How many times now have I gone into the backstory with a song and learned that the person who wrote it says something akin to, “Yeah, I knocked that one off in about fifteen minutes.”
Oftentimes they also think that the song isn’t going to amount to very much, which I find kind of funny. But it also supports a working theory I have that it’s not always the song itself, but the way it’s presented. The Crickets (sans Buddy Holly) and a few others approached it one way, but Bobby Fuller and The Clash looked at it differently, and it paid off for them.
I actually had a different show in mind but I got to listening to some old radio airchecks (not my own) and I was inspired to do something different from the usual show.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a half-hour long. That’s because I’m playing songs in their entirety and not really talking very much. (If any episode is going to net me a C&D letter, this’ll be the one.)
In this year’s Christmas episode, I’m playing eight songs that don’t get airplay anymore for some reason. A few of them are kinda goofy, a couple are kind of derivative, and I daresay a few of them are seminal to their genre. And while I share a little history with you here and there, the intent this time is to just sit back and wonder why the All Christmas All The Time station in your area is sticking with the same twenty songs, and not playing any of these guys.
All of these songs can be found without too much hassle on Amazon Music or YouTube. If you want to revisit them, here’s the playlist:
Merry Christmas, Mary—Tommy Dee and Carol Kay
Merry, Merry Christmas, Baby—Dodie Stevens
Santa’s Song—The Oak Ridge Boys
Yulesville—Edd “Kookie” Byrnes
Santa Claus Meets the Purple People Eater—Sheb Wooley
Please Come Home For Christmas—Charles Brown
White Christmas—The Ravens
Silent Night—The Ravens (flip side of White Christmas)
And just for the giggles, here’s one more song that didn’t make it into the show itself. It’s Bobby Helms’ other shot at a Christmas tune, from 1965. He wasn’t the original artist (I think he was the fourth) to release this song. I think the most popular version came from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1968, though Bobby Vinton’s version is kind of well-known, too. At any rate, here’s Bobby Helms:
Sorry, no transcript of this episode, since it’s mostly music.
First off, I have to note that I do have fun doing the artwork for these episodes.
Where were we? Oh yeah. Somewhere in the late 50s, early 60s. And Hank Ballard has a new song that’s picking up traction in Baltimore thanks to the Buddy Deane Show, when suddenly it gets yoinked out from under him by a newcomer from Philadelphia.
That newcomer is named Chubby Checker, and the song is (surprise!) “The Twist,” which rockets to the top of the charts just a few weeks after Dick Clark features Checker on his Saturday night show. Suddenly the floodgates open up and the nation is awash in Twist records for two years. I’m talking about a couple of dozen songs at least, and those are just the ones that made the charts.
No wonder The Beatles just walked in and took over. I kid! They’d have done that anyway.
This didn’t make it into the show for some reason (though it’s in the transcript), but Ballard wasn’t even mad about Chubby Checker (and Dick Clark) hijacking his record. You see, Ballard’s label didn’t have a lot of confidence in it—hence its placement on a B side—and as one of the writers, Ballard made a pile of money on it anyway. Plus, his version peaked at Number 28 the same week Checker’s version reached Number 1 the first time around. And Dick Clark made it up to Ballard by promoting his other single, “Finger Poppin’ Time,” which was at Number 7 that same week. So, all’s well that ends well.
This is the first of TWO episodes I’ll be publishing this week. You’re getting this one now, and another one sometime tomorrow, because I felt badly about taking my time with Episode 99.
As I mentioned during the show, the Phil Spector-produced Christmas album went through several re-issues and name changes between its release in 1963 and the early 1980s, including an unfortunate period when the album was remastered into manufactured stereo. In those days, that often meant that the higher-end sounds went to one channel and the lower-end stuff went to the other. It was a mess and really added nothing to the product overall.
At any rate, it was around the same time in the 1980s that a bunch of different events came together and allowed the song to finally break out. One was the reissue of the album on Rhino Records, in its original mono mixes. The second was Darlene Love’s appearance in a Broadway show, which led directly to her string of performances on David Letterman’s show on both NBC and CBS, and finally we have the cover version by U2 the following year. All of these things made for a resurgence in both the popularity of the song, and in Darlene Love’s career.
Holy Cats. I completely forgot that my website host wasn’t working when I did Episode 97, and I didn’t do a post for that one. It was down for maintenance, and I never came back to it. Shame on me.
So for those of you looking for an entry for “Like a Virgin,” sorry. There isn’t one. We’ll just have to let it stand on its own.
In the meantime, I was thinking about doing the Sam Cooke song, but every time I hit the Internet to do some research, I’d bump into the Louis Armstrong song, so I figured, Why not do both in a single show? And so here we are, with a show that talks about both songs and the stories behind them. Especially interesting to me is that both songs picked up a following in Europe that didn’t have a lot to do with their performance in the US.
ADDENDUM: I noted during the show that next week’s episode was a listener request, and that wasn’t a lie. I should note, however, that the listener is another podcaster who calls himself Innkeeper Freddie, and he runs an interview podcast called Guestbook. Freddie runs a bed-and-breakfast or two in the heart of Washington, DC, and he interviews some of the people who stay at his B&B. Consequently he gets in a fascinating array of people, all of whom have some neat perspectives on life in general, plus the discussion is capped off with the “Seven Questions,” which is a fixed set of questions that he asks of all his guests. It’s definitely worth a listen, and you can check him out here. I got to meet Freddie a few weeks ago at the PRX Podcast Garage in DC, and now I’m playing catch-up with his show. He’s a really enthusiastic guy whose show isn’t getting the love it deserves.
