NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show 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 if I do any more traveling, I’m going to pick up an accent.
Remember 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.
All righty, I’ve got some trivia for ye, right here, and this one is a quickie.
Name the artist from the rock and roll era who has the greatest number of singles, none of which were written by that person. And I’m specifying the Rock and Roll era because you could easily say “Oh, well, Frank Sinatra has almost 300 singles,” and it’d be true, but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of this show. So we’ll stick with the 50s through the 80s, our usual time bracket. Who released the most singles without having written any of the songs themselves? And, in typical fashion I’ll have the answer for you later on, maybe even before the show ends.
This week’s show comes to you courtesy of two separate requests from two different listeners. I’d give them a shoutout but they made their requests through the listener survey, which is anonymous, so we’re all out of luck on that one. Now, last time around we took a look at a bunch of songs that turned out to be covers, and since my research does a little bit of overlap between shows, I was both surprised and pleased to discover that this week’s song is also a stealthy cover. So let us turn back the clock to 1969…
…and the island of St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, where a young musician named Sherman Kelly is doing some gigs, when he’s accosted by a local gang. Now, as far as anyone can tell, Sherman is this gang’s first victim. They beat him up, and they left him with fractures all over and lacerations on his face, and then they left him for dead. Sherman was very lucky, but eventually eight other people weren’t, so much.
While Sherman was recovering from his injuries, he thought about what might have led to his attack, and envisioned an alternate reality, where life was peaceful and celebrated with a kind of joy. That kind of thinking led him to write a song.
The joy he was looking to celebrate was very simple, and in a way, so is the song. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, all of the song’s lines, including the chorus, have that -ight rhyme scheme, so that everything rhymes with “light”. It wasn’t a unique way of doing it, but it’s not common either, having absolutely every line rhyme like that.
So let’s leave Sherman in that Caribbean hospital for a bit and turn our attention to the Upstate New York town of Ithaca, where a band named Boffalongo is trying to get their big break.
[MR GO AWAY]
And let me tell you this: Boffalongo is obscure enough that the song you’re listening to now, called “Mister Go Away”, is a B side from their second single. That’s how hard it was to find their stuff online. It’s not impossible, but it’s pretty tough.
Among the members of Boffalongo, which had just released their first album, was drummer Wells Kelly. Now, Wells Kelly happened to be the brother of our injured musician friend Sherman Kelly. And so Wells convinced Sherman to join Boffalongo. And when they were looking for material to put on the band’s second album, Sherman broke out the song he wrote while recuperating from the beatdown he’d taken in St. Croix.
So in 1970, Sherman sang lead on his composition, which was released as a single but didn’t get a lot of attention…
…so that was pretty much it for Boffalongo. The band broke up, but just a little bit. And I’ll get to that in a minute.
A year later, in 1971, Wells Kelly visited Paris to spend some time with the band King Harvest, of which a former Boffalongo, Dave Robinson, was a member. Kelly brought some albums with him from the United States, plus a copy of Boffalongo’s recording of “Dancing in the Moonlight”.
Robinson thought it would be a good track for King Harvest and they recorded the song with Robinson singing lead, plus a little more keyboard and better overall production values…
So, King Harvest had a huge hit with it and everyone made a bazillion dollars and now the entire band lives in the Caribbean, where they hunt down the street gangs who beat up musicians, right? No, of course not.
The record was released in Europe but it didn’t do anything at all. After a few months, the group disbanded and that was pretty much it, until 1972, when an American label called Perception Records bought the record and released it again on a worldwide scale. Sure enough, this time it caught on and it went to Number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It wasn’t a huge hit internationally despite the American success, but it did make the Top 40 in Italy and was Top Five in Canada.
And that would have been pretty much it for the song, except it did get a new life in the year 2000, when British band Toploader released their cover in February of that year as their third single, and it made it to Number Seven on the UK charts. But the funny thing is that they probably wouldn’t have released a single at all, if not for the fact that the song was used in a Sainsbury’s Supermarket advertisement, and people started requesting it. More recently, in 2007 this version was listed at Number 17 on BBC Three’s list of “The 100 most annoying pop songs we hate to love.”
The song has popped up in a couple of places in pop culture, like the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack and a rather touching episode of The Middle–oh, and the Toploader version can be heard in the movie A Walk to Remember, but there’s one in particular I want to call attention to. Awhile back there was a TV miniseries called The 70s wherein a character happens to be on hand during the recording of the song, but at that point the lyric is “Singing in the Moonlight”, and she suggests that they change it to “dancing” and they do, and the story’s nonsense. As we already know from the Boffalongo version, it’s always been Dancing in the Moonlight. Don’t be fooled.
So…what about that thing about Boffalongo not quite breaking up? OK, you got me. They did break up. But:
Wells Kelly and guitarist Lance Hoppen wound up joining John Hall, Wells’ old bandmate from before Boffalongo, to become the nucleus of the band Orleans.
And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you to name the artist from the rock and roll era who’s recorded and released the most singles without having written a song themselves. I thought about this one awhile and I figured that the answer was going to be Linda Ronstadt, but it turns out I was wrong. Linda Ronstadt has released 59 singles by my count, and she doesn’t have a writing credit on any of them. But waaay ahead of her is Elvis Presley, who had 59 singles just in the 1970s, never mind during his entire career. During his lifetime, Elvis released 118 singles: 30 in the 50s, but remember he was interrupted when he was drafted, 59 in the 60s and 29 up until his death in 1977. That brings us to 118, but another 33 singles have been released since he died, so count those as you will.
And, that’s a full lid on another edition of How Good It Is. If you’re enjoying the show, please take the time to share it with someone, and maybe even leave a rating somewhere.
Before I go, I need to mention that the instrumental track I used earlier on, called Tropical Traveller, by Del, is licensed under a Creative Commons License, and you can read a little more about that at the website if you’re so inclined.
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Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.