Wednesday song of the day: Today’s song was recorded by a group of studio musicians, with an actual band not recruited until after the song was already a hit.
English songwriter Geoff Stephens was a fan of songs from the music hall era of British entertainment of the 1920s and 1930s (which was similar to the American vaudeville music of the same timeframe). Inspired by this older style, he wrote a song called Winchester Cathedral that harkened back to those days. The song revolved around a man mourning after his girl left him, but its most memorable element was the musical and singing style, which sounded out of place in the mid-1960s.
Stephens gathered some studio musicians to record the song under the name of The New Vaudeville Band, with John Carter singing in the style of Rudy Vallee. The record was released in October 1966 and rose to #4 in the United Kingdom. In the United States, its novelty paid off even better, with Winchester Cathedral going all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
After the song started climbing the charts, Stephens formed an actual band to promote the song on television and in live performances. John Carter declined an offer to be the singer, and only the drummer from the original studio assemblage was used in the group recruited to become The New Vaudeville Band. This band went on to have a couple more hits in the UK, but never again cracked the Top 40 in the United States.
Thursday song of the day: Some consider today’s song to be the first rock and roll record.
Singer and songwriter Roy Brown wrote a song in 1947 that he titled Good Rockin’ Tonight. At first, he offered it to Wynonie Harris, but Harris declined and Brown ended up recording the original version himself. (Harris later changed his mind and recorded a cover in 1948, which charted at #1 on the R&B chart – or “Race Records” as the chart was called at the time.)
Brown’s original version went to #13 on the Race Records chart. Some people consider this (or the wilder Wynonie Harris 1948 version) as the first rock and roll record. Personally, I would consider it more of a precursor to rock and roll and think 1951’s Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and His Dixie Cats has a stronger claim as the first rock and roll record. In 1949 Brown released s different version titled Rockin’ at Midnight. He called it a sequel, and some of the lyrics were different, but overall it was very similar. This record did better for him, reaching #2 on the R&B chart.
Good Rockin’ Tonight (and Rockin’ at Midnight) were covered by numerous artists over the years. Most famously, Elvis Presley released a cover of Good Rockin’ Tonight in 1954. It was the second single of his career and did not chart, but later sales once Elvis was an established star pushed sales well over 500,000 copies, allowing it to be certified as a Gold record. In 1984, The Honeydrippers – Robert Plant’s post-Led Zeppelin band – released Good Rockin’ at Midnight, which sort of combined the two songs. This version made it to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Friday song of the day: The opening of today’s song was inspired by an anti-drug pamphlet.
The Ides of March was a band from the Chicago area that formed in the mid-1960s. They released a few singles in 1966 through 1968, but never had more than minor hits. Their big break came in 1970 when they were signed to Warner Brothers Records. Their first single for Warner was Vehicle, a song about a guy who (figuratively and literally) offers to take a girl anywhere. Musically, the song made heavy use of a horn section, and reminded listeners of either Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears, two popular bands of the time.
The first line was originally going to be “I got a set of wheels pretty baby, won’t you hop inside my car?” but then singer and guitarist Jim Peterik saw an anti-drug pamphlet that told how pushers lured children into getting hooked on drugs by offering them rides, and he changed the song’s beginning to something a bit more creepy. While the song isn’t about luring children into drugs or anything else, Peterik liked the mixed message. As he later told it, “To me, the dichotomy is kind of cool. To me, the first line is the most important of all. The original line had nothing going for it. It had no scansion, it had no rhythm to it. When I came across, ‘I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan, won’t you hop inside my car,’ all other concerns went out the window. At age 18 when I wrote the song, I wasn’t thinking about coherency of the song or if one half fit the other half. I was just glad I was writing, just glad I had a song to play live.”
The single was released in mid-March 1970 (probably intentionally timed for the Ides of March, given the band’s name) and Vehicle proved to be a hit, eventually rising to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Ides of March quickly released an album of the same title to go along with their hit single. The band released three more albums before going on a long hiatus in 1973, but never had another hit single. While The Ides of March was broken up (they reformed in 1990), Jim Peterik was a founding member of the group Survivor, and co-wrote several Top Ten hits for the band, including the #1 Eye of the Tiger from the Rocky III soundtrack.
