21 September 2007

Only in Oz (6) Gene Pitney - Billy You're My Friend (1968)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

6. Gene Pitney - Billy You're My Friend
(Edward Louis Goldman)
USA 1968 
Musicor single #51331.
CBS (Australia) single #BA-152275.

Australian charts: #13 Melbourne, #24 Brisbane,
#13 Adelaide.

Gene Pitney's lesser known song Billy You're My Friend (1968) is like a slice of opera, with mood swings from lightheartedness to anguish, pumped up by ersatz classical orchestration and pointed tempo changes.

I've sneaked it into Only in Oz, my random list of songs that were hits in Australia but not in their home countries. True, it wasn't a national hit in the USA or Britain, but it was hardly a hit down here either: #13 in Melbourne, #24 in Brisbane, #13 in Adelaide, and #32 on Go-Set Magazine's national chart.

In fact, we can see five examples of Billy You're My Friend charting modestly in US cities, on charts posted at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive: Bakersfield CA (#43), Allentown PA (#36), Saint Charles MO (#13), Springfield MA (#51), Wilkes-Barre PA (#39) and New Haven CT (#15).

No doubt there were other cities, not enough to turn it into a national hit but enough to get it to #92 on both Billboard and Cash Box. Not enough, either, to get it onto your average Gene Pitney Best of collection.

The writer is listed at BMI as Edward Louis Goldman, about whom I can find nothing. (Eddy Goldman? Ted Goldman?) His modest repertoire at BMI includes some cues for Another World, which I take to be the TV soap opera. [I've since heard from Ed Goldman: see my update of 20 October about the writing of Billy You're My Friend.]

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Australian chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books and Barry McKay's Go-Set chart collection.
US charts: Charts at Airheads Radio Survey Archive from October-December 1968 for KAFY Bakersfield CA, WAEB Allentown PA, KIRL St Charles Missouri, WHYN Springfield MA, WARM Wilkes-Barre PA, and WAVZ New Haven CT. Billboard chart positions at AMG; Randy Price's Cash Box charts site.

18 September 2007

Only in Oz (4) Cliff Richard - Just Another Guy, and (5) Cliff Richard - Angel (1964)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

4. Cliff Richard - Just Another Guy

(Neil Diamond)
UK 1965 (recorded in USA 1964)

Columbia single #DB 7496.
Australian charts: #5 Melbourne, #2 Brisbane,
#4 Perth (all with the A-side The Minute You're Gone)

5. Cliff Richard - Angel

(Sid Tepper-Roy Bennett)
UK 1965
(recorded in USA 1964)
Columbia album Cliff Richard, #SX 1709;
Columbia single #DC 762.
Australian charts: #6 Melbourne, #9 Sydney, #4 Brisbane,
#8 Adelaide #3 Perth.

On the British Top 40 charts you won't find either of these among the dozens of Cliff Richard hits.

In March 1965 you'll find the #1 hit The Minute You're Gone, but not its B-side, Just Another Guy. In Australia both sides charted.

In Britain Cliff's next charting single was On My Word in June, but on the Australian charts Angel is squeezed in before On My Word.

The name Neil Diamond might jump out at you here, as the writer of Just Another Guy. Cliff recorded this a couple of years before Neil Diamond charted with his own Cherry Cherry (#6 US, his first Top 40 hit) and with his composition I'm A Believer by The Monkees (#1 US), both in 1966.

was written by Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett, veteran American songwriters who had written earlier hits for Cliff, including the #1s Travellin' Light and Please Don't Tease. They also wrote a lot of songs for Elvis Presley movies, including Angel: Elvis's was the original version, in Follow That Dream (1962).

Cliff recorded both Just Another Guy and Angel in Nashville in 1964, produced by Bob Morgan & Billy Sherrill, with backing by The Jordanaires of Elvis fame. Co-producer Billy Sherrill is a notable Country producer, A&R man and songwriter best known for his career-building work at Epic in Nashville with Tammy Wynette and Charlie Rich . His co-writer credits include Wynette's Stand By Your Man (1968) and Rich's The Most Beautiful Girl (1973).

Just Another Guy and Angel are two of my favourite Cliff Richard songs, well-written pop songs with crisp, rhythmic arrangements and high quality production.

