15 December 2023

Only in Oz (18): Johnny Burnette - Big Big World (1961)

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.

18. Johnny Burnette - Big Big World
(Fred Burch - Gerald Nelson - Red West)
USA 1961

London single (USA) #F-55318
London single (Australia) #HL-2164

US Charts: #58 Billboard, #49 Cash Box
Australian charts: #38 Sydney, #19 Melbourne (Ryan), #14 Melbourne (Guest), #37 Brisbane | #37 Australia


Not a dramatic case of Only in Oz, but the lower reaches of Australia's Top 40 do beat the lower reaches of Top 60 Billboard and Top 50 Cash Box. 

Johnny Burnette
Johnny Burnette's three biggest hits Dreamin' (1960), You're Sixteen (1960), and Little Boy Sad (1961) all charted at least Top 20 in the US, the UK, Australia, and NZ but Australia is the only one where Big Big World made Top 40. 

In 1961 I was listening to Melbourne radio, so I remember Big Big World as well as Burnette's better-known songs. Depending on the chart compiler, Big Big World charted in Melbourne at #19 (Gavin Ryan) or #14 (Tom Guest). (For a plunge into the metaphysics of retrospective charts see my post Toppermost of the poppermost: the charts.) 


Big Big World evokes the feeling of searching for one person among millions and being defeated by the vastness of the city. 

In Snuff Garrett's production the elements meld perfectly, all contributing to the final effect: composition, arrangement, performances. There are no jarring distractions.1  

I admire the way the story is told economically, in colloquial language, without any wasted words. It takes place in two locations, an apartment block - Nine one, 27th Avenue - and a phone box. 

At the apartments, where the searcher tells them he is just looking for a friend living in Apartment 10, he has no luck: You say she's gone. Please, how long has it been?

In the phone box, the futility of his quest is brought home to him when he consults the telephone directory. 

Joneses, Joneses
Oh, I see,
 page 19 to 23
Big, big world can be unkind
The phone just took my last dime

I love the sound of Joneses Joneses. Every "s" has a /z/ sound, setting up a nice percussive effect with the repetition.  

This is a song of numbers: the address and the apartment number (Nine one, 27th Avenue... Apartment 10), the pages of Joneses (19 to 23).

I assume the numbers that open the song - Nine one, 27th - were carefully chosen, as they are perfect. 

I am reminded of that much-repeated story about the comedy writers on Sid Caesar's TV show deciding which number on a roulette wheel would be funniest. (The final choice was thirty-two). 

Big Big World isn't comedy, but I can imagine a similar process going on for Nine one, 27th, as well as for the numbers of the telephone directory pages 19 to 23.

Clearly, the rhythm of the words is a factor. And although the selection might have been intuitive, I wonder whether the result has something to do with the repeated sounds in nine one twenty-seven: the /n/, the short "e" (/e/) and the /w/?


The composers of Big Big World are Gerald Nelson (1935-2012), Fred Burch (c.1932- ) and Bobby "Red" West (1936-2017).

Red West was a long-time associate of Elvis Presley from high school days, and a member of Elvis's entourage. He worked successfully as a bodyguard, stuntman, movie extra, actor, songwriter and artists' agent. West would be the most visible of the three writers of Big Big World, partly through the Elvis Presley connection, but also through his many appearances in films, sometimes uncredited but also credited alongside some well-known names. 

There are 138 Red West compositions listed by BMI at Songview. He wrote or co-wrote several songs recorded by Elvis including Separate Ways (1972, #20 USA) and If You Talk In Your Sleep (1974, #17 USA). He co-wrote I'm A Fool which charted for Dino, Desi & Billy (1965, #17 USA) but was first released by Rick Nelson (1964).

Gerald Nelson and Fred Burch were frequent collaborators. They were both from Paducah, Kentucky, where Nelson was in The Country Gentlemen, later known as The Escorts.  
Nelson and Burch started writing together when Burch was at the University of Kentucky in 1958. Their composition Tragedy charted for Thomas Wayne (1959, #4 USA), The Fleetwoods (1961, #10 USA), and Bryan Hyland (1969, #56 USA). A version by Paul McCartney appeared as a bonus track on a later reissue of Red Rose Speedway.
         Fred Burch

Fred Burch
* was a prolific songwriter based in Nashville where he was a staff writer for Cedarwood Publishing Co. He collaborated, for example, with Marijohn Wilkin on Jimmy Dean's P.T. 109 (1962, #8 USA, #29 Australia). 

Jan Crutchfield was Burch's co-writer on Perry Como's Dream On Little Dreamer (1965, #25 USA). Crutchfield was also from Paducah, and he was in The Country Gentlemen-Escorts with Big Big World co-writer Gerald Nelson

Strange, recorded by Patsy Cline (1962, #97 USA), was a Fred Burch - Mel Tillis composition. Tillis was also contracted to Cedarwood Publishing and they wrote several songs together.

It didn't surprise me to read in the archives that Burch was a "student of journalism" who studied English at university before turning to professional song writing. Clearly, at least one writer who knew their way around words had a hand in Big Big World, and as a songwriter Burch seems to have specialised in lyrics. 

For example, it was Burch who started off Tragedy with some lines of verse.2 Local press in Paducah (1962) gives him credit for being the lyricist of P.T. 109 and numerous other songs including Big Big World,3 although in the Tennessee press Burch himself acknowledges co-composer Marijohn Wilkin's role in polishing the lyrics of P.T. 109.4

Selected sources, further reading:
1. I wrote something similar about Snuff Garrett's production of Gene McDaniels - It's A Lonely Town (Lonely Without You). That post also has a list of some of Garrett's notable productions.

