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)

 

 

Rockin’ in the Film World #15: THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS (Apple Corps/Imagine Entertainment 2016)

Beatle fans will have a blast watching THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS, director Ron Howard’s 2016 rock doc covering the Fab Four’s career from their earliest club days through the height of Beatlemania, until they stopped touring for good in 1966. The film features rare and classic footage of The Beatles live in concert around the globe, juxtaposing their rise with news events of the day and interviews with all four members.

Howard conducted brand-new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and included archival interviews with the late John Lennon and George Harrison. Through these and behind the scenes clips and press conferences, we get a sense of what it was like to be at the center of all the Beatlemania  madness. Ringo says it best: “We just wanted to play… playing was the only thing” far as these talented musicians were concerned, but the hype and hysteria, with screaming teenage fans drowning out the music, led the boys to stop touring and become a studio only band. George: “There wasn’t any joy in it, the music wasn’t being heard… it was just a freak show”.

We also get a sense of the camaraderie between the four lads from Liverpool, thrust from their working class roots into the spotlight of stardom. If you weren’t around then, I don’t think you can fully comprehend how big they were… all in a time before social media and the 24-hour news cycle. The Beatles’ popularity was strictly organic, and spread like wildfire not only in America, but globally. It took a wry, cheeky sense of humor to cope with the craziness surrounding them and trying to stay true to their art. That didn’t always go over well, as there was a Beatle backlash when John made the remark they were “more popular than Jesus” to a magazine writer, a quote that saw many Bible Belt states holding Beatle record burning parties.

The band always said it’s all about the music, and this film has plenty of it, from seldom seen performances of “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”,  and “Twist and Shout” to more familiar ones to fans like their rendition of “All My Loving” on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. There’s clips from the movies A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP!, and tunes such as “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Boys”, and “Day Tripper”, among others. The film covers their final ’66 stadium tour, the first of its kind in rock history, from the insanity at New York’s Shea Stadium to their farewell to concerts at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. By this time, the band had had enough, and retreated to the studio, evolving into a more experimental, avant-garde style, culminating with their masterpiece “Sgt. Pepper” .

Credit is given to manager Brian Epstein, a visionary who knew The Beatles had that something special and groomed them for success, and record producer George Martin, who became their musical mentor and guided them through their career. The film has some talking head sequences (no, not David Byrne and company), including famous people like Elvis Costello, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Izzard, and Sigourney Weaver. It concludes with The Beatles’ last live performance on the rooftop of their Apple Corps building (used in the 1970 doc LET IT BE), singing and playing “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I Got a Feelin'” like it was 1964 all over again. But  by this time, the band was being pulled apart by internal egos and outside influences, and the entity known as The Beatles was dissolved. The band is gone, Lennon and Harrison are dead, but the music remains eternal, a joyful noise that rocked the world for a brief, shining period of the 1960’s. Ron Howard has put together a film Beatle fans of all ages will cherish, whether you were there at the beginning or discovered them after the fact. It’s one of the best rock docs I’ve seen, mostly because of the music.

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!)

Rockin’ in the Film World #7: The Beatles in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (United Artists 1964)

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(It’s a Sunday night, February 9, 1964. Everybody’s watching THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW to get a peek at this new phenomenon called Beatlemania. The adults in the room are disgusted, saying things like “They look like a bunch of girls!”, “They must be sissies!”, and “Yeah yeah yeah? What the hell kind of song is that??” They just don’t get it.  But the six-year-old kid watching along does, and a lifelong obsession with rock’n’roll is born…)

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From the opening shot of the Fab 4 being chased down the street by screaming teenyboppers to the final clanging guitar notes of the title tune, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT makes a joyful noise introducing The Beatles to the silver screen. John, Paul, George, and Ringo come off as a mod version of the Marx Brothers with their anarchic antics, guided by the deft hand of director Richard Lester. Shot in cinema verite style, this zany, practically plotless romp follows the boys as they head to London for a live television performance.

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Accompanying the Beatles is Paul’s grandfather, an old codger who’s “nursing a broken heart”. But don’t let Foxy Grampa fool you, for as Paul says “He’s a mixer”, a troublemaking curmudgeon who’s always stirring the pot. Grandfather’s a bit of a lecher too, and is constantly getting in trouble. He’s played by Irish actor Wilfrid Brambell, known to audiences across the pond as the incorrigible old junkman on the popular sitcom STEPTOE AND SON. References throughout the film to Grandfather as being “very clean” are in contrast to his “dirty old man” sitcom character. The series was later Americanized as SANFORD AND SON, starring another “dirty old man”, Redd Foxx.

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There are plenty of gags and bits of business as the group’s manager Norm (Norman Rossington, who also worked with Elvis in DOUBLE TROUBLE) and his assistant Shake (comic actor John Jukin) attempt to keep the boys and Grandfather out of trouble long enough to make it to the TV show. And let’s not forget Victor Spinetti as the neurotic TV director! Pop culture keeps popping up, as Shake reads a MAD paperback, and a bellman carries a copy of an Elvis magazine. One throwaway bit is the first “drug reference” in Beatles history, as John snorts Coke!:

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Lennon’s a natural comic who probably could’ve had a film career if he wanted to. Ringo later did do movies on his own (THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, CAVEMAN), and his hangdog look made him perfect for pathos. His solo excursion in the film, wandering the streets of London, is a highlight. Another highlight is the brief press conference, with questions and answers like these:

  • Q: How did you find America?  John: Turned left at Greenland.
  • Q: Are you a Mod or a Rocker?  Ringo: Neither, I’m a Mocker.
  • Q: What would you call that hairstyle you’re wearing?  George: Arthur.

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But it’s the music Beatles fans will treasure, as they perform twelve of their hits, beginning with “A Hard Day’s Night”, then “I Should Have Known Better”, “I Wanna Be Your Man”, “Don’t Bother Me”, “All My Loving”, “If I Fell”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “And I Love Her”, “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You”, “Tell Me Why”, and “She Loves You”. An instrumental version of “This Boy (Ringo’s Theme)” is heard during Ringo’s trek through London, with all incidental music by Beatles producer George Martin.

American ex-pat Richard Lester directed the controlled chaos so perfectly he was assigned the Beatles second film, HELP! Lester’s madcap style served him well in mod 60’s films like HOW I WON THE WAR (starring Lennon), A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and PETULIA, and into the 70’s with THE THREE MUSKETEERS and its sequel, and 1980’s SUPERMAN II. John Jympson’s frenetic editing contributes to the freewheeling pace, and Alun Owen’s screenplay provides a good framework for the lunacy that ensues. One of the all-time great rock films, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is a rollicking romp through early Beatlemania, and if you’re too young to remember what the fuss was all about, see this movie!