1973: The Year Pop Reggae Broke

You can count on one hand the number of times that reggae singles by Jamaican artists have cracked the Top 40 here in the States:  “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker in 1969 (#9) and  “Double Barrel” by Dave Barker and Ansel Collins in 1971 (#22).  Two times (*actually, three – see postscript at bottom).  Even Bob Marley & the Wailers were only able to penetrate the top 100 pop charts once (“Roots Rock Reggae” #51 in 1976), while hitting top 40 on the “dance” charts twice with 1977’s “Waitin’ in Vain” (#38) & 1980’s “Could You Be Loved” (#6) and once on the “R&B” charts with “Exodus” in 1977 (#19).  Any others from the classic era?  I don’t think so.

But what about those moments when non-Jamaican artists infused reggae rhythms into pop music?   Paul Simon kind of cheated and got top Jamaican session players to inject his top ten 1971 hit, “Mother and Child Reunion,” with authentic early reggae sounds.    Texas-American, Johnny Nash, who cracked the top 40 in 1972 with his hit, “I Can See Clearly Now,” had an even bigger rocksteady hit, believe it or not, in 1968 (#21) with “Hold Me Tight.”   Paul McCartney & Wings released one of my favorite songs of the summer of 1973 – “Live and Let Die” – which featured a “cod reggae” bit in the bridge.  And let us not forget that when Paul played with his prior outfit, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” on 1968’s White Album was intended to be a Beatle take on what was then the new reggae sound.  Eric Clapton, I almost forgot, had a huge hit in 1974 with his cover of Bob Marley’s, “I Shot the Sheriff,” and Elton John, it is worth noting, jumped on the pop reggae bandwagon in 1975 with his reggae-esque chorus near the end of his hit version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

But let us also pay special note to almighty Led Zeppelin’s tribute to the hot reggae sounds of 1973, “D’yer Maker” – which the overwhelming majority of Americans, myself included, had no idea was a Londoner’s playful pronunciation of the name, Jamaica (scamps).  Actually, the song title was inspired by the following joke, an exchange between two friends:  “My wife’s gone to the West Indies.”  “Jamaica?” (“D’you make her?”)  “No, she went of her own accord.”

On the Warner Brothers sampler album, Appetizers, you will find the Incredible String Band doing a very credible take on the early reggae sound – although with a distinctly British lilt – on an instrumental named, “Second Fiddle,” a track originally included on the group’s 1973 Island album, No Ruinous Feud:

The band lists the song’s author as Duke Reid – famed owner of top rocksteady label, Treasure Isle – and Wikipedia confirms that the song is, indeed, a cover version.  However, it is interesting to note that when you look at the label of the original Treasure Isle 45 – such as in this vinyl video – “Drumbago Cannonball” is listed as the sole tunesmith.

1973 just might be the tipping point for the use of reggae in American pop music, as this article – “Reggae Be the Rage?” – by Robert Christgau (the “Dean of American Rock Critics”) would seem to indicate.

Bonus video link to Johnny Nash’s TV performance of “Hold Me Tight” with go-go dancing accompaniment – and fantastic musical backing by pioneering guitarist Lyn Taitt & his fabulous Jets.

Any other pop reggae moments on the US Hot 100 charts?

Wait a minute!  Jimmy Cliff was brought to my attention, and after a check of the charts – and this should come as no surprise – two hits from 1969’s Wonderful World Beautiful People:  the title track (#25) and “Come Into My Life” (#89).  Thus, we now have a total of three US top 40 hits from reggae’s 1960s-70s classic era.

Hank Thompson: Western Swing’s Dean of Diction

In my prior post about the Nashville Chowdown LP, I mentioned that back in the early 70s jazz singer Blossom Dearie’s  “exceptional annunciation” was being put to good use in the singing rice-ipe radio ads.  If Blossom Dearie had a male counterpart, that person would undoubtedly be Hank Thompson, whose singing style is distinguished by equally excellent articulation.

Someone once humorously described Hank and his band, the Brazos Valley Boys, as a honky tonk band disguised as a western swing outfit – funny because it’s true.  Anyway, here’s one of Hank’s more playful songs – from an earlier time in American popular culture, lyrically speaking – although I have to admit I only just now learned that it is a cover of a Bud Alden & the Buckeroos 1956 recording.  This tune, “Squaws Along the Yukon,” was the A-side of a 1958 Capitol single (with Merle Travis on guitar) that was later included in Hank’s 1960 album, Most of All:

Talk about a classic cover:Six Pack o' Hank

Here’s a bonus video link to Hank’s live performance of “Six Pack to Go” at the Opry:

Ralph Emery Messes with Joe Stampley’s Head

Normally, I have no patience for vinyl records that are divorced from their album jackets, but I once took a chance on three loose LPs – a transcription of a syndicated radio show from 1977 – and was richly rewarded.  But only because I spent my first 28 years in Cincinnati and am intimately familiar with the city’s streetscape.  It was almost as if my finding this particular item in a Berkeley Springs, West Virginia charity shop was divinely orchestrated as some sort of cosmic contest for this music-obsessed former Cincinnatian, for I had to wade through several hours of a broadcast of Ralph Emery‘s weekly radio show from January 24, 1977 to find this moment.  And what a moment it is.  But, again – only if you know the street layout of Cincinnati’s core business district.

Nine Songs About Her — Plus One About Cincinnati

joe-stampley-lpOn this particular episode of The Ralph Emery Show, Ralph’s special guest is Joe Stampley, who is promoting his latest album, Ten Songs About Her.  At one point in the broadcast, Ralph wants to talk about the story behind the title of the song, “Apartment #4, Sixth Street & Cincinnati” with Stampley, who is completely unprepared for the ambush that awaits him.  As it turns out, Ralph (and I, too) know that “Apartment #4, Sixth Street & Cincinnati” is a non-existent street address – mainly since there is no street by the name of Cincinnati anywhere within the city limits.  But Stampley doesn’t know that.

Joe, who is from Springhill, Louisiana, innocently insists that the song title is the actual location of the girlfriend of a person connected to Norro Wilson, one of the tune’s main songwriters (so says Stampley – although according to this source, Bobby Braddock is the sole tunesmith).  But, Ralph Emery doesn’t come right out and bust Joe.  Nor does he exactly help Joe save face either.  Instead, Emery slyly inquires, “You mean this would be, ‘Apartment #4, Sixth Street in Cincinnati’?”   Stampley, however, pretends not to understand what Ralph is getting at and simply answers, “Right,” but you can tell that by now he is getting wind that the host is pricking his balloon with all the nitpicking over the song’s title.  You can actually hear the air escaping.  So much so that by the time you can hear him declare, “It’s kind of a clever idea, I think” over the opening strains of the song, Joe is audibly deflated – and sadly unconvincing.  It’s a fascinating moment, and one that illustrates why radio is a rare medium when it’s well done.

Apt #4, Sixth St & Cincinnati – Joe Stampley

[Click on the triangle above to hear Ralph Emery grill Joe Stampley about the song title, “Apartment #4, Sixth Street & Cincinnati“]

Ralph Emery Show

Maryla Rodowicz: Hippy Dippy Pop from Poland

Debated whether to buy this album for a buck, since I know next to nothing about Polish pop music, but ultimately I was swayed by the clothing and hairstyles, which needed no translation:

Maryla Rodowicz-b

Would you be stunned to learn that this album was released in 1969?  There are some surprisingly contemporary sounds amongst these songs – fascinating to see which elements of Western culture were able to penetrate “the Iron Curtain” at that time.

Yes, this group is named for the singer on the front cover:

Maryla Rodowicz-a

How interesting to find that this album predates the extensive list of Maryla’s recordings on Wikipedia that begins in 1970 and continues through 2011.  I found one track in particular, “Za Gorami” (“Over the Hills”), to be rather evocative of its time:

Maryla Rodowicz – Za Gorami

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Za Gorami” by Maryla Rodowicz.]

Dave & Sugar: They Love to Be Loved by You

Picked up this 1977 album on RCA primarily due to the act’s name – Dave & Sugar – as well as groovy threads:

Dave & Sugar

I only invested a dollar, so my heart wasn’t crushed when I skimmed through the tracks on side one and just wasn’t feeling it.  However, side two opener, “Love to Be Loved by You,” was an unexpectedly catchy slice of disco-flavored country pop, and – despite my own inner protest – I found myself liking it.  Seemed the obvious album highlight.

Amazingly, RCA released two singles from this album – and “Love to Be Loved by You” was nowhere to be found, not even as a B-side:

Dave & Sugar – Love to Be Loved By You

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Love to Be Loved by You” by Dave & Sugar.]

