25 February 2006

Eight Records on the Radio, Summer of 1966-67

A list of songs that I heard on the radio December 1966-January 1967:
The Cryan' Shames - I Want To Meet You • The Innocence - There's Got To Be A Word! • Twice As Much - True Story • The Small Faces - My Mind's Eye • The Settlers - Till Winter Follows Spring • The Cyrkle - Please Don't Ever Leave Me • The Righteous Brothers - On This Side Of Goodbye • Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra - Summer Wine
To listen to them on my playlist click here: Spotify.

This must be from the summer vacation of 1966-67, December or January, going by the release or chart dates of the songs. In Australia our summers begin in December, and the new school year starts around the end of January. I was sixteen, about to start my final year of high school. For a few days, as I heard a new song I liked on the radio, I wrote it down on the back cover of a foolscap writing pad left over from the school year. If I knew the label I wrote that as well, probably because at the local music shop it was easier to order a record if you could tell them the label. I was in Swan Hill, a town on the Murray River in northern Victoria.

In reality, I couldn't have afforded even one-half of one of those records, let alone eight. It’s only recently that I’ve finally got hold of every song on the list, helped along by the coming of the Net, file-sharing, and emailing mp3s, as well as CD reissues of every other song ever recorded.

I've heard of kids back then keeping their own charts, their personal Top 20 of current favourites, complete with hit picks, new entries, and drop-outs, as they got hooked on a song then got sick of it. A guy from Delta, British Columbia, who uses the name Taliesyn, had his personal charts published in the local paper: nowadays he regularly posts them on Usenet. I wasn't so organised. I just wrote a bunch of songs in Pentel Sign pen on the cardboard at the back of a writing pad. I didn't even manage to find the same coloured pen each time. Years later, I threw out the pad, but tore off the list for nostalgia's sake.

The list doesn’t include any huge international hits, and some of the artists are barely known, but they were being played on the radio, probably on small-town stations such as 3SH Swan Hill, 3BO Bendigo, 2QN Deniliquin and 2WG Wagga. Regional radio stations back then usually had their own eager young disc jockeys on their way to the big city, and they would have had some say in the music they played. Some of the songs might not even have been heard on big city stations like 3UZ in Melbourne.

The Righteous Brothers - On This Side Of Goodbye (Carole King – Gerry Goffin) This is my favourite from the list, and the only one I still listen to regularly. It’s also my favourite Righteous Brothers song, a big production of a moody Goffin-King ballad, a bit in the vein of The Righteous Bros' earlier records with Phil Spector. I’ve never understood why this isn’t better known, or why it wasn’t a hit. (I also have a version by Alan Price that has a different arrangement, a different feel: not in the same league, as much as I like Alan Price.)

Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra - Summer Wine (Lee Hazlewood) #2 Melbourne, #7 Brisbane #4 Adelaide  This is the only song on the list that was a hit in Australia (though not in the USA), recorded by seasoned producer-singer-songwriter Lee Hazelwood with his younger client, daughter of Frank Sinatra. Australians were nuts about this duo, especially in Melbourne and Adelaide, where they had seven charting records, compared with three nationally in the US.

The Small Faces - My Mind's Eye (Ronnie Lane - Steve Marriott) #4 UK Regularly included on Small Faces Best Of… collections, thanks to its success in the UK.

The Cyrkle - Please Don't Ever Leave Me (Susan Haber) #43 Adelaide American band, associates of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. Their best-known song was Red Rubber Ball (1966), written by Paul Simon with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers, a hit in the US and in Australia.

The Innocence - There's Got To Be A Word! (Don Ciccone) #37 USA The Innocence were Pete Anders and Vini Poncia, who also recorded as The Videls and The Trade Winds (New York’s A Lonely Town, 1965) and as a duo under their own names. They produced the original version of Zoom Zoom Zoom, by Our Patch of Blue, covered by Australian band Cam-Pact.

The Cryan’ Shames - I Want To Meet You (Jim Fairs) Jaunty pop song with harmonies by Chicago band, popular in their home region, whose version of Sugar and Spice is on Nuggets 1. I Want To Meet You was written by Cryan’ Shames guitarist Jim Fairs.

Twice As Much - True Story (Andrew Rose – David Skinner) Recorded for Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label by duo Andrew Rose and David Skinner, who had a bit of a hit in the UK with Sittin’ On The Fence (1966, #25), written by Mick and Keith of The Stones. David Skinner is mentioned below for co-writing P.P. Arnold’s Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.

The Settlers - Till Winter Follows Spring (Kent, Jones, Fyffe) Pop-folk song, pretty much in the vein of The Seekers, by group from Birmingham. This is on the anthology Autumn Almanac, one of the Ripples series of compilations of 60s British pop obscurities (The Settlers' Major To Minor is on Dreamtime, another in the series).

What does the list say about either my musical tastes at the time, or the playlists of the stations I was listening to? Let's face it, these songs are mainstream pop: no garage rockers or frantic r&b here, and the Righteous Brothers' nod to soul stands out amongst all that jaunty, sunshiney jingle-jangle and folk-pop harmonies. (Ah well, it was Summer, after all.)

One more thing I noticed: there are five American records, three British, and none from Australia. Sorry, mate.

18 February 2006

Northern Soul

There are a lot of Northern Soul compilation CDs about these days (I'm a bit addicted to them myself), along with Northern Soul websites and Net radio shows.

'Northern Soul', though, is a curious musical classification. Newcomers have trouble getting a handle on it, and even those immersed in it can struggle with a definition.

As Simon White of the Metropolitan Soul Show put it in a recent thread at the Spectropop Group, The Northern Soul Scene is a law unto itself and frankly you either understand it or you don't. (Spectropop Message #3346, 12 Feb 06)

Dave Monroe bravely offered a menu of characteristics: four-on-the-floor beat, upbeat tempos, "uplifting" lyrics..., strings, "soul bells" et al, but added: I might not be able to tell you what it is, but I know it when I hear it. Interestingly, the problem of defining Northern Soul always seems to lead us back to medieval philosophy. (#3368, 13 Feb)

For a start, Northern Soul isn't called 'Northern' for being recorded in the North of anywhere: a lot of it happens to have been recorded in the north of the US, but that's a red herring. Southern Soul, yes, might be soul music recorded in the south of the USA, but Northern Soul isn't its opposite.

In fact, Northern Soul can include soul from the Southern states, for example by New Orleans singer Irma Thomas or from the Memphis soul label Stax.

This is because in 'Northern Soul' the 'Northern' means the North of England, where its fan base originated, and the term wasn't coined until about 1970. In other words, a lot of Northern Soul music was recorded by artists who had no idea they were recording Northern Soul.

New Orleans: that'd be Southern, right? Also appearing on 26 Stonking Northern Soul Greats!

What's more, oddly enough, it isn't all soul. Most of it is indeed soul or soul-inspired pop, and you'll find Motown and Stax and their imitators, but you'll also find catchy, maybe danceable (maybe not) pop music, often with stirring brass arrangements but still pop.

Northern Soul is also noted for overlooked tracks, often by obscure artists, hence the related term Rare Soul, but this is more a matter of availability than musical style. One of the delights of playing a well-chosen Northern Soul collection on CD is the discovery of marvellous songs rescued from oblivion. But once again, this needs qualifying: you'll also find well-known songs and artists on Northern Soul compilations.

In fact, as soon as you offer a definition, you need to qualify it. You might try, for example, uptempo, danceable soul by black American singers. Qualify!

The artists are usually, but not necessarily, black, and not always soulful: I've seen The Four Seasons' The Night and Gary Lewis's My Heart's Symphony on Northern Soul collections (yes, soul is a relative term, but Gary Lewis?).

And not always singers: you'll also find a scattering of instrumentals, some of them funky, or soulful in the Booker T & the MGs way, but some of them sound more like background music to a party scene in a teenage movie from the 60s.

Lynne Randell gets a Northern Soul guernsey for Stranger In Your Arms, a wonderful song, but it's more in the area of classy pop than soul, and the singer is a white, blonde Australian (okay, born in the UK, recorded in New York, but an Aussie nevertheless). David Bell (Spectropop #3368, 13 Feb), puzzles over the inclusion of an obscure Connie Francis B-side It's Gonna Take Me Some Time, and concludes: It seems that every singer has recorded at least one Northern Soul side.

Lynne Randell: Northern? Soul?

Uptempo or danceable? ACE's Once Upon A Time In Wigan CD includes Fats Domino's It Keeps Rainin', a pleasant little foot-tapper, but hardly music to rage to. On the danceability of Northern Soul, Julio Niño comments: personally I can´t always dance to them or don´t always feel like dancing to them. (Spectropop #3330, 13 Feb).

In fact, Northern Soul isn't one "style of music" at all (as early versions of the Wikipedia article had it; now amended). It's an umbrella term for a number of styles, and some of the songs you find there can be surprising. That's because, in its strictest sense, a Northern Soul track is one that was popularised by a deejay at a northern English dance venue. So if a deejay liked Dusty Springfield's What's It Gonna Be, he played it, and if it went down well, it became 'Northern Soul', something that would've been news to those associated with putting the record out in the first place.

As Howard Earnshaw notes: In the 70s the overriding feature of a 'northern soul' record was the 4x4 beats, and uptempo was the key. Nowadays the scene is divided into various sub-sections, with ALL tempos of soul being played at various venues. Not only that, there is R&B (sometimes as early as 1960), Modern Soul up to the present, Crossover, 70s/80s, New 6Ts, Oldies, etc. etc. (Spectropop #3368, 13 Feb)

It's usually agreed that Dave Godin (1936-2004) , the critic, anthologist and label owner, coined the term 'Northern Soul' around 1970, when he noticed that Northerners visiting his record shop in London were seeking out a unique range of obscure American soul 45s. Thus, from the start, the term owed itself to a social phenomenon, an aspect of consumer demand, rather than to a strict musical classification.

According to Simon Frith and Tony Cummings ("Playing Records", reprinted in The Beat Goes on: The Rock File Reader, 1996) the soul boom of the 60s, started in London by the mods, had fizzled out in the south of England by the late 60s , but it persisted in the north and thrived into the 70s, where it supported the famous allnighter dance venues, places like the Wigan Casino and the Blackpool Mecca. While the rest of the world moved on to progressive rock and psychedelia, and American soul itself turned funkadelic, Northerners continued to seek out increasingly obscure soul tracks to keep up the supply of old-style stomping soul.

Eventually, music was recorded especially for the Northern Soul market, but the term was initially applied retrospectively, and it was applied to anything that had become familiar to the patrons of the northern clubs. Thus, what we're looking at here is a social movement as much as a musical genre.

('Northern Soul' isn't the only retrospectively applied musical genre: for example I doubt that the numerous orchestra leaders and crooners listed at the excellent Space Age Pop website realised they were contributing to the Lounge, Exotica or Space Age repertoires.)

In my own recent rant about terminology (Spectropop #3323, 11 Feb) I wondered whether a newcomer might be misled by the mistaken belief that they are approaching a specific genre called Northern Soul, a recognisable style in the manner of ska or rockabilly or bebop. Although seeking out Northern Soul will put you in touch with some lost soul gems, you wouldn't want to neglect other rare soul reissues from a label like Kent/Ace. They might not have 'Northern Soul' written all over them, but they'd probably be in the area you're interested in.

Finally, Phil X. Milstein added this to the discussion at Spectropop: I'm far from any kind of NS expert, but for my own purposes I've always gone by the rule of thumb that: bari sax included, Northern Soul; no bari, no Northern Soul (Spectropop #3323, 13 Feb). See follow-up post.

I'm not sure that this theory holds up, but then I'm not sure that it's meant to!

This post refers to a thread at the Spectropop Discussion Group, one of the most informed and civilised music forums on the Net. It's at Yahoo! Groups (free registration required), or go there via Spectropop's main website.

11 February 2006

At last: the Nick Lampe story

In his professional musical career Nick Lampe sang in a 50s doowop group, toured with Alan Freed, hung out with Dion and Kenny Rankin in Manhattan, recorded an album at Muscle Shoals and, incidentally, put a single onto the charts in Melbourne, Australia. After that, he quit the business, headed for the mountains for a while, and ended up studying for a degree in Psychology. For years now he's been a social worker with disabled people in New York.

Nick Lampe's full name is Nicholas Lampariello. He is a New Yorker, born in Brooklyn, whose musical career goes back to the mid-50s, when he first appeared in the doowop group The Bop Tones on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.

Out of those early TV appearances came the release of a Bop Tones single on Ember, I Had A Love (an original by the four group members) with the B-side (Be My) Pussy Cat (1958). The Bop Tones toured with Alan Freed, the original rock’n’roll disc jockey who put on shows packed with current singing stars.

