#212 – I Like It

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#212 – I Like It by Gerry & the Pacemakers

Gerry and Pacemakers – This song is pure pop from 1963 (UK) and 1964 (U.S.) with a bouncy tempo that’s hard to ignore. If you were a boomer just into your early teens or within a few years of crossing that age line of no return, it should be almost impossible for you to hear without cracking a smile.

It’s one of the songs by a group other than The Beatles that brings back memories of the first wave of The British Invasion.

I have a picture in my mind of being about eleven years old and riding my bike. It was before I was gifted with a transistor radio small enough to hold in my hand with the “important” (and that is assumed from my parents’ point of view) single earplug that would allow only me to hear what I’d usually blast out of the small, tinny sounding speaker. I had a metal basket on the front handlebars of the bike and I’d take my dad’s larger portable radio (my point of view assumption was he didn’t really need it) and peddle around listening to the latest Top 40 tunes.

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In theaters with the new film Eight Days A Week

The Beatles At Shea Stadium – Restored and Remastered

Read the story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special!

Buy now at Amazon.com

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Thinking back, I guess that would make me one of the pioneers of the boom box fad that annoyed everyone except the boom box owner a couple decades later. Also thinking back, I can assume our neighbors that lived on the street where I peddled my boom box equipped bike might have encouraged my parents to give me that small transistor radio with the earplug sooner rather than later.

Concert PosterGerry and the Pacemakers were billed as rivals of The Beatles. But since Brian Epstein managed them both, it was seen as a friendly rival. On the other hand, The Dave Clark Five was considered an either / or option. I don’t understand why fans had this perception of a competition, but there were teen magazines with cover stories promoting “The Beatles vs. The DC5” and a lot of kids were convinced if you liked one you were not allowed to like the other.

I didn’t fall for that. But at the same time, as I’ve mentioned in past Classic Rocker’s about my earliest daze as a pop music fan during the 1964 British Invasion, I didn’t have enough funds to buy every record I wanted for my collection. My preference was (and still is) for The Beatles, so I only heard Gerry and the Pacemakers and The DC5 via radio or television appearances.

How did these bands get to be the BIG 3 in early ’64? It took a dynamic combo of prime time television exposure and catchy tunes on the radio.

It started for us (U.S.) when the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show for three consecutive Sunday evenings in February 1964. Ed’s point of view assumed (correctly) he could continue higher viewer ratings with more British acts. So in March he featured the DC5 singing Glad All Over – the competitive song that was promoted as knocking I Want To Hold Your Hand from the No. 1 position on the music charts.

DC5 fans could gloat while Fab Four fans would simmer with annoyance.

e9937a1379034fdfcf8b9383b20e22f7In May 1964 Ed and Brian treated us to two consecutive Sunday evening appearances by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Their first was on May 3rd and similar to The Beatles, they wore Brian’s mandated matching suits and sang I’m The One and Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying. The girls screamed, but I think that would’ve been the reaction to any band from England during this first wave. I thought they were good – but not The Beatles. They were missing the “mop top” look with a couple members looking a bit hair challenged. Also Gerry was distinctly the featured player while the four Beatles had appeared to be more of a group.

But here’s something interesting to think about.

What if Gerry and the Pacemakers had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show before The Beatles? Based on the circumstances, which included the Beatles having a No. 1 record and radio play in the U.S. before anyone on this side of the ocean knew of Gerry and the boys, there was no chance. At least that was true from our point of view…

But from the UK fans point of view, it might have seemingly been possible.

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Did you know Gerry and the Pacemakers – from the Brian Epstein and NEMS stable of talent – scored a No. 1 song in England before The Beatles? Hard to fathom decades later, but this is what happened…

Officially” the Beatles first No. 1 song in England was From Me To You. In January 1963 they released Please Please Me and though it topped some of the local charts, it is only credited with rising to No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. That’s why the song is not included on the mega-selling compilation #1 with all their “official” chart-topping songs. Their first release, Love Me Do is included because it went to the top spot more than a year after it was released, riding the coattails of Beatlemania in the U.S.

Pacemakers & Beatles

Pacemakers with Beatles

Please Please Me wasn’t as lucky.

From Me To You was released on April 11, 1963 and would be The Beatles first No. 1. But what was the top song on the UK Singles Chart that exact day? If you haven’t guessed, it was I Like It by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

They were the first group managed by Brian Epstein to have a No. 1 hit.

As the legend goes, Ed Sullivan discovered The Beatles (even though Sid Bernstein had already scheduled the group for two February 1964 shows at Carnegie Hall in New York) on Halloween 1963 when he witnessed hundreds of screaming fans at London’s Heathrow Airport welcoming the Fabs from a short Scandinavian tour. The Beatles also broke onto U.S. Top 40 radio in December and had their first U.S. No. 1 hit with I Want To Hold Your Hand in January 1964.

gerry-the-pacemakersThey would be the pioneers and in February they’d seal the deal by bringing Beatlemania to the U.S. But after bringing in the DC5 a month later, Ed would turn to Brian to keep the momentum going and he delivered Gerry and the Pacemakers.

During their second Ed Sullivan appearance a week later, they played I Like It. As mentioned, the song had already been No. 1 in England a full year earlier, but in the chronology of Gerry U.S. hits it came after Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying and How Do You Do It. It also didn’t fare as well by only rising as high as No. 17 on the U.S. charts.

The song leaped to the top of my mental chart on February 29th (get it?) and still brings a smile to my boomer face when it comes up on my digital playlist. Since I now own a copy and had just heard it the day before, it lands in the recent memory category on this Classic Rocker Dream Song List.

