Tag Archives: pop music

#195 – Act Naturally

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#195 – Act Naturally by The Beatles

Acting naturally

– I’m going to say something that might just make your country granddad kick over his rocker, summon the hounds and reach for his musket. But before he starts ruffling rhinestones and planning to mount me as a hood ornament on the family bass boat, allow me to plead my case as being sincere. This is coming from a Classic Rocker who still loves his mother, the American Flag and believes Elvis is The King.

The British made country music cool.

Okay, I’m not saying it was totally uncool since The King, Jerry Lee and The Man In Black were all inspired by the country greats. They took it in a different direction by adding their own personal roll from black-owned rhythm and blues to make it rock.

And for a young baby boomer with northern roots and an urban outlook, members of the country branch that the rock and roll originators were listening to had never been played on my vinyl turntable.

Acting unnaturally

What had been fed to us up north through black and white televisions did nothing to help country’s image compared to what we were watching during the swingin’ mid-1960’s. The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig and Hullabaloo featured British Invasion acts and American pop stars that set the standard for what we found cool at the time. The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and The Animals were among the first wave of invaders, while Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonfull and other U.S. favs did their best to hold the home turf.

That was a big jump over a big swamp when you think about how country’s image was ingrained into our young minds only a few years before. Region was a major factor and television was our only connection.

As a northern boomer I didn’t pine for the sound of a steel guitar. I also didn’t know the roots of other important musical genres like Delta Blues, Chicago Blues or Memphis Blues. There really was no exposure for this type of music until The Stones borrowed our homegrown Bo Diddley beats, Chuck Berry riffs, Muddy Waters howls and Little Walter harp and sold it back to us. But that wasn’t country music. For many of us who were geographically removed from the real deal, our country music education came from television.

And it wasn’t always good.

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My earliest memory of country music was courtesy of Cousin Ernie. Even today with reruns of I Love Lucy moving into its seventh decade, Tennessee Ernie Ford playing Lucy’s cousin remains a preserved image of how sophisticated people (Lucy and Ricky lived in the modern metropolis of New York City) saw country folk. Cousin Ernie hemmed, hawed and whined his way through bumbling country bumpkin, fish-out-of-water situations, before laying his corn-fed wisdom on the Ricardos and (Fred and Ethel) Mertz resulting in a countrified happy ending.

Cousin Ernie

And to top it all off, the couples would dress up in American Gothic style complete with bib overalls and Lucy’s blackened out front tooth in joining Cousin Ernie to sing a yee-haw hootenanny of a song.

By 1964 did any of us really want to grow up to be the Cousin Ernie we were watching in reruns? Not if we could be one of The Fab Four in A Hard Day’s Night instead. And I won’t even mention The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and a few years later the classic cornball humor of Hee-Haw.

Except I just did…

These television shows were not the best images of where The King and his court of rockers first gained their love of music.

And to throw even more salt into a generation gap wound (call off the hounds gramps) our television inspired perceptions could be extreme. On a typical Saturday evening with only three networks to choose from, you could watch The Porter Wagoner Show featuring a big-haired, big-country, big-everything Dolly Parton (I saw her in concert many years later and fell in love with her) or The Lawrence Welk Show. Based on their urban or rural leanings, grandma and grandpa were fans of one or the other. Since I have no recollection of what could possibly have been on the third channel, I’m guessing a lot of the boomer generation in my neck of the woods spent the hour outside riding our bikes and creating adventures.

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Years later we used these adventures as worthy excuses to tell our kids to quit sitting in front of the TV and go outside. But I won’t mention that.

Except I just did…

“I don’t need rehearsing.”

By 1965 the original rock ‘n’ rollers had been put out to pasture and wouldn’t really return until the rock ‘n’ roll revival shows later in the decade. The Beatles were a pop group that gently led us into rock ‘n’ roll. The Rolling Stones were a blues group that dragged us there. But they knew something we didn’t. They thought country music was cool. And for many of us our first eye-opening television exposure to this phenomenon happened on Sunday, September 12th when Ringo Starr sang Act Naturally with his own buckaroo backup band on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The song naturally appeared in my waking mind on June 6th. The reason, outside of being a very catchy tune, was that I had just heard it the day before. I can’t help thinking how funny the mind works as I herd this into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

Fans in the UK had already been countrified by this song in August 1965 when it was included on side 2 (the non-soundtrack songs) of the album from the Beatles’ second film Help! Since the U.S. version included the (non-Beatles) instrumental background tracks and only songs included in the movie, we hadn’t heard it.

