Tuesday song of the day: Today’s song was created for a musical, and was the title song and centerpiece of another Broadway musical almost fifty years later.
In 1929, pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller, along with Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf, wrote Ain’t Misbehavin’ for the play Connie’s Hot Chocolates. The song told of how the singer was in love with a woman, and while he wasn’t with her at the moment would not cheat on her. The play began running at Connie’s Inn, a popular spot in Harlem, in May 1929. It was so popular that by June it was moved to Broadway, renamed as simply Hot Chocolates, since it was no longer at Connie’s Inn. The Broadway production marked the theatrical debut of the great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong as the orchestra director and featured player.
There were several versions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ recorded in 1929. This was common for the period, where a promising song was often recorded by several acts in quick succession. The first of these was an instrumental version by Fats Waller himself. It was a hit, ranking at #17 according to ASCAP, which was the compiler of the charts at the time. Another hit version of the song was recorded by Louis Armstrong and was ranked at #7. The original Fats Waller version was piano-driven and did not include any singing, while the Satchmo cover was dominated by his trumpet, and included a fairly brief portion with Armstrong’s singing.
Years later, Fats Waller appeared in the movie Stormy Weather and performed Ain’t Misbehavin’ on film, this time singing the lyrics as well as playing the piano. He also released a new recording of the song, and this version became an all-time classic. In 1984. Waller’s 1943 record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, in 2001 was selected by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as one of the 365 Songs of the Century, and in 2004 was one of 50 songs selected for the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
Since its creation in 1929, Ain’t Misbehavin’ has been covered over 450 times, by artists including Bing Crosby, Nat “King” Cole, Tony Bennett, Leon Redbone, Hank Williams, Jr., and Willie Nelson. A hit 1978 Broadway musical based on the jazz songs of the 1920s and 1930s was titled Ain’t Misbehavin’. The musical won three Tony’s, including Best Musical, and Nell Carter, who sang the title song to open the show, won for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. The musical has had several revivals over the years, with the most recent in 2019.
Wednesday song of the day: Today’s song was inspired by the 1967 Detroit riots.
Before he became a recording artist in his own right (His Theme From Shaft was song of the day for July 1st, 2020, here: Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes ), Isaac Hayes was a songwriter, musician, and producer at Stax records, contributing to hits by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and Johnnie Taylor. In 1967, he and his songwriting partner David Porter wrote Soul Man for Sam & Dave. Hayes arrived at the concept for the song from something he noticed from coverage of the Detroit riots. He explained, “I got the idea from watching on TV the riots in Detroit. It was said that if you put ‘soul’ on the door of your business establishment, they wouldn’t burn it. Then the word ‘Soul,’ it was a galvanizing kind of thing for African Americans, and it had an effect of unity, it was said with a lot of pride. So I thought, ‘Why not write a tune called ‘Soul Man.’ And all you had to do was write about your personal experiences, because all African Americans in this country at the time had similar experiences. But we realized that in addition to being an African American experience, it was a human experience, and therefore it crossed over and became very commercial.”
Sam & Dave recorded the song, with members of Booker T. and the M.G.s and the horn section from the Mar-Keys providing the musical accompaniment. Sam Moore and Dave Prater alternated singing the lead on different verses of the song. Two versions were released, one in mono and one in stereo. The difference is apparent on the first line of the song. In one version, Sam Moore enunciates the first line as “Comin’ to you,” and on the other he pronounces it more as “Comin’ to ya.”
When the song was released, it was a hit, placing at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sam & Dave’s recording of Soul Man went on to win a Grammy award for Best Rhythm and Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental. It was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, among numerous other accolades.
The song has been covered numerous times over the years, most notably in 1978 by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as The Blues Brothers. Soul Man was the biggest of The Blues Brothers’ four Top 40 hits, placing at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Two members of Booker T. and the M.G.s, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, were part of the Blues Brothers’ band. Thus they performed both on the Sam & Dave and Blues Brothers versions of Soul Man. On the 1967 record, after Cropper hits a few particularly strong notes, Sam Moore tells him “Play it, Steve!” and eleven years later Belushi – as Jake Blues – repeats the line to Cropper in the Blues Brothers recording.
