The Chantels were a girl-group of high school friends who had some success in the late fifties, including a million selling single in Maybe. By 1960 though, they had left their record contracts and pretty much disbanded. Richard Barrett, former lead singer of The Valentines, was The Chantels’ svengali of sorts. He gathered what he could of the group back together to record a new song he had written. This resulted in another top-ten R&B hit; Look In My Eyes on Carlton Records. Their next single contained this fine Hit The Road Jack response song, Well, I Told You. It was also penned by Barrett, who does a good job of sounding downbeat but sweet when he sings in the Jack role. It sold okay, but not great. The twangy opening rhythm has been an earworm for me for some time now. As opposed to their previous hit records, Well, I Told You isn’t a ballad, which is probably why I prefer it.
Fourteen year old Stevie Wonder recorded This Little Girl in Detroit with the backing of the Funk Brothers. It was released as a b-side in the period between his Little Stevie, child genius stage, which produced the #1 pop hit Fingertips, and the more mature sounding Stevie Wonder on his next big chart success, Uptight (Everything’s Alright). For anyone who wants to know more about this particular song and how it fits within the context of what Wonder, Motown and pop music were doing in ’63/’64, there’s an interesting deconstruction of it here. I think it’s a tune and look forward to testing it out on an unsuspecting dancefloor tonight at Joe’s in Camden for Get Rhythm.
Long before the world was swept up in Gangnam Style mania, Don Covay started a craze where dancers attempted to look like they were riding a horse. Covay recorded Pony Time with his group The Goodtimers and released it on Arnold Records in 1961. It hit the lower echelons of the charts, but when Chubby Checker (the Psy of his day) released a version the following year, it went all the way to #1. Others tried to replicate that success and helped spread the craze internationally, including French rock’n’roller Johnny Hallyday and Aussie rocker Johnny O’Keefe. The Pony is also immortalised in the ’60s dance craze compendium that is Land Of 1000 Dances.
The Diamonds – Little Darlin’
This is another instance of the white Canadian vocal group version eclipsing the chart success of the original tune. Little Darlin’ was written by Maurice Williams and first released on Excello by his group The Gladiolas early in 1957. Today’s selection, by The Diamonds, was released soon after and shot to #2, staying there for 8 long weeks. It was a time when black music still wasn’t widely played on white-owned radio stations. Williams’ version only reached #11 on the R&B charts, but his greatest hit was just around the corner. In 1960, with his group now known as The Zodiacs, Williams soared to #1 on the pop charts with Stay. Anyway, despite the back story, I reckon The Diamonds rendition of Little Darlin’ is well worth a listen, especially for its grand opening. It is certainly a better attempt than Sha Na Na or, dare I say it, Elvis offered.
The Bobbettes – I Shot Mr. Lee
The Bobbettes – Billy
In this classic follow-up record, The Bobbettes got to tell how they actually felt about Mr. Lee. He was their school teacher (The Bobbettes were all young, really young) and they didn’t like him one bit. In 1957, when making their first recordings for Atlantic, honchos Wexler and Ertegun suggested they revise a song they had written about Mr. Lee and put a positive spin on it. So, instead of being a figure of disgust, the ugliest teacher they ever did see, Mr. Lee became the “handsomest sweetie”. Well, Wexler and Ertegun proved many times that they knew the music business and this was no exception. Mr. Lee made The Bobbettes the first all female R&B group to have a top ten pop hit.
Three years later, after being let go by Atlantic, the girls righted the wrong. The Bobbettes had recorded I Shot Mr. Lee for Atlantic, but the label refused to release it, so they re-recorded it for Triple-X Records (when it became a local hit, Atlantic did release the earlier version). Although the record didn’t chart anywhere near as high as the original Mr. Lee, I’m sure that the group were glad to be finally rid of him as a character. They disposed of him in quite a brutal fashion, “Shot him in the head, boom-boom”. The flip-side, Billy, written by Teddy Vann, is also well worth checking out. Talk of Mr. Lee, someone named Billy and shootings in the head, has echos of the tale of Stackolee, but I don’t think there’s actually a connection to be found.
The Orlons – The Wah-Watusi
According to my stats counter, the total number of Diddy Wah visitors went over the one million mark this week. I’m sure I personally make up about half of those, but thanks anyway to everyone else who has stumbled by over the years. It’s quite an achievement and I’m proud to be a millionaire.
A few months ago, I posted The Orlons’ Don’t Hang Up, which was also included in my latest mix. Like Don’t Hang Up, The Wah-Watusi was released in ’62. It soared to #2 on the pop charts, making it The Orlons’ biggest ever hit.
In 1960s USA, The Watusi was the second most popular dance craze (after The Twist). It started when Latin drummer Ray Barretto struck gold with El Watusi in 1961. The term Watusi refers to the Tutsi tribe of Rwanda and Burundi. I suspect Barretto used it because he felt his conga drum rhythms had an African feel, or maybe he just liked the word… The dance itself seems fairly straightforward. Stand with your legs about a foot apart, knees bent. Then swing yours hips and both arms to the left and then to the right. Repeating in time to the beat.
The Addrisi Brothers – Cherrystone
Two brothers, Don and Dick Addrisi from Massachusetts, had a minor hit with today’s selection back in 1959. Cherrystone is a cordial rock’n’roll pop song about a boy who meets a girl at a dance, walks her home, steals a kiss, and then hooks up with her again for the next dance. I dig the handclaps.
Now, onto other matters. For a preview listen of my newest mix, hot off the platters, head over to Buzzsaw Joint’s Mixcloud. I’ll post the amalgam of doo wop and R&B instrumental goodness up here shortly, but it’s live there right now!!
And, a quick note to say that the fountain of knowledge that is the Funky16Corners blog has recently and unexpectedly moved here.
Danny & The Juniors – At The Hop
Danny & The Juniors were a doo-wop group from Philadelphia who struck gold in 57/58 with At The Hop, a US #1. It’s a true 50s rock’n’roller that received a nostalgic resurgence in the 70s courtesy of American Graffiti. At The Hop is what’s known by some as an oldie, which means that it was a smash hit back in the day, is fairly inoffensive and can sit alongside chart topping classics from such luminaries as Bill Halley, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and The Coasters. Of course these are all top tunes in their own right and I’m hardly in a position to diss them, but in the context of being bunched all together they acquire a sickly sweet golden-age of rock’n’roll sheen, which make them incredibly ignorable, to me at least. I trust that in the context of this blog post, you’ll appreciate today’s selection as the great rock’n’bopper that it is.
Bobby Day – Teenage Philosopher
Teenage Philosopher was released in 1960, two years after Bobby Day’s breakout smash, Rockin’ Robin. Both tunes were written by Leon René, who set up two LA based labels I’m very fond of, Rendezvous and Class. Unfortunately, the length of time since René was himself a teenager (about 50 years) is glaringly obvious in the lyrics of today’s selection. I can’t imagine the condescending “beware beware beware” tone resonating with the youth of any era. Still, like Rockin’ Robin, Teenage Philosopher has a swinging Earl Palmer rock’n’roll beat. It also has a brief interlude of Plas Johnson’s growling sax that makes up for any lyrical inadequacies.
Chubby Checker – The Fly
Here’s one from Hairspray, the 1988 John Waters original version. The Fly was released in 1962, around the time Chubby Checker’s uber-hit, The Twist, entered and then topped the charts for a second time as the twisting dance craze got crazy again (after it’s initial burst in 1960). I just learned that Checker’s name, it’s a stage name, is a play on words on Fats Domino. Wow! Anyway, I dig this tune for the buzz and the drums. Enjoy.
An Aquarium Drunkard
Be Bop Wino
The B Side
Carlos Rene's Scene64
Derek's Daily 45
The Devil's Music
Flea Market Funk
Frankie Bundle's Mazzetta78
Home Of The Groove
Jester Wild Show
Kogar's Jungle Juice
La Dimension De Trastos
Liam Large's Rekkids
Mean Mojo Mathias
Night Beat Records
So Many Records, So Little Time
You Got Good Taste