Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fifty Years Ago This Month: December 1963

Just under the wire...

December 1963 was a relatively slow month, certainly when compared to the previous month.

12/3 - The Warren Commission begins investigating the JFK assassination.
12/7 - Instant replay was invented, and debuted at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.
12/8 - Frank Sinatra Jr was kidnapped at Harrah's Lake Tahoe in Nevada.
12/10 - Chuck Yeager was nearly killed during a test flight.

In the US, the #1 song in December 1963 (all 4 weeks) was "Dominique" by The Singing Nun.  The #2 song for 2 weeks was "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen.  (Beatles! Hurry up and get here!)

Over in the UK, the top songs were the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You", along with "Glad All Over" by the Dave Clark Five, and "You Were Made for Me" by Freddie and the Dreamers.

Notable movies released in December 1963 were "Charade" (starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn),  and Disney's animated "The Sword in the Stone".  (It was the next-to-last animated movie personally supervised by Walt Disney.)

12/18 - Actor Brad Pitt
12/19 - Actress Jennifer Beals
12/26 - Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, in Denmark.

12/02 - Actor Sabu Sabu - age 39
12/14 - Singer Dinah Washington - age 39
12/26 - Professional wrestler "Gorgeous" George Wagner

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Herman's Hermits (part 2)

Back in late September, I blogged that I was going to a Herman's Hermits' show at the end of that month. I saw them at the American Music Theater in Lancaster, PA, which has a lot of big-name acts from yesteryear.

What a great show it was! The opening act was Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. This was a pleasant surprise, because although I knew Dolenz would be there, for some reason I thought he would just be sitting in with Herman’s Hermits for a few numbers. Instead, he did a whole set, with a 6-piece backing band (all non-Monkees), including his sister Coco on backing vocals.

For the 2nd number "That Was Then, This Is Now", the band was joined onstage by Vance Brescia, who wrote that song for the Monkees in 1986, and is now a guitarist and the musical director for Herman’s Hermits.

Mickey and his sister Coco did an a cappella duet on “Bye Bye Blackbird”, after saying it was the first song their mother taught them. Coco followed that song with lead vocals on “Different Drum”, a song written by the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith and recorded in the late-1960s by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. As she sung the song, Mickey retreated into the shadows near the drummer, so that the audience focus would be solely on her.

Throughout the show, Mickey praised the songwriters he had over the years, including Carole King, Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, and Mike Nesmith.

Set list (as best I can remember the sequence):

Steppin’ Stone
That Was Then, This Is Now
Sometime in the Morning
D. W. Washburn
Bye Bye Blackbird
Different Drum
Daydream Believer
Last Train to Clarksville
Pleasant Valley Sunday
Gimme Some Lovin’ (cover of the Spencer Davis Group song)
I’m a Believer

("Daydream Believer" was sung as a tribute to the late Davy Jones.)

After a short intermission, Herman's Hermits took the stage. Peter Noone mixed in a lot of comic narrative between his songs, sometimes going out into the audience exchanging banter (and distributing free CDs and t-shirts). He also did some imitations, specifically Johnny Cash, Tom Jones, and Mick Jagger (while singing their song snippets), and John Lennon.

Herman’s Hermits set list (not in order):

I’m Into Something Good
Listen People
Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter
I’m Henry the VIII, I Am (with audience participation)
Sea Cruise
Wonderful World
The End of the World
Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat
Just a Little Bit Better
Leaning on a Lamp Post
A Must to Avoid
No Milk Today
There’s a Kind of Hush

Do Wah Diddy (Manfred Mann cover)
Love Potion No. 9 (Searchers cover)
I’m Telling You Now (Freddie & the Dreamers cover)
It’s Not Unusual (sung in Tom Jones' voice)
Ring of Fire (sung in Johnny Cash's voice)
Start Me Up (sung in Mick Jagger's voice)

As an aside after singing "No Milk Today", Noone said that when he was a kid, his neighborhood milkman was Freddie Garrity, who went on to front Freddie and the Dreamers. Peter then sang their song "I’m Telling You Now".

