Tuesday, December 15, 2015


(Les Reed-Gordon Mills) Warner Brothers 1965 single (B side) uncharted
Another of those Connie gems the public  turned  a deaf ear to. The A-side,  ”Something Beautiful” was an amiable shot at matching the sound  of Tony Hatch and Petula Clark (Connie’s illustrious label-mate at the time). And it’s fine. But I like this one even better. Creative rhythm changes, plush production and
another winning  vocal from her Connieship.  Who knows? Maybe a hundred years from now,  whatever  technology’s in place for delivering music, this one’s gonna get rediscovered and finally turn into a hit.
(Carole King-Gerry Goffin)  VeeJay 1964 single,  Billboard #66
A  rousing kick-off-the traces masterpiece written by Goffin and King, two of the best friends a girl group song ever had.  Dusty Springfield delivered a killer version on her “Everything’s Comin’ Up Dusty” album in ’65. And Dusty was someone who often reworked other singers’ songs and made them better. But, in this case, the Betty Everett original is unimprovable.   Betty travels through it at a gangbusters clip, without once losing that affable shimmer of hers - even while she’s handing a two-timing lover his walking papers.

(John Campolongo) Kapp 1967 single, uncharted
          I never actually saw a 45 of  "So Tenderly" but apparently it did get  a fleeting release as a single. During my early years working at a big record shop  the album got a lot of in store play and I bonded with this track for life. St. George & Tana  had - as you can tell from listening to "So Tenderly"  - a kind of Ian & Sylvia vibe. And like that duo, they were married in real life. I don't think they ever did another album together (this one was on Kapp) but a few years ago I read that (unlike Ian & Sylvia) they stayed married and - as far as I know - are still together.

(Neil Sedaka-Howard Greenfield) RCA 1964 single,  uncharted
This song sounded awfully good on a car radio in 1964. If you could manage to find a station that actually  played it. It’s a lovely synthesis of elements that had worked perfectly since ’61. Neil Sedaka’s congenial   voice, flawlessly attuned female backup singers, melodious hook taken at a billowing tempo, immaculate RCA production. But a lot of babies were thrown out with the bathwater when the public decided that only British bands were worth listening to. Goodbye doo run dee run dee.

(H. Miller-Tom Powers) Warner Brothers 1966 single, uncharted
Lesley Gore’s take on this is also superb. But I give Connie’s version the edge for a couple of reasons.Her arrangement features a Bacharach style horn section and that’s catnip to me. And though Gore augments her always impeccable singing with a little more personal glow than usual, Connie’s vocal here is one long welcome lilac-scented caress. 

(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Columbia 1964 single, uncharted
Doris was the most popular movie star on the planet at this point: she was also looking her very, very best and would continue to for some years to come. A leading purveyor of standards and show-tunes, she’d already pleased me no end by committing to a full on Brill Building production the year before (the marvelous “Move Over Darling”); now she sealed the deal with a plunge into Bacharach territory, this one an original written just for her . Result: one of the 60’s songs that’s part of my DNA.

(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Scepter 1964 album track
One of the many exquisite facets of Dionne Warwick’s talent was her ability to explore the more ethereal reaches of 60’s pop. In her higher registers, she bypassed conventional soprano to emerge as some sort of celestial visitant.  Burt Bacharach recognized that quality in Warwick and created some incredible gossamer arrangements for her;  David’s lyric here suggests both sorcery and self-deception -   and it’s all encased in a floating  instrumental  cloudscape . This track’s one of those close-your-eyes- and-be-transported songs. When it’s over there’s a moment of “uh... where am I again?”

