Herman’s Hermits

In 1965 they sold more records than The Beatles…

 …but in three years they were done.

The British Invasion gave us all kinds of music, including a fun pop band from Manchester, Herman’s Hermits.  Their first success in the United States was with a Gerry Goffin and Carole King song, “I’m Into Something Good”.  It hit #13 on the Billboard singles chart as 1965 was arriving.  Then came a string of 9 straight Top 10 hits from the beginning of 1965 to mid 1966.  Many of you will be able to hear the melodies just by reading the titles:

  1. “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” (#2)
  2. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” (#1)
  3. “Silhouettes” (#5) (cover of The Rays’ hit)
  4. “Wonderful World” (#4) (written by Sam Cooke)
  5. “I’m Henry The VIII, I Am” (#1) (a song from 1911)
  6. “Just A Little Bit Better” (#7)
  7. “A Must To Avoid” (#8) (written by P.F. Sloan)
  8. “Listen People” (#3)
  9. “Leaning On A Lamp Post” (#9)

By comparison, The Rolling Stones were on the hottest streak of their career during that same time frame, and they had 6 Top 10 hits.

Lead singer Peter Noone (aka Herman), had just turned 17 when they first made the charts in the U.S.  The other members were Derek Leckenby (lead guitar), Karl Green (bass), Barry Whitwam (drums), and Keith Hopwood (rhythm guitar).

A successful string of singles doesn’t just happen.  Herman’s Hermits was led by well-known ’60’s producer/arranger Mickie Most, who also worked with The Animals.  Most of their hits were written by professional songwriters from outside the group.  And, some of England’s best session players worked on their singles, including Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones who also played with The Yardbirds, and would later form Led Zeppelin.

Peter Noone was cute, charming, and an accomplished vocalist.  He and the band played-up their British accents on songs like “Henry The VIII” and “Mrs. Brown”, because American audiences were loving all things British at that time.

Herman’s Hermits’ flame burned brightly, but quickly.  They had only two more Top 10 hits…”Dandy” (#5) [written by Ray Davies of The Kinks] and “There’s A Kind Of Hush” (#4).  “Hush” was their last major U.S. hit, in early 1967.  In all, the group had 18 Top 40 hits, are credited with selling over 80-million records, and were even in three movies thanks to their label, MGM.  Fun Fact:  Their movie “Hold On!” was originally titled “A Must To Avoid”, but MGM decided that was simply handing critics too much ammunition for a bad review.  Fun Fact 2:  In 1967, The Who opened concerts for Herman’s Hermits.  That had to be interesting.

By 1967, Rock & Roll was moving away from the Pop style of Herman’s Hermits.  Song lyrics often contained deeper meanings, and musical genres such as Psychedelic Rock, Country Rock, Blues Rock, Hard Rock, and Singer-Songwriters were taking over.

Herman’s Hermits continued to have some hits in England, but Peter Noone left the group in 1971.  You may have seen him pitching music collections of The British Invasion on TV, or seen him at a nostalgia show performing as Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone.  There’s also another version of the band that just includes drummer Barry Whitwam, so Baby Boomers beware.

Herman’s Hermits’ career may have been short, but they packed a lot of great recordings into that time.  They’re still fun to hear.  So…”Listen People”.

CSN&Y…Deja Vu

Deja Vu was a pivitol time in the career of Crosby, Stills & Nash.  In 1969, they had released their self-titled first album.  It was a huge success with critics and the public alike, but they felt they needed another guitarist for live performances.  Eventually, they decided to add Neil Young…the same musician Stephen Stills fought with when they were in Buffalo Springfield.  Stephen thought it would be different this time.

My wife and I were newlyweds living in Memphis, TN while I attended electronics school.  The day Deja Vu was released (March 11th, 1970), we went to the record store…but it had closed for the day.  We looked in to see a huge display at the front of the store with lots of copies of the album…only a locked door away.  We may have wanted to break in, but we came back when the store was open.  Deja Vu had the leather-looking cover with the gold embossed letters, and an actual photograph glued to the front.

Memphis FM radio stations started playing the album right away.  “Carry On” by Stephen Stills was the first song I heard.  It was the perfect album opener, with excellent harmony and a driving rhythm…a worthy follow-up to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” which had opened their first album.  The hit singles from Deja Vu were Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children” (with Jerry Garcia on steel guitar), Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, and Nash’s “Our House”.  The Stills solo song “4 + 20” got a lot of airplay, and so did David Crosby’s “Deja Vu” (with John Sebastian on harmonica).

Looking back, we know that Neil Young only played on his two tracks “Helpless” & “Country Girl”, plus three more songs “Almost Cut My Hair”, “Woodstock” and “Everybody I Love You”.

It could certainly be debated whether Neil Young’s addition was good or bad for Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Drummer Dallas Taylor, Bassist Greg Reeves, and Engineer Bill Halverson have said the first album was made with great cooperation and enthusiasm, but Deja Vu had the musicians butting heads.  We’ll never know if CSN would have had smoother sailing if they hadn’t added the Y.  What we do know is that even though Neil Young had two very good solo albums prior to joining CSN, they were not very successful.  His solo success came after Deja Vu gave him a much higher profile.  He clearly showcased his talent with After The Gold Rush and Harvest…which were his next two releases.  Those were filled with songs CSN would have loved to record.

