Friday, May 24, 2019

Four Seasons – "Rag Doll" (1964)

Such a pretty face
Should be dressed in lace

[NOTE: Time flies when you’re having fun.  And also when you’re not.

Whether you’ve been having fun or not, a year has flown since I announced the songs that had been chosen for inclusion in the inaugural class of the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME.  Which means that it’s time to pick another ten songs to honor.  

Actually, eleven songs – not ten.  Last year, I picked ten songs then realized I had left out an obvious choice – so I threw it in at the last minute.  I figured why mess with success, so I’m picking eleven inductees this year as well.

There’s little risk of running out of Hall of Fame-worthy songs anytime soon, so you can expect me to choose another eleven songs every year for as long as I live.

Unless I lose interest, of course.  (That’s a very real possibility – I’ve always had a short attention span, and it’s not getting any longer with age.)

“Rag Doll” is the oldest of this year’s group of inductees.  It was released in June 1964, just after my 12th birthday – or just about the time I entered puberty.]

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When it came to cranking out top 40 singles, the Four Seasons were a machine.  But it took years for that machine to get started.

Lead singer Frankie Valli’s first record was released in 1953, and he and his bandmates – they used over a dozen different names – released a lot of unsuccessful singles.

Eventually, Valli teamed up with 16-year-old Bob Gaudio, the co-author of the 1958 hit Short Shorts. ”  Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe clicked as a songwriting combination, and the first three Gaudio-Crewe songs that the Four Seasons recorded and released as singles – Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, and Walk Like A Man – were all #1 hits in 1962-63.

There were more top ten hits over the next year, including the group’s fourth #1 single – Rag Doll.

The Four Seasons performing on TV in 1964
Rag Doll is about a wrong-side-of-the-tracks love affair.  (Billy Joe RoyalDown in the Boondocks is another classic from this genre.)  The singer – a typical, middle-class teenager – is in love with a poor girl, but as we know (borrowing Shakespeares words), the course of true love never did run smooth. 

All the other kids laughed at the girl's hand-me-down clothes and called her rag doll, little rag doll she moved into the town.  

The boys parents want him to break things off – they assume that just because shes poor, that sheno good.

The singer would change her sad rags into glad rags he could, but it doesnt really matter to him how she's dressed – I love you just the way you are, he asserts.

The Four Seasons only rivals for chart dominance until the Beatles came along were the Beach Boys.  Both groups sang simple songs aimed at a teenage audience, and both groups could sing harmony with the best of them.  

But in a way, the bands were mirror images of one another.  The Four Seasons were New York/Philly/Jersey boys, while the Beach Boys were pure southern California.  The Four Seasons were Italian-American, while the Beach Boys were WASPs.  

Rag Doll have worked for the Beach Boys because there werent any wrong-side-of-the-tracks girls in California in 1964 – everyone there (except for movie stars, of course) was middle-class.  It was a different story on the mean streets of New York City, Philadelphia, and the New Jersey cities that were in-between.

Rag Doll” was released in June 1964, just days after my 12th birthday.  I came down with the mumps that summer, and spent close to a week in bed.  I owned a copy of Rag Doll” – I only bought about half-a-dozen singles each year, so I must have really liked the song – and played it about a thousand times while I had the mumps.  

Here's a picture of my Rag Doll” 45:

I played the B" side of the single, Silence is Golden" (which was a big hit in 1967 for the Tremeloes, an English group), almost as many times as Rag Doll.

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Shortly after I contracted mumps, a vaccine was developed for the disease.  You dont hear it much today.

But back in 1964, it was pretty common.  If you caught it when you were young, nothing much happened.  But it was a pretty scary disease if you were a postpubescent male.  

(Trust me, boys and girls, I was 100% postpubescent in the summer of 1964.  We dont need to get into the messy details of that, do we?)

Adolescent or adult males with mumps have about a 30% chance of suffering orchitis, and I do mean suffering.  Orchitis is inflammation of the testicles, which often is quite painful and can result in some pretty gruesome things.  

