Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Sick" sound: The craze for amateur girl singers in 1960-61

Kathy Young

An odd musical craze swept the nation in 1960-61. Billboard called it the "sick" sound, characterizing it as "not necessarily true to pitch." It was a brief string of hits by amateur teen girl singers whose voices weren't, let's say, quite as polished as radio listeners were accustomed to.

Cathy Jean

Writer and future music publicist Ren Grevatt wryly described this "interesting new kind of artist" in a 1961 Billboard article about the influx of inexperienced teenage girl singers into the pop charts: Kathy (Young) & The Innocents, Cathy Jean & The Roommates, and Rosie & The Originals.

In all cases, the vocalists were 14- or 15-year-old girls with novice singing ability, and all enjoyed major hits in 1960-61: Kathy Young with "A Thousand Stars" and "Happy Birthday Blues," Cathy Jean with "Please Love Me Forever," and Rosie with "Angel Baby."

Rosalie Hamlin of Rosie & the Originals
In addition to their similar sound, Grevatt remarked on the similarity in their names:
"With a flourish of informality, these thrushes may also set a new pattern in using only their first names, as in Cathy Jean, Rosie, and now one who calls herself simply, Connie. Connie and the Cones are out this week with 'No Time for Tears' and 'Take All the Kisses,' on Roulette." 
Connie Sue Landers AKA Connie Dee
of Connie and the Cones
(To be fair, Connie of Connie and the Cones was like those other artists in name only. Connie Sue Landers, AKA Connie Dee, was actually an excellent vocalist.)

Another new "sick" act that Grevatt mentioned was the Creschendos, whose single "Take My Heart" and "My Heart's Desire" was picked up for national distribution by Gone Records in 1961. The female vocalist wasn't named on the label, but as Grevatt snarkily added, "in the current furor for this kind of performance ... she cannot long remain anonymous." In fact, the vocalist was Wanda Burt, the only African-American artist to get lumped in with the sick scenesters. She was older than the others, having been about 18 when the record was recorded. 

Wanda Burt of the Creschendos/Crescendos/
Casual Crescendos
Even though Grevatt singled out girl singers, the boys had some purveyors of the sick sound too. The most obvious example is Fabian, who was signed to a recording contract on the basis of his looks. He had no innate singing ability—as his first record, "Shivers," shows—but plenty of hits.

Maybe listeners found this kind of guileless, unsophisticated singing relatable and down-to-earth, but if so, their enthusiasm didn't last long. Cathy Jean, Rosie, and Kathy Young had no further hits on the Hot 100 after 1961 (although Young nearly had a hit in 1964 with "All You Had to Do," a duet with Chris Montez that showed some improvement in her vocal technique). Interestingly, Fabian's run of Billboard chart hits, which began in 1959, ended in 1960, so his career as a hit-maker died out around the same time as those of his female counterparts.
In the years since the heyday of the sick sound, amateur young singers have scored pop hits on occasion, but the records have tended to be novelties or topical songs of some sort (like Sharon Batts' 1985 hit "Dear Mr. Jesus") rather than teen love songs. Now that a seemingly infinite number of amateur singers can be heard on YouTube, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, etc., the novelty of hearing them on the radio is greatly diminished.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The British Invasion, 1956-1963

Lonnie Donegan

The British Invasion, 1956-1963

This is a list of UK artists who appeared on the US charts from the beginning of the rock 'n' roll era until the chart debut of The Beatles' #1 hit "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in January 1964.

The Beatles' actual US chart debut was "From Me To You" in 1963, but it barely registered on the charts, so it can't be considered the catalyst for the British Invasion that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was.

Although the British Invasion marked an explosion of interest in and commercial success for British artists in the United States, British artists had already begun to have an increasing presence on the US charts since the mid '50s, as seen below.

The British hit-makers, like their American counterparts at that time, were wide ranging in style, from easy listening to rock 'n' roll and from sophisticated pop to rootsy folk and skiffle.

As for firsts, the first British artist to have a #1 hit in the US was Vera Lynn with "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" in 1952, and the first British group to have a #1 hit in the US was The Tornados with "Telstar" in 1962.

If I've forgotten anyone (and I'm sure I have), let me know and I'll add them to the list.

Note: All chart positions are from the Billboard Hot 100 or "Bubbling Under" charts unless otherwise indicated. Artists are listed in chronological order by their first hit.

Lonnie Donegan
  • “Rock Island Line” (#8, 1956; again in 1961 in Music Vendor and Cash Box)
  • “Lost John” (#58, 1956)
  • "My Old Man's a Dustman" (#118 in Music Vendor, 1960)
  • “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Over Night)” (#5, 1961)

The Beverly Sisters
  • “Greensleeves” (#41, 1956)

Anne Shelton
  • "Lay Down Your Arms" (#59, 1956)

Vera Lynn
(also had US hits in the 1940s and early '50s)
  • “Such A Day” (#96, 1956)
  • “Don’t Cry My Love (The Faithful Hussar)” (#55, 1957)

Cyril Stapleton
  • “The Italian Theme” (#25, 1956)
  • "Forgotten Dreams" (#43 in Cash Box, #45 in Music Vendor, 1957)
  • “The Children’s Marching Song” (#13, 1959)

Russ Hamilton
  • “Rainbow” (#3, 1957)
  • "Wedding Ring" (#81 in Music Vendor, 1957)
  • "My Mother's Eyes" (#83 in Music Vendor, 1958)

Laurie London
  • “He’s Got The Whole World (In His Hands)” (#1, 1958)
  • "I Gotta Robe" (#80 in Music Vendor, 1958)
  • "Pretty Eyed Baby" (#106 in Music Vendor, 1959)

Frankie Vaughan
  • “Judy” (#22, 1958)
  • "Hercules" (#118 in Music Vendor, #141 in Cash Box, 1962)

Reg Owen
  • “Manhattan Spiritual” (#10, 1958)
  • "Down by the Riverside" (#111 in Music Vendor, 1959)

Mike Preston
  • "A House, A Car and a Wedding Ring" (#93, but #57 in Cash Box, 1958)

Cliff Richard
  • “Living Doll” (#30, 1959)
  • "Dynamite" (#115 in Cash Box, 1959)
  • "Travellin' Light" (#107 in Music Vendor, 1959)
  • "Theme for a Dream" (#112 in Cash Box, 1961)
  • "Wonderful to Be Young" (#135 in Music Vendor, 1962)
  • "Lucky Lips" (#62, 1963) (debuted the same week as The Beatles' "From Me to You")
  • "It's All in the Game" (#25, 1963)

Chris Barber's Jazz Band
  • “Petite Fleur” (#5, 1959)

Marty Wilde
  • “Bad Boy” (#45, 1960)

Helen Shapiro
  • "You Don't Know" (#88 in Music Vendor, #147 in Cash Box, 1961)
  • “Walkin’ Back To Happiness” (#100, 1961)

Matt Monro
  • “My Kind Of Girl” (#18, 1961)
  • "Why Not Now" (#92, 1961)
  • "Softly As I Leave You" (#116, 1962; charted again in 1964)
  • "The Girl I Love" (#146 in Music Vendor, 1963)

Eden Kane
  • “Well, I Ask You” (#119, 1961)

Hayley Mills
  • "Let's Get Together” (#8, 1961)
  • “Johnny Jingo” (#21, 1962)
  • "Ching-Ching and a Ding Ding Ding" (#118, 1962)
  • "Castaway" (#110 in Music Vendor, #111 in Cash Box, 1963)

Shirley Bassey
  • "You'll Never Know" (#89 in Music Vendor, #110 in Cash Box, 1961)
  • “Reach For The Stars” (#120, 1961)

Mr. Acker Bilk
  • "Summer Set" (#104, 1960)
  • "Stranger on the Shore” (#1, 1962)
  • “Dardanella (Part 1)" (#105, 1962)
  • “Above The Stars” (#59, 1962)
  • "Limelight" (#92, 1962)
  • "Underneath the Arches" (#120 in Music Vendor, #129 in Cash Box, 1963)

David Rose
  • "Holiday for Trombones" (#84, 1957)
  • "Calypso Melody" (#42, 1957)
  • "Swinging Shepherd Blues" (#47, 1958)
  • "How High the Moon" (#81 in Music Vendor, 1958)
  • "Like Young" (#46, 1959)
  • "Young and Tender" (#113 in Music Vendor, 1959)
  • “The Stripper” (#1, 1962)
  • “Black and Tan Fantasy" (#96 in Music Vendor, 1962)
  • "The Theme from 'The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm'" (#100 in Music Vendor, 1962)
  • "The Runway" (#95 in Music Vendor, 1963)
  • "How the West Was Won" (#120 in Music Vendor, 1963)

The Tornados
  • “Telstar” (#1, 1962)
  • "Ridin' the Wind" (#63, 1963)
  • "Globetrottin'" (#87 in Music Vendor, #93 in Cash Box, 1963)
  • "Like Locomotion" (#119, 1963)
  • "Robot" (#115 in Music Vendor, 1963)
  • "The Ice Cream Man" (#103 in both Cash Box and Music Vendor, 1963)

Victor Feldman Quartet
  • “A Taste Of Honey” (#88, 1962)

Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen
  • “Midnight In Moscow” (#2, 1962)
  • "March of the Siamese Children" (#88, 1962)
  • "The Green Leaves of Summer" (#87, 1962)
  • "Heartaches" (#119, 1963)

Charlie Drake
  • “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back” (#21, 1962)

Frank Ifield
  • “I Remember You” (#5, 1962)
  • “Lovesick Blues” (#44, 1962)
  • "The Wayward Wind" (#104, 1963)
  • "I'm Smiling Now" (#132 in Music Vendor, 1963)
  • "Nobody's Darlin' but Mine" (#142 in Music Vendor, 1963)
  • "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" (#58, 1963)
  • "Please" (#71, 1963)

The Springfields
  • “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” (#20, 1962)
  • “Dear Hearts And Gentle People” (#95, 1962)
  • "Gotta Travel On" (#114, 1962)
  • "Waf-Woof" (#149 in Music Vendor, 1963)
  • "Island of Dreams" (#129, 1963)

The Caravelles
  • “You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry” (#3, 1963)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The rarest Go-Betweens CD?

As a longtime Go-Betweens collector and discographer, I've seen practically every Go-Betweens release go up for sale at one time or another, including the ultra-rare 5 New Songs split cassette from 1981.

But there's one Go-Betweens release I've never seen listed in any discography, sold on any auction site, listed on any record retail site, or even mentioned in any fan forum. It's not a very exciting release, but I'm prepared—on the basis of my years of collecting—to declare it the rarest of all mass-produced Go-Betweens CDs.

It's the "Was There Anything I Could Do?" one-track promotional CD single that was released by Capitol/Beggars Banquet to US radio stations in 1988. 

I never heard this song on the radio back then, but I saw the music video on MTV two or three times, and the song spent seven weeks on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in late 1988-early 1989, peaking at #16, so it enjoyed some college-radio success.

Even though a lot of college stations must have received this promo CD, I've seen a copy of it only once. It was in 1989 in the bargain bin of a used record store, and I didn't buy it because it had the call letters of WQAX (an FM radio station that broadcast from Bloomington, Indiana, until 1993) scrawled across the face of the disc in black permanent marker. Even though I was avidly collecting everything Go-Betweens at that time, I thought that the writing ruined the CD's value as a collectible and that I'd find a pristine copy later. I never did. 

These one-track promo CDs that were sent to radio stations for airplay were widely thought to be junk after they'd served their purpose. Promo CDs that had exclusive tracks and artwork were collectible, but one-track promo CDs that didn't contain a unique radio mix or radio edit and had a generic inlay card (or no inlay card at all) were usually seen as worthless unless the artist was a highly collectible one like Bob Dylan. 

As a result, radio stations routinely pitched these one-track promo CDs in the trash. The discs would sometimes end up in a used record store in the dollar or 25¢ bin for a while, but they often didn't sell, and then they'd be discarded, perhaps having their jewel cases recycled to replace the broken cases of more desirable CDs.

So, even though the "Was There Anything I Could Do?" promo CD was a replicated disc and therefore must have been manufactured in a quantity of at least 500, it's likely that almost all of them now reside in landfills. The fact that the most ardent Go-Betweens collectors I know have never located a single copy certainly suggests as much. Or maybe a few copies are floating around out there but people still see them as worthless and never try to sell them.

I've tried without success to figure out the catalog number of this CD single. The one-track US promo 12" single is SPRO-79427. The promo CD would have the prefix DPRO, but DPRO-79427 is Capitol's 1992 one-track promo CD for the Cages' "Too Tired." The Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart listed Beggars Banquet 91230 as the catalog number, but that's the catalog number for the 16 Lovers Lane album, not a single. Wikipedia has an article about "Was There Anything I Could Do?" that mentions the promo 12" single but not the promo CD single.

I'm hoping that someone who has a copy of the CD will see this post and provide some info in the comments.

Here are a couple examples of Capitol one-track promo CDs from 1988-89. Neither one appears to have been packaged with an inlay card. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Magnetic Fields 1998 US tour postcard from Merge Records

Digging through my records today, I found this 1998 Magnetic Fields tour postcard from Merge Records. I looked online and couldn't find any images or mentions of it, so I'm putting it here for anyone who's interested.

I had seen the Magnetic Fields perform in 1997 at Sudsy Malone's Rock 'n' Roll Laundry & Bar—literally a laundromat/concert venue in Cincinnati, Ohio—as part of a triple bill with Yo La Tengo and the Ass Ponys. Yo La Tengo headlined and Magnetic Fields played in the middle. At the time I was a big Ass Ponys and Magnetic Fields fan but kind of lukewarm on Yo La Tengo, a band that I nevertheless managed to see live three or four times.

I don't have that PO box anymore, so don't try to write to me there.

Magnetic Fields weren't touring to support a new album in 1998. Their last album at that time, Get Lost, had come out in 1995, and their next album, 69 Love Songs, wouldn't be released until 1999. 

They had released a new single on Merge in 1998, though: "I Don't Believe You." It was a song that they would later re-record and include on the 2004 album i. The B-side was "When I'm Not Looking, You're Not There." Both can be heard below. So, I guess this postcard is from the "I Don't Believe You" tour?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Music Weird's Best Albums of 2017

I'm late to the game with my best-of-2017 list. They say "better late than never," but this might have been a "better never than late" situation, considering how inactive this blog has become.

The way that I find new music—by constantly but almost randomly perusing new releases without relying on curated lists, podcasts, radio stations, music magazines and websites, music forums, the algorithms of streaming services and retail sites, etc.—means that my list doesn't have much in common with any other lists out there.

In fact, even though I listen to new music constantly, I was surprised at how little I'd heard of the music on other people's best-of-2017 lists. 

Compiling these videos was surprising too, because I was constantly astonished at how many or how few views each one had.

The big trends in music for me in 2017 were electronic music and female-fronted bands. I read an article somewhere that said 2017 was the Year of the Woman in rock, which sounds plausible, but most of the artists it mentioned weren't ones that I was listening to. Nevertheless, women seemed to be racking up major achievement points in music last year.

Enough preamble. Here are my favorites of the music I stumbled across in my energetic stumblings of 2017.

1. Echo Delta – Within (Cold Tear)

Without question, the album I listened to the most in 2017 was this third album by Lithuania's Echo Delta. The entire album is simultaneously chill and engrossing enough to reward active or passive listening. 

2. Way Yes – Tuna Hair (Gold Robot/SlyVinyl)

Way Yes's Tuna Hair wins my Most Anticipated Album of 2017 award. Like many of their earlier efforts, it's percussive, hypnotic, and death obsessed, but the latter characteristic is ratcheted up several notches this time around. Their album release show at the Spacebar in Columbus, Ohio, was awesome.

3. Major Leagues – Good Love (Popfrenzy)

Alvvays received a lot of deserved acclaim in 2017, but I liked this album by Brisbane, Australia's Major Leagues even more.

4. Hazel English – Just Give In/Never Going Home (Polyvinyl)

There's not a bad track on this double-EP release by Hazel English. I like the drum machine sound and the way that the lovely melodies and thoughtful lyrics contrast with the almost bloodlessly precise instrumental tracks.

5. Marsh – Life on the Shore (Silk Music)

I listen to a lot of electronic music, and it's hard for me to pinpoint sometimes exactly what it is that elevates one track or artist above the rest. It's more of a feeling, and as soon as I heard this album by Marsh, I felt it.

6. Tycho – Epoch (Ghostly International)

Epoch is all good, even if it doesn't have a track quite as amazing as the title track of the 2014 album Awake. When I saw them play in Nashville, Tennessee, last year, the drummer stole the show.

7. Alvvays – Antisocialites (Polyvinyl)

This is on a lot of year-end lists and with good reason. I didn't understand all the hype about their first album but decided to give Antisocialites a try, and I'm glad I did. "Dreams Tonite" should have registered in the Billboard Hot 100.

8. Hater – You Tried (PNKSLM)

Hater the Swedish band, not the Soundgarden spinoff. Hater released both an album (You Tried) and an EP (Red Blinders) in 2017, and both are toppen!

9. Shout Out Louds – Ease My Mind (Merge)

The best Shout Out Louds album since 2007's Our Ill Wills

10. Louise Burns – Young Mopes (Light Organ)

The first side of this album sounds like what would have happened if Stevie Nicks had cut an album for Captured Tracks in 2011 or with Clan of Xymox in the 1980s. In the official video of the song "Moonlight Shadow," a freaky worm, like something from Deadly Spawn, appears at the 1:30 mark. 

11. Petite League – Rips One into the Night (Native Sound)

Petite League's previous two albums, Slugger and No Hitter, were among my favorites of 2015 and 2016. How do they get that great guitar sound?

12. Burning Hearts – Battlefields (Solina)

I still listen to Burning Hearts' debut, Aboa Sleeping (2009), periodically. Five years after their last album (2012's Extinctions), this new one appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

13. Summer Heart – 101 (no label)

A new Summer Heart record is always a good thing. 101 changes things up a bit; it still has that hazy chillwave vibe but with more electronica. 

14. Emancipator – Baralku (Loci) 

Emancipator has been around for a while but is new to me after a fellow Tycho fan recommended them. I can see why a Tycho fan would be interested—Emancipator makes electronic/organic instrumental music too, albeit with more of a World Music and New Age orientation. Having now caught up with the entire Emancipator back catalog, I believe that the title track of the new album is as good as anything they've done.

15. Petit Biscuit – Presence (Petit Biscuit Music)

I don't know anything about Petit Biscuit except that it's a French act, which I just learned while searching for the Soundcloud link above. Some of their YouTube videos have millions of views, though, so I'm clearly lagging behind the rest of humanity. This album, Presence, is filled with earworm electronica that incorporates cut-up Chipmunk voices. It also has some violin like Emancipator.

16. Soccer Mommy – Collection (Fat Possum)

Soccer Mommy seems poised for a commercial breakthrough with her new album, Clean. 2017's Collection has more of a lo-fi bedroom pop quality than what I've heard of her new one. 

17. Teen Daze – Themes for Dying Earth (Flora)

Teen Daze is usually categorized as electronic/ambient, but this track is like New Age music with a steel guitar. You could slip this into a mix with songs from I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America and no one would notice. I've listened to Teen Daze on and off over the years, but this new album made me think that I should go back and listen to everything I missed.

18. Bicep – Bicep (Ninja Tune)

Bicep is yet another example of the context-free environment in which I listen to new music. I know nothing about them except that they're Irish, which is probably why I listened to the album in the first place. The acoustic sound of the drums on this track isn't typical of the rest of the album.

19. Surf Rock Is Dead – We Have No Friends? (Native Sound)

I'm a sucker for that Captured Tracks sound that Captured Tracks no longer has. Surf Rock Is Dead continues to fly the banner.

20. Various Artists – Anjunadeep 09 (Anjunadeep)

I got this for the new Croquet Club track ("Night Lights") and really liked almost everything on the compilation. Here's Xinobi's "Far Away Place (Jody Wisternoff & James Grant Remix)":


SALES new song for 2017, "Talk a Lot," is a winner. If I had heard their debut album in 2016, it definitely would have been one of the top picks on my 2016 year-end list.

I've followed Rebecca Black's career with some interest ever since "Friday" became a fluke hit several years ago, and her 2017 single, "Foolish," is her best yet. The video has a Daft Punk-looking dude playing guitar, and a better ending for the video would have been for him to take off his helmet and reveal that it's Rebecca underneath.

Little My put out a new album toward the end of 2016 that I didn't hear or even know about until it appeared on YouTube in its entirety in March 2017. One of the last purveyors of that classic twee sound, they deserve more recognition.