the saga of sloopy

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Here Comes The Night, the new Bert Berns biography by Joel Selvin, is valuable in so many ways, weaving Berns’ story into the whole ’60s pop/R&B scene in New York City, proving just how much mileage you can get from repositioning the chords of “La Bamba,” and sharing some classic rock anecdotes, such as how The Dave Clark 5 heard The Strangeloves do “Hang On Sloopy” on some shared gig and announced their intention to go back to the U.K. to cut it as a single. The guys in The Strangeloves scrambled to beat the DC5 to the market by slapping together and producing a recording session with The McCoys. And how Phil Spector botched the first recorded version of “Twist and Shout,” by The Top Notes, and Berns later took a shot at salvaging it with The Isley Brothers (who weren’t so wild about the idea of cutting a twist record).

History is so much fun.Think about what we would have been deprived of if those records by The McCoys and The Isley Brothers hadn’t been cut, the hundreds of ways just those two songs have been revisited over the past forty years. Here Comes The Night is populated by great characters — Leiber & Stoller, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Jerry Wexler — and I’ve spent quite some time with the discography, filling in gaps in my Freddie Scott and Barbara Lewis collections.

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the enduring life of a girl named Sloopy, prompted by a piece of music criticism. I thought that in honor of this new study of Berns’ drive, talent and influence, that I’d run it again. Forgive the repetition if you happened to stumble on it earlier.

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Most people don’t know, I’d imagine, that Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly has dipped his toes into the waters of rock punditry, going into a critical lather about the song “Hang On Sloopy” in one of his many books:

“I simply could not get past the incredibly dumb central theme. Sloopy sounded like a dog’s name. To this day, I have never heard of a human being named Sloopy. Truly, the words of this song drove me nuts.”

Let’s examine this.

First, what possessed Mr. O’Reilly to share his thoughts re: “Hang On Sloopy” with his adoring public? Why is he so irritated, all these years later, by the fact that the singer refers to his girlfriend from the bad part of town as Sloopy? It is obviously a term of affection (the original song was called “My Girl Sloopy”), a pet name, as it were.

And what is this “central theme” of which O’Reilly speaks? Lyrically, it is a typical ’60s tale of romance overcoming economic disparity and parental disapproval, set to foolproof chord changes. Are the values expressed in the song inherently liberal? Too permissive? Is the message too defiant of society’s norms? The ‘60s were replete with tales of lovers of divergent financial circumstances — “Rag Doll,” “Down In the Boondocks” — choosing romance despite those differences.

We can assume — because O’Reilly seems like an AM-Pop kind of guy — that it’s The McCoys’ recording that rankled him, rather than the more R&B predecessor by The Vibrations or the LP track by The Yardbirds. (And we know he wasn’t buying UK LP’s by The Downliners Sect.) But The McCoys were hardly an offensive bunch of kids; there was no raunch or excessive innuendo in young Rick Derringer’s lead vocal, even in the extended version, where he waxes appreciative about the dress worn by Sloopy. He does invite Sloopy to “shake it.”

Maybe it’s the sloppy grammar (“Sloopy I don’t care what your daddy do”)? Are those the words that drove O’Reilly nuts? In which case, we have found the cultural object that made him into a lunatic.

Anyway, it’s a classic rock song, and Mr. O’Reilly is wrong about it, as he is about so, so many things. I have around fifty versions of “Hang On Sloopy” in my iTunes library, and in looking for one or two to illustrate this piece, I was frustrated by the attempt to chose. There are some nifty instrumentals (Basie, Ramsey Lewis, Quincy, The Ventures), but “Hang On Sloopy” without words sounds like a lot of other ‘60s songs with the same basic riff and rhythm (e.g., “Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders). The Jan & Dean version has the virtue of the Wrecking Crew on hand, but it’s kind of tame overall. The only Motown take I know is from Supremes A Go-Go, and you might think the Hitsville musicians could nail that riff to the floor, and it turns out to be just another Motown throwaway album track.

Springsteen or Petty live? Or one of the medleys that the song’s all-purpose beat lends itself to (The Kingsmen, Iggy Pop, Sandy Nelson and Johnny Thunders all link it to “Louie Louie,” a natural mate — Louie, meet Sloopy — and John Eddie’s done it yoked to “Twist & Shout”)? No, best to leave Sloopy on her own. David Porter, of the Stax team of Hayes & Porter, does an 11-minute soul monologue on the sterling qualities of Sloopy: in his version, she does out on the dance floor in a dress fastened by safety pins, and the garment comes undone in front of everybody (I swear). The Remains and The Swingin’ Medallions are favorites in the garage-frat genre, and the session guys who played on Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, as Colonel Jubilation B. Johnson and His Mystic Knights Band, start off the song with a Tarzan yell and then tear the whole thing apart to a Salvation Army beat like “Rainy Day Women.”

I have arrived at this: A live rave-up by The Yardbirds (Jeff Beck on guitar and backing vocals) and, as a bonus cut, the record that started it all, by The Vibrations.

two nights

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Night One:

Do you still say your prayers little darlin’ do you go to bed at night
Prayin’ that tomorrow, everything will be alright
But tomorrows fall in number, in number one by one
You wake up and you’re dying, you don’t even know what from

There are still those moments in a Springsteen show that swallow you whole, zig and zag unexpectedly, and I suppose that’s why you go back, even though you know, and accept with a sigh or a shrug, that at around the two-hour mark some little kid in the audience will be shakily singing “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day.” That’s, as another of his songs would have it, the price you pay. So Thursday night after an engrossing take on the newly-released “The Wall,” when he and his band slowly transitioned into “Point Blank,” it was a jolt.