To experience this bouncy tempo song that is still an example of pure pop music from the early-to-mid 1960’s, check out this video of Gerry and the Pacemakers with a live performance of I Like It.

 

 

To purchase Gerry and the Pacemakers Greatest Hits with I Like It visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

 

#213 – I Just Want To Be Your Everything

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#213 – I Just Want To Be Your Everything by Andy Gibb

andy gibb – Even though a lot of classic rockers get night sweats when remembering the disco era, with hindsight some of the songs were actually pretty good. This is one of them. It’s just too bad there are negative reminders that go along with it.

I Just Want To Be Your Everything came out during the height of disco mania in 1977 and was No. 1 in the U.S. for four weeks. It was also ranked as the No. 2 song for the entire year by Billboard Magazine. It may have made rock and rollers, new wave’rs and punk rockers sweat at the time, but no one could deny Andy Gibb was a star and the latest teen idol on the music scene.

But did he have an easier route to success than other artists that struggled and survived hard times on their way to the toppermost of the poppermost? Think of The Beatles in Hamburg and The Rolling Stones living in Edith Grove and you’ll have an idea what I’m referring to.

I’ll let you break into small discussion groups to mull that one over. But in the meantime here’s what I remember while listening to I Just Want To Be Your Everything

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In theaters with the new film Eight Days A Week

The Beatles At Shea Stadium – Restored and Remastered

Read the story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special!

Buy now at Amazon.com

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I was part of a New York City music scene that was different from rock and rollers, disco, new wave and punk rock. This happened mainly because I wanted to play music, but was also a classic rocker before even knowing what a classic rocker was. In other words, by 1977 most of my influences were being relegated to the discount record bins by the newer acts that referred to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and others from my era as dinosaurs.

Andy Gibb Record SleeveAll of a sudden boomers were becoming victims of a reverse generation gap. A younger crowd was taking over the music scene. I want to say that newsworthy description comparing our rock stars to extinct relics came from The Sex Pistols or The Clash. I could look it up, but I don’t really care who said it. The younger generation I encountered in NYC during the late 1970’s were either going for The Ramones or Donna Summer and at the time, I also didn’t care for either.

But thanks to hindsight, my attitudes on both have changed.

Around this time I remember heading down to Greenwich Village most weeknights with my acoustic guitar to perform at the folk clubs along Bleecker Street such as Folk City, Kenny’s Castaways, The Back Fence and anywhere else you could get a beer and an egg roll as payment for doing a set. My music partner in what I consider a very Everly Brothers / Lennon & McCartney influenced act was my buddy Jeff. We covered the two just-mentioned duos and other acts from their era, wrote hours worth of original material and harmonized like we were born to be pop star brothers or Beatles. It’s just too bad we were born more than ten years too late and our musical tastes reflected that.

Bleecker StreetOkay, I won’t be so tough on us. We actually made a living playing music for about a year with regular paying gigs. The beer and egg rolls – with an occasional burger or steak – added to our income. At the time I remember telling friends it was great to get my butt out of the New York Subway and into the backseat of a taxi where it belonged.

Part of this lifestyle included late nights and early mornings in bars or coffee shops (sometimes both) talking music with other musicians. These were fun and even some wild times. But as many musicians or most anyone else in the entertainment business will admit, it wasn’t easy. We stood in line for lottery auditions, schmoozed club owners and talent bookers, made countless unreturned phone calls, recorded demos, sent demos and promotional packages to record companies, agents, managers or people that said they knew the “right” people, and hoped for any type of a break. In the meantime, we played as many gigs as possible. Some were great with large and enthusiastic audiences, while others were in dark and dank late night clubs in front of only a bartender and server who were watching the clock until it was time to close up and leave.

And we weren’t bad. We could do – and often did – four or five one hour sets a night without ever repeating a song. But one I especially enjoyed was Got To Get A Message To You by the Bee Gees. I don’t want to brag, but I could do a great Barry Gibb impression complete with a quivering vibrato that always “got” the audience when I’d use it for the last verse.

Which brings us back to Andy Gibb.

I distinctly remember more than a few conversations about whether any of us even had a future in the music business. Just trying to book a gig could be a time consuming struggle and as many entertainers will tell you about the early stages of their careers, you’ll hear the word “no” a lot more than “yes.” It’s the nature of being in the creative arts.

Then someone would suggest things would be a lot different if the Bee Gees were our older brothers.

Bee Gees Andy Gibb

Brothers Gibb with Andy

BAM – yeah, I said it. During my years in NYC I’ve been fortunate to know many entertainers who have gone on to be very famous. And in my memory they worked and struggled to get there. Some that are now household names spent the early stages of their careers couch surfing through friends’ apartments, working office temp jobs and maintaining a skinny physique on a steady diet of egg rolls. But from what everything I’ve read about Andy Gibb, he never had to do that.

With the mega-success his brothers were having as the Bee Gees, he always had more money in his pockets than other kids his age, he was driven to school in a limousine, and when he was ready to become a pop star he was signed by the mega-powerful Robert Stigwood – who also happened to manage his three older brothers, the Bee Gees.

I know that sounds like sour grapes, but there’s no way in hindsight to change our opinions from the late 1970’s. To the rockers, New Waver’s, disco bands and punks that dragged their equipment through snow, cold, rain or street-melting summer heat to play a gig in a crappy club for a crappy audience, it appeared he was handed success on a silver platter.

Wow, that does sound like sour grapes. Okay, maybe. But that’s not the sad part of the story. The sad part is how it destroyed him.

He didn’t deserve that.