(Public Domain) Vanguard 1963 album track
         "Roll On Buddy" may not be characteristic of my usual tastes. But my best friend at college residence had the Odetta LP it’s on. And we must have listened to his beer-splattered copy a hundred times. A lot of the tracks on it still resonate for me. But this one with its haunting guitar runs and powerful vocal –a strong brew of passion, yearning and resignation– remains my favorite. I was in Boston in the late 80’s, looked out our hotel window and saw that the venue across the street was advertising an Odetta concert for that night. Part of me definitely wished we didn’t have Celtics tickets for just that evening (the main reason for the visit). But we did – so I missed my best chance to see Odetta live.  She still  performs regularly on my sound system, though (I’ve had the album on CD years) and when I briefly crossed paths with my old college friend, John,  years later, I just had to present him with a CD copy of his own.
(Robert Hamilton)  recorded  for Motown 1963 unissued at the time
I’ve said it before. This is a happy meeting of two styles popular in ’63, Mary Wells’ cha cha influenced  Motown groove and Barbara Lewis’ mellow “Hello Stranger” one .  In other words, a  convergence  of  two  heavens.  Mary Wells’ Love-Tones morph into Barbara Lewis’ Dells to add a perfect male backdrop;   Mary’s echo-chamber percussion clicks right into place with Barbara’s dreamy organ vibe. For whatever reason, this one stayed locked in the Motown vault for decades, finally seeing the light of day on a Wells CD  compilation in the 90’s. Given a chance, I - for one - would have been grooving to it non-stop in ’63.

(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Scepter 1964 single, Billboard #34
More celestial  navigation from Warwick & Bacharach.  Chimes cascade, harps vibrate; Dionne’s voice is practically ectoplasmic. With angels and heaven all over the lyric, the  otherworldly  element’s  definitely front and center. Yet a  recurring  sax positions all these spectral elements  smack in the middle of an urban love tangle. With a sprinkling of la-la-la’s to give it the tone of a cautionary lullaby.

(Harry Nilsson) RCA 1969 single, Billboard #34
“Midnight Cowboy” was one of the best movies of 1969. And the song that played over the opening credits, “Everybody’s Talkin" (writer Fred Neil, singer {Harry} Nilsson)  worked well within that context. Also  beyond it. The record was a top 10 hit. Nilsson’s self-composed song “I Guess the Lord Must be in New York City” sounds as if it were written expressly for the film. Which, I believe, it was. Apparently, “Cowboy” director John Schlezinger had pointed to “Everybody’s Talkin’” from Nilsson’s ‘68 album “Aerial Ballet” as the type of theme he wanted. Following that template, Nilsson wrote “New York City”, its lyrics a neat reflection of the movie’s script. But Schlezinger had grown so fond of “Everybody’s Talkin”, he decided to use it instead. In the end it was a win/ win. That song’s radio success moved Nilsson’s career into high gear (he won a Grammy for it, too) and when he released “New York City” as the follow-up, it went Top 40 too. To this day, anytime I encounter that opening segment of “Midnight Cowboy”, I find myself projecting “New York City” onto the soundtrack.

(William “Smokey” Robinson,William Stevenson & Ivy Joe Hunter)
recorded for Motown in 1965 but unissued at the time
              Chris Clark was one of the few white acts at Motown in the 60's. For me, her voice is a great blend of Dusty (whom you know and – I  assume - love) and jazz singer Chris Connor (who may or may not be familiar to you).  Visually all three register as bottle blondes who look hard to intimidate. And vocally each often conveyed a kind of soulfulness dusted with baby powder. Clark recorded a ton of tracks for Motown - but as was common practice at the label, most of them went unreleased. A two CD compilation of largely "from the vaults" material came out a few years ago and confirmed the fact that Clark was one of their under-exploited treasures. She stayed with the company for years in behind the scenes capacities - even got an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay of "Lady Sings the Blues". When last I saw her - not many years ago - she still looked and sounded pretty impressive.
(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Vogue/Warner Brothers 1964 album track
There’s often an element of implicit feminine valour in the sound of Petula Clark’s voice; it conjures up images of a female Galahad, brandishing sword and shield on some righteous musical pilgrimage. And never more so than in this ringing reiteration of a  Bacharach-David masterpiece.  It actually could have been the song to sweep   Petula to the top in America.  Because it was her first fully realized Tony Hatch production, released in the U.K.  as a single just before “Downtown”.  But the record was effectively squelched there by the popularity of Gene Pitney’s original version. So any plans to release it as a 45 in the States were quietly scrapped. But when “Downtown” suddenly became a worldwide phenomenon and an American LP was in order, this was the track Petula & Co chose as the album opener.  A  glorious announcement that Petula Clark was here to stay.