Tomorrows fall in number, in number one by one
You wake up and you’re dying, you don’t even know what from

He’s said pretty often that so much of his work measures the distance between the dream and reality. The stories we tell ourselves about opportunity or romance and what goes on when the cards are dealt. “Point Blank,” a dark, unsparing track from The River, is one of my favorite Springsteen songs because it strips everything to the bone. “They shot you point blank, right between the pretty lies that they tell.” Actual life has intruded big time, and what started out filled with hope has been blasted apart. This song can crush you.

Once I dreamed we were together again baby you and me
Back home in those old clubs the way we used to be
We were standin’ at the bar it was hard to hear
The band was playin’ loud and you were shoutin’ somethin’ in my ear
You pulled my jacket off and as the drummer counted four
You grabbed my hand and pulled me out on the floor
You just stood there and held me, then you started dancin’ slow
And as I pulled you tighter I swore I’d never let you go

“One false move,” he sings, “and baby, the lights go out.”

Night Two:

Springsteen shows up in I’ll Be Me, a new documentary about Glen Campbell, testifying to Campbell’s straight-forward, unadorned honesty as a singer, and talking about the heart-cracking affects of Alzheimer’s. The night before I saw the movie, when I was watching Springsteen at Bridgestone, I was sort of hoping (in a low-expectations way) that the dots might be more directly connected and Springsteen might pull something like “Galveston” out of his knapsack (it would’ve been perfect to lead into “The Wall”). After all, the news had recently broken that Campbell had been moved into a health facility, and the premiere of the doc was the following night in the same city…

[Springsteen did Elvis' "Burning Love" and The Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" instead, and fine and dandy for that.]

I’ll Be Me centers on Campbell’s illness, his Goodbye Tour, and his decline, and trust me, tears will flow. This is an unsparing film, and some people, I’m sure, will find it invasive and cruel to expose so close-up (literally: the camera starts out tight on Campbell’s face) an artist’s mental deterioration. I was at one of the shows on this tour, Town Hall in New York City, and there’s a clip from that concert in the movie that sums up the jumble of emotion of the night.

Campbell is doing Jimmy Webb’s masterpiece “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress,” and you think, oh Lord, I am in this beautiful theater, watching Glen Campbell singing this song, and then he gets distracted. He turns it into an impression of Elvis Presley; he opens his shirt. And fuck, the mood changes and although it’s still Glen Campbell singing “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress,” it’s also something else, a reminder of what’s happening here. The Goodbye Part.

In other clips — and I’ve written about this before — he nails his guitar solos (a long one in “Try A Little Kindness”) so flawlessly that all you can do is marvel at the mystery of it all, why that part of his memory, the section that’s about sound rather than word, can function untainted as everything else crumbles. In one of the film’s final moments, Campbell is in the studio for one last time and one last song with some of his fellow members of L.A.’s fabled Wrecking Crew, including drummer Hal Blaine, and if that doesn’t get to you, we probably couldn’t be friends.

Tomorrows fall in number, in number one by one
You wake up and you’re dying, you don’t even know what from

At Bridgestone, Springsteen also did the most impassioned version of “Atlantic City” I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. It was trancelike, and it brought out all the desperation in this song from Nebraska. “Everything dies, honey, that’s a fact.” Of course. But at the end, what can you cling to? Your connections, your memories, and what I’ll Be Me shows in grim detail is the pain of all that slipping away, like the brain is locating all these files you’ve stored up, and pressing “delete” over and over. Where did that one go? I know it was here…

Two nights. When I got home, I did some wiping out of my own. Life is too short, after all, to keep repeating stupid mistakes, and certainly too short to preserve the junk you accumulate like so many evidence bags, photos, e-mails. Let them go. Make room on your emotional hard drive. I may buy a download of that last Springsteen show in Nashville, to hear that “Atlantic City” again, and that out-of-the-blue “Point Blank.”

You didn’t answer when I called out your name
You just turned and then you looked away
Like just another stranger waiting to get blown away

bits & pieces

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Since the Dave Clark Five documentary airing on PBS is the work of Dave Clark, it can’t come as a surprise that it doesn’t raise the question of whether Clark is in fact playing drums on all those pounding early hits or whether it’s, as many people strongly suspect, the late session drummer Bobby Graham. Which is no small deal considering how many of the fans and witnesses interviewed for the film go on at some length about the whole drum presence of those singles, how front-and-center the beat was in a pop group that was, after all, named for its drummer. Fifty years on, I suppose you could say it doesn’t matter that much, because what we celebrate when we celebrate the DC5 was how those records make you feel.

It wasn’t only The Beatles, which as we Hebrews say, dayenu (“It would have been enough”), but blam!, mere days later, the DC5, The Searchers, and then The Zombies, The Animals, The Kinks, Peter & Gordon and so on. What does it diminish the experience if we know that Graham was the shadow drummer on “Tobacco Road” by The Nashville Teens, “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” by The Kinks, “Gloria” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Them, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by The Animals (he also was on Dusty’s “I Only Want To Be With You,” The Walker Brothers’ “Make It Easy On Yourself,” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown”)?

Graham claimed that he played on all the major DC5 singles: “Glad All Over,” “Bits and Pieces,” “Can’t You See That She’s Mine,” “Do You Love Me,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Catch Us If You Can” and others, but it remains a fuzzy issue, and Clark has denied it. When the DC5 were having hits (’64-’66 here in the States), it wasn’t common to credit session players, so if Dennis Wilson was known as the drummer in The Beach Boys, you just assumed that it was him on, say, “Help Me, Rhonda,” or “California Girls,” when it fact it was Hal Blaine. At this point, however, everyone pretty much knows what Blaine and the other Wrecking Crew musicians brought to the party — to me, the closest domestic analogy to the DC5 were Paul Revere & The Raiders, and it wasn’t any revelation to find out they didn’t play on all their hit singles — but honestly, until I started hearing those DC5 rumors a few years ago when Graham passed away, I didn’t even consider that studio guys played on Animals, Pretty Things (Graham also produced them), Nashville Teens, Them and Kinks (except for the persistent chatter about Jimmy Page being on the earliest sessions) records.

The figure that’s tossed around on the internet for Bobby Graham recordings is 15,000, and I’m not proficient enough in math to determine whether that’s plausible or not. But if a fraction of his discography is accurate, then he was the drummer on at least two dozen of the greatest rock & roll records ever made — “Gloria,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “Tobacco Road,” “You Really Got Me” just at the apex — and a whole lot of pop classics as well (with The Walker Brothers and Dusty Springfield: on the Graham website there’s a story about her throwing a cup of coffee at him during a session. “Dusty didn’t like the sound at Phillips; she couldn’t get the warm American sound over here”). Producers Joe Meek and Mickie Most used him a lot. He played on sessions for Marianne Faithfull and Francoise Hardy. Also from the website, a typical Graham day: Pye studios with Tony Hatch in the morning, a midday session with P.J. Proby at EMI, and then the evening at Decca with Them (Bert Berns producing, Jimmy Page on guitar). Listen to the incredible racket he makes on “All Day and All of the Night,” to his rolling thunder at the start of “Make It Easy On Yourself,” to the dark stomp of “Tobacco Road.”

What about the Dave Clark Five, then? I guess we can agree on this: credit the drum sound to Clark, who produced the records and made them louder, more dense and raucous than any other songs on the radio, with so much reverb and overdubbing that even a mint condition 45 felt smudgy as soon as you put it on your cruddy little turntable. Maybe Graham and Clark are both right, and there are two drummers on these tracks, mixed into one booming crunch. The doc pleads its case for the group too hyperbolically, I think (one talking head, Elton?, says that The Beatles, The Stones and The DC5 were the three big blasts from Britain, and Steve Van Zandt ranks their songwriting up there with Lennon & McCartney and Jagger & Richards), but if any one U.K. invasion group can be represented solely by a Greatest Hits album, it was the DC5. There’s no great album in their catalog, but those singles tell a big part of the story from 50 years ago this spring.

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There was a joke on a recent episode of The Mindy Project about a fictional (as far as I know) Ken Burns documentary on the History of Doo Wop, a throwaway line, and not only would I watch that for as many installments as Burns wanted to give me, I might even be persuaded to donate some money to PBS. The lens that Doo Wop is peered at through is so narrow, so cliched and quaint — all those “reunions” that reduce the genre to one or two hits per group — that it can look like a crazy little cultural blip of nonsense syllables and naive ideas of romance and heartbreak. There’s even a weekend cruise called Malt Shop Memories, which makes me cringe, because it reduces the era, and the art, to the idea of Archie and Veronica sharing an ice cream soda at Pop’s. As though Doo Wop has nothing to tell us as music, but only as an emotional trigger, the whole first kiss, first breakup syndrome, tears spilled onto pillows, grinding at the hop and rama lama ding dong. You don’t see the early stages of jazz or country treated this way. So let Burns loose in the archives, get Questlove to narrate (his dad was Lee Andrews of the Philadelphia group The Hearts), and let’s hear some answers to the questions Who put the bomp? and Who wrote the book of love? and Why don’t you write me?

People who are into Doo Wop are really into Doo Wop, tracking down impossibly rare 45s (only original pressings, if you please) at record fairs, trumpeting the obscure. Like fans of Metal, or Northern Soul, or Dixieland Jazz, they have their own world and that world sometimes feels like a remote outpost. It’s odd: some Doo Wop records became big hits, classic oldies, but many of the most famous, cherished records weren’t that popular when they were released. “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” by The Flamingos, “In The Still of the Nite” by The Five Satins, “Wisdom of a Fool” by The Five Keys, countless others, didn’t crack the national top 20. They feel like were hits because they took on a shadow life as spun by disc jockeys who dug for blasts from the past. If you weren’t around during the initial Doo Wop wave (I wasn’t), you don’t know which records truly mattered in their own time and which took on greater significance later on. Also, it was a very local scene, so if something got a lot of spins in Pittsburgh, or Oakland, and that’s where you grew up, you have a different idea of the shape of things. If like Paul Simon or Lou Reed, you were glued to Alan Freed’s show, his playlist was your world, which was different from Hunter Hancock’s on the west coast, where Sly Stone and Frank Zappa were.

