Saturday, May 16, 2009

MacArthur Park

Our recent comment about generally liking the FIRST version we ever hear of any given song ... regardless of how many OTHER versions may, in fact, exist ... has already inspired a couple of comments from our readers ... here's another one!!!

We tend to favor the versions of songs that we grew up listening to. That's certainly true for me except for one exception. As I learned the true origins of some 60s rock classics, I have since discovered the original blues versions of songs, and I tend to like the simplicity of them. One original worth checking out is Jimmy Webb's version of MacArthur Park. I've only heard it once and found it far better than Richard Harris' over produced take. Forget Donna Summer's cover.

Incredibly for me it was the exact opposite. I never could STAND Richard Harris' over-the-top, over-produced version of this so-called classic (nor will I EVER understand the whole "someone left the cake out in the rain" attraction) ... but, although it goes COMPLETELY against my character, I absolutely LOVED the Donna Summer remake. To MY ears, she completely reinvented the song. (Maybe what I like MOST about it is that it's about as different an interpretation as could possibly be imagined ... kudos to whoever came up with the concept!) As for Jimmy Webb's original version, I'd never heard it before so I couldn't honestly comment ... but we DID find a copy at, so let's leave it to the listeners to decide!!!

We've debated the "cultural value" of "MacArthur Park" many times now in these pages over the past several years ... today we're just going to let the music speak for itself. Suffice to say, the line on this one seems to be pretty well-drawn ... either you LIKE it ... or you HATE it ... there doesn't seem to be ANY middle-ground when it comes to your affection (or lack thereof) for "MacArthur Park"!!!

In keeping with our trend these past few days, we've got another "Triple Play" here for you again today ...

First up, the Jimmy Webb original ... followed up by the #2 Richard Harris Symphonic Version from 1968 ... and then we'll dim all the lights, sweet darlin', and put on the 1978 Donna Summer chart-topping take. Enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Letter

Yesterday's comment about generally liking the FIRST version we ever hear of any given song ... regardless of how many OTHER versions may, in fact, exist ... has already inspired a couple of your comments ... we'll look at two of these today in Forgotten Hits.

I must say, the Rose Colored Glass version, to me, is the single worst version of the song ever created. It is just horrible. Chart position means absolutely nothing. It just means the record company threw more money behind it. I know of thousands of absolutely killer tunes that didn't get anywhere NEAR the hot 100 charts ... it doesn't make them bad records for not charting!

The Opheus version is the best, and Hootie's is pretty good but not great, to me. I wouldn't lose any sleep if the original session master for the Rose Colored Glass version got destroyed in a flood or a fire ...
Tom Diehl

And the more I listened to all three versions yesterday, the more I liked the Rose Colored Glass version!!! Just goes to show you why music has such universal appeal ... it speaks to all of us differently ... yet still unites us all the same! (kk)

Kent -
Thank you for the thinking person’s notes on Can’t Find the Time. I grew up in New England and surely my first exposure to the song was the Orpheus version. And yes, following versions always seemed to pale to me having been imprinted at an early age by the Orpheus ballad. By the way, Orpheus’s earlier song, Brown Arms in Houston, is also lovely.

But let me offer up another song where all three interpretations appeal to me. And that is: The Letter. It was the Box Tops' inaugural hit in mid-1967. It was followed by the Ann Arbor-based Arbors slower tempo, lush sounds version that was released a year and a half later. And then, of course, the iconic Joe Cocker came out a year after that with his indelible rockin’ version. Three very different interpretations of the same song and I like / appreciate them all. By the way, when was the last time you heard the Arbors on the radio? -jsl

Amazingly, I never liked The Box Tops' version of "The Letter" ... it topped the charts here in Chicago for six consecutive weeks back in 1967, so clearly I was in the minority on this one!!! lol Ironically, I liked ALL of their other hits right out of the box (top) ... but my opinion on this one has never changed. It also seemed to be played more than any other song on the radio at the time ... part of that may simply have been the pure stature of its hit status ... but I also believe that because the song clocked in at under two minutes, it was an easy one to sneak it virtually ANYWHERE if there was an on-air gap to fill. (I can't tell you how many times I heard this song lead into the newscast back in 1967.) It's STILL one of the most-overplayed oldies on the radio and, as I said, my affection for it hasn't grown any stronger. As such, I was COMPLETELY blown away by The Arbors' version, a song we've featured a few times here in Forgotten Hits (and we played it during our last appearance on Jim Shea's Radio Show, too!) It's an absolutely AMAZING vocal arrangement that completely reinvented the song ... and, when Joe Cocker did his rocked-up, soulful live version the following year, it was yet another complete reimagination of what was (by then) a classic tune. Great example, John ... three DISTINCTLY different interpretations of a song that couldn't be any more unique.

