Back in the 1950s, cover songs weren’t a big deal at all, especially if you were in a doo-wop group. Most of those groups started out in churches and in schools, and performed on street corners or Amateur Hour shows, and they weren’t writing their own material so much as they were adapting the songs that they’d heard and already knew. So it was with The Flamingos and their biggest hit, “I Only Have Eyes For You,” which dates back to the 1934 film Dames, featuring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. Check out this mostly-instrumental “dance” number!
For a song that’s so well-known among Oldies fans, it didn’t do that well on the charts in 1959, peaking at #11 on the pop chart and #3 on the R&B chart. And I have a theory about that, but you’ll have to listen in.
As usual, you can get it via your favorite podcatcher, or you canclick on the player below to listen/download:
So for those of you who listen via iTunes, or some other podcatcher: I owe you a huge apology.
I’d uploaded this week’s episode into Podomatic, which hosts my RSS feed, but somehow I managed to miss hitting the “Publish” button. It’s a mistake I didn’t catch until today. At any rate, the problem has been rectified, and I’m a dope.
Also, I had one thing in mind for this week’s show, but I’m going to do another thing instead, because the first idea gave me writer’s block.
Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Part 2” was only the second Number One hit for Motown Records. The first was 1962’s “Please Mister Postman” by the Marvelettes. (Fun Fact: the drummer on both these songs was Marvin Gaye! He was still an up-and-coming artist, so he played as a session musician on a lot of the early tracks for the label.)
But Motown had a bit of a tough time getting audiences to appreciate The 12-Year-Old Genius, and even this song wasn’t the catalyst for his career. It took a little perseverance and the onset of puberty to turn him into one of Motown’s biggest performers, with a career that’s still going strong fifty-five years later, and counting.
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In the 1960s there was a doo-wop girl group called the Blue Belles (sometimes known as The Bluebelles, or Patti and the Bluebelles). After Cindy Birdsong left the group in 1967 to become a Supreme, the group reinvented themselves and became Labelle. In the early 1970s they were a funk-rock group, recording covers of The Rolling Stones, Carole King and all kinds of other stuff that no other similarly-composed group would even consider. But another couple of years went by and they reinvented themselves again, embracing the the Glam Rock look and sound, and it was during that era that they scored their biggest hit, a proto-disco-funk track called “Lady Marmalade”, which went to Number One on the Billboard Chart in March of 1975.
Over the years since then, Labelle’s influence can still be heard in the sounds of groups like En Vogue, the Pussycat Dolls, and Destiny’s Child. Their fearlessness has inspired at least a couple of generations of pop musicians, and even their non-hit tracks are regularly covered. “Lady Marmalade” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003, and I’ll bet you didn’t even know that “Grammy Hall of Fame” was even a thing.
If your podcast catcher hasn’t figured it out yet, you can always just click on the player below to listen right here (or download it, if that’s your thing) while you admire those feathery outfits.
Did you ever decide that you were in the market for something, let’s say you need a car, and all of a sudden you see advertisements for cars all over the place? Or, you learn a new word and suddenly you see it being used everywhere?
This is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, and it’s a weird little trick our brains play on us. And recently, I was pranked by my brain in this manner.
Episode 9 was devoted to songs that you may not have known were covers of other artists, and I thought at that time that it was kind of a fun idea, and I’d like to come back to it once in awhile. Now, I was thinking maybe another 20 or 30 episodes down the road, but then Baader-Meinhof got in the way and I started really noticing it when it was pointed out that a song I was listening to was a cover of another recording. So, because I have a tendency to write stuff down and then immediately lose the notes, I decided to return to the concept a little more quickly than I usually do. And the fun thing is, I’m saving the one that came as the biggest surprise to me for another show.
So this time around we’re going to hear from musicians as diverse as Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Led Zeppelin and Linda Lyndell. Who? Just go listen, you’ll be fine, I promise. In fact, you’re going to be sad that you don’t know who Linda Lyndell is, especially when you find out WHY you don’t know who she is.
I noted this briefly at the end of the show, but something I noticed only while I was recording was that all of the songs enjoyed only modest success until the cover came out. But the other common thread is that the more successful artist made some sort of change to the song, almost as if that made the difference between whether or not the song was a hit.
As usual, if your favorite podcatcher isn’t getting the job done, you can feel free click on the player below to listen and/or download the show:
Also, my apologies for the late delivery of this episode; I had a technical issue that was frankly kind of scary, and had me wondering whether I’d be forced to A) re-record the episode after B) buying a new computer, but fortunately I managed to fix what was wrong and we’re only a few hours late.
Sad news from the world of music this week as we learn that Edwin Hawkins has died at the age of 74. I have to confess that this came as a surprise because I started doing the math and realized that Hawkins was in his mid-20s when “Oh Happy Day” became a hit. For whatever reason I thought he was at least twenty years older THEN.
Hawkins was the founder of the Northern California State Youth Choir, and the choir recorded some songs to make a fundraiser album, which unfortunately didn’t get pressed until after the event for which they needed the money. That event was a choral competition, and the NCSYC came in second, perhaps because “Oh Happy Day” wasn’t one of the songs they sang. As it turns out, that wasn’t one of their favorite songs!
The unexpected success of “Oh Happy Day” led to the group being asked to provide the backup singing for Melanie’s tribute to her experience at Woodstock, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”.
The Edwin Hawkins Singers experienced some more success on the Gospel charts over the years, and lead singer Dorothy Morrison gained acclaim as a backup singer for several rock artists.
And I’m sure you know the drill by now, but if your RSS feed is failing you somehow, there’s always the player below for listening or downloading:
Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” but Damn, Janis, couldn’t you have burned with us just a little bit longer?
Janis Joplin was a ball of raw talent who took a rough childhood and let it inform her musical style. And that almost certainly carried through to the listener. When she sounded sad, so did you. When she was feeling silly, it immediately conveyed. And when she sang in an anguished style, you were right there with her.
What’s more, her band members, whether it was Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band, or the Full Tilt Boogie Band, really knocked themselves out to support her sound. Listen especially hard to the Pearl album, where a lot of the instrumentals were recorded over a ten-day span shortly after Joplin died.
But Joplin’s last recorded album track wasn’t even necessarily meant to be on the album. It was a piece that started out as an a capella goof during a technical breakdown while recording, and the producer decided that it needed to be on the album. What’s more, it needed to remain as-is, without any instrumentation.
“Mercedes Benz” was based on a piece by Beat poet Michael McClure, and it was a comment on the futility of social climbing by gathering material goods. It was an interesting time for rock musicians, because they were starting to get recognition AND the money that comes with fame, and in a lot of cases they purchased expensive stuff such as cars and big houses even as they decried them in their songs. Despite this somewhat mixed message, the car company took the tone-deaf step of using it in one of their ads.
Next week: more surprise cover songs! I keep finding these things. And one in particular was a huge surprise for me.
For the record (heh), I have no idea why I goofed during the recording of Episode 19. But goof I did.
When I put each podcast together, I have a bunch of information that I’m trying to gather into a coherent narrative. Since I don’t typically think that way, that means that I script about 90% of the show, and only leave a small amount of time to ad-libs or other happy accidents. I also mix the show as I record it in small chunks, so a 10-13 minute podcast can be made up of anywhere between 8 and 20 elements that I have to mix and/or edit together. That’s neither here nor there; the important thing I’m trying to convey is that the show is largely scripted.
So while I was editing, I noticed something I’d said incorrectly. And I said it with such confidence that, when I heard it–and realized immediately that I’d said something wrong, I said, “That’s gotta be in the script.” So I went back to the script and…nope, it’s written correctly. So, without explanation, I have to apologize for something I said at about 9:30 in the show. I said, “I kinda like what they did in the first verse, with Bill Medley losing patience.” In fact, that happened in the third verse, not the first.
I don’t know what was going through my head (BuSpar, maybe), but as soon as I heard it, I knew better. But I also knew that I wasn’t going back to the studio to re-record a single sentence for a relatively inconsequential error. So now you get a dopey story here.
While they’re often mistaken for a doo-wop group, The Coasters were actually a rhythm-and-blues vocal group, whose greatest successes came when they were teamed with the composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and when they had humorous material to work with.They made such an impression on other artists that it was a small wonder when, in 1987, they became the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yeah, I know I’m kinda splitting hairs, here: the previous year was all individuals plus the Everly Brothers. But I’m sticking by this assessment.)
Their peak years, chart-wise, were between 1958 and 1960, when all of their Top 40 singles were released. In today’s episode we talk about three of them: Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, and Along Came Jones. After these three came two more: Poison Ivy and Little Egypt, which were more clever than funny.
There have been numerous configurations of the group since the first day, so you could argue that the one in the photo above, which is responsible for most of the hits, was the magic bullet. Through many personnel changes, The Coasters never quite reached the same level of success.
As if you didn’t know this already: you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can just click on the player right here for listening or downloading: