One of the lesser-known practitioners of West Coast sunshine pop is Yellow Balloon, a group formed after-the-fact as a performing and touring vehicle for songwriter/producer, Gary Zekley, who released his own version (#25) of debut single, “Yellow Balloon,” in direct competition with Jan & Dean, whose version (#111) he felt to be lacking. Yellow Balloon released one album and 3 singles in 1967 for Canterbury, a label owned by Ken Handler – and financed by his Mattel Toys co-founder father, Elliott Handler.
Drummer Don Grady, in the middle of his 12-year run playing Robbie Douglas on TV’s My Three Sons, wrote the final track – “Junk Maker Shoppe” – on Yellow Balloon’s self-titled album, which was recorded at Western and Sound Recorders in Los Angeles and featured such top session musicians as Carol Kaye, Jerry Cole, Jim Gordon, Mike Post, Bob West, and Don Randi. “Junk Maker Shoppe,” interestingly, is the only song on the album where the band members play all the instruments themselves:
“Junk Maker Shoppe” Yellow Balloon 1967
45s Whose B-Side Consists of the A-Side Played Backwards:
– “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!” b/w “Aaah-Ah ,Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Er’yeht” by Napoleon XIV (1966)
– “Yellow Balloon” b/w “Noollab Wolley” by Yellow Balloon (1967)
– “Honey Love” b/w “Evol Yenoh” by Burt Walters [Lee “Scratch” Perry production] (1968)
In July of 1967, one month after the release of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe album, Johnny Seay went into Columbia’s Nashville recording studio to record one song – a singularly strange, slightly surrealistic Southern gothic tale. Listen for the ghostly train whistle near the end of the first verse, but under no circumstances should you look behind the bedroom door – you’ll be sorry:
“Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” Johnny Seay 1967
Curiously, Columbia chose to release “Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” as a single, as well as include it in their 1968 sampler LP, Welcome to Columbia Country.
I find 1969’s “It’s Time” by The Sons of Champlin to be very evocative of its time – there’s a similar uplift in tone and lyric (at least on the chorus) as with Sly & the Family Stone, both bands being from the Bay Area, coincidentally or not.
It’s Time – The Sons of Champlin
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play ”It’s Time” by The Sons of Champlin.]
Nice use of church chimes in the run-up to the chorus. This song was the A-side of a 1969 Capitol 45 – the third of four singles for that label – and included on the band’s second album, The Sons.
As it turns out, the similarity in spirit to Sly is not coincidental – so say the historians at the Soul Tracks website:
The Sons of Champlin arose in the late 60s out of a dynamic Bay Area music scene that was most noted for psychedelic rock acts like Jefferson Airplane, but which was also the home of groups like Sly & the Family Stone and Tower of Power that were changing the face of soul music, taking James Brown’s funk introductions to the next level of assimilation in popular music. The Sons of Champlin were caught somewhere between the two groups, resembling the look and often the lyrics of the former but always clearly displaying their affinity for soul music.
The unrelenting verbal onslaught of 1978’s “Bin Wieder Frei” by German heartthrob, Benny, immediately made me think of Joey Levine’s famous feat of rapid-fire elocution from 1974, “Life is a Rock” (But the Radio Rolled Me) – which later helped inspire REM’s “End of the World (As We Know It)” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire“:
“Bin Wieder Frei” Benny 1978
I think it’s fair to say that Bob Dylan helped open the door for this sort of lyrical bombardment with the release of his landmark 1965 single, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” especially its iconic promotional video with Dylan himself holding oversized flash cards of the song’s key lyrics. But who before Dylan dazzled listeners with similar demonstrations of verbal dexterity at breakneck speeds?
Chet Atkins‘s guitar sounds mighty and majestic when propelled by the infectious, burbling rhythms of an unnamed organist in this treatment of “Bye Bye Birdie” from Chet’s 1963 album, Teen Scene — dig that groovy roller rink organ sound.
Allison Anders’ 1996 fictional film, Grace of My Heart – a clever and heartfelt tribute to the great sounds of the 1960s and early 70s – features original songs that take their inspiration from Brill Building & girl group pop, as well as Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” British Invasion beat groups, and confessional singer-songwriter balladry that later set the stage for “adult contemporary” pop. The soundtrack’s effectiveness is due, in part, to the fact that a number of songs were written by veteran songwriters of the classic pop era in collaboration with more contemporary artists, as in the case of “God Give Me Strength,” which was written by Burt Bacharach with Elvis Costello.
