Jailhouse Rock (1957), Elvis Presley’s 3rd feature and the first to really offer Elvis’ brand of rock ‘n’ roll undiluted, is probably his most famous and best-regarded film. The production number where the King sings and dances to the title track has been showcased in dozens of “Best of Hollywood Musicals” retrospectives, but how many have actually watched the entire film from which it comes?
Let’s take a deep dive into this milestone in the history of rock & roll movies.
For American audiences, the David Essex story is rather short and fairly typical of one-hit wonders. He appeared out of nowhere, starring in a film about 1950’s rock & rollers called That’ll Be the Day. He wrote his one and only American hit for that film.
He said “Rock On” was an attempt to create a song with 1950’s lyrics and 1970’s music and production. In that, he succeeded wildly. Recorded and released in 1973, the song went to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, #3 in the UK and #1 in Canada.
Essex followed up that success with another star turn in Stardust, a sequel to That’ll Be the Day that brought his 50’s rocker right into the 1970s. (The two films are notable because Essex’s fictional band, the Stray Cats, inspired the creation of the real-life band fronted by Brian Setzer.)
Alas, Essex was never able to ever follow-up “Rock On” with another hit in the States. But not so in his native England. He charted 18 more singles in the British charts, including two #1s. His acting career has also flourished in the UK. He continues to appear in both live theater and television productions to this day.
So one could say that Essex has rocked on rather well.
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!”
Marty Balin’s influence on rock & roll both in front of the mike and behind the scenes was enormous. He soared to fame during the summer of love as one of the main singer-songwriters for Jefferson Airplane. He passed away over the weekend in Tampa, FL, where had had made his home. The cause of death is, at this time, unknown
Born Martyn Buchwald in Cincinnati, Balin got interested in music at an early age. He recorded two singles in 1962 for the small Challenge Records label. It was that label that changed his name to Marty Balin.
Relocating to San Francisco, Balin hooked up with musicians Paul Kantner, Skip Spence, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen and Signe Anderson in 1965. That same year, he and some partners also opened the hugely influential Matrix nightclub that was a launch pad for many Bay Area groups including the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Steppenwolf.
Jefferson Airplane became the first of those San Francisco groups to land a contract with a major label, recording their first album for RCA in 1966. Ms. Anderson, one of the Airplane’s lead singers became pregnant and left the band. She was replaced by Grace Slick. Drummer Spence also left and was replaced by Spencer Dryden.
It was the Airplane’s second album, “Surrealistic Pillow,” that catapulted them to superstardom. While Balin was sharing most of the lead vocal duties with Slick, it was Slick’s songs that became the group’s first hits. From then on, the media tended to focus their attention on Slick and who could blame them? In addition to her powerhouse vocals, she was also an extremely good-looking young woman. Tensions within the band escalated until Balin left in 1971.
The band then renamed themselves Jefferson Starship and continued along. By 1975, Balin had rejoined his old group; and this time, it was his songs that led to their biggest chart successes – “Miracles” “Count on Me,” “Runaway” and “With Your Love.”
Balin left the group again in 1978 avoiding the band’s slide into corporate rock as simply Starship in the 80s.
Balin recorded some solo albums and appeared with his former bandmates in various aggregations, including a full-fledged Jefferson Airplane reunion tour in 1989 and with a reincarnation of Jefferson Starship in the 90’s.
He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 and was still writing and singing right into this year.
In the very early days of rock & rioll music, magazines like 16 and Tiger Beat were the ONLY rock journalism you could find. We've come into position of a comendium of articles from 16's glory days (under the direction of Gloria Stavers) and we will be reprinting these vintage pieces from time to time.
The True Stories Behind Rock’s “1-and-Done” Classics
“Angel of the Morning” (1968)
As is often the case with 1-Hit Wonders, the composer and producers of “Angel of the Morning” actually had long, successful careers, even if the Turnabouts did not.
The song was written by Chip Taylor, the same many who gave us “Wild Thing,” “I Can’t Let Go” and others. He has said the line “There be no strings to bind your hands, not if my love can’t bind your heart” came to him out of the blue one morning. Within ten minutes, he had written the entire song.
He hoped the song would be the breakout single for a young lady named Evie Sands. But Evie would have a career filled with near misses. The small label that produced her version of “Angel of the Morning” went belly-up shortly after they released it. With no push from the label, the song died a swift death.
At this point, Paul Revere of “and the Raiders” fame enters the story. Revere had been pushing a Seattle band he believed in, Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts. Revere secured them a recording deal with hitmakers Tommy Cogbill and Chips Moman. They gave “Angel of the Morning” to Merilee and her band and that version quickly became a million-selling hit.
Sadly, Merilee never cracked the Top 40 again although she continued to perform for many years.
One other interesting note, the Turnabouts guitarist Carl Wilson (no, not the Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys) eventually hooked up with two sisters named Anne & Nancy Wilson and helped them form a band called Heart.
One of the most iconic of all surf instrumentals, “Wipe Out” by the Safaris, almost never came to be.
The song was composed and recorded on the spot when the band was in the Pal Recording studio in Cucamonga, California. The lads thought their first big smash would be “Surfer Joe,” but they needed something for the single’s B-side.
The band members, Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller and Ron Wilson, launched into an enthusiastic bit of a jam, keyed by Wilson’s energetic drum solo. In keeping with the surf theme of the A-side, the boys christened the tune “Wipe Out” after the term surfers used when one of their own fell off their board in an often-painful way.
For a finishing touch, the band added a sound effect they thought sounded like a surfboard breaking up as well as a maniacal laugh and the expression “wipe out” voiced by the group’s manager, Dale Smallin.
To theSafaris’ surprise, “Surfer Joe” failed to get much airplay. But their throwaway instrumental proved to be a different story. Although the single was released by the tiny DFS label, it attracted the attention of Dot Records, a national label. They bought the rights to the single and released it in the summer of 1963. By fall, it had climbed all the way to #2 on the charts, selling well over a million copies. Even more amazing, the song returned to the Top 20 just 3 years later, reaching #16 in 1966.
It sold still more copies when it was featured on the soundtrack of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing.
Unfortunately, the band was never able to duplicate their initial success. They released only 4 other singles and were soon “gone with the wave.”
But for Baby Boomers, there was once only one true test of a great drummer – could he play the drum solo from “Wipe Out?”
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