Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.
290. “Fly Me to the Moon,” Frank Sinatra. Songwriter: Bart Howard; Did Not Chart; 1964. Bart Howard, “It took me 20 years to find out how to write a song in 20 minutes. The song just fell out of me. One publisher wanted me to change the lyric to ‘take me to the moon.’ Had I done that I don’t know where I’d be today.” “Fly Me to the Moon” was written as a cabaret pop ballad, first performed by Kaye Ballard as “In Other Words” in 1954. There were approximately twenty versions of “Fly Me to the Moon” released in 1962 with the biggest hit being a bossa nova instrumental from Joe Harnell and His Orchestra that peaked at #14 on the pop charts. Quincy Jones arranged an instrumental version of the song for Count Basie in 1963. Jones, “(Sinatra) called me and said, ‘Hey, Q, this is Francis, I’m in Hawaii directing a film called ‘None But the Brave.’ I heard the record you did last year with Basie.’ It was a waltz – I did it in 4/4 with Basie so it would swing. He said, ‘That’s the way I like to do it too. Would you consider doing an album with Basie and me?’ I said hell to the yeah, went over to Hawaii, and I didn’t leave Frank until he left earth.” Despite never being a pop hit, Sinatra’s recording has become the definitive swinging version of “Fly Me to the Moon.”
289. “Sunshine Superman,” Donovan. Songwriter: Donovan; #1 pop; 1966. “Sunshine Superman” moved Donovan from the world of folk music to a more contemporary pop sound, with an admitted reference to LSD. Donovan, who always has the best quotes, “It’s not a normal love song. On the face of it, the song is about being with (future wife) Linda (Lawrence) again. But sunshine is a nickname for acid. The Superman is the person capable of entering higher states because it’s not easy to go into the fourth dimension and see the matrix of the universe in which everything is connected.” Author Jon Savage, “Principally acoustic but laced with distorted electric guitar and a harpsichord, it was a light and limber single, jazzily swinging with an acid edge, full of hipster slang and nature mysticism. It was received with enthusiasm as a breath of fresh air.”
288. “River Man,” Nick Drake. Songwriter: Nick Drake; Did Not Chart; 1969. Nick Drake was an iconoclastic artist who developed an eerily disturbing style of writing, playing, and singing. Part of his creativity or distinctiveness may have been derived from legitimate mental illness. Musically, he sounded a bit like an acoustic Van Morrison and there is a definite beauty in his work, although it’s a beauty that feels consistently perilous. His 1969 song “River Man” includes a viola heavy string section that combines with Drake’s world weary vocals to develop a sound of cryptic darkness. Producer Joe Boyd on working with the enigmatic songwriter, “What I learned very early on was not to monitor what he was doing, because he was always perfect. We just turned off his mikes in the control him and listened to what everyone else was doing.”
287. “Tighten Up,” Archie Bell & the Drells. Songwriters: Archie Bell, Billy Buttier; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1968. “Tighten Up” was the first, and biggest, hit for the we-can-dance-just-as-good-as-we-want Archie Bell & the Drells, although the track was primarily completed without their participation. The music was composed by a group of students from Texas Southern University, who called themselves the TSU Toronados. The Toronados and the Drells shared the same manager, who had the Toronados record the instrumental track. Michael Corcoran, “The Drells came in the next night to hash out some lyrics, which mainly consisted of exhorting each band member to ‘tighten up,’ as they went around the horn.” The Toronados received no writing credit or royalties from the song, but they certainly helped a lot of people dance their troubles away.
286. “Hello Mary Lou,” Ricky Nelson. Songwriters: Gene Pitney, Cayet Mangiaracina; #9 pop; 1961. “Hello, Mary Lou” is a simple song with a somewhat complicated history. Future priest Cayet Mangiaracina wrote a song for his New Orleans high school rock band titled “Merry, Merry Lou” in 1957. Bill Haley covered the upbeat rocker as “Mary, Mary Lou” later that year. Gene Pitney wrote “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson and despite the different tempos and lyrics, Mangiaracina was given a songwriting credit after Decca Records sued on his behalf. Alan di Perna, “One thing that nearly all of Ricky Nelson’s hits have in common is a concise, compelling James Burton guitar solo. These are some of the records that help establish the rock guitar solo as a set piece, a mini-composition in its own right.” Burton, “I played the solo in one take and off the top of my head on ‘Hello Mary Lou’ and all those tunes.” As for songwriter Pitney, he was perplexed by the song’s long term popularity, saying, “I’ve spent a lifetime trying to analyze why it was as big as it was.”
285. “No Particular Place to Go,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #10 pop/#10 R&B; 1964. “No Particular Place to Go” is a rewrite of Berry’s 1957 hit “School Days” with a lyrical emphasis on automobiles and young love. The title is ironic since Berry wrote the song while in prison. The punchline is that as Chuck’s curiosity blossoms during a romantic interlude, he’s unable to unfasten the “safety belt” of his female counterpart. Longtime Elmore James bandmember and Chicago session musician Odie Payne provided the backbeat. Included on the 1964 “St. Louis to Liverpool” album, which Dave Marsh has called “one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums ever made,” “No Particular Place to Go” was Berry’s biggest hit of the 1960s.
284. “(I Wanna) Testify,” The Parliaments. Songwriters: George Clinton, Deron Taylor; #20 pop/#3 R&B; 1967. The Parliaments started as a New Jersey doo wop act in 1955, but George Clinton steered the band toward a proto-funk sound for their 1967 hit “(I Wanna) Testify.” Clinton, “I was trying to build on top of Motown, or rather what Motown had become. My main influence in writing the verses was the Four Tops, songs like ‘Standing in the Shadows’ or ‘Reach Out,’ which themselves were kind of a soul imitation of Bob Dylan. There was something glowing in ‘(I Wanna) Testify.’ You can’t always tell when a song is going to be a hit, but you can tell when it makes the grade.” Author Jacqueline Edmunson, “The track shows the instrumental influences of James Brown’s band in its punchy horn arrangements, funky syncopated guitar accompaniments, and active bass part – stylistic elements that Clinton would take to a new level in developing his own signature sound over the next decade.”
283. “Don’t Bring Me Down,” The Animals. Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King; #21 pop; 1966. The Animals took Brill Building material and made it sound like it was produced in a sweaty garage and Eric Burdon’s voice, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, sounded “like Howlin’ Wolf coming out of some 17-year-old kid.” With Burdon’s menacing vocals, “Don’t Bring Me Down” sounds more like a demand than a plea. Burdon, “I didn’t realize that it was a Goffin/King song until I was in a doctor’s office in Beverly Hills and Ms. King came in and sat next to me. I didn’t know it was her, I was just reading a magazine and she turned to me and said, ‘You know, I hated what you did to my song.’ I didn’t know what to say, so all I said was, ‘well, sorry.’ and then as she got up to go into the doctor’s office, she turned around and said, ‘but I got used to it.’”
282. “To Love Somebody,” The Bee Gees. Songwriters: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb; #17; 1967. Expressing affection between males is often awkward, even in a nonsexual context. Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood asked Barry and Robin Gibb to write a song for Otis Redding and the result was the baroque pop ballad “To Love Somebody.” Barry Gibb, describing his inspiration for the lyrics decades later, “It was for Robert (Stigwood). I say that unabashedly. He asked me to write a song for him, personally. It was written in New York and played to Otis but, personally, it was for Robert. He meant a great deal to me. I don’t think it was a homosexual affection but a tremendous admiration for this man’s abilities and gifts.” Nina Simone scored a #5 U.K. hit in 1969 with her R&B interpretation of “To Love Somebody,” and there’s also a 1968 cover by Eric Burdon & The Animals that sounds like drunken karaoke.
281. “Revolution,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #12 pop; 1968. John Lennon was obsessed with the concept of “Revolution” in 1968, releasing the sound collage “Revolution 9” on “The White Album,” as well as the blues rock “statement” song “Revolution 1.” A faster, grittier version of “Revolution” backed “Hey, Jude,” with one theory that Lennon recorded the song several times attempting to get consensus for a singles push. The future “Dr. Winston O’Boogie” preached a non-violent ideology towards social change, consistent with his later “make love, not war” stance. Lennon, “I thought it was about time we spoke about it [revolution], the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war. I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India.” Lennon was also thinking about Texas blues guitarist Pee Wee Crayton, the intro to “Revolution” is a direct copy from Crayton’s 1954 record “Do Unto Others.”
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