Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the 60s rock song Good Lovin’. We will review the original by The Olympics, and covers of that song by The Young Rascals and The Grateful Dead.
The Olympics and Good Lovin’:
The Olympics were a doo-wop quartet formed by a group of students in a Los Angeles high school. Their lead singer was Walter Ward. The group’s first (and biggest) hit was a 1958 novelty song called Western Movies, which made it up to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song
reflected the nation’s preoccupation with western themed movies and television programs. It told the story of a man who lost his girl to TV westerns, and it included doo-wop harmonies as well as background gunshots and ricochet sound effects.
The Olympics (shown at left) continued to record songs over the following decade, primarily up-tempo R&B songs, frequently songs that featured the latest dance crazes (so we get songs like (Baby) Hully Gully, The Slop, The Philly Dog, and The Duck).
All of these earlier songs were released on the Arvee label. In 1965, The Olympics signed with Loma Records and released Good Lovin’. Their tune was a re-working of a song originally titled Lemme B. Good by a singer named Limmie Snell. Songwriters Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick re-wrote the lyrics to the song, changed the name, and The Olympics recorded it. The song didn’t make much of an impression, reaching only #81 on the Billboard charts.
The lyrics are basically just a good-natured joke; a fellow is feeling weird, so he goes to his doctor, who tells him he is suffering from “good lovin’.” There is an over-the-top description of the visit to the doctor, with exaggerated emphasis on the doctor-patient dialogue,
I was feelin’ … so-oo bad,
I asked my family doctor just what I had.
I said, “Doctor, [Doc-turrr …]
“Mister M.D., [Doc-turrr …]
“Now can you tell me,
What’s ailin’ me??” [Doc-turrr …]
Here are The Olympics appearing on Shindig in May, 1965 and performing Good Lovin’. The song is highlighted by a very prominent organ part, played here by Billy Preston – yes, “Fifth Beatle” Billy Preston.
One of the members of the group, Charles Fizer, was shot and killed during the Watts riots in LA in 1965. After that the group shuffled its membership, but never achieved any subsequent success in the pop or R&B charts. They did, however, re-convene later and do a fair amount of touring with oldies concerts.
The Young Rascals and Good Lovin’:
The Young Rascals formed in 1965 when three former members of Joey Dee and the Starliters (Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish) joined up with drummer Dino Danelli. Here is a photo of the group circa 1965.
The group was initially called The Rascals, but changed their name to ‘The Young Rascals’ because of potential legal action from a group called ‘Harmonica Rascals.’ They hit the jackpot in 1966 when they covered Good Lovin’. The song shot up to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and became a monster hit. Later, the group changed their name back to ‘The Rascals.’
Both the song and the Rascals’ treatment of it have become iconic. The record starts out with Cavaliere shouting “one-two-three”, and the song is propelled forward by Cavaliere’s pulsating organ line, with Cornish strumming on his guitar. The song also features Cavaliere’s enthusiastic lead vocals.
Then, right at the 2-minute mark in the song, there is a false ending – a dramatic pause, broken when Cavaliere once more enters in on keyboards. The song eventually ends with a big crescendo on organ. So here are The Rascals live in the studio in 1966.
Is that a great song, or what? If this doesn’t get your fingers snapping, you need to check your pulse. No wonder Good Lovin’ has become an unusually durable hit, and why it is such a popular song in movies and TV shows. For me, the most effective use of the song was in the 1983 movie The Big Chill. That movie has to have one of the all-time great ensemble casts — a group of talented young actors that includes Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt, Jeff Goldblum and Mary Kay Place.
In that movie, Good Lovin’ is playing while a group of people who have assembled for Alex’s funeral are driving in a car. His girlfriend Chloe announces,
“Alex and I made love the night before he died, it was fantastic.” Everyone in the car with her is surprised by the comment, which ends at the exact moment of the pause in the song.
After appreciating this terrific song, your next thought is likely to be “Golly, the Rascals’ version is extraordinarily similar to The Olympics’.” Perhaps this is yet another variation on a familiar theme – African-American artists produce a song that goes nowhere, which is then copied by no-talent whites who make a fortune.
However, that’s not the case in this situation. Sure, The Rascals copied The Olympics – Felix Cavaliere freely admits that his group was looking for a song that they might cover, and that their version owed a great deal to The Olympics original. However, after scoring a mega-hit with Good Lovin’, Cavaliere and Brigati began writing original songs and were equally successful with their original work.
They produced a slew of top-10 hits such as Groovin’, How Can I Be Sure, A Beautiful Morning and People Got to Be Free. Their later hits were an inspired mix of rock and jazz, and cemented their reputation as pop icons. In 1997, The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Speaking of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1999 inductee Billy Joel has been playing one gig a month at Madison Square Garden for the past 18 months, and it appears that this arrangement will continue indefinitely. Although he has not written new material since about 1993, Joel has had a fabulous career, charting over 30 songs in the Billboard Top 40. His Greatest Hits double album is one of the best-selling records ever. Above is a photo of Billy Joel performing in 1978.
Just over a month ago, Joel brought in guest artist Felix Cavaliere to his monthly MSG concert, and they performed Good Lovin’ together, featuring Cavaliere on the organ and vocals. Here is a ‘bonus track’ of that number – enjoy!
