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RAWHIDE!

In history, television on March 27, 2015 at 12:16 am

Rawhide cattle logoToday maybe this western television series — filmed through its seven-year run (1959-66) in black and white — is best remembered for its theme song, and not even for its classic rendition by Frankie Laine but by nonsingers Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi of The Blues Brothers (1980). It seems a shameful travesty, as seen today — and I’ve been watching the entire run semi-religiously on the Turner Channel daily, sometimes twice a day for the especially good episodes — it easily holds its quality after all these years as the best western rerun, just shading Gunsmoke but utterly destroying the color extravaganzas Bonanza, High Chaparral and The Big Valley; with a nod to The Wild Wild West, very well done but as an interesting foray into a camp, period-set crime show that had more in common with The Man From Uncle, even Star Trek. The series was created by Charles Marquis “Bill” Warren, a writer who had begun in the business with MGM. Warren kept busy with television, turning out three classics among his five western series, the others being Gunsmoke and The Virginian; another not so bad was the later Iron Horse with Dale Robertson. On none of his projects did Warren stay more than one or two seasons, happy to move on to something new once his current series was established. As such, he must rate with Quinn Martin (The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Invaders) as among the most successful independent television producers of the 1960s.

Like virtually all successful American tv series that don’t drag through repetition for a whole season, Rawhide relied on seven or eight regulars to carry the stories as genuine ensemble efforts. Eric Fleming (33 when filming started) and Eastwood (28) dominated as the trail boss and his ramrod respectively, often alternating, though the older man commanded the screen as well as the drovers. The top-billed star’s personal story is a haunting one, from a boyhood filled with vicious physical abuse from his father, to traumatic military service and facial reconstruction surgery, to early accidental death by “drowning” in a raging river (several witnesses swear he was the victim of piranha attack) filming on location in South America. Sheb Wooley as trail scout Pete Nolan was a reliable third wheel with screen presence, almost as tall as the 6ft-3-to-4 Fleming and Eastwood and fit for romantic leads, but leaving in 1962 to further his considerable country & western career — though he had been a recognisable screen face from his role as the third doomed badguy in High Noon (1952) and made most money from disc novelties like “The Purple People Eater”. Steve Raines (as Jim Quince) and Rocky Shahan (as Joe Scarlett) had started as stuntmen and background expert horsemen and wranglers, but Raines shone in an often demanding role and early on performed as central character a number of times, a convincing westerner in the Fordesque mold and a more than competent actor. Even Mushy, the young naive (slow) “cook’s louse”, played appealingly but without mushy sentiment by James Murdock, was treated as an important character, having several stories built around him. A year or so younger than Clint in real life, Murdock was handsome too and over six feet, yet another slimline hunk to ensure covering every possible combination and permutation of demographic. In keeping with the historical veracity of cattle drives held paramount for the theme of the series throughout, little Robert Cabal as “Hey Soos” (Jesus, spelt phonetically) was in charge of the remuda (corral of working horses) and added many a fine coloring of Mexican folklore and trail superstition to the atmosphere. In his eyes, packs of wolves, rogue bulls roaming solo, patent medicine pedlars and travelling entertainment shows of Gypsies were never quite what they seemed, allowing for interpretation by the supernaturally inclined — much to the taste of the drovers but the constant derision of ever tough, level-headed trail boss Gil Favor. Far less conspicuous and never featured was John Hart, a semi-regular over two early seasons but trusted with few lines though yet another who was tall with movie-star looks and not without talent: on the slow road of neglect after having been tv’s fill-in Lone Ranger for two seasons while Clayton Moore ruminated over a pay dispute with the producers, and then again every boy’s small-screen hero in the Canadian-produced Hawkeye/Last of the Mohicans.

Bewhiskered Paul Brinegar (Wishbone the cook), always good value as comedy relief in westerns — seen in the Fifties as a regular sidekick of Hugh O’Brian on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp — and whose avuncular codger appeal a sizable section of Rawhide fans swore by, was a recognised star by 1964 and he and the two established principals toured Japan, where the series was number one in the ratings. In the States it was not as overwhelmingly popular as Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and Bonanza (1959-73), ratings toppers in turn for several years and all in color years before Rawhide folded; or a number of lesser western entries for that matter. Rawhide, a mid-season entry in the New Year of 1959, was an instant top 20 hit, peaking at no.6 for 1961, but then on a slow fade in domestic popularity despite a constant year-by-year improvement in overall production standards. And in the face of the fact that it was by far the most authentic western on tv through the Sixties including other vaunted candidates such as Gunsmoke, a revelation as the first adult western in 1955 and darkly noir-stylish in its early years (running till 1975), Wagon Train (1957-64), and Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-60) with Steve McQueen as the bounty hunter.

rawhide_original cast

Repeat guests of the suitably gritty quality of Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton, Lee Van Cleef, Robert Middleton, Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, R. G. Armstrong, Lola Albright, Ted De Corsia and L. Q. Jones had served the series’ long run well, along with bravura character thespians James Whitmore, Burgess Meredith, Mercedes McCambridge, Mickey Rooney, Patricia Medina, Fritz Weaver, Linda Cristal and others. Rawhide‘s production company, Revue-CBS, which in 1962 had finished with Laramie and begun the full-color, 90-minute blockbuster The Virginian/Men of Shiloh as a longrunning flagship project, by the end of 1964 was ploughing more resources into bolstering a failing series that was arguably better than ever. One episode from this period, “Canliss” directed by former sci-fi specialist Jack Arnold (It Came From Outer Space, Creature From the Black Lagoon, This Island Earth) features Dean Martin as the titular gunfighter, surrounded by up-and-coming leading lady Laura Devon and prestige character stars Michael Ansara (famous from tv as Cochise), Theodore Bikel and silent-movie veteran Ramon Novarro. The recruitment of Martin — best-selling crooner and moreover bona fide tv star with his own popular variety series having started that September — was a sure sign of status, the first “special guest star” to be featured upfront in the opening titles, though the series was to survive barely a year more till the New Year of 1966, just half a season after the decamp of Eric Fleming with Clint Eastwood left as the sole regular star.

The episode did without Rowdy altogether, Eastwood on hiatus making A Fistful of Dollars with Italian director Sergio Leone. Clint had guested in a pre-Rawhide episode of Maverick, co-starred with other popular tv series stars David Janssen (Richard Diamond, later The Fugitive) and Darren McGavin (Mike Hammer, later The Outsider) in an ill-starred remake of Lafayette Escadrille (1958) from prestigious director William Wellman, and gone on to guest star as himself in Mr Ed — a modest peak in American tv. Starting as a $600-a-week tv “star”, he had probably made it to a couple of thou by the end of the run — and received $15,000 for his first Leone outing; $50,000 for the second, For a Few Dollars More, filmed 1965; $250,000 for the third, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (’66). Eastwood called on Ted Post, a frequent director of Rawhide episodes, to handle his first independent film production, Hang ‘Em High.

Eric Fleming said, leaving after the 1964-65 series, the producers had let him go because he was costing them a million dollars a year — the same, record fee that Elizabeth Taylor had recently earned for Cleopatra, that took two years to film: good indication of Fleming’s centrality and appeal to fans of the show. For as long as he lasted, Gil Favor’s “Head ’em up! [six-beat pause] Move ’em out!” was an icon and probably the widest known feature of the series apart from its evergreen theme written by Dimitri Tiomkin. And when the show finally wound up the unforgettable personification of Favor, Eric Fleming, had just months to live.

While Charles Gray had filled in as scout Clay Forrester with charismatic performances (though on the back foot competing with scout Flint McCullough played by Robert Horton on Wagon Train) for a good while after the departure of Sheb Wooley, only for Wooley to return for a few episodes when it was almost all over, things were never the same when for the season opening of fall 1965 Rawhide recruited John Ireland (previously the gunslinger in Red River and Johnny Ringo in Gunfight at the OK Corral) and Raymond St Jacques for its final series — as fill-ins, as Wagon Train and Bonanza would try too for longevity. Ireland and St Jacques played it macho as badly drawn new characters, with the former bizarrely out of type as an obvious middle-ager nonetheless given to impulsive, foolish moves, previously the province of young Rowdy Yates — with Clint Eastwood now firmly in Sergio Leone mode as the unrelentingly grim, leaden-faced “man with no name” he would continue with in one context or another for the rest of his on-screen career.

Stripped of Hey Soos, “Mushy” Mushgrove III, and Joe Scarlett from its guts, gone were the incidental comedy and confrontations at the chuck wagon, around the camp fire and over the coffee pot that had made the series thoroughly human. Bit characters who had lent a special flavor, like “Teddy” and “Toothless”, were no more. And Wishbone, formerly blustering as lovably cantankerous mostly toward Mushy, was cast adrift as a bully flaying everyone in sight with pointless jibes. Young English supporting actor David Watson, with a full molded Beatle helmet and Peter & Gordon toffee-nosed accent, was introduced in hopes of updating the image to Mod 1965 — to no avail. As a supposed consolation, lost in tv history obscurity, a collective landmark was crossed with St Jacques joining Bill Cosby (I Spy) and Ivan Dixon (Hogan’s Heroes) as the first black actors as regulars in a tv series, all appearing in September 1965, to be followed by Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura a year later starting Star Trek.

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COWBOYS IN HOLLYWOOD

In film, history on February 2, 2015 at 7:42 am
"Bronco Billy" Anderson sheet music (1914)

“Bronco Billy” Anderson sheet music (1914)

It was 1903, a time when Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid were still raiding from Devil’s Hole and Los Angeles itself not much more than a hole in the wall, that the one-reel western drama The Great Train Robbery scored a huge hit with audiences stirred by a life and time rapidly passing by. This was four years before a viable movie industry began in the United States, and a stage thespian and featured player from the short film, G. M. Anderson, formed the Essanay motion picture production company in Chicago and began his career as a cowboy on screen, namely “Bronco Billy”.

Buffalo Bill & Sitting Bull, taken 1895, the year of the first commercial film showing.

Buffalo Bill & Sitting Bull, taken 1895, the year of the first commercial film showing.

For a while, travelling “wild west” shows starring William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Sitting Bull and others outdrew western movies for paying audiences. Wyatt Earp (still spry until 1929) volunteered himself as a historical-technical consultant to filmmakers, and the real west imposed itself on screen art too by incorporating real cowboys and Indians as stuntmen doubling as actors, some of whom became proto-stars. Enterprising small outfits, ever more mobile like American and Bison, set up filming units in the wilds of California before there was a Hollywood and used the raw resources at hand (including lead actor Francis Ford, brother of future director John Ford), making probably the most authentic westerns ever. Apaches grew more popular in France, then the centre of filmmaking, than they had ever been to Americans, white or red, and Star Film of Paris set up shop in Flagstaff, Arizona. Producer-director Gaston Melies, partner and brother of Georges Melies, one of the founding fathers of narrative film, was the local honcho, later joined in North America by leading continental European companies such as Pathe-Freres, Gaumont, Nordisk and independent Solax. The wilds of Fort Lee, New Jersey, close to the big film companies in New York, remained the mecca of western filmmaking until World War I.

It wasn’t until 1915 or so that the long, lean dramatic figure of the classic cowboy eclipsed the popularity of squat, energetic Bronco Billy with his pat heroics. While the stark, dressed-all-in-black William S. Hart was the new sensation in character-driven dramas promoted in the films from Paramount, the biggest studio and film distributor in the suddenly burgeoning Hollywood, at nearby Universal City rode dour Harry Carey directed by John Ford as saddle bum “Cheyenne Harry”, and Tom Mix, with experience as a wrangler and deputy sheriff, was making steady progress at Fox, perversely portraying a cowboy with spangles and shiny spurs and riding Tony the “wonder horse”.

Tom Mix in 1925: The Jazz Age's idea of a cowboy

Tom Mix in 1925: The Jazz Age’s idea of a cowboy

Hart had earned massive fees of $150,000 and $200,000 per movie in a time of virtually no income tax; and gained such high prestige he was invited by Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to be a founding partner in United Artists (1919) before being substituted by D. W. Griffiths. Through the 1920s, though, Tom Mix set the tone by appearing in six to eight B-movies a year, said to earn $17,000 per week while filming, averaging out to a steady $7,500 a week through the years. Hoot Gibson came to emulate him at Universal, ousting the realism of the Ford-Carey films; as Fred Thomson did at FBO — Film Booking Offices, whose major shareholder was a certain Joseph P. Kennedy, lover of Gloria Swanson, before it morphed into the famous RKO studio at the beginning of talkies. These two also approached Mix’s commercial appeal, reportedly rewarded with during-filming weekly pay of $14,500 (Gibson) and $15,000 (Thomson). A last gasp try at A-movie status for westerns was pushed by MGM late in the decade through hero Tim McCoy appearing in a select few relative blockbusters with good co-stars and supporting casts.

Tom Mix retired from the screen, temporarily as it turned out, in 1930 when he was still riding high at 10th place in Quigley’s annual box-office survey, albeit through bulk product in release. Tiring of proving his credentials live in “wild west” travelling shows, he returned two years later, by which time Buck Jones and Jack Holt in B’s were the only cowboys showing up in the annual top 25 stars list. Buck continued scoring on his own up to 1935, multitudes of strictly B “stars” like Ken & Kermit Maynard, Charles Starret, Tom Tyler, Smith Ballew and Bob Steele lining up at tiny “Poverty Row” studios like Monogram, Grand National, Chesterfield and Tiffany; and aspiring Columbia and Universal. In 1930 the athleticism of Johnny Mack Brown had made a good impression in a big, realistic production of Billy the Kid at MGM, while John Wayne in his first major lead role was doomed by the failure of Fox blockbuster The Big Trail to a decade as a B-cowboy and the best part of another as a mediocre star before taken fully in hand by ace western directors John Ford and Howard Hawks.

The founding of Republic studio in 1935 would lead to singing cowboys Gene Autry and then Roy Rogers climbing to top 10 star status through appeal to undiscerning audiences unconcerned with authenticity with, again, bulk output. This trail was followed too by William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy and led to the overwhelming popularity of kids’ cowboys on tv from 1949 through the early 1950s: The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Kit Carson, et al. It was a species John Wayne, best known on screen as gunslinger “Singing Sandy” in the mid Thirties, had only torturously escaped, handed a plum role in Stagecoach (1939) by Ford.

Henry Fonda broke through to major stardom — that top 25 published each year by the Motion Picture Herald — in 1939 and 1940 courtesy of western roles in Jesse James, Drums Along the Mohawk and The Return of Frank James, a status he couldn’t sustain in ensuing sophisticated comedies and then forestalled by war service that put him behind the eight ball. To cement his comeback he wisely chose Ford classics My Darling Clementine (1946) and Fort Apache (1948).

Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), showing solidarity

Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), showing solidarity

In the meantime, Gary Cooper, who’d made his name at the first death of westerns as talkies came in as laconic hero The Virginian and The Man From Wyoming, had made tentative steps to return as The Plainsman (1937) as Wild Bill Hickok and The Westerner (1940) under top directors Cecil B. DeMille and William Wyler. It was obvious the A-western was here to stay when odd-man-out Errol Flynn at Warner Bros, the studio of urban modernism, was, Tasmanian accent intact, diverted once a year from his pirate swashbucklers to depict the classic heroic westerner in an expensive and highly popular series from 1939: Dodge City, Virginia City, Santa Fe Trail, They Died With Their Boots On, San Antonio

By the end of World War II the main feature western at the Saturday matinee was such a staple that established routine stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea restricted themselves to the genre for the rest of their careers. McCrea made it among the runners at 23rd in 1950, while Scott (best directed by Budd Boetticher) was a fixture in the list from 1948 to 1956, top 10 the middle four years. By this time not only Gary Cooper was a regular in westerns, but James Stewart more popular than ever, re-entering the upper echelon after ten years, moreover joining his friend Coop in the top 10 for the first time (1951). While Stewart, mostly directed by Anthony Mann for Universal, got wealthy on percentage-participation deals, other Universal contractees on salary grew into big stars in westerns: Audie Murphy, Jeff Chandler, Rock Hudson.

Through the Sixties and into the Seventies, while John Wayne ruled tall in the saddle, other established stars extended their careers and broadened their appeal by going western: Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Charlton Heston, Richard Widmark; and veteran supporting actors Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Lee Van Cleef morphed into bona fide stars. B-westerns were long gone from the big screen to tv series, developing Steve McQueen (Wanted: Dead or Alive), James Garner (Maverick) and Eastwood himself (Rawhide) into superstars.

Cowboys and American Indians have fared poorly on screen over the past forty years in the era of wookies and hobbits and other differently-normal humanoids. In 1965, after a decade when classic western tales ruled television, just as two admirably realistic series in Wagon Train and Rawhide folded after ‘long’ six-to-seven-years runs, new trends began innovating on the small screen: The Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, followed by Cimarron Strip, Lancer and The Outcasts. These, providing bright spots with their own flavor, were all gone by 1969 while the more traditional Bonanza and High Chaparral limped along for another couple or three seasons, and Gunsmoke out-gunned all the odds and broke the all-time record for a 20-year run into 1975.

That year saw Posse, produced by and starring Kirk Douglas, with a quirky anti-establishment take on western politics, but was isolated and muted in its impact amid ongoing efforts by John Wayne to mythologize “The West” while failing to match his Oscar-winning True Grit (1969). The jokey, indulgent taint purveyed into a staple of the big screen through the mid Sixties had descended by then to MacKenna’s Gold, Paint Your Wagon and Support Your Local Sheriff/Gunfighter. The feel-good, romantic thrust of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the same year as these last two and Wayne’s landmark performance was more in the blockbuster tradition of Hollywood than the western one. It was in stark contrast to Sergio Leone’s contemporaneous Once Upon a Time in the West. Burt Lancaster through the early Seventies made a number of thoughtful contributions in Lawman, Ulzana’s Raid and Valdez is Coming, exploring the underbelly of history, along with Chato’s Land (Charles Bronson) — a worthwhile echo of Paul Newman’s Hombre the decade before. These, influenced to varying degrees by the “Spaghetti westerns” of director Sergio Leone (not forgetting the atmospheric music of Ennio Morricone), failed to ignite a new tradition for long in the States, aside from Eastwood’s ongoing thematic and stylistic tributes to his Italian mentor.

