“Rockin’ in Baghdad”: Another Missed Opportunity for “Irony”

Speaking of old songs that take on a whole new meaning when considered against a modern geopolitical context (see previous post about Cat Stevens), Capitol released a 45 in 1957 that featured a B-side – “Rockin’ in Baghdad” – that I very well could have imagined playing in the background during the military invasion of Iraq’s capital in 2003:

It would appear that virtually no one during the initial occupation of Iraq – aside from a college student named Ken – seemed aware of this groundbreaking Middle-Eastern-meets-rockabilly-rave-up written by upstart singer and guitar picker, Jerry Reed.

Jerry Reed 45Over in Baghdad in the burning sand
We’ve got a new kinda rhythm that’s real cool and
They put a beat to the rhythm of their ancient land
Then what do they get, a crazy style
And it’s driving old Baghdad wild
They’re rockin’ in Baghdad, having a ball
Jumping in Baghdad, climbing the wall

Baghdad’s rocking tonight
Doing that boogie up right

They’re going like mad, a-rocking in old Baghdad
A long time ago back in old Baghdad
The dance of the seven veils was the fad
The sultan got hip to these rhythm and blues
And now he’s got a pair of rocking shoes
His harem is a-bopping to a boogie beat
They even got the camels hopping down the street
A snake charmer threw his little flute away
Got a guitar now and he’s learning to play
Something’s really happened in old Baghdad
‘Cause they’re doing that boogie

And they’re going like that
Baghdad’s rocking tonight

Would Somebody Please Get Cat Stevens a Gun?

During the first phase of the Iraq War when tensions were really high, we all remember the news media having a field day when Mr. Peace Train himself, the former Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam), was discovered to be on the US government’s no-fly list and considered to have “possible terror ties.”  Islam’s flight from London to Washington, DC ended up being diverted to Bangor, Maine, where he was interviewed by federal agents, and then placed on a plane back to London.

At the height of the hullabaloo, I waited with nervous anticipation for certain media figures – Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Jon Stewart – to pounce on one particular song from Cat Stevens’ 1967 debut album that could easily have taken the sensationalism to a whole new level … and yet no one ever did, to my knowledge:

For example, in this October 7, 2004 interview with Larry King, right away it becomes obvious that neither King nor his staff did any research into Stevens’ past work when he asks Islam, “Did you write your own material?”

Of course, you can find message board and news story comments from around that period of time that point out the “irony” of a prominent pacifist threatening to get a gun so he can exact revenge on his transgressors – seemingly oblivious to the fact that Stevens had written the song in character as a commentary on the danger of a disgruntled person with access to firearms.  But overall, amazingly, shout-y media were asleep at the switch, or so it would seem, on this one detail.

Adding a slight bit of absurdism to this story is the comic abundance of evidence linking Cat Stevens with the potentially inflammatory song title, “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun” – no fewer than 10 different 45 picture sleeves, in fact.

Cat Stevens 45-aaa

Cat Stevens 45-bbbCat Stevens 45-cccCat Stevens 45-ddd

Cat Stevens 45-eeeCat Stevens 45-fffCat Stevens 45-ggg

Cat Stevens 45--hhhCat Stevens 45--iiiCat Stevens 45--jjj

“Hitchcock Railway”: Train Line of Liberation

“Hitchcock Railway” – the A-side of a 1968 RCA single by José Feliciano released here and abroad – made the Top 100 here in the US (#77) and Top 40 in Australia (#24):

Musical Personnel

Jose FeLiciano – Vocals, Guitar

Ray brown – string Bass

Jim gordon – drums

Jim horn – flute improvisations & recorder

mike melvoin – organ & horn arrangements

milt holland – percussion (elsewhere on album)

                                *                          *                          *                          *

Hitchcock Railway 45“Hitchcock Railway” kicks off side two of 1968’s, Souled — an album that hit #24 on the pop album chart, as well as #4 R&B chart, #34 Soul Album chart, and #5 on Canada’s pop chart.  As with Porter Wagoner, RCA would go on to release multiple albums per year by José Feliciano during the peak of his popularity —

                                       Staggering Output:  An RCA Thing

                                                  Year          # of albums
                                                  1965          1
                                                  1966          2
                                                  1967          3
                                                  1968          3
                                                  1969          4
                                                  1970          2
                                                  1971          4
                                                  1972          3
                                                  1973          2
                                                  1974          2

 

“Legend of the Big Steeple”: Spectacular Spire

Nice tremolo effect on the piano in this bittersweet tale (written by Charles Underwood) about how the good people eventually got their steeple:

The song, issued on an RCA 45 both in the States and overseas, was also included on Country Feeling, the second  of 4 albums [!] released in 1969 for Porter.

