Spanish beat combo Los Bravos were the first (only?) group from Spain to have a top five hit in America. Their instantly recognizable classic, “Black is Black,” with its plaintive, Gene Pitney-esque vocal courtesy of German-born singer Mike Kogel reached #2 in the UK charts and #4 here in 1966.
Los Bravos weren’t technically “one-hit wonders” as they landed a second single in the British charts with “I Don’t Care.”
In the wonderful pop art-inspired clip below, Los Bravos lip-sync their hit in the 1967 film Los Chicos Con Las Chicas.
Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” is one of the great greatest one-hit wonders of the rock era, selling over 2 million copies for Warner-Reprise Recorsds in 1969/1970. Although the song has been used in several TV commercials and Hollywood films—and made its composer quite rich, I’d imagine—most people know the song, but there is little cultural memory of the man who wrote it, sang it and played its proto glam-rock fuzz box-drenched guitar riff.
“Spirit in the Sky” has been used in “Rock Band 2” and in films like Forrest Gump, Evan Almighty, Saving Grace, Contact, Apollo 13, Remember the Titans, Oliver Stone’s W, Wayne’s World 2, The Longest Yard, Knocked Up and many others. On TV we’ve heard it in Big Love, House, Law & Order and My Name Is Earl and in ads for Gatorade, Nike and American Express. [Although the song will undoubtedly still be listened to (and licensed by Hollywood soundtrack supervisors) until the end of time, “Spirit in the Sky” was inexplicably put on the list of “questionable” songs after 9/11. (Huh?)]
Still, I have to confess, after loving that song for years and always feeling happy whenever I hear it, I had no idea what the guy who made it looked like or much about him. The mental image the song called up for me was of the Doctor and the Medics music video, so I searched online and found basically one music video that was made for the song, and it’s pretty cool, so then I read up on how this classic came about.
Greenbaum, who was, and is, a practicing Jew, was inspired to write his version of a gospel song by Porter Wagoner, although Greenbaum’s song was meant to be more about a gunslinger wanting to die with his boots on than the reference to a having “a friend in Jesus” might indicate
Greenbaum used a Fender Telecaster with a fuzz box built into the body to achieve the song’s unique guitar sound, but it was a guy named Russell DaShiell who was the lead guitarist for the session. DaShiell explained how he got that “beep beep beep” sound to Spirit Guitar:
“I actually played the lead guitar parts on Spirit, using a 61-62 SG Les Paul, a 68 Marshall Plexi 100w half stack and a home-made overdrive box in front of the Marshall. Regarding the ‘beep beeps’ as I call them, when the producer asked me to play some fills in between the verses, as a joke I said how about something spacey like this and I did the pickup switch/string bending thing. I saw him stand up in the control booth and he said “that’s it! let’s record that!” so we did. (There was no slide involved, just my fingers, and I used the bridge humbucker and the pickup switch). The fuzz part is Norman with a built-in overdrive circuit built into his Tele pickguard.”
“I’ve been asked a lot over the years how I did the ‘beep beep’ guitar parts on Spirit, so for any guitar players out there who would like to learn how, try the following: Using a 2-pickup Gibson, set the neck pickup volume to zero, bridge pickup volume to max, with the pickup switch in the middle position (with Gibson wiring this gives you silence in the middle position). Do a string bend, picking the B & E strings together with one hit, just ahead of the beat, then use the pickup switch to kick in the bridge pickup in triplets (6 per bar) as you let the B string bend down two frets.”
“I mainly used two positions on Spirit, which is in the key of A. For the low position, fret a stationary C note (8th fret) on the E string while bending the B string up to an A note for your starting-position, then pick the two strings together once while the guitar is silent and work the pickup switch as you let the A note bend downwards to a G. For the high position, do the same thing at the 15th fret holding a stationary high G note on the E string while bending down from E to D on the B string.”
“I must give credit to Jimi Hendrix as my inspiration for this technique (as well as for the double-string riffs I did at the beginning of the Spirit solo tail section). I saw him perform live in a small club in Madison, Wisconsin and loved the way he used his Strat pickup switch to create staccato feedback on songs like Voodoo Child. The difference is, on a Gibson you can start from silence and create the on/off effect, which worked well with the downward string bending thing I did on Spirit.”
Greenbaum’s psychedelic gospel music was finished with booming drums, hand claps and gospel singing trio the Stovall Sisters (who did their own version) layered atop it. “Spirit in the Sky” became the blueprint for the glam rock sound, especially the music of Gary Glitter and Alvin Stardust (who ripped it off shamelessly for “My Coo CaChoo” in 1974).
Norman Greenbaum is thought of as a one-hit wonder, but he actually had an earlier song of some notoriety to Dr. Demento fans: As a member of Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, Greenbaum composed the alien invasion novelty record, “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” in 1967. Now 69, you can still see Greenbaum from time to time on Vh1. His website is Spirit in the Sky.
Below, the one and only music video I could find on YouTube for the original version of “Spirit in the Sky.” The quality is slightly ropey, but it’s still totally watchable and the sound is great.
After the jump, a bonus clip of Pan’s People dancing to “Spirit in the Sky” on Top of the Pops in 1973
Dutch pop duo Mouth & MacNeal had a million-selling hit in 1972 with “How Do You Do” If you are of a certain age, or even if you have only heard this insanely catchy song once, muffled and through a brick wall, you will no doubt remember it, instantly. How long can it be before “How Do You Do” is used in a TV commercial? (They’ve used up everything else!)
But if you were able recall the song and were quizzed, “So who sang it?” would you have known? I’d have to confess, I’m not in that camp m’self, but from the moment I hit play on this video when I saw it over at the mighty PCL Linkdump, I most certainly recalled the song itself. Why is this not on EVERY compilation of cheesy 70s AM radio hits???
In any case, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the $#&@!# catchiness of this tune. You’ll be grinding your teeth to it tonight in your dreams!
Jonathan Frid died of natural causes in Ontario, Canada, the home of his birth, on Friday the 13th. The news of his death was reported yesterday evening. He was 87.
Frid played Barnabas Collins on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971. The show has a fervent cult following to this day. So much so that a Tim Burton-directed big screen adaption starring Johnny Depp is scheduled to be released next month.
Dark Shadows, along with Hammer movies, were obsessions for proto-goth kids in training. For many of us who felt like outsiders, the vampire was the perfect fantasy figure for our anti-social yearnings. Vampires didn’t take shit from anybody and they liked to stay out late and sleep-in. I could relate.
The clip that follows features Frid seductively intoning “I Barnabas” from the album The Original Music from Dark Shadows which was released in 1969.
Whilst writing the Yellow Submarine blog post, I noticed that a fellow named Lance Percival was one of the voice over artists and I wanted to share this delightful Calypso novelty record Percival released in 1965 called “Shame and Scandal in the Family.”
Lance Percival was well-known in Britain in the 1960s as part of the cast of That Was The Week That Was (he’s in the back in the shot above) where he’d perform improvised topical humor to a Calypso beat.
“Shame and Scandal in the Family,” his only hit record, originally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1943 horror movie I Walked With A Zombie. A young Peter Tosh also covered the song in 1965 and it was later recorded by both The Stylistics (a disco version from 1977) and Madness.
Last year, DM colleague Marc Campbell started a series of posts on one-hit-wonders, with the mysterious J. Bastos and his hit “Loop Di Love”. Now, I’d like to add Lieutenant Pigeon, who were more of a 2 (or even 3, depending on your country) hit wonder, who topped the U.K. charts with their bizarrely catchy instrumental “Mouldy Old Dough” in October 1972.
Lieutenant Pigeon consisted of Stephen Johnson (bass), Nigel Fletcher (drums), Robert Woodward (keyboards, guitar, tin whistle), and his mother, Hilda Woodward (piano). The band was a side-line project for Woodward (who fronted the experimental music group Stavely Makepeace), and their musical style was greatly influenced by his mother Hilda’s rag-time piano playing.
Written by Woodward and Fletcher, “Mouldy Old Dough” was number 1 for 4 weeks in Britain in 1972, and was the second highest-selling single in the U.K. that year (after the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards with “Amazing Grace”). This was in a year that offered such wealth as Roxy Music “Virginia” Plain”, David Bowie “Starman”, “Jean Genie”, Marc Bolan “Metal Guru”, “Solid Gold Easy Action”, Slade “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, Alice Cooper “School’s Out”, and even “Pop Corn” by Hot Butter.
Hilda Woodward died aged 85 in 1999, but Lieutenant Pigeon still carry on making their own particular type of music.
Songs by The Beatles re-interpreted by The London Jazz Four, from their rare 1967 album of fab covers, Take A New Look at The Beatles. The London Jazz Four were assembled by Steve Race (yes, he of the dummy keyboard fame from quiz show Face the Music), and consisted of Mike McNaught (keyboards), Jim Philip (flute), Brian Moore (bass), Mike Travis (drums). The quartet original cut a couple of vanity tracks, which proved so popular that an album soon followed. The following tracks manage to improvise on the Lennon/McCartney originals, with use of harpsichord, marimba, glockenspiel, and vibraphone, creating a light swinging versions of the songs, which at times develop (“Rain”) and improve (“Michelle”) on the originals.
“The Things We Said Today”
Bonus: Jerry Fielding and the Hollywood Brass take on The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Before America’s Got Talent, there was Stairway to Stardom, a public access talent show, broadcast in New York during the late 1970s and 1980s. Shot in what looks like someone’s basement, or the rehearsal room for a David Lynch film, Stairway to Stardom offered the young, the old, and even the deluded a chance to achieve the success their ambition suggested was theirs. Clips of this wonderfully bizarre series have popped up on YouTube over the years, and reveal what fans of Stairway to Stardom have known for years - that this camp, fun and rather charming show is still well ahead of Simon Cowell’s smug, corporate juggernaut.
Horowitz and Spector sing “Something’s Rotten in Translyvania”, 1988
Stairway to Stardom - Opening Titles 1984
More joys from ‘Stairway to Stardom’, after the jump…
Englishman Graham Bonney was one of the wave of young British performers to make the trip to the famed Star Club in Hamburg, Germany (where the Beatles played several residencies early in their career).
Bonney’s biggest hit was a great number called “Super Girl,” released in 1966. It was a popular record on London’s pirate radio station, Radio Caroline. Although he never made it outside of Germany, Bonney’s had a long show-biz career for a one-hit wonder and is still performing “Super Girl” to appreciative audiences today (It seems like he re-records it every few years. Who cares? It’s a great song and it’s his to milk!).
I’ve always had a really soft spot for this song and actually put this on a mixed CD for my wife when we were “courting” so I was stoked to see this video for it. It’s pure pop perfection and catchy as hell.
Minneapolis garage rockers The Castaways performing their hit “Liar, Liar” in the 1967 “feminist” beach movie, It’s a Bikini World.. The song reached #12 in the charts in 1965. Dig this guy’s falsetto! Plus you get a real boss go-go dancer. What’s not to love here?
“Liar, Liar” was covered by Debbie Harry in the 80s. The Castaways original was later used on the soundtrack to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.