Mel Brooks’Blazing Saddles ripped the shit out of every cliche contained in what, up to then, had been thought ‘classic’ westerns. And two years later even stalwart Clint seemed to take the coming of Spielberg, Lucas and their acolytes to heart and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) was the last in his series of gritty oaters, reviving his ruthless man-with-no-name character only for isolated triumphs Pale Rider and Unforgiven over the following decade or two. That year too marked what should have been a classic on-screen meeting between Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson in The Missouri Breaks, but wasn’t. Odd landmarks like Heaven’s Gate and Silverado came and went without threatening Clint’s monopoly. Only Tombstone (Kurt Russell – Val Kilmer), which put Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp in the shade, and Costner’s Dances With Wolves and Open Range made much of an impact afterwards. Cowboys met New Age, maybe sealing the lid on the genre’s coffin, in Brokeback Mountain.

Movie Star Popularity: measuring it

In celebrity, film, history on January 31, 2015 at 7:23 am

When movie stars were new as a phenomenon a hundred years or so ago, chosen by floods of movie patrons going specially to see them, fan magazines that had just started up as a way of telling romantic stories (true or false) about the public’s favorite “players” on film began trying to assess their relative popularity. Most favored across Europe were generally versatile character actors like

Asta Nielsen

Asta Nielsen

Asta Nielsen and Valdemar Psilander, both at the Nordisk studio of Denmark, ditto Ivan Mozhukhin (Mosjoukine) of Russia; and comedians Andre Deed and Max Linder of France.
Max Linder

Max Linder

Hence, art cinema. In America, stars were generally those who played similar characters every time so that winningly sweet Mabel Normand in Keystone comedies was tops, and girl-with-the-curls Mary Pickford would soon become “America’s Sweetheart” championing her country’s entry into World War I. Heroic figure Francis X. Bushman was an early male megastar, joined by bouncy man-about-town Douglas Fairbanks.

By 1913-14 Motion Picture magazine had instituted a poll of its readers, hundreds of thousands of whom replied over a period of many months to the question: “Who is your favorite motion picture star?” These early annual polls were probably the most legitimate ever measurement of actual personal popularity of a star during a particular year. But in the late 1920s and 1930s bids for a more comprehensive polling method were made by a number of movie trade publications, most prominently Quigley’s Motion Picture Herald and its closest rival, Box Office magazine, held by some commentators to be more authoritative. (I will refer to the annual MPH poll here, since its box-office surveys were underway by 1930, the first full year of talkies, so fully covering the classic period I am most interested in. The Quigley company continued its poll in some form well into the 1990s. Its successor, the Fame poll, has recently featured a supposed top 10 box-office draws of whom four I have not heard and another three or four I wouldn’t recognise in the street.) These entailed asking twelve to fifteen thousand of the twenty thousand exhibitors in the USA: “Who were the ten stars that drew most people into your theatre(s)?”

The assessed year was from 1st September through to 31st August and a star who had three to five releases in that time (say singing cowboy Gene Autry or child star Shirley Temple) had a much better chance of rating high in this supposedly “scientific” survey than a Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich or Mae West rationed to one project a year. At a time when movies were made much more often as a “vehicle” around the star’s talents, with singers and dancers prominent, this was probably still a much better indication of personal popularity than today, when special effects, art work, theme, stunt technicians and pyrotechnics are much more likely to be the real attraction for an audience than the nominal star (such special performers as Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis and few others aside). Stars then were held to be largely responsible for the success or otherwise of a movie release and a Johnny Depp and any number of others who today can have four or five flops in a row to their name with few or no repercussions to their career would no longer be stars — long out of a contract at a big studio and on the skids from smaller to smaller production outfits.

The MPH through its Almanac each year published a numbered order of stars down to twenty-five (usually edited fast to a top ten by newspapers) and then unnumbered layers of stars and featured players down in the hundreds who might only attract fans in a certain part of the country or for a particular fetish — but got a vote from someone. It is hard to believe such cultivated tastes as withered upper-crust English gentleman George Arliss, specialising in biopics of Disraeli, Rothschild, Voltaire and the Duke of Wellington would enjoy a broad leverage with audiences today. Yet, he was a fixture in Hollywood for over twenty years, listed in that top 25 until 1934. Similarly, rural-style comics Will Rogers, Joe E. Brown and Bob Burns who rated even higher through the mid thirties. It must be noted that the box-office champion team of butt-ugly and aged Marie Dressler & Wallace Beery (later echoed by Marjorie Main & Percy Kilbride) lifted more hearts through the Great Depression than there have been faces lifted in the whole history of moviedom. This is a moral impossibility today, the age of deliberately superficial, skin-deep “beauty”.

The public has long lived with these skewed assessments of popularity. Deanna Durbin, Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas, who all starred as the central figures of some of the biggest box-office successes of the classic era, never climbed as high as the top 10 for any year. This, while other performers who seemed like no more than part of the ensemble cast (even part of the furniture in comparison), scored effortlessly. And in contrast to the phenomenal exceptions of Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe who were able to repeatedly (but not over-frequently) penetrate the top 10 stars list while averaging just one movie a year through their heyday decades, a quick tally of some names of all-time megastars who not once made even the top 25 is impressive: Ronald Colman, Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Carole Lombard, David Niven, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Lauren Bacall, Gene Kelly, Richard Widmark, Judy Holliday, Anthony Quinn.

Gene Kelly: not as dainty but more versatile than Fred Astaire.

Gene Kelly: not as dainty but more versatile than Fred Astaire.

And this in the face of some unlikely “stars” who did: the gurgling Dionne Quintuplets, Dane Clark, Barry Fitzgerald, Larry Parks, Francis the Talking Mule, Ernest Borgnine, Sandy Dennis. And more all-time performers — all major stars for a quarter century or more — struggled to make the lower rungs of said twenty-five a select few times: Edward G. Robinson (two), Barbara Stanwyck (three), Loretta Young (two), Jean Arthur (one), Katharine Hepburn (four), Olivia De Havilland (two), Henry Fonda (three), Joseph Cotten (one), Lana Turner (three), Rita Hayworth (five), Danny Kaye (one), Ava Gardner (three), Robert Mitchum (three), Audrey Hepburn (four).

In defining a star’s career, his “popularity” can be spun to suit the writer’s intention. Commentators have forever called Gary Cooper an “instant star” at age 24 when he appeared in The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), which actually starred Ronald Colman, Cooper some way down the cast. His position was said to have been bolstered the following year in the William Wellman blockbuster Wings, placing him at a creditable 17th top male in the Quigley box-office survey; further when it was released with sound effects another two years on; still, he was third male “lead” in this aviation saga. By the time of the prestigious A Farewell to Arms (1932) from Hemingway, directed by style master Frank Borzage, Cooper was nominally top banana on screen, admittedly opposite the Oscar-winning performance of Helen Hayes and with stalwart Adolphe Menjou lending panache in strong support. Through this era Cooper’s career was boosted by voluminous press publicity detailing his affairs with a string of glamorous women from spitfire actress Lupe Velez to the Countess Di Frasso. He was enthroned by Paramount in the choice roles of the day, as an adventurer opposite Marlene Dietrich, hottest female in Hollywood (Morocco); City Streets directed by ace Rouben Mamoulian and surrounded by Sylvia Sidney and Paul Lukas; The Devil and the Deep, Charles Laughton, Cary Grant, Tallulah Bankhead; If I Had a Million, Laughton, W. C. Fields, directed by Lubitsch; and super-sophisticated Today We Live from Faulkner, surrounding Joan Crawford rivalled by Robert Young and Franchot Tone, under Howard Hawks, and Design for Living from Noel Coward via Ben Hecht, under Lubitsch again. And again Cooper was one of no less than three stars. He made no progress in his power to draw customers to theatres as reported by pollsters until 1935-36 when cast as the all-American good guy with impeccable morals and manners in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Mr Deeds Goes to Town. He bobbled between 9th and 11th place (including both sexes) for three years before resting for two years near the bottom of top 20. Cooper was 40 before he started his residency near the very top of polls (1941), though never overtaking Clark Gable until the latter went off to war (1943). Through the war years he was not bothered either by competition from Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda or James Stewart, all off doing service; and was still shaded in polls by Bing Crosby and Abbott & Costello, and then by Van Johnson, Ingrid Bergman and Betty Grable as a new generation ushered in. For several years in the late forties he lay 4th in overall popularity behind a combination of those stars mentioned. Then in 1949 he was overtaken by John Wayne, only for Cooper to bounce back as runner-up in 1952 and box-office champ the next year for his one and only time as el supremo. From there he dropped a couple of spots each year and made his last appearance in the top 20 in 1959, within two years of his death (of cancer). It was the era of almost interchangeable western roles between Wayne, Cooper, James Stewart and the returned Clark Gable, and even so limited a screen presence as Randolph Scott, emulating Cooper, was able to overtake his model template in Quigley’s list of the top 10 stars for the first two years of the 1950s.

In contrast to Cooper, both John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart have been used as prime examples of those actors said to have suffered long, torturous routes to superstardom. Yet, at age 41 and 42 respectively they were undoubted superstars in the public estimation backed up by box-office receipts. And it was a status gained without the preceding 15 years of ballyhooed build-up that Cooper received. Wayne had made quite an impressive showing as sole star in The Big Trail (1930) at age 22, but which unaccountably turned out a flop. He was instantly dropped by Fox, and was 31 before given another real chance at the big time. He was a success in Stagecoach (1939) but United Artists (unlike Cooper’s Paramount) had not the resources to make a star, and Wayne again was forced a step back under the shared aegis of Republic and RKO. Though funded sufficiently to star occasionally with good leading ladies like Marlene Dietrich (at her nadir), Claire Trevor and Martha Scott, it was one-off loanouts to Cecil B. DeMille for Reap the Wild Wind (1942) and to MGM for John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945) that got him seriously noticed — and he garnered a mention at 24th (16th top male) in Quigley’s uppercrust of stars. Though this was not quite the status Cooper had reached at age 37 it was way over the odds considering the lack of external resources lent to Wayne’s career.

Like Cooper, Wayne had stayed at home for the war, making hay while a flotilla of Hollywood stars risked everything to safeguard the future of the world. Bogart, little more than a year older than Cooper and Clark Gable, was technically overage like them but might have forced his way into war service as Gable had. (Maybe not incidentally, Gable was the only one of these superstars instantly recognised by the public as such, so striking a presence on screen he featured near the top of popularity polls within a year of first appearing.) Bogart was the only one of these not to be considered for leading roles from the outset. Any number of factors might have entered this collective decision, not least his renowned uncooperativeness with bosses from the Warner brothers down, though not the obvious ones that might first come to mind: Bogart being six to eight inches shorter than Cooper and Wayne, the even more severely vertically challenged and/or pug-ugly Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and George Raft hadn’t found this a bar to lead roles and almost instant screen stardom as similar gangster/hard-boiled characters. First on screen at 30, first noticed at 36 for his menacing Duke Mantee on stage and screen in The Petrified Forest (1936), Bogart was restricted to supporting roles in A’s or lead roles in B’s until the new year of 1941 on release of High Sierra. Nominally second billed to long-established and luscious Ida Lupino, this Raoul Walsh classic written by John Huston rode on his shoulders alone, and it was a matter of months before his similarly dominating performance in The Maltese Falcon under Huston confirmed his superstardom, cemented by Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) the next year. All in the opportunity — those turned down by Raft.

SOAK THE RICH: BACK TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS

In history, ideology, morality on August 22, 2014 at 11:50 pm

There follows a sequence of nonrandom musings and ramblings, added in time, which eventually might come together to form a point in the end, or at least pose a few questions.

Not so long ago people seemed to run the world and corporations bent over backwards to serve us — or at least made a point of seeming so. This was in living memory for some of us, and I’m in my fifties. I’ve just watched a documentary about the founding of the massive Selfridge’s department store in London in March 1909 — apparently the first high-toned “shopping cathedral” where idle people were not moved on by bouncers but actively encouraged to “browse”. In New Zealand through these years of the early 20th Century before much government welfare had been introduced, the biggest employers in the country had their own health, welfare and old-age schemes for employees and their families. In the US, Independent senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has just released details of a telling comparison between corporate responsibility in the good old days and irresponsibility in the rotten new days. In 1952, the last year of the Truman Democrats before the Eisenhower-Nixon administration took over, corporations paid 33% of the US tax bill; now, in an era of record corporate profits, 9%. Hearing of the depravities of Walmarts and their many, many cohorts around the world these days, inflicted on their employees it’s hard to believe we’re in the same universe. Maybe we’re not — dropped through some wormhole.

Next month, on September 20th 2014, comes the general election in New Zealand. This morning on a current affairs program the spokesmen of the Labour and Green parties were interviewed — two parties promised to ally to form a “left wing” government. In NZ the Greens are said by the media to be Far Left, and the Labour Party — no longer recognisably to the right of centre as they have been for most of the past 30 years — are said to be way to the left also. The main right wing, and ruling party, National, has up to now sided with the far-right libertarians called Act, yet the combination of the two of them have somehow produced what has always been called a centre-right government.

In the good old days things were so much simpler. Even the master of spin, Goebbels, was easy to see through if you didn’t have blinders on. Sometime between the two World Wars, income tax in that bastion of Free Enterprise, the United States, multiplied out of sight from virtually none in the 1920s to massive during the Roosevelt era when resources were poured into civil works, but even long afterwards. Through the Great Depression and World War II and beyond there was a general realisation by people that there was a great deal of luck involved in who got rich and who didn’t. In a concession to humility, the lucky who received money mostly saw it as their duty to spread it around and include people in their “good fortune”. In 1959, after seven years of Republican rule under Eisenhower, the tv and rock’n’roll star Ricky Nelson was questioned about his income, heading up towards half a million annually, and was matter-of-fact about it and the tax rate he was paying. He paid 78% tax on the first $150,000 every year, and 93% on everything over that. Britain, also still investing in its people and infrastructure in recovery from the war, was even in 1965 charging the Beatles a tax rate of 95% — and American promoters were paying them fortunes of millions of dollars in cash under the counter on every concert tour. (By the time the canny Rolling Stones reached the 1980s, with the celebrated financial acumen of Mick Jagger, without shame they had spread their tax “burden” across five different countries and ended up paying a total of less than 3% tax — just one pointer to how the world has changed.)

These days it seems to be enough for rich people to take one of two attitudes: either, like Oprah, tell everyone “Follow your passion and your inner child, think positive — If I’ve done it everyone can do it”; or to take the diva route with “Thank God I have this much talent (and God must know what he’s doing to have given it all to me. It would be questioning Him to say I don’t deserve it).” Those billionaires can be counted on one hand who have come out publicly worldwide to admit they haven’t done anything approaching deserving of their riches and they’re where they are based on vagaries of the world economy. In the Wall Street Crash of 1929 rich people went bust overnight and threw themselves out of high windows when they realised suddenly they were not God’s chosen ones,but just His moral guinea pigs. Rich people these days don’t seem to have got the same message after the so-called disaster of the 2008 share market downturn — because bailed out by the heavy taxpayers of the middle class.

The lower-income tax payers of New Zealand too, in just one instance, bailed out $1.8 billion worth of bad loans (the equivalent of more than $150 billion in the US economy) issued by a capialist mate of the government. Yet, this morning on the interview show the big question, according to the interviewer, was how the Labour Party could possibly reconcile its tax policy after the election with that of the Greens. Labour would charge an increased top tax rate of 36% on top earners on over $150,000 — whereas the Greens wanted a 40% top tax rate over roughly the same amount ($140,000). The Labour Party spokesman refused to be drawn, knowing that these days even the mention of 40% will produce a kneejerk reaction in most people these days and send them screaming from the room in horror. WHY? Why on earth is it taboo to tax rich people?

American Idol of 1959: Hottest Female Stars

In film, history, music on August 9, 2014 at 5:50 am
Connie Francis, sultry in stills, goofy in films.

Connie Francis, sultry in stills, goofy in films.

1. Marilyn Monroe — now aged 33 after a dozen years in movies, she releases her first film in two years, comedy blockbuster Some Like It Hot from Billy Wilder and co-starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. After time off in New York studying at The method, it’s enough to put her back at the top around the world, voted the Golden Globe by Hollywood’s international press corps as the most popular movie star internationally.

2. Brigitte Bardot — the prototypical French “sex kitten” since And God Created Woman three years ago, turning 25 this year, as well as tops in Europe for the past two years she has been scoring multiple hits across the US, Babette Goes to War being one of three this year.

3. Gina Lollobrigida — at 32 a superstar in Europe for almost a decade but hampered in the US by her contract with crazy Howard Hughes, she has recently broken out as co-star of top US male stars with international blockbusters Trapeze (with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis), Hunchback of Notre Dame (Anthony Quinn), Anna di Brooklyn/Fast and Sexy, Solomon and Sheba (Yul Brynner) and Never So Few (Frank Sinatra & Steve McQueen)

4. Connie Francis — at 20, easily the top female seller of discs across the US, scoring three gold awards this year in ‘My Happiness’, ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ and ‘Frankie’, and the first to sell ten million discs in one year; and filming Where the Boys Are for MGM, which will make her into a top Sixties screen attraction in youth comedies

5. Doris Day — a veteran at 37, but no.1 woman (4th overall) in the US box-office list with frothy comedy Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson already out, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (with David Niven) and foggy London thriller Midnight Lace (Rex Harrison, John Gavin) upcoming.

6. Debbie Reynolds — second only to Doris Day among women in the US box-office list (5th overall), and at the peak of her career — at 27 — helped in her private life by losing singer Eddie Fisher to Liz Taylor.

7. Sophia Loren — now turning 25, has had several high-profile US film releases hoping to replicate her European success, but yet to find her niche unlike the sensation made over Brigitte.

8. Kim Novak — the first buxom blonde to overtake Marilyn Monroe at the US box-office, through Picnic (1956) and Vertigo (1958) though only briefly as it turns out.

9. Elizabeth Taylor — an MGM star since National Velvet (1944) at 12, fresh from Raintree County with Montgomery Clift and Eva Marie Saint, and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, her sole release this year is the mildly successful Suddenly Last Summer with Clift and Katharine Hepburn, poised for an Oscar and return to the box-office ten next year.

10. Sandra Dee — The blonde teen is rocketing into the official box-office top 10 movie stars in the USA as Gidget and in grown-up soap A Summer Place.

11. Lana Turner — The 39-year-old veteran — in movies 22 years — is enjoying a comeback via Peyton Place and Imitation Of Life. This sexy momma’s career is boosted out of sight by her daughter’s stabbing murder of mom’s abusive boyfriend, gangster Johnny Stompanato who has shared his charms around the upper echelons of Hollywood stars.

12. Connie Stevens — turning 21, a veteran of teen exploitation flicks Young and Dangerous and The Party Crashers and star of Warner Bros’ Hawaiian Eye on tv, still growing in drive-in appeal on the big screen.

13. Susan Hayward — just turned 40 as the year starts, winning the Oscar for I Want to Live as a woman on Death Row, she is hotness personified for the mature set too in A Woman Obsessed with younger man Stephen Boyd, helping her to make no.10 on US box-office listings.

14. Diane Varsi — starring and Oscar-nominated as Alison MacKenzie in Peyton Place (1957) at 20, she has not quite maintained her momentum with the nonetheless rivetting Compulsion this year and leaves Hollywood abruptly for reasons of survival and emotional stability.

15. Lee Remick — at 23 is on the up as a blonde sex kitten with subtlety, and slightly built, through A Face in the Crowd, The Long Hot Summer and now Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder.

16. Carroll Baker — following a sensational role as Baby Doll (1956), building with Giant and The Big Country, she is now stalling, poised for another big push in the mid Sixties with The Carpetbaggers and Harlow but too late at 35.

17. Tuesday Weld — exploited by stage parents from age three, entering a period of breakdowns and addictions in adolescence, she is now turning 16 and put into lurid sexploitation flicks (Sex Kittens Go to College, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Return to Peyton Place) by her
minders but despite all the odds against her manages a considerable career in the end.

18. Eva Marie Saint — Emerging from New York’s method acting school since her belated debut (at 30) as Marlon Brando’s squeeze in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, she has been looking younger, breaking the mold as a very versatile blonde — focusing on character, so without the constant screen persona, image and star vehicles to make a superstar impact, just Hitchcock’s North By Northwest this year but making a lasting impression and preparing for Otto Preminger blockbuster Exodus releasing next year

19. Annette Funicello — The wholesome Disney star, 16, scores her first of four Top 20 hits in ‘Tall Paul’ (#7 Billboard, her career peak) and ‘First Name Initial’. Having graduated from tv’s Mickey Mouse Club, and now in her own Disney tv series, she is on the rise in movies too starting with The Shaggy Dog this year before moving on to Babes in Toyland (1961) with Tommy Sands and then her famous series of “beach movies” co-starring Frankie Avalon.

20. Hayley Mills — The new English child star, 13, has the central starring role in father John Mills’ suspenser Tiger Bay, released in the US in December. Already, she is in America filming the title role of Pollyanna for the Disney studio, to be released to acclaim the following May (1960) shortly after her 14th birthday. Her series of family Disney movies will make her the world’s no.1 child star (until she turns 20).

Honorable mention: Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Hope Lange, Joan Collins, Diana Dors

BIGGEST DISC SELLERS IN U.S. FOR 1965

In generational/fashion, history, music on April 22, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Nineteen sixty-five was the year the Beatles relinquished a big gooey dollop of their kiddywink appeal for American tweenies to another English group, Herman’s Hermits, from Manchester. While the Beatles surrendered quite a chunk of their disc sales too compared with 1964, they moved on to more mature music and broadened their fanbase, “peaking” with Yesterday, of Elizabethan pedigree. Couldn’t get much older-style or high-falutin’ than that. The Hermits, led by 17-year-old Peter Noone of panto and Coronation Street experience, stole the Beatles’ music hall base which they wouldn’t fully reclaim until the Sgt Pepper’s album two years later.

The Rolling Stones hit the US in a big way and around the world in 1965. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger,  a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richard

The Rolling Stones hit the US in a big way and around the world in 1965. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richard

The Hermits’ American label, MGM, would claim no fewer than seven million-selling singles for them during 1965, most of them including their two fastest sellers, Mrs Brown (You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter) and I’m Henry VIII I Am, firmly from the English Music Hall tradition. Deputising for them delivering music hall from Manchester were Freddie & the Dreamers, and in more serious mode, from Liverpool, Gerry & the Pacemakers. Where was rock music going? Fast taking over with two striking number ones, selling multi millions around the world, were the Rolling Stones. And there were still the Dave Clark Five, adding to their string of big hits.

Subdued beneath these English groups in singles sales were the most popular American groups, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons hardly rating outright million-sellers anymore and now joined by the Byrds, Sonny & Cher and the Lovin’ Spoonful. In fact, at the height of the British Invasion the Beatles were slow off the mark to raise an RIAA Gold Disc. But the British showed their overall influence by converting to their style not only the Byrds (supposedly inspired by Bob Dylan) but popsters Gary Lewis & the Playboys and big-voiced soloist P. J. Proby.

P. J. Proby: from Texas, endorsed in the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

P. J. Proby: from Texas, endorsed in the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

Businesswise, it was a strangely divided year: high selling in the New Year and early spring when Petula Clark and Roger Miller had easily their biggest-ever hits, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye their biggest of mid decade and lesser Brit acts; but turning to distinctly mediocre by June, after which hot young acts like the Byrds couldn’t sell a million with a strong tail wind of publicity and Bob Dylan and the Beatles beneath their wings. The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn both hit no.1 in the US for multiple weeks but failed to sell a million in a low-selling period of 1965 during generally rising sales — the first one their top seller ever at a documented 900,000 nationally.

1. A Taste Of Honey (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass)…. reported as 4.5 million US in 16 months, supporting mega-million sales of their albums

2. Wooly Bully (Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs)….. well over 2 million

3. I Can’t Help Myself (Four Tops)…. 2,500,000

4. King Of the Road (Roger Miller)…… 2 million or more

5. Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (Herman’s Hermits)…. sold a million US in first week

6. Downtown (Petula Clark)…. instant million-seller and eventually 3 million in US

7. My Girl (Temptations)….. eventually passing 2 million in US

8. Yesterday (Beatles)….. 1,800,000 in US

9. I’m Henry VIII I Am (Herman’s Hermits)….. over 600,000 orders in 2 days

10. I Got You Babe (Sonny & Cher)….. certified gold within two months and continuing strong to reach 3 million in next two years

We Can Work It Out (Beatles)…… 1,600,000 in US

Help! (Beatles)…. sold a million in US in one week

Satisfaction (Rolling Stones)…. a quick US million of its 4.5 million worldwide

Let’s Hang On (Four Seasons)….. est. 1,500,000 or more

I Got You (I Feel Good) (James Brown)…. a certified million in under 2 months

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (Righteous Bros)…. nearing a million in under two months

Eve Of Destruction (Barry McGuire)….. a million and a half US

Get Off Of My Cloud (Rolling Stones)….. 500,000 US in 5 days

1 – 2 – 3 (Len Barry)….. 1,500,000

Stop In the Name of Love (Supremes)….. sold a prompt million US early spring

Help Me Rhonda (Beach Boys)….. over a million in its chart run

Ticket to Ride (Beatles)….. 750,000 orders but slow to retail the million

Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat? (Herman’s Hermits)…. certified a million US in ten weeks

This Diamond Ring (Gary lewis & the Playboys)…. a million US in less than 3 months

The Birds and the Bees (Jewel Aken)….. a fast million in early spring

I Hear a Symphony (Supremes)….. over half in US of world total of more than 2 million

Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (James Brown)….. ditto US & world

Treat Her Right (Roy Head)…… 1,300,000

A Lover’s Concerto (Toys)….. certified gold in less than 3 months

Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)….. certified gold in 3 months

Hang On Sloopy (McCoys)…. certified gold in 5 months

Crying In the Chapel (Elvis Presley)….. certified gold US in summer

‘In’ Crowd (Ramsey Lewis Trio)….. gold

I Like It Like That (Dave Clark Five)….. reported million in US

Eight Days a Week (Beatles)….. took 6 months to be certified gold

Back In My Arms Again (Supremes)….. eventual million US

Over and Over (Dave Clark Five)……. million-seller US

Game Of Love (Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders)….. probable spring million-seller

Count Me In (Gary Lewis & the Playboys)…. est. million US

The Name Game (Shirley Ellis)…. fast New Year seller

Flowers On the Wall (Statler Bros)…. sold a million into 1966

Keep On Dancing (Gentrys)…. a million US subsequently

Where the Action Is (Freddie Cannon)…. pop music tv theme, went gold in tv season

I’m Into Something Good (Herman’s Hermits)…. half million or so at first, passed a million during their US tour in May six months later

Hold What You’ve Got (Joe Tex)….. took almost a year to sell the million US

I’m Telling You Now (Freddie & the Dreamers)…. no.1 US but no reported gold disc

You Were On My Mind (We Five)….. passed 600,000 two weeks into top 20 US

What’s New Pussycat? (Tom Jones)…. almost a million in US chart run

California Girls (Beach Boys)…… debated million-seller US

Catch Us if You Can (Dave Clark Five)….. label claimed a million-seller

Tired Of Waiting for You (Kinks)….. ditto

All Day and All of the Night (Kinks)….. ditto, New Year seller

Unchained Melody (Righteous Bros)….. ditto, summer seller

Ebb Tide (Righteous Bros)…. ditto, Xmas seller

Red Roses for a Blue Lady (Bert Kaempfert)….. a subsequent million

Keep Searchin’ (Del Shannon)….. eventual million sale reported

Baby I’m Yours (Barbara Lewis)….. ditto

Save Your Heart for Me (Gary lewis & the Playboys)….. close to a million

The Boy From New York City (Ad Libs)….. gold unclaimed

Silhouettes (Herman’s Hermits)….. advance of 400,000 and eventual million

Mr Tambourine Man (Byrds)….. reported 900,000 in US

Turn Turn Turn (Byrds)….. less than 900,000 in US despite 3 weeks at no.1

Ferry Cross the Mersey (Gerry & the Pacemakers)….. est. 850,000

England Swings (Roger Miller)….. reported approaching a million

The Clapping Song (Shirley Ellis)….. ditto

Everybody Loves a Clown (Gary lewis & the Playboys)…. est. over 800,000

Nowhere to Run (Martha & the Vandellas)….. est. ditto

Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)…. est. ditto

Bye Bye Baby (Four Seasons)….. three quarters of a million or more

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (Patti Page)…… est ditto

How Sweet It Is (Marvin Gaye)….. over 800,000 as reported by Marvin

I’m A Fool (Dino, Desi & Billy)…… reported as 800,000 US

It’s the Same Old Song (Four Tops)….. over 750,000

Positively 4th Street (Bob Dylan)….. reported as 750,000-plus

Wonderful World (Herman’s Hermits)….. probably no more than three quarters of its world million in the US

Engine Engine No.9 (Roger Miller)….. est. 750,000 or so

I Go to Pieces (Peter & Gordon)….. est. ditto

It’s Not Unusual (Tom Jones)….. est. ditto

Baby Don’t Go (Sonny & Cher)….. est. around three quarters of a million US

It Ain’t Me Babe (Turtles)….. est. ditto

Just a Little Bit Better (Herman’s Hermits)….. probably less than 750,000 in US

I’ll Be Doggone (Marvin Gaye)….. est. ditto

Ain’t That Peculiar (Marvin Gaye)….. est. ditto

Just Once in My Life (Righteous Bros)…. est. ditto

I Will (Dean Martin)…. est. ditto

Don’t Think Twice (Four Seasons)…… sold a fast half-million and continued

Laugh At Me (Sonny)…. over 700,000 US

The Last Time (Rolling Stones)….. sold less in US (est. 700,000) than in UK

Do You Wanna Dance? (Beach Boys)….. est. 700,000

People Get Ready (Impressions)…. ditto

True Love Ways (Peter & Gordon)….. est. ditto

Last Chance to Turn Around (Gene Pitney)….. est. ditto

Reelin’ and Rockin’ (Dave Clark Five)….. ditto

Do the Freddie (Freddie & the Dreamers)….. est. 650,000 US

We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place (Animals)….. est. 650,000

I’m Yours (Elvis Presley)….. 650,000 initially, gold long term

Puppet On a String (Elvis Presley)…. initially over half a million, long term gold disc US

Nothing But Heartaches (Supremes)….. est. around 600,000

Come Home (Dave Clark Five)…. ditto

Houston (Dean Martin)….. ditto

Little Girl I Once Knew (Beach Boys)….. est. 600,000 or so

But You’re Mine (Sonny & Cher)…. est. ditto

Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles)…. est. ditto

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Animals)….. est. ditto

Mohair Sam (Charlie Rich)….. est. ditto

In the Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett)…. est. ditto

Send Me the Pillow You Dream On (Dean Martin)….. est. ditto

Heart Of Stone (Rolling Stones)….. est. 600,000

You Were Made For Me (Freddie & the Dreamers)….. reported 600,000 in US

Girl On the Billboard (Del Reeves)….. est. ditto, c&w no.1 for many weeks

With These Hands (Tom Jones)….. probably 600,000

Willow Weep For Me (Chad & Jeremy)….. est. ditto

Before and After (Chad & Jeremy)….. est. ditto

It’s My Life (Animals)….. est. ditto

Set Me Free (Kinks)….. est. ditto

Lookin’ Through the Eyes of Love (Gene Pitney)…… est. ditto

Tell Me Why (Elvis Presley)….. just over 500,000 initially, gold long term

(Such An) Easy Question….. Estimated half a million sales or more

I’ll Be There (Gerry & the Pacemakers)….. est. half-million or so

I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail (Buck Owens)…. top c&w disc selling over a half-million

I Must Be Seeing Things (Gene Pitney)….. est. ditto

Girl Come Running (Four Seasons)…. est. ditto

Just You (Sonny & Cher)….. est. half a million

I Understand (Freddie & the Dreamers)….. reported half a million US

Blue Christmas (Elvis Presley)….. probably around a half-million this Xmas, awarded gold long term

Do the Clam (Elvis Presley)…. reported just under half-million

BIGGEST SELLING DISCS OF 1963

In history, music on April 13, 2014 at 1:44 am

Ok, calm down everyone, following the deafening clamor that greeted my last post, “Biggest Disc Sellers of 1964” — and ignoring the fact that most searches that got through were actually after a site called “Biggest Dicks Fellers” — I’ve answered the call to go a year even further back. (In relaying coherently the massive amount of research I’ve done into this burning question it is necessary to publish it bit by bit, so please visit my site

  • http://www.garbonza.wordpress.com
  • to get the full story over the next day or two.)

    Here we enter the official pre-Beatle Era because most Americans didn’t know that group existed before 1964 though they’d sold an audited total of more than five million singles and e.p.s in their home country through 1963, and this from a pool of potential disc-buyers one third that of the United States at the time. They’d also had three of their singles released and promoted across the United States during the year — played on many big-city top 40 programs — but people weren’t paying proper attention at the time, thus necessitating a red-carpeted second bite at the cherry (with mostly the same discs) as ordered by his lordship the chairman of EMI in London.

    A quarter century before Nielsen-SoundScan counted sales accurately, statisticians relied on figures released by disc labels or the artists themselves. This resulted in highly exaggerated, seriously underestimated or sometimes very accurate totals of particular song’s sales, depending on the motives of the label. After the Beatles finally ‘arrived’ in the US, Capitol saw the advantage of publicizing its chosen superstar’s massive disc sales with RIAA Gold Disc auditing under parent company EMI’s policy and at the same time continuing its own domestic policy of near secrecy for its other most popular clients — the Beach Boys, Bobby Darin, the Kingston Trio, Nat King Cole, Kyu Sakamoto, and now Peter & Gordon — so as not to distract attention from the predetermined main event. If it had a mind to, this also allowed Capitol to short-change these under-promoted acts on royalties with impunity — not that I’m saying they did, but the Beach Boys for one sued their label repeatedly over the years for “missing paperwork” on sales tallies. It is acknowledged that Peter, Paul & Mary edged the Beach Boys in album sales for 1963, making up 45% of all folk music sold in the US.

    1963 was the year of the Beach Boys (and soundalikes Jan & Dean) but maybe most of all maybe Peter, Paul & Mary: From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    1963 was the year of the Beach Boys (and soundalikes Jan & Dean) but maybe most of all maybe Peter, Paul & Mary: From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    Though assessed by Billboard to be the biggest-selling act of 1963, sales of individual Beach Boys discs had proven problematic because traditionally in the US the sales of a song (one side of a vinyl disc) were always counted separately. So while the double-sided hits Surfin’ USA/Shut Down, Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe and Be True to Your School/In My Room all might have sold a double-million, the question was how many sales to attribute to each song? The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison too had the same problem of being too generous filling B-sides with top quality when customarily it had been treated as a throwaway to focus attention on the “A” and not split airplay and therefore sales. Elvis Presley had scored many double-gold sellers in his heyday (pre-1963) and at least in the case of Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel more sales were assigned to the designated B-side than the “A”. Similarly, Billboard named Little Deuce Coupe as the second biggest Beach Boys seller of the year, surprisingly ahead of its “A”, which did exceedingly well topping regional charts right across the USA (apart from New York City). Regarding the Beatles, though Capitol tended to fill their early B-sides with decidedly secondary attractions — judging from results, many of these songs missing or just making the weekly top 100 — the Liverpool group would feature a number of noted double-siders in the mid 1960s: I Feel Fine/She’s a Woman, We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper, Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby.

    The most reliable list of bestsellers in the nation for 1963 involved a nationwide conference at the end of the year sponsored by the National Disk Jockey Association that included retail disc sellers and distributors, radio station personnel and research staff from trade magazines (Billboard, Cash Box, Music Vendor) who undertook a week-by-week, month-by-month breakdown of regional and national sales from January 6th to December 16th.

    (Note: It was remarked on by commentators at the time, especially through summer following a healthy-selling spring, on how low individual songs were selling, even those expected to reach a million that fell short at “three quarters of a million” or so. The lion’s share of the blame for this was put on the new Japanese pocket transistors, which afforded a free listen to your favorite tunes hanging out at the beach without shelling out singles’ exorbitant list price of 77 cents and up. Undoubtedly a second cause was the sheer amount of competition from all quarters providing what have since become recognised as classic tunes.)

    Here follows the top ten determined by that industry working group, published by Billboard in March 1964, with accompanying figures I have been able to dig up, then carrying on down the list. Hope you find some favorites somewhere in here.

