PBS’s excellent 4-hour documentary – Latin Music USA – did a wonderful job of pointing out just how little I knew about Latin American music and its history. Thanks to Will Hermes and his sweeping new history of the NYC music scene during a crucial 5-year period, 1973-1977, I have an even better appreciation for how the city’s rich fusion of Latin cultures – Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Columbian – created an exciting new popular dance music, salsa (on August 26, 1971 at NYC’s Cheetah Club, to be precise).
I am a little embarrassed to admit that my recent purchase of a 1976 Ronco hits LP, Sound Explosion, resulted in my first and only recording (though certainly not last) on legendary salsa label, Fania – Ray Barretto‘s “Guarare” from his 1975 LP, Barretto:
“Guarare” Ray Barretto 1975
Check out the sloppy typo on the cover:
First Latin Crossover Pop Song?
In 1961 Ray Barretto recorded “El Watusi” – a Top 20 hit and the first Latin song (according to thousands of web pages, although I find this hard to believe) to enter the Billboard charts. You can find this tune on Barretto’s 1962 Tico album, Charanga Moderna.
From what I can tell, this might be Ronco’s first hits compilation – Do It Now – from 1970:
When is the last time you’ve seen Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles on the same album? Not to mention Buffalo Springfield. And The Byrds.
Interesting to note that the Buffalo Springfield selection – Neil Young’s dark horse of a tune, “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” – was not even released as a single. Likewise with The Byrds and their horn-driven, anti-amphetamine cautionary tale, “Artificial Energy,” as opposed to one of their more jangly numbers. Come to think of it, Jimi Hendrix’s straight-ahead blues original, “Red House,” is also an unexpected choice for a hits mix (as is Eric Burdon’s deeply questioning and frankly bizarre, “When I Was Young“).
This album was once in our family record collection growing up – I have since obtained a cheap copy. Funny to re-read the notes on the back cover:
“This album is a celebration of life – a feeling of energy and love by the poets, artists and musicians who have joined together to speak up for a purpose – to relay the message against drug abuse. The DO IT NOW FOUNDATION is dedicated to helping fight this problem. Never before in the history of the recording industry have so many artists donated their services for a collage album [emphasis mine]. We wish to thank all those caring people, the record companies and music publishers, whose contributions went into making this album a reality.”
Do It Now includes a fairly robust mix of labels for a reissue compilation, although admittedly top heavy on the major label side:
Atco (Buffalo Springfield) – Bell (Crazy Elephant) – Buddah (Melanie; Five Stairsteps) – Capitol (Beatles) – Columbia (Donovan; Janis Joplin) – Mercury (Steam) – MGM (Eric Burdon) – RCA (Jefferson Airplane) – Scepter (BJ Thomas; Mel & Tim) – Stormy Forest (Richie Havens) – Uni (Neil Diamond) – Warner Bros. (The Association; Ides of March; Jimi Hendrix) – Westbound (Teegarden & Van Winkle) – White Whale (The Turtles).
Taking into account that Warner Brothers-Seven Arts purchased Atlantic/Atco in 1967, there are 13 different labels represented on Do It Now, which strikes me as on the high side. I wonder what the record is?
Anyway, one of the more interesting tracks on this hits compilation is “God, Love & Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Teagarden & Van Winkle from 1970 on the Westbound label:
“God, Love & Rock n’ Roll” Teegarden & Van Winkle 1970
Ed Ward makes this observation about the significance of Westbound once Motown shifted operations to the West Coast:
“Detroit in the late 1960s was a hotbed of talent, from the rock groups playing the Grande Ballroom to the soul talent vying for a deal with Motown, to numerous jazz groups at lounges all over town. But when Motown left for California in 1971, that talent was left with nowhere to record. But another label, Westbound Records, stuck around. In its eccentric way, it did its best to document black music as it changed in Detroit.”
Philanthropy Update: I am happy to report that the Do It Now Foundation is still going strong – click here to check out this public service announcement.from Frank Zappa about the dangers of amphetamine use on the Foundation’s home page.