It’s not too late to register your disappointment – contact RCA today c/o

RCA Music Group
550 Madison Avenue
New York, NY  10022

“Tar and Cement”: Eco-Soul or Soul-Folk?

In the course of putting together a funk & soul mix, I previewed the songs on a 1960s Capitol Records compilation album entitled, Super Soul-Dees!  Volume 2:

Super Soul-Dees LP

One song in particular seemed to stand apart from the other tracks:  “Tar and Cement” by Verdelle Smith.  Certainly, Capitol’s 1960s soul roster skewed toward the pop end of the spectrum, but even this tune caught me by surprise with its folk-y sound and especially its lyric:  a cautionary tale about the deep hit to the spirit that can occur when we convert nature’s beautiful landscapes into urban spaces.

As it turns out, “Tar and Cement” is an English-language version of an Italian pop song, “Il ragazzo della via Gluck,” originally sung by Adriano Celentano.  Both songs were released in 1966, and Verdelle Smith’s version even went Top 40 here in the States — although you never hear it on oldies radio.  Why is that, I wonder – it’s a beautiful vocal and great tune:

Based on this Australian’s first-hand account, it would appear to be true that Verdelle’s version, indeed, really did go all the way to the top of the National pop charts in Australia.

Verdelle Smith

Bonus video link to cover version by fab French singer, Françoise Hardy.

“Dimension 5ive”: Sunshine Pop’s Progressive Peak?

There’s something special about the song, “Dimension 5ive” by the 5th Dimension.     Lush vocals from start to finish – and yet it’s technically not a “vocal” tune, as there are no lyrics.  Yet, neither is it an instrumental.

This song is the closing track on the 5th Dimension’s 1970 album, Portrait, for which LeRoy Neiman provided an impressionistic color portrait for the front cover, a minimalist black line drawing for the back cover, and 8 color sketches of the group at work in the studio for the album’s gatefold: Fifth Dimension-aa

Bones Howe is once again behind the board, but there’s a new person to appear prominently in the credits on a 5th Dimension album:  Bob Alcivar.  Not only did he arrange all the album’s vocals, but he also wrote the song, “Dimension 5ive.”   Here’s the group rehearsing at Bob’s house:Fifth Dimension-bb

Check out the song:

Roy Orbison (is) The Fastest Guitar Alive

For a modest sum, I picked up this Roy Orbison soundtrack for the 1967 motion picture – Fastest Guitar Alive – and was surprised by the quality of songs from start to finish:

Fastest Guitar Alive

All ten songs on the album are Roy Orbison originals – seven written specifically for the film plus three more to complete the soundtrack album.  The liner notes tell us that the film music’s “composer,” a recording star with 24,000,000 sales under his belt, makes his debut screen appearance in The Fastest Guitar Alive in a starring role as Johnny Banner – “a young guitar-strumming Rebel officer whose guitar converts conveniently into a rifle to fight off attacking Indians.”

In boasting of Orbison’s songwriting prowess (“every song the Wink, Texas phenomenon sings in concert or on records these days is his own composition”), the record label momentarily forgets that the microphone’s still on, so to speak, when it publicly reveals (in legalese, no less) the grueling contractual arrangement under which our hero, the Big O, must labor on a yearly basis:  “Inasmuch as he is committed to recording 40 songs a year for MGM (three albums comprising 10 songs each, plus ten singles) he may furnish as many as 70 songs in any one year from which to select the required 40.”

Perhaps realizing just how onerous that last statement might sound, the label then tries to soften its image as grim taskmasters by capping off the album’s liner notes with this brilliant bit of spin:  “Roy knew the plot for The Fastest Guitar Alive months before actual production began. This gave him ample time in which to produce the seven new songs for the production.”  Sure thing, whatever you say.

Here is Roy’s great title track to the film:

Bonus video link to a 13-minute clip of Roy singing 6 songs from the film, The Fastest Guitar Alive.

Joe Pass: Unlikely Mid-60s Stones Fan

If you search the web for information about a 1966 album on the World Pacific label by jazz guitar great, Joe Pass – The Stones Jazz – you will generally see uniform agreement that this album was recorded on July 20, 1966.  I love that:  one day to record an entire album.   Around this same time period, the Beatles had just finished recording an album – Revolver – that had taken 77 times longer than The Stones Jazz to record.