The Grateful Dead and Good Lovin’:
The Grateful Dead are arguably the most unique band in the history of rock music. They seem to defy all conventions, break all the rules, and have produced a body of work that spanned an enormous range over a thirty-year period.
It seems that the surviving members of the Dead are finally hanging up their instruments this summer, after an amazing fifty-year “long strange trip.” It also appears that Martin Scorsese is planning to film a documentary on the Grateful Dead, which promises to be a fascinating blend of ensemble music with social history.
The Grateful Dead originated in 1965 in Palo Alto, CA. Below is a photo that shows several of the Dead in 1979 at a concert at Oakland Coliseum. L to R: Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Bob Weir (guitar and vocals), Jerry Garcia (guitar and vocals), Mickey Hart (drums), Donna Godchaux (vocals) and Phil Lesh (bass and vocals). Original member Pigpen McKernan (keyboards and vocals) passed away in 1973.
The group first formed as the remnants of a Bay Area jug band, and for a short time were called The Warlocks. The band then (quite literally) got turned onto rock and psychedelic music, and simultaneously to psychedelic drugs. Below is a poster from an early Dead event in 1967, the “Mantra-Rock Dance” music and consciousness-raising event at the Avalon Ballroom.
The Dead were very active in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. Deeply imbued with the hippie ethos, they are believed to have given more free concerts than any band in history. They then joined up with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, who took their bus “Furthur,” their music and their copious supplies of LSD all the way across the U.S. Along the way, the Dead participated in both the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969.
For most bands, the litmus test of success was to produce single records that cracked the Billboard Top 40 pop charts. The Grateful Dead only ever had a single song make it into the top 50, Touch of Grey in 1987. However, that didn’t stop the band from selling over 35 million albums and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
To the outside world, the Grateful Dead’s leader and frontman was Jerry Garcia. The bearded, bear-like Garcia, shown below at a Grateful Dead concert in Santa Barbara in 1978, was the lead guitarist for the group, and shared lead vocal duties with Bob Weir. Garcia was also an excellent banjo and pedal steel guitar player. Early in his career, he moonlighted on those instruments from time to time with various West Coast folk and bluegrass combos.
However, Jerry was quick to point out that he was merely one member of the Dead ensemble. From their founding in 1965 until Garcia’s death in 1995 from a heart attack while in a drug-rehab clinic, the Dead were more or less permanently on tour. The group is believed to have given more than 2,300 concerts – or perhaps more precisely, jam sessions.
The Dead generally did not prepare a set list for a concert, preferring instead to make spontaneous choices from a playlist that generally contained about 100 songs. During their life span, the Grateful Dead played over 500 different songs at their various performances.
Over the years I attended three Dead concerts. The first was fascinating, but overall seemed a bit listless and lacking in energy. It is quite possible that this was a period when Jerry’s health was precarious. The second concert was wonderful – the band featured songs from their country-rock Workingmen’s Dead album, the music was crisp and lively, and the audience was really into it. The third concert started out strong; however, after an intermission the band launched into a 50-minute convoluted, seemingly endless jam which I found fairly pointless and boring.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Grateful Dead was their relationship to their fans, or Deadheads. It was not unusual for Deadheads to follow the band on concerts from town to town – since each concert was a unique live jam, Deadheads would have a different experience at each venue. Whereas most bands were extremely paranoid about fans filming or taping their live shows, the Dead had exactly the opposite impulse: they actively welcomed Deadheads recording their shows. They even allowed several fans to tap into the Dead’s own soundboards.
The net result was that the Deadheads resembled more a gigantic extended commune than the ‘normal’ followers of musical groups. Deadheads were an exceptionally eclectic lot, ranging from 60s-era hippies to professional athletes, from panhandlers to distinguished scientists.
And for a band composed of hippies from Haight-Ashbury, the group banked incredible amounts of money. They owned their own music rights, sold boatloads of gear at concerts, and held merchandising rights to an extensive series of logos, from the iconic “dancing bears” (above) to the “steal your face” skull (left) to the “skull and roses” (below), and more. In the 1990s, the Dead made $285 million in concert revenue (remember that touring stopped after Jerry died in 1995, so this is essentially the income from just half a decade).
The Grateful Dead performed their cover of Good Lovin’ at several concerts, apparently beginning as early as 1966. It must have been a favorite on their playlists. The song was included on the Dead’s 1978 album Shakedown Street. Their version did not meet with uniform critical acclaim;
Rolling Stone said it “feature[d] aimless ensemble work and vocals that Bob Weir should never have attempted.”
Here is Good Lovin’, from a March 1981 Grateful Dead concert in Essen, Germany.
So, what did you think? I really like it. Certainly, this is by no means a direct copy of the Olympics/Rascals version; here, the ensemble converts the song into a Grateful Dead jam. Jerry Garcia is noodling along on guitar, with some tasty improvisational licks, while Phil Lesh produces very interesting bass lines. Lesh was initially trained as a classical trumpeter, and his bass playing tends to be much more melodic, and less concerned with setting the beat, than most bassists.
Mickey Hart and Bill Kreuzmann are great on drums, with lots of cowbell mixed in, while Brent Mydland goes to town on keyboards. The song meanders along for quite a while, slowing down for an interlude of talking blues from Bob Weir, but after the 6-minute mark picks up steam for a rousing finish. Great stuff – keep on truckin’, guys!