California Dreamin’: Barry McGuire; The Mamas and the Papas; Bobby Womack

Hello there! This week’s blog post entry is California Dreamin’, a great pop song with a fascinating history. We will first discuss the first recorded version with Barry McGuire on lead vocals, backed by The Mamas & the Papas. We will then review the most famous version of that song by The Mamas & the Papas; and we will finish by discussing a cover by Bobby Womack.

Barry McGuire and California Dreamin’:

Barry McGuire was a singer-songwriter who became one of the earliest folk-rockers. Born in 1935 in Oklahoma City, Barry initially worked as a commercial fisherman and pipe fitter before beginning a musical career.

McGuire joined up with Barry Kane to form the duo Barry and Barry. They performed at various California clubs until they landed at The Troubador in Hollywood. Below is a photo of Barry McGuire circa 1969.

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In L.A., both Barrys joined the New Christy Minstrels. McGuire found himself singing lead on several songs by that group. In 1963, McGuire and New Christy Minstrels founder Randy Sparks co-wrote the song Green, Green that became the NCM’s biggest hit, featuring Barry’s instantly recognizable, raspy voice as the lead for that oversized folk ensemble.

For a time, Barry continued with both his solo career and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels. Then in 1965, McGuire got his big break. He took the song Eve of Destruction, written by P.F. Sloan, and turned it into a #1 hit record.

Eve of Destruction was a dark and ominous song suggesting that American society, or perhaps also the world, was on the verge of being torn apart. The song pointed to the standoff between superpowers possessing nuclear weapons, bitter racial disputes surrounding the civil rights movement, and hatred between different countries.

Does all of this sound familiar? I have a feeling that Eve of Destruction could be re-released today and be as relevant as ever. Anyway, that song shot up to #1 on the Billboard pop charts, displacing Help! by the Beatles from the top spot.

Barry McGuire’s version of California Dreamin’ has a curious history. Not only was Barry a good friend of both John Phillips and Cass Elliott, but in 1965 McGuire had signed a contract with Dunhill Records. So he arranged an audition for the Mamas and the Papas with Lou Adler, who signed the group to a Dunhill record deal.

In return, the Mamas and the Papas provided McGuire with backing vocals on his second album This Precious Time. One of the songs on that album was California Dreamin’. That song had been written by John Phillips in late 1963, when he and Michelle were suffering through a cold spell in New York.

Apparently the tune came to John in a dream, and he woke Michelle up to help him with the lyrics. The song vividly describes a person longing for the warmth of California in the midst of a New York winter.

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

Stopped into a church
I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
And I pretend to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold
He knows I’m gonna stay
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

So here is the audio of Barry McGuire singing California Dreamin’. As you can see, John Phillips had worked out essentially the final arrangement for the song. You can hear the Mamas and the Papas in the background singing harmony, while much of the instrumental backing is provided by the great West Coast session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew.

However, this version of California Dreamin’ is rather jarring. The iconic guitar intro leaves you anticipating Denny Doherty’s vocals, but instead you get Barry McGuire. Although McGuire’s rough and ragged vocals were perfect for his one big hit Eve of Destruction, here his vocal treatment does not work at all.

John Phillips must have realized this, because a short while after the song was taped he wiped McGuire’s vocals from the recording and substituted vocals by himself and Denny Doherty, while leaving the original instrumental and vocal backing tracks. Phillips made one additional change, replacing McGuire’s harmonica solo with an alto flute solo by Bud Shank.

Barry McGuire was understandably pissed that his buddies had wiped his vocals and re-recorded his song. It seemed particularly ungrateful after he had personally arranged the audition with Dunhill Records that provided The Mamas and the Papas with their first big record deal.

The final blow was that Barry’s album This Precious Time, containing his version of California Dreamin’, was not issued until December 1965. However, the Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreamin’ had already been released in fall 1965.

One interesting note: it is claimed that if you listen carefully to the Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin’ (in the left headphone), you can just barely hear Barry McGuire’s vocals, which were not completely wiped from the recording. Note: I have tried this and was unable to hear Barry.

As it turned out, Barry McGuire was a one-hit wonder. After his smash  success with Eve of Destruction, McGuire never again had a song reach the Top 40 in the pop charts.

McGuire did some acting, appearing in the James Coburn film The President’s Analyst, and also spent a year in the Broadway cast of the musical Hair. In 1971, McGuire became a born-again Christian and spent the remainder of his career recording contemporary Christian music.

Here are Barry McGuire and Terry Talbot in a live version of California Dreamin’. This takes place at the concert commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival.

McGuire recounts how the Mamas and the Papas got their name, and then reprises the story of his vocals being erased from California Dreamin’. Not surprisingly, McGuire and Phillips did not speak for several years after this episode. Barry otherwise performs the song in good humor.

At present, Barry McGuire and his wife live in Fresno, California, and spend some of each year in New Zealand (his wife’s original home). Barry, all the best to one of the original folk-rockers.

The Mamas & the Papas and California Dreamin’:

We initially discussed The Mamas and the Papas in our earlier blog post on their cover of the song My Girl.  Here we will briefly review their career.

The Mamas and the Papas were formed from the remnants of two folksinging groups. John Phillips and Michelle (Gilliam) Phillips were members of a folk group called The New Journeymen, while Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott were in a folk-rock band The Mugwumps.

As a big folk music fan, I caught a live concert of The New Journeymen in early 1965. I thought they had a promising future. Well, the individual performers did, but not in this particular ensemble. Here is a photo of the New Journeymen; L to R John Phillips (believe it or not), Michelle Phillips and Marshall Brickman.

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The New Journeymen were managed by Frank Werber, who as manager of The Kingston Trio was one of the most influential figures in folk music. Legend has it that Werber intended to recruit John Phillips to the Kingston Trio in the event that group broke up. Dave Guard was thrown out of the Kingston Trio soon afterwards; however, Phillips chose to remain with the New Journeymen.

John Phillips subsequently wrote the autobiographical song Creeque Alley about the history of the Mamas and Papas, that opens with
John and Michie were gettin’ kind of itchy
Just to leave the folk music behind.
Actually, that statement is rather inaccurate, as John was loath to switch from folk to pop but was eventually persuaded by the other group members.

While we’re on the subject, the song Creeque Alley prominently mentions Barry McGuire several times, e.g.,
McGuinn and McGuire just a-gettin’ higher
In L.A., you know where that’s at

Below is a photo of the Mamas and the Papas in London, 1967.  L to R: Denny, Cass, John and Michelle.

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Initially, John was seriously opposed to bringing Cass into the group. He argued that Mama Cass’ weight would distract from the other, more svelte bandmates, and that her personality clashed with his.

John even argued that Cass’ voice was too low for his arrangements. A widespread rumor is that Cass was hit on the head by a copper pipe in a construction zone.  Apparently that accident caused her vocal range to increase by three notes, which allowed her to join the Mamas and Papas. But many believe this was simply an excuse cooked up by Cass to conceal the real reason John didn’t want her, namely that she was too fat.

In any case Michelle, Denny and producer Lou Adler argued strongly for including Cass, and she eventually joined the group. In spring 1965 the band traveled to the Virgin Islands to rehearse their act. Folk-rock was something new for John Phillips, who had previously been a “straight” folksinger (acoustic guitar, banjo, no electric instruments or drums).

Although initially reluctant to branch out to pop music, John Phillips discovered that he had real talent for writing and arranging. He was the musical genius behind the group, blending the four voices in novel and interesting ways, and combining this with innovative instrumental mixes. John and Michelle’s background vocals were a perfect fit with Denny’s smooth delivery and Cass’ marvelous, resonant voice.

As noted earlier, the Mamas and the Papas released California Dreamin’ as a single in fall 1965. By March 1966 the song had peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and California Dreamin’ was rated the top pop song of 1966. Making Denny the lead vocalist, and inserting a flute solo, were touches of genius from John Phillips.

Here are The Mamas and the Papas in a live performance of California Dreamin’.

This took place at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. This was a seminal event in rock music history. The event, one of the first big rock festivals, kicked off 1967’s ‘Summer of Love.’ John Phillips, Lou Adler and a few associates threw the event together in about 7 weeks’ time, and produced a memorable three-day music-fest.

Monterey Pop introduced several performers who would become rock superstars. American newcomers Janis Joplin and Otis Redding electrified the crowd. And Monterey Pop marked the first U.S. performances of artists such as The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar.

The Mamas and the Papas were the last group to appear at the festival. Their performance has been generally rated as sub-par. The group argued that they had spent so much time organizing the event that they had not practiced enough.

Well, I don’t think their rendition of California Dreamin’ is that bad – what do you think? You can clearly enjoy John Phillips’ brilliant arrangement and the close harmonies from the quartet. Here, the iconic flute solo is replaced by a guitar solo. Overall, I quite enjoy this performance.

Clearly, the sound of the Mamas and Papas was strongly dependent on sophisticated instrumental arrangements and the brilliant balance that could only be achieved in the recording studio. After Monterey, it is difficult to find a live performance from the Mamas and Papas. Even in their appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, which for many years insisted on live performance, the Mamas and Papas are simply lip-synching to their records.

At their best, The Mamas and the Papas produced beautiful music together. Songs like California Dreamin’ and Monday, Monday brought a fresh new perspective to pop music and established the group as legitimate superstars.

For a brief shining moment, it appeared as though the Mamas and Papas might continue indefinitely as pop icons. However, if the Mamas/Papas were a family they would be labeled ‘super-dysfunctional.’ The group’s personal saga would be considered too over-the-top for a daytime soap opera.

Unfortunately, the group was unraveling from the moment they became famous. An initial jolt was Michelle’s affair with Denny, which began in 1965 and continued for some time before being discovered. To make matters even messier, Denny was sharing a house with John and Michelle at the time. Worse still, Mama Cass had been silently in love with Denny for years.

Although John managed to patch things up after Denny’s affair with Michelle, in 1966 John found that Michelle was having an affair with Byrds band member Gene Clark. For John this was the last straw, and he persuaded the others to expel Michelle from the band.

For a short time Michelle was replaced by Jill Gibson; however, Gibson did not have Michelle’s charisma and the group soon reverted to their original lineup. As a result no one knows whose vocals, Jill’s or Michelle’s, appear on various tracks of the group’s second album.

John then built a recording studio in the attic of his house, and did most of his work there. But John’s increasingly serious addiction issues made it difficult to record their albums. The group members would frequently record their tracks individually, only mixing the separate vocals in later sessions.

In 1968 the Mamas and Papas began a European tour, but abandoned it as the group was clearly dissolving. They patched together a final album or two to satisfy contractual arrangements, but the tracks were all recorded separately. A toxic brew of messy love triangles, personality problems and addiction issues dissolved a once-brilliant partnership.

Following their breakup, the members of the Mamas and Papas tried to launch solo efforts while dealing with their addiction issues. Cass Elliott had the most successful solo career, scoring a few hit singles. However, in 1974 while on a tour of London, Elliott died of a heart attack. I had always believed that she choked to death on a ham sandwich, but apparently that was simply ‘fake news.’

Denny Doherty pursued a largely unsuccessful solo career, but after returning to his native Canada he managed to secure acting parts in several TV shows. Doherty died in 2007 after suffering an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Michelle Phillips, the only surviving member of the Mamas/Papas, had a solo singing career that also faltered, but she found success as an actress and appeared in several acclaimed movies.

John Phillips kept singing and writing, though his major success came from producing records for other artists. However, his later work was severely hampered by persistent addiction issues.
John Phillips stayed off heroin, but remained addicted to alcohol, cocaine, and pills, as did his daughter.
John Phillips died of heart failure in 2001.

Mackenzie Phillips subsequently published a memoir claiming that she had an incestuous relationship with her father for many years – ewwww! This is still a highly contested issue. Mackenzie’s half-sisters support her story, while her step-mothers  Michelle Phillips and Genevieve Waite strongly deny it.

The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Here is video of John, Michelle and Denny performing California Dreamin’ at their Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

It’s great to see the three remaining Mamas/Papas performing together again. It is sad that Mama Cass is no longer with them, and apparently there was still significant friction between John and Michelle, though you wouldn’t know it from the video.

We will always remember their career as resembling a supernova, a blazing light that suddenly appears in the sky but rapidly fades out. But what a brilliant glow while they lasted!

Bobby Womack and California Dreamin’:

We initially discussed Bobby Womack in an earlier blog post on his song It’s All Over Now.  Here we will briefly review his life and career.

The R&B singer and songwriter Bobby Womack was born in 1944 and passed away in June 2014. Bobby grew up in poverty in Cleveland. He recalls
that the family would fish pig snouts out of the local supermarket’s trash … His mother told him he could “sing his way out of the ghetto.”
Bobby was pretty much a child prodigy, recording his first song at the age of 10!

He initially gained attention as a singer-songwriter for his family group The Valentinos, that included brothers Cecil, Harry, Friendly Jr and Curtis. The group was managed and mentored by the great Sam Cooke, and Bobby also worked as Sam’s lead guitarist.

Like Cooke, the brothers originally started as a gospel quintet but then crossed over to R&B. It was likely a difficult personal decision to move from God’s harmonies to “the Devil’s music,” but rock ‘n roll benefited greatly from the spirit and style infused from gospel.

Below is a photo of Bobby Womack circa 1975.

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Some friction ensued when Sam Cooke convinced The Valentinos to make Bobby the lead singer, replacing his brother Curtis. After a promising start with the song Looking for a Love, a pop re-tooling of one of the group’s gospel numbers, Bobby and his sister-in-law Shirley Womack wrote It’s All Over Now in early 1964.

That song (It’s All Over Now by the Valentinos featuring Bobby Womack, produced by Sam Cooke) became a minor hit, just denting the Billboard Top 100. However, the tune became a genuine blockbuster when it was covered a couple of months later by a young British Invasion group, The Rolling Stones.

Bobby was initially upset that some white upstarts had stolen his song. However, after he started receiving royalty checks from the Stones’ record company, Womack is reported to have told Mick Jagger “you can have any song of mine that you want.”

The song California Dreamin’ has been covered by numerous groups, including The Beach Boys, R.E.M., Jose Feliciano, the Carpenters, the Four Tops, and George Benson.

Bobby Womack recorded his cover of California Dreamin’ in 1968. It was a cut on his first solo album, and became Womack’s first big hit.  Here is a video clip of Bobby Womack in a live performance of California Dreamin’.

This is actually a medley of two songs, California Dreamin’ and Womack’s autobiographical Across 110th Street. It features just Bobby with an acoustic guitar.

Bobby is left-handed but when he was first given a right-handed guitar, he simply turned it upside down. If you watch carefully, you can see that he is playing a right-handed guitar backwards, just like Jimi Hendrix.

I love Bobby Womack’s gritty voice and his great R&B vocals. He takes this great Mamas and Papas pop song and converts it into an impressive soul song. There is a lot of creativity in his cover.

Womack’s subsequent career had more than its share of ups and downs. A first major career blow occurred when Sam Cooke was shot and killed in a Los Angeles motel in December 1964. In the aftermath, the Valentinos disbanded and their record company folded.

Controversy dogged him when Bobby married Sam Cooke’s widow Barbara Campbell just 3 months after Sam’s death.  It didn’t help that Barbara later divorced Bobby after she discovered him in an affair with her daughter Linda (Barbara fired a shot at Bobby upon catching the two of them in bed).

Although Bobby remained in demand as a session musician and songwriter, and produced a couple of seminal albums in the 70s, his solo career often languished. He would occasionally release a mid-range hit, but then continue for a long fallow period before scoring another song.

His well-publicized problems with drugs quite likely contributed to this – after dealing with a cocaine addiction for 2 decades, Womack went into rehab in the late 1980s. Here is Bobby recounting his lifestyle in the 60s and 70s:
“I was really off into the drugs. Blowing as much coke as I could blow. And drinking. And smoking weed and taking pills. Doing that all day, staying up seven, eight days. Me and Sly [Stone] were running partners.”

Well, in terms of role models, you could not choose worse than Sly Stone! I haven’t seen a cause of death listed, but Womack reportedly suffered from diabetes, prostate cancer, heart disease, colon cancer, pneumonia and Alzheimer’s.

Geez – talk about reasons for singing the blues! What a tough life, but what a talented, gifted musician.

Although he never achieved lasting fame as a solo artist, Bobby Womack was in great demand as a songwriter and session guitarist. Bobby Womack played guitar and wrote songs for artists such as Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone and Janis Joplin, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. Presumably, he is now up in “rock and roll heaven.”

Source Material:

Wikipedia, California Dreamin’
Wikipedia, Barry McGuire
Wikipedia, The Mamas & the Papas
Wikipedia, John Phillips (musician)
Wikipedia, Creeque Alley
Wikipedia, Bobby Womack

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Bohemian Rhapsody: Queen (clip from “Wayne’s World”); Elton John and Axl Rose

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 Bohemian Rhapsody. This is an epic operatic rock song by Queen that was featured in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World. We will then discuss a cover of that song by Elton John and Axl Rose.

Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody:

We previously discussed the group Queen in a blog post on their song Somebody To Love. So here we will briefly review the history of that pop band.

Queen was a British quartet that assembled in London in the early 70s. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor met up with vocalist Farrokh Bulsara; after trying out several bass players, the group settled on John Deacon. At that point Bulsara changed his name to Freddie Mercury, and the band adopted the name Queen.

In 1973, the band signed a record contract with Trident/EMI. This was a great opportunity for the band, as Trident Studios had high-tech facilities that had been used by the Beatles and Elton John, among others.

Below is a group portrait of Queen in 1976. From L: Brian May; John Deacon (standing); Roger Taylor; Freddie Mercury.

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For the next couple of years, Queen became popular in the UK but made little commercial headway in the US. All that changed dramatically with the release of the group’s fourth album, A Night At the Opera, in 1975.

That album, titled after a Marx Brothers’ movie, contained the song Bohemian Rhapsody. A daring and amazing tour de force, it was a pop tune written in operatic style.

The song begins with Freddie Mercury’s slow and sweet vocals, accompanying himself on piano. The singer professes that he has an easygoing carefree nature.

I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to me.

However, he next confesses that he has shot a man to death, and is terrified of what lies ahead for him.

Mama, ooh (any way the wind blows),
I don’t wanna die,
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.

The song then shifts tone abruptly. It simulates a large opera chorus, and also parodies the interchanges that take place in operatic arias.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me.
(Galileo) Galileo
(Galileo) Galileo
Galileo Figaro

Bohemian Rhapsody ends with another slow, melodic solo by Freddie Mercury.

With this tune, before you could say “Beelzebub!” the group’s fame spread  across the globe.

The incredible sounds produced on Bohemian Rhapsody were a combination of massive overdubbing by the members of the band (to simulate the sound of a large operatic chorus), combined with special effects from Brian May’s home-made Red Special guitar.

Let me interject a few words about the life and career of Queen guitarist Brian May. A rock musician with a doctorate in astrophysics and a book on the history of the universe? And in addition, he served as Chancellor of a British university — what an amazing fellow!

When I first heard Queen performing Bohemian Rhapsody, I thought: “What a novel concept and a stunning record. Of course, they could never reproduce this in a live performance.”

To demonstrate how wrong I was, here is Queen performing Bohemian Rhapsody ‘live.’ This took place during the band’s 1986 Magic Tour.

I put ‘live’ in quotation marks because this performance contains both live and taped segments. Freddie sings the slow segments at beginning and end live. However, the middle section that simulates a massive chorus is provided in taped form from the record, along with special visual effects.

Bohemian Rhapsody has a special place in the hearts of Queen fans. It is the 3rd-best selling record ever in the U.K. In 2012, ITV conducted a UK poll of “The Nation’s Favourite Number One” song, and Bohemian Rhapsody came in #1 (!)

The song took an enormous amount of studio time, and was at the time the most expensive recording ever made. The “chorus” parts consisted of extensive overdubbing from the band members (up to 180 overdubs in some sections); May, Mercury and Taylor were singing their vocal parts for up to 10 hours a day during the recording sessions.

Record executives assured Queen that their song could not be played on commercial radio because of its nearly 6-minute length. This is exactly like the record company’s response to Bob Dylan’s epic Like A Rolling Stone.

Of course, that prediction was nullified as soon as radio DJs began to play the song. Bohemian Rhapsody rocketed up to #1 on the UK pop charts. The song was not quite as successful in the US, only reaching #9 on the Billboard lists.

Queen subsequently became pop superstars. They specialized in producing ‘rock anthems’ such as We Are The Champions and Somebody To Love. Queen filled up stadiums on their tours and their albums sold like hotcakes.  Their Greatest Hits album outsold even the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper blockbuster.

However, even as their commercial success took off, Freddie Mercury’s health declined. As a youth, Mercury had several romantic relationships with women; however, he later became homosexual. In 1987 Freddie discovered that he had HIV, and around Easter of that year he had contracted AIDS.

Queen stopped touring but continued to record albums in the studio.  However, as time went by Mercury’s condition worsened. He lost a considerable amount of weight and eventually became haggard, which caused a great deal of speculation regarding his health.

For some time Mercury avoided discussing his sexual orientation or health. Finally, on Nov. 22, 1991, Freddie Mercury issued a press release acknowledging that he had AIDS. Two days later, Mercury died at the age of 45 from bronchial pneumonia, brought on as a complication of AIDS.

Mercury’s death was devastating to his Queen bandmates and to his many fans. Brian May was particularly depressed as a result of his close friend’s demise. He checked himself into a clinic in Arizona, and later threw himself into various solo music projects.

Over the past 25 years, bassist John Deacon has retired. Roger Taylor and Brian May have re-united at various times, and have toured with a guest lead vocalist.

Queen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. With total record sales somewhere between 150 million and 300 million, they are one of the best-selling musical acts of all time. And in 2005, Brian May was named a Commander of the British Empire by the actual Queen for “services to the music industry and for charity work.”

Bohemian Rhapsody in the film Wayne’s World:

Wayne’s World was a 1992 film starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey and directed by Penelope Spheeris. This was the movie version of a popular Myers-Carvey sketch from the NBC television program Saturday Night Live.

The premise of these skits was that Wayne Campbell (Myers) and Garth Algar (Carvey) were two slackers who hosted a public-access TV show called Wayne’s World that was filmed in the basement of Campbell’s parents’ home.

Campbell and Algar were obsessed with heavy-metal rock music. Their SNL sketches began with Wayne strumming furiously (and cluelessly) on his guitar while Garth tapped away with his drumsticks, as the boys shouted out “Wayne’s World! Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!”

On the cable show Wayne and Garth would compare their reactions to hard-rock bands (both lads agreed that Aerosmith was their favorite band), rate the desirability of various women (or “babes”), and also introduce various fantasy sequences. Guests or rock bands would appear from time to time. The guests would frequently be insulted or subjected to boyish pranks, while bands would either be worshipped or dissed.

The SNL skits presented a sophomoric but tolerant view of two hard-rock-obsessed youths. The character treatment was similar to that in the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which came out a couple of years after the Myers-Carvey sketch debuted on SNL.

Wayne’s World was notable for introducing various catchphrases into the language. A couple of these were “Schwing” (referring to something titillating); and “Not,” inserted after a pause to negate a statement – e.g., “He is quite handsome – not.”

The film Wayne’s World simply gives us a fleshed-out narrative about these buddies.

The Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody appears at the beginning of the film. Garth picks up Wayne in his barely-functioning AMC Pacer automobile, and they drive around with two of their slacker friends while playing Bohemian Rhapsody on a cassette tape and lip-synching to the tune.

In this clip, roughly half of Bohemian Rhapsody plays while the lads cruise past various landmarks in Aurora, IL (the scene was actually filmed in West Covina, CA). Along the way they pick up their seriously drunk friend Phil.

The boys sing along to the slow, sweet portions of the tune. However, just before the 2-minute mark in this clip the thunderous chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody arrives, which leads to some strenuous head-banging. At the end of the song, the boys arrive at their local hangout, Stan Mikita’s Donuts.

Poster for the 1992 movie Wayne’s World.

Apparently Mike Myers was quite insistent that the tune Bohemian Rhapsody be included at the beginning of the movie.  This was a brilliant decision, as the opening scene became a cult classic and has been parodied any number of times.

Rolling Stone magazine has an interesting article on the making of the Bohemian Rhapsody scene from Wayne’s World.

The premise of the Wayne’s World film is that sleazy producer Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe) agrees to purchase the rights to Wayne and Garth’s cable show for $10,000.  At left is a poster for the movie.

Wayne then meets and falls for Cassandra Wong (Tia Carrere), who plays bass and sings lead vocals for a local band. However, Benjamin attempts to steal Cassandra’s affections by offering to produce a music video for her while flaunting his money and charm.

Wayne gets fired from the cable show after insulting the show’s sponsor. Jealous of Benjamin, Wayne attempts to sabotage Cassandra’s music video; this causes Cassandra to break up with him.

After a series of wacky adventures, the crew from Wayne’s World manages to hack into the satellite feed of Cassandra’s music video and broadcast it from Wayne’s basement. However, Wayne fails in his quest to obtain a record contract for Cassandra; in the film’s original ending, Cassandra rejects Wayne and departs with Benjamin for a tropical resort.

Wayne and Garth then stage an alternate ending to the movie. This bit is a parody of the Scooby-Doo TV show; in this ending, Benjamin is exposed as “Old Man Withers.”

The film’s ending is re-enacted a third and final time. In this “mega happy ending,” Cassandra returns to Wayne and signs a record contract, while Garth hooks up with a waitress.

Wayne’s World was Mike Myers’ first film, and the second SNL sketch to be turned into a movie (the first was the 1980 film The Blues Brothers starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd).

Negative critical comments about the movie generally suggested that the premise of the SNL sketch was too flimsy to support an entire movie. I have to agree with this assessment. Although the reception of film critics was mixed, the film was a box-office triumph. It had a domestic gross of over $121 million, making it the highest-grossing film of the 11 movies created from SNL sketches.

Before directing Wayne’s World, Penelope Spheeris had produced a number of music documentaries. Although this movie appeared to be a golden opportunity for Ms. Spheeris, apparently working with Mike Myers was no picnic. The two clashed repeatedly, and Myers is reported to have prevented Penelope from directing the sequel Wayne’s World 2.

Elton John and Axl Rose and Bohemian Rhapsody:

Following Freddie Mercury’s death, the other three members of Queen agreed to hold a memorial concert in the spring of 1992.  In a previous blog post, we showed George Michael performing the song Somebody To Love with the members of Queen at this concert.

Poster for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, Apr. 20, 1992.

The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was held at London’s Wembley Stadium on April 20, 1992. A poster for the concert is shown at left. The surviving three members of Queen appeared at the event, together with many of the most famous rock performers of the day.

Funds raised from the concert were used to launch the Mercury Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity organization. An audience of 72,000 watched the live concert at Wembley; however a world-wide TV link broadcast the concert to as many as a billion people.

A number of artists performed their own songs. In addition, the members of Queen performed covers of their own songs with various guest artists.

One of the final acts in that concert was a performance of Bohemian Rhapsody by Elton John and Axl Rose, accompanied by the surviving members of Queen plus a group of guest musicians.

Below is a photo of Elton John (L) and Axl Rose performing at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

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Elton John was a natural choice to perform here. For roughly 25 years he had been one of Britain’s most successful pop performers. His work spanned the gamut from ballads to hard-rocking tunes.

In addition, Elton had long raised funds for AIDS research, and he had shown remarkably bravery in counteracting prejudice against AIDS sufferers like Indiana’s Ryan White.

By contrast (at least in hindsight), Axl Rose seemed a curious choice for a performer at a Freddie Mercury tribute. Rose had been the leader and lead vocalist for the heavy-metal group Guns ‘n Roses, an L.A. band that were hot and influential from the mid-80s to the mid-90s.

The band combined the distinctive edgy vocals from Axl Rose with impressive guitar solos from their lead guitarist Slash. However, Guns ‘n Roses then suffered a dramatic flame-out, and the original ensemble imploded.

In later years, Axl Rose would be accused of homophobia. In a 1998 Guns ‘n Roses song called One In A Million, Rose had complained about “faggots … who spread some fucking disease.”

In the resulting controversy, Rose alluded to his claims that he had been molested by his biological father and to an attempted rape when he was in his teens. However,
The controversy led to Guns N’ Roses being dropped from the roster of an AIDS benefit show in New York organized by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

In any case, Axl Rose and Elton John, together with members of Queen, are seen here in a performance of Bohemian Rhapsody at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

As you can see, Elton and Axl essentially reprise the Queen performance shown earlier, from their 1986 Magic Tour. The initial slow section from Bohemian Rhapsody is performed live by Elton John, as the audience sings along throughout the song.

The audio from the operatic chorus in the center section is taken from tapes of the original record, and the video is identical to that from the 1986 tour.  At the 3:15 mark Axl Rose bursts onto the scene, dressed in a kilt and gyrating like a whirling dervish.  It is a stunning scene and the audience goes wild.  Axl and Elton then sing the final slow section of Bohemian Rhapsody.

I hope this video clip was not too repetitive, but I wanted to show the excitement and power of the Freddie Mercury tribute concert.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Bohemian Rhapsody
Wikipedia, Queen (band)
Wikipedia, Freddie Mercury
Wikipedia, Brian May
Wikipedia, Wayne’s World (film)
The Oral History of the Wayne’s World Bohemian Rhapsody Scene, David Peisner, Rolling Stone magazine, Nov. 30, 2015.
Wikipedia, Elton John
Wikipedia, Axl Rose

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

Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles (clip from “A Hard Day’s Night); The Supremes; Michael Buble.

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 Buy Me Love, a great early Beatles pop tune that was featured in their first movie A Hard Day’s Night. We will then discuss covers of that song by The Supremes and Michael Buble.

The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night:

The Beatles tune Can’t Buy Me Love was composed in 1964 by Paul McCartney. The song was recorded in January 1964, when the group was in Paris for a series of concerts at the Olympia Theatre.

Below is a photo of the Fab Four on the cover of a 1964 “fanzine.”  Clockwise from lower left: John Lennon; George Harrison; Paul McCartney; Ringo Starr.

Embed from Getty Images

At that time the German division of EMI, the Beatles’ record company, insisted that no one in Germany would buy pop records unless they were sung in German.  Of course, that argument turned out to be totally false, yet another demonstration that 60s record executives were clueless about rock ‘n roll.

While they were in Paris, the Beatles went into the studio to record backing tracks for the German-language versions of She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand.  As was common in those days, the Beatles completed their studio work in remarkably short order.  So in their remaining time they began recording Paul’s new song, Can’t Buy Me Love.

Paul’s original concept for this song differed from the eventual result. When Beatles producer George Martin heard the tune, he remarked that it might sound better if Paul inserted a couple of lines from the chorus at both the beginning and end of the song. So Paul adopted Martin’s suggestion.

Can’t Buy Me Love differs significantly from prior Beatles songs, in that it lacks the group’s signature background vocals. The song was originally intended to contain those vocals, but when the lads heard Paul’s solo version, they decided to include Paul’s double-tracked vocals instead.

This tune is also exceptional in that this is one of only two Beatles song not recorded in the U.K.  The other is the 1968 song The Inner Light, for which instrumental parts were recorded in India by George Harrison and classical Indian musicians.

Can’t Buy Me Love was released in the U.S. and U.K. in March 1964, and immediately climbed to the top of the charts. This gave the Beatles three consecutive #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

In addition,
when “Can’t Buy Me Love” reached number 1, on 4 April 1964, the Beatles held [the] entire top five on the Hot 100, the next positions being filled by “Twist and Shout”, “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me”, respectively. No other act has held the top five spots simultaneously.
The following week, the Beatles had an astonishing 14 songs in the Hot 100 at the same time!

Can’t Buy Me Love played an important role in the first Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night. The title of the film was based on a casual remark by Ringo in a press conference. He referred to the previous evening’s concert as “a hard day’s night,” cracking up John Lennon. Eventually it was decided to make that the movie title.

The director was Richard Lester, an American who had previously directed a short movie called The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film, with actors Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan from the BBC radio program The Goon Show.

The Beatles (and John Lennon in particular) were big fans of the earlier Lester film, so he was brought in to direct the Beatles movie. A Hard Day’s Night was filmed on a shoestring budget of about $500,000, and was rushed into production. It was claimed that the movie was filmed quickly as it was
a low-budget exploitation movie to milk the latest brief musical craze for all it was worth.

As yet another example of corporate stupidity, executives from United Artists requested that the Beatles’ voices be over-dubbed with American accents. Richard Lester’s response was
“Look, if we can understand a fucking cowboy talking Texan, they can understand us talking Liverpool.”

A Hard Day’s Night is a fictional portrayal of several days in the life of a pop group (the Beatles). Initially, the band are pursued by a mob of screaming fans as they board a train from Liverpool to London. The various scenes are punctuated by Beatles songs.

On the train, Paul’s grandfather is confined to the guard’s van, and the Fab Four join him there. After they arrive at their London hotel, the Beatles escape from performing their mundane tasks, but are eventually caught and taken to the theater for rehearsals.

The Beatles then leave the theater through a fire escape, where they run around on a lawn and fall down while Can’t Buy Me Love plays on the soundtrack. We will shortly show the video clip of that scene.

A Hard Day’s Night also features a poignant scene where Ringo goes for a walk. He
tries to have a quiet drink in a pub, takes pictures, walks alongside a canal, and rides a bicycle along a railway station platform.

Eventually, the rest of the band locate Ringo, and head to the theater where they perform a selection of songs. After the concert, the Beatles are whisked away by helicopter from their adoring fans.

Here are the Beatles in the scene from A Hard Day’s Night featuring the song Can’t Buy Me Love.

The Beatles are very appealing as they frolic around the lawn. The black and white video contains a number of jump cuts that are timed to match the rapid-fire beat of Can’t Buy Me Love. The scene also features extreme close-ups, shots with hand-held cameras, and sped-up action.

Can’t Buy Me Love is an enjoyable early Beatles song. It is propelled along briskly by bass and drums, and features Paul’s beautiful clear vocals. The song also sports a guitar solo from George.

The Beatles originally intended to feature the song I’ll Cry Instead in this scene. However, the band decided that tune was too much of a downer, so Can’t Buy Me Love was substituted. The overall effect is quite dramatic: the pairing of the song with the video constitutes one of the iconic moments in A Hard Day’s Night.

A Hard Day’s Night highlighted the brash anarchistic message of the Beatles. In a country defined by rigid class distinctions, the Beatles refused to tone down their Liverpool accents and mocked social conventions (appearing at a Royal Variety concert, John urged “those in the cheaper sets clap, those in the boxes just rattle your jewelry.”)

Another indication of the Beatles’ determination to retain their regional values was the hiring of Alun Owen as the screenwriter for A Hard Day’s Night. Owen was chosen primarily for his ability to produce dialogue that accurately portrayed the Liverpudlian dialect. The Beatles were familiar with Owen’s earlier plays focusing on life in Liverpool.

Much to everyone’s surprise, A Hard Day’s Night was both a box office and critical success. Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice called it
“the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals.”
The movie has a 99% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, where it is listed as #1 on their Top Ten Certified Fresh Musicals.

A Hard Day’s Night had a tremendous influence on both movies and rock music. A series of both comedies and spy thrillers adopted the quick cuts, hand-held cameras and other techniques from this film.

Furthermore, it could be argued that the entire genre of music videos copied the cinematic methods from this movie. Before the DVD release of A Hard Day’s Night, Richard Lester was called “the father of MTV” –
he jokingly responded by asking for a paternity test.

A Hard Day’s Night marked a critical turning point for the Beatles. Until that point, it is remarkable how many social and music critics were convinced that “Beatlemania” was a short-lived craze that would die out almost instantly.

A good example was conservative pundit William F. Buckley, who considered himself an insightful commentator on American and world culture.

In his syndicated column in Sept. 1964 (titled “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, They Stink”), Buckley wrote:
Let me say it, … the Beatles are not merely awful, I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are godawful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the impostor popes went down in history as “anti-popes.” … It helps a little bit to know that no one thinks they are more of a joke than the Beatles themselves … I do not begrudge the Beatles their success. The international derangement was not caused by them, they merely catalyzed it. What could it have been, that caused the ear of an entire younger generation to go so sour?”

One might turn Buckley’s question around and ask “What could it have been, that caused Buckley’s judgment to be so abysmally wrong?”

The commercial and critical success of A Hard Day’s Night was coupled with the continued success of the Beatles’ music. Soon, those same musical and cultural critics would be forced to eat their words.

The Supremes and Can’t Buy Me Love:

The Supremes were one of the most successful pop groups in rock music history. In the mid-60s, they were the top girl group in the Motown enterprise. Not only were they a pop powerhouse, but
It is said that their success made it possible for future African American R&B and soul musicians to find mainstream success.

The Supremes were formed in Detroit in 1959. Florence Ballard was a junior-high school student living in Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass housing projects. She became friends with Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, who were singing with a group called The Primes.

Ballard joined forces with Paul Williams’ girlfriend Betty McGlown. Florence next recruited her friend Mary Wilson, who in turn brought in her friend Diane Ross, and they formed a quartet called The Primettes. The Primettes soon began winning song competitions in the Detroit area.

At that point Ross asked her friend Smokey Robinson to arrange an audition with Berry Gordy’s Motown record company. Although Gordy was impressed with the group, he told them to return once they had graduated from high school.

It’s interesting that Diane Ross was a student at the Detroit magnet school Cass Tech. This is the same high school that my wife Gail attended a few years later.

The Primettes did not take “No” for an answer, and continued to hang out at Gordy’s Hitsville USA studios. Eventually, Gordy allowed them to perform handclaps and backup vocals for other Motown groups.

Eventually, in 1961 Berry Gordy signed the group (now a trio, with Diane Ross taking the name Diana) to a Motown recording contract. However, he insisted that they change their name; eventually, the girls decided on The Supremes.

Below is a publicity photo of The Supremes from 1964. From L: Florence Ballard; Mary Wilson; Diana Ross.

Embed from Getty Images

For two years, the Supremes released a series of songs written by Gordy or Smokey. The three singers rotated the lead vocals on different tunes; but their records were sufficiently unsuccessful that they were known at Motown as the “no-hit Supremes.”

However, all of this changed in 1963 when the songwriting and producing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland began working with the group. That trio had written the song Where Did Our Love Go for The Marvelletes. When that group rejected the tune it was offered to the Supremes.

The Supremes also expressed their distaste for the song. However, because of their track record of failure, the Supremes were forced to record the tune.

To everyone’s surprise, Where Did Our Love Go rose straight to #1. Suddenly, the Supremes jumped right to the top of the pop charts, where they remained for several years.

The success of the Supremes represented a triumph for Berry Gordy’s Motown music machine. The girls continued to work with Holland-Dozier-Holland, who churned out hit after hit for the group. Where Did Our Love Go was followed by 4 straight #1 hits – Baby Love; Come See About Me; Stop! (In the Name of Love); and Back In My Arms Again.

Berry Gordy oversaw every aspect of his stable of musicians, and particularly his girl groups.  First, the Supremes were backed by the great Motown house band The Funk Brothers. That ensemble laid down an irresistible signature sound not only for the Supremes, but for all the Motown groups.

Many of the Motown artists grew up in Detroit’s housing projects, so Gordy took great pains to ensure that his acts were polished and radiated glamour and class.  Maxine Powell supervised the Artist Development effort, which functioned as a finishing school for Motown artists. And the choreography was overseen by Cholly Atkins.

As a result, song routines for the Supremes were highlighted by languid, graceful movements. The girls appeared in ballroom gowns and stylish makeup.

Berry Gordy’s final decision was that Diana Ross would become lead singer on nearly all Supremes songs.

The 1964 Supremes album of British Invasion covers,, A Bit of Liverpool.

Once the Supremes had achieved worldwide success as one of the most popular Motown groups, Berry Gordy was determined to broaden the appeal of Motown. As one aspect of this project, Gordy oversaw production of various Supremes albums that covered songs from different genres.

In 1964, the Supremes released an album A Bit of Liverpool. Above left is a picture of the album cover featuring the Supremes with bowler hats and brollies.  The record contained five Lennon-McCartney covers, including Can’t Buy Me Love, two Dave Clark covers, and four additional songs.

I was unable to obtain a live clip of the Supremes singing Can’t Buy Me Love, so here is an audio clip of their version of this Beatles tune.

So, what do you think? Given Berry Gordy’s interest in broadening the reach of Motown groups, this would be considered a success. A Bit of Liverpool reached #21 on the Billboard album charts, and one assumes that the album was purchased by people interested in the British Invasion.

I consider this a rather pedestrian cover of a Beatles tune.  I don’t think that it showcases Diana Ross’ strengths, nor does it have the terrific instrumental backing from the Motown house band the Funk Brothers.

To me, the best parts of this song occur when the three Supremes sing in unison. Despite the commercial success of this venture, I remain ambivalent about this effort.

Below is another song from the A Bit of Liverpool album. In this live performance the Supremes sing a short excerpt from the Beatles song I Feel Fine.

On the one hand, this is a great live clip from 1965 featuring The Supremes. As with the previous song, the most powerful moments occur when the three girls are singing harmony in unison.

However, I really hate the instrumental backing. It sounds like they brought in Frank Sinatra’s bandleader to produce this song. This production lacks all of the signature Motown touches, and it seems a weak attempt to capitalize on the Beatles’ fame.

Berry Gordy was undeterred. In 1965, the Supremes released an album titled The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop; and in 1967 they came out with The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart. The Supremes also mounted an extremely popular series of appearances at New York’s Copacabana nightclub.

Despite my distaste for the Motown outreach efforts, The Supremes were successful in broadening their appeal to a wider audience. This became valuable to Diana Ross when she left The Supremes early in 1970.

It should also be noted that Berry Gordy was turning the tables with respect to “cover songs.” In the 50s, when rock and rollers like Little Richard and Fats Domino released records that became hot sellers on the R&B charts, white artists immediately jumped in and produced “covers” of records from black artists.

In 1957, crooner Pat Boone produced a cover of Little Richard’s song Tutti Frutti that outsold Little Richard’s own composition on the Billboard pop charts. Boone did the same with his cover of Fats Domino’s Ain’t That A Shame.

But the Supremes were producing their own covers of songs by white artists such as the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams. In 1966 the Supremes’ album The Supremes A’Go-Go reached #1 on the Billboard album charts, displacing – wait for it – the Beatles’ Revolver!

Well, tensions had been growing in the Supremes for some time, ever since the group changed its name in 1967 to “The Supremes With Diana Ross,” followed closely by a second change to “Diana Ross and The Supremes.”

In 1968, their dynamite songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland quit Motown in a contract dispute, and the Supremes found it much harder to score hit records. Then in 1970, Diana Ross left for a solo career.

An additional source of friction at this time was Berry Gordy’s sexual relationship with Diana Ross. The two had a daughter, Rhonda, who was born in 1971. Gordy’s obsession with Diana obviously influenced his decisions regarding the Supremes and Ms. Ross’ career.

By 1976 the Supremes were essentially history. After Diana Ross left the group for a solo career, the Supremes cycled through a revolving door of replacement singers. Without Diana, fewer and fewer of the group’s records made the pop charts, and the group’s popularity waned.

But at their peak the Supremes were a pop powerhouse, and one of Motown’s greatest acts. They released an astonishing number of top-rated songs, and even today they form the model for girl pop groups.

Michael Buble and Can’t Buy Me Love:

Michael Buble is a Canadian singer-songwriter and producer. He was born in 1975 and his father was a salmon fisherman. Buble showed musical talent at a young age, and when he was 16 he debuted as a singer, bankrolled by his grandfather.

Buble’s grandfather sparked Michael’s interest in jazz. For several years, Buble worked both as a singer and as an actor. He garnered various small acting roles while trying to break through as a singer.

One of Buble’s first breaks came in 2000 when he sang at the wedding of the daughter of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. At that event, he was introduced to producer David Foster.

Foster agreed to produce an album for Buble, provided that Michael raise $500,000 to cover the production costs. The album was released in 2003 after Buble managed to raise the money, with help from Foster’s personal friend Paul Anka.

At this point, Buble became a big hit in countries such as Canada, the U.K., and Australia. However, his self-titled debut album did not make as big a splash in the U.S.

Below is a photo of Michael Buble performing in 2004.

Embed from Getty Images

Then, in 2005 Buble released the album It’s Time. That album included a number of covers, including Buble’s jazzy version of the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love.

It’s Time spent a record 78 weeks as #1 on the Billboard Top Jazz chart, and went to #7 on the Billboard 200 pop album charts. That album earned Buble a couple of Grammy nominations, and won 4 Canadian Juno Awards in 2006 (Album of the Year, Pop Album of the Year, Single of the Year, and Artist of the Year).

So here is Michael Buble in a `live’ performance of Can’t Buy Me Love.

This is a jazz-inspired version of Can’t Buy Me Love. Buble is backed by a full orchestra, and he produces a version of this tune that would be right at home in a Frank Sinatra concert.

However, unlike the Supremes, Buble is right in his element here, and the song is a successful cover of this Beatles classic.

The one thing I dislike about this clip is that Buble is definitely not singing Can’t Buy Me Love. Someone has simply spliced the audio of Buble performing Can’t Buy Me Love with video of him singing an altogether different song.

I’m sorry I could not find a more authentic video clip. However, I knew very little about Michael Buble before writing this post, so this was a worthwhile exercise for me.

In subsequent years Buble has cemented his reputation as a first-rate jazz singer and a major entertainer in his field. Over the years, Buble has sold over 55 million records. In 2010, he performed before the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Michael Buble married Argentine actress Luisana Lopilato in 2011, and they have two sons. Throughout his life, Buble has been an avid hockey fan. As a youth, he dreamed of becoming a professional hockey player, and he is currently a supporter of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. Buble is also part owner of the Vancouver Giants junior ice hockey team.

We wish Michael Buble all success, and hope that he continues to “put the biscuit in the basket” (FYI, a hockey reference).

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Can’t Buy Me Love
Wikipedia, The Beatles
Wikipedia, A Hard Day’s Night (film)
Wikipedia, Paul McCartney
William F. Buckley, syndicated column, Sept. 8, 1964: “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, The Beatles Stink.”
Wikipedia, The Supremes
Wikipedia, Michael Buble

Posted in Jazz, Pop Music, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 , , , , , | 1 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.

Embed from Getty Images

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 , , , , , , , | 1 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

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