(Brian Lee, at doowop site ColorRadio.com, tells me The Bop Tones were from the Bensonhurst-Coney Island section of Brooklyn and the other members, apart from Nick Lampariello, were Bob Kutner, John Ench and Dave Antebi.)

Later, in the 60s, Nick Lampe appeared at The Improvisation and The Scene in Manhattan, in off-Broadway shows, and on the Steve Allen and Pat Boone TV shows. Among his friends and colleagues at this time were Richard Pryor, Richie Havens and two of his mentors, Kenny Rankin and Dion Di Mucci, both credited as spiritual advisors in the notes to Nick's 1970 album It Happened Long Ago.

After heading for Los Angeles, where he appeared at The Troubador, Nick tried his luck with local record companies and was signed to Atlantic. In 1970 he recorded his solo album of original songs for the Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama. Flower Garden was the opening track, and it was the single that charted in Melbourne, released in Australia on Atlantic through Festival Records (above).

Nick left the music business for a mixture of artistic and personal reasons.

He had complained to Atlantic chairman and producerArmet Ertegun when he heard the finished version of his album, which added strings and chorus to his six-piece studio sessions. Nick believes his “art had been bastardized with bubblegum”, but that’s how it was released.

In the end, Nick and his first wife moved to the mountains of Northern California with their young son (he appears with Nick on the album sleeve of It Happened Long Ago, right). At this time, Nick’s wife was attempting to recover from the devastating effects of marijuana that had been covertly laced with PCP. During this period, Nick supported his family by playing in bars and on street corners in San Francisco, and later at Lake Tahoe, the Californian ski resort.

Eventually, Nick Lampariello remarried, moved to British Columbia to study for his BA in Psychology, and became a counsellor to victims of abuse.

Nowadays Nick works with disabled children in New York, helping them to develop essential life skills. He says: I don't make much money but I get a lot of love… I'm called Uncle Nicky by some 150 individuals who at one time may not have been able to speak: can't put a price on that. Musically I lead worship for three ministries and consequently I am always involved with music.

I still have my guitar, an old Martin D-18. It's about forty years old and is my love...

(Source: Nicholas Lampariello, by email.
Thanks also to Robert Thompson)

Nick Lampe: alive and well in New York

Back in July I wondered about Nick Lampe, whose single Flower Garden charted in Melbourne in 1970. I could find out almost nothing about his career, and he'd apparently dropped off the musical radar screen sometime in the 70s, leaving one album and no clues for a whatever-happened-to.

After that post, Robert Thompson emailed from Melbourne to tell me about his long but unsuccessful attempts at researching the life and career of Nick Lampe.

I gave up the search, but Robert persevered, and a few days ago he phoned a surprised Nick Lampe at his workplace in New York.

I've found that artists' reactions are unpredictable when you contact them out of the blue: some are flattered and keen to reminisce about the old days, but others are just not interested.

Fortunately, Nick Lampe was delighted to hear from a fan in Australia. Not only that, but he had been unaware that his single of Flower Garden was known in Melbourne.

Since then, thanks to Robert, I've exchanged emails with Nick Lampe, and he has filled me in on his career and his life since leaving the music industry, so I'll post about that shortly. (Update: See At Last: The Nick Lampe Story.)

05 February 2006

A Kiss To Build A Dream On and... The Marx Brothers?

A Kiss To Build A Dream On was written by the notable Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood songwriting partners Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, along with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals fame.

It's probably better known nowadays since Louis Armstrong's recording from the 50s was used on the soundtrack of Sleepless In Seattle (1993) . That leisurely baritone, just rough enough around the edges, plays against the sweet melody in a wistful kind of way, and of course there's a trumpet solo that bursts onto the scene as a bonus at about 1 min. 30 secs. All in all, it's a satisfying result.

(It reminds me of the way John Lennon's delivery adds some edge to that sad, sweet love song Baby It's You, when compared with the original version by The Shirelles.)

I'd always assumed A Kiss To Build A Dream On was from the 30s (it sounds as if it's from the 30s), so I was surprised to find that its first appearance seemed to be in a 1951 film, The Strip, sung by Louis Armstrong. It does have a copyright date of 1935, but I could find no earlier versions.

But, as is often the case, Joop Jansen had an answer when I asked at The Originals forum.

It turns out that A Kiss To Build A Dream On was originally a song called Moonlight On The Meadow. It was written by Kalmar and Ruby for the Marx Brothers film A Night At The Opera (1935), but it was never used. Oscar Hammerstein took the song and wrote new lyrics for The Strip (1951), and that's when it became A Kiss To Build A Dream On.

04 February 2006

Everybody's Gonna Say... We're Doing Fine

Over at the soul blog Number One Songs In Heaven there's a Dee Dee Warwick song called We're Doing Fine, a gem from 1965 written by Horace Ott, now reissued on CD. It was also recorded in Britain by Billy J. Kramer (single, 1966) and Chris Farlowe (The Art of Chris Farlowe, 1966).

It's hard not to notice that it's a fair bit like Everything's Gonna Be Alright by P.P. Arnold, a song I first heard briefly in the film A Room For Romeo Brass (1999). P.P. Arnold released it in 1967: it was her first single on the Immediate label, and it was on her album The First Lady Of Immediate.

Everything's Gonna Be Alright (the line that gets stuck in your head goes Everybody's gonna say that it's all right) was written by Immediate founder and producer Andrew Loog Oldham with Dave Skinner, who was one half of another Immediate act, Twice As Much.

The opening verses are more or less identical, melodically and rhythmically, and the lyrics have a lot in common: Everybody wants to know if everything's all right (Dee Dee Warwick) cf Everybody's gonna say that everything is all right (P.P. Arnold). After that, the choruses take off in different directions.

It's hard to say whether Oldham-Skinner were writing a sequel, or a dip o' the lid to We're Doing Fine, or whether it was a borrowing, unintentional or deliberate. (We're Doing Fine wasn't unknown at Immediate: Chris Farlowe's 1966 version was on the same label.)

Whatever the answer, I like both songs a lot: Dee Dee Warwick's is a classic, seamless US soul production of the era, while P.P. Arnold's is a bit poppier, with a big chorus-and-orchestra build-up in the first 30 seconds.

P.P. Arnold was a UK-based soul singer (you may find her filed, inevitably and retrospectively, under 'Northern Soul') who came to Britain with Ike and Tina Turner and stayed to record such hits for Immediate as First Cut Is The Deepest, Angel Of The Morning and [If You Think You're] Groovy, this last written by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane of The Small Faces, who also provided the backing. Down here, Groovy charted in Melbourne at #8.

Dee Dee Warwick is Dionne Warwick's sister: or should that be Dionne Warwick is Dee Dee Warwick's sister? Dionne herself reportedly said, "Dee Dee is the real singer in this family," but she missed out on big commercial success. Not fair, really, when you hear her sing.

The bigger the star, the clunkier the website?

My policy is to avoid bagging other people's websites (people in glass houses and all that) so I'm not about to give examples, but I can't help thinking rich and famous musicians are sitting ducks for expensive web designers who tell them that a big, important star has to have a big, important website with lots of stuff on it.

Your expectations drop when you see the slow-loading Intro Page, with a "Loading - please wait" message and a progress meter for you to watch (isn't that so 1990s?). Of course there's a "Skip Intro" button: does anyone, ever, not skip the intro?

At some stage a song suddenly starts playing, right over the top of the music that's already playing on your computer, and you can't turn it off without quitting the site.

There's lots of flashy, 3-D graphic art that moves around and pops up, stuff that only a Big Star can afford. The site might be so full of Big Star Stuff that the whole thing freezes up and you have to restart your browser. (And of course, you're so impressed that you'll immediately return to the site and watch that lovely Intro load all over again, right?)

As to content, don't expect the Discography to waste space on those musty old 45s. There'll be a page of the latest compilation CDs (with links to The Store), and promos for that new album where all the old songs were recorded again properly, with new arrangements, in Nashville, with the artists' grown-up kids who are trying to break into the business...

Ah well, I guess my own site might go too far the other way: to some tastes, it's probably too text rich, and my discreet little black & white snapshots might not satisfy some people's urge for colour and spectacle.

So let's move on, get positive, and link to some artists' sites that, while they are sufficiently illustrated, are not overloaded with slow-loading eye candy, and have information that is to the point and easily accessed.

Some official musicians' sites I like:

The Five Americans
Rick Nelson (The Discography alone makes me forgive the automatic audio)
The Monks
Emitt Rhodes
Pernice Brothers

And some good unofficial sites, by admirers or researchers:

The Van Morrison Website
Union Songs (Bjorn & Benny from ABBA)
The Peter Doyle Website
The Band

My Links page has a few more.