Rockin’ Christmas Albums

The Ventures' Christmas Album album cover   Fuzz For The Holidays (CD, Album) album cover Image result for los straitjackets complete christmas songbook Image result for socks jd mcpherson Image result for brian setzer dig that crazy santa claus

Well here we are once again near the end of a year getting ready to make what for many is that annual pilgrimage to church.  We will once again all be harkening to some angels named Harold plus musing on what heavenly peas are and why we need to sleep in them.  Those tunes remind us of childhood or other hopefully fond memories (though we can usually only remember the first verse).  Perhaps for that reason it seems like every rock and roller be they Christian, agnostic or even Jewish (Bob Dylan!?) have attempted at least one Christmas song.  The more adventuresome will sled through a whole album (usually recorded in the heat of summer).  Christmas records may not sell a lot of copies in any given year, but often have long lives as they get trotted out every December.  2018 sees another fruitcake load of long players in the stores including new ones from Eric Clapton and Captain Kirk himself – William Shatner!?  Some artists stay with mostly the classics on their Christmas albums while others get crazy and try to write their own.  The fact that pretty much none of the newly written songs ever are catchy enough to remember beyond the first year gives credence to how difficult it is to write a classic such as “Jingle Bells” – let alone a neo classic like John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.  You are encouraged to click on the November 2016 link of my site to check out my 20 fave rockin’ Christmas songs thus gaining some understanding of the mind of a pasty white aging rock and roller.  I freely admit that while I love the classics by folks like Andy Williams, I do enjoy amped up rockers even more or at least non-traditional releases so that is the conceit behind this new list (the order is fluid).  I talked to my friend DC in D.C. and he chimed in that he is still a traditionalist: Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song, Perry Como – I Wish it Could Be Christmas Forever, Christmas with Bing, Johnny Mathis – Merry Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas.  No doubt all good choices, but we are gonna switch things up a bit on my list (anybody wishing to chime in with their vote, I encourage feedback).  I encourage you to visit your local CD shop and purchase a few of these goodies.

Image result for rudolph the red-nosed reindeer cd

Let us start out by saying that my fave Christmas album of all-time isn’t rock and roll at all so didn’t make the list but needs to be acknowledged.  This album involves an elf that wants to be a Dentist (natch), a Bumble, Yukon Cornelius, a lovable snowman and of course a reindeer with a red nose.  The album is the soundtrack to the 1964 TV classic hosted by Burl Ives – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.  “Silver & Gold”, “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “We’re A Couple Of Misfits” – every (Medicare) card carrying boomer can sing them all.

1.The Ventures – Christmas Album

The Ventures have been hands down the greatest and most prolific instrumental combo of the rock era (over 60 studio albums) so it was natural that they would tackle a Christmas LP.  Back in 1965 they issued this 12 track goodie on the Dolton label.  Somewhere along the way they got the bright idea to interpolate a rock and roll classic riff with a Christmas song so for instance we get the Beatles’ “I Feel Feel” intro grafted onto “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  The Searchers’ “When You Walk In The Room”  starts “Blue Christmas” while “Wooly Bully” begins “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”.  Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, Mel Taylor and Don Wilson finally made it in to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2008.  Don’t confuse this with their decent 2002 album Christmas Joy.

2.Ringo Starr – I Wanna Be Santa Claus

The ex-Beatle drummer has been a prolific solo artist with this 1999 Christmas album being his 12th of 19 studio releases (as of 2018).  Since his early hits when he collaborated with his former fab mates, by far his best albums were the ones he did with Mark Hudson who brought a bright Beatles feel to the sound.  My biggest gripe with many of the other solo Fabs releases is they seem to want to ignore the Mersey style sound that made them successful.  Ringo’s drumming is particularly prominent on this album coming to the fore on a fun version of “Little Drummer Boy” and a stompin’ glitter-beat track – “Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On”.  Ringo owes a great debt to Hudson for putting the fun back into his music.

Image result for billboard rock n roll christmas

3.Billboard Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas

This is a 1994 Rhino records ten track compilation that includes three of my top ten fave rockin’ Christmas songs by Foghat, The Kinks and Dave Edmunds.  As of this writing, I note that a national online sales site has a copy for 1.79 plus shipping which has to be a great deal –  or find it locally at some CD emporium.  Canned Heat, Cheech & Chong, Queen – you can’t go wrong.

4.The Mavericks – Hey! Merry Christmas!

So I picked up two new Christmas CDs in the past week and both are already in my top holiday music list including this fine groover from one of my fave bands – The Mavericks.  I love a band that really doesn’t fit into a neat category and that describes these brujos.  Are they country, tex-mex, rock – who knows?  They are simply good which unfortunately usually means struggling now-a-days – so buy their music, folks!  Most of the songs are originals and go from rock (“Christmas Time Is [Coming ‘Round Again]”) to ballads (“I Have Wanted You For Christmas”).  They do a great version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” which was sung by Darlene Love on the Phil Spector Christmas album (and no that one didn’t make my list).

5.Davie Allan & The Arrows – Fuzz For The Holidays

Fuzz-tone guitar, cheesy organ, “Wipeout” drums – what’s not to like?!  Back in the ’60s Mr. Allan used his fuzz-box for evil making nasty instros with his band The Arrows to accompany biker movies from American International Pictures – “Blue’s Theme”, “Devil’s Angels”, “Theme From The Wild Angels” – all great.  When music got all soft and singer/songwriter then disco flash, nobody wanted trashy guitars.  Thankfully America came to its senses and Allan found a new cult following ultimately leading to his turning his fuzz-box back on and using it for good to cut this excellent album of Christmas chestnuts (he didn’t just roast them – he incinerated them).  Check out “Winter Wonderland” and the grafting of the James Bond theme to “Hark” The Herald Angels Sing”.  After this 2004 original he recorded volume 2 a few years later which is also good.

6.The Smithereens – Christmas With…

Back in 2007, the brand of hard-edged guitar rock taken into the charts by these guys in the late ’80s/early ’90s  wasn’t selling well. The Smithereens turned to the holiday album solution and came up with a 12 track winner that included some nice left-field covers like “Merry Christmas, Baby” (the Beach Boys) and “Christmas” (the Who).  Their version of the old Brenda Lee classic “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” made my top songs list back in 2016.  Their usual lead singer Pat DiNizio passed away in mid-December 2017, but the rest of the band has been soldiering on with Marshall Crenshaw singing.

7.J.D. McPherson – Socks-A Christmas Album By…

This is the other new CD of Christmas tunes to hit my collection and after a few more spins could end up moving up on my top list.  McPherson and his band are the real deal if you like authentic R&B/Rockabilly in the vein of Chuck Berry/Bill Haley.  His band is amazing and put on a great show so be sure to see them in some sweaty club when they hit your town.  The album doesn’t feel like a Christmas record so much as a rock and roll record that happens to have a holiday theme.  “Hey Skinny Santa”, “Holly, Carol, Candy & Joy”, “Santa’s Got A Mean Machine” – all rock like you would hope, but the slow ones like “Socks” are great too.

It's Christmas: 18 Original Christmas Hits

8.It’s Christmas

Being a U.K. import on the EMI label, this 1989 compilation is skewed heavily towards the kind of songs I love that inexplicably never made it here in the U.S.  I’m talking about classics like Roy Wood’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” and Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone”.  Five of these songs made my 2016 list including Greg Lake (“I Believe In Father Christmas”), Elton John (“Step Into Christmas”) and John & Yoko (“Happy Xmas [War Is Over]”).   Once again, I note that the major online sale site has copies for sale starting at 1.71 plus shipping.

9.Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone

Oh man, talk about a crime against rock and roll – Shakin’ Stevens has charted over 30 classic ’50s style rockers in the U.K. yet is totally unknown in the U.S.  Sometimes I think I should have been born a Brit – Slade, Dave Edmunds and of course Shakey.  Back in 1991 He released this 12 song holiday album with his take on mostly originals such as the Elvis-like “Sure Won’t Seem Like Christmas” and rockers like “The Best Christmas Of Them All”.  Production on the title track was by Dave Edmunds while the rest were helmed by John David and included the late great Micky Gee on guitar (both from Edmunds’ band).

10.Jethro Tull – Christmas Album

Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull had over the years performed songs with a holiday theme (“A Christmas Song”, “Ring Out Solstice Bells”) so it wasn’t totally unexpected when this album came out in 2003.  Tull remakes those two songs here (plus “Jack Frost & The Hooded Crow” and “Bouree”) while tackling a few new songs.  For me, it is the flute-led instrumentals of classics like “Greensleeves” and the mix of two songs in “Holly Herald” that are the stand-outs.  With Anderson’s falling out with guitarist Martin Barre this may be the last time they put out new music.

11.The Rubber Band – Xmas! The Beatmas

There is a whole world-wide cottage industry that exists of Beatle cover bands.  The Rubber Band is a Danish Fab Four cover act that released this beat themed Christmas record in 1996.  Each classic old Christmas song is given an arrangement that mimics a Beatles song such as “I Saw Her Standing There” wrapping around “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”.  “Love Me Do” mixes with “Jingle Bells” while “Ticket To Ride” meshes with “White Christmas” also.

12.Blackmore’s Night – Winter Carols

While I am a sucker for this kind of music (Celtic instruments in a bit of a rock context), I am not a fan of the female singer’s overly earnest vocal style.  Guitarist Richie Blackmore late of Deep Purple and Rainbow came up with a winning concept with this band, however I wish he would record an album of just instrumentals.  The other song I like a lot on this 2006 album is “Lord Of The Dance/Simple Gifts”.

13.Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Christmas Trilogy

I was struggling with how to place each of the three Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums in this list and then I discovered that they have all been released in one three CD/one DVD set so problem solved.  Back in 1996 three members of hard rock band Savatage Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel and Al Pitrelli along with their producer the late Paul O’Neill founded T.S.O. which has been a holiday juggernaut over the years.  Their first album Christmas Eve And Other Stories (1996) built off of the Savatage instrumental “Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24” pointing the way to heavy guitar based classical sounding instrumental songs and bombastic rock opera vocal tracks (they remind me of Meatloaf). Their next two holiday records The Christmas Attic (1998) and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004) have continued in the rock opera tradition (though I admit I don’t understand the stories – I just listen to the music).

14.The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Dig That Crazy Christmas

When Setzer’s band The Stray Cats was winding down, he managed to recharge his career with a horn driven swing band.  The Brian Setzer Orchestra released two studio albums of Christmas music mixing jivin’ swing and classics.  I far prefer his second holiday album that was released originally in 2005.  You can buy a best-of collection but then you would miss out on one of my fave tracks by Setzer, the original rockabilly with horns workout on “Hey Santa!”  My other fave track here is his great instro version of “Angels We Have Heard On High”.

15.Christmas With The Kranks music from the motion picture

Little Steven from the E Street Band has some great taste when it comes to alternative type music that is in my wheelhouse (’60s garage rock, Merseybeat).  It is no surprise that the soundtrack to this 2004 movie is loaded with cool songs since Mr. Van Zant produced it.  There are nifty Beatlish takes on “White Christmas” by Tina Sugandh and “Joy To The World” by the Butties.  You can also rock to The Chesterfield Kings (“Hey Santa Claus”) and the Ramones (“Merry Christmas [I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight]”).  I have to admit, however, that I have never seen the movie and likely never will unless someone can tell me why I should.

16.Los Straitjackets – Complete Christmas Songbook

For the 2018 season, Yep Roc records combined all the Christmas music done over the years by my favorite modern instrumental rock band into one handy 27 track CD package.  Their 2002 release ‘Tis The Season For…. had the lion’s share of the best tunes here, but the new package concludes with one of my faves they have done – a live version of “Linus And Lucy” from the Charlie Brown soundtrack so you do need the whole CD frankly.  I am also fond of “Marshmellow World” and “Here Comes Santa Claus”.  When you think of Christmas, you will forever associate it with Mexican wrestling masks after you buy this CD.

17.The Beach Boys – Ultimate Christmas

This 1998 CD expanded the original 1964 12 track LP The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album to 26 tracks (including messages and interviews).  The five band originals on the old LP were pretty good (“Santa’s Beard”, “The Man With All The Toys”, etc.) but I never much liked their overly earnest takes on the old classics like “White Christmas”.  Frankly without the bonus tracks this album wouldn’t have made the list, but I really like many of them including the single version of “Little Saint Nick” which has seasonal overdubs that improve on the album version.  Many of the bonus tracks are from a 1977 proposed Christmas album that their label rejected though many of those tracks are pretty darn good including “Santa’s Got An Airplane” and “Winter Symphony”.

18.38 Special – A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night

38 Special were/are a hard rock band mostly successful in the ’80s.  They were formed in Florida by Donnie Van Zant (younger brother of the late lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd Ronnie) and Don Barnes.  This holiday CD was released in 2001 and was your usual mix of standards and new songs.  They do a few too many ballads here for my taste as it is the rockers like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night” that move me.

19.The Moody Blues – December

As it currently stands this 2003 album is the most recent studio release by one of my favorite progressive pop bands.  At this time the band was Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge.  There are some truly lovely orchestrations on songs like “A Winter’s Tale”.  The originals are quite good here including the Hayward composition “Don’t Need A Reindeer” which is really catchy.  They do a nice version of John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” though interestingly they chose to omit the “war is over” lyric.  The album is mostly fairly sedate including a nice Bach rewrite “In The Quiet Of Christmas Morning (Bach 147)”.  I could have done without the trite “White Christmas”, however.

20.The Albion Band – Live-Another Christmas Present From…

Ashley Hutchings has been involved with some of the best and most important British folk outfits – Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band.  The latter was his longest tenured outfit with a fluid membership.  For many years they put on Christmas shows in the U.K. and this is a record of the 1986 tour which included Cathy Lesurf on vocals.  They alternated fiddle driven music with spoken word pieces such as “The History Of Christmas”.  My other faves here are “The Official Branle” and “Lumps Of Plum Pudding” – two instrumentals.

 

BEST PACKAGING AWARD:

Related image  Image result for elvis presley if every day was like christmas

Elvis Presley – Christmas Album (and) If Every Day Was Like Christmas

The original RCA Victor LP was his third overall and was released in 1957 as perhaps the first rock and roll holiday album.  Listening today, it doesn’t really hold up for me with one side devoted entirely to religious themed music while the other side has only three great songs.  It might have made a better EP with “Blue Christmas”, “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me”, “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and I guess “Here Comes Santa Claus”.   That hasn’t stopped it from selling over 20 million copies worldwide so I guess I am in the minority.  The content didn’t make my list, but I would nominate the original with a booklet insert of great Elvis promo pictures from his Jailhouse Rock movie as my favorite packaging.  I might also include the 1994 limited edition If Every Day Was Like Christmas that was expanded to 24 tracks and came with a pop-up Graceland (his home) in the middle – very cool packaging as well.

BONUS DOPEY CD YOU REALLY NEED TO OWN:

Jingle Cats – Meowy Christmas

The Singing Dogs’ “Jingle Bells” since 1955 owned eye-rolling Christmas silliness till 1993 when a feline 20 track CD hit the market.  It is pretty difficult to listen to the entire album, but whenever you feel a need to annoy your kids or your dog (or perhaps clear out a late party crowd so you can go to bed) this really comes in handy.

 

Advertisements

Covering Lennon – Solo

Okay, I admit that the Rock & Roll Dentist never actually played guitar at the feet of John Lennon, but I did once get to strum with a member of one of the myriad Beatles cover bands out there.  It was truly gear, kids.  That is the lead-in to this month’s blog post which I decided to dedicate to what would have been John Lennon’s 78th birthday.  John Winton (Ono) Lennon was born October 9th, 1940 in Liverpool to Julia and Alfred Lennon (though any Lennon-phile knows he was raised by his Aunt Mimi).  Lennon as a Beatle of course created some amazing music, but this post is about cover versions of what he created away from the Fabs.  For me, the work he did without Paul, George and Ringo never approached great songs like “Help!” or “In My Life” but some of it was pretty good.  That he didn’t get to write music beyond the tragedy of 1980 leaves a smaller archive to work with plus the biggest bulk of recordings by other artists was due to a couple of tribute album projects.  I decided to only include songs John recorded on his own albums which eliminates the three nifty songs he contributed to Ringo’s LPs.  Frankly the list could easily be dominated by covers of just a few songs (notably “Happy Xmas[War Is Over]” and “Imagine”) so I mostly eliminated duplication to include more tunes.  There are some cases where sadly a video doesn’t exist online you for those tunes you will just have to go buy the download or listen to clips on a music site.

1.Grow Old With Me – Glen Campbell

John never got to properly record what might have become one of his most popular songs so all we have is a demo (the lovely version with orchestration added by George Martin on the John Lennon Anthology box came later).  For me, the 2008 comeback album Meet Glen Campbell was a complete surprise that was outstanding from beginning to end thanks to savvy song selection and production by Julian Raymond and Howard Willing.  Had this album been released in his “Rhinestone Cowboy” era, it would have been a smash but as it was it pretty much disappeared in the era of hip-hop pop and modern country.  If this post can sell even one copy then I will be a happy blogger.  Other good cover versions were done by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Youngstown.

2.One Day At A Time – Elton John

Cover versions of Beatles songs rarely approach the quality of the originals.  It is a different story with Lennon solo cover versions which often are better than John’s own recordings.  I think that is because Lennon really didn’t surround himself with great Beatle inflected players (Elephants Memory are a case in point – an above average bar band) so the songs didn’t sound well arranged.  This song was an album track from the 1973 LP Mind Games which Elton covered and placed on the b-side of his 1974 #1 cover single of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” recorded in Colorado at Caribou Ranch.  Lennon supplied backing guitar to the mix of slide guitar, classical sounding piano and string synths.

3.Jealous Guy – Roxy Music

This was recorded as a tribute after Lennon was shot and became the only Roxy Music single to reach #1 in the U.K. singles chart (in February of 1981).  By the time of this release, leader Bryan Ferry had moved the group away from the avant-garde rock of their early records into a dreamier more sophisticated style and this song fit perfectly.  The song itself began life as “Child Of Nature” inspired by the Beatles’ trip to India in 1968.  The lyrics would be revamped for the solo album Imagine in 1971 to speak to his doubts and fears as a worried man in a loving relationship (presumably with Yoko Ono).  This was one of the more covered solo songs and there are good versions by Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart & The Faces and Frankie Miller.

4.Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – The Moody Blues

As of this writing, the most recent studio album by the Moody Blues is the 2003 Christmas album December.  It would be great to see the remaining members including Mike Pindar break out the mellotron and attempt one last classic sounding prog album, but that seems unlikely so this may be the last thing we ever get from the Moodies (and at least it is pretty darn good).  John and Yoko recorded the original in 1971 with help from the Harlem Community Choir.  John used the melody from the old folk ballad “Skewball” (or “Stewball” as done by Peter, Paul & Mary) and two basic lyrical themes.  One was wishing everyone no matter the color or creed to come together for a peaceful Christmas and New Year. The other theme changed the song to an anti-war (especially the Vietnam conflict) chant.  The Moody Blues chose to ignore that second theme and dropped that lyric to make it a universal Christmas song.  There are so many great versions of this much covered song that it is hard to list all the good ones, but I like the one by the Alarm too

.

5.Mind Games – Ed Kowalczyk

“Mind Games” was the lead single from the 1973 Lennon album of the same title.  John had the melody as early as the Let It Be sessions in 1969 to back the lyrics the two different sets of lyrics: “Make Love, Not War” and “I Promise”.  He ultimately was inspired by the book Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston and came up with the recorded set of lyrics (the other words are heard in demo form on the box set John Lennon Anthology).  This is a case of a song that I think was better than the final recording and you can hear the Beatles adding their instrumental touches to it and making it more memorable (the released record seems monotonous and plodding to me).  Kowalczyk is the lead singer of the excellent band Live and recorded this song as a solo record in 2012 for The Garden.  I prefer this cover to the original as it is heavier with crunchy guitars.

6.Instant Karma – Paul Weller

This is my favorite solo record by John Lennon in that it rocks, has great lyrics and sounds full of life thanks to a wall-of-noise Phil Spector production.  It is said that the lyrics were inspired by a discussion he had with Yoko and her former husband Tony Cox early in 1970 (while in Denmark) about the concept of one’s actions causing immediate repercussions.  In that spirit, it is reported that John wrote, recorded and released the single all within ten days.  The single is dominated by slapping drums plus a plethora of pianos and peaked at #3 in the U.S.  The actual version I like by former Jam member Paul Weller appeared first on a covers CD for Uncut magazine and later on a three CD set of rarities titled Fly on the Wall: B Sides & Rarities (2003).  That version isn’t on youtube, but you can at least get a feel for it from this live TV performance.  Duran Duran and Union Of Sound have done decent versions as well.

7.Imagine – Petula Clark

This lady has had a most extraordinary career starting in World War II and extending to her current tour at age 85.  By the time she hit big in the U.S. with “Downtown” in January 1965, she was already a 32 year old married mother and multilingual singer.  Her ties with Lennon extend to having participated in the live June 1, 1969 recording of the anthem “Give Peace A Chance” in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.  This cover of John’s most famous and successful solo song comes from the 2013 album Lost In You.  The idea for “Imagine” came from Yoko’s 1964 book Grapefruit and from a Christian prayer book given to him by black activist/comedian Dick Gregory.  The idea was to imagine the world at peace by letting loose of the constraints imposed by politics, greed, religion, etc.  The original is a sparse recording featuring John Lennon on vocals/piano, Klaus Voormann on bass and Alan White on drums with strings credited to the Flux Fiddlers.  Clark’s version has nice mellotron and more insistent percussion on the second and fourth beat of each stanza.

8.Cold Turkey – The Hollywood Vampires

By far the most harrowing riff rocker by John as a solo artist is a stark 1969 song that he presented to the Beatles first before recording it as a Plastic Ono Band single after they rejected it.  There are a couple of stories about what the lyrics were about with the kicking of the drug heroin being the most credible (the other was from food poisoning while eating cold turkey).  Alice Cooper notoriously was a heavy drinker back in the day and named his celebrity drinking club the Hollywood Vampires (including Ringo and occasionally Lennon).  In 2015 Cooper released a fine album of rockers under that same name with guests like Paul McCartney, Slash and Joe Walsh.  This version, for me, improves on the original by giving it more body and drive.  The Godfathers also did a pretty good version.

9.#9 Dream – A-ha

Honestly this song didn’t come in at #9 by design, but totally by accident so don’t roll your eyes.  This is my second favorite solo Lennon song and can be found on the 1974 LP Walls And Bridges.  As a single it peaked at #9 in the U.S., of course.  Lennon said that the song came to him in an actual dream including the nonsense chorus  “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé”.  The group A-ha is mostly famous in the U.S. for the wonderful 1985 hit single and video “Take On Me”.  Singer Morten Harket and company hail from Norway and have been big stars in Europe for many years.  They recorded this version of “#9 Dream” for the international version of the charity Lennon tribute album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur released in 2007.  The original U.S. version of the album didn’t include this recording, but later was available as one of 61 tracks available for download.

10.Woman – Ozzy Osbourne

The lead singer of Black Sabbath is an avowed Beatles fan and it shows in the straight recordings he has done of Lennon songs (also including “Working Class Hero” and “How?”).  Knowing how much Ozzy owes to his wife Sharon to keep him on the straight and narrow over the years, this song’s lyric rings even more true for him than the author.  The words speak about Lennon the romantic apologizing and professing love for his woman.   In an interview prior to his death he referred to this song as being a grown-up version of his Beatles song “Girl”.  This was the first single released after he was shot and depending on the chart peaked at either #1 or #2 in the U.S.  Ozzy’s version was from his 2005 album of cover versions called Under Cover which also included songs like “Rocky Mountain Way” and “In My Life”.

11.Gimme Some Truth – Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs

Here is another case of a cover version that for me improves on the original recording.  Sweet and Hoffs attack the song with a pop vengeance – sort of like a rock and roll sweet-tart that explodes in your ears.  John’s acerbic original was from the 1971 Imagine album and railed against lying politicians.  Matthew Sweet (“Girlfriend”) and Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) included this on their second album of cover versions Under The Covers Vol. 2 (2009).  George Harrison’s fine slide part on the original is handled faithfully as is the up and down very Beatles-like rhythm guitar part.  While I liked the original, this version feels more polished.

12.Love – Jimmy Nail

John’s original song was from his 1970 Plastic Ono Band LP which was a pretty raw album lyrically and arrangement-wise.  This song was much gentler than much of the album.  His version was simply producer Phil Spector on haunting piano and John on vocal and acoustic guitar.  This would have been a great Beatles ballad and could have been a single with a bit more sweetening.  Jimmy Nail’s version is given that sweetening and is gorgeous with a Harrison-like slide guitar and whistling on the break.  English actor/singer Nail released this on his 1995 Big River album and managed a #33 placement on the U.K. charts with this song as a single.  In the U.S. the Lettermen charted at #42 with a cover version (their final chart placement – 1971).  In 1990 former Mott The Hoople keyboardist Morgan Fisher recorded an emotional version with Yoko Ono reading the lyrics for his Echoes Of Lennon LP.

13.I’m Losing You – Cheap Trick

Over the last 30 years Cheap Trick have become one of the great American rock bands and have always shown excellent taste in their covers.   The version of this song I am listing can be found on the two disc live set Silver from 2001.  The song comes from the Double Fantasy album and is a classic mid-tempo Lennon riff-rocker.  He first recorded a version of this song in 1980 with Rick and Bun E of Cheap Trick that finally came out on the Anthology box (and is frankly better than the less heavy album version).  The lyrics speak to the same emotion that John expressed in “Jealous Guy” – a man worried about losing his woman.  Colin James also did a decent version.

14.Isolation – Ann Wilson

Lennon’s 1970 John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album was like a raw nerve laying out his pain at the time with the break-up of the Beatles and the distaste he felt from others over wedding Yoko Ono.  This song pretty much encapsulated all those feelings lyrically and is my fave cut from that record.  The version I have included is from the Heart singer’s first solo album Hope And Glory (2007).   Wilson is a fantastic singer so just to hear her pipes on this works magic.  The arrangement is pretty faithful to the original stark production save the crunchier guitars.  Many good covers are available of this song including ones by Joe Cocker and Harry Nilsson.

15.Working Class Hero – Roger Taylor

Here we have one of the more acclaimed songs from John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band .  Lyrically he spits out vitriol about the class system (using a couple of f-bombs along the way) and being on the low rung of that system.  John always admitted that he came from a nice middle class background and always pretended to be working class.   The drummer of Queen has always had an underappreciated voice and could have been a lead singer in many bands.  He did this cover on his fourth solo album – Electric Fire from 1998.  The original was a stark folk ballad while this version makes the music roar right along with the lyrics.

16.How? – Mark Hudson

Hudson’s version of this song from his album The Artist isn’t available online so I have instead included the original song so you can at least sample how it sounds.  “How can I feel something if I just don’t know how to feel?” – typical of the contemplative lyric of the song from John’s Imagine album.  This song with the introspection could easily have been from his first solo album except it was sweetened with piano and strings marking a more commercial sound.  Mark Hudson was a member of the family act The Hudson Brothers who put out some excellent Bee Gees/Beatles inflected music in the ’70s.  Hudson worked with Ringo Starr on some of his best albums including Vertical Man (1998) and Ringo Rama (2003).  Hudson’s version has a very Fab Four vocal with heavier production which beat out the version by Ozzy Osbourne for me.

17.Oh My Love – The Lettermen

The Lettermen started in 1959 as a light pop close-harmony act and were popular especially on adult contemporary radio.  In 1971 they scored their last Hot 100 chart record with “Love” written by John Lennon.  Their next single was this Lennon cover that failed to chart, but was a pretty nice version of a song from Imagine.  The original had John on piano and George Harrison on guitar and had a bit of an Asian feel as did the nice cover version by the Wackers.  This version is just a tad faster than the Wackers which sort of feels draggy so I went with this one as it has a nice arrangement with gentle harpsichord and backing strings.  Lennon listed Yoko as a co-writer.

18.Imagine – The Korgis

It is hard not to include another version of John’s most popular song by a band that always had a Beatles feel to their vocals courtesy of James Warren.  Their hit “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” which had a “#9 Dream Feel” was not their only good song and tracks like “I Just Can’t Help It” always reminded me of George Harrison vocally with a dreamy John Lennon flavor.  That debt was acknowledged when they released the 2006 single “Something About The Beatles”.

19.I Don’t Want To Face It – The Fab Faux

The Beatles cover band The Fab Faux recorded this Milk And Honey track (“I Don’t Wanna Face It” on that 1984 posthumous release) and gave it a “Tomorrow Never Knows” psychedelic feel while eliminating the main rock and roll riff from John’s original.  It appears on the 2007 Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur charity album of songs by John Lennon (part of the “Make Some Noise” campaign to promote human rights).  The Fab Faux is Will Lee, Jimmy Vivino, Rich Pagano, Jack Petruzzelli and Frank Agnello.

20.Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – Sense Field

Frankly I don’t understand what a lot of the musical genre designations mean so I will simply say that Sense Field was a band in the mid-90’s post-hardcore and emo movement (whatever that means).  This nicely dynamic version of John’s Christmas evergreen can be found on several compilations including the one pictured in the video.  The lushness of the original is replaced by crunchy guitars.  The “war is over” lyric is almost subliminal vocally early on then is sung louder as the song goes on which makes for an effective arrangement.  One of the founding members, Jon Bunch, killed himself in 2016 so don’t expect a reprise.

21.Whatever Gets You Thru The Night – Henning Staerk

I never liked John’s big 1974 #1 hit as it sounded out of tune to me and frankly totally foreign to his usual sound so this 1994 version by Danish performer Staerk is an improvement for me.  This arrangement has a driving organ/drum feel which replaces the original sax solo with harmonica.   John wrote the lyric after hearing the Reverend Ike use those words on a late night show.  His original version features Elton John on duo vocal and piano which certainly didn’t hurt its hit chances in ’74.  The well-known story is that Lennon bet Elton that if it went to #1 he would have to appear on stage which it did and he did.  The Madison Square Garden appearance on November 28, 1974 would be the last time John Lennon would appear on stage.

22.Watching The Wheels – The Samples

John Lennon’s posthumous single reached #10 in 1981 and addressed people’s amazement that he could step away from music for five years after his son Sean was born.  The original is nice, but this reggae tinged version speeds up the tempo and changes the feel.  Lennon loved the sound of reggae and would have approved.  He tried to inject that beat into several songs over the years (“Borrowed Time” and Yoko’s “Sisters O Sisters” notably), yet it never came out right as the musicians didn’t understand that genre.  The Samples are a reggae/pop band from Boulder, Colorado who took their name from being so poor early on that they lived on grocery store food samples.  This was from the studio and live two disc set Transmissions From The Sea Of Tranquility released in 1997.

23.Crippled Inside – Sui Generis

The lyrics from the album Imagine were rather biting (and some see part of the lyric as a dig at Paul McCartney) but contrasted to a sprightly old-timey country ramble arrangement.  Sui Generis were a major band from Argentina who started in the folk/rock genre then changed to a straight rock style over time.  This came from a live set Sui Generis al Mariscal and was faster and more music-hall in arrangement than the original.  The jam band Widespread Panic did a fine cover as well on the Darfur relief album.

24.Power To The People – Eric Burdon, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston

During the recording sessions for the Imagine LP in 1971, John found time to record this #11 charting single driven by Alan White’s stompin’ drums and Klaus Voorman’s complimentary bass with sax by Bobby Keys.  John was very political at the time and this fit into his “Give Peace A Chance” and “war is over” sloganizing.  Former Animals lead singer Eric Burdon takes the lead vocal on this heavier version from the soundtrack to Steal This Movie! which came out in 2000.  The Vincent D’Onofrio starring film was about ’60s activist/radical Abbie Hoffman.  The soundtrack was a mixture of new and original versions of old protest music.

25.Give Peace A Chance – Puppetmastaz

“Give Peace A Chance” was mostly a slogan that got chanted over and over again with occasional breaks for what we didn’t know was called rap at the time.  Every version since that 1969 #14 Plastic Ono Band original has always sounded goofy if they tried to include John’s breaks  (rapping Mitch Miller and the Gang, anyone? – check out that version for YIKES appeal on the Peace Sing Along CD!).  The version by the German puppet rap group Puppetmastaz is the only version I have ever heard that makes sense as it mixes it as a rap with some very endearing and real school kids singing the chorus (the version with Angie Reed isn’t as good).

25 Musical Hidden Treasures That Deserved A Better Fate

   

I collect 45 rpm records as does a good friend of mine Ted Scott and we often have music playing sessions with the vinyl we have found.  Some of the best records we have latched on to over the years either never charted in the U.S. Hot 100 or barely managed to dent the charts which is often confusing (and vice versa – there are some pretty awful records that did chart).  Ted worked as a disc jockey and can attest to the fact that back in the day there were simply too many records coming across a program director’s desk to give each one a fair shake.  Many factors played into getting a record on the air.  A nationally successful act or a known label had a leg up over an unknown though often local records could chart quite high while never making any impact in the rest of the country (the KIMN charts here in Denver had many ’60s Astronauts records at #1 as an example).  Another problem was simply bad timing – a great rock record during the height of disco (or in the current hip-hop era) didn’t stand much of a chance chart-wise for instance which is why so many rockers have tried country.  In the early days of rock and roll, especially, there also was a now illegal practice called payola where deals were made between dishonest record companies/pluggers and radio stations/programmers to play a record in exchange for money/drugs/sex/you-name-it.

I’ve wanted to pay tribute to many of those sadly forgotten records over the years and am now getting around to the first installment of it.  As an Anglophile, many of my faves over the years made a big impact in the U.K. but not here in America (Slade, Shakin’ Stevens, the Move, etc.).  I don’t intend to list many of those records as at least they were hits somewhere if not here (the Shadows, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard all come to mind).  I further admit that I could fill one entire post with nothing but great Colorado records that never broke out nationally, but I am going to defer and ask you to go back to my September 2015 entry if you wish to read about bands like the Boenzee Cryque or the Rainy Daze.

There is no attempt to place these songs in any order or even keep them to any one era so scroll through and understand that I am a big fan of guitar-based pop music and my credo is every song is better with handclapping and/or lotsa percussive (cowbell, anyone?).

1.Thomas & Richard Frost – She’s Got Love

This 45 on the Imperial label did manage to crawl to a peak placement of #83 in late 1969.  Why it didn’t do better is a bit of a head scratcher except perhaps it needed to come out a year or two earlier stylistically.  The California brothers’ real last name was Martin and they had previously been in the group Powder.  They recorded the LP Visualize which sadly wasn’t released back in the day as it fell into the cracks of Imperial being sold to United Artists.  The tunes did finally see the light of laser with a great now out of print CD.  Their 1972 LP on Uni didn’t have the same energy as these earlier pop/rock sides, by the way.

2.The Searchers – Hearts In Her Eyes

Boy was it ever a pleasant surprise when this excellent British Invasion band returned to release two truly outstanding rock and roll albums on the Sire label in 1979 and 1981 (if you love 12-string guitar jangly-pop records you need to pick them up on CD).  The only change from the ’60s band was a new drummer, otherwise you still had Frank Allen (bass), John McNally (guitar) and lead-singer/guitarist Mike Pender (who I was lucky enough to see in concert with my pal Dan Campbell in D.C. a few years back). This was a cover of a song by the group the Records that had the same feel as early Searchers hit “Needles & Pins”.

3.The Monkey’s Uncle – Annette (with the Beach Boys)

By 1965 it had been four years since Annette Funicello had placed any record in the charts while the Beach Boys were red-hot so combining them on the theme from a popular Disney movie seemed like a way to get Annette back into the charts.  It didn’t happen and perhaps that was due to the innocuous lyrics (all written by long-time Disney writers the Sherman brothers), but it also could have been that during the Beatles/folk-rock era Annette’s name on a record label was chart death.  Today, the bigger act would have been plugged instead so the credits would have likely read The Beach Boys ft. Annette which might have generated more interest.  Either way, I like this tune from Annette’s and Tommy Kirk’s last Disney movie.

4.Ford Eaglin – Travelin’ Mood

James “Wee Willie” Wayne originally wrote and recorded “Travelin’ Mood” for Imperial in 1955 after which it became an R&B standard.  Blind guitarist/singer Fird Eaglin, Jr. recorded his version in 1961 for the same label under the name Ford though he would revisit the song with a heavier blues feel years later as Snooks Eaglin.  This arrangement eliminated Wayne’s whistling and makes it more of a New Orleans piano shuffle in the realm of Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya” from around the same time.

5.Billy Lee Riley – Red Hot

This was a 1957 rockabilly raver covering a rockin’ blues original from two years earlier by Billy “The Kid” Emerson – both on Sun records.  Perhaps Riley’s delivery on this (and the equally great “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll”) was too raw for radio, but that doesn’t excuse neither record from at least sniffing the lower rungs of the Hot 100.  Riley always blamed Sun owner Sam Phillips for neglecting to promote any record not by his primary artists (first Elvis then later Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and at the time of “Red Hot” Jerry Lee Lewis).  Riley found more success as a session player then dropped out of music for construction till he was rediscovered and had some sporadic minor success till his death in 2009.  In 1977, Robert Gordon with Link Wray took a nearly identical version of “Red Hot” to the lower rungs of the chart (plus also recording “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll” to equal rockin’ goodness).

6.Clairette Clementino – He Don’t Want Your Love Anymore

Would this record have been a big charter if it had been recorded by the nearly identical sounding Lesley Gore?  I think it would have charted as it was a catchy melody over an excellent arrangement by Stu Phillips (The Hollyridge Strings).  For some reason this and Clairette’s other eight 45s never made any headway.  Clementino was a California teen who perhaps would have been better served changing her name to a less unwieldy one (Clair Tino?).  She did some radio jingle work in Nashville after that then quit music to raise a family back in Marin County.  I think pal Turntable Ted Scott was the first one to play this for me so thanks!

7.Bobby Fuller Four – Let Her Dance

Oh my, what a brilliant but tragic figure was Bobby Fuller.  In 1965 this record came out a bit before Fuller finally found success with “I Fought The Law” and might have had too quirky a rhythm for hitsville.   Fuller either committed suicide or was murdered – we will never know.  His records were pure pop confections full of jangling guitars and blasting percussion.  The late power popster Phil Seymour did a fantastic if more polished cover in 1981 that was equally star-crossed chartwise and could have been in this list instead.  I decided to go with the original as the guy who first wrote and conceived of the song deserves the nod.

8.Caravan – Love To Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly)

Richard Coughlan, Pye Hastings, Richard Sinclair and Dave Sinclair were collectively the Canterbury, England progressive band Caravan.  Their 1971 album In The Land Of The Grey And Pink was always my favorite of their albums and featured this uncharacteristic pop song written by Hastings.  This was the era when a cool album cover could attract me to buy a record and this one didn’t disappoint.  Had this single come out in 1968 I think it would have fared better, but by 1971 the charts were rife with singer/songwriters like James Taylor, Carole King and their ilk.

9.The Astronauts – Main Street

I know I promised not to fill this list with Colorado artists, but that doesn’t mean I can’t slip in one or two along the way.  By their 11th single from their final RCA Victor LP (Travelin’ Men) you know these guys were looking for any way to get a hit outside of the Rocky Mountains.  This record didn’t do it (however it did place at #1 here in Denver), but deserved to. I was as good a Gary Lewis & The Playboys record that was not actually by that band.  Producers Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell had worked wonders creating a string of hits for Lewis and at the height of their run in 1966 added their touch to this fine song by Mike Gordon and Jimmy Griffin (later of Bread).  Rich Fifield delivered a sincere lead vocal over some excellent harmonies and a Playboys-like production.  It didn’t happen and the band broke up after one more fine single as Sunshineward.  Drummer Jim Gallagher still tells some fun stories about touring Japan while we nosh on Sink Burgers in Boulder plus Jon Storm Patterson sold me Dental supplies for years till his retirement.

10.The Pierces – Glorious

I enjoy this record so much it gives me goose bumps every time I listen to this piece of gauzy pop perfection from 2011 by the beautiful Pierce sisters (Allison & Catherine).  In a perfect world for the Rock & Roll Dentist this sort of music would be popular, but that it isn’t tells me how old and in the way I truly am (it did chart in the U.K. albeit only at #176).  This to me is the best record released in all the 2000s.  It featured on their fourth album (titled You & I) and was originally by James Levy (who played guitar on the Pierces version).  The echo-laden production was by Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman and that band’s producer Rik Simpson (known as the Darktones).

11.Hilly Michaels – Calling All Girls

The period between 1979 to 1982 was one of my favorite eras – maybe even better than the ’60s for me as I could actually afford to buy the records I heard and loved (back in the ’60s it took a lot of baby-sitting money to come up with the 60 cents or so to buy a single).  With the out-of-nowhere success of “My Sharona”, record labels where ditching disco discs and pumping out great gobs of grinding guitar-pop that ultimately wouldn’t chart.  A look at the hits of 1980 when this single came out shows Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand and Kenny Rogers – not Hilly Michaels which was a pity as this record rocked with great sound by Cars producer Roy Thomas Baker.

12.The New York Rock Ensemble – Beside You

When assembling this list I had to look at both my singles and album chart books to confirm that nothing by this talented group ever troubled the Hot 100 – amazing and shows a true lack of taste by the American record buyers.  This gorgeous ballad by the late Michael Kamen was from their fourth (and best) album Roll Over – 1971.  For this Columbia records album, guitarist Clif Nivison was joined by a trio of Juilliard students in Kamen, Dorian Rudnystsky and Martin Fulterman – now known as Mark Snow (who composes TV songs like the X-Files Theme).  I had the pleasure of seeing this band with the Denver Symphony in ’71 and (as a former oboe player myself) was thrilled to see a rock band where two musicians played the double-reed and one played cello.

13.The Everly Brothers – The Price Of Love

Don and Phil Everly were proof that genetics could breed vocal harmonic greatness.  I have always assumed that this self-penned gritty rocker was a big hit back in 1965 and was shocked to see that while it did do well in the U.K., it never made it in the States.  Very uncharacteristically, country-rock band Poco did a decent cover on their Cowboys & Englishmen LP in 1982.  Next to the brothers, the best version is by Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music.  Perhaps the problem in 1965 was that folk-rock, Motown and British Invasion records dominated.

14.Ian Hunter – Cleveland Rocks

Proof again that 1979 was a cool year for music, former Mott The Hoople man Hunter with the late/great guitarist Mick Ronson put out the fine rock and roll LP You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic.  The only Hunter single to chart in the U.S. was from that album (“Just Another Night”) so it seemed possible that as a follow-up if every person in Cleveland bought the new single, it might have charted – but it didn’t.  The song has actually had quite a long life in spite of no chart presence.  It was used for a time as the theme-song to The Drew Carey Show (by the Presidents Of The United States Of America) and has continued to be played at Cleveland sporting events.  It may inspire me one day to travel to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (if I can think of another reason to go to Cleveland).  I actually prefer musically the more driving (and more obscure) U.K. single he did called “England Rocks”.

15.The Guitar Ramblers – Surf Beat

When we were youngsters in Broomfield, my pal Dan Campbell had a Capitol records compilation with “Surf Beat” by Dick Dale & His Del-Tones on it – a great record that I remember fondly.  This 1963 more stately cover of that song by the faceless studio band The Guitar Ramblers really doesn’t sound like hit material, but I always loved the single anyway – plus I dig instros.  The LP says it was under the direction of Jack Marshall who was a jazz guitarist and composer of cool music for The Munsters and Thunder Road.

16.Eric Andersen – Is It Really Love At All?

Back in 1972 when I was in the thrall of Humble Pie, Foghat, the Faces, etc., I remember hearing this gentle ballad on Denver radio and really liking it not knowing the long folk history of the performer.  I now know that his most famous ’60s composition was about civil rights – “Thirsty Boots” (covered by Judy Collins, John Denver, etc.).  This song was from his most successful LP Blue River which fit well with the singer/songwriter era of the early ’70s.  Stan Soocher and I saw him in a very intimate concert in a barn-like structure in Elizabeth, CO.

17.Paul Collin’s Beat – That’s What Life Is All About

Boy was it hard to choose just one song by the most criminally overlooked band from the skinny-tie power-pop era when bands like The Knack and the Romantics kicked leisure-suited disco aside – if briefly.  From 1979 it could have been the cowbell-driven “Workin’ Too Hard” or the snotty “Don’t Wait Up For Me” from their first album titled The Beat.   I ultimately settled on this more mature song with gorgeous harmony vocals over a driving strummed guitar passage from their second LP released in 1982 (The Kids Are The Same).  My old friend G Brown treated wife Aimee and me to a fantastic Boulder double bill back in ’82 with these guys backing The Stray Cats – great stuff (thanks G!).  Paul Collins is still out there touring and recording though with a lot less hair (though I guess I am not one to talk).

18.The Millennium – It’s You

There was a loose group called the Millennium that recorded the 1968 album Begin that spawned this sunshine-pop single that also put out music as the Ballroom and Sagittarius.  The exquisite 1967 first Sagittarius album (Present Tense) was producers Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher with studio men like Glen Campbell and also included tracks from their earlier band the Ballroom.  They then recorded the Millennium album with friends like Michael Fennelly, Sandy Salisbury, Joey Stec and Lee Mallory which became the most expensive flop ever for Columbia records up to that point.  Later, Usher would start his own label (Together) and issue another Sagittarius album (The Blue Marble).  Over the years music by these artists have gained a loyal cult following with pop fans.

19.The Delroys – Bermuda Shorts

Coming from 1956, the Delroys called Long Island, NY their home and managed to cut this hot doo-wop rocker the next year for the small Apollo records label.  There were too many small regional labels back in the day who all found it hard to gain distribution outside of their local area.  If they did get distributed wider, you knew that there was not going be a good accounting for sales figures either which inevitably would mean little or not payment to the artist on the record.  One can assume that poor distribution is what kept this ode to short pants from breaking out nationally as it has the sound of a hit otherwise and did manage some success in a few markets.  These black kids, like so many, were a faceless outfit that never saw any money from their records but at least got to live out the rock and roll dream – if only for a short time.

20.Freddie & The Dreamers – A Windmill In Old Amsterdam

For some reason I was bitten by the Freddie bug for a short time back in 1965 and can thank my friend Rick Steele and his thoughtful dad for getting to attend my first rock and roll show at the Auditorium Theater in Denver to see the Dreamers.  While the band declined in national popularity, I continued to buy their records for a bit including this cover of a novelty written by Ted Dicks and Myles Rudge.  Freddie Garrity always had a streak of ‘silly’ on-stage and this song about a clog-wearing Dutch mouse fed in to that perfectly (and gave him a chance to use his dopey laugh).  Needless to say I played it for daughters Brenna and Hilary as kids since that is the main reason you have kids – to torment them with your music and old jokes.

21.B.J. Thomas & The Triumphs – Never Tell

This song was issued on three different labels and was originally the featured side over “Billy & Sue” which was on the flip.  This is a very catchy pop single (with handclaps on the chorus) first released on the small Bragg record label in 1964 then picked up nationally on Warner Brothers that same year.  The record was not a hit and eventually Thomas made it to Scepter records in 1966 to start a long and successful music career with a cover of the old Hank Williams ballad “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.  Hickory records then acquired the rights to the 1964 release and flipped the record to make the more country flavored “Billy & Sue” the top side over the poppier “Never Tell”.  Their plan worked as the record hit #34 in 1966 meaning my preferred side never got airplay nationally.  Mark Charron wrote both sides of the single (he died in his early 50s).

22.Baja Marimba Band – Portuguese Washerwoman

Well it is time to own up to a guilty pleasure and admit that back in 1966 when I was buying Beatles and Stones records I also grabbed the LP Watch Out! by the Baja Marimba Band when I heard this song.  It was a cover of the #19 hit from 1956 by pianist Joe “Fingers” Carr.  While the Jewish Julius Wechter’s Hispanic image for his band traded on politically incorrect stereotypes, the music was great and mostly played by the same musicians who recorded the Tijuana Brass records and so many others  – the Wrecking Crew.  While the record did chart top 20 on easily listening stations, nationally if only hit #126.

23.Kip And Ken – Trouble With A Woman

Fred Darian and Al DeLory wrote the novelty record “Mr. Custer” (a hit for Larry Verne).  A keyboard player with the Wrecking Crew backing musicians, DeLory later was the arranger/producer behind a string of great Glen Campbell hits in the ’60s.  Al DeLory is listed as the arranger on this 1965 record while Fred Darian is the producer.  Joseph Van Winkle and Darian are listed as  composers.  If you go back to the first appearance of this song on vinyl (1963 – The Camptown Singers), you will see that DeLory was the arranger, Darian was the producer, but the composers were listed as Van Winkle and Dobie Gray.  That version doesn’t sound awfully different than this slightly more polished and vocally superior take by the unknown Kip and Ken.  Billboard back in 1965 had a capsule review saying it was a Righteous Brothers sounding pulsating rocker.  It wasn’t a hit for either act.  I’m struck by how similar one for the singers sounds to the late great Sam McFadin (Flash Cadillac).

24.Traffic – You Can All Join In

This track was from the self-titled second Traffic album that was released in 1968.  Dave Mason had left the band just as their first album was released, but returned in time to contribute some great songs to the next album before quitting once again.  This very catchy pop song from Mason has gentle commentary about issues of the day.  Chris Woods plays a very basic sax that sounds almost like a duck call, but it works over the acoustic guitar strums and lyrical lead guitar breaks.  The word is that this wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. as the band didn’t want to play up the pop tunes over the direction of the rest of the album.  I would wonder if there wasn’t some competition between Steve Winwood and Mason over the direction of the band.

25.Poco – A Good Feeling To Know

Here is one more song with Colorado ties.   That it broke the heart of the man who wrote and sang lead on it (Richie Furay) is frustrating, but it doesn’t take away that it was perhaps the peak of his time in Poco.  For my story about the band, you are referred to my extensive blog post of April 2017.  The clip I chose to link to cuts off the intro to the song, but it is the only one that shows a promo of the band doing their tribute to the state that they had recently moved to – Colorado.  Back when I interviewed Furay for my article, he was just emerging again as a performer while trying to fit it in with his commitments as Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Broomfield.  He obviously still had pain over the lack of success on the charts for the song he thought would make him a true star.  That failure ultimately lead him to break away from Poco, but thankfully he has always returned to their music in concert and has often guested with them.  At the time I told him how much a wanna-be and never-was rock musician like me would have given their right arm to have had even a piece of the success he had seen in his time and I sure hope he has come to grips with what a great career it has been.  Chart success or no, in concert the song still gets the crowd up and cheering every time.

Doc’s Top 25 TV Show Theme Songs

Last month’s post was a list of some of my favorite TV shows which seemed a natural progression leading into TV show theme songs.  Often those songs reflect an era and may sound dated unless you long for a style of a certain year – the “Shaft” guitar (SWAT), early synths (The Rockford Files), etc.  As a child of the ’50s and ’60s, I tend to prefer a memorable tune or just one of those dopey mind-worming songs that tell the whole premise of the show in a minute.  This was even harder than the list of fave series as frankly the theme songs have held up better than the shows have over time for me.  It was incredibly painful to leave off certain songs, but this post would be over 50 deep if I used my first list.  The only 2 criteria I decided to adhere to were that the show actually had to be a true stand-alone TV series (which painfully eliminated the incredibly influential theme from Davy Crockett) and the song had to be originally written expressly for that series.  That last issue caused the loss of great songs like “Rawhide”, Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” (The Lone Ranger), “The Toy Parade” from Leave It To Beaver, Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell” (Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and Gounod’s “Funeral March Of A Marionette” (Alfred Hitchcock Presents).  Using that criterion how can I include a sentimental fave like Howdy Doody when the words were set to an over 100 year old song “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”?  What do I do with iconic cartoons like Woody Woodpecker and Casper, The Friendly Ghost since these were originally movie shorts so the songs derive from that.?  Let’s not forget too that there were incredibly memorable spoken word intros to shows that turn out not to have theme songs that would make this list.  Star Trek, The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, for instance, had non-musical beginnings that guaranteed goose bumps before the music ever came in.  If people my age hear “faster than a speeding bullet – more powerful than a locomotive  – able to leap tall buildings at a single bound”, they know it will lead to “look up in the sky – it’s a bird – it’s a plane – it’s Superman!”  As I mentioned last month, these are not meant to be the best theme songs or the biggest hits (though some did chart).  The composers of the theme will be given credit if that info is available.  I welcome any and all personal favorite responses as my readers always seem to come up with some goodies I forgot.

1.Hawaii 5-0 – Morton Stevens

This song was smartly used in the original 1968 series plus in a shorter but similar sound in the 2010 remake.  It charting at #4 in ’68 for the Ventures as a cover version.  Stevens passed away at age 62 in 1991 having worked composing for movies and TV plus arranging and conducting for the like of Sammy Davis, Jr and Jerry Lewis.  The original cop procedural show with Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett ran for 12 years while the remake is up to nine seasons which has given this song plenty of chance to embed in viewers’ neurons.

2.Bonanza – Ray Evans, Jay Livingston

Westerns were huge in my childhood and seemed to spawn memorably heroic theme songs (“Wyatt Earp” and “The Ballad Of Paladin” come to mind).  The story of the Cartwright clan ran for 14 years on NBC starting in 1959 and survived cast changes and even the death of a popular star (Dan Blocker).  Guitarist Al Caiola took his version of the theme to #19 on the charts in 1961, but it was also recorded by artists like Johnny Cash and even the show’s Canadian star Lorne Greene.  Evans and Livingston had written many songs for movies including “Buttons And Bows” “Que Sera Sera” and “Mona Lisa”.  It was incredibly painful to leave off another of their TV themes (sung by Livingston himself) – Mr. Ed.

3.The Monkees – Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart

As influential as these four actor/musicians have been over the years, it is hard to believe that their series was only popular from 1966 till 1968.  Boyce and Hart’s song feels like the Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can” in structure which fits with the series trying to bring a British Invasion style to TV – especially the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night.  The intro to the show used a short version of the song while a longer version was on their first album and was released in some countries as a single.  Boyce and Hart originally sang the song, but they were replaced by Micky Dolenz when it was released.  They also wrote “Last Train To Clarksville” in addition to having careers as artists in their own right (“Out And About”, “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight”).

4.Secret Agent Man – Steve Barri, P.F. Sloan

Well here is an example of a great theme song to a show I never actually remember watching.  Reading about it, the British title for this show was Danger Man and starred Patrick McGoohan as a James Bond-like spy, but it was re-titled for the US and other territories.  Apparently when it was licensed to air here, several songwriters were asked to come up with a new theme with this one winning out.  Sloan and Barri were prolific songwriters supplying hits to acts like the Turtles, Hermans Hermits, Barry McGuire, etc.  A lengthened version was a #3 hit in 1966 for Johnny Rivers who recorded the shorter original for the show itself.  Back in the day, I preferred and purchased the Ventures’ instrumental version on 45 which only managed a #54 chart placement.

5.The Munsters – Jack Marshall

The series only ran from 1964 till 1966 but once again seems like it has had more influence than that short span belies.  Composer Marshall was mainly known as a producer for Capitol records in the ’50s and ’60s.  I never much liked the Fred Gwynn/Yvonne DeCarlo series as it seemed silly as opposed to the more adult feeling The Addams Family, but the theme is great – a driving macabre rocker.   The Addams Family theme song almost made the list as well due to finger snaps and harpsichord, but the verses just aren’t spooky enough.

6.Simon & Simon – Barry De Vorzon, Michael Towers

This driving theme song was used starting in the second season (1982) about two brothers running a detective agency.  Co-star Gerald McRaney (the one with the moustache) seems to always have a new project on the air to this day.  De Vorzon’s credits go back to the early days of rock being involved with hits like “Dreamin'” and “Hey Little One”.  He founded Valiant records and his group Barry And The Tamerlanes had a hit with “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” (not the Boyce & Hart song).  He is best known for “Bless The Beasts And The Children” and “Nadia’s Theme”, but he also co-wrote (with Joe Walsh) the Eagles song “In The City”.

7.Friends – Phil Solem, Danny Wilde, David Crane, Marta Kauffman, Michael Skloff, Allee Willis

Your Rock and Roll Dentist is a huge fan of power pop music (Cheap Trick, Badfinger, Raspberries) and was already a big Rembrandts follower when their song “I’ll Be There For You” was used as the theme to Friends – a show I have never seen.  In it’s ten year run from 1994 till 2004, the sitcom was a smash hit with the finale being the biggest show of the 2000’s decade at 52.5 million people.  Solem and Wilde were definitely going against the tide of music in 1995 (Coolio, Shaggy, U2) when their lengthened single went to #17 in the US showing the power of TV to push pop culture.

8.The X Files – Mark Snow

If this isn’t my wife’s favorite show, it is one of them.  The Chris Carter created sci-fi series seemingly has never left the air since it began in 1993 (though alot of that has been in syndication).  FBI agents Mulder and Scully investigate paranormal and alien activities.  The very distinctive and eerie whistle-like theme was created by the prolific composer Mark Snow (TJ Hooker, Hart To HartPee-Wee’s Playhouse, etc.).   To some extent it reminds me of the spooky theme to the horror soap opera of the late ’60s Dark Shadows which was a painful no-show on this list.  I know Snow better by his given name Martin Fulterman as I was a big fan of his group the New York Rock (And Roll) Ensemble back in the late ’60s-early ’70s.  Being an oboe player myself back then, I was drawn to rock and roll with a classical bent and really enjoyed the NYRE since they featured three Juilliard music students.  Fulterman with Michael Kamen played the oboe while Dorian Rudnytsky played cello and they managed to work that into a rock context with their Roll Over album being a classic.

9.Mickey Mouse Club – Jimmie Dodd

Boy does this song bring back memories.  This is one of my oldest original records in my collection getting the 78 as a little boy and playing over and over again.  This faster version was used at the beginning of the show from 1955 till 1959 while a slower and sadder goodbye version was used at the end.  The writer was the beloved adult ringleader of the juvenile Mouseketeers and I was sad to read that he died at age 54 in 1964.  He had bit parts in movies like Flying Tigers and Easter Parade.  I seriously doubt that there are too many kids of my age who couldn’t then and can’t now still sing this song by heart.

10.The Adventures Of Robin Hood – Carl Sigman

Oh my, here is another song that seems to be burned in the brains of every (Medicare) carrying baby boomer.  This was from a British production for the BBC that ran from 1955 till 1959 here in the US.  The series is set in Sherwood Forest during the 12th century, during the reign of King Richard when nobleman Robin of Locksley is forced into the life of an outlaw and with his band try to help the poor while thwarting the evil Sheriff of Nottinham.   The singer was Dick James (Leon Vapnick) who made considerably more money as the publisher of the Beatles’ songs through his Northern Songs company than he ever did as a singer.  Songwriter Sigman wrote some true classics such as “Ebb Tide” and “The Day The Rains Came”.

11.The Rifleman – Herschel Burke Gilbert

Every red-blooded American boy from the baby boomer era was a big fan of strong Western stars like Bart Maverick, Johnny Yuma and Lucas McCain played by former baseball player Chuck Connors.   McCain was a single dad Civil War vet who blasted the bad guys bloodlessly with his Winchester.  Johnny Crawford who played his son Mark had a credible career as a singer back in the day as well (“Cindy’s Birthday”).   Composer Gilbert was a mainstay of early TV music being involved in Burke’s LawThe Dick Powell ShowThe Westerner, etc.

12.The Avengers – Laurie Johnson

While this show aired in the UK as early as 1961, the version we all remember in the US started in 1965 when ABC bought the rights to air this spy series about dapper John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and his lovely partner Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg).  The lighthearted banter between the two and the jolly bowler hat and umbrella carried by Steed were notable.  The theme song in the early version was a jazzier song, but this one juxtaposed an intense James Bond feel and a wistful string section.  Johnson was a major TV and movie music composer back in the day scoring for movies like Dr. Strangelove, First Men in the Moon and  Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.

13.Route 66 – Nelson Riddle

I am pretty sure that I never saw this show that ran from 1960 till 1964 as back in the day we had one TV set and this was not the kind of series mom and dad would watch (no accordions, cowboys or comedians named Red, Jack or Jackie).  The show apparently followed the travels of two dudes cruising the country in a Corvette and having adventures along the way.  The show isn’t as important to me as the string-driven drop-note piano mover created by the great Nelson Riddle.  That the song only hit #30 in 1962 surprises me though that year was dominated by “The Twist” and “The Monster Mash”.  In his 64 years, Riddle packed in a lot of music mostly for Capitol records vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.  In the ’60s he was involved with the music for Batman (not the theme) and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  Later audiences know him for his groundbreaking work with Linda Ronstadt.

14.Hogan’s Heroes – Jerry Fielding

How a show about the zany goings-on at a World War II prisoner-of-war camp in Germany ever got made is staggering and yet it was pretty darn funny if nothing else due to the stars (Bob Crane and Werner Klemperer – not to mention John Banner who played the lovable Sgt. Schultz).  Of course when this show ran (1965 – 1971) America was a different place than it is today (better or worse – that is for another post), but we are more interested in the excellent military themed song from Jerry Fielding (Joshua Feldman – a Jewish composer, no less).  Fielding was a big-band arranger in the ’40s and radio band-leader.  The McCarthy anti-Communist hearings were hard on Fielding’s career in the early ’50s (though he was never a Communist).  He scored music for the early Star Trek series and for movies like The Outlaw Josey Wales and Straw Dogs.

15.The Andy Griffith Show – Earle Hagen

You are referred to two months ago (the blog about whistling) for the info about this song.  Suffice it to say the melody was composed and whistled by the same gent who wrote the song “Harlem Nocturne” that was later used as the theme to a couple of shows about Mike Hammer.  He also wrote themes for I Spy and That Girl.

16.Mission Impossible – Lalo Schifrin

Argentinian composer Lalo Schifrin came up with a durable piece of music for this 1966 through 1973 spy series that has stood the test of time through numerous style shifts.  While Schifrin’s original single could only make it to #41 back in the day, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr’s 1996 remake for the movie version managed to hit #7.  There were numerous cast changes in the original TV series, but this is the first cast before Steven Hill (later of Law & Order) was replaced by Peter Graves since he was an Orthodox Jew who would not work after sundown on Fridays (till the next night) due to his religion.

17.St. Elsewhere – Dave Grusin

So many of these shows could have very easily ended up in my fave TV series list – case in point is this excellent hospital show that ran from 1982 till 1988.  What a cast this one had – William Daniels, Norman Lloyd, Denzel Washington, Ed Begley Jr., Howie Mandel, Mark Harmon, David Morse, on and on.  The theme song was written by 1956 University Of Colorado grad (and native son) Grusin.  He composed music for Tootsie, The Graduate and On Golden Pond in addition to starting the GRP record label.  Some of his other theme songs were for Maude, Baretta and Good Times.

18.Gilligan’s Island – Sherwood Schwartz, George Wyle

Now here we may have, other than The Monkees and Star Trek, the ultimate show that has had way more influence than it’s original run on CBS from 1964 through 1967 would suggest.  The theme song tells the whole story of what happens in the show which always gets my admiration (you understand the whole premise right away) set to the tune of a jaunty sea shanty.  Many find it truly is amazing that through all their ingenuity they couldn’t find their way off the island, but we all know that the greater question was who did you like better – Mary Ann or Ginger (I went for the wholesome former).  Stars Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr. played off each other’s size differences much like the great comedy team of Laurel And Hardy.  The show became a phenomenon when it wouldn’t die in syndication and had several TV movie remakes and even a reset in space.  The song was written by the show’s creator Schwartz (who also created The Brady Bunch) and Wyle (a Jewish co-writer of the Christmas song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”) in two versions.  The version first used didn’t mention the professor or Mary Ann, but was changed when they became popular characters.

19.Peter Gunn – Henry Mancini

One of the great riffs in TV, this was written by perhaps the greatest composer of music for films and TV – Henry Mancini (“Moon River”, “Charade”, etc.).  I most certainly never saw this show back in it’s 1958 – 1961 run as once again mom and dad were not fans of these sorts of gritty detective shows.  The show was created by another media icon Blake Edwards (10Days Of Wine And Roses, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, etc.) who always seemed to team up with Mancini for something memorable.  This song has seen life several times over the years notably hitting for Ray Anthony, Duane Eddy and The Art Of Noise.  Another near miss to the list was Batman which always felt like this song turned upside down.

20.Monk – Randy Newman

If there is one person who could rival Mancini for wonderful film music, it would be Randy Newman (Toy Story, Ragtime, The Natural, etc.).  His song “It’s A Jungle Out There” became the theme song for Tony Shaloub’s starring vehicle in season two and won the 2004 Emmy Award for Best Main Title Music.  It’s sardonic Newman at his best talking about how hard it is to live in our world as Shaloub’s damaged character Monk struggles with.  For more about the show, please refer back to last month’s fave TV show blog post.

21.Perry Mason – Fred Steiner

Boy does this song evoke the mood of an era with the grinding strings over the persistent piano triplets.  Here is a show that ran forever it seemed – in first run from 1957 to 1966, then in syndication when I first saw it with my late friend Craig Sullivan; we tried to catch reruns during lunch breaks as Dental School Freshmen at Colorado.  The TV movies with Raymond Burr were also engaging however I must say that after years of watching the show Law & Order I have wondered how much Perry would have gotten away with in a modern courtroom.  As we discussed earlier for Hogan’s Heroes, Steiner was a prolific composer also creating music for the movie The Color Purple and the theme for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

22.Get Smart – Irving Szathmary

It was through the connections of Irving’s younger brother that he was able to compose the music for this silly spy spoof created by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks.  Brooks said of his inspiration, “No one had ever done a show about an idiot before. I decided to be the first.”  Don Adams as Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 worked for CONTROL and tried to thwart the nefarious KAOS every week – all with silliness like shoe phones and the dreaded cone of silence.  The show ran for five seasons starting in 1965 and caused many a kid to use the phrases “would you believe” and “missed it by that much”.  Starting in 1934, Szathmary was a musical arranger for orchestras lead by folks such as Benny Goodman and Andre Kostelanetz.  His younger brother Bill changed his last name to Dana and had a successful career mainly as the silly Hispanic character Jose Jimenez.

23.The Bugs Bunny Show – Mack David, Jerry Livingston

I am torn on this song as I can’t prove or disprove that this song was written specifically for this show.  Its such a great song and dance number, however, that I am going to go out on a limb and include it.  The specifics of this show were included once again in last month’s blog post.  Generally it was a chance for all us kids to watch classic Looney Tunes cartoons that amazingly are still hilarious and don’t look at all dated even today many some 70+ years after they were created.  Lyricist Mack David shouldn’t be confused with his brother Hal who wrote with Burt Bacharach.  Mack co-wrote many great songs including “The Un-Birthday Song” (Alice In Wonderland) and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (Cinderella).  With Denver native Jerry Livingston, they created the theme to Casper, The Friendly Ghost  and “The Ballad Of Cat Ballou” among others.

24.Wild Wild West – Richard Markowitz

This over Rawhide is probably heresy, but that was a near miss to the list.  Here is yet another example of how great music was inspired by Western themed TV.  Supposedly Dimitri Tiompkin (High Noon, The Big Sky, etc.) was given first crack at the theme, but couldn’t pull it off so Markowitz who had originally done the theme to The Rebel came up with this memorable song.  The show was a regrettable last minute cut from my fave TV show blog (#26 perhaps?) as it combined a post-Civil War Western motif with Jame Bond spy work and gadgetry.  I never saw the Will Smith movie, but I don’t believe this was used in it.

25.The Flintstones – Joe Barbera, Hoyt Curtin, William Hanna

Oh how I struggled with this final entry – Mr. Ed, Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies.  Finally I had to go with this which is one of the most remembered songs from old TV and was used starting in the third season of the show’s original run from 1960 till 1966 (though when you see reruns now, it has been added to the first two seasons as well).  Now, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but at the time this was the first prime-time animated series paving the way for The SimpsonsKing Of The Hill, The Family Guy, etc.  The Hanna-Barbera animation studio had its beginning with The Ruff & Reddy Show in 1957 and their music director was Curtin.  We can thank this studio for a succession of classics including Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, The Jetsons, etc.

Doc’s Top 25 TV Shows

Image result

Personal taste on anything is so often hard to define or defend – you either like something or you don’t.  Even with only three channels to choose from for many years, there are thousands of TV shows that a 65-year-old has been exposed so it becomes tough to remember them all.  When trying to make a list of my all-time favorite TV shows, I found that it is hard to forget how hokey most of the TV from our youth was.  I loved to watch the Monkees and Batman as a kid, for instance, yet watching an episode now is almost embarrassing due to the dopey plots.  The music on the show Where The Action Is had me racing home from school to watch my fave group Paul Revere The Raiders yet now the silly setups seem awfully dated (though the music is still great).  When making a fave list like this, it is always hard not to give more weight to newer things as they are fresher in the mind thus leaving out shows like Columbo or St. Elsewhere might be a mistake, but one I will make anyway (heck, as a tot Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo were my faves).  If my wife were making this list I am sure you would see shows like Supernatural, X-files, The Good Wife and Boston Legal – all good shows, but not in my realm of interest.  I don’t find any of the modern comedies funny, yet when compiling this list I was surprised at how many of the shows are comedies – just old ones.  The order may change from day to day and I may be tempted to add LA Law or Andy Griffith on other days, but here is my list.

I decided that a cadre of TV movies over several years does not constitute a TV series so for that reason I have eliminated what would have been #2 on my list – The Jesse Stone Mysteries starring Tom Selleck (2005 – 2015).  That being said, I will recommend these nine (and counting, I hope) thoughtful and well-written stories about a former LA lawman with major failings (alcohol, divorce, self-doubt).  He is trying to rebuild his life in small-town Massachusetts but has no interest in bowing to the local powers.  They are based on a book series by the late Robert Parker and are totally counter to the frenetic pace of most current shows – there are long quiet scenes that feel more powerful than the fastest action.  My favorite character in many ways is the dog he adopts (or that adopts him, actually) that becomes his conscience.  My personal fave episode is the seventh one:  Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost from 2011.

Image result for law and order tv

1.Law & Order

Hands down this is an easy choice for me as 20+ years after I originally saw most of these shows, I would still rather watch an old episode of this well-written show than any modern show’s new episode (and on most nights you can still watch one on cable).  The original (and the best) series ran from 1990 till 2010 and was created by Dick Wolf (Chicago Fire, Law & Order SVU, etc.).  When most shows lose cast members the quality is often hard to maintain, but this is a rarity that survived changes.  It is often hard to pick who is your favorite assistant DA (Robinette or Kincaid?) or 2nd detective (Logan or Ed Green?) but for me it isn’t hard to pick the best lead detective – the late Jerry Orbach playing Lennie Briscoe.  That the show feels real and deals with familiar topics is what allows it not seem dated like a show such as Perry Mason does where you now realize that he would never have been allowed to do the crazy things that he got away with each week.  The Mike Post created “chung chung” noise that goes with scene changes is a distinctive feature you can’t forget.  I am also a fan of the third show that Dick Wolf did in that vein, Law & Order Criminal Intent due to the great pairing of Vincent D’ Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe as the detectives.

Related image

2.SCTV

It appears that only the cool folks knew about this show back in the day (likely because NBC didn’t seem to know how to program it) which is sad, but it lives on today thanks to youtube and DVD reissues.  The show was an offshoot from Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe and was ostensibly about a small-town Canadian tv station and the weird characters who were on it.  The show ran in some form basically from 1976 till 1984 with ’81-’84 the prime US years.  It seems like most every actor on the show went on to much bigger things, but were here allowed free reign to be creative and develop much of what they became.  Martin Short’s Ed Grimley and Rick Moranis plus Dave Thomas’ dopey Canucks Bob and Doug McKenzie are perhaps the best known of all these characters, but it is hard to pick faves.  The 5 Neat Guys, the Schmenges, Rockin’ Mel Slirrup, Tex & Edna Boyle, Count Floyd, Johnny Larue, on and on.  In addition to Short, Thomas and Moranis you had John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara (Harold Ramis, Tony Rosato and Robin Duke were early exits).  Their impersonations were wonderfully silly as well such as Levy as the VERY relaxed Perry Como and Thomas as Walter Cronkite or Bob Hope.  My favorite episode was when the station was hijacked by Russian tv CCCP to air such weirdness as “Hey Giorgy”  and  “Upo-Scrabblenyk”.

Image result for cast of seinfeld

3.Seinfeld

It is interesting how many shows didn’t grab me right away.  The most egregious of these was Barney Miller which I didn’t watch at all when it was on, but found I loved in syndication years later.  I, like most of America, didn’t immediately latch on to this show either when it premiered in 1989, but by the end of it’s nine year run I was a huge fan.   George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and neighbor Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) populated Jerry Seinfeld’s world that sprang from his clean stand-up routine (check out his fine Netflix special) plus the mind of Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm).  The Bro, Festivus, the Puffy Shirt, etc. where all things in their weirdly mundane life.  Indeed they could build a whole show from simply waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant.  “Regifting”, “shrinkage”, “it’s gold Jerry it’s gold”, “they’re out there and they’re lovin’ it”, “not that there is anything wrong with that”, “I’m out”, “no soup for you”, “Newman!” – all great moments in the world of Seinfeld.

Image result for cast of the bob newhart show

4.The Bob Newhart Show

From 1972 till 1978, Bob Newhart played the Chicago psychologist Robert Hartley.  Like Jack Benny earlier and Seinfeld later, Newhart was not afraid to surround himself with strong characters and let them get the biggest laughs which made for great comedy while he acted bemused.  Crazy airline employee Howard (Bill Daily), wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), receptionist Carol (Marcia Wallace) and Orthodontist Jerry (Peter Bonerz) were the regulars, but it was the side characters that really made the show.  Bob’s patients like Mr. Peterson (Jack Fiedler), Michelle Nardo (Renee Lippin), Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus) and the ever sarcastic Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley) were seemingly never cured but that was the fun.  It is hard to decide which of two episodes is my favorite.  I either would choose the one where the doctors had to hire a temp secretary (an old confused lady named Debby who never figured out Bob’s name) or the one where Carol calls Bob a fuddyduddy and to prove it she moves a plant on his desk.  Just like my personality it ate at Bob the whole show till he moved it back to where it belonged.  Bob Newhart’s comedy is dry and gentle and fits me personally to the point that my dad and I went to see him in concert in Greeley, CO back in the day for a memorable father/son memory.  While there aren’t too many shows that feature Dentists like myself, I always have had the problem that for some reason he had Jerry the Orthodontist cleaning teeth which is simply not correct.

Image result for cast of the bugs bunny roadrunner show

5.The Bugs Bunny Show

This show was a staple mostly on Saturday morning for us boomer kids to get up in our pj’s and watch cartoons while mom and dad slept (before cable made cartoons ubiquitous).  Starting in 1960, it actually continued till 2000, but it is the ’60s ABC and CBS years I remember with Looney Tunes cartoons from directors like Friz Freleng, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones (after 1968 also including Road Runner).  The characters were anarchic but lovable such as Tweety Pie, Foghorn Leghorn and Daffy Duck in addition to Bugs. Voice actors Stan Freberg, June Foray and Bea Benaderet were great, but it was the genius of Mel Blanc that made the show tick.  My wife’s fave episode is “Feed The Kitty” with the big bulldog that adopts a cat – mine is “One Froggy Evening” which had the one-time appearance of Michigan J. Frog who bedeviled a poor schmo who saw riches with a talented singing frog only to lose it all when the frog wouldn’t perform in front of anyone else.

Image result for cast of the muppet show

6.The Muppet Show

The late Jim Henson created the puppets for the kid friendly Sesame Street.  With the Muppet show he (and collaborators Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, etc.) sought to keep the kids, but add their parents as fans.  He succeeded in spades with a concept that has outlived him for many years.  It was the Brits who aired the show from 1976 till 1981 even though Henson was American so by all rights this is an import that became popular on US tv.  Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, the Swedish Chef, on and on – all great characters that went from pieces of cloth to personalities we continue to love.

Image result for cast of everybody loves raymond

7.Everybody Loves Raymond

Following the lead of Seinfeld, this took a stand-up comedian (Ray Romano) and made him a tv star (thanks to the mind of Phil Rosenthal who created the show).  From 1996 till 2005 we followed the day to day of sports writer Ray Barone and his disfunctional family played by Brad Garrett (his brother), Patricia Heaton (his wife), Peter Boyle (his dad) and the great Doris Roberts (his mom).  I think they were too much like my own family for my wife to enjoy, but I adored Ray who was totally controlled by his parents and wife while his poor brother seemingly always got the leftovers.  I hate it when shows feature smart aleck kids who control their parents so was always grateful that the three kids in the show were minor characters.

Image result for cast of saturday night live 1975

8.Saturday Night Live (the first 5 years)

Sporadically funny ever since, the cast of the early Saturday Night Live under the tutelage of Lorne Michaels is the only version I cared about.  That first cast of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner were the group I liked and when Chase left after year one to be replaced by Bill Murray who I don’t much like, it dropped a notch for me though it was still good.  When Michaels and the rest of the originals left in 1980, I stopped watching completely though there have been great moments since like “pump you up”, “more cowbell” and Eddie Murphy’s James Brown or Mr. Rogers takes.  Chase’s pratfalls, Aykroyd’s bass-o-matic, candy-gram, etc. – all funny moments from the early years of envelope-pushing later-’70s sketch comedy.  Belushi and Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers were my faves along with guest host Steve Martin who seemed like a regular.

Image result for cast of monty python

9.Monty Python’s Flying Circus

These crazy Brits came to my American eyes first via the 1974 re-release of their classic sketch movie And Now For Something Completely Different and then via PBS airings of their old tv shows which were recorded originally from 1969 till 1974 when they first disbanded.  I remember seeing the movie in a small art cinema in Larimer Square in Denver and laughing so hard at classic sketches like “dead parrot”, “upper class twit of the year” and “the lumberjack song” that I could hardly breathe.  Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam were reportedly surprised that the British humor translated so well to these shores.

Related image

10.Mythbusters

From 2003 till 2016 (I don’t count the new awful re-boot), these folks mixed science with ingenuity and entertainment to come up with a very original cable series.  The two main folks, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, were joined by a second team of Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara in later seasons.  The main premise was the testing of internet sensations, urban legends, common beliefs, tv/movie special effects, etc. to see if they were confirmed, plausible or busted.  As the budget increased, the show often got wilder with the destruction of cars and other expensive things (the use of explosives was pretty common).  These people actually knew what they were doing and were very good at it which added to the entertainment value.

Related image

11.MASH

War shows that are comedies tread a fine line.  Amazingly the high-jinks at a German-run allied POW camp during World War II was actually pretty funny (Hogan’s Heroes).  While this show took place at a makeshift hospital behind the front-lines during the Korean War, the show really commented about the Vietnam War as well.  Here is another show that managed to survive (and even thrive on) the change of major characters in its successful run of 1972 to 1983.    If I could visit with one other actor besides Tom Hanks, it would have to be Alan Alda who starred as Hawkeye Pierce and seems to be a pretty intelligent and well-spoken actor.  This show made him a star.  Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson and Gary Burghoff along with Alda were the featured players at first, but over time Jamie Farr as a cross-dressing soldier named Klinger got more and more screen time (he dressed in women’s clothing trying to get sent home but is never worked).  Perhaps the best addition in later years was the great old actor Harry Morgan as Colonel Potter who took the place of Stevenson’s Henry Blake.  Another character that gained prominence was Father Mulcahy played by William Christopher.  After Hawkeye, perhaps the most loved character was Radar O’Reilly the company clerk played by Burghoff.  The final episode broke the record for the highest percentage of homes with television sets to watch a television series and received an unheard of 77 share.

Image result for cast of longmire

12.Longmire

This show had two big things going for it:  beautiful scenery in its New Mexico locales and the prominent use of Native Americans along with stories about them (something you simply don’t see anywhere else).  Between A&E and Netflix, this series about a Buffalo, Wyoming Sheriff’s Department ran from 2012 till 2017.  Having read all the Craig Johnson Walt Longmire novels, I can say that I prefer the show as it expands on the Native American angle and adds the controversy of an Indian casino on the reservation.  Hearing star Robert Taylor’s rough western manner of speaking, it is jolting to catch his thick Aussie accent off-screen.  Lou Diamond Phillips makes a perfect Henry Standing Bear (Walt’s best friend) and A Martinez (Jacob Nighthorse) makes an interesting foe for Walt while Graham Greene as Malachi Strand is just plain evil.  I could watch this show with the sound off and still enjoy it due to the Taos and Las Vegas, New Mexico scenery.

Image result for cast of mary tyler moore show

13.The Mary Tyler Moore Show

After playing the typical ’60s wife Laura Petrie who waited for husband Rob (Dick Van Dyke) to come home from work, this series explored (humorously) the emergence of the single career-woman (Mary Richards) in the ’70s.  In its run from 1970 till the classic final episode in 1977, this show received 29 Emmy awards.  It was about a tv news show associate-produced by Mary.  Valerie Harper played Rhoda (her neighbor), Cloris Leachman played her landlady Phyllis, Gavin MacLeod was Murray the writer, Ted Knight was the dopey on-air talent and the great Ed Asner was Mary’s boss.  The biggest surprise breakout was Betty White as the happy homemaker Sue Ann Nivens who looks angelic while hungrily pursuing men.  This show really established White as a comic actress of great skill.  The final episode is still seen as one of the best sign-offs ever (after perhaps Newhart where Bob wakes up with Emily from his earlier tv series to relate the crazy dream he had about an inn and a wife who wore lots of sweaters).

Image result for cast of the simpsons

14.The Simpsons (first 18 to 20 years)

This is a show that I haven’t watched for several years after adoring it for two decades or so (either I outgrew it or the writing got tired ever since their movie in 2007 – who knows).  The fact that the voice cast has generally stayed intact for nearly 30 years is amazing ( Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer) but since the characters are all drawn it doesn’t really matter how much the actors have aged which is a plus.  After three seasons of use as shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show, Matt Groening’s creations were given their own Fox network half-hour in 1989.  Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie and the irascible Bart have been going strong ever since with ancillary characters like Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Krusty, Moe, etc. to add to the craziness (personally I was a Disco Stu and Comic-Book Guy fan – worst episode ever!).  I hope they eventually put out a DVD of all their music-related episodes including my fave about a music camp run by Mick and Keith of the Rolling Stones with counselors like Tom Petty and Elvis Costello.

Image result for cast of star trek original

15.Star Trek (original series)

Frankly it is pretty amazing to look at the franchise that has been spawned by a marginally rated three-year tv series that ran starting in 1966.  It was the vision of Gene Roddenberry who visualized the show as a space version of the then popular western Wagon Train.  Showing blacks, Asians, men and women and even aliens working side-by-side as equals in 1966 was pretty ground-breaking stuff (though the women did wear skimpier outfits).  James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig were the primary cast, but William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock were the stars.  The crew had to explore the cosmos and avoid bad guys like the Klingons and the Romulans while not interfering with the development of other cultures – oh and along the way Kirk got to woo hot aliens and fire phasers and photon torpedoes while Spock was communicating with rock-based creatures logically.  My favorite two episodes are the thought provoking “The City on the Edge of Forever” (about time travel and the possibility of accidentally changing the course of history so the Germans won World War II) and “The Trouble With Tribbles” which was a much more light-hearted exercise about furry creatures.  My wife would have chosen on her list the next Star Trek series that had Patrick Stewart as Picard – Next Generation – a bit more cerebral in its approach to fighting aliens.

Image result for cast of home improvement

16.Home Improvement

This is the only show here that breaks my rule of hating tv with smart aleck kids, but Tim Allen was such a break-out star that it was worth it.  This show ruled network tv of the ’90s in it’s eight season run (1991 – 1999) and also launched the career of Pamela Anderson (the first Tool Time girl) who left after the second year.  Once again we had a stand-up comedian who had a show built around his character – this time about Tim Taylor an accident prone handyman with a fix-it tv show called Tool Time.  His straight man tv helper was played by Richard Karn (Al) while at home he had an over-the-fence always partly hidden helper played by Earl Hindman (Wilson).  His wife (Patricia Richardson) and three kids (Zachery Ty Bryan, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Taran Noah Smith) were always bemused by Tim’s love of tools and “more power”.

Image result for walt disney wonderful world of color

17.Walt Disney’s Wonderful World Of Color/Wonderful World Of Disney/etc.

Starting in 1954, this show seemingly ran forever on tv every Sunday night and if you didn’t have a color set starting in 1961, you had to find a friend who had parents that could afford one.  The show had many different titles but always had, till his death in late 1966, an intro by the kindly looking old gent Walt Disney (he died at 65 which seemed old till now – yikes!).  This show brought high quality productions such as Davy Crockett and Texas John Slaughter along with Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck cartoons and excerpts from Disney movies.  The show felt somehow better than most tv of the time for some reason – but then Disney always stood for excellence.

Related image

18.The Ren & Stimpy Show

Boy talk about the polar opposite of the gentle cartoons of Walt Disney, this was anarchic tooning for five seasons starting in 1991.  If I wasn’t supposed to let daughters Brenna and Hilary watch Bart Simpson, then certainly this show about unstable chihuahua Ren and Stimpy the dumb cat would have gotten the kids put in a foster home.  We watched anyway and laughed to the happy happy joy joy song, Powdered Toastman and the Muddy Mudskipper show.  Frosted Sod Pops, Log, “no sir I didn’t like it” – all iconic moments conceived from the mind of John Kricfalusi.  Nickelodeon fired him from his own show after two years of wrangling over missed deadlines.  The humor remained decidely adult, but it was those first two seasons that were the best.

Image result for cast of taxi

19.Taxi

While is feels like it ran much more recently, this comedy that spawned so much talent ran from 1978 till 1983 and garnered 18 Emmys.  Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Lloyd, Andy Kaufman, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner and Carol Kane – a pretty formidable cast (not to mention Rhea Perlman and Louise Lasser in supporting roles and guest star Ruth Gordon).  Manhattan’s Sunshine Cab Co. and the odd people who drove and maintained those cabs was the focus of the show.

Image result for nypd blue

20.NYPD Blue

To some degree this feels like the progenitor of Law & Order in its frankly adult way of handling the police in New York City.  Co-created by David Milch and Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, LA Law), this show revolved around the 15th Precinct detective squad from 1993 till 2005.  David Caruso left after two seasons (CSI: Miami) which gave Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz) center stage as the focal character.  Network tv had never seen such frank depictions of alcoholism and nudity and probably won’t again.  The show won 20 Emmys for its great cast made up of Sharon Lawrence, Gordon Clapp, James McDaniel, Jimmie Smits, Nicholas Turturro and others.

Image result for cast of happy days

21.Happy Days

Without Henry Winkler’s break-out character the Fonz, this show would not have made the list as it was pretty squeaky clean.  After Ron Howard (Opie in The Andy Griffith Show) starred in the coming of age movie American Graffiti, it was logical that someone would make a tv show along those lines.  That someone was the prolific Garry Marshall who decided to portray a very idealized vision of life in the ’50s and early ’60s.  The Cunningham family (Tom Bosley, Marion Ross and Erin Moran) was supposed to be the focus but when motorcycle riding/leather-clad tough guy Arthur Fonzarelli got more screen time, the show took off.  The same Colorado party band from American Graffiti (Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids) played Fish & the Fins in one memorable episode performing “Youngblood”.  This show spun-off Mork & Mindy which almost made this list thanks to one great season thanks to the genius of Robin Williams (but the rest of its run didn’t measure up).

Image result for cast of leave it to beaver

22.Leave It To Beaver

Perhaps this show should have been higher due to Wally’s friends Lumpy Rutherford (Frank Bank) plus the ever-cool Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) but it just feels like a show from a different era and is hard to rate.  To this day I still love the closing scene of the show with Wally (Tony Dow) and the Beaver (Jerry Mathers) walking home to the happy song “The Toy Parade” (the jazzy version isn’t as good). We saw the house set on the back-lot at Universal Studios in California and it was still thrilling to picture Wally and the Beav walking there.  Dad Ward (Hugh Beaumont) and mom June (Barbara Billingsley with her pearls) were classic 1957 to 1963 parents with roles traditionally defined.  Where the show took off was with Wally and his friends or Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver with his assortment of side-characters like Larry Mondello (Rusty Stevens), Whitey (Stanley Fafara), old Gus (Burt Mustin), teacher Miss Landers (Sue Randall) and the like.  John Candy on SCTV did a funny take-off of the Beav with Joe Flaherty as an alcoholic Ward.

Related image

23.The Iron Chef (料理の鉄人)

Talk about your left-field cult hit, this Japanese culinary show became a surprise sensation when dubbed into English and shown here on cable starting in 1999.  The newer American version is nowhere near as profoundly goofy as the original which ran in Japan from 1993 till 1999.  Chairman Kaga (鹿賀主宰), always in flamboyant costume, intro-ed each show which featured some nationally known chef who had to choose one of several equally well-dressed Iron Chefs to see if they could out-cook him and win the acclaim of the land.  The battle took place in Kaga’s own Kitchen Stadium which he supposedly constructed for such events and always had some theme food at its heart such as octopus.  The show had two commentators, Kenji Fukui and Dr. Yukio Hattori plus a reporter, Shinichiro Ohta.  Guest reporters often appeared as well to watch the two chefs battle to create foods that would be then tasted and judged at the end.  It was always bizarre to watch petite Japanese ladies eat oddities like sea anemone and comment in Godzilla-like dubbed English about the merits of the food.  Needless to say Brenna, Hilary and I loved the show.

Image result for cast of monk

24.Monk

Tony Shalhoub is such a fine actor that he made this show worth watching on his own.  There has been a long list of excellent tv shows about odd characters who have a predilection for solving crimes (Perception, Medium, The Mentalist), but this was my favorite.  Monk was a mentally damaged former detective who suffered from a litany of phobias that made operating in the real world a challenge.  He always had an assistant to help him (Sharona – Bitty Schram or Natalie – Traylor Howard) and worked with the confused Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) and the bemused Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine).  Monk ran for eight seasons starting in 2002.  The series ender held the record for a cable-tv drama at 9.4 million viewers till The Walking Dead broke that record.

Image result for cast of red green show

25.The Red Green Show

Boy this was in tough competition for the last spot with WKRP In Cincinnati, St. Elsewhere and Hawaii 5-0 (the original with Jack Lord).  This Canadian export won out due to the silliness plus the fact that my parents and I got Red Green’s autograph and posed for pictures at a hardware store (we also saw him in an hilarious one-man show that night).  Red (Steve Smith) and his dopey nephew Harold (Patrick McKenna) supposedly ran a low-rent cable tv show from Possum Lodge and featured handyman Red using his ever-useful duct tape to create new and clever things out of old discards (he once made a heated seat out of an old dryer).  The show was terribly gentle and predictable, but that was its charm in its run here on PBS every Saturday night from 1991 till 2006.  You had segments like “Adventures With Bill” (Rick Green) and “The Possum Lodge Word Game” plus odd characters like Ranger Gord (Peter Keleghan) and explosives fan Edgar Montrose (Graham Greene in a much different role than on Longmire).  Red had lots of sayings that became catch-phrases with my friends such as “keep your stick on the ice” and “if the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy”).  The end of the show had a meeting of the men of the Possum Lodge which always began with the Man’s Prayer: “I’m a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.”

Put Your Lips Together & Blow: 25 Spiffy Whistling Songs

The definition of whistling is “to emit a clear, high-pitched sound by forcing breath through a small hole between one’s lips or teeth”.  This musical instrument is well within the playing skills of most of us non-musicians so whistling songs hold a special fondness when listening to a familiar tune on your fave sound generating device allowing you to join in.  My wife Aimee thought a blog post devoted to whistling songs might be fun and I agreed.  I figured these sorts of songs were a lost genre like instrumentals till I started hunting.  Turns out artists like Flo Rida (“Whistle”), Peter Bjorn & John (“Young Folk”) and Bruno Mars (“The Lazy Song” – great video too) have kept the style alive that goes back at least as far as Bing Crosby’s “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)” from the ’30s.  Looking on-line, there have been a few lists devoted to whistling songs, but none of them seemed to reflect all the great songs I wanted to highlight.  I was surprised at how many nifty songs I came up with meaning that several ended up hitting the cutting room floor.  I decided to eliminate the show tunes (though I do love songs like “Heigh Ho” and “Whistle While You Work” plus newer ones like “Always Look At The Bright Side Of Life”) and concentrate on the rock era.  I also eliminated songs that only featured a non-musical whistle like “Walkin’ The Dog” by Rufus Thomas and “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens.  So many of the songs that people think are humans whistling are actually synthesized fakes so they were eliminated from my potential list right away.  My favorite song with that title (“The Whistler” – Jethro Tull) doesn’t even contain any whistling – only fife – go figure.    Grab a beverage to wet your whistler and get ready to pucker to the following.

1.Whistling Jack Smith – I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman

Quite the jaunty tune composed by British Rogers Cook and Greenaway, this was a #20 U.S. hit in 1967 just pre-summer of love.  The actual identity of who did the whistling is still a mystery since it was a studio session with no real artist.  When it became a hit, Billy Moeller (aka Coby Wells) was drafted in to pretend to be Mr. Smith and record a quick (but fun) cash-in LP.  John O’ Neill or the producer Noel Walker have been rumored to have been the lead whistlers.  Either way, this is pure ear candy.

2.Gordon Lightfoot – Ghosts Of Cape Horn

This neo sea shanty comes from Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s fine 1980 LP Dream Street Rose.  He seemed particularly skilled at songs about the sea with my favorite song by him being “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” which was a #2 hit in 1976.  By the ’80s he was still recording nice folk styled LPs but finding it harder to crack the charts (this album peaked at #60).

3.Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – March from The River Kwai & Colonel Bogey

As the head of A&R for Columbia records, Miller’s sound created a pile of hits including this medley from the 1957 Alec Guinness movie about the miseries suffered at a Japanese prisoner of war camp in World War II by British prisoners.  The main theme was composed by Malcolm Arnold with an added counter melody of the 1914 “Colonel Bogey March” composed by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts.  Miller’s sound was always bold, bright and layered with heavy echo giving it a stirring quality.  Sing-along with Mitch became a big thing in the ’60s, but no singing here – only heavily echoed whistling.

4.Earle Hagen & His Orchestra – The Andy Griffith Theme

Boy if every boomer can’t whistle this song, I would be stunned.  Hagen composed (with Herbert Spencer) and whistled a really catchy tune that had the advantage of being on an extremely popular and long-running TV show so we have heard this song hundreds of times.  I own the 1961 single on the old purple Capitol label though it didn’t chart.  With lyrics written by Everett Sloan, the song was titled “The Fishin’ Hole” but it was the whistled instrumental we all knew by heart.  Hagen was a prolific composer writing ” Harlem Nocturne” plus themes for shows like Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy and The Mod Squad.

5.The Beatles – Two Of Us

This Paul McCartney composition was one of the happier songs from the dismal experience that was the recording sessions for what became the Beatles last released LP – Let It Be.  While Paul says he wrote it for wife Linda, the lyrics sound more like a tribute to his musical partner John.  Over a year after they recorded it, the clip of this song from the movie Let It Be was shown on the Ed Sullivan Show.   March 1, 1970 would be their last appearance on the show that over 6 years earlier had launched them into the U.S. living rooms of so many kids and their parents.  John Lennon is credited with the whistled line towards the end of the song.

6.Glen Campbell – Sunflower

One of my fave Glen Campbell songs, this happy ditty was written by the prolific Neil Diamond and was a perfect summer song in 1977.  This was the second single released from his hugely successful Southern Nights LP and was arranged by Jack Nitzsche .  While it only hit #39 on the Hot 100, it charted #1 Easy Listening and #4 Country.  The whistling refrain near the end feels like someone walking down a country road in the sunshine.

7.Perry Como – Magic Moments

Burt Bacharach and Hal David had a very successful writing career mainly in the ’60s and mostly for Dionne Warwick.  This was one of their very first compositions.  The Ray Charles Singers, bassoon and whistling arrangement lend a wistful air to this huge early 1958 hit.  With 8 weeks at #1, it was Perry’s biggest U.K. hit.  In the U.S. this #4 hit was paired on one great single with the #1 hit “Catch A Falling Star” on the A-side.

8.Paul McCartney – Dance Tonight

Between the mandolin and happy whistling, this is a McCartney composition guaranteed to make you smile.  Some 40 years after Sgt. Pepper…, Paul could still write a catchy tune.  It was from his Memory Almost Full album and was released as a single in the U.K. on his 65th birthday June 18, 2007 (my dad’s 79th as well).  It charted there at #34 and in the U.S. at #69.  I bought this album when it was released through Starbucks in Monterey, CA on the 5th of June.  It always reminds me of our 30th Anniversary trip that also marked the anniversary of the big pop festival held there in 1967.

9.Pat Boone – Love Letters In The Sand

Pat Boone should be in the rock and roll hall of fame.  Whatever you think about his sanitized covers of songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “Ain’t That A Shame”, he and Connie Francis were pioneers of early rock and roll – period.  This song fit his style far better than his rock covers and like many of Connie’s hits was a cover of a much older song.  With piano triplets and Boone’s whistling, it was a #1 in the summer of 1957.  The original song was published in 1931 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Charles & Nick Kenny.

10.Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra & Chorus – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The Clint Eastwood starring Sergio Leone movies were dubbed “Spaghetti Westerns” as they were made in Italy (and Spain).  The Italian cowboy pictures made Eastwood a rugged action hero after his initial run on the TV series Rawhide ended in 1966.   This was the theme song to the third Leone western becoming a #2 hit in early 1968 – 2 years after the film was released in Italy and a year after it came out here.  Composer Ennio Morricone used snips of his theme throughout the movie featured the whistling of John O’Neill who may have also been Whistling Jack Smith as we saw earlier.  Hugo’s version used an ocarina (also in the Troggs hit “Wild Thing”) with whistled counterpoint.

11.The Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream

For a short period mainly in 1966, John Sebastian was a hit writing machine making the first 7 Spoonful singles top 10 chart hits – a feat matched in that era only by Gary Lewis & The Playboys.  At a concert a few years ago, he said the opening chords were inspired by the song “Baby Love” by the Supremes.  The relaxed good-time vibe of the song in turn inspired Paul McCartney to write “Good Day Sunshine”.

12.Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

How bittersweet was it that Otis wouldn’t live to see his crowning success of having this fine song top the charts in early 1968?  After his breakout appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, Otis rented a houseboat in Sausalito, CA and was inspired to write about his experience which guitarist Steve Cropper helped lyrically turn into a hit totally different than his other rawer r&b songs.  Otis recorded his vocal November 22nd and died in a plane crash December 10th near Madison, WI.  The whistling at the end is credited to Sam Taylor.

 

13.The Tremeloes – Here Comes My Baby

The first U.S. chart hit for the Tremeloes was this cover of a Cat Stevens composition.  It would hit a peak of #13 in the U.S. just before the summer of love in 1967.  Mike Smith produced this raucous sounding session of the group that he had chosen over the Beatles for a Decca recording contract in 1962 (at that time Brian Poole was their leader, but later left for a failed solo career).  In addition to the whistled lead break, you also get cowbell as an added bonus.  The band is still going today with only drummer Dave Munden left from the original members.

14.John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band (with the Flux Fiddlers) – Jealous Guy

It was hard to choose this version over the excellent Lennon tribute remake by Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, but it gets the edge because this is John Lennon, after all.  This was originally an album track from John’s best solo album 1971’s Imagine.  After his murder in 1980, “Jealous Guy” charted at #80 as a single from the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon.  Bootleg recordings from 1968 show this tune used on another song inspired by the Beatles’ trip to India – “Child Of Nature”.  Paul’s “Mother Nature’s Son” was also inspired by the same subject.  John later changed the lyrics to talk about his feelings of inadequacy.

15.Bobby Bloom – Montego Bay

Bobby Bloom is known mostly as a one-hit wonder for this island’s inspired percussive treat from 1970 (#8 chart hit).  He was a songwriter mostly in a pop-bubblegum vein which included this co-write with Jeff Barry.  The song is about Jamaica and is arranged as a calypso with whistling.  Bloom died in 1974 at age 28 from what was deemed an accidental gunshot wound.

16.Larry Williams – Short Fat Fannie

At #5 (1957) this was rocker Williams’ biggest success on the charts.  He is far better known, however, from the great covers of his songs by the Beatles and The Rolling Stones (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, “Bony Moronie”, “Slow Down”, “She Said Yeah” just to name 4).  Williams couldn’t overcome his demons and would go to jail for dealing drugs in 1960.  At age 44 on Jan. 7, 1980, Williams was found dead in L.A. from a gunshot.  It was ruled a suicide at the time, but was suspicious.

17.Gene Pitney – Only Love Can Break A Heart

So many of the whistled songs are happy, but this was an aching ballad trilled by the late singer Gene Pitney.  In the fall of 1962 Pitney took this Burt Bacharach & Hal David song to #2.  In an ironic twist, the song that kept Gene from #1 was “He’s A Rebel” by the Crystals – a song Pitney wrote.

18.The New Vaudeville Band – Winchester Cathedral

The whole first part of the song is whistled till the megaphoned crooner comes in on the next verse taking the song to #1 in December 1966.  British songwriter Geoff Stephens had recorded his song as a studio session with another songwriter John Carter (the Ivy League) singing lead.  When the record became a hit, an unrelated New Vaudeville Band was quickly assembled for touring.  The song won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording which is about as rock and roll as the Grammy awards got back then.

19.The Highwaymen – Michael

During the early ’60s folk boom, this cover of the African-American song “Michael, Row The Boat Ashore” went to #1 on the charts in the U.S.  Perhaps it was the slightly out of tune whistling or the simpleness of the song, but the rest of the world ate it up too pushing the song to #1 in the U.K and #4 in Germany.  Their only other top 20 hit was “Cotton Fields”.  Note that the country act with folks like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash was not the same Highwaymen.

20.Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – Tunes Of Glory

There must be something about Alec Guinness movies that inspired Mitch Miller whistling hits – then again maybe it was because the music in this 1960 movie was supplied again by Malcolm Arnold who had done The Bridge Over The River Kwai.  The tune is better known as an unofficial anthem of Scotland – “Scotland The Brave”.  The song is usually performed on bagpipes, but  Miller chose a whistler to lead instead.  While it only got to #88 in 1961, it is indeed a stirring anthem.

21.Fitz & The Tantrums – The Walker

Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs and James King proved that a catchy song can still be made with whistling in 2013.  The song’s popularity in culture (being used in movies and TV a number of times) is at odds with the low chart placement of #67.  The band’s indie soul inflected pop sound isn’t in tune with the modern hip-hop culture which is a pity as they write catchy songs including this and “HandClap”.

22.Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontier

While only a #48 charter in the U.S., this single charted at #4 in the U.K. in the fall of 1980 for the former Genesis lead singer.  If one can believe Wikipedia, the whistling is performed by Gabriel with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.  Gabriel’s quirky lyrics seem to be a commentary on world politics and war.  Background vocals are by Kate Bush.

23.The Monkees – Tapioca Tundra

I was at first resistant to include this Mike Nesmith tune due to his atonal whistling at the beginning, but since the song is catchy and has some of his finest lyrics, it stays on the list (plus Mike was my fave Monkee at the time – sort of their Lennon).  By the time of the 5th Monkees LP The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, the band members were pretty much working on their own songs without help from other band members.  This was mostly a Nesmith solo record with Eddie Hoh on drums and charted as a single B-side at #34 in early 1968 (the A-side was “Valleri”).

24.J. Geils Band – Centerfold

The first two J. Geils Band albums were excellent American blues-rock and their Atlantic album Full House is one of the best live albums ever.  After that I lost interest in the band for a number of years as they dabbled in various r&b styles.  It was, however, hard not to get renewed interest in the band in the ’80s with great songs like “Love Stinks”, “Freeze Frame” and this #1 hit (February 1981).  This song was their only real U.K hit at #3.  There is just enough whistling at the end of this Seth Justman composition to qualify for this list.

25.Don Robertson – The Happy Whistler

Songwriter Don Robertson passed away at age 92 in 2015 having composed such hits as “Ringo” (Lorne Greene), “Anything That’s Part Of You” (Elvis Presley) and “Born To Be With You” (The Chordettes).  As a one-hit wonder he hit #6 whistling this merry little tune in 1956  (#8 in the U.K.).

Phil It Up – My Top Spector Sound-alikes

 

Phil Spector’s contribution to the lexicon of music for me is a very recognizable sound filled with percussive pop pomposity piled with layers of instrumentation and exploding with echo.  His most influential era was the girl-group 1963-64 period – The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love, etc (though his production on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was notable too).  To this day his sound is still imitated reverently and easily recognizable just as film-makers often pay tribute to Hitchcock when it comes to mystery.

What follows is my list of 20 songs from various eras that I enjoy and at least nominally have some similarity to the Spector sound.  They aren’t in any real order as I enjoy them all.  Note that Ace Records of England has put out three fine CDs of Spector Soundalikes that are worth owning.  None of the following songs are on those albums.  Please don’t scream that Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band “Born To Run” should be listed as I was trying to go for lesser known goodies but agree that it was outstanding.

1.Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids – See My Baby Jive

At once their crowning achievement and perhaps their biggest disappointment, this is an excellent cover of the Roy Wood Wizzard UK hit.  This was a 1977 single on the Private Stock label that sank without a trace as the label was winding down operations.  Frankly the sound flew in the face of what was hot in the US anyway – Fleetwood Mac, Andy Gibb , etc.  Sam (Flash), Kris (Angelo) and Linn (Spike) are all in rock and roll heaven where hopefully  great music like this gets a second chance.

2.Dave Edmunds – Born To Be With You

Proving that the kids in the mother country had some taste back in 1973, this was a #5 hit in the UK with Mr. Edmunds handling the playing and singing.  The song was written in 1956 by Don Robertson and was a US hit for the Chordettes in that year in a pop style totally removed from Dave’s wall-of-sound arrangement.  The song appeared in the U.S. on the RCA LP Subtle As A Flying Mallet.

3.Tracey Ullman – Sunglasses

A fine Peter Collins 1984 production for a lady known more as a comedian/tv performer, this single reached number 18 in the UK charts.  Her two Stiff records are collected on the excellent double CD Move Over Darling and is a must for fans of the girl group sound.  This song was written by John D Loudermilk and was a minor hit in the US for Skeeter Davis in 1965 in a more conventional style.

4.The Searchers – Each Time

After their initial success as the British Invasion took off in 1964, the Searchers singles charted lower and lower to the point that by the time their excellent late 1965 LP Take Me For What I’m Worth came out they were barely hanging on in the US.  “Each Time” which was written by Jackie DeShannon could well have been a single, but was buried as an album track.  The production is drenched in glorious layers of echo.

5.Dion – Always In The Rain

Of course Dion will always be remembered for such great hits as “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”, but by the end of the 60s he was pretty much washed up as a recording artist.  In 1989 Dave Edmunds produced a fine comeback album for Dion DiMucci that included this excellent Dion original (co-written with B. Tuohy) as an album track.  The comeback didn’t really take off sadly.

6.Roy Wood Wizzard – Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)

It is nearly painful how unknown the talented Roy Wood is in the US.  He wrote and performed some great 60s pop with the Move then started the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) with Jeff Lynne only to quit after one album to front Wizzard.  While ELO became US superstars, Wizzard were UK stars for a time who could never crack America.  This 1973 single went to #1 in the UK and perfectly encapsulates his sound – an homage to the wall-o-Spector school of overproduction which sounds sublime on CD.

7.The Rubettes – Sugar Baby Love

With production and writing credit by Wayne Bickerton (co-writer Tony Waddington), this was an international smash hitting #1 in the UK in 1974.  For the record, the Rubettes were a studio creation with Paul DaVinci singing lead as opposed to the guy who lip-synces in the video.  When it became a hit, a real group was organized with different players who went on the have more hits but none are big as the first.

8.Ronnie Spector & The E Street Band – Say Goodbye To Hollywood

Production is handled by Miami Steve Van Zandt with backing from the E Street Band he was a member of.  Vocals were by one of Phil Spector’s main singers (and one-time wife) Ronnie so you can’t get more legit than that.  Billy Joel who wrote it had a #17 hit with his song in 1981, but this should have been the one to chart in a more perfect world.

9.The Honeys – The One You Can’t Have

Diane and Marilyn Rovell plus their cousin Ginger Blake (the Honeys) were never successful on their own even though Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was their producer and songwriter (and later husband to Marilyn).  Of course it is well-known that Brian’s favorite record was a Spector production of “Be My Baby” (the Ronettes) so it is not a surprise how much this record owes to that sound. This was a single on Capitol in 1963 and should have been a hit.  It is the Honey’s singing backup on many Jan & Dean records and the single recording of “Be True To Your School” by the Beach Boys.

10.It’s My Party! – Someone Cares For Me

Back in 2000 three young ladies (Aubrey, Cara & Rhian) with producer/drummer John Giotto put out a fine homage album to the girl group sound of the 60s (Can I Get To Know You Better) on Mister Cat Records.  According to their website Giotto still manages a trio of females that mostly seem to appear in New York 30+ years after the original act formed. The song was written by Hawker & Shakespeare the real names of Ken Lewis and John Carter who as a team wrote a pile of big hits (“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”, “Little Bit O’ Soul”, etc.).

11.The Boomtown Rats – Never In A  Million Years

Bob Geldof went against his Irish band’s usual sound for this 1981 single awash in echo.   It managed to only chart in the UK at #62 but was full of Spectorism percussion.  Geldof is better known for his political activism organizing Band Aid and the massive concert Live Aid in 1985.

12.The Breakaways – Here She Comes

The Brits also had the girl group sound as is seen from this nice Tony Hatch (Petula Clark, The Searchers) production from 1964.  It was a single b-side written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich.  They were more known for singing backgrounds on sessions for artists like Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Lulu not to mention “Hey Joe” for Jimi Hendrix.

13.The Boppers – Jeannie’s Coming Back

This Swedish band started in 1977.  If you can believe wikipedia’s translation, this became their first big hit in 1991 (at least in Scandinavia).  The song was written by Norell, Oson & Bard and is from their self-titled CD on Sonet. Production was by Ola Hakansson, Tim Norell and Anders Hansson.  From their website it appears the band is still going with one original member.

14.Showaddywaddy – Don’t Turn Your Back On Me Baby

Showaddywaddy started in the UK in 1973 when two bands came together dressing as teddy boys and singing oldies.  They are still going with at least two original members (though not their lead singer Dave Bartram).  They were hugely successful at their peak having ten Top Ten singles, a number one (“Under the Moon of Love” in 1976), and a total of 209 weeks in the UK Singles Chart.  This group original was an album track from their self-titled debut record in 1974 and was produced by Mike Hurst.

15.Nick Lowe – Halfway To Paradise

Back in the 70s Nick and Dave Edmunds were releasing their Rockpile band records under their respective names depending on who was singing lead.  This 1977 Stiff records non-charting single was a cover of a 1961 Goffin/King composition that was a big UK hit for Billy Fury in 1961 (#3).  Lowe dropped away from rock and roll for way too long, but of late seems to have found his way again recording and touring with one my fave bands Los Straitjackets.  For some reason this video ends early – sorry.

16. The Knack – The Feeling I Get

With “My Sharona” and the like these power-popsters blazed bright for a time in 79-80 then sadly flamed out just as quickly.  This Doug Fieger original was an album cut from their 1980 sophomore release …But the Little Girls Understand that contained their #38 chart single “Baby Talks Dirty”.  The years 1979 and 1980 were some of my favorite years musically with acts like Cheap Trick and other power-pop bands (Paul Collins Beat, the Romantics) coming to the fore.

17.The McKinleys – Someone Cares For Me

The McKinleys were sisters Sheila and Jeanette from Scotland who released this single in 1964 to sporadic success in certain areas of America.  The song was written and produced by John Carter and Ken Lewis  who along with Perry Ford were also the chart act The Ivy League (“Tossing & Turning”, “Funny How Love Can Be”, etc.).

18.The Bay City Rollers – Bye Bye Baby

This was a 1975 cover of the Four Seasons record “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)” from a decade earlier.  Bob Crewe’s production always owed a bit of a debt to Spector anyway, but this version produced by Phil Wainman took it up a notch.  This was a number 1 single for the teen idols from Scotland.

19.Pat Powdrill – I Only Came To Dance With You

Okay, I admit that this is probably a bit of a cheat as it was arranged by Jack Nitzsche who was Phil Spector’s right-hand man.  Production on this 1963 single was by Jimmy Bowen (Dino, Desi & Billy, Frank & Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin and just about anybody else on Reprise back in the day).  Pat Powdrill was one of those faceless but essential singers from back in the day who supplied background vocals on records.  From 1966 till the early 70s she was a member of the Ikettes who backed Ike & Tina Turner.

20.Radio Stars – It’s All Over

This was an album track from the UK band’s second Chiswick album Holiday Album in 1978.  Radio Stars was a band started by Martin Gordan (ex-Sparks bassist) and Andy Ellison (vocalist with John’s Children who also featured Marc Bolan) fitting in somewhere between punk and new wave.  Gordon handled the production.