Can’t Help Falling In Love: Elvis Presley [clip from “Blue Hawaii”]; UB40

Hello there! This is another entry in our blog series Tim’s Cover Story Goes to the Movies. In these posts, we review a rock and roll tune that features prominently in a film.

This week’s entry is Can’t Help Falling in Love, a lovely pop ballad recorded by Elvis Presley that appeared in his 1961 movie Blue Hawaii. We will then discuss a cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love by UB40.

Elvis Presley and Can’t Help Falling in Love:

Elvis Presley is one of our favorite rock artists, and we have written many blog posts about his life and career. We began with a blog post about the song Hound Dog; a second post on the song Always On My Mind; a post about the song Heartbreak Hotel; a post on Blue Moon Of Kentucky; a post on the song Little Darlin’; a post on Long Tall Sally; and a post on Jailhouse Rock.

Here we will briefly review Elvis’ career around 1961, when he
filmed the movie Blue Hawaii.  Next we will skip to 1968, the year of his so-called ’68 Comeback Special.

Elvis first burst into the public consciousness through the songs issued from Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio. Elvis achieved regional renown in 1954 with his rockabilly cover of Arthur Crudup’s blues song That’s All Right.

By mid-1955, Elvis was beginning to carve out a national reputation. In November of that year, he was voted most promising young male artist at the Country Disc Jockey Convention. Elvis signed a deal with RCA Victor, and then signed ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker as his manager.

But it was in 1956 that Elvis achieved world-wide notoriety with his hip-shaking versions of songs such as Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel. Parents and music critics were outraged, teen-agers were enthralled, and Elvis became “The King,” a title he never relinquished during his lifetime.

Below is a 1956 photo of Elvis with his manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker.

Embed from Getty Images

Can’t Help Falling in Love in the film Blue Hawaii:

Blue Hawaii was Elvis Presley’s eighth movie, and his second movie in 1961. From the period 1964 through 1969, Elvis would film three movies per year.

The song Can’t Help Falling in Love, which features in Blue Hawaii, was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss. The melody is based on the late 18th century ballad Plaisir d’Amour.

The screenplay for Blue Hawaii was written by Hal Kanter, who would earn a nomination for Best Written American Musical from the Writers’ Guild of America. The movie finished among the top-grossing films of 1961.

Blue Hawaii would be the first of three Elvis movies to feature Hawaii as the locale. In March 1961, Elvis began recording the film’s soundtrack; shortly after that, producer Hal Wallis began shooting location shots around various sites in Hawaii. The final touches were recorded in Hollywood’s Paramount studios.

In Blue Hawaii, Chadwick Gates (Elvis) is the son of the proprietors of the “Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company,” a pineapple dynasty. Chad’s snobby mother (Angela Lansbury) expects her son to take over as director of this operation. As a side note, at the time of filming Elvis was 26 and Lansbury, who played his mother, was 35!

Much like Elvis in real life, Chad has just returned from a stint in the Army. His main ambition is to hang out with his surf buddies and to spend time with his girlfriend Maile Duval (Joan Blackman). As a result, Chad defies his parents and goes to work as a guide for a tourist agency.

Another character in the movie is Tucker Gates (Steve Brodie). His main role in the film is to goad Chad into a titanic brawl, a common feature of Elvis movies.

Poster for the 1961 Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii.

At left is a movie poster for Blue Hawaii. It features a surfboard, with a small picture of Elvis playing a guitar (or is it a ukelele?) near the bottom of the poster.

The Hawaiian islands are a major feature of Blue Hawaii. Most of it was filmed on the island of Kauai, although there are also several shots of Diamond Head on Waikiki.

One memorable song from Blue Hawaii is the title song, which is a cover of Bing Crosby’s tune from the 1937 film Waikiki Wedding.

And here is a clip of Elvis singing Can’t Help Falling in Love in the film Blue Hawaii.

Chad/Elvis sings the song just after giving Maile’s grandmother a music box that he picked up while on duty in Austria. Featuring Elvis’ soothing vocals, this is a beautiful and irresistible ballad.

Can’t Help Falling in Love was released as a single in 1962. It made it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and spent 6 weeks as #1 on the Easy Listening charts. It became one of Elvis’ more popular songs in his live performances, and he often closed his concerts with that tune.

The Blue Hawaii soundtrack album was a blockbuster hit. It
was on the Billboard Pop Albums chart for 79 weeks, where it spent 20 weeks at #1.
The soundtrack album was nominated for a 1961 Grammy in the motion picture or TV recording category.

We will shortly show a live clip of Elvis singing Can’t Stop Falling In Love. This performance took place at a crucial point in Elvis’ career — the so-called “’68 Comeback Special” show broadcast on NBC TV from Las Vegas in Dec. 1968.

There were a number of dramatic twists in Elvis’ career after 1956. First off, he was drafted into the Army in 1958. Although he recorded a number of songs prior to his induction, which were released during his time in the Army, Elvis’ career suffered from the fact that he was never on tour or on TV during this period.

After his release from the Army, Elvis devoted more and more time to his movie career. Although his movies invariably made money (in part because they were so cheaply produced), and he continued to place albums on the charts, Elvis became almost an afterthought in the field of rock and roll.

Beginning in 1964, the `British Invasion’ had nearly wiped out American rock and roll. Among the few to survive the onslaught of the Beatles, Stones and other Brits were Motown artists and the Beach Boys.

So, Elvis had a lot to prove with a televised appearance before a live audience, which was recorded by NBC and broadcast in Dec. 1968. For one thing, it had been over seven years since his last live performance, at Pearl Harbor.

Elvis was determined to show that he was still capable of rocking and rolling. First, he exercised to get himself back into shape. Next, Elvis worked hard to bone up on his singing and stage presence. He assembled some of his old bandmates such as guitarist Scotty Moore, and dressed up in a slinky leather jumpsuit.

The NBC special was filmed on two different days. On each day, Elvis performed two one-hour segments, where each show had a different audience. Elvis played and sang, and also interjected thoughts and reminiscences about his career and the history of rock and roll.

The material from those four sets was then highly condensed into a one-hour TV special. Eventually the songs from all of these shows were released in a four-album set.

The ’68 Comeback Special’ gave Elvis’ career a gigantic shot in the arm. The format – one hour of Elvis performing solo – was unique for pop music on TV.  At that time, the norm was to pack a show with as many guest stars as possible.

Elvis clearly wowed the television audience. Here he is singing Can’t Help Falling in Love.

Elvis is extremely appealing here. After a long layoff from public performance, he looked youthful and fit, and he showed off his voice both in ballads like this one, and in his energetic rockabilly classics.

The ’68 Comeback Special involved Elvis appearing on a very small stage, surrounded by the audience. The format for this performance is thought by some to have inspired the later “Unplugged” series of intimate acoustic performances.

The ’68 Comeback Special gave Elvis’ career a much-needed shot in the arm. A direct result of this show was that Elvis began to focus more on his concert appearances, as opposed to his movie roles. In any case, it is heartening to see Elvis rocking once more, and he is clearly having a great time!

UB40 and Can’t Help Falling in Love:

We first encountered UB40 in our blog post on the Neil Diamond song Red Red Wine. Here we will briefly review the career of this British band.

UB40 is a reggae-style pop band that was formed in Birmingham, England in 1978. The name was chosen from the title of a form used by the British government for people who signed up for unemployment compensation.

That form was “Unemployment Benefit Form 40,” or UB40 for short. One of the founders of the group was Ian Campbell. Campbell joined forces with keyboardist Mickey Virtue, percussionist Astro and other musicians to form a band. They chose the name “UB40” as all of them were unemployed at the time they joined the group.

Below is a photo of the multi-ethnic British reggae band UB40 from 1983. From L: Astro; Norman Hassan; Brian Travers; Ali Campbell; Earl Falconer; Jimmy Brown; Robin Campbell; Mickey Virtue.

Embed from Getty Images

Over the next few years, the band polished their musical skills in a number of gigs around the U.K. Their first big break occurred when Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer for The Pretenders, brought UB40 to open for her famous U.K. rock band.

The group developed a strong fan base in Britain before they hit the big time in the U.S. with their 1983 album, Labour of Love. That album was a collection of covers, and it hit #1 on the UK album charts and #8 on the American lists.

Can’t Help Falling in Love was the first single release from the UB40 1993 album Promises and Lies. The song was another big hit for the group, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and also hitting the top spot in many European countries. It was the best-selling tune ever for UB40.

This song also appears in the soundtrack of the 1993 Sharon Stone movie Sliver. By the way, that movie achieved a milestone of sorts by being nominated for seven Golden Raspberry awards (worst picture, worst director, worst screenplay, worst actor, worst actress, worst supporting actor, and worst supporting actress).  Perhaps equally amazing, Sliver did not win a single Golden Raspberry award that year!

Here is UB40 in a live performance of Can’t Help Falling In Love. This took place in Rotterdam; I am not sure of the date.

Isn’t this a beautiful song? As you can see, the UB40 cover of Can’t Help Falling In Love features the band’s slow-rocking reggae style. And lead singer Ali Campbell shows off his lovely vocals.

The tune features a steady-thumping bass and drums, backed by a full horn section. This was the closing song in the concert, and the audience is singing right along with the band.

Despite their chart success, in 2008 lead singer Ali Campbell left UB40, and shortly afterwards Mickey Virtue also left the group. Both musicians cited issues with management and disputes over the direction of the band.

UB40 replaced Ali Campbell as lead singer with his brother Duncan Campbell. A couple of years later, Astro left UB40. This began a decided split in the group, as Ian Campbell, Mickey Virtue and Astro later teamed up and toured as “UB40,” at the same time as the re-formed UB40 was also touring.

Not only did this lead to some confusion among their fans, it left each version of UB40 bad-mouthing the other. The UB40 faction fronted by Duncan Campbell had adopted a country style that was mocked by the “alt-UB40” musicians.

Although the original UB40 lineup has now fractured, it is worthwhile noting the remarkable achievements of this band. The group was ethnically extremely diverse, containing English, Irish, Scottish, Jamaican and Yemeni musicians.

UB40 placed over 50 singles on the U.K. pop charts; in addition, they were also best-sellers in the U.S. and Europe. All told, the group sold over 70 million records worldwide, and they were nominated four times for the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.

So to all the present and former UB40 musicians, we say “Rock steady, mon!”

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Can’t Help Falling In Love
Wikipedia, Elvis Presley
Wikipedia, Blue Hawaii
Wikipedia, UB40

Posted in Pop Music, Reggae, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ain’t That A Shame: Fats Domino; Pat Boone; Cheap Trick

Hello there! This is another entry in our blog series Tim’s Cover Story Goes to the Movies. In these posts, we review a rock and roll tune that features prominently in a film.

This week’s entry is Ain’t That A Shame. This is a great ‘roots’ rock ‘n roll song by Fats Domino that was featured in the 1956 movie Shake, Rattle & Rock! We will then discuss covers of that song by Pat Boone and Cheap Trick.  The tune has been covered by nearly 200 artists including The Four Seasons, Hank Williams, Jr. and Tanya Tucker.

Fats Domino and Ain’t That A Shame:

First, a confession. I have never seen the movie Shake Rattle and Rock!, and I have no real interest in seeing it. The main reason for this blog post is to pay tribute to the great Fats Domino, who passed away from natural causes on Oct. 24, 2017 at the age of 89.

I will also confess that for many years I did not appreciate the importance of Fats Domino in musical history. He was a major early star and his music helped jump-start the transition from R&B to rock music. Fats Domino had a significant influence on rhythm and blues, and was probably the leading exponent of New Orleans R&B music starting from 1950.

Antoine Domino was born in New Orleans in 1928, the youngest of eight children of a Louisiana Creole family.  Young Antoine dropped out of school after completing fourth grade, and he learned to play piano by copying songs from records. By age 14 he was already performing in bars in New Orleans.

One of Domino’s early employers nicknamed him ‘Fats.’ In part this referred to his playing style, that was reminiscent of stride pianist Fats Waller. But he also earned the monicker because of his prodigious appetite. Fats Domino was nearly cube-shaped: only 5 feet, 5 inches tall, he weighed in at well over 300 pounds.

In 1949, Fats signed a contract with Imperial Records. The contract was noteworthy, as Mr. Domino retained the rights to his music and received royalty payments. These became extremely valuable once rock and roll became a commercial powerhouse.

Fats Domino co-wrote a number of rock songs with his producer Dave Bartholomew. As early as 1950, Domino and Bartholomew wrote a song called The Fat Man. It quite likely was the first million-selling R&B record, and launched Domino onto a stellar career that lasted for decades.

Fats Domino’s next big hit was the 1955 release Ain’t That A Shame. The record was mistakenly titled Ain’t It A Shame (even though the song’s lyrics clearly include “ain’t that a shame”), so one can find the song listed under both titles.

Ain’t That A Shame are quite simple; they describe the reactions of a man who blames his unfaithful lover for his misery.

You made me cry
when you said, “goodbye”

[CHORUS] Ain’t that a shame?
my tears fell like rain.
Ain’t that a shame?
you’re the one to blame.

You broke my heart
When you said we’ll part

Ain’t That A Shame was the first of Domino’s songs to land in the top 10 on the Billboard pop charts. Fats Domino was a featured artist in the film Shake Rattle and Rock!, and Ain’t That A Shame was one of the songs he performed in that movie.

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The movie Shake Rattle and Rock! was a 1956 rock ‘n roll film released by American International. The poster from that movie, featuring a photo of Fats Domino and his band, is shown above.

The plot of Shake Rattle and Rock! is iconic – it’s more or less identical to the plot of every rock ‘n roll film from the 50s. Gary Nelson (Touch Connors) is a disc jockey who is excited by the prospects of the new field of rock ‘n’ roll. He decides to open a dance club for teenagers that will feature rock music.

However, the parents of local youth attempt to ban rock music in their town, on the premise that rock ‘n roll is a breeding ground for juvenile delinquency. So Nelson puts on a show to demonstrate that rock music is exciting but relatively harmless. The musical headliners include Fats Domino, Joe Turner and Tommy Charles.

Here is Fats Domino performing Ain’t That A Shame in a clip from Shake Rattle and Rock!

Although Fats is simply lip-synching to the recording of his song, this is a valuable historical clip. As you can see, Fats Domino’s musical style is strongly influenced by boogie-woogie. His playing definitely brings to mind New Orleans stride piano, and his vocal performance comes straight out of R&B music.

Fats Domino’s music was typical of New Orleans ‘roots’ rock ‘n roll. The premier exponents of NOLA style were Cosimo Matassa, who produced several of Little Richard’s records, and Mr. Domino himself. Some of Little Richard’s records used his band The Upsetters, while on other records the instrumental parts were played by Matassa’s session musicians.

As is the case on this record, New Orleans rock ‘n roll was characterized primarily by piano and saxophone, as opposed to the guitar-dominated sounds of artists such as Buddy Holly and Elvis.

Since have already covered Fats Domino’s early career, we will now pause briefly to discuss some of the other musical stars of Shake Rattle and Rock!

Joe Turner was a Kansas City blues musician who is one of the claimants for the “first rock ‘n roll song.” In Turner’s case this was his 1954 blues song Shake, Rattle and Roll.  Turner had been a blues singer in the 30s, when he performed with Count Basie and also the Duke Ellington Revue. Then in 1951, Ahmet Ertegun signed him to his Atlantic Records label.

In 1954 Turner released Shake, Rattle and Roll, which was subsequently covered by both Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. By the way, Bill Haley eliminated a number of Turner’s more risqué verses in Shake, Rattle and Roll.

Tommy Charles, another of the musical artists in the film Shake Rattle and Rock! was a country-rock performer who looked promising back in 1956, but whose career never panned out.

After his singing career stalled, Charles returned to Birmingham, Alabama, where he became a successful radio DJ. Charles featured witty banter on his shows and introduced several comedy characters.

Unfortunately, Charles’ main claim to fame in later years was organizing a boycott of Beatles records following John Lennon’s 1966 comment that the band was “bigger than Jesus.” Charles urged his listeners to bring Beatles records and collectibles to his radio station, where they were fed through a wood chipper.

So, ten years after appearing in a movie where his character fought against prudes trying to ban rock music, Tommy Charles was leading protests by destroying Beatles records. Presumably the irony of this was lost on Mr. Charles.

Now back to Fats Domino. Over his career he landed an amazing 37 songs on the Billboard top 40 pop charts. Of his songs, 40 made it into the top 10 on the R&B charts. His most successful tune was the 1956 Blueberry Hill, which made it to #2 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B listings.

Fats Domino’s hit records ended around 1964. This was partly because of the British Invasion, which few American artists were able to survive. In Domino’s case this was also because Fats left Imperial Records when they were sold in 1963.

However, Domino was an inspiration to an entire generation of rock musicians. The Beatles loved Fats; Ain’t That A Shame was the first rock song that John Lennon ever learned, and both Lennon and Paul McCartney made solo recordings of that song.

In 1959, Elvis Presley gave his first concert at the Las Vegas Hilton. Fats Domino was in the audience, and after the concert a reporter referred to Elvis by his nickname, “the King.”
Presley gestured toward Domino, who was taking in the scene. “No,” Presley said, “that’s the real king of rock and roll.”
This is worth remembering both because it highlights Domino’s standing among his peers, and because it demonstrates Elvis’ genuine appreciation and generosity towards those black musicians who paved the way for his success.

Fats Domino was one of the inaugural group of rock musicians who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. The following year, he was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

After 1995, Fats Domino became almost a recluse in New Orleans. He refused to leave the city because he claimed it was impossible to get the food he loved anywhere else.  So, in 1998 when President Bill Clinton gave Domino the National Medal of Arts, his daughter picked up the award on Fats’ behalf.

Domino did not even leave his house in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  He claimed that he stayed in his home to care for his wife Rosemary, who was in poor health. However, the flooding in that neighborhood was sufficiently severe that Fats and his wife were eventually air-lifted out of the area by helicopter.

After several years when he did not perform, Fats Domino made a surprise appearance at a 2009 concert to raise funds to rebuild schools and playgrounds that had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Fat Man, you were a gigantic figure both physically and musically. You will be missed.

Pat Boone and Ain’t That A Shame:

We encountered Pat Boone earlier in our blog post on the Little Richard song Tutti Frutti. So here we will briefly review Pat Boone’s life and career.

Pat Boone surfaced in the mid-50s as an up-and-coming young musician from Nashville. While artists such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard were perceived as rebels, dangerous and frightening, Pat Boone was a throwback to your parents’ generation. He was marketed as a handsome, soothing, comfortable, wholesome crooner, and an outspoken icon of middle-class morality.

This was not just a marketing tool designed to sell records: it was pretty much an accurate description of Pat Boone’s character. Thus, music executives saw Pat Boone as the ideal white pop singer who could ‘cover’ songs released by “threatening” black performers.

Below is a photo of Pat Boone circa 1955, playing a ukelele.

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Little Richard, one of the black artists whose songs were covered by Mr. Boone, brilliantly summarized the situation.
The white kids would have Pat Boone upon the dresser and me in the drawer ’cause they liked my version better, but the families didn’t want me because of the image that I was projecting.

Here is Pat Boone with his cover of Fats Domino’s Ain’t That A Shame.

This is just a one-minute clip of Pat Boone’s cover, but it shows off his talents. He has a beautiful singing voice, and he provides an energetic cover of the Fats Domino original.  However, in keeping with Boone’s white-bread mentality, he initially suggested changing the title of his version to Isn’t That a Shame (!)

Ain’t That A Shame was Pat Boone’s first song to hit #1 on the Billboard pop charts. Over the next couple of years, Boone produced covers of Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally by Little Richard, I Almost Lost My Mind by Ivory Joe Hunter, and I’ll Be Home by The Flamingos.

Although we may see the Pat Boone version as a rather pale and bland imitation of the original, Boone’s version reached many people who otherwise might never have heard the original.

Black artists whose songs were ‘covered’ by white singers had radically different responses. For example, Little Richard was seriously pissed off that the rights to his songs were being sold rather cheaply to artists like Pat Boone.

In fact, in the song Long Tall Sally, Little Richard deliberately sped up the lyrics in the line “he saw Mary comin’ and he ducked back in the alley.” The idea was to make it more difficult for artists like Pat Boone to ‘steal’ his song.

On the other hand, Fats Domino seemed quite happy that Pat Boone had covered one of his hits. During one of his concerts,
Domino invited Boone on stage, showed a big gold ring and said, “Pat Boone bought me this ring.”

Pat Boone enjoyed great commercial success in the late 50s, when he became a fixture on the Billboard pop charts. Although he started out with ‘covers’ of songs by black artists, Pat Boone continued on to have a long and distinguished career.

Like so many other artists of his day, Boone’s pop music career did not survive the British Invasion, at which time he turned to gospel and country music. He also hosted the highly successful TV show The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom and appeared in a number of movies.

Pat Boone took seriously his image as a righteous dude (“prude,” perhaps). He made headlines by refusing to kiss his co-star Shirley Jones in the 1957 film April Love.

More recently, he has stated that liberalism reminds him of cancer, with its “filthy black cells.” He has also assumed the mantle of strident anti-gay advocate that was previously identified with Anita Bryant.
On December 6, 2008 Boone wrote an article for WorldNetDaily wherein he drew analogies between recent gay rights protests and recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. … In it, he asserted that marriage is a biblically ordained institution, which the government has no part in defining … He concluded by warning that unless they’re checked, the “hedonistic, irresponsible, blindly selfish goals and tactics of homegrown sexual jihadists will escalate into acts vile, violent and destructive.”

Although we are critical of Pat Boone and his world-view, in all fairness we should point out that he had a terrific voice and reportedly he genuinely admired rock music.

Pat Boone was the ideal performer to “clean up” rhythm and blues. By converting that rough and sensual music to a format acceptable to white middle-class tastes, he greatly increased the reach of R&B and rock ‘n roll in its early days.

Cheap Trick and Ain’t That A Shame:

Cheap Trick is a rock quartet that emerged from Rockford, Illinois in the mid-70s. In 1973, guitarist Rick Nielsen joined forces with three musicians from the greater Chicago area to form a rock quartet.

Below is a photo of Cheap Trick from 1977. From L: lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Robin Zander; drummer Bun E. Carlos; bassist Tom Petersson; lead guitarist Rick Nielsen.

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The group spent a few years building up a regional reputation, and in 1976 they signed a contract with Epic Records. Their first few albums found little commercial success. However, for some reason Cheap Trick’s records became best-sellers in Japan. This is reminiscent of the parody movie This Is Spinal Tap, where the band’s reputation in the U.S. languishes, while they have a cult following in Japan.

In 1978, Cheap Trick embarked on a tour of Japan, where they encountered an effusive reception from frenzied local fans. The band performed two concerts at the Nippon Budokan. Selected songs from those two concerts were combined into a single album Cheap Trick at Budokan.

The original plan was to release the album only in Japan. However, bootleg copies of the album began selling like hotcakes, so in February 1979 Epic Records released it in the U.S. That album went triple platinum in the States, and two singles from that album made the top 40 in the Billboard pop charts.

The first single hit was I Want You To Want Me, which was a song from a prior Cheap Trick album that had flopped. The second song from the Budokan live album was the group’s cover of the Fats Domino song Ain’t That A Shame.

On the basis of this album, Cheap Trick became a world-renowned classic-rock band. Over the years the band released a number of albums and had some singles make the charts; however, they were best known for their live concerts.

Lead guitarist Rick Nielsen assembled a valuable collection of unusual and rare guitars, which he played at the group’s live shows. Robin Zander has a terrific, clear voice that is featured in the group’s hard-rock hits. And Bun E. Carlos alternates massive thumps on the bass drum with rapid-fire staccato bursts on the snare.

Here is Cheap Trick in 1980, in a live performance of Ain’t That A Shame. This is the version of the song that the group made famous in their 1979 album Cheap Trick at Budokan.

What a terrific cover! Here, Rick Nielsen appears with a Fender Stratocaster decorated with a black and white hounds-tooth check pattern that matches his trousers.

Drummer Bun E. Carlos begins with a heavy-duty drum introduction. Later in the tune he will throw in some machine-gun raps on his drum kit. Following an extended instrumental intro, lead singer Robin Zander steps in with his great classic-rock vocals.

Rick Nielsen combines excellent finger-work with slide guitar in his solos. His work reminds me somewhat of lead guitarist Angus Young from the band AC/DC. All of this produces a memorable hard-rock version of the Fats Domino classic song.

Well, Cheap Trick has continued producing records and touring for several decades. In 2007, the State of Illinois designated April 1 of each year as Cheap Trick Day, in honor of their local band.

