258) Reparata and the Delrons — “Take a Look Around You”
Here is a wonderful ’65 B-side by the Delrons. They got together in ‘62 (the year I was born!) at St. Brendan’s Catholic School in Brooklyn (where I was living!). As to their name, Mary O’Leary, their first lead vocalist, explained that their managers wanted one that was flamboyant and flashy, sort of like Martha & the Vandellas. Her confirmation name was Reparata, which she had taken “from the choir mistress at the Good Shepherd elementary school — Sister Mary Reparata, my favourite nun” [liner notes to The Best of Reparata & the Delrons]. And so they were christened.
Bruce Eder says in All Music Guide that:
For a group that never made the Top 40, and came along almost too late to exploit the [girl group] sound they produced,* Reparata and the Delrons have proved amazingly durable. . . . [They] were one of hundreds of girl groups that flourished in the early ’60s, and actually had a higher profile than many of their rivals, achieved in their own time by their participation in a pair of Dick Clark national tours and, for years after, from the fact that they actually released a complete LP to accompany their one widely recognized [’64] hit, “Whenever a Teenager Cries” [which reached #60 in February of ’65].
* I guess, as Billy Joel once said, you Catholic girl groups start much too late.
Their greatest success was with “Captain of Your Ship,” which reached #15 in the UK in ’68 and got them an English tour.
No, Ashiya, not that Kaleidoscope. This is a ‘67 single from an American band founded by multi-instrumental super-session player (and future leader of El Rayo-X) David Lindley.
Lindsay Planer says in All Music Guide that:
[Kaleidoscope] synthesized rock & roll with roots and world music, first yielding Side Trips [on which today’s song appeared] arguably the most diverse effort of 1967. . . . . The mid-tempo ballad “Please” was picked as the single . . .
Arnold Shaw’s liner notes describe the album as:
It’s inventive, imaginative, intense and an amalgam of many divergent influences — sounds that range from old-time ragtime blues to exotic, drone-and-bells, minor-keyed music of Greece and Turkey, and even incorporate a Cab Calloway-Eddie South imitation of Minnie the Moocher. It’s music that is off-beat, far-out, and as unbuttoned as their comments about themselves.
According to Discogs, Lindley plays the acoustic and electric guitar, upright and electric bass guitar, banjo, lap steel guitar, mandolin, hardingfele, bouzouki, cittern, bağlama, gumbus, charango, cümbüş, oud, weissenborn, and zither, among other instruments. Lindley indicates on Side Trips’s liner notes that he dislikes: “cool girls, unenthusiastic-about-anything phonies, bigots, hypocrisy, death/war, drugs, self-centered masses, what greed makes people do.” Did he think he was giving Playboy a centerfold quote?
“Searching”’s lyrics should be required reading in any “How to Be a Good Friend” class. They obviously come from a very personal place.
Another wistful and gorgeous song from the all-too-short lived Justine (see #200). Clem of Nazareth perfectly captures the band and the song:
Justine were short-lived and quickly forgotten, but the band did manage to put out one really charming and intoxicating record, especially if you’re one of those kind of people who love the late sixties/early seventies West Coast pop sound (which of course had more than a little psych sprinkled in it). The more harmonic and brightly delivered parts of these songs fit that description perfectly, while at the same time the post-War influence of British folk is evident in many of the arrangements that lie embedded in between the loosely-coupled and stoned meanderings. [T]he lovely young ladies delivering vocals seem to have taken their cues from the Mamas & the Papas, Quicksilver Messenger Service and every other band like them who surrounded themselves with paisley and patchouli until time and temperance caused them to change or fade away. . . . “See Saw” makes it a trio of hippie folk tunes just right for a lazy summer day in a park somewhere.
Richie Unterberger opines in All Music Guide that:
At its sappiest and most cooing, it could almost pass for a Californian sunshine pop recording. What the songs lack, however, are memorable choruses, or much cohesion between the parts, although the individual parts (especially the female vocalists’ contributions) are often pretty. File under the section with the many stylistically confused rock bands of the period who had some talent and tried hard to say something important, but didn’t quite have the goods.
Uh, file under bullsh*t! When did sunshine pop become a bad thing?! This song is so memorable, I can’t get it out of my head. Richie, even great critics (and you are great) sometimes get it horribly wrong.
