Friday, May 30, 2008

Belly Up to the Buffet

Today, May 31, jazz saxophonist James “Red” Holloway turns 81. About 45 years ago, I got hold of his debut single, “Simple Steps” (Mad 1297). This time, I’m going to examine the flip side of that single, “Ala Carte.”

First, in case you haven’t had a chance to check out the bio on his website, I’ll summarize it here. He attended DuSable High School in Chicago, and he was a classmate of saxophonist Johnny Griffin. When he was 16, Gene “The Senator” Wright, of Dave Brubeck fame, hired Red. After serving in the Army, Red played with Dexter Gordon and others. When he was 21, Roosevelt Sykes asked him to join the Sykes band. Later, Red played for Willie Dixon, Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King, Lloyd Price and John Mayall, to name just a few.

Other musicians he backed include Billie Holiday, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt. From 1963 to 1966, Red played in Jack McDuff’s band, along with George Benson. Beginning in 1969, he held a 15-year gig at the Parisian Room in Los Angeles, where he also served as talent coordinator.

Though his associations gave him a lot of work as a blues saxophonist, his solo work leans toward jazz. If you check the last post, you’ll see what he can do in that idiom.

And when you listen to today’s song, you see just what a range he has.

The two rockers he released on Mad (part of an album’s worth of material he recorded, according to Robert Campbell’s Mad page) are extremely accessible tunes musically. The lyrics of the chorus to “Simple Steps” are a dance call, a precursor to the laid-back calling on “The Madison Time” by the Ray Bryant Combo. “Ala Carte,” however, is a different creature altogether.

A solid sax groove drives this tune, as it does “Simple Steps,” but Leon Hooper, the drummer and likely vocalist on this cut, added some gut-wrenching lyrics. The premise is odd food, and the food is odd: fried elephant lips, pig knees (better than pygmies, I presume), grasshopper toes, and the like. Hooper lines out a many-course meal for us, and considering how he starts to gargle at the end of the song, you get the feeling he sampled everything on the buffet line. At last he capitulates and asks for some baking soda.

Three-year-old caithiseach found the song’s menu very amusing. I wondered what some of these items would taste like. I didn’t turn up my nose at many foods. Once, my dad was eating something with horseradish on it. I asked to try it, and he refused. I persisted, and finally he decided to shut me up by giving me the horseradish. Now is when I’m supposed to say that I loved it, to his amazement. But he got the reaction he expected, and I didn’t eat horseradish again until I started using Chinese mustard. And then I discovered prime rib and horseradish sauce. Oh, my. I’m getting hungry.

The song talks about a lot of “foods” that are obtainable from animals, but not necessarily the parts one would eat. For example, I suppose that most people would eat elephant steaks rather than elephant lips, which are normally relegated to elephant hot dogs. Why eat just the toes of a grasshopper when the entire insect creates such a satisfyingly mouth-filling crunchiness?

Sure, you’ll say that we should not eat elephants. I agree. I never have eaten an animal that could be anywhere near the endangered list. No shark for me, no . . . elephant. But I have eaten ostrich, alligator, iguana, bison, squirrel, rabbit and, I suppose, a few I’ve forgotten. Among those options, I suggest the iguana, if you can get it baked and barbecued. Make sure they share the tail with you.

One time I tried to eat something unusual and failed. When I lived in Mexico, my favorite food was pozole, a soup made of pork and dried hominy. A good pot of pozole required a pig’s head, as well as loin and perhaps shoulder meat. The brains were cooked in foil separately from the rest of the head, and as for the pig’s eyes . . . my future sister-in-law Lupe always got those.

Being the adventurous eater I was, I asked once if I could try one of the eyes. She agreed, and I took the spoon. I was about to pop it into my mouth when I realized that the eyelashes, as black and even as those on a child’s doll, were still attached. In fact, they were fluttering coquettishly in my direction. I gave back the eye.

My cowardice aggravated me, and a year later, I had another chance. For the very same reason, I begged off again. Now I was really annoyed with myself.

About ten years later, a student of mine who lived on a farm mentioned that her family was going to slaughter a pig. I got her to promise to bring me an eye, and she did. I took it home and cooked it. Overcooked it, in fact; it didn’t look like the Mexican pigs’ eyes. But I popped it into my mouth and started chewing. It reminded me of a golf ball made of chicken gizzard. (Now you don’t have to try one.)

I’m over that particular challenge, but I still love unusual good food. Just not the stuff Leon Hooper suggested in the song, like baboon eyeballs. Check out his menu and the intense sax.

Next week, I’ll lead from Red Holloway into the most obvious segue of the year. See you then!

Red Holloway, Ala Carte

Ala Carte label

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Simply a Jazz Legend

For several years, I have known that today’s artist is not the obscure entity that his 45 on a small Chicago label would imply. When Uncle Tom brought the 45s to me (he gave me two copies, bought on different record runs), they came from the usual bargain bin. The single didn’t chart. Three-year-old caithiseach cranked it a lot, though, and the two sides broadened my horizons plenty.

First of all, the A-side, “Simple Steps” by James “Red” Holloway (Mad 1297), set the tone for many caithiseach favorites: growly baritone sax, an energizing 1-4-5 progression (think “Why Wait” with a rockier beat) and a clean guitar solo that has a tinge of jazz to it. During the sax solo, the bass line is distinctly jazzy, but I didn’t notice that when I was three years old.

It’s a good thing Uncle Tom picked up two copies of this gem: one died in the Great Meltdown. The Survivor hasn’t fared all that well; it’s nearly Ground to Dust, and there are parallel cracks, one across the entire playing surface, and another halfway through, close enough to the first crack to make losing a chunk of the styrene a serious threat. I have transferred the song to my hard drive, of course, and a search will show you where you can get both sides of this 45 on CD. I don’t have the CD yet, so I can’t tell you how good it sounds. Even with the option of acquiring the songs on CD, I would hate to have my 45 break, so I am being extra careful with it.

The label has one of the busiest logos I have seen on a 45. I liked it when I was a kid, but I also couldn’t see it very well until I entered the first grade, when people figured out that I needed glasses. See the label here.

There are little man-faces with huge noses peering over the letters, with music notes weaving behind the letters. I can describe the logo, but I can’t tell you what it means.

About four years ago, I decided to look for a cleaner copy of the 45, and I found something even better: a website devoted to Mad Records. Professor Robert Campbell of Clemson University is responsible for this excellent labor of love, and I am proud to have contributed both the label scans and the sounds of this 45 to his research. You can see the site here. There is a lot of information there, so you’ll have to scroll partway down the page to find today’s song.

I scanned the label of my 45, then Professor Campbell cleaned it up, and I took the jpg from his site, so consider that a statement of credit.

