The Hangmen — “Dream Baby”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — August 23, 2022


560) The Hangmen — “Dream Baby”

The Hangmen “60s’ize” a romantic Roy Orbison classic, mercilessly marching it up the Gallows Pole and down into the garage. OK, OK, I know Orbison released the song as a single in ’62, and that it reached #4 that March. But that was another era! And I know that the Hangmen’s label kept tightening the noose until the boys relented and agreed to record and release it as a single. But, as Chris Bishop says, they give it a “slamming beat and catchy guitar and sitar sounds.” ( I love it!

The Hangmen were the pride of Washington, D.C. and NOVA. As Terence McArdle tells us, “[f]or a few weeks in 1966, at the height of Beatlemania, a rock band from suburban Montgomery County nudged the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” from the No. 1 spot in the local radio market [with their single “What a Girl Can’t Do”]. They called themselves the Hangmen, and they drove from gig to gig in a 1953 Cadillac hearse.” (

We’ll, they hadn’t even recorded “What a Girl Can’t Do” — that was the Reekers (yes, that was the band’s name). As Bishop explains:

In early summer of ’65, the Reekers’ managers . . . played “What a Girl Can’t Do” for Fred Foster of Monument Records. . . . Foster signed . . . only Tom [Guernsey] as he was the songwriter and leader of the Reekers. Since [two of the other Reekers] were committed to college, Tom decided, against his own preferences, to work with the Hangmen as his band. Monument then released the Reekers’ recordings of “What a Girl Can’t Do” and “The Girl Who Faded Away” under the Hangmen’s name . . . .

Who, then, were the Hangmen — those Grim Reekers? Guernsey remembers that:

found all the band members just by asking around the campus and finding players—with the exception of the lead singer, Dave Ottley. George called the British embassy in Washington, D.C. and asked if anyone there knew of a British singer looking for a band. A good move, as it was how we hooked up with Dave [who was a hairstylist from Glasgow].

Anyway, after personnel changes including a new singer after Ottley returned to the UK, they went to Nashville to record an album. As Guernsey says:

We recorded our album Bittersweet in Nashville . . . doing our second single ‘Faces’ there. . . . [W]e really wanted to release “I Want To Get To Know You” as our third single, but Monument went with the Roy Orbison tune, ‘Dream Baby’ that they had us cover largely because they had the publishing on the song. I do have to say the album could have been better if we had taken Nashville more seriously at the time. I had produced the single ‘What A Girl Can’t Do,’ and was just 19 at the time and naively thought that I should be producing the album. Also, we all thought of Nashville as a foreign land of country music where people didn’t have a clue what we were trying to do. We didn’t realize until much later that we should have taken the whole project more seriously. I think we spent more time in Nashville bars than the studio. Oh well, it was fun.

I bet it was!

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