One of the most unlikely of pop stars was Shelley Fabares, who parlayed her role on The Donna Reed Show into a #1 record!
Shelley had been acting since she was 3 and made her first television appearance at age 10. Four years later she was tapped to play Mary Stone, Donna Reed’s daughter on the long-running sitcom. Producers of the show noticed the success Ricky Nelson of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was having on the record charts. What they didn’t notice was that Ricky had genuine musical talent, with a big band leader for a father and a singer for mother.
Ms. Fabares and her TV-sibling, Paul Petersen, were quickly rushed into a recording studio. Petersen went enthusiastically, even continuing to record for Motown (!) after The Donna Reed Show ended. Shelley was much more reluctant. She felt she couldn’t sing, but the show’s producers gave her a choice: record or be replaced as Donna’s daughter. So, Shelley recorded.
The initial result was a #1 record in 1962 that surprised everyone – “Johnny Angel.” The success led to Shelley releasing an album, “Shelley!” that also sold well. Later the same year, she released a second album, “The Things We Did Last Summer,” which included two more songs that had chart success: “Johnny Loves me” and the title track for the LP.
Just one year later, Shelley left the show in search of other acting opportunities. She co-starred in not one, but 3 Elvis Presley movies (Girl Happy, Spinout and Clambake) and one Beach Party knock-off, Ride the Wild Surf.
She is also known for playing Craig Nelson’s girlfriend/wife on the long-running Coach. She has been married to Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H) since 1984.
While she never returned to the recording studio, “Johnny Angel” has become one of the best-remembered songs from that era and her albums are still available on CD and digital download.
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.
While most of us remember 1967 as “The Summer of Love,” the hippie movement actually got its start a year earlier. It was also in 1966 that the word “psychedelic” entered the popular lexicon followed very shortly by the first “psychedelic rock” appearing on the nation’s Top 40 airwaves.
One of the earliest of these psychedelic hits was a little number called “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” by a Bronx band calling themselves the Blues Magoos.
At the time of their one and only hit, the Magoos consisted of Emil Thielheim, who used the stage name “Peppy” Castro, on lead vocals and guitar, Mike Esposito on lead guitar, Ralph Scala on organ, Ron Gilbert on bass and Geoff Daking on drums.
“(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet,” written by band members Esposito, Gilbert and Scala, was released on the Mercury label and went all the way to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Powered by the single, their debut album, Psychedelic Lollipop reached #21 on the album chart.
But like so many recording acts, the boys were not able to duplicate their initial success. They recorded four more albums and released a dozen more singles – all of them stiffed. In 1970, they threw in the towel and disbanded. As the years passed, many of the group joined other bands, but never found mainstream fame. In 2008, three of the original members (Castro, Scala and Daking) reformed the group and the Blues Magoos have been touring the world ever since. In 2014, they released their first album of new material in 43 years, titled Psychedelic Resurrection.
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.
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 know it is primarily the work of one of rock’s greatest, yet most troubled figures, Phil Spector.
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!
The True Story of the Shangri Las
The early sixties saw the rise of what are now called “the girl groups.” These were usually trios or quartets of female singers, usually working in a R&B vein. The Shirelles are perhaps the prototype, but they were joined by groups like the Blossoms, the Crystals and the Ronettes.
But there was one girl group whose public image was a little more dangerous. They were the Shangri Las.
The girls were all students at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens when they started performing together at school dances and other functions. The act consisted of two pairs of sisters: Mary & Betty Weiss and Margie & Mary Ann Ganser (who were identical twins).
The girls caught the attention of recording entrepreneur Artie Ripp who signed them to the fledgling Kama Sutra label. It was only after being signed that the girls decided to name themselves the Shangri Las (reportedly after their favorite Queens restaurant). There first few recording sessions produced nothing memorable and their first attempt at a single was a flop.
At this point a gentleman named Shadow Morton enters the picture. Morton has once been the boyfriend of Ellie Greenwich, who by 1964, had become a hit songwriter with her new boyfriend, Jeff Barry. When Morton dropped in to Barry & Greenwich’s office on day, a rivalry between Barry and Morton was created in an instant. Morton told Barry that he, too, was a songwriter. Barry called his bluff and asked him to come back in a week with a song.
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!”
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