The membership of Cheap Trick has been remarkably constant over the years. Bassist Tom Petersson left the group for about 6 years in the mid-80s but then returned.

In about 2010, Bun E. Carlos stopped touring with the band. Although the group  announced that he would continue to collaborate and contribute to recording sessions, in 2013 Carlos filed suit against his former mates, claiming that they had frozen him out of the band’s decisions.

The other members of Cheap Trick filed a counter-suit; eventually the group resolved their differences, although Carlos stopped touring and recording with the band.

After performing for over 40 years, Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. Every year the Hall of Fame holds an induction ceremony where all of the newly inducted members are invited to perform.

Cheap Trick performed a set of four numbers at the Hall of Fame concert. The original four members of Cheap Trick were inducted into the Hall, so it was a pleasure to see Bun E. Carlos once again drumming with the band.

The end of each year’s induction ceremony always ends with a big free-for-all number involving the inducted groups and additional musicians. So here is a video of the final performance at the 2016 Rock Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

This clip features Cheap Trick and other artists jamming to Ain’t That A Shame.

As you can see, this is a rowdy performance. While the members of Cheap Trick at least know the song (it was a perennial favorite in their concerts), the other musicians were not so fortunate.

The song features, among other artists, Steven Van Zandt, Sheryl Crow (whose mic doesn’t work), David Coverdale of Deep Purple, and Steve Miller. We also see the horn section of Chicago, who endeavor without success to make themselves heard. When one spots Paul Shaffer, one of the greatest session musicians and band organizers in history, desperately trying to follow the music, you know that this number was not rehearsed beforehand!

Well, this is all a hot mess – amateurish, terrible sound quality, ragged and shoddy guitar solos, the whole enchilada. On the other hand, we get an energetic jam from veteran musicians who are delighted that their body of work is finally being recognized by their peers and fans. That ain’t a shame!

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Ain’t That A Shame
Wikipedia, Shake Rattle and Rock! (1956 film)
Wikipedia, Fats Domino
Wikipedia, Pat Boone
Wikipedia, Cheap Trick

Posted in Classic Rock, Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Time Rock and Roll: Bob Seger [clip from Risky Business]; Bon Jovi.

Hello there! This is another entry in our blog post series Tim’s Cover Story Goes to the Movies. In these posts we review a pop tune that features prominently in a film.

This week’s entry is Old Time Rock and Roll, a great rock ‘n roll tune written by George Jackson and Thomas E. Jones III, but made famous in Bob Seger’s recording. We will show this song as it appears in the movie Risky Business. We will then discuss a cover of Old Time Rock and Roll by Bon Jovi.

Bob Seger and Old Time Rock and Roll:

Bob Seger is a rock and roll singer-songwriter. We discussed him recently in our blog post on the Chuck Berry tune You Never Can Tell. Here, we will briefly review Seger’s life and career.

Bob Seger has by now become a rock superstar, although it took him a surprisingly long route to hit the big time. Bob was born in 1945 and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father was an accomplished musician and taught his son to play several instruments.

Seger started his musical career straight out of high school. He fronted a number of bands and issued a couple of albums in the mid-60s. He has the perfect voice for rock ‘n roll, a raspy growl that he copied from Little Richard. Seger garnered a devoted following in southern Michigan, but for several years could not score the album or single that would catapult his career forward.

Bob Seger formed the Silver Bullet Band in 1974; it contained mostly session musicians from the greater Detroit area. There has been considerable turnover in the Silver Bullet Band over the past 40 years; however, it is a tight ensemble that provides Seger with a distinctive sound.

Below is a photo of Bob Seger in concert in Atlanta in 1976. Bob is at left, and next to him is long-time Silver Bullet Band saxophonist Alto Reed.

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Seger’s work with Silver Bullet is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, an ensemble that has backed Bruce for a period of at least 40 years. We will meet up with Bruce in a short while.

Bob Seger hit the big time with his 1976 album Night Moves. The title song of that album reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Night Moves featured themes common to many Bob Seger tunes: indelible youthful memories; middle-American pastimes such as bars and strip clubs; and the passing of time and loss of innocence.

By now the album Night Moves has sold nearly 10 million copies. However, Seger’s success with this album also sparked a demand for his two previous albums, Beautiful Loser and Live Bullet. Each of those albums has now sold over 2 million copies. In addition, the concert album Live Bullet remained on the Billboard album charts for well over three years.

I have caught Bob Seger in concert a couple of times, and he invariably turns in a great rocking show. His “Deep-Throat” vocals create wonderful R&B songs, and some of his best tunes combine lovely melodies with memorable lyrics.

The song Old Time Rock and Roll is unusual for Bob Seger, as he has written nearly all of his most famous tunes. However Old Time Rock and Roll was written by George Jackson and Thomas E. Jones III. Jackson was a songwriter for the Muscle Shoals studios, where Seger did much of his recording.

There is some controversy over credit for Old Time Rock and Roll. Seger claims that he carried out a significant re-write of the song’s lyrics and states
I rewrote the verses and I never took credit. That was the dumbest thing I ever did.
However, a Muscle Shoals musician claims that Seger made very few changes in the lyrics from Jackson’s version.

Also, Seger received some pushback from his bandmates, who felt that Old Time Rock and Roll did not represent the “Silver Bullet sound.” However, the band changed their mind after seeing audience reactions to the song.

As we will see, Old Time Rock and Roll received tremendous publicity when it was highlighted in the 1983 movie Risky Business. The song has now become one of Seger’s signature tunes.

Here is Bob Seger in a live performance of Old Time Rock and Roll. This took place in New York in January 2011, and here Bob is joined onstage with The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce and Bob have a great time with this classic. Springsteen contributes a rocking guitar solo, while Silver Bullet Band saxophonist Alto Reed also chimes in with a terrific riff. As you can see, this song is a perennial audience favorite in Seger’s concerts.

Old Time Rock and Roll only made it to #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts when it was released in 1979, as the fourth single release from Seger’s album Stranger in Town. The song was re-released as a single in 1983 after the success of the film Risky Business. Seger also played Old Time Rock and Roll when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

Bob Seger has continued to command superstar status over the past 40 years. There is currently a significant time between the release of new material, and now that Bob has reached 70 he has hinted that he may soon retire from touring.

However, at present he’s still on the road. If you can catch him when he passes through your town, you can be assured of a hard-rocking, crowd-pleasing set. Give us that old time rock ‘n roll,Bob!

Old Time Rock and Roll in the film Risky Business:

The film Risky Business was a 1983 release that marked the directorial debut of film screenwriter Paul Brickman. Brickman turned out to be somewhat of a one-hit wonder, as he never again repeated the success and notoriety of this movie.

Risky Business starred then-unknown actor Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson, a high school student in an affluent Chicago suburb whose father was putting pressure on him to attend his alma mater, Princeton University.

Joel’s parents leave on a vacation, and he promises to take good care of the house while they are gone. However, the following clip makes it clear that Joel intends to cut loose in their absence.

We see Joel breaking out his father’s Chivas Regal and then, to the sound of Old Time Rock and Roll, he lip-syncs to the song in his underwear and a pink shirt.

Not surprisingly, this scene made Cruise into an instant sex symbol. Cruise was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

At some point Joel is given the name and number of a prostitute named Lana (Rebecca de Mornay), who sleeps with him at his house. Unfortunately, this assignation causes Joel to cross paths with Lana’s pimp Guido (Joe Pantoliano). During an altercation, Lana and Guido steal various of his parents’ items from Joel’s house. Furthermore, the Porsche belonging to Joel’s father accidentally falls into Lake Michigan.

Below left is a poster for Risky Business, featuring Tom Cruise in shades and Lana lying on top of the Porsche.

Poster for the 1983 movie Risky Business.

Lana talks Joel into agreeing to use his home as a brothel for one night. The plan is that Joel’s profits from this venture will allow him to buy back the stolen items and repair the Porsche.

However, the recruiter from Princeton arrives at the Goodson house while it is filled with prostitutes and Joel’s rowdy friends. Upon seeing the Princeton recruiter, Joel exclaims “Looks like the University of Illinois!”

Joel manages to retrieve his parents’ belongings and return them to the house just before they return from their trip. Joel’s father talks with the Princeton recruiter. Amazingly, the recruiter recommends that he be admitted to Princeton, saying “Princeton can use a guy like Joel.”

Joel briefly meets up with Lana again,
and they speculate about their future. She tells him that she wants to keep on seeing him; he jokes that it will cost her.

Risky Business got rave critical reviews and made several “top ten” lists for 1983 movies. Roger Ebert compared it favorably to The Graduate. Sorry, but I don’t think Risky Business is in the same league as The Graduate. In particular, I am not fond of movies where the prostitutes look like Rebecca de Mornay, and I did not find Guido the Pimp to be amusing.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that the movie had a tremendous impact. It made an instant celebrity of Tom Cruise, with his disarming smile and memorable scenes.

Cruise’s “underwear lip-synching” scene has been parodied at least a dozen times, and some of his lines (such as sometimes you just have to say ‘what the fuck?’ or looks like the University of Illinois!) have become iconic classics.

Bon Jovi and Old Time Rock and Roll:

Bon Jovi is a tremendously successful rock band that hails from New Jersey. We reviewed them in our earlier post on the Simon and Garfunkel song Mrs. Robinson, so here we will briefly review their career.

The band was formed in 1983 with lead singer Jon Bongiovi, and was initially called “Jon Bongiovi and the Wild Ones.”

Over the period 1984-85, the group adopted the name Bon Jovi and issued a couple of albums. Although record sales were modest, they allowed the band to go out on tour where they opened for heavy-metal groups and also performed at festivals.

However, Bon Jovi really made a splash with their third album, the 1986 release Slippery When Wet. That album contained two monster single hits, You Give Love a Bad Name and Livin’ On a Prayer.

Slippery When Wet was named top-selling album of 1987 on the Billboard pop charts, and Bon Jovi won an MTV Video Music Award, a People’s Choice Award and an American Music Award.

Below is a 1987 photo of Bon Jovi. From L: From L: keyboardist David Bryan; percussionist Tico Torres; lead vocalist and guitar Jon Bon Jovi; lead guitarist and fellow songwriter Richie Sambora; and bassist Alec John Such.

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In the space of a year, Bon Jovi went from an opening act in small venues to headlining large arenas. The band literally exploded into the public consciousness, and Jon Bon Jovi became a superstar.

Bon Jovi followed up their first big album with an even bigger record; their 1988 release New Jersey contained five Top Ten hits and hit #1 on the charts in most English-speaking countries.

Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed an acoustic set at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards show. It is generally acknowledged that this inspired the MTV Unplugged series, and that their appearance sparked the entire “Unplugged” phenomenon.

Here is a live performance of Old Time Rock and Roll by Bon Jovi. This took place in 2011 at a concert at Olympic Stadium in Munich.

Bon Jovi performs this as a straight-ahead rocking tune. He is wearing an embroidered red tunic, looking for all the world like a member of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Jon has a great voice for rock ‘n roll; he manages to combine sweet melodic vocals with just the right combination of raspy toughness.

Bon Jovi’s band has maintained its superstar status for several decades now. A couple of their tours were certified as the top-grossing tour of the year, and in 2009 Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The band has sold more than 130 million records worldwide and has performed for over 34 million fans in 50 countries. For many years the band was remarkably stable; until 2013 the only personnel change was to replace bassist Alec John Such with Hugh MacDonald in 1994.

However, in 2013 Richie Sambora left the band, amidst rumors that he had been fired, although both Jon and Richie deny this. Richie was replaced on guitar with Phil X, but it’s difficult for me to recognize this as the band “Bon Jovi” without such an important member. It’s like “The Beatles” without Paul McCartney.

Oh well, I wish both Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora all the best in their respective careers going forward.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Old Time Rock and Roll
Wikipedia, Bob Seger
Wikipedia, Risky Business
Wikipedia, Tom Cruise
Wikipedia, Bon Jovi

Posted in Classic Rock, Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m A Believer: Neil Diamond; The Monkees; Smash Mouth [“Shrek”]

Hello there! This is another entry in our series “Tim’s Cover Story Goes to the Movies.” Here we review a pop tune that features prominently in a movie.

This week’s entry is I’m A Believer, a great pop tune that was written by Neil Diamond. We will begin with Neil Diamond’s performance of the song. We’ll next look at the most famous version of the song, a cover by The Monkees. We will conclude with a cover of I’m A Believer by Smash Mouth, and discuss its appearance in the computer-generated cartoon Shrek.

