Episode 47–Remembering Aretha Franklin

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. 

The album I’d purchased. The original plastic wrap probably had a sticker reading “Includes Respect”

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. 

Rest in Peace, Queen of Soul. 

Episode 46–Mellow Yellow

 

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. 

https://youtu.be/jIfTh0T6M8Y

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Episode 43–Where Did Our Love Go

By nearly all accounts, the Supremes were starting to look like a failure. Between 1961 and 1963, they had recorded six singles, five of them for Motown, and none of them reached the Billboard Top 40 chart. There was a glimmer of light when the song “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” reached #23, but the act still wasn’t getting a lot of traction.

It wasn’t until the songwriting/producing team of Holland/Dozier/Holland (who also wrote “Lovelight”) wrote a song and produced a musical track for the Marvelettes, which the Marvelettes hated and refused to record. Desperate to get an artist to record a vocal (lest they be forced to pay for the musicians out of their own pockets), they managed to strong-arm the “No-Hit Supremes” into recording the song, even though the finished music track wasn’t in Diana Ross’ key. But the key change, and the bad attitude that the girls brought to the recording studio, was enough to turn the song into their first Number One hit, and that was the start of a string of chart toppers.

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Episode 39–Under the Boardwalk

Before I start this week’s windup, let me point you to a different podcast for a moment. The guys at the TMDR Podcast describe their show as being simultaneously about nothing and about everything, but they keep the shows confined to a couple of topics. I’ve been listening in on their discussions of the HBO series Westworld, and just this week they did a show where they spent some time reviewing several different podcasts, How Good It Is being among the shows they reviewed.

I have to say, I was blown away by the level of praise they gave to the show, and I just wanted to thank them yet again, and offer up this link (click on their logo at right). Go check them out; I think you’ll have some fun.

Back in the mid-1980s I went to a Fourth of July event on Long Island. Among the pre-fireworks entertainment was music provided by The Drifters. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there were LOTS of ex-Drifters simply, er, drifting about, and many of them had gotten together and were touring as The Drifters. What’s more, all of these groups could legally do so in many places around the country.

As it happened, I was young and naive, and kinda-sorta listening to their lead singer and the way he was singing staccato style, because he was older and couldn’t hold his notes for any appreciable length of time.

So did I see The Drifters or did I see “The Drifters”? There’s an element of “both” in my eyes, because there were so many people paid to be one of The Drifters that this group could easily be made up of former members. But that didn’t mean I was watching Ben E. King or Clyde McPhatter.

“Under the Boardwalk” was recorded the day after their lead singer Rudy Lewis died. They recruited a former member from several years ago, and before long a new version of the group had cranked out their second-biggest hit.

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Episode 35–(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

During their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, October 1964.

By the time early 1965 came around, the Rolling Stones were certainly in the realm of a band that had paid their dues. They’d spent time touring the UK to build up a following there, they’d been to the US once without a hit, which wasn’t an especially successful tour, and they’d been there a second time, a trip that went much better. However, during that tour there were still a few mishaps, and that, plus a guitar riff that Keith Richards literally wrote in his sleep, transformed the Rolling Stones from Just Another British Band Covering American R&B tunes, into a genuine worldwide phenomenon.

This photo was literally taken at the time Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” He’s not writing in this photo (there’s someone he’s talking with who’s out of frame), but it was in that place, on that day.

The time from concept to release was a little over a month, and from release to the top of the charts (in the US, anyway) was only another few weeks. The song dominated the Billboard Hot 100 for the entire month of July 1965, and became the #3 song of the year, behind “Wooly Bully” (Wooly Bully? Really? That was #1?) and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”.

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Episode 33–Ron Dante

In the mid 1960s, a group called The Detergents released an album of novelty songs, and a couple of them caught on, but one did especially well, a parody of the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.” Among that group was a young man named Ron Dante.

A few years later, Dante was chosen to be the lead voice for a fictional band that was tied in with a cartoon series. That band was The Archies, and they had a short string of hits, peaking with “Sugar Sugar” in 1969. Dante provided all the male voices on “Sugar Sugar,” and Toni Wine provided all the female voices. So yes, you appear to hear two women—one singing low and the other singing high—but in fact they’re both Toni Wine.

Wine left the group around the time “Sugar Sugar” became a hit, and the female portion of The Archies’ follow-up single was voiced by someone else. You’ll just have to listen in to find out who that was.

The Archies, around the “Sugar Sugar” era. From Left to right: Toni Wine, Ron Dante, Jeff Barry, Hot Dog (taking a break from conducting), Ron Dante, Toni Wine. Heh.

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Oh hey! How Good It Is is listed as a featured podcast on the Podcast Republic app! I’m gonna give them some love for a few weeks, you betcha.

 

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.

As usual, your podcast catcher should have captured this episode by now (ooh! It’s available at Google Play now!), but if not, feel free to click the player below for listening or downloading.

Next week we look at a different kind of disaster.

Episode 28–You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

The Righteous Brothers were originally part of a larger group called The Paramours. In 1962 they split up, and members Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield began appearing in local clubs in southern California as a duo. One night, when they finished singing a song, a Marine from a nearby base shouted at them, “That was righteous, brother.” When they were signed to Moonglow Records shortly thereafter, they were asked to come up with a name for the act, and they recalled that incident. “Righteous Brothers” sounded about right for them so they ran with it.

About two years later, they were playing in a show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, where a record producer was conducting the band. That conductor was Phil Spector, who was looking to add some male voices to his Phillies label. Spector’s first move was to hire Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to write a song specifically for his new act. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was the result of that hire.

I’ve seen two different versions of the ad. Most of the descriptions mention the plug for Ready Steady Go!, as this one does, but there’s another version that doesn’t have the plug but does feature Oldham’s actual signature at the bottom. I’m not sure which one is the real one, but this is the one that doesn’t require me to pay a fee.

Shortly after the record was released, the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, got Cilla Black to rush-record a cover for quick release. It started to out-pace the Righteous Brothers’ version, until two things happened: first, the label caught wise to what was going on and flew the Righteous Brothers to the UK for a week-long publicity tour that included some TV appearances. Meanwhile, Andrew Oldham, the manager for the Rolling Stones, spent his own money to promote the version from across the pond. In short order, the American version was topping the UK charts, and Cilla Black’s was dropping rapidly.

Naturally, if you iTunes or some such, you’ve already got this in your library. But if you don’t, you can click on the player below to listen or download.

Oh—and, as promised in the last post, here’s a photo of my basement studio:

The laptop on the left holds my audio elements while the one on the right is my “everyday” machine that I use for recording. The Audacity file you’re looking at is the unedited, unprocessed (via Auphonic) version of this week’s show. You can see I use two mice; one is wireless and the other one isn’t. The wired one is the one that I use for the left-hand machine, because it gives me (I think) more control and that’s where I really need it.

There’s another panel of foam squares just out of frame to the left, and a third one behind me. My mic is on a boom that’s clamped to the table. And that’s my script between the computers and resting on both keyboards.

Hope you liked the tour!

Episode 22–Under The Covers II

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.

Episode 21–Edwin Hawkins

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.

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