In some cases, orchitis results in sterility or reduced fertility.  This obviously didn't happen in my case, because I have four children.  (Here's a funny thing –  my kids look a lot like the mailman in our old neighborhood.  Weird coincidence, huh?)

I do remember having a bit of orchitis.  What I remember most is the excruciating pain I felt when I tried to eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich when I had the mumps.  Mumps cause your salivary glands to swell up, and chewing when you are in that condition is something that I dont recommend.

I bring up Rag Doll all these years because my mother-in-law recently treated my family to a performance of Jersey Boys, the hit Broadway musical about the Four Seasons.  

Its become a tradition for her to give all of us theatre tickets for Christmas.  Over the past few years, for example, weve seen South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story

I voted that we go to a revival of Hair a couple of years ago, but a certain uptight and narrow-minded person who shares my last name has a problem with full-frontal nudity in the theatre, even when it is artistically necessary.  (I told her about driving to San Antonio to see a production of Hair when I was in college, and I guess I let it slip that the finale of the first act of the play was performed au naturel.  Live and learn . . .)

Click here to listen to Rag Doll.

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Animals – "House of the Rising Sun" (1964)

There is a house in New Orleans 
They call “The Rising Sun” 
It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy 

I know, I know . . . it’s been less than a year since 2 or 3 lines previously featured “House of the Rising Sun.”

I rarely feature the same song twice on 2 or 3 lines.  (I’ll never get to all the good songs that are out there, but I want to get to as many as I can.)

But I have two good reasons for doubling down on “House of the Rising Sun.”

Hilton Valentine
First, today is the 76th birthday of Hilton Stewart Paterson Valentine, the original Animals guitarist.  His inimitable arpeggios – played on the Gretsch Tennessean guitar he had bought in Newcastle in 1962 – are as responsible as Eric Burdon’s vocals and Alan Price’s Vox Continental organ for making “House of the Rising Sun” the absolutely brilliant record that it is.

Two, it’s time to name the second group of inductees into the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME.  “House of the Rising Sun” was a ne plus ultra member of the inaugural group of inductees, and it’s fitting that we once again pay tribute to it before announcing the eleven all-time great records that will be immortalized by 2 or 3 lines this year.

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Without further ado, how about a standing ovation for this year’s choices for the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME:

1.  Four Seasons – “Rag Doll” (1964)

2.  Beatles – “Eight Days a Week” (1965)

3.  Rolling Stones – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)

4.  Animals – “It’s My Life” (1965)

5.  ? and the Mysterians – “96 Tears” (1966)

6.  Supremes – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (1966)

7.  Turtles – “Happy Together” (1967)

8.  Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1967)

9.  Door – “Light My Fire” (1967)

10.  Deep Purple – “Hush” (1968)

11.  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – “Fire” (1968)

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Click here to listen to a real musical stick of dynamite – the one, the only “House of the Rising Sun.”  (I will NEVER get tired of this record.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, May 17, 2019

Raconteurs – "Steady As She Goes" (2006)

Find yourself a girl and settle down
Live a simple life in a quiet town

Here’s a transcript of my conversation with my mother today (which is typical of my conversations with her on other days, too):

Me: Good morning!  How are you?  It’s a beautiful day today – you should sit outside after lunch.

Her (after a long pause): I can’t hear a word you say.

I checked to make sure her hearing aids were in her ears – they were.  Then I checked to see if I needed to buy toilet paper, adult diapers, or other supplies for her.  Then I spent a few minutes looking on my phone for any new photos of my grandkids to share with her.  By then, it was almost 1100a – time for me to drag her to the group exercise class at her assisted living facility.

Me: It’s about time to go to exercise.  I’ve got your keys.

Her:  . . . .

Me (standing in her doorway, holding her keys):  Ready to go to exercise?  We should go now so we’ll get a seat.

Her (under her breath): Sh*t.

Me:  Ready to go?  I’ve got your keys.

