Thursday, March 19, 2015

Josephine "Jodi" Ann Bancino, country-pop songwriter of the '50s and '60s

Anita McCune, Betty Sue Perry, and Jodi Bancino

I decided to write about Jodi Bancino after seeing this photo of her in The Tennessean. The caption said that it pictured Anita McCune, Betty Sue Perry, and Jodi Bancino in 1961 preparing for WSM's Country Music Festival. The three songwriters, it added, "became pen pals when each started writing songs for Sure-Fire Music Co. in Nashville." (Betty Sue Perry, incidentally, was the oldest daughter of country star Loretta Lynn.) 

I knew of Bancino from Joe Dowell's song "Little Bo Peep," which she wrote. Dowell briefly mentioned her in his interview with Music Weird. The first of his three-part interview is here.

Sure-Fire Music Co. was owned by the Wilburn Brothers, a country music brother duo that scored a big hit in 1959 with a remake of the murder ballad "Knoxville Girl." Although Teddy and Doyle Wilburn were the brothers who made up the musical duo, their older brothers Leslie and Lester shared ownership in Sure-Fire Music. Doyle and Teddy originally started the company with steel guitarist Don Helms, who was their neighbor at the time, but the Wilburns' other brothers joined when the company got too big for Doyle, Teddy, and Helms to manage alone. Helms and the Wilburns also owned the Wil-Helm Talent Agency in Nashville.

The Wilburn Brothers with Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn was Sure-Fire's biggest star, and the company owned most of the copyrights for her songs. After both of the Wilburn Brothers died, she sued in 2004 to regain ownership of her songs.

The Wilburn Brothers helped Dowell get his contract with Smash Records, so that was how he ended up cutting Bancino's "Little Bo Peep." Bancino wrote numerous songs for the Wilburn Brothers, including "The Land of Heaven" (with Eileen Maultsby), "No One Knows Better than Me" (as Jodie Bancino), "Someone Else's Love," and "Look Down." 

Billboard, May 19, 1962
Although Bancino primarily wrote for Nashville, she placed some songs with pop and rock artists, including the Crickets (the R&B group, not Buddy Holly's group; the song was "Dreams and Wishes" ), Joe Dowell ("Little Bo Peep," video below), Rory-O ("Make a Wish"), and Timi Yuro ("Look Down").

She also wrote "I Don't Hurt as Much," which appeared as the B-side of T. Tommy Cutrer's twist remake of Jim Lowe's "The Green Door." The two Billboard clippings shown here mention her song.

Billboard, May 26, 196

Jodi Bancino died in September 2010 at the age of 92. Her obituary mentioned her songwriting career (my bold):

Bancino, age 92, went home to be with her Lord and Savior on Thursday, September 9, 2010. She was preceded in death by her husband, Carl, sister, Rose Jeluso, brothers, John and Sam Geluso. She will be lovingly remembered by her sons, Andy (Sharon) Bancino [died March 7, 2011] of Grandville, John (Rosetta) Bancino of Bradley, MI; eight grandchildren; 15 great grandchildren; six great great grandchildren; sister, Ann Valentine; brother, Frank (Francis) Geluso; many nieces and nephews. She was very proud of her gifted ability to be able to write songs that were produced and published in Nashville, TN by the Wilburn Bros. of Sure-Fire Music. To this day at 92 years of age she still received royalties for her music played around the world. We would like to thank the staff at Railside Living Center of Byron Center for her excellent care and friendship the past 9 years. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated 10:00 a.m. Saturday, September 11, 2010 at Our Lady of Sorrows, 101 Hall St. SE with Rev. Theodore Kozlowski as celebrant. The family will greet relatives and friends Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Ronan Vanderpool Stegenga Funeral Chapel and one hour prior to the Mass at church. Interment Woodlawn Cemetery. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jonathan Winters' brief foray into music (1958)

Music Weird previously wrote about Joan Rivers' unusual early-'60s pop single. Comedian Jonathan Winters also made one pop record early in his career. He recorded many comedy albums over the years but didn't record another "song" until 2006, when he cut the recitation "Old Folks."

Our story begins in 1958. Gerry Granahan's group, Dicky Doo & the Don'ts, had a new record out called "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu," which was instrumental except for a nonsense vocal interjection. Granahan had scored two previous hits that year with Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' "Click-Clack" (the first-ever release on Swan Records) and a solo recording, "No Chemise—Please." In a wise promotional move, Granahan's group named themselves after Dick Clark's nickname for his son. Might help them get on American Bandstand, eh?