Another reason we need a documentary to thread all this is that even if the records are sort of familiar, and the names of the groups might ring a bell, so many of the singers are forgotten except by the truly devoted. Willie Winfield, Eugene Pitt, Arlene Smith, Cleve Duncan, Herbie Cox, Johnny Funches, Tommy Hunt…even the great Clyde McPhatter, who influenced Elvis Presley so profoundly, they’re all lost names, except in the liner notes of lovingly crafted collections like the new box of 5 Royales masters that I think I need to have in my life soon. And how about all the groups that preceded, chronologically, what we know as Doo Wop, The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, The Ravens, The Orioles, The Jive Bombers and how their sounds segued into the rock & roll era? And gospel groups like The Soul Stirrers? There are stories about race, and how integrated rock shows and groups like The Del-Vikings started breaking prejudices down.

The other evening, I heard that singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester was seriously ill, and I went to the places where you go these days to catch up and reflect (YouTube, Facebook). I searched for a clip of him singing on Elvis Costello’s series Spectacle, which aired for a couple of seasons on Sundance, and luckily I found it. “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is,” Noel Coward famously wrote in Private Lives, and that’s what “Sham-A-Ling-Ding-Dong” conveys, how inarticulate music can move us, how much emotion it can contain. What a lyric like “sham-a-ling ding-dong” can do. It’s not trivial. You watch him in this clip, frail but in the moment, reaching back and seizing the past. Sitting next to him is Neko Case, a tear falling from her eye, and when Winchester is done, Costello is gutted. What can you even say? People who reduce Doo Wop to nostalgic gibberish, they’re fools.

jackie gleason, master of musical seduction

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In the cultural occurrences that defy explanation department, stretch the imagination and pretend you’re a record executive at Capitol Records in the 1950s, and a manager comes into your office to pitch you the concept of romantic mood music under the creative auspices of Jackie Gleason. You nod your head, and think, of course, what an inspired notion, because when you think of someone perfect to set a seductive mood, who more worthy than that dreamboat who plays Ralph Kramden, that suave sweet-talker whose subtle endearments could make any woman weak? It gives new meaning to “to the moon,” if what he’s promising is a night of sexual skyrockets.

I can only conjecture that the deal was made after a night imbibing at the back table at Jack Dempsey’s saloon when, at around 3:00 am, Gleason thought aloud, “You know, what every swinging bachelor needs is the cool, persuasive hand of a master to guide him, musically, from the living room to the boudoir.” He was just the man to do it. How many unsuspecting, cautious young women were inspired to snuggle between the sheets because their dates said, “Why don’t I whip up some cocktails and slip on some Gleason?” Swoon.

It has to have worked, in some manner, because this was not a one-time event, an album made as a favor to a celebrity, a Golden Throats thing without the throat itself. This was a long-lasting series of albums, and what accounts for that?? Surely, having one Gleason in your LP collection would have been plenty, if the premise was mood-setting. How could one Gleason album be any different from its predecessors? It was just a dozen ballads, lushly orchestrated, every time. But the genius was that the titles and the covers promised exotic variations. Oh, a guy browsing the record store might come across Mr. Gleason “presenting” Love Embers and Flame (“Twin string orchestras in rich, romantic arrangements” of numbers like “For All We Know” and “It’s a Blue World”). Twin string orchestras! That has to be more bang for the buck, so to speak, than a single string orchestra playing similar songs on Music, Martinis, and Memories. Plus, the woman on the Love Embers jacket seems to be emerging from a blaze, while the Music, Martinis babe is holding a drink at what looks like a piano bar. It’s a completely different musical experience inside, Gleason implies.

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Then we have Music For The Love Hours (roughly midnight to breakfast, I suppose). On that one, the woman is blonde instead of brunette, wearing something vaguely nightgownish, and a gentleman’s hand is about to light her smoke. Too subtle, maybe. Our hypothetical ladies’ man needs an album that guarantees him some action, otherwise why spend $2.98 on music that has virtually no value as music? How about Music To Make You Misty? Hmmm, misty = vulnerable, maybe, but the woman on this cover looks a little scared, and her hand is on the telephone, like she’s about to call whatever the equivalent of 911 was in the ‘50s. And the typeface is spooky. Next. Jackie Gleason Plays Romantic Jazz. Jazz is sexy, right? Except a drawing of Jackie himself is on the cover. The artist is trying to make him look dapper, white tie and all, but it’s still Jackie.

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Here we go: Music To Change Her Mind! The sexiest one of all. The woman looks like a tousled Tuesday Weld, and the title says that whatever she might be thinking at the moment, however reluctant she may be, there is no getting around it. This music will trick her into finding you fuckable. You think this is only a record album? You fool. Bear with me here. You’ve gotten this young lady to come to your place for a nightcap, and just as she’s about to split, you take this album from the shelf and put it on the hi-fi. Do you hide the album cover from her? Probably. Because not only is the album title a giveaway, but do you want her to read the list of songs, especially the three song run that ends side one, “Guilty,” “It’s The Talk of The Town,” and “My Sin”? This is the fifties. Guilt, gossip and sin are probably not the cards you want to play.

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You’ve bought these albums, and your social life has flourished beyond Hugh Hefner’s fantasies. And you’re hooked on the Gleason Philosophy. It was a lovely streak of luck, and it’s all due to this collection of LP’s you’ve amassed. Only one last purchase remains: Music To Remember Her. Each song has a different woman’s name, so if you’ve gone all the way with someone named Tangerine or Stella, good news there, you have a souvenir. Mr. Gleason was so thoughtful, there is no one “Her” gracing the album jacket. There are six disembodied heads, floating on the 12 X 12 canvas as if in a diverse (hair color, of course, not race) dream where you are haunted by their memory. Without this album, they all would be forgotten. Where have you gone, Charmagne? Rose Anne?

