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 Cochran! Fats Domino! Gene freakin’ Vincent! The Platters! Julie 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?
Same thing, really. Rest in peace, our Georgia Peach.
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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.
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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).
10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night’s edition of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don’t Hear A Single.
THE KINKS: All Day And All Of The Night
It’s important to note the significance of “All Day And All Of The Night” in the story of how I became a fan of The Kinks. “Lola” was the first Kinks song I ever knew. My sister’s copy of The Live Kinks was the first Kinks album I ever saw. But “All Day And All Of The Night” was the first Kinks track I ever owned, contained on the 2-LP compilation History Of British Rock Vol. 2 I received as a Christmas present in 1976, less than a month prior to my 17th birthday. Essential. And loud! The track was also on my first Kinks LP, Kinks-Size, purchased early in ’77.
When discussing the monolithic 1-2 punch of The Kinks‘ first two U.S. hits, “You Really Got Me” tends to grab all of the loud ‘n’ grungy glory. It is, after all, the greatest record ever made. But its follow-up “All Day And All Of The Night” is even more savage and relentless, and if it lacks a tiny bit of “You Really Got Me”‘s mesmerizing single-mindedness, it compensates with its sheer combustibility. “All Day And All Of The Night” sounds like it’s ’bout to explode, and it sounds loud (if never quite loud enough) at even the lowest volume. As revealed in my Everlasting First piece about how I discovered the group, “All Day And All Of The Night” was the first Kinks track I ever owned. There would be many, many more to follow.
THE KINKS: Dedicated Follower Of Fashion
When I was in the process of becoming a Kinks fan at the age of 16 and 17 (circa late ’76 and into ’77), “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” was a mystery track. I had seen the title listed in reference works, but it wasn’t a Kinks song I knew, like “Lola” or “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You,” “A Well Respected Man,” or even “No More Looking Back” from Schoolboys In Disgrace. I recall hearing Status Quo‘s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” on the radio, and wondering (with no real-world justification) if that might be “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.” I have no memory of where, when, or how I finally heard “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” but I do remember that I was initially underwhelmed by it.
Well, that reaction sure changed over time. In the summer of 1979, the first time I saw the fab local combo The Dead Ducks, my pal Joe Boudreau and I bellowed along with the Oh yes he IS! as the Ducks covered the song. Many, many years later, I have a specific memory of strolling through a shopping mall with my wife and daughter as “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” came on the sound system. Just as I’d done as a teenager, I began to bellow along, Oh yes he IS! My then-teen daughter was mortified. Hmph. It’s as if she didn’t think her Dad was in fashion.
THE KINKS: I Took My Baby Home
For a very brief flash of time, “I Took My Baby Home” was the most exciting track that The Kinks ever released. It didn’t have a lot of competition for that title, since it was the B-side of the very first Kinks single, and much more distinctive and interesting than the perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” on its A-side. The Kinks’ second single, “You Still Want Me”/”You Do Something To Me,” paired a couple of fine beat numbers, though I’d say “I Took My Baby Home” was still the pick of this four-song run.
The Kinks’ third single was the greatest record ever made, and its release ended the short reign of “I Took My Baby Home” as the best of The Kinks.
Nonetheless, “I Took My Baby Home” remains a superb rock ‘n’ roll track, with its strutting harmonica come-on and its euphoric tale of a helpless chap gleefully seduced by his girl (whose high-powered kisses really knock him out, they knock him oh-oh-over).
And it was one of the songs I acquired in my first year as a Kinks fan. I started with “All Day And All Of The Night” on a various-artists LP at Christmas of 1976, added “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks-Size LP and maybe Sleepwalker before heading off to college the following August, and scored my first Kinks compilation album during the fall semester. This Kinks volume of The Pye History Of British Rock introduced me to “I Took My Baby Home,” right alongside “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” and “Till The End Of The Day.” I knew “I Took My Baby Home” before I knew “Waterloo Sunset,” though I would discover that one soon enough. Not a bad way to get to know The Kinks, I say.
(And I still mentally change the song’s line “And she put her hands on my chest” to “And she put my hands on her chest.” Aggressive girl. I bet her name was Lola.)
THE KINKS: Muswell Hillbilly
I have a black t-shirt emblazoned in white letters with The Kinks‘ classic ’60s logo. It’s my favorite t-shirt. When I wear it, some random stranger will often notice it and express approval (even from a socially-distanced vantage point). I’ve had people insist I’m too young to even know who The Kinks are (which means I’m either older than I look, or that I wasted my money on those three Kinks concerts I attended; I enjoyed those shows, so I don’t feel like I coulda been too young to know The Kinks at the time).
It’s not unusual for the sight of my Kinks shirt to inspire strangers to want to chat, however briefly, about these well-respected men. Recently, a gentleman just over six feet away from me admired my shirt, and mentioned his favorite Kinks album: 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies.
This is not the first Kinks record that most passers-by will cite in reaction to my dedicated follower of fashion choice of wardrobe. “Lola.” “You Really Got Me.” One guy said “Come Dancing.” Muswell Hillbillies isn’t exactly an obscure record, but it doesn’t usually come up in casual conversation out in the real world, the vast playground beyond our own shared but insular rockin’ pop universe. I was pleased. And I made sure to play the album’s title track on this week’s TIRnRR.
THE KINKS: Set Me Free
I’m not 100% sure where I first heard The Kinks‘ 1965 single “See My Friends.” I initially knew “See My Friends” from the great British group The Records, who included their version in an all-covers EP that came with the purchase of The Records’ debut LP in 1979. My first exposure to The Kinks’ original must have been Golden Hour Of The Kinks, a 1977 compilation I picked up as a budget cassette release in the mid ’80s. With the possible exception of my bootleg live Flashcubes tape, Golden Hour Of The Kinks was my favorite cassette, even more so than the (then-) contemporary garage sampler Garage Sale. I listened to Golden Hour Of The Kinks over and over on the boom box my Uncle Carl gave Brenda and I as a wedding gift in 1984, with only a couple of Beatles tapes (Help! and Beatles For Sale) challenging its boom-box sovereignty. Golden Hour Of The Kinks hooked me on “Animal Farm,” reinforced my adoration of “Days,” “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Dead End Street,” “Shangri-La,” and “You Really Got Me,” and it introduced me to the original “See My Friends.” Best cassette ever? A contender at the very least.
THE KINKS: Set Me Free
1977: I was just 17, if you know what I mean. And my girlfriend and I were moving way too fast. It was almost entirely my fault, maybe even my fault alone. But I had to stop it.Over the course of ’77, I had become a fan of The Kinks. In August, I went off to college with the tentative beginning of a Kinks collection, which included the Kinks-Sized, Sleepwalker, and possibly Schoolboys In Disgrace LPs. I was still learning about this great band and its cavalcade of wonder. Late in that fall semester of my freshman year, I picked up a Kinks compilation, The Pye History Of British Rock. That revelatory set included just two Kinks tracks I already owned (“You Really Got Me” and “I Gotta Move”), and introduced me to “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “The World Keeps Going Round,” “So Mystifying,” “Long Tall Shorty,” and a superb, rockin’ B-side called “I Took My Baby Home.” Fantastic stuff, and an essential plank on my path to greater Kinks devotion. And it included a song called “Set Me Free.” Set me free, little girlAll you gotta do is set me free, little girlYou know you can do it if you tryAll you gotta do is set me free, free…. It wasn’t her fault. It was mine. Yeah, probably all mine. I was 17. That’s explanation, not excuse. I listened to the song playing on my roommate’s stereo in our dorm room, looking at my girlfriend, feeling guilty for what I was thinking. But I was beginning to realize what had to happen. We lasted until Christmas break. I wrote her a letter. It hurt her, and I regret my actions that made that seem necessary. Damn me. But it was time. Set me free.
In my oft-told story about how I became a fan of The Kinks, 1964’s “Tired Of Waiting For You” represents the tipping point, the seismic event when I heard the song on the radio in 1977 and knew, just knew before the DJ said, that it was The Kinks. The Kinks’ primal oldies “All Day And All Of The Night” and “You Really Got Me” had only recently taken my fancy hostage, a mere decade and change after the fact. Radio introduced me to The Kinks with “Lola” in 1970, my burgeoning interest in the mid-’60s British Invasion prompted a deeper dive into Sire‘s History Of British Rock collections, and radio came back to seal the deal with a spin of “Tired Of Waiting For You.” It’s not an oversimplification; that really was the precise moment when I became a die-hard Kinks fan. It’s your life, and you can do what you want. And I want to listen to The Kinks.