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As mentioned earlier, I Just Want To Be Your Everything is a good song. It was written by Andy’s oldest brother Barry and in 1977 there was no one in the music biz who was hotter. It seemed anything he was involved in went straight to No. 1 and stayed there until they released another hit. The song was disco’ing through my waking mind on February 27th. I’m not sure how it got there because I didn’t own a copy and hadn’t heard it in awhile. But catchy songs have a tendency to stay with me. It’s on the subliminal chart of this Dream Song List because of those reasons, but I’ve since added it to my digital playlist (along with The Ramones and Donna Summer) and do my best Barry Gibb impression (he also sang background vocals on his youngest brother’s hit) when no one is around to hear my quivering vibrato.

Gibb Andy

Andy Gibb

It’s shocking that Andy Gibb seemed to have everything going for himself, but died just days after turning thirty years old. Officially it was heart failure, but it has also been acknowledged it was due to years of drug abuse. Cocaine was his primary demon.

Did his success come too easy and too fast and leave him too much time to party and indulge in too many pop star excesses? Honestly, I don’t have an answer for that any more than you do. But the scales tip both ways on this one and as we all know, Andy Gibb is not the only one this has happened to in the entertainment industry. I’ve known struggling artists and world famous performers that have fallen into the drug scene and couldn’t buy their way out. Addiction is a disease that’s easy to catch. The unknowns I encountered in The Village and at other scenes in NYC have remained unknown and there’s no reason to mention names here. But indulgent related reasons for the early exits of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and others are well-known.

So being born into the right family is not the cause.

Drugs in the music scene, especially cocaine in the 1970’s, was considered chic and cool. I saw it all around the NYC clubs and fortunately had no interest in it. But I had friends that did, used recreationally – and eventually got strung out and hooked. Some got help and others didn’t. The ones that didn’t ended up like Andy Gibb. And when you think about the decades they’ve missed since their demise at a too young age, it only adds up to more sad stories.

Andy Gibb had a solid gold invitation to join the family business, but somehow lost his way. With hindsight it’s still a sad story and will always carry a negative reminder that without such easy access to fame, fortune and indulgence it might have been avoided. But again, I don’t have the answer to that anymore than you do.

One thing that can’t be taken away is I Just Want To Be Your Everything. For a dose of late 70’s teen idol disco pop check out the video.

 

To purchase Andy Gibb: Greatest Hits with I Just Want To Be Your Everything visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

 

#214 – She’s About A Mover

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#214 – She’s About A Mover by Sir Douglas Quintet

sirdouglasquintet – Remember record stores? Yeah, I know they’re still around. Vinyl is making a comeback and every decent sized city has at least a few record stores for collectors to haunt around and pick up memories. Also Vinyl Record Day (was August 12th this year) brings back the cracks, pops and fizzes that many of us still remember as being part the music we memorized as the needle from our portable record players dragged, jumped and sometimes skipped through the grooves.

But I’m talking about a time when there was a record store or record department within larger stores in just about every town. For me, once The British Invasion hit in 1964 any place with a record rack would be my prime destination. If I happened to be shopping with my parents, they always knew where to find me. And whenever I had an extra dollar in my pocket and heard about a new release I had to have, I could jump on my bike and peddle a short distance to our local record emporium.

This excitement started for me when I was ten years old. Like many kids with parents running their own business, I already had a job. Salary started at fifty cents an hour working in the family bakery and I learned how to slice bread, fold to-go boxes and was taught by my grandmother how to properly use a broom. To this day I consider myself to be a better floor sweeper than anyone else I know. Thanks grandma!

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Pay was cash in a small envelope handed to me once a week by either my grandfather or dad, depending on who was closest to the cash register when I walked in with my hand out. My bike would be parked at the side of the bakery and it was an easy coast around the corner to check out the new releases at our local electronics store. Of course I’d ignore the appliances like dish washers and refrigerators – and the sales force would usually ignore me since I wasn’t a high-end, spend lots of bucks customer.

Record Department

The record section

I’d head directly to the record section and browse the vinyl. Single 45 RPM discs were my primary objectives since albums were too expensive. Singles were sixty cents each, while LPs could go for two dollars and up. That was mucho dinero for a preteen hoping to get a pay raise to seventy-five cents an hour by the time he hit eleven years old.

That was also my age when I first heard She’s About A Mover. We’ll get to that song in less time than it took me to earn fifty cents in 1964, but first…

Here’s a deep thought about not being a high-end customer who could stop by the store and maybe buy a high-end chunk of inventory. I remember a lot of sales traffic through the record section were kids like me, parking our bikes on the sidewalk and popping bubble gum while we tried to decide which one of the latest 45’s we had to have. I could be wrong about this money-making sales tactic, but with seasoned adult hindsight I have a feeling someone was ripping us off…

As mentioned, single records were always sixty cents. But in July 1964 the BIG news was A Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles were starring in a full-length motion picture and fans were psyched about a whole new wave of songs. First we had to have the title song backed with I Should Have Known Better on a 45 rpm single. Next, if we saved enough money or got our parents to kick in the extra funds, we would get the soundtrack album from United Artists. Then two weeks later their U.S. label, Capitol Records, would repackage four of these same songs with new ones on the LP Something New.

Something_NewFans in England only needed to buy the film soundtrack to get all the latest songs including Things We Said Today, Any Time At All and I’ll Cry Instead, even though they were never heard in the film. The other songs on Something New were taken from earlier British EPs (extended play – shorter than full albums) and the German version of I Want To Hold Your Hand (Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand).

In the U.S. the soundtrack had as many incidental, background instrumentals as it did new Beatles tunes. At least in this country, the powers-that-be were out to get every cent from every fan during what they originally considered a flash in the pan popularity by The Fab Four.