2. "Burch, Helms on High Road": background on Burch & Nelson and the writing of "Tragedy", The Tennessean, Nashville, 12 November 1961.
3. "P.T.109... Former Paducah Man Writes Hit Song"The Paducah Sun, Paducah, Kentucky, 3 June 1962.
4. "PT 109: How It Came About", The Tennessean, 20 May 1962.

Item of interest:
"Composers Take Cruise": songwriters Marijohn Wilkin and Fred Burch with Wilkin's husband and son on a cruise trip to Paducah on the Wilkins' houseboat,  The Leaf-Chronicle, Clarksville, Tennessee, 7 August 1961.

*Don't confuse Fred Burch with Don Burch who wrote The Shields' hit "You Cheated" (1958) or John Burch who wrote Georgie Fame's "Preach And Teach" (1964) and "In The Meantime" (1965).

21 October 2023

Only in Oz* (17): José Feliciano - Adios Amor (Goodbye, My Love) (1967, 1969)

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.

*In this case, Only in Oz and NZ.

17. José Feliciano - Adios Amor (Goodbye, My Love)
(Tom Springfield - Norman Newell)
UK 1967, 1969

• RCA Victor single (UK) #1640, reissued on #1794 
• RCA Victor single (Australia) 
#101806: 1967, reissued 1969
• RCA Victor single
 (New Zealand)

UK charts: "Bubbled Under" Top 50 (= #51), Record Retailer, 22 Apr 69 
Australian charts#4 Australia (Kent and Go-Set);
#2 Sydney #5 Melbourne, #26 Sydney, #2 Brisbane, #2 Adelaide, #7 Perth (Gavin Ryan)
New Zealand chart: #3 (Scapolo and Freeman)
USA charts: no single released


Adios Amor (Goodbye, My Love): American artist, British record, Australasian hit.

It charted in Australia early in 1969 (mid-'69 in NZ), a few months after José Feliciano's breakthrough hit record Light My Fire (1968, #14 Australia, #16 NZ, #1 USA, #6 UK). 

Adios Amor was probably seen as a follow-up recording to Light My Fire (1968) but in fact Adios Amor came first. It was initially released in 1967 then re-released in 1969, presumably in response to Light My Fire's success. An ad for Adios Amor's reissue in Britain's New Musical Express in February 1969 overlooked its history and billed it as Feliciano's smash new single.

The two songs are quite different from each other. Light My Fire, released in July 1968, was a jazz-soul-flavoured reworking of The Doors' #1 US hit from the previous year. Adios Amor is a more conventional orchestration of an original ballad, but no less affecting for that, as Australasian audiences clearly found. Just read the heartfelt memories of the song from Australians at YouTube.

NME 15 Feb 1969 [link]

In spite of its Spanish title, Adios Amor has mainly English lyrics. (There are some spoken Spanish words at the very end, as the track fades out.)

It is a British composition, recorded in the UK during Feliciano's sojourn there in 1967, along with another single My Foolish Heart / Only Once.

Adios Amor was released in the UK (and in Australia, NZ, France, Germany and Spain) but there was no US single. As far as I can see, it has not been included on any American José Feliciano compilation, nor did it appear on any regular album at the time. It was on at least one compilation from Australia.

The entirely plausible story goes that producer and co-writer Tom Springfield first proposed Adios Amor as a song for The Seekers but the group turned it down. In later years Seekers lead singer Judith Durham (1943-2022) did perform and release the song, as did a latter-day line-up The Original Seekers.

The José Feliciano we hear singing Adios Amor from a London studio in 1967 was yet to take off in mainstream markets, but he was already a popular Spanish-language artist amongst Latino audiences in the US and South America. He had also released three English-language albums of his own takes on standards, folk songs and pop hits on RCA Victor 1965-1966. 

One of those songs, Hi-Heel Sneakers, on The Voice And Guitar Of José Feliciano (1966), was recorded again to become Feliciano's second Top 40 hit in the US (1968, #25 USA, #24 Australia). The B-side, a cover of Dunn & McCashen's Hitchcock Railway, co-charted in Australia and later had its arrangement openly borrowed by Chris Stainton for Joe Cocker's well-known version (1971).1


The composers of Adios Amor, Tom Springfield and Norman Newell, were both English. Springfield also produced the record. 

Tom Springfield (Dion O'Brien 1934-2022) and his sister Dusty (Mary) had been in The Springfields who had hits with Silver Threads And Golden Needles and Island of Dreams. Tom produced and wrote hit songs for The Seekers including The Carnival Is Over, I'll Never Find Another You, and World Of Our Own.

Norman Newell (1919-2004) was a prominent record producer and songwriter from the post-war 1940s until his retirement in 1990. He worked mainly in the middle-of-the-road segment of the market, often collaborating with arranger and conductor Geoff Love, and often with such major names of post-war British show business as Shirley BasseyRuss Conway, and Des O'Connor. He had a hand in numerous hits, for Petula Clark (Sailor), Laurie London (He's Got the Whole World in His Hands), Adam Faith (What Do You Want?), Matt Munro (Portrait of My Love) and Ken Dodd (Tears). His obituary in The Independent gives a good overview of his varied career.


British group The Casuals released a version of Adios Amor in February 1968 with an arrangement similar to the original. They would finally find success later in the year with Jesamine (#2 UK).

As an album track, Adios Amor was released by Vanity Fare on The Sun, The Wind, And Other Things (UK, 1969) and by Ed Ames on Sing Away The World (USA, 1970). See the list at SecondHandSongs.com.


Thanks to Marc for clarification around British chart positions; details now edited to reflect his comments.

  Chris Stainton tells about how he got to play on The Who's Quadrophenia [from RichieUnterberger.com]: "Pete (Townsend)… seemed to be very impressed by the piano riffs I was playing in (Joe Cocker's) 'Hitchcock Railway,' which I lifted from José Feliciano's version," says Stainton. "He never forgot it and years later asked me to play in that style on the Quadrophenia album." 

José Feliciano - Adios Amor (Goodbye, My Love) (UK single 1967, 1969)

The Casuals - Adios Amor (Goodbye My Love) (UK single 1968)

Judith Durham - Adios Amor (album Mona Lisas, 1996)

22 August 2023

Only in Oz (16): Murry Kellum - Long Tall Texan (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.

16. Murry Kellum - Long Tall Texan
(Henry Strzelecki)
USA 1963

M.O.C. single (USA) #45-653
US Charts: #51 Billboard, #51 Cash Box
London single (Australia 1964) #HL-2164
Australian charts: #7 Sydney, #7 Melbourne, #2 Brisbane, #45 Adelaide #6 Australia

On the B-side is Glenn Sutton - I Gotta Leave This Town.


In February 1964, when Murry Kellum's Long Tall Texan was peaking at #4 at Sydney station 2UE, two Beatles songs were at #1, and there were three other Beatles songs in the Top 10 plus one by The Dave Clark Five

The British Invasion was under way, but a lot of Australians were also going for a comical country song about a hick sheriff who sounds like a Wild West prototype for Private Gomer Pyle. 

Long Tall Texan charted Top 10 in our three biggest cities (converting to a #6 Australia
) but in the US it peaked outside the Top 40 at #51 on Billboard's Hot 100 (21 Dec 1963), also at #51 on Cash Box's Top 100 (4 & 11 Jan 1964). 

'Hits of the World', Billboard14 Mar 64

There are examples in the US newspaper archives of locally published surveys that have Long Tall Texan in their Top 10. See also, at ARSA, a #1 at KMEN San Bernardino CA.

Murry Kellum was not the first to record Long Tall Texan. The original version was a 1959 B-side, recorded in Memphis by The Four Flickers with composer Henry Strzelecki on lead vocals.

According to Billboard, in 1957 the 17-year-old Strzelecki encountered country star Tex Ritter in a diner in Bessemer, Alabama and was inspired to write Long Tall Texan. A further version was released by Jerry Woodard in 1960.

In Definitive Country (1995), Barry McCloud suggests that in 1963 US radio stations declined to play Murry Kellum's record in the wake of President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. It is hard to judge how widespread that might have been, and it is easy to find examples of the song in record reviews or local surveys during the weeks after 22 November 1963. The story is certainly plausible when you consider that author John M. MacDonald changed the name of major character from Dallas McGee to Travis McGee over similar concerns.  

Even if it was never a big national chart hit, Long Tall Texan became a much performed and recorded song in the US.

A 1968 Billboard tribute to Tex Ritter noted that Long Tall Texan, the song he inspired, had already been recorded some 28 times and … included in some five million dollars' worth of singles and albums sold.

The website Cover.info lists about 15 examples from the 1960s and 70s, including those by The KingsmenThe Chad Mitchell Trio and John Denver. It was included in live sets by The Beach Boys, as heard on their album Beach Boys Concert (1964) and on other collections.

Searches of old US newspapers from the months following Kellum's release show examples of kids and other amateurs performing Long Tall Texan at local concerts and gatherings, a handy indicator of a song's familiarity in the community.

Lyall Lovett, Bob Luman and Conway Twitty all released versions of Long Tall Texan in the 1990s. It had clearly held its nostalgic appeal, probably amongst country music fans especially. As recently as 2011, Ben Folds included a live version from 2008 on his album The Best Imitation Of Myself: A Retrospective.

The Buffalo News 7 Dec 63


Country singer-guitarist-songwriter Murry Kellum (1942-1990) grew up in Plain, a locality near his birthplace Jackson, Mississippi.* His most successful single was Joy To The World (1971, #26 Billboard Country), produced by fellow Jackson musician Glenn Sutton who had occupied the B-side of Long Tall TexanKellum's  best known composition, written with Dan Mitchell, is If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band), a country hit for Alabama (1984, #1 Billboard Hot Country Songs). Kellum was still touring in 1990 when he died in a small-plane crash en route to Nashville.

The composer of Long Tall Texan was Alabama-born bassist Henry Strzelecki (1939-2014). Strzelecki is heard on lead vocals on the original version by The Four Flickers, a group he formed with his brother Larry along with Jerry Adams and Leon Ethridge. Henry became a respected studio and touring musician in Nashville where he was based from 1960. His name is badly misspelt on the Murry Kellum single and others as Stegelecki. See his repertoire of recorded songs at 45cat.com.

*Some sources prefer Jackson, Tennessee or Plain, Texas or both. I suggest you pay them no attention. 

Musicological footnote:

Philippe (correspondent in France) detects similarities between She's About A Mover by Texas band Sir Douglas Quintet (February 1965, #13 USA) and Long Tall Texan, and by golly I think he's right. 

