Blame Neil Young. When Lynyrd Skynyrd was touring the South in the early 70’s, it seemed Neil Young’s “Southern Man” was playing everywhere they went. The band thought it presented a rather narrow and stereotypical portrait of Southern masculinity, so Ronnie Van Zandt, Ed King and Gary Rossington sat down to write an answer to Mr. Young’s song.
The result was “Sweet Home Alabama,” which helped launch Lynyrd Skynyrd as a national act. But how serious was the band’s anger towards Neil Young?
No very. Before his untimely death, Ronnie Van Zandt frequently wore a Neil Young t-shirt at the band’s concerts. As for Neil, he was written that he deserved the criticism leveled at him in the song because his lyrics were condescending.
Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" started out as "Mrs. Roosevelt", and was changed to the final title after it was pitched to director Mike Nicols, who was then filming The Graduate. The opening lines, “dee de dee dee de dee dee dee,” were sung during the pitch because Paul Simon had not come up with suitable lyrics yet, but Nicols liked it that way and so they remained in place for the final recording.
“Runaround Sue” the rock classic that topped the charts in 1961, was Dion’s only #1 song (despite having 32 other records hit the charts) and has since gone on to become an enduring classic of the genre had its birth as a song Dion improvised at a friend’s birthday party.
The friend was named Ellen and at her birthday party in late 1960, the partygoers had turned off the record player and begun to make up songs on their own. When it came time for Dion, he basically invented the invented the doo-wop stuff you hear as back-up on the record – the “hey-hey-wom-de-heydy-hedy” part. He made up some lyrics about Ellen that he later confesses were pretty forgettable. But after leaving the party, he couldn’t get that catchy little doo-wop riff.
The next morning, he went down to the offices of his record label, Laurie Records in midtown Manhattan, and grabbed a rehearsal room. He called his friend Ernie Maresca to join him and see if they could pound Dion’s germ of a song into a full-fledged hit. By the time Maresca arrived, Dion had already decided to make the song about a girl who dated all kinds of boys and broke their hearts. He says he based it on an actual girl he knew, but to protect himself from unfavorable repercussions, he and Maresca didn’t use her real name. Instead, they picked the name Sue after a gorgeous girl they knew, but had been afraid to approach.
Dion actually found his backing group on the street, literally. He heard a group of guys harmonizing, liked what he heard and invited them to join the recording session. (Dion had already split from the Belmonts at this point.
Of course, the song became an immediate sensation and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002,
The original partygoers? When Dion played the recording for them, they were underwhelmed. They thought it had all sounded much better when he was just making it up at the party!
"Hang On Sloopy” is a rock classic. But few know the long and winding road it took before becoming a big hit for the McCoys in 1965.
The song began with the title “My Girl Sloopy.” It’s credited to Wes Ferrell and Bert Russell (a.k.a. Bert Berns). However, Rick Derringer claims the song was really written by a St. Louis high school student who sold the rights to Russell. If that’s true, then Sloopy might be Dorothy Sloop, a jazz singer from the same area.
The song was first recorded by an L.A.-based R&B group called the Vibrations. That version reached #10 on the R&B charts and #26 on the pop charts.
The Strangeloves were looking for a follow-up to their hit “I Want Candy” and thought “My Girl Sloopy” might do the trick. Pay attention now because from here, the story gets a little twisted.
Of all the songs Janis Joplin recorded in her brief, but spectacular career, one of the best-known and most fondly remembered is “Mercedes Benz.”
Few remember now that Janis was also interested in poetry and often attended poetry readings. Her tongue-in-cheek paean to consumerism began as a quick poetry jam between her and songwriter Bob Neuwirth in a bar in Port Chester, NY. They built their short poem around a line written by poet Mike McClure.
About an hour after the poem was completed, she performed it live during her show that night at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, inventing an acapella melody on the spot.
It was promptly forgotten until she had finished recording her second solo album, “Pearl.” With the pressure of the major session work behind her, Joplin stepped to a microphone while the tapes were still rolling and announced she was about to sing “a song of great social and political import.”
She quickly ran through her little “Mercedes Benz” performance. One take. She also recorded a quick birthday message to John Lennon that included her rendition of Roy Rogers’ theme song, “Happy Trails.” Those would be the last two songs she ever recorded.
Only three days later, she would be dead of a drug overdose.
When Columbia released “Pearl” posthumously, producer Paul A. Rothchild decided to include “Mercedes Benz.”
The song quickly caught the fancy of FM deejays. Radio listeners also fell in love with the tune.
Today it has been covered by more than 30 other recording acts.
(And yes, we know the car in the photo is a Porsche! It belonged to Janis. She did not own a Mercedes-Benz.")
Carole King was already one of rock’s most successful songwriters. But no one could have predicted that when she finally started singing her own songs, she would create one of the best selling albums of all-time by a female vocalist, especially when her only previous album had not climbed higher than #84 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Tapestry has sold more than 25 million copies and is considered one of the top 50 albums ever released by a rock artist.
A Look at Some of the Best of the “One-and-Done” Recording Acts
This catchy little pop tune was part of the British Invasion that took over world radio in 1964.
The band was originally called the Sheratons. They were performing at the Mildway Tavern in London when a young songwriting duo approached them. Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley offered the group several tunes. The group jumped at the chance as they were about to audition for record producer Joe Meek.
The group passed the audition and Meek decided to use one of the Howard Blaikley songs, “Have I the Right?” as the group’s first single.
Just as most of were embarking on life as full-fledged adults, Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young penned this Hallmark card of song, encapsulating the life of tranquil bliss we all imagined ourselves living once we settled down with our "one true love."
"Our House" was featured on Dejé Vu, the album that saw Neil Young formally join what had been the superstar trio of David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash. It was written by Nash about his relationship with singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. The two were living together in L.A. The couple had stepped out for breakfast. After the meal, Mitchell spotted a vase she liked on Ventura Boulevard. When they arrived back at home,the weather had turned chilly. Nash remarked, "Why do I light the fire and you put some flowers in the vase you just bought."
Struck by his own words, he went over to the piano and an hour later, "Our House" had been composed.
As few, if any of us, ever achieved the idyllic existence promised in the lyrics of the song, it may be comforting to know that Nash and Mitchell didn't either. The couple split up before the year was out.
Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
What if you had been able to tell your 13-year old self that Bob Dylan would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Do you think then your English teacher would have let you do your book report on Dylan’s latest album?
Maybe not. But there’s no question that Dylan was on an incredible hot streak in the mid-sixties, one that saw him release 3 albums that cemented his transition from folk to rock and put him in the very forefront of the contemporary music scene.
That trio of albums began with Bringing It All Back Home, continued with Highway 61 Revisited, and reached the pinnacle with the 1966 release of one of the first double albums in rock history, Blonde on Blonde.
In 1965, Michael Brown was a 16-year old classically trained musician who had formed a rock band (like many classically trained young men and women of the day). He also had become infatuated with a young girl. His problem was the young girl was dating the bass player in his band.
So Michael Brown did what many young men facing hopeless romantic prospects did. He wrote a song about her (with help from co-authors Bob Calilli and Tony Sansone). Here’s where Michael and the rest of those lovesick boys part company.
Brown’s band was the Left Banke, the girl was named Renée Fladen and the song he wrote about her was “Walk Away Renée.”
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