At a casual glance, the Rolling Stones’ 7th or 9th studio album (depending on whether you live in the UK or US) seems to have performed like most of their previous albums – all of which charted in the top 5 on either country’s album charts.
But when you drill down into the actual musical content of those records, it becomes clear that “Beggar’s Banquet” was a turning point in the Stones’ career.
The band’s previous two LPs (“Between the Buttons” and “Their Satanic Majesties Request”) had seen the band attempt to follow the Beatles’ forays in psychedelia with decidedly uneven results, with both of those albums hitting the budget bins before the decade was over.
A good many people just assume that one of the Beatles’ best-known songs from the Sgt. Pepper era, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is about drugs. I mean, the initials spell out L-S-D, amirite?
Not so fast. John Lennon has always claimed the inspiration for the song’s title came from a picture his young son, Julian, drew. Julian said the picture was of his young schoolmate, Lucy O'Donnell, and that he did, in fact, tell his dad that it was a picture of Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
Okay, you know nobody in the band was named Herman and that the lead singer, Peter Noone, is still active and performing today. But here are a few facts you may not know about those British Invasion fave raves:
It was Peter Noone’s resemblance to JFK that got them their first recording session – The group’s management had been trying unsuccessfully to get British super producer Mickey Most to record the boys. Finally, Mickey said, “Send me a picture” of the group. When the photo arrived, Most thought Noone looked like a young JFK and so decided to take a chance on the group.
Throughout the early days of rock, many, many hit records were put together by producer/songwriters using session singers and musicians and then released with a made-up name for the recording act. Perhaps no such group ever achieved so much as the Grass Roots, who actually, ultimately became a real touring band and wound up in the American Pop Music Hall of Fame!
Their story begins at the fledgling 60s record label, Dunhill. The label had been started by producer Lou Adler. Together with the songwriting duo of P.F. Sloan and Steve Bari, they had recorded a song called “Where Were You When I Needed You.” They made-up the group name the Grassroots (originally one word) and shopped the record to stations around California. Music people liked the tune, but thought the vocals needed to punched up. So, Adler, Sloan and Bari recruited a San Francisco band called the Bedouins. Vocals on the record were replaced with the Bedouins’ lead singer, Willie Fulton. The song was a modest chart success, cracking the Top 30, and the Bedouins began touring as the Grass Roots (Now two words).
Eventually Fulton and most of the rest of the band became frustrated with a lack of input into the group’s recordings and departed Dunhill Records. However, when they tried to continue appearing as the Grass Roots, they discovered that the label, not the band, owned the name. So much for that plan.
Meanwhile Sloan and Bari hired another local band to become the Grass Roots. The band was playing gigs as the 13th Floor (not to be confused with the 13th Floor Elevators). As with the Bedouins, Adler, Sloan & Bari used studio musicians during the sessions and employed the band only for the vocal tracks. Luck was with them as the 13th Floor’s bass player and key vocalist was a gentleman named Rob Grill. Their first collaboration in early 1967, “Let’s Live for Today,” made it into the Top 10.
Over the next several years, band members came, went, sometimes returned and left again with head-spinning speed. It didn’t matter. L.A.’s top sessions players (now known as “the Wrecking Crew”) and Grill’s lead vocals kept the hits coming. The Grass Roots put 14 songs into the Top 40 between 1966 and 1972.
When the hits dried up, Grill and an ever-changing assemblage of musicians continued to tour as the Grass Roots (Grill having been granted ownership of the name). The group was inducted into the American Pop Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
Sadly, Rob passed away in 2011, but there is still a group touring as the Grass Roots, which somehow seems fitting for a band that was created out of thin air!
“Reach Out of the Darkness” went all the way to the Top 10 in the summer of 1968. The group that recorded it were a husband and wife team from Canada who accurately named themselves Friend & Lover.
Jim Post had always wanted to be a recording artist. At a state fair in Edmonton in the summer of 1964, he met a Chicago-born acrobatic performer named Cathy Conn. She may have been an acrobat, but Post was the one who flipped. He pursued and eventually won her heart. After they married, Cathy gave up the somersaults and learned how to sing. They had some success as a live act, touring with the Buckinghams and opening for Cream on their final U.S. tour.
They got their big break when they auditioned for the head of MGM/Verve Records, Jerry Schoenbaum. He asked them to submit a tape because he didn’t want to be influenced by the way any act looked. They had no tape, so they told Schoenbaum top simply turn around. When he did, they played him a song they had written after attending a Love-In in New York City.
Schoenbaum liked we heard and in short order, the duo recorded the song, “Reach Out of the Darkness.”
Unfortunately, follow-up success proved elusive. They felt MGM did a poor job promoting them, but when Columbia Records offered the pair $200,000 to switch labels, MGM refused to let them go.
By the time they finally got away from MGM/Verve, their moment had passed. The couple divorced. Post stayed involved with the music business, but never matched the success of his first record.
Think you know Paul McCartney’s solo career pretty well? We bet there’s one album of his you don’t know. That’s because it wasn’t released in America. Or England. Or Japan. Or anywhere except…Russia!
The year was 1987. The Berlin Wall had come down and glasnost was in the air. McCartney had been in a bit of a creative stall. His most recent album, Press to Play, had been released to tepid reviews and weak sales. He recorded a new album with producer Phil Ramone, but didn’t like any of that material.
So, McCartney pulled a bunch of musicians into the studio to record like they did in the old days – with everybody playing at the same time and minimum of overdubs. For material, McCartney chose a bunch of his favorite old-time rock & roll songs. In just 2 days’ time, he had an album full of material.
Originally, McCartney wanted to print the album with a Russian language cover and sleeve and make it seem like it had been smuggled into the UK from Russia. His label was not enthusiastic about that idea. That’s when McCartney flipped the idea on its head and decided to release the album only in Russia.
McCartney named it Снова в СССР, which translates as (what else?) “Back in the USSR.” The album was an instant smash in that country when it was released in the fall of 1988. Soon, copies were genuinely being smuggled into the UK – often with a pretty steep price tag.
Finally, in 1991, McCartney authorized the release of the album worldwide. If you like the early days of the Beatles, when they were regularly including covers of early rock & roll classics with their own compositions, this is a great CD for you to check out. Tell ‘em Ivan sent you!
A Hidden Treasure From Rock & Soul’s Golden Era
A series of posts about albums you may have missed back in the day when so much good music was coming out on nearly a daily basis. But now that the real “good stuff” is few and far between, you might want to backtrack and add these gems to your music collection.
It happens so often in rock music. Artists struggle for years with albums the critics love but record buyers ignore. Then they finally break through to a wider audience and go on to long, successful careers. Yet, those earlier albums remain, for the most part, ignored.
Such is the case with Boz Scagg’s “Slow Dancer” in 1974. It was his 6th album and his 6th commercial failure. Yet, many die hard Boz fans will tell you “Slow Dancer” is his best album. We don’t think they’re wrong.
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