Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cassette Store Day 2014

Today is Cassette Store Day, the annual international event to promote the value of cassettes as a music format. Cassette Store Day started in 2013 as the cassette world's answer to Record Store Day and has grown significantly in its second year. In 2013, the Cassette Store Day release list had 50 titles; this year, that number has risen to 300. 

The event originated in the UK but has garnered fairly robust participation stateside. The official Cassette Store Day website has separate areas for UK/EU and US, and separate release lists for each region.

Cassettes seemed to be so dead as a format that the Oxford Dictionary removed the term "cassette tape" in 2011. But some indie music niches, especially in the pizza punk/Burger Records/Gnar Tapes arena, have embraced and championed the cassette, partly out of nostalgia and partly out of contrariness. 

In reality, it's hard to say how many people are really listening to these cassettes. Many music buyers now primarily listen to digital music while handling their physical media—cassettes, limited edition vinyl, deluxe CD box sets that are housed in impractical unusable packaging—as collectors objects, like action figures that can never be played with and graded comic books that can never be read. Some of the people who bought my cassette have told me that they don't even own a cassette player. 

I love the spirit behind Cassette Store Day and can understand the fondness that some people have for physical media. I used to be a serious record collector and, at one time, had nearly 10,000 LPs and CDs. I couldn't imagine giving up physical media and listening to stupid files that could evaporate in an instant with the crash of a hard drive. I couldn't imagine how "record" collecting could continue to provide any joy or challenge in a digital environment in which practically every recording you might ever want is readily available for download or streaming. And yet today I buy very little physical media and take my iPod Classic (now discontinued) everywhere. I still feel the same joy of discovery when I find great new music for download that I felt with physical media, like when I finally tracked down that mint copy of the Go-Betweens' Very Quick on the Eye LP.
If you'd like to browse the releases for Cassette Store Day 2014, a list of US releases is here, and the list of UK/EU releases is here. The official site also has a list of participating record stores.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pig Latin in music

What influence has Pig Latin, the children's language game, had on popular music, you ask? 

Not much, but a little more than none. Jazz vocalist Anita O'Day took her last name from the Pig Latin word for "dough." In Wikipedia's article on Pig Latin, the "in popular culture" section lists a few songs that are sung in Pig Latin. Some songs have "Pig Latin" in the title, like Todd Rhodes and LaVern Baker's "Pig Latin Blues," but aren't sung in Pig Latin.

Today on Music Weird, we'll survey almost 50 years' worth of songs that feature singing in Pig Latin.

Nellie Lutcher – "Pig-Latin Song" (1947)


This song registered on Billboard's "race" chart in 1948 when it appeared as the B-side of Lutcher's "Fine Brown Frame." In a review, Billboard said, "Nellie imparts [her] own peculiar vocal pattern to her own tune." Maybe it's the poor audio of the video, but Lutcher's vocal performance seems very weak to me here. 




Johnnie & Jack – "Pig Latin Serenade (Pa Won't Know and Ma Won't Care)" (1953)

On "Pig Latin Serenade," Billboard wrote, the "duo gets together on Pig Latin clambake. Could be an attention-getting gimmick." I used to use a weird Johnnie & Jack instrumental, "Yeah," as the theme of my rockabilly radio show on WFHB-FM.

Lead Belly – "Pig Latin Song" (1953) 

Lead Belly recorded this song more than once. 



Johnny Brooks – "Pig Latin" (1960) 

No audio for this one. "Pig Latin" was the B-side of Brooks' "Help Me Somebody."



Bob Luman – "The Pig Latin Song" (1961)

"The Pig Latin Song," the B-side of Luman's "The Great Snowman," was also recorded by Holland's Magic Strangers in 1964. This might be the best-known Pig Latin song. Bob Luman had a some pop hits as a rocker in the early '60s (including the Top 3 hit "Let's Think About Living") and then notched a lot of country hits in the late '60s and 1970s.


Zoom – "Ig-pay Atin-lay" (1977)

The cast of the television children's show Zoom cut an album, Playgrounds, in 1977 that includes a song in pig Latin, "Ig-pay Atin-lay." No audio sample.


