Thirty years ago, Canadian songstress Alannah Myles glided to #1 on the charts with her sultry hit single”Black Velvet”:
Alannah Myles was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and before breaking through with “Black Velvet” she was fairly well known in her home country, even getting a guest shot as a single young mom on a 1984 episode of the popular Canadian TV show THE KIDS OF DEGRASSI STREET. When her hit tune stormed the charts, that smoky voice and those sexy good looks catapulted her to stardom, thanks in large part to constant airplay on MTV.
She won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance and three Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammies), but her subsequent LP’s and singles went nowhere in America, and just as meteorically as she rose, Alannah Myles tumbled off the radar here. She has retained a fan base in Europe and her native Canada though, and is still making music, which can be found via iTunes if anyone’s interested. Be that as it may, Alannah Myles will always be remembered for “Black Velvet”, a song that still gets airplay today on classic rock stations, a tribute to the guy with “that little boy smile” and “that slow Southern style”…
Kids all across America pounded their school desk tops in the 60’s and 70’s (and probably still do!) imitating the hard-drivin’ primal drum solo of The Surfari’s “Wipeout”, which shot to #2 in the summer of 1963:
Ron Wilson based his riff on a simple paradiddle, a practice piece most anyone could do. Hell, even I can do a paradiddle, and I have NO musical talent whatsoever (as my good-ole-southern-boy dad used to say, “Son, you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket!”). Only Wilson sped things up a few notches, aided by the twin guitar attack of Bob Berryhill and Jim Fuller, and Pat Connolly’s bubbling-under bass line holding the whole thing down.
At age 19, Wilson was the old man of The Surfaris – everyone else was sixteen years old when the song was recorded! “Wipeout” was first released locally in sunny Southern California as the ‘B’ side to their Beach Boys/Dick Dale inspired “Surfer Joe”, but then radio listeners started requesting the record’s flip side, and the band had an unintentional hit on their hands. Dot Records picked it up for national distribution, and “Wipeout” became a surprise smash! The song was re-released several times, charting again in 1966 and 1970, and has been used on countless film soundtracks, including THE HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS, THE SANDLOT, WAYNE’S WORLD 2, TOY STORY 2, and DIRTY DANCING:
Rumors that future shock-talk TV host Morton Downey Jr. had a hand in writing and producing the song are completely untrue – “Wipeout” is a pure product of four Southern California kid’s imagination, and one of the biggest All-American rock’n’roll hits of all time! Have a Safe and Happy 4th of July, everyone – surf’s up!
New Zealand born, Canadian bred Gale Garnett sang her way to #4 on the Billboard charts during the summer of 1964 with a song that’s since become a summertime folk-rock classic, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”:
Gale herself penned the tune and performed it with her band The Gentle Reign. Folk music was still big in those early days of Beatlemania, and Gale’s song, with it’s liltingly lovely harmonica and whistling refrains, had young lovers swooning in the summer breeze. Gale and her group copped a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording, and made the rounds of all the TV shows, but “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” was their one and only hit record.
But that didn’t stop Gale Garnett! She was already a starlet of note, appearing on TV shows like HAWAIIAN EYE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, and BONANZA, and would soon be featured in animated form as the beautiful but deadly Francesca, robot assistant to Baron Frankenstein (voiced by the one-and-only Boris Karloff! ) in the Rankin-Bass cult classic MAD MONSTER PARTY?, a stop-motion tribute to horror films that remains beloved by 60’s Monster Kids of all ages! Gale also gets to sing two of the film’s tunes, “Never Was a Love Like Mine” and “Our Time to Shine”, in which she sings and dances with an animated Count Dracula!:
Gale continued to act in TV (KOJAK, KUNG FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES) and in features. She played Joanne Woodward’s best friend in MR & MRS. BRIDGES and had a funny turn as Aunt Lexy in MY BIG, FAT GREEK WEDDING. She’s also written a series of romance novels, making her an artistic triple threat! As of this writing, Gale Garnett is alive and well at age 76, and though she’s done many things in her career, she’ll always be remembered for the haunting summer hit “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”. Thanks, Gale!
