Hah! This one’s going to write itself. Yes, we did this cover thing before, but we all need to have some fun. Fun for me, too. This one’ll be less text and more listening. But fun for me and you. Have I said that already? Okay, it started in the summer of 1964. There was a hit on New York radio called “Gloria,” by the Shadows of Knight. Sure, why not? The British Invasion was in full attack mode and that “Knight” thing was as English as it got. Then my friend Phil played the song for me by the guys who wrote it and played it first: Them. Blew me a-way!
This was still before FM radio came into view and all we had were the Top 40 stations and American Bandstand. But this band!! This band named… Them! Phil played the whole album, and they rocked like no one was rocking on AM radio, so I went to the local record shop and ordered it- because no local record shop had ever heard of Them, much less stocked their record because they weren’t on the radio. Thanks, Phil! Know who their lead singer and songwriter was? Yeah, Van Morrison. And that, friends, is why we are here today: the Shadows of Knight were also-rans and Them was the real deal, but the Shadows of Knight had the hit. I’m ashamed to report this, ladies and gentlemen, but my thoughts when Phil played that album were: fuck the Shadows of Knight! Who, incidentally, I never heard from again, and there you have as cogent an example of karma as you will ever get. Not that I wished those guys any harm, you understand, but I was angry at the injustice. No, it wasn’t anger. Anger fades; I was indignant. And an indignant Gilbert back then was a Gilbert who would stifle his anger, sublimate his indignation, and write about it fifty-three years later. And so I have, and so here we are.
If you’re going to listen to those two tracks, you’ve either already listened to them or you will later, so let’s move on and prove that less-text-more-listening thing.
Released in 1983 at the beginning of the MTV era, Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” went to the top of the charts, won her fame, awards, a career, and has been covered by so many other artists that brevity forbids their inclusion. But where did it come from? She got the song from an EP (extended play: an LP- sized disc, but not enough songs for a full album) by Robert Hazard, whose band Robert Hazard and the Heroes was popular in Philadelphia in the early 80’s, and their EP was released in 1982. When you listen, you’ll hear that the distinctive sonic characteristics of a song from the early 80’s. They sound like other 80’s bands, and then remember what Ms. Lauper did with it. Here’s Hazard’s original version.
Quickly, now, we move on to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll,” which she released in 1982 on her second album, her first album with her new band, The Blackhearts. Jett was touring England in 1976 with the infamous Runaways when she saw the American band Arrows perform it on TV. Arrows were popular enough in England to have their own show on British TV, and band leader Alan Merrill was a teen heartthrob. But no one knew them in America. She first recorded the song with two of the Sex Pistols. This first version was released as a B-side in 1979, but in 1981, Jett re-recorded the song, this time with her band, the Blackhearts, and it became a number-one single in the U.S. for seven weeks. Billboard ranked it at the No. 3 song for 1982. Jett's album, I Love Rock 'n Roll reached No. 2. Jett's version was ranked No. 89 in the list 100 Greatest Guitar Songs in Rolling Stone and has also been inducted into the Grammy’s Hall of Fame in 2016. Here, by Arrows, is “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Next up is Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” which Aretha made into an anthem. Countless iterations have come and gone, but everyone knows it’s Aretha’s song. She heard it from Otis Redding. Here’s all I need to tell you about Otis Redding: In his tenure as the world’s top rock impresario, Bill Graham booked and saw all the greats of his day. He saw legendary performers at their peak, and the person whose performance he most admired was that of Otis Redding. One more thing: it’s a little eerie that during his performance at the historic Monterey Pops Festival, the camera keeps him going in and out of the white light, which is spooky in that he died shortly after this was shot. But this is not the space for pseudo-spiritual digressions, and so here is Otis Redding singing “Respect.”
That was fun, right? This wasn’t. In 1927, the Mississippi River overflowed, causing utter devastation and despair to those who lived there. Farms, homes, businesses, livestock, pets, people and whole families were washed away. In 1929, Memphis Minnie and her husband, Kansas Joe McCoy wrote and recorded ”When The Levee Breaks.” Led Zeppelin cut it in 1971, basing it on the original recording and giving writing credits to Memphis Minnie and members of the band: “When The Levee Breaks.”