Compare, for example, these verse-endings:

1. Murry Kellum - Long Tall Texan (1963)
Well people look at me and say (pause)
Hurrah hurrah 
is that your horse? (instrumental backing resumes)
Listen to clip [wav, 6 secs]

2. Sir Douglas Quintet - She's About A Mover (1965)
If you have love and conversation (pause)
Whoa, yeah, 
what'd I say? (instrumental backing resumes)
Listen to clip [wav, 7 secs]

This way of pausing at the end of the verse is also heard in The Coasters' Searchin' (March 1957, #3 USA), written by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller:

3. The Coasters - Searchin' (1957)
But I'm like the Northwest Mounties (pause)
You know I'll bring her in some day (instrumental backing resumes)
Listen to clip [wav, 10 secs]

This appears to be a particular use of a musical device called stop time, also known as a break. It is heard in ragtime, jazz and blues compositions, sometimes as a series of breaks throughout a verse as in Muddy Waters' Hoochie Coochie Man, and in Elvis Presley's Trouble, another Leiber & Stoller composition. 

It was much used by Leiber & Stoller as a punchline (their word) at the end of a verse, for example in Coasters hits Charlie Brown, (1959, #3 USA) - Why is everybody always pickin' on me?- and Young Blood (1957 #8 USA, B-side of Searchin', written with Doc Pomus) - Look a-there Look a-there! Look a-there.

Michael Campbell, in Popular music in America : the beat goes on (2009), describes the phenomenon as it appears in Young Blood:
... breaks that showcase the Coasters' trademark humorous asides that drop down the vocal ladder, with bass singer Bobby Nunn getting in the last word ... 

In an episode of John Gilliland's Pop Chronicles featuring Leiber & Stoller, they discuss their writing process including

... the breaks and so on, especially with the joke material, you know, where the timing and the punch lines were so critical.

Murry Kellum - Long Tall Texan (1963)

The Four Flickers - Long Tall Texan (1959) 
Song starts at 2:40
 (second in a medley of two)

28 May 2023

A literary burglary

Not long before Christmas 1987 I read a review of Evan Eisenberg's new book The Recording Angel and resolved to look out for it. It is just the sort of book I like, a deep and insightful history of recorded music.

This was before instant online ordering and speedy delivery of books, before you could read a new book on your Kindle a few minutes after reading a review.

I was living in Toowoomba, a provincial city where there were a couple of good bookshops, but I would also look forward to browsing the bigger bookshops in Brisbane now and then.

This was not a bestseller, it probably appealed to a limited demographic, and my feeling was that I probably wouldn't come across it locally.

So, I would look out for The Recording Angel, but it was more likely to show up in one of the Brisbane bookshops like The American Bookstore.

A couple of days after Christmas Day I went into a local second-hand bookshop and looked through the old paperbacks with their bent covers and yellowed pages. 

In amongst them I found The Recording Angel, fresh and unopened. As a second-hand bookseller would classify it, As New.

I was astounded - no - I was spooked by how unlikely and coincidental it was, but I contained myself and took it to the cash register. 

Later I thought that it must have been an unwanted Christmas gift. Pretty quick to get down to the second-hand bookshop so soon after Christmas Day, but maybe they were desperate.
I got the Internet at home 11 years later, in 1998, and some time after that I saw a forum comment about The Recording Angel by a woman from the Toowoomba area. That was coincidental itself, on the Worldwide Web.

She had bought a copy of the book when it first came out, but it had been stolen during a burglary, swooped up with some other things before she had time to read it.

I replied to her comment and told her the story and yes, it had been in late 1987. She agreed the timing was right. I offered to give her my (her?) copy but she declined.

11 May 2023

What's the matter with "kids"?

As the song from Bye Bye Birdie went (1960), without the quotation marks.

I've never minded calling children "kids". It's a friendly sounding word with no historical baggage as an epithet. To my mind, its connotations are positive.

Over the years I've occasionally met someone who objected along the lines of, "They're not baby goats, they're children," but that's like chiding a French speaker for using the endearment mon chou: "He's not a green leafy vegetable..." There are many colloquialisms that sprang from figurative speech, and we don't insist on users being literal.

In many contexts, of course "children" sounds better. "Student" has replaced "pupil" which seems to have gone out of fashion, and it does suggest 1950s officialese. In Queensland, pupil-free days became student-free days at some point. 

Teachers have various ways of addressing a class: "people", "guys", "folks". Some of these sound better coming from a teacher seated on a reversed chair. I once heard an able student referred to as a "good little unit" but the small-school principal who said that was a bit unhinged.

I used to slip facetiously into "peanuts", "bananas", "ladies and gentlemen", "ladles and jellybeans". Context was everything. When I first started teaching you would hear some old-timers using "youse" but that's rare these days.

Long before gender neutrality became the norm I gave up "girls and boys" and would say, "Good morning everyone," probably influenced by the broadcaster Karl Haas's "Hello everyone". (I hated hearing a class chanting "good morning" in reply so in later years I would dispense with a greeting and say something like, "Okay, let's get this show on the road," or just jump in and start talking about whatever needed our attention. The sky didn't fall in.) 

One novel variation I heard came from a parent who worked for the RAAF. When he was President of the Parents & Citizens Association he talked to the school assembly one morning and referred throughout to children as "personnel". Force of habit.
I found this 2011 draft for a proposed blog about my adventures in teaching. I've tweaked it a little.

The Kirby Stone Four - Kids (1960)

13 March 2023

Why wasn't this a hit?

This is often asked by astounded commenters at YouTube. (See my earlier post When oldies stream the oldies.)

Somebody has discovered an amazing song from the past that they missed in their youth. It's so good: why wasn't it all over the radio and racing up to the top of the charts? YouTube comments on Gwen Stacey's excellent Ain't Gonna Cry No More (1964) include Superb! Why wasn't this record huge? and Great song. This should have been a hitYouTube

It could be down to how well a song was marketed (it's the music business1), or the quirks of radio programmers in your hometown at the time. 

