“Uh Oh”: Jet Age Moderne

ABC once broadcast a 4-part television special in 1960 called The Frank Sinatra Timex Show:  Welcome Home Elvis.  This was to be the hip-swiveler’s first television appearance in three years since being discharged from military service.

Poster Art by Al Hirschfeld?

Frank Sinatra TimexAt one point, Elvis threatens to get upstaged by a fresh, jazzy near-instrumental but for the phrase, “uh oh” that sounds as if voiced by a pair of “nutty squirrels” (i.e., poor man’s Alvin & the Chipmunks):

“Uh Oh”     The Nutty Squirrels     1959

Uh Oh” – the debut single by The Nutty Squirrels, a creation of Sascha Burland and Don Elliott – would enjoy release in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia & New Zealand.  The duo would follow “Uh Oh” with “Uh Huh” (a 4-song EP) and a third single, “Eager Beaver” b/w “Zowee” — all tracks from their debut Hanover album — before making the leap in 1960 to almighty Columbia, who issued an LP and Christmas 45.

Nutty Squirrels LPIn 1963, The Nutty Squirrels would issue a 45 on RCA and one final LP (A Hard Day’s Night) on MGM the following year.

Nutty Squirrels MGM LPWikipedia claims that [1] “The Squirrels actually preceded the Chipmunks on television in an animated cartoon, but with much less success”; [2] “Uh Oh (pt. 1)” just about grazed the Top-40 (#45), while “Uh Oh (pt. 2)” climbed to #14 Pop and #9 R&B in 1959; and [3] The Squirrels would have one last fling with commercial success in 1976 as “Shirley & Squirrely” via a CB-radio novelty single, “Hey Shirley (This is Squirrely),” that reached #48 Pop and #28 Country.

The Shadows: World’s Tiniest Rockers

Vintage Guitar Magazine’s well-researched history of the Vox musical equipment company contains a particularly delightful side story about “wee” instruments that were designed and manufactured strictly for marionettes!  Peter Stuart Kohman has the scoop:

“One of the most oddball Vox orders was for a set of miniature equipment for singing puppets, specifically, a set of toy-sized Phantom guitars and AC30 amps.  These were supplied for ‘The Beakles’ from The Pinky and Perky Show, a popular children’s program starring marionettes.  The Beakles’ gear was built to look like the real thing by prototype designer Mick Bennett and showed JMI [i.e., Vox]’s commitment to having beat groups on TV – even fictional ones – properly equipped.”

Unfortunately, the only good image of The Beakles that can be found online shows the avian instrumentalists merely playing acoustic guitars – definitely not the modernist, asymmetrical Vox Phantom:

The (unnamed) Beakles depicted on 45 picture sleeve for Pinky & Perky EP

Pinky & Perky's Beat Party

Beakles Spoof LPBeatles Debut LP

Kohman also points out that UK’s preeminent instrumental band, The Shadows, would be the recipients of similarly exquisite custom miniature gear in conjunction with their first full-length motion picture: “The Shadows also appeared in marionette form in the 1966 film Thunderbirds Are Go with miniature AC30s but ‘playing’ their signature Burns guitars.”

The (mini) Shadows can be seen backing Cliff Richard in this charming performance of “Shooting Star” from their big-screen debut:

“Shooting Star”     Cliff Richard & The Shadows     1966

According to Thunderbirds Wiki, “The real-life Hank Marvin loved his puppet so much, he tried so hard to buy it, but it was later reused for another character.”

Hank Marvin & FriendHey, Wikipedia tells me that that sound you hear at the beginning of “Thunderbirds Theme” is Hank Marvin himself (not bassist, Jet Harris) playing a Fender VI six-string bass!

“Without Really Thinking”: In No Way Influenced by The Beatles

Amusing to hear The Beatles’ considerable (though certainly understandable) footprint in the baroque pop stylings of closing track, “Without Really Trying,” from 1967‘s self-titled debut album by The Sunshine Company on Imperial, a subsidiary of Liberty:

“Without Really Trying”     The Sunshine Company     1967

Sunshine CoSunshine Autograph LP

Also amusing to consider that The Sunshine Company & Jimmy Bryant were label mates.

Jimmy Bryant - The Fastest Guitar LP

Speaking of those Liverpool lads, The Sunshine Company would later concoct a fresh arrangement of beloved Beatle B-side, “Rain,” for their third and final album on Imperial, 1968’s Happy Is.

Bill Graham:  An Unlikely Champion of The Sunshine Company

Founding member Maury Manseau (in Richie Unterberger’s fab liner notes for The Best of The Sunshine Company) “recalls Bill Graham introducing the Sunshine Company at a San Francisco show at the Fillmore with the words:  ‘I know that San Francisco audiences haven’t really warmed to this group. But I think it’s one of the few good things that ever came out of L.A.’ “

Charlie Byrd’s Guitar Weeps – Due to Late 60s Social Tumult

In an attempt to convince the skeptical (and serious) music purchaser that this album really is a wise investment in the quality of one’s listening experience, almighty Columbia tries to have its cake and eat it, too, with Charlie Byrd’s Aquarius album from 1969, as the unnamed writer of the album’s liner notes essentially denounces contemporary rock as something out of a horror movie –-

“Like me, are you tired of hearing Halloween noises when the windmills of your mind fill with weird non-music careening over the airwaves on radio, over the box with the big eye (and tin ear), on and off Broadway, and even now on the way to invading Okefenokee Swamp (Nashville Country)?”

