrol in the countryside, their interpreter has double crossed them. The soldiers get strapped down to gurneys and hoisted on to helicopters, flown away into the night skies with their fates uncertain. So begins The Manchurian Candidate, the 1962 film written by George Axelrod (adapted from the book by Richard Condon), directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury.
After that brief prologue, we soon learn what happened to those soldiers. Somehow, they escaped and were brought to safety by Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey). Awarded the Medal of Honor, Shaw returns home a hero, with his politically minded mother (Lansbury) using his fame as a way to propel her second husband, a U.S. Senator, into the national spotlight. Raymond wants nothing to do with his mother or his step-father. He hates them both, HATES them. Raymond is given the opportunity of lifetime to work for a New York newspaper and tries to put the war and his family behind him.
Yet, there’s something very off with the story everyone’s being fed. What about those helicopters? Where did those soldiers get taken away to and just how is it possible that Raymond, a man who lacked the respect of his platoon and who seemed to barely know how to hold himself as a soldier, could actually become a hero? The intrigue builds. While Raymond’s life is going so grandly, we cut away to Major Bennett Marco, Shaw’s commanding officer. After returning from Korea, Marco is a wreck. He’s been having a recurring nightmare that involves his patrol watching Raymond kill two of his fellow soldiers while they sit by, idling their time away. When he’s placed on indefinite sick leave by the Army, Marco decides to find out what really happened in Korea. He sets off to find Raymond Shaw.
Johnny Carson was the king of late night for a reason. He could handle any situation put in front of him with ease and he never lost his cool. When a joke, a sketch or a guest were about to go bust, all Carson had to do was make a deadpan glance at the camera, roll his eyes, or deliver a perfectly time comeback to create a classic comic moment. Together with his trusty sideman, Ed McMahon, and bandleaders Skitch Henderson (up until 1966) and Doc Severinsen, Carson ruled the after hours because he was always in control. Before the airwaves became crowded with late night yap fests, there was only one destination if stars wanted to plug their projects or simply sit down and have a good time for an hour. That place was the couch next to Carson’s desk.
This beautifully packaged box set contains 15 discs of complete episodes (not highlights) covering Carson’s four decades as Tonight Show host. It offers just a taste of the wit and genius that Carson possessed. Starting with his wily days as a young gun in the 60’s, transitioning to the 70’s, when he became the consummate talk show host, sliding into the 80’s when he hit his peak, and wrapping it up in the early 90’s, just before he decided it was time to retire, the 30 hours on these DVD’s offer a chunk of television history. Anyone who enjoys Dave, Jimmy, Conan, Craig, the other Jimmy, Leno, and maybe Lopez, should watch this collection to understand what all of those hosts are trying to achieve each night. They’re all successful in their own way, but none of them have the same stature as Carson.
When the indefatigable Dw. Dunphy asked Popdose’s writers to come up with a list of ten classic Saturday Night Live sketches, we quickly got bogged down in trying to rank them — by theme, by season, by cast member, etc. And after everyone got their nostalgia fix for the day and nodded off, we were left with some random scraps of memories, but nothing we could publish.
Upon realizing there was no way we were going to get any kind of consensus — and remembering that Dw. never asked us to rank sketches in the first place — I suggested that those who wanted to participate write a paragraph or two about a favorite sketch (short films and commercial parodies were considered fair game under this umbrella term) and provide a clip from Hulu.com or another online source. That’s when Matt Wardlaw asked if Bruce Springsteen’s appearance as SNL‘s musical guest in 1992 counts as a sketch, at which point I pulled out my Matt Wardlaw voodoo doll and went to town.
Without further ado, here are 15 of our favorites, in chronological order, from the past 35 years of NBC’s long-running late-night hit. —Robert Cass
I love this sketch on so many levels that it’s hard to focus on just one. First off, it’s one of the few instances in which Richard Pryor was really allowed to be Richard Pryor on television (let us not speak of Pryor’s Place, his ill-conceived foray into Cosby-like Saturday-morning TV), and it allowed Chevy Chase to put the pratfalls aside and inhabit a thoroughly WASP-y persona.
The second thing is that the skit is smart, certainly smarter than one would initially give it credit for. Yes, it’s Chase and Pryor in an ever-escalating war of words, ticking down a list of epithets until they reach the bottom of the barrel, and for people who like that kind of verbal repartee delivered as only these two could, that might be enough. Under the surface, though, you could easily interpret this sketch as a warning about “just a little racism” and be correct; the interviewer and the applicant play the “black” and “white” word association at first in an innocuous manner, but as things heat up they and their speech get uglier and uglier until the “nuclear option” is launched. No neon-lit message sign has been switched on for you, but if you consider the sketch just a little deeper, you’ve been taught.
The third, and maybe most important, thing is that “Word Association” is funny, and likely could never be done on TV today, certainly not on a broadcast network like NBC. The 1970s was an era when Saturday Night Live saw the risks laid before it, took every one, and, fortunately for us, did something great with them. —Dw. Dunphy
… because Ted didn’t want to.
When Nabokov concluded back in the 1950s that some of his American students’ ears were merely ornamental, I’m sure many adults believed that he was referring to the kids’ musical taste. It’s no wonder. These people grew up in a world where Frankie Laine was considered progressive. The refined and mannered style of swing era vocalists was gradually being replaced by the raw emotion and indecent body language of young belters inspired by the dark forces of the blues.
As rock ’n’ roll took over the airwaves, the concept of ‘easy listening’ was introduced when some radio stations continued playing traditional pop music aimed at mature audiences. The Billboard Easy Listening chart debuted in July 1961, paving the way, at least for a while, for old-timers like Perry Como and Frank Sinatra who were no longer able to crack the pop charts, and at the same time creating a market for new acts like Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert and the Baja Marimba Band.
Follow us as Mix Six investigates the pops in the 1960s.
“Tenderly,” Paul Weston (Download)
Let’s do it the right way and start this journey softly, nay, let’s start it “Tenderly” with the gloriously imitable Paul Weston, a veteran in this context, and his band of marshfellows who so eagerly spun musical candy from the Capitol Records assembly lines at the time, around 1960. Record upon record, they ruthlessly spilled sparkly, pinkly liquid over their aural brass pots and clarinets utilizing an army of stringed wooden spoons, which to the untrained and modern ear resembles the grating shape of a 1,000 violins. I love it. The grown-ups of the day loved it –- you really can’t blame them for being pissed when back beats and amps came along and ruined everything.