Often, though, it's to do with experiencing new music as it emerged, as it was heard at that point in musical history. 

I love listening to newly-discovered oldies, but I'm listening to them out of historical context. One of my favourite non-hits, Margaret Mandolph's If You Ever Need Me, was released in December 1964. It was surrounded by a unique collection of current songs, and it followed whatever music was available to listeners up to that point.

When I enthusiastically commented on If You Ever Need Me at YouTube in 2022, I had heard it after listening to thousands of songs in countless genres over several decades, songs that were unimaginable when it was released. 

I have no idea how I would have reacted to it if I'd heard it in December 1964. It's like tasting a wine when your palate has been prepared by different foods.

I tried to find some clues in the songs that were in or around Billboard's Top 20 in the month If You Ever Need Me was released. 

British Invaders
• The Zombies - She's Not There:
This innovative British record entered the Billboard chart in November 1964, only 10 months after the Beatles' first US hit. A lot had changed since then.
• The Beatles - I Feel Fine and She's A Woman:
I suspect that just the opening of I Feel Fine would have sounded unusual a year earlier when such Beatles songs as I Want To Hold Your Hand were taking off.
• The Kinks - You Really Got Me:
Again, would this new sound have made #7 at Billboard a year earlier, or would it have just sounded weird?
• On Billboard's Hot 100 for 28 Dec 1963 there was one British act in the Top 20 (The Caravelles - You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry). A year later, 26 Dec 1964, there were nine. So, 5% British to 45% British in 12 months.

Brits doing American songs
• The Rolling Stones Time Is On My Side and
• The Searchers - Love Potion Number 9:
The Stones took Time On My Side to #6 USA, but earlier US versions by Kai Winding (1963: the original) and Irma Thomas (a July 1964 B-side) never charted. The Clovers' original of Love Potion Number Nine (1959) charted #29 Billboard, The Searchers' version got to #3.

American groups
• The Beach Boys - Dance, Dance Dance
• Little Anthony & The Imperials - Goin' Out Of My Head
• The Larks - The Jerk: 
Soul-r&b dance track.
• The Impressions - Amen:
Written by Jerry Goldsmith for a film, Lilies of the Field

• The Supremes - Come See About Me and
• The Shangri-Las - Leader Of The Pack:
Both of these reflect a development from the pre-Beatles girl-group soundsThings were moving on quickly at this stage.
• Marianne Faithful - As Tears Go By
Sedate but up-to-date Rolling Stones cover.

 Gene Pitney - I'm Gonna Be Strong and
• Bobby Vinton - Mr Lonely:
Pitney and Vinton resisting the British wave. Pitney managed to stay hip, helped along by his association with Andrew Loog-Oldham and The Rolling StonesVinton's Mr Lonely was a #1 hit, and he would keep having hits into the mid-70s. § The aforementioned Beach Boys not only survived, they thrived, and became much more than, well, beach boys. And Little Anthony & The Imperials had their first Top 5 hit in 1958 and two in the Top 10 1964-65.

• Julie Rogers - The Wedding and
 Robert Goulet - My Love Forgive Me:
It's easy to forget that there were always middle-of-the-road tracks on the charts of the 60s. I'm assuming they weren't put there by teenage pop fans.

• Lorne Greene - Ringo:
The charts often included such curiosities as this Western-themed record, spoken by Lorne Greene over an instrumental and vocal track. The title didn't hurt, even though it has nothing to do with the Beatles.

Make of it all what you will! It's what the musical palate of December 1964 was savouring. 

At this distance it is hard for me to imagine If You Ever Need Me being introduced into this mix. 

As much as I love the song, I hear it as a continuation of the female pop sounds of 1962-63, the era of The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Chiffons, The Murmaids, The Raindrops and Lesley Gore. Fine by me, sitting up here in the 2020s when an overlooked, sophisticated development of the genre is like a gift. But in December 1964 it might have sounded too much like an echo of the past. In pop music, twelve months can be a long time ago. 

Really, we will never know. You had to be there.

1. Al Hazan recalls producing a record by vanity artist Dora Hall, paid for by her wealthy husband: as far as I was concerned, her husband had hired me to do a job and I was doing it. That’s why it’s called the music business.

 • Anthony Reichardt's YouTube playlists.
 • Billboard Hot 100, 26 December 1964 and 28 December 1963.

Margaret Mandolph - If You Ever Need Me

The Zombies - She's Not There

The Beatles - I Feel Fine

The Supremes - Come See About Me

The Searchers - Love Potion Number Nine (UK 1964)

The Clovers - Love Potion No. 9 (USA 1959)

New old music

It's great to find old favourites on streaming services, but even better is finding old songs you never knew about. 

In recent years I've discovered numerous tracks that I never heard of as a teenager. They might have been on obscure labels, or never issued in Australia. Australian radio might have ignored them, as they did with Archie Bell & The Drells' Tighten Up (1968): #1 in the US, nowhere down here. They might even have remained unreleased until some enthusiast got hold of tape or an acetate.  

Spotify and Apple Music do well here, but YouTube is an essential source for tracks that haven't been reissued, along with the occasional track that never was released. 

Pop music is always hit and miss, so you have to dig around for the gems, but when I find a track like Margaret Mandolph's If You Ever Need Me (1964), the excitement is equal to when I first heard a classic song on the radio, back in its day. Just as I might have done in 1964, I played it over and over and it was on my mind for days. I was surprised to find that this was written and produced (and probably arranged) by David Gates, who also owned the label. 