If you liked following those two from the 1920’s, try these:
Here’s an east coast update from 1965:
Here’s what happened on the west coast the next year:
We’re back, and this one speaks for itself: Of confused authorship, “Hey Joe” was first recorded, then re-recorded by a Los Angeles garage band named The Leaves in 1965. In 1966, Jimi Hendrix took “Hey Joe” and made it his. But have a care for The Leaves; they were a punk band before there was punk, and they had a regional hit and it got taken away from them. So: a little love for The Leaves.
Here’s a shout-out to you 80’s People: Everyone knows “Manic Monday” by The Bangles, and everyone remembers that Prince gave it to them. But do you remember that around that time Prince had a protégé—or a girlfriend, or who knows what went on with that guy?—but he was seen with and pushing the musical career of a tall, sensuous singer named Apollonia? And that Apollonia had a group called Apollonia 6? And Prince originally gave the song to them? And who knows what happened, or why Prince gave it to the Bangles, but here’s Apollonia 6 and “Manic Monday.”
And I left this one for last because I need to expand a bit on that brevity thing. When I took this gig, maybe the first story I thought of writing was about The Strangeloves, because they were the first band I ever hung out with. I still should write the story because it’s a good one, and it would take too long to explain why I haven’t, but here’s the deal. They had three big hits in 1965: “I Want Candy,” “Cara-Lin”, and “Night Time.” No, really- it’s a great story, but for brevity we go to 2005, when Bow Wow Wow was playing a gig that I was stage managing. Their one big hit had been a cover of “I Want Candy,” so I hied myself over to their dressing room and introduced myself.
I told them I used to hang with The Strangeloves, and did they know anything about them? No, they didn’t, and yes! they were interested! It was Bow Wow Wow’s biggest song and they had no idea about The Strangeloves. Briefly, there were three producers who wrote a song and hired a band called The Sheep to play it. Then, when it became a hit, they fired the bass player from the band, kept the drummer, guitar and keyboard player, and put them out on the road, and they were still on the road in the late 60’s when I met them. Okay, that wasn’t so interesting, but their story was that they were three brothers from Australia, Niles, Miles and Giles Strange, their father had made a lot of money by inventing some new kind of sheep, affording them enough money to come to America to rock us. Yeah, we bought that back then. They wore tight black leather pants, no shirt, a zebra-skin vest and zebra-skin belt. Let me add here that the drummer, Joey Piazza, is, to this day, maybe the best drummer I’ve ever heard. He was hard and tight. Hard and tight! There’s a good story here and I’m still gonna write about them some day. But wait! No bass?
Atop the organ rested a Fender Bass keyboard, which was about fifteen inches long by about eight inches deep, and he played bass with his left hand and organ with his right. The cool thing was, he had these two mammoth drums with zebra-skin heads, and they were huge, maybe three feet high, and they hung off each end of the organ, and he played the keys with a mallet strapped to each wrist, hanging down, and when the song called for those booming beats, he’d flip his wrists up in the air and grab the mallets by the handle and pound on those drums! Boom! Boom Boom! Boom Boom! They sounded like Taiko drums, filling the halls, enveloping the people with martial, percussive beats. It was pretty powerful. Gotta write their story, ‘cause there’s a lot of story there.
Listen to them do “I Want Candy.” They’d sing, “I….. Want Candy!” Boom! Boom Boom! Boom Boom! And that, ladies and gentlemen, had Bow Wow Wow clapping, laughing and cheering. They knew the beats were solid; they never knew what made them. In the video are the three producers, not the band yet, and that big drum in the middle, that’s the ones that were on the sides of the organ. And those were the clothes they wore, except they didn’t wear shirts on stage. And here, from 1982, is “I Want Candy,” by Bow Wow Wow.
See? I told you: it wrote itself. And we’re done.
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 two books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, and FOOTBALL 101. 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.