Naomi Neville = Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint was the headlining act for the 2009 Silver Spring Jazz Festival.  At that time, the festival venue was the parking lot behind the facade of the old JC Penney building, just prior to its conversion (using millions of taxpayer dollars) into the LiveNation concert facility that would be branded (cynically) as “The Fillmore.”

Thanks to Silver Spring Neighborhoods Blog for the great photo

Allen Toussaint @ 2009 Jazz FestivalTaking in Toussaint’s performance in 2009, I was struck by how all-encompassing his music is, the totality of its sweep:  jazz, blues, New Orleans second line, gospel, funk, pop, country, and even a big of ragtime thrown in for good measure.

Funny to recall that, even as an obsessed teenage fan of The Who, I would inadvertently make Allen Toussaint’s acquaintance via The Who’s live arrangement of “Fortune Teller” from a bootleg album of their April, 1968 performance at New York City’s Fillmore East.

Toussaint’s recent passing is an enormous loss, and his legacy – as Atlantic Monthly noted – is “unassailable.”  Fortunately, for humankind, Toussaint has left a vast treasure chest.  But rather than unscroll a long list of song titles that attest to Toussaint’s impressive handiwork as a songwriter, musician and producer, I thought it might be better to simply hit you with one good song at a time – such as 1965‘s infectious “The Word Game” by Benny Spellman:

“The Word Game”      Benny Spellman     1965

Toussaint’s playful take on Shirley Ellis‘s near-number one hit at the time, “The Name Game” is ripe (as this YouTube clip’s paltry numbers show) for rediscovery.   The “B” Side tells us that the song “bubbled under the Hot 100 for awhile” but never really charted, despite the endorsements of such influential disc jockeys as Johnny Bee (WBOK, New Orleans) and Chuck Cunningham (WLOU, Louisville).  As Home of the Groove explains it:

“It has been reported that ‘The Word Game’ did alright around New Orleans; and maybe it could possibly have sparked a flash of oppositional game-song fever across the land, except for a major monkey wrench.  While Atlantic agreed to release this single, it doesn’t seem they did much more than test-market it as a promo (as seen in the [image below] – you rarely run across a stock copy), and took no pains to promote it – that is, pay anybody elsewhere to play it.  That’s too bad, not because “The Word Game” really deserved to be a hit, but because it kept DJs from paying enough attention to flip the record over and discover the side that should have gotten the attention [i.e., ‘I Feel Good’].”

    Originally issued on New Orleans’ indie, Alon … and then picked up by Atlantic

Benny Spellman 45-bBenny Spellman 45-a

“The Word Game” is one of dozens of songs penned by Toussaint using his mother’s name, Naomi Neville.

Who could, of course, forget Dylan’s producer, Bob Johnston, mangling “The Name Game” to great comical effect the following year?

Arif Mardin @ Muscle Shoals

Arif Mardin is a renowned producer, arranger, and music executive who also – surprisingly enough – recorded a couple solo albums for Atlantic.  This hard-hitting instrumental arrangement of Lennon’s “Glass Onion” (from the Beatles’ “White Album“) would be used as the (1) kick-off tune, (2) title track, and (3) debut single for Arif Mardin as a solo artist:

“Glass Onion”     Arif Mardin     1969

Wait a minute, it’s 1969:  wasn’t Arif Mardin legally obligated to record this album in Muscle Shoals using local musicians?  Billboard confirmed this to be true in its August 9, 1969 edition:

“Five musicians — Jimmy Johnson, guitarist; Eddie Hinton, guitarist; David Hood, bassist; Roger Hawkins, drummer; Barry Beckett, keyboards — have grouped to open the new Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway.  They have already backed up Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, and Sam & Dave, as well as Arif Mardin’s Glass Onion album for Atlantic.”

Arif Mardin solo LPThe Guardian ‘s Garth Cartwright points out the album’s ageless appeal in his 2006 obituary for Mardin:

In 1969 he released the first of two solo albums, Glass Onion, whose relaxed jazz flavours found British popularity in 1996 when the song ‘How Can I Be Sure?’ became a UK lounge hit in clubs.

In 1974 Mardin was paired with a struggling Scottish soul group, the Average White Band.  His production emphasised their bright brass and dynamic rhythms, taking them to the top of the US album and singles charts.”

Beatles 1967 Trivia Funfest!

It only occurred to me recently that legendary 1967 Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s, did not yield a single 45 – the only (legitimate) Beatles album to do so.  The greater truth, however, is that (1) “Strawberry Fields” b/w “Penny Lane” would have been included on the album had the band not have felt pressured to release these two tracks as a single to maintain their standing in the marketplace and (2) Italy, of all places, just might be the one and only country to issue a single in 1967 using Sgt. Pepper material:  the title track as the A-side with “A Day in the Life” (naturally) as the flip side [45Cat contributor informs us:  “juke box promo with unique edit of title track”].

The only 7-inch Sgt. Pepper single release from 1967?

Beatles Italian 45Other fun and interesting Beatle-related moments from 1967 would likely include:

= This whimsical German 45 picture sleeve, whose design gets high marks for creativity:Beatles 45-e= This Italian 45, whose picture sleeve is likewise imaginative and befitting of the music:

Beatles 45-l= This South African 45 picture sleeve, conversely, whose depicted moptop is easily (and hysterically) two years behind the beat:

Beatles 45-h= These two other German singles, whose photos are strangely and humorously out of sync with the song titles listed on the picture sleeves:

Beatles 45-a1Beatles 45-a1a

= This Norwegian single, whose playful design features Beatle Sgt. Pepper heads cut by hand using pre-digital technology:

Beatles 45-c = This Argentinian single, whose “Penny Lane” would require no translation, while its flip side – “Strawberry Fields Forever” – would find itself re-titled, amusingly, as “Frutillas!

Beatles 45-bbBeatles 45-b

= This picture sleeve for the “Hello Goodbye” / “I Am the Walrus” single that was issued, fascinatingly, in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Beatles 45-f= This Yugoslavian 45 picture sleeve, whose design accurately conveys the historic importance of “Our World” – the first live international satellite television production, for which The Beatles performed “All You Need Is Love” – albeit in an oddly quaint Soviet style:

Beatles 45-dThis Bolivian EP for “Penny Lane” and “Frutillas”, whose sleeve wins (by a whisker) the award for least accurately depicting the artists themselves at the time of release:

Beatles 45-iSadly, no one told Austria that “go go” was out, and “hippie” was now officially in:

Beatles 45-j

“Bumpin’ on Sunset”: Organ + Strings

Thanks to brother Bryan for tipping me to a book that, amazingly, has only been written in the last couple years:  Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip.  What took so long?  Sadly, most of us music fanatics who live on this side of the Mississippi have never had the opportunity to see these larger-than-life art pieces that announced the arrival of the “important” pop albums of the day.  Author, Robert Landau, points out these billboards (1) were all hand painted – no digital printing in those days – and (2) remained on display for only a month or so before these panels would be whitewashed and painted over.  Because, you know, it’s only popular music and nobody with any serious money would be interested in purchasing these one-off creations.

Rock & Roll BillboardsCollectors Weekly‘s March 10, 2015 edition features a very entertaining and informative interview in which we learn that Landau’s first billboard photograph, incredibly, was of The Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road cover — shortly before the removal of Paul’s head, which would take place when the “Paul is Dead” hysteria was at its peak.  Shrewdly, Capitol Records decided to leave the bassist beheaded.  Sales, unsurprisingly, did not suffer.  The vandal with the hacksaw who held the only remaining piece of that billboard — Robert Quinn – finally surfaced in 2012 to claim a signed hardback copy of Landau’s book.

Paul's HeadIncredibly, no songs appear to have been written about those beloved Sunset Strip billboards – although Brian Auger and Trinity did release a groovy little organ number that I can only guess was inspired by a cruise down Los Angeles’ most famous boulevard:

Brian Auger & Trinity     “Bumpin’ on Sunset”     1969

Bumpin’ on Sunset” – a Wes Montgomery cover – served as the B-side of “What You Gonna Do?” in the UK, US & Spain — except in the Netherlands, curiously, where it triumphed as the A-side, paired instead with Auger and the boys’ take on Lennon & McCartney’s “A Day in the Life.”

Note the use of the “Future Shock” typeface for the cover of their 1969 long-player, Definitely What!, on which you will also find “Bumpin’ on Sunset.”