Rockabilly

Gene

I’ve had this topic in my folder since I started blogging four years ago. On the heels of the Elvis post it seems it’s time. Rockabilly by definition is a hybrid name, or technically a portmanteau so I recently learned. A combination of Rock and Roll and Hillbilly music. Rock and Roll as we know started to really develop in the early 1950’s and prior to that much of Country Music was described as Hillbilly Music. However that name was going out of fashion at the same time as Rock and Roll was rising. So it is somewhat fitting that we have a genre that bridges the gap between the two. Just to set the stage for Rockabilly, which not unlike most of what we call a ‘genre’ is actually considered a subgenre, in this case of Rock, so let’s take a look at the roots of the music. As the name says a big influence came from what was labeled as Hillbilly, so geographically we are talking about music from the Appalachia and the Ozarks as well as parts of the American South. It came to be used to describe the music, often in a derogatory way meaning music from the hills of just about anywhere.  Hillbilly Music moved under the term Country & Western, which ‘adopted’ this sound and other associated styles including Bluegrass, Folk, Western, and Folk Blues among others. Having said that, post this musical amalgamation the legendary Country star Hank Williams has been described as The Hillbilly Shakespeare which is unrelated to Rockabilly. For a short time in the late 1940’s Cashbox Magazine among its many music charts had one called the The Nations Big 5 Hillbilly. As for the term Hillbilly, it has not gone away entirely and is closely linked to Old Time Music and Bluegrass.Read More »

Elvis Presley, simply complicated.

I have dedicated two posts to Elvis and his name pops up over 50 times throughout my blog, more than any other artist. Now there is a new biopic out and from what I have heard and read it was very well done with some amazing vocals from Austin Butler, Elvis impersonator number 19,350,108 (serious fans will understand that figure). If you include singing in the shower this is a low estimate of people who have tried to sing like Elvis Presley. According to Wikipedia there have been an estimated 400,000 full blown costume, hair, voice, the whole thing impersonators. I am sure many of us have heard some very good ones, but Butler maybe the best of them all. Really looking forward to seeing the film. I am no expert on Elvis, but I do know a bit about his music, particularly in the early years, and I’m learning all the time. I titled this post with an oxymoron as I believe the life story of Elvis is full of contradictions and events that make his very existence a labyrinthine that intertwines not only the history of Rock and Roll, but three decades of changing times, culture and the events that led to his untimely death at the age of 42. For that story you need to watch some of the many films or read one of the many biographies.

We all know of the King of Rock and Roll, a title he never accepted, and we at least recognize a song or two, afterall he holds the record for the most certifications ever from the RIAA (Recording Industry Arts Association) in the USA. For example he had 54 Singles obtain Gold Record (500,000 sold) status, for all his album and other milestones you can see the Guinness World Records link here. Why do we (maybe not you but a lot of us) still listen to Elvis songs, many of which are now over 60 years old? As I write this it was 68 years ago today, meaning we are just two years away from the 70th anniversary of the recording of his first release, July 5, 1954. Music for most of us is a personal thing, we like what we like because somehow on some level we can connect with it. Why is it when we play our favorite song for someone else they often offer a friendly nod or say, “that’s nice”? Why don’t they love it as much as you do? It could be the style or genre, maybe the artist, melody or the lyrics they don’t connect with, maybe it’s just missing the context that made you love the song. We could say it’s the music of our youth that sticks with us, but many people change their preferences over time. Hey, my sister talked me into going in on buying a The Partridge Family album when I was 12 so I know this is true!

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Elvis passed when I was in high school and I’ll admit he was on the periphery of my music radar, unlike my girlfriend at the time who would have gleefully tossed her panties on stage. But I came to enjoy that amazing voice and his unique way of delivering a song on a record, let alone on stage or in film. Elvis wasn’t known for his songwriting abilities and like many artists he didn’t read or write music. And though he played guitar, bass and piano as well as other instruments, typically he is not remembered for this talent.  All was surpassed by the love of his voice and grant you, his looks and swinging hips for some. The focus of my blog is centered around cover songs and given the plethora of Elvis information both pre and in, the new film, I will talk about him from a different perspective. Focusing on his early career, here is a selection of songs and many of them were not Elvis originals but he certainly added something special and made most any song his own.