So, the hideous rock invasion has infiltrated not just radio but also the small screen and the stage, and the mongrel rock hordes are at the gates, threatening to sully the great musical heritage of American’s southern heartland, à la Columbia artist Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album, released April 1969.

“Do you still crave ‘real’ music played by deft, trained and flexible fingers of live musicians who play sounds dictated by their inner ear rather than by the inner tubes and channels of an electronics specialist?”

Columbia’s naked disdain for 60s modern rock culture while at the same time trying to profit from it (Janis Joplin’s Big Brother & the Holding Company, The Byrds, The Chambers Brothers, Moby Grape, Electric Flag, Santana, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The United States of America, Chicago Transit Authority, and the aforementioned Dylan) is not a pretty thing to behold.

“Is this a purchasing gambit, with you buying the name of the hit song, ‘Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In,’ from the rocker-socker Broadway production, Hair, under the assumption that with the combination of the star-making song and the proven musicianship of guitarist Charlie Byrd, you can’t possibly lose?”

Oh, please, not a song from that dreadful hippie “production” … and yet, “Aquarius” is the album’s kick-off track, because well, a hit is a hit!  Columbia just can’t help itself:  mock the title track while at the same time prominently feature it.  Classy.

And note the label’s tasteful choice of photograph for the album cover – this whole time, I thought Charlie Byrd was a man:

Charlie Byrd LP

Happily, Charlie Byrd’s guitar weeps in a most melodic way:

Musical Personnel

Charlie Byrd – Guitar

Joe Mack – Fender Bass

Bernard “Pretty” Purdie – Drums & Percussion

Bobby Rosengarden – Drums & Percussion

Ed Shaughnessy – Drums & Percussion

Herbie Hancock – All Keyboard Instruments

Vinnie Bell – Electric Guitar

Mario Darpino – Flute

Romeo Penque – Flute, Alto Flute, Oboe, English Horn & Piccolo

 

Hey, look at that:  Columbia released “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as a single:Charlie Byrd 45

Too Far or Not Enough – The Consensus on Lennon?

The overwhelming majority of Beatle novelty and tribute songs were released in the first flush of Beatlemania when the Fab Four were at their peak level of cuddliness.  However, with the release “John You Went Too Far This Time” — in direct response to John & Yoko’s controversial Two Virgins album cover in which the two artists appear solely in the flesh — it is clear in hindsight that, by this point in late 1968, public feeling toward The Beatles had, indeed, begun to turn:

How fascinating to learn that the song’s singer – billed on the record simply as Rainbo – turns out to be actress, Sissy Spacek, of all people, in a one-off 45 on the Roulette label.

Rainbo 45

                              Best lyric:  “The man with the foolish grin … is you”

“Beatle Crazy”: Will Somebody Pass the DDT?

Thanks to the research staff at Ace Records for the great story behind Bill Clifton’s attempt to cash-in on the initial Beatles hysteria, 1963’s “Beatle Crazy” – probably the only Beatle tribute song done in a talking blues style.

Beatle Crazy 45

Clifton, who was born into a wealthy family in Baltimore County, Maryland, defied family expectations about his professional aspirations and chose to pursue his passion for bluegrass music, leaving West Virginia University to sign with Blue Ridge Records as part of the Dixie Mountain Boys and perform live on WWVA’s “Wheeling Jamboree” radio program in the 1950s.  Clifton later gained distinction for having organized the first bluegrass festival in 1961 at Oak Leaf Park in Luray, Virginia.

Ace takes the story from here:

In 1963, Clifton left the States and re-located in England, settling in Sevenoaks, just outside of London with his wife and four children.  Under the stewardship of a talent manager named Pat Robinson, he began securing radio and TV spots and, with the field virtually to himself, bought a Stetson hat in a London store to add a touch of authenticity to his cod Western image.

In November 1963, Robinson took Clifton into Regent Sound, a low-budget studio in London’s Denmark Street favoured by the Rolling Stones, to record “Beatle Crazy”, a song penned by Geoff Stephens, a schoolteacher from Southend striving to make it as a songwriter.  Though somewhat overshadowed by Dora Bryan’s “All I Want for Christmas Is a Beatle” (the first known Beatle tribute), “Beatle Crazy” notched up steady and substantial sales well into the New Year and went on to become Clifton’s calling card during his three-year English sojourn (it was released in the States in April 1964).

Clifton eventually returned to America where he continued to perform at bluegrass and folk festivals in his role as roving ambassador for the bluegrass cause.  Geoff Stephens would go on to to pen many hits including “The Crying Game” and “Winchester Cathedral.”

