Category Archives: Beatles

Today’s Top 5: September 17, 1968

In some ways, life is akin to a flag unfurled on a windy day – though you pretty much know what to expect, you’re still surprised by the never-ending eruptions of ripples from the fabric. First one appears, then another, and then two more, each of a different size and in a different spot before they’re replaced, one by one or sometimes en masse, by a new series of ripples. The changes occur not just second to second, but millisecond to millisecond. No two ripples, it seems, ever appear twice.

The future has yet to be written. That’s what we tell ourselves. Fate and destiny are things of fantasy novels, movies and TV, not real life. “Into every generation a slayer is born…,” indeed.

Except that flag rippling in the breeze is not as unpredictable as it appears. Over the course of a day, no, the same two ripples may not appear. But over the course of a week, month or year? A decade? If x equals wind strength and y equals wind direction, and z is the location of the first ripple, then the where and when of every ripple that follows can be calculated. Patterns can be discerned and actions predicted.

It’s not rocket science, just math.

And though my metaphor may not be spot on, this cannot be disputed: the outrages of the present are not as new as we sometimes think. They’re ripples on a flag fluttering in the wind, yes, but at times they overlay on the ripples of yore.

1968, by any and all calculations, was a bad year. The Summer of Love in 1967 gave way to a Winter of Discontent, and was followed by a spring, summer and fall filled with racial strife and political animus. On March 31st, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek, nor would he accept, the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. On April 4th, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On June 5th, Bobby Kennedy was killed. And more than a thousand American men died every month that year in the Vietnam War.

The tumult was on full display at that year’s Democratic National Convention in late August. The whole world watched while the Party nominated the establishment’s pick – Vice President Hubert Humphrey – and the Chicago police bashed anti-war protestors.

That fall, Humphrey – a good man, though flawed candidate – squared off against Republican Richard Nixon, who was tied not to any particular philosophy, save one: winning. He claimed to have a “secret” plan to end the war; promised a new emphasis on “law and order”; and, fearful of an October surprise, engaged in treasonous trickery by dispatching an emissary to convince the South Vietnamese to walk away from the Paris Peace Talks. He promised that, if he won, they’d get a better deal. (That “better deal,” it should be noted, failed to materialize after Nixon’s inauguration in January 1969.) Meanwhile, the current commander in chief – who was aware of the chicanery due to the emissary popping up on intelligence intercepts, considered going public with the information, but feared his lack of “absolute” proof would cause more harm than good.

Some will say that the proof still isn’t there, of course, despite H.R. Haldeman’s contemporaneous notes, Tom Charles Huston’s oral history and other well-sourced accounts. (The speculation that it eventually led to the Watergate break-in, however, remains just that.)

Nixon’s first year in office, of course, was accented by protests, paranoia and breaks with orthodoxy; he cared less about details and more about his image, and with getting even with those he believed had wronged him.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, enough of my deep-dive into the parallels between the politics of yesteryear and today, and onward to today’s Top 5: September 17, 1968 (courtesy of the charts over at Weekly Top 40, though the chart in question is actually for the week of Sept. 14th.)

1) The Rascals – “People Got to Be Free.” Clocking in at No. 1 for the fifth week in a row, this upbeat call for peace and lovin’ didn’t sit well with Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, at least initially. According to The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, he feared its topical message would harm the group’s career. Felix Cavaliere fought him on it and, obviously, won. (And the four million copies the single sold, I’m sure, soothed Wexler’s fears.)

2) Jeannie C. Riley – “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Written by Tom T. Hall, this unlikely hit about narrow-minded hypocrites is the week’s No. 2 song; and it would reach the top spot the following week. It sold more than six million copies and set history, becoming the first song by a female artist to top both the pop and country charts; and earned Riley Grammy and CMA awards.

3) Jose Feliciano – “Light My Fire.” Who would have imagined that a flamenco-easy listening rendition of the Doors song could be a hit? Feliciano and producer Rick Jarrard, that’s who! Although his breakthrough hit in the U.S., by this point Feliciano had established himself in Latin America and Great Britain, where he guested on Dusty Springfield’s TV variety series, and had already earned a reputation as a great guitarist. Or so I’ve read. This week marks its third – and last – week in the No. 3 slot.

4) Steppenwolf – “Born to Be Wild.” Yes, there was a time when this song didn’t sound like a well-worn cliche (and I say that as someone who bought Steppenwolf’s Greatest Hits as a kid and saw Easy Rider – on cable, granted – more times than I can count.) It falls from No. 2 to 4 this week.

5) 1910 Fruitgum Company – “1, 2, 3, Red Light.” This bubblegum concoction, which I’d never heard before just now, clocks in at No. 5, its highest position on the charts.

And two bonuses…

6) Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – “You’re All I Need to Get By.” The classic love song from Marvin and Tammi rises a spot, from 8 to 7.

7) The Beatles – “Hey Jude.” Making its chart debut at No. 10 is this pop classic from the Fab Four.

Advertisements

Today’s Top 5: 50 Years Ago Today (4/2/1967)

Fifty years ago today the fabled Summer of Love was still months away, but make no mistake: Life was groovy. Unemployment clocked in at 3.8 percent; inflation at just under three percent; and the median income per household was $7200 ($52,513 in 2017 dollars, or about $6K less than it is now). The average house cost homebuyers $14,250 ($104K in 2017 dollars, which is about $80K less than the present average). Gas cost 33 cents a gallon.

Lyndon B. Johnson was president; and, although his approval ratings weren’t super high, common wisdom held that he’d run for re-election in 1968 and win. What few foresaw: that the opposition to the Vietnam War, which at this stage was supported by most Americans, would grow as more and more soldiers were sent to fight in Southeast Asia and more and more died. As a result, almost a year later to the day – March 31st, 1968, to be specific – LBJ announced that he would not seek, nor would he accept, the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

At the local cinemas, Thoroughly Modern Millie and In Like Flint were attracting eyeballs; and, on TV, The Andy Griffith Show and Bonanza were tied at the top of the TV ratings chart, followed by The Red Skelton Hour, Dean Martin Show and Lucy Show. On the nightstand: Elia Kazan’s The Arrangement, a novel about a Greek-American WWII veteran who has a nervous breakdown and Ira Levin’s Rosemary Baby, which inspired the classic movie.

The hippie scene was beginning to flower, too.

The generation of teenagers featured in Newsweek the year before was another year older, after all – and, if we believe the popular press, pushing even more boundaries than before. (See the above report.) And while that was true, to an extent, another generation of kids was leading a much more traditional life.

Valerie S. of South Pasadena, for instance, was all of 13 and change on this Sunday. She woke late – 10:30am! – as she did most weekends, ate breakfast, read the comics in the Sunday paper and, along with her brother, picked up fallen oranges from the backyard. She and her family then spent the afternoon and evening with friends, where they had dinner and played games. All in all, it was a good day. Her father even mowed then lawn! (Side note: It’s amazing what one can find on Ebay.)

Anyway, enough of my lead-in – onward to today’s Top 5: 50 Years Ago Today (4/2/1967) via my favorite chart site, Weekly Top 40. One note: the chart actually ended the day before.

1) The Turtles – “Happy Together.” Holding at No. 1 for the second week in a row is this feel-good song that’s never gotten old.

2) The Mamas and the Papas – “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Holding strong at No. 2, also for a second week in a row, is this cover of the classic Shirelles song.

3) The Beatles – “Penny Lane.” The Fabs have two songs in the Top 10: This at No. 3 and its flip side, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” at No. 8.

4) Petula Clark – “This Is My Song.” The No. 6 song this week was penned by Charlie Chaplin (yes, that Charlie Chaplin), who gave it to Petula to sing. It went on to top the charts in the U.K. and hit No. 3 in the U.S. She’s since said it’s one of the least-favorite of her hits.

5) Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound).” The first Buffalo Springfield single, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” in 1966, went nowhere fast, as did its album home, the Springfield’s self-titled debut. Then the infamous Sunset Strip riots in L.A. inspired Stephen Stills to write this song, which went onto hit No. 7 in the charts – exactly where it is this week. (The track was then added to their album, fueling its rise into the Top 100, where it peaked at No. 80.)

And four bonuses:

6) Harpers Bizarre – “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” The No. 13 song is this, the first single from this odd duck of a group. One of its members, Ted Templeton, would go onto become a major music producer. Among his credits: the Doobie Brothers’ self-titled debut; Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and Saint Dominic’s Preview; and six albums by Van Halen.

7) Aretha Franklin – “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” The No. 14 song is this, Aretha’s first big hit.

8) Martha and the Vandellas – “Jimmy Mack.” There’s so much good music on this week’s chart that it’s kind of ridiculous. This is No. 18.

9) Arthur Conley – “Sweet Soul Music.” Jumping from No. 45 to 30: This classic homage to soul music, which was written by Conley and Otis Redding and based on Sam Cooke’s “Yeah Man.”

Today’s Top 5: The Beatles! (via The 910’s January/February 1992 Issue)

Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news: The Internet changed everything.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: That ain’t exactly new. And neither’s the main focus of today’s post, bootlegs, which I’ve written about before. (See here and here.) But for any young ‘un who’s stumbled across this blog, or folks who never caught the collecting bug, understand this: There was a time in the not-so-distant past when fans clamoring for more, more, more from their favorite artists skulked through the aisles at record fairs and independent stores in search of unofficial releases – aka bootlegs, which ranged from studio scraps (alternate versions and unreleased songs) to concert recordings – and official, but non-commercial product, such as the King Biscuit Flower Hour live shows distributed on LP or CD to radio stations.

I imagine some, in fact, still do. Plenty of others, however, turn to YouTube, Facebook groups and email lists (are they still a thing?) and trade amongst themselves via whatever free bulk-download site is the flavor of the month. Back in the day, though, pursuing one’s passion meant shelling out bucks. Some fans purchased everything. The rest of us? After I bought a two-CD bootleg of a Bruce Springsteen concert that sounded like the microphone had been placed in a puddle of mud, I did my due diligence the best that I could. That meant asking store clerks to pop a CD into the in-house stereo system so I could check the sound – and, too, reading as much as I could about underground releases.

Helping to separate the wheat from the chaff: newsletters such as ICE, which delved into legitimate releases but also featured a “Going Underground” column; and such fanzines as the Beatle-obsessive 910, Neil Young-centric Broken Arrow and Springsteen-oriented Backstreets. There were plenty of other fanzines focused on other artists and specific genres, too, and many could be purchased at independent record stores – as well as Tower Records and Books.

The 910, today’s example, was and still is focused on all things Beatles. The brainchild of Doug Sulpy, it began life as the Illegal Beatles ‘zine (which I also used to buy) in the 1980s before morphing into the 910, so named as a play on “One After 909.” The difference between the two? The 910 had a wider lens on its scope and included articles on and reviews of legitimate releases in addition to bootlegs. (Sulpy, I should mention, cowrote one of the best books about the Fabs, Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles’ Let It Be Disaster.) The 910 also looked nicer. Much nicer.

This edition, which is dated January/February 1992, is a bonanza of insights and news. As the cover and contents page show, it delves deep into a recent crop of Beatle bootlegs; reviews legitimate fare; explores “lost” footage from the Yellow Submarine movie; and chronicles the history of the song “One After 909,” which the Fabs first recorded while still named the Quarrymen in 1960.

1) The Beatles – “Twist and Shout.” A review of the 1990 The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit documentary about the Fabs’ maiden visit to America explains that the film features footage from the Maysles brothers’ 1964 What’s Happening: The Beatles in the USA TV doc combined with the Beatles’ 1964 Ed Sullivan Show performances and Washington Coliseum concert. Although Sulpy has some quibbles with the finished product, he concludes with: “Apple is to be congratulated for assembling and releasing such a marvelously edited and fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the group’s first U.S. tour, and even if completists moan about missing footage, from an artistic standpoint Apple has done it right.”

2) The Beatles – “Hey Bulldog.” So, apparently, the original U.S. print of Yellow Submarine omitted a scene of the animated Fabs set to this under-appreciated John Lennon song. Penned by Steve Shorten, the article explores the whys and wherefores of the cut sequence, and posits that it was initially excised from the finished film for reasons of time. “Because the entire sequence involved plot elements completely tangential to the main plot,” it could be easily chopped without anyone arching an eyebrow. It was likely added to the U.K. print, he surmises, after someone associated with the Beatles noticed that the song was missing from the movie. (The 1999 re-release of the film on DVD, for what it’s worth, features the sequence, so it’s no longer “lost.” For what that’s worth.)

3) The Beatles – “One After 909.” Although released on Let It Be in 1970, “One After 909” is actually one of the earliest of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting efforts, dating to 1957. In the article, Alan Pollack chronicles its known history, which includes the 1960 Quarrymen demos, 1962 Cavern Club rehearsals (which this clip is from), 1963 EMI recordings and numerous renditions from the 1969 “Get Back” sessions.

In a sense, the song was one of few remnants of the raison d’etre for the Let It Be/”Get Back” project, which began as a way for the Beatles (at Paul’s urging) to return to their roots. It’s why so many of the out-takes from the sessions are ramshackle run-throughs of oldies.

4) The Beatles – “She’s a Woman, Take 2.” Steve Shorten reviews Unsurpassed Masters Volume 6 and Volume 7. “Yellow Dog’s releases have proved themselves in the past to be just about the only bootleg CDs worth buying,” he says up top, before summarizing that both volumes are “worthy additions to your CD shelf.”

I have these two bootlegs, actually, purchased not because of this review but because I had (and still have, somewhere) the first five volumes in the series. But, truth be told? The series had run out of steam by this point due to a dearth of interesting out-takes. (There’s only so many alternate versions of any song one needs to hear, in other words.)

5) The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Nothing but Aging from Vigotone Records collects rarities featured on the Lost Lennon Tapes radio series as well as tracks bootlegged elsewhere. I never owned it, as it’s an LP (and by the early ‘90s I was only buying CDs) so don’t know if the “Strawberry Fields Forever” on it is the same as this clip I found on YouTube. But the YouTube clip reminds me of the very first Beatles bootleg I purchased – at the now-defunct City Lights Records in State College, Pa., in the mid ‘80s. Side 2 of that LP featured a string of cuts that tracked the development of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and… well, wow!