    1. Surfin’ USA (Beach Boys)….. Though peaking at no.3 in the weekly charts of Billboard and Cash Box, sold probably around two million in its ten months from release to the end of the year, and continuing

    2. End Of the World (Skeeter Davis)….. peaking no.2 in weekly charts, accumulating through the entire year from its release in January

    3. Rhythm Of the Rain (Cascades)….. selling from its late-1962 release, mounting 700,000 by its third week in the top 20 to peak at no.3

    4. He’s So Fine (Chiffons)….. the most durable no.1 of the year, on its own topping Billboard for 4 weeks

    5. Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton)….. a million during chart run

    6. Hey Paula (Paul & Paula)…. audited early for a Gold Disc at 1,030,000 and in 9 months sold over 2 million worldwide; US est. around 1,400,000

    7. Fingertips (Part II) (Little Stevie Wonder)…. three weeks at no.1 through late summer

    8. Can’t Get Used to Losing You (Andy Williams)…. quoted at 850,000 by Williams, who must have been shortchanged

    9. My Boyfriend’s Back (Angels)…. three weeks at no.1 beginning autumn

    10. Sukiyaki (Kyu Sakamoto)…. three weeks at no.1 early summer, quoted at 930,000 most of the way through low-selling summer, nearing the end of its chart run

    * If I Had a Hammer (Trini Lopez)….. peaked no.3 in autumn, going on to well over a million US and 4.5 million globally

    * Puff (the Magic Dragon) (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. well over a million US from spring and multi-millions worldwide

    * Walk Like a Man (Four Seasons)…. 700,000 in 4 weeks after release, before hitting top 20, going on to three weeks at no.1 by early spring

    * Surf City (Jan & Dean)…. two weeks at no.1, quoted at 1,250,000

    * If You Wanna Be Happy (Jimmy Soul)….. ditto, a million-plus

    * Sugar Shack (Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs)….. a no.1 in Billboard towards the end of the year and building the biggest chart “points” tally for the year — boosted by airplay — but quoted at just a 1,200,000 total a year later

    * Walk Right In (Rooftop Singers)….. well over a million accumulated by this January topper

    * Green, Green (New Christie Minstrels)….. over a million steadily, then more than 3 million in a few years

    * From A Jack to a King (Ned Miller)…. well over a million; 2 million worldwide within 6 months (including over 750,000 UK)

    * I’m Leaving It Up to You (Dale & Grace)…. a million reported for this autumn no.1

    * It’s My Party (Lesley Gore)….. over a million

    * Blowin’ In the Wind (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. over a million

    * Easier Said Than Done (The Essex)….. massive but in a low-selling summer

    * Losing You (Brenda Lee)…. “climbing towards a million” three weeks into top 20

    * The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Bobby Vee)…. 700,000 after 4 weeks in top 20, peaking no.3

    * Cry Baby (Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters)…. over a million

    * Be My Baby (Ronettes)…. “about one million” claimed by Phil Spector for this disputed no.1/2

    * I Will Follow Him (Little Peggy March)…. quoted at 965,000 a year later though three weeks at no.1 in spring

    * Busted (Ray Charles)…… million-seller

    * Da Doo Ron Ron (Crystals)….. one of Phil Spector’s claimed million-sellers

    * South Street (Orlons)….. over a million

    * Our Day Will Come (Ruby & the Romantics)…. no.1 but no record of a million sale claimed

    * Ruby Baby (Dion)…. probable million-seller, not confirmed

    * In Dreams (Roy Orbison)….. million-seller

    * Take These Chains From My Heart (Ray Charles)…… million-seller

    * Two Faces Have I (Lou Christie)…. a million-seller

    * Blue On Blue (Bobby Vinton)…. “almost a million” in 4 months

    * Washington Square (Village Stompers)…. reported just over the million June ’64

    * Deep Purple (April Stevens & Nino Tempo)….. no.1 for a week in late autumn, reported passing the million in 1965

    * Heat Wave (Martha & the Vandellas)….. reported over a million (of a 4.5 million singles sales total for the Motown label in 1963)

    * It’s All Right (Impressions)…. awarded gold after a year

    * So Much in Love (Tymes)….. no.1 for one week in a slow summer

    * (You’re the) Devil in Disguise (Elvis Presley)…. sold around 700,000 initially and slowly built past a million

    * Candy Girl (Four Seasons)…. sold 200,000 fast and continued to a million, peaked no.3

    * Little Deuce Coupe (Beach Boys)… assessed by Capitol as a high seller though missing top 10

    * Surfer Girl (Beach Boys)…. assessed at less than above though peaking no.5 for three weeks

    * Mean Woman Blues (Roy Orbison)…… million-seller

    * Then He Kissed Me (Crystals)….. million-seller for producer Phil Spector, peaking no.6

    * One Fine Day (Chiffons)……. million-seller, peaking no.5

    * Detroit City (Bobby Bare)…. over a million, his biggest seller

    * Be True to Your School (Beach Boys)…. reputedly a million-seller, peaked no.6

    * Mockingbird (Inez & Charlie Foxx)… peaking no.7, initially 800,000 then passing the million

    * Donna the Prima Donna (Dion)….

    * Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash)….. a million

    * 24 Hours From Tulsa (Gene Pitney)….. confirmed million-seller

    * Call On Me (Bobby Bland)…. r&b chart winner, over a million in chart run peaking barely top 30 in the pop chart

    * 500 Miles From Home (Bobby Bare)…. another million-seller quoted for him

    * Wonderful, Wonderful (Tymes)….

    * Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right) (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. million unconfirmed

    * He’s Sure the Boy I Love (Crystals)….. probably approaching a million

    * Mecca (Gene Pitney)…. not quite a million

    * Honolulu Lulu (Jan & Dean)…… ditto

    * Walkin’ Miracle (The Essex)…..

    * Drip Drop (Dion)……. sales going into 1964

    * Half Heaven, Half Heartache (Gene Pitney)…. unconfirmed million

    * Not Me (Orlons)…..

    * The Gypsy Cried (Lou Christie)…. a million eventually

    * If My Pillow Could Talk (Connie Francis)…. 282,000 in first week of release but slowed down short of top 20

    * Abilene (George Hamilton IV)….. short of a million

    * Quicksand (Martha & the Vandellas)…… selling into 1964

    * I Love You Because (Al Martino)… 750,000 within 6 months

    * These Arms of Mine (Otis Redding)…. reported 750,000 though barely made top 100

    * You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles)….. around three quarters of a million

    * True Love Never Runs Smooth (Gene Pitney)…. something around three quarters of a million

    * Days Of Wine and Roses (Andy Williams)…. 750,000 quoted by Williams for this B-side

    * Bossa Nova Baby (Elvis Presley)…. “sales somewhat less than 700,000”

    * One Broken Heart For Sale (Elvis Presley)…. something approaching 700,000

    * Six Days On the Road (Dave Dudley)…. over 600,000 and still selling steadily after

    * Killer Joe (Rocky Fellers)….. reported at 600,000 by Filipino group

    * Follow the Boys (Connie Francis)…..

    * Blue Bayou (Roy Orbison)….. high-selling B-side

    * Little St Nick (Beach Boys)….. biggest-selling Xmas disc of 1963, accumulating a million over successive Xmases

    * Shut Down (Beach Boys)….

    * Let’s Limbo Some More (Chubby Checker)…..

    * This Little Girl (Dion)……

    * Loddy Lo (Chubby Checker)…..

    * Birdland (Chubby Checker)……..

    * Marlena (Four Seasons)…… B-side performing well

    * Ain’t That a Shame (Four Seasons)……

    * Don’t Set Me Free (Ray Charles)…….

    * 20 Miles (Chubby Checker)…….

    * Falling (Roy Orbison)….. needed international sales to take it over the million

    * In My Room (Beach Boys)…. ditto

    * Pretty Paper (Roy Orbison)….. Xmas song selling into 1964

    SPECIAL MENTION: those that sold well over a million but had their sales split into 1964

    Microsoft Word - _Student Outline #10_ - School of Rock-John LenDominique (Singing Nun)…. said to have sold almost a million by Xmas and then continued just as strong

    Louie, Louie (Kingsmen)…. approached 2 million but well into 1964, topping 3 million in the US alone by late ’67

    There I’ve Said It Again! (Bobby Vinton)….. broke the label record of 94,000 in one day

    You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore)…. sold mostly into 1964

    Forget Him (Bobby Rydell)….. ditto

    BIGGEST SELLING DISCS OF 1964: “IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY…”

    In history, music on April 7, 2014 at 2:09 am

    No, nothing to do with the Sgt Pepper’s album, whose 50th anniversary is still to come three years from now. Though the Beatles changed the stakes by selling just as many albums in the States as singles, individual songs (the A-side of a vinyl single) still made the biggest impact on the charts and to careers — to change to albums later in the decade.

    It was 1964 that was unquestionably the year of the Beatles — in the United States. In their homeland the Beatles had already made multiple breakthroughs right through 1963, their singles more than doubling the sales of the previous one until reaching a ceiling: from Love Me Do (116,000) to Please Please Me (310,000), From Me to You (660,000), the Twist & Shout e.p. the same, She Loves You (1,890,000) and I Want to Hold Your Hand (1,640,000). These last two would remain their biggest-ever sellers in the UK (double that of Hey Jude in 1968 after four years of steadily falling sales across the British industry). After From Me to You had ‘peaked’ for them at 21,000 North American sales, the very last was the disc that finally broke through in America with hefty saturation promotion via New York radio stations during the two weeks of the New Year 1964 holiday. The Beatles were a commercial phenomenon, the biggest thing on disc since the Chipmunks sold seven million of their Xmas song in 1958-59.

    N.B. The figures quoted in this article are the official retail totals of cross-counter sales through each disc’s chart run as far as can be determined from this distance. In Britain this is generally the single’s total up to date, unless specially re-released and publicized as such. In the States vinyl presses tended to be kept at the ready for big hits, especially for long-running performers who could promote the song all over again for seasonal occasions or on tour, and many medium to big hits turned into monumental ones over the years. (Fans couldn’t get enough of those cute Chipmunks and took their disc to 12 million over the next two Xmases.) Note also that the cost of a single in America (and Britain) in the early to mid Sixties ranged from 75 cents upwards — proportionate to relative incomes, more than $10 today. Additionally, the population of the USA — and its record-buyers — was barely more than half what it is today.

    The year before, the Beach Boys had been the biggest sellers of US singles (the Four Seasons in 1962) at around six and a half million in total (my estimate) in a low-selling year, followed by Dion, the Four Seasons, Ray Charles, and Chubby Checker fading, 5th. Surfin’ USA was ajudged the top-selling single by torturous process, out on its own but at probably well under two million, compared to 1962 which had boasted at least seven singles selling the double-million or approaching it.

    The Beatle industry’s massive assault on the USA and rest-of-the-world markets really began in fall 1963 when Capitol executives were summoned from Hollywood to London by Sir Joseph Lockwood, chairman of parent company EMI, to please explain why his trans-global corporation had made no dent at all in the States with its fluffiest product. Capitol, from its point of view, had done fine with its biggest disc sellers, Bozo the Clown in the Fifties, and now the Beach Boys. Lockwood was determined to give a hefty promotional push to this one product in the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach. Sure enough, the Beatle singles that flopped in America over the past year — Please Please Me, From Me to You, She Loves You — were about to be unloaded all over again as new product on an unsuspecting public to sell in the millions, along with such worthies as And I Love Her/If I Fell that got lost in the rush and missed the top 10 (maybe selling close to three quarters of a mill) and real dogs like My Bonnie, that never made it past the 300,000 sales mark but still through saturation airplay made the Billboard top 30 and Sie Liebe Dich (Ja, Ja, Ja) that barely made the Hot 100 — its German even less comprehensible than Liverpudlian. Suffice to say, during April 1964 it was figured that 60% of singles sold in the USA across a three-week period were Beatle ones. At the end of that month, of 14 Beatle singles listing on the charts, five of them lined up at the very top of the Billboard chart.

    The Beatles, mid 1964

    The Beatles, mid 1964

      THE BIGGEST-SELLING SINGLES OF 1964 in the U.S.A.

    alone, as accurately as I can gauge by assiduous research into a period eons before Neilson-Soundscan electronic retail recording:

    1. I Want to Hold Your Hand (Beatles)….. 3,500,000 over the US chart run and building eventually to an estimated 5,300,000; over 12 million worldwide

    2. Hello Dolly (Louis Armstrong)….. approaching 3,000,000 US through 1964

    3. She Loves You (Beatles)……. more than 2,500,000

    4. Oh Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison)…… around 2,000,000 or more

    5. I Get Around (Beach Boys)…… approaching 2,000,000 during US chart run

    6. Louie Louie (Kingsmen)…… approaching 2,000,000 but many during 1963

    7. My Guy (Mary Wells)…… more than 1,500,000

    8. Glad All Over (Dave Clark Five)….. more than 1,500,000

    9. Everybody Loves Somebody (Dean Martin)….. almost 2,000,000 running into 1965

    10. Dominique (The Singing Nun)…. more than 1,750,000 but many during 1963

    (These are the top ten for the year according to Cash Box, the best trade paper at tracking sales, closely confirmed by Billboard for the first five places and then showing increasing variance.)

      OTHER CONTENDERS & RUNNERS-UP

    :

    * Chapel Of Love (Dixie Cups)….. around 2,000,000

    * Can’t Buy Me Love (Beatles)……. record advance order of 2,100,000 but actual sales apparently didn’t approach this

    * I Feel Fine (Beatles)…. advance orders (not retail sales) of a million-plus, building to 1,600,000 but counted under 1965

    * A Hard Day’s Night (Beatles)…… RIAA Gold Disc for a million in the US awarded one month into top 20 run

    * Rag Doll (Four Seasons)….. RIAA Gold Disc awarded two months into top 20 run

    * Twist & Shout (Beatles)…… 1,250,000

    * Last Kiss (J Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers)….. a million within three months

    * You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore)…… more than 1,000,000 during chart run

    * Dawn (Go Away) (Four Seasons)….. over a million by internal evidence relative to others

    * Bits and Pieces (Dave Clark Five)….. Gold disc awarded by Epic label within three months

    * Please Please Me (Beatles)……. 1,185,725 in US

    * Love Me Do (Beatles)……. 1,165,200 in US

    * Dancing In The Street (Martha & the Vandellas)….. 1,000,000 in chart run

    * We’ll Sing in the Sunshine (Gale Garnett)…. posted by Billboard at 9th for the year but only documentation is more than 900,000 within three months

    * Where Did Our Love Go? (Supremes)………. 1,072,270 sale quoted by Motown contract

    * Do You Want to Know a Secret (Beatles)…… 1,000,000

    * Fun Fun Fun (Beach Boys)……. accumulating 1,000,000 in US in a few months; reported in 1995 as having sold “over 4 million”

    * Baby Love (Supremes)….. more than 1,000,000 but counted into 1965

    * Remember (Walking in the Sand) (Shangri-Las)….. “a million”

    * G.T.O. (Ronny & the Daytonas)…… “a million”

    * Walk Don’t Run ’64 (Ventures)….. “(second) gold disc”

    * My Boy Lollipop (Millie Small)…… “almost a million”

    * Little Old Lady From Pasadena (Jan & Dean)… presumed million from internal evidence

    * California Sun (Rivieras)….. “almost a million”

    * The Girl From Ipanema (Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto)….. “almost 1,000,000”

    * Dang Me (Roger Miller)…… claimed a million

    * Chug-A-Lug (Roger Miller)….. claimed a million

    * Little Honda (Hondells)…. Beach Boys in disguise, selling a million

    * Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man) (Serendipity Singers)…. 800,000-plus initially

    * Baby I Need Your Lovin’ (Four Tops)….. 750,000 initially, building to a million in 1965

    * A Woman’s Love (Carla Thomas)…. barely made the weekly top 100 but sold a million in the r&b market

    * Dance Dance Dance (Beach Boys)…. at least three quarters of a million, taken over the million by record club sales

    * When I Grow Up (Beach Boys)…. as above, similarly barely top 10 in Billboard (airplay) but top 5 in sales charts

    * Ask Me/Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby (Elvis Presley)…. initially 700,000 sold, going on eventually to gold disc US

    * Kissin’ Cousins (Elvis Presley)…. quoted 700,000 sales

    * Viva Las Vegas (Elvis Presley)…. initially just under 500,000 but going on long term to a US gold disc

    * Dead Man’s Curve (Jan & Dean)…. reported 790,000 sold in US spring chart run

    * Ride the Wild Surf (Jan & Dean)…. est. three quarters of a million plus

    * Sidewalk Surfin’ (Jan & Dean)…. (reworded from the Beach Boys’ Catch A Wave), reported 700,000-plus by spring ’65 though barely top 30

      SPECIAL MENTION

    :

    * Downtown (Petula Clark)….. didn’t enter top 20 till second day of 1965 (but went on to sell 3 million in US alone)

    * You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (Righteous Bros)….. ditto the same day

      QUESTION MARKS

    :

    * House of the Rising Sun (Animals)…… no.1 but no confirmation

    * Do Wah Diddy Diddy (Manfred Mann)…… no.1 but no confirmation

    * Leader of the Pack (Shangri-Las)….. no.1 but similarly no confirmation of a million US sale (but pulled off a rare feat of placing top in all four major US charts, Billboard, Cash Box, Record World, Variety)

    * She’s Not There (Zombies)….. no.1 but no confirmation

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas.

    1962: Sixties Music Thriving

    In history, music on March 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    The year 1962 was one of those “watershed” years, if that metaphor can somehow be applied to the popular music business. Five years before, at the height of the explosion of rock’n’roll, had seen posted the all-time record in vinyl disc sales. By 1959 the boom had dipped to a slump and recovery was slow. Now three years later came the long-awaited big comeback in singles and the first sizable advance in sales of albums since they’d been introduced a few years before. Popular music albums had been the poor relation of movie soundtracks, original stage cast productions and comedy albums, which quite regularly sold over a million even for comics now virtually forgotten: Allen Sherman, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Dick Gregory (a controversial black humorist), Rusty Warren (she was a woman)… In pop music there had been operatic movie star Mario Lanza appearing early in the Fifties but by their end only two black crooners of “Easy Listening” music, Harry Belafonte and Johnny Mathis, stood out as reliable sellers of albums in big numbers. Elvis Presley’s first million-selling album took two or three years to get there. And it would be 1963 before the first Sixties “rock” stars made it big in albums: Peter, Paul & Mary

    From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    and the Beach Boys; and in Britain, the Beatles.

    Two more black balladeers, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, took to “country” music in ’62 though their bluesy/jazz voices could not be disguised, taking their biggest numbers I Can’t Stop Loving You and Ramblin’ Rose up to top the charts and go further to post the rare landmark of two million disc sales. The summer especially saw sales rocket, in many major cities some fifty percent or more over the previous year. For the first time, songs that barely made Billboard’s top 20 sold a million discs or close to it: Surfin’ Safari by the Beach Boys and Silver Threads and Golden Needles by the Springfields with lead singer Dusty. (Though in the face of this renewed rock impetus, “Easy Listening” for “adults” still ruled: Tony Bennett’s slow-selling I Left My Heart in San Francisco accumulating two million.) In autumn too came the biggest new white group of the rock era thus far, innovating in writing, arranging and producing their own recordings. The Four Seasons,

    The Four Seasons in 1962, of 'Sherry', 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man' vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

    The Four Seasons in 1962, of ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’ vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

    Italian-Americans from New Jersey, scored with Sherry, moving 180,000 copies the day after being played on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and climbing to a double-million seller; then Big Girls Don’t Cry, almost as big.

