Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Top 200 Songs of the 60's*: #40-31

It was for many the soundtrack of their
lives.  And Inside The Rock Era is featuring the great music of the 60's--we're up to #40*:


Paul McCartney helped John Lennon write this song, but he didn't realize it was actually John calling for help until years later.  Lennon said he wrote the song to express the stress he was feeling as a songwriter and a musician after the Beatles' quick rise.  Lennon wrote it in a slower tempo than the version that was recorded.
It took 12 takes to get "Help!" just right at the EMI Studios in London, nine of which focused on the instrumentation.  Lead and backing vocals were recorded twice onto take 9, along with a tambourine.  Producer George Martin then used a reduction mix on the two vocal tracks, saving a track for the lead guitar overdub.  The Beatles used two four-track machines for the first time so they could employ "bouncing", a production technique in which the two machines were linked together that would condense material by dubbing multiple parts to just one or two tracks, allowing space for overdubbing.
Lennon's vocal was double-tracked, as indicated above, and he also played a twelve-string rhythm guitar, while McCartney played bass and sang backing vocals, George Harrison played lead and sang backup, and Ringo Starr played drums and tambourine.  "Help!" was released on Parlophone Records in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S., and quickly sold over one million copies.
"Help!" reached #1 for three weeks  in the face of competition such as "Satisfaction", "I Can't Help Myself", "Yesterday", "Like A Rolling Stone", "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers, "I Got You Babe", "Eve Of Destruction", and "California Girls'.  "Help" is included on albums that have sold over 40 million copies, and it has been played on the radio over two million times.


"Return To Sender"
Elvis Presley
Otis Blackwell, who had also written "Don't Be Cruel" and "All Shook Up" for the king, collaborated with Scott Winfield on this one.  A year after this song was recorded, postal "zones" were placed by zip codes, making the lyric "no such number, no such zone" outdated.  
When the U.S. Postal Service released a commemorate stamp for Elvis, many people put Elvis stamps on letters, then mailed them with false addresses so they would be sent back marked "Return To Sender" and become collector's items.

Elvis recorded "Return To Sender" at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, California.  Barney Kessel played guitar, Tiny Timbrell was on acoustic guitar, Ray Siegal played double bass, Boots Randolph played baritone sax, Dudley Brooks played piano, and D.J. Fontana played drums.  The Jordanaires sang backing vocals, and several session musicians were used, including famous drummer Hal Blaine.  Chet Atkins and Steve Sholes produced the song for release on RCA Victor Records.

"Return To Sender" went to #2 for five weeks, making it one of The Top #2 Songs of the Rock Era*.  What kept it out of #1?  "Sherry", but it also had competition from the great instrumental "Telstar" and another Four Seasons smash, "Big Girls Don't Cry".  "Return To Sender" has helped sell 17 million albums, and the single went Platinum.


"Come Together"
Timothy Leary, a psychologist who experimented with LSD as a way to promote social interaction and raise consciousness, ran for Governor of California, and asked John Lennon to write a song for his campaign.  Leary's campaign slogan was "Come Together, Join The Party" , and, but Lennon's song, which Leary decided not to use, did far better than Leary's campaign.  After the song was rejected, Lennon added some nonsensical lyrics.
Lennon played rhythm guitar and sang lead, Paul McCartney played bass, George Harrison was on lead guitar, and Ringo Starr played drums.  George Martin produced the song at Abbey Road Studios in London.
The Beatles had deteriorated into disarray in the two years since the death of manager Brian Epstein.  Still, the group was able to put their differences aside and record one of the best albums of their career (Abbey Road) in 1969.
"Come Together" spent one week at #1, with competition coming from the other part of this double-A-sided hit, "Something", as well as "Sugar, Sugar", "Wedding Bell Blues", "Honky Tonk Women", "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", "I Can't Get Next To You", "Everybody's Talkin'", "Leaving On A Jet Plane", "Suspicious Minds", and "Someday We'll Be Together".
"Come Together" won a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Recording.