While researching in May of 2018, I found there were 485 documented (by Secondhandsongs.com) songs that Elvis covered. In 2019 they had 507 listed and as of July 2022 that number has grown to 514, researchers are uncovering and adding new songs to the list all the time. The original Elvis songs he did total 271, which even for a 25 year recording career is very impressive. Not that it’s a competition but just to give you a comparison, Rod Stewart in his 50 plus year career has recorded about 50 (Elvis 271) or so original songs and approximately 315 (Elvis 514) covers. I took the time to add up the number of covers of just the top 10 of the 271 original songs by Elvis and there are currently 2,179 versions, add in the rest for a grand total of 5916. This makes him the fifth most recorded artist of all time, behind The Beatles, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby and Bob Dylan. Expect a spike in these numbers as the new movie will inspire a lot of singers.

Thanks to YouTube and various posters who have done my work for me I can give you video or audio of some of these songs. And thanks to Secondhandsongs.com I have a great reference library! Here is a selection of covers that Elvis did early in his career with reference to some original songs as well.

The first songs to be recorded at Sun Studios and then released on July 19, 1954 were “That’s Alright” a cover of Arthur Crudup, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” from Bill Monroe.

You’re a Heartbreaker” was his first original song (written by Jack Sallee) recorded December 8, 1954 and released on Jan 8, 1955. It was the ‘B’ side of the single “Milkcow Blues Boogie” a cover of Kokomo Arnold from 1934. Neither song charted, his first original song that would become a hit was “Heartbreak Hotel”, released a year later on Jan 10, 1956. This was his first release with RCA Records and it was a worldwide smash #1 song.

At this point in the timeline I would like to talk about the great Little Richard. I did a post on him a while back and you can check that out here, so I may repeat myself a bit here. First I will say he was a key figure and pioneer in Rock and Roll. When Specialty Records released his sixth single and first successful song, “Tutti Frutti” in October of 1955 it hit #18 on the then equivalent of the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart. He would follow with “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip it Up”, “Ready Teddy” and “Lucille” all with the exception of “Ready Teddy” hit #1 on the R&B charts and all had varying success on the mainstream charts. All fantastic stuff.

Pat Boone was the first to cover Richard, his version of “Tutti Frutti” which was a ‘B’ side, charted at #12 in 1956. Elvis was next do the song and he would record Richard’s songs seven times but none of them charted. Was Little Richard a victim of the the exploitation experienced by performers, and many of them Black, absolutely. This practice is a stain on White culture, particularly in the US, but also Canada and the UK. Is Elvis to blame for any of this? I think not, and again these are issues I have tackled in many of my past posts on Rock and Roll and Blues history. Elvis recorded Little Richard songs as a tribute not as an attempt to “rip him off” or steal his music. He recorded covers of many Black artists, because they were great songs. Did Elvis pick up some pointers from the dynamic Little Richard, yes, did Little Richard pick up some tips from other artists such as Esquerita? Yes.

Little Richards’ woes at least from a royalty and financial perspective were due to a bad record deal. It is true Black artists were notoriously paid less than the popular White artists. If you do some research you will find that recording artists both Black and White have been getting screwed over by Record Companies and Managers since the beginning of recorded music. Both Black and White record executives often underpaid their artists, also Black and White executives stole or hid royalty fees from both Black and White performers, and the list goes on. Black artists have covered other Black artists. Black artists have also covered White artists many times, every hear of “Maybellene” or “Blueberry Hill”? This is a debate that has been going on for a very long time and has come into mainstream again with the movie release. Just thought I would include this perspective as it not about a Black and White divide, though a little education on this topic would go a long way.

While I am tangenting again, just one more aside, here is a sampling of bona fide early Rock and Roll songs by date of recording/release to give more perspective on this. I can go back several years but let’s just begin with Big Joe Turner’s original “Shake Rattle and Roll”, Feb/April 1954, covered by Bill Haley June/August 1954 after he covered”Rock Around the Clock” April/May 1954, Elvis with “That’s Alright” July/July 1954, Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” May/July 1955, Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” September/October 1955. James Brown’s first hit was “Please, Please, Please” Feb/Feb 1956. Buddy Holly’s first hit release was “Blue Days – Black Nights” Jan/April 1956. These and many other artists were in the mix as pioneers of Rock and Roll, did any of them invent it? No. On to more Elvis songs.

