THE RECORD PROFESSOR PART 10
Should Perry Como be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Just like with politics and religion, music lovers sometimes are pigeon-holed. You're either a liberal or conservative. A Gentile or a Jew. A rock lover or a jazz afficionado.
But what if your tastes are really all over the place? As a television news reporter for nearly four decades, I interviewed Buck Owens, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Tony Bennett, the Turtles, and Stevie Wonder, among others. And I didn't have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do it, I actually campaigned for the assignments.
Last time, we had a quiz:
WHAT DO THESE TWO GROUPINGS OF ARTISTS HAVE IN COMMON?
GROUP ONE: Nathaniel Mayer and the Fabulous Twilights/ Perry Como/The Valentinos
GROUP TWO: Bob Dylan/Dean Martin/Donovan
The answer is rather personal: I bought records by each of those artists the last two times I added to my record collection. Within the last two weeks, I bought "Village of Love" by Mayer, "Round and Round" by Como, and "It's All Over Now" by the Valentinos.
Before that, I bought "Blowin' in the Wind" by Dylan, "My Rifle, My Pony and Me" by Dino, and "Riki Tiki Tavi" by Donovan.
Does that make me different?
I can't help it. I think all those artists are great. Martin's "My Rifle, My Pony and Me" is a beautiful country-tinged lament of a cowboy from the 1959 John Wayne movie, Rio Bravo. Dylan's record of "Blowin in the Wind" set me back a little--it's one of his early 45 promotional releases on Columbia before he got famous. The simplicity and meaning of the sparse arrangement and Dylan's haunting delivery can knock you out.
Dean, Bob, and Perry are extremely well known and their careers well-documented. But what about the others, and why are they important?
The Nathaniel Mayer record I bought is "Village of Love" on the Fortune record label from 1962. If you think Justin Bieber, Brenda Lee, or the Jackson Five have powerful voices as teenagers, just give a listen to Nathaniel. He recorded "Village of Love" in Detroit when he was 18 years old, and then--for all practical purposes--disappeared. I mean, really disappeared into the ghettos of Detroit. Talk about a wailing, soulful delivery--apparently his infrequent stage shows would have put Jackie Wilson and Michael Jackson to shame. His disappearing act, which was for real, was the stuff of urban legend. About 10 years ago, he re-emerged for awhile, but then the fates struck, as if angry at his waste of talent. Mayer died at the age of 64 on November 1, 2008, in Detroit, after a series of strokes.
The Valentinos recorded a song called "It's All Over Now" on the Sar label, owned by Sam Cooke, back in early 1964. A then-unknown group called the Rolling Stones heard it, covered it, and made it their first American hit. But the Valentinos were first, and that's why I wanted their record. Actually, there was no one named "Valentino" in the entire group, it was a name invented by Cooke, who discovered them when he was recording sacred hymns. Their real names were Womack, the brothers Bobby and Cecil. If you look at the Stones' recording of the song on their record label called London, you will see the writing credit as "B. and S. Womack." The B stands for Bobby, of course, but the S is for Shirley, who happened to be Bobby's sister-in-law at the time.
Here's more on the Valentinos, and this is where it gets weird. A few months after the Womack's mentor, Sam Cooke, was shot to death in a seedy L.A. motel in 1964, Bobby Womack married Cooke's widow, Barbara. (Barbara is really a footnote to early rock and roll history: Her name, "Barbara Campbell," is listed as songwriter on the original 45 RPM release of one of Sam's earliest hits, "Wonderful World," on Keen Records. Sam apparently used her name, even though he actually wrote the song, for tax purposes.) The surprise marriage raised everybody's eyebrows. Bobby said he married the widow to, in effect, protect her sanity and well being. Cooke's brothers didn't see it that way, obviously, because they reportedly beat the hell out of Bobby a few weeks later.
Which brings us to Donovan. I don't think anybody ever beat him up, at least not after he got famous. The record I bought, "Riki Tiki Tavi," is a take-off on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. The song was recorded on Epic Records, a division of Columbia, in 1970, and was Donovan's last big hit. Earlier, after being discovered by the famous producer Clive Davis, Donovan hit the Top 10, and even Number One, with hits like "Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow," "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," and "Hurdy Gurdy Man." His first hits, however, were more folk-oriented, and contained some elements of the protest song, like "Colours," and "Universal Soldier." Donovan, who was from Scotland, eventually found himself out of favor for two reasons: (1) He had ended his successful partnership with producer Mickie Most, who was the brains behind the Animals and Herman's Hermits, and (2) because his "flower-child," peace-loving persona sort of went out of style.
Finally, let's revisit Perry Como. His record I bought was "Round and Round," a Number One Billboard hit back in 1957, right in the middle of the Elvis Presley invasion of the charts. (In The Record Professor Part 7, we talked about Perry and Elvis sharing the same record label, RCA Victor.) Perry never really got his due on the Top 40 after rock and roll took over in 1955. But listen to "Round and Round." The myriad voices, the fantastic arrangement, and high crescendo followed by the almost whispering delivery, make it one of the most interesting songs ever recorded. Even though rock music took over the charts in the mid Fifties, Como continued having hits, including "Seattle" (the theme from the TV show, Here Come the Brides, which itself was a variation of the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers motion picture) and "It's Impossible," a 1970 monster hit right smack dab in the middle of the head-banging songs that were also on the chart at the time. Perry died in Florida on May 12, 2001, just six days before his 89th birthday. Naturally, the Grammys--always being a day late and a dollar short--waited until 2002 to give him his Lifetime Achievement Award. They just never learn.
So, as we suggested at the top of this article, do Perry--and the others (although Dylan is already there, of course, and Donovan was just voted in)--belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Damn straight.
QUIZ FOR NEXT TIME:
WHICH ARTISTS HAD THEIR RECORDS OR SONGS CENSORED FOR SUGGESTIVE AND/OR OBJECTIONABLE LYRICS?
1. ROY ORBISON
3. CHARLIE DRAKE
4. JIMMY DEAN
5. PETER, PAUL, AND MARY
6. ALL OF THE ABOVE