    In black music the balladeer group the Platters had dominated pop since 1955, recently overtaken by the Drifters in r&b/pop (Save the Last Dance for Me, Up On the Roof) and, more spectacularly, girl group the Shirelles whose standout 1962 entry was Baby It’s You, a revolution in sound and mood and dwarfing the quality of the remake the Beatles would fast turn out in tribute; accompanying it was their big number one for the year, Soldier Boy. Already, by fall, they were being eclipsed by Phil Spector group the Crystals (He’s a Rebel), to be top girl group until the arrival of Motown’s Martha (Reeves) & the Vandellas (Heat Wave) a year later, and Diana Ross & the Supremes yet a year further along.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

    However, the massive seismic impact that changed the music scene overnight in the New Year of ’62 was the second coming of The Twist, as a song, but primarily a dance that took the world by storm, for the first time getting middle-aged trendies like Jackie Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor up on the teen dance floor. The singer — and gyrater — was moca-colored Chubby Checker, in the process of overtaking Elvis this year. Uniquely topping the charts twice in two years with a song that Billboard would name the biggest of the rock era. Ensuring a bridge from the Fifties’ seminal r&b of Hank Ballard,

    Hank Ballard: too black for a superstar in 1960

    Hank Ballard: too black for a superstar in 1960

    its raucous but precise execution blaring out of millions of pocket transistors worldwide emphatically confirmed that black rock music was the model from now on.

    Elvis’s most convincing heir as white interpreter of black music was Dion (DiMucci), with more r&b feel than other Italian-American teen idols like Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian Forte. He was hot with Runaround Sue, The Wanderer and Ruby Baby. The following year James Brown and 13-year-old “genius” Stevie Wonder would continue to hoist black rock on high with chart-topping albums. And Sam Cooke (Chain Gang, Bring It On Home to Me)

    Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

    Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

    would stake his claim as the Prince of Soul, along with Jackie Wilson (Baby Work Out) — who with Brown would determine the most striking dance moves of Michael Jackson.

    DIY Rock Stars (Part 1)

    In history, music on November 11, 2013 at 6:02 am

    In the 1960s the Beatles and Monkees both hit with a formula for unbridled, all-round success, or rather stumbled on it because in the end their own abilities had not much to do with it. They were big-business success stories more than anything else, in a pattern that became more common in ensuing decades as independent artists grew rarer. Both groups were the passive objects of well-connected, highly driven managers; were the favored projects of big corporations in disc recording and television, even movies. And both groups played the game for whatever it took, going well beyond the bounds of their own good taste to ensure bigger bucks for everyone in their trans-continental organizations. The Supremes too, with much less to offer as non-songwriters and non-musicians, were hoisted as the pet superstars favored above everyone else at the Motown label. Everyone else had to do it themselves in the Sixties.

    Beach Boys wait with parents (co-signing for minors) in the outer office of the Capitol Tower, Hollywood, ready to sign with the label, May 1962: from left, Carl Wilson, 15; Brian Wilson, 19; Dave Marks, 13; Denny Wilson, 17; Murry Wilson, Audree Wilson and the Marks parents.

    Beach Boys wait with parents (co-signing for minors) in the outer office of the Capitol Tower, Hollywood, ready to sign with the label, May 1962: from left, Carl Wilson, 15; Brian Wilson, 19; Dave Marks, 13; Denny Wilson, 17; Murry Wilson, Audree Wilson and the Marks parents.

    The Beach Boys, with the Wilson brothers’ father as manager, had scored a rare coup — a minor national hit with their first recording that became a big hit locally in Los Angeles, San Diego and the rest of Southern California, and got airplay up the rest of the Pacific Coast and as far afield as Erie PA and Italy. It was six months before a major label — Capitol/EMI — took them up and they had to do it themselves all over again, this time with the classic Surfin’ Safari. This vinyl single by itself (backed with co-rocker car song 409) represented a nine-month struggle that brought survival for the group and rock music back to the airwaves after a consensus of radio stations, particularly in New York, had agreed in early 1962 to push nice, quieter, slower melodic music for “grown-ups”.

    Produced by the group and recorded at an independent studio in April, signed over to Capitol in May and issued early June, the A-side was being played two weeks before release at KMEN-San Bernardino though “put down” by radio bosses in LA itself. The virtual blacklist on rock that existed among radio stations across America, the prejudice against newcomers in LA and the overriding preference for c&w across the South, Southwest and great swaths of the Midwest, would all have to be overcome by any new act entering the rock scene and wanting to go nationwide, never mind worldwide. Capitol put no more than $5,000 into promoting the label’s first rock group into stars (one tenth of the budget they would lay out 18 months later to establish the Beatles in New York City, gateway to North America). By the end of its first month it was high on playlists in Ohio, at the independent WDON in Washington DC and WYDE-Birmingham AL.

    It would hit high on charts at “surfin'” spots on the West Coast but “early” only in one sense: early in August in San Diego, Fresno and Seattle; early September in LA; and finally rebounded back to San Francisco early in November. In time the Beach Boys’ first big hit, which bore a passing resemblance to the Chubby Checker and Coasters style of r&b, would also top in Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Dallas-Fort Worth, Buffalo, Minneapolis-St Paul and other regional centers. It sold most in New York City, breaking Capitol sales records there in rising to runner-up and over the next fifteen years surveyed as the seventh biggest- selling song in the 25 million catchment area of the major WNBC network station; and did (proportionately) almost as well in the other big music centers of the day, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. In September also it reached the top ten in Sydney, Australia, to register as the group’s first international winner, and in November topped the Swedish chart.

    In the meantime, 409 on its own would top-ten charts in San Bernardino-Riverside, Seattle, Denver, New Jersey, New Hampshire… and go to the very top in Charleston WV, and Dallas only in the very last week of 1962.

    FILM ART PEAKS: Seventy years ago today

    In art, film, history, Humor, sociology on July 8, 2013 at 5:19 am

    King_Kong_1933There’s a long-time popular theory that film as an art form peaked in the silent days — when the greatest artists coming to film were painters, sculptors, writers, philosophers and other creative spirits — and the possibilities of sound had been virtually fully exploited by the end of the 1930s; certainly by the end of the Forties, for the sake of including the psychological profundity and visual stylishness of Film Noir. I happen to agree.

    But by 1940 the possibilities of virtually every recognised film genre seemed to have been explored and fulfilled. There can hardly have been a better horror flick than Frankenstein, The Mummy or Bride of Frankenstein; a better fantasy adventure than King Kong; a better sc-fi than Shapes of Things to Come; a better swashbuckler than Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood or Tyrone Power’s Mark of Zorro; a better family musical than the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz; a better kids adventure than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with unsung Tommy Kelly; a better social conscience film than the John Ford-Henry Fonda Grapes of Wrath; a better social/sophisticated comedy than My Man Godfrey with William Powell and Carole Lombard; a better screwball comedy than Bringing Up Baby (Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn); a better crime film than William Wyler’s Dead End; a better soap than Gone With the Wind; a better western than Stagecoach or Jesse James; a better women’s picture than The Women or Bette Davis’s The Letter; a better animated film than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Fantasia; a better noir than Marcel Carne-Jean Gabin’s Le Jour Se Leve; come to that, better foreign films than those of Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Renoir or Rene Clair; or, filmed that last year, a better definitive masterpiece than Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. After that, well, filmmakers were reduced to fiddling on a theme.

    You know people have too much time to kill when they put out a movie called Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and are serious about it; it’s not a Mel Brooks comedy or Tim Burton send-up, or even those brothers who did the Airplane and Naked Gun flicks. I stumbled on this gem leafing through the TV Guide and came to be thankful I’m not rich and idle enough to afford the Sky Movies channel, just the MGM and TCM channels in a cut-rate deal, showing oldies. This film is not a cheapo, but stars James Bond superstar Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, who I once caught acting in a 1984 thriller involving the Amish and before that in a cameo in American Graffiti (1973). Since then he’s spent most of his time trying to figure out wookies and who-knows-what else.

    Researching, it’s a DreamWorks adaptation of a comic book, the third in a series, believe it or not. And you know people have too much money when you find out it cost the gargantuan amount of $163 million — admittedly a fraction of what that woman won in the lottery but maybe enough to raise a few South Sea islands out of the drink to save a few hundred thousand people from global warming for the duration if others in the know put their heads to something worthwhile. That was just to film and edit it to get it in the can (no, the other one, worse luck), plus who-knows-how-much to promote it — probably Wizard_of_oz_movie_posterat least doubling the outlay. It took in a lousy $100 million at the box-office its first three months in the USA (plus the DVD crowd) and out of 120,000 responders at the IMDb site it’s scored barely six out of ten, very low for your average special effects blockbuster. So maybe there’s hope for the human race yet — apart from filmmakers.

    Probably the best thing about the movie is the title — no, don’t expect me to actually watch it — almost clever the way it almost duplicates the old kids game of Cowboys & Indians. Almost, but nowhere good enough to be called witty. Leaving out the initial Star Wars cycle (1978), when the whole special effects genre was still novel enough to be interesting, the first movie I noticed like this, combining a reference to history as a veneer on top of thick, gooey fairytale fantasy, was Beethoven, which turned out to be a comedy about a dog. Of course, when a pretend-historical cycle came into fashion, they did movies on the actual Beethoven’s girlfriend and then Shakespeare’s girlfriend — betraying their anti-feminist belief that the only women worth taking notice of are women who’d succeeded with famous men, not in their own right: snob versions of Bunnies of the Playboy Mansion or Kardashians on tv. These were mixed in indiscriminantly with a lot of romantic novels from the Age of Romance: i.e. Jane Austen, ad nauseam, a.k.a. How to Misunderstand (and Catch) a Man 101.

    Let’s not be too hard because this is probably what passes for creativity today, along with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, designer labels, junk sculpture, more comic book mentality and anything else that attracts heaps of bucks from gullible people with chronically fugged minds. Fans of this drek often justify themselves by saying it’s film art in the mold of The Beach Girls & the Monster or the finest works of Ed Wood — which were only ever intended as cheap knockoffs made for the lowest common denominator for a few thousand dollars each, and which only inconvenienced very few film craftsmen at a time and hardly more souls at the box-office. But we must brace ourselves. Every art form (maybe involving a handful of unrecognized films each year these days) goes through historical highs and lows. English-language poetry as a worthwhile art form (I don’t know enough about French, almost nothing about Russian) after the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras was fairly barren from the silencing of Milton around 1660, finding himself banned on Charles II’s restoration of the monarchy, and the advent of Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth c.1797; 137 years give or take. (In the intervening generations only Dryden, Swift and Pope made any mark in English-language poetry.) So, subtracting the 35 years we are in to the Star Wars age already, we can allow up to a century or so for film as an art form to get back on track.

    Casablanca

    My New Book: “Black Rock via Beach Boys vs Beatlemania = Sixties Music”

    In celebrity, history, music on October 21, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    MichaelJasboy284My new book is due out before Christmas — this Xmas, 2011 [CORRECTION: Xmas 2013]. Entitled “Black Rock via Beach Boys vs Beatlemania = Sixties Music”, it is an ebook distributed by Booklocker.com — The price hasn’t been set yet, but should be way affordable for all you rockers interested in reading over 600 pages (over 250,000 words) touching on almost every aspect of the music business in the Sixties. Again, like the previous paperback “Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music” (booklocker.com, 448 pages, publ 2007), it is seen in the context of the Beach Boys vs Beatles debate. The bulk of the original book is still there, and refined. But I’ve added a LOT more (nearly 200 pages) especially on the highly influential and pivotal roles of your favorite neglected African American acts of the Sixties: James Brown, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard & the Midniters, the Tokens, the Isley Bros, Chubby Checker, Ike & Tina Turner, Etta James, the Chantels, the Shirelles, the Chiffons, the Crystals, the Ronettes, the New Orleans and Chicago schools, Sly & the Family Stone — and all the VeeJay, Motown, Atlantic stars including Little Esther Phillips, Little Willie John, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, Bobby Blue Bland and Mercury stars Sarah Vaughan, Brook Benton,Dinah Washington, Timi Yuro.

    Don’t miss out on what could be the ONE book on Sixties Music you’ve been wanting.

    POLITICAL REVIEW — John Boehner & Benedict Arnold: Traitors or Enlightened Self-Interest?

    In civics, history, ideology, politics on August 21, 2011 at 12:34 am

    A lot of people reading this will wonder how I dare to compare Boehner with Benedict Arnold — that arch-traitor of American history — never mind include them in the same sentence. Granted, it looks like Boehner tried a lot harder than General Arnold to damage his own country, and on a lot bigger scale — not to mention the rest of the world. Now old Benedict begins to look like smallfry. Billions around the world will suffer that bit more from the action Boehner led in the US House of Representatives to prevent tax rises for his money-hording constituents. Maybe Boehner thought, looking at the plight of dying children in Africa, Hey already, Dead is dead. Can’t get more deader’n that…

    U.S. President Obama speaks during a bipartisan meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House

    Benedict Arnold, once a battle hero of the new United Colonies, switched sides and betrayed his fellow colonists for personal glory — believing he wasn’t credited enough for his efforts: vain to the ultimate. Boehner’s actions can no way be associated with glory, willing to sacrifice against all democratic precedent the common welfare of his own countrymen and women, and untold ‘foreigners’ (maybe a bonus he didn’t count on) largely for the sake of the wealthiest 1/10,000th of the electorate and the so-called Tea Party movement. Many of this ilk like Bachmann, Palin and Perry maybe think the original Tea Party was at the Vanderbilts’, Rockefellers’ or J. P. Morgans’ one afternoon in their golden age of the Robber Barons. Their ‘God’ is definitely a punishing one who not only lets the poor fend for themselves but is all for siphoning off the little money they have to humble them and build their characters even further.

    Little Johnny claimed afterwards to be pretty happy because he got 98% of what he wanted. But I imagine it’s a pretty dry, cheerless, childish, selfish kind of happiness that satisfies him: seeing so many of his countrymen and women suffering just to make him happy. I can’t imagine, for instance, him ever having the largeness of heart to tell a joke against himself, like the time-honoured classic I have adapted just for him, it seems so apt:

    “Little Johnny Boehner went to the cupboard to fetch poor Rover a bone. When he bent over, Rover took over, and gave Johnny a bone of his own.”

    It’s curious how Republicans these days are so obsessed with sex but seem to find such little joy in it — more like a means of punishment, or something to be hidden away… Is that why he calls himself “Baner” by the way? So people won’t insert him into that and other rhymes?

    No less than Obama called Boehner a man of “good will” after all the carping from the other side. What’s going through the President’s mind has left the US’s best political pundits guessing, so I won’t attempt it. Just seems like Obama could have found a nicer playmate to pal up with when the future of the world is at stake.

    I’ve recently discovered that Obama thinks he’s modeling himself on Abrham Lincoln, by listening to all sides equally, then letting the most powerful, ruthless faction win. Couldn’t be further from the truth… On a post on the Alternet website I saw Obama’s behavior described as “Appeasement” and I can’t do better than that. He reminds me of that champion of Appeasement in 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, waving a piece of paper containing a blackmailed agreement signed by his enemy — as if in triumph. Let’s hope none of the enemies of America are as monstrous as the accommodating “Herr Hitler”.

    ROCK MUSIC’S ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE: THE SIXTIES

    In history, music on July 25, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Popular music as it was shaping going into 1962 promised to follow up the original rock’n’roll explosion of 1955-57 with a heady infusion of power and sophistication from many sources. Pop music created for the youth market was already being called ‘Rock’ as short for rock’n’roll by Billboard, Cash Box and other trade publications. (Record World, Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone would come later in the Sixties.)

    According to the usual economic cycles, and specifically due to the cheap Japanese pocket transistor radios entering the market, record sales had come down since their historical peak in the 1957 calendar year. By that time a brigade of teen idols had infiltrated the purity of Rock and broadened it to “rock and roll”, expanding overall sales thanks to Pat Boone, Tab Hunter, Tommy Sands, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell et al promoted by Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and Connie Francis, Brenda Lee and other teens dependent on Brill Building songwriters in New York.

    In contrast to most of these, in the second half of 1960 and increasingly through 1961 strong Rock performers such as Lloyd Price, Hank Ballard & the Midniters (‘Finger Poppin’ Time’), Chubby Checker (riding on a remake of Hank’s ‘The Twist’) and vocal groups the Drifters and the Impressions, among others, brought the energy of r&b to mainstream radio. Many others celebrated lesser degress of success but contributed their influence to the mix.

    Hank Ballard: too black for a superstar in 1960

    By the end of 1961, Chubby Checker a transcendent figure bringing The Twist as a dance to middle-agers around the world, was joined at no.1 by strong r&b entries in the Marcels’ ‘Blue Moon’, Ernie K. Doe’s ‘Mother-in-Law’, Gary US Bonds’ ‘Quarter to Three’, Bobby Lewis’s ‘Tossing and Turning’, Ray Charles’ ‘Hit the Road Jack’, the Marvelettes’ ‘Please Mr Postman’, the Tokens’ ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ — and growling white boys Roy Orbison, Del Shannon and Dion breaking away from the teen idol stereotype.

    Control freak Phil Spector had written and produced for Atlantic and as a hands-on boutique independent brought popped-up black r&b into the top 10 with girl groups the Crystals (’62) incorporating Darlene Love, and the Ronettes (’63), each with a string of a half-dozen classic hits and only stopped by the arrival of the Beatles and the summary takeover of the airwaves by raucous male groups and accompanying dissing of girl acts.

    In mid 1962 came the initial big hits of two white American groups, the Four Seasons based in New York and recrafting Doo Wop, and the Beach Boys of Los Angeles, likewise but purveying it from a foundation of adapted, advanced rock’n’roll. From their start with the double ‘Surfin’ Safari’/ ‘409’ the Beach Boys were judged to be broadly talented enough to produce bestselling albums — the first such teen group to do so. In 1963 not only the Beach Boys but James Brown and Stevie Wonder had number one albums. The revolution was on…

    Both the Four Seasons and Beach Boys recognised the primacy of Black input into modern American music (predicted generations earlier by classical Czech composer Dvorak as its proper course) and kept it in the mainstream as its closest white interpreters until blues-centred English groups the Animals, Rolling Stones and Kinks arrived in the big time late in 1964, bringing the most purist Blues oriented stylings since the mid Fifties.

