Archive for the ‘pop music’ Tag
Yes folks, it’s time for another edition of Five Star Favs, the GMC Special Feature that has a pretty simple premise: it spotlights one of my tip-top, all time favorites. And a few of those might surprise you. For example, my infatuation with today’s featured song began about thirty years ago when I saw it on MTV, and it’s one that has had its share of controversy. (Although that has nothing to do with my fondness for it.)
With two teenagers in the house, it’s not surprising that our main TV set was often tuned to MTV in the 1980s. It also wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I was usually grumbling about those damned ‘no-talent’ rock and roll musicians, who seemed to me so inferior to those I remembered.
But one day I heard a MTV video starting that featured a pounding beat and a blazing guitar riff, a combination that’s always drawn my interest. What I saw intrigued me even more, because it featured computerized animation, something that was cutting-edge at the time. And finally — even though I’m not a lyrics guy and mostly get into the instrumental part of a song — I realized the blue-collar cartoon characters were poking fun at modern rock musicians. I was in.
When the British group Dire Straits generated “Money For Nothing” in 1985, it attracted a lot of attention for a number of reasons. Not only the song itself, but also that it was something new for the era, obviously designed for the MTV generation (MTV is even in the lyrics), and for its inventive use of computer graphics. It also didn’t hurt that Sting was involved and sang the introduction, but in any case it made a big splash and won a lot of awards, including a Grammy.
However, as time passed it also caused some controversy for its lyrics, which have been called racist, sexist, and homophobic. Defenders of the song point out that it was all in the spirit of satire, so I guess it’s up to the individual listener to make up their own mind. Below is the the full-length album version and below that the original MTV video.
Dire Straits – “Money For Nothing”
In the early 1960s, the pop music flood that was the British Invasion included several bands that tried to present something a little different from what was being offered by the likes of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. One of the groups that seemed to be having a lot of fun was Freddy and the Dreamers, a quintet that performed in a goofy comedic style and also featured a strange dance named after its leader.
Freddie Garrity was active in the British skiffle movement in the 1950s, but by the time the Beatles became a sensation in the early 1960s he was leading a pop group known as Freddie and the Dreamers. The combo, which included Peter Birrell, Roy Crewdson, Derek Quinn, and Bernie Dwyer, had enjoyed a couple of hit records in the UK, and soon took itself across the Atlantic to try to duplicate the success of earlier British imports.
Although “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” and “You Were Made for Me” were also Top Ten hits in the UK, the group’s only big US hit was “I’m Telling You Now.” But it was a huge success, reaching #1 on the charts, and for a while the band seemed to be everywhere. Appearing on tour and on TV, Freddie and his guys performed with a silly stage persona that included some comedy and also what they called the ‘Freddie’ — an awkward dance of sorts that featured Garrity bouncing and kicking as he sang, while his bandmates danced along with surprising precision.
Since new dances were always popping up in that era, it didn’t take long for the Freddie to picked up by guys like Chubby Checker, but it was a short-lived fad. Freddie and the Dreamers soon began to fade in popularity too, at least in the US, but continued to entertain fans for a while back in the UK before finally dissolving in the late 1960s. In later years, Garrity led newly-constructed groups off and on, finding occasional success before ill health slowed him down and eventually caused his retirement. He was 69 when he died in 2006.
Freddie and the Dreamers – “I’m Telling You Now”
Whenever I put together a new edition of our Earworms Special Feature, I start by trying to figure out why the song suddenly popped into my head. I think today’s candidate started bouncing around between my ears when I read that someone is considering making an updated version of the original Ghostbusters movie.
But even though the 1984 film’s theme song began running through my head, it didn’t seem quite right somehow – earworm wise. I thought about it, then listened to the #1 hit record of the song generated by Ray Parker, Jr., watched the movie trailer (below) but nothing seemed quite right.
Finally I figured it out. We had an Atari computer back in the early 1980s, and we also had the Ghostbusters computer game. As near as I can recall, the theme song played during the game but even after the game was over the music would continue to play endlessly — or at least until you stopped it. That’s my earworm.
Atari Ghostbusters (Excerpt)
Ray Parker, Jr. – “Ghostbusters”
You might not remember a 1960s singing trio named the Honeys (or the Rovell Sisters, or even Ginger and the Snaps, depending on when you heard them). After all, the girls didn’t have any Top Ten hits during their relatively short career even though they did make some good records. But they had a few other things going for them, including a strong connection to the Beach Boys.
It was around 1961 that Southern California teenagers Marilyn, Diane, and Barbara Rovell began showing up in area amateur shows, billing themselves as the Rovell Sisters. Eventually Barbara quit and cousin Sandra Glantz took her place, using the stage name Ginger Blake. But even more important, it was about then that the girls met the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, who not only agreed to produce records for them but also took quite a shine to Marilyn.
He was already a rising star, and at age 20 was five years older than her, but it didn’t take long for the twosome to form a romantic connection. Meanwhile the newly renamed Honeys (a slang term for female surfers) began making records like “Shoot The Curl” and “Pray For Surf” along with several others, all of which were a little underwhelming in terms of sales. But by 1964 things were looking up, as the girls recorded what many consider their best, “He’s a Doll,” and later the same year Marilyn and Brian tied the knot.
Although the Honeys didn’t really sell a lot of records as a group after that (or in later comebacks) the girls did stay busy in the following years singing backup for others. They were heard on some of Jan and Dean’s biggest hits, and – no surprise – often shared both the stage and the studio with the Beach Boys. Marilyn also found time later in the decade to give birth to two daughters, Carnie and Wendy (who would eventually find performing success themselves as Wilson Phillips). And when Brian struggled with his well-publicized ups and downs Marilyn stood by him, trying to protect him from himself while she mostly raised their daughters. In fact, it was for the girls’ sake that the the couple finally amicably divorced in 1979, and it might have helped preserve the family’s long-term relationships.
The Honeys – “He’s a Doll”
In some ways, the girl group known as the Bobbettes was a typical one-hit wonder. (Although you might remember that I argued a while back that the term shouldn’t be used so negatively.) The Bobbettes did qualify for the sobriquet, with 1957’s “Mr. Lee” hitting #1 on R&B charts and even climbing into the Top Ten on pop charts, although later records all fell far short. But that’s still pretty good, when you consider that the group’s lead singer was only eleven when it all started.
That was young Reather Dixon, who joined with school friends and fellow glee club members Laura Webb, Helen Gathers, and sisters Jannie and Emma Pought to form a singing group they initially called the Harlem Queens. The girls were soon appearing in amateur shows at the Apollo Theater, making a big splash and attracting the attention of James Dailey, who helped get them a contract with Atlantic Records.
Daily also changed the group’s name to the Bobbettes to soften its image a little, and helped produce its debut record. It was a harmless little song about a teacher who the girls actually disliked, but in the song, “Mr. Lee” was made to sound good. (They later recorded a more accurate – and critical – version they named “I Shot Mr. Lee,” but it became one of the reasons they left Atlantic after the company balked at issuing it.) After “Mr. Lee” became a huge hit they were big-time stars, even touring with the likes of Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon, and Dion & The Belmonts.
Over the next several years the Bobbettes did sell some records with songs like “Have Mercy Baby,” “I Don’t Like It Like That,” and a few others, and the girls certainly kept spinning out new releases. But they never again approached the popularity of “Mr. Lee,” and by the late 1960s had begun to evolve into a smaller group, sometimes singing background for others. By the 1970s the original Bobbettes had dissolved, although various members have reunited from time to time through the years for oldies shows.
The Bobbettes – “I Shot Mr. Lee”