Tag Archives: Don Kirschner

T.G.I.F. – Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers

Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.

When I was growing up in New York City, the local stations made a big deal about their weekly countdowns, and every week music fanatics (like me) were glued to the radio, ready to jot them down as they were played and guess which songs finished where. Forget Dick Clark and Casey Kasem, in NYC it was all about WABC and WMCA. At the end of the year they’d do their annual countdown and even mail you the final list if you sent in an envelope. Somewhere in a dusty attic box, I still have a few that I treasured as a kid.

I guarantee that when pop culture historians look at the tail end of the 1960s, they will rate that period as important to music history as the Industrial Revolution was to Western Civilization. Living through it was amazing. But even looking back on how the charts morphed over a decade, it’s obvious that a seismic shift had occurred.

So this week I give you Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers – the Number One hits from the first week of October. It’s only going to get stranger each Friday.

1963) Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton) – The early 60s was crooner heaven, as well as a haven for single-named teen idols. Four lads from Liverpool changed all that the year prior, but you don’t build Rome in a day. I can’t listen to this song anymore without picturing Dennis Hopper.

1964) Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison) – I still can’t believe that voice came out of that head. Orbison’s growl on the bridge just made a cool song even cooler – even Van Halen couldn’t ruin this gem.

1965) Hang On Sloopy (The McCoys) – The Ohio State National Anthem, this garage rock chestnut featured a teenage Rick Derringer and still sounds great. A very underappreciated band who cut some great pop sides and then morphed into Johnny Winter’s best band. (This rare version has the extra verse)

1966) Cherish (The Association) – Not quite rock, I know, but you must have that slow grind song for the prom, and this was it – plus it covered the pain of unrequited love! And if you want to punish this great vocal group for being wimpy, you have to give them props for “Along Came Mary”.

1967) The Letter (The Box Tops) – Teenage Alex Chilton hooked up with Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and cut one of the gruffest, blusiest vocals ever recorded. Absolute killer stuff, in and out in under two minutes and always sounds fresh when you hear it.

1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Beginning its nine week run atop the charts, an instant sing-along classic and one of the longest tracks in chart history. Whatever happened to those guys?

1969) Sugar Sugar (The Archies) – If he could make a gazillion dollars with four actors, how much could Don Kirschner make from four cartoon characters who wouldn’t insist on playing their own instruments? This was the song that dethroned “Honky Tonk Women”…I am not making that up.

1970) Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross) – Motown ruled the charts in the 60s but this version pales in comparison to the 1967 version by the great Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – a hit three years earlier.

1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Single and album simultaneously blew up and made rooster head a star. For a couple of years he and The Faces made the best music on Earth and then Rod followed the money, which he is still doing forty years later.

1972) Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me (Mac Davis) – And you wonder why people said “rock is dead”? Other 1972 chart toppers included “Candy Man” from Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson’s turgid “Ben” and Melanie’s screeching “Brand New Key”. The year was so lame that Gilbert O’Sullivan’s nasal “Alone Again Naturally” spent four weeks at the top, lost its place and then floated up again like a dead fish for two more.

Thankfully, album rock was there to save the day.

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New Albums From Old Friends

Al Jardine – A Postcard From California

Sure, a lot of this is older Beach Boys material, and yes, Alec Baldwin’s narration within “A California Saga” is a little off-putting, but the important things here are (1) Al Jardine released an album and (2) damn, he sounds really good! Guests on the album – in addition to most of the Beach Boys – include Glen Campbell, Flea, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Steve Miller.

And Beach Boy fans will plotz when they hear the harmonies (including Carl!) on “Don’t Fight The Sea”. Obviously this album has been years in the making, and in keeping with Jardine’s personality it’s a tribute to the natural beauty of California rather than the cars/girls/surfing themes. Fans might have had demos and boots of some of these songs over the years but the sound here is first-rate.

Micky Dolenz – King For A Day

Despite the enormous success of The Monkees, Micky Dolenz still doesn’t get his due as one of the best vocalists of the rock era. I’ve heard it all – the fallacy of The Prefab Four and the lunacy of a fake band cast for television becoming a real one; even Dolenz discounts his own legacy (“it’s like thinking Leonard Nimoy was really a Vulcan”). But they’re wrong.

The Monkees had the cream of Brill Building songwriters at their disposal, and as unlikable a guy as Don Kirschner was, he knew what he was doing when it came to picking hit records. Now Dolenz takes a page from the past by recording an album of Carole King songs (hence the album title). Like most good ideas, there’s probably not a radio station format to match it up with, but I wouldn’t sell him short.

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

I guess a punster would call this album Adult Symphonies To God. After years of wondering whether an overweight and practically comatose genius would simply curl up and die in his sandbox, Brian Wilson fans have to be happy that he’s been able to get on a stage and play, open up his musical legacy to people who could help him (read: The Wondermints) and even create new works in his latter days.

Rumors persist that the surviving Beach Boys are going to bury the hatchet (and not in each other’s skulls) and reform, but whether or not that ever happens it’s good to know that there is work done above and beyond Mike Love‘s traveling circus.

Add these to the plethora of new releases from stars of yesteryear – Peter Frampton, Peter Wolf, Foghat, Steve Miller, Burton Cummings – in addition to old reliables like Tom Petty who just keep on going. Maybe the arena gig is now a club show in a Hard Rock showroom, and perhaps the radio play is limited to rockers turned DJ like  Little Steven and Alice Cooper, but for those of us who want to look beyond the top of the charts, there are plenty of great efforts sailing under the radar.

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Blast From The Past: Johnny Winter And

Guitars? Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Guitars? Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

I was watching a recently released DVD titled Johnny Winter Live Through The 70s, which contains some amazing early footage of one of rock’s best and most underrated guitarists. The footage varies in quality, but from acoustic blues runs to television performances to stage madness, Winter’s blazing fretwork is astonishing. I was very pleased to see Randy Jo Hobbs accompany him in a duo setting as well as on two clips from Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert (with Richard Hughes manning the double-bass drumkit). But I was surprised and disappointed that there was no footage that included Rick Derringer, because that’s when and how I jumped on the Johnny Winter bandwagon.

Johnny Winter And was the name originally used when Winter picked up The McCoys as his backup band. The McCoys had a massive pop hit with “Hang On Sloopy” and featured brothers Rick and Randy Zehringer (Rick would later change his name to Derringer) and bassist Randy Jo Hobbs. By the time this album was recorded, Randy had been replaced by powerhouse drummer Bobby Caldwell (Captain Beyond). I was familiar with The McCoys and had a few singles (I still like “Don’t Worry Mother”!) but knew little of Winter; in fact when I was on vacation with the family in Florida and a group of kids at the hotel asked me to go with them to Pirate World, I thought we were planning to see Jonathan Winters!  What I saw that night blew my mind, rearranged my brain and changed my life. To this day I’m not certain what parts of the album were from Florida and what was from the Fillmore, but it’s among the five best live rock records ever made. Seeing that show live was like opening the door to a blast furnace and getting every hair singed off your body in a nanosecond…and loving it.

If I could boil down the appeal of this album to a couple of words I would say passion and tone. From the moment that Caldwell’s drums launch “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” into orbit until the last note of  “Johnny B Goode” bleeds out, this band is on fire. And tone? Winter’s slide guitar work in “Mean Town Blues” is a master class, and Derringer’s rhythm and second leads define the word chunky. Whether blazing through Chuck Berry songs like two runaway trains or delicately dancing a slow blues, this was Guitar Hero material long before the game was invented. Beside and behind them, Hobbs and Caldwell are like a volcano belching molten lava (in perfect time, of course). This was four guys plugged in and gone, no commercial intent, no posing – just foot-to-the-floor rock’n’roll.

Johnny Winter plays Rolling Stones songs better than they do (“Silver Train”, anyone?) and his version of “Jumping Jack Flash” is amazing, but when he lets out that otherworldly howl before ripping into “Johnny B Goode” you know that he’d also gone after Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis that night. It’s almost forty years later and the hair on the back of my neck still stands up at that moment, just like when the smoldering cauldron of “It’s My Own Fault” starts to bubble over during the second solo. I don’t think Winter or Derringer were ever better than on this album.

My God, folks – this album retails for $6.99 on Amazon. Seven dollars for a life-changing experience is a pretty sweet deal, and I suggest you get a ticket on this ride ASAP. I’ve got this masterpiece on vinyl, on CD, and living in my memory forever, singed hairs and all.

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