Music

In 1968, Elvis Presley taped a "Comeback Special" for television that proved to be a huge success and helped restore him to popularity, but it almost never got made.

Elvis was convinced that he didn't need to "come back;" he was still "the King."

So TV producer Steve Binder took Elvis out to Sunset Boulevard. When absolutely nobody recognized him, Elvis realized he did, indeed, need to "come back" and so agreed to make the TV show that would propel the rest of his career.

Perhaps the Guiltiest of Guilty Pleasures for a Rock Fan

With the possible exception of ABBA (who we’ll talk about at a later date, trust us), there was no band who took more flak from “serious rock fans” than the Pre-Fab Four.

Criticized from the beginning because they were not a band who came together in the traditional sense, the Monkees were “cast,” mere actors signed to pretend to be a rock band on television show. Adding insult to injury, it was quickly revealed that the lads didn’t even play on their own records! So “serious rock fans” quickly wrote them off.

But how valid was the criticism? In truth, not very.

When Beatlemania exploded across America, record labels began scouring England and specifically Liverpool looking from groups that might be able to follow the Fab Four up the charts.

One of the first to accomplish this feat was the Searchers, a British band that took their name from John Wayne’s classic Western film. Like their fellow Liverpudlians, the Searchers had begun as a skiffle band and gradually morphed into a rock act. They also had played at Hamburg’s Star Club, honing a solid lice act.

The Searcher hit the UK charts in 19right on the heels of the Beatles with their recording on “Sweets for My Sweet.” They followed that with “Sugar and Spice,” a song written by their producer Tony Hatch. They boke into the U.S. charts in early 1964 with their version of a song co-written by Sonny Bono, “Needles and Pins.” Between 1964 and 1965, they scored 7 Top 40 hits in the States. Unfortunately, “Sugar & Spice” was not one of them as a Chicago band called the Cryan’ Shames did a virtual note-for-note cover that was the U.S. hit.

Even more unfortunately, in 1965, the hits just stopped coming. The band continued recording and touring, but were relegated to being an “oldies” act by the early 1970s. The Searchers managed to land a new record contract with Sire Records in 1979 and recorded two albums for that label that received very favorable response from the critics and from live audiences when the band began working this new material into their live sets. Alas, radio airplay was virtually non-existent and sales were sluggish (although a compilation of their work for Sire is still available on CD).

Like many groups, the band went through personnel changes over the years with only rhythm guitar/vocalist John McNally staying with them from start to finish. Bassist Frank Allen had the second longest tenure, joining in the summer of 1964 and then staying with the band for their rest of their career. The band’s most distinctive vocalist and lead guitar player, Mike Pender was with the group from 1960 until 1985. The band went through drummers almost as quickly as Spinal Tap with Chris Curtis manning the kit during the time the Searchers cranked out all their hits.

The group actually continued performing until March of this year (2019) when they finally announced their retirement.

A Searchers playlist:

  • “Sweets for My Sweet”
  • “Sugar & Spice”
  • “Needles & Pins”
  • “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me”
  • “Don’t Throw Your Love Away”
  • “When You Walk in the Room”
  • “Farmer John”
  • “Love Potion No. 9”
  • “What Have They Done to the Rain”
  • “Take Me for What I’m Worth”
  • “Have You Ever Loved Somebody?”
  • “Hearts in Her Eyes”
  • “Almost Saturday Night”
  • “Love’s Melody”
  • “Everything But a Heartbeat”

Tommy James’ “Mony Mony” is one of those great little rock songs from the 60s that has aged very well. Thanks to a cover from Billy Idol in the 1980s, the song was reintroduced to a whole new generation of listeners. But what, exactly, is the song about?
Not much, as it turns out. Tommy James says he and songwriting partner, Ritchie Cordell, were just trying to come with a frat/party rock song in the vein of “California Sun”  or “Money (That’s What I Want)”… something that cut against the grain of all the “serious” rock that was then dominating the music scene.

So, who the heck is “Mony?”
Ah, there is the real story. James and Cordell had most of the song together. They had even created the music tracks in the studio. But they were stuck on a girl’s name. They wanted it to be unusual (like “Sloopy”) and it had to be two syllables to fit the track they had already created.

The pair were sitting in James’ apartment in New York City trying to complete the song. As James tells it: “…finally we get disgusted, we throw our guitars down, we go out on the terrace, we light up a cigarette, and we look up into the sky. And the first thing our eyes fall on is the Mutual of New York Insurance Company. M-O-N-Y. True story.”

And for the first and probably last time in rock history, an insurance company inspired a classic song!

And Decca passed on the chance to sign the Beatles - let that sink in...

But was he a Betty-man or a Veronica-man?

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 song that broke the Go-Go’s into the major leagues came about because Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Weiden was looking for love in all the wrong places. (hey, that might make a catchy song, too!)

While touring the UK, Weiden began a romance with Terry Hall from another band known as the Specials. The two of them co-wrote the song about their efforts to keep the affair on the down low as Hall already had another girlfriend.

The Go-Go’s very up-tempo version was a monster smash in the U.S. while Hall recorded a much slow version with his new band, Fun Boy Three. That version became a hit in the UK.

Listen long enough and you’ll hear both versions here at BoomtownAmerica.com!

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.”

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