What I have learned about James “Red” Holloway is that he has, over time, become an intensely respected jazz saxophonist. He’s an Arkansas native, born in Helena on May 31, 1927. Yes, I chose this slot and the next to discuss his music in order to honor his birthday. He is still active; you can book him via his website. But good luck finding an open slot in his schedule; he’s performing constantly throughout 2008, including the Red Holloway Jazz & Blues Festival in his hometown on July 26, six weeks in Europe in September-October and a Thanksgiving trip to Japan. Nice.

When three-year-old caithiseach was playing Red’s 45 regularly, there was no way of knowing that the singer/sax player had performed with Dizzy Gillespie, would later cut a couple of albums with Sonny Stitt, and could play “clarinet, flute, piccolo, piano, bass, drums, and violin,” according to his site bio. There is so much to say about this varied and exciting career that I would do well to step aside and let you peruse the two websites to which I have linked.

Professor Campbell’s page states that Red recorded enough tracks during the Mad sessions of late 1958 or early 1959 to make up a complete album, but only the tracks on this 45 were released. I really liked this double-sided caithiseach hit, so I am hoping the tapes are sitting somewhere, waiting for some motivated investigator to rescue them.

Red Holloway wrote “Simple Steps.” On the recording, Leon Hooper plays drums, and McKinley (Mac) Easton most likely provides the baritone underpinning. The organist and the guitarist are unknown. A lot of research has been done, so the missing information may well never come to light.

Mad Records was set up in Chicago in 1957 by a jazzy saxophonist, Tommy “Mad Man” Jones. He kept the label and a companion, M&M Records, going until 1991. Jones was responsible for the debuts of a number of significant artists, including Red Holloway and Oscar Brown Jr.

Over the course of this blog, I’ve discovered that I owned some famous songs (“Midnight Sun”) and early work by people with great futures (Marlin Greene) or amazing connections (Bob Keefe). I don’t think anyone in my collection can top Red Holloway’s musical range, contacts or longevity.

To show you what this man is capable of, I’m including a cut from a 1964 LP, Brother Red, which shows his prowess as a jazz saxophonist in a setting where he is in charge.

After this first taste, I’ll share more about him Saturday. See you on the flip side!

Red Holloway, Simple Steps

Red Holloway, Brother Red

Friday, May 23, 2008

An Oldie, 1970 Style

My perspective on what constitutes an “oldie” has changed over time. When I was 11, the Chicago “oldies” station, WIND, played songs from ten to fifteen years before. That pretty much took things back to the beginning of the Rock Era, so there was nowhere else to go. Now, if you play fifteen-year-old songs, you’re talking Nirvana. To me, that doesn’t seem like an oldie.

I got a very fresh perspective on oldies today, Friday, May 23. My Spanish students were making videos of skits they had written as a final project. One pair included a long sequence that pictures them throwing a baseball around. They chose “Peace of Mind” by Boston for the audio. I found it a perfectly rational choice.

Today, the film’s director stopped by to check on his grade, and he mentioned that he and his partner had wanted to learn the song so they could play it themselves to impress me further. The other guy couldn’t get the acoustic guitar licks down, so they just used the recording. “It’s a pretty good song,” this student said.

The way he said it made me realize he had just discovered “Peace of Mind.” That reminded me of the day my brother Jeff, listening to Aerosmith in 1988, said, “I heard they had a few hits a long time ago.” And, no kidding, someone once said in my presence, “That’s the band Paul McCartney was in before Wings.”

For the first but not last time this year, I am going to visit the summer of 1970. The song I am presenting today isn’t from the summer; it was an “oldie” by then. In 1970 parlance, that means it had spent several months out of the rotation on WLS. Its final week in the Top 40 was February 21, 1970. It had reached #10 in its ten-week chart run, but I hadn’t paid it much attention, because my mind was focused elsewhere in the weeks following my mother’s death in January.

The song, “Jingle Jangle” by the Archies (Kirshner 5002), reached my ears on a hot August evening (you expected me to say “night”), and finally it registered with me as a song I would enjoy from then on.

1970 was a year of understandable turmoil in my world. As soon as school ended, my dad sent me to visit his sister in Loogootee, Indiana, a stone’s throw from Shoals, where his parents lived. My Aunt Jenny and her husband, Uncle Eddie, lived on a farm with their three sons. I learned about chickens, piglets, electric fences, and walking behind horses without letting them know you’re there. One of the boys owned “Sugar, Sugar,” so there was good music. I was there when the radio stopped playing “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and segued into the next Creedence hit, “Up Around the Bend.”

Then it was back to Gary to visit my mom’s mom for a while. I got terribly homesick while I was there, even though Grandma made me the best breakfasts I have ever had and was marvelous company. I was still there when Father’s Day rolled around, and I didn’t hear any music at all during that stretch.

The music scene picked up for me again at the end of July and into August, when I moved about ten blocks to the home of Aunt Eileen, her husband, Uncle Jim, and my cousins Jim and Bob. The boys slept upstairs on a wide-open second-floor; Bob’s bed sat in a cubbyhole with a window that overlooked Kentucky Street. It was all very cozy.

One week in August, I’ll go into the music Bob and I heard on WLS at night. He left the radio on when the lights went out, something I had never thought of before. He developed a game in which we competed to see who could name the songs first as they came on. Though Bob is five years older than I am, I did a pretty good job of guessing the tunes. Good enough that he recalled my prowess when I visited his house seventeen years later.

Among the songs WLS played a lot that won’t be part of the blog were “The Love You Save,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “Hitchin’ a Ride.” Songs I associate particularly with that time were “Ball of Confusion” and the “Overture from Tommy” by the Assembled Multitude. I won’t forget “Big Yellow Taxi” by the Neighborhood, because Bob thought they were singing “Take down a bank, put up a parking lot.”

WLS had a very tight playlist, so I can recall just two oldies playing during those after-hours radio sessions. One was “Down in the Boondocks” by Billy Joe Royal, from 1965. I had never heard it before, so I thought it was new. Of course, they didn’t play it again. The other “oldie” was “Jingle Jangle.”

I remembered that song well, but it hadn’t given me as much joy as “Sugar, Sugar.” On that August evening, though, I recognized it from the first guitar chord, and I heard the song for the “second first” time. I could see that it had the same upbeat attitude as “The Love You Save,” a song I adored. My friends and I were amazed that a local group, the Jackson Five, had become so big. At this time, I was staying 19 blocks from the Jacksons’ former Gary home. Now, hearing “Jingle Jangle” from the perspective of having heard “ABC” and “The Love You Save” all spring and summer, I found merit in its cheeriness.

