(Pictured: Danny O’Keefe, who Gets It.)
Yesterday was the first day of fall. So let’s look at a few Billboard Hot 100s and what was at #40 on some autumnal equinoxes gone by, just to see what there is to hear.
1961: “Let’s Get Together”/Hayley Mills & Hayley Mills (up from #69, third week on). That’s how the record was listed in Billboard; in the movie The Parent Trap, it’s sung as a duet between the twins Mills played in the film. It would reach #8 in October, and sweet mama it’s terrible.
1964: “Let It Be Me”/Betty Everett & Jerry Butler (up from #54, third week on). The Everly Brothers had taken “Let It Be Me” into the Top 10 in 1960, and this duet would make the Top 10 as well. It would chart again in years to come . . . as you’ll see.
1966: “God Only Knows”/Beach Boys (up from #42, sixth week on). If Brian Wilson felt as though he was in competition with the Beatles after Rubber Soul and Revolver, he bested them with this. Paul McCartney admired it, perhaps because as gifted as he was, he couldn’t do anything like it.
1967: “Pleasant Valley Sunday”/Monkees (down from #25, 10th week on). In 1967, social consciousness popped up in the most unlikely places.
1970: “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five (debut). New on the Hot 100 at this lofty position, and a miracle that will last forever.
1971: “Yo Yo”/Osmonds (up from #85, second week on). Similarities between the Osmonds and the Jackson Five abound. When ABC launched an Osmonds cartoon series in the fall of 1972, the production company reused some of the animations from the Jackson Five series, figuring that dancing kids were dancing kids.
1972: “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”/Danny O’Keefe (up from #51, fourth week on). A beautiful, world-weary song we’ve always dug around here, and the world-wearier we get, the more we dig it.
1975: “Who Loves You”/Four Seasons (up from #50, fifth week on). Not every group from the 60s, particularly a group as distinctive as the Four Seasons, could comfortably update their sound for the 70s, but the Seasons did it as well as I can imagine.
1976: “Sunrise”/Eric Carmen (up from #43, sixth week on). “All By Myself” was an epic power ballad, “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” a standard pop weeper. On “Sunrise,” after a brief interlude of overwrought guitar, Eric Carmen gets his Raspberries on.
1977: “The King Is Gone”/Ronnie McDowell (up from #89, second week on). McDowell’s tribute to Elvis was on the radio within three weeks of the King’s passing. “The King Is Gone” would rise to #13 on both the pop and country charts. It started McDowell’s career, although he took a while to find his stride. Between 1981 and 1986, he would put 17 straight singles into the country Top 10, and an 18th would peak at #11.
1982: “Let It Be Me”/Willie Nelson (up from #45, seventh week on). Ever since Stardust in 1978, Willie sprinkled his list of single releases with classic pop songs. Willie’s version of “Let It Be Me” would peak at #40 on the Hot 100 but reach #2 country.
1983: “Suddenly Last Summer”/The Motels (up from #44, third week on). There has never been anything else that sounds like this.
1984: “Strut”/Sheena Easton (up from #45, fifth week on). In which Sheena, who had been mostly a virginal pop balladeer up to this point, gets her swagger on. “Strut” is a great radio record.
1985: “Sunset Grill”/Don Henley (up from #42, fourth week on). Where the Eagles’ “The Sad Cafe” is a place for sweet nostalgia and even hope, “Sunset Grill” is on a dead-end street, where everything’s a little bit sleazy and people stay because they can’t think of a good reason to leave.
1987: “Bad”/Michael Jackson (debut). Me, 2012: “To Jackson’s credit, he didn’t try to make Thriller II. Bad is supposed to be the next thing, on its own. Maybe Bad sounds [less exciting than Thriller] because Thriller changed the world and Bad merely lived in the new world that Thriller had changed.”
1989: “The End of the Innocence”/Don Henley (down from #23, 14th week on). As the Reagan Era shades into the new decade of the 90s, everything’s a little bit sleazy and people stay because they’re too exhausted to leave.
That feels like an appropriate ending to this post, except to add that sometime this week, we passed the threshold of 800,000 hits on this blog since 2007. I am grateful for all of them.
(Pictured: the Old Capitol, the iconic centerpiece of the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.)
Here’s another Off-Topic Tuesday piece. During the 1995-96 academic year, while I was working on my teaching certificate at the University of Iowa, I wrote a regular op-ed column for the student newspaper, the Daily Iowan. I found this piece in an ancient electronic file of drafts, but it’s not in my pile of clippings, so I’m not sure it ever ran. But it adequately captures how I felt about that place.