"Good Vibrations"
Beach Boys
That brings us up to the elaborate "Good Vibrations".  At the time, The #37 Song of the Rock Era* was the most expensive song ever recorded, costing $50,000 in 1966 dollars to produce it.  It was Brian Wilson's masterpiece, recorded in fragments at 17 recording sessions at six different studios over two months.  Ninety hours of studio time was used, and 70 hours of tape were recorded, before Wilson was satisfied with the final product.  The song is a combination of musical sections marked by several key and modal shifts.  Wilson worked on it obsessively, with Mike Love writing the lyrics. 
By this time, Wilson stayed home and wrote music while the Beach Boys were on tour.  Brian began writing "Good Vibrations" while the group was working on the famous Pet Sounds album.  The song was slated to be on the Beach Boys album Smile, recorded using 50 recording sessions, but the album was not released.  It became known as a "lost album", which Wilson finally finished it in 2004.   
Because of the hours of studio time, it is difficult to know whose performances made it on to the record, but the group used session musicians Glen Campbell on lead guitar, drummer Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Mike Melvoin on organ, Al de Lory on piano, Carole Kaye and Ray Pohlman on bass, Lyle Ritz on upright bass, Tommy Morgan on harmonica, Don Randi on harpsichord, and Jessie Ehrlich on cello. 
The high-pitched sound you here was produced from what Paul Tanner called "The Box", Tanner's version of an electro-theremin.  Tanner and Robert Whitsell built "The Box", which was used on several television shows and movies, such as My Favorite Martian.  The box had such a range that notes were outside the upper and lower limits of human hearing. 
Brian and Carl Wilson and Mike Love shared lead vocals, and the rest of the Beach Boys:  Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and Dennis Wilson, sang harmony and backing vocals. Tape from four of the recording studios were used in the record--Sunset Sound, United Western, CBS Columbia, and Gold Star studios in Los Angeles.  Brian Wilson produced it for release on Capitol Records.
"Good Vibrations" sold 230,000 copies after four days and sold over one million copies.  It spent one week at #1, against songs like "Cherish" by the Association, the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" and "You Keep Me Hangin' On", "I'm A Believer" and "Reach Out I'll Be There". "Good Vibrations" earned a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Performance by a Group and has helped sell over 13 million albums.  It has now exceeded three million in radio airplay.
"Good Vibrations" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994, and is part of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.


"Are You Lonesome To-night?"
Elvis Presley

As you might expect from a type of music that was about to undergo a revolution in 1964, there are just five songs from 1960 in The Top 200*.  Here's one of them at #36*.
After Elvis returned from the U.S. Army, his image had changed--no longer was Presley the rebellious, hip-wiggling rocker.  He was content to sing ballads in the style that was popular prior to the Rock Era, which is why he too was vulnerable to the upcoming takeover by the Beatles.
Irregardless, Elvis turned in a classic performance on this song written by Roy Turk and Lou Handman.  Although the spoken 1927 lyrics were corny, and he had trouble keeping a straight face in live performances,  Presley's studio recording is genuine (take one is the one used), and his voice sounds as awesome as ever. 
The single was released on RCA Victor Records,  "Save The Last Dance For Me" and "Georgia On My Mind" were the only songs ranked in The Top 1000 Songs of the Rock Era* that were out at the same time.  So you have low competition, balanced with the fact that "Are You Lonesome To-night?" dominated the time with six weeks at #1.  Throw in that the song has helped sell 25 million albums, and it has a lot going for it.  When ranking songs, all of this information must be taken into account.    

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

At #35*, we have the tale of one of the Rock Era's biggest hits, and a long overdue settlement for its songwriter.
In 1939, Solomon Linda worked as a box packer at the Gallo Record Company in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Linda was in a vocal group called the Evening Birds, and the A&R man at Gallo invited them to record.
Linda wrote a song called "Mbube", which is the Zulu word for "lion".  "Mtube" was a smash hit throughout Africa, so popular that a new style of A cappella singing was named in honor of the song.  Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which is today one of the top groups in Africa, sings in that same style.
But because apartheid rules in the country prevented a black person from owning rights to a song, Solomon was paid 87 shillings for his song--that's the equivalent today of one dollar.  This gross injustice was magnified when the song became a hit in English years later. 
Famed folk singer Pete Seeger heard the song and began working on an English version.  Seeger thought Linda's group was saying "Wimoweh" on the original song, and so that is what he wrote down.  The group was instead saying "Uyimbube", which in Zulu means "You're a Lion."  Seeger recorded it with his band, the Weavers, singing only the chorus and calling the song "Wimoweh".  They released "Wimoweh" in 1952.
In 1961, the Tokens had enjoyed a minor hit with "Tonight I Fell In Love" the year before, but were without a record label.  They sang "Wimoweh" in their audition for producers Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti of RCA Records.  Creatore and Peretti loved the sound, but wanted new lyrics.  They hired George David Weiss to come up with a cover arrangement for "Wimoweh" to be the "B"-side of a new single called "Tina" by the Tokens.  Weiss wrote English lyrics for the verses of the song, titling it "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". 
Hank Medress, Phil and Mitch Margo, and Jay Siegel sang vocals on the song, and opera singer Anita Darien was brought in to sing soprano during and after the sax solo.  So the Tokens finished the song, although they wondered out loud to the producers, "Who would buy a song about a sleeping lion?"  Even they didn't get it.
Then, fate intervened.  Rather than play "Tina", a disc jockey in New England flipped the single over and played "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" instead.  Word spread, and soon the song climbed up to #1.
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was the only major hit the Tokens had, but they did go on to great success as producers.  Members of the group produced "He's So Fine", "One Fine Day" and "Sweet Talkin' Guy" for the Chiffons, "See You In September" for the Happenings, and "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round The Ole Oak Tree" and "Knock Three Times" for Dawn.  They also produced a remake of their own "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by Robert John in 1972, with Jay, Hank, and Mitch singing backing vocals.
In 2004, a writer in South Africa wrote an article in the magazine Rolling Stone about the song's author, Solomon Linda, detailing how the song went on to make millions in record sales, then made even more in the movie and Broadway productions of The Lion King, and how Linda and his family were paid virtually nothing for it.  There was a documentary produced as well, which led to a lawsuit by the firm of South African copyright lawyer Owen Dean.   
In the lawsuit, Dean pointed out that Linda's heirs had received less than one percent of the royalties due him from Abilene Music Publishers and TRO/Folkways Publishers, and that Disney owed $1.6 million in royalties for the use of the song.
In 2006, the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, with Abilene, who held the worldwide rights to the song, and had licensed those rights to Disney, placing earnings of the song in a trust account.
Most of the injustices committed were made in good faith--Seeger had attempted to see credit given to Solomon once he discovered that he was the author of the song.  But it was a long overdue act to make things right, as Linda had passed away over forty years previously, and died with the equivalent of $22 in his bank account.


"A Hard Day's Night"
In 1964, the Beatles were set to film A Hard Day's Night, and producer Walter Shenson said to John Lennon, "You need to write a song that will incorporate the movie's title.  Shenson was shocked when Lennon came in the next day with the song.  He thought John would work on it for several days or weeks.  I guess Shenson must not have recognized genius immediately. 
Drummer Ringo Starr is said to have come up with the expression.  In an interview with disc jockey Dave Hull, Starr said:  "We went to do a job, and we'd worked all day and we happened to work all night.  I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, 'It's been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, 'Night!'  So we came to 'A Hard Day's Night.'" 
This is another example of the Beatles coming up with songs with a sound not heard in Popular music.  In Albert Goldman's book The Lives of John Lennon, he writes, "The whole composition is written in mixolydic key, an old key which was abandoned in the beginning of the seventeenth century, but is maintained in English and Irish Folk music."
In the movie, the Beatles are presented as four distinct personalities, rather than as a unified group, the way they had been marketed to that point.  Fans loved seeing the members this way, and got to know them as individuals.  This marketing concept continues to this day; i.e. the marketing of the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys.
Lennon sang lead while Paul McCartney sang the middle portion.  The Beatles recorded the song at Abbey Road Studios in London.  George Martin produced the song for Parlophone Records in the U.K. and Capitol in the United States.
"A Hard Day's Night" sold over one million copies and went to #1 for two weeks, becoming the Beatles' fifth #1 song of the year.  The song faced competition from "I Get Around", "Chapel Of Love", "Where Did Our Love Go", the Beatles' own "And I Love Her", "Oh, Pretty Woman", "The House Of The Rising Sun", and "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", among others.  Albums containing "A Hard Day's Night" have sold over 28 million copies.
The Beatles only won four Grammy Awards in their career (much of the population at the time was from the Swing and Big Band eras), but they won two in 1964:  Best Performance by a Vocal Group and Best New Artist.