That one summer play as an “oldie” affected me enough that I bought the single when I got home later in August. I can see from looking at the label that, on one occasion in 1970 or 1971, I did another of my record censuses in which I wrote numbers on the labels so I could tell how many 45s I had. I may have alphabetized the records by this time, because “Jingle Jangle” was single number 3.

The song is a Barry/Kim composition, whereas the flip, “Justine,” is credited solely to Jeff Barry. Jeff is listed on the record as producer, with Don Kirshner as production supervisor. Donnie Kirshner’s career is pretty well-known, but maybe not to everyone: He was a key figure in the Brill Building heyday of the early 1960s, and his connections made him a natural choice to develop music for the Monkees. He brought Jeff Barry on board for that project, then they both moved on to create the Archies. He developed Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert for late-night TV around 1973, and he signed the band Kansas to his Kirshner label.

The recording was unusual for an Archies record. Ron Dante says the tune was originally meant to feature Toni Wine as the lead vocalist, so the track was recorded in her range. She sings the intro in her “Veronica” voice, but thereafter her voice comes to the fore only in counterpoint in the choruses.

What Ron did to get around the key difficulties was sing the verses in a whispery falsetto. By contrast, Jeff Barry used his deepest bass to sing “Oh, come on” in the bridge. Andy Kim is in there on the choruses, along with any number of his and Jeff’s usual suspects. I don’t have an exact list of who sang on “Jingle Jangle.”

Whenever I hear the song now, it transports me to my cousins’ bedroom in the Glen Park section of Gary. It’s dark, my cousin Bob has fallen asleep, and I am processing the changes in my world while the music flows through me. I have never been one (perhaps because I predate the video era) to like a song just because it’s paired with a great video. But sometimes my mind creates its own videos, and those images can put a decent song over the hump into the “essential” category. The decision by WLS to slip “Jingle Jangle” back onto the airwaves for one last play made all the difference for that song’s legacy in my memories.

After “Sugar, Sugar” and “Jingle Jangle,” I know some cynicism remains about the validity of cartoon bands. To counteract the sweetness of those two songs, I want to include the most serious of the Archies tunes. “A Summer Prayer for Peace” was not released in the United States, but it hit #1 in South Africa. Ron and Jeff went into the studio alone and put it together. With summer approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, save in Minnesota and perhaps Winnipeg, I’d like to repost this “oldie” that I used in a February essay. As I said then, you have to update the population numbers, but everything else is far too relevant.

Next week I will be celebrating the birthday of a jazz saxophonist you probably don’t know. He takes us back to the early caithiseach 45s after these past two weeks of Barry/Kim music. I’ll see you Wednesday!

Archies, Jingle Jangle

Archies, A Summer Prayer for Peace

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It Never Got Better Than This

I love many kinds of music, and many songs that have nothing in common with each other. To be honest, the reactions of my easy-listening friends and my head-banger friends to music that doesn’t suit them disappoints me a bit. I don’t understand how people can develop such a rut that they can’t skip to another groove.

I am going to discuss a song that nearly everyone, regardless of age, level of musical sophistication, self-perceived musical superiority or affiliation with Rolling Stone can sing from memory. Everyone knows this song because there has never been a better pop song.

The song is “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies (Calendar 1008).

Any Major Dude, whom I respect as a champion of spectacular music, has not included this song in the Perfect Pop series on his blog. Maybe he won’t. But I can make a case, both technical and personal, for “Sugar, Sugar” as the definition of popular music, perhaps even populist music. From its misunderstood origins to its effect on the careers of its writers, the song has earned smirks from writers who could not stop humming it. I’m going to get militant as I tell you why a memorable pop song is not by nature a pop song to be avoided.

I start with the genesis of the song. Ronnie Dante says that Jeff Barry had encouraged Andy Kim to come up with something for the Archies to record. Andy got the idea for the first bit and presented it to Jeff over the phone. They developed the tune together, with Jeff providing the keyboard hook and some lyrics I’ll get to shortly.

Other writers and producers had created bubblegum music. “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” and “Chewy, Chewy” come to mind. Are they perfect pop songs? No. Why do I say “Sugar, Sugar” reaches that level?

Jeff Barry aimed a lot of his 1960s songs at young teens. In this respect, he was considerably ahead of his peers in understanding the intellectual power, and the purchasing power, of that demographic. Whereas the Ohio Express songs seek to combine a catchy melody with inane lyrics, Jeff’s songs were vibrant enough to energize the young and vital enough to impress music historians. It’s no accident that “Have I ever told you how good it feels to hold you” has been honored by the Library of Congress, while “I got love in my tummy and I feel like lovin’ you” has not.

The difference is that Jeff did not try to capitalize on the innocence of youth; he celebrated it. He still does. If you lament that children are now singing “Shawty need a refund, needa bring that nigga back/Just like a refund, I make her bring that ass back,” you are not alone, and it’s not age that makes one sad about where lyrics have gone.

When Jeff was asked by Don Kirshner to write for the Archies, Jeff did so with a goal of bridging the gap between kiddie pop and adult pop. Jeff risked his stature as a serious producer/writer when he took on this task. He and Andy Kim succeeded with “Sugar, Sugar,” above all other Archies tunes. Andy got it started, and Jeff knew this was a keeper.

The risk paid off commercially, but the intelligentsia, in the throes of psychedelia and Beatlemania, among other –ias, branded Jeff as a simplistic writer. A number of years later, one critic of this ilk asked Jeff why he didn’t write for adults. Jeff replied that recently he had heard a line by Rod McKuen: “I just can’t believe the loveliness of loving you.” The critic replied that Jeff should have written lines like that.

“Fuck you,” Jeff replied. “I wrote that. It’s from ‘Sugar, Sugar.’”

That is part of why “Sugar, Sugar” is a perfect pop song. It’s not about laughing all the way to the bank, like High School Musical 2. It’s about making music that neither shuts out kids nor sends their parents screaming from the room. Compare “Pour a little sugar on me, honey” with “Pour some sugar on me,” and tell me that the lyric Def Leppard echoed is really more adult than the Archies original.

The “Sugar, Sugar” recording session shows another level of sophistication that people tend not to hear. For the first fifteen or so unnumbered takes, Jeff couldn’t get his drummer, Gary Chester (born Cesario Gurciullo, 1924-1987), to match what Jeff was feeling for the song. Unlike the session for Andy Kim’s “Baby, I Love You,” Jeff persevered. He wound up standing in front of his drummer, swaying to the beat in his head to keep the tempo surprisingly slow. Jeff had no use for the frenetic pace of a kiddie tune here.