Gates was later famous in the 1970s through the trio Bread, but at this time he was turning out meticulously produced pop singles like this. His only hit in this era was with his composition Popsicles And Icicles, a 1963 #3 single by The Murmaids, produced by Kim Fowley. Margaret Mandolph recorded the demo for Gates.

If You Ever Need Me is just one track I found among the playlists of Anthony Reichardt, a good example of the serious collectors posting tracks to YouTube. In his own words, he posts mostly obscure tracks between the years of 1959 to 1969 with an emphasis on the middle of the decade and many in the style of Phil Spector's 'Wall Of Sound. Say no more, this places me squarely in the target audience.

 • Anthony Reichardt, record collector: his YouTube playlists and an interview at Cue Castinets.

Margaret Mandolph - If You Ever Need Me, posted by Anthony Reichardt.

Bonus track: 

Gwen Stacey - Ain't Gonna Cry No More (1964): written and arranged (but not produced) by David Gates. Another lost gem resurfacing on YouTube.

10 March 2023

When oldies stream the oldies

oldie [Macquarie Dictionary]
• someone regarded as old by the speaker...
• something old, especially a popular song 

1. Real music: are we there yet? 
You can listen to a lot of oldies at YouTube now, and they attract a lot of comments from oldies.

Some YouTube commenters of my generation can't celebrate the music of their youth without adding that, by contrast, artists these days can't sing, can't play, and don't know how to write songs. (Oh, and they are not as well groomed. Probably not a musical issue.) 

Of course it's not true: the sounds are different, but every generation has its geniuses and their mediocre imitators. It's doubtful whether the commenters have actually listened to much current music, which I admit is now dizzyingly fragmented and does take some effort to get a handle on. The days are long gone when "current music" pretty much meant the few songs that were being played on the radio this week.

In any case, it sounds too much like reactions from our parents' generation to rock'n'roll (to take one inter-generational scenario). 

Examples are easy to find. From 1964, a feature writer sums up the BeatlesThis badly-in-need-of-a-haircut group can't sing.....period [link; my hyphens]. And from 1965: a music publisher complains that  lyrics this day and age are appalling and are rendered by so called singers with so called voices.... [link], and a columnist hopes for a revival of big band music for those of us who still enjoy dancing to real music... [link].

At YouTube today you will see the phrase real music used to boost the music of the past. A comment addressed to youngsters advises them that a Billy Preston track from 1974 is real music.

Daily Telegraph (UK) 1904 [link]
This concept of real music goes back at least as far as 1910. A show is recommended by the Sioux City
Journal because it will feature not ragtime nor "popular" music but real music [link]. (My impression is that real music c.1910 could also mean live as opposed to recorded music, still relatively new-fangled but gaining popularity.)


2. When too much is barely enough.
You'll see comments under an old song at YouTube where the user "misses" the music of their youth. They pine for the 60s when the music was great. They want to go to back to the 70s just so they can hear all these great songs. 

It would too clever of me to point out that they have just listened to one of those great songs, right there at YouTube. They can repeat the track or save it for later, or browse thousands of others. How could they be missing it? 

Through streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, as well as YouTube, we can now access mountains of recorded music from any time in the history of the recording industry. Blimey, here's Billy Murray from 1911, off an Edison cylinder: Spotify

It's true that Spotify and Apple Music don't stream unreleased material or tracks that have never been reissued. 

Luckily though, YouTube has gone beyond its remit of being a video site to become a repository of music so vast that you seem to be able to find almost any track you can think of. 

This has happened partly because many serious record collectors have posted their collections to YouTube, often with just a still photo of the 45 on the video screen. 

If you want to avoid the ads, and the amateurish slideshows and animations that accompany many songs, you can upgrade and listen on the Spotify-styled YouTube Music app. 

British Invasion cloud at Every Noise
At streaming services like Spotify it's not all current pop hits and 1960s oldies. I've rarely been disappointed when I've searched for tracks from any decade in any genre: try jazz, classical, folk, bluegrass, swing, blues, or hillbilly. 

If you're short of genres, you could take a peek at the clouds of over 6,000 of them at Every Noise At Once, each with a link to a Spotify playlist. Japanese chill rap? No problem, and here's the playlist, with links to 15 related playlists including Guatemalan pop and Malaysian Hip Hop.

At this point, I'm starting to sympathise with the YouTube commenters. Part of me does miss switching on a Top 40 radio station deep in the 60s and listening to whatever they played, song after song, without any choices apart from twiddling the dial across to a rival station.


3. You mean there never was a golden era?
Years ago I wrote to Graham Evans at the ABC's Saturday night radio show Sentimental Journey. I posted a letter, in an envelope with a stamp: it was 1983. I was looking for the name of a 1930s song I'd heard. (It was Bunny Berigan - I Can't Get Started, which shows how little I knew at that stage.)

I also commented on the surprisingly high quality of music that he was playing from the 30s. When Evans wrote back with the name of the song, he surprised me by adding that there was plenty of bad music in the pre-WW2 era, and he was selecting the cream of it for his program. So my impression of a golden age was flawed, and I admired his candour.

When it comes to the music of our youth, we curate our listening so that we select our idea of the best of the era. We forget the sentimental balladry and corny novelties that sat side-by-side with the some of the grooviest songs in history.

There were second rate and third rate artists in our youth just as there are now. Try listening to an album by some of our idols from the 60s that had one or two hits filled out with mediocre copycat compositions, or pedestrian covers of other people's hits.

