Posts Tagged ‘Phil Spector’


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

  • 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



    In literature, music on August 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Once upon a time in London, centuries ago, before Fleet Street became a synonym for the journalism of daily reportage, there was Grub Street. This was a catch-all for the work place and social milieu of the hack writer, hundreds of whom hired themselves out to write bits and pieces great and small. The famous Dr Samuel Johnson started like this, lucky to be able to afford company at a coffee shoppe, compiling his dictionary in the 1750s with assistance from emmanuensises, sponsored by wealthy “patrons”. After the best part of a decade the dictionary was finished and when his patrons came a-calling he could afford to kick their asses. Don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say here, but if you buy my books as a patron of my work I promise I won’t kick your ass…

    Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer, The Vicar of Wakefield) was another habitue of Grub Street and friend of Johnson, who was finally acknowledged but was forced to sell his classics cheap to publishers, was continually hounded by creditors and died young of privations already sustained. Johnson himself didn’t escape multiple afflictions from his imposed lifestyle. And Richard Savage was another notable acquaintance, a talented poet who never made it and starved to death.

    But I’m quite comfortably off, though it’s normally two months between moca bowls (at the NZ Herald Proofreaders Old Boys Gathering, Cafe Liaison, Pompallier Tce, Ponsonby) — So, sorry for laying the guilt trip on you. The thing is, I don’t care at all for the marketing that goes into being “an author” these days and being a shameless self-promoter rubbing shoulders with get-rich-quick grifters and self-improvement freaks. But if I’m doing this once I might as well try the hard sell.

    The series "Sixties Whiteboy Rock" is based on my 2007 book "Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music" -- revised and expanded.

    The series “Sixties Whiteboy Rock” is based on my 2007 book “Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music” — revised and expanded.

    To buy ($9.99) or borrow (about $2.50) an ebook go to Amazon and look up “Sixties Whiteboy Rock”. There will be two available in the series to choose from, but since you’re there you might as well buy both — featuring everything you ever wanted to know about Sixties Music up to around mid 1965; though black music will be featured more fully in its own volume later. Each volume is about 65,000 words plus 60 photos. The next two volumes, due out in the next few months, will cover the second half of the Sixties. Even if you don’t like Sixties Music there are some good polemical chapters/passages arguing for authenticity in art. And if you don’t care for early rock music or argumentative criticism, I should have my first short novel up in the next half-year or so, of the gritty-street-life variety and set in Auckland.

    “ROCK MUSIC EBOOK 2013 — SIXTIES WHITEBOY ROCK (Part 2): Beach Boys, Jersey Boys & Beatledom” by G. A. De Forest

    In art, celebrity, generational/fashion, music on July 30, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Buy this ebook from Amazon for $9.99 (or borrow it for two weeks for a lot less) — or face the consequences. These include staying ignorant of the real facts of the Sixties music scene, a subject, though a half-century out of date, remains dear to the hearts of all right-thinking people around the world. Rock stars to this day are strongly influenced, “sample” and downright copy sounds from this era. But they do this at their peril because no way can they recapture the excitement and spirit of that music and time — set in context as it is here in this book.

    The direct link to the book is:

    It is about 60,000 words and has some 60 photos of top attractions of the day — so Bon voyage!

    Don’t be the only loser on your block!



    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, 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.



    In history, music on June 4, 2009 at 10:26 am

    — one further excerpt from ‘Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music’ by G. A. De Forest, published by in November 2007 and available for around $17.95. Top position in Amazon’s sales list in the Music: History & Criticism category is #23 on April 26th 2008

    The mercurial launch of the Beach Boys to hit-making in four months contrasts with other hopefuls’ gritty struggles. The Beatles, Four Seasons and Supremes—their rivals—all paid dues through a five-year lead time. The Four Tops took ten years—from generations of pop prior at the dawn of the Doo-Wop Era, when the influential Drifters were stars.
    The "Coasters": early California Music; lead singers Carl Gardiner and Billy Guy fooling around center.