Deja Vu hit #1,  and eventually went 7-times Platinum in the U.S. alone.  It’s also one of the best titles ever for a second album.  The album’s popularity not only helped Neil Young’s solo efforts, but the other members of the group had major success with their individual releases.

As originally expected, Neil Young was a great asset to the group’s live shows.  His lead guitar duets with Stills added energy to their electric sets, and his solo songs were a welcome part of their concerts as the years went on.

Neil Young’s greatest contribution to the group’s recordings came in 1970, shortly after the release of Deja Vu…the single “Ohio”.  That song about the Kent State shootings by the National Guard, fit right in with the band’s political awareness.  It was similar to what Stephen Stills did with “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” after the Sunset Strip demonstrations in 1967.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 48 years since the release of Deja Vu.  It’s songs reflected the times, and yet they still hold up today.  Although Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had a rocky relationship, maybe their combustible passion helped produce such great music.

Bonus story:  If you’re wondering why I didn’t include a photo of my original first-printing copy of Deja Vu, it’s because someone stole it.  When I was a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Nebraska in the mid ’70’s, we could use our own albums for our DJ shifts on the campus radio station.  One time I forgot my albums there, and when I returned for them, the only one missing was Deja Vu.  I had to buy Deja Vu all over again.

What Music Is Most Popular? Who knows!

We used to know what music was the most popular.  It was easy.  The most popular singles and albums were simply the ones that sold the most copies.  That’s not the way it is anymore.

The time of selling albums and singles is fading fast.  In fact, for years Billboard Magazine, and other companies that measure the popularity of music, have been messing with the formula to figure out what music is most popular.  They’ve used various percentages of physical sales, downloads, radio airplay, and streaming, but in reality, it’s impossible…and has been for decades.

Album sales (both physical and downloads) have dwindled drastically since their peak in the ’70’s and ’80’s.  It used to be a #1 debut album would sell a million copies the first week.  These days an album can be #1 by selling 75,000 or fewer.  It looks like albums are mostly going away.

Sheryl Crow announced yesterday that she has recorded her final album (to be released in 2019), and will only be recording singles from time to time.  Most other artists are releasing singles or EP’s, (Extended Play singles) which normally contain about 4 songs.

There was a news story recently that Apple would stop selling albums.  That’s not true.  In reality, they are going to stop selling the “iTunes Albums” that included extra content provided by the labels.  They plan to continue selling whatever albums, EP’s, and singles artists release.  But…the overriding aspect of today’s music consumption is that people are switching to streaming services, rather than buying songs.  It makes sense.  You can have access to 45-million songs for $10 a month or so.  Of course you can only listen to one song at a time, and you might only like a relatively small portion of what’s available.  Still, for most people, it’s more practical to stream than to buy.

So, why don’t we just count the number of times a song is streamed to determine what’s most popular?

First of all, a huge portion of consumers have not yet subscribed to streaming services.  Secondly, just because a song is streamed doesn’t mean someone actually requested it.  Listeners often simply ask their service to play a certain style of music, or they listen to playlists that are made by algorithms or by programmers.  If it’s decided to include a certain song on playlists, that song is going to get more streams.  When a major artist does release an album, It might be that all of the album’s cuts lead streaming as if they had released 17 singles.  That certainly doesn’t mean anyone would have bought all 17 if they really were singles.  It just means that people want to check them out “free” as part of their streaming charge.  The truth is, they might not even like most of the songs.

Just yesterday there was a report that Spotify came up with a big push to help Drake set a new 3-day streaming record, and hoped to force his new album to the top of the Billboard chart.  The ploy included putting Drake on playlists that would not normally include his type of music.  That shows how popularity can be faked.  Some Spotify subscribers asked for refunds, and got them.

We also can’t turn to radio airplay to find out which songs and artists are most popular.  There was a news story yesterday that Taylor Swift (the one artist who this year actually sold over a million albums the first week with Reputation) has topped the Adult Pop chart with her song “Delicate”.  The important part of the story is just how small the sample was to make that determination.  The report said Nielsen Music had surveyed 87 Adult Top-40 radio stations to get that result.  Even their regular Pop Chart only surveys 169 stations (to represent the entire U.S.).  The impact of radio airplay is still strong for artists, but it’s dwindling while streaming grows.  It’s also splintered into so many formats, no one really knows which songs are the most popular.  Is an Adult Pop hit more popular than a Country hit, an Adult Contemporary hit, a Mainstream hit, a Pop hit, a Hot Rock hit, or songs on any of Billboard’s 42 American charts?  No one knows!   The measurement methods vary, so they can’t be compared.

The bottom line is that Billboard and other companies have to have something to report, or they go out of business.  So, they all just come up with some formula…hoping to reflect some measure of popularity.  There is simply no way to compare today’s charts with those of the ’50’s, ’60’s, ’70’s, or 80’s, but Billboard pretends they can.  By the ’90’s, we were already having major problems with too many charts and formats to accurately compare back to the era of a few charts and actual sales.  By the ’90’s, the majority of Americans couldn’t tell you what song was considered #1, and quite possibly they hadn’t even heard it.