I'm sure that in Bach's or Mozart's time there were hacks churning out paint-by-numbers compositions, but we tend to stick with Bach and Mozart and their gifted contemporaries. 


4. You had to be there.
I sympathise on one other point with my contemporaries who wish they could travel back in time, even though I go along with the killjoys who reply with lists of diseases and injustices you would endure if you did manage to slip back to 1965. 

Replaying the music of your youth lacks the experience of hearing the music unfold as it appeared, in the context of the times. 

The Beatles delivered surprise after surprise during my teenaged years, from the first trickle of singles on Australian radio in 1963, through a series of albums that (for me) culminated in the scintillating Abbey Road in 1969. 

The 3,000 mainly teenaged fans who swarmed Carnegie Hall in 1938 to hear
Benny Goodman's
orchestra were having that same experience, and although I have listened to a lot of Goodman's records from that time, I can never replicate the joy of being there, at that time, as the narrative unfolded.  

Every Noise At Once: over 6,000 musical genres mapped with playlists and artist clouds

Benny Goodman And His Orchestra (Gene Krupa, drums) - Sing, Sing, Sing (Carnegie Hall Concert, 1938)

26 February 2023

Lost in the 30s

I was born into the target audience for rock 'n' roll: Bill Haley in Grade 1, Beatlemania as I turned thirteen, and soul, folk-rock and psychedelia by the end of high school.  

In my 30s, though, I went for months when I listened to almost nothing but the music of the 1930s, bookended by a little late 20s and early 40s. 

I knew when I'd wandered too far into maudlin 40s dancehall ballads or cheesy novelties from the 20s. I was mainly drawn to the swinging big bands, the golden age songwriters, and the sweet British dancebands (sweet isn't my word: it names a genre).

My pathway was through the ABC's Saturday evening radio show Sentimental Journey. I used to hear some of it when I left the station on after the 7 o'clock News. I ended up staying for its full two hours every week. 

I could not miss one episode, and I recorded many of them on C90 cassette. One Saturday after the News, the ABC neglected to switch its regional network across to the city network that carried Sentimental Journey. I phoned the ABC in Brisbane and was put through to a sceptical technical chap who finally took a look and fixed it.


ABC Radio 1984 [link]
Sentimental Journey’s music was pre-rock 'n' roll but skewed to the wartime 40s and to its true heart, the 30s, with forays into the late 20s. 

The title Sentimental Journey was from the song of that name, first recorded by Doris Day with the orchestra of co-writer Les Brown in 1945. It suggests that the program was aimed at my parents' generation for whom returning to the music of the 30s and 40s might indeed have been a sentimental journey. 

But that was the only hint in that direction. As I recall, the word nostalgia or notions of reliving the good old days were rarely, if ever, mentioned (although nostalgia was in presenter John West's own vocabulary). There were no cliches like What you were doing when you first heard this? or Ah the days when you could get an ice cream cone for a halfpenny!  Certainly nothing like They don’t write songs like that any more.

In fact, this was its strength. There was this unspoken integrity about treating the music with respect, and allowing it to stand on its own merits, always. 

The enthusiasm was for the music and its creators, not for its association with anyone’s golden memories. That was left to the listener to fill in for themself. Or not, as in my case. 

For a newcomer like me, this was perfect. Because there was no assumption that the listener was here to relive the past, I was able to experience the music directly, without feeling I was eavesdropping on the reminiscences of another generation.

If at first some of the arrangements and productions sounded old-fashioned, the more I immersed myself in the era the more it felt like familiar territory, free of any superficial cultural associations.

As a primary schoolteacher I used to run a lunchtime movie club where I played black and white silent-era comedies to 8- to 10-year-old film buffs. At the first session I told them these would be unlike other films they’d seen, and I had them mime putting on their "old-time movie glasses", like putting on sunglasses for the beach. 

At first it was like that with me and 1930s music. It wasn’t exactly the same as listening to any genre that was familiar to me: I was adjusting my ears by putting on an imaginary pair of custom-made 1930s headphones.  


John West 1989 [link]
The host of Sentimental Journey, John West (1924–2008), covered theatre for the ABC for many years through his program The Showman. He was urbane and briskly articulate - he never wasted a word - and he had a mischievous wit that he never overdid.

Also presenting segments were collectors or aficionados of old records, notably Graham Evans whom I remembered from Melbourne commercial station 3AW. Other features would appear, including a fine series of reminiscences by golden age songwriter Sammy Cahn. (His recurring phrase the phone rang inspired my website’s catchphrase eventually, someone emails.)

British danceband singer Al Bowlly (who was new to me) popped up regularly. This reminded me of the 1970s cartoon in Stereo Review showing a man listening to a radio. Played now by the orchestra of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields says the announcer, and the parrot answers back Neville Marriner conducting. If that same parrot had heard the words Al Bowlly on Sentimental Journey, it would have squawked out Ray Noble And His Orchestra

In the request segment at the top of the program, the most popular track was Cole Porter's Begin The Beguine as sung by Chick Henderson with Joe Loss And His Band (1939). I'm sure this became the definitive recording of the song for Sentimental Journey listeners like me.

It wasn't all British dancebands, though, and the playlists ranged widely. Among the highlights was discovering the likes of Annette Hanshaw and Ruth Etting, good-humoured pioneers of electric recording who were able to tone down their delivery to a more intimate, conversational level (Hanshaw would finish a song with a cheery "That's all!"). Bing Crosby's forthright, less mannered early recordings were a revelation, as I had known him only from later years when he had adopted the almost self-parodying persona of a senior crooner. I fell for Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, and reflected on how exciting it would have been to be hearing their music when it was new, just as it was exciting for our generation to have heard Elvis Presley or The Beatles or Aretha Franklin for the first time.

Sentimental Journey continued after John West’s retirement in 1989 but ended early in 1996 (to some crotchety reactions). It was eventually replaced by a flashback show that was all about remembering the good old days. Unlike Sentimental Journey, the word "nostalgia" was mentioned early, and I soon tuned out.


This affinity with old-time records didn’t come completely out of nowhere. I had been softened up by hearing  the Red Onion Jazz Band a few times at Melbourne University from 1969. They played good-humoured trad jazz at its joyous best. When I sought out a song they played, Diga Diga Doo, I found it on Flaming Youth, a renowned album of Duke Ellington tracks from the 1920s that I ended up playing as often as any other LP I owned.

My parents bought a lot of LP records in the 1950s, so they would have been able to hunt down reissues of music from their teens and twenties. But the only authentic pre-war music I ever heard in our house was on an LP released in the wake of the film The Glenn Miller Story (1954). They were early adopters of stereophonic sound, so when the old songs turned up they were often in orchestral versions that exploited stereo to full effect (Clebanoff, Mantovani), and sometimes by other recyclers of old tunes such as Ray Conniff And His Singers or Mitch Miller And The Gang. I'm assuming that for my parents, and many others, a return to the authentic music of their teenage years - the years of Depression and the outbreak of war - did not offer a sentimental journey.

This meant that I heard a lot of music during my school years, but not much from the pre-war years. By the early 80s my whole collection of 20s-30s-40s music had been Ellington's Flaming Youth and one album each by Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt, and Count Basie. Oh, and one outlier by British comic actor and talented ukulele player George Formby, known to me from TV reruns of his old films from the 30s. (I recently rewatched his 1935 film No Limit to groans from the other half of the household.)

When I discovered Sentimental Journey in the 1980s it was a good time to be buying good quality reissues of records from the era of 78 rpm discs. 

I bought an audiocassette of The Songs & Stars Of The Thirties (1980) an anthology that covered similar territory to Sentimental Journey, including vocalist Sam Browne's stirring version of Irving Berlin's Let's Face The Music And Dance. A World Record Club double LP set The Great British Dance Bands Play Jerome Kern 1926-46 (1983)  had 38 Kern compositions including the excellent Denny Dennis singing The Folks Who Live On The Hill, a definitive version with Roy Fox And His Orchestra. Those two fine and prolific vocalists, Browne and Dennis, were previously unknown to me and probably familiar only to the aficionados these days. 

The ABC itself put out some fine series of albums curated by Robert Parker including Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo (from 1984) and The Golden Years in Digital Stereo (from 1986): nicely restored 78s with just a touch of stereo.

In Dennis Potter's TV musical series Pennies From Heaven (1978-79) the characters frequently mimed lesser-known British songs from the 30s. Although Potter seemed to me to be taking the mickey a bit, the collections of songs that spun off from the series bore names that I'd never heard of until Sentimental Journey but were now familiar: Carroll Gibbons And The Savoy Hotel Orpheans, singers Denny Dennis and Elsie Carlisle, and orchestra leaders Roy Fox, Bert AmbroseLew Stone, and Jack Hylton. And yes, the ubiquitous Al Bowlly with Ray Noble And His Orchestra.

Since Pennies From Heaven, Al Bowlly has become something of a go-to voice of the 1930s for filmmakers. For example, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and French favourite Amelie (2001) each used two Bowlly tracks, and another one appears in Withnail And I (1987). The Internet Movie Database lists over 40 films and TV series that have used Bowlly's records on their soundtracks since 1980.


As a child of Buddy HollyBeatles and (to keep up the alliteration) Big Brother  & the Holding Company, I was surprised to see how deeply I had become immersed in the works of Al BowllyBenny Goodman and Billie Holliday.

When you think about it, though, it is not impossible to find links between pre-rock 'n' roll music and post-Beatles pop. For a start, we had the  ironic approximations of old music by the likes of The New Vaudeville Band (Winchester Cathedral) and even The Beatles (Honey Pie, Your Mother Should Know). More than that, as Keith Glass tells it in a Melbourne context, the beat and r&b bands of the 1960s were often formed by folk, skiffle and jazz musicians who adapted to the British Invasion sounds. 

Indeed, three former members of the Red Onion Jazz Band, including vocalist Gerry Humphreys, formed Melbourne's Loved Ones, a critically and commercially successful r&b-oriented pop-rock band far removed from the sound - and visuals - of the Red Onions

Far removed except for one thing: strong foot-tapping rhythm was a feature of popular music in both the 60s and the 30s. Anyone from my generation who thought the music of the old days was all slow, syrupy ballads got it badly wrong.   

Further reading: My post about the rhythmic 1930s "Jazzing It Down"

See also: 1. "The ABC of West's Journey"The Age, 1 July 1989, on John West's retirement. 2. Posts at this blog labelled 30s music, 20s music, 40s music.

Spotify playlist (𝟑𝟑 tracks):

Sam Browne And The Rhythm Sisters - Let's Face The Music And Dance (1936)

Les Brown And His Orchestra, Vocal Chorus by Doris Day - Sentimental Journey (1945)

Joe Loss And His Band (Vocalist: Chick Henderson) - Begin The Beguine (1939)


Duke Ellington - Diga Diga Doo (1928)

Lew Stone And His Band - P.S. I Love You (1934)