    By then Spector and the Righteous Brothers had arguably perfected the ‘softer’ American r&b, now called Soul, in the form of ‘You’ve Lost Lovin’ Feelin”, leaving James Brown and Aretha Franklin to take up the more spontaneous, shouting form of African-based Soul — supported by South African diva Miriam Makeba (‘Pata Pata’). In the meantime, Motown had usurped the positions of the Four Seasons and Beach Boys in r&b-tinged pop, rendering secondary white groups such as the Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders superfluous but leaving the field open for the likes of the Rascals and Three Dog Night, bestselling white groups during 1966-69.

    The English strand developed in a more open field, though never reaching the singular instrumental virtuosity or vision of Blues master Jimi Hendrix — through The Who, Cream, and the Yardbirds morphing into Led Zeppelin in 1969.

    Given this, the Beatles-led British Invasion centred on Music Hall, show tunes and pablum-rock, offered not much more than a weenie/preteen alternative. Until the Beatles went folk in 1965, baroque in 1966, and electronic in 1967 strongly directed by Bob Dylan, record producer George Martin and others. Mostly, clustered around the top of Billboard with the Beatles, the British were the entirely expendable Herman’s Hermits, Dave Clark Five, Freddie & the Dreamers, Peter & Gordon, Chad & Jeremy, Gerry & the Pacemakers…

    The tragedy is that this distraction (tolerated as a novelty by serious musicians 1964-66) from the main event has been taken seriously by historians ever since.

    POLITICAL REVIEW: U.S. CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS Part 1 — The American Way: Killed by Freedom

    In civics, history, ideology, politics on May 26, 2010 at 8:44 am

    second_amendment_by_roscoso-d5ofa7xBack in the early Seventies one of my favorite rock bands was Guess Who, a Canadian group who came out against US society metaphorically with American Woman (“keep away from me… Mama let me be…”). Another of their songs was Guns, Guns, Guns — against shooting caribou and other living things indiscriminantly.

    Guns is one issue. But the rest of the world has trouble understanding a political system that first gets a President in with a landslide indicating a mandate for radical change, then the first time he even partly succeeds with watered-down change people call for his blood. More on this in Part 2 of this series on the U.S. Constitution.

    It seems there are so many ‘checks and balances’ in the system that meaningful change is virtually impossible. Once something stupid is institutionalised across the country, not even the literal meaning of the Constitution can change it. Take the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As contained in the Bill of Rights as distributed to and ratified by the states in December 1791, it reads:

    “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

    Nowhere does it say individuals can bear arms according to their own conscience. In fact, exactly the opposite. It seems for the past 200 years Jefferson’s words have been deliberately ignored.

    Anyone who can comprehend the English language at a level of more than one phrase and connected clause in the same sentence, can see that the right to keep a gun is wholly dependent on three clear conditions: 1) Its use is to be by a militia (nowhere does it say individual) 2) Its use is for defense 3) Its use is to be by the People, requiring an organisation of said citizens and implying corporate permission and responsibility for each instance of use.

    It is therefore clear that the U.S. has its own Constitution badly wrong, has been wrong all these years since individual gun ownership and use has become so popular, and has no intention (by consensus) of correcting this glaring misreading that could have been corrected by any Year 7 student. The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves at this travesty in interpretation which has been perpetrated and perpetuated by generations of Justices of the United States Supreme Court.

    Thomas Jefferson

    Benjamin Franklin

    When I brought this discrepancy in interpretation of the Amendment up to an American-born expatriate professor in international law, who happens to be a longstanding acquaintance, and finally pinned him down to the inescapable meaning of the amendment in English, his resort was: “Well, try taking their right to guns away from Americans!” Not exactly a legal argument. But this seems to be what it boils down to. Successive generations of increasingly gun-happy Americans have twisted the meaning of the original words to mean anything they want.

    This could be the biggest propaganda lie in popular literature since George Orwell’s “Some are more equal than others.”

    The bottom line is: Most murders in the U.S. are not premeditated but are unplanned crimes of opportunity — committed on the spur of the moment or at least under the sway of strong emotion: simply because guns are a handy recourse to a ‘solution’. Reduce the handy availability of guns according to the Constitution, and reduce murders wholesale.

    American Idol of 1959: Hottest Youth Stars

    In film, history, music on May 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Two superstars of 1959: Bobby Darin & Sandra Dee, fiance and fiancee

    1. Bobby Darin — scores massive hits with ‘Dream Lover’ (self-penned) and old standard ‘Mack the Knife’, and becoming a credible star actor

    2. Ricky Nelson — star of the Nelson family’s hit tv series, and of Howard Hawks’ big-screen Rio Bravo with billing equal to John Wayne and Dean Martin, and biggest record-seller next to Elvis and Fats Domino

    3. Elvis Presley — in the Army and no movies released, but still scoring no.1 records: ‘I Got Stung’ in the UK, and in the US ‘A Fool Such As I’ and ‘A Big Hunk of Love’

    4. Frankie Avalon — five top 10ers including two no.1s, as promoted by American Bandstand, and filming a supporting role in The Alamo under John Wayne

    5. Fabian — four top 10ers, ditto, and starring in Hound Dog Man on the big screen for Fox, top-billed over Stuart Whitman and Carol Lynley

    6. Pat Boone — hit records have tailed off, but still a big screen star under Fox, i.e. in the blockbuster Journey to the Center of the Earth

    7. Ed ‘Kookie’ Byrnes — a sensation on Warner Bros tv 77 Sunset Strip, a studio starlet with potential on the big screen, and teamed with Connie Stevens has sold nearly two million copies of novelty disc ‘Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb’ by the end of the year

    8. Michael Landon — a big cult figure at drive-ins in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and now at 22 the youngest, prettiest star of hit tv series Bonanza

    9. Steve McQueen — solo star of tv’s Wanted – Dead or Alive and making rapid strides on big screen, graduating from The Blob and now paid a top featuring fee of $75,000 for Never So Few with Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida

    10. Fats Domino — five top 20 hits this year among his dozens of million-sellers, tallied to more than 50 million sales by the end of the year, but too fat and black (and now too old) to cross over on screen

    — TUNE BACK IN SOON FOR THE GIRLS —

    ROCK MUSIC: FAVORITE HITS OF 1967

    In history, music on September 22, 2009 at 6:49 am

    Lovely Tammi Terrell, soon deceased of a brain tumor, with Marvin Gaye

    Lovely Tammi Terrell, soon deceased of a brain tumor, with Marvin Gaye

    Pata Pata — Miriam Makeba
    Purple Haze — Jimi Hendrix
    Heroes & Villains — the Beach Boys
    Happy Jack — the Who
    Tin Soldier — the Small Faces
    Mas Que Nada — Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
    So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star — the Byrds
    The Letter — the Box Tops
    Mellow Yellow — Donovan
    Words — the Monkees
    Chain of Fools — Aretha Franklin
    Let the Heartaches Begin — Long John Baldry
    Rain on the Roof — the Lovin’ Spoonful
    Waterloo Sunset — the Kinks
    Ain’t No Mountain High Enough — Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
    How Can I Be Sure? — the Rascals
    The Wind Cries Mary — Jimi Hendrix
    Light My Fire — the Doors
    Respect — Aretha franklin
    I Feel Free — the Cream
    Hello Goodbye — the Beatles
    Dedicated to the One I Love — the Mamas & the Papas
    There is a Mountain — Donovan
    Ode to Billie Joe — Bobbie Gentry
    Groovin’ — the Rascals
    I’ll Never Fall in Love Again — Tom Jones
    I Had to Much to Dream Last Night — the Electric Prunes
    Natural Woman — Aretha Franklin
    Eight Miles High — the Byrds
    Wild Honey — the Beach Boys
    Hole in My Shoe — Traffic
    Strange Brew — the Cream
    Strawberry Fields — the Beatles
    A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You — the Monkees
    When I Was Young — the Animals
    Pictures of Lily — the Who
    Hey Baby — the Buckinghams
    The Day I Met Marie — Cliff Richard
    I Was Made to Love Her — Stevie Wonder
    Itchycoo Park — the Small Faces
    Baby Now That I’ve Found You — the Foundations
    Sweet Soul Music — Arthur Conley
    Jimmy Mack — Martha & the Vandellas
    Ruby Tuesday — the Rolling Stones
    It Takes Two — Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
    Hey Joe — Jimi Hendrix
    I’m a Man — the Spencer Davis Group
    Randy Scouse Git (Alternate Title) — the Monkees
    I Can See for Miles — the Who
    Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings — Tom Jones
    Bernadette — the Four Tops
    Show Me — Joe Tex
    Homburg — Procol Harum
    Magical Mystery Tour — the Beatles
    She’s My Girl — the Turtles
    I Feel Love Coming On — Felice Taylor
    Love is All Around — the Troggs
    Come to the Sunshine — Harper’s Bizarre
    Get Me to the World On Time — the Electric Prunes
    I Got Rhythm — the Happenings
    Felice Taylor, au naturale

    Felice Taylor, au naturale

    MOVIE LEGENDS — BEFORE THERE WAS HOLLYWOOD

    In celebrity, film, history on September 21, 2009 at 12:51 am

    We are approaching, next year, 2010, the 100th anniversary of movie stars. Motion picture photographic apparatus and film had been devised and developed by at least a dozen different people around the world twenty years before 1910, most famously Thomas Alva Edison in the States, who for twenty years tried to muscle other film producers for using his “patented” designs for equipment to make movies. Short film clips that passed as documentaries proliferated from the mid 1890s in France, Britain, even America: trains coming into stations, boxing matches, royal events… It was never imagined at this early stage by Edison, just one of its ‘inventors’, that film could be used for entertainment purposes.

    Narrative fiction on film got underway around 1898, first in France. This was entertainment. But actors, who virtually all came from the stage and already facing widespread moral condemnation for that, were loath to be recognised on screen — for having strayed so far from legitimate acting and sunk to such depths: these early entertainments were mainly appreciated worldwide by poor people, who couldn’t afford to go to The Theatre. By 1909 such brave souls as ‘Bronco Billy’ Anderson, the boss of leading Chicago studio Essanay, and comedian Ben Turpin who worked there, ‘came out’ and allowed themselves to be named in public.

    The first international stars were known first by their screen characters’ names — Foolshead, Cretinetti, Max — and personal renown pan-Europe predated the worldwide fame of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin by four years.

    The first American star named and promoted as such was New York’s Florence Lawrence, formerly known only as “The Biograph Girl”, in March 1910 lured by Universal Studio founder Carl Laemmle for the huge salary of $200 a week. Nearby, Florence Turner, until now working as “The Vitagraph Girl” crosstown, had started three years earlier for the Brooklyn studio at $18 a week, boosted to $24 a week for including in her duties sewing costumes while off set. Now a month after the other Florence she was heavily promoted as her rival.

    The lid was off and new record salaries continued to be set over the next few years. The best-publicized race for loot was between Pickford and Chaplin, who in 1914 earned $2,000 and $1,200 respectively as a weekly wage. It was just a matter of time before they caught and surpassed the leading Vaudeville players, including Annette Kellermann, champion swimmer whose admired form attracted pay of $5,000 a week on stage as early as the Olympic year of 1908. In 1915 stylish clothes-horse Francesca Bertini of Italy set a new mark on screen with $175,000-plus for the year; along with Russian actress Alla Nazimova filming in New York and paid $60,000 for four weeks’ shooting by the Triangle company (who were paying Pickford’s husband Douglas Fairbanks $2,000 a week at the time). Both Mary Pickford and Charles Chaplin were effectively on a million dollars a year by 1916. In 1919 and through the early Twenties, with Chaplin, Pickford and husband Douglas Fairbanks owning and running United Artists, they could name their own price.

    But it had all started so innocently, for the love of art. Parallel with the conscious, hucksterish invention of stardom in the States, in 1910 superstardom in Europe was also flourishing. In early 1911 a Russian popularity poll listed:

    1. Max Linder
    2. Asta Nielsen
    3. Valdemar Psilander

    linder3Linder is the recognised first comedy stylist of film. Having overtaken in popularity his Pathe studio colleague Andre Deed, who created the first internationally popular screen character in 1905, Max had been popular too for a couple of years and was just becoming known in America. He was Chaplin’s prime influence.

    Asta Nielsen was a truly international superstar from Denmark, a small Nielsen_Asta_01nation that grew instrumental in the new film industry, especially via the Nordisk company that exported films to America, called The Great Northern Company there. The Abyss, about sexual betrayal, made her a sensation across Europe by the end of 1910. She influenced fashions across continents (at first outside America) and became a powerful producer in Germany with her director husband Urban Gad also of Denmark. Known for her androgynous sex appeal, Nielsen went on to play Hamlet convincingly on screen. In different ways she was the forerunner of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.

    ValdemarPsilander, a fellow Dane, was the first heroic screen idol of Europe. In a few years, having foregone offers in America, the evermore dominant nation in film, he would sink with the fortunes of his nation’s industry and commit suicide in 1917. In the meantime, Ivan Mozhukhin (Mosjoukine in France) of Russia rivalled him in screen magnetism and became the most admired actor of silent film.

    American popularity surveys in 1912 had brought Vitagraph veteran Maurice Costello (in 1905 one of the first screen Sherlock Holmeses) to the fore, challenged by newcomer Francis X. Bushman. Bushman’s leading lady at Essanay studio, Dolores Cassinelli, was officially named the top female box-office draw both that year and the following one.

    In 1913, according to the first contemporary Photoplay magazine poll, that took eight months to complete, comedienne Mabel Normand

    Mabel as 'Mickey'

    Mabel as 'Mickey'

    of Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio was America’s most popular female star, until overtaken in the early months of 1914 by Margarita Fischer, Topsy in an early Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Kathlyn Williams, who had begun to star in her own adventure serial and now in big western hits The Squaw Man and The Spoilers. When voting ended in April 1914 21-year-old Mary Pickford, former Griffith girl and the new favorite of Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Company, was on a fast rise:

    1. J. Warren Kerrigan (Victor)
    2. Margarita Fischer (Flying A)
    3. Arthur Johnson (Lubin)
    4. Kathlyn Williams (Selig)
    5. Mabel Normand (Keystone)
    6. King Baggot (Universal)
    7. Mary Pickford (Famous Players)
    8. Mary Fuller (Universal)
    9. Francis X. Bushman (Essanay)
    10. Beverly Bayne (Essanay)

    Among the beefcake males, representing pre-WWI pre-Hollywood values, Bushman and Kerrigan in particular jostled for supremacy for five years from 1912, closely shadowed by Johnson until his death in 1916, Earle Williams and Maurice Costello, steadily overtaken by middle age (at a time when men did concede gracefully to age). Note the preponderance of females of high popularity (and accordingly high salaries) in an era supposedly of oppressed women — in contrast to today, when women are lucky to have one entry in the top 10.

    Earlier, films such as The Count of Monte Cristo (Selig, 1907) had been shot in the Los Angeles area, and The Squaw Man directed by Oscar Apfel and Cecil B. DeMille for the Lasky Company in a barn locally popularized the district as a film colony. It was 1915 that a new generation of studios, including Universal and Fox, Famous Players and Lasky — soon joining to form Paramount — relocated from the East Coast to the district centered on Hollywood. Before the close of the decade Pickford and her consort Douglas Fairbanks were Queen and Crown Prince of Hollywood, settled at their palace, Pickfair.

    MOVIE REVIEW: GENE KELLY — DRAMATIC ACTOR

    In film, history, ideology on June 13, 2009 at 1:30 am

    CROSS OF LORRAINE (MGM, 1943)

    CROSS OF LORRAINEAside from the usual wartime flagwavers Hollywood came out with detailing the atrocities against “our boys” in the Pacific and other spheres, that stoked the home fires of those back home, the studios did their best on behalf of China, the Philippines and other allies to get the message out about foreign struggles for independence against the ruthless jackboots of the Axis Powers.

    Each studio constructed moving if sometimes necessarily artificial vehicles for the voices of oppressed countries to be heard. Goldwyn’s North Star about a Russian village is the most (in)famous of them, with producer William Cameron Menzies enlisting the participation of writer Lillian Hellman, director Lewis Milestone, the photography of James Wong Howe, and the music of Aaron Copeland. These celebrated names and an illustrious cast including Walter Huston, Erich Von Stroheim, Ann Harding, Dean Jagger, Dana Andrews, Walter Brennan and Anne Baxter didn’t save it from being the target of communist accusations by red-hunters later and the condemnation of critics ever since who have judged the film by how Russian the actors weren’t. Fox’s The Moon is Down has overall the best reputation — about the resistance of a Norwegian village to Nazi occupation, written and produced by Nunnally Johnson from a Steinbeck novel. Warners’ Watch on the Rhine, Northern Pursuit (Mounties chasing Nazis), Edge of Darkness (another Norwegian fishing village), Columbia’s The Commandos Strike at Dawn (commandos returning to Norway), and MGM’s The Seventh Cross are other socko movies worth seeing. Paramount’s The Hitler Gang, Hitler’s Children (RKO) and Hitler’s Madman from Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) are other well-known contributions; the last about the assassination of Heidrich with John Carradine in the title role, and the Nazis’ monstrous revenge against the Czech village of Lidice.

    Gene Kelly as the aggressive Jew, Victor.

    Gene Kelly as the aggressive Jew, Victor.

    Cross of Lorraine — named for the emblem of Joan of Arc — was a good effort from MGM, a stirring hymn to French patriotism and stickability. The story traces the fate of a French squad persuaded to surrender when their army looks doomed by the Blitzkrieg invasion of May-June 1940. The Nazi promise is of repatriation to their homes — and they are delivered to a repressive POW camp across the German border. The ‘civilized’ Frenchmen led by top-billed Jean-Pierre Aumont think at first there must be some oversight and continue trying to appease and understand the Nazi mentality, trying to appeal to a sense of fair play, even rationality, that (they believe) must lie somewhere under the surface.

    The only ones to resist and keep their spirits intact through two and a half years of captivity and starvation are Victor, an aggressive Marseilles taxi driver played by Gene Kelly, and a Spaniard (Joseph Calleia) experienced against the fascists from his country’s Civil War. Reacting against the murder of their chaplain (Cedric Hardwicke), Victor is severely beaten and put in solitary confinement. He is at the mercy of brutal sergeant Peter Lorre, who, annoyed at Victor’s continuing bullish defiance, has him castrated.