(From the 1950’s to the 2010’s…so much changed in how we consume music.)

When you hear about some amazing number of streams, or that so-and-so is the most popular because he has the top 17 songs, or that an artist has almost as many #1’s as The Beatles…you can just smile…and know it’s kinda made up.

Update:  And now it’s happened.  Today (7/10/18) it was announced that Drake has broken The Beatles record of 5 songs in the top 10.  Drake had 7, although not the top 5 like The Beatles.  We smile and know Drake didn’t actually break the record, because there’s simply no way to measure the two feats equally.  In fact, if 7 of Drake’s songs are so popular, why is only 1 of those songs in the top 10 purchased songs on iTunes?  No one can say it’s because his fans don’t purchase his songs, because they do…in this case 1.  If streaming had existed in 1967, it’s possible the songs from Sgt. Pepper would have filled all top 10 positions…but, we can never know.

It’s okay for records to be broken, but to be legitimate, there has to be a consistent form of measurement…such as the distance in a track event.  USA Today says the Drake fiasco “shows how broken the music industry is.”

Maybe Billboard should just divide what used to be called sales records into two eras…pre-streaming and post-streaming…because there is no way to compare them fairly.  It’s foolish to think otherwise.

Girl Groups

When people talk about influential artists, too often the Girl Groups are forgotten.  They certainly helped shape the most influential band of all time…The Beatles.

By the early 1960’s, the explosion of Rock & Roll in the 1950’s was mostly over.  Instead, the bulk of the music business had returned to professional songwriters coming up with songs for performers.  The music itself was mainly Pop, with some light trappings of Rock & Roll.  Most of the hits were by teen idols.  Then in 1961 came the first #1 rock era song by what was called a “Girl Group”.

The first big Girl Group hit was “Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, topping the charts in January of 1961.  The song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  The group followed up with “Dedicated To The One I Love” at #3, and also had two big hits in 1962 with “Baby It’s You (#8) and “Soldier Boy”(another #1).

The second #1 by a Girl Group was “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes in December of 1961.  It was the first #1 record for Motown.   By the way, I remember seeing a letter sent by one of my sisters (I think it was Janice) who co-opted a line from that song.  She wrote a very large D on the envelope, and after that D was a column of hyphenated words…-liver, -letter, -sooner, -better.  Hope the postman got a smile out of that.

And then there were more.  The Ronettes (above) and The Crystals were two Girl Groups produced by Phil Spector.  The Crystals hit #1 with “He’s A Rebel” in 1962.  The song was written by singer-songwriter Gene Pitney, who had sixteen of his own Top 40 hits in the ’60’s.  Two other big hits for The Crystals came in 1963…Da Doo Ron Ron (#3), and “Then He Kissed Me” (#6).  Both were written by the team of Jeff Berry & Ellie Greenwich, along with Phil Spector.  Those same three also wrote the #1 hit “Chapel Of Love” by The Dixie Cups.  Spector became know for his “Wall Of Sound” production technique, where he layered on multiple instruments (such as 3 pianos at once) and lots of backing vocals.

Phil Spector did the same thing for The Ronettes.  In 1963, their hits were “Be My Baby” (#2), and “Baby I Love You” (#24).  Again, both songs were written by Berry, Greenwich, and Spector.  “Walking In The Rain” made #23 in 1964, a song written by the team of Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, along with Phil Spector.  The song was a Grammy Award winner.  The Ronettes were named for lead singer Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett, who became Ronnie Spector (Phil’s wife).  The Ronettes bring us back to The Beatles.  The Ronettes toured with The Beatles in England (January of 1964), and became friends with the band.  They also opened for The Beatles during the band’s final tour in 1966.

Let’s look at the influence of Girl Groups on Rock & Roll’s biggest band.  In the early ’60’s The Beatles had four songs by Girl Groups on their albums…”Please Mr. Postman”, “Boys” (it was on the flip-side of the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), “Baby It’s You”, and “Chains” (#17), a song by The Cookies (and written by Goffin & King).  The influence was multifaceted.  The vocal harmonies of these Girl Group songs were great training for The Beatles’ own harmony singing, and the flowing melodies, written by some of the top songwriters of the day, influenced them too.

The Beach Boys also covered some Girl Group songs, and Brian Wilson was very taken with Phil Spector’s production techniques.

The Angels were studio backup singers, and had their own #1 hit in 1963 with “My Boyfriend’s Back”.  The lead singer warns a boy who’d been bothering her…”My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble.”

(Shangri-La’s lead singer Mary Weiss with twins Marge & Mary Ganser)

The Shangri-las were just high school teenagers in 1964 when they started becoming popular.  Although they look fairly happy in the above photos, their songs were not so chipper.  First came “Remember (Walking In The Sand”) a #5 hit about losing a boyfriend (“He found somebody new.”), followed by “Leader Of The Pack”, a #1 smash about losing a boyfriend…in a motorcycle accident.  They finally found happiness with “Give Him A Great Big Kiss” (#18) in 1965, but sadness returned later that same year with “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” (#6).  Their downbeat songs were even covered by punk bands and Aerosmith.

