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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: The Girl Can’t Help It

In memory of the great Little Richard, we present this chapter from my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). The chapter was previously shared with my paid patrons on August 1st of 2019. This is its first public appearance.

LITTLE RICHARD: The Girl Can’t Help It
Written by Bobby Troup
Produced by Bumps Blackwell
Single, Specialty Records, 1956

Rock ‘n’ roll and the movies have been joined in hot connubial bliss ever since the 1955 release of The Blackboard Jungle catapulted Bill Haley & his Comets to sudden, unexpected stardom by using the group’s then-obscure B-side track “Rock Around The Clock” as a musical shorthand for teen rebellion. “Rock Around The Clock” went one-two-three o’clock-four o’clock-ROCK! to # 1, seemingly out of nowhere, establishing the starting point for what Billboard would eventually refer to as The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era. As Buck Owens would later note, the movies could make you a big star.

In 1956, The Girl Can’t Help It became the first great rock ‘n’ roll movie, and it’s still one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll movies of all time. It has comedy and chops far beyond the reach of any quickie jukebox flick, sex appeal courtesy of the gorgeous bombshell Jayne Mansfield, and a steady barrage of rock ‘n’ roll luminaries (Eddie CochranFats DominoGene freakin’ VincentThe PlattersJulie London…?!). It’s highlighted by simply incandescent turns by the right Reverend Richard Penniman, the one and only Little Richard. The sight of Little Richard belting out the title tune during the film’s opening sequence is nothing short of rock ‘n’ roll history boppin’ on before your very eyes (and tappin’ feet).
ElStranded in this conservative, straight-laced world of the 1950s, Little Richard was The Georgia Peach, a wild and effeminate black man, flamboyant, a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. His performances were electrifying, pounding, an irresistible symphony of WOOOOO! A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom. In the late ’50s, only Jerry Lee Lewis could match the sheer fervor of Little Richard. Little Richard was as bright a star as this dull world had ever seen.

And he was certain that he was going to Hell.

Richard was raised by the Gospel, a believer in The Good Book and its spiritual music. The God that made him made him different. He liked flash. He liked attention. He was drawn to sing what would be called The Devil’s Music. And he was drawn to other men. Salvation. Sin. This was the tug of war that would play out in his consciousness, his conscience: a gay rock ‘n’ roll star who believed in the promise of a Heaven for the righteous, but who knew (or thought he knew) that who he was and what he did would condemn him to the pits for all eternity.

He did it anyway. The boy couldn’t help it. Damned. Torpedoed. Full speed ahead.

The dichotomy of Little Richard’s raucous hedonism and his belief in a wrathful God simmered tensely in a string of records that helped define the best of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. With showmanship patterned after equally-flamboyant predecessor Esquerita and talent bestowed upon him by a deity perhaps more understanding than Richard would have hoped, Little Richard’s records burned with passion and verve. “Tutti Frutti.” “Long Tall Sally.” “Slippin’ And Slidin’.” “Rip It Up.” “Ready Teddy.” “Lucille.” “Jenny, Jenny.” “Keep A-Knockin’.” “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Boogie-woogie as rock ‘n’ roll, all released within a magic, manic burst of sweat from 1955 to 1959. As a new decade dawned, Little Richard had already repented. He cast aside the sound of Lucifer, renounced who he was and whom he loved, though both would continue to tug at him. He could never be just a God-fearing man. He was legend. He still is, and forever will he remain. Can’t help it.

In the opening of the film The Girl Can’t Help It, Little Richard embodies both the threat and the liberation of rock ‘n’ roll with greater potency than any other performer could have, including Jerry Lee Lewis, including even Elvis, including any subsequent Johnny Rotten-come-lately. Won’t you kindly be aware: The Georgia Peach had a lot of what they call The Most. It wasn’t a curse, and it wasn’t sacrilege. It was a blessing from a benevolent God who wants us to sing, and wants us to love. The Devil has no music to call his own; music comes from Heaven, no matter how earthly or earthy its expression. Can I get an amen?  

WOOOO…! 

Same thing, really. Rest in peace, our Georgia Peach.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Boppin'

My Top Ten Power Pop Acts

Jari Mäkeläinen asked me to contribute a sidebar piece to be used in Manifesti, a fanzine published in Finland. The challenge posed to sidebar contributors: name your all-time top ten power pop acts.