    The informant among them, Duval (Hume Cronyn), promoted by the Nazis to ‘translator’, has had a hand deep in his own comrades’ suffering, including reporting on the priest, and gets his future sorted out by them. Aumont’s character, promoted in his place, gradually sees how responsible he is in collaborating in his own men’s failing spirits, and determines to organize a mass escape by stealth.

    Jean -Pierre Aumont, the civilized POW, getting in touch with his animal side.

    Jean -Pierre Aumont, the civilized POW, getting in touch with his animal side.

    While not on the same artistic level as Jean Renoir’s classic French POW drama, La Grande Illusion, I consider this film very rewarding and well worthwhile watching. Gene Kelly, in particular, gives a powerful performance of an ordinary man instinctively disgusted and provoked by every duplicitous gesture of the Nazis — every bit as intense as Gabin’s in the Renoir film, and more subtle. On his emasculation, he insightfully and intelligently portrays the fear and anxiety of a man with his animal power and all mental initiative suddenly taken from him.

    BLACK HAND (MGM, 1950)

    At times Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio of Middle American gloss par excellence, surprises you.

    Self-made junk man Louis B. Mayer moved into movie production during World War I and ruled MGM as the amalgamation in 1924 of three medium-sized companies to form the new titan of the industry, surpassing the previously all-powerful Paramount in one stroke. Its readymade stars and early acquisitions included popular leading men John Gilbert and Ramon Novarro (The Big Parade and Ben-Hur, respectively, the two biggest world earners of 1925-27), exotic leading women Barbara LaMarr and Renee Adoree, supreme child star Jackie Coogan, “Man of a Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney, and a triumvirate of dramatic divas that would rule world screens with few interruptions from the late Twenties for more than a decade: Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford.

    Mayer had to continually compromise with young and creative production head Irving Thalberg until the death of the ‘boy genius’ in 1936, after which, for the next 12-year period, he had clear running. Trouble was, by this time, immediately post-World War II, MGM began to be overtaken by Paramount, Fox and Warners. Audiences were no longer the same, and wanted to see real life rather than MGM’s customary rosy Hallmark-greeting-card view of the world. The solution of Loew’s Inc, MGM’s New York parent company, was to bring in Dore Schary, the production head at RKO who had successfully diversified that studio’s output to take it into large profits for the first time in its twenty-year existence. Schary bailed just in time, in 1948, as new RKO owner Howard Hughes began his steady elimination of the studio’s talent through witchhunts for communists and other paranoid purges that would leave his own property as barely a fond memory a decade later.

    A thorn in Mayer’s side for the next four years until MGM’s ruling paternal figure was ousted sideways out of the way, Schary instantly led MGM to deal with the reality of the new industry: more reality, less candyfloss. Combining the noirish grittiness he had established in the most realistic films at RKO with the bigger budgets now available to him, under his new influence outstanding films of gripping topical reality were possible: Intruder in the Dust (racial discrimination in the rural South) and Abraham Polonksy’s Force of Evil (postwar rackets), and the following year his first hands-on production, William Wellman’s Battleground, an impressive war film with tour de force ensemble performances from Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, James Whitmore, George Murphy and others.

    Johnny Columbo (Gene Kelly) arrives back in New York City ready to deal to the Mafia one way or the other.

    Johnny Columbo (Gene Kelly) arrives back in New York City ready to deal to the Mafia one way or the other.

    Black Hand, emerging shortly after, was a revelation to me in the performance of Gene Kelly among a number of intriguing elements contained in the film. A fixture at MGM since 1941 (excluding war service shortly after) at age 28, Kelly was of Pittsburgh Irish stock–arriving, according to his own testimony, “twenty pounds overweight and as strong as an ox.” When he was dressed up like Fred Astaire he still “looked like a truck driver.” So, with Fred Astaire the aristocratic dancer of Hollywood in top hat and tails, Kelly dressed in character, usually as a workman.

    I’d seen him before in classic musicals of the mid Forties like Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth and Anchors Aweigh with Frank Sinatra; of the early Fifties in the iconic An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain and The Pirate; as a hearty, convincing swashbuckler–a particularly athletic D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers; even in a serious role in the dramatic wartime Cross of Lorraine.

    Though I’ve since discovered he has been listed as 15th top actor ever in film by the American Film Institute, nothing had prepared me for how he pulled off this portrayal as a young New York Neapolitan (c.1900) caught up in the Comorra phenomenon imported from Napoli–as if born to it. Not only is perfect Italian speech intact, lithe movement and magnetic, brooding silences, but in this film he projects the macho, offhand persona of Sonny Corleone coming more than two decades later. At times the resemblance in mannerisms is so close I would be amazed if James Caan didn’t study Kelly’s performance before his Godfather role.

    Gene Kelly -- a model for James Caan's Sonny Corleone?

    Gene Kelly -- a model for James Caan's Sonny Corleone?

    Gene Kelly is Johnny Columbo, a law student torn between avenging his father’s murder within or outside the law. Also scoring high in the film are Teresa Celli as the hero’s ally and love interest, J. Carroll Naish as a dedicated local cop and mentor and Marc Lawrence as the elusive archvillain of the local Comorra. The urban sets, dating from the period, are dramatically set off by atmospheric lighting and (mostly) shadow. All aspects of treatment of the subject, down to casting, are spot on. It took just two weeks to shoot and, according to Kelly, took millions in profits around the world.

    Though several contemporary reviewers gave Kelly his dramatic due for this one it’s a pity that few observers since have even mentioned Kelly’s dramatic ability. To posterity I suspect Kelly will always be what appears above the surface most often: the screen master of free-form creative dancing–the counterpart to Fred Astaire’s more formal rhythmic dance steps.

    ROCK MUSIC — TWIST’N’SURF! FOLK’N’SOUL! (Part 2)

    In history, music on June 9, 2009 at 10:57 am

    The second part of the chapter excerpt from Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music by G. A. De Forest, published November 2007 by Booklocker.com, posted at #23 on April 26th 2008 on Amazon’s sales list for the category of Music History & Criticism and available for around $17.95 through your local store.

    FRUSTRATING REAL ROCK’N’ROLL FANS, SICKENING from the milksop diet served up by their elders, lounging in the way of energetic, progressive sounds on the radio were single-shots Steve Lawrence (‘Go Away Little Girl’), Japanese torch singer Kyu Sakamoto (‘Sukiyaki’), proto-bubblegum ‘Sugar Shack’ (Jimmy Gilmer) and sanitised brother-and-sister acts Nino & April, Dale & Grace and pretend siblings Paul & Paula. Novelties that went all the way to the top included comedian Allan Sherman’s ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah’ and ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’, so-called “calypso-soul”. Public inertia had proven immovable by Chubby Checker, already fading, and would be by any but the most attractive figures to the most buyers, sporting unprecedented novelty value and covering all genres, primed and detonated by industry powers. Namely, in one package, the Beatles.

    Microsoft Word - _Student Outline #10_ - School of Rock-John Len From on high descended a world phenomenon as the first con-tender, monopolising the six weeks from Kennedy’s assassination to the Beatles’ second coming. ‘Dominique’ was a folk song rendered entirely in French by “The Singing Nun”, who also wrote it, a.k.a. Belgian Sister Luc-Gabrielle, a.k.a. Soeur Sourire. She might have been sent by God but her message came in a foreign language utterly meaningless to America. Conspicuously garbed as a sacred image, could the Catholic sister, if properly promoted, have been the savior Americans were looking for on the recent death of Pope John XXIII and the destruction of their own spiritual leader, JFK? Her later suicide suggested depths never explored by the media. Instead, turned into a circus act by entrepreneurs, she was soon extinguished by another impresario-driven European novelty, a rock and roll group who had thought up their own cute name that would go down in history but were called “The Mopheads” by those who would make fortunes off them.

    It was certain Elvis wasn’t looking like himself—his single sales down more than a third on 1962. His biggie, ‘Devil in Disguise’, sounded like a movie-filler but no movie promoted it and it sold only 700,000. Movie songs did worse: ‘One Broken Heart for Sale’, and ‘Bossa Nova Baby’. Album sales were hit harder, down to about 300,000 for each US release (figures Peter Guralnick). All but his most faithful Brit fans too were turning away. ‘Devil’ won a solitary week at top but it was his sole entry in the ten—a steep comedown from the year before when all four singles scored among career best. The first quarter his English counterpart Cliff Richard and the Shadows held top for ten weeks. For the rest of the year Elvis was decimated by the Beatles and Gerry & the Pacemakers—30 weeks at top between them. The best thing about his movies lately was Ursula Andress, Hollywood’s latest continental sex goddess coming clinging-wet out of the surf for James Bond to turn Elvis on in Fun in Acapulco. No longer considering demanding roles, his manager and the studios colluded in giving his fans all they wanted in Elvis: songs and hokum, nonstop.

    Roy Orbison: master deliverer of the wailing, pleading, romantic drama on two minutes of vinyl

    Roy Orbison: master deliverer of the wailing, pleading, romantic drama on two minutes of vinyl

    A few genuine rock artists found room to bloom, showing through the morass of carnie attractions by creating their own music and/or determining how it was recorded, including Elvis’s Texas buddy Roy Orbison. ‘In Dreams’ from early 1963 had a timeless feel about its production, so endured. Orbison’s generosity saw each side of his singles grooved with a classic performance. An unlikely looking star, his trademark dark glasses hid myopic, beady eyes in the middle of anything but chiseled features, like two raisins looking out of a suet pudding. Stock still, gently strumming his guitar, he delivered drama on stage solely through a distinctive voice often reminiscent of Elvis’s low down—but quavering, purring and soaring to the heights. ‘Dream Baby’, that the Beatles had sung on the BBC the year before because ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ weren’t up to it, perfected his distinctive style of country pop tinged with r&b. Months later he put out ‘Working for the Man’, and B-side ‘Leah’ was the bigger hit. ‘Mean Woman Blues’ was one more in his string of million-sellers—not quite as mean as Elvis’s and held back by the attention given to great ballad ‘Blue Bayou’. He was the only country singer to retain superstardom in 1964—because less country than ever. ‘It’s Over’ could have been done (less dramatically) by Jim Reeves, but ‘Pretty Woman’ was pure rock.

    Johnny Cash was probably best of all: the genuine article, far more convincing as a people’s troubadour than Bob Dylan because he’d lived life and sang about it in the simplest, most straightforward way, didn’t intellectualize it. Singing from well springs as deep as they come, he was a charismatic performer who happened to choose country & western as his medium of soul-to-soul communication. “The Man in Black” came up with ‘Ring of Fire’ summer ’63, atypical for him in its Tex-Mex feel. Writing in the first person as a spokesman of the unwanted, identifying with a hard-bitten persona, he was mainly silent—maybe dumbfounded— through the upbeat, gimmicky Brit years, to make a comeback at decade’s end. By then the Beatles were hailed for writing and recording genuine folk songs about real people—something Cash had been doing since the mid-fifties, and better. Others silenced after the height of that Indian summer were Grammy winners with affecting country ballads, George Hamilton IV (‘Abilene’) and Bobby Bare (‘Detroit City’).

    Over the radio, on records and from diner jukeboxes distinctive styles grabbed attention. Real artists like Patsy Cline (‘Crazy’, ‘I Fall to Pieces’)—the Queen of Country killed in a plane crash in March 1963 (with Cowboy Copas, a boyhood hero of Carl Wilson) —and Loretta Lynn, rarely broke the pop fifty. This in the face of foreign novelties selling a quick million: Anglo-Aussie Frank Ifield and ‘I Remember You’, the Springfields’ ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’ and Aussie Rolf Harris’s ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’. Facing a growing stranglehold from producer pop, the biggest country-flavored homegrown sellers were Ned Miller’s ‘From a Jack to a King’ and from gingham-pleated songstress Skeeter Davis—but ‘End of the World’ was disowned by Country Music authorities as too pop.

    Like Orbison and a select few others, the Everly Bros had a five-year career at the top in America before carrying on in Britain. And here they had been knocked down a peg or two when outmaniaed on tour by their support act, the Beatles. They had not so much influenced the Beatle sound as determined it right down to their tone of vocal harmony, guitar rhythm and lead guitar licks, and the format of Simon & Garfunkel and English duos Peter & Gordon, Chad & Jeremy, David & Jonathan….

    IN A NATIONWIDE SURVEY OF US TEENS BY GILBERT Youth Research at the end of 1963 Folk Music was by far the most popular of musical tastes—the participatory, singalong aspect being the decider according to Eugene Gilbert: it only took a campfire to start things off, and the last thing to worry about was individual voice quality. This was the route Ringo Starr took to introduce himself as occasional lead singer with the Beatles. Enquiring who was the most popular singer of westerns in America, he was told Buck Owens, and so set about learning his songs.

    Pete Seeger of the Weavers had served his country in World War II and, though frequently banned by America media for raising controversial issues like civil rights, inspired the Kingston Trio and was influencing sixties folkies. The Highwaymen had released the massive world hit of 1961 in ‘Michael (Row the Boat Ashore)’—a ready standard for Christian-educated school children everywhere. By bringing folk music into fashion they made possible new folk groups Peter, Paul & Mary and later the Seekers, both sustaining huge popularity around the world while remaining acoustically pure when everyone else was plugging in his guitar.

    The Kingstons returned with Seeger’s protest about the dead of wars, ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’, and stood against corporate America: “I don’t give a damn about a ‘Greenback Dollar’ —spend it fast as I can. For a wailing song and a good guitar’s the only thing that I understand.” In May 1963 ‘The Reverend Mr Black’ went up against ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, ‘Surfin’ USA’, and in the UK the Beatles’ ‘From Me to You’ and the Pacemakers’ ‘How Do You Do It?’.

    The big new artists, Peter, Paul & Mary, had closed ’62 with a stirring rendition of ‘If I Had a Hammer’. This and other decent folk songs were coopted and dumbed down by singalongster Trini Lopez: ‘Lemon Tree’, ‘Michael’ and more, all to the same pace, for bigger hits: the Johnny Rivers of Hispania—a double whammy out of LA. ‘Puff’, written by Peter (Yarrow), was huge around the world despite rumors it was a drug fable instead of a children’s one. They borrowed from Dylan: ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice’—“It’s all right”, their last big hit for some years. Others in ’63 folk style were ‘Walk Right In’ (the Rooftop Singers) and ‘Green, Green’ “on the far side of the hill”—the New Christy Minstrels with Barry McGuire and Kenny Rogers and sounding like the Kingstons.

    Peter, Paul & Mary set a tone against show business excess, for musical integrity. And they celebrated Americana: ‘This Land is Your Land’ from Woody Guthrie. Enough of the hard-working self-discipline and grassroots Americanism of this, and the other trio, the Kingstons, rubbed off on the Beach Boys to make them an anachronism in the trendy era just around the corner. The female-male vocal blend was duplicated by another Greenwich Village folk group, the Mamas & the Papas, to go Hollywood when they got to California.

    Folk songs emerging in New Year ’64 would be swamped by a first wave of Britons—and pure folk strangled in one stroke as the mainspring of American music. The Beach Boys—‘Sloop John B’, ‘Cottonfields’—would attempt to revive it in rock form. Recognized as standards around the world but hardly fitting the new Top 40 diktats were Tom Paxton’s ‘Marvelous Toy’ recorded by the Chad Mitchell Trio and Pete Seeger’s ‘Little Boxes’. The year would see just two big folk hits, the Serendipity Singers sounding like the Minstrels on ‘Crooked Little Man’ (‘Don’t Let the Rain Come Down’), and New Zealand-born Gale Garnett’s declaration of sexual freedom, ‘We’ll Sing in the Sunshine’ (“and I’ll be on my way”), astonishingly going all the way in Cash Box; no.4 in Billboard, deferring to much greater airplay given Brit acts. The Beatles had taken over with Boy-Girl Lite.

    ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’ from P, P & M was as telling a performance as ever but stalled under a swarm of Beatle tunes. At the Invasion’s height ‘Early Morning Rain’ barely made the hundred; at its end they must have got some satisfaction in ‘I Dig Rock & Roll Music’, parodying the Beatles’ voices and contrived recording effects. ‘Leaving On a Jet Plane’, as the Beatles broke up, finally gave them a no.1.

    From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    From blonde, full-lipped, wide-hipped, chicly casual Mary Travers came the model for female folk singers—half intellectual, half earth mother; more sensual, less didactic than Joan Baez, admired as much for their poise as their voices. Hers rose to the heights of intensity as the pivot of the group sound. The trio headed the Folk Establishment when Dylan was booed off the stage at 1965’s Newport Folk Festival on switching to electrics— “selling out” to Beatleism and a Byrd brainchild.

    THE GIRL GROUP SOUND—AND THERE COULD BE NO wider social, economic and musical gulf—was everywhere in 1963. Folk had neglected ‘Negro’ music evolving into regional styles of Blues: Chicago, St Louis, Memphis, Mississippi Delta, Harlem…. Artists like acoustic bluesman Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter (‘See See Rider’, ‘Cottonfields’) had been forgotten by all but a few. Black performers were excluded from recognized forms of Country and Folk and barred from the teen idol club. Girl groups, overwhelmingly African-American, represented an essential outlet.

    This shortlived, early-Sixties rage inhabited two-minute singles while it lasted; folk music filled half-hour l.p.s. It was accessible to young teens’ budgets, unlike the folk popular with older, upper middle class youth who were after an instructive experience maybe even more than a musical one. And the guarded intellectual independence of the socially conscious folk artist was anathema to the strict (read ‘control freak’ for Phil Spector) management setup governing the girl groups. Ponderous intellect was banned altogether from the genre for hormone-driven, teenage emotions. On disc The Girl alternately pleaded for mercy from a boyfriend or otherwise strutted in triumph, and always purred in self-absorption.

    Nurtured and then pushed by Eastern labels, impressionable teens in a once-innocent after-school pastime came to be molded to appeal to fans their own age. The creative units that were the Shirelles, Bobettes, Chantels and Marvelettes—composing, writing and arranging vocals for their own songs—were taken over by professional writers, producers, corporate middlemen and retailers, who took the lion’s share of returns on the ‘product’. While most scored a string of hits, one-hit wonders followed up with a soundalike that spelt their doom. Striking one-offs on DJs’ platter-racks came from up-and-coming record entrepreneurs, producers taking over the reins of pop. These mavericks used artists as conduits to creative and business ends. With such a cavalier attitude taken to their careers, it was rare for group members to make it as real stars. Those who did could be counted on three fingers—Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight. The rest, used as interchangeable makeweights by producers who could swap personnel among established groups at will for purposes of cutting a 45, were anonymous to record buyers and to rub in their employee status were usually paid per hour of studio time on a union scale.

