It’s getting near dawn, when lights close their tired eyes.
750. “Licking Stick – Licking Stick,” James Brown and The Famous Flames. Songwriters: James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Pee Wee Ellis; #14 pop/#2 R&B; 1968. James Brown continued to explore his minimalist funk sound on “Licking Stick – Licking Stick.” The lyrical concept is nothing more than a framework to exploit the groove. Brown requests a “licking stick,” most likely a reference to corporal punishment, from his mother while his sister creates a scene with her dance moves. John “Jabo” Stacks holds down the rhythm with his no frills percussion style while tenor saxophonist Maceo Parker gets a shout out from his boss and colors in the empty spaces. James Brown, “When Maceo plays, it’s almost like an extension of me.”
749. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” Tammy Wynette. Songwriters: Bobby Braddock, Curly Putnam; #63 pop/#1 country; 1968. Central Florida native Bobby Braddock dreamed about songwriting from a young age, while cutting his teeth playing piano and saxophone for local rock bands. After moving to Nashville in 1964 and working in Marty Robbins’ band, he began penning hits for Robbins, Little Jimmy Dickens, and the Statler Brothers. Braddock, “I got the idea of a couple that spells in front of their kid so the kid won’t hear all this disturbing stuff about his parents getting a divorce. Months went by and nobody recorded it. I asked Curly Putman why nobody was recording the song. He said the melody for the title line was too happy. The melody I had for the song was sort of like a soap commercial.” After having the melody reshaped, Wynette had her third #1 single in a row, following “I Don’t Wanna Play House” and “Take Me to Your World” to the top slot. The song walks a fine line between tragedy and self-parody. Braddock, “Looking back on it now, I think the song’s pretty corny, but I was glad to have it.”
748. “Breakaway,” Irma Thomas. Songwriters: Jackie DeShannon, Sharon Sheeley; Did Not Chart; 1964. Irma Thomas broke away from her traditional soul ballads for the breathless girl group song “Breakaway,” a production with Phil Spector type touches without the entire Wall of Sound tidal wave. In fact, Darlene Love and the Blossoms provide the backing vocals. Richie Unterberger, “Though the instrumental breaks with the circus-like riff are a bit corny and date the record somewhat, and Irma Thomas was not really in the girl group mold, ‘Breakaway’ epitomizes the girl group pop sound at its most fun and furious romp.” “Breakaway” was a b-side for Thomas that received mainstream attention with Tracey Ullman’s 1983 cover, a Top Five U.K. hit. The Irma Thomas version of “Breakaway” was also used in the 2008 film “The Secret Life of Bees,” even getting Alicia Keys to bop around like she has actual life in her body.
747. “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” Small Faces. Songwriters: Brian Potter, Ian Samwell; Did Not Chart; 1965. The Small Faces formed in England in 1965. Inspired by American rhythm and blues music, the title of their debut single, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” was taken from a 1964 Doris Troy single and the melody was, shall we say, inspired by Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” Band manager Don Arden played no small role in creating the U.K. Top Twenty single. He hired Ian Samwell to write the lyrics; Samwell had penned the 1958 hit “Move It” for Cliff Richard, a single that is often cited as the first British rock ‘n’ roll record. He also spent 12,000 pounds on payola. Arden, “I had a saying, you can’t polish a turd. In other words, if the record’s no good to begin with, it still won’t be any good after you’ve wasted your time and money getting it played.”
746. “I Know a Place,” Petula Clark. Songwriter: Tony Hatch; #3 pop; 1965. Petula Clark was a child star in the U.K., having a regular program on BBC radio and starting a film career before becoming a teenager. She had her first Top Ten U.K. hit in 1954 with “The Little Shoemaker,” a song that sounds like a Disney animation number, but didn’t have success in the U.S. until a decade later with “Downtown.” “I Know a Place” was a followup single to “Downtown,” following the same pattern (piano intro, big chorus) of the previous hit and having a similar lyrical theme of an escapist destination. Clark in 1966, “No matter what anyone tells you, to make it in the United States is still the dream of every transatlantic performer. You work for it. Long for it. And I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was when ‘I Know a Place’ was nearly as big a hit as ‘Downtown’ and the Copacabana Club in New York signed me.”
