Sunday, 25 September 2011
ELDER MUSIC: 1964
You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.
What happened in 1964?
- Well, I was hanging around Melbourne University wondering whether to major in physics or maths
- Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor married (for the first time)
- The Beatles held the top several spots on American charts a year after the same thing happened in Britain, Australia and pretty much everywhere else
- Tokyo staged the Olympics Games
- Pete Townsend destroyed a guitar on stage for the first time
- The film of My Fair Lady was released
- Australia won the Davis Cup (again)
- Cole Porter died
Florence Ballard was from Detroit and a good friend of Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks who were then in a singing group called The Primes. This group later became The Temptations.
The manager of The Primes decided to create a female equivalent and call it The Primettes. Florence recruited her best friend, Mary Wilson, who brought along a school friend, Diane Ross.
After winning a local contest they were signed to Motown and made a few records that flopped. This was not a good thing in the company that prided itself on being Hitsville USA. However, they persisted. Diane changed her name to Diana and the group changed its name to THE SUPREMES.
Later, Florence became somewhat erratic, not turning up to recordings and gigs or appearing, well, “tired and emotional” in the fine Australian phrase that describes her condition. She was replaced by Cindy Birdsong.
As would be well known to most readers, they had many hits in the Sixties, rivaling The Beatles in the number they sold. They also paved the way for black artists to enter the mainstream of the music business in a big way. This is one of their hits from this year, Where Did Our Love Go.
THE ZOMBIES were a little different from the other English groups at the time. There was a definite jazz influence in their playing and they used minor keys quite a bit.
They formed in St Albans, England, and played around the local traps. They won a contest that got them to London to record a song. That song is She's Not There. This was the first of a few hits, but by the time their first album was released they had split up and never really realized the potential they had.
Most of the original group have reformed in recent times and they are touring again.
THE DIXIE CUPS were from New Orleans and they were Barbara Hawkins, her sister Rosa and their cousin, Joan Johnson.
They originally called themselves Little Miss and the Muffets and it’s a good thing they dropped that name. They were discovered by Joe Jones who caught their act in a talent contest and he took them to New York.
Joe had a couple of hits himself around that time, the best-known would be You Talk Too Much. The Dixie Cups recorded a song that both the Crystals and the Ronettes had had a go at, The Chapel of Love.
They continue to perform to this day. The Hawkins sisters are still there but with Athelgra Neville, sister of the Neville Brothers, replacing Joan who wandered over to Texas.
THE ANIMALS were probably the most interesting of the British groups around this time, mostly due to Eric Burdon’s gritty vocals and Alan Price’s swirling organ playing.
Originally from Newcastle, the group moved to London and were initially called the Alan Price Combo. Their wild stage performance got them dubbed animals and the name stuck and became the official name for the band (at least until Eric took over and put his moniker in front the group’s name).
They combined covers of blues tunes by the likes of John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed and traditional songs along with their own music. The original group soon split due to “musical differences” and they have reformed a couple of times over the years.
This is their best known song, House of the Rising Sun.
To make things even worse for her, at the age of two she contracted spinal meningitis which produced partial blindness, deafness and some paralysis. She overcame these setbacks and at 17 was writing songs.
She approached Berry Gordy, honcho of Motown, with some of them. He was a bit tired and asked her to sing one. She was hired on the spot. There must be a film here, surely.
She had several reasonably selling records and hit it big with one of Smokey Robinson’s tunes, My Guy. Mary was a favorite of The Beatles and she was asked to open for them on one of their tours. She had a falling out with Gordy and left Motown claiming she was owed quite a lot in royalties. Mary died of cancer in 1992.
SAM COOKE deserves a column of his own, so it’s lucky that I’ve done just that. You can find it here.
This isn’t one of Sam’s songs that changed music or changed society like A Change is Gonna Come. No, this is one of his frivolous songs, but it doesn’t matter as any song Sam recorded is worth listening to. It probably sold more than his serious ones. This is Cousin of Mine.
The next tune I chose because it’s so silly, but what a groove, especially if you don’t listen to the words. The singer is SHIRLEY ELLIS. She was from The Bronx and her folks were from the West Indies. They knew her as Shirley Elliston.
Shirley did rather get pigeonholed as a novelty act because of this song as well as The Clapping Song, The Nitty Gritty and others. These sold well, so it may not have been too much of a problem.
She was a decent songwriter as well, writing several songs that were hits for The Chords (but not their biggie, Sh-Boom). This is The Name Game.
Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard were recruited (separately) by a local (Detroit) manager to be part of a group called The Del-Phis. Gloria Williams was the lead singer of the group that numbered six at the time. Members came and went and it eventually stabilized to four of them.
When the fourth left, the manager recruited Martha Reeves, who was from Alabama, as a replacement. They were quite successful around the clubs and Martha left to become a solo singer.
She got the date wrong when she went to audition for Motown, but was hired as a secretary instead. Meanwhile, the Del-Phis were hired by the same company as backup singers. One day, Mary Wells failed to show for a recording session so Martha stepped in to take her place. The Del-Phis were already on board to provide backup.
The new group was signed immediately, although Gloria dropped out as she wasn’t impressed with this show biz lark and MARTHA AND THE VANDELLAS were born.
They were one of the most successful groups that Motown had, rivaled only by the Supremes. Their most famous song came out this year and it will get you up jiving around the room. It’s been covered by several artists over the years but this is still the definitive version of Dancing in the Street.
JOE TEX was born in, surprise surprise, Texas. He was known then as Joseph Arrington Jnr. I guess his dad thought he was on to a good thing when it came to names.
Joe’s life would also make an extraordinary film. In the Fifties, he’d perform country music in whites-only clubs in the south. I don’t know if chicken wire was involved. Later he’d open for James Brown and mock his collapsing, cape over himself, routine.
One day James, not noted for his sense of humor, got out his shotgun and blasted away in Joe’s general direction. He missed him but several customers were hit.
It’s believed that Joe was first to do the cape bit and James pinched the idea. Indeed, Little Richard once said that James Brown picked up a good deal of his act from watching Joe.
There’s a lot more for this proposed film, but I won’t go into it all now.
This song came at the end of a grueling recording session where nothing was going right. It was suggested he try something else. Hold on to What You’ve Got was the result. The hours of singing left him with just the right degree of weariness and hoarseness to make the tune memorable.
BETTY EVERETT started playing the piano at the age of nine and she also sang gospel in church in her native Greenwood, Mississippi.
She moved to Chicago and sang around the traps there where she was discovered and had her music produced by such big-time producers as Ike Turner and Curtis Mayfield.
She was signed to a record company and her first song was a flop. That song was You’re No Good with which Linda Ronstadt later sold a squillion copies and had a number 1 hit. Betty's next song was a biggie for her, and it’s the one we have today, The Shoop Shoop Song.