Song of the Week – Suavecito, Malo

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

“Suavecito.”  It was a top 20 hit on Billboard in 1972 and was off the debut album by the San Francisco based Malo.  The band was made up of Abel Zarate, Pablo Tellez, Arcelio Garcia, Richard Spremich, Richard Kermode, Luis Gasca, Roy Murray, and Jorge Santana, the brother of guitarist Carlos Santana, Richard Bean guested on the lead vocal for “Suavecito.”

Wikipedia claims “Suavecito” (Spanish for “smooth”) has been adopted as “The Chicano National Anthem.”

The song was written by Bean, Zarate and Tellez.  Bean wrote the lyrics in the form of a poem.  He has told the story that the song is about “this girl in algebra class I had a crush on.  I was in love.  Maybe puppy love.  I hated algebra.”

He claims his former classmate, at San Francisco’s Mission High School, still has no idea he wrote the lyrics for her.

Fun fact:  Bean’s great grandfather was Judge Roy Bean, who, according to legend, earned the reputation as a “hanging judge” in Texas jurisdiction.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Rock Music in ’50s Films

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For a very long time, I’ve been ruminating on the idea to write a series of posts that address the subject of Rock music in films.  It has taken me a long time to deal with the subject because it is better suited to long-form journalism, or even a book, than a 500-word blog post essay.  So, I’ve decided to attack it with a series of articles, perhaps by decade.  This is the first in the series, covering the ‘50s.  This has become timelier since the passing of Little Richard last week.

Any discussion of Rock music in film must start with Blackboard Jungle (1955).  The movie’s plot centers around a high school teacher that tries to educate at an inner-city, all boy’s school, many of whose students are juvenile delinquents.  The only rock ‘n roll recording used in the movie was Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock.”  But it was used to great effect over the opening credits and into the first scene.

It is often credited for starting the rebellious teenage revolution of the ‘50s and kickstarted the popularity of rock ‘n roll itself.

The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) was a comedy starring the sexy Jayne Mansfield.  But it also provided a showcase for some of the best early rock ‘n rollers, such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, the Platters, and Gene Vincent.

Here’s the title song, by Little Richard.

A week after The Girl Can’t Help It was released, another youth-oriented film ended the year with a bang!  Rock! Rock! Rock! (1956) came out just before the holidays.  Wikipedia describes the flick “as an early jukebox musical featuring performances by established rock and roll singers of the era, including Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, Teddy Randazzo, the Moonglows, the Flamingos, and The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon as lead singer.”  The movie didn’t have much of a plot, but it did feature 21 performances of songs by those artists, and others (The Johnny Burnette Trio, Connie Francis).

Chuck Berry killed it with “You Can’t Catch Me.”

How can we address rock ‘n roll in ‘50s films without mentioning The King’s best flick – Jailhouse Rock (1957).  This movie, starring Elvis Presley, is a vehicle for his songs but also has a strong storyline (unlike most of his ‘60s films that have very weak screenplays).  The title song is a classic!  But the movie also includes the great Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller penned “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.”

This song is so good that it has been covered by countless artists, not the least of which include The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Joni Mitchell, Queen, Bryan Ferry, and Hüsker Dü.

Other films from the ‘50s with notable rock ‘n roll soundtracks include Shake Rattle and Rock, Jamboree, The Big Beat, Hot Rod Gang, and Go, Johnny, Go!  Check ‘em out.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Rock Music in Films.

Enjoy… until next week.

The Great Little Richard is Dead

For me, Little Richard, was a guy on late nite commercials. Great songs, like those of the Big Bopper. But familiarity meant we cared less, partly because all we got was the big songs.

But as I grew up, I found other stuff. I wrote about one of those here. Listen to this! Not a rocker, exactly, but as great as a transitional blues-rock-soul cut as you can imagine. When Little Richard died today I went back to his first album, which finally was released after something like six big hit singles (it was a different world then, or come to think of it maybe it was the same world then with the different one sandwiched in between). I won’t argue this was the best, but listening to it I’ll say rock hasn’t moved an inch.

Song of the Week – Rainbow Lady, Mike McGear

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Did you know that there is a secret Paul McCartney and Wings album that you probably never heard?  Well, not exactly, but close!

Wings finished recording Band on the Run in October 1973.  (It was released in December ’73.)  Their next project was to help Paul’s little brother Mike — stage name Mike McGear – to record his second solo album.  McGear was recorded in early ’74 and released the following September.

The lead vocals were sung by Mike (his voice has a timbre that is like Paul’s), Wings performed all of the backing tracks.  Paul chose not to be credited on the album, but he contributed bass, guitars, keyboards, piano, synthesizer, and backing vocals (“What Do We Really Know?”).  Paul also produced and co-wrote all the songs (except opener “Sea Breezes” by Bryan Ferry), mostly with his wife Linda and Mike.

The McGear disc produced one moderate hit.  The saxophone driven “Leave It” made it to #36 on the British charts.  But that’s not my favorite track.  I prefer the quaint, Beatlesque “Rainbow Lady.”

Just another silly love song!

Enjoy… until next week.

Amy Madden, The Red and the Blue

There’s an excellent story in the NY Times about Amy Madden, who I wouldn’t have known about if Ginia Bellafante didn’t write about her.

You can read it here. And you can hear an excellent song by her here, with her playing the guitar and Jon Paris playing harmonica.

Here’s a clip of her playing bass in Jon Paris’s band. Which gets funner as it goes along.

Tony Allen is Dead.

Allen was the drummer who shaped the Afrobeat sound with Fela. The two of them combined jazz and Nigerian pop and lots of political edge to create a music that drove the central government wild. I once had tickets to see Fela in NY, but he was imprisioned in Nigeria and couldn’t travel. I did see Tony Allen once, at the Knitting Factory when it was on Leonard Street in New York’s Tribeca. A joy, and the opening band was Antibalas, a Brooklyn based Afrobeat band. They didn’t cover Fela, they didn’t impersonate him, but they surely inhabited his vibe and made it work. Antilbalas eventually became the house band when the musical about Fela and Tony Allen hit Broadway.

Tony Allen is drumming on this, maybe Fela and Afrika 70’s greatest song.

Song of the Week – Green Eyed Lady, Sugarloaf

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

The first time I ever heard “Green Eyed Lady”, by Sugarloaf, was on AM radio in the summer of 1970.  The song reached #3 on Billboard Hot 100, taking me, and the country by storm with its jazzy, prog rock.

There were three different single versions.  The first had almost no edits but an early fade out to keep it below 6 minutes.  That was deemed too long for ‘70s AM radio airplay.  The next version cut out all the solos, and also cut out the track’s soul.  The final single version is the one most of us know.  It runs about 3.5 minutes and contains an abridged solo section.  It attempted to get a slice of the extended solo section from the nearly 7 minute album version into a length that would be deemed “suitable” for radio.

But if you really want to enjoy this hit, you should immerse in the album cut with the Jimmy Smith inspired, Hammond B3 organ solo by Jimmy Corbetta.

How can you ignore the funky groove that the band establishes from the very first notes?  And the keyboard and guitar solos kill it!

Many people put Sugarloaf’s “Green Eyed Lady” into the “one-hit wonder” category.  But that’s not really the case.  Sugarloaf had another Top 10 hit with “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” in late ‘74/early ’75 – a track that was covered by Van Halen in concert, but never officially released.

“Green Eyed Lady” is a popular chestnut, and still brings enjoyment to me every time I hear it.

Enjoy… until next week.