Friday, June 28, 2019

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – "Fire" (1968)

I am the god of hellfire
And I bring you . . . FIRE!

[NOTE: Last but certainly not least in this year’s group of 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME inductees is “Fire,” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.  Here’s a slightly edited version of my February 2011 post about Arthur Brown and “Fire.”]

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Arthur Brown is responsible for perhaps the most electrifying song of the 1960s, “Fire,” which is a stick of dynamite if I ever did see one.

Unlike most songs of this era, Brown's version of “Fire” does not utilize any guitars.  Instead, the instrument that dominates the record is our old friend, the Hammond B-3 organ.  The last chorus features some horns, which turns an already very frenzied record into a very VERY frenzied record.

“Fire” came out of nowhere to hit #1 on the British charts in August 1968, and made it all the way to #2 in the United States a couple of months later.  

Brown's live performances were just a bit over the top.  He sometimes performed wearing a complicated helmet-like contraption on his head that was filled with fuel and set on fire:

This helmet was not terribly high-tech, and sometime things went wrong.  Once his head caught on fire, and the flames had to be extinguished with beer by a couple of audience members.

Brown released several albums in the seventies and had a part in the Ken Russell movie of the Who's Tommy.  (He sings a verse of Eyesight to the Blind in that movie.)

Later, he moved from the UK to Austin, Texas, and got a master's degree in counseling.  He and another counselor co-founded Healing Songs Therapy.  (Brown wrote a song about each of his client's emotional issues, presumably for therapeutic purposes – or perhaps because it was a good way to attract clients.)

G. I. Gurdjieff
Brown is currently a proponent of the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, a mystic and guru whose approach to self-awareness is known as the Fourth Way.  Click here to read what one skeptic has to say about Gurdjieff and his teachings. 

And click here to learn more about a biography of Brown titled The God of Hellfire.

“Fire” was on Brown's The Crazy World of Arthur Brown album, which also featured a pretty convincing cover of I Put A Spell On You”:

 Click here to listen to “Fire” and watch a video of Brown performing the song live.

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Deep Purple – "Hush" (1968)

She's got loving like quicksand
Only took one touch of her hand

[I originally wrote about the penultimate inductee in this year’s 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME class in July 2012, shortly after the death of Deep Purple organist Jon Lord.  “Hush” features one of Lord's greatest Hammond B-3 performances.  Here's a slightly-edited version of that post.]

Jon Lord of Deep Purple died earlier this week at age 71.  The immediate cause of his death was a pulmonary embolism, but he also was suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Jon Lord in 2008
I don't enjoy writing obituary posts, but I have no choice here.  Lord was simply too talented and too unique a performer – I have to acknowledge his passing, and I'm doing so by featuring "Hush."

Deep Purple's version of the "Hush" is one of the great classic rock singles of all time, and it's Jon Lord's organ playing that makes it so special.  Like many great jazz, blues, and rock organists of the pre-synthesizer era, Lord's instrument of choice was the Hammond B-3 organ.  (Actually, Lord usually played a Hammond C-3, which is mechanically identical to the B-3, but comes equipped with "modesty panels" that hide the performer's lower body from the audience – very useful for lady church organists.)

*     *     *     *     *

As this interview explains, Lord's signature Hammond sound results from the way he used amplification.  (This is a little "inside baseball" for many of you, no doubt, but anyone who ever tried to play a B-3/C-3 -- which includes me -- will find this very interesting.)

Keith Moon was an absolutely unique rock drummer because he could turn the drums into a lead instrument -- as he did on "I Can See for Miles."  Lord's organ style was very distinctive because he was able to turn the Hammond into a rhythm instrument, which gave the guitarist much more freedom.

*     *     *     *     *

"Hush" was written by Joe South, who had a big hit with another of his own compositions, "Games People Play."  It was originally released as a single in 1967 by Billy Joe Royal (of "Down in the Boondocks" fame), but failed to crack the top 40.  

Deep Purple's version of "Hush" – it's first single – made it to #4 on the U.S. charts despite the fact that was released on an obscure and short-lived label, Tetragrammaton Records.  (The name supposedly refers to the unspeakable Hebrew name of God.)

Jon Lord back in the day
I cannot overstate how good a record "Hush" is.  It has not lost a thing in the 44 years since it was released, and it is simply inconceivable to me that any group of musicians in the world could do "Hush" better than this.  

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I have to share with you a video of Deep Purple playing "Hush" on the Playboy After Dark television show.  It is a 100% live performance, and it's pretty bad – Lord's organ is mixed way too low, and you can barely hear him.  Even worse is Hugh Hefner's painfully clumsy attempt to engage in small talk with Lord before the group performs.  (Watching this really makes you appreciate Johnny Carson.  Hefner was a major tool.)

We didn't get this show in Joplin, Missouri.  The only time I saw it was when I represented the my high school's Key Club chapter at that the organization's international convention in Miami Beach 1969.  We were lucky that night: the show featured Hef's main squeeze of the moment, Barbi Benton – still the most appealing woman ever to grace the pages of Playboy.)

Barbi Benton
*     *     *     *     *

One final note.  Check out the lines quoted at the top of this post.  Can you name another song that mentions "quicksand"?

Of course, I'm referring to Spinal Tap's tribute to BBW, "Big Bottom":

The bigger the cushion
The sweeter the pushin'
That's what I said
The looser the waistband
The deeper the quicksand
Or so I have read

(Yes, 2 or 3 lines should feature "Big Bottom" some day – and it will, I promise you.)

*     *     *     *     *

Click here to listen to "Hush."  When you do, play close attention at the climax of Lord's organ solo (which almost sounds to me like two organists are playing at once, but which is all him).  Lord somehow ratchets up the intensity of his playing one more notch, then there's a drum roll that has the impact of someone kicking you in the behind, and then the singer comes back in with "Naaah-nah-nah-naaah" and we are heading into the homestretch.

Click on the link below to order "Hush" from Amazon:

Friday, June 21, 2019

Doors – "Light My Fire" (1967)

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire

In 2000, NPR – which had listed “Light My Fire” as one of the 100 most significant American musical works of the 20th century – interviewed the surviving members of the Doors about the song.

The late Ray Manzarek
Here’s what the late Ray Manzarek – the Doors organist – had to say about what inspired “Light My Fire”:

We were aware of Muddy Waters.  We were aware of Howlin’ Wolf and John Coltrane and Miles Davis.  Plus, Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys and the surf sound.  Robby Krieger brings in some flamingo guitar.  I bring a little bit of classical music along with the blues and jazz, and certainly John Densmore was heavy into jazz.  And Jim brings in beatnik poetry and French symbolist poetry, and that’s the blend of The Doors as the sun is setting into the Pacific Ocean at the end, the terminus of Western civilization.  That’s the end of it.  Western civilization ends here in California at Venice Beach, so we stood there inventing a new world on psychedelics.

Whatever you say, Ray.

(You can click here to listen to that NPR interview.)

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One day, Jim Morrison gave his bandmates a homework assignment.  He told them all to go home and spend the weekend writing new songs.

Guitarist Robby Kreiger was the only one of the group who didn’t show up at the next rehearsal empty-handed.   The rest of the Doors liked “Light My Fire” – which  was what Krieger called the first song he had ever written – but it was far from a finished product.

Robbie Krieger
For example, Krieger had written only one verse:

You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher

Jim Morrison came up with a second verse, the language of which sounded nothing like Krieger’s:

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

(“Wallow in the mire”?  “Funeral pyre”?)

*     *     *     *     *

The Doors’ first single, “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” is a great song – arguably even better than “Light My Fire” – but it was a commercial flop.

A few months later, the band released a three-minute version of“Light My Fire” (which was originally just over seven minutes long) as a single.  It went to #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” and stayed there for three weeks in the summer of 1967.

I was 15 years old that summer – too young to drive or have a job – so I spent a lot of time at the local country club.  (My parents didn’t move in the same social circles as the other members, but my mother was the club’s office manager, so we were allowed to play golf and hang out at the pool.)  

Swimming pool babes (circa 1967)
I vividly remember hearing “Light My Fire” playing on the pool’s public-address system.  I also vividly remember the mean cheeseburgers and excellent chocolate milkshakes the club’s snack bar served up. 

Because it was a country club, you didn’t pay cash at the snack bar – you simply signed the check with one of those short pencils that were also used by the club’s golfers to keep score.  (Make way for Mr. Big Shot, you hoi polloi!)

Click here to listen to the single version of “Light My Fire.”  (This is the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME we’re talking about, after all.)

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1967)

If you’re ever in trouble
I’ll be there on the double

As you listen to this song, picture Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in the studio recording it.

Whether they are alternating call-and-response lines (as they do in the verses) or are singing together (as they do in the choruses), the musical chemistry is palpable – there’s a real emotional engagement between the two singers.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
That’s why it’s hard for me to believe that they recorded their parts separately – Terrell recorded her part first, with Gaye coming to the studio to do his part later. 

Presumably Gaye was able to listen to her vocal track when he recorded his.  But Terrell could only imagine what her duet partner’s singing was going to sound like – she was like a movie actress shooting a love scene all by herself, having to pretend that the male actor playing her lover was present.

Somehow the performers (and the producers) pulled it off.  It may be the greatest pop duet ever recorded, yet it wasn’t really a duet at all – it was two solo performances stitched together.

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Dusty Springfield was eager to record “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” when fledging songwriters Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson played it for her, but Ashford and Simpson held it back from her because they hoped they could use the song to get a job at Motown.

The strategy worked.  Motown’s head honcho, Berry Gordy, hired them in 1966 – Ashford was 25, Simpson only 20.  

The pair penned several Gaye/Terrell duets and numerous songs for other Motown stars – including Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marthas and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and especially Diana Ross.  (Most of the songs on Ross’s first three solo albums were Ashford-Simpson compositions.)

Ashford and Simpson were married in 1974, and went on to release over a dozen albums as recording artists.

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The Gaye-Terrell version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” peaked at #19 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in 1967 – it reached #3 on the R&B charts, but it’s shocking to me that it wasn’t a bigger crossover hit.

Diana Ross had a number one hit with the song in 1970.  Her cover is much slower and more stylized – it opens with an elaborate instrumental introduction, and Ross declaims the verses rather than singing them.  I give her credit for trying something completely different, but I think the result is clearly inferior to the original.  There’s no spontaneity, no feeling.  

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Just a few months after “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was released, Tammi Terrell collapsed during a performance with Gaye.  

When doctors examined the 22-year-old singer, they found a malignant brain tumor.  After undergoing eight surgeries, she was blind, confined to a wheelchair, and weighed only 93 pounds. 

Terrell died in 1970, a month short of her 25th birthday.  

Some biographers believe that Marvin Gaye’s subsequent depression and drug abuse resulted from Terrell’s illness and death.  

In 1984, Gaye’s father shot and killed him after the two men argued.  Gaye died the day before his 45th birthday.

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Knowing about Terrell’s and Gaye’s tragic deaths makes listening to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” bittersweet.  The two were truly gifted singers, and their performance on that record is so very alive.     

Click here to listen to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which clearly deserves its place in the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME.

You can click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, June 14, 2019

Turtles – "Happy Together" (1967)

Imagine me and you
I do!

Do you remember the movie Dumb and Dumber?  In that movie, Jim Carrey’s character – who is named Lloyd – is a limo driver who is hired to drive a character named Mary to the airport.  Between the time he picks her up and the time he drops her off, Lloyd falls in love with Mary.

When they meet again shortly thereafter, he declares his feelings for her and asks if there’s any chance of them having a future together:

Lloyd: What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together?

Mary: Not good.

Lloyd: Not good like . . . one in a hundred?

Mary: I'd say more like . . . one in a million.

Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance . . . YEAH!

(You can click here to watch the scene.)

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I quote this conversation because it has great relevance to my junior high school band, the Rogues.

The Rogues were formed in 1965.  While there were probably a zillion similar bands in the U.S. in those days, I’m confident that the members of the Rogues were more talented musicians than most of those bands.  

The Rogues (circa 1967)
But were we good enough that we might have eventually got a record deal and become big stars?

Obviously, the odds were not good that any 1965-era band would make it big.  But I’m confident that the Rogues had a better chance of making it big than Lloyd had of winning over Mary.  So my answer to the question I asked in the previous paragraph is a resounding YEAH!

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Every so often, I’ll hear a song on the radio and realize that it was one that the Rogues played.

