One Hit Wonders #3: LONG, LONESOME HIGHWAY by Michael Parks (MGM Records, 1970)

Did you know the late actor Michael Parks (1940-2017) once reached #20 on the Billboard charts with the song “Long, Lonesome Highway”:

Parks was appearing at the time in the NBC-TV series THEN CAME BRONSON, a sort of ROUTE 66 on two wheels, riding his Harley across America in search of meaning. The show aired during the 1969-70 season, and was a nod to the counterculture movement going on at the time. THEN CAME BRONSON had some good writing and featured guest stars both established (Iron Eyes Cody, STAR TREK’s James Doohan, LA Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, Beverly Garland, Gloria Grahame, Jack Klugman, Fernando Lamas, Elsa Lanchester, James Whitmore) and up-and-coming (Dabney Coleman, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Penny Marshall, Kurt Russell, Martin Sheen, folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie), but lost it’s ticket to ride because of CBS’s ratings powerhouse HAWAII FIVE-O, and was cancelled after 26 episodes.

The song was written by James Hendricks (not to be confused with Jimi Hendrix!), who once played in folk-rock group The Mugwumps alongside future Mamas & Papas Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, and John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky of The Lovin’ Spoonful. Hendricks also wrote the Top Ten hit “Summer Rain” for Johnny Rivers, released during the Summer of Love:

And now you know, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story”!

50 Years Ago Today: The Beatles’ SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (Capitol Records 1967)

June 2, 1967. The beginning of the so-called “Summer of Love”. The underground hippie culture was grooving toward the mainstream. And those four loveable mop tops, The Beatles , released their eighth album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, on America’s shores, ushering in the concept of “concept albums” that still reverberates in music today. The Fab Four were Fab no more, but genuine artists, with a little help from their friend, producer George Martin.

The Beatles had stopped touring  the previous year, tired of the grind and the hysterical screaming that drowned their music out. They had done some experimenting in the studio with “Revolver”, their previous LP, but “Sgt. Pepper” was something different. Martin and the band members, influenced by both The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and Frank Zappa’s “Freak Out!” discs, utilized then cutting edge studio techniques (tape loops, sound effects, varying speeds) and instrumentations (sitar, harmonium, Mellotron, tubular bells, even a 40-piece orchestra) to create the album’s aural mood, with The Beatles using alter egos as a Edwardian Era marching band!

None of the tracks were released as singles, although two songs that didn’t make the cut (“Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane”) were issued as a Double-A sided 45 (both were featured on their later ’67 LP, “Magical Mystery Tour”). After the hard-rocking albeit brief intro, Paul welcomes singer ‘Billy Shears’, actually Ringo crooning “With a Little Help from My Friends” (later a #1 hit for Joe Cocker). The next song, John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, is probably the most trippy. Lennon always claimed “Lucy” was taken from a picture drawn by his young son Julian, but seriously… with lyrics like “Picture yourself in a boat on a river/With tangerine trees and marmalade skies/Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly/A girl with Kaleidoscope eyes” what else could it be about than an acid trip? “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – right John, you cheeky little devil!

“Getting Better” is an uptempo rocker reminiscent of the band’s “Yesterday and Today” period, while “Fixing A Hole” toys with major and minor keys, to good effect. “She’s Leaving Home” is a sad number about a female youth running away, with Paul and John’s vocals augmented by a lush string orchestraition. The last song on Side 1, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, has a swirlingly fun circus-like atmosphere, influenced heavily by the  British Music Hall sounds the band grew up with.

Side 2 kicks off with George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You”, a hypnotic, raga-based mediation on the nature of life and being I find hauntingly beautiful. Harrison shows off the sitar skills he learned from Indian master Ravi Shankar, while accompanied by traditional Indian instruments like the tabla and tambora. “When I’m Sixty-Four” is another Music Hall influenced number, Paul’s ode to growing old together, with a clarinet used to give it an old-timey feel. “Lovely Rita” is another rocker that finds John and Paul playing both kazoo and a comb-and-tissue combo! “Good Morning, Good Morning” puts John front and center for a peppy tune compete with crowing roosters!

After a reprise of “Sgt. Pepper”, it’s time for “A Day in the Life”, the album’s most ambitious track. A drug-soaked rumination on the nature of reality, with the refrain “I’d love to turn you on”, this avant-garde inspired piece features the most famous final chord in rock, a glorious forty-second noise with three pianos and a harmonium hitting an E-Major that vibrates off into space and the album’s ending.

Equally as famous as the music on “Sgt. Pepper”, and deservedly so, is the iconic album cover by artist Peter Blake, parodied and imitated for fifty years and counting. Among those standing in the picture you’ll find the likes of Fred Astaire, author William S. Burroughs, occultist Aleister Crowley, Lewis Carroll, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Dylan, W.C.Fields , Bowery Boy Huntz Hall Laurel & Hardy , socialist Karl Marx, cowboy star Tom Mix, Edgar Allan Poe, poet Dylan Thomas, Shirley Temple, H.G. Wells, and Mae West. Blake’s collage collected some of The Beatles’ biggest influences, and won a Grammy for Best Album Cover (Graphic Arts).