Of course they were proven wrong about the lasting power. But by that time they already had our money.

But I’m not calling what Capitol Records did a rip-off. Though with seasoned adult hindsight I guess we should. I’m talking about how our local record store jumped on the Beatles profit wagon.

Before any of these LPs were available, I found out the 45 rpm single of A Hard Day’s Night was in stores. Payday came; I jumped on my bike and peddled around the corner to the electronics store. I walked in, found the record on display with a colorful sleeve of The Beatles playing live and then noticed something new and different…

Ahardday'snightThe single was priced at one dollar. That was a forty cent raise in price since my last browsing excursion through the store. And it was only for this Beatles record while everything else was still sixty cents!

My memory holds a very clear image of standing in the store debating what to do. I can still see the counter with the cash register in front of me and the record bins on both my left and right with all the latest 45’s and albums. I had A Hard Day’s Night in my hand, but one dollar was a lot of money in 1964. Then again, I had to have it. So I opened my pay envelope and put a dollar on the counter. With the record in a small paper bag I jumped on my bike and peddled home wondering how I was going to break this news to my parents. The best scenario would be they wouldn’t ask.

Of course best scenarios don’t often happen to preteens spending big bucks like high-end shoppers and – of course – when I got home my mom asked what I’d bought. I told her the new Beatles record and – of course – she asked how much.

I told her.

I also have a memory of the shock on her face, but it was far from a bad scenario. My parents liked The Beatles. In fact, they took me to see them in concert just two years later. But at this moment there was a money lesson to be learned – and I learned it from the best. Mom said, “Okay, but just don’t tell your father how much it cost.

That was a seasoned shopper giving me advice and I took it. To this day I don’t think I ever told my dad about my high-end shopping experience. But it paid off in the end because I played the record more than enough times to get my money’s worth.

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With the pop music scene in 1964 and ’65 exploding for someone that had just discovered it was way more entertaining than comic books or toy soldiers, there were always too many records to choose from. That was always a dilemma. Of course anything by The Beatles was definite purchase, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other great had to have songs. The problem was lack of funds kept some of these from ever being placed on my record turntable.

Which takes us to She’s About A Mover by Sir Douglas Quintet.

Sir Doug 5In 1965 it was getting heavy AM Top 40 play and was a mandatory turn up the volume song, though it hardly made any difference coming out of the tiny speaker in my portable transistor radio. And it really didn’t fit into any category that we were used to at the time. With the name Sir Douglas Quintet it could place them in with the British Invasion acts like The Animals, The Dave Clark Five and Gerry and the Pacemakers. They also had hair like the mop top Englishmen.

But these guys were from the U.S. I don’t recall how I knew that, but guessing it came from a Top 40 deejay who felt his job was to let us know there were plenty of homegrown artists like Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Sir Doug’s 5 also making great music. It was true and my hard earned bread slicing money was being pinched to the limit trying to keep my vinyl collection up to date.

So I’ll have to admit She’s About A Mover got away from me. I loved hearing it on the radio but couldn’t fit it into my budget restraints. It wasn’t until decades later I heard it on a classic rock station and finally made the purchase for about the same price as the 45 rpm of A Hard Day’s Night in 1964 and added it to my digital playlist.

It showed up on this Dream Song playlist on February 21st. And even though I now own a copy, I can’t remember the last time I’d heard it. So it charts on the subliminal category.

I didn’t know much about the group except having a British sounding name didn’t make them British. I don’t remember hearing about them again until their hit Mendocino three years later in 1968. I associated them with the California groups that included Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape and Creedence Clearwater Revival, but have learned they were actually from Texas and are credited as pioneers in the Tex-Mex rock sound. I know what that means, but just find it hard to describe.

But I get it.

The group was founded by “Sir” Doug Sahm who came out of the Texas country music scene. After a bit of research I’ve learned he started singing on the radio at five years old, which means he started working at an earlier age than I did. I also found he played on stage with Hank Williams, Sr. during his final performance. Sahm was eleven years old at the time. That’s pretty amazing when I think back at being the same age and riding my bike to the record store for A Hard Day’s Night. I was also that age when I first heard She’s About A Mover.

The electric guitar and organ driven She’s About A Mover will also still get people on a dance floor half a century later. Same as A Hard Day’s Night. It’s just too bad I couldn’t afford both had to have songs until becoming a seasoned adult.

Here’s a 1965 NBC television appearance by Sir Douglas Quintet performing She’s About A Mover – introduced by another Texas native, Trini Lopez.

To purchase The Best of The Sir Douglas Quintet with She’s About A Mover visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

 

 

#215 – Crocodile Rock

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#215 – Crocodile Rock by Elton John

Crocodile Rock – I’ve had two relatively close encounters with Elton John. I’ll tell you about both because “that’s what I do” as The Classic Rocker, but first…

Elton John broke HUGE on the pop scene in 1970 and in 1973 Crocodile Rock was added to our “hoppin’ and boppin'” college party playlist. But I never became a HUGE fan. If an explanation is needed, I’ll blame it on my sheltered existence as part of the youngest edge of the boomer generation. By the time we got out of the 1960’s following Woodstock and the break up of The Beatles, we were listening to bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin.

There was a harder edge in what we tuned in on FM radio and in the early 70’s Elton was The King of Top 40.