The first song I remember rehearsing with the band was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.”  (Not exactly a toe-tapper, is it?)   

“Good Lovin’” by the Young Rascals was another one of the songs we covered.  (I was the band’s keyboard player, so I loved that song because it had a nice organ solo.)

I was picked to be the lead singer when we played the Animals’ classic, “House of the Rising Sun.”  I’m not sure why I was chosen to sing that song – I had a low voice, and I think I had to sing most of the song an octave lower than Eric Burdon sang it.  But I do remember handling the lead vocal when we performed it at a pool party at the local country club in the summer of . . . 1965?  Or was it 1966?

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Of all the songs the Rogues covered, “Happy Together” – which was a #1 hit for the Turtles in 1967 – was our biggest crowd-pleaser.  

That comes as no surprise.  “Happy Together” was a great song, and I have no doubt that our version of it was a stick of dynamite.  (Perhaps even better than the original – although there are some who will question that.)

Our snazzy white dinner jackets and ascots didn’t hurt, of course.

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The Rogues and I had a parting of the ways in 1967.

I could say the cause for the split was artistic differences.  (The favorite recording artists of the leader of the Rogues were Herman’s Hermits and Simon and Garfunkel.  My favorites were the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.  Your Honor, I rest my case.)

But the real reason was my inability to persuade my parents to shell out a few hundred bucks to buy me a Vox Continental or Farfisa Compact Combo organ to replace the $29.95 dimestore piece of crap that I played.

Vox Continental organ
There was no big blowup or anything – the other Rogues just stopped telling me when and where the band’s practices were going to take place.

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Click here to listen to “Happy Together.”

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Supremes – "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (1966)

Let me get over you
The way you've gotten over me

Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was the lone Motown song in the inaugural group of songs inducted into the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME last year.

This year’s class includes two Motown classics: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by the Supremes.

“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was a classic Motown song that was a #1 hit for the Supremes.  It was written and produced by Motown’s legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland production team, and I think it’s the best song the Supremes ever did.  It has a little more punch than most of their songs.

Last year, I included Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” in the initial class of the OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME 

The Vanilla Fudge version of the song is such a stick of dynamite that it’s easy to overlook just how good the original recording of the song was.  

It’s flawlessly performed and produced – what Supremes hit wasn’t?  But thanks to the speeded-up tempo and the anxiety and frustration in Diana Ross’s voice, the song gets under the listener’s skin.  

Come on, buddy . . . just be a man about it . . . and set her free!

Click here to listen to “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

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

Friday, June 7, 2019

? and the Mysterians – "96 Tears" (1966)

Too many teardrops
For one heart to be crying

[NOTE: Adlai Stevenson famously said, “In America, anyone may become President.”  It’s equally true that in America, anyone can record a #1 hit single – as today’s featured song proves.  Here is a slightly edited version of my original March 7, 2017 post about “96 Tears,” which is the newest member of the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME.]

Queen Victoria was devastated by the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, in 1861.  

It was traditional in victorian England for widows to wear mourning dress for two years.  In the first year – “full mourning” – widows wore all black.  In the second year – “half mourning” – black predominated, but a small amount of purple or white was acceptable.  

Queen Victoria wore this mourning dress
in 1894 – 33 years after Albert's death
Victoria was made of sterner stuff than the typical British widow.  She mourned Albert for the remaining forty years of her life.

I’m not sure how many British or American widows of that era followed Victoria’s example and mourned for forty years, but there’s no doubt that the Victorians took mourning very seriously indeed.

Some Victorian mourning traditions were downright weird.  When someone died in a house, any clocks in the room where he or she died were stopped at the moment of the death.  

Postmortem photographs of the deceased and close family members were taken, with the dead man, woman, or child posed in such a way that suggested he or she was still alive.  (The eyes of the deceased might be propped open, or pupils drawn on to deceased’s closed eyes in the studio after the photograph was developed.)

Coffin alarm
Tales of unconscious people being accidentally buried alive were legion.  To prevent this, a bell was mounted on the headstone and a chain was attached to the bell and the corpse’s finger so that the dead man or woman could sound the alarm if he or she suddenly regained consciousness while six feet under.

One Victorian funerary custom I only recently learned about was the use of lachrymatory vials, or tear bottles.  Mourners were given small, decorative vials and would shed tears of grief into those vials, which would be kept close by until the tears evaporated as a reminder of the dead person.

Victorian tear vials
The Victorians probably didn’t invent tear bottles.  Glass blowing was invented around 100 A.D., and it appears that Romans mourners of that era may have wept into tear bottles and then placed them into the deceased’s tomb.  

Some even believe that David’s words in Psalm 56:8 – “Thou hast taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Thy bottle” – indicate that lachrymatory vials existed a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  

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I’m not sure what the capacity of the typical tear bottle was, but I’m guessing that it would have held 96 tears.

The members of ? and the Mysterians were the children of Mexican-American farm workers who moved from Texas to central Michigan.

“96 Tears” was originally recorded by the small local Pa-Go-Go label, but was eventually picked up by Cameo Records, a big Philadelphia label.  With the help of Cameo’s national distribution network, “96 Tears” quickly climbed to the #1 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100” in September 1966.  No record ever used the Vox Continental organ to better effect.

I’m proud that I grew up in a country where a crude and unsophisticated single recorded in a basement studio in Bay City, Michigan, by a bunch of farmworkers’ kids could make it all the way to #1 and eventually be certified as a gold record.  

“96 Tears” was written by ? – whose birth name was Rudy Martinez.  Some accounts say that the song was originally titled “69 Tears,” but the band’s manager was afraid that radio stations wouldn’t play a record with that title.  But ? told Carl Wiser of Songfacts that the song was always called “96 Tears.”

Here’s the best garage-rock song of all time, “96 Tears”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Animals – "It's My Life" (1965)

Taking all I can get
No regrets

In the late fifties and early sixties, the center of the pop music world was The Brill Building in New York City.

Many of the best songs that came out of the Brill Building were written by songwriting teams consisting of a composer and a lyricist.  For example, Burt Bacharach wrote the music for “The Look of Love,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” while Hal David wrote the lyrics for those songs.

The entrance to the Brill Building
Other well-known Brill Building songwriting teams included Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (“Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” “Stand By Me”), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”), and Gerry Goffin and Carole King (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “One Fine Day”).

One of the lesser-known Brill Building songwriting teams was composer Carl D’Errico (who also worked with Neil Diamond and Gerry Goffin) and lyricist Roger Atkins (whose other collaborators included Neil Sedaka and Michael Nesmith).  D’Errico and Atkins wrote a number of songs together, but one of them stands head and shoulders above the others: “It’s My Life,” which was recorded by the Animals in 1965.

*     *     *     *     *

After the Animals struck gold with “House of the Rising Sun” in 1964, producer Mickie Most sent word to Don Kirshner – the most successful of the Brill Building music publishers – that the Animals needed new material.

Kirshner spread the word among his large stable of songwriters, who got busy writing songs that Kirshner could pitch to Most.  

Carl D’Errico and Roger Atkins
Three of the songs that Kirshner’s songwriters wrote in response to Most’s request – “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and “It’s My Life” – became big hits for the Animals.

*     *     *     *     *

Every element of “It’s My Life” is perfect, but it’s Roger Atkins’ lyrics that makes the song worthy of induction into the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME.

“It’s My Life” is sung by a poor young man who is brutally honest – and completely unapologetic – about his ambitions and the means he intends to use to achieve them.

“It’s a hard world to get a break in,” he says, but no matter.  “[T]here are ways to make certain things pay,” and he tells the girl who is in love with him that he won’t hesitate to exploit other women if that’s what it takes for him to get ahead:

Are you gonna cry
When I'm squeezin’ them dry?
Takin’ all I can get
No regrets
When I
Openly lie
And live on their money

If the girl is willing to accept him on his terms, that’s fine.  But if she has any doubts about how he plans to live his life, she’d better hit the road.  It’s his way or the highway:

It’s my life
And I'll do what I want
It’s my mind
And I'll think what I want

*     *     *     *     *

Many of the hits that came out of the Brill Building back in the day went down as easy as a vanilla milkshake – simple songs for what we think of as simple times.  

But “It’s My Life” is more like a shot of 100-proof whiskey.  It’s slap-in-the-face honest. 

Click here to listen to “It’s My Life.”

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