As I mentioned last week, the show is taking a brief break so that I can get a little bit ahead of the production curve.
Work has been extra-crazy this month, and life has thrown a few curveballs our way, and it’s pushed me into a place where I’m killing myself to put together a show that, ultimately, isn’t as good as what I’ve gotten used to producing here so far. And it arrives late, besides. That’s not fair to me OR to you.
So go play catchup if you’re a new listener, and the show will be back on October 13 when I take a look at ‘Both Sides Now.” See you then!
In 1978, Benny Mardones was a struggling singer-songwriter whose first album tanked partially because the label went bankrupt shortly after it was released. In fact, it remained out of print until 2012, when another label got ahold of it and released it on compact disc.
The story goes that Benny was living in an apartment in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, and there was a family in the building that was on hard times, so he helped support them, in part by paying their 16-year-old daughter Heidi the sum of $50 a week to walk his dog.
As they got close to finishing his second album (and the first for his new label), Benny and his writing partner were working out a song when Heidi came through the door to get the dog. It was then that they realized they’d been working all night long, and the partner’s response to Heidi’s presence inspired the opening line to the song.
And, as the story goes, the rest of the song is Mardones trying to express his deep affection for the Heidi and her family despite all the bad stuff that’s happened to them. And there’s a certain recognition that his success isn’t necessarily their success. Now, that’s pretty much the story that Mardones has told repeatedly, and I guess you can believe him, but it also makes you wonder why he agreed to the plotline that appears in the video, which makes him look like a middle-aged guy creeping on a teeny bopper (who, incidentally, has exactly one facial expression throughout the video).
The song made it to Number 11 in 1980, and again in 1989, putting in 37 non-consecutive weeks on the charts, the second-largest number of weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s, but not even close to the all-time record (I’ll let you Google it, the answer is kind of depressing).
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The year was 1958, and a guy named Fred Fassert wrote a song about his sister. Guess what her name was? I’m sure you know it was Norma Jean.
Ha, Ha! Just kidding! It was Barbara Ann! But I’m pretty sure the title of the post gave that away.
And now that I think about it, and all the girls named Barbara who had to put up with people singing that song at them, I’m not entirely convinced that he didn’t write the song to needle her just a little bit.
Anyway, he and the rest of his group, the Regents, recorded the song but they couldn’t get a label to distribute it, so they eventually broke up.
Three years later, a record distributor in New York picked up the recording and released it locally, where it became a hit in the NY Metro area. That distributor, in turn, leased the recording to Gee Records, which sent it nationwide and it became a #13 song for a band that no longer existed (and where have we heard that one before?)
A couple of years after that, the Beach Boys, under pressure to record something for Christmas 1965, put together a “party” album that was carefully crafted to sound like a spontaneous get-together, and they recorded a bunch of older songs that they happened to like. One of them was the old Regents tune, and they got Dean Torrence (of Jan & Dean) to sing lead. The tune closed out the album, and when radio stations started playing it, Capitol rushed out a single version of the record.
There’s more to the story, but if I tell it all here then you won’t listen to the podcast, and I can’t have that. So go check out your podcatcher, or listen/download through the player below.
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The Billboard Hot 100 chart has been around for about 60 years. In all that time, only seven songs which weren’t recorded in English have made it to the Number One position. And there are several other foreign-language songs which enjoyed plenty of popularity without making it to the top spot, but the fact is, in United States it’s tough to score a hit if your song isn’t in English.
So this week I tried to come up with a comprehensive list of non-English songs that made it to the Top 20. This definitely became a case of “the more you find, the more there is to find” so I’m not at all sure I caught everything, but it’s a pretty good list, and at over 18 minutes, it’s an overstuffed episode besides.
I think that some of the songs that didn’t make Number One are going to be a surprise to you, but a couple of the ones that did, may also be surprising. And there’s one artist who actually hit the Top Five twice, with songs that aren’t in English. And no, it’s not Dean Martin. I shan’t spoil it here, but I will say that this one really knocked me out.
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Alice Cooper (the band, not the guy) had released two albums without much success, so they turned their backs on Los Angeles and went to Detroit (as you do, I guess), where the people were already listening to stuff similar to their own. It was during that time that Alice Cooper (the guy, not the band) found himself watching an old Bowery Boys movie and he liked something that one of the characters had said.
From that he came up with the song that made Alice Cooper (the band, not the guy) the kings of summertime, and gave Alice Cooper (the guy, not the band) a good reason to declare himself “the Francis Scott Key of summer.
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First off: let me both thank, and apologize to, Jerry Bainbridge for his efforts this week. He voice-tracked the show for me this week in an effort to keep it from dropping too late, but a technical issue prevented me from using the material he’d given me. I do plan to ask him again in the near future, and I hope he’ll be kind enough to step up again then.
I’ve been spending time the past couple of weeks running up and down the coast between Baltimore and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, preparing a condo for rental, and believe it or not this show is the most relaxing thing I’ve done the whole time. And it was a nightmare to assemble. I’m going back to late-night recording!
This week, we’re looking at songs that did well on the charts, perhaps well enough that people have forgotten that there’s an earlier version. And I think at least one of them will come as a surprise to you. Maybe two of them. Hey, maybe all of them!
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My wife and I bought a condominium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this past week. The closing was supposed to be on Monday but there was a snafu, so we wound up wandering up and down a 30-mile stretch of coast from North Myrtle Beach down to Pawley’s Island, in a rented high-top cargo van full of stuff we’d intended to move into the condo after the closing. We still had a couple of pieces of furniture that we needed, so we popped into pretty much every consignment shop we could find, looking for a sleeper sofa that matched Wife’s design concept that wouldn’t break the bank. After a few minutes in any given store, I’d get restless and start looking through some of the other stuff, including the used records that were for sale.
The closing, and the recording of the documentation, didn’t take place until Thursday, which is the day that Aretha Franklin died. By sheer coincidence, we were in a consignment shop called Good Times, down in the Pawley’s Island area. And while we’d actually located the sleeper sofa we were looking for, I of course was looking at other stuff. This store, however, didn’t have any records to unload, except for a very small pile on a high shelf. I’m talking maybe fifteen albums, and that was the entire store’s inventory of vinyl.
As it happened, one of the records was a copy of Aretha’s first album for Atlantic Records, I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You. What’s more, it was in good shape and it still had its original inner sleeve. It was worth nearly three times what they were asking for it, and I jumped at the opportunity. I hadn’t even heard the news yet.
Aretha Franklin, her music and her performance style left an impact on the music world that is immeasurable, and the reaction of her fellow music stars, in addition to performers of all stripes, bears witness to this.
This week, we take a crack at remembering the Queen of Soul, who coincidentally died on the same date as the King of Rock, Elvis Presley. (August 16 is also the anniversary of the death of blues pioneer Robert Johnson. This is not a good date if you’re a musical groundbreaker.)
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As promised, here’s her 2015 performance at the Kennedy Center Honors show, during the segment honoring Carole King. Watch for the standing ovation mid-song.
Also, just for fun, here’s a clip from a 1991 episode of Murphy Brown. In the episode, Murphy gets an opportunity to interview Aretha Franklin, whom she has worshipped, live on television. She convinces the producer to give her the entire hour. Unfortunately, Aretha is delayed and the entire cast of the show has to vamp and otherwise fill time until her arrival, which unfortunately doesn’t happen at any point in the hour. As the clip starts, everyone has departed the studio except Murphy.
Donovan Leitch had already experienced some success in the UK, enough that Epic Records showed interest in distributing his music in the United States. When he signed the contract, however, it created a brief legal quagmire because his label in the UK had a distribution agreement with a different US label. As a result, there was a period where his albums and singles just couldn’t synchronize with one another. As a result, “Sunshine Superman” was released in the US months before it was in the UK, and in the meantime he’d moved on to his next project, which began with “Mellow Yellow”. Again the releases were asynchronous, but it was a Top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout Europe as well.
The song probably took on some extra popularity because it also became a song into which anyone could plug practically any meaning, at a time when theories about “what did the artist mean when he wrote this?” were really starting to thicken the air. And as it happens, he was largely being pretty straightforward.
As I mentioned during the show, the 1999 Gap ad has a few young future stars in it. Keep your eye peeled for Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) at the very end, for Monet Mazur (lots of one-offs but starring in All American starting October 2018) as the blonde girl singing the second line, and Jason Thompson (General Hospital) somewhere in between.
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It was the late 1970s and Disco was finally making that transition out of the clubs, to be replaced by Hip-Hop or New Wave, depending on where you hung out. And the members of Blondie were at the forefront of the Hip-Hop movement, going to clubs and seeing performers freestyling in the streets.
When Fab Five Freddy suggested to Deborah Harry and Chris Klein that they should write a song about him, they thought it was a good idea and came up with a song that represented several “firsts” in the music industry:
First Rap record to reach #1 on the Billboard charts;
First Rap video on MTV;
First Rap video in MTV’s 90-song rotation.
Unfortunately for the band, it was also their last major chart success in the US, but it paved the way for a bunch of other artists to move forward with the genre.
Incidentally, I mentioned this during recording and it wound up being edited out, but the sax player on this record is none other than Tom Scott.
Around the same time this record came out, the Tom Tom Club was working on a rap track of their own, “Wordy Rappinghood”. However, neither group knew what the other was up to, because Blondie was working in New York City while the Tom Tom Club was in the Bahamas.
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It was December of 1971 and Deep Purple was in Deep Trouble. They were all set to record their newest album, when the location they’d chosen for recording was accidentally set ablaze and burned completely to the ground.
It took a little scrambling, but they managed to locate a hotel that had closed for the season and were able to use it for recording. The only problem was, the mobile recording studio couldn’t be placed close to the recording space, so they had to run cables along walls, through a window, under a door, down a corridor, across a balcony, and who-knows-wherever else. This also meant that the band members had to traverse this route every time they wanted to hear their work played back. Ultimately they got tired of climbing all over the hotel and decided on-the-fly whether a particular take was any good.
The last song they recorded was one that they wrote pretty quickly, combined with an abandoned riff that Ritchie Blackmore had recorded without any particular project attached to it. It told the story of the fire, and the band’s travails in locating another place to record.
Deep Purple didn’t think the song had a lot of potential, but when they finally released it, it became one of rock and roll’s great iconic tunes, and a touchstone for novice guitar players everywhere. And the town of Montreux, where everything took place, commemorated the event with a memorial marker.
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