In 1965, ABC launched The Beatles, a cartoon series based on the most famous musical group in the world. Because no good idea ever goes without being imitated, a series called The Beagles premiered on CBS 50 years ago this weekend, on September 10, 1966. It centered around two singing dogs and their manager, who came up with crazy schemes to make them famous. Although the songs performed in each episode bore a striking resemblance to Beatles tunes, the characters of Stringer and Tubby were not modeled after real Beatles. (Stringer’s speaking voice may remind you a little of Bing Crosby.)
In 1960, New York ad men W. Watts “Buck” Biggers and Chet Stover created the cartoon series King Leonardo and His Short Subjects to sell cereal for General Mills. With its success, they left Dancer Fitzgerald Sample and formed Total TeleVision with Treadwell Covington, another ad man, and Joe Harris, a character designer and storyboard artist. Over the next several years, Total TeleVision created anthology shows featuring several different cartoon elements. Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, and The Beagles all appeared on network schedules, but each included episodes of The World of Commander McBragg, Klondike Cat, Tooter Turtle, and/or Go-Go Gophers, as well as King Leonardo. They were animated by Gamma Productions (which also did the various Rocky and Bullwinkle shows at the same time), and had a look that was cheap, but distinctive. Like other Total TeleVision shows, The Beagles featured the voice talents of Kenny Delmar, a veteran radio actor who had played Senator Claghorne with Fred Allen in the 40s; Allen Swift, who had been a voice actor and writer on Howdy Doody; and Sandy Becker, another veteran of old-time radio and 1950s TV.
The Beagles ran for two years, one season on CBS and one on ABC, before going off the air in 1968. For a long time, the original masters of the show were believed lost, although Biggers told an interviewer in 2007 that nine episodes (which is all that were made) still existed, but not in complete form. They would have to be reassembled from pieces before they could be reissued. As of 2007, the rights to the show were owned by Lorne Michaels’ company, Broadway Video.
In 1967, the Harmony label, a Columbia subsidiary, released 10 songs on Here Come the Beagles (pictured above). As you might expect, it’s pretty rare. (In 1995, the songs were reissued along with songs by another made-for-TV group, the Banana Splits, but in a thousand-copy limited edition.) The identities of the musicians who performed as the Beagles are long lost. The songs were arranged by Charles Fox, who would go on to score dozens of movies and TV shows. It’s possible that Fox sang on them, although that’s unclear. The four principals in Total TeleVision are credited as songwriters. Biggers died in 2013; his obituary indicates that he wrote the songs and shared the credits with his three partners.
The show’s main theme, “Looking for the Beagles,” has an oddly downcast lyric for such a silly show: “Lookin’ for the Beagles / Not where rich men go / Rich is for the regals / Woe is all the Beagles know.” Many of the Beagles’ songs sound like straight-up garage rock, such as “Humpty Dumpty,” heard in this existing clip from the show. Some add a flute, which seems a little incongruous, as on “I’d Join the Foreign Legion,” which you can hear in the clip here. But the gem among the Beagles’ songs is “Thanks to the Man in the Moon,” on which the anonymous lead singer nails his John Lennon impression. Any resemblance to “This Boy” or “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is almost certainly intentional. You can hear some of it, and see a toy commercial from 1966 to boot, in this clip.
Whoever they were, the musicians behind the Beagles (thanks to the songwriting talents of Buck Biggers) managed to channel the sound of the British Invasion and the Beatles themselves into a handful of well-crafted pop tunes. And whoever they were, they would likely be surprised to learn that a half-century later, a few people are still listening to them.
(Based on a 2008 post, but mostly new.)
It’s time for another Off-Topic Tuesday post. In 1995 and 1996, I wrote a column for the Daily Iowan, the student newspaper at the University of Iowa, which I attended from 1995 to 1997. I have an electronic version of this but I can’t lay hands on a clipping, so I am not sure whether it actually ran, or if it was just a draft. If it ran, it appeared 20 years ago this month. I’ve edited it a little.
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of everybody who’s been here for a while, let me welcome you to the University of Iowa. During your orientation, you paid close and careful attention to everything you were told. You may have convinced yourself that you know exactly what to do, where to go, and how to cope. But what you have done so far to prepare for college life is not unlike preparing to ride a bicycle by reading about how to do it. Now, you’re actually getting on the damn thing and trying to keep your balance, and you may find that the instruction manual skipped a few useful items. But that’s why I’m here.