Saturday song of the day: Today’s song was meant for the singers’ previous band, but it broke up before they could record it.
Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger (real name Roger Charlery) were members of The Beat, which was called The English Beat in the United States to avoid confusion with an American band already known as The Beat. When The English Beat broke up in 1983, Wakeling and Roger formed a new band, General Public. Besides the two singers, General Public also included musicians who had previously been in Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Specials, and The Clash.
When putting together songs for their first album, General Public included Tenderness, a song that Wakeling had written during his time with The English Beat. As he later explained, they had planned to record it, but the band was clearly dissolving, and they just never got around to it. “We tried to get rehearsals set, and it was one of the reasons that we knew that The Beat had really come to its end. Where I was before, everything had gone very smoothly and magically without even trying. It was now almost nigh impossible to get rehearsals together. Somebody would have something to do in the morning, so they couldn’t be there until 2, and somebody else has go to leave at 2:30 because they’ve got a meeting to go at 3, and they couldn’t do Thursday, what about next week? And on and on and on. And it was hard for us to get anything done. I think we managed two rehearsals, perhaps, for that third album.”
While Wakeling was the initial creator of the song, Ranking Roger and former Dexy’s Midnight Runners keyboardist and new member of General Public Mickey Billingham helped in the arrangement of Tenderness as they were preparing it for recording, so they shared songwriting credit. The first General Public album, All the Rage, was released in late January 1984. Tenderness was the second single from the album. Surprisingly it sold much better in the United States than in the band’s native England. Tenderness attained a rank of only #95 on the UK singles chart, but managed to rise to #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. That was the band’s only Top 40 hit in the United States until 1994, when General Public’s cover of the Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There [which was Song of the Day on October 9th, 2020 here: I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers ] that they recorded for the soundtrack of the film Threesome charted at #22 on the Hot 100.
Sunday song of the day: No, today’s song is not by Madonna.
Elizabeth Ann Gutman is better known by her stage name E.G. Daily, or sometimes Elizabeth Daily. She has had a varied career, acting in televisions and films, including playing Dottie in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and as a voiceover actress providing the voice of Tommy Pickles in Rugrats, Babe the pig in Babe: Pig in the City, and Buttercup in The Powerpuff Girls, among many other projects
In the mid-1980s she launched a singing career, doing the same type of pop music that made Madonna famous. Her first album was 1986’s Wild Child, and the first single from the album was Say It, Say It. The single sounded very much like something Madonna would have released early in her career. This should come as no surprise, since Daily wrote the song with Toni C and longtime Madonna collaborator Stephen Bray, who co-wrote several Madonna hits, including Into the Groove, True Blue, Express Yourself, and Causing a Commotion. Additionally, Say It, Say It was produced by Jellybean Benitez, Madonna’s former boyfriend who had produced several of her early hits, including Holiday, Crazy for You, and Borderline.
When Say It, Say It was released, it did very swell in dance clubs, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and #4 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music Sales chart. Outside of the clubs, it didn’t fare as well with a mainstream audience, reaching only #70 on the overall Billboard Hot 100 chart, despite a video parodying the movie Lolita.
These days E.G. Daily is known mostly for her voiceover work in various cartoons and videogames, but she has intermittently continued her musical career, releasing three more albums and several singles, although none have cracked the Hot 100 since Say It, Say It.
Monday song of the day: Today’s song was not released as a single in the United States because of a legal dispute with the record label.
In 1979, disco was still a major force in the music industry (although it had just started the decline which would continue into the early 1980s) and Donna Summer was a big star. She had had several hits in the mid to late 1970s, including four #1 records. Summer had been with Casablanca Records from 1975 to 1979, releasing six albums of mostly disco music, but the year after releasing the double album Bad Girls in 1979, she decided to leave the label and sign with Geffen Records. At Geffen she planned to change her sound and record more in a rock/pop flavor instead of disco.