Her (under her breath): Sh*t.

Eventually she got up and we walked down a long hallway to where the exercise class is held.

Her (as we walked): Sh*t . . . sh*t . . . sh*t.

I had never heard my mother – who is 93 years old – utter that word until about a year ago.  Now she says it – mutters it may be more accurate – every time I see her.

Her (when we get close enough to see which of the facility’s physical therapists is leading the exercise class that day):  It’s that fat girl. . . . Sh*t.

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“Steady As She Goes” was the first single from the Raconteurs’ 2006 debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers.  It made it all the way to #1 on the Billboard “Alternative Songs” chart.

The Raconteurs’ third studio album, Help Us Stranger, is scheduled to be released next month.

Click here to listen to “Steady As She Goes.”

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Spiral Staircase – "More Today Than Yesterday" (1969)

I love you more today than yesterday
But not as much as tomorrow

When I pick my grandson Jack up at day care, I usually sing along to the SiriusXM ’60s on 6 channel during the short drive to his home. 

A few weeks ago, today’s featured song popped up on that station.  Jack isn’t even three years old yet, and I wasn’t sure if the lines from the song that are quoted above would make any sense to him.  

But I started half-saying, half-singing those lines to Jack when I said goodbye after dropping him off at home.  I’m not sure if those lines are really true – do I really love Jack more today that I loved him yesterday? – but I thought it was a nice way to tell him how much I loved him, and might give him something to think about, too.

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Earlier today, my daughter Sarah – Jack’s mother – sent me two short videos of Jack singing to his baby brother Hunter, who just turned six months old.  To say that I was surprised by what Jack did in those videos is the understatement of the century.

Here’s the first video:

Here’s the second one:

(Note how Jack has captured the essential rhythm of these lyrics – the way he pronounces “yesterday” and “tomorrow,” and the pause between the two lines.)

Jack never really reacted to my singing those song lyrics to him – he certainly never sang along with me, or repeated the lines back to me.  

I hadn’t told anyone else about my reciting those lyrics as a goodbye catchphrase.  My daughter had no idea that I was doing that, so she couldn’t have prompted him to sing the lines to Hunter while she recorded him.

Jack has always seemed very taken with little Hunter – he stays pretty close to him when both boys are at home, and I’ve never seen him exhibit any jealousy or resentment when we are paying more attention to Hunter than to him.  But I can’t quite comprehend how his not-quite-three-year-old brain figured out that the song lyrics about love that I recited to him were appropriate for him to sing to his brother.  

I’ve been blessed with four grandsons, and a fifth is on the way – perhaps I’ll be fortunate enough to have even more grandchildren in the future.  I have a feeling there are other little miracles like this one in store for me, and I am very much looking forward to them.

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The Spiral Starecase’s “More Today than Yesterday” made it to #12 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in 1969.  

Pat Upton in 2013
In 2013, the group’s frontman, Pat Upton, talked to a newspaper reporter about writing the song:

I wrote “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday” in a motel room in Las Vegas.  I was thinking about Bobby Goldsboro singing it when I first wrote it.  Musically, I had a chord progression in my head, and I knew the only way I’d ever get to use it was if I wrote a song around it.  [The group recorded the song and] three months later, it took off.

After the Spiral Starecase broke up, Upton became a session musician and a member of Ricky Nelson’s band for a few years.  

On December 30, 1985, Nelson performed at Upton’s club in Guntersville, Alabama.  He was scheduled to play at a big New Year’s Eve show in Dallas, and invited Upton to join them, but Upton declined.  Nelson’s plane – a 40-year-old DC-3 with a history of mechanical problems – crashed about two miles from the airport where it was supposed to land, killing Nelson, his girlfriend, his manager, and all four members of his band.

Here’s a photo of Upton and Nelson taken just before Nelson’s ill-fated flight took off:

Upton died in 2016 at the age of 75.  I wish I had been able to share these videos of Jack with him – he had six grandchildren of his own, so I’m sure he would have enjoyed them.