745. “Sunshine of Your Love,” Cream. Songwriters: Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton; #5 pop; 1967. The supergroup Cream wasn’t an immediate commercial success in the United States. Their 1966 debut album “Fresh Cream” peaked at #39 on the U.S. charts, yielding no hit singles. “Sunshine of Your Love,” initially described as “psychedelic hogwash” by Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun, was the third single from the 1967 “Disraeli Gears” and Cream’s first U.S. hit. Jack Bruce was inspired to write “Sunshine” after seeing a Jimi Hendrix performance. Eric Clapton, “I don’t think Jack had really taken him in before … and when he did see it that night, after the gig he went home and came up with the riff. It was strictly a dedication to Jimi. And then we wrote a song on top of it.” Lyricist Pete Brown, “He was playing stand-up bass, and he said, ‘What about this then?’ and played the famous riff. I looked out the window and wrote down, ‘It’s getting near dawn.’ That’s how it happened.” The song became a personal favorite of Hendrix, who may have never known that he inspired the composition. Producer Eddie Kramer, “Jimi loved Cream, he loved Eric Clapton. It was a fabulous song, he loved to play it, and he would just rip into it whenever the mood hit him.”
744. “I Want to Be Your Driver,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; Did Not Chart; 1965. Chuck returned to his themes of automobiles and sex on this 1965 track from the “Chuck Berry in London” album. Replacing “drive” with “ride” as in “I would love to ride you,” with an aim to please, makes the lascivious intent unquestionable. Berry’s composition has no small resemblance to Memphis Minnie’s 1941 release “Me and My Chauffer.” Five months after Berry’s song was released, The Beatles invited a young lady out for automobile entertainment on “Baby You Can Drive My Car.” Best cover – The Blues Project in 1966, a band that included future Blood, Sweat & Tears members Al Kooper and Steve Katz.
743. “Soldier Boy,” The Shirelles. Songwriters: Luther Dixon, Florence Greenberg; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1962. “Soldier Boy” was released prior to major U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, so it could be viewed as a simple apolitical love song of devotion. Paul McCartney on The Beatles time in Hamburg, Germany, “We did The Shirelles’ ‘Soldier Boy’ and Ringo used to sing ‘Boys,’ another Shirelles number. It was so innocent. We just never even thought, ‘Why is he singing about boys?’ We loved the records so much that what it said was irrelevant, it was just the spirit, the sound, the feeling.” Song co-writer Florence Greenberg was a female pioneer in the music industry. She was in her mid-40s when she decided to work in the music business, which lead her to managing The Shirelles and founding Sceptor Records.
742. “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Ray Charles. Songwriter: Don Gibson; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1962. Neither George Jones nor Patsy Cline sold the most country records in 1962. That honor would go to Ray Charles, whose “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” spent fourteen weeks at #1 on the album charts. Correspondingly, his cover of Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” spent five weeks as a #1 pop single, sandwiched between Mr. Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore” and “The Stripper” by David Rose. Ray had a much more countrypolitan than honky tonk take on the Nashville sound. The late, great John Morthland on “Modern Sounds,” a “landmark LP of transcendent vocals set against kitschy orchestrations that (along with early rock ‘n’ roll) illuminated black-white roots connections for a popular audience.”
741. “Someday We’ll Be Together,” Diana Ross and the Supremes. Songwriters: Johnny Bristol, Jackey Beavers, Harvey Fuqua; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1969. “Someday We’ll Be Together” was first released by Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi Records as a duet by “Johnny and Jackey,” who were songwriters Johnny Bristol and Jackey Beavers. Their version almost sounds like prehistoric ska. Bristol was working for Motown when he repurposed “Someday We’ll Be Together” as a potential release by Jr. Walker & the All Stars. After Berry Gordy heard the track, he had Diana Ross perform the lead vocals and it was credited to the Supremes, even though Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong did not sing on the record. Bristol, who had already recorded other female backing vocalists prior to Ross’s involvement, can be heard in the background giving encouragement (“You tell ‘em”). This was the final “Billboard” #1 song of the decade, topping the charts on December 27, 1969.
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