This Magic Moment: The Drifters; Jay & the Americans; Lou Reed.

Hello there! Our song this week is This Magic Moment. This was a great pop song that originally debuted in 1960. We will review the original performed by The Drifters. We will then discuss cover versions by Jay and the Americans, and by Lou Reed.

The Drifters, This Magic Moment:

The Drifters were one of the most unique and unusual pop groups of all time. For a group as successful as this one, The Drifters turned out to be highly unstable.

The Drifters were originally formed in 1953. Allegedly, the great producer Ahmed Ertegun attended a performance of one of his favorite groups, Billy Ward and the Dominoes. Ertegun knew that the lead singer of that group was not Billy Ward, but was actually tenor Clyde McPhatter.

At the show Ertegun noticed that McPhatter was not present, and learned that he had left the group. Once he managed to track down Clyde, Ertegun agreed to assemble a group with McPhatter as the lead singer. That group was named The Drifters.

In September 1953, the song Money Honey was released by Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters. The song was a big hit, and over the next year they released a few more hit records. However, in Sept. 1954 McPhatter was drafted into the Army and left The Drifters.

In dealing with Ahmed Ertegun, Clyde had negotiated a contract that guaranteed him a significant cut of the royalties from the group’s records. However, when McPhatter left the group, he sold the rights to The Drifters to George Treadwell, a producer who was married to Sarah Vaughn. This proved to be a fateful decision.

In the 50s, musicians were frequently signed to contracts that did not compensate them fairly. They were often cheated out of royalties for their songs, and in many cases made the bulk of their money from live concert appearances.

However, even in those bad old days, George Treadwell was notoriously tight-fisted. He tended to pay his musicians a flat (and notably small) wage, and to provide them with little or no royalties for record sales. Even for live concerts and tours, Treadwell continued to pay low salaries.

Since The Drifters were churning out hit records, it was not long before the artists were demanding more pay and better working conditions. When this happened, Treadwell frequently replaced them. On several occasions, he summarily fired members from the group.

Not surprisingly, this treatment guaranteed a rapid turnover of Drifters members – they just drifted away, so to speak. During a 40-year period, The Drifters had more than 60 musicians.

In 1958, after a dispute with his current group The Drifters, Treadwell fired them all and replaced them with a group called The Five Crowns.

Treadwell then re-named that group The Drifters. The lead singer from The Five Crowns was Benjamin Earl Nelson, who performed under the stage name Ben E. King. The two-year period (May 1958 to May 1960) with Ben E. King as lead vocalist is what I consider the “golden era” of The Drifters.

Below is a photo of The Drifters lineup from 1959, their golden era. From L: Ben E. King; Charlie Thomas; Dock Green; and Elsbeary Hobbs.

Embed from Getty Images

Atlantic Records producers Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler assigned Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to produce The Drifters. Leiber and Stoller were a great songwriting duo. They wrote Elvis tunes like Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock, the cross-over hit Kansas City, and followed that up with girl-group songs such as Chapel of Love and Leader of the Pack.

However, Leiber and Stoller had also been successful producers, most notably with the group The Coasters. With Leiber and Stoller producing them, The Drifters released a number of dynamite singles.

Their first big hit was the 1958 release There Goes My Baby. A creative aspect of that song was its use of instrumental backing from a group of violins. The Drifters were the first rock ‘n roll ensemble to feature a string section, and to include a violin solo in the middle of a song.

During the Ben E. King years, nearly all of the hit records by The Drifters had violin accompaniment. The next big hit from the group was Dance With Me.

This Magic Moment was written by composer Mort Schuman and lyricist Doc Pomus. The song was assigned to The Drifters in early 1960.

The lyrics are simple and straightforward. The singer testifies that his life was transformed when he and his lover first shared a kiss.

This magic moment, so different and so new
Was like any other until I kissed you.
And then it happened, it took me by surprise
I knew that you felt it too, by the look in your eyes.

Sweeter than wine
Softer than the summer night
Everything I want, I have
Whenever I hold you tight.

This Magic Moment was another Drifters success. It spent 11 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching a peak at # 16 in April, 1960. Ben E. King’s beautiful voice is front and center, and the ubiquitous violins are also featured, both at the beginning of the song and in a solo in the middle.

So here is audio of The Drifters performing This Magic Moment. This is listed as featuring Ben E. King’s vocals (this is important because many of the Drifters’ most popular songs were re-recorded for “Greatest Hits” compilations after King left the group).

Alas, I was unable to find live video of The Drifters with Ben E. King performing This Magic Moment. So here is the closest I could come to live performance from The Drifters in their golden era. They appear on the TV show Hullaballoo from Feb. 1965, singing At The Club.

The Drifters members for this show are Bill Davis and lead singer Johnny Moore in the back row, and Gene Pearson, Johnny Terry and Charlie Thomas in the front row.

One might ask “Is this really a live performance, or are they just lip-synching to the record?” I’m not entirely sure, although the presence of a string section suggests it might not be live. I welcome your guess about this.

Well, Ben E. King’s tenure with The Drifters followed the usual format. King asked Treadwell for a raise and a more generous cut of The Drifters royalties. When Treadwell refused, King left and began a successful solo career.

the Drifters continued to produce hit records with King’s replacement as lead singer, Rudy Lewis. Notable successes during this period were Up On The Roof, Please Stay, and On Broadway.

Unfortunately, the night before the group was going to record Under The Boardwalk, Rudy Lewis died and was replaced by Johnny Moore. This marked the last big Drifters hit, and after a few years the group left Atlantic Records and moved to the U.K.

In the U.K. the group was managed by Faye Treadwell, George Treadwell’s wife. However, the revolving-door membership of the group continued under Faye’s leadership.

With so many former “Drifters” members, it is not surprising that more than one “Drifters” group exists. Do you want to see The Drifters perform? Well, you can take your pick from the following:
Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters (Pinkney died on July 4, 2007) continue to tour and record. Charlie Thomas leads another group billed as “Charlie Thomas’ Drifters.” Rick Sheppard also tours with another group … Ray Lewis and Roy Hemmings have led a Drifters group. Bobby Hendricks leads a group, as does Billy Lewis. Don Thomas leads a group, Don Thomas and the Drifters Review. In addition, Ronn McPhatter, son of Clyde McPhatter leads a group called Clyde McPhatter’s Drifters … [Faye] Treadwell managed a second group, The Drifters Legends, composed of former members Rick Sheppard, Butch Leake, Joe Blunt and Clyde Brown.

It seems only fitting that an ensemble whose membership constantly turned over should produce so many “Drifters” splinter groups. And not surprisingly, the Treadwell family seems to have spent most of their time in court over the last 30 years, suing various ensembles that tried to use “The Drifters” name.

All that matters to me is that neither of the two great lead singers, Clyde McPhatter or Ben E. King, is still alive. Clyde died way back in 1972, and Ben E. King died from heart problems in April 2015.

In 1988, The Drifters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame had to choose which performers to induct among the 60 former members. They came up with members from the two greatest incarnations of the group: Clyde McPhatter, Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, Johnny Moore, Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, and Rudy Lewis.

Jay and the Americans, This Magic Moment:

Jay and the Americans were an American pop group who had a number of hit records in the 60s. They were initially a quartet composed of students from New York University. Their lead singer was Jay Traynor, together with Howard Kane, Kenny Vance and Sandy Deanne.

The group auditioned for – who else? – Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the late 50s, and Leiber and Stoller gave the group its name.

The first big hit from Jay and the Americans was the 1962 release She Cried. That song reached #5 on the Billboard pop charts. It was later covered by the girl group The Shangri-Las, and even later by Aerosmith.

After the group’s first hit the next couple of records bombed, and at that point Jay Traynor left the group. This left “Jay and the Americans” in a quandary, as they could replace their lead singer but the group would be left with an anomalous name.

They solved their problem by bringing in lead singer David Blatt from a group called The Empires. Blatt was given an ultimatum – you can join our band, but you have to adopt the name “Jay.” He agreed and – voila! – David Blatt became “Jay Black.”

Below is a photo of Jay and the Americans from 1970. I’m not sure of the identity of the various members, but Jay Black is on the left in the front row.