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In 1889, the 18-year-old Rosemonde Gérard wrote the following lines to Edmond Rostand, a young playwright (he wrote Cyrano de Bergerac) whom she would soon marry:

Car, vois-tu, chaque jour je t’aime davantage,
Aujourd’hui plus qu’hier et bien moins que demain.

French poet Rosemonde Gérard
One English-language dictionary of quotations translates those lines as follows:

For, you see, each day I love you more,
Today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow.

Years later, a French jeweler came up with the idea of making a medallion engraved with an abbreviated version of the verse.  

The medallion depicted below reads has a plus sign followed by qu’hier, a minus sign, and que demain – in other words, “more than yesterday, less than tomorrow.”

The plus and minus signs on these medallions are often enhanced with gemstones – after all, a romantic poem is all well and good, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend!

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Click here to listen to “More Today Than Yesterday.”

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, May 10, 2019

Iggy Pop – "Repo Man" (1984)

I'm a repo man
And I'm looking for the joke . . .
Looking for the joke with a microscope

In 2003, Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright was embedded with Bravo Company of the 1st Marine Reconnaissance Battalion – the unit that was the “tip of the spear” in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  

Wright’s book about his experiences, Generation Kill, was made into an HBO series with the same title.      One of the Marines who is prominently featured in the book is Sgt. Antonio Espera, who portrayed himself in the TV series.  (I would have never guessed he wasn’t a professional actor.)   

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Espera, who grew up in a broken home in Southern California, told Wright that he was a “bad motherf*cker”:

You see, dog, my wife is smart, but she f*cked up big time when she married me.  I was a piece of sh*t. . . . See, I didn’t grow up with no understanding.  My mom tried, but my dad is a psycho ex-Marine Vietnam vet.

Espera’s father abandoned him when he was young.  Several years later, he tried to patch things up by taking his son on a fishing trip.

On the way to the lake, the elder Espera decided to stop off at an X-rated bookstore.  While his son waited for his dad to take care of business in the store’s viewing booths, he got into an argument in the parking lot with a man he thought was trying to cruise him.  Espera ended up throwing a brick through the man’s windshield.

“That was our father-son trip,” he told Wright.

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After meeting his wife – who was a college student at the time – Espera became a voracious reader.  During his time in Iraq, he spent his free time writing long letters to his wife.  

Sgt. Antonio Espera
Here’s an excerpt from one of those letters:

I’ve lost 20 pounds, shaved my head, started smoking, my feet have half rotted off, and I move from filthy hole to filthy hole every night.  I see dead children and people everywhere and function in a void of indifference.  I keep you and our daughter locked away deep down inside, and I try not to look there.

After reading that letter to Wright, Espera asked him, “Do you think that’s too harsh, dog?”

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Before he joined the Marines, Espera worked as a repo man in Los Angeles.  He learned that the ideal time and place to repossess a car was in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded parking lot:

Jump in, drive that bitch off with the car alarm going – nobody’s going to stop you, nobody’s going to even look at you.  You know why?  Nobody gives a f*ck.  In my line of work, that was the key to everything.

Espera told Wright that he ever wrote a memoir of his days as a repo man, he would title it Nobody Gives a F*ck.

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Today’s featured song is from the soundtrack of the 1984 cult movie, Repo Man, which also includes songs by Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, and other hardcore L.A. punk bands.    

Here’s the Repo Man poster:

Repo Man – whose executive producer was ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith – was directed by Alex Cox.  Cox also directed the Sid Vicious biopic, Sid and Nancy.

Click here to listen to Iggy Pop’s “Repo Man.”

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Gordon Lightfoot – "Sundown" (1974)

Sometimes I think it’s a sin
When I feel like I’m winnin’ 
When I’m losin’ again

In 2003, Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright was embedded with Bravo Company of the 1st Marine Reconnaissance Battalion – the unit that was the “tip of the spear” in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  

Wright’s book about his experiences, Generation Kill, was made into an HBO series with the same title.  I watched that series a few weeks ago, and found it so compelling that I checked Wright’s book out of the library.