Billboard, April 28, 1958
Comedian Jonathan Winters at that time had been a disk jockey in Ohio and New York and had appeared on some television shows. He was making a name for himself with his zany humor and ad libs, and increasingly moved into straight comedy. Because of his growing popularity, Coral Records signed him to a "long-term contract," Billboard reported in 1958. 

The contract turned out to be short-lived. His first and only record for Coral was a cover of Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu." Because the nonsense title was like something from outer space, Winters' version was credited to "Jonathan Winters with the Martians."

The Dicky Doo record didn't have a space theme at all, so Coral must have been trying to out-market it by cashing in on the martian craze with Winters. Some people claim that Robin Williams took his extraterrestrial Mork character's "nanu, nanu" from "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu."

The flip-side of Winters' record was the similarly space-themed cut "Take Me to Your Leader," another song by the writer of "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu," Eddie V. Deane. Deane, who was a comedian too, would go on to write the Mike Douglas hit "The Men in My Little Girl's Life" and the "Big Bad John" parody "Small Sad Sam."

Billboard gave Winters' record a favorable review but noted that Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' version had a head start. The Dicky Doo record was reviewed in Billboard a month earlier, and, predictably, the group appeared on American Bandstand. As a result, Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' version charted nationally, but Winters' version didn't chart even regionally, as far as I can tell. 

Billboard, May 5, 1958

That lone single ended Winters' musical career on Coral Records, and a couple of years later, he started recording comedy albums for Verve. As with Joan Rivers' pop record, Winters' contribution to the musicality of his Coral recordings is negligible; one side is mostly instrumental, and most of the other side is sung by a vocal chorus.

You can listen to both cuts below. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fifties Shades of Grey: An oldies compilation

If Fifty Shades of Grey had been set in the 1950s or '60s, then these pop, country, and R&B classics would have fit right in with the film's themes of bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism, and innocence and experience.

Fifty Shades, if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, is a timeless love story about the billionaire business magnate and helicopter pilot Christian Grey and the naive college student Anastasia. In the story, Christian detects something that he'd sorely like to dominate in the mousy Anastasia and sets about indoctrinating her into his world of BDSM hanky-panky. Yes, it's all pretty ridiculous, but so was Lucy, and I enjoyed that movie. 

The soundtrack album for Fifty Shades (not to mention the film itself) is a massive hit, but I believe that anything can be improved. In that spirit, I offer you the prospective soundtrack to my remake of Fifty Shades that is set in the 1950s. I'm calling it Fifties Shades of Grey. Some of the songs are from the '60s, but that's a mere technicality that viewers will enjoy pointing out as "goofs" on Internet Movie Database when my new version hits the silver screen. 

Brian Hyland – "Let Me Belong to You" (1961)

"Make me your slave," Hyland sings. "Tie me down, make me behave."

Pat Boone – "Anastasia" (1956)

Pat sang this ode to Anastasia, the main character of Fifty Shades of Grey, seven years before the book's author was born. 

Marcie Blane – "Who's Going to Take My Daddy's Place" (1963)

"I need someone to scold me whenever I am bad," sings Marcie Blane, sounding an awful lot like the similarly fatherless Anastasia.

The Crystals – "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" (1962)

"He hit me, and I knew I loved him/he loved me." Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote this dreary song about the experiences of Little Eva ("The Loco-Motion"), who was their babysitter at the time. Phil Spector produced it. 

Dodie Stevens – "No" (1960)

"Don't you know that a girl means 'yes' when she says 'no'?" Anastasia's mixed signals and ambivalent feelings are a constant element of the Fifty Shades story.

Evelyn Knight – "With a 'No' That Sounds Like 'Yes'" (1951)

Ladies "wanna say 'go' but they gotta say 'no' with a 'no' that sounds like 'yes'," Knight sings. This song, like Anastasia's character, exemplifies weak protests and conflicted desires. 

Joanie Sommers – "Johnny Get Angry" (1962)

"Let me know that you're the boss," Sommers sings to her guy, whom she's trying to provoke into becoming a "caveman." This is a notoriously un-PC song, but Frank Zappa recognized its excellence—he borrowed the main riff for the Mothers of Invention's "Any Way the Wind Blows." 

April Stevens – "Teach Me Tiger" (1959)

"Take my lips, they belong to you. But first, teach me what to do." April Stevens' "Teach Me Tiger" (written by her brother, Nino Tempo) captures the cat-and-mouse character of the sexual initiation in Fifty Shades, as the dominating Christian Grey inculcates the innocent Anastasia into his world of exquisite perversions. 

Kris Jensen – "Torture" (1962)

"This torture I'm going through is worth the pain if I have you," Jensen sings. Songwriter John D. Loudermilk intended for the Everly Brothers to record this song, and it sounds like it. The Everlys missed the chance to have a major hit with it but eventually got around to recording it themselves.

Nat "King" Cole – "Don't Hurt the Girl" (1955)

"Why don't you pick on someone your size? Can't you see, she's not your kind?" In my '50s version of Fifty Shades of Grey, this would be the theme song of Anastasia's upstanding male friend, José.  

Hank Penny – "Catch 'Em Young, Treat 'Em Rough, Tell 'Em Nothing" (1951)

"Catch 'em young, treat 'em rough, never tell 'em nothing, 'cause that's what gets results," Hank Penny sings, echoing Christian Grey's personal philosophy on love. 

Ann Cole – "Darling, Don't Hurt Me" (1955)

"When you need me, I'll be there, but do me a favor: darling, don't hurt me. I'm on my knees, begging you, please," Ann Cole sings, voicing the pleas of the submissive.

The Cookies – "Chains" (1962)

"My baby's got me locked up in chains," the Cookies sing. In one of Anastasia's first encounters with Christian, he's buying cable ties, not chains, but same difference. The Cookies were the background singers for Little Eva, who was previously mentioned in the part about the Crystals' "He Hit Me."

Sandy Posey – "Born a Woman" (1966)

"A woman's place in this old world is under some man's thumb. And if you're born a woman, you're born to be hurt."

Sandy Posey – "What a Woman in Love Won't Do" (1967)

Another Sandy Posey song. "What makes me keep on putting up with this?" Posey sings. "What keeps me kneeling underneath my master's kiss?"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Betty Smith's "Hand Jive": The hit that never was


The hand jive was supposed to sweep the nation in 1958. The clapping game, which originated in England and was later depicted in the film Grease, was "destined to become the biggest teenage fad in the history of the record business."

So said London Records, the label that released the original version of "Hand Jive" by the Betty Smith Group. Billboard reported that Smith's "Hand Jive" was the hottest selling record in Denver at one point, and London's ads said that one spin of "Hand Jive" in New York had elicited over 1,000 inquiries from listeners.

London promoted the record heavily, taking out full-page ads in the trade magazines to offer DJs free records and free instructions on how to do the hand jive. The clapping game was said to be a great alternative to dancing in spaces where "the dance floor is too crowded" or "where dancing is not allowed." The label issued an entire hand-jive album by Betty Smith, Music For Hand-Jiving, which was accurately billed as the "first hand jive LP."
Smith sang the lead vocal on "Hand Jive," but—despite all of these promotional efforts on behalf of the hand jive—American DJs flipped her record and played the instrumental B-side instead. The B-side was a smoky saxophone version of the song "Bewitched," a tune from the 1940 film Pal Joey that was originally known by its full title, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." The song had been a hit for several artists in 1950, including Doris Day and Gordon Jenkins. Somewhat surprisingly, Smith herself was the saxophone soloist on her group's rendition of "Bewitched." The record reached #51 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A competing hand-jive song, "(Six-Five) Hand Jive," was released in two versions: one by Don Lang & His Frantic Five and one by the Show Brothers. Both groups were British. Neither of these records were hits either.

It would take an American act, Johnny Otis, to break through with a hand-jive song. That song, "Willie and the Hand Jive," was a Top 10 hit on the pop and R&B charts in 1958. Eric Clapton put the song in the Top 40 again with his 1974 remake.

Betty Smith playing her saxophone
As for Betty Smith, she released a few more singles on London, but none were hits in England or the United States. Malcolm Lockyer was the musical director on Smith's early recordings, and she continued to work with him into the 1970s. In 1974, they released an album titled I'm Old Fashioned on the British label Contour Records, which specialized in easy listening and budget recordings.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

G Stands for Go-Betweens: Speed problems

G Stands for Go-Betweens is a lavish—and expensive—four-LP and four-CD box set from Domino Records that compiles the first five Go-Betweens singles, the first three Go-Betweens albums, a live set from 1982, three discs of rarities, and a thick booklet that Robert Forster wrote. (The first 600 copies included books from the library of the late Grant McLennan, and Music Weird is compiling a list of those titles here.) Despite the deluxe presentation, a number of listeners have noted speed problems on some of the tracks. This post will provide details on the tracks that need speed correction.