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hip chicks’ seasonal disorder

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Ah, springtime. Fling open the windows, stash the scarves and gloves, take a stroll, find a Coolhaus ice cream truck and linger in Union Square Park, where people gather to soak in some sunshine. Because hope springs! Alternatively, you can draw the shades and curse Daylight Savings Time since, as songwriters know, spring is a cruel trick, a sham meant to hold out the promise of rebirth and new opportunity.

Nearly all the best songs about spring are about disappointment, and all the best versions are by tuned-in women who know the score. “Spring Is Here,” “Some Other Spring,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year,” “There’ll Be Another Spring,” I could make you a playlist that will take you to the brink of despair. “Now April, May and June are sadly out of tune,” Lorenz Hart announces in the verse of “Spring Is Here,” “Life has stuck the pin in the balloon,” and the rest of the song is one long sigh. What’s the point of desire, ambition?

Imagine, if you want, one of the guys who took this song on (Sinatra on Only The Lonely, Nat drowning in strings, Darin, Chet, Tony) nursing a highball in some small dive, but for real poignance, nothing beats June Christy or Julie London, each accompanied by one sad guitar (and bass on June’s disc), although you could make a real case for Chris Connor’s forlorn version (above). Those jazz girls, they nail the self-pity thing: “Why doesn’t my heart go dancing?,” they ask, feeling oh-so unwanted. Spring? Yeah, so? (When Rodgers moved on from Hart to Hammerstein, his new lyricist pulled a reverse with “It Might As Well Be Spring,” where the singer is just so giddy in an Elmer Fuddish way — “as restless as a willow in a windstorm” — that seasonal accuracy be damned, even if it can’t be actual spring fever, and there’s no concrete romantic situation, optimism is abloom.)

The hippest screw-spring song is another one that Miss Christy at least co-owns (with Ella, I’d say, but nearly every major post-‘50s jazz thrush can claim a piece, including Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen MacRae, Irene Kral): “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” words and music by Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf. It’s a one-of-a-kind thing, a beat-generation (dig the vernacular in the title) torch song that quietly became a standard without ever being a hit: it popped up initially on an album by the pop-jazz duo Jackie Cain and Roy Kral and then filtered through the singer circuit. Christy’s version, arranged by Pete Rugolo, kicks off the 1958 album The Song Is June, and has a smoky vibe: this LP is not going to be a joy ride.

“Once I was a sentimental thing,” Christy sings, tossing such illusions behind her. Landesman’s lyric is casually dismissive: “All I’ve got to show’s a splinter for my little fling,” “Love is just a ghost,” “I’ve decided that spring is a bore.” And all those women lined up behind Christy and Jackie Cain, into the sixties, all the way up to Chaka Khan and Rickie Lee Jones and this decade’s Kat Edmonson, who completely strips it down.

Frank Loesser’s “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” is more hopeful. Not too much more. In the singer’s “lonely world,” she (again, almost always a she: Jeri Southern, Anita O’Day, Ella, straight through to Carly Simon with Jimmy Webb) admits that winter’s going to hang around for a bit in the wake of a break-up. It’ll be cold for a while longer. And although there are glimmers of potential in Peggy Lee’s “There’ll Be Another Spring” and in “Some Other Spring,” they’re awfully minute. Want to just hide under the covers for a few months or more? Here’s the ending of “Some Other Spring”:

Some other spring
Will my heart awake?

Stirring to sing

Love’s magic music

Then forget the old duet

Love in some other spring?

Spring?

Not gloomy enough on paper? How about sung by Billie Holiday in the mid-‘50s? Or Marianne Faithfull in the ‘60s?

The problem with spring, in song terms — not that there aren’t plenty of songs that celebrate it, from “Springtime In Manhattan” to “Suddenly It’s Spring” — is that it brings everything out into the unsparing glare of the sun. Winter hides, and spring reveals. So if you’re in that mood to begin with, the what-the-hell mood, what you want to do is go someplace dark and hear someone, preferably someone who sounds like she knows a thing or three about heartbreak. sing about how spring — the idea of spring in romantic terms — is a joke (April Fool!). If Kat Edmonson were playing downtown tonight, that’s probably where I’d be.

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© Jim Marshall Photography LLC

I practically live in The Strand bookstore. I mean, if someone dug a tunnel in the basement of the apartment building I reside in, I could walk through it and wind up inside the store. As a result, I spend a lot of time and money there. Carts of cheap books — a buck or two — line the street from the corner practically to my front door, and that’s how I ended up paying $1 this afternoon for a volume called No One Waved Good-bye, subtitled “A casualty report on rock and roll.” It was edited by Robert Somma, who also edited a rock magazine called Fusion that I wrote for a few times in the early ‘70s, and it’s a 1971 collection of essays on recently-deceased rock people: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Epstein. Among the contributors are Al Aronowitz, Lillian Roxon, Jon Landau, Richard Meltzer, Lou Reed and Danny Fields (in conversation with critic/scholar Jeff Nesin).

In the U.S., it was published in ’71, but the edition I found is a U.K. one, from 1973, which means that by the time it hit the stores in England, the ranks of the departed included Jim Morrison, and that’s kind of unsettling, because in the final essay, Meltzer’s “Who’ll Be The Next In Line?,” he speculates that Morrison “could be next,” only because there’s a J in his name (like Jimi, Janis, Jones). Meltzer also offers the opinion that “Elvis oughta die real soon,” based on no theory at all; you sort of have to know Meltzer’s writing to follow this train of thought.

Fusion published a thing I wrote on Morrison and The Doors, and Somma sent me a letter saying how much he liked it, and that he’d have included it in this compendium if Morrison’s death had made the deadline. Like my essay, these are right-after-the-fact reflections. What you realize is that there are multiple stages that a critical-cultural reputation goes through. More than forty years ago, as a few of these writers report it, Brian, Jimi and Janis had already — as no one said then — jumped the shark. Neil Louison: “Anyway, neither Janis’ nor Jimi’s curve was on the upswing.” Consider that for a minute. Hendrix and Joplin “broke” in 1967-1968. They died in ’70. That’s a blip, and even if you buy the premise that what they were doing at the exact moments of their deaths was not as exciting as The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Big Brother & The Holding Company were when they both played Monterey in June 1967, let’s pretend (as terrible as it is) that Bob Dylan had died in ’70, after Self Portrait. Would anyone have written the next year that, “Anyway, his curve was not on the upswing”? Before he even had the chance to make Blood On The Tracks?

Some of these critics are dismissive (The Boston Globe”s George Frazier on Janis: “In fact, to describe her as an artist is to demean the accomplishments of contemporaries like Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Nina Simone,” and have fun unpacking all that nonsense), but Landau sees that Janis might have recovered from “the musical mistakes of her past,” and Roxon is insightful about the extra-musical influence of Janis and Jimi, how they reshaped fashion and imagery. “You know,” she writes, “in the end, it always turns out to be a question of hair,” and I would have loved to have read a Roxon book that follows on her idea that “I honestly believe you could tell the story of twentieth-century America on hair alone.” She could have included Janis and Jimi (and Brian, although she doesn’t address him here) and moved backwards and outwards from there.

Fields and Aronowitz have some fun stories, of course, and I’m pretty sure (someone will tell me if I’m wrong) that Lou Reed’s long piece “Fallen Knights and Fallen Ladies” doesn’t appear anywhere else but this volume. At least I’d never come across it before. He’s great on Brian Epstein (“Had Epstein realized what he had unleashed on the world? Did he tie his kite to their comet or was it vice versa?”), on the lead singer-lead guitarist hierarchy that wound up exiling Brian Jones from the band he’d started, and this Hendrix run is golden: “Jimi played music beautiful music every waking moment, noon and sun-music permeated his every thought and action and it had to be, I repeat, had to be, that he would have to say I must play real music or shrivel up and die one wind-swept morning.”

Other people mentioned in passing in No One Waved Good-Bye are gone. Reed, and Morrison and Elvis, Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash, Jerry Garcia and Nico. With some, there were decades of decline and resurgence, there was shape to the narrative, and finality. When Brian Jones, Janis and Jimi died, it was during what could have been pauses of short or long duration. Who could know? Jones is a tough call: what do you do after you’re a Rolling Stone? Janis’ recent performances had been nerve-rattling; I remember seeing her on a TV show and literally having to walk out of the room. I was convinced she was having a breakdown. But there are glimpses of something else emerging on what became Pearl. And Hendrix…sure, one concert I saw in ’69 was a disaster, but imagine him in the ‘70s, absorbing the influences of electric Miles (who’d been influenced by Hendrix), Sly, Curtis Mayfield. In ’70, Clapton had only just broken up with Blind Faith.

It turns out that Roxon was right about how Janis’ “gypsy look or rich hippie” (as the fashion mags termed it) may have made a more lasting impression than her records (except for the young women who sing “Me and Bobby McGee” on the “talent” shows, do you feel her musical presence much?), that Reed nailed the artistry vs. commerce part of the Hendrix equation. The 1971 versions of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and even Brian Jones, are valuable because they reflect The Moment, the way writers rushed to explain Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley and Amy Winehouse. You want to make sense of these losses, sum things up. “No one waved good-bye?” To Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Brian Epstein? Tell that to the Beatles biographers, Broadway producers, documentarians, reissue compliers. All we do is wave good-bye. Over and over.

who are the mystery girls?

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There are a couple of pages devoted to Victoire Scott in the newish book Ye-Ye Girls of ‘60s French Pop by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe, in the section titled “Psyche and Folk Girls,” and that brief chapter represents my entire biographical knowledge of Ms. Scott. It isn’t much. She recorded 14 sides between 1968 and 1970, appeared on TV a couple of times, and then, well, then, who knows? “Even the people who met her…,” Deluxe writes, “have lost trace of her.” Then he translates one of her songs, “Contestation” (“I had powder do the talking in the form of caster sugar/This is revolution”), and concludes that she is “like a faded dream, a sort of mythical figure of French pop.”

So naturally, on a search I went, because now you can uncover anything, and if you tell me there is a mysterious Ye-Ye girl who is like some musical phantom, I cannot get to the computer fast enough. Everything is accessible, right? OK, so her sole album is unavailable, even in France (amazon.fr was no help), and there isn’t a Wikipedia page on her, and no items for auction on Ebay, and even the Ye-Ye-devoted site Blow-Up Doll is short on info. but surely You Tube will provide some material. And in fact, it does: I’ve now accessed a dozen of Victoire’s songs — the other two are out there somewhere — and they swoon and swirl in that detached mod-chanteuse way. It’s kind of like if Michael Brown from The Left Banke wrote and arranged songs for Marianne Faithfull, except in French. That might not mean something to everybody, but I’m sure some of my friends have already stopped reading this and gone to YouTube to play “La Licorne D’or” and “4eme Dimension.”