(Roger Greenaway) Vogue/Warner Brothers 1965 album track
Petula Clark loves to sing, loves to explore new material too.  And she communicates that joy in live  performances. I saw her in person  many  times and I remember one show when her luggage (including all the musical arrangements) had been lost on an airline flight. She and her musical director just got on with it, guiding the local musicians, after minimal rehearsal, through a wonderfully spontaneous show. Taking requests,  vibing beautifully with the boys in the band;  not crumbling – but actually blooming  in the circumstances. The consummate pro, always polished and frequently inspired.  She found this lovely Roger Greenaway song tucked away on an album by British band, the Fortunes and recognized its possibilities. Their version’s nice, but hers literally glows.

(Carole King-Gerry Goffin)  Dimension 1962 single, uncharted
A friend of mine once remarked that he couldn’t understand  how  Carole King had never really emerged as a pop star in the 60’s -as she so definitively did  in the decade that followed.  It’s a good point. She did have one hit, the lovely “It Might As Rain Until September” in ’62. But the sporadic singles she released afterwards – many of them laudable – just never caught on. I guess she was considered – within the industry -   just too valuable a songwriter (considering that few weeks passed in the early and mid 60’s without a Carole King composition on the charts {sung, of course by someone else}). And maybe the song-writing was really more profitable.  Or more fulfilling.  And  didn’t require the stress of touring and performing in front of crowds.  She always seemed like an endearingly shy type to me.  “I Didn’t Have Any Summer Romance” is a great example of the kind of wonderful true-to-the-bone song she and husband/lyricist Gerry Goffin  so often created . They really were crucial figures in elevating pop rock songs  to  new heights.  “Summer Romance” was the follow-up to “It Might As Well Rain Until September”. Musically, it’s a close cousin to the earlier song, but slowed down and viewed through a more melancholy prism. I’ve always loved that line “I was the one that made company a crowd”. But then every line – and every note - in this song displays a beautiful balance of precision and poignancy.
(Sandra Rhodes) RCA 1966 single, uncharted
This was a concentrated effort at an all-out pop record for country crossover star Davis. It’s marvelous, expensively and expertly produced. And all to no avail commercially. The pop public – fickle as ever (isn’t that what the word “pop” basically implies?) had simply moved on. And Skeeter’s days as a Hot 100 princess were over.  But she remained a force on the country chart for years to come, her albums and singles often still glimmering with that pop crossover sound her core fans never stopped loving.

(Carole King-Gerry Goffin) Laurie 1963 single, Billboard #5
The Chiffons enjoyed a massive chart breakthrough with “He’s So Fine” And with the spotlight on the group, top music people clamoured to collaborate. Sometimes  this can result in a too-many-cooks-spoil- the-broth set-up. But occasionally the follow-up consolidates and expands  the initial triumph.  This is one of the great 60’s records. I certainly considered it such from the get-go. The Chiffons’ voices radiate confidence. And was there ever a more exuberantly memorable piano run than the one Carole King created and played for this record? The Carpenters recognized the power of “One Fine Day” and made it part of their 60’s tribute album. Their version’s lovely – skilfully showcasing the group’s processed (but impressive) buoyancy -   but for sheer vitality, pedal to the metal  optimism  and forward momentum, the Chiffons own this one.

(Randy Newman) Philips 1965 album track
Randy Newman’s 60’s songs were a kind of Hit Parade version of art cinema. Sophisticated, reflective – potential Oscar-level showcases for singers with the ability to explore their nuances.  Especially within one  of those glowing, burnished chamber music Newman arrangements – sad violas, weeping cellos, heart-piercing strings. Time literally stands still when you listen to “I’ve Been Wrong Before”.   An extraordinary   vehicle for Springfield to bare her soul with hushed intensity.  Cilla Black released this as a single. It’s also stupendous;   but Cilla’s emotions and voice, effective as they are, sound as if they’ve  been scraped through a pencil sharpener.  Springfield sublimates more – but puts the song under a telescope and examines it molecule by molecule.  The result, a display of wary hope quietly trying to assert itself,  goes 10 rounds with Cilla and wins in a close but still convincing decision.

(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) * Colgems  - soundtrack version from “Casino Royale”
The single version (on Phillips)  charted at #22 on Billboard
In 1967 I was crazy about Dusty and crazy about Bacharach. I knew that Dusty was set to introduce a Bacharach song called “The Look of Love” in the upcoming Bond extravaganza “Casino Royale”. So I was Johnny on the spot at the Odeon Carlton  the day it opened. This was one of those lush, cavernous old movie palaces (billed as “The Showplace of the Dominion” when it opened in 1948 {Trevor Howard and Patricia Roc, both big noises in those days, came from England for the event}. Anyway, before those luxurious curtains parted we were treated to an instrumental prologue, a sort of “Casino Royale” overture – and suddenly I heard those notes “da DA ... da Da” and I knew this must be “The Look of Love”.  I adored that series of notes from the word go. When Dusty eventually sang –her voice pure cashmere – it was just confirmation that this was going to be a permanent part of my life’s soundtrack. Because she was  so effective as a soulful belter, it was doubly impressive that Dusty could be so electrifying when she switched to whispery intimacy. The version on my chart is the one from the soundtrack.  Dusty’s  single is great, of course, but in the movie version I love the way she’s played out by that Herb Alpert style horn section. The song doesn’t so much end as just quietly dematerialize.

(William Stevenson-Ivy Joe Hunter) Tamla 1964 single, Billboard #34
The Marvelettes are my favorite Motown girl group. When I first caught the Motown bug in ’62 I wrote a fan letter to the company.  Haven’t a clue what I said. But they sent me a nifty little company brochure. And in those days Mary Wells and the Marvelettes were the firm’s prime attractions – so they were heavily spotlighted.  Acts like the Supremes and Marvin Gaye rated only peripheral pamphlet space.  Wish I still had that brochure. I spent many an hour scrutinizing it. But eventually, as happens with most things, it got lost.  Still, I did get to see a copy of it behind glass years later when I visited the original Motown studio museum in Detroit.  And it still looked like a sacred text to me.  Among Motown girl singers, there are four that I love – Mary Wells, Chris Clark and the two alternating lead singers from the Marvelettes – Gladys Horton and Wanda Rogers.  Horton, the group’s founder, generally fronted the earlier outings  like “Please Mr. Postman”, the girls’ astonishing debut and the company’s first  #1 on the pop charts. Wanda led on later, slinkier hits like “Don’t Mess with Bill”. Gladys tended to be punchier, Wanda more seductive and insinuating. But both ladies could switch it up nicely so that sometimes it’s hard to tell which one you’re listening to. You only know that whoever it is, she’s terrific.  In “I’ll Keep Holding On” it’s Wanda on lead – but, boy, she sounds like she’s channeling Gladys.   As in the case of most 60’s girl groups, the business didn’t do right by them and these ladies had a tough row to hoe in years to come. You can read about their highs and lows in Marc Taylor’s excellent book “The Original Marvelettes Motown’s Mystery Girl Group “. Then listen to some of their music . There’s lots of it, thank goodness - and most of it’s pretty marvelous.
(Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh) Columbia 1965 single, uncharted
Bear Family’s a German record company that’s put out some of the best ever box sets of vintage pop.  Beautifully remastered, scrupulously researched, often with input from the artists themselves or surviving family and colleagues, accompanied by in depth liner notes and marvelous packaging. Getting access to original masters and studio out-takes, the company’s done incredible work in preserving and illuminating the works of – among others - Hank Snow, Nat King Cole, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Pat Boone, Connie Francis, Johnnie Ray, Zarah Leander, Lesley Gore, Jim Reeves and Dean Martin. Among the prime jewels in the Bear Family catalogue are the 5 breathtaking box sets celebrating Doris Day’s years as a solo vocalist.  26 Cd’s in all –each of them impeccable and essential.  The 5th box, entitled “Move Over Darling” contains her sixties material. That’s the era when she made some of her greatest LP’s of standards and show-tunes ( her Christmas album contains the best ever interpretation of “Silver Bells”. When Doris enunciates it, you can hear the snow crunch). In her final Columbia album, “Sentimental Journey” she revisits the big band material of her youth and does it in stunningly intimate, height-of-her-powers style. The set also includes all her chart-aimed  Brill Building efforts from that decade. The plan was to tailor her sound into something Top 40 friendly.  And Doris’ voice took to multi-tracking like a kid to Christmas.  On these records, even that irresistible smile seemed to be multi-tracked.  I’m not one for using the term “guilty pleasure” but I suppose” Do Not Disturb” and the movie it’s from  - also “Do Not Disturb” -  probably qualify for me.  The film’s pure sitcom – predictable cavorting from one sound-stage to another.  And the song’s hardly what you’d call adventurous.  Possibly little more than a jingle – I can’t tell anymore. Because both are so intricately wrapped up in my happy 1965 memories of them  that I’m incapable of reacting with anything but pleasure when I encounter either. And Doris – wonderful Doris – is the main dispenser of all that joy.  Her instincts for selling a situation or a song are flawless. The Bear Family box set also offers a slightly different alternate version (also excellent)   - and yet a third one appeared in the movie. But they all come with the patented Doris Day sparkle and a bright Brill Building shine.

(Toni Wine-Irving Levine-Phil Spector) A&M 1969 single, uncharted
A friend of mine suggested that maybe the reason for this monumental record’s failure in ’69 was some sort of combined effort by industry types who wanted to teach producer Phil Spector a lesson. A  deliberate effort to give him the finger by not playing what might have turned into a triumphant comeback record.  As conspiracy theories go, I’ve heard less convincing ones. But it was probably just a case of the times they were a changin’ – or had already changed. And girl group records had long since ceded their place at the front of the pop parade. Well, at least it got released. Eventually 60’s aficionados   were able to track it down – as it  morphed from  bargain bin throwaway to prize collectible.  And  finally arrived on CD as part of the historic 1991 Phil Spector box set. That same Spector theory friend told me the first time he heard (and fell in love with) this record was when a local DJ gave it an on air spin sometime in the 80’s, exclaiming “Hey, Toronto! Where were you?” . Whatever, the Ronettes left behind  a gleaming cache of unforgettable records. This came after several years of silence. And it’s still at the same Mount Olympus level of perfection.  As if the girls had only taken a coffee break.  And come back more thunderingly brilliant and beautiful than ever.

(Carole King-Gerry Goffin) BT Puppy 1964 single,  Billboard #43
Lead singer Jay Siegel  should be more famous.   Up there with Frankie Valli.  Like Valli, he electrified with amazing falsetto runs  in a string of 60’s singles.  And if the Tokens didn’t have as many mammoth hits as the Seasons, they had lots of quality releases that should have risen higher. Their singles ranged from the very nearly there (“Breezy”, “You’re My Girl”) to the fully fabulous (“I Hear Trumpets Blow” and this beauty, “He’s in Town”). Even among Goffin-King compositions, this one’s a standout.  And the Tokens do a superb job with it; voices and emotions gently soar. I can’t resist adding a link to a 21st century live performance from Siegel and his Tokens as they  sing  their ‘61 smash  “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Forty years on, the man’s vocal prowess is still astounding. When I go to an oldies show, this is the kind of performance I dream of seeing.

(Randy Newman) Warner Brothers 1968 album track
Randy Newman’s songs and  arrangements  often  incorporated echoes of Aaron Copland – expansive canvasses full of a uniquely American melancholy and nostalgia. Newman compositions also came with pointed lyrics that embodied if not a critique at least a certain tender regret.  These elements often  inform  his  later work as a solo artist, But for those who want less grunt and gravel in their vocals, Newman’s best as a song painter for other, more traditionally accomplished singers.  Take his glorious “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today”, which has inspired impressive, often brilliant versions from a host of great vocalists: Judy Collins, Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin, Dusty Springfield, Cleo Laine and Norah Jones .  Hard to pick a favorite interpretation.  As far as I know “Illinois”‘s never been covered. It’s an exclusive Everly Brothers item. And it’s a corker, echoing the sunswept mood of the album cover, with the Everlys dramatically posed in front of a sweeping rural panorama. Illinois already has a beautiful state song but this “Illinois” deserves some of that official spotlight too. 
(Bobby Goldsboro) United Artists 1965 single, Billboard #75
Bobby Goldsboro ‘s said that in the mid 60’s Burt Bacharach was a composer he admired and occasionally emulated. Certainly, the key and chord changes in “It Breaks My Heart”and “If You Wait for Love” are evocative of Bacharach’s signature sound.  Both songs are good but this one’s transcendent.  The music rushes headlong –yet the mood’s wistful and  affecting  - “got so much to say and so little time to talk”. Only in a 60’s pop song could doo dow dow dow dow dow dow dow dow  express  a melancholy quite so majestic.

                                        MORE 60's COUNTDOWN TO COME

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