Monday, September 27, 2010

It Worked for Peaches and Herb

While looking up something related to Joe's last post over the weekend, I discovered something that I found fascinating: In the singing duo James and Bobby Purify, who delivered the sumptuous 1966 hit "I'm Your Puppet," produced and co-written (with Spooner Oldham) by Dan Penn, there were actually two different Bobby Purifys. Neither of them was actually named Bobby Purify.

James Purify was a real dude, who formed a group with his cousin Robert Lee Dickey in the mid-1960s. Dickey took the stage name Bobby Purify, and in September 1966, the two of them recorded "I'm Your Puppet" and took it to Number Six on the Billboard Charts. Shortly thereafter, though, Dickey began to have health problems, and in 1971 another singer, Ben Moore, took over as the new Bobby Purify.

For reasons unknown to me, the new James and Bobby Purify recorded a new version of "I'm Your Puppet" in the 1970s, and that take went to Number Twelve in the U.K. in 1976. So here you had the rare case of James and Bobby Purify having a hit with "I'm Your Puppet" in two different countries - except that neither the record nor even the James and Bobby Purify were the same.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Electric Sitar (bonus cuts)

Here's another thing about "Cry Like a Baby" and "Hooked on a Feeling": both were produced by Chips Moman, the Memphis musician who founded American Studios after he split from Stax. He pretty much defined the collision of pop and soul: American is where "Dusty in Memphis" was recorded, and Chips is the man behind "From Elvis in Memphis" and "Suspicious Minds," which has to be the best mash-up of deep-fried beats and rococo melody ever. At American, Moman recorded everyone from Dionne Warwick and Neil Diamond to Wilson Pickett and Joe Tex. Did Herbie Mann record there? Yes, he did. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

Moman was at Stax at the very start, in 1957 when it was still in a garage and called Satellite Records (because it was the year of Sputnik and satellites were big), and he was at Muscle Shoals at the start as well. But I've barely ever read a thing about him. In Peter Guarlnick's "Sweet Soul Music," he turns up mostly in stories narrated by his songwriting partner Dan Penn (they wrote "Dark End of the Street" together -- this guy has a lot of claims to fame, which, come to think of it, was the name of the Muscle Shoals recording studio: Fame Studios). Before he moved to Memphis, Moman put in studio time at Gold Star in LA, home to Phil Spector and later the Beach Boys. (You could argue that Moman's masterstroke was blending the layering and sweetness of LA recording with the gut bucket immediacy of Memphis -- or you could listen to Elvis' "Stranger in My Own Home Town," which makes the argument itself. Schmaltz funk! And also: electric sitar.) In the '70s, Moman founded a studio in Atlanta (didn't take) before moving to Nashville. His career maps a huge portion of the sound of American pop.

About the electric sitar: As mentioned, it turns up on the Elvis American Studio recordings. Moman clearly loved it. I suspect its appeal (besides the fact that, like satellites in 1957, it was new) was the way it updated and brightened the mournful slide of pedal steel guitar. Also it sounded freakin' cool. You can hear it on "Eyes of a New York Woman," the B.J. Thomas single that preceded "Hooked on a Feeling." (Thomas has a surprising number of great singles -- don't even get me started on "Rock & Roll Lullabye" -- but I'll leave it to to Tom to tell us more about him, which I hope he will.)

Friday, September 24, 2010


In several late-Sixties hits, such as the Box Tops "Cry Like a Baby" and B.J. Thomas' "Hooked on a Feeling," there's a deep, twangy sound running through the song. At first I thought this was simply a regular electric bass played way down at the end of the neck, but there's a distinctly separate bass line on "Hooked on a Feeling," so I figured that wasn't it. I was planning to ask if anyone knew what that instrument was, but but a few seconds on the Internet reveals that it's really an electric sitar, and leaves us with nothing to talk about. Google is ruining this blog.

You don't really hear much electric sitar anymore, do you? It's on Lenny Kravitz' "It Ain't Over Till It's Over," which I had completely forgotten about: The sitar fills come in about two-thirds of the way through the song. Wikipedia also claims it's on Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love," which I assume is a joke.

I also see that it was featured on MGMT's career-killing album Congratulations. I wouldn't know about that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Distaff Half

A couple of weeks ago, I was tagged with a Facebook meme asking me to take 15 minutes to list 15 albums that would always stay with me. My friend Louisa McCune saw some value in my list and was gracious enough to point it out to her own friends. One of Louisa's friends then pointed out that it was "sad" that I hadn't listed any female-oriented acts.

I had noticed that myself, and it was kind of sad. I almost wrote down Bettie Serveert's Palomine as I was finishing up, but then I remembered that I had been listening to an awful lot of Leonard Cohen lately and really ought to include something by him, and Bettie Serveert went by the wayside. In my defense, if it had been 15 Singles in 15 Minutes, "Ode to Billie Joe," "You're So Vain" and "Both Sides Now" would have been near the top, although I don't necessarily attach those songs to a specific album.

But that's not much of a defense: Women make a lot of great records. I could have made an entire list of 15 albums that were strongly estrogen-influenced. So I thought, why not? Here's the other half of my Facebook list:

Bettie Serveert, Palomine

Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark

PJ Harvey, Dry

Ella Fitzgerald, Best of the Songbooks

The Breeders, Last Splash

Back to Mono
, a Phil Spector box set featuring the best of the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Darlene Love, among many others

Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock

Silversun Pickups, Swoon

The Carter Family, Wildwood Flower

Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis

Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

Pizzicato Five, Made in USA

The Pretenders, The Pretenders

Dionne Warwick, The Dionne Warwick Collection

Throwing Muses, The Real Ramona

Monday, September 13, 2010

Old Brown Shoe

Speaking of Jeff Goldblum, my tour through the scuzziest early-1970s New York City movies continued last week with Death Wish, which I believe was originally released under the title Scuzzfest '74. Jeff Goldblum made his screen debut here, as one of the thugs who invades Charles Bronson's apartment in the opening sequence. The most alarming thing about his appearance is not that he [SPOILER ALERT] kicks and slashes and beats poor Hope Lange to death, but that he does so while wearing a full-on Jughead cap. This is apparently what the chic mugger was wearing in 1974. I half-expected Goldblum (pictured at right) to whip out some sticks and give us a little "Sugar Sugar."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Potent Potables

I filled my free time over the past few days, for reasons I really couldn't explain, by watching every episode of Saturday Night Live's Celebrity Jeopardy, which you can see here. Here's what I found:

Best impression by a cast member: Jimmy Fallon as a manically unfunny Robin Williams.

Worst impression by a cast member: Darrell Hammond as John Travolta. How can you do John Travolta and make him unrecognizable?

Best impression by a host: David Duchovny as Jeff Goldblum. This is my favorite kind of impression, of someone you wouldn't even think would be worth doing, but Duchovny made you know instantly who he was.

Worst impression by a host: Lucy Liu as Catherinze Zeta-Jones. She couldn't even keep a British accent going over the course of a six-and-a-half-minute sketch.

Best celebrity walk-on: Tom Hanks being a really good sport as himself.

Worst celebrity walk-on: Alex Trebek, who basically just walked out on stage, said a couple of unfunny things to Will Ferrell, and ended the sketch. You can see how, if Trebek volunteered to make an appearance, the producers would feel like they had to jump on it, but it was utterly pointless. What could it possibly mean in the SNL Celebrity Jeopardy universe to have two Alex Trebeks onstage? It just doesn't work. Here's a much better idea: Make Trebek a contestant.