Earlier this year, Chris Willman noted perceptively in Variety that:
How is it that the most idiosyncratic major songwriter of our lifetimes also came to be the most covered? Bob Dylan may be full of songs that are personal, peculiar and sometimes inscrutable, but if anything, that’s made them even more of a magnet for any vocal interpreter or kindred-spirit singer-songwriter who ever saw a Dylan original that was tangled up in wordplay and saw it as a nut to crack. On paper, his material should be daunting — but on Spotify, you can find user-generated playlists of covers of Dylan tunes that actually extend to more than 4,000 recordings . . . . [M]usicians [believe they possess] the beautiful presumption to know what was in Dylan’s always mysterious, always revelatory heart when they interpreted these tunes . . . or [don’t even care] if they [think they can] make them even prettier.
The results — often forgetable, often misguided, sometimes excruciating, and once in a blue moon revelatory. This last category has some famous examples: Bob and his career (along with the rest of us) owe a debt of gratitude to the Byrds for “Mr. Tambourine Man,” to Jimi Hendrix for “All Along the Watchtower,” to Manfred Mann for “Quinn the Eskimo,” and to the Band for “I Shall Be Released.” But sometimes the revelations still need to be more broadly revealed.
253) Them — “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”
Them’s rendition of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” is one of those blue moon moments. Clinton Heylin has called it “that genuine rarity, a Dylan cover to match the original.”
Van Morrison has had a long fascination with Dylan:
I think I heard The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in a record shop in Smith Street. And I just thought it was just incredible that this guy’s not singing about “moon in June” and he’s getting away with it. . . . The subject matter wasn’t pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up.
Clinton Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?: Van Morrison: A New Biography 134-35 (2003)..
As to “Baby Blue”:
Morrison’s record producer . . . Bert Berns, encouraged him to find models for his songs, so he bought Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album in March 1965. One of the songs on the album held a unique fascination for Morrison and he soon started performing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” in small clubs and pubs as a solo artist (without Them).
Only on Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” does Van truly shatter all the limits on his special powers. . . . Played very fast, Van’s voice virtually fighting for control over the band, “Baby Blue” emerges as music that is both dramatic and terrifying.
Greil Marcus, Review of Astral Weeks, Rolling Stone, March 1, 1969.
Marcus has also said that “[a]s they listened to Them, people who already knew the song by heart weren’t certain they had ever heard it before.”
Perhaps the only rock and roll artist of the ’60s who can match Bob Dylan in the fields of longevity, complexity, soulfulness and songwriting productivity, Van Morrison the singer also has a way of uncapping Dylan’s frantic, vulnerable, fearfulness that no other interpreter has ever done. When Van does Bob, all the human tragedy of vanquished dreams, unfulfilled desires and bitter disappointments come to life.
Perhaps it’s because Van himself is so adept at wordplay that reaches into the mystic, to coin a phrase, but when Van sings “Blue” the song’s urgency is vibrant, the desire to move on clearly a life or death proposition.
254) Ben E. King — “In the Midnight Hour/Lay Lady Lay”
Wax Poetics says that:
The record finds the former Drifter delivering an uncharacteristically loose, but truly gorgeous, set of almost psychedelic country-soul. King would never release another record like this, so enjoy.
Don Heckman wrote in the New York Times on August 2, 1970 that:
An interesting trend seems to he developing in which black artists finally are turning the tables on an old music industry practice — the making of “covers.” In the past, “covers” usually consisted of note‐for‐note simulations by white performers of recordings that originally were made by black singers and musicians. Lately, however, performers like Ike & Tina Turner, Isaac Hayes, and now Ben E. King, have been producing their own versions of tunes originally written and recorded by such white stars as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Typically, black performers haven’t been content to simply imitate: at times their versions are even superior to the originals. Ben E. King, late of the Drifters and best known for his early sixties hit “Spanish Harlem,” adds another wrinkle to the process in his first release for the new Maxwell label. Three familiar pieces, Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” Lennon & McCartney’s “Come Together” and Bobby Russell’s “Little Green Apples” are considerably enlivened by their mixture with Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” (with “Lay Lady Lay”), Rudy Clark’s “If You’ve Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody” (with “Come Together”) and Paul Vance’ “She Lets Her Hair Down” (with “Apples”). Surprisingly, the blend heightens the effectiveness of all the tunes. . . . The consistency with which King finds vigorously original interpretations of such familiar material is, for a performer rarely identified with such songs, remarkable. If this is the current style in “covers,” we can be happy that something new and creative has come out of the cynical past.
255) Johnny Cash — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”
Chris Morris wrote recently in Variety that:
Cash was one of the first major supporters and interpreters of his friend and label mate’s music – to the extent that he lifted the melody of this song wholesale for his own composition “Understand Your Man,” released in 1964. But the Man in Black finally got around to cutting his own solid, boom-chicka-booming version of the original tune, issued as a single later that year and included as one of the three Dylan compositions heard on the 1965 album “Orange Blossom Special.”
OK, please don’t walk away — even you, Renee: this shimmering baroque number was written by the Left Banke’s driving force, but isn’t performed by the Left, rather by four guys from Jersey (even though the Left had recorded it first, after the songwriter had left the Left but wrote it for them anyway). Got it?
Mark Deming explains:
Michael Brown, the [Left Banke’s] 17-year-old wunderkind, songwriter, and pianist, decided he didn’t care for life on the road. By the time the Left Banke cut their second album, Brown was out of the picture . . . . Brown reconciled with his bandmates long enough to write and produce a single, and both sides were included on [the album], with “Desiree” sounding like a grander variation on the tone of the first LP. The single was a flop, and none of the [other] songs . . . fared any better, but even though it proved the be the band’s swan song, it’s a great pop album . . . .
Michael Hann flips out over the Left Banke’s “Desiree” in the (UK) Guardian:
In Desiree, though, it had the best song [Brown] ever composed, arranged and recorded: anyone who thinks Brian Wilson was the only person capable of jaw dropping symphonic pop in 1967 should pay close attention. Brown knew he’d hit the jackpot, too, despite the US public’s obstinate refusal to send it higher than No 98 in the Billboard Hot 100 [in October of ‘67] — he rerecorded it for the only album by his next group, Montage, though not as well . . . .
As to Montage’s version, Jack Rabid (is that his real name?) explains:
Montage sounds far more like the real follow-up to the Left Banke’s first LP . . . than the actual one, The Left Banke, Too. This is because after the first LP the band’s three singers had sadly parted ways with keyboardist and prime songwriter Michael Brown, who instead became Montage’s mentor/mastermind. . . . And though Brown was not technically a Montage member, he not only wrote all the music and produced this LP, but he also played all the trademark piano and organ and charted the vocal arrangements. Yet the four New Jersey no-names he found clearly translated his vision of extraordinarily lush, unspeakably beautiful orchestral chart pop.
As I said regarding song #94, the Banana’s “Alexander,” the group was the Pretty Things in disguise, making some much needed money by providing songs for films trying to be hip. David Wells’s liner notes to The Complete De Wolfe Sessions comp explain that:
[The] Swinging London phenomenon had led to a profusion of groovy movies chronicling life [there] that, naturally enough, required an appropriately switched-on soundtrack for added verisimilitude. However, film companies soon discovered that the cost of licensing bona fide hit singles was prohibitively high [so, the music library de Wolfe] started searching for a young, vibrant pop group who were capable fo providing an authentic but relatively inexpensive sound.
Wells calls “Grey Skies” “classily neurotic” and notes that it was “featured in the proto-slasher, Swinging-London-cum-Hammer-horror exploitation film The Haunted House of Horror.” IMDb unraps the plot of the ’69 cult classic:
A group of sixties teenagers [including Frankie Avalon!] bored with the party they’re at drive out to a deserted old mansion, but their laughter turns to fear when one of them is killed in a frenzied knife attack. Another of them persuades the rest that they should solve the murder themselves rather than go to the police, not surprisingly opening the way to further carnage.
I don’t honor the Del-Vetts because they hail from my hometown of Highland Park, Illinois, a semi-tony Chicago suburb on the shores of Lake Michigan. OK, it doesn’t hurt. And had they been from Winnetka, it would be a cold day in hell. . . But enough about my methodology.
The Del-Vetts got together in ‘63, shortly after I was born. But I lived in NYC at the time, so it is not like I was a big fan. “The Last Time” was actually the first time, the band’s first single for Dunwich, the legendary Chicago garage rock label (think the Shadows of Knight). It was an instant classic. As the canonical Nuggets comp opines:
Their first Dunwich single . . . in May 1966, is absolutely electrifying, with a desperation-choked vocal riding a lethal guitar-and-bass riff. The song takes off into a spectacular, fuzz-guitar rave-up before spiraling back to earth for a final lap of emotional despair. Any resemblance between [the] guitar solo here and Jeff Beck’s on The Yardbirds’ “Mister You’re A Better Man Than I” is probably less than coincidental.
Jason Ankeny concurs in All Music Guide:
A snarling fuzz-rocker featuring a blistering . . . guitar solo clearly inspired by Jeff Beck’s work in the Yardbirds [it] topped local radio play lists throughout the summer . . . [It] remains a masterpiece of the garage punk genre . . . .
And Jeff Jarema calls the song an “earwax-melting classic” in his liner notes to Oh Yeah! The Best of Dunwich Records, He elaborates on the song’s trajectory:
Despite its crunching riff, hopelessly depressing lyrics, and ear-splitting guitar break, [the song] was picked up by both [Chicago Top 40 stations] WLS and WCFL and even appeared on their charts in July. Somewhat surprisingly, the record failed to break nationally while local momentum suffered from the five-month wait for the group’s follow-up . . . .
Tragically, lead singer and guitarist Jim Lauer spent much of his later life confined to a mental institution. “The Last Time” was written by Lauer’s friend Dennis Dahlquist.
This is where it all began for Parliament (well, it really all began in 1955, but this was the first album). Alongside all George Clinton’s glorious ribaldry and side-splitting antics, the Wizard of Odd drops “Oh Lord,” a stunning “gospel lament . . . [Parliament’s] most reverent and straightforward cry against racial injustice” (Grace Birnstengel in Stereogum). This is a song for the ages, one that should have been etched in the grooves of the Voyager’s golden disc to demonstrate to alien civilizations both the best and the worst of the human spirit.
Ned Raggett in All Music Guide says that “[a]midst all the nuttiness [of the album], there are some perhaps surprising depths — consider ‘Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer,’ which might almost be too pretty for its own good . . . .” Sorry Ned, it is pretty enough for all our good.
If ever there was a group named for our times . . . A-side of the first of two singles (‘66) by the group all the way from Thunder Bay, Canada. The Plague later evolved into the Lexington Avenue and Jarvis Street Revue variants.
Songwriter/singer/sax player Tom Horricks notes on YouTube that “[t]he song was played on WLS and was going to be a ‘hit’ until the record company went bankrupt the next day.” Erik Lindgren’s liner notes on the 30 Seconds Before the Calico Wall! garage comp say that it is “haunting, snarling . . . [a] brilliant slice of punkadelia.” Yup.
This A-side to their second single (‘69) and putative album track is my blog’s second selection from Visualize, THE great lost American album of the sixties. Richard Frost’s commentary: “The record didn’t do well for us.” I guess I can’t blame Andrew Loog Oldham for this one.
The legendary Joe Meek produced this song, the A-side of the Edinburgh band’s only single (’66). “Down” is “a frantic piece which almost borders on total mayhem at times” (Vernon Joynson), “a beehive orgy of frenzied guitars” (Richie Unterberger in All Music Guide) with an “almost psychotically unhinged lead vocal” (David Wells’s Joe Meek Freakbeat comp liner notes), a song which “merge[s] mania with almost instant oblivion[, a] frantic, almost tortured piece [where] there is, somewhere, the merest hint of melody, but it’s mostly overlooked as the band breaks into mayhem” (Rubble).
The Church was a short-lived Boston pop psych group that formed in ’67, released an album in ‘68 and disbanded after a brief tour. Two of its members then joined Ultimate Spinach. Oh, and the Church’s drummer was Chevy Chase. Yes, the “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not”/SNL/Clark Griswold Chevy Chase.
The album track “Blueberry Pie” included what is widely regarded (by me at least) as the best throwaway line in pop-psych history: “I’ve been to the zoo and Max’s Kansas City* too. The atmosphere is nice there at night. The animals are not as uptight.”
*The storied NYC nightclub Max’s Kansas City opened in ‘65. It was a favorite hangout of Andy Warhol and his gang. The Velvet Underground, Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Iggy Pop often played.
243) James Carr — “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man”
A ‘66 single and track from his debut album, “Pouring Water” reached #85 in November ’66 (#23 R&B). Steve Huey says in All Music Guide that:
One of the greatest pure vocalists that deep Southern soul ever produced, James Carr is often mentioned in the same breath as Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and Aretha Franklin in terms of the wrenching emotional power in his delivery. . . . [H]e was plagued for much of his life by severe depression that made pursuit of a career — or, for that matter, even single recording sessions — extraordinarily difficult, and derailed his occasional comeback attempts.
And Thom Jurek says, also in All Music Guide, that:
If ever there was a soul singer who rivaled Otis Redding’s raw, deep emotional sensuality, it was James Carr . . . . one of the last country-soul singers to approach any chart given to him as if it was a gift from God. . . . The 12 songs here, many of them covered by other artists, are all soul classics merely by their having been sung and recorded by Carr.
This ’68 A-side was one of three singles by the London based group. Vernon Joynson says the song is “rather ordinary.” That is nuts. This haunting song was chosen to lead off the first volume of the fabled Fading Yellow comps, and it was a perfect choice.
241) Neil Sedaka — “Cold Girl”
Neil Sedaka?! Yes, you heard right, Neil F’ing Sedaka! He co-wrote this ’66 song with Carole Bayer Sager, but never released it. A shame — a very kinky song, the kind you don’t take home to mother (especially the kind of mother who loves Neil Sedaka). Bobby Sherman did record a terrible version as a ’67 B-side.
Here is Bobby Sherman’s version:
242) The July Four — “Frightened Little Girl”
’67 A-side. Really don’t know anything about the group.
Another selection from the Headstone Circus. Singer Glenn Faria — who was in Bill Clinton’s class at Georgetown University — recalls that the Circus “was a fun band and we had some wild times during the late sixties. It was a great time to be alive, to be in a popular band, and of course the women were flocking around us continuously.” Sounds like he may be confusing being in the band with hanging out with Clinton? Just sayin.
The Chicken Shack was the Perfect band, until it wasn’t.
The Shack was a British blues-rock band that rivaled Fleetwood Mac in popularity for a time and featured Christine Perfect on keyboards. But then, as Richie Unterberger says in All Music Guide:
[S]he quit the music business to marry John McVie and become a housewife, although, as the world knows, that didn’t last too long. Chicken Shack never recovered from Christine’s loss, commercially or musically.
From Pandamonium comes . . . deep, calming Thoughts and Words. As Vernon Joynson says, “[Martin] Curtis and [Bob] Ponton had been the founders and mainstays of Pandamonium but, tired of record company inteference, resolved in 1969 to proceed as a stripped-down duo.” Bob Ponton himself recollects (in the liner notes to the CD reissue of Thoughts and Words’ eponymous ’69 album from which today’s song is drawn):
It got me down. I went to bed and couldn’t get up for a month.
We were furious at the way we’d been treated, so decided to ditch the production-heavy approach and make more simple, straightforward music together instead.
We were getting more and more into acoustic sounds and absolutely loved the Incredible String Band.
As to the album, Ponton calls it “‘classical folk’ — many of [the] chord progressions are straight out of Bach.” Vernon Joynson calls it “a dainty collection of earnest folk-pop.” Richie Unterberger says in All Music Guide that:
Thoughts and Words itself is by and large pleasant folk-rock, but lacked either the identity or strong material necessary to make a strong impression on the late-’60s British rock scene. Certainly they were a versatile group, as “Morning Sky” was about as close as any U.K. act came to approximating the sounds of the Byrds circa 1967.
I have never disagreed more with Richie Unterberger than with his first sentence. The album is stellar. Unfortunately, as the CD reissue’s liner notes note:
Despite the LP receiving enthusiastic notices in IT, Melody Maker and elsewhere, Liberty [the record label] did little to promote it and sales were sluggish. Morning Sky, the album’s soaring opener . . . didn’t gain momentum.
‘69 B-side from Voorburg’s own Sandy Coast Skiffle Group, no make that Sandy Coast Five, no make that Sandy Coast Rockers, jeez, just call them the Sandy Coast. Of course, the Coast is most remembered for the time that Washington Redskins running back John Riggins told it “come on, loosen up, Sandy baby, you’re too tight.” See https://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/07/john-riggins-sandra-day-oconnor-loosen-up.
Today’s song was Holland’s answer to Petula Clark’s “Downtown.”
235) Merrell Fankhauser & H.M.S. Bounty — “Things (Goin’ Round in My Mind)”
Another selection (and single) from Merrell Fankhauser’s classic ‘68 album. I know it’s classic, because Merrell himself says it is “one of the rare, lost psychedelic gems of the late 60’s” (CD reissue liner notes).
As Psychedelicbabymag.com reports:
[The singles unfortunately] received virtually no support from the label due to its recent signing of Neil Diamond, and despite gigging with such national acts as Canned Heat, CTA (later Chicago) and The Blues Image, among others, achieved only moderate sales.
H.M.S. Bounty? No, Merrell did not grow up on Pitcairn Island. It was a nod to the British Invasion!