Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Essex – "Easier Said Than Done" (1963)

Deep in my heart I know it,
But it's so hard to show it

When today’s featured song popped up on the Sirius/XM “The ’60s on 6” channel the other day, this photo was displayed on my car’s navigation/multimedia screen:

It turns out that those uniforms were the real deal.  Each member of the Essex was an active-duty U.S. Marine when “Easier Said Than Done” was recorded in 1963.

The Essex were formed by guitarist Walter Vickers and drummer Rodney Taylor when the two were stationed in Okinawa.  When they were transferred to North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, they recruited three other Marines – Billy Hill, Rudolph Johnson, and Anita Humes, who became the group’s lead singer.

Roulette Records – a New York City-based label – signed the group to a recording contract after they submitted a demo.  I don’t know if they recorded “Easier Said Than Done” somewhere near Camp Lejeune, or if they got leave to travel to a New York City recording studio – but hopefully they got permission from their superiors before traipsing off to record the song.  (Camp Lejeune had a notorious brig back in the day, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate that the members of the Essex served time there for being AWOL.)

The sleeve for the 45 of “Easier Said Than Done” depicts only four musicians.  The Marines sent Rudolph Johnson back to Okinawa about this time, so I’m guessing that he’s the one missing from the photo.

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“Easier Said Than Done” reached #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in July 1963.

The group follow-up single made it to #12, but the next two singles failed to crack the top 40.

That was pretty much the end for the Essex.  No doubt it was difficult (if not impossible) for the group to tour or make TV appearances to promote their records given they were Marines.

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“Easier Said Than Done” held down the #31 spot on Billboard’s “Top 100 Songs of 1963” list.

“Surfin’ U.S.A.” was the number one song of 1963
The songs that were ranked ahead of it included “The End of the World” (Skeeter Davis), “Blue Velvet” (Bobby Vinton), “Hey Paula” (Paul & Paula), “My Boyfriend’s Back” (the Angels), “Sukiyaki” (Kyu Sakamoto). “Puff, the Magic Dragon” (Peter, Paul & Mary), and “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” (Eydie Gormé).

Let’s be honest: most of those songs suck.  (Believe me, there are plenty more where those came from on the 1963 “Top 100” chart.)

The 1964 year-end chart looks very different.  It was dominated by the Beatles, who placed nine singles on the top 100 – five of which were in the top twenty.  Lesser “British Invasion” groups – the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Peter and Gordon, and Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, among others – were responsible for another dozen-plus top 100 singles.  

The Supremes and other Motown groups also began to make their presence felt in 1964, and the Beach Boys made a big impression with “I Get Around.”

Sure, there were still a lot of backward-looking songs aimed more at the parents of teenagers instead of the teenagers themselves on the 1964 year-end chart – like “Everybody Loves Somebody” (Dean Martin), “There! I’ve Said It Again” (Bobby Vinton), and a couple of Al Hirt instrumentals.  And there were several dated-sounding girl-group songs on the chart (including “Chapel of Love” and “Leader of the Pack”) and the truly horrible “Last Kiss.”

But Elvis Presley was thankfully absent from the 1964 “Top 100” list.

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For me, four songs on the 1964 “Top 100” list really stand out.

Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” were traditional pop songs taken to the next level – Orbison’s performance is truly jaw-dropping, while it’s the message of Gore’s song that made it ahead of its time.

Sneaking in at #99 on the “Top 100” chart that year was the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” in all its haphazard glory.  (Was there a 9th-grade garage band in America that year that couldn’t have done a more professional-sounding job on that song?)

And finally we have “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals.  There’s nothing on the 1963 year-end chart that compares to that tour de force.  Of course, there have been few (if any) songs recorded since then that have come close to the intensity and raw power of the Animals’ masterpiece.

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Here’s “Easier Said Than Done”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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