Stones Jazz - Joe Pass

On the back cover there are 10 Stones songs listed – all but one of them from their fertile 1965-1966 period:

“Lady Jane”; “I Am Waiting”; “19th Nervous Breakdown”; “Not Fade Away”; “As Tears Go By”; “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”; “Play With Fire”; “Paint It, Black”; “What a Shame”; and “Mother’s Little Helper.”

Mysteriously, the 11th song is not even mentioned,  even though it’s the best song on the album – and the only Joe Pass original, “Stones Jazz”:

It’s nice to see four trombone players listed on the album credits with tenor sax being the only other member of the horn section.  Album engineered by Bruce Botnick.

Joe Pass:  Guitar
Dennis Budimir:  Guitar
John Pisano:  Guitar
Ray Brown:  Bass
John Guerin:  Drums
Victor Feldman:  Percussion
Bob Florence:  Piano
Bill Perkins:  Tenor Sax
Milt Bernhardt:  Trombone
Dick Hamilton:  Trombone
Herbie Harper:  Trombone
Gale Martin:  Trombone

Nashville Chowdown: Rice’s Great Image Makeover

I cannot imagine why anyone would let this album go, but someone obviously did, and five dollars later, we became family:

Nashville-Chowdown

The album’s subtitle is a bit of a hoot:  “country & western supper music and singing rice-ipes” (as in recipes for rice).  Would you be surprised to learn that this album is yet another “Columbia Special Product” – in this case, CBS Records teaming up with the fine folks at Riviana’s Brands to market rice more effectively to American women and help counter public perception among down-home Americans that rice is “difficult to cook”?

According to the press release that came with my particular copy of Nashville Chowdown: “The singing rice-ipe was first used a year ago (1969) in radio spots in the New York Metropolitan area for Carolina Rice … In collaboration with Riviana’s home economist, Mrs. Judy Youngblood, the agency submitted musical ideas for ‘singing rice-ipes’:  bossa nova for a Latin American rice dish; Caribbean, Hawaiian, Hindu and Country & Western for their special dishes.  Mrs. Youngblood then developed a recipe, copywriter Mike Hale wrote lyrics, and Arnold Brown, director of recording, supervised the appropriate musical arrangements.”  As of February 1970, the Carolina rice campaign was still running with singer, Blossom Dearie, the voice on all these spots – chosen “because of her versatility in different styles and her exceptional annunciation.”

Back when this musical ad campaign took place, $1.50 and proof-of-purchase from any Riviana rice product got you this “doubly unusual” musical package:  one 10-song LP of hits from many of the biggest country artists in the Columbia stable (Lefty Frizzell, Flatt & Scruggs, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy Dean); one 7″ flexi-disc record that contains 7 singing rice-ipes (including such dishes as Houston Hash, Hopping John, and Blue Ridge Flap-Jacks); plus one double-sided document listing the actual recipes for each of the 7 flexi-disc selections on one side with song lyrics to the singing rice-ipes on the the other (“Houston Hash,” as it turns out, is a truck driving song).  And, if you’re lucky like I was, you might also end up with a 4-page strategy document put together by Biderman Associates on behalf of Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, who “conceived, produced and designed” this “full-scale record promotion … a real first in the industry”:

Nashville Chowdown Strategy Document

One song on the “supper music” LP does seem to steal the show – the Carter Family’s upbeat and fresh arrangement of The Man in Black’s “I Walk the Line,” first released as a single in 1966:

I Walk the Line – The Carter Family

Also for your enjoyment is the singing rice-ipe for “Houston Hash” from the flexi-disc — keep in mind that you will need to add 1 tsp. of chili powder plus salt & pepper when you add the can of tomatoes and 1 cup of rice to your green pepper, onion and ground beef saute:

Houston Hash – Riviana All-Stars

[Pssst:  Click on the triangles above to play (1) “I Walk the Line” and (2) “Houston Hash.”]

Bonus recipe for Hopping John:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas; 1/4 lb. (4 slices) smoked bacon; 1 medium onion (chopped); 3/4 cup chopped celery; 1 small bay leaf; 2-3 cups of water; 1/4 tsp. pepper; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1 cup uncooked rice.

In saucepan, combine all ingredients except rice.  Simmer until peas are tender (1-2 hours).  Meanwhile, cook rice as package directs.  Combine cooked peas, cooked rice, and some of the liquid from peas.  Simmer several minutes to blend flavors.  Makes 6-8 servings.

Nashville Chowdown flexi-disc