This was during a period in the mid-60s when Cliff showed that he was no relic from the pre-Fab era by recording some up-to-date pop records that are among his finest. Also from this period are I Could Easily Fall (written by The Shadows, December 1964, #6 UK), The Time in Between (August 1965, #22 UK) and Blue Turns to Grey, a Mick Jagger-Keith Richards composition (March 1966, #15 UK), all of which move forward from Cliff's sound of the late-50s and early 60s.

An Australian footnote: Western Australian band The Times released a rearranged, guitar-based version of Just Another Guy in November 1965.

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

References: For details of these songs and their sessions, see the excellent Cliff Richard Song Database, which tells us that Angel as a single was intended for foreign distribution. Searching for the song titles at PopMusicInfo.com also throws up some useful release histories and other data.

11 September 2007

Only in Oz (3) P.J. Proby - Mission Bell (1965)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

3. P.J. Proby - Mission Bell
(William Michael-Jesse Hodges et al)
UK 1965
Liberty album (UK) P.J.Proby, #LBY 1264;

Liberty single (USA, Australia) #55791.
Australian charts: #3 Melbourne, #7 Sydney, #4 Brisbane,
#2 Adelaide #3 Perth.

This 1965 rearrangement of a #7 US hit from 1960 is a jawdropper, especially if you're familiar with the pleasant but unremarkable original by Donnie Brooks. This is the quintessential example of a remake transforming the original and overshadowing it.

An expansive, dramatic recording, with soaring strings and brass orchestration, and an urgent, soulful female chorus, Mission Bell was produced in London by Ron Richards during P.J. Proby's mid-60s sojourn in the UK.

Born James Marcus Smith in Houston in 1938, P.J. Proby was more popular in the UK and Australia than he was back home in the US. In the UK he had ten Top 40 hits 1964-68 (including three in the Top 10), but in the USA Niki Hoeky was his only Billboard Top 40 record, at #23 (1967).

Mission Bell was one of Proby's biggest hits in Australia, but it remained an album track in the UK and the single didn't chart nationally in the US.

P.J. Proby's career was plagued by poor judgment and overexcited media attention of the worst kind: in Australia he became a figure of fun, sent up in Oz Magazine ("Probe me, P.J., probe me!").

Nevertheless, he often had the benefit of top notch producers, arrangers and songwriters, and his rich, idiosyncratically delivered baritone could rise to the occasion and produce the odd pop gem.

As well as Mission Bell, Ron Richards produced some of Proby's better-known records:

  • his mannered hit versions of Maria and Somewhere from West Side Story;
  • That Means A Lot, a Song The Beatles Gave Away, arranged & conducted by George Martin;
and such overlooked delights as:
  • Just Like Him, an exquisite Jacki DeShannon song to be discovered on the B-side of Somewhere; and
  • To Make A Big Man Cry, written by Pete Callander and Les Reed and delivered relatively straight by Proby in the style of the big-production ballad of the day (no surprise that it was also recorded by Tom Jones).
An EMI producer and A&R man, Ron Richards is best known for having signed The Hollies and for producing their biggest hits. He was also in on the earliest Beatles sessions at Abbey Road.

The unsung hero of Proby's Mission Bell is the arranger, who is uncredited on the record. Of all the unsung heroes of pop music, arrangers are even more overlooked than producers and songwriters (at least some of them have become famous names) and yet many a great pop record owes its greatness to its arrangement.

[Update: Having read a bit more about the career of producer Ron Richards, I'm guessing he was also the arranger.]

Naming the writers of Mission Bell isn't straightforward. William Michael is often credited alone as the writer (on the original Donnie Brooks label and on the US copyright), but Jesse Hodges also appears in some places (at BMI, for example) and there were contributions by others along the way.

William Michael
had a day job in stockbroking. He submitted his original version of Mission Bell - then called Wishing Well - to Jesse Hodges, whose speciality was to quickly and economically work up and record songs by semi-professional or amateur writers. (In fact, we're just about into song-poem territory with Mission Bell.)

was a songwriter, producer, arranger and singer, an associate of Donnie Brooks since their days at the Fable label in the late 50s when Donnie was still known as as Johnny Faire.