As the end of the second chorus approaches, Ron Dante sings “You are my candy, girl, and you got me . . . wanting you.” After “me,” he sucks in his breath, the way people do when someone attractive walks by. I asked whose idea that was, and Ron said it was Jeff’s. It is such a subtle touch that kids would never hear it, yet adults know what it implies. No need to say what “wanting you” means; the lyric stays kid-friendly and the breathing provides the subtext. I didn’t hear it as a kid, but I hear it now, every time, and I nod in approval of the tactic.

Did that mean Jeff controlled the song too much? Ron Dante himself came up with the “Whoa-oh-oh” part that leads out of the second verse. At that point the song crosses into soul music; counterpoint shouts of “honey” crop up, and after Toni Wine sings the low “Betty” version of “I’m gonna make your life so sweet,” she belts the high, Aretha-like “Veronica” version of the same phrase. She told me she crafted that pair of singing personalities.

Now, with a pretty good track ready for release, it was up to the kids to buy it once they heard it, right? Ron Dante said that, after two very kid-oriented singles, this third Archies release met with radio resistance simply because of the artist name. At last someone played it, and the listener response was so intense that the song could not be denied airplay. The result was a single that entered the Top 40 on August 16, 1969, spent four weeks at #1 starting September 20, and logged 22 weeks in the Hot 100. “Sugar, Sugar” was the RIAA Record of the Year for 1969. That consumer-driven success is what makes me call it a populist song as well as a popular one.

I have given you bio information on Jeff Barry and Andy Kim before, but I owe you Ron Dante and Toni Wine. Ron Dante, born Carmine Granito in 1945, sang the Archies hits, as well as “Tracy” by the Cuff Links. He also sang (but not the lead) on “Leader of the Laundromat” by the Detergents, a parody of “Leader of the Pack.” Everyone involved with the parody knew it would be subjected to a lawsuit for royalties by the writers of the original hit, among whom was Jeff Barry.

Ron Dante moved on from the Archies to production work for all of Barry Manilow’s records through about 1981. He sang background on “Mandy” and a number of other hits. He still performs regularly.

Toni Wine, born in 1947, wrote “A Groovy Kind of Love” when she was about 18, and she wrote “Candida” for Tony Orlando after she left the Archies. She and Robin Grean sang the backing vocals on “Candida” and “Knock Three Times”; don’t let Joel Whitburn fool you on this one. Ellie Greenwich didn’t participate in the Dawn recordings, but you can hear her on the Archies songs. Toni tours with Tony Orlando now.

While I’m at it, I should note that Gary Chester played drums on “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” as just the tip of his session-work iceberg.

And now it gets personal. As soon as “Sugar, Sugar” leapt onto WLS in August, 1969, I fell in love with it, along with the rest of the country. At home, I was the daytime caregiver for a very sick mother, and this song kept up my spirits. This one, and “Honky Tonk Women,” of all things.

I didn’t ask anyone to take me to the store to buy the 45, but I didn’t have to. I got a copy of it on the back of a cereal box. Four Archies tunes were featured on a cereal; I believe it was Sugar Crisp. I bought the cereal, hoping to get the right record (the songs weren’t named; you had to play them to know what you had), and on the third try, I had my song.

By 1969, though, my stereo tonearm had been snapped in two by rambunctious siblings, and finally the wires pulled loose. I bought a little record player from a neighbor for a dollar. Its drawback was that it played only 33 1/3 rpm records. So I played my Archies cereal box record at LP speed and imagined that it was playing faster. It was better than nothing. I would still have asked for the actual vinyl single, but it seemed sacrilegious to own such a cheery 45 when I was walking my mom to the toilet every couple of hours. I didn’t turn off the radio, though.

And yet, Mom rallied in late 1969. On November 12, she and I were watching the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, sitting together on the sofa, when Glen and the Lennon Sisters started singing “Sugar, Sugar.” My mom started swaying to the music, but I thought it was a ridiculous performance. If you wanted sacrilege, there it was. I snapped, “They should sing their own songs.”

My mom looked at me, her mouth open in shock, and I stomped off to my room. Fifty-nine days later, she died. And, you know, sometimes you can’t go back and apologize for screwing up a perfectly decent evening. She never asked me about it, and though I tried to make myself explain what had been going through my mind, I never could. That’s too bad, because she would have gotten it, after all those years of nurturing my musical tastes.

The day she died, “Don’t Cry Daddy” by Elvis Presley was #11, heading for #6. “Sugar, Sugar” had slipped out of the Hot 100 on December 20. That was a huge and unwelcome change in the radio landscape for me, but I still had my cereal box cutout, and I still played it at LP speed. Sometimes you have to make do with what you have left.

Saturday I’ll look at another Archies song, one that is evocative for different reasons. Thanks for reading. See you then.

Archies--Sugar, Sugar

Friday, May 16, 2008

“Baby” Week, Part 2

When I think of Andy Kim’s version of “Baby, I Love You,” my mind pairs it instantly with his next Top 20 hit, “Be My Baby” (Steed 729). This pairing rivals the connection I make between Donnie Elbert’s back-to-back Motown covers from 1971-72. In Andy’s case, there was a minor hit between the two pillars of his Steed period.

I don’t think I link them because of the Ronettes connection. I don’t think it’s the “baby-baby” thing. It could well be that it’s because, like next week’s tunes, they are two songs by the same artist that bracket my mother’s death. One brought me joy before her passing, and one brought me comfort after it.

These two songs are joined so tightly in my mind that I made the biggest (known) factual error of my blogging year (so far) when I wrote about “Baby, I Love You.” Perhaps everyone else connects these two songs the way I do, because no one called me on the obvious, huge mistake. Or were you all too polite to step on my toes? I do hope not!

I said that “Baby, I Love You” by the Ronettes peaked at #2. Their #2 hit was “Be My Baby.” They took “Baby, I Love You” to #24 four months later. In essence, the success of the Ronettes’ versions and Andy Kim’s versions was reversed. And if I don’t stay focused, my success will be reversed. Sorry.

My experiences with the two Andy Kim hits were similar: amazement at the production, delight at the voice, love of the melody and the message. They had “Jeff Barry” written all over them, though it wasn’t until the spate of 1970 hits came along that I knew Jeff Barry was responsible for all this music. I knew what I was getting by the time of “Be My Baby,” which entered the Top 40 on November 28, 1970 and peaked at #17. Even so, I didn’t know what I was getting.

Christmas, 1970 was pretty bleak. No mother, a new babysitter who was starting to change how things ran for my family (often for the better, but not always), few prospects for presents. It sounds shallow when I say that, but one thing I always associated with my mom was imaginative and unexpected gifts. That era was done.

But I had the radio. My babysitter, a woman a few years younger than my father who would become my stepmother in a couple of years, loved pop music as much as I did, and the stereo in her living room was always tuned to WLS. I picture that console, and the wall behind it, and the avocado sculptured carpet beneath it, when I hear “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “That’s Where I Went Wrong” and “Be My Baby.”

The difference among these songs is that “Be My Baby” got me to run to the stereo, turn it up if I was there alone, and press my ear to the speaker. As is surely the case with most of you, there are songs that reduce me to nothing but an ear-brain connection, one big auditory nerve. One of my hundred or so such songs is “Be My Baby” by Andy Kim.

The song’s production is a cousin of “Baby, I Love You,” from the big boom at the beginning to the energetic piano and the amazing bass line. The interwoven vocals in the chorus are what got me, and when everyone comes in on “Be my baby now,” I usually fall over.

But why this version, more than the Ronettes’ #2 hit? (Ha! Got it this time!)

By shifting the chord at the end of the second phrase of the chorus (“Be my little baby”) from the root of the relative minor to the major fourth (F minor to C# major in this case), Jeff and Andy made the chorus sound much happier to me. Around Christmas, 1970, I needed a happy song. Between Susan Jacks singing about being on a cold bus and some other dude moaning about raindrops falling on people’s heads (they were still playing that one), a lot of the radio music wasn’t helpful. Andy got me over the hump, even though the song didn’t get as much airplay as I would have liked.

It often happens that I have a jukebox story to attach to my 45s. In this case, I went roller skating sometime in early 1971, with a group that certainly was not my family. I took a break to get a drink, and I spied a jukebox. I had a dime for a song, so I was perusing my options when a luscious 16-year-old appeared over my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Play that one, okay?”

She was pointing to “Be My Baby.” I gladly agreed, as it was the song I was after. Her friend, who must have known what a manipulative minx she was, called over to me not to listen to her; that I could play whatever I wanted. I replied that I was happy with that choice, and so I played “Be My Baby” for an older woman I never saw again. Then I went back to skating.

On this cut, the band is back, as the musicians seem not to have disappointed Jeff this time around. The interesting suggestion has been made that Jeff sped up some of Andy’s recordings, which put them into an uncomfortable key for live performances. I doodled with “Be My Baby,” and if you lower the pitch by a semitone, Andy’s voice sounds like the Andy of “Rock Me Gently.” Further evidence is that “Be My Baby” reached us in the key of G sharp, whereas G is a much easier key for recording. If you drop the pitch of “Baby, I Love You,” Andy sounds sluggish. Thus, I can believe Jeff sped up “Be My Baby,” but not “Baby, I Love You.” At least he sped it up exactly one half-step; it would be terrible if the song were out of tune to everyone’s guitar or piano. (I am including the slowed version below.)

I don’t know if this song would have even more resonance if it had arrived during the early caithiseach days, but it certainly filled a void in my soul at a time I needed one filled. The two Andy Kim songs I featured this week also serve as bookends to a huge helping of musical comfort food that helped me weather January, 1970; that song will get its due on Wednesday, at which point I’ll be a year older. See you then!

Andy Kim, Be My Baby original pitch

Andy Kim, Be My Baby lower pitch

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Baby" Week, Part 1

I conceived this blog as a place to bring attention to the oddest and least-selling 45s you might ever hear. Last week, the Bob Keefe songs fit that mission perfectly. I have decided at times to feature very successful singles and artists, though, when the song or the singer played a large part in the musical milieu of my 45-spinning years.

I’m going back to some pretty big hits this week and next. I have a personal connection to each song, but I have also managed to get authoritative back stories for all four tunes, so I’ll share some of that. Parts of the stories deserve to be developed in a larger forum, and I’ll let you know when said forum comes into being.

This story starts for me with a song, but it starts for the singer with a dream and the determination to follow through on his goals. In early 1968, a fifteen-year-old boy caught a train from Montreal to Manhattan with the intention of meeting his songwriting hero. He made his way to 1650 Broadway, and with some persistence he managed to meet his icon.

The boy was Androwis Jovakim. The songwriter was Joel Adelberg. What followed their meeting was the fruitful songwriting/production collaboration that led to a successful solo career for Andy Kim and an RIAA Record of the Year in 1969 for Jeff Barry and Andy Kim.

By the time Andy Kim came into my world, he and Jeff had been working together for a year, and Andy had two Top 40 hits under his belt. His third Top 40 hit and first Top Ten smash was “Baby, I Love You” (Steed 716). The Ronettes’ #2 version was just six years old when he took the song to #9 in the fall of 1969. The decision to have Andy record the song, and the recording process itself, make for interesting reading.

At the time, Jeff Barry’s label, Steed Records, was a busy but not yet hit-laden enterprise. Jeff and Andy had already reached the Top 40 for Don Kirshner with their first Archies hit. Andy was in Jeff’s office, and Jeff stepped out for a moment.

Andy came across the sheet music for “Baby, I Love You,” which was a still-warm girl-group classic. Andy had never heard the song, and he started strumming his guitar to the chords on the sheet. Jeff came back and said, “That’s not how it goes.”

Jeff says that the idea of “cross-dressing” songs intrigues him, and Andy’s approach to “Baby, I Love You” merited consideration. Soon, they found themselves in the studio. They had assembled the usual group for the recording, but, perhaps because everyone knew the Phil Spector production of the song, it wasn’t coming out as Jeff and Andy heard it in their heads.

So they sent everyone home.

With nothing on tape, Jeff and Andy set to work. Jeff isn’t a drummer, so when he laid the drum tracks, it really was “tracks”: he played each drum individually. He played the bass drum by hand, crashed each cymbal on a separate track, everything. Andy played the guitars; Jeff played the keyboards. Once the backing track was in place, the singers could follow the plan. Among them was Ellie Greenwich, Jeff’s frequent songwriting partner and ex-wife. “Baby, I Love You” was one of their collaborations, with additional input from Phil Spector.

Spector collaborated with engineer Larry Levine to create the Wall of Sound that made Spector an icon. I learned a few minutes ago that Levine died on his 80th birthday, May 8. The Ronettes’ version of “Baby, I Love You” was selected for the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2006, which is about as high an honor as a recording can receive. Even so, a number of people call Andy Kim’s version of this song the definitive recording. I am reporting, not opining, but I have to admit a great fondness for Andy’s take on the song, thanks to my life circumstances in 1969.

When my mom was hospitalized and I went off to summer camp in July, 1969, Andy was rocketing toward his #9 peak. Thus, “Baby, I Love You” was in heavy rotation on the camp radios during the week of July 20-26. I knew the Ronettes’ recording, but this fresh, noble take on the tune had me swaying on my cot when we were sitting in our cabin, listening to WLS out of Chicago. Every song I associate with camp has a special place in my heart, but few top Andy’s hold on me at the 1969 version of Good Fellow Camp.

I didn’t go into Andy’s biography at the beginning of the post, because his legacy is well-known, and he remains a relevant performer. You will get bits of his history here this week and next. I do think I should direct you to his website and suggest you spend a bit of time seeing what he’s up to these days. Say hi to caithiseach on his forum, if you don’t mind.

Not all performers remember where they got their start, but Andy made it clear to me that he has not rewritten the history of how he got to where he is. He was effusive in his praise of Jeff Barry, and he has pointed out numerous ways in which Jeff made his career possible. Even so, we all know Jeff could not have orchestrated a career for Andy if there had not been a hard-working, talented performer waiting to be developed.

It would be hard for me to write a cold, objective piece about Andy Kim, because he is too close to the center of my musical universe and far too kind-spirited a human being for me to pretend that I could do so. Thus, I won’t even try to sort it out. Andy gave me music I love, especially Saturday’s upcoming 45. “Baby, I Love You,” which is right about now enjoying the 39th anniversary of its release as a single, prepared me for the sonic delight I’ll offer then.

For now, let me say that I’m glad Andy took the train to New York when he was 15, and that I am looking forward to Saturday’s story. See you then!

Andy Kim, Baby, I Love You

Friday, May 9, 2008

Moonfolk, Dragons and Other Puppets

Between the first Bob Keefe post on Wednesday and this one, I received a very helpful email from Yah Shure, who shared his expertise at reading matrix numbers on 45s. I had looked up matrix numbers before, so I should have thought to search for this one. However, I would not have gotten as far with the information as Yah Shure did.

It is evident from the matrix number (K90W-5529) that “The Genie in the Bottle” was a 1959 release. I was being whimsical when I suggested that Scope 1964 had to be from 1964, but I didn’t know if its line about divorce and a horse came before or after the theme to Mr. Ed. “Genie” came first, so now we can wonder if Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, the “Silver Bells” guys, heard “Genie” before the horse started talking.

I was being extra silly when I suggested that a meticulous secretary typed the matrix number of the 45 on the disc. The RCA plant that did custom pressings for smaller labels stamped the matrix number onto the master. Yah Shure gave me that background; he also understood that I was creating an absurdist scenario for lack of better details to discuss, and I hope you did, too!

The flip of this now-somewhat less mysterious single is “Satellite Sadie,” a tune that Bob Keefe penned. I want to talk about the song, and then I’ll discuss a connection I discovered to a completely different realm of entertainment.

I wrote in April that I found (find?) moon exploration intriguing. I have read, and concocted myself, numerous scenarios involving life on the moon that would be somewhat workable under the right circumstances. There are, of course, things that can’t happen. For the ones that could, you just suspend a bit of disbelief, mostly in the politics involved and the shortsightedness of said politicians.

“Satellite Sadie” is one of those songs that could be enjoyed in the Sputnik era but suffered once Apollo came along and nixed the idea of life on the moon. The protagonist discusses his new-found love, Sadie, who has pale green skin and is nine feet tall and just one inch wide. By 1969, I was aware that there simply were not going to be any moon creatures, so I could no longer believe in Sadie’s story. Nowadays, I also have problems with the connectivity issues presented by marrying a woman who is one inch wide. (The nine-foot-tall part doesn’t faze me.)

The guy in the song, though, has to contend with atmospheric issues as well, whether he lives with Sadie on the moon or brings her to Earth, where she would get drunk on the increased oxygen levels and, I suppose, flop over from the increased gravity. If she’s green because of photosynthesis, we face another dilemma altogether. Goodness. But the song is fun, and I don’t want you to judge its premise as harshly as I do.

I would be done with this essay were it not for a bit of research luck that takes me in a completely different direction now. I told you last time that I looked up the publisher for “Genie,” Studio Music, and realized it would be impossible to sift through all of the hits. BMI didn’t cooperate, so I was stuck.

Then I searched for both Studio Music and the publisher of “Satellite Sadie,” Spindletop Music. I almost drew a blank there, too, but perseverance got me a nugget I’ll share now.

One link led me to a web page that was not at all user-friendly. After five minutes of trying to search a mountain of data, I copied the entire text and pasted it into a Word document. Spindletop appeared on page 19 of 56 single-spaced pages. It was worth the delay and the search to see what I saw.

The document was a huge listing of music copyright holders and publishing company owners. By 1978, both Studio Music and Spindletop Music were the property of a guy named Archie Levington. As I said once in a previous post, at this point you are either drawing a blank or hearing bells go off.

Archie Levington was a song promoter for Leeds Music. He worked for Motown (Jobete) in the mid-1960s, but clearly he had some link to Scope Records: he wound up owning both Studio Music and Spindletop Music at some point, maybe even when Bob Keefe was singing for them. By all accounts, he was a wonderful man with a very engaging personality. The document that talks of his multiple publishing interests states that his properties were controlled by his executrix, Frances Allison Levington.

Archie Levington was married to Fran Allison for forty years. From the time I became aware of television, I enjoyed watching Fran Allison’s charming conversations with her friends, Ollie and Kukla.

Kukla, Fran and Ollie appeared on Chicago television beginning in 1947. I don’t know if I saw them on NBC, local Chicago TV or just in later incarnations; I can’t get a good read on their schedule in the early 1960s. But caithiseach loved these two puppets: the one-toothed dragon Ollie, an aspiring writer like caithiseach, and his sidekick, Kukla. They were the creations of Burr Tillstrom, who did all of the voices for the show. These guys, along with the lovely Fran, held a Nielsen share of 17 during their heyday. It wasn’t just kids who watched their antics.

In 1967, the CBS Children’s Film Festival debuted, and Kukla, Fran and Ollie hosted the show. They introduced the films, which often were foreign films. Among the films I saw on their show were The Red Balloon (1956) and Lili (1953). Lili was based on a short story by Paul Gallico called “The Man Who Hated People.” The man, a puppeteer, falls in love with a young girl, but he can speak to her only through his puppets. Paul Gallico’s inspiration for the story? Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

I can’t tell you how much Lili entranced me. There is just one song in the film, “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo,” and I find it to be one of the most sweetly sad melodies I have ever heard, second, perhaps, to the theme of the second movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Written by Bronislau Kaper (1902-1983) and Helen Deutsch (1906-1992), “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” charted in May, 1953 in its original form, as sung by the film’s stars, Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer.

I am not sure how the film can resonate so much with me, as I saw it just once, on the KFO film series. That was about forty years ago. When I saw the film that evening, the song made me weep. As I write now, I have tears in my eyes. I should probably watch the movie again.

I know the story was so bittersweet that I could barely stand it. Unrequited love, constant longing, whatever it is, it got me. It still does, and I can’t even remember what Mel Ferrer looks like.

I will cause a chuckle or two when I say it, but all this leads us to Gene Vincent.

Eugene Vincent Craddock (1935-1971) recorded the amazing slow rockabilly number “Be-Bop-A-Lula” in 1956. He stopped having hits in the U.S. in 1958. He survived the 1960 taxi crash that killed Eddie Cochran. In 1966, he recorded for Challenge Records an album called Am I That Easy to Forget, with backing by Glen Campbell, David Gates, Jim Seals, Dash Crofts and others. Among the songs he recorded for the album was “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo.”

The overbearing echo of “Be-Bop-A-Lula” is gone, and if you thought the reverb was there to mask a lousy voice, you are absolutely wrong. A tender, slow reading of an already sensitive song moves it in a completely different direction from the French-peasant feel of the Caron-Ferrer version. Gene Vincent takes complete possession of this song. As if it weren’t already hard enough for me to listen to the movie version without emotion, it’s nearly impossible for me to ignore the power of the Vincent recording.

I didn’t discover Gene Vincent’s version until last year, when I found it on eMusic. It’s one of the best discoveries of my experiment-with-new-recordings phase, which began in 1962 and is still going on.

And that, friends, is what I know about “Satellite Sadie”: Bob Keefe wrote for Spindletop Music, which was owned by Archie Levington, who was married to Fran Allison, whose show inspired Lili, whose one song was recorded by Gene Vincent. Now, if only Gene Vincent had recorded with Bob Keefe, the circle would be unbroken.

Nah. Not going there.

Wednesday, we’ll revisit my hero, Jeff Barry, in a new context, working with another hero of mine. See you then!

Bob Keefe, Satellite Sadie

Gene Vincent, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo

Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo

Dvořák, Cello Concerto, Rostropovich/von Karajan, DG 413 819-2

Satellite Sadie label scan

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Before Christina, There Was Bob

I suspected this day would come. I have had to write some Great Vinyl Meltdown essays with very little data about the artist, but there was always information about some aspect of the featured 45, even if it was just the history of the label. Today I find myself with no artist info, no song info, and no label info. I’m up for the challenge, if you are.

In order to write this post, I went to my box of 45s to get the single in question. I haven’t talked about that box yet. When I was in college, and we’re talking 28 years ago, I had my 45s in my dorm room in order to prevent zealous downsizers at home from pitching the vinyl that had survived the Great Meltdown. I didn’t have them in a very good container, and finally the box fell apart. That was almost as bad a scenario as leaving the 45s at home, though my roommate [not sic], Ray, had his own collection of 45s and could appreciate my dilemma. But what about drunken neighbors? If one of them falls on my 45s, I told myself then, I will never be able to write a music blog once the internet is invented. Being a man of foresight, I knew I had to do something.

Fortunately, we had a hot autumn that year, and I bought a window fan. At some point, my spatial perception kicked in, and I realized the box was just the right size to hold 45s, if I cut it down. So I did, and my important 45s have sat in this box for 28 years. What the heck; I’ll immortalize the box by including a photo of it.

Today, then, I needed the 45 by Bob O’Keefe to write what I could about the record. It should have been sitting between Nilsson and Orleans. (Yes, I know.) But it wasn’t there. I looked for it among other 45s I had set aside for the blog. Nope.

And so, I got that sinking feeling that usually follows the crunch when you have left 45s out where your parents can step on them, or when you have put an album under the footrest of your mom’s recliner, and she drops it to get up. Another one bites the dust. I had lost Bob O’Keefe’s 45.

The chances that I had misfiled it were slim, but I started at the beginning of the box, leafing through the ABBA singles (geez, leave me alone) and past Aerosmith, the Archies, Baccara, the Beatles, Blondie, Boney M and the Carpenters, until I got to K, where I found today’s song, “The Genie in the Bottle” by Bob Keefe (Scope 1964).

Keefe, for crying out loud. The single was in the right place; my head was up where it should not have been. I was thinking of Danny O’Keefe, whose Songbird Foundation I’ll plug again. (Marlin Greene designed the website.)

I looked up Bob Keefe. I looked up the songwriter, Parker Gibbs. I looked up Scope Records, Chicago Illinois. I looked up Studio Music, BMI, the publisher of the tune. Try searching for “Studio Music” sometime. About 385,000 hits later, I gave up. Adding BMI got it down to 1,790 hits.

So, I was cooked. But like a good DJ, I flipped the 45, and there I found a pretty spectacular lead. But it’s about Saturday’s song, so I’m going to [make you] wait. Put me in your Palm Pilot, or set your alarm. Or, just for fun, subscribe to my blog so you never miss another post.

What I do know about Bob Keefe I picked up from this publicity photo of him.

He seems to have worked the Philadelphia comedy circuit, and I’ll tell you now that both sides of this single are novelty tunes. Other than that, everything I know about Bob Keefe I learned in kindergarten. Sorry.

There is another Bob Keefe, who is a jazz musician. He doesn’t look like the guy in the photo.

On to Parker Gibbs. A Parker Gibbs sang on Ted Weems recordings in the 1920s. Could he have written this song thirty years later? Sure. Did he? Not sure. I looked him up on the BMI site as a songwriter, and he was not listed. Nor was the song. As for Studio Music, BMI, BMI no longer has any record of it. So, “The Genie in the Bottle” has disappeared without a trace.

All I can deduce about Scope Records, Chicago, Illinois, is that the company had upscale reproduction equipment. The label is firmly attached, unlike the Mystery 45 label. Unlike any other 45 I’ve noticed, the matrix numbers on the runout area are typed. It must have taken an ingenious secretary to stick a mastered plate in a typewriter. Awesome. And since the 45 is from about 1964 and its catalogue number is 1964, I deduce that Scope Records released one single per year until the label was bought by Procter & Gamble and turned into a mouthwash.

The song itself is a charming novelty piece. Bob’s voice is pleasant, and he has a couple of other vocalists acting out parts of the comedy routine. Speaking seriously, there is a decent chance that the Parker Gibbs of Ted Weems fame did write the song, because there are references to “Mairzy Doats” and “23 skidoo.” “The Genie in the Bottle” prepared me for something that happened the year after its release, 1965: I Dream of Jeannie debuted then, and five-year-old caithiseach knew all about genies, thanks to this song.

Ray Stevens beat Bob Keefe to the Arab-themed novelty music by a couple of years, but it’s appropriate for a theme borrowed from 1001 Nights, so I see Parker Gibbs as having lifted more from Aladdin than from Ahab.

It is inevitable that my younger readers (more quickly than my oh-so-up-to-date “older” readers) will have thought of the 1999 hit by Christina Aguilera, “Genie in a Bottle,” when I divulged today’s title. But note that the Bob Keefe song was released in 35 B.C., so Bob Keefe didn’t swipe anything from Christina from Staten Island.

Seinfeld was the show about nothing. This was the Great Vinyl Meltdown post about nothing. I had fun looking for data, though I found none. It really makes me think I should be researching old vinyl rather than preterite-imperfect pedagogy in Spanish. I’ll have to talk to someone about that.

And now, a song. The odds are about ten million to one against your having heard it, so I think I’ve scored a coup here. Please do give it a listen. It’s a lot of fun. One immortal line:

“A woman can get a divorce, of course, but who would divorce a horse?”

See you Saturday, on the flip side!

Bob Keefe, The Genie in the Bottle

Genie label scan

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Cornucopia of Gee-Lights

A thread that meanders through my blog posts is the frequent discovery that the artists who recorded my 45s, seemingly complete unknowns, turn out to have made something of themselves after all. They just didn’t do so on the cuts Uncle Tom found in the closeout bin.

This past Wednesday, the Roomates (sic) showed how broad their legacy was, well beyond the 45 I have owned since 1963. I have known for several years that today’s trio, the Pixies Three, actually nicked the Top 40. It was not their version of “Gee” that got them into Joel Whitburn’s Top 40 book, though.

Of all the artists who have recorded “Gee,” only the first artists, the Crows, took it into the Top 40 (#2 R&B, #14 pop, in 1954). Perhaps that initial success caused so many other artists to take a shot with it. Then, of course, several poor showings seem to have consigned the tune to obscurity.

The road the Pixies Three took to “Gee” is not laden with twists and turns; it shows a textbook case of how things can go well for a musical act . . . sort of. The Pixies: lead singer Midge Bollinger, with Debby Swisher and Kaye McCool, were discovered at a Philadelphia talent night while they were still in high school in Hanover, Pennsylvania. John Madara and Dave White of Mercury Records (there’s my favorite label again) did the signing honors, and after renaming them the Pixies Three, started rehearsing them with a young piano player named Leon Huff.

The Pixies Three, then, are the intersection of the Girl Group Sound and the Sound of Philadelphia. Huff joined forces with Kenny Gamble to write and produce the O’Jays’ recordings, as well as “TSOP” and numerous other cuts on Philadelphia International Records. They wrote “Back Stabbers,” “Love Train” and “For the Love of Money,” for example.

After the month of practice, the girls recorded “Birthday Party” (Mercury 72130), and it spent one week at the bottom of the Top 40. Their next single, which entered the Hot 100 on December 14, 1963, became problematic for DJs, who split airplay between the two sides of the 45. “442 Glenwood Avenue” reached #56, and “Cold Cold Winter” peaked at #79. Even so, the single as a whole sold more copies than “Birthday Party.”

After that single, Midge Bollinger left the group, and Bonnie Long took her place. By early 1964, the girls were hot enough to be appearing with the Rolling Stones and the Dave Clark Five. They recorded a full album, Party with the Pixies Three. Produced by Madara & White, the album featured orchestration by Leroy Lovett. Lovett (born 1919) had produced some sides for Billie Holiday, among others. The LP included some Madara/White compositions, but the only single released from it was “Gee.”

The album displayed the guitar work of Trade Martin, who had a Top 40 single of his own, “That Stranger Used to Be My Girl,” in 1962. Martin worked on many Phil Spector and Jeff Barry sessions. Vincent Bell played some guitar parts as well; his 1970 “Airport Love Theme” instrumental flew to #31. The piano you will hear on the Pixies Three sides comes from the aforementioned Leon Huff.

The band is tight, and the truth is that the 1964 Long/Swisher/McCool lineup is as solid as any of the other Girl Groups. This is not a “why were the Ronettes more popular than the Pixies Three?” statement. The girls simply were a whole lot more pleasing to the ear than, say, Cathy Jean. They deserved success.

I said on Wednesday that the Roomates (sic) version of “Gee” got more caithiseach airplay. I did enjoy the girls’ version, but after the guys’ more sedate version set the standard for the song, I found the girls’ version a bit frantic when it showed up a year later.

The girls’ intro also has a jazzy chord structure that is absent from the guys’ version. caithiseach didn’t know jazz from zzaj in 1964, so that particular acquired taste would have whizzed right past my ears then. It’s sounding pretty good these days.

The Pixies Three did get “Gee” (Mercury 72250) onto the charts. It entered the Hot 100 on April 18, 1964 and peaked at #87 on Billboard. Cashbox gave it more credit; “Gee” peaked at #79 there. Coming right at the time of the British Invasion, it’s fair to say that the groups with which the girls appeared around that time pretty well shut them out of the charts.

A significant aspect of this 45 in caithiseach’s world was that, since I already had a “Gee” I liked, I was wont to play the flip of this single, “After the Party,” as much as “Gee.” The song fit snugly into the party theme of the LP from which it came, and its sedate afterglow sound suited the voices of the vocal trio very well. A Madara/White composition, it was not filler designed to make the producers another buck.

The songs show surprising vocal maturity from three girls who were not put together by the likes of Simon Cowell or Sean Combs. They just happened to go to high school together in Hanover, Pennsylvania. I didn’t mention their ages before; at the time of “Gee,” these three ranged from 15 to 17 years old.

“After the Party” inadvertently helped my research in an unexpected way. At the end of the song, three young men say goodnight to Bonnie, Debby and Kaye, which confirms that Midge was not around for this recording. The girls reply, “Good night, John-Boy,” or something like that.

The girls recorded a few more singles, then they graduated and split up. Can you imagine going to school in 1965 with three girls who had played the same stage as the Stones?

And that should end the story of the Pixies Three. But their classmates remembered them, and they were asked to reunite for their 25th class reunion in 1991. Bonnie, Debby and Kaye obliged, and they started performing again. In 1997, Midge showed up, and eventually she took a vacant spot in 2000 when Debby left the group. They will still perform for you! Check out more of their history, their merchandise and their booking info at the Pixies Three website, which supplied much of my historical information.

That does end my version of the story of the Pixies Three and “Gee.” But I said there were a bunch of “Gees” out there. I may as well let you hear them, eh?

In addition to the two Pixies Three sides, you get to hear the #2 R&B hit by the Crows, “Gee” (Rama 5). I’ll also include “Gee” by June Hutton with the Pied Pipers, which did not chart. But wait, there’s more: if you click now, you can also hear “Gee” by Jan & Dean (Dore 576), a Herb Alpert production and a #81 smash in late 1960.

All this, and if you stop by this evening, a free dash of snow on May 2. No joke.

On Wednesday and Saturday I’ll feature the two sides of another participant in the early 1960s sci-fi music craze. I’m thinking you haven’t heard that 45. See you then!

Pixies Three, Gee

Pixies Three, After the Party

Crows, Gee

June Hutton, Gee

Jan & Dean, Gee