Well, okay… most of us hadn’t heard it.

Max Volume

The Beatles performed Act Naturally during their earth-shaking appearance in front of 55,600 fans at New York’s Shea Stadium on August 15th. That crowd had never heard it either and wondered what song the band was playing. And with girls screaming at max volume, many could leave the concert and still say they hadn’t heard it.

After Shea it was replaced by the more familiar I Wanna Be Your Man for the rest of the summer tour.

My first impression that night watching Ringo sing his first and only solo on The Ed Sullivan Show was that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had written a special number to promote Help! The film had been released in August and we all knew Ringo was the featured Fab being chased by an Eastern cult.

They’re gonna put me in the movies!

That wasn’t the case. Act Naturally was written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison. It was a hit for Buck Owens & His Buckaroos in 1963, reaching No. 1 on the country charts. Buck later became one of the co-hosts for Hee-Haw and the circle continued.

To check out Buck singing Act Naturally in 1966, visit this LINK on YouTube.

I Love Cousin Lucy

The Beatles’ version definitely had a country twang that separated it from the rockabilly they also favored with songs like Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Honey Don’t. And by the way, let’s thank the countrified roots of the great Carl Perkins for penning both those classics.

Act Naturally was definitely country, but with the limited exposure we’d had with Cousin Ernie and Uncle Jed, combined with The Fab Four’s 1965 pop star status residing in the stratosphere, it was tough to pin down that genre after only one listen – even without the screams experienced at Shea Stadium. When it was released as a single two days later on September 14th on the B-side of Yesterday, I went outside, hopped on my bike and bought my first country record.

And it was a lot cooler than Cousin Ernie and Cousin Lucy (with a blackened out front tooth) had made it seem only a few years before.

Here’s what fans may have heard – or might have missed depending on their seating section’s scream level volume. Ringo Starr & His Beatles Buckaroos singing Act Naturally during a very hot summer evening at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965.

 

 

To purchase the UK version of the Help! movie soundtrack with Act Naturally 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 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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#196 – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

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#196 – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 by Bob Dylan

 – When this song was marching out of our AM transistor radios during the spring and summer of 1966 the deejays would announce the real title, but most of us referred to it as Everybody Must Get Stoned. It sounded like Dylan and his backup musicians were having a rollicking good time in the studio while once again throwing out confusing lyrics that we knew – somehow – had to mean something.

We just weren’t sure what that something actually meant.

When it was released as a single that March I was still a few months away from becoming a teenager. And as the result of growing up in a sheltered community in northern Ohio (we’re not talkin’ The Inner City Hood here folks!) the word stoned was a main source of my confusion.

Being that sheltered age in the baby boomer year of 1966 my knowledge of stoned only had two possible meanings. With the hindsight of decades, the first undoubtedly would’ve come from ancient Biblical stories we’d heard at Sunday School. People that crossed the powers that be were often stoned. We’re not talkin’ gettin’ high here folks. They were actually cornered or tossed into a pit and hit with stones and rocks until they were dead.

We’re talkin’ about capital punishment…

So why was Dylan singing about stoning people? With more hindsight on the composer and the era, it’s easy to follow in that direction. Dylan had been labeled a protest singer when folk singers were still the rage prior to The British Invasion in 1964. He had only gone electric in 1965 (with much protests from his dedicated followers) but still wasn’t a bonafide cover of Sixteen Magazine pop star like The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and other mid-60’s chart toppers. Dylan’s songs were much more complex than just wanting to hold someone’s hand or feeling glad all over.

So my original thought with Dylan still being a protest singer makes sense when listening to his lyrics. Racial tensions were high and ready to explode that summer with riots in cities across the U.S., so “Trying to keep your seat” could be interpreted as African Americans refusing to sit only in the back of a bus in a racist society. In the south they risked being dragged off buses, beaten and worse. As Dylan sang, “They’ll stone you.”

Other thoughts…

Dylan wrote protest songs against the growing war in Vietnam and against young American men being drafted to fight: “They’ll stone you and then say you are brave. They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.”

Newport 1965

And as mentioned above, he caught a lot of flack when he ditched his solo acoustic sound and walked on stage with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965:

They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar.”

For me the song took the ancient meaning of stoned, but made it more verbal, physical and even political abuse, rather than actually throwing rocks. And with hindsight, that’s not a bad lyrical translation from a sheltered preteen in 1966.

The second and lesser meaning involved alcohol – getting stoned. With all the laughing, yelling and general rollicking going on throughout the song by Dylan and his musical cohorts, it certainly sounded like they were drinking something stronger than water or soda. Some of the writings about this song say Dylan insisted they get drunk before recording, while others (and some of the musicians) deny this. And to prove they were sober, it’s pointed out there were other songs for Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album recorded during the same session and after Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 was completed.

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The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

20% OFF Retail Price with FREE Shipping (Continental U.S. Only)

Signed by the author and only through the website – BeatlesSheaStadium.com

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And again as a young preteen I had heard the word stoned referring to someone being drunk – and most likely heard it on television. Being sheltered I have no memories of being around any adults intoxicated enough to be called stoned. And on the rare occasion when there was an “adult party” (parents) with alcohol, I was relegated to one of the bedrooms with my cousins and friends to play board games until the festivities ended. This would usually only happen on New Year’s Eve, except I do have a memory of a Halloween party where we laughed at how silly the adults looked in their costumes, before heading off for a marathon game of Monopoly.

And of course the third definition would involve marijuana. Pop music fans all know about the importance of weed when it came to the 1960’s pop/rock stars. Supposedly Dylan turned on The Beatles during their first visit to New York City in 1964, though deep research by a favorite author turned up evidence the Fab Four may have toked a few puffs during their marathon sessions in Hamburg or Liverpool.

But playing the sheltered hindsight card again as a Midwestern preteen, I don’t recall ever even hearing the word marijuana before or during the time we were listening to Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. That mental enhancement didn’t find its way into our vocabulary until the rumors were written in reference to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band during the summer of 1967.

I never even smelled it until a Three Dog Night concert around 1969. I had to ask my best friend what was filling the air at Cleveland’s Pubic Auditorium that night and he said, “Pot.” Then I wanted to know how he knew that since he was as sheltered and naive as I was.

Turns out it was just an accurate guess.

It was no guess that Rainy Day, etc. was weeding its way through my mind the morning of May 30th. Yeah, I’m a Dylan fan and yeah, I had just heard it, so yeah – it goes into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

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Another great thing about this rollicking (and I’ve never used that word to describe anything before this) song is remembering how it could irritate the older generation. That was important information during the days when the generation gap obviously divided the younger Dylan, Beatles, Stones teens and preteens from the oldster’s that demanded we cut our hair and turn down our music.

They’ll stone you when you listen to ‘that noise’…

While writing about an earlier song on this list I mentioned the novelty record They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Napoleon XIV (Jerry Samuels) that was riding the AM Top 40 charts during summer 1966. And as if that song wasn’t annoying enough for the older folks, the flip side of the 45 rpm single was the same song – only backwards.

For my cousin, best friend and myself (ages 15, 14 and 13 once I hit that magical teenager mark) a great summer adventure was when my mother would drop us off in a nearby city and let us find our own way back. It’s not as bad as it sounds – we weren’t being abandoned. We were just given the entire day to be on our own for exploring, shopping, eating, catching a movie and then buying a bus ticket to our home town. From there we’d walk to one of our houses to spend the night.

Teenagers – March 21, 1966

Remember, I’m talkin’ about the 1960’s – so think Ozzie & Harriett land.

During one of these adventures we stopped in a diner for lunch. We were kids among the old folks giving us the evil eye. You know, as in “Children should be seen and not heard, unless they’re teenagers and then we don’t even want to see them.”

So thanks to the bad vibes and if I remember correctly, not the best service from an annoyed server we used Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! and the flip side, !aaaH aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT (go ahead – I dare you to listen!) to let them know we were in the building. We shoved our quarters in the jukebox and played all three songs a few times while we ate our lunch and the older side of the generation gap simmered. For good measure we put in another quarter for three plays and punched in the same songs again before walking out the door.

Brats?

Naw… we were good kids. But mischievous would be a better adjective. I’m sure we hit a matinee movie afterwards, each bought an album or single at a downtown record store, then made it to the bus station in time for the last ride home. These are lasting memories of growing up during an era when Bob Dylan could take a word give it enough worthwhile meanings that it still means something to all of us today.

Dylan never made an “official” music video for the song, so here’s an interesting live version performed with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for Farm Aid in 1986.

 

To purchase the classic double LP Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 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 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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