The Hemmer Ridge Mountain Boys – "Red Neck Mother (in Pig Latin)" (1977)

This record is a version of Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Red Neck Mother" sung in Pig Latin. YouTube has a video of Wrecks Bell performing this version live.  



Ben Stiller – "The Pig Latin Lover" (1990)

Even if you're not a fan of Ben Stiller, you have to admit that this is impressive, especially when he gets to "American Pie." Taken from Stiller's sketch comedy show, The Ben Stiller Show, this sketch parodies those old television ads for records, like the ads for Slim Whitman's albums.




Mr. T Experience – "Pig Latin" (1990)

From their album Making Things with Light. You can hear a sound sample here.  


Black Maddness – "Igpay Atinlay" (1993)

Features rapping in Pig Latin.



Dillinger Escape Plan – "Pig Latin" (2002)

Some hardcore in Pig Latin. 

Bonus track: Louis Jordan – "Ofay and Oxford Gray" (1945)


This song about racial harmony uses the word "ofay," a derogatory African-American term for white people. The origin of the word is unclear, but one popular theory is that it originates from the Pig Latin word for "foe." Whether or not "ofay" is Pig Latin, it's the only (potentially) Pig Latin word in this song.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Yet more old recordings that became new hits

Music Weird's third retrospective of old recordings that became new hits serves up 11 more oldies-cum-newies. You can find the previous entries in this series here and here.

1. Billy Vera & the Beaters – "At This Moment"

Billy Vera & the Beaters' "At This Moment" was only a minor hit when first released in 1981. After the song was used in the television sitcom Family Ties, Rhino Records reissued it, and it became a #1 hit in 1987. The reissue was so successful that it even charted on the country and adult contemporary charts!


2. Johnny Horton – "All Grown Up"

Johnny Horton was killed by a drunk driver in 1960, but he had two sizable posthumous hits with reissued singles: "Honky-Tonk Man" (#11 country, 1962) and "All Grown Up" (#26 country, 1963). I love Horton (Music Weird has a post about "The Battle of New Orleans" here), but I find "All Grown Up" extremely annoying. 


3. Carl Smith – "Lonely Girl"

In 1964, Columbia put Carl Smith's 1958 recording "Lonely Girl" on the flip side of his new song, "When It's Over." Both sides charted, but "Lonely Girl" was an even bigger hit than "When It's Over." Smith's traditional honky-tonk sound was so consistent that the 1958 recording was little different from the 1964 recording. (You can find both of these songs on a Carl Smith anthology that I produced, The Sixties Hits of Carl Smith.)


4. Bill Haley & the Comets – "Rock Around the Clock"

Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" was only a minor hit when it was first released in 1954. A year later, after it was featured in the film Blackboard Jungle, it topped the pop chart for two months. Since that time, it has been reissued numerous times and has charted numerous times. In the UK, it became a #20 hit in 1968 and a #12 hit in 1974. In the US, it "bubbled under" the Hot 100 in 1968 and returned to the charts yet again in 1974 when it was used as the theme of the television sitcom Happy Days

5. Michael Jackson – Thriller

After Michael Jackson died in 2009, his 1982 album Thriller, which had already sold tens of millions of copies, soared to #2 on Billboard's Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. It's hard to believe that anyone was left who didn't already own it (although I'll admit that I have never owned it), but Nielsen SoundScan reported that Thriller was the #3 bestselling album of 2009.

6. Youngbloods – "Get Together"

The Youngbloods recorded their rendition of "Get Together," the classic why-can't-we-all-just-get-along counterculture anthem, in 1967. (Jonathan Edwards talks about the Youngbloods a little bit in his interview with Music Weird here.) The song was only a minor hit, but two years later, the National Conference of Christians and Jews featured it in a radio public service announcement, and it became a #1 pop hit in Cash Box


7. Hank Williams – "Why Don't You Love Me"

This #1 country hit from 1950 was reissued in 1976 and became a middling hit on the country chart. I think that Williams recordings sound raw even for their era, so it must have been weird for country radio listeners in 1976 to hear this song sandwiched between pop-oriented country acts like Crystal Gayle and Dave & Sugar.

8. Aerosmith – "Dream On"

Aerosmith's power ballad "Dream On" was included on the band's 1973 debut album. It was released as a single at that time but didn't crack the Top 40, despite being a #1 hit in Boston, their hometown. Columbia Records reissued the single in 1976, and this time the rest of the country fell in line with Boston, sending "Dream On" into the Top 10.


9. Sweet – "Ballroom Blitz"

The Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" was a #2 hit in the UK in 1973. It didn't reach the US until two years later, when it went to #5. Internationally, this song spread slowly; it was on the chart in various countries over a span of at least three years. 


10. Elvis Presley – Numerous hits

RCA continued to release and re-release Elvis singles after Elvis died in 1977, and many of these singles charted, particularly on the country chart. Some of his old rock and pop hits from the '50s and '60s, like "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck" and "Puppet on a String," became country hits in the late 1970s. 


11. Jimmy Dean – "I.O.U."

Jimmy Dean's Mother's Day recitation, "I.O.U.," was a Top 10 country hit in 1976—his first Top 10 hit in a decade and the last of his career. Country DJs trotted the record out for Mother's Day for years afterward, and it registered on the country chart again in 1977 and yet again in 1983.

Friday, September 19, 2014

10 more old recordings that became new hits

This follow-up to Music Weird's recent post on 10 old recordings that became new hits offers 10 more of the same: songs that became hits again—or even became hits for the first time—years after they were recorded.

1. Franck Pourcel's French Fiddles – "Only You (And You Alone)"

French arranger, composer, and conductor Franck Pourcel recorded his orchestral rendition of the Platters’ “Only You (And You Alone)” in 1956, but it didn’t become a hit in the US until 1959, when it became not only a Top 10 hit but also a Top 20 R&B hit! In 1972, Billboard reported that the record had sold five million copies. In the UK, the record was credited to the Rockin’ Strings of Franck Pourcel, which is fitting in light of its rock-a-ballad beat. 

2. Chris Barber's Jazz Band – "Petite Fleur (Little Flower)"

Chris Barber recorded his remake of Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur (Little Flower)” for the 1956 album Chris Barber Plays, Volume 3. The recording featured the clarinet of Monty Sunshine. Much to Barber’s surprise, “Petite Fleur” became a hit three years later in England, Germany, and the US. It earned his group a spot as the first British group to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and spent four months on the US chart. In England, it was a Top 3 hit.  



3. The Rockin' Rebels – "Wild Weekend"

The Rebels recorded "Wild Weekend," the theme from Buffalo, New York, DJ Tom Shannon's radio show of the same name, in 1959, but it wasn't a big seller. In 1962, another disc jockey started using the tune as his theme, so Swan Records reissued the single. Swan changed the band name from the Rebels to the Rockin' Rebels to avoid confusion with Duane Eddy's Rebels. The reissue finally clicked with the national audience and sailed into the Top 10. 


4. The Viscounts – "Harlem Nocturne"

One of the greatest rock instrumentals of all time, "Harlem Nocturne" by New Jersey's Viscounts charted twice seven years apart. This atmospheric rock version of the jazz standard didn't crack the Top 40 when it was first released in 1959, but it did when it was re-released in 1966 . 


5. Jim Reeves – 34 hits!

Country star Jim Reeves died in the summer of 1964 when he crashed his private airplane. His label, RCA Victor, continued to release singles from his backlog of recordings, and Reeves remained a fixture on the country chart through 1984. He charted a whopping 34 singles after his death, including five #1 hits! Some fans didn't realize that he had died; he continued to receive fan mail years after his death. Here's his first posthumous chart topper, "This Is It."


6. Numerous holiday songs

Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock," Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash," and other holiday-themed recordings charted year after year around their respective holidays. Crosby's "White Christmas" even became a #1 hit twice!


7. Chubby Checker – "The Twist"

Chubby Checker's recording of "The Twist" became a #1 hit twice: first in 1960 and again only two years later. The only other song that has duplicated this feat on the Billboard chart is Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." 