Summer also felt that Casablanca had mismanaged her career and sued the label to regain publishing rights to her songs. Since Summer would not be recording any new product for them, Casablanca decided to squeeze another single out of the Bad Girls album. That single was Sunset People, a song about celebrities enjoying the nightlife in the trendy Sunset Boulevard area of Los Angeles.
The single was released in July 1980 in markets other than North America. The ongoing lawsuit prevented the label from releasing the single in the United States and Canada. It was only a minor hit in Europe, placing at #46 on the UK singles chart. E.G. Daily, who sang yesterday’s song, Say It, Say It, recorded a cover version of Sunset People for her debut album Wild Child in 1985.
Eventually the lawsuit returned the publishing rights to her Casablanca songs to Donna Summer, although the settlement gave her none of the $10 million in damages that she had claimed. Summer continued her recording career until her death from lung cancer in 2012, scoring numerous mainstream hits in the 1980s and several dance hits in the 1990s and 2000s.
Tuesday song of the day: The artist claims that he wrote today’s song while he was half asleep.
For a while in the late 1980s, Terrence Trent D’Arby was touted as the next big thing. Born Terrence Trent Howard, he adopted the stage name Terrence Trent D’Arby when he began his music career. D’Arby released his debut album, Introducing the Hardline according to Terrence Trent D’Arby in July 1987, and the first single placed only at #68 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was a hit in England at #7 on the UK singles chart. The second single broke through in the United States, however.
Wishing Well was a love song using surreal images that D’Arby claimed to have written “when I was in a half-asleep, half-awake state of mind.” The song slowly climbed the charts, eventually reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 after seventeen weeks. Introducing the Hardline According to Terrence Trent D’Arby received critical acclaim and another single from the album, Sign Your Name, made it to #4 on the Hot 100. In the end, the album went double Platinum. D’Arby was nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy.
Unfortunately, the 1989 follow up album, Neither Fish nor Flesh, was a disappointment, with neither of the two singles from that album charting. D’Arby continued to be popular in the UK and parts of Europe for the next few years, but never again had a U.S. hit. In 2001, he changed his name again, legally becoming Sananda Francesco Maitreya. He continues to perform, with his most recent album released in 2017.
In the film Purple Rain, Prince and The Revolution had a rivalry with another Minneapolis band, The Time. The Time (later known as Morris Day and The Time) was a real-life band, but were not rivals of Prince. Instead, he helped form the band. A clause in his Warner Brothers record contract gave Prince the authority to create a band and produce them for the label. He did this in 1981 by recruiting members of the local band Flyte Tyme and adding three additional musicians, Jesse Johnson, Jerome Benton, and lead singer Morris Day, who was a high school friend and former bandmate of Prince.
The Time recorded albums in 1981 and 1982, which did not sell all that well, and placed two singles in the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. In 1984, after a few personnel changes, they recorded their third album, Ice Cream Castle, and also appeared in Purple Rain, performing two songs from their new album. One of these was Jungle Love, a song in which the singer told a woman he had picked up how much of a bad boy he was. The song was written by Morris Day and Jesse Johnson, with the help of Jamie Starr (a pseudonym Prince often used). Prince also produced the record, billed as “The Starr Company.”
Aided by a catchy tune and the band’s appearance in the film, Jungle Love was a hit, placing at #20 on the Hot 100, becoming The Time’s most recognizable song.
Thursday song of the day: Today’s song was recorded at the very last minute.
Steve Miller was working on the album Book of Dreams in 1976 and had asked his band’s bass player Lonnie Turner if he had any songs that he might want to record for the album. He had asked Turner earlier in the process, then on the final legs of mixing the album he reminded Turner again. As Miller tells the story, ““I called Lonnie, and I said, ‘Lonnie, I’m mixing this album next Tuesday – if you don’t have your songs in they will not be considered. I’m telling you now.’ … And then, I’m finishing mixing and Lonnie walks in, says, ‘Oh, I got this little tape; I thought you might like to hear it.’ I went, ‘Lonnie, in seven minutes the album is done and I’m going on vacation… Alright, let’s hear it.’”