And, just like we did yesterday with "Can't Find The Time" ... the song that inspired these comments ... we'll feature all three of these versions of "The Letter" here today ... again, an EXCELLENT example of how many different ways an artist can interpret any given song ... or should I say any GOOD song ... proving that "The Letter" has the depth ... and the legs ... to pull this off successfully THREE times!!!

DIDJAKNOW?: "The Letter" was written by Wayne Carson Thompson, who also played guitar on The Box Tops' recording session. He didn't particularly care for the finished version, stating that the record was too short and complaining to producer Dan Penn that "The boy don't sing high enough." When Penn added the airplane sound to the recording, Wayne Carson Thompson clearly thought that Penn had lost his mind. He hadn't ... several weeks later it became one of the biggest records of the '60's ... and The Box Tops went on to record ... and have hits with ... a few other Thompson compositions, including their follow-up release, "Neon Rainbow" (#24, 1967), "Soul Deep" (a #13 Hit in 1969) and "You Keep Tightening Up On Me" (their last chart hit, which peaked at #74 in 1970). Thompson didn't do too badly either ... a few years later, he won a Grammy for cowriting the Elvis Presley / Willie Nelson Hit "Always On My Mind".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can't Find The Time

We've covered this topic before ... typically, we all end up liking the version of any given song that we heard first ... regardless of whether or not it was the first version, remake or whatever ... as far as we're concerned, THAT'S the way it's SUPPOSED to sound in our minds ... and it's pretty rare that anybody improves upon that first inspired moment.

Now don't get me wrong ... it DOES happen from time to time ... but honestly, looking back over the past fifty five years of rock and roll, it doesn't happen all that often. (I'll never forget John Lennon's quote during the post-Beatles days when he commented, "Nobody's ever improved on 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' for my money" ... and then proceeded to record an entire album's worth of rock and roll remakes himself ... not really improving on any of HIS favorites either!!! lol)

Well, today I think we've found the ULTIMATE "Exception To The Rule" ... and it's a song that has proven to be a Forgotten Hits Favorite ... despite the fact that it was never really a bonafide hit for ANYBODY!!! (Regardless, I believe that once you give these a listen, you'll agree that EACH subsequent release improved upon the version that preceded it ... and that it absolutely SHOULD have been a hit for SOMEBODY!!!)

Back in 1968, Boston's Orpheus first released their version of "Can't Find The Time" ... but it was barely noticed, peaking at #88 in Cash Box Magazine and "Bubbling Under" at #111 in Billboard.

A year and a half later, MGM gave it another shot ... and this time it climbed to #72 in Cash Box and hit #80 in Billboard ... still not a very impressive chart run.

But it was a good song ... so, in 1971, Rose Colored Glass picked up the tempo a little bit and came up with a #53 Hit in the process. THIS is the one that I first fell in love with here in Chicago, where it peaked at #15 ... that slight increase in tempo made ALL the difference in the world to THESE ears ... yet the song STILL couldn't crack The Top 40 nationally.

Although you would hear both of these versions on rare occassions, the song pretty much went forgotten. When we first featured it in Forgotten Hits back in 2001, the reaction was overwhelming ... you guys LOVED hearing it again (or discovering it for the very first time) ... and, despite a seemingly genuine affection for the Orpheus version from our readers in the Boston area (who remembered quite vividly hearing it on the radio in their neck of the woods way back when), the REST of you pretty much preferred the Rose Colored Glass version hands down.

In 2000, Hootie and the Blowfish recorded THEIR much-improved version for the soundtrack to the Jim Carrey film "Me, Myself And Irene". Truth be told, it was one of the FEW highlights to this film ... and by NOT releasing it as a single, I feel that Hootie and the Blowfish missed out on yet another sure-fire Top 20 Hit at the peak of their career. (Their track "I Go Blind" from the "Friends" TV Soundtrack got played like a single but was never released as one ... I feel certain that it, too, would have been a Top Ten Smash had it been marketed this way. Instead, it pretty much single-handedly pushed the "Friends" Television Soundtrack album to platinum status ... of course the title tune, "I'll Be There For You" by The Rembrandts didn't hurt either!!!) And I believe that their killer version of the old Bill Withers' tune "Use Me" also manages to surpass the original ... but this, too, was never released as anything more than a CD Single "Bonus Track".