THE KINKS: War Is Over
Last week on his SPARK! radio show Radio Deer Camp, the above-cited Rich Firestone played The Kinks‘ “To The Bone,” a cut that has never been played on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. And we’ve played a lot of Kinks songs over the past 22 years! The song is the title track from a 1996 2-CD US version of a live Kinks album released as a single disc in the UK in ’94. The US version adds several tracks, but omits “Waterloo Sunset” and “Autumn Almanac,” forcing fans (like me) to buy both versions. The US set also adds the two studio tracks that are the final Kinks recordings issued to date; Rich just played “To The Bone” on Radio Deer Camp, and we played the other studio track (“Animal”) on TIRnRR some time ago. We still haven’t played “To The Bone,” but we did want to try to program a Kinks song that we hadn’t played before. We picked “War Is Over,” from 1989’s UK Jive, which is my least favorite Kinks album. The song’s fine. The album…. I was able to see The Kinks on the UK Jive tour. It was the third and final time I saw The Kinks in concert, and oddly enough the show occurred in the same week that I saw my first Rolling Stones concert. Kinks and Stones in a single week? Awrighty! My first Kinks show was in 1978, and it was awesome; I told that story here. Seeing them a second time at a mid ’80s arena show in Buffalo was less special, but still The Kinks. The 1989 show was weird. It was staged in a gym at the State University of New York at Oswego; the arena show felt impersonal, and this felt, I dunno, somewhere in between, but still almost haphazardly disconnected. The show was sparsely attended, so lovely wife Brenda and I were able to get THISCLOSE to the stage where The Kinks–THE KINKS!!!–were playing. But it was the UK Jive tour. I have little memory of it. I can’t believe I saw The Kinks at such close proximity, but that a combination of off-putting venue and a set list emphasizing a lesser album made the whole event seem so forgettable. But it was THE KINKS…!
THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset
“Waterloo Sunset” is one of two songs by The Kinks given its own chapter in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), where it immediately precedes The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and Holly Golightly‘s version of “Time Will Tell” (itself also a song written by The Kinks’ Ray Davies). This is how the book’s discussion of “Waterloo Sunset” begins: It’s one of the most beautiful depictions of burgeoning romance ever committed to song. And it’s told, not from the perspective of the young lovers themselves, but from the viewpoint of a benevolent onlooker, wishing them well as they cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound. I wonder what that onlooker would have thought of me when I was 18…. Our connection with the pop music we love is personal, deeply personal. We know that the songs on our stereo, our radio, our iPod, or our Close-N-Play aren’t really about us, but we have license to incorporate them into our own experiences. We assign meaning. While The Kinks insisted elsewhere that it was only jukebox music, it is really so much more than that. In the book, I place “Waterloo Sunset” directly after chapters about T. Rex, The Runaways, and “Sister Golden Hair” by America, a little trilogy threaded together with the memory of my near-disastrous freshman year in college, 1977-78. “Waterloo Sunset” follows with the potential for catharsis. Every day I look at the world from my window…Waterloo sunset’s fine.It’s not the story Ray Davies intended to tell. It’s the story I hear nonetheless.
THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset (worth a second entry!)
The Kinks have come to be known as TIRnRR‘s house band, perhaps for no real reason other than we all think it’s cool to celebrate the splendor of The Kinks whenever possible. The Kinks remain the only act to ever take over an entire episode of our radio show; in fact, we’ve done two all-Kinks shows. God save the house band!
“Waterloo Sunset” has two additional specific links to TIRnRR. In 2019, when a bunch of our friends and supporters decided to surprise us by recording a single to benefit our cash-strapped operation, these TIR’N’RR Allstars chose to do a cover of “Waterloo Sunset.” And we were in paradise. And some years back, when Dana was out of commission for a bit, I devoted a show to something I called “A Girl And A Boy: The Story So Far.” This was an attempt to create an extended song cycle to tell the story of a relationship, using preexisting songs and alternating female and male lead vocals to suggest a girl and boy looking back at their history together and apart. The boy’s name was Terry, the girl’s name was Julie, and as long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset, they are in paradise. It was a fun exercise, and intended as a tribute to one of my favorite songs. Sha-la-la….
THE KINKS: (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman
Bert Parks‘ greatest hit. Sort of.
The Kinks‘ 1979 album Low Budget brought the group a commercial resurgence in America, moving them from modest concert halls to arenas. Its release was preceded by the single “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” which was a seemingly incongruous mix of our dedicated followers of fashion with a disco beat. Faster than a speeding leisure suit, more powerful than a mirrored ball, able to leap over tall velvet ropes in a single bound, the record is flush with Ray Davies‘ characteristic cantankerousness, and it was accepted by rockers who would not have been caught dead with any kind of Saturday night fever. Disco? The Rolling Stones did it. KISS did it. Blondie had their first U.S. hit by doin’ it. Even the razzafrazzin’ Grateful Dead did it with “Shakedown Street,” though every Deadhead I knew denied the fact and the beat. So why shouldn’t The Kinks make a disco record? The Kinks pulled it off, and The Kinks got bigger.
And then…Bert Parks.
1979 was the final year that Parks would host the annual Miss America beauty pageant. He had been that show’s host since about, oh, the dawn of time, and he was about to be kicked aside and replaced by someone younger, if not exactly hipper. “Hipper” and “Miss America beauty pageant” were definitely not two great tastes that taste great together. Actor (and former TV Tarzan) Ron Ely took over the job in 1980 and ’81.By ’79, I was not in the habit of watching the Miss America broadcast. Whatever interest I could have derived from seeing pretty girls on my TV screen was overshadowed by the sheer hokiness of such an emphatically four-cornered spectacle. But that year, my girlfriend asked me to be her plus-one at the wedding of one of her dearest friends, so I accompanied her out of town for the event. We had some down time one evening, and we found ourselves watching TV.
No, Muswell Hill’s finest didn’t show up to warble “Theeeere she is, Miss America…!” That would have been odd, but interesting. Instead, Bert Parks himself lent his golden throat to a never-before, never-again, why-in-God’s-name-in-the-first-place performance of “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman.” Parks concluded the brief songlet by ripping open his shirt to reveal the Superman shield on his chest.
I was horrified. Transfixed, car-crash hypmotized, unable to turn away, scarred for life, damaged beyond repair, a gas-strike, oil-strike, lorry-strike, bread-strike pinned-in-place deer in the disco lights. Hey, girl. We gotta get out of this place.
You don’t believe me? Lord, I wish it had only been the hallucination it seemed. But no! It was real. Check out this YouTube clip, and go directly to the 38:08 mark…IF YOU DARE!
So. Bert Parks’ final gig as Miss America pageant host. Coincidence? Maybe. Or further evidence that you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. And, for God’s sake, you don’t mess with The Kinks.
THE KINKS: You Can’t Stop The Music
God save The Kinks! From a previously-posted piece about my five favorite 1970s Kinks songs:Other than Schoolboys In Disgrace, I mostly missed out on The Kinks’ concept album phase. I saw Preservation Act 1, Preservation Act 2, and The Kinks Present A Soap Opera in the bins at Gerber Music, but I didn’t hear any of that until many years later. And while I appreciate them and dig each of them in its own right, I can’t rank them alongside The Kinks’ 1960s album masterpieces like Face To Face, The Village Green Preservation Society, or Arthur. With that said, “You Can’t Stop The Music” is (along with “[A] Face In The Crowd”) one of a couple of standout selections on Soap Opera. It serves as a de facto statement of intent, and a reminder of the resilience of the sounds we adore.
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Rock ‘n’ roll as we know it might not even exist if not for the movies. That may be an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that rock’s first crossover success came via Hollywood. When the film The Blackboard Jungle appeared in 1955, its opening credits sequence propelled a novelty fox trot called “Rock Around The Clock” to the top of the pops, making the seemingly unlikely figures of Bill Haley and his Comets the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll stars. The ongoing sheet-shakin’ between rock and film has been consummated again and again over the ensuing decades, from Jailhouse Rockthrough A Hard Day’s Night, The Monkees in Head, The Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and the fictional Oneders in That Thing You Do!, plus whatever more recent iterations have occurred since I grew too old to keep up with what you crazy kids are up to. Just stay off of my lawn already.
The sheer abundance of great rock ‘n’ pop tracks that have appeared in movies makes the prospect of selecting my all-time Top 5 movie songs too daunting to consider. Honestly, I doubt I could even narrow down a list of my five favorite Beatles movie songs, and I’d still need room for at least two tracks from The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend, The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song (Theme From ‘Head’),” Little Richard‘s title tune from The Girl Can’t Help It, the museum outings montage version of Lulu‘s “To Sir, With Love,” and Paul McCartney and Wings‘ license to thrill “Live And Let Die.” Among others. Among a lot of others! “Light Of Day” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, fercryinoutloud!
So, as an alternative, I figured I’d list five great movie songs from films I either didn’t really like or have never actually seen. That narrows things down to a more manageable field. By arbitrarily discarding any song used as a film’s title tune–buh-bye “Don’t Make Waves” by The Byrds and “They Ran For Their Lives” by The Knickerbockers–I came up with a quintet of popcorn-ready tracks that mean more to me than the films that delivered ’em. Dim the room. Kill your phones. And keep your trap shut until the closing credits roll. Lights! Camera! GUITARS!!
THE CRAWLING KINGSNAKES: “Philadelphia Baby” (from Porky’s Revenge).
The only Porky’s film I ever saw in its entirety was the first one, and I did not care for it. I mean, c’mon–it’s not like it was The Hollywood Knights or something. But one of its sequels, 1985’s Porky’s Revenge, had a killer soundtrack, consisting mostly of oldies covered by acts like Jeff Beck, Willie Nelson, Clarence Clemons, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Dave Edmunds, plus Carl Perkins performing a new version of his own “Blue Suede Shoes” with two out of three Stray Cats. The soundtrack also includes George Harrison‘s otherwise-unavailable take on Bob Dylan‘s “I Don’t Want To Do It,” and Edmunds (who was in charge of the soundtrack) turns in an incredible original called “High School Nights.” But the highlight is this cover of Charlie Rich‘s “Philadelphia Baby” by The Crawling Kingsnakes. Who da Kingsnakes? None other than Robert Plant, with Edmunds, Paul Martinez, and Phil Collins. That’s a pretty impressive line-up for a no-account flick like Porky’s Revenge.
THE FOUR TOPS: “Are You Man Enough” (from Shaft In Africa).
Another sequel. I don’t remember whether or not I’ve ever seen the original Shaft, but I certainly knew Isaac Hayes‘ title theme song. I did see some episodes of the TV series that eventually followed. And everybody knew that Richard Roundtree was badass in the role of the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man. 1973’s Shaft In Africa brought “Are You Man Enough” to AM radio, and it was my de facto introduction to The Four Tops. I retroactively discovered the group’s fantastic ’60s catalog, but it all started for me with this song from Shaft In Africa. Can you dig it?
HERMAN’S HERMITS: “A Must To Avoid” (from Hold On!)
When I think of rock ‘n’ roll movies, I don’t think of concert films or documentaries. I think of scripted flicks with some excuse for a plot (however slight), and pop idols singin’ their songs. I primarily think of star vehicles, like Sonny & Cher in Good Times or Bloodstone in Train Ride To Hollywood. As a kid growing up in the ’60s, I only saw two such films: the magnificent A Hard Day’s Night and the significantly less-great Hold On!, the latter starring Herman’s Hermits. I’m sure I liked Hold On! just fine when I was six or whatever; I tried to watch it as an adult, but could not get through it. On the other hand, the soundtrack LP has its moments, particularly this rousing pop put-down, a song spirited enough that my power pop Fave Raves The Flashcubes used to include it in their live sets circa ’78 or so.
DAVID JOHANSEN & ROBIN JOHNSON: “Flowers In The City” (from Times Square)
1980’s Robert Stigwood-produced Times Square was supposed to do for new wave music what Stigwood’s earlier success with Saturday Night Fever did for dat ole debbil disco: sell records, inspire pop culture, and generate a free flow of cold, hard cash. It did not do that. The few minutes of the film I’ve managed to catch in passing on TV support the prevailing opinion that Times Square was stuffy and overly serious in its tone. I think I’d still like to see it some day, and see what I think of it. The 2-LP soundtrack album is very good, comprised mostly of familiar gems by The Ramones, Suzi Quatro, Talking Heads, Roxy Music, The Pretenders, Joe Jackson, XTC, et al., all of which were available elsewhere, but which made an attractive purchase when bundled together in one pretty package. “Flowers In The City,” a duet between former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and Times Square co-star Robin Johnson, is unique to the film’s soundtrack, and it’s terrific. It was released at the peak of my interest in Johansen, and it’s as great as nearly anything on his first two solo albums, and better than anything he did after that.
PAUL McCARTNEY: “Not Such A Bad Boy” (from Give My Regards To Broad Street)
Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street may get a worse rap than it really deserves. It’s not bad, but it’s not in any way special, either. Well, let’s amend that a bit–even by itself, the presence of McCartney does make it sorta special. I should add this to the list of movies I oughtta watch again and re-assess. The soundtrack is mostly very nice, including a remake of “Ballroom Dancing” and the hit single “No More Lonely Nights.” The album approaches the transcendental with two of McCartney’s best tracks of the ’80s–“No Values” and “Not Such A Bad Boy”–which are not on any other album. Both tracks feature McCartney playing with an ace combo of Ringo Starr, Chris Spedding, and Porky’s Revenge wunderkind Dave Edmunds, and they’re just as solid as anything Sir Paul ever did after leaving the act you’ve known for all these years. In particular, “Not Such A Bad Boy” is such a confident rockin’ pop number, oozing with swagger and amiable panache. It’s aching for rediscovery as one of McCartney’s best.
Okay, the house lights are on. Clean up your concession-stand debris and head for the parking lot. And let’s pop in a rock ‘n’ roll movie soundtrack to accompany our drive home.
If you wanna read some half-baked notions of how I would have (in theory) slapped together a rock ‘n’ roll movie when I was younger, check out my proposed Bay City Rollers movie, or my quarter-baked fantasy of an ’80s update of The Girl Can’t Help It starring Bo Derek(the latter also featuring bonus discussion of a Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart TV series and a star vehicle for Ireland’s phenomenal pop combo The Undertones. I could rule the world if I had money. And ambition. And talent. TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
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Some years back, my friend Gary Pig Gold solicited replies to this poll question: Should Pat Boone Be Inducted Into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? Although there were a fair amount of replies from intelligent and otherwise-reasonable folks in favor of this preposterous notion, I fell firmly in the No, No, NO!!! camp. Still do. If you think it’s odd that I advocate the immediate induction of The Monkees but categorically snub Mr. Boone, then you may be reading the wrong blog.
(How strong is my opposition to Boone’s induction? I think Percy Sledge, Madonna, and Bon Jovi have much stronger RnRHOF resumes, even though I don’t care about Bon Jovi and I regard Sledge and Madonna as the least qualified among all of the acts already inducted into the Hall. And incidentally, I do understand the justification for rap artists in a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame; I certainly think Grandmaster Flash belongs more than Pat Boone would.)
You can still read Gary’s original poll results here. This is what I wrote:
No. I’m tempted to add “Absolutely not!,” but I’m aware of the arguments in Boone’s favor. Give ‘im his due: he did help to popularize many classic R & B tunes with his wretched, whitebread covers of “Tutti Frutti,” “Ain’t That a A Shame,” “Long Tall Sally,” et al. But his bloodless covers were hits at the expense of the vastly superior versions by the likes of Little Richard and Fats Domino.
Proponents for Boone’s induction into the Rock Hall claim that his covers of these great early rock ‘n’ roll records were pivotal, since segregated white radio stations would never have played the “race-music” originals; Boone’s versions therefore brought the songs to an audience that would otherwise never have heard that ol’ “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!” The claim has some validity; I reject it nonetheless. Boone’s records were never intended to spread the gospel of rock ‘n’ roll or R & B–they were intended to dilute the music’s power, to make it safe for White America and, oh yeah, make a big pile of money while effectively shutting out the black guys who created this transcendent music to begin with.
Apartheid should not be rewarded. I don’t hold Boone personally responsible for the inherent racism of his early, ersatz rock ‘n’ roll success. But nor do I see any good reason to consider him a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, nor even a rock ‘n’ roller of any description or distinction. And there’s certainly no good reason for him to be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Born on this day in 1946, in Houston, Texas, legendary keyboardist, Billy Preston. Preston played with Little Richard and The Beatles, to name a few. He also had hit records of his own, including Will It Go Round In Circles and Nothing From Nothing.
Jimmy Walker of The Knickerbockers passed away last week. This is a chapter from my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
THE KNICKERBOCKERS: “Lies”Imitation and inspiration are two very different things. We generally have less regard for the former, but recognize that nothing worthwhile can be sparked without the latter. And some imitations are inspired. Many Beatles fans adore The Rutles, and also Utopia‘s Deface The Music, both of which are able and engaging tributes, copying familiar Beatles songs, rewriting them, and reframing them as something almost new. The result is sincere flattery, but compellingand interesting sincere flattery. The Beatles inspired more than just imitation, though. The Beatles certainly drew from their own gumbo of influences–Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, The Shirelles, Arthur Alexander–and evolved from imitation to divine inspiration. Some acts set out to imitate The Beatles in some way and became inspired to be more than imitation: to become The Byrds, to craft the sublime majesty of Pet Sounds, to invent ’70s punk rock as simply as a rapid-fire count-off of 1-2-3-4! Let’s be The Beatles, lads. And then let’s be something we can call our own. Most would think of “Lies” by The Knickerbockers as imitation, a greed-driven attempt to recreate the sound of The Beatles, maybe even to fool the gullible into thinking it is The Beatles. When I first heard it, my immediate reaction was that it sounded more like The Beatles than The Beatles did. So yeah (yeah yeah), I guess it is imitation. But it’s imitation with a vision, and it is still so much more than just that.
At first glance, The Knickerbockers would seem an unlikely source for rockin’ pop transcendence. I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I say that The Knickerbockers never looked cool, because–let’s face it!–I’ve never looked cool either. The group started out in Bergenfield, New Jersey in 1962, and they were not in any way ahead of their time. They were a cover band. They imitated. They got people to dance, which is good, but they could make no claim to greatness. Until, suddenly, they could make that claim.
Founding members Beau Charles and John Charles–brothers, on guitar and bass respectively–were joined by newer Knicks Buddy Randell (sax) and Jimmy Walker (drums) in 1964. They were still primarily a covers act. Their first two albums, Lloyd Thaxton Presents The Knickerbockers and Jerk And Twine Time (both from ’64), were without distinction. Either or both could be erased from history without affecting the time-space continuum in the slightest. Given that: where the hell did “Lies” come from…?!
The Beatles were pop music in ’64 and ’65. There were lots and lots of other great stuff happening, from James Brown to Paul Revere & the Raiders, Motown to girl groups, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass to Wilson Pickett, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Stax, and Louis Armstrong, even. But The Beatles ruled, by perception and acclaim, their fab reign and domain reflected in influence, imitation, and inspiration. Beatlemania inspired The Knickerbockers. “Lies” was written by Buddy Randell and Beau Charles. The Knickerbockers’ previous records had been competent and bland, bordering on the anonymous. Coming after those forgettable works, “Lies” seemed to scream with moptopped frenzy, Let’s be The Beatles! Was it a conscious ambition? Man, it must have been. What working rock or pop performer in 1965 didn’t want to be The Beatles? Maybe Quincy Jones didn’t want to be The Beatles. Everyone else did. It’s one thing to want; it’s quite another to achieve. “Lies” magically distills everything–everything–great about Beatles ’65 into one single 45 side. Originally, it was the wrong 45 side; Challenge Records, The Knickerbockers’ demonstrably clueless label, stupidly relegated “Lies” to the B-side of “The Coming Generation,” an earnest and boring track not destined to ever trouble the Top 40. Clearer heads prevailed when DJs turned the record over. “Lies” was a hit. And you know that can’t be bad. The track’s obvious debt to The Beatles makes it tempting to dismiss “Lies” as ersatz Merseybeat, a copy and nothing more. Except that it’s not a copy, and it is more. “Lies” is not a ripoff of any Beatle record. There are general elements taken from Lennon and McCartney, but really more in terms of a general feel, an accomplished and successful attempt to channel Meet The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night and “Thank You, Girl” without resorting to thievery. It didn’t hurt that Beau Charles’ lead vocals were so damned convincingly reminiscent of John Lennon. “Lies” doesn’t sound like any one Beatles record. It sounds like all of them. Audaciously, triumphantly, a band from Jersey had pulled it off. For one shining moment, The Knickerbockers had effectively become The Beatles. Released in late ’65–pop music’s best year ever–“Lies” should have been a # 1 smash. It peaked at # 20 in ’66, and it was The Knickerbockers’ only big hit. They deserved better. After the dull banality of their earliest records, The Knickerbockers willed themselves into becoming a dynamic beat combo, capable of having a rave-up and having a wild weekend eight days a week, right alongside the best of the British Invasion. In 1966, they released their third and final album Lies (credited to “The Fabulous Knickerbockers”). The album was schizophrenic. Side Two was awash with big balladry, a pseudo Righteous Brothers sequence that squandered the fab rush of “Lies” (and presaged Jimmy Walker’s subsequent departure from the Knickerbockers to replace Bill Medley in the actual Righteous Brothers). But Side One? “I Can Do It Better,” “Can’t You See I’m Trying,” “Please Don’t Fight It,” and especially “Just One Girl” demonstrated that The Knickerbockers should not have been merely one-hit wonders, their lack of follow-up chart success notwithstanding.
n 1994, I picked up a Knickerbockers compilation CD called A Rave Up With The Knickerbockers. I already owned a handful of Knickerbockers discs (including reissues of Lies and Jerk And Twine Time), but this was the first to really demand my attention. A Rave Up With The Knickerbockers eschewed the ballads, ignored the early covers, and concentrated on The Knickerbockers’ uptempo gems. Well, fine, it did include “Coming Generation,” but that was okay in context. I already knew and adored “Lies,” of course, as well as its terrific non-LP follow-up “One Track Mind,” a great cut called “She Said Goodbye,” and the other tracks from Side One of Lies. Putting all of that (minus the Lies track “Please Don’t Fight It”) on one disc, combined with unfamiliar treats like “My Feet Are Off The Ground,” “Rumors, Gossip, Words Untrue,” “High On Love,” and the flat-out amazing “They Ran For Their Lives,” served to provide a fresh revelation. Knickerbockermania! “One-hit wonder” is often taken as a pejorative term. I never intend it that way. To me, it refers to a missed opportunity, a chance the public didn’t get or never took to hear more from a great act that dazzled the country once, and was probably capable of dazzling yet again. Some one-hit wonders merited much greater notoriety than they received, more praise, more adulation, more airplay, more hits. The Bobby Fuller Four should not have been just a one-hit wonder. The Knickerbockers shouldn’t have been that either. Still, even if “Lies” had been the only track The Knickerbockers ever recorded, its transcendent celebration of an American Beatlemania delivered on its own self-assured terms…well, that would be reason enough for idolatry, cause enough to worship the group that created this essential work of wonder. Someday I’m gonna be happy, but I don’t know when just now.Because it’s no lie: imitation can lead to inspiration. Inspiration is timeless. And it sounds fabulous.
A tip of the hat toBruce Gordon, whose own Let’s Be The Beatlesstudies have gone in far greater depth than I could ever manage.TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar! You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!
An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! This post was originally published privately, for Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) subscribers only, on January 4th, 2017. This is its first public appearance. For as little as $2 a month, supporters of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on Patreon receive one exclusive bonus post each month: Fund me, baby!
THE KINKS: “You Really Got Me” The record had no precedent.
Link Wray was the closest thing it had to a prototype; the growling, cantankerous power chords of Wray’s “Rumble” sounded like a force of nature, a monolithic, lumbering whamwhamWHAM! pouncing through cheap speakers to devour unsuspecting radio listeners in 1958. “Rumble” influenced anything loud and threatening that was ever played at 45 rpm from that second forward. And one imagines it must have influenced The Kinks, as well. Nonetheless, even six years later in 1964, there had still never been another record quite like “You Really Got Me.”
It’s not just a matter of velocity; “You Really Got Me” seems faster than it really is, and attempts to play it too fast or (worse) too heavy–like Van Halen‘s meatball cover in the late ’70s, or even The Kinks’ own live renditions in the ’80s–feel insincere, wrong. No, the song is methodical, deliberate, but still pounding with desire and passionate, right-now insistence. Its implied speed, its breakneck illusion, makes it all the more powerful, menacing, like a cobra poised to strike and rob you of your last breath. It’s a punk song, even a proto-metal song, but it has a groove. It has a soul. It has a heart.
And it seethes with the frustration from which it was born.
The Kinks had released two previous singles: a perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” (backed by a great beat raver, “I Took My Baby Home”) and a lovely Britpop number called “You Still Want Me.” The former had sold respectably (but unspectacularly) in the UK, and the latter had been a relative stiff. The song’s composer, Ray Davies, is said to have pounded out “You Really Got Me”‘s bluesey creation at home, on his parents’ piano. Frustrated. His frequently estranged brother, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, couldn’t get the dirty, gritty six-string sound he wanted on the song–Frustrated!–and wound up slashing his amp with a razor blade just to get the guttural effect he could only hear in his head. Ray Davies thought the first recording too polite, too polished, too smooth. FRUSTRATED!! He begged the record label to let them have another go at getting it right.
And they did. Release! Girl, you really got me goin’. Cigarette?
With “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks had their first big hit, and not just in the UK. That simple, ferocious riff echoed across the Atlantic, and The Kinks were suddenly part of a British Invasion, an insurrection armed with guitars, bass, and drums, a rock ‘n’ roll police action that reclaimed the colonies for Her Majesty. Yes, of course, The Beatles were the shaggy-headed faces of this unexpected Britmania, and those Liverpudlians’ wit and style and sheer pop brilliance were the driving force of that scene and its sound. But no other rock ‘n’ roll group was more British than The Kinks, and no song ever summed up the British Invasion as well as “You Really Got Me.”
The Rolling Stones tried to surpass it, tried to make a record that could beat the overwhelming, transcendent urgency of “You Really Got Me.” And while the Stones created a lot of terrific singles in the process, they couldn’t match The Kinks. Nor could The Who, nor The Sex Pistols, nor even The Ramones, though Forest Hills’ Finest likely came the closest. The Kinks also tried; their follow-up single “All Day And All Of The Night” was arguably even better, a steamrollin’ refinement of “You Really Got Me”‘s primal attack. But “better” isn’t the same as Greatest. In the visceral realm of pop music, of rock ‘n’ roll, immediacy can be immortal. God save the greatest. And God save The Kinks.