“Blue Suede Shoes” was written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in December 1955, Elvis recorded the song in February 1956 and easily the best know version

“Money Honey” was written by Jesse Stone and originally recorded by Clyde McPhatter and Drifters 1953. Elvis released it in 1956.

My Baby Left Me”, another song by Arthur Crudup from November 1950. Elvis released it May 4,1956

“Shake Rattle and Roll” again a song written by Jesse Stone (Alias Charles Calhoun) and first released by Joe Turner and His Blues Kings in June 1954. The best-known version of this song for most is from Bill Haley and His Comets from July 1954, but Elvis was the seventh to try this one, released in 1956.

In total Elvis would release 26 covers and 11 original songs in 1956. Notable originals include; “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” followed by “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Paralyzed”. Adding to the list of memorable covers that year were:

Hound Dog” originally from Willie Mae Thornton, albeit via Freddie Bell and The Bellboys, but Elvis would find his own style for the song. Check out this clip from ‘Big Mama’ Thornton, “Everything Gonna Be Alright” and you will hear why she came to people’s attention beyond “Hound Dog”, she was an incredible talent who was unfortunately much overlooked in her all too short time with us.

“How’s the World Treating You” written by two major stars in the music world, Chet Atkins and Boudleaux Bryant, first released in 1953 by the Beaver Valley Sweethearts. Elvis did it in October 1956.

“Love Me Tender” has original lyrics written by Ken Darby who was a singer and vocal director on the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. He wrote more songs for Elvis as well as Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby. It is classified as a cover however because the melody is from a Civil War song circa 1861 called “Aura Lee” written by George Poulton, the original lyrics were not used but they were written by W.W. Fosdick.

As we know Elvis served in the Army from March 1958 to March of 1960. Recorded on June 10, 1958 before he left for Germany they released “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I” in March of 1959 as a ‘B’ side song. It was gaining popularity so they re-released it as an ‘A’ side and it hit #1 in the UK and #2 in the US. The first ‘A’ side was an original Elvis song, “I Need Your Love Tonight” which hit also #1 in the UK and #4 in the US.

After his return he and The Jordanaires were right back at it and I mean hard at it, he released 29 cover songs in 1960 alone and another 13 original songs. In 1960 and 1961 he would have “Surrender” and “Stuck on You” both hit #1 and “A Mess of Blues” was #2 in the UK. “Little Sister” reached #5 in the US, however the song, along with the singles flipside “(Maries the Name) His Latest Flame” both hit #1 in the UK. For covers it would be “It’s Now or Never” which was another song with original lyrics but the music was from “O Sole mio” composed by Eduardo di Capua in 1898, and “Are Lonesome Tonight” which was originally from 1926. These two hit #1 in the US, UK, Canada and Australia as well as several other countries in the top five. “Fever” which was about the 11th version of the song first recorded by Little Willie John was not a hit for Elvis but one of my favorites. For me it’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” at the top of my list, it has original lyrics from the dynamic trio of Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss. Although the music was adapted from “Plaisir d’amour”, which was a popular French love song composed in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini.

In 1962 ‘Good Luck Charm” would hit #1 in the US and eight other charts, “Return to Sender” hit #2 in the US and #1 on seven other charts. He would chart another three singles that year. In 1963 he charted two singles, “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ peaked at #3 in the US and #1 on eight other charts.

Elvis’s time was dedicated to a string of movies (1964-66) so his recording releases were largely restricted to songs from those films. Unless you are an Elvis fanatic you may not know that an album was released in 1999 of ‘home’ recordings from 1964-67. Some of the songs are just Elvis solo, several were used for a later Gospel album and other songs include an ensemble such as “500 Miles“. It’s a folk favorite written by Hedy West first recorded by “The Journeymen” (John Phillips, Scott McKenzie and Dick Weissman) in 1961. The song was based on the words and melody from this traditional folk song – the first recording is called “I’m Nine Hundred Miles from Home” by Fiddlin’ John Carson (1924).

