THE HISTORY OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – 1959 – PART FOUR

Posted: February 20, 2015 in MUSIC, Rock n Roll 1959 Part 4
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by Robert Seoane

1959 FALL TELEVISION – THE QUARRYMEN BREAK UP – WILBERT HARRISON – THE FLAMINGOS – FREDDY CANNON – EDD BYRNES – CONNIE STEVENS – FRANKIE FORD – PHIL PHILLIPS – HUEY ‘PIANO’ SMITH – SANTO & JOHNNY – THE DRIFTERS – CLYDE McPHATTER – BEN E. KING

The year 1959 had some notable milestones occurring within its 365 days. The United States had 48 states until both Alaska and Hawaii were given official statehood status that year. Alaska had been purchased by the US from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867 for $7.2 million ($121 million in 2015, still a bargain for a land where you can see Russia from your house). It then became a territory of the USA on May 11, 1912 and finally became the 49th state on January 3rd, 1959. Hawaii followed suit as the 50th state on August 21, 1959 after having been a territory since August 12, 1898.


These two new states were ratified just in time to enjoy the creation of the first Barbie doll manufactured in 1959.

It was also a year in which the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States began in earnest… and the USSR was winning, by sending the first man-made object to reach a celestial body when the unmanned Luna 2 spacecraft crash landed on the moon on September 14, 1959.

And in music history, the first ever Grammy Awards were introduced in 1959, hosted by Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra was busy that year. Besides releasing two classic albums, “Come Dance With Me” and “No One Cares”, and appearing on television on a regular basis, he also got involved in politics. On November 2, 1959 in Los Angeles, he introduced Democratic Senator from Massachussetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy at a fundraising dinner to a host of supporters where JFK hinted at his interest of running for President.

“It seems to me that in the 1960 election…that we should take into that election words which were spoken by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. …. In that speech he said…’Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.’ It seems to me in the United States in the last seven years, we have come very close to a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference, and I do not look with pleasure upon going through another decade of it…and therefore I think this election is most important.” — Senator John F. Kennedy; November 2, 1959.

Meanwhile, television was now in its eleventh year of existence, and the three networks ABC, CBS and NBC unveiled a host of new TV shows with names like “Hawaiian Eye” a detective adventure series with a young Robert Conrad; the 1959-1973 TV cowboy western series “Bonanza”, filmed in color but still broadcast in black and white since TV did not yet have the technology to broadcast color developed fully; “The Price Is Right”, still airing today but totally different from its first episode; a new Hanna-Barbera cartoon character named Huckleberry Hound, also in color… and “The Twilight Zone”.




Of all these television debuts, “The Twilight Zone”, premiering on October 2, 1959, was the most unique. Created by screenwriter and playwright Rod Serling and coming off his classic Playhouse 90 teleplay “Requiem For A Heavyweight”(1956), Serling introduced an anthology series of the unexplained and creepy, writing most of the episodes and famously introducing them, always with a cigarette in his hand. He was the only consistent face in the series, as each week a different story was told by then unknown actors such as Robert Duvall, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, Lee Marvin and Burt Reynolds to name a few. Its famous theme music however, would not be introduced until the second season. Its first season’s score was written by the renowned Bernard Herrmann, who had composed soundtracks for many Alfred Hitchcock movies as well as the classic score for Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976). The iconic theme song however, was written by Romanian-born French composer Marius Constant.


Serling was quite simply a brilliant writer, having written 92 of the 156 “Twilight Zone” episodes during its five-year run. Aside from this iconic, landmark series, he also wrote with Michael Wilson, an adaptation of the 1963 French novel “La Planete des Singes” by Pierre Boulle, author of “Bridge On The River Kwai” and translated the title to “Planet Of The Apes”. After the film’s release in 1968, it became so popular that four sequels, were produced through 1973, as well as a television show, an animated series and comic books. The franchise was resurrected in 2001 by Director Tim Burton to dismal reviews, but then was rebooted ten years later in 2011 with probably the best version in the series since the original, “The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”.

 

THE QUARRYMEN BREAK UP

Many believe that the break up of the Beatles lays squarely on the lap of Yoko Ono, who met John Lennon in 1966. This is an extremely simplistic point of view, because as in most every rock ‘n’ roll disbanding, several factors contributed to the break up of the greatest band in the world. To begin with, it was Paul McCartney, not John, who announced that the Beatles had officially broken up in March 1970. Also, George Harrison had become increasingly unhappy because of the fact that he had a backlog of music that had no room in Beatle albums.

John and Paul were always the principal songwriters, while George was usually granted two tracks per album. George complained that whenever they got to his compositions, they rushed through the recording, while John and Paul always took their sweet time with theirs. Ringo Starr, who wasn’t a songwriter, was given one track to sing for every album release. The only exception occurred during the recording of the double disc “The Beatles” (1968) more popularly known as The White Album. Ringo was given two tracks to sing, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Good Night”. George was given the unprecedented number of four tracks in The White Album: “Piggies”, “Long, Long, Long”, “Savoy Truffle” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

By the time the group got around to recording “Abbey Road” (1969), Harrison’s songwriting could no longer be overlooked, having written the classics “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”. Still, between 1968 and 1970, George had written so many songs that when the group broke up, Harrison was the first Beatle to release a solo album (not including his 1968 film soundtrack “Wonderwall”) on November 27, 1970. “All Things Must Pass” was a three record set with two of the records filled with original music and the third a compilation of informal jams, and was nominated by the Grammys for Album Of The Year.

Quarreling was beginning to be more commonplace after 1968. Paul, a demanding sort, was a perfectionist and knew exactly how he wanted his tracks to be recorded, much to George’s dismay, whose ideas for Paul’s tunes would usually be rejected (just one notable exception is the beautiful guitar in “And I Love Her”; totally George’s contribution). Even Ringo, who went along with everything, got fed up in 1968 and quit for two weeks, only to be begged back by the other three and adorning his drum kit with dozens of colorful flowers upon his return.

So Yoko Ono was not the reason for the break up of the Beatles. It may have not been helpful that John insisted on her company in the recording studio, a place where no one but the Beatles were ever allowed in, but it was not the sole contributing factor.

The temporary break up of the Quarrymen was due to totally different dynamics.

Before the beginning, when John, Paul and George still called themselves the Quarrymen, (the name was taken from a line of their school song at Quarry Bank High), the Beatles almost never came to be due to persistent lineup changes and drunken rows that at one point broke the Quarrymen up for seven months.

Between 1956 and 1959, the Quarrymen’s line-up would change considerably, making it very difficult for John to form a permanent band. Some of the band members never took playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band seriously, and others just weren’t very good musicians. Only Paul McCartney and George Harrison passed musical muster and shared the same desire to carve a rock ‘n’ roll career for themselves with John.

Difficulties were common. The Quarrymen had to alternate rehearsals at their respective parents’ homes, not always successfully. They liked playing at George’s house because his mom would serve them shots. Pete Shotton’s mom however wasn’t as forthcoming and ordered them to play in a cold corrugated air raid shelter in their backyard to hold in the noise. They also rehearsed at drummer Colin Hanton’s home as well as Eric Griffiths’. Griffiths’ father had died in WWII and his mother worked in the daytime, giving them plenty of time to rehearse without bothering anyone. But their best rehearsal location was at John’s mom’s house, Julia, the coolest mother of them all without a doubt, because she actually had a collection of rock ‘n’ roll songs like Shirley & Lee’s “Let The Good Times Roll” and Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula”. The Quarrymen would play the songs over and over until they had it down pat. As a result, the group was getting really good, especially John, Paul and George.

Another difficulty was obtaining the proper musical instruments. When the Quarrymen were still a skiffle group, they needed a tea chest bass, a standard instrument for the genre. Schoolmate Bill Smith had one so he was in, but he never really showed up to rehearsals, so he was out. One particular evening, John and Eric Griffiths couldn’t locate Smith for a gig they were booked in that night so they took it upon themselves to break into Smith’s parents’ garage to retrieve it. They handed the tea chest bass to another schoolmate, Len Garry, but he couldn’t always be available either, so they would call on yet another schoolmate, Ivan Vaughan, to play with them when Garry wasn’t available. A third friend, Nigel Walley also stood in at the tea chest bass but that was soon over when he forgot the bass at a bus station on his way home. It was just as well, because by then they were all deeply immersed into the amazing new sound of rock ‘n’ roll so they didn’t need a tea chest bass anyway. Walley then took it upon himself to be their manager, to some success. Most of the gigs were free, but hey, they had gigs.

One of the gigs Nigel Walley scored was a skiffle amateur contest organized by one Carroll Levis in which each competing band would be given three minutes to perform. The Quarrymen finished to thunderous applause, but it was a competing band, the Sunnyside Skiffle Group, that beat them with their onstage antics. John Lennon complained bitterly to Levis, stating that the contest had been rigged because the other group had brought “ringers” to cheer for them, so Levis gave them both another chance and this time used a “clap-o-meter”. The Quarrymen lost by a hair.

Walley also managed to get the Quarrymen a gig at the Cavern Club in 1957 as a skiffle group. He had met the father of the Cavern Club owner, Dr. Joseph Sytner at the Lee Park Golf Club where Walley was an apprentice golf professional. He managed to convince Sytner to get his son to book the Quarrymen. Sytner Sr. suggested they play at the golf club first so he could hear and see them for himself, and was duly impressed when the Quarrymen had a following, filling up the venue with around 100 supporters. The performance was such a success, despite the fact that band mate Rod Davis broke his zipper and had to play the banjo covering it, that they were able to raise up to 15 pounds in audience donations, much more than other groups were normally paid.

The Quarrymen were then booked at the Cavern for the first time. There was one little problem, however. John and his fellow band members were leaning more towards playing rock ‘n’ roll, but the Cavern was, back then, a jazz club. Still, they did allow skiffle music so they agreed to only play that. After their second song however, John started to play Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”. Soon, they received a hastily written note from Sytner as he waded through the packed crowd to hand it to John. It read “cut out the bloody rock and roll”. Nobody in 1957 could have guessed that John would return to the Cavern four years later as the Beatles to play “the bloody rock and roll” when their fan base had grown to such a point that they couldn’t be ignored.

Cracks in the Quarrymen lineup were already beginning to show as early as ’57 when John’s friend Pete Shotton told John he was no longer interested in playing with the group. John responded by taking the washboard Shotton used for percussion and smashing it over his head. After dusting him off, John proceeded to plead with Pete to stay on for a couple more performances. Their next gig would be the one where Pete brought Paul McCartney at St. Paul’s Church fete on July 6, 1957.

But in January 1959, it was down to just John, Paul, George and drummer Colin Hanton. Pete Shotton was tired of the rock ‘n’ roll life, telling John just before his washboard became his neck adornment, “I hate this, John, it’s not for me”. Eric Griffiths was forgotten about when George joined the band as lead guitarist, so Griffiths, insulted, quit and joined the Merchant Marines not long afterwards. Len Garry came down with tubercular meningitis, went to the hospital and never played with the group again. In the meantime, John and Paul began to write songs together and apart, inspired by Buddy Holly because he wrote his own music. Together, they wrote “One After 909” an early rocker the Beatles recorded as a demo in 1963 and was then re-recorded on January 20, 1969 when they played it live on the Apple rooftop where they were almost arrested for disturbing the peace. The song ultimately wound up on the Beatles’ final album release, “Let It Be” (1970).

The other two early Quarrymen songs were John and Paul’s “Like Dreamers Do”, which was recorded by the Applejacks in 1964, and John’s “Hello, Little Girl”. Their music was developing slowly but surely.

One thing that could be said, even early on in their careers, was that they were a bunch of clowns. That was part of the Beatles’ incredible charm. Besides writing songs that would endure for generations, they never took themselves seriously and were happy to make faces and joke around onstage, something most pop stars today simply don’t do.




By January of 1959, John Lennon had temporarily lost interest in playing music, still mourning the death of his mother Julia after being hit and killed by a car just six short months earlier. They did however manage to perform at two venues that month. They played on New Year’s Day 1959 at the Speke Bus Depot social club that had been organized by George Harrison’s father, then at a party at Woolton Village Club three weeks later. After those two performances, they had an opportunity to play at the Pavillion Theater in Lodge Lane, where the management was looking for a band to play thirty-minute sets between bingo games. The job was theirs for the taking, having played their first set quite well. But before the next set, John, Paul and Colin had a few beers (George was underage and not allowed to take part) and then switched to “Poor Man’s Black Velvets”, a mix of Guinness and cider, and got summarily drunk on their collective asses. Their second set, as a result, was a disaster, and having lost the opportunity for a steady gig, got into a great drunken row on their way home, with Paul telling Colin Hanton that he sucked at drumming, even sober. Pete Shotton had come to hear them play that night and had joined the four afterwards and had to pry Colin and Paul apart as fists began to fly. After that night, the Quarrymen had no drummer.

The Quarrymen found themselves without any more gigs after that. John and Paul however, continued writing songs together, but George Harrison went his own way and joined another group, the Les Stewart Quartet. It wasn’t until eight months later, on August 29, 1959, that the Quarrymen reunited. The Les Stewart Quartet had a gig playing at Mona Best’s Casbah Coffee Club but Stewart refused to play when guitarist Ken Brown missed rehearsals. George quickly called John and Paul to sub. As a result, the Quarrymen name was resurrected one last time and the group, John, Paul, George and Ken, played seven Saturdays in a row from August to October of that year, earning fifteen shillings a week. It was always a packed house, despite the fact that they had no drummer. Their gig at the Casbah ended badly when Brown arrived at one of the shows but couldn’t play because he had fallen ill. Mona Best insisted that Brown should still get paid for showing up, but John and Paul loudly voiced their objection, insisting that they should all receive Ken’s pay to be distributed among the three for playing anyway. That disagreement led to the group walking away from their first steady gig.

On October 18, 1959, John, Paul and George had another opportunity to play in one of Carroll Levis’ talent shows. This time, they decided to drop the Quarrymen name once and for all and called themselves Johnny and the Moondogs for that one performance. They passed the audition, but when they arrived to play again on November 15, 1959, the registration line seemed endless. Waiting for hours to play, not having a drummer, having only two guitars among the three of them and only just enough money to take the last bus to Liverpool at 9:47PM, they gave up and went home, but not before John saw a cutaway electric guitar by the stage door and pilfered it.

 

STUART SUTCLIFFE

“I looked up to Stu. I depended on him to tell me the truth…Stu would tell me if something was good and I’d believe him” -John Lennon

John enrolled in the Liverpool College of Art in 1957. Stuart Sutcliffe had enrolled the year before and they soon became good friends. John admired Stu’s artistic talent as a painter, and Stu admired John’s musical ability. Stu was an intuitive soul, able to see through John’s tough exterior, acting like a “teddy boy”. Teddy boys were the 1950’s version of today’s gangstas and John fit the part well, always wearing leather and developing a chip on his shoulder to hide his vulnerabilities. This fraudulent façade of John’s was made more impactful after the death of his mother.

“Paul and I got to know Stuart Sutcliffe through going into the art college. Stuart was a thin, arty guy with glasses and a little Van Gogh beard; a good painter. John really liked Stuart as an artist. Stuart obviously liked John because he played the guitar and was a big Ted. Stuart was cool. He was great looking and had a great vibe about him, and was a very friendly bloke. I liked Stuart a lot; he was always very gentle. John had a slight superiority complex at times, but Stuart didn’t discriminate against Paul and me because we weren’t from the art school. He started to come and watch us when we played at parties and he became a fan of ours. He actually got some parties for John, Paul and me to play at.” – George Harrison

Stu Sutcliffe was an aspiring, talented artist and in 1959, sold one of his first works, which in comparison to his other brilliant paintings, doesn’t do his art justice. “Summer Painting” was sold for £65 (£1135 in 2015, which translates to approximately $1750 today). It was a tidy sum, and Stu was planning to use it to invest in his artwork. But John, Paul and George were continuing to struggle in forming a permanent group, now nameless, and they needed a bass guitarist.

“What do you do with £65? We all reminded him over a coffee: ‘Funny you should have got that amount, Stuart – it is very near the cost of a Hofner bass.’ He said, ‘No, I can’t just spend all that.’ It was a fortune in those days, like an inheritance. He said he had to buy canvases or paint. We said, ‘Stu, see reason, love. A Hofner, a big ace group… fame!’ He gave in and bought this big Hofner bass that dwarfed him. The trouble was he couldn’t play well. This was a bit of a drawback, but it looked good, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. When he came into the band, around Christmas of 1959, we were a little jealous of him; it was something I didn’t deal with very well. We were always slightly jealous of John’s other friendships. He was the older fellow; it was just the way it was. When Stuart came in, it felt as if he was taking the position away from George and me. We had to take a bit of a back seat. Stuart was John’s age, went to art college, was a very good painter and had all the cred that we didn’t.” -Paul McCartney


Stuart Sutcliffe’s “Summer Painting” circa 1959

 

 

1959 CLASSICS

“A one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him.” – Bob Dylan accepting his induction as MusicCares Person of the Year on February 6, 2015

KANSAS CITY – JERRY LIEBER & MIKE STOLLER

One of the more popular and enduring songs of 1959 is Lieber & Stoller’s “Kansas City”, sung by Wilbert Harrison. Its laid back groove tells the story of a young man hitting the town to look for “crazy little women”. It was a laid back groove and instantly catchy, never mind that Lieber & Stoller had never really been to Kansas City. Its popularity was undeniable as it rocketed up the Billboard Pop chart to Number One in the Spring of 1959, selling over one million copies and receiving a gold disc.

“I’m going to Kansas City… Kansas City here I come (2x), they got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one…” ”Kansas City” – Wilbert Harrison

“Kansas City” was originally written in 1952 and it was one of Lieber & Stoller’s first compositions, recorded that year by Little Willie Littlefield. Littlefield’s version is a bit more upbeat and showcases a sexy tenor sax. The lyrics are also a bit more risqué. Instead of singing “they got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one”, he sings “they got a crazy way of lovin’ and I’m gonna get me some”. If they were trying to tame it by changing the lyrics, it wasn’t by much. After all, what else would a young man want to do with crazy little women?

Since its success with Harrison, there have been over three hundred cover versions of the song.

Little Richard recorded two versions of “Kansas City” in 1955. The first version, traditional to the original version of “Kansas City”, wasn’t released until 1970. Little Richard’s second version was released at around the same time as Wilbert Harrison’s and was the version that was recorded by the Beatles and released on their “Beatles For Sale” UK album and “The Beatles VI” US album, both in late 1964. Little Richard added the “hey hey hey hey” lyrics to the song and then got the idea to record a stand alone version of just that section in 1956, calling it “Hey Hey Hey Hey (Going Back To Birmingham)” so he can collect co-songwriting royalties off his “Kansas City” version.

Although Little Richard must be credited for adding a great groove to “Kansas City” and changing the lyrics around, The Beatles, led by Paul McCartney’s vocals, kicks serious ass.



Other versions of “Kansas City” were then subsequently recorded by James Brown, Bill Haley & His Comets, Peggy Lee, Dion, Jan & Dean, Fats Domino, Sammy Davis Jr., The Everly Brothers, Tom Jones and Muddy Waters to name a few.

The city of Kansas City adopted the song and made it their state song, so I suppose there really are “crazy little women” there. Although 12th Street and Vine no longer exists, a park was designed in the shape of a grand piano, and a path in the shape of a treble clef in the very location where 12th Street and Vine used to be.

Wilbert Harrison died of a stroke at a nursing home in 1994 at age 65. Jerry Lieber died on August 28, 2011 at age 78 from cardio-pulmonary failure. Mike Stoller is 82 years old in 2015.

 

I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU – THE FLAMINGOS

One of the most popular doo-wop groups of the Fifties was the Flamingos. The Flamingos were a family act. Formed in 1952 in Chicago, Illinois by brothers Jacob and Ezekial Carey, they recruited their two cousins, baritone Paul Wilson and first tenor Johnny Carter to join the group and soon added the only non-family member Earl Lewis. They seemed to have an obsession with naming their group for feathered friends because they had previously called themselves the Swallows, El Flamingos and the Five Flamingos until they finally settled on just the Flamingos.

After some personnel changes, Jake and Zeke Carrey (who returned to the group in 1958 after a brief stint in the military) were joined by Nate Nelson, Tommy Hunt, Terry Johnson and Paul Wilson.

The Flamingos scored their first hit, “I’ll Be Home” when they signed with Checker Records, the Chess Records subsidiary. A slow, uneventful song, it reached Number Five in the R&B Billboard chart in 1955. Pat Boone released it a year later and his version made it to Number Six in the Billboard Pop chart. Both versions are forgettable.

“I Only Have Eyes For You” is quite a different story. Written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin in 1934 for a movie called “Dames”. The Flamingos contemporized it, giving it the doo-wop spin with their “de-bop, sh-bop” chirping that makes it distinctively a Fifties pop hit. When listening to both versions, it’s pretty striking to hear the difference in style, which is why the Flamingos song endures to this day.


In 2001, The Flamingos were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Today in 2015, all the members of the Flamingos except for Tommy Hunt, are deceased.

 

TALLAHASSEE LASSIE – FREDDY CANNON

Rock ‘n’ roll in 1959 seemed to enjoy travel, since two Top Ten songs with city names were big hits that year. Besides “Kansas City”, “Tallahassee Lassie”, although quite simplistic, rocked itself up to Number Six on Billboard’s Top 100.

Its composer Frederic Anthony Picariello, born in Massachusetts and establishing a fan base in Boston, was a fan of rhythm & blues and an ardent admirer of both Chuck Berry and Little Richard. He formed a group and called themselves Freddy Karmon and the Hurricanes. Having formed his band, he took to songwriting, using lyrics his mother wrote to compose a song called “Rock and Roll Baby”. His manager, Boston disc jockey Jack McDermott, took the song to two producers he knew, Bob Crewe and Frank Slay. The duo liked the song, and offered to rearrange and produce it if they could re-write the lyrics and receive two-thirds of the songwriting credit. Recognizing an opportunity when he saw it, Piciarello took them up on the deal. The result was “Tallahassee Lassie”.

Dick Clark of American Bandstand saw potential in the song, even though it was rejected by every record company that heard it. Clark was part owner of Swan Records in Philadelphia and offered to distribute the song as long as they allowed him to make some important changes. He wanted the bass drum sound highlighted as well as Piciarello’s “whoo”, which were both buried in the original recording. They agreed and Clark suggested adding hand claps as well. Subsequently, right before its release, Swan Records President Bernie Binnick suggested that Piciarello change his stage name to Freddy Cannon. The result was a winner, and Dick Clark showcased it on his show.

“Well, she comes from Tallahassee, she got a hi-fi chassis, maybe looks a little sassy, but to me, she’s real classy, yeah, my Tallahassee Lassie down in F-L-A” “Tallahassee Lassie” – Freddy Cannon

Cannon released his next single with a title of another Florida town, “Okeefenokee”, but it didn’t even make it into the Top Forty, stalling at Number 43. He was only able to reach the Top Ten two more times, later in 1959 with “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” (again with the town titles) and then again in 1962 with “Palisades Park”. His song titles were sounding like travelogues. Both songs made it to Number Three in the Billboard Hot 100, and both songs were nothing to write home about.

Freddy Cannon, now 74 years old, continues to appear in concert venues throughout the country.

 

KOOKIE, LEND ME YOUR COMB – EDD BYRNES AND CONNIE STEVENS

“Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb”, despite being a Top Ten hit, is an annoying song. Its origin comes from the television show “77 Sunset Strip”, a major hit that lasted for six years, from 1958 to 1964.

Edward Byrne Breitenberger, known professionally as Edd Byrnes, plays the cool, hip private eye, inspired by James Dean’s attitude and the blueprint for the character of Henry Winkler’s Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli from the TV show “Happy Days” (1974-1984).

Kookie’s comb was his trademark, combing his hair at the beginning of every single episode so often that one was tempted to take the comb from his hand and break it to pieces. Henry Winkler’s Fonz would goof on that, as he would begin to comb his hair but never really did, reacting at his reflection in the mirror with his own trademark “aaayyy”, secure in the knowledge that he looked perfect already.

Byrne’s Kookie character also consistently spoke in “jive talk” indicative of the era, and pretty damn funny to hear today.

An interesting footnote is that in the pilot episode, Edd Byrnes plays Kookie as a serial killer, but after it was picked up as a weekly series on ABC, Byrnes received such acclaim from female teens everywhere, so principal Sunset Strip actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. narrated a disclaimer just before its premiere to explain away why Edd Byrnes’ character “Kookie” was still in the show.

“We previewed this show, and because Edd Byrnes was such a hit we decided that Kookie and his comb had to be in our series. So this week, we’ll just forget that in the pilot he went off to prison to be executed.” –Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Connie Stevens, borrowed from another detective series that had debuted in 1959, “Hawaiian Eye”, was tapped to sing on “Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb” with Byrnes. The tune was obviously written to capitalize on the popularity of both “77 Sunset Strip” and “Hawaiian Eye”, as well as on the crush teenage fans had for Byrnes, as proved by the ear shattering screams heard ‘round the world when they both appeared on “American Bandstand”. The novelty song made it to Number Four on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1959. But it’s still an annoying song.

Connie Stevens enjoyed a busy career during the Sixties and Seventies, releasing records that made it to the Top Ten in 1960 and appearing on TV series such as “Maverick” with James Garner and sharing co-star credit with George Burns in the one season sitcom “Wendy and Me” (1964-1965). She played on Broadway in Neil Simon’s “The Star Spangled Girl” in 1966 and continued making television appearances during the Seventies in shows such as “Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roast”, “The Muppet Show” and a few Bob Hope specials.


After “77 Sunset Strip” got canceled in 1964, Edd Byrnes played minor roles in television programs until 1978, when he was cast as a horn dog Dick Clark type in “Grease” during a sequence that showcased a variation of Johnny Otis’ “Willie and the Hand Jive”(1958).

As of this writing in February 2015, both Byrnes and Stevens are alive and well.

 

SEA CRUISE – FRANKIE FORD/HUEY “PIANO” SMITH

Called the “New Orleans Dynamo”, Francis Guzzo aka Frankie Ford still tours 200 days a year, even at 75 years old in 2015, despite the fact that he only had one hit song, released in 1959, called “Sea Cruise”.

“Sea Cruise” was originally written and recorded by another New Orleans resident, Huey “Piano” Smith with Bobby Marchan doing vocals. But the record company decided to erase Marchan’s vocals and replace it with Ford’s, then adding some foghorns and bells as an intro.

Ford released only two more singles in 1960, both of which sank into obscurity.

Huey Smith’s piano playing style defined the New Orleans sound of the Fifties, headed by Fats Domino, one of Smith’s biggest influences. Smith began his career touring at age eighteen in the early Fifties with his friend Eddie Jones, otherwise known professionally as “Guitar Slim”. By 1953, Smith had signed to Savoy Records, recording his first single “You Made Me Cry”. Since that single wasn’t a success, he also worked as session musician and played piano for Little Richard and Lloyd Price.

He formed Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns in 1957 and enlisted Marchan to sing lead, achieving gold record status and selling over one million singles with his first hit, the classic “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” remade in 1972 by Johnny Rivers.


Smith’s biggest hit however, was neither “Sea Cruise” nor “Rockin’…”, but a funny song with an irresistibly catchy hook called “Don’t You Just Know It” released in 1958. It made it to Number Nine on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Four on the R&B chart, becoming their second million seller.

“I can’t lose with the stuff I use (Don’t you just know it) Baby, don’t believe I wear two left shoes (Don’t you just know it) Ah ha ha ha (Ah ha ha ha) Ey eh, oh (Ey eh, oh) Gooba, gooba, gooba, gooba (Gooba, gooba, gooba, gooba) Ah ha ha ha (Ah ha ha ha)…” “Don’t You Just Know It” – Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and his Clowns

After that song, Smith spent several years making comebacks in other names and guises. He’s 81 years old, today in 2015.

 

SEA OF LOVE – PHIL PHILLIPS

Philip Batiste from Louisiana, who changed his name to Phil Philips (no relation to Phillip Philllips who won on “American Idol” in 2012) when he embarked on his singing career, is one of those unfortunate musicians who never saw a dime of royalties for his song that has been remade many times. In fact, all he ever received for recording his composition and sole hit “Sea Of Love” was exactly $6800 in 1959, roughly $55,000 in 2015 dollars. An album he recorded to back the single was also never released.

“Because I decided to fight for what was rightfully and legally mine, a full album that I recorded was never released. I’m not being paid, nor have I ever been paid, as an artist for ‘Sea of Love’. I never received justice and to this day have not received justice.” –Phil Phillips

“Sea Of Love” made it to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and Number One on the R&B chart. It was a million seller and received a gold disc. The composition was resurrected in 1984 by Robert Plant when he formed a group after Led Zeppelin broke up called The Honeydrippers. This updated version made it to Number Three that year. Plant’s version eliminated the dated doo-wop background vocals and, along with a laid back guitar solo, added strings to give it a more lush, traditional feel. It worked marvelously.

An excellent suspense thriller called “Sea of Love” was released in 1989 with Al Pacino, John Goodman and Ellen Barkin. The film showcased Phillips’ original recording, as well as a darker interpretation of the song by Tom Waits and released in his 2006 collection, “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards”.

Phillips could have made millions off his own composition what with the amount of times the song has been re-recorded. Waits added his version on his album. Del Shannon recorded a version in 1981, the same year Iggy Pop also recorded it. Besides the movie “Sea Of Love”, it was also showcased in “Juno” (2007) performed by a group called “Cat Power”. It was even in an episode of “The Simpsons” called “Future-Drama” in 2005.

To date, Phil Phillips still hasn’t received any satisfaction for the monies owed him. His last performance of the song was in New Orleans in 2005, a few months before Katrina devastated the city. Despite it all, Phil Phillips is still alive and is 88 years young.

SLEEPWALK – SANTO & JOHNNY

Santo and Johnny Farina are brothers from Brooklyn, New York, who composed an instrumental that has stood the test of time. ”Sleepwalk” is a beautiful, romantic composition and one of the first pop songs to use the electric steel “slide” guitar, a guitar sound first originated by blues great Elmore James and later popularized by George Harrison with the Beatles. The steel guitar gives the instrumental its dreamy quality as the song breezes along. It was Number One in Billboard’s Hot 100 for two weeks in September 1959, earning the duo a gold record.

Santo & Johnny wrote lyrics for their hit but never got around to recording them. Instead, a singer by the name of Betsy Brye released her version that same year with lyrics. The slide guitar in her version is replaced by violins, which is a real shame because even though the melody is gorgeous, it’s the slide guitar that makes it special.

“Sleep talk, cause I miss you I sleep talk, while the memory of you lingers like a song, darling I was so wrong…” “Sleepwalk” as sung by Betsy Brye

A great song usually always inspires other songs. In this case, Sleepwalk” inspired Peter Green when he was with Fleetwood Mac and wrote “Albatross” in 1968 with a similar slide guitar technique.

“Albatross” in turn, inspired the Beatles to write and record “Sun King” for the Abbey Road album in 1969.

There were other major hits in 1959 that I have not mentioned in these 1959 chapters, primarily because I mentioned them in earlier years when these artists first broke out. Hits from 1959 that I’ve showcased and written about in earlier installments include Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” and The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In You Eyes”. Both and many more amazing songs can be found in the 1956 chapters of The History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

 

THE DRIFTERS

The Drifters is one of the few groups in rock ‘n’ roll history that has undergone a record amount of changes in personnel. Since their inception, they’ve had over sixty vocalists under the ‘Drifters’ name, a name that had been owned by their original manager George Treadwell until his death in 1967, and that doesn’t include the splinter groups that came afterwards. In fact, the Drifters have a new line-up even today in 2015 and can easily be found on the Internet by googling the group name.

But to appreciate the best of this classic, groundbreaking group, there are really only four vocalists that will forever be associated to the Drifters’ name: Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore.

 

CLYDE McPHATTER AND THE DRIFTERS

The Drifters were originally a backup group formed to showcase Clyde McPhatter who up until the group’s formation sang lead with Billy Ward and his Dominoes. Despite a steady output of R&B hits, McPhatter was an unknown during his three-year stint with Ward and his Dominoes between 1950 and 1953. He was renamed Clyde Ward to make it seem that he was Billy’s little brother, and was billed that way too, although most everyone assumed he was Billy Ward himself, who, besides having started the group, was actually acting as its pianist and arranger.

Atlantic Records owner Ahmet Ehtergun went to see BV&hisD in 1953 specifically to steal McPhatter away from the group. As they went onstage however, McPhatter was nowhere to be found. He had already decided to leave the group just that evening. Ehtergun, now even more eager to sign him up, went looking for him that same night.

“Ahmet exited Birdland like a shot and headed directly uptown. He raced from bar to bar looking for Clyde and finally found him in a furnished room. That very night, Ahmet reached an agreement with McPhatter under which Clyde would assemble a group of his own. They became known as the Drifters.” – Jerry Wexler, co-owner of Atlantic Records

It’s said the McPhatter chose the name ‘Drifters” for his group and that people at Atlantic Records didn’t like it because it sounded like a country and western band. The explanation given for choosing the name “Drifters” is that band members were to drift in and out of the group, though how anyone would know that was to happen makes the tale of its origin sound a bit tall.

McPhatter had grown up in a Baptist home and gospel was his lifeblood, so it made sense for him to handpick a trio of gospel singers to back him, but after an unsuccessful first day in the recording studio, Ahmet replaced the back up vocalists McPhatter chose with three other gospel singers that would comprise the original Drifters: first tenor Bill Pinkney, second tenor Andrew Thrasher and baritone Gerhart Thrasher. Their very first single was an R&B hit and a song destined to become a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

 

MONEY HONEY – CLYDE McPHATTER AND THE DRIFTERS

Clyde McPhatter’s voice was profoundly influential to many singers of the day. He had a lot to do with the shaping of the doo-wop and R&B genres with his smooth tenor. In “Money Honey”, written by Jesse Stone and released in September of 1953, McPhatter’s voice comes across cool and crisp, and gives us one of the first rock ‘n’ roll screams ever recorded in the middle of the song’s sax solo.

“She screamed and said, ‘What’s wrong with you?, from this day on, our romance is through.’ I said, ‘Tell me, baby, face to face– A-how could another man take my place?’ She said, ‘Money, honey! Money, honey! Money, honey, if you want to get along with me.’” Money Honey – Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters

“Money Honey” stayed on the R&B chart for almost six months, making it to Number One that year. There have been many covers of the song, but the most well known is Elvis Presley’s version off his debut eponymous album in 1956, officially turning it into one of the first rock ‘n’ roll songs ever recorded.

Other artists also covered the song, like Little Richard, The Coasters and The Jackson Five, sung by a twelve year old Michael Jackson.


Lady Ga Ga recorded a song called “Money Honey”, released in 2008 on her debut album, “The Fame”, but despite the same title, is not the Drifters’ song.

 

HONEY LOVE – CLYDE McPHATTER AND THE DRIFTERS

The Drifters’ second R&B Number One and third single was released in 1954. “Honey Love” is an incredibly happy song and popular enough to reach Number 21 in Billboard’s Hot 100 that same year.

“I’m gonna get it, get it in the morning sun, I’m gonna get it, get it when the day is done, I’m gonna get it, get it ’cause it’s so much fun, I’m gonna get me some honey love…” “Honey Love” – Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters

 

WHITE CHRISTMAS – BILL PINKNEY WITH CLYDE McPHATTER AND THE DRIFTERS

Baritone Bill Pinkney traded vocals with tenor McPhatter in this very groovy remake of the classic Irving Berlin tune. It’s hard to escape the irony of listening to a group of African-Americans singing about how they’re dreaming of a white Christmas, but if you can get past that, they truly do a wonderful rendition of the composition that sets it apart from any other version of the song, particularly the famous Bing Crosby recording. It barely made it into Billboard’s Top 100 at Number 80 but was a Top Five R&B hit during Christmas of 1953.

 

SUCH A NIGHT – CLYDE McPHATTER AND THE DRIFTERS

“Such A Night” was the Drifters sixth single. Released in late 1953 and charting in early 1954 right after their version of “White Christmas”, it made it to the Number Two position in the Billboard R&B chart but didn’t enter the pop chart at all because the lyrics were deemed too racy. Comparing today’s explicit song lyrics, what was considered racy in 1954 is so different from 2015 standards that you could listen to the entire song and still be waiting for the racy part, until you realize it’s the implication of what happened on ‘such a night’ that made it risqué.

“Oh, what a night oo-oo what a night, it really was such a night, came the dawn and my heart and her love and the night was gone, but I’ll never forget the kiss, the kiss in the moonlight, oo-oo such a kiss, such a night…” Such a Night – Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters

Johnny Ray, a pre-rock ‘n’ roll pop star whose silly stage antics prefaced future rock ‘n’ rollers in theatrics alone, had a hit with “Such A Night” later that year, and Elvis released it in 1960 with his first album after he left the Army, “Elvis Is Back”.

 

WHAT YA GONNA DO – CLYDE McPHATTER AND THE DRIFTERS

In March 1954, Clyde McPhatter received his draft letter, which was essentially the last nail in his coffin regarding his tenure with the Drifters. He was stationed in Buffalo that year, allowing him time to record a few more songs such as “What Ya Gonna Do”, a fun romp of a song, but his days were already numbered. McPhatter wasn’t too upset about ending his tenure with the Drifters, primarily because he saw himself more as a balladeer than a pop singer.

Talent and fame do not always add up to profitability, as proved by so many renowned blues musicians who never really had a fair share of the profits their music generated. Clyde McPhatter is an example of this, making poor financial decisions during his career. He was never paid much when he sang for Billy Ward and His Dominoes so, rightly enough, demanded more money when he was heading the Drifters and got it, as well as owning half of the “Drifters” name with manager George Treadwell, but when he left the group, he sold his share of the group to Treadwell, a big financial mistake.

McPhatter’s solo career was never as successful as his tenure with the Drifters and after 1962 couldn’t even get a song on the charts anymore due to the public’s changing musical tastes. After enduring a difficult decade and deciding to move to the UK in 1968 because he was so highly revered there, he returned to America two years later and made a living touring in rock ‘n’ roll festivals. On June 13, 1972, just as he was closing g a new record deal with Decca, he died in his sleep due to heart, liver and kidney disease. Clyde McPhatter was 39 years old.

The Drifters went through three lead vocalists after McPhatter’s departure that generated four more Top Ten R&B singles, with four other singles managing to enter the Hot 100, but none of those went past Number 69. The other members of the Drifters also were in a state of flux, as baritone Bill Pinkney got fired for asking for a raise from Treadwell and Andrew Thrasher quit in protest. Indeed, the Drifters were being chronically underpaid by Treadwell, receiving as little as $100 a week even through the Sixties, approximately $750 to $850 in 2015 dollars. During this flux, Johnny Moore was recruited to replace McPhatter as lead singer, and managed to record some songs that did reasonably well in the R&B chart, hovering between Numbers 10 and 11 for each release, but rarely breaking into the Pop Hot 100 and usually hovering below the Fifties. In the end, between monetary disputes and contemptuous dispositions against their manager, Treadwell fired the entire lot of them and started over again, having successfully taken possession of the Drifters’ name. In protest, and feeling that the original lineup was the true Drifters, Pinkney joined the original vocalists, except for McPhatter, and were able to receive legal ownership to the name “The Original Drifters”. Their success however, didn’t match Treadwell’s new Drifters line-up although The Original Drifters, through a slew of line-up changes of their own, recorded and toured, with Pinkney being the constant member throughout, until his death in 2007.

 

BEN E. KING AND THE DRIFTERS

In the summer of 1958, Treadwell approached manager Lover Peterson who represented a group named the Five Crowns. Its lead singer was Benjamin Earl Nelson who went by his stage name Ben E. King. With Peterson’s consent, Treadwell simply changed their name to the Drifters and a new version of the group was born. Besides King being the lead tenor, the new group consisted of Charlie Thomas (tenor), Dock Green (baritone) and Elsbeary Hobbs (bass). The fifth ‘Crown’, James Clark was excluded due to his alcoholism. Despite the fact that the audience they sang to when they toured expected the original Drifters and booed them each time as a result, these new Drifters would be the most popular and successful version of the name, with the very first single they recorded shooting to the top and near top of Billboard’s R&B and Pop charts.

 

THERE GOES MY BABY – THE DRIFTERS

Everyone got in on the writing of this new Drifters debut single. Ben E. King, George Treadwell and Lover Peterson all shared songwriting credit, with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller producing for Atlantic because Ertegun and Wexler at the time had their hands full with their other label artists.

“There Goes My Baby” made it to Number One in Billboard’s R&B chart and climbed to the second position in Billboard’s Hot 100 in the Spring of 1959. It was Ben E. King’s debut as the new Drifters’ lead vocal and a resounding success, as the former group’s highest Pop chart placement was Number 21 five years earlier in 1954. The main difference in the newly formed Drifters’ sound was replacing the ever-present saxophone for violins. Upon the single’s release, many criticized this, because L&B even added Latin percussion to the mix. Atlantic Records co-owner Wexler didn’t like the mix either, claiming the record sounded as if it were a radio station picking up two different broadcasts. But the song worked to perfection and was profoundly influential to the contribution of the early development of soul music. An R&B song never contained strings before, let alone Latin rhythms, and the difference did not go unnoticed, particularly by “insane-in-the –membrane”, mad genius, future record producer Phil Spector, who at the time worked with L&S as their assistant. Another future musical entrepreneur who was listening intently to this new sound was Motown founder Berry Gordy.

The late, great Donna Summer had her second to last Top Forty hit with her own version of “There Goes My Baby” in 1984, peaking at Number 21. Its music video had a 1940s motif for some reason, even though the song was written in 1959, and its instrumentation was electronic, the sound of many Eighties hits, even though it drained all the warmth from the composition. Personally, I’ll stick with the Drifters’ recording.

 

(IF YOU CRY) TRUE LOVE, TRUE LOVE/DANCE WITH ME – THE DRIFTERS

Their next single, also released in 1959, was called “(If You Cry) True Love, True Love” and is written by legendary R&B songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (“Teenager In Love”). It was sung by Johnny Lee Williams, who replaced King on that song because managers Peterson and Treadwell were beginning to fight (King had an exclusive contract with Peterson). The song wasn’t as successful as “TGMB”, sung by King, climbing up to Number 33 Pop and Number Five R&B. It was the single’s B-side “Dance With Me” that got more airplay, making it to Number 15 Pop and Number Two R&B. Both songs were good, but “Dance With me” was a bit more memorable. Once again, both songs put violins to good use.

 

THIS MAGIC MOMENT – THE DRIFTERS

As the decade of the Sixties dawned, the Drifters were hitting their stride. “This Magic Moment”, released in early 1960 and also written by Pomus and Shuman became a favorite for wedding dances around the country. Its romantic, lush strings instrumentation and King’s sweet tenor made for the perfect song representing wedded bliss. It continued the not-so-new-anymore Drifters’ regular visits into the Pop Chart, climbing up to Number 16 and reaching Number Four in the R&B chart.

“Sweeter than wine, softer than the summer night, everything I want I have, whenever I hold you tight… this magic moment, while you lips are close to mine, will last forever… forever ‘til the end of time.” This Magic Moment – The Drifters

Of all rock ‘n’ roll artists, Lou Reed re-recorded “This Magic Moment” in his own unique way, which of course sounds nothing like the Drifters’ version. Released in March 1995 on a Doc Pomus tribute album, it’s showcased in David Lynch’s film, “Lost Highway” (1997) and fits the Lynch’s filmic portrayal of dysfunction. Reed ends the song with a sly tribute to the Drifters’ by adding the lyric “…so save the last dance for me”, referencing another Drifters’ classic.

Other groups who recorded “TMM” include Jay & The Americans in 1969, climbing up to Number Six in Billboard’s Hot 100. Their version is a respectably beautiful rendition, replacing the Drifters’ violins for guitar and adding horns along with background harmonies, as well as a lesser known group, punk rockers The Misfits, who turn the song into a heavy metal onslaught in their album “Project 150” (2003).



SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME – THE DRIFTERS

These new Drifters’ were releasing classic after classic, each one better than the one before, and “Save The Last Dance For Me” has one of the most beautiful melodies in rock ‘n’ roll history. Another Pomus/Shuman composition and Lieber/Stoller production, not only did it reach Number One in both the Pop and R&B charts, it was the first Drifters record to enter the UK’s Top Forty and make it to Number Two. The song was so popular to the mainstream audience, that it was also their first record to have more success on the Pop chart than the R&B chart. It was on top for one week R&B but managed to be Number One for two weeks in a row Pop, then took a brief hiatus before going to Number One again for another week. Doc Pomus’ lyrics are a beautiful sentiment about a man confident enough in himself to allow his girlfriend to dance with whomever she wants because he knows she’s coming home with him. Shuman’s musical accompaniment is transcendent.

“You can dance every dance with the guy who gives you the eye, let him hold you tight. You can smile every smile for the man who held your hand ‘neath the pale moonlight, but don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be, so darlin’, save the last dance for me.” “Save The Last Dance For Me – The Drifters

The origin of the song’s lyrics is bittersweet. Lou Reed, who had worked with Pomus, explained it during an interview on Elvis Costello’s TV show “Spectacle”. Doc Pomus had contracted polio by this time and was confined to crutches. On the day of his wedding, his bride, Broadway dancer Willi Burke, danced with other male guests. As Pomus watched his bride enjoying herself, he took solace in the fact that she was coming home that night and every night thereafter with him.

Other versions of this wonderful song were released by Dolly Parton in 1983 and Michael Buble in 2005, the latter of which gave it a Latin touch.


On May 13, 2014 at an Albany concert, the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, did a really nice thing for a fan in the audience and sang a slow, romantic version of “STLDFM” personally as a special request for someone’s mom, and just like in his 1984 “Dancing In The Dark” video, brought her up onstage.

 

I COUNT THE TEARS – THE DRIFTERS

The feud between George Treadwell and Lover Peterson came to a head by the end of 1960 when Ben E. King asked Treadwell for a raise and a share of the royalties. Just as he did with Pinkney, Treadwell refused. The $100 a week he was receiving was putting a strain on him financially, never having enough money to make ends meet as a result, yet having to tour six days a week and travel hundreds of miles all the time. King’s manager Peterson therefore forbade him to tour with the Drifters anymore as a result and restricted him to just recording the few remaining single he needed to do in order to fulfill his contract. One of these songs was “I Count The Tears”, a middling song that reached Number 17 Pop and Number Six R&B

Treadwell replaced King with “…True Love, True Love” singer Johnny Lee Williams for the tour, but Williams also left the group in the middle of the tour upon hearing of Treadwell’s monetary refusal. That left Charlie Thomas to lip-sync the songs King had recorded whenever they appeared on television.

Ben E. King went on to enjoy a briefly successful solo career soon after and Treadwell had the job once again of forming another version of the group. The best was still yet to come.

 

RUDY LEWIS AND THE DRIFTERS

Despite the fact that Rudy Lewis sang lead for the Drifters’ biggest hits, not many people recognize his name. He was also the first member to join the infamous “27 Club”, rock musicians who died at that age of unnatural causes that includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

Charles Rudolph Harrell, who later changed his name to Rudy Lewis, began his singing career in gospel music, and was with a gospel group called the Clara Ward Singers when he auditioned for George Treadwell when he was looking for Ben E. King’s replacement.

The umpteenth formed Drifters released seven singles between 1961 and 1962 before they finally made it into Billboard’s Pop Top Ten, despite recording songs written by legendary songwriters like Burt Bacharach and the married duo of Carole King and Gerry Goffin of Don Kirshner’s songwriting “factory” located in New York between 49th and 51st Streets and Broadway, represented by the Brill Building. Although those songs did respectably well, charting within the Top Forty, they didn’t represent the best work for any of these amazing talents.

Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman also continued to write for the group such as “Sweets For My Sweet” released in late 1961 and sung by Charlie Thomas. In 1962, the Drifters also added lyrics to Acker Bilk’s “Stranger On The Shore”, a Number One hit instrumental in 1961. The Drifters’ version however only reached Number 73, although the melody is as pretty and sad as the instrumental version.



 

UP ON THE ROOF – THE DRIFTERS

King and Goffin gave it another try and in 1962 wrote a pop classic for the Drifters to sing that became a major hit in early 1963. Carole King even sat in the recording session and played piano.

“From the internal rhyme of ‘stairs’ and ‘cares’ to the image of ascending from the street to the stars by way of an apartment staircase, it’s first-rate, sophisticated writing.” – Rolling Stone Magazine

“Up On The Roof”, a very urban song indicative of New York life, was also a hit in the UK, but a singer named Kenny Lynch beat the Drifters to the punch and released it exactly as they had produced it before the Drifters’ recording made it from the States to the British island.

Many other famous singers recorded this beautiful song such as the Lettermen, Ike and Tina Turner, The Grass Roots, Neil Diamond, Billy Joe Royal and James Taylor. Taylor recorded the song for his 1979 album “Flag” and performed it live many times with his close friend, Carole King.

“When this old world starts getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face— I climb way up to the top of the stairs and all my cares just drift right into space …” Up On The Roof – Carole King/Gerry Goffin


“Up On The Roof” was a Number Five hit on Billboard’s Pop chart and Number Four on the R&B chart. The song was also included in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at Number 113 and is one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

 

ON BROADWAY – THE DRIFTERS
Fellow Brill Building songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, who were good friends with Goffin and King and enjoyed a professional competition with them, had written the Drifters’ next hit, “On Broadway” in collaboration with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller who changed the arrangement.

The song was originally recorded for a group called the Cookies, and was later also recorded by Motown’s girl group the Crystals. Their musical arrangement was totally different from the Drifters’ definitive version and the lyrics were slightly altered. Despite the fact that the Cookies were the first to record it, the Crystals had more success with the tune until the Drifters got a hold of it.


The Drifters got to record the song as a last minute addition, when Lieber and Stoller called Mann and Weil to ask them if they had any songs for the group since they had additional studio time booked. The songwriters forwarded the song to them and L&S changed the arrangement, making it more soulful and turning it into another classic pop hit.

“They say that I won’t last too long on Broadway, I’ll catch a Greyhound bus for home, they all say, but oh, yeah they’re wrong, I know they are, ’cause I can play this here guitar and I won’t quit till I’m a star on Broadway…” On Broadway – Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann

“On Broadway: was another Top Ten hit for the group, climbing up to Number Nine in 1963. Other versions were subsequently recorded by the Coasters, the Dave Clark Five, Bobby Darin, Percy Faith, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Neil Young and George Benson, who took the song up to Number Seven in 1978 and won a Grammy the following year for Best R&B Vocal Performance, and rightfully so because it rivals the Drifters’ version. Benson’s rendition was also showcased in the opening of Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical classic film, “All That Jazz”(1979) with Roy Scheider.

 

UNDER THE BOARDWALK – THE DRIFTERS

After five more single releases where Rudy Lewis alternated as each single’s lead singer with fellow Drifters member Johnny Moore, who had recently returned to join the group in 1963, “Under The Boardwalk” was written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick specifically for Lewis to record. On May 21, 1964, Lewis was found dead in his Harlem hotel room. Police suspected a drug overdose but the fact that he died of asphyxiation and a heart attack led many to believe that he simply choked on food. Lewis’ life was a troubled one however, and his heroin habit, along with a binge eating disorder, were an escape for him as he lived life closeted, hiding his homosexuality from the world. As a result, Johnny Moore recorded the song that day instead. Lewis’ death temporarily brought the number of group members to three.

The song’s location was directly opposite from being up on the roof and its lyrics allude to that as well. Its lyrics are a bit risqué for 1964 as it relates the meeting of a man and woman under a boardwalk to be alone and out of sight as they fall in love.

“Oh, when the sun beats down and burns the tar up on the roof, and your shoes get so hot you wish your tired feet were fire proof, under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah… on a blanket with my baby is where I’ll be…” Under The Boardwalk – The Drifters

Cover versions of the song were recorded by the Beach Boys, Bette Midler, John Mellencamp, Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Joel Royal, Bruce Willis, who made it a Number Two hit in the UK in 1987 and the Rolling Stones, found on their 1964 album “12×5”. “UTB” is also listed as one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at Number 489.

“Under the Boardwalk” was the last Top Ten hit the group ever had. They continued on throughout the Sixties, but the musical spectrum had evolved so much by 1969 that the Drifters were forgotten. In the 1970s, ex band members such as Bill Pinkney reformed the group and toured as a nostalgia band, but it all resulted in lawsuits and appearances in court over who owned the name since George Treadwell had passed away in 1967. Finally, in the 1990’s, the courts ruled that the Drifters name belonged to Treadwell’s widow Faye, who had re-formed her own version of the group with Johnny Moore. Moore however, died at age 64 in 1998 due to respiratory failure. The only surviving original member left from the Fifties configuration was Bill Pinkney, and he continued on with a group calling themselves “The Original Drifters” until his death on July 4, 2007 of a heart attack while staying at the Daytona Beach Hilton in Florida to perform that evening as part of a Fourth of July celebration. He was 81 years old.

As of the writing of this in 2015, Ben E. King, age 76, is still alive.

 

THE END OF A DECADE

And so the 1950s comes to an end chronologically, but not culturally, until two major events that would shake and change the paradigm of the world both occurred on the same day of November 22, 1963.

That day, President John F. Kennedy was shockingly assassinated in plain sight. Also that day, the Beatles released their second UK album called “With The Beatles”. Just a few months later, that album would be repackaged, retitled as “Meet The Beatles” and presented to the American public as the Fab Four’s debut album here, causing a musical and cultural upheaval that is still felt today.

The following songs were the Top Ten hits on the Billboard Pop chart on December 31, 1959:
1) El Paso – Marty Robbins
2) Why – Frankie Avalon
3) The Big Hurt – Errol Fisher
4) Running Bear – Johnny Preston
5) Way Down Yonder in New Orleans – Freddy Cannon
6) Heartaches By The Number – Guy Mitchell
7) It’s Time To Cry – Paul Anka
8) Among My Souvenirs – Connie Francis
9) Pretty Blue Eyes – Steve Lawrence
10) Go Jimmy Go – Jimmy Clanton

It’s easy to see that not one of these artists survived the arrival of the Beatles, except maybe Frankie Avalon and Paul Anka, only because the former resorted to beach movies and the latter continued writing music for others. But this Top Ten didn’t give an inkling to the social upheaval that was about to arrive in just a few years and turn the decade into one that produced the most legendary artists, not just in rock n roll, but in almost every field, from sports to fashion to space exploration to cinema and politics. Only television devolved into a G-rated land that totally ignored the harsh realities of the world, except for a half hour window when the nightly news gave you a glimpse of the Viet Nam War and everything else that was straining the very fabric of society in the world.

Bob Dylan was prophetic when he penned one of his early masterpieces, released on January 4, 1964.

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand, your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly agin’…please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand for the times they are a-changin’…” The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan

 

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