Today, we've got all THREE versions of "Can't Find The Time" to share with you. Listen to them in the order in which they were released ... and see if you don't agree that you CAN improve upon a good thing ... every once in a while!!!

FOR THE RECORD: Despite what I said earlier, I really DO like John Lennon's versions of "Stand By Me" and "Just Because" from his "Rock And Roll" LP ... but I don't think EITHER one of these truly surpasses the original recordings by Ben E. King and Lloyd Price!

AND, SPEAKING OF DISCOVERING NEW FAVORITES: It's always fun when we hear from readers who are discovering some of this great music through our newsletter ... but it is ESPECIALLY fulfilling when I get to see the reaction on Frannie's face when SHE hears some of these tunes for the very first time. Since moving here in 2000, she's been deeply indoctrinated to the Chicagoland music scene through songs like "It Could Be We're In Love" and "Upon The Roof" by The Cryan' Shames, "I Will Always Think About You" and "You're Gonna Be Mine" by The New Colony Six and "L.A. Goodbye" by The Ides Of March, songs that were pretty much ignored by Texas radio when she was growing up. When we first featured the Orpheus and Rose Colored Glass versions of these songs several years ago, she was also hearing these for the very first time ... apparently NEITHER of these versions ever got airplay down in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. Her VERY positive reaction was immediate ... and they've been amongst her all-time favorites ever since ... overshadowed only by the Hootie remake from 2000!!! (Honey, I think you're gonna LOVE today's Forgotten Hits Feature ... 'cause you get all three!!!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hey Lawdy Mama ... And Another Forgotten Hits Exclusive!

Early hard-rockers Steppenwolf hit The National Top 40 nine times between 1968 and 1974. They seem to be represented daily on both oldies radio and the classic rock stations by their first two hits, "Born To Be Wild" (one of the most OVER-played songs on the radio today ... not to mention its complete saturation in movies and television ad campaigns) and "Magic Carpet Ride", both of which became #2 national hits in 1968. Most of their OTHER Top 40 Hits, however, have been ignored by radio for YEARS.

You'll hear "Rock Me" every great once in a while on the really good stations ... it became their third straight Top Ten Hit when it peaked at #8 in 1969. But other tunes like It's Never Too Late (#35, 1969); Move Over (#16, 1969); Monster (#23, 1970); Ride With Me (#31, 1971); Straight Shootin' Woman (#20 1974) and today's featured Forgotten Hit, Hey Lawdy Mama (#21, 1970) can't seem to find their way back to radio at all anymore. (Ironically, after "Sookie, Sookie" scored so well on our Favorite, Forgotten B-Sides Poll, we started to hear THAT one every once in a while again ... and that was a B-SIDE ... it seems that even an album track like "The Pusher" gets played more often today than some of these bonafide hit singles!)

Today, we're here to remind you of "Hey Lawdy Mama", a song that JUST missed The Top 20 back in 1970 ... certainly THIS one deserves a spin every now and then!!!

About a week or two ago, we featured the John Kay solo record "Easy Evil" in one of our Comments Pages.

Kay, of course, was the lead vocalist for Steppenwolf, who hit The National Pop Top 40 nine times between 1968 and 1974 ... and I used to LOVE hearing his "new" sound with the soulful groove of his latest solo record.

Incredibly, the song flopped, climbing only to #92 in Cash Box and failing to make Billboard's Top 100 at all. I've always felt that it certainly deserved a better fate than that!

During our recent feature of this tune, it came to our attention that "Easy Evil" was written by Forgotten Hits List Member Alan O'Day ... something I had never known before! I asked Alan if he would please share a few memories with our readers about this song, always one of my early '70's favorites. I couldn't help but wonder what the inspiration was for this one. And how did this song get into the hands of John Kay? (I mean, let's face it ... Alan O'Day music and Steppenwolf music aren't often mentioned in the same breath outside the pages of Forgotten Hits!!! lol) Was this one of his earliest breaks as a songwriter? And, was there, perhaps, an Alan O'Day version of this song that we could share with our readers? Quite honestly, ANY background information that Alan was willing to share would be appreciated. And he just came through in spades!!!

Not only do we have a brief history of the song to share with you today, but we have the EXTREMELY rare Alan O'Day DEMO of this song as originally recorded back in 1970! Here's the scoop ... in Alan's own words ...

I'm pleased about the interest in "Easy Evil", which garnered around 50 different releases, circa 1970-1973.

I wrote the song loosely based on a hot relationship I was having with a rather experienced & creative young lady, who pretty much played me like a violin!

I played & sang the demo in my apartment bedroom "studio" (Sony reel-to-reel 4 track, Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Rhythm Ace Drum Machine, Shure SM57(?) mic, etc.). I added "reverse reverb" to the drum machine by recording the pattern with my mic across the room, then turning the reel of tape over in the machine & playing it backwards while tracking the other instruments & vocals.

Among those recording the song were Dusty Springfield, Sarah Vaughn, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Captain & Tennile, Tony Orlando & Dawn, & yes, John Kay (of Steppenwolf). I was told that Elvis Presley had done a demo on the tune shortly before his demise, but I have no way of verifying that. (For the record, Artie Wayne, then a professional manager at Viva Music, was responsible for getting 6 or 7 of the covers on Easy Evil, including John Kay and Tony Orlando and Dawn.)

BTW, the song's success lasted longer than the relationship!

My best to all your readers.

EXCELLENT!!! Thanks SO much, Alan ... now sit back and enjoy this "evil" little tune!!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jesus Is A Soul Man

As I look over the list of some of the Forgotten Hits we've featured over the past ten years ... and think about some of the ones that got an especially good reaction ... I cannot ignore THIS one ... a #28 Pop Hit from 1969 that probably hasn't been played on the radio since.

"Jesus Is A Soul Man" by Lawrence Reynolds was another one of those VERY unlikely pop hits ... with a real Southern / Gospel feel to it, it most likely clicked because (once again) it didn't sound like ANYTHING else on the radio at the time. (All I know is that to this day, some 40 years later, I STILL get this one stuck in my head ALL of the time ... despite literally NEVER hearing it played anywhere since!)

I remember covering this song back in 2000 and being unable to turn up ANY
information on this guy ... and, quite honestly, the Internet isn't any kinder nine years later!!! But it's a GREAT little track and I wanted to see if I could jar a few of YOUR memories, too, this morning!

Give a listen to "Jesus Is A Soul Man" and see what YOU think!!! (Chances are you'll STILL be singing it DAYS from now!!!)

BTW: Johnny Rivers also cut a version of this song and included it on the B-Side of his "Into The Mystic" single in 1970. Incredibly, when we ran this song nine years ago, more folks on the list seemed familiar with the Johnny Rivers version than the HIT version by Lawrence Reynolds!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fresh As A Daisy

This week we're going to feature some more of what we call "Good Old Fashioned Forgotten Hits" ... spotlighting a few tracks that you probably haven't heard on the radio in AGES!!!

We'll kick things off with a personal favorite of mine that garnered a HUGE, favorable response the last time we featured it several years ago.

"Fresh As A Daisy" became a #38 Cash Box Hit for Emitt Rhodes back in 1971.
Dismissed by many as a Paul McCartney-wannabe, I'll admit to ranking his self-titled solo album amongst my all-time favorite LPs.

Just as McCartney had done on his first solo album, Rhodes played all of the instruments and handled all of the vocals himself ... and there is no question that he was heavily influenced by McCartney and The Beatles. (Being born and raised in Hawthorne, California, you'd also have to include Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys amongst his musical and inspirational idols ... in fact, while still part of the group The Merry-Go-Round, who scored two minor national hits in 1967 with "Live" and "You're A Very Lovely Woman", the band performed a VERY impressive cover version of "California Girls" with their A&M label boss, Herb Alpert on trumpet.
You can listen to the audio of that venture here:
Click here: YouTube - Herb Alpert-California Girls ...
unfortunately, the VERY cool ... and extremely colorful video that originally accompanied this tune ... from a live appearance on The Hollywood Palace, I believe ... has apparently been deleted from YouTube!!!)

For MY money, "Fresh As A Daisy" was absolutely a "Can't Miss" hit ... but somehow it still did. Although it managed a #38 showing in Cash Box, it failed to make Billboard's Top 50 ... and it never charted here in Chicago either, despite ALL kinds of commercial airplay for the LP from which it came.

Give a listen and see if this one rings any bells ... and see if you, too, agree, that this absolutely SHOULDA BEEN A HIT!!!