Embed from Getty Images

With Jay Black as their lead singer, Jay and the Americans entered their “golden era.” In 1964 their song Come A Little Bit Closer reached #3 on the Billboard playlists, and in 1965 Cara Mia hit #4.

The next couple of years were not as successful for the band. However, in 1968 they released an album of covers of oldies called Sands of Time. That album contained a cover of The Drifters’ This Magic Moment. That song made it to #6 on the Billboard charts, sold over a million records, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A.

Here is the audio from This Magic Moment by Jay and the Americans. This single was released a few years after the group’s earlier chart hits in the era 1962-1965.

I greatly enjoy this cover of The Drifters’ romantic ballad. After a brief solo electric guitar intro, This Magic Moment features Jay Black’s lovely tenor voice as well as a horn section.

Alas, This Magic Moment in 1969 was pretty much it for Jay and the Americans. After that song, they never again placed a record in the top 10. In 1973, the group split up, but for many years Jay Black continued to tour as “Jay and the Americans.”

Here is Jay Black in a live performance of This Magic Moment from an “oldies” record show.

Unlike several “oldies” musicians, who continue to perform long after their voices have given out, Jay Black is still able to produce some impressive vocals. Indeed, in recent concerts he still belts out the operatic Cara Mia; he reaches for the highest notes, and usually nails them.

However, Jay Black had a serious gambling problem and eventually was forced to declare bankruptcy. In 2006, the naming rights to “Jay and the Americans” were purchased at auction by former band member Sandy Deanne. At that point the original “Americans” members Deanne, Howard Kane and Marty Sanders re-united.

They found a new lead singer John Reinecke, who took the stage name – you guessed it! – “Jay.” Thus, a new “Jay and the Americans” was formed. That group performed all the old hits from both Jay Traynor and Jay Black.

So, these days you can now catch “Jay and the Americans” touring with Jay Reinecke.  Also, the former David Blatt also continues to tour as “Jay Black.” The original “Jay,” Jay Traynor, was performing with The Tokens (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) until his death in January 2014.

Lou Reed, This Magic Moment:

Lou Reed was a singer and songwriter in the New York City area. Born in 1942, Reed was a member of the group The Velvet Underground from 1964-1970. Afterwards he had a long and memorable solo career.

The Velvet Underground was a quartet that one might describe as “the most influential commercially unsuccessful band of all time.” Below is a photo of the Velvet Underground in 1969. From L: singer-songwriter Lou Reed; guitarist Sterling Morrison; multi-instrumentalist John Cale; drummer Maureen Tucker.

Embed from Getty Images

Andy Warhol acted as a mentor for the Velvet Underground, and welcomed them as members of his New York intellectual scene. At Warhol’s urging, the group added European model and singer Nico.

In 1967 the group released the album The Velvet Underground and Nico. Despite the fact that the album sold poorly, over the years it has become an incredibly important album. Rolling Stone rates it the 13th best rock album of all time. Brian Eno has described its influence as follows:
Only 30,000 people bought the Velvet Underground album, but every one of those people subsequently formed his own band.
As an extreme example, writer Vaclav Havel claims that the Velvet Underground album inspired him to become President of Czechoslavakia!

Well, the Velvet Underground did not last long. John Cale left the band in 1968 and Lou Reed departed in 1970. Reed then went on to a distinguished solo career.

The subjects of Reed’s songs were frequently people living on the edge of society: drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, and loners. Some of his songs also discussed aspects of suicide. However, Reed understood these people and their struggles.

As a youth, Lou Reed was socially awkward and fragile. He suffered panic attacks, and had a mental breakdown in his first year at Syracuse University.

His parents then took him to a psychologist who recommended electro-convulsive therapy. Apparently it was a pretty terrible experience for Reed, who described it:
… they put electrodes on your head. That’s what was recommended in Rockland County then to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable.

At Syracuse, Lou Reed became an acquaintance of poet Delmore Schwartz, who inspired Reed to become a great novelist or artist. Reed was also introduced to heroin at Syracuse.

After Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground, his second solo album Transformer rocketed him to fame and became his best-known record. It contained the single Walk On The Wild Side, which became Reed’s signature song and which we will feature later.