Just how far back can we go to find a connection to a song Elvis covered? So far (that I’ve found at least) as mentioned is “Love Me Tender” as it’s roots go back to 1861 and you can check it out my Love Songs post. But here is another, “The Gospel Train” or “Get On Board” is a traditional gospel song dating back to at least 1872. Here are the Tuskegee Institute Singers (1916). Based on this same melody is “Cindy” by Riley Puckett and Clayton McMichen, first recorded in 1927. Hope you are following along OK, now a song based on that melody was recorded as “Cindy Cindy” (words and music by Darrell Fuller, Buddy Kaye and Ben Weisman) released by Elvis in June of 1971.

Here are some more songs;

Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” by Eddie Riff with Orchestra (written by Ivory Joe Hunter and Clyde Otis) in 1956. Elvis recorded this as a single in 1964.

And I Love You So” (1970) written and performed by Don McLean, another beautiful song from a gifted artist, this song touched Elvis enough that he released a version in May of 1975.

Elvis recorded several songs from the talented Jimmy Reed, such as “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (1959). Elvis (1968).

In an earlier post I talked about Aretha’s cover (1971) of “Bridge over Troubled Water’ from Simon and Garfunkel (January 26, 1970) but Elvis , and an astounding 52 other artists did a cover of this in that first year (1970) alone.

Elvis also covered Bob Dylan (four times) including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right“. To say Elvis’s tastes and abilities were diverse is a bit of an understatement.

Trivia. The Queen song “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1979) was written by Freddie Mercury in about 10 minutes while lounging in a bath. It was a tribute to Elvis. It was the first time Freddie composed a song using a guitar which he admittedly “couldn’t play for nuts” and the band completed and recorded the song in half an hour. It went to #1 in the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands and sold close to 3 million copies worldwide. A great cover by the very talented Dwight Yoakam the closest thing to a legit ‘Country Elvis’ you’ll ever find, he hit #1 on the Canadian Country chart in 1999.

Interesting fact that top ranked (Rolling Stone Magazine) music icons Elvis (#3), Aretha Franklin (#9) and Robert Johnson (fifth greatest guitarist) all passed away on August 16.

Thanks as always for reading my blog. Click on the Follow button if you would like my new post sent directly to your inbox.

Rock and Roll Part 4

Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part four)
 

As you may gather from parts 1 to 3, one can seesaw on the debate of the beginning of R&R. What I am attempting to demonstrate is that R&R was perhaps a spontaneous eruption of interest but not of a type of music. There are other artists and songs I could identify as forming the roots of R&R, but as I’ve discovered, much was borrowed from the past. Chuck Berry responded when asked about his music and his ‘original’ sound and I am paraphrasing here; he mentions many influences, that he used guitar riffs, lyrical hooks and performing tricks from other people.

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Rock and Roll Part 3

Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part three)

Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, released April 1951
There has been much attention paid to the song “Rocket 88” as being the ‘first’ R&R song. A huge amount of writing has been done on this song and there’s also very diverse opinions about it. Here is my take. First we need to acknowledge it’s a great song. As of 2018 the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame added a category of single songs, “Rocket 88” was among the first group recognized.

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Rock and Roll Part 2

Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part two)

Listeners of this new sound were mostly only getting it in small doses in clubs and hearing it on regional radio stations. However, smaller independent record labels were popping up between 1940 and 1950 to fill the void left by the major companies who had stopped producing “race music” which became known as R&B (Rhythm and Blues) by about mid 1940. So with this odd transformation of a type of music gaining popularity yet strangely being avoided by the major record labels, independent labels such as; Specialty, Aladdin, Modern, Swing Time, and Imperial in Los Angeles, King (Cincinnati), Peacock (Houston), Chess (Chicago), Savoy (Newark), Atlantic (New York), and many more filled a growing niche market that was about to explode.

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Rock and Roll Part 1

Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part one)

An updated repost, the first of a four part series

The recent passing of the legend, Little Richard has some people trying to write their own version of Rock & Roll history, so here is my take. Trying to pinpoint the first actual ‘Rock and Roll’ song in my opinion is a bit of folly. That of course has not stopped people from trying. There has been a fair bit of research into the roots of the music we know as ‘Rock and Roll’ (R&R). So what is it anyway? It’s a pretty wide umbrella of ‘pop’ or popular music that developed in the early 1950’s, there was no one particular style of music, but it was different than Blues, Country & Western, Swing, Big Band or Jazz which was developing at the same time.
At its heart I think (from my impressions and research) it was essentially an outgrowth of what was being identified at the time as “Rhythm and Blues” (R&B) music and formerly known as believe it or not “Race Music”. Much of the influence came and still does come from the ‘Delta Blues’, that being artists coming from the geographic region of the Mississippi Delta. You will find many references throughout my posts about these singers and for the most part guitar players. So skipping ahead a bit…

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Little Richard

Little Richard

Richard Penniman was born in Macon Georgia, on December 5th, 1932, and since my blog was posted he passed May 9, 2020 at age 87. He grew up with 11 brothers and sisters and learned music from family, friends and at Church. By 1951 he had a contract with RCA Victor and cut some tracks in Atlanta. Here is his first song “Taxi Blues“. He doesn’t sound like the Little Richard we have come to know, but very few artists find their ‘voice’ on the first attempt. And so there was an evolution to his style, in 1952 he was starting to Rock it up with “Get Rich Quick“. By 1953 he was still recording more traditional blues and some new material from other songwriters, such as “Ain’t That Good News” credited as ‘Duces Of Rhythm & Tempo Toppers’ (with lead Little Richard)”. But he still had not released his flashy and flamboyant style, even though his live performances were getting fairly raucous compared to the toned down records. He would have seven single releases from 1951-54 before hitting the charts.

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Chess Records

Chess Records

Earlier this November I had the privilege and pleasure to visit the former Chess Records (1956-65) building in Chicago. It is an important landmark in the history of Blues and R&R music. It is now home to the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation and hosts tours of the partially restored original recording Studio room ‘B’ and the small room which was Studio ‘A’. Firstly a thank-you to the Dixon Family for preserving this gem. Also a nod to the fantastic tour guide who’s name I didn’t catch but he’s from Manchester so if you go there and are lucky enough to have him you’ll know who I mean. They have lots of photos, great memorabilia and a neat little gift shop (got the t-shirt). I’ve long been a fan of Chess Records and the music they produced, so if you read this post there are spoilers for the tour but my words can’t hold a candle to that experience. I’m happy that this, my 100th blog post coincides with a personally meaningful visit to one of my music ‘meca’s’.

One of the most iconic and recognizable R&R songs “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry was recorded at that building, it’s #7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

Started by two brothers Phil and Leonard from Poland who arrived in Chicago as children with their mother and sister. They joined their father who was working in the Al Capone controlled liquor business during the Prohibition years. The family changed their name from Czyż to Chess and also adopted more American first names. Eventually the family got into the ‘scrap’ business and across the street was a church, and it was there the young brothers got their first introduction to Black Gospel. As described by our tour guide the boys thought they were listening to the sounds of heaven and so their love of music began.Read More »

Elvis Presley (part 2)

Elvis Presley (part 2)

In part one on the King (born January 8, 1935)  I stuck to songs he had covered and recorded in 1956. With August 16 coming up, being the anniversary of his untimely passing (August 16, 1977) I will honour his music and will wander outside of 1956.

I will have little trouble finding cover songs that I have not mentioned, even though including the one dedicated issue, I have cited and inserted Elvis songs throughout at least a dozen posts. There are just so many to choose from, since that first post just over a year ago Secondhandsongs.com has added more cover songs that Elvis recorded, it was 485 and it now stands at 507.

During the time Elvis was making a string of movies (1964-66) his recording releases were largely dedicated to songs from those films. Unless you are an Elvis fanatic you may not know that an album was released in 1999 of ‘home’ recordings from 1964-67. Some of the songs are just Elvis solo, several were used for a later Gospel album and other songs include an ensemble such as “500 Miles“. It’s a folk favorite written by Hedy West first recorded by “The Journeymen” (John Phillips, Scott McKenzie and Dick Weissman) in 1961. This song was based on the words and melody from this traditional folk song, the first recording is called “I’m Nine Hundred Miles from Home” by Fiddlin’ John Carson (1924).

Just how far back can we go to find a connection to a song Elvis covered? So far (that I’ve found at least) it is “Love Me Tender” as it’s roots go back to 1861 and you can check it out my Love Songs post. But here is another, “The Gospel Train” or “Get On Board” is a traditional gospel song dating back to at least 1872. Here are the Tuskegee Institute Singers (1916). Based on this same melody is “Cindy” by Riley Puckett and Clayton McMichen, first recorded in 1927. Hope you are following along OK, now a song based on that melody was recorded as “Cindy Cindy” (words and music by Darrell Fuller, Buddy Kaye and Ben Weisman) by Elvis in 1971.

Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” by Eddie Riff with Orchestra (written by Ivory Joe Hunter and Clyde Otis) in 1956. Elvis recorded this as a single in 1964.

And I Love You So” (1970) written and performed by Don McLean, another beautiful song from a gifted artist, this song touched Elvis enough that he released a version in May of 1975.

Elvis recorded several songs from the talented Jimmy Reed, such as “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (1959). Elvis (1968).

In an earlier post I talked about Aretha’s cover (1971) of “Bridge over Troubled Water’ from Simon and Garfunkel (January 26, 1970) but Elvis , and an astounding 52 other artists did a cover of this in that first year (1970) alone.

As with “Hound Dog” originally from Willie Mae Thornton albeit via Freddie Bell and The Bellboys, Elvis (on a somewhat rare occasion) would cover songs from female artists. “Dark Moon” from Bonnie Guitar (written by Ned Miller) was another of those home recordings by Elvis from 1966/7. Check out this clip from ‘Big Mama’ Thornton, “Everything Gonna Be Alright” and you will hear why she came to people’s attention beyond “Hound Dog”, she was an incredible talent who was unfortunately much overlooked in her time.

Elvis also covered Bob Dylan (four times) including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right“. To say Elvis’s tastes and abilities were diverse is a bit of an understatement.

Trivia. The Queen song “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1979) was written by Freddie Mercury in about 10 minutes while lounging in a bath. It was a tribute to Elvis. It was the first time Freddie composed a song using a guitar which he admittedly “couldn’t play for nuts” and the band completed and recorded the song in half an hour. It went to #1 in the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands and sold close to 3 million copies worldwide. A great cover by the very talented Dwight Yoakam the closest thing to a legit ‘Country Elvis’ you’ll ever find, he hit #1 on the Canadian Country chart in 1999.

Interesting fact that top ranked (Rolling Stone Magazine) music icons Elvis (#3), Aretha Franklin (#9) and Robert Johnson (fifth greatest guitarist) all passed away on August 16,

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_PageSecondhandsongs.comhttps://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2rrx78

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1960

The Year 1960

It was a big year for animated TV series and the debut of the ‘Flintstones‘ which ran until 1966, for me and my family there were many hours spent watching and this one too Mr. Magoo!

Following the year theme, I’ll sneak another in before I change it up again. Leaving the 1950’s behind ushered in something very different in the age of music but it didn’t happen overnight. You have to look for the most part, beyond the Billboard Hot 100 to see anything actually ‘new’ from the year before. That said there were still many great songs produced they were just by a lot of the same people from the late 1950’s. Elvis returned from Military Service and placed two top 10 hits on the year end chart. Others to have multiple hits on the Year-End Billboard Hot 100 were the Everly Brothers (4), Connie Francis (4), Brenda Lee (4), and Paul Anka (3). Rock and Roll took a bit of a beating as the “Payola” (or pay for play) investigations were in full swing and Alan Freed was the highest profile target. It was fairly common practice for DJ’s and other radio personnel to collect under the table payments to favor playing certain songs. So Rock and Roll began to get a bad name. In truth styles were changing, hits were a bit more ballad like or even getting a bit bland to say the least, hence the need to dig a bit deeper to see what was percolating.

John Wayne ‘The Alamo’ 1960 
because this is cooler than a Summer Place

Case in point, “Theme from A Summer Place” written by Mack Discant and Max Steiner, performed by Percy Faith & His Orchestra. This #1 hit of the year from the movie “A Summer Place” is lovely but let’s be honest it’s a bit of a yawner. So deeper we shall go!

One song that was a lot more exciting was recorded by “Little Ann” Bullock. It was written by Ike Turner to be sung by a male lead from a male perspective, but Art Lassiter left the band so back-up singer Ann Bullock filled in on lead vocals at the recording session. “A Fool in Love” was sent to the record companies by Ike Turner as more of a ‘Demo’ looking for a male voice to re-record the song, after getting turned down several times Juggy Murray, the President of Sue Records said to keep it just the way it is; it reached #2 on the R&B chart and #27 on The Hot 100 in the fall of 1960.

