She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind.
470. “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” Manfred Mann. Songwriters: Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich; #1 pop; 1964. The Exciters, who had a Top Five hit in 1962 with “Tell Him,” first recorded “Do Wah Diddy” in 1964, peaking at #78 on the pop charts. Manfred Mann had their breakthrough U.K. hit that year with the gimmicky “5-4-3-2-1,” composed as a theme song for the pop music program “Ready Steady Go!” Manfred Mann added a “Diddy” to The Exciters title and developed a more playful, singalong arrangement for the doo wop love song lyrics. Manfred Mann, reflecting later on the impact of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “We toured America for the first time. We became very, very successful. However, we already were doing reasonably well in the U.K., but ‘Do Wah Diddy’ became an international record. It changed a lot, but it certainly didn’t earn much more money. We ended up just working a lot more. Everybody asks, ‘What happens when you become successful?’ That’s what happened.”
469. “Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut,” Bo Diddley. Songwriter: Elias McDaniel (Bo Diddley); Did Not Chart; 1964. Rock critic Robert Palmer, “Bo Diddley, and his right hand man Jerome Green, were the first popular artists to seize on black street corner culture – children’s games and game songs, the ritualized rounds of bragging and insults known as ‘the dozens.’” Diddley maintains his insulting demeanor on “Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut.” Instead of trying to curry favor with a parental authority figure, Diddley demand silence in return for an assurance of safety. The music is much sweeter than the attitude, with background claves lightening the mood. This obscure b-side found a bigger audience when it was covered by The Pretty Things in 1965 – their debut album also had covers of Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner” and “She’s Fine, She’s Mine.”
468. “A Lover’s Concerto,” Toys. Songwriters: Sandy Linzer, Denny Randell; #2 pop; 1965. The Toys were a New York vocal trio who received a contract to work with songwriters Sandy Lizner and Denny Randell. They had their biggest hit with “A Lover’s Concerto,” which took part of its melody from Bach’s “Minuet in G.” Randell, “I always had it on my mind that (‘Minuet in G)’ would make a wonderful grounds for a pop song if done in the right way. It’s in a different groove and it’s a different time signature than the original piece; it was put into a form that could work for a pop record at that time. In those days, I used to see a lot young girls, and they would like to write poetry of sorts. I wanted this to be basically a romantic poem, and I came up with the title, which also reflected the classical background of ‘A Lover’s Concerto.’ The title was the combination of the feeling of both the lyric and the music. And it worked.”
467. “Walk on By,” Dionne Warwick. Songwriters: Burt Bacharach, Hal David; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1964. Dionne Warwick on her material, “I didn’t get the guy very often in those days.” “Walk on By” was another Warwick heartbreak number, on this one she tells her former love interest to ignore her tears in the name of foolish pride. Supposedly, this is another case where New York disc jockey Murray the K (Murray Kaufman) took a b-side and made it a hit, polling his listeners on which side of the single deserved airplay. Burt Bacharach used two grand pianos for the recording session and incorporated a flügelhorn to reinforce the somber tone. Isaac Hayes, who co-wrote Warwick’s 1979 #15 pop hit “Déjà Vu,” released a 12 minute plus cover of “Walk on By” in 1969. Hayes was I no hurry in those days. On the other side of the “Hot Buttered Soul” album was his almost nineteen minutes long interpretation of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”
466. “Give Him A Great Big Kiss,” The Shangri-Las. Songwriter: Shadow Morton; #18 pop; 1964. “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V.” “Give Him a Great Big Kiss,” with its description of a “good bad, but not evil” boyfriend, was one of the more amusing girl group efforts. The “I’m in love, L-U-V” intro was later borrowed by The New York Dolls for their 1973 song “Looking for a Kiss” and the tough girls from Queens were wholeheartedly embraced by the punk rock generation. Shangri-La Mary Weiss, “The jukebox at CBGB had a lot of Shangri-La cuts on it. I was amazed. And I was deeply touched when Joey Ramone told me what a big influence we were on them. The Shangri-Las were punk before punk existed.”
465. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Songwriters: Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1968. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” was the first song that Ashford and Simpson produced at Motown. Valerie Simpson on the recording process, “In our case, because we were singers, we could lay out a pretty well-defined demo for Marvin or for Tammi, then because they were so special in their artistry, they could add that little extra something.” The lyrics describe a physically separated couple who take solace in the strength of their relationship. Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance in 1974 for her radically rearranged cover version, a Top Ten R&B hit.
464. “Baby It’s You,” The Shirelles. Songwriters: Burt Bacharach, Mack David, Barney Williams (Luther Dixon); #8 pop/#3 R&B; 1961. Shirley Owens is the only member of The Shirelles singing on “Baby It’s You,” she added her vocals to a previously recorded demo. Owens, “I was never so nervous as when Burt Bacharach was in the studio. I told (manager) Florence (Greenberg), ‘I just can’t sing with him in the room.’ He’s a perfectionist. I thought if I sing one little note that’s flat he’s going to know it. But he said, ‘I’m not going anyplace,’ so that was that.” The Beatles covered “Baby It’s You” on their debut album and the Los Angeles blues rock band Smith had the highest charting version, peaking at #5 in 1969.
463. “What Time Is It,” The Jive Five. Songwriters: Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, Richard Gottehrer; #67 pop; 1962. The Jive Five went Top Five with “My True Story” in 1961 and didn’t return to the Top 40 until 1965’s “I’m a Happy Man.” “What Time Is It” was written by the same team who wrote “My Boyfriend’s Back for The Angels in 1963 and recorded the 1965 hit “I Want Candy” using the fictitious band name The Strangeloves. On the insomniac doo wop love ballad “What Time Is It,” The Jive Five count down the hours until they see their loved one again. Although not a hit, Brian Wilson must have been a fan – the intro to the original demo version of “In My Room” was nicked from this song. Songwriter Richard Gottehrer went on to produce albums by Blondie, The Go-Gos, Marshall Crenshaw, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, among others.
462. “Time is Tight,” Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Songwriters: Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson, Jr., Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve Cropper; #6 pop/#7 R&B; 1969. Booker T. Jones started working as a professional musician at the age of sixteen and co-wrote the 1962 #3 pop hit “Green Onions” while he was still in high school. It was during this timeframe that the M.G.’s became the Stax house band, although they continued to release instrumentals under their own name throughout the decade. The MGs knew how to work a simple groove. In an era of excess, their calling card was their minimalism. On “Time is Tight,” rhythm section Al Jackson and Duck Dunn hold the bottom steady, while organist Booker T. Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper glide on top. Listen closely to this 1969 #6 pop hit and you’ll hear elements of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” Mix the two songs and you have the Blues Brothers intro music.
461. “Jimmy Mack,” Marth and the Vandellas. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #10 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. “Jimmy Mack” was recorded in 1964, but stayed on the shelf until late 1966. The song was inspired by Motown songwriter Ronnie Mack, who had passed away from lymphoma at the age of 23. There are different opinions on how the lyric “Jimmy Mack, when are you coming back” tied into the Vietnam War. It has been theorized that the song wasn’t released in 1964 since it could have been viewed as an anti-war theme and, conversely, that the song was popular in 1967 among young lovers separated due to the draft. It has been well documented that Martha Reeves wasn’t pleased with the material The Vandellas received in the mid-1960s. She felt as though her group was getting the leftovers while The Supremes got the choice cuts. Reportedly, Barry Gordy was reviewing unreleased Vandellas tracks and perked up when he heard “Jimmy Mack.” His reaction? “Get this thing ready to go out right away. This is a damn hit record.”
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – May 1973 (Volume 4, Number 12)
From Robert Johnson to the Ramones – what a life!
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