Thursday song of the day: Today’s song was a comeback hit for this popular 1970s soft rock group.
The singing trio America was a popular act in the early- and mid-1970s, starting off with their debut single A Horse with No Name hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. The hits continued for a few years, including several in the Top Ten and another #1 with Sister Golden Hair in 1975. In the late 1970s, however the hits dried up.
In 1982, America was now a duo of Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell as the other founding member, Dan Peek, had left. The band hadn’t had a Top 40 hit in six years, despite releasing three albums since then. Previously, America had written most of their own songs, but this changed in the 1980s after the band started to fade commercially. When working on their newest album, View from the Ground, they enlisted the help of songwriter and producer Russ Ballard at the suggestion of an executive from their record label. Ballard had started his career as guitarist and lead singer for the band Argent. He had sung on Argent’s biggest hit, Hold Your Head Up, in 1972 and later went on to write for Argent and many other artists. By the late 1970s, he was more known as a writer and producer than as a recording artist, particularly with his work for KISS. (Two Russ Ballard compositions have been Song of the Day before, New York Groove on March 1st, 2020 here: New York Groove – Hello and I Know There’s Something Going On on August 3rd, 2020 here: I Know There’s Something Going On – Frida ) While Ballard’s roots were in harder rock, he was also comfortable writing softer songs. For America’s 1982 View from the Ground album, he wrote two songs, Jody and You Can Do Magic. He also produced those tracks on the album, as well as playing guitar, bass, and keyboards and providing backing vocals.
You Can Do Magic was the first single from the album and climbed to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This made it America’s first Top 40 hit since 1976 and reestablished them as a popular band after several years of fading popularity.
With the success of You Can Do Magic, America asked Russ Ballard to produce their entire next album, 1983’s Your Move. This time, Ballard probably had too much control for their tastes, as he wrote most of the songs, played most of the instruments, and generally took control of the entire project. America’s Gerry Beckley explains, “We thought we were involved in the process, but [when] we got over to London [Ballard] had cut a lot of the songs that we had nixed, and it became apparent that it was going to be a kind of 75/25 thing, where most of the songs were going to be his. So we were very removed from this album. We did our best to sing these songs as good as we could, but even on the songs we wrote, he basically played all the instruments.” While a Ballard-penned song from that album, The Border, went to #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, America used different producers and songwriters for subsequent albums.
Friday song of the day: Like yesterday’s song, today’s song was written by Russ Ballard.
In 1969 keyboardist Rod Argent, a former member of The Zombies, formed the band Argent. Among the members was guitarist and singer Russ Ballard. Although it was Argent’s band, he sang lead on only about half of the songs, with Ballard singing lead on the other half. Ballard also wrote some of the songs, including three of the ten songs on their self-titled debut album.
Released in 1970, Argent did not sell very well. The first single off the album was the Ballard song Liar, which told the familiar story of an unfaithful lover. The single did not chart.
It did, however, get the attention of Three Dog Night, a band that specialized in recording cover versions of overlooked songs by other artists. They were phenomenally successful in doing this. In part because they were a cover band and didn’t write original material, Three Dog Night is not as revered today as some of their contemporaries, but nonetheless was one of the biggest acts of the early 1970s. From 1969 to 1976, the band had 21 consecutive Top 40 hits, including three #1 songs, Mama Told Me Not to Come in 1970, Joy to the World in 1971, and Black and White in 1972.
The band recorded a version of Argent’s Liar on their 1971 album Naturally, and it was the follow-up single to Joy to the World. While not a monster hit like its predecessor, Liar sold very well, reaching #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
As for Argent, they finally had a hit in 1972, with the #5 Hold Your Head Up (which incidentally was Song of the Day on February 28th, 2020, here: Hold Your Head Up – Argent ) Russ Ballard sang lead on Hold Your Head Up, but did not write the song. In total, that makes five songs of the day that Russ Ballard has either sung, written, or both: Todays Liar, yesterday’s You Can Do Magic ( You Can Do Magic – America ), New York Groove on March 1st, 2020 ( New York Groove – Hello ), and I Know There’s Something Going On on August 3rd, 2020 ( I Know There’s Something Going On – Frida ). Not a bad career for someone most people have never heard of.