Peter Noone’s "Hermits" include guitarists Billy Sullivan and Vance Brescia, Rich Spina on keyboards and occasionally on bass guitar, and Dave Ferrara on drums. Sullivan and Spina have worked together extensively in the past, mostly as latter-day members of Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

After the show, both Peter and Mickey were available in the lobby (in separate lines) for photo ops and autographs. We got autographs from, and took photos with "Herman", but by then, the line for Dolenz was gone, and he had left the lobby.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fifty Years Ago This Month: November 1963

I’m starting a new feature on this blog, titled ‘Fifty Years Ago This Month”. (The idea just occurred to me last week, when I saw the pop music charts for the week, but WHAT a month to start this!) 

Of course, the most well-known event of November 1963 was JFK’s assassination. Since there is already wall-to-wall coverage of this on the internet and on TV, I won’t duplicate that here. I’ll just say that I was sitting in my elementary-school classroom on a Friday afternoon when the news came. I don’t remember if we were dismissed early, but my family spent the entire weekend glued to the black-and-white.

On the same day, the Beatles released their 2nd album in the UK, “With the Beatles”. The most popular track from the album was “All My Loving”, which was never a single. This was the 2nd album to sell over 1 million copies in England (after the “South Pacific” soundtrack).

The #1 songs in November 1963 according to Billboard were “Sugar Shack” (by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs), “Deep Purple” (by April Stevens & Nino Tempo), and “I’m Leaving It Up To You” (by Dale & Grace). Thank goodness the British Invasion was just around the corner! (The Beatles didn’t hit the US charts until January 18, 1964, when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” entered at #45, then took 2 weeks to climb to #1.)

Notable movies released in November 1963 were “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and Elvis Presley’s “Fun in Acapulco”.

Actress Nicollette Sheridan, NFL quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar, and MLB outfielder Dante Bichette.

John F. Kennedy on the 22nd, Robert Stroud (the real-life “Birdman from Alcatraz”) on the 21st, and novelist C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) on the 22nd.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My early record-collecting days

My interest in listening to rock and roll radio (and buying records) began in December 1966. Prior to that, I recall only listening to the radio when I stayed home from school because of illness. When we missed school, our mother would confine us to our room (after all, if we were too sick to go to school, etc, etc) with only the radio to listen to. For some reason, it was always set to the easy listening station (Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Petula Clark, Roger Miller, etc) and it never occurred to me to see what other stations were playing. Even though I knew about the Beatles (and had collected Beatles cards in 1964), I was content to listen to whatever Frankie and his pals were singing.

This all changed in December 1966, when I went on a field trip to the WFIL radio and TV station in Philadelphia, one of the two AM radio stations playing rock and roll in Philly. I’m not sure how the field trip came about, but it may have been with the Cub Scouts.

Anyway, I don’t remember anything about the trip other than that I took home one of the weekly Top-50 record surveys that radio stations distributed to record stores back then (to help kids decide what records to buy). This one was a special Christmas issue, with tree ornaments drawn on the cover – each one containing a photo of one of the disc jockeys. I’m sure I still have it, but when looking around for it a few months ago, all I could find were the smaller surveys from the early 1970s. I did find some of the mid-60s surveys posted on one of the blogs on my sidebar (Nick's Radio Corner), but not the survey I described above. The closest one I could find on that blog was from 1/23/1967 (shown below).

I’m going to assume that first record survey I took home was for the week of 12/10/1966 and not 12/17/1966 – since it had a Christmas theme, but who’s organizing field trips one week before Christmas? That week, the top 5 songs were Good Vibrations (Beach Boys), Mellow Yellow (Donovan), Winchester Cathedral (New Vaudeville Band), Devil With the Blue Dress On (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels), and You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Supremes).

Now armed with this souvenir from WFIL Radio, my brother and I immediately made more use of the radio, switching it from “our parents’ music” to WFIL. This was quickly followed by our first of many trips to the local record store. Looking back, my record-buying days were from early 1967 to about 1972 or 1973 when I switched over to 8-track tapes. (I still have almost all my old 45-rpm records, and a quick look through those produced no records released after 1972.)

So, why is the “Georgy Girl” 45 at the top of this post? That may very well be the first 45 I ever bought. If not, it’s certainly among the first half-dozen, along with Penny Lane (The Beatles), Lady Godiva (Peter & Gordon), 98.6 (Keith), and Kind of a Drag (The Buckinghams).

Besides buying various current singles, I made up for lost time and bought many of the Beatles singles going back to 1964. (In fact, between my brother and me, by 1970 we ended up with all the Beatles singles and LPs. I tended to have all the singles up through Penny Lane, and all their albums before “Help!”, while my brother bought all the later stuff.)