Of course I knew his hits, but mainly from our AM car radios or blasting from a freshman’s room down the hall. And if I had to label it, I’ll go with reverse generation gap because it seemed the younger crowd was into his music more than my crowd. Elton John arrived just a little too late for me.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t like him. I just liked others more because he was “too pop for me in ’73.” But that was about to change…

In October 1979 I was out of college and living in New York City. I don’t remember if the news came as “inside scoop” from my music friends or was actually advertised, but I heard Elton was doing something different. Instead of touring with his full band and playing arenas like Madison Square Garden or HUGE outdoor stadium shows, he was performing as a duo with his long time percussionist Ray Cooper.

A piano player and a percussionist. Now that sounded very interesting…

Ray and Elton live album 1979

Ray and Elton live album 1979

It got even more interesting when I found out they were playing only eight blocks from my apartment at the intimate (3,000 seats) Palladium on East 14th Street. Elton John and Ray Cooper were scheduled for eight nights and I was able to grab two tickets for one of the shows.

My date and I were seated in about the third row center and thanks to that close proximity, I’ll go ahead and call it a close encounter. Elton played like he had four hands flying across the piano keyboard and Cooper kept the beat by pounding on everything from tambourines, chimes and cowbells to snare drums, congas, gongs and triangles. And he did all that with an almost crazy, maniacal look in his eyes while Elton dropped his keyboard handstands and crazy costumes (could anyone forget his Donald Duck suit?) and instead dropped great vocals on top of their minimalistic orchestration.

They sounded awesome.

I’d call that a pretty good review. Instead of sharing this encounter with 100,000 others on a standing room only stadium infield or from a nosebleed seat in an upper deck, it was a small venue with only 3,000 other witnesses. I walked away that evening a fan. And it lasted for almost six months until our next close encounter – back stage at Saturday Night Live.

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In April 1980 I talked my way into being hired for a “background” part when Johnny Cash hosted SNL. I talked about this earlier when Folsom Prison Blues was song #234 on this list, so I won’t repeat the details. But I’ll include a photo of me in the background during a sketch with Cash and cast regular Brian Doyle Murray, who was a friend and the victim of “talking my way into” the show.

Cash, BDM, DS 2

The Classic Rocker in the “background” behind Johnny Cash and Brian Doyle Murray

Elton John was that week’s musical guest.

I spent a lot of time that week hanging around the studio at Rockefeller Center (30 Rock). There were long rehearsals Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a run-through (practice show) in front of an audience early Saturday evening. The live broadcast followed at 11:30 pm. I shared a small dressing room with another “background hire” and there was a break room with drinks and snacks that everyone including cast, crew, superstars and hangers-on could use.

We could also sit in the empty audience section and watch rehearsals on stage. But outside of those areas we would just be in the way of the frantic and hectic commotion of putting on a live 90-minute television comedy show.

Since I was only in the show’s final sketch, I had plenty of time to just hang out. But it was still entertaining because Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter hung out with us. That close proximity resulted in watching a few private mini-concerts by Cash and his band over the three days while they rehearsed for the live show.

Sometime Saturday afternoon Elton John arrived. Word got out he was going to rehearse with his band, so some of the cast members, crew and other “backgrounds” sat in the audience section to watch. But before Elton came on stage, someone in charge announced that we all had to leave the studio.

Say what?!

I remember participating in some grumbling with other “backgrounds” and crew. Even some of the cast members were a little surprised and disappointed. But we cleared out, with most of us heading for the break room to wait until we were needed again.

That safe haven only lasted until Elton finished rehearsing.

The Elton John Band

The Elton John Band

By 1980 his band members had also become rock celebrities. I recognized Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olsson on Drums. I can’t remember whom or how many of the band came into the break room with us, but I also don’t remember anyone bothering them or even trying to start a conversation. This was New York showbiz – meaning no one seemed even slightly interested in turning it into a celebrity encounter. We were more interested in talking with each other and eating free food.

Then the same in charge guy – and I was guessing it was Elton’s private security – walked in and said everyone except the band members had to leave the break room. Standing directly behind him was Elton John. And once again…

Say what?!

Also again, nobody seemed too happy about this. But we all stood up from the tables and went back to the studio. Elton stood silently by the door waiting for us to clear out and I remember walking past him and noticing how short he was. I don’t mean that as bad-mouthing, just an observation. Once we were all out, Elton walked into the break room and the in charge guy shut the door.

Once we were back in the studio I heard a few “what’s up with that?” conversations and complaints, but we all ended up writing it off as a being a famous rock star perk.

So I wasn’t impressed with my second close encounter with Elton John. But I’ll explain the circumstances from two different points of view.

This occurred just over four months after his close friend John Lennon had been assassinated in New York City. Elton performed his tribute to Lennon, Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny), that night on the show. You can watch it below the same way I did in the studio – via television – with an introduction by Johnny Cash.

It was still an open wound for many of us and obviously emotional for Elton John. I can understand why many rock superstars, including the former Beatles, were adding security to their entourage.

John Lennon with Elton John and band 1974

John Lennon with Elton John and band 1974

But at the same time he was among people in the entertainment industry. Security was tight in the NBC Building and no one could get past the security guards on the first floor and into the elevator without having their name on the list and a valid I.D. I specifically remember this because without my driver’s license and SAG (Screen Actors Guild) union card I would’ve never been allowed in. And it was the same for everyone that worked at SNL.

If there was ever a space he could’ve let his guard down a bit, it should have been where he was surrounded by artistic writers, performers, staff and crew. So it still doesn’t make complete sense to me that everyone had to clear out whenever he entered a room.

And again, this was New York showbiz.

I doubt any of us would’ve cared that we were sharing space with a celebrity. Johnny Cash, Eddie Murphy and other cast members were also hanging out and no one seemed to be star struck. In that situation it would have been the same with Elton John.