“Beatle Crazy” does feature a few great lines – such as, “These guys between them, they sure got some hair.  I’m losing mine, don’t seem fair” – but the knockout punch comes at the end of the song, literally, when chemical weapons become involved:

The Buggs: Low-Budget Beatles

Upon playing the debut (and only) album by The Buggs, once discovers that the band – in their particularly mercenary bid to piggyback off The Beatles’ success – utilized song titles as simple vessels for parking exotic English place names and popular dance moves, with no consideration whatsoever for the song’s actual lyrics.  For example, you will find not a single reference to the Tower of Parliament in the song “Big Ben Hop” — but you will find references galore to a spunky lass nicknamed “Sassy Sue.”   Similarly, you won’t find any mention of England’s capital city in “London Town Swing” but rather a tale of unrequited love that is underscored by the singer’s anguished refrain, “Why won’t you love the boy who loves you?”:

Love the Boy Who Loves You – The Buggs

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Love the Boy Who Loves You” by The Buggs.]

Beetle Beat - The Buggs

Given the wild disparity between song titles and actual lyrical content, Zero to 180 – as a public service – has created this song title conversion chart to help guide the listener toward greater truth and accuracy:

   Nominal Song Title                  Actual Song Title

           “Liverpool drag”                                            “Why won’t you leave that man?”

           “Swingin’ Thames”                                           “We belong together”

           “East end”                                                       “since you went away”

           “mersey mercy”                                              “you got me bugged”

           “teddy boy stomp”                                         “i’ll never leave you”

           “soho mash”                                                    “just one look”

           “big ben hop”                                                   “sassy sue”

           “london town swing”                                     “love the boy who loves you”

 

Mike Condello: Musical Satire Can Also Be Good Pop

Outside of Phoenix and Los Angeles, most people have never heard of Mike Condello – and that’s a shame.  Although best known as musical director of children’s TV show, The Wallace and Ladmo Show, Condello is also notable for beating The Monkees to the punch by creating a Beatles knock-off group,  Hub Kapp & the Wheels, that also wrote some fun and original songs – like “Little Volks,” a wry retort to the hot rod and muscle car songs that were in vogue in the early 1960s.  Even Hub Kapp’s cover of the Beatles’ “What You’re Doin’ to Me” – the flip side of “Little Volks” – features a fresh arrangement and sound:

What You’re Doin’ – Hub Kapp & the Wheels

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle to hear ”What You’re Doin'” by Hub Kapp & the Wheels.]

                     Hub Kapp & the Wheels Live – note auto tire as Kick Drum

Hub Kapp & the Wheels - live

Thanks to Scram Magazine’s piece on Hub Kapp & the Wheels, I learned that their second 45 was produced by David Axelrod and released on Capitol, having been recorded in Hollywood at the label’s legendary studios.

The group’s similarity to the Beatles didn’t end with their sound

Hub Kapp & Wheels 45

Condello released his first proper solo album – Phase One – in 1968 on the Scepter label.  His next major release, No Bathing in Pond was released in 1984, interestingly, on Takoma Records – however, three years after visionary founder, John Fahey, had sold the label to Chrysalis.

Original-issue Hub Kapp & the Wheels vinyl releases trade for two figures at auction. – while one rare picture sleeve sold in 2014 for $199.

Hub Kapp Joins Steve Allen

Beatle Buddies: Not Actually Pals

Of all the records released in the wake of Beatlemania (click here for a comprehensive illustrated list of Beatles covers & cash-in albums) the one-and-only album by The Beatle Buddies easily wins the award for best cover, with its menacing take on Meet the Beatles:Beatle Buddies LP

Fortunately, mixed in with the Beatle covers, there are a few originals – such as,”I Waited“:

I Waited – The Beatle Buddies

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear ”I Waited” by The Beatle Buddies.]

Did the four young ladies enjoy a close personal relationship with the lads from Liverpool?   That’s a puzzle that might not ever get solved, as little to no information exists on the web about these four (unnamed) artists  – which only makes the back cover liner notes that much more hilarious in retrospect:

“The Beatles created one of the most phenomenal musical events since Elvis, and the whole world is infected with Beatle sounds.  Our contribution is unique in that we are offering the Beatle Buddies, a group of young gals that have their own sound, in the true Beatle tradition.  They have a distinct and definite originality in their presentation.  The girls are cute and very talented.  We think that their names and sound will last long after the Beatles are gone.  Listen to their harmony and style and we think you will agree that these girls are a real find in the recording business of today.  A single record is being prepared from this album which should be heard nationwide very soon.  So here we go — Beatle Buddies.

Perhaps the record label’s emphasis on quantity and affordability [“Diplomat Records – your best buy in entertainment”; “fine records need not be expensive”; “Diplomat recordings offer many additional hours of listening pleasure”] explains why Diplomat, with its limited finances, might resort to legally artistic marketing strategies.

And no doubt these strategies worked, as I can affirm firsthand as a tot when a close (and unsuspecting) family friend visited one day and brought with her a new “Beetles” album as an offering of joy for the youngest Beatlemaniac in the household – only to receive this:

Beatle Mania - The Liverpools