Archie Moore's review on Sound It Out from January 25 noted the speed problems: 
All of the non-single material from the 1999 release 78 ‘Til 79: The Lost Album appears here, but it’s significantly slower than on that CD, sounding slightly sluggish and tuned-down (i.e. it seems that the slower speed is incorrect and accidental, a tape transfer error, not a correction). It is possible that this has been addressed and/or fixed since I got the digital review copy.
This problem hasn't been addressed, because my standard release copy has the same problems.

The songs from The Lost Album aren't the only ones that sound slow, though. Here's the breakdown:

Life as Sweet as Lemonade  
Tracks 3-22 are slow

Skeletons That Cry  
Tracks 7-11 are slow

I haven't heard from Domino Records yet about whether these CDs will be remastered to correct the speed problems. At the very least, the downloads for purchasers should be corrected, but the best possible outcome would be for the affected discs and LPs to be remastered and replaced. Considering the price of the set and the attention to detail that otherwise went into it, these problems are surprising and upsetting.

If you have additional comments about the speed issues on G Stands for Go-Betweens or run across additional reviews that mention them, please let me know and I'll add them to this page.

Update (March 19, 2015):

Another review has noted the speed issue. This is from Boston Hassle:

Previously heard selections appear here at significantly slower speeds, which begs the question as to whether the Lost Album contained sped-up mixes to make the band sound more sprightly, or if this box set contains slowed-down mixes. Because there can be no logical reason for the latter, we must conclude that we are now hearing the Go-Betweens’ earliest demos at their original speed, and it’s not a flattering discovery.

Monday, February 2, 2015

G Stands for Go-Betweens: Grant's books

The first 600 copies of Domino Records' limited-edition Go-Betweens box set G Stands for Go-Betweens: Volume 1 included books from the library of Grant McLennan, who died in 2006. I'm using this page to compile a list of the books that buyers received. If you are one of the lucky fans who received one or more of Grant's books, please send the authors and titles and I'll add them to the list. 

These titles include the three books I received with my copy as well as the titles that have been posted on,, and Right Here: The Go-Betweens Appreciation Society group on Facebook. 

One of my three books was the one by Angela Carter. I was excited to get it, because Grant wrote a song titled "Angela Carter" for the 1995 Jack Frost album Snow Job. The book is signed by Grant and dated 1982. Grant must have kept his books in alphabetical order by the authors' last names, because a lot of people have received bundles of books by authors whose last names start with the same letter.

People are finding interesting things inside Grant's books. Many of the books, like my Angela Carter one, are signed and dated by Grant. Photos, receipts, and tickets have also been found. For longtime Go-Betweens fans, it's a magical experience to hold these little scraps of Grant's life. 

  • Alice Adams – Rich Rewards
  • Michelangelo Antonioni – Blow-Up
  • Michelangelo Antonioni – L'Avventura: A Film by Michelangelo Antonioni
  • Nicholson Baker – A Box of Matches
  • Nicholson Baker – The Size of Thoughts 
  • J. M. Barrie – Peter Pan and Wendy
  • Jean Bedford – Sister Kate: A Novel
  • Dianne Benedict – Shiny Objects
  • John Betjeman – Collected Poems
  • Louise Bogan – The Blue Estuaries
  • Joe Bob Briggs – Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In
  • Bill Broady – Swimmer
  • Kevin Brownlow – The Parade's Gone By
  • James M. Cain – Double Indemnity
  • Peter Carey – Illywhacker
  • Angela Carter – Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces
  • Brian Castro – Birds of Passage: A Novel
  • Raymond Chandler – The Blue Dahlia
  • John Cheever – The Stories of John Cheever
  • Rene Clair – Le Silence Est d'Or, La Beaute du Diable, Les Belles-de-Nuit, Les Grandes Manoeuvres
  • Nic Cohn – WopBopaLooBop LopBamBoom
  • Beatrice Davis, ed. – The Illustrated History of Australian Verse
  • Marele Day – Lambs of God
  • Don DeLillo – Great Jones Street
  • Rick DeMarinis – The Burning Women of Far Cry
  • Isak Dinesen – Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales
  • Michael Dransfield – Drug Poems
  • Umberto Eco – The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • James Fenton – Terminal Moraine
  • John Gardner – The Wreckage of Agathon
  • Helen Garner – Monkey Grip
  • William Gaunt – Victorian Olympus
  • Theofile Gautier – My Fantoms
  • Tim Gautreaux – Next Step in the Dance: A Novel
  • Fran Gordon – Paisley Girl
  • William Goyen – Had I a Hundred Mouths
  • Sara Gran – Come Closer
  • Henry Green – Caught
  • Geoffrey Grigson – Collected Poems 1963-1980
  • Todd Grimson – Brand New Cherry Flavor
  • Kirsty Gunn – The Keepsake
  • Seamus Haney – The Spirit Level
  • Jim Harrison – After Ikkyu and Other Poems
  • Maureen Howard – Natural History
  • Ted Hughes – Birthday Letters
  • Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas – Star Wars: A New Hope
  • Frank Kermode – Shakespeare's Language
  • Chip Kidd – The Cheese Monkeys
  • Sibylle Knauss – Eva's Cousin
  • Malcolm Knox – A Private Man
  • Julia Leigh – The Hunter
  • Lorca, selected and translated by J.L. Gili – Lorca
  • Christopher Marlowe – The Complete Plays
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – No One Writes to the Colonel
  • Roger McDonald – Shearers' Motel
  • Anne Michaels – The Weight of Oranges/Miner's Pond
  • Dan O'Brien – Spirit of the Hills
  • Robert Olmstead – America by Land
  • Ignacio Padilla – Shadow Without a Name
  • Joan Perucho – Natural History
  • Caroline Polizzatto – A Trick of the Light
  • Anthony Powell – Books Do Furnish a Room
  • Anthony Powell – Casanova's Chinese Restaurant
  • Frederic Prokosch – The Missolonghi Manuscript: A Novel
  • E. Annie Proulx – Heart Songs and Other Stories
  • Elizabeth Redfern – The Music of the Spheres
  • Dilys Rose – Our Lady of the Pickpockets
  • Salman Rushdie – Midnight's Children
  • Scott D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino – Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati
  • Saki – The Best of Saki
  • William Saroyan – Dear Baby
  • Steven H. Scheuer, ed. – Movies on TV, 1975-76 edition
  • W. G. Sebald – After Nature
  • George Bernard Shaw – Major Barbara
  • Steven Sherrill – The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break
  • Frank Stanford – The Light the Dead See
  • Tacitus – The Annals of Imperial Rome
  • Gaby Wood – Living Dolls

Friday, January 2, 2015

Nat Stuckey's "Plastic Saddle": What's it about?

It has been described as a "clever country ode to unprotected sex." Others have said that its "innuendo is truly perplexing." The song is Nat Stuckey's 1968 Top 10 country hit "Plastic Saddle," and in it, an affluent man-about-town expresses his preferences in women in a series of double entendres. But what do they mean?

The lines that provoke most of the confusion are in the chorus:

Don't give me no plastic saddle
I want to feel the leather when I ride
Don't give me no paint and powder
'Cause I want to feel the hide

A common interpretation holds that "plastic saddle" is code for "condom," and that "ride" is code for sex. If you read the comments under the YouTube videos of this song, you'll find many comments that reflect this interpretation, such as, "Too many strange diseases floating around now to fool around without a 'plastic saddle.'"

The line "I can tell a fast train by the way she blows" is also open to interpretation. 

In case you haven't heard the song, here's Stuckey's original:

The composer of the song, Vic McAlpin, died in 1980, so we can't ask him about his intentions. Nat Stuckey, the original artist, and Jerry Reed, who recorded the song in 1970, are gone too. In their place, I asked Danny O'Keefe, who recorded the song for his 1977 album American Roulette, what he thought it meant. O'Keefe said:
Someone told me about the song at the time I was recording American Roulette and I thought it was funny. I assumed the message was the singer/writer wanted a real woman, not one who relied on exterior applications for her beauty. It seems self-evident in the lyrics. I never met Vic McAlpin, so I don't know what his story was for the song. It's basically, as far as I'm concerned, a good-time song about wanting a real woman, but that's probably overstating it. 
Here's O'Keefe's version:

It seems obvious to me that the song was meant to be suggestive, regardless of the specific meanings that McAlpin attached to its double entendres. Although a country song that explicitly advocated unprotected sex probably wouldn't have flown in 1968, sexually suggestive "skin songs" were soon to become very popular in country music, so "Plastic Saddle" is a trailblazer in that sense.

"Plastic Saddle" is very funky for a country song, and fittingly, a funk group called City Lights recorded it for RCA in 1979.

Jerry Reed, as I mentioned, also recorded it. I think that his version is the best one. The All-Music Guide review of Reed's Better Things in Life album described this as a "raunchy cover of Nat Stuckey's 'Plastic Saddle'," even though it's faithful to the original:

And finally, the same year that Stuckey recorded "Plastic Saddle," June Stearns recorded a version of it. It seems like a very odd song for a woman to sing: