One Hit Wonders #24: “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” by Hurricane Smith (Capitol Records 1972)

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!

More ‘One Hit Wonders’ on Cracked Rear Viewer!:

The Night Chicago Died – One Tin Soldier (Theme from BILLY JACK) – Long, Lonesome Highway – Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye – DOA – Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl? – Why Can’t We Live Together – They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haaa! – In The Year 2525 – Summertime Blues – Little Girl – (We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet – I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) – The Ballad Of The Green Berets – Smell Of Incense – In The Summertime – The Safety Dance – Lies – Hot Smoke & Sasafrass – I Fought The Law – Seasons In The Sun – Heartbeat – It’s A Lovebeat – Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)

 

 

12 Days of Random Christmas Songs: “Green Chri$tma$” by Stan Freberg (Capitol Records 1958)

Satirist Stan Freberg’s fertile comic mind conceived “Green Chri$tma$”, a skewering of the commercialization of Christmas that’s as relevant now as it was 59 years ago. Though not technically a ‘Christmas song’, it’s a hilarious comedy classic that dumps a lump of coal in the wacky world of advertising. Also featuring the voice talents of Daws Butler, Marvin Miller, and Will Wright, enjoy “Green Chri$tma$” (and dig the vintage print ads in the video!):

One Hit Wonders #5: DOA by Bloodrock (Capitol Records 1971)

Talk about shock rock! Proto-metal rockers Bloodrock reached #36 on the charts in 1971 with DOA, a morbid little ditty about a plane crash, told from the victim’s point of view:

Bloodrock began playing local Ft. Worth, Texas venues in 1965 as The Naturals, quickly changing their name to Crowd +1. A string of unsuccessful singles followed, until they were discovered by Detroit rock impresario Terry Knight, a former DJ who once fronted his own band, Terry Knight & The Pack:

Knight changed their name to Bloodrock, taking over management and producing duties for the band. He also at the time handled the immensely popular (yet critically reviled) hard rock group Grand Funk Railroad:

After an acrimonious split with the two groups, and failing at starting his own label (Brown Bag Records), Knight vanished from the music scene. He hung out with stars, raced autos, but mostly did tons of cocaine. After getting clean in the 80’s, Terry Knight settled down to a life in advertising sales, until he was stabbed to death in 2004 by his daughter’s meth freak boyfriend. Which is a pretty gruesome way to go itself.

As for Bloodrock, they hung around the lower end of the album charts, continued touring, and finally disbanded in 1975. The song “DOA” is their only claim to fame, a heavy metal hit barely remembered except by those who have a taste for the ghastly. Like me! And perhaps, you too.

Terry Knight (1943-2004)

 

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!)