(The Supremes…Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard.)

Far and away the most successful ‘60’s Girl Group was The Supremes.  Their first big hit was “Where Did Our Love Go” in mid 1964.  That started a string of 5-straight #1’s…”Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In The Name Of Love”, and “Back In My Arms Again”.  In all, The Supremes had twelve #1 hits, and a total of 29 Top 40 hits.  Those songs included…”I Hear A Symphony” (#1), “My World Is Empty Without You” (#5), “You Can’t Hurry Love” (#1), and “You Keep Me Hanging On” (#1).

Some people have said the end of the Girl Groups came with The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion.  But, The Supremes charted from 1964 to 1970, the same years as The Beatles.  Even as Rock grew, there was room on the charts for Pop.  Eventually though, the continuing trend for artists to write and perform their own songs is what pushed out the Girl Groups.  The positive effect was that more young women started playing instruments and fronting & forming bands…such as Heart in the ‘70’s, and The Bangles & The Go-Go’s in the ’80’s.

Although the golden age of Girl Groups was in the ‘60’s, they never completely disappeared.  The best-selling Girl Group ever, The Spice Girls, were a ‘90’s phenomenon.  They dressed a little differently too.

CSN&Y…Human Highway (The Lost Album)

The “lost” album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was supposed to be the follow-up to their amazingly successful 1970 album Deja Vu.  Of course, after that album and tour, the four members split to record successful solo albums.  Then in the late Spring of 1973, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, they started work on a new CSN&Y album to be called Human Highway.

(Mock-up album cover using the planned cover photo.)

“Human Highway” was a song written by Neil Young that the group recorded during sessions in May & June of 1973.  In all, the group recorded over half-an-album’s worth of songs, but those four strong personalities couldn’t stay together to finish what they started.  Instead, their label released the greatest hits collection, So Far.

In 1974, CSN&Y reunited for a major tour.

Although the tour was successful, the group still had many conflicts.  It took them 40 years to release the live recordings, CSNY 1974.

It’s a 3 CD and 1 DVD set, and has a 186 page book.  It also includes some songs that were part of their plans for Human Highway.  In fact, CSN&Y went back into the studio in 1974 and 1976 to try to finish the album.  Both times ended in conflict, and no album.

So, let’s track down the recordings that could have made up Human Highway. The first source is the 1991 CSN 4-CD box set.

This is my all-time favorite box set.  It not only includes most of the major recordings by the group, but many of their best solo songs, and also unreleased & alternate versions.  We find the following unreleased recordings played by all four members of CSN&Y… “Homeward Through The Haze”  & “The Lee Shore” (both by Crosby), “See The Changes” (by Stills),  and “Taken At All” (by Nash).  All of these, except “The Lee Shore” were specifically recorded for Human Highway.  I’m including “The Lee Shore” here, because this studio version was unreleased, they played it on their 1974 tour, and it would have fit nicely on the album.

The unreleased  group versions of “Human Highway” (by Young) and “Prison Song” (by Nash) were both downloaded from bootlegs fans posted on the internet.  “Prison Song” was horrendously bass heavy, but I ran it through an equalizer and it came out nicely for our recreated album.  I posted a copy of it on YouTube under the user name radiospast.  “As I Come of Age” (by Stills), “Wind On The Water” & “And So It Goes” (both by Nash) and “Through My Sails” (by Young) were originally written for Human Highway.  The songs ended up on solo albums…but the recordings all include multiple members of the band, which are noted on the album tracks below.

The final track…”Hawaiian Sunrise” (by Young) is from the above mentioned CSNY 1974 set.  Even though the recordings are supposed to be live, “Hawaiian Sunrise” really sounds like it’s a studio recording.  I did an easy edit to eliminate the applause at the end, and it fits right in with the rest of the album.

There are many other songs from 1973-1976 that could be candidates to be included on Human Highway.  In the following version, 11 of the 12 songs were originally written and recorded for the album.  Plus, 9 of them have all four artists participating.  Here are the proposed sides of Human Highway.

Side One:

  1. See The Changes…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  2. Human Highway…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  3. Taken At All…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  4. Long May You Run…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  5. And So It Goes…Crosby Nash & Young
  6. Critical Mass/Wind On The Water…Crosby & Nash

Side Two:

  1. As I Come Of Age…Crosby Stills & Nash
  2. Homeward Through The Haze…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  3. Prison Song…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  4. Through My Sails…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  5. The Lee Shore…Crosby Stills Nash & Young
  6. Hawaiian Sunrise…Crosby Stills Nash & Young

The album includes 4 songs by Neil Young, 4 by Graham Nash,  2 by David Crosby (plus the beautiful “Critical Mass” intro to “Wind On The Water”), and Stephen Stills gets the prime first cut on each side.  The songs were placed in an order based on musical flow, lyrical content, and the time allowed per vinyl side.  It’s a strong album, with all twelve songs being good.  The group would probably have wanted to include an up-tempo rocker or two, but they didn’t appear to have any ready for the album.

