Song of the Week – British Invasion Music in Film

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This is the next installment of my series on Rock music in films; today covering the British Invasion.

The Beatles reached into the homes of millions of Americans via The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evening, February 9, 1964, launching Beatlemania.  A month later, the Beatles began filming their first movie – A Hard Day’s Night – that was released in the US the following August.

Like the Beatles’ music itself, A Hard Day’s Night set the bar for quality very high.  It’s not only a good Beatle movie or a good Rock music movie; it’s simply a good movie – a very good pun and quip filled movie.

The screenplay was written by Alun Owen and deftly directed by Richard Lester.  Both provide ample opportunities for each Beatle to reveal their personality.  The Beatles prove that they are more than lovable mop tops.  They are smart and funny young men.  The scene where George accidentally stumbles into a focus group meeting for a ‘60s version of a style influencer is hilarious.

The segment where the boys escape the TV studio and romp around the Thornbury Playing Fields in Isleworth, Middlesex, to “Can’t By Me Love” was shot using camera techniques that would be copied many times over, especially by The Monkees.

Other movies starring British Invasion groups include fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers in Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965), Herman’s Hermits’ Hold On (1966), and The Dave Clark Five in Having a Wild Weekend (1965).  They all seem to try to imitate A Hard Days Night to a greater or lesser degree.  But all fail.

Check out the DC5 mimicking the Can’t Buy Me Love, Thornbury scene at the end of this clip:

Having a Wild Weekend (originally Catch Us If You Can in England) is a decent film, the directorial debut by a young John Boorman who later achieved success with Deliverance (1972).  The plot involves a young model/actress Dinah (Barbara Ferris) who wants to escape the pressure of being the commercial image behind a meat industry campaign.  Stuntman Steve (Dave Clark) – who was a real-life stuntman before becoming a rock star — sympathizes with the craziness surrounding them and takes her away on an impromptu journey.

The film doesn’t take advantage of any “on-screen” performances by the group, a decision that limits its appeal.  But it does include several DC5 recordings – “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Move On,” “I Like It” and, of course, “Catch Us If You Can.”

So stay tuned.  There’s more to come in this exploration on the topic of Rock music in films.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Balloon Man, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians

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“Balloon Man” was a 1988 “hit” for Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians.  (It reached #1 on Gavin Report’s Alternative Music chart.)

Hitchcock wrote the song about walking in NYC in the rain while eating a falafel.

He spattered me with tomatoes, hummus, chickpeas
And some strips of skin
So I made a right on 44th
And I washed my hands when I got in

And it rained like a slow divorce
And I wish I could ride a horse
And Balloon Man blew up in my hand

Besides the falafel hint, the whimsical lyrics are indecipherable.  But after watching the official video, I can’t help but think that it was at least partially inspired by the balloon character Rover from the ‘60s British television series, The Prisoner.  Hitchcock is of the age that he would have been very familiar with the show.

A bass line introduces the song and plays a key role throughout.  The guitars go full jangle in the chorus and then come back at about 2:40 to take us all the way home.

In a 2011 interview Hitchcock gave to Will Harris of the AV Club, he mentioned the song was originally written for The Bangles.

“Well, “Balloon Man” I wrote for The Bangles, if you remember them. I was in touch with a couple of them, and I sent them a quarter-inch, 7.5 IPS reel. I don’t know if they did anything with it.”

I wish The Bangles had recorded it because it perfectly suits their style of harmony-filled, jangle rock.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, Blood Sweat & Tears

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“I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” is my favorite song from one of my favorite albums – Child is Father to the Man by Blood Sweat & Tears.  Child… is the first BS&T album from the time that Al Kooper led the band.  But he was one and done with the band he founded.

A blues in 6/8 time (I’ve never met a song in 6/8 that I didn’t love), ILYMTYEK packs an emotional punch – both lyrically and musically.

If I ever leave you… you can say I told you so
And if I ever hurt you, baby … you know I hurt myself as well

Is that any way for a man to carry on
Do you think he wants his little loved one gone
I love you
More than you’ll ever know

Steve Katz’s guitar tone in the opening riff is perfect!  And those horns!!!  The arrangement is beautiful, especially in the modulated bridge where they build to an emotional peak.  Then there’s that sax solo by Fred Lipsius.  Magnificent!

In his autobiography, Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, Kooper claimed that he was attempting to channel Otis Redding when he cut the vocal.  Not known as a great singer, he pulls off a gem on this one.  Although his voice is straining at the cut’s climax, it only adds to the sense of pain he’s struggling to convey.

The great Donny Hathaway laid down a wonderful cover version of ILYMTYEK that’s worth tracking down.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – You’ve Been In Love Too Long, Bonnie Raitt, and Martha & the Vandellas

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One of my favorite Bonnie Raitt cuts is the opener on her third album, 1973’s Takin’ My Time – “You’ve Been In Love Too Long.”

The album was produced by John Hall of Orleans, and Raitt was backed by an A-list of musician friends.  “You’ve Been in Love Too Long” features Hall (lead guitar), the late Paul Barrere (rhythm guitar) and Bill Payne (keys) of Little Feat, the great Jim Keltner (drums), and longtime collaborator Freebo (bass).  No wonder the song has such snap, crackle and pop!

“You’ve Been in Love Too Long” is a cover of a 1965 Motown release by Martha and the Vandellas.  The original cracked the Billboard 100 top forty at #36 but wasn’t a “success” by Motown standards – especially as the follow up to “Nowhere to Run” that reached #8 and stayed on the charts for 11 weeks.

I’m usually partial to originals over covers, but not in this case.  Compared to Raitt, Martha Reeves track feels sluggish.  That isn’t an adjective that’s often used to describe a Motown song.  So the credit here goes to Raitt and Co.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Rock Music in Early ’60s Films

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This is the second installment of my series on Rock music in movies.  The first covered Rock music in 50s films.  Today’s post explores the movies of the early 60s.

At the close of the 50s, the great explosion of creative talent in Rock ‘n Roll was against the ropes.  Elvis was in the Army and out of the recording (and film) studio; Chuck Berry was in trouble with the law for a violation of the Mann Act for transporting a 14-year old girl across state lines; Jerry Lee Lewis was fending off a PR nightmare for marrying his 13-year old cousin (once removed) before the divorce from his second wife was final; controversy swirled around Little Richard’s ambiguous sexuality: a plane crash took the life of Buddy Holly.

What filled the void?  On the radio, it was bland covers of R&B songs by the likes of Pat Boone.  On-screen we were treated to a slew of beach movies (Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party, Surf Party) and “twist” dance movies (Don’t Knock the Twist, Hey, Let’s Twist).

There were a few highlights though, both involving my first crush – Ann-Margret.

In 1963 she starred in the film version of Bye Bye BirdieBirdie told the story of a rock star (Conrad Birdie) that was being drafted into the Army.  The gold lamé wearing Birdie was loosely inspired by Elvis Presley.  High school Birdie fan Kim MacAfee (Margret) wins a contest that will have her meet and be kissed by the star on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The theme song “Bye Bye Birdie” is sung by Margret at the beginning of the movie and is reprised at the end. In the first version, Margret plays up her youthful, girlish charm.  By the end of the show, Kim is a mature woman, and her performance vamps it up!  Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean!

A year later, Margret was starring with Presley himself in Viva Las Vegas – one of a handful of Presley movies that holds up.

The terrific title song – written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman – rocks.  It has been covered by artists as diverse as Dead Kennedys, Nina Hagen, Stray Cats, and ZZ Top.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Suavecito, Malo

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“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.

Song of the Week – Rainbow Lady, Mike McGear

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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.

Song of the Week – Green Eyed Lady, Sugarloaf

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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.

Song of the Week – Locked Down, Dr. John

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I’m still pissed off that I wasn’t able to go back to New Orleans last week to enjoy another French Quarter Festival.  My wife and friends had so much fun last year that we couldn’t wait to go back.  But it was postponed until October because this damned COVID-19 has us locked down!

Locked down?  Yeah, locked down.

 “Locked Down” is from Dr. John’s 2012 album of the same title.  The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced the set and added his own brew of dirty guitar riffs, vocals, and percussion.  This was the next to last album the good Dr. released before his passing last June.

So, thank you, Dr. John, for giving me a little of that swampy Nola funk to help me get through this coronavirus shut down. 

I’ll be back, New Orleans!

Enjoy… until next week.