023: Tommy Edwards, ‘It’s All In the Game’

Posted by jeff on Jul 28, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week, Vocalists

I’ve had a fitful music week, which happens sometimes. I generally spend a goodly portion of my listening (i.e., waking) hours with ‘music I don’t enjoy’ – new music, difficult music – in that never-ending search for magic. This week it seemed to be all music that takes an effort – mostly uneven Brazilian stuff I’m trying to get a handle on, especially Yamandu Costa and last week’s Roberta Sa; a restless mix of fine newgrass band Crooked Still, King Pleasure, Michael Franks, Paul Bley; a smattering of Schumann chamber music, Hindemith, and Faure and Kiri Te Kanawa. In short, I hit no groove.

VP Gen. Charles Gates Dawes

But it’s time to SoTW, so I figured I’ll just close my eyes and dip into the treasure barrel of old favorites and see what we grab.

Tommy Edwards’ #1 hit from 1958, ‘It’s All in the Game’. What an absolute pleasure.

The melody was written in 1912 by non-musician Gen. Charles Gates Dawes, a banker and, from 1924, vice-president of the United States under Calvin Coolidge, then a year later recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for creating a program (unrealized) to enable Germany to restore and stabilize its economy. A sitting VP?

Carl Sigman

Then in 1951, along come Carl Sigman and added some words. Carl was one of them New York Jewish lawyers, but he also won a bronze star in North Africa. And he’s an inductee at the Songwriters Hall of Fame, having penned lyrics for “Ebb Tide”, “What Now My Love”, “Love Story” (the Andy Williams one, not the Randy Newman one), and another favorite of mine, Tad Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now“.

Tommy Edwards

Tommy Edwards, an R&B singer from Richmond, Virginia, who had previously recorded the prudent “That Chick’s Too Young to Fry”, recorded it for MGM in 1951 with the Leroy Holmes orchestra providing lots of gushy strings, and it reached #18 on the charts. Then he recorded it for them again in 1958 with the same orchestra, but this time with a piano providing pop triplets and a back-beat drum shuffle pushing the kids onto the slow-dance floor and into each other’s arms. Tommy sang it on The Ed Solomon Show (that’s what my grandmother called it, anyway), and it became a smash hit.
It was subsequently recorded by Gerry & the Pacemakers, Barry Manilow, Tony Orlando, Louis Armstrong, Bobby Bare, Brook Benton, Glen Campbell, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Sammy Davis Jr, Jackie DeShannon, Billy Eckstine, Tennessee Ernie Ford, The Four Tops, Art Garfunkel, Leslie Gore, Robert Goulet, Merle Haggard, Isaac Hayes, Englebert Humperdinck, Keith Jarrett, Elton John, Tom Jones, Ben E. King, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (!!!), The Lettermen, Liberace, Nick Lowe, Tony Martin, Johnny Mathis, Gene McDaniels, Glenn Miller, Van Morrison, Rick Nelson, Donny Osmond, Esther Phillips, Sandy Posey, Arthur Prysock, Johnnie Ray, Cliff Richard, Neil Sedaka, Dinah Shore, Phoebe Snow, UB40, Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton, Lawrence Welk, Barry White, Roger Whittaker, Andy Williams and Jimmy Witherspoon (and these are only the ones I know from the list of over 250 artists).

How did I meet this song, you might ask. 1958. I was only 10. Was I listening to pop radio at 10? No, I wasn’t. I started listening at about 13. I’d hear all 4 new Songs of The Week (or whatever they called them) Monday afternoons on WSAI, and the Top 40 on Thursday nights, and those same songs all week long, hour after hour after hour after hour. But I was afraid I’d missed something (obsessive-compulsive can raise its ugly little head at an early age), so when they started broadcasting 24-hour oldies marathons on holidays, guess who was secretly pulling all nighters up in his room, his ear smashed up against the little speaker on the plastic AM radio next to his bed?

You have to understand, ‘oldies’ was a very different concept in 1961. It meant rock and roll oldies, and rock and roll was barely 5 years old! So what the heck were they playing all those hours on the oldies marathons? There really was quite a rich supply of pop hits, major and minor. Today, the distance between The Coasters’ “Searchin'” and Tommy Sands’ “Teenage Crush” seems much greater than it did back then. But I wanted to learn it all. So I saved up all my quarters for the Oldies collections issued by Liberty and Roulette and Atco, the first LPs I ever bought. I still remember (if somewhat vaguely) the MGM.collection. Leroy Holmes’ “Theme from ‘The High and the Mighty'”, Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel”, David Rose’s, “The Stripper”,  Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater”, Johnny Tillotson’s “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On”, Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe”, not one of which I’d really like to spend 2:40 listening to now, certainly not at 3AM on Thanksgiving night, and one very beautiful, touching ballad that has been playing over and over in my head for almost half a century now.

So wish me luck in my listening next week. Maybe I’ll discover some jewel even half as lovely as Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In the Game”.

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062: Martha and The Vandellas, ‘Heat Wave’
120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’


002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’

Posted by jeff on Jun 28, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

This week we’re paying a visit to the pantheon.

Buddy Holly’s professional career lasted less than two years, cut short by a plane crash in Iowa in February, 1959 (as described by Don McLean in “American Pie”). BH is of the same age, locale and musical background as Elvis. But as Lennon said, “Elvis died in the army.” And Buddy Holly lives. His songs have been recorded by a wide range of artists without a break for the past 50 years. His reputation continues to grow.

He’s a musician’s musician. Keith Richards credits him with inspiring the Stones to create original material. Bruce Springsteen said, “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on–it keeps me honest!” Paul McCartney made an excellent, adulatory documentary movie about him.

The month before his death, Buddy recorded six songs he had written himself, alone with his acoustic guitar, in his living room at Apartment 4H of the Brevoort Apartments at 11 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. For many years, these were known only in adulterated versions, over-dubbed with a cheap rock-and-roll band and chintzy backing vocals.

They included ‘Peggy Sue Got Married‘, ‘That Makes It Tough‘ and ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping‘. But the real gem for me is ‘Learning the Game‘, a painfully honest song that touches the adolescent bewilderment and insecurity most of us never fully outgrow.

All the songs display a sophistication of personal expression – especially cynical resignation –unheard of in a teenage context in 1959. Known today as “The Apartment Tapes”, they predate the singer-songwriter by just a few years chronologically, but by light years conceptually.

Buddy was 22 and a half when he recorded this, and when he died. At that age, John Lennon was recording “Love Me, Do”, and Bob Dylan had recorded one album of original material.

But for me, the stories and the loss and the legend are of secondary importance. What really matters is how beautiful and truthful a song is ‘Learning the Game‘.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’
122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’
155: Buddy Holly, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’

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048 Sam Cooke ‘Bring It On Home To Me’,

Posted by jeff on May 31, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Sam Cooke, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, Live at the Harlem Square Club

I learned something new this week. Or more precisely, I had a long-held misunderstanding corrected. C’mon, Jeff, just say it—you were wrong, you just found out.

I always believed that Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ was a derivative cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’. And I’m here today to make a public confession that I was wrong, that Sam Cooke’s version came first, and thus to try to right that heinous injustice.

‘BIOHTM’ was released on May 8, 1962 as the B-side of ‘Having a Party’ on the RCA label.
‘YRGAHOM’ was released on November 9, 1962 on the Tamla label, a subsidiary of Motown.

So there. I’m sorry, Sam. But I guess I don’t really need to worry about it too much, since the half century since Cooke’s death at 33 in 1964 (shot by a lady motel manager whose room he had broken into and was allegedly trying to assault) has been very kind to his reputation. He commands the greatest respect imaginable, especially as a vocal stylist. Van Morrison readily admits that his whole approach to singing is modeled after Cooke. Rod Stewart often sounds like a bleached version of Cooke. You can’t imagine Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye without Cooke’s precedent. And that’s only the start of a very long list.

But that’s not his only achievement. He’s considered one of the finest gospel singers of the 1950s. In 1958 he crossed the line from the sacred world of hoot-and-shout gospel to the profane world of string-backed, hormone-soaked teenage carnal love with one of the biggest hits of the decade, ‘You Send Me’. Over the next few years until his death he had a string of memorable pop hits (‘Cupid‘, ‘Wonderful World’ later covered by James Taylor/Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, among many others) as well as hits that in retrospect were trailblazing steps into what would become soul music (‘Shake‘, ‘Ain’t That Good News’, and the immortal ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’). He was a political rebel, promoting black consciousness and pride, founding his own record company to fight the repressive, commercialized (white) music distribution business.

In a previous SoTW, I expressed some of my admiration for Smokey Robinson’s stunning ‘The Tracks of My Tears’. And I’m glossing right over Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ here, because it is too divine to be discussed other than on its own. This week we’re going to confine ourselves to these two companion pieces, ‘BIOHTM’ and ‘YRGAHOM’.

They’re both written by the very first black singer-songwriter auteurs in the pop idiom. They both reach back into the artist’s gospel roots, using the black Baptist church’s call-and-response format in a secular R&B song. And then looking around to write this, I discovered another very striking similarity–both were clearly toned down, sweetened up and bowdlerized for the Top 40 (white teenage) market, but both have a well-known raw, soulful version that puts the more popular version in a much clearer light.

Here’s Smokey Robinson & The Miracles hit record of ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’. And here’s a live version of the song, typical slick Motown, very much reflecting the spirit of the recorded version. It’s from the (Wonder Bread-white) TV show Shindig; Smokey and the guys are wearing tuxedos, and the dancing is typical 1964-vintage Motown. And here’s a pretty remarkable clip from 1963 in front of a black audience, from the “Motortown” revue at the Apollo Theater, with the legendary James Jamerson on bass, Smokey’s wife Claudette as a member of the original group. Apparently Motown didn’t have choreographers yet to polish the dancing, and Smokey’s tie is undone. His performance here is more James Brown than David Ruffin.

And here’s our SoTW, Sam Cooke’s inadvertently maligned ‘Bring It On Home To Me’. Here’s the hit record version of the song. The second voice here is the uncredited, then-unknown Lou Rawls! Ernie Freeman plays piano. And here it is live in front of a black audience at the Harlem Square Club in Miami, 1963. I’ve heard this song many times, by many artists. But I certainly never experienced it as I did when I heard this very, very raw and real version.

Among the countless artists who have covered the song are Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Paul McCartney (twice), John Lennon, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, and Aretha Franklin. So I’m not sure that Sam Cooke really needs rehabilitation from me. Still, it’s my privilege and pleasure to join the choir. So I guess I learned two things this week. First of all, that Sam Cooke takes a back seat to no one, not even to Smokey Robinson. Secondly, and much more important as a practical lesson for the future–the sweetest fruits are often those closest to the roots.

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152: Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’
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162: The Everly Brothers, ‘Crying in the Rain’

Posted by jeff on Feb 1, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

The Everly Brothers – ‘Crying in the Rain’


The people of our little country are even more diverse than the climates. I have friends here from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, no exaggeration. But variegated as the terrain and the folk are, we all share one common concern—the water level of that pond. The pond is fed by the Jordan River and some less illustrious streams, but it mostly depends on rainfall. But we’ve had seven years of drought, and the water level has been dropping dangerously. We’re a people who like to drink water and bathe, and even wash our cars and water our lawns on occasion. Well, the government put a stop to that (watering lawns, not drinking and bathing—yet).

Rain falls here only in the winter (December–March), and the entire population has been hoping and/or praying for a lot of it. Because, as I said, we like to drink and bathe and flush the toilet, and we have no other source. Lots of our neighbors have a surplus, but they would rather see us dry up than sell us any. So we root for the skies. Go, God!

Ayalon Highway, January 2013

Three weeks ago we had a veritable rainstorm here (in local terms), an entire week of propitious precipitation. The trains closed down, poor neighborhoods flooded, the main artery in the main city was blocked. The country was paralyzed. And everyone celebrated. Because we really do like our water, and we have nowhere to get it other than from God and the desalinization plants that are being built. (God’s prices are much better.) A driver caught in The Jam as interviewed on the news:

”How long have you been stuck here?”
“Three hours.” (Looks at his watch.) “Three and a half.”
“You must be pretty upset.”
(Grinning, raising his eyes to the sky) “Are you kidding? This is great! A few days a year like this, who cares? We need it. Let it rain!!”

More rain

There was a holiday mood throughout the country, a celebration of rain, a groundswell of appreciation for God’s beneficence. National elections were taking place, and no one gave a hoot. The rising level of The Sea was the lead headline, the elections below the fold. And now this week, another round. The media are full of National Pond Water Level graphs and Annual Rainfall tables.

Which brings us to the music. Rain and soppy songs, how well they go together. Our challenge for Song of The Week is to find The Quintessential Rain Song. No, not ‘Singing in the Rain’, dummy. A Rain Song is all about melancholy, a downcast  heart, soggy shoes, sloppy self-indulgent adolescent depression. Yeah, I know, there’s a myriad number of ways to feel about rain and an equal number of songs. I’m talking about the essence of that wet stuff. You can feel any way you want, going in. Love, national pride, it don’t matter. “Snap out of it” just doesn’t work. The essence of rain is grey and the blues.

So in my quest for the grail of The Perfect Rain Song, I ran a search on my music directory and came up with over 500 hits, and another bunch from my analog grey-matter data base.

‘Train’ doesn’t count (strangely I found no songs about a train in the rain). Neither do ‘Rainbow’ songs (a plethora). Knock out all the happy ones, from ‘Singing in the Rain’ to ‘Bus Stop’ to John Sebastian’s ‘Rain on the Roof’ (oh, I love that song so much) to ‘Soon It’s Gonna Rain’ from The Fantasticks.

Right off the bat, I see a couple of great songs about rain that really aren’t Rain Songs – most prominently Buddy Holly’s ‘Raining in My Heart’ (“The weatherman says ‘Clear today’”) and The Beatles’ monolithic ‘Rain’. Out go the Dead’s ‘Box of Rain’, ‘MacArthur Park’, the Rolling Stones’ salacious ‘Rain Fall Down’.

Two masterpieces get dropped because they’re too serious (I hope you’re grasping the logic of the criteria): Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’ (see SoTW 85), and ‘Fire and Rain’.

Regretfully, we also have to reject Peter Paul & Mary’s surprisingly dark (and very funny), ‘It’s Raining’. Oh, yeah, a nursery rhyme: ‘Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home – your house is on fire, and your children, they will burn.’

Dylan a priori lacks the soppy, soggy sentimentality, so out with such gems as ‘Buckets of Rain’, ‘It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, ‘Rainy Day Women’, ‘Percy’s Song’ (and its folk source ‘The Dreadful Wind and Rain’).

We’re even going to veto one of the most exquisitely painful songs we know, James Taylor’s ‘Rainy Day Man’ because it’s just too good. The Rain Song is about depression, not about existential angst. Here’s the perfect version from his first (Apple, 1968) album, here’s the revisit from “Flag” (1979), here from a bootleg performance with Joni Mitchell circa 1971. Here’s a fine 1971 video to chill you on a warm day.

I’m sure by now you understand that a real Rain Song has to be about clouds and eyes and crying and tears. So here it comes, the finalists in our unreality competition for the mantle of The Quintessential Rain Song

#7 – ‘Cry Like a Rainy Day‘, Etta James. A bit slick for my tastes, from a distinctly unslick singer.

#6 – ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’, Willy Nelson. Yeah, it’s a nice song. It meets all the prerequisites. But there are those where the heart is more fully saturated.

#5 – ‘Cry Like a Rainstorm’, sung by Linda Ronstadt, written by Eric Kaz. Lots of violins, and she can really hit those high notes.

#4 – ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’, 1962, young Carole King’s first solo release, back when she was churning out Brill Building hits. You can read all about it in its very own Song of The Week.

#3 – ‘Early Morning Rain’, written by Gordon Lightfoot, as performed by Peter Paul & Mary. One of my very favorite emotionally sodden songs. It also had its own Song of The Week.

#2 – ‘Raindrops’ by Dee Clark, a one-hit wonder from 1961. I was in the 8th grade, miserable, in the rainy Midwest, and I sure shed a lot of tears to this one. Check out the power soul wailing at the fade. Dee spent the last years of his short life in a welfare hotel in Toccoa, Georgia, impoverished and paralyzed by a stroke. So what was I doing, a Jewish boy, crying in the suburbs?

The envelope, please. Ladies and Gentlemen, the ultimate song of unrequited love and waterlogged self-pity:

#1 – ‘Crying in the Rain’, the Everly Brothers, music by Carole King, lyrics by Howard Greenfield.

Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield

Carole King’s corpus needs no elaboration. Howie grew up in Brighton Beach, in the same building with Neil Sedaka. He co-wrote such Brill Building gems as ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do’, ’Oh! Carol’, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Calendar Girl’, ‘Little Devil’, and ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ for Neil; ‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’ and ‘Breakin’ in a Brand New Broken Heart’ (Connie Francis); ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’(The Captain & Tennille); ‘Venus In Blue Jeans’ (Jimmy Clanton); and ‘Foolish Little Girl’ (the Shirelles)., not to mention the theme songs to Bewitched, The Flying Nun and Hazel.

Don and Phil Everly, of course, are charter members of the pantheon of rock and roll. Their career split into two – recording for Cadence Records in 1957-1959 songs written by husband-and-wife team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream,’ ‘Bird Dog’ and ‘Problems’), and then songs from a variety of sources in 1960-1962 for Warner Brothers (‘Cathy’s Clown’, ‘So Sad‘, ‘Walk Right Back’, ‘Crying In The Rain’, ‘That’s Old Fashioned’, and ‘When Will I Be Loved’. My, my, what a body of work. We’ll tell you more about them in their own dedicated SoTW sometime soon.

Not even a duo such as Art Garfunkel and James Taylor could match the Everly’s performance. And that’s saying something, because James has been known to rival them at their own game (here’s the Everly’s ‘Devoted to You’; here’s the treatment by James and then-wife Carly Simon).

Pretty as a picture postcard

But no one can beat the Everly Brothers. Simon and Garfunkel admitted to striving to be Everly ver. 2.0. The first time I heard a Beatles song (‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’) on the radio, sometime in late 1963, way before their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, I said to myself, “What’s the big deal? They sound like the Everly Brothers with a heavier beat.” Neil Young, inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, said that every musical group he belonged to had tried and failed to copy the Everly Brothers’ harmonies.

‘Crying in the Rain’ the perfect soggy, squishy rain song. It’s a pretty perfect song for any seasons. You just put the needle down on that 45 with the big hole, it brings its own weather system. All the heartache, all the sogginess, all the rain mixed with all the tears. I think we could even declare it as a genre unto itself: ‘Crying In The Rain Songs’. And here’s the best of the bunch.

I’ll never let you see
The way my broken heart is hurting me
I’ve got my pride and I know how to hide
All my sorrow and pain
I’ll do my crying in the rain

If I wait for cloudy skies
You won’t know the rain from the tears in my eyes
You’ll never know that I still love you so
Though the heartaches remain
I’ll do my crying in the rain

Rain drops falling from heaven
Could never wash away my misery
But since we’re not together
I look for stormy weather
To hide these tears I hope you’ll never see

Some day when my crying’s done
I’m gonna wear a smile and walk in the sun
I may be a fool but till then darling you’ll
Never see me complain
I’ll do my crying in the rain

I’ll do my crying in the rain
I’ll do my crying in the rain


If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’
076: Roy Orbison, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’
125: Bee Gees, ‘Holiday’

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