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Throwback Thursday – 1955

Blackboard Jungle hit US theaters on March 25, 1955. The plot concerned the arrival of a new teacher at a violent inner-city school. The producers wanted a theme song that was typical of what a 1955 teenager would listen to. Glenn Ford, who starred in the film alongside Anne Francis and Sidney Poitier, looked through his son’s record collection. In there, the theme song was found.

It was the b-side of a single entitled “Thirteen Women (And the Only Man in Town)” that had been released the prior year. When the song was used under Blackboard Jungle’s opening credits, that flip-side, “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” performed by Bill Haley and His Comets, went to #1 in the US, and is considered to be the first rock and roll song to do so. It became a smash elsewhere in the world, too, becoming the UK’s first million-selling single.

The classic guitar solo on the track was performed by Danny Cedrone, who was not one of Haley’s Comets but a session musician who had worked with the group previously. He got paid $21 for his contribution to the track. Cedrone took a tumble on a stairway and died shortly after the song was recorded, not living to see its success, let alone its iconic status.

Ringo + Bill Haley
Tunes du Jour’s Throwback Thursday playlist this week spotlights the year 1955, kicking off with Bill Haley and His Comets’ “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock.”


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It’s Siouxsie Sioux’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

During the 1980s, Siouxsie and the Banshees, led by Susan “Siouxsie” Ballion, had 15 top 40 singles in the UK, where they formed. In the US, they had 15 fewer hits.

That changed in 1991, thanks to a song about a popular Hollywood actress of the 1950s who died in a car accident in 1967.

Vera Palmer, under her screen name Jayne Mansfield, won the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year in 1957, beating out Natalie Wood. That was the year she appeared in the film Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, based on the Broadway show in which she also starred. She also starred in the hit film The Girl Can’t Help It, which featured appearances from Little Richard, Fats Domino, The Platters, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.

Her career took a turn after these hits, perhaps due to a public backlash against her over-exposure, perhaps due to a decline in popularity of the “blonde bombshell” look, and/or perhaps due to her frequent pregnancies keeping her from accepting roles she was offered.

She did continue to work, however – in films, on television, on stage, and on records. Following a nightclub performance in Biloxi, Mississippi on June 28, 1967, Mansfield was en route to New Orleans where she was scheduled to be part of a radio show the following day. Her car collided with a tractor-trailer, and Mansfield, as well as her boyfriend and the car’s driver, were killed instantly.

The car accident is referenced in the fourth verse of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them for Me,” named after Mansfield’s 1957 film in which she co-starred with Cary Grant.

“Kiss Them for Me” peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100, nine positions higher than its UK peak. It also went to #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart and hit #8 on the Billboard Dance chart.

Today the woman born Susan Ballion turns 59 years old. Tunes du Jour’s weekly dance party kicks off with her ode to the late Jayne Mansfield.


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Throwback Thursday – 1960

“I’ve always been very content when I wrote all those songs. By this I’m saying that a lot of people think you have to live through something before you can write it, and that’s true in some cases, but I remember the times that I was unhappy or discontent, and I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t communicate, and I certainly couldn’t write a song, no way. All the songs I wrote that were successful were written when I was in a contented state of mind.”
– Roy Orbison, NME, 1980

From its title, you’d never know that the guy who wrote “Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel),” was content. Orbison wrote the lyrics to this song while sitting in his car outside his house. Being there by himself inspired the sentiment expressed in the song’s title.

As he had yet to have any hits as a performer, Orbison offered “Only the Lonely” to the Everly Brothers, who by that time (1960) had many hits, including “Claudette,” written by Orbison. Don Everly told Orbison he should record “Only the Lonely” himself.

“Only the Lonely,” written with Joe Melson, became Orbison’s first top 40 single as a performer, reaching #2 on the pop charts in the summer of 1960. He’d go on to have 22 more top 40 singles.

On this Throwback Thursday, Tunes du Jour presents twenty great tracks from 1960, kicking off with Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel),” one of three hits about loneliness to impact the charts that year.


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Throwback Thursday – 1957

Nineteen fifty-seven was a banner year in the nascent days of rock and roll.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets had their first chart hit with “That’ll be the Day,” which hit #1 in September. “Peggy Sue” became their second top ten single before the year was out.

Sun Records, the label that brought us Elvis Presley (among others), released “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” performed by Jerry Lee Lewis. It became Lewis’ first hit single, peaking at #3.

Gospel singer Sam Cooke released his first secular recording on Keen Records. The song was “You Send Me,” and it spent three weeks at #1 in December. Cooke would go on to score 28 more top 40 pop hits.

The Everly Brothers cracked the pop chart for the first time with “Bye Bye Love,” which peaked at #2. Their follow-up single, “Wake Up Little Susie,” went to #1 and stayed there for four weeks.

Chuck Berry, who cracked the pop top ten in 1955 with “Maybellene,” had two more top ten hits in 1957 – “School Day” and “Rock & Roll Music.” He wouldn’t have a #1 single until 1972.

Elvis Presley was at #1 on the pop singles chart for exactly half the year with “All Shook Up,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” and “Too Much.” So his increasing amount of fans wouldn’t be bothersome to his neighbors and to have more security, in 1957 Presley purchased the Graceland mansion in Memphis for $102,500.

Jackie Wilson, formerly a member of Billy Ward and His Dominoes, released his first solo single, “Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want to Meet),” co-written by an up-and-coming songwriter named Berry Gordy, Jr. Though the song only reached #62 on the US pop chart, it went top ten in the UK, earning Gordy enough money to fund the launch of Motown Records. Ultimately, Wilson would have 24 top 40 hits on the US pop chart.

Little Richard, who first cracked the pop chart in 1956 with “Tutti-Frutti,” had three more top 40 hits in 1957 – “Keep a Knockin’,” “Jenny, Jenny” and “Lucille.” The latter hit #1 on the r&b chart, while the other two titles peaked at #2 r&b.

The Coasters teamed up with the production/songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and in doing so, scored with the double-sided hit single “Searchin’” (#3 pop / #1 r&b) and “Young Blood” (#8 pop / #1 r&b). With Lieber and Stoller The Coasters would score several more top ten hits over the next few years.

Also, in 1957, the television program American Bandstand was syndicated nationally. It would air for the next 32 years.

Tunes du Jour’s Throwback Thursday playlist this week focuses on the great music of 1957.


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Ruth Brown And 1950s Rhythm And Blues

So successful was Ruth Brown in the 1950s that her label, Atlantic Records, which started in 1947, was nicknamed The House the Ruth Built.

Her first single for the label, “So Long,” reached #4 on the Rhythm & Blues chart in 1949. Her next hit, “Teardrops from My Eyes,” spent 11 weeks at #1 on that chart. She earned the nickname the Queen of R&B, and over the next ten years scored an additional nineteen r&b top ten singles, including four more number ones. In total she spent thirty-two weeks at #1 on the r&b singles chart. In 1953, Brown crossed over to the pop top 40 with “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”

In the 1960s Brown focused on her family life. She returned to music the following decade, and added acting gigs to her resume. In 1979 she was a regular character on the sitcom Hello, Larry, and she famously portrayed Motormouth Maybelle in the original 1988 movie version of Hairspray, a role which had echoes of her life performing at segregated dances in the sixties. She won the 1989 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance in the Broadway show Black and Blue. Her companion album, Blues on Broadway, won Brown the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance, Female.

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Brown was also influential in the creation of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, founded in 1988. Per the nonprofit’s mission statement, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation is “dedicated to the historical and cultural preservation of Rhythm & Blues music and recognition of participants in its community by providing services and programs to Rhythm & Blues artists and their fans.”

In 1993, Ruth Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She died in 2006 from complications resulting from a heart attack and stroke.

Inspired by Ruth Brown, who was born on January 12*, 1928, today’s playlist presents twenty of the best rhythm and blues recordings from the 1950s.


(*I initially prepared this entry to be posted on January 12. However, once I was about to post it, I read in a few places that the information I had was incorrect, and that Brown’s birth date was January 30, so I saved it for today. Just after I finished re-editing it this afternoon, I looked on Wikipedia and see they (now) list her birthday as January 12, which some other sites confirmed.)

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Throwback Thursday – 1956

Our playlist on this Throwback Thursday focuses on 1956. Rock and roll was in its infancy and many architects of the new style of music were making their marks. Enjoy this collection of classics.


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Let’s Twist!

Ringo + Chubby
On January 13, 1962, Chubby Checker returned to #1 with “The Twist,” a record he previously took to #1 in September of 1960, making it the only record to hit #1 in two separate chart runs.

The song was originally recorded and released in 1959 by its writer, Hank Ballard, and his band, The Midnighters, as the b-side to their single “Teardrops on Your Letter.” A Baltimore DJ named Buddy Deane played “The Twist” on his television dance party program and got a good response. He told Dick Clark, host of American Bandstand about the tune.

Depending on what account you read, Ballard was unavailable to appear on American Bandstand or Clark was wary of Ballard, who previously hit with such lascivious songs as “Work with Me, Annie” and “Sexy Ways.” Either way, Clark had Chubby Checker (born Earnest Evans; his stage name was a take-off on popular singer Fats Domino) record “The Twist.”

Checker’s version is an extremely faithful cover of the Ballard recording. It is difficult to tell them apart; even Ballard thought the Checker recording was his!

In its 1960 release, Chubby Checker’s record launched a national dance craze. On the second release of the Chubby Checker version, “The Twist” became a worldwide phenomenon. Other twist hits included “Slow Twistin’,” “Dear Lady Twist,” “Twist, Twist Señora,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Percolator (Twist),” “Soul Twist,” “Twist and Shout,” “Hey, Let’s Twist,” “Twistin’ Matilda (and the Channel),” “Twist-Her,” “Bristol Twistin’ Annie,” “Twistin’ Postman” and The Chipmunks’ “The Alvin Twist” – and that was just in 1962!

Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” spent one week at #1 in 1960 and two more weeks at #1 in 1962 before it was knocked from the top by…”The Peppermint Twist,” by Joey Dee & the Starlighters.

Here are twenty twistin’ favorites.

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Neil Young’s Homophobia and AIDS-phobia

“You go to a supermarket and you see a faggot behind the fuckin’ cash register, you don’t want him to handle your potatoes.” – Neil Young in Melody Maker, September 1985

It sucks when anybody makes an ignorant and offensive statement, particularly when it’s somebody the public eye. For this post I‘ll focus on homophobia (and related AIDS-phobia).

It sucks when Pat Boone says children are being “indoctrinated with an appreciation for homosexuality,” but that didn’t hurt me too much as Pat Boone is a talentless has-been who built his career on taking songs recorded by Little Richard and Fats Domino and making them safe for uptight white folks. I wasn’t his target audience (notwithstanding that I wasn’t born yet when he rose to fame).

It sucks when Donny Osmond says he condemns homophobia and opposes gay marriage, but at least he’s (inadvertently) condemning himself, thereby saving me the trouble. Also, he’s marginally more talented and slightly less of a has-been than Pat Boone, and while I love “Morning Side of the Mountain,” if someone told me I had to delete all Osmonds recordings from my iTunes library, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

It sucks that Eminem’s new song has the lyric “Happy as Anderson Cooper having a tuba crammed in his pooper.” It’s not so much that it’s homophobic per se. It’s that a 42-year-old feels he has to resort to such juvenilia to feel relevant and not see his career go the way of Pat Boone and Donny Osmond. He doesn’t need to stoop to this. He still sells truckloads of records, despite having made only one or two good singles in the past decade. He could probably keep coasting for a while. And seriously, a tuba? That doesn’t even rhyme.

It sucks that The Beastie Boys wanted to title their first album Don’t Be a Faggot, with a couple of song lyrics that were interpreted as homophobic. However, in 1999 the trio’s Ad-Rock sent a letter to Time Out New York that read “I would like to … formally apologize to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record, 1986′s Licensed to Ill. There are no excuses. But time has healed our stupidity. … We hope that you’ll accept this long overdue apology.”

It’s odd that director Jonathan Demme reached out to Neil Young to compose and record a theme song for his 1993 film Philadelphia. Demme told The Toledo Blade that the film was “intended to reach an audience in desperate need of sensitization on the issue of homophobia. We thought how the right movie could help young males – the most rigid of all – open up to the humanity and courage of gay people. So I had this idea that I would start it off with a giant Neil Young guitar anthem and it would relax all the young uptight homophobic guys.” So he asked a guy who thought AIDS was spread via potatoes touched by faggots. Young recorded a song for the film, and while it wasn’t the anthem Demme was expecting (Bruce Springsteen ended up providing that), it fit the film well and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which it lost to Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”

I don’t recall Neil Young ever apologizing for his boneheaded homophobic and AIDS-phobic remarks; however, I don’t recall him making similar statements since the mid-eighties, and that may be better than an apology.

In his 2002 biography of Neil Young, Shakey, Jimmy McDonough writes “I had found out that Young was planning on donating the proceeds from the ‘Philadelphia’ track to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis center. He acknowledged it was true but didn’t seem anxious to publicize the fact. I got the feeling there were other chartable acts I didn’t know about. ‘I’m not trying to score any social points,’ he said.”

Today Neil Young turns 69 years old. Here are twenty career highlights. (NOTE – “Philadelphia” is not on Spotify.)

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A Change Is Gonna Come If You Make It So

A company I worked for – I won’t say which one – has an amazing catalogue of rhythm & blues music, arguably the best r&b catalogue of any record label. Despite possessing this goldmine, most of our catalogue releases were from white rock bands. I asked a member of senior management why we didn’t do more with our black artists, and the answer I got was “We don’t know how to sell that music.”

Is that not a stupid response? If you don’t know how to do that, hire someone who has that expertise, or learn how to do it. Why ignore a large swath of your potential market, especially when you already own the assets?

Years ago I was put in charge of licensing at a record label. I knew the music and I knew the components of licensing deals; however, I wasn’t a very good negotiator. I found the process intimidating. I could have left it at that – “I don’t know how to negotiate.” My company would have made money nonetheless, though not at its full potential. For that matter, I wouldn’t be working at full potential.

I took a course in negotiations. Six weeks, $300. Money well spent. I put what I learned in the class into action. Practice makes perfect, and I became an excellent negotiator. In my four years at that company our licensing revenue increased 400%. My skills also led to my next job as the Vice President of Licensing at another company.

Is a lack of some skill or knowledge holding you back? Fix that. Read a book, attend a seminar, take an on-line course or find a mentor. Saying “I don’t know how” won’t lead to success; learning how will.

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Today is the last day of Black Music Month. It would be ludicrous to think a 40-song playlist would cover black music in any comprehensive way. Enjoy it for what it is – nearly three hours of fantastic music. Listen to it while you research how to learn a new skill.

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George, Johnny and Fats

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I screwed up.

I lost track of what day it was and in doing so missed posting about George Harrison’s birthday, which was yesterday.

The Beatles are my favorite recoding act of all-time, and if I had to rank the group’s members in order, George would make the top four (no disrespect to Pete Best).

I’d been thinking about what to post for George’s birthday for a couple of weeks. His recordings are not on Spotify, the program I use to create the playlists in each blog entry. I couldn’t find any worthwhile vintage performance clips of George on YouTube. I could post the music video for “Got My Mind Set on You,” but that track is hardly representative of the man’s genius. I was leaning toward creating a playlist of great covers of George’s songs, but what I came up with before abandoning that idea was an unremarkable collection that would not serve as a fitting tribute.

I love so many of his songs – “My Sweet Lord,” “Handle With Care” (Traveling Wilburys), “The Inner Light” (The Beatles), “What Is Life,” “All Those Years Ago,” “It Don’t Come Easy” (written by George and Ringo Starr, recorded by Ringo), “Something” (The Beatles), “Here Comes the Sun” (The Beatles), “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (The Beatles), “If Not For You,” and “When We Was Fab” at the forefront, though my favorite of George’s solo recordings is “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” In his autobiography George wrote “This song is a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it.” The Lord and I aren’t on speaking terms; however, I love the song’s message. I’m a sucker for songs espousing love for all. “Put a Little Love in Your Heart?” Yes! “Love Train?” Hell, yeah! The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?” Sure, even though it includes the lyric “to discriminate only generates hate / And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah / Badness is what you demonstrate.” And then you won’t be able to meet a mate named Nate / You won’t even get a date / To gain weight will be your fate / You won’t make it through the gate and then you’ll be late / That isn’t great.” And that’s why I adore George’s “Give Me Love.”

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Today marks the birthday of two other all-time favorites of mine – Johnny Cash and Fats Domino. I’ve created a playlist for each of them.

The Johnny Cash playlist kicks off with his 1963 hit “Ring of Fire.” The writing of the song is credited to June Carter, who married Johnny in 1968, and Merle Kilgore. Though initially recorded by Carter’s sister Anita, Carter said the song was inspired by Cash, who at that time was her friend and singing partner. Though not romantically-involved, she was drawn to him against her better judgment, despite his drug use. Per June, there is “no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns.”

Cash’s wife at that time, Vivian Liberto, claimed that June had nothing to do with writing that song. Per Liberto, Johnny wrote it “while pilled up and drunk” and it’s not about the love June described, but rather it’s “about a certain private female body part,” which provides a much different image to accompany the line “I went down, down, down.” I’m not an expert on this body part to which Liberto refers, but if it burns, burns, burns, you should probably have it checked out by a professional. Anyway, Liberto said Cash gave Carter the writing credit because she needed the money.

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Our Fats Domino playlist kicks off with one of Richie Cunningham’s favorites, “Blueberry Hill.” Though Domino wrote many of his hits, this one was written by Vincent Rose, Larry Stock and Al Lewis (not the Grandpa Munster Al Lewis) in 1940.

Domino recorded this song at a session after he ran out of material. His long-time producer, Dave Bartholomew, was against doing the song, perhaps because all of Fat’s hits up to that point had been original compositions. Domino’s version hit #2 in 1957 and has become one of his most recognizable recordings.

Some other facts about Fats: In the fifties he sold more records than any other rock & roll artist except Elvis Presley; he’s had 35 US top 40 pop hits; his song “The Fat Man,” from 1949, is considered by many to be the first rock and roll record; today he turns 86.


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