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123: Ray Stevens, ‘Jeremiah Peabody’s (…) Pills’

Posted by jeff on Jan 6, 2012 in Other, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

I ain’t no hyprachondriact, but I was up all night with acrobatic kishkes. Nonetheless, The Public is a voracious beast that needs to be fed, so here comes the universal cure: Ray Stevens’ ‘Jeremiah Peabody’s Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolvin’ Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills’.

Ray (b. 1939) has had a long and illustrious career as a novelty singer, a serious singer, as a studio musician and as producer; but for me he’ll always be about this ditty and ‘Ahab the Arab’ and ‘Santa Claus is Watching You’. When I was in the eighth grade, I thought this was really funny. You know, it’s not too bad now.

In case you were wondering, the tune was Ray’s first Top 100 hit, peaking at #35 in September, 1961. It was the second longest title to ever crack the Billboard chart.

We’ll be back with our long, boring, erudite fare soon. But right now, that’s all this week, folks. I’m going back to bed.

Do you have that run-down feelin’? Does your head go reelin’?
Are you nervous, jumpy, or on the edge?
Is it neuritis, neuralgia, or head cold distress,
Or maybe it’s your sinus drainage.

Do you have tired blood, beriberi?
Or maybe you’re a little overweight?
You better make some correction in all this infection,
Just send in one dollar ninety eight.

Get rid of that runny nose, that nagging cough,
That sneeze, that wheeze, and other injuries.
Take the wonder drug that cures all your ills!
Take Jeremiah Peabody’s polyunsaturated
Quick-dissolvin’ fast-actin’
Pleasant-tastin’ green and purple pills!
Oh yeah.

Well, it won’t upset your stomach, it’s good for all that ails ya,
It soothes all your aches and pains.
Get rid of those hammers in your head, don’t be a hyprachondriact,
Start feelin’ better again.

Clear up that fungus amongus
It’s good for every ailment, including water on the knee.
And it’s guaranteed to be just what you need
For quick, fast, speedy relief.
Get rid of that runny nose, that nagging cough,
That sneeze, that wheeze, and other injuries.
Take the wonder drug that cures all your ills!
Take Jeremiah Peabody’s polyunsaturated
Quick-dissolvin’ fast-actin’
Pleasant-tastin’ green and purple pills!
Oh yeah.
Little green and purple pills.
Oh yeah.
Little green and purple pills.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

042: Leiber & Stoller, ‘Yakety Yak’ (The Coasters)

051: The Ross Sisters, ‘Solid Potato Salad’

054: Mickey & Sylvia, ‘Love is Strange’

 

 

 

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117: Carole King, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’

Posted by jeff on Nov 4, 2011 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Quiz: What do these three songs have in common?

It Might As Well Rain Until September’ by Carole King (1962, peaked at #22 on the charts)

‘Jamie’, by Eddie Holland (1962, peaked at #30)

Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)’ by Barry Mann (1961, peaked at #7)

The 1950s didn’t end on December 31st, 1959 (a day on which absolutely nothing of note occurred other than a few really hip swingers celebrating the decade shift by dancing the cha-cha-cha), nor did the 1960s begin the next day (although Cameroon did gain its independence and Johnny Cash played his first free concert in a prison). I know. I was there (not in the prison; just, you know, around), albeit a wee ‘un. But I can testify that in 1961 and 1962 and even 1963, there were still plenty of 1950s around.

All I had to do was turn on WSAI, Cincinnati’s leading Hit Parade station, which informed my cultural landscape even more than Dobie Gillis, Alfred E. Newman, or the NL-winning Reds.  Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear as the Top 40 rides again!

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034: Dionne Warwick, ‘Walk On By’ (Burt Bacharach)

Posted by jeff on Apr 15, 2010 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

If the choice of our Song of The Week seems a bit obvious, pedestrian, or overdone, don’t blame me. I didn’t choose it – it chose itself.

First of all, I had occasion to touch on it with a 30-year old soprano, M.H. “Oh, I know that song,” she said. “Gabrielle sings it.”
Well, folks, I listened to Gabrielle’s version of it. At first, I thought my stereo system was having a panic attack. Then I thought perhaps it was being invaded by alien lizards. Then I thought the Merry Pranksters had spiked my decaf tea. But no, it was just this new century creeping up on me. Gabrielle wears a sequined eye patch; the father of her son murdered his stepfather with a machete; and for a living she electronically samples songs like “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” beyond recognition.

I gave M.H. the original version of “Walk On By“. M.H. heard it and said, “Wow, Jeff, that’s so much better than Gabrielle’s version. Who sings it?”

That was the self-same day that another reader of SoTW, one David Axelrod (whom I don’t know personally, but I understand has some real fiery issues himself), referred to “the slightly crazy pedantic tone of the writer.” Crazy I knew, but pedantic? But, yes, I admit to a certain pedantic compulsion to explain to 30-year old sopranos why they might do better listening to Dionne than Gabrielle. So this week’s song is for you, M.H. And pedestrian though the choice may be, the song certainly isn’t.

“Walk On By” was originally sung of course by Dionne Warwick, lyrics by Hal David, music and arrangement by Burt Bacharach. It was born in December, 1963, 7 years before Gabrielle, 16 years before M.H.
It’s listed as #70 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.It’s been covered hundreds of times, by everyone from Johnny Mathis to Vanilla Fudge. Here’s a YouTube playlist of 57 varieties of the song! But as M.H. knows, none of them can touch the original.

Burt Bacharach: “‘Walk On By’ was the first time that I tried putting two grand pianos on a record in the studio. I can’t remember if I played and Artie Butler played or if Paul Griffin and Artie Butler played but here were two grand pianos going on. I knew the song had something. It was a great date. I walked out of that studio and we had done two tunes in a three-hour session, ‘Walk On By’ and ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart.’ I felt very good leaving knowing that I had two monster hits on my hands. You never know for sure but you feel a great satisfaction.”

For the sharpies out there, quick, what’s the one Bacharach-David song The Beatles recorded? C’mon, quick!

The song itself talks about the public face of private heartbreak. The dark, incisive production employs a mixture of disparate elements, if we really need to dissect it. There’s an R&B chicken-scratch guitar riff giving a funky edginess throughout; a rich, intelligent piano base; flavors of vibraphone, woodblocks and Bacharach’s signature flugelhorn; MOR strings and vocal harmony filler; at the end of the verse, gospel-inspired backing singers (‘Don’t! Stop!’) over the rhythmically sprung piano roll. And that vocal, that vocal.

Burt Bacharach (b. 1928) and Hal David (b. 1921) were among the many Jewish kids churning out hits in the Brill Building in the late 50s (with Lieber & Stoller, Pomus & Shuman, Goffin & King, Barry & Greenwich, Mann & Weil–the last three being married couples).

Prior to “Walk On By” (April, 1964), the Bacharach/David had already put almost 30 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100, including ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, ‘Only Love Can Break a Heart’, ’24 Hours from Tulsa’ (Gene Pitney), ‘Any Day Now’ (Chuck Jackson), ‘Don’t Make Me Over’, ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ (Dionne Warwick), ‘Blue On Blue’ (Bobby Vinton), and ‘Baby, It’s You’ (The Shirelles—bingo!).

Subsequent classics of Bacharach include ‘Close To You’ (the Carpenters), ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ (B.J. Thomas) and ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (Aretha Franklin), ‘The Look of Love’ (Dusty Springfield), ‘Alfie’ (Cilla Black), ‘What the World Needs Now’ (Jackie DeShannon) and ‘Arthur’s Theme’ (Christopher Cross). According to one account, Bacharach has had 66 Top Forty hits.

Tall, elegant, stately Dionne Warwick (b. 1940) was doing backup vocals in NYC while still in high school, and then during her conservatory studies at Hartt College of Music (where she earned her doctorate in 1973).

While singing background on Bacharach’s production of The Drifters’ “Mexican Divorce”, she caught his eye. In this clip he waxes nostalgic about their meeting, his appreciation of her talent, his feelings for her and their relationship, and sings a medley with her beginning with ‘Walk On By’.

Over the next 20 years, Warwick charted 38 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach, including 22 Top-40, 12 Top-20, and nine Top-10 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 charts. Some of my favorite Bacharach/Warwick collaborations (beyond of course the great early triad of ‘Don’t Make Me Over’, ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘Walk On By’) are ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’, ‘Promises, Promises’, ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose’, and the original ‘I Say a Little Prayer’. They all carry the stamp of a real partnership, music and lyrics and arrangement and vocals. Bacharach stated, “She has a tremendous strong side and a delicacy when singing softly—like miniature ships in bottles.” Musically, she was “no play-safe girl. What emotion I could get away with!”

In itself, that’s a very impressive body of auteur pop – complex rhythmically and harmonically, inventive in the sound palette, highly charged emotionally, witty and urbane. Many historians of the field consider Bacharach to be virtually the only legitimate post-rock-and-roll member of the Great American Songbook pantheon, that which stretches from Tin Pan Alley through the Broadway and Hollywood musicals, 1920-1960. Bacharach and David have a lot in common with Arlen, Bernstein, Berlin, Dietz, the Gershwins, Hammerstein, Hart, Kern, Loesser, Rodgers, Schwartz, and Styne. They all wrote wonderful, memorable songs that continue today to transcend the very common denominator of the pop medium.

They’re also all Jewish men writing stellar songs best rendered by black women. That’s a subject that I’d love to delve into, but I assume that my lack of sensitivity to what is politically acceptable today (a consequence of my expatriatism) would cause such faux pas that I’d be dragged in front of HUAC for a public flogging.

Explaining what he tries to put into his songwriting, Bacharach said, “So it’s not, you listen four or five times and you love it, and then you say, ‘OK, enough with that.’ If I get tired of it quicker than I should, I have to rethink it.” How many times have I heard the song? I couldn’t count. Many hundreds, probably. Maybe thousands. Well, good job, Burt. And, yes, M.H., there is a Dionne Warwick.

If you see me walking down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by

Make believe
that you don’t see the tears
Just let me grieve
in private ’cause each time I see you
I break down and cry
And walk on by (don’t stop)
And walk on by (don’t stop)
And walk on by

I just can’t get over losing you
And so if I seem broken and blue
Walk on by, walk on by

Foolish pride
Is all that I have left
So let me hide
The tears and the sadness you gave me
When you said goodbye
Walk on by
and walk on by
and walk by (don’t stop)

Walk on by, walk on by
Foolish pride
Is all that I have left
So let me hide
The tears and the sadness you gave me
When you said goodbye
Walk on by (don’t stop)
and walk on by (don’t stop)
and walk by (don’t stop)

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

117: Carole King, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’

062: Martha and The Vandellas, ‘Heat Wave’

042: Leiber & Stoller, ‘Yakety Yak’ (The Coasters)

 

 

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