In the words of Micky Dolenz: okay, I will.

MY TOP TEN POWER POP ACTS

by Carl Cafarelli

For me, the challenge of naming my all-time top ten power pop acts is in deciding what parameters of power pop I wanna play within. While many view power pop as strictly a post-Beatles phenomenon, I agree with the view expressed by writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! in Bomp! magazine’s epic 1978 power pop issue: power pop began in the ’60s. Greg ‘n’ Gary traced power pop back to the early Who, while I go a little bit further back to the Beatles’ “Please Please Me” in 1963. I’ve begun to entertain the notion that power pop predates even that; I don’t think the music of Buddy Hollythe Beach Boys, or the Everly Brothers is quite power pop, but it’s difficult to dismiss the power pop gravitas of some of Eddie Cochran‘s singles, especially “Somethin’ Else” and “Nervous Breakdown.”

But I wouldn’t list the Beatles or the Kinks among my all-time Fave Rave power pop acts, if only because so much of their work falls outside my idea of power pop. The Who were 100 % power pop until Tommy, and really not power pop after that. 

So my power pop Top Ten doesn’t go back to the ’60s. By default, and for different reasons, I wind up agreeing with those who won’t move power pop’s Ground Zero to any date before John, Paul, George, and Ringo settled on separate and individual long and winding roads. I’ve also come to accept the idea that power pop isn’t so much a genre as it an approach, which means relatively few acts are strictly power pop all of the time. With all that said, this list offers ten dynamic rock ‘n’ roll combos I’m comfortable referring to as power pop acts.

THE WHO

Yeah, I was lying. Upon further review, you can’t talk about power pop without talking about the early Who, “I Can’t Explain” through The Who Sell Out. It’s not just because Pete Townshend coined the phrase; it’s because he and his band embodied it. Everything the Who did before Tommy is at least peripheral to power pop, and much of it is the power pop Gospel.

THE FLASHCUBES

Power pop on the radio, where it belongs. The horny singles–“Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Tonight,” and “Ecstasy”–plus the dreamy “Let’s Pretend” (also covered by the Bay City Rollers) and album track “Play On” combine for a compact summary of the Raspberries’ power pop c.v.

THE RAMONES

A consistently controversial choice for a power pop list, but I side with the Bomp! writers who considered the Ramones an essential part of the power pop story. The first four albums tell the tale: RamonesLeave HomeRocket To Russia, and Road To Ruin, with a little extra oomph provided by the irresistible in-concert document It’s Alive!

BADFINGER

This gets back to the idea that some (many, most) power pop bands aren’t power pop all of the time. Badfinger certainly wasn’t, but then I’ve also gotta get back to that idea of power pop on the radio, where it belongs. “Baby Blue” may be my all-time # 1 favorite track by anybody.

THE ROMANTICS

On the other hand, the Romantics are generally power pop regardless of their intent. It’s their DNA. They tried to make a hard rock album, Strictly Personal, but it came out as hard-rockin’ power pop, and I mean that as a compliment. If you do just one Romantics album, you’ve gotta go with the eponymous debut, which includes “What I Like About You” and “When I Look In Your Eyes.” Their early indie singles are likewise essential, especially “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything.”

THE GO-GO’S

I continuously waffle on the question of whether or not the Go-Go’s can be considered a power pop act. Their debut album Beauty And The Beat comes close at the very least, and its power remains undiminished forty years on. It’s not just that album’s great singles “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” but also album tracks like “Can’t Stop The World” and “This Town” that make the case on behalf of the Go-Go’s. Add in subsequent tracks from “Vacation” to “Head Over Heels” to “The Whole World Lost Its Head” to “La La Land,” and it’s difficult to deny the truth that this is pop with power.

THE NERVES

Cheating, but I don’t care. The Nerves’ eponymous 1976 EP inspired Blondie with “Hanging On The Telephone” (written by the Nerves’ Jack Lee), but Lee’s fellow Nerves Paul Collins and Peter Case went on to have significant and prevailing impact on power pop with their post-Nerves work in Paul Collins’ Beat and the Plimsouls, respectively.

BIG STAR

Big Star’s story also sprawls, spills, and bleeds beyond power pop territory, and I’m sympathetic to those who claim the group’s records didn’t have the pure power one would expect from power pop. Nonetheless: “Back Of A Car” delivers, and “September Gurls” transcends our silly little labels to assume the description a rock journalist bestowed upon it decades ago: “Innocent, but deadly.” First two albums, # 1 Record and Radio CityThird, however, is most definitely not power pop.

THE SPONGETONES

North Carolina’s phenomenal pop combo the Spongetones have always taken their love of rock and pop and Beatles and British Invasion and channeled it into something unerringly Fab. You know that can’t be bad.

With a limit of ten acts in this exercise, I can’t go on to tell you about the RubinoosPezbandHolly and the Italiansthe Flamin’ Grooviesthe RecordsShoesthe BuzzcocksGeneration XDirty Looksthe Shivversthe ScruffsSorrowsArtful DodgerBlue Ashthe Knack, and dozens more, then and now. Good thing that, in real life, we’re not limited to just ten favorite power pop acts, right? Play on.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

Categories
Boppin'

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): THE FLASHCUBES, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”

THE FLASHCUBES: Arty Lenin, Tommy Allen, Gary Frenay, Paul Armstrong

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

THE FLASHCUBES: Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter [Herman’s Hermits]
I believe I’ve already mentioned that I kinda like Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes; insisting that my all-time favorite groups are The BeatlesThe Ramones, and The Flashcubes is a pretty direct statement, right? ‘Cubes shows in 1977 and ’78 included a lot of covers; as time went on, the bulk of their set lists became (rightfully) dominated by their own compositions.

The Flashcubes had terrific taste in covers, encompassing ’60s British Invasion, ’70s punk, power pop, new wave, and Eddie Cochran. The ‘Cubes introduced me to the music of The New York DollsBig StarChris Spedding, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. They covered The TroggsThe JamThe HolliesTelevisionThe RaspberriesThe Sex PistolsThe Yardbirds, and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” 

And The Flashcubes covered Herman’s Hermits. Just, y’know, usually not the song listed above.

“A Must To Avoid” was the Hermits track that eventually made its way onto Cubic set lists, a song ready-made for live power pop (though the ‘Cubes always skipped its final verse, presumably to keep it lean ‘n’ stripped). But one night in 1978, upstairs at either The Orange or The Firebarn, the ‘Cubes did a seemingly impromptu snippet of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” They were introducing a Sex Pistols cover, guitarist Paul Armstrong saying they were going to do a song by a group that had just broken up. “The Beatles…?!,” bassist Gary Frenay joked. “No,” said Armstrong, “and it’s not Herman’s Hermits either.”

For dramatic purposes, the part of Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter will be played by the lovely actress Pamela Sue Martin

At which point guitarist Arty Lenin started picking the distinctive faux ukulele intro to “Mrs. Brown.” Paul paused, conferred with Arty, who then resumed his picking as Paul joined in briefly to wail along, Missus Brown you’ve gahht a luuuuvleeee dawwwwwwwterrr…! Drummer Tommy Allen may have thrown in a rim shot, completing this Borscht Belt power pop connection. The gag completed, The Flashcubes launched into their planned cover of either “God Save The Queen” or “Pretty Vacant.” 

She’s so lovely, she’s so lovely…she’s a DAUGHTER…!

Was this whole schtick planned out in advance? Maybe. Probably? If so, The Flashcubes pulled off the illusion of spontaneity with grace and aplomb, perhaps not a phrase often applied to the clattering Wall of Noise that defined the sound of Flashcubes ’78. 

My memory insists that I witnessed Arty throw in his “Mrs. Brown” lick during at least one other Flashcubes show, that time without Paul Armstrong channeling a punk Peter Noone. If he ever did it again, it was still an isolated incident. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” would not be listed in any document of songs The Flashcubes ever covered. But I saw it. I heard it. I just didn’t hear it coming.

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: David Johansen sings disco!

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

Categories
Birthdays

Tony Sheridan

English singer Tony Sheridan was born on this day in 1940, in Norwich, Norfolk, England. Sheridan performed and recorded with The Beatles, Gene Vincent & Eddie Cochran, to name a few.