Neil Diamond and I’m A Believer:

We recently discussed Neil Diamond in our blog post on his song Red Red Wine. So here we will briefly review his life and career.

Neil is a pop singer-songwriter superstar. His records have sold over 135 million copies over a 50-year career, and he has won a series of major awards for his accomplishments.

Neil Diamond was born in Brooklyn in 1941, the son of Polish and Russian immigrants. He attended Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, where he was a member of the school’s Chorus and Choral Club along with classmate Barbra Streisand.

While he was in high school, Neil attended a summer camp in the Catskills where he experienced a concert by legendary folksinger Pete Seeger. This inspired Diamond to buy a guitar and become a songwriter.

Neil enrolled in New York University. However, he soon began cutting pre-med classes to hang out at the Brill Building, where he attempted to sell his pop songs. In his senior year at NYU, he was offered a 16-week job at $50/week to write songs for Sunbeam Music Publishing. Neil took the job and dropped out of college.

Below is a publicity photo of Neil Diamond from 1970.

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Apparently Diamond’s early years were fairly rough; at one time, he says that his food budget was 35 cents per day! However, despite the fact that he was quite literally a starving artist, he managed to write a number of songs during that period.

Diamond’s first big success was as a songwriter. In late 1965 he wrote a hit song that Jay and the Americans released, and then “I’m A Believer” and several other hits for The Monkees.

The song I’m A Believer describes a man who was initially cynical about love; however, he meets a woman who completely changes his mind, converting him into a believer in love at first sight.

I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else but not for me
Love was out to get me
That’s the way it seemed
Disappointment haunted all of my dreams

Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind
I’m in love
I’m a believer, I couldn’t leave her if I tried.

Here is Neil Diamond in a live performance of I’m A Believer. This took place in 2008 at Madison Square Garden.

Neil and his band have a lot of fun with this version of his tune. They treat it as a tasty morsel of bubble-gum pop.

Neil is accompanied by a big band with a full horn section and backup singer/dancers. They produce a high-octane version of I’m A Believer, to the delight of Neil’s legion of loyal fans in his native New York City. The horn section clowns around while Neil paces the stage singing his famous tune.

I’m A Believer was significant in the careers of both Neil Diamond and The Monkees. This was a monster #1 chart hit for the Monkees. Following on the heels of their first hit Last Train To Clarksville, I’m A Believer marked The Monkees as a group on the rise. For Diamond, this song established his credentials and made him a valuable commodity as a pop songwriter.

Capitalizing on his songwriting success, Neil Diamond signed a record contract with Bert Berns’ Bang Records in 1966. There, he was able to establish himself as a solo performer with tunes such as Solitary Man, Cherry, Cherry and Kentucky Woman.

Eventually, Diamond and Berns clashed over his musical direction. Diamond wanted to write deeper, more introspective songs while Berns wanted catchy pop tunes. When Diamond attempted to leave, a series of lawsuits ensued.

It took Neil a couple of years and a dip in his career to resolve his situation with Bang Records, but in 1968 he signed a contract with what is now Universal Records.

And then Diamond was off and running. He hit it big with songs like Sweet Caroline, Cracklin’ Rosie and Song Sung Blue. And beginning in 1971, Neil started playing a series of concerts at LA’s Greek Theater.

After that tour, and some live concerts on Broadway, Neil took some time off from touring. He wrote the score for the film version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. That had a curious history; although the movie was a colossal flop, the soundtrack album was a big hit – in fact, the album grossed more than the movie!

Neil Diamond went on to become a pop superstar. However, in 1979 he collapsed onstage in San Francisco and endured a 12-hour operation when a tumor was discovered on his spine. After a significant period of rehab, Diamond then starred in a remake of the Al Jolson movie The Jazz Singer.

Neil identified with the Jewish heritage of the star, and wrote several songs for the movie that became pop hits, notably America. However, Diamond had never acted before, and it showed. For his performance in this movie Diamond was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and also won a Razzie Award for Worst Actor.

2011 was another significant year for Neil Diamond. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and later that same year he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors.

So, to Neil Diamond and his legion of fans, we say “Neil, now I’m a believer!”

The Monkees and I’m A Believer:

In 1962, filmmaker Bob Rafelson pitched the idea for a TV show about a group of young rock musicians. The idea went nowhere, until the surprising and phenomenal success of the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night in 1964.

Shortly after that, Rafelson’s idea was green-lighted by Screen Gems Television. At that time, Rafelson envisioned writing scripts using The Lovin’ Spoonful as the pop group. However, Spoonful lead singer John Sebastian was already under a record contract, which meant that Screen Gems would not own the rights to that band’s songs.

So instead, The Monkees were assembled from an ad run in Daily Variety that read:
Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank’s types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview.

Screen Gems already had Davy Jones under contract. He had been nominated for a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance of The Artful Dodger in the Broadway musical Oliver. Over 400 people applied for The Monkees, and eventually Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz were chosen to join Davy Jones in the band.

Below is a publicity photo of The Monkees from 1968. From L: Mike Nesmith; Davy Jones; Peter Tork; Mickey Dolenz.

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The choices were somewhat unusual in that none of the Monkees had a lot of musical experience. Mike Nesmith had played bass with a few bands, Peter Tork had appeared in a few Greenwich Village nightclubs, and Mickey Dolenz played a bit of guitar. On the other hand, Stephen Stills was rejected as a songwriter for the group (!)

Presumably the lads were chosen predominantly for their quirky personalities and their superficial resemblance to The Beatles.

The Monkees TV show became a monster hit. The show combined wacky antics by the lads, together with music videos of their pop songs.

The Monkees show was a blatant rip-off of the Beatles films (which in turn borrowed heavily from the Marx Brothers and The Goon Show). However, The Monkees TV episodes were cleverly written and generally humorous. As a result of their show and their records, The Monkees became international superstars.

The group divided up the singing responsibilities. As a general rule, Mickey Dolenz ended up singing lead on the hard-rocking songs while Davy Jones took the lead on slower ballads.

The music was overseen by rock impresario Don Kirschner, who was the head of music for Screen Gems. Kirschner assigned Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to produce the records for the group.

The early Monkees music was the product of Kirschner’s Brill Building experience and knowledge of the industry. Boyce and Hart wrote several songs for the group, including The Monkees’ first big hit, Last Train to Clarksville. They also wrote The Monkees Theme and (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone.

Neil Diamond wrote I’m A Believer and A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You. Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday, while Kingston Trio member John Stewart wrote Daydream Believer.

At first, The Monkees sang on their records, but the instrumental work was handled by experienced professionals. Occasionally the instrumental work was done by the West Coast session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. More frequently, the session musicians would be drawn from Boyce and Hart’s studio band The Candy Store Prophets.

Here are the Monkees and their music video of I’m A Believer. This was issued in late 1967, at a time when the single was released.

The song features Mickey Dolenz on lead. Although the various Monkees are shown “playing” instruments (Dolenz on drums, Peter Tork on keyboards, Mike Nesmith on guitar and Davy Jones with a tambourine), none of the Monkees actually played on the record.

Once the Monkees became pop stars, criticism of their musical inexperience intensified. I particularly enjoyed the moniker “the Pre-Fab Four” bestowed on them by a cynical British press.

The subsequent events mirrored the plot of “Pinocchio” – the puppets yearned to become human. Led by Michael Nesmith, the Monkees agitated to write their own songs, play their own instruments and accompany themselves when on tour. Don Kirschner, on the other hand, took the position that the Monkees were never a genuine band, and that they should continue to release music that was written and recorded by industry professionals.

Since Kirschner did not consider the Monkees to be serious musicians, he tended not to consult them when producing an album or issuing single records. This led to Kirschner’s being dismissed as music supervisor shortly after the release of the Monkees’ first album.

After being bounced by the Monkees, Kirschner produced the animated TV series The Archies. In this show the cartoon characters Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica form a garage band.  The Archies actually had a #1 hit with the bubblegum-pop song Sugar Sugar. Kirschner didn’t have to worry about cartoon characters fighting him to seize creative control of their music!

Producers Boyce and Hart shared Kirschner’s initial view of the Monkees. They regarded them primarily as actors, and saw themselves as the songwriters and record producers.

Well, the Monkees did learn to play instruments, and eventually accompanied themselves while on tour. They had a significant number of pop hits before they eventually imploded.

In 1968 NBC announced that they were not renewing the Monkees TV show. The Monkees then shot a movie called Head.  I have seen bits and pieces of this film, and cannot imagine watching it all the way to the end.

The film makes no sense whatsoever, and what were intended to be clever surreal scenes come off as pointless. The movie was co-written by Jack Nicholson (presumably while on an acid trip prior to his next movie, Easy Rider), and Head was a commercial disaster. At the time, it was also a critical disaster as well; but apparently some recent critics consider Head to be a psychedelic cult classic. I would like to know what those critics are smoking.

While Monkees albums were still reaching the top 10 on the Billboard charts, a number of those songs turned out to be essentially solo performances by one member of the group.

Peter Tork left the band, followed by Michael Nesmith. From time to time after that, The Monkees (or various members) re-grouped for a special performance or a tour.

In 1997 the group re-united for a TV special, Hey, Hey It’s The Monkees, written by Michael Nesmith. I saw a few minutes of this show, and it was painfully awful — badly written, not funny, essentially unwatchable.

In my research for this post I read the Wikipedia entry on The Monkees. That article goes to considerable lengths arguing that The Monkees were terrific artists whose music had a significant impact on many of the greatest groups of the time.

This article quotes John Lennon as saying that the Monkees were “the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers,” and claims that artists such as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and U2 were major Monkees fans. Give me a break. I’m surprised this article doesn’t argue that the Monkees inspired the guitar work of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page!

Don’t get me wrong. When The Monkees were churning out hit records and had a top-rated TV show, I really enjoyed them. Their records had catchy melodies and first-rate production values. The Monkees caught the tsunami generated by the British Invasion and rode it to fame and success.

Furthermore, The Monkees were the template for every synthetic boy-band that followed them. Groups like New Kids On the Block and ‘NSYNC copied every detail from The Monkees playbook; and these later groups enjoyed the same commercial success as the Pre-Fab Four.

Davy Jones died of a heart attack in 2012. We wish the remaining three  Monkees all the best in either their solo or re-united configurations.

Smash Mouth and I’m A Believer:

Smash Mouth is a rock band that formed in 1994 in San Jose, California. The band initially consisted of lead singer Steve Harwell, guitarist Greg Camp, bassist Paul de Lisle and drummer Kevin Coleman.

The band signed a record deal with Interscope, and their first album featuring the single Walkin’ On The Sun went double platinum. Shortly after the group’s second album was released, Kevin Coleman dropped out due to back problems and was replaced by Michael Urbano.

Below is a photo of Smash Mouth appearing at the 28th annual People’s Choice Awards show in 2002. From L: Paul de Lisle; Michael Urbano; Greg Camp; and Steve Harwell.

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The Smash Mouth version of I’m A Believer was released in 2001 as part of the Shrek soundtrack. A second Smash Mouth song, All Star, was also included in the Shrek soundtrack. The Smash Mouth cover of I’m A Believer was quite a success for the band.

Smash Mouth continued to place songs in animated movies when their cover of the Sherman Brothers tune I Wanna Be Like You was featured in The Jungle Book 2 soundtrack.

In 2003, Smash Mouth was dropped from Interscope Records. Since that time, the group has bounced around. The band signed with Universal Records and subsequently with 429 Records. They have also experienced somewhat of a revolving door with several band members leaving, being replaced, and sometimes returning.

Smash Mouth still has their original lead vocalist Steve Harwell and bassist Paul de Lisle. Michael Klooster on keyboards has been with the group since 1997. I quite enjoy the group’s energy and hard-rocking style, and I wish them well.

I’m A Believer in the film Shrek:

Shrek was a computer-animated film released in 2001. It was based on the 1990 book of the same name by William Steig. Shrek might be considered a “fractured fairy tale,” after the tongue-in-cheek revisionist versions of fairy tales popularized in the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV series.

Shrek turns several traditional fairytale tropes on their head. The film contains a number of sly cultural references, and in addition to the standard Disney fairytale lore Shrek incorporates adult sexual themes and flatulence jokes.

The rights to Shrek were originally owned by Steven Spielberg, who envisioned making an animated film from Steig’s book. Spielberg had Bill Murray in mind as Shrek and Steve Martin as his comrade Donkey.

However, when Spielberg joined David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg in founding DreamWorks, that studio obtained the rights to Shrek and actively developed the concept.

Katzenberg enlisted a number of stars to provide voices for the various characters in the film. Chris Farley was Katzenberg’s choice for the ogre Shrek, the title character of the movie. Farley had nearly completed the voice work for this character when he died of a drug overdose in 1997.

At that point, the producers brought in Mike Myers to provide the voice for Shrek. Myers had nearly completed his own vocal work on the movie when he decided that Shrek should have a Scottish accent, like Myers’ Austin Powers character. This required Myers to repeat all of Shrek’s dialogue.

The same team that provided the computer-animation work for the film Antz also worked on Shrek. Apparently the film includes many advances in computer-generated surfaces and visual effects.

The plot of Shrek follows a traditional fairytale motif but with a number of wry plot twists. The ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) discovers that several fairytale characters have been exiled to his swamp by the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Shrek travels to Farquaad’s palace in Duloc to request that the characters be allowed to return.

Shrek joins up with a Donkey (Eddie Murphy). They travel to Duloc where they are recruited to rescue the princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a dragon, so that Farquaad can marry her. When the two arrive at the dragon’s lair, the dragon (a female) falls in love with Donkey.

On their trip to Duloc, Fiona and Shrek gradually fall in love; however, a misunderstanding leads to a falling-out. During this period, Donkey discovers that Fiona is under a spell. Every night she turns into an ogre herself, and only true love’s kiss will return her to “love’s true form.”

Shrek and Fiona separate. However, at the last moment Shrek re-appears in Duloc just as Fiona is to be married to Farquaad. Just then, the sun sets and Fiona is transformed into an ogre. With the help of the dragon, who eats Farquaad, Shrek rescues Fiona and kisses her. To her surprise, she remains an ogre; however, Shrek considers her to be beautiful, and the two are eventually married.

Shrek incorporated covers of 60s music into the film. Shortly before release of the movie, the producers decided to add another 60s cover to end the movie with a bang. I’m A Believer was a natural choice, as its first line (“I thought love was only true in fairy tales”) perfectly fits the premise of the film.

Here is the Smash Mouth cover of I’m A Believer, as it appeared in the movie Shrek.

I’m A Believer initially features the wedding kiss of Shrek and Fiona. However, the producers continue by showing the entire cast dancing along to the song, which is performed by Smash Mouth in rollicking hard-rock style.

Eddie Murphy’s character Donkey is given some vocals near the end of the song. We see Donkey together with the dragon, who clearly has the hots for him. The song includes brief glimpses of several stock characters from traditional fairytales – Fairy Godmother; Pinocchio; the Gingerbread Man; the Three Little Pigs; and the Three Blind Mice.

Mike Myers portrays Shrek as a well-meaning misfit whose main goal is to gain acceptance despite his differences from ‘normal’ society. Myers allows Eddie Murphy to weigh in with an over-the-top characterization of Donkey. This is similar to the way that Andy Griffith played straight-man to the zany antics of Don Knotts.

The producers of Shrek considered themselves to be in fierce competition with Disney, the dominant animated studio up to that time. Shrek is filled with sly references to earlier Disney pictures.

Note that the dragon in Shrek is extremely similar to its counterpart in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and the town of Duloc has an eerie resemblance to Disneyland,
even in so far as parodying the famous ‘It’s A Small World After All’ musical ride in a scene with the singing puppets.

In fact, DreamWorks issued the DVD for Shrek on the same day that Disney’s partner Pixar released their animated film Monsters Inc. And Radio Disney was barred from allowing ads for Shrek to air on their stations.

Shrek was a commercial blockbuster. It grossed over $484 million worldwide against a $60 million production budget. The film spawned three sequels, two holiday specials and a spin-off (Puss in Boots), with reportedly a fifth Shrek film due in a couple of years.

Shrek won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, beating out – you guessed it! – Monsters Inc. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture in the Musical or Comedy category.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, I’m A Believer
Wikipedia, Neil Diamond
Wikipedia, The Monkees
Wikipedia, Smash Mouth
Wikipedia, Shrek

Posted in Folk-rock music, Pop Music, Rock and roll, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Never Can Tell: Chuck Berry; Bob Seger; Bruce Springsteen

Hello there! This week’s blog entry is You Never Can Tell. This is a great rock ‘n roll tune by Chuck Berry, and is part of our series Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies. We will review Chuck Berry’s original song and explain how the song features in the film Pulp Fiction. We will then discuss covers by Bob Seger and by Bruce Springsteen.

Chuck Berry and You Never Can Tell:

We first encountered Chuck Berry in our blog post on Back in the USA. We later discussed his song Sweet Little Sixteen, then his cover of Ida Red (which he titled Maybellene), and the iconic rocker Johnny B Goode. So we will briefly review his career here.

Charles Anderson “Chuck” Berry was one of the greatest rock ‘n roll pioneers. Born in 1926 and raised in St. Louis, he quickly became interested in rhythm and blues, and he began performing with a trio headed by pianist Johnnie Johnson. The group established a strong regional reputation, which earned Chuck an audition in 1955 with Leonard Chess of Chess Records.

Apparently the Chess brothers were uninterested in adding Chuck to their stable of blues singers – after all, they already had artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. At some point in the audition, apparently Chuck was asked something like “Why don’t you play your worst song?”

At that point, Chuck and the boys broke into one of their ‘black hillbilly’ songs. As it happened, the Johnnie Johnson Trio would occasionally mix country songs into their playlist of blues and ballads, a move that turned out to be quite popular with their fans. The producer urged Berry to write his own version of a ‘hillbilly’ song; this became Chuck’s first hit Maybellene, which was released in 1955 and hit #1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues charts.

Below is a photo of Chuck Berry performing with his band circa 1956.

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Maybellene set Chuck Berry off and running into rock music history. He and his band, with Johnnie Johnson on piano and blues great Willie Dixon on upright bass, put out a string of hits, all following the same basic formula. The songs featured Chuck’s rapid-fire lyrics that painted a vivid word-picture. This was combined with his signature rock guitar riffs, which became standards for rock guitarists.

Chuck Berry was also a master showman. Over roughly a five-year period, he charted a number of hits that established him as one of the great R&B trailblazers.

Chuck keenly appreciated the irony that, as a 30-year old black ex-con, he was selling records primarily to middle-class white teen-agers. Regardless, Chuck’s lyrics were terrific, and his songs effectively conveyed to his teen audiences the joys and frustrations of growing up in America.

The song You Never Can Tell also goes by two other names – C’est La Vie and Teenage Wedding, both titles referring to lyrics in the song. Chuck wrote the tune in the early 1960s while he was in prison for violating the Mann Act. That statute made it a crime to transport
“any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose”.

The law was passed in 1910 and has been amended but never repealed. At the time, it represented an attempt to close down brothels, which had previously been legal in many cities. Also, it was an over-reaction to the notion that thousands of women were being kidnapped and forced into prostitution, or “white slavery.”

This idea was epitomized in an excerpt from a book by the U.S. District Attorney from Chicago:
One thing should be made very clear to the girl who comes up to the city, and that is that the ordinary ice cream parlor is very likely to be a spider’s web for her entanglement. This is perhaps especially true of those ice cream saloons and fruit stores kept by foreigners. Scores of cases are on record where young girls have taken their first step towards “white slavery” in places of this character.

The Mann Act was used as a device to punish many forms of sexual behavior, from prostitution to couples who eloped, to punishment for men who abandoned their lovers. Both Chuck Berry and the boxer Jack Johnson were convicted under the Mann Act, and actor Charlie Chaplin was charged but acquitted of violating this statute.

Anyway, the song You Never Can Tell was released in 1964 and made it to #14 on the Billboard charts. The tune marks a sort of watershed for Chuck Berry, as it was his last Top 40 hit until Chuck’s novelty song My Ding-a-Ling hit #1 in 1972.

You Never Can Tell describes a Cajun couple, Pierre and “the lovely mademoiselle,” who get married in New Orleans at a young age and settle down. The song is told in Chuck’s inimitable talking-blues style, with his colorful lyrics piling up images atop one another.

It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale
But when Pierre found work, the little money comin’ worked out well
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

Each verse of the song ends with the line ‘“C’est la vie” say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.’ Fittingly enough, the song contains Cajun-inspired rhythms.

And here is Chuck Berry in a live performance of You Never Can Tell.

This performance took place in 1972. Chuck slows down the tempo considerably from his single record. He noodles around with guitar solos while his backup band makes sure they know the right key to play.

The pianist interjects some enjoyable Dixieland tempo. I greatly enjoy this particular Chuck Berry tune, which has a slightly different style from his signature guitar-driven rockers.

Chuck Berry would frequently tour without a band; this saved him money, as instead of paying a touring band he could hire local backup musicians for scale. It was not unusual for Chuck to show up immediately before a performance and simply instruct the musicians ‘follow me.’

That may be the case with the live concert in the video above. It certainly appears as though the guitar and bass players are tentative, and aren’t really sure what they are doing.

Over the years Chuck Berry has received virtually every honor in the field. He was a shoo-in for induction into the 1986 inaugural class at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the comments in his bio was that he
laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance.
How true! Chuck also is ranked fifth on the Rolling Stone list 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

On March 18, 2017, Chuck Berry passed away from cardiac arrest at the age of 90. Rock and roll music lost one of its great pioneers, a legendary singer and songwriter whose output forms a great contribution to modern rhythm and blues.

Chuck also played a significant role in making the guitar the dominant melodic component of rock music. Anyone learning rock guitar will begin by committing to memory Chuck Berry’s classic guitar licks.

You Never Can Tell in the movie Pulp Fiction:

Pulp Fiction was a 1994 movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, with a script co-written by Tarantino and Roger Avary. It was arguably the most important film of the 1990s.

Tarantino assembled an all-star cast to tell his complex, interwoven tale about a number of gangsters in Los Angeles. The film is shot out of chronological sequence, and in addition a couple of the scenes are presented from more than one point of view. Throughout the film, the lives of the various characters intersect in many different ways.

Tarantino pitched his script to various studios before it received the green light. For example, Columbia TriStar pictures rejected the film as “too demented.” However, Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Pictures was enchanted by the script. Pulp Fiction became the first film that was fully financed by Miramax.

The plot of Pulp Fiction is incredibly intricate and detailed, so we will give a very rough summary of the story, in chronological order (note: this is not the order that scenes appear in the movie).

The story begins when mob hit men Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) retrieve a mysterious briefcase for their boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). The pair kill Brett, the holder of the briefcase, and prepare to return it to their boss.

One of Brett’s associates has been hiding in the bathroom. He jumps out and empties his gun at Vincent and Jules. However, every shot misses, and the mobsters then kill him. Jules is convinced that he was spared by divine intervention, and considers this a sign that he should cease his criminal ways.

Vincent and Jules stop at a diner. A couple, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, hold up the establishment at gunpoint. Jules trains his gun on Pumpkin. Vincent, who was in the bathroom, emerges with his own gun, creating a Mexican standoff with the armed couple. Jules recites a Biblical verse, then allows the pair to rob the diner and leave.

Vincent and Jules are driving back to Marsellus with one of the associates in the back seat of the car. Vincent accidentally shoots and kills the associate. The pair then drive to the house of a friend, who calls in a “cleaner” (Harvey Keitel). The cleaner directs Vincent and Jules to clean the car, hide the body in the trunk, and take the car to a junkyard where it is crushed.

When Vega and Winnfield arrive, Wallace is bribing a boxer (Bruce Willis) to throw a fight. Wallace asks Vega to escort his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) while he is out of town. Vega takes Mia to a bar that sponsors a dance contest, which they win. When Vega and Mia return to the Wallace house, Mia finds some of Vega’s heroin and overdoses. She is revived by a shot of adrenaline to her heart.

Butch double-crosses Marsellus and wins his fight. He returns to his apartment to gather his belongings and flee. There he encounters Vincent and shoots him dead. However, as Butch is leaving town he is spotted by Marsellus.

Marsellus chases Butch into a pawnshop. The pawnshop owner pulls a gun on the pair and ties them up. Marsellus is sexually assaulted by the pawnshop security guard. Butch eventually frees himself and kills both the pawnshop owner and security guard. Because Butch has saved Marsellus, he is allowed to go free provided he never mentions the assault on Marsellus.

The Weinstein brothers entered Pulp Fiction in the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. They flew the entire cast to Cannes for the festival. The film won the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or; this created a tremendous buzz for the movie.

Poster for the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.

At left we show a poster for Pulp Fiction. It features Uma Thurman in the foreground holding a pistol with a pulp magazine beside her, with the mobsters played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (sporting a large Jheri-curl wig) in the background.

Pulp Fiction was a major box-office hit. Against a film and promotional budget of less than $20 million, the film made over $200 million worldwide. In addition, the movie won a slew of awards. It was named best picture of the year, with Tarantino as best director, by many film critics.

There was one unfortunate event. Roger Avary had agreed to waive his co-writer status so that promotional materials for the film could read “written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.” As a result, Tarantino alone was the recipient of the Golden Globe Award for best screenplay. And in his acceptance speech, Tarantino failed to mention Avary! This was rectified when Tarantino and Avary shared the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Here is the clip from Pulp Fiction that features the Chuck Berry song You Never Can Tell.

In this scene, Vega (Travolta) takes Mia Wallace (Thurman) to a club that sponsors a twist contest. Vega and Wallace compete, to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, and win first prize.

As you can see, Berry’s record has a much more upbeat tempo than the live clip we showed earlier. Johnnie Johnson thumps away with his Cajun-inspired piano licks, while a lively saxophone keeps the tempo going.

The scene here is quite electric. Uma Thurman is incredibly sexy, while Travolta is the epitome of cool. Like Saturday Night Fever, this is yet another movie highlighted by Travolta’s dancing.

Pulp Fiction showed off Quentin Tarantino’s many talents. The complex screenplay managed to weave together several disparate strands of the plot. The film was memorable for its snappy dialogue, particularly between Travolta and Jackson.

The video work was spectacular, and the film also contained several sly references to earlier movies. Pulp Fiction had an incredible impact on films in the 90s and beyond. The movie appears on a number of “Best Movies” lists, and elicited a generally positive critical response.

In addition to his other skills, Quentin Tarantino is a master at incorporating the perfect popular music to complement his films. In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino did not use a film score but instead relied on a number of rock and roll tunes, in particular surf music from Dick Dale.

Negative reactions to Pulp Fiction tended to center on the hyper-violence seen in many Tarantino films. Part of this strong negative reaction to Tarantino’s movies occurs because he is such an accomplished film-maker that the scenes of violence are that much more shocking.

I share this ambivalence towards violence in Quentin Tarantino films. I will never again be able to watch the “straight razor” scene in Reservoir Dogs.

However, others argue that the violence is simply part of an iconic film package. For example, critic Gene Siskel stated that
the violent intensity of Pulp Fiction calls to mind other violent watershed films that were considered classics in their time and still are. Hitchcock’s Psycho [1960], Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde [1967], and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange [1971].

I’m not entirely convinced by Siskel’s argument. After all, there were significant ethical issues underpinning both Bonnie and Clyde and A Clockwork Orange, that seem to be absent in Tarantino’s more amoral movies.

However, I cannot argue with the impact of this and other Quentin Tarantino films.

Bob Seger and C’est La Vie:

Bob Seger is a rock and roll singer-songwriter. He has become a rock superstar, although he took a surprisingly long route before hitting the big time.

Bob Seger was born in 1945 and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father was an accomplished musician and taught his son to play several instruments. Unfortunately, his parents argued constantly and when Bob was ten, his father abandoned the family and moved to California.

Seger played in a number of bands and issued a couple of albums. He has a terrific voice for rock ‘n roll, a raspy growl that he copied from Little Richard. Seger garnered a devoted following in southern Michigan, but could not seem to score an album or single that would catapult his career forward.

Below is a photo of a young Bob Seger performing in the late 60s.

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After fronting a couple of bands, Seger formed the Silver Bullet Band in 1974. It was predominantly made up of session musicians from the greater Detroit area. There has been considerable turnover in the Silver Bullet Band over the past 40 years; however, Silver Bullet provides Seger with a tight ensemble that produces a consistent, highly professional sound.

This is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, which has also backed Bruce for at least 40 years. We will meet up with Bruce in the next section of this post.

To give an example of Seger’s regional popularity, in mid-1976 he was the featured performer at a concert in Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome that attracted 80,000 fans. The following evening, Seger performed in Chicago to an audience of less than 1,000.

Bob Seger’s break-out album was the 1976 release Night Moves. The title song of that album reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. That song covered several themes common to many Bob Seger tunes: indelible youthful memories; middle American pastimes such as bars and strip clubs; and the passing of time and loss of innocence.

A second Bob Seger hit on that album, Mainstreet, was written about Ann Street in Ann Arbor. It covers similar themes to Night Moves, and also contains an iconic soaring guitar solo by Silver Bullet guitarist Pete Carr. Both of those songs are still favorites on classic-rock radio stations.

By now the album Night Moves has sold nearly 10 million copies. But Seger’s success with this album also sparked a demand for his two previous albums, Beautiful Loser and Live Bullet. Each of those albums has now sold over 2 million copies. In addition, the live concert album Live Bullet remained on the Billboard album charts for well over three years.

Here is Bob Seger in a live performance of C’est La Vie. This was a single on Seger’s 1994 Greatest Hits album, which has sold over 10 million copies in the U.S. alone.  This is from a March 2011 concert in Toledo, not all that far from Seger’s residence in a Detroit suburb.

Mr. Seger really has a good time with this old Chuck Berry tune. He is backed by his longtime group the Silver Bullet Band, which contains an energetic horn section led by saxophonist Alto Reed. A honky-tonk piano follows the Dixieland theme, tinkling away throughout the song.

I have caught Bob Seger in concert a couple of times, and he invariably turns in a first-rate performance. His throaty vocals are just perfect for rock ‘n roll, and some of his best songs are truly memorable.

Bob Seger has continued to command superstar status over the past 40 years. However, there is now a significant time between the release of new material, and now that Bob has reached 70, he has hinted that he may soon retire from touring.

But at present he’s still on the road. If you can catch him when he passes through your town, you can be assured of a hard-rocking, crowd-pleasing set. Keep rockin’,Bob!

Bruce Springsteen and You Never Can Tell:

Bruce Springsteen is one of the greatest rock and rollers of the modern era. We discussed Bruce and his career in an earlier blog post on the song Brown-Eyed Girl, and also his cover of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive.  Here we will provide a short bio of his life and career.

Springsteen grew up in New Jersey in the 1950s, where his father was largely unemployed and his mother worked as a legal secretary. Springsteen’s maternal grandfather had emigrated to the U.S. from Naples, Italy.

After graduating from high school, Springsteen participated in a number of different groups. He gathered a following along the Jersey coast, and began assembling a backup group that would eventually become the E Street Band.

Bruce Springsteen’s first big break came in 1972, when legendary producer John Hammond signed him to a contract with Columbia Records, just like Hammond had signed Bob Dylan a decade earlier.

Springsteen’s songs tend to focus on social issues such as the plight of middle class Americans, veterans, and the poor. Early in his career, Springsteen was the recipient of much critical praise. Bruce also developed a cult following because of the energy and exuberance of his live performances.

This led to Springsteen’s nickname “The Boss,” even before he had achieved any notable commercial success. However, in his early career Springsteen’s record sales were rather disappointing, and matched neither the promise of his reviews nor the enthusiasm of his fans.

His first big single was Born To Run, the title cut of Springsteen’s third album released in 1975. Although the song only made it to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and performed rather poorly outside the U.S.), it established Springsteen as a young artist to watch.

Below is a photo of Bruce Springsteen performing in Amsterdam on his 1975 Born To Run tour. At left is Bruce’s great sax player Clarence Clemons.

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I was conflicted over Born To Run. The song featured an impressive “wall of sound” instrumental backing. And the lyrics were terrific, bringing to mind some of the best work by artists like Bob Dylan and Billy Joel. However, I thought the production values on the record were third-rate, and I waited to see if Bruce would live up to the hype.

Well, Mr. Springsteen succeeded in spectacular fashion. The 1984 album Born in the U.S.A. established him as one of the great rockers of his generation. Like Born To Run, the album was chock-full of hits – in fact, 7 of the songs on this album made the Billboard Top 10 hits. Furthermore, the advent of music videos at this time meant that millions of Americans were introduced to Springsteen’s energy in live performance.

And the production values were superb on the Born In The U.S.A. album. The E Street Band was in great form, and the album sold like hotcakes, with over 30 million units sold worldwide.

Here is Bruce Springsteen performing You Never Can Tell. This is from his 2013 Wrecking Ball tour of Germany; this performance took place in Leipzig.

The premise here is that Bruce and the E Street Band are doing a song that either they have not performed for a long time, or perhaps have never performed.

I am not sure whether I accept the notion that Bruce and the boys had not previously rehearsed this song. However, there is no doubt that they are having a great time, as is the audience.

Bruce spends about a minute deciding in what key the song will be played. He then allows his band to noodle around a bit on the tune, and invites the audience to hum along to start off the song.

Once they get going, the performance is thoroughly delightful. The E Street Band horn section have major solos during the piece – trombone; saxophone; and two different trumpets – while pianist Roy Bittan maintains the Dixieland beat.

At this point, Bruce Springsteen is a living American treasure. He continues to release albums, varying between hard-rocking tunes with the E Street Band and folk records inspired by artists such as Woody Guthrie.

Springsteen’s concerts also tend to be epic events. He and the E Street Band generally appear in stadiums or major venues, and his energetic concerts last up to three hours or more.

The musicianship is first-rate, and Springsteen’s energy does not flag – he still produces the dynamic live show that was his calling-card from the earliest stages of his career. Bruce, what a great career – “it goes to show you never can tell”!

Source Material:

Wikipedia, You Never Can Tell (song)
Wikipedia, Chuck Berry
Wikipedia, Mann Act
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Chuck Berry bio
Wikipedia, Pulp Fiction
Wikipedia, Quentin Tarantino
Wikipedia, Bob Seger
Wikipedia, Bruce Springsteen

Posted in Classic Rock, Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everybody Needs Somebody To Love: Solomon Burke; Wilson Pickett; The Blues Brothers

Hello there! This is the seventh installment in our new feature: “Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies.” Here we discuss a famous song that makes an important contribution to a major movie.

This week’s entry is Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. This is a pop song composed by Solomon Burke, Bert Berns, and Jerry Wexler, and sung by Burke.

We will start with a brief review of Solomon Burke’s career. We will next discuss a cover of Everybody Needs Somebody To Love by Wilson Pickett. We will conclude with a review of the movie The Blues Brothers, and show the song as performed in that film.

Solomon Burke and Everybody Needs Somebody To Love:

We wrote about Solomon Burke in an earlier blog post discussing the song Proud Mary. Here we will provide a brief discussion of his life and career.

Solomon Burke is one of the greatest largely unknown artists in the history of soul music. He released 35 albums during his lifetime for 17 different record companies, and he sold nearly 17 million albums.  But he never had that blockbuster hit that would have made him a household name.

Like so many other R&B artists, Solomon Burke came to soul music from gospel. He first gained fame as a teenage preacher, where he gave sermons and sang in tent revivals. Like former gospel singers such as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, Burke had considerable ambivalence and guilt about abandoning gospel music for popular music.

In fact, because of the taboo that the blues was the “devil’s music,” Burke was highly reluctant to be labeled a “rhythm and blues” performer, always insisting that he was a “soul artist.” He only adopted the title “soul singer” after clearing it with his church.

There was no denying the influence of gospel on Solomon Burke’s music. Eventually he was reconciled to believe that popular music was simply an efficient alternative method to deliver God’s message.

Burke’s live performances adopted many of the trappings of revival tent meetings, and audience members experienced some of the same emotions and audience participation that are characteristic of gospel services.

Burke took seriously his nickname as the “King of Rock ‘n Soul,” so much so that his live performances would often include
a crown, a scepter, a cape, robe, dancing girls, and colored lights.

Burke’s performances pre-dated those of James Brown, whose act also included capes and other apparel. At one point Burke was paid $7,500 to appear at one of James Brown’s concerts and `surrender’ his robe and crown (Burke took the cash, but continued to use the props in his own act).

Below is a photo of the “King of Soul” circa 1972, complete with throne and ermine-trimmed cape.

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The song Everybody Needs Somebody To Love is self-explanatory. Burke explains that everyone needs to be loved, and that the world would be a more peaceful place if this were the case.

Everybody needs somebody
Everybody wants somebody to love
Honey to hug, yeah
Sugar to kiss
Baby to miss now, yeah
Baby to tease
Sometimes to please, yeah

And I need you you you
And I need you you you
In the morning baby you you you
When the sun goes down you you you
Ain’t no nobody around you you you

The song Everybody Needs Somebody To Love is credited to Solomon Burke, Bert Berns and Jerry Wexler. Burke consistently maintained that he wrote the song himself, and that his agreement to share songwriting credit with Berns and Wexler was simply for convenience.

Burke claimed that Berns and Wexler
told me that song would never make it. I said, ‘Well, I tell ya what—I’ll give you a piece of it.’ They said, ‘That’s the way we’ll get the record played, so we’ll take a piece of it.’ In those days, they took a piece of your songs—a piece of the publishing—but in the end, you didn’t have any pieces left.

If this was simply an argument between Burke and Berns, I would believe Burke. Van Morrison, who worked closely with Bert Berns early in his career, is still peeved at what he claims was shabby treatment from Berns.

However, Jerry Wexler (who had a high reputation for integrity) claimed that the song was indeed a collaborative effort between the three songwriters. Wexler said:
“The whole process of making a record is a collaborative affair and the issue of who does just what on a song sometimes gets confusing, but not on that song. We wrote it in Bert’s apartment. Bert had a guitar and we wrote it together.”

Here is Solomon Burke performing Everybody Needs Somebody To Love live in 2003 on the British TV show Top of the Pops.

Isn’t this a great song? Burke deliberately wrote it to convey the spirit of a black preacher exhorting his flock. And here this succeeds brilliantly.

Somebody To Love became one of Burke’s signature tunes. Burke appears with his massive frame seated on a throne, befitting his nickname as the “King of Soul,” and sporting a ten-gallon hat. Burke has a full backing band, including saxophones, trumpets, trombones and – WTF, a harp?

In this performance, Somebody To Love begins with a couple of sentences directed towards the audience. However, the record of the song began with a much longer preface.

Anyway, Burke races through this song, with the band keeping pace, the horns shouting in unison, and the bass and drums thumping along.

The song indeed brings to mind a Sunday meeting at a particularly enthusiastic black church. The Top of the Pops congregation/audience chimes in when asked to sing along, and Burke leads the way with his booming vocals.

One would have expected this song to sell like hotcakes; however, it was a disappointment, reaching only #58 in the Billboard pop charts.

In 2001, Solomon Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was a well-deserved honor and must have been appreciated by Burke, since he had been nominated but failed to be inducted eight times previously.

Although Mr. Burke was a very large man, late in his life he became truly gigantic. His weight hovered in the vicinity of 400 pounds; since he sang while seated, it was unclear whether or not he could stand up.

In 2010, Burke died while on a plane that had just landed at Amsterdam Airport. No autopsy was performed, and it was believed that he died of a pulmonary embolism.

At the time of his death, it is believed that Mr. Burke had 14 children, including at least two born out of wedlock. He also had 90 (!) grandchildren.  This suggests that he was highly successful in finding “somebody to love.”

Wilson Pickett, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love:

We covered Wilson Pickett in an earlier blog post on the song Hey Jude. Here we will briefly review Pickett’s life and work. We will find that Pickett’s story closely intersects that of Solomon Burke.

Wilson Pickett was an R&B and soul singer-songwriter who carved out an impressive career for himself. Like so many R&B singers, including Solomon Burke, Pickett started out with a gospel group.

In the mid-50s, Pickett toured with a gospel group called the Violinaires. When a number of his fellow gospel singers departed for careers in pop music, Pickett decided to join them.

Below is a photo of Wilson Pickett in the Muscle Shoals studios in Nov. 1969.

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The first soul group that he joined was called The Falcons. Pickett co-wrote a song called If You Need Me, and sent a demo to producer Jerry Wexler. Wexler gave it to Solomon Burke, the top R&B star at Atlantic Records at that time, and it became a hit for Burke.

Pickett was deeply disappointed that he was not given the chance to release If You Need Me under his own name. But in 1964, he was signed to a record contract at Atlantic Records.

Pickett’s first big success occurred with songs recorded at Stax Records in Memphis. There, he teamed up with the Stax “house band,” Booker T and the MGs. His first major hit was the 1965 release, In the Midnight Hour, which Pickett co-wrote with Eddie Floyd and Booker T guitarist Steve Cropper. The song went to #1 on the R&B charts and #21 on the Billboard pop lists.

In 1965, Pickett began recording at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Backed by the terrific Muscle Shoals session musicians, Pickett garnered some of his biggest hits, songs such as Land of 1,000 Dances and Mustang Sally.

Here is Wilson Pickett in a live performance of Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.

This song was released as a single from the 1966 album The Wicked Pickett. Like the Solomon Burke version, the song begins with a brief spoken introduction to the crowd before Pickett jumps into this tune.

Pickett is backed by a band with several horns that provide a counterpoint to his great R&B vocals. In the middle of the tune, Pickett and the drummer continue to blast away. And Wilson gives us a full dose of his blues screaming, to the delight of the crowd.

Wilson Pickett last had a song on the pop charts in 1974. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and in 1999 he released an album called It’s Harder Now for which he was named Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year by the Blues Foundation.

Over the course of his life, Pickett had some troubles with the law. In 1987, he was fined and received two years’ probation for carrying a loaded shotgun in his car. Then in 1993 he struck an 86-year-old pedestrian with his automobile. The pedestrian eventually died, and Pickett pled guilty to drunk driving charges. He received a one-year prison sentence and five years’ probation.

In 2006, Wilson Pickett died of a heart attack at age 64. His good friend Little Richard spoke at his funeral.

The Blues Brothers and Everybody Needs Somebody To Love:

We previously discussed the Blues Brothers in a blog post on the song Gimme Some Lovin’. Here we will review the career of the Blues Brothers, and discuss The Blues Brothers movie.

The Blues Brothers originated in a Saturday Night Live skit that “went viral.” In January, 1976, following a “King Bees” sketch, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, still wearing their “king bees” costumes, performed the Slim Harpo song “I’m a King Bee.” The song featured Belushi on vocals and Aykroyd on harmonica.

Dan Aykroyd had been a serious blues fan for many years. Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, and as a student at Carleton University, Aykroyd attended concerts of American blues greats such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy.

When hired as cast members for Saturday Night Live, Aykroyd and Belushi would frequent New York blues clubs after SNL rehearsals. Following their “King Bee” blues sketch in 1976, Aykroyd and Belushi raised the idea of forming their own blues group.

The “Blues Brothers” appeared in a skit in April, 1978. Following that, with the help of SNL pianist and arranger Paul Shaffer, they assembled an all-star Blues Brothers Show Band and Revue.

They began with guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn from the Memphis combo Booker T and the MGs.  The group also included drummer Willie Hall who had worked with Isaac Hayes, blues guitarist Matt Murphy, and horn players Lou Marini, Tom Malone and Alan Rubin who had been members of Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Below is a photo of the Blues Brothers in performance.

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In 1978 the Blues Brothers issued an album, Briefcase Full of Blues. Their method of operation was straightforward: Aykroyd and Belushi, backed by their all-star band, found R&B songs that they enjoyed. They then produced note-for-note covers of the originals.

The Blues Brothers were an extremely enjoyable group. Although John Belushi’s vocal talent was limited, his enthusiasm for these blues classics showed, and he was an exceptionally good mimic.  And Dan Aykroyd was a talented harmonica player.

The Blues Brothers took off after Belushi’s 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House became a smash hit. At that point, Briefcase Full of Blues became a runaway best-selling album.

John Landis, who had directed Animal House, was chosen as the director of a film The Blues Brothers. Dan Aykroyd sat down to write a script outline for the movie. However, he was hampered by the fact that he had never previously written, or even read, a screenplay.

As a result, Aykroyd produced a rambling document roughly 3 times the length of a normal screenplay. When he submitted his draft, to highlight its length Aykroyd placed it between the covers of a Los Angeles Yellow Pages directory. John Landis subsequently re-wrote the screenplay.

The premise of the film is that ex-con Jake [John Belushi] and his brother Elwood [Dan Aykroyd] decide to re-form their blues band. Their “mission from God” is to raise sufficient funds to pay off the property tax bill on the Catholic orphanage where they were raised.

Overcoming a number of obstacles, Jake and Elwood succeed in re-constituting the band. Along the way, they encounter artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Cab Calloway, each of whom performs a musical number.

Here are the Blues Brothers performing Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, a scene from The Blues Brothers movie.  This supposedly takes place at a charity concert to raise funds for their orphanage.

The song Everybody Needs Somebody To Love brings down the house. Jake appears on lead vocals, while Elwood plays harmonica and talks to the crowd. The great backing band rocks away on guitar, bass, drums and horns.

Note the exceptional dance moves from both Belushi and Aykroyd. In particular, fans were stunned to see the mammoth Belushi doing cartwheels and backflips. This song was an unforgettable highlight of the Blues Brothers movie.

Now back to the plot of the movie. During the concert, the Blues Brothers manage to elude their pursuers and obtain funds for the orphanage. They outrun the police, a country band and the Nazis in a frantic car chase that involves an incredible number of car wrecks and death-defying antics.

Eventually the Blues Brothers and their Bluesmobile, a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco police vehicle, reach Chicago City Hall and pay off the property tax lien, before they are arrested by what appears to be the entire Cook County police force.

In the final scene of the movie, the Blues Brothers play Jailhouse Rock for their fellow inmates in Joliet Prison while the closing credits flash across the screen.

Production of the Blues Brothers movie was rather disastrous. An effort was made to produce the film quickly, in order to retain the momentum from Belushi’s notoriety in Animal House. However, the scriptwriting took much longer than anticipated.

Filming was delayed by Belushi’s partying and drug use while on location in Chicago. A private bar, the Blues Club, was constructed on-set for the film’s stars and crew. Actress Carrie Fisher,
Aykroyd’s girlfriend at the time, says most of the bar’s staff doubled as dealers, procuring any drug patrons desired.

Belushi was then dealing with a serious cocaine addiction. As a result, he would frequently miss location calls, or would be found crashing on the sofa in his trailer. Both Dan Aykroyd and Carrie Fisher spent significant time attempting to keep Belushi sober.

In addition, the movie featured a number of spectacular car crashes. Thirteen different Dodge Monacos were used (and often demolished) as the Bluesmobile in different scenes of the movie.
For the large car chases, filmmakers purchased 60 police cars at $400 each, and most were destroyed at the completion of the filming. More than 40 stunt drivers were hired, and the crew kept a 24-hour body shop to repair cars.

Up to that point, this movie featured more car crashes than any film in history. In one additional scene, the “Illinois Nazis” drive their car off an unfinished freeway ramp. To simulate the car flying and crashing, an actual Ford Pinto was dropped 1,200 feet from a helicopter. This required the movie’s producers to obtain a “Special Airworthiness Certificate” from the Federal Aviation Administration for the stunt.

Production costs spiraled out of control. The final cost for the movie was $27.5 million, $10 million over the film’s budget.

One final setback occurred when the head of the Mann Theatre chain that dominated film distribution in the Western U.S. refused to book the Blues Brothers movie in many locations.  Ted Mann did not want black patrons driving into white suburban neighborhoods to see the movie, and he guessed that whites would have little reason to see a film that featured over-the-hill black R&B artists.

Universal Studios became concerned that they might be responsible for an incredibly expensive dud; as a result, both the initial release and the publicity for the film were quite limited.

Universal need not have worried. The film eventually grossed more than $100 million. The combination of Belushi and Aykroyd, classic blues by R&B legends, and some genuinely bizarre side-plots produced a cult classic. Belushi, Aykroyd, and Landis were riding high. It appeared that the Blues Brothers movie would likely jump-start an entire series of films and albums.

Alas, all this was blown to bits when John Belushi died in March, 1982 after being injected with a “speedball,” a mixture of heroin and cocaine. For some time, Belushi had been notorious for his excessive drug use. Friends and family had been unable to stop him, and in retrospect his lifestyle appears to have been a train wreck waiting to happen.

In 1997 Aykroyd, John Goodman and Jim Belushi (John’s brother) were half-time headliners as “The Blues Brothers” at the Super Bowl.

In 2000, Aykroyd and John Goodman teamed up with John Landis in a film sequel, Blues Brothers 2000. Despite the fact that the film assembled a dynamite cast of R&B artists, and featured even more car crashes than the original, the re-make was both a critical and commercial disaster.

Dan Aykroyd continues to make occasional appearances as one of the Blues Brothers, frequently accompanied by Jim Belushi.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love
Wikipedia, Solomon Burke
Wikipedia, Wilson Pickett
Wikipedia, The Blues Brothers
Wikipedia, The Blues Brothers (film)

Posted in Gospel Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Soul music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ticket To Ride: The Beatles; Vanilla Fudge; Carpenters.

Hello there! This week we will resume our series Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies, where we review a song that was featured in a film.

This week’s blog entry is Ticket To Ride. This is a great pop song by The Beatles. We will review their original song and discuss its inclusion in the movie Help! We will then discuss covers by Vanilla Fudge and by the Carpenters.

The Beatles, Ticket To Ride and the film Help!

The song Ticket To Ride was one of the tunes written for the Beatles’ second feature film, Help! There is some disagreement about the authorship of the song. While John maintained that he wrote the song more or less single-handedly, Paul’s contention is that the two of them composed the song together: he reckoned the contributions as about 60% John and 40% Paul.

Ticket To Ride continues the Beatles’ move towards progressively more complex and nuanced songs. Both the melody and lyrics are significantly more sophisticated than in the group’s first albums. Also, this was the first song where the Beatles adopted what became their standard practice of laying down the rhythm or backing tracks first, and then overdubbing vocals and lead guitar afterwards.

In addition, the coda of the song (“she ought to think twice, she ought to do right by me”) switches tempo and provides yet another change in style.

Released as a single in April 1965, Ticket To Ride was the Beatles’ seventh consecutive #1 hit in the U.K. and their third straight in the U.S. The Beatles also performed it live in their Shea Stadium concert and at the Hollywood Bowl.

Below is a photo of the Beatles in 1962, when they were recording a program for TV GRANADA. From L: Ringo Starr; George Harrison; Paul McCartney; John Lennon.

Embed from Getty Images

Now we will shift to the movie Help! and eventually show the clip from that movie featuring the song Ticket To Ride.

Help! was filmed and released in 1965. Like The Beatles’ first picture, A Hard Day’s Night, it was directed by Richard Lester.

However, because of the commercial success of the first Beatles film, Help! had a significantly larger working budget.  It was filmed in color and shot in various locations, including Obertauern in the Austrian Alps and the Bahamas.

The original title for the film was Eight Arms To Hold You. However, after John Lennon wrote the song Help!, the title of the film was changed. Apparently the film was inspired in part by the absurd shenanigans from the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.

Before he became the Beatles’ producer, George Martin produced records for the cast of the BBC production The Goon Show. Martin had thus worked with both Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers on Goon Show records.  Some of the wackiness in Help! can be traced directly to influences from The Goon Show.

The plot of Help! is so silly that there is little point in recounting many details. However, I will try to give a brief summary. The premise is that an Eastern cult is about to sacrifice a young woman to the goddess Kali.

However, at the last moment the sacrifice has to be postponed as the intended victim is not wearing a required sacrificial ring. As it happens, a fan had mailed the ring to Ringo Starr. So various clan members set off to extract the ring from Ringo, by any means necessary.

Through a series of farcical events, members of the cult fail to recover the ring.  Also, Ringo is unable to remove the ring, which is stuck on his finger. The Beatles recruit a scientist and his assistant to expand the molecules in the ring so it will fall off. The scientists fail, but they too join the chase to steal Ringo’s magical ring.

The pursuit of the Beatles takes place across various countries. At some point, the Beatles end up in the Austrian Alps, where they are being pursued by both the Eastern cult and the mad scientists.

The song Ticket To Ride plays as The Beatles attempt to ski in the Alps, but frequently fall down. There are some whimsical scenes as the boys horse around on the slopes.

Ticket To Ride begins with a George Harrison solo, played on his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. The tune is also notable for Ringo Starr’s highly creative drum licks. Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon each contribute some rhythm guitar parts.

At some point in the video a grand piano suddenly appears in the snow, and the Fab Four clown around while singing. The music video is wonderfully enjoyable, bringing to mind some of the most effective moments from A Hard Day’s Night. To my mind, the funniest moment in this clip occurs while Ringo plays with a duck’s head that he has carved out of snow.

Shortly before the Beatles began working on Help!, they had discovered marijuana. During filming of the movie, they were apparently smoking weed for breakfast every morning. Thus, they had some difficulty remembering their lines, and would break out in giggles at inopportune moments. In fact, the Beatles later described Help! as being filmed “through a haze of marijuana.”

Although the reception of film critics to Help! was rather harsh, today many people credit the movie with being an inspiration for music videos. The movie contains some great Beatles tunes, including the title song, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, You’re Gonna Lose That Girl, and The Night Before.

As for the particular song Ticket To Ride, it is generally considered a real gem, and in terms of musical creativity represents a significant step forward.

For example, music critic Ian McDonald
describes it as “psychologically deeper than anything the Beatles had recorded before … extraordinary for its time – massive with chiming electric guitars, weighty rhythm, and rumbling floor tom-toms”, and he views the production as a signal of the band’s next major change of musical direction [to songs inspired by Indian music].

In 2014, USA Today chose Ticket To Ride as their candidate for the best Beatles song ever. I would not go that far, but hey, one has so many Beatles gems to choose from!

Filmmaker Bob Rafelson had been trying for a couple of years to pitch a TV show about a rock quartet modeled after The Beatles, but found little interest in his concept. The unexpected commercial success of A Hard Day’s Night gave Rafelson more ammunition for his idea.

In 1965 his TV show The Monkees finally got the green light. In early Monkees episodes, the zany plots of the show and the tongue-in-cheek music videos were closely modeled after the Beatles movies.

After the movie Help!, the Beatles would take a radically inventive turn. They would first incorporate Indian-inspired music into their songs, following a trip to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Then they would stop touring and produce only studio work.

Following their incredible, mind-blowing albums Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album and Abbey Road, the Beatles would break up and break our hearts in the process.

But the magical music that they produced still lives on and continues to amaze us. Plus, the individual Beatles continued to produce some exceptional music even after their breakup. Thanks for the ride, boys.

Vanilla Fudge and Ticket To Ride:

Vanilla Fudge was one of the early heavy-metal groups. Their reputation seems to be fading into obscurity now, as they lasted for only a few years before disbanding.

In 1965, organist Mark Stein and bassist Tim Bogert formed a band called The Electric Pigeons. They were inspired by the group The Rascals, who had crafted a distinctive sound in which the organ played a prominent role.

Stein and Bogert soon added guitarist Vince Martell and drummer Carmine Appice. The group were signed to a record contract by Atlantic Records and their legendary founder, Ahmet Ertegun.

Below is a photo of Vanilla Fudge from 1968. From L: Mark Stein; Carmine Appice; Vince Martell; Tim Bogert.

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However, there was a hitch: Ertegun hated the name The Pigeons (the group had dropped “Electric” from their name), and insisted that they change it. After some discussion, the group settled on “Vanilla Fudge.” The name referred to their status as white soul musicians.

As an interesting side note, the Vanilla Fudge manager was Phillip Basile, who was reputed to be a member of the New York Mafia Lucchese family.

Vanilla Fudge had one big hit, their song You Keep Me Hangin’ On. This was a slow heavy-metal cover of the tune popularized by The Supremes. That song made the top 10 in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Although Vanilla Fudge had no more chart hits, and they broke up in 1970, nevertheless they had an impact on rock music. The sound of the British heavy-metal band Deep Purple was strongly reminiscent of that from Vanilla Fudge.

Furthermore, when they first toured The U.S. early in 1969, Led Zeppelin opened for Vanilla Fudge at a few concerts. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin has remarked that his band was keenly aware of Vanilla Fudge and its style of music.

So here is Vanilla Fudge in a cover of the Beatles’ Ticket To Ride.

This is from a concert in Akron, Ohio in 2011. The band turns the Beatles tune into a heavy-rocking blues song. As you can see, the organ plays a major role in the group’s  sound.

Vince Martell rocks out on guitar and lead vocals, while he is joined by Mark Stein on organ and Pete Bremy on bass (the original Vanilla Fudge bassist Tim Bogert retired in 2009). Carmine Appice thumps away on the drums. Right at the end of the song, the group indulges in an extended blues riff.

Although they disbanded in 1970, some or all of the members of Vanilla Fudge regrouped on several occasions. They united for a tour after the release of their Greatest Hits album in 1982. They also reunited in 2005, 2008 and 2011.

Vanilla Fudge were big fans of the Beatles, and issued several Beatles covers, including Ticket to Ride and Eleanor Rigby. Although the reputation of Vanilla Fudge has dimmed by now, the final episode of the HBO show The Sopranos featured their cover of You Keep Me Hangin’ On.

So, we wish the members of Vanilla Fudge continued success. They now can frequently be heard in concerts that feature members of other 60s groups such as The Doors, Steppenwolf and The Yardbirds.

Carpenters and Ticket To Ride:

We previously discussed the Carpenters for their covers of the pop tune Please Mr. Postman and also Reason To Believe. Here we will briefly review the history of this group.

Siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter became soft-pop superstars by combining Richard’s sophisticated orchestral arrangements with Karen’s wonderful throaty contralto vocals.

Below is a photo of Richard and Karen Carpenter from a 1976 concert in London.

Embed from Getty Images

Between 1969 and 1980, the pair produced an astonishing number of top-40 easy-listening hits. Like his contemporary Burt Bacharach, Richard Carpenter fashioned a ‘signature sound’ by blending classically-inspired combinations of strings, woodwinds and brass.

Richard himself played keyboards on Carpenters’ songs and particularly favored the Wurlitzer electric piano, though he would also switch to grand piano, Hammond organ or harpsichord for various songs.

The duo also produced vocal tracks by overdubbing Karen’s and Richard’s voices to produce background vocals to complement Karen’s singing. Karen’s voice was distinctive and unforgettable – what she lacked in power she made up for with a three-octave vocal range, perfect pitch and a beautiful lower register that was highlighted by Richard’s arrangements.

Karen first appeared as the drummer in a jazz trio with Richard. She then began to be featured as a vocalist as well, but initially considered herself as “a drummer who sang.” Karen gradually gave up drumming when her vocals became the pivotal highlight of the group’s songs.

Here are the Carpenters in a live performance of Ticket to Ride. This is from a 1972 concert in Australia.

Isn’t this beautiful? This performance is somewhat rare in that Karen is still playing the drums. I think this may be the first song where I really noticed Karen Carpenter’s terrific low voice, which is just perfect for this tune.

Also, note Richard Carpenter’s innovative arrangement. He starts out with an electric piano solo that shows a classical influence. Then Karen Carpenter begins with her vocals, while Richard chimes in on the chorus.

Richard slows down the pace of the tune and converts it to a languid, mournful dirge. The first half of the song is basically just Karen and Richard, but they are joined by a full orchestra and chorus at the end. The combination of the arrangement and Karen Carpenter’s vocals is beautifully creative and hard to resist.

While they were a hot item, the Carpenters spent an enormous amount of time on the road, often performing up to 200 shows per year from 1971 to 1975. The grueling travel schedule eventually caught up to them. In January 1979, Richard checked into a rehab facility for treatment for addiction to Quaaludes.

However, it was Karen’s eating problems that proved disastrous for her. She suffered from anorexia nervosa, a terrible body image disorder where a person believes that they are overweight, regardless of how much weight they lose. In the most severe cases, patients could starve to death while still maintaining that they needed to lose more weight.

This situation was particularly difficult for Karen Carpenter, because at that time the affliction and its symptoms and treatment were not widely understood. In Karen’s case the disorder was also associated with obsessive purging to lose weight.

Her problem first surfaced when she collapsed during a performance in 1975. A couple of years later Karen began working with a psychotherapist, and she entered a treatment facility in fall 1982. Two months later she left the facility claiming that she was cured, despite pleas from her family and friends to remain in treatment.

In February 1983, Karen Carpenter died from heart failure that occurred as a side effect of anorexia nervosa. It brought a tragic end to a most promising career.

However, the publicity from Karen Carpenter’s situation helped to bring about a heightened public awareness of eating disorders. Within a short period of time, a number of entertainers and celebrities publicly disclosed their own struggles with eating disorders, including Princess Diana.

Karen Carpenter’s untimely death was a grim reminder of the power of anorexia and similar eating disorders. But the Carpenters left behind a legacy of beautiful, haunting music.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Ticket To Ride
Wikipedia, Help! (film)
Wikipedia, The Beatles
Wikipedia, Vanilla Fudge
Wikipedia, The Carpenters

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