Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bang Records: Hang On Sloopy

Originally recorded in 1964 by The Vibrations as “My Girl Sloopy,” The McCoys took the song to the number one position and a gold certification for Bang Records in 1965. It was the first record for the label to do either. Co-written by Wes Farrell and Bert Berns (credited as Bert Russell), The McCoys version became an instant classic.

The McCoys consisted of the two Zehringer brothers, Rick and Randy on guitar and drums; bassist Randy Jo Hobbs; Sean Michaels on sax; and keyboardist Bobby Peterson. Rick Zehringer later changed his professional name to Rick Derringer. Both Zehringer brothers and Hobbs would later become members of various bands fronted by Johnny and Edgar Winter. Rick Derringer sang lead on the cut. The single was produced by Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Jerry Gottehrer who brought us The Strangeloves.

“Hang on Sloopy” is the official rock song of the State of Ohio and is used often as a fight song for The Ohio State University Buckeyes. While the single and album version were edited, the original full length, unedited version was included on Bang Record’s 1970 sampler, “Bang & Shout Super Hits.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

Bang Records: Midnight Special

Day Four of our look at Bang Records provides us with a Friday Flipside from spring 1971 – Van Morrison’s “Midnight Special.” With Morrison’s recent success on his new label Warner Brothers, Bang reached into the vaults to capitalize on this success and released “Spanish Rose” as a single with “Midnight Special” as the “B” side.

Both tunes appeared on Morrison’s only Bang LP: “Blowin’ Your Mind,” which was released in 1971. This was an album that was compiled by Bert Berns and Morrison has never liked the album or its psychedelic cover. Ilene Berns believed that the ensuing arguments between Berns and Morrison concerning the album were contributing factors to Berns’ untimely death.

Although a “B” side in 1971, it was not the first time that “Midnight Special” appeared as a flip side. It was paired with “Brown Eyed Girl” on the 1968 Philco Hip Pocket Record release, but it was not the “B” side of the hit version of the single on Bang. That flip was “Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye).”

Morrison’s version of “Midnight Special” was arranged by Bert Berns; however, many believe that the song was originally written by Lead Belly as Alan Lomax credited him as such. While Lead Belly recorded an early version of the tune and had some original verses, it was an older traditional tune that first appeared in print when Lead Belly was only 17. No one knows its source.

While “Midnight Special” was a popular song from Morrison’s live performances, neither “Spanish Rose” nor “Midnight Special” charted upon their release in 1971. Morrison, by the way, played the harmonica on the cut as well.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bang Records: Shilo

When Neil Diamond had recorded, “Just for You,” his second and final album for Bang Records in 1967, he urged Bert Berns to release one of his new recordings, “Shilo,” as a single from the LP. Preferring to issue more pop oriented songs as singles, Berns refused even though Diamond persisted because he felt that “Shilo” epitomized his growth as a songwriter.

“Just for You” contained two tracks that also appeared on Diamond’s first album “The Feel of Neil Diamond.” Both cuts, “Solitary Man” and “Cherry Cherry,” had been released also as singles in 1966. No doubt their inclusion on the new album was a ploy to boost sales of “Just for You.”

“Just for You” is an uncanny LP, as all eleven tracks ended up being an “A” or “B” side of a Bang single.

The single releases from “Just for You” included the following:
  • B-519 “Solitary Man”/”Do It” – April 1966 #55
  • B-528 “Cherry Cherry”/”I’ll Come Running” – July 1966 #6
  • B-536 “I Got the Feelin’ (Oh No No)”/”The Boat that I Row” – October 1966 #16
  • B-540 “You Got to Me”/”Someday Baby” – January 1967 #18
  • B-542 “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”/”You’ll Forget” – March 1967 #10
  • B-547 “Thank the Lord for the Night Time”/”Long Way from Home” – July 1967 #13
  • B-556 “Red Red Wine”/”Red Rubber Ball” – March 1968 #62
  • B-561 “Shilo”/”La Bamba” – September 1968 – did not chart
  • B-575 “Shilo”/”La Bamba” – January 1970 #24
  • B-578 “Solitary Man”/”The Time is Now” – July 1970 #21
  • B-586 “I’m A Believer”/”Crooked Street” – June 1971 #51
  • B-703 “The Long Way Home”/”Monday Monday” – June 1973 #91
In addition to these, three other Diamond tunes were culled for single releases during this same period:
  • B-551 “Kentucky Woman”/”The Time is Now” (non album single) – October 1967 #62
  • B-554 “New Orleans”/”Hanky Panky” (from the first LP) – January 1968 #51
  • B-580 “Do It”/”Hanky Panky” (from the first LP) – October 1970 #36

Shilo – Version One (September 1968)

While “Shilo” eventually was released as a single, it was after Bert Berns’ death. Issued in September 1968 after Diamond had moved over to Uni Records, “Shilo” was as Berns had predicted.

In 1968, the world was not ready for the more esoteric Diamond tune about an imaginary friend; consequently, it was his only Bang single that never made it into the Hot 100. “Shilo” was produced by Diamonds Brill Building songwriting friend Jeff Barry.

Shilo – Version Two (January 1970)

When Uni had success with two Top 10 Diamond singles in 1969 (“Sweet Caroline” and “Holly Holy”), Bang reached back into the vaults and rerecorded the backing tracks to match Diamond’s current style.

This time Bang had a hit with the remixed version of “Shilo.” It charted at #24 in 1970. Although it is also in the original version, listen for the toy piano in this release of “Shilo.” A perfect addition for a song about an imaginary childhood friend. Everybody had one - my friend’s name was unusual as well - it was “Corn.”

Bang repacked the material and added the new version of “Shilo” and released a new compilation with the hit single as its title track. The new version was produced by Jeff Barry and his wife Ellie Greenwich - both Brill Building regulars.

Shilo – Version Three (October 1970)

With “Shilo” doing fairly well for Bang, Uni felt that it couldn’t be outdone and Diamond reentered the studio and re-recorded “Shilo.” This third version was then added to a re-release of Diamond’s 1968 Uni LP “Velvet Gloves and Spit.”

For this 1970 album reissue, Uni released the album with a new cover that prominently announced that “Shilo” was on this particular LP. In my opinion, the Uni version has the superior mix. Additionally, another 70s version of “Shilo” appeared on Diamond’s 1972 live album “Hot August Night.”

These three studio versions of “Shilo” provide our Thursday Repeats and Threepeats selection along with our fourth week feature of Bang Records.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bang Records: Ride 'Em Cowboy

Day two of our look at Bang Records takes us back to 1974 when singer-songwriter Paul Davis had his first Top 40 hit. “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” was one of two Davis’ singles that charted on the pop, adult contemporary, and country charts. While it peaked at #23 on the Hot 100, its biggest success came on the A/C side where it charted at #4. While the song had a country flavor, it was not ready for prime time in that particular genre as “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” only made it to #47 as a country 45.

Although signed to Bang in 1970, it took Davis four years to have his first bonafide hit record. It would be three more years before Davis would have is first Top 10 hit with “I Go Crazy.” Davis has the distinction of being the last artist to record for Bang with his self-titled LP and the singles “Do Right” and “Cry Just a Little.” Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of his death from a heart attack.

“Ride ‘Em Cowboy” was also the name of Davis’ third album which was unique in a number of ways. First of all, it was manufactured in the shape of a denim jacket. Secondly, while the single failed to make a large dent on the country singles chart, it was Davis’ only album to chart on the country album chart where it peaked at #19.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bang Records: I Want Candy

We are getting a late start this week on our fourth week label feature, but it is better late than never. In 1965, some principals from Atlantic Records set out on a mission to create another record label – Bang Records. Its name was an acronym of the first name initials of Bert Berns, Ahmet Ertegün, Nesuhi Ertegün, and Gerald (Jerry) Wexler.

In similar fashion, a corresponding music publishing company, Web IV, music was an acronym of their last names of Wexler, Ertegün, and Berns. The IV was added as there were four original partners. The label was initially distributed by Atlantic, but you would never know this from the label, as distribution appeared to be credited to Web IV Music whose offices were located in the famous Brill Building and not at the Atlantic Records complex at 1841 Broadway.

Eventually, Berns became the sole owner of Bang Records and upon his untimely death in December 1967, the ownership of the label was retained by his widow Ilene. By this time, Bang was distributing its own product. In 1971, Ilene Berns moved the operation to Atlanta where it remained until CBS purchased the label in 1979. CBS discontinued the imprint in 1982. While the label was sold to CBS, Web IV Music remained the property of Ilene Berns.

While a number of hit artists such as Neil Diamond, The McCoys, Van Morrison, Paul Davis and others recorded for Bang, today we feature the very first Bang release – The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy.” The single was released on May 22, 1965.

The Strangeloves was a fictional band that was purported to be made up three sheepherding brothers from Australia: Miles, Niles, and Giles Strange. Actually, the band was the production team of Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Jerry Gottehrer along with session musicians. The Australian motif for the band was selected as to be different from the numerous British Invasion bands at the time who were making waves on this side of the Atlantic.

Feldman, Goldstein, Gottehrer, and Bert Berns contributed to the composition; incidentally, the credits were attributed to their real names rather than to Miles, Niles, and Giles Strange. Although involved in the writing process, Berns was not involved in the recording of “I Want Candy.” With the popularity of this hit, a touring band had to be created to keep the myth of the Strange brothers alive. The rest, as they say, is history.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bob Dylan: Hurricane

Did you miss me? I hope so. Several weeks ago, I got sick and put the blog on hold and never found the free time to return to my regular posts – but today as I traveled from West Virginia to Kentucky, I heard that Rubin “Hurricane” Carter had passed away yesterday at the age of 76 of prostate cancer. I knew I had to get back to writing regarding the passing of this legendary former boxer.

But what brought fame to Carter was not his prowess in the ring, it was the tragedy in his life. In 1967, the State of New Jersey wrongly convicted Carter and his friend John Artis for a triple homicide on June 17, 1966 at a Patterson, New Jersey bar. Largely convicted due to racism, Carter spent the next 18 years in jail for the murders, as he put it, he “couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t commit.”

In 1975, Carter’s autobiography, The Sixteenth Round was published and the attention it generated inspired Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy to write and record the single “Hurricane” the same year. Charting at #33, the single appeared on Dylan’s 1976 album “Desire.” The song also appears prominently in the 1999 movie “The Hurricane” starring Denzel Washington as Carter.

The book and single brought Carter’s situation to a broader public, but it would be 10 years before he would be released. Carter later moved to Toronto where he became a motivational speaker and an advocate for others who were wrongly imprisoned.

Although Carter’s life was full of tragedy, he was not bitter. He persevered and became an inspiration for others in similar situations. You are free now, “Hurricane,” free now.