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was a #1 smash, and definitely is the pinnacle of the psychedelic rock era. Fifty years on, both fans and musicians alike marvel at The Beatles’ stunning achievement, done in a time when studio tricks and sound sweetening were at a primitive level. The album has influenced everyone from Pink Floyd (“The Wall”) and The Who (“Tommy”, Quadrophenia”), to latter-day artists like Green Day (“American Idiot”), turning the ‘concept album’ (and rock itself) into an art form. It belong in any music lover’s collection, and if you haven’t heard it in a while (or, heaven forbid, ever!), today would be a good day to let The Beatles “turn you on”. (Just stay away from the wretched 1978 movie starring Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees!)

In Memory of Gregg Allman

The music world lost another giant yesterday when Southern rocker Gregg Allman died at age 69. This wasn’t exactly unexpected, as the hard-living Allman suffered from health problems brought on by years of hard partying.

Born in Richmond Hill, GA in 1947, Gregg and his older sibling Duane were more interested in music and girls than school. They formed bands (Hour Glass, Allman Joys), toured the south and Midwest, and did some recordings, without much success. Returning to their Georgia roots, the band signed with Phil Walden’s Macon-based Capricorn Records, a label specializing in the burgeoning Southern Rock movement (Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, Wet Willie, Delbert McClinton, etc). Their third release, the double LP LIVE AT FILLMORE EAST, put them on the map as a major band:

Tragedy struck the band when Duane died in a 1971 motorcycle accident, followed the next year by another crash taking bassist Berry Oakley. Another double release, 1972’s EAT A PEACH, was a hit, featuring the FM radio staples “One Way Out”, “Blue Sky”, and “Melissa”:

 1973 brought triumph with the album BROTHERS & SISTERS, scoring their first #1 single, “Ramblin’ Man”:

The Allman Brothers broke up in 1975, and Gregg pursued a solo career. The wild Southern rocker also got married to Hollywood glamour girl Cher, one of rock’s truly Odd Couples. Gregg again topped the charts with the title track from 1987’s “I’m No Angel”:

The Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1989, touring non-stop and a new generation embraced them as one of the pioneers of the “jam band” scene. I had the privilege of seeing them in the 90’s (I don’t remember the exact year; I was doing some Hard Partying myself back then!), and Gregg’s voice and the band’s musicianship were as strong as ever. They got off the road in 2014 due to Gregg’s health issues (he’d had a liver transplant in 2010, and recurring Hep C), but Allman continued to perform until he was no longer able late last year.

Gregg’s music can speak for itself far better than me, so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ABB tunes, “Whipping Post”:

Rest in peace, Gregg Allman (1947-2017)

One Hit Wonders #2: “One Tin Solder (Theme from BILLY JACK)” by Coven (1973)

The theme song from Tom Laughlin’s BILLY JACK has quite a history behind it. First recorded by Canadian band The Original Caste in 1969, it became a #1 hit… in Canada! When Laughlin was making his picture, the song was re-recorded in 1971 by singer Jinx Dawson of the psychedelic occult-themed proto-metal group Coven. The Dennis Lambert/Brian Potter penned tune made it to #26 on the U.S. charts, but the film itself was poorly  distributed. Warner Bothers picked it up two years later, then Jinx and the band re-re-recorded the song, reaching #79 in 1973:

Coven made their debut with the 1969 LP “Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls”, featuring songs like “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”, “Dignitaries of Hell”, and the 13-minute opus “Satanic Mass”, which consists of ominous chanting and prayers to Satan in Latin! Coven is credited with introducing the “devil’s horns” sign to rock, later appropriated by virtually every heavy metal musician ever. Jinx and Coven are still around, having developed a cult following among metal maniacs via the Internet:

Rock on, Jinx!

(BTW, tune in tomorrow for a look at the movie BILLY JACK!)

One Hit Wonders #1: “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace (1974)

(Hello again, Dear Readers! I’m using Fridays to test out some possible new recurring series here on Cracked Rear Viewer, beginning today with a look back at some “One Hit Wonders”. Enjoy!)

British pop group Paper Lace had their only hit in America with 1974’s “The Night Chicago Died”, an ode to those halcyon days of the Roaring Twenties, when Al Capone and his mob ruled that toddlin’ town of Chicago:

The song was written by the hitmaking team of Peter Callander & Mitch Murray, a couple of lads who penned songs for Georgie Fame (“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde”), The Tremeloes (“Even the Bad Times Are Good”), and Vanity Fare (“Hitchin’ A Ride”). The duo wrote another tune for Paper Lace titled “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” that didn’t score on this side of the pond; the immortal Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods had the hit version here in the U.S.

Seems Messers Callander and Murray didn’t quite do their geography homework, though. The events in “The Night Chicago Died” take place “on the East Side of Chicago”, which would make things pretty wet, since that’s where Lake Michigan is located! Still, the song serves as an homage to all those 30’s Cagney/Bogie/Robinson Warner Brothers films we all know and love. As for Paper Lace, they kind of petered out in England around the late 70’s, but they’ll be forever remembered for this One Hit Wonder about the battle between Al Capone and the cops in the middle of Lake Michigan from the glory days of story-songs, the 1970’s!

“The Night Chicago Died”, music & lyrics by Peter Callander & Mitch Murray  

(What do you Dear Readers think of “One Hit Wonders”? Any suggestions? As always, your comments and feedback are more than welcome!! ) 

Book Review: STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL by Carmine Appice with Ian Gitting (Chicago Review Press 2016)

About three weeks ago, I attended the Vanilla Fudge 50th Anniversary show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. It’s a great venue to see a concert, with an intimate 280 seat capacity. Three of the four original members performed (bassist Tim Bogert is retired from active touring), and their psychedelic, proto-metal stylings had the joint rocking hard. Keyboard wizard Mark Stein, guitarist Vinnie Martell, new bass player Pete Bremy, and legendary drummer Carmine Appice tore the house down with their renditions of hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Take Me for a Little While”, and “People Get Ready”.

Much as I enjoyed all their musicianship, the main reason I went was to catch Carmine Appice,  one of rock’s all-time greatest drummers. The band did a meet-and-greet after the show, and I snatched by a copy of Appice’s recent book, STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL. Mr. Appice (whose drum solo was blindingly fantastic!) was gracious enough to autograph my copy, and the band members were all very cordial (guitarist Martell and I had a fun conversation about the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory). Between all the other things I’m currently juggling, I managed to finish reading this tome on the life and times of one of rock’s truly talented wildmen.

If you’re easily offended reading about the misogynistic sexual escapades of a decadent rock star, this book is not for you. Among the highlights (or lowlights) is the infamous incident involving members of the Fudge, Led Zeppelin, a nymphomaniacal groupie, and a live mudshark immortalized in song by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Appice takes us on a deranged trip from his youthful days running wild with a Brooklyn street gang, to Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic heyday, to his later gigs as drummer for Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, and King Kobra. Along the way, he befriends young Jimi Hendrix, smokes pot with Buddy Rich, rooms with Prince, and encounters such movie legends as Telly Savalas, Gregory Peck, and even Fred Astaire!

Appice and co-author Ian Gittins (who co-wrote Nikki Sixx’s THE HEROIN DIARIES and penned books on Talking Heads and U2) use a light, breezy style recounting the hotel trashings, sexual exploits, and crazy tales of life on the road. I have the feeling Gittins acted more in an editorial capacity, as Appice has had experience writing for Circus Magazine, and wrote his own best-seller THE REALISTIC ROCK DRUM METHOD. Carmine Appice is now 70 and has mellowed out quite a bit, but back in the day he was one of rock’s true characters, and anyone interested in rock history will enjoy this book. And if you don’t know who Vanilla Fudge were, here they are on Jimmy Fallon doing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Enjoy!

     And buy the book!

RIP in Blues Heaven, J. Geils

Appropriately, I was just leaving Fenway Park in Boston with my friends when we heard the news that guitarist J. Geils had died. The J. Geils Band were legendary here in Massachusetts, a gritty, down-to-earth blues rock band who had a string of hits in the 70’s, then reemerged again in the 80’s at the height of MTV’s heyday. The band, fronted by charismatic lead singer Peter Wolf and propelled by the bluesy harmonic licks of Magic Dick, released their first album in 1970, and hit the road to tour the country incessantly. They became known as one of the hardest working (and hardest rocking) bands in America, and hit it big on FM radio with their 1972 LP “LIVE! FULL HOUSE”, featuring the single “Lookin’ for a Love”:

The first time I caught them was in ’73, touring in support of their album “BLOODSHOT”, with the hit “Give It to Me”. More hits followed, but at the dawn of MTV, the boys changed from guitar-based blues rockers to video pop stars with hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”:

Musical differences caused the band to split up in 1985. John Geils turned to his second love, auto racing, driving and restoring Italian sports cars. In the 90’s he returned to music, forming Bluestime with former band mate Magic Dick, and once again hit the road, touring the New England club circuit. There were sporadic Geils band reunion shows, most recently a 2015 outdoor performance for WHJY-Providence’s 34th anniversary. J. Geils was found dead in his home in Groton, MA earlier today at age 71, purportedly of natural causes. Their working class, blue collar ethic made them Boston’s greatest rock band, and I’ll end this tribute with their hard rocking 1980 hit “Love Stinks”. Rock on, J. Geils.