“Take a Run at the Sun” – a deft blend of surf and theremin that is one of the soundtrack’s highlights – was written and performed by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and is notable for sounding nothing like the gargantuan guitar roar for which the 90s “alternative” rock trio is famous:
The following year saw the release of a Dinosaur Jr. 3-song single (in the UK and Australia only) which featured “Take a Run at the Sun” as the A-side with “Don’t You Think It’s Time” and “The Pickle Song” on the flip side.
As soon as I picked up this album and felt the lightweight textured paper, I knew right away that this record was from outside the “West” – in this case, Romania:
Much of this album is a mystery since there are practically no credits, but I’m guessing it came out in the mid-to-late 70s.
Check out the song selections – and Johnny Cash’s looming shadow:
1. “Give My Love to Rose” (Johnny Cash from his Sun catalog); 2. “Oh Susanna”; 3. “Frank[y] and Johnny” (song made famous by Johnny Cash but actually over 100 years old); 4. “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain”; 5. “Jackson” (Johnny Cash yet again)
6. “She’s Gone”; 7. “Sunday Morning Coming [to] Down” (also made famous by Cash); 8. “My Old Kentucky Home”; 9. “Willow Tree”; 10. “Red River Valley”; 11. “Paper Roses”
It says “greatest hits,” so it gives the appearance of being a compilation of various artists. But then you listen to it and find out there is but one artist.
In 1966 brother and sister duo, Nino Tempo & April Stevens, left Atco for White Whale, a label then enjoying commercial success with The Turtles. White White demonstrated their eagerness to do business with Nino and April by allowing them complete artistic freedom in the recording studio. “All Strung Out,” the title track of their White Whale debut LP, also reached #26 on the Billboard‘s pop singles chart.
This song – which was originally offered to the Righteous Brothers as the follow-up single to their huge hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” – was recorded at Hollywood’s Gold Star studios by legendary recording engineers, Larry Levine and Stan Ross, along with the usual top-notch support from some of LA’s finest session musicians. Hear the final mix yourself in this (mimed) performance on TV’s Lloyd Thaxton Show in the summer of 1966. Interesting to note that Vinnie Barbarino enjoyed a hit cover version in 1977 under the title, “All Strung Out on You.”
How surprising to learn that one of the album’s tracks, “Alone Alone” – a song brimming with obvious hit potential – was never released as a single:
“Alone Alone” Nino Tempo & April Stevens 1966
Very effective use of steel drums on the instrumental riff that opens and closes the song. Tune was written by John Dalton & Gary Montgomery – produced by Nino Tempo.
Six Degrees of Syd Nathan
Sometimes it seems as if just about everyone has passed through Syd Nathan’s King Records at some point in their career, even if just for one or two singles. April Stevens, as it turns out, released two singles on King in 1953 that were also issued in the UK on Parlophone (future home of The Beatles):  “C’est Si Bon” b/w “Soft Warm Lips”; and  “How Could Red Riding Hood (Have Been So Very Good)” b/w “You Said You’d Do It (Are You Gonna).” Those two singles, however, were preceded by April’s King debut – “Hot Tamale” b/w “Treat Me Nice.” Fascinating to discover that one of two unissued tracks in King’s vaults is “Wanting You,” a fantastic dance track that April later recorded for MGM in 1967 and that was originally (now, hold onto your hats) an Oscar Hammerstein song from the 1928 operetta, The New Moon! Sadly, “Wanting You” didn’t burn up the charts, although it was later vindicated as a classic track of the UK Northern Soul music scene.
Brothers Curly and Bobby Hachey were natives of Atholville, New Brunswick. Performing early on as the “Sunset Playboys,” by the 1950s they were known as the Hachey Brothers and gained a great deal of exposure performing with Willie Lamothe as his backup band. Bobby Hachey remained with Willie Lamothe for many years and became legendary in Quebec for his virtuosity as a lead guitarist.
Pickin’ Strings Country Style was released in 1958 in Canada (on the Banff label) and in the US (on Rodeo International) and although it contains no personnel listings, it pictures (left to right) Fernand Thibault on tenor banjo (also played violin), Bobby Hachey on mandolin (also played lead electric guitar), Curly Hachey on rhythm guitar and Mary Lou Farrah on upright bass.