Monday, March 23, 2020

The old timers who held off the British Invasion

Bobby Vinton was on a roll during the early 1960s.

His success, like the success of many in the music industry was a combination of talent and pure luck.

Though Vinton is known now as a singer, he was under contract to a record company as a bandleader, but the contract had not worked out well for either side. Vinton had no chart success and was about to be let go by the company when he took a chance on doing a song no one else wanted to perform.

"Roses Are Red," was a top 10 hit and began a string of chart successes like Vinton, with hits such as "Blue Velvet," "Blue on Blue," and the one that reached number one on the charts for four weeks right at the beginning of 1964.

Vinton, who had several hits digging into songs from previous decades, took a 1945 Vaughn Monroe song, "There I've Said It Again," and made it my own. "There I've Said It Again" was always my favorite Vinton song and also holds a significant place in rock history.

It was the last number one song before the British Invasion.

Vinton's song was knocked out of the number one slot the following week by "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles and after that it was hard to find a week when the charts were not dominated by British groups with everyone from the ones with staying power like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks and the Hollies to steadily reliable groups like the Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Searchers.

Many of those who had hits in the early 60s vanished from the charts. No more hits from Chubby Checker, Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, Neil Sedaka and the many child actors who recorded hits like Annette Funicello, Paul Peterson, Johnny Crawford and Shelley Fabares.

The idea that the Beatles and the British acts ran everyone else off the charts is fiction, however.

Some of the groups and performers that were having hits before the British invasion continued to crack the top 10 every time out.

The Beach Boys released their first number one hit, "I Get Around" and also charted with "Don't Worry Baby" in 1964, while the Four Seasons continued to ride high with "Rag Doll" and "Dawn (Go Away). All of the Motown performers were successful, including the Supremes who reached number one five straight times.

Bobby Vinton also continued to have success in 1964 with "My Heart Belongs to Only You" reaching number nine and "Mr. Lonely" taking him back to the top of the charts.

Two legends of early rock and roll also held their own with the British groups.

Though he was in the middle of his movie star phase, Elvis Presley charted with a number of songs, including "Such a Night" and "Kissin' Cousins," and the St. Louis' Chuck Berry had two hits, "No Particular Place to Go" and "You Never Can Tell."

Some of those who had great success during the British Invasion era were great talents of an earlier era who may have seemed a bit old fashioned but unexpectedly had success in 1964 and 1965, simply by turning out great songs.

Here's a look at three of those legends.

Louis Armstrong

After the Beatles knocked Bobby Vinton's "There I've Said It Again" out of number one, the Fab Four held the spot for the next three months with their first three singles, until an unlikely artist knocked them out of the top spot.

Louis Armstrong was the greatest jazz musician in history and was no stranger to success in the music industry, but his hits were in the '20s and '30s. His rendition of the song "Hello Dolly" from the Broadway musical of the same name made him the oldest performer to ever hit number one on the Billboard charts at age 63.

Dean Martin

The Beatles continued to dominate the charts later in 1964, with their number one hits including the title song from their movie "A Hard Day's Night."

Its reign at number one ended thanks to another oldtimer, though not quite as old as Louis Armstrong.

Dean Martin had not had a Top 10 hit since "Return to Me" in 1957 and it had been even longer since he reached number one in 1956 with "Memories Are Made of This." He had spent more time as an actor, but his return to the recording studio not only landed him an unexpected success with "Everybody Loves Somebody," but launched a string of hits and helped him land a spot as the host of the highly successful "Dean Martin Show" on NBC.

Martin, like Armstrong, was a major musical talent, though his seemingly carefree attitude caused a lot of his musical work to be overlooked.

Frank Sinatra

Unlike Martin, Sinatra had never left the charts, having been a fixture since the early '40s, but he, like Martin, had not been in the top 10 since 1957 when he reached number two with "All the Way" and his last number one was "Learnin' the Blues" in 1955.

While Sinatra continued to reach the top 40 the first and second years of the British Invasion, it wasn't until 1966 when "Ol' Blue Eyes' broke through, scoring with "That's Life" and then his number one hit "Strangers in the Night."

He was 50 at the time.

After that, he continued to chart into the 1980s, including recording such classics as "It Was a Very Good Year," "My Way," and "New York, New York."

Three interesting tidbits about "Strangers in the Night."

1. Sinatra hated the song.

2. Glen Campbell played rhythm guitar.

3. The scat phrase Sinatra used in the song, "dooby dooby doo," inspired the name of the cartoon dog Scooby Doo.

Friday, March 13, 2020

These famous country singers got their starts in other kinds of music

If there is one certainly about country music it is that every few years a controversy will pop up about some artist on the country charts not being "real country."

Of course, anyone who watched the recent Ken Burns' documentary knows that many influences go into the making of country music, everything from gospel to jazz and even rock.

In the mid-1970s, Conway Twitty was upset that Olivia Newton-John and Charlie Rich been nominated for Country Music Association awards. They weren't "real country."

As someone who was a big fan, then and now, '50s and '60s rock, I was amused by Twitty's remarks since he launched his career with a string of rock hits, including "It's Only Make Believe" and "Lonely Blue Boy."

I am not going to get into any argument over who is country and who is not, but I thought it would be fun to recall a few songs from famous country artists who had their beginnings recording songs in the pop and rock genre.

Some of them older readers will remember, but I am betting there may be a couple here that will surprise you.

Lonely Blue Boy- Conway Twitty 1959

Conway Twitty broke onto the rockabilly scene in a big way in 1959, reaching the Top 10 twice, with his signature song "It's Only Make Believe" and this one.

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition was In)- Kenny Rogers and the First Edition 1967

Kenny Rogers made the jump from this song, a remnant of the psychedelic rock era. Rogers was no newcomer to music when this song was released. He had minor hits dating back into the 1950s, but this one put him on the map and on the charts and led to a string of hits including "But You Know I Love You" and the more country-oriented "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" and "Reuben James."

Not Too Long Ago- The Uniques 1965

I loved this song when it came out, and they played it all on the time on WHB in Kansas City, but sadly, it was never more than a regional hit.

It did introduce the world to the Uniques' lead singer- the talented Joe Stampley, though.

Stampley had a string of top 10 country songs in the '70s, including two number ones, "Roll On, Big Mama" in 1974 and "All These Things," in 1975, which was actually a remake of a regional hit he had with the Uniques.

Stampley also teamed with Moe Bandy for some novelty hits, including the number one hit, "Just Good Ole Boys" in 1979.

Lonely Weekends- Charlie Rich 1960

During the 1950s and 1960s, Charlie Rich was a much-admired performer who had a pair of decent hits in "Lonely Weekends" and "Mohair Sam," but never reached the stardom his talent indicated he would have.

Rich finally broke through in 1973 with "Behind Closed Doors" and followed with a string of hits that lasted through the decade.

Once he hit the big time on the country charts (despite Conway Twitty's disapproval), with "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl," Rich was also able to have hits with some of the songs he had originally released a decade earlier, including "There Won't Be Anymore."

Wanda Jackson- Let's Have a Party 1960

When Wanda Jackson's legendary career started, she was a rockabilly singer who had a string of minor hits, then broke into the top 40 with this one.

When rock music dried up, Jackson moved into country, recording the classic "Right or Wrong" and "In the Middle of a Heartache," both in 1961 and continued having hits through the '60s.

When she stopped making the country charts, Jackson remade herself many times over the next several decades, first as a gospel singer, then returning to her rockabilly routes in the '90s. She was elected to the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 and finally "retired" at age 82 last year.

Even in her retirement from performing she is continuing to record, however.

She has lasted the whole rock 'n roll era, from dating a pre-stardom Elvis Presley in 1955 to making a rock album with Joan Jett today. (The video was removed from YouTube.)

Say- Mel Tillis 1960

Mel Tillis had far more success as a songwriters during the '60s penning such hits as "Detroit City" for Bobby Bare, "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, and "Emotions" for Brenda Lee.

This one from 1960 is less like his country hits of the 1970s, including "Coca Cola Cowboy" and "Send Me Down to Tucson" both in 1978, and more like the songs released by artists like Steve Lawrence and Bobby Rydell.

If you have never heard this one, you are in for a treat. (The video was removed from YouTube.)

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Three great cover songs you may have never heard

For nearly 11 years, I was lucky enough to sing with the local band Natural Disaster in the Joplin/Neosho area of southwest Missouri and all we did was covers.

It was not that none of us could write songs- our group leader Richard Taylor is an excellent songwriter and I could crank out a novelty song every once in a while, but Natural Disaster did not perform those songs. Our play list consisted of covers of rock and country songs from the '50s through the '80s.

We loved the music.

Cover songs get a bad reputation, especially when the covers are a note-for-note recreation of the original, but there are great cover versions that dwarf the original versions.

As good as the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout" was, and it was good, that the world at large that is a Beatles song and a classic.

I enjoy Otis Redding's version of "Respect," but once Aretha Franklin decided to sing that song it was hers forever.

Thanks to YouTube, music fans have been introduced to cover versions of nearly every song ever created and just as in the cases of the Beatles and Aretha Franklin.

Here are three I discovered that resonated with me and a few comments for each of them. I hope you enjoy these selections.

Bridge Over Troubled Water- Roy Orbison

I might as well get over with right at the beginning of this one. I am going to tick off a lot of people.

I never liked the original version of the song. I enjoy Simon and Garfunkel's music, but this one just seemed to last forever.

And to heap even more abuse on those who love the original- Roy Orbison's version is better.

Art Garfunkel's vocal were pure, clear, antiseptic and never had a hint of any real feeling. There is a reason why Paul Simon succeeded after splitting with Garfunkel and Garfunkel faded into obscurity.

Orbison, on the other hand, had one of the great voices of rock history and you can feel his pain when he sings. Though he wrote most of his songs, when he did a cover,  he owned it.

Judge for yourself.
Positively 4th Street- Johnny Rivers

Johnny Rivers has never received the respect he deserves.

How in the world is this man not in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Rivers had a string of hits that lasted approximately 15 years, a lifetime in pop music and it appears he has been penalized for being great at what he does- he offers fresh interpretations of older songs and he doesn't write his own.

For the most part, it is Rivers' cover version of many songs that we remember. When you think of "Mountain of Love," you don't think of Harold Dorman,  when you think of "Seventh Son," you don't think of Willie Mahon, and when you think of Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu, you don't think of Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns.

Once his versions were released, Johnny Rivers owned those songs.

And he didn't just do it with songs originally done by lesser obscure acts. Rivers' cover of Motown hits "Baby I Need Your Loving" and "The Tracks of My Tears" did not surpass the originals, but they held their own with the Four Tops and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

To give you an idea of how good Rivers is as what he does, he even outdid the master on "Memphis," one of his signature tunes. Who thinks of "Memphis" as a Chuck Berry song?

When the song is played by cover bands, and it is a staple among oldie cover bands and country performers, it is arranged and performed the way Rivers did it.

Rivers' cover of Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" was not a hit, but it was something even better- it was Dylan's favorite version of the song. He liked Rivers' version better than his own.

Suzi Quatro- Does Your Mother Know?

Fans of the Ron Howard-Henry Winkler Happy Days series in the 1970s and early '80s, may remember Suzi Quatro from her handful of appearances as rock singer Leather Tuscadero.

She had hit, "Stumblin' In," a duet with Chris Norman that reached number four on the Billboard chart in 1978, but that bouncy pop song was not the kind of music she liked to do. Quatro was a rocker and though she never had the success here that was expected for her, she became a superstar in Europe and has been a major influence on many female rock performers for the past four decades.

I stumbled across this performance of Abba's song "Does Your Mother Know?" several months back and loved it.

In this 2014 clip, she is 63 or 64 years old and she is still going strong.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Welcome to Jukebox Oldies

I keep trying new things with this blog, which was originally Room 210 Discussion and was set up at the urging of some of my former students who wanted to continue discussions about the kinds of topics they had written papers on when they were in my class.

For a time, it was used as part of a class called Encore at East Middle School, and had articles and practice essay tests over those articles to help students prepare for the annual MAP tests.

The last time it was used for any classroom purpose was 2010. After that, I used the blog, plus other blogs I had started and seldom updated, to promote my books and signings.

Unfortunately, I failed to remove the message at the top of the page that said the site was for East Middle School students. As far as I know, none of them even knew it existed by 2013 when my promotion of my book No Child Left Alive gave Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff the pretext to fire me saying I was promoting and assigning obscene material to my students.

Since then I briefly tried turning the blog into Inside Viral News and Inside Politics, but I wasn't really much into viral news and most of my writing on politics stayed on the Turner Report.

At the same time, I wanted to keep this blog alive because of the connection it has to my personal history.

So I am ready to try something new. As some of you are aware, from the beginning of 2002 through December 2012, I was a member of the band Natural Disaster, which played oldies, primarily those from the late 1950s through the 1970s.

I have always loved the music from that era, rock and country, and in the new blog I plan to write about that music, telling personal stories, plus sharing videos, trivia and occasionally, news about the musicians and songs of that era.

I hope you enjoy it.,

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Violence, statistics, and American education

No phrase irritates me as much as "data-driven education."

As someone who has dealt with educational data for the past 35 years, first as a reporter and now as a classroom teacher, I have learned that statistics should never be taken at face value.

From my discussions with teachers across the United States, I have seen many of my thoughts confirmed and many of them in a way that scares me, especially when it comes to statistics on violence in our schools.

I have heard one story after another of how school administrators, seeking to climb up the organizational ladder, report declining statistics on violent incidents and referrals, often by categorizing them differently, or by adding a separate layer of reports that are then not included in those that go to the state or federal governments.

I also hear from teachers who suffer the consequences when their building administrators, often following edicts from top administration, send those who commit classroom disruptions back into the same classrooms without any type of meaningful consequence. This has led to an increasing feeling of isolation among teachers, and in fact, has led many of them to leave for other, less stressful, better-paying jobs.

That lack of discipline has led, despite "statistics" from many school districts showing that the number of such "incidents" is on the decline, to an increased amount of bullying, which always leaves the door open to the sort of violent incident that happened April 20, 1999, at Columbine, and has been repeated since then across the country.

Education, in a frenzy brought on, in part, by No Child Left Behind, perhaps just as much as a reaction to the so-called "reformers" who are looking for ways to profit from public education or want to destroy it so they do not have to pay taxes (since they are sending their own children to private schools, anyway), has jumped on the bandwagon of one fad after another, often with sketchy, sometimes non-existent statistical backing.

And let's face it, it is hard for school boards and administrators to make names for themselves, unless they are trying the latest "innovative" methods of teaching, even as they discard those two years later for the next round of can't miss, cutting edge, state-of-the-art advancements.

All of these factors increasingly leave classroom teachers in a struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff among these educational ideas, and being forced often to make "innovations" work even when common sense says they won't.

Teachers' struggles to cope with all of these outside forces are the focus of my novel, No Child Left Alive. I had initially planned a Christmas promotion for the e-book this weekend, but I do not intend to try to make a profit from a book with that title and with the tagline "If the shooter doesn't get them, the system will," in the wake of Friday's shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,

At the same time, I firmly believe that the issues brought up in the book are worthy of discussion, so I am offering free downloads of No Child Left Alive today (Sunday, December 16) and tomorrow.

Buzzwords like "data-driven education" and "best practices" are often the enemy of real education and rely on statistics and personal ambition that have nothing to do with the reality our nation's teachers see in the classroom every day.

Please feel free to download the book today or tomorrow and let's start a discussion.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Illinois law prohibits students from making online threats

The problem of students threatening each other online has been a major problem in schools across the nation. The biggest dilemma facing school officials is the question of what can they do when the students making these threats are doing them on their own time. A new law in Illinois addresses the problem, according to an article in today's Chicago Sun-Times:

While examples of abusive behavior by students have multiplied across the nation and studies suggest half of all teens have been victimized by cyber-bullies, the law’s impetus came from an incident at Oswego High School six years ago, Illinois House minority leader Tom Cross said.

When an Oswego student posted an online diatribe against his teachers in 2005, vowing “I’m so angry I could kill,” leaders at School District 308 weren’t sure what they could do, SD 308 spokeswoman Kristine Liptrot said.

Since the threat was made outside school hours, away from school grounds from a private computer, they were concerned about interfering with the boy’s First Amendment rights and felt unable to suspend or expel the boy, who refused to take down the message until his parents intervened, Liptrot said, describing the experience as “upsetting and frightening” for the staff members and their families.

Cross said he’d tried repeatedly to change the law to strengthen school administrators’ hands in similar situations, but added that it’s taken a while for legislators to come to grips with Internet issues. “I don’t think kids are getting any meaner,” he said, “30 years ago, a bully might have said something in class — now they’ll say it on the Internet.”

The law allows administrators to discipline students who make any online threat that “could be reasonably interpreted as threatening to the safety and security” of another student or staff member.

It was needed because existing laws “weren’t specific enough,” bill sponsor state Rep. Sidney Matthias said. “We’re making it clear to students that this is unacceptable behavior,” he added.