NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hi, campers! and welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, a weekly podcast that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and it’s summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime.
Hey, don’t forget to check out the website, How Good It Is Dot Com, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and of course the Facebook page, which can be found over at Facebook dot com, slash, (ow) How Good It Is Pod.
This week’s trivia is a two-parter for ye. Here’s Part One: Before he was the drummer for the Monkees, Micky Dolenz was an actor. As a child, he had a part in a TV series that ran for two seasons beginning in 1956. What was the name of that program?
Here’s part two: in the 1970s Micky was seriously considered to play a role on another TV series that eventually ran for eleven seasons. Name that show, and for bonus Internet Points, name the role that ultimately went to a different actor.
As usual, I’ll have that answer at the end of the program.
If I sound a little different this week, it’s because I’m not in my usual home studio. I’m on the road for the next several days, headed to a family event. And today the How Good It Is Studios are located in an oceanfront condo in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. So if you happen to hear, I don’t know, seagulls or Coppertone or some such in the background, that’s the reason why.
Also, while I try to make the show as “evergreen” as possible, I need to share some news with you. How Good It Is has been one of a very few podcasts selected for a scholarship to attend the 2019 Podcast Movement Conference in Orlando this summer. It’s a hugely exciting opportunity and I hope to learn a lot about how to make this show an even better experience for you, especially since it’s your support that’s gotten me this far, and I can’t thank you enough for it.
So there are going to be a few shows that sound a little weird this summer for similar reasons, and my wife suggested that I take a few weeks off, but there’s so much going on this summer that I wanted to cover in a contemporary fashion that I just couldn’t do it. We’ve got a few 50th anniversaries coming up that I want to share with you, there’s the Podcast Movement thing, and I have a couple of other projects cooking that, if they work out the way I hope they will, will shake out to be some pretty special shows. So keep your fingers crossed.
This week we’re taking our fourth run at songs which were pretty big hits on the charts, but which you might not realize are covers of other artists. Now, up until the mid-50s or so, having several artists sing a specific song was pretty common, because more often than not the artists weren’t writing their own material. Instead, they were turning to songwriters, who had no problem at all with having a bunch of musicians licensing out their work. But as the industry moved into the era of singers being more or less expected to compose their own material, singing someone else’s work became more of an homage to the previous piece than anything else. It wasn’t frowned upon, but it definitely became less common. And a lot of times, a song may not get a lot of attention when it’s first recorded, but becomes a big hit when someone else picks it up and puts their own spin on it.
So for our first entry today, I’m going to play the original version first. The artist in this case is a bandleader named Perez Prado. This is an instrumental, so pay attention to the melody line:
Got that? I wanted you to get a handle on that, because the cover version added lyrics, and it’s the vocals that, of course, are following that melody. So on first listen, you wouldn’t necessarily think that it’s the same song:
That’s right, Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number Five,” which was all over your radio in 1999, was originally recorded by Perez Prado in 1949. But it’s not as simple as that. You see, Bega sampled part of Prado’s recording to make his own, but he also wrote the lyrics on his own, so he tried to claim all the rights on this new recording. Prado’s estate, which is called Peermusic, wasn’t having any of that, and they sued Bega. The trial was held in Bega’s home country of Germany, so it was expected to break in Bega’s favor because it’s not illegal over there to register riffs for copyright, but it turned out that Bega’s publishing company had contacted Peermusic prior to the song’s release to get a royalty agreement. But since Bega had written the lyrics, the song now has a co-writing credit. And for my money, giving it the same title—in the recording itself—had to be a strike against him as well.
Let’s move on.
For my money, Joan Jett’s 1982 recording of “I Love Rock and Roll” is practically a perfect record. It’s got an opening that grabs you immediately, it’s got the rock star snarl in it, it’s got a great chorus that you just KNOW everyone in the crowd is going to sing along with, it has a terrific bridge, and it’s neither too long nor too short.
And, it’s also a cover.
“I Love Rock and Roll” was written in 1975 by a guy named Alan Merrill. Merrill said in an interview that he wrote the song as a response to the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)”. The song wound up as a B Side to a track called “Broken Down Heart”, and while Merrill’s band, The Arrows, would play it live a lot, the record didn’t do much.
However, the song prompted a British television producer to offer them a contract to do a show in the UK, which they called Arrows, and while Joan Jett was touring with her band The Runaways in 1976, she caught the band playing the song on TV. A couple of years later she recorded the song as a solo artist along with a couple of the Sex Pistols, then again in 1982 with her new band The Blackhearts. I thought about playing a clip of the Sex Pistols version, but there’s not a ton of difference between it and the Blackhearts. Maybe the second version is a little more polished, but that’s about it. And, go figure, it wasn’t long after that that Merrill had his version re-issued, this time with “Broken Down Heart” as the B Side and “I Love Rock and Roll” as the A, go figure.
Incidentally, in 1999 Britney Spears did a cover of the song and, well, I HAD to listen to it because that’s my job here. I strongly recommend you do not.
OK, let’s jump to 1998 and this Big Beat track by Fatboy Slim. Now, this track features a lot of sampling, including a piano track from a stereo test album, a snippet of guitar music from Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World”, and a chunk of audio from the theme to the cartoon show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. But the thing that makes it a cover, is that all these elements were used to support yet another sample, that of Camille Yarbrough and a song of hers from 1975. Let me tell you a little story about that. Yarbrough created a one-woman show in 1971 called Tales and Tunes of an African American Griot. In 1975 she created an album titled The Iron Pot Cooker, which was based on the show. And one of the tracks was this number, titled “Take Yo Praise”…
Camille Yarbrough was successful enough with Tales and Tunes of an African American Griot that she was able to tour the show through the 70s and 80s.
OK, one more for today, and while this song wasn’t a huge hit on the Billboard charts, but it definitely put the artist on the map. In 1988 the Cowboy Junkies recorded their second album, titled The Trinity Sessions. The entire album was recorded in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto, Canada, with the entire band arranged around a single microphone. And while there are a few covers on the album, the song that really helped the album break out is this one, titled “Sweet Jane”…
…but “Sweet Jane” dates back to about 1970, when Lou Reed was still with the Velvet Underground. The original release of the song sounds like this:
…but most people know this version:
This is the live version as performed by a solo Lou Reed, on 1973’s Rock and Roll Animal album.
But also in 1973, an album that collected various Velvet Underground performances was released, and it had this track, recorded at The Matrix in San Francisco:
And this appears to be the template on which the Cowboy Junkies built their version. As I mentioned, none of these weren’t huge tracks, chart-wise, but the Cowboy Junkies got enough attention from it that the Trinity Sessions album, and that climbed to Number 26 on the Top 200 Albums chart.
And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you about Micky Dolenz and his acting career. Well, several years before he was a Monkee, he was the star of the show Circus Boy, where he played Corky, the youngster whose parents were killed in a trapeze accident. Corky’s best friend is an elephant, so it’s a circus variation on Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, believe it or not:
That’s some confession, Mick. Later on in the early 1970s, both he and fellow Monkee Michael Nesmith were under serious consideration to play one of television’s most iconic roles, that of Arthur Fonzarelli on the show Happy Days. The story goes that they were both rejected for the part because of their height. At six foot one each, they were several inches taller than most of the other guys playing teenagers on the show. I’m only sorry I couldn’t find audition footage of Micky playing the Fonz, but you can find clips of him when he was on the night time soap Peyton Place, playing bad boy Kitch Brunner. That was right before he was cast for The Monkees.
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Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.