Please place yourself in a time when a pop group had such an impact that songs were written, recorded and released about them, and yes, we’re talking about the Beatles. How much of an impact did the Beatles have? Yes, the Beatles have been covered extensively here, there and everywhere, so l let’s look at it from an unusual angle.
Today we specialize in the area of novelty items. No, not those novelty items! Music! I’m talking about music! Why hasn’t this been covered, you ask? Well, in the mid- 1950’s and early 1960’s, the American music charts were dominated by clean-cut, normal teenage singers and groups, and you’ll notice that they were almost all clean-cut ditties we could dance to. We all listened religiously to them on our AM radio stations, we all watched American Bandstand, and a lot of us bought the records and played them at home and at dance parties.
God, how I regret the loss of those dance parties. We all knew each other from school and teams and such, so those parties and dances were communal, exciting… and terrifying. For me, it took daring; it was rock and roll, it was fun, it was exercise, and those slow songs were the only time we got to hold a girl up close and not get slapped. You know, on slow dances you could hold the girl and feel her breasts against your chest. Wow… and our parents thought it was cool! My God, you people have no idea what that meant to us boys.
You are probably questioning the point of that regression, and it is this: At the beginning of 1963, we all listened to the two AM radio stations that played the hits; they all played the same songs, anyway, and we knew all the groups. Bands weren’t the thing back then, but we knew the groups. Then we all heard about this English band, and while probably few of us knew why it was important that they were coming, enough of us thought it was that several thousand of us went out to the airport to watch them get off the plane. Then, on the first Sunday night in February, the Beatles played two songs on The Ed Sullivan Show and American teens went freakin’ nuts, and the culture started coming apart. Not at once, of course, but surely.
I sort of chuckle when I think about our parents, who had been Bobby-Soxers and looked silly to their parents as they literally screamed and fainted over Frank Sinatra. So our parents knew the mania engendered by this group would swell and fade, and soon be over. Ha, I say now. No one knew what was coming, and I know you’ve heard about it and maybe you’ve heard too much about it. I’ll grant you that point. But you had to be there! Nuts! I’m telling you it was nuts! They played the Sullivan show in February, and by April, the Beatles had five of the top ten hits in New York City and from there it spread. It was all anyone talked about, and while the phrase “must-see TV” was invented as a promo in the 1990’s, in 1963, this was must-see TV on a generational level.
Okay, to the point: Once the Beatles arrived, the American boy and girl teen groups left the building, as it were. Now it was all about the English groups. If your group was English and you’d just played a gig, turn around, mate, some guy was trying to sign you. Of course, not all the American groups disappeared, and why should they? There were still talented singers and song-writers, and producers and label reps and sales and marketing departments, and every one of them had bills to pay. Everyone had to make a living, so everyone needed product. But the radio wanted English groups and the competition for airtime was (and always has been) fierce, so what was a semi-honest music producer or label owner gonna do? Some kept making music their way, some succeeded, some faded away, and some adapted and tried to surf the tidal wave. A few rode the wave by making novelty songs, and that’s what we’re discussing today: novelty songs. I don’t know if anyone other than Weird Al is still making novelty songs, but the Beatles were a tidal force and if you couldn’t compete with them, you could have some fun with them. Yes, it rarely boded well for the singer as a career starter, but producers and labels were talking about the product they needed now!
Here are three novelty tracks aimed at Beatles fans, and one of them has two major players who will surprise you, but don’t skip ahead.
While there are few avenues left to discover, off topic today are some of the American groups who got signed by appearing to be British. Say hello to the Beau Brummels, who were from the Bay Area, and from Texas came the Sir Douglas Quintet (who were actually early Tex-Mex/rockabilly) and others. Herein we will look at three exemplars of producers coming up with a way to appeal to Beatles fans without actually competing with them. Here’s one now:
This one is almost cheating. We all know about Elvis and the commotion he caused among teens in 1956. When something big enough comes along that impacts the whole culture, there is a reaction to it, an echo, if you will. In the wake of the commotion caused by Elvis’ being drafted in 1957, there appeared on Broadway a smash musical romp called “Bye Bye Birdie,” about an Elvis character—now named Conrad Birdie—being drafted into the Army (as was Elvis), and it was a huge success. The 1960 play and the 1963 film that followed were both set in 1958, when Conrad got drafted, and featured a chorus of girls from Rydell High singing a tribute to Conrad, called “We Love You, Conrad.” In the song, they sing of their devotion and a chorus of boys retort. If you listen to the song (which we at Computer Audiophile have taken pains to provide you at no cost to yourselves), you will see how simple a song it was. Elementary, as it were, and yet it struck a simple chord.
So it is with a mixture of admiration and despair that I note an almost word-for-word copying of the relatively well-known song, changing only the names. Several lyrics in the song are responses to lyrics in the Beatles’ hit “She Loves You.” Here then, from 1964, are The Carefrees with a song that reached No. 39 in the U.S. and hopefully better in the U.K. “We Love You Beatles.” So it didn’t take a genius to cash in on the Beatles’ popularity: all it took was a recording studio, a distribution network and little moxie.
The next group needs no introduction because none would help and nothing would increase their importance in music history. I don’t know what to say about Gigi Parker and the Lonelies. I couldn’t find any background on them or this record, I couldn’t find any release date other than 1964 and I couldn’t find its chart position. I think this was their only record, so here are Gigi Parker and the Lonelies with Beatles Please Come Back.
Wouldn’t it be nice if somewhere an old lady is resting in her overstuffed chair when her granddaughter rushes in and says “You’re famous!” because after years of hearing about her grandmother’s alleged singing career, the granddaughter a) set her laptop to pick up any hits on Gigi Parker and the Lonelies, b) her laptop pings, c) she looks, d) she sees this article you’re reading now, and… e) rushes over to the old lady’s place and says, “Look at this, Gran!” Wouldn’t that be nice? Moving on to...
Oh, no, it’s Phil Spector, the legendary record producer, egomaniac and control freak! We’ve covered him before here. Spector was maybe the most successful producer of teen music from the mid- 1950’s until the Beatles showed up and stole his thunder. He was pissed. He was freaked (and freaky) that his style of music wasn’t making him any more money or fame, and he wanted to get back in the game. Girl groups were a Spector specialty, and he always had a singer on hold. The girl he had on mind for this track was good-looking and sort of in the pre-hippie mold, which was good now, which was hip, and boy, could she sing. But sing what? To whom and about what? Well, Maybe no one knows what was in Spector’s mind when he came up with it, but he wrote a song about Ringo, he wrote the charts, he booked the studio, he called the chick, and they cut it.
It was a novelty song, and I don’t know of any others that Spector did, but he must have thought that this would get him the attention he so richly felt he deserved. Part of what pissed Spector off was… was it national pride? Did he have that? In any event, almost all the songs on the charts those days were by English acts, and maybe Spector wanted to get someone American on the charts, and this chick was good looking and she could sing and all, but the name Cherilyn La Piere just wasn’t American enough, y’know, so he changed it to Bonnie Jo Mason, and if that ain’t an American name, then I’m a Klingon feng shui consultant.
And no- I’m not.
Well, the song was an easy ditty to write and easy to record, but when it came out it died an ignoble death. So the chick singer started working with another producer, some guy named Sonny, who encouraged her to use her real name, and we now know her as Cher. But here, for the nonce, is Bonnie Jo Mason with “Ringo I Love You.”
- The name of the singer in “Bye Bye, Birdie” was going to be 'Ellsworth', which was soon changed to 'Conway Twitty' before the producers discovered there already was a performer named Conway Twitty, who was threatening to sue, so they changed it to Conrad Birdie.
- Twitty is best remembered for his long career as a country music star, but in the late 1950s, he was one of Presley's rock 'n' roll rivals.
- In “Bye Bye Birdie,” Rydell High School was a reference to teen heart-throb Bobby Rydell
- Reading the label of “Beatles Please Come Back” reveals one of the writers was Chip Taylor, who is best known for “Angel of the Morning” and “Wild Thing,” and who will be familiar to KFAT fans for everything on his album “Shoot Out The Jukebox.” Also known for being the brother of Jon Voight.
- In Cher’s “Ringo I Love You,” shouldn’t there be a comma after Ringo? Wasn’t anybody checking? Didn’t anybody care? Aaarrgghhh!
- I’ll be back next month. Please Stand By.
Gilbert Klein has enough degrees and not enough stories. He’s been a radio talk show host, a nightclub owner, event producer, and has written three books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, FOOTBALL 101 and Watches Over Drunks and Fools. He threatens to write one more. He spent 25 years in New York, 25 years in San Francisco, and is now purportedly retired in Baja.