8. The Proclaimers – "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

"I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" was a hit in England and Australia in 1989. Four years later, it was featured in the film Benny & Joon and belatedly became a Top 3 hit in the US. 


9. Moody Blues – "Nights in White Satin"

A UK Top 20 hit when it was first released in 1967, "Nights in White Satin" wouldn't become a US hit until 1972, when it was re-released and went to #1 on the Cash Box pop chart. 

10. The Righteous Brothers – "Unchained Melody"

The story of "Unchained Melody" spans the decades. Its songwriter, Alex North, first composed the song in 1936, but it wasn't recorded until nearly 20 years later, when North contributed it to the film Unchained. (That's where the "unchained" in the title comes from.) Les Baxter, Roy Hamilton, and Al Hibbert all had big hit versions in 1955. A number of artists recorded it afterward, including Gerry Granahan of Dickey Doo & the Don'ts, who cut a weird rock 'n' roll version in 1961. 

The Righteous Brothers recorded their version in 1965 and it became a Top 5 hit. When a reissue of the song became a #1 hit in the UK in 1990, the group re-recorded the song, and the re-recording became a Top 20 hit in the US that same year. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

10 old recordings that became new hits

We tend to think of current hits as "the music of today," but sometimes today's hits are the music of yesterday. Today on Music Weird, we'll look at 10 recordings that became hits years—or even decades—after they were originally recorded. Many of these hits reflect the power of disk jockeys and movies to pluck songs out of obscurity or to revive the hits of yesteryear.

Old songs that appear in commercials frequently become chart items in the UK, so this list of 10 recordings could easily be much longer than it is. Greatest hits collections often chart in the UK too; Vera Lynn recently had a Top 20 album hit in the UK with a collection of World War 2-era recordings.


1. Sheriff – "When I'm With You"

The Canadian rock band Sheriff had a major Canadian hit and a minor U.S. hit with "When I'm With You" in 1983. Six years later, Jay Taylor, a disk jockey in Las Vegas, started playing the song. Then Gabe Baptiste at KRXY in Olympia, Washington, started playing the song too. The song continued to spread nationally and went to #1 in the U.S. in 1989. Sheriff no longer existed at this point, and attempts to reunite the band to capitalize on its posthumous success fizzled. 

YouTube has blocked the videos of this song outside of Canada, but you can listen to it here.

2. Benny Bell – "Shaving Cream"

Benny Bell's 1946 novelty song "Shaving Cream" is a song like the schoolyard rhyme "Mary Had a Steamboat" or "Bang Bang Lulu" that sets up the listener to expect swear words that the song humorously fails to deliver. (Music Weird has a post about "Mary Had a Steamboat" here.)

In 1975, Bell's old 1946 version became a hit after the Dr. Demento show started playing it. Bell wrote the song, but Paul Wynn was the vocalist on the record, even though Bell is credited as the artist on some pressings. Jim Nesbit recorded a country cover version in 1975 that also became a minor hit. 

Trivia: In 1984, Atlantic Records wanted Jump 'n the Saddle to record "Shaving Cream" for the band's second album, which was supposed to be the follow up to their novelty hit "The Curly Shuffle." Jump 'n the Saddle grudgingly recorded a version with new lyrics that criticized Atlantic, so the label refused to release the album and also refused to release Jump 'n the Saddle from their contract, effectively ending the group's career.

3. Ben E. King – "Stand by Me"

Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" was a Top 5 pop hit in 1961 when it was originally released. It became a Top 10 hit again in the US in 1986 when it was used as the title track of the film Stand by Me. In 1987, it topped the UK chart after being featured in a Levi Jeans commercial.

4. UB40 – "Red Red Wine"

UB40's 1983 recording of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine" inched into the US Top 40 in 1984. Four years later, in 1988, the single was re-released in the US and became a #1 hit. The unexpected hit competed with UB40's self-titled A&M album, which was also released in 1988.

5. Spirit – "Mr. Skin"

"Mr. Skin" was a song from Spirit's 1970 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. In 1973, Epic Records released a greatest hits collection, The Best of Spirit, and reissued "Mr. Skin" as a single. Surprisingly, it charted in the lower rungs of the Billboard Hot 100. 

6. The Beatles – "Got to Get You into My Life"

The Beatles recorded Paul McCartney's song "Got to Get You into My Life" for their 1966 album Revolver. In 1976, Capitol reissued it as a single to coincide with the greatest-hits collection Rock 'n' Roll Music, and the song became a Top 10 hit. It would be the Beatles' last Top 10 hit until 20 years later, when the posthumous creation "Free as a Bird" hit the Top 10 on the US and UK charts. 

7. Danzig – "Mother"

"Mother" was included on Danzig's self-titled debut album in 1988. Almost six years later, the studio version—slightly remixed—peaked just shy of the Top 40. The latter-day success of the recording resulted from Danzig including a live version of the song on the Thrall-Demonsweatlive EP. 


8. The Doors – "Break on Through (To the Other Side)"

The Doors' "Break on Through (To the Other Side)" is one of those well-known oldies that never charted very high. When it was originally released as a single in 1967, it didn't even crack the Hot 100. When re-released 24 years later, the song became a somewhat bigger hit in the UK but stalled at #64. 


9. The Belle Stars  – "Iko Iko (The Clapping Song)"

The Belle Stars' 1982 recording of the Dixie Cups' 1965 hit "Iko Iko (The Clapping Song)" was a moderate UK hit when it was originally released. In 1989, after the song appeared in the film Rain Man, it gained new life and went to #14 in the US. 

10. Ted Weems – "Heartaches"

Ted Weems' "Heartaches" is possibly the most dramatic revival on this list. Weems recorded the song for RCA Victor in 1931 and again for Decca in 1938. In 1947, a disk jockey in Charlotte, North Carolina, started spinning the 1931 recording, and interest in the record started to spread. Both RCA Victor and Decca reissued their respective versions in order to meet the demand, and the 1931 recording sailed to #1 during its 16-week run on the pop chart. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Mary Had a Steamboat" AKA "Miss Susie"

The cover of Alf Danielson's "Mary Had a Steamboat" single

"Miss Susie" is a schoolyard rhyme like "Bang Bang Lulu," "Miss Lucy Had a Baby," and Benny Bell's "Shaving Cream" that uses a crafty rhyme scheme to make listeners expect swear words that the song humorously fails to deliver. I learned this song in the 1970s as "Mary Had a Steamboat."

The Wikipedia article on "Miss Susie" provides lyrics that were collected from different states at different points in time, and all of the versions are different from the version I heard in Muncie, Indiana, in the 1970s. In these many versions, the lyrics of "Miss Susie," "Miss Lucy Had a Baby," and "Bang Bang Lulu" are often jumbled together. Here's the version that I learned: 

Mary had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell
Mary pulled the wrong cord
And blew us all to hell-

O, operator
Give me number nine
If you disconnect me
I'll kick your behind

The 'frigerator
There is a piece of glass
Mary sat upon it
And cut her little

Ask me no more questions
I'll tell you no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom
Playing with their

Flies are in the city
Fleas are in the park
Boys and girls are kissing in the
D-A-R-K dark 

This rhyme was archaic even in the 1970s. Its references to steamboats and switchboard operators were ones that I recognized only from black-and-white movies and television shows. Even as a kid, I questioned Mary's ability to sit on a piece of glass that was behind the refrigerator.

As a kid, I was also struck by what I perceived as the sentimental final couplet. After all of these almost-dirty jokes and unpleasant images of things blowing up and people getting cut, the rhyme ends with boys and girls kissing in the park. That couplet made the song seem almost profound. The song seemed to be saying: Despite all of these trials and tribulations, love goes on. At least, that's how I interpreted it, but I was a sentimental kid. 

I don't know how far back this rhyme goes, but folklorists have collected it throughout North America from the beginning of the 20th century. "Bang Bang Lulu" seems to be derived from a British rhyme called "Bang Bang Rosie," so it may be even older than the others. In 1925, The Catalina Islander newspaper in Avalon, California, ran a poem by a 9- or 10-year-old kid that included references to Mary and her steamboat. 

These songs—"Miss Susie" and "Bang Bang Lulu"— were largely confined to the schoolyard, but a number of recorded versions exist. Emilie Autumn recorded a version of "Miss Susie" called "Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches" that was included on her 2007 anthology A Bit o' This & That. Doug Clark & the Hot Nuts recorded "Bang Bang Lou Lou" for their 1963 album On Campus, and Lloyd Terrell recorded a reggae version in 1968. Here's the Doug Clark recording: 

And here's a much older version—from 1936—by Roy Acuff, recorded under the name Bang Boys. It's called "When Lulu's Gone." 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Radio's first filibuster" gave Art Mooney an unlikely hit in 1948

The story of Art Mooney's 1948 hit "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" is one in which a disc jockey's ridicule inadvertently turned a record into one of the biggest hits of the year. 

The 1940s and '50s were a time when personality disc jockeys could make or break a record; these deejays were tastemakers who could turn even old and obscure records into current hits. Al "Jazzbo" Collins was one such disc jockey. His Jazzbo Jamboree was broadcast from Salt Lake City, Utah's KNAK beginning in 1946. 

Collins was a zany character who pulled many promotional stunts in his career. He used to broadcast from a barber's chair, he once participated in a public wrestling match with a rival disc jockey, and he even cut a few records of his own: some children's singles and a 1967 album for Impulse!, A Lovely Bunch of Al Jazzbo Collins and the Bandidos. The album title refers to his early '60s television show, The Al Collins Show, on which he would force his celebrity guests to don a Mexican bandit costume and say to the camera, "I don't got to show you no stinkin' badges!" If you're familiar with that phrase, then you can thank Collins for helping to popularize it.


In 1948, while Collins was still at KNAK in Salt Lake City, MGM Records sent him a promo copy of the new Art Mooney record, "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover." This old-fashioned recording features the banjo of Mike Pingitore, who had previously played with Paul Whiteman, on a tune from 1927 that was associated with Al Jolson. Mooney's recording also has a mixed choir that sings in unison, not harmony, like a community sing-along. It's a pretty goofy record. 

"Collins's short-fused temper exploded because such a disk was sent to an established jazz deejay,"  Arnold Shaw wrote in his 1974 book The Rockin' 50s. Collins proceeded to play the record for hours while ranting about it and ridiculing it. 

Billboard reported on the stunt, describing Collins's act as "radio's first filbuster" and "a heroic effort" to sink Mooney's record. The stunt backfired though, and the show turned into—as Billboard put it—"chaos" and a "clambake for the hapless Collins."

Collins expected his jazz listeners to join him in protesting MGM's ridiculous offering, but instead, Billboard wrote, "phone calls poured in from pleased listeners who added insult to Collins's injury by praising him 'for playing something good for a change.'" 

The show reached a crescendo with Collins broadcasting his callers' "delighted screams," and then the police got involved somehow. Afterward, Collins said, in reference to his misguided listeners, "I never knew they were so square!"

The stunt helped to stoke an interest in Mooney's tune that spread across the nation. The record went to #1 on the Billboard pop chart and became one of the 10 biggest hits of 1948. Many competing versions were released, some of which charted. Russ Morgan, Alvino Rey, and the Three Suns had versions that reached the Top 10. Versions by the Uptown String Band and Arthur Godfrey just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11 and #14, respectively. In Australia, a version by George Trevare topped the pop chart. 

Apparently unbeknownst to Collins, the real instigator of this "Four Leaf Clover" revival was not Art Mooney but the Uptown String Band. The Uptown String Band was a long-running ensemble that started performing at Philadelphia's Mummers Parade in 1938. 

In 1947, the group released a recording of "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" on the independent Krantz label. When the record started to make some noise, Mercury Records picked it up for national release, and the cover versions—including Art Mooney's—began to pile on. Krantz advertised the Uptown String Band's version as "the original" and billed itself as "the originators of the country's best selling string band records," but to no avail. Mooney's version, with an inadvertent assist from Jazzbo Collins, soared to the top of the chart.