You can never catch up with everything; it’s an endless spiral. I have some footing in jazz and pop singers from the ‘50s and ‘60s, so how was it that until recently I didn’t know about the debut album by Helen Merrill on Emarcy where she was backed up by a band featuring Clifford Brown? Imagine a Chet Baker album where instead of Chet singing it’s a sultry, blasé chick, and instead of Chet playing it’s Clifford Brown, who may have been the best jazz trumpet player of his short era. And for all the Nelson Riddle-plus-vocalist LPs in my collection, for all I’ve dug to find the albums he made at Capitol with Keely Smith, Peggy Lee, I only just discovered the Sue Raney w/Riddle album When Your Lover Has Gone, which has a nigh-perfect version of “I Remember You.” And then that pointed me to an album she made with Billy May, the unfortunately-titled but lovely Songs For A Raney Day.

Now multiply that by whatever genres have a hold on you, rockabilly, doo wop, Northern Soul, girl groups, Memphis/Muscle Shoals R&B, country, garage, maybe all of the above and then some, and it’s madness. You know all those books and articles, 1000 movies to see before you die, or albums you must hear, or novels everyone should have read? I’m the person who’s completely annoying in that way: You mean you don’t know Mickey Newbury’s Frisco Mabel Joy? You love Pet Sounds but you never heard the album Brian Wilson produced for Spring? There will always be people who haven’t been exposed to Ann Peebles, or the first LP by The Pretty Things.

I pick up a book like Ye-Ye Girls, and even though I have a sub-rudimentary familiarity with the French language (not nearly enough to follow the content of a pop song, even ones that would seem sort of simple, like Victoire Scott’s “Un Garcon, Une Fille” and “Hey Mamma”), I feel it’s my cultural obligation, like homework, to see what these young women were up to. Even with a significant head start — my collection brims with Francoise Hardy, Jane Birkin, Sylvie Vartan, Chantal Goya, France Gall — I’m intimidated. Who is this Katty Line person? (She’s fun: start with “Igor, Natacha” and the Nancy Sinatra cover below.) Stella’s songs seem sharp and clever (at least as translated in the book), and Christine Pilzer’s “Cafe Creme” is zippy sugar-pop. That’s a start, at least.

the woody dilemma

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My shrink’s office was, for quite a while, in the same building as Woody Allen’s managers, and I worked a couple of blocks east, so I literally crossed paths with Mr. Allen every so often. He was a guy in the neighborhood. When I moved to Manhattan and started reviewing films, I used to see him and Diane Keaton around town, at screenings and museums. Later on, she was doing her cabaret thing at Reno Sweeney (I wish she’d have finished that album she was making: there’s no recorded evidence of how utterly beguiling she was). What I wanted was to be in a version of the Woody-Diane relationship, to be smitten with a woman who was sexy and loopy and could sing standards in a downtown nightclub. That was how I envisioned life in NYC: writing, seeing movies and music and art exhibits with someone who appreciated my wry, self-deprecating self, because, let’s be clear, it was Woody Allen as much as anyone who helped to redefine the qualities that made a guy attractive, and we owe him that debt at the very minimum.

There’s an Ethics column in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine by Chuck Klosterman, answering a question about whether it’s appropriate to “boycott” Woody Allen’s films (and, one infers, his books, his record albums) in light of the accusations that he did things so appalling, and criminal, that to watch Radio Days on HBO is endorsing him, or acting as a cultural character witness on his behalf, or something like that. As Klosterman points out, someone can select entertainment options based on any criteria whatsoever. If it makes you feel better as a human being to refrain from listening to Phil Spector records, banish him if you like, but be prepared to live a life without The Ronettes and some really good John Lennon and George Harrison albums. No one is forcing you to watch Roman Polanski’s Repulsion or (here’s a neat twist) Rosemary’s Baby. Chuck Berry allegedly did some awful, degrading things also, and so did any number of Rolling Stones (listened to “Stray Cat Blues” lately?). Want to strip your list of permissible art of works by people whose behavior creeps you out? That’s your prerogative.

Also in the Times is J. Hoberman’s review of a new DVD release of Crimes and Misdemeanors, a piece that recognizes how impressive a film this is, but adds this caveat: “It is also discomfiting, not least in Cliff’s [Allen’s character] relationship with his prepubescent niece Jenny.” That’s fair. For me, there was a stream of Allen’s films — Everyone Says I Love You, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Deconstructing Harry, Husbands and Wives — where I cringed every moment he was on screen with a younger woman. Watching him nuzzle Elisabeth Shue or Julia Roberts was so viscerally offensive, and I was relieved when he took himself out of the equation as a romantic figure (not that it helped his films any: he hit a career low with Whatever Works, which coupled Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood). I’m not saying that we don’t see some of his patterns, themes, jokes, etc. through however we interpret his (still alleged) behavior.

Over the last few days, I listened to one of Woody Allen’s ‘60s comedy albums (hilarious), and watched Manhattan on Netflix, not as a test, but just because I was flipping around and that’s where I landed. There are scenes in Manhattan that now feel flipped on their head: near the end, there’s a moral confrontation between Allen and Michael Murphy, where Murphy is taking the “heart wants what it wants” position, and Allen is arguing for more stringent ethics, and instead of a dialog, it sounds like Allen battling with himself. He says that when it’s all over, he wants to be remembered as a good person who did the right thing, and then he goes and tries to emotionally manipulate an 18-year old girl.

It drives you crazy, the troubling Woody Allen divide: the characters who literally get away with murder (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point, Bullets Over Broadway) and near-incestuous adultery (Hannah and Her Sisters), the snooty disdain for post-WWII pop music (everything), and then you have Diane Keaton in Love and Death, Annie Hall and Manhattan Murder Mystery, the unexpected twinkle of Midnight In Paris, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz battling in Spanish in Vicki Christina Barcelona

When Diane Keaton was on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart confessed to her, on behalf of so many of us, that the fact that she was romantically drawn to Woody Allen was a hope-inspiring phenomenon. In the crummy Herbert Ross-directed Play It Again, Sam, the hard-boiled wisdom of Humphrey Bogart provides Allen with a guide to seduction, and in life, that’s the role Allen’s character played. I could have watched Woody and Diane, after Sleeper and Love and Death, for a dozen more movies, but then he met Mia Farrow and everyone knows how that turned out.

It’s a sad, disturbing mess, all of it, and I can no more defend Woody Allen the boyfriend and father than I can defend Woody Allen the writer-director of Melinda and Melinda, Scoop and Anything Else. I’m sure that the next time I come across one of his films I haven’t seen in a while, some scenes (like the ones Hoberman mentions) will make me wince or at least reevaluate how I responded originally. All his work has this indelible ink spilled on it.

But after Annie Hall was released, I asked out a girl who worked for a record company, and she was reluctant to take the friendship anywhere. Then, one night it all clicked, and the next day she sent a few albums over to my office with a note that read, “Well, la-dee-dah.”

walk through his dukedom

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In One More Thing, a new collection of short stories by B. J. Novak, the Duke of Earl visits the United States in June 1962, and is pleased by the response he gets when he introduces himself. He’s also surprised that everyone he meets starts singing the same song. What could account for this?

I’ve written about “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler with The Dukays (was that their name before or after they cut this track?) on my old MOG blog. It’s a single that has always fascinated me. It came either at the tail end of the doo wop era or the beginning of the first doo wop revival, depending on how you calculate these things. The record has lost nothing of its majesty. First, The Dukays announce the Duke’s arrival, set the scene for his pronouncements, by chanting his name, and then he appears: “As I walk through this world, nothing can stop the Duke of Earl,” the Duke says of himself. His power, it seems, is absolute. But it becomes evident right away what the reason for his braggadocio is: this is a proclamation of love and protection.

Come walk alongside of me, he’s saying to his girl, you will be my duchess, impervious to harm, ruling with me over my domain, my dukedom, if you will. His subjects sing underneath him, creating a throne of sound that lifts him up. It’s a perfect hit single. You knew when you heard it for the first time that you would be hearing it and hearing it. And I would point out that the week it became the #1 single in NYC, it had to dominate “The Wanderer” by Dion, in its own way an assertion of entitlement, except Dion was not about to share his turfdom with any one girl. Such was not his way. Dion and The Duke sang their respective early-’62 singles in the cinematic timepieces Twist Around The Clock and Don’t Knock The Twist, respectively.

This was the creation of the Duke of Earl, and the response was so dramatic that, for the next few Vee Jay singles, at least, Gene Chandler became The Duke of Earl. That’s how he was credited on the labels. These were songs by The Duke of Earl himself, although only the actual follow-up, “Walk On With The Duke,” continued the saga of his reign. “Walk On” begins with an instrumental refrain of the original’s opening, then enter his choir; “Walk on with The Duke,” they exclaim, and he tells his story about how he came to town, a stranger from the land of Earl, to woo a girl in a blue dress. It will be the two of them against this world, he says, which indicates some trouble in Earl. No specifics, but couldn’t he find a native Earlian girl to walk on with him? And this song is relatively short on promises of imperviousness, No wonder it stalled at a very undukelike #91 on the national charts.

So that, you might assume, was the end of The Duke. In the pop world, he was granted little respect. “I Stopped The Duke of Earl,” boasted The Upfronts. Dorothy Berry declared herself “The Girl Who Stopped The Duke of Earl.” Rod McKuen referred to him dismissively as The Duke of Oil. An early Tamla Motown single by Little Otis claimed “I Out-Duked The Duke.” The Conquerors’ female lead singer sang “Duchess Conquer Duke.” What had The Duke done to be so cruelly derided, so mocked? Could he help it that he came from Earl, which made his title somewhat comical? He was just looking for love: “Come on let me hold you darling, ‘cause I’m the Duke of Earl.” Yeah, and I’m the Count of Basie. Get lost, pal. Oh, there were uncritical “Duchess of Earl” singles by The Pearlettes and Bobbie Smith & The Dreamgirls, who seemed content to walk on by the side of The Duke.

It took a while for Gene Chandler to resurface as an R&B singer without the trappings of Dukishness, but his first hit sunk deep into the pop memory bank. There was a U.K.-pop version of “The Duke of Earl” by Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, some terrific records out of Jamaica (Cornell Campbell, Ken Boothe), and later on, Joey Ramone and Frank Black added the song to their repertoire.

And there is the 2004 Paul Muldoon poem “Soccer Moms” that was brought to my attention from 2004, published in The New Yorker. This is how it ends:

hanker for the time when it was not yet revealed

failure’s no less literal than figurative,
 the time of day when light fails on the field
and gives back a sky more muddy than mother-of-pearl,

so it’s with a deepening sense of regret 
they remember Gene Chandler topping the charts with “Duke of Earl”
and winning their hearts, Mavis and Merle.