THE HISTORY OF ROCK N ROLL – 1958 PART TWO

Posted: September 6, 2014 in MUSIC, Rock n Roll 1958 Part 2
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by Robert Seoane
 
ELVIS IN THE ARMY – THE EVERLY BROTHERS – DUANE EDDY – ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS


ELVIS ENTERS THE ARMY

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ‘em together I guess.” – Elvis Presley

As “The Adventures of Superman” completed its final season after six years, rock ‘n’ roll had already begun to change by 1958. In the two and a half years since Bill Haley shocked parental senses with “Rock Around The Clock”, The Establishment, made up of every teenager’s parent, decided to dedicate themselves to systematically softening rock ‘n’ roll’s rough edges, replacing singers screaming sexuality like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard with clean cut, white teen pop idols like Bobby Darin, Dion, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Ricky Nelson,; good-looking kids except for one thing, the crucial, missing factor. Unlike Elvis and the aforementioned artists, these pop idols didn’t have rock ‘n’ roll coursing through their veins. They just sang pop songs. The recording industry was busy replacing the screamers with the doo-wop singers and dangerous sounding black folks with safe-sounding white folks, with even a few tame black voices sprinkled in there to appear diverse, and hoped nobody would notice.

Little Richard’s musical output slowed down and came to a sudden halt because he had turned to religion by 1958 and set his designs on becoming a Minister. It seems he was riddled with guilt over his own proclivities and was convinced he was playing the devil’s music. Jerry Lee Lewis’ thought so also, but he continued to rock out until his career came to a stunning halt at around the same time as Little Richard’s when it was revealed that the nineteen-year-old had married his thirteen-year-old cousin.

“The same music they kicked me out of school for is the same kind of music they play in their churches today. The difference is, I know I’m playing for the devil and they don’t.” –Jerry Lee Lewis

Chuck Berry and Ray Charles were still recording and putting out great music, but Charles wasn’t always composing rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Ray Charles’ range encompassed a deep love for Country & Western and an instinct for Rhythm & Blues, as well as a command of Gospel and Contemporary Jazz. As a result, Ray Charles released singles like “What’d I Say”, “Georgia”, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Hit The Road Jack”, songs that varied in the genre but also became huge hits. Chuck Berry would soon also lose tremendous clout when he is arrested for breaking the Mann Act law in 1961 after traveling with an underage girl across state lines.

The new artists being marketed were already a lot different than those who sang the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis lookalikes were being marketed in the hopes of hitting on the next teenage idol. Girl groups were popping up, novelty acts were developing. Only a handful of artists like Duane Eddy and Buddy Holly were producing true rock ‘n’ roll during this time of transition, and despite parents’ disdain for this noisy so-called music, they didn’t make too much of a fuss over them. Buddy Holly looked totally non-threatening; a nerdy looking white boy with glasses who sang catchy rockabilly songs. But he too would come to a sudden end soon. As for Elvis Presley, the young man that The Establishment was the most afraid of due to his sullen good looks, sensual singing style, and sexual gyrations, he was already placed on the treadmill for indoctrination, ordered to march back and forth for two years.

“Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability… His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub… His own specialty is an accented movement of the body…” Jack Gould – The New York Times

On March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army, urged to do so by his manager Col. Tom Parker. Elvis was convinced his career was over, particularly because Parker persuaded him to serve his country as a regular soldier instead of going into Special Services which would allow him to still tour and stay in touch with his fans. He felt he had made a big mistake and by the time he’d get out in 1960, he’d be forgotten, despite the fact that he had recorded a handful of records before entering military service to stay in the forefront of the genre he had helped catapult into the limelight.

Elvis arrived that day to Fort Chaffee near Fort Smith, Arkansas where hundreds of fans and reporters awaited his presence. Conducting brief interviews, he entered the facility where they were to quickly cut his hair down to a military style. Then, he disappeared into the military machine only to be brought out on certain occasions for an interview here and there and the very occasional respite granted to him for personal and business matters. During his stint in the military, three life-changing events happened to Elvis Presley that would change the direction of his life, and one of them would ultimately doom him to an early death. The first two events occurred in 1958.

DON’T/I BEG OF YOU – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Don’t… don’t… that’s what you say… each time I hold you this way, when I feel like this and I want to hold you, baby don’t say don’t…” Don’t – Elvis Presley

This double A-side single was released on January 7, 1958, and was one of the songs that had been recorded and reserved for release. It quickly became Presley’s eleventh Number One and also made it to Number Four in the R&B chart. “Don’t” was written by Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller, the songwriting geniuses who made The Coasters huge stars and wrote songs like “Hound Dog”. “Don’t” was a torchy ballad that showcased Elvis’ unique voice and a much better, more emotionally sung composition than the boring “Love Me Tender”. He pronounces the title twice at the beginning, with nothing but a soft piano and soft cymbal playing in the background after the second “don’t”. Soon, the background vocals come in and Elvis leads you into a soaring vocal by the third line, only to come back down into a bed of ‘oohs’ and complete his sentiment in a lilting voice. By then, hearts were heard already melting around the world in big globs.

Its flip side “I Beg Of You” managed to also make it to the Top Ten at Number Eight. Written by Rose Marie McCoy, a songwriter who had written other songs for non-rock ‘n’ rollers like Louis Jordan, “IBOY” was a typical bouncy, happy rock ‘n’ roll song that Elvis knew how to sing like nobody’s business.

“You got me at your mercy, now that I’m in love with you, so please don’t take advantage, ‘cause you know my love is true, darlin’ please, please love me too I beg of you.” I Beg Of You – Elvis Presley

WEAR MY RING AROUND YOUR NECK – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis second single of 1958 was more of a pop song than a rock ‘n’ roll song. It was released in April 1958, by the time his last two songs left the chart. RCA Records was hell-bent on keeping their most profitable star in the limelight for as long as they possibly could during the King’s hiatus. It made it just short of the Number One spot on the Billboard pop chart but became his sixth Number One on the R&B chart. It’s truly amusing in retrospect to see how closed-minded American society was to consider Elvis a danger to American teenagers, especially since the closest word that could have been construed as offensive is “heck”.

Won’t you wear my ring around your neck, to tell the world I’m yours by heck, let them see your love for me and let them see by the ring around your neck.” Wear My Ring Around Your Neck – Elvis Presley

Writers of the song, Bert Carroll and Russell Moody, were a songwriting duo out of New York who made a living selling their songs by having unknowns sing demos of their compositions in order to send them to established artists in the hopes that they would pick them up. “WMRAYN” was their biggest songwriting hit, selling over two million copies.

Despite Elvis’ continued success on the radio and his fans’ undying loyalty, Elvis was still feeling insecure about the future of his still young career. Of course, he needn’t have worried. Nevertheless, he returned to the studio as soon as he received a two-week leave in June. He recorded five songs in Nashville right after he completed basic training in Fort Hood, Texas. In the meantime, another of the songs ready to be released and recorded before his military stint began, was released.

HARD HEADED WOMAN – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis the rock ‘n’ roller had come back. Sung in the same style as he did when he delivered “Jailhouse Rock”, “Hard Headed Woman” shook the rafters with its power and Elvis sang it with a growling urgency that made you want to not just dance, but convulse. Its electric guitar solo sounded like a fire alarm going off, reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s famous licks.

Claude Demetrius, the song’s composer had been in the music business quite a while, writing tunes for Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan, among others, but his fortunes changed dramatically when he was tapped to write songs for Elvis. He had written two B-sides for the King already, “I Was The One” and “Mean Woman Blues” from Elvis’ 1957 motion picture soundtrack “Loving You”. “Hard Headed Woman” was his biggest hit.

“Now Samson told Delilah, loud and clear, ‘Keep your cotton pickin’ fingers out my curly hair’. Oh yea, ever since the world began, a hard headed woman been a thorn in the side of man…” Hard Headed Woman – Elvis Presley

Of course, it shot up to Number One on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Two in the R&B chart. It had been recorded as a track to be included in his 1958 motion picture “King Creole” and was also included in its album’s soundtrack release. It was clear that this hard rockin’ song was what his teenage fans wanted to really hear because “Hard Headed Woman” became the first rock ‘n’ roll song to earn the RIAA certified Gold Record, having sold over a million copies of the single. Although “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Wear My Ring..” and other of his singles had moved a million units or more, the gold record awarded “DBC” came from his record company, RCA. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) certification and distribution of gold records had only just started to award singles that year. Platinum Records didn’t come out until 1976 when the RIAA redefined its certification due to the increase in output and artists releasing big hits.

Before the summer ended, the first of the three life changing events for Elvis occurred in early August, 1958 when his mother was diagnosed with hepatitis. He was granted emergency leave to visit her in Memphis on August 12th. Two days later she died of heart failure at the young age of 46. Ironically, his mother’s death came two days before the date of his own death that would occur nineteen years later. Elvis, by then twenty-three years old, was devastated. He was very close to his mother and her death shook him to the core.

Elvis’ second of three life altering events occurred when he joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedburg, Germany in October. Military life was strenuous so, according to some who were there, his sergeant introduced him and other soldiers to amphetamines while on maneuvers to maintain their stamina. Elvis was amazed at how well those pills worked, not only giving him additional energy but also helping him lose weight, a preponderance he always struggled with. It’s extremely ironic to see that The Establishment considered Elvis a danger simply because of his voice and sexy, gyrating dance moves, while the government encouraged and delivered him on the road to drug addiction.

His third important event also occurred in Germany but in 1959. It appeared in the form of a 14-year-old beauty named Priscilla.

ONE NIGHT/I GOT STUNG

“One Night” is a torchy ballad that took around a year and a half to be released due to its suggestive lyrics. Back in the Fifties, when the worst words Elvis had sung so far was “by heck” and “cotton pickin’”, the suggestion of the original lyrics of “One Night” was sure to turn teenager ears red and make parents unable to blink for a month.

Its original first line, for example, was: “One night of sin is what I’m now paying for.”
Ooh la la!

Elvis liked the song, its staccato Fifties piano and steady beat accompanying his plea for love and desire, so after he recorded this risque version in January of 1957, Elvis sat down and re-wrote the lyrics to:
“One night with you is what I’m now praying for.”
Clever lad.

Despite his altering the lyrics and recording it on February 23, 1957, it wasn’t released until October of 1958 as another single to be released during his two-year hiatus in the Army. It reached Number One in the UK not once but twice and managed to reach up to Number Four on the Billboard Pop chart.

A dubious distinction accompanies “One Night” as pointed out by rock critic Pete Johnson in that it destroys English language grammar with, not a double negative, but a triple negative: “I ain’t never did no wrong…”.

Rock ‘n’ roll may be a lot of good things for millions of people but it sure wasn’t a good way to learn English.

The staccato playing style in “One Night” may be similar to Fats Domino’s style of playing for a good reason. It’s co-written by Dave Bartholemew, Domino’s songwriting partner who had written hits for The Fat Man such as “Ain’t That A Shame”, one of more than forty songs he had composed with Domino for Imperial Records. Fats Domino had also recorded his own version of “One Night”. Bartholemew wrote the song with another Fifties hit-maker Earl King and Anita Steinman.

“I Got Stung” is one of those classic rock ‘n’ roll Elvis songs that can’t make you stop moving at least some part of your body. Released as the B-side to “One Night”, it managed to make it to Number Eight on the Billboard Pop chart but nevertheless managed to receive a Platinum album for a million copies sold. This was the first of the five songs released that Elvis recorded during his two-week leave from the Army in June 1958 and proved to be the last song he would record of the 1950s. His 1959 output would be the remaining four songs he recorded that fortnight as he endured another year of Army life until his release back into civilian life in 1960.

“Holy smoke, a-land sakes alive, I never thought this could happen to me, I got stung by a sweet honey bee, oh what a feeling come over me, it started in my eyes crept up to my head, flew to my heart ‘til I was stung dead, I’m done, uh-uh, I got stung, yeah…” I Got Stung – Elvis Presley

“I Got Stung” was written by Aaron Schroeder and David Hill, two composers that were to write more songs for the King during the first few years of the 1960s.

THE EVERLY BROTHERS 1958

After the one-two punch of “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Suzie”, two back to back debut hits from The Everly Brothers in 1957, the duo settled into a career of not-so-great singles mingling with rock ‘n’ roll classics. These classics still hold up today and are truly well-crafted gorgeous songs, thanks to their heavenly harmonies. Future Sixties rock acts, particularly The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel were listening carefully. In fact, it can be said that The Everly Brothers’ music were much more impactful, influential and important to the legacy that is rock ‘n’ roll than their actual career, a career marred by the two brothers’ constant feuding.

It’s not entirely clear why Phil & Don Everly feuded, although glimpses of potential problems did surface at times. In one particular argument overheard in a nearby hotel room during a tour, one of the duo’s employees could overhear them yelling things like “Daddy would have done this” or “Daddy would have done that.” Indeed, the brothers’ father, Ike Everly, was influential to their singing career in that’ being a musician himself with a broadcast program, he had showcased his two children on his radio show since childhood. But the feud went much deeper than that, as every sibling is going to fight over familial topics. One can only speculate, and it’s difficult not to judge, but in many situations it was older brother Don Everly who may have been the root of the feuds in that he was insecure about his singing voice, since brother Phil’s voice was better in the sense that he was able to reach and sustain higher notes. Don evidently didn’t realize that, aside from being the lead singer in most Everly Brothers songs, it was their voices together that lifted their music to a higher level. Rumors also abounded about Don’s substance abused and alcoholic issues. In 1973, the breaking point came on-stage when Don arrived drunk to their performance, forgot and slurred words to the songs until brother Phil threw his guitar down in disgust and stormed off-stage, leaving Don to tell the audience that the Everly Brothers had just broken up for good. This would remain true for ten years, and even after they reunited, neither of them would share the same dressing room or be seen conducting interviews together. Don even insisted that he record his own vocals once Phil had left the studio, a technique that didn’t offer the magic that always happened when they sang together. This lasted until 2014 when younger brother Phil died at age 74 of emphysema caused by too much smoking, leaving brother Don to mourn the loss of his brother and regret their strained relationship, issued that undoubtedly seemed suddenly unimportant.

THE EVERLY BROTHERS ALBUM

The Everly Brothers’ self-titled debut album was released in early 1958 and was loaded with catchy country tunes, including the Brothers’ two first hits, “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Suzie” along with their respective so-so B-sides, “I Wonder If I Care As Much” and “Maybe Tomorrow”, respectively. The remaining tunes include three subsequent compositions that would be released as singles spread out through 1958, ’59 and ’60.

THIS LITTLE GIRL OF MINE – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

During the Fifties, when rock ‘n’ roll was still in its infancy, there was little distinction between pop songs that had a more country twang or a rhythm & blues feel. In today’s pop atmosphere where everything is labeled and compartmentalized in dozens of different categories, The Everly Brothers may have not had the impact today that they had then, and would probably have been placed under the Country & Western column, severely limiting their influence and audience. Fortunately for rock ‘n’ roll and millions of listeners, this was not the case.

“This Little Girl Of Mine”, “The Everly Brothers’” opening album track and follow up to “…Suzie” as their first single release of 1958, is originally written and sung by Ray Charles in 1955. The song’s melody wasn’t originally Charles’ composition but derived from a gospel song called “This Little Light Of Mine”. Much like Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So”, Charles often took the melody and turned it into his own rhythm & blues by replacing the religious lyrics with secular ones.

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…” This Little Light Of Mine – Unknown composer

“This little girl of mine, I want you people to know, this little girl of mine, I take her everywhere I go…” This Little Girl Of Mine – Ray Charles

When listening to the Ray Charles song, it’s undoubtedly an R&B tune, but The Everly Brothers’ version with their distinct strumming style off their ever-present black guitars, gave it a more Country & Western feel. Indeed it reached Number Four on the Billboard Country chart but only made it to Number 26 on the Pop chart. It was a minor hit and in the end but a catchy tune in its own right.

The remaining songs in the album include “Brand New Heartache”, a song with a repetitive guitar strum that John Lennon seems to have borrowed and changed up a bit for his own 1964 composition “This Boy”. In fact, “This Boy” is a perfect example of The Beatles taking The Everly Brothers’ acoustic guitar strumming, changing the Brothers’ dual harmony to their triple harmony, and using the style to create an entirely new, classic love song their own. That was one of the many talents of The Beatles, to manipulate a sound or style to fit their compositions. The similarities are there but the songs are distinctly different. Even the lyrics are about losing a girl.

“Right now we’ve got a date and you’re three hours late, I feel a brand new heartache coming on.” Brand New Heartache – Everly Brothers

“That boy isn’t good for you, though he may want you too, this boy wants you back again.” This Boy – The Beatles

Little Richard’s “Keep A-Knockin’” , a raucous rock ‘n’ roll tune turned jumping country song by virtue of the brothers’ vocals and guitar style was accompanied by two brief but tasty piano solos trading with an electric guitar over a bed of The Everly’s acoustics; black-faced guitars that were to become the brothers’ on stage trademark.

Rounding out the album include the outstanding “Leave My Woman Alone”, another Ray Charles composition that The Everly Brothers turn from a traditional sounding gospel song to their inimitable country sound. Don Everly breaks into a solo vocal lead, as he does for of the Everly compositions since “…Suzie”.


Don Everly’s “Should We Tell Him” is a song worthy of inclusion in this impressive debut album, carrying a rhythmic melody and a simple electric guitar that cuts through the song confidently, as is Don’s occasional solo lead which settles back into the comfort of their glorious harmonies.

The song that closes out the album is “Hey Doll Baby”, a traditional song modernized by songwriter Titus Turner. The Everly Brothers’ come closest here to sounding like the pioneer of Country & Western, Hank Williams, the artist that the singing siblings seem most directly influenced by.

The remaining two songs on the album were to be released in the next two years as singles, apparently to fill the vacuum left by no new product.

ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM/CLAUDETTE – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Their follow-up single, “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, released in April 1958, was something else entirely.

Written by the same team that wrote “Bye Bye Love” for the duo, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, “AIHTDID” is probably one of the most beautiful ballads ever recorded, crossing the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll into a universal level, thanks to a glorious melody and the brothers’ soaringly beautiful harmony.

“When I want you in my arms, when I want you and your charms, whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream, dream, dream, dream…” All I Have To Do Is Dream – The Everly Brothers

Listening to them sing the song live makes you realize that their voices were the real thing, with no need to fix it up in the recording studio as is done so often today.

Chet Atkins, the country artist who discovered The Everly Brothers after they grew up and out from their father’s radio show, accompanies the boys on guitar. “AIHTDID” went gold and hit Number One on the Billboard Pop chart for five weeks, as well as reaching the top spots in the Country and Rhythm & Blues charts, a feat inexplicable today since the melody doesn’t have a rhythm & blues feel at all. It also was the second most popular song of 1958 in the US and resided in the Number One spot in the UK for six weeks, remaining on their charts for five months. “AIHTDID” is on practically all the lists counting the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of time. The song was re-recorded by many artists over time, including Roy Orbison, Andy Gibb, R.E.M. and Linda Ronstadt. Its most recent cover version occurred in 2006 by the group “Cat Power” titled “Dreams”.

“Claudette” was Roy Orbison’s first songwriting effort. It was a jumpy song that The Everly Brothers perfected with their sharp, crisp synced guitar strums and a harmony that sounds like two birds flying in perfect formation high in the sky.

It only peaked to Number 30 in the Billboard Pop chart but halved that at Number 15 in the Country chart, proving again that The Everly Brothers were inherently country artists.

BIRD DOG/DEVOTED TO YOU – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

The Everly Brothers’ next single should have been reversed in sides, when looking in retrospect, but the record company obviously knew what they were doing in making “Bird Dog”, a silly little song you just can’t help but like as you shake your head incredulously, the A-side song, because it hit Number One in the Country chart, Number Two in the Pop chart and Number Two for three weeks in the R&B chart. This last fact is unbelievable, simply because “Bird Dog” does not sound anywhere near a song that could be remotely associated to rhythm & blues. This just goes to show that musicians and aficionados of the rhythm & blue genre also had an appreciation for country & western. Back during the days of slavery in the Deep South, blacks and whites would gather at night with their instruments. The white Irish would bring their fiddle and the African would accompany them, strumming on their native banjo. The product of that union was the birth of country & western music.

“Bird Dog” was written by Boudleaux Bryant, the male half of The Everly Brothers’ songwriting duo that gave them many of his other hits.

“Johnny is a joker (he’s a bird), a very funny joker (he’s a bird), but when he jokes my honey (he’s a dog), his jokin’ ain’t so funny (what a dog), Johnny is a joker that’s trying to steal my baby (he’s a bird dog)” – Bird Dog – The Everly Brothers

On the other hand (and side), “Devoted To You” is something quite different altogether, and quite beautiful as well. Playing the song at every wedding in the world should be mandatory. The harmonies are reminiscent of the soaring “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and equally evoking heavenly love with vocals that fit so well they seem to be clinging to each other. When watching them live, the sibling connection becomes evident by their innate, identical phrasing during portions of the song where they would purposely either shorten or lengthen a sung word, delivering it differently during different times in the tune but always with perfect synced precision.

“I’ll never hurt you, I’ll never lie, I’ll never be untrue, I’ll never give you reason to cry, I’d be unhappy if you were blue,” Devoted To You – The Everly Brothers

The duo of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant delivering a powerhouse tune to the duo that would become a beloved classic, sung many times by other artists with equal delicate and grace, of them trying to equal the Brothers’ stratosphere. Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Carly Simon, The Beach Boys, have interpreted the tune in their own beautiful way.

“Through the years my love will grow, like a river it will flow, It can’t die because I’m so devoted to you.” Devoted To You – The Everly Brothers

“Devoted To You” was a Number One Hit in Canada but just barely made it into the Top Ten at Number Ten on the US Billboard Pop Chart, unlike the A-Side Number Two, “Bird Dog”. It did a little better at Number Seven on the country chart, but its biggest success in the US was, ironically enough, in the R&B chart, reaching Number Two in a genre that it didn’t really belong in.

The durability of “DTY” over time, however proved much longer that “BD” because of a timeless melody and simple, sweet lyrics. The song was written specifically for harmony. Ronstadt used her own voice at a lower range to harmonize with herself. But The Everly Brothers’ version remains the definitive version of this lovely song.

PROBLEMS/LOVE OF MY LIFE – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

“Problems” is a catchy little song with sharp, rapid, jumpy guitar strumming that Don Everly was so good at. Not one of their most popular tunes, it still carries a nice beat and shares the same joy inherent in of their fast country-inflected songs. It was popular for the time, however, reaching up to Number Two on the Billboard Chart and Number 17 in the Country chart in late 1958.

The flip side “Love Of My Life”, is not a particularly memorable composition, although as always the delivery was flawless. The listening audience didn’t think much of it either, barely making into the Top Forty Pop chart at Number 40 and not charting in the Country chart.

SONGS OUR DADDY TAUGHT US – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

The Everly Brothers’ second album was a risk-taking venture, as it was literally comprised of old country tunes they learned from their father, sung beautifully with only minimal acoustic accompaniment throughout. There wasn’t a single to be had. As a result, it didn’t even chart in either Billboard’s Pop or Country albums charts and momentarily bringing the hit-making single churning factory to a halt. This album is unfairly ignored, as it’s the Everly Brothers at their rawest. of the songs on the album are just the Brothers and their guitar. No percussion, no bass. It was just them, laid back and singing these songs with such familiarity that you can feel the appreciation for these country standards through their lovingly nuanced soft vocals throughout the entire album.

Many of the songs in the album were written by country artists who were also folk singers. By having such a popular duo sing these classic compositions and releasing them on an album dedicated to country/folk, “Songs Our Daddy taught Us” can be considered one of the first folk album recordings, years before the likes of Bob Dylan and the Folk Movement of the early Sixties.

The opening track, “Roving Gambler”, is a folk song written by Terry Gilkyson, a folk singer who sang lead “On Top Of Old Smoky”, the No. hit with the classic original folk group, The Weavers and later went on to pen “The Bare Necessities” for the animated film “The Jungle Book” when he worked at Walt Disney in the Sixties.

Simon & Garfunkel do their own rendition of the song as well.

Gilkyson was heavily involved in the film and TV western genre his life. “The Roving Gambler” tells the tale of a gambling man, the singer of the song, and how a girl left her mother for him. Accompanied by the same strumming throughout the tune, and the melody unchanging through its final fade out, The Everly Brothers’ version of “Roving Gambler” is a pre-cursor to many of Bob Dylan’s early masterpieces such as “The Times They Are-a Changing”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and particularly “Masters Of War”
.
The second track of the album, “Down In The Willow Garden” is a soft tune sung with reverence by the brothers. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to sit back and enjoy the pleasant music wash over you… until you listen to the lyrics.

“I had a bottle of burgundy wine, my love, she did not know, so I poisoned that dear little girl on the banks below, I drew a saber through her, it was a bloody knife, I threw her in the river, which was a dreadful sign.” “Down In The Willow Garden” – The Everly Brothers

Yea, I’ll say throwing your date’s corpse in the river is indeed a dreadful sign.

Also known as “Rose Connelly”, ”DITWG” is a murder ballad that originated from Ireland in the 19th century, about a man facing the gallows for going a little too far with a moneyed girl that the murderer’s own father suggests is worth more dead than alive. It was first recorded in 1947 by Charlie Munroe, and many versions had been recorded since, including this one.

There has always been controversy surrounding lyrics in rock ‘n’ roll, but never more so than when the rap and hip-hop industry blew the cap open and any word was allowed in a pop song. Eminem, in particular, was derided for his songs about the fantasy killing of his real life girlfriend and mother of his daughter. He always insisted that these were just stories, tales of fiction, much like a short movie. Tracing this back to a song like “Down In The Willow Garden” and many many folk “murder ballads” such as this one proves Eminem’s statement to be true.

The next track “Long Time Gone” was a traditional “sit around the campfire” song re-written by Tex Ritter with Frank Hartford.

Ritter was a popular country singer and movie cowboy back in his day from the 1930s to the 1960s. Ritter is best known for recording “Do Not Foresake Me Oh, My Darling”, the Academy Award winning song for the movie “High Noon”.

The next song was “Lightning Express”, written by folk/country singer Bradley Kinkaid. “Lightning Express” is a shameless tearjerker about a little boy boarding a train (the “LE”) to travel to see his dying mother, but he has no ticket. The conductor threatens to leave the child off at the next stop but the riders on the rain protest and collect money for the boy to stay on. The song ends with the conductor wrestling with his conscience as he recalls the boy’s pleas.

“Please Mr. Conductor, don’t put me off of this train, the best friend I have in the world, sir, is waiting for me in pain. Expecting to die any moment, sir, and may not live through the day, I wanna reach home and kiss my mother goodbye, before God takes her away.” “Lightning Express” – The Everly Brother

As silly and laughable as some of these lyrics seem, The Everly Brothers do a magnificent job in interpreting these songs and are still today a rewarding listen. Not even The Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel, dedicated fans of the brothers’ harmonies, come close to their pitch perfection. The closest group to their sound would probably be The Beach Boys, but many times those harmonies were achieved with three or more voices. The Everly Brothers lifted you up to a new transcendent level with only two voices.

The next song, “That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine” was the first hit song for a cowboy entertainer named Gene Autry way back in 1931, twenty-seven years before The Everly Brothers’ version. It was also featured in two 1930s western films.

“Whos’ Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” is a traditional folk song that would serve well as a baby’s lullaby.

“Barbara Allen” is another traditional ballad with origins in England and Scotland and brought to the shores of the United States by these immigrants. Literally, hundreds of versions exist of this old song, drawing American folk lineage across the pond to the United Kingdom. It wouldn’t be the only time that America would embrace British music.

The story is as similarly tragic as many folk songs were. In this case, a young man falls ill and asks for Barbara Allen to be by his side. She rebuffs him and he dies, but not before the dying young man leaves the ungrateful bitch an inheritance. As a result, Barbara Allen grows a conscience and she also dies from heartbreak. Love stinks.

“Oh So Many Years” is a pretty song that The Everly Brothers sing with their usual ease and sweetness, and you just can’t help but listen.

“I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail” is another tragi-tale of a mother who tracks her son down after years of searching after the death of the boy’s father, only to find the poor slob in jail. The mother essentially offers the Warden everything, even the boy’s father’s last possessions, to get her baby out of jail …and the Warden relents… something that happens every day today.

“I will pawn you his watch, I will pawn you his chain, I will pawn you my diamond wedding ring, I will wash your clothes, I will scrub your floors if that will get my baby out of jail…” “I’m Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail” – The Everly Brothers

“Rockin’ Alone (In An Ol’ Rockin’ Chair)” is a love song to the elderly. “Kentucky” is a love song to same. Don was born in Brownie, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, but Phil was born in Chicago, Illinois. They grew up in Shenandoah, Iowa.

The final track on the album has a title with a fitting close, “Put My Little Shoes Away”, a popular song among bluegrass performers and written by lyricist Samuel Mitchell with musician/ bandleader Charles E. Pratt in the late 19th century. It was a final melodramatic close to a landmark album that has been tragically overlooked, if not for the historical selection of traditional 19th-century folk ballads, but for the voices that make it a joyous listening experience.

DUANE EDDY

Now that Elvis was in the army and rock ‘n’ roll was being slowly but surely re-packaged and re-invented with new pop idols and doo wop groups, rock ‘n roll was in danger of becoming extinct before the decade was out. Not too many artists were continuing to carry the torch except for Chuck Berry and the soon to be silenced, Buddy Holly. Everything else was being homogenized, run through the record industry mill and spit out as a tame version of what rock ‘n’ roll really meant just three short years before. Fortunately for us, Duane Eddy held on to the essence of rock ‘n’ roll during this transitional period, making his contribution to the history of rock ‘n’ roll that much more valuable than many give him credit for.

Duane Eddy is best known for his guitar “twang”, a technique he devised using his guitar’s bass strings when playing lead to produce a reverberant sound. His first instrumental “Movin & Groovin’”, released in late 1957, showcased the technique that would become his trademark. He achieved it by bringing in a 2000 gallon storage tank filled with water into the studio since it had no echo chamber. By playing near the tank of water, he was able to achieve his “twang” echo for the record.

“Movin & Groovin’s” follow-up single, “Rebel Rouser” was Eddy’s breakthrough hit. Another instrumental with Eddy’s twangy guitar and a killer saxophone by session musician Gil Bernal, it reached up to Number Six on Billboard’s Pop chart and sold a million copies, earning a gold disc. Listening to it will appease any rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast with the knowledge that rock ‘n’ roll was still alive and well with Duane Eddy, as the song rocks like the first songs of the genre back in 1955.

His next single, “The Theme From Peter Gunn” was Eddy taking the Henry Mancini theme song from a detective TV show of the day that ran from 1958 to 1961 called “Peter Gunn”. The guitar was tailor made for Eddy’s twang, and in retrospect, may think his version was the TV’s theme song. But Mancini composed it with a small orchestra and managed to win some Grammys for it as well before Duane Eddy added his twang.

“The Theme From Peter Gunn” received a new breath of life almost thirty years later when The Art Of Noise released their own take on the composition, and also with the accompaniment of Duane Eddy’s twang. The result was an electronic masterpiece that brings the song up to a new level.

Hos next big single that kept the raunch in rock ‘n’ roll alive is “Forty Miles Of Bad Road” an instantly recognizable rock instrumental with muscle to spare. It’s arguably the first road song after Chuck Berry’s songs about automobiles.

The sound of Duane Eddy was so popular in its day from millions of rock ‘n’ roll purists that when his debut album, “Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar, Will Travel” released on January 9, 1959, reached up to Number Five on Billboard’s Top Albums chart and remained on the chart for 82 weeks, that’s over a year and a half.

Duane Eddy’s biggest hit arrived the following year in 1960 when his theme from the movie “Because They’re Young” reaches Number Four in the Billboard Pop chart, selling another million copies and earning him a second gold disc. He was just as successful in the UK.

His career began to wane after 1960 and stopped releasing albums by 1964, the year of demarcation between the old and the new when The Beatles came to America and changed everything. Eddy released an album next in 1970, then again in 1975 before he made his comeback with The Art Of Noise in 1986. Since then, he made a handful of albums during the next twenty odd years. His last original album as of the writing of this in 2014 is 2011’s “Road Trip”.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS

Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian was a singer, songwriter, and actor of Armenian descent. A WWII veteran, his show business career dates back to when he returned from the war and co-wrote “Come On-a My House” with his cousin William Saroyan. He also appeared in films throughout the 40s and 50s, his most well-known appearance is in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) as the piano playing tenant Stewart spies on among his other neighbors.

Following the Hitchcock’s vein, he released a novelty record in 1955 called “The Trouble With Harry”, title of which was the same as the latest Hitchcock thriller that was playing currently in theaters. After that, however, he hit the skids. With only $200 left in his pockets, he spent $190 on a V-M tape recorder that could allow him to vary the tape speed. Most tape recorders of the day would only vary speed by doubling or halving it, creating each sound a standard octave apart, like Walt Disney’s Chip n’ Dale cartoons. Bagdasarian’s recorder allowed him to vary the speed and the pitch of the voice at any degree, permitting a lot of leeway, particularly with the right imagination. Ross Bagdasarian had that imagination, and out of that particular tape recorder, the Chipmunks were born.

They weren’t the first idea that came to Bagdasarian’s head, though. After finding a suitable speed on his new toy, he sat down to write a song that could take advantage of this new technology. Taking a lesson from the recent rock ‘n’ roll records of the past, Bagdasarian knew that it was nonsense words that rhymed and had a nice melody that was certain to win the teenage rock ‘n’ roll market over.

“Ooh, ee, ooh, ah, ah, ting, tang, walla walla bing bang…”

That gibberish was the catch phrase of the summer of 1958, from Bagdasarian’s Number One Hit, “Witch Doctor”, in which he changed his name to David Seville. The song was so popular that it got him on The Ed Sullivan Show singing the song with some terribly primitive special effects that were out of sync.

Bagdasarian attributed his new high pitched voice to that of a witch doctor who is giving nonsensical advice to a jilted lover.

“Now, you’ve been keeping love from me just like you were a miser, and I’ll admit I wasn’t very smart, so I went out and found myself a guy that’s so much wiser, and he taught me the way to win your heart.” Witch Doctor – David Seville

“Witch Doctor” opened a brief door into the first rock ‘n’ roll novelty records. Follow-ups such as Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” also used the same sped up voice technique of “WD”, but used the standard method of speeding the voice up an octave and thus, not able to say much because it would just become unintelligible after trying to utter more than a few basic words at that speed.

Another novelty song that became popular in 1958 was “Short Shorts” by The Royal Teens, a song that would receive a new lease on life when it was featured as the theme song for Nair on TV in the 1970s and ’80s.


Once his own novelty hit subsided, Bagdasarian got to thinking of another way to exploit his tape recorder. He released another novelty tune called “The Bird On My Head” and that barely cracked the Top 40. Surely he didn’t purchase it to just make one hit song, so he thought long and hard of what he could derive from this unique technological achievement he was pioneering.

Since the tape speeds and pitches could vary, he could take a voice, usually his own, and make each one sound different by making one a little higher than the other. He decided these voices sounded like chipmunks, and he gave them each a name. He named them after three record executives he knew, Simon Waronker, Ted (Theodore) Keep and Alvin Bennett.

Simon, Theodore and Alvin were the Chipmunks, and his alter ego David Seville acted as their manager. To insure himself a hit this time, Bagdasarian composed “The Chipmunk Song” as a Christmas tune to capitalize on the upcoming season. Not only did he manage to get another Number One hit, but the following year he won two Grammy Awards for that record: Best Comedy Performance and Best Recording for Children.

Bagdasarian successfully rode the crest of The Chipmunks for the rest of his life. Two more singles followed “The Chipmunk Song”. Soon a record album was released, specifically targeting children with re-worked children’s songs in the public domain along with the last three hits. In 1961, after releasing a third album, The Chipmunks were apparently ready for prime time and got their own weekly nighttime program on CBS for the 1961-1962 season called “That’s Alvin”.

The timing was right, because the cartoons in prime time craze had recently begun with “Rocky & Bullwinkle” which debuted in 1959 and stayed on the air for five years, followed in 1960 by “The Flintstones” and another successful five-year run. Other cartoons like “The Jetsons” cropped up, making “That’s Alvin” a prime contender for an early evening slot for their musical misadventures and hijinks.



The animation on the TV show was crude and primitive. Songs were regularly showcased in the cartoon, including the original “Witch Doctor”. The weekly 30-minute time slot was shared with another cartoon character called Clyde Crashcup.

After “That’s Alvin’s” cancellation in September 1962, it continued to run for years during the Saturday morning cartoon line-up. In the meantime, Bagdasarian continued to release a Chipmunk album every year until 1965. His style changed from writing original songs to parodying hit songs, sort of like an animated Weird Al Yankovic times three. In 1964, they released “The Chipmunks sing the Beatles Hits”.

Bagdasarian released three more Chipmunks album in the Sixties. It also proved to be the last recordings of his life. He died of a heart attack suddenly at age 53, and with them seemingly went The Chipmunks.

Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. his son, decided to resurrect The Chipmunks in 1979 with new parodies on current songs and a revamped cartoon series in 1983.

Just like his father, Bagdasarian Jr. does the voices and his wife Janice Karman contributes her own voice on her own invention, The Chipettes, a female answer to The Chipmunks.

From that first comeback album “Chipmunk Punk” in 1980, they have released a new album practically every year since. As of the writing of this, their last album was in 2012 called Chipmunks Christmas.

In 2007, The Chipmunks got a major animation reboot when they release their computer generated animated feature “Alvin & The Chipmunks” and its subsequent sequels.

Since then they are still releasing music videos and other vignettes in this state -of-the-art animated style. It rather fits since Bagdasarian had pioneered a state of the art audio technique over half a century ago. It’s good to know that Alvin, Simon and Theodore are still alive and well.

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