Bye Bye Baby

Let us pick up again with our Down in the Bottom series. I missed a few records on our first pass through the last 10 positions on the Hot 100, including eight of them to peak at Number 91, because this is not a very good blog, really. Here are those eight.

“Russian Bandstand”/Spencer & Spencer (5/18/59, two weeks on chart). I am not sure this one belongs on the list. Spencer and Spencer were actually Dickie Goodman, king of the break-in record, and Mickey Shorr, a Detroit DJ, with whom Goodman collaborated after his earliest records with Bill Buchanan. “Russian Bandstand” has a couple of break-ins featuring Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” played backwards, although there’s supposedly another version that substitutes Russian folk songs. More here.

“Pick Me Up on Your Way Down”/Pat Zill (5/22/61, one week). Another Ohio guy (from Youngstown), Pat Zill was known as “the singing bartender” when he was discovered. Despite Zill’s protests that he wasn’t a country singer, superstar producer Owen Bradley turned him into one. “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down” is a quintessential example of the pop-oriented “countrypolitan” sound that dominated Nashville in the 60s.

“Wishin’ on a Rainbow”/Phill Wilson (7/17/61, two weeks). This was the first release on the Huron label of Dayton, Ohio, founded by a local DJ, a tool and die manufacturer with a load of money to invest, and Phill Wilson’s father. “Wishin’ on a Rainbow” was cut in Nashville, and the label spared no expense on session players, hiring Floyd Cramer, Bob Moore, Hank Garland, and other top cats including the Anita Kerr Singers. They got what they paid for—an extremely well-made record that probably deserved better than Number 91.

“So Far Away”/Hank Jacobs (2/1/64, three weeks). Jacobs became a session keyboard player while he was still a teenager, and also worked with a partner, Kent Harris, trying to score hits. I would describe the organ-driven “So Far Away” as more rhythmic than it is funky, but I suspect it sounded pretty good blasting out of a jukebox.

“Baby Is There Something on Your Mind”/McKinley Travis (7/25/70, two weeks). McKinley Travis was from California, and he cut several singles on labels in Los Angeles. “Baby Is There Something on Your Mind” is another terrific soul record nobody knows about. Its failure to rise above Number 91 must be partly because its old-school soul sound was becoming dated by the summer of 1970.

“Astral Man”/Nektar (6/7/75, five weeks). Here’s a band familiar to those who prowled the cutout bins in the 1970s, for it seemed as though there were always Nektar albums to be had cheap. The 1973 album Remember the Future was the only one that got much traction in the States. At their first American show in 1974, the combined wattage of their sound system and elaborate light show blew the power in the hall. “Astral Man” came from their followup album, Down to Earth. The band intended it as a reinvention of their early 70s sound, and it was—so much so that longtime fans hated it. Hear “Astral Man” and “That’s Life” from Down to Earth here.

“For Your Love”/Christopher Paul & Shawn (8/3/75, five weeks). This is a version of the song first recorded by Ed Townsend in the 50s and later revived by Peaches and Herb in the 60s. Christopher and Shawn Engemann were a brother and sister whose father was a VP at Capitol Records, and whose uncle was one of the Lettermen. Shawn grew up to be a TV personality and is currently married to talk-show host Larry King. At least I think they’re still married. King’s been married eight times, and I haven’t checked the news today.

“Bye Bye Baby”/US 1 (12/6/75, two weeks). This one might not belong on the list either. US1 was another project of Joey Levine, heard on many fine Kasenetz-Katz bubblegum productions in the 60s and on “Life is a Rock” by Reunion in 1974. And “Bye Bye Baby” is pretty much what you’d expect it to be.

Here endeth our Down in the Bottom series, for reals this time. Because if I find I’ve missed any more of them, I’ll be too embarrassed to admit it.

“Bye Bye Baby”/US1 (out of print)

There Must Be a Way

Here’s another installment of one-hit wonders we missed during the earlier Down in the Bottom series, covering records to peak between Numbers 90 and 100 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Unlike those in the previous catching-up installment, the tunes on the list that I have been able to find are pretty strong.

“Band of Gold”/Hi-Fi Four (#93, 2/18/56, one week on chart). About this group I have been able to uncover practically nothing. They were a white vocal quartet; some collector websites call them a doo-wop group and say that they recorded on the King label. Their “Band of Gold” is one of three versions of that song to chart in 1956; the best known was by Don Cherry.

“There Must Be a Way”/Jimmy Roselli (#93, 8/12/67, two weeks). Despite its low placing on the Hot 100, “There Must Be a Way” did big business on easy listening radio in 1967, and when you listen to it, you’ll understand why. Roselli is an Italian-American crooner often compared to Frank Sinatra, who was born in the same Hoboken, New Jersey, neighborhood as Sinatra 10 years later. He and Sinatra feuded over the years, for murky reasons. Roselli is said to have been a favorite of New Jersey mobsters. Perhaps he still is, because he’s still around, at age 85, and is active on Facebook.

“A Woman’s Way”/Rozetta Johnson (#94, 12/12/70, one week). Johnson was a gospel singer from Alabama who moved over to the secular market, cut some singles, saw only one of them chart (although they are fondly remembered by Northern soul fans, apparently), and decided to go back to the gospel world. Her voice sounds a bit like Patti Labelle’s, and she wasn’t always served well by her producers, whose arrangements could get a little too busy. The evidence is on Personal Woman: The Legendary Clintone Sessions 1970-1975, which collects her work, including a great version of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody.”

“She Shot a Hole in My Soul”/Clifford Curry (#95, 5/13/67, three weeks). Hot R&B from Nashville, featuring the creative talents of several people who would go on collaborate with other notables. The co-writer of “She Shot a Hole in My Soul,” Mac Gayden, would become an in-demand session player in Nashville (the distinctive wah-wah guitar on J. J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama” is his) and a founding member of Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615. The record’s producer, Buzz Cason, has been a Nashville player since the 60s. His partner in Russell-Cason Productions was Bobby Russell, a successful songwriter (“Honey,” “Little Green Apples”) who eventually recorded a few hits of his own (“Saturday Morning Confusion,” “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero”). As for Curry, he’s made a career out of his single big hit.

There’s another artist I could include here, but I’m inclined to disqualify him: Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead scored a single Hot 100 hit under his own name, “Sugaree,” which peaked at Number 94 on April 22, 1972, and spent two weeks on the chart. You can include him on your list if you like.

Coming in the next installment: Songs to peak at Number 91. An embarrassing lot of them.

“A Woman’s Way”/Rozetta Johnson
“To Love Somebody”/Rozetta Johnson (buy Rozetta here)

Time to Get It Together

I have been postponing it for a while, but today I have to to take my medicine.

Back in March, I announced that in my newly acquired 1955-1999 edition of Joel Whitburn’s Pop Music Annual, I found a bunch of songs that I hadn’t included in my earlier Down in the Bottom series, which wrote about the one-hit wonders to peak between Numbers 90 and 100 on the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1986. I blamed Joel for omitting them from my old 1955-1986 edition and including them in the later one, because I was sure it wasn’t me who screwed up.

What a dumbass. I owe Joel an apology, for it was indeed I who missed them. Sixteen of ’em, to be exact. All of them were there in my older edition of the book, but I missed them, including eight of them at Number 91 alone. Eight, for chrissakes. All I can think is that I was interrupted in my research one day and by the time I got back to it, I thought I was done with the 91s.

What a tool. You have no idea how much this pains me, really. But it does mean we get to dive anew into some obscure corners of music history, which will be fun, provided I see every goddamn thing I should. Let’s take four of them today and the rest in days to come.

“The Yen Yet Song”/Gary Cane and His Friends (peaked at #99, 6/6/60, one week on chart). I am pretty sure that having to listen to this is my punishment for screwing up. An ad in the May 9, 1960, edition of Billboard contains an ad that says, “Sixteen youngsters and a seventeen year oldster sing the new hit Yen Yet Song.” The ad also proclaims it “big novelty flash! smash!” It was co-written by Lou Stallman, whose songwriting credits include “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” by Deniece Williams, Perry Como’s “Round and Round,” Clyde McPhatter’s “Treasure of Love,” and the maudlin and manipulative “Once You Understand” by Think.

“I Lied to My Heart”/The Enchanters (peaked at #96, 3/13/61, two weeks on chart). There are at least two different groups of Enchanters, and probably more. One of them backed Garnet Mimms and scored several hits under the name Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters. They also scored a single hit without Mimms in 1964 called “I Wanna Thank You,” which I didn’t include in my earlier series because they’d charted so many times with Mimms. This batch of Enchanters is apparently not the same one, although “I Lied to My Heart” appears in some online discographies credited to Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters. Which I suppose they could be. It’s not like I haven’t been wrong before.

“What Will I Tell My Heart”/Harptones (peaked at #96, 5/15/61, two weeks on chart). One of the most famous New York doo-wop acts, it’s hard to believe “What Will I Tell My Heart” was the only chart single they ever managed, because their sound is the Platonic ideal of doo-wop. They’re most famous for their 1953 version of “Sunday Kind of Love,” which won them a talent contest at the Apollo Theater, got them a record deal, and was their first single. They’re members of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and an edition of the group still exists today, fronted by original members Willie Winfield and Raoul Cita.

“Time to Get It Together”/Country Coalition (peaked at #96, 3/28/70, three weeks on chart). Here’s a gently rockin’, generic-soundin’ plea for some sort of connection, or communion, or something like that. But in true me-decade fashion, “Time to Get It Together” suggests that the key to humanity “getting it together” is for individuals to get together: “you and me, that’s all we need to be free.” (Leonard Nimoy recorded it, too.) Country Coalition briefly included bluegrass banjo legend Doug Dillard, but I’m not sure if he’s on this record or not.

In the next installment: Additions to Numbers 93, 94, and 95.

“The Yen Yet Song”/Gary Cane and His Friends (out of print; you can listen to it at the link, and you know you want to—it’s not necessary to download it)

Very Special and Also Finished

Something like 14 months ago, I wrote an innocuous post on the one-hit wonders whose only claim to fame peaked at Number 100 in Billboard in the years between 1955 and 1986. Then I decided to tackle the Number 99s, and a series was born. I didn’t think it would take this long, but with this post, we reach the end of it, with the last installment of the songs to peak at Number 90.

“Roxy Roller”/Sweeney Todd (8/21/76, three weeks). I started researching this song last week and ended up with an entire post, which you can read here, if you haven’t done so already.

“Save Me”/Donna McDaniel (7/16/77, five weeks). Merrilee Rush (famous for “Angel of the Morning” in the 60s) took “Save Me” to Number 54 the same week Donna McDaniel’s version hit Number 90, and Louise Mandrell scored a Top-10 hit on the country charts with it in 1983. It seems also to have been recorded by English songbird Clodagh Rodgers, who may have done it first. But of Donna McDaniel herself, we know nothing.

“Stay Awhile”/Continental Miniatures (5/20/78, three weeks). The band is supposedly named after some Italian TV show, and the song is an update of a Dusty Springfield hit from the mid 1960s. They seem to have clubbed around Los Angeles for a while in the late 70s, although why they keep turning up in punk-rock databases when they sound like standard-issue 70s radio pop, I don’t know.

“I Love Women”/Jim Hurt (10/25/80, four weeks). Jim Hurt was a contract songwriter in Nashville whose best-known song is probably one he co-wrote, “Love in the First Degree,” a country hit and pop crossover for Alabama. In Dave Steed’s series at Popdose about the bottom of the charts in the 80s, Dave called “I Love Women” “soulful and quite playful”—it puts me in mind of a more caffeinated Dr. Hook, myself—but you be the judge, below.

“Very Special”/Debra Laws (9/5/81, five weeks). Debra Laws is the sister of jazz players Hubert Laws and Ronnie Laws, and she sang on many of their projects, as well as doing backup work for a number of other artists in sessions and on the road. She apparently sued Jennifer Lopez, unsuccessfully, for unauthorized sampling of “Very Special” in 2003.

“Taxi”/J. Blackfoot (3/24/84, five weeks). The Soul Children were a minor group at Stax, scoring a handful of hits between the mid  60s and the mid 70s, most famous among them “Hearsay” and their lone Top-40 hit, “I’ll Be the Other Woman.” J. Blackfoot (given name John Colbert) was a member of the group; his first experience recording music came while doing time in prison. He was lead singer with the reconstituted Bar-Kays after the plane crash that killed Otis Redding, and when Isaac Hayes and David Porter were putting together the Soul Children, he was invited to join. “Taxi” is a smooth soul record that sounds more like 1967 than it does 1984.

“Don’t Do Me”/Randy Bell (7/14/84, three weeks). At the age of 24, the photogenic Randy Bell of Denver, Colorado, got a record deal with Epic. He viewed himself as a serious musician, but Epic saw him as teen-idol material and marketed him as such. That wasn’t the right move, given that “Don’t Do Me” is mid-80s radio rock in the Loverboy/Aldo Nova/Donnie Iris pocket.

“Am I Forgiven”/Isle of Man (8/16/86, four weeks). With its own radio-ready mid-80s sound, “Am I Forgiven” is allegedly a Christian-rock number, although it’s hard to tell precisely what the words are since the lead singer’s accent is so thick. I am guessing Isle of Man was from Spain or Italy. Or maybe the Isle of Man itself, although I doubt it. I know they’re from somewhere.

And that’s a wrap, not merely on the one-hit wonders to peak at Number 90, but the whole Down in the Bottom series covering Numbers 100 through 90. However, I think we’ll revisit the series at least one more time in the coming weeks, whenever I get around to it—I’ve got some final thoughts, comments, and mp3s to share.

“I Love Women”/Jim Hurt (out of print)
“Don’t Do Me”/Randy Bell (out of print)

Roxy Roxy Roller Roller

The first chart book I ever owned, Star File, compiled by Dafydd Rees and published in the UK in 1977, intrigued me back in the day with two entries for a song I’d never heard, “Roxy Roller” by Sweeney Todd. The book said that the first version had been withdrawn after legal trouble and replaced by the second. But since I’d never heard either one, and neither one rose above Number 90 on the American charts, I never pursued the mystery any further—until today.

Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles 1955-1986 (the falling-apart copy of the book I still use religiously) shows “Roxy Roller” with a catalog number of London 240, and says that it appeared on the Hot 100 for three weeks in 1976. Nothing about multiple versions, nothing about legal battles, just a single entry, wham bam thank you ma’am, one-hit wonder, end of story. But there are some interesting connections surrounding Sweeney Todd and “Roxy Roller,” and here they are.

Sweeney Todd was formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, by Nick Gilder and Jim McCulloch in 1973, although the band’s original name was Rasputin. compares the band’s early sound, after it had evolved into Sweeney Todd, to that of 10cc. “Roxy Roller” topped the Canadian singles chart for three weeks in the summer of 1976, but by that time, Gilder and McCulloch had left the band for their own record deal in Los Angeles. The group’s producer, Martin Shaer, signed a new lead singer, Clark Perry, and recut “Roxy Roller” over the original backing track. When Perry didn’t work out, Shaer canned him and hired a young kid named Brian Guy Adams, who had kept bugging him for an audition, and had him recut the vocal for “Roxy Roller” again.

“Roxy Roller,” catalog number London 240 and billed to Sweeney Todd, hit the American Hot 100 at Number 90 on the chart dated August 21, 1976. It held there the week of August 28 but was gone entirely from the chart dated September 4. It returned for one last week, bubbling under at number 110 during the week of September 11, billed this time to Sweeney Todd featuring Nick Gilder. The following week, September 18, “Roxy Roller,” catalog number London 244 and billed to Sweeney Todd featuring Brian Guy Adams, hit the Hot 100 at Number 99, but didn’t last a second week.  Star File says that the Gilder version was withdrawn and replaced by the Adams version, but it’s not entirely clear to me what the nature of the legal dispute was. It most likely had to do with ownership of Sweeney Todd’s contract. Their Canadian label had gone tits-up in 1976, and Shaer wound up with the band’s contract. It’s reasonable to suspect that the dispute involved which party would get paid for the Gilder version of “Roxy Roller.” Recutting the record with Adams doing a close impersonation of Gilder probably seemed like a smart business move to Shaer.

In March 1977, Sweeney Todd won the Juno Award in Canada for Best New Group. Although it was the Gilder edition of the band that had made a giant splash in 1976, the group accepting the award was fronted by Brian Guy Adams, who was only 17 years old at the time. He would make one album with Sweeney Todd, but by December 1977 he too would be gone, like Gilder, to seek fame and fortune as a solo artist. And like Gilder, he would find it. In the fall of 1978, Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” would hit Number One in the States. It took Adams a little longer.  A disco-flavored single, “Let Me Take You Dancing,” made the Canadian top 20 in 1979. His first American hit came in 1982, a song called “Straight From the Heart.” He had changed the spelling of his name by then, to Bryan Adams, and he would hit steadily in the States for the next 15 years. But his first American chart entry had come way back in 1976, as Brian Guy Adams, on the recut version of “Roxy Roller.”

So anyhow, there were two charting versions of “Roxy Roller” in the States, and they sound a hell of a lot alike. But making a distinction between the two is this blog’s raison d’-freakin’-etre. Listen to Gilder’s version here and Adams’ version here. What I wanna know is: Where’s the Clark Perry version to complicate matters further?

Sweeney Todd is one of the one-hit wonders to peak at Number 90 on the Billboard chart. We’ve already taken care of several of them in previous installments of the Down in the Bottom series, and we’ll take care of the rest next week.

We Love the 90s

We continue here with our survey of the one-hit wonders to peak on the Billboard Hot 100 at Number 90, another part of the Down in the Bottom series, which has been going on for over a year now. If I’d persevered at any one of my various careers like I’ve persevered at this, I might have become a success at something.

“2001: A Space Odyssey”/Berlin Philharmonic (1/24/70, four weeks on chart). This version of the famous theme from the famous movie is apparently the version that appeared on the official soundtrack album. It is not, apparently, the version that appeared in the film itself. The version in the film was by the Vienna Philharmonic, and permission was given to include it provided that the orchestra not be credited. When a soundtrack album was released, a version by the Berlin Philharmonic was used. Recent reissues of the official movie soundtrack have restored the Vienna Philharmonic version. I think. Some of this stuff ain’t easy to track down.

“Mill Valley”/Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point School 3rd Grade Class (8/15/70, three weeks). I blogged about this one last week because I had more to say about it than would fit here. Sue me, or better yet, go read the post.

“Questions”/Bang (5/27/72, six weeks). A trio from Philadelphia claiming inspiration from Black Sabbath and Grand Funk, then-unknown Bang crashed a show in Orlando on a dare, playing an audition for the promoter around noontime and finding themselves a the bill with Deep Purple and Faces the same night. They later made three albums for Capitol before splitting, although they have reunited in recent years. “Questions” made it to Number 4 on WAMS in Wilmington, Delaware, but if you didn’t hear it where you were, I’m not surprised.

“Summer Sun”/Jamestown Massacre (9/9/72, five weeks). This band was from suburban Chicago, and shared bills with the American Breed, New Colony Six, and Ides of March. In the mid 70s, after they changed their name to Mariah, Jim Peterik of the Ides of March wrote several songs for them; member Dave Bickler joined with Peterik in the original edition of Survivor. “Summer Sun” is a magnificent radio record—hard to imagine it missing in the same season with “Brandy,” “Black and White,” and “Saturday in the Park,” although it would be better with a stronger vocal.

“I Received a Letter”/Delbert & Glen (12/9/72, three weeks). Delbert is Delbert McClinton, who’s already appeared in this feature as a member of the Ron-Dels, back at Number 97. Glen is Glen Clark, with whom McClinton collaborated on two albums in the early 1970s. McClinton covered “I Received a Letter” on his 1979 album Keeper of the Flame.

“On and Off (Part 1)”/Anacostia (1/27/73, four weeks). An R&B trio from Washington, D.C., produced by Van McCoy, Anacostia was popular enough to appear on Soul Train in December 1972. “On and Off” was later covered by David Ruffin and by Peaches and Herb.

“He”/Today’s People (9/29/73, six weeks). In the early 70s, when it became clear that neither dope nor revolution was going to change the world, many kids turned to Jesus. The religious revival of the times reached down to small-town Wisconsin; my parents got into the whole charismatic Christianity bit for a while, and I can remember attending a youth revival or two. “He” is the sort of thing we might have learned to sing at one of ’em, although we’d have taken it at a slower, Sunday-school tempo.

“You’re a Part of Me”/Susan Jacks (3/22/75, five weeks). It was only about a month ago that we discussed Susan Jacks and the Poppy Family; in that post I mentioned a single of hers called “All the Tea in China.” I’m not familiar with this one—but I do know the higher-charting 1978 version by Gene Cotton and Kim Carnes.

“Life and Death in G and A”/Love Child’s Afro Cuban Blues Band (7/26/75, three weeks). This group was a project of Michael Zager, who last appeared on this blog when we were discussing the group Ten Wheel Drive, which he formed with Aram Schiefrin in 1969. “Life and Death in G and A” was written by Sly Stone; Zager would later change the group’s unwieldy name to the Afro Cuban Band.

In our next and final installment of the Number 90s, you may find a couple of familiar names, provided you’re a certain kind of geek. Although I suppose that advisory actually applies to this entire blog.