    Dennis recalled fifteen years later to the UK’s Disc trade paper it was 1955 that his father drove the Wilson kids home from his work in the pickup as they sang ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’, r&b from Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller who also created ‘Riot in Cell Block No.9’, a Beach Boy concert favorite. More street-wise, sexually-charged narratives came from the same five voices, piano, drums, bass and guitar— the Robins morphing into the West Coast’s top black group, the Coasters. In summer 1959 the big r&b hit from Leiber-Stoller was ‘There Goes My Baby’ performed by Ben E King & the Drifters.

    And in that last Fifties summer Denny, not yet 15, sized up the waves at his local haunt, Manhattan Beach, dogged by cousin Mike hassling him to get musically grounded brother Brian to form a band. It wasn’t until two springs later that things began coalescing, Brian coaching them in precise Four Freshmen harmonies, favorite among favorites. In the Wilson home, going-on-19-year-olds Brian and Al Jardine, his alarmingly little (5ft-5) grid-iron buddy from the Hawthorne High Cougars, recruited youngster Carl, who gave saxophone over to Mike for Chuck Berry guitar riffs. Mike’s predominantly black former school, Dorsey High, gave him a headstart in close-up interpretation of rhythm & blues singing, and the Wilson-Love clan were imbued with r&b broadcast incessantly by LA stations. It was Dennis, dropout from high school drumming lessons, who inspired Brian and Mike to write about surfin’; in another two months, again finessed by Dennis, they had that recording contract.

    The California they would come to represent around the world —then with only a fraction of its 40 million population—was emerging as the Golden Age of Hollywood movie studios passed and television invaded every living room. The USA’s West Coast seemed ripe for revolution. Those who held the purse strings over movies, TV and the big radio networks were still in New York, the center of American entertainment for two centuries. A geographical rebalancing was overdue. Pop music needed a local guiding genius to buck the powers.

    As if sprinkled from a cloud of pixie dust, it would be Brian, the teenage but already eccentric creative leader of the Beach Boys, who created California Music; not Phil Spector, the savvy New Yorker transplanted to LA who at 17 had played at being a native Californian by forming the gently cooing teen trio the Teddy Bears (‘To Know Him Is to Love Him’); nor Lou Adler, Liberty Records producer soon to marry tv starlet Shelley Fabares; nor producer-trumpeter Herb Alpert, boss of brand new A&M Records and wedding Lani Hall, Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66’s vocalist.

    Settlers were attracted to this land famous for its resources—the native population early dispossessed—plundered by Spanish conquistadors and Gold Rush ’49-ers. Few stars originated here. The movies came to Los Angeles, not sophisticated San Francisco, for its equable weather offering filming year-round. The Arizona wilds of Flagstaff and Tucson had been tried—a little closer to Civilization, that is, the founding colonies Back East. By the Twenties the Hollywood Hills were circled by the screen industry. As the prosperous, ultra-conformist Fifties passed, Hollywood liberals blacklisted in the McCarthy Era were allowed back, secretly. Kansas president “I like Ike” Eisenhower was better known as a war hero and golfer; his vice-president, LA’s Richard Nixon, a commie-hunter. When handsome intellectual cum touch-footballer JFK was chosen in LA at 1960’s Democratic Party convention to run as the first-ever president born in the 20th Century the time was ripe for a new breed of local go-getters—young and competitive, confident, even cultured, energized by an invigorating outdoors spirit. The Beach Boys saw LA grow into a metropolis, then exiled themselves as the inevitable decay set in.

    World events seemed to barely touch the lives of the Disney-raised kids. April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was first in space, and Kennedy flunked his first real test when he allowed a CIA plan to go ahead for an invasion of Cuba from the US by expatriates; face was saved two months later by ballet master Rudolf Nureyev defecting to The West. In the tit-for-tat propaganda war, on August 13th East German border guards strung barbed wire along Berlin’s East-West boundary, now a menacing frontier. September 18th Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general of the UN, was assassinated—his plane shot down en route to peace talks with a Congo dictator. That month London’s Ban the Bomb protest march ends in a thousand arrests.

    LABOR DAY WEEKEND, SEPTEMBER 2-3 1961, SEVEN months into the Kennedy Era: Brian, Dennis & Carl Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine, now at community college with Brian, rehearse their first hit-to-be at the Wilson home in blue-collar subdivision LA—the corner of grandly named Hawthorne Boulevard & 119th Street, five miles from the Pacific Ocean. They attract neighborhood throngs and a squad of police, but it’s a party atmosphere, just a bunch of South Bay kids whipping up a rock’n’roll storm. Within two years there would be two hundred garage bands around LA playing gigs. Arrest and trial comes with the Wilson parents’ return from a business trip to Mexico City, astonished that the emergency money they left their sons, along with additional finance from Al’s mother, is swallowed up to rent instruments. After bristling father Murry—a physical disciplinarian when frustrated—pushes ringleader Brian up against the wall and threatens the others, and gentling mother Audree calms everyone, the group performs a nerve-racking audition.

    Murry and Audree—and her brother, Mike’s father—were brought as children post-World War I to the Promised Land, as it was called in the parched and rugged Midwest according to all expectations, to end up settling among other economic refugees on Huntington Beach, a locale that would only take on a romantic aura in song a generation later:

    “At Huntington and Malibu they’re shootin’ the pier—at Rincon they’re walkin’ the nose. We’re goin’ on safari to the Islands this year so if you’re comin’ get ready to go.” (‘Surfin’ Safari’ by Brian Wilson & Mike Love, copyright February 1962)

    They were used to hard times—and hard, make-or-break saving, young Murry coming from rural Kansas preempting the Dust Bowl exodus of the Thirties Depression, and Audree of Swedish stock from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Loves were evidently as tough. The Wilsons and Loves stayed close, bolstered by musical get-togethers when Murry on piano and Audree on organ were augmented by the kids’ voices—until well into their teens, to the point when one of the Love girls was almost a Beach Boy. Like Ike Eisenhower, Murry nourished a Kansas conservatism destined to clash constantly with Hollywood-liberal sons. On the other side of the family coin, the rugged commonsense and integrity shown by their elders would often prove the firm base the boys could turn to.

    Murry, sucking sagely on his pipe, that end-of-summer day for once forcing himself to listen to rock’n’roll, grudgingly accepts that here is something special: “I never did like that song [‘Surfin’’]… it’s so rude and crude, you know?” But on songs Murry liked, “They sang like the Four Freshmen, but with a younger, sweeter sound.” Having struggled to get a few of his own songs published, he’s struck gold and takes his boys under a smothering wing. Ambivalence about Brian’s success, and a proprietorial attitude to the group, would make inevitable the implosion of a time bomb planted with the domineering upbringing of his sons.

    Though his songs tended to sub-Stephen Foster—American Hymn in style—Murry was an avid Cool Jazz follower who exposed Brian early on to jazz piano ‘feels’. He would later make his musical presence tangible in The Many Moods of Murry Wilson, recorded by Capitol to placate the Beach Boys’ ubiquitous stage father: one of those Easy Listening sixties albums that was anything but easy listening, especially in what he did to his son’s ‘Warmth of the Sun’. Life with father was hardly harmonious. At one point in his boyhood, rebelling against Murry’s physical regimen directed at Dennis, especially, and himself (young Carl retired quickly from the battlefield), Brian is said to have “dumped” on a plate and served it up for dad’s dinner, compliments to the chef not recorded.

    Alan, leader of a semipro folk group at Hawthorne High but en-ticed by Brian & Carl singing “kind of sophisticated” duets at a talent show, had played stand-up bass at that first command performance and now advanced the group through his contacts song-publishers Hite & Dorinda Morgan. ‘Surfin’’ was conceived by surf-crazed Denny, backing Brian and Mike into a corner by bluffing the Morgans that the song already existed, ready to record. Reluctant surfers taught the lingo by Dennis, they took a melody written by Brian for a 12th grade ‘F’ (his teacher wanted a sonata). An October 3rd recording session led to release late in November through the Morgans’ tiny X label and then on Candix organized for mass pressing and distribution.

    If it wasn’t recorded in a garage, with Brian beating on a garbage can lid for a snare drum—as once reputed—the debut hit sounded like it: raw r&b. The lineup, as reported by Carl in 1965: Mike singing lead (and wanting to play saxophone for a Coasters sound but the rest of the group forbidding it); Al on (still-rented) standup bass; Carl, basic chords on guitar; and Brian—who took off his shirt to lay it over and beat on an actual snare drum. Lack of a recording studio was a minor inconvenience—a movie-dubbing studio doing just as well for their purposes, to get a record out. They sang all the vocals together through one microphone.

    October: The nucleus of English group the Beatles— John Lennon & Paul McCartney—are in Paris celebrating John’s 21st birthday. Together four years with a good lead guitarist and now a steady drummer their group has in the past year or so tripped twice to Hamburg—the Reeperbahn district, a hotspot of sleazy showbiz where many Liverpool acts find better paid work. Paul, especially, is into fashion—and he and John get their hair styled anew by friend Jurgen Vollmer, now a French resident, in the mode of Parisian art students, ungreased and combed forward. Astrid Kirscherr had already done this in Hamburg for boyfriend Stu Sutcliffe, in the group only on the strength of being John’s friend. On the way home they stop in London’s fashion district in Chelsea, and buy pointy-toed slip-on shoes. Posterity will hail ‘Le Beatle’ hairstyle and Beatle boots.

    The Beatles, late 1961: all tidied up in suits by manager Brian Epstein

    The Beatles, 1962: all tidied up in suits by manager Brian Epstein

    Peter Eckhorn, manager of the Top Ten Club, Hamburg, where the Beatles had played for four months up to July: “The interesting thing about the Beatles was that people liked them more for their engaging personalities, their onstage antics, and smart remarks than for their music. Their music sounded very much like all the other English groups, but as performers they were unique” (Pritchard & Lysaght, 1998).

    While there the band was signed for Polydor as Liverpool teen idol Tony Sheridan’s backing group—by bandleader/A&R man Bert Kaempfert of huge American success ‘Wonderland By Night’, and recorded in a school hall by him. A Merseybeat version of the old standard ‘My Bonnie (Lies Over the Ocean)’ by Sheridan & the Beat Brothers emerges. The Beatles receive session fees. John’s art school friend Stu Sutcliffe, who has grappled with bass guitar without ever coming close to taming it, leaves the group just before recording to take up a scholarship. Those who have seen them play say the Beatles have lost their most charismatic member: apart from Paul, good playing was somehow irrelevant to this act. The best looking one—most popular with girl fans—remains for now, but Pete Best refuses the Beatle haircut: one more factor separating him from the others.

    Back in Liverpool the Beatles have resumed a casual residency doing lunchtime shows at the Cavern Club. Unlike other groups— immaculately turned out in florid dinner suits modelled on the Shad-ows, the no.1 UK group—the Beatles sustain their round-the-clock Hamburg timetable and at first turn up in the attire they woke up in. It is a bohemian image cultivated by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and soon capitalised on by the Rolling Stones, much to the fury of John Lennon, who gives in to the Establishment.

    Local editor Bill Harry starts ‘Mersey Beat’ with a John Lennon article on the Beatles. Week by week he favors the engaging characters so much other groups complain. “Beatlemania” won’t be coined by the British press for another two years but in Liverpool it has been part of the scene since returning from their first Hamburg trip, Xmas 1960—but shared with mob scenes for the Flamingos, Searchers and others. Eventually overtaking Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, the Big Three, Gerry & the Pacemakers and the Fourmost, the Beatles will become most popular of 350 working bands —more than there are in London.

    By November 1961, after more than four years playing and com-posing together, Lennon & McCartney finally believe enough in two of their songs to introduce them to their setlist, ‘P.S. I Love You’ and ‘Love Me Do’. Orders for ‘My Bonnie’ catch the eye of records divi-sion manager and heir of NEMS stores, Brian Epstein, and assistant Alistair Taylor, who persuade Polydor to press it in the UK; it will only puncture the bottom of the chart at #48 on the momentum of growing Beatlemania a year and a half later. Epstein, a frustrated actor and dropout from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, follows his bent as theatrical entrepreneur. Visiting a show at the Cavern, his reaction is typically couched in English diplomatic-speak: “They had a very honest and unrehearsed sound. I thought that if I liked it and all those teenagers liked it, then there was something worth explor-ing.” Alistair Taylor: “There was this very scruffy band on stage in black leather and black T-shirts. They were fooling about and they weren’t very good musicians. But it was the most phenomenal experi-ence I’ve ever gone through… They had Ingredient X… So we signed the boys and nobody wanted to know about them”(Pritchard & Lysaght, 1998).

    But after cleaning up—nice suits, no smoking or drinking on-stage—they are on their way to the big time. John got moody, but there was no real rebellion from the rock’n’rolling Teddy Boy. Soon Epstein’s proudest boast was that he had got the Beatles a gig for 15 pounds ($36 then)—unheard-of heights for a Liverpool group. Lon-don might as well be on another planet. Like the Beach Boys they will be hindered by recording brains who say guitar-and-drum vocal groups are on the way out.

    Events are shaping the modern world—the first US military ob-servers are posted to Vietnam in December; King of Rock’n’Roll Elvis Presley has not made a personal appearance for nine months (and won’t until the end of the decade)—but the Beach Boys’ immediate concern is their new record, revelling in its primitive origins. It is none the less picked up as phone-vote favorite on the platter-rack at popular KFWB the week after Xmas, its first airing causing the Wil-sons uncontrollable excitement. Denny: “Brian ran down the street screaming ‘We’re on the radio!’ Carl threw up.” Constantly distracted, Dennis is only now let into the group at Audree’s insistence. It means a step up from his dollar-a-day chore sweeping out Murry’s workshop and free-flowing girls on stream— though all the boys (but late de-veloper Brian, at 22) would be married by 21, Mike by ‘shotgun’.

    KFWB, their favorite station for its r&b, took minor vocal groups the Olympics (‘Hully Gully’), Passions, Skyliners and Fireflies to the top of the LA charts regardless of national trends, plus instrumental groups Johnny & the Hurricanes, the Fireballs and the Spacemen, and paid ongoing respect to rock’n’rollers Bo Diddly, Fats Domino, Johnny Burnette and the Bill Black Combo past their commercial prime. Black vocalists Richard Berry, Etta James, Della Reese and Sarah Vaughan got a look in here better than other mainstream outlets across the country. Ray Charles, the Jive Five, Ike & Tina Turner, Lee Dorsey, the Drifters, Chantels, Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Reed (‘Bright Lights, Big City’), Van McCoy and Mary Wells were others punching above their weight. Local youths the Jaguars, among others, featured on playlists—encouraging the new boys. Now there was one more reason to like the Warner Bros station, for breaking their group into local fame.

    The Wilson brothers' and Al Jardine's high school celebrates the Beach Boys' first hit, New Year 1962

    The Wilson brothers' and Al jardine's high school celebrates the Beach Boys' first hit, NewYear 1962

    ‘Luau’, written by the Morgans’ son, best described as rhythmic in a simple hip-hop way, was put on the B-side. ‘Barbie (Barbie, Queen of the Prom)’/‘What is a Young Girl Made Of?’, a falsetto dirge backed with a bouncy ditty—provided by Hite Morgan— were released too, luckily invisibly by tiny local label Randy under Kenny & the Cadets, said to be Brian, Audree and Al. Reflecting on these, recorded under obligation—duds at the time, and all happily lost to history—must have taught Brian a valuable lesson not to rely on the creative ability nor the business judgment of others.

    Candix, making up for the Z-material the group was lumbered with, chose a new name for their green clients. On the new 45 under ‘Surfin’’ they print “The Beach Boys”—maybe inspired by ‘Beach Boy Blues’ on Elvis’s new Blue Hawaii album. There had briefly been a Beach Boys two years before on Kapp, and a Beachcombers singing sedate pop in the Fifties would soon convert to surf rock on Dot. There would turn up, too, a Beach Girls recording act. Posing a potent image of smooth confidence, decadent rebellion, danger to unwary beach girls, the name wiped memories of doo-wop style Carl & the Passions (used by Brian to lure Carl into the group) and Pendletones, Mike’s play on Washington State’s Pendleton lumberjack plaid shirts popular for winter surfing.

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