With all the Beatles 45s, plus some Beach Boys singles, Georgy Girl, and several Peter and Gordon 45s, I was quickly awash in Capitol’s orange-and-yellow swirl. By the early 1970s, I was also a Grass Roots fan, and had many of their singles too. I recall my brother accumulating as many Creedence Clearwater Revival and Guess Who singles as possible, and by the mid-1970s, I think he had all of the Kinks’ LPs.

Earlier, I mentioned switching over to 8-tracks around 1973. My early 8-track collecting was influenced by what my friends had, as I bought many of the same tapes: Who’s Next (The Who), Seventh Sojourn (The Moody Blues), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John), Hot Rocks (The Rolling Stones), and (now embarrassingly enough) something by Bread.

Recently, I have been buying some old 45s as I find them at flea markets or antique stores, and digging into my old record collection from back in the day. (In fact, that sparked my interest in starting this blog.) In future posts, I will delve into specific records and artists.

(WFIL survey courtesy of Nick's Radio Corner blog)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Astronaut Scott Carpenter

Scott Carpenter, one of NASA's original 7 Mercury astronauts from the early 1960s, passed away today at age 88. He had recently suffered a stroke.

Carpenter was selected (along with John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, and Deke Slayton) for the original team of 7 Mercury astronauts, who were also the subject of the movie "The Right Stuff".

Carpenter was the 4th American in space, and the 2nd (after Glenn) to orbit the Earth. There were a few discrepancies during his flight, including running very low on fuel, and overshooting the landing area by 200 miles. Some in NASA attributed this to pilot error, and unlike the other 6, Carpenter never flew in space again. He did later take part in deep-sea exploration.

His passing leaves John Glenn as the lone surviving member of the Original 7.

New York Times obituary

CBS News obituary

I fondly remember those days in the early 1960s, when in the event of a space launch, our elementary school teachers would gather all the students into the gymnasium to watch the launch on TV. To this day, I love movies like The Right Stuff, Moon Shot, From Earth to the Moon, Failure is Not an Option, etc, etc. (In fact, I own all the above-mentioned films.)

About 10 years ago, I took my kids to a Gordon Cooper book-signing at the local mall. We've also visited Cape Canaveral twice in the past 10 years. I'm basically a 1960s' NASA nut!

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Herman's Hermits

By now, I had hoped to have made a few posts about my 45-rpm record collection from the 1960s, but that will have to wait for another day.

Tomorrow night, I'm going to the Herman's Hermits show in Lancaster, PA. (Actually, the only original Hermit will be Peter Noone, backed by his current band of "Hermits".) Also along for the ride will be The Monkees' drummer/lead singer Mickey Dolenz.

I bought this CD about 10 years ago. I also have a few of their original MGM singles. I think my favorite HH songs are "I'm Henry the 8th I Am", and the lesser-known "Hold On!" and "A Must to Avoid". All three are on this greatest hits CD.

I really "got back into" the Hermits after seeing Peter Noone (and the Monkees' Davy Jones) earlier this year on one of the PBS revival shows that they trot out during their pledge drives.

I'm taking my twenty-something son along to the show, since he's into classic oldies as much as the current music. In the past few years we've both seen Van Halen, the Eric Clapton/Steve Winwood show, and the Beach Boys reunion show together.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

One of my all-time favorite movies is 1963's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  I have seen this dozens of times, and it's still funny every time.

So many big stars of the day were in it: Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers, Dick Shawn, Terry Thomas, Edie Adams.  Also, Dorothy Provine, Don Knotts, Jim Backus, Jimmy Durante, Peter Falk, Rochester, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, The Three Stooges, William Demarest, Paul Ford, etc, etc.

I'm sure everyone of a certain age has seen it.  It's a must-see movie.

"It's under a big dubya, I tell ya"

"Okay, we all get a share for being a person, and another share for being a person in a car"

Ahh come on fellas, I'm starting to get mad now."

"Don't be silly.  What could go wrong with an old-fashioned?"

"I'll never understand you Americans' pre-occupation with BOSOMS"

"Hello down there on the ground.  It's us, up here in the plane"

"Drive on, you big stupid idiot!"

"Don't worry Momma, I'm coming to save you.  That's why you had me."

"When I get my hands on that weasel... wait, there he is!"

"Did ya all hear what Momma said?"

"Out baby, OUT!"