Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Shedding new light on "He Ain't Heavy"

Well, it appears I stand corrected.

While driving down to Florida before Christmas I was listing to the Sixties Satellite Survey on Sirius XM Radio. The program was counting down the Top 40 hits from that week in December 1969.

Host Lou Simon introduced the Hollies song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and explained how the title had originally come from a 1926 Mary Pickford silent film.

Say what?

Like many people, I’d always believed the title came from the 1938 movie Boys Town starring and Spencer Tracy as Father Flannigan. (Actually, the phrase was spoken in Men of Boys Town.)

So I decided Wisdom of the Oldies needed to take a closer look.

In his 1884 book The Parables of Jesus, James Wells related the story of a tiny Scottish girl who was seen carrying a large baby boy. After watching the girl struggle, a bystander asked if she was tired. Surprisingly, the child replied “ No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.”

The story of the little Scottish girl was also mentioned in a 1918 publication by Ralph Waldo Trine titled The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit. This time, after someone noted how heavy the child must be, the girl answered 'He's na heavy. He's mi brither.’

Roe Fulkerson, the first editor of Kiwanis magazine published a column in September 1924 carrying the title "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother".   The article talks about Fulkerson's sighting of "a spindly and physically weak lad" carrying a baby and "staggering towards a neighboring park".

"'Pretty big load for such a small kid,' I said as I met him." "'Why, mister,' he smiled, 'he ain't heavy, he's my brother.' "

This was the first time the phrase was spoken as it would be written years later in the song.

According to the Boys Town publication Teachable Moments,  Father Flanagan was paging through a copy of Ideal magazine in 1943 when he saw an image of an older boy carrying a younger boy on his back. The caption read, “He ain’t heavy, mister… he’s my brother.”

Immediately, the priest was reminded of a similar scene at a Boys Town picnic many years before. Father Flanagan wrote to the magazine and requested permission to use the image and quote. The magazine agreed, and Boys Town adopted them both as its new brand.

Mary Pickford
So what about America’s Sweetheart? Supposedly in a 1926 silent film drama, Mary Pickford portrayed a “plucky heroine” carrying a child on her back. When a stranger offered to assist, Mary’s reply was shown on screen on a title card: “Thanks Mister, but I don’t need any help. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

So there you go. Maybe too much information for some about the title origins of that 1969 Hollies smash hit.

I find it fascinating.

 Here are more interesting tidbits about the song:

It was written by veteran songwriters Bobby Scott (who also wrote “A Taste of Honey”) and Bob Russell. Russell was fighting cancer at the time and died not long after the song was released.

The song hit Number 1 in the UK and Number 7 in the US.
Joe Cocker turned it down. 

A young Reg Dwight (later known as Elton John) played piano and was paid 12 pounds for his work.

Just a few things to contemplate next time you hear the song on the radio.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Rock and Roll Hall of Shame

The 2016 Nominees for the Hall of Fame have been announced and include some of my all time favorites! The J.B.s, Yes, Nine Inch Nails and N.W.A.

Say what?

Well they did stoop to include Chicago and The Spinners. How in the world did two great groups like that make the list? 

Chicago has sold over 40 million albums with 23 gold albums and 21 Top Ten singles. “If You Leave Me Now” and Make Me Smile” are two of my all time favorite songs.

The Spinners first hit “I’ll Be Around” sold over a million copies alone.

On the other hand, one of the 2015 inductees, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band had what has been described as a “brief existence and produced little in the way of commercial success.”

Say what?

So now you know who may get in in 2016. Let’s take a look at artists and groups who are NOT in and probably never will be:

Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Sonny and Cher, Barry White, ELO, the Doobie Brothers, Steppenwolf, Harry Nilsson and the Turtles.

Outraged yet?

How about Johnny Rivers, the Moody Blues, Jan & Dean, Grand Funk Railroad, Joan Baez, Bon Jovi, Joe Cocker, Jim Croce, the Bee Gees, Leslie Gore, Mary Wells and the Ventures.

There are many more deserving artists out in the cold, but my head is about to explode, so I will stop there.

Perhaps one of the most infuriating omissions, in my opinion, is Neil Sedaka.

I have been fortunate enough to interview Neil twice. Once when I was Star Reporter for my junior high school newspaper. Then again a couple of years ago. Neil has always been most gracious with his time, which is another reason why he is so beloved in the business.

Neil's career started in 1957 and took off in 1959 when Connie Francis recorded hiss tune, “Stupid Cupid.” He and Howard Greenfield’s composition of “Where the Boys Are” was Connie’s biggest hit.

Naturally, I don’t have to remind you about all the great songs he wrote and recorded himself. “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” will be in our brains when we’re in our 70’s. By the way, he’d sold over 25 million records by 1963.

The British Invasion put an end to many male singer’s careers, but Neil continued working as a songsmith and produced hit records for Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and the Fifth Dimension.

Of course, everyone knows Sedaka was Back in the 70’s. “Love Will Keep Us Together”  was a number one hit for the Captain and Tennille as well as a Grammy winner as Record of the Year.

I asked Neil which song he thought was his finest.  He replied he hasn’t written it yet.

I also wondered if he truly missed “The Hungry Years.” He told me he didn’t write that song about himself, he wrote it for Sonny & Cher.

So there you have it, the fabulously talented Sedaka, and  60’s superstars Sonny & Cher, all snubbed by the Hall.

Who do you think should be in?

Maybe Neil will write another smash at age 76 and someone on the nominating committee will sit up and take notice.

Friday, April 10, 2015

If I could turn back the hands of time

Did you ever say no to an offer or opportunity then later regret it?

Many singers from the golden age of rock and roll had first dibs on certain songs, but decided to give them a thumb’s down.

Chances are, they all eventually wished they could turn back the hands of time.

Ray Stevens was given the first opportunity to record “Raindrops Keep
Falling on My Head” but turned it down. So did Bobby Goldsboro (perish the thought!) The song became a million seller for BJ Thomas, and also won an Academy Award.

“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was first offered to Ringo Starr. It sold 3 million copies in the U.S alone.

According to Davy Jones, the Monkees turned down “Knock Three Times”  (sold a million copies) and “Love will keep us Together” (best selling single of 1975.)

“Sunday will Never be the Same” was rejected by the Mamas and Papas as well as The Left Banke. Spanky and Our Gang took it to #7.

 “Bye Bye Love” was rejected by 27 artists.

Aretha Franklin turned down “Son of a Preacher Man”. Dusty Springfield’s version became a Top 10 international hit.

“This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” sung by Natalie Cole also got the thumb’s down from Aretha.

Bonnie Tyler’s hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was originally meant for Meat Loaf.

“Darlin’” was first written for the group that became 3 Dog Night. It was released by the Beach Boys in 1967 with Carl Wilson as lead singer.

“Here You Come Again” was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and was initially offered to Brenda Lee. After mulling it over for more than a year, Brenda decided not to record the song and it became the first crossover hit for Dolly Parton. It was #1 on the country chart and #3 on the pop chart.

“This Diamond Ring” was initially written with the Drifters in mind. They turned it down as did Bobby Vee. It launched the career of Gary Lewis and the Playboys and hit #1 in February, 1965.

Originally given to Herb Alpert who shelved it, Dionne Warwick also passed on a song that a brother-sister duo from Downey, California decided to record. "(They Long To Be) Close To You" became a monster number one hit, spending four weeks at the top of the charts and was the breakthrough song for the Carpenters. It also won a Grammy.

The Bellamy Brothers #1 hit “Let your Love Flow” was originally turned down by Neil Diamond.

"What's Love Got To Do With It" was rejected by Cliff Richard and Donna Summer and later become the defining comeback tune for Tina Turner.

Tom Jones said no to “The Long And Winding Road"  before Paul McCartney decided to include it in what would become both the Beatles' final album and the Beatles' final #1 hit.

The Marvelettes turned their noses up at “Where Did our Love Go?”  which became a smash for The Supremes.

Lesley Gore was given the first shot at “A Groovy Kind of Love” but her producer decided not to let her record a song with the word “groovy” in it. The Mindbenders took it to #2 on the Billboard charts.

The Searchers weren’t impressed by Del Shannon’s song  “I Go to Pieces”.  Peter & Gordon asked Del if they could record the song and it was one of their biggest hits.

Heart took “These Dreams” to #1 after Stevie Nicks nixed it.

Connie Francis was the first singer offered “Angel of the Morning” but thought it was too risqué for her audience. Juice Newton’s version spent three weeks at #1 and sold over a million copies.

Ah, 20-20 hindsight.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mama Said

It has been estimated that the late Ann Landers received more than 1,000 requests for guidance every week. Considering there are millions of willing sources of advice already available, it’s surprising Ann stayed so busy.

For starters, you can count on the mothers of the world to offer their counsel on every subject under the sun. And what mothers don’t cover, fathers will. Then you have sisters, brothers, friends and nosy neighbors. All are more than happy to give their two cents’ worth at any time.

It’s only natural that these voices of prophecy should be echoed in the oldies.  And just like in real life, some words to the wise are heeded, others aren’t.
In “Good-bye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John ignores his father’s advice, then lives to regret it. Bill Withers appreciates his brother’s concern, but doesn’t mind a bit that he’s being used.   Neil Diamond begs his girl not to listen to her family. The Four Tops aren’t sure whether to believe the neighborhood gossip. And in “Maybe I Know,” Lesley Gore (may she Rest in Peace) is certain her boyfriend’s a cheat, but hasn’t a clue what to do about it.   
Well, Mama did say there would be dilemmas like this.

 My mama told me she said “Son please beware,
there’s this thing called love and it’s, ah everywhere.”
And she told me it can break your heart
and leave you in misery.
Since I met this little woman
I feel it’s happened to me.

         “Too Late To Turn Back Now”
         Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose

         When I became of age my mama called me to her side
She said “Son, you’re growing up now,
pretty soon you’ll take a bride.”
And then she said just because you’ve become a young man, now
there’s still some things you don’t understand, now.
Before you ask some girl for her hand now,
keep your freedom for as long as you can.

         “Shop Around”
         Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

People at school told me I couldn’t make it, that I’d wind up making potholders.   -  Stevie Wonder

You know my Papa disapproved it 
My Mama boo and hooed it.
But I told them time and time again:
“Don’t you know I was made to love her.”

         “I Was Made To Love Her”
         Stevie Wonder

• At a time when he was having marital problems himself, Ernie K-Doe rescued a song from writer Allen Toussaint’s trash that became an anthem for everyone who’d ever had the mother-in-law blues.

She thinks her advice is a contribution
But if she would leave that would be the solution.
And don’t come back no more.

         Ernie K-Doe

All through this long and sleepless night
I hear my neighbors talking
“She don’t love you.”
Saying out of my life into another’s arms
she’ll soon be walking.

         “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)”
         The Four Tops

• Before he died, Gale Garnett’s father -- a carnival pitchman and music hall entertainer -- advised his daughter to find her own place in the sun. Although the glow of success lasted for only one song, she did shine at the 1965 Grammy Awards when she won “Best Folk Recording of the Year.”

My Daddy he once told me
“Hey don’t you love you any man.
Just take what they may give you,
And give but what you can.”

         “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine”
         Gayle Garnett

       Oh, how you tried to cut me down to size
telling dirty lies to my friends.
Well my own father said
“Give her up, don’t bother.
The world isn’t coming to an end.”

                  “Walk Like A Man”
                     The Four Seasons

My brother, he sit me right down
and he talked to me.
He told me that I ought to not
let you just walk on me.
And I’m sure he meant well,
but when our talk was through
I said “Brother, if you only knew
you’d wish that you were in my shoes.”              

         “Use Me”
         Bill Withers

• In 1971, I’d gotten out of military school, had a bad draft board experience, a father in the FBI, and of course, there was Nixon. I had so many people trying to tell me what to do, I guess I revolted against a panorama of authority figures in the song. - Jonathon Edwards

     He can’t even run his own life,
     I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine.

                  Jonathon Edwards

         Love you so much, can’t count all the ways
I’d die for you girl and all they can say is
“He’s not your kind.”
They never get tired of putting me down
and I never know when I come around
just what I’m gonna find.
Don’t let them make up your mind.

         “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”
                  Neil Diamond

• Fourteen and fifteen-year-olds are really intense. They write in journals and they think really deep thoughts and spend a lot of time being real philosophers in a way.  - Janis Ian

         Come to my school, baby
         Everybody’s acting deaf and blind
         Until they turn and say
         “Why don’t you stick to your own kind?”

                  “Society’s Child”
                  Janis Ian

They said stay at home, boy, you gotta tend the farm
Livin’ in the city, boy,
Is gonna break your heart.
But how can you stay, when your heart says no,
How can you stop,
When your feet say go?

         “Honky Cat”
         Elton John

• While waiting for a stoplight to change, a ragged girl rushed up to Bob Gaudio’s car and started washing his windshield.  The girl’s face so haunted the Four Seasons member that he eventually wrote a song about her. For her trouble, she got a $5 tip. He drove off with a clean windshield and the inspiration for a gold record.

I’d change her sad rags
 into glad rags if I could.
My folks won’t let me ‘cause
they say that she’s no good.

         “Rag Doll”
         The Four Seasons

How many times did she fall for his lies?
Should I tell her
or should I be cool?

         “Silence Is Golden”
         The Tremeloes

• Woven into the lyrics of this Holland-Dozier-Holland hit are the names of two friends Diana claims are ill-suited to give her advice: fellow Supremes Mary and Flo.

All day long I hear my telephone ring
friends calling, giving their advice.
From the boy I love I should break away,
‘cause heartache he’ll bring one day.
I listened once to my friends’ advice,
but it’s not going to happen twice.
‘Cause all advice ever got me
was many long and sleepless nights.

         “Back In My Arms Again”
         The Supremes

  My folks moved to New York from California.
I shoulda listened when my buddy said
“I warn ya. There’ll be no surfin’ there,
and no one even cares.”

         “New York’s A Lonely Town”
         The Tradewinds

• The only time a group ever made it to number one while on active duty was with a song inspired by the beat of teletype machines in a Marine communications center.

My buddies tell me “fly to him, sigh to him,”
tell him I would die for him.
Tell him he’s the one.

         “Easier Said Than Done”
         The Essex

They told me “Be sensible with your new love,
don’t be fooled thinking this is the last you’ll find.”
But they never stood in the dark with you, love,
when you take me in your arms and drive me
slowly out of my mind.

                  “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”
                  Mel Carter

• On the occasion of my first broken heart, a kind teacher told me “boys are like buses, another one will be along in ten minutes.” Obviously, Lesley Gore didn’t have such good counsel. She sticks by her jerky boyfriends in every song .

I hear them whispering when I walk by,
“he’s going to break her heart
and make her cry.”
I know it’s me they’re talking about,
I guess they all think I’ll never find out.

                  “Maybe I Know”
                  Lesley Gore


Honey don’t go; don’t leave this scene;
be out of the picture, and off the screen.
Don’t let them say “we told you so;”
they tell me you’ll love me
and then let me go.

         “Being With You”
         Smokey Robinson

•My father told me not to go into music which I couldn’t understand because he’d  once been a musician himself.
-Elton John

I should have stayed on the farm.
I should have listened to my old man.

         “Good-bye Yellow Brick Road”
         Elton John

People say you’ve been making out o.k.
She’s in love, don’t stand in her way.

                           “Hurts So Bad”
                           Little Anthony and The Imperials

My folks were always putting him down.
They said he came from the wrong side of town.
They told me he was bad,
but I knew he was sad.

         “Leader of the Pack”
         The Shangri-Las

Some jealous so and so wants us to part
That’s why he’s telling you
That I’ve got a cheatin’ heart.
Don’t believe all those lies,
Darling just believe your eyes.

         “My Heart Is An Open Book”
         Carl Dobkins, Jr.

I hate to say it but I told you so.
Don’t mind my preachin’ to you.
I said don’t trust him, baby,
now you know.
You don’t learn everything there is
to know in school.

         “Laugh, Laugh”
         Beau Brummels

One time or other, everybody listen to me,
You lose somebody you love.
But that’s no reason for you
to break down and cry.

         Tommy Roe

Ev’rybody tells me I’m wrong
to want you so badly.
But there’s a force driving me on
I follow it gladly.

         “Bend Me, Shape Me”
         American Breed

Mama told me not to come. She said “That ain’t no way to have fun, son.”
         “Mama Told Me”
         Three Dog Night

I remember what my Mama told me
she said “Girl, stay in your class.
You got a lot of growing and learning to do,
so girl, don’t you go so fast.”

                  “Mama Didn’t Lie”
                  Jan Bradley

I need love, love to ease my mind
I need to find, find someone to call mine.
But Mama said you can’t hurry love,
no, you’ve just got to wait.
She said love don’t come easy
It’s a game of give and take.

         “You Can’t Hurry Love”
         The Supremes                          

My eyes were wide open,
but all that I could see
were chapel bells tolling
for everyone but me.
But I don’t worry
’cause Mama said there’d be days like this.

         “Mama Said”
         The Shirelles

So cheers to all those advice givers in oldie goldie land. Now tell me YOUR favorite piece of advice from a classic tune!