    The ’62-63 girl groups owed nothing to passive fifties sweeties the McGuire Sisters (‘Sugartime’) and Chordettes (‘Mr Sandman’, ‘Lollipop’). The Chantels (‘Maybe’), whose soaring gospel tones had set the standard, inspired New Jersey’s Shirley Owens to call her group the Shirelles—and to also write their own hits. For more than two years it was a two-horse race until late in 1960 with ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ the Shirelles were snatched up by the big time—Brill Building Pop and composer Carole King. Black girl groups took off as an industry, though it took almost a year for other major acts to arrive: the Marvelettes and self-penned ‘Please Mr Postman’, and the Crystals, ‘There’s No Other’. These were remade by the Beatles and Beach Boys. Not merely paying tribute to current American culture, with ‘Boys’, ‘Chains’ and ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’, the Beatles adopted it.

    The Shirelles reigned for two years as the top group, male or female—manager Flo Greenberg owned Scepter Records—continuing with ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’ (remade by the Mamas & the Papas), ‘Baby It’s You’ (Beatles) and ‘Soldier Boy’, a Beatle live favorite. But as black rock’n’rollers they were unacceptable to network tv, the most racist of the mass media. People had prejudices about whom they “invited into their living rooms”. Through ’63 the Shirelles gave ground to the sounds of Phil Spector and then to big media machinery—EMI, backing Britain. They were last seen in the US top fifty the very week the Beatles arrived in America. Months later their ‘Sha La La’ flopped only for Manfred Mann to run strong with it. In fact, all existing girl groups—but the strongly supported, highly drilled and adaptable Motowners—would be wiped out by the Brits.

    Hot on the heels of Spector’s Philles in exploiting a girl group sound was Philly’s Cameo-Parkway, Dee Dee Sharp and the Orlons —launching them with ’62 dance crazes ‘Mashed Potato Time’ and ‘Wah-Watusi’. And there was ‘The Loco-Motion’ intended by Goffin & King for Dee Dee but passed on to Leiber & Stoller protégée Little Eva.

    Small labels who knew how to improvise and innovate often incorporated male voices to broaden the two-minute dramas. The Orlons (also ‘Don’t Hang Up’, ‘South Street’) and Exciters (‘Tell Him’, United Artists) had a male voice in their lineups; Sensations (‘Let Me In’ on Argo), Ruby & the Romantics (Kapp) and the Essex (Roulette) a female lead backed by males. The Essex was comprised of off-duty US Marines—a fun, semi-professional element was still essential to the entertainment business.

    Soloists were produced to sound like groups by backing singers or double-tracking the lead’s voice: Mary Wells’/Motown’s ‘My Guy’. Before that Detroit sister Barbara Lewis was (like homegirl Aretha Franklin) claimed by Atlantic, creating the highly attractive self-penned ‘Hello, Stranger’. Shirley Ellis from New York City was on small indie Congress: ‘Nitty Gritty’, ‘The Name Game’. Branching out from the Four Seasons, Bob Crewe took one more New Jerseyite to the top—a double-tracked Lesley Gore and her pleas to boyfriend Johnny, declaring independence in ‘You Don’t Own Me’—blocked from no.1 by the Beatles in their first sales rush. Darlene Love was a member of LA’s Blossoms but as a freelancer was used anonymously by Spector as one of the Crystals—lead voice on ‘He’s a Rebel’ and ‘He’s Sure the Boy I Love’ before stamping her mark with ‘A Fine Fine Boy’ and ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, now a perennial on The Late Show.

    In twenty months up to the end of ’63 thirteen acts recording in girl group mode reached no.1. Dee Dee Sharp’s and the manbait Ronettes’ were disputed chart toppers, as was ‘Sally Go Round the Roses’ by the Jaynetts—a highly advanced theme (insanity over love loss) and sound released by tiny Tuff. The Chiffons (Laurie), the Essex based in North Carolina and New Jersey’s Angels (Smash) ruled for multiple weeks in a fickle year.

    the crystalsThe Crystals—whether using Lala Brooks or Darlene Love as lead—and the Chiffons from The Bronx and Upper Manhattan with personality-plus, were now the top girl groups, though hardly long enough for a reign. Between them they defined the genre in ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘Then He Kissed Me’—and ‘He’s So Fine’, a five-week no.1 through April, and equally famous classic ‘One Fine Day’, ‘Sweet Talkin’ Guy’ sneaking in three years later. At Motown the Marvelettes (‘Playboy’, ‘Beechwood 4-5789’) lay fallow through ’63 but revived fitfully through the Brit era with ‘Too Many Fish in the Sea’ and more. New girls Martha & the Vandellas had a similarly patchy stardom: ‘Come and Get These Memories’, then true classic ‘Heat Wave’. A year later they and Motown’s house band delivered a shining milestone, ‘Dancing in the Street’, then ‘Nowhere to Run’—but again at the height of the British Invasion their impact was blunted.

    The Ronettes: from left, lead singer Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett (the future Mrs Phil Spector), her cousin Nedra Talley, her sister Estelle Bennett. The Ronettes, unlike the Crystals, survived into 1964, but were unceremoniously pushed to the margins. New girl group releases went begging: the Secrets’ ‘The Boy Next Door’ and ‘When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes’ by the chronically ignored Supremes—laboring under the harsh male r&b line introduced by ‘Louie Louie’ and extended by English arrivals.

    The Beatles and Beach Boys, more than any other male groups of the mid-sixties, owed the girl groups. Brian and Carl Wilson, and Al Jardine, could be mistaken for women, on vinyl, when the occasion called for it. But while they nurtured and developed the style, the Beatles rather exploited it. The UK scene was instead geared to provide bulk, redone r&b from the many hundreds of groups scattered from Liverpool to London; its studios were technically capable of little else. As major production outfits only Motown (and later Atlantic) had the impetus to take on the British Invasion. Three teenagers from the Brewster Projects on the east side of Detroit, showing signs of life after four years, would suffer a further nine months before living up to their name in commercial success.

    ………………

    SO, AS HAS BEEN AGONIZED OVER OFTEN, WHEN DID Fifties music end and The Sixties really begin? Official histories tell us that Rock music was dead and America was left somewhere between slumber and coma until the Beatles breathed new life into it in ’64. But evolution was all around and had never stopped, in innovative recordings by Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, then the Leiber-Stoller productions for the Drifters—‘There Goes My Baby’ and its orchestration of r&b—and the coming of Chubby Checker, Roy Orbison, girl groups…. This was known by, was obvious to, those who rejected the Beatles as well as the Liverpudlians themselves, who tried at every stage to emulate—copy— current music and recorded sounds coming out of America. It was quite apparent to many people around the world, who kept buying American records in preference to any others. The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Motown and the Four Seasons brought new forces to bear in 1962-63, and were picked up on and absorbed by the English groups—the Beatles no less than anyone else, long before their arrival in America. And the Beatles found at least as much kinship with pure pop from Bert Kaempfert, Burt Bacharach and Don Kirshner as with its progressive creatives.

    There were still divisions in radio between stations along race lines or, more accurately, according to how black/white the music. Black acts had been crossing over the racial barrier into broad popularity since blues/jazz artists Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong in the Roaring Twenties, when ‘lude’ delivery wasn’t a problem. In the hung-up Fifties when interracial sex was more of a possibility and therefore more threatening, only balladeers engendering genteel romance were accepted: the Platters, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathis. The barometer of societal pressure was measured by tv ratings counters, and that meant Ed Sullivan, since the Thirties the arbiter of what was okay on radio. Into the Sixties he barred black rock’n’roll groups from appearing on his tv show—maybe fearing like other tv bosses it would appear to Southern viewers as an on-screen race riot—while welcoming ‘cultured’ black performers Lena Horne and Sammy Davis Jr. More cultured than virtually anyone in the country had been Paul Robeson—opera star, actor and all-star football player, but a one-time admitted ally of Russia and therefore reviled, blacklisted and exiled from home.

    Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

    Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

    Black music was tougher. While the popularity of Nat Cole and Johnny Mathis—‘Gina’, ‘What Will Mary Say?’—got old in ’63 r&b’s Sam Cooke continued to thrive. One of the great Gospel-Soul singers, he was a mainstay of r&b-pop through ‘Wonderful World’, ‘Chain Gang’, ‘Cupid’ and Grammy-winner ‘Twisting the Night Away’. Cooke was the spearhead of Soul singers in the American mainstream and going strong into the mid-sixties—so needing no reviving by English acts. Still, they queued up to use his material: ‘Bring It On Home to Me’, ‘Another Saturday Night’, ‘Little Red Rooster’. But the British imperative—the necessity of looking and sounding so 1964 through 1966—would stifle the emergence of new Soul stars, while those who didn’t have a sufficiently ‘African’ element to claim a distinctive niche were swept away: Chubby Checker, Ben E King, the Drifters, the Shirelles….

    Intended by RCA to be the black girls’ Elvis, Cooke’s subdued tone and laidback image—unlike some others he was not banned by BBC Radio—did almost fit a sweater-wearing pretty-boy image. Yet he got involved in civil rights and founded a record label, keeping pace with blues shouters James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding who had more the image of what a black male singer should be in the mid-Sixties. At his handgun murder late in 1964 the B-side of ‘Shake’, his classic Gospel-styled protest song ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, earned him joint ownership with Ray Charles of the title “Fathers of Soul”. His vocal tone and timbre were reproduced through the rock career of Brit invader Rod Stewart, his number one fan.

    Ray Charles: amalgamated genres to form a unique style.

    Ray Charles: amalgamated genres to form a unique style.

    Charles, blind behind dark glasses but a restless mover behind the piano, was taken as a model by highly energetic and sexually charged James Brown and Otis Redding. More popular with the white public than even Cooke—and through four numbers topping the Cash Box r&b chart twenty-one weeks ’61-63—Charles’ impact on white musicians came in 1959’s ‘What’d I Say’, which might have started Sixties Music and that the Beatles and Beach Boys incorporated into their live repertoires. Both, understandably, declined to record it for fear of too obvious an authenticity gulf. Between huge Country standards ‘Georgia On My Mind’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ “The Genius” inspired the Soul explosion: ‘Unchain My Heart’, ‘Hit the Road Jack’, 1963’s ‘Busted’. His brittle, controlled voice can be heard in Bill Medley of the Righteous Bros, taught to sing by Charles, Eric Burdon (Animals) and Joe Cocker, who covered many of his standards.

    Jackie Wilson: virtuoso vocals and dance -- the forerunner of Michael Jackson but with style and grace, and real soul.

    Jackie Wilson: virtuoso vocals and dance -- the forerunner of Michael Jackson but with style and grace, and real soul.

    James Brown and Jackie Wilson were double attractions, gifted dance stylists with potential to be universal rock showmen, only held back by dark-chocolate voices and visages—two ‘handicaps’ avoided by Michael Jackson, who was heavily influenced by both. Wilson was a perpetual-motion machine on stage, mixing spins, graceful leaps and splits all in one movement. So were the two responsible for Eighties Music? Jackie Wilson only captured world attention twice—with 1957’s ‘Reet Petite’ (popularly revived ex-USA after four decades), then ten years later, ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’, though in ’63 he offered the hard driving r&b #1‘Baby Work Out’. Jackie’s exquisitely controlled vocal gymnastics on his first hit—many claimed fellow Detroiter Aretha Franklin was his only equal—made it big also in the UK; Brown never did have a UK hit of any size, being just too black to taste. Mentored early on by Berry Gordy, had Jackie gone to Motown everlasting fame would have been his, but probably at the cost of stylistic castration.

    James Brown, vintage 1964: a macho sexual shouter, and a good little mover.

    James Brown, vintage 1964: a macho sexual shouter, and a good little mover.

    Brown’s first sizable pop hit, ‘Prisoner of Love’, didn’t come until ’63 and was accompanied by huge sales for Live at the Apollo—such a breakthrough for black popular culture that it was played in its entirety by black radio stations. He posed a viable, stark alternative to the white rock’n’roll of the Beach Boys and ultimately the Beatles with a no.1 album to prove it.

    World fame was further delayed for two years and ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’—bringing further musical tumult to the summer of ’65, followed at year’s end by ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’, his iconic chart-topper. With his accompanying dance he was the personification of funky as funk can be (avoid Robin Williams’ tribute in Good Morning Vietnam). In advancing the cause of black music without the compromises of Motown’s top artists, his multilayered rhythms and staccato horn backing pointed the way to Sly & the Family Stone.

    Brown’s explosion on to the scene as an alternative to the mainstream at the height of Brit Beat was propelled by listeners who had heard Motown’s response to the Beatles—the Supremes and Four Tops—and wanted something more authentically black. James Brown was by the end of the decade “Soul Brother Number One”, his ongoing dominance of African-derived r&b seeing him elevated to “Godfather of Soul”.

    The Drifters in 1963, lead singer Rudy Lewis ('Up On the Roof', 'On Broadway') second from right. Lewis fatally shot himself in the spring of 1964 the morning 'Under the Boardwalk' was to be recorded, leaving the group's umpteenth lead singer, Johnny Moore, to do the job.

    The Drifters in 1963, lead singer Rudy Lewis ('Up On the Roof', 'On Broadway') second from right. Lewis fatally shot himself in the spring of 1964 the morning 'Under the Boardwalk' was to be recorded, leaving the group's umpteenth lead singer, Johnny Moore, to do the job.

    MORE ACCESSIBLE TO WHITE LISTENERS, THE TOP black male group to late ’64—until the Four Tops and the Temptations—was the Drifters. Evolving from Doo-Wop combos and produced by Leiber & Stoller, they posted ‘Save the Last Dance For Me’ as a massive hit in fall 1960 only for lead singer Ben E King to solo and take the brand with him in ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘Stand By Me’. Anyway, they proved a pillar of Sixties music combining r&b and pop in innovative ways for Atlantic —though for a time overshadowed by the preponderance of girl groups. They came right in ’63 with ‘Up On the Roof’ and ‘On Broadway’, followed up by ‘Under the Boardwalk’. It was a startling success at the height of Beatlemania and the British Invasion, which through the Searchers was regurgitating their ‘Sweets for My Sweet’ and ‘I Count the Tears’. By ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’, a popular party number, they were sounding dated. Their new producer, Bert Berns (a.k.a. Russell, writer of ‘Twist & Shout’, etc), who had dragged out the baion rhythm past its welcome, went to the UK to be part of the Invasion.

    The contemporary force compelling the Beatles and Beach Boys to pay hommage was a mainstream sound they could approximate without the vocal contortions of turning into a black man (though McCartney and Lennon strained to do that on occasion). Motown of Detroit was under its founder multiplying into the wealthiest independent record company by the mid-Sixties.

    Smokey Robinson (second from right) & the Miracles

    Smokey Robinson (second from right) & the Miracles

    First harnessed were the formidable talents of singer-songwriters Smokey Robinson (‘Shop Around’) and Barrett Strong (Beatle favorite ‘Money—That’s What I Want’), then prolific team Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier & Eddie Holland and Stevie Wonder (‘I Was Made to Love Her’). Robinson, admired for his fine, evocative lyrics—called by Dylan “America’s greatest living poet”—would have been the envy of Dylan for mastering the musical side of the art too in composing-recording the emotive ‘Tracks of My Tears’ and ‘Tears of a Clown’, ‘My Guy’, ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘Get Ready’.

    Instead of enslaving mass instruments into a lump of sound as did the Spector-Nitzsche-Levine team at Gold Star, the Motown studio wizards featured individual talents and idiosyncracies of working Detroit jazz and r&b musicians, kept them upfront at the mikes, and left fully intact the live response of the snare drum, saxophone, etc, and avoided Spector’s everpresent drum muffling, echo and other elaborations. Based on an intimate working pool known as the Funk Brothers, Motown broke the mold of pop production. Gordy’s hands-on Svengali management with Holland-Dozier-Holland, Barrett Strong or Henry Stevenson producing, dwarfed the scale of Spector’s one-man Philles operation.

    Before striking a compromise ‘black pop’ formula exemplified by the Supremes (the Isley Bros’ ‘This Old Heart of Mine’, sounded very much like the model for late-sixties Brit pop) that would bring it two dozen Billboard number ones, the early Motown records were raw and convincing, including those from its girl groups. To ensure inroads into the white market the appealing but recognizably black Mary Wells was introduced in 1962, two years later replaced by the breathlessly cooing Diana Ross, on every track sounding like Marilyn Monroe gasping ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ and squealing every now and again for effect, supposedly signalling the height of passion.

    Holland-Dozier-Holland were now in ’63 making their mark with ‘Heat Wave’ and Supremes protohit ‘When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes’. Smokey Robinson was more versatile. As the one highly talented string to Gordy’s bow at the fledgling company he had become a co-director of the label and catered to his group the Miracles and the demanding vocal artistry of Marvin Gaye and the Temptations.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

    An array of talents was flourishing within the broad limits of Motown for three years before the Beatles hit America. While the Beatles attempted to duplicate its sound on record they never came close, and afterwards the “Sound of Young America”, displaying shrewd cross-racial marketing by Gordy, only expanded its popularity and influence through the so-called British Beat Boom.

    Atlantic, as an artist-driven enterprise, avoided direct competition with Motown’s factory of craftsmen. Led by closely cooperating Muslim and Jewish figures (God Bless America), it emerged as the definitive label of Soul Music, in ’64 blowing off its rival the troubled Vee-Jay. Producer Jerry Wexler under Turkish-American brothers Ahmet & Nesuhi Ertegun was the preeminent creative force with, briefly, Leiber & Stoller, the Coasters—featuring “The Yakety Sax” of King Curtis—the Drifters and Ray Charles, Carla Thomas and father Rufus, Barbara Lewis, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha. The Mar-Keys, racially integrated—white Memphis guitarist Steve Crop-per and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn with drummer Al Jackson (see The Blues Brothers, 1980)—joined a local organist as Booker T & the MGs for ‘Green Onions’ and backed tracks for Atlantic-Stax.

    It goes without saying both Beatles and Beach Boys owed much to black music. Lennon and McCartney nurtured an ability to simply regurgitate it rather than adapt it. But in trying to render it faithfully they can be seen to more often parody it. It is a rarity to find a cover that matched the original in quality of feeling; poor choice of material unsuited to their strengths was another failing early on that betrayed a stubbornly untrained, at times amateurish, approach.

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