Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Tuttis

Before I get to the originally scheduled post, I want to ponder for a moment the ways you can sort a large music collection. I mentioned last time that I completed the Top 40 for 1970; I also updated my list of #1 hits and discovered that I own everything that topped the chart in the rock era from Joan Weber’s “Let Me Go Lover” up to, but not including, “The Next Time I Fall” by Peter Cetera and Amy Grant. That’s a good stretch of #1 songs, and I have a good string after that empty spot, but what I want to say is that, if you have a similar collection of #1 hits and haven’t put them together in chronological order on one CD, you should. Mine is now in the car CD player, and I’m up to 1964, where all of a sudden the Beatles sprang into action. This way of looking at the evolution of pop hits is new to me, and it’s a fun way to listen.

And now, back to my childhood vinyl.

In the early days of the blog year, I noted that I had a bunch of Specialty 45s that came to the Big Top department store’s discount bin because their labels were messed up. One was printed as a mirror image, one was smeared with purple ink, and another had a label that was cut and pasted oddly. One of the 45s was by an artist I can’t recall, and I loved the song, which I also cannot remember. Very distressing, that. The other two records were by a guy named Little Richard.

You probably realize that I can’t recall the first Specialty song because the 45 died in the Great Vinyl Meltdown. The two oddball Little Richard discs melted as well. But another one survived: “Lucille” (Specialty 598). I dug the song, with the R&B beat and the horns that fit in with the likes of “Red” Holloway’s single, “Simple Steps.” Little Richard had the shrill voice you all know, but his energetic approach to music stood out in my collection of energetic performances.

One eventual Meltdown Victim was Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti” (Specialty 561), which I found to be a pretty catchy tune as well. I learned a bit later that Pat Boone had recorded “Tutti’ Frutti” to compete with the oh-so-scandalous version by the African American artist. Three-year-old caithiseach didn’t own the Boone version, but Little Richard did have competition on my playlist: the original recording of the song by Art Mooney and His Orchestra (MGM 12165).

What? you say. The original version? Consider caithiseach’s evidence. Uncle Tom bought me the Specialty singles, and almost all of the cutouts he bought were obscure chart failures or, like the Hit Records 45s, soundalikes. My Art Mooney version of “Tutti-Frutti” was bought by my mom; she even wrote our last name on the label, perhaps because she took it to a family gathering or something. My parents seem to have been party animals before I came along to settle them down. My mom, of course, would buy an original recording and not a cover. Perish the thought.

As you might expect, Art Mooney’s version was more dignified than the raucous version Little Richard cranked out. What those young upstarts won’t do to distinguish themselves from established acts! Mooney’s vocalist had a bit of the R&B in him, though, and that gave the song a bit of the groove it needed to sound rock caithiseach’s record player.

It didn’t take me until today to figure out which version is the egg and which is the chicken, so settle down. But there was a period of confusion in the 1960s, and since the only information I seemed to ask of adults was the name of a new song in my collection, I gave Art Mooney a lot of credit he didn’t dseserve.

Now, let’s talk about Art Mooney. He started charting hits in 1948 with his only #1 song, “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.” He tended to remake 1920s hits, but he scored 15 chart hits by the end of 1952. He came back in 1955 to score two #6 hits, “Honey-Babe” and “Nuttin’ for Christmas,” which featured the vocals of six-year-old Barry Gordon (who turned seven during the chart run). Four more Hot 100 hits took Mooney to 1960, then he stopped charting. Mooney died in 1993 at age 80.

Mooney born in Massachusetts but based musically in Detroit, surrounded himself with good people. Neal Hefti arranged some of his records, and the vocalist on his version of “Tutti-Frutti” was a guy named Ocie Smith.

Geez, you say. It’s not enough that there are two “Tutti-Fruttis” and one “Tutti’ Frutti” out there, but I have to talk about a 1956 singer named Ocie Smith when there was a guy with a successful late-1960s career whose name was O.C. Smith.

How about we don’t worry about a duplication of Smiths? It’s the same guy. Ocie was born in 1936, sang “Tutti-Frutti” well enough for Art Mooney to earn a solo contract from MGM, then he sang for Count Basie from 1961 to 1965. Columbia signed him and was about to let him go when he reached the Top 40 in early 1968 with “The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp.” In September of that year, he rode to #2 on the back of the uberubiquitous “Little Green Apples,” which had hit the Top 40 in March of 1968 for Roger Miller. Dang me, that’s a lot of duplication. And if you think that every MOR singer who was preparing to don a leisure suit for 1970s performances recorded “Little Green Apples,” or at least sang it on the Ed Sullivan Show, this post is starting to resemble a house of mirrors.

O.C. Smith, as he billed himself on Columbia, reached the Top 40 three times and logged ten Hot 100 hits, the last one coming in 1974. He died the day after Thanksgiving in 2001.

With all of this doubling, I am tempted to post every version of “Tutti-Frutti” in my possession, but I’ll stick to the one you’re least likely to know. I am very sorry about the condition of the record; caithiseach played it a lot and it’s almost Ground to Dust. In the first chorus, there was a pair of skips I could not repair, so I spliced in part of the second chorus, which includes a horn section absent from the first. Thus, the horns pop out of nowhere, which is sort of appropriate for the very odd juxtaposition of sounds covered in this post.

Well, that’s that. I have to toddle off to prepare for school tomorrow (i.e. get at least a bit of sleep). For Saturday, I’ll bring you a song I didn’t hear until I was 15, couldn’t understand until I was 19, and could not own until I was 39. See you then!

Art Mooney and Ocie Smith, Tutti-Frutti

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