Saturday, June 23, 2012
By 1969, Herman's Hermits weren't the hitmaking machine they once were, at least in the US. They hadn't had a Top Ten hit here since "There's A Kind Of Hush" in early 1967. But in the UK, the group continued to have major success - their previous single to this one, "My Sentimental Friend", was their second biggest hit in the UK (behind "I'm Into Something Good"). As a result, this was the last US Herman's Hermits 45 on MGM.
The A-side, "(Here Comes) The Star", was a cover of a #1 hit in Australia recorded by TV show host and singer Ross D. Wylie. Herman's Hermits toured there in the fall of '69, and decided to record the song for themselves. It hit #33 on the UK charts, but completely missed over here.
Too bad, because if you flip this little biscuit over, you get one of the Hermits' most savagely rockin' sides! I know, I know, Herman's Hermits aren't exactly known for their hard rockers, but when you realize that most of their early singles had session musicians on them like Jimmy Page on guitar and John Paul Jones on bass....well, the potential was there, anyway. Even though a lot of their hits are pretty lightweight, check out tracks like "My Reservation's Been Confirmed" (which was the US B-side of "Dandy"), "Wild Love" (from the Hold On soundtrack LP), their KILLER rendition of Frankie Laine's "Jezebel" (on the There's A Kind Of Hush LP), and this one.
The record starts off with a killer guitar riff (that gets repeated through the entire song) over four-on-the-floor drums. Then Peter Noone's voice comes in, echoey and phasey as all get-out, singing what passes for lyrics; I mean, dig this - "It's alright/It's alright/Doin' it all, really havin' a ball/It's alright."
DUMB. But great!
The record pretty much goes nowhere after that, but that guitar riff just gets more and more insistent, so much so that by the end of the record the drummer is beating the holy bejeezus out of his kit. In a way, "It's Alright Now" foreshadows the pounding, stomping sound of UK pop of the early 1970s on records by Gary Glitter, among others.
Herman's Hermits - It's Alright Now (MGM 14100) - 1969
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Cher always gets special attention from me when referencing her exotic heritage (she is half Armenian, the other half divided between French, English, German, Dutch and Cherokee Indian descent) in song. Tunes like "Dark Lady", "Half-Breed", "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" (with its great "gypsy" arrangement) and, of course, "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves" were some of her biggest hits, and with good reason: Cher always seemed to be from another world that most Americans didn't know about, and, in the minds of Americans at least, acted as a conduit to those worlds. Which is probably why nine out of ten people think that Cher really is either an American Indian or a gypsy.
It's also why Cher and this song (written and originally released by Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John The Night Tripper, on his 1968 LP Gris-Gris, also on Atco) are an outrageously perfect match.
As careful as Sonny Bono was with Cher's career, he really blew it on this one. After Cher's contract with Imperial expired in late 1968, she signed to Atco (made sense, since they already had her recordings with Sonny under contract) and was immediately whisked off to Muscle Shoals, Alabama by producer Jerry Wexler and engineer Tom Dowd. The idea was to try and repeat the success of Dusty Springfield's trip there, which resulted in the brilliant Dusty In Memphis LP.
The first production decision that was made was to cut Sonny Bono out of all production decisions. The Muscle Shoals house band (Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Roger Hawkins on drums, Barry Beckett on keys and David Hood on bass) were given carte blanche, and the resulting LP, 3614 Jackson Highway, became an artistic high point of Cher's career, despite Sonny Bono's objections (though that didn't stop him from appearing on the front cover).
But Sonny had the last laugh - at Cher's expense. When it came time to pick a single from the LP, pretty much everyone agreed "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" was THE cut, so it was released as Atco 6684 in May, 1969. However, at that time, the second Sonny & Cher movie, Chastity, was in the theaters, and Sonny wanted to promote it as much as possible. So he had one of the film's songs, called "Chastity's Song (Band Of Thieves)", placed on the other side of "Splinters", and instructed Atco to release the promo 45s with no plug side. Atco didn't really care, since they figured that "Splinters" was such a good cut, once the DJs heard it they'd play it to death. But Sonny put all of the promotional push on HIS side of the record, appearing on TV shows hawking Cher's new single "Chastity's Song", and the film of the same name, completely ignoring the other side. Since Sonny & Cher (and Cher herself) hadn't had a hit since 1967, the failure of the single (and the LP, and Chastity) wasn't exactly a surprise to the execs at Atlantic/Atco, and they simply moved on.
One of the oft-repeated rumors about Cher's "Guilded Splinters" is that The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia is playing guitar on it. Not true, though one of the female backing singers was Donna Thatcher, who later married Keith Godchaux and joined the Dead with him in the early 1970s.
Cher - I Walk On Guilded Splinters (Atco 6684) - 1969
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Both could be considered "histrionic" tenors (though Frankie's voice was much huskier than Gene's), both had a flair for country & western (check out Gene's duets with then-labelmates George Jones and Melba Montgomery for a slice of pure pleasure, and of course Frankie will forever be known for "Rawhide") and rhythm and blues (Gene's "You're A Heartbreaker" is KILLER blue-eyed soul, and Frankie was the ORIGINAL blue-eyed soul brother, selling TONS of records in the R&B market before anyone ever heard of the term "crossover"). Plus they shared an Italian heritage (Pitney was half-Italian, half-Polish, Laine's real surname was LoVecchio) which brought an extra dimension to their singing.
Anyway, take a listen to this record. The arrangement (by Spector right-hand man Jack Nietzsche) was completely ripped off for the Pitney version, and Terry Melcher did a heck of a job making Frankie Laine sound up-to-date (at least for 1963).
Of course, no one in the world was ever gonna touch Gene Pitney on this song - the high note Gino hits at the end of his version is one of the greatest moments in the history of recorded music. But Frankie Laine comes in a close second.
Frankie Laine - I'm Gonna Be Strong (Columbia 4-42884) - 1963
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
So let's kick-start things with a killer garage 45. For years, I thought that this was one of a myriad of records by the Laurie studio group (usually centered around Ernie Maresca), but it turns out that this was a real band, albeit one that recorded under a few names, like The Off Set, The Energy Package, and Little Moose and The Hunters (!!!!).
Like most really good garage/punk 45s on a major label, the tamer of the two sides was picked for the DJs to plug. In this case it was the "socially conscious" tune "Mary And John" (a typical tune about high school sweeties who fall in love, then John goes to the 'Nam, and things get worse from there). But this B-side's a real SNARLER.
Go to the really great Flower Bomb Songs blog for a neat article on group leader Don Sallah and his various groups!
The Boys From New York City - I'm Down Girl (Laurie 3434) - 1968