Country Feeling LP

                             Staggering Output:  A Country Music Thing

Porter Wagoner wasn’t the only country artist who released multiple albums a year; nevertheless his output in the mid-60s to early-70s was pretty prodigious:

Year          # of albums
1965          3
1966          5 + gospel album + hits package
1967          2
1968          5
1969          4
1970          5 + 1 hits package
1971          4 + 2 hits packages
1972          5
1973          4
1974          3

 

“Go Cat Go”: Norma Jean Co-opts the Rockabilly Battle Cry

I like how the beleaguered singer of this song ironically subverts the mythic rockabilly refrain, “Go Cat Go,” into a cry of liberation from her no-good, double-crossing partner:

Click on link to hear audio for “Go Cat Go” by Norma Jean

Go Cat Go 7-inch

Norma Jean’s demand for independence (penned by Harlan Howard) was a top-10 country hit from from her 1965 LP, Pretty Miss Norma Jean, her highest-charting album.

Norma Jean LP

“Me, Me, Me, Me, Me”: Honky Tonk Opera

Opera meets Opry in this self-centered song that opens Liz Anderson’s 1968 RCA album, Like a Merry Go Round:

“Me Me Me Me Me”     Liz Anderson     1968

“Me, Me, Me, Me, Me” also served as the B-side of Anderson’s “Cry, Cry Again” RCA 45.

Liz Anderson LP

It was my friend and indefatigable record collector, Tom Avazian, who pointed out that Liz Anderson not only wrote much of her own material but also a number of songs for her daughter, Lynn — including at least five songs that made top 40 on the country charts.

“Daily Nightly”: Mickey Dolenz, Moog Pioneer

The rap on the Monkees I remember growing up was that “they didn’t play their own instruments.”  While it is often true that seasoned session players provided much of the musical backing behind the Monkees’ vocal tracks, it is inaccurate and unfair to say that the Monkees didn’t bring their own musicianship, songwriting and sense of artistry to bear on their recordings, as evidenced by a song written by Mike Nesmith and embellished with Moog synthesizer lines played by Micky Dolenz – “Daily Nightly” – from 1967‘s Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.:

Along with “Reflections” from the Motown musicians backing Diana Ross’s Supremes (July 1967), “Nightly Daily” is one of those instances where pioneering artists were discovering exciting ways to incorporate Moog synthesizer into more radio-friendly fare.

Monkees 1967 album ad

Dolenz is considered the third person (if you kindly ignore Paul Beaver & Bernie Krause)  to purchase a Moog synthesizer behind (1) Walter/Wendy Carlos and (2) Buck [!] Owens.  According to the MonkeesSessionography website, Micky Dolenz superimposed his Moog treatments sometime between August/September onto a recording of “Daily Nightly” made at RCA Victor studio in Hollywood on June 19, 1967.

Micky Moog

      Truth & Accuracy Dept.

  •   Thanks to Dale Charles, I now know that Micky Dolenz was the 19th (not third) person/corporate entity to have purchased a Moog modular system – check out the customer list at this web link.
  •   On page 2 of the aforementioned Moog customer list, you can see that Motown purchased a Moog system in December 1967 – after the recording of “Reflections,” however.  Thanks to the Bob Moog Foundation’s fun & fascinating list of “Early Recordings Often Mistaken for a Moog,” I now know that the super cool sounds featured on “Reflections” were, instead, produced by an Eico audio oscillator, “with the engineer wailing on the dial.”

“Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead”: Sammy & Buddy, United in Battle

Sammy Davis, Jr. and Buddy Rich emerge triumphant a mere minute & forty-five seconds into this classic confrontation between good and evil:

Ernie Freeman, Arranger — George Rhodes, Conductor — Jimmy Bowen, Producer.

Sammy Davis & Buddy Rich LP

Amazing But True

Buddy Rich and his orchestra once played a concert at my high school in the late 70s – and I didn’t go.

“Day Song”: 4th Song Played by 1st Band at Woodstock

Richie Havens may have kicked off musical proceedings with his opening solo set, but Sweetwater, truth be told, is the first actual musical group that played the Woodstock Music & Art Fair on August 15, 1969.  According to Woodstock Wiki, “Day Song” is the fourth song they played:

Sweetwater

Reprise would release “Day Song” as the B-side to “Without Me” in March of 1971.

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