Lou Reed recorded a cover of This Magic Moment in 1997. It appeared in a tribute album to lyricist Doc Pomus, Till The Night Is Gone. Here is the audio of that song.

Lou Reed’s cover of This Magic Moment was featured in David Lynch’s film Lost Highway. As a result, in this video there are several clips from David Lynch movies.

The song features Reed’s trademark deadpan vocals. His flat, nearly monotone delivery is somewhere halfway between singing and speaking. Nevertheless, it gives an entirely novel take to This Magic Moment.

In the conventional treatment by The Drifters or Jay and the Americans, This Magic Moment is a sweet song filled with joy and wonder. In Reed’s hands, the song becomes much darker and more ambiguous. Reed even alters the lyrics to make them more confrontational. As a result, I find Lou Reed’s version a very arresting cover of this classic pop song.

Since I was not able to find live video of Lou Reed singing This Magic Moment, I will present Lou Reed singing his trademark tune, Walk On the Wild Side. Here are some of the lyrics to this song.

Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.

Candy came from out on the island,
In the backroom she was everybody’s darling,
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
Said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side

And the colored girls go,
Doot di-doot di-doot doot-di-doot [this line is repeated 8x]

And here is a live performance by Lou Reed of Walk On The Wild Side.

The people mentioned in this tune are all colleagues of Reed from Andy Warhol’s studio The Factory. “Holly” was transvestite actress Holly Woodlawn; “Candy” was Candy Darling, a transgender actress (both Woodlawn and Darling were featured in Andy Warhol films); “Little Joe” was Joe Dellasandro, an actor who appeared in underground films by Warhol and other New York directors; “Sugar Plum Fairy” refers to actor Joe Campbell; and “Jackie” was Jackie Curtis, a drag queen and singer in New York.

Walk On The Wild Side is notable for its references to drugs, transvestites, and sexual practices. It is remarkable that the song made it past the censors and onto commercial radio in the 70s. One rumor is that the song had been recorded in the U.K., and the British censors had never heard the colloquial term for oral sex, “giving head.”

Although a censored version of Walk On The Wild Side was issued in the U.S. that edited out the phrases “giving head” and “colored girls,” I have never heard that version.

Walk On The Wild Side became such a signature song for Lou Reed that he would later joke
“I know my obituary has already been written. And it starts out, ”Doot, di-doot, di-doot…”

Lou Reed continued his career for many years afterwards. He had a few albums that sold well; however, later in his career he frequently re-released songs that he had recorded with the Velvet Underground.

Reed always seemed to be an incredibly cool, cynical character. Below is a photo of a much older Lou Reed in 2000.

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In about 1990, Lou Reed began to collaborate with performance artist Laurie Anderson. Anderson collaborated on songs on a few of Reed’s albums, and Reed contributed to a couple of Anderson’s albums.

In 2008, Reed and Anderson were married. This completed a rather remarkable transformation in Reed’s life. The New York Times commented on the changes made by Lou Reed:
in the 1970s, Reed had a distinctive persona: “Back then he was publicly gay, pretended to shoot heroin onstage, and cultivated a ‘Dachau panda’ look, with cropped peroxide hair and black circles painted under his eyes.” The newspaper went on to note that, in 1980, “Reed renounced druggy theatrics, even swore off intoxicants themselves, and became openly heterosexual, openly married.”

In 1994, the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, they performed a song in memory of their guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had passed away the previous year.

Lou Reed was nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist three times. After his third nomination, Reed was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Unfortunately, the induction came too late for Reed. In 2013, he underwent a liver transplant operation at the Cleveland Clinic. Although the transplant appeared to be a success, Reed died from liver disease in October 2013, at the age of 71.

Lou Reed lived a rough, gritty life “on the wild side,” and he managed to relate those experiences through his songs, both with the Velvet Underground and later as a solo act.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, This Magic Moment
Wikipedia, The Drifters
Wikipedia, Jay and the Americans
Wikipedia, Lou Reed
Wikipedia, The Velvet Underground
Wikipedia, Walk On The Wild Side (Lou Reed song)

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats, Lewis and Clark. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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