Quoting Brooks, Greg Adams writes that Mission Bell was an example of how Hodges "would take songs, horrible songs by these amateur writers and rewrite them into something recordable."1

Gary Myers, who interviewed Donnie Brooks in the late 70s, mentions contributions to the rewrite by Dorsey Burnette (whose Tall Oak Tree is alluded to in the final version), guitarist Scotty Turnbull, and probably the songwriter John Marascalco.2 Howard Thomason, at Rockabilly Hall of Fame, has Donnie Brooks and Herb Newman of Era Records also contributing.

William Michael, the stockbroking songwriter, has 24 compositions listed at BMI. Wishing Well was extensively rewritten on its way to becoming Mission Bell but he was keen to have his name on the song, no matter what rewrites and percentages were involved. Can't blame him, really.

One more thing: there was a connection between P.J. Proby and the original version of Mission Bell. Before he was brought to the UK by pop TV producer Jack Good, Proby had worked around Hollywood for years, acting a little, writing songs, recording demos for Elvis, and making records under other names (Jett Powers, Orville Woods). Spencer Leigh, in The Independent's 2007 obituary of Donnie Brooks, writes:
In 1960, Brooks scored with Mission Bell, which included a jokey reference to Dorsey Burnette's hit Tall Oak Tree.
P.J. Proby had first met Brooks two years earlier, on a radio show in Hollywood. "We hung around with the same gang," Proby recalls, "the Hollywood Brat Pack of its day, which included Ricky Nelson, Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran and Sharon Sheeley. I liked Mission Bell very much and, when I did it myself, my version got to No 1 in Australia. Donnie said to me, 'How can you do this to me, Jim?' "
Let's not be picky: maybe it wasn't quite a #1 in all of those collections of radio playlists we like to call the Aussie charts, but for some of us down here it's still #1 in our hearts.

Recommended reading:

Nik Cohn devoted a chapter to
P.J. Proby in Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom (1969):
He was intuitive, fast, hysterical, paranoid, generous, very funny, hugely imaginative, original, self-obsessed, self-destructive, often impossible, just about irresistible and much more besides. Truly, he was complicated. (p.196)
Michael Lane Heath has a Proby appreciation and history at Perfect Sound Forever, Get Hip to My Conflagration:
...take the most outrageous, profligate, American loud-hearted-unto-operatic attitude, pour it into the hip-swing shing-a-ling of a Presley-shaped vessel, dress it up in Errol Flynn/Captain Blood pony-tailed pirate drag, multiply it by a thousand... and you still don't approach the maximum velocity of P.J. Proby.

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

1 Liner notes to Hard To Find 45s on CD, Vol. 10 (Eric, 2007), cited by S.J. Dibai, post to Spectropop Group #40745, 12 September 2007.
2 Gary Myers, post to Spectropop Group #40742, 12 September 2007.
See also post #40773, 14 September 2007 Re: quasi-legit song publishers by Phil Milstein, who has also given me further background on Mission Bell.

08 September 2007

Only in Oz (2) Acker Bilk - The Harem (1963)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

2. Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band - The Harem
(Dorothy Hodas-Mack Wolfson-Eddie Cooper)
UK 1963 

Columbia single (UK) #DB7129.
Columbia single (Australia)  #DO4447

Australian charts: #2 Melbourne, #4 Sydney, #3 Adelaide (#7 Australia)

I wrote about The Harem earlier, in connection with Time-out Instrumentals. Then, I said it was a standout amongst Acker Bilk's recordings, a stirring, whirling, percussive instro that builds to a climax.

This track is a bit of a mystery, not least because it is an outstanding instrumental by a popular artist that unaccountably failed to make the same splash on the British charts as it did in Australia.

Acker Bilk had ten Top 40 hits in the UK between 1960 and 1963, but this wasn't one of them. His Stranger On The Shore was a big hit everywhere (#2 UK, #1 USA) and he was popular in the MOR instrumental market. The odd thing is, Acker Bilk's countless albums and reissues have never been hard to find in the bargain bins, but I've never found The Harem on any of them.

A 1963 single of The Harem by Don Costa and his Orchestra on US Columbia #42705 is the same work, and appears to be the original version.

The authoritative 45cat.com has Don Costa's US release at April 1963, Acker Bilk's UK release at October 1963. It is an American composition, copyrighted in the US in March 1963. [Updated 20 Dec 2016]

We do know something about the writers' other works, thanks in part to ASCAP's database:
Mack Wolfson (aka Maxwell A. Wolfson) built up a fair repertoire in the 50s and 60s. He often wrote with the prolific Tin Pan Alley composer Eddie White (Edward R. White)*, for example on Happiness Street (Corner Sunshine Square), recorded by Georgia Gibbs and Tony Bennett (both versions charted in 1956); C'est La Vie, a much-recorded song that was a #11 hit for Sarah Vaughan in 1955; Crazy Otto Rag by Johnnie 'Crazy Otto' Maddox, a co-write with the famous Hugo & Luigi that was heard in the film Reds; and Smarty Pants, on disco group First Choice's 1973 debut album.

Eddie Cooper, not so prolific, also wrote with Eddie White: of his 13 compositions at ASCAP, 6 were co-writes with White. (There are 4 additional Eddie Cooper songs listed at BMI.)

Dorothy Hodas
(full name Dorothy Gertrude Hodas) has only one other song in her ASCAP repertoire, Love Of My Life, and that was written with Mack Wolfson and, yes, Eddie White.
The Harem could be a faux-Eastern genre piece, but it sounds as if it could be based on a folk tune. I believe I hear something reminiscent of Hava Nagila.

(UPDATE: See the comment below from Anonymous who suggests the Turkish song Usku Dara as a source. Listen to Eartha Kitt's famous version at Youtube.)

ASCAP shows an alternative title, The Harem: Schoene Geschic, which may or may not be a clue. Could Geschic be a database or dialectic truncation of Geschichte? Schoene Geschichte means Beautiful Story.

There are at least two 1960s guitar versions of The Harem, by Rotterdam instrumental group The Explosions (1964), and by New Zealand guitarist Graeme Bartlett, better known as Gray Bartlett (1963 or 64).

Acker Bilk & His Paramount Jazz Band - The Harem.mp3

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.
Could this be the same Edward R. (Eddie) White (1919-1996), a New Yorker listed at IMDb in some bit parts?

Dutch sleeveshot from plaatzegel.nl.

01 September 2007

Buffalo Tom - Dry Land

Dry Land is on Big Red Letter Day, the 1993 album by Boston band Buffalo Tom. I've listened to it too many times today so I'm gonna quit before I spoil it forever.

Like some other great pop songs, it manages to convey both joy and regret, with lyrics that seem to be about someone's real life without spelling it all out. There are chiming guitars and a full-ahead beat that remind me of a couple of other bands of the day, but I won't say which because I hate doing that to musicians.

Dry Land is the kind of song that makes me want to quit my job, pick up a guitar, and play in a rock'n'roll band.

Okay, I'm listening one more time tonight, and that's it.

Music in the lab

Music Matters is a blog by Henkjan Honing about music cognition. It looks at music from a scientific point of view, something that instinctively sounds off-putting to me, but this is so interesting, so full of variety, that I couldn't resist reading on. Also, this guy is clearly a music enthusiast, not just a clinical analyst, and his writing is accessible. (I found it via the excellent Cognitive Daily.)

Some recent posts:

Why do people sing so shamelessly out of tune?

When somebody sings out of tune, we might infer that he or she has no talent for music. That is of course a misunderstanding...

A 2006 recording of Glenn Gould?

The recording was made using measurements of the old recordings and then regenerating the performance on a computer-controlled grand piano, a modern pianola.

Why does it sound slow?

We know that it is not simply the number of notes (or event-rate) that defines a listeners impression of tempo. There are quite a few musical examples that have a lot of notes but that are generally judged to have a slow tempo (e.g, Javanese gamelan music).

Is it a male or female performer?

This week an interesting new web-based experiment... Can listeners determine the gender of the performer on the basis of a recording? Do the experiment by clicking...

Associate Professor Honing is head of the University of Amsterdam's Music Cognition Group. As his CV explains: He conducts research in music cognition, with a special focus on the temporal aspects of music (such as rhythm, timing, and tempo), using theoretical, empirical and computational methods.

Anyone who writes (and, like me, neglects) a blog can sympathise with this post from 30 July last year:

Yet Another blog?
Still wondering —on a Sunday afternoon at home— whether yet another blog is of any use.

Henkjan, my answer in your case is a loud Yes.