Inspired by the season and the December 1 birthdays of Bette Midler, Janelle Monae, Basement Jaxx’s Simon Ratcliff, Lou Rawls, Richard Pryor, Billy Paul, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Mary Martin, Woody Allen, Treat Williams, Sarah Silverman, Julee Cruise, Jonathan Coulton and Matt Monro.
Today is the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States of America. You’re officially allowed to start listening to holiday music now. To get you started, I compiled a playlist of what I consider to be 100 of the best Christmas songs. Okay, 98 songs, a stand-up routine and a skit. It’s a mix of standards, versions of standards with which you may not be familiar, and obscure but delightful tunes.
On March 28, 1958, 19-year-old Eddie Cochran recorded a song he co-wrote with his manager, Jerry Capeheart, called “Summertime Blues.” It was intended to be the b-side of a single whose a-side, “Love Again,” was written by 17-year-old Sharon Steely, who soon became Cochran’s girlfriend. Liberty Records released the 45 with “Summertime Blues” as the a-side. Five months after he recorded it, Cochran had his first U.S. top ten single. In the fall of 1958, the record became a hit in England.
Besides singing and co-writing the song, Cochran produced it. His talents didn’t stop there. He could play piano, drums, bass and guitar, the latter of which he played on records by two dozen other acts.
Cochran’s popularity overseas led to a hugely successful tour of England in the spring of 1960, culminating on April 16 with a performance at the Hippodrome Theater in Bristol. On his way to the airport after the show, Cochran got into a cab with Steely, who was now his fiancée, his tour manager, Patrick Thompkins, and fellow performer Gene Vincent. The taxi driver was speeding on a dark and winding street. The car blew a tire and the driver lost control of the vehicle, crashing it into a lamppost. Cochran put himself over his fiancée to protect her and ended up being thrown from the car. Suffering a severe head injury, he was brought to the hospital. The following afternoon he was pronounced dead. He was just 21 years old.
Eddie Cochran’s time with us was far too short, but his legacy lives on. “Summertime Blues” is an undeniable rock and roll classic, covered by many artists of different genres, including The Who, Alan Jackson, Blue Cheer, The Beach Boys, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Olivia Newton-John. Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” was later recorded by Sex Pistols, and his “Twenty Flight Rock” was played by a teenage Paul McCartney at his audition for a teenage John Lennon to let McCartney join Lennon’s band, The Quarreymen.
Today is Throwback Thursday, and Tunes du Jour revisits some of the hits of 1958, kicking off with Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.”
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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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“Der Fuehrer’s Face” was the first hit song for Spike Jones and His City Slickers, a pre-rock & roll Ylvis. The wacky recording, on which Hitler gets razzed, was written for an Academy Award-winning Walt Disney cartoon originally entitled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land. The song hit #3 on the pop charts in 1942.
I was introduced to the song by Dr. Demento, whose radio show initially existed to present rare old recordings, but morphed into a showcase for novelty records after listeners requested such tunes repeatedly.
Jones’ orchestra is best-remembered for their Christmas evergreen “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” written by an elementary school teacher named Donald Gardner, who upon asking his students what they want for Christmas noticed that most of them were missing teeth.
Jones, who passed away in 1965, was born on this day in 1911.Today’s playlist is inspired by him and includes other songs that were popular on The Dr. Demento Show with some stand-up comedy thrown in.