As mentioned above, Crocodile Rock was a college soundtrack song for me and still stands up all these years later as a great rocker. It was swimming though my waking mind on the morning of February 18th. It’s one of the only half dozen Elton songs on my digital playlist, but since I hadn’t heard it in awhile it fits into the subliminal category.

And subliminally, it doesn’t take me back to my college daze. Instead, my mind floats to two close encounters with the pop superstar – with two very different memories.

Here’s a video of Elton John performing Crocodile Rock from sometime around 1973. Cool shoes…

To purchase Elton John – Greatest Hits 1970-2002 with Crocodile Rock visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

 

Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

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The Classic Rocker Featured Book Review

Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones by Paul Trynka

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

Out of Control Rock and Roll Fatality

Brian Jones BookThis book will remind original Rolling Stones fans who started the band and for younger generations, who the blonde guitarist is in the old videos. Whatever era you fit into, it’s an enlightening look at the brief life of a musician who dedicated his extraordinary talent to making the blues mainstream, then became a rock and roll fatality as it all spun out of control.

In many ways the author pitches a good defense for Jones’ equally extraordinary personality flaws and doesn’t shy away from reporting the bad with the good. Jones may have been one of the most innovative multi-instrumentalists to lead the 1960’s British Invasion, but as a human being he was multi-deficient. Most of the formative blame is aimed at his conservative parents, but any morals he would assumingly have learned from this environment were lost once he discovered music. This freed him from many societal restraints including girlfriends and their pregnancies, hangers-on, ‘normal’ people (wankers) and friends that didn’t share his focus were used and disposed of.

He picked the members of The Rolling Stones, named the group and decided what songs they would play. He taught Mick Jagger how to give a woman satisfaction and open guitar tuning to Keith Richards. But under the bravado that made him the original star of the band was an insecurity that already had him on a downward spiral at the first taste of success.

Brian JonesThe Stones’ devilish persona can be traced to Jones, but the image was exploited to a higher level by manager Andrew Loog Oldham and anointed by him upon Jagger and Richards. Jones’ paranoia was no match for the trio as they took over his band, his musical contributions (potential song writing credits) and his woman, Anita Pallenberg.

It’s tempting to call this an answer book to Keith Richards’ bio, Life. But in reality, it’s more the prologue. In the mid 1960’s Jones and Jagger were the stars of the band and Richards was the quiet creator of classic rock guitar riffs. After Jones was found floating in his swimming pool, the author makes a good case of Richards assuming his personality and riding it with Jones’ former girlfriend for all it was worth.

Whether you agree or not – and even if you’re a fan of Brian Jones or define him as Keef did in his bio – this book won’t change your opinion. But it’s an interesting insight into a major pop music influence who has almost been forgotten during The Stones wicked half century of success.

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#216 – Moonage Daydream

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#216 – Moonage Daydream by David Bowie

ZiggyStardust – When we rock and rolled into summer 1972 I had never heard of David Bowie. The past year had been great in rock music terms with LP’s by the solo Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Alice Cooper, but for some reason I was in the mood for something new.

Actually, I was looking for something different

I was between my freshman and Sophomore years in college and one hot afternoon in July or August I wandered into a local record store in northern Ohio and asked the ‘kid’ working behind the counter (who was probably a year or two older than me) what he recommended. Thinking back, it was like asking a waiter in a restaurant what the specialty was that day. And the reason I remember this so well is because it was the first – and only – time I’ve ever done that. Usually I would be looking for a specific album or gravitate to the record bins of my favorite artists to see if there were any new releases.

He pulled out a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and said David Bowie was popular in England. He also said it was a good album and recommended it. It was a good enough sales pitch for me and I bought the album without ever hearing any of the songs.

After my first listen I realized the kid was right.

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It was different as in being spaced-out, gender-bending, post-psychedelic, futuristic rock and roll with very catchy tunes. Bowie was singing the part of Ziggy Stardust, much like Roger Daltrey had vocalized the main character in Tommy. Only Bowie was really going to the extreme as a far-out alien rock star from outer space.

It was an oddity compared with any other music I was listening to that summer. And I’m sticking with that adjective, even though I hadn’t even heard of the song Space Oddity when I first listened to Ziggy Stardust.

This seemed like a well-kept secret since no one else in my circle of friends seemed to know of David Bowie or this album. I played it from beginning to end over and over and there wasn’t a song that would cause me to pick up the stereo needle to skip over it, as there seemed to be on most other albums. But if I had to pick immediate standouts they were Moonage Daydream, Starman, Suffragette City and Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.

Before heading back to college I was visited by my best friend from high school, who had been relocated to Upstate New York when his parents moved after our graduation. Tim was not only into Ziggy Stardust, but also had Bowie’s earlier albums The Man Who Sold The World and Space Oddity. We spent a lot of time listening to this wealth of music and trying to figure out why Bowie wasn’t a big rock star on our side of the Atlantic.

david bowie postThen it all changed. And according to everything I’ve read about Bowie’s early success in the U.S., his big breakthrough happened in Cleveland, Ohio.

Cleveland has a great reputation for helping to launch rock acts on a national level. It was where Alan Freed first used the term “rock and roll” on the radio, Elvis Presley had his first show north of the Mason-Dixon Line, The Beatles were banned for causing a riot in 1964 (ban lifted for their concert in 1966) and Bruce Springsteen kicked butt during his much bootlegged live performance at The Agora, a small downtown venue that could be called the Midwest version of New York’s CBGB. If a rocker wanted to make it, they had to make it in Cleveland.

Now they want to make it into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It just so happens it’s located in Cleveland…

A claim can also be made for Cleveland’s FM progressive rock radio scene. In particular, WMMS “The Buzzard.” The local airwaves introduced us to a lot of the acts that were not nationally known yet, but would be in the near future. The deejays had picked up on Bowie and it turned out Tim and I weren’t the only ones listening. With a fan base waiting his arrival, the opening gig for Bowie’s U.S. Ziggy Stardust tour was at Cleveland’s Music Hall on September 22, 1972.

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Special offer for readers of The Classic Rocker!!

Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles final tour in 1966

Author signed copies of The Beatles In Cleveland AND 1966 concert poster t-shirt

BOTH for one Classic Rocker price of $19.95 + shipping – U.S. only!

* A $10 savings from already discounted website and festival price of $29.95

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Wish I could, but I won’t claim to have been there. Either I hadn’t heard when tickets went on sale, was back at college or pursuing a new girlfriend. From memory, it was a combination of all three. But luck was on our side. The show was such a huge success Bowie was booked to return on November 25 at the larger Cleveland Public Hall.

publichall3Tim and I scored tickets, but since they were selling fast our seats weren’t the greatest. Public Hall is the same arena The Beatles played in 1964 (and were banned) and where Paul McCartney inducted Ringo Starr into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. It holds about 12,000 people and we were halfway back on the second level, which was still better than being stuck in the back sections of floor seating. But it was still too removed from the stage to get a close up look at the performers.

Bowie and the Spiders From Mars came on and opened with the Ziggy Stardust LP song Hang On To Yourself. Since we were veteran concert-goers and I had learned from the best while attending The Beatles 1966 concert “riot” at Cleveland Stadium, having reserved seats didn’t mean we had to stay in them. Tim and I took off, ran down a ramp and a stairway and onto the floor of Public Hall.

The crowd was already standing close to the stage and we snaked our way up to about the fourth or fifth row. Bowie had already played the song Ziggy Stardust and was probably into Changes when we climbed up on chairs for a closer look.

Bowie as ZiggyHonesty, and it’s funny to write this now, but we were both shocked. I remember this because we talked about it later that night.

We had NEVER seen anyone in person that looked like David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. During the summer of 1972 I had seen both The Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper in concert. Mick Jagger wore eye makeup and sparkles and the Cooper band were the founders of glam rock and looked and dressed the part. But it was obvious they were guys.

David Bowie was… an alien?

Bowie RonsonHis orange hair was swept back into a shag-mullet (best term I can come up with) and his face and eyes were caked with heavy makeup. He wore earrings and space age gender-bending clothes while some of his on stage gyrations included “going down” on Mick Ronson’s (the Spider’s guitar virtuoso) electric guitar.

The concert still “goes down” in my personal memory as one of the strangest rock and roll events I’ve ever attended. It was also one of the best.

After a couple songs standing face to face with Bowie from only a few rows away, Tim and I returned to our seats so we could hear the music and avoid all the pushing and shoving that comes with rushing the stage. I remember Bowie and Ronson sitting on stools playing an acoustic version of Space Oddity and also rocking through Moonage Daydream, which also happens to be this episode’s Dream Song.

Moonage Daydream floated through my waking mind on the morning of February 15th. It goes down as an alien… uh, I mean subliminal memory since I hadn’t heard it in awhile. But you should realize from the above memories I still own the original vinyl copy and have gone futuristic by adding The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars to my digital collection.

Fans already know this is a heavy rocker with Bowie claiming to be both an alligator and space invader. Later he changed his personas to include Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke and reverting back in a move forward, the Major Tom character first unveiled to us in Space Oddity. And this doesn’t even include his numerous acting roles such as Jareth the Goblin King in the movie Labyrinth and The Elephant Man on Broadway.

But in 1972 we didn’t know who he was, other than a rock star from another world with orange hair, lots of makeup, a LOUD wardrobe and a great album. We’d find out the rest as he unveiled it all in the future.

Here’s a 1972 video of Ziggy Stardust performing Moonage Daydream live with The Spiders From Mars.

To purchase The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

 

 

#217 – Honey Pie

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#217 – Honey Pie by The Beatles

Beatles 68 – Wish I could say “Welcome to camp” but I’m not sure everyone would get the idea. But if you caught my not-so-hidden meaning, it’s good way to describe Honey Pie, which was released in 1968 as part of The Beatles’ The Beatles (actual title of The White Album).

Mention camp and some people might think of pitching a tent somewhere or Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie welcoming disciples to Tommy’sHoliday Camp” in the 1975 movie. But what I’m talking about is “camp” as a style.

There are so many definitions and examples of camp posted online that it would take up too many pages in what is meant to be a simple Classic Rocker article. But I would describe the term as taking a U-turn from what’s currently popular and finding inspiration from something in the past. Then the goal is to make that something trendy for today.

Not bad – huh? Here are a couple examples:

Beatles Swim Wear

To the beach lads!

Bette Midler was called camp at the beginning of her national fame when she dressed in 1940’s fashion and sang tunes like her remake of The Andrews Sisters’ Boogie Woogie Bugel Boy. So was Tiny Tim when he rode his ukulele to rock star fame. They were called “throw-backs” because their inspiration came from decades old fashion and music. Okay, no pop stars actually looked like Tiny Tim decades before he was a camp fad in the late 1960’s, but his rendition of Tiptoe Through The Tulips originally had baby boomers’ grandparents “cutting the rug” when it was first a hit in 1929.

The Beatles definitely had a background in camp stylings. In 1963 they were posing on a beach in 1920’s bathing attire (I hesitate to call them bathing suits) and singing Moonlight Bay (published in 1912!) while wearing straw hats and striped “roaring 20’s” blazers on the British television show Morecambe and Wise. If you need a reminder, here’s the clip.

Music Hall is a style I associate with pop music from the 1920’s. There would be a “rinky-tink piano” and probably a banjo somewhere in the instrumental mix. The singers were better known as crooners and using a megaphone for vocal effects was considered cutting edge. Of course the most famous of all was Rudy Vallee, but there were others – just like there were more than a few guitar players in the 1960’s.

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In the 1970’s the campiness of the 1950’s became cool when the film American Graffiti morphed into the TV show Happy Days. And the style went even bigger and campier when the Broadway hit Grease was made into the mega-hit musical film Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.

In a similar way, the same thing happened in the mid-1960’s. But the scene went even further back in time to the happy days of crooners, straw hats, striped blazers and rinky-tink recording studio effects that even had our grandparents taking notice of this hip, new, throw-back sound.

Working off memory, I’ll credit Ray Davies and John Sebastian for pioneering Music Hall Rock onto the Top Ten pop charts in 1966. Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks and Daydream by The Lovin’ Spoonful were definitely not songs inspired by early rock and roll pioneers like Elvis, Little Richard or Chuck Berry. The New Vaudeville Band won a Grammy Award in 1967 for Best Contemporary Song when they took Music Hall Rock to the extreme with Winchester Cathedral – complete with vocals sung through a megaphone.

Paul and Jim Mac

Paul and Jim Mac

The Beatles, most particularly Paul McCartney, were also forerunners of this style. Undoubtedly influenced by his musical father who led his own music hall group, Jim Mac’s Jazz Band in the 1920’s, McCartney opened side two of Revolver in 1966 with Good Day Sunshine. Suddenly the rinky-tink piano sound was almost as cool as an electric guitar.

McCartney continued the trend into the psychedelic era by including When I’m 64 on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP and Your Mother Should Know as part of the Magical Mystery Tour film soundtrack. Remember the Beatles in white tuxedos with tails dancing down the long stairway? It doesn’t get any more pop camp than that.

Oh wait, I forgot about The Monkees and Davy Jones performing Cuddly Toy wearing straw hats and striped blazers in 1967. But I guess there’s as much rock as camp involved since a lot of fans believe Jones’ soft-shoe dance steps inspired Axl Rose‘s stage moves for Guns and Roses. If you don’t believe it, here’s a very funny video claiming to prove that point. Compare and discuss among yourselves.

When rock & roll and pop music eventually morphed into “rock music” the Beatles were also at the forefront of that trend. They ditched their mop-top and fab four labels after spending time in India with their guru and returning with Revolution and Hey Jude in 1968. By the end of that year, The White Album included so many different musical genres and styles they needed two discs to get it all out.

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Special offer for readers of The Classic Rocker!!

Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles final tour in 1966

Author signed copies of The Beatles In Cleveland AND 1966 concert poster t-shirt

BOTH for one Classic Rocker price of $19.95 + shipping – U.S. only!

* A $10 savings from already discounted website and festival price of $29.95

For book and shirt details visit website

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This also included McCartney’s latest contribution to Music Hall Rock, Honey Pie. It’s the story of a girl leaving England for fame and fortune and her boyfriend “croons” about wanting her to come back home. The instrumentation (rinky-tink) is right out of the 1920’s and even a scratchiness and popping sound is added to McCartney’s vocals on the line “Now she’s hit the big time” to make it sound like an old 78 rpm record.

It’s been written that John Lennon hated these music hall outbursts by McCartney, but that might have only been invented to toughen up his rocker edge in the late 60’s into the 70’s. If you’ve watched The Beatles Anthology or know anything about the song Free As A Bird, you’ll know Lennon was also a fan. The banjo player on a music hall stage at the end of the song and video were included because he loved it. Before McCartney showed him how to properly play guitar chords, he only knew banjo chords (played on guitar) taught to him by his mother.

Watch that next step - it's a doozy!

Watch that next step – it’s a doozy!

Honey Pie joined the Dream Song list on February 14th as a recent memory. Of course I own a copy on The White Album and had just heard it the day before. That sort of musical catchiness is tough to forget once it’s in your head.

I also remember jumping on the camp train to score an “A” in English during my senior year in high school.

With my good pals Tim and Gary, we had proven our ability to sing with lead roles in our high school musical. And since we were only weeks from graduation, sitting down and writing a passing English paper on some book we were supposed to have read was not high our lists of things to do. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been an avid reader. But the books I read weren’t usually the assigned reading. I was quite entertained sitting in class with the assigned book opened as a way to hide the latest popular paperback I couldn’t put down. Thanks to Cliff’s Notes I could catch up with everyone else the night before any test or paper was due.

Our final assigned book (don’t ask which one because I never read it) had to do with the 1920’s. Since my two pals and I could sing, our English teacher came up with a great idea that was a win-win situation. He knew we had little or no interest in writing a paper on the book and he probably wanted to skate through the last couple weeks without the miserable task of hounding us to write one. So he asked us as a trio to learn about a half dozen popular songs from the 1920’s (I remember Honeysuckle Rose being one), dress up in straw hats and striped blazers (from the theater department) and sing the songs on stage in the school auditorium for our English class.

Turned out it was easier than Cliff’s Notes. The teacher introduced each song, we did our camp show – and scored final easy “A’s” on the way to pick up our diplomas. It’s too bad Honey Pie wasn’t one of the songs because it sure fit the trend we were going for as Music Hall Rockers.

The Beatles never filmed a video for Honey Pie, so grab your copy of The White Album and take a listen. BUT for something different, here is an early demo of the song recorded at George Harrison’s Kinfauns Bungalow.

To purchase The White Album with Honey Pie, visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing