I don’t know why it fascinated me so much recently to poke around with songs that had foreign lyrics in them. But, here we are. This week’s show (and I promise I’m done with the premise for awhile) looks at four songs between 1969 and 1984 which have non-English phrases in them. Some of them have been hilariously misunderstood for a long time. One of them is pretty obvious but I decided to throw it in anyway. And one may come as a surprise to you, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
As promised, here’s an episode of the European game show Jeux Sans Frontières from 1975. This episode comes from Engelburg, Switzerland:
And here’s another, airing from Vilamoura, Portugal in 1980:
Tommy James and the Shondells started out as Tom and the Tornadoes in 1959, when Tom was 12 years old. A few years later they changed their name in honor of guitarist Troy Shondell, and they cut their second record in a local radio station after under-age Tom saw a band playing the song “Hanky Panky” in a club and noted the huge reaction it got from the crowd.
The record did well in the Midwest for a bit, and that was about it because it didn’t have national distribution. Suddenly a Pennsylvania station picked it up, and that was the start of Tommy James becoming an employee of an organized crime family.
I considered putting this song in one of my Songs You Didn’t Know Were Covers collections, but there’s more backstory to “Wild Thing” than most of those songs get, so I committed it to its own episode. And now you’re spoiled in that respect: yes, The Troggs’ version of “Wild Thing” wasn’t the first version of the song to be recorded.
It was, however, more faithful to the rather sparsely-recorded demo recorded by Chip Taylor, and it became the template upon which the many, MANY future covers of the song are based. And this week we’re going to look at a bunch of them, in brief. Most of them are very good. Some of them…not so much, but your mileage may vary in that respect.
So I’m sitting here in my home office-slash-podcast studio, researching and writing this week’s episode, and setting up the audio clips, and my dog is sitting at my feet pretty much the entire time. And as soon as I cracked the microphone open, he decided he needed to leave the room. Did he need to go outside? No. He just wanted to be in the next room. How’s that for a criticism?
Ah, well. At least I have you. Right? RIGHT??
John Lennon’s first non-Beatles single for which he gets sole writing credit was misunderstood and probably alienated Beatles fans, but you can’t deny the power of Eric Clapton’s guitar riffs and the claustrophobia of the mix provided by Klaus Voormann’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drumming. And it should be noted that the moaning and screaming at the end actually pre-dates Arthur Janov’s book The Primal Scream, so once again Lennon was a little bit ahead of his time. (Albert Goldman’s book about Lennon suggests that he and Mick Jagger got advance copies of the book, and that John Lennon actually underwent primal scream therapy for awhile. However, Goldman’s book appears to have only a casual relationship with the truth.
It’s allergy season and I’m sounding great, my friend. Have a listen.
In 1964 the Shangri-Las got on a sudden hot streak with their sultry recording of “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”, written by George “Shadow” Morton.
Morton had bluffed his way into the Brill Building by telling Lieber and Stoller that he was a songwriter (he wasn’t), and when he was asked what kind of songs he wrote, he said “hit songs” (also a lie). But Lieber and Stoller took his word for it and asked him to write a song. A week later, Morton came back not only with a song, but with a quartet of teenage girls from Long Island City called The Shangri-Las. Lieber and Stoller liked both the song and the girls, and signed them to a contract (well, their parents signed the contract; they were still minors at the time). I saw somewhere that there might have been some controversy about the Shangri-Las already being signed to another label, but I couldn’t substantiate that claim.
And that’s just one of several nebulous stories that surround the Shangri-Las and their first couple of hits. We look at a few of the ones that are connected to their second, much larger hit. Have fun with it.
Holy Moley, kids. It’s another overstuffed episode of the show for you. But, I guess that’s what happens when you’re dealing with a song that goes clear back to 1933.
“Blue Moon” was written by Rodgers and Hart, and it was going to be used in a movie, then it wasn’t. Then it was going to be used in another movie, then it wasn’t. Then it was again, and the publisher at MGM thought the melody would make a pretty nice popular song, so he convinced Lorenz Hart to change the lyrics. And it did take some convincing, for reasons you’ll get to hear about during the show.
While you’re here, let me give extra thanks to Bill Tyres for his permission to use the audio from one of his YouTube videos. You can find his over at his main webpage, or through his YouTube channel. Tell him I sent you.
And finally, as a little bonus, here’s Elvy Yost, singing the first incarnation of the song. She appeared on an episode of The Catch singing a later version of it (and it looked like a YouTube video in the show), but it doesn’t appear that she actually made a video for YT consumption.
Last week’s show was short, time-wise, and I promised I’d make up for it. And make up, I did, because this is one of my longer non-interview shows, clocking in at 20:30. If you listen to this show during your morning commute, you may have to circle the block a few times before going in to work.
But it’s so packed with stuff that I don’t think you’ll mind. This week we’re looking at songs that were inspired by books, a topic that’s turned out to be HUGE, and we’ll be visiting again in the future if you’re digging it.
John Fogerty had already picked up some popularity with his band The Golliwogs, but Uncle Sam came a-calling in 1966. In order to avoid being sent to Vietnam, he instead enlisted in the Army Reserves, where he served for a while until he was discharged honorably.
In the days that followed the discharge, he wrote a song that he knew immediately would be a hit on the level of the bigger songs of the Tin Pan Alley days. And, given that other artists recorded the same song within a few months of its release, he was correct in that regard.
The new owners of their label, Fantasy Records talked the band into changing their name to something a little less offensive in exchange for the opportunity to record a full-length album (rather than the singles they’d been making), and the band, not being fools, agreed immediately. The original name had come from Fantasy’s previous owner, so they weren’t really married to it anyway.
Thus it was that The Golliwogs became Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Bayou Country their first album.
Thanks for your patience as the show migrates from one server to another. As I noted on the social media, I’m working hard to make it as invisible as possible if you listen via Google or Apple or Spotify, etc. And the website here is going to look kind of weird for awhile with a lot of double posts for previous episodes, until I pick my way through and fix them, one by one. Fun, Fun, Fun!
This week, we’re taking yet another look at a few songs which you may not have known were covers, and nearly all of them were suggested by a listener named Kim, who didn’t feel that a shout-out was necessary, but obviously I don’t feel the same way. Kim had a list of songs that could work, and I said “Sure” to most of them, with a single exception, and that’s mostly because the story is a little convoluted and I may have to turn it into an episode of its own down the road a ways.
Anyway: a new hosting partner means a new player here on the webpage for you, and I do have a little bit of customizing control over it (something I didn’t previously have at all), so I’m happy to hear your suggestions. And, of course, please let me know if you hit any weird technical snags.
Bear with me this week; I’m fighting off some kind of respiratory thing and I’m sounding like Peter Brady singing “Time to Change.”
By the way, isn’t it cool the way we get that flanging effect only when Marcia and Greg are singing solo, despite the group microphones?
Why yes, I am a fussbudget. Nice to meet you.
This week: it was Procul Harum’s debut single, and at last count it was the song most played EVER on UK radio. Not a Beatles or Stones tune; this one. How about that!
I feel a little badly because I didn’t really leave anything out of my script for the benefit of putting something cool here, so I guess you’re out of luck in that respect. But if you’re here to listen to the embed, I’ve got some good news for you: here it is!