The hard-driving jazz-rock hit “Vehicle” cruised to #2 on the Billboard charts back in May of 1970:
Everybody who heard the song thought it was a new Blood, Sweat, & Tears single at first: the signature brassy sound and gruff vocals reminded us of BS&T and lead singer David Clayton-Thomas. No one had heard of The Ides of March – unless of course you were from the Chicago area, where they’d been having regional success since 1966.
The band formed in Svengoolie’s favorite town – Berwyn, Illinois – in 1964, and originally were called the Shon-Dels, consisting of Jim Peterik (guitar), Larry Millas (guitar), Bob Bergland (bass), and Mike Burch (drums), changing their name to The Ides of March in ’66 to avoid confusion with Tommy James & The Shondells, who were riding to the top of the charts at the time with “Hanky Panky”. Adding trumpeter Steve Daniels a year later, they added two additional horn players to capitalize on the success of jazz-rock bands like BS&T and Chicago. “Vehicle”, written and sung by Peterik, became Warner Brothers’ fastest-selling single up to that time, but despite incessantly touring and recording a follow-up LP, no more hits were forthcoming, and The Ides of March broke up in 1973.
Jim Peterik continued to write and perform, joining the jazz-rock band Chase, who had a hit of their own with 1971’s “Get It On”:
In `1978, Peterik cofounded the band Survivor with Frankie Sullivan. Their work was reminiscent of then-popular pop bands like Journey and REO Speedwagon, and Peterik soon had a #1 hit when he and Sullivan cowrote the song “Eye of the Tiger” for Sylvester Stallone’s ROCKY III:
Peterik continued to write or cowrite several tunes for other artists, including REO, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cheap Trick, Sammy Hagar, The Beach Boys, and .38 Special’s 1981 hit “Hold On Loosely”:
The Ides of March reformed in 1990 with Peterik and the original members, plus new horn players, and continue to tour the nation even today, while “Vehicle” has proved to still have plenty of miles on it. A 2001 General Motors ad campaign featured the song, and it found a new audience when Bo Bice performed it on AMERICAN IDOL in 2005 (Bice is now lead singer for Blood, Sweat, & Tears, bringing things full circle). Artists as diverse as Tom Jones, jazzman Chet Baker, Erykah Badu, and STAR TREK: VOYAGER actor Robert Picardo have recorded cover versions. It’s one of those One Hit Wonders whose hooks get stuck in your head, and will probably be performed and enjoyed long after I’ve played my final chord.
“GRRRReat God in Heaven, you know I loo-ooo-oove yoooou” – dah dah, dah dah dahhhhhhh – DAHHHHH!
Ok, so it’s 1972. Rock music dominated the airwaves, until a nearly fifty year old English gent named Hurricane Smith blew into America with a British Music Hall-styled #1 hit called “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” (take it away, Johnny Carson!):
Who was Hurricane Smith, you ask? Well, first of all, his name isn’t really Hurricane, but Norman Smith, born in 1923. Young Norman served in the RAF during WWII as a glider pilot, and upon war’s end set out to make a go of things as a jazz musician, without much success. By 1959, Norman found steady employment working as a sound engineer for Britain’s EMI Records, located on London’s Abbey Road.
In 1962, EMI signed four lads from Liverpool who had some potential. The Beatles recorded “Please Please Me”, and the song took the U.K. by storm:
The Beatles became a phenomenon in America two short years later, and along with producer George Martin, Norman was instrumental in shaping their early sound. He became friends with the Fab Four personally as well, with John Lennon giving him the nickname ‘Normal’. Norman did the sound engineering on The Beatles’ first six LP’s, from “Please Please Me’ to “Rubber Soul”, but as they gained in confidence and became more experimental musically, friction between Lennon and McCartney caused the sessions to no longer be fun for Norman.
