It’s like The Rutles, except for Herman’s Hermits instead of The Beatles —Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) supporter Dave Murray
Ripped! is an independent flick from 2013, written and directed by Rod Bingaman, and you risk no loss of film-fan status if you admit you’ve never heard of it. Hardly anyone’s heard of it. I stumbled across a listing for it on Amazon some time back, thought the concept seemed cute (and certainly unique), and I finally got around to watching it a few weeks ago. Ripped! can rightly claim one all-time accolade as its very own:
It is the Citizen Kane of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies.
Sure, it’s also the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Ishtar of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Heaven’s Gate of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Zardoz, West Side Story, Showgirls, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. Not a really crowded field, those Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. But Ripped! is indeed one enjoyable, unassuming little hoot of a Herman’s Hermits pastiche movie, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoy any actual Herman’s Hermits movie.
A little bit o’ background here: I love Herman’s Hermits, and none of the seeming snark above should lead you to forget that fact. I love many of the Hermits’ records, especially “No Milk Today” and “A Must To Avoid,” but also including all of their big hits and many of their lesser-known tracks. I saw a bar-band line up of Herman’s Hermits (minus Peter Noone) at a nightclub in 1978 (right in the same time frame that I was seeing The Ramones and The Runaways, The Kinks, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and The Flashcubes), and I thought they put on an impressive British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll show. I saw Peter Noone with his new wave band The Tremblers in 1981 or ’92, and saw Noone and his current collection o’ Hermits about two years ago, and those were both terrific concerts, too. I have nothing negative to say about ol’ Herm, Derek Leckenby, Karl Green, Keith Hopwood, and Barry Whitwam, nor about their records.
Their movies? Different story. Herman’s Hermits made awful movies.
My thoughts were different when I was a lad of six in 1967, and I went with my sister to see Herman and his Hermits in Hold On! I’m sure I loved it then, and I loved the soundtrack LP when I scored a used copy of it about a decade later. But when I tried to watch Hold On! again as an adult, I couldn’t bear to finish it. Same story when I tried to watch Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, nor could I muster up much interest for Herman’s Hermits’ supporting role in the bland When The Boys Meet The Girls. I love jukebox musicals, from The Girl Can’t Help It through A Hard Day’s Night, Elvis Presley in Loving You through That Thing You Do! (The Greatest Movie Ever Made), The Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, The Monkees in Head, even much-maligned vehicles like The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend and Sonny & Cher‘s Good Times, maybe Bloodstone‘s Train Ride To Hollywood. Hell, I’ll cop to a frequent fondness of Frankie & Annette beach flicks–ya can’t beat Harvey Lembeck, man–and I dig American Hot Wax enough that I forgive its approach of fantastical fiction masquerading as fact. I’ve even come up with fanciful li’l pipe dreams of my own jukebox musicals Jukebox Express, Let’s Go Out Tonight, and The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can. But Herman’s Hermits movies? No. The Lord says love the singers, hate the singers’ films.
So the idea of a 2013 parody of 1967’s Hold On!, starring fictional Brits Norman’s Normans in place of Herm and the lads, was not a sure thing. The trailer and description seemed intriguing, but my expectations were very, very low. I figured it would be either condescending or dumb, possibly both, and inevitably a pointless waste of time.
But it was fun!
I mean, it was dumb, if willfully so; it’s difficult to make a movie about a fictional ’60s British pop group accidentally rocketed to a planet inhabited solely by women–a planet at war with the estranged men of their neighboring world–where the music of Norman’s Normans conquers all and makes everything gear and free, luv…well, it’s kinda hard to try to pull all that off without risking a few extraneous brain cells. “Dumb” would seem the smart path to take here. The ending is rushed and anticlimactic, the result of filmmakers rashly deciding Right, that’s enough! when the ready supply of time, money, motivation, and/or patience evaporates before the story’s been finished. Ripped!‘s virtues outweigh its shortcomings. I can’t explain how the makers of Ripped! were able to maintain just the right tone throughout. It’s not really camp, nor does it seem to be slumming. It believes in itself, in the moment. It’s not smug, and it embraces its own ludicrous identity with casual but undeniable pride. I was expecting parody. Instead, I was rewarded with a loving pastiche of a silly little pop movie I saw when I was seven years old. The pastiche, miraculously, feels more sincere and real than the borderline-cynical B-movie that inspired it.
The music’s cool, too. Going back to the Rutles comparison, the beauty of the music from that 1978 Beatles parody All You Need Is Cash is that The Rutles’ tracks sound like perfectly swell pop music, even apart from their corresponding on-screen hijinks. Norman’s Normans sound similarly fab, and Ripped!‘s opening number “9-9-9!” has already found a place on our weekly This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio playlists. A band doesn’t have to actually exist to make decent pop records. I bought Norman’s Normans’ six-song Music From Ripped! as a download from normansnormans.bandcamp.com; “9-9-9!” and “Down On My Knees” are the Fave Rave Top Gear Picks T’Click, but “(I’m In Love With) The Queen Mother” and–of course!–“Mr. Brown” are snappy like Mr. White’s boys The Wonders, and “Man In The Moon” and “Come With Me (Beam Trip)” add appropriate atmosphere. I realize that Norman’s Normans aren’t, y’know, real, but it wouldn’t break my heart to hear more from whoever crafted their peppy little tunes.
Ripped! will never be anyone’s favorite film. But it’s gentle, confident, and gawkily charming, at home in its own distinct skin. It’s the movie equivalent of the best Herman’s Hermits songs. At long last, there is a movie worthy of Herman’s Hermits. Even if Herman’s Hermits aren’t actually in it.
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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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 Beatles / No Reply
I wrote a piece some time back asking the rhetorical question “Is Beatles VI Really My All-Time Favorite Album?” And it is, especially if we could combine it as a two-in-one with its predecessor Beatles ’65, creating a compilation of two American record company cash-grabs. Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI were Capitol Records hatchet jobs, scarfing up tracks from the British Beatles For Sale along with scattered single sides, mods, rockers, and mockers. But they were glorious hatchet jobs, and they were how I (like most Americans at the time) came to know and cherish this material. Pretty much everything The Beatles released from 1964 through 1966 forms my collective touchstone of what pop music can be. That is not likely to change, ever. And I was introduced to all of it via Capitol’s Philistine patchworks.
From Beatles ’65, or from Beatles For Sale if you must, “No Reply” is staggering, just irresistible in its majesty and mastery of pop form. It’s one of my 25 favorite Beatles tracks, and its middle eight may be the single best bridge ever accomplished by anyone. Its main competition for that title is also by The Beatles: “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” from Beatles VI (or from Beatles For Sale, if you must). I will never tire of hearing this stuff. Even sitting here just thinking about this music, with the stereo off, makes me smile. I saw the light. I saw that light a long, long time ago. It shines for me still.
Culture Club / Church Of The Poison Mind
Culture Club may seem one of the odder entries in my concert-goin’ ticket-stub gallery, but my then-fiancee Brenda and I did indeed see Boy George and his cohorts in 1984 at the Aud in Buffalo. My most distinctive memory of the show is the young girls going batty over the members of the group, as one such female fan squealed with delight, Oh my God, she touched him…! I thought that sequence of events was amusing, but not in a condescending or (worse) hipper-than-thou way; I was in favor of pop mania, from The Beatles to, I dunno, Duran Duran, so I approved of such teen idolatry.
Why were we there? Why not? We couldn’t afford to go to many concerts, but this must have come along at the right moment, we liked Culture Club’s radio hits, so yeah, why the hell not? Maybe I wouldn’t have gone for it just on the basis of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” or “Time (Clock Of The Heart),” or even “Karma Chameleon.” “Church Of The Poison Mind” was a different story.
“Church Of The Poison Mind” was one of my favorite songs on the radio in ’83. I’m not sure if I heard it first on the AM Top 40 station 14 Rock or on the engagingly eclectic WUWU-FM, but I found the song pleasingly reminiscent of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and I adored it.
Dirty Looks / Let Go
Statement of intent. This Staten Island trio’s eponymous debut LP was released on the Stiff America label in 1980, and “Let Go” was an immediate fave rave on 97 Power Rock, a Sunday night alternative-rock showcase aired on Buffalo’s 97 Rock FM. Hmmm. A Sunday night rock ‘n’ roll radio show? I may have made note of that particular notion for possible future use. “Let Go” is a perfect post-punk radio pop song, fueled by new wave rock energy, rooted in catchy 1960s radio fare, and dead certain that The Ramones, The Who, Joe Jackson, and Paul Revere and the Raiders are Heaven-sent inspirations. It’s not easy to write a song about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not. Too many attempts at rock anthems feel forced, or overly earnest, pompous, clueless, heavy-handed, and…blechh. With “Let Go,” Dirty Looks pull it off with style, and they make it seem like a cinch. Don’t you know that rock ‘n’ roll is still the best drug? The drumming is hyperactive, the bass pushy (in a good way), the guitar simple and authoritative, the vocals and harmonies steadfast, reflecting the confidence of a group secure in the knowledge that it has God on its side. All you gotta do, let go, let go, let GO! GO! GO! GO! Belief is infectious. And godDAMN, this sounds so exhilarating on the radio. It always has.
The Grip Weeds / For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home)
The Grip Weeds are a great, great band. They’re a superb live band, they make fantastic records, they’re a bunch of nice folks, and we like ’em a lot. They’ve allowed us to use two of their tracks on TIRnRR compilation albums, and this is part of what I wrote about them when their “Strange Bird” appeared on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4:
...The chronology of my rapid and total indoctrination into the blissful Grip of Weedsmania blurs. I may have become more interested via the group’s connection with The Rooks, another of the great pop bands of the ’90s. Rooks guitarist Kristin Pinell was (and is) also in The Grip Weeds. Kristin’s husband Kurt Reil was (and is) the drummer and lead singer for The Grip Weeds, and he played with The Rooks, too. I don’t know whether or not guitarist Rick Reil also served any Rooks time, but either way: The Grip Weeds seemed like a band I oughtta know.
And getting to know The Grip Weeds was its own sweet reward… …The Grips Weeds are a treasure. They kick ass live, too; Dana and I had a chance to see ’em in Rochester on the How I Won The War tour (with special guest Ray Paul), and The Grip Weeds deliver, man. If you’ve never heard them, we firmly recommend you gather everything they’ve ever released directly from the band, and beg their forgiveness for taking so long to get hip. But it’s okay. Music has no expiration date. I discovered Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly in the early ’70s, and that music was as fresh to me then (and now) as it woulda been if I’d been spinning 45s in the fabulous ’50s. We always say: right now is the best time ever to be a rockin’ pop fan, because you have everything that came before, everything in the moment, and everything yet to come. Turn it up. That’s what it’s there for.
And right now–in this generation, in this loving time–The Grip Weeds have a brand new cover of The Monkees‘ shoulda-been-a-hit “For Pete’s Sake,” the song that used to close second-season episodes of The Monkees’ television series. We used The Grip Weeds’ version to open this week’s radio show. With its title altered slightly to “For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home!)” for our quarantined times, there’s a fab YouTube video of the song, and the track may or may not find its way into the next Grip Weeds album. This is something we all need.
Mandy Moore / I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week
I don’t remember who it was that hipped me to “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week,” an absolutely ace 2009 single by Mandy Moore. I may have read about it on a blog, but wherever I discovered it, I loved it at once.
Prior to that single, I didn’t know all that much about Moore. Other than her capable covers of some XTC and Joan Armatrading material (from her 2003 all-covers album Coverage, which John Borack had recommended), I don’t remember hearing any of Moore’s earlier records. I must have heard her on Radio Disney when my daughter was young, but I have no recollection of that. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of her movies; I do remember seeing her brief guest tenure on the TV sitcom Scrubs. I’ve never seen This Is Us or A Walk To Remember. I know who Mandy Moore is, but my awareness of her work doesn’t even rise to the level of perfunctory.
But this song, man. This song…!
“I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week” was co-written by Moore with Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers (and the voice of The Wonders‘ “That Thing You Do!”). It’s from her album Amanda Leigh, and while I’ve owned the digital single for more than a decade, I’ve just picked up a copy of the CD. It’s time I learned more about Mandy Moore. But meanwhile: this song, man. Any day of the week.
The Mynah Birds / It’s My Time
The Mynah Birds‘ story is one of pop music’s most intriguing almost/what-ifs. The group included both Rick James and Neil Young, and they were set to release a single of “It’s My Time”/”Go On And Cry” on Motown in 1966. We can debate genre labels, but I think The Mynah Birds would have been Motown’s first rock group. Instead, the single’s release was cancelled when James was arrested for being AWOL from the Navy. The Mynah Birds ended, Young and fellow group member Bruce Palmer wound up joining Buffalo Springfield, and Rick James went on to craft ’70s and ’80s punk funk of his own after leaving the hoosegow.
What might have been? “It’s My Time” is a strong pop single, and while there’s no guarantee it would have been a hit even if it had been released, one wonders how things could have played out differently. The handful of Mynah Birds tracks that surfaced decades after the fact are intriguing, and I wish we could have been enjoying those tracks, along with more that were never made, over all these years that have passed. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice Buffalo Springfield. But The Mynah Birds coulda been something.
The Partridge Family / I Woke Up In Love This Morning
I don’t care.
I don’t care that this is supposed to be teenybopper pop music, created as a TV sitcom soundtrack, marketed to a puppy-eyed Teen Beat demographic of adolescent girls staring with undefined intent at their David Cassidy pinup. I don’t care if it was created in a boardroom, a stockholders’ meeting, a business planning session, or on the island of Dr. Moreau. I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s uncool, because anyone who does think that way is wrong, period. This record rocks. That’s all I care about.
Like The Monkees before them, the music of The Partridge Family didn’t have to be good; it just had to be commercial. The fictional Partridges didn’t reach the effervescent zenith of the less-fictional Monkees, nor of the Partridges’ real-life inspiration The Cowsills, but their machinery was likewise well-constructed, and with Cassidy’s accomplished lead vocals backed by the studio magic of The Wrecking Crew, The Partridge Family were occasionally able to transcend their test-tube genesis. Unlike The Monkees or The Cowsills, The Partridge Family never existed. But their records did. Some of those records were actually pretty damned good, with debut LP tracks “Somebody Wants To Love You” and “Singing My Song” particularly worthy of a fresh and appreciative listen.
“I Woke Up In Love This Morning” is the truest gem. Drummer Hal Blaine is just a monster on this track, and David Cassidy once again proves he was so much more than just a face, with a voice so perfectly suited to deliver on the promise of pop music. The little girls understood. Maybe we should pay attention, too.
Prince / I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
We’d been playing Prince‘s “When Doves Cry” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio a bit throughout the first few months of 2016, and I betcha it would have made our year-end countdown even if Prince had remained one of our greatest living rock stars into 2017. His death in April sealed the case for that year’s ongoing infamy, prompting me to post, “2016 is fired.”
“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” was never a song I thought much about before–if I were going to play Prince, I’d be more likely to go with “When Doves Cry” or “When You Were Mine”–but a request for the song from TIRnRR listener Joel Tinnel prompted us to play it on the show the week after Prince died. And it just clicked with me, suddenly but unerringly. I’ve been playing it ever since.
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton / Hound Dog
From this song’s chapter in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1):
Where and when did rock ‘n’ roll start? There are a few key records that one could name as possibilities for the first rock ‘n’ roll record. “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brentson and his Delta Cats (1951, and really Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm) is the closest we have to a consensus choice, though some would point to “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino (1950). I would at least add Amos Milburn‘s “Down The Road Apiece” (1947) to the discussion, and no less an authority than Lenny and Squiggy (on TV’s Laverne And Shirley) spoke on behalf of “Call The Police,” a 1941 single Nat King Cole made with The King Cole Trio. There are other progenitors and trailblazers from across the heady mingling of jump blues, R & B, country, and swing that birthed this bastard child we call rock ‘n’ roll. What was the daddy of them all? Not even a blood test is going to make that determination… …Most of us know “Hound Dog” best from Elvis Presley‘s incredible 1956 hit rendition. But as much of a legitimate threat as King Elvis I represented to the straight-laced status quo in the ’50s, his version of “Hound Dog” is an agreeably goofy novelty tune, patterned after a sanitized 1955 cover by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys rather than Big Mama Thornton‘s rude and salacious kiss-off. Elvis’ version is still great–it’s freakin’ Elvis in his prime, for cryin’ out loud–but not even the King could touch the sheer orneriness of Thornton kicking that ol’ hound dog out the door….
Among songs closely associated with Elvis, there aren’t very many that I would concede the heresy that someone else did it better than the King did. Wanda Jackson‘s “Let’s Have A Party” may be one exception. Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” definitely is another.
The Tweakers / Super Secret Bonus Track
I would like to tell you all about this track: its mysterious origin, the players hidden in the shadows, the mythic circumstances that sparked its creation. But I can’t. It’s not just a secret; it’s a super secret, just like its title insists. Rumor has it that the song was written and originally recorded by a left-handed bass player from England–Sir Prize, or Sir Plus, something along those lines–and that eventual TIRnRR singin’ star Rich Firestone is connected to it in some way. It’s currently only available on the digital download version of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 3. I can say no more. Shhhh. It’s a secret.
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!
HE WONDERS: That Thing You Do! Written by Adam Schlesinger (possibly with Mike Viola) Produced by Adam Schlesinger and Mike Viola From the soundtrack album That Thing You Do!, Play-Tone/Epic Records, 1996
Singer, songwriter, musician, and producer Adam Schlesinger was born on October 31st of 1967. He was too young to really remember the 1960s, on the scene too late to experience Beatlemania, the British Invasion, the debut of The Monkees, the effervescent zeitgeist of a pop music revolution that encompassed Motown, The Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Lesley Gore, The Knickerbockers, girl groups, surf groups, and James Brown on The TAMI Show. He did not grow up watching Shindig! and Hullabaloo on TV, he would have only seen Batman and Star Trek in syndicated reruns. He wasn’t yet two years old when Neil Armstrong declared one small step for a man was one giant leap for mankind. He lived the first years of his life in the ’60s, but he could not possibly have retained any substantive memories of that defining decade.
Somehow, Adam Schlesinger served the best pop legacies of the ’60s with greater grace and verve than anyone else you could name. He did it the only way a creative soul knows how to do it: instinctively, intuitively. Artfully. He didn’t experience the wonders of the ’60s first-hand. But when one of his projects called for it, he could conjure an effective flash of period verisimilitude untainted by mere nostalgia or bloodless hucksterism. It was just that thing he did.
All of the above kinda side-steps what most would consider Schlesinger’s greater body of work, with his groups Ivy and Fountains Of Wayne, and also the bulk of his voluminous film and television songwriting and production credits, from There’s Something About Mary through Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I can’t even apologize for my tunnel-vision in that regard. Because Schlesinger was essential to two ’60s-related gems that have meant the world to me. In 2016, he produced The Monkees’ triumphant Good Times! album, a highlight in an otherwise-miserable year. a year that robbed us of Prince and David Bowie (among others) and exchanged them all for the awful reality of a President-Elect Trump. And in 1996, he channeled everything I loved about the ’60s into a magic, frothy concoction that served as the title theme for my favorite movie, That Thing You Do!
Well I have heard your record, Guy, and I like it. I like it a lot. “That Thing You Do!” You know, it’s…snappy! Actor Tom Hanks made his directorial debut with this light-hearted little romantic comedy about The Wonders (formerly The One-ders), an unknown Erie, PA rock ‘n’ roll group that manages to score a big hit single in 1964. These fictional one-hit Wonders are a quartet of archetypes–the talent, the fool, the smart one, and the bass player–but the film executes the difficult task of making them seem plausible, real. There’s a scene when the members of The Wonders all hear their song “That Thing You Do!” on the radio for the first time, and that scene precisely nails the giddy rush of rockin’ pop music better than any other slip of celluloid I’ve ever seen. Yeah yeah yeah, even better than the entirety of A Hard Day’s Night, which had been my all-time favorite film right up until that night at a movie theater in Cicero, NY in 1996, when my eyes and ears opened wide with glee at Hollywood’s best-ever love letter to rock ‘n’ roll music.
And none of it would have or could have worked without the perfect song.
Adam Schlesinger provided that perfect song. Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers co-produced and sang lead; some say Viola also co-wrote the song, but declined to take a songwriting credit. The combined talents of Schlesinger and Viola crafted a stunning confection that steers clear of the quagmire of pastiche or parody, and captures the essence of fab and gear radio-ready 1964.
Schlesinger’s legacy is greater than one perfect song he built for a movie, and more than a fantastic album he made with the surviving members of The Monkees. I’ll let my many eloquent friends in the pop music community speak on behalf of Fountains Of Wayne, of Ivy, of Tinted Windows, and I’ve already heard testimonials to Schlesinger from many who met him, many who worked with him, many who feel this sudden loss as we all hear and try to process the awful news that Schlesinger has passed from complications related to goddamned COVID-19. Adam Schlesinger was 52 years old, too young to have remembered the ’60s. Too young to be eulogized. Too young, for God’s sake. Too young.
Our sense of loss as fans pales beside the losses of his family and friends, his children. We can only reflect upon what his music meant to us, and mourn from afar.
I mourn with something snappy, something I heard in a movie more than two decades ago, a movie which took place within a cherished era three decades before that. Adam Schlesinger couldn’t have remembered that era. But he captured it. And I’ll always remember him for that thing he did. Rest in peace, Spartacus.