If you’re a fan of CSN&Y’s solo work, you’ll see that all of these songs except “Hawaiian Sunrise” made it onto other albums.  Most of the recordings (that include all four members of the group) are better than the versions that ended up on their solo albums.  Too bad they couldn’t have stayed together and done more albums!

Over the years, fans have speculated about which songs would have been on Human Highway.  Another possible version of the lost album is on the website Albums That Never Were.  Just Google the site name along with Human Highway to find the article.  That version has nine of the twelve songs I’ve chosen, so we’re getting close to “finding” the lost album.

David Crosby told Rolling Stone magazine he thought Human Highway could have been CSN&Y’s best album.

Jonathan Edwards / Seals & Crofts

For most people, Jonathan Edwards is a one-hit-wonder, with the million-selling song “Sunshine (Go Away Today)”.  It entered the Top 40 in December of 1971, and peaked at #4 in 1972.

(Photos are from slides I took at a 1973 concert in Norfolk, VA)

The only reason we got to know more of Jonathan Edwards’ music, is because he opened for Seals & Crofts at a June 1973 concert in Virginia.  When we saw him, Edwards had released two albums…his eponymous album with “Sunshine”, and Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy from 1972.  We already had his single “Sunshine”, so we purchased the album Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy in order to get to know his music before we saw him.

Jonathan Edwards was so good during his portion of the concert.  He was playing one of our favorite styles of music, Country Rock.  It leaned a little to the Country side, and he was using an acoustic guitar instead of a solid body electric.  His preference for things a little more natural shows up in his song lyrics about being a musician.  In “That’s What Our Life Is” he sings…”They said I would shine like the light in a city, I hoped it would be like the moon on the sea.”

His performance was just so confident and enjoyable, we loved it all.  It turned out that he was the best part of the concert that night.  We ended up buying all of the albums he released in the 1970’s.

Above is our Jonathan Edwards playlist (click to enlarge)…which has our favorites from four of his albums…Jonathan Edwards (1971), Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy (1972), Have A Good Time For Me (1973), and Rockin’ Chair (1976).  In addition, there are six songs from the very hard to find Orphan album (1973).  Orphan was a country rock band with friends and colleagues of Jonathan Edwards, including songwriter Eric Lilljequist.  He wrote several songs recorded by Edwards, and also played lead guitar and provided vocals on some of Jonathan’s albums.  Orphan is a solid album with excellent vocal harmonies.

The playlist is included in case you aren’t familiar with this music, and would like some guidance getting to know Jonathan Edwards better.

Through the years, Jonathan Edwards has continued to perform, and has done some acting and film scoring.

(Jim Seals from that 1973 concert at the Scope Arena.)

(Dash Crofts was impressive on the mandolin.)

The main reason we went to the concert was to hear Seals & Crofts.  We had two of their albums…Summer Breeze and Diamond Girl.  The hits from those albums included…”Summer Breeze” (#6), “Hummingbird” (#20), “Diamond Girl” (#6), and “We May Never Pass This Way Again” (#23).

Seals & Crofts sounded great, their singing and playing were first rate.  However, there was something that night that really took away from their performances.  They had a lot of technical trouble.  It seemed during almost every song, they were seeking help with adjustment of the gear or the monitors, and it definitely kept them (and us) from getting deeply into their songs.

It may be unfair, because it was a bad night for them, but we knew if they ever passed our way again, we’d skip their concert.  The only other album we ever purchased by them was their Greatest Hits, that included “I’ll Play For You” (#18), and “Get Closer” (#6).

We left that 1973 concert knowing that Seals & Crofts were talented, but we were wishing they could have simply gotten up on stage and played (with less production) the way Jonathan Edwards had done so well.

The Cars

It’s been 40 years since the world was introduced to the New Wave sound of The Cars.  Or were they Rock?  Pop?  Or maybe even Punk?  The cars had their own sound that mixed elements of all of them.

Elliot Easton (lead guitar), Ric Ocasek (guitar & vocals), Greg Hawkes (keyboards), Benjamin Orr (bass & vocals), David Robinson (drums).

This Boston band’s first album, The Cars, came out in June of 1978, and had three singles that charted…”Just What I Needed” (#27), “My Best Friend’s Girl” (#35), and “Good Times Roll” (#41).  It also had a much-played album cut “Moving in Stereo”.  Despite the modest rankings of the singles, the album grew in popularity.  By the end of 1978 it had gone platinum, it was the #4 ranked album for 1979, and went on to eventually sell over 6-million copies.  Rock radio liked the cars.  When I was programming a Rock station in the late ’80’s, I remember a list of the most-played classic songs on Rock stations, and at the very top of the list was “Good Times Roll”.

Ric Ocasek wrote almost all of their songs, and he had his own distinctively quirky style of singing.  Benjamin Orr also sang some of the leads.  He had a little smoother style, so he often did the ballads.  Keyboardist Greg Hawkes used synthesizers extensively, guitarist Elliot Easton experimented with guitar effects, and David Robinson often used drum programming.  All of that gave The Cars a sound that was called New Wave in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, but the group also featured strong melodies and harmonies that had a wide appeal to radio programmers and listeners alike.

The Cars second album, Candy-O, also went multi-platinum, and featured their biggest hit so far, “Let’s Go” (#14), with the lead vocal by Benjamin Orr.  In 1980, their third album Panorama, was a bit of a let down, even though it did go platinum.

By the end of 1981, The Cars released album number 4, Shake It Up.  The title song made it to #4, helped in part by that newfangled video thing, MTV, which had just started in August of that year.  The Cars were back to multi-platinum, and their biggest album was next.

Heartbeat City was released in March of 1984.  It had five hit singles…”You Might Think” (#7), “Magic” (#12), “Drive” (#3), “Hello Again” (#20), and “Why Can’t I Have You” (#33).  A sixth song, “It’s Not The Night” was #31 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.  The Cars spent a lot of time in the studio for Heartbeat City, and had enlisted the help of producer Mutt Lange.

The video for “You Might Think” is one of the first computer graphic videos, and won the first MTV Video Music Award for “Video of the Year” (in 1984).

After that high point, The Cars only had three more Top-40 singles…”Tonight She Comes” (#7), “I’m Not The One” (#32), and “You Are The Girl” (#17).  In 1987, they had their lowest-selling album Door To Door.  The Cars broke up in 1988.  (There was a reunion album in 2011.)

Above is a photo of my double CD anthology by The Cars from 1995.  It not only has a lot of great songs, it’s one of the coolest album packages ever.  The brightly-colored cardboard sleeve looks like metal-flake car paint, with added fire & pin-striping, and of course the CD’s look like wheels.

The Cars had 15-years of eligibility before they were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (class of 2018).  It’s a shame the honor couldn’t have come before Benjamin Orr passed away from cancer (at age 53 in 2000).  Cars fans were still happy to see the group get their recognition this year.

As always, there were some music fans who thought their own favorite bands should have been selected instead.  The Cars came up with a very original musical style that was even hard to categorize, and high quality songs with great appeal.  The Cars induction was a good choice.

Three Dog Night / The Guess Who

These two groups had parallel careers.  The Guess Who broke into the Top 40 in April of 1969 with their first Top 10 hit “These Eyes”(#6).  Three Dog Night’s first Top 10 hit, “One”, entered the chart a month later, and made it to #5.

Three Dog Night featured three lead singers…Danny Hutton, Cory Wells, & Chuck Negron.

 The Guess Who…Jim Cale (bass & vocals), Burton Cummings (lead vocals, keyboards & guitar), Garry Peterson (drums), and Randy Bachman (lead guitar & vocals).

Both bands have interesting stories about how they got their names.

Three Dog Night’s name was suggested by Danny Hutton’s girlfriend, June Fairchild, who had read how native Australians used dogs to keep warm.  On an extremely cold night it might take three dogs to keep warm…thus a “three dog night”.  Maybe the name sounded appropriate because of the three lead singers.

In 1965, The Guess Who was actually named Chad Allan & The Expressions.  They had a modest hit with “Shakin’ All Over” that year.  When they released an album, printed on the cover were the words…Guess Who?  It was meant to be a marketing ploy (to add some interest and mystery), but Instead, DJ’s called the band The Guess Who, so the group made it official.

From 1969 to 1975, Three Dog Night had 21 Top 40 hits, 7 million sellers, and 3 #1’s.  Interestingly, each of the lead singers had a #1…Cory Wells with “Mama Told Me Not To Come”, Chuck Negron with “Joy To The World”, and Danny Hutton with “Black & White”.

The band relied on outside songwriters, and knew how to turn the songs into hits.  They used clever arrangements and great harmonies.  Harry Nilsson wrote “One” (#6), Randy Newman wrote “Mama Told Me Not To Come” (#1), Laura Nyro wrote “Eli’s Coming” (#10), Hoyt Axton wrote both “Joy To The World” (#1) & “Never Been To Spain” (#5), Leo Sayer wrote “The Show Must Go On” (#4), and songwriter Paul Williams helped them out with three hits  “Out In The Country” (#15), “The Family Of Man” (#12), & “An Old Fashioned Love Song” (#4).  Paul Williams also wrote big hits for The Carpenters (“We’ve Only Just Begun” & “Rainy Days And Mondays”), and for Kermit The Frog (“Rainbow Connection”).

Some of Three Dog Night’s other significant singles included “Shambala” (#3), “Liar” (#7), and “Easy To Be Hard” (#4).  Although Three Dog Night never had another Top 40 hit after 1975, their hits catalog was so strong that various versions of the band have been touring ever since.

From 1969 to 1975, The Guess Who had 13 Top 40 hits, 3 million sellers, one #1, and a total of six songs that made the Top 10.  While the number of hits for The Guess Who is lower than for Three Dog Night, you could add in another 7 for Randy Bachman’s BTO (Bachman Turner Overdrive), and another 2 Top 40 solo hits for Burton Cummings.  So, the number of hits of the two groups is very similar, but Three Dog Night had more hits at the top of the charts.

One advantage for The Guess Who is that Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman were the songwriters for “These Eyes” (#6), “Laughing” (#10), “Undun” (#22), “No Time” (#5), “American Woman” (#1) and “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” (a favorite album cut).  Besides touring, songwriting is the major money maker for musicians.

It seems ironic that this Canadian group’s only #1 hit in the U.S. was the anti-American song “American Woman”.  Maybe it was the line “I don’t need your war machines”  that struck a chord with young Americans who were protesting the Vietnam War.  Besides, it has a great guitar riff by Randy Bachman.

After “American Woman”, Randy Bachman left and formed BTO.  The Guess Who’s songwriting was then done by Burton Cummings and Kurt Winter.  Their significant hits were “Hand Me Down World” (#17), “Share The Land” (#10) and novelty song, “Clap For The Wolfman” (#6) [with spoken bits by DJ Wolfman Jack].

Meanwhile BTO had their seven hits from 1974 to 1976, including “Takin’ Care Of Business” (#12), “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” (#1), and “Roll On Down The Highway” (#14).  The main single for Burton Cummings was “Stand Tall’ (#10) in 1976.

I use a combined playlist for these bands, with their songs alternating.  I do the same thing with other bands that are associated in my mind…including The Buckinghams & The Grass Roots, The Yardbirds & The Zombies, and The Police & INXS.  That way, there is a refreshing style change from one song to another, and yet the songs share an era.

The Beatles 1 & 2

It would be a shame if younger or future Beatles fans only knew The Beatles through their album of #1 singles…1.

It’s obviously a very good collection of their songs that were #1 in America or England, with 21 of them topping Billboard in the U.S. (although “Something” lost it’s #1 designation when Billboard later altered their methodology.)  The problem is…The Beatles didn’t release many of their best songs as singles.

Another option is to purchase the Red and Blue albums 1962-1966 and 1967-1970.  They’re also good collections, but at 26 songs and 28 songs respectively, they could be priced like Beatles 1, which has 27 songs.  Instead, they’re priced higher, as double-albums.  And really, are “Old Brown Shoe” and “Octopus’s Garden” among their best songs?  Those were included just to help George and Ringo with royalties.

An interesting analysis of those two collections shows Rubber Soul provided the most songs…8 (6 album cuts + the 2 singles released the same day).  Using that same basic method, Revolver, surprisingly, has only 3 (2 +1), Sgt. Pepper has 6 (4 +2), The White Album has 5 (3 + 2), Abbey Road 4, and Let It Be 3.

Maybe Apple Records could simply release a companion album for 1…called 2.  The playlist would be something like this:

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. All My Loving
  3. Twist And Shout
  4. And I Love Her
  5. If I Fell
  6. Things We Said Today
  7. I’ll Follow The Sun
  8. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  9. Norwegian Wood
  10. Nowhere Man
  11. Michelle
  12. In My Life
  13. Good Day Sunshine
  14. For No One
  15. Here, There, And Everywhere
  16. Strawberry Fields Forever
  17. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  18. With A Little Help From My Friends
  19. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  20. She’s Leaving Home
  21. A Day In The Life
  22. Magical Mystery Tour
  23. The Fool On The Hill
  24. Revolution
  25. Back In The U.S.S.R.
  26. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  27. Blackbird
  28. Here Comes The Sun

It’s more likely people would buy a single album to add as a supplement to 1…so 2 could be an option for Apple Records, and great for new fans.  Only 7 of these songs were singles.  Do you know all 28 songs anyway?

Why is it important for future fans to get to know more than The Beatles’ number one hits?  This 2 list has John Lennon’s three most critically praised songs…”A Day In The Life”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “In My Life”, plus one of his best rockers “Revolution”.  It has some of Paul McCartney’s best love songs, including…”And I Love Her”, “Michelle”, and “Here, There, And Everywhere”, his innovative rocker “Sgt. Pepper”, and his beloved “Blackbird”.  George Harrison only had “Something” on 1, so this list would add two more of his very best songs…”While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes The Sun”.  For Ringo Starr, it’s simply his best-ever performance…”With A Little Help From My Friends”.  And, the list has many more excellent songs that deserve to be heard by future generations.

Although album sales are disappearing, an album like this would be a good guide for future listeners.  They’d be likely to stream these songs if they were in a single album.  It might be hard to convince them to listen to all The Beatles’ albums, but   would go a long way in conveying the musical importance and uniqueness of The Beatles.

Garage Bands

It wasn’t always a garage…sometimes it was a basement, a barn, a porch, or a backyard.  Rock & Roll made kids want to play music, and they had to have someplace to practice.

Almost every band starts out as a “Garage Band”.  Some make it big.  Some have one hit.  Most only play music for the fun of it…and maybe to dream a bit.

The peak of the Garage Band years came from 1963 to 1968.  In 1963, “Louie Louie” (the three-chord #1 hit by The Kingsmen from Portland, Oregon) led the trend.  Who couldn’t learn three chords?  You could probably record it in your garage!  The song was not sung clearly, and the recording wasn’t great, so there was a persistent rumor that the lyrics were “dirty”.  Of course they weren’t, but that didn’t stop some radio stations from banning the song.

The British Invasion increased the desire of young people to play music.  It’s estimated that nearly  200,000 local bands formed in the 1960’s.

Looking back, we can see what artists and songs might fit into the Garage Band label.  Some of the bands had multiple hits, but most were one-hit-wonders who had a spark of creativity.  The majority of Garage Rock songs sound like they could be performed with the classic lineup of guitars, bass, drums, and a keyboard.

In 1972, there was an album called Nuggets that gathered a lot of songs that fit the Garage Band feel.  Some of the songs were national hits, but also included were some hard-to-find regional hits.  I liked the concept, and made my own playlist…60’s Nuggets

  1. Louie Louie…The Kingsmen (’63)
  2. Run Run Run…The Gestures (’64)
  3. Night Time…The Strangeloves (’65)
  4. She’s About A Mover…The Sir Douglas Quintet
  5. Wooly Bully…Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
  6. Hang On Sloopy…The McCoys
  7. Keep On Dancing…The Gentrys
  8. I Want Candy…The Strangeloves
  9. Hanky Panky…Tommy James & The Shondells (’66)
  10. Dirty Water…The Standells
  11. Gloria…The Shadows of Knight
  12. Lies…The Knickerbockers
  13. Psychotic Reaction…Count Five
  14. Wild Thing…The Troggs
  15. Hey Little Girl…The Syndicate of Sound
  16. My Little Red Book…Love
  17. Time Won’t Let Me…The Outsiders
  18. 96 Tears…? & The Mysterions
  19. Mr. Moon…The Coachmen
  20. Harlem Shuffle…The Fabulous Flippers
  21. Jezebel…The Rumbles (’67)
  22. I Had Too Much To Dream…The Electric Prunes
  23. Pushin’ Too Hard…The Seeds
  24. Little Bit O’ Soul…The Music Explosion
  25. Talk Talk…The Music Machine
  26. Incense And Peppermints…Strawberry Alarm Clock
  27. We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet…The Blues Magoos
  28. Green Tambourine…The Lemon Pipers (’68)
  29. Journey To The Center Of The Mind…The Amboy Dukes
  30. Shapes Of Things To Come…Max Frost & The Troopers    (Songs in chronological order by years…’63-’68)

The songs nearly every local band played are:  “Louie Louie”, “Gloria” by The Shadows of Knight (by Them in the U.K.), “Hang On Sloopy” by The McCoys, and “Wild Thing” by The Troggs.  Proving that “Wild Thing” was still a good starter song in the ’80’s, our young son chose to play it on his new electric guitar at a school talent show.

(Screen shot of fuzzy video…our son playing “Wild Thing”, and wearing a “See you on The Dark Side Of The Moon” T-shirt”.)

There are some great Psychedelic Rock songs that fit the list: “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five, “I Had Too Much To Dream” by The Electric Prunes, “Incense & Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock, “Green Tambourine” by The Lemon Pipers and “Journey To The Center Of The Mind” by The Amboy Dukes.  Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers did a rocking live cover of “Psychotic Reaction”.

Some Garage Band songs showed signs of early Punk Rock:  “My Little Red Book” by Love, “Hey Little Girl” by The Syndicate Of Sound, “Pushin’ Too Hard” by The Seeds, and “Talk Talk” by The Music Machine.  Those last three all used a half-sung/half-spoken style for the lead vocals.

(Some of my old 45’s from ‘60’s bands in Nebraska, one’s on the list.)

Since the Nuggets idea included some regional hits, I chose three from the area of my youth.  “Mr. Moon”, by The Coachmen from Lincoln & Omaha, sounds a bit like “96 Tears”.  It was a hit in the Midwest, and in various cities like San Francisco & Boston.  “Harlem Shuffle” was a big regional hit for The Fabulous Flippers from Kansas, and “Jezebel” was a Midwestern hit for The Rumbles from Omaha.  The Rumbles had excellent multi-part vocals.  They could nail The Beach Boys’ intricate harmonies live on songs like “Sloop John B”…something out of reach for most local bands.

There are some mainstream hits on the playlist.  “Lies” by The Knickerbockers is one of my favorites.  “Dirty Water” is true Garage Rock by The Standells, and so is “Hanky Panky”, a #1 hit by Tommy James & The Shondells.  “Time Won’t Let Me” hit #5 for The Outsiders,”Little Bit ‘O Soul made it to #2 for The Music Explosion, and “96 Tears” was a #1 hit for ? & The Mysterions.

The Byrds captured the Garage Band era with 1967’s “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star”:

So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star,
Then listen now, to what I say.
Just get an electric guitar,
Then take some time and learn how to play.
And when your hair’s combed right
And your pants too tight, it’s gonna be all right.

Then it’s time to go downtown
Where the agent man won’t let you down.
Sell your soul to the company
Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware.
And in a week or two if you make the charts
The girls will tear you apart.

What you paid for your riches and fame,
Was it all a strange game? You’re a little insane.
Play the game and the public acclaim,
Don’t forget what you are, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll star.

The Byrds knew how hard it actually was for bands, and that “making it” might not match a band’s dream.

Hopefully, all those Garage Bands enjoyed their time playing music.  The ones that did have some success sure gave us a great playlist!