The persona we now know as Tina Turner was born. Try as they might some songs are just not reproducible as is the case with many of her performances, so I suggest just stop as it will never get any better than Tina’s original “A Fool in Love”.

A cover version of a song originally released in 1959 would set off a trend in the 60’s that lasted for years. First performed by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters “The Twist” written by Hank Ballard was re-done by of course  Chubby Checker. Talk about a song and artist being at the right place at the right time, twice! Via success on Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand‘ it hit #1 September 19, 1960 then again January 13, 1962.

This song got some good airplay late 1960 and it did chart if ever so briefly, but not until January 1961 where it hit #85 on the Billboard Hot 100. I mention “Sugar Bee” (1960) written by Eddie Shuler and performed by Cleveland Crochet (and Band) because apart from being an awesome song it was the first ‘Cajun’ song to break the top 100. It would influence several artists and opened many listeners ears to a new sound, covered 20 times including Sir Douglas Quintet (1964), Mitch Ryder (1969) and Canned Heat (1970).

Released in 1960 under the name June Alexander (June being short for Junior believe it or not-as simply ‘Jr.’ thankfully won that battle) , “Sally Sue Brown“.  Written by Arthur Alexander it would not chart and was relatively unknown outside of his native Alabama, so why blog about such a song you might ask? As an example of just how regional music was back then, based on that song being played almost exclusively by Alabama radio stations he came to the attention of some of the other ‘locals’ in the Alabama music business and he would go on to record a year later with Rick Hall at the legendary Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Again big deal you say, lots of people recorded there but no one else has been covered by all ‘four horses of the modern music apocalypse’ – Ok I just made that up 😉 The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley. The Beatles would do “Anna (Go to Him) ” in 1963, the Stones would do “You Better Move On” (1964) and Bob Dylan did “Sally Sue Brown” (1988). All three songs were written by Alexander so this alone sets him apart as unique. Elvis did “Burning Love” in 1972 and although written by Dennis Linde, Arthur Alexander was the first to record the song in 1971. Here are the original versions of the the other two songs, “Anna (Go to Him)” in 1962, “You Better Move On” (1961). In total 23 of his songs have been covered by the likes of Pearl Jam, Van Morrison, The Guess Who, Ry Cooder, Robert Plant, Dr. Hook and Nick Lowe, so yeah he’s kind of a big deal…quietly beginning in 1960!

There was also a group called the ‘Silver Beatles’ in 1960, formerly the ‘Quarrymen’. Stu Sutcliffe, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Johnny Hutch and George Harrison, recorded this song, perhaps at Paul McCartney’s house. “I’ll Follow the Sun” written by Paul McCartney is rough sounding but it’s amazing there is a recording at all. This was a song they would stick with and refine for release on ‘Beatles for Sale‘ in 1964.

On April 14, 1960 Barry Gordy Jr. incorporated the fledgling Tamla Records into a new name “Motown Record Corporation“. Their first ‘hit’ song was actually released under the old Tamla label in 1959. “Money (That’s What I Want)” written by Janie Bradford and Berry Gordy, performed by Barrett Strong. Re-released nationally under the Motown banner it would peak at #23 on the Hot 100 in April 1960 and surprisingly (not because it’s not a great song) still ended the year in the top 100, at #97. They wasted little time producing great music, “Shop Around” written by Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, the official name was ‘The Miracles featuring Bill “Smokey” Robinson’ later of course referred to as ‘Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’. It was released in the Detroit market Sept. 27, 1960, after national release Oct. 15 it began its climb up the charts and would peak on Billboard Hot 100 at #2 and #1 on the R&B Chart in February 1961. One of the smartest moves he (Berry Gordy) ever made was hiring Eddie Holland, who had such stage fright as a singer turned to writing and production, his brother Brian would join as a staff writer and later Lamont Dozier from another Gordy label. By 1961 this trio known as Holland–Dozier–Holland, would team up and write and produce not only some of the greatest Motown hits but the some of the best songs of all time. Here is a cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” by The Beatles from 1963.

(H.BD.M.)

References: https://secondhandsongs.com/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page images: https://www.itc.edu/about/history/itc-dialogue-workshop-2-1960/, https://beatles.fandom.com/wiki/The_Silver_Beetles

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