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Wright rides in the backseat of a Humvee commanded by Sergeant Brad Colbert, a fascinating character who doesn’t conform to many of the usual Marine stereotypes – although he can sling profanity and politically-incorrect insults with the best of them.  

Sgt. Brad Colbert
Colbert’s fellow Marines nicknamed him “The Iceman” in recognition of his coolness in combat.  He demonstrates that coolness when his platoon is ambushed as they attempt to cross a bridge in total darkness despite not having adequate night-vision equipment.

In our vehicle, Colbert seems to have entered a private realm.  He fires bursts and, for some inexplicable reason, hums “Sundown,” the depressing 1970s Gordon Lightfoot anthem.  His M4 [rifle] jams repeatedly, but each time he calmly clears the chamber and resumes firing, while mumbling the chorus: “Sometimes I think it’s a sin/When I feel like I’m winning’/When I’m losing’ again.”

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Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” reached number one on the Billboard “Hot 100” in May of 1974 – which was about two months before Brad Colbert was born.

Lightfoot wrote the song while he was in the middle of an affair with Cathy Smith – a notorious rock groupie, drug dealer, and occasional backup singer.

From a 2014 interview with Lightfoot:

Well, I had this girlfriend one time, and I was at home working, at my desk, working at my songwriting which I had been doing all week since I was on a roll, and my girlfriend was somewhere drinking . . . . So I was hoping that no one else would get their hands on her, because she was pretty good looking!  And that's how I wrote the song “Sundown,” and as a matter of fact, it was written just around sundown, just as the sun was setting, behind the farm I had rented to use as a place to write the album. 

The Lightfoot-Smith relationship was volatile and violent at times – he broke her cheekbone one night in a fit of jealousy – and also quite expensive for the Canadian singer/songwriter.  Smith was cited in Mrs. Lightfoot’s divorce complaint, and the resulting property settlement was the most expensive in Canadian history at the time.

Lightfoot and Smith
Smith later became a full-time drug dealer and courier.  Her customers included Keith Richards and Ron Wood, who hooked her up with John Belushi.  

Belushi died after Smith injected him with heroin and cocaine at a hotel in Hollywood in 1982.  She eventually pled guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and served 15 months in a California women’s prison.

After he release, she was deported back to Canada, where she worked as a legal secretary and spoke to high-school students about the dangers of drug abuse.

Click here to listen to “Sundown.”

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, May 3, 2019

Swingin' Medallions – "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)" (1966)

It wasnt wine that I had too much of
It was a double shot of my babys love

As regular 2 or 3 lines readers know, I’m not above phoning a post in every now and then.

That was my original plan for this post – I was going to go directly from a cheap joke about the lyrics quoted above (something like “When I was younger, I could handle a double shot of my baby’s love with aplomb – but not any more!”) to a link to today’s featured song and then call it a day.  

But I ended up going down a pretty damn deep rabbit hole, where I found the Swingin’ Medallions, Duke Bradford, Madras-cloth pants, and the Greek Fountains (among other things.)

Madras pants
So instead of a quick-and-dirty, phoned-in, quickie post, you’re getting a double shot of 2 or 3 lines.  

I just hope you’re man (or woman) enough to handle it.

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The Greek Fountains were a popular local band in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the early 1960s.  They opened for the Animals, Sonny and Cher, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and others when those bands when they came to Baton Rouge. 

The band’s bass player, Duke Bardwell, later toured and recorded with Elvis Presley:

Duke performing with the King
Duke’s parents were Stanford and Loyola Bardwell, and he had brothers named Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Auburn, and Stanford, Jr.  (Auburn?)

His twin sister was named Tulane.

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The Greek Fountains wore Madras plaid pants when they performed, and are credited with starting something of a Madras-pants craze in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area.

Sadly, I could only find a black-and-white photo of the group:

The Greek Fountains
As the name indicates, Madras cloth – a lightweight cotton fabric that features bright plaid patterns – originally came from India.  (Madras is a large city on the east coast of India whose name was changed to Chennai some 25 years ago.  Who knew?)

Madras cloth was first brought to the United States in the early 1700s, but wasn’t popular until Brooks Brothers started importing large quantities of the fabric in the late 1950s.  The company failed to warn customers that the vegetable dyes used in Madras cloth would bleed if you washed it in hot water, which generated a lot of customer complaints.

A vintage Brooks Brothers Madras shirt
Legendary Madison Avenue advertising man David Ogilvy turned lemons into lemonade by persuading customers that the fabric’s propensity to bleed was actually a good thing.  From a 1966 Brooks Brothers catalog:

Authentic Indian Madras is completely handwoven from yarns dyed with native vegetable colorings.  Home-spun by native weavers, no two plaids are exactly the same.  When washed with mild soap in warm water, they are guaranteed to bleed and blend together into distinctively muted and subdued colorings.

J. Press ad for Madras jackets
I had a pair of Madras plaid pants that I wore in high school.  I still remember what one friend said when he saw them for the first time: “Pard, those are some speedboat pants!”

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College fraternities and sororities are named after Greek letters, and their members are often referred to as “Greeks.”  Baton Rouge is the home of Louisiana State University, and the Greek Fountains played frequently at LSU fraternity and sorority parties, so I thought at first that the “Greek” part of the band’s name might refer to LSU’s Greek community.

Ladies love Madras plaids, too!
But where did “fountains” come from?

The ancient Greeks built fountains where the water emerged from the mouths of stone or marble figures, and there are fountains in many European cities that feature Greek-style sculptures.  But it seems doubtful that the band’s name refers to such fountains.

One source says that “Greek fountain” is slang for projectile vomiting.  Frat parties routinely involve the gross overconsumption of alcohol, so that seems plausible.

There's no such thing as
too much Madras plaid!
But the Urban Dictionary defines “Greek fountain” very differently.  Click here to read its definition (which 2 or 3 lines is much too prudish to reprint). 

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The Greek Fountains’ drummer was a chap named Cyril Vetter, who later went to law school and owned TV and radio stations and music recording and publishing companies.  

Where Cornell students shopped
for Madras plaid duds
Vetter co-wrote today’s featured song, “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love),” but for some reason the Greek Fountains didn’t record it.  Their friends, Dick Holler and the Holidays – another Baton Rouge band that later relocated to Columbia, South Carolina – released a 45 of the song in 1964.

While he was still living in Baton Rouge, Holler had performed on a local teen dance show called “Hit or Miss.”  Others who appeared on that show before going on to bigger and better things included Donna Douglas (Elly May Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies), film critic and TV personality Rex Reed, and award-winning actress Elizabeth Ashley (who remains a fabulous babe at age 79).

Summertime means Madras shorts
Dick Holler later wrote two hit songs that could not be more different – “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” (a #2 hit for the Royal Guardsmen in 1966) and “Abraham, Martin, and John,” (the only song in history to reach the Billboard top 40 five different times).

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Dick Holler and the Holidays’ recording of “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” didn’t go anywhere, but it was a different story when South Carolina’s Swingin’ Medallions covered the song in 1966.  Their recording of the song  – notable for its “96 Tears”-ish Farfisa organ part – is irresistibly loosey-goosey.

By the way, the Swingin’ Medallions performed in Madras-plaid pants, too:

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Instead of a half-assed, I’m-phoning-it-in post, 2 or 3 lines ended up delivering sooooo much more today!

Sometimes I worry that the best of 2 or 3 lines is behind me.  But then serendipity goes on a date with the man behind the 2 or 3 lines curtain, and together we beget a bast*rd genius baby – i.e., this post.     

2 or 3 lines got her groove back, boys and girls!

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Click here to listen to “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love).”

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon: