Posted in 1960, 1960s

Episode 30–Angel Baby

I realize it’s not fashionable to bash the teenagers these days, however in my head this one actually deserves the abuse. Most of you may not agree, but I’m gonna say my piece anyway and be done with it.

Rosalie Mendez Hamlin was just a young teenager when she joined a band and they recorded their only hit record in 1960, in a converted airplane hangar. But by the time the song hit the charts, the band had broken up and Rosie was just starting a decades-long fight to get credit for writing the song, and to get the royalties she deserved. One of the things that broke in her favor as part of the legal actions she needed to take was the fact that she’d mailed a copy of the song to herself. It’s not an iron-clad way of enforcing a simple copyright, but it did turn out to be a shrewd move on her part.

Both “Angel Baby” and its B-Side, a track sung by a friend of the band who happened to be there for the session, are just plain bad recordings. As musicians, The Originals were not what you’d call virtuosos. As Max Bialystock says in The Producers, “I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?”

Here’s the B-Side. See if you don’t agree:

But I think that the raw, unpolished sound of “Angel Baby” may be part of its appeal. It was only a couple of years later that genuine garage bands dropped off the landscape, and among bands with that kind of sound, this one stands out as more of a prom theme than a party-all-night tune.

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Next week we look at a different kind of disaster.

Posted in 1960, 1963

Episode 24–Fingertips Part 2

Everybody Say Yeah!

(Yeah!)

I love a good call-and-response.

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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Posted in 1950s, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1960s

Episode 19–The Coasters

Happy New Year!

The group in 1961: Dub Jones, Carl Gardner, Cornell Gunter, Billy Guy. This was the configuration that was inducted into the Rock Hall.

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.)

One of the posters for the movie, which inspired the Coasters’ song (but the song isn’t based on the movie). This ain’t a bad place to be, if you’re Gary Cooper.

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.

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