EMI promoted him to full producer, and among his first tasks was producing the first three albums for another British band who achieved success home and abroad, Pink Floyd:
Another milestone came in 1968, when Norman produced The Pretty Things’ LP “SF Sorrow”, a psychedelic excursion that’s considered the first ‘Rock Opera’, predating The Who’s “Tommy” by five months:
Norman had written a song titled “Don’t Let It Die” that he wanted his friend Lennon to record, but when he played the demo for fellow producer Mickie Most (The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Donovan, etc), Most urged him to record the tune himself. The tune, released under the name Hurricane Smith, became a surprise hit in England, reaching the #2 spot on the charts:
Then came “Oh Babe”, and Hurricane Smith had himself a hit on both sides of the Atlantic (and by the way, that’s Norman’s old RAF mate Frank Hardcastle performing the memorable sax solo). The hits stopped coming after that, but Norman Smith continued working behind the scenes with artists as varied as Barclay James Harvest, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Denny Laine, and Little Richard. He wrote an autobiography of his decades in the music biz, JOHN LENNON CALLED ME NORMAL, which was published in 2008, the year he died at age 85. If ever there was a One Hit Wonder with a musical pedigree as prestigious as Norman ‘Hurricane’ Smith, you’d be hard pressed to find him!
You couldn’t go into any bar, pub, or tavern in my fishing port hometown of New Bedford, MA for literally decades without someone playing Looking Glass’s #1 hit from 1972, “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” on the jukebox – usually more than once a night!:
(And yes, that’s future country legend Kenny Rogers doing the introduction!)
The song/story of a barmaid in love with a sailor she can never truly have, because as he says “my life, my lover, my lady, is the sea” resonated with us locals, as I’m sure it did in every “harbor town” where barmaids work “layin’ whiskey down” to hard working seafaring men (not to mention that fact that it made a helluva great slow-dancing tune as closing time neared – ah, those were the days, my friends!).
The band Looking Glass was from New Brunswick, New Jersey, and consisted of Elliot Lurie (lead singer, guitar), Larry Gronsky (keyboards), Pieter Sweval (bass), and Jeff Grob (drums). While “Brandy” was a smashing success, their self-titled debut album only made it to #113 on the Billboard LP charts. A follow-up LP, SUBAWAY SERANADE, did worse, though it did yield a minor hit in “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne”, which crawled up to #33. After Lurie left the group disbanded, with Sweval and Grob forming the late 70’s glam-metal band Starz, who had some small success in 1977 with “Cherry Baby”:
Elliot Lurie, who wrote “Brandy”, had a brief solo career before moving to Hollywood and becoming a music supervisor for both films (THE SURE THING, ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE, ALIEN 3, A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY, SPANGLISH) and television (CLUELESS, NASH BRIDGES, LIZZIE MCGUIRE, THE 4400). But for most of us, he’ll be forever immortalized as the man who gave voice to a girl who “wears a braided chain, made of finest silver from the North of Spain”, and who, “at night, when the bars close down,..walks through a silent town, and loves a man who’s not around”….
Now that I’ve got horror movies out of my system (at least for a minute!), let’s switch gears to the saccharine sweet DeFranco Family, Canada’s answer to the Osmond Brothers, The Partridge Family, and The Jackson 5, who scored a #1 hit in 1973 with the bubblegum-pop “Heartbeat – It’s A Lovebeat”:
Siblings Benny, Marisa, Nino, Merlina, and Tony DeFranco had been making music together all their lives before a demo tape earned them a contract with 20th Century Records. 13-year-old lead singer Tony was groomed to be the Next Big Teen Idol, and his face was plastered all over the covers of teen magazines of the era: Tiger Beat, 16, Fave!, ad nauseam. The DeFranco’s popularity was brief however, as disco began taking over the airwaves, not to mention Tony hitting puberty and his liltingly light voice changing! The family became a Vegas lounge act for a couple of years before quietly leaving the music scene altogether.
And whatever became of would-be teen idol Tony? Well, he seems to have done well for himself, as he’s now a successful Southern California real estate agent with Southeby’s International Realty . Whadda ya know – a ‘teen idol’ story with a happy ending!
Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun”, perhaps the most maudlin hit of all time, reached #1 on the charts in March 1974 and stubbornly stayed there for three long weeks:
This schmaltzy little ditty about a man saying goodbye to his loved ones as he’s preparing for death was based on Belgian chanteur Jacques Brel’s 1961 European hit “Le Moribond”, with English lyrics provided by that most sickeningly saccharine of 60’s poets, the Godfather of New Age, Rod McKuen (ATTENTION DIABETICS: better take your shot of insulin before clicking on the next video!):
Terry Jacks was no stranger to the Top 40. He and his wife Susan performed under the name The Poppy Family (how cute!), and reached #2 in 1970 with the single “Which Way You Goin’, Billy?”:
ARRGH! All this sweetness has given me a sugar rush! Think I’ll go run around the block six or seven times….
One of rock’s most iconic anthems, “I Fought The Law” by The Bobby Fuller Four made it to #9 on the Billboard charts in March of 1966:
Written by Sonny Curtis of Buddy Holly’s Crickets (who also penned the memorable theme song for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW , “Love Is All Around”), “I Fought The Law” was a throwback to the heyday of rockabilly in that year of British Invasion madness, and was all over the airwaves that spring and summer. Fuller’s Holly-influenced sound brought rock back to its roots, and his surf guitar stylings were on a par with legendary Dick Dale.
Bobby Fuller was born in Baytown, Texas in 1942, and the family, including younger brother Randy, moved to the West Texas town of El Paso when Bobby was twelve. Like most teens during the mid-50’s, Bobby was rock’n’roll crazy, and soon he and Randy were fronting bands and playing the local circuit. Relocating to LA in the early 60’s, The Bobby Fuller Four signed with tiny Mustang Records (who were distributed nationally by Roulette), and enjoyed some regional success before “I Fought The Law” put them at the top of the rock pile.
The Bobby Fuller Four were riding high, appearing on teen-oriented TV shows like HULLABALOO and WHERE THE ACTION IS, and even popped up in AIP’s last ‘Beach Party’ movie, THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, along with Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Nancy Sinatra, and veterans Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and Patsy Kelly:
On July 18, 1966, Bobby Fuller’s mom found him dead in his car parked outside their home. The windows were rolled up tight, and there was an open gas can in the car. Despite the facts there were multiple bruises on his arms and shoulders, a reported broken finger, and his body being doused with gasoline, the death was officially ruled a suicide. In October, the LA medical examiner changed the verdict to “accidental asphyxiation”. Speculation has run rampant since then, from Fuller being “hit” for having an affair with a Mafioso’s girlfriend, to an LSD-related death allegedly involving Charles Manson, to a deal gone sour with mob-connected Roulette Records boss Morris Levy (aka “The Godfather of Rock’N’Roll”). Bobby Fuller was at the peak of his career at the time; why would he commit suicide? We’ll probably never know the truth as to what happened that fateful summer night. All we know is rock lost another artist at a young age – Bobby Fuller was just 23 years old.
“I Fought The Law” has gone on to become one of rock’s most covered songs, with everyone from your local bar band to artists like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, The Grateful Dead, and Hank Williams Jr. interpreting the tune. It was hugely popular among the punk rock movement, covered by The Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, The Stray Cats, and most notably The Clash:
Great as that version is, I’ll always think of The Bobby Fuller Four’s rendition as being definitive, their place in rock history ensured forever. And I’ll think of Bobby Fuller himself, a life cut short on his way to rock immortality.
San Antonio, Texas rockers The Bubble Puppy rocketed to #14 on the charts with the psychedelic hard rocking “Hot Smoke & Sasafrass”:
The band pioneered the dual lead guitar sound, with Rod Prince and Todd Potter riffing their way to an appearance on Dick Clark’s AMERICAN BANDSTAND. Soon groups like The Allman Brothers and Thin Lizzy took the concept to new rocking heights, but The Bubble Puppy (also featuring Roy Cox on bass and “Fuzzy” Fore on drums) were there first. The song, which has been covered by MGMT and The Mooche, remains an early example of the heavy metal genre.
Though The Bubble Puppy released only one album (“A Gathering of Promises”) before disbanding in 1970, it’s members all continued working in the music industry. Prince and Fore are currently gigging in the Texas area in a reformed version of The Bubble Puppy with new members Mark Miller (guitar), Gregg Stegall (guitar), and Jimi Umstattd (bass), bringing a triple lead sonic assault to a festival near you… if you live in Texas, that is! All hail The Bubble Puppy!