Wednesday, December 23, 2015

COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES: PART 4 -THE 60's POP SONG COUNTDOWN CONCLUDES

             



25. 98.6/LAZY DAY-LESLEY GORE
(Gary Fischoff-Tom Powers) Mercury 1969 single, uncharted
A mash-up of two great pop songs, each of which had been  hits  - the first by someone named Keith, the second by  Mamas & Papas sound-alikes  Spanky & Our Gang. I don’t know whether the idea was Lesley Gore’s or her producer’s.  But the result was a happy pink burst of musical Dubble Bubble.  I loved it first time I heard it – but that wasn’t till the 90’s. In ’69 it certainly didn’t play on any radio I was ever near. Nor did it manage to  scrape  onto  Billboard’s Hot 100. But I blame the Mercury promotion department   and  possibly  Gorephobic  DJ’s  who thought it was no longer hip to play her.  I certainly can’t fault the record.  The arrangement  sparkles  and Gore herself  is definitely up for the assignment,    sounding positively elated throughout.  It’s as much fun to listen to now as it would have been then – maybe more,  since  these  days  it’s  so evocative of a long-gone (and fondly  remembered) era.   As King   Arthur said in “Camelot”, “one brief shining moment”.

24. LAUGHING BOY-MARY WELLS
(William “Smokey” Robinson) Motown 1963 single, Billboard #15
One of my favorite places in the 60’s musical landscape is the little kingdom Mary Wells and Smokey Robinson carved out for themselves at Motown during 62 and 63. The key songs were “The One Who Really Loves You” “You Beat Me to the Punch”  “Two Lovers” “Operator” “Laughing Boy”, “What Love Has Joined Together” and “Your Old Standby”.  And - within these titles - producer/composer Smokey and Mary  ( his ideal interpreter) developed a sound that blended the energies of r&b and pop into a dreamlike fusion of near- liturgical solemnity.  Mary sings with soft intensity, so committed she seems to be under a spell.  With conga drums reverberating gravely, brass harmonies at a strange simmer, subversive,  slightly  threatening  keyboard chords, and a compellingly ritualized give and take between Mary and her male backup singers, the Love-Tones –  priestess and  acolytes worshipping in a Motown echo chamber. Each record is a strange mix of the stately and the primitive, a procession that passes slowly  by, then disappears into the foliage leaving behind a waft of incense and a feeling of having been briefly hypnotized.  Among these songs, “Laughing Boy” is the inner chamber, the most compellingly concentrated example. I did a long post on Mary Wells a couple of years ago. And I’ll quote what I said then about the song:
The vocals float and hover like materializations at a seance. There are few Mary Wells records I can immerse myself in as fully as this one. But what, exactly, am I immersed in?   That rhythm might be emanating from swaying temple incense holders or the slow, pounding beat of a slave-galley.  Listening to the track, you get the feeling you’re spying on some sort of secret ceremony, the  kind where getting caught could be fatal. It’s a dark, perfumed garden of a production. And it’s thrilling. Certainly, at this point, nothing short of actually turning into Rima the Bird Girl could have made Mary any more exotic”. 
 
23. MY BABY LOVES ME-MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS
(Sylvia Moy-William Stevenson-Ivy Joe Hunter) Gordy 1966 single, Billboard #22
I like a lot of the Martha & the Vandellas dance floor stompers. “Quicksand”, “Live Wire” and “Wild One” are all favorites. But this one I like even more. It’s Motown in all its glory – but at a slow, simmer. Like Ravel’s Bolero. It just keeps repeating itself – yet  somehow  gets more enthralling with each repetition. The record’s credited to Martha and the Vandellas. But indications seem to be that this is the Martha show.  Her  Vandellas never showed up for roll call on this one. It’s the Four Tops, no less, who are supposedly supplying the vocal accompaniment, with a possible assist from in-house backup ladies, the Andantes. Whatever, the final result’s a slow burning fireworks display.  

22. DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART-BURT BACHARACH & CHORUS
(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Kapp 1965 album track
Dionne Warwick did ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”as an album track.  And did it superbly.   But I’ve always liked this take on the song even better. Burt Bacharach and his sound  were becoming so identifiable and  successful  that  Kapp put out an album of the composer conducting new versions of his songs. Some strictly instrumental,  others with studio choruses and soloists. This arrangement doesn’t really depart much from the Warwick one.  Yet, under Bacharach’s baton, the session singers and musicians toss it off with such feather-in-the-wind  buoyancy,  it’s positively soothing.  A  perfect match for the lyrics, which are all about calming down an affronted  lover who’s threatening to walk. “One drop of rain doesn’t make the sun run  away, one falling leaf doesn’t make September in May”.  In 2002 Burt  integrated  certain elements of the arrangement into a new song for Brit singer Will Young.  Called “What’s in Goodbye”, it’s lovely proof that when he wanted to Bacharach could still effortlessly summon up that marvelous sound that conquered the 60’s.

21. COME AND GET ME-JACKIE DeSHANNON
(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Imperial 1966 single, Billboard #83
This is Bacharach floating across a measureless Dali landscape, lyrics and music both conjuring up the sad empty space created when one moves on and another’s left behind . “What the World Needs Now” had been a surprise smash for DeShannon and Bacharach. But the follow-up, “A Lifetime of Loneliness” was nothing like it, not even much like Bacharach. And it came nowhere near matching its predecessor’s  popularity. I think this would have been a bigger hit had it been released on the heels of “World Needs Now”. It’s got a real Bacharach feel, - octave jumps, melancholy brass flourishes,  dramatic chord changes. Lightheartedness was never DeShannon’s strong suit. As a matter of fact, dead serious sometimes seemed to be her default setting - and it’s not the best choice for all occasions. But the emotional tone of this particular song sits well with her style. An exquisite musical expression of the urge to hold on to something beautiful that’s disappearing before our eyes.

20. LOOKING THROUGH THE EYES OF LOVE-GENE PITNEY
(Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil)  Musicor 1965 single, Billboard #28
Pitney was the teen idol version of a Renaissance man. Not only did he look ready at all times for the cover of  16 Magazine. He wrote hit songs (like “He’s a Rebel” for the Crystals and “Hello Mary Lou” for Rick Nelson), was a talented musician himself (the guy  played every instrument on his first hit “I Wanna Love My Life Away” ) and – above all - he had a uniquely dramatic, soaring voice that set him apart from all the competition.  “Looking Through  the Eyes of Love” was his 14th trip to the Billboard Top 40, not his biggest hit – but a hit, nevertheless - and definitely one of the era’s best and most beautifully performed records.
 
19. NEVER NEVER LEAVE ME-MARY WELLS
(Jennie Lee Lambert-Mickey Gentile) 20th Century Fox 1965 single, Billboard #54
This one’s a real departure for Mary Wells. The kind of grand showcase you might have expected had Dionne Warwick swept onstage to bestow her presence at a Boston Pops concert.  Thundering timpani, banks of strings, acres of brass and I’m sure there are cymbals, chimes and triangles hidden in the mix too. This is pop music in a tuxedo. It’s also terrific. The songwriters had actually created it with Dionne Warwick in mind. But somehow the folks putting together Mary Wells’ first post-Motown album got wind of it and marked it out for Mary. Most of the other songs on the Lp were  jaunty “My Guy” influenced items. But this track was its own majestic thing – a  royal cortege, grand and stately. Mary Wells never went there again – but I’m so glad she got to do it once.

18. YOU BABY-THE RONETTES
(Barry Mann-Cynthia Weill-Phil Spector) Philles 1964 album track
For me, the Ronettes are  the Rolls-Royce of girl groups.  Always commanding,  yet wonderfully languid. Their stage gyrations were not essentially different from what other girl groups were doing.  But the Ronettes found a grace in those  movements  that eluded the others.  Certainly no one was better at carrying off those hairstyles–skyscraper beehives descending into over the shoulder cascades. The trio exuded an air of relaxed self-containment, mysterious but not unfriendly.  And of course no one matched them when it came to street-wise glamour.   Plus nobody sounded quite like lead singer Ronnie, with that big-city-after-dark throb in her voice. Phil Spector  guided the girls through a string of genuinely marvelous records.  But eccentric, counter-productive marketing and release strategies   pretty much guaranteed that sustained commercial success just wasn’t in the cards for the Ronettes.  One of the 60’s choicest musical moments, this song never even got released as a single.  But it remains a humdinger of an album track.  Linda Scott did a joyous, up-tempo cover of the song  in ’65. And it’s a treat. But no one could ever really top the original – laid-back, ethereal , insinuating and all capped off by those final gently orgasmic Ronnie Spector murmurs.  60’s pop at its most seductive.
 
17. DOES  HE LOVE ME-MARY WELLS
(William Stevenson) Motown album track 1964
After her sudden defection from Motown in ’64, Mary Wells was persona non grata at the company. And it was pretty much decided that Motown would be releasing no new Mary Wells singles whatsoever. No follow-up to the triumphant “My Guy.”   This in spite of the fact that they already had several  tracks  in the can that would have made splendid follow-ups – and with the momentum from “My Guy” ‘s record breaking success - would almost certainly have been big hits. I think “When I’m Gone” (later recorded by Brenda Holloway) had the inside track. But several of the songs  on her “My Guy” album were strong candidates too. Like “He’s the One I Love” and  “Whisper You Love Me Boy”. But this one’s my favorite. A nice  distillation and celebration of everything that made “My Guy” so wonderful.  Love the purring outro in “My Guy”, but she tops it here.  

16. WOULDN’T IT BE NICE-THE BEACH BOYS
(Brian Wilson-Tony Asher) Capitol 1966 single, Billboard #8
For me, this track’s the crown jewel of “Pet Sounds”.  And – of course – “Pet Sounds” is  a big box  full of jewels. Left to his own devices, lyric-wise, you never knew whether Brian would come up with cut-to-the-chase profundity as in “ ‘Til I Die” or howlers like “Sherry, don’t hate her guts” (“Sherry She Needs Me”. )  “ Wouldn’t It Be Nice” shows just what he could create working with a great lyricist.  I was always sorry Barbra Streisand didn’t tackle this one back in the day. When she was rejigging songs like “Punky’s Dilemma”, managing to be  both ironic and affecting, detached and committed.  A slyly delivered, slowed down Streisand-ized “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” would have been a treat in ‘66. It’s in my head – but like so many things that are –  never really managed to happen. Still, no remake of the song could ever surpass the original. Surely, the  60’s ‘ best expression  (music and lyrics) of youthfully optimistic  longing. And my all time favorite piece of California dreaming.
 
15. SWING ME-NINO TEMPO & APRIL STEVENS
(Tempo-Leigh) Atco 1965 single, uncharted
Start with a kind of Phil Spectorish sound mist, add a bit of the Sally Go round the Roses groove, then top things off with Nino and April, their vocal blend as captivating as ever. Unexpected volume modulations  keep the thing drifting in and out of some sort of dream state.  Rosemary Clooney had recorded  the  song  in 1960. But, oh the Conrad Birdie level arrangement she was saddled with!  Tinny sound, tacky instrumentation, shrill backup singers belligerently elbowing their way into the foreground  - all the things  the old men in charge mistakenly thought the teenagers of 1960 would like. Certainly, you’d  never have guessed  that five years later, it would morph into this gorgeous entity. But, then, Nino and April  were alchemists.

14. CHANGIN’ MY MIND-JACKIE DeSHANNON
(Myrna Fox March-Roger Illingsworth-Richard Grasso) Imperial 1967 single(B side) uncharted
I think of this as the great missing “Pet Sounds” track.   Of course, Brian didn’t write it. But it sure sounds as if he did – and arranged it too. Had the Beach Boys done it as part of “Pet Sounds”. I think it would have been a  highlight  among highlights.  That wasn’t meant to be. But, somehow, Jackie De Shannon found the song, liked it enough to record  it - and she and her producers crafted a wonderful, expansive, virtually symphonic arrangement to showcase it. Thank you to all involved.   Loved it then.  Love it still.

13. ROUNDABOUT-PETULA CLARK
(Tony Hatch) recorded for Vogue 1965 but unissued at the time
“Downtown” is a wonderful record – stirring, melodic, absolutely  evocative of its time. And of course,  a beautifully sung calling card for the great Petula.  But it didn’t make my Top 100. And that’s simply because the competition among  sensational   60’s records is so fierce. Even the competition among   sensational   Petula Clark records;  several of hers, after all, did make the cut. But, Petula-wise, "Roundabout" 's my favorite of favorites. This was, after all, at the height of Petula’s popularity, when every single she released had a legitimate shot at being a million seller. For a strong Petula single in 1965, the sky was the limit. So it must have been tough to decide which track was likely to use that advantage to full chart potential.  More puzzling is the fact that it never even showed up as an album track. I read once that one factor hampering this one’s release was that it was feared North Americans simply didn’t know this meaning of “roundabout’ ( the British term for what we call merry-go-rounds) and wouldn’t “get’ the lyric.  Maybe there was an element of truth there. Connie Francis released an excellent version in the States and it went nowhere. But then in ’65, Connie was nowhere near the chart force Petula was.  The Clark singles released in ’65 (“I Know a Place”, “You’d Better Come Home”, “Round every Corner” and “My Love”) were all hits.  But I can’t help thinking “Roundabout” might have equaled or surpassed them had the public just been allowed to hear it. We’ll never know.
 I last saw Petula live about a decade ago. From where I was (and by the end of the show I’d joined the throng cheering her at the footlights) she still looked great.  A happy amalgam of Kim Novak and Iolanthe. What’s more, she sounded great too. Still fully able to electrify all present. I recall her bringing down the house with a newly recorded song called “Memories of Love” and I was convinced this one would put her back on the charts (didn’t happen). The concert was in Toronto and her old “Finian’s Rainbow” co-star Don Francks (a Canadian) was in the audience. She invited him up and they tossed off a primo version of “Old Devil Moon”, their duet from the movie,   a perfectly calibrated time machine moment. I always loved something  Petula said that night.  Of course, she was talking to just the right audience – a massive room full of baby boomers. But when the applause following a powerhouse hits medley finally died sown, she looked at us and said, “You know, there was only one thing wrong with the sixties . . . they ended.” Needless to say, the house roared back its approval.
 
12. THE WORLD THROUGH A TEAR-NEIL SEDAKA
(Chris & Peter Allen)  RCA 1965 single, Billboard #76
“The World Through a Tear” got zero airplay in my neck of the woods. But I travelled to Duluth to play in a tennis tournament in the summer of ’65. And this song was everywhere on local radio. I believe it hit #1 there.  If only it had gotten better national exposure!  Written by Australian brothers Chris and Peter Allen, its melody overflows with  Brill Building ardour, served up here with a bit of a bossa nova beat . Sedaka’s usual excellent background vocals were a mix of sensational girl singers and himself, multi-tracked.  Here he adds some extra male voices (grass is green like I’ve never seen, sky above was never so blue  and here am I no one standing near) .Helping it all sound like an extra special occasion,  with syncopated bursts of piano and floating harps scattering rose petals in its path. Plus I love the title. All in all, my favorite Neil Sedaka record.

11. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF-BOBBY VEE
(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Liberty 1963 single, Billboard #34
I encountered Bobby Vee  once at a fast food place when I was just out of my teens.There he was sitting beside me at the counter – no fanfare, no posse, just all by himself, unobtrusively munching  on his burger. I over-rode my bashfulness to tell him how much I enjoyed his music, especially this track. He was soft-spoken but friendly  and completely, winningly natural. A sweeter guy you’d never want to meet.  The list of great Bobby Vee songs is pretty immense but  this one – for me – is the cream of the crop.

10. HELLO STRANGER-BARBARA LEWIS
(Barbara Lewis) Atlantic 1963 single, Billboard #3
Like “Go Away Little Girl”, this is a perfect pop record. Melody and words are from Barbara Lewis  herself.  Riley Hampton, who also arranged the Miracles’ “I’ll Try Something New”  came up with a dreamy organ-drenched  orchestration,  then producer Ollie McLaughlin  added the Dells for extra-smooth male backup duties.  Result:  2 minutes and 40 seconds  of Cloud Nine tranquility. There’ve been lots of cover versions over the years. But if you want it done to a golden turn, you need Barbara Lewis and those liquid tones of hers. No substitutes accepted.

9. COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES-MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS
(Holland-Dozier-Holland) Gordy 1963 single, Billboard #29
I first got obsessed with this record when I was fourteen. Heard it on an American radio station, knew it was on the U.S. charts, yet couldn’t find it anywhere in our small Canadian town. But a friend of mine was going to the States with his family for a weekend (Duluth or Minneapolis, I don’t remember which). So I gave him the money to buy me a copy of the 45. And waited on tenterhooks all weekend for my prize to arrive.  But – as it happens – the record had been sitting on the back seat of their car in the sun  on the way home and – by trip’s end – was no longer a disc but a rippling swirl of vinyl ski runs. The purple Gordy label, the first I’d ever seen, told me teasingly what the grooves were supposed to contain. But, of course, the thing refused to play. The needle would bounce off at every dip. I can still see myself holding it with a pair of tongs over the stove element trying to melt it back into some playable shape.  It never did raise itself from the dead.  And I had to wait a long time before I heard it again; even longer before I actually obtained a playable copy.  But – when I finally did – the   quality of the record and the obstacle course I’d faced to get it both played parts in making it a permanently cherished artifact. I’ve repurchased it in every format since. But have never had the heart to throw out the original Purple Rippler.  It’s still in a box in my apartment somewhere. Deceased maybe, but lying in state.
About  “Come and Get these Memories’ itself, the record dates from the days before Motown went global; before Diana Ross and her girls, waving their sequined banner , made strategic raids –in matching beehives and ballgowns - on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Copacabana .  All part of the plan for world domination. And darn it if it didn’t work. This, as I say, was before that.  Motown was only a tentatively emerging force. Mary Wells was their biggest name. And Martha had just graduated from a secretarial job at the company to actually recording (although I imagine at that stage they still expected her to keep answering phones).  It’s often been described as a one-off.  There’s really nothing else quite like it in the Motown catalogue, a kind of rolling hesitation march, with a go-for-broke r&b lead vocal that shouldn’t fit, but, boy, does it! The record hung around the middle ranges of the chart for the longest time. It would break out in one area for awhile, then later in another. But it never worked up enough steam in all regions at once to get near the national top 10. Still, people kept falling in love with it. Part of its appeal comes from an inspired ,affecting lyric. Martha and the girls take it at a rolling tempo and do the song proud. But a recent cover by Bette Midler slowed it down, delivering  a lovely, contemplative take that finds  new ways to honor the song’s lyrical perfection. But “Come and Get These Memories” ‘  long residency on the charts did put Martha and the  Vandellas on the map. Now people were watching to see what they did next.  And that next record, “Heat Wave” proved to be the charm for them. This was in a very different  style from its predecessor. Showcasing what was to become the trademark floor-stomping Holland-Dozier-Holland sound, the one that effectively propelled Motown’s mid 60’s victory march. And Martha & her girls were an essential part of that success . They made a lot of terrific records – but never really returned to “Come and Get these Memories” territory.  It was very much of its moment. But still, whenever I get into a Martha Reeves mood,  that’s the moment I usually choose to revisit first.  The  lotus pool where I still like to linger.
 
8. MOVE OVER DARLING-DORIS DAY
(Terry Melcher-Hal Kantor-Joe Lubin) Columbia 1963 single, uncharted
Doris Day’s hit films of the 60’s almost always had a theme song, sung over the credits by Day herself. Up till ’62 those songs were generally very reflective of 50’s tastes in pop music. Mitch Miller style novelty tunes or staid old-school love ballads. Doris’ son Terry Melcher was a rising player in the West Coast music scene (he later produced the Byrds and  Paul Revere and the Raiders). And when Columbia showed an interest in creating a movie theme for her that reflected current hit parade tastes, it wasn’t surprising that Doris felt safe entrusting the project to Terry . He took a hand in arranging , producing and writing here and gave Day a great new radio-friendly sound .  From its first perfect moment, it’s clear we’re in the center of a very 1963, very pop chart universe.  Spector level echoes,  shimmering percussion –and Doris finally gets  backup singers  who sound more Girl Group than Girl Guide.  Of course, Doris’ voice, shining with its usual girl next door warmth and sunny sexiness,  lights the whole thing from within. A big hit in England, this song somehow failed to chart in America. Our bad.  Had it been a hit here, we may have had a whole Brill Building style album by Doris. She came close with ‘63’s “LOVE HIM”, produced by Terry.  But , though many of the songs were contemporary pop items, the treatment was closer to Percy Faith, which is to say more aimed at parents than teens. Like most Day albums, it’s a beauty. But I wish she’d been able to give us one all-Brill Building LP, instead of a restricting her Top 40 dabbling to a few scattered (admittedly marvelous) movie themes. Mort Garson was an arranger who worked with Day during this period. He co-wrote the Ruby and the Romantics hits “Our Day Will Come”. And I’ve often wondered whether “Day Dreaming”, a song that group released in ’63, had actually been written for Doris during the “Move Over Darling” period when it looked like she might be in the market for some Top 40 sounds.  Listen to it; imagine Doris singing it. Wouldn’t it have been a great addition to that never to be Doris Day album of Brill Building sparklers?