"Sugar, Sugar"

The Archies were actually a fictitious group created by promoter and producer Don Kirshner for the Saturday morning cartoon Archie.  The group itself were never seen on the show, nor did they perform in public; rather, the cartoon characters performed the songs.
Andy Kim and Jeff Barry wrote the song, with Kim, Toni Wine, Ron Dante, and Ellie Greenwich singing vocals.  Greenwich has written many big hits, including "Chapel Of Love" and "Be My Baby".  Dante became Barry Manilow's producer, and also produced "Heartbreaker" for Pat Benatar.  Wine also wrote, penning "A Groovy Kind Of Love" and "Candida".
Harry Amanatian played guitar, Ron Frangipane was on keyboards, Chuck Rainey played bass, and Gary Chester was on drums.  Ray Stevens, a friend of Wine's who had dropped by the studio, did the handclaps.  Jeff Barry produced the song for release on RCA and Calendar Records.
"Sugar, Sugar" went to #1 in the United States for four weeks, and was a #1 smash for eight weeks in the U.K.  It also hit #1 in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Span; in fact, "Sugar, Sugar" was one of the biggest international songs of the decade.

It wasn't a fluke, either; it took over from the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonky Women", and battled heavyweights such as the Beatles ("Something", "Come Together" and "Get Back"), Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Bad Moon Rising"), Neil Diamond ("Sweet Caroline"), the Temptations ("I Can't Get Next To You"), the Fifth Dimension ("Wedding Bell Blues"), Tommy James & the Shondells ("Crystal Blue Persuasion"), and Blood, Sweat & Tears ("Spinning Wheel"), as well as "In The Year 2525" by Zager & Evans, and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town") by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition.


"I Heard It Through The Grapevine"
Marvin Gaye

Berry Gordy, Jr. of Motown Records normally had a infallible ear, but he blocked the release of this song for quite a time before finally agreeing to put it out as a 45.
Barrett Strong (who recorded "Money (That's What I Want)") began working on a song after hearing people say "I heard it through the grapevine."  The phrase is associated with African-American slaves in the Civil War, who had their own form of telegraph, the human grapevine.  Strong originally asked for help from Holland-Dozier-Holland, but they refused to credit another writer, so Strong took the song to Norman Whitfield, who helped him complete it.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were the first to record the song, but it wasn't released until several years later.  The Isley Brothers also recorded an unreleased version.  Strong then gave it to Marvin Gaye, but Gordy chose "Your Unchanging Love" as Gaye's next single.  Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded it and reached #2 with it. 
Gaye included his version on his In The Groove Album (later retitled I Heard It Through The Grapevine.  When the album was released, Chicago disc jockey E. Rodney Jones at WVON began playing it off the album.  Gordy then changed his mind and released the single, which became the biggest Motown single up to that point.
Gaye recorded his song at Motown's Hitsville USA Studios in Detroit, Michigan.   The Andantes sang backing vocals, while the Funk Brothers provided instrumentation, and the string section from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra also played on the track, with arrangement from Paul Riser.  Whitfield also produced it for Tamla Records. 
The song spent seven weeks at #1 against competition from "Hey Jude", "Everyday People", "Love Child", "Crimson And Clover", and "Proud Mary".  "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" went Gold, and has helped sell 8.5 million albums.  Counting all the versions of the song, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" has been played four million times. 
"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is the only song to reach #1 on the R&B chart for three different artists--Gaye, Knight & the Pips, and Roger (in 1981).
"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. 


"Penny Lane"

When John, Paul, George and Ringo were young, they would meet at the Penny Lane Bus Station, which was centrally located to all of them, and they could then go wherever they wanted to go.  One day, Paul McCartney was waiting for Lennon near Penny Lane at the bus shelter.  He began to write down things he saw, a barber's shop with pictures of its clients, and a nurse selling poppies for Remembrance Day (November 11th, the day World War I ended). 
The "pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray" is believed to refer to Beth Davidson, who married Lennon's childhood friend, Pete Shotton.  The barber was James Bioletti, who used to cut hair for Lennon, McCartney and Harrison when they were children. 
McCartney turned those jottings into the song "Penny Lane".  The bank and barber shop are still on Penny Lane to this day, but the shelter in the middle of the roundabout is now a restaurant called Sgt. Pepper's Bistro.
Lennon played piano, McCartney sang lead and played bass, and George Harrison played the congas.  The Beatles recorded "Penny Lane" at London's Abbey Road Studios, and George Martin produced the song for Parlophone Records in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S. 
"Penny Lane" became the Beatles' 13th #1 song amidst competition from "I'm A Believer", "Happy Together", "Strawberry Fields Forever", and "For What It's Worth".  "Penny Lane" sold over one million copies and is featured on albums that have sold over 43 million copies.

There are only 30 songs remaining in our special, and we'll present ten more tomorrow on Inside The Rock Era! 

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