The song ended up being Jungle Love, which Turner had written earlier with Greg Douglass. It was originally intended for Dave Mason, but that fell through. Steve Miller liked what he heard on the demo and decided to record the song right away. The session went so fast that Miller later claimed that he was able to “Cut the song, sang it and mixed it in 45 minutes, and it went on the record.”
Jungle Love was the second single from the triple Platinum Book of Dreams album. The first, Jet Airliner, was a big hit at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The third, Swingtown, did slightly less well at #17. Jungle Love was the lowest ranking of the three, but still placed a very respectable #23 on the Hot 100.
Friday song of the day: Nobody knows for sure who wrote today’s song.
The other day, news reports told of a drug from Ely Lilly that was set to enter testing for use against COVID-19. The drug’s name is Bamlanivimab, which prompted numerous people to say that the name reminded them of the “Bam-a-lam” refrain in the song Black Betty, best known as a hit record by the band Ram Jam in 1977.
The song Black Betty has a long and murky history. While it is often credited to Huddie Ledbetter – better known as “Lead Belly” – most agree that the song predates him. Lead Belly recorded his version in 1939, as part of a medley with Looky Looky Yonder and Yellow Women’s Door Bells. Like many songs that Ledbetter recorded, these are believed to be older traditional songs. As a matter of fact, ethnomusicologists John and Alan Lomax recorded convict James “Iron Head” Baker singing the song at Central State Prison Farm in Sugar Land, Texas in 1933, six years before the Lead Belly recording. Lead Belly had been in and out of prisons for much of his life, including a stint in Sugar Land from 1918 to 1925, so odds are good that both he and Baker learned the song in the same way, namely through oral tradition with the song passed down from person to person over the years.
There are several theories about the early meaning of the song, with some claiming it originated as a British marching song and that Black Betty referred to a flintlock musket. Other theories claim it came from the days of slavery, with Black Betty identified either as a whip, or a carriage for prisoners. Some felt the song simply referred to a prostitute. Regardless, by the time Iron Head Baker and Huddie Ledbetter sang it, Black Betty referred to a woman. Most later versions owe their genesis to having heard either the Lead Belly recording, or later recordings that were influenced by Lead Belly.
In 1968, Manfred Mann recorded a cover version with the title Big Betty, which took the woman’s race out of the description. It was included on an EP, but not released as a single. A few years later, his new band, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, recorded another version using the song’s original title of Black Betty for airplay over England’s BBC radio network, with the song not being released on record.
Guitarist Bill Bartlett apparently heard Big Betty, and he recorded a version of Black Betty with his band Starstruck that was influenced by the Manfred Mann recording. The Starstruck record was released in 1975 by the band’s own TruckStar label. As a self-released single, it sold poorly and did not chart.
Two years later, Bartlett formed another band that he called Ram Jam, with the band signed to Epic Records. One of the songs on Ram Jam’s first album was Black Betty, with the song created by editing and remixing the earlier Starstruck record, taking out some of the more flowery instrumental breaks and making it a more straightforward rock song. This time the song hit, placing at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
It is highly likely that Black Betty would have placed even higher on the charts, but even in 1977 a song about a black woman who is “always ready” and “shaking that thing” created some controversy. The NAACP and The Congress of Racial Equality felt that the song was demeaning to black women and called for radio stations to boycott the record. Some stations did refuse to play it, particularly in New York City and other large markets.
While a handful of versions preceded the Ram Jam recording of Black Betty, that record sealed its place in popular culture, and over thirty new covers have been released since 1977. These include versions by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Tom Jones, Meat Loaf, and Australian band Spiderbait, who had a #1 hit with it in their home country in 2004.
Saturday song of the day: The singer’s husband adviser against her recording today’s song.
In 1967, country-rock singer and songwriter Joe South wrote a song about how life can be difficult. He called the song Rose Garden, and the first recorded version was released by Billy Joe Royal in November 1967 on his album Billy Joe Royal featuring Hush. He used the title I Never Promised You a Rose Garden for his rendition, which remained an album cut and was never released as a single. Most later cover versions used the simple title Rose Garden, but a few used a variation of the longer title: (I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden.
After Royal released the original recorded version, both Dobie Gray and the song’s writer Joe South released covers, South in November 1968 on his album Introspect, and Gray in April 1969 as a single.
None of these cracked the Hot 100, two because they were not singles, and one because it was mostly ignored. Then country singer Lynn Anderson recorded her version in 1970. Her husband Glenn Sutton, who was also her record producer, argued against the song, Anderson later said, “Glenn told me that I could not record the song because it was not a girl’s song — that the song had some lines in it that a girl just would not sing! Like the line ‘I could promise you things like big diamond rings’ that a girl would not sing.” She convinced him, though, and during the recording session Columbia Records president Clive Davis happened to stop by the studio, and upon hearing Rose Garden, said that he was sure it would be a hit single. He was right. After it was released in October 1970, it climbed to the #1 position on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, #5 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and #3 on the overall Billboard Hot 100. While it didn’t reach the top spot on the Hot 100, it was #1 in numerous other countries, and ended up helping Anderson’s album of the same name go Platinum. The record also won Anderson a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Since 1970, Rose Garden has been covered about 140 times, by artists including Johnny Mathis, Lorretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, k.d. lang, and even Morrissey.
Sunday song of the day: Today’s song began as a poem written a few years before it was set to music.
In April 1971 the Doors released their last album before Jim Morrison’s death. Three months later he died in Paris – officially of heart failure, but reportedly of a heroin overdose. The album, LA Woman, included two hit singles, the #11 Love Her Madly and the #14 Riders on the Storm.
The song we are concerned with, however, is a bit too strange to have been released as a single, so it remained just another album cut. Titled The WASP (Texas Radio & The Big Beat), it’s hard to pin down just exactly what the song is about – if it is “about” anything. The song began as a poem by Morrison, and was included in one of the band’s souvenir books in 1968. The title refers to the radio stations that operated out of border towns in Mexico that broadcast music into the United States, free from US regulations on wattage that would have limited the range of the signals. While there are references to radio and music, the lyrics also include bizarre images that have nothing to do with the topic. The poem was set to music and thus is technically a song, but Morrison’s performance was more spoken word than sung, with the vocals double tracked to increase their impact. A lot of people think Morrison’s poetry is deep and meaningful, but personally, I find it obtuse and pretentious. Regardless, while The WASP (Texas Radio & The Big Beat) had no place as a single, occasional airplay on classic rock radio has kept it familiar to fans of the Doors.
Monday song of the day: Today’s song was personally financed by a singer who hadn’t had a hit in a while.
From 1968 through 1970, Canadian singer and songwriter Andy Kim had five Top 40 hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, including the #9 Baby, I Love You in 1969. After that, his career cooled off and he had no hits in 1971-1973. In 1973, he was dropped by his record label.
Instead of giving up, he started his own label, Ice Records, and financed his own recording session. The song he recorded was Rock Me Gently, a pop love song. He could afford to record only two songs, but instead of recording something entirely different, he decided to make the B-side of the record an instrumental version of the same song, called Rock Me Gently Part II. He took the tapes to Capitol Records, and executives there thought the song had potential. They signed him to a deal, which included releasing the existing single and recording a full album.
The single was released in June 1974 and proved to be a hit. After fourteen weeks of climbing the charts, it reached #1 on the Hot 100. He had one more hit in 1974, the #28 Fire, Baby I’m on Fire from the Andy Kim album that the Capital deal allowed him to record. Since then, he has never broken the Hot 100 again, despite preforming well into the 2010s. In the 1990s he adopted the stage name Baron Longfellow, and later just Longfellow, but after several years reverted back to using Andy Kim.