For those of you who don’t follow the show on Facebook or Twitter, I’ll be posting the pictures here in another couple of days, outlining the New Studio Project. My return to the Podcast Zone was delayed a little bit by a faulty cable I needed to replace, plus I was getting into a weird funk. But fortunately I got a mental boot in the butt by Greg Yates over at the No Head Trash Nation Podcast. I met Greg a few weeks ago when I was in Orlando and, while he considers himself a relative newbie to podcasting, I’m constantly finding myself saying “Yeah, this guy knows his stuff.” “Holy cow, he’s right.” He and I spoke face to face for about twenty minutes and I’m practically ready to follow him into a burning house. Anyway, Greg’s a smart guy and you should check out his show.
But first, you’ve been waiting forever for this show! And here it is! The songs in this show were actually selected several months ago, and I lost the list. (That does seem to happen to me a lot, doesn’t it.) It turned up when I was cleaning out a computer bag, and I took it as a sign from above. Or from my computer bag, whatever.
At any rate, you probably know that most of the songs I talk about today are covers, but I’m pretty sure I still have a couple of surprises for you. Go check it out.
John D. Loudermilk (the D doesn’t stand for anything) was a singer-songwriter who wrote a few hits for a few different artists, and he also fancied himself as a prankster. So when he was asked by a Las Vegas radio station about his inspiration for writing the song “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Indian)”, he told a wild tale about meeting a band of Cherokees in a snowstorm. And when Casey Kasem’s crew got wind of the story, they called him to confirm it, and he changed it to sound even more dire. They bought it, Casey aired it, and now that the show is in re-runs, the story gets a national re-airing every now and again. And it’s entirely nonsense. But that also means we don’t really know what led him to write this song, which contains several elements indicating that Loudermilk really knew next to nothing about the Cherokee Nation.
Does that make the song offensive? That seems to be a mixed bag, based on my research. Some people are pretty specific about the fact that it gets so many things just plain wrong. Some people don’t like the whole cultural appropriation end of things, where white guys (Loudermilk as the writer, Fardon and the Raiders as the performers) are singing about Native Americans in the first person.
Some people also make a point of saying “I’m xx% Cherokee and it doesn’t offend me at all.” So in this respect, your mileage may vary.I asked my wife, who is part Cherokee, about it and she doesn’t like the song, largely because of the factual inaccuracies. I think she was pleasantly surprised that I knew what they were, though. But I don’t think she’ll be making a point of tuning in to this episode. Then again, I’m pretty sure she only listens when I play it back in my car and she’s there for it.
At any rate: my apologies for the late delivery, but here’s hoping you enjoy it. As usual, your podcatcher should have it now (or very soon, anyway), or you can listen/download it from here:
Thanks so much for the reviews I’ve seen, and the good words on Facebook. Next week will be a whole bunch of quick bits on Christmas songs, and then—finally—we’ll finish up the year with Part Two of Shel Silverstein.
I realize it’s not fashionable to bash the teenagers these days, however in my head this one actually deserves the abuse. Most of you may not agree, but I’m gonna say my piece anyway and be done with it.
Rosalie Mendez Hamlin was just a young teenager when she joined a band and they recorded their only hit record in 1960, in a converted airplane hangar. But by the time the song hit the charts, the band had broken up and Rosie was just starting a decades-long fight to get credit for writing the song, and to get the royalties she deserved. One of the things that broke in her favor as part of the legal actions she needed to take was the fact that she’d mailed a copy of the song to herself. It’s not an iron-clad way of enforcing a simple copyright, but it did turn out to be a shrewd move on her part.
Both “Angel Baby” and its B-Side, a track sung by a friend of the band who happened to be there for the session, are just plain bad recordings. As musicians, The Originals were not what you’d call virtuosos. As Max Bialystock says in The Producers, “I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?”
Here’s the B-Side. See if you don’t agree:
But I think that the raw, unpolished sound of “Angel Baby” may be part of its appeal. It was only a couple of years later that genuine garage bands dropped off the landscape, and among bands with that kind of sound, this one stands out as more of a prom theme than a party-all-night tune.
As usual, your podcast catcher should have captured this episode by now (ooh! It’s available at Google Play now!), but if not, feel free to click the player below for listening or downloading.
Next week we look at a different kind of disaster.
Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Part 2” was only the second Number One hit for Motown Records. The first was 1962’s “Please Mister Postman” by the Marvelettes. (Fun Fact: the drummer on both these songs was Marvin Gaye! He was still an up-and-coming artist, so he played as a session musician on a lot of the early tracks for the label.)
But Motown had a bit of a tough time getting audiences to appreciate The 12-Year-Old Genius, and even this song wasn’t the catalyst for his career. It took a little perseverance and the onset of puberty to turn him into one of Motown’s biggest performers, with a career that’s still going strong fifty-five years later, and counting.
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While they’re often mistaken for a doo-wop group, The Coasters were actually a rhythm-and-blues vocal group, whose greatest successes came when they were teamed with the composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and when they had humorous material to work with.They made such an impression on other artists that it was a small wonder when, in 1987, they became the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yeah, I know I’m kinda splitting hairs, here: the previous year was all individuals plus the Everly Brothers. But I’m sticking by this assessment.)
Their peak years, chart-wise, were between 1958 and 1960, when all of their Top 40 singles were released. In today’s episode we talk about three of them: Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, and Along Came Jones. After these three came two more: Poison Ivy and Little Egypt, which were more clever than funny.
There have been numerous configurations of the group since the first day, so you could argue that the one in the photo above, which is responsible for most of the hits, was the magic bullet. Through many personnel changes, The Coasters never quite reached the same level of success.
As if you didn’t know this already: you can listen to the show via your favorite podcatcher, or you can just click on the player right here for listening or downloading: