Friday, October 10, 2008

Credibility Gap

After today's song post, please note the comments on the future of this blog. Thanks!

When three-year-old caithiseach was enjoying “Motorcyle” four years prior to his intersection with the trajectory of a hit-and-run Harley, there was another side to the single. There were also several facets to the recording career of the songwriter/lead vocalist of “Motorcycle.” I can without hesitation say that I was listening to this guy regularly years before even you fifty-year-olds picked up on him.

A brief aside: in that aspect, I was setting the tone for later music choices. In early 1978, on some alt radio station, I was introduced to the Cars, and people smirked at me when I brought them up. Ha! And when I trotted off to college, I took along the Blondie album Plastic Letters. No one would listen to it, but once “Heart of Glass” hit the airwaves, I was recognized as a music prophet. So it was with this “Motorcycle” guy, even if the song isn’t up to the caliber of his later material.

Mr. Motorcycle got his start in high school in Queens. There, he sang with a classmate. The two were named “Tom & Jerry” by their label, Big, and they reached #49 in early 1958 with “Hey, Schoolgirl.” Then came several years of very little success. Mr. Motorcycle wrote the song “Red Rubber Ball” under the pseudonym “Paul Kane” and “Motorcycle” under the name “Jerry Landis,” the name he used to record a #97 single, “The Lone Teen Ranger,” in 1963.

Jerry Landis was writing and producing for Amy Records when he discovered Tico and the Triumphs. He took these young people—Mickey Borack, Marty “Tico” Cooper and Gail Lynn—and had them learn some songs he had written. Gail left the act, and Jerry became part of the mix, along with Howie Beck. The group recorded “Motorcycle” with Jerry singing lead, and today’s tune, “I Don’t Believe Them,” features Marty Cooper on vocals.

A couple of years later, Jerry reunited with “Tom,” and they scored a recording contract with Columbia Records. They released a folk album that didn’t do so well, and Jerry went off to England to try his luck there. While he was gone, the producer of the album, Tom Wilson, remixed one of the tracks, adding electric instruments to what had been a folky acoustic piece. The pumped-up version went to #1 on January 1, 1966, and while Jerry muttered about artistic integrity and all that, he probably kept in mind that he had perpetrated “Motorcycle” with the same instruments and an out-of-tune sax to boot. He came home and started cashing royalty checks.

He and “Tom” started on their follow-up album, which included the electrified #1 version of that folk tune. I see that song as a prophetic statement about music in this decade when it says that “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, tenement halls.” The debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A. M., had been a slow starter, and Sounds of Silence, including “The Sound of Silence,” fared better, but not up to the standard of the later #1 albums.

For a staid record company like Columbia, signing Tom & Jerry under their real last names must have taken some soul-searching. But despite “Tom’s” long last name, Garfunkel, being known as Simon & Garfunkel didn’t hurt the duo as much as being associated with a cartoon cat and mouse might have.

And after his time with Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon went on to score 21 solo Hot 100 hits, including one #1, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and five other Top Ten hits. It’s funny that detailed compilations of his non-Simon & Garfunkel work fail to include “Motorcycle” . . .

I didn’t listen to “I Don’t Believe Them” a lot, because, well, you heard “Motorcycle.” Who needed another Tico and the Triumphs song in the rotation?

All the Tico information you could want is right at this page. I will now post the correct guesses. I should offer a reward to people who were able to pick out Paul Simon’s voice. I didn’t figure it out on my own; I did some reading about twenty years ago that clued me in.

Gee, I just checked my calendar. Monday is Paul Simon’s 67th birthday. Happy birthday, Paul.

Next week, we embark on a strange journey that will take us through the end of the month. First up is the innocuous side of an obscurity you probably have never heard. Then comes the other side, which will set the tone for October. As with some other posts, I have been waiting impatiently for a year for this series to have its turn. See you Wednesday!

Tico and the Triumphs, I Don’t Believe Them

Comments and a request: I want to note that the counter on my blog rolled over the 10,000 mark this week. I got the idea to use a counter from reading my friend whiteray’s blog, and the counter offered me a bit of reassurance that I was not the only person reading my posts (apart from whiteray, whom I pay $10 a month to read it). Reaching 10,000 hits means that I am topping 250 hits per week, or 125 per post. I am well aware that many music blogs receive several hundred more hits per week than mine does, but I always figured my collection of cutout 1960s 45s would attract a smallish niche readership. I would write it for even a handful of appreciative readers, and so I am grateful that I can, via the demographics, identify a satisfying number of regular, if mostly anonymous, readers. I know vaguely where you are, if nothing about who you are, and each time your city pops onto the counter, I thank you silently for coming back.

Now, we are getting to the end of 2008. A year ago, I sketched out 104 posts, which means I have 22 more to present this year. At that point, I will be virtually out of childhood 45s to discuss. I will not, however, be tired of writing about music I know.

So, I have been meditating for several months on what I might do next in this space. The blog title can be valid for whatever I do, since I will be breaking down the songs into their component parts, as I have been doing this year. I think, though, that I should not assume too much about my readership.

I always hope for more feedback about the artists and songs than I get, which is fine, but this time, I need some guidance. If something about three-year-old caithiseach and his box of vinyl intrigued you (even if you couldn’t tear yourself away, as when you witness a train wreck), but you don’t see any reason to read once I ring the curtain down on my old 45s, do let me know. If everyone bails, I’ll retire.

If you would keep reading, because it’s part of your routine or for any other reason, then you get to shape the blog so you’ll be glad you stuck around. In this U.S. election year, you get to vote for yet another thing: my Wednesday and Saturday topics for the start of 2009. I really need to know the blog matters to someone; I figure I’ll keep it going if I get at least ten opinions. Otherwise, I might start thinking that my sister is getting one of her hacker friends to jigger my counter to give me delusions of grandeur.

You can vote by leaving an anonymous comment on this post, but I don’t need the comment total to be prodigious or ostentatious. Therefore, you can also email me a thought at caithiseach at (You know how to put that together as an email address.) Doing it that way will be less anonymous, but I won’t start spamming you, so you’re safe.

Possibilities that my music collection allows (vote for all that you like; I’ll start with the top two, and I’ll switch topics when I run out of material):

1. Instrumentals, their writers and artists. 1950s on, maybe some older stuff.

2. Really old artists, 1890-1954. From Irish tenors to rock’s precursors.

3. Women. I could do a year on the women in my collection alone. I mean my music collection.

4. World music. My journalism has exposed me to some incredible world acts.

5. This day in the 1950s charts. I have the chart book, and there are loads of tidbits to discuss.

I’ll leave it there. Pick something, and I’ll write about it. Pick nothing, and I’ll stop altogether in January. Thanks!


Stephanie said...

You said: 3. Women. I could do a year on the women in my collection alone. I mean my music collection.

You sure 'bout dat?

You COULD very well do one on JUST the women in your collection, you know!

You are SO studly!

whiteray said...

I'd go for the Fifties charts, but then, I'm the guy who, on rare occasion, posts Bulgarian choral music at his own place. So grains of salt are probably essential.

Anonymous said...

I vote No. 1, instrumentals. Ask us again next year. Austin, Texas.

Anonymous said...

How about a focus on early-mid 70's R&B appearing on the charts - pre-disco. Think Spinners, David Ruffin, etc.

Any major dude with half a heart said...

You know, you don't have to do one single focus. I find it enjoyable to do a variety of standing features interspersed with whatever else grabs my fancy. So I'd say that you ought to do all of them.

former lurker said...

Ohhh, I agree with any major dude. :) I like ALL of your options, and would look forward to reading posts on any of them. So I refuse to vote for just one. I do, however, vote for continuing the blog!

Dane said...

I could get very excited about options 1,2,3, or 5. Especially the really old artists option.

Yah Shure said...

How about the Jeff Barry Songbook? That alone would encompass a wide swath of styles and artists.

Or you could incorporate more food elements along with the music, dubbing it 'The Great Patty Meltdown." Start with the irresistible Thunder Cookies from Positively 3rd Street Bakery in Duluth, add a slice of Dylan and we're off.