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