Posts Tagged ‘Bubblegum’

The Rubinoos: 45

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Rubinoos_45Ageless pop music

It’s spooky how good the Rubinoos sound in their 45th year as a band. Jon Rubin’s lead vocals are still sweetly youthful, songwriter Tommy Dunbar continues to mine a seemingly inexhaustible supply of melodies, and the quartet’s harmonies are as tight as ever. The current line-up features long-time bassist Al Chan and original drummer Donn Spindt, and are nearly indistinguishable from the group that was featured in the pages of Tiger Beat magazine.

None of which should suggest that the Rubinoos are frozen in the amber of 1977. Dunbar’s songwriting has widened over the years, both in the musical influences he incorporates and the themes he explores. There’s jazz in the guitar of “Graveyard Shift,” a soulful melody (and a touch of electric sitar!) in “What More Can You Ask of a Friend,” and “Does Suzie Like Boys” updates the standard love song with a modern day consideration. Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity” provides the atmosphere for the dark instrumental “Kangaroo Court,” and the group rocks out for “Countdown to Love.”

Still, there’s plenty of pure pop, including Al Chan’s tender vocal on “You Are Here” and an a cappella cover of Lou Christie’s “Rhapsody in the Rain.” The latter is highlighted by Jon Rubin’s falsetto and a bass vocal from The Mighty Echoes’ Charlie Davis. The band’s doo-wop and garage roots cross paths in “I Love Louie Louie,” and Dunbar’s affinity for the Beatles, by way of Erie, PA’s Wonders, is heard in his 12-string laden original “That Thing You Do.” Originally pitched for the film, the demo (sung by Dunbar and Chan) has been spruced up with Donn Spindt’s drums.

The album closes with the optimistic “All It Takes” and a cover of Radio Days’ “She’s Driving Me Crazy.” Both tunes were previously released on a split 7”, but are a valuable addition for the stylus-impaired. The album proves that youthfulness is a state of mind, rather than a physical age, as the charms of the Rubinoos’ teenage years are undimmed. Since returning to the studio for 1998’s Paleophonic, the group’s waxed covers, children’s songs and more, but forty-five years on, they still reach back to their early years with ease. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Rubinoos’ Home Page

OST: How to Stuff a Wild Bikini

Friday, September 12th, 2014

OST_HowToStuffAWildBikiniCharming soundtrack to AIP’s sixth beach party film

Although pop music was a key element of American International’s beach party films, it was surprisingly elusive on record. Perhaps the value of cross-marketing hadn’t yet fully developed by the mid-60s, as the music from these films was only spottily released as singles and album tracks, often in studio versions that differed from those featured in the film. In fact, this cast album for How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is the only original soundtrack recording released in conjunction with any of the seven AIP beach party films, but it’s an excellent example of the musical variety offered by the films.

By the time this sixth entry in the series was cast, singer-actor Frankie Avalon’s busy schedule had moved him into a supporting role, where he was not featured as a vocalist. Annette Funicello was still starring, and got two superb songs from the pens of Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. Sung in her trademarked double-vocals, “Better Be Ready” has a sweet bubblegum melody and superb guitar hook, and “The Perfect Boy” includes clever rhymes that are memorably fractured by the background singers. The album’s ballad, “If It’s Gonna Happen,” is sung by one-time Arthur Godfrey show regular Lu Ann Simms, but this solo version differs from the four-part vocal heard in the film. The version heard here was also released as a single, backed with a solo recording of this film’s group-sung “After the Party.”

The bulk of the soundtrack is taken up by group and novelty numbers that gave the film a lot of its flavor. Harvey Lembeck lays on a broad Brooklyn accent for his turn as Eric von Zipper singing “Follow Your Leader” and the ironic “The Boy Next Door,” and guest stars Mickey Rooney and Brian Donlevy each get campy Broadway-styled songs. Co-star John Ashley, who’d recorded rockabilly in the ’50s, leads the cast on the title theme, the country-rocker “That’s What I Call a Healthy Girl” and the closing “After the Party.” The latter is particularly effective in communicating the film’s idealized summer beach mood. The Kingsmen close out the album with an original garage-rock tune, “Give Her Lovin’,” and a drums-and-organ take on the title theme.

The album runs a scant 24 minutes, but it’s 24 minutes of musical bliss for fans of the beach party films. The vinyl has long since become a collectors’ item, and the rare stereo release – as reproduced here from the master tapes – was hard to find even at the time of its original release. Real Gone’s reissue includes the original cover art and a 12-page booklet that features detailed liner notes by Tom Pickles and several full-panel photos. It’s a shame that the film version of “If It’s Gonna Happen” wasn’t available as a bonus track, but for those who maintain a soft spot for beach party films and their kitschy soundtracks, this is a truly welcome reissue. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Monkees on Tour!

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

The three surviving Monkees, Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork will be regrouping for a fourteen date tour along the East Coast and into the Mid-West:

5/22 HAMPTON, NH  Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
5/23 ATLANTIC CITY, NJ  Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
5/24 NEWARK, NJ New Jersey PAC
5/25 HUNTINGTON, NY The Paramount
5/27 BETHLEHEM (PHIL.), PA Sands Bethlehem Event Center
5/28 GREENSBURG (PITT.), PA  The Palace Theater
5/30 DETROIT, MI Fox Theater
5/31 MERRILLVILLE, IN  Star Plaza Theater
6/1 MILWAUKEE, WI Riverside Theater
6/2 MINNEAPOLIS, MN Weesner Family Amphitheater
6/4 KANSAS CITY, MO Uptown Theater
6/5 ST. LOUIS, MO Fox Theater
6/6 CINCINNATI, OH PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center
6/7 NORTHFIELD/CLEVELAND, OH Hard Rock Live

More info at www.monkees.com.

OST: Toomorrow

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

OST_ToomorrowOlivia Newton-John on the doorstep of stardom in 1970

This 1970 soundtrack to a blink-and-you-missed-it Don Kirshner-produced film would likely have remained a quick blip on the pop landscape, had the like-named group, film and soundtrack not featured a young Olivia Newton-John. At the time of the film’s release, John was still a year away from breaking through internationally with the Dylan-penned “If Not for You,” but she already had plenty of experience under her belt. She’d recorded a terrific cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine” and was gaining notice from club performances when Kirshner (who’d found success assembling the Archies and Cuff Links after being booted as the Monkees’ producer) brought her into the group.

The film was part of a deal Kirshner struck with James Bond producer Harry Saltzman, and after funding troubles sank the picture’s prospects, it was shelved shortly after release. The soundtrack album was released concurrently on RCA, but given the film’s vanishing act, the vinyl quickly followed suit. The group released a follow-up single and B-side on Decca, but Newton-John was soon off to the beginning of her superstar solo career. Real Gone’s first-ever reissue of the soundtrack, struck from the original master tape, includes the album’s original dozen tracks.

The film stars Toomorrow as the only band with the “curative vibrations” that can save an alien race dying from a lack of emotion. The screenplay is filled with late ’60s tropes, faux hipster dialog and science fiction cliches, which, of course, makes it worth screening. But the project seems to have really been a launching pad for the group, as had been the Monkees television show and the Archies’ animated series; unfortunately, there was no commercial lift-off. The soundtrack, written and produced by veteran pop songsmiths Mark Barkan (“She’s a Fool,” “Pretty Flamingo,” “The Tra La La Song”) and Ritchie Adams (“Tossin’ and Turnin'”), is an amalgam of bubblegum sounds that include pop, soul and lite psych, hints of folk and country, and is threaded lightly with primitive synth.

Olivia Newton-John is featured on the Motown-inflected “Walkin’ on Air” and the closing “Goin’ Back.” She’s also sings harmonies and takes a verse on the title theme. Guitarist Ben Cooper provides lead vocal for the space-age garage-rocker “Taking Our Own Sweet Time,” the pop-blues “Let’s Move On,” and the hippie themed “HappinessValley.” A trio of instrumentals includes Hugo Montenegro’s bachelor pad-styled “Spaceport,” and orchestral arrangements of “Toomorrow” and “Walkin’ on Air” that sound as if they’re drawn from a commercial production music library. This doesn’t measure up to ONJ’s later hits, but as a quirky start to her career, it’s great find for fans. Real Music’s reissue includes a six-panel booklet with extensive liner notes and full-panel front- and back-cover reproductions. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Carole King: The Legendary Demos

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

CaroleKing_TheLegendaryDemosA too-brief set of ‘60s and ‘70s Carole King demos

Demos are an industry currency that fans don’t often get to hear. They’re an audio notebook in which songwriters sketch their vision, either for themselves, or more intriguingly, for those to whom they wish to sell songs. In the case of a singer-songwriter like Carole King, there are both kinds of entries in her notebooks – writer’s demos that were inclined towards the sound and style of a potential client and initial renderings of songs that King would sing herself, including five tunes written for her 1971 breakthrough, Tapestry, and another, “Like Little Children,” written in the mid-60s but recorded 30 years later for the film Crazy in Alabama.

An earlier, unauthorized, volume of King’s demos and early solo recordings, Brill Buliding Legends: The Right Girl, gave a glimpse into her years as a Brill Building songwriter. But that volume fell short of its full promise, by including demos for songs that were never commercially recorded or never broke on the charts. Though interesting in their own right, these lesser works said more about the hard work that goes into getting a hit single than they did about the development of King’s best-known titles. Not so with this authorized volume of King demos, which not only offers up a few key Brill Building-era demos, but extends into her solo work as a successful performer.

The three major Brill-era hits included here in demo form are the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby” and the Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain.” The first is surprisingly different from the hit single, with King’s folk-rock demo more wistful and forgiving than the skeptical and mocking tone of the Monkees take. The second, on the other hand, seems to anticipate Bobby Vee’s style, and though the single is more fully orchestrated, the mood and hooks were all there in the demo. Others, such as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” reveal their foundations – in this case, the gospel chords of King’s piano and the freedom of her vocals – even more clearly in these stripped down versions.

As with The Right Girl, this volume is only a small taste of the demos that led to King’s catalog of hits and terrific album tracks. The Monkees’ obscure “So Goes Love” (recorded for, but not released on, their first album) is no substitute for “Take a Giant Step,” “Sometime in the Morning,” “Star Collector” or “The Porpoise Song,” and demos for hits by Gene Pitney, the Cookies, Little Eva, Steve Lawrence, Freddie Scott, the Chiffons, the Drifters, Maxine Brown and many others, not to mention most of King’s terrific solo work, are still to be heard. Rumors have swirled as to the song publishers blocking release of King’s demos, but with this peek inside the vault now public, it’s time for whatever else that can be found to see the digital light of day. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Carole King’s Home Page

Rick Springfield: Beginnings

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

The early ‘70s singer-songwriter roots of Rick Springfield

By the time that Rick Springfield hit it big as a pop star, with 1981’s “Jessie’s Girl,” his fame as an actor all but obscured his very real roots as a musician. But a decade before topping the U.S. charts, Springfield was a working musician in the rock band Zoot (on whose heavy cover of “Eleanor Rigby” a young Springfield can be seen playing guitar) and a solo artist with a Top 10 hit in Australia. A reworked version of that hit single, “Speak to the Sky,” reached the Billboard Top 20, and took this debut album into the Top 40. The 1981 view of a dilettante actor dabbling in music is wiped away by this record of his earlier work, for which Springfield wrote ten original tunes, sang and played guitar, keyboards and banjo.

Springfield’s songs and the production sound are heavily indebted to late ‘60s and early ‘70s rock, particularly the bass, drums and piano sounds of the Beatles, Badfinger and Big Star. The album mixes deeper numbers with bubblegum, showing Springfield’s voice to work well in both heavy and light arrangements. “The Unhappy Ending” anticipates the histrionics of Queen (and presages the opening of “Killer Queen”), while the happy-go-lucky (but war-tinged) “Hooky Jo” sports hooks worthy of Kasnetz-Katz and Graham Gouldman. Springfield’s infatuation with Paul McCartney is evidenced by the album’s chugging beats, but there are notes of soul, country-rock and pop.

The publicity build-up Springfield received with the album’s success leaned to teen idoldom, and though a few of his songs offered the romance expected by readers of Tiger Beat, he also wrote of faith, regret, marital traps and suicide. The disconnect between his publicity and music, coupled with a disastrous rumor that Capitol was inflating sales numbers, doomed Springfield’s initial into the U.S. market. Three more albums failed to right those wrongs until 1981’s Working Class Dog, bolstered by his role on General Hospital, earned him pop stardom. In addition to being a lost gem of early ‘70s pop, this debut shows Springfield’s success as a musician was honest, hard-won, and only by lucky timing the by-product of his acting fame. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Rick Springfield’s Home Page

Belles & Whistles

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Mother-daughter vocal duo harmonize on country-tinged modern pop

Singer-songwriter Jaymie Jones is known as part of the sister harmony pop act Mulberry Lane. Signed to Refuge/MCA, they released a trio of albums and charted with the original song “Harmless.” Jones’ latest project is another family affair, but this time as a duo with her 14-year-old daughter Kelli. Produced by Don Gehman, and backed by top Los Angeles session players (including the rock solid drumming of Kenny Aronoff), the songs range from the twangy “River/White Christmas” to the bubblegum pop-rock “All I Need.” What ties them together are the elder Jones’ way with an ear-catching melody and the tight family harmony. Instead of sounding preternaturally mature, the younger Jones retains the tone of a teenager delighted to be singing, and her spiritedness blends perfectly with her mother’s voice and songs. The production is likely too mainstream-modern for the roots crowd, but this is worth a spin for anyone who favors sharply crafted radio pop that range from the Everly Brothers’ tight harmonies to Tom Petty’s AOR rock to Taylor Swift’s ‘tween anthems to Sarah Jarosz’s recent pop inflections. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Belles and Whistles’ Home Page

1910 Fruitgum Co. Sticks to the Wall of Sound

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the bubblegum group that hit with “Simon Says” and “Indian Giver” also produced one of the greatest Phil Spector tributes of all time, “When We Get Married.” Their last single for Buddah, it barely bubbled under at #118 in 1969, and marked their last chart appearance. But 40+ years later, it still packs an incredible Spectorian wallop thanks to Richie Cordell’s take-no-prisoners production.

MP3 | When We Get Married

1910 Fruitgum Company’s Home Page

Pratt & McClain: Pratt & McClain

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Iconic TV theme and an album of soft-rock nostalgia

Truett Pratt and Jerry McClain were introduced to one another by the producer Michael Omartian, and after some success recording commercial jingles (under the name Brotherly Love) they signed with Reprise. Their real break, though, was being selected in 1976 to record the theme song to Happy Days. Written by successful television composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, the theme song replaced the show’s use of Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” and promoted with weekly airings, the single peaked at #5. Their only other chart, a cover of “Devil With the Blue Dress,” inched into the Top 100 later in the year. This 1976 album, their second and last, expands on the single’s nostalgia with doo-wop vocals for “Summertime in the City” and “Tonight We’re Going to Fall in Love.” The memories reach back, but the arrangements remain modern with bouncy bass lines, clean guitar sounds and politely soulful sax lines. They try their hand at Billy Joel styled piano ballads, blue-eyed soul, Elton John pop, but nothing that offers up the instantly memorable hooks of the hit single. All that’s missing is the “Happy Days” flip side, “Cruisin’ With the Fonz” (an instrumental version of “Tonight We’re Going to Fall in Love”), that would have made the perfect bonus track. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Donny Most: Donny Most

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

TV’s Ralph Malph steps through the screen and tiptoes onto the record chart

To a large extent, actor Donny Most’s 1976 solo album is the archtypical celebrity cash-in. Though no stranger to music – Most had played in Catskills bands as a teenager – his shot at pop stardom was entirely the product of a staring role on Happy Days and the show’s #1 rating. His label secured performing slots on Dinah, Mike Douglas and American Bandstand, but even Happy Days fever could only push the sugary pop single “All Roads (Lead Back to You)” to #97. After three weeks on the charts, Most’s pop singing career was all but over; and to add insult to injury, Anson Williams’ “Deeply” scored four slots higher, peaking at #93 the following spring. Most was a capable, if not particularly exciting singer, with his voice often doubled to give it heft. The productions are more bubblegum than the rootsy rock ‘n’ roll Ralph Malph might have played in his Happy Days TV band, more Kasnetz-Katz or Gary Lewis than Bill Haley or Chuck Berry. The album mixes originals written or found for Most, alongside covers of Bruce Chanel’s “Hey Baby” and Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie.” The latter provide a lead-in to one of Most’s post-acting sidelines, touring the oldies circuit with the “Doo Wop Rocks” revival show. This is a nice artifact of the spectacular popularity that surrounded Happy Days in the latter half of the ‘70s, and a pleasant, if not particularly memorable musical spin. Essential’s digital reissue may have been remastered from vinyl, as there seems to be an occasional audio artifact – nothing really distracting, however. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Donny Most’s Home Page