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.
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.
For those of you who don’t follow the show on Facebook or Twitter, I’ll be posting the pictures here in another couple of days, outlining the New Studio Project. My return to the Podcast Zone was delayed a little bit by a faulty cable I needed to replace, plus I was getting into a weird funk. But fortunately I got a mental boot in the butt by Greg Yates over at the No Head Trash Nation Podcast. I met Greg a few weeks ago when I was in Orlando and, while he considers himself a relative newbie to podcasting, I’m constantly finding myself saying “Yeah, this guy knows his stuff.” “Holy cow, he’s right.” He and I spoke face to face for about twenty minutes and I’m practically ready to follow him into a burning house. Anyway, Greg’s a smart guy and you should check out his show.
But first, you’ve been waiting forever for this show! And here it is! The songs in this show were actually selected several months ago, and I lost the list. (That does seem to happen to me a lot, doesn’t it.) It turned up when I was cleaning out a computer bag, and I took it as a sign from above. Or from my computer bag, whatever.
At any rate, you probably know that most of the songs I talk about today are covers, but I’m pretty sure I still have a couple of surprises for you. Go check it out.
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.
And, as usual, please take a moment to leave a comment here, or a review wherever you get your podcasts from.
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.
As usual, your podcatcher should have found this show by now, but if it hasn’t, or if you’re a do-it-yourselfer with the downloads, you can pick it up right here:
EDITED to fix the link. Which makes the first sentence of this post just a little more poignant, no?
Hey, everybody makes a mistake now and then. That’s why they put erasers on pencils, am I right?
But once in awhile, someone will make a mistake that manages to enhance rather than detract (“Eminence Front,” I’m looking at you.). And that’s where we’re going this week: we’ll look at four songs that had mistakes in them where the artists made a conscious decision to keep the error in place because it actually makes the song a little bit better.
And, as usual, you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can just play/download it from right here:
And any feedback is good feedback…especially if it’s good feedback. so please take the time to leave a rating on iTunes or whatever app you’re using to listen to the show. Much appreciated! And for your efforts, here’s a video clip of the the engineer’s point of view behind one of the stories in the show: