A singer who landed 16 songs in the Top 40 and 4 in the Top 10… 22 songs in the British Top 40… a songwriter who penned Top 10 hits for 3 other artists… an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… yet he is almost forgotten today.
He is Gene Pitney.
Pitney was born in 1940 in Hartford, Connecticut. By high school he was singing with a local doo-wop group called the Embers. By 1959, he was recording with a young woman named Ginny Arnell under the name Jamie & Jane.
Pitney also started working as a songwriter and actually had his first success there, writing “He’s a Rebel” for Darlene Love & the Blossoms (recording as the Crystals), “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee and “Hello, Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson.
More than anything, the Who craved success in America. Despite overwhelming success in their native England, the band had trouble selling records in the States. They had reached the American Top 10 with their singles “I Can See for Miles” and “Magic Bus,” but their album sales were abysmal with many of their early releases languishing in the cutout bins for a buck or two.
Concept albums had been all the rage since the release of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper LP. Yet the Who’s own concept album The Who Sell Out could get no higher than #48 on the Billboard LP chart. Clearly, the Who needed something more.
Then Pete Townsend had the brilliant idea to write a “rock opera.”
The Doors (1967)
Was there ever a debut album as brilliant as the Doors?
Recorded in the summer of 1966, released in January of 1967 and on almost every rock radio station and Baby Boomer’s turntable during the “Summer of Love,” the album spawned the monster hit “Light My Fire” and helped reshape the parameters of rock radio, killing the 45 single and paving the way for longer album cuts to finally start getting airplay.
There is not one wasted track on the album. Side 1 open with “Break on Through,” establishing the album’s goal. The energy continues unabated through the appropriately-titled last track, “The End.”
2016's simultaneous release of Eight Days a Week and Live at the Hollywood Bowl reignited interest in the Beatles live shows. But these are not the only places you can find Liverpool’s favorite sons performing live.
Here’s an overview of all the ways you can experience the Beatles in concert:
In 1952, 19-year old Lloyd Price was just another poor kid in New Orleans who dreamed of making it big. His mother owned a sandwich shop where Lloyd liked to hang out and play the piano. He had been working up a little song that combined a phrase one of the DJs at the local R&B radio station used (“Lawdy, Miss Clawdy”). He had recently broken up with his girlfriend, so that went into the lyrics as well.
He was playing his little song in the restaurant one day when one of the customers came up and asked if he’d like to record the song. The man was local band leader Dave Bartholomew. It seemed L.A. record label owner, Artie Rupp, was in the Crescent City looking for local talent to add to his label, Specialty Records.
Lloyd, of course, jumped at the chance and met Bartholomew and Rupp at a local recording studio a few days later. There was only one problem. Price had only composed one verse for the song. Told he’d have to do better, he composed a second verse on the spot. Then, he was asked what song he might have for the record’s B-side. Price had nothing. So, he and the musicians improvised a song they eventually called “Mailman Blues.”
Lloyd never even heard a playback of his songs that day. Instead, a few weeks later, he was helping father replace a septic tank at the family home when he first heard his record being played by the same local DJ who had originated the Lawdy Miss Clawdy phrase!
The song rocketed to #1 on the R&B charts and is cited as one of the first black songs that crossed over to a white audience and helped launch rock ‘n’ roll. Price went on to a long successful career that included multiple Top 10 hits including “Stagger Lee,” “Personality” and many more.
One other interesting note. The day that Price recorded “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” the session piano player was another local musician who had already had a taste of national success – a young New Orleans singer/songwriter named Fats Domino.
MEET THE BEATLES - The Beatles (1964)
Any self-respecting Baby Boomers record collection begins with “Meet the Beatles.”
While there are certainly Elvis fans among our generation, most of us didn’t reach puberty until the 1960’s, when Elvis had already entered the Army and would never be as wild as he was before he went in. For most of us, Elvis was the music our babysitters listened to while the Beatles (along with the Beach Boys and Four Seasons) were the first group we could really call our own!
We’ve been hearing this song since it first entered the pop charts in the fall of 1962, but how much do you know about its creation?
Bobby Pickett was an aspiring actor in L.A. who sang with a band called the Cordials at night while attending auditions during the day. One night as the group was performing a cover version of “Little Darling,” Pickett began a short monolog using an impersonation of Boris Karloff’s voice. The crowd loved it.
Pickett then sat down with fellow band member Lenny Capizzi and quickly worked up some monster-themed lyrics as a parody of Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time.” While the major labels were not interested in their song, writer/producer Gary Paxton was. Paxton was no stranger to novelty records, having written, sung & produced “Alley Oop” just two years earlier.
Paxton called in session musicians like Leon Russell and Johnny MacRae and quickly got “Monster Mash” recorded and released on his own Garpax label. Bobby became Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the session men were christened “the Crypt-Kicker 5.”
The little record from an independent label was an immediate smash (just as Bobby had boasted in the lyrics), reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during Halloween week of 1962!
Like the Frankenstein monster himself, the record refused to die, getting fresh airplay every year thereafter. It proved so popular that it actually re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and again in 1973 when it went all the way to # 10. The song was actually banned by the BBC in 1962 for being “too morbid.” Pickett had the last laugh when the 1973 re-issue also reached the Top 10 in the UK.
Pickett released several follow-ups to “Monster Mash” (some of which you’ll hear every Halloween here at Boomtown America), but never matched the success of his first release.
He went on a brief career as an L.A. disc jockey and also played bit parts in several low budget movies.
The song is still available on multiple compilations. Just remember, as Bobby said, “When you get to the store, tell them Boris sent you!”
Pop Up Player
R.I.P. Christine McVie (1943-2023)
One of the key members of Fleetwood Mac, Christine McVie has died at the age of 79. Born with the "perfect" name of Christine Perfect (her actual name - not a stage name), she established…
The Rock Christmas Album That Started It All
A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU (1963) Around our house, it’s just not Christmas until we play the classic album A Christmas Gift for You. Technically, the album is credited to “Various Artists,” but we all…
Buried Treasure: The United States of America (1968)
One album from that great era of psychedelic rock is the self-titled album by a group that called itself The United States of America. The group was led by an avant-garde composer intensely interested in…
Revenge of the 1-Hit Wonders: “Have I the Right?”
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 Songs That Inspired the Musical, "Grease"
Who could have guessed that a cute little Broadway show designed to appeal to nostalgic Baby Boomers and their slightly older siblings would go on the become such a multi-generational cultural touchstone? But Grease did…
R.I.P. Jerry Lee Lewis (1935-2022)
By now, you know that the last of the rock pioneers, Jerry Lee Lewis passed away on Friday, October 28, 2022. He was 87 years old and, somewhat like Keith Richards, it almost defies belief…